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Cutscene: THE MOVIE!
If you've heard of Advent Children, then you probably have also heard that the movie makes absolutely no attempt to appeal to people who haven't played the game. Well, as someone who hasn't played any of the games, believe me, it's very, very true. I could never get into a video game that has turn-based fighting, but I love anime, video games, sci-fi and action films, etc so there's no way I would pass up watching a film this good-looking, even if I'm not the intended audience. Luckily, I read a synopsis of the plot of Final Fantasy VII before watching Advent Children, and good thing too, as nothing is introduced not the setting, not the backstory, not even the characters (there is a short narration at the beginning, but it won't make any sense to newcomers). I only wish that the plot synopsis had mentioned that the characters all have superpowers, capable of the most gargantuan of physical feats, and that in this universe, the laws of physics don't apply. Everyone seems to bounce around like Spider-man. There's a well-circulated image on the 'net of the FFVII cover retitled to "Fanboy Bull$#!% VII", and watching this film, I couldn't help but think of it constantly, because this movie is filled-to-the-brim with anime clichés. If you are attempting to watch this without playing the game, be fully prepared to suspend your disbelief to a degree you probably didn't know you were capable of. I'm a self-confessed nerd, and even I had a very hard time suspending my logic in order to enjoy the fight scenes. Characters jump around so freely, they can practically fly, throw multi-ton objects, like motorcycles, as though they were made of cardboard, and dodge and deflect bullets easily. All this, without any blood! Cloud, the main character, gets shot in the face near the beginning and all he gets is a small cut. This is the only blood in the entire movie from what I remember. In fact, Cloud gets stabbed, shot in the back, and has a building fall on him, and each time, he just shakes it off. Now I'm all for over-the-top action, but this film was so matrix/anime clichéd, that its very hard to take it seriously. See this movie while you're still young, because you won't be so easily impressed for long. Also, the irony of a turn-based game being made into a breakneck-paced action film is probably lost on most fans, but certainly not on me.
Currently, this film has a stellar rating of 7.9/10, which in my book would make it the most overrated film on IMDb. It doesn't take a genius to realize that the fanboys have turned out in record numbers to vote. So for anyone who's not played the game, don't let the rating fool you, (as many have pointed out) Advent Children DOES NOT stand on its own as a film. In fact, it barely stands as much of a sequel to the game, as (again, as many others have pointed out) the story is not continued to any significant degree from the original game. Instead, Advent Children plays more like an epilogue short story that bookends the massive plot of the original epic. It's a 20-50 hour game, followed by a measly 90 minute movie.
Yet I gave it a good rating, primarily because the CGI, animation, visuals, landscapes and action sequences are so well done and beautiful, that they deserve mounds of praise. This is Advent Children's saving grace, like The Spirits Within, it's a damn gorgeous film. And the movie is still a lot of fun, and certainly very entertaining, if not very well written. And I was able to enjoy both films primarily for these reasons. I went in expecting Square Pictures to learn from their mistakes from the first film and write a great script for this film, but I was let down. Leaving us with, now, two films that are style over substance.
And to me that's the real tragedy. To the best of my knowledge, these two Final Fantasy movies are the only feature-length CG films so far that aren't kids movies. Because of the shortcomings of these films, it prevents other serious CG films from being made. This year, you will see a dozen Shreck clones (90 minute fart jokes, marketed as high-quality family entertainment) released in theaters, and yet Advent Children, the most gorgeous CG film ever made, was not released in theaters in the US.
Only one major flaw
There's an old list of simple guidelines that a good script should follow - One of the most important is to make your characters smart, as opposed to them all being dumb as a rock. If your characters make an endless stream of bad decisions, it's way too easy for the writer to have them get into bad situations, and the audience looses interest in stupid characters. You've written a poor story when all the conflict could be resolved if the characters had just stopped to think for a moment. "11:14" suffers from this problem. All the main characters make stupid decisions where they break the law unnecessarily. The only deaths are accidental, so if they were just honest and told the police what happened, they would be fine. Instead they make dumb choices, and as a result you really don't care what happens to them - you just end up thinking that they get what they deserve.
That said, that's the only thing wrong with this film. The pace is great, great editing, clever non-linear story structure, solid acting, and best of all, a great attention to detail. If you watch the film again, you start to notice even more little details that show that Greg Marcks really did a fantastic job, on nearly all levels. If he writes smarter characters in his future films, then he's got a very bright future as a filmmaker.
A stupid film about stupidity
OK, so "stupid" isn't the right word, "cheap" is more like it. A film with a fascinating subject, that has been neglected in the media (which the film makes a big point of), is ruined by shoddy production values. The film has poor quality cameras and even poorer sound. During the interviews, you will strain to hear what the person's saying. The filmmakers could have fixed this with a little bit of good sound mixing, but decided not to. The film also suffers due to a lack of clips from the material that they are talking about. The filmmakers would have been wise to not worry about copyright issues and instead make a good film, especially with the budget they were working with. And as mentioned by others, the film does indeed have no real focus. And what little structure that is offered is...well...stupid. Instead the film uses an inordinate amount of old Trailer Vision material, and old stock footage. This film needed a major rewrite. This subject needs more attention from the public, and this film in the end is simply a wasted opportunity, especially with the great list of interviewees.
Leave your prejudices at the door
People love to pick on Keanu Reeves. Even before this film came out, people were bashing his performance without even seeing the film, and now that the film has been released, these people are letting loose even more despite the fact that the film is extremely well made. There are also the people who think the film is bad simply because they're obsessed with the source material. ANY adaptation, now matter how well crafted would not be enough to satisfy them. These two groups hated the movie going in, and hated the movie going out. The rest of us can actually enjoy the movie, and see that it's a cut above the schlock that gets peddled in theaters these days. Now I'm not saying that you have to like Keanu Reeves, but why are you still seeing his movies if you hate him so? Just admit that you're prejudiced and deal with your own problems you can at least TRY and be objective. Keanu certainly isn't going to stop acting, now matter how bad you think his movies are - It certainly hasn't stopped the Waynes brothers. And in the end, Keanu still wins, because you still went to see his movie. These criticisms are absurd, because the last thing John Constantine is supposed to be is flamboyant and exaggerated. Reeves' performance is completely appropriate. I loved reading Hellblazer, and I'm well aware Reeves isn't the most over-the-top actor in the world but I still enjoyed Constantine a hell of a lot.
It's a great movie, despite what all the haters will have you believe.
Agent Orange (2004)
Crosses the line...
There is a line between art and business, especially in cinema. Sometimes the line is fine, sometimes it is thick, and sometimes the line is blurred beyond recognition. 'Agent Orange' is a part of a series of short films/commercials commissioned by amazon.com, which are obviously inspired by BMW's 'The Hire' series. The films feature a multitude of products available on amazon's site. At best, they are still a perversion of the art of cinema. On the other hand, Tony Scott's work with BMW in their cross-promotional effort "The Hire" is commendable. When a filmmaker has but one restriction - your film has to feature a car - the restriction is so minimal it can be a situation where a little compromise breeds creativity and originality, or on par with standard studio interference to the artistic process. I think this is very true in the case of "The Hire" - the filmmakers successfully infused original ideas and concepts into the tired car chase genre and they were able to take advantage of the rare opportunity to produce some highly-entertaining and well made short films. But when you're forced to feature a handful of products within a short few minutes, you've sold out. Shame on you Tony, this year you had a hit feature with an academy award winning actor that was well received - why in god's name would you want to do something like this? In addition, the film is very perfunctory, either as a result of the complete commercialization of the film, or that Scott merely did it for the money - it looks like a student film trying to emulate Scott's style. The disjointed editing/fast cutting technique Scott has used consistently for the past few years certainly works well in his last two films "Spy Game" and "Man on Fire" but is completely absurd in this corny romance.
Tony, you're better than this.
"Sic Transit Gloria Mundi": So the glory of this world fades
Rushmore was the first Wes Anderson film I saw, and I didn't think much of it the first time. I used to think that Royal Tenenbaums was Anderson's first good film. I thought Bottle Rocket wore its rookie status on its sleeve; I thought Rushmore was flawed; and I thought Tenenbaums finally showed that Anderson had honed his craft and he would start making great films. I then re-watched Tenenbaums and found it to be even more satisfying on additional viewings. I realized that Anderson had actually crafted one of those rare pieces of cinema that reveals itself more and more upon repeat viewings. So I of course decided to give Rushmore a second look.
Now that I've had a chance to see the DVD, I've had a much different experience viewing the film. Perhaps because I saw it on Pan and Scan VHS previously? Or perhaps because Anderson's vision requires an adjustment period?
Some people will never like Anderson's films. They simply will not appeal to those out there who want clichéd Hollywood fodder. Some people will love Anderson's films from the moment they see them. Others, like myself, will need to see the films more than once to truly appreciate them. Anderson breaks convention in ways no one has done before - One has to understand that his films are deep where most films are shallow, and shallow where most films are deep. This will throw A LOT of people off, as evidenced by many of the comments on the message boards. Anderson's films begin where others end. In Rushmore, we see Max's fall from grace, not his climb up to become head of every club in his school. In Tenenbaums, we see the aftermath of the child prodigies, not their glory years. Again, this will throw a lot of people off, and indeed I heard this criticism of Tenenbaums quite a lot. Anderson constructs the world of his films around a cinema storybook. They are episodic, told in chapters. Some will find Anderson at first glance to be a rather egotistical filmmaker, as I once did. However, upon second glance, you can begin to see the rich text woven deeper in the films that might be hidden beneath quirkiness or drastic breaks from convention. The first time I saw Rushmore, I felt shock, embarrassment and confusion (Mostly at Max and Rosemary's bizarre interaction). I was lost and unfamiliar with this world Anderson has created. The second time I saw the film I felt Passion, Love, Tragedy and ultimate Redemption. I found the heart in Anderson's film.
If you felt Rushmore was not all it could have been the first time you saw it, please give it another chance. You'll find which side you fall on.
Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
And I thought Insurrection was bad...
This movie is one big lost opportunity. The budgets for the films just get bigger and bigger, and the plots just get worse and worse. When I saw Insurrection, I thought it was a decent movie but certainly a huge drop from First Contact. I simply assumed that the next film would be better, as has been the pattern with Star Trek films. Now after seeing Nemesis, Insurrection is magnificent by comparison. The problem with this film is there's no passion, and it shows in the whole production. The writer-director team seem to have aimed very, very low. The filmmakers were just trying to make a little self-enclosed film without any substance. The most potential is at the end of a saga, where you can put anything and everything at stake. Instead, the writer just rewrote Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan for the TNG cast, and by his own admission to boot! The people who currently control the franchise have no interest in creating a bold, emotional or epic story. At this point, they are mindlessly cranking out material simply to continue the franchise.
Anyone who has been following the TNG series could have come up with a better way to wrap up the entire TNG saga that beats the pants off of this sorry excuse for a film.
But it looks like that will never happen, as it has been quietly mentioned that this will be the last TNG movie. A horrible shame, as the plot threads remain open, and could easily be closed in an epic and meaningful way.
I Love the '80s (2002)
Very Fun, Enjoyable
Kudos to VH1 for "I love the 80's". The new direction of the network seems to be the "Behind the Music Channel" with the majority of their shows being similar pop culture-type Documentaries. Which is fine by me as long as they keep the standards up to par with Behind the Music, such as they have with "I love the 80's". This show covers nearly all the bases and leaves very few items out. It's a must-see for everyone who lived through the 80's.
The one and only drawback (and perhaps the thing that keeps this show from achieving near-flawlessness) are the interviewees, who are certainly funny and interesting, but not exactly experts on the subject matter. All too often it is blatantly obvious that the "celebrity" has completely forgot and/or is totally unknowledgeable of the pop culture topic they're covering (and had to be reminded). It REALLY would have been nice if they had interviewed FANS of the shows/movies they were discussing, and not just people who can only say "oh, yeah, that was a good movie" or some such drivel that anyone can spout. Especially to counter the constant jokes at the expense of the many of the quality flicks they were trying to praise. And the new "200 Pop culture Icons" took this problem and ran with it- they brought in Reality TV NOBODIES to comment! People whose 15 minutes are up, and have nothing relevant to say. ["I love the 80's" has a DISTINCT subject of discussion, unlike "Pop culture Icons" which can't decide if it's an "100 greatest actors" list or "100 greatest characters" list.] Don't waste your time - stick with "I love the 80's" reruns and hope VH1 does better next time around with "I love the 70's".
Despite that oversight, I think just about anyone will thoroughly enjoy this nostalgia trip, as this show overcomes those relatively minor flaws (your average viewer probably won't care anyway. Its probably just rabid fans like myself who doesn't like to see his favorite films bashed by non-fans just making fun of it.) I highly recommend this mini-series.