Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Last Legion

I watch a lot of forgettable movies, but this one may take the cake. I watched it yesterday, and already had to look up a plot synopses to refresh my memory. This movie is just a series of anti-climactic and underwhelming plot points. Any sort of plot character development can be spotted from the very beginning.

The Last Legion tells a fictionalized account of the fall of the Roman Empire. The story revolves around Romulus Augustus (Thomas Sangster), the prepubescent last descendant of Caesar. He comes to power as the empire is losing support, and their power is crumbling. A rival general tries to seize power and kidnaps Romulus. The royal guard- Aurelius (Colin Firth), his teacher- Ambrosinus (Ben Kingsly), and a seemingly random woman- Mira (Ashwaray Rai) fly to his aid. After rescuing him, they find out that his rival has taken control. They decide to flee to Britain in hopes of finding a legion of soldiers there that may still be loyal to Rome- hence the name.

The movie is essentially divided into two acts. The first is the search and rescue of Romulus, and the second is their final stand in Britain. The first part was like any action movie I've ever seen (medieval or present). A small band of good guys bust into a fortress gathered by a seemingly endless group of bad guys. Nothing original or even exciting there. The second half was a little better, with another small group making a stand against an even larger group. but still, nothing new, and not very exciting.

The main problem with this movie, is that it's just boring. The battle sequences are over as soon as they begin. They are almost carbon copies of the battle scenes in Tristram Shandy (the ones they were laughing at). If you're going to make a big budget, large scale movie, the product better match the ambition.

The acting was actually quite good. You can never go wrong with Colin Firth or Ben Kingsly. I wish the script was able to show off these talents better. Firth's speech to the troops before the final battle was anything but inspirational. "Defending the heart of Britania"? Is he referring to the single outpost they have control of?

It's a shame that a movie that sounded like it could actually be interesting turned out like it did. Any tale about the founding of England has potential, but this one was just a stretch. Feel free to go see it, but you probably won't remember it the next day.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Resident Evil: Extinction

I'm confused. Extinction comes after Apocalypse? What are they going to do for the 4th one- Resident Evil: The Big Bang? I guess it doesn't really matter. I'm sure it will just feature a bunch of people fighting yet another vast army of zombies. Why is it that these brainless lumbering animals are able to remain quiet until someone is right in front of them? Oh, that's right, so mediocre film makers who have no other way of frightening an audience can create scary moments. If you haven't been able to tell so far, I didn't much care for this movie.

Just a little background. In the first movie, a virus has escaped in an underground base owned by the Umbrella Corporation. A team is sent in and they discover Alice, a woman who has no recollection of who she is. By the end of the movie we learn that the virus has escaped the base and has spread to New mean Racoon City. For the second movie, the entire city is sealed off, and Alice is stuck inside. She gets together a band of survivors, and after a series of useless plot-lines that add needless complexity, they escape. We find out at the end, however, that Alice is some sort of project by the Umbrella corporation to combat the zombies, and she may even contain a cure.

Extinction finds Alice alone on the road. The epidemic has reached a global scale, and now there's only isolated groups of survivors. This includes the last remnants of the Umbrella Corporation beneath the Nevada desert. They are running experiments trying to come up with a new Alice to cure the zombies. Now on her journey across the west, Alice comes across another group of survivors, a heavily equipped group of survivors. Umbrella is onto her though, and wants her back.

The second installment was one of the worst movies I'd ever seen. This one is slightly better. I kind of enjoyed the Mad Max/Waterworld vibe in the desolate west. I guess this is literally post-apocalyptic. I especially liked their take on the Las Vegas strip. The part I didn't like was just about everything else.

Alice (Mila Jovovich) was pretty much all about ass-kicking in the first two. Somehow she's now developed telekinetic powers? I dunno, I guess she's a superhero now. Or what about the simple chain-link fence keeping the hoards of zombies out of the Umbrella compound? Kinda sketch. And just how did that gang of road warriors get hold of a tanker truck in the first place? Don't even get me started on the absurdity of the Lickers (what happens when life tissue is given the syrum).

There's really not much to say about this movie. It had some good zombie fun, a lot of zombie gore, and not much else. It just continues an already worn out franchise. I liken it to Land of the Dead, George Romero's sub-par finale to the Dead series. These movies take what happens leaving you hanging at the end of an outbreak, and quashes the suspense by actually showing you.


Monday, September 24, 2007

Marcel Marceau 1923-2007

“Of course, I have had many imitators, and I am aware of the jokes about mime. But if you love your art, you just do it. Time will judge me.”

A really nice article about him

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Dnevnoy Dozor (Day Watch)

After months and months of waiting, I was finally able to see Day Watch. This is, of course, the sequel to Night Watch (which I just also reviewed) Due to the success of the first movie, Day Watch's budget skyrocketed. It's evident that they put it to good use and didn't waste it. Though it is filled with splashy visual effects (some of which a little cartoony, or video-game like), it is just as much focused on the characters.

For those who haven't seen the first one (though you really cannot watch this one without), the series follows an eternal war between the forces of light and dark. The two reached a truce, agreeing that neither would directly influence the decisions of humans. Two teams, the night watch and the day watch are in place to make sure that each side follows this agreement. The time of the final great war, however, is fast approaching. This is signified by the coming of the great one, Yegor, who will choose sides and lead them to victory.

Day Watch is set several years after Night Watch. Yegor has reached his teenage years, and the dark others are becoming ever more powerful. Anton, the star of the first movie, and an agent in the night watch is Yegor's father. He is struggling trying regain his son, while keeping the dark others in check, and of course- a new love interest. Sveta, one of the supporting characters in the first movie is back as a night watch trainee, and Anton's romantic interest. She is fast becoming a force just as powerful as Yegor, and everyone is preparing for an epic showdown. During all of this, several dark others are mysteriously killed, and Anton is blamed. If found guilty, he faces death.

A lot happens in this movie. There is one curious premise about the chalk of life. This is an all powerful artifact that is able to rewrite history. It's a little outlandish, but barely makes an appearance. It seems that they only included it as a way to write themselves out of a corner, and wrap up a nice neat ending (that was pretty obvious from miles away). The heart of this movie is still Anton, stuck between his son, and protecting the light. By the end, everything comes to a head, and he is forced to confront this conflict directly.

Day Watch was not quite as good as Night Watch, but it was still awful good. Everything about these movies just oozes cool- the 2nd one even more. Day Watch is a little more focused on Anton himself, and his struggles, than on the war as a whole- though it does get pretty epic towards the end. It's crucial that you see Night Watch first.


Nochnoy Dozer (Night Watch)

I finally got a chance to see the sequel to this (Day Watch) after months of waiting. Before writing a review of that, however, I thought I should cover this one first. I was lucky enough to see Night Watch at the 2006 Athens Film Fest because it was sold out for every show. Based on the series of sci-fi books by Russian author Sergei Lukyanenko, this was one of the most successful Russian movies of all time- deservedly.

The forces of light and dark waged an epic war, but formed a truce hundreds of years ago. An agreement was reached that neither one could directly influence humans in their decisions, and they must be left to their own devices. Two groups were formed to keep the other in check. The Night Watch is a group of light "others" who have to keep the dark "others" in line, and the Day Watch is the opposing force. Near the beginning of the movie, Anton Gorodetski is deceived by a dark other, but the Night Watch intervenes and arrests the woman responsible. As a result, Anton somehow gains powers and is able to see the others. He decides to join the Nightwatch, and becomes one their agents. The main bit of the movie is set in present day Moscow, with a coming Apocalypse. The world is at a crossroads with a cursed woman, Svetlana, bringing about the end of the world (unknowingly), and the prophesied great one, Yegor, who will choose either dark or light, and help that side win the war for eternity.

The plot is a little convoluted, and it took me a second viewing to get everything- especially with all the Russian names and references that might not make sense to an
American viewer. There was no shortage of bizarre scenes, such as Olga, the Nightwatch agent that was imprisoned in the body of an owl. These were all done with visual effects splendor, and an artistic eye. As bizarre as they looked, it just seems to make sense.

What I really liked about this movie, besides the stunning visuals and unique directing by Timur Bekmambetov, was the concept of the conflict. The two sides, despite being at war with each other, have a mutual agreement not to interfere. The light others are not purely good, and the dark others are not purely bad. They are all somewhere in the middle. From what I've heard, the movie differs greatly from the book, leaving some viewers dissatisfied. I'm assuming most people haven't read them, however, so just enjoy the movie for what it is, a fantastic sci-fi allegory.


Friday, September 21, 2007

Balls of Fury

I'm not sure what I was thinking going into this? Was I expecting it to be good? or even just entertaining? After watching it, I still have no idea what I was thinking. It was neither of those two adjectives, and I should have recognized that just from the previews. In fact, anyone who has even seen just the previews would be in the ample position of writing just as thorough of a review. Sometimes I see movies I know will be bad, just to give me something to review. In this case, I didn't need to.

Randy Daytona (Dan Fogler) is a washed up ping-pong player who has been reduced to performing at a Las Vegas buffet. He had potential years ago as a child, but during a pivotal Olympic moment, he choked- resulting in his loss, and the death of his father (something about illegal gambling). Back to present day, he is recruited by FBI Agent Ernie Rodriguez (George Lopez) to infiltrate a top secret ping pong championship put on by crime lord, Feng (Christopher Walken), who also happens to be the man that killed his father. Eventually he consents, trains, and enters the tournament to try to stop Feng.

The first two thirds of the movie are about Daytona training to become a ping pong master. He studies under a blind teacher named Master Wong (James Hong), and his daughter, Maggie (Maggie Q). This is where a majority of the gags are. A blind master, a fat oafish apprentice....and ping pong. The cornerstone is your typical groin humor. People get hit in the crotch, kicked in the crotch, paddled in the crotch, and hit by, well, balls. There were a few funny moments, like when Master Wong sent Daytona on a task swatting bees with a paddle. But for the most part, it was just an old blind man running into things, and lots little balls.

There was a vague trace of glossed over character development, but unfortunately it made no sense. At first Daytona did not want to help the FBI, but seeing a water park built next to his father's grave brought him around. Huh? Or what about Maggie and Daytona? She goes from despising him to being a love interest faster than one round of table tennis. I must have missed something there.

The acting is probably what you would expect from a movie where ball do most of the talking. (I'm sorry, but I need to use as many double entendres as possible). Fogler is kind of an unfunny cross between Seth Rogan and Jack Black. George Lopez is never funny. Hong was actually kind of endearing, but also kind of an unstable character, flipping back and forth between harsh and touching. And Walken, what was he doing in this. I love Christopher Walken. Even in this, he's still Christopher Walken (though this was certainly no Captain Koons).

I guess this isn't surprising from Ben Garant, who's only previous experience has been on Reno 911!. This movie was painfully unfunny, and just another movie to be left off of Christopher Walken's resume; at least he had Hairspray earlier this year. I thought this review should be obvious, but there was actually quite a bit of laughter during the movie. I suppose that means some people out there liked it. No matter, just watch the preview. If you've seen that, you've seen the movie.


Monday, September 17, 2007

Top 20 movies for the rest of the year

These are the 20 movies I am most looking forward to for the rest of the year- in no particular order

1. No Country For Old Men- This may be the movie I am most looking forward to. The Cohen Brothers direct this violent manhunt movie starring Tommy Lee Jones. I love almost everything the Cohen's do, but this looks to me more Natural Born Killers than Big Lebowski. Buzz has already pegged this as a possible Oscar contender.

2. There Will Be Blood- This seems to be a year with the return of good westerns. 3:10 to Yuma, Jesse James, and then in December is this. Daniel Day Lewis plays an oil prospector who will do anything for money. This includes swindling a very religious family. I am a tremendous fan of Lewis and director Paul Thomas Anderson (Punch Drunk Love)

3. Margot at the Wedding- This is Noah Baumbach's followup to his fantastic movie, "The Squid and the Whale". Nicole Kidman, Jeniffer Jason Leigh, and Jack Black star in this dark movie about failing relationships and family secrets. Pauline is getting married to Malcom, but Margot shows up and the whole scene turns into a mess.

4. American Gangster- Billed as this year's the Departed, Gangster follows the story of Frank Lucas, a drug kingpin operated outside of traditional organized crime, accomplished things the established mafia could only dream of. With Denzel Washington as Lucas, and Russell Crowe as the detective trying to bring him down, and Ridley Scott at the helm, this is another movie almost guaranteed a best picture nomination.

5. Across the Universe- This is a wild-card for me in my list. It's producing quite a buzz, but I'm still slightly skeptical about a musical set in the sixties to a Beatles soundtrack (also including some animated segments). The story itself, however, seems promising. A young man travels to America to find his father, falls in love with a girl named Lucy, and the two of them become peace activists when her brother is drafted.

6. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford- Like I said, another western. This one looks to be a little slower paced movie than 3:10 to Yuma, which is fine with me. Brad Pitt stars as the famous outlaw, and Casey Affleck is the titular member of his gang. The movie focuses on Ford's growing jealousy of James' fame, and his plot to kill him.

7. Grace is Gone- This looks to be potentially the saddest movie for the rest of the year. John Cusack stars as a father who's wife was killed in Iraq. He has to learn how to connect to hid two kids for the first time- by telling them this. Cusack's roles just seem to be getting better and better.

8. The Darjeeling Limited- Another Wes Anderson- with Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, and Adrien Brody (of all people). Three brothers try to form a bond as they take a journey across India by rail. This looks to be another oddly touching, and darkly comedic wonder by Anderson.

9. Into the Wild- Sean Penn creates what seems to be his perfect project. It follows Christopher as he travels across the country, making stops along the way on his journey to live in the wilds of Alaska. Sound like the closest Penn could get to living his dream?

10. The Good Night- Gwyneth Paltrow, Penelope Cruz, Danny Devito, Martin Freeman, and Simon Pegg- do you need any other reason? How about a story about a man so dissatisfied with his own life that he creates a fictionalized one in his recurring dreams. But what if this dream life became blurred with the real one, and wasn't all you dreamed? My only complaint- it was my idea first.

11. Finishing the Game- They're making a mockumentary about the tragic death of Bruce Lee, and the studio's attempts to replace him in his final and unfinished film- Game of Death? And Christopher Guest is nowhere to be found? How inappropriate. But judging from the clips I've seen- how very funny.

12. Rendition- This is going to be another heavy one. A man suspected of being a terrorist is abducted at an airport, and taken to a secret detention center. A young CIA agent is witnessing his first interrogation, while the man's wife tries desperately to find out what happened to her husband. Include Jake Gyllenhaal, Reese Witherspoon, Meryl Streep, and Alan Arkin, and you have some potential.

13. Things We Lost in the Fire- Benecio Del Toro has proven himself to fit the troubled and desperate characters (see 21 Grams). This time his best friend (David Duchovny) who helped out his entire life is killed. He moves in with Duchovny's widow (Halley Berry) and helps her and her family out, while trying to get his own life back on track.

14. I'm Not There- Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, and Ben Winshaw all portray Bod Dylan at different junctures in his life.

15. Feast of Love- A group in Oregon experience new love, old love, love lost, and some rather painful love. They all bring different incarnations to this story. This is more of an exploration into the nature of love than a single coherent plot line.

16. August Rush- This is another music inspired journey in the vein of "Once." This time, an orphaned street musician uses music, and a cowboy hat to try to find his parents, who were forced to give him up as a matter of circumstance. Except I don't know about Robin William with a soul patch.

17. The Kite Runner- Based on the best selling novel Khaled Hoseini, this tells the story of Amir, a boy who grew up in Afghanistan and moved to America. He left behind his best friend, Hassan. All is well until Amir hears from Hassan that his son is in trouble. Amir heads back to the country of his birth only to find that everything has changed, and that this is no longer his country.

18. We Own the Night- Two brothers (Joaquin Pheonix, and Mark Wahlberg) chose different sides of the to law, one is a cop, the other a night club owner dabbling in organized crime. They need to put aside their differences and try to stop a mafia hit on the chief of police (Robert Duvall)- their father. This is another promising crime drama that has actually been likened to a reversal of Goodfellas.

19. Dan in Real Life- Steve Carell plays the role that he does best, a pathetic, sad, and absolutely endearing character. Here he is a widower who happens to fall in love with his brother's girlfriend. He has to keep himself together, while raising his three daughters alone. I imagine this will be a similar performance to the one he gave in Little Miss Sunshine- one of my favorites from last year.

20. Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street- Bwahaha, you knew this one was going to be on here somewhere, so I figured I wrap up with it. Steven Sondheim's notorious musical about a murderous barber finally hits the big screen. This dark dark comedy is directed by nobody else but Tim Burton, and stars nobody else but Johnny Depp (Their 6th movie together). Alan Rickman, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Helena Bonham Carter round out this stellar cast. The premise/genre may alienate some viewers, but I am very very excited.


This newest sci-fi monster movies- also called Dragon Wars- follows on the heels of another recent Korean hit, "The Host". The difference is that The Host was good, and D-War was anything but. It took the revitalization of the monster movie, and turned it into a terrible CG fest. The visual effects don't make cover the fact that this is nothing more than a Sci-Fi Channel movie with an inflated budget. (I've heard figures anywhere from $30-$70 million, and I'd place it towards the upper number).

D-War is based on old Korean folklore. Every 500 years a girl is born with something inside her called Yuh Yi Joo. The Yuh Yo Joo has the power to turn an Imoogi (gigantic serpents) into a dragon. The dragon then ascends to heaven. A good Imoogi will use that power to keep the universe in balance, but a bad Imoogi will use it to destroy the world. 500 years ago, a student name Haram was enlisted to defend the Yuh Yi Joo, but a bad Imoogi named Buraki gathered a dark army and attacked their town. Haram managed to get the Yuh Yi Joo to the good Imoogi, but had fallen in love with her. Instead of sacrificing her, the two killed themselves to be together. Great story, huh?

Flash forward to present day Los Angeles where we meet Ethan (Jason Behr), a reporter who is the reincarnation of Haram. The first 20-30 minutes are spent during Ethan's childhood as he learns about the legend. Despite the visuals of uncountable explosions in ancient Korea, the story is just about as thrilling as the paragraph I dedicated to writing about it. It sounded like biblical texts of: so-and-so beget this person, and this person beget so-and-so, etc. Needless to say, it just wasn't very interesting.

We also meet Sarah (Amanda Brooks), the reincarnation of the Yuh Yi Joo. She's nineteen, completely unaware that on her 20th birthday, the Yuh Yi Joo will be fully formed, and she will have to sacrifice herself to an Imoogi. Unfortunately, Buraki is also back, and this time he is not going to let her get away. Somehow her an Ethan both begin to realize what is going on, and somehow find each other, just in time for the legion of darkness to begin destroying the city.

This is clearly a movie structured around the monster visual effects. What do you expect from a director who's previous movie was called Reptilian. With all the emphasis on the effects, the acting, and general plot development took a back seat. Both of which were just terrible. Who needs developed characters, or logical plot lines when you can have pint sized dragons flying through Los Angeles dogfighting helicopters. The only exception was the always enjoyable Craig Robinson who played Bruce, Ethan's cameraman.

Most of the effects looked a bit more like video game cinematics than an actual movie. This resulted in mediocre compositing with the live action footage. I'm never truly convinced that the people are really interacting with the monsters. It may be in part due to things like dinosaur-esque creatures with rocket launchers on their backs. For some reason that just doesn't mesh well with the concept of a Korean legend. Like I said earlier, just turn on Sci-Fi Channel and anything you'll see will be as good as this.


Sunday, September 16, 2007


As with any horror movie of this particular genre, this movie is bad. It's interesting watching this, and the Halloween remake so close together. Though they're both horror/slasher flicks, they're incredibly different. Halloween seemed to involve characters as opposed to just victims (at least until the series went entirely south) whereas Hatchet follows in the tradition of the Friday the 13th franchise of letting an apparently immortal half-man on a slew of prey. This may be obvious simply from the appearances of Kane Hodder (who played Jason in the Friday the 13ths), Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger), and Tony Todd (The Candyman). Hatchet seems to be nothing more than a loving throwback to these eighties horror icons.

Ben (Joel Moore) and Marcus (Deon Richmond) decide to take a break from Mardi Gras partying, and venture out on a haunted bayou tour, with a group of others functioning solely as bodies for Victor Crowly (Hodder) to tear limb from limb. That is except for Marybeth (Tamra Feldman) who is our heroine. Anyway, their tour boat breaks down and they all have to trek back through the swamp bypassing this killer- unsuccessfully of course.

There's a trend that started in the nineties, and has progressed ever since. Horror movies tend to favor slashers, with the killers targeting young coeds with various devastating weapons. Hatchet, instead, takes its cue from the aforementioned eighties slashers with these beastly people killing anything that moves with nothing more than their brute strength. These horror characters literally tear people apart, resulting in almost cartoony deaths that are more reminiscent of Evil Dead era Peter Jackson than of any other horror movie today.

Unlike most modern horror movies, Hatchet doesn't try to be actually scary. It pulls no punches, and leaves no details absent from the screen. Instead of trying to frighten the audience, director Adam Green wants us to respond with the same maniacal laughter he probably had while shooting it. I know these differences may not sound like they matter, or make sense. If they don't to you, you're probably not a fan of horror movies anyway, and you'll hate this one. If you do like the genre, this may actually sell you on it.

A movie that's bad, is still a bad movie. Just because it's fun, and it's campy, doesn't mean it's good. Like many movies I review, if you like horror, you'll enjoy this; if you don' probably haven't gotten this far into the review. This movie was clearly made by people who love horror movies for people who love horror movies. Regardless, I think that Victor Crowly may very well be joining the ranks of Jason Vorhees and Michael Meyers in the realm of horror legend.


Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Nanny Diaries

This is a delightful movie based on Emma Mclaughlin's and Nicola Kraus's study of child care professionals. It's a bit comedy a bit tragedy, all under the cover of an anthropological study. It adheres strictly to this guise, coming off as if it was written as a thesis. This led to some very entertaining references to the movie being a field study, of all things, about the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

Scarlet Johansson is one of my favorite current actresses, and this movie re-enforces that idea. She plays Annie Braddock, a recent college graduate with a degree in business and anthropology (hence the scientific approach to the narration). After a botched job interview, she realizes that she has no idea who she is. After a series of events she end up wrangling a job as a live in nanny for a wealthy couple (Laura Linney and Paul Giamatti) They're son, Grayer, is played adorably by Nicholas Art.

Annie takes this job simply as a way to make some money and find herself before moving onto what she really wants to do. As would be expected, it starts out with her and Grayer constantly at odds with each other, and Mrs. X (her name isn't revealed until the end) treats more as a servant than an employee. As time goes on, however, Annie and Grayer become close, and she must face the painful decision of whether to get on with her life, or stay with him.

Tacked on this plot is, of course, a love story. Annie starts to fall for a man in the X's building (Chris Evans)- despite the rule of no dating. This story seemed kind of tacked on superfluously, and his character was downright annoying at times. This may be because I didn't buy the chemistry between the two at all. I think was supposed to bridge a the gap between their two different worlds, or something like that. I just didn't think it was necessary.

At its heart, this actually has the makings of a tragedy. Grayer is being raised by a string of hired help as opposed to his parents. Mrs. X is stuck in a loveless marriage to a job obsessed, cheating husband, and drowns her sorrows in charity events and shopping, all while neglecting her son. Unfortunately, this probably is not an unrealistic stretch. Annie is thrown into this mess and has to be supportive of them all, while taking care of Grayer.

The cast is magnificent. Johansson sparkles as usual, Linney actually looks like she's about to crumble in desperation, and I'm not sure which movie portrayed Giamatti as a worse person, this one, or Shoot 'Em Up. I'm inclined to have more sympathy for the murderous hit man of the other movie. Donna Murphey plays Annie's mother, a nurse who thinks that her daughter got the job she interviewed for, and has no idea of her actual occupation. She contributed a nice balance to Mrs. X's negligence.

Aside from a few problems such as the luke-warm love story, and the Chris Evans character in general, this movie was a complete joy.


Friday, September 14, 2007

3:10 To Yuma

There are two kinds of westerns: High Noon style shootouts, and train robberies. 3:10 to Yuma is a third kind- one the combines the first two into an actual compelling story. I am not traditionally a big fan of westerns, but this movie shows how good this genre actually can be. Westerns don't necessarily need just gunfight (though this does have plenty of them), but can have well developed characters.

Russell Crowe plays Ben Wade, the leader of a notorious gang of bandits infamous for robbing stage coaches. Christian Bale plays Dan Evans, a good natured farmer trying to raise his family on a desolate farm, about to be pushed out by the railroads. How do these two paths cross? Wade gets captured celebrating his latest heist, and Evans volunteers (for a fee higher than a year's salary) to join a group escorting Wade to the 3:10 train to Yuma prison. This band of Wade, Evans, a railroad executive, a mercenary, a deputy, and a vet (he was the closest thing to a doctor they could find) set off on a race to get Wade to the train before his posse finds them.

Each character is unique and interesting, and it's a fabulous cast: Dallas Roberts, Peter Fonda, and Alan Tudyk. They all bring an original personality to the group. Nearly everyone at some point stands up and becomes a hero- including Evan's son (Logan Lerman). Even the bad guys in Wade's gang are all interesting- especially Charlie Prince (Ben Foster), who may have been my favorite character.

Bale's dead seriousness is juxtaposed perfectly against Crowe's smarmy, self assured egotism. With every sarcastic comment Evans gets more and more angry, and more more convicted to getting Wade on that train. Regardless of what happens, he will not fail at this- possibly because of his virtue, but more likely because of his son.

There are some problems that detracted from this movie for me. They didn't kill Wade right off the bat, because his gang would take revenge on the town. I couldn't figure out how sending him off to jail would be any different. Without giving away too much, the ending scene, as cool as it was, seemed to be a tad bit over the top. These weren't too distracting from the plot, however.

James Mangold managed to craft an expert Western that what both thrilling and powerful. In the end, however, it was the cast that brought it together. There was a perfect chemistry between Bale and Crowe, both of which somehow managed to inspire. Movies like this make me want to go back in time. The roles of a Spartan or a pirate that I would have loved to inherit have now been replaced by old west bandit.


Shoot 'Em Up

Action movies have a new bad ass in town, and his name is Clive Owen. Try wrapping up Bruce Willis, Mel Gibson, Jason Statham, and add a British tinge, and you get Owen. I'm not sure exactly what to make of this movie. It wasn't good, but it was kind of fun. I think it tried to emulate the violent wit of Guy Ritchie action movies such as Snatch, and Layer Cake. Instead it fell short and ended up on par with last year's Smokin' Aces.

Owen is simply "Mr. Smith" who unwittingly gets involved in a massive conspiracy when he tries to rescue a pregnant woman who is being chased by an absurdly large group of heavily armed men. He manages to fight them off, while delivering her baby. Smith soon becomes the sole protector of this baby, and he doesn't even know why everyone is after it. Eventually Smith recruits the help of soon-to-be love interest Donna Quintano (Monica Belucci), a prostitute with a maternal instinct. Together the two of them protect the baby while taking out dozens of bad guys.

Paul Giamatti takes an interesting turn as the lead bad guy. He does well with the spitting, sweaty faced anger that you expect from a chubby balding bad guy, but his random quips and cliched plans just play off as weird and random. Listen to his "tit for tat" limerick towards the beginning and you 'll know what I mean. Owen takes his action role very seriously, using a wide array of guns, and even carrots as weapons. Both of which are clearly violent phallic symbols.

You never really know who any of the characters are. I mean you certainly get an idea who they are, but you don't understand why they're involved. Sure there's conspiracies, and government agencies, and gun companies, but very little holds together between the frequent gunfight (which are pretty spectacular). Owen repels down a stairwell filled with guys, is involved in a shootout while engaging in intercourse, and in one laughable scene, shoots it out with several others while skydiving. These pretty much sum up the fun, but head-scratchingly over the top sequences in the movie.

I realize that this movie is just supposed to be a schlocky gun-fest, but it's just not all that good, and left me rolling my eyes through much of it. I wish the movie were as fun watch as I'm sure it was to make.


Monday, September 3, 2007


"A star can't shine with a broken heart." Thanks Claire Danes. That line right there sums up the movie. Or perhaps it's the tears in the corner of her eye every shot, or her full bodied over-acting that sum up the movie. From start to the "Train" inspired closing credits music, the movie disappointed. It was stuck somewhere in the realm between epic fantasy, and love story. The result is kind of a long rambling adventure tale.

The plot, in trying to simplify it as much as possible, follows Tristan (Charlie Cox) as he tries to find a fallen star to bring back to the woman he's in love with (Sienna Miller). This quest takes over a wall into a kingdom of mythology. Meanwhile, in this magical kingdom, a king (Peter O'Toole) is dying, and in order to determine which of his sons is going to take over the throne, he throws his necklace out the window, and the first son to return it is the new king. Turns out the necklace is what knocked the star out of the sky, so the brothers (Mark Strong, Mark Heap) are also after the star. Finally, a group of witches (Michelle Pfeiffer, Sarah Alexander, and Joanna Scanlan) in a quest for eternal beauty are also after the star. Oh, did I mention it's not just a star, but it's Claire Danes?

The movie filled with a colorful cast of characters, whom all three groups at different times come into contact with. Ricky Gervais plays a swindling trader in my favorite role. Robert De Niro is Captain Shakespeare, a hilariously flamboyant pirate captain, except it was almost embarrassing watching one of the greatest actors of all time prance around in a dress (though I'm sure it was fun). Is this what happens when Travis Bickle ages? Kate Magowan plays Una, a slave girl who also happens to be Tristan's mother. That's a whole additional side-plot there.

I'm not saying this was an awful movie, it just didn't meet my expectations. I like my vast, visually stunning movies to be just that- vast and visually stunning (maybe a little inspirational as well). Whereas I like my love stories to simple, almost a microcosm all until itself (see my reviews of "Once" and "Paris Je'taime"). Stardust though is was indeed visually stunning and massive in scope, the love story just didn't work for me. Maybe I just didn't feel the chemistry between them. If you just look at it as an adventure/traveling film, you may enjoy it.


Sunday, September 2, 2007

10 MPH

This is an odd little 2007 documentary where director Hunter Weeks, and friend Josh Caldwell quit their stuffy cubicle jobs and decided to travel across the country. The only catch was that they they were doing it on a segway- with a maximum speed of 10 miles per hour. Accompanying them were student Alon Waisman (who got his University to sponsor some of the venture), and Week's sister, Gannon. Working behind the scenes was "J Fred" a friend who put forth money and logistics. This is quite the tale of a group of people trying to recapture the American adventurous spirit. It wasn't the most interesting movie ever, but it was certainly a original one.

These people really are not film makers. It's like giving a video camera to a high schooler and telling him to make a feature length documentary. It's a messy movie, but in a way that adds to the story. It serves to enhance their gung-ho "Let's just do this" attitude. It seems as if they filmed absolutely everything, and roughly cut together a chronological account of what they found entertaining (whether the audience did or not).

Along the way they met an interesting cast of characters from ever state they drove through. Bikers who tried to understand the thrill of going so slow, River rafters who try to live as simply as possible, more than their fair share of highway patrol, and big city dwellers who all swear they and only they know where the best food is. As cliched as the term sounds, this really was a nice little slice of Americana. It captures real Americans in their real surroundings, acting like they really do. It gives insight into people's lives and opinions that politicians spend millions of dollars trying to get at- and these guys just had to pull a crazy stunt like this and bring a video camera.

There were parts that just seemed to not matter. Jokes they included only seemed to make sense to them. It was not without conflict, however. Spending a hundred days on the road is hard enough, but when it's on the back of a segway (Josh rode the segway the entire 4,000 miles, while Hunter sometimes rode a second one, and sometimes rode in the chase car). They ran into financial trouble when one of their supporters backed out, and Hunter had to cash in some of his retirement money, and they were often almost arrested.

In the end, however, every trial is worth something. Was it worth it travel across the country, essentially hemorrhaging money they didn't have? They experienced something that none of us will, they accomplished something that the normal person would only suggest in their wildest anecdotes, and they captured what America really is. Forget patriotic flagophiles, the people in this movie- from the miner/potter, to the biker crashing the segway, to the Amish carriage drivers- are America. This wasn't the most well constructed piece ever, but they did it. They had an idea, went through, and no matter what the cost- they did it. That's more than most people would do, and you have to respect that.