Monday, April 21, 2008

Random Rapid Fire Reviews - January '08

The Invisible
After a high school student named Nick (Justin Chatwin) is beaten to near-death by a gang of his peers led by the rebellious Annie (Margarita Levieva), he's left for dead in a storm drain in the forest where his unconscious body lies for days. During this time, Nick's soul (at least I guess it's his soul) wanders around trying desperately to communicate with the living in hopes that he'll be able to lead someone to his body so that he may be resuscitated before his heart fails. Unfortunately, the only person who can seem to hear Nick's ghostly voice is the very girl responsible for putting his life in jeopardy. I'm always interested in seeing unique new sci-fi/supernatural stories brought to the screen and had hopes that The Invisible would be one of those sleeper hits that wows me despite it's lackluster performance in theaters. Unfortunately it didn't quite deliver on those expectations, but it was interesting (both visually and plot-wise) enough to keep me entertained as I watched it. There are unmistakable similarities between The Invisible and the Patrick Swayze vehicle Ghost, but they aren't so alike that it becomes distracting. My least favorite aspects of this film were it's stereotypically hip visual style and unbelievable, yet somehow played out character archetypes. I'm tired of films about troubled youth in wealthy neighborhoods that seem to be riddled with dream homes that the filmmakers only included in their movie to live out some kind of fantasy onscreen. Don't expect anything ground-breaking here, but catching The Invisible is a decent way to spend a few hours when you've got nothing better to do.

The Quick and the Dead
Director Sam Raimi has made films in just about every genre, including horror (Evil Dead), comedy (Crimewave), sports drama (For Love of the Game), thriller (A Simple Plan), supernatural thriller (The Gift), superhero (Spiderman), and in the case of The Quick and the Dead, western. In a small town run by a royal asshole named John Herod (Gene Hackman), the annual gun duel competition is about to take place when a mysterious female competitor (Sharon Stone) shows up to compete. Among the other competitors are a gunman turned preacher (Russell Crowe) and a young boy called The Kid (Leonardo DiCaprio). For most, the goal is to earn the cash reward by winning the contest, but for some the ultimate goal is to rid the town of Herod's dictator-like reign. In addition to those I've already named, the cast of The Quick and the Dead also includes the likes of Keith David, Lance Henriksen, and Gary Sinise among others. With all of these huge names I could hardly resist checking out this film, not to mention the fact that Raimi, who I'm a fan of, helmed the project. The story is simple and the twist ending rather predictable, but moreso than the intrigue behind the plot, the real reasons to watch The Quick and the Dead are the interaction between the members of it's star-studded cast and to see how Raimi's unique visual style is applied to the western genre. This film is by no means a classic or a must-see, but it is a wholly original addition to the genre and one that I would personally recommend to anyone interested in cowboys and/or the wild west.

My guess would be that even those who have never seen Speed know the film's premise, but for anyone unaware, I'll sum up the plot as painlessly as possible. When a mad bomber (Dennis Hopper) places a bomb on a bus that will detonate if the vehicle drops below 50 miles per hour, a lone police officer (Keanu Reeves) and a civilian woman (sandra Bullock) must desperately attempt to not only keep the bus moving, but also save it's numerous passengers. The premise is ludicrous, the acting is over the top, and the action is even more over the top than the acting, but for what it is, Speed is a great film. There are times when one feels the need to watch a film with substance and technical worth, but when you're just in the mood for a fun, balls to the wall action film it doesn't get much better than Speed. Dennis Hopper makes a genuinely despicable and memorable villain, Jeff Daniels' character provides both humor and heart, and Keanu leads the cast well as the hero who will stop at nothing to uphold the law. The only member of the core cast that I've never been crazy about is Sandra Bullock. She serves her purpose in Speed just fine, but I've never been a big fan of hers in general. Leave your critical opinions at the door and pick up a suspension of disbelief card on your way in and you're in for one hell of an entertaining and wild ride with Speed.

Rush Hour 3
Detective Carter (Chris Tucker) and Inspector Lee (Jackie Chan) are back for a third go 'round in Rush Hour 3. In the first film Lee was a fish out of water in America, in the second film the roles reversed as Carter visited China, and on this outing both of our heroes are out of place as they venture to France to stop the triad from killing a woman who holds all of their secrets. As you can see by reading my reviews of the previous Rush Hour films, I quite liked the first installment of the series, but was rather let down by it's first sequel. Compared to this film though, Rush Hour 2 is best picture material. By this point in time the jokes in these films have been running for just shy of a decade and are growing extremely thin. Chan and Tucker still have great chemistry and are good for a chuckle or two, but everything about this film felt as though I'd seen it before, which is probably about the worst thing that could be said about a Jackie Chan movie. It is true that Chan is in his early fifties, but if he was able to pull of the kinds of moves he did in New Police Story a mere three years before this movie, there's no excuse for the lack of quality action scene fodder in Rush Hour 3. All of the fight scenes in this movie essentially consist of Jackie blocking attacks with chairs and other objects and running away from opponents comedically. When you get right down to it, there is just nothing special about Rush Hour 3. This is a prime example of a sequel that was made for monetary gain as opposed to a desire to further explore the artistic merits of the series, and it's obvious during every flat, uninspired moment of the film.

The Kingdom
When a bombing in the Middle East takes out an American facility, a team of United States government agents including Chris Cooper, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, and Jason Bateman is sent overseas to investigate. When they arrive they are treated with little respect by the locals who don't seem to want to allow them to do their job properly. Over time they grow a decent working relationship with their hosts, but when one of their team is taken hostage by a terrorist cell the remaining agents must cease their investigation in exchange for a rescue mission. Having recently seen Michael Mann's Miami Vice film and being not only unimpressed, but also rather annoyed by it's visual style, The Kingdom, which looked visually similar and was produced by Mann, didn't hold much interest for me. The one thing that really drew me into this movie was the inclusion of Jason Bateman in the cast, who I had only previously seen in comedic roles (a la Michael Bluth on Arrested Development). While it was interesting to see Bateman in The Kingdom, all I kept thinking during the majority of the film is that it should have been called CSI: Saudi Arabia. Most of the running time once the team arrives onsite is devoted to a step by step process via which they slowly learn who the perpetrators of the bombing were, which I found to be rather dull. The only truly entertaining portion of the film comes at it's climax when Garner and Foxx infiltrate a dilapidated apartment building to rescue the kidnapped Jason Bateman with guns blazing. There was a lot of intensity in this scene which alone served to add probably another whole star to my rating of the film. Unless you have a particular interest in the plot of The Kingdom I would suggest that you skip it, because it doesn't make for very good casual viewing fare.

The Brothers Solomon
After their father (Lee Majors) falls into a coma, a doctor relays to John (Will Arnett) and Dean (Will Forte) Solomon that before slipping into unconsciousness he said that he'd like to have a grandson before he dies. In hopes that they will be able to revive their ailing father if one of them supplies him with the proper offspring, John and Dean both set out on a mission to attempt to have a child. Unfortunately, having been segregated from normal interaction with society since childhood, the act of courting prospective mothers proves to be more difficult than they'd first imagined. A few things drew me to The Brothers Solomon. First of all, the film is directed by Bob Odenkirk who I've loved since I first saw Mr. Show, which he co-hosted with David Cross on HBO. Second, Will Arnett is another talent that I have been following closely since catching up with the incredible show Arrested Development, which he was a cast-member of. Third, for no real reason I also really like Chi McBride, who plays a part in this film. Finally, all three of the reasons that I just listed are the same reasons why I watched another recent film by the name of Let's Go To Prison, and they all combined to make me quite enjoy that film, so I figured that it was within reason that the same could be said for The Brothers Solomon. In short, I was right. There is some aspect of both this film and Let's Go To Prison which I can't quite seem to put my finger on that sets them apart from the big, popular comedies of late such as Superbad and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, but it gives them a unique tone that I find both awkward and hilarious. Will Forte and Will Arnett play incredibly well off of one another, and while there are certainly tried and true comedy stereotypes at play during different parts of The Brothers Solomon, it throws enough truly weird curve balls at the audience to create a ridiculous, fresh, and overall enjoyable viewing experience.

"Another thriller from the team that brought us 28 Days Later, only this time leaning more toward science fiction than horror? Count me in." That's essentially the state of mind that I held when I first heard about Sunshine, and having seen it I can confidently say that if you have a similar outlook on sci-fi and cinema to mine and haven't seen this film yet, that's exactly the state of mind you should be in. Approximately fifty years in the future the Earth's sun is dying and a team of astronauts is sent into space to attempt to re-ignite it with a massive bomb before it burns out and all life on our planet is snuffed out. Yes, the premise is far-fetched (to say the least), but if you're a true fan of science fiction that won't matter to you. A story like this one is all about the fantastical journey that a premise allows for the audience to embark upon along with it's characters, not the premise itself. As far as the premise of Sunshine is concerned though, it immediately brings to mind one of my all-time favorite Ray Bradbury stories entitled The Golden Apples of the Sun. Just as with Bradbury's tale (which is smilar to Sunshine, but with a much more romantic theme to say the least), Sunshine is certainly not for everyone. The suspension of disbelief required to accept the events of this film's plot is sure to cause a lot of hang-ups in viewers, but for me I was simply so enthralled by the film's concept that I couldn't wait, from moment to moment, to see how the crew of it's ship was going to achieve it's goals. To quote Bradbury himself, "You can not part the Red Sea with a gesture or walk into a lion's den, like Daniel, and lie down with beasts, or see a wheel in a wheel, way in the middle of the air. But if you write about it in just the proper way people will believe that an incredible vehicle, one day in the future, took some astronauts to borrow a cup of Sun." That being said, despite how outrageous the events of Sunshine were, I basked in the glory of every wacky moment of it's sci-fi style. My own personal problems with the film arise from it's creation, not it's contents. Director Danny Boyle obviously had a daunting task on his hands in showing his audience some of the most inconceivable and outstanding visuals ever brought to the screen, but in my opinion he indulged himself a bit too much while creating them. I completely understand what he was trying to achieve with all of the intense optical effects he injected into the movie, but it is rather hard not to be turned off by some of the visual style presented to us, particularly during the film's already obtuse climax. Sunshine is surely a film that will continue to polarize the opinions of viewers for years to come, and it is certainly not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I had a blast watching it and attempting to absorb it's wholly unique content.

Eastern Promises
A young girl with no identification dies during childbirth in a London hospital leaving behind only a newborn baby girl and a diary written in Russian. In hopes that she'll be able to locate the mystery girl's family, a nurse named Anna (Naomi Watts) brings the diary home for her stepfather to translate. What they discover within the diary gets Anna involved in a troublesome relationship with some Russian gangsters and she must now go to great lengths to try to save the orphaned infant from her mother's enemies. I honestly had no real interest in Eastern Promises outside of the fact that it was directed by David Cronenberg whose early work in the science fiction and horror genres I greatly enjoy. Cronenberg's other recent dramatic film A History Of Violence didn't particularly impress me, which led me to believe that Eastern Promises held the same fate for me, but luckily I was quite wrong to think so. Eastern Promises is at times a very reserved personal story and at other times an in your face exploration of violence and crime. I found the film captivating for the entirety of the running time and was only really let down by a few plot points near the ending. In particular, I wasn't a big fan of the revelation that one of the movie's characters isn't who you're led to believe he/she is. Despite these (what I consider) minor flaws, the plot is expertly crafted and the film as a whole is carried out very well. Of particular interest is a fight scene for which the film has become somewhat infamous during which Viggo Mortensen's character battles two knife-wielding men in the nude. This sequence is both shocking and incredibly impressive, and may very well be one of my all time favorite onscreen fight scenes.

I've wanted to read Neil Gaiman's Stardust for quite some time now, but perhaps even more-so now that I've seen the film. Not because the film was great, but because I refuse to believe that the original text from which it is based is as bad as the movie that was made from it, and I'd like to satisfy my personal curiosity concerning the matter. Stardust is a fairy tale about a young man (Charlie Cox) who tells the love of his life that he would retrieve a fallen star for her and attempts to do so when he discovers that the star in question is in fact a beautiful young girl (Claire Danes). After locating the star the young man also discovers that she is being hunted by a trio of witches (led by Michelle Pfeiffer) whom he must protect her from in order to deliver her to his love as promised. Along the way he meets a cast of fantastical characters including a cross-dressing pirate named Captain Shakespeare (Robert De Niro). The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Princess Bride aside, I've never been a big fan of swords and sorcery films or franchises, which may have partially attributed to my dislike for Stardust, but I don't think that my lack of interest in fantasy is solely to blame for this movie's failure in my eyes. One of my biggest problems with the film was it's pace, which I thought felt very rushed. It was as though there were so many concepts and sequences that director Matthew Vaughn wanted to include in his film that he crammed as many of them as possible into the running time and didn't pay much attention to whether the plot flowed well or not. In addition to this problem, none of the characters were particularly likable, least of which Claire Danes, who was way too bitchy, and Charlie Cox, who was way too whiny. When your two main characters aren't worth rooting for, you know you've got a problem. All in all Stardust just didn't bring anything to the table that I particularly cared for. There were a few neat ideas that were surely held over from the book such as the candles that worked as teleportation devices when lit or some of the magic spells used during the final conflict of the movie, but they weren't nearly enough to save this train wreck of a film.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?
A loose adaptation of The Odyssey, O Brother, Where Art Thou? follows a trio of escaped 1930's convicts as they make their way toward a supposed hidden treasure, all the while pursued by the long arm of the law. In the wake of seeing No Country For Old Men in the theater last year and loving the hell out of it, I decided that it was about time I went back and tracked down the remaining Coen brothers films that I'd yet to see, even if it meant watching some movies with George Clooney, who I'm well known in my circle of friends and acquaintances as not being a fan of. Having not seen O Brother for so many years, primarily due to the inclusion of Clooney, it is perhaps the single movie that has come most highly recommended to me by the most people that I know. Having finally seen it, I can't for the life of me figure out why. Even despite Clooney's presence, I just didn't really see the draw behind the film. Sure, I enjoyed the musical number in the recording studio scene, and sure there were a few funny moments, but all in all I just don't see the draw. George Clooney certainly did his part in making me dislike O Brother, Where Art Thou? by poorly delivering plenty of his standard dry, cocky lines, but in general the film just felt stagnant to me. The plot was fairly thin, leading me to wonder exactly how close it stuck to the classic story from which it is supposedly adapted and whether or not having read said text is a prerequisite for being able to understand exactly what is going on at any given moment. In short, I wouldn't readily recommend this film to anyone, but I suppose you should take into account that just about all of my peers feel the exact opposite of me.

The Salton Sea
The Salton Sea is one of those movies that has so many different layers that it's tough not to give away spoilers since there are seemingly so many of them, but at the same time they're so ingrained within the spiraling mess of a plot that even if you let one slip it's most likely not going to pop out as something important. With that in mind...Val Kilmer plays a junkie with a heart of gold who works as a small-time informant for some asshole cops to keep himself out of prison. When he decides to deal with a big-time supplier who goes by the name of Pooh-Bear (Vincent D'Onofrio) and leave his cop "buddies" in the dark about it he runs a risk that he may not be as ready to handle as he thinks he is. Melodrama is a powerful device. It can be used for good or evil in the world of cinema and the melodrama in The Salton Sea walks a fine line between worthwhile character studies and cheap grabs at unearned emotions. I enjoyed the story behind this film, but the storytelling sometimes felt a little heavy-handed. It's tough to explain my feelings here without giving something away as I explained earlier. Suffice to say that it is certainly a good film, but takes a few turns later on in it's running time that I wasn't too big of a fan of. Val Kilmer is good as the main character, but the real acting treat here is D'Onofrio's drug lord character Pooh-Bear. It's roles like this one, which he reportedly gained 50 pounds to play in addition to spending a great deal of time working on a distinct set of speech patterns and other intricate character details, which have cemented him in history as a true actor's actor. If you like movies about drugs, criminals, or crime in general, you're sure to get something out of The Salton Sea, but I wouldn't say that you have to have a predisposed interest in those sorts of films to enjoy it.

Hannibal Rising
The one and only reason that I wanted to see this film is because I have seen all of the rest of the installments of the Hannibal Lecter series. Not the best reason to see a movie, I know, but what can I say? I'm a completist. Anyway, I (of course) love The Silence of the Lambs, thought that Brett Ratner's prequel Red Dragon was pretty good (mainly because I'm a big fan of it's star Edward Norton), and thought that Ridley Scott's Hannibal was pretty much terrible. Going into watching Hannibal Rising I was expecting to come out of the film feeling similarly about it as I felt about Hannibal, or perhaps in the best case scenario, maybe liking it as much as Red Dragon. Much to my surprise, I quite liked the film and was thoroughly impressed with it's level of quality and believability. Hannibal is one of those characters that I never really wanted to see the history of because I like how mysterious he is, and though I still somewhat feel that way I don't think that the events of Rising taint his character at all. The story behind how Hannibal came to enjoy the taste of human flesh is a little cheesy, but overall it works in the realm of the story. As it stands right now, surprisingly, Hannibal Rising is probably my second favorite film of the Hannibal Lecter franchise right behind the near unreachable zenith that is 1991's The Silence of the Lambs.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
I quite vocally despised the first film in the Fantastic Four series and have stated on numerous occasions that I would honestly more readily watch the unreleased Roger Corman produced Fantastic Four film if given the choice between the two. Rise of the Silver Surfer is no different. This movie is just plain bad. It has the complete packege: bad acting, bad story, bad directing, bad action, etc. Just as was the case with the previous Fantastic Four film, I'm baffled by how little action there is in these movies. Not only is there so little of it, but whenever there is an "action scene", it usually just consists of the team saving some civilians from a falling fire truck or carnival attraction. I don't know why Tim Story insists on making superhero movies with short, uninteresting fight sequences. Then again, I'm not sure why whoever hired him thought that he'd be the right person to direct an action movie or why they bothered to bring him back for a second attempt. You'll notice that I've yet to bring up the fact that Galactus is represented by a storm cloud, but that's because, while terrible, Galactus is far from the worst thing about this movie. I'll bet that if I were a young child I would enjoy the Fantastic Four films, but something tells me that even if I were a tyke I'd still wish there were more fighting. In a world where the Spiderman films exist, I can't picture myself ever watching Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer ever again. Ever.

Resident Evil: Extinction
After so many horribly bad feature film adaptations of video games, comic books, and other media in recent years I feel like I'm beating a dead horse when I ask this, but what the fuck is the entire population of Hollywood smoking and where can I get some? I'm convinced that the only way to enjoy a piece of garbage like this is to be up to your eyeballs in some kind of hallucinatory substance. In fact, the special edition DVD of Resident Evil: Extinction should come with a dose of heroin and a cyanide capsule so that you can either shoot up and try to enjoy the film that way or swallow the pill and kill yourself on the spot to avoid the hassle. There was really no hope for this film to be any good right off the bat considering that the series started off so horribly and managed not to resemble in the least the video game series it was based off of in the first place. Seriously...if a game is massively popular because of it's story, why the hell would you try your hardest to make the plot of the film unrecognizable to it's fans? By now the morons behind the Resident Evil film franchise have decided that what fans really want in addition to their heavy metal music, sterling silver laboratories, zombies, and dainty chicks pulling kung-fu wirework fight scenes against dogs out of their asses is an illegitimate bastard child of Road Warrior. In this film a gang of over-acting, overly beautiful, under-talented survivors are traversing the desert that was once the United States in search of gasoline and food when they decide, based upon a notebook filled with embarrassingly unoriginal scribbled notes, to attempt to find their way to Alaska where there may or may not be a safe place to hide from the zombie plague which has by now spread across the majority of the Earth. Milla Jovovich, whose character Alice has developed full-on superpowers by this point for some reason or another, happens upon this band of hapless fools and proceeds to spin kick everyone and everything that resembles a zombie. Uninspired directing, horrible acting, special effects that looked as though a film student made them on his laptop in 1998, a script that was phoned in by the mastermind of this heinous film franchise (Paul W.S. Anderson), and every modern stylistic stereotype that you can imagine plague every excruciating second of this sad excuse for ninety four minutes of entertainment. The one scene that came close to being worth anyone's time (an obvious homage to Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds) wouldn't have been enough to convince me to recommend this film to anyone even if the special effects weren't laughably fake. Resident Evil: Extinction is the type of film that someone must hate as a prerequisite for me to respect them as a sound-minded human being.


Ricky said...

Whoa--you like Hannibal Rising more than Red Dragon!? I've really gotta see it!!!

Ricky said...

Also, great review of The Quick And The Dead, you summed it up perfectly!! I really want to see it again now.

Ricky said...

I agree with you on The Salton Sea. the melodrama was almost too much, it does try very hard, but the film as a whole makes me okay with it.