|Posted by J_Wade on September 27, 2009 at 8:14 PM||comments (0)|
There's a certain kind of excitement that washes over me whenever I read about a sci-fi movie which deals in a particularly heady subject. For me, good, well thought out sci-fi is one of the best things in the world. The worlds they present, the questions they pose, the conversations they spark; well-made science fiction can get my friends and I to argue and discuss and think about life's smallest issues as well as its grandest controversies. At the same time, there's a certain kind of disappointment when a film with such promise squanders all of its potential. Jonathan Mostow's Surrogates is just such a film.
The film presents a near-future in which 99 percent of the world's population (think on THAT one for a few minutes) operate robotic avatars from the safety of their own homes. The robots look like flawless humans; physically superior versions of our fragile, ugly selves. When the son of the surrogates' inventor is murdered through his surrogate, detective Tom Greer (Bruce Willis) is called on to find the killer. Have I killed your interest yet? Because this is precisely where I started tuning out. Such a fantastic concept is given a backseat to a standard, run-of-the-mill murder mystery.
This wouldn't be such a big problem if the murder mystery weren't so completely labyrinthine. In any other movie, it would be fairly straightforward. With the presence of surrogates that anyone can swap out at any time, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep track which person is controlling which robot. And then when you throw in red herrings and other typical murder mystery cliches, it all makes Surrogates more complicated than it needs to be, and less interesting than it ought to be. Add to this the fact that the because movie isn't even 90 minutes long, there's little time for the movie to settle into any kind of rhythm, let alone explain itself clearly.
For what it's worth, the practical and CG effects for the actual surrogates is pretty top-notch. In his robot form, Bruce Willis looks younger than he has in decades, which admittedly was the point, but it's offset by a hairpiece that's pretty laughable. Other actors and their robo-selves come off better though (Rosamund Pike in particular), and on a purely basic level, the concept works.
Surrogates probably would've played better during the summer months where audiences might have been more willing to shut their brains off and enjoy the ride. As it stands, the movie washes over you and seems to dare you to try and analyze it. Instead, it squanders its massive potential in favor of exploring territory that was already effectively mined in I, Robot. It's not really a bad film, but it could have been so much more. In some ways, I think that makes Surrogates even worse.
2 ( ) stars out of five.
|Posted by William on September 21, 2009 at 5:47 PM||comments (0)|
9 is a bit of a rarity: a mainstream CGI film not created by Pixar or Dreamworks, and not marketed as a family friendly comedy. Instead newcomer director Shane Acker presents a cold CGI apocalyptic wasteland where giant robots have wiped humans out, and now have a small group of heroes to deal with.
Where have I heard that before...
Anyway, the story follows 9, a cloth sack sentient robot. After uniting with other numbered robots, he convinces the rest of his kin to go out of hiding and fight back against the larger evil robots that wiped out humanity. What follows is a by-the-numbers action movie. While this isn't a real problem, the story is hindered by a repetitive plot that shows the 9 and co. going from destroyed industrial site to industrial site without walls trying to save his friends. As a result, it's easy to get bored with the story quickly. However, the last twenty minutes or so makes up for a boring second act, so not all is lost.
The voice acting is of decent quality, despite some seemingly cliché ridden characters. Elijah Wood is convincing as 9, a soul bent on saving the world. Christopher Plummer's 1 sounded like he phoned his performance in. Jennifer Connelly is excellent as 7, but no one else was really memorable other than the mute 3 and 4. The script does try to make up for cast made up entirely of archetypal protagonists.
Where the film ultimately shines is its CGI. It's gorgeous. Warm earth tones, glowing greens and reds, cast alongside the cold grays that make up the mechanical beasts look phenomenal, and make for a visually pleasing experience. The stitches that make up the characters are fluid when they move, and the shutters used for eyes on both the protagonists and their foes were wonderful design choices. The machines even move swiftly and smoothly. Excellent sound design is married with the visuals to create a believable atmosphere to breathe in throughout the film. It's a shame the the score didn't match the level of sound design. A collection of tired orchestral themes pop up here and there during higher paced scenes, and while they are effective enough, they are far from memorable. There is one scene that uses Somewhere Over the Rainbow nicely though, and is a highlight of the film for me.
Despite the best of intentions, 9 fails to impress. It's a shallow but pretty exercise in standard issue action film making. It's the kind of movie that I find hard to rate. On one hand, my eyes were happy, but I found myself bored for much of the film due to poor handling of the story. I do think that Acker has a good future in front of him as a director, as his style with CGI is excellent. Also, the original short film that 9 is based on is entertaining, and relays the same story and themes as its feature length brother. It's not a bad film by any stretch, but it's likely you have taken this trip before.
|Posted by Trent on September 8, 2009 at 7:21 PM||comments (0)|
Let's rewind to two years ago. Halloween was one of the first movies reviewed on Front Row Center. Joe and I both thought it was not that good of a movie. I didn't think it was absolutely horrible like most fans of the John Carpenter original did, (and don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of the original), but I didn't think it was an enjoyable movie either. The main reason I didn't think it was enjoyable is the same reason I thought this movie wasn't very enjoyable. It simply wants us to cringe as much as possible, and that's basically all it's got.
Now, whereas Halloween II still has many, many cringe-worthy scenes, this one tries to bring in some psychobabble into the mix as well. The story picks up a bit after the first movie. How long after? It depends on if you count the thirty minute dream sequence as part of the time, which makes it seem like this movie is going to be a remake of the original Halloween II from 1980. Laurie now lives with Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif) and his daughter Annie, all three having survived Michael's first night of carnage. Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell), is capitalizing on the Michael murders by publishing a tell-all book, (including the fact that Laurie is actually Michael's sister.), and Michael comes back to life due to an ambulance crash. Michael is also seeing visions of his mother, his younger self, and a white horse.
I can't decide whether Michael is channeling Ridley Scott or if he has Oedipal issues. I noticed that the men in the movie, for the most part he had a reason to kill. There's one scene where Michael is beaten to a pulp for trespassing on some rednecks' land. He then kills the guys, but he also kills the girl that tried to stop them. He's not merely an unstoppable force now. He's a killing machine. Michael Myers is not supposed to be a killing machine!!! It seems that Rob Zombie got Jason Vorhees and Michael Myers mixed up at some point down the line. Myers is supposed to be a methodical, calculating boogeyman. Remember in the first film he did not kill anyone he didn't need to either to get to Haddonfield or to get to Laurie. He let the nurse he stole the vehicle from live, he let all the kids live, etc. In this new series, everyone dies. You don't have to guess who's going to, because they all do!
I also have a problem with Zombie's use of language and nudity. By now you should know that I don't usually have a problem with either one, even if it's gratuitous, but when a movie uses the "F" word over twenty times in under thirty seconds, and with no other words in between, that's stupid. It's just there to seem more extreme. I think that word had to have been used over 100 times. Then there's the nudity. There's a strip club, and more nude Sherri Moon Zombie. Yes friends, this is another director that puts his wife in every single movie he makes. Not only is nudity involved, but it's quite literally torture porn. You get to see Michael slam this nude stripper's head into a glass mirror about a dozen times after throwing her around a bit beforehand. It's sickening just to be so. It's so sad that Rob Zombie can't even do this stuff as well as Takashi Miike.
There was some good to the movie though, which makes this better than the remake. First of all, Rob Zombie does have an interesting directoral style. I like his use of light and shadow. It has a sort of Italian Giallo quality to it... Sort of a poor man's Argento, without the great cinematography. He knows how to make us cringe. I know I mentioned that as a negative before, but if you go in looking for that, you will be pleased. There's bones breaking through the skin, smashed in heads, people spitting out teeth, and a whole bunch of blood. And you can guarantee there will be a director's cut with even more of the stuff. The best thing about Zombie is his use of rock music as a sort of psychological catscan into the mind of Michael Myers. In the preceding film, Zombie used Nazareth's Love Hurts after Michael's first killing, and before he murders his family. Here, The Moody Blues' Nights In White Satin is used during the thirty minute dream sequence, which after you learn it is such, makes brilliant sense. I also liked the bogus moral questioning of Dr. Loomis' book. Hell, if nothing else, it gave us the "Weird Al" Yankovic cameo. (I'm not kidding.)
The one thing that sets this film apart from the first movie is Zombie's attempt to get into Michael's mind. There's a lot of trippy dream sequences here. I don't know if they were designed to pose more questions or if it was just a crap job of answering them. It made the movie more interesting, but it didn't make it better. Odd does not mean better, people. Seriously, I don't know what to make of this. It will be Zombie's last Halloween film, he's said as much. Yet there will be a Halloween 3-D coming out next year. I think it's time to lay this series to rest. It's gotten so far from it's premise now. We already resurrected Jason Vorhees again. If we want random slaying, just make more of those. Michael Myers is better than that.
**1/2 out of *****
|Posted by J_Wade on August 27, 2009 at 8:22 PM||comments (0)|
|Posted by Watson on August 25, 2009 at 4:09 PM||comments (2)|
|Posted by J_Wade on August 24, 2009 at 12:58 AM||comments (0)|
There are two types of science fiction. Soft sci-fi and hard sci-fi. Soft sci-fi is the kind of science fiction that's more about the action and spectacle of seeing things go boom, or take a sci-fi concept to tell an otherwise contemporary story. It may take place in a futuristic or science-fictional setting, but there's little real science in it. Think Transformers or The Time Traveler's Wife. By contrast, hard sci-fi deals more closely with scientific concepts in telling its story. Gattaca, Blade Runner, 2001, all of these would be considered hard sci-fi. Very rarely will you find a movie or book that can blend the hard and soft without diluting the whole thing. District 9 is the rare film that manages to do just that.
28 years ago, an alien spacecraft entered Earth's atmosphere and came to rest hovering over Johannesburg, South Africa. Deciding to be the first ones to make contact, human military units cut their way into the ship and discovered a plethora of worker aliens on the brink of death. The aliens are removed from the ship and placed into temporary housing in a new district of Johannesburg. District 9. Present day, MNU (think United Way meets FEMA) employee Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is tasked with evicting all the aliens and relocating them to new, supposedly more efficient housing (District 10).
Needless to say, things don't go smoothly for Wikus. Almost immediatly, he's infected with a mysterious alien fluid, and his body is confiscated by MNU for testing. What began as a sort of faux-documentary soon becomes something more streamlined, as we follow Wikus' struggle to escape MNU, survive as a fugitive, and unravel the secret of District 9. I'm only giving you the basics, and saying any more would ruin one of a hundred surprises that District 9 has up its sleeve.
District 9 had something of a checkered production. Early on, director Neil Blomkamp and producer Peter Jackson were in the planning phases of a Halo movie. When the studios refused to give them the budget they wanted, Jackson gave Blomkamp considerably less money ($30 million) and carte blanche to make whatever he wanted. The result, District 9, is adapted from Blomkamp's original short film "Alive in Joburg". You can see the Halo influences in the film. A lot of the vehicles and weapons used in the film were clearly meant to be Spartan assault rifles and Warthogs. Not that that's important to enjoying the film, but it's something interesting to notice.
Now, earlier I said that District 9 blends the hard sci-fi and the soft sci-fi remarkably well. Yes, there are high-minded concepts like bioengineering, apartheid, war crimes, weapon smuggling, etc. There are some really tough issues to deal with in District 9, but they're not overbearing. If you don't feel like contemplating alien apartheid, there are plenty of well-executed action sequences to keep you occupied. And not only are they well-executed, but the effects work is remarkably convincing for such a small budget. The aliens (derisively referred to as 'prawns') occasionally look too plasticy, but they never stick out like sore, alien thumbs.
But perhaps the single greatest thing about District 9 is its central character, Wikus. Wikus' journey is not an easy one to watch, but Blomkamp knows exactly when to make us fear for him, when to cry for him and when to cheer for him. And trust me, you WILL be cheering for Wikus before the end. But perhaps even more surprising than the human story is the alien story. Wikus meets up with an alien engineer named Christopher Johnson. Christopher and his Earth-born son have a plan for getting the mothership back online, and they form a tentative partnership with Wikus. While Wikus' story is predictably grim, Christopher's story goes to some fairly dark places of its own.
Overall, District 9 is a complete tour-de-force of sci-fi storytelling. It's completely engaging, fascinating, terrifying, and even a little heartbreaking. I'm not even sure what I can compare this movie to, and I think that's going to be my ultimate praise. This is a wholly original work that any fan of science fiction owes it to themselves to see at least once.
5 ( ) stars out of five. Seriously.
|Posted by J_Wade on August 20, 2009 at 12:46 PM||comments (0)|
If today's internet buzz was any indication, Avatar Day (tomorrow) is going to be insane.
Let me back up for a moment. Today, Fox released the first official trailer for James Cameron's latest sci-fi epic, Avatar. You can watch the trailer in all its 1080p glory over at Apple.com. Go on, I'll wait.
Done? Ok, let's continue.
Already, the internet is all atwitter over what to think of this behemoth. Seriously, Twitter just exploded this morning. The reason for my posting here today is because all the buzz over this thing is decidedly not good. People are complaining that the CG looks plasticy and fake. There's no sense of story; there's only one line of dialogue; it looks like 10,000 BC meets Aliens. From the established movie bloggers, the primary complaint seems to be that the sense of scope is completely missing from the 25 minutes of footage that all the Twilight fans got to see at the San Diego Comic Con.
So let me say this as clearly as I can. THIS IS A TEASER. For all intents and purposes, it doesn't make too much sense for James Cameron, Fox, et al to reveal everything as early as August. What is it about the concept of a teaser that people just don't understand? A full trailer will probably hit some time in October, and that's going to be the one to scrutinize.
The other issue is the CG element. Complaints that Cameron's 10+ years of research and development were all for naught seem a bit overzealous, don't you think? From those who were actually at Comic Con, the CG does indeed look gorgeous. This is a film clearly meant to be experienced on the big screen, so why nitpick it on a 14 inch computer monitor?
Sure, the average joe moviegoer probably isn't going to be able to make heads or tails of this trailer beyond "Some guy puts his brain into an alien and flies around and does stuff. And he's blue." Going online and actually looking up the plot synopsis or (God forbid) waiting for the full trailer will reveal much more about the nature of the film, and I honestly hope the moviegoing public will show that kind of enthusiasm for this film. Say what you want about the teaser, but it shows far too much promise for the general public to poo-poo it right away.
I guess my plea, if there must be one, is for you the viewer to keep an open mind about Avatar. There is a very good chance that James Cameron WILL blow your mind, but you need to be willing to take that journey. Chances are, if you haven't seen the teaser by now, you'll be seeing it in front of Inglourious Basterds this weekend. An initial hatred of this teaser is only the first step in your ultimate disappointment. A better trailer will come, trust me. For my part, the clarity of the CG is secondary if the story is one worth telling. I can't wait to see what else Avatar has up its sleeve.
|Posted by Trent on August 18, 2009 at 9:19 PM||comments (0)|
So here we are back with Sean Connery again. Thunderball was the fourth Bond film produced, and is typically identified as the pinnacle of Bond-mania. Goldfinger, which was released the year before, had been the biggest hit in the series so far, bringing into the series gadgets and more daring sexual double entendres. There was nowhere else to go but beyond. (Thunderball is still the best grossing film of the series, if adjusted for inflation.)
Now, I'm not a huge fan of the Thunderball story. I mean, sure, everything that Bond is known for is there, but it just seems to take forever to resolve itself. I know that's funny coming from a guy who adores long movies, but when the plot is kept from you until the end of the movie, things can get taxing on one's attention span. I don't mean there isn't any action or anything, no sir. In fact, the movie has more action than any of the preceding Bond films. It's simply that it's action for action's sake, which I have never been a fan of. It's why I tend to not watch action films as a rule anymore.
I'm not going to attempt to explain the plot here in detail. I'll just give a brief synopsis. Bond (Sean Connery), must find out what happened to a jet that disappeared with two armed atomic bombs. It seems as though the crime syndicat SPECTRE may be responsible. It's pretty straightforward, but it's a spy movie. Therefore the main thing here is espionage. He has to follow this guy Largo and his mistress Domino to find out what's going on. Then there's swimming pools with sharks, really fast yachts, health spas, and epic underwater battles. It's pretty cool to watch once or twice, but it gets old really quick. This is one case where a movie's epicness is it's undoing. It's the first Bond film over two hours, and they haven't figured out to hold our attention for that long yet, especially with Connery starting to get bored of the role.
I will say that though this used to be one of my least favorite Bonds, it has moved up quite a bit. It's nowhere near as bad as it's remake, Never Say Never Again. I would definitely and without hesitation say that it's the worst of the first four Bond films, though, no doubt about it. It's just not as taunt and well crafted. It's almost as though it were rushed out. One thing I used to hate was the big underwater battle at the end. This time I thoroughly enjoyed it. I think it had to do with finally being able to tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys thanks to high-def.
Locations: 7/10 France, the Bahamas, underwater Caribbean, and off the coast of Miami, FL. It's not as many locations as some Bond movies, but here the series is still showing an idealized view of these places, which is right for the series at this point. The Bahamas in particular are showed off beautifully. The underwater sequences were cutting edge at the time, and I'm still amazed.
Villains: 7/10 Blofeld is back again as the head of SPECTRE, but he's not given much screentime or much to do other than bark orders and execute his own people. The main villains here are Largo (Adolfo Celi), and Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi). Volpe is the familiar evil Bond girl, who tries to seduce Bond and then kill him. She's quite good, but not very attractive in a modern audience sensability. Largo is pretty much a harder edged Auric Goldfinger, stylewise. He's charming and nasty at the same time. You can tell when he's become pissed off, and that you'll regret it later.
Bond Girls: 10/10 Other than the evil Fiona Volpe, we have three other Bond girls here of the good sort. There's Patricia Fearing (Molly Peters), who becomes close to Bond as he's recouperating at her health spa. She's not in the movie for long, but she's nice to look at. Then there's Bond's assistant, Paula (Martine Beswick), who ends up the same way Bond's assistants usually do; dead. Finally there is who is probably the best remembered Bond girl this side of Honey Ryder. Here we have Domino (Claudine Auger). She's very beautiful, pretty tough, but still helpless in a way. She's a virtual prisoner to Largo. She's one of the best in the series, as are the other two lesser girls.
Direction/Design: 5/10 Now I do like the fact that they finally decided to move Bond up to a 2.35:1 aspect ratio from a 1.66:1. It allows for a more epic experience. Yet I can not praise the move to a longer running time just for epicness sake. The director of this one is the director of Dr. No and From Russia With Love, and as such is less cartoony than Goldfinger was. I think that perhaps more cartooniness could have made this particular film better. It's almost too serious.
Theme Song: 3/10 I really don't like Tom Jones' Thunderball. It's too Vegasy for me. It was a last minute addition though, as originally a song called Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was the title song, sung by Dionne Warwick. That song was much better than the final product, but they were afraid of putting a song in that was not the name of the movie. Oh well.
Over-all: 5/10 Another average Bond movie. Yet coming from a Connery film, that's pretty bad. It's got great girls and locations, etc. All of the puzzle pieces are there, but it's put together wrong somehow. I'm going to blame it on the fact that the book wasn't solely written by Fleming. Hell, it's as good a reason as any. I'm baffled as to why it doesn't work for me... It just doesn't.
I have to say that the picture quality on this one is not as good as the others. I think it's due to the fact that a lot of optical effects were used. Back in those days the more opticals used, the more the picture suffered, sadly. Still, the rest of the blu-ray package is great. Informative documentaries, commentaries, and such. I still highly recommend.
((( I need to point out that I was supposed to review Julie & Julia last week. To tell the truth, the movie was so self explainatory, I couldn't figure out anything to say about it. The Julia Child side of the story was great, and the Julie Powell side, kind of dull. However the Julia Child portion was so good and heartwarming that I give Julie & Julia ***1/2 out of *****. For more in-depth analysis, hear what I said about the film in the 58th episode of the Front Row Center talkshoe show. )))
James Bond reviews will return soon with a review of The Man With The Golden Gun, after which, a long break will ensue due to no other Bond blu-rays being released presently.
|Posted by Trent on August 9, 2009 at 11:20 PM||comments (2)|
|Posted by J_Wade on August 9, 2009 at 5:43 PM||comments (0)|
Almost every complaint that I leveled at Transformers 2 can reasonably be applied to G.I. JOE - The Rise of Cobra. It's loud, it's flashy, it's grade-A stupidity, and there are too many plot threads going on at once. However, these two films differ on two key elements: Stephen Sommers' G.I. JOE at least attempts to make something resembling sense, and it never forgets to include that most crucial of summer blockbuster elements. Fun.
The Rise of Cobra is a simple enough story. US soldiers Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans) are attached to a unit transporting a case of biomechanical warheads. The unit is attacked by super-armed terrorists Anna (Sienna Miller) and Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee), who are then thwarted by G.I JOE, an international super squad. Duke and Ripcord tag along back to the G.I. JOE base, where they're integrated into the team. From there, it becomes a long episode of the cartoon, complete with the Cobra terrorists stealing the warheads, attacking Paris, and G.I. JOE striking back.
In between the obligatory plot points, we're shown a lot of cool gadgets, no end of villainous posturing (by Christopher Eccleston and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, of all people), and several good gags along the way. It should be noted that G.I. JOE is by no means a good film. There's no question that it's exactly the same kind of lowest-common-denominator filmmaking that made Transformers 2 such a ridiculously huge hit a month ago. As the lead actor, Channing Tatum sucks all the energy out of any scene he's in which, as it turns out, is most of them. To balance him out, though, is a mostly well-chosen cast of Joes and Cobras to keep the film moving. In fact, the amazing thing about the movie is how Tatum is the only one underplaying his role, when all around him are actors hamming it up. It's almost as though Stephen Sommers forgot to tell him he was starring in a live-action cartoon.
Walking in, I had a pretty solid idea of what I was in for. I knew I was sort of in for a repeat of Transformers 2. For the first five minutes or so, that's what I got. There was even a certain point early on where I completely zoned out and started thinking about something else entirely. Thankfully, once the action started, I was surprised at how easy most of it was to follow. While still chaotic and generally silly, there was never any confusion about what was going on. Then I got to know the characters, and I was pleased to see that the film isn't nearly as far removed from the 1980s cartoon as I was expecting.
Of course, for every interesting turn, there are a couple that are completely unnecessary. The car chase through Paris is fun, but drags on for far too long. Just about every major character has a character-building flashback (Storm Shadow has at least three), which give us details that were alluded to more fluently in previous scenes. These scenes seem engineered to keep the less astute viewers up to speed, but to the keen eye they just feel tedious.
I suppose that I enjoyed G.I. JOE at all stems from the fact that my expectation was very, very low. Of course, my expectation for Transformers 2 was equally low, if not lower, and I ended up hating that film. So where's the disconnect? Perhaps it's the fact that this film isn't nearly as in-your-face obnoxious. Perhaps it's because there are no mind-bogglingly stupid gaps in logic (not that it's air-tight or anything).
For whatever reason, I actually had a good time with G.I. JOE - The Rise of Cobra. Granted, this isn't the kind of film I'll be revisiting any time soon, but for what it is, it's exactly the kind of fun that this summer has been sorely missing. If you don't expect too much out of the film, it's surprisingly fun. I realize that's faint praise, but that's exactly the kind of film this is. Light, fun, and not too awful.
I'm giving this one 3 stars ( ) out of five.