Friday, January 30, 2009

The Transporter 3

Last night some friends invited me to the dollar theater to the late showing of The Transporter 3. Thankfully that is one of the few places where prices have not gone up over the last 20 years. The nice thing about the dollar theater is that even if a movie isn't that great you are only out a buck.

I liked the first Transporter movie. The second one was almost like a Tom and Jerry cartoon. Within the first few minutes I realized I would have to suspend my sense of reality and turn off my "that's totally fake" meter if I was going to enjoy the movie. I had to accept the fact that wooden doors can shield you against close range machine guns, and if a speeding jet crashes into the ocean you will only get wet. Once I made these adjustments I was able to enjoy it as a fun and mindless action movie. The third movie continued with this same trend as the second.

I was anticipating a movie full of totally fake stunts and I was right. Even Stratham's car window healed itself after he did a flying dragon jump through the glass and kicks a bad guy out the other side of the car. I'm not going to pick apart all the goofs in this movie, I understand it is stylized and has Luc Beeson written all over it so I will stop criticizing the fakeness of it now and move onto different criticisms.

I like Jason Stratham, but is he trying to overtake Matthew McConaughey's coveted position as king of the shirtless scenes? There were four or five scenes where he took his shirt off in the movie. Oh that's right, he has to out of necessity, because he uses his shirt as a weapon when he fights. My bad. Another pattern I've noticed is that he keeps getting put with unknown female leads or newcomers in these movies. The Ukranian chick in this movie played by Natalya Rudakova bugged me. There are plenty of beautiful women in the world to choose from, so why was she picked? She reminded me of Jar Jar Binks each time she'd open her mouth. I was seriously just waiting for her to say "Meessa luva you" at some point.

This movie has an exciting premise and I enjoyed the action, but I missed the humor of the prior movies. I only give it 5.8 out of 10 stars since it was the weakest of the three in the series. If you are a woman you can go ahead and take 2 more points off that rating. That being said, if The Transporter 4 ever comes out I will gladly go see it at the dollar theater with the guys.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ghost Town

Ghost Town is a movie about Bertrum Pincus who is played by Ricky Gervais. He is an introverted dentist who is rude, self centered and does not enjoy being around other people. He goes into the hospital for a routine colonoscopy and dies during the procedure. He is revived but as a result of the incident he is able to see the spirits of dead people. Greg Kinear plays a recently deceased man who asks him to help him take care of some unfinished business with his widow played by Tea Leoni. He is besieged by a number of spirits who ask his help with a variety of favors throughout the movie. He originally refuses their requests but after constant pressure he finally gives in and helps them with various tasks they were unable to do alone.

This movie uses the concept behind The 6th Sense but it's a comedy. Ricky Gervais is very funny in this role. His straight faced delivery of lines and rude interactions with others really made me laugh. The British accent didn't hurt either. I thought this movie was truly funny and found myself laughing at many parts. Kristen Wiig from SNL also has a funny minor role as his doctor. Ghost Town may be slightly predictable but it still had a nice message and I enjoyed it. I give it 7.4 stars.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Stanley Kubrick's Versatility

There have been many great movie directors over the years. Names like Alfred Hitchcock, Frank Capra, Martin Scorsese, John Ford, Steven Spielberg, Roman Polanski, and John Huston come to mind. As great as these directors are, I can't think of anyone more versatile than Stanley Kubrick. Many of these directors have a trademark look or feel to their movies. Kubrick may have his preferences too but what it so amazing to me is that he was successful in directing great movies in a variety of genres.

The first film of his I saw was 2001: A Space Odyssey. I was just a little kid and was trying to make sense of the whole thing. The monkeys, the monolith, the conflict with Hal, the supernova, and the lead character aging in the end were hard for me to put together and make sense of. It is now one of my favorite movies. Maybe I'm like people who see abstract art in a museum that they don't understand and say it is remarkable just because that's what the experts say, but I doubt it.

He only directed 16 movies before his death in 1999, but each film addressed a variety of subject matter and were often controversial. I remember how surprised I was when I found out that Kubrick directed all of the films listed below. He has obviously done other works, but I think these stand out as his best.

Spartacus-Epic Historical Drama
Paths of Glory-World War 1
The Shining-Horror Movie
Dr. Strangelove-Dark Comedy
2001: A Space Odyssey-Science Fiction
Clockwork Orange-Controversial Movie
Barry Lindon-18th Century Period Film
Full Metal Jacket-Vietnam War

It's one thing to specialize in suspense movies (Hitchcock), or horror movies (Carpenter), fantasy (Del Torro), but it is amazing to me that Kubrick had so much success with such a wide variety of genres and subject matter.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Rescue Dawn

A friend recommended this movie to me back in 2006 but it was already out of the theaters once he told me about it. I had completely forgotten about it until I recently came across it on DVD. Rescue Dawn is a movie based on the true story of U.S. Navy pilot Dieter Dangler, who's plane was shot down over Laos during the Vietnam War. This movie tells of his crash, captivity in a prison camp, and his attempt to escape.

Once Dangler (Bale) is captured by the Vietcong he is moved around, tortured and eventually put in a prison camp with five other prisoners. These prisoners nearly starved to death over time and the actors dedication to losing weight for their roles was very impressive. After watching the special features I learned that Bale, Zahn, and Davies lost a combined total of 128 pounds in order to give their characters a more authentic look. (Bale had done this before when he lost 60 pounds for his role in The Machinist.) The prisoners were not just physically but also mentally wasting away. It was painful to watch them wear down over time and lose hope, but Dangler was determined to escape. He devised a complicate escape plan and they patiently waited for the right time to pull it off. They were finally able to overtake their captors and escape into the jungle but this did little to improve his situation since he was still exhausted, starving, and lost. He was pursued by Vietcong and the native villagers as he attempted to find American forces.

The film was directed by Werner Herzog. I've enjoyed many of his films over the years but it surprised me to see him making a Hollywood film. His work is usually more avant garde and artistic. Watching this reminded me of the jungle landscape from his movies Aguirre and Fitzcerraldo. I appreciate the realistic feel of his movies.

This movie was very intense and I had no problem getting into it. The acting was probably the strongest part. Bale does a great job, but I think Jeremy Davies stole the show with his portrayal of mentally unstable Eugene. I was also surprised to see Steve Zahn in such a serious role. In the past I have associated him with goofball characters in other movies, but he was very convincing. If you like war movies or films based on true stories then I highly recommend it. I give this movie 8.0 stars. And yes, the prison aspect probably helped bump up my rating.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Appeal of the Prison Movie

I have always thought prison movies have an alluring and captivating (no pun intended) quality to them. I have never served time but I think there is something about trying to survive in the big house that can make any movie exciting. After careful analysis I have categorized prison movies in the following categories.

The Innocent Victim-It's really easy to get behind the main character when he is innocent and was wrongfully accused and sentenced. Some movies that fit into this category are: Hurricane, The Fugitive, Papillon, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Green Mile, and The Shawshank Redemption.

Wrong Place At The Wrong Time-These movies feature an inmate who is not really a bad guy but was just at the wrong place at the wrong time or received a ridiculously harsh sentence. Some of these include Cool Hand Luke, The Longest Yard, Con Air, and Les Miserables.

The Prisoner Of War- These films not only deal with surviving but almost always involve groups of prisoners escaping. Some of these are The Great Escape, The Deer Hunter, Rescue Dawn, Victory, Night Crossing, etc.

The Pardoned Convict-These are movies that involve springing an inmate from jail so he can help the police and be pardoned or receive a lesser sentence. These include The Rock and 48 Hours.

Futuristic Escape-Then there are movies with more figurative or futuristic prisons or confined societies that the hero must break out of like The Matrix, THX 1138, Chronicles of Riddick, or Logan's Run.

Some prison movies don't fit so nicely into these categories like Escape From Alcatraz or Brubaker but they still have the exciting elements of life in prison. I'm not sure why, but movies where the main character has to fight to get free or escape an unjust system have always appealed to me, even if it's a bad guy. I admit that I'm biased and if there is a prison or an escape involved in a movie then I will probably give it an extra star no matter how bad the movie is. At least I'm honest about my bias.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Hellboy 2 Review

Disclaimer: Some of you may have noticed I have been reviewing movies that are now at the dollar theater or were recently released on DVD. To prove I am a legit movie reviewer and not just a cheap wanna be, I am going to start covering more new releases this year. I might even get in on a special screening one of these days.

Last week I rented Hellboy 2: The Golden Army. I wasn't a big fan of the first Hellboy movie. I was not very familiar with the comic book series and despite the cool special effects I just couldn't get into it. When I saw the preview for the sequel it looked much more appealing. I'm not sure if that was because I was already familiar with the characters or if it was because of all the cool visuals in the trailer. Speaking of visuals, I think it is easy to identify a Guillermo del Toro movie by his trademark artistic style. The same thing goes for any Tim Burton movie.

The story line reminded me of Lord of the Rings meets Hellboy. This movie begins by telling the story of the ancient world and how elves and men used to be at war. The elves created a merciless golden mechanical army which defeated their enemies. The army was later decommissioned by the king since they were so merciless and a truce was made between the waring factions . A disgruntled elf Prince wanted to change the world back to how it was with the elves in control so he attempts to collect 3 parts of an ancient crown which will allow him to unlock and control the golden army. Once he is able to accomplish this he can again defeat the human race.

The background for the movie is explained in the first 5 minutes and then then it changes to modern times in New York. Hellboy and his entourage attempt to stop Prince Nuada before he can accomplish his evil plan. In one of the earlier scene Hellboy and his friends blow their cover and the public is made aware of their existence. Hellboy fits the classic mold of the misunderstood superhero. Like Batman, Spiderman, and others he risks his neck for the public but despite his service many humans still fear or hate him. I really liked Ron Pearlman's performance and found myself laughing at several of his one liners. He does a great job of portraying one of the funniest and most kicked back superheros I can think of.

This movie was visually appealing and entertaining and I have a hard time requiring much more than that from a comic book movie. It is not Academy Award material (maybe the special effects are) but I enjoyed it enough to give it 7.4 out of 10 stars.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

My Futuristic Movie Timeline

I have a problem with the Star Wars movies. They supposedly took place "a long time ago in a galaxy far far away." Why does this irritate me? Because years ago I started making a time line for movies. I started with ancient history movies and categorized them up until modern times. Then I decided I would also document futuristic movies.

If a date is mentioned in the movie then it is easy to identify and categorize. For instance 2001 A Space Odyssey and it's sequel 2010 are no brainers. Some movies like Star Wars throw a wrench in my project. Did they really have cool technology, space ships, and robots a long long time ago. I wish he would have said way "in the distant future in a galaxy far far away" so I could have included Star Wars. Oh Well, I guess George Lucas is going to pay for that mistake now as I leave his series off my futuristic movie timeline.

Many movies that take place in the future do not specifically mention a date when they take place. Some of these are: The Matrix, Blade Runner, V for Vendetta, Gattaca, Waterworld, Starship Troopers, Equillibrium, etc. I think it is easier to play it safe and just say it takes place some time in the future than to give a specific date, but I'm glad the movies below did. If you come across any others with specific dates please add them in the comments section.

The 6th Day- 2015
Back to the Future 2-2015
Terminator Salvation-2018
The Island-2019
Red Planet-2020
Soylent Green-2022
The Terminator 2-2029
12 Monkeys-2035
I Robot-2035
Minority Report-2054
Total Recall-2084
The 5th Element-2250
Logans Run-2274
Aeon Flux-2415
THX 1138-2450
Pitch Black-2500
Chronicles of Riddick-2505
Titan AE-3028

Now if you'll excuse me I need to go find something else to categorize.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

City of Ember Review

City of Ember had a dismal run at the box office. It had a production budget of 55 Million dollars but hasn't even made 8 million since it was released last October. I think it the guy who promoted this movie is the also the agent for the Lochness monster and Bigfoot. Like most movies based on a book it may have a hard time living up to the reader's imagination, but fortunately for me I didn't have any expectations to compete with.

The movie is a story of an underground City called Ember. It was designed to support life for 200 years until it is safe for it's inhabitants to return to the earth's surface. The problem is that the architects escape plans from the city have been lost for decades. The main generator is breaking down and the city is worn out and is almost out of resources. Those who suspect the end is near are not allowed to venture out or find a way to escape. Two teenagers come across the box containing the escape route but it's contents have been damaged and they are forced to put together the puzzle pieces throughout the movie as they race against the clock and corrupt leaders who are trying to stop them.

I thought this movie did a great job portraying the feel of an underground city. It was dark and archaic and depressing and reminded me of life in the former Soviet Union. The massive sets and stages used to portray the city were impressive. The visual imagery was my favorite part of the movie. There was not one strikingly attractive character in the entire movie. The only cute face was the little toddler Poppy. It seemed that they were trying to make Ember as visually unappealing as possible and they even carried this over to the casting. (No offense to the actors.)

I enjoyed the first part of the film much more than the latter. That seems to be a common complaint I have with many movies. There were several bothersome details I could pick apart but I think I'm going to cut it some slack since it's a sci-fi film aimed at a younger audience. I've always been a Bill Murray fan and it was weird seeing his cast as the corrupt mayor but he did a good job despite the odd lethargic nature of his character.

If you are looking for a movie to take the family to then this is probably a good choice. It's rated PG and there are some intense moments, but it's a happy ending. It's not the greatest movie and it certainly has it's shortcomings but overall it was entertaining. I'd give it 7.0 out of 10 stars.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Enough With The Remakes

When I was young I remember hearing the song "Satisfaction" performed by Devo. It wasn't until years later that I heard the original song from the Rolling Stones. I was surprised at how slow their version was and couldn't believe that it was the real thing. I felt kind of cheated that I was first introduced to a copy as opposed to the original. I'm reminded of this when I hear people refer to the Bach Toccata as "the Haunted House commercial music" or people referring to Carl Orf's Carmina Burama as "The Sean Hannity Theme."

Raiders of the Lost Ark has always been one of my favorite movies. There is a scene when the pasty Nazi shows up with his thugs at Marion's bar in Tibet. During the fight scene one of the bad guys is pointing a gun at a defenseless Indian Jones and then we hear it go off. The bad guy falls over dead and it turns out he was shot from behind before he could kill the hero. It was cool then but I wish they would have copy written that scenario because I have seen it a lot since then in other movies and it's totally predictable now. The sad thing is that Speilberg probably got the idea from some old action movie he saw as a kid.

Why can't movies be more original and why do we always have to copy or remake stuff? Did we really need to make movies based on TV shows like The Dukes of Hazard, The Addams Family, Dragnet, Starsky and Hutch, Dudley Doo Right, Bewitched, and the Flintstones? I guess I can understand if someone wants to pay homage to a TV show and make a movie, but how many of these were any good? Most of these kind of movies are horrible. I do have one exception I am willing to gamble on and that is the Land of the Lost Movie coming out later this year. I can't criticize a movie that features my namesake.

I'd like to encourage movie makers to be more original and stop doing so many re-makes. If they do I pledge to improve my blog too. I'm hoping for more creativity and originality in movies, but until that happens I guess I can expect to see movies like Growing Pains, Chips, and Night Court in the future.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Golden Compass Review

The Golden Compass is based on The Northern Lights which is the first book from Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy. My first introduction to it came last year when I received an e-mail forward warning of subtle messages and a hidden agenda for this movie. It said the author was an atheist and wanted to off sett the work that CS Lewis had done with his Narnia movies by creating an anti-religion movie. I was curious to learn for myself if these claims were warranted. Unfortunately I never got around to seeing it until now. Here's my review.

This fantasy story features a young orphan girl named Lyra who lives in a kingdom that is ruled by the Magisterium. As the governing theocracy they try to suppress knowledge of a parallel universe and a substance known as dust. Each character has an animal counterpart that is always with them (kind of like their spirit) which they refer to as their daemon. Lyra is given an alithometer or golden compass and sets out on a journey. I never could understand exactly what her quest entailed or where she was going from scene to scene.

Characters pop in and out the movie with little explanation or development. I had a hard time relating to or caring about most of them. I'm not a big Nicole Kidman fan but I thought she did an excellent job portraying one of the villains. There are cool special effects and a very talented cast, so I was surprised that the movie never kept my attention. The movie may be visually entertaining but is hard to follow if you haven't read the book. There are Deamons, Gyptians, Gobblers, Samoyans, polar bears, witches, and I 'm still trying to figure out who they were or how they related to each other. Then there is dust. I'm not sure what that was all about either.

I'm sure fans of the book will think I was not bright enough to follow the story but I place the blame on the movie. I actually watched the DVD twice in an effort to make sense of it. I had a feeling they took a complicated and detailed story and edited it to death until it didn't make sense. I was later relieved to hear people who read the book criticize the movie for rushing the story and omitting important parts including the ending. They also claimed that the movie studio toned down the any controversial message in the story so as not to offend their audience.

I did pick up on some anti-religion themes but I was looking hard for them. That has nothing to do with the low rating I gave this film. This movie was definitely not Golden but maybe Bronze. I only give it a 5.7 because it is confusing and disjointed. I really wanted to understand this film but I struggled through the entire movie (both times.)
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