August 29, 2009

What Is Wrong With Me?

I can't believe I'm about to admit this, but, I'm sort of excited for New Moon to come out in a few months. I know, I know, I just lost a whole ton of dignity right there, but consider my rationale. I complained in my review that Twilight suffered from stilted characters and acting, a general lack of style, and, above all, a horridly depressing color palette. That, and the vampires just didn't seem scary. Well, style, color, and scary seem to have been taken care of if the new images that show Michael Sheen and Dakota Fanning as two members of the Volturi are anything to go on. Not only do they look scary as hell (Fanning especially), but there is an excess of color other then gray. Whether the acting is good is anyone's guess. I don't know. Could it be that the change of director has set this series on track? We'll see in November...

August 22, 2009

Another Brief Little Thing

District 9 has been beat! (500) Days of Summer is the best film of the year. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel both turn in the two best performances I've seen this year, indeed, two of the best of the decade! In it's entire 95 minute run time, there's not one dull or inauthentic moment; not one performance falters even once. This is a wonderful movie. Dare I say, a perfect movie! A

August 21, 2009

Absurd Alternate Timelines Have Never Been So Awesome!

I'm on a movie high right now. I'm still reeling from the brilliance that was District 9, the trailer for Avatar has been replayed on my computer on average a grand total of 100 times, I saw The Road Warrior for the first time yesterday, and the new Quentin Tarantino movie just decided to grace audiences with its presence. This is a review of that film! Inglourious Basterds is the latest from the master of pulp, fatuous, bullshit, and is as historically accurate as it is grammatically correct. It's also too long, often boring, but, still an incredibly entertaining experience to sit through.
Basterds tells a few stories. All of them are set in WWII around the time the Allies invaded Normandy. Under the leadership of Lt. Aldo Raine, eight Jewish-American soldiers, nicknamed "The Bastards" have been carving a swath of death through Nazi occupied France, killing and scalping every Nazi that they see. On the other side of the spectrum, we have Shosanna, a Jew who escaped the brutal murder of her family from the Nazi's and now runs a cinema in Paris. Then, we have Col. Hans Landa, a Nazi SD officer, who is the man behind the death of Shosanna's family, and who is hot on the trail of The Bastards. All these stories converge at Shosanna's cinema, where the Nazi's are hosting a gala premier of a new propaganda film, at which all the members of German high command, including Hitler himself, are attending. So, naturally, The Bastards devise a plan to blow the place to hell, Shosanna puts her elaborate revenge into action, and Landa turns up to throw a wrench into their plans. In classic Tarantino fashion, Basterds is convoluted, confusing on the first viewing, and elaborate in ways that put other elaborate plots to shame. Like Kill Bill, Basterds is told in chapters, the titles of which are hysterical. This is Tarantino at his best. 
Acting wise, Basterds is just as strong as any other Tarantino movie. I don't know what it is about him, but Tarantino just manages to bring out the best in his actors. Brad Pitt is a bundle of ridiculousness and hilarity as Raine, the Lt. with a penchant for scalping Nazis, or, as he says it, Nah'zis. With this and Burn After Reading last year, Pitt is quickly showing us that he has serious chops when it comes to being so ridiculously absurd, it's uncomfortable. Other members of the Bastards also turn in fine performances, including Eli Roth as the baseball bat wielding Donny "The Bear Jew" Donowitz, B.J. Novak as Smithson "The Little Man" Utivich, and Til Schweiger as the Nazi-turned-Bastard Hugo Stiglitz. Diane Kruger shows up as a german actress who is spying for the British. She does a fine job for the hour or so that she's on screen. Melanie Laurent does a superb job as the vengeful Shosanna. Her revenge is one of the best put together you will ever see. All of these performances pale in comparison to one person, and that one person is Christoph Waltz as Col. Landa. He won the Best Actor award at Cannes a few months back, and he is sure to get an Oscar nomination. He is so friggin' good in this movie, this pathetic little review doesn't do him justice. He is at one moment, charming as hell, and the next, so evil and malicious you want nothing more then to jump into the frame and punch him. Every line uttered by him is solid gold, and since this is the infamous Tarantino dialogue we are dealing with, the quality of the gold is significantly higher then usual. He is simply perfectly cast and steals the entire movie. He is to this movie what Samuel L. Jackson was to Pulp Fiction.  Tarantino is known to cast the right people in his movies, and Basterds is no exception. 
Now, as we all know, I'm a huge Tarantino fan. I love pretty much every single one of his movies, including Death Proof. When it comes to interesting and original stories with the most easily quotable dialogue anywhere, Tarantino does it unlike anyone. In terms of interesting and original story, Basterds is right up there with Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill. In terms of dialogue, it falters a bit. Seeing as this is war film, a lot of it is subtitled. There are in fact entire chapters that are more or less entirely subtitled. For some reason, when writing for these scenes, Tarantino seemed to lose his mojo. It's not that the writing for these scenes is bad, it's still remarkably good. But it's just not the witty, roll-of-your-tongue ridiculous type of dialogue we've come to expect from Tarantino. It's nothing any other person couldn't write. It's made doubly obvious when you hear the english segments, because they are classic, bullshit spewing, hysterical Tarantino. The talk between Landa and Raine near the end of the movie is one the best things Tarantino has ever written. It's no "Royale with cheese", but it's close. Also, as is custom in his movies, Tarantino's characters love to talk... a lot. This is fine in his other movies, where the dialogue is so funny and interesting. Here, however, where a good amount of the scenes include 30+ minutes of subtitled dialogue, it's just not as interesting. There's one scene in a tavern that just goes on for forever and a Wednesday. I checked my watch, maybe, three times during that. Also, this movie is LONG! Like really long. It goes on for 2 and a half hours. Needless I was a little restless halfway through. I can't even bear to think about what it was like at Cannes, before Tarantino made cuts and all. All this is forgiven though when we get to the finale, which is spectacular. I don't want to give anything away, but I will say this. I approve of the alternate history Tarantino has cooked up. If only it were that easy. 
Don't get me wrong, Inglourious Basterds is a great movie. You're hard pressed to see something this original and entertaining anywhere. Tarantino lets his usual problems hamstring him yet again, but regardless, this is one of, if not the, most fully realized movies he's has made! 

August 20, 2009

Random Avatar Screen Grabs

Do me a favor. Look at these pictures. Process them for a little bit. Then come to me, and try to tell me that this movie won't be awesome! I'll wait...



Notice the big thing that's about to eat him!

The Na'vi get riled up!

Come on, how can you say this won't be cool?

Zoe Saldana in mourning.

The animals flee!

Sam Worthington ROARS!

The humans roll out!

This is a trip!

Avatar Trailer

The trailer for Avatar, the new special effects extravaganza by James Cameron, arguably the most anticipated movie of the year, just went live on Apple. The trailer apparently does not do justice to the extremely high quality CGI on display in the film, but it still looks awesome regardless. Completely dialogue free, the trailer sets up the planet that Sam Worthington and his crew run around in. Based on this trailer, it doesn't look incredibly spectacular, but James Cameron has had this cooking in his head for 14 years. I fully expect nothing less then a masterpiece from him, one that will hopefully wash the sour taste of Titanic out of my mouth.

August 19, 2009

G.I. Joe Follow Up

Do not, I repeat, DO NOT go into G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra for second viewing. I tell this for your own good. For you see, on the second viewing, all that awesomeness that I made reference to in my review has been thrown out the window, and the film just plain sucks. I laughed, but only because I was riffing on the whole thing with a friend of mine. If you see it once, you will enjoy it. See it a second time, you may want to go out and commit a crime! Think of the innocent civilians out there, and only see G.I. Joe once. 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is still good...
New Grade: C-

August 14, 2009

Welcome to District 9! Enjoy Your Stay!

It has happened. Summer 2009 finally has its Dark Knight. I was beginning to worry that we wouldn't have a blockbuster of exceptional quality this year. Sure, Star Trek was fantastic, Transformers and G.I. Joe were goofy fun, and Terminator: Salvation exceeded my, albeit incredibly low, expectations. But none of them delivered something fresh, exciting, and ingenious enough to make it stand out this year they way Christopher Nolan's masterpiece did last year. Well, all that has changed with District 9. Here is a movie so brilliant in its setup, so masterful with its execution, and so profound with its impact that I'm getting goosebumps just talking about it. It's not a stretch to say that District 9 is the best movie of the summer, the best movie of the year, and, quite possibly, the best sci-fi movie to come out since Terminator 2
Right from the get go, you know that District 9 is not your typical alien movie. The massive mothership that the visitors arrived in 28 years ago is not a shiny weapon of mass destruction. Its a decrepit junk pile that accidently landed on Earth. It does not settle over New York, or Washington DC, or Chicago, or Paris, or Moscow, or Shanghai, or any other big, easily recognizable, city. Instead, it settles of Johannesburg, South Africa. The aliens themselves are not super powered killing machines, but malnourished, disease ridden, refugees looking for salvation. So, ever since contact was made, humans, led by a nefarious corporation, MNU, have forced the aliens to live in a slum, titled District 9. Tensions have been flaring for quite awhile, leading to riots and increased violence between humans and the "Prawns", as the they are called. So, MNU has devised a operation to move the residents of District 9 from their home to, essentially, a concentration camp of sorts, the purpose of which is to keep the aliens separate from humans. Heading up this operation is Wikus Van De Merwe, a meek little man with no love for the visitors. Something happens to him during the operation, and soon, he goes from being a nobody to the most important man in the world, a man who everyone wants to get their hands on. Writer/director Neill Blomkamp has done a fantastic job crafting this beautifully told and original story. It is unlike anything you have seen before. 
Acting wise, District 9 is sublime. Sharlto Copley, as Wikus, is simply superb. He was basically unknown everywhere until, well, until today, but I suspect that he will lead a very profitable and prestigious career from here. As Wikus, he comes in as more comic relief then anything, but emerges in the end as completely different man, a man who is scared and confused with the responsibilities thrown on him, but determined to stay strong and make things right. His character arc is one of the best I have ever seen. He's the only one I'm going to mention, but just so you know, everyone else here is excellent as well, from Wikus' distraught wife, to the supremely evil leader of a group of mercenaries tasked with "keeping the peace" in District 9. Everyone here is worth seeing. 
Director Neill Blomkamp, along with producer Peter Jackson, have crafted one terrific film here. Everything here is handled with such loving hands, you can't but marvel at how great the final product is. Blomkamp shoots with primarily handheld cameras, which gives the film a very realistic quality. Indeed, the first thirty or so minutes leading up to Wikus' accident are seen through the eyes of documentary film crew's lens. Interspersed through all this is some surprisingly funny humor, lot's of genuine heart, and really, REALLY, satisfying violence. As the situation in District 9 heats up, and the various sides at odds with each other begin to take up arms, the screen crackles and pops with excitement so visceral, that you will find yourself gripping the arm of the person next to you. I know I did. I was sitting next to a stranger. It was a little awkward. Another thing that bears praising are the special effects. Peter Jackson's team at WETA are notorious for giving us beautiful CGI. The filled the screen with thousands of orcs in Lord of the Rings, made the most realistic giant ape ever in King Kong, and they have done it again with District 9. Every alien is CGI creation, but you don't realize that when you are watching the movie. These aliens are emotive, the move the way you would expect creatures of their stature to move, they behave and react with the environment around them very realistically. The human actors around them also do a great job. They, of course, had to work with a wood doll, or something, but you wouldn't guess that when you see it. WETA have outdone themselves. Gollum is officially old news. 
As I'm sure you figured out by reading this, I absolutely love this movie! Usually, this is the spot where I talk about flaws with the project, but, I'll be honest, I can't find any flaws, and that's because District 9 is in a completely different category then anything else I have seen in a good while. It joins the ranks of The Dark Knight, Terminator 2, and The Matrix, in that its a summer blockbuster that tries something new. It takes a risk. It tells a story unlike any we have seen, and it pulls it off with flying colors. From it's unsettling beginning to its heart wrenching ending, District 9 had me! It administers that massive jolt of quality that this summer needed. In a season ruled by anamorphic robots, murderous cyborgs, pissed off mutants, pointy eared Vulcans, living museum pieces, and badass commandos, this summer has had no shortage of science fiction. District 9 blows them all out of the water! See it! 

August 12, 2009

Brief Little Thing

Just saw Funny People. It was good. Well worth your time. Certainly among the best from the Judd Apatow factory. That is all. B+

August 9, 2009

Like Eating A Really Unhealthy, But Really Tasty Burger

Well, I'm back from New York. I had a good time. I won't discuss it here. That's for another time. So, anyway, I'm back, so, it's back to business. I got lot's of movies to see. First off the assembly line is G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. This one is a bit of a conundrum for me. G.I. Joe is awfully written, poorly acted, badly produced, with atrocious direction and worse special effects. But, I don't really care. Here is a movie that is so ridiculous, so stupid, so balls to the wall, eye rolling childish, yet, at the same time, so friggin' awesome, that I can't really give it the Michael Bay treatment. So, fine. G.I. Joe, you are not awful, but don't let it go to your heads. 
Rise of Cobra is an origin story, kind of. It sees soldiers Duke and Ripcord as they are initiated into G.I. Joe, which is a team of super badass commandos from all over the world. Soon, they are sent globe trotting as they attempt to foil a sinister plot from a weapons manufacturer, Destro, and his crew of genetically enhanced super soldiers (are there any other kind of super soldier) from destroying multiple cities around the world. Along the way, an old love is rekindled, redemption is found, and the real mastermind behind all the mayhem is revealed.
Does any of this sound familiar? It's the same basic plot behind, well, a lot of action movies these days. The plot in this movie is fairly stupid, but it serves it purpose, which is to get the characters from one location to the other so that they can blow that location up. It's alright, I guess. 
In terms of acting, Rise of Cobra is one hell of a stinker. Channing Tatum plays main character Duke. He's... not bad. I find it really funny that he stars in an anti-war film (Stop-Loss) and then does this. I don't know. Seems ironic. Marlon Wayans, of all people, plays Ripcord. The really sad thing about his performance is that he almost reminds me of the Marlon Wayans who can act, the Marlon Wayans from Requiem for a Dream, or The Ladykillers. He is pretty bad, but given the caliber of his more recent performances, this one's not as scummy. Other Joe members include Rachel Nichols, who is awful, as Scarlett, Adewalde Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who is awful, as Heavy Duty, Said Taghmaoui, who is awful, as Breaker, and Ray Park, who is awesome, as Snake Eyes. I'm not even gonna talk about Dennis Quaid as General Hawk. He's barely in the movie. On the bad guys side, we have Sienna Miller as the sexy Baroness. She's pretty bad. Sure, she's practically melting the film, she's so hot, but that's all that she has going for her. Her complete change of character in the end is so laughable. Christopher Eccleston plays arms dealer McCullen, soon to be known as Destro. He is chews up so much scenery that I was afraid the walls would start falling apart. He's not bad. I mean, Christopher Eccleston is usually pretty good, but this is far from his work on Doctor Who, or in 28 Days Later. The last guys worth talking about is the saddest addition to this cast. That's right, my favorite actor working today, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a doctor who will come to be know as Cobra Commander. It's not that he sucks; he's actually good. It's just that I've come to expect higher standards from him. He's currently in (500) Days of Summer right now, which I still have to see. I never expected him to sell out like this. Oh well. 
Stephen Sommers, the guy behind The Mummy, and Van Helsing, is the real problem here. If any movie is going to break his already fading career, it will be this one. The direction is this movie is some of the worst I've seen this year. Sommers has no idea what to do with his actors. All of them, except Park, look completely lost in the action scenes, and all of them, except Park (who doesn't speak) and Levitt, look completely lost in the speaking sections as well. It would be fine, if the special effects looked decent, then maybe we could ignore the awful acting, but this is not the case. Everything in this movie, from the ridiculous accelerator suits, to the obligatory underwater lair of the villain, look so cheap and fake! You would think, with a profitable franchise and a big studio backing it, that the production would have spent some time making the special effects look, you know, decent, but they, for some reason, thought that they would spend it on... something else. Just look at the first shot of the trailer, where you see a fleet of submarines gliding towards an underwater base, and just try and tell me that it looks real. JUST TRY!
Now, I've been bitching about this movie for a while, and all the negative things I said were well deserved. But here's the crazy thing. I walked out of G.I. Joe with huge grin on my face. This is one fun movie! Unlike Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, where you actually noticed the terrible acting and direction, something about Rise of Cobra makes you forget about all those bad things when the action picks up. Picture this. A team of super soldiers invades a base by riding massive drills into it. They then proceed to blow it to hell with guns that basically replicate a the throw move from Mass Effect. (If you didn't get that reference, then you don't play good video games.) Pretty soon, people are shooting at each other. A guy gets a grenade shoved down his throat. Two ninjas have an epic sword fight. Two hot babes bitch slap each other. And then, the bad guys exit the premises in friggin' jet packs. Come on! That's friggin' awesome! All the action scenes are like that. Literally, every single one, and there are a lot. There is enough explosions in here to rival Terminator: Salvation and Transformers. Plus, Ray Park as Snake Eyes does some of the coolest shit on screen this year, and doesn't utter a single word while doing it. So badass!
So, yeah. From a technical standpoint, G.I. Joe is the worst movie of the year. From a pure entertainment standpoint, well, it's not even close to the best, but it sure isn't the worst. There are a lot of better movies playing right now that you should spend you money on, but, if you just want some goofy fun before school starts again, look no further. Yo... yeah, I'm not doing that. B-

August 2, 2009

Back in a Week!

I've been in New York, at NYU for the past month. They keep me on a pretty tight leash, so I haven't had time to see movies. The only one I've seen was Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince last night. You won't see a full review, because I don't see the point in reviewing a movie that came out a month ago, which all of you have probably seen. I will give you some thoughts, though. It's the second best in the series, falling short of Prisoner of Azkaban. The dialogue and characters in this one are, surprisingly, great. I predicted that this would happen, back when the movie was still slated to be released back in the fall, seeing as there is less of an emphasis on action. The acting is all around excellent. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Bonnie Wright, and Tom Felton have all grown since the series first started. They are all great. Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, and Helena Bonham-Carter also turn in their usual excellent work. I am disappointed in two things in this movie that pretty much killed the experience for me. First, there is an added action scene, in which Voldemort's Death Eaters attack the Weasly house. It doesn't further the plot at all, and is, frankly, pretty stupid. I guess it was included to give some foundation to the Harry and Ginny's romance, but, seriously? I mean, sure, it looks cool, but what doesn't in this movie. But the big one... They took out Dumbledore's funeral. That's right. The most beautifully crafted chapter in all of J.K. Rowling's books is nowhere to be found. And I can only ask, why? Why? It would be so easy to make that scene. If you, David Yates, had filmed it, you would have seen me in the audience, close to tears. As it stands, you saw me furious at you when I walked out of the theatre. Also, this is movie is way too long. 2 and half hours. Jesus Christ! What I am writing here means nothing. You've already seen this. Don't get me wrong; it's a good movie. In fact, it's close to a great one. But the small deviations from the book bring it down significantly. B
Anyway, I'm back in SF on Saturday. I'll probably see (but won't review) Funny People and (500) Days of Summer. Expect reviews of GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, District 9, Inglourious Basterds, and It Might Get Loud in the coming weeks. Until then, my friends.