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Saturday, August 4, 2007

Wolverine Talk

Hugh Jackman and writer David Benioff were interviewed recently for details on the new "Wolverine" movie coming up.

Accoring to the duo, they really want to touch up on the entire Weapon X concept. “[The Japan connection] is still something we really want to do. What we need to do is establish who he is and find out how he became Wolverine. And by the end of the movie, I want it to be that you definitely knew who this guy was, like Mad Max and Dirty Harry. He’s a good guy, but he’s not a nice guy. He’s just the guy you want on your side.”

When asked about cameos from characters we've seen in the X-Men films, Jackman responded, "It’s a prequel, so there won’t be many. There will be other new characters.” However, Tyler Mane, who played Sabretooth in "X-Men" and Vinnie Jones who played Juggernaut in "X-Men: The Last Stand" are reportedly in talks to be in the film. Furthermore, Brian Cox confirmed he would return as William Striker (from "X2: X-Men United") to show how he ruined Wolverine's life.

The film is set 17 years before the events of "X-Men" and is slated for a 2008 release. Will there ever be an X-Men 4? That's still up in the air right now. Fox doesn't see the difference between a sequel and a Wolverine spin-off, so it's best to consider "Wolverine" as the next chapter (or prologue) in the X-Men franchise.

"Justice League" Gets Serious

"Happy Feet" director George Miller will be helming the live action "Justice League" film coming from Warner Brothers. An odd choice really, but it seems children's movie directors have been popular choices for superhero flicks these days.
According to Warner Bros. the most likely heroes you will see in this film are Superman, Batman, The Flash, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern. Furthermore they're saying this film is a bigger priority than the "Superman Returns" sequel. So it's very possible we may see Brandon Routh in this film before "Superman Returns". What would be really cool is if we got Chrsitan Bale in this film as well. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

"Punisher 2" Set for 2008

It looks like the long overdue sequel to "The Punisher" will finally get made. Thomas Jane, who played the role so well in the first movie, has since dropped out, however. Instead HBO's "Rome" star, Ray Stevenson, will dawn the skull t-shirt. Though I'll Thomas Jane, I have to admit, this guy looks the part a bit more. Lexi Alexander, a rather new and unknown director, will be helming the film as it starts production this October.
Nothing has been set in stone as far as release date goes, but it's likely we'll see it late summer 2008.
Thomas Jane apparently pulled out of the role because he doesn't believe in the film. So I guess the script is pretty bad... We'll see come this time next year though.

The "De2ent"

An obnoxious title for an upcoming sequel to quite possiblly the best horror thriller since "Alien" and "Jaws". You can probably tell alredy, I'm not happy with the idea. But yes, there is a sequel planned for my favorite horror film. "The De2ent" will not be helmed by the original film's director, Niel Marshall, but apparently he wants to have some creative power over it.

"I've got a few story ideas, they've got a few story ideas and we're just throwing them into the mix." says Marshall. "She [MacDonald the star of the first film] wants to continue the journey a bit more. As far as I'm concerned, there's only one way to take her character, she has to die. If we didn't kill her at the end of the first film, we have to kill her at the end of the second one. So, I don't know - I don't know where we stand yet. [It's] is a ways off."

I hope it's so far off that the production company forgets about it. It sounds like Marshall doesn't even want to do it. Frankly, there's no need for a sequel. there's nothing else to do in that movie. Just let it be the classic it is and don't add needless fluff to it.

"Spider-Man 3" DVD Release

October 30th, the thrid installment of the Spider-Man series will be released on Blueray, HD-DVD, PSP, 2-Disc DVD and Standard edition DVD. Below are the covers to the two disc DVD and the standard edition DVD. As for me, I'll be picking up the 2-disc.

REVIEWS - "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" (2007)

I don’t think I’ve ever walked out of a Harry Potter movie feeling the way I did with this one. The first three left me fulfilled, but not overly "wowed." The fourth film was a huge disappointment. It felt more like an episode of the horrendous “OC” than a Harry Potter movie. “Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix," however, left me feeling emotionally overwhelmed and more fulfilled than any movie I’ve seen this summer.

To dumb down the story in my own words, Harry is faced with his most torturous year at Hogwarts yet. First he faces the threat of being expelled from Hogwarts for defending himself from dementors. Then a hideous new headmaster, Dolores Umbridge, takes over the school and no one believes Harry about the return of “he-who-must…” eh…Voldemort. However, Harry discovers the Order of the Phoenix, which is an organization built to fight Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Harry builds his own army in secret and the movie follows our hero in an attempt to save Hogwarts from Umbridge, make it known that Voldemort is back and discover the connections Voldemort have with him. (This is all far less simple than it sounds, but don’t expect to learn about the whole movie in one review.)

Apparently, (or more obviously) the book has more, but for those who honestly expected everything in the book to be in the movie—Get real. The movie by itself relies on the extravagant strengths of the series and utilizes them in the best way we’ve seen since the first film. Gone are the teen-angst, college “greek” moments of the fourth film, which echoed painful flashes of trash series’ like, “The OC,” and “Languna Beach.” Instead, the troubled young characters have fear that is more genuine to the situation they’re involved in. Also, unlike the weak fourth entry, the dark atmosphere of this film is not forced in any way. The writing, cinematography and character development is so much more mature than what has been seen in the last few films.

In fact, I've got to take a moment to praise the cinematography. I’m glad this film didn’t look like the last four; with the stories getting darker, the look should be more on level with adults as well. That said, lots of the camera activity is new to the series: The horrific way Harry’s nightmares are filmed, the shot of Harry falling on the ground as Hermione watches—It all feels so fresh and, fittingly, darker.

The actors finally seem to be showing their maturity as well. Rupert Grint plays his best Ron Weasley yet. None of his bad overacting appears this time. Meanwhile, Daniel Radcliffe pulls out all the stops for his performance as the continuously haunted Harry. Never have I been so impressed with him. He really does strike me as a vulnerable young man facing dark times. At the same time, however, it shows he is also growing to be a brave leader.

The trio of Harry, Ron and Hermione, have never looked so close as friends. The new characters that step in are equally engrossing. Luna Lovegood, the young blonde oddity of the team has such a charismatic glow about her that I rather wish she were on screen more. Whenever she is appears she steals the spotlight with all too much ease. Neville gets a far more significant role this time and his character is thrown in to new developments and twists that were quite unexpected. No longer is he the bumbling comic relief-- He’s growing in to a warrior and a great asset to Harry.

The newly introduced Umbridge seems to do her job all too well. There will no doubt be a great debate about who the non-readers hate more: Voldemort or Umbridge? She very well may be one of the most odious characters to grace the silver screen. And despite my disdain for the current actor playing Dumbldore, there was not a moment I didn’t welcome his presence on screen. As my own loved one said, “It’s pretty hard to screw up Dumbledore in this movie.” She’s right. “Badass” doesn't seem like a word to use for a Harry Potter film, but this wizard takes the cake.

The excellent finale blows the previous film's ending out of the water. Wand fights and a shocking end to a beloved character highlight what already seems like a fine closing to the film—And then Dumbledore and Voldemort show up with their wands out and wits ready. “You shouldn’t have come tonight Tom.” Utters Dumbledore, and thus the battle we’ve all fantasized about begins. However, the real treat is Harry’s inner struggle with Voldemort. The emotion leaking off the screen as Harry confronts his nemesis trying to get inside his head is what has been missing from the series for a while.

The weaknesses of the film lie in just minor flaws. The lack of a proper explanation for the Dementors’ attack was unsettling, and I’m not sure how a handful of students broke in to something as important as the Ministry of Magic so easily, but oh well. These qualms are afterthoughts at best I suppose.

Is there room for improvement? Yes. Is it the best Harry Potter to date? Tough call. It’s defiantly the best since the genius first film. It has flaws but it doesn’t really matter. The overall feel of the film was so engrossing I wanted to go back for more. David Yates has proven to be a fantastic edition to the franchise. I was very skeptical of his abilities at first, but he knows how to create an effective and powerful drama from this popular series. May the next one be just as engrossing.

***½ out of ****

REVIEW - "Live Free or Die Hard" (2007)

When one thinks of a dumb summer action movie they automatically assume there is nothing redeemable about it. There is nothing that can garner the film as a "good movie" because it is, after all, a dumb action movie. But working within the genre itself, perhaps a movie with a ridiculously unrealistic script, over-the-top action scenes and characters can still well executed. “Live Free or Die Hard” is just that. Yes, the story is simplistically absurd and the action scenes wouldn’t happen in reality, but that’s part of the fun. And “fun” hasn’t looked this good in awhile.

Bruce Willis returns as John McClain, who has been promoted to detective. He picks up a hacker who was accidentally involved with a group of computer-savvy terrorists planning on shutting down America. From there on out, McClain goes through hell trying to protect the kid while traveling around the east coast to save America.

Perhaps it’s not quite as absurd as I make it out to be, but that is the gist of it. What ensues are monstrous explosions, cars flinging at helicopters, hysterical one liners and a far more entertaining truck vs. jet battle than what “Transformers” offers.

Really, there’s nothing much wrong with this movie other than the fact it’s ridiculous. Bruce Willis looks great and plays the part with as much fun and coolness as he has in the past. Justin Long, known better as “Mac” in the Mac vs. PC commercials, does a fine job himself. He plays the part appropriate to the scenes and provides an entertaining little side-kick to Bruce Willis.

The bad acting comes from Timothy Olyphant as the antagonist of the film. I’m not entirely clear what he was trying to go for here. His character is cliché enough for an over-the-top villain so why didn’t he seize the opportunity and go crazy with it? Maggie Q didn’t help matters either and was only welcomed on-screen when she was getting her ass kicked by Bruce Willis.

The action scenes involving Bruce Willis are, of course, the true stars of the film. So as long as those scenes act well, who cares how well Olyphant and Q act? Right? John McClain has been through a great deal throughout these Die Hard films. In the early ones he was way more dramatic, but now it’s funny to watch a much older, mature McClain take on an advanced hover jet with an eighteen-wheeler and shake it off like it was nothing. Been-there-done-that, I guess. McClain is more of an unstoppable juggernaut than ever before and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s fun to watch. He’s Jack Bauer, Chuck Norris, Solid Snake and Bruce Lee all rolled in to one testosterone heaving man. What’s not to like?

Okay, fun aside, the movie still has problems. A little bit of bad acting wasn’t as big of a problem as the fact that the storyline is fan-fiction material at best. I applaud director Len Wiseman for making a terrible story out to be so epic. There really wasn’t much anyone could do with such a script; but resourcefulness won out in the end.

The censoring is annoying as well. It's very obvious this was originally going to be rated R. I can tell where certain scenes were cut before too much vile language and violence were let loose. The dubbing over characters’ cursing is obvious as well. No doubt we’ll get an uncut, rated R version on DVD, but come on! This is “Die Hard”! It should’ve been R to begin with. The entire series has been an adult action flick so why dumb it down now?

None-the-less, “Live Free or Die Hard” is an affective action flick and probably the most entertaining movie of the summer. Flawed only in story design, but exciting in every other aspect-- Make it a first priority if you want to watch a really fun movie.

*** out of ****

Friday, August 3, 2007

REVIEW - "Ocean's 13" (2007)

Danny Ocean’s team looked pretty fly when director Steven Soderbergh first brought them to the screen six years ago. It was also fun seeing the characters do something different and be in a new environment in 2004’s “Ocean’s 12”. But in “Ocean’s 13” the gang is finally showing their age. George Clooney looks tired during his performance, Brad Pitt doesn’t have the same energy he use to give his character, and the charm of the entire concept is gone.

In this movie Danny Ocean rounds up his gang to get revenge on Al Pacino’s character, Willie Banks. Banks double-crossed one of the original 11, Reuben, who was going to co-own a casino with him—The result nearly killed Reuben. So Ocean finds himself back in the casino devising an obscene plan to rob Banks of his money.

The point of this movie is really simple: Get the Ocean gang back in to the casinos. With that in mind, the concept of putting them back in casinos felt more like a motivation than an actual storyline. In theory, the story of “Ocean’s 13” should make a pretty good movie, but the execution is rather lackluster. The cool factor of the first one isn’t there because all the characters just seem really tired. The pacing of the second film isn’t anywhere to be found either and ultimately it’s just not as fun as its predecessors.

The ideas were pretty good though. The storyline on its own must have looked great on paper. The new security ideas for the casino were genius. It really felt like “Mission: Impossible” for a while. Furthermore, Al Pacino was the only actor that seemed awake during the course of this movie. Banks is a villain that is arguably on the same level as Terry Benedict. Maybe worse seeing as Ocean ends up asking for Benedict’s help.

Despite the nice work Al Pacino provides and the complexity of the security system, there’s still a strong been-there-done-that vibe from the movie. Many people slam “Ocean’s 12” for taking the characters out of the casino and going overboard with the comedy, but at least it dared to do something different and was still a good movie for it. “Ocean’s 13” felt like it was so afraid of fan backlash that it restrains itself to things we’ve seen before. Add that to the most straightforward "twist" of these films and it’s just kind of boring.

Comedy has always been a must in these movies. While it’s not as funny as the second film, it provides some of the genuine, awkward moments that are always expected. The Oprah joke is played to the very end (which is nothing short of hysterica), and Matt Damon provides some of the film's best humor with his prosthetic nose. Even Don Cheadle offers a very out of character moment that is, arguably, the funniest scene in the movie.

The end result of the movie is hardly fulfilling and a bit contrived. I don’t think, realistically, Banks would have lost that much money in such a short amount of time-- Especially if he were that rich. At least the end result was more satisfying than the movie’s dull “twist”. Don’t look too hard, because you can see it about an hour before it happens.

“Ocean’s 13” escapes from being terrible, but it could have been so much more. The writing is really good and the story had so much potential. I enjoyed Al Pacino and it had some fun moments. But Soderbergh must be getting tired of making these movies. The execution is far from the creative edge of the first movie and there was nothing new to be found. The actors look like they don’t want to be there and the entire concept is starting to grow dull. These guys use to be cool to watch a few years ago, but this latest heist feels like it will be best remembered in the bargain bin.

** out of ****

REVIEW - "Ghost Rider" (2007)

When I first heard that Mark Steven Johnson was directing another comic book superhero flick, I contemplated giving up on movies. Was “Daredevil” not painful enough? After staying as far away as possible from the man who delivered one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen I finally viewed his latest: “Ghost Rider.” Well congratulations Mark Steven Johnson! You did, in fact, make a movie better than “Daredevil”. But to show how much that says, “Ghost Rider” is dud.

Nicholas Cage takes on the role of the ironically named character Johnny Blaze. As a young man he makes a deal with the Devil to save his father in exchange for his soul-- Or more accurately, in exchange for his body to become the Ghost Rider and do the Devil’s bidding when summoned. This costs him a normal life with an obligatory love interest and diverts his career in to that of a stuntman. (His powers allow him to survive any stunt.) Meanwhile, the Devil’s son is on a mission to overthrow his father. This results in the Devil calling on Johnny to stop them and embrace the absurdity.

The first thing that makes “Ghost Rider” easier to watch than “Daredevil” is instantly obvious: Nicholas Cage. Unlike Mr. Affleck, Cage can actually act. The cast has a few other really nice talents whom include Peter Fonda, as the Devil, and Sam Elliot as a surprise character. Unfortunately, Elliot’s character does little but name the Ghost Rider’s powers and… well… “becomes” a surprise character. Other than that he’s nothing but wasted potential.The talent in this film stops there. The rest of the cast might as well have been leads for “The Covenant”. Simply put, they're just a lot of young, bad actors that play some really poor villains. With their goofy antics and poorly written lines, these bottom-list actors try to make their characters sinister; but they’re not cut out for the task, they come off as laughable.

The Ghost Rider character himself is quite interesting, yet he's missing complexity. Cage plays the role to the best of his ability, but it seems as if something is lost. The writing fails to capture just how dark this character is and I wish we got a deeper look in to how and why Johnny has such a different personality when he becomes the Ghost Rider. Is it really Johnny anymore? Has he become possessed? There was a level of depth that was missing from Johnny and I really wished the film expanded upon those figurative demons that twisted the character.

Since I’ve mentioned how wonderful the writing has been (Not!) twice now, I thought I should take a break from commenting on credentials in order to honor the film's script. The film delivers would-be one-liners that aren’t any fun (I mean really, it’s an action movie), and the dialogue between Ghost Rider and the villains provide only the most painful cringe-fests for the audience. I have to wonder why Johnson is allowed to write his own material. There are times where he makes George Lucas's work look good.

Back to what matters in films like this one: The special effects are okay, but nothing groundbreaking. You get use to Ghost Rider’s appearance, but the flaming skull isn’t all that convincing. He looks rather awkward with his skull stuck deep in the collar of his jacket. The Ghost Rider's first transformation was a disappointing blend of over drama and bad editing. This is a prime example that shows there wasn't much that special effects could do to fix this film. The rest of the CGI is spent on the villains and their powers-- I’ll leave it to your own imagination to decide how thrilling that was…

“Ghost Rider” had potential, but constantly missed out with every passing scene. The character is very enjoyable, but the writing fluctuates between decent and horrid. (Mostly horrid.) What's sad is that it didn't have to be this way. I’ve read pieces of David Goyer’s original script for “Ghost Rider;" it was an R-Rated adaptation of the character that showed far more promise for the screen. Compared to that script, Johnson’s “Ghost Rider” is nothing more than a watered down, child-friendly version of what could have been a fairly good movie. But for Mark Steven Johnson, "fairly good" is high bar to jump. There are still things to enjoy about “Ghost Rider”, but none of it makes up for what is inevitably going to be an easily forgotten flick.

*½ out of ****

Thursday, August 2, 2007

REVIEW - "Transformers" (2007)

I wasn’t as disappointed as I was with the Americanized Godzilla back in 1998, but “Transformers” suffers from similar flaws and a flood of new ones. The main problem with this movie is that director Michael Bay (“Armageddon”, “The Rock”, “Pearl Harbor”) tried so hard to make this movie the entertainment gem of the year that it ended up being more obnoxious than fun. How much sexual innuendo can you put in to a movie before it becomes lame? Not much apparently. The ADD teens and MTV crowd will love it though.

The movie’s story kind of gets lost among all the so-called jokes, special effects and explosions. The gist is that a cube containing energy to give the Transformers’ home world (Cybertron) life has crashed on Earth. The evil Decepticons are already after it and the lone Autobot, Bumblebee, calls for reinforcements. Bumblebee disguises himself as a Camaro and is bought by our human hero Sam. Sam’s connection to the war of the worlds is that his great grandfather left behind the location of the cube and both Autobots and Decepticons are after him for it.

The rest of the movie sports about fifteen other characters, who no one remembers the names of, and add only the least amount of character development I’ve seen this summer. This becomes a problem-- When you’re watching a movie about giant robots that transform and fight each other, you don’t want to sit through a full hour of the most mindless characters trying to set up a very simple storyline. You want to see more robots!

So how are the Transformers? Not as a bad as I thought they’d be, but not so good either. All of them have unrecognizable heads and we don’t get invested enough in their characters to care about all of them in the final battle. I still don’t understand why all the heads of these transformers look like bugs. Starscream proved to be the most badass of the Decepticons, but looked nothing like Starscream at all. His character was watered down and he only had one line of real dialogue. Megatron doesn’t come until the last act and he certainly doesn’t feel like the dark overlord he’s suppose to be. As far as I’m concerned, Megatron wasn’t in the movie.

The fights are rather disappointing too. There’s just not enough robot vs. robot action in this movie. Most of the film seems like a dense comedy—Mockery of the Transformers more than comedy really. But when the Autobots and Decepticons do fight, the one on one battles are too short and it’s hard to tell what’s going on. The robot designs are so poor you can’t tell if an arm, a leg or a chest plate has been hit. The shaky camera only makes this more confusing and you’re just sitting there watching two hunks of metal hit each other in blurred segments.

Other flaws lie within the story itself. If the Autobots learned the English language through the internet, how come Megatron knew it after being frozen for thousands of years? He arrived on earth before the digital age. Michael Bay said he wanted the transformations to be realistic. This means he didn’t want a Megatron that transforms in to a gun 1/8th his size. So why is a giant cube that can transform from building size to handheld size in it? How did Megatron plan on turning Earth’s computer-chip based machines in to robots before the 1930s when that technology didn’t exist? I could go on, but I get a headache.

Optimus Prime is the only one that was perfect in this movie. Not just by fan standards, but overall execution. Part of it had to be because of Peter Cullen, the original voice of Optimus from the 80s, was doing the character. The other part is that Optimus was fleshed out perfectly. His design looked enough like him and was one of the few where you could tell the difference between his legs and his gun. Cullen’s voice gave me goose bumps every time I heard it and I would sigh in relief whenever Prime was onscreen. Yes, he helped the movie that much. It would have truly been unbearable to watch without this character.

The special effects are very impressive. It’s been a long time since I’ve been this convinced by CGI. ILM has really raised the bar with this movie. But it’s still not really Transformers, and as cool as it looks, it doesn’t save the movie.

The movie is a mess. The characters that do have development are so unbelievable it’s hard to invest yourself in them. Shia LaBeouf does a pretty decent job, but Megan Fox can’t act to save her life. Even Jon Voit falls flat here and the rest of the actors are better saved for a Sci-Fi Channel original motion picture. The fact that the human characters are on more than the Transformers is even worse because they have no real depth to them. There’s really nothing to watch and one finds themselves wishing they could fast-forward to the last 30 minutes of the movie to watch blurred, CGI metal parts hit each other.

The biggest sin this movie has committed is, like the Americanized Godzilla, it just has no soul. Only Peter Cullen, as Optimus, gives the audience a certain amount of warmth, talent and nostalgia to increase the film’s credibility. Other than that it’s just pretty effects with bad scripting and D-List actors. So what if it’s based on an 80s cartoon that’s based on a toy line? Does that mean we should settle for something poorly done when it could have potentially been a great deal better? When the 80s cartoon and its sequels are superior, you know something is wrong. I’d like to see a sequel, if just to redeem this mess. But as far as Michael Bay’s “Transformers” goes, there’s just not much more than meets the eye.

* out of ****

REVIEW - "Ratatouille" (2007)

Like Disney’s full-length animated films throughout the 1990s, Pixar has started to show its age. Last year's “Cars” was a horrible country-themed adventure that was fine for little children, but dreadful on the parents. This isn’t often the case with Pixar as they’ve created masterpieces for both adults and kids such as, “Toy Story”, “The Incredibles” and “A Bugs Life”. But like most studios that head toward a decline in quality there are always a few gems that pop up before the drought.

“Ratatouille” seems to be one of those gems. While it follows a very familiar formula that’s becoming routine for these Pixar pictures, there’s nothing really wrong with it and it certainly can hold the attention of a much wider audience than “Cars." However, I get the feeling I’ve seen this movie before.

“Ratatouille” follows a young mouse that is sick of eating trash like the rest of his enormous family and aspires to be an actual cook. He comes across a young man who can’t cook at all and helps him come to fame by making delicious foods for him.

The simple story, of course, has a few character twists and some naturally good development which is expected of all Pixar movies. A surprising choice for this movie is that while the mice speak English, the human characters can’t understand them at all. Thus our lead mouse and human have to communicate through non-verbal means.

I was surprised at some of the things coming from Pixar in this movie. Two villains was something new, but neither one of them had the edge that past Pixar villains have had. I suppose both of them being as bad as Sid from “Toy Story” would have been a bit much. The mouse and his human partner have some funny moments with one another due to the lack of verbal communication. It was nice to see this going on for a change since talking animals are normally accepted without question. This move provided something of a parody with the talking animal concept and humans in the same world. Still… these are just different concepts. The storyline is very familiar.

There is, of course, a chapter in the movie about doubt: Can rats and people co-exist peacefully? And that’s followed by an instance where our human lead and mouse part ways. Perhaps this is director Brad Bird’s way of asking the world to get along peacefully? Nah, it’s probably just a preachy moment to tell kids to get along with each other. Why should everything be political, right? In any case, Pixar has always found a way to wrap things up quickly when they start to go down hill. After all seems lost the "unexpected" happens-- Our characters end up getting along okay and Disney provides us with another happily-ever-after.

Perhaps I’m coming off too cynical. “Ratatouille” is really a pretty good movie. There’s nothing technically wrong with it. In fact I can tell very much that Pixar is improving in the animation department. There were several moments in the movie where I felt like an actual set piece was among the CG animation. It’s even more impressive knowing that they didn’t use motion capture.

Furthermore, the story is fine, but formulaic. Perhaps I’m a bit tired of the underdog rising above the challenge story met with protagonists separating themselves before a split second decision of reuniting. (Phew! Did you get all that?) I know these are very appealing stories to small children and the universal appeal of it is what made movies like “Spider-Man” so popular. But can Pixar not do anything more? I eagerly await “Toy Story 3” and an “Incredibles” sequel in hope to see something different. (As odd as that sounds…)

“Ratatouille” isn’t a bad movie, it’s just one we’ve seen before. The animation is probably Pixar’s best and it will offer some really genuine laughs. Yet I can’t help but feel that maybe Pixar is unable to grow itself. The film was certainly miles better than “Cars”, but if Pixar can’t turn out something fresh they’ll find themselves on the same path as Disney’s animated features toward the end of the 90s. I’m sure that the “Atlantis” movie could remind Pixar how lonely it is at the bottom.

**½ out of ****

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

REVIEW - "The Host" (2007)

Since the original Godzilla, Asian filmmakers have always been the masters of monster tales. (And tails.) They’ve always been able to add the soul, warmth and social commentary missing from American monster flicks, which thrive only for the purpose of flashy special effects. So leave it to them to create this somewhat art-house film of a monster movie. “The Host” is more of a Korean “Little Miss Sunshine” than a monster flick really. It thrives on strong characters and political metaphors to keep it moving. The monster is nothing more than a backdrop for the issues the film tries to touch up on. So if you’re looking for a big, special effects extravaganza with endless explosions and nonstop action, this isn’t the movie for you.

The film begins with an explanation: Toxic chemicals are poured in to the Han River and a creature mutates because of it. That’s the only bit of pseudo-science fiction we get from this movie. Several years later, we see people attacked by a huge monster near the river and a father watches it carry away his own daughter. The father, Park Gang-Du, his father, brother and sister all mourn the death of his daughter and are taken away by Korean authorities. America has issued a statement that a virus has gone lose and the monster is the "host" for this virus. Meanwhile, Gang-Du receives a call from his daughter via cell phone. Knowing she’s alive, he and the family eventually break out and try to settle their differences while rescuing their loved one.

It really is a beautiful story of sorts, but you can’t be expecting an all-out monster movie. You also need to be ready for the comedic moments. Even the most emotional and well written moments find a way to slip into domestic comedy. It’s just as well since the idea of how the monster came to existence reminds me of the three eyed fish from “The Simpsons”.

The characters are very likable. Strong and dimwitted all in one; the Park family makes this film out to be less of a monster movie and more of family drama. They all have some background; they all have realistic motivation and the finale they all arrive at is perfect-- Even if a little contrived.

Our characters are filmed with some of the best cinematography I’ve seen in awhile. Ranking high with “The Fountain”, this movie provides us with steady, well executed shots, gorgeous colors and lighting. For a film that doesn’t have anything too abnormal, (with the exception of a big fish monster) the cinematography is really outstanding.

The political backdrop to the film appears to be how America seems to butt in to Korea’s affairs. There’s security surrounding the virus outbreak and some of the ways the film shows the tension regarding possible infection are really funny. But is there really a virus? Is this not just a ploy for America to chime in and take control of the situation? Watch the movie. The concept is pretty scary. It really shows what a pre-Orwellian society might look like in such a reality.

The monster? Well The Host isn’t onscreen all that much really. Honestly, its design is rather silly, but it’s an effective monster for the situation. There are a few frightening moments with it and the CGI is okay. Any flaws with it are forgiven seeing that this is far and away better than most CGI driven films in America these days. The monster is simply used to stir political corruption and personal trouble for the Park family.

If a monster like that were to appear the situation might look rather similar. There are lots of similarities between this movie and the original “Godzilla”. In the original “Godzilla”, the situation was treated realistically in terms of atomic warfare. Godzilla was radioactive and extensive action was taken for those exposed with radiation. Today, things are much more confusing. Biological warfare is the fear that drives "The Host" and action is taken for that. (But, again, is the Host really carrying a virus at all?) Biological warfare seems to be a greater fear than nuclear threats these days, furthermore, political conspiracy is looked for in today’s world more than it was in 1954.

Also, like “Godzilla”, it focuses on how normal people react to the situation—The Park family. They question the virus, they act realistically toward the advent of this monster and their lives change, as anyone’s would, in such a situation.

The realism, drama, comedy and political commentary of this movie is what makes “The Host” a good “monster movie”. (If you really want to call it that.) It focuses on issues of today, owns strong, relatable characters and beautiful cinematography. It’s a shame really. Most people in America probably went to see this movie for a monster romp and were disappointed because it wasn’t. It’s better suited for fans of high-class indie movies, but at first glance this movie doesn’t look like such. So they were probably turned off. The audience this movie gets may be small, but I suppose those who find it, and enjoy it, are those who deserve to see it most.

***½ out of ****

REVIEW - "1408" (2007)

“1408” could have been a much greater movie if it wasn’t so busy being a by-the-book haunted house flick with a different structure. Sure it feels and looks fresh and different, but it uses the same gimmicks and scares every ghost flick does. What sells this movie is John Cusack’s amazing performance with a side dish of academy award winning sound effects.

Cusack’s character, Mike Enslin, is a writer known for debunking so-called paranormal activity in hotels across the country. However, when he visits the massive Dolphin Hotel he begins to find it harder to prove a fake. As the room gives him an hour to survive it dives in to his mind, his personal thoughts and torturous past history concerning a deceased daughter.

The story is, both, just as cliché and intriguing as you think it is. There are moments in the film where I felt that the movie was very original and worked well as a powerful character study. Then there were moments where I was wishing it didn’t resort to antics that were done better in “The 6th Sense” and “Signs." At times it reminded me how bad “House on Haunted Hill” was.

The movie starts out very promising. Enslin’s character is very believable. What he does and how he’s introduced to the room is very easily acceptable and the owner of the hotel (played beautifully by Samuel L. Jackson) sets the scene with a great deal of anticipation. We’re told about all the horrific events that have taken place in 1408 and it disturbs the audience enough to be prepared for the worst. Though, to my relief, the movie stays away from the ever grotesque torture-porn concepts made popular by “Saw”. It’s not gory and the first few events that happen to Enslin are very suspenseful.

Inevitibly, the intensity of the film dies down and the gimmicks start becoming obvious. There are some clever ideas here and there, but a large portion of the “scares” become tiring. This doesn’t detract from the film too much because Enslin’s character is fleshed out during his battle with the room. Instead of setting up what made Enslin the person he is at the beginning of the film we discover the events of his past through the room playing with his mind.

Now while I enjoyed watching Enslin’s character do battle with the room, I began wondering what the film was trying to be. Is it a new take on the haunted hotel/house genre where there is a battle of wills between the character and the paranormal? Or another haunted building story where the character is simply trapped and trying to escape? The two ideas kind of run together and I suppose you can filter out which idea you prefer more. But I sat there being both intrigued and unimpressed during various points of the film. Next time I’ll watch it with the character vs. the paranormal point of view in mind.

What really, really saves this movie is the performance by John Cusack. Despite the flaws of the movie itself, he plays the character as realistically as such a character would act. It’s almost a one-man-movie and Cusack hold’s the audiences interest until the very, very end. As weird as it feels to say this, it’s probably one of Cusack’s very best and versitile performances. (And it’s a ghost flick. Go figure?)

“1408” probably won’t wow a grand majority of people, but it will entertain while keeping a substantial amount of substance. It’s not overly thrilling or even scary, but it has a bit more to offer than your regular ghost flick.

**½ out of ****

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

REVIEW - "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" (2007)

Movie trilogies are really popular these days. If the first movie becomes a big blockbuster, the studio will make immediate plans for two more and advertise like crazy in order to gain hype. We’ve all seen how this works and “Pirates of the Caribbean” is no different. I’ve liked most of the trilogies so far. “The Lord of the Rings”, “Spider-Man” and “The Matrix” fulfilled me fine. The last movie of the X-Men series was pretty bad though and “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” was very disappointing. Yet I eagerly awaited the finale of the trilogy in hopes it could do better. Did it? Yes, it did-- But just barely.

The story continues as Capt. Barbossa tries to reunite the Pirate Lords in order to face the threat of pirate extinction brought on by Lord Cutler Beckett. This means teaming up with rivals Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner to retrieve Jack… sorry, “Captain” Jack Sparrow. (Who is also one of the Pirate Lords.) This just kicks the story off, but after a lot of confusion, character separation and cluttered plot-points our heroes are reunited for one last pirate brawl.

The good thing about “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” is that it has plenty of replay value. The previous film left me bored and the “shocking” cliffhanger did nothing for me. This time most of the action is left for the end and it doesn’t get dull. Part of the reason that it doesn’t get dull is probably due to the congested plotline that does an excellent job at confusing the audience. Your head will be spinning with questions like: Who’s on who’s side, and why? What deals are being made? Why are the deals being made? Why is this that? Why is that this? The story is anything but simple and because of it the middle of the film is convoluted to the point where you want to just give up.If anything, I recommend just sitting back and enjoying the film the first time you see it. Try to figure everything out the next time. It’s easier than you think.

Surprisingly this movie has the charm of the first film. The second film tried so hard to be something greater than the first in terms of epic storytelling that it lost the appeal of the characters. Despite the heavy lack of development, the characters in this film just seem more charming. Yes, Will discovers why Elizabeth kissed Jack at the end of the second film, and that creates new drama: Can they trust each other when they don’t know what decisions the other is going to make? This concept is never explored and doesn’t really reach a narrative end. Yet for some reason it doesn’t hurt the movie that much.

I can only assume that the charm beams from the spectacular acting and a classic approach to how these now legendary characters are presented. The script, for all its confusing twists, is really well written. Depp, Rush, Bloom, Knightly and Nighy all spit out their lines with the utmost amazing Shakespearean gusto and it never seems silly. A fantastic example is the scene where Depp, Rush and Knightly all walk down a sandy beach, three abroad, wearing their pirate get-ups and looking stern at their enemies. These three generations of actors and actress are the essence of pirate cool. They’re dressed ridiculously, but are highly respected. They yell like pirates, but their acting never wavers—They are consistent in their abilities and fun to watch all at once. What’s not to love?

The final act of the film is probably one of the most elaborate and fantastical feats in Hollywood history. Practical and CG effects interweave flawlessly to provide a very satisfying finale. Jack finally has the much-anticipated showdown with Davey Jones, Barbossa gets to command the Black Pearl in her finest moment and as the entire battle ensues, we get what I half-heartedly believe to be the finest wedding ceremony in the last few decades of film. It’s fun, it’s funny and it doesn’t get boring.

The strengths of this movie lie mostly with the fantasy elements. The journey to Davey Jones’ Locker was creative and how they return to “the land of the living” felt original too. The concept of mythology is even heavier in this movie and it’s played up just enough before it feels too over-the-top.

Despite all its mishaps, “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” at least feels like a fulfilling movie. The charm is there, the characters are even more lovable, Barbossa’s return added so much to the film and the adventure ended only as it should have. Although I wish less time was spent on confusing elements and more on the practical concepts. Barbossa’s return is explained away with contrived ease and Lord Cutler Beckett’s character is never fully explained. (Why does he hate pirates so much? Why is he breaking so many rules to kill them all?) Oh well. A perfect ending was hoping for too much I suppose. At least it was better than the previous movie, and it was a far more fitting end than “X-Men: The Last Stand”.

**½ out of ****

REVIEW - "Spider-Man 3" (2007)

Sam Raimi became a beloved cult director due to his Evil Dead Trilogy. Here's a quick overview for those who have not seen those wonderfully entertaining films: The first movie is a pretty straightforward student film with unintentionally funny moments, but amazing cinematography and ideas. “Evil Dead 2” had intentionally funny parts and embraced its campy roots a bit more. Finally the third film of the trilogy, “Army of Darkness”, is a near parody of itself and hangs on to comedy in order make fun of how absurd the entire trilogy is. Watching “Spider-Man 3” I have come to the realization that Raimi has completed his second “Evil Dead” trilogy. He’s used the same formula and gags to get it done; he’s just had more time and money to do it.

In the third chapter of the Spider-Man franchise Peter Parker has decided to pop the marriage question to Mary Jane. Things are looking up for him. People love Spider-Man and life provides him with more smiles. However, Mary Jane loses her job and Peter is oblivious to her own problems. Drama then follows. Meanwhile, big-shot Eddie Brock is after Peter’s job at the Daily Bugle; Marko Flint, Ben Parker’s real killer, escapes from prison and wanders in to a grain experiment; Harry Osborn loses his memory after a fight with Peter in his New Goblin suit and alien sludge conveniently lands on Earth to engulf Peter’s Spidey suit.

There’s a lot going on in this movie and when you filter all of it out, it’s really absurd. Ah, but Raimi knows this himself and takes advantage of it. After everything is nicely introduced the movie spirals into the familiar Raimi camp that made the later Evil Dead movies so much fun. Raimi spoofs the emo-kid concept by making Peter a mockery to the eyeliner wearing, eye-hiding-haired kids of today. Bruce Campell makes his most hysterical cameo appearance yet as a French waiter—It’s arguably the best and funniest moment of the film. And finally, the ridiculous Eddie Brock had me slamming my seat in laughter as he asked God to kill Peter Parker for trivial reasons.

This isn’t to say the movie is all comedy all the time. Yes, the scenes of Spider-Man swinging by the American flag is hysterical, and purposefully so, but the film manages to develop its key players without feeling too terribly cluttered. Peter’s character is convicted with whether or not he is able to take care of Mary Jane. Next he’s confronted with the power of the black Spider-Man suit, which enhances his strength, anger and emo-ness. Then he goes crazy with it and tries to hurt Harry and Mary Jane. And finally, for the first time in this series, I actually sympathized with Mary Jane. I’ve never been fond of this character; she always seemed, well… bitchy. Yet in this movie she has plenty of good reasons to be angry with Peter. Harry’s story also comes full circle and the end result is a fantastic finale. His character is far more crucial in this film than the last two and it was good seeing him get so much screen time.

The real problems in this movie lie in the villains. For all the hype surrounding Venom, he should not have been in this film and Eddie’s character should have been omitted with it. It’s no secret that Raimi isn’t a fan of the Venom character, so it comes as no surprise that the concept of this villain was underdeveloped. That said I wish more time was spent on Marko Flint, the Sandman, as he was far more interesting of a character. The worst scene is the exchange between Sandman and Venom when they first meet. Sandman is not a killer and his agreement with Venom was very out of character.

It must be really hard to spend time on comic book characters. They’re always so complex and when you clutter a movie with them something feels missing. In the horrible “Batman & Robin” too much time was devoted to the villains and the heroes were a second priority. Yet here, in “Spider-Man 3”, more time is devoted to the heroes. I prefer it that way and, with the exception of the underdeveloped Venom, our main characters had plenty of development and screen time to keep the overall story from losing the main idea: Revenge and “the battle within”.

Everyone is out for revenge in this movie and, because of this, many characters must confront themselves for their faults. It was clever to take this concept and apply it to characters other than Peter because it made everyone else so much more interesting. The end result was very appealing.

Not everyone will understand the humor to “Spider-Man 3”, which is okay. But to dislike the film solely because it’s cheesy is to dislike it for the wrong reasons. Raimi understands how the summer movies work. In an age where people try to present giant transforming robots “realistically”, Raimi understands that doing so is ridiculous. Some source material just shouldn’t be made realistically-- So why not have fun with it? “Spider-Man 3” dares to not wear a straight face and poke fun at itself when it so desperately needs to be poked.

In the end “Spider-Man 3” has its flaws, but none in the cheese department. These movies have always been cheesy, that’s part of their charm. The flaws lie in the inclusion of Venom and the underdeveloped concept of the villains. Otherwise Tobey Maguire plays the part just as well as he always has. The characters are tested even further and this self-parody of a movie ends in something of a post-modern tragedy. It’s not the best of Spider-Man’s adventures, but it sure is his most fun.

*** out of ****

Monday, July 30, 2007

Croc vs. Shark, Oh Boy...

New Line Cinema has decided to put out yet another movie on the same level of genius as "Snakes on a Plane". They are currently looking for a director for their film with the working title of "Croc vs. Shark". No it's not a Sci-Fi original motion picture film, they're actually planning to release this in theaters. The story is about a flooded Austrailian town infested with crocs and sharks that begin fighting each other. I just want to point out this is the same studio that gave us "The Lord of the Rings". That is all.
No release date has been set, but I can assume 2008 is a likely time for this to be released.

Iron Man Mk. 1

Pictures from Comic Con o fthe Iron Man suit "Mark 1" have surfaced. Kind of cool. I really hope this movie is good. Click to enlarge:

Joker vs. Dawes

The first still from "The Dark Knight" has surfaced. Heath Ledger as The Joker seems to be threatening Rachel Dawes, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Click to enlarge.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

TRAILER - "The Dark Knight" Teaser

Here it is. One of most highly anticipated comic book superhero movies of the decade has finally unleashed its teaser among fans, nerds and movie goers a like. It's a much better teaser than "Begins" and gives off a very ominous feel. I for one can't wait! The Dark Knight!

July, 2008!

Abrams' Secret: "1-18-08" Info and Poster

Well J.J. Abrams is at it again with his mystery monster movie. He has revealed that the inspiration came to him with Japan. He's noticed how much Japan loves and embraces Godzilla and has been quoted saying, "America needs its own Godzilla." He hopes to create a monster that is just as much loved and looked up too (no pun intended) as the King of the Monsters. That said, he has put to rest that it is not a "Parasite" and nor will the film be named that. And the name "Cloverfield" comes from the name of one of his offices in L.A. And for those of you out there's not Voltron either.
The project is almost done with shooting, but there is still no title. There was a poster found that said "Monstrous" on it, but he stated that it was not the real title of the movie. (Good... It's a bit too Sci-Fi original motion picture for my tastes.)
Finally, Abrams' released the official teaser poster which is nothing short of the coolest poster I've seen in a long time. Take a look and click to enlarge:

TRAILER - "Iron Man" Comic Con Version

A trailer, cut specifically for Comic Con, of "Iron Man" was revealed and I must admit...I'm very impressed. It was charming, funny and in the end, ever so badass. Reminded me a lot of "Ultraman: The Next". Robert Downey Jr. is very impressive in these trailers and I can see this being a lot of fun. Hopfully it wont be thrown aside dud like "The Fantastic Four" and "Ghost Rider".

Predator Peek

Nothing big, but here's a look at the new helmet the Predator is wearing in the, now changed title: "Aliens vs. Predator". (Notice they added an "s" for the sequel.) Anyway, I like it okay. It's not a big depature.

New Hulk Revealed

The new Hulk for "The Incredible Hulk" was revealed at Comic Con recently. Here's a peek at the green guy.

It's good to see the lime green coloring of Ang Lee's Hulk is gone, but is it really all that much different? The face looks meaner I suppose and the hair is a bit more wacky. Maybe I'm just not a fan of the Hulk concept? I don't know. I'll wait and see how this thing looks in motion.

"Star Trek" Warps on Its Way

The young and old Spock have been cast for J.J. Abrams' new "Star Trek". The official title of the film is no less than the original title of the first series. Zachary Quinto will be playing the young Spock and Leonard Nimoy will reprise his role as the older Spock. Currently, despite previous reports, they are trying to including William Shatner in the film reprising his role as Kirk. No young Kirk has been cast yet, and despite previous rumors, Matt Damon will not playing the part. Abrams has said they're looking for someone younger.
This makes sense to me and it's good to hear that Shatner is being recruited for the role. I hope he takes the job after this past misunderstanding that they didn't want him in the movie. Zach looks like a "logical" choice for Spock and I'm very excited to Nimoy back in the pointed ears as well. I actually really excited for this.
Below is Quinto and Nimoy shaking hands at Comic Con:

And here is the new teaser poster for "Star Trek". I love the old school font. Click to enlarge: