Friday, August 14, 2009

District 9

Directed by Neill Blomkamp

Written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell

Starring Sharlto Copley

Over the years, it seems Hollywood has its creativity, and most of the films we see made are sequels, or remakes of older classics. Just look at this summer; Wolverine, Star Trek, Terminator, and Transformers 2. With the exception of Star Trek (which was till now my favorite action blockbuster this summer), the rest of these films were either so-so or complete abominations. But sometimes, a few creative minds get together and make a completely new, original intellectual property. This is where District 9 comes in. And is, by far, the best, and most fun movie this summer.
Producer, Peter Jackson (who really needs no introduction, but for a few of you out there who don't know him, Lord of the Rings) oversees newby feature film director Neill Blomkamp. Neill's work prior to this project mostly consisted of some of the best advertisement commercials out there. Originally the crew was to make the Halo movie, but because of doubts of Blomkamps skill in directing, the project was pushed aside and they made District 9 instead. After seeing this film, there is no doubt in my mind that Blomkamp can perfectly execute a Halo, so please Hollywood execs, greenlight it.
Now, lets move on to why District 9 is so great. First is the backstory; twenty years ago an alien ship makes its way to Earth, hovering above Johannesburg, South Africa. For unknown reasons the ship cannot leave, so the aliens (also known as prawns, a nickname given to them by the people of Earth) are stranded on our planet. After many months of riots and violence between the two species, the prawns were relocated in District 9, which eventually turns into a slum with poor living conditions. I don't want to say too much about it, I'm all for people to go in and learn it for themselves.
Second is how the story is told. The first twenty minutes of the film is presented like a documentary. With interveiws from people of the city and the organization MNU ( Multi-National United), a company who has control over the aliens for science and weaponry study. Gradually the film moves out of its documentary style and moves into a narrative story.
Like in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Jackson hired WETA Workshop for special effects. And they are spectacular. Not only were they able to enhance the action sequences and make them absoutly thrilling. But they were able to make characters, fully fleshed out from CG, that you simpathise for and actually care about.
Summer blockbusters have a reputation for being big and dumb. Something you just go into, not expecting to find any substance to it, but just to gawk at. District 9, however, seems to have some very interesting underlying social commentary. One in particular is segregation, how because a people may be differant, or we don't understand them, we seperate them from ourselves, instead of trying to reach out. Or how these prawns were probably at one time a peaceful race, but because of the living conditions they were forced into, turned them dangerous and untrustworthy towards humans. It's just something to think about, which is a nice change from a big bugdet film like this.
So yes, District 9 is a must see. I can't think of one scene where I wasn't completely engrossed in the film. It's smart, fun, interesting, and I forgot to mention very violent. This isn't one to take the kids to. Make sure you experiance this while its still in theaters. It's a film that join along side other sci-fi classics in the years to come.

5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Cove

Directed by Louie Psihoyos

We've all been to a zoo and have seen a dolphin show. They jump out of the water and majestically flip into the air. What probably doesn't cross your mind as you watch is where these dolphins came from. The zoo keepers probably say they were bred in captivity, but the chances are higher that the dolphin was caught from the wild. From its home where it was free, swimming along the ocean at 40 miles per hour. Now it spends its day doing laps around a tank the size of your living room. What a great life capitivity must be. And where was this dolphin caught? Chances are Taiji, Japan, who not only exports wild dolphins for show around the world, but the rest they catch are slaughtered for their meat. Over 20,000 dolphins a year are killed. The fishermen in Taiji claim its tradition that they harvest dolphins, yet no one else in Japan even eats dolphin meat, or even knows about anything that happens in that small fishing town. So why do they do it?
I'm sorry, I'm going on a rant. Trust me, its hard to write a review for this film without getting frustrated and having the activist inside me flare up. So where was I? Oh yeah, The Cove. The single most important documentary to come out in years. It tells the story of filmmaker and Ocean Preservation Society's leader, Louie Psihoyos. Along with Richard O'Barry, who is most famous for his work on the show Flipper that started this multi billion dollar industry. Richard has realized the wrong things he has done in the past, and for the past thirty years been fighting for the right that dolphins don't belong in captivity. Their goal is to get footage from the unseen cove in Taiji where the wild dolphins are taken, and to expose to the world what really happens there.
But to do that they need a top notch crew ready for the job. It's almost like watching Ocean's 11, but with dolphins, and less funny. Each crew member has their own specialties and talent they bring to the table. They even get help from ILM (Industrial Light and Magic) to make spy cameras disguised as rocks, or a small log. They infiltrate in in the dead of night, praying not to be caught be security. These scenes are extremely intense, and even more so eerie as it is shot with nightvision. Being caught by the guards would mean serious trouble and would bring all of their hard work and planning to nothing. Not only that, but these fisherman will do anything to keep their secret safe, and will kill to do so. It wouldn't be the first time.
The footage they do get that is saved for the climax of the film is nothing short of gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, and horrifying. The Japanese government has been trying to keep this under wraps. Claiming that the animals are killed humanely and instantly. That is definitly not the case.
What The Cove does best is making the audience feel like something must be done, and that they can partake and help. The filmmakers make the connection that dolphins have with humans. Though we cannot communicate with them by voice, there is a connection and understanding . Dolphins are much smarter than we take them for, they are self aware, they have their own conscious decisions. We humans believe that because we can't interact with them on the level we interact with ourselves that means they are inferior, and there for we believe we have the right to exploit them and do whatever we please. Sorry, another rant.... anyways....
The Cove is a powerful and emotional tour de force that should be seen by everyone. Though it mostly only covers dolphins, there is a bigger picture to see here. With all the things happening in out ever changing world, if we can't stop one small problem like this, how are we as humans, suppose to tackle to bigger issues out there. To support the cause of the filmmakers see the movie, PAY to see the movie. Secondly sign this petition, the link is below. Once again, I'm sorry, this hasn't been much of a review. Just me on a soap box. But see the movie, that's all I'm telling you.

5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Hurt Locker

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

Written by Mark Boal

Starring Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty

As the film states "war is a drug". After the first fifteen minutes of the film you will understand perfectly what that qoute means. The Hurt Locker takes control of you and doesn't let go for two and half hours. It tells the story of small bomb sqaud of three in Iraq who risk their lives everyday in life or death situations as they defuse bomb after bomb, and the tole the human psyche takes.
There is almost a taboo on movies based on the Iraq War. People feel that it is too soon, or that all these movies fail because they are so one sided and only try to appeal to certain crowds. The Hurt Locker doesn't have any political agenda its trying to shove down your throat, its just the story of three soldiers. Whatever your views are on the war, it won't try and make you change your mind. It's hard to imagine the life of soldier since I am not one, but The Hurt Locker is the very best attempt from a film to try and make the audience see life through a soldiers eyes. Even if that window of time is only for a couple hours.
Every scene is packed with drawn out suspense so intense the audience will be holding their breath, gnawing their finger nails, and jittering their legs the entire time. One wrong move and things will end horribly for Staff Seargent William James and his men. There are spots of humor with witty banter between the men. But the tone changes on the turn of a dime and your sucked right back in.
The Hurt Locker is almost as perfect a war movie as you can get, and is the best movie this year by far. Do yourself a favor, find the nearest Indie Film theater, and go to the next showing. It's a movie that is not to be missed and should become an instant classic.

5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Public Enemies

Directed Michael Mann

Written by Ronan Bennett and Michael Mann

Starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale

I think everyone can agree that 2006's reenvisioning of Miami Vice was Michael Mann's big career flop, luckily he learned from his mistakes and has redeemed himself in this years crime drama Public Enemies. Its the true story of John Dillinger (played by Johnny Depp) the notorious bank robber from the 1930's, being chased by an FBI squad led by Melvin Purvis (played by Christian Bale).
All of the performances in this movie were wonderful. It's great to see Depp in a darker, serious role than what he has been doing the past few years working with Disney and Tim Burton. And Christian Bale leaves behind his Batman-car-muffler voice to play a down to Earth FBI agent. The rest of the characters and the story are very engaging and should keep the audiences attention throughout the movie.
What Mann's highest strength as a filmmaker is in his fire fights and scenes of violence. He drops the viewer right in the middle of the fight with some amazing camera and sound work. You feel the weight of a shotgun blast blowing through a wall, or a tommy gun shooting through a window. These scenes are truly visceral and the high points of the film.
The only criticism I have with the movie is on a technical basis. It was shot on a HD video cam (a trademark that Mann has used in his past few releases) and while some scenes look extremely crisp and clear others don't. When the camera or characters start moving too fast there is an awkward blurring effect that just doesn't look right. And in some needs the lighting seemed off and you can definitly see the grain from the underexposed video. Granted using HD video for feature films is still a new technique, filmmakers are still figuring out the best way to use them for optimal picture. But most veiwers won't even care or notice, so really it's not that big of a deal. Though usually I am a fan of the hand held shaky cam, there were points where it is excessivly shaky.
Otherwise Public Enemies is a great gangster drama that just about anyone can enjoy. So far its the years best crime movie that is smartly written, has great acting, and is intriguing, even if his filming techniques needed some work.

4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Directed by Michael Bay

Written By Ehren Kruger and Roberto Orci

Starring Shia Lebeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, John Turturro

The follow up to 2007's biggest summer release is out, and man, what a horrible mess it is. This review is going to be harsh, and lot of you will think that I'm expecting too much from a movie about toys, but Transformers 2 is bad. Reeeaally bad. So let us begin.
Shia returns as Sam Witwicky, he has graduated from high school and is now moving on to college life where apparently every single girl is extremely attractive and acts like a slut. One day while putting on his favorite shirt, a small piece of the "Allspark Cube" falls out of his shirt, he touches it and goes crazy. In the entire two year span between the films take place, after all the times he has worn and washed that shirt, how does he not know about it until now? The movie is filled with these plot holes and just gets worse as it progresses. Speaking of plot, there is none what so ever. Yet the story gets so convoluted and wrapped up in its own bullshit. It becomes one giant clusterfuck. My mind literally shut down about half way through the movie for about twenty minutes. Then I snapped back to reality and realized I was still in this God forsaken mess.
But story isn't what Michael Bay is here to do. He here to make huge action sequences and to fit in the highest amount of explosions into one shot as possible. Even these scenes fall apart because there is no human element, no emotion into any of them to draw me in. Bay throws in a comedic one liner (that isn't funny) every 15 seconds, and separates viewers attention from the action and draws them even further away. I felt no connection with the characters or the action at all. The humorous dialogue is horribly written and in scenes when I'm apparently supposed to be sad, I felt nothing.
Being that this is a Michael Bay movie, there are certain signature camera movements that appear in everyone of his films. The famous slow motion 360 spinning track around the characters with a bright sun in the background gleaming into the lens of the camera. Bay went all out in this one, he over uses this shot way too many times. Its almost a cliche by now.
As a director, Bay has the job of "directing" his actors to bring out their full potential to portray emotion on screen.... Every single actor was terrible. TERRIBLE! One in particular is Megan Fox, who again redeems herself as the worst actress in Hollywood. She is only there for looks and to act like a skank.
Transformers is like a cake with 10 layers of icing, your least favorite flavor, and you're forced to eat it for two and a half hours. All flare, no substance. Mr. Bay has out did himself this time. He took his one "good" movie, mixed with the sequel formula (bigger, badder, dumber and more badass) and absolutely drove it into the ground. Only on an extremely hot summer day, when you want to escape the heat and you have absolutely, ABSOLUTELY nothing to do would I recommend seeing this. Hats off to you Michael, a 44 year old man child who can't do shit but make loud, stupid, obnoxious movies and still make millions from it.

1 out of 5 stars

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Hangover

Directed by Todd Phillips

Written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore

Starring Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, and Justin Bartha

The year's big comedy is finally here. The Hangover is crude, insane, and absolutely hilarious! The story is of four friends, one of which is getting married, spending the night in Las Vegas for a bachelor party. The morning after the groom is gone missing, and the other three men have no recollection of what happened the night before and set off on a quest to find their buddy before the wedding and understand what happened the night before.
The cast is spot on for their roles. Bradley Cooper plays Phil, the level headed, cool leader of the group. Ed Helms plays Stu, the worry wort dentist. For his first major role in a big film he was wonderful, it was good to see another side of Ed's talent instead of being a huge dork, like he does in The Office. But the best performance was from stand up comedian, Zach Galifianakis, who plays the bride's brother that is not-all-there in the head. Zach was meant for this role, anyone familiar with his work will know that Zach is just as insane as the character he plays on screen (check out his Live at the Purple Onion, or in The Comedians of Comedy, he is brilliant).
There are a couple things I have to gripe about. First is that there are some plot points that seem way too ridiculous and don't seem to fit in with the flow of the rest of the movie and are really out of place. Secondly, after all the events leading up the finale the ending was resolved way too easily and was a total cop out. You'll understand when you see it. And third, Ken Jeong's character is really annoying. He was funny the first scene you see him, probably because he didn't talk, but after that he just got worse and worse. But that's all I really have to say. I loved the rest.
The Hangover is the best comedy to come out yet this year. If your not into raunchy humor, or a lot (a lot) of cussing, then maybe it isn't for you. But for the rest of us, it should keep you laughing for a long, long time.

4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Land of the Lost

Directed by Brad Silberling

Written by Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas

Starring Will Ferrell, Danny McBride, and Anna Friel

Land of the Lost is probably the most ridiculous movie to come out this summer. Viewers should know before to take all sense of logic out of their minds when watching this, as the movie itself doesn't take itself seriously at all. It pokes fun to all of the cheesy sci-fi/fantasy adventure movies from the 50's and 60's, you can tell from the cheap set design and laughable lizard costumes.
Will Ferrell plays a fumbling scientist who thinks he knows everything, but in fact seems to be wrong about 90 percent of the time. Its good to see that he isn't playing the same Ron Burgundy character that he has many times before, but there is still a Ferrell-ism to the movie which will be the deciding factor for audiences; whether they love or hate Will Ferrell. I don't mind him, and I think he is pretty funny, but his act gets old as the movie plays out. Danny McBride remains consistantly funny and is definatly the shining star of comedy for this movie.
About half way through the movie is starts to lose steam and there are many dry patches where you won't laugh at all. For only being just over an hour and a half long, the movie drags on too long and overstays its welcome. But for those looking for a ludicrous romp that has plently of laughs to share then it might be worth your time seeing.

3 out of 5 stars