Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Boondock Saints 2: All Saints Day

"Let's do some gratuitous violence."

All Saints Day is a fun, exciting action flick that manages to recapture enough of the original movie to satisfy our nostalgia. Having said that I think it rather suffers from the Die Hard 2 syndrome, in that while it is a good movie in its own right, as a sequel to The Boondock Saints, it feels like it lacks something. As of now it has an average of 20% on Rotten Tomatoes, but lets be honest this is not a movie the vaunted critics were ever going to like, they're still spending their time swooning over Jim Cameron and Avatar. If on the other hand we flick RT over to user reviews, then the score jumps to 81%.

The plot is a little different this time around. In the first movie we saw the story of how the MacManus brothers became the avenging angels we have come to love in the year s since. This story begins several years later where Connor, Murphy and their father have apparently moved back to Ireland and live a quiet life on a remote farm. Back in Boston, a priest is murdered and the body is staged to look like the Saints did it. This doesn’t sit too well with the brothers who immediately make their way back to Boston to enact vengeance upon anyone responsible. On their journey the encounter Romeo, a feisty Mexican who winds up joining the brothers as something of a replacement for the beloved Rocco who perished in the first movie. From here on out its your typical day in the life of the Saints, which entails guns, guns and more guns.

I was very glad to see that they were able to get all the old faces back together for this sequel. The three Boston PD detectives return (Greenly, Duffy and Dolly), though some of them look a little worse for wear (namely Greenly). Willem Dafoe’s agent Smecker is sadly not present, but Julie Benz actually does a great job as his replacement (she does use a southern accent that takes a bit of getting used to though). Of course both Connor and Murphy are played by the same actors and even Billy Connolly returned (he has a much larger role this time around).

Some things did change though. The cuts between the cops running the crime scene and the Saints committing the crime were a little rougher than in the first movie. During the introduction of Julie Benz agent Bloom there were also some weird cuts that seemed a little out of place. One other gripe I could make is that if you hadn’t seen the first movie, you might be a bit lost as to what’s going on in this one.

The music was once again excellent. Some great accompanying scores really make the scenes come alive on screen. Especially when the brothers visit their friendly neighborhood arms dealer, once again played by Richard Fitzpatrick.

I had a great time watching this movie, the plot was solid, the acting was once again great and the score was terrific. Another nice touch is that this one begs for a sequel much more than the first did. The final scene hints that we may not have to wait nearly as long for the third chapter as we did for the second (and features a really exceptional cameo, that I did not see coming). We can only hope!! If you loved the first movie as much as I did, you owe it to yourself to see this one in theaters. Don't forget to buy it on DVD too.

Final Verdict on The Boondock Saints 2: All Saints Day:

Friday, November 27, 2009

Ninja Assassin

"Betrayal begets blood."

Ninja Assassin is an action packed adrenaline fueled adventure if there every was one. As expected it was also big on the blood and action element of the ninja lifestyle. Surprisingly the plot was actually remarkably serviceable for a movie with such a spectacularly cheesy title. 

The movie opens with something of a showcase of the ninjas abilities and something of a taste of things to come. A gang of loudmouth Yakuza are lounging around a bar having fun when an envelope full of black sand is delivered to the head honcho. Seconds later bodies are being sliced in half, limbs are being severed left and right, and copious amounts of blood are being splattered across the walls. Next we cut to the backbone of the story here, in that a couple of investigators working for Europol (of all the multinational investigative services in the world they picked Europol, I am at a loss) have begun to suspect that several assassinations over the past thousand or so years have been conducted by a secret society of ninjas. A little on the cheesy side, but that's acceptable. Interwoven with their investigation are glimpses into the life of Raizo, clearly a ninja, but perhaps not a member of the deadly assassin society. Throughout a series of flashbacks we learn that Raizo was raised by the clan and taught to be a ninja, but after his first real kill decided it wasn't for him and left (in a rather bloody brawl as you may imagine). Raizo wants the head of the clan and he's willing to work with the Europol agents to do it. Will any of them survive this somewhat suicidal mission, will Raizo get his revenge? The answers make for a reasonably entertaining, and rather exciting, 90 minutes.

Usually I would talk a bit about the acting and casting at this point. Well there wasn't much acting on display in the movie, which actually doesn't hurt it all that much. Why? Well because this a movie about ninjas, the quintessential strong silent types. If nothing else the actors all look the part. Especially the leading role of Raizo (played by Rain) who brings the whole movie up a notch with his somewhat withdrawn, but none the less imposing, presence. Naomie Harris and Ben Miles on the other hand, were not all that convincing as Europol agents. Ben Miles in particular comes across more as an accountant than a field agent. Not the best casting choice there I think.

I'm not sure where the concept for the movie comes from. I will, however, say that if you treat this movie as if it is a comic book, you will get much more enjoyment out of it. The excessive amount of blood on display immediately made me think of Punisher: War Zone, not a terribly good movie, but a pretty decent comic book adaptation. Well, the stunts on display in this movie are incredible, and the martial arts look great, but the whole experience is ramped up to the extent that it just doesn't look real anymore. It does look terrific on screen, but there is a sense of detachment from reality, something that can only be resolved by placing the story firmly in the domain of comic-book-land. Is this a bad thing? Depends on your opinion of comic book movies I guess. Personally I rather liked it, I don't imagine I'll be rushing out to see it again, nor will I be adding it to my DVD collection, but overall I thought it was a pretty entertaining 90 minutes and I have no regrets about spending the money to see it.

The only flaw I can really pick with the movie is that our leading man Raizo is made out ot be something of a Terminator, the guy just can't be killed. At various points in the movie he shrugs off wounds that seem to kill every other ninja he comes into contact with. Again though, if you put on your comic book glasses the idea of superhuman heroes is a pretty easy sell.

So to sum up, Ninja Assassin is not winning any awards for best picture anytime soon, nor does it have a great screenplay. What the movie does have is really beautiful martial arts coupled with a plot that actually does make sense. If you have a some time and money to spare, there are far worse movies you could see than Ninja Assassin, give a shot, just be sure to leave the kids at home.

Final Verdict on Ninja Assassin

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Men Who Stare at Goats

"I'm a Jedi warrior"

This is the kind of movie that the critics love to destroy. Funny that I don't include myself in the term 'the critics' even though, essentially, I am one. The movie is fun, crazy escapism if nothing else, but it goes on the list of movies that reveal too much in the trailer. Note to the studios, when making a comedy it is better if you DON'T put all the best gags in the trailer. Anyway, it's sitting at 55% on Rotten Tomatoes, with a consensus thus: "Though The Men Who Stare at Goats is a mostly entertaining, farcical glimpse of men at war, some may find its satire and dark humor less than edgy." Honestly I can't really bring myself to disagree with that statement (I'll elaborate on that later.)

The plot, such as it is, begins with an aspiring journalist, Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor). In a short space of time, Bob discovers that his wife is cheating on him, with his editor no less, and has a rather tough time dealing with it. So he does the thing all guys do, he catches a flight to the middle east with the hope of writing a piece on the war effort. While there he stumbles upon Lyn Cassady (George Clooney) a somewhat unhinged character who is heading into the war zone, Bob seizes the opportunity and offers to join him. From here on out we are given glimpses into Lyn's past as a 'super soldier' as we follow the duo into the desert, in search of Lyn's former commanding officer Bill Django (Jeff Bridges). The whole situation is very similar to that of Spy's Like Us

Clooney delivers a terrific performance, but he does manage to maintain a certain level of consistency in that regard, the only movies that could be called 'iffy' on his part are (I think) Out of Sight, The Peacemaker and Batman and Robin. McGregor delivered his lines brilliantly, especially all the Jedi references, which of course contain a certain level of sub-text. Kevin Spacey is a cut above too, with his campy and over the top 'super villian' style character. It reminded me of his part in See No Evil, Hear No Evil, great stuff. Finally I have to acknowledge Jeff Bridges, who manages to deliver a very Dude like quality to his role. Bridges is one of those actors best known for comedy, that can also pull off really good dramatic work too (don't believe me, watch The Big Lebowski followed by Arlington Road and then we'll' talk.)

Sadly even great performances by the actors involved can't save the movie from a plodding slow pace that really detracts from what could have, and maybe even should have, been a great movie. The pace was somewhat similar to The International (another movie I criticized for its pacing) in that I was surprised to see that only 20 minutes had gone by when it felt like an hour. Things don't happen terribly fast int he movie, which is a bit odd for a 90 minute comedy. Additionally one scene didn't really seem to flow all that well into another, it was all very haphazard, again similar to The International.

The story is fun and the actors are clearly having a good time, but overall I just felt that the movie lacked that spark of greatness that I was hoping for. As a result I couldn't help but feel a little let down. It's not a bad movie, it's just not really all that good either. In regards to the humor, I have to agree with the RT critics in that it is 'less than edgy'. Though that is possibly less the fault of the writers and more a fact of life, the average audience today has been exposed, at times, to excessively dark and sometimes even morbid humor, such that lines that should be cutting close to the bone in this movie, have lost a lot of their impact. After the hilarious gags in the trailer I was hoping for something really fun and off the wall, instead I got a rather vanilla comedy/drama where all the best lines were spoiled in the trailer. Great potential, but sadly poorly realized on screen, I have to advise against spending money on this one, maybe rent the DVD if you're tired of staring at the walls, otherwise skip it.

Final Verdict on The Men Who Stare at Goats:

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Couples Retreat

"We have found a great group rate."

As expected, predictable, typical Hollywood ending, but yet still entertaining. The best laughs were NOT in the trailer which was good, and it was fun, but it's still your typical romantic comedy. In short there is nothing new here.

The plot of Couples Retreat is not exactly groundbreaking, but it does deliver some nice laughs. Four couples, all of them in a rut of some kind, decide to attend a week long retreat in a tropical paradise. As you might expect things don't go entirely according to plan. In some cases relationships are brought to the breaking point instead of being mended. Can these relationships be salvaged? Is there ever any doubt? If you have seen even one romantic comedy in the last 30 years, you already know the answer.

Now, I wouldn't call this a bad movie, but it wasn't groundbreaking either. Vince Vaughn (Dave) is what you might call a character actor, he tends to play that over the top comic relief type guy in most movies, and this one is no exception. Though I would point out that he is a little less energetic in this one than he has been in other movies, which I found a welcome change. The remainder of the cast delivered a pretty serviceable performance, at least for this kind of movie. Jon Favreau (Joey) was especially fun to watch, I believe this is the first time he has paired up with Vaughn since Swingers, and they played off each other quite well. Malin Åkerman was quite convincing as the well meaning wife (Ronnie) of Vaughn. Jason Bateman (Jason) and Kristen Bell (Cynthia) delivered good laughs as the obsessively prepared couple on the verge of divorce and Kristen Davis (Lucy) was clearly having fun as the promiscuous, long suffering wife of Favreau.

As I've pointed out already, this is your typical romantic comedy, in the end everyone goes home happy. Now I have no problem with the genre as a whole, but it is somewhat discouraging that Hollywood is continuing to perpetuate the illusion that couples can always work things out. Come on guys, you are systematically damaging and entire generation of people out there - give us a small measure of reality once in a while. Anyway I actually did quite enjoy this movie, despite the cliche ending. The laughs were both numerous and varied, and the trailer did not spoil the best ones. The acting was pretty good and the ending wasn't completely sappy. However, I can't shake the feeling that the whole thing fell rather flat in the delivery. On the whole the movie didn't leave me completely satisfied, it lacked that small spark of greatness; which is a shame because it had great potential. The pacing was good, I was never bored, but overall Couples Retreat rather blends in to every other RomCom out there.

Not great, but not terrible either. My advice: wait for the DVD or catch a showing on cable. Don't spend the time or money seeing it in the theater. In all honesty I think the inevitable directors cut might deliver a more well rounded and entertaining product.

Final Verdict on Couples Retreat:

Friday, October 16, 2009

Law Abiding Citizen

It’s gonna be biblical.”

While I enjoyed Law Abiding Citizen it wasn’t quite the typical revenge piece I was expecting, and was (unsurprisingly) capped with a Hollywood ending. Clyde’s rampage extends beyond the traditional payback scenario and, I think, a little to far into the realm of a psychotic killer. RT currently has this movie sitting at 15%, now I think perhaps that is a little harsh. Sure it’s not Oscar worthy, but when Gamer gets a better average than this, I have to start asking some questions.

Law Abiding Citizen begins with the character of Clyde Shelton (Butler), an apparently everyday guy living a normal life with his wife and daughter. Shortly thereafter, Clyde and his family are the victims of a particularly brutal home invasion, during which both his wife and daughter are murdered. We quickly skip ahead to the trail where, thanks to district attorney Nick Rice (Foxx), one of the murderers is receiving a reduced sentence of three years in exchange for his testimony. Obviously this news does not sit too well with our protagonist. This concludes the set up for the movie, which was thankfully quite short, and 10 years later we get right into the action. Clyde is out for revenge, not just on those who killed his family, but also on those in the justice department; a system that Clyde believes is broken, corrupt and beyond redemption.

Let me point out that I quite enjoy F. Gary Gray’s movies; I loved The Negotiator, I quite enjoyed The Italian Job, and I even saw some merits in A Man Apart. Gray is a surprisingly good director considering his background in rap videos and the atrociously bad Friday. This movie, I believe, is another win for Gray. It is also somewhat typical of his directorial style. If we consider The Negotiator and A Man Apart to be indicative of Gray’s direction, this movie shares a similar flare; sticking to that dark, gritty, real world feel.

I have pointed out previously that I count myself a fan of Gerard Butler, so it will come as no surprise that I liked his part in this movie. Butler is becoming a really strong almost A list actor; he appears to be getting more and more top billed roles of late. Butler is rather close to my heart being born in the same small town in Scotland, but I would also argue that he is just an all round good actor. He has that rare ability to play both sides of the coin. In this movie, and even in 300, Butler portrays a very gritty, dark and dramatic character. In movies such as Rocknrolla and The Ugly Truth he portrays very light hearted comic roles with just as much conviction. As much as I am a fan of Butler, I also have to admit to having an irrational dislike for Jamie Foxx. There's nothing specific about him that illicits that feeling, thus the reason I call it an irrational dislike. I think it was Collateral that sealed his fate in my mind, I mean come on the taxi driver defeats the world class assassin – nonsense!! Anyway, I thought he did a pretty good job in this one, perhaps this is my own bias speaking here, but I don’t think he has much range as an actor. He has that Keanu Reeves wooden feel, and he always seems to play the same part (not that there is anything wrong with character actors, but I don’t get the sense he does it intentionally).

As to the rest of the case, there was some really nice talent crammed into the supporting roles here. First and foremost is Colm Meaney as Detective Dunnigan. I just love seeing Colm Meaney on the big screen again, he’s an example of a terrific character actor, he always plays a tough as nails, rough around the edges kind of guy (even Chief O’Brien had a dark side as seen in DS9). Bruce McGill also has a nice role in this one. He’s one of those actors that pops up all over, usually in supporting roles. Quite often you see him in as one of the token military advisors. Never the less he’s a good actor and brings a great presence to the screen (not unlike Barry Henley). Others to watch for include Lesley Bibb as D.A. Sarah Lowell and Michael Irby as Detective Garza. You should recognize Bibb from her cameo in Iron Man and Irby will be familiar to those who watched The Unit on CBS. All told I felt the casting was pretty good throughout.

While the movie gets things right by moving things along at a good pace, some of the actions taken by Clyde, in my opinion,  stretch the patience of the audience. Initially he is a very sympathetic character, his family are brutally murdered and he wants justice. I have to admit I am a sucker for a good revenge story, ever since my first viewing of Death Wish I have been hooked on that particular sub genre. I’m also rather fond of Frank Castle so Law Abiding Citizen seemed to really fit the bill for me. Things change about half way into the movie though, when Clyde starts to pursue those in the justice system. Anyone remotely connected to the case is a target in Clyde’s plot, even Rice’s legal team. Personally I think that the writers erode any sympathy the audience has with regard to Clyde when innocent people start getting targeted. The reason why people rooted for Paul Kersey and Frank Castle is because they punished the guilty and they sought justice (granted it was a brutal and some would say barbaric sense of justice, but justice none the less). When Clyde goes beyond that, he breaks the ‘rules’ associated with revenge. Personally I think that was a mistake, and the movie suffers a little because of it. My feeling was that, as we entered the third act, I didn’t know who to root for anymore. Jamie Foxx’s character was still in the wrong for cutting the deal in the first place (the movie sets him up as the ‘bad guy’ from the start), but our protagonist (Butler) has gone so far as to become a villain himself. When there are no heroes, no good guys, who are we (the audience) supposed to connect with. I think what they were trying to do was flip it, turn Clyde from victim to villain and turn Rice from villain to victim. A nice idea, but I think they failed to really pull it off.

After all that though, this does still fit into that niche of revenge movie that I love so much. So I was entertained and I did enjoy it. It is, however, not a great movie. It’s no Death Wish, that was and is a classic so nothing else can come close. Neither is it so clear cut as The Punisher (I know people had issues with the Tom Jane version and even I had to admit the recent War Zone movie had problems). The Punisher, as the name suggests, punishes the guilty. He does not, ever, take an innocent life. while you can argue the moral implications of vigilantism for eternity, there’s no denying that it makes for a hell of a plot device. Law Abiding Citizen tries to be it’s own animal by defying some of those ‘revenge movie’ staples, but ends up falling short and leaving the audience with a rather flat Hollywood ending where the good guys prevail, yet again.

So should you see this one? If you catch a showing on FX sometime, or if you can snag it via streaming on Netflix then sure take a look. I wouldn’t be inclined to make a special trip to the theatre for it though, nor would I rush out to buy the DVD.

Final Verdict on Law Abiding Citizen:

Saturday, October 3, 2009


“What do you think, zombie kill of the week?”

Zombieland may in fact be the best zombie movie ever. Guts, gore, laughs, violence, this movie has it all in spades. Even the venerable Rotten Tomatoes has a rating of 89% at the time of writing.

Now down to business. There’s no monotonous 20 minutes set up for Zombieland, when the movie begins everyone is already a mindless flesh eating automaton. Our tour of the newly zombie infested United States is conducted by Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) who is attempting to get back to Columbus, Ohio to find his parents (whom he hopes are still alive). Along the way he explains the ‘rules’ of survival in Zombieland, such as rule number 2: The double tap (always make sure they are dead). At various points in the movie we are treated to a few of these choice rules, which add a little comic flavor. During his travels Columbus encounters veteran zombie hunter Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), and sibling survivors Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) and they all team up in the interest of survival.

Woody Harrelson is terrific in this role, his character has a twisted and dark sense of humor which fits well alongside the backdrop of a zombie apocalypse. Jesse Eisenberg turns in another hum drum performance though, if you saw Adventureland then you’ll recognize both the actor and the character – in that there appears to be no difference between the two. Emma Stone, if nothing else, is nice to look at for 40 plus minutes. As far as I’m concerned she is still an unproven actress, but with the looks alone she’s off to a good start (at least by the Megan Fox standard of acting). Kudos to Abigail Breslin, typically the ‘kid’ character in these kind of movies is both tiresome and irritating, not so in Zombieland. I rather enjoyed the fact that they bounce some jokes off of her based on her age (for example, not knowing who Bill Murray is). Oh, and yes, as you are likely already aware from the atrocious internet spoilers, Bill Murray has a cameo in this movie, and he’s great (really its Bill Murray, how could he not be great).

The director sticks to the typical zombie staples, established in classics like Evil Dead. This is not a criticism of the movie, because genre flicks like this should stick to those accepted norms. The blood splatter, the excessive violence, the hot chick and the reluctant hero. All classics, and all perfectly acceptable attributes of a good zombie flick.

For what it is, I really can’t pick out to many faults with this movie, it makes the wise decision of sticking to the 90 minute mark. Movies like this can’t run for 2 hours, it just doesn’t work. The cast were all good and worked well together. It was certainly a good move paring up the rather bland Eisenberg with the totally over the top Harrelson, it balances out beautifully.

Overall, fun movie, great zombie flick and worth the price of a ticket. Go see it.

Final Verdict on Zombieland

Sunday, September 6, 2009


"Turn me loose!"

High octane thrill rides don't come much higher or octanier (octane-ier?) than this. Butler delivers another solid performance as a man on a mission in a game he's not expected to win. But I couldn't help but feel that it lacks that elusive spark of genius. Instead I think it levels out at an average rating at best, which is sad because it had such potential.

I believe that I went into this one with the right mind set. It was a goofy popcorn flick, in fact when discussing it we came to the conclusion that it was in fact the spiritual successor to The Running Man. Given that fact, this movie was not going to be an academy award winner, so that facet of my brain was kept sufficiently in check. It did however have enough of a story to keep it out of the dark pit inhabited by Michael Bay's Transformers movies.

The plot revolves around a new form of entertainment that has taken the world by storm. Set in the not-so-distant future people are no longer content to play video games in which they control artificial 'sprites', no now they want to play as living, flesh and blood human beings. With the help of a nifty little sprinkling of nano tech (which is all the rage these days) that is exactly what they get. Two new games have cropped up, Societies (a game eerily similar to EA's The Sims) and Slayers (think Gears of War, if all the players were real people).

The controversy surrounds the fact that human players in Slayers really do die in the game. This is not paintball or laser tag, they use live fire weapons. The argument then, is that every player is a volunteer. They are death row inmates who are given the option of playing, if they survive 30 battles they are set free. Of course nobody survives 30 battles. As the movie starts Kable (Butler) is only two wins away from freedom, and the only man who has ever come that close. At the same time his wife Angie (Valletta) is attempting to win back custody of their daughter, while earning a living as an 'actress' in Societies. To make things a little more interesting, slightly unhinged, mogul Ken Castle (Hall) the inventor and owner of both Societies and Slayers, has no intention of letting Kable win his freedom. So what is really going on? Why does Castle not want to let Kable out? You'll have to watch to find out.

The acting was pretty good in this one seeing as it was an all out action brawler. Butler, and I have to admit to being a fan ever since RocknRolla, is really good in the action hero role. He's got that 'rough around the edges' look that just feels right for the downtrodden hero (I think it would be nice to see him as Snake in an Escape from New York remake.) Valletta plays against type in this one, previously I had only seen her in Hitch which was a far departure from her character in this one. It's worth noting that she was in fact playing two distinct characters in the movie. One was Angie, wife of Kable, the other was the somewhat bizarre and twisted alter ego in Societies (where she is being played by a stereotypically fat slob.)

Stealing the show is Michael C Hall, the guy is having a lot of fun with this part. At one point he even engages in a song and dance routine with a room full of nano controlled killers. He is really playing up the crazy southerner in the movie and if nothing else he succeeds in creating a character that you will love to hate. There is also a nice variety of cameos in the movie, including John de Lancie, John Leguizamo, Zoe Ball, Milo Ventimiglia and Chris 'Ludicris' Bridges; so watch out for those. Yes I did say Ludacris has a cameo, not a starring role, because he is barely in the movie at all.

The thing I really took away from Gamer was the parts of the movie that actually showcased the game of Slayers. Every now and then we are treated to the user interface of the game, which looked really good mapped on the real world setting. Kudos to the special effects department for that one. Of course if the best thing I took from the movie was the effects then that tells you something about it already. It's fun, it's entertaining, but I don't think it's eligible for repeat viewings. The action is great, the gun fights and explosions are all in there making it a good action flick, but somehow I don't think this is going to be added to my DVD collection. By comparison lets take a look at Die Hard. Now that movie is without doubt and action flick, but it is also supplied with some really snappy dialog and a villain that is almost likable (well for me anyway). Gamer doesn't have that snappy dialog, nor does it have the cool collected villain and as a result I think that it has to fall into the 'one hit wonder' category. There is just nothing in there that really encourages me to go back.

So where do I stand on Gamer? Is it fun? Yes it is. Is it entertaining? Yes it is. Is it worth a $9 ticket to see it? Sadly probably not. But AMC has $5 showings which are probably a more appropriate price point for this one. Overall it's fun, but nothing special so you wouldn't be missing all that much if you skipped it.

Final Verdict on Gamer:

Saturday, August 29, 2009

DVD Review: Fanboys

"We storm the ranch or we die trying"

gives us great laughs from start to finish, but also portrays a story that wont be forgotten within 10 minutes of the end credits. There are plenty of great comedies out there, but all to often they sacrifice a good story for the sake of a good laugh. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but when a movie comes along that manages to squeeze both into 90 minutes of cinematic glory you know you are watching something special.

Admittedly though, the creators clearly had a specific audience in mind for this one, and that audience is geeks. Most of the humor in here is going to center around the obscure references and in jokes referencing geek culture and Sci Fi in general. So if that's not you, then you need not read further because you probably wont enjoy the film. Or at least you wont enjoy it as much as the rest of us.

This is a movie that has seen a troubled development. There were endless delays and hang ups with the proposed cinematic release in theaters, which eventually never happened anyway. Instead the movie finally saw the light of day in the somewhat troubled direct to DVD format. Nobody has any respect for a movie that skips the theater, it's just the way of things. Granted the vast majority of such movies are indeed terrible, to the point of being unwatchable, but there are the occasional gems (Boondock Saints anyone?). Anyway, I rather wish this movie had gone to theaters because it would have made for a great flick to see with the guys.

The plot revolves around four friends who intend to break into Skywalker Ranch and steal the rough cut of Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace before it is released. Now that in itself sounds like your standard, all for laughs kind of movie. However, throw in the fact that one of the guys is terminally ill, and will otherwise not be able to see the movie and suddenly the story has a little more weight. Without doubt this is still a comedy though, so the ominous nature of the friends demise is kept on the back burner for much of the story, but it is still there. It would have been easy for them to remove that aspect in favor of a lighter story, but I am glad they stuck to their guns and kept it in. After all, the looming death is what separates this movie from the droves of other comedies out there.

The cast was terrific, I honestly can not fault a single casting choice in this movie. Sam Huntington (Eric), Chris Marquette (Linus), Dan Fogler (Hutch) and Jay Baruchel (Windows) all had great chemistry together, I could buy that these guys are long time childhood friends. Through in Kristen Bell (Zoe) as one of natures rarest of species, the geek chick, and you have a cast that really shines. Not to mention that they include a scene where Bell is dolled up in the Princess Leia Slave garb from Return of the Jedi. Lets not forget some great cameos from Seth Rogen, Danny Trejo, Billy Dee Williams, Kevin Smith, Jason Mewes, Ray Park, William Shatner and even Carrie Fisher. Everyone in this movie is clearly having fun with it, and it shines through in their performance.

As an added perk, the DVD comes with a Cast and Crew commentary and several hilarious deleted scenes. You can pick this one up for about $15 depending on where you buy it which is well worth it.

Final Verdict on Fanboys:

Monday, August 24, 2009

District 9

"Get your fookin' tentacle out of my face!"

A masterpiece of modern cinema. District 9 has elements of intelligent thrillers and blockbuster action movies; and it combines them to create something very unique and special. In short, it is a welcome distraction from the traditional summer "popcorn flick." At the time of this writing the movie is sitting pretty at 89% on Rotten Tomatoes.

I was very impressed when I walked out of the 10 a.m. showing of District 9 last weekend. I had seen all the trailers, I had heard the whispers of "this generations Bladerunner," but still I wasn't sold on the movie. If anything I went in thinking that it was going to be, if not bad, pretty average. I was very wrong; and I'm not too proud to admit it. District 9 blew me away, no doubt about it. The sheer scale of what they accomplished with a meager $30 million budget was nothing short of incredible. Michael Bay could learn a few things from Neill Blomkamp.

I think perhaps part of what makes the movie such a success is that I didn't really know what I was walking into. The trailers really don't give much away. Sure some key plot points are in there, the MNU agent, the alien community that is established in South Africa and the sense that something goes very wrong. As far as specifics though, the trailers are all very vague and it seems to work very well for the actual viewing of the movie. For that reason I really don't want to post a detailed plot synopsis for this one, instead I'd rather let you experience the story for yourself.. Part of my enjoyment was drawn from the fact that I really didn't know what was going to happen next. Right up until the credits rolled the movie managed to keep me guessing, never knowing which character was going to survive to the next scene. With the exception of the somewhat slow start, mostly down the documentary style of the beginning, the pacing of the movie comprised of a nice slow build to a really exciting and fast paced conclusion.

The casting was also very good. The entire cast was comprised of relative unknowns which I felt worked very well. This didn't feel like the kind of movie that would be suited to the likes of Brad Pitt or Matt Damon. On a more economical note, unknown actors would also have helped keep the cost down to that $30 million mark. Sharlto Copley who plays one of the leads, MNU agent Wikus Van De Merwe, delivered a very strong performance. Traditionally he would probably be considered the hero of the movie, but District 9 again does something different. Like his alien counterpart, named Christopher Johnson by the human MNU agents, he is not a traditional hero character, instead he is a very flawed man who takes several actions in the movie that almost cast him as a villain in the eyes of the audience. I was impressed by the fact that the director allowed his two lead characters to be so flawed, it adds to the reality of the movie and again keeps the audience guessing about what is going to happen next. It is also worth noting that somehow the director manages to convey the humanity of the aliens as well. I found that I cared just as much about what happened to Christopher as I did about Wikus. For a purely CG construct that didn't even speak English, this is a quite an accomplishment.

Quick word about the special effects. With a budget of just $30 million total the effects were comparable to that of Terminator or Star Trek. The image of the alien mothership is often dropped into the background of scenes, to the point that you almost don't even see it. You could look at that as a bad thing, but I'd say that it's a testament to the realism of the CG; it actually blended into the backdrop. The aliens, as a central plot of the story, also looked great. Of greater note though is the alien weaponry. Typically alien blasters in movies comprise of red or green laser beams/bolts which always seem rather bland for an alien weapon. In this movie when an alien weapon fires, there is very little on screen effect to symbolize a bolt, instead the sound is what delivers the experience. The trigger pulls, we hear the sound of the blast, then the target explodes. A really simple technique, but it looks great on screen.

I strongly urge people to check out this movie while it is still in theaters. It is more than worth the price of an $8 ticket. If you can get past the documentary style of the beginning, which did throw me for a bit, you'll experience one of the best movies to grace the screen this year.

Final Verdict on District 9: