Latest Reviews
Friday
Jan232009

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

Now here's a franchise that didn't deserve one more installment in the series, much less two. I remember sitting down in the theater for the original film way back in 2003 expecting nothing less than an epic showdown between some werewolves and vampires. With that premise, what's not to like? As it turned out, nearly all of it.

To be fair, I was in love with the Blade franchise and expected Underworld to be its female counterpart. I was merely a teenager, naive and stupid to go into an unrelated movie with such high expectations, but I did and it didn't meet those lofty goals I had unfairly set for it. Due to my disappointment, I never checked out the second film and walked into this one with extremely low expectations. With that said, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, the prequel to the original picture, is not the horrid abomination it could have been and actually managed to keep me somewhat entertained for its duration, although I just can't bring myself to recommend it.

I'll give it to you straight. I don't really remember much of the set-up to this movie. There is a brief prologue that gives you the gist of how the Lycans came into being, but by this time I had already brushed the story off as nonsense. Sue me. So here's my interpretation of its synopsis. Thanks to some freaky werewolf-vampire sex, a child is born with big baby balls and the vampire leader decides to let it live, despite the hybrid's unpure blood. These big-balled, freaky sex creatures are known as Lycans and are basically slaves to the vampires. One day, Lucian (Michael Sheen), one of the Lycan leaders, decides to rebel and escapes only to leave his love, Sonja (Rhona Mitra), a pure vampire, behind. Sonja's father finds out about their relationship, isn't happy about it, and locks her up. So Lucian and his balls decide to go back and free her.

Or something like that. The story is nearly irrelevant because seriously, who goes to see Underworld for the narrative? I know I don't. In a film about an epic struggle between vampires and werewolves, I just want to see the two factions go at it for two hours. This is where the "be careful what you wish for" phrase comes into play. There's plenty of action in the film, but the problem is the way it was executed. While some action scenes were exciting and well staged, more often than not you couldn't see what was going on due to the shaky camera and quick cutting. This technique has been used in many films, including the much praised Bourne trilogy. But at least in the Bourne trilogy, there is an engaging story to wrap your brain around. As I've said before, the story isn't this franchise's strong suit.

However, when the film does attempt to delve into story-mode, it fails almost entirely. There were way too many instances of forced dialogue (complete with the cheese) that had me rolling my eyes more times than I can count. The story is basically Romeo & Juliet, only with werewolves and vampires rather than fueding families. And boy, is it exhausting. Not for one second is Lucian and Sonja's love story engaging.

The film has other little problems as well, like the liberties that were taken with the laws of physics and a seizure-inducing fight scene where lightning struck at what seemed to be one second intervals. Still, this is a visually engaging movie. It's dark, atmospheric, brooding, and ominous and it played to the strengths of the gothic setting. By and large, the film looked just fine and the acting was better than expected. But there's no escaping the absurdity of the story and the sometimes overbearing action scenes. Since I hated the first film and went into this one with such low expectations, I came out feeling somewhat satisfied because the picture is much better than it should be, although I'm not sure that's saying all that much. When all is said and done, I cannot recommend Underworld: Rise of the Lycans.

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans receives 2/5

Sunday
Jan182009

Bedtime Stories

I love kids movies that can make me feel like a child again. I love those films that can strike a resonance with the little tyke in me and give me that sense of wonder and imagination that only a young kid can have. Unfortunately, Bedtime Stories instead began to put me to sleep. How fitting.

The story follows Skeeter (Adam Sandler), a kid who has spent his whole life living in a hotel owned by his father. In order to get Skeeter's father to sign ownership over to him, Barry Nottingham promises that if Skeeter works hard enough, he will one day hand control of the hotel over to him. Flash forward years later and Skeeter is still working at the same hotel, now modernized and elegant. However, he is merely the handyman and is not being considered to take it over. After agreeing to watch his niece and nephew for a week, he finds out that their bedtime stories come true the next day. The catch is that only what the children say actually comes into fruition. Realizing this, Skeeter capitalizes on it and tries to use the children's bedtime stories to grab control of the hotel.

I have no doubt that excitement arose when this idea came up because it has so much potential. It has all the makings of a wonderful, imaginative film, but instead conjures up rather dull and lifeless predicaments. The filmmakers could have done anything with this idea, but the best they could come up with was raining gumballs and abuse by a dwarf. I was simply astonished at how vacuous this film became. The longer it went on, the less impressed I was by it. If you're looking for creativity, look elsewhere.

Of course, that could be overlooked if the film were actually funny, but it isn't and here's why. Comedy is dependent on the element of surprise. Anybody can tell you that if you know the punch line to a joke beforehand, the joke loses its kick and isn't funny. Due to the story in the film--kids control the tales and what they say comes true--everything is telegraphed way in advance. For example, one story Skeeter tells the children puts his character in space and since he is technically an alien, the kids say that he should be talking another language. The next day before Skeeter is set to give a speech, his tongue is stung by a bee and he begins to speak nonsense. This is supposed to be humorous because wouldn't you know it, that's just so silly. But it isn't funny because you know five minutes prior that this is going to happen. The element of surprise was practically non-existent in the film and, therefore, I rarely found myself laughing.

Still, it's a harmless movie that kids will probably enjoy due to Adam Sandler's quirkiness and it's a rare family film that has no objectionable content (maybe a little if you're uptight), but that doesn't necessarily make it good. There have been a slew of excellent family films released in recent years and I recommend you seek one of those out instead. As an adult that loves children's movies when done correctly, I'm going to have to suggest you skip Bedtime Stories.

Bedtime Stories receives 1.5/5

Saturday
Jan172009

My Bloody Valentine

Right or wrong, I judge slasher movies on a different scale than other films. Although most in the genre tend to miss the boat when it comes to standard moviemaking skills, I can't help but look at them for what they are. And what are they exactly? To borrow a line from Roger Ebert, they are "dead teenager" movies where the characters are so moronic they don't even know they're walking straight to their deaths. They are films that tend to lack a coherent story, interesting characters, good dialogue, or any shred of plausibility. Like so many others, My Bloody Valentine hits those same pratfalls. But who goes to see a 3D slasher movie called My Bloody Valentine for dialogue and acting? Nobody, that's who! When judging a movie like this, you have to ask yourself one question: Did I have fun? Well, as it turns out, I did.

Having never seen the 1981 genre classic, I can't really say whether or not this follows the story closely, but I also doubt that anybody going to see this really gives two craps about that, but here it is anyway. Ten years ago, a few coal miners were killed on the job by a psycho named Harry Warden, who fell into a coma shortly after. The next year on Valentine's Day, he wakes up, makes his way back to the mines, and kills some teenagers partying there before being shot and killed by two police officers. Now somebody is back killing the people linked to that night. Is it Harry Warden or just an imposter?

I'll go ahead and answer that question for you. Who cares? This film isn't about who is killing people, but rather how they are being killed. That may seem a bit demented, but the film never takes itself too seriously and knows full well that it is an exploitative 3D slasher flick. You know you're in for a wild ride when five minutes into the movie a pickax is swung completely through some dude's head and his eye is stuck on the end of the blade. You can only imagine what that looks like in 3D. It's a grisly movie for sure, but rather than feeling disturbed at what I was seeing, I was laughing at the severed limbs and appendages that were flying towards me.

Still, while the 3D bloodshed is the main focus of the movie (and it's pretty creative if I do say so myself), the whole whodunit mystery is a key component. But here's the main problem with that. It's pretty predictable. Unless you've never seen a mystery movie before, you'll easily be able to narrow down who the killer is to two people, and even then it's just a matter of paying attention to the details to figure it out. Considering how little thinking this movie requires, it's to its detriment that I figured it out fairly quickly. I won't ruin it here, but even if you don't nail it on the head, you should be able to have an idea of what is going on.

There really isn't much more to say about this picture. I mean yes, the performances are uniformly bad, especially by Jensen Ackles, whose previous work consists mostly of television sitcoms (it shows), but the movie never acts like it's something other than an over the top blood bath filled with excessive gore and gratuitous nudity, all in glorious 3D. So in that regard, it actually kind of works. If you're into this sort of thing, you owe it to yourself to check out My Bloody Valentine.

My Bloody Valentine in 3D receives 4/5
My Bloody Valentine in 2D receives an estimated 2.5/5

Wednesday
Jan142009

Yes Man

I wanted to say something clever for my title to this review, something like, "Say No to Yes Man" or "Should You See Yes Man? Yes!" But it turns out it isn't that simple. What it should say is something like, "Is Yes Man worth seeing? Meh." After having watched the film, I have to say that Yes Man is a mediocre movie, nothing more, nothing less. While it will certainly make you laugh a few times, script issues and ridiculous plot twists make Yes Man one of the most middling films I've seen since Hancock.

The film follows Carl (Jim Carrey), a sarcastic naysayer who rejects life opportunities in favor of sitting by his lonesome in his apartment and watching DVD's. After attending a lecture on the power of "yes," Carl makes a covenant to grab hold of every opportunity he can and never say no.

Let's just get this out of the way. That premise is absurd. It may be one of the silliest story ideas I've heard in quite some time, but this is a film where you just have to go with the flow. You can't ponder over how utterly insane the whole premise is and just enjoy the ride. However, the real problem with the story isn't that Carl never says "no," but rather the idea that saying "yes" will always lead to a positive outcome and saying "no" will always lead to the opposite. For example, after Carl breaks his covenant and says "no" for the first time, his shirt gets stuck in a door, which causes him to yank it out and fall down a flight of stairs, only to land face to face with a growling pit bull. It was this divine fate in the film that was difficult to swallow.

Still, I got into it, but just as I was becoming comfortable with the whole idea of a "yes man," the film took a ludicrous twist that pulled me right back out to where I began. While Carl and his girlfriend, Allison (Zooey Deschanel), are in the airport, Carl is taken into custody and accused of being a terrorist. Why? Because he took flying lessons, learned Korean (and therefore he must be working with North Korea), approved a loan to start a fertilizer company (bombs -- natch), and took a spontaneous trip to Lincoln, Nebraska. It turned out the FBI has been suspicious of him, which is all thanks to his new found adventures being a "yes man." This is the moment where his relationship falls apart and is a vital (albeit predictable) component to the story, but it was too far fetched to be believed. Whereas I eventually accepted the idea of the "yes man," I couldn't find it in myself to accept this idiotic turn of events.

In other words, this script is a mess. The story flails about wildly trying to grasp onto something meaningful to keep it flowing, but grabs only air. Every single moment in this film was surrounded by the feeling that the writers had no idea how to progress from one scene to the next and just decided to be as over-the-top as possible hoping that nobody would notice their inability to create a coherent story.

Still, Jim Carrey manages to make what would otherwise be a miserably unfunny movie somewhat entertaining. In fact, I'm going to recommend it, although only mildly. The fact is that the man is a severely underrated actor. He was terrific in Man on the Moon and excellent in one of my favorite romance movies of all time, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In this regard, it's kind of sad to see him resort back to his usual shtick, regardless of how funny it may be. But Carrey is undeniably talented and he elevates this mediocre material far above what it deserves.

The whole time I watched this film, I thought of Liar Liar. Essentially, it's the same idea. In that movie, he couldn't tell a lie and in this one, he can't say no, or rather he can, but doesn't. But the differences between those two pictures is that Liar Liar was expertly crafted and Carrey was in his heyday. Yes Man just seems tired, chugging along unevenly for its duration. It has about 45 minutes of good material and attempts to stretch it into a feature length film and it just doesn't work. The only thing that saves Yes Man is Carrey's comedic brilliance. Without him, this movie would be a complete waste of time. Now, it's merely forgettable. Still no award winner, but decent nonetheless. While it isn't imperative that you seek this one out in the theater, if you can catch it one day on DVD, Yes Man may be worth a look.

Yes Man receives 2.5/5

Friday
Dec262008

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

There are plenty of movies to see this holiday season, that's for sure. But out of all of them, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is probably the most anticipated, and for good reason. It's directed by David Fincher, a man who has brought us excellent films like Zodiac, Panic Room, Fight Club, and the brilliant Se7en, it stars the always terrific Brad Pitt, and the trailer looks like the makings of an Oscar worthy film. Well, I'm saddened to say I don't think it quite reaches that level. It's still a very good film, but it fails to recognize its potential and falls just short of greatness.

Benjamin Button's (Brad Pitt) curious case is this: he was born an old man and instead of aging older, he is growing younger. He is born with poor eyesight, poor hearing, and a weakness that prevents him from moving freely. But as the years pass, he gets stronger and everything begins to improve. The unavoidable notion he must face is that he will one day become a baby and die.

That story, which is based on the 1921 short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is ripe for the big screen treatment. Death is an inevitability and has been explored through countless other films, but never backwards. Despite some blunders along the way, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button does offer some enlightening insight into life, love, and the inescapable death that will one day come knocking on our doors. The message is simple: life is fleeting and when opportunities arise, jump at them because you may never get that chance again. Sometimes we forget that and need to be reminded. This film does a terrific job of doing just that.

However, the film doesn't always take its own advice. Some dramatic opportunities where the film really could have driven a point home and helped the audience relate to Benjamin are overshadowed by attempts at humor. Although some are funny, most aren't and they play too prominent a role in what should be a very serious look at life. There were moments where I wasn't sure whether I was supposed to laugh or cry due to the film's somewhat inconsistent tone.

Another fundamental problem is this. Benjamin Button is an extraordinary man. He was born an elder and is aging in reverse to infancy. He's a natural wonder, but nobody ever seems to be in awe of him. Outside of the occasional "wow," I didn't feel like others' reactions were explored enough. For instance, at one point in the movie, Button's love interest, played by Cate Blanchett, is in the hospital and he goes to see her. Last time she saw him, he was wrinkly with gray hairs popping out of his scalp. In this scene, he is vibrant and youthful, looking better than ever before. Instead of relishing in the opportunity to explore this incredible phenomenon, she hardly looks at him and kicks him out of the room as quickly as possible. The sense of wonder I was feeling towards Benjamin's remarkable backwards life wasn't shared by the other characters and is the main downfall of the film.

Still, this is a very good picture. For starters, it's beautiful to look at. Every frame is filled with gorgeous visuals that will sweep you off your feet and immerse you into what's going on. At one point, I actually forgot I was in a movie and was about to applaud the performers in a show Benjamin was watching. Despite some stumbles along the way, I still managed to submerse myself in the story while falling in love with Benjamin and caring about his life, which is a tremendous feat, helped in no small way by Brad Pitt's terrific performance as the titular character.

One of the greatest assets to the film is by far the make-up and special effects. They were simply astounding. In particular, the old (or is it young?) Benjamin looked great. Pitt is a tall, handsome guy, but they made him look small and hunchbacked to great effect. I even tried to spot where he ended and the special effects began, but I never could. The two seamed together to create a flawless image of old man Button.

This film has a few problems, but this is a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Sure, some dramatic opportunities were missed and the natural wonderment most of us would be feeling wasn't properly portrayed through the other characters, but the direction is fantastic, the acting is superb, the special effects and make-up are top notch, and the message is important. Does it reach greatness? Not quite. But is it a film that must be seen? Absolutely. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button may be a minor letdown, but it's still a great flick that will help you appreciate how precious life is and why we need to cherish every moment. In the end, it really is a beautiful movie.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button receives 4/5