Friday, March 27, 2009

Aliens Versus Monsters

Movie: Aliens Versus Monsters

This is no Pixar film, but it is fun. The plot is rather childish (or perhaps I should say the evil alien antagonist is childish, which weakens the threat), and the humor is definitely uneven, but there are moments of brilliance and genuine hilarity that help make up for the weak spots. I liked the main character, an ordinary woman who on her wedding day is accidentally transformed into a 50-foot giant and must be spirited away by Men In Black, and how she learns to cope with her new life as a monster. Much of the humor is stereotypical (gee, a general who loves guns, a dumb, self-centered president -- how original), but it's still entertaining. Kids will probably like this better than adults, though if you're a fan of old-fashioned monster flicks there's a joke or two you'll get that kids won't. The animation and artwork are decent enough, with extraordinary detail in places but there's nothing ground-breaking. Overall, you get what you expect. If you liked the trailer you'll like the film.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Blood and Chocolate

Movie: Blood and Chocolate

This is a werewolf-romance film that intrigued me when it first came out, but I never got a chance to see it as it disappeared too quickly. It turns out there was a good reason for that: it is horrible! Everything is set in Romania but of course everyone speaks American English, the action is incredibly clunky, nothing about the werewolf mythology feels realistic, and worst of all the romance is idiotic with the two main characters disliking each other one minute and being so deeply in love the next they'd risk their lives and families. The whole thing feels awkward, a weird mix of low- and high-budget. The characters are weak, the dialog is feeble, and the story is boring. Basically, I can't think of anything in this that works even remotely. Perhaps my expectations were too high as I was intrigued by the "werewolf-girl falling in love with a human" premise, but this was extremely disappointing.


Monday, March 23, 2009


Movie: Knowing

Let's be up-front by saying this is obviously a gimmick movie: a series of numbers buried in a time capsule is unearthed and reveals a pattern of prediction of every major tragedy for the last 50 years and a few more to come. It's an interesting idea, and there are some good characters in the skeptic widower and his son (and a single mother and her daughter), but unfortunately the resolution is lame, and there are far too many incongruities, plot holes, and illogic for this thing to work. It tries hard at times, but in other places it feels rushed and incomplete. That said, these are typical flaws of gimmick movies. In comparison with others, this is worse in some ways and far better in others, but ultimately, it cannot escape its genre. There were some really neat concepts wasted: I really liked the whole debate over whether there's a plan governing the universe or whether things are just random. Unfortunately that aspect of the film peters out and is forgotten (or avoided) and the film never offers any answers, just teasing riddles.


Friday, March 20, 2009


Movie: Duplicity

What's cool about this movie is also what's yucky about this movie. Basically it's a film about a spy couple who can't trust each other (someone at the theatre said it reminded them of Mr. and Mrs. Smith and that's a good comparison, though that one was more action-oriented and this one is more cerebral and more like a con or scam film). That lack of trust is humorous and fascinating, as we are never sure what's really going on: who is conning who? But that lack of knowledge is also what makes the film frustrating, since nothing is revealed until the very end. While that ending is good, the film still feels aggravating and tedious at times, and the endless plotting and mysteries within riddles within enigmas gets tiresome at about the halfway point. To make matters worse, about half the film is flashbacks, so the director is purposely withholding information from us, making us believe (assume) something, and then pulling the rug from under us later with a flashback that reveals the truth. This means that we, the audience, is being conned as well, which is not a pleasant feeling (especially when it happens several times in a row). While the dialog and performances are excellent, and the plotting is clever at times, I did not enjoy this as well as say, the Ocean's movies, where the unexpected happens but we can at least see where the story is going. Here we know some kind of scam is in the works, but we don't know any details, and with everyone on screen lying, there's is nothing in the story to ground us. In a way this is brilliant, as the film demonstrates empirically the lessons it shows visually, but in practice it's not fun to endure. While I enjoyed this with my head at times, my heart was not in it.


Friday, March 13, 2009

Race to Witch Mountain

Movie: Race to Witch Mountain

Wow, the original films were fun and pretty decent, even ground-breaking in their way. This pointless remake is surprisingly awful. While it's not that boring and has a handful of fun moments (my favorite was the scene where the girl mind-talks with the dog and translates what the dog is thinking), it has a shockingly awful plot, the modern special effects, except for one dramatic scene, are surprisingly poor, and there's a huge lack of anything logical or remotely resembling reality. There are so many stupid and illogical things that happen that it actually interferes with your enjoyment of the film. Like in one scene the government agents, 15 seconds after figuring out the aliens are headed to Las Vegas, actually scan through the footage of "every camera in Vegas" and have located the kids getting into a taxi, ran the taxi's license plate, and helicopters are taking off to hunt them down. Wow, that is some efficient police work! But even if we accept that these guys are super-agents, why later in the film do our heroes drive from the desert into a downtown Vegas convention center undetected? Don't get me started. The whole thing is nonsense. In terms of acting, the kids are great, considering what they are given to work with, and the only saving grace of the film. The Rock, as the taxi driver, seems miscast and doesn't do much physically except get beat up and thrown around. He mugs for the camera unmercifully, with obvious one-liners and catchphrases. The film's "action" sequences are unbelievably lame and run-of-the-mill, usually concluding in some absurdity. In short, this film is so bad it makes me love the original films that much more (and it's been decades since I've seen them). They had Disney heart, a semi-sensical plot, and some tension. This only has the cute kids. Avoid.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Mr. Monk Goes to Germany

Book: Mr. Monk Goes to Germany
Writer(s): Lee Goldberg

While I'm a huge fan of Goldberg's Monk books, this one has too little mystery and too much exposition. The problem is that to get the paranoid Monk to Germany is no easy task -- and we, the reader, have to sit through every tedious minute of him traveling, freaking out at foreign stuff, etc. It gets tiresome and old after just a few pages, and yet that's most of the novel. Yes, he does solve a few murders, but they are few and far between. I don't know if the series is running out of steam, but I'd like to see a lot more mystery solving and less "Monk is weird" stuff. While extremely well-written, it's just not that interesting.


Thursday, March 12, 2009


Movie: MacHeads

An interesting documentary on the "cult of Macintosh," the crazy fans who love Apple's computers. I'm not sure if this would appeal to non-fans; in a limited way it attempts to explain them, but doesn't go far enough to make this a sociologically valuable piece of research. Instead, this is mostly going to appeal to Mac fans as a way to show that they are not alone in their insanity (it proves there are other, crazier people out there). The film basically interviews a wide variety of Mac fans, but the interviews aren't too much more than "I love Macs" or journalists giving brief computing history lessons. In other words, there's not much new here (unless you don't know the history). It's still a fun journey for Mac fans, and it is interesting (but probably only once). It might actually be more valuable many years from now as a really neat look back at 2007 (a lot was filmed at Macworld Expo 2007 when the iPhone was first announced). Already Apple's position in the global market has increased dramatically from then and if the trend continues and in a decade Apple is bigger than Microsoft, this would be a fascinating look back at a time when Apple wasn't so popular. Worth seeing if you're a MacHead.


Friday, March 6, 2009


I split the audience for this film into three groups: fanantics, fans, and virgins. I'm in the middle camp as I've read the graphic novel a couple times, but I'm not a comic book geek and don't worship the book. It is an excellent and amazing book, but a large part of that is the way it breaks the mold of traditional superhero novels. It makes sense that true comic books who are familiar with everything else out there would naturally think Watchmen is the greatest ever, and those people may or may not like this film. It's an amazingly tough job making a comic book into a film, as you not only have all the normal limitations of filming a novel (abridgement, pacing, etc.) but you also have to get the look and style correct to match the existing visual work. As a fan of the graphic novel, I thought they did a fantastic job. I can't speak for the fantatic or for someone who has never read the novel, but I thought this film was excellent. The look is awesome, the casting superb (I'd had some doubts going in but it worked), it struck me as amazingly faithful to the source material, and I was thoroughly entertained. I'd even go so far as to say that in some ways I liked it better than the book. The book is dense and complex, and while I love that, there isn't always time to absorb so much material. Also, the way the book is written, almost like episodes of Lost, where time is flexible and we jump between the past and present and future, it's so much to fit together that even though I've read the book a couple times, I have trouble remembering everything. I loved that the movie quickly brought back so many wonderful memories. Throughout the film I kept being surprised at scenes thinking, "I don't remember... oh wait, yeah, I do -- this part is awesome!" I love that now there's a version of Watchmen I can enjoy in a three-hour period. Granted, film is different from the graphic novel, and they each provide a unique experience, but for people who don't have the many hours needed to read the novel, the movie's a great way to get a taste of novel.

While I'm sure some fanatics will bemoan a missing scene or two, I was impressed at how much made it into the film, and at how clearly the story was told. The flashbacks weren't confusing but came at a logical time and gave you quick insights into each of the main characters without delving too much on unimportant details. The conclusion is terrific, with one of the most morally ambiguous conclusions ever, and I was relieved they didn't try to clean it up for the film by giving it a Hollywood ending. Hopefully it will provoke many to discuss things.

It's hard to say now how the film will live up in time. I think it will weaken in some ways -- there's so much dense backstory and setup in this epic work that it's tough to have a story that keeps moving ahead -- but I honestly can't think how they could have done this better.