Archive for the ‘2008’ Category

Grumplets: Michael Sheen and the Excitement Machine

July 9, 2009

Frost/Nixon (2008)

By far Ron Howard’s strongest film even if it is kind of unremarkable as a whole. W., released the same year, makes a much more reviled president look sympathetic too. Add to the fact that politicians today do far, far, far worse things than Nixon ever dreamed of. Still, I suppose he set the precedent, and if we are to believe Frank Langella’s excellent performance as the magnificent bastard he felt pretty bad about the whole thing. And that’s why you should see the film. Langella may not exactly look like Nixon but it’s one of those performances you can’t look away from, and at times the lighting is set in such a way that he does seem to resemble the bastard. The movie reaches greatness when it centers on interviewer David Frost and Nixon warring with words. Whenever Langella or Michael Sheen’s Frost are on screen the movie crackles with energy that could light a city block. The  supporting cast is extremely one-note: Kevin Bacon loves Nixon, Sam Rockwell hates Nixon. But they do their part.

Bolt (2008)

Pretty lousy! Though I thought it was nice when the cat taught the dog how to be a dog. Otherwise, it’s a jumbled up Truman Show, Aladdin, Homeward Bound thing with annoying pigeons. Bolt finds out reality is a lie, learns how to enjoy being himself and three animals go on a long journey to find Bolt’s “person.” Too bad Bolt’s person is the blandest girl in the world with a voice that pulled me out of the movie every time she talked. The other voices? Nondescript. So John Travolta is Bolt – who cares? I thought one guy was James Woods but it turned out to be someone else doing a James Woods impression and someone else was Malcolm MacDowell and I had no idea during the movie. So what’s the point of casting “names” then? The message of the movie rings extremely false too, as it celebrates the mundane over the special. The girl quits her blossoming acting career for her dog? Yeah, that sounds honest.

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009)

Wow. Um. I didn’t bother with the first two movies – that shit looks so boring – so I admit I was kind of lost when characters and situations were never properly introduced. I guess the rambling narration at the beginning was supposed to help with that but it didn’t really. So I guess it’s a war between vampires and werewolves? Where the vampires are clearly outclassed by rampaging, rubbery-looking werewolves because they’re too busy staring at each other in Jedi council meetings the entire time? For fucking VAMPIRES these pusses show no backbone. Or fangs, really. Bill Nighy, as the vampire leader, is the only one with a pulse, looking fucking insane the entire time he’s onscreen. He hams it up very well, so it’s a shame everyone else BORES. There’s not a humorous bone in its body considering its stupid premise. Underworld is a key part of the Twilight crowd diluting the vampire fiction pool. I mean, fuck, Interview with the Vampire is cooler than this shit and that has Tom Cruise making kissy faces at Brad Pitt while they raise a hideous young Kirsten Dunst together. This is just boring, I even nodded off a few times. The sets c0nsist of the woods and what looks like some half-assed Helm’s Deep. The whole thing looks Sci-Fi Channel cheap.

Most interesting thing about it? MICHAEL SHEEN IS THE MAIN CHARACTER. I thought that guy looked familiar under all the filth and hair. That’s some range, Mr. Frost.

2008 Round-Up Review – Kept You Waiting, Huh

March 9, 2009

2008 was nowhere near as stellar a year for movies as 2007, but any year without There Will Be Blood, No Country, Michael Clayton, The Mist and a new Ghost in the Shell movie will suffer.

BUT. 2008 was one helluva year for genre film. Probably the best since 1999 or 1982. Those years gave us The Matrix, Iron Giant, Blade Runner, Wrath of Khan… y’know. Classics. 2008 has some serious future classics as well.

First let’s go backwards. The worst of the lot:

Worst Movies:

Rambo – In my review I wondered if I would ever warm up to this big stupid, bloody gore-stravaganza. I’ve liked dumber movies. And well, I kinda did warm up to it. Not a whole lot, mind you! It’s no great piece of art by any means but it’s worth seeing for… for… for the carnage. Yes. That’s it. It’s almost… cathartic? Is that cliche? Well, then, it fits. For a movie so full of cliche – bad guys kill good people, good guys kill bad guys – it executes every single one of them visceral aplomb. Recently, in the comments section I defend Stallone as someone who knows exactly how to pander to a sick, depraved audience. Genius or not, he knows what he’s doing. Just look at who he’s casting in his next movie, The Expendables. Mickey Rourke, Dolph Lundgren, Forest Whitaker, Jason Statham, Jet Li, ARNOLD … Bastard’s got my money again.

Quantum of Solace – I warmed up to Rambo’s idiocy, but I grew even colder towards James Bond’s latest escapade. I actively hate Quantum of Solace more and more with each passing day, my thoughts coalescing into a ball of climactic hotel-destroying fury. A misfire in every possible way. Dull villain, wafer-thin plot, pointless Bond girls – a boring Bond. Way to squander that reboot, fellas. Can’t believe ya did, but ya did. At least there’s still Bourne.

Pineapple Express – Hey, we got a weekend, some weed and woods in the backyard. Let’s make a movie!

Harold and Kumar 2 – Poop poop poop poop poop poop outdated George Bush jokes poop poop poop poop poop celebrity cameo poop poop poop poop poop. $10.75 please.

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Year in Review – 2008: It… It… It… Had Its Moments

March 4, 2009

Wow, 2007 was an amazing year for entertainment, wasn’t it?! So it was inevitable that 2008 was going to disappoint. Yeah, there were some bright spots, but 3/4s of the way through the year, I worried whether or not there would even BE TEN MOVIES I LIKED, let alone say they would be in my top ten. The crop of prestige films at the end of the year also largely failed to impress. When I’m rooting for Frost/Nixon at the Oscars, things are grim, folks. But hey, when you get down to it, there were some good things in 2008, too! A few really good things! In the mainstream, even!!! Let’s get to it~

Top Ten Movies

10. Let the Right One In

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: a vampire that looks like a little girl moves into a quiet Swedish town and befriends the troubled boy next door. The boy starts to develop a tender romance with the vampiress even while dead bodies drained of their blood pile up all around him. And she just may be the answer to his problems with his school’s sociopathic bullies. What’s that? You haven’t heard that one before? Maybe that’s why the movie’s so good. It’s a breath of fresh conceptual air that’s aided by the fact that, hey, it’s a pretty well-done movie. And the little kid bullies are surprisingly more frightening and creepy than the vampire. The chilly Swedish setting is a perfect match for a chilly undead body. Just… be sure you invite her in. D:

9. The Fall

After years of production that were almost more interesting than the movie itself (the director Tarsem had to piggyback filming the movie onto the commercial shoots that actually made him money; an elaborate ruse to make everyone think the lead actor was really paraplegic), The Fall finally came to theaters. Where nobody watched it. Which is a shame, since if there’s any reason to see the movie, it’s to watch the stunning cinematography. It’s one of the most gorgeously-filmed movies I’ve ever seen, with outlandish costumes, exotic locations and at least one thing that will make you ask, “How the hell did he do that?” Guaranteed. The fact that there’s a story (featuring a disabled stuntman, a trusting little girl, and the adventures of Charles Darwin and his monkey companion) almost comes second to the visual splendor heaped upon this film. Watch this movie on the biggest screen with the highest definition that you possibly can.

8. Cloverfield

When something is marketed as heavily as Cloverfield was with the whole “What could it possibly be?!” mystique behind it, it’s almost begging you to be disappointed. But Cloverfield definitely delivered a thrilling, even heartfelt experience. It’s clear that this was a love letter to monster movies of yore (Gojiraaaa!!) as much as it was an exhilarating vision of where monster movies can go from here. Yeah, there’s shaky cam and some people thought the characters were too obnoxious to be “realistic,” but I take exception to that. The whole “found footage” conceit may remind people too much of The Blair Witch Project, but I thought it only helped in making me bond with the victims that were being put in such impossible straits. Too many horror movies lose sight of the fact that to make people scared, they have to make people care about the characters they’re putting in harm’s way. Well, mission accomplished, Cloverfield. I hope your theme song gets played at many more Oscar ceremonies to come!

7. Funny Games

There are movies you watch and they slide right off of you, designed to be disposable, destined to be forgotten. Then there are movies that worm their way into your mind and stick to your gullet, their ideas festering inside you for days, weeks, even months to come. Funny Games is more in the latter category. It’s a sick, deplorable look at a couple of WASPy psychopaths torturing an upper class family with their deranged mind-games. And god, do I love it. While it seemed other viewers and critics were just revolted and turned-off by the movie’s ideology and storytelling devices, I ate it up. I think it’s a jolting, incendiary,  fourth-wall-breaking work of cruelty that more people should see than, sadly, ever will. I’m not saying they’d like it, but then again, a movie like Funny Games wasn’t made for you to like it. For me, it just seems to be a happy side effect!

6. The Wrestler

Director Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain) isn’t known for his sympathetic characters. And try to imagine someone less sympathetic than Mickey Rourke. Give up? I thought so. But even when the movie makes you look at Rourke’s ground-beef buttocks, the down-on-his-luck wrestler just trying to reclaim his lost fame and the love of his estranged daughter is compelling. More than that, it’s magnetic! You will cry tears for the beatings this man is willing to take, emotionally and physically. Marisa Tomei’s middle-aged stripper character drops some lines about The Passion of the Christ, and with good reason. THIS is The Passion of the Christ for the rest of us. And, dammit, Mickey deserved that Oscar. Maybe next time, Pork Lips.

5. Speed Racer

You might be looking at this and asking yourself, “Why the hell is a self-proclaimed grump putting Speed Racer in his top five?!” Because it’s easily one of the most entertaining movies put out last year. It reaffirmed my belief that popcorn movies CAN be entertaining. The candy-colored cornucopia of whirling, zooming racing action, the bizarre Wachowski touches, the overly-earnest acting… WOO!

4. The Orphanage

Again, a movie little-to-no people saw in theaters, but still one that deserves to be sought out on video. I’m usually not one for ghost stories, but this happens to have brains, scares and, surprisingly enough, heart. It’s an impressive horror movie that can have me gripping the armrests in anxiety one minute and blubbering womanly tears the next. And it’s a foreign film, so you can show it to your friends and be all snooty and cultured!

3. The Dark Knight

Oh, wow. There’s been so much ink spilled on this movie, digital or otherwise, that I’m not even sure what I can add to the discussion. You’ve heard of this movie. You’ve probably seen this movie. You probably loved this movie. Well I do, too. My dogs are HUNGRYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY

2. WALL-E

waaaaaall-eeeeeee

1. Rachel Getting Married

I went into this movie with close to zero expectations. I had seen a commercial on TV for it that featured Anne Hathaway saying something snarky to her sister, so I imagined something like Ghost World but set at a wedding. Boy, I was pretty far off. Rachel Getting Married is an incredible film about a recovering addict that gets released from rehab days before her sister’s marriage. She’s the black sheep of the family, and with good reason, since she’s more of an emotional hurricane than a woman. In the short time she’s there, she manages to dredge up the family’s dark history and reopen old scars while at the same time remembering how lucky she is to have a family at all. Now, the story’s meaty, but that’s not all the movie has going for it. Apart from the heavy themes and terrific acting (you stole that Oscar, Kate!), the execution of the film is fairly unconventional. Shot more like a documentary than a fictional film, not only do you get all the grittiness of a handheld camera, but there’s also passages of the film that seem to almost set the main plot to the side and just ride the flow of a family gathering. You get to see all the goofy toasts at the practice dinner, the dancing at the reception, hell, there’s even a sequence where they challenge each other to see how many dishes they can fit in the dishwasher. Some people might roll their eyes at sequences like these and call them boring filler, but I disagree. I think this would be an very different, poorer film without them. This isn’t just a film about the literal story. It’s a film about family, and all the little candid touches they fit in work beautifully in reminding the viewer of their own. It’s like the movie’s ads said. “This isn’t your family. But this is your family.”

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Macross Frontier – Music Saves the World

February 11, 2009

Hey, it’s list season. Here’s one about Macross Frontier.

Why You Should Check out Macross Frontier

1. It’s Macross

Fellow grump Mora informs me Frontier features everything you should expect from the 25-year-old franchise. In fact, Frontier pleased fans so much it single-handedly revitalized the ailing brand in Japan. It’s like the Mega Man 9 or Super Smash Bros. Brawl of its kind, so full of nostalgic winks and throwbacks to previous series fans can’t help but squeal at their favorite moments revisited. One episode details the filming of a movie adaptation of the events of Macross Zero. The theme song from the Macross movie, Do You Remember Love, returns at several key moments of the series. There’s a simmering love triangle, eye-catching missile effects, a bearded ship captain with a scar and a hat strategically hiding one eye, enormous transforming space ships … Even if you’re unfamiliar with the various Macross tropes, as I am, you should be able to appreciate Frontier regardless of the vast history behind it. And if you like it there are at least a dozen more similar series to check out.

KIIIIIMI WA DARE TO KISS O SURUUUU
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Resident Evil: Degeneration – It’s Small Time

January 23, 2009

The Resident Evil series of horror video games is a fascinating look at how not to do serial storytelling. It’s so over-convoluted a remake of the first game was made to include references to developments made in the sequels, tying all the characters, histories, various viruses, and conspiracies together. Then series creator Shinji Mikami, while revamping Resident Evil 4 for the second time during development, said “screw all this clumsy history” and restarted with a clean slate. The dozens of loose threads from previous games were abandoned for dozens more loose threads. Resident Evil 5, coming out in March, appears to answer a few questions RE4 didn’t bother with, like what Sherry Birkin and Jill Valentine are up to, but with this series it’s best not to expect anything substantial from the plot department anymore. If you want to look at exactly how ridiculous and bloated Resident Evil‘s plot got over the years take a look-see at Thomas Wilde’s outrageously detailed FAQ, which tackles tough questions like “Does Ada actually care about Leon?” (No.) and “Is Saddler retarded?” (Yes.)

Clearly, the fans care way more about the games’ plot than its writers. Absolute proof arrived late last year in the guise of Resident Evil: Degeneration, a direct-to-DVD CG-animated movie that takes place between Resident Evils 4 and 5. It stars Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield, the protagonists of Resident Evil 2, perhaps the most beloved entry in the series, long before it became the labyrinthine mess it is today. Early previews suggested Degeneration would be full of nods to RE2. Turns out it has exactly two, and one of them is a shot-for-shot reenactment of our heroes’ meeting. It was the only few seconds of the movie I guess I could say I enjoyed and that was only because I remember the intro sequence from a Playstation game released 11 years ago. If Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children proved to folks that Square should stick to video games, then Degeneration proves the guys at Capcom shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near pencils, pens, chalk or anything that could potentially aid them in writing a script. If they can’t keep their story straight in a long-running video game series, what makes them think they can pull it off in a hundred-minute movie?

Come with me if you want to be bored (more…)

Advance Wars: Days of Ruin – War in the Pocket

December 31, 2008
Advance Wars: Days of Ruin takes a page from the Fallouts, Gears of Wars, Halos and Battlestars and tells a darker sci-fi tale than is expected from a series known for smiley C.O.’s painted with primary colors. This time the palette is muted, the character design has a rougher edge to it and the story questions the worth of humanity in a world decimated by meteorites. Amidst the destruction bands of marauders kill and pillage the few survivors left, and rival countries take the chance to wipe each other out. There is one savior in the maelstrom of violence, Captain Brenner of Razulia, who finds and recruits Will, the game’s naive protagonist, into his army of do-gooders. Along with Lin, Brenner’s headstrong lieutenant, the ragtag group battles rival countries, insane generals, and a mad scientist. It’s a straightforward story with a few twists and characters told well enough to grip anyone familiar with the aforementioned sci-fi titles. The writing drifts into childish “Hope conquers all!” maxims more often than I’d like, otherwise it’s another excellent script in a handheld Nintendo game. (See: Hotel Dusk)

The turn-based strategy differs from Final Fantasy Tactics and its ilk, employing a rock-paper-scissors style of weakness and strength to its characters. Unlike Pokemon which cruelly requires you to memorize convoluted character details Days of Ruin grants you each unit’s stats and the like on one of the DS’ screens. Throw in differing terrain, capturing bases, Commanding Officer powers (like granting your units +2 move points so they can move farther), and special mission-specific events like rockets raining from above and baby, you got a stew goin’.

For a series so renowned for its difficulty I found the curve very forgiving. The first several missions (there are 26 in all, as well as several extra ones) teach you all the basics and each consecutive episode offers a few advanced techniques until you’re left on your own. Even then you can access a little “hints” section at any time in the menu for a comedic sideshow – it’s rarely anything laugh-out-loud hilarious, they’re more like omake , fourth wall breaking and all – detailing some possible tactics you can use, making for a very user-friendly experience. Of course, the final few missions are controller-throwing hard. Er, except in this case the system is also a controller, so please have patience. With hard work and guts anything is possible!

Oh, there’s also a host of other options like online Wi-Fi multiplayer and a create-your-own map mode which I didn’t touch yet. I see myself perhaaaaps returning to the game to complete the extra missions but unless anyone’s up for an online match I had a great run with the story missions. Addicting, snappy gameplay, memorable characters and a decent plot – ooh, and tons and tons of techno/rock/industrial music – is all I need in yet another great Nintendo DS game.

Valdareee valdaraahhhh

Mirror’s Edge: They Missed a Spot

December 5, 2008

Here's lookin' at you~

Mirror’s Edge is one of the most difficult, controversial titles to talk about this year. And I don’t mean controversial in a GTA/Saint’s Row/Manhunt “Oh my god what are our children playing?!” sort of way. I mean in a way that divides people and brings up certain aspects of game design and game criticism that are becoming hard to ignore for anyone that takes these sorts of things seriously. Has Mirror’s Edge come to pit father against son?

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