Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Movie: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (4/5 stars) (2010)

If there was a Harry Potter book that could have used some editing, #7, "The Deathly Hallows" was it. The last thing I wanted to hear was that they were splitting it into two movies. That was such a money grubbing move from JK Rowling and Warner Brothers. Hold on to the cash cow just a few months longer! We can make another $400M!

That gripe aside, I liked the movie. It has its flaws, patchy pacing issues (just like the book's 200 pages of Harry, Hemione and Ron in the forest hiding out and trying to figure things out), some questionable acting and some random departures from the book, however, it's HARRY POTTER!!

While there are pacing problems, 200 pages of the book translates into half an hour in the movie, during which, pretty interesting things happen and I'm entertained. I won't be lining up to see this again, but it was a good time at the movies.

To talk from a neutral position, my wife, who hasn't read the books, didn't mind the last book beingsplit in half - it was exactly like another book, which was fine.

If I were to rate this movie against the others , it was in the middle of the pack somewhere. I would say that it was the most like the book of all the movies and I liked it as much as I liked the book, maybe a little more, unlike "The Goblet of Fire", which was my favourite book and one of the least favourite movies, and "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban", my least favourite book (why does the rat stay with the Weasleys for TEN YEARS!!!), but one of my favourite movies - different stresses I guess.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Movie: The Road (3/5 stars) (2009)

"The Road" stars Viggo Mortgenson as "man" and Kodi Smit-McPhee as "boy". There are no names at all in the movie. There was a "woman", played by Charlize Theron and lots of other parts like "bearded man", "thief" and "old man" etc...

The movie is a post apocalyptic science fiction movie. I can only assume that it is set in the future, but it may have been set in the past - it's hard to tell. There is only devastation and barren waste everywhere in the movie.

The story is simple. A man and a boy are wandering the wasteland headed south for no reason except that they are looking for the ocean and hopefully something better than what they left behind. They meet some people and see some screwed up crap and you quickly get the idea that the world is not what we are used to. This isn't "The Book of Eli", where there is a quite thick veil of bullshit over the entire movie. This feels REAL.

Despite its simplicity, each scene is thick with detail and has real impact. The psychology of the situation is evident constantly and the concepts of "hunger", "loneliness", "happiness" and "friendly" are violently twisted into new meanings.

The movie does nothing to explain the apocalypse itself, i.e. what happened or why. It isn't part of the focus. We don't know if there was nuclear holocaust, a disease or aliens, we just know that we're here and it's dire.

In many ways brilliant, but at the same time, depressing and and unsatisfying. You go away impressed at the quality of the acting, directing and cinematography, but don't really know the point of it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Movie: Salt (2/5 stars) (2010)

Get ready for Jasina Bourne, except not as good as Jason.

This is a run-of-the-mill action/spy movie staring Angelina Jolie as Evelyn Salt, a CIA agent with a mysterious past. It was gimmicky action, with attempts at doing what no other movie had done, something that's become cliche in its attempt to avoid cliches. The worst was Salt using a taser to make someone press the gas pedal on a police car - it was just too ridiculous to keep a viewer watching without rolling their eyes.

I really have nothing more to say about this one. It's just not worth your time. I am glad that I saw it on cheap night, otherwise, I would have felt ripped off completely.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Movie: Inception (3.5/5 stars) (2010)

On the way back from my recent holiday in Canada, schedules didn't work and I ended up with 2 days in Los Angeles. I watched Inception in Santa Monica at a crappy little theater called the Santa Monica 7. Pretty much any Wellington theater is better. The seats had almost no incline and we were hoping (against hope apparently) that no tall people would end up sitting in front of us.

Enough about the theater itself, on to the movie.

There is lots that is great about the movie. The concept, people stealing ideas in shared dreams, is immediately interesting to a science fiction fan. I liked the action scenes, the special effects (especially the weightless scene - very cool), and almost all the characters. My favorite scene has to be the kick, kick, kick sequence which I will say no more about.

Leonardo DiCaprio is consistently good. I know he gets labeled as a bad actor, since he is a teen heart throb and ends up in Hollywood blockbusters regularly, but he has starred in a string of good movies that are all worth watching (Shutter Island, Revolutionary Road, Body of Lies, Blood Diamond, The Departed and The Aviator to go back only 6 years). His body of work is solid and I will watch anything he stars in.

Ellen Page , on the other hand, has a reputation of being a great up-and-comer. I love that she's from Halifax, where I lived more than 10 years, but I don't get the big fuss over her. She's good, but I find that she is a little off in most of her movies (there are LOTS) and I can't quite put my finger on it. Still - she's today's superstar and ended up in this movie.

All the other main actors do their job well. The directing is good - it tells the story clearly and simply (despite the many twists and turns and the levels of dreams).

The problem for me was the writing. I've written a lot of first drafts. I know what a first draft feels like and there is lots in this movie that feels like a first draft. It seems that Leonardo DiCaprio's character Cobb is the only person who knows everything about dreams and when something surprising happens, Leo throws out another gotcha that no one else knew about. These are just rough edges that could have been smoother, and it feels like the dream "physics" was just made up on the spot and never revised or made consistent. It's a slap in the face since it happens so often in the middle of the action and is no where near as clean as everything else in the movie.

It could have been The Matrix all over again. It tries to be, but fails. Too bad - I would have loved another Matrix.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Movie: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (3.5/5) (2009)

If you haven't heard of this movie or the novel, then you've probably been living under a rock for the last two years. It's new to DVD, and we rented it last night.

I wasn't sure what to expect, since I'd never read the novel. I knew there was a female hacker with a dragon tattoo and that's about it. AND - just so you know, it's not a cute, little tattoo of Mushu from Disney's Mulan, it's a honking, huge, evil looking dragon tattoo that covers her whole back.

I was pleasantly surprised. The movie was simple and didn't try to over reach itself. There was no pretension, just a nice, simple mystery movie that was interesting the entire way through. The fact that it was in Swedish didn't hurt it at all, and I really loved comparing the Swedish to the English subtitles and noticing how similar many of the sounds were. There are several sentences that are identical ("Are you ok?") and lots of nearly identical words that added a positive dimension to the movie.

Mikael Blomkvist is hired by a rich businessman named Martin Vanger to solve a 40 year old murder. Vanger's favorite niece Harriet, who he loved like a daughter disappeared in 1966 and he wants to know what happened to her. He isn't really expecting results, but wants someone working on it who won't give up.

Mikael doesn't know it at first, but the title character Lisbeth Salander takes an interest in his case after hacking his computer for another job. Lisbeth is by far the most interesting character and comes from a dark and sordid background. She is 24 years old and still has a guardian assigned by the state for some reason. Eventually, Mikael and Lisbeth track various tenuous leads and get pulled into a mystery bigger than either imagined.

The movie taught me quite a lot about storytelling. Since I've been writing my own novels, I pay close attention to how movies and novels progress their stories. The main thing it taught me is that motivations for your villains is a nice to have, but not 100% necessary. You can just have them just being evil with almost no explanation - the success of the book and movie are proof of this. Another lesson that I've already learned from Taken with Liam Neeson - if you make the villains evil enough, your hero can do whatever they want to them and you will feel absolutely no sympathy.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Movie: Van Diemen's Land (4/5) (2009)

The cinematographer did an absolutely amazing job. The last time that I was THAT amazed at a movie's visuals was Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003) where every frame was like a 17th century painting.

In Van Diemen's Land a group of Irish, English and Scottish criminals engineer an escape from Macquarie Harbour, Tasmania (formerly known as Van Dieman's Land), an end-of-the-road place for men whose punishment is a lifetime of slavery. Their escape goes wrong and they end up running into the forest to escape British soldiers.

The camp fire scenes were amazingly lit - like worn paintings of faces in amber and black. The lighting techniques were repetitive, either a camp fire scene, a long, scenery shot or men walking in the forest, but so, so realistic. I was regularly in awe of the look and feel.

The movie had impact, a realism that is rare in film. The dirt under the fingernails, in the ears, on the skin, teeth and clothing looked right. At no point were you ever pulled from the movie - it surrounds you with the hunger and anxiety of the characters. The brutality is ultra-real and as far from being romanticized as is possible.

The story is simple. A story of escape and survival in the wilds, about desperate measures in harsh circumstances.

The character of Alexander Pearce narrates in Irish Gaelic, and the film makers decide to turn him him into an eloquent poet, a literary genius and philosopher, rather than just a common, murderous thug. It was the right choice to make Pearce narrate in something other than English and make his English rather poor as it heightens the tension and make Pearce even that much more of an outsider.

This is a brilliant but disturbing film that is amazing to watch. I want film makers to watch and learn from this film.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Movie: The Vintner's Luck (2/5 stars) (2009)

How would your life be different if an angel took interest in you and your passions, your desires?

Not that different apparently, except maybe you'd get involved in a gay relationship with said angel.

There were bits of brilliance, but overall, this movie is a lot of failure and very little success.

Things they did well:
- casting, the angel is creepy and androgynous, Sobran is a convincing, passionate wine maker, and many of the supporting roles are well done.
- some of the reveals about the angel were interesting
- ah... nothing else I can think of...

Things they did badly:
- While I'm a fan of Keisha Castle Hughes, I thought she was one of the weaker casts and was out of place the entire time
- The sex scenes were incredibly random. Rather than have a conversation, Sobran would just flip over, climb on top and pump away - not very sexy at all
- I kept expecting the angel's wings to just fall off
- The "sex scene" between Sobran and the angle was just dumb
- there is always the feeling that if the camera panned just 1 cm to the right or left, you would see some stage hand picking his nose. It felt quite shallow and fragile the entire time.

The most telling sign that this movie was dull? I kept wandering off to the kitchen for something to eat or drink without bothering to pause it. I sat through all of "Sunshine" with Ralph Fiennes. Believe me, I have patience.

I feel bad for Elizabeth Knox, the Wellington writer who wrote the original novel. She can't have been happy with this effort.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

TV Show: Lost (3/5 stars) (2004)

I have been a fan of lost since the beginning and I saw final episode this week. Lost has been there for so long, you know all the characters and they become like friends you look forward to running into each week. They won't be there any more.

At the same time, there is probably no way for the writers to successfully wrap up such a complex mess of mysteries and layers, backstabbing and lofty, noble enigmatic goals. I can vouch for that - they just didn't succeed. I'm sure there is a writer sitting back saying, "There. All done. All the mysteries explained.", but he would be wrong. They pretty much did not explain anything.

First of all - what the hell was the island? If you can't answer that, you've failed miserably. Does it exist in the real world? Can everyday, ordinary people actually get there? What was the smoke monster? What is the light at the centre of the island? Who was Jacob's mother? Where did she come from?

Too many loose threads for a successful ending. There is a bit of closure, in that you know where everyone is at the end and they are all happy and there's a warm, fuzzy feeling, but seriously, if you think that even a single mystery of the last six seasons was answered, then you are delusional.

Overall - fail. I'm sure the studio made a ton of cash on it though.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

TV series: V (2/5) 2009

Everyone remembers the original "V" with the lizard aliens and eating the guinea pigs with their gaping mouths etc.. etc...

The new series isn't a re-telling of the original. That's good, since you get a new experience out of it.

My overall impressions:

- I like the actors, both V and human are well played and well directed. Elizabeth Mitchell (Juliette from "Lost") plays Erica Evans, an FBI agent, Morena Baccarin (Inara from "Serenity"/"Firefly", and Adria from "Stargate SG-1") plays Anna, the alien leader. In many ways, the rest of the story is incidental and the story is one of mother against mother.

- The story is pretty interesting, i.e. forming a resistance against an overwhelming enemy

- The special effects, specifically the background shots on the mothership are really bad - laughably so. Very obviously fake

- For a resistance cell led by an FBI agent and a former special ops guy, they are incredibly incompetent, made worse by the incompetence of the aliens to let them get away with it. They are regularly meeting in public places, saying each others names over their cell phones also in public places, including the FBI office!, getting caught on camera and the list goes on. I would be scared letting these people head a resistance. Fortunately, it's all fiction and I'm sure it will work out in the end.

While I'm hopeful that the series will get better, I'm not holding my breath and I think season one was, at best, a mediocre start.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Movie: Iron Man 2 (3/5 stars) 2010

Robert Downey Jr. again plays playboy billionaire Tony Stark with the usual host of problems - what to do with his billions, the government wants to steal his stuff (the way-cool iron man suit), too many HOT chicks (Scarlett Johansson and Gwyneth Paltrow - both smoldering in this movie), the technology that is keeping him alive is killing him and some crazy Russian physics genius (Mickey Rourke) wants him dead to name a few.

I was quite worried at the beginning of this movie, with completely over the top death scene of the crazy Russian's dad, including the skyward scream (do they really do that any more?), but it slowly settled in and I enjoyed snappy dialog and a few laughs while watching super-tech (the iron man suit inside the attache case was probably the coolest) on display in the best do-it-yourself way.

The special effects were slick and well applied. It was certainly a guy movie (says my wife who actually loves guy movies), but then, lots of people are going just for that.

Not as good as the first - just more of the same really, but fun enough for a cheap night.