Monday, August 09, 2004

Film reviews

Collateral 4/5 August 7, 2004.

The premise sounds pretty dull, doesn't it? Tom Cruise plays a hit man who coerces a cab driver to drive him around LA to knock off five people. Jamie Foxx portrays the reluctant cab driver. Director Michael Mann proves that a compelling drama doesn't require an excess in plot, car chases or violence or humour. Much of the film takes place in the cab with Cruise and Foxx exchanging philosophies of life, goals and dreams. Foxx, a cabbie for 12 years, wants to save up to open a limo service. Cruise is more enigmatic about his past, but instead is a relentless, cold-blooded assassin. Still, he's not one-dimensional at all.

Cruise is excellent as the laser-focused killer with taste. Witness the scene in the jazz club to see how good his taste in music is. He's not cocky like the mastermind bad guy in the first Die Hard, but he is cool, confident and obviously emotionally detached from his victims. He doesn't care who they are since he's just doing his job. He also doesn't flash the million-dollar Cruise movie star smile.

Jamie Foxx also performs well as the uncomfortable cabbie counterpoint to the Cruise character. He's just your average joe hoping to get ahead in life but obviously taking a long time to get there, just like most people.

What's refreshing about this film is that it doesn't scatter the character development over too many players. The lack of comedic lines also reinforces the grittiness of the script. Michael Mann has produced a mostly believable thriller, that makes the competition look like cartoons for adults. Sure, there are stretches in the storyline but so long as you're prepared to gloss over them, this is a fine film. Collateral is also much better than Cruise's last film, the pretentiously bloated The Last Samurai. Anyone looking for a non-stop action film or a "Lethal Weapon"-type film should look elsewhere.

King Arthur 3.5/5 August 4, 2004.

Despite being somewhat formulaic, this film has a decidedly different take on the legend of Arthur. Instead of being set in the medieval times, the setting is in the 5th century, with Arthur as a Roman centurion in Britain, leading a group of successful knights.

As the film begins, we see an adolescent boy being taken away to be a knight for 15 years. It's like being drafted. By the time Arthur enters the film, a Roman emissary from the Church announces that he needs the men for just one more mission: evacuate a prestigious Roman family before their settlement is overrun by the invading Saxons. It's almost like a suicide mission and the knights agree to follow Arthur despite being very bitter about having their promised freedom taken away from them for what might be the death of them all.

Arthur, played by Brit Clive Owen, is merciful, resolute and somewhat stoic. He never cracks a smile in the film, but is charismatic nonetheless. He has presence and may be too good to play James Bond, a role that usually doesn't require superb acting (save for Sean Connery.) We last saw Owen as a sniper in the farmhouse scene in The Bourne Identity.

The supporting cast are mostly strong. The Saxon leader doesn't have much of an accent while his son curiously does. Guinevere, played by Keira Knightley (last seen in Pirates of the Caribbean) portrays a strong woman, rescued from certain death by the knights. She's quick with a bow and arrow but lacks the presence to match Owen. Many of her lines are also quite weak. Merlin looks like a street person high on glue. The acting of the cast portraying the knights is excellent, though.

This is a Jerry Bruckheimer film, so not surprisingly, there is a lack of character development, and the script is too glossy and pedestrian. This film was enjoyable but it's not great. Expect to see great things in the future for Clive Owen, though.

The Manchurian Candidate 3.5/5 August 1, 2004.

This film doesn't top the 1962 original, however, it stands on its own as an exciting political conspiracy thriller.

Denzel Washington plays a psychologically troubled 1991 Gulf War veteran. One evening, his platoon was ambushed, resulting in a firefight. Knocked unconscious, he still has a vivid memory of what happened. One of his troops, Sgt Raymond Shaw, ends up performing some heroic actions that saved the lives of his fellow soldiers. All but two survive and the Sgt ends up winning a medal of honor. Upon returning to the US, the Sgt., son of a senator, ends up becoming a congressman. Oddly enough, the way they are touting John Kerry's military record for saving his boat crew is similar. The problem is, that Washington obtains discovers that his one and only dream, a nightmarish recollection as a result of brainwashing, is shared by another of his former platoon mates.

Mentored by his controlling Senator mother, played superbly by Meryl Streep, Raymond Shaw ends up as possible candidate for Vice President.

In the first film, the would-be President is a Communist sleeper. In this film, the conglomerate Manchurian Global serves as the conspiring organization. They are portrayed not unlike Dick Cheney's old employer, Halliburton. The spectre of corporate greed is a credible replacement for a much diminished political ideology.

There is a possible continuity error in the film. After VP candidate Shaw votes in an elementary school, his is ushered upstairs for a meeting with the Washington character. Moments later, one of the Secret Service men hides a gun in an air duct in the same building. We see the gun re-appear later in the film, but it appears to be a totally different building.

While likely not a blockbuster, this is an entertaining film nonetheless.

The Bourne Supremacy 4/5 July 24, 2004.

Loses a star for being basically the same idea as the first film - the CIA is trying to kill him and he is on the run. Like the last time, he's willing to fight back. Kudos to the writers for not making this an overly sentimental film. The main bad guy in the film is a relentless Russian Secret Service agent, who reminds me of the Serbian sniper from the film Behind Enemy Lines.

They say the adult thriller genre faded away after being peaking in the 70s. Hopefully, more quality thrillers will be made once this film is confirmed in a few days as a bona fide smash. Also, rent the astonishing sleeper film Spartan, if you enjoy the Bourne films. Worth seeing if you liked the first one.

I, Robot 3/5 July 16, 2004.

This film looked intriguing but ended up being more of a tedious action film than anything with as much meaning as Isaac Asimov intended. In fact, the initial story was blended with some Asimov short stories.

It would have been interesting to see someone other than the wise-cracking Will Smith in the main character's role. He's not as strong as Cruise in Minority Report or Harrison Ford in Blade Runner.

This film isn't terrible but it isn't great, either.

Spiderman 2 4/5 July 1, 2004.

There are a lot of jokes in this film but its weakness is its overly sentimental nature.

The science behind the Octavio's experiment is also so far fetched that it just seems like some dumb excuse to justify how those crazy mechanical arms became fused to his body.

Soon to be the number one movie of the summer, if not, of the year. Definitely see it if you enjoyed the first one.

Fahrenheit 9/11 3/5 July 1, 2004.

This film could have been improved by providing references to the dates that the footage was taken of most things. If you're at all interested in US politics as they relate to things like war, then see this film. But, keep in mind this film is more of an editorial than a true, unbiased documentary.

George W. Bush is seen speaking many times and you've just got to wonder about his intellect, or lack of. It continues to astonish me that Republicans chose this guy as the best candidate from their party, to be President. It's really funny at times, but I also felt a profound sense of sadness due to the footage of those maimed and killed by the current war in Iraq. By all means, take a friend to the film, particularly if they believed that Canada should have participated in this war.

Troy 4/5 May 23, 2004.

I went into this movie expecting to hate it, but I thought it was surprisingly good.
Brad Pitt stars as Achilles, the greatest Greek warrior. The character is cocky and overconfident, as a result of his superstar status among King Agamemnon’s army. Far from being one-dimensional, Pitt is out-acted by Eric Bana, who plays the Trojan hero, Prince Hector, leader of their army.

None of the acting is overdone. The computer animation is sparse and rarely noticeable. The story is based on Homer's The Iliad (no, not that Homer!) A couple of parts seems like a stretch, but overall this is an enjoyable film.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban 3/5 June 4, 2004.

They say, if you haven't read the book, the movie won't grab you. I haven't read the book and the movie didn't seem as good as the first two.

So, this prisoner has escaped and is after Harry. How does he escape? We're not told. There's more questions that never get answered in this imperfect but enjoyable film. The three main characters, Hermoine and Ron Weasley, gel together well. In fact, in looks like the foretelling of romance for those two (I haven't read the books, so this is just a guess!!)

Still, there are parts of the movie that feel muddled. The audience laughed a lot, which means that I obviously missed a lot of jokes that were referenced from the book. The new director did put a fresh face on the film, toning down over-the-top monsters from the last film, in favour of darker, more mysterious creatures that remind me somewhat of the Ringwraiths from Lord of The Rings. This is bound to be yet another smash hit and if you enjoyed the first two, you'll want to see this one.

The Stepford Wives 3/5 June 19, 2004.

This works as a satire. It's also a bit creepy, but there's a fair amount of laughs.

Nicole Kidman is a powerful, popular CEO of a TV studio that specializes in reality shows. Matthew Broderick plays one of her employees, a VP. Kidman gets fired and the family moves to the idyllic, pristine, gated community of Stepford, Connecticut. Early on, they realize that something weird is going on as the women are all like giddy airheads, always wearing dresses and high heels, while the men are relatively normal, if not a tad nerdy.

This film makes some prickly comments about societal trends, hence its satirical side. Bette Midler is very funny. Glen Close looks badly preserved, Kidman and Broderick are fine and Christopher Walken is excellent. Due to the weak ending, this film falls short of being a must-see, though. It falls a bit flat, though, towards the end.

The Chronicles of Riddick 2/5 June 11, 2004.

Don’t be seduced by the computer-generated eye-candy, as this film is a confusing mess without any redeeming quality. Vin Diesel plays Riddick, an escaped convict first seen in the superior film, Pitch Black. The bad guys are trying to force humans to convert to their religion or die. The story, if you can call it that, is lousy. The characters are such that you don’t root for anyone. Avoid at all costs.

Hellboy 3.5/5 April 3, 2004.

This was a very enjoyable film and should spawn a sequel or two. The only question is, since this is one of those "save the world" films, what do you do for an encore?

Ron Perlman was excellent as the blue collar hero. But rather than be a simple caricature, we saw Hellboy's deep feelings emerge for one of his fellow teammates, whose powers resemble those of an X-Men 2 mutant. The scene with him spying on her from a rooftop while she was on a date was really funny and somewhat tender at the same time.

The mysterious Nazi in the "gas mask" is revealed eventually and he slices and dices his way through the film like a martial arts expect with nunchak-like steel blades. The CGI monster looks like a cross between a squid, a warthog and a wolf. There's proof that this film doesn't try to take itself too seriously when Hellboy battles one of these creatures with one hand while holding onto a box of kittens in the other. The comment he makes will crack you up.

At times, the story is a bit convoluted and would require a second viewing to follow closely.
Hellboy is a new cinema icon and so long as Perlman is able to play the role with humour and human feelings, much like Tobey McGuire's Spiderman, we have the makings of a franchise.

It's not as superb as the last X-Men film but Hellboy the character is much more charismatic that the Hulk, Daredevil or any of the cast from The Leagure of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

The Ladykillers 2/5 March 28, 2004.

I'm used to automatically seeing anything associated with the Cohen Brothers. The previews for The Ladykillers made it look like a charming, Southern US, caper film. Sure enough, there were plenty of grey-haired folks in the theatre. I can't imagine they expected the constant MF swearing from one of the characters.

This is a remake of the 1955 hit UK film of the same name starring Peter Sellers and Alec Guinness. The new version relies on repetitive gag humour and the clash between a conservative Christian woman and a foul-mouthed, "hippity-hop" criminal, to get most of its laughs.

Some of the other supporting cast members are nothing but dumb clichés (big, dumb jock, quiet, sly Communist Chinese General, etc.) Tom Hanks plays the role of ring leader as if he were a cartoon character.

There's really no intrigue or really good humour in this obvious Cohen Brothers sellout. Not a must-see film.

website page counter