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Iron Man 2 (2010)
Best film based on a Marvel comic
Put simply, Iron Man 2 is the best film I've seen so far this year. That doesn't mean no movie released this year can be better than Jon Favreau's masterpiece of a comic book film, but I certainly don't think any potential blockbuster this year will be as funny, exciting, well- developed and brilliantly acted. As hard as it may be to imagine, Iron Man 2 is even better than the original movie - and, you know, the first part was, along with Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, one of the best comic book films ever made. It does almost nothing wrong, and while it isn't 100% brilliant all the way, it's as good as any "traditional" comic book adaptation can be. (The Dark Knight being a "non-traditional" adaptation.)
The story is a little more convoluted than in the first movie, but fortunately director Favreau and screenwriter Justin Theroux (Tropic Thunder) don't make the same mistakes Sam Raimi made with Spider-Man 3. Sure, there is more than one villain, but the only "active" villain is Ivan Vanko; Justin Hummer is more of an instrument, and is not a classic villain in the sense that he is neither intimidating nor particularly dangerous. He only has the "resources."
Those who have seen the first installment might have noticed that, while the movie was excellently-written and acted, it kind-of-suffered during its climax because of some weak action. Well, this certainly isn't the problem here, since Iron Man 2 provides with some of the best action you'll see this year. Unlike, you know, a film like Transformers 2, the machine-on- machine battles in Iron Man 2 are actually exciting and tense because we know there are people behind those suits; because those people have been well-developed throughout two movies, and because Favreau, unlike Michael Bay, doesn't feel the need to shake the camera as much as possible and cutting every millisecond while shooting an action sequence.
Performances, much like in the previous film, are absolutely perfect. Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark, there is no doubt about it, and even in the film's weakest scenes - which are very few -, Downey makes the movie work. This time around, Stark is dying - the substance that makes the suit work and keeps him alive is actually killing him - and Downey Jr. now portrays Stark not only as a charismatic playboy, but also as a somewhat deeper character, who resorts to alcoholism because of all his problems. This alcoholism is not the main point of the film, though - it certainly is addressed, but it's something that gets dismissed rather quickly. This is for the better, I believe - even more problems and another sub-plot would have only hurt the film, and I'm sure the filmmakers will be able to explore this characteristic of Tony Stark in a deeper manner in subsequent films.
Don Cheadle, replacing Terrence Howard from the previous movie, is effective as Jim Rhodes. (He's even got some great one-liners.) Gwyneth Paltrow returns as Pepper Potts, and her relationship with Tony manages to move forward a little. There's great chemistry between the two of them, and they've got some great scenes together. Mickey Rourke is just great as Ivan Vanko - the majority of his dialogue is in Russian, and although he isn't precisely three- dimensional, we know just enough about the characters for him to remain both (a little) mysterious and intimidating. Sam Rockwell is also delightful as Justin Hammer - a very coward and unlikeable characters, that's for sure, but Rockwell manages not to turn him into a caricature. Scarlett Johansson, on the other hand, is just superb as agent Natasha Romanoff. With this part not only does she prove that she's the sexiest, most beautiful actress alive - one just has to hear men's reaction in the theatre whenever she appeared on- screen -, but also that she may be able to hand an entire action film by herself. She was just... *sigh*... amazing.
So is the film perfect? Not really, but its faults are small enough for them not to hurt he overall quality of the picture. Still, while the John Debney's score wasn't particularly awful or bothersome, it simply was... mediocre. There's nothing memorable or outstanding about his music. It's just... there. Completely forgettable. On the other hand, while I certainly was excited about the presence of a couple of AC/DC songs (Shoot to Thrill and Highway to Hell), I expected more of them, at least three or four, not just two! I mean, there's a reason why the film's soundtrack is made up entirely of AC/DC songs right? (I already bought it, by the way, and it's a nice re-collection of classic songs.) For example, if you know AC/DC has a song called War Machine and one of the characters in your movie is called "War Machine"... wouldn't it be logical for you to put that song in the film? Hopefully they're saving it for the next installment or something.
Anyway, those faults aren't particularly big, and the film as a whole is just amazing. It had been some time since I last left the theatre so excited. I mean, I am studying film-making, and when I left the theatre after watching Iron Man 2 I just thought "this is the kind of film I want to make." And by that I don't mean a superhero movie necessarily... I mean a film that does so many things correctly: it's laugh-out-loud hilarious at times, but it's also incredibly exciting. It's got some amazing special effects, interesting and believable characters, great performances, a complex but effective plot and it even works as a set up for a bigger universe of superheroes. Once again, Iron Man 2 is the best film I've seen this year so far, and I just can't imagine any blockbuster being more successful. I'm definitely seeing it again a couple of times in theatres... yes, it's that good.
An epic masterpiece
James Cameron has never directed a bad - or even mediocre - motion picture; this is the guy who has brought us such classics as the first two Terminators, Aliens - one of the best sequels of all time -, True Lies - exceptional action movie - and, of course, Titanic. That's why, despite some negative buzz, I was always pretty sure his latest endeavor, Avatar, was going to be something else. Maybe not a "game changer", as many - including Cameron himself - have been saying, but certainly something that we haven't seen before.
Well, I still am not sure if this is a "game changer", but it certainly is "something else."
Avatar is the most visually impressive and most immersive motion picture I've seen in some time. Not since Peter Jackson released the last of the Lord of the Rings movies has someone marveled me in such an amazing way, transporting me into a different land where - apparently - anything is possible. So maybe the story Cameron is telling is not 100% original, but the way in which he tells it certainly is. I haven't seen the movie in 3D - I will on Saturday and a review will follow - and I imagine it must be impressive, but even while watching it on 2D I can't imagine anyone not being marveled and feel inspired by what Cameron has created. This is one epic, epic film - an event and an experience unlike anything I've seen this year.
Performances are quite solid. The real scene-stealer is Stephen Lang, whose Quaritch is one of the most effective villains I've seen in some time. We know he is the villain not only because the screenplay tells us so, but because Lang makes the character his own, a real sonofabitch who knows no compassion and no mercy. He never goes over-the-top and avoids turning his character into a caricature. (Although he is larger-than-life.) Sam Worthington is pretty good as Jake Sully - although his "American" accent is less-than-stellar - and Sigourney Weaver is memorable as Dr. Augustine. On the other hand, Zoe Saldana has a tougher job - Weaver and Worthington appear both in human and Na'avi form, but Saldana's character appears only as the former. No problem, though - her performance - with the aid of performance capture - is strong enough to make the audience believe in her. Like Gollum in the Lord of the Rings pictures, the audience believe in the Na'avi - we believe they are real characters who breath, cry, laugh and can even die, not just a bunch of pretty-looking cartoons.
But what about the spectacle? Despite all the drama and the romance, Cameron has actually managed to deliver action-wise - if there is someone in Hollywood who truly knows how to portray the right balance between action, special effects, character development and story, it is Cameron. Simply put, the film is breath-taking. Despite being approximately 60% CGI, there was never a moment in which I was aware that I was watching big, powerful computers at work. There isn't one - not a single one - fake-looking shot. Pandora is simply beautiful, and all the creatures - including of course the Na'avi - are amazing and totally believable. The way Cameron has populated his world is, simply put, worthy of applause - every single plant, creature, monster, predator, everything is credible and awesome-looking, showing that Cameron is talented at both creating great stories and characters and using his vivid, visual and fantasy-based imagination.
And there is the difference between a masterpiece like Avatar and a mindless product like Transformers 2: the viewer actually believes in all the computer-generated creatures, characters and locations, accepting them as real and believing they actually exist, even when they appear on-screen at the same time with flesh-and-blood characters. Unlike the soul-less Michael Bay movie, Avatar has spirit and charm, and never bores. Yes, there is action, but it is not mindless because there are incredibly high stakes at hand, and because we feel for the characters. There are a lot of ridiculously tense moments in Avatar because of this - on the other hand, I didn't even flinch while watching Transformers 2. (And if I did, it was because the action scenes were almost incomprehensible.)
Since I haven't seen the film on 3D, I really don't know if Avatar truly is a "game-changer" or not. Why I do know, though, is that the movie is one of the most imaginative, visually-arresting and gripping motion pictures I've seen in years, and quite possibly the best film I've seen this 2009. Avatar is not simply a "movie" - it is a experience, something that quite literally has to be seen to be believed. It boasts a smart screenplay, it has believable and sympathetic characters, it's got the most believable and awe-inspiring special effects ever seen on the big screen, and it contains more thrills and emotions that any other film this year. I don't care that Cameron took 12 years to make this film - the final product was definitely worth the wait. I just hope that all the rumours that say Cameron plans to shoot a sequel are actually true. This is one rare case in which I just wish a second installment is actually released. (Hopefully, it won't take 12 more years.)
A hilarious and imaginatively entertaining animated movie.
Although - as many people do - I generally prefer Pixar films to the animated fare created by other companies, I can't deny that a film like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is very hard not to love. Although it isn't particularly complex, thought-provoking, beautiful or masterful, it's a very entertaining, funny, cute-as-hell and effective animated film. Children with definitely love it, and adults... well, that actually depends on the adult in question. Although I certainly enjoy all kinds of movies, there's always - for me - some satisfaction to be had when watching something so obviously goofy and kiddy. Meatballs is kiddy, and that's precisely what I loved about it. It may not be this year's best animated movie - that honour goes to Pixar's Up - but it certainly is better than the likes of Monsters vs. Aliens.
The film tells the story of Flint Lockwood (voice of Bill Hader), a young inventor who dreams of, someday, creating something that will be loved by everyone and make him more popular and, most importantly, improve the lives of everyone in town. Unfortunately, he hasn't been able to do so, and his technofobic father (voice of James Caan) doesn't really help at all. One day, though, he manages to invent something that will change the lives of everyone in town forever: a machine that makes food fall from the sky. Everybody seems to be happy with him now - including mayor Shelbourne (Bruce Campbell) and the by-the-book police offer, Earl (Mr. T) - but, predictably enough, something goes wrong: excess amounts of food start to overload the island where the town is located, and now Flint, along with TV reporter Sam Sparks (Anna Faris) has to try to solve their problem.
Yes, the plot is pretty predictable, and it certainly won't make anyone above the age of 5 be shocked with surprise or anything of the sort, but it certainly is very imaginative, and it should work in a very "oh, it's sort of nice" kind of way. I liked the way Flint was portrayed - Hader's wacky and not-so-recognizable voice is perfect for the character - and the fact that, although most characters are either archetypes or stereotypes - consider, for the example, Bruce Campbell's greedy and - eventually - obese mayor - they are all voice so professionally and characterized in such an naive and cute kind of way, that one just doesn't care. I rooted for Flint the whole way, and I actually thought that the romantic sub-plot between him and Sam was cute and funny.
Visually, I don't think the movie is on par to the likes of Wall-E or Up, but I think that comparing it to those productions would be a bit unfair. Wall-E had a sort-of realistic kind of look, and Up, while a little more cartoonish, had a very realistic flair to it. On the other hand, there's something very old-fashioned in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs' look and the way it is animated. Characters behave and move the way old TV cartoons behaved forty or more years ago, and I like that. They jump a lot, are very "agile" and are just... cartoonish. Clearly, the animators didn't want the movie to give a palpable sense of realism; in a way, they were trying to craft an old-fashioned cartoon with the latest technological tools, and they have done it very successfully.
What else can I say about the movie? It certainly is very naive, and it doesn't explore any deep themes or moral problems, but that's just OK. While this year's mediocre Monsters vs. Aliens was terribly simplistic, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is just simple, and there's nothing wrong with that. Of course, there's nothing wrong with movies like Wall-E having very significant messages and complex love stories and such, but if a parent wants to go with their toddler to see a movie that isn't very complicated but that isn't stupid or boring either, then Meatballs is an excellent choice. After all, even if there isn't much beneath the surface, I can't imagine a single adult maintaining a straight face throughout the film's runningtime. The movie is hilarious, - just remember Flint's father's eyebrows! -, it's inventive, it's imaginative; it's also pretty gorgeous and it features some effective voice acting and interesting, wacky characters. It's not dumb and it doesn't pander to the least common denominator. Most interestingly, though, it made me hungry. That's not a quality many movies posses.
District 9 (2009)
A very gritty and compelling sci-fi story.
District 9 is different. There's no doubt about that. The premise is not totally original, but it feels fresh enough to prevent the audience from feeling they're watching a retread. It's also very smart, very exciting and visually arresting. Like some of the best science-fiction stories of all time, it actually has something to say, and it stimulates the mind instead of killing it. Is what Transformers 2 would have wanted to be - yes, there's even a fight sequence in District 9 involving a big robot and it's a thousand times better than anything present in Michael Bay's movie - and what most sci-fi movies should be. Granted, I guess a lot of people - especially teenagers - will hate it because it doesn't follow the usual rules of "summer blockbusters", but it matters not. Although it's got its share of action and special effects, this is by no means a typical Hollywood blockbuster, and I thank director Neil Blomkamp and producer Peter Jackson for that.
District 9 is an interesting motion picture. During the majority of its considerable running time, the film is constructed as a mockumentary, with interviews with "experts" and even the protagonist's family being intercut with the actual events of the movie. And the actual events are shot and cut in a very "in your face" kind of manner, with a particular sequence - that in which Wilkus is infected - being the most obvious example. (The cameraman is an actual character.) Fortunately, the camera-work is not as shaky as in, say, Cloverfield, and the technique never really turns into a gimmick. Actually, Blomkamp's gritty, realistic approach works wonderfully, giving the movie a sense of verisimilitude that adds some gravitas to the proceedings. It makes the viewer feel like part of this world.
A lot must be said too about the film's special effects, which add to the feeling of realism instead of detracting from it. Simply put, they are top-notch, something that is quite surprising considering the film's modest budget of $30 000 000. The aliens' design is effective, and although they were all created in a computer, there wasn't a single moment in which I thought they were digital creations instead of palpable characters. The few action sequences the film provides with are all pulse-pounding and expertly shot - Michael Bay should definitely watch this movie -. (Consider the finale involving the giant, alien robot, for example.) Most importantly, though, the effects never call attention to themselves, and they make an appearance because they are needed, not because the filmmakers wanted to craft a CGI stravaganza.
Clearly, the film's tone is not very optimistic or cheerful, but that goes with the material. After all, it present a world in which aliens are "greeted" with discrimination and greed, and every good intention humankind could have had before is quickly disappearing. From a visual point of view, Blomkamp conveys this with a very gritty, almost black-and-white cinematography - this is a very bleak world in which people - and aliens - get all bloody, messy, dirty and even killed. On the other hand, although most people might think they "should" root for Wilke, things aren't as simple as they look. The way Blomkamp makes the viewer see things is very interesting - Wilke is not a "bad" man, but since he does things that look as terrible as anything done by a stereotypical movie villain, one doesn't really know if he's a protagonist worth rooting for or not. Maybe that's why the aliens - especially Christopher Johnson - were given a humanoid look and human-like mannerisms. Considering how they are treated, one should expect to feel sympathetic for them.
Still, compared to how scientists and greedy company CEOs are portrayed, Wilke is almost an angel. After all, there's still some humanity left in him - he has a a wife that he loves, for example -, and he becomes even more humane during the last few scenes, even though he suffers a transformation that, in theory, should make him less of a human. If anything, the movie shows how people can be overridden by greed and xenophobia and that, ultimately, they would care more about money and power than the human - or alien - condition. The worst thing about this is that, if aliens ever visit out planet, there are more chances of us treating them like they are treated in the movie, than of being all benevolent and peaceful. One only has to give a brief look to any history book to find proof of this.
District 9 won't make anyone feel happy or joyful, but that's beside the point. It's a very compelling movie that works in both a visceral and intellectual level, and that should be enjoyed by any "serious" science fiction aficionado. It's got some exciting actual sequences, amazing special effects and a very well-thought premise but, most importantly, it also has an interesting - and sadly plausible - message about humanity. The film's ending is also something of a set up for a sequel, but unlike other movies, it doesn't feel neither incomplete nor unsatisfying. I, for one, would certainly like a sequel to be made, although I have no idea of how Blomkamp could continue telling his story in such a believable and "in-your-face" kind of way. No matter. As it is, District 9 is one of the best sci-fi movies I've seen in some time.
Jennifer's Body (2009)
Neither scary nor particularly funny...
Predictably, the only reason I went to see Jennifer's Body was because of Megan Fox. Not because I think she's a great actress - she's done nothing to prove this - but because... well, it's Megan Fox. The only reason why she was "discovered" by Michael Bay and put in the Transformers movies was because she's hot, and that's precisely the only reason why she was given her first starring role with Jennifer's Body. Because, really, although she isn't particularly awful - I've seen worst performances in porn movies - her performing skills don't deserve as much attention as she has been receiving. Yes, that basically means she doesn't give a very good performance in Jennifer's Body. And to be honest, that's something of a disappointment - before watching the movie, I had a little bit of hope that the reason why Fox had given such horrible performances in the Transformers movies was Michael Bay's inability to direct actors. After watching this movie, though, I concluded that Fox is nothing more than eye candy - whether she's directed by Bay or Martin Scorsese, she'll always give a bad performance.
The film tells the story of teenager Needy (Amanda Seyfried), whose best friend is the ridiculously hot Jennifer (Megan Fox). The former has a somehow timid but likable boyfriend, Chip (Johnny Simmons) while the latter loves the fact that she can sleep with whoever she wants whenever she wants. One night, Jennifer takes Needy to a bar to watch the semi-popular rock band Low Shoulder. The lead singer (Adam Brody) gives Needy the creeps but Jennifer likes him. After the show is abruptly ended by a fire, the group takes her to their van and they disappear... Needy fears the worst. Next day, though, Jennifer appears to be all right. It turns out that, instead of dying a pretty horrible death, she was turned into a demon who has to eat boys in order to maintain her hotness.
I understand what Diablo Cody (screenwritter of the fabulous Juno) tried to do. Instead of crafting a straight-forward horror story, she tried to write something a little more humorous and a little more quirky, but the problem with this approach is that the movie doesn't really know what it wants to do. At times, it can be hilarious - because the filmmakers are providing with a joke or gag or some weird-ish, quirky line -, while at others it can be unintentionally - and awfully - funny. And when it tries to be scary, it utterly - and somehow embarrassingly - fails. You'd have to be either a very small boy or girl or a very frightful person in order to be scared by the movie.
Although the aforementioned Fox is not very convincing as Jennifer - okay, that's unfair; she is convincing when portraying the mega-hot high-school girl because she's basically playing herself; it's when she turns into a boy-eating monster that things become laughable -, the rest of the cast are pretty much all right. Because Amanda Seyfried - who was delightful in the underrated Mamma Mia - can act, Fox's performance seems even more artificial than it already is. What's more - Needy is virtually the only believable character in the whole movie, which is a blessing considering she's the main one. Johnny Simmons is also very likable as Chip - his eventual fate was the only scene in the film that got me emotionally involved with what was happening on screen - and a very small supporting performance by J.K. Simmons - as a school teacher - is as memorable as things get in this film.
Those who want to watch the movie to catch a glimpse of a naked Megan Fox are definitely going to be disappointed. Although there's plenty of gore, guts and language, Fox never gets naked. During a weird skinny dipping scene, her nude body is hidden from view by tricky camera angles and other techniques, and the only really sexual scene in which she gets involved - not even Fox can make cannibalism hot - is a lesbian kissing sequence with Seyfried. Can't say it's not a hot scene - because it is - but it somehow seemed tame for today's standards. Really, though, these are only very small problems which I could have forgiven had the film worked as a horror flick - the main problem with Jennifer's Body is that it's neither scary nor laugh-out-loud funny.
Having seen and appreciated Juno, I was expecting more from screen writer Diablo Cody. This is a case of a very successful - and from what I gathered from her previous movie, talented - screen writer trying to do something different and failing. Yes, her intentions were really noble, but the end result - being, in this case, a motion picture - is nothing short of a disaster. While Amanda Seyfried tries to give her best - unlike Fox, she doesn't embarrass herself -, the rest of the production is so mediocre I can't believe someone thought it was worth releasing in theatres. If Jennifer's Body was a way to prove that Diablo Cody could write a successful horror film, it failed. And if it was to prove that Megan Fox was something more than eye candy, then it also failed. And really, Fox isn't that hot either. For my money, Seyfried is a million times prettier, and she has the advantage that, unlike Fox, she can act.
A cheesy yet entertaining end-of-the-world film.
2012 is not a particularly hard movie to review - that's because it belongs to such an specific sub-genre - the disaster/end of the world film - that it's almost impossible to be disappointed by it. That is, of course, if you watch it with the right expectations. One doesn't watch a film like 2012 expecting thorough characterizations, believable drama or exact science. All I expected from the movie was likable characters, amazing special effects and lots of destruction - and that's precisely what the film delivers. Because I went to see it with the right frame of mind, I enjoyed it. Granted, it isn't a good film by any means, but it's ridiculously entertaining, cheesy and visually exciting. And unlike films like Transformers 2 - which has very little redeeming value -, I didn't feel like my intelligence was being insulted. It simply wasn't required.
2012 follows fiction writer Jackson Curtis (John Cusack), who is on holidays in Yosemite with his children, until an earthquake warning makes them return home, but not before he meets a seemingly-crazy guy named Charlie Frost. (Woody Harrelson.) He warns Jackson that the end of the world is coming on December 21st, and although he may seem to be talking rubbish at first, his theories - based on the Mayan calendar - eventually prove to be true. Anyhow, Jackson arrives at his ex-wife's (Amanda Peet) house, just as the destruction of Los Angeles is about to begin. And this is where all the special effects start appearing, and also when our protagonists have to start fleeing from all sorts of disasters in the most seemingly-inane ways possible.
If there's one reason why people have flocked to see the movie, it is the special effects. And yes, these deserve a paragraph of their own because they are, simply put, amazing. Not credibly, mind you - these kinds of visually awesome disasters are almost impossible to make credible, and if they were, I'm sure they would be really boring - but interesting, tense and awe-inspiring. I'm not too sure which scenes involved a mixture of techniques and which ones involved pure CGI - well, maybe the more obvious ones would be the giant tsunami scenes -, but they all look breathtaking. Mind you, this is the end of the world we're talking about, so not only do they look incredible, but they also convey a sense of terror and desperation very hard to find in cheaper, lazier disaster films. The destruction of L.A. would be my favorite scene - not because you see lots of landmarks and recognizable places been destroyed - the city is pretty generic - but because it's a tense, pulse-pounding sequence that feels almost like a roller-coaster ride.
Now, don't get me wrong - although that's the best scene, it is not the only one involving chaos. Unlike other disaster pictures - including director Roland Emmerich's own The Day After Tomorrow -, 2012 doesn't involve a couple of cities - it involves the whole world, and it involves a whole variety of disasters. We get floods, tsunamis, earthquakes, ash rain, volcano eruptions... well, you get the idea. And although the main focus of the film is on the U.S., we also get glimpses of Brazil and even the Vatican getting blown to smithereens. It's all very entertaining and also very visually dynamic, and the variety of it not only left me in awe, but also made me realize I was watching the ultimate disaster film - it will be very hard for any filmmaker to top 2012.
And what about the actors? Emmerich, surprisingly enough, managed to get a very impressive roster of character actors - John Cusack, Amanda Peet and the amazingly insane Woody Harrelson I've already mentioned, but we've also got Chiwetel Ejiofor as a scientific adviser to the U.S. government, Danny Glover as the President, Thandie Newton as his daughter - and a potential love interest for the aforementioned scientist -, Oliver Platt as a somehow tired stereotype of the overambitious, selfish politician, and even Chin Han ("Mr. Lau" from The Dark Knight) in a small but significant role. They all fulfill their roles adequately and without looking too ridiculous but, most importantly, they understand that for both the filmmakers and their audience, they are less important than the special effects and the thrills the film has to offer.
The conclusion is silly - and has a very sci-fi feel to it - and there are some very fatuous, ridiculous moments, but the overall package is satisfying, if not completely successful. The screenplay is unapologetically cheesy - and some of the lines these respected actors have to say are simply terrible, but in a hilarious sort of way - and the direction is as over-the-top as it could be, but the amazing special effects and the whole grandeur the filmmakers convey more than compensates for it. And unlike directors like Michael Bay, who don't seem to know how to hold a camera still or how to maintain a shot for more than half a second, Emmerich allows his audience to be amazed by the special effects, providing with many epic "money-shots" and competent action sequences. 2012 may not be a "good" movie in the traditional sense of the word, but it certainly is lots of fun. Yes, cheesy, over-the-top and even a little long, but fun.
A Christmas Carol (2009)
A flawed but undeniably entertaining CGI adaptation.
A Christmas Carol is one of Dickens' most famous stories and, in turn, one that is adapted to the film medium all the time. While Robert Zemeckis' most recent version might be the most emotionally involving or mature, it definitely is the most fun and visually stimulating one. I'm sure many people will criticize because, to them, it trivializes Dickens' original story, turning it into something that belongs on a Play Station 3. And to a certain extent, this is true - the film looks amazing, but videogames are also starting to look equally amazing. But I disagree. While this aspect might be somehow distracting, the movie is entertaining enough to make one forget the - sometimes - cheesiness of the - admittedly impressive - animation and just enjoy the story.
I won't re-tell the story of the ever selfish Scrooge (here played by a CGI Jim Carrey) and how he gets visited by three ghosts in order to change the way he lives and views life and the people around him. It's well known enough, and for those four who don't know what I'm talking about, I'm sure you'll be able to find enough information about Dickens' story on the web. (Or better yet, you could actually read the original tale.) What I want to do is to focus on the way Zemeckis interprets the story - because, although for the most part he stays very faithful to Dickens, he has added a couple of scenes and situations that, although they make the movie somehow more entertaining - especially for children - they feel out-of-place. Consider the scene in which a tiny Scrooge gets involved in an action-packed chase - it's all very pretty and visually stimulating, but it doesn't feel like it belongs to a movie of this sort. Don't take me wrong, though - although there are "showy" moments like this in which Zemeckis is clearly trying to make the most of the 3D version of the film, A Christmas Carol is dark and faithful enough to the original tale for adults to take it suitably seriously.
Voice work is excellent. Jim Carrey is just perfect as Scrooge, and his work voicing the three ghosts is really good too. Gary Oldman plays a variety of roles - although one of them actually features his own physical likeness - and Bob Hoskins, Robin Wright Penn, Colin Firth, and Cary Elwes all do their jobs in their smaller - but not unimportant - roles. Visually, as said before, the movie is a marvel. Characters look very lifelike - surpassing everything Zemeckis accomplished with his previous two animated movies, The Polar Express and Beowful - the eyes are getting less and less creepy with each production - and the overall design is breathtaking. The opening scenes, in which the camera flies over Victorian London, is simply phenomenal, and although the "action" sequences are definitely out-of-place, they are quite entertaining on their own right.
What else can be said about the movie? It isn't the most emotional version of the story - if there's something that clearly makes this interpretation inferior to previous adaptations, is that Zemeckis favours visual razzle-dazzle over emotional impact. The film looks amazing, that's for sure, but Scrooge transformation didn't affect me that way I would've liked it to. Still, that doesn't mean the movie lacks any kind of emotional impact - it just isn't as powerful as it could have been. The thing is, being an animated Disney movie and all, this version of A Christmas Carol is clearly focused on entertaining kids, so - at least from a marketing standpoint - it made sense for Zemeckis to insert more "actiony" scenes so that children wouldn't get bored.
So is this the best version of A Christmas Carol there is? Definitely not. But it certainly is the most visually stunning, and one of the most entertaining. Indeed, for those who haven't become tired of watching the same story time and time again - in different versions, of course -, this represents a solid hour and a half of pretty-looking, solidly-acted, animated entertainment.
The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009)
Only to be enjoyed by tween girls and die-hard fans.
Die-hard fans of the Twilight novels and movies won't be reading this review. Or at least, they are not my target demographic. People reading this review are probably like me - guys - and maybe girls - who haven't read the series of novels written by Stephanie Meyer and who watch the films from a very neutral point of view. We watch these movies precisely as stand-alone films, and not as adaptations of our favorite novels featuring our favorite characters and our favorite scenes. I don't know how well adapted Twilight was - all I know it was a very mediocre motion picture -, which means I haven't watched New Moon with specific expectations. All I wanted was to watch something mildly entertaining and hopefully better than the last installment.
Well, now that I have watched the film, all I can say is that, as a professionally-produced motion picture, NOT as an adaptation of some novel I have not read, New Moon is mediocre. Not good, certainly not god-awful, but just painfully mediocre.
If the performances in Twilight were just bearable, then the ones in New Moon are simply god-awful. Although the romance between Bella and Edward wasn't particularly credible in the first movie, at least there was some palpable chemistry between the lead actors that helped the audience relate to their supposed love - a kind of chemistry that is unfortunately absent in this film. And it's not only that - Robert Pattinson plays Edward like a mannequin and appears for about 20% of the movie's running time, and Stewart's Bella is nothing more than a useless, crying girl who doesn't seem to know how to live without a man by her side. If Twilight showed that women could be chauvinistic too, then New Moon conveys a very backward, old-fashioned and stupid view of love and relationships.
At least some of the actors are competent. Taylor Lautner's Jacob is a thousand times more charismatic, interesting and lively than Edward, which means a romance between himself and Bella would be much more satisfying both character-wise and plot-wise. (I somehow sense this won't be the case, though.) I'm not saying Lautner is a good actor, but at least he's got some screen presence and tries to develop his character more than the stiffer-than-a-tree Pattinson. Secondary actors are not very important, the only standout being the great Michael Sheen, who is suitably disturbing and scary as the leader of the vampire royalty.
Speaking of vampires - I have no clue why Meyer decided to call this overly-sentimental and whining monsters "vampires". True, they do drink blood and are immortal, but they also lack fangs, screen presence, charisma and, most importantly, they are not scary at all. But don't get me started on the most laughable concept Meyer introduced to the vampire mythos - that of the creatures shining or sparkling when exposed to light. Why the hell would this make sense? It looks laughable on screen - and I'm pretty sure it doesn't fare any better on the written page - and it makes these so-called "vampires" look even more ridiculous. Actually, James Berardinelli, one of my favorite on-line critics, has a perfect name for these guys: VINO. (Vampires In Name Only.) At least the movie looks better than its predecessor, although that doesn't mean it's got a more competent director in the form of Chris Weitz. (I suspect it's got more to do with budget.) Special effects are OK, I guess - the wolf pack - especially Jacob - look good when in animal form, and some of the blue screen work is pretty decent. Certainly nothing groundbreaking - but who cares? It's not like all the tween girls and moms who have allowed the movie to break a gazzillion box office records care about the action or the visual effects. All they want is to see their favorite characters on screen reciting some awful dialogue - most of which was extracted verbatim from Meyer's novel - and showing off their biceps. I admit it was pretty amusing to see all the hormonal girls shouting in the middle of the movie theatre every time Jacob took out his shirt and started posing like a gay porn star.
Like I said in the beginning, this review is for those who know very little about the Twilight saga - "Twi-hards" certainly won't care about what I have to say, nor will they care about the lackluster screenplay, the mediocre special effects or the horrible acting. The thing is, movies are supposed to be for everyone, something that becomes even more poignant when talking about adaptations - the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter films are as successful as they are because they can be enjoyed by die-hard fans and newbies alike. Sadly, the same cannot be said about the Twilight films. Hopefully, this will change once we get to see David Slade's vision of Meyer's story - I'm pretty sure a decent director like him will at least try to do something remotely interesting with this set of - at least until now - boring and brooding characters.
Public Enemies (2009)
An old-fashioned and compelling motion picture.
Better late than never, I guess. Although Public Enemies was released somehow late in Peruvian theatres, I admit I have taken my time to write my review, having seen the actual movie a couple of weeks before Inglourious Basterds. This has happened not because I didn't know what to write about the movie - although I have found myself in that particular kind of situation before -, but because I'm having less and less time to write reviews. This is what college does to someone who enjoys doing something that is not particularly vital for his career or every-day life, and although I'm studying something I love -filmmaking - I don't like the fact that I'm starting to write less and less reviews each week.
But enough of my personal life. This particular text should concern Johnny Depp's latest movie, and thus express that, yes, I did enjoy the movie, although it didn't fulfill all of my - perhaps unreasonably high - expectations. Those expecting a very exciting, action-packed and thrilling motion picture will definitely be disappointed; although the film has its share of shoot-outs and deaths, it is more of a drama rather than a thriller or action picture, and thus succeeds at telling the story of the very interesting John Dillinger (Depp) without resorting to pointless action sequences or explosions. In fact, it is somehow old-fashioned in this respect, having more in common with movies like The Maltese Falcon than with the average star-studded summer movie of the 21st century.
The film tells the story of John Dillinger, and actually starts with him escaping a maximum-security prison with most of his gang alive. He already has quite a reputation as one of the most successful and daring bank-robbers of his time (the 1930s) but isn't planning on stopping to do what he does best, at least not on the short run. He becomes involved with a very pretty coat-check girl named Billie Frechette (the superb Mario Cotillard) and also becomes the obsession of FBI big boss Edgard J. Hoover (Billy Crudup), who assigns agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) as the head of the office whose mission is to apprehend Dillinger. Needless to say, most of the film is dedicated to Dillinger's seemingly-superficial relationship with Billie, but most importantly, to Purvis' hunt of the famous robber.
Although director Michael Mann has proved in the past that he can be a master of tension and intensity, even when working with a not-so-great screenplay (as in the case of Miami Vice), he has decided not to turn Public Enemies into an action-fest, and I applaud him for that. He understands that, being the story of a real life figure, it is more interesting to present the film in a more dramatic, old-fashioned kind of way. Fortunately enough, he succeeds at emphasizing the drama having a particularly slow movie, although it definitely isn't as fast-paced as other movies of its ilk. Interestingly enough, it is the performances, the plot itself and the character interactions that managed to interest me the most in what was happening on-screen, not the few action sequences. Don't get me wrong - they are expertly shot - and there are a couple of very tense moments here and there - it's only that Mann hasn't made any of these sequences the real focus of the film.
Performances are superlative. Johnny Depp once again proves that he's one of the most chamaleonic actors alive. Although Dillinger is not presented in a truly three-dimensional fashion, Depp manages to make him a suitably sympathetic figure, a very charming and "cool" kind of character, without turning him into a caricature of a gangster. Marion Cotillard is, as usual, great, even if her character is nothing more than an archetypical love interest. Christian Bale is a little bland as Purvis - and his accent never managed to convince me - but that's more due to the screenplay than to his acting. As Edgar J. Hoover, on the other hand, Billy Crudup is great, and Stephen Graham (Snatch.) manages to create a truly memorable and vile character in the form of Baby Face Nelson.
If there's one thing that truly bothered me about the movie, though, and that, for my money, prevents it from being a quasy-masterpiece, it would be Mann's visual style. Not unlike his previous efforts, Collateral and the aforementioned Miami Vice, Mann has used digital videocameras to shoot the film - without ever trying to hide the fact that he is, in fact, using videocameras - and it doesn't really work at all times. He's shot most of the movie using hand-held cameras, and although this works during the shoot-outs or the more intense sequences, because of the "different" nature of the digital cameras, all the blurriness and confusion that Mann's shakiness cause can become distracting and bothersome, especially during scenes that take place at night. I don't mind Mann using digital cameras, but if he's going the digital way, at least he should try to use a less shaky kind of camera-work.
Visual style aside, Public Enemies is a very gripping and old-fashioned movie that should find its audience not in hormonal teenage boys and girls, but in a more mature moviegoers. It may not be as masterful as previous works of a similar nature, but due to its solid performances and emphasis of drama over action and explosions, it works as a very compelling character study of a gangster who, during his time, was lauded by the public and hated by the authorities. This aspect of public popularity is not particularly developed by the filmmakers - save a couple of scenes in which it is very evident - but Depp's performance, I think, is good enough to make the audience believe that, despite all his wrong-doings, the public would love a man like him.
Drag Me to Hell (2009)
A very enjoyable B-level horror movie.
Although the first two Spider-man movies were really good - particularly the second one -, with the third one Sam Raimi was showing he was staring to get tired of the franchise. (Although it seems he wants to redeem himself - Spider-man 4 will reportedly be simpler, tighter and more exciting.) In fact, the film was such a creative - but definitely not financial - failure that Raimi decided to return to his roots... and craft a horror film in the vein of his Evil Dead trilogy. Drag me to Hell is the result of that. And although it isn't as effective as the aforementioned trilogy, it's every bit as creepy and darkly funny as Raimi would've wanted it to be. Not a perfect film by any means, but definitely superior (in every way) to his third Spider-man movie.
The film tells the story of loan officer Christine Brown (Alison Lohman), who wants to become an assistant manager at the bank in which she works. She wants this promotion not only because she needs the money and because she wants to secure her future, but also because she's wants to impress her boyfriend, Clay (Justin Long), and his parents. The bank manager, Mr. Jacks (David Paymer), has to decide between her and Stu, her rival, for the manager's position. One day, an old woman called Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver) comes to the bank asking for relief from a mortgage she can't pay, otherwise, she'll lose her house. Mr. Jacks leaves the resolution of the matter to Christine and she decides to be rough in order to impress her boss and secure her promotion. Predictably, Mr.s Ganush doesn't react very well and begs to Christine. She is taken away. But later, the both of them get involved in a physical confrontation which results in the old woman putting a curse into the girl's jacket botton. Soon enough, Christine is stalked by a demon from hell, so she ends up going to a mystic (Dileep Rao) who tells her the demon won't rest until he takes her to hell to burn for all eternity.
If the previous plot summary doesn't sounds like something out of a cheap, B-level horror movie, then I don't know what it does. Raimi has produced Drag me to Hell like an old-fashioned horror movie, making use of over-the-top (but suitably creepy) music, super-loud sound effects, odd camera angles and a very amusing mixture of horror and comedy. When the movie works, it can be both darkly funny and shocking, but when it doesn't... well, let's just say it doesn't seem like a very good motion picture at all. The main problem with Drag me to Hell (and hopefully this won't seem like regurgitating something out of my review for Jennifer's Body) is that it doesn't know whether to be a cheesy horror comedy or a straight-forward scary story. It definitely is a million times more successful than the aforementioned Megan Fox starer, but nevertheless, there were times in which I didn't know if the funny stuff I was watching on screen was supposed to be funny, or if Raimi had failed at scaring me.
Alison Lohman has been very good in previous motion pictures - her performance in Matchstick Men is almost impossible to forget - but in Drag me to Hell she's simply... forgettable. It doesn't help either that it's very hard to sympathize with Christine - granted, what she did doesn't really deserve her being dragged into hell for all eternity, but that doesn't mean she is a very likable protagonist either. Additionally, I didn't think she was particularly bright not that she had much of a personality - Christine seemed to me like a very unfinished character, someone very hard to root for in a film of this ilk. Justin Long is OK as her boyfriend, Clay (although did he really have to be surrounded by Apple products all the time?) and Dileep Rao, as the mystic, adds some gravitas to the proceedings.
Without spoiling too much of the film, I can say that I definitely didn't like the ending. In a very M. Night Shyamalan-ish sort of way, the movie features a last-act twist that a.) doesn't make any sense, b.) doesn't make the movie any more interesting and c.) is very easy to see coming. The film ends on a downer that made me think everything I had experienced before was for nothing, and that made me feel disappointed towards Raimi. I know most horror movies don't happy happy endings, but I definitely wasn't expecting such an abysmal, depressing kind of twist.
So why is Drag me to Hell recommendable, then? Alyson Lohman gives a lackluster performance, the movie doesn't know whether to be scary or funny, and the last-act twist is laughable. Well, these are all aspects that definitely don't work, but when the film does work - that is, when it provides with a shocks, gore, slime, dark humour or interesting plot points - it's a very enjoyable B-level horror movie. Don't get me wrong - it is a very flawed movie, but overall I enjoyed almost every minute of it until the horrible twist spoiled everything. It might not be the scariest or the funniest movie out there, but for what it's worth, it's almost an hour and a half of solid - yet unremarkable - entertainment.
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Tarantino's best film since Pulp Fiction.
Quentin Tarantino's last great movie was Pulp Fiction. Now, don't get me wrong, that doesn't mean he hadn't made any good film since Fiction. The Kill Bill movies, for example, were immensely enjoyable, but nevertheless suffered from the fact that it actually was one film divided – quite inelegantly, I might add – in two. And Death Proof, while entertaining, didn't even try to approach the greatness of previous Tarantino productions – in fact, the other half of the Grindhouse experience, Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror, was superior.
Nevertheless, I was expecting his latest movie, this year's Inglourious Basterds, with tons of enthusiasm. The premise sounded great, the cast was interesting and the trailers actually made me more excited to watch the film. I was very excited for the film despite the fact that I knew it wouldn't come to Peru in a particularly near future, but there was hope: I've been in the States for the last week – in Connecticut, to be more precise – and I had the chance to watch the film. (My first experience in an American movie theatre actually, and despite what many critics and moviegoers might say, it was a positive one.) And although I can't say Basterds was as masterful, memorable and entertaining and Pulp Fiction, it's definitely Tarantino's best motion picture in quite some time.
If there's something nobody can deny – whether you like the movie or not – is that Basterds is unlike any other war movie that has come before it. This is war as seen through the eyes of Tarantino, which means it's something completely different from the likes of Saving Private Ryan or Flags of our Fathers. Granted, it does share a theme with these productions – that war is brutal and cruel – but it presents it in a very different fashion. Besides, despite the occasional bursts of violence and brutality, the movie is full of really funny moments that made me laugh out-loud, almost as if I were watching a "traditional" comedy. A scene involving three of the "Basterds" posing as an Italian film crew comes to mind.
Those expecting action and violence will be disappointed by the movie. Actually, anyone expecting anything traditional from the movie will be disappointed. Yes, there are some "action" scenes, but these are more brutal than exciting, and actually serve to release all the tension that has been building up in previous scenes. Not unlike other Tarantino movies, this one is pretty bloody at times - scenes like the "Bear Jew" beating a Nazi officer's head to pulp with a baseball bat certainly made me flinch, and should affect the more sensible members of the audience. This might not be a pure-action kind of film, but when it shows violence, it does so in a very unrestrained, almost ironic – and certainly darkly comical – manner.
Taratino's signature witty dialogue is present in the movie, and that's precisely what makes Basterds so enjoyable. Who cares if the film doesn't contain shoot-outs, battle scenes or explosions when one can listen to Tarantino's amazingly well written script come to life. There might not be as many one-liners or witty pieces of dialogue as in Pulp Fiction, but what I liked about the screenplay for the movie was that dialogue actually served a purpose; it wasn't simply there for Tarantino to show off. It either moves the plot forward, presents or further develops a character, or simply builds up tension to eventually explode in a very violent sequence. There certainly are a lot of very memorable talky scenes in Inglourious Basterds, and although all this talking might slow down the movie a bit – especially during the second act -, it certainly didn't cease to entertain me. I do understand if some members of the audience get bored, though – after all, the movie isn't for everyone precisely because it's so different.
Performances are excellent all across the board. Although Brad Pitt's performance as Raine has been maligned in some circles, I personally found him to be truly excellent. He is funny, he is charismatic, and even a little crazy. (His Southern accent is pure genius.) Eli Roth is surprisingly good – make sense that the creator of the Hostel movies gets to play a sadistic basterd who enjoys torturing people – and Diane Kruger is sexy and classy, but the real standouts are Melanie Laurent and Christoph Waltz. The former manages to turn her character into the most fleshed-out and interesting one – as well as the most serious one – while the latter oozes malice and shows that not all Nazi villains in Hollywood movies have to be caricatures. This is a very smart, very cunning kind of Nazi, not the kind you find in movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark, for example.
Inglourious Basterds is a superb motion picture, but it definitely isn't for everyone. Although it can be many things – hilarious, touching, exciting, surprising – it might turn some people off with its graphic depiction of violence and its very dark brand of humour, but for people who enjoy this kind of thing – and especially for those who know what to expect from a Quentin Tarantino film -, it should be a highly enjoyable experience. Just don't expect a cookie-cutter, predictable World War II movie – suffice it to say that Tarantino doesn't mind re-writing history himself, and although this might sound as an insult towards the movie, if you actually get to see it, you'll understand what I mean by this, and you will also understand why it works so beautifully.
Crank: High Voltage (2009)
It's beyond exaggeration
Crank: High Voltage is one of the most insane, hyper-active, over-the-top, frenetic and crazy motion pictures I have ever seen. It is a video game with flesh-and-blood actors, a cartoon come alive. It is so over-the-top in fact, even more so than its predecessor, that it threatens to abandon Earth and exist in a totally different plane. You either like it or don't like it - I can see a lot of people being offended by the film, and that's not only because of its violent nature. There is everything - violence, sex, nudity, gore, language, crazy dialogue... it is not a movie for everyone. Me? I guess I liked it, - not as much as the first installment, mind you - but I think it was sometimes was too much. A film this crazy can eventually tire the viewer - it's no wonder, therefore, that it's a mere 85 minutes long.
Neveldine and Taylor's aim is simple enough: to make the movie as crazy and over-the-top as possible, inserting as many visual flourishes and unpredictable scenes as they can. Surprisingly enough, they succeed at this without making the movie too unbearable. Granted, the fact that all the action sequences are exaggeratedly hyper-kinetic and stylish means that they aren't particularly exciting, but at least they are amusing and outrageous, which means they entertaining in a totally different way from other action flicks. Most (if not all) of the film has been created in the cutting room floor, using quick cuts, shaky camera-work, subtitles, fantasy scenes featuring deformed, Godzilla-like versions of Chev and one of the bad guys, topless girls with guns, newscast segments, and more. It's all exaggerated and it doesn't make an ounce of sense, but it entertains in a very visceral and mindless way.
As usual, Jason Statham plays the straight guy very well. Despite all the craziness and confusion, he never seems lost or out-of-place which, all things considered, is quite an accomplishment. Amy Smart is also back from the previous movie - this time she has become a stripper - and plays her gratuitous, thankless role with gusto. As in the first installment, Chev and Eve engage in a public sex scene - this time in a horserace track. The rest of the performers don't appear for more than a handful of scenes, the only real standout being Bai Ling, not because she's good, but because even in a movie this over-the-top, she manages to give an irritatingly crazy performance. (If what she does can be called a "performance".) Her character is bothersome, annoying, and has definitely been given too much screen time. If a Crank 3 is ever made, she shouldn't return.
What else can be said about High Voltage? It's as cartoonish and unbelievable as these kinds of movies come, and I really can't see a way for Neveldine and Taylor to top themselves if a second sequel is ever made. Still, despite all its outrageousness, the film manages to entertain without feeling too vacuous although, admittedly, it is. It definitely is not high art, and the moment the end credits started to roll - after a very sudden and "wtf?" kind of ending - I felt somehow hollow, still trying to process what I had just seen. Was it a film, or a live-action video game? There is barely a plot, characters are ridiculously paper thin and secondary actors are either wasted - the late David Carradine - or used too much - Bai Ling. Crank 2 is by no means a good film in the traditional sense of the word, but since its relentlessness, humour and overall willingness to stretch the envelope as far as it can never bored me or offended me, then yes, I can recommend it. Not to everyone, mind you, but for those who think they can take this much insanity.
The Hangover (2009)
One of the funniest movies I've seen in some time
I had been expecting The Hangover to be released in theatres here in Peru for some time - the movie was ridiculously well-received in the States, and it eventually became one of the most unexpectedly popular movies of the year. Why it took so much time to arrive in Peru? God only knows - or maybe the ones who have the distribution rights too - but the fact of the matter is that, unlike other movies of its ilk, it has arrived in Peruvian theatres, much for the delight of local movie buffs and average Joes. And that's because being a sort-of "Independent" movie - yes, it was produced by a big studio, but it features no big name "stars" and it was made with a pretty limited budget - no one expected it to be as funny as other comedies featuring more recognizable actors and inflated budgets. But it is. The Hangover is decidedly hilarious - the funniest motion picture I've seen in the last three years or so, actually.
When I say The Hangover is the funniest movie I've seen in recent years, I really mean it. The whole point of the movie is to watch these guys trying to remember what happened during their night of craziness, looking for clues everywhere they can, interrogating people who seem to have partied or done stuff with them, although they can't remember being with them. This leads to a whole lot of ridiculous and over-the-top situations, which include -but are not limited to - realizing that they got involved with some sort of crazy, gay Asian gangster, that the tiger they stole - yes, stole - belonged to Mike Tyson, or that Phil spend a portion of the night in the hospital. The movie doesn't provide with anything particularly outrageous - there's plenty of bodily fluids and profanity, although nothing that hasn't been seen before - but it is nevertheless hilarious because it knows how to exploit its funniest bits without tiring the viewer.
None of the principal actors are particularly well-known, but they nevertheless seem to belong in this movie, playing these parts. Bradley Cooper is great as Phil, portraying him as a sort of asshole who, despite being what he is, can be likable from time to time. Ed Helms plays the out-of-place nerd who discovers that he can be pretty wild and crazy if he wants to - or if he has consumed enough alcohol - and does it marvelously. The weirdest - and by far funniest - characters is Alan, who as portrayed by Zach Galifianakis is definitely the most memorable character in the film. His strange personality can lead to some awkward situations - take the "blood brothers" oath for example -, but also to some of the most hysterical situations I've seen in any comedy. The Hangover ears its R rating by having some profanity and showing a couple of bare, male buttocks - you know, male nudity always seem to cause viewers to laugh - but it isn't as shocking as other films of its ilk. It doesn't need to be. It only needs to be funny, and it accomplishes this goal beautifully.
I really wanted to see The Hangover, and now that I have done so, I can't say I was disappointed. Considering so many Hollywood comedies nowadays fail to make me laugh simply because they are too stupid or too derivative, it's refreshing to watch a raunchy comedy that's actually funny. It also helps that its main characters, despite not being particularly three-dimensional or realistic, are charismatic enough for the audience to care for them. The movie laughs with these guys, not at them, most of the time, and that's why, despite having a couple of stupid parts, it never really feels overly dumb. What can I say? With some solid performances, hilarious gags and jokes and very original premise - I really wonder why a "hangover" movie hadn't been done before, at least as effectively as this one -, The Hangover is an stupendous comedy. It will hardly offend anyone, and it should make most audiences cry with laughter.
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009)
What Transformers 2 should have been and sadly wasn't
I was very looking forward to the G.I. Joe film, not because I'm a fan of the toys or the animated series, but because I knew what to expect: tons of cool special effects and some really exciting action. And guess what? That's exactly what the film provides.
If there's something G.I. Joe is, it's an action movie. But unlike movies like Transformers 2, Sommers' motion picture actually succeeds at providing with wall-to-wall action. Unlike Michael Bay, he doesn't insert explosions every three seconds, and doesn't seem to have the need of shaking his camera like a madman so that the audience doesn't have a clue of what's happening. Yes, there is a lot of action in this movie, but it is of the comprehensible sort, meaning the viewer actually knows if his favorite characters are in danger and also has the opportunity of enjoying and being marveled by the special effects instead of watching balls of fire and tons of CGI that doesn't make sense. Sommers' approach to action is almost "old-fashioned", and I thanks him for that. Of course, that doesn't mean that all of the action sequences work beautifully; some of them are a little tiresome actually. There is no denying, though, that the Paris action set-piece is quite awesome, both in terms of special effects, and in terms of how excited and tense it made me feel.
Now, regarding the special effects... yes, they are by no means perfect, and yes, the film does have a sort-of artificial look from time to time, but it's nothing serious. Sommers always inserts a lot of computer-generated effects and other extravagances in his movies, and although these kinds of tricks have improved in quality during the last couple of years, it's always hard to make them look 100% realistic if you're inserting them virtually everywhere. (The movie doesn't have an infinite budget, after all.) Nevertheless, because the film doesn't take itself excessively seriously (unlike Revenge of the Fallen), these kinds of "mistakes" are allowed. I even accepted a final "revelation", which occurs during the last few minutes of runningtime, and which includes a "new" (and very cheesy) Darth Vader-looking bad guy. Why? Because I accepted the fact that this is a "toy movie", and that nothing (expect maybe some of the characters) should be taken too seriously.
Performances are what should be expected from this kind of movie. Not particularly strong, but not bad either. The standout is Sienna Miller, who is almost unrecognizable with black hair and dark glasses. (She looks really hot, though.) She seems to be having lots of fun playing the bad guy, and thus manages to create a very memorable and entertaining character. Rachel Nichols is cute and believable as Scarlett, and Marlon Wayans is great as Ripcord; he can be funny and dorky from time to time, but because he's also a pretty good soldier and because he's never too goofy, one can take his character (kinda) seriously. His flirting with Nichols was great, not only because it was fun, but because it was - for a lack of a better word - awesome to see an inter-racial romance making an appearance in a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster. Christopher Eccleston is effective as a megalomaniac villain, and despite their small parts, the likes of Dennis Quaid (always reliable, that bloke), Brendan Fraser and Jonathan Pryce (!) are memorable. The one disappointment, though, is Channing Tatum, who as Duke is almost as wooden as Hayden Christensen's Anakin Skywalker. He looks good during the action sequences, but that's about it.
The main reason, though, of why G.I. Joe is so much superior to Revenge of the Fallen (I know I'm comparing both movies a little too much, but it's almost unavoidable) is that the former actually has memorable and fun characters worth rooting for, while the latter has virtually no characters, and instead provides with a gazzilion CGI robots who look virtually all the same during the confusing action sequences. I like the fact that each Joe is given a back-story through flashbacks (the most interesting is definitely the one concerning Snake Eyes and his rival, Storm Shadow), and I also like the fact that, despite having very archetypical personalities, each character is instantly recognizable and played with style. The screenplay might not be particularly smart (although it's a million times wittier and organized than the one for Michael Bay's picture), but it accomplishes what it sets to do: provide with nice and entertaining characters, a plot that actually makes sense, and action sequences that don't feel repetitive or dull.
So has Stephen Sommers and his creative team managed to fulfill expectations? Well, considering buzz for the movie a couple of months ago was horribly negative, it won't be hard for the filmmakers to please their audience, but even if expectations had been higher, I don't think viewers would have emerged disappointed from theatres. I can say I was a Joe virgin before watching the movie; I knew nothing about the characters, the plot or the role of the "Cobra" organization in the series' mythos, but after watching the film, I am now more interested in everything related to it. Needless to say, the movie does do a really good job at presenting the characters and the plot to newbies, and I'm sure that for die-hard fans, it is a very entertaining and visually-pleasing way to revisit their favorite characters. With its comprehensible action, cool special effects, effective performances and mildly-interesting plot, G.I. Joe is one of the better big-budget action extravaganzas I've seen in some time. In short, what Transformers 2 should have been and sadly wasn't.
Doesn't work as a standalone movie, but it's still great.
It was known from the start that die-hard fans would complain about the movie. After all, the book is gigantic, and a series of cuts have to be made in order to make the movie work. In general, I'm happy about the decisions Kloves has made about what to cut and what to keep. Granted, there maybe is a little too much focus on the "hormonal" part of the story - the kids falling in love and being jealous and so on. But I actually liked this. Not only does it make the movie more humorous and fun - most of the humour courtesy of the "romance" between Ron and Lavender Brown (Jessie Cave) - but it also develops the main characters and show how fast they have grown. Besides from cutting stuff, though, the filmmakers have made a couple of additions that also work. The film begins with an attack on the Millennium Bridge, which actually makes the presence of evil all the more palpable and imminent - the fact that they are attacking muggles is pretty disturbing. There is also an scene in which the Burrow - the Weasleys' home - is attacked. It is handled well, and serves the same purpose as the opening.
The main problem with the movie, though, is that it doesn't really feel as an integral part to the overall series. Don't take me wrong, a lot of important events happen during the course of the film - Horcruxes, the death of a certain character - but most of the running time is dedicated to romance, problems between the characters and... well... hormones. Yes, it is fun, and yes, it is entertaining, but it didn't feel important. Like said before, I liked it because it further developed characters and made the film more fun to watch, but it didn't feel significant. In addition, the movie suffers from having neither a beginning nor an end - in short, it doesn't really work as an standalone motion picture. Those who haven't seen the previous installments will feel very lost during the entire runningtime, and those who expect the film to have a definite ending will be disappointed. It felt like a preparation for things to come - I'm sure that when the two Deathly Hallows movies are released, the sixth installment with feel more complete.
Every performance is great, as usual. Of the main trio, the best are Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint - the former makes Harry a great protagonist (complex and easy to root for) and the latter is fun and goody without being ridiculous. Emma Watson is OK - not bad, but she still tends to go a little over-the-top, especially during her crying scenes. Bonnie Wright is excellent. Had you told me four years ago that she would develop intro such a fine actress who could hold her own in a romantic scene with Radcliffe, I wouldn't have believed you, but that's exactly the case. She may not set the scene on fire when appearing with Radcliffe, but they do make a nice couple. (She is very cute.) As usual, the kids are surrounded by the finest group of British thespians, and they are all magnificent. It was particularly nice to see Maggie Smith having a little more screen time, and Alan Rickman was great as Snape, especially considering the character's role in the movie. Jim Broadbent, a newcomer to the series, was very entertaining as Professor Slughorn.
If there's something that really disappointed me about the film, was Nicholas Hooper's score. His music for the previous installment was memorable and worked beautifully within the context of the film. Sadly enough, the same cannot be said about the music in Half-Blood Prince. Oh, don't take me wrong, it does work, and it never feels intrusive. The problem is it is the same darn music from the previous movie! OK, there are definitely a couple of new themes here and there, but I'd say 80% of the music in the film is exactly the same as in Order of the Phoenix. It wouldn't have hurt to compose to new themes, now, would've it? It is no secret I'm a big fan of John Williams, especially of his score for Prisoner of Azkaban, so I say: bring Williams back. I'm sure he would be able to compose awesome, beautiful new themes for both Deathly Hallows films. Hooper, I'm afraid, has disappointed, despite his solid score for OOP. I guess I'll have to buy the soundtrack in order to check if he indeed composed any new themes.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince might not be the best entry in the series, but it nevertheless is a darn-good film. I liked David Yates' in-your-face style of directing - especially the hand-held cameras during the more tense scenes - and his visual style, which works perfectly due to the overall darkness of the plot. The thing is, although the romance scenes work - especially the very cute relationship between Ginny and Harry - and there are many important things revealed during the course of the movie, it didn't feel like a very significant installment. It will definitely help watching the last two movies - Half-Blood Prince is like a preparation for Deathly Hallows, and maybe that's why it doesn't work as a stand-alone movie. Still, because it can be hilarious at times without losing track of the plot and the darkness that's coming, and because it features very cool special effects as well as excellent performances, I was very entertained by the movie, and was left wanting more. If only John Williams had composed the soundtrack...
Should've been called "Explosion: The Movie."
Simply put, this second Transformers flick should've been called Explosion: The Movie. There are more scenes of destruction, shooting, bombing, exploding, fighting, jumping, punching and running than in any other Bay movie, war movie, science fiction movie, action flick or any of the actual World Wars. If this film hasn't broken any kind of destruction records, then I don't know what can. And this kind of exaggeration could indeed be thrilling - or even funny - were it not for some of the silliness Bay and his team of writers decide to include. The first Transformers worked because, when compared to the sequel, it was pretty nuanced. (Never thought I would say something like that about a Bay movie.) Revenge of the Fallen has too much of everything, and on top of that, it's definitely too long. Not a completely bad film - although most of the North American critics will definitely state the contrary - but, in my book, an inferior movie to its predecessor.
Michael Bay is the master of all things action, and he certainly shows his skills here, blowing up everything that could possibly explode. I kinda liked the action, I guess - there are tons of explosions - duh -, tons of scenes of the military trying to shoot at the bad robots, using missiles, bombs, tanks, machine guns, guns and aircraft, and a lots of scenes featuring robots trying to beat the crap out of each other. The thing is, there comes a moment when it's all too much, when it all becomes too repetitive and over-the-top. I guess I could say there are too many explosions, too much shooting and too much use of a shaky cam - and yes, that's precisely the way the movie makes you feel: that there's too much, and that it all should have stopped like ten scenes ago. During the first 2/3 or so of the movie the action is relentless in the sense that it doesn't cease to entertain, but during the last 30 or 40 minutes it's relentless in the sense that it just keeps coming. Come on, Bay, you of all people should know when to stop.
Other problem? Just like there's too much action, too many explosions and too many scenes - the film is definitely about half an hour too long -, there are too many robots. Guys like Optimus, Bumblebee, Megatron and even The Fallen we can recognize. The thing is, there are like twenty other robots in the movie, and Bay doesn't even have the decency to show them without shaking his camera. Moreover, they don't have any personality - they just have names or colors. I liked the bickering between Megatron and Starscream; I somehow liked the little robot which turned into a toy car, and I definitely enjoyed the way the old transformer with a beard and a walking cane was presented, but what about those two that turned into bikes? Or the annoying twins that make Jar Jar Binks seem hilarious? Or that big one that ate all that sand in Egypt and seemed to have a pair of big, metallic balls between his legs? (Yes, that's Bay's idea of sophisticated humour.) I'm sure the movie could have done with ten or so robots less.
It's not like Bay cares about acting, but some of the actors that participate in his movies at least care about their performances. Take Shia LaBeouf, for example, who tries to inject some humanity into his character despite the fact that the screenplay uses him only to run and shout. If Sam is charismatic and worth rooting for - and ultimately works as a compelling leading character - it's because of LaBeouf, not due to the filmmakers' work. I also liked Josh Duhamel, and Kevin Dunn and Julie White as Sam's parents were pretty funny. John Turturro, reprising his role from the previous movie, gave a memorable performance as always, although his character has somehow changed. On the other hand, I didn't get the point of Megan Fox's character. Okay, so she's incredibly hot, but she was also incredibly useless. Pure eye-candy, no substance. (We're talking about Megan Fox here, guys, not the movie... or are we?) Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is all right because, despite all its flaws, it definitely never bored me, and because from a visual and technical standpoint, it's certainly a marvel, something worth taking a look at. The film is a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly, and one of the hardest films I've ever had to review, only because I was terribly entertained by it, but also - very frequently - terrified by it. And not because it's a scary movie, but because it can be a very bad movie. Still, it's got some terrific action sequences - which kind get old during the last half an hour or so of running time - and some very funny parts, so those who liked the first - superior - movie should have a blast with this one. The rest of us puny humans, though, will be left exhausted by the time the end credits start to roll. I wonder why three writers - two of them being responsible for the screenplay of the amazing and decidedly smarter Star Trek - were needed to pen the movie's screenplay. I don't even remember if there was any dialogue... and if there was, was it really needed? Wasn't this a series of action sequences, CGI scenes and shots of Megan Fox running in slow motion with the camera focusing on her breasts?
The Notebook (2004)
A flawed yet emotional romantic drama
I'm the kind of person who just loves to read novels, but I've never been an avid romance novel reader. I mean, how many guys would be? That means, of course, that I've never read The Notebook or any of Nicholas Sparks' novels. From what I've heard, some of them are really good, while others are either over-the-top or just silly. If I had to guess, though, I'd say the movie The Notebook was adapted from a novel belonging to the former category. That, or scriptwriters Jan Sardi and Jeremy Leven are really good at what they do. In any case, there's no denying that The Notebook is a compelling motion picture, and a very emotional kind of experience. It's what many would call a "tear-jerker" (an accurate description, considering how emotional the film is) but, at least in this case, calling it that it not a bad thing at all.
The film tells the story of Noah (James Garner as an adult, and Ryan Gosling as the younger version) and Allie. (Gene Rowlands in modern times, and Rachel McAdams during her younger years.) It's the year 2000, and Allie is suffering of dementia, something that is affecting her memory. With hopes of making her better, Noah is reading her from an old notebook, which recounts their story together; how they met, how they fell in love, and how they eventually ended up together. They met in America just before WWII; Noah was a working class teenager, while Allie belonged to a wealthy family. As most will be able to guess, their differences in terms of social classes became an issue, especially when Allie's mother (Joan Allen) found about their relationship. This lead to their break up, but fortunately for the both of them, destiny made them find each other again after the war, and just before Allie married an equally wealthy and undeniably charming soldier. (James Marsden.) If there's a reason why The Notebook worked so great for me, it's because it's so damned emotional. The story is predictable, as well the twists and turns the scriptwriters keep throwing at the audience, but the movie is presented in such a manner that it's not hard to feel for the characters and want them to end up together. Technically, it's brilliant - pre-WWII America is presented very accurately, and the film provides with such beautiful photography that it's hard not to fall in love with it. It's a beautiful-looking film, and as it's usually the case, it tells the story of two equally pretty people who just can't seem to be together. Their romance is pretty straightforward stuff - I actually thought at times it was too dramatic and that it resembled a cheap soap opera a little too much - but what made the story so compelling was the contrast between their early life and the situation in the 21st century. It may be due to my fears or to how I feel towards the topic, but the fact that Allie couldn't recognize Noah and that he just kept reading at her and loving her... OK, let's just say it's pretty powerful stuff.
If there's a genre that depends a lot on performances, it's the romantic drama; if your leads don't have any chemistry between each other, if they can't sell the romance to the audience, then your movie is pretty much screwed. Fortunately, that's not the case in here. Rachel McAdams is beautiful and compelling; she turns Allie into a charming, likable kind of character, the kind of girl you just want to be happy. Ryan Gosling is equally good, although I felt at times his interpretation of Noah lacked a little characterization, a little charm. In any case, he does have chemistry which McAdams, making every encounter between them bloom with passion. As the older versions of this characters, James Garner and Jena Rowlands are really good too although, at least for me, it was hard to believe those two were the same people who appear in the flashbacks. They just don't look alike or even feel alike.
Something that bothered me a little and that many critics have mentioned about the film, is that it feels a little restrained. Considering hat subject matter, and the fact that it's a very dramatic, slow-moving, emotional and occasionally sad, I don't think many teenagers would want to watch the movie. So why then the PG-13 rating? Every time Noah and Allie were involved in a sex scenes, tricky camera-work was used to make sure no nudity was shown, and the actors even are positioned in such a way that it looks forced and awkward, only to make sure, again, that they don't show any skin. If you're going to have a film that contains quite a bit of sexuality and that doesn't appeal to many underage viewers, it doesn't make any sense to restrain it. Many members of the audience won't even notice this, but it definitely bothered me.
As most of my readers may have already noticed, The Notebook is flawed, but a movie doesn't have to be a flawless masterpiece in order to be enjoyable. The Notebook is a romantic drama, and in order to succeed, it only has to do a couple of things: provide with solid romantic moments, have a believable leading couple and, if possible, make its viewers cry. I can say that this film achieved all three objectives, and that if you don't cry while watching it, especially during the last few scenes, you just don't have a soul. OK, so the filmmakers might be cheating - sometimes it's almost as if Nick Cassavettes and his team were trying to throw pepper-spray at the audience in order to make them cry - but the film is presented in such an elegant, compelling fashion, that you won't notice any of its flaws until well after the end credits.
Groundhog Day (1993)
I'd been wanting to watch Groundhog Day for some time, but it was only when I ordered the Blu-Ray version a couple of days ago that I could finally sit down and watch the bloody film. I'd heard a lot of stuff about it, I had seen a couple of scenes in cable (never managed to finish the movie for a diversity of reasons), but I'd never seen the movie.
Well, now I have. And I definitely don't regret the experience.
It's no mystery that Bill Murray is one of the most gifted comedians... no, wait, scratch that, gifted actors in modern cinema. He is funny in a way that one doesn't realize he is actually being funny until you listen to what he is saying. He doesn't depend on wacky mannerisms or profanity in order to make audiences laugh; it's his matter-of-factly delivery of lines and the actual lines that he says that make him so funny. Most comedies he's done are pretty great - including, of course, Groundhog Day -, and even some of the mediocre films he's done get elevated by his presence.
Now, Groundhog Day has a complicated premise, but it deals with it in a very simple, straightforward manner that nevertheless makes one think, laugh and admire what the filmmakers are conveying. Weatherman Phil Connors (Murray) is in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. It's February the 2nd. And it's Groundhog Day - a day he hates so much, he only comes to the Pennsylavian town to do his work and leave immediately before he kills himself. This day is different, though, much to his concern - time has seemed to stop, and he's reliving this same dreaded day over and over again, indefinitely. He's definitely not crazy, but how can he tell anyone, even his co-workers Rita (Andie McDowell) and Larry (Chris Elliot) about his current situation? The thing about Groundhog Day is that it's got a really smart premise and that it doesn't mess with it. Although it avoids many potentially-grim possibilities, it nevertheless explores a lot of things Phil could do with his new powers - memorize everything that happens in town, kill himself and doing illegal stuff without suffering the consequences, trying to conquer Rita's love, and many more. I liked the movie because it's both smart and funny, and the humour it provides with is intelligent enough and diverse enough for all audiences to enjoy the film. There's no place for bathroom jokes and profanity in this movie - in fact, this is one film that proves comedies don't have to be R-rated in order to be hilarious.
I also like that it doesn't provide with any explanations for Phil's predicament - after all, this is a comedy, and since we see everything from Phil's point of view and he doesn't really have a way of learning the reason for the time loop, then the audience doesn't have to know it either. Instead of focusing on the scientific aspect of the story, the movie provides with something more humane, something more basic. It deals with romance, comedy, everyday-situations being repeated - in subtly different ways - over and over again and, of course, the redemption of Murray's character, who starts the movie as a total creep and ends it as a wiser, gentler man. My God, i's almost as if he's learned a lesson! Does saying that he earns Rita's heart constitute as a spoiler? I don't think so. I believe the viewer actually expects this to happen, and is simply waiting to see how it will happen.
Groundhog Day is a masterwork, not only because it delights on a technical level, but also because it's one of those few comedies that manages to touch tickle the funny bone and touch the heart. It isn't formulaic by any means - although it does fulfill some expectations most members of the audience might have - and, despite being a little longer than most comedies, it never feels tiresome or overlong. Considering most comedies nowadays are either boring retreads or R-rated endeavors (which are really funny on their own right - see Tropic Thunder or Pineapple Express) that can't be enjoyed by the whole family, it's always a good idea to watch such a clean, fun and particularly smart movie like Groundhog Day.
Pineapple Express (2008)
A hilarious comedy experience
At last, I finally watched Pineapple Express. I didn't have the opportunity of seeing it in theatres because it was never released in Peru, so the moment it was released on Blu-Ray, I ordered, watched it, and well... here I am. I'm one of those people who totally loved Apatow's previous productions involving Seth Rogen (The 40 year old virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad), so I guess I had pretty big expectations for their latest production... and they didn't disappoint. The best thing about the movie is that it manages to combine several genres - action, buddy movie, comedy - so effectively, and that the pairing of Seth Rogen and James Franco works so well. It also helps that a seasoned, indie director like David Gordon Green has directed the film. Despite the fact that most wouldn't think of him as the ideal choice to direct the movie, he proves he's perfect for the material. He gets it, and has clearly enjoyed shooting it.
If there's one particular thought I had the moment the movie ended, it was "this is the most random film I've ever seen." But I mean it as a compliment. Nothing in this movie seems staged - as random as most of the things that occur are - most of them consequence of the fact that Ted believes Dale to be a professional hit-man -, they feel like natural events that occur within the flow of the situations. It's obvious quite a bit of improvisation occurred during the filming of the movie, and it works to its advantage. Something very curious about Pineapple Express is that, with the exception of a seemingly-immortal character, and unlike most comedy leading men, none of the protagonists seem to live in a cartoon world. Things have and they have their consequences. The film, despite being a lighthearted comedy, has a couple of dark elements, and plenty of R-rated violence.
But don't take me wrong. Pineapple Express is very funny. Not all jokes work, but most of them do, and most of them made me laugh out loud. There are plenty of memorable one-liners - many of them a result of the actors' improvisational skills, I'm sure - and even the violence is at times funny. Consider the movie a parody of action movies and buddy comedies. As Seth Rogen states during one of the Blu Ray extras - it's an action movie, but with every character being stoned during the action. Although the film is pretty low-budget, even the action sequences look great - take the car chase, for example - and have a comedic edge to them that serves the movie really well.
Seth Rogen is awesome as usual - a comedic genius, although many people are getting tired of him due to overexposure. Still, one can't deny that he has both acting and comedic chops. In here, he surprisingly plays the "straight man", a normal guy - who isn't particularly goofy - involved in a very surrealistic situation. On the other hand, James Franco plays the goofier sort of character, and he does it amazingly. He exhibits a perfect comedic timing, and some of his lines are the funniest in the whole film. Danny McBride is equally great - especially during the movie's bloated finale -, and cameos by Bill Hader and James Remar (as a tongue-in-cheek type of general) are memorable and laugh-out-loud funny.
Pineapple Express is not as good as the aforementioned The 40 year old virgin and Knocked Up, but it comes really close. Its main problem is its running time - being almost two hours long, I believe a couple of scenes and gags could've been cut in order to come up with a more tautly-paced version of the movie. It doesn't help either that I've only seen the extended, "unrated" version, although I guess the "normal" version of the film has the same problem - after all, this new version is barely six minutes longer. Still, despite its long running time, Pineapple Express never bored me, as it constantly surprised me with its great performances, hilarious one-liners, pop culture references and overall spoof of action movie conventions and buddy comedy moments. Like most Apatow productions, it is not a comedy in the traditional sense of the word - this one contain quite a lot of violence and some dark moments - but it works beautifully as it is.
La teta asustada (2009)
Not all art house movies are masterpieces
I had some really big expectations for The Milk of Sorrow. I mean, when was the last time a Peruvian motion picture, a movie made in my country by filmmakers from my country won such a prestigious award as the Golden Bear? I expected this film to be something really special, something that could make an impact in me and, fortunately, most members of the audience in the packed theatre I found myself in. The subject matter was undeniable interesting and full of possibilities, and director Claudia Llosa could undeniably use this movie to try to affect her audience both emotionally and intellectually.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. I went with three friends. None of us really enjoyed the film. The rest of the audience? The best description I have of the expressions in their faces when the end credits started to roll is the following: "wtf?" Some of them even left early or the moment the credits started, not even waiting to see how had directed or performed in the film. As much as it saddens me, The Milk of Sorrow is proof that not only "artsy", independent movies are masterpieces, and that one doesn't always have to agree with the members of a jury giving a supposedly prestigious award.
The thing about The Milk of Sorrow is that it's got a premise, but that's it. No story. No narrative. It almost seems as if Llosa wanted to start something but didn't know how, and instead preferred to chronicle the life of her young protagonist. This might seem all right, but all that we're doing is witnessing the way she lives and deals with her problems. The movie goes nowhere. We know she's afraid of going outside, of being alone; we know she's got a potato inside her vagina acting as some kind tampon, and that she believes in the "milk of sorrow" disease. We've got issues, but nothing else. The film almost seems like a documentary in that there's very little narrative to speak of, and that it seems more concerned in watching these characters instead of making the audience sympathize with them.
Magaly Solier is not a bad actress. Although I didn't enjoy Madeinusa that much either, she was pretty good in it, but here she's wasted. It's not that she gives a bad performance, it's that her character is poorly written. How can one sympathize with her and her situation when Fausta has virtually no personality? She almost seems like a zombie walking through the world, barely talking and barely expressing herself. I know there are people like that, and I know she's supposed to be traumatized and fearful, but that doesn't mean she's stopped being a human being. She is a woman, and Llosa is supposed to make the viewer believe in the fact that she's a real woman. But this doesn't happen. I liked when she sang – it's not only a great cultural thing, but it also gave a little characterization to Fausta – but I hated the way she was underwritten.
I know many people will say I didn't get the movie, and that's why I didn't like it. Well, I must say I actually got it, that's the point. Besides, there's not much to get. It's not a terribly complex film, which is good. It's a psychological and sociological analysis of the trauma that these people experienced due to Sendero Luminoso and the armed forces, and the beliefs they have. It's a very interesting cultural study and it all feels real because it is, but that doesn't mean it's a very good film. Maybe if it had been done in the form of a documentary it would have worked better, but as a supposed narrative, it doesn't really flow because there's no plot to speak of and characters are boring. There are themes and ideas, to be sure, but does that mean it's got to be an amazing picture? Technically, the film's really good, I guess. Unlike other Peruvian productions, it doesn't look as if the film was shot with a video-camera. The 35 mm film does the movie a lot of good, giving it a very dreamy, serious look. It's all very realistic, but at times it's very beautiful too. Llosa's slow-moving, sometimes very still camera is appropriate for the material, but the film's pacing is off. I have nothing against slow films (actually, some of my favorite movies are very slow ones) but The Milk of Sorrow is just too slow, and for no apparent reason. It definitely gives the movie a dreamy sort of quality, but the filmmakers also risk losing their audience. The movie is only 94 minutes long, but it surely feels a lot longer. Did the film need to be slow? I don't think so.
I really wanted to like The Milk of Sorrow. Technically, it's superior to other Peruvian productions, and performances are solid, but the movie's main problem is that it doesn't work at all as a narrative. There's very little plot to speak of and characters – especially Fausta, the protagonist – are zombies. I appreciate what Claudia Llosa tried to do – actually, I admire it, mainly because, from watching the film, it's apparent a lot of effort went into the making of the production. But the fact that I admire the filmmakers and what they were trying to do doesn't mean I have to like the movie. Unfortunately, although many independent and/or artsy movies are really, really good (a pleasant change from Hollywood's loud and noisy productions), not all of them are as good as one would want them to be. La Teta Asustada had lots of potential, but sadly it didn't fulfill them. Hopefully, Llosa's next film will be superior.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
Definitely could have been much better
The Wolverine character was first introduced - cinematically - in Bryan Singer's first X-Men movie. There, he was presented as a tough, violent individual who knew very little about his past, and even less about how he got his awesome powers. That was part of the film's charm - that one of its main characters was a complete mystery, and the way this mystery was treated was very effective. The purpose of Origins is to reveal this mystery, but I'm not sure if it was a very good idea in the first place.
Unless you know nothing about he movie, you probably know that it eventually shows Logan taking part of the Weapon X program - it shows how he gets his adamantium skeleton and claws. The thing is, this part of the movie should have been treated as more important. There's no suspense towards this very significant transformation. No anticipation. The sequence itself last little more than 15 minutes, and ends up with Logan escaping - quite easily - from Stryker's grasp. And then, I also thought his lack of memory had to do with the experiment itself, but it doesn't. The way his amnesia - which is a very important aspect of the original X-Men flicks - is explained is one of the most disappointing aspects of the film - a very idiotic and ultimately senseless explanation indeed.
If there's one level I thought the movie worked beautifully, it's action-wise. There are quite a few action set pieces, and every one of them work on their own right. Granted, I'm not saying there's anything particularly groundbreaking in here - actually, movies like the aforementioned Iron Man and The Dark Knight and even The Incredible Hulk were more successful because they were actually capable of gathering suspense - but it all looks pretty cool. The thing is, I actually never though any of this characters were in danger - although that's maybe because both Wolverine and Victor are almost immortal beings. Visually, there's nothing particularly striking - the CGI is at times competent and at times a little too attention-calling (the final set piece in the nuclear reactor comes to mind), and the physical effects, including make up for a particular nemesis, aren't bad.
Hugh Jackman is, as always, excellent in the role which gave him fame. He knows the character, and maybe that's why the film works more than it should considering its mediocre screenplay. Liev Schreiber is surprisingly good as Victor - the man's made a career playing more cerebral, less physical characters, but in here he proves he's really excellent at playing ruthless villains. Danny Huston doesn't exactly channel Brian Cox's "version" of Stryker, but he's good nevertheless. Taylor Kitsch is lame as Gambit, and Ryan Reynolds (who's actually really good) is wasted as Wade Wilson. Considering both their characters were some of the most anticipated by the fans, their limited screen time is a really bad move by the filmmakers.
I was really entertained by X-Men Origins: Wolverine, mainly because Hugh Jackman is so damned good at playing the titular character and because, although the action sequences were pretty ordinary, they looked awesome. Compared to some of the comic book films I mentioned earlier in this review, though, it's a pretty big disappointment. Considering everything that has been told in comic books about this character, much more could have been done with an origins motion picture, but the filmmakers decided to focus on action and violence... so there you go. The funny things is, director Gavin Hood is not an action director, so why bring him? And to think that I thought his presence could make the film focus more on character than on fights, explosions and CGI.
Death Defying Acts (2007)
Not the best magician's movie out there...
There's nothing death defying about Death Defying Acts. This is a pretty conventional motion picture that doesn't try to do anything new with the genre it's portraying. There's nothing terribly wrong about this, but there isn't anything particularly original about the movie either. While it's been pretty maligned in some circles - maybe this is why it never was released in the States and it arrived two years late in Peruvian theatres - it's not a bad movie; it's OK, I guess, but nothing spectacular. This is the hardest type of movie to review - the kind of film that didn't make an impression on me, but that isn't that bad either. This will definitely be a short review.
The film tells the story of mega-famous magician and trickster Harry Houdini (Guy Pearce - Memento). He's arrived on Britain as part of one of his tours - he's looking for a magician or psychic that can be able to guess - or "see" - the last words his mother uttered before dying. You see, this is all part of a scientific experiment he wishes to conduct. Something unexpected happens the moment he arrives at Scotland, though - he falls in love with psychic Mary McGarvie (Catherine Zeta-Jones), whose daughter and "apprentice", Benji (Saoirse Ronan) approached to accept his scientific challenge.
If that small plot summary sounded simplistic, that's because it is. The movie is not particularly ambitious, and that's maybe why I was left overwhelmed by it - there's so much to say about a figure as famous and recognizable as Houdini, and the film decides to focus on something decidedly dull. The film actually starts with some promise - I liked Ronan's voice-over, and it almost seemed as if the film was to focus on something interesting. But then, of course, I started to discover this was going to be a romance - a very clichéd, underdeveloped romance, at that - and I shuddered.
If there's a reason why the film is not bad, it's because of some solid performances. Guy Pearce is one of the most underrated actors working today - see his work in the aforementioned Memento if you don't believe me - and although the screenplay doesn't present a particularly three-dimensional version of Houdini, he makes him believable and humane. Catherine Zeta Jones is pretty good too, sporting a credible Scottish accent (!) and trying to portray Mary as a sympathetic figure despite the fact that the writers' don't seem to like the character. Timothy Spall - as Houdini's manager - is great as always, but the real standout is Saoirse Ronan. (Who was also really amazing in Atonement, by the way.) It's not only that she portrays the most developed, interesting and fun character, it's also that she brings it to life - Pearce and Zeta Jones' performances are precisely that (performances) but Ronan seems to be inhabiting her character, definitely putting a lot of passion into a project that arguably doesn't deserve that much.
Despite the fact that Death Defying Acts is already available on DVD and Blu-Ray in most countries, I got to see it in theatres. I can't say I regret having paid for this particularly theatrical viewing experience, but I won't enthusiastically recommend the movie either. The screenplay, while not terrible, is pretty ordinary, and the direction is all right. (Cinematography is gorgeous, though, and the score is beautiful.) Performances - especially Ronan's - are what save the film from entering the realm of mediocrity, but if you really want to watch a magician's flick, I'd recommend either the Illusionist or The Prestige.
The International (2009)
A thriller with a problem of identity
What's with all these "meh" movies in Peruvian theatres lately? I know the situation's not any better in the States (Beyonce's The Obsessed in first place at the weekend box office? What the hell?) but come on. It's almost May - this time last year we were watching Iron Man in theatres, right? I actually wanted to watch The International - not because it had been receiving particularly great reviews, but because I'm a fan of both Clive Owen and Naomi Watts. The former has been great in movies like Children of Men, Inside Man or Sin City. The latter... well, she's Naomi-friggin'-Watts. She's a great actress, period. And while The International is not a bad film - it's a little more enjoyable than, for example, Death Defying Acts, which I also saw this week - it definitely disappointed me.
The movie tells the story of Interpol Agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen), and her "sidekick" of sorts, New York assistant DA, Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts), who become involved in a case regarding the International Bank for Business and Credit (IBBC), which is organizing arms deals so they can control the debt of countries in Africa and the Middle East - nations involved in civil and border conflicts. Any time someone is about to expose the bank's secrets, he or she "mysteriously" disappears or gets killed. When Salinger's partner gets killed just after talking with one of the bank's "top dogs", both him and Whitman start to take the case even more seriously, even when their superiors starts being influenced by the very powerful IBBC.
Even though The International is a "meh" movies, much like the aforementioned Death Defying Acts, it gets saved from falling into the depths of mediocrity by the performances of its lead actors. Owen is, as usual, excellent - grim, serious and believable. What I liked about his character - and the way Owen portrays Salinger - is that he's no typical Hollywood cop superhero. He doesn't run around killing bad guys and getting involved in fights. During the film's most spectacular shootout, he behaves credibly, not like an invincible hero - he gets shot, misses, trips, characteristics that adds to the realism of the film and tension to the proceedings. Watts is also great - her character is weak, but she nevertheless does a good job at portraying her. Eleanor Whitman will definitely not be remembered as the most complex, powerful character she's ever portrayed, but that doesn't mean she isn't good as what she has to do.
The funny thing about The International is that it's by no means an action movie, but it sometimes wants to be one. The film focuses more on intrigue, suspense and tension - and yes, the movie can be really suspenseful and tense: take, for example, its opening scene -, but it inserts a couple of action sequences here and there. The Guggenheim shoot-out is superb - it's amazingly shot, it's violent, realistic and bloody, it's tense and surprising, and it works greatly as an action sequence on its own right. But as part of the overall movie... well, it isn't as successful. The same can be said about a rooftop chase sequence. Maybe this lack of cohesion also has to do with the undevelopment of the characters - Owen and Watts act like real professionals, but their characters are flat. To the director and the screenwriters, it seems, the turns and complexities of the plot they're trying to tell are more important than the characters that get involved in it.
The International is all right - but if you expect something really good, a compelling thriller that provides with three-dimensional, fully-developed characters, an even tone and a great screenplay, you won't get it here. As good as performances are, characters are weak, and the filmmakers can't seem to know if they want their movie to be an action thriller or a more intellectual, less visceral kind of movie. In the end, as uneven as The International is, I can't say I wasn't entertained by it, more by its capacity to make the viewer think and guess about the plot and its twists and turns, than by its characters or action sequences.
Speed Racer (2008)
Only for certain audiences
I don't know why Speed Racer has been maligned by the majority of major critics. This is definitely the most fun I've had while watching a movie in years, and although it's not as good as last weekend's major release, Iron Man, it's definitely a darn good flick. You know what? Maybe it's got to do with the age of the viewer. Most of the critics are 30 year olds or 40 year olds, and since the film is so fast and wild and colourful and full of CGI, it's pretty much impossible for them to enjoy it. A more digital generation, a generation of people who have grown up with videogames and computers and Pixar movies will definitely have a lot of fun with Speed Racer. Yes, I'm talking about of people my age (17) and younger. Speed Racer is one crazy flick, a mix of digital effects and real-life actors that manages to tell a compelling story, while providing with impressive CGI work and solid performances.
As everybody must know, Speed Racer is based on the Japanese cartoon of the 60s, but the great thing is that one doesn't have to be fan in order to enjoy the movie adaptation. The story is pretty straightforward and easy to follow, and characters, while not exactly developed - most of them are archetypes -, have their own backstories which make them more interesting and identifiable: heroes are heroes, and villains are evil and hateful - there's only one character who does seem to be on the gray area of characterization, but the film doesn't dwell on him too much.
In order to create their movie, the Wachowskis didn't want to create a mere film adaptation. They wanted to create an experience, a flick that would resemble a cheesy cartoon come to life. The whole film was shot in front of blue screens and green screens, and the majority of the sets and backgrounds - if not all of them - were created inside a computer. All this means, of course, that the movie is visually impressive, awe-inspiring and exhausting. Cars fly around and flip and attack using hidden weapons and transitions are used by means of superimposing images and close-ups. Car races are, for the most part, completely computer-generated, and are so exaggerated that the viewer feels as if he/her were watching a realistic-looking cartoon. Speed Racer has a unique look and style, providing with a cinematic experience in a fashion that has never been seen before. It's all really cool.
I guess that's why there are so many conservative viewers that haven't liked Speed Racer. The movie's fast and wild, and constructs its scenes and racing sequences in rather unorthodox manners. Some may consider that one has to be an ADD viewer in order to enjoy the movie, but I don't think that's true. I can enjoy Speed Racer as much as I enjoy The Maltese Falcon (I'm not comparing the two flicks, of course, but you get the idea), so yeah, I'm a pretty normal guy, and I had tons of fun with film. I didn't get dizzy or lost, and I was just marvelled by its (intentionally) cheesy CGI and impressive set pieces.
But special effects aren't the only things that make a film worth-watching; there are things like performances, for example, that are important for a motion picture to work, and thankfully, Speed Racer has pretty good acting. (Had the performances or the storyline been crappy, the movie would've only served as a demonstration of what CGI can do.) Emile Hirsch (Girl Next Door, the impressive Into the Wild), while not particularly great, is not bad as Speed. He's the classic hero, the selfless and naïve boy who wants to fight the big corporations. Yes, he's a little boring (I guess the Wachowskis have a tradition of providing with somehow dull leads - just go and watch Keanu Reeves' performance in The Matrix and its sequels), but I found him likable enough. Christina Ricci is great as Trixie, and Matthew Fox is suitably mysterious and dark as Racer X. Susan Sarandon and John Goodman don't have much to do as Speed's parents, and Roger Allam goes amazingly over-the-top as Royalton - a memorably evil villain for a memorably cartoonish movie.
But audiences watch films like Speed Racer in order to watch the races, and fortunately they won't be disappointed. Apart from being visually stunning, these sequences are also pretty tense and exciting too. There was more than one occasion in which I had goosebumps while watching one of these scenes, and since Speed as likable and worth-rooting-for, one can actually feel for him during his quest for glory and destroying Royalton's plans. Races are not hard to follow - at least not for me nor for my girlfriend - and apart from trying to now what's going to happen next, one awaits these races in order to discover what exaggerate and outrageous situations and tracks the Wachowskis can come up with. Physics and logic are not present in these set pieces - they're as exaggerated and outrageous as any race could be, and that's why they're so fun.
Speed Racer has the right amount of action, races, impressive visual effects, cheesy characters and juvenile humour (courtesy of Spritle Racer and the monkey, who become involved in some amusingly cheesy situations), which makes it really fun. You may have noticed that I've used the words "cartoonish", "cheesy" and "visual" a lot in this review. Well, I guess those words pretty much sum up the whole film. If you go and watch it with an open mind and considering it's gonna be a really cartoonish and wild flick, you'll by no means be disappointed.
Miss Julie (1999)
"Raw passion and desire" indeed
I was surprised by Miss Julie's rawness and by the power of its performances. In general terms, the movie's by no means remarkable: the plot is simple enough (it deals with an impossible love between two persons of different social classes) and there are only three main characters. What makes Miss Julie (both as a play and as a motion picture) a really good piece of entertainment is the way it handles the development of its characters, as well as the manner in which they are portrayed. Mike Figgis' expert direction helps of course, and Helen Cooper's screenplay, which doesn't deviate too much from August Strindberg's script for the original play, provides with tons of drama, memorable lines and believable situations. Miss Julie works because it's a compelling dramatic picture that manages to transmit interesting ideas through its characters - in the end, even though a lot happens during the film, virtually nothing is changed in the lives of two of the three characters - and that features some really powerful moments thanks to Figgis' competent work.
I saw this movie with my English class after reading the original play, and I was surprised by its faithfulness towards the source material. Granted, I know the play is relatively short, but there are film adaptations that would've changed a lot of things. (If it had been a Hollywood flick, I'm pretty sure that the ending, for example, would've been changed.) This faithfulness means that many of the original lines from the play have been retained, and that characterization remains pretty much the same, which is good, considering it's one of Strindberg's work's strongest assets. Figgis and Cooper only change a couple of things, like the place in which the sex takes place, for example, and the fact that the act itself isn't shown in the play. The movie adaptation also contains more profanity, although I don't know how this affects the overall quality of the plot. I guess they could've done without it.
Performances are what manage to prevent the film from becoming an over-bloated and cheesy melodrama. Saffron Burrows (Troy) as Miss Julie is, simply put, amazing. His performance is quiet and solemn, and manages to make the character of Miss Julie a believable and well-rounded figure. All of this scenes with Jean are amazing, containing lots of power and a perfect delivery of lines, and although I don't agree with most of what she does during the course of the movie, it's difficult not to admire her work. Peter Mullan as Jean is also really great. Although his character is not the most sympathetic one ever, he manages to make him likable and believable enough for the audience; many of the lines he has to recite are excellently witty and smart, and both his delivery and dramatic performance are top-notch. You gotta love his Scottish accent!
Mike Figgis' direction, while not perfect, is also really good. I don't know if the movie had an actual low budget, but direction makes it look like one, albeit not in a negative way. He makes use of hand-held cameras and lots of unbroken shots, and makes the film look as if it had been filmed by someone who was actually there with the characters. There's very little background music during the whole movie, but what's there is amazing. The music during the first scene - in which the servants are preparing everything inside the kitchen - is arresting, and helps make the scene a beautiful and suspenseful beginning to the movie. (It's remarkable that Figgis himself composed the score for the movie.) The film contains many of these arresting types of scenes - the raw sex scene between Jean and Julie is really powerful, for example. I was left with my mouth open during the whole sequence, and although the film is a little too slow-paced and the direction might put off some of the most impatient viewers, it's these kinds of the scenes that make it really worth watching.
While not perfect, Miss Julie is a really great movie, the kind of film that requires patient viewers in order to be enjoyed. I like the themes it touches - the struggle between social classes, the fact that the characters finally couldn't change anything and that the ending starts with a new day full of the routine that characterized the beginning, as if the circle of daily life had been closed - and the performances it provides with, as well the screenplay and the direction. Maybe it's a little too slow paced for some viewers, and maybe it's a little too melodramatic and bleak for others - I definitely found it a little too dark for my taste -, but for those who appreciate this kind of art house movie, there's a lot of enjoyment to be had. I'd recommend you to read the play first - it's not hard and it's not long - and then watch the film adaptation. Miss Julie is a really powerful and arresting motion picture, and it's a pity it's not more well-known. Given the amazing performances by Burrows and Mullan, it could have catapulted them to stardom or, at least, made them more well-known to art house viewers and movie buffs.