Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Three Musketeers in 3D

Fall is here and it really depresses me. I was hoping for a couple more weeks of warm weather but the chill is starting to set in. It's now time for the Fall Extravaganza of films to begin and our first offering is another retelling of the Three Musketeers. This must be the sixth or seventh interpretation. I'm starting to lose count. I remember the one from the 70's which was kind of silly but fun with that eras heartthrobs: Oliver Reed as Athos, Richard Chamberlain as Aramis and Michael York as D'Artagnan. Then you had the equally silly one from the 90's with that generation of heartthrobs: Keifer Sutherland as Athos, Charlie Sheen as Aramis and Chris O'Donnell as D'Artagnan. I do enjoy both of them in different ways. I love a good swashbuckler and the Three Musketeers is a fun series. I even enjoyed the one in the late 90's about the older Musketeers called the Man in the Iron Mask. The problem with yet another remake is the predictability factor and unfortunately this one suffers from it greatly. The other is trying to be too clever with it in an attempt to be unpredictable, sadly I have to say again, this movie suffers from that problem as well.
It is the 17th Century and apparently the Musketeers serve their king not only as loyal bodyguards but as MI-6 like assassins. The film begins with Athos (Matthew MacFadyen); scuba diving and breaking into a compound in Venice, Italy not unlike James Bond in Goldfinger. Yes I said scuba diving in the 17th Century, but lets press on. Aramis (Luke Evans) bungee jumping into action and Porthos (Ray Stevenson), he appears to have been captured but rips the chains from the walls and defeats his attackers. It would seem like a fun kick ass opening and it did look pretty cool if it just didn't feel so incredibly stupid. But the best part, or I probably should say worst part, about this opening was watching Milady de Winter (Milla Jovovich) doing her Resident Evil Matrix slow-mo, avoiding multiple blasts, thing. It is after this scene we realize that this film has no fucking chance of making any real sense.
The Assassin Milady turns on her supposed allies the Musketeers as she takes the plans for Da Vinci's flying Zeppelins. Thus we fast forward to a year later where the Musketeers are in pitiful shape and in need of some cheering. They meet a young lad looking to join the Musketeers named D'Artagnan (Logan Lerman). At this point the script follows the plot of previous Musketeer storylines with D'Artagnan in all of his hot-headed glory challenges all three Musketeers to a sword fight. Before they can have that duel they find a common enemy in the evil Cardinal Richelieu's head of the Guards, Rochefort (Mads Mikkelson). The Musketeers fight they find common purpose and they attempt, with the help of their new friend D'Artagnan to defend the King from the plots of Richelieu (Christoph Waltz) and the poufy hair of the Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom).
Was it an awful film, no, it did have it's fun points and that is mostly with the Musketeers themselves. I thought with the material they had to work with they did the best they could. But that script, oh, it was something terrible, I didn't expect much from this movie but I had hoped with this cast that they would be able to keep it coherent. That was asking for too much. Honestly they should have just made it a modern retelling because that's really what the script was for the most part. Other than the costumes I don't think there was any way they could have convinced an audience that this was supposed to be the 17th Century. For this I lay most of the blame on it's director the very awful Paul W.S. Anderson. This guy can barely make a good video game movie what makes you think he can take on a literary classic, especially one that has plenty of other better versions to compare it to. On the one hand it looked very pretty and the 3D was pretty good but at about the mid-way point I found myself not caring very much. If you are bored and for some reason you can't see something better like Real Steel, Moneyball or the Ides of March, then go and check it out. Otherwise I would wait for Immortals.
Grade: 2 Buckets

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Real Steel

Yes, I saw Real Steel, what of it? I know, it's Rock'em-Sock'em Robots on the big screen but for some reason I was compelled. The early reviews weren't so bad, most people thought it was decent dramatic fluff with fighting robots, and that is a pretty honest account of what I saw.
Set in the not too distant future, Robots have replaced humans in the boxing ring. A former boxer turned Robot manager, Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman), tries and constantly fails to get a winning robot in the ring. Honestly there are times in the beginning of the film where it's frustrating to watch him be so incredibly dumb regarding his robots. He gets overly confident as his Bot takes on a rampaging bull and takes his eyes off the ring for a few seconds to cheer to the crowd. The bull gores right through his bot rendering him worthy of the garbage dump. Charlie skips out of town before having to pay up. you don't have to wonder if that comes back to haunt him later, cause it does, quite an ass whooping. Charlie seems to owe everyone money and he's leaking funds fast. He finds out that his ex-wife has died leaving him with a 10 year old son Max (Dakota Goyo). Charlie at first isn't interested in the kid, in fact he's more interested in selling him off to the kid's rich Aunt Debra (Hope Davis), who seems to be the only person that cares for this kid. He makes a deal under the table with Debra's rich husband Marvin (James Rebhorn) for 50K with the caveat that he would take Max for the summer. Charlie buys a new robot and proceeds to treat the kid like shit through about three quarters of the film before they have a bit of Father/Son bonding. The only other person that doesn't seem to hate Charlie is his ex-girl and Robot builder Bailey (Evangeline Lilly). Father and son are now desperate to locate a new robot and find a special training robot named Atom at the bottom of a junkpile and just like Rocky and every other underdog story Atom has a date with destiny in the Ultimate Robot Boxing Championship. The rest is fairly predictable but I have to say it was very entertaining.
This is kind of like the Champ meets Rocky meets Transformers. You get some pretty excellent Robot fighting with some drama between Father and Son. The kid is pretty great in fact he's one of the high points of the film. You find yourself invested in his journey and he does a great job of bringing the audience in even when the script starts to falter. Most of that is due to Hugh Jackman and his over-acting. It really feels like he's trying to hard at times, which is what makes this movie mostly frustrating. Jackman is his own worse enemy in that regard. Thankfully there are some nice moments with Evangeline Lilly as she appears to be Charlie's conscience. Anthony Mackie is great too, he's criminally underused in this film, he's such a fantastic actor and this role was completely beneath him. This really felt like a bad script that Steven Spielberg took out of the trash, tweaked it and this was the end result. There are all those Spielbergian elements floating around and most of the time they are effective. There is a part of me that wanted to show the film to my son, even though he's probably at least another year or two away from seeing something like this. But I couldn't help but think how much he would enjoy watching those Robots tear each other apart.  If you have a little guy, oh say, around the age of 5 or 6 take him to see this movie it will make him deliriously happy. It has it's faults for sure but it's cute and kind of fun and should be entertaining for the whole family.
Grade: 3 Buckets

Friday, October 07, 2011


I actually saw this one last week but I've been in mourning for my NY Yankees and their pitiful attempt to stay in the playoff  race. Watching this movie I felt even worse about my Yankees as the filmmakers gleefully pointed out the discrepancy every time they play a poor team and the Yankees win it's a glaring reminder that they are the haves and almost every other team is the have-nots. The film didn't pull its punches it basically starts out where the A's won the first two playoff games and then stumbled and collapsed and lost the series with the graphic showing: Yankees 140 million; Oakland Athletics 40 million. Ouch, the game does start to take on a different meaning when you can see the problem in stark black and white. But I don't disagree, there is one thing I despise about the Steinbrenners and about the team I love, in a nutshell, the Yankees are a spoiled rotten rich team that has lost it's blue collar roots and become something else entirely. But that's a post for a different time. Let's talk about some Moneyball!
This is the movie based on the book, based on the true story about the General Manager of the Oakland A's Billy Beane (Brad Pitt). This takes place in the early 2000's and they get right into the impossibly tough business of acquiring top talent to play for a ball club. The Oakland A's have a pretty miniscule budget compared to most teams especially the Yankees and the Red Sox. After coming off of a heartbreaking ALDS game against the Yankees, Beane finds himself against a wall as he is about to lose his two prime players. Jason Giambi to the Yankees and Johnny Damon to the Red Sox. Owner Stephen Schott seems like a good guy but he's unwilling or unable to give Billy what he needs to replace the two super stars. So Bean is forced to think outside of the box to get results with little to no money. He buys a smart nerd analyst from the Cleveland Indians, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill). Brand explains Sabermetrics. Created by number cruncher Bill James. This guy was not a baseball person so he was pretty much laughed at by Owners, Scouts and the players alike. But his idea was that you analyze a player through objective, imperical evidence and you can find value in a player where most top teams see red flags. I know it seems like a lot of exposition but in this case it's important to understand at least a little bit about the complexities of the system and why it was so crucial to Bean and Brand as they tried to rebuild the Oakland A's into a championship worthy team.
This was truly an incredible film, from the acting to the writing to the pacing. We weave in and out to see a young Billy Beane faced with the decision to go to College or go to the Major League. You can feel his frustration as he tries to fight a system he just cannot win no matter what he does. It was also really great to go in the dugout and see how the team was reacting to what Beane was trying to do. The guy playing David Justice (Stephen Bishop) was pretty great and from the little I know of Justice he seemed to fit the persona well. I also really liked Chris Pratt as Scott Hatteberg, I can't fathom how frustrating and difficult it must have been to have to switch from being catcher to first base, the kid had a lot of heart. This isn't like a lot of underdog stories. You keep waiting and hoping that even if Beane doesn't win it all he will somehow gain the respect of his peers. I won't go into too much detail but if you follow baseball at all then you already know how this turns out. But that really isn't the point. It's that he tried to do something that no one else was willing to try, and it wasn't just using it whenever he needed to. He decided if he was going to follow this system he was going to follow it with every ounce of energy he could regardless of what the Coach, Art Howe (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), thought, regardless what the players thought. It's a noble thing and it's quite an amazing thing to see, especially if you are a true fan of Baseball.
Now I never read the book but I did feel that the movie probably gave Beane a bit more credit then he deserved. Yes I understand they are telling a narrative here and the facts don't necessarily have to add up perfectly. The man was certainly a pioneer and once the Red Sox started using it and won a World Series you can't deny that Beane had some small part to play in that. But at the same time Sabermetrics has been around a long time and it really is Bill James and his program that made all of this possible. Plain and simple. There is also a twinge of arrogance to the screenplay that is a tad unnecessary. I love me some Sorkin as my previous posts can attest to. But sometimes he can write with this "holier than thou" attitude that can distract from the overall story at times. Also not sure why Robin Wright was in this movie. She plays Billy's ex-wife and her scenes were really awkward. Maybe that was supposed to be that way but they were so small, I'm still scratching my head as to why she took that part. But regardless of these flaws in the film it's still phenomenal and I certainly put it high in the pantheon of baseball movies. So if you want to see a film that truly seems to love and appreciate the myth and majesty of baseball then this is your movie, don't miss it.
Grade: 4 Buckets