Saturday, January 27, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW: Smokin' Aces

They just don't make action movies like they used to. Director Joe Carnahan is trying really hard to bring back the gore splattering nonsensical glorified action movie back to theatres and damn did he succeed hard core. The dialogue was crisp and funny. There were more than enough name celebrities from Jeremy Piven to Ray Liotta, and of course some of them don't make it out alive. It's refreshing to see a trailer on TV say to yourself this is going to be an hour and a half of smooth talking machine gun blowing mindless violence, and you actually get what you expected from start to finish. Of course this is not some think piece or even a suspense thriller aimed to keep you guessing. It is a true popcorn flick and you must prepare yourself for this as you step into the theatre. Once that's done, you'll enjoy it for all the madness it provides. Especially the zany antics of Jason Bateman, he truly steals this show.

So, Buddy "Aces" Israel (Jeremy Piven) is a Las Vegas performer who wants to be a gangster. He gets in too deep with the Waste Management boys and of course as the previews suggest they want to Smoke his ass for being a government stoolie. The open contract on Aces brings out some very interesting crews, good and bad. You have your trio of crazed Nazi hit men called the Tremors (Maury Sterling, Kevin Durand and Chris Pine). You have the lesbian duo hit team of Georgia (Alicia Keys) and Sharice (Tariji P. Henson). The Latin torturer and hit man, Pasquale (Nestor Carbonell). Of course my favorite Lazlo Soot (Tommy Flanagan) the cloak and dagger hit man. Throw in three Bail Bondsmen (Ben Affleck, Peter Berg and Martin Henderson) and two Feds Carruthers (Ray Liotta) and Messner (Ryan Reynolds) and you have yourself a smorgasbord of destruction.

Not to mention appearances by Andy Garcia, Jason Bateman, Booger from Revenge of the Nerds, (Curtis Armstrong) the rapper Common and Matthew Fox. Pretty loaded and very fun so check this one out if you go in looking to have a good time and of course if you don't get squeamish when you see a lot of blood and really random violence.

Grade: 4 Buckets

Sunday, January 21, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW: Pan's Labyrinth

Let me just say for the record that I don't like foreign films. The main reason for this dislike started while at film school when I was forced to endure the French New Wave for film appreciation. They were so bad I would have preferred to watch Harvey Keitel naked reading a phone book. I know that sounds extreme but these movies were god awful. Pan's Labyrinth however has made me re-think my former prejudices. The film was directed by Guillermo del Torro who also directed Hellboy, Blade II and Cronos. Admittedly del Torro is not a typical foreign film director, he is very comfortable directing a big American Hollywood picture, but he has brought something amazing to this film.

The story takes place in Northern Spain during World War II, 1944 during Franco's Fascist regime. A young girl, Ofelia(Ivana Baquero), and her pregnant mother (Ariadna Gil) move in with, one could say, a bastard Captain (Sergi Lopez) in the Franco army. (If you’ve seen the movie you'll know what I mean.) This Captain orders everyone from servants, to doctors even to little Ofelia to do his bidding without question or complaint. One night as Ophelia investigates the grounds she discovers a mysterious Labyrinth and its strange occupant, a Faun (Doug Jones). Ophelia tries to cope with the harsh realities of this world by immersing herself in the Fairy tale one, angering the Captain and her mother. The only one who seems to listen to her is a kindly house maid (Maribel Verdu), but there is more to her than meets the eye. I have to tell you though this fairy tale world ain't like Mary Poppins or Alice in Wonderland. There are some disturbing and dangerous creatures like the Pale Man (Doug Jones) who has eyes in his palms and has a penchant for snacking on children. Del Torro does a wonderful job of guiding us through both worlds seamlessly and with great care. It is very difficult to tell at times when the real world ends and the fantasy one begins.

At Comic-Con in San Diego last year I missed Guillermo del Torro's panel on this movie and I'm kicking myself now. My friend's who were able to attend told me that he was funny and he liked to curse a lot. He also likes dark fairy tales, especially Grimm's Fairy tales. He likes them violent, and let me tell you this film does not disappoint in that regard. As sick and twisted as Pan's fantasy world may be the real one that del Torro throws us into is far worse. So what more can I say it was shot beautifully, it was incredibly violent, but beautiful none the less. I'm sure Speck will have a few things to say about that. I would think he would agree with me on most of these points. If you haven't seen this one please do it is by far one of the best of 2006-2007 and I hope it does very well at the Oscars next month.

Grade: 5 Buckets

Sunday, January 14, 2007

CASTING CALL: The Star Trek Prequel: Is it Time for Star Trek to Boldly Go Away?

If you are a Trek fan you have probably heard about the rumblings from the Paramount Lot about a recharge of the Original Star Trek series. J.J. Abrams, director of Mission Impossible 3 and creator and co-creator of Alias and Lost is gearing up to take the helm. Honestly after the disappointment that was the TV series Enterprise, I pretty much thought this franchise was DOA. The rumors are flying that the writers, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, are going back to the original cast. Opting to do what MGM/Sony has done with the Bond franchise, go back to where it all started, except the writers seem to want to keep with the current continuity. There are obvious problems when a popular franchise does this, like when 20th Century Fox tried to recapture the success of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with a half assed pre-quel starring that curly haired goofball from Greatest American Hero and Tom Berenger. But I think that there can be some interesting things to explore if it is done properly.

So they want to show how Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Scotty all met each other in Starfleet Academy. At first, honestly I groaned a heavy sigh of frustration. This is going to be cheesy and painful to watch, what is the story here? So I started to look into this thing a little bit and I have heard some pretty crazy rumors, some good others--well, could very interesting. Some of the strangest casting ideas were for the same character. There were two competing rumors that Greg Grunberg (Alias and Heroes) was in the running for a young Montgomery Scott the engineer of the Enterprise. I like Greg Grunberg but he's a little hefty. Scotty didn't start getting big until the movies, so I'm hoping that one ain't true. The other possible casting for Scotty was another Alias Alum Kevin Weisman, who played Marshall. Again, it's an odd casting but I would love to see both of those actors in this film, just not as Scotty. For Kirk there are rumors that it could be Matt Damon. I'm intrigued, I really like that idea. He would bring something a little different to the character than Shatner, but retain the overt machismo that Shatner made a staple for the character. For a young Spock the rumor mill has named Zachary Quinto. He's the dude that plays the creepy Silar on Heroes. He could work, maybe.

But the big question is should this happen in the first place? I think that they have one of the best creators in TV and Film to take this head on, so that's a huge first start. Also the fact that he understands that good Trek is determined by the tri-fecta of characters that is Spock, McCoy and Kirk. If these three are not fully developed then this project will not work. I read in an interview not long ago that J.J. Abrams wanted to explore a bunch of different themes like Faith vs. Logic, science vs. emotion and us vs. them. The film Serenity proved again that Star Trek themes are still relevant to our current society if done correctly. (Yes I know Serenity didn't break the box office but there is a huge cult following, and it was an excellent movie to boot, people just didn't see it.) Anyway I've tried to think long and hard about the casting for the next Star Trek and I’ve listed a couple prospects, see what you think.

Captain James T. Kirk - Yeah, I just think he's a great choice. He's got the man's man attitude. He also doesn't strike me as being timid when it comes to the green skinned chicks. We know he can kick ass from the Bourne films, what more do you need. Matty's got my vote.

Spock - I hear people say that Zachary Quinto would be a good choice, but I don't know, he's okay I guess. I would prefer Tobias Menzies (Rome), for one he looks like a Vulcan already. You don't have to do much with the hair or eyebrows. His role as Brutus is calculated and logical, good traits for the non-emotional science officer, and I think he would bring a lot of depth to a young Mr. Spock.

Leonard McCoy - This one was difficult. At first I really thought Josh Lucas would be great, he's got a good southern accent and he's a good actor, but he might be a bit old for the part or at least look too old. So then I thought about Wes Bentley, he's the right age. Although for continuity sake he is supposed to be a little older than Kirk. Anyway, McCoy always had a sarcastic sense of humor and often he had to project crazy eyes (y'know cause he was possessed or stressed or something). Wes Bentley has already proven from American Beauty and maybe even from the upcoming Ghost Rider that he can pull off this weird quirk in the character.

Montgomery "Scotty" Scott - I think Johnny Lee Miller would fit pretty well in this role. He can pull of the Scottish accent we know cause of Trainspotting. He's proven that he can be a tough SOB if he wanted to in Dead Man's Walk as the young Corporal Woodrow Call. If you watched the original show before James Doohan, the original Scotty, became a beached whale, Scotty was always looking for a reason to punch someone's lights out. He had a temper and the guy liked to drink. So my case of Scotch is on Johnny Lee snagging the role.

Carol Marcus - Of course you have to have a pretty girl and the only girl that fits into the continuity well enough is Carol Marcus who appears in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan played by Bibi Besch. Now I just found an interesting piece of information that Samantha Mathis is the daughter of Bibi Besch. Why not, she already looks the part and I know she can play smart since she was in American President.

So we'll see if any of my choices come true. If any of you have a better cast in mind, let me know.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW: Children of Men

It's a pretty bleak future, that's for sure. The year is 2027 and apparently the women can't get pregnant anymore, so naturally the civilization begins to break down. Terrorism is an everyday thing and the world seems very dark and cold. The movie is grim but it is impressively filmed and directed. Director Alphonso Cuaron does an incredible job of showing us this apocalyptic tale while still preserving a little humor, albeit very sarcastic and dark humor.

The film revolves around a darkly funny guy, Theo (Clive Owen) who gets caught up in the revolution between his ex-wife (Julianne Moore), her radical terrorist organization called "Fishies" and the federal government. As I said above women are infertile and the world has gone to hell. The Fishies have found a young woman who is miraculously pregnant. The terrorist organization forces our sarcastic hero Theo to help get the young woman to the coast where they will be rescued by the Human Project. I will tell you right now that in no way do they explain how it was possible for this woman to get pregnant when all others are infertile. They also never fully explain what this Human Project is and what exactly they can do to help the young mother to be. That aside, the film promotes a sort of What If scenario regarding the absence of children. It is a fascinating thing to watch. As a society we are programmed, whether we consciously want to or not, to procreate. It is in our nature. If we were all of a sudden incapable of this I would imagine it would make most, if not all people, very upset, hence the premise of this movie. It is an interesting social commentary that gives us a glimpse of humanity's darkest qualities, and I think even though some things are not fully explained you must remember that it is the people and the journey that is most important to the core of this film.

Michael Caine (Jasper) turns in a nice performance as Theo's drug addled hippie friend. Although he does get a little annoying calling Theo "Amigo" every five minutes. The terrorist group is predictable but I don't think that Cuaron is trying to make them sympathetic as some critics have alleged. They want to use the pregnant girl as much as the government would if they knew she existed. It's all about power and who is perceived as right. There are some spectacular steady cam shots. There is a shot near the end of the film when the government is bombing a tenement building. I swear the steady cam shot lasted at least twenty minutes maybe more, following Clive Owen through the building to protect the young pregnant woman. As I said before this is not a happy fun movie but it is entertaining and visually stunning. So check this one out and remember don't get too caught up in the plot. It's about a guy trying to get a girl from the danger zone of point A to the safe zone which is point B. So just sit back and relax and hope that this could never happen to our society for real.

Grade: 4 Buckets