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X-Men: First Class (2011)
Three reasons to watch this movie: Bacon, Fassbender, and McAvoy
Admittedly, I had certain expectations going to see this movie. Some of them were met, some were exceeded, and then some weren't. I'll start off with the bad just to get them out of the way. I'll include a fact or two from the movie but, hopefully, nothing important.
The biggest problem I had with this movie is that the director seemed so fixated on the "period piece" rather than the friendship between Erik and Charles that it almost felt at times that the mutants were an afterthought in comparison to the plot of creating another World War. There was very little delving into their friendship let alone the creation of the X-Men team. I'm sorry, but one week of training isn't enough to teach Havok or Banshee to control their powers. I'll trust that is what the sequel will be for, though.
The concept of the outcasts, of "us vs. them" and "peace vs. war" was played up nicely. The tension was obvious from the start and the blind ignorance that is to blame was also obvious, even a bit too obvious. The writers did a great job at skimming the surface of the problems to come so I hope that the sequel also delves into the causes of this ignorance more. What would also be nice is too really see how Magneto and Professor X deal with these issues on their own terms.
McAvoy and Fassbender steal any scene they're in, whether together or separately. The best thing for this movie was to cast these two together. That being said, I do believe that McAvoy and Fassbender weren't used to their full potential. What little time you do see the two together philosophizing was never enough given their chemistry on screen. I just wish more time had been spent on these things rather than Shaw's plot. But, when you have someone like Kevin Bacon in a movie - any movie - who knows how to play up a character like Shaw, you can't waste him. Every move Bacon made as Shaw, every expression made and line spoken with a specific tone of voice was delivered flawlessly. Over all, I would watch the movie again not because of the plot, but because of it's three main actors and the strengths each of them brought to their characters. When each of them was on screen as Eric, Charles, or Shaw, I believed them. The score I gave this movie was because of them.
As for the remaining supporting cast, they did their jobs well enough. Lucas Till as Havok, Jones as Banshee, and Hoult as Beast definitely stood out, though I know I'm not the only one to say that I had gotten use to Kelsey Grammar as Beast. It was obvious that January Jones as Frost was there as nothing more than eye candy given she played the role with nothing more than a straight face. Kudos to Lawrence for playing Raven in full body makeup as much as she did. She did an excellent job as someone struggling with her identity. The remaining characters came and went, even Rose Byrn and Zoe Kravitz. Byrn was given very little to work with while Kravitz was given more screen time than what was needed for her character.
The Last Airbender (2010)
It wasn't that bad.
Reviewing the movie, I can say that the back story and time lapses are told through narration which is sporadic. It helped to alleviate any confusion on the viewer's part though it added to the choppiness of the film. The beginning is awkward to watch since the movie - like the cartoon - begins in the middle of a story and doesn't seem to even out and really pick up pace until halfway through. The special effects, cinematography, and score were amazing and despite people's opinions that the acting was bad, it really wasn't. This is the acting premier for Noah Ringer and for a beginner he gave his character, Aang, emotion. The Chi movements or dances that helped build Chi could've ruined the movie had the actors looked awkward or inexperienced, but they pulled it off wonderfully, especially on Ringer's part. The other young actors in this have limited acting experience behind them, so to have done the job they did (no doubt in front of a green screen) I think they did just fine.
As for changes in the story, the plot is the same though certain details were changed due to constancy issues in the cartoon. In the cartoon, firebenders could create fire which is inconsistent with the abilities of other benders. The movie addresses this issue by only allowing firebenders to bend fire, not create it (though it did mention how the arrival of Sozin's comet would give them this ability). Yes, the names of the characters were given correct pronunciation in the movie but, when you're given a $150 million movie, no director would want to butcher another culture's language just because the cartoon did. Amongst a few other changes were Aang's difficulty in mastering waterbending not because he was incapable, but because of his grief over losing his people and his home. This is an issue the cartoon only mildly addresses over all 3 books. The ending where Aang deals with the Fire Nation's attack on the Water Tribe in the Northern Territory is different. I actually prefer the movie's ending to the animated version simply because it was a more feasible ending. The biggest change though was the sense of humor or lack of it. Where the cartoon was thoroughly enjoyable with a lot of comedy, the movie was heavier with Aang feeling the weight of his responsibilities and the consequences of his running away.
I understand the loyalty a fan base will have and the issues the Avatar fans have are really no different than LotR's fans had after each movie was made. Any changes made to a movie for any reason will be met with anger, whether the changes were justified or not. Anyone watching a movie based off of a series should keep in mind that a great deal will be left out of a movie simply because of time restraints. The story's time frame will seem warped in a movie that isn't even two hours long, especially when a person is familiar with the time frame associated with the series. Overall, if Shyamalan had been given the green light to make Book 2, I would've gone to the theater to see it.
Tin Man (2007)
Good and bad elements, but it was still fun.
For anyone still wondering, this isn't a remake or a re-imagining. The parallels between the original Dorothy and DG were apparently meant to bring the story full circle, not to copy it. This story is suppose to take place some 400 years after Dorothy landed in OZ, now referred to as the Outer Zone. This little fact, which would have been useful to know from the start, you don't discover until Part 3. I've got to admit, I was lost at first as to how to accept this new O.Z. The Wizard's an addict (played perfectly of course by R. Dreyfuss), the Lion's entire species become mind-readers and empaths, the Tin Man and Scarcrow are no longer literally what they are described (as being tin and straw) but instead are titles for the keepers of justice and the adviser to the Queen (though the name Scarcrow is never addressed in this story). So it would seem that the attributes the actual characters gained in the Wizard of OZ (heart and brain) became their greatest qualities, allowing those with the same qualities to succeed in occupations that put them to good use. Those with heart would be best at keeping the peace while those with a good mind would be used for their intelligence. As for why the lions become mind-readers and empaths still escapes me though. As I said, all of this is difficult to understand at first, but I got use to it.
The acting at times was shaky and the scripting weak at points though the SFX was about par for what you see in the previews. I didn't quite understand the stance Zooey Deschanel (DG) took on her character's personality. She got the curious head tilt down good but the whole anger/fear thing didn't seem to be in her emotional vocabulary. On the positive, she knew how to play charming and innocent when need be. Alan C's and Neal M's performances were the obvious highlights, but I never really expected any different from those two.
Funny enough - regardless of these issues - I actually found myself enjoying the story more and more. Part 1 wasn't bad though it was slow to start. It eventually picked up the pace leaving you with a good cliffhanger. Part 2 was considerably better, faster-paced with a little twist at the end. By the time Part 3 premiered, I was looking forward to watching it. Given the harder edge this OZ has taken, you could either enjoy it or find it ridiculous. Don't expect top quality work like you might have found in the Scifi Channel's previous mini-series "Taken", but it is fun and definitely imaginative.
Superman Returns (2006)
Well, it has potential
This movie reminds me of the original Star Trek movie. Dead pan acting. However, the second came back to be fantastic. This is the hope I have for a second (or 6th) Superman if it's slated for a sequel.
If there's one thing that made the first series of Superman's different with Margot and Christopher Reeve, it's that you cared about their characters because...well, they had character! Not to use such a cliché line, but Reeve had sparkle in his eye and he was fun, funny. Margot had energy which made her the fun busy body that Lois Lane had become associated with. But these new characters just walk around like life's no longer worth living. Bosworth's Lane was the worst in terms of depressing, something I wouldn't have associate with any of her previous characters. Routh's Superman needs to stop looking the part and really act it. He's got the look and voice down, but just needs to loosen up some. Spacey, I think, could be the one exception to this upset. His character was meant to be more monstrous and less funny and as always, he played it off perfectly. But that's Spacey, what about Frank Langella? A seasoned actor that played his part without much more appeal than the others, which tells me that this problem has nothing to do with their acting skills since these are good actors, than with the choice of the director. The same man who created House, M.D. and directed X-Men 2, which tells me that he knows how to give his characters personality. So this must have been a purposeful choice on his part, a choice I hope he reconsiders for a hopeful second, and I really would like to see a second. I haven't read any interviews yet, but it seemed like he was trying to reflect the seriousness of the times around us. If he was, stop. We have enough serious, we need something to lighten us up.
Aside from the lack of personalities, another thing I'm hoping (believing) will change are the cliché scenes and plastic look Superman has at various times through the movie. I can even see the director saying,"OK, now pan in on him, closer...great, that will be our hero shot. And that. That one too." Cliché scenes I suppose would be a given for a first time Superman director, so now that the first is over and the whole clicheness is out of his blood, he can get back to the storytelling and let the actors smile once in a while. The plastic look I will assume to be nothing but either too much makeup or bad SFX, though you wouldn't be able to tell that if you saw the action scenes. Amazing.
Other than this, the story was pretty cool, not to mention intense. Routh gets to recite a couple of Brando's lines from the first movie which was a wonderfully touching moment. It was good to see Singer pay respect to the other movies by adding in certain lines or shots here and there which made for hilarity. A slight inconsistency with the whole exposure to Krypton but, oh well. Like I said, this new franchise has a lot of potential, so I'll look forward to a hopeful second.
As for why I gave this an 8 when I had such a problem with the characters, because I still have an urge to go back and see it again. So yes, there are character problems but not enough to keep me away from it.
War of the Worlds (2005)
Not your formulaic action flick.
I went into this movie slightly skeptical, if anything just because I was tired of seeing the previews during every commercial break and Tom Cruise's face on the cover of every magazine with Katie Holmes. Once the movie started, all of that went away and I realized that I should've known better than to doubt the ability of Steven Spielberg.
Given this is an action flick, so you can definitely expect top notch action sequences combined with the best SFX in the world. What you might not expect is Steven's direct approach in making you feel the blind terror, panic and chaos the people feel in the movie. That from the moment people began dying, all anyone could do was run and try not to look back. The magic isn't in the action or SFX, but in the terror you feel triggered by the most basic of human functions, self preservation and the desire of an average Joe parent trying to protect his young. This is what the movie is about in the end. There will be times in this movie where morals would be a joke, where courtesy and virtue -not to mention abiding by the law- are lost in the face of annihilation. Then there are other times, times that aren't necessarily critical turning points in the movie but are important nonetheless, where you'll see a much needed helping hand. During a time of alien movies where the human always wins in the end, it's nice to see what might happen if the human race lost, and nature won out.
What is also trademark of Steven's movies is the brilliant acting. I'm not a fan of Cruise, but his performance as the average Joe/less than ideal parent is no less than superb. No where does he overact or undervalue this character who is in no way a hero, but a man willing to do what he needs to in order to survive with his kids. So imagine my surprise when he should be outshone by the 11 year old Dakota Fanning. Frankly, she is the star of the movie and she acts it every second as the claustrophobic child scared out of her mind while running for her life.
Plain and simply put, this isn't formulaic. You need to think with this movie. It's not Independence Day where we beat the big bads with a computer virus and we're left cheering and congratulating each other. Steven doesn't lead us by the hand like a toddler. We were loosing from the start and he drives this home in a brutal way. Through his use of camera angles where you feel like one of the people running, you won't see big battle scenes b/t the military and them over the hill. You see our people going in and never coming out. Big bright flashes and then flames. In showing less, he has us feel more terror because our imagination takes over. In this, he honors Well's book, which also tried to instill that same fear.
Honestly, this couldn't have been any better.
The Phantom of the Opera (2004)
I'll be seeing this again....soon.
For those of you who know the story (whether it's book or musical), I'll save you the hassle of reading the plot, most should know it by now. The first thing that comes to mind with this adaptation is absolutely stunning. The props, costumes, makeup, even the theatre itself was perfect in my opinion. Once you've got those out of the way, that leaves the characters and adapting the music to film.
Frankly, for me, there were a few key scenes in the musical, that if the movie could pull off, would win me over. The first was the opening...all of it. For those of you who've seen the musical during it's 20 yrs(?) run, you know how grandly it opens. The chandelier lights up, raises off the ground over the audience and remains there for awhile, while Carlotta comes in with her booming voice during rehearsal. The movie IMHO, not only nailed these scene, but excelled in them and set a standard for the rest of the film. Carlotta (Minnie Driver) naturally had to be dubbed given there probably isn't anyone in Hollywood with a set of lungs like hers. I thank the creators for getting a voice who sounds like Driver's, so that you can't really know the difference. As for Driver's performance, you couldn't ask for a better spoiled, uptight, self righteous performance for her character.
As for the stars of the film, the only one I wasn't happy with was Raoul (Patrick Wilson), who's introduction seemed more of a formality and wasn't all that impressive. Although his voice was beautiful, in tune and hit the high notes perfectly, it also seemed more set on being beautiful than being emotional, like his acting. Christine (Emmy Rossum) was quite the opposite. Rossum portrayed the character - and her voice - the way Christine should have been portrayed: young, slightly raw, naive, passionate. This leaves the Phantom (Gerard Butler) who, if cast incorrectly, would ruin the film. Butler, though slightly young for the roll, I couldn't praise enough and - with Rossum - truly made the film. I've heard criticism that his voice was to raw for the roll, yet the Phantom was never suppose to have a great voice, just a decent voice made great by the passionate way he sung. Butler had this passion and more important, a spark between him and Rossum that just wasn't there between Rossum and Wilson. This brings me to the other key scene that, if done incorrectly, would be a major black mark - The Music of the Night. A song more intoxicating and passionate than the rest of the musical combined, that if the connection wasn't right b/t Rossum and Butler, would seem flat and simply dead, along with the rest of the film. This, I am thankful, was not the case. Since words will fail me with this song, I will leave it to the audience to judge on their own.
You can expect the first half of the film to honor the musical while taking a few scenes from the book, though every so often the performances seem out of place with the situations. The second half takes a detour by rearranging or deleting some scenes, though I would assume it to be for the sake of keeping to the pace of the film. The biggest detour though is the chandelier dropping towards the end of the movie instead of in the middle, as in the musical. This though, plays into the situation perfectly, and was as grand of an exit for the chandelier as was it's entrance. This leaves the ending that for the overly sentimental (me), Butler's performance will leave tears in your eyes. My only regret is that once this comes to DVD, surround sound will be gone, which can only take away from the film. Overall, I give this a 9/10
Desperate Housewives (2004)
Brings back memories of when comedy was actually funny.
After watching the previews for this series my first thought was that it didn't look all that impressive, though "twisted" still came to mind - hilarious would come very soon after. So, I watched the "Pilot", and now the only thing I can think is that I hope ABC realizes what they have in this show. In one hour I lost count of how many times I burst out laughing and simply felt my mouth hanging open due to all of the unexpected twisted turns there were. After it was over, the only thing I could think was that this was going to be good. My only problem is that, whenever I get that impression of a series, it's canceled due to lack of viewership. Congrads to the creators, you have given many people something more to look forward to on Sunday nights. A series like this though, is walking a fine line between being too dark for comedy, and too unreal for anyone to relate to. So even though it's obvious what the creators have in mind, straying from that line could ruin it. Right now, on a whole I would give this show a 9/10.
Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)
Movie version vs. game version. The game wins out with no competition.
Since I'm not a stickler for sticking to the guidelines the game gave us in terms of it's story, I didn't mind all the changes made to it. The first "Resident Evil" was a pretty cool movie though it didn't have any of the characters from the games we've come to enjoy. Milla's character though was cool enough to make up for that combined with the promise of Nemesis in the second. In terms of the second story though, the only good thing about it was Nemesis and even that was flawed due to the writer's decision to give him a conscience .
The cliffhanger at the end of the first movie implied the second would be just as freakish with man-eating zombie tension all around. Instead we get some Matrix/Crouching Tiger-type super powered Milla saving the day everywhere she went, taking the point of the story away from what many of us have come to know as the real "Resident Evil" - zombies run amuck in Raccoon City due to the nasty Umbrella corporation's inability to keep the T-virus in check. You have the Lickers for all of 10 minutes and Jill Valentine is turned into a shadow of the character many are use to. Ironically enough - though not surprising - the one thing they did get right about Jill's character was her style and clothing. Believe it or not, she did wear her trademark short skirt and breast-riding top, though her personality left much to be desired in terms of having one. Then you have Carlos, which for the most part did his job and did it pretty good, even though the character was actually suppose to be Spanish. As for the Umbrella corporation and the Stars officers...I don't even want to go there.
In terms of action, naturally there was a lot of it, with the highlights being the all too brief first encounter b/t Milla's character and Nemesis as well as the face-off later. Editing took much of the enjoyment out of it though with too brief of scenes abruptly cut off even more to imply fast action but really giving you nothing but a headache. On an upside, the cinematography was striking throughout the movie to offset editing gone wrong. Unfortunately, as disappointed with "Apocalypse" as I am, I'm also guilty to admit that I'm compelled to wonder what the 3rd installment would bring - if there is a 3rd. This did leave you in true cliffhanger fashion, with the possibility that the writers actually have a plan. The question lies in whether or not it's any good.
Le pacte des loups (2001)
Awesome movie...if you watch it subtitled.
*POSSIBLE SPOILERS* Given that this movie opens with a woman getting killed and THEN a stranger kicking around a group of men linching an old man and his daughter, you'd get the funny little impression this movie is all action/violence and no substance. Instead of that, consider this introduction as a way for the director to jumpstart the movie for the 2.5 hours ahead.
I won't go into the plot of the story since it would take way too long to explain. Some would say the story didn't know where to go from one minute to the next. What I saw instead were quite a few subplots created and intertwined with the main plot of the Beast of Gevaudan, with the director using a fine balance for each in terms of their importance to the film. In this you see the legendary Beast and it's tale, surrounded by 2 love stories (one sweet and one disturbing), a friendship and brotherhood spanning 2 races (during a time of extreme prejudice), a conspiracy of "biblical" proportions, and kick butt martial arts. Each was given a good amount of time so that you're not left wondering the why's and how's, nor would you be able to argue that is was anything other than well thought out. Overall, I was impressed, not only with the story but with the acting, choreography, and the fact that the director was not afraid to make a longer movie to get the whole story across.
One recommendation: please watch it subtitled, not dubbed. Doing this could be the difference of you liking it or hating it.
The Chronicles of Riddick (2004)
There is a reason why the audience (at my theater) applauded in the end.
The difference b/t Pitch Black and Chronicles is much like Alien and Aliens...completely different. Pitch Black was quiet compared to this. I have to give credit to the writers though, they know how to write a good story. Please remember though, this is a sci fi/fantasy flick. It's purpose is to be wild and outrageous. The first one is different in that Riddick was one of a few main characters in the story, but given his success, do NOT be surprised that this second one is all about him. I do like the fact though that they included the survivors of the first movie, which is pretty much the only link to the first movie there is. Other than that, this movie has quite enough strength to stand alone. I'm seriously glad that Vin D. has another good movie under his belt.