Monday, August 30, 2010

Review: Piranha 3D

It is spring break, and Lake Victoria is filling up with booze soaked frat boys and bare breasted women. Little do they know that unfortunate seismic activity has opened a rift under the lake creating a pathway to a second subterranean lake. This second lake is teaming with a prehistoric breed of piranha that are overly aggressive and driven mad by their new found freedom. It is up to the sheriff, her deputies, and a brave geologist to save the day,

Piranha 3D has a better cast than actually necessary. As a big fan of Adam Scott thanks to the cult hit "Party Down," he proved to be a more than capable action protagonist along with Elizabeth Shue who performed equally well. With great character actors like Ving Rhames and Jerry O'Connell and likable hotties like Kelly Brook rounding out the cast, the absurd plot and tone safely lean on their shoulders. The cherry on top is Christopher Lloyd as a borderline mad scientist. And of course, Richard Dreyfuss in a familiar cameo is sure to tickle fans.

The movie knows is incredibly self-aware. It is full of graphic violence, gore, and nudity all of which is completely unnecessary and gratituous, but that is the fun in it. Never taking itself too seriously allows the film to succeed where similiar B-movie fare fail. It allows it too have personality and charm. It also has balls not afraid to kill off any characters making it feel genuinely like a "no one is safe" scenario.

I hate to be too nitpicky, but the movie is far from perfect even for a film that is as self-aware as this one. For one, you'd think being self-aware would let it lean on its gore and nudity more so than it did. The movie is never better than when there is complete mayhem on the screen. Its attempt at teenage dramedy and mom on a mission seem to cheapen the whole thing. It too quickly kills key cast members thus truncating the chaos rather than progress it further. Considering the 3D effects were made through the conversion process, the only thing it adds are dollars to the ticket price. The 3D is pretty sloppy, but at least there was more of an effort than usual to depict things directed towards the audience. I appreciate what they were trying to do, but the last few seconds were unsatisfactory.

It was not the most entertaining movie of the year, but it isn't the heaping pileof dogcrap that moviegoers have come to suspect from contemporary horror remakes.


Top 10 Movie Posters

10. Identity
Not just a hand, but a hand made up of other images. It is a very intense image that successfully foreshadows the movie while still leaving the viewer in the dark.

9. Chinatown
Chinatown mixes a number of uninteresting colors in a very compelling way effectively depicting the a noir/giallo feel.

8. American Beauty
A close up shot of a woman woman holding a red rose close to her bare naval. It is an image that is both beautiful and sexy.

7. The Exorcist
The white light shining down on the mysterious figure is very foreboding cherry picking a simple but definitive image from the movie itself.

6. Vertigo
Like the title suggests, the poster implies an unbalanced and dizzying sensation.

5. Hard Candy
Little Red Riding Hood symbols abound. A young girl presumably innocent in the middle or the beartrap. The poster proves to ultimately prove ironic.

4. Cool Hand Luke
A compelling use of colors against Paul Newman's facade, Newman being one of the bigger selling points of the movie.

3. Silence of the Lambs
A simple image that proves to be oddly terrifying in a very unexplainable way.

2. Pulp Fiction
The poster takes lengths to make it appear like a cover to the old pulp novels it pays homage to.

1. Jaws
One of the most terrifying posters made by one of the greatest poster creators of all time, Drew Struzan

Review: The Other Guys

Mark Wahlberg is Terry Hoitz, an ill-tempered disgraced cop for shooting a beloved ballplayer. Will Ferrell is Allen Gamble, a mild-mannered transfer from forensic accounting. When not at each other's throats, the two are desperately clawing their way out of the shadow of the city's two hero cops. These two loser cops must put aside their differences to take on a high profile case involving shady business dealings and financial fraud.

I am not a fan of Will Ferrell. His zany voice pattern and overly animated body language has never been funny despite being accepted by the general audience. That said, I loved this movie. Ferrell is hilarious in his subtley playing straight man to Wahlberg's overly animated comedic lead. Ferrell should be more restrained more often. His poor man's Jim Carey impression has been spread even for the once very friendly general audience. Wahlberg deconstructs his tough guy image into a brilliant parody of it. Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson both have memorable turns. Steve Coogan plays dim witted to a "T." Eva Mendes chews some of the scenery, but she seems comfortable in her surroundings. Between this and Toy Story 3, Michael Keaton proves that he has not lost a step despite an unfortunate turn in his career. Keaton is in desperate need of a comeback.

Adam McKay surprises here with his very competent action-oriented direction. The Other Guys is one of his more coherent and straight-forward stories to date. With help from the keen performances, the movie rises above its use of buddy cop cliches. The interesting and topical master crime pushes the story in compelling and seemingly fresh directions. The most interesting scene of all involves the mismatched duo finally finding common ground and going out for a few drinks in a beautifully shot 360 stop-motion technique. When the credit roll, it may very well be the most terrifying cinematic experience this year, but it is not what you think.

Where the movie really fails is between the jokes where Ferrell and Wahlberg awkwardly stumble through the material despite already proving they can handle drama at least in the simplest form. These moments of weakness cause the movie to occasionally sag, but when the jokes and action hit, they leave an impression. A positive one.

The actors and director all perform well. The story wants to say something relevant, but cannot wade through its cliches and simplicity enough to make a lasting intellectual impression. Nevertheless, it is a funny and entertaining broad comedy.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Top 20 Favorite Directors

20. Darren Aronofsky
Best Movie: The Wrestler

19. John Carpenter
Best Movie: The Thing

18. Jason Reitman
Best Movie: Up in the Air

17. Judd Apatow
Best Movie: 40 Year Old Virgin

16. Ridley Scott
Best Movie: Blade Runner

15. Jon Favreau
Best Movie: Iron Man

14. Guy Ritchie
Best Movie: Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrells

13. Kevin Smith
Best Movie: Clerks 2

12. Danny Boyle
Best Movie: Sunshine

11. David Fincher
Best Movie: Fight Club

10. Stanley Kubrick
Best Movie: 2001: A Space Odyssey

9. Edgar Wright
Best Movie: Shaun of the Dead

8. Clint Eastwood
Best Movie: Unforgiven

7. Guillermo Del Toro
Best Movie: Pan's Labrynth

6. Terry Gilliam
Best Movie: The Fisher King

5. Christopher Nolan
Best Movie: Inception

4. The Coen Brothers
Best Movie: O Brother, Where Art Thou

3. Quentin Tarantino
Best Movie: Pulp Fiction

2. Martin Scorsese
Best Movie: Taxi Driver

1. Steven Spielberg
Best Movie: Raiders of the Lost Ark

Friday, August 20, 2010

Review: Centurion

It is 117 A.D. and the impressive Roman army is struggling to contain the Picts, the Celtic inhabitants of the Scottish highlands. One centurion, Dias (Michael Fassbender) is captured during a raid on a Roman outpost. He is later saved by The Ninth Legion who are making their way through the highlands using a Pictish guide, Etain (Olga Kurylenko). Once they are deep enough, Etain makes her move. She and her tribe descend on the army and deplete their ranks with ease. The remaining soldiers must brave the winter Scottish landscape and the increasingly deceptive Picts with their ever-improving guerrilla tactics to make it home. If only they knew where home was?

Michael Fassbender has a steadfast resolve fitting the soldier archetype but adding a kindness behind his eyes necessary for a likable protagonist. He is balanced out by Dominic West's smug swagger regardless of its fleeting nature. Olga makes up for the loss of her tongue with a quiet ferocity. The soldiers had great chemistry. Like real brothers, these brothers-in-arms are blunt and rude, as is the story. The cold landscape is covered with mud and blood. The violence and gore constantly reminds you that a successful horror director is behind this period piece showing no mercy to the victims of battle. While Fassbender and his love interest, Imogen Poots, perform admirably as individuals, their "love at first sight" relationship never feels genuine.

The movie dares to ask the question "where is home?" Dominic West and his men feel most comfortable in war, but Fassbender doesn't. They all have the same bravery and nobility, but I felt Fassbender was always looking to lay roots. Despite being bullied by Picts, Poots never leaves her home on their land, while Etain fights her way out of Roman hands to get back with her people. For roaming soldiers, such a question could be very deep, but it is never fully explored.

The Centurion has a decent premise with a fascinating question to answer, but seems wasted on violence and hamfisted Hollywood romance. It is still an entertaining thriller with some really great looking visuals and consistently performing actors.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Review: Splice

Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) are young scientists working on synthesizing a special protein by genetically engineering a new species to produce it. During their studies and with their funds in jeopardy, they cross moral boundaries to add human DNA to the experiment. Soon, the new species beings to grow at an exponential rate. The older it gets, the more human it becomes eventually being named Dren. Soon, it becomes a surrogate child to the 2 scientists who are constantly questioning her existence.

Adrien Brody excels as his sometimes sarcastic, sometimes cynical scientist who begrudgingly crosses the moral boundaries and holds the weight of that decision around his neck even in his more joyful moments with Dren. Sarah Polley on the other hand confidently makes and lives with the decision. She makes the first connection with Dren where the mother-daughter relationship is very clear. As time goes on, Elsa becomes obsessive and over-protective, like a stage mom but for a freak of nature that they need to keep hidden. Her actions become cold and colder towards others to a strange point. It was either a bad performance or a genius direction. Either way, it was too distracting as your mind grapples between the two variables. As Dren gets older, the line between predatory mammal and feminine human becomes blurred. The three eventually become a Freudian nightmare as sexual tension becomes increasingly volatile.

The movie starts as a mind-boggling and interesting science fiction tale. The family unit felt very sincere and real, and the evolution of the Dren creature, while fantastical, was impressively realistic. It was a tragic story that tugged at a number of heartstrings. Its initial moral dilmena is compelling, and their constant struggle the dilmena causes is ambiguous enough to continue engaging. Unfortunately, the movie goes of the tracks in the third act. After the demented Cronenbergian twist between Clive and Dren, the story becomes a run of the mill monster flick. Dren loses her remaining humanity, and Clive and Elsa withdraw into faceless victims of any contemporary slasher film.

Splice had an interesting premise with the potential to be a great science fiction contribution to a genre that is overflowing with spandex-clad supermen, but it fails to tie up the loose ends in the same compelling manner that it started with.


Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Scott Pilgrim is an amateur bassist looking for love in the magical land of Canada, when he isn't hopping from rock club to rock club catching up on the latest indie underground music. After a particularly depressing break-up, Scott rebounds with a 17 year old, but soon meets the girl of his dreams literally. Ramona is a rollerblading punk chick who finds instant attraction with Scott, but in order for them to be together, Scott must first defeat her 7 evil exes. Scott, who is rather timid and meek under most circumstances, finds himself fighting for love in a world that is reacting in a very video game like manner.

Michael Cera started out as a promising upstart comedic actor, but he has been circling the drain with a series of way too similar roles. While Scott Pilgrim was not conceived as a "Cera-esque" character, I feel he was forced into the mold. The cast is comprised of very competent individuals, but the script provides far too much melodrama to connect, except for Ramona. Ramona not just literally but also figuratively skates through the picture never living up to the "she rocks" reputation that Scott's peers seem to credit her with. She has zero personality and makes almost no emotional progression despite the fact that it is her skeletons in the closet that are attacking, not Scott's. While each scene has an endearing sense of chaos, the scene to scene transition was sloppy severely hurting the pacing of the film. Edgar Wright's usual brand of subtle humor is substituted with in-your-face site gags and softball laughs. For his first attempt without the pinpoint delivery of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, I hoped he would do better.

Of course, there are bright spots. Michael Cera landed a few well-timed jokes. I appreciated the use of '90s retro style and garage band rock (somehow its indie rock nowadays), even if it is far too associated with hipsters (a subgroup I have very little tolerance for). The credit sequence felt very nostalgic with the likes of SLC Punk and Empire Records even though visually they have little in common, it was more about the energy and music they conveyed. The video game characteristics peppered through the film were a welcome addition to what could have been a very bland film without them. Unfortunately, it became distracting that every sound effect neeeded a visual counterpart. Two bright spots in the cast were Kieran Culkin and Johnny Simmons. Wallace and Young Neil have just the right amount of deadpan and goofiness respectively to break up the underwhelming line reading.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World is an ambitious attempt at mixing geek chic mediums, but all the ingredients never blend together to make an appetizing cinematic experience.