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|151 reviews in total|
The Golden Compass - In an adaptation of the Phillip Pullman novel,
young Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards) journeys to the far North to
save her best friend and other kidnapped children from terrible
experiments by a mysterious organization. This takes place in an
alternate universe, where people have animal sprites that fallow them
around, fantastic looking methods of transportation are common place,
and a cowboy (Sam Elliot) talking to a Polar Bear (voiced by Ian
Mckellen) is commonplace.
Rounding out the cast are Ian McShane as another polar bear, Derek Jacobi and Christopher Lee in bit parts (it has become the style, as Harry Potter started it, to give wonderfully talented British actors the smallest conceivable rolls in movies), and Daniel Craig as a thoroughly under-used Lord Asriel. Hopefully he will be given more to do in the sequel (yes there will be one. Expect it going in). Eva Green also appears and is also given little to do. Maybe she missed Casino Royale and just wanted to have another go-around with Daniel Craig. Nicole Kidman is rather evil as the head villainess. She sets the stakes pretty high early on for Lyra. Freddie Highmore is adorable as the voice of Lyra's ferret who also turns into a few other also-cute animals, but is primarily a ferret.
The device of animals as sprites that follow people around was an ingenious device. Are there any real animals in this world? Do the people choose their own animal? In the case of Lydia's sprite that changes form, is it like with the Green Lantern where "your imagination is the limit?" Cause I'm so having a dragon/ grizzly bear/racehorse. The movie only skimmed the surface with this idea, but it was enough to provoke much thought.
The effects were quite marvelous. The story felt a tad shallow and rushed at some points. Characters seemed to pop up and help Lyra at the drop of a pin. I still enjoyed it quite a bit. There isn't a bad performance in the bin. Ian Mckellen's voice carries more authority than Liam Neeson's ever did as the Lion in Narnia (I enjoyed this one far more).
I've heard loads of sh*t tossed at this movie from fans of the books. I enjoyed it. It's a bit shallow and favors style over substance, but I liked it and I wasn't expecting to. It'll never top Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, but a fine fantasy movie. overall. Plus, there's a damn Polar Bear tussle! How often have I seen one on celluloid? Never! This one gets a B
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street - Tim Burton's
adaptation of the classic Stephen Sondheim musical, a dark comedy with
an ending bordering on Greek Tragedy. Tim Burton rounded up the usual
suspects (Christopher Lee is absent though) and Johnny Depp is the lead
as Sweeney Todd, a simple barber who once had a loving wife and
daughter but they were stolen by Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman, wonderful
as always) and Sweeney was shipped away. Years later, Sweeney wants
revenge and resolves to cut as many throats as it takes to get to Judge
Turpin! I have always enjoyed the stage version of this for it's dark
humor and macabre style and Tim Burton was an easy choice to make as
director. His noir style where black, white and grey are the primaries
and color, when used pops out suit the show very well. Visually the
movie is a treat.
Now musically the film is slightly controversial. The most controversial choice is the casting of Johnny Depp. He has the character down all well and good. Some fans might object to the fact that he isn't a bass, like Todd was written originally. I'm torn, because I love Depp and he sang well, but I know that whenever a film version of a movie is made, that generally becomes the standard version by which future stage productions are based. Depp, like Jaoquin Phoenix in "Walk the Line" just doesn't have the lower notes. Depp is a bari-tenor. Still, he has the character down pat and sounds very good.
Helena Bonham Carter will never be mistaken for a professional singer, but she does fine. There were probably reams of actresses who could have done better, but again she looks and acts the part of Mrs. Lovett very well. There isn't a bad singer in the bunch. I loved Sacha Baron Cohen's turn as Signor Adolfo Pirelli, and Jamie Campbell Bower and Jayne Wisener both sounded lovely and Anthony and Johanna. Ed Sanders was adorable as Toby. Timothy Spall (the third cast member from the Harry Potter films) is great and weaselly as Beatle Bamford.
Some songs sound a little different from the original scoring. "Pretty Women" in particular because of the juxtaposition between a bass (Rickman, who sounds quite good) and a tenor (Depp), while in the original it was two basses. I loved "Worst Pies in London" "A Little Priest" "Johanna" "Epiphany" and "By the Sea". I was disappointed, as will be most fans of the original musical, by the sheer volume of songs left out. I and several other patrons stayed during the credits to see if "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" was finally going to be played. I mean, it's only the catchiest and most iconic of all the songs in the show. All we get is a small instrumental of it at the beginning. Ridiculous. It should have been sung at the end because the film ending feels hollow without it. So much was cut for time. This is a case where a "Director's Cut" is most necessary. I loved what was there. I just want more.
Tim Burton fans will love it. Fans of the original musical will enjoy it but be disappointed by how much was cut to appease mainstream audiences.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
No Country for Old Men - This was one, like Babel last year, that
everyone was raving about but the hype ended up being more than the
film was worth. Well that's not totally fair. I LOVED the first half of
this movie. Intense, minimalistic, and fantastic acting from Josh
Brolin and Javier Bardem (who probably deserves an Oscar nomination at
least for playing evil the likes of which I have not seen since the
T-1000). Javier plays Anton Chigurh, a hit-man stricken with pure evil.
See it for Bardem, but about halfway through do yourself a favor and let the first half of the movie stay in your mind and forget that there's an end to the film (There isn't really. It's become the style to let films just float off like kites rather than give them a definitive or interesting ending, like the other film released a month ago, Before the Devil Knows Your Dead) The riveting first half of No Country involves a cat and mouse game. It is engaging, suspenseful, and a treat to watch.
The final third of the movie is cold, detached, and feels rushed, like a few missing reels were taken out of the film. Everyone keeps talking about "an end", "how the confrontation is going to end". Then they pick up right after the "end". What the hell? I thought for a second they had skipped a real. I liked the first half of the film, but kept waiting for the amazing reason this film is freaking 15 on IMDb's top 250. I did not see a reason. Fans of the Coen brothers are likely to enjoy this. I haven't seen Fargo so I can't comment. But I do know that the writer's strike must be working on some level if this is the sort of film the critics are looking to now as possibly the Best Film of the Year. I was really looking forward to this one, but the Hype was stronger than the end result. Maybe a second viewing will improve my feelings towards it.
Beowulf - From the maker of Polar Express Roger Zemeckis and writers
Neil Gaiman and Roger Avery (who I'm still sore at for sinking the
Silent Hill movie), we have Beowulf, a hero archetype come to life,
well sort of. Everyone is layered densely in CGI, and the film exploits
the usual weaknesses and strengths of CGI. It's awesome when used to
show sea monsters being slaughtered (highly reminiscent of the God of
War video game, and if a movie is made of that too, this is likely the
formula that will be used) in some fairly cool bloody ways, but just
cannot show human emotion as well as the real thing.
A monster Grendal (name inspires terror doesn't it?) whose sole power is being bat-s*** hideous (not scary, just really ugly) looking and sole-weakness is slightly stupider that that of the aliens in Signs, comes to town and wreaks havoc in an apparent desire to make the story interesting. Beowulf stops him relatively easily in a pretty cool fight scene, and the rest of the time we have to listen to some mildly boring dialog and some awkward character decisions. Best line? "There have been many a brave soldier come to taste my husband's mead."
John Malkovich's character beats a cripple at least twice with a stick and repeating in a monotone that the boy is spilling mead, in a scene I'm pretty sure was meant to be comical but comes off as cruel. Why? I didn't really sympathize with anyone. It's too cold in this fantasy world. The CGI gimmick kinda worked against them there. Robin Wright Penn was pretty bland as both eye-candy and in acting. Anthony Hopkins fans should avoid this as his character is frankly embarrassing. Crispin Glover "plays" Grendal the same way that Hugo Weaving did a voice-over for Megatron in the Transformers movie earlier this year; completely unrecognizable through a mask of effects to the point where anyone could've played the part. The only person well cast (typecast?) was Brendan Gleeson, as Beowulf's sidekick. Oh, and Angelina Jolie, as seduction itself in as close to a nude-scene as fanboys will get now that she's got all her kids going to see her films.
It's got a cool bit with a dragon at the end, but what does it all really matter when I don't care about the characters? Beowulf has an interesting story and one or two decent action scenes, but is mostly forgettable. a C+
Across the Universe - Julie Taymor's homage to the 60s and 70s. I'd
call it an homage to the Beatles, but aside from using 33 of their
songs (and referring to a few more) and eye-roll-inducingly calling the
two main characters Jude (Jim Sturgess) and Lucy (Evan Rachael Wood),
this movie has no real tie to John, George, Paul or Ringo. Nor, aside
from Jude and Mr. Kite (played by the lovable Eddie Izzard), who I'm
pretty sure was a hallucination (or was it? It looked so real), is most
of the cast British.
What shots there are of Britain (at the beginning and end of the film) show a stuffy factory-working bunch of elderly old men. Yeah, it's not like anything happened in Britain during the 60s and 70s anyway, right? Unless you count, um....THE BEATLES! I guess they were all so downtrodden cause we stole their Beatles.
I love music and singing. I like Beatles music. I also liked most of the arrangements in the movie. Quite a few caused that goosepimples reaction. I also liked most of the singers. Evan Rachel Wood, Jim Sturgess, Joe Anderson, and Martin Luther were quite good. Didn't really care for Dada Fuchs as an actress or singer, and I found it kind of funny that SHE was the one to go on as a professional singer in the movie. My favorite has to be Joe Anderson. He had the most charisma, and was also the best written part. I wish that more of the songs weren't pre-recorded (There is a noticeable difference in sound) but I'm happy that the singers did their own singing.
There is undeniable power in these tunes, if you're into musicals or just plain Beatles music. I am. Notable entries were "Hey Jude" "Come Together" ""Strawberry Fields Forever" "I Am The Walrus" (How ridiculous was it for Limey-disliking Americans to say words like knickers and "English Garden and English Rain). Notably weird and therefore personal favorite entires were "I Want You" and "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite". "Twist and Shout" was surprisingly absent, as well as most of the more shallow-pop Beatles songs. I guess Ferris Bueller cornered the market on that one. I was disappointed as I expecting a scene where Jude drunkenly types out one of the more innocuous Beatles songs like "Love Me Do" or "P.S. I Love You" in a letter to Lucy.
Unfortunately, if the 33 Beatles songs were the films strong point, they were also it's weakness. Sometimes they had little to do with what was actually going on in the movie (or if they did, it was in a very roundabout way) and sometimes I had little clue as to what was going on. The script was kinda "helter skelter" and thinly tied in with the songs. These are elementary musical mistakes. If you're at the point where you want to get through the dialogue to get to the next song, the musical's in trouble. The music should assist the story, not override it. And this is a paper-thin story. The songs don't reveal or mention much about the characters themselves, aside from the obvious "Hey Jude", and "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" doesn't play til the credits roll. What was the point of naming her that then? Events are mentioned that mean little though are meant to mean more. People break up and re-unite for reasons not explained to the audience.
This was an ambitious movie, and it suceeded and failed in various places. Loved the singing. Wasn't so crazy about the thin characterization and story. A mix, but mostly enjoyable, Across the Universe gets a B.
Shoot 'Em Up Shoot 'Em Up - Mr. Smith (Clive Owen) stars in this two
A-listers away from a Grindhouse movie in which he protects a baby and
eye candy Monica Bellucci from an endless number of baddies, the leader
of which is Paul Giamatti.
I'm starting to think that this bad-ass-with-a-gun-and-a-dry-quip thing Clive Owen does is less a character he puts on and more his genuine persona. Either that or he's completely typecast and has no intention of escaping that position. Either way, it's a ball watching him and what looks to be every working stuntman in L.A. wreck havoc in the numerous and endlessly entertaining physics-defying gunfights this film offers.
Basically, the film's content is as dumb as a none-too bright rock, but it's cleverly done, if that makes any sense at all. Unlike Transformers, the other big loud mentally retarded action movie this summer, in which everything was played for laughs (but none too funny), Shoot 'Em Up plays the action for laughs and it IS funny. Also, a baby makes for a slightly better MacGuffin than a Cube, in that you might actually give a fig about the baby.
Paul Giamatti's character is creepy and hammy occasionally verging on annoying, but whenever he's at risk of being so the action picks up. His scenes (especially the one after a particurally ridiculous car chase) with Clive Owen are fun cat and mouse fun. Everyone else, (well, maybe not Monica Bellucci's cleavage) was forgettable.
The movie does not endeavor in the slightest to make you care about the characters, but this being the case, I can't fathom why they spent the little time that they did on the plot (Something about stealing bone marrow and gun control laws), because those scenes really dragged the movie down and threatened to draw out the movie's already lean screen time of 90 minutes.
In the end, it's bloody spectacle and pop fluff. Easy to watch with maybe a handful of memorable bits. I won't forget those carrots anytime soon. Fun, but no Grindhouse, Shoot 'Em Up gets a B-
3:10 to Yuma - James Mangold's remake of a Western I haven't seen
starring Russell Crowe as Ben Wade and Christian Bale as Dan Evans. Ben
Wade (Crowe) is an outlaw seemingly too smart to be an outlaw who, in
the celebration of his latest robbery, was apprehended. Dan Evans
(Bale) agrees to hold the captured outlaw who's awaiting a train to go
to court in Yuma. A battle of wills ensues as the Dan and Ben travel
closer to Ben's punishment.
Let me just say firstoff, that the performances are captivating. Christian Bale, who I've never known to give a bad performance, brings quiet intensity and a desperateness to his part. He wants his family to have a future, and for his son to be proud of him. Russell Crowe gives possibly my favorite performance of his, as he chews the scenery, kills people (not much new there), and barely lets you know what is going on in his character's mind. His intentions are never clear, and just as muddled is his take on morality. The Western genre has been famous for muddled character desires, though money and the killing of others is usually among them. Ben Wade is famous, has all the money he could desire, and has killed "more people than the Drought", so the ambiguity of the character and his chemistry with Dan Evans (whose fate he showed more interest in than his own) made for great viewing.
Alan Tudyk (one of my favorite "that guy" guys), Peter Fonda and Luke Wilson play small parts. The action is intense, but doesn't overpower the character driven screenplay, as two of this generations' best actors go toe-to-toe. Not everyone will appreciate this film perhaps, but I found it to be very good and quite moving (esp. at the end). The film's is a little over 2 hours, but very well paced. I'd see it again in a heartbeat.
I give it an A.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Bourne Ultimatum - Jason Bourne (Matt Damon in his best role ever),
the newest spy kid on the block, brings his quest for his identity to a
close as he also seeks to end the CIA's latest program "Blackbriar" to
make super assassins like himself.
I was so psyched for this one that I watched it's predecessors yesterday and today. Identity was as brilliant as I recall and Supremacy remains the weak (but still enjoyable) link in the chain for the weakest plot and, aside from a car chase which this film's chase easily tops, slight lacking in action and suspense.
Hoo boy, does Ultimatum have suspense! Even when you know Bourne will escape the authorities (and boy do these films spotlight the police as inept), it's still brilliant watching him do it. It's mind-boggling to think that two guys with handguns and mopeds can create 10x more suspense than anything those $150 million giant robots did in Transformers.
Chalk it up to Paul Greengrass, who has this idiosyncratic style of shooting stedicam a la documentary, even though he's filming characters that are far from ordinary, in places like CIA headquarters where no one within 10 miles would be allowed with a camcorder. He seemed to listen to my various complaints with Supremacy, as the action in Ultimatum is nothing less than awe-inspiring, with various implements used as weapons being a candlestick, a hardcover book (I'll never look at those the same way again) and an electric fan (Don't ask). The music also helped generate much suspense, and there was hardly ever a moment to not nail-bite over.
The acting is good, and the evolution of Julia Stiles' character "Nicky" put her situation into a new highly sympathetic light. Damon plays his signature role with reserve but competency (which sounds minor but that it genuinely looks like Matt Damon could evade the CIA and Interpol is something), but noticeable moments of poignancy as he still struggles to find his humanity. This longing of his for a real life could get boring, and almost did in Supremacy, but just works better in Ultimatum (better script).
I am reminded of a scene in "Goldeneye" (the only good Pierce Brosnan Bond film) in which Sean Bean's character asks James if the martinis ever silence the screams of all the men he's killed. Bourne regrets all the people he killed, and he considers (or at least made me consider) the meaning of action without purpose, life without meaning, and how the government has transformed men into resources. Albeit, resources that know Krav Maga and can make weapons out of anything.
Sidenote: it's always bothered me that, despite being a superspy and hunted by the CIA, Interpol, and the police nearly ANYWHERE he goes, that Bourne never thought to make even the smallest attempts to disguise his features or forge some new passports. Sunglasses maybe?
If you have a pulse and love action movies, than Bourne Ultimatum is for you. Hell, it's probably the best action film to come out this year. Of course, you'd be a fool to see it without watching the others first. It kind of drags a touch near the end, but I almost feel tempted to overlook that. This is the first "3" movie this summer to at least match, if not exceed, the original and that is saying something.
The Simpsons Movie - The once well-loved yellow family gets a big
screen debut in which they are exiled from Springfield after Homer
dooms the city. The family heads to quite possibly the only place left
in the world that they HAVEN'T gone to: Alaska. Homer is forced to
learn a life lesson. Marge nags as per usual and sounds closer to Patty
or Selma than her original voice. Bart skateboards nude in a hilarious
sequence, but becomes an obnoxious thorn in the movie's paw as he
becomes a total jerk towards Homer (He never realized Homer was a bad
father in how many seasons?). Lisa, almost no one's favorite character,
actually gets some great moments and she finds a cute Irish boyfriend.
Tom Hanks has two funny bits on the film, and Al Brooks is underused.
Now, any true Simpsons fan probably stopped watching about 7 years ago, as the show's last best memorable episode was probably "Behind the Laughter". The film gets a better sharper aesthetic that is a little more reminiscent of the show's golden years. Think of it as Revenge of the Sith to the original Star Wars trilogy. Hardly stellar, but a breath of fresh air compared to the recent garbage.
The film strikes at brilliance once or twice, keeps the laughs coming generally, and I'm sure everyone will be singing "Spider Pig" to the point of tedium by the end of the summer. The film kind of runs out of steam halfway through, but picks it up by the end.
Sidenote: Subtly making the EPA the villain of the movie just put a bad taste in my mouth, a reminder that FOX controls the strings of The Simpsons.
This was a solid movie but I can't in good conscience support what means God knows how many more unnecessary Simpsons seasons. It's funny, but please FOX, for the love of God, STOP. The cow is milked.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Sunshine - It's 50 years from now and, for whatever reason (50 is quite
short of several million), the Sun is going out. Fortunetly, the
characters of "Sunshine" saw the then 54 year old film "The Core" and
thought a nuclear device would be an awesome way to jump start the sun.
There are huge gaps in logic here that you must put aside for this film. In fact I'm not entirely sure which body part this film was made for. Clearly not the brain. But it wasn't made with the heart either because I felt strangely cold towards most of the characters save Cillian Murphy. They all put in time and effort into developing characters and clearly acted decently but the script didn't give anyone something intelligent or interesting to do. Mostly they all just looked at holographs of the sun. What, no one brought a Playstation or a Tivo? Or even a frisbee for that big warehouse room Cillian's character has? Are we to believe that the powers that be: the combined mights of...America and China it looks like....put the future of mankind into the hands of these wimpy dolts? Michelle Yeoh runs without thinking to an purely oxygen filled room engulfed in flame, because she's crushed that her plants are being killed. And why does a ship on a mission to the sun need a botanist anyway? It's like having an Empath on the Enterprise.
Eventually they all get picked off one by one, because it's a sci-fi film on a clunky spaceship. And the rule for sci-fi is the clunkier and bigger the ship, the stupider the humans get. You know there are annoying panicky two-dimensional characters to kill off as they struggle to "Poseidon Adventure" their way through the film. Some of them DO die in pretty cool ways, so those of you that always wanted to see a man freeze and break into pieces in the cold vacumn of space, this movie has found your niche.
Of course, I'm being picky. The acting by Cillian Murphy and his Ripley look-a-like girlfriend is top notch. Chris Evans keeps on picking fights with everyone (They didn't psych-profile him?), but he does get to display some acting chops. There are some genuinely frightening moments, but anyone hoping for "28 Days in Space" will be disappointed. The music is quite good. The effects for the sun and ship are good and believable, but lordy lordy why are the spacesuits so crappy looking? It's like they took Marvin the Paranoid Android and designed him in a disco ball pattern. All the suits need now is some sequins.
I could've forgiven the movie some of it's faults but the ending is a mess. It's one of those scatterbrained mindbender endings like "The Fountain" that tries to ride on emotion rather than coherency. I'm sorry but "Donnie Darko" was the only movie that could get away with that. Sunshine was an okay but sometimes boring often predictable (the one guy out there who didn't see the ending coming was also probably the same technician that started the chain of idiotic mishaps in the movie) film. I still like Danny Boyle and love Cillian Murphy, but I hope Boyle has his sh!t together better next time. C.
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