Archive for December, 2010

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The A-Team

December 29, 2010

The A-Team

 

This is a wonderfully created mindless action film that has massive plot holes that one really doesn’t care about when watching it.  All you care about is the over the top action, the absurd schemes, and the fools who need pitying.  The acting is actually surprisingly good and entertaining, and the writing is quite solid in that there are plenty of cheesy one-liners, but they are all done perfectly.

The story starts out with a mission to take out a Mexican general who has been causing troubles along the US border.  This has little to do with the actual story of the film, it just brings the team together.  As Hannibal Smith has only been working with the Face prior to that, and then they bring in BA and Murdock.  The story really takes off as they are over in Iraq and overstep their jurisdiction and end up going into Baghdad to get some plates and money from that are being smuggled out of the city.  Things go wrong with a rogue group on the army base takes out the general and steal the plates and blow up the money.  Since the mission was off the books, the A-Team ends up in trouble, gets dishonorably discharged, and gets prison terms.  The man who gave them originally, Lynch from the CIA, helps Hannibal bust out of jail so he can get revenge and get the plates back.  Things, however, don’t go quite as plan as some old friends turn out to be players in the current mess of affairs, and an absurd plan comes together to take down Lynch and get the plates back.

The acting in this film is surprisingly good.  Liam Neeson, for being an older man, still has what it takes to be an action star (Taken).  Even though he isn’t the run around and beat them up type of action hero, he does a very good job with a more thinking mans action role.  Bradley Cooper (from The Hangover) is very nicely pompous and free wheeling as The Face, and pulls of a confident and arrogant swagger quite nicely in everything that he does.  Quentin “Rampage” Jackson, known for his MMA skills, makes a believable BA, and fits the build of BA wonderfully.  His acting was surprisingly good as well.  Murdock, played by Sharlto Copley (District 9), is probably the best out of all the characters and  he plays a crazy man wonderfully.  He has a ton of great quirks and quibbles about the way he acts.  The rest of the cast is solid.  Jessica Biel does  a solid job in her army officer role, and Patrick Wilson is nicely slimey as Lynch.

Visually this film does a good job, it is kind of like a Michael Bay film in that the action scenes are big and the plot is fairly thin, but that isn’t an issue with this film, as it is meant to be mindless fluff.  There are some scenes are that so absurd yet entertaining, such as flying the tank, and they honestly look pretty good with the explosions and the crashes.  There were only rare moments when the CGI came off as not extremely realistic, otherwise, it was directed and shot well.  Joe Carnahan, director of Smokin’ Aces, does a better job with this film, in that the characters are fairly well defined and likable, and there is more actual story to this film.  He has potential to be a very good action film director when his career is done, even if they are all going to be on the lighter and fluffier side of things.

This is really an ideal summer film, it is one for when all you want to do is sit around, not think, and enjoy some mindless action.  It provides the mindless action wonderfully well, and the hair brained plans that work so wonderfully are great to watch.  If you like action films, this one is worth checking out over some other action films such as Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

Critical Grade: C+

Entertainment Grade: B+

Overall Grade: B

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The Secret of Kells

December 27, 2010

The Secret of Kells

The Secret of Kells is much unlike any animated film that I’ve seen before.  Not because the story is so unique or the characters are so rich, in both of these areas, this film is actually fairly simple, but the animation style itself is unlike anything seen before and that is what makes this film very special.

The story is of an Abbey and a boy who lives there, Pangur Ban.  His parents have died and he lives there and is being trained by his uncle to take over the abbey.  This abbey, in Ireland, is in fear of attacks from the Vikings hoards who have been attacking other areas in search of gold, so they are building a wall around their abbey in order to keep the Vikings out.  This is taking place instead of the normal work of illuminating stories which they would typically be doing.  Pangur Ban is more interested in the illuminating than the wall building, and when the great illuminator, Aidan seeks refuge at the abbey after his abbey had been attacked, Pangur tries to help him out, while his uncle tries and keep him focused on the tasks at hand.  Pangur, however, spends more time with Aidan, and ventures outside of the village for the first time ever where he meets Aisling, a fairy/wolf/girl, whose forest it is.  With her help he finds berries to make inks with Aidan and Aidan trains him to become a master illuminator, but when the Eye of Columcille is lost, Aidan ventures into the forest, with the help of Aisling, to retrieve another eye from the god that lives in the woods. When he returns to it, he is able to use it to illuminate with greater detail and beauty, but the Vikings attack, and Aidan and Pangur escape with the book while his uncle tries to protect the villages who live in the abbey.  Both Pangur and his uncle fear the other dead.  Aidan finishes teaching Pangur and he illuminates the most important page in the book, and then returns to the abbey where he finds he uncle still alive, but barely as many years have passed, and shows him the book.

The voice acting in this film is good, and it was done with relative unknowns, the biggest name in this film if Brendan Gleeson, from Gangs of New York, Cold Mountain, and Troy.  He does a good job of playing Pangur’s uncle.  The rest of the voice talent is done very well by more obscure actors over here in the US anyways.  They bring the characters to life and help this film out.

What really makes this film though is the amazing visuals.  They are in many ways illuminated themselves with sweeping lines and spirals playing the stones and in the forest.  The people themselves go from fairly typically animated with Pangur and Aisling, to simply shapes with groups of towns people moving around in mounds all a unique person but seemingly connected, or one of the brothers at the abbey being simply a square.  Every part of the image is art and while it is created like a typical film with focus points as to where you should look and pay attention to, the shots themselves are worth pausing and dissecting.  Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey do a brilliant job of creating the vision, in their direction, for the world of this film, and do a good job of getting much from their actors.  Even when the vocals are a bit stiff at times, it goes with the way the film is created, as it blends in so much that is very old into its story.

Overall this is an animated film that is worth checking out if for no other reason than the visuals alone.  It is beautifully created and is a work of art and can be enjoyed as such.  The story and the acting don’t match up to the visuals in this film perfectly, but looking at it as a work of art, that becomes less of an issue, and the story is simple enough that they don’t mess it up.

Entertainment Grade: B

Critical Grade: A

Overall Grade: A-

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Mystery Team

December 10, 2010

Mystery Team

What caused me to stop and notice this film a few weeks ago while shopping was the fact that Donald Glover, who plays Troy on Community on NBC, was in this film, and he is one of the funnier characters on Community.  So I decided I would check out this film, this film is what the book series Encyclopedia Brown would be like if he grew up.  It take a child like innocence from the main characters and completely destroys it as the case becomes real instead of the normal who stuck their hand into the pie.

Jason, Duncan and Charlie are best friends and have been for years.  When they were younger they started their own detective agency taking on the small cases of the town, such as lost pets and eat pies, and while the people of the town had thought it was cute when they were young, it wasn’t so much now as they were seniors in high school and far from being normal.  Jason is a master of disguise, Duncan is the boy genius, and Charlie is the muscle, but none of them really live up to their billing.  They case load changes when a girl comes to them with a murder to solve.  The police are already looking into it, but they have no leads, so the Mystery Team decides to take on the case.  They end up in way over their head, but Jason forces them to keep going because he has fallen for their clients older sister, played by Aubrey Plaza (also in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World).  Things fall apart and their friendship is on the ropes as both Duncan and Charlie plan to go to college after graduation whereas Jason thought they were going to be detectives forever.

The type of humor in this film is generally fairly awkward and risque humor.  There is a fairly odd interaction at a strip club that wouldn’t be all that funny normally, but is fairly funny because of the innocence of the characters and their lack of knowledge when it comes to women.  Much of the humor is like this, but less risque, based off of the characters innocence and lack of common sense.

The acting in the film is actually pretty good for it being a small (I believe direct to DVD) film with not all that large name talent in it.  Donald Glover is good, as he is in Community, and he does a good job progressing as a character throughout the film.  Aubrey Plaza is fine in her limited role, she doesn’t get much of a chance to shine in it as most of the jokes are made around her character by the Mystery Team instead of by her, which is to bad in many ways, because she had some of the funnier parts in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World.  D.C. Pierson and Dominic Dierkes are both quite funny in their roles as Duncan and Charlie, and Dierkes has many of the funnier parts as he is the most socially clueless of all the characters and most clueless when it comes to the Mystery Team as well.  There are some other decent bit performances as well, nothing that blows you away, but good for a film as small as this one.

Dan Eckman, the director, doesn’t do anything all that impressive with how this film is shot, but he doesn’t make any notable mistakes with it either.  For being his first non-TV film directorial debut, it wasn’t all that poorly constructed.  He does a good job with the pacing of the comedy to, this detail is something that is often lost and tends to make a lot of comedies that should be funny crash and burn horribly.  Eckman does have some notoriety already having directed the short: “Bro Rape: A Newsline Investigative Report” and “National Spelling Bee” which have gotten a fair amount of recognition and play on Youtube, he is a young director that looks like he could have a comedy future ahead of him.

This isn’t a comedy that is extremely funny, but it delivers a number of good laughs.  As Eckman gains more directorial experience, I think he will be able to make much funnier comedies, and I think that Glover will also become a comedy name.  This is worth checking out for being fairly off the wall in what it does and the type of comedy which is uses to get laughs.  There are some parts, though, that are just stupid as well, but some of them get laughs.

Entertainment Grade: B-

Critical Grade: C

Overall Grade: C+

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Ghost Town

December 8, 2010

Ghost Town

This is one of the better comedies in the past few years, it is funny, it has heart, and it doesn’t make a big deal out of sex, drugs, or rock ‘n’ roll, but actually bothers to create a good story.  Ricky Gervais, creator of the original Office, stars in this film, and while his mannerisms are fairly similar in every role he plays, he does a good job in his comedy work and is enjoyable to watch.

Pincus, played by Gervais, is an indifferent dentist who really doesn’t care what people try and tell him while he works on them, he isn’t the kind of man who holds an elevator for someone, he really isn’t all that good a man.  Every thing changes when he goes into the hospital, for a routine procedure, and dies on the table.  He is revived, after seven minutes, but because he has died, things start to change.  He starts to be able to see ghosts, and he starts to be able to interact with ghosts, and the ghosts start wanting him to do things for them.  The main ghost, Frank, played by Greg Kinnear, wants Pincus to break up Frank’s widows new engagement.  Other ghosts have other things that they need him to do, so that they can be at peace.  Pincus refuses, but after he falls for Gwen, Frank’s widow played by Tea Leoni, and Frank screws him over, Pincus has a change of heart.

Gervais is generally quite good in comedy roles, and as compared to many comedies, his characters always seem to learn something and have a bit of  a message that goes with them.  Greg Kinnear matches up well with Gervais, as both of them play kind of angry men, and Kinnear comes off as being this philandering egotistical ghost, much like his character in real life, and he plays it well.  The rest of the supporting cast is good, but not all that memorable.  Leoni is solid as Gwen, and Kristen Wiig, of SNL, has a small role as Pincus’ surgeon, and she is kind of annoying, but that is how she is supposed to be played in the film.

The film is put together well by director David Koepp, who is known better for being a screenwriter and working on Spider-Man and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  What I appreciate is that the ghosts are very tangible, they aren’t some wispy aberration that float around Pincus, but instead are very “solid” and have retained the form that they held in life.  Yes, people can walk through them, and they sneeze when they do, but it isn’t like Casper the friendly ghost type of ghost, which is much appreciated.  Koepp also created a comedy that is slower paced.  As compared to the film that I just reviewed, Naked Gun, which is all about having constant laughs, this one takes its time and creates jokes that develop the characters.  Both types of comedy have their own merit and their own place in film, and for this story, the slower pacing is what is needed.

This is a comedy, that is worth checking out.  It doesn’t have a gut busting hilarious moment, but it has a lot of little jokes that work really well, and some awkward jokes, that are funny, but  not all that funny at the same time.  Gervais is becoming more of a house hold name over in the US, which is a good thing, and this, along with his other recent comedy, The Invention of Lying, are worth checking out.  I will follow that up by saying that they aren’t for everyone, people who like films like The Hangover and Superbad aren’t going to enjoy a comedy of this pacing, because it is a slower and sweeter comedy.

Entertainment Grade: B

Critical Grade: B

Overall Grade: B

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Naked Gun

December 8, 2010

Naked Gun

When it comes to comedy films, there hasn’t been a legend like Leslie Nielsen in the world of comedy in this current generation.  And with his passing on, I had to go back and rewatch one of his comedic masterpieces in Naked Gun, this film is beautifully constructed with a story that barely holds together, except for the glue of the absurd laughs which Nielsen and the other members of the cast put together so beautifully.

The story is of a police officer, Frank Drebin, in particular a member of Los Angeles’ famed police squad who has been going through a rough patch in his life after his wife left him.  This sounds like it could be a drama with that beginning.  He comes back to Los Angeles after some time off in Beruit to find that his partner, Nordberg, has been gunned down as he was investigating a drug trafficking ring.  Nordberg is in a hospital and recovering, and Drebin vows to get revenge for him and bring the people who did this to justice..  At the same time, he also has to aid the other members of Police Squad as they must protect the Queen of England as she visits Los Angeles.  Neither job goes nearly as smoothly as planned for Drebin leading to many awkward and hilarious situations.

Leslie Nielsen is comedy gold in this film and basically every other film that he is in, he even makes some of the Scary Movies watchable because of his comedy antics in some bit parts.  He has this sweet old man look to him which is immediately thrown out of the window with his over the top and often pseudo risque actions and dialog.  His comedy panders to the lowest common denominator, but like Peter Sellers in the Pink Panther films he pulls it off with amazing talent and grace.  His supporting cast does a good job of helping in his comedy needs.  O.J. Simpson is an absurd choice to play his partner, Nordberg, but it seemingly fits and most people have no issue with seeing Simpson get beat up.  Priscilla Presley plays the love interest for Nielsen’s character (new lover interest not his ex-wife) and is sufficiently awkward and clumsy making her a perfect math for Drebin.  The strongest performance along side of Nielsen’s is George Kennedy who plays Drebin’s commanding officer, and is the unfortunate victim of so many of Drebin’s failures.

David Zucker, director of so many spoofs and satires (and producer of more which he shouldn’t be proud of), makes comedy gold with the Naked Gun films.  He has a good talent for spotting stupid jokes that are going to be funny, and while some of his later works, Scary Movie 3 and 4, don’t match the level of this film, I think a lot of that can be placed on the fact that Leslie Nielsen is such comedy gold.

This is a comedy spoof that everyone should see (or Airplane!) as they are comedy classics, and when a comedy legend has passed away, there isn’t a better time to see it then now.  Leslie Nielsen’s antics are something that only come once per generation, and will make anyone laugh, at least once, during a film.

Entertainment Grade: B+

Critical Grade: C+

Overall Grade: B