28 February 2011

Movies: Agora

Agora http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1186830/

An historical drama about the final years of the life of Hypatia of Alexandria set within the context of the Christianization of Alexandria at that time.  It stars Rachel Weisz as Hypatia,  a teacher of philosophy and astronomy in Alexandria until she was killed by a christian mob in 415 AD.

Yes it is a fictionalized historical drama that starts at about the time just before the destruction of the Alexandrian Serapeum and it's library, per order of Emperor Theodosius in 391 AD,  through her death. Only so much is known from the recorded histories, so the rest was filled in to make a coherent story.  However the film did weave documented people and events in the fictionalization.  And, to no surprise, there were criticisms about the accuracy of how some events were portrayed in a fictionalized historical drama.

For a realistic immersive filming experience extensive sets were constructed in Malta and CGI was used sparingly. To my inexpert and ignorant eyes the sets and costuming looked good - they portrayed a city that was not only a mix of multiple cultural influences (Greek, Roman, Egyptian, desert nomadic), but a city at a turning point in history.  Rachel Weisz delivered a stirring performance, and she had a great supporting cast.  If there were any weaknesses in dialog or plotting I didn't notice any. Then again I was completely enthralled watching this drama unfold from start to finish. 

Note that there are a few brutal scenes, but they are necessary to the story, and sadly the last one is necessary to reflect recorded history.  Thankfully some detail was left to the imagination, a graphic portrayal would have been too much.

Part of the story shows Hypatia developing an analysis of the at-the-time accepted Ptolemic geocentric universe theory  vs. the possibility of a heliocentric universe theory --  first proposed by Aristarchus in 3rd century B.C.  Yes, the heliocentric solar system later elaborated upon by Copernicus and Kepler in 16th century A.D.  But I don't want to go into theories as to why it took over 18 centuries to go from Aristarchus to Kepler. I'm sure the wanton destruction of libraries and suppression of knowledge that conflicts with the ignorant fantasies of desert nomads had nothing to do with it. 

But, moreso, her geocentric / heliocentric analysis is portrayed to take place in parallel with the events that unfold in the movie. Did Hypatia's astronomical work actually take place as portrayed? Probably not, but it really doesn't matter. I perceived that ongoing discussion to be an allegorical contrast of philosophical and scientific advancement against the christian mob's destruction of the Serapeum and library, the forced conversion of remaining pagans in Alexandria to Christianity, the christians driving the Jews out of Alexandria, and their ultimate misogynistic targeting of Hypatia in the end. 
The allegorical is further embellished by the film's occasional "zooming in" from an outer space POV of the Earth down to the city, and vice versa. It helps the viewer see what's happening in perspective. The perspective that the when the whole world seems to revolve around events in this one place, from the point of view of the universe the world is but a speck the a seemingly infinite cosmos, and exactly how consequential are the actions of little specks on the surface of that speck?

Is the movie supposed to teach history the way a documentary would? No. But I took it as an opportunity to do a little light reading on the events portrayed and the people involved to fill in the gaps the movie didn't/couldn't cover.  And that's a good thing about fictionalized historical dramas - they can inspire viewers to learn more about what they just watched, they can inspire dialog about the history. 

The writer/director, Alejandro AmenĂ¡bar, said, "It's a movie that challenges the audience in terms of reasoning and trying to get into the story. I kept saying the movie is about astronomy and I wanted to express concepts that we study in school—science, mathematics—that don’t show how fascinating the topic is [the way the subjects are taught in modern education]. I wanted to translate [man’s] fascination with the pursuit of knowledge. I wanted to show astronomy and those who study it in the most appealing way. Those are the real heroes of the movie." 

I really enjoyed the movie and it's a shame it didn't get better marketing. I was rather surprised to see it was distributed by Lionsgate Entertainment, because lately it seems like Lionsgate has tended to give us horror/thriller and scifi/fantasy genre films moreso than historical dramas. But I'm glad they did, because this is a movie worth watching.


Edit March 2012 :
I've watched this film about four more times since my first viewing in Feb 2011. There's just something about it that keeps me coming back to it.

27 February 2011

Movies: Robin Hood (2010)

Robin Hood (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0955308/

There haven't been enough Robin Hood movies and TV series made, especially lately.  So we are treated to another stab at the story.

Chances are you know of, or have watched at least, some version of the Robin Hood story. It seems while growing up being exposed to the story in some form is unavoidable. Robin Hood and his merry men, fighting against the establishment. Bows and arrows. Sword fights. Ho! Ha ha! Guard! Turn! Parry! Dodge! Spin! Ha! Thrust!

Well, this is the Russel Crowe version.  Because he hadn't done a Robin Hood yet.  It's directed by Ridley Scott, whose great movies make a lengthy list.   And the scriptwriter is Brian Helgeland, who has delivered a few memorable movie scripts of various success over the years.  So - is the teaming of screen giant Crowe with director Scott and writer Helgeland enough to overcome the theme-glut that is Robin Hood?  Will the confluence of such giants of industry make a good retelling of the tale? It really does come down to nuances of storytelling, of re-imaginings of a wealth of source material and a story hundreds of years old, and the viewer's ability to accept the changes.

This film presents to us another origin of Robin Hood story. Our favorite heroes are in attendance: Robin Hood, Marion, Will Scarlet, Little John, Allan A'Dayle, Friar Tuck; as well as our favorite villains: the Sheriff of Nottingham, Prince John. But we also get some new heroes and villains to expand the cast.

In this telling, Robin is an archer who fought for King Richard in the crusades, and the army is now fighting its way through France while returning to Britain. Robin already knows Will and Allan. However, instead of meeting Little John for a little quarter-staff action while crossing a creek, Robin meets him while encamped during a castle siege.  They still square off, fight, and become good friends.
And those are the first of many changes to the traditional tale we all grew up with.  I'd rather not go into all the changes to the Robin Hood tale because then I'd talk the whole movie. By the end of the flick the overtaxed and oppressed Britons band together and ally with Prince John to repel an invasion force from France. And we never really see any indication of the Robin vs. the Sheriff, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor tales we heard growing up.

As open minded as I tried to be, the story seemingly started out good but grew more alien to me through to the end. I was saddened that Will Scarlet, Little John, Alan A'Dayle and Friar Tuck became minor props to be trotted out at convenient times and ignored otherwise. I had an easier time accepting new(ish) bad man Godfrey, however the Sheriff of Nottingham showed up maybe three or four times to be a minor annoyance. We do get to see how evil Prince John can be, but he still factored less into the story than Godfrey.
I wanted to roll with the changes, I really did. But the story seemed to get larger and larger as it unfolded, further and further away from the tales we've known. 

Did I like the movie? In some ways yes and some ways no.
The yes ways: Technical movie aspects - no complaints. Good locations, sets, costuming. I know there was a musical score, but it didn't stand out or get in the way, so it gets a thumbs up. Had a great core cast. Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Max von Sydow, William Hurt, and a few others you might recognize. Was happy to see Kevin Durand (Keamy from Lost) as Little John -- again displaying a new depth and breadth as an actor. Definitely a supporting actor to keep an eye on. Chuckled to see little Scott Grimes (the bearded redheaded twerp Dr. Morris on E.R.) as Will Scarlet - and he did good. I think I even saw him kick a dude in the face. There were scenes I liked, and the battles were okay. Nowhere near on par with Lord of the Rings, but that's a hard standard to meet.  I didn't mind the retooled Robin -> Robert Loxley connection and its relationship to Marion, nor did I mind this incarnation of Loxley's father.

The no ways: For me the story got too big by the time Robin Hood ultimately leads the defense of the British shores against the French. The landing of the French got a little "Saving Private Ryan"-ey for my taste too. The orphaning of Robin story and how it fits into the bigger picture got a little too coincidental for my taste. I didn't like the backgrounding of the core Merry Men and Sheriff of Nottingham. And having the youths of Nottingham organized and camped in the woods to rob passersby and poach the king's animals? Did nothing much for the story at all.  There were other extraneous things tossed into the retelling that didn't make the story any better either.

So yes, in some ways I liked the movie. In some places I was entertained and I really didn't mind the core of the origin story presented in the film. But in other ways it felt like the story (and Robin himself) got too big and I felt a little cheated with almost no retelling of the traditional Robin Hood tales.  Plus there was no reason for the viewer to become emotionally invested in the characters, except, perhaps, Sir Walter Loxley. All one had to do was sit and watch the movie play out. Perhaps despite my efforts to be accepting I still had expectations that weren't met.  So to me it was good, but not, but was.

To properly watch this film, one has to not expect to see the same Robin Hood they've seen in previous incarnations.  There have been so many versions, good and bad, that it probably is best to try to not think of previous Robin Hood stories you've seen and try to watch this film with an open mind, then determine how entertained you were in the end. 

Over the years, many versions of the Robin Hood story have been told. We'll all have our favorite versions that we grew up with. Be it Fairbanks, Flynn, Daffy Duck, Sean Connery, (cough) Kevin Costner, Patrick Bergin, Cary Elwes, Patrick Stewart, various TV series incarnations, and now Russel Crowe.  And, no worries. There's a couple more Robin Hood-themed movies in the works, including one from the Wachowski siblings (of Matrix fame).

When you think about it, one can't complain too much about the repeated revisits to the Robin Hood story. There were at least as many, if not more, ballads written, rewritten, told and sung including and/or about adventures of Robin Hood dating back hundreds of years, dating to before the discovery of America.  So, considering that movies are the ballads of the 20th & 21st century, we have a lot of catching up to do with hundreds of years of versions.  And, lucky us, the movie industry hasn't tired of trying to catch up.

I guess we really can't be put off by the repeatedly changing retelling of the story, and the almost guaranteed retelling to come in the future. Because, realistically, the tales of Robin Hood are meant to be told and retold, and they have always grown, changed. So this version, different as it is from other Robin Hood movie/series shown to date, is actually honoring the historical tradition of changing the core Robin Hood story to fit with the sensibilities of the times.

26 February 2011

Movies: The Hangover vs. Bachelor Party Vegas

The Hangover (2009) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1119646/
Oh my gosh I can't believe I never posted anything on this.  I've watched this flick a couple of times now, too.
The groom-to-be, two of his friends and the bride's brother all pile into a car and head to Vegas for the bachelor party. They get a suite at the hotel, have a toast on the roof to commemorate the evening, then they wake up in the hotel room the next morning after an apparent wild night, which leads to a weekend they'll never forget

Wait - was that The Hangover? or was that

Bachelor Party Vegas (2006) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0432373/
Where we find that the groom lets his four friends plan his bachelor party: surprisingly they plan a wild night in Vegas that leads to a weekend they would never forget.

Ah wait - no - it can't be the same movie. Bachelor Party Vegas has Kal Penn in it, and The Hangover has Zach Galifianakis. 

Oh, and The Hangover was funny.

I'm leery of bachelor party movies as they all seem the same
Except the Hangover is funny, and most of the rest are lame

Ooh I rhymed

I hadn't really planned on seeing The Hangover because there's been plenty of flicks trying to recapture the magic that was 1984's Bachelor Party  (with Tom Hanks) and none ever really did.  And I just wasn't in the mood for another failed attempt. 
However I found that even though it may seem that if you've seen one bachelor party movie you've seen them all, the Hangover is sort of funny enough to be worth watching.  Bachelor Party Vegas? Not so much. I suppose if you're a comedy-bachelor-party-movie-completist type you might as well watch Bachelor Party Vegas, but it really wasn't funny, despite having Kal Penn in the cast playing a wise-cracking guy similar to his Kumar character.
And, surprisingly, Galifianakis plays an oddball that's scary and creepy in subtle and not so sublte ways.

24 February 2011

Movies: Prince of Persia

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0473075/
A plucky young orphan successfully defends his streetwise friend from some good old fashioned desert nomad justice and catches the attention of the king. The king spares their hands/lives and adopts the plucky one.  Then, years later, as the adopted son and the bloodline princes are waging war in their father's name, they invade a holy city on suspicion the city is supplying weapons to their enemies.  A holy city their father had forbade them to attack, but attack anyhow on the counsel of the king's brother.  Then things get all intrigue-ey.

Years ago I enjoyed playing the video game of the same name, so I wasn't sure how the heck they were going to movie-fy it.  In the end, I think Disney did a good job.  Pleasingly this is not the train-wreck of a video-game-to-movie adaptation one has come to anticipate, based on past video game to movie conversions.

What I liked was they gave characters a back story, gave us a primary story, filled it with some action, and it worked. Sure a couple of "Alladin" memory moments happened for some reason, but at least we didn't get dancing rugs or people bursting into song for no reason.  The movie probably targets a tweens audience, but still an appreciable flick for the older crowd.   Did they stick strictly with the game? Nope. Did I care? Nope. The movie probably would've sucked had they insisted on following the plot of the game.  Sure there's borrowing from other adventure/fantasy/mythology flicks. But everything was stitched together nicely to make a coherent story out of a video game.

Stars Jake Gyllenhaal in the title role, with Gemma Arterton as the corresponding princess.  Keep an eye on that girl, Gemma. She's been getting some decent big movie roles, and she can act the shit out of 'em when she needs to (just see The Disappearance of Alice Creed).
Also - Ben Kingsley. His appearance in this flick almost redeems his presence in the video-game-to-movie crapfest that is BloodRayne. I'm still not sure how to take Sir Ben's choices of movies. He gets into some really terrible movies, then turns around and knocks a role in a good movie out of the park.  And it isn't like he's Christopher Walken.  Sure Walken does the same thing - crapfests and classics and nothing hurts his career. But Walken is pretty much Walken in every role - he makes the character him. Whereas Kingsley takes on different personalities, mannerisms and vocal inflections depending on his role.  Ah well - both get paid handsomely I'm sure.

So yes - enjoyable, and kid-friendlly.  Almost Mummy-enjoyable but a little less campy, yet still good cheesy fun.  Just entertainment without any pretense to be anything more.

Edit Dec 2011:
Rewatched the film. Hmm. Wasn't so fun the second time around. Don't know if that's the difference between "now" and "then", or if it is a matter of the mood I was in at the time I was viewing. Not saying I was in a bad mood, but this second viewing just wasn't as fun for me. Some things that annoyed me this time around included edits that jump great distance (time/space) to control pacing, insertion of story elements that felt forced, recycled 'bag of tricks' story elements. Perhaps on the subsequent viewing the I was more aware of 'formula story and film components assembled to deliver a story bigger than the source material'. 
I guess I was sortof spot-on ending the first viewing review with "entertainment without any pretense to be anything more." I just felt better about it in the end the last time. Maybe between the viewings I've grown more fatigued of the recent seemingly endless parade of rehashes/remakes/formula-driven films and felt grumpier about it by the end this time.

Movies: The Killer Inside Me

The Killer Inside Me http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0954947/
Set in the 50's, a small Texas town's deputy sheriff is helping the richest man in town pay hush money to a prostitute that's been sexing up the richest man's son --  to buy her silence before and after the son gets married, so there's no scandal.
Except the deputy goes a little psycho.

Another movie starring an Affleck - although this time it's Casey. Plus Kate Hudson and Jessica Alba and Ned Beatty.

The movie has some very violent scenes, so if you have trouble watching them be prepared to cover your eyes.
(My way of gauging if scenes are too violent is if the wife covers her eyes during the scene.  If she covers her eyes AND asks me to mute the sound - watch out!)

Pretty darn twisted in ways too. You have to be patient to see how the seemingly disjointed things near the beginning of the film fit together into a coherent story. Once they fit together the rest of the film is a breeze to keep up.

So if'n y'all like thriller/crime/drama with violence and psychotic behavior this is worth the watch.

And no, Ned Beatty does not crawl around on all fours in his tighty-whiteys squealin like a piggy. I think to date there's only one film he does that in, so let him live it down, eh?

23 February 2011

Movies: The Town

The Town http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0840361/
Set in the Charlestown neighborhood of Boston. About a group of guys who rob armored cars and banks. After a bank job they end up taking a hostage as insurance for their getaway, then release her unharmed. But as they aren't sure how much she knows to tell the cops, they decide to keep an eye on her. And Affleck's character falls for her and starts dating her.

Has a good character roster, good story, decent gunbattles and car chases. Sortof reminded me of "Heat" on some levels.

Directed by, and starring, Ben Affleck. Now I really was impressed by Affleck's directing of Gone Baby Gone, so I overcame my aversion to watching BA act to see this one. Glad I did. Suprisingly in most of his scenes he didn't look like he was acting - they seemed genuine.  And this one was well directed as well, so good job Ben.

Definitely worth watching if you like gun battle-ey crime dramas.  Worth watching if you liked "Heat". And if you haven't seen Heat - rent that too.

--- Archives ----

This marks the start of the archive posts -- the ones I transferred over from Facebook.  All posts dated before this post are those archives, all posts after this post are original direct to this blog.  Enjoy!

Movies: Nine Dead

Here's a cheery little thriller I never heard of, starring Melissa Joan Hart (Sabrina/Clarissa) and Daniel Baldwin. 

Nine strangers are kidnapped and locked together in a single room. The masked bad man tells them they have to figure out why ALL of them are there. Meanwhile, for every 10 minutes that elapse and they can't tell him, he kills one of them. But they still have to figure out why the dead ones were there too.

So at first I'm thinking "cheesy Saw-alike film". But there was nowhere near enough screaming or blood or puppets on tricycles or torture of any kind for this movie to be a cheap Saw knock off. Oh - and not enough plot either. The complexity of the main set was one dark room with nine pipes and nine folks handcuffed to them. And a handful of colored chalk. Oh, and a heavy door with one of those spinny-wheel locks. This production spared no expense, er, wait, I meant Had no budget.
Regardless I was compelled to watch it through to the end.  Just to find out the ultimate why and how are these folks all connected enough to be kidnapped and about to die.  But there really isn't an end to the film, it just abruptly ends.

Dialog: varies from okay to bad to worse, and usually in the same character.  Characters: oh, you know, you've met them all before; they're stereotypes of a stereotypical cross-section of LA residents. Plot: yeah, kind of.  Continuity: sometimes the 10 minutes takes less than 10 minutes, which is acceptable. But when the 10 minutes between people get killed takes more than 10 minutes. Sheesh.
Acting: Oh My! the acting was all over the place.  Sometimes even in the same character.  Some of the supporting cast was decent.  Best of the bunch: The masked kidnapper murderer guy.

But the winner of the bestest overacting award goes to: 
It is a tie! Between Melissa Joan Hart and the 'chubby creepy lisping gay child molesterer dude in powder blue'!  Yeah - everything MJH learned about acting she learned on Clarissa Explains it All, and it shows. Poor girl, this one won't look good on her "dramatic lead" resume. Daniel Baldwin almost secured it, but his whole 10 seconds on screen were too brief to really make a strong showing.  And no, Danny Baldwin was not the 'chubby creepy lisping gay child molesterer dude' in this movie. I mean his character wasn't. 
And, if you watch, don't be alarmed at the ending. It was supposed to end like that.  
This is just one big guilty pleasure cheesy B-grade thriller mystery movie.
I dont even know if it just went direct to DVD or did it go direct to streaming?

(original post 20 Feb 2011)

Movies: Harry Brown

Harry Brown http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1289406/

Retired ex-serviceman old dude Harry Brown (Michael Caine) doles out his own brand of justice after his best friend is killed by wild younglings.

Kinda exactly what you think it'll be. Caine is good at what he does. And it has an underused Emily Mortimer in the flick. 

Pretty much a neither here nor there movie. It's good as movies go, acted well, technically good as well, but not groundbreaking nor exactly a new story.  I liked it, but it's easily forgettable. Not saying it's a movie to avoid, it's worth watching if it happens to be available, but life would be complete without seeing it.  I do appreciate it wasn't bombastically unrealistic.

(original post 19 Feb 2011)

Movies: Inception

Inception http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1375666/

Mind-bending sci-fi flick from Christopher Nolan - the director of Batman Begins and the Dark Knight. And The Prestige (much much better flick than The Illusionist). And Memento. And Following (if you haven't seen Following it's definitely worth it if you like Christopher Nolan flicks).

Basic plot - a team of folks that are experts in inserting themselves into a target's dreams to steal their secrets are tasked to implant a subconscious direction to a person to influence their decision on something major.

I'd heard this is a love-it or hate-it flick, and one that needs paying attention to understand what's going on. I can understand why. I liked it - I made sure I paid attention and kept up. But I can see how one could get lost in the multiple layers of reality going on here. And I have a feeling the more lost the viewer gets, the worse the movie will seem.

I appreciated they didn't try to go real in-depth to explain the dream-invading technology in use -- a flick like this was much better served by just "it exists and works". There did seem to be a conveniently easy integration of the team that tackled their task --from a blending of personalities, truest in compatriots, etc -- but I guess to keep the movie moving along it was necessary to gloss over that stuff to concentrate more on the plot points that mattered.

For me it was a very enjoyable thinking sci-fi/fantasy flick.

(original post 19 Feb 2011)

Edit February 2012:
Re-watched the film. Much easier to understand the second time around. Still liked it.

Movies: The Joneses

The Joneses http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1285309/

David Duchovny and Demi Moore are the parents in a mom-dad-son-daughter family that moves into an upscale neighborhood. They have all the best and newest toys, clothes, cars, electronics and strive to impress everyone around them.  Can the neighbors keep up with the Joneses?

A dark comedy-drama that's built on kind of a neat premise that comments on consumerist society. Much better flick than I anticipated.  Has a good supporting cast too.  Especially Gary Cole.  A good easy-to-watch dark satire even if you're generally not into those sorts of flicks.

I was hesitant about watching this one. But after getting into the story I sat it out and it was worth it. Even has a little romance bit in there for the ladies.

(original post 19 Feb 2011)

Movies: Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1228705/

Probably my shortest review: It's another Iron Man movie. I liked the first one, I like this one.  See 'em both.


extra non-review crap:

It is a shame that Don Cheadle had to step in for Terrence Howard in the Rhodes character. They probably would've been better off just casting DC in the first one. 

Don't get me wrong, I like TH's acting, and I like DC's acting. But for continutiy's sake it would've been nice to keep the same dude as Rhodes.

TH cost them a LOT for the first movie - he was paid more than any other actor in that film (yes - more than Downy Jr, more than Bridges, more than Paltrow). And he was remored to be difficult on set, and production had to spend a lot of time reshooting and editing his scenes. So yeah, when IM2 comes around they offered him less $$ and less screen time. The deal fell through, Cheadle was hired and BOOM IM2.  Methinks TH bitched himself out of a good repeating role.

(original post 19 Feb 2011)

Movies: Despicable Me

Evil scientist Gru adopts 3 little girls that sell cookies door-to-door in order to infiltrate the fortress of up-and-coming evil scientist nemesis Vector that stole the shrink ray Gru just stole.  Voice talents include Steve Carell, Jason Segel, just to name two of the biggies cast.

A much better animated flick for kids than Igor was, and much better than Planet 51. This had a good core story and in the end hearts are melted.  It didn't go out of its way to be cutsey, hip, popculture-y.  It didn't have a bunch of forced "this has to be funny because we're telling you it is funny" stuff in it.  Igor producers could've learned a lot by realizing it isn't just the icing that makes cake tasty.

It was entertaining, had its cute moments, didn't have a bunch of music that had nothing to do with what was going on in the story.  It had a little excitement and action, some tender moments. Probably works well for kids, and certainly worked a lot better for the adult viewer than Igor did.  And gee - it isn't a Pixar or Dreamworks but it still was a good animated flick.  Of course it borrowed from the "things we know work well in past Disney cartoons" animation manual, just as Pixar and Dreamworks have.  The little yellow minions reminded me a little of the slugs in Flushed Away, or the alien doll things from Toy Story.  Regardless, they worked within the story, they were funny and cute.
I appreciated that the voice acting wasn't a bunch of well-known actors making sure they're recognized as themselves voicing animated characters -- they actually had voices that fitted the animated characters they portrayed. Good on them.

So if you have to pick an animated film out of Igor, Planet 51 and this, go for this every time.

(original post 12 Feb 2011)

Movies: And Soon the Darkness

A couple of American gals are biking through Argentina, have a little argument, temporarily part ways, then one goes missing. The other tries to find her. A cast mostly of little-knowns, except Karl Urban.  Yes the gals have been in a few other flicks, even a few I've seen, but I didn't recognize 'em.

As a thriller/horror flick it's really more thriller.  It is a remake of a 1970 UK thriller of the same title, but I've not seen that so I can't compare the two. 
The flick is kindof slow paced up front, though it eventually did pick up some.  Despite the sluggishness at first the movie did do a decent job of drawing the viewer in - you know, like getting the viewer to scold the girls when they do something stupid that is sure to lead to their demise.  Once invested one is compelled to watch it play out.

Shot in some really good locations - nice picks by the crew for some very interesting scenery.  No glaring complaints about the performances.  A decent average-good thriller that doesn't have to resort to a lot of blood or gore or a bunch of improbable/impossible series of events.  Doesn't even encroach on torture porn horror (like Saw or Hostel or Touristas) even though they could have punted and taken it that direction. I doubt it'll spawn any nightmares.  It isn't groundbreaking, the story might seem familiar, but it isn't terrible either. It would make a decent friday-night popcorn thriller if you're stuck for deciding what to watch and don't want to get into anything too graphic. 

(original post 12 Feb 2011)

Movies: The A-Team

The A-Team http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0429493/

I remember watching the series back in the day.   To my recollection, a fun series with over the top action, crazy plans, cast that went with the show. So when I saw they were making a movie I, of course, groaned. Seems like more often than not movie remakes of old TV series tend to either suck, go afar from the original as to be unrecognizable except in title, or just miss whatever 'magic' was there.

I'm pleasantly surprised that this A-Team was actually pretty good.


Perhaps because my expectations were low? Dunno.  The introduction to the team members, the 'building' of the team and updating of the characters to nearer-to-today times worked and overall the show was fun. From the get-go the viewer learns to expect over-the-top action, toss reality out the window and sit back and enjoy the ride.   And it had a coherent plot, some side stories that worked well in the framework of the whole, even some character growth.   The actors worked well as their characters, and the characters worked well together.  And, to its credit, stuck with the standard A-Team formula of plans planned, acted out, gone awry, then saved by parts of the plan we didn't know ahead of time.


I think they did a good homage to the original series and made an entertaining film that works even for viewers that never saw the series. 


And it's another film that did over-the-top action with a team  of folks way better than The Expendables - which still feels mindless, pointless, plotless and klunky in comparison.  So that's two films that came out near the same time as Expendables that show how to do such flicks the right way. Now that I think about it,  The Losers could almost have been an A-Team plot.

(original post 12 Feb 2011)

Movies: The Uninvited

The Uninvited http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0815245/

A 2009 thriller about a young girl (Anna) who is released from the mental hospital 10 months after she attempted suicide, which she tried after her sickly mother died in a mysterious fire. She returns home with her father to find that the home care nurse that once was helping with the mom is now her father's girlfriend. After Anna sees the ghost of her mother, Anna and her sister Alex suspect the nurse had something to do with the fire and start digging into the nurse's past. Overall it has a softball feel for a thriller, but that is effective in that it helps sell the plot through to the end.

The film is a remake of a Korean thriller, which I've never seen, but from some accounts does the original work justice. Pretty good flick if you enjoy thrillers with a supernatural bend. Good casting helps sell the movie too. The primary actors are Emily Browning (from Lemony Snicket) as Anna, Elizabeth Banks as Nurse Rachael, David Strathairn as the father. First big feature film for the directors the Guard brothers -- they did a good job. Very mature production considering their seeming small amount of experience (per IMDB credits).

Worth watching if you enjoy thriller flicks, and don't require them to be bombastic action/gore/ghost-fests.

(original post 12 Feb 2011)

TV Series: Spartacus: Gods of the Arena

By Jupiter's Cock, Spartacus has returned to Starz!

Or, should I say, our favorite not-Spartacus characters populating the House of Batiatus ludus.

This 6 episode prequel Spartacus: Gods of the Arena (S:GotA) mini-season takes place 5 years prior to Spartacus: Blood and Sand (S:BaS), so it's actually season 1.5. Or season 0.5. something

The reason for a prequel? Andy Whitfield, who played the title character Spartacus in S:BaS, was diagnosed with cancer. Starz commissioned this 6 episode season to keep the viewers' bloodthirst sated while allowing Whitfield time for treatment prior to season two production. Unfortunately, Whitfield's first round of treatments didn't finish off the cancer beast, so he stepped down from the role to concentrate on further treatment. Hopefully for him this next round is successful.

However, timetables such as they are, Starz had to decide whether or not to go forward with season 2. They cast a new actor for the Spartacus role, with Whitfield's blessing.

In the meantime, we viewers get the prequel to keep us interested.

Episode 1 just played on Starz starting 21 January. It had a brief recap of the final episode of season 1 to remind us what happened to all the major players, then launches us back 5 years earlier.

If you haven't watched S:BaS I have a feeling the first episode of S:GotA might leave a new viewer sort of lost. There's a lot of significant folks to learn about. It helps having learned something about them in S:BaS to understand who they are and what they are about in S:GotA. Granted, S:GotA will show us these 'new' characters growing into the characters they are by the start of S:BaS, which is chronologically 5 years later. Which I'm sure is the whole point of the 6 episodes - see where they were in S:GotA before they became who they are in S:BaS.

But if you're watching just for the bloody gladiatorial fight scenes and boobies galore, no worries: that's all there still. Ep 1 of S:GotA already presents to us Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) in an opium-fueled naked lesbian embrace with Gaia (Jaime Murray). If you are a Warehouse 13 fan, Jaime Murray played H.G. Wells. If you aren't a Warehouse 13 fan you won't understand why H.G. Wells is a chick in that series - and it really only makes sense in the context of Warehouse 13, so don't worry about it. And everyone should know who Lucy Lawless is by now - and if not, she played the title character of Xena: Warrior Princess. Or D'Anna Biers in Battlestar Galactica if you prefer. And shame on you for not knowing.

SO -- is S:GotA worth watching? One episode in and I'm re-hooked into the franchise and look forward to the next 5 episodes and am already lamenting there's only 6 to see. Only two gladiatorial fights in and wife and I were cheering like romans during the fights, thirsting for blood. And I whipped off my shirt to let my moobs jiggle just like the chicks in the arena stands.

(original post 22 Jan 2011)

Edit: At this point I've watched 5 of the 6 episodes. The crew definitely have refined what they learned on S:BaS and S:GotA is darn good because of it. And I don't think a viewer new to the series would have to watch S:BaS first. They can easily watch S:GotA first, then S:BaS. I realize the intro bit to episode 1 of S:GotA is sortof spoilery for the S:BaS season and probably makes no sense to someone watching S:GotA first. Don't worry about it, watching through S:BaS to the end will bring things full circle.

Honestly, if you haven't seen the original and like series in the "Rome" ilk, or movies in the "Gladiator" and "300" ilk, give S:BaS a watching. You do have to make it past the first 3 episodes to really see the series start shining, and by episode 6 it repeatedly punches you in the gut as you beg for more and you love it.

I'd actually be interested to hear from someone who hasn't seen S:BaS and starts watching the franchise with S:GotA first, then on into S:BaS. Just to see how well a prequel produced after season 1 flows into season 1.

Edit September 12, 2011:
Just saw the sad news that Andy Whitfield, the actor who played Spartacus in S:BaS died from his cancer yesterday.

Movies: Cop Out

Kevin Smith directed Comedy. He didn't write the script, but you can see his influences in some of the dialog.  Wow this one was roasted by critics. But I have a soft spot in my movie-watchin heart for Kevin Smith flicks, so I gave it a watch anyhow.

You have cop partners Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan. Yeah - there's a pairing you wouldn't normally guess. Willis's character needs to sell his very rare baseball card to pay for his daughter's wedding, only to have it stolen and end up in the hands of a local drug kingpin who happens to collect baseball memorabilia.   Yeah.  No shit.  But you get what you get.  Willis is Willis. Morgan is Morgan. Seann William Scott is .. you get the idea.  And a heyo to a Kevin Pollak appearance as well. 
If you view this as a send-off/homage/take-off on 80's buddy-cop flicks it really isn't as terrible as a lot of reviews make it out to be. It even has hints of 80's buddy-cop flick synthesizer music from time to time (courtesy of 80's buddy-cop synthesizer music great Harold Faltermeyer).  

It's entertaining, dumb, and funny enough.  If it happens to be on or if you have no clue what to watch on popcorn night -give it a watch.  It at least got some chuckles out of me.

I suspect if anyone else had directed this the critics wouldn't have been as harsh.  Still, not a great movie - just an okay one.

(original post 15 Jan 2011)

Movies: The Other Guys

The 'other' spoof buddy-cop comedy movie.  This one starring Will Farrell and Mark Walhberg.  Yeah, it also has The Rock, Samuel Jackson, Derek Jeter, Michael Keaton, Eva Mendes...

Now, this flick did have some humorous moments, and I realize it is modeled to be a complete send up of over-the-top buddy cop flicks like Lethal Weapon ( I suppose ), but my gosh it was painful to sit through at times.

SO, either my sense of humor is so completely not what this movie targets or this movie really sucks.  I caught the references to pop culture, technology, recent news, etc. It isn't as if the attempts at humor went over my head - I caught 'em and they just weren't that good. It was too inconsistent. It had lame call-back gags, although the Wahlberg character callback was probably the most amusing (we are surprised to learn that while growing up he learned ballet, harp, art criticism just to better pick on the fairy kids). As I admitted, there were a couple of things in the movie that were amusing, but it there wasn't enough to make it more than an OK movie to me as a whole and I really struggled to stay awake through it.  
If someone could please explain why this movie is supposed to be super funny please tell me.

(original post 15 Jan 2011)

Movies: The Ladykillers 2004 vs.1955

The Ladykillers (2004) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0335245/
This is the 2004 Coen brothers remake of the 1955 Brit farce.
When I see "Coen brothers" on something I'm instantly in the 'gotta watch-it mode'. I mean, come on. Coens! Fargo, Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou, No Country for Old Men, etc.  I figure those guys could take a crap and film it and it'd be better than 90% of everything else out there.

Then I saw this film and I was left in a kind of "what?" mode at the end.  It really lacked the charm their previous - and after - flicks had/have.  

What's odd is the cast played their characters quite well - and they had to because they couldn't have played them that over the top by accident. And it was good to see Hanks go 'out there' with a character again. So I can't really put my finger on what put me off this movie.  I don't know if the characters were too stereotypical, or if the farce was too heavy-handed or what.  I haven't seen the original Brit film to compare, but I suspect it was probably dryer and more subtle in its humor.
Nonetheless, the movie was still funny in some ways. It's no Raising Arizona, though.  I think the Coens are probably off the "could film poop and sell it" list for a while, but they're still on the instant-watch list.  I mean, come on. True Grit remake.

Probably the least-liked of the Coen flicks I've seen yet. And it had such a good cast too. It did evoke a chortle or two out of me.

(original post 15 Jan 2011)

Edit after seeing the original version of the film:
Don't bother seeing this remake. Just watch the original to see how these kinds of films are done correctly. 

Sorry Coens, I usually love your films but this one just didn't do it. I can tell you tried, but the attempts to update the story didn't help it at all.

The Ladykillers (1955) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0048281/

In May 2012  I finally watched the original Brit farce "The Ladykillers" starring Alec Guinness (Obi Wan Kenobi if the name sounds familiar), Peter Sellers (Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther films, other wonderful films), Herbert Lom (Insp. Dreyfus in the Pink Panther films) and a bunch of other folks I probably wouldn't recognize 'cause Brit films from the 1950s aren't my usual film fare. 

Both this original film and the remake follow a similar premise. A criminal takes up residence at an empty boarding house owned by a little old lady. He tries to be charming, tells her he and his friends form a string quintet and will be practicing there. In actuality they are playing a recording of a quintet and actually planning a heist. They carry out the heist but the landlady stumbles on to the cash, so now they have to figure out what to do about her.

Black and white, sometimes the sound is off, sometimes the camera work and editing is spotty, but that doesn't detract from the film.  The character acting and story completely sell the film past any production issues. The cast is amazing. Plus, hello, 1955 moviemaking was still laying foundations that modern films are based on. In films this old I just call it "charm". Regardless, the film is entertaining and funny in the way I as an American grasp 50s-era British humor. Well worth watching.
My take on comparing the two:
I can understand why the Coens wanted to remake this film. It's good. It's funny. As farcical heist films go this is probably one of the mold-making films that others are based on. The humor is typical of the "British humour" we Americans either understand or don't. The cast of five stereotypical criminals, the brains, the brawn, the murderous thug, a confidence man and a lackey are up against the sweetest old lady who happens to own the boarding house they stay in. 
Unfortunately something got lost in the Coen remake. The old lady wasn't near as sweet and likeable in the newer film. The stereotypes were thinner in the newer film, the updated humor was more shallow and went more lowbrow. The remake's cast seems more scattered and less cohesive. A shame.

See the original, if for any reason than to see why newer farcical heist films are or aren't nearly as good as you think. I wouldn't recommend seeing the remake of The Ladykillers unless you expressly want to contrast it with the original. The original is much more entertaining despite its age.