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Review: Les Miserables 2012

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

Les Miserables Movie Poster 2012

Les Miserables has been one of the most epic musical plays ever
created and has won millions of fans over. Director Tom Hooper brings the tale
to the big screen with nothing less than some of the finest actors in the movie
industry. Using a unique sound and feel to the musical, this remake of Victor
Hugo’s classical tale accentuates the vocals unlike so many others. Loaded with
an incredible cast of actors, this version of Les Miserables will move
you in ways you never thought a movie could.

1. Vocals - Unlike many other musicals, the singing for this incredible
movie is done live. Meaning it’s not from a track that the actors essentially
lip-sync. This creates a greater impact to those watching the movie as the cast
seamlessly move into a song. The result is a movie that holds the viewers
captivated.

2. Jean Valjean - Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of Jean Valjean demonstrates
his range of acting as he makes the part his own. His impressive command of the
lyrics during his singing raises the bar for Mr. Jackman versus roles he has
played in the past. Les Miserables could easily become one of the most
memorable moments of his career for those who are fans of his work.

3. Javert - It’s quite common to see Russell Crowe in the role of an
authoritative figure whether he is a good guy or the vendetta carrying officer
in Les Miserables. Mr. Crowe’s vocals in this entrancing movie are
impressive to say the least. Completely different from any performance this fine
actor has been involved in, few could play the part of Javert as Russell Crowe
has.

4. Fantine – Many will remember Anne Hathaway from her "Princes Diaries"
movies as well as a slew of other richly emotional projects. Her portrayal of
Fantine makes for an impressive performance as her range of vocals can win any
heart over. She has a great deal of talent and is an excellent supporting
actress.

Since 1913, Les Miserables has been made into movies, television
mini-series, and has been performed at the theater for nearly a century. It is
an epic tale that is sure to put anyone through an emotional roller coaster. Tom
Hooper’s vision of this classic tale brings romance, intrigue, and action.

This epic tale is set prior to the June Rebellion which takes place in Paris in
1832 involving student societies who launched an anti-monarchist stand in
France. It is a story of hard times throughout the lives of these poor souls
culminating to the rebellion. Fans of the original musical will be awed as
characters are brought to life in an amazing display of deeply emotional
performances provided by the entire cast.


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 – Review

Friday, July 15th, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2

The final installment in the Harry Potter series, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2″, arrive in theaters worldwide this Friday and the reviews are overwhelmingly positive. This review from canada.com’s, David Yates gives the film an unheard of 5 stars. I am definitely going to see this one.

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Michael Gambon and Maggie Smith

Directed by: David Yates

PG: Intense violence, frightening images

Running time: 130 minutes

Rating: 5 stars

It’s the quality of one’s convictions that determines success, not the number of followers.” Maybe so, Professor Lupin, but Harry Potter has found success on both fronts.

The seven films to date have earned almost a billion dollars each, so it’s obvious their followers are legion. But this is also a series that takes itself seriously, never more so than in this, the deathly finale.

The story starts quietly. Even in the wizarding world, there’s a time for talk and a time for action, as writer Steve Kloves (with the series since the beginning, save The Order of the Phoenix) and director David Yates (bringing the story home with the final four films) have clearly learned.

Thus, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) spends some time interrogating an ancient wand seller (John Hurt) and a wizened bank teller (Warwick Davis) about magical weapons before vaulting into the film’s first big set piece. It’s an underground bank raid that combines elements of the trash compactor from Star Wars, the sorcery scene in Fantasia, and Indiana Jones’ mine car ride. Also, a dragon.

This being the last stop on the line, Harry and his pals Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) are free to leave rubble in their wake, and they do so spectacularly. The demolition of Gringotts bank is just the beginning of the end.

Horcruxes (bits of bad-guy soul) fall like dominoes, and Hogwarts, their alma mater, takes a shellacking -though not before literally defending itself against the evil hordes of Voldemort -whose name, I’ve only just learned, derives from the French for “fly from death.” Someone’s been studying languages along with the dark arts.

The cinematic story stretches back to 2001, when Radcliffe was just a wee lad of 12. Thank heavens he and the rest of the young cast (no worries when it comes to the likes of Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Michael Gambon, et al) have also grown as actors.

Despite the fact friends and foes still insist on calling him “boy,” this was the first Potter film in which I fully accepted Harry as an adult. “I trusted the man I knew,” Harry tells Aberforth Dumbledore (played by Ciaran Hinds) of his character’s brother, the late headmaster Albus Dumbledore. It’s spoken with the gravitas of a grown-up.

There was some grumbling from fans when Warner Bros. announced that J.K. Rowling’s seventh and final book, The Deathly Hallows, would be split into two parts. The studio was accused of carrying out its own Gringotts raid.

But the final chapter needs the extra time to breathe, and to allow each character a final, fanthrilling close-up. Harry and Ron doff their shirts. (There was some unmanly squealing at the Canadian premiere when it looked like Hermione might do likewise.) Ron and Hermione get a From Here to Eternity lip-lock. Even the faithful Quidditch brooms have one last flight, although the pitch is in flames.

The plot finds Harry, Ron and Hermione racing against time to destroy He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named-But-We’re-Going-To-Anyway, played by Ralph Fiennes. Voldemort is rallying his followers for a final attack on Harry, while the young wizards collect and destroy the last few Horcruxes in hopes of rendering the Dark Lord vincible.

The quest leads them back to Hogwarts, where one particularly difficult-to-find object is hidden. Harry learns that he has -literally -a ghost of a chance of finding it. The action is backed by an amazingly apposite score from Alexandre Desplat, whose work in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The King’s Speech and now here has made him my new favourite composer. (Sorry, James Horner.) Loud when it needs to be, the score is also frequently as quiet as a tomb. Yet there are moments when one can detect almost infrasonic rumblings, as though kettledrum-playing elephants were riding a subway beneath the cinema floor. It’s shiver-inducing.

The film, like the books, ends with a brief coda set 19 years in the future. Let’s just say of it that Ron has finally tamed that mop of hair. Shorter than the interminable farewells in The Lord of the Rings, this final scene feels, like the rest of the movie, perfectly paced and entirely satisfying.

It is -dare I say? -magical.

© Copyright (c) Postmedia News


Review: ‘Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole’

Friday, September 24th, 2010

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole ‘Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole‘ is both visually stunning and compelling and that is due Zack Snyder (’300′ and ‘The Watchmen’). It’s one of the movies opening this weekend so you might want to consider seeing it after reading this review by Todd Gilchrist.

I’m not entirely sure if children needed their own ‘Lord of the Rings’ franchise, much less one starring owls, but now they have both. ‘Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole’ is director Zack Snyder’s adaptation of the first three books in Kathryn Lasky’s acclaimed series of ‘Guardians of Ga’Hoole’ novels, but with the exception that it’s owls and not hobbits who populate its fantastic universe. Snyder’s film follows a trajectory similar to that in Peter Jackson’s trilogy by focusing on untested dreamers who make a perilous journey over unforgiving terrain in order to rescue themselves and their families from death or enslavement. But what’s more remarkable about the film is that its familiarity, to kids and adults alike, is not at all a bad thing.

Snyder, a surprising director commercially (if a perfect one creatively) for material like this, expertly adapts his muscular visual style to the demands of a world filled with warring (if family-friendly) owls, adding another artistic victory with ‘Legend of the Guardians’ to his already impressive track record.

Jim Sturgess (‘21‘) provides the voice of Soren, a young Tyto owl who is beginning to learn how to fly, fueled by stories of the mythical Guardians from his father Noctus (Hugo Weaving) and a healthy sense of competition with his brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten). When Soren and Kludd are kidnapped by minions of Metal Beak (Joel Edgerton) and his queen, Nyra (Helen Mirren), the two of them are separated and subjected to imprisonment. Kludd throws in with Nyra’s fledgling army, but Soren escapes with the help of an elf owl named Gylfie (Emily Barclay), and the two of them embark on an epic journey to find the Guardians in the hopes that they will be able to defeat Metal Beak and then rescue their friends and family from his oppressive rule.

Somewhat awesomely, this really only describes the first 40 percent or so of the story of ‘Legend of the Guardians,’ and even if all of that sounds narratively familiar, the execution is unlike almost anything you’ve ever seen before. Rather than anthropomorphizing the owls to give them more humanlike reactions or physical attributes, Snyder protectively maintains the integrity and authenticity of owl physiology – or at least 90 percent of it – and makes them beautiful, graceful, agile creatures whose only human qualities are their personalities.

Animal Logic, the production company that animated the equally-accurate penguins of ‘Happy Feet,’ renders every feather and movement with so much meticulous detail that the only way to improve upon it would be to use a high-speed telephoto lens to shoot real owls in their actual habitat. But then, of course, it seems doubtful they would be able to do stuff like battle with one another, at least not with the ferocity that they do here. This is one film that presents its battle sequences with style, but not escapist glamour; notwithstanding the speech that explains how one owl collected his many disfigurements on the battlefield, even the off screen action doesn’t hesitate to suggest that these owls are definitely trying to kill one another.

(Speaking of which, I do think some parts of the film are probably a little too intense for younger viewers: the chase sequences and action set pieces are themselves markedly more aggressive than most family fare, but further, owls are beaten, tortured, defaced and decapitated, although via mostly implied rather than explicit violence.)

That said, the film does capture a genuine, captivating sense of wonder, and maintains a propulsive, sweeping momentum that keeps the story from drowning in the “epic movie” conventions that might otherwise make ‘Legend of the Guardians’ feel too familiar or forced. Snyder’s direction helps significantly in this regard; while his visual style sometimes seems to be a little light on substance, he maximizes the dramatic impact of the moments that need to be emphasized. Shots of owls moving in slow motion through rainstorms are definitely awe-inspiring, but Snyder makes sure that the flourishes serve the story rather than distract from or overshadow it. Moreover, he keeps the rest of the proceedings moving at a brisk enough pace that the story carries weight, but you don’t feel like you’re just waiting for the next “significant” moment.

Click here to read the rest of the indepth review.


Review: The Town

Friday, September 17th, 2010

Jon Hamm

Jon Hamm plays FBI agent Frawley, who slowly becomes convinced that Claire (Rebecca Hall) knows more than she is letting on.

If you were sitting on the fence as to whether or not you should see the The Town this weekend this review ought to help you decide.

Ben Affleck plays a reluctant robber in this well-crafted heist film (he also directs and co-wrote the screenplay based on Chuck Hogan’s novel Prince of Thieves). A film with fine performances, firepower, inventive getaways and dramatic tension, resulting in a heist movie that feels fresh, even when it touches the same notes as some of its predecessors.

Starring: Ben Affleck, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner and Blake Lively

Rating: Four and a half stars out of five

If you had a nickel for every movie that featured criminals engaged in one last big score, you could probably afford to mount a Broadway musical production of Avatar. (James Cameron, if you’re reading this — no need to thank me.) The Town adds a slight but important twist, however: The criminal doesn’t really want to do the job.

The reluctant robber is Ben Affleck, who also co-wrote the screenplay (based on Chuck Hogan’s novel Prince of Thieves) and directed the film. This is Affleck’s first writing/directing gig since his well-received Gone Baby Gone in 2007, and the first time he has combined all three talents in one film. If he felt thinly spread, it doesn’t show.

The movie opens with a bang, as Doug MacRay (Affleck) leads a gang of four who attack a Boston bank with brutal efficiency. There are fascinating details right off the bat, as the robbers throw the employees’ collected cellphones into a fishbowl, and bleach the crime scene to kill any trace of DNA evidence.

Later in the film, Affleck’s character jokes, “I watch a lot of CSI. Miami, New York. And Bones.” But it’s clear that, as screenwriter, he’s done more than just study bank heists from other movies.

On the way out the door, there’s an unexpected wrinkle. They grab a hostage, Claire (Rebecca Hall), blindfolding her and letting her go a few blocks away. Fearful she may have seen or heard enough to help the police, Doug decides to shadow her and find out what she knows.

He arranges to bump into her at a laundromat, and she tells him about her recent trauma. “Sorry,” he says. Her response is one of the most ironic “It’s-not-your-faults” ever to hit the screen.

From this point, Doug’s double life is almost certain to cause him grief. His wooing of Claire quickly moves from an act of damage control to one of true affection. Meanwhile, there’s work to be done. Boston’s banks aren’t going to rob themselves, and Doug’s crime boss (a great supporting turn by Pete Postlethwaite) is getting impatient for the next hit.

Affleck’s eye for detail informs the entire film. Take this exchange between Doug and his hotheaded right-hand-man, played by Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker). “I need your help,” Doug says. “I can’t tell you what it’s about, you can never ask me about it later, and we’re going to hurt some people.” Renner fires back: “Whose car we gonna take?”

Later, when an armoured-truck holdup goes wrong, Affleck delivers an extended car chase that’s actually three separate set pieces. The first ends in a shootout, but the bad guys manage to drive off again into chase No. 2, which concludes when they switch cars, only to start again when another cop notices them.

Add to all this the surreal effect of having the bank robbers dressed in rubber nun masks, making them appear like Catholic extras in a Planet of the Apes movie. It’s all very clever — or “smaht,” as the heavily accented Boston characters would say.

It’s all quite believable, too, thanks to the continuing flood of details that place us not only in Boston’s Charleston neighbourhood — the film calls it the bank-robber capital of America — but in the shoes of Doug and his blue-collar cronies. The only cop we get to know is Jon Hamm’s FBI agent Frawley, who slowly becomes convinced that Claire knows more than she is letting on.

Meanwhile, Doug visits his dad in prison (another fine supporting role, this time by Chris Cooper), ruminates about his long-lost mother and his budding romance with Claire, and decides it might be best to skip the town before it swallows him up. Cue the last big score, as Postlethwaite’s character orders him to lead a raid on Fenway Park after a three-game home stand. For its iconic nature, if not quite the take, Doug might as well be robbing Fort Knox.

The Town’s final act ramps up the firepower, the inventive getaways and the dramatic tension in lockstep, resulting in a heist movie that feels fresh, even when it touches the same notes as some of its predecessors. Maybe Fenway Park had an effect on Affleck, convincing him that, even as you swing for the fences, you need to cover all your bases.

© Copyright (c) National Post


Review: The American

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

The American DS 1 Sheet Movie Poster - Advance Style AFilm director Anton Corbijn spent 35 years as a photographer before he went into movies, but he has a musical sensibility, as well. He has directed music videos and designed the stage for Depeche Mode’s world tours, and his film debut was Control, the story of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis.

Now, his second film has arrived, and it is the work of a visual stylist more than a musician. The American is a Euro-thriller about an assassin named Jack (George Clooney) who is fleeing an attempt on his life in Sweden — the latest locale for cold and soulless mayhem — and runs in Italy for what he hopes is his final job. It’s a film in which everything is cropped: the minimal soundtrack, the minimal dialogue, the dun landscapes of the Abruzzo region, and Clooney’s hairstyle, not to mention his thin muscular body and a nearly expressionless performance that nonetheless conveys his character’s watchfulness and (this is part of the Euro-thing) his spiritual peril.

Yes, The American is one of those. Corbijn is not afraid of silence or stillness, and he frames his actors with artful care, walking straight-faced through the labyrinth of an Italian village, in quiet close-up, or sitting at the edge of the frame, at once alienated and well-armed. Jack is alert but at a remove: You learn it in the opening sequence in Sweden, when he sends his girlfriend to call the police about a sudden death and she never makes it to the phone.

The American, based on the Martin Booth novel A Very Private Gentleman, is a violent story with the pace of an art film. One imagines a Hollywood version filled with helicopters and explosions, but in the calm and empty cafes of Italian villages, the tensions come with a more refined air: Jack’s glance to the side, a knotting of his brows, and you’re on full alert.

Jack is hiding in a place of stucco homes that spill along the side of a hill, with stairways running down to a few stores and unadorned streets. “Above all, don’t make any friends,” his boss (Johan Leysen) tells him, but on the first day Jack is approached by a priest (a beautifully, hoarse performance by veteran Italian actor Paolo Bonacelli) who befriends him. The priest sees something disturbing in Jack, and his concern for his soul — an underlying theme of The American — prompts Clooney to almost smile, a major concession for a character who seems beyond joy.

He also meets Clara (the stunning Violante Placido), a prostitute with whom he develops a close relationship, the prostitutes of small Italian villages apparently having not only hearts of gold but breasts of alabaster and the kind of sexual appetites you mostly find in Italian cinema, come to think of it. She’s more than a friend; she’s also a distraction.

And Jack has a job he can’t be distracted from. As well as being a killer, he’s a skilled gunsmith — he tells people, “I’m no good with machines,” but apparently he means “I’m up to no good with machines” — and he has been contracted to make a sniper’s rifle for the mysterious Mathilde (Thekla Reuten). The scenes of Jack assembling the gun and manufacturing its silencer have the clean pleasures of craftsmanship: It’s always a privilege to watch an artist at work, even if it’s making exploding bullets. Jack seems to lose himself in these tasks; his serenity comes in the manufacture of murder, and when he tells people in the village that he’s a photographer (like Corbijn), it’s not so much a lie as a description of a man who stands away from the world and sizes it up before he shoots it.

We don’t know how Jack became what he is, how he can be so merciless and tender; he’s a character from a Western, like the Sergio Leone film shown on a restaurant TV. He is also interested in butterflies — the women in the film call him Mr. Butterfly — and the things in his world inspire a butterfly interest: beautiful women, intricate guns, survival, the machinery of his own body. Those are the matters of many a George Clooney film (his character in Ocean’s Eleven has them, as well) but in The American, they’re in a cocoon, and we’re never sure what’s going to come out.

jstone@canwest.com

© Copyright (c) Postmedia News


Movie Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs The World Photo 1

Michael Cera assumes the role of geek king — one more time — in this surprisingly entertaining adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novels from Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright. Despite the mountain of potential cliche and deja-vu, Wright finds novel ground, thanks to a potent visual imagination, a complete understanding of the genre and a sincere heart that pushes through the veneer of cool.

Starring: Michael Cera, Alison Pill, Ellen Wong, Anna Kendrick, Kieran Culkin and Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Rating: Three and a half stars out of five

The world certainly did have an axe to grind with Scott Pilgrim — even before the first frames of this Edgar Wright movie hit the screen. It’s not a specific quibble; it’s a question of deja-vu.

For starters, did the world really need another movie featuring gangly Canadian nerd icon Michael Cera in an awkward romantic lead? Moreover, did we need another adaptation of a graphic novel that’s attained cult status? And really, are we so culturally bored that any film featuring a hip soundtrack and some clever video game-inspired special effects will have us drooling at the corners of our slack mouths?

Apparently, yes.

Even though Ghost World came out close to a decade ago, and the pulp pages of comic books appeal to a decidedly niche market, Wright proves there’s still ample terrain to explore and exploit in the ink-stained genre with this reel that gets the tone spot on.

Wright, the director of Shaun of the Dead, brings so much raw energy to this potentially tired mix that you have to surrender to the wackiness within the first act, because it’s delivered without irritating affectation.

Even Cera, who’s awfully close to parodying his own image, finds a way to transcend his own persona by reformulating his goofiness. He strips away the underlying sense of geek ennui, and, in turn, clears the way for his character to assume the dimensions of Greek myth.

Just in case you aren’t up on Bryan Lee O’Malley’s oeuvre, Scott Pilgrim is a modern character from modern times who shares a lot in common with Perseus, the demi-god of Greek legend.

He appears to be a complete mortal, and suffers the slings and arrows of failed romance, but Scott Pilgrim has a weird brand of super-strength that emerges whenever he’s forced to face off against his enemies.

In this case, those enemies are the seven evil exes who once courted his new girlfriend, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).

Without any long, drawn-out explanation or primer in Hellenic narrative, Wright simply throws us in the tub of make-believe with an inflatable raft and lets us make the call: Do we want to go for this ride or not?

It’s an easy question to answer, because Wright decks out the screen with so much colour, such fun characters and so many great T-shirts, the mix is undeniably seductive.

Best of all, Wright recognizes his entire movie rests on the flimsy shoulders of wilful suspension of disbelief, but he makes no apologies for a single flight of fancy.

At one point, as Scott is sucked into yet another showdown with a former love, he looks to his gay roommate Wallace (Kieran Culkin) and asks: “You’re seeing this, right?”

Wallace responds with a deadpan remark and urges him to fight.

The result is a movie that seems to operate on two completely different levels at the same time. In one plane of experience, Scott Pilgrim is just an ordinary guy who plays bass in a basement band. On another plane, he’s Pilgrim, a righteous avenger who does battle with the forces from the underworld with all the combat aplomb of a video game-addicted teen.

Wright, borrowing from O’Malley, successfully fuses all the pop-culture references with bits and pieces of pagan myth, because he’s not obsessed with the logical weight of the story.

When Scott suddenly assumes the form of a Mortal Kombat-inspired avatar, Wright immediately changes the frame and the look of the film to match what we’re about to see. Even the opening corporate salvo of planet Earth turning in space has been recreated in crude pixel form to give us the right taste of time before the movie even begins.

When things are this zany, you have to surrender and giggle — which is a good place to enjoy obvious entertainments such as these. Perhaps the biggest surprise in this silly and satisfying mix was the fact Scott Pilgrim got to keep his Canadian passport for the voyage.

The graphic novel is a Canadian export, printed in Portland by Oni Press, but the production money behind this movie is largely American, thanks to Universal’s involvement. So are many of the stars, including the Oscar-nominated Anna Kendrick, who plays Scott’s sister, and Culkin, who keeps our logic-based inquiries at bay with declarative statements about the mutable nature of reality — and his attraction to men.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure there was enough novel ground left to tread in the world of offbeat comics and geek chic, but Wright proves genre cliche can be reinvented with imagination, self-awareness and enough courage to be sincere, when it might have been easier to slip into a cocoon of sarcasm.

© Copyright (c) Postmedia News

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” debuted in wide release Friday, August 13, 2010


Edge of Darkness – Movie Review

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Edge of Darkness DS 1 Sheet Movie Poster -Style A

“Edge of Darkness” is a must see this weekend. Read the review and let us know what you think.

Director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale, Green Lantern) revisits the Edge of Darkness in this truncated, Americanized retelling of the award-winning British TV miniseries he directed back in 1985. The original miniseries was one of a number of UK political thrillers, including Defence of the Realm and Hidden Agenda, made during and commenting on the Thatcher era. The feature film remake keeps the basic premise of the small screen original — a cop uncovers political intrigue and corporate corruption while investigating the murder of his daughter — while updating what the villains are up to.

Veteran homicide detective Tom Craven (Mel Gibson) is delighted when his twenty-something daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic) comes home to Boston for the weekend, but she’s fatigued, sick and somewhat aloof. Something is clearly wrong with her, but before Tom can learn what that is she is gunned down in what everyone initially assumes was a hit meant for him. Everything changes, however, when Tom finds a Geiger counter and handgun among Emma’s belongings. She worked for Northmoor, a private firm with shady government contracts, and Tom comes to suspect that they were behind her death.

Tom is soon visited by Darius Jedburgh (Ray Winstone, who replaced Robert De Niro), a British “cleaner” for the U.S. government who is, curiously, as helpful in Craven’s search for the truth as he is vaguely threatening. What did Emma find out about Northmoor that got her killed? And who else was she mixed up with? These are the questions that drive an increasingly desperate and violent Craven to take the fight right to the bad guys’ door.

Mel Gibson hasn’t been seen on-screen as a leading man since 2002′s Signs, but you’d never know he hadn’t acted in front of a camera for the better part of a decade while watching Edge of Darkness. Gibson delivers one of his most restrained and potent performances here, channeling the righteous, vengeful fury we’ve come to expect from “Mad Mel” while also conveying a world-weariness befitting the role of an aging single dad mourning the loss of his only child. Gibson’s subtle performance helps elevate the film from being just another revenge movie or political thriller. (And, as a native Bostonian, I can attest that Gibson does a fine job with the accent, nailing the inflections and attitude.)

The rest of the cast is solid. Winstone is both gruffly sophisticated and subtly sinister as the enigmatic Jedburgh, whose loyalties and agenda are almost as murky as his past. Winstone damn near the steals the show from Gibson. Danny Huston plays his latest villain with a sense of entitlement and white collar aloofness that epitomizes the old line about the banality of evil. Ditto Denis O’Hare as a government stooge and Damian Young as a soulless senator. Jay O. Sanders delivers in his few scenes as a cop colleague of Craven’s. Novakovic isn’t in the movie quite enough to really make too much of a lasting impression, while Shawn Roberts, who is a dead ringer for young David Keith, is a bit forced as Emma’s paranoid boyfriend-colleague.

The screenplay adaptation by Oscar-winner William Monahan and Andrew Bovell has more shadings and nuanced characters than other genre movies of this stripe. (Monahan, a Boston native who scripted The Departed, also brings a lot of local flavor to the piece.) There’s a shorthand used in the depiction of Craven’s relationship with his daughter that’s simple but effective; his flashback to teaching a very young Emma how to shave is both sweet and moving, and will surely pull on the heartstrings of daddy’s girls everywhere. This becomes all the more poignant when Craven finally realizes he didn’t really know her as well as he thought.

Also especially effective are the exchanges between Craven and Jedburgh that mix tension, humor and even a bit of pathos as the latter begins to take stock of his own life while learning more about the former. The dialogue, especially Jedburgh’s doublespeak, is brandished like a weapon by hero and villain alike to threaten people and “clarify” increasingly complicated situations for them. But when words aren’t vicious enough, there are moments of brutality here that prove screen violence can still have genuine emotional impact and shock value.

With Edge of Darkness, director Martin Campbell, the screenwriters and Mel Gibson have delivered a thriller that is, oddly enough, as energetic as it is melancholy, a film that’s rife with political intrigue, populated with captivating characters and punctuated by sporadic bursts of startling violence.


Movie Review: The Book of Eli

Friday, January 15th, 2010

The Book of Eli DS 1 Sheet Movie Poster - Advance Style A

Thirty years after the flash, a man named Eli cuts across the desert — a speck against the sun-bleached horizon. He is dressed in tattered rags and well-worn shoes. Above him, bomb-blasted freeways dead end in piles of rubble and exposed girders. A dying car battery powers the last iPod on Earth, the final notes of music in a world devoid of life or color. In his bag, beside the shotgun and long-blade, is a book. The only book that matters. And in a lawless town of mindless marauders, a civilized man named Carnegie has been searching for that book for a long, long time.

The book, of course, is the Bible — perhaps the last of its kind since the war saw them all hunted down and burned — but in a scorched world of lost souls, such a book would have the power to either liberate or control.

In a strange way, The Book of Eli is really one movie disguised as another, presenting a lyrically filmed story about the importance of religious faith wrapped in the guise of a post-apocalyptic, quasi-western action film. There is a sense as Eli progresses that beyond the awesomely constructed wasteland, the sharply choreographed action sequences and the dynamic performances by Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman, there’s something far deeper and more dramatic passing itself off as popcorn genre entertainment. It’s the very opposite of heavy-handed, subtly layered to be about something, and that’s a rare quality in a film that could deliver just as well on the merits of its action and visuals.

The Hughes brothers return to the big screen to tell the story of one man’s journey of faith, sheparding the Bible across America until chance or divine intervention delivers him to its purpose. That said, Washington’s Eli is still an apocalyptic bad-ass who can easily take down a gang of rapists and thieves with a single blade or win out in a gunfight against 25 fully-loaded shooters. He’s not much of a talker and Washington’s biggest challenge in the role is to maintain a quiet and believable presence throughout. Most of the dialogue belongs to Oldman as the black-hatted Carnegie, delivering a well-balanced performance that’s consistently engaging without ever spilling into the overly eccentric territory that Oldman has been known to explore. In many ways, Carnegie is a more complex character than Eli, played with occasional notes of sympathy and suggesting a past that might render him more than just a one-note villain.

Washington, however, plays many of his later scenes against Solara, the daughter of Carnegie’s mistress, played here by Mila Kunis in the film’s least effective performance. Kunis plays the role of Eli’s companion in the most straightforward fashion possible, never suggesting any real depth or emotional connection beyond what’s scripted on the page. She’s hardly bad in the role so much as she’s mechanical, serving the story in such a way that never pulls you out, but quite never invites you into the material. The deficiency isn’t tremendously noticeable until the closing moments when the character’s fate is finally revealed and the audience discovers that they simply don’t care. Thankfully, Washington is around to help elevate each sequence and does so with his typical bravado.

The performances are also informed by the wonderfully visual world that the Hughes brothers have created. The Book of Eli is a painterly film, crafted with style and nuance as opposed to more grounded, realistic depictions of the Apocalypse as seen in The Road. The action is fast and the camera moves — the shots — are meticulously framed. One pivotal shoot-out finds the camera floating into and through the ruins of a bullet-ridden house in a singular movement, illustrating the brothers’ distinct style and penchant for visual flare. But Gary Whitta’s script — with some help from Anthony Peckham — offers the pair a strong balance of action and substance, as does the very premise of the film itself.

Make no mistake, however, The Book of Eli is a film about religion. Or at the very least, faith. One gets the sense from various cultural references scattered throughout the movie that the filmmakers hope that viewers of any belief system might be able to make the mental switch from the Bible, to the Koran, to the Torah… That Eli isn’t carrying the Bible so much as he’s carrying a representation of the very notion of faith itself. But the fact that the set-up demands that the story choose one particular book will no doubt make the film feel very Christian to many audiences. While one gets the impression that other Eli’s may exist within this world, carrying the sacred texts of any number of religions, it’s never communicated quite so clearly as to satisfy those who are likely, perhaps fairly, to inquire, “Why is it only the Christian God who speaks to the post-apocalyptic world?”

With all that in mind, Eli is a surprisingly moving film. The action and the visuals are superbly entertaining, but there are several moments, however stylized, when the more philosophical subtext rises to the surface and elicits an actual emotion out of the audience. Sophisticated, exciting and particularly well-crafted, The Book of Eli is worth a read, cover to cover.


Movie Reviews: Daybreakers

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

Daybreakers DS 1 Sheet Movie Poster - Advance Style A

Like all vampire movies, Daybreakers sucks, but in a good way, thanks to solid performances from Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe, who understand the key to the genre is selling the premise and the lines without stooping to cliche. In this round of toothy fun, the whole world has been transformed into vampires, leaving the bloodsuckers vulnerable to existential crisis and ennui.

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Sam Neill, Willem Dafoe

Rating: Three stars out of five

If the vampire is today’s most popular metaphor for social disintegration and moral disease, we might as well be latent Victorians sitting atop a volcano of explosive change.

After all, the vampire is a brilliant symbol of our collective dark side. The metamorphosing monster who looks human, except for a pale complexion and an inability to walk in the truth-revealing daylight sun, this blood-sucking, life-force drinking creation is the incarnation of our sinful, fleshy desires — as well as the consequences of giving way to temptation.

No wonder we love the toothy ones so much: They get away with all the things we wish we could do, but social law forbids.

That said, Daybreakers offers us a world where even the vampires suffer from ennui — and not because they’re in Forks, Washington. The vampires in this feature from Aussie siblings Peter and Michael Spierig are bored because they’re not special anymore.

In this version of a not-too-distant future, vampires have taken over the world through viral contagion. The movie handles the exposition through newspaper headlines seen over the opening credits as we learn of an outbreak, and subsequent epidemic, that turned the entire human race into bloodsuckers.

After nearly a decade of immortality and sanguineous drinking habits, the vampire beings have displaced or killed all the regular humans. The only Homo sapiens left are comatose blood-donors, being farmed in gigantic racks run by the evil pharmaceutical corporation that gives the world its life-giving blood supply.

But without a substitute, the blood stores are running out. The humans are dying, and without fresh blood to feed the world, the vampires are on the verge of starving to death and becoming a sub-species of long-nailed, sunken headed monsters that easily frighten off the well-fed vampires — who see the starving ones as something lesser than themselves.

It’s all great social metaphor for wealth, power and the notion of free will, and to the Spierig brothers’ credit, they find enough great imagery to bring the underlying commentary home without being pushy or pompous.

Understanding the real horrors are the ones we perpetrate on each other, the movie brings us into the begrudging vampire existence of Edward (apparently, the favoured name among vampires). Edward (Ethan Hawke) is a hematologist who works for the evil drug company, seeking the best possible fake blood formula.

He’s close. But so far, no cigar — just a few patients who exploded after the transfusion.

Edward never wanted to be a vampire in the first place and he’s steadfastly refused to drink human blood, but when the shortage gets critical, and he’s rounded by a group of rogue human survivors, he’s forced to take a long hard look in the mirror — where he spots his growing earlobes, the first sign of vampire dementia.

Edward wants to help the humans, but if he’s to succeed, he’s going to have to solve the mystery of Elvis: No. Not the pelvis. He’ll be forced to solve the mystery of Elvis (Willem Dafoe), a vampire who regained his humanity after crashing his muscle car into a pole, flying through the air on fire, and landing in a pond.

The science clearly needs a little sophistication, but the ideas in Daybreakers hold up metaphysically, which gives this otherwise goofy, toothless movie some edge.

Because the directors aren’t afraid of mingling some over-the-top genre elements with a slick shooting style, the movie commands your attention through mere production values.

The rest of the enjoyment comes in watching solid thespians such as Dafoe and Hawke, not to mention a scenery-chewing Sam Neill, spread their skin-covered wings and don the icy contact lenses.

Good actors are fun to watch any day of the week, but a good actor trying to pull off lines such as “life’s a bitch and then you don’t die” can be especially fun.

Hardly a reinvention of the bloody genre, Daybreakers understands exactly what it’s trying to be, and it realizes the vision of a well-crafted and good-looking vampire movie — without teen angst.

In other words, like all vampire movies, it sucks — but in a good way.

© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service


Avatar: Movie Review

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

Avatar Double-Sided Movie Poster - Advance Style A

Read what Jim Vejvoda of ign.com has to say about James Cameron’s, “Avatar“. I saw it and I plan on seeing it again. It’s that good. Give yourself a Christmas present and see this one before it leaves the theaters; but see it 3D if at all possible.

The highly anticipated sci-fi epic Avatar centers on Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paralyzed former Marine who is offered an amazing opportunity after his twin brother dies. Recruited by a big faceless corporation (is there ever any other kind in a movie?), Jake travels to the distant world of Pandora, inhabited by the simple, indigenous Na’vi, blue-skinned humanoids who stand 9′ tall and have tails. Pandora is also home to a valuable mineral that could solve all of Earth’s energy problems … if only those pesky natives didn’t live on top of the richest deposits of it.

Since humans can’t breathe Pandora’s atmosphere, the company has created Avatars, in which human pilots use their consciousness to remotely-control a genetically engineered body that is a hybrid of Na’vi and human DNA. Jake’s deceased brother represented a big investment on the part of the Company, but since he shares the same genome as his twin Jake is offered to take his place as an Avatar driver. Gung-ho for action, Jake agrees and then has the pot further sweetened for him by Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang), the scar-faced leader of the Company’s private military wing. Quaritch offers Jake a deal: he wants Jake, via his Avatar, to spy on the Na’vi, learn their ways and gain their trust so that he can convince them to “relocate” off their mineral-rich land. In return, Quaritch guarantees the Company will pay for the costly operation to cure Jake’s paralysis. Jake eagerly agrees, but a few months into the job finds himself “going native” after falling for Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), a beautiful and fierce Na’vi who takes Jake into her tribe. Love and a guilty conscience, along with the realization that he has found a place to belong and call home, propels Jake, in his Avatar form, to switch sides and help the Na’vi make a stand against the increasingly violent encroachment of “the sky people.”

Wow. James Cameron pulled it off. I was a big skeptic about Avatar ever since I saw the promotional footage Cameron showed at last summer’s San Diego Comic-Con; the effects, the characters, the hype — none of them were affecting me even though I really wanted them to. I suffered through every Delgo or FernGully or Dances With Wolves joke — and even made a few myself, I’ll admit — and remain shocked that we’re a week away from the movie’s release and no one in the general population seems to be buzzing about the movie let alone fully understands what the hell it’s about. But neither the film’s marketing nor the sizzle reel roadshow that 20th Century Fox and Cameron went on have done Avatar justice. You just have to see it to believe it.

On a technical level, Avatar is a landmark in motion picture history, a film that will be remembered 70 years from now as redefining the boundaries and possibilities of cinema much the way that D.W. Griffith’s films did. It helps audiences take a giant step forward in their suspension of disbelief in what is “real” onscreen, while raising the bar for what mass appeal genre movies can be and achieve. It also validates all the hype and investment in 3-D and motion-capture animation. And if all that sounds too good to be true, then just know that Avatar is a grand, glorious and kick-ass piece of entertainment, an old-fashioned movie gussied up by state of the art filmmaking. Does Cameron cannibalize from his own films here? Sure, you can’t help but think of Aliens (the presence of mech suits and Sigourney Weaver being the most obvious), but to dismiss the film out of hand on that basis would be narrow-minded. After all, every filmmaker poaches from their own work (Scorsese and Tim Burton spring to mind). Cameron simply knows what he does best, and he does all that and more in Avatar.

My apprehension about Avatar dissipated after the first 10 minutes, by which point I knew that I was in great hands. Cameron displays such confidence here that you’d never know it’s been almost 13 years since he’s released a feature film. He has done a Toklien-esque job of creating the world of Pandora, exploring its ecology and zoology and offering an almost anthropological study of the Na’vi. (I know that all sounds very pretentious and maybe even a bit boring to some, but Cameron manages to make it all an organic part of the story as everything on Pandora is connected; the balance of nature there is such that when one part of the environment is damaged or destroyed, everything else is affected by it.) Perhaps even more so than Dances With Wolves, Avatar reminded me of what Malick was attempting to do with The New World — an exploration of nature and a native culture couched in a culture clash/love story where the white hero falls for the chief’s daughter — but done far more effectively and excitingly. (Yes, Avatar is essentially a sci-fi version of the Pocahontas story.)

Still, don’t think that Avatar is some haughty, New Age-y message movie about environmentalism and the horrors and guilt of colonialism. It certainly is about all those things and much more, but it’s ostensibly a Western set in space crossed with an undercover/behind enemy lines story. Indeed, Avatar shows how tough it is to get a Western made in Hollywood these days: you’ve got to spend hundreds of millions of dollars, set it on another planet and shoot it in motion-capture in order to tell the story of the displacement and destruction of Native Americans. (Na’vi, native, get it?) The Na’vi are sort of a cross between the Sioux and the Cherokee. Their war whoops sound like those of Indians in old Westerns (perhaps too much so; even their “horses” sound, well, too much like horses). Quaritch is essentially Andrew Jackson, a tough old soldier driven to “relocate” the natives by any means necessary. “The Company” is the railroad, while “Unobtainium” (a real term) is akin to gold in the Black Hills or oil in Oklahoma.

For a Westerns fan, U.S. history buff, and sci-fi fanboy such as myself, Avatar offered an embarrassment of riches to geek out over. However, Avatar is also just as much a commentary on the state of the world (and imperialism) today as it is the past. Metaphorical nods to America’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan are loud and clear and undeniable. The film’s private military company is essentially Blackwater in space. There’s a scene of cataclysmic destruction that overtly suggests 9/11 and the World Trade Center. The terms “terrorists” and “shock and awe” are used. Yet Cameron never gets too lost in a political argument; he is, after all, a filmaker keenly aware of the need to keep domestic audiences happy if he’s to make commercially successful movies. So by making his tale an escapist fantasy, Cameron has swiped a page from the Red Scare playbook and used genre to cloak the tougher and more critical aspects of his message.

Of course, the film’s themes and subtext wouldn’t matter if we didn’t like the characters. Like District 9′s Wikus van de Merwe, Jake Sully is capable of both kindness and treachery and is out to save himself as much as he is the aliens. Avatar is the make or break Hollywood movie for Aussie actor Sam Worthington, especially after Terminator Salvation flopped, and he acquits himself well, striking a nice balance between callowness, ambition and guilt. As for the rest of the cast, Lang is a revelation as Quaritch; it’s tough to believe that this muscle-bound old soldier is the same actor who played cowardly Ike Clanton in Tombstone and the doughy, sleazy tabloid reporter in Manhunter. Sigourney Weaver brings grace (no pun intended) and wit to her role as cranky but goodhearted scientist Grace Augustine, and the darkly comic Giovanni Ribisi shines as the d-bag suit who represents The Company’s interests on Pandora. Worse than Paul Reiser’s corporate stooge in Aliens, Selfridge is a soulless, bigoted careerist who epitomizes the expression “the banality of evil.”

Saldana, hot off of Star Trek, is solid as Neytiri, but the Na’vi themselves are rather one-dimensional characters. Cameron recycles the stereotypical screen depiction of Native Americans, but sidesteps the thornier aspects of it somewhat by making them aliens. Still, the Na’vi are all types we’ve seen before in Westerns: the noble chief, the warrior princess, the earth mother, the tough brave who is the hero’s rival but ultimately comes to respect him. These archetypes (or stereotypes, if you want) coupled with such a familiar story is the film’s biggest drawback. It could be argued that given the fantastical premise of the film and its strange alien characters, it was probably necessary to employ a more traditional storyline, something relatable for an audience since there were enough other elements that could have possibly lost them. Still, if Avatar sequels happen then it would be nice to see the Na’vi given more depth and dimension as characters.

See proof that you’re not in Kansas anymore.

Books can (and will) be written on Avatar’s visual effects. Cameron and his team have achieved a stunning level of photo-realism in the environment and inhabitants of Pandora and of the mech suits and vessels of the humans. (One thought kept going through my mind during the climactic battle: James Cameron should direct the Halo movie.) He gradually introduces us to the various fantastical elements, allowing us time to let these things become real in our minds. For the most part, the yellow eyes of the Na’vi seem alive and expressive (a first for motion-capture characters, in my opinion), although there are a few times when Jake’s looked “dead” to me. The level of detail in the Na’vis’ skin, and in the vegetation and beasts of Pandora, is astounding. Not since seeing Star Wars as a little kid have I felt so completely and magically transported to such a strange, new world.

This gradual approach has its drawbacks, though, in that it contributes to the film’s bloated running time. This is a real bladder buster of a movie, and I’d be amazed if there were any deleted scenes of importance on the eventual DVD release. For example, the “learning to fly your dragon” sequence goes on far too long, with Cameron using it as a travelogue to show off Pandora — and all the nifty and costly CGI landscapes his team created — rather than to advance the story. That’s just one example, but the film definitely could have been tightened up. The running time and the overall formulaic nature of the story is what keeps me from giving Avatar a higher score.

To say that I was pleasantly surprised by Avatar is an understatement. My advice to you is to forget all that you think you know or believe about Avatar. Just go and experience the world of Pandora and revel in the fact that one of the most entertaining filmmakers of our time is back in action.


 
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