Friday, December 30, 2005

Match Point

Match Point is an interesting character study of a somewhat unscrupulous man trying to get everything he wants, without having to do too any real work. It’s just a little too predictable for my tastes, but it is very well done. Everything that happens in the first ten minutes foreshadows all that will happen the final hour and forty-five. Even small moments in the plot are given away well before the scene ends (or in some cases, even begin).

Chris (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) is a former tennis player turned tennis pro at an exclusive club. There he meets Tom (Matthew Goode) and strikes up a friendship with Tom and his family. He starts dating Tom’s sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer) and becomes a favorite of his father (Brian Cox) and mother (Penelope Wilton).

The problem is Chris falls madly in love with American actress Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson) who Tom is dating. From their first moments on screen together you know the whole affair is going to end bloody.

The film is well cast and the performances from all are first rate. Brian Cox provides a nice supporting role as the loving and doting father and Mortimer works well as the loving, but needy, Chloe. The films best role goes to Rhys-Meyers as the complicated and scheming Chris who wants the security and wealth of his marriage but can’t ignore his lust for Nola.

Johansson gives us a complex woman, who knows her effect on men and uses it to her advantage. Though I did find her performance too whiney in the last act. Both flawed main characters are very human in their need for passionate love and their inability for emotional commitment and responsibility.

It’s nice to see Woody Allen moving away from the same types of movies he has made in recent years (The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Anything Else, Small Time Crooks, Celebrity) and make something different; though fans of Crimes and Misdemeanors may find it a little too similar.

This is a hard movie for me to review because of how well it is made must be balanced at how predictable and telegraphed the film is. I sat down to watch the film a second time to make up my mind. What I’m left with is this: Match Point is a lovingly made film by a great director and, although quite flawed, is still worth a first and even second look.

Is it Woody Allen’s best work? No, but it is better than his recent entries and shows he still has stories left to tell. He finally seems to be back on the right track. Not a must-see by any means, but a good film by an American icon that I think you will be able to enjoy despite its flaws.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

After the Sunset

I’m not a huge Brett Ratner fan, but of all his movies this is probably my favorite.  I like heist flicks and After the Sunset is a good, though not great, one.  Brosnan’s charm, Harrelson’s wackiness, and Hayek’s beauty make this an enjoyable little film.

Max (Pierce Brosnan) and Lola (Salma Hayek) pull their last heist in Los Angeles stealing the second Napoleon diamond from FBI Agent Stan Lloyd (Woody Harrelson) before retiring to the Bahamas.  On arrival Lola is content with retirement, but Max grows bored.  His boredom comes to an end when Stan shows up telling him that the third Napoleon diamond is on it’s way to the Bahamas and dares him to try and steal it.

Max is in a quandary as Lola wants nothing more than to be married and leave their criminal past in, well, the past.  Also involved is a local gangster Henri Moore (Don Cheadle) who wants Max to steal the diamond to help him pay for his gun running, prostitution, and drug business.

Friday, December 9, 2005

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe based off of the book by C.S. Lewis is a stuptifyingly horrendously awful mess. I HATED this film. The film chronicles the four Pevensie children as they are given the job of leading an army and killing any non-believers to help out a lion who sounds quite a bit like Qui-Gon Jinn. Poorly edited (140 minutes) with amateurish special effects and bad TV acting produce one of the worst films of the year and the most inept, violent, subversive, and intolerant children’s film ever made by Hollywood. (Kudos guys!)

The story starts with Mrs. Pevensie (Judy McIntosh) sending her four children to stay with Professor Kirke (Jim Broadbent). I assume the professor is a family friend or at least a nice stranger, but while the film explains why the mother would send her children away to protect them it never really clarifies why she would send them to Kirke. Exploring the pristinely clean house during a game of hide and seek the youngest of the clan Lucy (Georgie Henley) discovers a wardrobe (large dresser) in one of the countless rooms in the professor’s well kept mansion.

Sorry, I have to stop for a moment. The movie is spotless; there is no dust, no dirt, no hair out of place. The Death Star wasn’t this clean! It may be nitpicking, but especially in a movie where kids hide in dusty rooms, roll around in the wilderness and fight to the death you might expect them to get a little mussed.

Back to the story… See these four “children of Adam” enter the world of Narnia through the wardrobe (don’t ask how or why, or how the professor came into possession of the magical wardrobe. The film isn’t that well thought out. For example where do all these perfectly tailored children’s clothes keep coming from in a world without humans?

Anyway, after 45 minutes of story they finally find themselves in a snowy forest and encounter all kinds of shocking sights. Well, I would assume they would be shocking, but these kids take it in like it’s something that happens to them everyday. True there is some shock when they meet Mr. Beaver (Ray Winstone), but the rest of the “wonders” of Narnia are taken completely in stride by the Pevensie crew. I don’t know what would happen if I met a talking lion or an army of centaurs, but I’m guessing I would react more than if I had met three old ladies crossing the street.

Our visitors become instantly popular. It seems Narnia has talking lions and beavers, evil witches, trolls, centaurs, minotaurs, unicorns, but no humans. Narnia has been plunged into eternal winter that only pre-told coming of for humans can reverse. So these four untrained and somewhat unwilling children are given command of the armies of Narnia and Peter (William Mosley) is asked to lead them into battle. Good plan; who put the lion in charge anyway?

Subplots include the seduction of Edmund (Skandar Keynes) by the White Witch, the fate of Lucy’s friend, a faun named Mr. Thomnus (James McAvoy), and the brutal and torturous death of the lion general Aslan (Liam Neeson), which good sister Susan (Anna Poppelwell) allows her 6 year-old sister to witness (as to what other use Susan has in the story, well….I’m still trying to figure that out). Of course since no one dies in this movie I guess that makes the torture in front of children okay. We are made to watch his eventual miraculous resurrection, and if you can’t figure out the clumsy symbolism of this you need to ride the special bus to school. The scene is so heavy-handed and graceless all I could do was groan.

The cavalier way this film deals with death makes me incredibly angry. The film puts children in control of an army allowing them to kill and yet never shows a moment of shame or contemplation for their actions. Nor is any blood spilled during this great climatic war. In fact the film’s main message seems to be war is good and there are never any consequences. I bet George Bush will love it.

All but two of the characters the family meet in Narnia are CGI. Mr. Thomnus is the first character we meet through Lucy’s eyes. McAvoy is fine in the part though the look of the character, a faun, is never quite right. The other, the White Witch (Tilda Swinton in a waaaay over the top performance), is evil and devious, but only in a 3rd grade kinda way. You expect her at anytime to sneer and cry for her mommy. Truthfully it was hard to take her character seriously when she’s walking around for most of the movie with the Fortress of Solitude on her head. Creepy? Maybe, but not too scary.

As for the human characters, the acting is what you would expect in a film that contains only child actors talking at bluescreens. The awkwardness of it made me nostalgic for Jar Jar Binks. It’s not that the performances of the actors are bad, though they are pretty bad. And it’s not that the characters are thinly written, though they are. It’s the way the story makes these four children carry the entire movie, an overweight and gargantuan charge, that sets them up to fail. It feels way too much like a rushed “TV event” rather than a large big budget theatrical production.

The special effects are an odd bag as so many shots were needed (about 75% of this film is CGI) that multiple companies were hired. Some of the effects work well. Most do not. The blue screen scenes look amatuerish and you can often easily tell when the actors are in the studio versus at a location. This might make a fun drinking game but doesn’t really help the movie. It almost seems that the film was rushed into production as many of the larger or more complex shots seem unfinished and blurry as if only partially finished. Geroge Lucas should get ILM’s name of this film before it does his company irrevocable damage.

The story might work well in a book but the movie takes any subtlety of the Christian allegory and rather crudely screams it at the top of its lungs. You might have well just named the lion Jesus for Christ’s sake! I also have some problem with the Christian theme being so heavy in the movie and casting every character who believes something different as a sub-human monster. Nice lesson or religious intolerance for kids there guys. The film also states the mind-blowing assertion that no matter how ill-equipped or badly led your army is as long as you have God on your side you will be victorious over infidels. Wow, a movie that pushes the ideals of Christianity and Al Qaeda! I wish somebody would have shot me halfway through this mess, but of course I wouldn’t have really died because I would be resurrected and forced to watch more. Sadly I had to settle for dying a little inside.

It’s quite a shame that a film with this much money and press behind it seems so cheaply and so poorly made. Other than making Willow look awesome by comparison the film achieves little in its 140 minute running time.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Reservation Road

“What if it was your son? What would you want to happen?”

The Lerner family stop at a gas station late one night. At the same time Dwight Arno (Mark Ruffalo) is driving his son home from a Red Sox game. Distracted and trying to get his son back before his ex-wife (Mira Sorvino) goes ballistic, Mark makes a sharp turn and accidentally hits young Josh Learner (Sean Curley) who was releasing fireflies at the side of the road. Knowing his involvement will lose him all rights to see his son Arno drives off without stopping leaving Ethan (Joaquin Phoenix) and Grace (Jennifer Connelly) to mourn the death of their son and begin a search for the man responsible.

The film does a pretty good job in casting Ruffalo as the man responsible for the crime without making him seem evil. Is he a coward? Yes. Is he responsible for the death of a young boy? Yes. Most of his scenes throughout the rest of the film showcase him dealing with his guilt and trying to find the courage to come clean. The screenplay does a good job getting inside Arno’s head as he comes up with rationalizations and excuses for his actions.

On the other side of the film you have Phoenix and Connelly mourning the loss of Josh. The film successfully allows each character to grieve in their own way, although Ethan’s obsession does come off a little over-the-top at times.

My major complaint about the film is it’s over-reliance on coincidence and dismissing the obvious. How small is this town where Ethan happens to need a lawyer to help with the investigation and hires Arno? What are the odds that Arno’s ex-wife would be tutoring young Emma Learner (Elle Fanning) to play the piano? Why do the cops so quickly dismiss Arno, who owns the same model of car which was seen in the accident, when he can’t produce the car or evidence of where it has gone? The film is filled with many such question and coincidences which begin to pile on after awhile (and I won’t even get into the ease and speed with which Ethan is able to procure a gun). Although everything that happens may be possible (though increasingly less likely) altogether the credibility of the story begins to suffer.

Although the film works, for the most part, it seems to get more and more off-track as it goes along. Also a problem is we are forced to wait for the inevitable confrontation between Arno and Ethan we know is coming even as the film milks the tension for every minute it can before giving it to us, and then promptly ending the story and leaves us with a flaccid climax and no real resolution. It’s an okay film with some good moments, but it could have been much more.

Friday, October 21, 2005


Hey I got an idea, let’s take a first person shooter video game and make a movie out of it. Hmmm….I don’t know. Yeah, and we’ll get I don’t know like Jean Claude Van Damme, or wait I know The Rock to shoot up a space station of zombies and aliens. I don’t know, sounds pretty dumb. Hey, people shovel in dumb morning, noon and night and beg for more. Explosions is entetainin’, the movie can completely suck and they’ll still love it. Hell, go do what ever you want I need to sign Hillary Duff and the Olsen Twins to a new reality tv project.

Maybe that’s not how Doom got made, but sure seems likely to me. This is a terrible awful movie folks. I’ll make the same offer I’ve made before with movies this bad. If you were planning to see this just give me your ten bucks and I’ll beat the crap out of you. Trust me; it’s a much more humane solution. I know this is the part where I’m supposed to tell you what the film is about, so here goes…

The plot, so to speak, is a team of soldiers is sent through a magical portal in the Nevada desert built by Martians and travel through space loogies to an underground facility on Mars. This is the point where many, many questions should arise such as, how did they find/figure out to operate the Martian loogey travel machine, how did they build the facility on Mars around the loogey machine? Aren’t they stealing this from Galaxy Quest? Why does the Mars space station have sewers and air vents that open to the outside? But I digress….

The team is lead by Sarge (The Rock) and includes Reaper (Karl Urban) whose sister (Rosamund Pike) is stationed on the Mars facility, and a squadron of marine types who I’d list, but they’re all nameless monster food so what’s the point?

On arriving the team is attacked by monsters that have grown out of the scientists themselves. And boy does it take them a loooong time to figure this out. Now I know soldiers aren’t known for their intelligence but if the six year old in front of me can figure it out an hour before the characters….well, see that’s a problem.

Reaper and his sister decide to try and save people; Sarge decides to kill everything that moves to prevent infection. And the bloodbath ensues.

The film is a bad television movie with too much money thrown at it. Oddly though with all that money the Mars space station looks like it was made for about fifty bucks. Seriously folks I’ve seen old Dr. Who episodes with better sets. It looks like a video game, and at one point actually becomes the first person shooter as the actors completely disappear and the rampant slaughter commences.

The movie steals most of its plot, sets, etc from other sci-fi and horror flicks and television. Among these are Aliens, Star Trek, The Outer Limits, and anything with Arnold and a gun. Nothing original or of any interest here, and for all the blood and carnage and “scary” alien/zombies this is one boring movie.

How bad does it get? I’ll give you an example. The movie points out that the Martians bulit the loogey machine to escape the monsters they created. This idea is thrown away however because they need to kill some more zombie alien things. Forgetting the logistical problem of how they arrived here without building the doorway to the machine on Earth for the moment, what I find interesting is that means they escaped to our planet. So what are you saying that Earth men are descended from Martains? Or Martians have been living among us since the age of the dinosaurs? It’s a constant failing of any sci-fi movie that, by accident or not, raises an important idea that it has no intention of exploring let alone answering. But hey, this is video game movie, don’t expect answers here.

Go see anything else but this, please! Hollywood is going to keep feeding us this crap as long as people pay to see it. On a final note, as bad as I felt after seeing the movie I was more distressed by the scattered applause that came as the credits rolled. The optimist made me want to believe these people were celebrating the end of this near two hour disaster, but the realist in me is saddened that people actual thought this was entertaining. Good sci-fi like Serenity is playing next door to a near empty theater, and braindead regurgitated slop like this is going to make millions. You can complain about Hollywood as much as you want, but you do your voting in the ticket lines folks, and sadly as in other recent elections the dumber choice seems to be the most popular.

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Island

There are two ways to review a film: The first is to judge it on whether it met your expectations going in and the second is to look at the film and ask if it still works despite its flaws. Under the first category The Island fails early on, but under the second it succeeds spectacularly. I went to see what I thought was going to be a big budget high-thinking moral sci-fi tale about cloning, but what I got was a huge summer action adventure chase movie inside a sci-fi structure that just blew me away for two hours. Does it deal with the moral issues? Kinda’. Would I have liked to see them develop the philosophical and ethical implications more deeply? Probably. But did I enjoy the movie? You better damn believe I did. I had a blast.

Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) is unhappy. He’s one of the lucky ones; he survived the cataclysm and radiation that devastated the earth and lives in relative comfort with the other survivors who hope every night that they can win a chance to live outside on the island, the last free uncontaminated zone on the planet.

Lately though he’s begun to have nightmares about a life that isn’t his own, to question his existence, and that of the island as well. Finally his fears and suspicions get the best of him and he talks his best friend Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson) into escaping only to discover a world much different from what they believed existed.

They are shocked to discover that their home is a cloning facility and they are clones and very valuable property. Lincoln and Jordan struggle through the real world as they hide from those that want them captured led by the imposing figure of Albert Laurent (Djimon Hounsou).

The film introduces several ideas: that all humans are corruptible and will do anything to survive, you shouldn’t trust your doctors, the police, or the government, and that human cloning, whenever it is achieved, will cause some severe ethical dilemmas. Not all the questions are adequately addressed or solved, but the issues are at least raised and discussed. The first third of the movie involves life in the facility, how these clones are made and the lives, and deaths, they are given. After Lincoln and Jordan’s escape the movie moves into full gear as a fast paced chase flick that never really slows down. Both halves of the movie work for me. Johansson is wonderful as she captures the intelligence yet innocence of her character who has grown up in a society that is ignorant of common everyday human activities. McGregor has the harder role as the clone who questions the lies and discovers the truth, but does an admirable job by keeping the action rolling. Steve Buscemi, a lab tech who befriends Lincoln, and Sean Bean, as the facility’s administrator, are perfectly cast in roles that they are known for, sarcastic comic relief and greedy villain respectively.

In many places the film feels like an updated version of Logan’s Run, but better casting and special effects than the original. There are story points and gaps that may bother you after the movie. Isn’t their escape rather easy? What happens if someone wants two clones of himself made? How exactly does the mind/behavior modification work? Is there no opposition to the practice of cloning? Even with these issues unresolved we get two hours of action mixed with serious moral issues which turns out to be a nice midsummer surprise.

While it wasn’t the sophisticated science fiction movie I wanted, it was a great summer action/adventure flick that keeps on entertaining. Even though it doesn’t succeed on all fronts, it does enough right that I would recommend it. Sure there are plot points that still bother me, but the movie is so much fun that is was easy to overlook them and just enjoy the ride. I would have preferred a more serious in-depth look at the ethical questions the film raises, but under the direction of Michael Bay (much better at explosions than philosophy) this was probably the way to go. Finally, if anyone who knows where I can actually get a clone of Scarlett Johansson let me know!!