Friday, October 17, 2008

Max Payne

Movie: Max Payne

This was a disappointing and strange movie. The film has an identity crisis. It's filmed like a comic book adaptation, but the plot is strictly real-world: all the "otherworldly" stuff you see in the promos that made it look intriguing turn out to be drug-induced halucinations. The story is trite: a cop whose wife and child were killed three years earlier is still seeking justice, and his investigation eventually lead him to a dangerously addictive drug developed at the pharmaceutical company where his wife worked. The drug turns some people into super-soldiers; the rest it causes severe halucinations that cause suicide. Apparently his wife was killed to protect this secret. It's all rather predictable, and though the movie is shot with some interesting flair and visuals, the weak story and average characters pretty much render the look moot. It's all flash without content. Avoid.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Body of Lies

Movie: Body of Lies

I wasn't expecting to like this as it seemed like a serious drama with political overtones and crap about the war, but to my surprise it turned out to be an excellent movie. There's a lot more action than I expected, and though it's talky at times, it's fascinating talk, and it moves at a good pace. What really impressed me is that the plot is convoluted and yet I had no trouble following the story -- they do an excellent job at conveying exactly what being a spy in the Middle East is like. The plot follows an American spy as he attempts to locate a certain terrorist leader, but the way they go about it is tricky and complicated, creating a fake terrorist that will make him jealous and draw him out. There's a subplot involving the leader of the Jordanian security force who may or may not be an ally, and my favorite subplot which had the American romancing an Iranian woman living in Jordan. The romance was nothing like American-style dating: in one scene the man offers to shake the woman's hand after a dinner and she refuses, for her sister is watching, and such "intimate" contact would be inappropriate, of course. Great stuff, with a dramatic ending, and some excellent performances.


Friday, October 10, 2008

The City of Ember

Movie: The City of Ember

This is an interesting and unusual film: it seems like a special-effects driven fantasty-type movie, but it's not that at all. It's very low-key, in fact, and though I rather liked that, I can imagine some people going away disappointed. The story is simple and almost elegant: Ember is an underground city apparently created when disaster destroyed the world above ground and after 200 years, the people are supposed to return to the surface (which should be safe by then). But those instructions were forgotten over time and now the people of Ember are barely aware an outside exists. They struggle for existence that has grown more and more difficult as their technology fails, in particular the generator that provides the city with light and power. Two teenagers, a boy and a girl, are our heros who discover the secret instructions on how to leave the city and they lead the people to a new world. Again, no magic or fantasy here -- though the film has that sort of feel with giant insects, weird gadgets and machines, and strange people. I loved the look of the film. The attention to detail in creating Amber is incredible, with crazy-looking machines made from leftover parts and a falling apart city. It's a cool mixture of low- and high-tech, similar to films like Brazil. The cast is great, the girl especially, though I found Bill Murray's silly-yet-evil mayor character to be out of sync with the rest of the film (like finding slapstick in a drama). I really enjoyed the movie but I can see how it's not for everyone's taste. It reminded me a lot of Arthur and the Minimoys, except that it's live action and not animated, in the sense that it has similar flaws. I relished the non-Hollywoodism of the film: I like it being less flashy and fancy, with a simpler more realistic story. Recommended.


Thursday, October 9, 2008


Movie: Blindness

In some ways this film was exactly what I expected: the plot is a bare bones tale based on the premise that literally, every person in the world suddenly goes blind. In other ways this film was not what I expected: it is violent, gory, distasteful, and extremely grim. The film works hard to make its premise as realistic as possible and while it succeeds extremely well at that (both with script, sets, and acting) -- at times it felt like a reality TV show, that dozens of blind people were quarantined and filmed to see how they would react -- that realism is so unpleasant the film at times is almost not watchable. Some of the things that happen are outrageous -- and even though they are totally realistic -- they are not things we want to see. Basically picture a terrified government simply putting all the newly blind people into quarantine at gunpoint. There they have to fend entirely for themselves. Food is provided, but soon there are shortages, and the blind people fight over who gets the food. The place and the people soon become filthy -- they cannot see the filth to clean it up -- and we get to watch them stumble through garbage and feces. Yes, great fun. This is an intense film, not at all for the squeamish, and it definitely makes you think. But it is too long, too dark, and has such a one-note concept that can't explore much depth. You feel exhausted and dirty when you emerge. Perhaps that was the intent; if so, that was a mistake. The film has some fantastic moments, awesome performances, and an incredible script. It's a very good movie in terms of being well-made. But it is not pleasant. It reminded me a lot of films like 28 Days.


Friday, October 3, 2008


Movie: Appaloosa

At the end of this movie as we were leaving the theatre, I heard another view say, "Well, it's no Unforgiven." I started laughing, for that was exactly what I'd been thinking. It sure feels a lot like Unforgiven, but it doesn't live up to that classic. It's still a good movie and an above average Western. It's got some unusual characterizations that I found fascinating, especially the character of the woman (Renee Zellweger in a terrific performance) who is so confused even she isn't sure what she is. Is she a whore, a lover, or a wife? Which does she want the most? She's a tragic figure, extremely sympathetic, though we don't like what she does (she doesn't either but does it anyway). The other thing I found intriguing is that the film ends happily. I was totally expecting a grim "there will be blood" violent and tragic conclusion to everything, but instead the film unexpectedly has everything work out for the best. Yet the ending is not at all artificial or forced; it's just clever and appropriate. Others will write about the mood of this film, the great acting, the slender storyline, the cool action, and maybe some other positives and negatives, and they're probably right in whatever they say. I still liked the film, though it was overlong and had moments of dullness, but while it tries hard, this movie doesn't quite measure up to Unforgiven.


Friday, October 3, 2008

Flash of Genius

Movie: Flash of Genius

I read some critics dissing this because of the subject -- the invention of the intermittent windshield wiper -- but that's exactly what made me want to watch it! First, I love inventions, and even something so inoccuous as the intermittent wiper still requires genius. Second, I remember hearing about this case on the news when the guy one the lawsuit against Ford. I didn't remember the details, but I remember at the time thinking that it sounded like a cool story. The film overdramatizes things a bit, having the loving-but-exasperated wife leaving the husband because he's so obsessed with winning his lawsuit against Ford, and of course the story's somewhat predictable and tries too hard to make up for that with style and drama, which just weakens the content that is there. The film's 30 minutes too long and tends to feel more like a TV movie than a big screen feature. All that said, however, it has some compelling characters, excellent acting, a good story, and a happy ending. I liked it, though I wouldn't call it a classic.