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: