Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Shining: Heeeeeere's Terror!

jack nicholson,stanley kubrick,the shining,movie poster

Over the weekend before Halloween, the Lady and I watched a bunch of horror movies. We were too busy the actual weekend of Halloween to watch anything more than The Nightmare Before Christmas, so it seemed like a good idea at the time. Luckily for me, I can watch a dozen horror movies a day and not have an issue, but unfortunately, somebody I know was having some difficulty sleeping after movies like Funny Games, Saw and The Shining. I've been meaning to watch this film all the way through for awhile, now. I read the novel a few times over the last several years, and I've heard that the adaptation isn't as good as the novel. The interesting thing about The Shining is that it's good on its own merits, separated from the novel. The novel is great, and examines the psychology of horror, and I really enjoyed the treatment of the supernatural, psychic abilities, and ghostly possession.

Stanley Kubrick is a pretty crazy guy. He had a tremendous reputation from the actors that he worked with, and almost every movie that he directed is extraordinarily twisted, creepy, interesting, and well directed. The camera angles are interesting, mise-en-scene well thought out and full of subtle meanings that I can't even remember off the top of my head, and a subtlety of movement (or lack thereof), as well as an extremely interesting use of pacing and editing (jumping from the first day to like a month later, and Jack's slam-cut in the hedge maze).

shelley duvall,jack nicholson,the shining

Jack Torrance (Nicholson) is a recovering alcoholic ex-schoolteacher, who accepts a job as a caretaker for a large hotel during the winter off-season. His wife Wendy (Duvall) will accompany him, as well as his young son Danny (Danny Lloyd), who is obviously a special boy, as the film quickly and clearly establishes. A boy named Tony speaks through Danny occasionally, and he doesn't want to go to the Overlook, but doesn't explain why. They basically move to the hotel at the end of the summer season, before the weather gets cold, and Danny speaks with Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers), an elderly man who is also a psychic, and tells Danny that it's called "the shining." As they live in the hotel, just the three of them, in a gigantic hotel, Jack tries to write a novel, Wendy tries to keep them together, and Danny just likes to be vaguely creepy and ride his big wheel around the hallways. Jack sinks progressively farther into a strange psychotic depression, and it's difficult to tell whether the hotel itself begins providing him with alcohol, or if he imagines the whole thing. Danny begins having visions revolving around room 237, as well as some really creepy twins that show up, the murdered daughters of a previous caretaker. Jack eventually gives in to the anger and alcohol, and tries to murder his wife and son, just as the previous caretaker had (though the last caretaker succeeded).

the twins,the shining

Kubrick is a great director, which I think I said before. It's definitely not everyone's cup of tea, but it's pretty impressive what he's able to do with pacing, storytelling, and shot composition. This was also Kubrick's first film in which the Steadicam was used, and some of the most iconic steadicam tracking shots in cinema are from this film (mostly the shots tracking behind Danny as he BigWheels around the hallways of the hotel).

I need to read the novel again; I had always heard that there was some dispute with Stephen King that he didn't particularly enjoy the film as an adaptation of his novel. I think the film could have easily gone itno more about Danny and his abilities; as it is, and perhaps because of the young age of the actor, he's a relatively minor character, which is pretty annoying to me. I've always found that King can write some interesting child characters, especially ones that are touched by special gifts that are potentially dangerous and harmful. Also, as far as I know, Danny Lloyd was only in one other movie in his short and young career (also, I've read that he didn't know The Shining was a horror film until he was 17; Kubrick protected him pretty well during filming so he thought he was just in a drama, apparently).

This movie is creepy and scary as hell. It's interesting, and has been analyzed multiple times in terms of any messages it may contain regarding the family, humanity, as well as certain issues like substance abuse (relatively common for King at the time, considering his own problems), and general social concerns Kubrick tends to stick in all of his films. It's strikingly horrible in a lot of ways (n the good way, not bad, but full of horror), and it's definitely a classic that should be checked out.

I give it four big-toothed Shelley Duvalls out of five, or four seemingly slow but apparently psychic creepy little boys on Big Wheels out of five.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Zombieland: Land of the Dead, Home of the Kickass

zombieland,movie poster

Should I try to pretend like I didn't really post in October because I didn't want to flood the blog-o-nets with movie blogs related to horror movies, and I made a conscious decision to back off and blog about them in November, when people usually drop the horror stuff and move on the the happy sappy Sandra Bullock movies and Eddie Murphy catastrophes? No? Well, ok, it was worth a shot.

I did see Zombieland in the theaters a few weekends ago, and remember when I said I was looking forward to it, hoping that Adventureland would serve as some sort of prequel? Well, unfortunately, it wasn't, but it did have that Eisenberg kid in it, and he doesn't even get eaten by zombies. Oddly, he did get bitten by a werewolf in Wes Craven's Cursed, which was just on TV the other day and it was pretty not great, but oh well. That's not my original point. Which was... right! Zombieland. It was directed by Rueben Fleischer, and written by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick. It stars Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin. There's also a pretty amazingly awesome celebrity cameo, and thats pretty much it for the cast. Everyone else is zombified. It's a pretty good zombie film, and a good comedy. It's not really an homage/parody like Shaun of the Dead, but it's still a pretty interesting movie, especially considering its minimalist cast and snappy dialogue. Usually, Zombie films aren't known for that sort of thing.

zombieland,columbus,jesse eisenberg

Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) has a list of rules that have kept him alive during the zombie plague. He doesn't survive because he's strong, or brave, or awesome, but because he's an overly cautious nerd. Tallahassee (Harrelson), on the other hand, is a brash, burly, Southern zombie killing machine, who survives purely because he loves to kill zombies. Wichita (Stone) and Little Rock (Breslin) are con-artist sisters who find themselves mixed up with the two guys. They go by towns instead of names, but they end up crossing much of the country together, killing zombies, getting into shenanigans, and stealing from each other. According to the film's plot, zombies were created out of some sort of mutated mad-cow diseases, a mad-human disease, if you will. Possibly a subtle nod to the merits of vegetarianism? There's plenty of zombie mayhem, people being chased and then eaten, as well as plenty of zombies getting shot, hit with cars, having pianos dropped on them, being cut up and sliced up, all the good stuff that we love to see in a zombie film. The film climaxes in a totally insane battle in an amusement park, where a thousand or so zombies swarm around our heroes, forcing them to try and kill the population of a decent sized school.

woody harrelson,jesse eisenberg,columbus,tallahassee,zombieland

While it's not quite as good as Shaun of the Dead in the respect of a comedy or a zombie film, it definitely does its best to hit that mark. It's not a bad movie, by any means. It's wholly entertaining, gory, sometimes shocking (in the sense that sudden appearance of a frightening zombie from nowhere), and an interesting take on the idea of surviving the zombie apocalypse. The idea that a skinny kid like Columbus could survive as long as he did (seemingly one of five normal humans left in the United States) because of his list of rules, caution, preparation, and above all, cardio, is quite interesting.

I've long said that if something like the zombocalypse ever actually happened, the nerds would really be the ones to survive the longest. While we never see Columbus being a fan of zombie movies, or knowing a lot about them implicitly, he is able to build up his list pretty quickly, without dying while compiling it. He has some good advice on there, too, and is pretty practical. I haven't finished reading my Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks yet, but I would imagine that there are a few of these same tips inside (like Cardio, Check the Back Seat, etc.). Apply these instructions in a practical, zombie-filled setting!

Is this film still in the theaters? It might be. If it is, it's worth checking out. Yeah, yeah, I know, it's after Halloween. Honestly, that's just the time of year that people that don't watch horror movies want to watch horror movies. In reality, they're always good all the time. Especially in fall, where it gets dark early, it's the perfect time for spooky movies. Or, not, whatever, I can't force you to watch anything!

I give Zombieland four totally insane celebrity cameos that I'm trying hard not to spoil for everyone out of five, or four kick-ass dog-loving NASCAR-watching gun-toting zombie killing machine Woody Harrelsons out of five.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

X-Men Origins Wolverine: Like A Videogame, But You Don't Have To Play

Hugh Jackman,Wolverine,movie poster

I have to preface this post with a tiny fact that may or may not be slightly embarrassing: I'm a long-time comic book fan. I read X-Men first, so it always has this weirdly special place in my entertainment lexicon. So of course I was pretty geeked out and nerdily overjoyed when the original X-Men trilogy came out. Of course, Wolverine came out of that the clear favorite (and was actually designed to do so, based on the amount of screen time and plot attention he was given in the first three movies), and was ranted his own movie, focusing entirely on him running around in tank tops and snarling, cutting things up and generally being feral and apparently highly appealing. According to the Lady, at least. How distressing! But understandable?

In case someone may have been living in a cave or under a rock or in a coma or something, Wolverine is a movie spin-off from the popular X-Men movie trilogy released in the early to mid Oughties, starring Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Liev Schrieber as Sabretooth, Danny Houston as William Stryker, Will.i.am as John Wraith, Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson, Lynn Collins as Kayla Silverfox, Taylor Kitsch as Remy LeBeau, Kevin Durand as Fred Dukes, Dominic Monaghan as some random technopath, plus a bunch of other semi-familiar faces in different forms, like a young Cyclops, Emma Frost, and a few other mystery mutants in a crazy mutant jail. In general, it's pretty much a crazy mix of some great characters, some disappointments, some oddities, but is generally entertaining and action-packed.

ryan reynolds,taylor kitch,hugh jackman,liev schreiber,lynn collins,x-men origins: wolverine

There's probably a lot of spoilers in a general plot outline, but I'll try to keep it informative and spoiler free. Basically, the film explores the origins and youth of Wolverine, one of the most popular comic book characters of all time, and arguably the character given the most attention in the original X-men trilogy. We see a lot of the reasons why Wolverine is the way he is, what happened to his memory, what happened with Weapon X, why he and Sabretooth hate each other, and why he has claws. In the mid 19th century, young James Howlett is a sick young man, who is close friends with the groundskeeper's son Victor. After an altercation, James is traumatized by witnessing his father's death, wherein sharp claws of bone pop from his hands, and he kills the groundskeeper. James and Victor run away, using their feral mutant powers in every major American war starting with the Civil War, going all the way to Vietnam. Their healing factors make them age very slowly (or basically stop aging once they get to young middle age). They're recruited by Stryker, who builds a small army of mutants. James leaves after it takes a turn he doesn't like, he quits. Six years later, James is living a quiet life in Canada, when his old life catches up to him. His old friends in the military group come back into his life, and he meets some new mutants (like Gambit and a young Cyclops).

The Weapon X program uses his rage against him to perform experiments, and he's forced to face his own brother, except for when he doesn't. In the end, he must face their ultimate weapon, and Stryker himself, which works out the only way that it can.

hugh jackman,liev schreiber,x-men origins: wolverine

I'm probably going to rate this with one star higher than it really deserves, just because I'm such a giant comic book nerd, but I think it'll be forgiven. Won't it?! Yeah, it will.

I like these kinds of movies, pretty much in spite of their many, many flaws. Cinematically, it was average, and basically as best as they get for action movies. It was directed by Gavin Hood, who has directed some (seemingly) decent movies, though I haven't seen them (Rendition, Tsotsi). It was written by some guys, too, I guess, and also based on a long and storied history, which they ignored about 65% of for this movie. Certain characters were just plain wrong (like Deadpool, though Reynolds's Wade Wilson was basically spot on). Certain people's powers were wrong, seemingly: Cyclops looked like he had heat vision (parts of the buildings he destroyed with his optic blast thingies were on fire), and Emma Frost just had diamond skin (a relatively new power for her character; she's primarily been a telepath). Anyway, that's all nerd-trap nitpicky crap. The fight scenes were pretty awesome, and certain characters were basically perfect. Gambit seemed pretty spot on, and surprisingly, the show-stealer was Kevin Durand as Fred Dukes, who was never one of my favorite characters, but holy crap did he make the Blob incredibly entertaining. I was even surprised at how not-terrible Will.i.am was as Stryker, considering this is his first movie. It's also an interesting choice for a famous musician like that; I like to see that some celebrities are comic book nerds, too.

One of the things that I simultaneously love and hate about the influx of comic book movies in the last decade is how popular these characters are becoming. For some strange reason, nerds are pretty protective of their nerdy obsessions. It's the same thing with video games. It almost seems unfair, like they haven't "earned the right" to be interested in these kinds of things. Seriously, though? It's good for the comics industry in general, and I'm glad to see that they're doing so well. When I was in high school, Marvel was bankrupt, and now they've bounced back with Marvel Entertainment, and were recently bought by Disney, which should open a lot of new doors.

I kind of hope they make a second Wolverine movie, if only because they can start including some characters that haven't been included as of yet. It's almost ironic that a film featuring the entire cast of the X-Men wouldn't feature major interesting characters, and they have to be introduced elsewhere. I'll have to compile a list of characters I'd love to see in a movie. Or at least characters to be treated correctly; it sounds nitpicky, but there's a lot of canon (yes, canon) that has ben established with these characters, so to see stuff ignored and misrepresented is pretty annoying.

In general, I would recommend this film to at least rent. I even bought Daredevil because I'm such a comic book nerd, so that might say something about why I bought X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I give it three half-naked and sometimes completely naked feral Hugh Jackmans running around out of five, or three strange and sometimes completely insane brotherly relationships between super-powered animalistic warrior maniacs out of five.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Life of David Gale: We Get It, You Hate the Death Penalty

movie poster,kevin space,kevin spacey,the life of david gale

In 2003, Alan Parker directed a movie that looks like it was made in the 1990s. It's the worst thing about this movie; for some reason, to me, it looks like it was shot ten years before it really was, and I can't put my finger on why. He also directed Angel Heart in the 1980s, which looks like it was made in the 80s, but set back in the day. Other than that, this film is a pretty fantastic crime-based sort-of-courtroom journalist drama starring Kevin Spacey as the titular character, a former professor on death row for murder and rape, Kate Winslet as a reporter with a dumb name sent to interview him the last three days before his execution, and Laura Linney as David Gale's best friend, and the woman he raped and murdered.

It's a pretty intense film with some unique twists and some surprises, though the Lady will attest that I called the basic gist of the final twist in the first half. It's a one-of-a-kind plot, and almost seems like something that could really happen. Most of the characters are interesting, the plot moves along swiftly, there are various twists, and there's lots of sex and violence, which is what all courtroom/crime dramas are really missing. Sure, there were some small pieces of the puzzle that I didn't guess, but the overall pucture itself was something I managed to figure out within the first, oh, I dunno, 45 minutes?

laura linney,kevin spacey,the life of david gale

The Life of David Gale follows Bitsey Bloom (told you that she has a dumb name), a reporter who is inexplicably called in to interview David Gale, a former Professor of Philosophy and head of the department of philosophy at the University of Austin. His marriage is strained, but he loves his young son. His friend Constance runs the local Death Watch, a protest group opposed to capital punishment and specifically the Texan proclivity for executions. He's accused of raping a grad student who was recently expelled due to poor attendance (apparently), and his life starts to fall apart. His wife leaves him, he descends into alcoholism, he loses his position in the university, his position in Death Watch, and virtually everything that means anything to him, except for his Harvard sweatshirt and his son's stuffed animal, which I believe is referred to as "Cloud Dog." Bitsey meanwhile gets closer to the cryptic truth through her interviews with David, and she and her intern Zack hang around the rural Texas town where the prison is located, and dealing with David's odd, podunk-ponytail lawyer Braxton Belyeu (Leon Rippy). As Gale's execution date looms, Bitsey gets as close to the truth as she's allowed until the right moment, where the truth is revealed at the last possible minute just before the credits roll.

kate winselt,kate winslet,gabriel mann,the life of david gale

Apparently, this film was generally received negatively. It's certainly not because of the acting or directing, both of which are stellar and better than average, respectively. Perhaps it's the heavy-handed and nearly ham-fisted way the plot treats the opposition of the death penalty, and the exceptionally brutal manner in which the main characters treat it and react to it. While no clear resolution is ever really reached, there is a sense that Gale's initial point (that the system is flawed, and tries to prove that an innocent man can indeed make it through the awfully disastrous system) reaches some sort of attention. There is also the sense and idea that capital punishment can't be stopped, as Bitsey is sent on a wild goose chase from her interviews with Gale to prove he's innocent, only to have him meet his execution date anyway.

It certainly is suspenseful, and the twists are excellent, and Spacey and Linney are as good actors as they ever were. Spacey and Winslet's characters have a semi- Hannibal/Clarice relationship going, so strong that I expected him to greet her in the same manner when she first arrives at the prison. It never really does explain why he chooses/requests Bitsey to interview her, and I half-expected her to be involved in the twist, in some bizarre and vaguely-connected way. As far as we know, he just chose her because she refused to give up her source on a previous trial, even though her source was a supposed child molester (or something). The basic point is, she was part of the overall plot and twist after all, but probably not the way you think.

I don't think the film is terrible, unlike Roger Ebert, who usually has a pretty good handle on these kinds of things. It's kind of a strange bummer of a movie, though, but it apparently works out for the best in the end. Kevin Spacey plays the role well, swinging between the tacit and professional David Gale on death row, emotionally strained with his execution looming, and the chaotic, intelligent, angry, and very often drunk past version.

I give The Life of David Gale three drunken street-rants about Aristotle and Plato and various other philosophers with amusing insights into their fashion sense as well as their beliefs out of five, or three stupidly-named and vaguely annoying yet persistent and emotional journalists out of five.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Smart People: They're Kind of Dumb

Smart People,movie poster,dennis quaid,sarah jessica parker,thomas haden church,ellen page

To a certain extent, I take offense to the general idea of this film, that smart people are also kind of dumb. Not in the academic sense, but in a more common sense area, especially when it comes to interpersonal relationships, like with family, romance, and friends (technically, none of the characters in the film have "friends," even briefly or peripherally introduced). Actually, the more I think about it, the more accurate it is. The smart kids are always the social misfits and the weirdest, most awkward humans imaginable. Nevermind, this movie is pretty accurate and definitely on point, though it's occasionally a little on the nose.

Released in 2008, Smart People was directed by Noam Murro and written by Mark Poirier. It stars the ever-awesome Dennis Quaid, the constantly surprising Thomas Haden Church, the reliably entertaining Ellen Page, and friggin' Sarah Jessica Parker. That wasn't a good "friggin'," by the way. Oh well, she doesn't detract from the other performances or anything, so that's good. Dennis Quaid plays Lawrence Wetherhold, a somewhat awkward, pretentious, and overly intelligent English Professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Ellen Page plays his daughter, a compulsive overachiever and social misfit, too intelligent for her own good and aware of it, who has stepped in to fill her late mother's shoes. Thomas Haden Church plays Chuck, Lawrence's adopted brother, who is the most normal character in the film (though he doesn't have a job, any real interpersonal relationships outside the family, and no real ambitions whatsoever). Sarah Jessica Parker plays Dr. Janet Hartigan, who treats Professor Wetherhold, and is a former student of his, and takes it upon herself to play the romantic interest to Lawrence. Their relationship is pretty random, and nonsensical, and whatever, nothing makes much sense. I guess it's not supposed to?

smart people,dennis quaid,sarah jessica parker

The Wetherhold family is extraordinarily dysfunctional, and virtually every member is adrift, lost, and unable to adequately cope with pretty much anything that happens to them. Lawrence is an English professor who is universally disliked by most, and can't be bothered to remember any of his student's names. His wife passed away some time before the movie takes place, and he's finding it impossible to adequately deal with it. His daughter Vanessa is insane over getting into college, and assuming the matronly role, and even helping her father come up with the title of his latest book, which he's having trouble publishing. His adopted brother Chuck shows up out of the blue, which is sort of lucky, because Lawrence hurts himself trying to hop the fence to get his papers out of his impounded car, and his vague sense of "who gives a crap" seems like it should be a positive influence on the household, and maybe it does, but it isn't anything earth shattering. Sarah Jessica Parker shows up as Dr. Janet Hartigan, a former student who treats his injuries, and they begin a very strange romantic relationship, complete with a pregnancy. Apparently, everyone learns a valuable lesson, and we see Professor Wetherhold becoming a better father, Chuck becoming still the same old Chuck, and evidently everyone else improves in some meaningful way.

Thomas Haden Church,Ellen page,Smart People

Nuno Bettencort, lead guitarist from Extreme provides the majority of the soundtrack, which is thankfully very far from Extreme, both in terms of the band name and the actual adjective. It helps the film find that weird balance of funny, depressing, awkward, and engaging. There are less than a dozen actors with lines in this movie, if I remember correctly, which definitely isn't a bad thing. It's an incredibly dialogue-driven film, with smart, witty, and sometimes awesome dialogue. It's low-key, subdued, subtle, and while its characters are often times incredibly pretentious, overblown, and utterly insufferable, the film itself manages not to be.

It's a pretty decent movie for a first time director, and a first time writer. It must have struck some good chords somewhere, because while he's not Brad Pitt, Dennis Quaid is a pretty big name actor. And even though she looks like a foot, Sarah Jessica Parker is a pretty big star. Luckily, the last few years have been pretty good to Thomas Haden Church, so he's getting pretty popular, and thusly a decently sized star. And of course, cute li'l Ellen Page has been a dynamo lately. And they're virtually the only members of the cast, and so there's a fair amount of star power for a couple of first-timers. Also, I'm jealous. I mean, it's not an incredibly dynamically directed film, but it doesn't need to be. And it's very smartly written, and the direction enhances the inherent timing of the dialogue and situations. I'm pretty impressed in general.

I recommend this film for anyone that's related to English professors, wants to be one, is one, or is just really snobby with English. Dennis Quaid is surprisingly and like-ably unlike-able, and Church is good as always, understated and with some spot-on timing. I also have to say that this is the first time I was annoyed by an Ellen Page character, so kudos to her for that. She's usually too adorable to be annoyed by. Her character is basically Juno, with none of the cool stuff. Still big words, still an odd attitude, but largely insufferable. I suggest checking it out. I give this film four vaguely out-of-shape Dennis Quaid characters (in which Quaid wears a fat suit) out of five, or four sleepy Thomas Haden Churches wearing red onesies with the butt flap hanging wide open for anyone walking by to cover up, so maybe cover your shame, man.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Extract: We Should Bottle Mike Judge

Extract,mike judge,movie poster

Everyone knows Mike Judge, or at least they should. He created Beavis & Butt-Head. Enough said? Hardly! He also created King of the Hill, and directed the cult classic Office Space. Unfortunately, working in an office, little gags and jokes from that movie (as well as the American version of the television show The Office) has permeated the conversational minutiae of daily life in an office. Luckily, he always does extremely entertaining work, so I can forgive him making it so ridiculously popular films that they almost become annoying.

I doubt that Extract will be like that. It was good, and funny, and had a great feel to it. However, so did Idiocracy, and unfortunately, that movie didn't do as well as I think it could have. It didn't even really become a cult classic like Office Space did. I do think that he's getting somewhat more confident as a filmmaker, however, and I sincerely hope that he puts a few more films out now that this is King of the Hill's last season (I think; right?). I don't want him to create another series (didn't he already try with that terrible Goode Family thing? That sucked and got cancelled, right?); I don't want him to create another version of Office Space, either. I think it only became a cult classic because it was very identifiable with the increasing number of disenfranchised young people working in white collar type jobs. This may be a blending of old mentality and new mentality, as the film is set in a factory, but mostly told from the perspective of the founder and owner, Joel Reynolds (Jason Bateman).

Ben Affleck,jason bateman,extract

Joel Reynolds (Bateman) began his extract company when he figured out some chemistry stuff to be able to extract food flavors. He currently runs his factory full of misfits, and is dissatisfied with his life and his marriage (to Suzie, played by Kristen Wiig). He hasn't had sex with his wife in a month, and his workers are all idiots, complainers, or losers. He's trying to sell off his company to General Mills, but an accident at the factor puts those plans on hold. Due to a series of odd, Rube Goldberg-ian events, one of his employees (Clifton Collins, Jr.) loses a testicle, but intends to settle. Hearing about the accident, con-artist and drifter Cindy (Mila Kunis) shows up to talk him into suing, with the intent to steal the money. He also gets some very bad advice from his best friend Dean (Ben Affleck), when Joel expresses some romantic desires for Cindy. Dean suggests they hire a gigolo to seduce Suzie, so Joel doesn't have to feel guilty about having an affair with Cindy. Needless to say, things get complicated, strange, but wholly amusing.

The film stars a plethora of pretty familiar faces. Jason Bateman headlines with Ben Affleck supporting him surprisingly well. Kristen Wiig is pretty fantastic as his wife Suzie, who is also dissatisfied with their current lot in life, but Joel is too caught up with work and his own annoyance to notice. Mila Kunis has been in everything lately; I even saw her in a preview for the new Denzel Washington movie The Book of Eli. I'm not sure if it's a bad thing, because she's not intolerable, but I think she's going to have some problems if she tries to do too much. Dustin Milligan is the dim-witted gigolo that they hire; apparently he's on the CW or something, though I've never seen him in anything before this film. Gene Simmons is a personal injury lawyer (and pretty great), and J.K. Simmons is Joel's business partner, who can't even bother to learn the employees names. Mike Judge himself even appears as a union organizer who sounds suspiciously like Hank Hill. The supporting cast is pretty excellent, and they play their parts well (annoying characters are really annoying, dumb characters are really dumb, etc.).

jason bateman,mila kunis,extract

Mike Judge has a knack for putting the everyman into lead roles, and making it interesting. By all accounts, Joel is a somewhat whiny, somewhat self-absorbed business owner, but Jason Bateman plays him in such a way that he's engaging and interesting. Of course, I'm sure he was written that way, too (by Mike Judge). It's kind of difficult to explain why the movie is enjoyable, which is a problem I have with Office Space, as well. It amuses me and entertains me; it's well written, subtly directed (nothing flashy happens because nothing needs to, we just need to be present for the interactions of characters and their dialogue), and is pretty well acted. I was even entertained by Ben Affleck, which hardly ever happens.

I feel kind of bad, I don't really have much to say about the movie, other than it's worth seeing. However, it has a caveat. If you liked Idiocracy, you'll probably like this movie. If you just liked Office Space, you might like Extract, but, then again, you might not. They're not really the same. I guess it's not really the same as Idiocracy, either, but... it's different, though. Like I said, it's hard to explain.

Let me give it a quick shot. It has a lot of timing. Does that make sense? A lot of the humour is related to the lines and delivery, but also relies pretty heavily on the timing of those lines, and the timing of reactions. It's very subtle. It's highly enjoyable. Also, when Brad the dumb gigolo talks about being "in love" with Suzie (yeah, it happens), there's this sweet, slow piano music that plays in the background. Even when he has to talk about it like five times in a scene because he's so dumb, the sweet romantic piano music is still there.

It may not be worth a theater viewing (since there are no explosions or anything), but it's definitely worth a viewing, however you want to do it. I give it three and a half testicle destroying arbitrary factory accidents out of five, or three and a half David Koechners running up to your car while you're coming home from work, trying to bore you to death, or annoy you to murder, apparently.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Surf's Up: Penguins Surfing? It's Better Than It Sounds

Surf's Up,sony pictures,shia labeouf,jeff bridges,zooey deschanel

I love kid's movies, most of the time. I think the only one I've written about so far here is Bee Movie, which wasn't exactly the best. I generally prefer films produced by Walt Disney's frozen head, but occasionally, other production companies will send out a film that's pretty decent, and occasionally, will even be better than expected. I haven't seen Sony Pictures Animation's first film Open Season yet, but it looked halfway decent. Their newest film, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs is out now, I believe, and it looks like it could be good. We'll have to see; I was pretty impressed in general with Surf's Up.

The Lady brought it over last week, since she loves it. I wasn't sure what to think; I had some preconceived notions of penguin movies, from Happy Feet. I think the producers had a feeling about this, since there are some references to the fact that there's no singing, no dancing, etc. They almost over-reach with that, at times, putting in lots of hip, cultural references and a soundtrack filled with Green Day and popular music. It features a pretty stellar cast, starring Shia LaBeouf as the main character, Cody Maverick. Jeff Bridges stars as Geek, Zooey Deschanel as Lani, Jon Heder as Chicken Joe, Mario Cantone as Mikey (a shorebird talent scout), James Woods as Reggie Belafonte (a Don King-esque promoter sea otter), and Diedrich Bader as Tank Evans, an utterly fantastic character. I was particularly impressed with almost every scene between LaBeouf and Bridges, and I'm honestly curious if they recorded their scenes together.

surf's up,jeff bridges,shia labeouf

Presented like a documentary, Surf's Up follows Cody Maverick, a young rockhopper penguin living in Shiverpool, apparently a penguin village in the arctic. His dream is to become a surfer, after a visit from the legendary Big Z, emperor penguin and king of the surfers. He eventually is discovered and goes along with a crew of penguins (and a Chicken, who surfed Lake Michigan) to a surfing competition on Pen Gu Island, apparently the best place to surf in the world. There he meets Tank (Bader), a giant king penguin, who won the title of top surfer from Big Z when Z supposedly died in a surfing accident at the last big competition. Cody is ambitious and full of heart (as per usual with these family movie heroes), but his skills are sort of lacking. He eventually learns about the true meaning of surfing, finding the joy in it, having fun with it, and learning that being number one isn't the best thing, the most important thing, and there are plenty of wacky shenanigans, sight gags, interesting characters, great voice work, and that ever-present and extremely interesting framing as a documentary.

Three Cute Little Penguin Kids

Also, these three little penguin kids keep showing up, being interviewed briefly by the film crew (assuming they're penguins themselves, though to a certain extent, I keep thinking of them as being humans). They're pretty adorable; one of the kids keeps going into the water to "drown," so he can be saved by Lani (Deschanel). It's pretty much the cutest thing ever. As per usual with these kinds of anthropomorphic family movies, they always put fun little jokes in the periphery of the movie. Lani is a lifeguard, and so instead of one of those little red buoy things they used on Baywatch, she as a cute little squid guy, and he alternatively looks bored, amused, interested, etc., as she talks. Also, Jeff Bridges's character totally whizzes on Shia LaBeouf's character (because he stepped on some sort of sea urchin in a surfing accident). We also get a quick commentary from the pissed-off urchin, annoyed that many of his spines have been broken or are now missing.

The general plot of this movie is pretty similar to family friendly animated films. Plucky hero character with heart, trying to succeed, overcoming obstacles, sometimes pursuing a career or a path that he should have no real business pursuing (like the rat in Ratatouille, or something like that). There's a father figure, a vague love interest, and a strange, weird, dumb, or unusual friend. The obstacles aren't insurmountable, and after an initial failure, they finally reach the true meaning of what they want, and become better people/penguins/living toys/talking mice/whatever for it.

As I mentioned before, one of the things I'd be curious about is if LaBeouf and Bridges recorded their scenes in the same room together. A lot of their banter and interactions are extremely witty and interesting, and they seem too natural to be recorded separately (or even written that way). I'd like to see them on screen together sometime. I wish that LaBeouf was playing Bridges son in the new Tron movie. Oh well, maybe we'll get to see it sometime.

In general, the film as very cute, entertaining, amusing, sweet, and fun. It was better than I expected, had a lot of odd humour, interesting characters, and some great dialogue. Animated films are almost always good, when they're developed well. I was impressed with the computer graphics, as well, considering the majority of the movie took place in the ocean, with waves, rolling water, and thick jungles. Also, there are cute little Pen Guin natives, that first try to cook Chicken Joe, and then when he gives them squid-on-a-stick, he kind of becomes their leader, I guess? Also, while on the subject, Chicken Joe is a pretty wacky character, and I really like that he surfed Lake Michigan (which is something people actually do, it's not just a joke. There's actually a surf shop on the west coast of Michigan, and I've been meaning to check it out).

I'd recommend the movie if you're looking for an alternative to stuff like Happy Feet. There's no songs, no dancing, just some penguins that want to surf, for some reason. And they do, and it's actually pretty interesting. Also, some famous surfers make cameo appearances, like Kelly Slater and Rob Machado. James Woods is crazy awesome as usual, and there are some really great performances.

I give it four beefy penguin surfers kissing on trophies in their mom's house out of five, or four crazy hippie surfing fat penguins voiced by the awesome Jeff Bridges out of five.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Surrogates: Who Wouldn't Want to Pilot A Robot?

surrogates movie poster

What would you do if you could buy a robot like you buy iPods and cell phones? What if you could pilot it, immerse yourself in it, and use it like we use online personalities? Would it just be used by those who can't move on their own, the physically disabled? Would it be used by the police force to keep their real selves from being injured? Personally, I would use it so I can jump around and not get hurt. It's probably irresponsible, but it would be super fun.

These are some of the basic issues that Surrogates takes on. Directed by Jonathan Mostow, the director of U-571 and Terminator 3, based on the 2005 comic book series published by Top Shelf written by Robert Venditti with art by Brett Weldele. It stars Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell (Pitch Black, Silent Hill), Ving Rhames, Rosamund Pike (Pride & Prejudice, The Libertine), James Cromwell, and Jack Noseworthy. The film is set vaguely in the "present day," though the comic series is set 50 years in the future from when it was written. The use of "surrogates," remote operated humanoid robots has become commonplace, though it was developed with the intent to help the disabled. The creator of the surrogates, Dr. Lionel Canter (Cromwell) is wheelchair-bound, and uses a variety of surrogates to get around, after being fired from the robotics company that manufactures the robots. There's also this underswell of humans that find the idea of surrogates disgusting, and immoral, etc. They live on reservations that they create for themselves, sequestering themselves away from the others, preventing any surrogates from entering. Their autonomy is accepted by the government, and there's a tentative treaty in place. This human activist group is lead by "The Prophet," played by Ving Rhames, dressed kind of like George Clinton from the P-Funk All-Stars. Think this is complicated? This is just the backstory.

It's a crazy, convoluted, intense little ride, but it's entertaining. There are excellent sci-fi moments, and like the best sci-fi stories, it makes a very convincing and simultaneous subtle and glaring social and political commentaries.

Bruce Willis,surrogates

Agent Greer (Willis) is a fine FBI agent, working with another fine officer, Agent Peters (Mitchell). They're called to a scene where two units are offline, and they can't reach the users. Turns out, a weapon exists that can fry out a surrogate, and the backlash kills the user. One of the victims was a sexy blonde unit, piloted by a pretty fat (and now pretty dead) guy. The other was piloted by a college student, the son of Dr. Canter, the inventor of Surrogates. Greer and Peters both pilot their "surries" on the job, to keep themselves safe from harm, and also to use the advanced and near-superhuman abilities of these machines. Greer comes very close to the culprit, and almost dies by the mysterious weapon. Now finding himself without his buffer system, he needs to get out into the real world to put all the pieces together, track down the killer, and uncover a conspiracy that can only be pulled off in a world where you can be anyone you want at virtually any time.

bruce willis,surrogates

I'd like to read the original comic book, so I can see how things are different. Just from reading about the plot on Wikipedia (yes, I know), it seems that there are superficial differences, and the overall theme is the same. For some reason, it looks like they made the plot even more complicated for the movie, which is pretty crazy complicated (though I admit I called most of it at the last minute, not too long before the reveal built up. I liked the idea in general, and the little touches they threw in that they didn't have time for. There is one scene with a poster for football, with the silhouette of a player holding a severed surrogate head. It makes you think: What would the use of surrogates really do for the professional sports world? For the acting and modeling world? They do explore the idea of surrogates used as soldiers, with thousands of banks of live soldiers (in uniform) chilling out and hooked up to the system.

It also has a Big Brother/A Scanner Darkly feel, in that the government is able to tap into the feeds of users, and even remote access them to shut them down in times of danger. There are rows of video screens, displaying surrogate feeds, and thousands of people watching and monitoring to report illegal activity. It's (interestingly) supervised by a human guy, without a surrogate. He's basically the Comic Book Guy-type character, but pretty interesting in that he likens himself to God, and literally has access to the surrogate network (which is apparently interconnected like the internet, so in some ways it's technically possible to access all surrogates on Earth).

The production value on the film is pretty intense. Initially, the whole outside world has something of a plastic, artificial feel to it. All the characters are supposed to be surrogates, so they have very clean, polished skin, but there's really no issues with realism. Apparently, in this world, they've bypassed the "uncanny valley" effect, the idea that robots created that look extremely realistic somehow look less comforting, and start to look creepy. Bruce Willis especially looks interesting, smooth-faced, plastic, full head of Conan O'Brien-like hair. He looks more like John McClane when he's unplugged, and of course, as our hero, actively uses the surrogate technology, but also feels vaguely ill at ease with it, and especially in his personal life, feeling that he hasn't spent any time with his own wife without the use of surrogates in years.

It's very much a classic sci-fi film in terms of tone, and theme. It's a little bit I, Robot, it's a little bit 1984, and it's a little bit of contemporary social networking and online personality immersion. There's a little bit of Philip K. Dick in here, too, so I think that was a pretty heavy influence on both the creators of the comic book series, and the guys that wrote the screenplay. It's engaging, thought-provoking, sometimes violent, wildly fantastic, and utterly plausible.

I recommend this film to anyone that likes good old-fashioned (albeit modern updated and actiony) sci-fi. I give it four armless Bruce Willises getting hit by trucks out of five, or four rastafarian Ving Rhames human-promoting revolutionary political activists out of five.

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