Monthly Archives: August 2009

The Illusionist (2006)

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Everything you have seen here has been an illusion.

— Eisenheim

The Illusionist was unfortunate to come out at about the same time with Christopher Nolan’s magician film and was quickly buried for being a clone. I enjoyed this movie more than The Prestige.

During 19th century Vienna, a masterful magician named Eisenheim the Illusionist (Edward Norton) is wowing audiences every night with the tricks up his sleeve. One night, the wise beyond his years, Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell) attends one of his performances.

Eisenheim wants a volunteer to demonstrate his trick about a mirror image and death. The prince volunteers a young woman, his fiancée Duchess Sophie (Jessica Biel). It turns that Eisenheim and Sophie were childhood lovers reunited.

When the trick is performed, the crown prince wants to know how the trick is performed. He wants to go to any lengths to try to expose Eisenheim as a fraud to disgrace him.

Complications arise when Eisenhiem and Sophie rekindle their love affair. What the lovers don’t know is that Sophie is always followed by Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti) and the entire police department.

Prince Leopold’s jealousy over Eisenheim being his intellectual equal and the affair with his fiancée, tensions boil over in a big way.

This movie focuses more the magical, fantastical moments of magic. The look of the movie felt very reminiscent of film stock back in the dawn of cinema. Excellent flickering on the film.

I’m not saying that this movie was perfect. The story is basic to say the least. Some sequences dragged a bit too long for my taste. It doesn’t have a head-scratcher of an ending. It was nice.

Judgment: Get pass the contrive plot and enjoy the deeper meaning of this movie.

Rating ***1/2

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The Spirit (2008)

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My city, I can not deny her. My city screams. She is my mother. She is my lover, and I am her Spirit.

— The Spirit

Universally panned by critics and the word mouths of the entire internet, The Spirit was unfortunately brought to us by writer/director Frank Miller who tried to parlay his successful collaboration of Sin City into this movie. It delivered on the pure suckage that it was promised.

The Spirit (Gabriel Macht) is a crime fighter and notorious womanizer that lives in the fictional Central City. He is constantly fighting the Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson) that gets into his mind about why he could withstand a lot of punishment and is able to heal himself. Octopus and his partner in crime, Silken Floss (Scarlett Johannson) and his team of idiotic goons Pathos, Ethos, Logos (all played by Louis Lombardi) look for a vase filled with blood of Heracles to make him immortal like a god.

The Spirit teams up with a local detective that loves the word “goddamn” Dolan (Dan Lauria) and a rookie with high pitched voice, Morgenstern (Stana Katic) to uncover any connection between the random crimes to the Octopus, and a beautiful jewel thief named Sand Saref (Eva Mendes). She wants to attain the ultimate prize, a lost artifact from the Argonauts, Jason’s Golden Fleece.

The movie is classic style over substance. Having a comic book writer, as film director does not go hand and hand with Miller being more interested in the visual look of the film that he forgets to realize that the actors need to be on the same page with the look. The actors struggle to make this movie make any semblance of coherent sense, but they fail because Miller dropped the ball actually directing them.

Macht throws on his “I’m Batman” Christian Bale voice having long conversations with himself and loving his pussycat. Jackson is like a chicken with its head cut off talking about eggs for some reason. Johansson is so wooden; you believe that her soul was missing. Mendes’s character is obsessed with shiny anything and her ass that wants to be a femme fatale, but it makes you want to kill yourself. Sarah Paulson as The Spirit’s love interest, Ellen Dolan acted like she was in a bad soap opera. It’s a damn shame.

The movie is hallow. The action is over the top and cartoonish. It’s laughable. The plot is non-existent and filled with plot holes. You don’t have any idea what the fuck is going on. Who are these people? Are they living in the 1940s? Present day? The dialogue is atrocious with such gems as “Shut up and bleed,” “I’m gonna kill you all kinds of dead,” and “All the enemy has is gun to knives. I have the entire city as my weapon.” Are you serious?

Please, Frank Miller, I implore you. If you want to direct another movie, stop and think. Take some classes about the art of filmmaking. With this movie, it looked like you were mocking it. You didn’t care about the joy and satisfaction of making a competent movie. Collaborate with other directors. Stick your feet in with short films to gain some experience. Something.

Judgment: If you are a person that enjoys shitty movies, this one is the Holy Grail for you.

Rating: *

Hot Fuzz (2007)

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Sergeant Butterman, the little hand says it’s time to rock and roll!

— Nicholas Angel

Hot Fuzz is my first foray into the Simon Pegg/Nick Frost/Edgar Wright type of movie. I remembered seeing the end of this movie and loving the over the top violence. Watching the whole movie, however, I’d rather watch the ending on its own.

The story centers on type “A”, overachieving London police officer, Nicholas Angel (Pegg) who is forcibly transferred to a village named Sandford, when he is promoted Sargent. His impeccable record of accomplishment made the other officers look bad.

His new department colleagues do not share the same intensity of job as he does. He is partnered with an inept stooge, Danny (Frost) that wants to take his job seriously, but is too lazy to do so.

Nicholas tries to apply the same tactics on the townspeople as if he did in London, but the police are blazé about the potential crimes have been committed. Nicholas becomes increasingly agitated with everyone that he comes to contact. Over time, he begins to learn that not be a stickler for the law all the time and enjoy himself in the company of other people.

I thought this movie was supposed to be satire of all those cops over the past twenty. There is a moment in this movie where the action a turn into WTF territory. It completely lost me with the ludicrous plot dealing with a cloaked serial killer that stalks the town. Nicholas wants to find who did it before another person is murdered.

The quick cuts wore down on your eyesight. The jokes were done before. The tone of the movie was supposedly “comedic” one minute and slasher movie the next. There is nothing new, nothing fresh in the film to enjoy it on a visceral level.

Judgment: Just watch the kick ass ending. There’s nothing else to see here.

Rating: **

FB Recommendation: “The Bank Job” (2008)

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Alright, let’s make some money!

— Kevin Swain

This movie flew way under the radar that it was barely a blip when hearing some moderately positive about The Bank Job after it was released in early 2008. I wanted to check out this movie. I’m glad I did, because it is a fantastic thrill ride.

It recounts the true story about bank robbery in 1971 when a car dealer, Terry (Jason Statham) that owes money from a sleazy smut peddler, Lew Vogel (David Suchet) is recruited by his friend, Martine Love (Saffron Burrows) to help rob a bank, Lloyds Bank United, that was upgrading their security system, which would leave them vulnerable.

Terry recruits his best friends, Dave and Kevin (Daniel Mays, Stephen Campbell Moore) to help him carry out the heist with the help of Guy Singer (James Faulkner), Bambas (Alki David) and Eddie (Michael Jibson) as a lookout.

The group doesn’t know that Martine is a secret informant for the government with Tim (Michael Lintern) as her liaison. The real reason for the robbery is to recover some incriminating photographs of Princess Margaret (Louise Chambers), and other top officials in compromising positions by shady character named Michael X (Peter de Jersey).

They think that everything will go according to plan, but everything that would go wrong, does to their benefit. It made them think that they were real professional bank robbers instead of a bunch of amateurs. After they pull of the bank heist, the shit hits the fan. Interpol, MI-5, corrupt cops and villains are after the group for various reasons.

This intense movie had me on the edge my seat at every twist and turn. The movie is not perfect. I had a problem about what happened to some of the characters at the end of the movie that were forgotten.

Some of the names of the real people were changed to protect them from any exposure. How could this movie be “based on a true story” when the people’s names have been changed, and possibly the situations for dramatic effects?

Judgment: An awesome, slick action movie that should be seen.

Rating: ****1/2

Eragon (2006)

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Your day will come too, Eragon, and you will decide for yourself the kind of life you wish to lead.

— Uncle Garrow

Eragon is a movie that I have been popping up on HBO for the past couple of months. Always managed to see the climax of the movie and liking it very much. I wanted to see the entire movie for once. I still enjoyed watching it in its entirety.

The story is about a young man named Eragon (Ed Speleers) who lives in the kingdom of Alagaesia that is ruled by the evil king, Galbatorix (John Malkovich). He is trying to have his purpose in his life. One night in the forest near his house he finds a magical rock that looks like giant jellybean, was sent by a young girl named Arya (Sienna Guillory). It turns out that the rock is a dragon egg.

Eragon ends up having a serpentine shaped mark on his hand. He meets Brom (Jeremy Irons) that tells the story about the dragon riders that were defeated riders, and how will rise up again to vanquish the king. His mark glows transforming the hatchling into a fierce dragon named Saphira (voiced by Rachel Weisz). Telepathically, she tells him that he is her dragon rider.

The king sends people to kill Eragon. In a last ditch effort, Brom saves Eragon from death by teaching how to be true dragon warrior that he is. He escorts him and Saphria to free Arya from Durza (Robert Carlyle), the shade’s grasp and meet up with the Varden, the only people that could oppose the king and his forces.

This movie is reminiscent of The Neverending Story. I enjoyed that film and I enjoyed this movie. There is nothing groundbreaking about this movie. Enjoy the journey. My only complaints are there shouldn’t be much exposition dealing with Eragon. He should have had more time to develop his power, strength and healing.

Judgment: It’s a traditional fantasy movie. Nothing more, nothing less.

Rating: ***1/2

The Genius of Col. Hans Landa

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Warning: This essay is about the inception, concept and execution of the character expertly played by Christoph Waltz. The following contains plot points and spoilers for “Inglourious Basterds.” Be advised.

This character of Colonel Hans Landa has been percolating in the indelible mind of Quentin Tarantino for almost a decade. Watching a recent interview with Quentin, he reflected that Landa’s voice come pouring out of him. You can tell onscreen that he poured his heart and soul into the character.

Landa is a complex character that has many layers to his madness or his genius to figure out. When you first meet him, your first impression is to hate him automatically because he is an SS officer. It’s instinct. However, he is so much more than that. Having that lengthy conversation with the French milk farmer was like a game of chess to him. He knew from the moment that he stepped out of his jeep that the farmer was hiding the Jewish family, the Dreyfuses,  underneath his floorboards.

blahLanda is a detective like a bloodhound. He sniffs out the Jews he wants. I was going to say a German Shepard, but they would be too obvious. He can tell from the inflection in your voice to a slight twitch of your brow that you are hiding the truth from him. When the farmer picked up his corn pipe and smoked, Landa had to produce a “Sherlock Holmes” style pipe for the following story. He is close to getting what he wants.

He relays the story about the man versus the rat. At first you are thinking, what the hell is he talking about? Nevertheless, when you get deeper into the story you realize that you agree with him. Only Tarantino’s words could convey a person’s viewpoint, even though you do not agree with their methods, a person’s thoughts that is brutally honest and to the point.

Tarantino10colhans_1460858d“The Jew Hunter” as the Allied forces affectionately call him, gets what he wants from the farmer he orders the massacre of the family. All perished except one, Shosanna, who escapes from a similar fate. She runs through the field with Landa coming after her in a long distance. He has his gun pointed at her, yet he does not pull the trigger.

Why would he do that? Does he want to have the thrill of the chase? Did he instinctively know that they would cross paths again? Did he show compassion or does he wants Shosanna to suffer with survivor’s guilt?

inglourious_basterdsWhen the two of them meets three years later, Shosanna immediately recognized him, but he does not recognize her. When she was running away, Landa never had a clear view of her face. However, he could have deduced that she could be the girl, but that would be reaching. The tension was so thick that you could cut it with a knife. Shosanna’s hate for this man is bubbling at the surface. He is calm trying to have both of them enjoyed a plate of strudel. He urges her to wait for the cream.

You think that exchange was about an authentic German strudel. No. Landa wanted to delve into the mind of Shosanna or Emmauelle Mimieux as she is called now. How did she come to own her own cinema at such a young age? She explains it to him. He believes here. All the time during the conversation, the audience thinks that he would ask her if she was the girl that he let get away in that farm three years. You are waiting for the big reveal to happen, but it doesn’t. She is safe again.

Landa’s keen eye worked to perfection when firefight happens in a small basement tavern. Peering at the bullet-riddled bodies of some of the “basterds”, he knows that one person was missing in the heap of bodies, a woman. He finds a woman’s right dress shoe. In the rumble of bullet casings and blood, he finds a single napkin that has the actress, Bridget von Hammersmark’s signature on it.

At the movie première, Landa confronts Bridget and the rest of the “basterds” who are pretending to be Italian. He inquires about their intentions, especially Bridget who has her leg bandage when she was shot in the leg at the firefight. She tells Landa that she injured it mountain climbing. He laughs hysterically at the ridiculous excuse. He had to have room to laugh uproariously.

He regains his composure to usher Bridget into a small room off to side. He interrogates Bridget about her deception about her leg, her lost shoe and her being a double agent. There’s only one thing that he has to do. He strangles her. You understand his motives. This woman betrayed her own country and she has to die for her betrayal.

d4326cdaba05c88989b9He knows that her Italian escorts were actually the rest of the basterds from his extensive knowledge as a linguist. Capturing Raine and Utvich and transporting them to a secret location would be clichéd for the “bad guy” verbally threatening the “good guys” in any other movie, but this is a Tarantino movie.

Landa pulls a bait and switch on the Raine and Utivich He is an opportunist at his core. He wants to have his name in history books as a war hero for either side.

The last frame you see of him is that Landa “turns himself in” to be transported by Raine and Utivich is betrayed by the basterds. He actually lets his guard down for that last moment. They shoot his driver and they carve a swastika into his forehand. Now, he cannot be the perfect war hero that he wants to be. He is now branded as a Nazi forever by this symbol visible on his face.

What will happen to him as he goes into the U.S.? He cannot lead a normal life. He might be a recluse or he commits suicide. That’s it.

There some secret motivations of Col. Hans Landa that you would glance over when you saw the movie, but afterward, you realize that he is genius. He was like a chess player. He knew exactly what moves to make to get his checkmate. Just brilliant.

Tarantino remarked that Landa was the greatest character that has ever created. In my opinion, I would doubt that statement, but I will take his word for it the more I think about it.

Waltz brings a subtlety and nuisance to the character that a well-known person like it was rumored that Leo DiCaprio would play the part, but he would not notice finding the character. Tarantino was quoted in saying that if he could not find a perfect man to play Landa then the movie could not happen.

Naturally, Waltz is receiving a lot of praise for his work in this film. He has already won the Best Actor prize at the Cannes Festival earlier this year. People are touting him for giving a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his work. The way that the momentum is going, I think he could walk home with the prize on Oscar night. We just have to see.

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

inglourious_basterds_ver9You probably heard we ain’t in the prisoner-takin’ business; we in the killin’ Nazi business. And cousin, Business is a-boomin’.

— Lt. Aldo Raine

Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Inglourious Basterds is an homage of spaghetti westerns, film noir and subversive movies about massacring a bunch of Nazis in the past couple of decades. It is currently #192 on the Top 250 of All Time on IMDb. It was a good movie, but I had some problems with it that I will discuss in the spoiler section.

Breaking from his formula of a broken narrative, letting the audience put the pieces back together. This is a tale a group of people that want to destroy the Third Reich, thus ending WWII.

It starts when Shosanna Dreyfus’s (Mélanie Laurent) family is massacred by Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) and his crew of SS soldiers. She escapes extermination through the French countryside. She assumes a different identity as Emmanuelle Mimieux, an owner of a French cinema house.

One night, she is visited by an SS soldiers named Frederich Zoller (Daniel Brühl) that is taken with her. She tries to reject his advances. She finds out that he has become a German hero by killing over 250 Allied soldiers. He has a propaganda film made about him called Nations Pride.

Frederich wants to have the premiere of the movie to be at her cinema house. Shosanna has some ulterior motives about the premiere night with her boyfriend, Marcel (Jacky Ido).

Simultaneously, the “Inglorious Basterds” headed by Lt. Aldo “The Apache” Raine (Brad Pitt) with eight other Jew vigilantes like Sgt. Donnie Donowitz (Eli Roth), Pfc. Smithson Utivich (BJ Novak), Cpl. Wilhelm Wicki (Gedeon Burkhard), Pfc. Omar Ulmer (Omar Doom) and last but not least, Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger) have struck fear to the Third Reich with killing their forces and scalping them.

British officer Lt. Archie Hicox (Micheak Fassbender) has to the team up with the basterds along with double agent, German actress Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) to infiltrate the premiere and destroy the highest ranking officers of the Third Reich including Hitler.

This movie is made for cinema freaks. The primarily deals with people that love movies, the climax takes place in a theater. There were some obvious winks to audience.

It was more subdued than his other films. The performances were good across the board with a special mention to Christoph Waltz and Mélanie Laurent. I thought they were terrific in the film.

There were some problems with the pacing of the film. The dialogue dragged on for a long time. A few trims could have tighten up the suspense.

Judgment: It’s not a masterpiece, but a good film all around.

Rating: ****1/2

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Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (2009)

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Nash out!

— Charlie Nash

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li was a movie that I would not pay any money to see in theaters. It is widely known that anything based on a video game would suck major donkey balls. This movie is continuing that trend.

This is the origin story of Chun-Li (Kristin Kreuk) whose life is in shambles when Bison (Neal McDonaugh) kidnaps her father, Xiang (Edmund Chen). Bison inexplicably imprisons her father for over seventeen years so he could seize control of Shadaloo crime syndicate and slums of his Bison’s old neighborhood. Side note: am I the one that realizing that Bison’s voice sounds exactly like Lawrence Fishburne’s?

Chun-Li receives an ancient scroll to seek a person named Gen (Robin Shou) in Bangkok. Meeting Gen, he and Chun-Li begin her training in order to defeat Bison.

At the same time, an Interpol agent named Charlie Nash (Chris Klein) teams up with Det. Maya Sunee(Moon Bloodgood) to stop Bison dead in his tracks.

The story is generic. There are some glaring plot holes. It makes no logical sense. The action scenes looked like a twelve-year-old choreographed them. The acting is lackluster especially Klein’s character. It is like Nicolas Cage in the last five years levels of horrendous.

The dialogue is hysterically bad with lines like “[Bison] walks through the raindrops” or Chun-Li’s mantra “Sometimes you have to stand up, when standing easy. Wow! Give screenwriter Justin Marks an Oscar… or rather a Razzie for that shitty dialogue.

This abysmal movie shifts in tone with its computer-generated blood, the vanity of Vega played by Black Eye Peas member, Taboo, the WTF moments of gory, despicable violence and the ridiculously obvious wirework.

Judgment: This ridiculous movie should enjoyed Mystery Science Theater style.

Rating: *

Seven Samurai (1954)

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Find hungry samurai.

— Gisaku

The next person in the LAMB director’s chair for this month is the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. Known for his samurai epics, most of his filmography was in the Criterion Collection as was his best known epic, Seven Samurai. It is currently ranked #14 of the Top 250 of All Time on IMDb. It was nominated two Academy Awards in 1954.

Not being familiar with Kurosawa’s work, I wanted to see the grandaddy of them all. Watching the movie, it was good film, but you really have to invest your body and soul to it.

Taking place in 16th century Japan, the movie is about a group of villagers that are besieged by a team of bandits that want to pillage their rice and wheat. Being that it was not harvest time, the bandits to come back when the rice is ripe to take it.

Scared for their safety, a couple of villagers Rikichi (Yoshio Tsuchiya), Yohei (Bokuzen Hidari) and an samurai apprentice, Katsushiro Okamoto (Isao Kimura) set out on a journey to find a samurai suggested by the village elder, Gisaku (Kokuten Kodo) to help them protect their village when the bandits come back.

On the journey, they meet an older but wiser samurai, Kambei Shimada (Takashi Shimura) that has the job to recruit six other samurai to protect the village. He recruits Gorobei Katayama (Yoshio Inaba), Kyuzo (Seiji Miyaguchi),  Heihachi Hayashida (Minoru Chiaki), Shichiroji (Daisuke Katô) and Kikuchiyo (Toshirô Mifune).

During the course of the movie, the seven samurais train the villagers to defend themselves against the rebels that will eventually come.

The performances were very good, especially Toshirô Mifune as Kikuchiyo. He is crazy and dirty. Loved him so much. When the movie got boring in parts, he makes you want to watch more. What is he going to do next?

The score by Fumio Hayasaka was so good. There was so much tension in his simplistic sounds.

This is a very simple story. Does it need to be dragged out for three and half hours? I was happy for the intermission in the middle, but when the final credits rolled. I was physically exhausted.

Judgment: A well made film that needs your undivided attention to fully enjoy it.

Rating: ****1/2

District 9 (2009)

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You are not welcome here.

Currently, ranked at #26 of the Top 250 of All of Time on IMDb is District 9. It is the brainchild from writer/director Neill Blomkamp who expanded his short film, Alive in Joburg into this current incarnation. After the disappointing announcement that the Halo movie was scrapped five months into production left Blomkamp and producer Peter Jackson into creating something great out of the broken pieces.

Over twenty years ago, an alien mother ship descended over Johannesburg. The officials were concerned about the public’s reaction to the aliens. After discovering the sickly aliens trapped on the ship, the government set up a township for the aliens called District 9. It is a heavily fortified compounded where the alien could live without much interaction with the human race.

Tensions between the aliens and the citizens come to a head when some of the aliens are restless and want to go home, but they have no resources to get back on their home planet. A company called Multi-National United (MNU) named a Michael Scott type guy,  Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) to head up the removal of the aliens to relocate them to another settlement outside of Johannesburg.

A camera crew comes with him to seek how his method works to try to get the aliens to cooperate with the removal processes. The first thirty minutes of the film was shot in a documentary style. During one of the evictions, he stumbles on a vile of alien bio-genetic material. He accidentally sprays it on himself as slowly his DNA is infused to the new genetic material of the alien. He becomes public enemy number one when the very company that he works for want to harvest him.

The movie deals the fun up a notch when the guy realizes that the world that he knew would never be the same. He teams up with an alien, Christopher Johnson to help himself out to clear his name also help the aliens find their way back to their home world.

There are obviously strong parallels towards Apartheid that crippled South Africa during the eighties, the interment camps during the height of WWII and the Jim Crow/segregation time when separate was equal. There is also a connection to swine flu panic is happening recently when he exposed to the alien material.

This movie is not the typical run of mill sci-fi alien action movie. This takes a pointed look at people’s reaction to things that they seem different. How they want to make it go away or destroy it. There is no clear-cut good guy/bad guy template here. The lines blur almost instantly. This ballsy move makes you appreciate the film even more for its originality.

This film should be a huge wake up call from Hollywood studios. You don’t need to throw $100 millions dollars to a movie that would turn out to be a piece of elephant shit like X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Terminator Salvation, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen or G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. This movie was made for a mere $30 million. The CGI looks a hell of a lot better than these “blockbuster.” The people from Jackson’s company WETA should be applauded for creating realistic creatures that lived and breathe. Learn something from this, Hollywood executives. Maybe you need to go back to the basics of filmmaking.

The atmosphere was fantastic. The performance from Sharlto Copley who has his feature film debut was great. The action sequences were solid. This movie is not for the squeamish. There are some blood, gore and vomit.

Judgment: Run, don’t walk to watch this movie.

Rating: ****1/2

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