Archive for April, 2010

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Hot Fuzz

April 30, 2010

Hot Fuzz

Hot Fuzz

This British spoof/satire comedy is everything that Scary Movie franchise hoped to be.  It is actually funny and actually has decent acting in it, and actually has a solid story that runs throughout the whole film instead of little snippets of attempted story to hold the poorly planned and executed jokes together.

The story starts with with Nicholas Angel being transferred from his position in London because, as the Met. Chief Inspector puts it, he is too good at his job and making everyone else look bad.  Angel is transferred to the little town of Sandford, a town that has no trouble according to the police reports.  It has won a village of the year award for many years and has the lowest crime rate in the country.  Nicholas Angel gets there and cleans up a little riffraff such as underage drinking but he begins to suspect that there is more to the town after people disappear and a news paper reporter tries to talk to him and ends up dead from an “accident”.  The whole time Nicholas Angel is being pestered by his partner on the force, Danny Butterman, the son of the chief, about action films such as Bad Boys and Point Break.  Danny tries to make work more exciting by getting Nicholas to be like that, but Nicholas follows to book to the letter of the law.  Nicholas finally figures out that it is the Neighborhood Watch Alliance who has been keeping the town clean and hiding the bodies or causing “accidents” to those who aren’t in the best interest of the town in their opinion.  He confronts them, but there are too many, so Danny pretends to kill Nicholas and brings him to the edge of town and tells him to leave.  Nicholas leaves and stops at a gas station where he sees the movies Bad Boys and Point Break in the DVD carousel.  He picks up a few things that he needs and he returns to Sandford.  He empties out the weapons locker at the station and with the help of Danny and the rest of the force, minus the chief who is the ringleader behind everything, he cleans up the town.  Now this description doesn’t sound all that much like a comedy, it could very easily be a serious action film.  However, it is not, none of the action in the story is serious, the deaths are pretty absurd and it is just a wonderful action comedy.

The acting in this film is lead by the duo from Shaun of the Dead, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.  These two do a great job of playing off of each other for the pacing of the comedy.  Simon Pegg, while mainly known for his comedy roles in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, actually has some acting chops and does a very good job, as he does in Star Trek.  Nick Frost isn’t the same level of acting talent, but fits into the slacker role extremely well.  The rest of the police force and town of Sandford is lesser known talent, but they do a fun job in a film where the acting talent is secondary because it is about the humor and the action.  There are a couple of cameo appearances, most notably Bill Nighy as the Met. Chief Inspector.  He does a good job in his limited screen time being very condescending to Simon Pegg’s character.

Visually this film works perfectly.  The town is so quaint, almost an old version of the town in Edward Scissorhands, where is has this sickeningly sweet exterior to everything, but it is all about the gossip or controlling what goes on in the town.  You know there is a seedy side to it when you see it.  The action sequences are shot superbly and Edgar Wright, director and co-writer with Simon Pegg, does a brilliant job in how everything is portrayed.  In terms of their screenwriting the story starts off a tiny bit slowly, but they do a great job of using that and building up to the massive ending.

This is one of the greatest recent comedies and one of the best spoof/satires that I’ve seen.  It ranks up there with Dr. Strangelove and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.  If you watch it and are a little put off by the beginning just remember that it does pick up tremendously at the end with an inordinate amount of laughs.  One can only hope that with films like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz under their belts the trio of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost make more comedy spoofs.

Entertainment Grade: A-

Critical Grade: A

Overall Grade: A

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The Happening

April 29, 2010

The Happening

The Happening

M. Night Shyamalan’s terrible attempt at an eco-horror film, probably proof that a solid film director, with Signs, Unbreakable, and The Sixth Sense, can lose his touch.  The acting is terrible, the story is extremely contrived and the allegedly intense death scenes end up being more laughable then anything else.  This film has a couple of interesting deaths in it, but even the deaths aren’t what they should have been for an R rated film.

The film starts out with Elliot Moore teaching a class and talking about how some scientific events, such as bees disappearing, won’t ever be fully explained.  At the same time all hell breaks loose around Central Park as people start killing themselves.  It is reported to the teachers as a terrorist attack and people start to flee New York City.  Elliot meets up with his wife and a fellow teacher and his daughter and head out on a train to Philadelphia.  As they are on the train people start getting calls about attacks in Philadelphia and other locations.  The train is stopped in a rural town and everyone disembarks.  Julian, the fellow teacher of Elliot’s leaves his daughter, Jess, with Elliot and his wife, Alma so he can head off to look for his wife who he has lost contact with and who was in Princeton.  Elliot, Alma, and Jess continue further into the country with other passengers from the train and their numbers slowly dwindle as more are infected by the airborne toxin.  Every time it approaches the wind picks up violently.  Eventually it is only Elliot, Alma, and Jess left and they seek refuge in a remote house in the country owned by a suspicious old lady.  The old lady ends up going mad and killing herself and Elliot, Alma, and Jess are able to hide from the attack that Elliot has now conjectured is nature getting its revenge.  It subsides and those left alive in the US are faced with a new world.  The film then leaves us with the phenomena starting over in France.

When I heard about the idea for the story, I thought that there could be potential for it.  Nature taking its revenge is an interesting idea and with what they teased in the trailers, basically the Central Park scene, it looks like it could be a creepy film.  However, the acting in this film is so terrible and the story ends up matching it with how bad it is, it doesn’t hold up.  Mark Wahlberg, who has given some very good performances before, completely fails at being a school teacher who is worried about his marriage.  He comes off like Robert Langdon from Dan Brown’s books: The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons, as someone who can do no wrong and he ends up just ticking you off as you watch him.  Zooey Deschanel plays his wife and gives an equally as putrid performance.  She always plays the nice girl and it is hard to put her in a situation where she is cheating on her husband as she again plays the role as the nice girl, there is also no believable panic from her when the phenomena is coming for them.  Her emotions are so closely and sweetly reigned in that her performance fails.  The rest of the performances are basically as unbearable.  John Leguizamo is probably the best thing the film has going for it in terms of performances and he has minimal screen time as Julian.  Wahlberg, Deschanel, and Ashlyn Sanchez dominate the screen time, Sanchez as Jess, and a kid actor can’t carry the film or counteract the phoned in performance by Wahlberg and Deschanel.

Visually there are a couple of good scenes, mainly the opening Central Park scene that is a little bit creepy.  After that the poor acting takes over and the deaths are so contrived and poorly executed that they fail to send a shiver up your spine.  I’ve seen PG-13 films that have more terrifying death scenes then this film.  M. Night Shyamalan fails to get anything from his talent, and normally he is able to build up suspense, even in The Village he does this fairly well, but there is no suspense in this film.  I think most likely Shyamalan needs to get off his high horse as a writer/director and allow someone else to write for him and simply direct.

Overall this film doesn’t offer anything.  It might be worth spending the time to watch the opening sequence, but that is about it.  The acting and story are so bad that it has passed the point of being funny bad and is just bad.  Shyamalan is past his prime, so if you want to watch one of his films, I recommend Unbreakable instead as the only really good work that he put out.

Entertainment Grade: D-

Critical Grade: D

Overall Grade: D-

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The Crow

April 28, 2010

The Crow

This is a film that people seem to love or hate, which I mainly attribute to the fact that the people who love it make it out to be something more then it is.  This film is simply a dark super hero film with some fun action sequences, some symbolism and not much else in terms of a great underlying message.  It has a strong music score and is entertaining to watch.

The mythology surrounding the crow is that when someone dies a brutal death, a crow, can bring them back from the other side to exact judgment on those who killed them.  In this case, Eric Draven and his fiance are murdered by a gang who is running the town.  Draven comes back a year later, on Halloween, to exact his revenge.  He takes on a colorful group of bad guys working almost along side the law but just outside of it.  Only one police officer and Sarah, a young girl who was a friend of him and his fiance know who he is and what is going on.  Eventually the bad guys figure out that the crow who is following him around holds Draven’s life and is giving him is undead powers.  They go after the crow and lure him into a trap by using Sarah.  Draven must then fight to save her from Top Dollar who is running the whole city.

The acting in this film is pretty nondescript.  Eric Draven, who has the most screen time, is played by Brandon Lee who does a solid job in the role.  Brandon Lee died during a mishap on the set of this film so a few of the scenes of Eric Draven aren’t actually Lee but recreated from other footage in the film.  Sarah is the next biggest character, in terms of screen time, and she is played aptly by Rochelle Davis who, for a child actress, does a good job and this is the only film that she has been credited with working on.  Bai Ling shows up in this film as a sex crazed and just crazed half sister of Top Dollar and while her performance is poor, as are all her performances, she is probably the most recognizable name in this film.  Ernie Hudson plays the police officer who Draven works with at times and Michael Wincott plays Top Dollar.  Their performances are average at best.

What really makes this film entertaining is the visual aspect.  The film is based off of a comic book, so much of the action is over the top and absurd.   James O’Barr was the original writer of the comic series and strip.  Basically all the film is shot in a series of dark images and at night giving it a properly creepy feeling.  Alex Proyas, director of Dark City, I, Robot, and Knowing, does a solid job of creating an eerie atmosphere for this film.  And while this film is shot in a gritty light, realism isn’t something that it strives for, when you have an undead killer and over the top action, I don’t think it would be possible to have succeed.  I can’t forget to mention the music as the strong rock soundtrack really amps up the energy in the film and meets the over the top action and styling perfectly with music from the Stone Temple Pilots, The Cure, Nine Inch Nails, and Rage Against the Machine.

I am one of those who likes the film, but not because it was some great dark comic book/superhero masterpiece.  It isn’t that type of film, Batman Begins would be the only film I qualify as that.  The Crow, while gritty and dark, is much more over the top in terms of action and in terms of the characters.  Someone like the Joker is obviously a crazy villain in Batman, but Top Dollar and everyone under him are more in line with a villain from Dick Tracy then anything.  This film is meant to be enjoyed as a fun dark comic book film and nothing more.

Entertainment Grade: B

Critical Grade: B (It gets too much critical love because Brandon Lee died in the making of the film, much like The Dark Knight and Heath Ledger get too much love because he died just after making that film)

Overall Grade: B

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Coraline

April 27, 2010

Coraline

Coraline

This film is animated in the style of The Nightmare Before Christmas and it enjoys the same sort of feel.  Based off of a children’s story by Neil Gaiman, this story comes to life like he can only tell it.  Keeping it light hearted at times and creepy at others.  It flows through two whimsical worlds in a clash of good versus evil.

The story starts out with Coraline and her family moving into an apartment.  Coraline, bored and ignored by her parents, wanders off to do some dousing for water and she runs into the grandson of the lady who owns the place.  Wybie is surprised that his grandmother rented the place to a family as she doesn’t like to have kids around.  That night Coraline is awoken by some mice who lead her to a small doorway hidden in the living room.  She opens the door and finds a tunnel into another world, which is just like her own world, only one small difference, everyone has buttons for eyes.  Her parents are in this world, but they are nicer and kinder to Coraline then before and want to spend time with her.  She finally crawls off to bed and wakes up back in her own world.  Coraline goes and visits tenants of the apartment, a man who trains mice and two retired actresses and their Scottie dogs.  She runs across Wybie again who says that the reason his grandmother doesn’t allow him into the apartment is because she doesn’t want him to disappear like her twin sister.  That night Coraline again follows the mice where she meets a button eyed version of Wybie and they enjoy shows from the tenants in the other world.  The other mother asks Coraline to stay, but there is a catch, her eyes have to be replaced by buttons.  Coraline, and a cat who appears in both worlds, tries to go back to her original world, but the door is locked, so she leaves the apartments and walks away until the world starts to disappear around her.  The other mother catches her and puts her behind a mirror where she meets three ghosts and finds out the truth about the other mother.  She then has to figure out a way to save everyone and everything from the growing power of the other mother.

The voice talent in this film is very entertaining.  Dakota Fanning voice Coraline and does a very good job at it.  Her voice flows into the curious character of Coraline and matches her actions wonderfully.  Robert Bailey Jr. voices Wybie and while being much less of a known acting commodity, he does a good job, bordering on annoying and then scared as Wybie does throughout the film.  Teri Hatcher plays Coraline’s mother and other mother.  She is the other big name talent in this film and she does a great job of going from uncaring, with the mother, to sickeningly sweet and terrifying with the other mother.  Keith David is the last name that I’ll mention in terms of voice talent.  He gives voice to the cat and does a great job at it.  He comes across as slightly haughty, disinterested, and generally cat like throughout the whole thing making little quips and explaining things that he believes Coraline should already know.

Visually this film is very well done.  It has vibrant colors throughout and is very detailed.  It matches the tone of the world that Neil Gaiman creates in the children’s book.  Henry Selick, director and writer of the screenplay, does a brilliant job on what is the longest stop motion film to date, just over an hour and a half.  His direction and creation of this world is simply brilliant in a film that I think bettered Pixar’s Up in the year 2009 for an animated film.  I would be remiss not to mention the wonderful score created for this film.  Bruno Coulais, who also composed for The Secret of Kells, another animated film in 2009, does a brilliant job filling in the background of the worlds which are created.

This film, even though animated, comes to life much better then many live action films.  It flows between joyous points in the real and other world to the cold terror of the other mother and Coraline ends up having.  With most novel writers, it is hard to adapt their work onto the screen, but Neil Gaiman, with Stardust and Coraline, has proven that at least some of his books can be adapted, and it would be wonderful to see him write more screenplays for his entertaining stories such as MirrorMask.  I highly recommend this film, not as something you need to watch with kids, but as a film that all ages can enjoy.

Entertainment Grade: A

Critical Grade: A

Overall Grade: A

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Repo! The Genetic Opera

April 26, 2010

Repo! The Genetic Opera

Repo! The Genetic Opera

A wonderful little musical that borders on the absurd the while time.  It has a great rock sound track to it and a lot of good voices.  Visually it is a very dark film that blends its musical aspects with horror and sci-fi.  The acting performances are entertaining to watch as well.

This film takes place in the future, the not to distant future.  Organ failure becomes an epidemic and a company, Gene Co., steps in.  They offer organ transplants, for a price, and when people can’t pay, they pay.  A Repo Man comes to take the organ back.  Rotti Largo, the owner of Gene Co., finds out that he is dying, and none of his children, Amber, Pavi, and Luigi, are worth it, they all have their own selfish plans.  On that night, Shilo, the daughter of the Repo Man, sneaks out into her mothers grave.  She goes outside after a bug, after curfew, and almost gets caught by the police when a Graverobber accidentally gives her and himself away.  It is only when her father, the Repo Man, shows up and pulls rank, that she is saved.  Rotti Largo hears about this and remember how he was in love with the Repo Man’s wife before she met him, and how is broke his heart.  He comes up with an detailed scheme for one last bit of revenge on the Repo Man.  He sets up Shilo, who has daddy issues, to become the new head of his company.

The acting in this film is fun for a musical.  Anthony Stewart Head, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, takes on the lead role of the Repo Man.  In terms of acting talent, he is quite good, and his voice is extremely good from having done The Rocky Horror Show on stage and a musical episode of Buffy.  He comes off a caring and broken, which is why his character becomes a Repo Man in the first place.  Shilo is played by Alexa Vega.  She is a young actress who isn’t all that bad.  She has a solid quality to her voice and while her acting isn’t on par with Anthony Stewart Head, her performance is entertaining.  Paris Hilton, Bill Moseley, and Nivek Ogre are the children or Rotti Largo.  Hilton actually isn’t that bad in this role, her acting is acting like a stuck up brat, and being that she is a stuck up brat in real life.  Moseley and Ogre offer strong performances and are definitely creepy.  Sarah Brightman, playing a character I don’t mention, Blind Mag, , Brightman has an outstanding voice and is known more for her voice then her acting talent.  Her voice is simply beautiful.  Paul Sorvino shows up in a few other films and he has gives a good performance.

Visually this film is very good.  Darren Lynn Bousman directs this film, he has ties to some Saw films, and while the filming style doesn’t directly match, there are some levels at which they are similar and are very dark.  Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich wrote this screenplay and have been performing this show with a couple other people (or parts of this show) across the world and when it started to draw interest people loved it, so they made a short film of it and then with Bousman they made it into a feature length.  Smith and Zdunich do a great job with music.

This is a wonderfully gothic film, so dark with little bits of horror twisted into it.  The music is very entertaining.  This film isn’t a masterpiece by any means, but overall is very enjoyable.  Everything just comes together into a film that could very easily ends up being a cult classic.  This isn’t a film that most people will like because of how off the wall it is, but it is very entertaining in how it is portrayed on the screen.

Entertainment Grade: B+

Critical Grade: D+

Overall Grade: B

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Pulse

April 25, 2010

Pulse

Pulse

This film really rips off Stephen King’s book Cell.  A quite B movie with a little A talent in it, but it fails to deliver as a horror film.  It is about one of two or three films that came out with this sort of idea.  Technology taking over isn’t anything new, but there are good ways to work with this and there are bad ways, Terminator was good, the book, Cell, was good, and this film was poor.

The story starts with a college student who disappears after hacking into a computer of Douglas Ziegler who was working on a wireless system.  This system and program that Ziegler created and the student releases ends up being a fairly malevolent force that saps the will to live out of people.  Mattie, the girl friend of the student who releases the system, works with a new acquaintance, Dexter, to try and find some way to stop this system.  They come across a developer named Josh who comes up with a possible solution.  They create a virus which they have to take into the center of the wireless system, which, of course, tries to protect itself.  It works, but the system reboots itself and then the onslaught on humanity again.  The film ends with a voice over from Mattie talking about how humanity is going to have to regress with less technology in order to win.

The acting in this film is very B.  Kristen Bell stars in this film as Mattie.  She is a pretty talented actress who hasn’t done a ton of great roles because she has been type cast as the sweet smart, tough, pretty gals as in Veronica Mars.  The rest of the acting is pretty unknown.  Christina Milian also shows up as a very attractive actress.  And all the male leads are pretty poor.  Jonathan Tucker and Ian Somerhalder are the two male leads, but it really isn’t good performances at all.

It is sad that Wes Craven, a master of horror, ends up helping with the screenwriting in this film.  People won’t know that he is attached to this film, but it is a sad thing that he is.  In a film like this you don’t expect to get much out of your talent and Jim Sonzero, the director, doesn’t take advantage of any of this.  At a few points in time there is some solid CGI, but overall there isn’t anything to talk about critically from the visual standpoint.  It is a very darkly shot film, which I guess isn’t a bad thing, but it fails at anything more then that.

This is an unintentional B movie, but with some B films, that is a good thing.  In this case it is a very bad thing.  Kristen Bell really doesn’t seem to care all that much about the film, and she is the one bit of real acting talent.  This film doesn’t work enough even as a mindless film just to enjoy, a film like The Crazies, is much better then that.  A decent story, but overall it is very boring with a couple of highlight sections and none of them are even all that special.

Entertainment Grade: C-

Critical Grade: D

Overall Grade: D

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Crank

April 24, 2010

Crank


Crank

This serious masterpiece delves into new depths when it comes to films.  Oh, wait, wrong film, this is a mindless action film that adds to the action with more action and a little more action.  The whole point of this film is the put the main character into as many absurd action packed films as possible and it doesn’t disappoint.  This film doesn’t have a great story, it doesn’t have great action, but it is extremely enjoyably B.

The story starts with Chev Chelios, a professional hitman, coming to and finding out that his enemies have inject him with a drug that is going to kill him.  The only thing that will potentially keep him alive long enough is to keep his adrenaline up.  Chev uses this fun fact to go off looking for the people who are trying to kill him.  What can be more pulse pounding then chasing down the guys who are trying to kill you?  He goes crazy while trying to hunt down the man who poisoned him keeping the action going non-stop.  He stands up while riding a motorcycle, he does it with his girlfriend in the street, he goes into a bar that he knows if full of crooks to start a fight, there are so many other things that he does that you can’t keep track of.  The stunts are non-stop in this film and while the story isn’t deeply developed there aren’t any major plot holes and it is so much fun you really don’t care.

The acting in this film really doesn’t matter.  In terms of being a good actor, Jason Statham isn’t all that bad, but he is mainly in this film for his ability to do all of the stunts.  He has made a name for himself with films like The Transporter for his ability to rock an action film and he can act for someone in that genre with films like Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, and The Bank Job.  His girl friend is played by Amy Smart who isn’t all that great an actress is definitely a pretty face for a film like this one.  She does her job being that.  The rest of the talent really doesn’t matter.  Statham is the one who is constantly on the screen and a film like this isn’t about the acting.

Brian Taylor and Mark Neveldine direct and write this film, and who directed and wrote another film I reviewed, The Gamer.  This film is definitely better and they have a real talent shooting action sequences.  They keep it much more straight forward then films like The Bourne Identity and its subsequent series and for that reason is more enjoyable.  You don’t get the same confusion from the action which is so acclaimed in the Bourne films.  They also keep a fast pounding sound track behind this film that keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat watching the action that unfolds.

A serious film this is not, but it is so much fun to watch.  The sequel, Crank: High Voltage, keeps this tradition alive of pointless action films that are a ton of fun to watch.  Jason Statham really makes this film, he is the current action hero in film and you almost want to pay to see his films just to see the stunts that he will do.  Only Tony Jaa could compared, but he hasn’t come to mainstream US yet.  This is a good film to watch on a Saturday night when all you want to do is relax, not think, and enjoy a weekend.

Entertainment Grade: A

Critical Grade: D

Overall Grade: C+