Sunday, March 22, 2009

Movies I Missed in 2008: Part 2

Despite my best efforts, I didn't quite manage to see all of the films released in 2008 that I wanted to before the beginning of 2009. As the year progresses, I'm making an effort from time to time to quickly note the titles I've been catching up with. Here's a list of What I've Been Watching lately.

Total number of movies released in 2008 that I have seen as of the writing of this post: 93

Body Of Lies
If you know me you'll be aware that I don't hold Ridley Scott on too high a pedestal. True, Alien is one of my favorite films, but aside from that and Black Hawk Down, I've found his catalog of films to be rather bland. The same goes for Body of Lies. I'm a big fan of Leonardo DiCaprio and I enjoy Russell Crowe, but this film just kind of stagnated on the screen. It wasn't really boring or confusing, but it didn't leave any real impression on me. It was just middle of the road.


Seven Pounds
I had no idea what Seven Pounds was about when I sat down to watch it because the trailers were so ambiguous, which made it kind of exciting. Unfortunately, the twist (if you want to call it that) becomes apparent rather quickly. This didn't necessarily hurt the film, but it took the wind out of it's sails a bit. Will Smith and Rosario Dawson are both great and the direction is really good. This isn't a film that I'm dying to watch again right away, but it was certainly better than I expected it to be.


Sukiyaki Western Django
This movie is an interesting mix of American, Italian, and Asian cultures. It is a spaghetti western starring (nearly) all Asian actors who spend the entire film poorly speaking English. The mixture of modern and antiquated styles and sensibilities almost serves to make the film timeless. Seeing Quentin Tarantino ham it up as an egg-chomping gunfighter was kind of entertaining, and spotting all of the obvious nods to old Westerns (namely Django) was fun, but in the end I felt a bit disappointed. All in all, it made for an interesting experiment in the art of genre-bending, but while sometimes interesting, Sukiyaki Western Django was just too all over the place to be truly satisfying.


Milk
Now that I've seen this film, I no longer wonder how the Academy decided to give their Best Actor award to Sean Penn rather than Mickey Rourke last year. I haven't watched a whole lot of Gus Van Sant's movies, but this is by far the best example of his work that I've seen. Milk is just a damn fine film. It told an inspiring story and had no hang-ups in doing so. The inserted stock footage from the 70's fit into place perfectly, the music was solid, James Franco was great, as were Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, and everyone else...I can't think of anything bad to say about it. This movie really feels like an instant classic.


Sex Drive
I had written this movie off as a second rate Superbad when in reality I ended up enjoying it just as much as said 2007 comedy. Rating movies can be really hard sometimes. In this same post I gave Milk a five star rating and now I appear to be giving Sex Drive the same distinction. All I can say is that I'm giving this film such a good score for the same reason that I'd give American Pie a perfect rating: they both make me laugh way more than most movies. Sex Drive is a teen sex romp road trip movie which may not seem all that special (and probably isn't), but I had a blast watching it. James Marsden was hilarious in this movie. I sincerely think it's the best performance I've seen from him. Josh Zuckerman and Clark Duke are both funny and likable and Amanda Crew is extremely cute. This is really going nowhere. No amount of explanation is probably going to justify why I liked this movie so much, but there you go. Oh yeah, and Seth Green was probably funnier in this movie than I've ever seen him before, too. Good stuff.


To read about the rest of the movies released in 2008 which I've seen, check out the following posts:

What I've Been Watching In 2008: A Year In Review(s)

Movies I Mised in 2008: Part 1

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Watching The Watchmen

So, I went out and saw the Watchmen movie in IMAX on opening night, but not before re-reading the graphic novel for the first time since probably around 1999 or 2000. I was fully prepared to exit the theater thinking, "the best thing about that movie was that it got me to read the comic again." As it turns out, I really enjoyed the film (though it was nice to sit down and read the comic again, too).

The movie and the comic book are so similar in so many ways and so different in so many others that trying to compare the two seemingly becomes a battle between the two sides of my brain. For that reason, I'm not going to do a direct comparison review between the book and the movie. I'm also not going to do a straight-up review of the movie with a plot synopsis, review, and re-cap like I've been known to do. Instead, I'm just going to scrape the surface of my brain and throw down a bulleted list of some of my overall thoughts on the film, both good and bad.

**MINOR SPOILERS BELOW**

- I thought that Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earl Haley, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan were perfect for their roles as Nite Owl, Rorschach, and The Comedian respectively.

- Malin Akerman was surprisingly better than I had expected her to be as Silk Spectre, but she still wasn't perfect for the role in my opinion. Sometimes she seemed much more phony than some of her cast-mates, and honestly I didn't think she looked old enough. The heroes in the movie are supposed to be retired and past their prime, but Malin Akerman looked like a hot college student.

- I was a bit disappointed in Dr. Manhattan. There are two main reasons for this. First and foremost, he just looked fake to me. His movements were stiff and he was just too obviously CG. I've felt this way ever since I first saw him in the trailers, but I assumed that the effects were unfinished at that point. I was disappointed to see that he didn't look any better in the actual movie. Second, though I like Billy Crudup, I didn't feel that his voice fit the character. This may just be me, but in my mind when I read Watchmen, Dr. Manhattan has a deeper, stronger voice. It didn't feel right to me that there was a glowing blue man floating around with the powers of a god who had such a soft, meek-sounding voice.

- I didn't mind Dr. Manhattan's penis at all and thought that it was done tastefully. I don't understand why some people have such a big problem with it. I don't recall hearing anyone complaining about Silk Spectre's nude scenes, so what's wrong with a glowing blue dick?

- My problems with Dr. Manhattan aside, I thought that all of the special effects looked great.

- I often found the film's soundtrack distracting. Existing songs are often used to great effect in film, but there was way too much licensed music in Watchmen for my taste. Essentially every time a new scene or an important moment began, I suddenly found myself thinking about the song that was playing rather than what was going on onscreen.

- I found most of the "superheroes" in the movie to be too super. In the comic the only two characters with actual superhuman abilities are Dr. Manhattan and Ozymandias. In the movie the same may be true, but whenever The Comedian, Rorschach, Nite Owl, or Silk Spectre II were in a fight scene they seemed as though they had super strength and agility. I understand that having been trained to fight as heroes would make them more capable in a fight than the common street tough or prison inmate who they went up against, but they simply seemed to demolish everyone they fought too easily. Comedian punching through walls with ease and Nite Owl flipping his opponents through the air as though he were in a kung-fu film rang false to me. This is one aspect of the Watchmen movie that I think suffered from Zak Snyder's over-the-top directorial style.

- As far as the running time is concerned, I've always felt that a movie should be as long as the director thinks it should be. I didn't mind that the theatrical version of Watchmen flirted with the three hour mark because I was enthralled by the story the entire time, and when the extended director's cut comes out I'll gladly sit through it regardless of the length.

**MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW**

- I liked the ending of the film. Despite the comic's greatness, the giant squid is the one thing that I never really thought would translate properly to the screen. What they ended up doing not only made good sense, but didn't cause any unpleasant waves that greatly affected the rest of the story in a bad way.

- Matthew Goode seems like a capable enough actor, but I didn't really care for his portrayal of Ozymandias. I'm sure that this is the fault of the writers and director as much as anyone, but he didn't really seem like the Ozymandias from the comic at all. In the book Adrian Veidt is perhaps the nicest, most calm and collected of of all of the characters. Sure, he turns out to be the "villain", but even while he's fighting (and in some cases attempting to kill) the other characters he always seems level-headed and caring, which is one of the things about his personality that makes him so interesting. In the movie he always came off as a brooding bad guy in every scene he was in. Even during the trailers and clips released to promote the movie I couldn't help but feel that if I didn't already know that he was the Comedian's killer I would have been able to tell just by looking at his expressions and body language in those short scenes.

- While there are plenty of plot lines and side stories in the Watchmen comics which were left out of the film, there are only two which I really missed. First, I'd have liked to see more of the prison psychologist's story. In the comic his character is fully fleshed out with his own life and set of problems, but in the movie his role is essentially trimmed back to one scene. Likewise, I wish there had been a bit more in the film dealing with the news vendor and the kid reading the Tales of the Black Freighter comic book. I know that Tales of the Black Freighter has seen it's own animated DVD release and I've heard that Zak Snyder is planning to incorporate that film into a director's cut of Watchmen itself, which leads me to believe that there is indeed more footage out there of the vendor and the kid which will be seen eventually, but to merely put those characters in the film for a few moments before they die and rob us of the rest of their scenes (or indeed any other scenes with them) was pretty bad in my opinion. Also, cutting out so much of the news vendor's scenes made it feel like an afterthought that Rorschach decided to leave his journal to the New Frontiersman.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Movies I Missed in 2008: Part 1

Despite my best efforts, I didn't quite manage to see all of the films released in 2008 that I wanted to before the beginning of 2009. As the year progresses, I'll make an effort from time to time to quickly note the titles I've been catching up with. Here's a list of What I've Been Watching lately.

Total number of movies released in 2008 that I have seen as of the writing of this post: 88

Changeling
Clint Eastwood is a machine! Not only does he have an impressive track record of directing quality films, but he also somehow manages to do so incredibly quickly. Between this film and Gran Torino, I'd say that 2008 was a very good year for Eastwood. The entire cast is great, I never lost interest once despite the nearly two and a half hour running time, and knowing that the events depicted in the movie really happened should have your eyes glued to the screen to see what happens next.


Igor
If a computer generated film is going to come out alongside titles as impressive as Wall-E and Kung Fu Panda and dare to sport sub-par animation, it had better damn well have a good story to make up for it. Such is not the case with Igor. The plot is boring and clich├ęd, and the visuals were simply unimpressive. Not to mention, the voice acting was extremely weak. What's the point of paying well known celebrities to voice your characters if the celebrities in question (with the exception of Steve Buscemi) don't sound interesting at all?


Quarantine
Think Cloverfield on a smaller scale and you've essentially got the idea behind Quarantine. While I think that Cloverfield was overall a better film, Quarantine certainly packed a punch. This is one of the scariest movies I've seen in a while and it had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. I can only hope that the original, Spanish-language film REC, which served as inspiration for Quarantine, will be released on Region 1 DVD soon as those who have seen it seem to prefer it to this one.


CJ7
This film has a touching story and some genuinely funny moments, but it is clearly and obviously meant for children. I can't fault the film for this, but I was a little let down by the plot. Whether it's simply dumbed down because it's a kids' movie or there were some flaws in the translation to English, CJ7 often seemed to go places that didn't quite make sense and left me a bit confused. Still, it's not an unpleasant film to watch.


W.
Considering how little I pay attention to, am familiar with, or care about politics, I wasn't really expecting to enjoy this film. A week or two removed from having seen it, I've come to realize that W isn't doing a great job of sticking with me, but I do recall feeling very satisfied once I'd finished watching it. Josh Brolin was great, Thandie Newton was attrocious, and everyone else was just fine.


Chocolate
This film has a fun premise and never really tries to be something it's not, which is what allows it to be so entertaining as an action film. The techniques and abilities displayed by the main character (a rather young girl for a professional martial artist) are certainly impressive, but I couldn't help but feel that her physical performance wasn't quite good enough to be carrying an entire movie just yet. In a few years I have no doubt that she'll be able to be a bankable action star, but for right now it was just kind of neat to see her bend over backwards and slide under a small glass table.


To read about the rest of the movies released in 2008 which I've seen, check out: What I've Been Watching In 2008: A Year In Review(s)