Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises Movie Review

We finally get to see the conclusion of an epic trilogy. Christopher Nolan has delivered to us two phenomenal Batman movies that I believe redefined superhero movies for us. They were more grounded and less flashy, they had stories with deep meaning, and discussed some philosophical ideas while still keeping us at the edge of our seats. So does The Dark Knight Rises (2012) deliver what we’ve come to expect from Nolan?
Eight years have passed since Batman (Christian Bale) vanished after taking the blame for the death of D.A. Harvey Dent. Batman took the fall for Dent’s crimes, a move that he and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) both hoped was for the greater good. Criminal activity in Gotham City was crushed by the anti-crime Dent Act which was founded upon the lie of Dent’s pure reputation. That is, until a cunning cat burglar named Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) emerges with a mysterious agenda. Far more dangerous is the appearance of Bane (Tom Hardy), a masked terrorist whose ruthless plans for Gotham drives Bruce Wayne out of his self-imposed exile. But even if Bruce Wayne becomes The Dark Knight once again to protect the city that has branded him an enemy, Batman is no match for this powerful opponent.
Sometimes in a sequel, the movie will rush through some setting or character development on the assumption that you have seen the previous movies. That’s not an unreasonable assumption, but it makes for some pretty sloppy writing. In The Dark Knight Rises, key events from both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are still weighing heavily on the main characters. We see Bruce Wayne draw inspiration from events that caused him to don the cape and cowl in the first place. We see Commissioner Gordon grieving the fact he is protecting the villain who attempted to kill his family. These plot points are developed enough in this movie to be significant within their context, but if you haven’t seen the previous two movies you may not appreciate their impact.
Bane is an intriguing villain. I’ve seen Bane in other media; in the 1990’s Batman cartoon show, The Batman & Robin movie, and even in the recent Arkham Asylum video games Bane is depicted as being little more than an immensely muscle-bound thug. The Dark Knight Rises shows us Bane as he is in the comics; he’s highly intelligent and physically monstrous. There’s this menacing discrepancy between his voice and his physical appearance. Thanks to his mask he sounds almost like Sean Connery speaking into an Optimus Prime voice box. Hardy gained thirty pounds of muscle for this role. As if that wasn’t enough, we learn that Bane knows all of Batman’s tricks of distraction and leverage. Batman cannot face this guy and hope to win. He is a genuinely unstoppable menace and an outstanding villain!
Anne Hathaway brilliantly plays Salina Kyle, Catwoman. Unlike Bane, we don’t get to hear much of her back story. She is manipulative, smart, cunning, and sexy. She can really take care of herself; she’s just about as tough as Batman is. People try to take advantage of her or overpower her and she twists the whole thing around to her advantage, sometimes without her oppressors knowing it until later. Catwoman and Batman share a lot of similarities, which makes the dynamics between their characters really interesting!
The Dark Knight Rises is almost like a superhero movie without the superhero. Bruce Wayne’s alter ego, Batman, doesn’t show up a whole lot. When he does it's great, but this story is about Bruce Wayne having to become Batman again after his self-imposed exile. Thanks to Bane, Bruce has lost literally everything; his wealth, home, physical wellbeing, freedom, his gadgets and even his anonymity as Batman. There is nothing else that can be taken from him; he is at his lowest low.  It’s harder to become Batman again than it was the first time, but his wounded, emotional arc is deep and interesting.
The story in The Dark Knight Rises can be interpreted more politically than philosophically than the previous two movies. Bane is an anti-capitalist villain with a plan similar to the Occupy Wall Street movement to destroy Gotham City, and their only hope is an unpopular billionaire entrepreneur. I could see some viewers getting politically offended by the story, but I don’t really think that Christopher Nolan was going out of his way to make a political statement. I think Bane simply saw the flaws in the society of Gotham (namely the class discrepancy which was a plot device in the previous movies), drove a wedge into it, and let the world crumble around him.  You can infer political and philosophical concepts from any movie. People will get different meanings from the same movie based on their views. You shouldn’t write off this movie just because you see a political analogy that contradicts your own views. It’s still a good movie.
My biggest complaint is that the tone of The Dark Knight Rises was much more somber and even more depressing than the previous ones. In The Dark Knight, The Joker rigs two ferries with bombs and invites each one to blow up the other before they are blown up themselves. But the passengers on each boat refuse to kill the others, showing that even when faced with death they still choose to believe in good. In The Dark Knight Rises as soon as Bane shakes the foundation of the social stratification, the lower-class immediately seizes the upper-class with hardly any provocation. These don’t sound like the same citizens who refused to blow each other up eight years ago. The Dark Knight Rises shows us a much darker view of people, and it didn’t settle well with me. We also see Batman sink to his lowest low and stay there for most of the movie. We see Gotham essentially destroyed, and see people lose hope. Sure, we need to see a good conflict or the story wouldn’t be interesting. But so much of the movie is spent in a somber tone it almost becomes depressing.
The Dark Knight Rises was painstakingly well crafted to give us a satisfying sense of closure to the trilogy. It gets a little bit convoluted here and there, and the pacing slows down in the middle. It’s easy to get swept up in some political allegories. If you take it at its face value, The Dark Knight Rises brings the trilogy home with a bang, even if it doesn’t quite meet the exceedingly high standards of its predecessors. Catch this in theaters if you can; I may go see it again. I’ll be getting this on Blu-Ray to complete my trilogy.

There are a lot of movie Trilogies out there now; Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, The Dark Knight, Indiana Jones, and The Matrix to name a few. Which is your favorite movie trilogy? Comment below and tell me why!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Osmosis Jones Movie Review

Do you remember being in elementary school and having to watch animated videos about the immune system? I recall germs being compared to criminals and white blood cells being compared to police officers. Evidently someone thought to take this concept and make a full length movie about it. Peter and Bobby Farrelly take their usually body function-inspired humor to a creative extreme in Osmosis Jones (2001) with a mixture of live action and animation.
Frank (Bill Murray) is an unhygienic zoo keeper, and a father of a bright young girl named Shane (Elena Franklin). Frank follows the “Ten-Second Rule” which dictates that dropped food is still safe to eat after ten seconds on the ground. But Frank doesn’t seem to consider the fact that his hardboiled egg had been in a monkey’s mouth and on the cage floor. The egg is crawling with germs, sending “The City of Frank” into a panic. At the Cellular level, we meet Osmosis Jones (Chris Rock), a maverick white blood cell cop working for The City of Frank Immunity Department. Also on the egg is deadly virus named Thrax (Laurence Fishburne) that begins terrorizing the city. Thrax is intent on becoming the next big viral disease, attempting to kill each new victim faster than the previous one. Meanwhile, Osmosis Jones teams up with a cold pill named Drix (David Hyde Pierce) that Frank took to try to combat his symptoms. They have 48 hours to stop Thrax before he destroys Frank.
Osmosis Jones flips back and forth between live action and animation. The scenes outside of Frank feature comedy actors like Bill Murry, Molly Shannon, and Chris Elliott, all Saturday Night Live alumni. Bill Murry is amazing in everything he is in, and he’s particularly good at comedy. I’m fairly certain that most of the scenes that featured Bill Murry were improvised. He’s amusingly gross and unsanitary. You’ll both cringe and laugh at his performance.
Roughly two-thirds of the movie is set in the fictionalized human body where anthropomorphic micro-organisms go about their business in the City of Frank. This is where the movie really shines. The art style is highly colorful and very creative. The animation looks slimy, goopy, and drippy. The characters move like blobs, rather than figures with a bone structure. The buildings sway and jiggle like gelatinous structures. Everything is just fascinating to watch.
The way the human body is depicted as a city is so creative. Various body parts represent different neighborhoods. The slums of the Lower East Backside, the stomach is the airport with regular departures for the colon, the Mafia hangs out in sweat glands in the armpit, and the brain is City Hall where Mayor Phlegmming (William Shatner) is planning his reelection against his opponent Tom Colonic (Ron Howard). Osmosis Jones and Drix gallivant all over the body chasing Thrax, yet the movie graciously avoids adventuring in the genital area.
There is a lot of bodily humor in this movie. In response to an inquiry about the housing shortage, Mayor Phlegmming announces the construction of a third chin. Tom Clonic’s campaign ad promises exercising and eating bran. There’s even a scene when Frank is trying to hide a runny nose which is pretty disgusting.  Yet it fits so well into the story and setting.
There are two stories going on here. Are they good? No, not really. It’s a very generic parent and child trying to bond in spite of different personalities and interests. It’s also a very typical buddy cop movie. Neither story does much to set them apart from others of their kind. While the plot is pretty standard and the characters are all common and predictable, the anthropomorphizing of cellular organisms is remarkably imaginative and the dialogue is usually witty.
Osmosis Jones is pretty good for what it is. Most critics seemed to dismiss it for its crude humor. I’m not a fan of crude humor, but I didn’t think it was a drawback. If anything the unconventional implementation of the crude bodily humor made it better. If you’re not too put off by Murray’s scratching and gas-passing antics, you’re in for an imaginative and eye catching tour of the human body. Kids will love the exciting action and the anatomical plumbing jokes and adults will enjoy the fanciful animation of this energetic movie. I recommend seeing Osmosis Jones and possibly buying a copy for your shelves at home; it’s good enough to see more than once.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Shaolin Soccer Movie Review

I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again; Americans should watch more foreign films. I still think most Americans are scared off by having to put forth the effort to read subtitles. Get over yourself and watch a good foreign film! I suggest seeing Shaolin Soccer (2001).  Shaolin Soccer is the top-grossing action comedy in Hong Kong history, and was a big hit in 2002 Toronto film festival. And with good reason; it’s hysterical! Stephen Chow co-wrote, directed, and stars in this movie that blend of sports, action, and humor.
Sing (Stephen Chow) is a modern-day Shaolin monk who is a master of traditional fighting skills. He’s renowned for his “leg of steel” techniques. But there just isn’t much need for a Shaolin warrior these days. He and his fellow monks earn their keep working menial jobs. One day Sing meets an old, washed-out soccer player, Fung (Ng Man Tat), with a desire to coach a soccer team that will win the championship. The two decide to combine Fung’s soccer knowledge with Sing’s Kung Fu expertise and take on the Hong Kong open cup competition. They gather Sing’s fellow Shaolin brothers, each with their own martial arts technique, and form Team Shaolin. Sing meets a nice young lady named Mui (Vicki Zhao), a baker with severe acne who uses T’ai Chi to make steamed sweet buns. Sing tries to help her gain confidence and come out of her shell. As Team Shaolin climbs the tournament roster they draw ever closer to facing Team Evil which is owned by the malicious Hung (Patrick Tse).
This movie is just hilarious. It’s rife with slapstick nonsense, goofy situations, ridiculous action reminiscent of anime shows like Dragonball Z, and some ironic use of melodrama that parodies old Kung Fu films. Shaolin Soccer is silly, but it’s a high-quality silly that I don’t see in comedy movies very often.
The story is simple and easy to follow. It’s even predictable here and there. As soon as you see the pizza-faced Mui, you know she’ll be a stunning beauty before the end of the film. The role she ultimately plays in the overall story isn’t anticipated, though. It’s also unexpected that Sing manages to get seven soccer players from his former monastic order to form a team. The movie’s opening scene involves a young Fung in his prime as a soccer hero getting his leg broken by Hung. Hung now rules the soccer world and owns Team Evil (that right, Team Evil). We know Fung is going to teach Hung a lesson, we know Team Shaolin is going to face Team Evil, and we know that Sing will get a chance to show the world how useful Kung Fu is. But we get to those points in unpredictable ways.
I’m not a sports person, but even I know these aren’t the actual rules for soccer. The silly humor and action is what’s driving the movie, not the sports drama. Players leap high into the air, performing impossible acrobatic stunts before kicking the ball. It reminded me more of the Quidditch games Harry Potter plays than it did soccer. Thanks to their martial arts training the ball is kicked so hard it catches fire as it flies through the air, sometimes digging grooves in the ground as it goes. It’s a whole lot like superheroes trying to play a game of soccer and causing the whole thing to get way out of hand. It’s not realistic at all, but the movie isn’t taking itself so seriously that this mockery of Newtonian physics ends up being entertaining rather than distracting or annoying.
Foreign comedies don’t always do well in other countries since humor is usually specific to the culture it came from; some comedy nuance gets lost in translation. Not so in Shaolin Soccer. It is full of surprises; from a ridiculous musical number, to the team of female soccer players trying to pose as men simply by wearing obviously fake Snidely Whiplash-style moustaches. Even with a few crude jokes thrown in, I think it’s probably safe for audience’s age eight and up. The humor is comical and unrelenting, and the action is ridiculous and fun. Of course I highly recommend seeing it in its original Chinese with English subtitles, but an English dubbed version is also available on the DVD for viewers who aren’t able to read as quickly. If you enjoy over the top physical comedy, you’ll love Shaolin Soccer. I recommend seeing it at least once. It’s worth owning if this is your style of humor.

Have you seen a really good foreign comedy? What was it and what made it so funny? Comment below and tell me all about it!

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Dark Knight Movie Review

When we last left our intrepid director, Christopher Nolan completely blew our minds with Batman Begins. He showed us that comic book movies can be more grounded and believable than what superhero movies have previously been. We were all psyched about the teaser at the conclusion of Batman Begins where Gordon shows Batman a “calling card” left by the new criminal in town. Finally, three years later, The Dark Knight (2008) hits theaters. We had high expectations, but we weren’t prepared for a movie this good.
It begins to appear as if Batman (Christian Bale), Lt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman), and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) are making headway in their tireless battle against the remaining criminal organizations that plague Gotham City. Their partnership proves to be effective, but they soon find themselves prey to an unstoppable force of chaos. A psychotic criminal known only as “The Joker” (Heath Ledger) begins shaking things up, seeking to humiliate the forces of good and expose Batman’s secret identity. The Joker targets Dent and Gordon and contrives cruel tricks that pose moral dilemmas, while sending the people of Gotham into a panicked frenzy.
This movie is nothing short of amazing. The characters were complex, the story was fascinating, the acting was impeccable, the writing was phenomenal, and the direction was remarkable. The acting was so powerful that it doesn't let the outstanding special effects take center stage. For a superhero movie, it’s astounding how deeply the drama affects us.
The Joker has been Batman’s arch nemesis since the comic books came about and many actors have taken up the role, including Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, and Mark Hamil to name a few better known ones. I don’t follow the comic books, but I’d hazard a guess that there has not been a Joker quite like Heath Ledger, who posthumously earned an Academy Award for the role. The Joker in The Dark Knight was unquestionably evil. He wasn’t just bad; he was also completely creepy and insane! Ledger’s delivery was extraordinary and intense. Everything The Joker did was full of subtle quirks and blatant gestures that make us viewers genuinely uncomfortable. After The Joker’s first threat video is aired on Gotham’s news station, you could hear a pin drop; we are so stunned by Ledger’s performance of a genuine madman. The laugh is genuinely scary and at times sends a shiver down my spine.
Part of what sets this Joker apart from those before him is that all of his actions are sadistically designed to pose moral dilemmas for his enemies. Batman has a code of ethics that he adheres to, so The Joker makes a public announcement that he will kill public officials every day until Batman removes his mask and publicly reveals his identity. Towards the end of the movie, The Joker rigs two ferries with bombs and invites each one to blow up the other before they are blown up themselves. Batman, Commissioner Gordon, and Harvey Dent are posed with impossible ethical decisions, threatening the foundation of the Batman legend. There is enough meaty content in this film to philosophically analyze for days.
As for the scripting and dialogue, we get few of the usual jabs and banter most superhero movies have. The dialogue is psychologically evocative. Through dialogue we get an understanding of the situations and what the reasons for them are, all while developing the characters. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a script as well written as this one. I can’t help but relish it.
Comic book have been touching on deep fears, traumas, fantasies, and hopes for years. It wasn’t until recently that comic book movies have started reflecting this attitude. Nolan has again brought us a vision of Batman with a much broader scope of emotion than even the Tim Burton Batman movies did. These Batman movies have so much more gravity and are so relatable that you can’t help but be drawn into them. It’s not just about saving the world, or even the lives of innocent people. It’s about holding to your own code of conduct, doing what is right in your eyes, standing up to challenges, and not letting others get the better of you.
The Dark Knight was nothing short of amazing. I didn’t think movies were allowed to be as incredible as this one was. Once again, Christopher Nolan delivers a Batman movie that has a deep and meaningful story with interesting complex characters. It’s rare that a sequel is better than its predecessor, but this one certainly is! This one is worth owning. Go buy it right now. It is worth every penny. I have a copy on my shelf and you should, too.

Who is your favorite Joker so far? It could be from the movies, TV show, cartoons, or video games. Comment below and tell me why!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Ride the Wild Surf Movie Review

I like to think that in some other life I was a surfer dude. Though considering that I typically swim like a brick, this isn’t likely. I found out about an old surfing movie called Ride the Wild Surf (1964) while doing some internet surfing of my own. The way it was depicted on this website made it sound worth my time. Turns out it was, but not because it was a good movie.
Having recently graduated from high school, three friends take one last trip together before going their separate ways in life. Jody Wallis (Fabian), Steamer Lane (Tab Hunter) and Chase Colton (Peter Brown) take to Hawaii’s Oahu Island to ride the world’s biggest waves, a long standing dream they’ve shared. Naturally, each one finds a romantic interest to pursue. Steamer falls in love with Lily (Susan Hart), whose mother objects since her husband—also a surfer—left home and family to follow a surf circuit. Jody, the self-described college dropout and surf bum, falls for the reserved Brie (Shelley Fabares) who challenges him to return to college. Straight-laced Chase finds himself repeatedly drawn to adventurous Augie (Barbara Eden). A surfing competition is being held and despite conflicts, injuries, and rocky romances, the three young men compete against ruthless competition to prove themselves a top surfer.
Ride the Wild Surf is just about as cliché as can be. The characters are all very simple and shallow. The story about young people falling deeply love over a weekend and talking about life together is unrealistic and corny. The whole sporting event to prove something to yourself or others is overdone. The cinematography wasn’t always good, the use of a blue screen was blatantly obvious as the actors moved in different directions than the background.
Even the acting was pretty bland. If not for a few exceptions like Barbara Eden, Tab Hunter, and Susan Hart, it would have almost been unwatchable. They bring some life and expressiveness to the otherwise lackluster acting in this movie. You may recognize Barbara Eden who also starred in the I Dream of Jeannie sitcom back in the day. I suspect she is somehow immune to aging, she still looks young and energetic in every other role I’ve seen her in.
Fabian was kind of an Elvis Presley byproduct. Like Elvis often did in his movies, Fabian plays a character with a giant chip on his shoulder, ready to beat the crap out of anyone who would dare accuse him of being a coward. This happened in so many Elvis movies it became a joke. It plays out in much the same dramatically illogical way here; resulting in Fabian's character being irritating throughout.
To its credit, Ride the Wild Surf was filmed on location in Hawaii. Most Hollywood beach movies are filmed in Southern California. The movie really captivates the sport and the culture surrounding it. The surfing jargon and concerns over the dangers sound reasonably authentic. In 1963, weather conditions were such that huge waves were made on the Hawaiian shores. The producers took advantage of this and got some outstanding shots of some truly epic waves. I understand this movie is supposed to have some of the best surf photography of any non-documentary surf film. I don’t know if that’s true, but I certainly was impressed by the waves they captured on film.
So, why watch Ride the Wild Surf? Well, it was interesting to see how “teen movies” and culture in general have changed over the years, or remained the same. Everyone was very trusting of total strangers back then, now we tend to assume strangers have an ulterior motive when we are approached. Steamer follows Lily to her ranch to get to know her better. Rather than having the cops called on him, he is invited to dinner. The way people spoke to one another in this movie surely sounded natural in its day, but it sounds quaint now. For example, in one scene a rival surfer’s nose is accidentally broken by Jody. Our protagonist sincerely apologizes, but the best threat the rival is able to come up with is saying that “maybe I can return the favor someday,” causing anyone who overheard it to look stunned by his brashness. In a contemporary movie we’d expect to hear an articulate death threat that would give the audience a reason to worry about the protagonist’s safety. Ride the Wild Surf seems hilariously tame by today’s standards, and that contract makes it amusing to watch.
Ride the Wild Surf was just about as cheesy a movie as you could ask for from the 1960’s. Granted, it is better than most of the equally low-budget horror movies of its day. The script is lousy, the surfing is phony, and the boy-girl scenes lack chemistry. Anyone over the age of twelve would be disappointed with most aspects of this film. You’ll be just fine if you never see it, but it’s a fun, light-hearted, campy romp of a surf movie that would be good for a “lost in the 60’s” themed party or to see how the “teen movie” genre has changed over the decades.

Have you seen a movie that captured some truly impressive surf photography? What was it? Did you like it? Comment below and let me know!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Brother Bear Movie Review

Disney produces a new animated feature just about every year.  Many of these become cinema classics that withstand the test of time. Beauty and the Beast, for example, is still a well known classic that you can still find merchandise for decades after its initial 1991 release. Brother Bear (2003) was released only about ten years ago, and it’s been about ten years since I heard anyone talk about it.
Set in a post-ice age North America, three Inuit brothers return from a hunting trip. The youngest, Kenai (Joaquin Phoenix), is to receive his sacred totem which will make him a man in the eyes of his tribe. In the ceremony Kenai receives the bear of love to guide him through his life. Kenai hates bears and considers the attribute of love to be pretty far down the totem pole, so to speak. Kenai finds his fishing catch stolen by a bear after the ceremony and decides to hunt down the beast. While attempting to save his brother from the bear, the oldest brother, Sitka (D.B. Swenney), is killed. With a renewed sense of vengeance, Kenai later kills the bear. Following this, Sitka appear as an eagle spirit and transforms Kenai into a bear. The middle brother, Danahi (Jason Raize), believes that bear-Kenai is responsible for the death of both his brothers and begins hunting down Kenai out of a strong sense of hate. As he tries to seek the spirits who can restore him to his human form, Kenai tries to stay ahead of Danahi while learning how to be a bear from a young bear cub named Kota (Jeremy Suarez).
Possibly the best thing I can say about Brother Bear is the animation and art direction is impressive. The art direction was heavily influenced by ancient cave paintings. The film’s aspect ratio was used as a storytelling device. It begins in a standard widescreen aspect ratio of 1.75:1, which is common in U.S. movies and on HDTVs these days. After Kenai turns into a bear, the aspect ratio changes to an anamorphic aspect ratio of 2.35:1, accompanied by a much brighter and fanciful color pallet with slightly more caricatured art direction. This is done to illustrate how Kenai’s perception of the world changes and broadens.
During the character introductions early in the film, the script seemed forced; everyone goes out of their way to address other characters by name so that we know exactly what everyone’s name is. We’re also repeatedly told about Kenai’s desire to receive his spirit totem and become a man. The writing wasn’t very good for the first ten minutes of the movie because it didn’t feel very natural. After the characters were established, the script flowed much smoother.
Of course where would an animated Disney movie be without its token comic relief characters? In Brother Bear there is a pair of moose named Rutt and Tuke that periodically tag along with Kenai and Kota as they travel. They are played by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas and are essentially the same characters they played in Strange Brew, except they look like moose. They really add a humorous tone to the movie.
Remembering that Brother Bear came out in the years following the 9/11 attacks sheds some light on its cultural impact. After September 11, 2001 the United State was still reeling from the terrorist attack which was fueled by hatred and anger. Many people were resentful, angry, hurt, and some were even vengeful. I think we needed a film like Brother Bear to remind us of the value of forgiveness and love. The themes in Brother Bear included seeing things from another’s perspective, admitting fault, and forgiving hurtful, irreversible offenses. These are key components to conflict resolution that are important in the healing process. Disney isn’t responsible for the US recovering from the attack, but I think they may have influenced some level of spiritual healing that I believe many people were still needing.
I think that what made Brother Bear not withstand the test of time is that is wasn’t very bold. The Disney films that have achieved the status of “classic” did things in terms of character, setting, and animation that their predecessors did not. Brother Bear was good, but seemed to strive to be sweet and cute rather than bold and exciting. And it really did achieve that, which is why it’s been overshadowed by bolder and more exciting classics like The Lion King or Finding Nemo. Brother Bear is worth seeing at least once. Kids will enjoy it and adults will relate to the spiritual healing in the story. It’s also got plenty of material to help you teach younger viewers about forgiveness, love, and healing.

Have you ever seen a movie that helped you “heal” in some way? What movie was it? Comment below and tell me about it!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Batman Begins Movie Review

Batman movies have had a longstanding tradition of being totally silly. From the 1966 Batman movie with its “Shark Repellant” to Batman and Robin that attempts to be family friendly and silly. While making a family friendly movie isn’t bad, making a family friendly Batman movie is something like trying to make a family friendly version of The Godfather. You’re just going to besmirch the pervasive dark themes and complex characters. Fortunately, Christopher Nolan finally brought us the type of Batman story we’ve been expecting for decades with Batman Begins (2005).
Millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) still grieves the loss of his philanthropic parents to a senseless crime. While traveling the world to research the nature of evil, he is discovered by Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) and Ra’s Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe) in China taking on petty thieves in a prison. They train Bruce how to fight evil and strike fear into the hearts of his enemies as a symbol rather than as a man. After Bruce learns of their plot to wipe out evil in his home city of Gotham, Bruce attempts to stop them and returns home. Back in his original surroundings, Bruce adopts the image of a bat to strike fear into criminals as the icon known as “Batman.” Things don’t stay quiet for long as the corrupt psychologist Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy) works to pollute the water supply with a panic-inducing psychoactive drug that will cause the citizens of Gotham to tear themselves apart out of fear.
I admit to being a much bigger fan of the Marvel superheroes. Batman is probably the only DC hero I really like. Batman is one of DC Comic’s most legendary superheroes, second only to Superman. Tim Burton’s two Batman movies were good, but Batman Begins shows us Batman finally getting the treatment and respect he deserves. This is one of the greatest revamps given to a cultural icon.
Comic books that made it to the big screen have for a long while been rather silly romps of action and gratuitous special effects. Some of these movies are fun, but a bit hard to take very seriously. Batman Begins goes in a drastically different direction than its forbears. Everything is significantly more grounded; there are no crazy, over the top super powers or sci-fi gadgetry in this movie. There are fictional, but believable, hallucinogenic drugs. There is also an almost forgotten scientific genius at Wayne Corp. named Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) in research and development. He supplies Bruce with high-end military grade prototype gadgets that never went into production because they were not cost efficient. Coupled with Bruce’s ninja-like training, he is able to do some incredible stunts without pushing credibility over the edge.
All the other Batman movies have addressed why Bruce Wayne identifies with bats (childhood trauma) and hates evildoers (he witnessed his parents being killed by a mugger). We are so familiar with that aspect of Batman it almost seems cliché and redundant to reiterate it in another movie. Yet in Batman Begins these are major plot devices and are given significant weight and depth. It’s also fascinating to see how Bruce develops as a character and invents Batman as he goes along. He’s a bit of a slow learner, making clumsy mistakes and taking foolish risks as he starts out. Even after he has an established the “Batman” persona and disguise he still needs to call upon the aid of his family butler, Alfred (Michael Caine), to get him out of a bind.
Batman Begins is an amazingly good superhero movie. It doesn’t have the silly, flashy gloss of earlier films. Everything feels more grounded and believable than the average superhero movie. The characters are complex and interesting. The story is deep and meaningful. The imagery gets pretty intense, so I wouldn’t recommend showing it to younger viewers. There really isn’t anything negative I can say about this. It has become an instant classic, and it will be a long time before we accept a non-Christopher Nolan Batman. This one is definitely worth owning on Blu-Ray. I highly recommend seeing this if you haven’t already, and if you have, I would highly recommend seeing it again.

What’s your favorite non-Christopher Nolan Batman movie to date? Comment below and tell me why!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Inkheart Movie Review

There are several movies that glorify the power of reading. Some of these movies do a good job of praising books and the power of reading. I think that is what Iain Softley was trying to achieve in the 2008 movie, Inkheart, but it didn’t really make me want to race off to the library once it was over.
Mortimer “Mo” Folchart (Brendan Fraser) discovers he has a rare ability to liberate fictional characters into the real world when he reads books aloud. He discovers this power as he reads to his young family one evening. The catch to this ability is that people from the real world become trapped in the book in place of missing characters. When he accidently freed the villain named Capricorn (Andy Serkis) from a fantasy book entitled “Inkheart,” Mo’s wife became trapped in the book. Twelve years later, Mo travels around with his daughter, Meggie (Eliza Bennett), still searching for another copy of Inkheart so that he can read his wife out again. Meanwhile, Capricorn has become a powerful figure in the real world. Knowing Mo’s ability, Capricorn has one of his henchmen, Dustfinger (Paul Bettany), hunting down Mo. Capricorn seeks to take over the real world by letting loose an evil entity called The Shadow, and needs Mo to release it from the book.
As a bibliophile, I appreciate movies and stories that celebrate reading and the power of books. All of the characters in Inkheart have a profound love and respect for books. One of my favorite scenes has Mo browsing the shelves of a used bookstore looking for a copy of Inkheart and hears faint chatter of fictional characters calling to him. This is just about the only moment in the movie that really makes books seem magical. The ideas of reality and fiction have already been explored better elsewhere. The Neverending Story comes to mind. Inkheart starts off well, but quickly degenerates into a basic good guy versus bad guy story with little to set it apart from other movies of its kind.
The biggest problem with Inkheart was that it was confusing. Do all copies of a book change when a character is removed from it? Probably so; Mo is looking for another copy of Inkheart to free his wife. Does a story change drastically if its major characters are missing? Can the same character be “read out” from different parts of a book? It’s hard to say since this isn’t developed in the movie, and there never seems to be consequences for taking a character from a book. Granted, this is a movie targeted towards children who probably wouldn’t grasp such consequences, but that’s not an excuse for sloppy writing.
Brendan Fraser acts very subdued and bored in this role. Andy Serkis is a better actor than the character he portrays here deserves. Yet Paul Bettany does an amazing job! His portrayal of Dustfinger is full of complex subtleties that bring the character to life. You really get a feel for this character and his motives. Dustfinger doesn’t want to keep working for Capricorn, and simply wants to get Mo to return him to his book so he can be with his beloved wife again. We’re not quite sure where his loyalties lie as it seems to change depending on the situation as he tries to advance his personal quest to return to his family. It’s also the only Paul Bettany film I’ve seen to date where he isn’t butt naked on camera.
Inkheart is creative, but seems to lack heart. In one scene, Mo and company are attempting to flee Capricorn’s castle and conjures up the twister from The Wizard of Oz by reading a passage. There’s a chase scene amidst strong winds and debris which concludes when Dorothy’s house lands in the road, blocking the bad guys. It was kind of a neat scene, but doesn’t feel meaningful. Conjuring a twister wasn’t necessary; any kind of distraction would have sufficed. It’s as if the next step in the story simply required that “they escape,” and the twister acted as nothing more than a convoluted, contrived, and convenient means of doing so that allowed them to showcase some special effects.
Inkheart wasn’t that great. It was fun if you don’t try to follow the story, and therefore a perfect movie to watch with young kids. It does a pretty poor job of convincing viewers to pick up a book and read, though you may want to do so anyway to figure out what was happening in the movie. In the end, Inkheart is an “okay” family film, but probably not worth owning a copy of unless your kids somehow fall head over heels in love with it.

If you could bring any character out of a book, who would it be and why? Comment below and let me know!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Coyote Ugly Movie Review

I am of the opinion that movies categorized as “romantic comedy” have to add the “comedy” modifier to them to ensure that people will see the movie. While I do enjoy a genuinely romantic story, most romance movies are so sappy and melodramatic they are nearly unwatchable. But as far as romantic comedies go, Coyote Ugly (2000) wasn’t half bad.
An aspiring 20-something songwriter named Violet Sanford (Piper Perabo) moves to New York City with dreams of making it big. Her father (John Goodman) begrudgingly lets her go, fearing for her safety. Working with the music industry proves much more difficult than Violet realized. Needing to support herself until stardom rolls around, Violet gets a “day” job as a barmaid at a nightclub called Coyote Ugly. Coyote Ugly is the city’s newest hot spot where the owner Lil (Maria Bello) and the employees are a team of sexy, resourceful women that dance on the bar, flirt with the mostly male clientele, sing along with the jukebox, and goad the customers into matching them shot for shot.
How many movies have there been about someone from a small town going to the big city with dreams of success and stardom? I’ll bet you can think of at least three off the top of your head without much effort. On top of that, there are countless other movies where a poor young lady is being crushed by the weight of the world only to have an absurdly perfect young man sweep her off her feet and help her with her troubles. What, then does Coyote Ugly have to offer that the others haven’t? Sexy women dancing on a bar top in  a wet T-shirt contest is about all I can think of. Nevertheless, Coyote Ugly fleshes out these clichés enthusiastically without much irony. For that, I have to praise it.
Music played a strong role in this movie. There is lots of raucous and fun music played at the bar, such as "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor, "I Love Rock N Roll" by Joan Jett, and "Rock This Town" by Stray Cats. Coyote Ugly’s soundtrack features Violet's four songs from the movie, performed by LeAnn Rimes, who also did Violet's singing voice. It achieved gold status within a month of its release. The music was fantastic and  really helped set the tone of the bar and the movie.
The bar is almost a character unto itself. It serves as an escape from the world of dead dreams and is a place to live out fantasies while getting mistreated just a little bit. It’s sort of a southern biker bar meets a downtown hot spot full of frat kids. I’ve been to circuses that were more subdued than the Coyote Ugly bar. The movie is about Violet and the atmosphere of the bar. Coyote Ugly has a relationship with all the characters that we see throughout the film; it’s a place for the characters to congregate and interact. A lot of major plot points and character developments are portrayed through the bar.
There was so much texture and detail in the sets. It seemed like an artistic arrangement while still looking like natural backgrounds; that is a very difficult balance to achieve. I was also impressed by the eye-catching color palette. There were some remarkably vivid reds that really popped out with complementary contrasts of darker blues. Most of the camera work was uninspiring, but the striking colors and sets made up for it.
Coyote Ugly is essentially a bartending movie. It’s sexy, raunchy, and very worldly. It was uncomfortable to watch at times since it objectifies women as unattainable sex toys. The movie pushed its limits without actually achieving an R rating. It’s not something I’d recommend watching with your mother present, or young viewers for that matter. The Comedy aspect was respectable. I laughed fairly consistently throughout the film. All in all, Coyote Ugly was not a terrible film. It’s about as slick and mindless as you’d expect from a clichéd risqué movie about making it in the Big Apple while working at a bar. You’ll either like it as a silly, sexy romp of a film that is not to be taken too seriously, or hate it for being similar to so many other movies that have come before it in terms of character and story. It may be worth renting if the risqué content doesn’t put you off too much, otherwise don’t bother.

I can’t think of any other “bartending” movies other than Coyote Ugly, can you? Comment below and tell me if I’m missing anything worth seeing.