Sunday, January 31, 2010

"Edge of Darkness"

Edge of Darkness - Directed by Martin Campbell, starring Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone, and Danny Huston - Rated R

The Evil Kurgan is a Mel Gibson fan.

Edge of Darkness marks the first time Mel Gibson has starred in a film for nearly eight years. It’s a shame Mel waited this long, because he’s still got it. Maybe you feel differently about him after all the controversy of the past few years. If his remarks or actions made you hate him, this film isn’t going to bring you back on his side. If, like me, you ignore controversy and just watch a movie, then you’ll get a nostalgic feeling while watching Edge of Darkness and you’ll wish that Mel never took a break.

The film starts off simply enough. Boston police detective Tom Craven (Gibson) picks up his daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic) from the train station and they head home. They’re not home for long when Emma is viciously gunned down on Tom’s front porch. At first Craven thinks he was the target and Emma was just collateral damage. It’s a bit more complicated than that and Craven ends up going on a mission involving shady government operatives and privatized military companies (PMCs).

I’ll leave the story at that. Just know that Mel Gibson doesn’t react well to the death of his daughter. Some people have tried to categorize this as Taken with Mel Gibson. While there are some basic similarities, the two films are quite different. And Edge of Darkness is a better film. It’s also a more complicated film. The government operative and PMCs might have you scratching your head. But if you pay close attention, the story shouldn’t lose you.

The slightly complex story makes this a film that is more about talking than fighting. Sure, you get a few excellent scenes with Gibson laying down some vengeance, but you see him talking much more often. This is a thriller in the tradition of Gibson’s mid-90’s work, when a film didn’t need constant violence to be entertaining. In other words, this is a film for adults or people with attention spans longer than one minute. That’s not to say this is a boring film, though. There is some extreme violence in it, it’s just not constant. I believe that director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) took a page from films like A History of Violence and Inglourious Basterds. Those two films show that violence is most brutal and effective when it is set up very slowly and then happens in the blink of an eye.

The violence sticks out a bit, but this film works best in dialogue. The scenes with Craven and shady hit man Jedburgh (Ray Winstone) were my favorite moments. Winstone has a quiet animosity in his voice that adds tension to every scene. It also helps that his character, a hit man who is possibly developing a conscious, is just as interesting, if not more, than Craven. Craven’s story arc is quite simple: find the people who killed my daughter and return the favor. Jedburgh, on the other hand, is trying to decide what his mission is throughout the film. The audience doesn’t know whether or not to root for him, which makes him very interesting. Jedburgh’s character also allows for some much needed comic relief like when Craven ends one encounter with the line, “By the way, thanks for not killing me.”

Winstone is great, but this is still Gibson’s film. No one sells the loss of a child like Gibson. He’s one of the few actors who can pull off an anguished yell and not provoke laughter. But better than that, he shows such convincing anger that it transfers off the screen. I felt angry right with him throughout the movie and as he exacted revenge I felt like cheering him on. This is nothing new for Gibson, though. Just look at films like Braveheart and The Patriot. It’s nearly impossible not to be on Mel’s side in these films.

Gibson’s performance always makes a villain better, too. When he gets you on his side, you start to really hate the villain of the film. And even though Jack Bennett (Danny Huston) isn’t a very memorable antagonist, you still get a decent sense of hatred for him. For the record, Huston does a fine job as Bennett and it’s always good to see him in higher profile releases like this. It’s just that the character isn’t particularly interesting.

The villain isn’t the greatest and the film itself will not likely be remembered as one of Gibson’s best, but Edge of Darkness is definitely a worthy film for Mel Gibson’s return to starring roles. I just hope that he keeps it up because seven and a half years is far too long to go without hearing Gibson say things like, “You had better decide whether you’re hangin’ on the cross, or bangin’ in the nails” with utterly convincing ferocity. So just forget about Mel Gibson the man if you have to and let Mel Gibson the actor take you on a vengeful and entertaining trip.

Monday, January 25, 2010

"The Lovely Bones" / Mini Reviews: "Pandorum" / "The Room" / "Outland" / "Zardoz" / "In the Loop" / "Orphan" / "Walker"

The Lovely Bones - Directed by Peter Jackson, starring Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, and Stanley Tucci - Rated PG-13

The film has its moments, but overall it's a bit weak, like Commodus.

The Lovely Bones, Peter Jackson’s latest, is all over the place but when it’s focused, the film is very effective. The problem, for me, was that the weak moments overshadowed the strong.

The film takes place in Pennsylvania in the early 1970’s. Susie Salmon is a regular 14-year old girl who gets murdered by a creepy neighbor and then spends time in the “in between,” watching over her family as they deal with her death. The problem I had with the film is that she seems to only be watching. While the film pretends she has some influence in the living world, all it really amounts to is her voice breaking through on occasion (save for one nearly pointless moment at the end). So it’s kind of like Ghost, except Susie never learns how to be useful after her death. The film tries to make it seem like she is influencing events, though. Susie says in narration that she has “willed” things to happen, but I don’t buy it. The events she thinks she influences are completely believable without Susie’s involvement, so what is she really doing?

The film’s stronger moments take place in the living world where her father (Mark Wahlberg) is trying to track down the killer. I can’t take Wahlberg seriously after the “Saturday Night Live” sketch about him and his performance in The Happening, but his storyline intrigued me the most. Saosirse Ronan is great as Susie, though. She definitely creates sympathy for her character. Ronan exudes such innocence before her death that you’ll get a true sense of hate for her murderer. That’s not to say that Stanley Tucci, as the murderer, needs any help in creating hatred. He absolutely embodies creepiness and his portrayal is one of the most unsettling performances in recent memory. I would go so far as to say that Tucci alone makes this film worth watching.

It’s a shame that the unsympathetic character is given the most development, though. The mother and father get their angry/crying scenes, but Susie’s dad almost instantly goes into obsessed mode while the mother just leaves. I normally wouldn’t suggest this, but this film needed a better misery scene. The biggest mistake in the character department, however, rests with Susan Sarandon as Susie’s wacky grandma. Now, this is a movie about the murder of a child, yet the filmmakers felt that they should add a montage of Sarandon acting goofy. Watch as grandma messes up the laundry, sets the kitchen on fire, drinks too much, and always smokes! Hilarious, right? Completely out of place is more like it. I felt like I was watching a different movie in that moment.
Scenes like that led me to believe that the screenwriters tried too hard to please fans of the book. I have never read the bestseller that this film is based on, but the out of place moments of this film must be better handled in the book. Maybe that’s not the case, but even if I had gone into this movie with no prior knowledge, I would’ve known that it was an adaptation after that montage.

As I mentioned earlier, though, this film does have strong aspects. The scenes involving Tucci were full of tension and they truly made me feel uncomfortable. The visuals are impressive at times, though I was actually expecting them to be a bit better since it was Peter Jackson. Regardless, some images stuck with me, like the giant bottled ships crashing into rocks. And speaking of Jackson, his cameo (a not so subtle shot of him looking through a camera) and references were an amusing touch.

Peter Jackson is a proven director, but he really needs to trim the fat off of his films. I’ve had issues with his films since the multiple endings of The Return of the King and then the bloated King Kong remake. This film isn’t extremely long or anything, but plenty of it could have been cut to tighten the focus. For starters, Jackson could have cut the Sarandon character completely. I believe other characters, like Susie’s sister, could’ve have been cut down as well.

I wanted to see a movie that was only about a father and his daughter and how they both deal with her death. Instead, I got an unfocused film that seemed to randomly focus on different characters. If the filmmakers could’ve seen the strong aspects of The Lovely Bones during production, maybe the film would have turned out better. As it is, the film is mediocre and worth a rental at best.

Mini Reviews

Pandorum - Directed by Christian Alvart, starring Ben Foster, Dennis Quaid, and Antje Traue - Rated R
If you've been reading my reviews at all, then you know I have a soft spot for sci-fi, which is why I'm willing to forgive Pandorum its few transgressions (too dark early in the film, creatures seem like rip offs of the Reavers from "Firefly"/Serenity, etc.) and recommend it as a totally decent horror sci-fi film. It helps that it stars Ben Foster, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors and is hardcore sci-fi. By that I mean that it takes place hundreds of years in the future and the entire movie takes place on a spaceship. The action isn't half bad, either. A little frenetic at times, but it does have an interesting look to it. If any of the above sounds good, do yourself a favor and give it a rent.

The Room - Written and directed by Tommy Wiseau, starring Tommy Wiseau, Juliette Danielle, and Greg Sistero - Rated R (2003)
The Room is not to be taken seriously. This is the film that became famous for its midnight showings (of which multiple celebrities are known to attend) in which fans yell at the screen and throw plastic spoons (because of the framed artwork of cutlery in the film). Simply put, it's one of the worst movies ever made, which makes it extremely enjoyable (kind of like the new The Wicker Man). Characters seem to completely change from scene to scene. There are multiple lengthy, strange sex scenes. For some reason, the characters play what they call "football" at random times (once while wearing tuxedos). Wiseau himself delivers his dialogue in such a strange way you can't help but laugh. I could go on and on, but I suggest you just watch it yourself and enjoy the awfulness.

Outland - Written and directed by Peter Hyams, starring Sean Connery and Peter Boyle - Rated R (1981)
This is the first of two Sean Connery films that I watched only because of references to other films. In this case, the reference was in Moon. Outland is about a mining colony on a moon of Jupiter that is experiencing a surge of violent deaths. Sean Connery is the new head of security and he has to face off with the general manager of the mine, Peter Boyle. This is one of those films that I probably would have loved if I had seen it when it first came out, but I've seen so many better sci-fi films that came out after this. And Outland just isn't all that memorable. It has its moments, though. It's fun to watch Connery and Boyle square off and the plot was interesting. If you like sci-fi, I'd recommend checking it out on Netflix streaming, it's probably not worth wasting a disc rental on, though.

Zardoz - Written and directed by John Boorman, starring Sean Connery, John Alderton, and Charlotte Rampling - Rated R (1974)
Part two of my Connery reference twin bill, Zardoz was compared to The Book of Eli in an amusing article, so I had to check out this post-apocalyptic/sci-fi/crazy film. This film is just plain wacky. If you need proof, just check out a picture of Sean Connery in costume for this one. He looks ridiculous, but that's in keeping with this foolish film. Apparently this film is a cult classic, but I didn't even get that kind of enjoyment out of it. So maybe it's for you, but if you haven't seen it yet, don't make a point to, unless you're just that curious about why Sean Connery would wear such a ridiculous getup.

In the Loop - Written (partially) and directed by Armando Ianucci, starring Tom Hollander, James Gandolfini, and Peter Capaldi - Rated R
In the Loop is the hilarious satire of a joint British-American buildup to war in an unnamed middle eastern country. War in the middle east isn't exactly the funniest topic out there, so this film focuses on how ridiculous the political world is. If you've heard anything about this movie, you've probably heard about Peter Capaldi's hilarious turn as Malcolm Tucker. There's nothing I can write that will add to the mountain of praise he has already received, so I'll just let you know that everything you've heard/read is absolutely correct. In the Loop is definitely one of the funniest films of 2009 and it's one of those great, rapid-fire comedies that you need to watch two or three times to catch all of the jokes. Definitely check this one out. At worst, you'll only find Capaldi to be funny.

Orphan - Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, starring Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, and Isabelle Fuhrman - Rated R
This movie isn't bad or anything, it's just that I am sick of the "evil child" movies. And this one doesn't offer anything groundbreaking. To be honest, I prefer Vera Famiga's other evil kid movie, 2007's Joshua. It's a bit strange that she has made two movies like this in a span of three years. If you like this type of movie, I honestly suggest checking out Joshua instead of Orphan. I will say this for Orphan, though; Isabelle Fuhrman plays evil quite well. Oh, and Peter Sarsgaard is in this and that always helps, though I wish he would start taking some more interesting roles.

Walker - Directed by Alex Cox, starring Ed Harris, Sy Richardson, Xander Berkeley, Marlee Matlin, and Peter Boyle - Rated R (1987)
This film, from the director of Repo Man and Sid and Nancy (two films that I thought were interesting, but didn't like as much as everyone else), is quite weird. From the opening scene set to Joe Strummer's interesting and original score, you know you're in for something quite different from a regular biopic. The movie, made during the Sandinista/Contra ordeal in Nicauragua has a few intentional anachronisms that seem to point out that the movie is about William Walker, but it's also about the (then) current situation. I watched it because the history sounded so interesting. William Walker (an excellent Ed Harris) was an American filibuster who went to Nicauragua for Cornelius Vanderbilt (Peter Boyle) and ended up declaring himself president in 1856. That much is true, and extremely interesting, at that. I imagine weirder parts of the movie might put off some viewers, though. But if you're looking for a cautionary tale about Manifest Destiny, an indictment of U.S. involvement in the Sandinista/Contra situation, and/or a great performance from Ed Harris then, by all means, check out Walker. Or maybe you're like me and you'll want to watch it again just for Strummer's score and the rest of the film is a bonus.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Moon - Directed (and story) by Duncan Jones, starring Sam Rockwell - Rated R

Sci-fi films don't need action to be great.

I thought 2009 was a great year for sci-fi, well, action sci-fi, that is. As you can tell from my reviews of last year, I was completely okay with the action packed offerings of Avatar, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Terminator: Salvation, and especially District 9. (I know I’m in the minority in my enjoyment of a couple of these films, but I found the action to be quite suitable in Terminator and Transformers.) The more thought-provoking sci-fi took a backseat this year. Films like Knowing and Surrogates had a few ideas going for them, but they both have their problems. And the most interesting sci-fi film, The Box, fell flat at the box office (I imagine I’ll be defending that film for years to come). Out of all of this comes Duncan Jones’ Moon and it’s among my favorite films of 2009.

Moon is the story of Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), an astronaut who is near the end of a three year solo stint on the moon, harvesting Helium-3, a new energy source that keeps earth running. Well, Sam isn’t completely on his own, he’s accompanied by his faithful robot, GERTY (amusingly voiced by Kevin Spacey). Things start off smoothly enough until Sam finds someone else on the moon: himself, literally. I don’t want to go any further than that with the plot; suffice it to say that your mind will start running through all the possible answers to the situation.

This leads me to one of the film’s strong points. Moon is blatantly inspired by other, classic sci-fi films. You’ll see shots reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey. You’ll hear music and see plot points that mirror Steven Soderbergh’s remake of Solaris. These are the two influences that stuck out to me, but there are plenty more. Those influences struck me because they serve a purpose regarding the story. Is GERTY evil like HAL? Is the second Sam Bell a creation of the first Sam’s mind or some kind of alien force? These were the thoughts running through my head as I watched and it added to my enjoyment of the film. I think the film is still enjoyable even without knowledge of other films, but knowing about them might help.

This is not to say that Moon doesn’t have a style all its own. The film looks great, especially since it was made for $5 million (an insanely small budget for a sci-fi film). If I would have guessed the amount it cost to make this, I would have said at least $30 million. But Duncan Jones went back to the old ways for this one. Each scene showing the harvesters and trucks on the moon was shot with miniatures, something I did not know until I watched the special features on the DVD. I’m not going to get all preachy and point fingers at CG gurus like George Lucas and James Cameron(I still enjoy all the glory CG can offer), but Jones does show that a sci-fi film can look great without breaking the bank.

The look of the film is one thing, but the atmosphere created by this film is hypnotic. Maybe it’s the way Jones captures the isolation of the moon base or maybe it’s the presence of GERTY, always lurking near Sam. Whatever it is, it worked on me. Duncan Jones created a believable world that I wanted to return to almost as soon as I finished my first viewing.

All of these elements hinge on one thing, however: Sam Rockwell. He gives one of the best performances of the year, or I should say he gives two of the best performances of the year. Rockwell truly makes it feel like there are two different people interacting with each other onscreen. What makes it a great performance is that the interactions between the two Sam’s are at times tense, hilarious, and even touching. The humor is the most important aspect, though. Movies like this can become deadly serious and borderline boring if the filmmakers are not careful, but that is not the case in Moon. The film puts a lot of weight on Rockwell’s shoulders and he carries it well. It’s unfortunate that he is not being mentioned more during awards season. Rockwell proves yet again that he deserves more starring roles.

Rockwell being ignored is one thing, but the film in general deserves much more attention. It was given a weak theatrical release (it wasn’t released anywhere near this area) and since it didn’t create a buzz along the lines of Paranormal Activity, it was pulled from theaters after grossing only $5 million (but hey, it made its budget back, and then some when you add the foreign market). But now it’s on DVD and if you like sci-fi at all, you should at the very least rent this great film.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

"The Book of Eli"

The Book of Eli - Directed by The Hughes Brothers, starring Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, and Mila Kunis - Rated R

The Evil Kurgan loves the apocalypse.

It seems that Hollywood is obsessed with the apocalypse these days. Over the past year I’ve seen Knowing, Terminator: Salvation, The Road, Zombieland, 2012, and now The Book of Eli. Let’s face it, people want to see what might happen if the world ends. Would we turn to cannibalism? Would we loot and pillage? Would we lose our humanity? These questions have been covered by most of these films, but, surprisingly, religion has taken a backseat in the Hollywood apocalypse. To be fair, Knowing had a religious aspect to it, but it was slightly open to interpretation.

The trend of ignoring religion during the end times has changed with The Book of Eli. If you’ve seen the previews, you know that the eponymous book is in fact the Holy Bible. In the film, a war tore a hole in the sky and brought on a gray world (the film nearly looks black and white). The Bible was blamed for this war and all copies of the book were burned. Well, almost all of them. Eli (Denzel Washington) has the last copy and he’s trying to take it west.

Eli walks a scorched earth alone. The road is populated with cannibals, though, waiting to ambush lone walkers. But Eli gets by okay. He’s insanely deadly with a bow and arrow and all manner of guns, but he is an artist with his razor sharp machete. Needless to say, The Book of Eli has a number of brutal action scenes. The action isn’t groundbreaking or anything, but it is entertaining. One shootout in particular is Michael Bay-worthy. The action is vital to the film because the story does start to drag a bit when Eli makes his way to town.

In the town, Eli comes across the ruthless Carnegie (Gary Oldman). Carnegie runs the town with an iron fist (he controls the precious water supply) and he uses his power to send out road crews to search for the last copy of the Bible, in hopes of using it for ill gains, of course. This is where Eli meets Solara (Mila Kunis) who insists on tagging along with Eli.

Solara is meant to be an important character and she is supposed to represent a vital theme in regards to the Bible and how it tells you to lead your life. But I thought this fell flat a bit. I think the film is strong enough with only Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman going head to head.
The flaws in Solara’s character are due to writing, not acting. Kunis does an okay job in the film. She just pales in comparison to heavyweights like Washington and Oldman. Washington has become one of the most dependable actors in Hollywood. You know you’re going to see at least a decent movie if he’s involved. His screen presence is unmatched. Oldman is great as usual, though I would have liked to see more eccentricities in his character. Carnegie, as a character, is kind of plain, but Oldman punches it up a bit. The supporting players aren’t bad in this film, either. Ray Stevenson makes for a decent second-in-command. And Tom Waits and Michael Gambon lighten the mood of the film here and there.

The lightening of the mood is a very refreshing aspect of the film. Most apocalyptic films are deadly serious, which is natural, but movies are meant to be entertaining for the most part and it’s nice to laugh occasionally, even in the face of disaster. Don’t get me wrong, though, The Book of Eli is not a comedy. It just has a couple of moments that provide a laugh or two.

The comedy and the religion are refreshing aspects of the film, but the style of the film isn’t exactly original. I can’t help but compare it to The Road. Both films offer a scorched earth as a setting and the opening scenes of Eli walking alone could almost be confused with footage from that other apocalyptic film. But your options are a bit limited when it comes to the end of the world. There’s bound to be some overlap. It may not be the freshest look in film, but it does look great and the Hughes Brothers (the directing duo) create some beautiful shots that match up to the powerful score.

The Book of Eli offers some elements that I found amusing in the crowded post-apocalyptic genre. First off, it’s basically a western. You have shootouts in the middle of town, saloons populated with grungy highwaymen, and even a shot or two that would fit in perfectly in an old Clint Eastwood western. Second, everyone gets to wear sunglasses, and it’s nice to see that people still like to look cool after the end of the world. To be fair, though, the sunglasses are important since the sun is particularly blinding after the war. Finally, the film has an interesting take on the cannibal issue. According to this film, if you eat too much human meat, you get the shakes and basically turn into a junkie. I thought it was interesting to add a physical reason to avoid cannibalism in addition to the moral complications.

The story of this film really worked for me. I was honestly interested throughout the film. The action kept things exciting, but I wasn’t sitting there waiting for the next action scene. First time screenwriter Gary Whitta has created an interesting debut; it’s not perfect or anything (as I said earlier, Solara’s character needed some work), but it should keep your attention, which is more than you can say for a lot of films these days. Some people might be turned away from the Christian focus of the film, though. The film makes the Bible the only book that matters, not the Torah, the Koran, the Talmud, etc. That might rub non-Christians the wrong way, but I think the film offers enough for people to get past that. For instance, there is a plot element that will make you want to watch the film at least one more time no matter what your religious affiliation is. The writing overcomes any controversial elements and the direction makes it interesting.

The Book of Eli isn’t a groundbreaking post-apocalyptic film, but it is certainly a worthy addition, and an entertaining one at that. It might even make you think a bit and you’ll certainly have plenty to talk about once it’s over, and that alone makes it worth watching.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"Youth in Revolt" / Mini-Reviews: "Big Fan" / "A Perfect Getaway" / "Halloween II" / "Up"

Youth in Revolt - Directed by Miguel Arteta, starring Michael Cera, Portia Doubleday, and Justin Long - Rated R

No one likes misbehavin' like the Evil Kurgan: "It's better to burn out than to fade away!"

Let me save you a little time with this one: if you don't like Michael Cera, Youth in Revolt is not for you. A number of people have grown tired of Cera's softspoken, lovesick characters and I can completely understand that. He has basically been playing the same character since he gained popularity on Arrested Development. That same character he plays over and over is quite hilarious in my opinion, though. If you hate that character, this film offers a different version of Cera that you might enjoy.

Cera still plays his usual character, but Youth in Revolt allows him to pull double duty and play the unlikely bad boy character. It all starts simply enough, sixteen-year-old Nick Twisp (Cera) spends a week or two in a trailer park where he meets the love of his wife, Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday). But Nick has to return home, leaving Sheeni behind. They come up with a plan, however. Sheeni will find Nick's dad a job in the area and Nick will misbehave enough to be sent to live with his dad so he can be with Sheeni. If you're familiar with Cera's usual characters, though, you know it is not in his nature to be bad. So he creates a mustached, constantly smoking alter ego a la Fight Club called Francois Dillinger.

Dillinger is by far the best part of this film. Just watching Michael Cera smoke a cigarette is kind of funny and when you add arson and some ultra snide backtalking it becomes absolutely hilarious. Cera shows some real range with this one and I found it to be his most impressive performance. He plays Nick by the numbers, but Francois is something entirely new for him. I'm just not sure if the new character is enough to get people on board with this film (and this past weekend's box office showing of $7 million proves this). The truth is I don't think the character is enough to change your mind about Cera. For one thing, Francois may be featured heavily in the previews, but he is not in the film as much as you would think.

Michael Cera isn't the only person in the film, though. Portia Doubleday does a good job as the love interest and the rest of the cast is rounded out by some very good actors including Steve Buscemi, Ray Liotta, Fred Willard, M. Emmet Walsh, Zach Galifianakis, and Justin Long. The only problem is that these actors are all in what could best be described as cameo roles. I wouldn't say that they are wasted, but it would have been nice to see a few more scenes with Buscemi. The supporting actor that stood out most to me, though, was Adhir Kalyan as Vijay, Nick's new friend. He made a perfect partner in crime with Cera.

The film also offers some quirky style as well that was kind of unnecessary, but still a bit amusing. During a couple of road trips (and during the credits), different styles of animation are used. It added a little something to the movie, I suppose, but I could have done without it.

Youth in Revolt isn't a very stylish film, but there is a definite tone and that tone is quite dark. The nihilistic characters left me with a feeling akin to Observe and Report. Even the good Cera character seems to be devoid of hope. He mopes around with a "woe is me" kind of attitude and, aside from a few passive aggressive comments, he is indifferent to the men his mom shacks up with. Sheeni is basically the same, as she lives as apart from her extremely religious parents as possible. It just seems like everyone is indifferent to everyone else. But that's the perfect environment for Francois to inhabit.

That's really all there is to say on this one. I can't stress enough that this film hinges completely on Michael Cera. I've found him funny in nearly everything he has done (he even has a couple of funny moments in last year's terrible Year One) and with this I am officially a Michael Cera fan. I just hope his future characters are more like Francois Dillinger and less like Nick Twisp.


Big Fan - Written and directed by Robert Siegel, starring Patton Oswalt, Kevin Corrigan, and Michael Rapaport - Rated R

Big Fan is the darkly funny movie that might be the most aptly titled film of the year. Patton Oswalt is great as Paul, the New York Giants' biggest fan. The film is dark because Paul's life seems so awful: he works at a toll booth, still loves with his mom at age 36, watches the games at the stadium, but in the parking lot through a rigged up TV, and he takes a late night radio sports show so serious that he writes notes to prepare for each call in he makes. But he is seems happy, so what of it? That's enough summary for you; just know that it isn't all that depressing and it's really just a good, simple story with some laughs along the way. I can't stress Oswalt's performance enough, though. He was meant to play this part, it suits him so well. Kevin Corrigan is also good as his equally crazed best friend. Oh, and if you think you take any type of sporting event too seriously, just watch this film and you'll probably feel better about yourself.

A Perfect Getaway - Written and directed by David Twohy, starring Steve Zahn, Milla Jovovich, and Timothy Olyphant - Rated R

I just want to mention A Perfect Getaway because I haven't been hearing much about the film and it bombed at the box office. If you like a well written, amusing thriller, then do yourself a favor and at least rent this one. I don't want to go into plot details too much. I'll just say that a couple (Zahn and Jovovich) goes to Hawaii for their honeymoon and there is a killer couple on the loose. I found the story interesting and performances were pretty good as well. Olyphant sticks out a bit because he gets to overact and crazy it up a bit and that's when he's at his best. So check it out, you won't be sorry.

Halloween II - Written and directed by Rob Zombie, starring Scout Taylor-Compton, Sheri Moon Zombie, Brad Dourif, Malcolm McDowell, and Tyler Mane - Rated R (Unrated cut on DVD)

This movie just spits venom all over the place. There is no joy in it, no camp, no likable characters, etc. It's all very brutal. That's not really a knock on the film, but I could have used a break from the constant cussing and gore in this film. I would have also liked to have a character to slightly care about. I could care less what happened to Laurie Strode in this film. She was hateful to everyone around, she cusses to the point of stupidity, and she is constantly screaming. I don't just mean when Michael Myers is chasing her, either. She freaks out throughout the entire film. Which is understandable since she's been through so much, but I don't want to see it. And you know what, I don't really care for Michael Myers. I'll take my slasher flicks with a hockey mask, thank you. Oh, and someone should have told Rob Zombie, "Make sure Michael wears his mask the whole movie and he shouldn't have dialogue, not even a single grunted word." Zombie needs to take his "vision" (as the previews called it) to an original story rather than trying to force one of his stories into a Halloween packaging. I would much rather see something along the lines of The Devil's Rejects than this miserable crap. If this film had been made by a no-name, I would consider it mediocre, but Rob Zombie is wasting his time with this, so I judge this a bit harshly.

Up - Written and directed by Pete Docter and Bob Petersen, voiced by Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, and Jordan Nagai - Rated PG

I'm writing a short review on this one because people who know me know that I'm eating crow by giving this a good review. Every time a Pixar movie comes out and people put it in their top ten or just call it the best movie of the year I always roll my eyes and proclaim, "It's a movie meant for children!" Well, I'm not putting this in my top ten (coming soon, by the way), but it's definitely in my honorable mention. The movie, about an old widower (Asner) who uses balloons to take his house on an adventure, is absolutely beautiful (just check out the scene when the house first takes flight in Blu-ray) and it's surprisingly dramatic. The first ten minutes are downright sad. This one just surprised me a bit is all. It's not the best movie of the year, but it doesn't bother me so much anymore that some people claim that it is.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

"Sherlock Holmes"

Sherlock Holmes - Directed by Guy Ritchie, starring Robert Downey, Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, and Mark Strong - Rated PG-13

This fun take on Holmes and Watson deserves a Kurgan.

Who knew Sherlock Holmes was so cool? If you’re like me, then the idea that comes to mind when you hear the famous detective’s name is that of a middle-aged man with a funny hat, a pipe, and an uncanny ability to solve complicated crimes by simply paying close attention to every detail. That doesn’t mean that director Guy Ritchie’s new version of Holmes is an unfaithful adaptation of the beloved Sir Arthur Conan Doyle creation. After doing some research (nothing major, just a quick read through of Sherlock’s Wikipedia page), I found that Holmes was an accomplished bare knuckle boxer and he had an eccentric personality. It’s just that Ritchie and his many screenwriters (five are credited) focused on the fighting and the eccentricity. That’s not to say that the deductive reasoning is ignored, however.

Sherlock Holmes is still all about an elaborate crime that Sherlock (Robert Downey, Jr.) and his ever faithful sidekick, Dr. Watson (Jude Law), must solve. Lord Blackwood (the continually impressive Mark Strong) has just been caught dabbling in the dark arts and has been sentenced to hang. Everything seems to be going smoothly. He is executed and Watson confirms his death, but the next day Blackwood is alive and plotting some major changes in England.

The story is interesting and nicely action packed, but what makes or breaks this film is the different take on the characters. Robert Downey, Jr. is very entertaining as the quick witted Holmes. His back and forth with Watson make for the most enjoyable moments in the film. The duo makes a first rate odd couple and the filmmakers made a wise choice by throwing us in the middle of their partnership rather than the beginning. It would have been boring to see yet another origin story about an already well-known set of characters. The pacing of the film actually plays like a sequel. It assumes we are familiar with the characters and just throws you right into a new adventure.

Back to the acting: Downey is funny and all, but his delivery takes some getting used to. His rapid fire delivery works great in other films, but he seems to be mumbling at times in this film and the British accent doesn’t help, either. It was only an issue for me early in the film, though; by the end, I was able to understand all of his lines. Surprisingly, I found Jude Law to be the most entertaining member of the cast. He’s turned in a number of quality roles over the years, but he’s rarely had the chance to be truly funny. He’s not funny in the traditional sense, i.e. he doesn’t have gags or tell jokes. His humor comes from simply reacting to Holmes’s more erratic behavior. Law’s slightly feigned disgust with Holmes is hilarious and what could be a boring, plain scene becomes an amusing moment in the film.

It’s not all witty banter, though. Holmes and Watson see plenty of action; big budget action. A lot of it is played for laughs (like Holmes’s showdown with a giant) and that is for the best. Action set pieces are for movies like Transformers. Ritchie showcases his action in the few fight scenes and a slow motion explosion scene. I mention the slow motion because that’s been an aspect of most of Ritchie’s films, notably the boxing scenes in Snatch. I’m kind of a sucker for his use of slow motion so I loved every detailed second of the scenes.

A Guy Ritchie film is not only marked by his use of slow motion, though. This may be Ritchie’s most mainstream film to date, but he still manages to put some style in there, though it’s never overbearing. I don’t think that Ritchie necessarily compromised his style of filmmaking here or anything, I just think that he and the screenwriters knew what a Sherlock Holmes film should be like. The audience doesn’t need sensory overload, or quick cuts, or long sequences set to catchy music. The audience for this film should be expecting an elaborate crime in which small clues are used to solve it and that is what provides the most pleasing aspect of the film.

When things are explained by Holmes while everyone else is clueless, it doesn’t seem forced or ridiculous (at least it doesn’t seem ridiculous in the movie world). In other words, you shouldn’t come away feeling cheated by any explanation. I thought the film covered all of its bases and if you pay close attention, you can play detective as you watch. When Holmes is at a crime scene, scouring the evidence, you should keep your eyes peeled. Like any interesting work, there is a reason for everything that is shown on the screen. Maybe you’ll be able to piece some things together, and maybe you’ll need Holmes to explain it all to you. Either way, you’ll be glad you spent your time on a case with Sherlock Holmes.