Archive for June, 2008

Review: WALL-E

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Chalk up another one for the Disney/Pixar team. WALL-E is not only the best animated movie of the year, it’s also one of the best animated movies ever made.  Relying primarily on visual narrative, WALL-E transcends most animated, and even traditional film, by doing what film does best: show emotions rather than telling them.

The movie takes place 700 years in the future.  The giant megacorporation Wal-mart…I mean Buy ‘N’ Large pretty much controls everythig, from the gas to the supermarkets to the transportation and living arrangements.  This comes at a price as the Earth is now covered in trash; it’s gotten so bad that humans have decided to leave for awhile and let these trash robots, WALL-E’s, to take care of the mess.  They’re useful robots that can take piles of trash and turn them into cubes for easy stacking.  One day, when all the trash is taken care of, the humans will return and re-colonize Earth.  That however, was hundreds of years previous from the start of the movie.

Our title hero is the last of his kind left on the planet.  The other units have long since worn out, leaving WALL-E alone to finish the job.  WALL-E is lonely, as you can see from the trailers; his only friend a cockroach that acts much like a pet dog.  He has his own ‘house’, which used to house all the WALL-E’s and now serves to hold all the junk our WALL-E doesn’t want to throw away.  He’s fascinated by the simplest of things, like light bulbs, television, clothing, and even old showtunes.  He watches musicals every night and longs for the day when he can meet someone else and share in all the emotions that he sees in the old recordings.  We are then introduced to EVE, a probing robot sent from the human resort ship Axiom.  Every once in awhile, the Axiom would send probes back to Earth to see how the cleanup is going.  Once they find evidence that the planet can again sustain life, the ship will turn around and bring all the humans back home.

WALL-E

This is where WALL-E begins to show its brilliance.  With barely any dialogue at all, we see the personalities of both WALL-E and EVE, one is a shy, goofy, yet caring robot; the other is like the equivalent to the ‘career woman’, someone who is focused solely on her job, and nothing else.  WALL-E tries desparately to get EVE to notice him, even by showing her his personal collection of junk.  She finds him amusing and slowly warms up to WALL-E when he shows her a discovery he made the other day: a tiny plant growing inside a long-abandoned referidgerator.  This sets off EVE’s primary directive, and she takes the plant and signals for a ship to come and pick her up so she can bring it to the Axiom‘s captain.  Thinking she’s being kidnapped, WALL-E stows away to save his new-found love.

WALL-E and EVE

The rest of the story is pretty straightforward, but what’s impressive about it is how everything is done with barely a dozen or so pages of dialogue.  It’s all action and visual cues.  Normally, in Hollywood screenwriting, the more white on the page, the better.  Action description must be kept to a minimum and dialogue is very important; however, the old saying in Hollywood, when it comes to acting or writing, is to show and not tell.  Don’t tell the audience you’re mad, show it.  In WALL-E, the whole film is showing us something.  We are shown WALL-E’s kindness, his curiosity, and more importantly, his love for EVE.

WALL-E is also packed with the trademark Pixar humor.  The funniest moments come from WALL-E just picking up the trash and looking at different objects.  He has no idea what they do, but they fascinate him.  A bra is something you wear on your head, fire extinguishers are scary, and a small cooler is something to keep your belongings in.  When we finally get to the Axiom, watching WALL-E interact with other robots is quite amusing.  Also, watching him finally interact with other humans is comedic gold.  The humans, by the way, have all become bed-ridden overweight potatoes.  Through too much mass-market consumption and consumerism, plus bodily issues when traveling in space, humans have basically become slobs, relying entirely on automated service to live.

on the Axiom

Visually, WALL-E is a standout, even among computer-generated films.  Rumor has it that Academy award-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins was a technical adivsor to the film, helping cultivate its unique look.  What I found interesting, in the beginning, was the film’s use of camera angles, long lenses, and depth of field.  It was like watching a documentary, or some kind of nature program where a hidden camera captures all of WALL-E’s actions.  Later on, however, the camera becomes more traditional, when the movie turns into a rescue mission and not a National Geographic special.

The sound is amazing as well.  Sound designer Ben Burtt deserves another Oscar for his work here.  Technically he plays the voice of WALL-E and M-O, a smaller cleaning robot.  What he’s done was used different digitized sound effects to create WALL-E’s ‘voice’ and other sounds.  Ben Burtt is quite possibly the best in his field, having worked as sound designer on all 6 Star Wars films (he created the voice of R2-D2, and the familiar hum of the lightsaber) as well as editor for the Star Wars prequels, and a slew of projects for Steven Spielberg.  The other actors play their limited roles nicely, with a cameo by John Ratzenberger, who has voiced many characters over Pixar’s short history, and a live-action performance (the first ever for a Pixar film) by Fred Willard as the ‘global CEO’ of BNL (Buy ‘N ‘ Large).  Also, the music by Finding Nemo composer Thomas Newman, is fantastic, some of the best compositions I’ve heard all year.

space

I remember nearly crying on several occasions throughout WALL-E, not necassarily because it’s sad (and there are a few sad parts), but because of the wealth of emotions that WALL-E displays.  There’s a scene where WALL-E’s in space with EVE, and I’m not going to give anything away, but it’s just magical and I really felt happy for our heroes.  Even though this is still a children’s movie, I suspect that many of these nuances will be lost on them.  They will find WALL-E cute, the movie funny, and will have experienced a great adventure.  Adults, however, may just enjoy this film more.  WALL-E is like a child living in an adult body; he experiences emotions and tries to show them much like a human would, with small, nearly unnoticeables actions that display this, and that is something younger viewers may miss.

holding hands

WALL-E is a film that can be enjoyed by all ages, and regardless of culture.  Director Andrew Stanton (who helmed Pixar’s sea-faring hit Finding Nemo) has possibly surpassed Brad Bird as the premiere animation director of this generation.  His attention to detail and actions is phenomenal.  Stanton gives us a truly believable character in an unbelievably rich world, regardless of the length of dialogue.  Andrew Stanton and the geniuses at Pixar have given a film that goes beyond other animated efforts, and even some live-action ones, on so many different levels.  This is a beautiful film on all accounts: the characters, the writing, the visuals; but one thing it does so well is the emotion.  We fall in love as WALL-E falls in love.  We become sad when he does.  Pixar has created the most lovable robot since R2-D2.  With his large, puppy-dog-like eyes,  WALL-E seems like a most unusual hero.  In the end, WALL-E is absolutely brilliant.

10/10

(images from Yahoo!)

June 29, 2008 at 7:53 pm Leave a comment

Review: Wanted

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Yet another comic book-inspired action film, Wanted thrusts us into the hum-drum life of Wesley Gibson, an ordinary 20-something with a hot blonde girlfriend, an office job, and a goofy bestfriend. The problem is, Wesley hates his life. His job is boring, his boss is a bitch, and his girlfriend is cheating on him with his best friend. Plus, he suffers from these terrible anxiety attacks, which require him to prescribe to medication. Cue Fox (Angelina Jolie), a gorgeous stranger that appears to Wesley at a local pharmacy. She tells him that his dead-beat dad was actually an assassin for The Fraternity, and they want Wesley to find his father’s killer and kill that person.

While not the most original story, this movie more than makes up for it in the visual effects department. Director Timur Bekmambetov, best known for the Russian horror/sci-fi films Day Watch and Night Watch, brings his flair for dizzying action set pieces to American shores. Being touted as the best thing since The Matrix, Wanted is a visual tour-de-force. There’s amazing gunfights, impossible leaps, cars flipping, and trains colliding. It’s literally everything you’ve seen in nearly every action movie of the past 10 years rolled into one.

car

That, however, is where I had some issues. There’s so much going on in some scenes that I wished the filmmakers gave us a chance to catch our breath. I was actually counting the number of seconds each cut was during the shootout at the pharmacy, and then the car chase. The average Hollywood shot lasts around 3 seconds, and I counted barely a second for most shots in that five minute segment of the movie. What I was hoping for was one of those rare long, unbroken takes where we follow the action from one perspective, allowing us to edit with our eyes and take everything in, without jarring us around (they did do this later on in the movie, more on that later).

McAvoy

Jolie

The whole second act is your usual training montage where we see our hero actually become the hero. I liked this, it gave us sometime to process everything that’s happened and to comprehend the story that gets slightly more complicated as the movie goes on. We learn more about The Fraternity, how they came about, and what they do. We also meet the operatives and what their specialty is, and spend some time with Sloan (Morgan Freeman) the leader of the group. However, I started to have a slight problem with the way the second and third acts meshed together. I felt that Wanted could have easily been part one of a two-part story.

two guns

During the second act, Wesley goes on some ‘practice hits’ before he’s tasked with taking down Cross, a rogue member of The Fraternity who killed Wesley’s father. I kept thinking to myself, “This could have easily been its own movie.” I would’ve loved to see the whole first movie devoted to Wesley becoming this badass killer while slowly piecing together the clues about the truth about his father and the circumstances surrounding his death. Then, the second movie would be Wesley going up against his father’s killer and dealing with the choices he made in the first movie.

Freeman

Despite this somewhat rushed storyline and hyperkinetic pacing, there are some truly exciting moments in the movie. The first car chase with Fox hanging from a Dodge Viper and shooting at their pursuers was great fun. There’s also a battle on a moving train that was also very impressive. It is here that I got my wish: an unbroken, nearly ten-second-long take as we watch the train slowly spill off its tracks and into a chasm. Toward the end, we get a gun battle that reminded me a lot like the final scenes in Kurt Wimmer’s excellent Equilibrium, with Wesley running about and just blasting away bad guys all over the place. There’s also a great amount of humor to be found. The jokes at first poke fun at Wesley for being such a loser, and slowly work in favor of him as we see him go from Average Joe to confident bad-ass

The ending deserves notice because it wasn’t what I was expecting, and I mean that in a good way. While not to give away anything, I thought it was inventive and helped bring closure to this part of the story (assuming there’s going to be a sequel). Leaving the theatre, I felt content. I just spent nearly two hours watching mindless, yet inventive action, and that’s exactly what I was expecting. While it’s not as good as something like Iron Man or even The Incredible Hulk, but I can see this being the start of a brand new movie franchise.

7/10

(images from Yahoo!)

June 28, 2008 at 6:36 pm 3 comments

Another Hollywood Strike Looming…

Remember this post? I called it!

What I find interesting is how much leverage those actors that carry both union cards will have. 44,000 actors are members of AFTRA and SAG, which is more than half of AFTRA’s membership. I hope a strike really doesn’t happen, as that will delay film and television production, and cause more complications between AFTRA and SAG.

clipped from community.tvguide.com

After months of talks, AFTRA’s national committee on Friday voted “overwhelmingly” in favor of a tentative actors’ contract with the AMPTP that was reached May 28. Following the thumbs-up vote, the deal goes out to the 70,000 members for ratification, says the Reporter.

Yet, despite the warm fuzzies AFTRA’s feeling over what negotiating committee member David Basche calls a “damn good” deal — with fee increases that he says are some of the first in a decade — SAG rained some demands on the parade. Screen Actors Guild leaders asked AFTRA on Thursday to delay member ratification, asserting that the deal would “distract” the industry from SAG’s leverage in working out their own contract, ostensibly for the benefit of all actors.
Of course, there’s the added complication of some cross-organizational factions that are said to be largely split between coasts — and they can’t even rap about it.
SAG’s hoping dual card-carrying members (there are about 44,000 of them) vote against the AFTRA deal,
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June 27, 2008 at 8:28 am 2 comments

Review: Kung Fu Panda

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Surprisingly, one of the best martial arts movies I’ve seen in some time comes in CG form, and it doesn’t come from the mighty Pixar.  A great mix of humor and action, this is an animated movie that both kids and parents will enjoy.

Jack Black plays the title character, Po, an overweight Panda who works at a noodle shop with his father Mr. Ping (James Hong), who is some kind of bird (a stork maybe?).  He dreams of being a Kung Fu master and to join the ranks of the Furious Five, a team of elite martial arts warriors who defend their village.  The Five are led by Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), who trains and mentors them.

Furious Five

One day, Shifu’s master, a turtle named Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), decides it is time to reveal the Dragon Warrior, the ultimate fighter who can lead the Five and bring justice to the land.  Much the the annoyance of the Five, especially Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Oogway chooses Po.  Shifu, not happy with the decision, decides to trian Po so hard, he will quit.  More bad news befalls the Kung Fu masters as they learn that Shifu’s former student, and now rival, Tai Lung (Ian McShane) has escaped from prison and is on his way to the village.  Tai Lung wants to learn the final secret of Kung Fu, written on a scroll and guarded by Oogway, Shifu, and the Five.

It’s a pretty basic concept, and not something that hasn’t been done in other animated movies or ‘fish out of water’ films.  What works is the attitude in which Po approaches everything.  No one, except for Oogway, wants Po there, but Po soldiers on anyway, holding on to hope and his personal integrity.  The other members of the Furious Five, Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Crane (David Cross) all eventually warm up to Po.  Unfortunately, the cast isn’t given much screen time (I honestly don’t remember if Jackie Chan had any lines), but what they do have is either funny or action-packed.  There’s a great battle between the Five and Tai Lung on a bridge that was very well choreographed and fun to watch.

Po and Shifu

Much of the humor is based on making fun of Po’s weight, but it really doesn’t get to the point where it’s offensive (at least not to me).  Po acknowledges his weight, and eventually Shifu learns to make the most out of Po’s weakness for food.  There are even some touching moments with Oogway and Shifu, and a nice little Rocky-esque training montage thrown in for good measure.  I also thought the music was rather good, with a score composed by Hans Zimmer, who is now one of my favorite film composers ever.  It was a nice blend of traditional Chinese elements mixed in with 1970’s chop-socky music and modern action cues.

Tai Lung

My only issue with the movie is the violence level.  Keep in mind this is a PG-rated movie, so really young children may be too affected by the action.  This is a martial arts movie, and there’s a lot of fighting, so don’t be surprised if you bring your eight-year-old to see this, and afterwards he’s going to want to punch everybody.  Then again, I think the PG rating is appropriate considering it’s animated and there’s more humor than fighting.

Jack Black as "Po"Angelina Jolie as "Tigress"Seth Rogen as "Mantis"Lucy Liu as \"Viper\"

Kung Fu Panda proves that Dreamworks Animation is up to the task of delivering quality films close to the gurus at Pixar.  While this movie isn’t as touching as something like Ratatouille or Finding Nemo (and I’m going to assume that the upcoming Wall-E is going to be another victory for them), Kung Fu Panda is great family entertainment amongst the action-heavy summer blockbusters, and definitely worthy of shelf space once it hits DVD.

Jackie Chan as \"Monkey\"David Cross as \"Crane\"Dustin Hoffman as \"Shifu\"

8.0/10

June 26, 2008 at 4:03 pm Leave a comment

Green Light for Spider-Man 4?

Hmm…interesting. While I didn’t doubt that Sony and Marvel would want to do another Spidey flick, I am doubtful that Sam Raimi would direct again. As for a bad guy, Lizard would be the obvious one as they have already set up the character in Spider-Man 2. I would also love to see the return of Venom and have a proper battle between him and Spider-Man. Maybe re-introduce him at the end of 4 so maybe Venom would be the real (and hopefully only) villain of Part 5.

And what does this news mean for Robotech? Tobey Maguire’s production company has acquired the rights for a live-action movie set for release in 2010. If Maquire still plans to play the lead role of Rick Hunter in Robotech and Peter Parker in Spider-Man 4, then he’d have to start Spider-Man right after finishing with Robotech (assuming Robotech wraps sometime in ’09).

Can’t wait for Robotech (I’m an optomist) and I’m glad they will have at least one more go with the Spider-Man film franchise. I liked Spider-Man 3, but it wasn’t the send-off I was hoping for.

clipped from community.tvguide.com

Provided that taut Tobey Maguire doesn’t go to pot (or unless he is recast with, like, Jake Gyllenhaal or Vincent Chase), Spider-Man 4 is a go and being eyed for a May 2011 release date.
“Nobody’s signed anything on any dotted lines and I don’t think there’s an actual script yet, but as we all know [that’s just a detail],” The Closer‘s J.K. Simmons (aka J. Jonah Jameson) tells us.

Aside from Maguire’s involvement and the matter of a director (“Maybe Sam [Raimi] will direct again?” Simmons muses), the big question surrounds No. 4’s No. 1 baddie. My vote goes to Lizard (Dylan Baker has played Dr. Curt Connors twice, in Parts 2 and 3), though some spec it could be Vulture (too ugly, I say) or Kraven (ditto).
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June 26, 2008 at 3:16 pm Leave a comment

Review: Get Smart

I was one of the few kids on my block that watched Nick-at-Nite during the early and mid-90’s.  I Love Lucy, Bewitched, and of course Get Smart were among my favorites.  I honestly don’t remember too much of the Don Adams original spy spoof (I do remember Maxwell Smart marrying Agent 99), but iconic props like the shoe phone, cone of silence, and elevator/phone booth really stick out.  What really made the series great was the humor; granted it isn’t the first to spoof the spy genre (I think Our Man Flint, which was a movie spoof of the James Bond films, came out earlier).

Director Peter Segal gives us this updated version of the classic television show starring funnyman Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, and others.  I didn’t really know what to expect from this movie, but I will say that I went in with some high expectations.  The trailers were funny, I like Steve Carell, and I loved the television show.  By the time the last of the end credits rolled, I can say that it was everything I expected it to be.

The movie basically follows Maxwell Smart, a data analyst for the covert government agency known only as CONTROL, which monitors the activities of KAOS, a criminal organization bent on obtaining nuclear weapons or the material to make them.  Smart is one of the best analysts CONTROL has, but he has aspirations of becoming a field agent, like Agent 23 (Dwayne Johnson).  Without giving away too much, Smart’s boss ‘Chief’ (Alan Arkin) is forced to promote Smart and pair him with Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway) so they can track agents of KAOS and stop them from obtaining ‘the bomb.’

Steve Carell is fine as Maxwell Smart, getting many of the mannerisms that Don Adams had while adding a few of his own.  This both works for and against him, as an outright mimicry of Don Adams’ Maxwell Smart would have been insulting, but there are times when Carell tries to do some ‘original’ things that just make him sound like a version of ‘Andy’ from The 40-Year-Old-Virgin or ‘Michael’ from The Office.  Overall, I didn’t mind Carell at all and I think he turns in a good comedic performance.

Anne Hathaway holds her own well against Steve Carell.  While not the comedian like Carell is, she plays her role of the straight-faced workaholic field agent fine in contrast to Carell’s bumbling-but-well-meaning Maxwell Smart.  She also shows off more physical skills with lots of punching, kicking, and throwing/being thrown throughout the movie.

Alan Arkin also deserves notice for playing his relatively small role with just enough weight.  His comedic moments are nice, and watching him you can tell that he is probably taking his role a little more seriously than the others; meaning, he isn’t trying to make a funny role serious, he’s just trying a little harder to play his character than the other supporting cast.

Which brings me to the rest of the large cast.  Dwayne Johnson is doing his best, but he’s still not an actor.  His line delivery feels a little off, and his physical prowess is wasted here.  I kind of wanted to see him throw a few guys around.  Terence Stamp turns in one of the most by-the-book performances I’ve seen in some time.  On the Filmspotting podcast, the two reviewers say that they feel like Stamp is ‘phoning it in’ with regards to his acting.  I agree.  This was basically another paycheck for the acclaimed actor.  I haven’t seen such a hammy and dead performance of a villain since I saw Edward Norton in the recent The Italian Job remake.  Masi Oka and Nate Torrence, who are in charge of what amounts to CONTROL’s version of Q Branch from the Bond films, have a funny scene or two, but for the most part, they don’t really do anything.

What I also didn’t like was the believability of the characters as a whole.  I know, I know, this isn’t a serious action movie, but I just didn’t buy some of it.  For example, Maxwell Smart has been training and applying for a field agent position for years and hasn’t gotten it.  He’s never seen real combat, never been in any real danger, but here he is in several scenes shooting people, and basically doing some James Bond stuff only without the smoothness of the real 007.  It sort of took me out of the movie for some parts.

Toward the end, the movie picks up a bit in the action department, with a nice freeway chase and then a battle inside, and on top of, a moving SUV tethered to a propeller-powerd airplane.  I really enjoyed that scene and was as well shot and choreographed as any higher-quality action scene.

In the end, Get Smart is a nice little movie that somehow wedges itself between ‘summer blockbuster’ and ‘summer comedy’.  The two leads play their roles nicely and have some really great chemistry.  There are enough funny scenes to keep the audience laughing (the ‘cone of silence’ scene is hilarious) and just enough action so that the audience doesn’t get bored.  However, it felt slightly too long, clocking in at around 1 hour and 50 minutes.  I wished they could have trimmed a bit in the middle and gone for 1 hour and 45 minutes.  The final movie ‘missed it by that much’, but it’s not like it gets boring or anything.  If you need some lighter fare separate from this summer’s crop of comic book action spectaculars, Get Smart isn’t a bad choice.

7.5/10

By the way, look for an…interesting cameo from Bill Murray.  My friend that I saw this movie with said that it was ‘ridiculous’, but in a good way.  Also, watch for a slight nod to the original series in the form of a character they mention, then introduce near the end.  Die-hard fans of the series will recognize this person, at least by the name.

(images from Yahoo!)

June 21, 2008 at 2:05 am 2 comments

Firefox 3!!!!

Just downloaded it after several attempts; no doubt because everyone on the planet is trying to download it.  So far, I’m loving it for one reason: I use a 26″ LCD widescreen television as a PC monitor, and Firefox 2.0 doesn’t fully support that resolution.  The text and graphics would be too small, and enlarging the page would only make pages look weird (links moved around, text overlapping, etc).  Internet Explorer and Safari would have better luck with the resolution I use, but those browsers are too slow and many of my browser plug-ins don’t work on those other browsers.

But, this new version of Firefox is perfect.  Text is big enough, without being too big, graphics and pictures scale properly, and it all runs at the same speed as Firefox 2.  Plus, many of my plug-ins still work with Firefox 3.  Occasionally the text and graphics can be too big, but it’s usually not a problem.

Anyway, great job, Mozilla!  Keep up the good work!

June 17, 2008 at 12:21 pm Leave a comment

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