Category Archives: movie review

Twice must you see Star Wars Episode 7

Yesterday I went to see Star Wars.

And the first time was awesome because my son was there. And at the same time, the experience was horrible because I kept worrying that it would suck. Another Jar Jar Binks would appear on screen, or we would learn of mitichlorines¬†or ….

That somehow, JJ Abrahms would destroy the franchise for the last time.

And through the entire film, I was stressed.

And at the end, there was a relief. The film was fun.

So of course, I went to see it a second time. And the second time was a pleasure. Because of the stress of it sucking had gone.

See this movie.

The first time was at 3:30, the second at 11 in IMAX 3D. The 3D effects were lame, the audio was awesome. Recommend the IMAX version of the film.

I was one of those old farts

My wife and I went to see, unfortunately, Ender’s Game at the movies. We chose to see it while Nicholas was at daycare during my one month off between jobs.

Turns out that some local Catholic high-school also decided to see the movie as well.

One of the previews of the movie was ‘Grudge Match’.

There are a couple of scenes in that clip that left my wife and me rolling on the floor with laughter. Some of them are homages to Rocky I-VI, some of them are references to what it means to be old and to try and do one last sporting event. By the end of the clip we’re super excited and laughing and having a great time.

And we’re the only people in the movie theater laughing. Every other person is looking at this preview confused. The silence was … well … defeaning. The under 13 set that had come to the movie could not figure out why those two people were laughing so hard…

Sigh.

Getting old.

The under 13 set got their revenge. They found ‘Ender’s Game’ to be far more entertaining than we did. Something about not having teenage angst, I suppose.

I guess we got 2:25 of fun, they got 2 hours…

Movie Review: Indian Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Tan-tanata-tan-tan-tan, tan-tanata-tan-tatan-tan-tan!

He’s back, he’s grayer, he’s older, but he’s still Indy.

I thoroughly enjoyed this well done film.

I must admit I was a little bit nervous that the guy who had Geedo shot first in the re-release of Star Wars, and the guy who replaced the guns with walkie-talkies would destroy this film, but somehow, they didn’t.

What was special about the movie was that unlike the last two elements which were pastiche’s of themselves, this film managed to go back to the essence of the film which was an homage to genre matinee films.

In this case, the genre involved Soviets, paranormal events, UFO’s and a lot of running in the jungle.

What made the movie, beyond the fine acting, the well crafted albeit silly plot,  was the decision by Spielberg and Lucas to not just use green screen. Many of the scenes were augmented with computer graphics, but the fact that the actors, for the most part, interacted with a three dimensional world, rather than imaginary objects in front of a green screen, improved the acting and the visual appeal of the movie.

Cate Blanchett continues to demonstrate why she is a goddess of acting, stealing every scene she was in.

Harrison Ford, continues to prove that if the role calls for a little bit of  acting, and a tough guy, even at 64 he can do the job.

For those who care, a few elements of the overall arc of the four movies are resolved.

Movie Review: Iron Man

Amazingly, I saw that film twice.

Amazing because every other film adaptation of comic books, with the possible exception of Batman Begins, has been a colossal disappointment. The writers, producers and directors show so little affinity with the source material that they manage to destroy the film and the franchise in one fell swoop. In many cases you have to wonder, did they even bother to read the comic book or do they consider the material beneath them?

Comic books are silly. They are stupid. They are not meant to be deep. They are meant to be fun. The good guys are good. The bad guys bad. And people running around in silly suits is normal. These are stories of myth. This is not literature. This is not deep.

So I was shocked to watch a film that was done well, that was faithful to the source material, that understood the source material, that understood the main character, and was unashamed of the source material.

As an example every version of the costume looks like a version that appeared in the comic book. The origin story is pretty darn close to the actual adapted to another dirty and unwinnable war American soldiers are dying in.

Of course, only after I recovered from the shock of the experience did I learn that the reason this happened was because Marvel took over complete ownership of the process that produced the films. Bravo Stan Lee for protecting our heroes!.

Kudos must also go to Robert Downey Jr who put on a masterful performance as Anthony Stark.

Movie Review: Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay

I will never get back the two hours I spent watching that movie.

On the one hand Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay made me laugh. I mean, it actually made me laugh. There was the usual collection of ethnic, sexist, drug, sex jokes. And some of the jokes were actually ridiculously funny.

And this film was about half a scene from being a porno.

So it was almost worth the money and time I spent. I got to laugh, and I got to see scantily clad women.

On the other hand, the original was brilliant in how it skewered ethnic American stereotypes and the pervasive racism in our society.

This film was not that brilliant. It tried to challenge some conventions, but it lacked the visceral punch of the original. At times it felt tired, and worse, at times the actors looked tired of the film.

So whereas Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle is in my DVD collection, this film will not have that honor.

Movie Review: Knight Rider 2008

Alone at home watching on my TiVo, the made-for-tv move Knight Rider.

Image:Knight 3000 KITT.PNG

I didn’t think it was possible to be both worse and better than the original at the same time.

And yet the writers of this show achieved the impossible.

The part they nailed was the peculiar relationship between the driver and car. Ironically they nailed that in ads and not during the actual show.

The parts that are unquestionably better are the special effects.

The parts that are worse is the acting and the story line. The cheese effect was so high that I am darned certain that years were shaved off of my life.

Of course, when I say worse, I mean it in a relative sense. Any show from the 80’s will be worse than a show produced now. However, given the standards we have for today, this was relatively worse.

And what was really bizarre was that unlike the original show that was clearly targeted towards youngish boys, this show chose to have some pretty adult material. For example, in the opening segment we have Sydney Tamiia Poitier,

playing the role of  FBI agent Carrie Rivai, who is showering off the salt after a day of surfing, and we get a real close-up of her barely covered chest. And just when it could not get any weirder, she’s chatting with her female one-night stand whose mostly naked. And just when you thought you’d seen it all, to prove this is a straight person’s show, we see Michael Traceur in bed with woman, when another scantily clad female joins him a few seconds later.

And fine even if I could get over the sex, there was your usual assortment of  over-the-top violence.

I’m not a prude, but this level of sex and violence, was odd.

And, come-on, Michael Traceur is Michael Knight’s son?

I don’t think this will be back…

Movie Review: Pan’s Labyrinth

A fantastic cross of For Whom the Bell Tolls

bell tolls cover

and The Chronicles of Narnia.

chronicles_of_narnia.jpg

Set in Spain in 1944, the film explores childhood, sacrifice, war, virtue, and civil strife. Unlike the other film I reviewed Flag of Our Fathers, this film has no axe to grind, no point to shove down my throat. Instead it looks at the horror of the world and tries to understand it a little bit better.

The film is about two parallel tales. The first is about a woman who marries a Captain in the Spanish army who is tasked with eliminating some Red revolutionaries who are hiding in the mountains. We follow her struggles, and the struggle between the Reds and the Spanish army. And like all such civil wars, there is blood, there is torture, there is heroism and there is perverted sense of duty on both sides. The second is about a little girl, the daughter of the mother from a first marriage, who is caught in a dream world of her own where she is a Princess of a magical fairy kingdom and the only way to return to her kingdom is to perform three tasks set by Pan. The two tales intersect repeatedly and ultimately tragically.

As an aside, I was watching the film, and thinking to myself how tragic the events of the film were. On the one hand, I am supposed to feel sorry for the Reds. On the other hand, I am tempted to thank God that butchers like the Captain existed to protect us from the Reds. In the end, I decided, that the misguided faith in the communist ideal destroyed what was best in both worlds. Both the Reds and the Fascists were idealists, visionaries, and patriots. And of the two, the Reds were the most misguided believing a myth that they hoped would somehow make the world a better place. All the Reds did was destroy their country, destroy themselves, and inspire the other side to extremes of violence. And if the last 50 years of history are any guide, of the two factions, it was for the best that the Reds lost. So not only do you feel sorry for their misguided ambitions, you feel relieved in knowing that they lost because there is no better world at the end of the rainbow.

This is a great film. Of the two films, The Departed, which I have also seen and Pan’s Labyrinth, I would have voted for Pan’s Labyrinth if Scorsese was not involved in The Departed. Perhaps the director of this film will be remembered as the better film that lost the year they decided to give Martin Scorsese the award he deserved for so many of his other films.

Movie Review: Flags of Our Fathers

The irony of the 21st century is that the we can look back on the one war this country agreed had to be fought (WWII) and be disgusted with how America fought it.

In Flags of Our Fathers Clint Eastwood chooses to explore the battle of Iwo Jima. The intent is to understand why people fight, how people fight and how we exploit images of that fighting for our own purposes.

The good part of the film is that it has a very accurate portrayal of the battle. As an amateur student of the second world war, the battle of Iwo Jima is both significant, apocalyptic and difficult to understand. Significant because the loss of life convinced the US military high command and its political leadership that any invasion of Japan would be devastating. Apocalyptic because the Japanese tenacious defense of the island was what opened the door to the nuclear bomb. Difficult to understand because the military value was suspect, and the nature of the battle seems to be reduced to platitudes of the form: hand to hand combat, etc.

While the film stayed focussed on the battle the film was gripping, and interesting if you find that kind of stuff gripping and interesting. There is the usual senseless mayhem and deaths. The bullets flying everywhere. The characters dying faster than you can remember their names. The reluctant and absurd heroism.

Until you see the rock that the Marines had to secure to defend the beaches, you can not really understand what the term “hand-to-hand” combat on Iwo Jima meant. Trapped on the beaches, their skin their only defense, they had to effectively eliminate a natural made pill box that had been entrenched over the past two years. If the film had just been a movie about the battle, it would have been tiresome movie to the general public but of great interest to those who cared about the battle.

Unfortunately the movie wanted to be a critique of the US political establishment. Clint Eastwood wanted us to understand how the Government, shock and horrors, in a time of war will do anything it can to exploit the masses to get them to support the war.

Really! Shame on them!
I mean, the government in a time of war will not engage in a nuanced debate over what needs to be done?

Shocking!

Clint Eastwood’s film is part of Hollywood’s polemic against the current war in Iraq. What makes this movie particularly tiresome and irritating is that to prove the venality of Bush and Cheney, he decides to demonstrate that even our greatest leaders were just as loathsome in their exploitation of the credulous public. By proving that Truman and FDR lied for political gain (raising money for a war against a government that was hell bent on controlling all East Asia) he attempts to reinforce his basic argument that:

See FDR and Truman were liars! So if those great men, snicker, were liars, will you know believe me that Bush and Cheney are lying to you?

And all I can say is:

Really?

Clint Eastwood’s point is that the first casualty of war is the truth! Thank goodness he told us! Because no one else has ever said it. I mean what was Samuel Johnson in 1758 trying to say:

Among the calamities of war may be jointly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages.’ (from The Idler, 1758)

Wait, wait I know:

The truth is the first casualty of war!

It’s a sad statement that Hollywood propaganda is so obvious and so insulting. Clint Eastwood insults my intelligence by making such an obvious statement and he ruins a great war film by making such an obvious statement. Clint Eastwood further insults my intelligence by equating the actions taken in WWII with the actions taken in Iraq. The wars were not the same. The circumstances were not the same. The stakes were not the same and the lies were no where near the same.
This film could have been a fun movie about the sacrifice and heroism of Iwo Jima. Instead it was a pulpit for a poor preacher to pass on what he thought to be revelation but in reality was common wisdom.

Spend your time and money elsewhere.

Movie review: 300

When I was growing up my aunt Helen, on my mother’s side of the family, felt it was her personal obligation to make me a proud Greek. I was brought up with tales of the glory of Athens and the heroism of Greeks. We, Greeks, I was told had withstood centuries of invaders and preserved our essential Greekness. Of the stories, four stood out. The first was the story of how General Metaxas told the Italian Ambassador: No, when asked if Greece would become a protectorate of Italy in 1940. The second was the Persian defeat at Salamis by the Athenians. The third was Leonidas’ response to Xerxes demand that he give up his weapons: Molon Lave (translation: come and take them). The fourth was during the Greek war of independence the phrase: Better one hour free than a hundred a slave. These are the cherished stories of my youth. And there was a time, in my life, that they inspired me.

So when I saw the film being previewed I was filled with dread. I am not so demanding that the film be a documentary. After all 300 is supposed to be entertainment and the true facts of what happened are unknowable. I was hoping for two things: to be entertained and the film be at list true to the spirit of the tale. After The further adventures of Hercules, Xena: The Warrior Princess, Troy and Alexander the Great that seemed a ridiculously high bar.

On both accounts, entertainment and veracity, the film exceeded my expectations.

The film is fun. It’s a good old fashioned over-the-top blood fest. There is the usual collection of ridiculously attired villians, scantily clad heroes, music, and slow-motion decapitations. There is the usual collection of witty heroic one-liners (including Molon Labe). There is some T and A, but I think the female and male gay population will enjoy more of the T and A than the straight male community.

The film is mostly true to the spirit of the tale and to the Spartans. The Spartans really did throw the disfigured and maimed children down wells. They really did take the children into camps at the age of seven. They really did fight as a phalanx. Their wives really did say: Come back carrying or on your shield when the men left for battle. The battle did really last three days. The Spartans did thwart the Immortals. A solitary Spartan did leave the battle to tell the tale.

As a Greek brought up on the stories of Leonidas the story rang true.

However, there was one fact that irritated me. Now remember, I am an Athenian. And in my version of the story, Leonidas’ heroic defeat was important because it bought the Athenian Navy enough time to trap the Persians at Salamis. And it was at Salamis that the Persian invasion was defeated. The battle of Platea was just some mopping up of the remnants of Xerxes army. Furthermore, from my perspective the victory of the Athenian fleet was what created democracy, Leonidas’ victory created militarism.

In this movie version of the story, Leonidas’ defeat is followed by a Greek victory in Platea. We are meant to believe that it was the Spartan war machine that defeated Xerxes. There is no mention of the Athenians and their defeat of Xerxes’ Navy.

sigh

In spite of the omission of Athenian role, I strongly recommend the film.