Saturday, March 10, 2007

FILM: 300 Review

300 is a film you could watch on mute and still enjoy. In fact, you'd probably appreciate it a bit more if you did.

300 is a balls-to-the-wall action movie. There is no commanding dialogue, no developing characters, and nothing to stir thought in the audience. It's a bland story that isn't acted or directed very well and at times it takes itself too seriously. It's a movie that is cliche, simple even to the most retarded of children, and is completely awesome.

As a big fan of Frank Miller's graphic novel, 300, I wasn't sure what to expect with this film. I was hoping that, like Sin City, the book would be converted directly to the screen without any unnecessary changes to the script. Although, with Sin City there was enough material to fit into a two hour film, 300 didn't have as deep of a story. To fill this void and thicken the storyline director Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead) and newbie writers Kurt Johnstad and Michael Gordon were forced to add in a few sub-plots to draw out the adventure. I knew this wasn't a good decision and I had a strong feeling that they would stir the pot away from the original subject matter just a bit too much.

Well, they did. There is a ton of substance in the flick that isn't found in the original graphic novel, including large story-arc featuring Queen Gorgo. These scenes that stray from Frank Miller's book fit fairly well with the film but I think they could have been stronger. They borderline on the cliche side of things and I felt as if not much thought was put into them. Then again, dialogue and plot are the Achilles' heel of 300.

The performances given by most of the cast is fairly bland as well. Everything is over-acted and seems forced down the audience's throat. Gerard Butler (The Phantom of the Opera, Beowulf & Grendel) gives a decent but exaggerated performance that works as he's an extreme figure of power but lets a small tease of his sensitive side shine through. On the other hand, David Wenahm, Vincent Regan, and Dominic West all do a terrible job and are occasionally laughable. Lena Headey gives a fairly good performance as the commanding Queen Gorgo but she too shows all of her character on the surface, refusing to take the Queen any deeper.

As I've said earlier though, 300 isn't about the acting, dialogue, or plot. It's a beautiful action movie that's piece of art a pleasure on the eyes to look at. Whether it's the Laconian plain surrounding Sparta or a severed head falling to the ground in slow motion, everything in the film is stylized and astounding. Some of the CGI is easily noticeable and distracting, as ten differently visual effects companies worked on the film, but most of it is right on the money. Easily my favourite effect is the blood in the film. Instead of the usual approach to the red liquid 300 handles blood as a 2D element. For example, a limb will be removed and blood will erupt from the wound as flat as paper. The effect is a lot different than what's been done in the past, and will no doubt annoy many, but I felt that it helped the film feel like a comic book and keep the violence in hand.

One fairly minor complaint I have about the effects in 300 though is the use of slow-motion. It seemed as if every third shot in the film had some sort of time manipulation and most of the segments slowed down weren't significant enough to warrant slow-motion. Then again, this isn't a very major complaint, I just think the effect was a bit overdone.

300 isn't a historically-correct epic, nor is it a smart film that provokes thought in the audience. It's a simple and straight-forward action flick that is dumbed down to accommodate the slowest of viewers but remains a fun ride. It's violent, it's gritty, and it's to-the-point. If you know this going in then you'll most likely have a great time, just don't expect too much out of this title, otherwise you're bound to be disappointed.

One Sentence Review: Beautiful and stylized film that is all violence, all the time.


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Friday, March 9, 2007

FILM: Tintin Movie in the Works?

Steven Spielberg has reportedly acquired the rights to the popular French comic series Tintin.

On Friday Steven Spielberg and his company Dreamworks acquired the rights to the French action-hero Tintin. Spielberg, who had been trying to buy the rights to the character for over two decades, hopes to produce a Tintin film in the near future.

I don't really know what to think of this. I think that Tintin could be a great adventure film and if Spielberg is passionate about the character then it should turn out great. One thing that I question though is Tintin's popularity in the United States. Does he have the star power to be a box-office success? He does in Europe but he's not as well-known over here in North America.

What do you people think of this? Can Spielberg and Dreamworks do justice to the famous French adventurer?

As of now no details have been announced for Tintin. Check back here for updates as the film starts gaining steam.


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Thursday, March 8, 2007

FILM: Alvin and the Chipmunks in the Works

Actor Jason Lee and director Tim Hill, the dude who did Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties, team up to bring the infamous trio of chipmunks to the silver screen.

Remember the first Garfield movie? Well, it sucked...hard. Remember the second Garfield movie? It sucked even harder. Director Tim Hill, the guy who did that second one, Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties, has signed on to do an Alvin and the Chipmunks feature film.

Now, I was a huge fan of the Chipmunks growing up and seeing a feature film be announced with this excuse of a director at the helm hits me like a bat to the head. Sure, it'll make some cash at the box-office and may garner a sequel, but you can almost guarantee it's going to be shit. I just hope they don't try and update the chipmunks with a more "modern" feel. The last thing I want to see is a chipmunk dance-off.

Jason Lee (Mallrats, My Name Is Earl) has stepped in to play Dave Seville, the often frustrated father of the chipmunks. While I like Lee, I think he's completely miscast in this role. Dave is a supposed to be the hard-working mentor and often annoyed mentor of the chipmunks who is also a bit of a dork. Lee just doesn't fit that mold. He's too cool and too smooth.

It's not yet certain whether the film will be live-action, a mix of CGI and live-action, or completely animation. Either way, you can bet this one's going to be a stinker.

What do you guys think about Alvin and the Chipmunks so far? Do you agree with me in thinking that it's going to be complete crap and a joke of a film or am I just too quick to judge?


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Wednesday, March 7, 2007

FILM: Shia LaBeouf Keeps Up with the Joneses

Shia LaBeouf, the curly-haired star of the upcoming films Transformers and Disturbia, is in talks to play alongside Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones 4.

It has been announced that Shia LaBeouf, the 20 year old actor who got his big break on Family Channel's Even Stevens, will play the son of Indiana Jones' son in the fourth installment of the hit franchise.

It appears as if LaBeouf is the recent favourite with Steven Spielberg, who's directing Indiana Jones 4 as well as producing Shia's Transformers.

Now, I like Shia and I think he could do a great job in Indiana Jones 4. Some will say that he isn't a serious enough actor but I think that's the wrong trait to aim for. The Indiana Jones franchise has always been a fun adventure ride at heart and I think Shia can really help push that along. He's got the ability to rattle off one-liners like there's no tomorrow and, knowing writer David Koepp, there are going to be a ton of them in Indy 4. I also think that it may be interesting to see Shia's chemistry when up against the grit of Harrison Ford.

The fourth installment of the Indiana Jones franchise is aiming for a May 2008 release. I'll keep you posted as the production starts moving along.

What do you think of funnyman Shia LaBeouf being cast in Indiana Jones 4? Will he do wonders with the franchise or does this look like another Justin Long/Die Hard situation? Post a comment and let me know.


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DVD: Borat DVD Review

While Borat may appear to be a dismal one-disc performance, it does pack a little bit of heat onto only one DVD.

I was disappointed a few months back when I found out that the Borat DVD would only contain one disc. I wasn't sure of the reasoning behind Fox's decision to skimp out on DVD content and it frustrated me. The film had been created a huge controversy, been a box office success, and won a few prestigious awards along the way. Knowing the way the film was shot there were bound to be a truckload of extras that could have been collected in entirety on a separate disc, instead fans were given a measly one-disc affair that provides a few bonus giggles, but not the roar of laughter I was hoping for.

While it is only one disc, there are a fair number of extras packed onto those five inches of plastic. Probably the most amusing feature is a 15 minute documentary following Sacha Baron Cohen (as Borat) around the world leading up to the film's release. This documents some of the premieres for the film across the globe as well as Borat alongside talk show hosts Conan O'Brien and Jay Leno as well as on Saturday Night Live. He's also shown at San Diego Comic-Con, an event I was able to see in person and will never forget.

The DVD also contains roughly ten deleted scenes from the movie which show Borat dealing with a supermarket employee, a doctor, and a masseuse, as well as others. Some of these scenes are downright hilarious and make you wonder why they didn't make the final picture but some of them fall flat and were appropriately cut. There is also a trailer for the soundtrack to Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan which isn't too special.

One thing that I found hilarious about the DVD is the way it's packaged. The cover slip is an extremely low resolution and it's done in a way so that the DVD looks pirated. The fact that there isn't a word of English on the slip also helps this cause. Also, to top it all off, the actual DVD looks just like a burnt DVD-R with "BORAT" written on it with a sharpie.

Overall I was disappointed with the Borat DVD. While it's an enjoyable movie and the extra footage put on the DVD is amusing there just isn't enough of it. I'm sure that there is a ton of bonus material out there for this film but for some odd reason Fox decided to withhold it from this DVD release. Another thing that really bugs me is that there isn't a commentary on the disc. I'd love to hear Cohen, out of character, share his thoughts on the film or hear what director Larry Charles has to say. Maybe Fox will release another Borat DVD sometime in the future with everything the fans are asking for. Until then, this plain-and-simple disc is all we get.


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Monday, March 5, 2007

Watch a Segment of Spider-Man 3 NOW! has uploaded a seven and a half minute long segment from the film two months before release.

The segment, which is a collection of a few scenes and not an entire sequence in chronological order, shows off an intense fight scene with Harry as the new Green Goblin as well as a few more surprises. Be warned though, Sony has put out a disclaimer saying that not all the CGI effects in the clip have been finalized and that a portion of the post-production work on the film is still fairly rough.

Now, while this doesn't contain any huge spoilers it may take away from your enjoyment of Spider-Man 3. Then again, it's only seven minutes of the film, how much can it hurt? It's inevitably up to you.

NBC hosted the seven minute teaser for 24-hours but has taken down the clip. If you missed it you can find it HERE.

Tell me what you think of the footage, post a comment below.


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Sunday, March 4, 2007

Zodiac Review

David Fincher's latest crime thriller is a little less action and a lot more conversation, yet it works.

David Fincher is one of those directors who deserves all the praise he gets but hasn't yet reached the top-tier. He's got a definitive style to his filmmaking, has a great sense of visuals, and chooses his work very carefully. There's no contest that he's made some interesting films with Se7en, Fight Club, and the just-above-average Panic Room, but there's something the director from Denver is missing. In my opinion, the one thing Fincher hasn't yet mastered is the art of storytelling.

I had been very excited about Zodiac leading up to its release on Friday (March 2nd). I'm a huge fan of Fincher, the cast appeared stunning (at least on paper), and the serial killer crime thriller seemed like a perfect fit for the stylized director. It was hard to ignore Fincher's signing-on to the project in that, as I mentioned earlier, he chooses his films very carefully. That being said, when he signs on to do a movie it's a little more than a big deal considering the last film he did was 2002's Panic Room.

I was excited and a bit nervous going into the theatre as I was prepared to take on the 160 minute investigation film, but I was also not sure what to expect. Fincher had been on a five year hiatus from feature films and I expected Zodiac to show some rust and wear. After ten minutes of the film it was clear something about Fincher's direction was different. His style was still present, but it didn't have as strong a presence as it has had in the past, almost diminishing into the background. At first I was a bit disappointed, expecting maybe to be in the same universe as Fight Club or Se7en just with different characters, instead I was in a completely different world. Fincher's style hadn't vanished, but it was in the back seat, and I loved it.

For starters, the film doesn't throw privileged shots at the audience like curve balls. There are a few carefully placed throughout the film, but they have been toned down and aren't as distracting as they have been in some of Fincher's other films. Another thing that I noticed with Zodiac compared to some of the director's previous work is that he seems to hang on the characters longer than he has in the past, which helps show parts of them that would have been hidden earlier in his career.

Speaking of characters, the film is rich with them. There's Robert Graysmith, played by Jake Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain, Donnie Darko), who is a cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle. As the Zodiac case begins to unfold Graysmith becomes progressively wrapped up in its facts and begins trying to solve the case on his own. Another protagonist at the Chronicle is Paul Avery, who's played by Robert Downey Jr. (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, A Scanner Darkly). Avery is a high-profile reporter who gets under the skin of the police by sticking his nose in places they don't belong. Mark Ruffalo plays Inspector David Toschi, the main cop working on the Zodiac case. All three of these characters go through major changes in the film and it's really devastating seeing the grueling effects of the case wear off on their lives.

How the Zodiac case is handled in the film is it's high point in my opinion. It's long, it's tiring, and it's tedious as hell. Hundreds of facts, clues, and theories are handed to the audience over the course of 160 minutes and while it's a chore trying to keep track of specifics it fits the confusion and mystery of the case. As the film progresses you want to see someone caught and convicted just for the sake of ending the investigation, not necessarily for justice. Many critics will complain about the long running time and the large among of facts and dialogue but I disagree. They really helped portray the exhaustion that everyone involved with the case would have felt.

Another high point of the film are the performances given by Ruffalo and Downey. Downey plays his usual cards here, acting as the quick-talking, smooth, and intelligent reporter who eventually gets caught up in alcohol and drinking problems (sound familiar?). Ruffalo, in my opinion, does the best job in the film. Nothing he does seems forced or lacking control and he does a great job manipulating his character throughout the movie without forcing too much on the audience. Unfortunately, I thought Jake Gyllenhaal could have been better in Zodiac. He wasn't bad, I just felt that he could have invested much more into the character and taken more time transforming into the role. Watching the film I saw bits of his previous characters pour into his performance and it was distracting. In fact, I'm beginning to think that Gyllenhaal is starting to get type-cast, often choosing the roles of soft-spoken characters who are slightly separated from the rest of society. He does a good job with them, but it's hard to get wrapped up in his performance when you feel like you've seen it all before.

Zodiac is a long movie, and it throws a lot at the audience. It's a ride that is exciting but doesn't move much and relies on dialogue to progress the film. If you are looking for a crime thriller along the lines of Se7en, L.A. Confidential, or The Departed you won't find it with Zodiac but if you want a complex story that doesn't take too many liberties this film will be right up your alley. Zodiac is a masterpiece and a great work of filmmaking, it's great to see Fincher gradually moving breaking through into big leages. I just hope his next film isn't five years down the road.

One Sentence Review: Long, complex crime thriller that's definitely worth a watch.


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