Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
My Twitter (@joemcken):
My Facebook profile:
I'm a liberal atheist stuck in a rut in the heart of Qu�bec, and who spends his time composing music, blogging, entertaining a passion for science and technology, fighting against social and civil injustices, and most of all, jabbing idiots, trolls and assorted cretins with sharp pointy sticks.
Decent Action movie with standard excellent effects and ridiculous plot
Wesley Gibson isn't exactly leading the life of his dreams. He's stuck in a dead-end job presided over by a tyrannical bitch, his best friend is having sex with his slattern girlfriend, his bank account doesn't allow him to retrieve $5, and he suffers from random panic attacks that send him scrambling for his pills.
One evening while refilling said pills, a pretty woman arrives and tells him his father (whom he had not known since birth) was assassinated on a rooftop the day before. She then embarks in a furious firefight against a would-be assassin, with Wesley caught in between.
If you think this is about as tense as it gets for him, think again. In this action movie directed by relative newcomer Timur Bekmambetov, Wanted is a skillful mixture of high-octane fights and chases interspersed with storyweaving and character development. Both aspects are done remarkably well nothing stellar perhaps, but better than your average Action flick.
Anyway. The movie takes a little while to settle in, allowing us to meet and understand the protagonist and the woes of his pathetic life, and although the pacing can be a little on the slow side at times, it's never really annoying or limiting for one's experience of the film. Soon Wesley is brought into a group known as The Fraternity: a thousand-year-old secret organization of assassins that carry out Fate's dirty work by killing marks chosen by a sort of prescient loom. Now, seeing as you yourself probably had to read that doozie twice, imagine what poor Wesley must be thinking and not only because he finds he's able to wield a gun for the first time in his life to shoot the wings off a bunch of flies.
Eventually he decides to join the Fraternity after 'quitting' his job in a rather beautiful manner, yet his training is less about instructing him with assassination skills and techniques, and more about beating, cutting and berating the living crap out of him. One could wonder what beating a man to a pulp over and over again has to do with training him to become a more efficient killer, but perhaps that's all part of something I don't quite see eye-to-eye with. Anyway, moving on.
The storyline is a long and archaic one, full of twists that are as unpredictable as they are intriguing. It's also about as plausible as mankind ever deciding to commence world peace. From men jumping hundreds of feet from office tower to office tower, to a young and average man suddenly possessing marksmanship talents to make Bob 'The Nailer' Lee Swagger jealous, the action sequences in this movie, while exhilarating and pulse-pounding, are remarkably lacking in credibility or realism. Thankfully the special effects are well-enough executed to hide this fallacy, and the result is an incredibly implausible yet highly entertaining action feature. The whole movie is basically like The Matrix, only minus the swooshing trenchcoats, cool sunglasses and evil computers. We even have a form of 'bullet-time', such as several creative and stimulating shots of bullets colliding in mid-air, though any reference is likely to be unintentional, and merely the product of my over-developed criticism muscle.
The acting is strong and solid: James McAvoy is credible in his performance as poor Wesley Gibson, and Angelina Jolie is as powerful (and seducing) as ever as the enigmatic and ruthless Fox. Morgan Freeman is once again cast as a wise, all-knowing old man, this time as the leader of the Fraternity, Sloan.
The movie has several instances of grotesque images or dialogue, from a pointlessly vulgar vernacular to some rather troubling shots of blood and gore (not to mention a particular scene near the end that will make any Animal Rights activists explode). One can debate whether such graphic content was really needed; not that I mind all that much, it just seemed slightly forced or inversely, unrestrained. But overall, quite unimportant no-one's gonna be offended by a few swear words or bullet holes when they go to see a movie about a bunch of professional assassins. Unless they're retards.
* * * * * For hitting the screen with brilliant action sequences that unfortunately somewhat lack in the credibility area, I award Wanted 7.5 curving bullets out of 10.
A beautifully-crafted animated tale for the whole family
2D Animation has fallen on some very tough times in recent years, with the advent of 3D computer-generated movies. It's not that one is really better than the other is; they're simply two different mediums. It's that one should not suffocate the other one in the market, as they both have their own specialties and peculiarities.
One of the last fully 2D hand-drawn movies made was 'Balto', out of Steven Spielberg's Amblimation Animation Studios (which then closed down forever following 'Balto''s lukewarm reception). It was a cruel twist of fate that 'Balto' was released at the same time as Pixar's groundbreaking 'Toy Story', for the latter definitely attracted all the glances and sucked Balto's steam dry. Considering all that 'Balto' is about, that's somewhat of a crime against animation in itself.
But enough of the melodrama. 'Balto' is based, of course, on the true story of the real-life 1925 Serum Run to bring back antitoxin to stricken Nome, Alaska, which was overtaken by a vicious bout of diphtheria. Although the real story wasn't quite as stylized as depicted in this movie, the film certainly holds a proud candle to the real men and their dogs that risked their lives against insane odds and became heroes (even though in the end, only one dog was remembered).
In the cold winter of 1925, the town of Nome is cheering their dogsled teams as they fiercely compete to win the annual race. One of the onlookers is Balto (Kevin Bacon), a wolfdog with a gentle spirit and a brave heart. However, his half-wolf status results in him being feared by the townspeople and disdained by the other pedigreed dogs (led by the cunningly malicious Steele), and he finds himself depressed and lonely most of the time. His only friends consist of an unlikely trio: a flightless Russian goose named Boris (voiced by Bob Hoskins, and with an accent and mannerisms that can't help but crack you up), and two polar bear siblings, Muk and Luk (Phil Collins), who can't swim.
Balto soon falls smitten with Jenna, a beautiful husky who belongs to a little girl named Rosy, who is the only human so far to be friendly to Balto. However, as the infection hits, all the children Rosy included fall dangerously ill, and the town is out of medicine. I'll let you look up the conditions on getting new antitoxin for yourself (this is a review, not a historical paper), and now Nome must send their best and fastest dogs on a dangerous race against time to retrieve the waiting serum at the town of Nenana some 700 miles away or so. The team faces deadly blizzards, treacherous ice and unpredictable climates, and soon, as can be predicted, they end up hopelessly lost. It's now up to Balto and his ragtag team of mismatched friends to battle their way through the Alaskan winter wilderness to try and bring the medicine back home, and save both the team, and the stricken children back in Nome.
Being a music aficionado, the first thing that I fell in love with about this movie was James Horner's beautiful score. I would even be bold enough to state it can rival his work on 'Titanic' (1997), though I suspect many wouldn't perhaps agree. The pieces are always moving and magical, and truly bring the scenes to life in ways that couldn't have been accomplished without it.
The hand-drawn animation in this movie is excellent, one of the best in many years. The winter scenery is beautiful, and the characters are all well-drawn and animated. The voice acting is largely solid (especially for Boris, for whom I've already expressed my amusement), yet some of them seem to fall a bit short. Kevin Bacon seems slightly flat as Balto, and Bridget Fonda (Jenna) seems slightly dispassionate at times.
There are many things to be enjoyed concerning this film. For me, it's that while it does follow a traditional formula seen in animated family movies, it seems to leave out all the annoying bits (such as those irritating sing-along songs, for starters). There are the standard bumbling sidekicks, but they're more akin to comic relief than to actually accompanying the hero through his entire journey, and that's not to mention the humor in this film is genuinely funny and pleasant, not forced or contrived like in most animated movies.
Some would be a little surprised to find some of the themes in this film are rather more grim and dark than in most other family-oriented animation films; there's a very real sense of impending mortality, especially towards the children of Nome, as demonstrated in one scene where we see several small coffins being made. In contrast, there are also some truly beautiful scenes, such as a little trick Balto teaches Jenna that leads to a mountainside being illuminated by artificial Northern Lights.
If you haven't seen 'Balto' yet, do yourself (and the movie) a favor and grab it while it's still available in some areas (took me weeks to find my own DVD). Sure, it's applicable largely to younger audiences, but any adult capable of connecting with an emotion now and then will likely enjoy the movie to some extent. I for one love it and heartily recommend it to anyone who craves some good and decent 2D animation, those markets being so barren these days.
* * * * * For reminding us what traditional animation was like with its magic and beauty, I award 'Balto' 8.5 bottle of antitoxin out of 10.
PS Was I the only one who was surprised to learn it was Phil Collins who voiced Muk & Luk? Was I also the only one who totally failed to recognize this legendary singer's voice? So shamed
Cast Away (2000)
A refreshing change of pace with a touching story
'I'll be right back!' Such were the words shouted by Chuck Noland to his girlfriend Kelly Frears as he hurries off to catch his waiting plane. Little does he suspect how horribly ironic these words become once his tale is over.
In Robert Zemeckis' great 'Cast Away', Tom Hanks incarnates Chuck Noland, a highly-efficient FedEx executive whose life is mercilessly governed by the clock. He's in a relationship with Kelly Frears (the pretty Helen Hunt), yet their love is constantly postponed or halted by Chuck's unforgiving timetable. Soon he's called out on a business trip just before Christmas, and he and Kelly exchange some quick gifts: she gives him a pocket watch with her picture in the lid, and he gives her an engagement ring box, which she is to open on New Year's Day only with him there with her. He then leaves and boards the plane.
Unfortunately, something goes terribly wrong during the flight (we never learn what, nor is it relevant) and the plane smashes somewhere into the Southern Pacific ocean. The crash scene, with all its technical and visual excitement, is the most terrifying and heart-pounding sequence of its kind I have ever seen. It's so sudden, so unexpected, and so realistic, that you can't help but feel nearly as shocked and horrified as Chuck himself as he sees clouds, and eventually waves, scream past the cockpit windows, coming ever closer He is the only survivor, and soon he washes up on a large and eerily magnificent desert island, and a quick look-see confirms his worst fears: he's absolutely isolated in the middle of the ocean, and no-one knows where he is or that he's even alive.
By then we're barely a quarter into the movie, and the pace, formerly so fast-paced and hurried, suddenly crashes to a halt. All time stands still on the island, itself unchanged for millions and millions of years; only the dull thuds and cracks of falling coconuts, or the occasional arriving flotsam, provide distraction to the new routine Chuck has to endure: survival without any electricity, food, water or equipment. Everything he uses, he improvises sometimes with painful results, other times with triumph. A man who once lived by the pager and the timetable suddenly finds himself in a land where the very concept of 'time' is as alien as fish on Mars, and what he does to survive, both physically and mentally, is where the true storytelling power of the movie lies.
The movie is very slow-paced as we follow Chuck's attempts at staying alive, yet unlike most other times where I'd say this, for this movie, being slow is far from criticism; it's praise. The movie doesn't hurry through Chuck's exploits and actions just to 'get to the point'. The story takes its time to settle comfortably into its niche, and once it does, it's truly riveting, even though all we're really looking at is one man on an island, drinking coconut juice and suffering from a toothache without a dentist.
The acting is outstanding, especially for Tom Hanks as the castaway in person; he supports the entire movie, and the audience gets to feel both his triumphs and his pains. One scene where he finally is able to light a large signal fire is surprisingly jovial and heartwarming as we see the desperate man jumping, ecstatic, around the burning flames, chanting and avoiding sparks. Other scenes truly make us feel terribly sorry for the man, but rather in resigned, compassionate way. For example, to stay sane, Chuck begins to speak to a Wilson Sporting Goods volleyball, on which a smeared bloody handprint inadvertently created a vague face. Naming the ball 'Wilson', Chuck speaks to 'him' as thought they were old friends, and by then we're so in-tune with Chuck's desperation and loneliness we barely even realize the oddity of a grown man merrily conversating with a volleyball.
I naturally can't divulge what happens at the end, or if Chuck ever makes it off the island or not, but I can nonetheless comment on the fact that personally, I found it slightly disappointing. It was a logical ending to the tale (one you may already have guessed if you haven't seen the movie yet), but some parts of it seemed forced, even somewhat clichéd and corny at times. I also didn't understand some of what happened at the very end; perhaps it was too subtle for me. (But then, 'too' subtle would also be ground for criticism.) This is not a movie for viewers who expect action and flash, or for sufferers of short attention spans. For those who are able to take a break from their lives, which so often mirror Chuck Noland's in their pacing, this story will be a soothing and refreshing change of pace while it lasts, and will make a very good addition to any movie-lover's collection.
* * * * * For giving us a story with a refreshing change of pace, a lot of sentiment and depth, and some formidable acting, I award 'Cast Away' 8.5 friendly volleyballs out of 10.
A magnificent piece of technical wizardry and storytelling prowess
The film is usually preceded by a customary Pixar short; this one is 'Presto', and it revolves around a slight disagreement between a magician and his rabbit. It's excellent slapstick humor, and it certainly gets you into the right mood to appreciate 'WALL·E' all the more.
The film starts off with breathtaking views of Space: nebulas, endless starry voids, galaxies, etc., all to the tune of the classic (and surprisingly fitting) 'Put On Your Sunday Clothes', from the 1967 musical 'Hello, Dolly!'. However, the visual beauty is short-lived, as soon we descend through a thick hazy cloud cover and arrive at Earth's surface, circa 2815 AD. The land is nothing more than an endless, barren landfill, with literal mountains of garbage everywhere in sight. The city we arrive in has half its skyscrapers actually made of garbage. The only signs of life in this deserted, strikingly forbidding landscape is a little roving trash compactor named WALL·E (synthetic voice by Ben Burtt), and his one companion, an oddly cute little cockroach.
Wall-E is not your typical robot. He's been on this deserted planet doing the same thing for God-knows-how-long, and over time, he's developed a personality: he's very curious and inquisitive, has a sweet and gentle disposition and is also quite a bit lonely. He lives in an old utility transport truck, which he's filled with random knickknacks of the past Human society (including sporks, a Rubik's cube and bobble-head figurines). Every night before shutting down, he would constantly watch 'Hello, Dolly!' on an old jury-rigged iPod (magnified with a large screen), from which he learned about such things as love, and holding hands (which become patterns throughout the movie).
Eventually, this dull monotony is shattered when a mysterious spacecraft suddenly arrives on Earth, and as it leaves, it leaves behind a sleek white probe-bot: EVE (voiced by Elissa Knight). Wall-E is instantly smitten with Eve, yet she hardly even notices him except when she nearly blasts him to smithereens now and then. She endlessly scans the land for any signs of plant life, yet when she fails at this, she finally takes an interest in Wall-E.
However, she does soon find a plant (which was previously found by Wall-E himself, and serves as the movie's MacGuffin), yet instantly deactivates, leaving a confused and lonely Wall-E to try and take care of her inactive body. Yet, just when Wall-E believes she has gone away for good, the mysterious spacecraft returns and retrieves her. However, having had his first taste of company in about seven centuries, Wall-E isn't about to let her go that easy.
Already at this point, this story is unfolding and revealing itself as being Pixar's most daring and imaginative tale yet. Not only about the whole 'robots in love' bit, which in itself is quite unique and engaging, but also in the methods used to tell the story. There is very little dialogue through-out the movie, with some sparse lines here and there; the bulk of the movie is conveyed via Chaplin-esquire visual storytelling. This was a critical move on Pixar's part, one that would certainly have spelled certain disaster for so many other companies, yet the masters at Pixar have once again shown that nothing is impossible with the right techniques, skills and talents. The movie doesn't spell it all out for you, and requires a minimum of thought to be understood, yet this never feels imposed or restricting.
The technical side to this film is simply flawless. The animation is, in my honest opinion, the single best piece of CGI work in history. The graphics are so photorealistic, so incredibly detailed, so lifelike, that it's the most engaging visual feast ever created on a computer. The score, from Thomas Newman ('Shawshank Redemption', 'Finding Nemo'), is an eclectic mix of digital sounds and effects with a traditional orchestra, and the result is rich and intriguing. All sound effects are credited to sound wizard Ben Burtt (who also brought us the sounds in the 'Star Wars' films), and he does a fantastic job in bringing sound and feel to Wall-E and his world.
The main focus in 'WALL·E' is the blossoming love story between Wall-E and Eve. Directed and mostly written by Andrew Stanton (who also brought us 'Finding Nemo'), it's one of the purest and most touching romances we've seen in a long time; it takes its time to develop, we don't have the characters immediately falling into each other's arms like some robotic version of 'Romeo & Juliet'. The characters are relatable and affable, something that can hardly be said for the vast majority of movie characters out there. There are some truly beautiful scenes, such as a Space-dance between Wall-E and Eve, that haven't been matched in the many movies I've seen before or since in its simple visual and emotional beauty.
I completely and utterly lost myself in the experience of 'WALL·E', something that has never happened before or since, and any movie capable of holding my complete and undivided attention for its entire duration has definitely done something right. This film will undoubtedly become a classic in the years to come, and shall make an amazing addition to any real moviegoer's collection.
* * * * * For lighting the screens with its magic and pure beauty, and for moving me in ways I deemed were impossible previously, I award 'WALL·E' with 10 delicate little saplings out of 10.