Monday, May 11, 2009

Movie Rundown - April 20 to May 10

My apologies for this taking so long. Things have been kind of hectic, with the failure of my Script Frenzy attempt and some family issues. I'm probably not going to talk about either here on the blog. Maybe the Script Frenzy thing. On a day when I'm feeling particularly self-destructive.

I haven't been much in the mood for netflix movies lately, so this list is going to be short for how much time it covers. I've just been watching The Office in my spare time. Good stuff. As for the movies, here we go!

Resurrecting the Champ (****)
Josh Hartnett plays a struggling sports journalist who discovers that a homeless man who goes by Champ (played by Samuel L Jackson) is a former boxing contender to a world title. He tries to form a bond with Champ in order to write his story, a sure-fire hit.

It sounds like it could descend into the saccharine, but I found it a really good movie. Hartnett, who's never really set me afire, is surprisingly solid in an ineffectual everyman sort of way. The real star here is Jackson, though, who forgoes his typical blaxploitation schtick to turn in a great performance. Champ is run down, ancient, wobbly and screechy, and Jackson's portrayal is at times heartbreaking and others repellant. It's the backbone of the movie, and it carries it well.

2 Fast 2 Furious (**)
The second move in the series of things that are Fast and Furious, this is widely regarded as the worst of the series. And I'm willing to agree with that. This movie is kind of messed up from the get go. It just plods on with a formulaic adherence to mediocrity that's startling. There are moments that are fun, but there are (minus one) no moments that are great.

For a big budget summer action movie? That's inexcusable.

Also, there's a crazy amount of CGI used in this movie, especially at the beginning. It got better over time, but at the beginning it was nearly insufferable. The rule of car movies needs to be "NO CG." And its lack of faith in the subject matter is disheartening. For completionists only.

Diva (***)
I had never heard of this movie until I read an essay from Tom Robbins where he answered the question "What is your favorite movie character?" He cited this movie and one of the characters in it. The joy of the modern world, I could have it in my mailbox within a week.

This is a French movie about a young man who records a singer who refuses to record her work for his own use. But when his tape is mixed up with a tape incriminating the leader of a prostitution ring, the young man is tossed into a world of intrigue and blackmail.

The movie itself is strange, with an odd surrealist quality to everything. Tom Robbins' favorite character dances around the periphery of the story like some sort of mad monk, which is probably what appealed to him. But the action itself takes on this strange dreamlike quality where the danger feels almost unimportant in the face of people's desires as they go through the story. That detachment I'm almost certain is on purpose, and I like the dreamlike nature of it, but I wouldn't say it's particularly gripping. If you like strange French thrillers, go right ahead and watch this, though, and you won't regret it.

I'm not rating this one, and you might say that's a cop out but I'm going to defend it. Simply put, there was a narrative here, but my enjoyment of it was completely independant of whatever storytelling they were trying to do.

We all know the story. Disney nature documentary using footage from the Planet Earth miniseries from a year or so ago. There's a story about some families of mammals in the struggle to survive on a dynamic ecosystem such as ours. There is some talk of global warming and whatnot.

But what this truly is is nature porn. It's the landscape and the creatures upon it as art in themselves, presented in the most breathtaking ways. This is one of those films that thrives on camera technology, on the ability to shoot HD and slow motion and from far away with a Steadicam and still get detail. And what it picks up is amazing, from slow motion footage of a cheetah bringing down prey to a time lapse of a frozen forest coming to life. It's spellbinding in a way that is all about the image and very little about anything else.

I highly suggest anyone who is into things beautiful go see it, if it's even still playing. The nicest screen you can find it at. This is one that benefits greatly from the HD experience. I would probably not been as affected had it been on a TV running a plain old DVD.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (*)
I was going to write up why this movie was completely fucked from end to end, but you could get that from a lot of places. It stands as the worst movie I've ever payed money to see, from the terrible CGI used all over the place in glaring ways to the insipid script that ruins perfectly good actors on material that would have been at home with the Super Friends. Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber try their hardest to add some gravitas to the proceedings, but it's not enough, nor is the typically solid Harry Gregson-Williams score. Whoever made this movie like this messed up huge. It's trash. Garbage. Don't give them your ticket money. Simple as that.

Star Trek (****)
This one is easier to write about, because it's easy to gush. So I'll keep it short. Star Trek is a reboot of the franchise that everyone all over the world has heard of. It's a new Kirk, Spock and McCoy back when they were just starting out on their first adventure. It's made by J J Abrams, who apparently is pretty popular these days.

It is also fantastic. Every bit works, from the pitch perfect casting to the balance between being faithful to the fans of Trek and making a movie that nonfans would actually care about. It's emotionally strong, it's fast paced, it's interesting, it's full of actual danger and real risks and they pay off big time in surprising ways (which I won't go into, but have ramifications for any sequels that come about).

Go see it. I don't care what you think about the original Star Trek. I was sorely tempted to give it five stars, but even at four, I think that it's a movie that everyone needs to see and a movie that'll find its way onto my Top Movies of 2009 list later this year. You need to see it. It's a movie that's bigger than a fanbase, and bigger than serious moviegoers. This is THE event film.

( Also, because I have to give shout outs to the best parts of the movie, Karl Urban as McCoy is BRILLIANT. I could have watched a whole movie about him. I've been behind him since I saw him in The Two Towers, so seeing him really put in that strong of a performance is thrilling. Also, Michael Giacchino, the composer, does an amazing job of providing strong thematic material to help underscore the movie. It's big and bombastic, but it rarely feels heavyhanded. In fact, I'm listening to the score as I write this. Giacchino also did the scores to the underappreciated Sky High and Speed Racer, and the rightly appreciated Incredibles. He's a man I'm going to watch, because I ALWAYS enjoy his work. )

The Soloist (***)
I slipped this one in on Mothers Day and came away kind of ... unenthused about the whole thing. The story is easy enough, the tale of a Juliard dropout with schitzophrenia who's living on the streets playing music when he's discovered by an LA Columnist who takes an interest in his story. I'd heard of the story when the book was released, and the movie does a good job of retelling it.

The problem is that the director doesn't seem satisfied with letting the actors do their job. There is a bombardment of jump cuts and surround sound wankering with voices to help illustrate the schitzophrenia. There are strange, surrealistic scenes plopped in seemingly at random. And there's an absolutely mood-breaking moment of synesthesia placed smack dab in the middle of what should have been one of the most affecting parts of the movie. But instead of trusting Jamie Foxx to do his job, the director seemed more interested in how he could play around with his tools.

Disappointing, I say again. Solid performances, but the filmmaking itself left a lot to be desired. I wouldn't say its a waste of time, but it's nothing special.


And that's a wrap. I'm going to be trying to start writing again this week as I try to get out from under all the problems that aren't my creative work that have been pressing me down. I've also go the madness of a younger brother graduating high school this week, but ... I'm hopeful that I'll be able to get some output.

See you on the other side of this week.