Friday, March 25, 2011

Movies I Really Wish Didn't Suck: part 1

I will be bringing you an ongoing series at random intervals. These posts will name movies I wanted to love throughout my life that turned out to be crap. These are a real tragedy, and I'm going to get kind of emotional discussing them.

P.S. This is a great idea for a continuing series because Hollywood will always continue to supply us with disappointing crap!

1. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

I am happy to kick off this series with a Michael Bay "film" (hey, Mike!), and it is truly the worst of his worst. I didn't like Bay's 2007 original, but I had hopes that, since the production values on these movies are mammoth, he would hit the right tone with the sequel.

Boy, was I foolish. Transformers 2 is unwatchable, the epitome of cinematic excess, full of juvenile humor and racially stereotyped anime mechs. Shia LaBeouf is about as annoying as possible in it, and Megan Fox really doesn't get anything to do besides look good. In fact, the only thing Bay seems to want his (supposedly 'tween) male audience to objectify more than her curves is all of the military imagery.

I hated Revenge of the Fallen.

2. The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

The Matrix (1999) is one of my favorite movies, and the trailers for its sequel made Reloaded look amazing, but the film was a complete waste of time. It broke the rules already established for its universe by the first film, and it did so with bad contrivances to boot.

The Wachowski brothers got too ambitious with their effects sequences so that the fight scene between Neo (Keanu Reeves) and a ton of Agent Smiths (Hugo Weaving) in the middle of the film literally looked like a cartoon. The story went swiftly down hill, and the filmmakers made the mistake of minimizing Neo's power; all of the momentum from The Matrix was gone.

On the bright side, the film's freeway chase scene is one of the greatest action scenes ever crafted.

3. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Yeah, I might as well piss off everyone sooner rather than later with this list. But I know the story of LOTR better than you (unless your name is Tolkien), and I'm passionate enough about Peter Jackson's trilogy paling in comparison to the books that I should write a doctoral thesis about it.

Jackson and his band of rich, know-it-all writers had already dug themselves a hole by butchering the second part of the trilogy and leaving too much ground to be covered in the final film. How to fix this? Well, simply leave out tons of amazing moments, exclude main characters, and reduce Tolkien's poetic writing to bad one liners.

"I am no man!"? Are you kidding me?!?

Boy, 2003 sucked.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Remember When Camera Movement Meant Something?

I have been reading a book on samurai films, and I just finished Hideo Gosha's Sword of the Beast (1965). Old, Japanese films make me appreciate the art of visual style in film; in other words, the camera is expressing something at all times through composition, movement, and, by extension, editing.

These terms have less and less meaning in American cinema, as the big-budget movies contain incessant, meaningless camera movement (see everything after The Matrix), or they are shot in the increasingly popular documentary style of shaky-cam madness. One of my favorite films of the decade, 2006's Children of Men, was shot documentary style, so it lacked that particularly cinematic type of artistry I love so much and wish to fully understand. However, it was one of the best films I have ever seen, so I guess the directing style, which was appropriate for the film's narrative, is excusable. The hand-held camera allowed for some of the most amazing long takes ever filmed.

Luckily, not all directors have abandoned their camera as storyteller. The camera rarely shook in Road to Perdition (2002), which was also one of the most beautiful movies ever made. An example from that film is a sequence in which Michael Jr. watches Michael Sr. from a distance, and they are also emotionally estranged. The wide angle lens that Sam Mendes uses makes the hallway between them look exceptionally long.

Happy viewing,


Monday, March 14, 2011

Check These Guys Out

Some buddies in town run a wonderful little podcast all about movies, Buried Cinema.

Nate, Tom, Steve and Alban... Way to go, guys... even though you did all like Black Swan.

I guessed starred on episodes 34 and 36. You can get the show on iTunes.



Blu Recommendation: The Thin Red Line, Criterion Collection

I totally blew it with the promise I gave you to recommend a new Blu-ray or DVD each week, and I apologize to both of you for that. But let's not argue and bicker about who killed who; let's move on with our lives.

What a release this is, a Criterion Blu-ray from September 28, 2010. The Thin Red Line (1998) is only the second film I've seen from director Terrance Malick (Days of Heaven), but he is on a roll in my book. As usual, Criterion's treatment of the film is exemplary; I have, literally, never seen a movie look better on home video. Ever. Folks, buy yourselves a plasma and sit back to enjoy home cinema as never before.

John Toll's (Gone Baby Gone) cinematography is absolutely stunning, as Malick puts together the best-looking war film ever. I'm not going to say that I understand The Thin Red Line, but I will say that it demands multiple viewings, and it contains some scenes you will never forget. The beauty of most scenes is so sublime, I'm amazed that Malick is still able to infuse the horror of war into the film.

The Blu-ray features a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, a theatrical trailer, three different making-of documentaries, wartime newsreels, and a commentary track (without Malick, who won't talk about his own movies).


Movie Review: Battle : Los Angeles

Saving Private Santa Monica

Battle LA is kind of a mess, and my frustration with the film is compounded by the fact that, between various trailers, websites, posters, and the actual movie's opening titles, the filmmakers aren't quite sure what to tell us the name of their stupid movie is. That's appropriate because I've seen Battle: Los Angeles/ Battle LA/ Battle Los Angeles, and I still don't know what the film was.

I do know of what it consists, though: derivative action scenes set amidst an alien invasion of Los Angeles, interspersed with cliched, troubled-men-at-war dialogue. Aaron Eckhart stars as Ssgt. Michael Nantz, a Santa Monica marine on the verge (of course) of retiring. He is unable to live as a non-combatant, however, when pesky aliens invade major cities...looking for ocean water to steal(?!). Forced back into action, Nantz joins the platoon of Lt. William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen). Tension between these two leaders- Nantz is second in command- compounds with past drama between the soldiers. However, not every conflict comes to fruition because the space beings attack the beach by sea and air. Our heroes fight through Santa Monica trying to rescue civilian survivors.

First-time director Jonathan Liebesman doesn't make good use of L.A. as a backdrop, as firefights with the cliched, gross aliens take place on indiscriminate overpasses and the like. Eckhart is really wasted on the material, a weak script by Christopher Bertolini. (Seriously, how many different films have you seen that feature a military man handing in his papers, only to be given some inescapable reason to join back up?)

The special effects, however, are nice to look at. The space craft have a particularly District 9 look, as sci-fi has moved into the realm of gritty, shaky-cam realism.

Skip this one,


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Movie Review: The Adjustment Bureau

Guarding all the doors, holding all the keys.

The Adjustment Bureau is the perfect late Winter film, one that will make back its budget for its studio but would be crushed if it was released just two months later, amidst the avalanche of expensive CGI-fests we can expect each Summer.

I'm a sucker for great movie trailers, and The Adjustment Bureau had me with a smartly edited collage set to some of my favorite music, the theme from Danny Boyle's Sunshine. Walking into the theater, however, I knew that this Matt Damon vehicle would possess nowhere near the momentum of that unstoppable space station. Usual writer George Nolfi (The Bourne Ultimatum) tries his hand at directing for the first time here, adapting a Philip K. Dick short story. He does an admirable job, using modern special effects craftily and manipulating our view as handily as the film's namesake organization of fedoraed agents. The script, and a weak ending, are the problem here.

Damon plays David Norris, a New York politician in the running for United States Senate. The mysterious Adjustment Bureau have been manipulating his life from the beginning, and when some of their agents near David err, they are revealed to him. He is told the truth: that the Bureau controls the world from behind the scenes. He also learns that he is destined to become President. But to have a successful career he must give up Elise (Emily Blunt, The Wolfman), a woman he has recently fallen in love with. David decides to defy his destiny, and the Bureau's Plan, to be with Elise.

Visually interesting (the Bureau's main trick consists of walking through random Manhattan doorways that teleport them long distances around the city in an instant) and featuring an attractive cast, The Adjustment Bureau simply gives up on answering any tough questions, or making any accusations against anyone or anything, worldly or otherworldly. This one won't stick around for very long. But don't worry; louder movies are on the way.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Movie Review: Unknown

I don't know about this.

There isn't terribly much to say about Unknown, the entirely forgettable thriller from Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra (House of Wax).

The most unknown fact about this film in today's world is that it is not, in fact, Taken 2, though the Warner Brothers campaign machine seems to view that as the best way to sell the picture. It certainly does qualify as a thriller, though, and the exciting moments are the only thing that give this Liam Neeson vehicle any chance at success.

Neeson plays Dr. Martin Harris, an American scientist arriving in Berlin with his lovely wife Elizabeth (January Jones) for a biotechnology conference. Leaving her at their hotel, Martin grabs a quick taxi back to the airport for his forgotten passport, therefore conveniently lacking any identification on his person when the cab plunges into the river, and Martin ends up in a coma as a result. When he comes to four days later, no one knows him, and the cab driver who saved his life, Gina (Diane Kruger), refuses to help him. Martin soon learns that another man is posing as him at the conference, and for some reason Liz says that she doesn't know Martin.

Unknown is one part Regarding Henry, three overdone parts Frantic and two final parts Bourne again, all reflecting Neeson's current state of mind. The combination of these different narrative archetypes is the closest thing the film has to originlity, as the shaky-cam fist fights and hyper Euro-car chases have all been done before.

The production values of Unknown are more than adequate, but the performances are not. Neeson exudes his usual nobility and charisma, very appropriate for an accomplished professor, but Jones is terribly outclassed as his wife, and the attractive yet plain actress appears as a child in their scenes together. Kruger fares better. Making appearances that can't possibly save the film are Aidan Quinn and Frank Langella.

Skip this one. For better action and drama around an amnesia story, check out the Bourne trilogy.

I Need to Get to Know Terry Malick

I will finally see The Thin Red Line this weekend, and it has been a long time in coming. To top off this wonderful eventuality, I will be watching it on Criterion blu. That's a heck of a way to meet a movie.

Check out the wonderful trailer after below.