Snakes on a Plane

My friends and I had been looking forward to Snakes on a Plane for many months. I can’t remember which one of us spotted it first (I think I saw something about it early this year at Ain’t It Cool), but SoaP Fever quickly spread amongst the clan. I honestly don’t remember the movie too much, but I will tell you this: it does not disappoint. It was easily the best movie-going experience of my entire life. If every movie was as fun as this movie, I would gladly pay $20 for a ticket. Why was this movie so thoroughly excellent? Two words: audience participation. The movie itself was not good, but the reactions it drew out of the crowd were hilariously entertaining. I believe I was laughing almost the whole movie. For example, the moment Samuel L. Jackson walked on screen, the theater immediately erupted in cheering and a standing ovation (by some). All during the movie there was at least some type of audience reaction: quiet scenes were drowned out by the entire crowd hissing, exaggerated screams were made during gruesome deaths, sage advice was shouted out to the doomed characters, and always laughter.

If you love campy B-movies and love audience participation, go see this movie immediately before SoaP fever dies off.

Pros: Samuel L. Jackson, the other movie goers, Snakes. on. a. plane.
Cons: None.

X-Men 3: The Last Stand

The third installment in the X-Men franchise is easily the worst of the three, but did anybody really expect it to get any better? Both of the previous installments were probably significantly better than most expectations. I know the second was definitely better than what I expected it to be. However, even though it is the worst, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie. It’s just not that great. It’s a pretty forgettable but entertaining movie.

I don’t have too much to say about it. There are some startling new developments in Mutant Land, and I’m guessing this movie had better really be the true last stand because the X Men are almost made into the X Man. I’m guessing there was a conversation like the following during the planning stages:

[Movie exec 1]: The first two movies rocked. The movies were good, the fans were happy, and we made money hand over fist. I think we should kill the franchise off with this one. Go out on a high note, you know? That whole Seinfeld thing. Leave a good taste in people’s mouth.
[Movie exec 2]: Sounds good. Let’s do that. Make it so, Mr. Scriptwriter.
[Mr. Scriptwriter]: Okay.

Later, when the movie was wrapping up there was another conversation that went like this:
[Movie exec 2]: Hrrrmmm. . .I’m not so sure if we should end the franchise yet. We could probably milk this for 10 more installments. We could go to made for TV even.
[Movie exec 1]: Yeah, I’m getting cold feet about this. Let’s keep it going, you know, just in case.
[Mr. Scriptwriter]: But everybody is dead or powerless.
[Movie exec 2]: So?
[Mr. Scriptwriter]: Should we at least change the title to something like “The Last Stand. . .Maybe”?
[Movie exec 1]: No. “The Last Stand” will make people think we are going to end the franchise and come see how it ends. A brilliant marketing movie I must say!
[Movie exec 2]: Yeah! And X Men 4 can be “The End of the Mutants” or something equally apocolyptic.
[Movie exec 1]: Brilliant!
[Mr. Scriptwriter]: Whatever.

What results is a hint at the very end of the movie that the X Men will be back much to our dismay.

If you like action movies and the previous X Men, I’d say this is at least worth a matinee. It’s got a lot of fun mutant action and fights. Though it is pretty creepy with a hot woman goes berzerk and destroys everything. Women. . .

Pros: Mutant action, Wolverine, Ian McKellen, Halle Barry, destruction
Cons: Not as good as the first two, bad script

Mission: Impossible 3

Mission: Impossible 3 is pretty much what I expected it to be: Tom Cruise does action, Tom Cruise does romance, Tom Cruise does serious, Tom Cruise does tough guy, Tom Cruise does masks, and Tom Cruise does looking-good-in-black. M:I 3 is better than M:I 2, but M:I 1 is still the best of the lot. I guess that’s all you need to know, but I can ramble on for a bit about it.

As Jeremiah mentions, the plot is thin. Indeed, it’s a mere skeleton on which a capable cast hangs fascinating action ornaments. I’m a sucker for action sequences, so of course I found these ornaments fun to watch. The harebrained schemes remind me a lot of the plots in Knight Rider: no matter how crazy it sounds, the good guys can always pull it off (but if it does fail, the good guys will come up with an equally crazy plot that will succeed). Clearly, Team Impossible has a lot of luck and/or God is most definitely in their corner. Many times I was thinking, “Oh Tom is going to be seen for sure lying right there in the open” or “Well, Tom’s definitely doing to snap his neck now” or “There’s no way Tom will get there on time.” I was always wrong, but that’s good otherwise the movie would have been awfully short and Ethan Hunt wouldn’t be the legendary super-agent that he is. I’m all for suspending copius amounts of reality for the sake of a good action plot.

Turning to the acting, I wished they had used Laurence Fishburne more than they did. I think he’s a superb actor, and I enjoy seeing him on the screen. Unfortunately, for this role he only had a few lines, and half the time I didn’t like him as the pushy boss. Ving Rhames does a good job as the technical catalyst for Tom’s brilliant schemes, but he’s given some lame, predictable lines. Simon Pegg (the dude from Shaun of the Dead) delivers a fun performance that adds the bit of comedy relief, allowing the audience a chance to catch it’s breath. According to the IMDB trivia page, Ricky Gervais was supposed to play Pegg’s character. That would have been hilarious. Tom himself gets his job done quite well, in my opinion. It’s a typical Cruise performance, and I hope he counts his lucky stars that his only schtick looks good on the big screen. Personally, his real world antics are easily forgotten when I see him on screen, so I think I’m less Tommed-out than most others. The real star of the show is Philip Seymour Hoffman, but this was to be expected. Hoffman is a fantastic actor and pulls off the vicious, cunning, coldly calculating villian fantastically. His final scene is great. It hits the audience like a speeding truck, leaving them stunned, looking around in disbelief, and muttering, “Did I just see that?!”

Final recommendation: It’s worth a matinee for sure, and it’s a winner for the action flick crowd.

Pros: fun movie, crrraaaazzy schemes, Tom Cruise, really sweet bullet noises,
Cons: Tom Cruise, good actors used little, not enough explosions, really thin plot, destruction of killer cars

V for Vendetta

I really wish I didn’t get these dry spells. It seems every so often my creative spirit shrivels up, rendering me incapable of generating any creative output. These past couple of weeks I’ve felt my mind was not operating at it’s usual 110%. My brain feels muddled, my thoughts do not have their customary clarity, and forget about any real writing. Though, right now, I’m going to try to kick myself out of this little funk. There are too many things that cannot be ignored.

I saw V for Vendetta last night. I’ve spent some time mulling over how exactly I should write a review for this movie, and only one sentence kept springing to mind. This review will have to remain short lest I get worked into a fury again. I spilt too much bile last night, probably to my friends’s embarrassment. I’ve chosen my words, and I realize the import of these words. Sometimes we need to call a spade a spade. Sometimes punches really shouldn’t be pulled and all the batteries of a verbal broadside should be brought to bear. Such a time is now: V for Vendetta is a steaming pile of cinematic shit. I abhorred this movie like no other movie in my life. This is the only movie I walked out on. I was physically sick to my stomach and tembling with rage as I waited for my friends to finish watching the film. The movie is a disgusting vision of the future. It’s perversion and paranoia is only matched by it’s lack of perspective. If one were to take my moral compass and switch the N with the S, then my moral compass would match the movie’s moral compass. My only comfort that as long as these fools rely on comic book stories to push their shit, there’s not much to worry about.

What I’ve said should be considered in light of how I react to things and what my nature is. First, I’m a guy who focuses on ideas. If a movie seriously tries to pitch an idea, I will focus on that to a degree that I will ignore all other attributes of the film. Second, I have a character flaw in that my temper has a flash fuse when it comes to certain things, and this movie happened to ignite that fuse during the climax. Third and finally, 9/11 is still very fresh in my mind, and I think I was affected by it more strongly than most. The climax of V for Vendetta is a terrorist event that drew too close a parallel to 9/11. I found it abhorrent and beyond the pale.

The only point at which I agreed with the movie was when the hero reminded the heroine, “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.” So, for roughly 5 seconds, it was a movie after my own heart.

I’m not sure if I should say that this movie should be watched. A shrewd man will know both his beliefs and his adversary’s beliefs, and sometimes the contours of one’s own beliefs are brought into high relief after being exposed to adversarial beliefs. Indeed, we should not walk through this world with blinders or with eyes squinted shut. Even with that said, I can’t bring myself to recommend this movie for such philosophically pragmatic reasons.

Munich

I am having trouble determining what I think of Munich. It is a well shot, well acted, well paced, and well scripted movie. Eric Bana is superb as an Israeli who is hired to assassinate the Palestinian masterminds behind the 1972 Munich terrorist attack. However, there is just something about the movie with which I didn’t connect. Another way putting it is that I know I should give it an 8 but I only want to give it a 6.

I’d rather not deal with the possible historical merits or mistakes. I’ll just assume it’s loosely based on real events and take it with a grain of salt. However, I am having trouble understanding why some think this paints Israel in a highly critical light. I didn’t come out with an overly negative view of Israel. The Machiavellian nature of its actions are both understandable and expected. Haven’t we seen plenty of films that paint the US government in the same light? I think the film does show well the destructive impact such activities (viz. assassination) has on the security and well-being of the individuals involved, and I appreciated Spielberg’s portrayal of how a man motivated by patriotic desires can still be torn apart by what his country asks of him. The follow up question of whether if it is worth it or not would take some thought.

My only real complaint with this movie is Spielberg’s failure to use Dainel Craig, the next James Bond, to his full potential. Craig’s character could have added some extra zing to the overall plot, indeed I expected him to, but it never happened. A shame.

Pros: A well made and interesting movie, strong acting.
Cons: Somehow doesn’t engage the audience? I don’t know.

The Chronicles of Narnia

TCoN:TL, tW, & tW is a pretty decent movie. Twenty-something males are probably not the target audience for this film, so I think it’s understandable that I wasn’t completely agog over the film. Though I have several minor complaints, I was happy that the allegorical meaning of the story was not gutted by pagan Hollywood elites. Indeed, there were sometimes I thought, “Wow, I can’t believe they actually left that in.” For this reason alone, I think the movie is worth seeing. For a much better and indepth review, check out the Fringe review. Now onto my complaints.

*** Spoiler warning!***

Probably my biggest complaint is that it seems a lot of the emotional ties sprung up out of nothing. I’ll give two examples. When Aslan dies the two Pevensie girls are just all torn up about it, weeping long and sleeping on a lion corpse (weird!). But what a minute, why are they so attached to Aslan? They just met him. Sure, after some secret meeting he saved their bratty brother, but I find it hard to believe that that instantly forges such deep bonds of love. Gratuity, sure. Deep love, no. Even more perplexing is the children’s immediate devotion to their chosen faction. The three non-bratty kids perplexing decide to risk their lives for a bunch of creatures they never met in a strange fantasy world into which they just walked. They do mention something about doing it for Mr. Tumnus, but that’s hardly believable. Even more amazing, the bratty boy, Edmund, turns traitor on his siblings for turkish delight! What the heck is turkish delight?! Maybe the character motivations make sense to other people, but certainly not to me. I’m sure the motivations were fleshed out much more in the book, but I read that so long ago I can’t remember for sure.

Another complaint is that the film uses far too much green screening, and sometimes it’s both obvious and unnecessary. The best example is when a couple of the kids are riding on unicornback next to a river, and it’s apparent the river is CGI. Could the filmmakers not find a decent, real river? By and large the CGI is very well done and quite creative, but there were times I was definitely pulled out of the story because it just looked fakey.

My final complaint is Peter Pevensie. I didn’t like the actor, I didn’t like his character, and I really didn’t like the way he swung a sword. Least convincing battle commander EVAR. If he was my commander in battle, I’d be extremely worried. At the end he gets the title of Peter the Magnificent. I think I laughed at that point. Then I was deeply annoyed.

Pros: Mostly well done CGI, good story, the White Witch.
Cons: What’s their motivation?, Peter doesn’t die, Peter isn’t dubbed Peter the Pathetic

King Kong

King Kong, starring Adrien Brody’s nose, Jack Black’s wicked grin, King Kong’s vocal chords, and Naomi Watts‘s beautiful blue eyes, is an interesting movie in a lot of ways. Before I begin my itemized list, I just want to mention something about Watts’s peepers. I enjoyed them. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been partial to brown eyes, I still am, but more importantly I used to think blue eyes were vaguely creepy. I just didn’t like looking at blue eyes. However, recently, for whatever reason, I’ve grown to like blue eyes much more, even enjoy them. After watching King Kong, which seemed to be 25% close-ups of Watts’s eyes, I can now say blue eyes are officially A-okay in my book. Who says movies don’t change people’s lives? Pshaw.

Now onto the movie. I don’t have the patience to go through the movie in detail, so I’ll just throw down a list of stuff I found interesting.

  • Starting off with the most noteworthy thing about the whole film: the CGI. Everything you heard about it is true. It’s absolutely fantastic, realistic, stunning, and believable. I remember when Jurassic Park came out and everybody thought those CGI dinosaurs were sweet sauce. Well Kong crushes those dinos just like how he crushed several dinos (along with just about everything else) in his movie. Kong is also better than Gollum from Lord of the Rings, which says a lot because Gollum should have won an Oscar for best actor. Andy Serkis, who did the acting for both Kong and Gollum, must be awfully proud. Probably the most remarkable thing about Kong is his ability to convey emotion with his eyes. Normally, this is the most difficult thing for CGI to do well, but the animators pulled it off extremely well. Yes, behind those pixelly eyes, there is a heart.
  • When we first meet Adrien Brody’s character, Jack Driscoll, he is delivering a 15 page script he has written for Jack Black’s Carl Denham. I believe this is a subtle hint that the script for King Kong was only 15 pages as well. Approximately 90% of the dialogue is uttered in the first third of the movie, and then the last two hours the dialogue consists of exclamations, Kong bellowing, and eye-talk. Large sections of the script probably looked like this:

    ZOOM IN ON EYES AS KONG PEERS LOVINGLY AT ANN
    ZOOM IN ON EYES AS ANN PEERS LOVINGLY AT KONG
    KONG BREATHES, NOSE TWITCHING SLIGHTLY
    ANN RAISES HAND
    KONG GOES APE
    KONG SMASHES STUFF

    Fortunately, zooming in on Ann’s eyes is always pleasurable, and “KONG SMASHES STUFF” allows ample room for interpretation. Thus, a great movie was made from the scantiest of scripts.

  • Even though King Kong is just over 3 hours long, I don’t remember any point when I was bored. Some how Peter Jackson managed to make just about every moment either exciting or fun to look at (e.g. Naomi’s eyes). There are plenty of action sequences, which made me extremely happy. And these action sequences were usually mind-boggling cool to watch. They were also pretty creative and unique, which prompted my older brother to remark, “I never thought I’d see a brontosaurus dogpile.” Neither did I, dear b., neither did I. Also, there’s one scene with giant insects and creepy crawlies that had me writhing with the willies. Probably the best part is when Kong gets loose in NYC, and especially when Kong is driven up to the top of the Empire State Building. If you have a fear of heights, you might want to close your eyes when he’s up there.
  • I’m very forgiving when it comes to movies such as this. I only ask to be entertained. Thus, if there is any weakness in the acting, the script, character motivations, etc. I’m not really the guy to ask, especially if the movie really delivers on the action goods. If you take a gander at my movie collection you can see my standard for action flicks is set depressingly low. I do like to think I’m pretty merciless when it comes to drama and other movies that are supposed to make a point. But, King Kong isn’t drama, and it kept me thoroughly entertained. The only complaint I’d make is that some characters did some stuff for no real reason. For example, Adrien Brody’s nose Driscoll falls in “love” with Ann rather quickly, they have one smoochfest, and then he’s ready to risk life and limb to rescue her from a fiercesome 30 foot ape hell bent on tearing the crap out of everything. Maybe I’m a heartless romantic, but that’s plain stupid. Earth to Driscoll, hello, there are other women out there who aren’t jealously guarded by a giant gorilla.

Pros: Fun, fun, fun, superlative CGI, good acting, Naomi’s eyes, lots of superb action sequences, and dinosaurs.
Cons: No Godzilla to kick Kong’s butt.

Godzilla is still cooler

Jeremiah over at Fringeblog has his King Kong review posted. I’ll admit I’ve been waiting for this review for a while (and the Narnia one), so I’m glad he finally posted it. He was lucky enough to see it like two weeks ago because he’s good at being at the right place at the right time. He gives the movie 3.5 martinis out of 5, which is a bit lower than what I was expecting. At least King Kong does one thing right: the sfx. Jeremiah extols them:

One thing Jackson and his crew know how to do best is instilling a kind of gentle humanity into their primo effects work. Even Gollum had his moments of honesty, where keyframed expressions went beyond simple computer artwork, transcending the effects and amplifying the special. Here Kong is a wonder and a leap of evolution (excuse the pun) in the further blurring of the line between special effects and acting.

However, he finds the movie greatly lacking in story and character development:

That said, it is a shame the film lacks other particular qualities that would have truly made it great. What it excels at in production design and special effects, it lacks in a good story. Its characters are even worse. The lack of three dimensional characters in this otherwise convincing world make following the underwhelming story a chore. More than once I found myself questioning motives, uncertain as to the reasons why a character did such and such. When it came to the story, I found there was only a shell, like a hardened candy coated exterior. This shell serves the bare minimum needs of a plot; its only major requirement seems to have been to support the onscreen entanglements of an expressive CG monkey, his prehistoric playmates, and a little lady named Ann Darrow.

I’ll still see King Kong, but, since Jeremiah is often right about these sort of things, my expectations are going to be a bit lower than what they were before. Hopefully, I’ll be able to see it sometime soon, and have my own review posted in a timely fashion. I’ve also be warned by my mother that I will be seeing the “beautiful” Narnia and Pride and Prejudice (Fringe gave it 3 of 5 martinis) with the fam over Christmas, so hopefully I’ll whip out some reviews of those too.

Downfall

Downfall is loosely based on the documentary Blindspot: Hitler’s Secretary which is the story of a young woman who joined Hitler’s inner office as a secretary for the Führer at the peak of the Third Reich. Downfall is centered around the last weeks of the battle for Berlin. The movie, grounded in history and the stark realities of war, has many surreal moments: frank discussions of the best way to commit suicide, Eva Braun’s desperate attempts to remain happy, and a fanatical mother poisoning her children so they are spared a future with no national socialism. For me, it vividly displayed the bewilderment so many generals and officials felt as the Third Reich collapsed. Hitler and the German war machine had defeated dozens of nations, crushing everything in its path. It had forged an empire from the Antlantic seaboard to deep inside Russia, from North Africa to Norway. But during the final weeks, it was reduced to a paltry force bolstered by old men and young boys that could not even defend one city. On top of this Hitler’s inner circle had to cope with the unraveling of their hero who had pulled Germany out of a economical disaster, rebuilt armies right in the face of the international community, championed the expansion of the Fatherland, and had led them through glorious years of victory and dominance. But then he was reduced to an irrational and quivering shell of a man. Even I was thinking at times, “How could it have come to this? How could something so powerful be so completely broken?”

Bruno Ganz is superb as Hitler. It’s harder for me to gauge the effectiveness of an actor when he’s speaking another language, but I could definitely tell Ganz was giving it his all. In the final weeks of his life, Hitler was an unstable and emotional wreck, aging rapidly and succumbing to Parkinson’s. Ganz had plenty of material with which to work: Hitler’s fits of rage, moments of defeated lucidity, and ultimate slip into suicidal despair. The other actors also did a fine job, but Ganz as Hitler dominates the film so completely it’s hard to remember the other characters (except for the Skeletor-look-alike Joseph Goebbels). This is the first movie I’ve seen that focused on Hitler, and it is an interesting portrayal. Hitler had two different personalities. In private, he was warm, pleasant, and almost grandfatherly. In public or as the Führer, he was violent, brutal, and harsh. During the movie, there are times I began to almost feel some sympathy for Hitler as he is bewildered by the ineffectiveness of his armies, shaking from Parkinson’s, and emptied by defeat; but, then, he says something vicious, reminding me he was one of the most evil men to walk this earth.

Overall, the movie was quite good, and I think World War II buffs would like it especially as it shows a different view of the chief antagonist. If you do watch this movie, watch it at a time when you don’t mind feeling depressed and shocked. There is plenty of violence and some nudity.

Revenge of the Sith

Yesterday my friend Greg was in town visiting his family over the Memorial Day weekend, and I was able to convince him to go to Revenge of the Sith with me. I don’t have too much to add to the general consensus about the film: best of of the prequels but that’s not saying much. All right let’s get this over with.

I couldn’t help but feel, and Greg agreed with me on this, that none of the actors/actresses were really trying. The lone exception would be Ian McDiarmid who plays Senator/Chancellor/Supreme Evil Dude Palpatine/Darth Sidious (who ever knew that being the most evil guy in the galaxy required one to wear so many hats!). He was quite good I thought and very believable. Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan made a good effort too I suppose. However, all the other A-list actors including Samuel L. Jackson, Natalie Portman, Jimmy Smits, and Hayden Christensen gave off the impression that they just gave up with trying to make their lines seem real, and I don’t really blame them. They were given really clunky lines, and they all knew the movie was going to be phenomenally successful whether they tried or not. Hayden Christensen varied from passably good to just incompetent. I think he was given some of the best lines in the movie, but it seemed every time he was given a real meaty line he just let it fall flat. Towards the end of the movie, when he really started embracing the Dark Side, he got better, and, I gotta admit, he’s got a real good evil glower. Overall, my impression of him improved since this time around he wasn’t the whiney little prick that he was in Episode II. Yoda played a prominent roll this time around, and you get to see him fighting a lot, which is always amusing. My only problem with Yoda was that his Yoda-talk seemed very forced. He delivered some otherwise good lines that were essentially destroyed by that incessant subject/predicate reversal.

The plot was good and moved briskly. Lucas doesn’t waste time catching everybody up with the story line. This time he didn’t engage in the schizophrenic jumping between different story threads like he did in Episode II. Instead he seemed more interested in using neato iMovie wipes between scenes. The opening battle scene was pretty sweet to see on the big screen. I really like epic sci-fi space battles, and Lucas delivered this time. The ground battles on the planets were fun to watch too. The lightsaber battles were the fiercest and most vicious of them all. Also a record number of limbs were severed this time around. The last battle between Obi-wan and Anakin was essentially just a blur of lightsabers in dark corridors. Very dramatic and very cool.

The final lesson of Revenge of the Sith is that women make men do stupid things and thus should be avoided for the sake of the galaxy. Seriously, if it hadn’t been for this Padme chick there would have been no Death Star, no Emperor Palpatine, no Empire, no Ewoks dying, no Han frozen in carbonite, no slaughter of the Jawas, and no Death Star II.

Pros: It’s Star Wars, Greedo doesn’t shoot first, entertaining sci-fi, R2-D2 flys, Jar Jar doesn’t have a single line, the end of the prequels.
Cons:No Han Solo, acting is half-hearted, clunky dialogue, Anakin falls to the Dark Side for lame reasons, battle droids have cute voices.