Zchill in his natural habitat; animation.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Night at the Museum 2: The War on Knowledge

I was fortunate enough to see Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. Now I have to say I was a fan of the first one. It was fun with an interesting concept. Not exactly Citizen Kane, but to be fair Citizen Kane doesn't appeal to the same audience that Night at the Museum does. That being said the sequel was entertaining up to a point and then my brain short circuited. I'll get to that in a second. Summary first.

Ben Stiller plays the same character from the first film, but far more successful. He's an entrepreneur and has invented a glow in the dark flashlight that seems pretty cool until you remember that most cell phones are brighter than the surface of the sun (that kids is called exaggeration), which renders his invention useless but despite his crappy product people are buying and he is successful. This movie has jokes. Anyway on a break from his busy schedule he goes to visit the museum to find that the exhibits were being replaced with digital exhibits and that the old exhibits were being shipped to the Smithsonian. Which means that all those exhibits at the Smithsonian will be coming to life. Yep sequels have to be bigger and better. Anyway Hank Azaria and a squad of evil guys decide to be mean so Ben Stiller decides to have a Battle at the Smithsonian. It seemed inevitable this would happen.

What I liked: I know, I kept you in suspense a few paragraphs back, but patience young Jedi, first things first. I liked the comedic moments between fellow museum guards Ben stiller and Jonah Hill. They had a nice chemistry of comedy, it was a nice little cameo and a chance for what it seems like improvisation. Good stuff. Also Hank Azaria does a great bit belittling one if the most feared creations of the 20th century: Darth Vader, and it was hilarious. Really all said and done those were the two genuinely funny moments in this comedy and would be great as standalone pieces on YouTube.

What I didn't like: okay like I said earlier there was one piece in the movie that bugged me to no end.. When Ben Stiller goes to tell the little bobblehead Einsteins that he needs help with a riddle they give him a lame hieroglyphics joke. That didn't bother me, what did was that they said oh the answer is pi then everyone of them decided to arbitrarily stop pi at the same place. This gets pretty intense here for me as pi doesn’t end. It’s an irrational number, and in ignoring that the writers declared war on knowledge. pi is usually rounded off at 3.14 and I wouldn't have minded so Much if that was the case, however they stopped at 6 digits. Which derides pi and people who obsess about memorizing pi to the thousandth digit. It goes deeper, they missed out on a joke there too, what if the little Einstiens just kept going? Like for the length of the movie hounding an unwilling Ben Stiller about all the decimal places of pi there are. Comedic potential wasted. *sigh* it really is just lazy writing at this point and that little math error turned my brain on, leaving me not enjoying the movie properly. Why does General Custer remember what happened to him after his last stand? How can Ben Stiller leaving his cell phone in a photograph start the cell phone company Motorola? Also there was no one actual Motorola as the movie would leave you to believe. I looked it up since I was sure the writers were just damned lazy and sure enough Motorola was started by some guy named Galvin *grumbles under breath*.

Look the point is a nice little forgetful movie took a turn straight into stupid town. It may not have been the pi thing for you it may have been some other part that didn't make sense, like Abraham Lincoln making a mistake and then claiming he hadn’t cause he never lies, but it was really just poorly written and I think that no amount of acting can save such a mess.

Watch this if you liked the Transformers sequel. They both made no sense and I'm sure that Michael bay has included math errors in his many masterpieces. If you would like to be entertained and have fun math tidbits too watch “Futurama,” not a movie but still funny. Oh and if you want to see a bizarre tale of obsession with math that puts my small gripe with this movie to shame catch Pi. Darren Aronofsky just released Black Swan recently and his first movie Pi has been a cult classic. Plus it correctly states that pi is an irrational number.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Waking Life (what is this movie?)

This movie is about, and I'm not kidding, a guy walking around and
talking topeople about various deep topics. It's like being in a
philosophy class, but it's animated, so I guess it's like being in
philosophy class on acid. To start off, I hate philosophy. I'm more
of a math person. With philosophy, you get a bunch of people trying
to make sense of the universe. Math is constant. Also, it's a bit
pretentious, which I wouldn't mind so much if it didn't come off as
preachy. Here's the trailer.

What I liked: the animation was done using roto-scoping, so it's
fun to look at. It was visually interesting, but my mind was glazing
over at the
ridiculous amount of philosophy going on. I really enjoyed
the characters talking about movies and how they aren't really meant
for storytelling. I don't agree, but they brings up good points. I don't
think this movie was my cup of tea.

What I didn't like: If I'm not a fan of philosophy then I'm not going to
enjoy animated people talking about philosophy am I? Also, there wasn't
much of plot. Some guy keeps dreaming within a dream (everyone knows
there's only 3 levels then limbo. He may be dead; it gets brought up a
few times in the movie but since it's in a philosophical sense, it's not
really a spoiler, just more of a hypothesis. Parts of the writing were
either bad or bad on purpose to make it seem like it was good. It just
ended up being bad. Let me give you an example:

Coffee-shop lady: What are you writing?
Frustrated Author:A novel.
Coffee Shop Lady: What's the story?
Frustrated Author:There's no story. It's just... people, gestures,
moments, bits of rapture, fleeting emotions.In short,the greatest stories
ever told.

Agh! I hate that exchange! So much! It's not edgy, it's stupid! This is
where the movie lost me.

On another note, this movie was made before the Bush/Gore election. So
you didn't really get the topics that crop up in modern filmmaking,
especially in the independent scene. There was a vacuum of things to
talk about so they made a highly philosophical movie. It's kind of the
same thing with Fight Club and The Matrix--not that Fight Club is
philosophical. That had more of a tone of a lost generation trying
to find meaning since they didn't have a war to fight or a common enemy
(It's said in the movie quite blatantly, and I agree) There really is
a noticeable tonal shift that's evidenced in movie history. After the
Watergate scandal, movies got more cynical. In the Depression, there
were a lot of great comedies. WWII brought us the film noir, which
continued into the 50s. Movies are very much a product of their time.
This movie was a product of the brief time that existed after the
Clinton/Lewinsky fervor died down and before the Bush/Gore election came
along. It was released in March of 2001, and based on animation and
post-production schedules, this is a 90s movie. People thought the
world was going to end with Y2K. In that context the movie works.
Nowadays, it doesn't seem like we have the time to spend on this.

Why should you watch this movie? If you thought Inception was a
bit mindless and want to explore deeper philosophical implications
of the dream world, this movie is for you.

Why should you skip this movie? If philosophy or lack of a coherent
plot frustrates you, skip this movie. I would really just skip this
and watch Inception personally. It's less preachy.

What about recent releases Zchill?

The Social Network looks promising. Let Me In is a bit too shot for
shot like the original
Let the Right One In. I'm looking forward to
, but it's looking far sillier than it initially did, so I don't
really know anymore. I also have another blog on the way too. Until then!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Three for the Price of One!!!

Okay so I'm trying something new here. I saw 3 movies each with a different style of movie making and I'm going to try to do a compare and contrast, and then probably compare and contrast again as I'm doing 3 movies.

The Contenders: In this corner from famed director of Back to the Future, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Robert Zemeckis brings us the cold dead eyes of Beowolf!
In the second of our weird, three cornered arena (just go with it) veteran director of M*A*S*H (the movie) and Short Cuts (which is like Magnolia, but with 100% less Tom Cruise and 99% more Robert Downey Jr.), Robert Altman brings us his final film: A Prairie Home Companion!
And the in the final corner from the mind of Charlie Kaufman, who wrote Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malcovich, and Adaptation, his directorial debut Synecdoche, New York!

Okay weird movies to watch right? Yeah well They were at the library I suppose I don't know, but I didn't want to skip one of them since they all had their merits and they had creative people behind them, let's break it down by the director movie combo shall we?

Beowolf: Robert Zemeckis is really mired in the motion capture technology so much so that he can no longer make quality movies. Seriously no one else is using Mo-Cap to make movies anymore, it's used primarily in video games. That's where this movie fails, it's like a video game cutscene for an hour and a half with a bizarre ending. Robert Zemeckis needs to stop making these types of movies. Nobody really likes to see the uncanny valley when they watch CGI movies ( I erased animated as there was very little actual animation in this movies).
Pros: The movie certainly was polished, and there were camera angles that you can't normally achieve so it was visually interesting.
Cons: Creepy eyes. Spend a couple bucks and make the characters emote with their eyes. Also when there was yelling or emotion it was just sad to see the limitation on the puppets.

A Prairie Home Companion: Robert Altman directed MASH seriously I think he's got a good pedigree. Apparantly I haven't seen a lot of his movies, and he's one of those that was just a legend in hollywood. He really does the ensemble really well and this movie is no exception.
Pros: Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep really have a great midwestern accent and play well together as sisters. Woody Harrelson and John C Reilly are great as comedic cowboys, and Kevin Kline is great as usual. He really is a comedic genius. Great cast in a fun movie.
Cons: Lindsey Lohan is in it. Yeah. She actually bullied her way into it, and I suppose it'll be the last decent movie that she'll be in. She's a crack whore, and will never change. If she gets a major movie again I will be surely surprised. Also the story was just about the radio show and was pretty much as exciting as watching your radio during a broadcast. Not really a page turner.

Synecdoche New York: Almost everyone has seen Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, this is a different beast entirely. It's kind of like inception reversed, which is to say that dream logic exists in this man's reality and he goes deeper and deeper inside the rabbit hole. He literally builds a city in a stage within a stage within a stage within a city. kind of like a dream within a dream.
Pros: Philip Seymour Hoffman does a great job getting progressively older and more pathetic. He is a man wracked with regret. The story resonates in a weird way that I can't really put my finger on. It was sad and depressing, but it has a positive spin on it.
Cons: This is anti-escapism. Nothing about this movie is about forgetting your troubles, and if that is not your movie style steer clear. Even if you like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, this movie just shares the weird concept, but delves deeper and makes you more depressed.

Which one to watch? Skip Beowolf and watch Lord of the Rings, it has a better story and better acting, and is not directed in a gimmicky way. If you want to watch a more disappointing version of Lord of the Rings, or you want feel that video games are way too interactive for you watch this. If you're a fan of Meryl Streep, Lilly Tomlin, Woody Harrelson, or Kevin Kline, A Prairie Home Companion is worth it. If you don't want to watch a movie about the radio Robert Altman has made a lot of ensemble pieces that are worth checking out. I don't have anything in particular. Synecdoche New York is a more depressed version of Eternal Sunshine, thematically speaking of course. If movies are only about escapism don't watch this, watch Hamlet 2, it's like if this movie were done as a comedy.

So who won the battle here? I guess it's a draw really. Just three creative people trying to tell different stories. And I got to write about them all in one blog! So it looks like you won too!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Selling Out

Nicolas Cage is pretty good at acting. He's even better at selling out. I tried to defend him a few weeks ago, but that never really worked. I think his winning an Oscar was merely step one on the road to selling out. Why am I so harsh on him? Well, I saw The Weather Man recently and was kind of impressed again at his acting. Which happens, I really did like him in Leaving Las Vegas, and Adaptation was great in its own quirky way. But his career isn't defined by those handful of movies in which he acts: it's in the National Treasures and Ghost Riders... you know the movies he sells out in. Let's go...

What I liked: It wasn't a badly told story. But then again, it wasn't great. The director is kind of mired in mediocrity. Who directed this, you ask? Pirates of the Caribbean's Gore Verbinski. Yeah. I had fun with those movies for the most part, though I had to turn off large sections of my brain to do it. Johnny Depp is kind of the only reason to watch them. Right, tangent over! So, this movie was decently told about an awkward weather man! (That's crazy right? How can a weather man be awkward, they're so friendly!) Honestly, there wasn't a lot to like about this. It was a standard story with Nick Cage acting against type (by acting), just reminding us that he can act but he chooses not to act. This is like a big middle finger to moviegoers: "I'd rather sell out and name my first born son Kal-El!" Crazy.

What I didn't like: Well, the movie was riddled with product placements. This isn't really that big of a deal, as most of it is seen negatively, but the products are mentioned by name, repeatedly. Just when it seems like Nicholas Cage is actually going to act after being a squinting action star, he surprises no one by making sure the movie would get him paid. He has completely sold out, folks. When he turns 50 and is more gray and can no longer be an action hero anymore, maybe he'll try to regain some prestige. As it stands, this year's The Sorcerer's Apprentice (live action Fantasia spin-off? WTF?) was kind of a bomb. I guess we'll see.

Watch this if you like Michael Caine enough to see him in a supporting role. He's good in it, and this movie isn't terrible, it's just forgettable. Also, if you doubt that Nick Cage can act, but don't want to go back further than five years to prove it, this is for you.

Watch this instead: I don't know, this is like if Napoleon Dynamite were a drama. Also, this movie reminded me of Falling Down--which is weird, as I haven't even seen it. Really, there is no point to this movie. It's a bunch of things that happen to a decently likable guy. I've got it! Watch A Serious Man. It's directed by the Coen Brothers, so there is some talent behind the movie. It has the same themes and the same kind of non-story, but is presented in a much better context. Trust me. I knew I saw a movie that was similar to this, I just couldn't place it.

Okay, no one really impressed me in this movie.

Nick Cage: is not an action star.

Michael Caine: is Alfred in the Batman movies.

Product Placement: has appeared in a number of movies. Check out The Italian Job (remake), it's got a huge billboard of a drink that they no longer make. True story.

Bottom line: this is a ho-hum movie.

Also, I've been away for a bit as my interests have shifted and I'm more focused on school at the moment. But I've found a balance, and I like writing about movies, so I'm going to continue.

Because this is the internet I'm ending with a meme:

Monday, August 23, 2010

Second Impressions: Gattaca

So to get it out of the way, yes I'm talking about a movie that I've seen before. So that means I like it, right? Well, yes I bought it, so of course I like it. But that's not what this blog is all about. I don't do synopses that's not my style. I will provide you with a trailer since that seems doable.

The trailer and the narration make it seem a lot crappier than it is, but you get the drift. It's a futuristic sci-fi noir, which in some ways you would think wouldn't work, but the meshing of the past and future really make for good watching. I am a huge fan of the design choices in this movie-- not quite art deco (which I do enjoy quite a bit), but more of a 50s and 60s style which pervades every aspect of the world they live in. You have pompadoured men and classy ladies, (well, lady) in a movie that could take place in the fifties if it weren't for the whole genetic engineering aspect of the movie. This paragraph ends now!

What I liked: This is a movie tailor-made to my sensibilities. It features a ton of futuristic renewable energies (electric vehicles, parabolic mirrors which focus the sun, heat water, generate steam, push turbines, generate electricity. Science is fun!) and like I previously mentioned, it just looked nice, what with the design of the movie and all. What I initially liked about the movie was the question; "How can an imperfect man exist in a land of perfection?" It's something that really everyone can understand as we all have various genetic time bombs waiting to strike. The main character is trying to get by living with his imperfections in a world where if you haven't gotten genetic engineering you're lower class and out of luck. And like all sci-fi, it's an allegory about modern times: don't judge people on things they can't control, with the simpler and less sci-fi theme of determining your own destiny. Great stuff. Really.

What I didn't like: Uma Thurman is kind of hit or miss to me. She wasn't on her game and seems to be off her game anytime Tarantino isn't directing. She certainly makes for tasty eye candy in the movie and I guess that counts for something, but I just wasn't as sold on her performance as well as the other characters. That and she essentially plays "The Girl" which is to say she isn't really essential to the plot other than to have the main character fall in love with her. In fact, the future seems to be kind of a sausage fest, which I guess would make sense for how the world would be if we could choose anything about our children. Just ask China.

So to recap: I love a lot of this movie: design, the way they depict the future, the story, the themes, the music(I didn't mention it but I am now; it contributes nicely to the pathos), and most of the performances. I didn't really like Uma Thurman's performance or the lack of female roles in the movie. At least Ethan Hawke didn't meet his girlfriend in the kitchen.

I like this movie better than Dark City, with which it shares a common element of a noir-based future. I never liked Kiefer Sutherland's role in that movie though. He has a weird speech pattern that I wasn't too thrilled with. Uma Thurman's performance is much more watchable. But if you thought that Dark City was too out there for you and you want a more grounded movie, make sure to watch Gattaca.

If you don't like sci-fi or any of the performers in the movie, I say it's your loss. This really is fantastic and understated as a movie. I'm not even going to recommend a replacement movie for you. That's how I roll.

The performers:

Ethan Hawke: My sister loves the Before Sunrise and After Sunset movies. I haven't seen them. He was really good in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead and Training Day.

Uma Thurman: Like I said, kind of hit or miss. Loved Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill. Then again, she was Poison Ivy in the awful awful awful Batman and Robin. Oh, but her screen debut of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen was a really great original 80s fantasy by the great Terry Gilliam.

Alan Arkin: He won a much deserved Oscar for Little Miss Sunshine, and was also in the In-Laws (the original) and most recently he was in Get Smart.

Jude Law has been in a lot of movies. Really a lot. You shouldn't need help with this. He was in Sherlock Holmes recently. I should check that out.

Since I raved about Earnest Borgnine last blog, I feel like mentioning that he doesn't die in this movie.

Any suggestions? Let me know!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Classic Movies: Escape from New York

Welcome to a new post thing I'm trying out where I talk about the merits of a classic movie that I haven't seen before. Escape from New York is on display tonight, mainly because I just got it from Netflix. Well, only because I got it from Netflix.

First let's get something out of the way. In the opening few minutes, terrorists hijack Air Force One and ram it into the skyline of Manhattan. It was eerie and upsetting, but it was a prison island so no one really cared. Then to get to the island, Snake Plisskin (Kurt Russel) had to land his glider on the World Trade Center. It was a lot of weird coincidences that audiences of the time probably thought nothing of, but it makes the movie have a bit of a sinister edge today. Also the scene where Plisskin goes to see the wreckage of the plane was a bit preposterous, as there wouldn't be any wreckage left.

What ages the movie: Well, this movie was made in 1981, referenced a huge spike in crime in New York in 1988, and was set in 1997 (ironically the same year Air Force One came out). So yeah, everything in this futuristic movie was set in the past and I'd say that ages it a bit. It shares the same kind of soundtrack that has really done no favors to the 80s as a decade. Who thought heavy use of the synthesizer in a score was ever going to be a good idea? Decade without taste. No taste at all. Anyway...

What makes this movie a classic: It's pretty much a simple formula in a sci-fi concept. A man has to go and escort the MacGuffin to safety. A solid story with an interesting Robin Hood like lead, but with a cooler name: Snake Plisskin. That sounds pretty cool. Plus he has an eye patch. Which you would think would hinder him in the many battle sequences he's involved in, what with the lack of depth perception, but it doesn't. Okay so cool lead? Check. Interesting story? Check. Cool photography? Check. It's actually part of the movie I really admired. The movie was shot with very little light, making for a spooky ambiance.

What makes all movies classic for real though is people watching it then coming back for more. I enjoyed this movie quiet a bit(even though the pacing was a tiny bit slow for modern moviegoers tastes), but I don't think I'm going to watch it again and again.

Watch this if you liked The Warriors. It has a very similar dark Manhattan look to it, and was made around the same time period when I guess it looked like Manhattan was doomed to be a crime ridden island.

If you like your movies to be less dark, I suppose I can recommend Star Wars to you. It was made around the same time and for a good portion of the movie they need to rescue Princess Leia from The Death Star. It works!

Kurt Russell: He has been in a lot of movies; most recently he was in Grindhouse: Death Proof (I think I just mentioned that in my last blog), Stargate, Miracle, Tombstone, and The Thing.

Lee Van Cleef
: I only know him from For A Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Classic movies. He wore an earring in this movie which was a bit weird, but I guess that's the future for you.

Earnest Borgnine: He seems to die in a lot of his movies, which I guess is good as he is still ticking in real life. Oh yeah, *spoiler alert* before that sentence. Flight of the Phoenix (dead), The Posiedon Adventure (dead), and probably some more; he keeps making movies, and I can't keep up with him. I just know that I've seen him die a lot. Great actor though, I saw Marty when I was a teenager with low self-esteem and I loved it; he got a much deserved Oscar for that. Oh, he's also going to be in RED, which looks awesome. Check it out.

Harry Dean Stanton: A great character actor, he was in Alien. Go see that.

Donald Pleasance: Was in Halloween (the original, and a lot of the sequels), and The Great Escape.

That's it for now I suppose, I'll be back with another movie soon. It's kind of what I do.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs The World

Okay this is pretty simple. Have you ever played a video game in your life? Go see this movie! Simple, right? Well it might not be that simple; you may have to be slightly more cognizant of video games to understand a few of the jokes, but that's not completely necessary. It's pretty accessible. This movie clinches me seeing any Edgar Wright movie in theaters for a long time. He has a helluva track record when it comes to cult classics, and this is surely destined to follow the footsteps of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz as an instant cult classic.

What I liked: The 8-bit nostalgia was a blast. Universal's theme music and logo were redone in the style of an old arcade game, which set the tone appropriately for the movie. The story was taken from the comic, but I'm not sure how much of the video game/cartoon/anime aspects of the movie were adapted over. It worked really well and it all came together in a really, really, really nerdy package. That's probably why it hasn't really broken it really big in the box office-- it's a nerdy movie. The characters were great and the effects were very fun. The world of Scott Pilgrim is certainly inspired by arcade games, which makes for a special blend of irony as no video game adaptation has yet to be of any quality at all, and Scott Pilgrim was first a comic book.

What I didn't like: I don't like how much my abs hurt from laughing at the hilarious parts to this movie. Really, it was good. I think that some parts may have dragged, but it was forgivable. Oh, the whole not using his extra life right away was kind of insulting to the nerdy audience; we know that it's coming, just use the *&)*% thing! It could have been done better, but that's one of the few things I didn't like in a movie that was eye candy for nerds.

Watch this if you liked: There aren't a lot of movies (like none) that this compares to. So instead, watch this if you think that all video game adaptations are missing out on a lot of the fun that the games they are based on have. I keep mentioning games, but don't think this is like watching someone else playing a game. Nothing of the sort.

Don't watch this if you don't like video games or haven't played any or haven't been exposed to any. It won't really be all that fun for you if you're lacking the nerd cred to see this movie. As a comic book/casual gamer/movie nerd I qualify if that makes your decision any easier.


Michael Cera: An "Arrested Development" alum, he also stars in Juno, and Superbad. He plays awkward and he plays it well.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead: Live Free or Die Hard, Grindhouse: Death Proof, Bobby.

Kieran Culkin: Igby Goes Down, The Cider House Rules, The Mighty.

Anna Kendrick: She's In Twilgiht?!? Loses points there... Also, she's in Up in the Air.

The cast was pretty huge, relatively speaking, so I'll tell you why I liked them in nerdy ways. Sounds fun? Scott Pilgrim had to fight Captain America/The Human Torch(Chris Evans), Superman(Brandon Routh (Who got busted by the Punisher (Tom Jane), and one of the Romulans from Star Trek (Clifton Collins Jr.) for breaking the Vegan code)), Ann (Mae Whitman, who was Michael Cera's Ex-girlfriend from Arrested Development), and Jason Schwartzman, who, as a Wes Anderson and Rushmore fan, I enjoyed seeing playing Gideon.

Wow, lots of geeking out there. I think I'm going to review a classic action movie next. Which one? Come back to find out!