Thursday, July 17, 2008
WALL-E is a cute little romp in the way that Charlie Chaplain's adventures are cute -a compliment to be sure. I was entertained by a love story reminiscent in some ways to The Tramp's love stories. When the plot shifted to saving the humans, I was less involved. This is a common complaint. It's the only complaint I've heard. Humans just get in the way of these two robots in their perpetual meet-cute. It's not so off putting as to distract from all the films other considerable quantity of qualities, and must have been added to give the characters something interesting to do. Otherwise, the story could have been kept in short film form and been adequate enough. With all the added shenanigans, we do get a heart wrenching scene between a rebuilt E.V.E. and a hopeful E.V.E. that ends the film more sweetly than a short film with them making blocks of trash could. It's cute and creates two interesting hunks of metal that never utter more than their names and the word "directive." But WALL-E shows how much you can say with so little. And, oh yeah, it looks great, too. It's a good film, but I feel it's becoming overrated. I wouldn't put it in the ranks of Pixar's best.
It's hard to point the finger at Hellboy II. I can't quite place my disappointment. I just think that it isn't a strong of a film as its predecessor. The problem may begin with Hellboy and Liz being in a relationship. Hellboy pining after Liz was a hell of a lot more interesting than there current domestic squabbles. Honestly, their relationship was more pedestrian than the participants. The exit of Agent Myers is left unexplained, and like the odd exit of Tank in The Matrix sequels, I was wondering why. Agent Myers was a useful tool in orienting the audience with the freaks, a foothold or familiarity amongst oddities. The same is true for the agent who was close to Hellboy in the first movie that met his demise. There are no human interests in this movie. It's a movie for the freaks. And while it explores these freaks longing for acceptance, recognition, and whatnot, there's no basis that this movie offers me for investment other than "Remember how swell these weirdos are from the first movie? They're back." And that's almost enough. They are all strange and charming enough in their own ways to merit sticking around for the whole runtime, but their adventure is no more relevant to me than Thomas the Tank Engine and certainly not the kind that sticks with you after it's over. That's a bit of a tangent. Regroup.
I understand the use of the Hellboy child on Christmas scene as a way to introduce a lot of information in a way that is more interesting than subtitle cards or scrolling text at the beginning. But Hellboy as a kid A) sounds off B) looks off C) acts poorly. This is not Hellboy as a child. This is a haphazard attempt to approximate how a child's Halloween costume with a budget might look. As for the exposition. It's a bit heavy before any real action has begun. I think it may have been better to let the audience be a bit disoriented along the way as the action unfolded and bits of the legend revealed itself. As is, the story is a bit different than the press coverage has led me to believe. Still, there is enough action, enough charm, and enough fun to keep audience members involved. I will say that I've viewed Del Toro as a visionary director for some time now, with little awe for his dialogue or storytelling. Pan's Labyrinth offered hope to the contrary, but I'm afraid that Hellboy II is more a return to his work in Mimic and Blade II. He knows how to entertain, but doesn't push further. It's fun and worth a night out, but I don't really need to see it again.
It's an effective thriller - extremely well directed and staged - but it doesn't quite live up to the months of Internet hype. As a new way to tell an old, tired genre story, it excels. This is unlike any monster movie I've seen before, and unlike any other save for the similarly hyped Blair Witch Project. The two films share visual styles, but little else. Cloverfield has a bigger budget, working (but still unknown actors), and special effects that rival or surpass all other star-studded Hollywood blockbusters. There's also effective storytelling. It's streamlined, no information is superfluous even during the extended and meandering opening party scene. The party is our introduction to the cast of characters, and even with little background information or concrete reason to root for them, I found myself very invested in Rob's journey to his loved one in the heart of monster mischief and destruction. And the monster - after months of watching advertisements and trailers that showed no images of the thing (great idea), I was stoked to see the thing in action. A lot was riding on that thing. And...it was okay. It wasn't all that more horrifying than its monster genre brethren and not altogether new. I guess I just wasn't surprised when I saw it. Then again, it might have had to juggle skyscrapers and New York socialites while sporting a top hat. Still, there are scares. The little biting creatures are frightening. The acting may be the least authentic part of the movie that screams its own brand of authenticity, though it is oodles better than any average monster, slasher, horror, thriller in the canon. And this brand of authenticity requires a character to run throughout the movie with a handheld camera. It's completely believable. And at times annoying. It can be difficult to tell what is going on and can be headache inducing. But it's consistent and leads to several genuine moments such as when the night vision flares in the tunnel and Hud sees the monster up close from the helicopter and ground views. An interesting experiment that mostly succeeds.
Thursday, July 3, 2008
Wanted is the biggest disappointment of the summer - a big, dumb excuse to shoot guns and blow up rats (yes, RATS!). The film takes what it would call a irreverent tone, but it's far too cute to get me excited. It opens with awful voice over that serves as our introduction to Wesley Gibson (James MacAvoy), an office drone searching for himself. We spend the movie with him to the detriment of every other character. No one else has a chance to really do anything (just leap, bend, beat, shoot, and act bad ass). Angelina Jolie barely registers in her much hyped role. Morgan Freeman gets his little speeches, but there's nothing to his character or the other assassins of the secret fraternity. That leaves MacAvoy to keep our interest. And he can't. He can't handle the humor or awkwardness of the character. His line delivery is all over the place. It's truly disarming after his superb work in Atonement. He just seems very uncomfortable in the role and carrying this movie. It's not really worth carrying. The visuals can be fascinating with rather seamless special effects and stunts, but it often undermines this with ill-used dialogue or visual cues. I couldn't bring myself to care about this movie or its inhabitants. The stakes are (I suppose) big, but I can't be invested in the characters' lives so the stakes are moot. These people are willing to kill and die for something bigger than themselves, but I have to care when they do.
Will Smith is a star deserving of a showcase like I am Legend. He's on nearly every frame of film and is forced to dig deep for character in the absence of a supporting cast to play off of. What he does get is a dog. Much like Wilson the volleyball in Castaway, the filmmakers must have realized their solitary man needed someone to talk to. It works. The film exercises a sense of atmospheric dread. It's when the film reveals the source of the dread that the film lost traction. These infected are computer generated baldies that reminded me of a cross between the loose-jawed namesake in The Mummy and the video game zombies of the original Resident Evil. And they weren't real. And I was fully aware of that. It's a flaw when I have to try to make myself believe during all the confrontation scenes. Also, how do people survive a grenade blast two feet away from them to deliver stilted voice over so we can have a sense of closure in this fallen reality? As much as this is a one man show, I wish Smith had more to do. More to stretch him than a dog (a capable actor in his own right) and hundreds of hungry freaks like the stretchy native in Street Fighter II. It's a well made film that knows what it's doing. I wish it just wanted to do more. In the end, there's just not that much to it.
Days of Glory follows the lives of French/Algerian soldiers during World War II and the class and inner struggles they faced on the front lines. The film centers on the lives of three particular soldiers, though two brothers get an amount of screen time that distracts from the main characters' storyline. As a piece of history, Days of Glory chronicles interesting, new information. As a character piece, I was left wanting more. I couldn't attach myself to these people, so the time I spent with them and their ultimate demises and triumphs were a bit hollow when history would say otherwise. I don't fault the actors. I can't fault the filmmakers. There is care put into the making of this film; I just couldn't muster much. It didn't feel alive to me.
I have to say that all the conscience stretching I did before watching this movie didn't lead to much. Evangelicals hopping on the Pat Robertson/James Dobson information train should know that all the God killing that may be in the source material is watered down to a vague magical tale about helping your friends and making your own decisions. Sure, all the novel backstory that I became aware of during the months leading up to the film's release let me on to more of what was happening than any nonsuspecting audience member could catch. Honestly, I just enjoyed myself. It's a fully realized fantasy world with action, magic, and all the special effects the now defunct Newline could buy. It's a rousing piece of entertainment. My only real complaint is that the film lacks the character development that would have made this film a genre classic. There are dozens of characters that only get minor introduction in this first film of a desired trilogy, and it would have been nice to see how they fit into the heroine's destiny. Plot seems to trump character.
The Invasion is at best laughable and at worst a low point in the participants' careers. The actors have no hope of giving authenticity to their dialogue. From the every day conversations prior to "the invasion" to the medical jargon they use to explain aliens with the stomach flu, none of the actors show that their characters believe the words coming out of their mouths. The aliens themselves are not too frightening though the overbearing score tries to fake their savageness at every appearance. There are also awkward flashbacks at story revelations that come too shortly after everything we've already seen. It's insulting to the audience. They're trying to remind us of all the things that we couldn't forget because that damn score lets us know when everything's important. A suggestion to those being attacked by body snatching aliens - run the children into bed posts. Seems to work every hilarious time.
My hat's off to the people who cut the awesome trailer from the lousy source material. That's skill, folks.
I had a strong reaction to this film the first time I saw it. It's a visual feast unlike anything I've seen before and has a solid detective storyline to keep my mind interested as well. It's like a twist of the Sin City graphic novel art and Blade Runner's noir sci-fi leanings. And that makes for some quality entertainment. There's good voice acting work from Daniel Craig and company. It's exciting to see computer animation go the grown up route. The plot twist at the end might not be as seamless a transition as it was intended to be, but it surprised me and put the rest of the movie in a different perspective.