Sunday, August 30, 2009

Apartment Tour

No, this doesn't really have anything to do with movies. Take it up with my lawyers. For those of you who care, here's a brief tour of my new place.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I'm Moving to LA!


The rumors are true. For readers who aren't personal friends and aren't aware, I'm moving from Florida to Los Angeles tomorrow morning. The site will be update-less for a few days until I get out there and get my internet hooked up, so until then you can be wracking your brains for suggestions for future reviews. I'm not guaranteeing anything, but the District 9 review came into existence for the sole reason that a reader requested it. Think about it - movies new and old alike are fair game - and comment if you're interested. Also, if you'd like to submit a guest review of your own, my e-mail inbox is always open. Hit me up at benpears85@gmail.com and see if you've got what it takes. I'll see you all on the other side. Until next time...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

District 9

I wasn't going to write anything about this movie, but I had a specific request from a reader and decided to indulge him, albeit briefly. I saw District 9 a few weeks ago and I feel like everything that can be said about it has already been said elsewhere, but I'll throw my thoughts into the ring. The very short version? If you dig sci-fi at all, you owe it to yourself to see this movie. If you're not a huge sci-fi person, I'd still recommend it because it works on many levels other than pure science fiction.

District 9
Co-Writer/Director: Neill Blomkamp
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope


Let me run down the behind-the-scenes stuff for you before I get into what I thought of the movie. Back in 2005, director Neill Blomkamp put together a short film called Alive in Joburg (watch it here) that is, in essence, a short prequel to District 9. Blomkamp is from South Africa, and wanted to make a science fiction movie in that setting because it had never been done before. Before he directed Alive in Joburg (short for "Johannesburg," the South African city in which both films take place), Blomkamp worked for various television shows like "Dark Angel" and "Smallville" as a 3D animator. He took that technical background and personally created the special effects for Alive in Joburg. The short film made an impression on Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) and his team, who a few years later were looking for an up-and-coming director to take on a Halo movie based on the popular XBox video game. After working for six or seven months on the project, Blomkamp turned in this amazing footage, but the film fell apart in the pre-production phase and hasn't been picked up since. Jackson recognized Blomkamp's talent, and his partner Fran Walsh asked Neill if he wanted to turn Alive in Joburg into a feature. So here we are, and District 9 is Neill Blomkamp's directorial debut in the feature film category. Did I mention the guy isn't even thirty years old yet? Incredible.

I'll try to avoid spoilers in case you haven't seen it, but I'd highly recommend checking this movie out in theaters. The film was made for only $30 million (a tiny sum for a summer action movie) and looked much more convincing than the other bloated CGI-based films to come out this summer. You've all seen the trailers, at least - the shot with the helicopters flying up to the hovering ship above the city took my breath away on a big screen. I'm not going to provide a plot summary because you're better off knowing as little about the movie as possible going in. Yes, I realize the inherent irony in saying that when I've barely started my review.


Blomkamp employs a documentary style that today's audiences have gotten used to over the past few years due to oversaturation, but District 9 doesn't feel gimmicky and doesn't come close to the nauseating result of The Bourne Supremacy. Personally, I think the film works because it's not all Cloverfield-esque where every scene in the movie is filmed in handheld mode: the movie starts as a documentary being made about the main character (including the occasional interview and nice touches like shots from security cameras) and, when it benefits the film, changes perspective away from that doc structure and shows the audience events that the "documentary crew" doesn't see. I can't remember ever seeing this type of filmmaking before: generally, you either stick with the whole thing being doc-style or none of it. Blomkamp's decision to utilize both does the movie a great service without being distracting or off-putting.


The themes tackled in District 9 are very well-handled: contemplations on what it means to be human, relationship struggles during trying times, allegories to the apartheid system, race relations, and corporate tyranny are all addressed with intelligence and competence. The script is great, and that's a huge reason this movie succeeds. Story is of paramount importance to these filmmakers, not just a thinly-reasoned game of connect the dots to the next action scene.


And deliver action, it does. I was expecting an almost-entirely intellectual movie when I sat down in the theater, but when I walked out I was blown away by how freaking awesome the action scenes were executed. Again, I'll stay spoiler free - but I will say that there are scenes involving alien weaponry that are unlike anything I've seen on film before. When I walked out, I was shaking my head imagining how amazing a Halo movie would have been if Blomkamp had directed it.


Sharlto Copley, who plays Wikus van de Merwe, is a first time actor and does a terrific job with his performance. This is one of those films that definitely benefits from using unknown actors instead of plugging big name actors into the roles, and this will undoubtedly serve as a launchpad for Copley should he choose to further pursue acting. His character draws comparisons to Michael Scott from "The Office," due partly to the similarity in filming style and partly because they are both kind of boneheaded characters, but suffice it to say that this guy is not your typical sci-fi lead.

That about wraps it up for now. I might revisit District 9 and compare it to James Cameron's Avatar when that comes out in December, or perhaps delve a little further into the film upon further viewings post-DVD release. I hope this review was enough to convince you to see the movie, even if you wait for the DVD yourself. It's definitely worth watching, and probably the most original sci-fi action movie we've seen in a couple years. Until next time...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Time Traveler's Wife


The Time Traveler’s Wife

Director: Robert Schwentke

Starring: Eric Bana, Rachel McAdams

Guest Review by Becki Pearson

So, let’s get down to brass tacks. Henry DeTamble (Bana) is a time traveling librarian that falls in love with Claire Abshire, a young and strong willed artist (McAdams). This film corners the battles of their unstable relationship and their determination to successfully continue their marriage. Although I feel like there are a lot of unanswered questions about the film, I still walked out of the theater next to 45 year old women, all with slappy smiles on our faces.



It is kind of hard to review this film without revealing most of the story. I will try my best to put spoiler alerts beforehand, but if you don’t want it to be ruined, I suggest not reading this at all.

So, Henry has a genetic disorder that causes him to time travel. One of the biggest problems that I had with the movie was the fact that they never really say from where this genetic problem generated. They don’t mention a father or elderly relative that involuntarily disappeared and woke up nude in a different time. It only started to happen to Henry when he was six years old after a major car crash that killed his mother. Besides that event being the opening scene to the film, we, as an audience, simply come to the conclusion that the car crash is somehow related to his newfound ability. But if his disorder is a genetic problem, then he would have been able to travel before the car crash occurred. They mention in the movie that TV’s and alcohol can “set him off”… and that’s it. They never explain why those things make him travel more frequently. They also quickly mention that stress can be a factor that effects ability, but then they show a montage of him time traveling, some that have nothing to do with stress related activities. For example, Henry and Claire were setting their kitchen table for dinner and when she turned around, all the plates were smashed on the floor and all that was there of him were his clothes. I seriously doubt that at that time of setting the supper table, Henry was stressed so high to the point of making himself travel to another time.

Another thing- Henry never traveled anywhere cool. It doesn’t make sense that he wouldn’t spontaneously arrive in Medieval Times or during the Renaissance. Instead, he traveled to the back of alleyways and to the middle of fields. They weren’t even places that he had been before, which would make a little more sense.




Let me just say this- I think Eric Bana is adorable. I’m under the impression that he is a very talented and versatile actor, however I am not familiar enough with his work to have a strong opinion about him. Besides spending half the movie naked after time traveling (Because, ya know, clothes can’t time travel but humans can) I thought he did a pretty good job dealing with his character. Because of the nature of the film, it was already confusing trying to figure out where (or when) Henry was and the limited changes to his appearance didn’t help. The only thing they did to make him look a different age was add some gray to his hair or add 2 inches to the length. I have a feeling that any other actor could have preformed this role with equal or superior talent.

Instead, the hair stylists spent all of their time with Rachel McAdams during this film. She had an estimated 5423 different hair styles throughout the film and it became a game to see what her hair would look like the next rather than caring about her feelings as the wife of a time traveler. I think she did a pretty awesome job with her role, but then again, I think she’s awesome at everything she does.


SPOILER ALERT!


So, alright. They, by the power of time traveling, have a daughter which they decide to name Alba. (Let me just quickly mention that they never explain why they named their daughter Alba. Only that Henry traveled to the future and heard her name being said. But... no real reason.) Of course, the daughter turns out to be a time traveler as well. Once again, this fact only supports my questioning that the disorder is in fact “a genetic problem” because the daughter travels when she is 4 years old. If it truly is a genetic disorder, Henry would have been able to travel early too, just like his daughter. Another thing- Why is it that the little 4 year old girl learns to control her traveling, but the 37 year old man can’t? That’s just stupid.



They mention in the story that Henry could not change the future; that destiny would always occur. He couldn’t go back to the night of the car crash and save his mother, but he could somehow cheat at the lottery and win his wife 5 million dollars. And here is my biggest problem with the film- If he didn’t go back and meet Claire when she was a little girl (aka change the future), she would not have loved him her whole life. If he hadn’t gone back, their love wouldn’t exist. That in itself is a HUGE contradiction. If he can’t change what’s going to happen, why could he go back and stalk this little 8 year old until she falls in love with him, but can’t go back and save his mother from dying? If he can’t change what is going to happen, then why can his daughter, who shares the same genetic ability, do it on a wim? At one point in the film, Claire looks out the window and sees her 4 year old daughter talking to her 9 year old daughter in the yard, which clearly changes the life of the 4 year old. Just imagine having a conversation with your future self. (Imagine if Marty had, in fact, run into himself?) It doesn’t make sense that he “can’t change what’s going to happen," when the entire movie revolves around him doing just that.


On the Becki Scale, I give it a solid 3. And that's just because Eric Bana is cute.


Thanks to Ben for letting his little sister add some "chick-flicks" to the blogsite. <3

Sunday, August 9, 2009

(500) Days of Summer

Challenging (but not quite topping) The Brothers Bloom as my favorite film of 2009 so far, Marc Webb's directorial debut was funny, endlessly charming, endearing, hopeful, and exciting. I can't recommend it highly enough. For me, this goes right up there with Wristcutters: A Love Story, Garden State, and Slumdog Millionaire.

(500) Days of Summer
Director: Marc Webb
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel


The term "chick flick" conjures images of Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson, Katherine Heigl and Hugh Grant, Julia Roberts and John Cusack. Those films feature painfully formulaic plots involving the two love interests (who are generally complete opposites!) getting involved in some sort of conflict in which they must rely on each other to conquer, bringing them closer together and causing them to inevitably fall in love and go in for that omnipresent Chick Flick Money Shot (TM) - the slow motion kiss. Those films laugh in the face of realism and essentially feed the audience what they want with no alterations to the formula; they're the equivalent of the Jason Statham subgenre of action movie for guys.

The script for this movie was exceptional - turning what could have easily been another "chick flick" into something new and fun. First time screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber implant characters from the chick flick genre into a realistic setting and treat the audience to how these characters react to potentially real situations. Some of you may be thinking: "Ben, if they're just doing real things then why isn't it a documentary? Who wants to watch stuff that happens in real life?" The screenwriters were fully aware of this issue - how do you craft a realistic script without boring the audience? The answer comes in a great fragmented timeline; the story constantly jumps back and forth among random times in the 500 days of this relationship and keeps the audience wondering what (and when) is going to happen next. Sounds gimmicky, but trust me - it doesn't feel that way when you're watching it.


Joseph Gordon-Levitt was brilliant. It's well known how much I appreciate his performance in Brick: this is vastly different but equally appreciated. He plays Tom, a greeting card writer who believes in the lofty notion of true love. Paired with a great script, Gordon-Levitt arguably shines brighter than any major actor working in Hollywood today; he delivers a performance that feels truly believable and invests just the right amount of emotion into his work to keep him in the realm of the realistic. Taking on projects like this one highlight JGL's passion for acting; he's becoming an indie icon, but doesn't turn down blockbusters like this summer's G.I. Joe when those opportunities present themselves. I can respect that.


Zooey Deschanel (also an indie star on the rise) was more than sufficient as Summer Finn, the object of Tom's affection who doesn't believe in love. Her character reminds me of Natalie Portman's in Garden State, but not as fun - Summer simply isn't written in the best light. She's a lovely girl to be sure, but her personality isn't very captivating. The film opens with the usually-saved-for-the-end-credits text "Any resemblance to individuals, living or dead, is purely coincidental." But then it adds, "Especially you, Jenny Beckman. Bitch." We know from the first frame this isn't going to be a flattering story of the female in the relationship, since obviously the writers (and possibly director) have had experiences in their own lives similar to the ones that take place in the movie. Zooey happens to be on the giving end of these experiences, making her character less endearing to the male portion of the audience. Obviously I relate more to JGL's Tom due to the simple fact that I'm a male and can't understand Summer's motivations or justify her actions. Perhaps an intelligent female could offer some opinion of her movie-watching perspective in the comments.


Only just now did I realize that perhaps the reason Summer had such overt flaws was because we're told within the first few minutes that Tom and Summer break up, so the writers probably didn't want us making the same mistake Tom does and becoming too attached to her character. Despite Summer's lack of endearing qualities, she does possess a quiet charm and seeing the "good moments" in Summer and Tom's association gives brief glimpses into what Tom sees in her. Deschanel and Gordon-Levitt are magnetic, and their chemistry is undeniable. (They've since said they want to continue playing romantically opposite each other to try to become like the modern day Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn.)

(Spoilers In Next Three Paragraphs.)

I was going to devote this section to an entirely different post, but I might as well include it here since this review is bordering on "mega-long" anyway. I want to make some quick observations about Tom. Obviously the guy is a little screwed up - his love for Summer causes him to be needy and instills in him the sense that he can "slay the beast" and change Summer's long-standing belief that true love doesn't exist. (Isn't that usually the woman's perspective with motorcycle-riding, leather jacket-wearing "bad boys?" Insisting they'll be the one to finally change the guy?) But Tom is inexperienced in nearly every way, evidenced by his pep talk to himself in the mirror and the lopsidedness of the "past boyfriends" conversation (you know, the one with "Puma.") He instigates the "playing house" scene in IKEA because he knows nothing about how he's really supposed to act or what his role is in the grander scheme of things. Nothing is more evident of how infantile Tom's love life is than the fact that he gets love advice from his younger sister (the wonderful Chloe Moretz, from the upcoming Kick-Ass), a girl clearly more experienced in the ways of love than Tom himself, despite the obvious age difference. He's the child in the relationship, driven home to the audience by his gushing love speech for Summer over a montage of her features shifting to immaturity when pointing out negative things over the same montage post-break up.


I think the movie provides an interesting commentary on relationships mid-recession in 2009: the male, historically the provider and protector, has his world upended thanks to a devastating event (break up = loss of bank account, stock portfolios, etc). This event, most likely caused by the male, was unplanned and unintentional. He loses everything and his life is in disarray, but then realizes perhaps what he once thought of as "losing everything" was only the first necessary step towards a better life.


It's easy to reduce and equate Summer to a bank account metaphor, but does she deserve a closer look and a more fair assessment? I'm not sure. I won't feel bad saying this because you know you're in spoiler territory: She married (!) that other guy only weeks after her and Tom's relationship ended. Does that make her a skank/slut/tramp/(insert disparaging remark here)? Initially I immediately assumed the answer was yes. How could she do that to Tom? But in the penultimate scene when she confronts him on the bench, she tells Tom that she "woke up one morning and knew with her new guy what she never knew when she was with [Tom]." As heart-wrenching as that is to Tom's loyal fans (aka the male contingent of the crowd), maybe Summer has a point - perhaps Tom's undying belief in true love and his willingness to fight for it was the lesson she learned from their relationship. Summer's acquisition of his belief manifested itself in a new marriage; to complete the cyclical symbiosis of the relationship, Summer inspired Tom to get back into architecture, ultimately leading him to quit his job and meet the impossibly attractive Autumn (I smell sequel!) at the end of the movie. As the omniscient narrator seems to imply, "everything happens for a reason."

(End of Spoilers.)


Marc Webb, who was previously a commercial director, brings a fantastic sense of direction and originality of vision to this project. You can tell he loved the source material and poured his soul into making this movie. The creativity on display was inspiring and evoked part jealousy, part admiration, and 100% respect. This guy has big things in store for him if he goes down the right path, and I hope that path takes him to more scripts like this where he has the ability to add his personal touch to a fantastic story. Webb did a great job keeping everyone who worked on this movie (editors, choreographers, etc) on the same page with the tone he was trying to evoke, and it paid off in a big way. Something that should also be pointed out is how hard it must be to shoot LA in a different way than we're all used to seeing it. You know the drill - you get the vast cityscapes, the typical shot of the Hollywood sign, the winding hills with mansions looking down on it all. This movie was shot in LA, but the version of the city that was captured for this movie perfectly mirrors the film's tone - laid back, undiscovered, small, and comfortable.

(500) Days of Summer has so many little moments that just work - it's hard to explain it better than that. The dance number set to Hall & Oates' "You Make My Dreams Come True" (which I won't ruin) was my favorite part of the film. I've had that song stuck in my head for two straight days now, and there's no sign it's going away any time soon. There is an excellently executed split screen featuring Tom's expectations of an event on one side and how it actually plays out on the other. But hey - if you've come this far and I haven't convinced you to see it yet, then I haven't done my job. If you HAVE already seen the movie and enjoyed the hipster soundtrack, check out this music video for She & Him's song "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?" She & Him, of course, is the folk/indie/whatever band that Zooey Deschanel is in, and this video reunites the director of (500) Days of Summer with its two stars.


This is the type of smaller scale film that needs a decent turnout in the theaters to keep similar projects up and running so we aren't flooded with JUST big budget blockbusters, so I hope it does well in theaters. It's almost assuredly going to do some great business on DVD/Blu-ray, since (from what I can gather) people who dig this movie dig it hard. (500) Days of Summer has both personally won me over and momentarily restored my faith in movies as art. Do yourselves a favor and give this one a chance. Until next time...

Julie and Julia (2009)

By Guest Writer Alan Trehern

Get the laughs out now, a$$holes. Yes, I went and saw Julie and Julia, a movie about Julia Child, food and strange love. And for those of you disregarding it for whatever reasons, you're passing up on a pretty good flick. This isn't one of your run of the mill boring movie, or chick flick, but a well delivered and feel-good film.

Julie and Julia
Starring: Amy Adams, Sir Stanley Tucci and Meryl Streep
Director: Nora Ephron


The most interesting part of this movie is that is was based on two different books: My Life in France by Child (Streep) and Julie and Julia by Amy Powell (Adams). While one story takes place in 1949, the other takes place in 2002. The merging of the storylines is well done, and you never get that flashback effect because they flawlessly transition back and forth and you look forward to the change as the scene your watching starts to conclude. However, I did get pissed when Powell's sections ran too long and Julia's scenes too short.

Here's the story in a nut-shell: Julia and Paul (Tucci) Child move to Paris, France, but Julia has little to nothing productive to do, so she goes to the Cordon Blu school for cooking and starts a relationship with French cooks to write and publish a French cookbook in English. Meanwhile, or fifty years later, whichever way you look at it, Julie Powell is in a depressing job that motivates her to doing a year long task of preforming all of Julia Child's recipes in the famous chef's cookbook.

Over the course of the film, you becoming extremely attached to Child and mildly attached to Powell. The reason for this is a more personal look at the famed chef's life and times and less time focusing on her rise to fame. Powell, on the other hand, while cute as a button, is pretty crazy. She worships Julia and treats her like an imaginary friend in the kitchen but has multiple meltdowns when things go wrong.

You gotta keep your head in the game lady! When a stuffed chicken falls on the ground, pick that sh*t up and put it back in the oven. And if an editor doesn't come to dinner to eat your bland beef stew, don't take it out on your husband and withhold sex. What kind of manipulative witch are you? But because she learns from these mistakes, I absolved her character and enjoyed that side of the timeline.
As for Julia, I felt she worked alot harder to become the successful author she discovered herself to be. Like she says in the film, there's very few people who annoy her, so she's happy and funny for almost in the entire film. Streep gets the character down to the point where I was having trouble seeing the actress pass the character, which was quite impressive considering Streep is pretty low on my list of "Actresses Who I Want to See In Film".

The music was well placed, but it wasn't anything you needed to focus on; the characters were enough. The acting was well done, but then again, that's what they're paid to do. The 1940s sets were homey and quaint, while Queens looked like a dump. Maybe that's what it's really like, I don't know. I must agree that Powell's life is REALLY sh*tty, and I'm glad she starts this personal quest and calls into work. I also enjoyed the scenes where Julia and her co-authors interact with the publishers and their slack-ass co-writer.

What would I have done different is I was in charge? Well, very little. Time-wise it was perfect, although the ending came up rather abruptly. Maybe it was because the Carmike turned on the lights before the credits rolled (rookie mistake, f*ckers). Sir Tucci was pretty funny, and although Powell's husband was mistreated, he was pretty useless and kind of a pansy. Whatever.

I expected this movie to be sappy, emasculating and menstrual. It is not. It tells the story of human beings striving to be something. Whether you are trying to get a book published or trying to get readers for your blog (yes, please!), the movie boils down to human relationships and self-improvement. And whether you check this out because you like cooking shows or you're trying to nail a tight byrd on your first date, it proves itself as simple, cinematic entertainment.

Friday, August 7, 2009

A Perfect Getaway

[Warning: Reading this review, in part or in full, could damage your viewing experience of A Perfect Getaway. If you plan on ever seeing the movie, then don't read this before watching it. Come back after you see it - even if it takes years. I won't mind.]


My experience in this movie reminded me of the one I had in 2007's Awake. I had no expectations going in and was pleasantly surprised to find a genuinely decent thriller. A Perfect Getaway is similar: the trailers lead you to believe this movie falls into the regular genre stereotypes, but the film delivers more in both story and style.

A Perfect Getaway
Writer/Director: David Twohy
Starring: Steve Zahn, Milla Jovovich, Timothy Olyphant


As far as I can gather, a "genre movie" is one that accepts and embraces its place in the overall realm of cinema; most of the time, these are smaller movies (not big budget blockbusters) with ensemble casts that appreciate the type of work they are doing and generally don't take the content too seriously. All that can be said about A Perfect Getaway, which is essentially a "cabin in the woods" thriller relocated into the camps and trails of Hawaii. When recently married couple Cliff and Cydney (Zahn and Jovovich) realize there have been a series of murders nearby, they become wary of the couple they met on the trail (Tim Olyphant and Kiele Sanchez) and the hippie hitchhikers with attitude (future "Thor" Chris Hemsworth and Grindhouse graduate Marley Shelton) they encountered early in the movie.


Praise must be given (by me, anyway) to Timothy Olyphant, who has consistently been delivering great performances in small roles like this for years. I'm hoping he gets a big break soon (other than the dismal-sounding lead role in Hitman and its potential sequels), because he has definitely proven himself to be an actor to keep an eye on. He never immediately comes to mind when thinking about my favorite actors because he's not high-profile enough: like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, he's earning my respect by picking up these lesser-seen movies and doing some great work along the way. I thought Olyphant's character Nick was the best part of A Perfect Getaway - an ex-special forces soldier who spends most of the film recounting unbelievable war stories and attempting to convince screenwriter Cliff to write a feature about him. Nick's girlfriend constantly praises his manliness (much deserved, as evidenced by the killing of a large goat with a self-strung bow and arrow), and his badass persona refuses to be ignored when held against the other characters with which he spends the majority of his time.

SPOILER ALERT (in case the announcement at the top didn't tip you off)


I didn't think the rest of the cast was anything special. I haven't seen Milla Jovovich act in anything since I first saw The 5th Element when I was 13 or something, so I can't really compare her performance to anything recent. I thought she was a little underwhelming as the recently married Cydney, but as we come to find out at the end (dun dun DUN) she's not who she says she is. This means, of course, that we must give her a pass on everything that she's done up to this point in the movie, because she's been acting as a secondary character - we don't really get to see much of the REAL version of her: just a few lines from the helicopter at the end. That wasn't enough to judge if she handled the duality of the character with any skill. The revelation that Steve Zahn is the killer (nice call, Branz) caught me off guard - I honestly didn't see it coming until about two thirds of the way through the film. Zahn clearly chose this script because it was fun for him to play into the audience's expectations for most of the movie (Zahn as the funny protagonist) and then pull a 180 on them with the psycho killer reversal for the finale. He handled the material well, and like all great genre actors, didn't take his performance too seriously; he got a fantastically wild look in his eye from the moment we find out he's the killer to his sniped death.


Writer/director David Twohy (Pitch Black, Chronicles of Riddick) turned in a very respectable script, ratcheting up the tension as the couples travel deeper into isolation. Making Cliff a screenwriter (and featuring conversations about screenwriting) helped to walk the audience through the conventions of screenwriting without treating us like idiots - we know that there's a three act structure to movies but it's nice to be reminded, especially when we know the twist is coming soon. As Nick instructs Cliff to "remember the details," audience members lean forward in their seats, consuming the details for themselves and archiving them so as to try to discover the killer before the protagonists. We're constantly waiting for a couple to slip up and reveal their true intentions, and when we realize it is OUR couple, the one we've been following this whole time and have put our trust into, we experience a "gotcha" moment but take it with no hard feelings. They've done a good enough job to get us hooked, and now we have to know how it ends.

The cinematography was expectedly breathtaking since filming was done in Puerto Rico and Hawaii, and the sweeping helicopter shots over the jungles were second to none. The rest of the film was also shot very well, always keeping a steady distance from any character as to not subconsciously hint at who the villains may be. The cinematographer didn't rely on excessive closeups or employ any cheap tricks to manipulate the viewers; he simply shot the movie in a neutral manner that utilized the suspense of the plot. There was a nice flourish of editing towards the end of the movie: the flashback sequence hazed in a bluish black and white hue that revealed the origins of our villainous couple and confirmed the love of Nick and Gina was particularly well-constructed, although seemingly out of place since it was inserted right before a gunshot in real time. When that sequence ends, it's as if the movie shifts gears and comes bursting out the other side back into present time and doesn't let up until the credits roll. The use of split screen was very effective (not to mention stylish) on the foot chase through the jungle.


A Perfect Getaway isn't perfect by any means - it's not particularly original in its concept or execution, nor are the performances given memorable (other than Olyphant's, in my opinion). But Twohy understands what we want from a movie like this and plays with those expectations just enough to make this worth watching. I suspect it will soon make its way into the TNT rotation, and that's a fine place for it. Until next time...

Thursday, August 6, 2009

RIP John Hughes


A legend has left us today.

John Hughes, director of such classic movies as Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Breakfast Club, Home Alone, National Lampoon's Vacation, and Christmas Vacation, died this morning of an apparent heart attack while walking with his family in New York City. [What a horrible thing for the family to witness.]

Hughes was a director that had a pretty big impact on my movie watching tastes; Ferris Bueller was my favorite movie for a most of my teenage years (inspiring my license plate that reads "DAY OFF" to this day). Watching Christmas Vacation has been a holiday tradition in my family from the days when they had to fast forward through Clark Griswold's tirade because I was too young to hear it.

His films spoke to a generation, and influenced pop culture in a profound way. Since 1994, he has become a sort of recluse, refusing to give interviews and writing treatments and rewrites under the pseudonym Edmond Dantes (a Count of Monte Cristo reference). He has left a strong filmic legacy behind, but the man himself will be deeply missed. Until next time...

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Heat

Michael Mann (Public Enemies, Collateral) gave us his most celebrated film with Heat back in 1995. With a two hour and forty five minute run time, it will be daunting for some to complete this film in one sitting - but those who can manage the task are in for a treat.

Heat
Writer/Director: Michael Mann
Starring: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Val Kilmer


I saw Heat for the first time when I was approximately sixteen years old and I failed to appreciate the finer aspects of the movie the first time around. For passive viewers (like myself at a younger age), the film is nothing more than a typical action movie; now, I see a movie that provides a closer look into the minds of two men who have devoted their lives to a discipline and refuse to back away from it, regardless of the consequences. The film stars Robert De Niro as Neil McCauley, a lifelong thief, and Al Pacino as Vincent Hanna, a robbery homicide detective trying to track down McCauley's crew. Notable in film history, Heat is the first movie in which De Niro and Pacino share screen time in the same scene - even though they first appeared in the same movie (The Godfather Part II) together back in 1974, they were never featured on screen at the same time in that film.


Also lost on me at the time of my first viewing was the wealth of talent gathered in the ensemble cast. Names like Jon Voight, Ashley Judd, Tom Sizemore, Dennis Haysbert, Jeremy Piven, Danny Trejo, Hank Azaria, and Natalie Portman meant next to nothing back then. Now, these names can be found on the roster of the Hollywood Impact Players (TM), a superstar acting squad I just invented. Every one of these actors does a great job here - turning in performances that are arguably some of the best in all of their careers (with the exception of Portman, who was too young to really have a substantial role). There are even some appearances by lower-tiered actors Tone Loc (Blank Check, Surf Ninjas) and William Fichtner (The Dark Knight) for those of you on a cameo-hunt.

With Heat, Michael Mann crafted what must be considered one of the best crime dramas of the past fifty years. Its current ranking (#133) on IMDB's Top 250 List reflects that assertion. Not only is the writing stellar, but the visual motifs established by Mann and longtime cinematographer Dante Spinotti are simultaneously subtly placed and elegantly displayed. My favorite example comes late in the movie - not too much of a spoiler here - when McCauley (De Niro) is riding with his girlfriend in the car at night, on their way toward the airport to leave behind his life of thievery. He gets a call from Jon Voight's character, giving him the location of a fellow criminal who screwed him over earlier in the movie. The girlfriend asks what the problem is, and McCauley says everything is fine; they're home free. For this brief moment, they drive through a pure white tunnel, almost blindingly bright. This represents an utter peace that McCauley has never felt prior to this moment, a serenity that he will never again experience. It's all too brief, though: they plunge out of the tunnel and back into the darkness of night, McCauley's face gets grim, and he swerves onto an off-ramp at the last second to take care of unfinished business.


This is not a movie filled with cliched one-liners or unnecessary car chases. Every plot point is planned, every camera angle meticulously set up to capture each moment as Mann the mastermind desires. His ability to capture beautiful shots of Los Angeles at night is unparalleled, seen to a lesser degree here than in 2004's Collateral, but still gorgeous in Heat. Mann has proven that he is truly an auteur, someone not willing to pump out studio-infected crap for a quick buck. This is an admirable trait, to be sure; something far too little directors are willing to take a stand for these days. But Mann's films aren't exactly the most bankable in the market (for this summer, that would be the meh-fest Transformers 2), so it's hard to predict if we're going to be seeing this type of ballsy "fight the man" filmmaking very much longer from him. [To be clear - Michael Mann is certainly not an "independent" filmmaker, nor is he a staunch opponent of the studio system. He merely commands a respect from the studios not to tinker too much with his projects while he's involved in them, and refuses to take part in material he doesn't respect himself.]


Back to the movie. The now-famous gunfight on the streets of LA, which I have posted below in video format, is something to behold. Laying the groundwork for later gunplay in Public Enemies, Mann takes the time to create this sequence and work with his sound designers to ensure that when a gun goes off in a Michael Mann film, the audience will feel like they are present in the midst of the anarchy.



It's amazing how many similarities there are between Heat and Public Enemies. Both feature:

1. A mostly "one on one" conflict between a bank robber and an officer of the law.
2. Of those two actors, one is actually a good actor (De Niro/Depp) and the other is a guy who yells a lot (Pacino/Bale).
3. A stellar supporting cast.
4. A bank robbery (with a similar speech surrounding the idea that the robbers want the bank's money, not the citizens' money).
5. An ensuing gunfight with excellent sound design.
6. A female love interest who tips off one of the characters of police presence (Ashley Judd/Marion Cotillard).

The list goes on.

Small trivia: Heat is apparently too realistic - the real life North Hollywood Shootout occured two years after the film's release and was similar to the gunfight shown above. Also, Keanu Reeves was initally signed to play Val Kilmer's role, but when Kilmer made time in his schedule to shoot Heat and Batman Forever at the same time, he was hired. Kilmer. What a badass. Until next time...

"I'm a terrible actor! I play the same part in every movie. I have...NO RANGE!"

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Trehern Notes on TRON

By Alan Trehern

TRON (1982)
Writer/Director: Steven Lisberger
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, Cindy Morgan, David Warner

NOTE: Please read Ben's review first.

As you can see below, Ben, of
Ben's Movie Reviews, has already taken care of the legit review. I'm not usually prone to writing legit reviews, but more so bringing the best (and worst) aspects of the movie to the surface. But going into TRON, I had a few questions, and afterward, I had even more. Here are some things from the movie AND the new trailer that I had a problem with...
1. At first I thought TRON was the computer world, but it turns out it's the program Alan wrote to help bring down the MCP. So what's the name of the computer world? Computer world? Wire Frame Land? I mean they clearly have a society and religion (belief in Users, for example) yet they have no name for their kingdom?

2. Dillinger is a spineless jellyfish, and shouldn't be considered a villain. I mean he's brought down by a piece of paper stating that Flynn wrote the original code for the video games. And why the hell is he listening to the MCP? I mean the first time a computer tells me to do something physical, I bat that thing into nonexistence. The MCP is the real villain behind the film, self aware like Skynet or the War Games[1] machine (as Ben pointed out). Both those movie's themes kept coming up, so I have to say they are complete ripoffs of TRON.

3. What happened to Alan and the girl in the real world after Flynn entered Computer World? How much time passed? Is time slower or faster in Computer World? Can a User die in the Computer World? I mean he can bring people back to life, as seen on the flying ship scene. He can also bend the environment to his will, much like Neo in
The Matrix (another rip-off!), like controlling vehicles and creating roads.

4. One last thing, if the original codes were done by Flynn and Dillinger stole them, shouldn't the MCP look and sound like Flynn and not Dillinger? We know that the Programs look like their Users (because a piece of their soul is still within the coding, another religious reference), so why does the MCP and Sark look like Dillinger? I assumed Dillinger can't do any programming on his own.
http://www.amoeba.com/dynamic-images/blog/Charles/tron-23-Jeff-Bridges-Flynn.jpg
"This man makes some EXCELLENT points!!"

5. As far as the trailer is concerned, it looks like alot of things have changed in Computer World. For one, the wire frame design has smoothed out a little, and the cycles can travel in circles! No more grid system and right angle turns? Also, we can see that Flynn is some guru of Computer World now, killing off Programs with his own Programs (remember, they look like their users.). Was that guy a virus of some kind? Is Flynn a spy-sweeper now?

6. If the MCP was really smart, he would have sent his army of wire-frame ships and tanks to the real world. Obviously this can occur, because they transported the orange BACK from Computer World (if that's where it went at all!) at the beginning of the film. He also should have made himself mobile, but whatever.

I'm really pissed they didn't make a sequel to this in the early 90s because computers hit another huge era. If we can safely assume that Computer World reflects the level of technology in the Real World, we could have had another sweet computer movie. However, I don't think TRON2.0 will be as relevant or groundbreaking as it once was. If the Computer World theory proves true, it should look JUST like the real world using CGI tech. Also, it should be more varied, such as different geographies, mythical creatures and monsters and such. Perhaps the Computer UNIVERSE has millions of planets with different Programs living independently of each other...

Basically what I'm getting at here is go watch this movie. It is awesome, but
the best part of the movie is that it will make you think. Just like Flynn you are discovering this strange world for the first time, so these are the same questions that Flynn asks himself. Also, "When is Tron and that girl gonna break up, so I can hop on that." He asks himself that question too.
http://lubber.net/uploads/Main/tron-mcp-attack.jpg

[1] War Games is also an excellent 80s computer-themed movie. But it talks more of the reality of computers taking over, and how they will destroy our world.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

TRON

Simply put: this movie rocks. The story is great, the actors are all very competent, and the visual effects were unprecedented for the time and still hold up when you consider them in the context of the movie.

TRON
Writer/Director: Steven Lisberger
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, Cindy Morgan, David Warner


I had never seen this movie before, but after seeing the fantastic footage for Tron: Legacy released at Comic-Con this year, I knew it deserved a viewing. Honestly, I was a little hesitant - I mean, this movie came out in 1982 and features heavy amounts of CGI/live action combined. How good could that possibly look in comparison with the powerhouse graphics of today? The answer: good enough. Yes, it's very dated, and yes, some of the stuff is almost laughable watching it now - but within the confines of the story, the computer generated world that the visual effects team created is not only valid, it's also pretty freakin' impressive.


TRON revolves around Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), a young hotshot ex-computer programmer who is now relegated to working in a video arcade. Long story short, his programs were stolen by his co-worker Dillinger, who is now a senior executive (and ultimate bad guy) at ENCOM, the company where Flynn used to work. Dillinger has ushered in the use of a program called the Master Control Program, a cross between Skynet and the computer from War Games that thinks it can run things better than humans. When a couple of Flynn's friends (who still work at ENCOM) figure out what's going on with Dillinger and the MCP, Flynn decides to break into ENCOM and recover the evidence that will win him the respect he deserves. Lucky for us it's not that easy; when Flynn stumbles across the path of a digitally deconstructing laser beam, he gets zapped into the computer system and meets up with Tron, a program that one of the friends created to be a watchdog over the MCP. Joining forces with Tron, Flynn must put his video game skills to the test in a battle that has quickly turned into a game of survival.

If you haven't seen this, I would highly recommend it. This is a movie I think the 12-year-old me would have loved. Flynn goes through a series of Olympic quality tests to prove his worth, including a pong/Frisbee/target battle over a chasm and the sweetest part of the movie, a ride on some light cycles. I'm sure you've seen clips of this before - it's two motorcycles in a grid pattern that leave light trails behind them, and if anybody runs into one...game over for them. It's basically a huge game of Snake for your cell phone, circa the year 2000. There's a pretty epic final battle with the Master Control Program, but I won't dare spoil anything further for you.


Jeff Bridges acts in my second favorite role I've seen him in (come on, The Dude from The Big Lebowski is very hard to top), and is immensely likable as the charismatic Flynn. David Warner, who has played villains in everything from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze to "Batman: The Animated Series" (as my definitive Ra's al Ghul), adds a few more notches to his villain belt by playing triple roles in this movie. He expertly assumes the role of the conniving Dillinger, voices the Master Control Program, and portrays a character named Sark - a mini-boss who resides within the computer system. Cindy Morgan (Lacey Underall from Caddyshack) did a fine job: I honestly didn't think she had ever acted in anything aside from Caddyshack, but she proved she can play cute friend and sultry sexpot with equal gusto.

I loved the "evil corporation" aspect of this movie, especially considering it was made in the early part of the decade which brought "corrupt big businesses" back to the forefront of the public eye, mostly due to the abundance of cocaine brought into the country during those years (check out one of the best documentaries I've ever seen, Cocaine Cowboys, for more detail). But I think my favorite part is how much fun this whole movie is - every scene contains a level of curiosity or excitement that is rarely matched in today's films. And that innovative light cycle scene? So cool.



The fact that this movie was made at all is a technological feat, and, if you're a fan of the film, the story behind its creation is worth a read over at Wikipedia. Steven Lisberger, the writer/director, was clearly a Star Wars fan since there are two blatant homages to A New Hope found in TRON. He did a great job considering this was his directorial debut, dealing with new technology and commanding trust from his actors that the project would turn out as he envisioned. It's got to be hard, breaking new ground - but this guy stepped up to the plate and hit it out of the park. Lisberger is returning to co-produce the sequel Tron: Legacy, which follows Kevin Flynn's son Sam as he becomes embroiled in the same virtual reality construct in which his father once inhabited. I'm really looking forward to that movie's release date now (2010, in IMAX 3D), and am interested to see how first-time-director Joseph Kosinski updates the technology involved while still keeping the story in line with the first film. Until next time...

The Spanish Prisoner

The Spanish Prisoner
Writer/Director: David Mamet
Starring: Campbell Scott, Steve Martin, Rebecca Pidgeon, Ricky Jay


Apologies up front for the pitiful sound quality in this video - crank your speakers and hopefully you'll be able to hear it. This is the first webcam video I've tried since I got my new computer (and I don't have my editing software installed on this computer yet), so needless to say this is not the best video you'll ever see. The sound is delayed, and I won't make you put up with this again: but I'm not re-recording this one. So hey - thanks for reading/listening/watching anyway.



Something I forgot to mention: The title is taken from the name of a famous con, similar to that e-mail scam that has been making the rounds for years about the Nigerian prince. All you have to do is send over (insert amount here) and once he's out of prison or extradited or whatever, he'll double your money with his vast riches. There's a sucker born every minute, so I guess if people are dumb enough to fall for something like that they're getting what is coming to them. Until next time...