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June 19, 2014

Movie review: Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow Movie Poster
A long while ago, I spent a summer writing movie reviews for my personal blog.  With all the things I wish I had time to write about today, it sort of boggles my mind that I was searching around for something so trivial just to fill my time.  The number of movies I really want to critique isn’t very large, but there have been a couple in the past few years I would have liked to dissect in writing.  The oft-maligned Superman Returns and Man of Steel, for instance, or the remake of that 80s classic, Fright Night.

Most recently, the movie I’ve been dying to talk to everyone about is the Tom Cruise vehicle, Edge of Tomorrow.  Massive, massive spoilers incoming, so if you haven’t seen it yet (and trust my recommendation), go watch it now before it leaves theaters for good.  Worth seeing on the big screen.  This review’ll be here when you get back.

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September 20, 2004

Movie Review: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow Movie PosterBack in May, I attacked my blog with renewed vigor and tried to post an entry every day. Didn’t work, but I did up the content (while simultaneously lowering the quality) of my blog in the process. One of the filler ideas I had was to post short movie reviews for the summer blockbuster season. So, I did.

This summer, the critical consensus seemed to be that the blockbuster season would be kicked off by Van Helsing and I set a goal to see and review as many movies as I could before Labor Day, four months later. Eventually I saw 14 movies (add two more for second viewings of Shrek 2 and Spider-Man 2) and spent somewhere north of $130 for ticket prices alone. When September 6th finally arrived, I was close to burning out and I couldn’t generate the interest level necessary to make it to the last few movies that I probably would have enjoyed. I’m thinking of Open Water, Hero, and Garden State, among others.

No matter. Taking a short break has rejuvenated my interest and I’m now looking forward to other movies like The Forgotten, The Incredibles, Shaun of the Dead, The Motorcycle Diaries, Shark Tale, The Life Aquatic, and maybe even some guilty pleasures like National Treasure, Team America: World Police, and Blade: Trinity.

While writing short movie reviews never really felt like work, they did always have the annoying habit of tumbling around in my mind after the movie was over. I felt like I had a responsibility, to myself if no one else, to write down my thoughts and post them online. I’m not saying that I won’t do that again in the future, but I think I might enjoy going back to irresponsible movie watching for awhile.

That being said, I just watched Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow a couple nights ago and thought I’d at least mention a couple things about it before packing up my movie critic bag.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was an interesting movie… from a technological standpoint. And by that, I don’t mean that the killer robots and submersible WWII airplanes were what made it interesting. Rather, SCatWoT (is that a great abbreviation, or what?) is the first movie to have been filmed entirely in front of blue screens. Every location was created with computers and matted in after the actors had already delivered their lines in what was, I suspect, a very blue room.

The director went for a decidedly noir-ish look to the “film” and everything had an ethereal, sepia tone look to it. Perhaps that glow around each character was to mask some particularly bad edges, I don’t know. I didn’t like it, but then… I’ve never gone in for film noir, anyway.

To make matters worse, I didn’t bite on the story, either. Comparisons to Raiders of the Lost Ark are inevitable, I suppose, but none of the characters in Sky Captain had any real depth. At times I felt like I was watching the sequel to some other movie. The characters were presented as if we should already know who they were, and there was no stage of the movie devoted to character development. Similarly, within maybe 5 minutes of the movie beginning, we were hurled headlong into a strange world with no background. There were familiar things — New York City and the Hindenburg docking with the Empire State Building – but we were only left to assume that it was some sort of Post World War I, comic bookish, alternate reality. I had no troubles picking up on the homage to the sci-fi movies of the 50s, I just got hung up on “Why?”

Despite not caring much about the world they had crafted, I have to admit that I was curious where they were going with the movie. I found myself quite bored with the paper-thin characters, but I must admit that I wanted to know what they were chasing. When the movie finally delivered, I must admit that the anagnorisis surprised me. I won’t spoil it for you, but there’s a neat little sci-fi idea buried beneath the script of SCatWoT. Too bad it wasn’t executed as well as it could have been.

The final line of the movie almost saved everything, though. It was telegraphed like the worst (i.e., best!) of shaggy dog jokes, but it still made me laugh out loud.

Well, heck. Let’s stick to the format for one last review:

Trivial Thought: I caught a couple tip-o’-the-hats to George Lucas and to The Iron Giant. Makes me wonder what else I missed…
What did I find worthwhile about the movie? The proof-of-conceptness of it. It sure kept me guessing what was “real” and what wasn’t.
Would I recommend the movie? Depends. If you like deconstructing special effects, then yes.
Will I buy it on DVD? You know what? I just might. I’d love to see the behind-the-scenes of how they made this movie (and if I’d liked it more, I’d probably be scouring the Internet for that information right now).

And for the sake of closure, here’s my definitive list of the summer movies I saw – in the order of which I’d most like to see again. Looking over them with my stellar 20/20 hindsight, I’m not convinced I wouldn’t rearrange things a little bit, but it’s close enough for government work. (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, opening after Labor Day, was not included.)

Overall Summer Movie Ranking
Spider-man 2
Shrek 2
Collateral
The Village
I, Robot
The Bourne Supremacy
The Day After Tomorrow
The Terminal
The Chronicles of Riddick
Troy
Fahrenheit 9/11
Van Helsing
Aliens vs. Predator
The Stepford Wives

August 30, 2004

Movie Review: Collateral

Collateral Movie Poster (10k image)It seems that the first reaction to the Collateral trailer most people have is something along the lines of, “Tom Cruise as a villain? Cool!” Not me. I was thinking, “Jamie Foxx isn’t playing an idiot? Intriguing.” I’m sure there’s a third reaction out there that goes, “Another Michael Maan movie? Outstanding!” but I don’t know much about the director so I can’t comment on that one.

Now, I really liked the first teaser for the movie. It let you know that Jamie Foxx plays a cab driver, that Tom Cruise is a hitman that’s going to kidnap him, and that it’s all going to take place over one night in Los Angeles. It was tantalizing – just enough to get me interested in that “what would you do in this situation” kind of way. The Hollywood Marketing Spoiler Goons must not have been pleased, though, because they issued another trailer that gave more than enough of the ending away. You know what? I was hooked before I knew that the cab driver would fight back, thankyouverymuch. In fact, the second trailer almost made me skip the movie.

I waited until the last night it was in town and then still almost didn’t go. I mentioned to my wife that I was considering going and she responded with, “Oh, that movie. I want to see it!” If she hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t be writing this review.

Collateral has a slow-burn fuse. I couldn’t help comparing it to the last movie I’d seen, The Bourne Supremacy. The directing and editing in The Bourne Supremacy was all over the place – fast cuts, quick movements, and high action. If that movie picked up its editing philosophy from MTV, Collateral went for VH1.

Michael Mann doesn’t fear leaving an actor on the screen for awhile – not even Jamie Foxx who, before this, I wouldn’t even want in a film. But everyone in the movie, Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Javier Bardeem, and Mark Ruffalo especially, all portray unique, believable personalities. It’s a pleasure to see them carry their characters through the movie and Mann allows them to do it patiently.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a big payoff at the end – there is – just that the movie builds to it slowly. The first act is delightfully leisurely, the second builds the tension, and when you finally get to the third, the movie has picked up enough steam to get you on the edge of your seat. It’s a great way to make a movie that’s been sorely missed (by me, at least.) Take a movie like Spiderman, for instance. As a viewer, you’re constantly batted back and forth between character development and action scenes. It’s almost as if the writer was unsure if they could maintain your interest without resorting to the easy out: “We’re losing ‘em with all this sappy romance stuff – better throw in another Doc Ock fight!” It must take a very confident writer and director to allow a movie to build on its own. Hell, confidence is probably only part of the story. The director would have to have a proven box office record to afford the luxury of being able to ignore the big studios’ interference.

Whatever the reason, Collateral is a movie that surprised me – not in its content so much, I guess, but in its great acting and careful pacing.

Trivial Thought: Los Angeles is a huge city, Cruise’s character even says so in the beginning, so why are there so many improbable coincidences in this movie?
What did I find worthwhile about the movie? The acting surprised me the most. And, of course, the pacing. Didn’t I just say that?
Would I recommend the movie? Yes!
Will I buy it on DVD? No, not much to be gained by multiple viewings.

Overall Summer Movie Ranking
Spider-man 2
Shrek 2
Collateral
The Village
I, Robot
The Bourne Supremacy
The Day After Tomorrow
The Terminal
The Chronicles of Riddick
Troy
Fahrenheit 9/11
Van Helsing
Aliens vs. Predator
The Stepford Wives

August 30, 2004

Movie Review: The Bourne Supremacy

The Bourne Supremacy Movie PosterI hadn’t seen The Bourne Identity when it made its rounds in the theaters, but when it came out on DVD, I heard plenty of good stuff about it from my friends. When its sequel, The Bourne Supremacy, began getting good critical reviews this summer, I was intrigued. I’m not one to rent movies very often, but if I was going to see this new one, I thought I’d better play catch up. Finding The Bourne Identity at Blockbuster proved to be difficult while The Bourne Supremacy was in town, but eventually I was able to rent myself a copy.

I enjoyed The Bourne Supremacy when I finally got to see it, although I didn’t like it as much as its prequel. The Bourne Supremacy picks up with the “Happily Ever After” from the first movie and within the first 15 minutes manages to destroy just about everything the first movie stood for. Jason Bourne acts alone in the second movie and because of that we lose the interactions that gave us insight into what made his amnesiac assassin character seem so human.

One things both movies did remarkable well (and perhaps this comes from the Ludlam books, I don’t know) was realistically portray how people and agencies act and react when they don’t have all the information. I don’t think either movie was trying to make a political point, but it’s hard not to draw comparisons to current events.

The Bourne Supremacy was definitely faster paced that The Bourne Identity and I suspect that has a whole lot more to do with the directors than with the stories. The Bourne Supremacy was cut like a music video, sometimes to the point of distraction – a friend and I agree that the final car chase was filmed so tight and was edited with so many rapid cuts that you just couldn’t see what was going on. The one-on-one fight scenes were the same way – I felt far more tension in the first movie’s if only because I could see everything that was happening.

The Bourne Supremacy also had one other aspect that lowered it below the level of The Bourne Identity: Two endings. Well, okay, not really. But there was a distinct feeling of closure when Jason Bourne wrapped things up with the American government and then they had to ramp the movie back up for a half hour or so to get some resolution on the Russian side of things. I can’t help but think that they could have tied the endings together better.

Trivial Thought: Didn’t The Matrix teach us that lengthy camera shots in an action movie are a good thing?
What did I find worthwhile about the movie? Some of the characters. Matt Damon did well enough, as did Brian Cox. I’m starting to like that Lord of the Rings guy that was in Riddick, too (and Oksana said he did a very good job with his Russian lines!) I wish that Julia Styles was used more in both movies – I’m not a big fan or anything, but the trailers made it seem like she had a bigger part.
Would I recommend the movie? Yes.
Will I buy it on DVD? No, probably not. The movie was good and all, but I can’t see watching it over and over.

Overall Summer Movie Ranking
Spider-man 2
Shrek 2
The Village
I, Robot
The Bourne Supremacy
The Day After Tomorrow
The Terminal
The Chronicles of Riddick
Troy
Fahrenheit 9/11
Van Helsing
Aliens vs. Predator
The Stepford Wives

 

August 18, 2004

Aliens vs. Predator Movie Review

Aliens vs. Predator Movie PosterThere’s a special little corner of Hell reserved for directors like Joel Schumacher and Paul W. S. Anderson. In it they will be forced to watch their own movies for all eternity.

There’s a clip up on Apple’s trailer site that shows part of a featurette (no doubt destined to be included on the DVD) on the making of the Aliens vs. Predator film. In it, one of the SFX guys tells us that the director of AVP wanted to extend the Predator’s wrist blades “…so now they shoot out about four times as long as we’ve ever seen them before.”

Yeah, and Joel Schumacher thought it would be a great idea to add Bat-nipples.

The idea that everything must be changed for it to be cooler is what ruined AVP. It also ruined not just a Batman movie, but a whole franchise. Look, if you’re building a sequel, you’re probably doing that because there’s an established fan base. And the fans are there solely because the first movie was a success! Why on Earth would you want to deviate so far from the path of success?

AVP, from top to bottom, is filled with so many changes to the Aliens and Predator canon, that it completely distracted me from the story. For instance, I found myself thinking:

Weyland Robotics was founded way back in 2004?
Aliens gestate in the human body within minutes instead of hours?
Aliens grow to full size in barely more time than that?
Aliens no longer use stealth to their advantage?
Predators no longer use stealth, either? Why do they bother cloaking?
Predators can see INTO things with their visors?

Those points distracted me because I’ve seen all the movies upon which this one was built. If only that was it… There was far more to contribute to the ruining of my evening: The back-story was laughably chronologically inaccurate, the Predators were completely without individual personality, practically all of the humans were throwaway characters, lines were recycled for the sake of recycling them, and I’ll bet, if pressed, I could come up with fully a dozen plot holes you could fly a spaceship through.

I mean, hell, even the special effect technology was misused! Computer graphics have definitely come far enough to fully animate the Aliens, but I have to admit that I liked them better in Aliens (circa 1986!) Especially the Queen – in Aliens, with her ponderous movements, she lurches about almost as though she sacrificed the mobility inherent in her race to gain the ability to breed. In AVP she’s charges around like a T-Rex.

Everything is given too little time in this movie. The humans characters are not developed nearly enough. The stages of the Aliens are glossed over. The Predators barely interact with anything at all. Even the history is glossed over quickly… it’s like the director tries to keep things moving so fast just so you won’t have a chance to second guess anything.

Well, guess what, Mr. Anderson, it wasn’t fast enough. This movie sucks.

Trivial Thought: Why can’t Hollywood adapt an Aliens story from Dark Horse Comics? They wrote a far better Aliens vs. Predator and Aliens 3.
What did I find worthwhile about the movie? Not a whole lot, really. I guess the computer-generated Aliens (excepting the Queen) looked pretty good.
Would I recommend the movie? No.

Will I buy it on DVD? No. (Well, maybe if it came in a boxed set… that was being sold on eBay… for less than 20 bucks.)

Overall Summer Movie Ranking
Spider-man 2
Shrek 2
The Village
I, Robot
The Day After Tomorrow
The Terminal
The Chronicles of Riddick
Troy
Fahrenheit 9/11
Van Helsing
Aliens vs. Predator
The Stepford Wives

August 3, 2004

The Village: Movie Review

The Village Movie PosterTrying to write a spoiler-free review of an M. Night Shyamalan movie is as difficult as trying to explain the difference between red and yellow to a blind person. There’s not enough I can tell you that will give you a clear picture.

Overall, I enjoyed his new movie, The Village. That’s impressive, considering that the surprise – there’s always a “surprise” in a Shyamalan movie – was inadvertently spoiled for me by my barely-literate Russian niece. She saw it on opening night and despite my body language communication to the contrary (I covered my ears and said “nyahnyahnyah!”) she still let slip three words. Three. Words. If you don’t think that’s enough to spoil a movie’s crucial plot twist, just think back to the Sixth Sense. How easy would it be to give that whole movie away?

Anyway, as I was saying. Good movie, despite what I consider to be some weaknesses in the script. M. Night Shyamalan is a great writer/director and he deserves every penny he makes off these movies, but I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. I think of it as a lack of faith in the audience. Whenever he divulges the big revelation, he almost always uses flashbacks, voiceovers, or some other crutch to guide the audience to their conclusion. Personally, I’d like to be given a little more credit than that; it’s only a two-hour movie, after all. My short term memory can take it, trust me.

In The Village, I thought there were some problems with the story telling that could have been worked out. For instance, there’s a short section of the movie where sequences are told out of chronological order. It was obvious that he chose to do it that way so that certain… things… would be hidden until he chose to reveal them at a suitably shocking point, but to me that indicates a weakness in the script. I believe that, try as he might, he just couldn’t manipulate the events of the story to uncover themselves chronologically without sacrificing the dramatic tension. I’m not saying I could do any better, but I still think it’s a weakness.

Bah! Without citing specific examples, it’s too hard to explain exactly what I mean. Tell you what: Go out and watch the movie and we’ll discuss it later. I can’t say any more without giving away the plot points whose names we do not speak.

Trivial Thought: While I thought the movie was good, I’m surprised that it wasn’t “FATASTINOMICAL!!1″ like the Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs. Oh, well. I guess that if M. Night Shyamalan can hold out for four movies before his sophomore slump, he can still be my hero.
What did I find worthwhile about the movie? The background story. It was obviously well thought-out. Also, the acting was top notch all around.
Would I recommend the movie? Yes.
Will I buy it on DVD? Yes.

Overall Summer Movie Ranking
Spider-man 2
Shrek 2
The Village
I, Robot
The Day After Tomorrow
The Terminal
The Chronicles of Riddick
Troy
Fahrenheit 9/11
Van Helsing
The Stepford Wives

July 26, 2004

Movie Review: Fahrenheit 9/11

Fahrenheit 9/11 Movie PosterI’m apolitical. I don’t vote, and I try not to bitch. Politics have always been outside my realm of interest. They just seem to get people so worked up out about things that, often, they feel powerless to do anything about. I don’t need that kind of stress in my life.

It’s not that I don’t believe in this little democracy experiment that we call America – in fact, I trust it so completely that I’ve never seen the need to vote. I’m fully confident that, collectively, the voting population of our country has my best interest at heart. I’ve always told myself that I would register to vote if and when something important enough comes up on the ballot, but the truth of the matter is that I have yet to see any significant change to my lifestyle based on who’s holding office.

Despite having had a politically-motivated girlfriend years ago, I still managed to shy away from political discussions (much to her exasperation!) In retrospect, that was probably due more to my lack of information than anything else – in college I didn’t read the newspaper, listen to the radio, or even watch much TV (except for, of course, Star Trek, The Simpsons, and the X-Files!) Ignorance is bliss.

A few years ago, I realized how horrible our music stations are in Juneau and I began tuning my car radio to our local AM talk station, instead. My commute time is roughly 3 minutes, though, so this new window to the world of current events was relatively small. Each day I learned a little bit more about politics from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Michael Regan, and Laura Ingram on longer drives to the store or on my lunch break. Eventually I discovered that talk radio is very heavily conservatively biased. I’m almost ashamed to say how long it took me to realize that – having had no political background to speak of, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you Conservative:Republican :: Liberal:Democrat. All I knew was that I didn’t often agree with the sentiments I heard on the AM band. (Yes, I’m aware of NPR. But both sources are strongly biased and I believe that an open mind can and will see through both sides. In that sense, I guess it doesn’t matter who you listen to.)

Crap. This was supposed to a short movie review for Fahrenheit 9/11.
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