Saturday, December 31, 2005

Films 2005 - The Year in Review

I missed a lot of films this year, like North Country, Weatherman, Kung Fu Hustle. Everything rated 3.5 or higher, I would be open to seeing again (and are my top 15 films of the year.)

Crash 5/5
Sin City 5/5
The Best of Youth 5/ 5
On The Objection Front 5 /5

Bad Education 4.5/5
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire 4.5/ 5
Me & You And Everyone We Know 4.5 / 5

Hotel Rwanda 4/5
Tarnation 4/5
Old Boy 4/5
Water 4 /5
Pride and Prejudice 4/ 5
Walk The Line 4 / 5
StarWars Episode III Revenge of the Sith 4 / 5

Cinderella Man 3.5/ 5
The 40 Year-old Virgin 3.5 /5
Stealth 3.5 /5
The Constant Gardener 3.5 /5
A History of Violence 3.5 / 5
Shopgirl 3.5 /5

Batman Begins 3 /5
Robots 3/5
Persons of Interest 3/5
Miss Congeniality 2 3/5
Hitch 3/5
Capote 3 / 5
Broken Flowers 3 / 5
King Kong 3 / 5
Syriana 3 /5
Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe 3 / 5
Memoirs of a Geisha 3 / 5

Must Love Dogs 2.75 /5

Kingdom of Heaven 2.5/5
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy 2.5 / 5
The Fantastic Four 2.5 / 5
The War of the Worlds 2.5 / 5
The Great Raid 2.5/ 5
The Interpreter 2.5/ 5
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 2.5 / 5

Guess Who 2/5
Hostage 2/5
Mr. and Mrs. Smith 2/5
Land of the Dead 2/ 5
Jarhead 2 /5
The Producers 2 / 5
Elektra 2/5

Serenity 2.5/ 5

The Island 2.5 /5
Wedding Crashers 2.5 /5

Sahara 1.5/5

Elizabethtown 1 / 5
Two For The Money 1/ 5
Aeon Flux 1 /5
XXX - State of the Union 1/5

Friday, December 30, 2005

film - Capote

3 / 5

This film is generating Oscar buzz due to the acting of Philip Seymour Hoffman, but overall, I found Capote to be less intriguing than I expected.

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Truman Capote was a celebrated writer in the US and hobnobbed with other famous and entertainment industry people, not unlike Andy Warhol. He chanced upon a story of a family killed in small town Kansas and became close to the two imprisoned men, particularly with Perry Edward Smith. Capote was like an unofficial advocate for them, by doing things like finding them a lawyer, and visiting, etc. In the film, he is shown lying to Perry Smith, in order to coax him into revealing the exact details of what happened the night of the murders.

Hoffman is lispy, subtle and portrays the character as being truly obsessed with obtaining details for what became his bestselling book, In Cold Blood.

When films are made about real events that happened, you already know the outcome and so events that are supposed to be suspenseful come across as being a bit anti-climatic.

Here's hoping Hoffman wins an Oscar to help put Manitoba's film industry more on the map than it already is. Apparently, the Winnipeg co-producton company is receiving a lot of scripts for possible produtions for Manitoba. US filmmakers receive a hefty discount on hiring film crew, if they shoot in Manitoba. This is why you hear about Brad Pitt, Richard Gere, Jaylo, etc., coming here to film. Overall, I can't list Capote as one of the top ten films that I have seen this year.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

film - The Producers

2 / 5

The lead up to the play "Springtime To Hitler" is woefully slow, but the play within the movie is unexpectedly spectacular, with dancers dressed up in uniforms. At the last minute, the lead actor who was to play Hitler, broke his leg and the role went to the gay director, who brought the house down with his portrayal of the Nazi leader as a flaming homosexual. What should have been a complete flop ended up being a smash. The audience stopped leaving in outrage and were mesmerized by the campy production.

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Nathan Lane is excellent the high-enegry, manic producer, while Matt Broderick is alright as the reluctant co-producer. Will Ferrell is hysterical as the Nazi-wannabe playwright.

The audience, comprised of a lot of seniors, revelled in the film's inherent cheesiness, corny one-liners and the whole silly homo-erotisicsm flavour of the film.

I wouldn't see this again or recommend it for everyone.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

DVD - Judas Priest - Rising In The East

Filmed in Japan earlier this year, Rising In the East's concert is very much like the concert I saw them perform this fall, including Rob Halford's audience participation sing-along.

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Judas Priest continue on, rejuvenated with the reunion with long-time singer Halford and they continue to prove why they are a legendary band. The quality of the songs are such that they have stood the test of time and at the same time, they don't sound like any other band out there. That's important to remember, especially in today's scene when so many bands sound alike.

The only tracks that I didn't care for were Revolution, the lead single from their reunion album, this year's Angel of Retribution, Hot Rockin' Deal With the Devil and I'm A Rocker. Apart from that, the band sounded fine on my stereo TV. Halford doesn't sing as well as he used to, but he's close enough to his old self that I believe he's years away from having to retire. Glenn Tipton demonstrates his dominance of the lead guitar while KK Downing, bassist Ian Hill and drummer Scott Travis make their sweat-drenched contributions heard and felt, much to the delight of the Budokan audience in Japan.

The DVD, produced by Rhino, doesn't contain any extras and you pretty much get the feeling that this wasn't meant to be a big budget affair. It could have been longer with interviews, rehearsals for the new album, etc., but the absence of such material suggests to me that the production companies involved don't see the band as a entity that has a growing audience. When they played my city, they had about 8,000 fans, which was far less than what System Of A Down had. I haven't really given SOAD a good listen, prefering my metal to be more straight-ahead like what the famous, classic metal bands have given us in the late 70s and 80s. Times are changing and while SOAD appear to be on the upswing, Priest seem to be comfortable as the every steady, classic metal act that they are, even if the concert going crowd seems to be shifting their tastes to more modern bands. Rising In The East is a must-have for Priest fans and is the only second to the 1982 concert DVD that shipped with the Metalogy boxed set. That was Judas Priest pretty much at their peak.

Friday, December 23, 2005

film - Memoirs of a Geisha

3 / 5

Based on the bestselling book by Arthur Golden, and starring three of the top Chinese actors in the world, Memoirs of a Geisha weaves a love story while unravelling the mystical world of geishas, the seductive and entertaining paid dates for men in Japan. Rob Marshall (Chicago) directed and there's already Oscar nomination talk to go with its two Golden Globe nominations (Ziyi Zhang for Best Actress and John Williams for the score.)

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Suzuka Ohgo

I haven't read the book and as such, the appeal of the film isn't as strong as the best selling status would have made it,in my mind.

Two sisters are sold off, and one is accepted into a home for geishas. The top geisha (Li Gong, 1965) dislikes the new arrival (Ziyi Zhang, 1979) and attempts to thwart her as she progresses in her classes to become a geisha. She sees her as a future rival, but she is also projecting her anger on not being able to follow her heart and pursue an open relationship with the man she loves.

Not knowing a lot about geishas, they seem to be seductive dates and personal entertainers for high class men, predating lap dancers and escorts, but not being outright prostitutes, in most cases.

The love story takes place when our heroine, already sold to the geisha house, at age 9 is chanced upon by the businessman known as "the Chairman" (Ken Watanabe, 1959). Later on, unbeknownst to him, she becomes a top young geisha, while being positioned as a regular social partner for the Chairman's disfigured business partner, who happens to dislike geisha but takes a shining to her. Geishas aren't supposed to fall in love, but simply bring home money to the "house" and maintain as many clients as possible. They can be heavily desired but at the same time, can't give in to their feelings and longing for love. Therein lies the tradgedy.

I found this film to be neither fantastic but not awful, either. Part of it feels like a so-so love story wrapped up in beautiful, exquisitely filmed settings. You get to see how Japan changed after the war, with the influx of American culture and the dying off of the geishas. The acting is decent but overall, the film failed to draw me in.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

film - King Kong (2005)

3/ 5

Directed by Peter Jackson as an hommage to the 1933 original, King Kong runs a bit too long and ultimately feels like a film that really didn't need to be remade. The original film was a marvel at the time, but this one is yet another orgy of computer animation that we see far too much of in films these days.

The crew heads off to southeast Asia, not realizing that the director, Carl Denham, really wants to sail to the mysterious and uncharted Skull Island. The images of the inhabitants of the island are quite scarry! The scene will Kong running away from the wall with his prize, Ann Darrow, seemed like a neck-snapping journey for sure. You wouldn't expect anyone to survive.

I felt the battles with the T-rexes were quite exciting, but a bit anti-climatic, since we all know how the film ends. The scene with Kong sliding around on the ice in New York didn't seem necessary and actually felt too cheesy to me.

There are some parts of the story that we don't see that would have been interesting. How,exactly, do they get Kong on the boat? He looks too big to fit aboard, for starters.

The filled is being billed as having a lot of heart. We see that there is a real relationship between Kong and Darrow when he puts his life on the line to rescue her on the island. We also see his personality when he walks away after defeating the dinosaurs, not caring if she would follow him.

Was Kong a challenging film to remake? Given the use of today's gee-whiz technology, I would say no, actually. So long as you have the money, I'm not so sure that this film required a great deal of vision or even directing talent. I don't expect to see any Oscar nominations for the actors. Naomi Watts wasn't exceptional and neither were Adrien Brody or Jack Black. It's tough to know to what extent Andy Serkis, as the human that Kong was modelled on, is responsible for the success of the animation of the big beast.

As many times as we are asked to make huge leaps of logic (anyone for an escape hundreds of feet above the ground, clinging onto a human-sized vampire bat's talon?), there are scense that bristle with energy and non-stop action. There are scenes that some children would find too scarry, and at just over three hours, the film seems too long. But, overall, it is an entertaining blockbuster. Not one of the top ten best films of the year, however.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

film - The Chronicles of Narnia

3 / 5

I haven't heard read any of the C.S. Lewis' Narnia books. In fact, I hadn't heard of them until the previews for this film began to appear a few months ago.

I also began to hear about the Christian theme in the film and heard a bit who dies and gets "ressurected."

During the Nazi bombing of urban England, four siblings get sent to a huge mansion in the country to safely ride out the war. While playing hide and seek, the youngest encounters a wardrobe that leads to a magical land. Her siblings don't believe her, but the youngest brother surreptitiously follows her...

Eventually, all four make their way through this portal and encounter talking animals, a witch with countless Orc-like nasties, and plenty of hoofed good guys, led by a talking lion.

This film was pretty enjoyable but would appeal more to kids, I think. I never "buy" the concept of complete unknowns becoming deft swordsmen and archers in these now hum-drum CGI battles. Some of the scenes could frighten young children. The bad guys are scary and the talking wolves are the things nightmares are made of.

The film seemded designed to deliver it's not so subtle religous-themed message but I'm not sure it very clearly did so with the lion's explanation.

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I enjoyed this film and can recommend it. I found myself constantly watching for the next development. The acting was fine all around. Tilda Swinton (The Beach) was someone you could really hate as the White Witch while Liam Neeson was calm and confident as the lion king. The beavers were hilarious while the fawn was unexpectedly the most human-like of all of Narnia's creatures. The audience broke into applause at the end. I expect this will be a successful film.

film - Syriana

3 /5

This is the most complex film that I have seen in a while. It's the type of film that I would have to watch more than once to appreciate, as I didn't get a sense of who all the characters were and what their agendas were.

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Oil rich Gulf country's apparent next leader, a prince, decides to award a Chinese company the rights to drill natural gas, rights held by a big US company, who were outbid. The US company, who now tries to merge with a smaller US company who has won drilling rights in Kazakhstanin, one of the largest untapped oil reserves in the world. The company is such an unlikely candidate that the authorities begin to investigate what dirty deals took place. A DC law firm is hired to investigate the desired merger, to see if any laws were broken by either company by payoffs, etc. The Emir of the country is old and wants to retire and he has two sons. One is a Ph.D with shady connections to enemies of the US through arms deals, while the other is a young twentysomething, more open to cooperating with the US. A young oil worker is laid off, joins a madrass, comes under the influence of his radical teacher and has the makings of a bad guy...

Strong performances by the supporting cast, but George Clooney and Matt Damon's characters are not very dynamic and interesting. Unfortunately, the film fails to develop and weave the subplots together in a succinct fashion. I kept waiting for an "aha" moment when it would piece together in my mind nicely but that never happened. It's also a bit too slow.

Syriana is a timely film but it isn't clear enough to be a hit among mainstream audiences. Based on the book See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism by Robert Baer (2003.)

Saturday, December 03, 2005

film - Aeon Flux


Æon Flux debuted on MTV in 1991 as a six-part animated series created by Peter Chung.

In the film, set 400 years in the future, we have a small population living in the walled city of Bregna, created by Dr. Goodchild after 99% of the population was killed off by a virus. Since then, Goodchild's family have been running the city as benevolent dictators.

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There exists, however, a highly trained, small underground movement, determined to kill off their ruling masters, who they see as their oppressors. Once in a while, citizens become abducted, never to seen or heard from again, all the more reason for the rebellion to topple the city state's leadership, who they believe are responsible for the adductions. The citizens also suffer from a mysterious condition in which they have vivid but false memories, as if they recalling past lives...

Aeon Flux is sent on a mission to kill of the head of the Goodchild family, the leader of the city, but stops but an overwhelming sense that they are familiar with one another.

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My problem with this film, apart from the enourmous leaps of logic that need to be realized, is the sterile, cold feeling from the characters and the story as a whole. There's little intrigue, despite unravelling the story at a realistic pace. Like in the Matrix series, there's an overreliance of special effects and implausible story lines. How many times do we have to see the outnumbered and out-gunned good guys jump their way like acrobats through a wall of machine gun fire only to take out all the bad guys?

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I haven't seen the animated series so I can't comment on how close Charlize Theron's performance is to the Aeon Flux character, but the one-dimensional character is seemingly lifeless, save for her fighting skills. There's little humanity in her...or perhaps that really was the point.

I won't see this again and I can't recommend it.

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