Sunday, November 23, 2008

Movie Review - Twilight

In a way, vampire lovers are akin to addicts of all kinds (alcoholics, druggies, coffee fiends). There may be certain types of our chosen addiction which we prefer or especially enjoy, which really get us where we want to be, but at the end of the day we'd take almost anything that even vaguely resembles what we love. So even if "Twilight" may be vampires lite, I'll take it. I've never really met a vampire I didn't like, and Edward Cullen (played by Robert Pattinson) happens to be a type of vampire I haven't seen before. Not having read the hugely popular book series on which this movie is based, I had no expectations or preconceived ideas of what the lead vampire in the story should be. Unlike vampires of the past, from classics like the great Bela Lugosi's Count Dracula to the hunky, rock & roll vampires in "The Lost Boys", Edward is a rather reserved, if intense, vampire who saves the human female of his dreams (Kristen Stewart as Bella Swann) instead of destroying her.

Moving to the rainy northwest from sunny Tucson, Bella is out of place living with her dad, the local police chief (Billy Burke) and attending a new school. One of the more intriguing aspects of her new life is a family of vampires, the Cullens, including "father" Dr. Carlisle (Peter Facinelli), "mother" Esme (Elizabeth Reaser), Alice (Ashley Greene), Jasper (Jackson Rathbone), Emmet (Kellan Lutz) and Rosalie (Nikki Reed). And then there's Edward. Of course there's an immediate attraction between the awkward Bella and the gorgeous, stand-offish Edward which becomes the main theme of the story. The romance between the human girl and the 17 year old vampire (who's actually been around for over a hundred years) is complicted by the fact that Edward mustn't ever give in to his overwhelming desire to chomp down on Bella. A subplot involves 3 "bad" vampires (Cam Gigandet, Edi Gathegi and Rachelle Lefevre) who begin ripping up the citizens of the small town, and one of them develops a fixation on Bella. A childhood friend of Bella's, a Quileute Indian boy named Jacob (played by darling Taylor Lautner), also shows up to warn Bella about the mysterious Cullens while cultivating his own sweet crush on her. There are some exciting scenes, including a game of vampire baseball during a thunderstorm and a clash of vampires when the Cullens must face off with the evil vampires in order to protect Bella. This isn't the best vampire movie I've ever seen by any means, but it's entertaining enough and, despite my reluctance to admit it, I'm actually thinking about going to see it again. Guess the teenage girl in me isn't quite dead after all.

Things to love about this movie: A very cool soundtrack that perfectly enhances scenes in the movie; terrific cast of cute newcomers who bring a fresh, interesting take to the vampire myth; a marvelous scene where Edward flies Bella up to the treetops for a stunning look at the northwest countryside
Things to hate about this movie: That overdone, white faced, red lipped, pouffed hair styling for Edward (he'd be much sexier without it); the Cullens consider themselves "vegetarians" because they only kill animals -- that's an insult!
Pleasant surprises: Edward manages to act like a teenager instead of a suave, mesmerizing vampire
Unpleasant surprises: Could have used more passion in the "romantic" scenes; when Edward reveals to Bella how he actually appears in sunlight, the cheesy F/X are a bit of a let down

Monday, November 10, 2008

Movie Review - Changeling

Viewing the trailer for this movie, I was uncertain whether to see it or not, but a Clint Eastwood directed film, along with an Angelina Jolie performance, is always worth checking out. Jolie stars as Christine Collins in a true story about a missing boy, a corrupt police force and a ranch of horrors in 1928 Los Angeles. Working as a phone operator manager, Christine is a single mom who must leave her young son Walter (Gattlin Griffith) at home when she's called in to work on a weekend, only to find him gone when she returns. The frantic mother scours the neighborhood but is forced to wait 24 hours before officially reporting the kid as missing. Unfortunately for Christine, the LAPD has recently suffered several public relations fiascos, including charges of violent behavior toward citizens, so a collision course is set up between a police department desperate for good press and a devastated mother who only wants the return of her beloved son. The boy is quickly recovered by the LAPD, but the anticipated joy of a reunion with Walter evaporates when the kid who shows up is a complete stranger to Christine. Despite her insistence that this boy is not her missing son, Christine is persuaded to take him into her home anyway in order to avoid yet another public embarrassment for the police force. The extent to which this hapless woman is punished, including incarceration in a mental hospital, for merely trying to recover her son (while confronting the LAPD) becomes the focus of the film. An additional storyline involving a deserted ranch full of empty chicken coops and dark secrets may hold the answer to what happened to Walter.

Although this movie isn't up there with the best of Eastwood's films, there are many things to like about it. The casting is perfect right down to the smallest roles with supporting players such as Michael Kelly (Detective Lester Ybarra), Devon Conti (the wrong boy returned to Christine), Jason Butler Harner (Gordon Northcott, resident of the ranch), John Malkovich (a local activist minister who provides aid to Christine) and Amy Ryan (a fellow "prisoner" in the mental hospital) contributing outstanding performances. The period details are impeccable, along with a nice, understated score (also from Eastwood) plus the chance for Angelina to show that she's more than just the mother of millions of kids. She's an actress of exceptional skill, but there were times when her character became a bit weepy and melodramatically emotional. One of my problems was that the secondary storyline about the ranch and what happened there was more interesting than the main focus concerning the child's disappearance.

Things to love about this movie: Period touches such as phone operator managers on roller skates and old time street cars; a stand out performance from young Eddie Alderson as a pivotal character who shows up in connection with the ranch
Things to hate about this movie: The LAPD characters, with the exception of Detective Ybarra, were villainous to the point of caricature; scenes in the mental hospital were also overdone with lots of scenery chewing plus every cliche in the book
Pleasant surprises: Some really scary stuff featuring a maniac with cleavers and axes
Unpleasant surprises: The courtroom scenes in which Christine's predicament was brought to light were a bit anticlimactic; a scene where a back lot with a backdrop is clearly standing in for 1920/1930 Vancouver

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Movie Review - Rock N Rolla

Welcome back Guy Ritchie! Here's to real live, heart pumping, pulse jumping, pedal to the medal filmmaking. Nobody does it better. From the opening beats to the sweet mano e mano dance over the closing credits, this movie is pure Guy at his best. It's style, off beat humor, deadbeat characters, all with a kick this writer/director seems to deliver effortlessly. Taking one of the oldest plots around --- small and big time tough guys scrambling for riches -- Ritchie turns the tired story on its head, filling it with fresh, unpredictable predicaments, crazy characters and plenty of nasty humor. In fact, Ritchie himself has made a career out of retelling this same story, or something very similar, over and over again, yet every time it's as though it's never been told quite this way before. How does he do it? Impossible to say, but it's a mystery I'd rather simply enjoy than solve.

We're back in London, the new London of multi-million dollar development deals, slick Russian operators, crooked construction scams and a rapidly changing cityscape of modern chrome and steel where underworld types roam and clash. Tom Wilkinson plays Lenny, a ruthless gangster who strikes a deal with Uri (Karel Roden), a Russian guy with bottomless pockets and a "lucky" painting that becomes an unexpectedly crucial part of the action. In order to complete construction on the huge complex he wants to build, Uri must go through Lenny to bypass the usual city requirements to the tune of $7 million. Of course along the way everything not only goes awry but a motley assortment of fortune hunters comes out of the woodwork to chase the pot of cash, including a couple of lowlife pals named One Two (Gerard Butler) and Mumbles (Idris Elba) who have a knack for messing up almost everything they touch, a sexy financial advisor known as Stella (Thandie Newton) playing both ends against the middle, and drugged out, supposedly deceased rock n roller Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell) who stumbles on a valuable piece of the puzzle. Add to the mix two club operators (played by Ludacris and Jeremy Piven) trying to locate their "dead" rock singer Quid before all their clubs get shut down, plus a gay punk called Handsome Bob (Tom Hardy) who's got a thing for One Two. Details of the story can't come close to doing justice to this free-for-all of a film though, so it's rather pointless to even try. It must be seen to be appreciated -- this movie is a real rock n rolla.

Things to love about this movie: As usual from Ritchie, an awesome soundtrack that makes scene after scene pop; Mark Strong's buttoned down, elegant performance as Lenny's lieutenant Archie; Ritchie's hilarious treatment of the awkward situation between One Two and Handsome Bob; Gerard Butler's dancing scene (well, actually two dancing scenes)
Things to hate about this movie: We had to wait so long for it to come along
Pleasant surprises: Thandie Newton (normally not one of my favorite actresses) is perfectly cast as the conniving Stella and gives a nice twist to the femme fatale role; the suggestion of a sequel at the movie's end (is it genuine or a joke?); there's pretty much one fun surprise after another
Unpleasant surprises: I can't help feeling relieved that Guy Ritchie will no longer be involved with Madonna so he can return to being the fantastic filmmaker I've missed