Monday, June 30, 2008

Meet the Spartans Review

I must be some sort of masochist for having sat all the way through this piece of trash. My hatred of the co-writer/co-director pair of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer knows no end. The tandem, also responsible for such cinematic luminaries as Epic Movie and Scary Movie 4, are the worst director's currently employed. The direction is inept. The writing is putrid. The acting is humiliating. I loathe everything about this movie and I hope that a condition of resolving the potential SAG/AMPTP strike is that Friedberg and Seltzer are banned from making films so that no more careers can be damaged by their involvement.

Overall Score: 1/10

Monday, June 23, 2008

Sex and the City Review

While I certainly grant that I, as a straight male, am not the intended audience of this, Sex and the City is, objectively, not a very good movie. When an average episode of the series runs for less than 30 minutes and the film runs for two and half hours there are obviously some issues of an overgrown narrative. Having seen a handful of episodes from the TV run of the SATC I say with some certainty that something has gone awry in translation.

On the whole SATC feels like those putrid ten minutes at the end of a typical American romantic comedy when the couple splits up only to inevitably get back together from some foolhardy grand gesture. Only the ten minute plot is drawn out to roughly fifteen times the length it should be. I don't buy the argument that I should need to embrace the 'fashion' and 'style' of the movie to enjoy it, that's specious. Also, if a wedding dress with a dead bird headpiece is what constitutes style then I'm content to not be in style.

I don't know when Sarah Jessica Parker stopped knowing how to act, but she fails to deliver a single recognizably human emotion here. Kristin Davis, who has great energy and is a magnetic screen presence, is left with almost nothing to do. I found Cynthia Nixon's character so unlikeable that I frankly just didn't give a damn about anything that happened to her. How fans have supported a character like that for years is beyond me. I must say, however, that I really enjoyed Kim Cattrall's work here. Cattrall manages to bring the most life to any of the roles, her emotional scenes are the most genuine and her wit is sharp. Her "you made a little joke" line to Parker was my favorite moment of the movie. Chris Noth's Mr. Big is so entirely unbelievable as a human being that I could barely watch his scenes.

Poor Jennifer Hudson is reduced to playing Parker's help in a manner that is more than a little stereotypical. The male supporting players (Jason Lewis, Evan Handler and David Eigenberg) all do a nice job but have almost nothing to work with. Perhaps I just don't get it and, certainly, SATC isn't directed at my demographic; but objectively it just isn't a very good movie.

Overall Score: 4/10

Friday, June 13, 2008

Ranking the Marvel Movies

As prelude to my Incredible Hulk review - which will be posted when I catch up on my backlog of unreviewed films - I present a ranking of the modern Marvel movies (starting in 1998 with Blade).

22. Blade: Trinity
21. The Invincible Iron Man (Animated)
20. Elektra
19. Hulk
19. Ghost Rider
18. The Punisher
17. Ultimate Avengers (Animated)
16. Ultimate Avengers 2 (Animated)
15. Blade
14. Daredevil
13. Spider-Man 3
12. Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme (Animated)
11. X-Men: The Last Stand
10. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
9. Daredevil: Director's Cut (definitely different enough to constitute a seperate ranking)
8. Blade 2
7. The Incredible Hulk
6. Fantastic Four
5. X-Men
4. Spider-Man
3. X2: X-Men United
2. Iron Man
1. Spider-Man 2 (the 2.1 DVD version is a better movie, though not different enough to constitute a new ranking)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Savage Grace Review

To be honest I had almost no interest in the subject matter of this film, the true story of a perverted upper crust American family in the post-WWII period onwards. I was drawn to the project because of Julianne Moore's lead role, one of the best actresses working today. Moore tries her best with the material but even she can't save it.

Undercut by boring direction, melodramatic music and a middling pretentious script, Savage Grace is rarely compelling. Julianne Moore seems to really try with a difficult and complex role, unfortunately she has nothing to work with either from the material or from her costars. Eddie Redmayne, playing Moore's son, is potentially the least compleling screen presense of ever seen. Exuding a vaguely unsettling feeling, Redmayne (who is fairly uncomfortable to look at) lacks the chops to sell this difficult role. He does little to develop or make believable the character, instead only the character's actions exist create any development - not the performance. Stephen Dillane is left with almost nothing to work with and also comes off poorly.

I can't really recommend this to anyone. Moore is adequate in the lead, however everything else about the film is subpar and the subject matter is highly uncomfortable, skip it.

Overall Score: 3/10

Diary of the Dead Review

I would say the most pleasant surprise in Diary of the Dead is that the format (first person participatory camera) doesn't feel anywhere near as stale as I expected. Directed by zombie master George Romero (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead), Diary marks Romero's attempt to put a slightly different spin on the zombie formula. Having already seen this limited filming style used once to surprising success in Cloverfield this year, I didn't expect to particularly enjoy Diary, especially considering the horrid misstep that was Romero's recent return to the zombie genre, Land of the Dead.

The acting, from a bunch of unknowns, is unspectacular but well suited to the genre. A zombie movie doesn't need a great thespian in the lead to be successful. The 'active-camera' POV helps achieve a sense of immersion and immediacy to the material. Considering people put various fight videos (and worse) on the internet - an idea this year's Untraceable interestingly delved into - it doesn't seem all that unbelievable that in our youtube obsessed society people have become perhaps too obsessed with filming life around them and the suffering of others (a point Romero beats us over the head with).

The film's biggest achilles heel (and, perhaps, the biggest issue in all zombie movies) is that it doesn't seem to quite know how to end the picture. Our surviving protags spend most of the last act locked in a futuristic house (seemingly rejected from the first Resident Evil film) before the film peters out to a weak climax and denoument. There is something intrinsically disheartening about the idea that everyone who dies will come back as brain-dead zombie which often makes it difficult for these movies to end in a satisfying way, they often feel like an exercise is sadism. Diary, unfortunately, is no exception.

Somewhat more interesting than the typical horror or zombie film, I found Romero's use of the gimmick 'active-camera' far more effective than I would have expected. Unfortunately due to the success of Cloverfield we can assuredly expect a tidal wave of these Blair Witch-esque films to invade theaters (Quarantine with Jennifer Carpenter, for example, which comes out in October); I can only imagine the quality will continue to decline with each use of this inherently limited style.

Overall Score: 6/10

Recount Review

Having fallen well behind on my reviews the process starts again with somewhat briefer takes on the films I've seen recently.

I was a bit reluctant to watch Recount because the dilemmas arising from its subject matter are still far too fresh and relevant. The frustration is still too present in my day-to-day life. But I found it to be an extremely enjoyable, and even exciting, take on Gore v. Bush.

Structured so as to focus primarily on the legal battle on Gore's side of the spectrum (though not short-shrifting the Bush side), I found Recount's ability to make well-known material feel fresh, tense and exciting. Even more surprising is that Recount comes from Jay Roach who is known mainly for the Meet the Parents and Austin Powers series. Roach benefits from a surprisingly large number of strong performances.

Tom Wilkinson, fresh off success in HBO's other big project the first half of this year, John Adams, does a good job humanizing and bringing to life head Bush employee James Baker. Roach allows the performance to work so that Wilkinson comes off as far more than the snearing villain the role could have devolved into. Laura Dern is, as usual, superb. Here she wonderfully mimics the all too memorable over-her-head mannerisms of Floridian decision maker Katherine Harris.

On the Gore side three performances in particular standout. Kevin Spacey does his best work in years as Ron Klain, head of the Gore campaign's efforts. Like so many of the actors here his character feels real. Denis Leary brings life to his scenes as foul-mouthed campaigner worker Michael Whouley, though, let's be fair, the role isn't really a stretch from Tommy Gavin on Rescue Me. I think special notice should go to Ed Begley Jr, playing the lead attorney, David Boies, for Gore who actually argues Gore v. Bush before the Supreme Court. The character could easily have felt like a walking cliche, yet somehow Begley manages to make Boies feel both real and inspiring. His speech before the Supreme Court is one of the better speeches I've seen in a film this year.

In terms of drawbacks I felt the film's dispersed focus harms it in the early portions. There are numerous characters and plotlines and I found the film didn't quite find it's stride until it began to focus in, perhaps thirty or forty minutes into the running time. Regardless I was impressed at how well Roach manage to juggle such a complex detail orientated plot. Perhaps there is some left-leaning bias, but regardless, I think Recount is a damn compelling recreation of the legal battle surrounding the 2000 election.

Overall Score: 8/10