You are currently browsing the monthly archive for June 2008.

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Based solely on Timur Bekmambetov’s Nochnoy dozor, I’d see anything the man makes that comes stateside. With that said, no I have not watched the sequel Dnevnoy dozor, but that’s only because I want to be positive that the version I see is an unedited Russian cut. So, the next work to check out becomes the English-language, comic book based Wanted. The trailers show how this will be a visceral treat above all else, hopefully containing a great story too, but not necessarily needing one. A lot of people fault Nochnoy dozor for having an overblown plot that confuses more than adds clarity to the special effects and vampire aesthetic being shown. Based on a trilogy of Russian novels, the mythology is very deep and I think if Americans saw his native cut, they’d understand it more. Unfortunately, most have seen the somewhat butchered Fox version instead. With this new movie, that problem doesn’t exist as it began and ended with stateside funding, allowing Bekmambetov to have control throughout and not risk any translation trouble. There is definitely more story than you’d expect from the high action, quick cut trailer, and the performances help keep it grounded in some sense of reality, despite the otherworldly things done by them. Eye-candy for sure, the end result does manage to be more than just the effects, infusing a lot of humor into the action, culminating into a very entertaining experience.

The opening sequences definitely set-up what will be expected for the duration. A very stylistically shot film, we are treated to an introduction of Wesley Gibson, our hero, at an office party complete with voice-over narration, changing film speeds, and cuts to events he is thinking of to help illustrate the mental state of ambivalence and docility he has slowly built up to numb himself to the world around him. Juxtaposed with this banal, cubicle life comes a battle scene atop a couple skyscrapers downtown. We have an assassin on the trail of a rogue member of the Fraternity, a group of killers with the ability to hone a massive amount of adrenaline to slow down time and enhance their actions to superhuman levels, looking to identify the bullet being used to out his partners. The fight sprawls into a shootout featuring an impossible leap over a city block through the air, window to window, in order to murder the men across the way, also shooting at him. These men were only decoys, however, as the rogue agent watches it all and finishes the job from miles away. This event begins the search for young Wesley, the son of a Fraternity elite, unknowing of the lion that dwells inside of his beat-down suburbanite façade; a force that will soon come out to play as he discovers his power and a bloodlust for the man that killed his father.

Reminiscent of the training sequences in another highly styled action film, The Matrix, Wesley slowly becomes a lethal machine, honing his adrenaline rushes for super sensory ability, the power to bend a bullet through space, and educating himself on the thousand year history of his new brotherhood, learning everything he needs to know to be the best assassin he can be. A guild of weavers to begin, this troupe still keeps up the work in a textile factory using the machinery as tools of training and also as the way to discover who is next on the list to kill. Fate and faith brings the names out through a secret code in the fabric of a giant loom, spelling out who must die next. The world itself deems who is to be taken; a power we can’t understand or question makes the decisions because one dead might mean a hundred can continue living. Training with knives, guns, and fists; getting the crap beat out of him until his mind is clear to answer even the simplest questions with complete honesty; and bathing in a concoction of a waxy stimulant that speeds up the healing process by increasing white blood cell count, Wesley quickly becomes the professional he needs to be to take out Cross, the rogue agent that the group says killed his father. Gibson is the only man for the job and the fabric has spoken that Cross’ life must be ended.

The mythology is very involved and I believe well explained. We learn about the history of the Fraternity, what they do and why, while also getting a feel for the members and where they all come from. Helped immensely by the brilliant special effects, the sequences aren’t so much unbelievable as they are just plain slick and cool. The world Bekmambetov has transported us to is such a heightened reality that you begin to accept what occurs for the simple fact that it does. Curving bullets through space, driving cars to flip over another so as to shoot through the sunroof, shooting guns from miles away and hitting the target, and leaping through glass as it slowly shatters are definite feats to behold. One thing this film cannot be faulted for is the flair for which it all happens.

To enhance that style is a very prevalent sardonic wit. James McAvoy, who’s American accented whine isn’t as bad as I feared, is perfectly cast as the lemming breaking free from the constraints he has built around his life. The humor comes through his words and actions, bordering on overkill, (the keys spelling out profanities as he slams a keyboard into another character’s face), but never becoming out of place. The aesthetic is set up early and therefore stays faithful throughout. Complete with a well-rounded supporting cast—Konstantin Khabensky having fun with the director that cast him as the star of his Russian vampire saga, Terence Stamp solid as always in a small role, Angelina Jolie just plain having fun on screen, and Morgan Freeman doing what he does best while also awkwardly yelling out profanities, (for some reason a surreal event), Wanted hits the mark. And Thomas Kretschmann, as Cross, the man being hunted down, is great. There is more to his role than one would initially anticipate and he handles the dramatic needs of the part in concert with the action fights.

The film’s story takes some very interesting twists and turns that could have ruined everything if not handled correctly. A realization is presented at the end, pitting characters against each other and surprisingly, the question at hand of what to do next, is solved precisely as it should be at the cost of many lives. Whether he goes back to corporate America or stays a vigilante, Gibson’s life will be forever changed. The very end might be a tad too conveniently wrapped up with a bow, but it does help bookend the film as a package of pure adrenaline rush, satisfying on a cerebral level through all the bells and whistles exploding around each corner.

Wanted 8/10

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[1] Angelina Jolie as Fox in Universal Pictures’ Wanted (2008) Copyright © Universal Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
[2] James McAvoy as Wesley in Universal Pictures’ Wanted (2008) Copyright © Universal Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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Hancock has the kind of premise that you wonder why it took so long for someone to put it on the big screen. With the plethora of comic book movies coming to cinemas this decade, it was only a matter of time before we were given a tale of a washed up superhero, drunk and lonely, being berated for his destruction rather than praised for his bravery. Alan Moore delved into this realm with his graphic novel Watchmen, (for which it seems Zack Snyder has not massacred turning it into a film itself), and Pixar’s The Incredibles touched a bit on the subject with the disbanding of heroes by the government, however, here is something different. This guy doesn’t hide his identity or pretend he is something he’s not. No, he lets it all out on the line and most of it is unflattering and just plain rude. Jaded from the lack of respect he receives, John Hancock finds that he’d rather wallow away in solitude than try and make people like him. Sure he will still go out and help where he can, while making 9 billion dollars worth of damage, but when he’s done, it’s back to the bar and the bottle, his only friends in the world.

All that changes with a chance meeting of a down-on-his-luck public relations man. Caught a second from death as a train barrels down on his car, Hancock swoops in and saves his life, while harming many others in the process. Seeing an opportunity to get back into the big leagues, Ray Embrey decides to make his hero his new client. By having this freak of nature turn himself into authorities for the warrant out for his arrest due to the multiple fines and disturbing the peace charges, Ray thinks that a little time away from the city will show the people how much they need him. While incarcerated, crime goes up 30% in just five days, people start to worry as the criminals begin to feel invincible, and, to top it all off, Hancock gets a little quiet time to himself so that he can rework his image. Dealing with anger issues and alcoholism on the inside, Ray also begins to work on his personality, turning him into a civil person, or at least as close as he can get, (when you see Hancock’s smile for the camera, you’ll understand what I mean). Once the city comes a calling, his rebirth will allow him to be ready to take control as someone the public can trust, rather than hate.

Ripe for comedy, the fact that Ray is played by the immensely talented Jason Bateman and Hancock by Will Smith, the film delivers on the funny. I always assume when Bateman gets on a roll that a lot is improvised, and once again I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the case here. The two build a fantastic rapport and the sarcastic wit flies back and forth. What is refreshing amidst this comic bent we expect is how good Smith is as the jerk. This guy has made a name for himself as the blockbuster hero, modest and heroic to a fault, never showing a selfish bone in his body. Here, however, he is egotistical, self-absorbed, and downright mean. It’s like how I felt watching Russell Crowe chew the scenery in 3:10 to Yuma, watching a great actor play against type is like discovering them all over again. Smith is one of the best out there and he doesn’t disappoint.

As a whole, it really is just about these two guys, becoming business partners and friends as they ride the waves to success. I don’t want to leave the rest of the cast behind, though, and must make mention of Charlize Theron. After reading an early synopsis, when the film was still titled Tonight, He Comes, I had her character pegged into a certain place. I was completely wrong and surprised to see where her role goes as she plays a very crucial part to the story. I will admit to never really getting all the hype around her, (no I have not seen Monster yet, it’ll happen eventually), but she is very solid here as usual, I don’t dislike her, I just don’t see the unending praise. Also, like every Peter Berg film of late, this thing is chock full of cameos, (you’ll even see the director himself, harkening back to his “Chicago Hope” days in a split second scene). I mean, when you get director pal Michael Mann and writer Akiva Goldsman to poke fun at themselves in a board meeting, you know this guy enjoys what he does and invites his friends along for the ride.

Despite all that works for it, the film doesn’t quite do its premise service. If the writers would have stuck to the comedy element and continued on that path, I think the story would have benefited. Instead, Hancock attempts to be bigger then it is. Without any real villain to root against, (the only bad guy is actually Hancock himself as he tries to turn his life around), there isn’t really anything to create a worthwhile climax with weight. Instead we are shown a chance coincidence and how the stakes of that event hold the lives of two of our leads in the balance. The situation wants to be dramatic—hence the slow-mo visuals—but ultimately becomes a bit out of place if not obvious. It all works ok, though, mostly because the film itself is very slight and devoid of true plot. The evolution of Hancock is a rapid one and at barely an hour and a half, there’s not much room for more depth. The laughs are big, however, and the film entertaining, so as a popcorn summer tent-pole, Smith will most definitely deliver some big numbers, even though he’s going against that cute little Pixar robot.

Hancock 7/10

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[1] Disgruntled superhero Hancock (Will Smith, left) is confronted by a boy (Atticus Shaffer, right) who urges him to get up and get after the bad guys in Columbia Pictures’ Hancock.
[2] Jason Bateman (pictured) stars as Ray Embrey, a PR exec trying to clean up a disgruntled superhero’s public image, in Columbia Pictures’ Hancock.
© 2008 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All rights reserved

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Robots falling in love. There is a lot to like about the new Pixar film Wall-E. The animation goes without saying—better than anything out there. The glares, the environments, everything is rendered spectacularly, right down to the flame of a Zippo lighter. As for the story, leave it to these wizards for creating a tale that hits on a gut level, letting our simplest emotions come to the surface in order speak to our hearts and souls. With fewer words than Arnold Schwarzenegger had to speak in Terminator 2, this movie relies on its visuals and on the movements and actions of the characters. It is appropriate that we are shown clips from older musicals to show humanity before Earth was abandoned. If we harken back to them for the joys of people, why not go to silent era style in order to portray communication between beings that cannot speak? Wall-E, his crush EVE, and all the other robots involved can say little than their name, however, we understand exactly what they mean throughout. The entire film speaks on a level that most people might have forgotten. In an age of Hollywood spoon-feeding the masses by having actors preach the obvious, Pixar has shown their originality again by getting an audience to partake in a film that makes them pay attention and work a little; something that the message of the piece is trying to have come across for humanity in general.

I credit the filmmakers for showcasing a world that has been left unlivable due to pollution and excess, yet never stooping to the level of liberal propaganda to soapbox an environmental agenda. No, the idea of “going green” or “stop global warming” never comes out blatantly, but instead we are shown the message of how technology is making us gluttons and sloths, reliant for everything and unable to even see what is going on right in front of our faces. Humanity, drifting on a space station for 700 years being waited on hand and foot, has become a giant mass of inactive waste. Watching their awakening at the hands of a little waste removal machine, seeing love, life, and beauty as if for the first time ever is a wonderful thing. Sure the homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey is fantastic, but these moments work on another level altogether—that of truth. Consumer culture and materialism has destroyed our society to the point that social status depends on the car you drive and the trinkets you can collect rather than the job you do and the work you put in. To see the Captain of the vessel, housing what has become of the human race, slowly open his eyes to what could be is mind-blowingly simple, yet also so necessary for children these days to see what burying their heads in the computer and cell phone is doing to the societal structure of the world. We need to stop being lemmings, droning along without purpose. There is a reason for life, things to strive for and love is one of them, something very prevalent here.

I’ve gotten ahead of myself, though. I started praising the message and underlying theme of the tale without speaking of those cute little robots that take center stage, saving the human race to try and live again. The film does focus on these adorable beings as they fall in love with each other despite their protocol. The robots themselves become more human than the humans, showing the emotion and compassion that people have left by the wayside. Curiosity takes center stage as Wall-E finds treasures amongst the trash he has been programmed to clean up for a return of life to Earth. Stacking his compacted boxes of refuse into skyscrapers taller than those left behind, he finds shelter in an abandoned tractor where he keeps spare parts and objects to play with during his solitude. Never expecting a visitor, or the impact that finding a small sapling of greenery could cause, a sophisticated robot named EVE arrives and changes his world forever. Not only does she become the woman of his dreams, but she also causes him to leave Earth and discover the spaceship, which has been trying to find his home for way too long.

Maybe it is funny to say, but the chemistry between these two machines is quite palpable and real, as they discover feelings that they shouldn’t have due to programming and such, but they have evolved into sentient creatures. They fight for freedom against the spaceship’s auto-pilot and take a stand to end the tyranny that has been subtly and effectively beating the humans into submission. Of course they may not be doing it for the humans per se, there is a matter of needing to go back for spare parts, but you’ll understand once you see. Sure the Captain does his part to see the hero that Wall-E becomes to his stagnant race and being voiced by the hilarious Jeff Garlin definitely helps. When he starts viewing the history of Earth and just exudes wonderment and joy, you really enjoy the ride as he attempts to reverse his sloth and actually stand on his two legs for possibly the first time ever.

Where I do have a problem with the film is the pacing. Yes, I know there is very little dialogue—and I whole-heartedly praise the film for it—but the beginning does have a tendency to drag. Maybe some of that has to do with it being an extended version of the trailer, but it just gets a little tedious as we wait for EVE to arrive and end the cute monotony of Wall-E playing with his finds in ways they aren’t supposed to be used for, we’ve seen it before in The Little Mermaid. Even once they are on the ship, the cat and mouse game gets a little prolonged to pad the runtime a bit. The story here isn’t very complex and I just wish there had been more to it, or at least a bit faster paced of a plot progression. Otherwise, though, this is another solid film from Pixar, showing that they definitely have the creativity and storytelling ability to infuse heart back into cinema and try new things rather than regurgitate for a big paycheck.

Wall-E 8/10

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It’s always nice to leave a theatre thinking how much better the film you just saw was compared to what you expected it to be going in. I’m not saying that the big screen version of Get Smart is a classic work of cinema history, but when you go in thinking that the overall piece will be boring, asinine, and a waste of time, only to come out with a smile on your face, knowing that you’ve been entertained for two hours, it is a good feeling. Admittedly, I have never seen the television show for which this is based, so I had no real preconceptions besides what I saw in the trailers. Watching them pitch this as a comedy of errors with a bumbling imbecile trying to save the world as a spy just made me think Austin Powers, only less funny as it tries to be relevant. Thankfully, that is not what we get. The main character of Maxwell Smart is in actuality a very intelligent man who finds himself in abnormal situations. Maybe not the most socially savvy person around, he is not a moron and even though he may stumble onto moments of brilliance, it is not all by chance, he does put himself into the place where success can occur. This film is just a good time at the theatre, plain and simple.

The concept is a real overblown spy espionage send-up. When based on a show that Mel Brooks had a hand in, (he is a consultant here as well), you know it will be goofy. What we get is a secret government organization called CONTROL working behind the scenes to keep the world safe with an arsenal of experienced agents and technological savvy scientists creating the latest forms of gadgetry. It has been years since the crime syndicate/terrorist unit KAOS has been active and that time has made threats by them seem like a joke; they are disbanded, why waste the time and resources? Even after CONTROL is infiltrated and identities are released, the idiots in the White House and War Room, (a who’s who of B-list comedians having some fun, with James Caan as the president), can’t believe it is the work of that archaic group. However, some still want to check and make sure. Since the agents have been compromised, it is up to 99, who has recently undergone full cosmetic plastic surgery, and 86—Smart himself—newly promoted to the big show, as they are not in the database that has been stolen.

A contrived way to make sure that Steve Carell, (Smart), and Anne Hathaway, (99), get all the screentime, being the only agents allowed to work in the public sphere, it does lead to some funny moments as this novice goes on his first mission with an experienced professional. Sure there is some overlong slapstick work, Carell in an airplane bathroom shooting mini-harpoons into his body for ten minutes, but there are also some genuinely hilarious times to counter. When the two agents partake in a dance-off at a traditional Russian party, you can’t help but laugh. The gimmick of how Carell has recently lost 150 pounds in order to become an agent comes into play, as well as numerous other times including a funny flashback scene, and he shows up Hathaway and her partner by cutting the rug with an obese woman, who also recently lost 150 pounds, (get it?). These two have some fun as they attempt to one up each other throughout, showing the gadgets they have for which the other does not, and constantly surprising each other with what they are capable of. Unfortunately many instances do fall into the territory of joke gone on too long: escaping a room of laser trips gets tedious and Smart hanging from an airplane banner through traffic becomes too far-fetched.

When it works, though, this film can bring the laughs. Alan Arkin, as head of CONTROL is great. His deadpan sarcasm is his bread-and-butter and is brought out perfectly here. Terence Stamp is so nonchalant in his insults and villainy that he succeeds in being more funny than menacing while he brings KAOS back from the dead and Dwayne Johnson brings some nice swagger to the role of top-dog at CONTROL, envy of everyone. Most of the big laughs come from a rather extensive list of cameos, though. The best of these has to be Bill Murray’s short stint as Agent 13 and of course the great Patrick Warburton doing what he does. I won’t tell you whom he plays, but will say that fans of the show should enjoy his inclusion, (the benefit of going with someone who used to watch the show, many of the inside jokes were revealed to me).

In the end, while not a movie I would run out to see again anytime soon, Get Smart delivers on what it set out to do. It is a film that has fun with itself and allows the audience to just sit back and enjoy the hijinks on display. Obvious jokes and sequences aside—if you have ever seen a spy film you will know what is coming every step of the way—there is enough to not treat this as a throwaway comedy like most that have come out this year. If the filmmakers did anything absolutely right, it is the handling of Carell’s character. I feared this from the previews and should not have. His role really is the glue holding the entire movie together and it works the whole way through. This is not Michael Scott from “The Office” trying to be a spy. No, he realizes the luck he has and the stupidity he sometimes exudes, but he never gives up on himself in order to come through as the victor. It is a role that one can relate to and makes the film that much more enjoyable.

Get Smart 5/10

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[1] Anne Hathaway as Agent 99 and Steve Carell stars as Maxwell Smart in Warner Bros Pictures’ Get Smart (2008). Photo by Tracy Bennett. Copyright © Warner Bros. Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
[2] The Rock as Agent 23 in Warner Bros Pictures’ Get Smart (2008). Photo by Tracy Bennett. Copyright © Warner Bros. Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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Considering the last film I saw featuring Audrey Tautou was the not so great The Da Vinci Code, when I saw the trailer for her latest French language work, Hors de prix, I jumped at the chance to see this beauty once again. With a premise of her as a gold digger, allowing wealthy men to pay for her completely, accidentally thinking a hotel bartender/bellboy was a rich businessman and subsequently finding out the truth, it seemed to have potential for laughs. Especially once you see that the man she mistook for a mark, after losing his job when found out, becomes a male gold digger himself. While at first he tries to woo her into believing that what they had was real, he soon finds himself broke and on the brink of incarceration before an older woman steps in to save him at the price of his companionship. So, Jean and Iréne find themselves together again, this time as friends with a common goal, to get as much out of their “loves” as they can…that is, until they finally see that true love is what matters and not expensive dresses or watches. This is a romantic comedy after all.

With a predictable overall arc, the film still manages to entertain through the sheer fun of what these people go through. At the beginning, you really start to feel bad for Jean as he is caught up in a tryst with someone way out of his league, yet trying to keep up appearances so it can last as long as possible, even if that is just one night. When Iréne discovers the truth, her payback is so cruel to watch—not just due to her enjoyment in watching Jean’s bank account quickly disappear, but also from the utter dejection on his part, in love and unable to give up hope, going as far as buying a final ten seconds to simply stare into her eyes before she goes. As all rom-coms prove, never think the two leads will be apart for long. From a major coincidence that this older woman allows Jean to stay in the hotel as her escort, just as Iréne has found a new man to con, the two begin a competition to see who can acquire more presents than the other. It’s at this point that the film really picks up speed and becomes a laugh riot, showing how a little sulking and “close but distant” expressions can make one’s lover crumble into doing anything. Watching Jean ride into frame on a scooter with his 30,000 Euros watch on his wrist is, as the title translates, priceless.

What keep the movie working and endearing are the performances. Since the story is somewhat slight and obvious we need the acting to hold our interest during the wait. Tautou is great as always, showing off her stunning figure whenever possible, as well as her impeccable comic timing and wealth of facial expressions. I always find it a riot when an actor must “act” in the film. When trying to show Jean how to seduce someone, she turns from friendly to sultry and ambivalent, drawing him in, before snapping back to normal saying, “you see how that works?” without missing a beat. Her expressions in response to the success that Jean finds while on his first scam are also a joy to behold.

The supporting cast does well to enhance everything as it transpires. Marie-Christine Adam, for instance, as Jean’s partner Madeleine, plays the strong wealthy widow to perfection. She is constantly sizing up her new toy, finding what colors suit him and what trinkets she can purchase to make him happy. Always waking him up by a not so subtle throw of a pillow, Adam shows the playful romantic bent while still being able to portray the steely, shrewd woman she is, telling Jean that she knows exactly what he is doing and is willing to continue as long as he plays by the rules. This is a world of debauchery and incalculable wealth. Every player knows their role and doesn’t seem to mind in the slightest—neither those taking advantage nor those being taken. It’s a parasitic world with all parties receiving something from the deal, and that unabashed knowledge makes it more fun as these two paupers find themselves a little too close to the line where acceptance turns into rejection.

What works the most, however, is the fact that the professional con-artist, Iréne, finds herself being outplayed by the novice, Jean. Whereas she hits snags everywhere, the ex-bartender gets so comfortable that he can do no wrong. Whether getting wealth for himself or having the ability to help her when her troubles deem it necessary, it is the inexperienced one that begins to play the game like a seasoned pro, because he isn’t afraid to leave the life behind for the woman he loves, something so unheard of with that “job” that each time he leaves, Madeleine gives him something even more expensive to keep him around. His oblivious nature is what makes him so irresistible and credit goes to Gad Elmaleh for pulling it off. Always with a smile on his face, enjoying being around Iréne whether it’s in good times or bad, he exudes the feelings that he holds for her in every frame. And his wit is real and refreshing, showing off his conquests as though a child in the playground. Hamming it up for the characters in the film as well as the audience in the theatre, Elmaleh proves that priceless is a relative term and sometimes people need a little time and cajoling to find out what the meaning truly is to them.

Hors de prix 7/10

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[1] Audrey Tautou as Irene in Samuel Goldwyn Films’ Priceless (2008) Copyright © Samuel Goldwyn Films. All Rights Reserved.
[2] Audrey Tautou as Irene and Gad Elmaleh as Jean in Samuel Goldwyn Films’ Priceless (2008) Copyright © Samuel Goldwyn Films. All Rights Reserved.

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I’ve always been told that if you have nothing good to say, don’t say anything at all. So, I have to tell you all the best parts of the new Michael Myers vehicle, The Love Guru. You’ve got one really funny joke about Guru Pitka’s mom getting a job that kills even though it was in the trailer, Stephen Colbert finally hits one out of the park as a robot cyborg after failing three previous times to elicit any laughs, Jessica Alba is gorgeous as always if you overlook her atrocious acting abilities, and Justin Timberlake shows he has no shame and steals every single second of screentime he is given. If Jacques “le coq” Grande had his own film, I’d pay to see it. Being that he is included in one that relies on physical humor, asinine wordplay, sexual innuendo, and Myers making a complete idiot of himself as he kills the funny out of every only slightly funny gag he does, Timberlake becomes the only reason I can say it was worth going to a free preview. The Love Guru is quite possibly the worst film I have ever seen and once I’m done writing this review I am going to crawl into bed and cry as I remember So I Married an Axe Murderer and the times when Myers could do no wrong (thanks for the Wayne’s World callback Mike, you actually made me realize how inferior this film is more).

There is truly no point in describing a plot because there isn’t one. The film exists as a series of set-pieces allowing Myers to act up his schtick and try to cause uproarious laughter in the audience. Besides some faint giggles at the fact that Myers himself smiles and winks at the camera, telling us he just told a joke, there is not too much to go on here. Sure there is a ton of uncomfortable laughter and gasps of awe at the wordplay—“can’t face” said real fast to sound like…ahem—that you are shocked to hear in a PG-13 film, but does that really make you think the this was a success? I mean, the main focus is supposed to be the idea that Pitka has been hired to get the star player on the Toronto Maple Leafs back with his ex-girlfriend so that his hockey skills will return and win his owner, the second generation of a cursed family, “Stanley’s Cup”. You almost believe this thread has some merit until the resolution is glossed over quickly and rectified without the bat of an eye. The thing is held together by concert interludes of Myers singing in his way over-the-top Indian accent for entire songs. Can you say filler? (Although I will admit, “More Than Words” was fantastic, especially the visual nods to the actual Extreme video.)

I might be wrapping this review up quickly to rest. My neck has some pain from too much shaking out of embarrassment for those collecting their paychecks on the screen. You could literally see the ca-ching dollar signs popping out of their eyeballs with every awkward moment. Some of the sight gags were funny, the first time they were used. I enjoyed the motorized magic carpet, the utter stupidity of Verne Troyer’s office being half size, and the “Kelestrator” of course, (I wonder why they didn’t TM that one). Admittedly, though, this is not my kind of comedy. While I enjoy a good low-brow laughfest like the next guy, I still would rather have a somewhat decently constructed story, something this tale lacks completely. Had the gags been separated and shown on a tv skit show, I might be calling them genius, however, when you string them together with the only common denominator being that the same characters are used, it gets old fast. Unfortunately, this film will work for a good chuck of America, but I just can’t condone the spending of millions of dollars on something so trite and unenjoyable as this packaged and sold mess.

Now I don’t want to leave Timberlake as the only good thing here. That would be doing a disservice to Manu Narayan who played Myers’ assistant. With spot-on timing and perfect facial expressions, it was good to see someone having fun playing off of the grotesque guru. A nice companion, he actually makes Pitka better each time they are doing a skit together. I’m not really sure what to say about Myers himself. On one hand, he totally commits to this character and must be given credit for that fact. The problem is, though, that the role itself is paper-thin and very, very tiresome. As for Romany Malco, our second lead—although he got the shaft of no top-billing—he does well for what he has been given. Come on man, you were in the amazing 40-Year Old Virgin and have a hit tv show “Weeds” for which you are a big part of its success. Please take the time to do some work that has merit. I mean, wow, who’d have thought I’d be saying Get Smart might be your best movie option this weekend.

Oh, and Ben Kingsley…can I have a word? I am going to have to take away your knighthood. Yes, I know how much you like it and how hard you worked to achieve the title, but I can’t allow someone with as little self respect as you keep the “Sir”. Why, oh why, would you continue to do drivel like this? You are an Academy Award winning thespian. I can only hope The Wackness is as good as it seems so you may redeem a little bit of that respect in my eyes.

The Love Guru 1/10

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Leave it to this drama lover to think that the new film The Incredible Hulk is more boring than Ang Lee’s Hulk from 2003, despite the fact that the entire world hated that version because they said it was too slow. Maybe it was the departure in genre tone that Lee brought to the movie, making it a psychological tale of humanity rather than an action, comic-book romp, but I was pleasantly surprised after thinking it would just be Hulk-Smash over and over again. The funny thing is that knowing this new variation, from Transporter director Louis Leterrier, would be action packed, destruction heavy chaos, I was all for it. I liked the original film and wasn’t quite sure this reboot was totally necessary, but I have to admit I was excited to see some fights, especially after hearing the end battle lives up to the hype, something that lacked in Iron Man and Batman Begins. Unfortunately, while the scuffles were pretty hectic and a lot of fun, everything else, most noticeably the middle third, dragged. It could be that the extremes were too far apart, leaving the testosterone-laden mini-warzones to go to scientific computer speak or blatant sexual tension between the past loves of Bruce Banner and Betty Ross, but I think it was just that those slow moments were too long and not the forte of the filmmakers. Leterrier handled the mix of drama and action much better in Danny the Dog, possibly due to the writing from auteur Luc Besson. Maybe it was Zak Penn’s script, possibly it was the extreme highs of the fights creating even more extreme lows, either way, to me, Hulk was more consistent and a better film. That’s not saying this new installment is bad; it has a lot going for it and if nothing else shows that the subject mater is still viable for a third film featuring The Leader as a villain.

If you thought that you should be familiar with the first film before bothering here, you will be glad to know it’s unnecessary. The credit sequence shows how Banner infects himself with gamma radiation and what happens to make him leave the country as Betty and her General father recover from the aftereffects. Nothing about the past army base history of Banner’s parents or Nick Nolte’s electricity love is alluded to or acknowledged. This film is a reboot through and through, just pretend the first never existed, it’s what the filmmakers do. Basically, the exposition is glossed over—his experiment causing the infection, his inability to survive with it while amongst the ones he loves, and his self-imposed exile to Brazil in order to look for a cure—all relayed in the first twenty or so minutes. The action really starts once General Ross catches up with his former employee and love of his daughter as he attempts to extract him back to the US. This mission expedites Banner’s return for a cure and his crossing paths with Betty once again, as well as an encounter with the Russian-born Brit military man Emil Blonsky, whose craving for a fight and infatuation with the power he sees coming from the Hulk makes him decide to do whatever it takes to acquire that strength for himself. So, this film is really just an extended attempt to capture Banner as he tries to cure himself, (oh and the fact that we believe he might be cured for only ten seconds before they completely disregard that whole plotline in order for a war to break out is just one of the many failures of plotlines that could have been very interesting). At the end, we really find that we are in the exact same situation we were in at the start—except now Betty knows her Bruce is alive.

While the story may be lacking, the action is not. Tim Roth, as Blonsky, has a wild fire raging behind his eyes. The guy will not give up, despite any odds piled against him. When he takes a taste of the gamma poisoning in order to even the playing field versus the Hulk, you just know that small sample will never satiate his lust for blood. Super-Roth goes against the green giant and it is pretty exciting, even the sonar cannon effects are cool to watch as they attempt to stop the monster. The final battle is a lot of fun with destruction, but it is the chase scene in Brazil that sticks to mind after leaving the theatre. Brazil’s cityscape is ripe for an extended sequence with its housing and factories all jammed packed together on a hillside with barely room for a street between them. Banner and Blonsky run after each other while extras from Bruce’s job crop up with a bad attitude. The first transformation finally occurs, yet most of it is seen from the shadows. A brilliant use of deflection helps make the chase more exhilarating than the computer generated fight at the finale—no matter how much fun that still ends up being.

The boring, drawn out exchanges between action set pieces may ruin the pacing and enjoyment, but to me it is really the new cast at fault. Whether you liked Lee’s version or not, you shouldn’t be able to question the actors involved. All those onscreen here pale in comparison and probably cause the mediocrity of those scenes. Liv Tyler’s whisper doesn’t have the same panache as the strong-willed Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt’s overacting to be the hardass can’t touch Sam Elliott’s natural born proclivity to that demeanor, and, no matter how much I like Ed Norton, Eric Bana hit the conflicted internal struggle emotive quality out of the park in Hulk. Maybe if the old cast was brought into this film, the parts that fail could have worked and rather then bring down the smash and grab moments, could have enhanced their success, making the enjoyment level higher and the film better as a result.

The Incredible Hulk 6/10

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[1] Copyright © Universal Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
[2] Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky in Universal Pictures’ The Incredible Hulk (2008) Copyright © Universal Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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The first true masterpiece of 2008 has arrived just as we cross the mid-point of the year. Yes, the film did see its first release in 2006, however, after traveling through festivals, Tarsem Singh’s first feature in over six years debuts stateside to local theatres. The trailer alone shows how spectacular the cinematography and visual style will be, my only question hinged on whether the story and emotional weight would equal the scenery. With a cast of people I have never seen or heard of, besides “Pushing Daisies” star Lee Pace, I entered with some trepidation, hoping beyond hope that The Fall wouldn’t end up being eye-candy posing as a deep tale of sorrow, beauty, and the reason to go on living. Not only do the sights and sounds live up to expectations, the plot delves deep into the mental psyche of two broken souls finding each other when they need it the most. With a nice sprinkling of humor and an endearing quality of childhood, this tale cuts between reality and the minds’ of our two leads as they journey together inside a myth with bandits seeking revenge for the wrongs done to them. Much like The Wizard of Oz, we see the duality of characters from the real world standing in for the heroes in the story. Young Alexandria uses what she knows to encompass herself into the fairy tale as her new friend Roy weaves a yarn of intrigue, not to lift the child’s spirits, but instead for his own selfish gains.

A big part of the film can be seen in the line from Pace’s Roy, “Are you trying to save my soul?” He jokes it after Alexandria gives him some food she stole, a Eucharist from the hospital chapel, yet we as an audience know the truth behind those words. While this Romanian girl is really only attempting to connect with someone that will give her attention and friendship after breaking her arm working the orange groves, she is unintentionally doing just that. She is giving this man a reason to live, whether he realizes it himself or even wants it at all. Injuring himself with a suicide attempt on set of his new movie, this stunt man may be on the mend, but his heart is still broken from his girlfriend leaving for the film’s star. Still desperately trying to find a way to end his life, Roy begins to tell a story of a battle against insurmountable odds, a group of five bandits looking for revenge and not caring what happens to them in order to achieve it. Always stopping short, “at the best parts, when the story gets beautiful,” as Alexandria says in her broken English, Roy begins to use the girl in order to acquire pills for which to overdose on. He feels bad for his ruse and doesn’t want the young girl to see him in his current state, but the pain of his heart is too much to bear.

Visually stunning, the art direction is breathtaking. I don’t care what bad things I’ve heard about Tarsem’s first film The Cell, I need to see it as soon as possible based solely on the artistry displayed here. Right from the start we are treated to the credit sequence in slow motion, black and white beauty. Unaware in the moment of what it is exactly we are seeing, the subtle melancholy of the sequence is unshakable as we begin our entry into the real world at a convalescence hospital. The imagery stays with you, though, and shortly you are transported back into that world of intrigue with Eastern influences, vast dunes of sand, labyrinthine temples and cities, and clear, crisp imagery choreographed with a technical genius. Every character in the story comes from a different part of the world with a specific skill and culture. We have the African slave, the Indian swordsman, Charles Darwin and his monkey Wallace, the Teddy Roosevelt-esque explosive specialist, the mystic seeker brought forth from a burning tree, and our hero, the masked bandit. Each costume is crafted with care and grace, filling the frame with a sumptuous beauty to mesmerize you for the duration and allow the separation between this fabricated reality for the dreary one of pain and solitude always waiting to come back outside their minds.

While my eyes were treated to a gorgeous display, thankfully my mind was not left behind. One may anticipate this being a children’s film, a world of make believe as two souls come together in order to save each other. On the surface this fact can be agreed upon, however, this is a very dark tale that, maybe undeserving of its R-rating, pulls no punches as far as showing the cruelty of the world, rather than sugar-coating a message into the proceedings. As Roy says, “everything dies.” This is a very true statement and Tarsem never shies from showing the reality of that situation when necessary. Both in the real world and that of imagination, we are shown instances that are very difficult to watch. Emotionally draining at times, this is not your run-of-the-mill cautionary tale; it will tear your heart out and show you the pain that exists inside of Roy. Complete with a scene of stop-motion animation, showing us the inner workings of Alexandria’s mind in duress, this film takes you to the edge and sometimes over.

These moments of emotional weight hinge on the stellar performances of all involved; most importantly those of Pace and Catinca Untaru. Pace has the range to play the fictional hero fighting against the evil Governor Odious and still be the broken man, bedridden and finished with life. And Untaru shows an immense sense of realism as this Romanian girl listening to a tale of wonderment, dealing with issues of loss and sacrifice, complete with a very tenuous grasp on the English language. What at times seems too natural, her quizzical looks when not understanding what Pace says to her and therefore just smiling or repeating herself, becomes utter genius when we catch her lying to both mother and doctor as she plays translator between them. The poise, grace, and abundance of life, (both to smile and to cry), is unbelievable and without her, this film wouldn’t have been near as good as it is. The two have a brilliant rapport, causing the audience to giggle at their language gap and tongue-in-cheek moments when the story is shown to be just that, ever changing as the tellers evolve it, and to feel the bond being forged. With a climax that is difficult to watch, yet utterly entrancing through the tears and anger being let out, The Fall never ceases to amaze and I cannot wait to immerse my entire being into this magical world again.

The Fall 10/10

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courtesy of The Fall’s official website
Copyright ©2006 Googly Films, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Photographs by Stephen Berkman, Stephan Colover, Ged Claske, & Tarsem

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Ah, M. Night Shyamalan. The man who was overrated until I saw the masterpiece that was The Village, followed up by the beautiful fairy-tale Lady in the Water, vaulting him into my must-see echelon, no matter what preconceptions I have based on trailers or word-of-mouth. Well, my blind faith has somewhat let me down in this instance. No, it wasn’t the left wing agenda that is subtly prevalent throughout, nor the blatant “news brief” used to shove said agenda down our throats at the end. What happened instead was really just disappointment. I saw The Happening as either being a darker version of the love stories he had told in the previous two films, or a return to the phenomenon of thrills territory with The Sixth Sense. Instead, I received a mediocre attempt at a straight-shot film, trying its hardest (and a bit too hard) to keep some of his trademark humor while beefing up the gore and blood to get his first R-rating. I should have seen the writing on the wall from the fact that the strong rating was used as a marketing push because, truthfully, it all kind of came across as forced. Not always, but much like the rest of the film, when we got something that worked on all cylinders, it most likely would be followed by an utter failure of tone, acting, set, or execution.

The premise is intriguing as hell—Mother Nature using its natural defense mechanisms to fight back against humanity. By releasing a neurotoxin, everything green has decided to show its true strength; earth will not rollover and watch itself get suffocated anymore. This synopsis alone shows the environmentalist bent being portrayed, but very unobtrusively. Sure the groundwork is there, ever prevalent, lurking below the surface, but credit Shyamalan for refusing to make it the centerpiece of the tale…until the end of course. I wish he would have trusted us as an audience a bit more in that regard. The visuals are handled with deft precision, the wind and flowing foliage is gorgeous to experience, yet completely frightening at the same time. The detail and fluidity of realism is a feat to behold, but once you realize the intent of that motion, you want to turn and run yourself. If nothing else, Shymalan is a definite master of mood and enveloping his audience into the world he creates. Whereas a film like Signs shows his manipulation too strongly, leading us by the hand, step by step, to the end, Night has definitely honed this skill by putting us into the world in order for ourselves to end up where he wants us, thinking we got there all on our own. This is what makes The Village resonate with me so much, he never tried to trick me, he just let me wander in and uncover the secrets. He does much the same here with our fears of terrorism and closed-minded views when it comes to the far-fetched (Mother Nature fighting? Yeah right). By showing how each character reacts to what is happening, we are allowed to pick the one we agree with and see how he/she will fare and find out what is really going on.

The problems come in with the uneven tempo and mood that’s laid out. This is a dark story of death and destruction, containing moments that are not for the faint of heart. Believe me, when you see our leads travel with a certain age demographic you will get lulled into the sense of security that, oh, now nothing will happen. I’ll just warn you that anything can and will occur, despite any preconceptions you may have. However, with that cynicism and unabashed freedom to carry the story to any end, Night decided he needed to temper it all with comedy and humor. While a little of this is a plus, he goes overboard here. Some moments are cringingly bad to watch and make you wonder how he didn’t cut the scene completely, or why no one recommended that he do so. Yes, there was the unintentional humor brought to the forefront by the crowd I saw the film with, but some of the stuff was just too over the top that it must have been done on purpose. I truly believed Shymalan told his actors to ham it up for some end game, but when nothing resulted, (no Haunted Honeymoon sequence when you find that all the craziness and camp was a result of the entire film being a radio show), I only had to blame the cast for its amateur sensibilities and the director for his inability to get the performances needed.

Before I go into detail, I just want to mention the one person who got it right. John Leguizamo is absolutely fantastic in a smaller role as a math teacher. He embodies the role and the responsibilities his family life carries with it to perfection. Start to finish, not a single false moment. This cannot be said for anyone else. Zooey Deschanel has instances of brilliance, but also way too many of her manic jittering and wide-eyed stares that work so well as the drugged out hippie in “Weeds” but not so much as the emotionally troubled wife here. Mark Wahlberg is half great, half bad. When he has his moments of levity, pretending to be that cool teacher goofing around while subliminally still teaching something, he reminded me of his delivery from I Heart Huckabees. Where he fails is when he attempts to be a normal suburbanite. Truthfully, he can’t pull it off. He is from the streets, his speech patterns are from the streets, and he should not be made to pretend to be Johnny Do Good. All he does is inflect words that make him appear to have a weird staccato and horrible grasp on the English language—it’s too forced.

So, while visually stunning and intriguingly plotted, the end result becomes too campy to hold the weight that Night sets out to have. The scientific stuff if interesting and handled well enough to be believable, never taking us out of the world we are transported too. I also loved the “Twilight Zone”-esque conclusion, showing the bigger picture of what really is happening. Whether it was just cast wrong or played wrong, the acting is too stilted at times, the script uneven and laughable—Do you like hotdogs?—and in the end disjointed enough to sometimes lose your footing on what is happening. Humor is necessary to allow the darkness to breathe, not to take us off course only to steer back sharply. There are the makings of a very good film here, I just think maybe a bit more work was needed to excise it from what finally hit the screen.

The Happening 5/10

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Martin Luther was a rockstar. Now I won’t pretend to be knowledgeable in theology or that I remember way back when to school years learning about the Reformation, so whether the ideas and words spoken in the film Luther are correct, I haven’t a clue. However, either way I couldn’t agree more with them. This is a man that never wanted a revolt; he never portrayed his views as an alternative to the Roman Catholic Church. No, he loved his religion and his God. The ideas and writings were in response to the tyranny of the Romans who usurped power as well as God’s breath. The false idol of a Pope was beginning to create doctrines whether they meshed with scripture or not, as long as they were bringing money into the church. With the selling of indulgences to allow for the passage of deceased relatives into Heaven or to save your own soul from sins, we were given the biggest con ever. These people were peasants, unable to read the Bible for which they devoted their lives. They were duped into giving their savings to the church that wouldn’t give them the decency of letting their own ideas and interpretations ferment. Luther saw this blasphemy and sought to rid the religion he held so dear of it. When asked to come before the Pope, he seriously thought he’d be able to prove his point and reform a broken system, instead he was given the truth—the Pope wasn’t interested in change, he was a proponent of the tyranny himself.

Ok, now this is not a forum for me to wax philosophical about religious beliefs. I am a Roman Catholic by upbringing, yet not a fan of the Church much for the same reasons as Luther puts forth in this film. It isn’t that the idea is false; it is just that it is broken by the greed and business of humanity. God should speak to us without the need of a proxy. That middleman seems to only cause hatred and doubt for when one strays from the norm. Luther saw that everything bad about Catholicism was against the scripture of God himself. He could prove his words if only they had given him a chance. According to this film, Luther did not incite the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Church did so themselves. If only they had listened and looked past the money and the power, they could have united their religion, as Luther wanted, instead they allowed him to be their enemy and gather strength. Sometimes that strength used his name in vain with words such as “learn to despise props and pretensions” as one man strips another of his crucifix, but it is that passion and misguided anger that erupts from a polarized event such as the attempt to prove Luther a heretic. We would not have religious freedom without the gumption and confidence of this theologian. Whether one agrees with what he did or not, you cannot deny him gratitude for that.

But again, this is a review of the film and not the ideas it is putting forth. Does Luther succeed as a piece of work? I must say yes; I couldn’t have been made as passionate about the cause as I was without their being some success on the part of those involved. Nothing is really done spectacularly or jumps off the screen screaming genius; no this is a very straightforward and solid film. It does what it sets out to do and never tries to be flashy or inventive because that was not the purpose. The filmmakers set out to tell the tale of a man that is a hero to many, whether they align with his ideas or not. Had Luther not stood up to the Catholics, we in America may still be partaking in the Inquisition, burning friends of yours at the stake for being Lutheran, Methodist, Mormon, Muslin, etc. The beauty of freedom is that you don’t have to agree, just agree to disagree. One can be passionate and outspoken, but you don’t have to listen. You have the freedom to walk away, not the freedom to repress.

As with the story and movie itself, the acting is quite solid too. Joseph Fiennes shows once again that he is the go-to guy for Shakespeare and period pieces, (has he ever done something else?). The moments when he wrestles with his inner demons are intense as are the quiet reflections as he tries to compose an argument in his head so that he can be true to his ideals, true to his faith and God, yet still go against the rules while attempting to keep his life. Of specific mention besides Fiennes would be Peter Ustinov, Jochen Horst, and Bruno Ganz. I’m not sure whether my praise is for Ustinov’s performance or for the resilience of moral fortitude on the part of his character Frederick the Wise. He may not agree with the strong words of his professor Luther, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that he should be allowed to continue to preach. When Ustinov breaks down after seeing the way the Papacy thought they could bribe him, I couldn’t think of a more memorable scene. And when he is given the German translation of the Bible—the most fierce weapon imaginable for the Church as it allowed the commoner the ability to read God’s words himself—you can’t help but smile at his absolute glee.

Horst is great as a fellow professor in Wittenberg who at first questions this young unconfident monk. Soon though he buys into the rhetoric and becomes his staunchest supporter to the end of being a bit too overzealous. He takes the mantle of Luther to violence and revolt—maybe this was the obvious next step, but Luther would have never gone there himself. And of course there is Ganz. This guy is solid and never takes a wrong turn. As Luther’s spiritual father, Ganz is the reason he is sent to teach and spread his ideas. He always wanted his pupil to change the world and rid Catholicism of its poison, however, he never saw the pain and suffering that change would lead to before the dust was to settle into harmony. Showing that he can act in English as well as German, the man is brilliant in Der Himmel über Berlin, this film only makes me want to see Der Untergang even more.

Luther 7/10

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