Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Push movie review

This 2009 superpower action thriller is directed by Paul McGuigan (he of Lucky Number Sleven and Wicker Park remake fame) and stars Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning, Camille Belle, and Djimon Hounsou (in a very Haitian from the Heroes tv show kind of role). Basically, it’s the story of a group of psychics who all have varying agrees of abilities. Some are Watchers (they can see the future), some are movers (telekinesis), and so on and so forth. Anyway, taking place entirely in Hong Kong, Nick Grant (played by Evans) is a Mover who is still haunted by the murder of his father by the Division, a US government agency that is sent to track down and capture specials in order to use their abilities. Along the way he meets Cassie Holmes (played by Fanning) who has foreseen the future and the only way to save their kind is to find a young girl who has escaped the division, the only survivor of an experiment with the power to control people’s minds. Can Nick become the hero his father always wanted him to be, or will he just end up being another captured guinea pig?

First off, the visuals are really quite nice here. I really liked how the movie communicates the abilities the characters have. It’s down and dirty, gritty and realistic as any movie dealing with superpowers can be. Like when a villain screams ala X-Men’s Banshee, the surrounding area shakes and vibrates, the camera pulled to an extreme close-up of the character screaming. When a character uses the ability to see into a subjects past, they can only do so by coming into contact with the objects the subject touches, and everything moves in fast rewind from when last the subject used the object. This puts a limit of the abilities and makes things much more believable and acceptable. Because let’s get real, if someone had Magneto’s ability to manipulate metal, he can just kill off humanity and destroy the world with a wave of his hand. But he never does, because well, it’ll all be over in one movie. Anyway, the way Push expresses the superpowers is frankly the best I’ve ever seen.

The actors are all pretty decent. Djimon Honsou is a great actor that loves choosing crappy movies. Evans plays a slight variation of his Human Torch character from the Fantastic Four movies. Camille Belle is hot as usual. However Dakota Fanning, man, is really scary for a 14-year old. I mean it’s like she’s a robot, dead behind the eyes, listless, like she’s lived this long life and is tired of it all. Seriously, the girl freaks the hell out of me. She should play one of the Children of the Corn kid’s, because that’s the role she was born to play.

What I thought was really stupid about this movie is the way some of the scenes and story plot points were shot. For instance, the movie takes place in Hong Kong and everyone’s Chinese except for these few white people who are the superpowers. Anyway, one of the characters I being followed and it’s really obvious who’s following her because, the men following her are all white men in suits that are over 6 feet tall, that tower over all the “tiny” Asians. And when they catch up to her she’s like, “what, I was being followed?” Move your head just a little and you can see the only other white people in the sea of Chinese people. Frankly I thought this was absurd lazy storytelling (there are more than 5 white people in the whole of Hong Kong). Also Djimon Honsou’s character is a major Division agent and he claims that they have 20 of the most powerful Watchers divining the future for him at all times, and yet he never sees anything bad that comes his way? What?

The movie is also really let down by a totally mind boggling third act with plot holes so big you could drive another movie through it and not even notice. I mean the whole third act nearly undermines the first 2 acts by making no sense, leaving the viewers to wonder how any of the characters came up with the conclusions or actions they ended up with. It’s like either the writers didn’t feel like explaining anything (because it feels like there’s 15 minutes of dialogue cut out) or that the writers hoped that viewers wouldn’t care because there would be a lot of explosions. Who knows, but yeah, the whole third act, especially the ending, makes no sense.

With all that said, I actually like this movie. It’s by no means any good (I pointed out a lot of negatives about this movie) but it does create some interestingly new dynamics for a superpower movie with a nice and complex world mythos surrounding it. Like I said before, I really liked the way the filmmakers showed the super powers here, and I really like how they limited the powers. Everything about this movie feels right, besides the last 30 minutes of it. That should be a big deterrent, but I feel the first 2 half’s are strong enough to make this an enjoyable watch. So I give this a matinee/dvd watch. It won’t blow your mind but it’s much better than the Heroes tv show, and I watch every episode of that junk.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Confessions of a Shopaholic movie review

This 2009 romantic comedy about an obsessive spendaholic named Rebecca Bloomwood (played by Isla “Borat’s fiancĂ©” Fisher) is adapted from a hugely successful series of novels by Sophia Kinsella and is directed by P.J. Hogan (he of My Best Friends Wedding, Muriels Wedding, and the live-action Peter Pan movie. Man has anyone seen that 2003 Peter Pan movie?). Anyway this is the story of how recent college graduate Rebecca, moves to Manhattan to get her spending on and to pursue her dream of working at a fashion magazine. Along the way, debt ridden and alone, she somehow ends up with a job as a columnist for a financial magazine. Hilarity and romance ensue. Can she find her true love, get her spending habit in order and live happily ever after? Seriously this is the Pretty Women for shopaholics, and at least prostitutes work hard for their money.

Many people have brought into question the tackiness or outright insensitivity for studios to release a movie about obsessive spending during an economic downturn. While I think critics are missing the point, (the point should be, “why do studios keep pumping out less than stellar chick flicks?”) the point has been made numerous times during this release.

While we aren’t in a great depression as bad as in the 30’s, although it may feel like it is as times, movies have always been recession proof because they’re a cheap form of entertainment. While people might bemoan ticket prices being 11 dollars, 11 dollars looks a lot better than a trip to Europe if you don’t have the money. People need an escape when they’re faced with troubling times, and Hollywood is always there to meet that demand. If you look at movies that came out in the 30’s, some of the greatest movies ever produced came during that time, Little Caesar, King Kong, the great Universal Horror films like Frankenstein and Dracula, the Thin Man series, It Happened One Night and so on. So you can look at it like, since the need to escape is so intense, since people need to feel like they’re somewhere else, even if only for two hours, Hollywood uses that and creates some of the most memorable work to date, or at least that’s how it was before. I mean if people have a limited budget you better make a film good or people won’t see it. I guess what I’m trying to say is, no I don’t think it’s tasteless to release a movie about overspending during a time where almost 5 million Americans are out of work. It’s an escape, and if people can escape to a world where luxuries and endless spending await than more power to them. This is not to say that Confessions of a Shopaholic is any good, just not bad in that context.

So about the film, well, it’s just okay and that might be giving it to much credit. The theater was filled with women who obviously enjoyed it, especially the lady next to me who laughed like crazy as she stuffed her face full of popcorn singing how she’s like Isla Fisher’s character. However for an overall film, this isn’t very good. It has all the benchmarks for being a chick flick except that until the very end it has no heart. Being a guy I can’t understand the mindset of going into 16 thousand dollar worth of debt because you have to have a bunch of clothes you never wear. Also the plot is terribly choreographed, the sight gages extremely clichĂ©, but yeah still, Isla Fisher is cute. Sure she doesn’t deserve a happy ending, and sure she should end up a crack whore, but still she’s cute and this is well, at best a very light romantic comedy. One thing I’ve always loved about Isla Fisher is that she’s one of the rare female comedic actresses that has no problems doing slapstick comedy. Sandra Bullock also does it too, but Isla always pulls it off.

However I have to call foul with the whole basic storyline of this film. Basically it’s about the world of magazines and how the main lead romantic interest, his dream is to start his own financial magazine. I mean really? The whole print world, especially now, is at a crossroads. Many magazine publications, as well as newspapers are filing for bankruptcy. So centering the whole plot on starting a magazine and how everyone still reads magazines and nothing about the internet seems ludicrous to me. I still love reading magazines but I know I’m in the minority here so yeah, the plot just feels incredibly outdated to me already.

It does have a good ending that didn’t pander to its audience. The theater was full of women who laughed and seemed to enjoy themselves, but for a guy? This was hell on screen. I cringed as the characters swooned over all the fantastic clothes and accessories; I clawed my eyes out as girl drama occurred. With all that said, I know I’m not the target audience, but as a film as a whole this is just poor. So I give Confessions of a Shopaholic the “I want my money back/sneak out rating.” There are better movies and chick flicks out now so just watch those. Only for Isla Fisher fans, but yeah even with that this is still a pass.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Two Lovers

This 2009 drama is loosely based on the Dostoevsky short story, White Nights and is directed by James Gunn, reteaming the director with his frequent collaborator, muse I would dare say, Joaquin Phoenix. Out of the four films James has directed, Joaquin has appeared in 3, The Yards, We Own the Night and this film. Anyway, Two Lovers takes place in Brighton Beach, NY and is the story of Leonard Kraditor (played by Phoenix), a lost soul who when not fighting off bouts of depression finds himself torn between two woman, the kind and normal woman his family loves, Sandra (played by Vinessa Shaw) and the volatile and destructive blond neighbor Michelle (played by Gwyneth Paltrow). Will Leonard choose a normal life with Sandra, or will Michelle lead him down the path of destruction?

If I had to say one thing about Two Lovers, I would say that it’s an old-fashioned love story with high melodrama, a film that portrays the reality on the concept of love. I mean unlike how Hollywood wants to condition us, love is not epic, transient and tidy. The person you love doesn’t always reciprocate, and the feeling of love does not move mountains our change the tide of history. Love is chaotic. It’s a game of chance, of regret, of passion. It’s one of the rare feelings that we rarely have any control over, one that leads people down dark paths, and sometimes their own destruction. It’s messy, and frankly, it’s just too real. And that’s how Two Lovers felt to me, a modest film with large and intense feeling, the melodrama was in full swing, and it just felt scary it’s so real.

As I’ve stated, Two Lovers is an old-school drama, and that old school charm is what helps and hurts the film for me. On the one hand, it’s damn refreshing to see a throwback like this. Where love wasn’t just from the heart, but also of the mind, where the concept was about choices rather than destiny. However, on the other hand the movie is pretty slow moving. For a 109 minute film, it felt like 2 and a half hours. I’m not saying this is all bad, but some parts really drag out and when the melodrama hits, my god does it hit. I was half expecting an old sweeping Hollywood score to play along with the escalating emotions and half-truths, but there is no music because this is reality. And while the film did drag on at parts, I have to commend the filmmakers for throwing away expediency for a sense of realism, of authenticity. However, maybe that’s why this film feels a little too sincere with its feelings. It wants everyone to be happy and that sincerity is at the cost of Two Lovers being a better film.

The acting is fantastic in this movie. Phoenix plays the shattered man so well, because if you look at his personal life, it’s like he’s not acting. But yeah, Phoenix does a great job playing a dreamer living in his own world of crushed dreams. However I will say this, now I know this is how the character of Leonard is supposed to be, but when Phoenix mumbles some of his lines, its hard hearing what he says. He doesn’t have a voice that works well with mumbling. And Vinessa Shaw and Gwyneth Paltrow as the two women are picture perfect here. Vinessa is great as the kind Sandra. You can feel the love she has for Leonard, and the quiet beauty that surrounds her. And Paltrow as Michelle is just crazy. She’s an awful human being, that doesn’t realize her own destructiveness because she’s so selfish. Paltrow sells it and you buy the lemonade. Great performances all around, powerful yet restrained.

However the movie does pose the proverbial what came first, the chicken or the egg question. Here the question is one that many if not all have faced at one point, is it better to love or be loved? Do you go after the one who loves you or the one that you love? It’s a tough question with no true answer. Even in this movie, should Leonard go for Sandra, the woman who obviously loves him and would lead him to a better life, or Michelle, the woman he loves but who would rather be chased than be caught? I mean even if he does choose Sandra, will he truly be happy living a lie? And is a lie better than a heartbreaking truth? There are a lot of questions posed during this movie, and what I like so much about Two Lovers is that the questions aren’t easily answered, and for the most part there is no right answer.

Like I said before, Two Lovers is loosely based on the Dostoevsky short story White Nights. It varies at key parts, but the feeling of isolation, the feeling of abandonment permeates that story just as it permeates this film. Seriously, if you like Two Lovers read White Nights, and if you think Phoenix’s Leonard is a mess of a human being, check out Dostoevsky’s nameless narrator. Anyway, yeah I wasn’t too sure what rating to give Two Lovers. It’s refreshing yet the story can feel cumbersome at times. Okay so yeah, I give this a dvd/matinee rating. I won’t go into the ending because I don’t want to spoil it, but I think the ending is just one of the best endings I’ve seen in a long time, picture perfect and one that can be interpreted in so many ways.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Friday the 13th

This 2009 horror film is a reboot of the legendary and iconic film franchise and is directed by Marcus Nispel, who frankly right now is the king of iconic horror reboots, creating a fantastic reboot of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series. It's also from the writers of Freddy vs. Jason, Damion Shannon and Mark Swift, which was frankly every horror geeks wet dream. God I love that movie. This reboot stars Jared Padalecki (he of the Supernatural tv show fame) as Clay, who travels to Crystal Lake in search of his missing sister who was last seen gallivanting around Camp Crystal. When will anyone ever learn? Anyway, along the way he comes across some sexed up 20-somethings staying at a lake house, as Jason stalks the woods, beginning to hunt people that have wandered into surrounding the area. What happened to Clay’s sister and will Clay even survive the day to find out?

The original Friday the 13th film came out in 1980, and in the 28 years since the franchise has had 9 sequels. However, it has also been 7 years since the last time we saw Jason in a Friday the 13th movie with Jason X, which effectively ended the franchise by putting Jason in space and making him a mechanized killer. Does this new remake of the series warrant a rebirth in the classic horror franchise, or is it just another retread and a waste of everyone’s time?

Much like how Superman Returns was a sequel to the second Superman film, Friday the 13th is a sequel to the original film. It begins with how the first movie ended, with Jason’s mother being killed and Jason taking on the mantle of fine citizen, doing away with all the noisy campers that come a sexing. The opening tells you all that you really need to know, and you don’t need to be a Friday the 13th aficionado to enjoy this reboot. Beyond that though, this remake is like a best of the Friday the 13th series. It’s pre-Zombie Jason. I don’t remember when he became Zombie Jason, probably around part 4 or 5. This one has the crazy silent redneck version of the original. And unlike the original second film, Jason dons the hockey mask early on. Also, many of the kills were culled from previous films. So yeah, this is a hit parade of all the great and iconic moments in the Friday the 13th film franchise, and is a fantastic beginning.

There were also some nice homage’s littered as Easter eggs throughout the film, like the wheelchair from a victim in part 2 and the original sweater Jason’s mother wore in part one. Its touches like those, that really convey how much care and respect the writers and director had when making this film. The key to every Friday the 13th movie is Jason, and the filmmakers here kept a lot of the things that previously made Jason so great (his hulking physique, his deformity, his soundless hunting, his superhuman numbness to pain, his anti-rusting machete), and the one update that I was hesitant about, Jason running, was nicely done and didn’t feel thrown in for shock value. The story is also secondary for this kind of movie, but it’s adequate enough. Nothing feels too hackneyed, the dialogue is perfectly cheesy, and the scares are nicely done. However, you watch a Friday the 13th film for the kills and while not all the deaths are amazing, a few of them are just downright incredible. I mean one character has the best death I have ever seen in any horror film. It involves a woman, water and some fantastic nudity in death. When you watch this film you’ll know what I’m talking about. I mean it’s stellar.

The acting is pretty nicely done here. I mean no one is stellar, but no one puts forth a bad performance either. Like I said before, Jared Padalecki’s in this film and he does a nice enough job. However my favorite character by far is that of the douche bag frat boy Trent played by Travis Can Winkle. He just has this look, like he’s one of those cocky frat boys from an 80’s movie, like he wouldn’t feel out of place picking on the nerds in Revenge of the Nerds, Weird Science or sweeping the leg in Karate Kid. He’s just a great character and by far has the best scene in the movie when he screams like a girl. I mean it’s on par with Mickey Rourke’s take in the Wrestler, it’s that good.

There’s some fantastic nudity as well. Former pop princess Willa Ford has a nice topless scene. However my favorite scene is an extended sex scene where the douche bag Trent is having sex and has a running commentary on how fantastic the breasts are of the woman he’s having sex with. I mean it’s like, “your breasts are mind-boggling. There so round, and the nipple dimensions are perfectly symmetrical.” It’s hilarious and that’s really what makes this film so enjoyable, for a horror film, it’s actually really funny. While humor has always been a major aspect of the the Friday the 13th series, I found the humor in this movie really the best part of it.

Beyond a reboot, Friday the 13th works as just a new entry in the horror franchise. You don’t have to have been a fan of the original series to enjoy this film, but if you are, you won’t feel cold and leave the theater with a bitter aftertaste. This film is easily one of the best in the horror franchise, so I give this a “bring your lunch from home because you do not want to miss this one.” A great film, a lot of fun, and wonderful counter programming for a Valentine’s Day weekend.