Monday, January 31, 2011

My 2010 Movie Odyssey - Part XXIII

The Hurt Locker (2008)
This is a truly intense tale of three soldiers whose job is to defuse roadside bombs in Iraq. Director Kathryn Bigelow deftly conducts the disarming of each new bomb so that each one has its own brand of terror.

(500) Days of Summer (2009)
I really enjoyed this unconventional romantic comedy and I really wish more romantic comedies would end like this one as it would make them much more believable.

Point Break (1991)
Since I really enjoyed The Hurt Locker, I was interested in checking out some of the other films in the Kathryn Bigelow canon. Unfortunately, this one was a major disappointment. It starts out interestingly enough with police officer Keanu Reeves going undercover to solve a series of bank robberies, but it meanders too long in the second act with endless scenes of surfing and I hated the ending. Even though he was extremely charismatic, I disagreed with almost everything beach bum Patrick Swayze had to say; if everyone lived by his philosophy, nothing would ever get done.

Red (2010)
Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, and Helen Mirren look really cool and blow lots of stuff up. Really, what more needs to be said about this popcorn piece?

Timecrimes (2007)
The trailer had me intrigued and I’m always interested in low-budget science fiction. However, the time travel elements did not work for me with effects constantly causing the causes and the main character is almost completely unsympathetic.

Coming up next: the penultimate movie odyssey post for 2010.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

My 2010 Movie Odyssey - Part XXII

The Running Man (1987)
Arnold Schwarzenegger beats up a bunch of silly bad guys, spouts a series of one-liners, and is generally very manly as he runs around. There’s also some sort of futuristic game show involved as well.

Despicable Me (2010)
This is a cute movie that, while it only made me laugh out loud a couple times, had me smiling through most of it, and never had me smacking my forehead. It is mostly enjoyable but largely forgettable outside of the thousands of little yellow minions who always manage to get themselves in trouble.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
This is a movie that exists solely to show epic video game style fight sequences. The story that strings them together is rather inconsequential and none of the characters are particularly compelling or likeable, but the visual energy makes for an enjoyable, if shallow, ride.

The Good German (2006)
While I can appreciate director Steven Soderbergh’s attempt to evoke the films of the 40s (and George Clooney looks great in black and white), the whole thing felt too much like a deconstructionist version of Casablanca for me to truly embrace it (and Tobey Maguire looked completely out of place in black and white).

Alice (2009)
This new take on Alice in wonderland is more flat than wonderful.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

My 2010 Movie Odyssey - Part XXI

A Town Called Panic (2009)
This is a movie that is very difficult to describe. It is a stop-motion animated film with cheap plastic toys as the main characters. Cowboy, Indian, and Horse are roommates. Horse's birthday is tomorrow and Cowboy and Indian are bound and determined to get him the perfect gift. What follows is a madcap romp featuring a mountain of bricks, fishmen, a tunnel to the center of the earth, and a gigantic robotic penguin. The film was endearing as I watched it, yet became more and more awesome the more I thought about it afterwards.

Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925)
While the 1959 film is the definitive version of the story, there is still plenty of good stuff here in the silent one. There is some early Technicolor for film history buffs, a thrilling sea battle, and a heart wrenching scene where Ben-Hur's mother, diseased with leprosy, comes across the sleeping form of her son. Unable to touch him because she is unclean, she tearfully hugs and caresses his shadow, the only part of him she can touch.

The Last Airbender (2010)
This is a gorgeous movie. The production design is amazing, the effects are stellar, and the action sequences are thrilling and inventive (and some of the best depictions of using magic I have seen on screen). And then there is the script. It is a mess. It jumps all over the place, full of clunky dialog and free of interesting characters. Most of the exposition is presented in painful speeches although most of the time there is never any clear reason why anyone is doing anything. This film should get Oscar nominations for art direction and visual effects, and a Razzie nomination for worst screenplay.

Knight and Day (2010)
Tom Cruise was fun and Cameron Diaz was cute, but the body count was far too high for me to really get behind these two characters. (And it also didn’t help that the maguffin in the movie looks an awful lot like the atomic battery I used in a student film ten years ago.)

Never Too Young to Die (1986)
This is epic 80s cheese. It has cliched power ballads over the opening and closing credits, over the top villains, laughable dialog, absurd action sequences, and stars John Stamos as a gymnast. And yet, the worse it gets, the more fun it is to watch.

Monday, January 24, 2011

My 2010 Movie Odyssey - Part XX

TMNT (2007)
While I appreciate the attempt to do something interesting with the characters, and Mako as the voice of Splinter was inspired, the whole thing came off more silly than awesome. I'd really like to see a darker, grittier reboot of the Turtles movies along the lines of Batman Begins.

Toy Story 3 (2010)
Toy Story 2 is one of my favorite films of all time. As in top 20. Maybe top 10. So Toy Story 3 had a lot to live up to. While not quite as good as its predecessor, Toy Story 3 is still quite good. The wizards at Pixar deftly juggled Toy Story's huge cast of characters as well as half a dozen new ones. The story delves into themes just touched on in Toy Story 2, dealing with what happens to toys when their owner outgrows them. There are thrilling chases, plenty of laughs, and an exquisitely orchestrated "prison break." And while the action climax may fall short of previous Pixar efforts, the final scene packs such an emotional wallop that any faults the film may have are instantly forgotten.

Robin Hood (2010)
There were some fun action sequences and I suppose I appreciate Ridley Scott's attempt to put the Robin Hood stories into a more realistic setting, but they spent so much time trying to put Robin Hood into a historical framework that the Robin Hood of myth and legend all but disappeared.

How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
I saw the trailers (and teaser spots during the Olympics) and nothing really grabbed me. "This is just another in the long line of lackluster Dreamworks ilk," I thought. But then everyone started raving about this movie and I felt that I had to see it. I have rarely been so happy to be wrong. The film is full of engaging characters and the humor doesn't cater to the lowest common denominator. The story went in some unexpected places and the resolution was completely satisfying. The only real complaint I have with the movie is that so much time is spent at the beginning talking about how Vikings kill dragons because dragons kill Vikings, it would have been nice to drive that point home by actually showing an onscreen death of a Viking or a dragon.

Inception (2010)
I don't know how he keeps doing it, but Christopher Nolan has hit it out of the park again. This is essentially a con man/heist movie, but it masquerades so well as a trippy mind game movie that the audience is willingly taken in. There is eye candy galore, thrilling action sequences, and a wonderfully executed zero-g hallway battle.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

My 2010 Movie Odyssey - Part XIX

The Family Man (2000)
It’s supposed to be It’s a Wonderful Life for the new millennium, but I found some of the characters difficult to swallow and I thought it downright cruel to send Nicholas Cage to an alternate reality for so long only to yank him back once he got comfortable.

High School Musical (2006)
There are some catchy tunes and a couple bits of inventive choreography that make for a pretty good made-for-TV musical.

Cutthroat Island (1995)
Geena Davis is woefully miscast in this mess. She is far too quiet and mousy to be believable as a bloodthirsty pirate queen. None of the characters are interesting or likeable in any way, and all attempts at humor fall flat. And then there are the action sequences which have so little regard for the laws of physics that they lose any semblance of credibility.

Gojira (1954)
This movie is much better sans dubbing and Raymond Burr. Godzilla is downright scary, partly due the to the fact that we don’t actually see him until half way through the film. His immense size and incredible strength make him a virtually indestructible killing machine, and that is before he unleashes his radioactive breath. The scenes showing the aftermath of his destruction are shocking and grim, on par with the best war movies. There is a love story that is little more than filler and the means of Godzilla’s demise are classic B-movie silly science, but when it comes to pure terrifying destruction, Godzilla can’t be beat.

Julie & Julia (2009)
This is a light, mostly entertaining piece starring the always radiant Amy Adams as a woman who has taken it upon herself to cook everything in Julia Child's cookbook. This story is intercut with the story of Meryl Streep as Julia Child, on her journey to becoming Julia Child. It took me a while to get used to Julia Child's unorthodox voice, but overall it was a pleasant movie. Warning: Do not watch this film on an empty stomach. I was very hungry by the time it ended.

Coming up next: three of the most critically acclaimed movies of last year.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

My 2010 Movie Odyssey - Part XVIII

Blood Diamond (2006)
I wanted to like this movie but I just could not get into it. Leonardo DiCaprio was unconvincing as a gritty smuggler and his African accent was inconsistent and never believable. The plot was predictable the whole way though and the film was too full of itself to be entertaining.

Shutter Island (2010)
Why does Leonardo DiCaprio insist on playing gritty characters? His face is too boyish and his voice too high pitched to be convincing. He was perfect for Catch Me if You Can; why doesn’t he do more light-hearted fare? The film was still mostly entertaining, though I figured out what was really going on pretty quickly.

Mimic (1997)
This is little more than a standard monster-kills-everyone-off-one-by-one movie, though the monsters are pretty inventive and creepy.

From Russia with Love (1963)
Dr. No is the first official James Bond movie, but this is the first one to feature all the tropes we’ve come to expect of 007: globe-trotting, secret villainous societies, and cool gadgets. It’s fun, but there’s little that makes it stand out from the rest of the Bond films (which all run together for me).

Scream (1996)
Maybe I would have appreciated it more if I had seen more of the classic slasher movies. As it is, I never really got into this affectionate send-up of the slasher genre.

Friday, January 14, 2011

My 2010 Movie Odyssey - Part XVII

AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004)
The Alien franchise is full of scares, a sense of dread, and lots of R-rated violence. The lesser Predator franchise is full of new and interesting weapons that do lots of R-rated violence. Alien vs. Predator is full of uninteresting characters, silly ideas, and a distinct lack of R-rated violence. What's so important about the R-rated violence? It's an in-your-face demonstration of how powerful and dangerous the Aliens and Predators are. Tame the violence, tame the monster. And then there is an imprisoned Alien queen and a Predator that has to get assistance from a human that further serve to defang the monsters. And what's with all these Aliens being on earth to begin with? One of the major issues of all four Alien films is "We can't let this thing get to earth. Ever." But apparently they were here all along. Yet all the damage this movie does to its parent franchises could be overlooked if it was any good. Unfortunately, the characters are little more than cardboard cutouts, spending most of their time running around a pyramid so full of perils and booby traps that it never achieves even a modicum of believability. And what’s with the pyramid? Apparently, thousands of years ago the Predators came to earth and taught ancient civilizations how to build pyramids because there is no way humans could have figured out how to build something as massive as the pyramids with stone age technology. What a dim view of human ingenuity.

Monsters vs Aliens (2009)
Dreamworks is getting better. This film is quite entertaining, features amusing characters and some interesting locations, and never really devolves into the strings of references that plague earlier Dreamworks efforts. There isn't a whole lot that's truly memorable in the film but it is quite fun while it lasts.

Iron Man 2 (2010)
While it lacks some of the heart from the first one, Iron Man 2 is still a rip-roaring ride with lots of cool visuals and a still electric Robert Downey Jr. in the title role.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1982)
The Tim Burton film, while beautiful, is grim, grim, grim. This filmed stage production starring Angela Lansbury is far more entertaining. It is still grim, but the grimness is balanced out by a heavy dose of dark humor. Seeing the stage production made me understand why someone would want to make a movie out of it.

For Your Consideration (2006)
This indictment of Hollywood’s tendency to do almost anything for an award would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

Coming up next: a Leonardo DiCaprio double feature.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

My 2010 Movie Odyssey - Part XVI

Well, with the combination of the holidays, spending time with family, and going to my grandfather's funeral, I lost all the momentum I had built up. I still have about ten more movie odyssey entries to post (half of which still need to be written). Oh well. No rest for the procrastinator.

Grizzly Man (2005)
This documentary tells the story of Timothy Treadwell, a man who decided to spend much of his time living in the wild alongside bears, foxes, and other critters. What starts out as a portrait of an interesting character who has dedicated his life to studying these animals quickly becomes a look at a man who is losing his touch with reality, wilfully forgetting that bears are dangerous wild animals. He seems to care more for the bears than the people in his life, and every time he says “I love you” to one of the animals, it is downright unsettling.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
Is it as good as the first two X-Men movies? No. Does it bring new insight to the character of Wolverine? Hardly. Does it have some good action sequences? Absolutely! The film is mostly mindless fun and an enjoyable way to spend 100 minutes. Just don’t go in with high expectations.

Synecdoche, New York (2008)
Weird gets piled on top of more weird and is then blanketed with a layer of surreal in this film from Charlie Kaufman. There are some engaging set pieces and ends with some interesting thoughts on life. The main problem is with the first half of the movie. It bites off more than it can chew, trying to tell too much story in too little time. The story jumps around and I was never really aware of how much time supposedly had passed and I had difficulty keeping track of the main character’s relationships to different characters as they popped in and out of his life. The second half has lots of wonderful strangeness, but the first half is a chore to get through, almost ruining the whole movie.

Hamlet (2009)
This is the first time I’ve actually enjoyed a version of Hamlet. David Tennant breathes life into the title character instead of merely spouting off words that sound good (as too many actors doing Shakespeare are wont to do). His madness scenes were fun and yet I found myself actually listening to him during his many soliloquies instead of reaching for the fast forward button. Of course Patrick Stewart is wonderful as Claudius (after all, he’s great in everything he touches) but the real gem here is Oliver Ford Davies as Polonius who plays the character as a lovably senile old man who caused me to laugh in almost every scene he was in.

The Happening (2008)
The movie starts out promising as the people of New York City start killing themselves in the quickest, most efficient ways possible. The scene is creepy and even a little funny in a morbid sort of way. But things quickly go downhill. We are introduced to a science teacher played by Mark Wahlberg who is going through some sort of marital problems with his wife played by Zooey Deschanel. The screenplay skirts around their problems so much that we never really know what is wrong with their marriage, and both characters are so uninteresting that by the time we do get some sort of explanation we just don’t care. But our intrepid couple do not have much time to dwell on their issues, because whatever caused the New Yorkers to start killing themselves is spreading across the east coast, quickly making its way to where they are. Whatever it is appears to be airborne, so they find themselves running away from the wind. That’s right, The Wind. Scary. The group of people Marky Mark escapes with depletes faster than the cast of a Roland Emmerich film and soon the hapless couple and the girl they are babysitting are the only ones left. And then a completely different movie starts as they find themselves at an isolated farmhouse inhabited by a crazy lady. None of the characters are interesting and every new turn the plot takes is more ridiculous than the last. I usually try to be very sensitive about spoilers, but at times the big twist or explanation at the end is so absurd, so laughable, so idiotic that I feel like I am doing my audience a favor by spoiling it. This is one of those instances, for the thing causing all this mayhem and death is not some sort of biological weapon or terrorist attack that several characters theorize, but plants conspiring against humanity to release deadly toxins that are only harmful to humans. The more I try to wrap my head around this explanation, the more ludicrous it becomes. See? I told you I was doing you a favor.

Coming up next: a couple versus movies.