Sunday, September 30, 2012

District 9

Neil Blomkamp's District 9 was one of those movies that came out of nowhere and exceeded everyone's expectations. It was an August release from a first time director and was a science fiction movie. Most people were probably expecting Sci-Fi channel quality acting performances and story. This turned out to be one of the most well received movies of 2009 and is generally considered to be in the upper echelon of science fiction movies ever produced. There is nothing that is weak in this movie and that is the surprising part, you would figure from a first time director something would be lacking but there was no weak portions to the movie.

District 9 tells the story of Wikus van de Merwe, who is a representative for Multinational United (MNU)in South Africa. He is tasked with moving the Alien population living in Johannesburg to a camp 200km outside of the city. The aliens, also known as Prawns, landed over South Africa in 1982 and were forced to live in a slum called District 9 in the city of Johannesburg. As he is in the process of evicting the aliens, he is sprayed by a black liquid and begins to change. From that point it is a struggle for survival for Wikus and he has to battle the corporation he worked for, a group of bloodthirsty Nigerians, and the aliens he was trying to help.

The characters in the movie are all played by mostly unknown actors and this being their first chance at Hollywood success, they all seized the opportunity and did an amazing job. Sharlto Copley has this movie resting firmly on his shoulders and he does not falter for even a second throughout the course of the entire movie. He is so engrossed in the role that you can almost believe that the documentary film being shot in the movie is real. His character is real in the viewer's eyes and he is a man who for all of his faults is still trying to be a good man and do his job. You almost never see his wife and him together on screen together but you get the sense that they love each other and their relationship is what is really driving Wikus to do everything that he does in the movie. The all CG character Christopher Johnson, a prawn, was also phenomenal. The actor who played the role, Jason Cope, did a fantastic job of getting the audience to connect with the character even though we don't understand what he is saying except for what is written in subtitles. He is one of the only prawns that seems to think for himself and is trying to find a way off of the planet in order to rescue the remnants of his race. His journey coinciding with Wikus' is the most intriguing part of the movie because what starts off as a hugely adversarial relationship turns into one of shared survival and hope.

The special effects in this movie cannot be ignored as they are some of the best in a film to date. The success of CG effects are how seamlessly they can integrated into a movie and not distract you. The aliens in the movie are not pristine angel-like characters, they look like over-sized shrimp, thus the nickname, prawns. Each alien has their own distinct look and movement style which show the incredible amount of detail that was used in creating this film. It also doesn't hurt when you director has the backing of Peter Jackson and WETA. The alien weaponry is fucking brutal and the movie in no way shies away from show the gruesome effects the weapons have. You see people get ripped apart by the electricity guy, blown away by the concussion gun, and filled with holes by the alien version of a machine gun. The amazing thing about all of the effects in the movie is that you think that they were being done by practical means which happens to be quite the accomplishment in today's movie industry.

Neil Blomkamp is quite the talent and it surprises me that he is usually left out of the discussion in Hollywood when discussing the best young directors. This is one of the best debut film in history and his next movie Elysium is shaping up to be in the same class. If you have watched his original short Alive in Joburg and his Halo short movie, then you will have probably realized that all he needed was a bigger budget to create something truly special. I am so pumped for Elysium and I haven't seen any footage yet. Going off the fact that Disctrict 9 was incredible, and the amazing cast that he assembled for Elysium, I am sure that it will be a can't miss movie.

This is one of the best science fiction movies ever created and is one of my favorite movies of all time. Neil Blomkamp is going to be one of Hollywood's premiere directors in the next few years, mark my words. The combination of stellar special effects, story and realistic character made this movie a winner on every front. If you haven't seen this movie then you are doing yourself a disservice, go and see this movie right now. Watch it on Netflix, Amazon, Blu Ray, or pirate the damn thing. Just go and see it.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

End of Watch

I was pumped for End of Watch from the time that I first saw the trailer. It had the gritty cop movie trailer done perfectly and it also had Michael Pena and Jake Gyllenhaal, who are two of my favorite actors. The movie was written and directed by the same writer as Training Day, Harsh Times, The Fast and The Furious, and Dark Blue. So everything was in place for this movie to be a resounding success in every way possible. It turned out to be better than I had hoped and it was a really special movie.

End of Watch follows two police officers in the Los Angeles Police Department, Brian Taylor(Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala(Pena). They are two hot shots who are coming off an incident where they had to kill two suspects that opened fire on them while in pursuit in their squad car. At the same time both officers are dealing with major events in their personal lives. Mike's wife (Natalie Martinez) is pregnant with their first child and Brian is in his first committed relationship with Janet (Anna Kendrick). Over the course of several months they start to have run-ins with members of a Mexican drug cartel that is operating in Los Angeles. After the incidents with the cartel members, the officers are squarely put in the cross-hairs of the cartel and that is where the action takes off.

Lately I have been throwing around words such as "awesome" and "great" when it comes to acting performances and at times I may be slightly over exaggerating. This is one of the first times that I will use the word "special" when it comes to acting performances, because the performances given by Gyllenhaal and Pena are special. It would not surprise me if either or both of them received nominations for the bigger acting awards. Pena has had nominations for awards before but it seems like Gyllenhaal gets passed over because people think he is just another pretty boy actor. He has had a great string of movies over the last few years with Love and Other Drugs, Brothers, and Source Code.

The reason their performances are so great is the chemistry between the actors on-screen. Over the course of the movie, you really start to believe that these guys would take a bullet for each other and would die protecting each other if need be. The fact that they trained for the movie for five months together with the LAPD also helped with making the actions in the movie seem as realistic and plausible as possible. The relationships they have with their significant others in movie also grounds the characters in reality because instead of being stereotypical cops they are actually fully realized people, who are just like you and me.

This was one of the best movies that I have seen this year so far and easily ranks side by side with Training Day as my favorite "cop" movies of all time. The movie is worth going to see for the performances alone but it also has some really great action scenes as well. This is a movie that you need to go see right now instead of going to see the piece of shit that is The House at the End of the Street. I know I'll be seeing this movie again when it comes out on Blu Ray because it will be a release day purchase for me.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Godzilla: Half Century War #2

This is the second issue in this new Godzilla series that follows a Japanese soldier through several decades on his quest to destroy Godzilla. Where as the first issue focused on Japan's first encounter with the giant radioactive lizard, this issue focuses on the hunt for Godzilla during the Vietnam War. Godzilla has been tearing through Vietnam and Saigon is in his path and Ota (main character) is determined to stop it. The issue introduces a new unnamed monster that battle Godzilla and new questions about what drive Godzilla to do what it does comes up in the issue as well. Just like the first issue, the artwork is spectacular and the writing is top notch. This is one of the best new series of the year and is definitely in contention for mini-series of the year.

Godzilla is a fascinating character to base a comic series around because Godzilla is not an interesting character by itself. You really need to craft an interesting cast of characters that are either fighting alongside or against Godzilla. In the Half Century War mini-series the characters introduced are just fantastic and you have to wonder why they were never really able to do the same for any of the movies. This is a series that can be used as the foundation for the reboot of the Godzilla film series that is currently in the works. Make it have a gritty feel and you don't need to set in modern times.

The idea of tracking a single human character that is fighting against Godzilla for decades is just pure genius. You gt to see the over the top destruction that Godzilla brings and you bring in the human element and see how the destruction and the hunt effect the people on the ground. it is unfortunate that Godzilla became a joke in the movies with it fighting threats from outer space and have a child that looks like the retarded version of Baby from the television show Dinosaurs. Hopefully this series goes a long way to redeem this once awesome franchise and brings it back from the ashes.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Five-Year Engagement

I am a sucker for romantic comedies, and I am not afraid to admit it. There have been many that I have seen over the years and this was definitely one of my favorites alongside Forgetting Sarah Marshall and (500) Days of Summer. Jason Segel is easily my favorite actor and my perfect woman is Emily Blunt, so I was eagerly anticipating watching this movie. Unfortunately, I missed it while it was in theaters due to late nights at work but I finally got to watch it on Blu-Ray today.

The Five-Year Engagement tells the story of Tom (Jason Segel) and Violet (Emily Blunt), who are madly in love with each other and they are about to get married. They live in San Francisco, where Tom is a chef at a high end restaurant and Violet is studying to get her doctorate in psychology. She gets the opportunity to study at the University of Michigan and they decide to put the wedding on hold because they are both moving to Michigan. Tom is miserable there and Violet feels guilty for making him move from his job and this is where the cracks start to begin.

The truly great thing about the movie is that it really makes the relationship between Tom and Violet seem like a real life relationship. You get the chance to see how the characters evolve over the course of five years and how the prolonged engagement starts to wear on Tom, Violet, and their families. It starts out as a comedy and then starts to develop the dramatic elements when they move away and then blends the comedic/dramatic aspects in the third act to really make the film special. It also didn't hurt that the movie is hilarious and it even got me to shed the occasional tear during the more dramatic sequences. If a romantic comedy can get me to shed a few tears and laugh out loud, all during an hour-and-a-half span then it is a runaway success in my mind.

The chemistry between Blunt and Segel is fucking phenomenal and it really has to be because it is the driving factor of the entire movie. They just seem so natural together in every scene and they really sell the fact that they are madly in love with each other. Segel handles the switches between comedy and drama like a true expert and I like him more and more with each new movie he comes out with. He was great in The Muppets and he was even better in this.  Blunt is the picture of perfection in the movie switching between being sexy, funny, smart, and dramatic. She has the standout performance in the movie proving that she can handle comedy to compliment her already sharp drama skills.

Chris Pratt and Alison Brie are the main supporting character's playing Tom's best friend and Violet's sister. Pratt essentially plays a more crass version of Andy Dwyer from Parks and Recreation and Brie plays the needy younger sister of Violet's to perfection. it is wonderful to see these two getting some big screen comedic exposure because their shows are criminally under watched on the train wreck that is known as NBC. I can't wait to see what these two do in the future and I have the feeling they both have huge careers ahead of them in both TV and movies.

This is a great romantic comedy and is easily the best romantic comedy of the year to this point. Segel and Blunt were matched perfectly for this movie and they crushed it in every scene that they were in together. The last five minutes of the movie definitely made me shed a tear because I became so attached to the relationships that formed in the movie. This is definitely worth your time and is certainly worth a purchase as well.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman

The trailer for this movie really got me excited for it and that is the first step in hooking me. The talented cast is the thing that gets me hook, line, and sinker every time though. This movie has a seriously impressive cast comprised of Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Stewart, Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, NIck Frost, Ray Winstone, Toby Jones, and Eddie Marsan. That is one hell of a talented cast if you ask me and I was really looking forward to what they could do with the retelling of the Snow White story. 

Snow White and the Huntsman is a retelling of the classic children's story but is more in the vein of the Grimm's fairy tale version. Kristen Stewart stars as the titular character and she oddly does not disappoint in the role. Her character in this movie is basically the opposite of Bella from Twilight and it is a giant fucking relief to not have to see her pout on screen every five seconds. She transitions from prisoner to a powerful young woman over the course and Stewart does an excellent job in actually conveying emotion in this movie and she is solid in the action scenes as well. Hopefully she starts to transition into more of these roles in the future and shy away from shitty emotionless roles like the one she has in the Twilight series.

Hemsworth and Theron more than hold their own in the movie and actually for the most part carry the movie on their backs. Hemsworth is going to be a bankable star and this was his first shot at proving that and succeeded in every way. His character, the Huntsman, is not just a stock hero stereotype instead he is a layered hero that evolves over the course of the movie. The transformation from anti-hero to full blown hero is an interesting one for the character given his back-story that is described in the movie. Also to follow up on a previous point, I know Hemsworth headlined Thor but this is the first non-comic mainstream release where he is playing a primary character. He has about a dozen movies in development and he is playing a major role in each, so I wish him the best of luck.

Got a little off track in the last paragraph, but now we are on to Charlize Theron. She plays the Queen in this movie and absolutely CRUSHES it. Theron is perfect for this role because you need someone who is literally one of the most beautiful people in the world and you also need an actress with the acting ability to play this deeply disturbed character. The scenes with the Queen and the mirror are creepy due to the fact that she needs constant validation that she is the "fairest of them all", even when she has complete power over the surrounding kingdoms. She steals every scene she is in because she commands your attention with the way she carries herself on screen. Theron has has a hell of a year with Young Adult, Prometheus, and Snow White and the Huntsman.

The movie itself is extremely solid and as you can tell from the rest of the review I really liked the acting in the movie. The effects were well done and the story, while a classic, did not feel stale at any point and moved at a brisk pace. I wish more movies that came out this summer would have been this quality. This is a movie that is well worth your time and you should pick it up on DVD/Blu Ray as soon as possible. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Words

The Words is a movie that got my attention when I heard about the cast it would be featuring. Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Olivia Wilde, Dennis Quaid, J.K Simmons, and Ben Barnes star in this movie and from all indications from the cast list alone this should be a really strong drama. Then I saw the trailer and it looked like another substandard drama with a ton of drama clichés thrown in. For the most part that is exactly what this movie is an over complex piece of mediocre drama.

The Words tells the story of Clayton Hammond (Dennis Quaid), an author who has just released a book entitled, The Words. He is having a public reading of the book and while he begins to read out of his book, we transition to the story within the movie. The book centers on Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper), an aspiring writer living in New York City, and his girlfriend Dora (Zoe Saldana). Rory writes a book that is rejected by every publisher in New York and is completely dejected and about to quit writing. He finds a manuscript in an old briefcase that his wife bought him on their honeymoon in Paris. He copies the manuscript word for word and that is where the movie really takes off.

The cast in this movie is excellent and they do the absolutely best they can with the material they were given. Zoe Saldana proves that she can actually act and is not just another pretty face in the sea of pretty faces in Hollywood. Her chemistry with Bradley Cooper is what really drives the movie along and gives it its heart. Cooper also shows a lot of promise in one of his first dramatic roles in his career. He carries the movie on his back for a good portion of the movie and maybe this will lead to an increase in dramatic roles for him in the future. It is also always great to see Olivia Wilde in pretty much anything and she does a great job for the limited amount that she is in the film. It also doesn’t hurt that she happens to be one of the most beautiful women on the planet so it is always great to see her on-screen.The movie does have an awfully large amount of cliches in it and it really doesn’t have enough going for it story wise to overcome the clichés. We also don’t really get to know the characters in the movie because it switches perspectives regularly and you never really get to connect with any of the characters. For a drama this is one of the essential parts to being successful and the movie never really accomplishes that.

The movie does get a bit overly complex with the story within a story within a movie. It is kind of like Inception but with no action and a much less interesting story. The main story that followed Cooper and Saldana was engaging and the other two stories just seemed to be needlessly tacked on to make the movie seem “different”. The movie would have been much better had it just stuck with the main story and gotten rid of the secondary stories. The ending was pretty weak and seemed to be overly open ended to try and keep the movie in people’s minds after they left the theater. When the credits rolled it seemed like the audience was waiting for there to be an extra scene because nothing is really resolved at the end of the film. So in a way it was a mediocre, action-less version of Inception.  The story within the story part of the movie was also extremely weak and there is almost no connection with the characters in that part of the movie.

This is a very mediocre drama and you really shouldn’t be racing to go see this movie. If you like over dramatic, mediocre movies then you will love this movie. But if you want to see a great piece of drama then you may want to decide to skip this one.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Harvest- The Best Comic You've Never Heard Of

Harvest is easily one of the top 10 independent comics on the market right now, and the amazing thing is that it is only 2 issues in. I rarely see series like this that can make a fundamentally unlikable main character and make him a sympathetic protagonist in a few short pages. The main character Ben Dane is a habitual drug user and alcoholic, who also happens to be a brilliantly talented surgeon. The comic centers around his introduction into an illegal organ harvesting operation for the rich and famous, where CEOs and the rich and elite can get organs they need for a high fee.

 At the beginning of the series he is coerced into saving the life of a Yakuza boss' daughter and the boss has complete faith in his ability as a surgeon but Ben constantly doubts himself. He feels that because his medical license was revoked that he is no longer worthy or capable of saving people's lives. That is where his story of redemption begins and his long trek out of the darkness begins as well. He is goaded into working for the organ harvesters because they promise that he will be able to put his life back together and regain what he once lost. Ben is constantly experiencing hallucinations and they mainly steer his moral compass. His life is so fucked that he feels that there is nothing from his old life that is worth fighting for and his hallucinations of a young child that follows him around is trying to right his ship. He has a change of mind after going back to check on a patient that willingly donated a kidney and found that he had been harvested by the group for every usable organ against his will. This leads to a sudden change for Dr. Dane and he realizes that the group needs to be stopped at all costs. This is all just in the first two issues.

This is one of the few comics series that I would actually condone being turned into a television show/ full length movie because the source material would not be hard to translate to live action. Harvest is perfectly suited for a HBO/Showtime-like network and I feel it would be a huge hit if done correctly. But as it stands right now, Harvest happens to be one of the best comics on the market and I'm sure that the rest of the five issue series will follow in the same vein of quality of the first two issues. This is a series that should not be missed and should be read by all comic book fans. if you do not normally read comics this would be a great place to start because it is a self contained mini-series and it is grounded in reality instead of having superheroes running around everywhere.