Tuesday, August 18, 2009

(500) Days of Summer

Well (500) Days of Summer was an easy choice when it came down to it. It starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt and since he is my favorite actor of his generation that's an easy sell. Thankfully this was a step beyond your basic romantic comedy. I’ve seen too many movies by now so a by-the-numbers rom-com would have bored me, but this was another original film that the summer has given me.

So, I have already threw out Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s name out there as my main interest for (500) Days of Summer. He is always able to show the conflict that his character is going through; the climatic scene on the bench here was fantastic. Still, it was nice to see him able to be goofy this time around. This peaked with a dance scene that was like a weird amalgamation of happy Peter Parker in Spider-Man 2 and the park song in Enchanted. Whatever it was and wherever it came from it was awesome. I love the fact that within one week I was able to see Gordon-Levitt as Cobra Commander and then go back to his indie home.

Zooey Deschanel was well cast as the love of Tom Hansen’s life even though she doesn’t feel the same way. She was definitely believable as the cute eccentric girl who ends up destroying the guy’s life. Such a sweet story, which I am not spoiling because the movie starts by saying that it’s not a love story. Plus the disclaimer calling out an old girlfriend that starts the film may have been the best joke. Actually my favorite running joke of the story was how Tom would turn to his pre-teen sister for love advice. These scenes were awesome and not just cause kids swearing is always funny but Chloe Moretz is now my new favorite child actor. And I knew the name was familiar but I couldn’t place it until I looked her up and realized that she is going to be Hit Girl in next year’s Kick Ass. I’m even more excited for that movie now that I have seen her work.

So, hey, here is a recommendation for a romantic comedy. All it takes is for something like (500) Days of Summer to break from the usual blueprint and it becomes memorable. It also helps to have a cast that I actually want to see in action no matter what the genre.

8 out of 10

District 9

When a movie like District 9 comes along, I think about people who always complain that nothing new is released anymore. This was just straight crazy from the bell. But instead of feeling ridiculous, it worked! This was a believable documentary about humanity imprisoning aliens because we want their weapons. Damn, we suck.

Shooting movies as pseudo-documentaries has become common nowadays but when it is done right it still feels different. Maybe it was the audacity of playing alien concentration camp completely straight but the documentary style fit District 9. The shaky handheld camera helped cover up any shortcomings in the budget. The aliens were the standard buggy looking creatures but the animation was so detailed it set them apart from other movies. The Prawns came across as little more than scavengers that weren’t all that intelligent. And since they were entirely CGI creations, it was all up to the animators to show this. Just unbelievable work was done here.

The parallels for this story are obvious and completely depressing. This is the world we live in and what would probably happen if aliens were stranded on earth. The fact that the ghetto the prawns were caged in was an actual area of Johannesburg that existed and people lived in at one time. Who knew that a movie where aliens are scrounging for cat food can make you depressed?

Oh yeah and then there was cool shit that blew up and fancy pants alien weapons, so there was a bit of everything here. Hopefully District 9 makes a shitload of money and there can be empirical proof that something as new and different as this can be big-time successful.

9 out of 10

Sunday, August 16, 2009

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

One day I am going to regret this review … but fuck it G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra may have just been awesome. I don’t know why and I am not sure I am going to be able to defend this stance. Yet, it is G.I. Joe and that is enough for me.

My enjoyment of this movie is mainly because of the cast and how sweet it was to see these characters come to life. The cartoon is so long ago, so much of the specifics have faded away to the far recesses of my brain, but all I really wanted to see was Baroness, Snake Eyes, Scarlett, Storm Shadow, and Cobra Commander and they were all there. Even when the characters looked off (Cobra Commander) or just weird (Snake Eyes’ mouth), the performances more than made up for those deficiencies. Please understand that the word "performance" means something much different in a movie like G.I. Joe; I why people to just go crazy and have fun with it. There was actually a scene where Sienna Miller looked exactly how I thought the Baroness should look. She is riding up an elevator with a streak of blood down her face and machine guns in both hands, just unloading on Duke with a manic grin. Sweet. Then you have Storm Shadow rocking the white on white on white on white suit. Never a bad idea. Scarlett kicked the right amount of ass with her magical crossbow. Although it was nearly impossible to screw up, somehow it was decided to give Snake Eyes' mask lips making the silent ninja less awesome than he was destined to be. Then there is Cobra Commander. I have zero ability to be mad about him because they cast Joseph Gordon-Levitt and he dove in head first and made my freaking day. He just went as far as he possibly could as the mad doctor and then got to go even further as he was revealed as Cobra Commander. As for the Darth Vader breathing apparatus and odd Cobra Commander helmet, I was not bothered enough to be taken out of the movie. And that last phrase is the key, none of the flaws throughout this movie every really pissed me off.

Stephen Summers has never been one my favorite directors, but his movies have never seemed cheap or cheated me out of shit blowing up. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is the perfect place to have craziness going on scene after scene. And this is the key difference between Transformers and G.I. Joe, this was actually paced well. There is constant action without any ridiculous detours into weirdness that has nothing to do with Transformers ... sorry that still bothers me. As for G.I. Joe, we got futuristic Cobra weaponry, mixed with ninjas, mixed with Yo Joe!, what can I say it worked.

Let's get out of here before I dig a grave I may never be able to escape. I liked G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and hope this leads to more movies down the road. What can I say? I'm an easy mark.

7 out of 10

The Hurt Locker

What an odd film to be released in the middle of the summer. The Hurt Locker would have felt more at home somewhere in the fall or winter, but either way it was a pleasant surprise. This was a powerful film with a nomination worthy performance by Jeremy Renner.

It is always a welcome sight when I get to see a movie that just feels completely fresh. The Hurt Locker is about a soldier who disarms bombs during the war in Iraq. That is it. There isn’t a larger message about the war; this is just the story of Jeremy Renner and how he and his unit deal with their insanely tense job. And since this felt completely original, every time a bomb was being disarmed I believed that something was going to go wrong. Instead of cheating like a horror movie with obvious music cues and editing, just watching Renner’s character ripping apart vehicles and cutting wires kept me on the edge of my seat. Having the countdown of how many days the unit had left in Iraq made me wonder if the 3 of them would get out in one place. This was a perfectly plotted film.

I’ve mentioned him a few times already but enough cannot be said about Jeremy Renner. He has been a familiar face for most of the last decade yet never really was put in the forefront. The Hurt Locker gives him that opportunity and he delivers a performance that was beyond expectations. He has a maniacal obsession with his job that crosses the border into insanity. And you get to see the good and bad that his mindset caused. Then again I wonder if all his problems actually stemmed from being married to Kate Austen, which is a fate worse than death and would cause most people to disarm bombs in Iraq just to get away.

The Hurt Locker is the type of movie that I expect to see when the Oscars are around the corner, so it was a welcome sight in the middle of the summer. There have been a handful of movies based on the war in Iraq recently and this one was the most original and definitely belongs on the top of the pile.

9 out of 10

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince delivered more than I could have hoped for. There were signs, 8-month delay, PG rating, entire sections of the book missing, that left me with a negative view prior to its release, but it overcame all of this with flying colors. In the end, I would put this right up there with Prisoner of Azkaban as the best movies in the franchise so far.

With each successive film, the stars get older and older and are able to give stronger and more nuanced performances. This time around all three have there moments to shine. Rupert Grint, who has always been an afterthought to the screenwriters and since I don’t like Ron Weasley this has never bothered me, took full advantage of the comedic moments given to him. The quidditich and Lavender scenes were good enough but he earned his paycheck with the love potion sequence. The emotional backbone was Emma Watson and she pulled off lovesick and heartbroken when necessary but I was much more impressed with her drunken stumble after one butterbeer. Of course Daniel Radcliffe has the majority of the work but that goes with being Harry Potter. From the first scene flirting with the waitress, all his pining for Ginny, the teaching of Dumbledore, he never slips but it is the Felix Felicis sequence that I will always remember. Who the hell knew he could be so funny by just saying “hi” or “sir” or making pincer movements with his fingers. I am eager to see what these three will do with some of the wicked shit that goes down in The Deathly Hallows.

As is the custom with this franchise, no significant character is given the shaft during casting. This time around Jim Broadbent joins as Horace Slughorn and produces layers to a character that I never saw while reading the book. There was a sadness of a man completely past his prime that he brought to all his scenes. I’ve always been a huge fan of Michael Gambon and he definitely took advantage of his increase in screen time in this outing. It was amusing that the Half-Blood Prince was the title, yet once again the man portraying the Prince, Alan Rickman, only has a handful of moments to work his magic. I was pleasantly surprised in the increase of the character arc of Bellatrix LeStrange. Helena Bonham Carter has been all over this role and I am in favor of anything that puts her on the screen more often, even if it is just to sing “I killed Sirius Black!” Last name I want to mention is Tom Felton. After six movies he finally got to do some work as Draco Malfoy. Now a majority of the performance hinged on the black suit, black vest, black shirt, black tie outfit (i.e. evil) he was sporting, but he was able to show how his mission was ripping him apart. Love this cast.

With all that being said, I want to be angry with The Half-Blood Prince. They eviscerated the Tom Riddle memories. There was no Gaunt house, no Cup of Helga Hufflepuff, and no sweet confrontation between a young Voldermort and Dumbledore over the Defense Against the Dark Arts position. Yet the orphanage and Slughorn memories were so well done that I was placated. There was no Dumbledore’s funeral, which did suck. The lighting of the wands was a nice moment but the funeral could have been very moving. And I already mentioned that the Half-Blood Prince/Snape storyline was pruned down to nothing. In the end this doesn’t really matter, the horcruxes were the key plot point, but it was the freaking title of the movie. And yet, the movie worked. The story that they told got all the key points across and delivered a fantastic set-up for the 2-part finale.

I could keep writing about The Half-Blood Prince but I need to wrap this up. David Yates improved so much from The Order of the Phoenix that his visuals should be incredible come The Deathly Hallows. And that is what this movie was all about; making me twitch for the conclusion.

9 out of 10

Public Enemies

I’m not entirely sure if it was possible for me to hate Public Enemies no matter what the final product looked like. It’s a bank heist movie directed by Michael Mann and starring Johnny Depp. Those odds are actually off the board. In the end, Public Enemies paid off even though I felt it could have reached a higher level.

It is always a pleasure to be treated to a Michael Mann directed shootout every few years. This time around we got a handful of smaller skirmishes which all lead to the phenomenal gunfight at the inn in the middle of the woods. He always takes such care to portray these battles as insanely violent as they would be in real life. Mann’s attention to detail can be seen throughout the movie; this feels like the 1930’s and with my experiences in that decade obviously I would recognize it when I see it. The only real issue I have with the director is that this is another film that is closer to two and a half hours than to two hours. I am growing tired of every other movie just cruising past the two-hour mark.

This was another credit for Johnny Depp’s resume as arguably the greatest actor working today. He was absolutely magnetic as John Dillinger. Depp pulled off the invincible aura that Dillinger needed in order to pull off some of the ridiculous shit he was famous for. The scene where he strolls through the Chicago Police Department is amazing. It was nice to see Christian Bale not break out the Batman voice this time around. That would not make sense in a 1930s G-Man. It still was sad not to hear the growl because I really feel like Batman would sent him to Arkham without too much of a problem. Dillinger nothing on the Mad Hatter, which makes even more sense since that is Depp's next role.

Is dumbshit girlfriend a role that always has to be found in these stories? I only ask because Marion Cotillard's character just kept staying with Dillinger no matter what nonsense he was up to. I don't care what bad things happen at the end of the movie; there is no sympathy for me to give her by that point. Any weakness in her character was offset by the awesomeness Stephen Graham's Baby Face Nelson. Classic over-the-top Depression era gangster. Lots of other fun faces popping up here, David Wenham, Billy Crudup, Giovanni Ribisi, and John Ortiz. Michael Mann knows how to cast a movie.

Public Enemies was a fun movie that could have been great. Bank robbing in the 30s will always be fun to watch, but the long running time slowed this down at too many points. Still, it was worth the price just to watch Depp work.

8 out of 10