Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Hurt Locker (2008) - Kathryn Bigelow

The Hurt Locker (2009)
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writer: Mark Boal
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse, Evangeline Lilly, Christian Camargo

Well I keep hear nothing but good things about Kathryn Bigelow and her newest movie The Hurt Locker (2009). Now that she has won the top prize at Director’s Guild of America Awards, her film is getting even more and more Oscar buzz. That means it was about time for me to see this movie. I was a little worried though, there was so much hype that I didn't see how it could live up to it all.

Most movie never live up to their hype and this movie wasn't any different. I thought it was a good movie but not a great movie. It just didn't do much for me. The movie had a few exciting and tense action sequences but honestly there wasn't much more to the movie than that. It attempted to have a message about war being a drug and it questioned how exactly soldiers are supposed to live in the real world after the experience of war. This message has been done before and much better by many movies in the past. This movie is just too shallow for the message to really work.

Friday, January 15, 2010

High Plains Drifter (1973) - Clint Eastwood

High Plains Drifter (1973)
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writers: Ernest Tidyman, Dean Riesner
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Verna Bloom, Marianna Hill, Mitch Ryan, Jack Ging, Stefan Gierasch, Ted Hartley, Billy Curtis, William O'Connell, Buddy Van Horn

I have a confession to make. Clint Eastwood has directed over 30 movies and I have only seen 3 of them; Gran Torino (2008), Unforgiven (1992), and High Plains Drifter (1973). Clint tends to direct movies that look like movies I might enjoy but I just never get around to actually watching. I've probably just lost the respect of many of my film geek friends but I will try to fix the problem as soon as possible.

Now, you would think that when Clint Eastwood was announced as this month's choice for the Lambs In the Director's Chair feature that I would take that as an opportunity to see some of his films that I have missed. You would be wrong though, I decided to go with an old standby that I had been wanting to write up for quite awhile. Hopefully reading some other entries for the Director's Chair will inspire me to finally watch more of his movies.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Avatar (2009) - James Cameron

Avatar (2009)
Director: James Cameron
Writer: James Cameron
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel Moore

Well, I finally got around to seeing Avatar (2009), a little late perhaps but there is no way I am seeing a movie this over-hyped during its opening weekend. With big event movies like this I tend to prefer to wait a couple weeks for things to settle down before I venture out to see them. I also like to try and see an afternoon show during the week to minimize the effects of the screaming crowds of fanboys. If what you are taking from this is that event movies usually aren't my cup of tea, well you'd be right.

Avatar wasn't exactly my cup of tea but it wasn't a bad cup of tea either. For the most part I found myself being entertained by the shear spectacle of the film. The CGI is very well executed. The landscapes James Cameron created in the film really look amazing. The Na'vi (the completely CGI created race that inhabits the planet of Pandora) are rendered very well and for the most part you forget that they are CGI characters during the film. They aren't perfect and their a few times during the movie where you can tell they aren't real but they are better than any humanoid CGI characters that have come before them.

The action sequences are well done and pretty exciting. They may have been created in a computer but they are far better looking than any of the computer generated battle sequences from the Star Wars prequels. James Cameron put a lot of effort into creating all these photo realistic landscapes and then animating the battles in them and it shows. The effects sequences are first rate and some of the best I've seen. The 3D in the film is also used perfectly to pull the audience into the battle sequences (and the rest of Pandora for that matter). The 3D wasn't at all intrusive and gimmicky like it can be in other films. It actually did add to the experience of this movie.

Now, I started out with all the good things about the film so I know at this point you must be asking yourself why this wasn't my cup of tea. Well, it comes down to story for me and the story in this one just didn't do much for me. For starters, this story has been told hundreds of times before. Now, I don't think every story out there needs to be one-hundred percent original. There are plenty of ways to use an old story and still make a pretty fresh movie. However, if I know how the movie is going to end less than half way through then there are problems with the story. I don't just mean that I knew the good guys would win and the bad guys would get what they deserved. I mean I had the entire final act mapped out in my head. That is not good story telling and the fact that James Cameron has proven in the past that he can tell a good story just makes that all the more disappointing.

Now another problem I had with the plot isn't just that the story is overused but that this story really needs to stop getting used. Now, I am not one to throw out the racism card but this plot has the white person "going native" and helping the "savage" race defeat the people that he is supposed to be working for. I have yet to figure out exactly how Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) was useful to the Na'vi in helping them defeat the humans though. He didn't seem to tell them any intel that would help them defeat the modern technology. He mostly just said "we need to come up with a plan and unite all the clans." Seriously, the Na'vi couldn't come up with that on their own? It just so happens that this human who has been learning their ways for one month is able to do this one special thing that only five Na'vi have been able to do in the entire history of their people? As Shaw Girl puts it, it is because "White Folk Get Shit Done." I think there may have been a hint of sarcasm in her voice when she said it though.

One other thing I don't get about this film is Sam Worthington. Some how he has become the go to guy for the sci-fi fantasy genre and I just don't get it. He seems to get all this praise for his acting and honestly he didn't really impress me in this or Terminator: Salvation (2009). His performance in this was better than his Terminator performance but I didn't think it was anything special. I will say that I am pretty impressed by Zoe Saldana though. I thought she was great in this and she was great as Uhura in Star Trek (2009). Hell, I even seem to remember enjoying her performance as the Trekkie in The Terminal (2004). Sigourney Weaver did a great job playing Dian Fossey Dr. Grace Augustine, the scientist who wants to learn about the Na'vi by mimicking them to gain their trust.

So on some levels I was able to enjoy the film and I would say that if you do plan of seeing it then you should see it in the theater and in 3D. I didn't see it in IMAX mostly because seeing The Dark Knight in Imax made me dizzy so I am guessing I wouldn't have done well with this one. From what I did see though I can see how IMAX might enhance the experience on this one. This isn't a movie that I really feel the need to see again but if you think it is the type of movie that you will enjoy then don't wait for the DVD. The pure spectacle of the film is worth seeing in the theater even if, like me, you walk away feeling lukewarm about the over all movie.

Rating: 6/10

Monday, January 4, 2010

District 9 (2009) - Neill Blomkamp

District 9 (2009)
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Writers: Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope

There are a few reasons I missed District 9 (2009) when it was in theaters. For starters, I have just been really busy for the last few months. Life happens and sometimes real life just has to take precedence over the blog. I know, I know... it sounds blasphemous but it is true.

There is another reason I didn't see though. Honestly, I just wasn't that interested. I love science fiction but get am leery of most modern sci-fi because it tends to emphasize effects over story. On top of that the hype machine put Peter Jackson's name all over it and I am just not a fan his work. I am well aware of the onslaught of negative comments I am about to receive by saying that but it is true... it is also a topic for a whole other blog post. Because of this, I assumed that it would be one of those movies that everyone else would love and I would feel pretty lukewarm about so I just avoided it.

I am really glad that I ended up renting this one though. I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would. The film actually takes the time to develop a good story with interesting characters. I was surprised by how quickly I found myself caring about the situation that the characters were in. Not only are the characters interesting but the characters manage to change and grow throughout the film in a realistic manor. The major changes that Wikus (Sharlto Copley) goes through (and I don't mean the physical changes) come around iso organically, nothing he does ever seems forced or out of place. His character really manages to learn and change his point of view during the film.

On top of that, the story is well told, interesting and definitely has something to say. I didn't feel that it was beating the audience over the head with its philosophies though. Like any good science fiction the film manages to have something going on under the surface but still manages to be an movie that can be enjoyed on a fun and entertaining level. If you let it, District 9 will leave you with plenty of think about but if you just want a fun sci-fi action flick then it could still be your cup of tea.

The special effects in the film were also extremely effective. The CGI "Prawns" were just as realistic looking as any other CGI I have seen recently. For the most part it didn't even stand out that they were CGI. They were so seamlessly integrated into the film that they looked like real flesh and blood characters. Of course the fact that the characters were written well enough to completely engross you into the film probably helped with not noticing that the characters were CGI.

Now, I know in my review of Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006) I talked about how I did not enjoy the way the movie mixed the documentary and narrative film making styles however I think this actually worked really well in District 9. I can't think of any real reason for why I liked the style in one film and not the other except that the two styles seemed to intregrate much better in District 9 than they did in Behind the Mask. In Behind the Mask the switch between styles just seemed more jarring and took me out of the film a lot more than it did in District 9. Overall this film managed to pull me in far more than I expected it to and I highly recommend it.

Rating: 8/10