Friday, July 30, 2010

My Tops of 2010 - July

Best Films

1. Toy Story 3

2. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

3. The Secret of Kells

4. Kick-Ass

Worst Films

1. The Last Airbender

2. Knight and Day

3. A Nightmare on Elm Street

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Knight and Day - Review

The last time Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz were in a film together, back when they were still considered A-List celebrities and bankable film stars, they were in VANILLA SKY. That film was a polarizing affair both on and off screen, shaking the two actors' images and proved to be a turning point for them and the director Cameron Crowe. Tom Cruise wanted to oddly rekindle his youth days with his dating scene and proving himself in the acting department, despite being a very capable actor as this point. Cameron Diaz gave a great performance, but then spent her continuing career pandering to popcorn entertainment and glossy melodramas.

Though they both have had their share of box office success in other films in the past years, KNIGHT AND DAY is the new litmus test for both of their images and capabilities. Unfortunately, the test proved to be red, as the acidic content and general smugness ruin any chance of excitement and adventure. It is a shiny concealer, trying to prove that the two aging movie stars are still invincible from criticism.

From the beginning to the end, it is nothing but Diaz and Cruise in every frame. Even when you get a scene without them, the other characters have to talk about them and how bold they are. That's how shallow this film is; The movie forces you to try to cheer for this rambunctious couple simply for their outer beauty in looks and action prowess. KNIGHT AND DAY is a rag-magazine of the adventure comedy flicks but with no stingers from the proletariaat.

The film starts instantly with Cruise and Diaz enacting the meet-cute scenario, except they do it more than what's allowed in these films. Diaz plays as June, supposedly a woman who restores cars but that is just so unbelievable that even the director barely plays it up. Tom Cruise is Roy Miller, a secret agent currently on the run with a Macguffin, who purposely entangles June in his proceedings and later blames her for not getting his early messages to stay away. The two "comically" survive an assassination attempt and an emergency plane landing before Roy drugs her out. She wakes up later, gets further in trouble with more people after her, receives a deus ex machina from Cruise, and then drugged out again and repeated all over and often. Seriously, June is knocked out repeatedly and this is suppose to be funny. I surprised we didn't get a hilarious scene where June is diagnosed with a mental disease.

The plot never goes into new territory, nor does it succeed with a tongue-in-cheek look at fugitive films. It just jumps constantly to a new location and scenario after every blackout of June. Jame Mangold's direction may want to present the film as an exercise of absurdism, but it is strictly deus ex machina after deus ex machina. You never even feel the thought of suspense, as the main couple walks through every scene with a stupid grin on their faces.

Now, let's talk about the main attraction, the two actors I spent an opening paragraph on. Cameron Diaz relies only on two emotions: high-strung shrieking and flat emotion. Considering June is supposed to be a car restorer, which never gets old to laugh at, you would think that Diaz would play her as a rough tomboy who's social skills may be bad but has an expertise with handling danger. None of that comes across as Diaz just phones her lines in and has her indestructible purse and her dirty boots do the real action. I am blaming her for her work but June isn't a perfect character in the writing form. Her character is unlikable and beyond ineptitude, as she constantly gets herself in danger due to her actions. Despite being shot at and almost has her pretty face smothered in hot oil, she continues to forcibly enact the next action scene with her stupidity. Maybe if someone didn't drug her all the time and put her in a bikini against her will, she wouldn't be an airhead.

Then, there's Tom Cruise. I just never believed him as Roy Miller, as I only saw Cruise up there. The macho bravado, the smug smile, the invulnerability. Cruise is the phantom puppeteer of the proceedings as no harm is given to his character's physical body nor is there any bad traits. The sheer egotism and perfectionism is just too overbearing. There are some big plot holes that do debunk this myth of Roy Miller; Despite knowing that everyone is looking for them, he doesn't remove the GPS chip in June's phone. But those slight errors can't combat the unbelievability of Roy's impenetrability in one scene where he literate walks slowly in the middle of an open area gunfight to give an unromantic kiss to Diaz.

Because all of the attention is on Diaz and Cruise, none of the supporting cast get any development beyond generic tropes. Both Peter Sarsgaard and Viola Davis look positively bored in their roles and Paul Dano looks visably aloof and embarrassed at his character's direction despite being the person who invents the MacGuffin.

There is nothing to fall back on or to enjoy to give KNIGHT AND DAY a mild response. All of the action scenes are heavily CG-ed and the locations look trivial and unremarkable. The film is simply a hyped-up write-off for Hollywood. There is no enjoyment or laughter, just two movie stars laughing at your misfortune at sitting through this tedium.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Last Airbender - Review

I wasn't a big fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender went it first premiered on Nickelodeon. The animation was clean and crispy, the voice actors did their job effectively, but the slow pacing and structure made myself throw in the towel and wait for the inevitable box set at its conclusion. Despite getting better in content and quality and receiving more fanfare with animation critics, I still couldn't get back in.

If there ever was a reason for myself to watch Avatar in its bulk form, it is to wipe and rewrite all of the atrocities of sight and sound I have experienced with this film. THE LAST AIRBENDER is a colossal monstrosity of both adaptations of television shows and simply any fantasy stories. It dumps nonsensical exposition, weird jargon, characterization twists, and showcases all of it often and in a swift confusing editing composition.

Insufferable auteur M. Night Shyamalan returns again to ruin the imaginations and minds of people but now with more money at his disposal. He has stated that he loves and understands the source material due to his own children's love of the show. Shyamalan must have been lackadaisical watching it with his brethen, as his script is simply brief episode highlights connected to each other by the smallest of threads. There is no suspense, no threats, no gentle progress to cause the viewer to cheer and wait for what's next; Characters who have trouble mastering their powers suddenly are experts. A romance lasts all of three scenes. People teleport and travel constantly at different places with non-helpful subtitles labeling their locations.

Admittedly, the plot of the show isn't actually easy to digest: The world is divided by nations with the power to control four elements. The Fire Nation, the strongest and most prosperous, wants to dominate the world for some reason. In a small village in the Water Nation, two orphaned siblings find and break out a trapped boy who is destined to master all of the elements. Now complicate this to epic proportions in under two hours with plot dumping and more mystical mumbo jumbo to baffle and perplex yourself.

To turn my attention away from further lambasts of the script, let's focus on the direction, the biggest white elephant when discussing Shyamalan's errors. The acting of the main protagonists is literally a forest, and not just because they dabble in the Earth Nation for a sequence. The three main actors are purely one-note with no range of emotions or even martial arts training to hide the criticism away. Nicola Peltz and Jackson Rathbone, playing as the siblings Katarra and Sokka, rely on one look throughout: doe-eyed confusion and constipated angst respectively. But Noah Ringer as the titled character takes a new level of non-emotional impact. No computer effects can save his black hole of charisma. There is a scene where his face takes up the entire screen, as if Shyamalan wanted to have a distinctive platform for Ringer's ineptitude. The only actors worthy of bringing some passion to the preceedings goes to the Indian actors, who are sadly placed as the evil corrupt antagonists to the all-Caucasian faces.

Shyamalan's direction with the camera also creates an abyss full of problems. Despite the fact that this film is supposed to an epic fantasy movie with glamour and grandeur, scenes often have the focus blurring the backgrounds. For example, a supposedly tense moment has a general relying bad news to his lord. Despite having a room full of decorum and the acting chops of Aasif Mandvi, we instead see his distorted body while the back of the lord's head is given important attention. Other scenes have the camera badly tilting, panning, and running into vegetation. Integration of special effects and green screening do not work at all, looking pitiful and cheap despite a huge budget.

I could continue, especially at my utter loathing of its editing, but I can sum up this experience with the structure of the so-called climatic battle at the end. You are going to be fighting with chaos, stop and marvel at something so off-putting, and repeat it continuously. THE LAST AIRBENDER needs to be dust in the wind, because any continuing of the franchise, especially with Shyamalan involved, will just be more afflictions to Hollywood filmmaking.


Monday, July 12, 2010

Predators - Review

PREDATORS is the long-awaited sequel to PREDATOR. Wait a minute, I forgot PREDATOR 2. And, all of the AVP films that everyone is thankfully forgetting but not forgiving. The Predator has had a bumpy franchise path, focusing more on urban violent entries than playing up its allusions to The Most Dangerous Game. But, with PREDATORS, viewers and fans of the ugly but proud race of alien hunters can safely enjoy a pleasing action time-killer and a justified relaunch.

The film opens with Adrien Brody plummeting on to an alien planet with a near endless jungle environment. Crashing down with a deployed parachute, he finds quickly that other armed individuals were distributed in his vicinity as well. Multiple Mexican stand-offs later, the globally diverse group of militants, and Topher Grace, try to find their bearings on the alien planet. They begin noticing strange instances and peculiar science phenomena that can't be Earth-based. The tenacious company of fighters then find out that there three moons in the sky. They must be on an alien planet! I would have probably figured this twist easy even without the blaring spoilers from the trailers, but they doesn't mean you can't just hold some mystery for viewers to have fun with.

The group then is proceed to be hunted upon by three massive Predators and their assortment of gadgetry and creature scouts. The brief shoot-out sequences with these scouts are entertaining, even though they bring some plot holes. Another error in judgment in the writing process was the inclusion of an unnecessary sub-plot where the Predators themselves have a class and race division. And, there's that part where another Predator is added and then quickly subtracted out of the proceedings.

But, this movie is not supposed to be about overthinking the miscalculations and blunders. Director Nimrod Antal and the screenwriters wanted to make a B-movie sci-fi action flick with minor intellect substance to be had. All of the actors hit the mark they were picked for and do a decent performance. The only stand-outs are Walter Goggins and Topher Grace, who bring in the sleazy and comedic aspects, and most notably Laurence Fishburne. Fishburne has a cameo role as a former but still surviving prey of the Predators. He's both intelligent and dangerous as he quirkily whispers his knowledge to the rest and his invisible voices. Fishburne clearly might have a future as the next Nicholas Cage of gonzo roles.

Other than some long but great violent encounters, the highlight being a samurai duel in a dark field, I was treated to finally seeing some competent and clearly gray morality elements. The group often notices psychological booby traps that use human beings as bait and are always willing to leave one another behind if they fall behind or are injured. Only a few of them are distinctly evil beings but that doesn't prevent the dog eat dog mentality from arising. Sadly, the female sniper (Alice Braga) is given the requisite hope characterization that are often designed for women roles.

PREDATORS aims to please and it works most of the one hour and fifty minute time. It has a lot of callbacks to the original classic, you just have to love those ending credits, and has some original elements to call its own. Not totally perfect nor a total creative misfire, it does shine a better future for the franchise and the possibility for more hunts to come.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Jonah Hex - Review

JONAH HEX has got a lot of things going against it. It is based on an obscure comic book character from DC Comics with a low but faithful fanbase. It is targeted as a western, a genre that is profitable in film history but stigmatized in recent times as box office poison. It features Megan Fox, a movie star that garners execrable backlash with every film that she exists in. And, finally, it was delayed, reshot, and under-marketed to the populace.

The film is now garnered as the token example of the utter failure of this year's summer movie lineup. Though it has many errors in judgment and direction, JONAH HEX is summed up with one of its ending frames: a display of fireworks, bright and somewhat imaginative but fades away quickly for the next batch of mediocre outputs.

In one of the only good performances, Josh Brolin is wisely cast as the titled character, who's origin story is quickly shown in the first scene. A former Confederate officer, played by John Malkovich, murders his family and mutilates his face for his past insubordination. Time jumps ahead after a thoroughly confusing animation sequence, and Hex is a bounty hunter with new but odd supernatural powers. He is asked by the U.S. government to kill Malkovich before he uses his atomic orange cannonballs on America's centennial. Shades of WILD, WILD WEST sadly went through my mind when this plot element came up.

Pretty much every sequence ends with somebody shot and killed or the landscape blown to smithereens. Sadly, what could have been action joy is hampered by the PG-13 rating and self-censoring. In one violent moment, Hex kills a man by placing his head near a rotating ship propeller. The guy falls to the floor, and we see that he only suffered a minor blood loss and no gore. This film's mixed position is like remaking UNFORGIVEN but have the main story start with a prostitute being slapped instead of scarred.

Speaking of prostitutes, there is Megan Fox as a pointless love interest. She doesn't do much or get any development besides that she is tough. Fox proves this in the final third with good results, but you need to sit through her unbelievably flat facial expressions and acting in the beginning. I thought Fox has been slowly evolving as an actress, but this performance really impedes the progress.

To be fair, the prostitute line was originally reserved for the rest of the cast. Despite having Malkovich, Aidan Quinn, Michael Shannon, and oddly Will Arnett, none of them do anything beyond going through the motions. You can blame the script as well, but they should have tried by relying on their own direction than what director Jimmy Hayward gave them. The only standout, excluding Brolin of course, is Michael Fassbender as an Irish henchman revels in his nihilistic tendencies. Why his character couldn't be the main antagonist, since that would have some semblance to the story, is a question I asked constantly sitting through this laborious mess.

JONAH HEX, in reality, was obviously not going to have much impact this summer season whether it did middling or good business. But the epic collapse at the box office and its undistinguished outcome made it a sore-spot to notice. It will fade away until the next comic book fiasco, or it might follow Marvel's PUNISHER film franchise and simply remake itself again to try to get it right. Either way, there will be more scorned eyes looking at it.