Archive for February, 2009

Review Catch-up: “Milk”

In honor of Sean Penn’s recent ‘Best Actor’ win at the Oscars, here’s my long-delayed review of Gus Van Sant’s Milk.

Milk is the story of the meteoric rise of the country’s first openly gay citizen elected to public office.  The film is told primarily through flashbacks narrated by Harvey Milk (Sean Penn), who is predicting his own death and wishes to leave behind his version of the events of the gay rights movement in San Francisco.  I won’t go into more details, as any trip to Wikipedia will tell you what happened, and I think this is a film that should be watched, regardless of whether you know the facts or not.

One thing I do want to mention is about Diego Luna’s character, Jack Lira.  Jack was one of Harvey’s boyfriends, after Harvey split with longtime boyfriend Scott Smith (James Franco).  This particular story didn’t really need him, as he did nothing to move the plot forward.  His presence in Harvey’s life did impact Harvey, but in the end, it did nothing to slow down, or change in any way, the gay rights movement, which is what this film is ultimately about.

Now, about Penn’s performance.  It’s good.  It’s damn good.  But, is it Oscar-worthy?  That depends on your point of view.  This film is remarkable in many ways, considering that it could’ve fallen into typical biopic pitfalls.  What I’m surprised the film didn’t do was go into Harvey Milk’s faults.  If this had been a more conventional movie, the screenwriter and filmmakers would’ve presented the audience with faults for Harvey to overcome, thus making the audience sympathetic to this character (regardless of whether the main character is real or fictitious).  In Milk, the filmmakers don’t necessarily need to show faults, as the overarching situation provides plenty of conflict for the character to overcome.

But what I realized when I think back to my viewing experience months ago, is that this ‘overarching situation’ (ie the gay rights movement) occasionally takes over Milk.  The film isn’t just about Harvey, it’s about an entire movement.  The only time I cared about Harvey Milk the person is toward the end of the film, when Harvey’s conflict with fellow Supervisor Dan White become more prominent.  Other than that, I was more caught up in ‘the movement’ and watching it evolve and spread.

I personally believe that Milk would’ve still been a competent, entertaining, and important film if someone other than Sean Penn was involved, because the script (which recently won an Oscar) and direction are very strong.  Would it have been just as good?  Maybe, maybe not.  It’s just that I think the film itself should be getting more attention than Penn’s performance.  Again, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say Penn was bad or sub-par in any way (he’s certainly worthy of praise), I just feel that the film overshadows the performance.

9/10

February 24, 2009 at 10:38 am 1 comment

Nintendo DSi Pre-orders Available

Earlier this week, Nintendo upgrade to the immensely popular DS handheld went on sale. Definitely picking one up, as I am a Nintendo fanboy and I don’t have a choice.

February 19, 2009 at 1:02 am Leave a comment

Review: “Friday the 13th”

Of all the slasher films that have received remakes, Friday the 13th is probably the one everyone was waiting for.  Although I’m not a fan of the genre, this franchise holds a special place in my heart, namely for actually scaring the piss out of me when I was a kid, and for having one of the scariest NES games ever made.  Needless the say, this movie is one that I actually have been excited for.

Friday the 13th is a sequel/reboot of sorts, picking up roughly where the first left off, with a young Jason Voorhees witnessing the violent death of his mother.  It is now several years later and a group of potheads accidentally stumble upon Jason’s hunting grounds in search of marijuana plants.  The movie then moves forward a few more weeks, this time following Clay (Jared Padalecki) as he searches for his sister Whitney (Amanda Righetti), who was among the group Jason . . . ahem . . . attacked while looking for weed.  Clay also runs into a group of people vacationing at a cabin near the woods where Jason lives.

Not exactly the most thrilling story, but one that serves as the background for a very entertaining slasher flick.  What makes this great, and why it’s an infinitely better movie that My Bloody Valentine 3D, is because it knows how to poke fun at itself.  Sure, MBV 3D was also very tongue-in-cheek and threw in typical genre conventions, but it did so because those are the ‘rules of the game’.  Here, it knows how the play the game, with humor and some intelligence.

For example, the movie plays with stereotypes of the genre.  Minorities generally die first, but that’s not the case with Friday the 13th; in fact, the black guy, Lawrence (Arlen Escarpeta) is the first to put up any real fight.  In fact, his attempt at survival was not only entertaining, but a real crowd pleaser as the audience I saw it with cheered for him to escape.  And, of course, there’s the typical douche-bag asshole, Trent (Travis Van Winkle).  What made him great was not because he was an asshole, but in the manner he died, which was pretty funny (I won’t spoil it here).

In comparison to recent remakes like MBV 3D or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this is slightly less gory.  That doesn’t mean there isn’t all sorts of dismemberment, gratuitous violence, and the like; it’s just that nothing here compares to seeing that hospital room full of hacked-up bodies in MBV 3D, or Leatherface chainsawing a guy in half in TTCM.  Director Marcus Nispel (who also helmed the Massacre remake) chose to go with a less gritty horror film, and go with a visual style that was like an updated 80’s slasher movie. Oh, and those looking for ample nudity will not be disappointed here.

And I have to give credit to the man behind the hockey mask, Derek Mears.  His Jason is big, fast, and downright terrifying.  I’ll admit and say that someone like Leatherface would probably scare me more, but when Jason starts running at you, you can’t help but freak the hell out.  Mears knows how to use his character’s large frame to create menace, and he pulls it off nicely.

Friday the 13th is an excellent remake/sequel/reboot of one of the most iconic movies in American cinema.  The cast and crew have done an amazing job staying true to the original series, while washing away bad taste Jason X and Freddy VS Jason left.  And those who cry foul at everything producer Michael Bay does, this is another notch in his belt.  He also produced the Massacre remake and is onboard to produce a remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street.  Needless to say, I’ll be looking forward to that one.

8/10

February 16, 2009 at 11:47 am Leave a comment

Review: “Taken”

Remember in the 1980’s and 90’s, when kidnapping and revenge movies were so prominent?  When action movies relied less on computer-generated effects and more on the hero’s ability to kick as much ass as possible?  Luc Besson remembers, and Taken is the result.

Taken, if you haven’t seen the trailer, is about a Bryan (Liam Neeson) a father who travels all over France is rescue his kidnapped daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace).  Basically, it’s Commando (1985) meets The Bourne Ultimatum (2007).  It’s the simplest of stories for this Liam Neeson vehicle, but that’s certainly not a bad thing, as it is supremely satisfying to watch Neeson kick everybody’s ass (and I mean everybody, even people who don’t deserve it).

The only real character development is shown in the beginning, which many viewers complained that it was slow and boring.  Bryan is a retired C.I.A. agent who moves to be closer to his teenage daughter and ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen).  It is sweet watching Bryan trying to win the affection of his daughter, however not everyone shares in the sentiment.  Lenore acts like a downright bitch, trying to keep the two away from each other, all the while flaunting her new husband, rich businessman Stuart (Xander Berkeley).

All that changes when Kim goes to Paris for a month with a friend.  Before they even get a chance to settle into their place, they’re targeted and kidnapped by some Albanian gangsters who wish to sell them into an illegal, and international, prostitution ring.  Bryan then sets off for France to beat up a whole mess of badguys.

The action is choreographed much like a Bourne or Bond movie; lots of hand-to-hand combat, the occasional car chase, and a few scenes of torture tossed in for good measure.  As soon as Bryan lands in Paris, the film doesn’t let up from fight after fight, ass-kicking after ass-kicking.  Since the action is also used to move the story forward, it’s setup up kind of like a video game, with our hero wading through countless badguys who don’t stand a chance, only go up against a ‘boss fight’ every once in a while.  And though Neeson may be tall, lanky, and probably past middle-age, he could easily go toe-to-toe with Jason Bourne.

My only complaints are with some minor details of the story.  For example, Kim’s friend Amanda (Katie Cassidy) ends up a lot worse than Kim does, but the story never reveals what happens after that (how do Amanda’s parents react?).  Also, they don’t seem to care about the repercussions of leaving a trail of bodies and destruction all around France, especially if the one responsible was an ex-member of the C.I.A.

But, this isn’t trying to be some kind of Oscar-winning story.  Taken is a throwback to old-school action movies, with modern filmmaking techniques.  Director Pierre Morel and screenwriter/producer Luc Besson have crafted a roller-coaster ride of a movie, one that, as soon as the punching starts, doesn’t stop until the final scene.

7.5/10

February 15, 2009 at 3:35 pm 1 comment

Review Catch-Up: “Let the Right One In”

Saw this back in November and just forgot to post my review of it.  So, here it is.

Last year saw the release of the teen phenomenon known as Twilight, to mixed reviews.  Around the same time, select U.S. theatres (generally the arthouse indie kind) got a recent import from Sweden, Let the Right One In, based on a novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist (who also wrote the screenplay).  While I haven’t seen Twilight, I can say with assurance that if you’re going to see just one teen vampire movie, let it be the Swedish one.

Let the Right One In is about Oskar, a young boy who gets picked on by school bullies.  Attributing this to the normal rules of growing up, the parents don’t do too much about it.  Things change when Eli, a peculiar young girl about Oskar’s age, moves next door.  The two strike up a friendship based mostly on the fact that they’re both outsiders.  Oskar’s a punching bag and a pushover, Eli’s shy, doesn’t go to school, and only comes out at night.

Turns out Eli is a vampire.

Their friendship grows as Eli helps Oskar to feel more comfortable with himself, and Oskar basically is the only person Eli talks to (aside from a father figure that lives with her).  What keeps this from being some hammy teen vampire flick and brings it into the realm of film is how you see the characters play everything out.  Oskar and Eli are both around 12 or so years old (well, Eli is considerably older, but she’s still stuck in the mindset of a 12-year-old girl), and you can see how adolescence really begins to affect their relationship.

Also, the supporting cast of characters adds depth to the story.  Eli’s “father figure” may or may not be the father (probably not), but helps Eli stay alive by finding fresh blood for her.  Some of the more suspensful moments come when we watch as he stalks his latest victim in search of blood.  The bullies are your typical school bully type; they always hang together, they’re rich, and individually, they’re a bunch of wimps.  It’s very satisfying to watch Oskar stand up to them.  Keep in mind, this isn’t some horror-action movie like Underworld, nor is it a blood-soaked slasher movie.  For a movie with such a young cast, Let the Right One In is definitely geared toward an older audience.

Visually, this movie appears flawless.  Being set in Sweden in the (presumably) dead of winter, you really get the sense of frigid cold and isolation that the landscape provides.  The cinematography generally sticks to a neutral, cool tone, making every scene look like it was shot in zero-degree weather.

Let the Right One In is not only one of the best films of 2008, but one of the best vampire films I’ve ever seen.  Well paced, superbly acted, and with an ending that’ll leave you speechless, this should be a film any film buff or horror fan should see.

9/10

If it’s not playing in your area, the DVD is scheduled to go on sale in March.  Also, there’s an American remake scheduled to go into production some time this year.

February 10, 2009 at 12:54 pm 1 comment

Review: “Fanboys”

Not to be confused with another indie release also entitled Fanboys (2003), this Fanboys (2009) is an at-times touching, and occasionally funny tribute to the legacy of Star Wars and the fans that follow the films.  The movie had some controversy not too long ago, which delayed the release of the film.  The Weinstein Company (the movie’s distributors), had some issue regarding a subplot which involved one of the characters dying of cancer.  Worry not, young padawans, the subplot is intact, however the movie is only slightly better with it.

Taking place in 1998, a group of friends, and die-hard Star Wars nerds, reconnect at a Halloween party after being apart for nearly 3 years.  Well, it’s actually only one of them that was absent, Eric (Sam Huntington), who is trying to ‘make it’ in the post-high school world by working in the family car dealership.  Linus (Christopher Marquette), Eric’s best friend, was hurt the most by his absence, and refuses to make amends.  Rounding out the cast is skinny geek Windows (Jay Baruchel), loud and obnoxious Hutch (Dan Fogler), and hot nerd-girl Zoe (Kristen Bell).  When Eric finds out that Linus is dying of cancer, the crew decide to take a road-trip to George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch to try and view an early cut of The Phantom Menace.

The bulk of the movie follows typical road-trip/teen comedy conventions, with the exception of a few cool cameos by some Star Wars alumni, the captain himself William Shatner, and by Apatow Productions regulars like Seth Rogen.  Some notable sequences include Windows meeting his online girlfriend for the first time, an ass-kicking given by Ain’t-It-Cool-News founder Harry Knowles (Ethan Suplee), and confrontations with Trekkies.

While the movie definitely has its comedic moments, occasionally it reaches too far for the emotional impact.  The script feels like its beating into your head the whole notion of ‘growing up’ and giving up childhood fantasies like Star Wars.  I lost count how many times Eric berates the others for living in the past and not getting real jobs.  Also, the whole subplot about Linus having cancer isn’t fully fleshed out.  It’s brought up every now and then, and leads to a funny moment with Carrie Fisher, but it doesn’t really grab hold of the emotional heartstrings of the audience like it should.  To me, it should be the emotional core of the story, yet it stays just out of reach for the filmmakers.

Also, there’s a subplot involving a romance between one of the guys and Zoe.  I didn’t buy it for a second.  Kristen Bell is ridiculously hot, and I don’t believe someone wouldn’t notice that after being her good friend for most of her life.  On a related note, there’s a scene in the movie with Bell in a Princess Leia slave girl outfit, and that alone is almost worth the price of admission.

All that being said, what the movie does get right is what Star Wars means to fans.  Their road-trip isn’t just about fulfilling a dying man’s wish, it’s the fulfillment of the wish of every child.  In the original film (A New Hope), Luke Skywalker embarks on an adventure to meet a goal that seems completely out of his reach.  He must confront insurmountable odds in order to fulfill his destiny.  That’s the dream of every child, no matter where you came from or even if you’ve seen Star Wars or not.

While the movie does poke fun at the legions of Star Wars nerds, much in the same way the documentary series Trekkies makes fun of Star Trek fans, Fanboys is also an homage to their dedication.  Not to give anything away, but the final few shots in the movie nearly brought me to tears.  It’s opening night of The Phantom Menace, and the characters are at the first midnight showing.  The theatre is packed, and as soon as the 20th Century Fox Fanfare starts playing, there’s applause.  Loud, raucous applause.

I remember being there, in May of 1999, when the lights went down and the theatre fell silent.  The Fanfare played, then, quietly, the legendary words appear in blue: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.”  And then the music blasts through the speakers.  John Williams’ ‘Star Wars Main Theme’ explodes into the air.  The theatre goes berserk.

Those memories instantly flooded back to me.  Not just memories of the release of The Phantom Menace, but the re-releases back in 1997, and the subsequent premieres of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.  That’s what Fanboys gets right.  Not necessarily perfect, but right; the place that George Lucas’ creation holds in the hearts of countless fans.  Fanboys may not be a comedy for everyone, but for those that remember what its like to wait hours, even days, in line for “just a movie”, Fanboys is a great salute to those memories.

7.5/10

February 7, 2009 at 12:47 am 1 comment

The HotSpot’s Response To Anti-Military Comments

Last week, GameSpot.com’s ‘The HotSpot’ podcast had a discussion about the upcoming America’s Army 3 videogame, and some of the comments made drew complaints from some listeners (myself included).  This week, ‘The HotSpot’ crew took the time to respond, with a specific response directed at my email, and I can say that I’m pleased.  I sent them an email about the issue, and though I never asked for a retraction of the statements or a change of the opinions, I did ask for some clarification and the acknowledgment that maybe that particular podcast wasn’t the best way to let these opinions be heard.

Below is the email I sent them in response to this week’s show.

—————————————–

I just wanted to say ‘Thank You’ for Tom McShea’s response to last week’s America’s Army comments.  I asked for clarification, and an acknowledgment that certain political comments shouldn’t be said on ‘The HotSpot‘, and I got that.  I also understand that the America’s Army games are a special case considering its origins, but the comments should be kept relevant to the game and not to personal or political beliefs and opinions.  Anyway, thanks again for responding and for not brushing off this complaint.

February 5, 2009 at 6:34 pm Leave a comment

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