Monday, December 20, 2010

Tron Legacy

"In there, is a new world. In there, is our future. In there, is our destiny!"

Tron Legacy is a spectacular cinematic achievement, complete with fantastic visuals, an inspired soundtrack and a fun, exciting story. The reviews of the movie thus far have been extremely mixed, and I believe I understand why. I loved the movie, had a great time watching it, but I can accept that this movie probably doesn't have mass appeal. Additionally, if viewers have not previously seen Tron, the experience may not be quite as enthralling as it is for old Tron fans. None the less I feel that the movie should at least be in the 70%-80% range on RT as opposed to the rather meager 49% score that is has currently received.

Tron Legacy continues the story of Kevin Flynn, the hero of the original 80's classic. Twenty years after Flynn's mysterious disappearance, his son Sam Flynn (with the help of Kevin's old friend Alan Bradley) discovers what happened to his father all those years ago. Kevin was trapped in The Grid, a digital realm that Flynn was pioneering secretly in 1989 when he vanished. Sam inadvertently finds himself sucked into the same realm during his search for Kevin. What follows is Sam's desperate attempt to escape from The Grid and save his father in the process.

That is about as succinct as I can make my plot synopsis, hopefully it makes sense to those who have never heard of Tron and have no prior knowledge of how that particular universe works.

A critical part of what makes this movie work is the inclusion of original actors Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner as Flynn/CLU and Bradly/Tron. The presence of these guys on screen really ties everything together with the original movie. Bridges shoulders a tough job in this movie, playing both a hero and villian in the characters of Flynn and CLU. I'm happy to report he carries it off brilliantly, you will really believe that these are two different characters on screen. CLU, as you may know, is portrayed by Bridges but with the special digital de-aging to make him look like he did back in the cult 80's classic, more on that in a moment. Relative newcomer Garrett Hedlund was very convincing as Sam Flynn. The scenes he shares with Bridges were extremely well written and acted. The two actors really sold the father and son dynamic between Kevin and Sam. Olivia Wilde, best known for her role of Thirteen in House, also raised the bar for her acting ability in this movie. Her character, more than any other in the movie, has a real arc in the story, her character grows significantly from the time we meet her to the end credits. Certainly there is an 'eye-candy' aspect to her role, and there is no arguing she is nice to look at on screen, but I think she did a good job of portraying both a capable, deadly warrior and an innocent, somewhat naive child. I think the father role of Kevin Flynn applies just as much to Quorra as it does to Sam.

The visuals in this movie are spectacular, any one who has seen the trailers wont find that surprising. What is more important to me is that while the visuals are stunning, they are not overdone. I don't want to digress too much here, but one of my (many, many) complaints about Avatar is that there is too much on screen, too much color and spectacle. Tron Legacy wisely sticks to a constant aesthetic, black, white, blue and orange. Those are pretty much the only colors you see on screen - and I think the more reserved color palette improves the quality of the digital effects. The most visible effect in the movie is, naturally, the character of CLU. CLU is created by digitally de-aging Jeff Bridges to create the illusion that the character is the same age Bridges would have been in 89. About 99% of the time it works great, but there is always that feeling that it's not quite right... in the world of The Grid this is acceptable, but during a brief prologue in the real world at the movies opening it is a stark contrast to the real people he is interacting with. Overall though I think it works quite well, and combined with the other great visual effects, light cycles, light jets and even The Grid itself, Tron Legacy is without doubt a very impressive movie to watch.  

Finally I want to talk about the score. The music in the movie takes what would already be a good movie, and cranks it up to a great movie. Daft Punk penned and performed all the music for the movie, and even had a short cameo in a night club scene. The beat and tempo is controlled precisely to add to the content of the movie. The music becomes a great emotional boost to the scenes, ranging from hopeful to somber and exciting to mellow... Daft Punk clearly had a firm grasp of what each scene required, and boy did they deliver. Full disclosure: I did purchase the soundtrack the day after I saw the movie.. I liked it THAT MUCH!

So how will I sum up the movie? I admitted up front that a) I loved it and b) it's not for everyone. So let me try to expand on that. If I'm honest, and I do try to be, the story is probably the weakest part of the movie. Not to say that it's a bad story, but it does represent your typical Disney theme... which is the prince has to jump through hoops to rescue the princess. Cliche? You bet, but still when you couple that with the pulse pounding soundtrack and eye-popping special effects, it actually works quite well. Well... it does for me, but your mileage may vary. I think the thing that may put a lot of potential moviegoers off Tron Legacy is that they will misconceive it as a nerd/geek Sci-Fi movie. Let me assure it is not. This movie is a classic Disney fantasy tale wrapped up in the guise of a Sci-Fi flick.. so don't let that idea put you off from seeing it.

One more addendum before I close the book on Tron Legacy... if you are going to go see this one in theaters, see it in IMAX. I know I'm usually the one that says, IMAX isn't worth the money and 3D is just a fad, but if there is one movie that is well suited to the format... that movie is Tron Legacy - the visuals lend themselves well to the IMAX experience and the score/sound effects will never sound better than they do in an IMAX theater. Just my 2 cents - but as a guy who usually argues against such things, this is high praise indeed.

Final Verdict on Tron Legacy:

Friday, October 15, 2010

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

"It's about the game!"

Money Never Sleeps is not a movie that will please everyone, but then what movie does? The movie rather defies classification, in that it could be called a drama, a documentary, a thriller, or even a mystery. You could call it any of those things and you'd be correct. The fact that it doesn't really fit into any category stems from the idea that at different times in the movie it wears a different genre. This may cause some audience members to dismiss the movie, claiming it doesn't know what it wants to be or that it lacks identity. There is certainly an argument to be made in that regard, but I feel that it succeeds because of the mixed qualities, not in spite of them.

The movie is intended as a sequel to the 1984 movie Wall Street. It takes place 20 years after the end of the previous movie and tells the story of Gordon Gekko's (Michael Douglas) life after he is released from prison as he struggles to regain everything he lost. The backdrop to Gekko's story is the height of the economic troubles in the U.S as the Federal Government is called upon to bail out the banks and insurance companies that are "too big to fail" (yes that line makes it into the movie). Taking the place of Charlie Sheen's Bud Fox is Shia Labeouf as Jake Moore a fairly successful broker who is engaged to Gekko's daughter Winnie (Carrie Mulligan). Jake makes contact with Gordon in an effort to mend the relationship between Gekko and his estranged daughter, but quickly becomes an under-study to the once brilliant broker. From here the movie charts a year in the lives of these characters, how they relate to one another and how they all deal with the reality of an economic depression.

First of all, let me congratulate Michael Douglas for an outstanding performance, especially when you consider the fact that he had throat cancer during the shooting of this movie. He slips into the role of Gekko as if there was no gap between the shooting of the original movie and the sequel. This is without doubt his movie! I am also shocked to say that I actually quite liked Shia Lebeouf in this movie, I can't call myself a fan of the actor since he is a part of the Michael Bay Heresy, but this was the right role for him and he seems to have good chemistry with Douglas. Josh Brolin is also terrific as the sinister rival to our protagonists Bretton James who may or may not have a hand in the current economic mess. Special consideration for Eli Wallach as Jules Steinhardt, he doesn't have that many scenes in the movie, but every time he is on screen he demands you're attention, no small feat for a man in his 90's.

The one character I found somewhat extraneous to the plot is that of Winnie Gekko played by Carrie Mulligan. No offense to the actress, I just think the character didn't get to play a big enough part in the story to justify her presence. I know they had to have some link between Gekko and Jake, but I wonder if they could have found another way that didn't require them to squander the talents of Ms. Mulligan.

I think the thing that worked most about this movie was the commentary it made of the economic disaster which lead to a global recession in 2008. In fact I think this is the best way to watch the movie, as a faux documentary. There are some scenes that wouldn't feel out of place in a discovery channel special. Gekko really exemplifies how the system is broken, as even with all the damage being done around him he still manages to turn a profit. The developing relationship between Gekko and Jake is handled very well, from a Mentor and Apprentice dynamic to one that is a tad more volatile as Jake desperately tries to hold his life together.

Additionally, director Oliver Stone adds some great touches to the movie. My personal favorite being the use of the electronic stock ticker. He has several scenes in the movie where he superimposes the ticker onto the New York skyline, or around the shape of an office building, and it acts as an excellent transition while keeping the audience focused on the idea that this movie is about money, it's about what happens when you have a system built on credit and how one man with the right connections and instincts can make or break that system.

While there is certainly a cerebral aspect to the movie, it doesn't fail to entertain. I had a really good time watching the movie, I felt invested in characters, especially Gekko and Jake, while at the same time I can't honestly pinpoint how the hero or the villain really are. Almost every character in the movie has a certain shade of gray that casts some doubt onto whether we can really call them good or bad.

Final Verdict on Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps:

Monday, September 20, 2010

Scott Pilgrim Vs The World

"Time to break out the L word."

This movie was made for the likes of me, for the geeks. I'm certain there is something enjoyable here for the regular folks too, but as a geek, I was in my element watching Scott Pilgrim. The movie crams in so many references to geek culture and that classic temple of the 80's and 90's - the Arcade! Critics seemed quite receptive to it as well earning it an average of 81% on RT.

Michael Cera is Scott Pilgrim, a typical nerd/geek stumbling through life while living with his gay room mate Wallace Wells (Kieran Culkin). That is until he meets Ramona Flowers (the lovely Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and falls hopelessly in love with her. Turns out she's not oppposed to the idea of hooking up with Scott, but there is a slight complication in that, before they can live happily ever after, Scott must defeat Ramona's 7 evil ex's. Wow, compared with the amount of exposition I had to cover with The Expendables, that plot summary was a breeze by comparison. 

Loved pretty much every casting choice in the movie. Oddly I didn't get pissed off with Michael Cera this time - something which usually happens when I watch his characters (especially in Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist, but I have my own reasons for being antagonistic towards that movie) Kieran Culkin stole every scene he was in, ranging from dry humor to flat out slap stick. I'm pretty much always happy to see Mary Elizabeth Winstead so it's no surprise that was somewhat captivated by her screen presence. Without doubt though there is one actor in this movie that shamelessly outshines everyone. I am of course talking about Thomas Jane, who has an all to brief, but none the less EPIC cameo as a member of the vegan police. Trust me it's good. The one casting choice I question is that of Anna Kendrick as Scott's sister. She just can't pull off 'teenager' I'm afraid. Sorry Anna, loved your part in Up in the Air, but this one just wasn't right for you.

If you've even glanced at a trailer you know that the kicker for this movie is the visuals. Let me tell you right now, that the best parts are in fact not in the trailer. Always a refreshing change when the studio holds some secrets back. There are some very impressive visuals on display in this movie, and they always integrate thoughtfully with the actors performance and the overall story being told in the scene. There's no Michael Bay "explosions for explosions sake" on display here, everything has a purpose. I was particularly impressed when I saw what a small budget the movie had to work with, this movie didn't have $100 million worth of CG at it's disposal and as such I think the overall achievement is even greater. In particular watch out for the battle of the bands sequence with the giant CG monster battle, very cool.

Overall I again had a great time at the movies. The story was fun without being sappy or disappointing, as romances can so very often be. Speaking of disappointing romances if Castle and Beckett dance around each other for as long as Booth and Bones have... there will be hell to pay I tell you. Anyway Scott Pilgrim is very entertaining movie more than worth the price of admission. Remember to catch it on DVD too.

Final verdict:

The Expendables

"Just got my ass kicked!"

The Expendables is an astounding success in that it transcends the boundaries of a mere action movie and to become what I can only describe as "a glorious ballet of death!" The cast is absolutely perfect for this one and the action is sufficiently hammy to pay homage to the greatest of the 80's action flicks. Sure it only has a 40% over on RT, but did you really think this was going to win an Oscar?

The plot involves a group of hired guns (The Expendables) led by the fearless Barney Ross (Stallone). We're introduced to the group mid mission as they attempt to rescue some innocents from what appears to be Somali pirates. We immediately realize these guys know their shit and that one of team named Gunner Jensen (Lundgren) has become a liability. Fast forward, back in the U.S. the team enjoys some down time, Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) goes to visit his girlfriend (Charisma Carpenter) who moved on while he was out the country and is now living with a comically villainous boyfriend. Meanwhile, Ross goes to set up another job which apparently means working for the CIA. Cue a meeting with Bruce Willis as the shady CIA contact and the old 80's rival Schwarzenegger who, unsurprisingly, portrays a rival mercenary. After taking the job, Ross and Christmas check out a fairly nondescript island where their job is to knock off the evil dictator and free up the island for the CIA to swoop in and take control. Needless to say it all goes pear-shaped and the team have to basically demolish the place before the credits roll. 

Boy, having written that it looks a lot more complicated than it actually is. This is an homage to the classic 80's action flick, light on plot, big on action and one liners.

Stallone was actually looking pretty good in this one, though apparently he actually suffered a broken neck during one of the stunts on set. Luckily, after some emergency surgery, he's fine and still walking around. Statham was pretty much just Statham, he does tend to play the same character over and over. Really though, does anybody care, at least he's always fun to watch, and the guy knows how to through a punch. Jet Li and Terry Crew added some nice comic banter to the team and Mickey Rourke was without doubt the 'heart'. It's not altogether unsurprising that one of the few tender moments in the movie was delivered by Rourke in a touching monologue. Hats off to Dolph Lundgren and Ray Park who were also on top form in the stunts department. There is a scene in this movie where Lundgren stomps on a guys face while driving a car in a high speed pursuit and avoiding incoming fire - that is the tone of this movie, lap it up folks. One final shout out to Eric Robers who once again is portrays the ultimate bastard, and does it with style - nice work Eric, nice work indeed.

Personally I had a blast watching this one. From start to finish the pacing was perfect, not once did I feel the need to glance at my watch. Granted the plot is pretty thin, but you really ought to know what you're getting into here. It doesn't claim to be a serious movie, and it delivers exactly what it set out to - that being a hell of a good time. If you're looking for something a little more cerebral, this aint it!

Overall I know I'll be getting this on DVD as soon as it's released, terrific action flick and if I'm brutally honest, probably better than both The A Team and The Losers combined.

Final verdict:

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Other Guys

"I am a peacock and you have to let me fly"

This is without doubt one the funniest movies of the year. Will Ferrel can be a little hit or miss in my eyes, but this one is definitely a hit! The jokes are funny without crossing that fine line into ridiculous and Mark Wahlberg was the perfect choice to play the straight man of the story. At the time of writing, Rotten Tomatoes rates the movie at 76%

The story revolves around the downtrodden average cops Allen Gamble (Ferrel) and Terry Hoitz (Wahlberg) who are constantly marginalized and outshined by the other detectives in the squad, specifically Highsmith and Danson (played by Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson). Gamble is perfectly content to sit at his desk and file paperwork for the rest of his life, but Hoitz has dreams of something bigger, he wants to be out there on the street. The investigation of a simple violation involving construction permits gives Hoitz just the opportunity he's been waiting for, now all he has to do is convince Gamble to join him for the ride (easier said than done). This is where the movie really picks up and launches us into the main plot. Several car chases, gun fights and explosions later we arrive at a very satisfying conclusion.

Ferrel and Wahlberg work surprisingly well together. The comic timing is just as sharp as it was between Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in Men in Black. Which is to say that, even though on paper it seems like it shouldn't work, in practice it all comes together nicely. Credit has to go to the supporting cast though, especially Michael Keaton, who portrays Captain Gene Mauch. Keaton steals pretty much every scene he's in, especially when it is revealed that he moonlights in a slightly more conventional profession, but I don't want to spoil that one here, just wait and see. Eva Mendes is clearly having fun in the role of Gambles wife, much to Hoitz amazement, they riff on that gag at least a half dozen times within a five minute segment. Finally I want to mention Steve Coogan who plays David Ershon, one of the primary suspects in the case. Between Ferrel and Coogan the slapstick comedy is firing on all cylinders.

As I said, I felt that the jokes in this movie managed to maintain the laughs without delving into absurdity. This is something that I feel a lot of comedy flicks get wrong. In the effort to get a laugh they will take a joke too far and cross that line. The Other Guys is one of those few comedies that gets it right. Ferrel and Wahlberg play off each other perfectly, the supporting cast add to the laughs nicely and the slap stick comedy works really well. The car chase scenes were probably my favorite part of the movie, there's something very unique and special about a car chase involving a red Prius. Certainly the movie won't be winning any awards, but with a consensus of 76% on RT it was surprisingly well received by the critics. Overall, the movie is a lot of fun, and it will keep you laughing even after you've left the theater.

Final Verdict on The Other Guys:

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


"Then you are a Russian spy."

It was certainly an exciting action flick, but overall I felt the plot ended up being far too fantastical to maintain my suspension of disbelief. It's not unusual for me to disagree with critics, but in this case I'm actually pretty satisfied with the current consensus on Rotten Tomatoes - that being 58%.

The plot begins with a pretty vanilla set up. As outlined in the trailer Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) is accused of being a Russian spy and subsequently goes on the run to clear her name. Heading up the pursuit are Salts former partner Ted Winter (Liev Shreiber) and an internal affairs type Agent Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor). From this we spin into a typical Bourne style romp of chase scenes, gun fights, lightening fast hand to hand and of course several instances of betrayal and double crosses.

As you might guess, the high point of the movie lies with Jolie and Schreiber who both turn in terrific performances in their respective roles. In fact even the supporting cast add some great stuff to the movie, especially Chiwetel Ejiofor (you might remember him from a little Joss Whedon flick called Serenity) and Olek Krupa who has a brief stint as the Russian President (he's been in a ton of movies of the years, but you might have seen him recently in Burn After Reading). The only casting choice I really question is that of U.S. President Lewis, played by Hunt Block. I just don't think he conveyed a 'Presidential' presence on screen.

SPOILER ALERT - Much of what I am going to discuss from here on out will directly spoil the big plot twists and the ending of the movie, you have been warned!!

  • The Russians are the villain. Haven't we outgrown this particular stereotype yet? Maybe if the movie had been made 20-30 years ago that would have gone unnoticed, but today it feels like a bit of a stretch to feature a Cold War era Russian plot.
  • The villains plan was to take control of the U.S nuclear stockpile and use it to attack its (Americas) enemies thus kick starting a global war against the United States. This seems rather familiar, oh that's right its the plot of Terminator - apparently Skynet is Russian this time.
  • The method by which they will accomplish their dastardly plan is by implanting sleeper agents into the country. By sleeper agents I really do mean sleeper agents, these folks have been in America for upwards of 30 years. These sleepers will infiltrate several levels of law enforcement and government agencies as part of their elaborately complicated plot. 
  • Salt really is a Russian agent. This might have been clever if they had left it at that, but they had to go one step further and turn her into a triple agent. When you start interjecting this many levels of betrayal and mistrust, you start to get into the realm of Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End - seriously I still can't figure out who was betraying who in that one. As if that wasn't enough, the reason she apparently decides to turn on her Russian masters is because they kidnapped and killed her husband, whom she really was in love with. Of course it was a little hard to get that vibe from the barely 10 minutes of screen time he gets. 
  • Not only was Salt a sleeper, Winter was as well. On the plus side, Liev Shreiber is great at the whole sinister villain thing, but on the downside what are the odds that two agents (who are in fact partners) would both be sleepers. At this point my suspension of disbelief had flat-lined and I was struggling to finish the showing.

    So what were my overall feelings on this one? I was disappointed. I think perhaps it's another case of expecting one thing and getting something else. The trailer, as is so often the case these days, didn't do the movie any favors. It made Salt out to be a straight up Bourne movie with a female in the leading role. Instead it was a mish-mash of action scenes and 'wheels within wheels within wheels' levels of betrayal. As I said, it's all about the suspension of disbelief, and Salt fails to maintain it. From the Russian villains to the convoluted 'evil genius' style plot it was far too out of this world to keep me interested. I will say that the action scenes were great and the acting was on the whole very good, but neither of these things are enough to outweigh the poorly constructed story.

    Final verdict:

    Friday, July 16, 2010


    "You never remember the beginning of a dream."

    High concept does not even begin to describe this movie, in fact it defies classification. Thriller, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, action... Inception is all of this and more, combining an intelligent, thought provoking story with edge of your seat thrills and pulse pounding action. Currently it sits at 84% on Rotten Tomatoes with a consensus mirroring my own: "Smart, innovative, and thrilling, Inception is that rare summer blockbuster that succeeds viscerally as well as intellectually." 

    This movie has a rather complicated narrative so I will attempt to set up the plot without getting too convoluted. The movie takes place in a world where shared dreaming is a reality. It was apparently developed by the military as a platform to train soldiers without the risk of death or injury. Cobb (DiCaprio) is has become an expert in another aspect of this technology - using it to infiltrate the dreams of others as a means of espionage. After a bungled job leaves him in a difficult spot (i.e with a price on his head) Cobb receives an offer he can't refuse. Saito (Watanabe) offers to give Cobb a clean slate, all he has to do is complete a single job. The twist is that Saito doesn't want Cobb to steal anything from the target, he wants him to plant an idea in the targets mind - a concept known as inception. Despite his partner telling him it's impossible, Cobb agrees to Saito's proposal. After assembling a team, Cobb infiltrates the mind of Robert Fischer (Murphy) and attempts to successfully plant an idea in the mans mind. As I said the plot is just a tad complicated, I've tried to lay this out clearly and logically, but seeing it written down it's possible that I have failed in that regard. Never-the-less I think you can get the basic gist of the situation from the above summary. 

    Leonardo DiCaprio is once again on form, delivering another memorable performance just as he did in The Departed and Body of Lies. It's really quite amazing to me how much conviction DiCaprio brings to the roles he has played in recent years, especially when I consider the bland performance he brought to the table in Titanic. Cobb is a character haunted by his past and deeply troubled by the memory of his dead wife. DiCaprio conveys that pain brilliantly in just his facial expressions and mannerisms without even uttering a word. The glimpses we get into Cobb's psychosis are extremely powerful emotionally, and I believe that has as much to do with DiCaprio's acting skill as it does with the terrific writing and cinematography. Ken Watanabe adds another terrific performance to the movie, though sadly his role in the movie wanes during the second and third acts. I had a hard time placing the actor until I remembered he portrayed Ra's al Ghul in Batman Begins. A truly stand out performance is made by Ellen Page. I will admit that I haven't seen Juno, so this is really the first time I've seen Page get a chance to play a role with depth (as much as I love Kitty Pride - she's not exactly what I'd call complex). She spends many scenes in one-to-one dialog with DiCaprio and admirably matches his presence on screen by conveying just as much conviction as the more experienced actor. Her character is the 'newbie' on the team, so it is through her that we, the audience, get a basic tutorial on how the universe is set up, what the rules are and what to expect. She shoulders the responsibility well, thankfully the writers wisely chose to avoid any techno-babble in these scenes. 

    Two other characters that really stood out are Eames and Arthur. Eames is played by the highly under-appreciated Tom Hardy (lets all just forget about Shinzon - it's really the only true blemish on his career). I loved his performance in Rocknrolla, it's nice to see him get another shot at 'blockbuster' status. Eames is a terrific character, introduced as a con-man/forger he transitions into 'action hero' mode for the third act, getting to pull of stunts worthy of John McClane. Arthur, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is the long time partner of Cobb and is also an experience extractor (the buzz word used to describe folks who steal secrets from peoples dreams). Levitt is also blessed with some great action sequences, one of which is truly trippy in a scene where 'up' and 'down' are no longer static directions. Thanks to Lovitt's performance Arthur also exhibits a kind of quiet intelligence, his experiences working with (the somewhat damaged) Cobb have clearly caused him to carefully evaluate his surroundings. 

    Inception is, as I have said, a complex movie. The narrative itself isn't the (most) confusing part, its more in the manner of the delivery. The audience has to keep track of multiple dream states, all of which operated on different time lines (a minute in one dream is an hour another etc). I'm not going to go so far as to say this is a bad thing. On the contrary I find it rather refreshing that a summer movie is requiring some thought on the part of the audience. The movie also challenges the audience to consider what is 'real' - how do we distinguish between the dream world and the real world? The bulk of the movie follows the perspective of Cobb, as such we experience events through his eyes, and as a consequence get to know his character more than the others and genuinely relate to him. Over the course of the movie (which is rather long a two and half hours) I really felt like I connected with Cobb, I cared what happened to this character, and I wanted him to succeed. 

    I said at the start of my review that Inception successfully combines a thinking-mans thriller with an exciting action piece. It is however, important not to over-think the movie. After leaving the theater we discussed the movie at length, trying to figure out the complexities of it and answer EVERY question. I wouldn't recommend this approach. When you start to over think the narrative, pieces of the puzzle get shuffled and the flow of the movie gets disrupted. There is certainly room for interpretation as the credits role on Inception, but don't allow your analysis to destroy the mastery of writing and storytelling that you've just experienced. 

    Overall I was extremely satisfied with Inception, I'd love to see it again and I imagine I will pick it up in short order when it arrives on DVD. Take a trip to your local cinema and judge it for yourself - just be sure not to leave your brain at the door.

    Final verdict on Inception

    Wednesday, July 14, 2010

    Get Him to the Greek

    "Is there a bathroom here at the Today Show?"

    Somehow this movie actually manages to surpass the movie it spun off from by being funnier, crazier and casting Colm Meaney. Even more surprising is that it actually wound up with a certified fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes - earning a solid 73%.

    The plot, as simplistic as it may be, is for wannabe music promoter Aaron Green (Jonah Hill) to somehow get drugged up alcoholic rocker Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) from his home in England to the Greek Theater in L.A in just 48 hours. As you may expect nothing goes according to plan and the situation quickly spirals out of control. Will they get to the Greek in time for the concert? Tune in to find out.

    Jonah Hill and Russell Brand really shine on screen together. In this movie Hill plays the straight man to Brand's psychotic, impulsiveness, and it works really well. I look forward to some behind the scenes, gag reel type stuff on the DVD because I'm sure it will be a riot. The movie also has a terrific cast in the supporting roles. Of particular note is Sean Combs, who delivered some of the most memorably funny moments in the movie as record executive Sergio Roma. Watch out for a drug induced scene in which Aaron Green sees floating disembodied Sergio Roma heads floating around the screen - priceless. Finally I have to give a shout out for Colm Meaney who plays Johnathan Snow (Aldous's father). I love seeing Colm Meaney on screen again, good old Smiley O'brien back in action.

    This movie ought to be in a two pack with The Hangover. It rattles along at a rate of knots, never pausing to catch its breath. If you're looking for a fun movie to watch on a Friday night, you really can't go wrong with this one. If you're looking for something a little more intellectual, this isn't it. I indicated that it actually surpasses Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and I stand by that. I understand that this is a different kind of movie, its not meant to have the emotional impact of its predecessor, but none the less I just feel like it was a more entertaining and enjoyable experience (at the movie theater anyway, I make no predictions for the DVD). Just make sure you know what you're getting into, the story is just about as drug fueled as the main character and the pacing is extremely fast. The characters bounce from one outlandish (and potentially offensive) situation to the next so if you don't find that kind of thing amusing, this movie is not for you - otherwise you'll at least get a chuckle out of it. 

    I know that this review comes a little late and I don't know if you'll still be able to catch a showing at your local multiplex, but if you can you should definitely check it out - Get Him to the Greek is absolutely worth your time.

    Final verdict on Get Him to the Greek:

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010

    Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

    "Difficult, not impossible."

    Making a good movie based on a video game is "difficult, not impossible," but sadly Prince of Persia doesn't quite manage it. The movie had a few high points and the plot wasn't all that bad, but the screenplay left much to be desired and the lack of chemistry between the two leads really lowered the tone of what really could have been a great movie.

    The plot is in no way based on the game, except for the fact that there's sand the dagger can control it. No, in the movie Dastan (the Prince) is actually an orphan who was adopted by the King (rather conveniently) and later leads an army contingent with his two brothers. Shifty Vizier, and brother to the King, manipulates the eldest brother, named Tus, into attacking the Holy City of Alamut, against the protestations of Dastan. Well the invasion comes off pretty smoothly and along the way Dastan comes into possession of a strange dagger, which he 'accidentally' discovers can turn back time. It transpires that the princess Tamina is a member of an ancient order who are sworn to protect the dagger and the associated Sands of Time. Well she's none to pleased about the occupation of her city or the fact that one of the oppressors now holds their most sacred relic. Which leads to a fine mess when she is forced to go on the run with Dastan when he is framed for the murder of the King.

    Jake Gyllenhaal did a pretty good job as Dastan, in my humble opinion. I saw a lot of the Prince from the video game in his performance, he clearly was giving it his all and trying to connect to the fans. Gemma Arterton on the other hand wasn't all that great as the princess, though she certainly performed the role of 'eye candy' to perfection. She had next to no chemistry with Gyllenhaal, which made the inevitable romance seem a tad forced. I also think that she figured out her lines were rather goofy because she seemed to have a hard time delivering them convincingly. The writers do have to take some heat for that though, I think I'd have a tough time saying "Secret Guardian Temple" with any kind of conviction too. The elder brother Tus (played by Richard Coyle) was sadly a pretty one dimensional character, perhaps because he wasn't really on screen that much. Far more interesting was the younger brother Garsiv (played by Toby Kebbell) who was playing an antagonist to the hero sure, but still managed to show some level of humanity in his performance. Ben Kingsley as the Vizier, Nizam, was really rather bland too. It's not too much of a spoiler to say he's the villain of the story, Ben seems to gravitate towards such roles. Kingsley really goes all out on this character to make him as shifty and sinister as possible, which worked out pretty well. There's really nothing better than a villain you love to hate. Finally a quick shout out for Alfred Molina who had a small supporting role in the movie as Sheik Amar, who in addition to becoming a reluctant ally of the prince, races ostriches. He added some nice comic relief to the movie along with his trusty sidekick Seso (played by Steve Toussaint).

    The problem with the movie, as is so often the case with video game adaptations, is that they completely disregarded the story of the game. Sands of Time (the game) has a very solid, and well thought out story, so I really can't imagine why they felt the need to change it as much as they did. The new story isn't terrible, but it does seem rather strained at times. There are some actions taken by the characters that just don't make a lot of sense. Initially the goal is to take the dagger to the aforementioned 'Secret Guardian Temple' but when that doesn't work they instead go back to Alamut - the same city they started all this nonsense in. After the inevitable show down with Nizam......SPOILER ALERT...... Dastan succeeds in rewinding time all the way back to the aftermath of the invasion of Alamut (I think that point is about 20-25 minutes into the movie). Well if that was possible, why didn't the princess just tell him to do that in the first place, why did they go on a trek across the desert, because that would have made for a pretty short movie I guess...... END SPOILER. The other problem is that the whole motivation for Dastan is the murder of his father, something that we should be pretty invested in no? Well there lies another problem, the King himself has so little screen time, much less screen time with Dastan, that we really don't know him. Not knowing him, or anything about the relationship between him and his sons, it's hard to really feel anything for the character when he dies. It's not all doom and gloom though. The stunts and fight sequences were satisfying and the special effects (especially the rewind time effect) were absolutely spot on. If only they had invested such time and energy crafting the screenplay as they did on the special effects.

    The single biggest issue I had with the movie is that it had the potential to be great, I wanted it to be great, but instead it falls way short of average. So while it may be somewhat entertaining at times, the movie really doesn't hold up to that much scrutiny. Of course I can't assume that everyone will scrutinize the motivations and actions of characters the way I do, so your mileage may vary.

    Final verdict on Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

    Monday, June 21, 2010


    "Classic MacGruber!" 

    While MacGruber occasionally hits on a good joke, for the most part it's crude, unimaginative and just down right stupid. I wasn't entirely surprised at this outcome, honestly I only saw the movie out of a morbid sense of curiosity. Now I wouldn't go so far as to say MacGruber is the worst movie I've ever seen in my life, but it's by no means good.

    The plot, such as it is, revolves around the arch villain Cunth (Val Kilmer) who has stolen some kind of doomsday weapon and plans to use it on Washington D.C. Thus, the US military turns to the only man who can save them, MacGruber (Will Forte). There's also some back-story between Cunth and MacGruber about how Cunth killed MacGrubers wife, I'm not really sure why this subplot was in here as it really adds nothing to the movie. Vicki St Elmo (Kristen Wiig) and Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillipe) are MacGrubers reluctant sidekicks on the mission to take down Cunth (and yes every time a character says that name the 'h' isn't pronounced all that clearly). 

    The gimmick of the SNL skit was that MacGruber's inventions and schemes never work, and inevitably everyone dies. This wouldn't make for a particularly lengthy movie though, so instead none of his inventions or schemes work, but somehow everyone lives anyway. I was never really a fan of the skit, I thought it was pretty shallow and the joke gets worse as time goes on. Will Forte really seems like he's trying too hard to hit the punchlines, every joke he makes on screen seems strained, which doesn't work so well in a movie that relies almost exclusively on said jokes. Val Kilmer (who really isn't looking too well these days, boy that guy put on some weight) is camping it up as the arch villain Cunth, delivering every line like a cliched, poor mans Bond villain. Cunth is a character so one dimensional that he could really have been portrayed by a cardboard cut out and the movie wouldn't have suffered from it. Then we have Kristen Wiig (resuming her character from the original skit) and Ryan Phillipe as the straight man to play off of the insanity that is MacGruber. Wiig looks lost for most the movie, I suspect she was wondering what horrible act she'd committed in a previous life to deserve being cast in the movie. Phillipe, to my surprise, actually tries to be professional, as if he's completely unaware of what a train wreck he's part of.

    I know what folks say about analyzing slapstick movies like this one... that we should just leave our brains at home and enjoy the movie for what it is. Well yes, I agree with those folks, in fact I'm usually one of the people saying that - however that argument only goes so far. There is a delicate balance between farcical comedy and entertaining story telling, and I can assure you that MacGruber is completely unsuccessful in pulling it off. Instead it seems to be comprised of several SNL skits just mashed together to produce a feature length movie. To make matters worse only the smallest fraction of those skits are actually funny. It was somewhat embarrassing to sit in a theater watching a so called 'comedy' and nobody was laughing at the jokes. Or at least when there was an amused chuckle, it was more along the lines of the sound one makes when laughing at the boss's jokes (just to be clear, the term I'm shooting for here is 'insincere').

    If you've seen the trailer for the movie, then you've seen the best gags already, don't punish yourself by submitting to 90 minutes of torture.

    Oh, but wait... didn't I say this wasn't the worst movie I've ever seen? My analysis has been pretty harsh though hasn't it? So if this isn''t the worst movie I've ever seen what is? Well I can't honestly narrow it down to a single movie (though Edge of Darkness is very tempting) so instead just let me say I've seen my share of Uwe Bole movies and leave it at that.

    Final verdict on MacGruber:

    Wednesday, June 9, 2010

    Iron Man 2

    "It's good to be back!"

    Iron Man 2 had big iron shoes to fill, and I think it has made a damn good attempt, but falls just a little shy of the brilliance of the original. Rotten Tomatoes rates the movie at 74%, and since I'm writing this up a full month after the release I'm fairly sure that score should remain constant.

    This time around the movie begins in the aftermath of Stark's announcement that he is Iron Man. The US Military wants the suit, for obvious reasons and Tony is stalwartly refusing to turn it over. Into this situation comes Ivan Vanko, a man seeking vengeance against the Stark empire for the death of his father, Justin Hammer, a rival weapons manufacturer and the fact that Tony himself is slowly being poisoned by the very same device that is keeping his heart beating. As you can imagine things get pretty interesting before the end credits role.

    Robert Downey Jr is still terrific as Stark, they really couldn't have cast anybody better in the role. He possesses just the right mix of authority and immaturity that really brings Stark alive onscreen. It was also great to see Gwyneth Paltrow back as Pepper Potts. The chemistry between her and Downey is very natural and adds a real sense of closeness to the characters. Mickey Rourke turned in a good performance, for the relatively small amount of screen-time he got. As Whiplash was billed as the villain of the piece, I rather expected to see more of him, instead his character was restricted to a few key scenes. Instead Sam Rockwell, as rival weapons manufacturer Justin Hammer, seemed to be front and center as the main antagonist to Stark and Iron Man. I absolutely despised Hammer as a character, for which I give enormous credit to Rockwell, his performance created a man the audience loves to hate.

    A fairly large degree of press surrounded the fact that Scarlett Johansson was going to be playing Russian super spy Black Widow in the movie. Aside from serving up some rather delicious eye candy, she adds absolutely nothing to the movie. Her performance was bland and about as wooden as Keanu Reeves on a good day. It almost seemed like she didn't even care about the role, or the character, delivering every line with a completely expressionless look on her face and in a dry monotone. Is this the fault of the director? Did Favreau tell her to make Widow stoic? Was it really the case that she knew she was there to look hot and didn't really give a damn about anything else? Who knows, but I suspect the latter is the truth in this case.

    Finally, we come to Rhodes. In the first movie Rhodes was played by Terrance Howard, in the sequel Don Cheadle steps into the role. I doubt we will ever know what really happened to spur such a switch, but it happened and we have to live with it. In any case I like Cheadle as an actor, I'm a fan of several of his movies (including the terrific Traitor), but it's difficult to gauge his performance without comparing it to Howard. Howard played Rhodes as a real straight laced air force officer, but also showed the capacity to kick back and relax with Stark. When Howard was Rhodes, it was easy to get the sense that he and Stark will good friends. Cheadle nails the straight laced air force officer, but in my opinion fails to convey the friendship between Rhodes and Stark, at least until the climactic showdown. This colors every action he makes in the movie to suggest that instead of being Stark's friend, he'd quite happily stab him in the back to satisfy the military.

    Some have criticized the plot for being slow in places, I think I have to disagree on this point. I have, over the years, developed a foolproof system to determine if a movie is dragging or not. If I am repeatedly glancing at my watch to see how much time is left in the movie - then it's slow. I did not, even once, glance at my watch during the movie - thus I wouldn't call it slow. There are however some points that strained the realm of believability, such as how Stark solves the problem of his blood poisoning. In the interest of a spoiler free review I wont go into detail about it, but suffice to say it was both rather convenient and somewhat skeptical. As a whole though, the overall plot of the movie is fairly solid. Though granted it doesn't quite seem to flow as well as the original movie did - sequels are always judged harsher though.

    Once again the special effects and fight scenes were top notch. Favreau has, in both movies, done a fantastic job of merging comic book style action with a real world feel. The Iron Man suits really feel like the they have weight, and when they strike something the sound effects really help sell the impact of metal on metal. Whiplash's energy whips also looked really good, though they were somewhat spoiled by their prevalence in the trailer. Between cutting edge visuals and top of the line sound design, the fight scenes really come alive in a big way.

    Of course Iron Man 2 is about more than just fights. The continuing relationship between Stark and Potts is treated very well in the sequel, from the beginning we can sense connection between them that neither one is willing to pursue. Stark, as a results of the blood poisoning, has to come to terms with his own mortality and tries to tie everything off so that he doesn't leave a mess behind for the people he cares about. Despite the lack of what I'm call to call the "friendship vibe" caused by Howards replacement, there is also some development between Rhodes and Stark. Stark has to accept that he can't save the world alone and needs to trust Rhodes to help him, which means trusting another person with the Iron Man technology.

    Overall I thought that Iron Man 2 is a really entertaining movie. Is it as good as the first, when I walked out the theater I thought so, but on further reflection I think perhaps it does fall short a little. There is an element of 'Die Hard syndrome' to be had here. While the sequel is a good movie in its own right, as a follow up to the near perfect Iron Man it does seem a tad lacking. The other factor to consider is that Iron Man 2 bears the burden of having to lay threads for the Avengers movie (which is the only reason Samuel L Jackson's Fury was in there) which also bloats areas of the story with unnecessary exposition that is probably what most folks find slows down the pace of the main story. Despite this I still really enjoyed the movie, and will definitely be adding it to my collection when it gets its DVD release.

    Final Verdict on Iron Man 2:

    Thursday, May 6, 2010

    The Losers

    "Am I the only one who sees the shirt?"

    This is without doubt, the most fun I've had at the cinema since.... well... a long time ago. The Losers is an explosive action fest with terrific humor and a stellar performance by Chris Evans. You owe it to yourself to spend an evening at the theater with this movie.

    So lets begin, as is so often the case, with the plot. A special forces team comprising of Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), Jensen (Chris Evans), Roque (Idris Elba), Pooch (Columbus Short) and Cougar (Oscar Jaenada) are on assignment for the CIA. Their target is some sadistic drug lord, whom they have tracked to his shady retreat in the middle of some backwater jungle. In order to eliminate the target, in an homage to Tom Clancy, is to use a laser guided missile. While lasing the target, a bunch of kids show up in truck, and the guys are no longer inclined to incinerate the place. However Max, the man puling the strings, overrides their ability to communicate with the pilot launching the missile and they decide to go in on foot to rescue the kids. Then, without spoiling the specifics, there's a big double cross and they are all left for dead. Cue your standard revenge plot and things get rolling.  

    As I pointed out already, the clear winner in the movie is Chris Evans. He steals every scene he's in and manages to inject something really natural and likable into his character. You might argue that he's channeling his Fantastic Four character a little too much, and you might be right, but honestly I think it works in this particular instance. Having said that the entire 'team' of actors worked very well together, and were quite convincing in their portrayal of a group of guys who've been working together for a while and really trust each other. Morgan in particular was fun to watch as the leader of the little group of misfits, and seemed to enjoy channeling Hannibal Smith - yes I am also looking forward to the A-Team movie. Oh, and lets not forget Zoe Saldana, who couldn't be further from Uhura in this movie, which was good as I wasn't particularly impressed with her Star Trek role. Amazingly she seems to have pretty good chemistry with Morgan, which I honestly wasn't expecting.While I do like Jason Patric as an actor, he has done some really good movies over the course of his career (and yes some stinkers too), but I'm not really convinced he was the best choice for the role of the arch villain. He just didn't seem all that menacing, and his character was bat shit crazy. You have to be one hell of an evil genius to randomly kill off your aids and henchmen by the bucket-load every time the wind blows.

    Now, let me take a moment to discuss some of the criticisms of this movie. First, folks seem to have issue with the cliched action movie stereotypes that are present in The Losers. Yes I admit it, they probably do cram almost every one of them into a little under 100 minutes. However, just because a movie contains action movie cliches does not mean that it's automatically a bad movie. I would argue that this movie works because of the cliches, I enjoyed it, the movies suspension of disbelief was maintained fairly well throughout (with the exception of the snuke, but I'll get to that in a minute) and the characters kept me interested in what was happening to them. So just because there were gun fights and explosions, things that happen in every other action movie on the planet, this is somehow a bad movie? I disagree. Point number two, once again arguments that the plot does not make sense. Virtually every movie made in the last fifty years is guilty of some kind of plot hole appearing. Sometimes these plot holes are minor and excusable, to the extent that you don't even catch them on your first, or even second viewing, and other times these plot holes are horific craters that actually causes the audience to stop following the movie for a moment as their brain tries to understand what the hell just happened. The Losers, without doubt, is closer to the snafu end of the spectrum, than the earth shattering "what the hell is going on" end. Yes there are plot holes, but when we live in a world that allows Sam to be resurrected by the robots in heaven, you have to put things in perspective. As such, as long as Mr Bay and Mr Cameron are still making movies, I give The Losers a free pass in regard to plot holes. Plus, every movie based on a comic book sacrifices plot at some stage in the game (even the Dark Knight - the best comic book movie in the history of the human race had plot holes).

    I will, briefly, comment on my one complaint about the movie: the snuke. The sonic dematerializer was probably the dumbest thing they could have come up with (having not read the comic I have no idea if this is accurate or not), but suffice to say I didn't particularly care for it. Why couldn't it just have been a regular old nuclear warhead? Would that not have been deadly enough? Not to mention that every time somebody said snuke, I flashed back to that episode of South Park.

    Aside from the snuke issue, I loved this movie. I highly recommend it to everyone out there who appreciates a good old fashioned action flick. Of our own little group, 3/4 people loved it and the fourth though it was 'alright'. I'd say that's a pretty damn good average, wouldn't you?

    Final Verdict on The Losers:

    Date Night

    "Put your junk in reverse!!"

    Surprisingly fun and entertaining! I didn't expect too much from Date Night; like most folks I figured most of the best gags would be in the trailer. Well I was pleasantly surprised by the overall entertainment value of the movie, the best jokes were not spoiled in the trailer, the gags all landed very well, the audience were all having fun and laughing along with said gags. Overall it was just a really fun movie with a great cast and a ton of laughs.

    The plot (lets all remember this is a comedy, pure and simple) revolves around Phil and Claire Foster (played by Steve Carell and Tina Fey respectively) a middle aged married couple who seem to be stuck in a rut. When their friends Brad and Haley Sullivan announce they are filing  for divorce, it shakes up the Fosters enough to try and add a spark to their marriage again. This leads them on an impromptu trip into the city for a romantic dinner at a very exclusive restaurant. Without reservations they have no chance of getting a table, so they 'innocently' snag someone else's table when they fail to show up. One unfortunate case of mistaken identity later, and they are stuck in the middle of an extortion scheme and running for their lives.

    Steve Carell was an actor I tended to ignore, at least until I saw Dan in Real Life and Get Smart (both of which I liked). After seeing those two movies, I decided Carell was worth my time, prior to that the only time I had seen him was in The Office, which I despise. Well once again I can say Carell was a lot of fun to watch, especially when coupled with Tina Fey. The two actors have great chemistry together and play terrifically well off of each other. I do like Tina Fey, she earned my undying respect with her Sarah Palin parodies. It was also nice to see Mark Wahlberg flexing given the opportunity for some comedy, personally I loved his scenes and I think he was a good match for Carell and Fay. I have to give a special shout out to James Franco and Mila Kunis who were especially hilarious in their brief appearance - keep an eye out for them when you see the movie.

    Overall I found this to be a fun and entertaining comedy, it managed to keep the 'stupidity' level in check, such that while there were rather ridiculous moments in the movie, on the whole it stayed out of national lampoon territory. I loved the characters, the acting was great and you can really tell as your watching that everyone involved was enjoying the experience. So, Date Night get's my stamp of approval, I recommend that you see it either in theaters or later on DVD.

    Final Verdict on Date Night:

    Monday, March 15, 2010

    Green Zone

    "I know what you did!"

    Action packed, but still grounded in reality Green Zone is an entertaining flick, but if the infamous Greengrass shaky cam  makes you queasy then you might want to wait for the DVD. The first thing I thought when I saw the trailer for Green Zone is that this was essentially a fourth Bourne movie. Well having seen the movie I can say with certainty that this is NOT a Bourne movie. Matt Damon plays a very different character in this movie, though it is not unfair to draw similarities. The critics are polarized on this one, currently it sits at 50% on RT.

    The basics of the plot follow events in Iraq after the US have seized Baghdad and are scouring the city in search of WMD's. Matt Damon plays Miller, one of the US troops tasked with securing WMD materials uncovered by highly placed intelligence asset Magellan (an asset completely controlled by Clark Poundstone a political suit played by Greg Kinnear). Miller is dissatisfied though as every site he and his team hit comes up empty, worse there is no evidence WMD's were ever present in the first place. When he attempts to raise questions about the intelligence asset, his concerns are quickly dismissed, nobody wants to question it. Enter Brendan Gleeson as Martin Brown, the resident CIA chief who is just as miffed about the situation as Miller. The two quickly join forces in an attempt to uncover the truth about Magellan and to answer the one big question - were there ever any WMD's to begin with?

    Matt Damon has established himself as a very diverse actor over the last decade, and he delivers another solid performance in this movie. The thing I like best about Damon is his ability to humanize pretty much every character he plays (I choose to forget about Stuck On You, I bet he does as well). Take a look at the Bourne Supremacy, The Departed and Rounders, in every movie he plays a different character, but still brings substantial depth and presence to each. Another favorite of mine, Brendon Gleeson, has a terrific range as well, if you watch his part in this back to back with In Bruges, you would be hard pressed to believe it was the same person. Gleeson is especially good at the whole brusque no-nonsense attitude of the CIA officer who has to bend his knee to the room full of politicians (I think he did a much better job in this kind of part than Crowe did in Body of Lies). As long as I'm talking about cast, I have to mention Greg Kinnear. I don't know if its the character, the writing or just the way he plays it, but Poundstone comes across as a complete villain. I know Hollywood likes its black and white heroes and villains, but this guy has absolutely no redeeming qualities at all - in fact I'd say its one of the few points in the movie that really breaks with the overall realistic theme.

    One consensus we did come to after seeing the movie is that the ending feels a little unsatisfying. However, we also came to the conclusion that perhaps that was the point. As I discuss this in greater detail keep in mind that this is fiction, not fact (even if I believe this is a plausible scenario). In the movie, the constant question as to whether there every were WMD's is answered conclusively, it is also suggested that the politicians were responsible for the war that was claiming the lives of US soldiers. As such an unsatisfying ending was really the only option. Something to keep in mind though is that the ending is anything but uplifting, not that its as horrifically depressing as Edge of Darkness, but it is gritty and real - so if you like your movies to be light and fluffy, skip this one.

    Other than the ending I can find no real point of fault with this movie - well other than for those with motion sickness (Greengrass loves the shaky cam). All in all the movie feels very real and very down to earth, in a somewhat similar fashion to Black Hawk Down. I like movies that try to stay faithful to the source material over those that choose to fall into the generic black and white morality tale. After all is said and done on this one I found it very entertaining and would certainly call it another success for Damon et al. Go see it before it leaves theaters.

    Final Verdict on Green Zone:

    Friday, February 12, 2010

    Sherlock Holmes

    "You must trust me, I am a professional."

    Robert Downey Jr and Guy Ritchie together create something really exciting with Sherlock Holmes, successfully merging a great detective story with solid action and even a believable romantic sub-plot. I expected a lot from this one, as a fan of both the director and the star, and I am happy to say that it delivered - and then some. For consistency the RT score right now is 68%, but I have to admit to losing a bit of faith in those scores since Avatar is sitting at 82%, there is no justice in the world it seems.

    As the movie opens we are thrown right into the middle of an important case where Holmes (Downey), with the assistance of Watson (Law), is chasing down criminal mastermind Lord Blackwood (Strong) before he can murder an innocent young woman. It's non stop action as they two close on their quarry - and subsequently secure the scene before the police can even get there. Blackwood is captured, imprisoned and sentenced to death by hanging, case closed - or is it? Shortly after the sentence is carried out, Holmes and Watson are called to the cemetery, where it appears that Blackwood has 'risen from the grave'. Whats really going on? Can Holmes solve the case before Blackwood can carry out his plan? What does Holmes old flame Irene Adler (McAdams) have to do with it, and who is the shadowy figure she is in contact with? As the end credits role, all these questions will be answered and it will leave you eager for a sequel.

    The casting on this movie was pure perfection. I can think of nobody better suited to play Holmes than Robert Downey Jr. As Watson, Jude Law represented the perfect companion to Downeys Holmes. Law's Watson is a no nonsense kind of guy who doesn't put up with any of Holmes games, there is a great scene in which Watson goes so far as to punch Holmes in the face - marvelous. The real shining performance for me comes from Mark Strong - the same man who stole every scene of RocknRolla as Archie - as the villain of the movie he is equally as strong and driven as Holmes, making for some great scenes when the two actually meet face to face. Finally McAdams turns in a solid performance as Holmes old flame, doing a great job of breaking up the boys club while still holding her own.

    Anyone familiar with Ritchies other movies will feel right at home with his directorial style. He favors the wide angle shot, capturing as much of the scene as possible, especially during the action sequences. One of the things I love most about Ritchie is that you can actually track his growth as a director, if you watch Lock Stock, Revolver and Sherlock Holmes in sequence, you can really see how Ritchie has refined his work. One thing that did concern me when going to see the movie was how much action and explosions there seemed to be in the trailer. This was not the Holmes I grew up with, but I am happy to say that it all blends together seamlessly in the finished product. The action sequences don't detract from the mystery, they add to it by delivering a sense of urgency and drama.

    Overall I was very happy with this movie, it was fun, exciting and very enjoyable. The entire cast deliver superb performances, the plot is thoughtful and consistent, and finally it established Downey as the leading man in what is sure to be yet another franchise (in addition to Iron Man). Perhaps this is the single greatest comeback story any actor in Hollywood has ever managed to pull off. Go see the movie, and then buy it on DVD.

    Final Verdict on Sherlock Holmes:

    Friday, January 1, 2010

    Up In The Air

    "Never get behind old people. Their bodies are littered with hidden metal and they never seem to appreciate how little time they have left."

    This doesn't happen very often, but I can describe my impression of this movie in one word... and that word is "refreshing." Up in the Air is a truly great movie to watch, the pacing is spot on and the story is very well grounded in reality. I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise that a movie starring George Clooney is down to earth, but it's still nice to see. General consensus on Rotten Tomatoes appears to agree with my assessment as the movie currently has an 89% rating.

    The movie centers around Ryan Bingham (Clooney), a man who's career is spent flying around the country firing employees for companies who are too timid to do it on their own. As such he spends his entire life on the road, his 'home' is a tiny and sparsely furnished one bedroom apartment. He lives for his work, and loves the lifestyle, at least until he meets a fellow traveler Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga). After a spending some time together, at least when their schedules put them in the same city, Bingham begins to question his life and begins to suspect he might like a more permanent companion. Add to this the fact that Binghams company have hired a young hot shot named Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) to redesign their entire business. The concept: employees will no longer travel the country, instead they will do all their firing over teleconference. Bingham does not take too kindly to being grounded and challenges his boss on the issue. The result of this is that Bingham is lumbered with and takes her along so she can learn the intricacies of his work. 

    The atmosphere of the movie is very similar to that of Michael Clayton, another fine work starring Clooney, in that it has a very gritty tone. Once again let me point out the fact that the movie feels very real. The story is not romanticized, there is no sunshine Hollywood style wash on this movie, which I feel is something sadly lacking in modern cinema.

    There is some great comedy on display, the dialog is lightening fast and you can tell the actors are having a lot of fun. Clooney and Kendrick are terrific on screen and play off each other very well, the casting here was spot on. He also has nice chemistry with Farmiga, I could believe there was something between the two characters which adds a lot the overall performance. Up in the Air also does a good job of balancing the drama. Some situations really make you wince as you realize what is about to happen, others make you sad as you realize how detached Bingham really is (even from his own family).

    As I said, the pacing is excellent in this movie. Not once did I glance at my watch to see how long was left. Each scene flows seamlessly into the next and there was no evidence of any jarring cuts or continuity issues that often plague movies today. Overall the presentation and the story are truly superb, to the point that I wish more movies today displayed such a level of quality (Cough**Avatar**Cough).

    Finally I want to say a little about the ending. Without giving too much away, the ending was very refreshing as it was a lot more true to life (in fact the whole movie was as well) and did not fall on one of those typical happily ever after endings that I find rather irritating. I enjoy some reality on the big screen and it's nice that they went with that for this ending. I know this movie is based on a book, but sadly I have not read it so I cant comment as to how faithful a recreation this is, or if the ending in the book is the same, but it is something I am interested in finding out.

    Overall this is a really nice movie that touches on themes of home, belonging, family and loneliness. The screenplay is wonderful, the acting is top notch and the casting is terrific. If you are on the fence about this one, just do yourself a favor and go see it before it leaves the theaters.

    Final Verdict on Up in the Air: