Sunday, December 03, 2006

You're kidding, right?

As a fan of film, I've been disturbed by a recent trend of showing advertisements before screenings. I'm all for previews and I consider that all part of the theatre experience, but I'm talking about cola, airlines, beer, whatever. I don't know how it is that I'm paying $8.50 for a ticket, $3.50 for a bottle of water, and now I have to sit through an ad, too. But that's not even what has me ruffled. As I was waiting for the beginning of Casino Royale, and a preview for a Rocky comeback movie started, I found myself expecting, or perhaps hoping to see the Energizer Bunny rolling across the screen as part of some wicked joke advertisement. No such luck.

Yes, Rocky is coming back, and not as a coach. From what I understand, the 50-something character, played by the now 60-year old Sylvester Stallone will be stepping back into the ring. Thirty years after Rocky, and 16 years after Rocky V, he's back with Rocky Balboa.

The franchise started in 1976 and released a film in every three years until Rocky V, for which they waited for five years. The extra time was apparently not spent in the script room. Stallone, who has written all the movies, directed II, III and IV. So, perhaps they were waiting on original Rocky director John G. Avildsen to complete that "classic" film, The Karate Kid, Part III. I presume the return of Avildsen was meant to recover some of the spark of the original film. How did it turn out? See my crude imdb rating trend analysis below.

Clearly, there was a tick downward when Avildsen returned to the franchise. Is that his fault? I doubt it. Nonetheless, he won't be around for what has to be the last in the series. Stallone will get to take all the "credit" for this one. And if this film doesn't get any critical acclaim, perhaps Stallone will get some for the next Rambo movie. And, no, by the way, I'm not kidding. These are the movies that make me glad I'm doing this for free, otherwise somebody might make me go see them. I'll sit this one out unless I hear of a miracle Rocky comeback, and not the one that will undoubtedly happen in the movie.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Review: Casino Royale

The film world was buzzing with horror just a year or so ago. The producers of the forthcoming Bond movie had announced their choice for Pierce Brosnan's replacement, and fans weren't happy about it. They wanted to know what the hell they were thinking, hiring a relatively short (5'11") blond guy to play their hero. Many thought Brosnan (a full 6'1", and dark hair) to be the perfect physical specimen to play Bond, while others argued that it was Sean Connery who was the number one Bond of all time. They all agreed that Daniel Craig was not suitable.

However, I think the producers were trying to get as far away from Brosnan as they could. That surely isn't a slam against Brosnan, but the Bond series needed a push in another direction. It had become a little bit more like a futuristic comic book series lately rather than gritty spy series. Craig, as it turns out, can act, and quite well. Also, as I learned from two female spectators sitting to my left, he's rather nicely built and has a great butt.

The film returns to the beginning, in an obvious move to reset and redefine the on-screen Bond. If it seems like a somewhat familiar move, recall Batman Begins. We get to see Bond gaining his 00 status, making rookie mistakes, falling in love, and learning just what makes a great martini. Some things are kept rather traditional, such as the "Bond women", Eva Green and Caterina Murino.

But this edition of Bond focuses more squarely on the story and rebuilding the character. It keeps moving and keeps you guessing, sometimes not quite correctly as it turns out. And this new Bond still has a sense of humor. You won't forget the torture scene. I know that sounds odd, but you'll understand once you see it.

It's not that the movie isn't flawed. As a poker player, I had to avert my eyes at some of the Texas Hold'em scenes. And, it's clear that the writers are running thin on physical ailments that the villains possess. All things considered, though, I can forgive them. My imdb rating: 8.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Review: Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Okay, I've been a bit negligent. It's been over a week since I saw Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan and I'm just now getting around to writing about the experience. Better late.

The movie follows Borat Sagdiyev, the alter ego of Sacha Baron Cohen, on a trip across the United States as he searches for knowledge to bring back to the people of his homeland, Kazakhstan. Along the way, he encounters a variety of people, most of whom I suspect have no idea they're talking to someone in character. That character, Borat, is kind and friendly, albeit naive, ignorant, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic and (as we find out) quite hairy. You may choose to avert your eyes during one scene where you're afforded the opportunity to compare the full-body hairiness of Borat and his producer, Azamat.

I've struggled with this movie quite a bit. I laughed quite a bit when I saw it. Some parts were very, very funny. Some parts were extremely uncomfortable. Some were both. Cohen manages to point out the ignorance, bigotry, etc. in many of the unwitting participants of the film. I don't know if I feel sorry for too many of them, and yet there is some part of me that has a hard time being too thrilled about laughing at their expense.

Without spoiling too much, a few funny quotes from the movie: "May George Bush drink the blood of every man, woman and child in Iraq!" (to the somewhat uncomfortable applause of rodeo spectators). "We should go back to New York. At least there are no Jews there." (apparently, their research is lacking) and "Although Kazakhstan a glorious country, it have problem, too: economic, social and Jew." (It should be noted that Sacha Baron Cohen is a Jew himself.)

Moving on... perhaps I fell prey to the "high expectations" syndrome, but I don't think this movie is worthy of the intense accolades it's received. Some reviewer said it was "possibly the funniest movie ever made". Funny, yes. Funniest ever? Far from it. If you're looking for some cheap laughs, and perhaps a few smart jokes here and there, here's your movie. It might be a nice break from all the Oscar contenders you'll see in the next couple months. My imdb rating: 7.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Review: The Departed

I heard a lot of hype about Martin Scorsese's latest film The Departed. The film's cast is littered with legendary and hot-list names including Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, and Jack Nicholson. The screenplay is based on a Hong Kong crime drama called Infernal Affairs. It was a perfect set-up for disappointment. But...

The 150-minute movie starts fast, and never slows down. The plot is intricately woven and I'm sure that I might come close to grasping all the twists and turns if I saw it again; particularly minus the record popcorn-eating binge, frequent bathroom breaks, and hilarious "trip up the stairs -- SPLASH -- my pop!" moment of the guys behind and to the right of us; also, minus the people who decided this would be a pleasant movie to which they could bring a 2-year old (perhaps they match the film's f-bomb pace at home, but I can only assume that the film's level of violence is unmatched, even at daycare).

The acting was superb, capped off by the best performance I've seen from Jack Nicholson in years. Scorsese kept him in line, drawing out Jack's famous nuttiness in controlled fashion. I keep not wanting to like Leonardo DiCaprio, probably some sort of deranged payback for Titanic and having botched so many relationships with international runway models; but he was terrific. I really don't think there was a bad performance in the whole thing.

Assuming they didn't stray too far from the original movie, we owe a big thanks from those guys in Hong Kong for reminding us how to make a crime drama (Note to self: rent original for comparison). I can't gush enough. My imdb rating: 9.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Review: The Prestige

The Prestige is this fall movie season's second magician film, apparently an up and coming genre. It has a great cast and is directed by Christopher Nolan, who previously directed one of my all-time favorites, Memento. The aforementioned cast includes Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, and see if you can spot David Bowie.

Rupert Angier (Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Bale) are up and coming magicians who, after a horrible accident, become bitter rivals. Both are obsessed with their art and are not above trickery to steal each others' secrets, ruin each other's shows, or cause physical harm to the other. At one point, Borden is arrested for Angier's murder. Did he commit murder, or was he framed, and if so, then by whom, and if not then does he get punished for his crime, but if so, does the framer suffer any ill fate befitting his acts? The answer... crap, I forgot what the question was. Perhaps you can find out for yourself.

Be prepared to skip from one part of the time line to another. If this kind of thing frustrates and confuses you, you may want to buy a ticket for something else. Eventually, it all makes sense, though I think I'll see it again, just to make sure I've got it all straight. My IMDB rating: 8.

I'm back

Due to a horrific accident shortly after the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival, was lost forever. I'm back with this blog, if you care.

For those of you looking for the original reviews, like I said, they were lost. Forever. It would be impossible to entirely recapture the magic of those original reviews (there's no HTML tag for sarcasm, but there should be), but I may try to go back and provide reviews for those movies. Patience...