Archives for December 2010

How to Train Your Dragon

Rating: ★★★★★

Dreamworks, congratulations, you have made an amazing movie. Paying more attention to story and characters rather than to the jokes that can be drawn out of them, “How to Train Your Dragon” has the soothing feel of a Pixar movie. I can’t remember the last time I was sincerely engaged in the obligatory final battle in movies like these where (Spoiler) the underdog hero overcomes the much bigger adversary. (End spoiler)

“How to Train Your Dragon” takes us to the island of Berk occupied by vicious Vikings that are often visited by those unwelcome, pesky, fire-breathing Dragons. Them Dragons keep taking the livestock of the island of Berk, and the Vikings, as the violent bastards that they are, seek to wipe out the Dragons. You see, the earlier Vikings have passed down their fighting skills, and their hatred for Dragons, from one generation to the other. Killing Dragons seem to be a natural, how do I say this, talent, for the Vikings.

This is true for all them until we meet our hero, Hiccup, the son of Stoick, leader of the Vikings. Born into a culture bred with a universal hate, Hiccup is the first one of their kind to question that hate, and look for a more peaceful opportunity. We, as people, have been here for a while, and it is not unwise to think if our generation is suffering the same type of blindness these Vikings are going through.

Before I go any further, I must confess something. I made judgments on the movie when I first saw the teaser. I was disappointed by it. I know- no reviewer, or any other person, should make judgments based on a teaser. Believe me, dear reader, after seeing “How to Train Your Dragon”, I have learned my lesson.

The movie’s first half hour reminded me of “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” in its take on the father-son relationship. In both films, the son is the society’s outcast, and will later save that society through his misunderstood genius. But, as the movie grew longer, I realized that “How to Train Your Dragon” is much more. It has characters that will genuinely earn our affection and cheer, and it has emotions that will evoke deep thoughts. And oh, the visuals are wonderful.

The message here is simple, but it is told with such love and care that we cannot help but embrace it and make it true in our own reality. “How to Train Your Dragon” teaches us that we should not be quick to judge. (Even teasers.) A little understanding goes a long way. In this case, it will take you to the heavens.

The Back-up Plan

Rating: ½☆☆☆☆

The Back-Up Plan” is like the fat, ugly, and ultimately the less loved twin sister of “Knocked Up.” One sparkles in beauty and poise while the other drools in its shame. Cast and crew who took this film seriously might never be taken seriously ever again. Willful acting is what most people would identify here, but that would be a mistake. Self-embarrasment is the more appropriate term.

Zoe (played by Jennifer Lopez, star of “Gigli”) has given up her hope for the perfect guy that would result in the perfect family. Artificial insemination might not sound like the immediate solution for her problem, but no worries. Right now, the only thing Zoe wants is a baby, so she purchases frozen semen and joyfully gets those baby-makers stuffed into her innards. It may not seem right to us at first, but Zoe is accomplishing her new goal in life. We should feel happy for her, but happiness is almost impossible while watching this movie.

Five minutes after them frozen treats reach their destination, Zoe bumps into a guy. Very quickly, they fall in love through pissing each other off, which is so effective that it affects the audience. In the movie, their acts of irritation produce love from the opposite, but not so much from the audience, which generates actual irritation. So much for Zoe’s new goal in life, because the rest of the movie is devoted to the two breaking up and getting back together and breaking up and getting back together again and again, and again.

After a fight is fought or a love rekindled, there are songs played in the background as the hero or heroine walks to random places. The song is to convey exactly what the character is feeling. This technique is usually for your 3-minute music videos, but the makers of this movie are so lazy that characterization is maximized through a song not even written for the movie. And to make things worse, the characters are unbelievably stupid. Reasons for their conflict are for the mentally challenged in a way that a simple error in word construction or a misinterpretation of a single phrase results in long, angry, and terribly boring arguments.

“The Break-Up Plan” is supposed to be a comedy, and the movie had nine months worth of Zoe’s symptoms, side effects, physical and hormonal changes to make jokes of, yet not a single one of them is funny. The Back-Up Plan is pregnant with mediocrity, disgust, and garbage. It should have been aborted in pre-production.

There Will Be Blood

Rating: ★★★★★

Alone and battered, a man strikes silver ore under the scorching soils of New Mexico. He makes enough money to hire a few men as his attention shifts in the search for oil. He strikes again, and it is there a lifetime desire is born: a desire to acquire more.

With a deep and resounding voice, we hear that man speak for the first time as he attempts to lure the residents of a town into a business deal. His name is Daniel Plainview, and he is an oil man. Beside him always is his adopted son, H.W. He brings the boy along just so an illusion of a family is established, and the oil man is one step closer to the owners of potential prospects.

Daniel Plainview is one of the most riveting people I have ever met in the movies. He is not a mere caricature of the ugly side of American capitalism. Penned by the young and brilliant Paul Thomas Anderson and performed by the great Daniel-Day Lewis, Daniel Plainview brings forth a soul that is both an astonishing and compelling example of the evil that can be found in human nature.

Daniel Plainview wants to become increasingly wealthy. He hates people, but he knows that he needs people. So Daniel doesn’t let his hate flow out, he keeps his anger within him, and releases hypocrisy. Here is a man that is so filled with poise and presence that when he speaks, you listen. When he orders, you follow. When he talks, it is evident that he says each word with effort and control, making sure that you understand him; that you know what he wants. He is a selfish, conceited, and above all, a persuasive manipulator.

One night a young man approaches Daniel, and wishes to share information with him for a price. He agrees. Let’s just say that this leads him to the ranch of the Sunday family. It is a goat farm, but underneath it lays an ocean of oil. Daniel offers a price, makes a few promises, and the lot is his.

It is at this point where Daniel meets Eli Sunday, the preacher of the town’s church. He is a corrupt preacher, but his members don’t know that. When Daniel willfully ignores his promise to young Eli, a rivalry begins.

Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview

Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview

From the outside, they are obviously two very different men. Look deeper, and you’ll see the similarities. Both are deceivers, viewing people as nothing more than tools to fuel their wealth and ego. They have the same wicked intentions, but uses different methods of manipulation, which get into the way of the other. The tension between the two will escalate into harrowing heights. The title suggests things will only go worse.

I will not go any further with the plot. Instead, let me admire other aspects that also deserve praise. The cinematography by Robert Elswit is a wonderful display of visual poetry and the soundtrack by Jonny Greenwood that accompanies it makes “There Will Be Blood” a ravishing work of art.

I am convinced that “There Will Be Blood” is a masterpiece. Many will question its ending, and it will inspire arguments every time the movie is talked about. The movie concludes, how should I say this, in intense insanity. I think this is the perfect ending for a film like this, one that bluntly shows what has become of the man whose simple ambition turned to endless greed, which eventually plunged into sheer madness. Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like you to meet Daniel Plainview. Be careful though, he is more than an oil man.

Predators

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

You know you’re about to have a bad day when you wake up and discover yourself falling several hundred miles an hour straight to the jungle ground. This is exactly what eight people experience in the opening scene of “Predators”.

Unknown to one another, they gather into one unit and try to figure out what the hell is going on, which is about all they do for the film’s first half. Fast forward a lot of walking and the group are sad to discover that they are no longer on Earth, and are now the chosen prey of the Predators.

Now why where they chosen, I wonder. Let’s take a closer look. First to land is The American, who is quickly followed by The Mexican. A few thugs later, and we are introduced to The Russian, The Black Guy, The Asian, The Asshole, The Wimp, and The Girl. I wonder, why would the Predators choose these people for their hunting game? Oh, I have an idea; it is because they are Stereotypes, and are so damn predictable.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy dumb fun. “Predators” is indeed dumb, but doesn’t know how to dish out some bloody entertainment. The eerie atmosphere in the original “Predator” was absent here, and there was not enough wit and motivation from the characters to make this movie feel like more of a battle than an extermination. These characters ask the most obvious questions and make the most obvious statements that I began to speculate that most of the dialogue is for the audience to better understand the plot.

For example, when The Asian spoke English for the first time, The Wimp provides us with a much insightful dialogue by saying, “You speak English.” How helpful. And in an earlier scene, The American warns everyone with a mighty voice, “We run, we die.” He seems to really know what he’s doing. Ten minutes later, he screams with an even mightier voice, “Ruuuuun!” You know what’s gonna happen next.

And oh, there’s a ninth Stereotype. It’s The Stranger, played by Lawrence Fishburne. You know, the guy you thought you could trust until he tries to kill all of you. The Stranger takes our heroes to his hideout, and was so very kind by letting the troop rest in his room. I noticed that the room was full of guns and explosives, but when the betrayal finally came, his method of murder is… smoke. I know, it’s dumb, but at least we didn’t get any dialogue that goes something like this, “Oh no, smoke. If we inhale, it will travel to our lungs and we might suffocate, or worse: Lung Cancer.”

Tron: Legacy

Rating: ★★★★☆

“Tron: Legacy” is not a work of intellectual genius, but it is an achievement in the bond of imagination and technology. To make the most out of your viewing experience of “Tron: Legacy”, I suggest that you do not attempt to understand its plot. It introduces a world so technically complex and complicated that I doubt even Mark Zuckerberg would enjoy studying it.

That world is called The Grid, a digital realm where its citizens are called Programs who wear tight and partly glowing outfits. They talk and handle their bodies like robots, and when its evil dictator, Clu, decides to dispose one of them, they shatter into shiny, glittery grains of death. It’s up to Kevin and Sam Flynn to prevent Clu from getting to the real world, because People don’t die fancy like Programs. They just, you know, die.

Other than nice outfits (and Olivia Wilde), there are more pretty things to look at when within The Grid, and the movie takes it time in showing them off to the audience. In many scenes, the movie detaches itself from the absurd plot and we become honored guests at a great, and justified, display of special effects. Try to recall your first night out at Pandora.

These scenes play out like video games, where there’s a good guy faced with a bad guy, and by the end of the scene, there is a winner, and a loser. They are shallow and silly, but I don’t care. My eyes liked what was in front of them, and my brain understood that, and decided not to interfere with the fun.

My admiration for the visuals in “Tron: Legacy” is that it might appear sometimes as if there is a glut of special effects, when in truth there is not much up there. I know, most of the movie is shot in green screen. What I appreciate is that the filmmakers didn’t go overboard on their opportunity. The beauty of their visuals comes from two main colors. The strokes of blue and orange are captivating, and the makers never seem to run out of ways to keep them that way. Movies like “Speed Racer” failed where “Tron: Legacy” succeeded.

“Tron: Legacy” doesn’t just triumph in sights, but also in sounds. The original soundtrack from Daft Punk might just cause some ears to physically react to what it’s about to hear. And have I mentioned it also has good visuals? Before I go, I must say that this is the first time I shall acquire an original soundtrack from a movie again since the day I saw “Moon”.

Killers (Quick Review)

Rating: Zero Stars

This man is responsible for directing the deplorable films, “Monster-in-Law” and “The Ugly Truth.” His latest project is “Killers”, which could have very possibly murdered his own career. He had it coming.

But, if this director pulls through and keeps making more movies as bad as “Killers”, or “The Ugly Truth”, or “Monster-in-Law”, the only title he’ll earn is, “The M. Night Shyamalan of Romantic Comedies.” May he, for the love of filmmaking, consider my thoughts.

Beware of a director named Robert Luketic; he makes really bad movies.

Note: If you see this man, do not work with him.

“Robert Luketic, director of Killers.”

Source: http://movies.yahoo.com/movie/1808512961/photo/premiere/571033

Carriers

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

The infection has spread, millions have died, and phones are no longer working. We never know how a flesh-killing virus contributed to the extinction of functioning phones, but no worries. All we know is that there are four teenagers on their way to a beach where, according to them, the virus is absent. How do they know that the beach is free of the virus, since all forms of long-distance communication are down? Bloody teenagers, they think they know everything.

Do not be fooled, “Carriers” is more of a road trip than a post-apocalyptic thriller. Not much happens in its running time of eighty-four minutes. Our heroes live in a world that is dying, and they spend most of their time in the car, driving. (I noticed that, and correct me if I’m wrong, our teens occupy a Chevrolet. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned from this movie, it’s that in times of global epidemic, the “Chev” is the way to go.)

For a movie that consists of a human race threatened to extinction by an infection, there are very little “infected” to see. This is because “Carriers” is not a movie about zombies, but about the tough decisions people have to make when faced with such a threat. Yes, it’s take on human nature is a topic that is timeless, which means that it is also a topic that is very often used, and difficult to sell.

That is why I mention its lack of happenings. The message is clear, but a message is simply not enough. How is the message delivered? Through what characters? Under what circumstances? Before anything else, it is the job of the filmmakers to attract the attention of its audience; to give them something to be curious about, to make them want to watch what’s in front of them. If a movie entertained you, and as a bonus, left you with a lesson, then it is a success.

How does the movie expect us to pour our attention to people who are always driving, and are seem to be not fully aware of the consequences of, you know, human extinction? At one point after fooling around on a golf course, the teens meet men covered in plastic who momentarily capture them, and the first thing they want… is a strip show.

I have stressed the point that most of “Carriers” is a Chevrolet with four teenagers taking turns in driving it. I will further that point by saying there are at least three scenes about the desire and need for gasoline. Are you willing to kill for gas, and more importantly, are you prepared to risk your life for it? In a time of a worldwide infection where millions have died, a Chevrolet without gasoline suggests a very bad day.

Eat Pray Love (Quick Review)

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

“Eat Pray Love” invites us to follow a narcissistic, self-absorbed woman pleasure herself for nearly two and a half hours in three different countries. The movie’s first thirty minutes is composed of Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts) complaining about the current state of her life; that’s a lot of minutes, considering there isn’t much of her life worth complaining about. So, she breaks up with her husband who loves her, starts an affair with an actor (who loves her), abandons him too, and flies to Italy to eat pasta.

Along the way, she meets lots of people. Funny how almost everyone in the movie is very much likeable, except her. And it is infuriating to watch her abandon and/or exploit some of these people to fulfill her own selfish ambition.  “Eat Pray Love”, a movie about a woman named Liz Gilbert, is based on a novel of the same title. It is autobiographical, written by Liz Gilbert and about Liz Gilbert. LOL.