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Friday, July 11, 2008

TRAILER - Max Payne

The first trailer for the "Max Payne" film has been released. It's not quite as I imagined it would look and much hope I had for it has been squashed by this trailer which looks like its inspired to be a "Transporter" or "Hitman" quality movie. No doubt it looks fun, but I wonder what Wahlberg sees in it to be apart of.

Theaters, October 17.

Favreau Back for "Iron Man 2"

Well, it's official. Marvel has reached a deal with Jon Favreau, director of "Iron Man," to do a sequel. It seems both parties are satisfied with the deal and Favreau got the raise he was looking for from Marvel Studios. "Iron Man 2" is scheduled for an April, 2010 release.

Previously, Favreau reported that he's worried the production will be rushed and wants to take more time to strengthen the script. He has his paycheck, will marvel give him more time? I'm sure we'll be hearing more on the production of "Iron Man 2" in the not too distant future.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

REVIEW - "The Happening" (2008)

Well he’s done it! M. Night Shyamalan has done it! “The Happening” is not simply his worst film to date, but the worst movie I’ve seen this summer. I’m not sure what was going through M. Night’s head while writing the script for this movie. Certainly he wasn’t trying to sabotage his own career, but he might as well have. In what I firmly believe should have been titled, “An Inconvenient Truth 2: Revenge of the Plants,” “The Happening” does exactly what Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” did for me years ago: Encourage me, with great annoyance, to destroy nature.

Mark Wahlberg plays the “cool” science teacher Elliot Moore that tries to escape with his wife (Zooey Deschanel) from a “happening” (Whoa! The title!) that is causing people to kill themselves. I wish I had more to tell you plot-wise, but there’s not much more to it than that.

I’m writing this review kind of late so I’m sure I’m not spoiling anything when I say the plants are behind all of this. Yes, the trees, grass, plants of all sorts are releasing some sort of pheromone that cause something in the human brain to activate a suicide command and that’s that! If this is M. Night’s idea of helping out the whole Global Warming and pollution issue he needs to rethink his message. As it stands, the logical thing to do if trees began attacking us is to kill them all. Then again, Shyamalan also created characters that are somehow able to outrun the wind. Apparently he needs to rethink other ideas as well.

The script left no mercy for the actors. Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel, two A-List actors as far as I’m concerned, have never looked so lost. There are moments where it seems like Wahlberg is tripping over his lines. Any other time he’s simply under-acting; giving a lackluster delivery that comes off as cheesy and is impaired further by Shyamalan’s “in-your-face” camera shots. Perhaps I wouldn’t have noticed Wahlberg’s poor performance if I wasn’t able to see straight in to his eye every other shot.

“The Happening” also seems to be intent on being poetic when really there’s just no reason behind some of the choices made in this movie. The old woman at the end of the film, Mrs. Jones, was interesting enough to be tied in to the overall occurrences within the film and thus leading to some solid resolution. As it turns out the character is nothing more than a senile woman who adds nothing to the overall story. No, Mr. Shyamalan, I don’t get it. You have me. Why was she there?

I’m also sure someone in the world believes Shyamalan’s mindless killing off of children, so that the main characters could be alone, was really a decision made to honor some moral message concerning mankind’s selfish need to survive. Hey, if they can look way too far in to an obvious plot device, so can I!

I want so badly for this review to tell you that this was M. Night’s big comeback—That “The Happening” is a fantastic film that brings back Shyamalan’s faith-based storylines with his powerful characters. It is not though. The man has finally made a movie worse than “The Village” and created something so bad that I don’t think I can look forward to any more of his films. He created three great gems and then plummeted head first in to frivolous dreck. If this review seems sparse it’s because “The Happening” didn’t give me a lot to think about. Even as I think of all the negatives, a movie with so little leaves only so little to talk about.

½ out of ****

REVIEW - "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" (2008)

When “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” came out I was mildly entertained by the vision of C.S. Lewis that wanted so badly to be the next “Lord of the Rings.” It was a fine movie, but it wasn’t a masterpiece. There were issues in pacing, visuals and overall adapting the story—It felt like director Andrew Adamson understood little about making a book in to a movie and used past, successful fantasy films as a visual and climatic template to create the first Narnia flick. And while “Prince Caspian” looks more like “The Two Towers,” and “Return of the King,” than ever, the series does feel as if its coming in to its own. Errors made in the previous film are corrected and Adamson sends “Narnia” in to much darker, exciting and controversial territory.

Peter, Edmund, Lucy and Susan are returned to Narnia after a year in their own time, but a thousand years in Narnia’s. Upon their arrival they find Narnia has long since been ravaged, with much of the magic drained and the world ruled by the tyrant King Miraz. Meanwhile, Prince Caspian, last noble remnant of Miraz’s rule, escapes his kingdom and allies with the remaining Narnians to claim his throne and return order to Narnia. At the same time, Aslan is long since missing.

With the Christian metaphors less obvious and better suited for debate, Narnia is used as a backdrop for man’s careless rule in addition to their cruelty. My favorite scene includes Lucy trying to talk to a bear that seems to be wild. A dwarf, Trumpkin, saves her and the Pevensie children are baffled as to why the bear seemed so mindless—He wouldn’t talk, was scavenging for food and nearly killed Lucy. “You get treated like a wild animal long enough, and you become one.” Trumpkin explains. In a beautiful contrast, however, one of Narnia’s finest warriors is a mouse with a sword: Reepicheep. As the final battle for Narnia ensues, many of Miraz’s warriors are enamored by the fact that this mouse is completely out classing them. “You people have no imagination!” he exclaims, as he tears in to more soldiers. (A side note: Reepicheep was by far my favorite character in this movie.)

Reepicheep’s words are the backbone of “Prince Caspian.” Imagination. Fantasy is a very particular art form used as a metaphor for many epic and powerful things. This film embraces that concept without apology and uses it constantly. Whereas the previous film felt cliché in its references to faith, this movie immerses itself in teachings and contrasts so that it is no longer preaching; it’s simply a fantastic companion piece to the moral law, and a beautiful character study on the potential and flaws of humankind.

Meanwhile, the characters from the previous film are more riveting than ever. Peter seems to overestimate his abilities as a leader, which causes conflict between him and Caspian. Lucy’s faith in Aslan is stronger than ever, believing like the child she is and convincing the audience that she is, through her faith, the strongest character in the lot. And Edmund, who became my favorite of the four Pevensie kids in this film, seems ever stronger from his mistakes made in the previous film. His quick, wordless answer to the White Witch’s return is another one of my favorite scenes from the film. It was perfect.

The film’s 11th hour puts everything on the line. We get to see Peter battle it out with King Miraz one-on-one as Lucy sets off on a seemingly irrational journey to find Aslan. The ending result is an epic battle between man and all the fantastical elements of Narnia that have yet to be seen. The climax is every bit as strong as it should be and the ending leaves us wishing there was more hope of a return to the fantastical land.

Acting, effects, narrative—“The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian,” is a borderline masterpiece. If it weren’t for the fact that Andrew Adamson is still coming in to his own as a director, it might’ve been more memorable. But improvement is still improvement and few films have done it as well as “Prince Caspian.” It stands next to “Iron Man” among the summer’s best and gives “Narnia” a better name for itself.

***½ out of ****

REVIEW - "Speed Racer" (2008)

Whether you liked the Matrix Trilogy or not you have to applaud the Wachowski Brothers visual innovation. Their visions of surreal worlds and settings have pushed special effects to places they’ve never gone. It isn’t unprofessional to say that “Speed Racer” is a very cool looking movie, thanks to the unique visual style that the Wachowskis have imagined. It’s something to be marveled at and commended for—It’s simply a shame that the same amount of care and precision didn’t go in to the rest of the film. While “Speed Racer” is fun to watch, it’s as cluttered as a movie can be due to the lack of experience the Wachowskis have in creating family films.

Speed Racer is introduced as a gifted, young racecar driver who has followed in the footsteps of his older brother—Another young driver that was killed in a race when Speed was very young. Speed’s talent is noticed by the owner of the corrupt Royalton Company who quickly tries to recruit Speed in to his arsenal of drivers. When Speed refuses, life gets tough on him and his family—That is until a mysterious hero, Racer X, hands him an offer to bring down the Royalton empire. Speed accepts the challenge which leads him in to a massive cross country battle zone and the realization that his long lost brother might still be alive.

For those who don’t know, “Speed Racer” is based on an anime series that is popular in America for being one of the first aired in the States. As such a film, it has a fan-base that would rip the creators to shreds if it weren’t accurate. From what I understand, the fan-base has greatly enjoyed the movie, so it either: A) Must be doing something right or B) The original show wasn’t that great itself. I remember seeing reruns of the show when I was a wee-lad, but I can’t recall the quality of it. What I can remember are the visuals. And if there’s anything to be praised about this film, it’s the way it looks, feels and… well… “drives.”

The effects accomplish a live action anime feel—It’s colorful, surreal, doesn’t look or sound realistic, but maintains a quality about it that makes you believe it’s real. The race/battle scenes are jaw dropping. It’s as if the cars have been equipped to do kung fu as they spin around on sharp turns, smashing other cars out of the way and leap over vehicles in front of them for a quick getaway. Because of this I really wanted to like the movie; but it’s truly a mess.

The acting is fine, especially on Matthew Fox’s part as Racer X, but the characters are engulfed in a scenario so confused as to whether or not it wants to appeal to children or adults that they just end up looking goofy. Why was it necessary for John Goodman to partake in a horrible kiddy-kung fu fight that made me cringe? “It must appeal to the younger crowd!” Is what the Wachowskis were probably thinking. But at the same time why would children find much of the films’ subject matter appealing at all. They wouldn’t.

Here’s a fine example of how the Wachowskis think: They don’t know how to put a single element in to the film that will appeal to both parent and child, so they insert separate elements that might appeal to each. For the children they have Speed’s younger brother and pet Monkey getting high on candy and overacting entire scenes that try to be comedic. These additions only appeal to the most juvenile of audiences. On the other side you have Racer X, Matthew Fox’s dark, gritty, ass kicking enigma of a character that had me wanting him on screen more than anyone. Make no mistake, Racer X is one amazing badass and he certainly made the film more enjoyable for me. He is easily the most interesting character in the movie. Many older audiences would probably agree with this. Would the kids? No, they want to see children their age act like they’re sun tanning with monkeys and get involved with infantile mischief. This is the mess of “Speed Racer.” It has so many elements littered all throughout the movie to appeal to different audiences that by the end its not sure if it’s a children’s movie, an action flick or a family film.

I’m not sure why, but a part of me really did enjoy the movie. It was fun while it lasted, but the aftertaste is pretty bad. I don’t think I want to see another “Speed Racer” movie. Though if the world must endure a sequel the Wachowskis need to find someone capable of creating something with a target audience. Stick to “The Matrix” and “V for Vendetta” guys.

*½ out of ****