Deja Vu

December 8, 2006

IMDB

Netflix

Being in possession of a physics degree will make a movie look intriguing. The name of the film and the mention of blackouts by the science guy in the previews makes it obvious that large amounts of electricity will be used to meddle with the time-space continuum, with an emphasis on the time part. That’s right kids – a time travel film! With Denzel Washington, no less!

The cast actually has some other folks of mention too, including Val Kilmer (the Ice Man has returned, but looking a little more – um – solid). Adam Goldberg is there playing the science geek (you may remember him from A Beautiful Mind playing another geek, or maybe even The Hebrew Hammer as well, the Hammer). James Caviezel (most notably playing Jesus lately) also shows up towards the end. The people behind the camera warrant mention too – Tony Scott directed (he also did Top Gun and Enemy of the State, which is interesting because the camera work of Enemy of the State is similar, and Val Kilmer was a high billing actor in Top Gun as well). Jerry Bruckheimer was the producer – it is interesting that he pulled himself away from television to do some film work again. This film is also of note, because it is the first one filmed in New Orleans since the tragedy of Katrina.

So with big name talent and the attraction of messing with time, how can things go wrong? The idea of the film is that a ferry explodes in New Orleans, and ATF agent Doug Carlin (Washington) is investigating the scene. As the investigation proceeds, FBI agent Andrew Pryzwarra (Kilmer) approaches Doug and asks him to join his special team, which has some new equipment that is able to do some very special surveillance on the scene. Investigation of a lady who was found dead at the scene leads Doug to finding out more about the ferry explosion. The more that Doug learns about the mysterious lady and the project that he has joined, the more drastic his measures become.

I think that the story deserves credit for being fairly original, if a little predictable at times. There are the usual subpar explanations of the science behind things done to explain things to Doug (and hence the audience, how convenient). The limitations of the hardware that the team is using are explained to be one thing when first shown, and later on seem to have capabilities expanded purely as a plot device. I know that it is just a story but it does kill the suspension of disbelief a little. As does the magic HumVee that is driven around – I feel that it was included to add some action to things, but the plausibility of it is a little lacking in my opinion. One minute they are claiming that their technology can take out half of the United States in a blackout, and the next they have a portable version, first in a car and then in a backpack. The ending of the film is also a little too convenient. If and when you see the film, you will see what I mean. It wraps things up too nicely for my liking.

The strangest inconsistency is at a time where Doug is supposedly in a hurry to go somewhere, and stops at somebody’s house to clean up. Once inside the house, the sense of urgency is completely lost. The people in the house don’t look in a hurry at all – totally at odds to what they looked a few minutes ago on film. Either something changed after they filmed the scene, or somebody did not remind the people on camera how urgently they should be acting. It actually really blew the feeling of urgency that I had as an audience, which was dissappointing.

 Despite these nits the film is actually quite well done. The production is excellent – the atmosphere of post Katrina New Orleans is captured nicely, they show the city in sunshine and in rain, in night and day – which makes for some nice variety. There is even a scene that involves a SWAT raid on a house in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, which cemented the locale in a very solid way. The style of the shooting is very well done, but not so elaborate that you lose a sense of what is going on. There is very little in the way of chase scenes or gun fights – this is much more of a suspense film than an action one.

All in all, for all of my complaining about some of the story elements, this was a very good film. The acting was great, and the story is very intriguing, making you interested in what will happen next. I think that you can enjoy this whether time travel is interesting to you or not.

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Firewall

November 28, 2006

IMDB

Netflix

Recently, I got me one of them fancy HD-DVD drives for my Xbox 360. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Netflix is already renting HD-DVDs, and that they have set things up so that when you tell them that you have a HD-DVD drive, they automatically change the DVDs in your queue to HD-DVD (if at all available). And from that point on, you just pick films, and it automatically gets the highest resolution format that you own for that film.

When I made this discovery, I upped my netflix subscription and looked for some high definition films to watch. One of them was Firewall, which I remember coming to the theatres but skipped. Ironically, the reason that I wanted to see the film and the reason that I skipped it in the theatre is the same reason – Harrison Ford.

It is not that I think that he is a bad actor by any means. His resume is something to behold (the Star Wars and Indiana Jones trilogies alone make him one of the greatest stars of all time). The problem is that he seems to pick lemons to star in for no apparent reason. And by lemon I don’t mean flops, I mean the kind of stuff that you don’t feel like driving all the way to the theatre to watch. For example:

  • Air Force One – I watched this with a friend of mine, and he still talks about how bad he thought it was. I thought that there was potential, but there were too many cliches in this for it to be truly good.
  • Six Days Seven Nights – A bit of a snoozefest for me. I don’t remember much about it, which implies that it was not that engrossing or that I gave up watching it.
  • Hollywood Homocide – Anybody who watched this knows what I mean. It feels like somebody made a pitch, somehow got the stars and the money, and then wrote out a script in a hurry to match. And I won’t blame this on Josh Hartnett, because Lucky Number Slevin was a great flick.

I don’t think that Harrison Ford is particularly to blame for the above. He always makes as good lemonade as he can given a subpar script. But after he appears in a certain number of these kinds of films, it hurts his reputation for me. Maybe the problem is that he changed agents around the time of The Devil’s Own or so, and now is appearing in stuff that is not big enough for him. He has a lot of presence on the screen, and blockbusters like Star Wars and Indiana Jones suit that.

Another factor in this film’s favor is Paul Bettany. I first noticed him in A Knight’s Tale, and he was very engaging in that. His next film was A Beautiful Mind, which was an awesome thing to behold, and his character in that film was quite unforgettable. With Wimbledon and The Da Vinci Code he is starting to really come into his own as a big star, and it is very much deserved. Some other cast of mention:

The premise of the story is simple enough. Jack Stanfield (Ford), a security guy at a Seattle bank, is blackmailed by Bill Cox (Bettany) into helping to steal money from his bank. If he does not cooperate, his family will be killed by Cox. The film is basically about the struggle between the two as Jack tries to escape from Bill’s clutches without having his family harmed, and without actually robbing the money.

The production of the film is very good, and captures the Seattle atmosphere well (I live in the area, so I can state this with some level of authority). The rainy days and dark nights are there, and Jack’s house looks like the kind of thing a rich bloke in the area would own. There is not much more to comment on in terms of the production values. There is no period or fantastical element to simulate, as this is mostly a character drama. The bank is captured fairly realistically, and although I am not a unix guy or router dude, the technobabble was passable to me. They didn’t even use Movie OS when they showed computers, which impressed me to no end and lended a bit of authenticity to things.

Rather than the production values, which normally have a huge impact on my enjoyment of a film, Firewall depends on the story and the suspense involved with figuring out how the protagonist will get out of the trap that the antagonist has laid for him. It manages to pull this off quite well – there are some unexpected twists and turns to the plot that make it less predictable. The acting is very well done. Bettany plays the cold calculating thief very convincingly, and Ford plays the angry protective father/husband very well too. He has always been his best playing a man under fire in his life, which is probably why they cast him for this.

Overall, a pleasant surprise of a film. Definitely recommended for suspense lovers.

IMDB

Me going to see this film was pretty much a given. Sacha Baron Cohen has been pumping out great comedy for many years – I first saw his work in 2001 when I was visiting some friends in the old country, and they showed me some cool videos of this Ali G guy. The interview with the Beckhams was priceless. It was a surprise to me that HBO picked him up to do a series in the US – normally British comedy does not survive the trip over the Atlantic intact – but the HBO series was very well done.

The plot is seemingly simple – Borat is hired to go to the USA, and make learnings while doing interviews that will help Kazakhstan become a better country. First he does a tour of his village and home (something that you will be familiar with if you have watched a lot of Borat’s work. Unsurprisingly, it does not follow canon – his wife is different and he has only one. Yes I am a nerd for pointing that out). This is a chance to show how backward everybody in his village is. Then he travels to New York (complete with Cyrillic map) to start his journey. What follows is pretty much like the Borat segments from his show, strung together with a storyline that takes him from place to place. Along the way he decides that Pamela Anderson must be his, and he redefines the journey in an attempt to track her down and marry her.

What follows is a film with barely a dull moment, and it is very funny almost all of the time. I think that some more serious reviews might want to focus on the fact that a lot of the plot seems to be very much like a series of disconnected interviews with some funny filler added in like script spackle. I don’t know how true that this actually is (although I suspect that at least one of the interviews could have been taped for the HBO show, put on the shelf unused, and then pulled out for the film), but I don’t really think that it matters because it came out great. This is not a class project for school, this is meant to entertain me, and it does so very bloody well.

The main supporting character for the film is Borat’s producer, Azamat Bagatov, played extremely well by Ken Davitian. He fits the stereotype that we are expecting extremely well. I do think that the fight between Borat and Azamat in the hotel, sans clothing, went for a fraction longer than it should. It was a great modern twist on the Benny Hill style, but it could do with a smidgen of editing.

The funniest thing about all of Cohen’s characters is actually the reaction of the people that he is talking to. He has an ability to make people really show themselves on the camera in a very deep way, sometimes revealing things to large audiences that the people would regret. There are definitely some moments like this in the film, where he will say very bigoted things and have people agree with him. There is a very serious and non comedic undercurrent to Borat, and this is what it is – showing how even in the United States, primitive attitudes like his are actually alive and well. I don’t think that this is specifically a comment on the US – he made the same observations in his native England, and he could go to any industrialized country and pull the same stunt with success. I think that some people see his anti-semitic comments made as the Borat character as a sign that the film is anti-semitic. This tragic – it is obvious to me that Cohen is using his character to show that anti-jewish sentiment is still out there and very strong amongst some people. Like any problem, racism needs to be acknowledged to be solved and I think that Cohen is trying to do some small part here.

Overall, I highly recommend the film. I cannot with good conscience recommend it for children, though. I saw some kids at the cinema where I saw the film that could not have been older than 12, and the movie earned its ‘R’ rating quite comfortably. I even saw some people leave partway through with their children, seemingly unaware of how crass the film would be (luckily they left before the extended naked wrestling scene between Borat and Azamat). I am not trying to tell anybody how to parent their kids – I just want to help people make informed decisions.

The Prestige

October 22, 2006

IMDB

Sometimes good films come almost out of nowhere. When I went to see School for Scoundrels, a preview for The Prestige was shown. I had never heard of it before, but the mood of the preview and the cast put it on the must show list. To my pleasant surprise the film opened this week, so I slipped out to watch it as soon as I could.

There were three main draws to the cast. The first was Christian Bale. This guy is somebody who I have enjoyed watching since American Psycho, and most recently he showed how Batman should be done. Next up was my fellow countryman Hugh Jackman, who really made his name for himself in my book with his portrayal of Wolverine. And the presence of Michael Caine just sweetens the deal – this guy has been pumping out great celluloid for years, with classics such as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Goldmember and Secondhand Lions just to name some highlights. The film also features Piper Perabo (remember Coyote Ugly?), Scarlett Johansson (very good in The Island, I thought), David Bowie (I did not recognize him when I saw him on screen, unlike his appearance in Zoolander) and Andy Serkis (most people remember him rendered rather than filmed).

Christopher Nolan wrote the screenplay (along with his brother Jonathan) and directed the film. I like his style of film-making – Memento and Batman Begins were both extremely well made, with fantastic atmosphere and electric tension at times. Seeing this has inspired me to see Insomnia, which I had previously avoided based on an ignorance of who was responsible for it.

One comparison which some people will not help making is to The Illusionist, which also had magic as a thematic element and was also a period piece set in old Europe. After seeing and thoroughly enjoying both films, I can safely say that the similarities are very superficial. I think that The Illusionist is more of a story about romantic rivalry, where The Prestige is a story about professional rivalry. This fundamental difference in the story drives the end result to be constructed very differently.

The film is about two magicians, Rupert (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred (Christian Bale) who start out together under the tutelage of Cutter (Michael Caine). Some people have painted the story as the two being friends that become rivals, but I would more accurately characterize it as aquantances who become rivals. There is an element of distrust between them even at the beginning of the film, which blossoms into a very passionate hatred by the time the film is done. Rupert and Alfred eventually create careers of their own, attempting to sabotage each other whenever they can and learn the secrets of each other’s magic. This brings Rupert all the way to Colorado (a long way, considering things are set in late 19th century London) to meet with Nikola Tesla in an attempt to construct the ultimate act.

The film does have a bit of a twist to it, and I have read some other commentary on this. I think that this film is best enjoyed by watching it without reading too much about the twist. Some people have commented that they needed a second viewing to fully see what was going on, and some people leaving the cinema at the same time as me seemed to not understand what was happening. Personally, I had suspicions about what was going on about halfway through. The story leaves a lot of hints here and there, and there are many layers to “the trick” in this film, so the details of what was happening were tough to tell until the very end. The way that the layers are folded onto one another and the way that you can cast back to earlier moments of the film to see what their significance was is very satisfying.

I think that this is one of the best films that I have seen recently. The intensity of the characters is amazing, and the two protagonists bristle with energy throughout the whole affair. Some people have said that they find the characters shallow, but I think that they show the nature of obsessive personalities very accurately. If you don’t have an obsessive personality yourself or don’t know somebody who has, then you might not agree, but otherwise you will know what I mean when you see it.

The atmosphere of the film is great. The two landscapes are London and Colorado Springs, and both are brought to life with that gritty realism that I love (although things look suspiciously cleaner than they would at that time period, but the purpose of things is to entertain, not educate). Sometimes the storyline weaves between the past and the present in a way that does not preserve clarity, but I am unsure if this was a desirable trait or a subtle flaw in the presentation.

This was a very riveting film, especially considering the two plus hours of content. Pretty much everything, from the casting, the acting, the story, the cinematography, the editing, the special effects – is top notch and blended together superbly to create a unique film that defies classification into a generic genre. All that I can add is to implore you to watch it, hopefully without some less considerate reviewer ruining it for you.

School for Scoundrels

October 20, 2006

IMDB

I knew that eventually I would have to see this film. Anybody who reads my reviews (all 3 of you) will know that the cast of the film are often a deciding factor for me to decide to watch it. And when Jon Heder makes a new film, it gets a free pass because Napoleon Dynamite was so bloody good. The only concern from watching previews is that Jon will just reprise the Napoleon character, and not branch out and do something different. I think that the guy has awesome talent, but the Hollywood money machine will find it hard to resist making “Napoleon Dynamite in the city” or “Napoleon Dynamite meets [insert cliche here]”. I am sure that it will get him a paycheck and tickets to parties with The Rock, but eventually he will lose his draw.

The good news is that Jon does not simply act like Napoleon in this film. Sure he starts the story as a bit of a doofus – but his character changes and develops during the course of the movie to become something else. Towards the end he even starts to get a bit of a glint in his eye, making him more of a human being and less of a caricature of one. The movie also does not have a surreal feel to it like Napoleon Dynamite did – it is filmed on the streets of New York and does not make a story of the surroundings. I wish that more films were shot outside of Manhattan, though. I like the big apple, but too much is filmed there in my opinion. There are oodles of cities in the US that can be used for a film like this one. I don’t care if it is filmed in Vancouver, as long as it is obviously set somewhere interesting.

So we have established that the film is not a cheap Napoleon Dynamite clone. However, as well as being a remake of a similarly named 1960 screenplay, it also has very similar tones to Anger Management. Consider the presence of an older more established actor (Billy Bob Thornton vs Jack Nicholson), a nervous too polite protagonist, a sweet love interest for that protagonist, a classroom environment for learning, and a competition between the old and the young. Not only that, but Billy Bob is also staring in a film called Mr Woodcock where he plays a gym teacher fighting constantly with his future stepson (played by Seann William Scott). Maybe I am seeing too many patterns where they don’t really exist (and I have been known to stick papers with numbers on the wall) but the meme of the old generation and the new competing in some fashion and learning something about themselves seems to be very common.

A lack of originality does not neccessarily negate entertainment, however. Many action films could be considered to have a similar arc, and they are mostly fun to watch (especially when a lot of shit gets blowed up). And School for Scoundrels is pretty funny most of the time. It does however suffer from a slightly too high squirm factor, though. This is the term I have for movies where I cannot watch what is happening, because I feel so embarrassed for the character on the screen. If you squirmed through Meet the Parents then you know exactly what I am talking about – this movie defined the genre for me. Ironically enough, Ben Stiller does have a small part in School for Scoundrels too. Maybe his influence on the set adds some squirm to everything?

Most squirm movies are normally very funny for it though, and this is no exception. Jon is a great character actor, and Billy Bob plays the old bastard extremely well. Jacinda Barrett plays the Australian girl next door love interest very well (I recognize her from Ladder 49, where she did a good job as well). Sarah Silverman plays the bitchy flatmate a bit too well, and Michael Clark Duncan does his bit with some unexpected flair at times. I am glad to see him branch more into comedy lately, because he does it well and it is not just the easy thing of playing a soldier or football player in every movie.

The ending actually worked out different to what I thought it would, which lent the movie an unpredictable feel, which is a good thing. If you want a nice popcorn flick with a bit of a laugh I recommend this film. I think that you will find it better than you expected.

The Departed

October 7, 2006

IMDB

If you don’t want to read the voluminous post that is about to come, then I can summarize this for you very easily – this is a damn good film. If you want to find out why I think so, move on….

First of all, the cast is reason enough to sign up for this, even on a crowded Friday night where you have to come back for the 10:15 because the 7:50 sold out. When I saw a preview for this film, the number of big hitters up on the screen made things look very interesting. It doesn’t take much to make me want to watch a film (hey, I write a review blog, for crying out loud) so the following made it easy:

  • Martin Scorsese – Does this guy need describing? Ever see Casino?
  • Leonardo DiCaprio – I know that a lot of people write this guy off as a pretty boy, but I think that saying that is weak. Romeo + Juliet was extremely well done, and Gangs of New York was also a great vehicle for him. He played his part well in Titanic, too. In this film he plays the fairly common role for him of the troubled youngster making good in a hurtful world, and it was not a stretch for him at all.
  • Matt Damon – Another guy who sometimes does not get appropriate credit because of the attention he gets from the ladies. Good Will Hunting was brilliant, and The Bourne Identity films are something to behold. He was also fantastic in Syriana, which is under-appreciated by a lot of people. This is one of the few times where he plays a bad guy, which keeps him along the road he started down with Syriana of playing more complex roles. He was very spooky in this film, and I liked it.
  • Jack Nicholson – The legend himself. To be honest, I have not seen a lot of him lately because he has been doing the kinds of films that I don’t get attracted to. But in films like A Few Good Men, he has made a very good showing of being an old bastard, and doing very well at it. He seems like a very good pick to play the gangster boss that he plays, and seems to relish in the role.
  • Mark Wahlberg – Yet another guy who gets knocked for his female appeal, but is actually a great actor. I first saw him in Boogie Nights, but he really became a made man in my eyes in The Big Hit. And then there was Three Kings, The Perfect Storm, The Italian Job, Four Brothers, and now this. He was very well cast as a rough sergeant in charge of the undercover cops. Mark has a great style and presence on the screen in this film.
  • Martin Sheen – An old legend, the father of the Men at Work boys, this guy has the biggest scroll bar in IMDB of them all. Doesn’t look like a guy to do a lemon, either, and he certainly did well here playing the old cop in charge of the undercover guys, barely reining Wahlberg’s character in.
  • Alec Baldwin – This guy has started to play a recurring role as a real hard ass, but it is a very entertaining role. His portrayal of a rough boss cop talking shit to any and all that he sees is fantastic.

With a cast like this all that was needed was a decent story and script – there was nothing that could be blamed on the people here. The story is about a couple of guys in the academy. One of them (Collin Sullivan, played by Damon) is an inside man for a gangster (Frank Costello, played by Nicholson). The other (Billy Costigan, played by DiCaprio) becomes a deep undercover operative who starts working for Costello’s crew in an effort to bring him down.

Since Costello suspects that he has a rat, and the police suspect that Costello has a man on the inside, Sullivan and Costigan spend the film looking for each other and trying to avoid each other at the same time. Considering the subject matter of cops and undercover cops and gangsters, there are virtually no cliches in the film to speak of. The temptation to do the following was resisted:

  • Have extensive arguments about whether a wire is to be worn or not.
  • Have the undercover guy fall in love with a criminal girl while undercover, and then have to reveal that he is a cop.
  • Arguments between the captain and the untraditional guy ending in a badge + gun on a table.
  • Cops being killed right before they are about to retire (Mendoza!!!!).

The setting for the film was Boston, and having only spent 5 days there in my life, it was tough to fault it. The film spends considerable time talking about South Boston, and some of the actors have some slightly overdone accents, but there is definitely an attempt to make it immersive. The cinematography is not outstanding to the point of needing much mention, however, which is fine because this is Drama and it is not really needed.

One of the best things about the movie has to be the script. The banter between some of the characters is priceless, and the shit that they talk is very funny at times, but not in a way that detracts from the seriousness of the film. Where there is shooting or fighting it is brief, which lends some realism. Most fights are over very quickly, which tends to be how things pan out in reality.

The ending is somewhat novel, if a little different to what I expected. I think that maybe 10 minutes could be shaved off the film (it felt a smidgen long) but I would hesitate to pick out what could be removed. Overall, though, this is one of the best cop movies that I have seen for a very long time. There is nothing complex about how this is – the Director, the cast, the script are all very good and that is a simple formula for making celluloid magic.

Keeping Mum

September 28, 2006

IMDB

One of the local theatres was showing this, and I decided to watch it based purely on the fact that Rowan Atkinson was in it. This may seem a bit brash, but with shows like Blackadder and Mr Bean, I will always take a chance with Mr Atkinson. As it turns out, the rest of the cast was very good as well. Kristin Scott Thomas plays the wife of the local vicar (supurbly played by Rowan Atkinson) – she looked very familiar, and her resume shows her in many films where I might have seen her (including Mission Impossible, which is very different to this film). Maggie Smith plays the lady who starts up as the housekeeper for the vicar’s family (and unless you live under a broken bus somewhere, you will find her very familiar. Harry Potter anybody?).

The storyline is hard to describe without turning the review into a big fat spoiler. Basically, the vicar (who is apparently the most boring man in the most boring village in the world) and his depressed wife hire a housekeeper, who changes their life for the better in many wonderful ways. Along the way a lot of curious incidents happen, leading to many humerous incidents and a humerous ending.

If you love watching British television (such as Four Weddings and a Funeral, for example, or anything else with Hugh Grant) then you will love Keeping Mum. It is a bit of a black comedy (there are several murders in the film) and the characters live in a somewhat dystopian representation of what most people think of old blighty. The seventeen year old daughter is sleeping with as many men as she can get her hands on, the younger son is being given a hard time by bullies, nobody can sleep because of a barking terrier across the road, and the Vicar is aweful at being a goalie.

Much like Whale Rider (my review here), the film was shot in a location to lend authenticity to things. As is typical in this part of the world, there is never sunshine (I have never been there, but you rarely see sunshine in anything shot in that part of the world. If everything was sunny I would be suspicious). The old lady across the road is nosy, the old man next to her cannot hear, and it all brings a picture of the old days to mind. I sets the stage beautifully for a great comedy, because along with this old Harry-Potter-esque landscape you have people swearing in a positively modern way, Lexus SUVs and cellphones as well. The juxtaposition of old and new in Europe is always interesting to watch for me, but then again I have always lived in the New World.

Overall, it is a great film. It is well staged, well filmed, well written and very funny to boot. Rowan Atkinson plays a role which looks a lot less formularic than some others I have seen – there is always the temptation to make him Blackadder or Bean in films, and when they try to do that it does not come out very well at all. You don’t get the sense that the role was written for him, basically, which ironically enough makes it more fun to watch. Maggie Smith is a great surprise too – she plays her role very well, and it is an interesting role to play. She is obviously very accomplished as an actress and shows that in this film.

The only problem with this film, I fear, is finding a cinema to watch it in. It seems to have the feel of something that major theatres will only carry if they see an award for it or something. Which would be a grand pity – this deserves to run with the big boys. Try to look out for this if a local theatre carries it.

Whale Rider

September 27, 2006

IMDB

My wife rented this one, and I decided to watch it since I had heard good things about it, and I never saw a film about Maori culture that I did not like. As it turns out, a lot of the cast of Once Were Warriors and What Becomes of the Broken Hearted turn up (six from the first page of IMDB, as far as I could count). Unfortunately, Temuera Morrison does not make an appearance. But I suppose we cannot expect the man to be in every Maori film ever made.

The story is about a young Maori girl, Pai,  who is the twin sister of the first born child of the first born son of the chief (did you get that). Her twin brother died at birth, leaving the family without the first born son to replace the chief. She is raised by her grandfather, who loves her but still wants a grandson to carry on the traditions of his people. However, Pai wants to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps and stubbornly tries to learn the ways of being a chief.

The film is very well made. I appreciate the fact that the people were obviously Maori and from New Zealand (being from Australia I know the accent well), although ironically the protagonist is played by a girl born in Australia. The landscape and the people feel very authentic, and there is none of the overdone shtick that you see in so many Hollywood productions. The slang and language used helps create an immersive atmosphere for the story. The landscapes are also very beautiful – this is not the kind of film that you could fake in Vancouver and I am glad that they did not try.

Another thing that made the film interesting to watch is that the characters are developed in a deep way that makes you care about them. The simple concept of a granddaughter loving her grandfather unconditionally frames the story in a simple way that requires no explanation. I won’t spoil the ending, but suffice to say that the story lacks predictability, because the authenticity makes you doubt that some Deux ex machina will come and make everything all right.

The story is not all tears and hugs – there are some quaint funny moments that make it fun to watch. The interaction between Pai and her uncle is always fun to watch, and the banter between the small players on the screen is amusing to those from that part of the world. I think that some characters could have done with some more development, such as Pai’s father or the friends of her uncle, but I do understand that these things have to be weighed with the importance of making a film that can be absorbed in one sitting.

Overall, this is a fine film and I wish that I had seen it sooner. Especially recommended for those from the southern hemisphere.

Crank

September 17, 2006

IMDB

Looking around the offerings this weekend, I noticed Crank in the listings. Seeing something with an ‘R’ rating makes me curious (I think that on average you see more artistic integrity with a film rated ‘R’. You at least know that things are not edited down to satisfy some demographic). And what do I see but Jason Statham in the credits?

Ever since Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels I have kept my eye out for Mr Statham. He never fails to impress me. That is not to say that every film that I have seen him in has been fantastic, but I squarely lay the blame for these incidents on the script and never at his feet. His best offering to date is probably The Transporter, which was the first film I saw that was a vehicle for his unique talents. His girlfriend is very well played by Amy Smart, who is most recognizable to me from Starsky and Hutch, but who has starred in a bunch of other things in places that I never noticed (such as Starship Troopers). Another honorable mention is Efren Ramirez, who looked familiar in the film to me, but it was not until I checked the internets later that I saw that this was Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite.

The cast is set up for a good time, so how is the story? The premise of the story is somewhat unique. Statham’s character, a hitman, has been injected with some potion that means that he will die unless he keeps his adrenaline going (well, not that unique. Think Speed, instead with Jason instead of a bus). Finding out that he has very little time to live has made him understandably angry, so he sets out to find the man who did this to him.

There are very few dull moments in the film. I think that the people who made this wanted a roller coaster ride, and the plot is a very good excuse for one. The story suits Statham well – there is a lot of his trademark extreme, almost comedic action going on constantly in his efforts to keep himself awake. It is interesting to note that the film was directed and written by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, who count Biker Boyz in their previous credits (although not as writers or directors. This appears to be a debut of sorts for writing and directing for this pair). There are some interesting effects put into play during the film to try and give an idea of what the protagonist is going through with his medical condition, as well as for artistic effect (at one point a bar with a fight in it bulges in an almost cartoonish fashion).

The constant barrage of action and the original plot make for a great film. The story is rarely predictable, although I think that it does brush a little too lightly on the goings on of the underworld in which Statham’s character works. The lightness of this part of the story gives the impression that the backstory is just an excuse for the protagonist to break a whole bunch of stuff, but breaking a whole bunch of stuff is entertaining, so I forgive it. There were times where the whole theater was laughing out loud at the antics on screen, and people even clapped at some of it. Even very good films fail to bring this level of passion to the audience, and I think that the passion that I saw tonight in the audience was appropriate. This film was entertainment all of the way.

Along Came Polly

September 12, 2006

IMDB

To be honest, the first time I saw a preview for this film I was scared to watch it, and I avoided it in the theatrical release. This is in spite of being a huge fan of Ben Stiller, ever since I saw Zoolander. I think that I could tell that this movie would be a cringe-fest, much like Meet the Parents, which although incredibly funny was hard to watch because I would constantly cringe in empathy at the embarrassing situations being shown. It is interesting that the preview reminded me so much of the Focker films because John Hamburg wrote them along with Along Came Polly, and the movie has a similar feel.

Eventually, curiosity got the better of me and I watched it. I am glad that I did, because even though I was right about the cringeworthyness of the content, it also delivered the kind of funny stuff that Mr Stiller is famous for. The premise of the story is quite basic (Stiller plays an insurance analyst who is constantly trying to play everything safe, who is spurned by his newlywed bride on his honeymoon and starts dating a dangerous happy go lucky girl). The Polly described in the title is played by Jennifer Aniston, who plays the part well if a little too much like characters from her other movies and television efforts.

The protagonist’s best friend is brilliantly played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who never shirks an opportunity to show off his range of acting abilities. I have seen him in such varied efforts as The Talented Mr. Ripley and Boogie Nights. Despite he and the Scobleizer looking scarily alike, I always enjoy watching him play his roles. His portrayal of Truman Capote was amazing to watch. I had no idea who Capote was, but I recently saw a preview for Infamous I immediately thought “They’re making another Capote film!”. The fact that he plays an actor in this movie is deliciously ironic as well, because it takes a great actor to play a bad actor well (if that makes any sense). Hank Azaria also makes a cameo – it is always amazing how you have to do a double take to recognize him. He does a character so well you don’t know that it is him if he puts on a voice and a wig.

The movie is a little predictable in parts, but this movie is meant to be enjoyed like a pizza on a lazy afternoon. You know it is not gourmet but you don’t care, because it meets the needs and the desires of the time better than gourmet would. As somebody who also refuses to eat nuts out of a tray in a bar (I agree with Ben’s character that it is a good chance somebody with questionable hygiene has been there before you) it was interesting to watch how other people perceive this OCD-like behavior.

Overall, if you doubted the movie like I did then you shouldn’t have. While it is not quite the classic that Zoolander was, it is a great easy comedy flick that will give you quite a few laughs and keep you entertained along the way. There is never a dull moment with Ben Stiller around.