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Crank: High Voltage (2009)
Insane and grossly gratuitous
Another reviewer likened this film to Loony Toons. Given the sheer insanity of the film and the indestructible nature of Chev I can understand that. But this film sadly is nothing like the comedic genius of Loony Toons...but I digress. Crank: High Voltage is, in my humble opinion, simply an excuse for the creators to do a movie filled with insane and bloody violence and throw in ungodly amounts of nudity, language, and...oh...I almost forgot, pornography. In fact, the reviewer would have been more correct as to compare this film to an porno pumped full of action. I loved the first film and was utterly disappointed with this so-called "attempt" at a sequel. Action was still top notch, but everything else was simply horrible with any shred of realism left from the first film completely thrown out the window. About the only other thing that I liked in the film apart from the action was the subtle references I noticed throughout the film (or at least I thought they were references). References ranging from Takashi Miike to "The Princess Bride" to Walt Disney. And David Carradine makes a strangely ironic (or should I say foreshadowing) cameo. Worth viewing only by truly hardcore (no porn pun intended) fans of the first film. Film is rated R but only (in my opinion) because they blur out much of sex that would have given this film (and what it should have received) an X rating. NOT TO BE VIEWED BY CHILDREN, EVER!
District 9 (2009)
A "documentary" sci-fi/horror film that works
Films that follow the "documentary" style of story telling, with its crude camera work and choppy editing, tend to fail miserably in creating a believable story (films like Cloverfield, which was supposed to be this great horror film but was pure trash and laughable)...District 9, thankfully, achieved and even surpassed the "believability test." For those who haven't seen it, over a million aliens have "crashed landed" on earth in South Africa and are being "isolated" in an area known as District 9. The "documentary" follows a civilian NGO (non-goverment organization) member who is supervising the transfer of these aliens from District 9 to the up-to-date District 10. Needless to say, things do not go smoothly. Produced by Peter Jackson (who directed horror films before his Lord of the Rings fame) if this gives you any indication to the creepiness of the film...believe me, this film gets down right disturbing 1/4 of the way through and doesn't stop till the end.
Public Enemies (2009)
Decent yet uninspired
Sadly, the hype generated for this film and the chance to have Depp and Bale go at each other in a deadly game of cat and mouse fell short of the mark. Three things kept this film on a short leash, teasing the audience but never fully delivering.
1) Camera work. I have noticed a trend in the film industry to film action with shaky, quick-cutting camera work. I understand it is intended to give the audience the same sense of chaos that the characters are feeling, but I find it distracting and just pure sloppiness. What was worse was that the "shaky camera" was use throughout the film even when there was no action to speak of. I absolutely despise this "style" (I use the term loosely) of camera work. Couldn't the studio have spent a few dollars more for a still camera set a vastly improve the quality of the film? Speaking of quality of film: 2) "Digital film quality." A film that is supposed to be set in the 1930's certainly lost its appeal when it feels like it was filmed with a digital camcorder. The "digital" quality of the film made the movie feel unrealistic and out of place with the gritty world of the Great Depression.
3) Lack of connection to characters. Given the last two problems I've discussed and adding to it the style of story telling, you feel absolutely no connection or sympathy for either Dillinger or Purvis. Its almost as if the director said, "Here is Dillinger...here is Purvis...this happened...this happened....the end." And this unemotional story is dragged out for over 2 hours.
Sadly, it has the potential of being a great film but will ultimately become just another one of the hundreds of films that are released each year and will disappear into film history.
Dragonball Evolution (2009)
Missed the mark by...a lot
My expectations for this live-action retelling of the one of anime's/manga's most beloved stories were generally mixxed going into the theater.
Bad: Son Goku played by an actor of non-Asian descent and without a martial arts background (as far as I could tell); reports that they wanted this film to be more "realisitc" as apposed to the mystical-fantasy realm of the original; and the massive amounts of bad reviews and predictions from critics didn't help either.
Good: Produced by Stephen Chow (the writer/director/star of SHAOLIN SOCCER and KUNG FU HUSTLE, classics); directed by James Wong (who gave us the action packed JET LI'S THE ONE); and Chow Yun-Fat starring as Master Roshi (a bit young but hey, it's Chow Yun-Fat!).
With these "good" points, I figured that even if this was a bad film (which most martial arts films are) it would still be enjoyable and relatively faithful to the spirit of the original. What I saw, however, was a film that tried to live up to the original but falling way short of the mark and flat on its face. Not that it wasn't enjoyable, it was...it was that it wasn't Dragonball.
I biggest complaint leaving the theater was that the film felt way too short. I know the director wanted to keep the character's to a minimum to build on characterization, but even with the characters present the story felt rushed with little time to truly enjoy them. The action also felt rushed, especially the final battle between Goku and Piccolo, deminishing the one thing that everyone loves about Dragonball: epic martial art battles. The attempt to make the story more "realistic" was more detrimental than anything else in this film.
5 out of 10 for even attempting to make a live action film out of a story that spans hundreds of anime episodes and manga volumes into the length of an hour and a half. Still an interesting "retelling" despite its downfalls. Enjoyable but don't expect anything great.
Rocky Balboa (2006)
One final tear jerking hurrah
The final film in the Rocky series returns to its roots of the first two films as a serious drama of searching for one's identity amidst the backdrop of boxing. Stallone proves that a 60 year old Rocky can still be rock hard and able to dish out the pain while at the same time struggling with his own personal demons of Adrian's death, his son's distant behavior, and mid-life crisis of "who am I?". Antonio Tarver (real life boxer) as Mason Dixon also gives a good performance as a troubled boxer with a (as I call it) "Mike Tyson syndrome" where he's so good he can beat anyone in one round and is causing him to start doubting his own worth. I can go one but this film is more than about Rocky trying to get back what he lost, its about every character in the story searching for answers in their lives at pivotal down moments in their existence. Excellent all round and is one of the best of the Rocky films. A must see, should be nominated for an award or two.
The Departed (2006)
A modern day Shakespearian tragedy
If you didn't know any better, you would have thought that this story was written by Shakespeare. I mean it has everything: complex characters, heavy accents (Bostonian) that are near incomprehensible, plenty of language (oh yes, Shakespeare was quite vulgar for his time), sex, witty comedy relief, and an extremely high body count (along with gallons of blood). What starts as a simple undercover job turns into a deadly cat and mouse chase between the two rats (DiCaprio and Damon) to discover the identity of each other without getting killed in the process. Jack Nicholson is, as always, superb and delightfully evil as the vicious mob boss who, like everyone else in the film, has something big to hide other than the fact that he is a mobster. Minor roles of Alec Baldwin and Martin Sheen almost steal the show with their off beat humor and sheer presence (respectively). Fair warning, this film has some very rough cursing and very graphic mob violence and is definitely not for anyone below 17. No nudity, surprising for a Scorsese film, but he makes it up with plenty of graphic sex talk (mostly from Nicholson). An excellent film.
Lady in the Water (2006)
Not Night's best, but still an enjoyable story
It goes without saying that we as an audience have stereotyped Night when it comes to what types of films he make: a sort of Hitchcockian suspense with the eventful twist ending. What surprising sets Lady apart from all of his previous films is that there is not twist ending! Well, at least not the reality altering twist that we have seen in Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and The Village. And unlike all his previous films, Lady stumbles in the realm of believability. Yes, I know there is supposed to be "suspension of disbelief" but this story forces us to believe so many absurd circumstances that you laugh at most of the film. This doesn't mean that it isn't an enjoyable and decent bit of storytelling.
To best describe the story, it is a fable-like bedtime story played out within the confines of a modern day apartment complex. A stuttering superintendent discovers that the culprit of unauthorized night swimming in the complex pool is in reality a water nymph on a noble quest to deliver a message vital to the human race. Only when this task is complete will she be allowed to be taken home by a great eagle. But in her way are these earth beasts who have vowed to kill her at all costs. To help her complete her task the super must find individuals within the complex who are destined to fulfill the roles of certain fable characters...all in the span of 2 or 3 days. It is in discovering the identity of these special characters that we have our "twist" (if you can even call that) and the source of most our laughs. You can't help but laugh at how willingly these normal (well...most of them are normal) everyday people accept their new found roles without question or argument.
Despite all this, we are treated to pretty good bit of storytelling that is enjoyable for almost everybody. Some scenes may be to frightening for young kids but don't worry parents, there is no gore, no language, and hardly any violence (at least visible violence). If I were to put an age limit I would say 10 years old without any problems. Given a 7 for the serious problems of suspension of disbelief.
The Da Vinci Code (2006)
Is this even the same story?
I read the book a week before the movie and, despite serious objections to the falsely claimed "facts" given by Dan Brown, I was drawn in by the engaging cat-and-mouse/treasure hunt story and wanted to see how this story can be adapted to the big screen. Despite the film's keeping to the basic storyline (search for the holy grail and its true meaning while evading multiple opposing forces) I left with the overwhelming sensation of "what the heck did I just see?" Granted, one can never transfer all the minute details, exposition, dialog, or action that the book contains into a 2 hour film; however, there is a fine line between editing out certain parts and adding new parts that have absolutely no relevance or relationship to the original story. In the film version of "The DaVinci Code", director Ron Howard not only crosses this line but leaps over it with reckless abandon. The pacing was all wrong, far too fast to develop any sense of tension (except the scenes where Silas physically attacks his adversaries). Character interaction in some cases were so different from the book that you are looking at a completely different person (see spoilers below). The ending was for the most part completely different (again see spoilers below). But despite all these changes, the overall film (standing on its own) was a serious let down in the entertainment factor. Bad pacing (as stated before), motivation of major characters changed unreasonably or were never explained, dialog seemed forced by some of the characters (Sofie and Langdon), and the ending just reeked of cheese.
6 out of 10. Definitely no where near the quality of film that Howard or Hanks usually produce.
********************************** SPOILERS **********************************
This is mostly for those who have read the book. As I watched the film I couldn't help but cringe or scream (internally, wouldn't actually do it in the theater) "HOWARD YOU *******" based on these blatant changes:
1) Silas's eyes are blue in the film, not red as the book states.
2) "The Sacred Feminine" theory that is so blatant in the book is not as aggressively "preached" in the film. A change that I actually found relieving.
3) Bishop Aringarosa, to put it bluntly, is not the same person. The book portrays him as a righteous priest duped by to find the Holy Grail in hopes of saving Opus Dei from being excommunicated and is horrified at what was done in the name of God. The movie, however, portrays him as a zealous member of a inner circle within the Vatican (no where mentioned in the book) who will do anything to destroy the Holy Grail including lying and murdering.
4)Fache's motivation for thinking Langdon is guilty is different. It starts off like the book, Sauniere left Langdon's name at the crime scene thus, in Fache's mind, Langdon is identified as the killer; however, later in the film we are told that Fache is after Langdon cause Aringarosa lied (as later revealed) that Langdon told the bishop he committed the murders in confession.
5) Fache and Aringarosa's relationship. The movie portrays Aringarosa as a manipulator like "The Teacher" and pulls the strings of Fache's sense of faith and duty by framing Langdon. When the truth is revealed in the end, Aringarosa is unrepentant and still hell bent on his mission. The book is nothing like this. Why Howard decided to make a blatant change to the story is beyond me.
6) Only one cryptex, the smaller one with the Issac Newton riddle, is kept in the film. Any reference to the larger (heavier) cryptex and the "Sofie" riddle are completely gone.
7) Langdon is approached by Collet at the lecture and not at his hotel room. Minor point, I know.
8) Langdon and Sophie's trip to the Swiss Bank is on foot instead of by Taxi (they even added a scene of Sophie paying a guy to not take drugs).
9) Rosalyn Church is completely different than described in the book. Don't know if the movie shows the actual church or not. Furthermore, Langdon and Sophie actually go beneath the church and find Priory documents and evidence at the sarcophagus was present. No such event was in the book.
10) Major changes concerning Sophie's family: Sauniere was not her grandfather but acted as one after Sophie's family died to protect her; Sophie and her brother were in the car wreck and only she survived; as stated before, her brother is really dead; it was her parents that took her to Rosalyn church not her grandfather; she was scolded (rather harshly) by Sauniere because she was trying to find out what happened to her family (not because she snuck into his room and found the key).
11) Langdon figures out the rose line riddle all on his own with absolutely no help from Sophie's grandmother.
12) Sophie confronts Silas in the airplane. This scene didn't make any sense. Not the way Sophie acted, but how Silas talked to her which I felt was totally out of character.
Wimmer trips horribly with latest film
Its sad to see a writer/director like Wimmer go from the visually appealing, methodical, and excellent film like Equilibrium to a film that promised much and yet delivered little. The film does deliver non-stop action from beginning to end, unfortunately the action does nothing more than make the audience yawn and wish the film would continue. Another IMDb member put it well when he said Wimmer doesn't know when to hold back or restrain himself. The fight scenes were often repetitive, one dimensional, and did little to boost our impression or awe of the title character. Another fault with the film was the utter reliance of "suspension of disbelief" to an extreme. Yes, Violet says this is a world we will not understand, but to simply leave it at that and do little (practically nothing) to help the audience to understand this strange world is unjustifiably. This film simply had me going "eh, it wasn't horrible" instead of the "HOLY #*#$" that Equilibrium gave.
Wait to rent. See it simply to enjoy the visuals effects (superb), but be warned the plot feels rushed and almost jumbled. Definitely not one of Wimmer's best, see Equilibrium for that.
Sin City (2005)
Films based on comic books (aka graphic novels) are often a hit or miss situation. There have been some great hits: Spider-Man, Batman, X-Men...and some notorious misses: The Punisher, Daredevil. Sin City, based off of Frank Miller's series of graphic novels, is not just a hit, it is without a doubt the best film adaptation of a comic ever. The story (or actually 4 different stories that are loosely connected by their shared setting) is captivating from the very start, filled with indomitable heroes, sympathetic anti-heroes, despicable villains, and one down right freaky Elijah Wood. The casting for this film employs a long list a stars and "little" stars which, to my pleasant surprise, emboldens an already spectacular film. Visually, the film is so sleek, so unconventional, so comic bookish it is down right beautiful. You feel like you are actually inside the graphic novel and almost forget that this is a live-action film. More films should be done in black and white (with a little bit of spot-coloring for intensity).
Bewarned, Sin City is not for the faint of heart. The film is filled with lots and lots of violence: a broken bone here, a decapitated head here, a dismembered victim here, an impaled head here, a guy punching another's face to a bloody pulp here...you get the idea. But, despite this, the violence is not "gratuitous" but completely necessary for the film. There are also nudity in this film along with one sex scene. The language for the most part is imperceivable, you are so engulfed by the story and the violence that the language just doesn't register. The film also deals with issues that are completely not appropriate for young kids: cannibalism, vengeance by any means necessary (see the explanation on violence), molesting serial killers, and torture to name a few.
The film is rated R for the above reasons mention and that warning should be heeded.
A masterpiece through and through, an instant classic.