hot  /  reviews  /  videos  /  cblogs  /  qposts


Matthew Razak's blog
destructoid  Contributor

8:32 AM on 06.11.2010

Monday Review: The Karate Kid


'The Karate Kid' comes kicking back

The Karate Kid just won the award for surprise of the year. It's good. No, like actually bona-fide good. While remakes of 80s films might be in vogue it's been tough going, but Karate Kid nails it. I might even go so far as to say that it actually nails it as well as the original. Big claim, yes, but when a film has this much fun and then throws in kung fu it's easy to understand why the entire theater was cheering by the end of it.

If you have seen the original The Karate Kid then you know the gist of this movie (and if you haven't you're a 80s movie sinner). A young child, in this case Dre Parker (Jaden Smith), is outcast and picked on until he befriends a kindly karate kung fu teacher, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan). The latter helps him learn kung fu in time for the big kung fu tournament against the kids who keep picking on him. Original? No. Cheer worthy sports movie? Beyond a shadow of a doubt.

It's the differences from the original, however, that really elevate The Karate Kid to greatness. Possibly most important is the "karate kid" himself. Smith is fantastic on screen and absolutely oozes the charm and screen presences of his father, Will Smith. In fact there are times when you would be tempted to believe that the younger Smith is actually his father as a child. Whomever he is, he's great on screen and while still a little rough around the edges can obviously handle humor and drama quite adeptly. Thankfully, The Karate Kid allows him to do both and show off his relatively impressive kung fu skills all the while.

This leads us to the second difference: the fighting. This version of The Karate Kid is packed with surprisingly good fight scenes -- or maybe not so surprising. After all, the great Jackie Chan was on the set (he has a very cool fight himself), and much of the crew was Chinese thanks to the fact that the film was actually shot in China. This makes for kung fu fights that are not only fun to watch, but actually well directed and choreographed -- a true rarity for an American kung fu film. And this is kung fu, make no mistake. Where the original Karate Kid went for a slightly more realistic slant to its fights, this new one shoots for impressive moves over reality. That isn't to say wires are being used and people are flying through trees, because they aren't. All the fights are perfectly possible (and Smith went through extensive training to pull them off), but they're definitely not what you would see in reality.

Possibly the most surprising thing in the film is Chan. After a streak of truly bad films he absolutely nails Mr. Han. Not only is Chan's sense of humor and fighting style perfect for the role, but he's finally acting his age. More importantly he's actually acting. If you've seen the original you know that the Mr. Miyagi character has a very emotional scene and Chan handles his version of it impeccably well. It's too bad there aren't more roles for aging kung fu stars because I'm not sure I want to see Chan in anything else after this.

Seriousness aside, since it is such a small part of the film, The Karate Kid is just a blast. It does what all great sports films do and makes you cheer for the good guys and hate the bad guys (arrogant, punk kids are jerks no matter what country you're in). All the while it's paying homage to the original without copying in any straightforward manner, making it one of the few remakes that is its own movie as well. The fact that it is wonderfully shot in China is just an added bonus to a film that will have you pumping your fists in the air in triumph by the end of it. My only real complaint is that "You're the Best" wasn't played once, not even in the credits!   read

1:00 PM on 06.04.2010

Monday Review: Splice

People seemed to like/hate my Prince of Persia review so I figured I'd start these up again for now. I got behind as I should also have a review for Get Him to the Greek, but I'll just say that it's definitely as funny as Forgetting Sarah Marshal and the funniest film to come out since The Hangover.

Splice is the kind of movie you have to sleep on. Give it a little while to ruminate before you know if you've just watched something interesting and provocative or just plain weird. It's hard to say where you will come down on it. It's easy to see anyone falling on either side of the delicate line between oddness and brilliance. For me Splice eventually settled comfortably into brilliance, but it's still really weird.

Despite the horrendously cliché trailers for Splice that simply make it look like a bad Species clone without Natasha Henstridge running around naked, the film is actually nothing at all like that. It's actually nothing at all like anything you've seen before. The basic premise is familiar enough: a pair of scientists - in this case a couple named Clive Nicoli (Adrien Brody) and Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley) - create life out of nothing by splicing together the DNA of a human and some other animals. In most cases you could easily see where this was going, but Splice avoids the standard monster-created-by-man formula and veers off into something completely different.

What you get instead is a film about love, creation and parenthood, and a film with some seriously messed up moments. After Clive and Elsa create the creature that they eventually name Dren they start to raise it like a child, attempting to keep it secret from the rest of the world. Dren, of course, grows up quickly into a disturbingly beautiful woman-thing with chicken legs and wings. And while she is deadly and dangerous the film instead focuses on Clive and Elsa's ability to parent and their messed up reasons for creating life in the first place. It twists even further beyond that, but I'd hate to ruin some of the film's best and most awkward moments.

What the great Vincenzo Natali does with Splice is take a genre that has constantly dodged its moral and emotional questions by opting for scares, gore and sex and let the questions that should arise actually arise. It makes for a fascinating film that may disgust, confuse and repel you at first, but starts to get under your skin and makes you think. I'm not about to say that this is a work of high-art as it clearly wants to shock as well and parts of the film can falter, but this is a drastic shift in pace and focus for any movie of this ilk.

Aside from the story being different, Splice is a pleasure to watch as well. Natali still works the camera just as well as he did in Cube and while the digital effects are not the best you've ever seen, they work splendidly for the film. This is especially true when it comes to Dren, who is played by Delphine Chanéac -- or at least her top half is. Dren walks on legs that look somewhat like a bird's, and the blending of Chanéac's top half with these digital lower legs is fantastic and superbly done. In fact during one particular scene you see all of Dren (and I mean all) and the work done to meld the real into the fake is highly impressive and a little disturbing.

What can't be said about Splice is that it isn't original and insightful. You may leave the theater not quite sure what to think, but you will definitely know that you just saw something unlike anything else you have seen before. In an industry of cookie-cutter filmmakers and movies that seem all to the same Splice delivers something different, and it's hard to complain about that.   read

6:04 PM on 03.19.2010

Why you might see me before your movies this weekend

You may go to a movie this weekend, and if you get there early you might see the "First Look." It's those ads before the movies that play. While not paying attention to the screen you may see someone you recognize on the screen out of the corner of your eye. You'll look harder. You'll think, "I know that face, but from where?" Then it will hit you. That's that guy that writes on weekends at Destructoid! It is. It's me.

As you may or may not know I make part of my living writing movie reviews. At the moment I do that for Go read at the link on the right over there. I give good advice. Recently they partnered with NCM (the people behind the First Look stuff) and got who they perceived to be their best critics to film some commercials in Denver. I'm one of them. Each critic from a location will be going out to their local city, but I was chosen as one of the four film critics to be in the ad nationwide so everyone gets to see my charming face. Also, since I write for the page on a national level and they wanted to keep these local they randomly made me the Columbus, OH Movie critic. So if you're in Columbus you'll see even more of me in the ads.

The national one is not that bad, though pretty cheesy. I ask all those living in Columbus to not judge me as a person based on what they see. They made me say really terrible lines, and I am no actor. Also, my hair looks a little funny because it's fracking hot under camera lights and I was sweating.

It was actually a real blast to do the filming despite them making me say really cheesy things, and I got to meet a lot of other really cool people. So if you're ready to have plenty of fodder to make fun of me with I suggest getting to the theater early. I'm trying to see if I'm allowed to upload the spots here, and if I can I will. Until then you will have to go to the theater to see me and go to Columbus, OH to see me act like an idiot.   read

9:06 AM on 11.26.2009

I'm Thankful for Destructoid

Hi Destructoid Community (of which I count myself a proud member),

I'm thankful for you.
I'm thankful you read my posts on weekends.
I'm thankful you yell at me when you disagree with a post.
I'm thankful you agree with me on things in my posts.
I'm thankful you flame me.
I'm thankful you flame the flamers back.
I'm thankful you leave a comment.
I'm thankful I get to write for you.
I'm thankful for Bmore/DC NARPS
I'm thankful when you find me funny.
I'm thankful for when you insult me, my gaming rep, my knowledge or my manliness.
I'm thankful for when you correct my typos (really).
I'm thankful for thoughtful discussions on gaming.
I'm thankful for "doubling down" and every other meme that crops up.
I'm thankful you keep all the writers in line.
I'm thankful for the cblogs.
I'm thankful for Friday Night Fights (though I rarely get the chance to join in).
I'm thankful for large walls of text.
I'm thankful for blogs with images.
I'm thankful for those who comment without avatars.
I'm even more thankful for those that do have avatars.
I'm thankful for useless blogs that push down great ones.
I'm thankful for amazing blogs that I can't stop reading.
I'm thankful for those who spam.
I'm thankful for the ban hammer (and Hamza).
I'm thankful for random news tips sent in on extremely dry weekends.
I'm thankful for knowing I'd have a friend no matter what part of the country I was in.
I'm thankful for "Oh Hai! This is my first blog post" blog posts.
I'm thankful for "I just posted 1,000 blog posts" blog posts.
I'm thankful for those who don't understand we have forums and what they're for.
I'm thankful for those who rock the forums day in and day out, despite most people falling into the above category.
I'm thankful that the cblogs get recapped every day.
I'm thankful for PAX East so I can finally meet half of you.
I'm thankful to have met those of you I have.

In short, I'm thankful for every part of the Destructoid Community -- good, bad and also, cocks.   read

6:25 PM on 10.09.2009

Monday Review: Paranormal Activity and Couples Retreat

'Paranormal Activity' delivers the fear

The slow burn. It's a lost art in most film genres, let alone horror. Right now most horror consists of getting in, killing people quickly and shoving a few sudden appearances by the bad guy in your face. The art of suspenseful horror is one that is steadily fading from practice. This is why, among a plethora of other reasons, Paranormal Activity is one of the best modern horror films ever made. It doesn't coat the screen in blood or try to pounce on you with a sudden violin shriek. No, Paranormal Activity is a slow burn, building up terror over its entire running time until you're actually afraid for the couple the film follows to go to bed each night -- and once you leave the theater you're afraid to go to bed that night.

If you haven't heard of Paranormal Activity it is quite the Cinderella story. After being made for only $11,000 (though it doesn't show it in any way ) the film made the festival rounds winning instant cheers (or more likely screams) and was eventually picked up by Paramount, which was simply planning to do a very limited release in major cities, but due to the film's ever growing popularity the company has now decided to keep it running and add it to more cities.

That's the story behind the film, but it's the story in it that makes it so interesting. The film takes place entirely in a California home inhabited by couple who has recently moved in together. Katie, the female of the couple, has been haunted by something since she was a child, but the hauntings are getting worse. Micah, the male, decides that he will buy a video camera to record them as they sleep and see if they can capture anything. He of course records almost every other part of their life as well.

The film presents itself as home video from a real event that was put together by Paramount, and it adheres to this religiously. The opening is simply a few words of text thanking the police for the cooperation in putting the film out and the movie ends with no credits whatsoever. Of course by the end you're a little too creeped out to notice much other than the lights coming up. The film is so well paced (except maybe at the end) and put together that you start to wonder if it isn't all real. Both actors perform admirably in roles that must have been immensely challenging to even get into let alone pull off convincingly.

However, most of the film's horror credit must go to first time director Oren Peli who masterfully weaves together their story into one of the scariest things on the screen despite the fact that the creature is never seen, there is no score and the entire film takes place in a perfectly normal suburban house. Peli basically splits the film up between two parts: daytime and nighttime. Nighttime consists of the camera being placed on a tripod and watching the couple sleep and daytime consists of everything else. Nighttime is when the film gets really scary, and yet it's only about a fourth of the move. It doesn't matter though, every time the film cuts to the couple sleeping your heart instantly starts jumping and your eyes start frantically scanning the screen for anything.

Then it happens. A shadow moved or there's a thump. Small things that could happen in any house, making them all the more scary. The two sleepers might not have even noticed it, but you did and the girl next to you screaming did, and every night it gets a bit worse, a bit scarier and bit harder to pretend like you aren't freaked out every time the film cuts to the shot of the couple sleeping in bed. There's hardly anything that jumps out at you. There's barely much action other than tossing and turning, but you're scared the entire time that something is going to happen, and that's true fear and great horror. When a movie can do nothing and still be scary, you know it's doing something right.

As I said before, Paranormal Activity is an immensely slow burn. The daytime scenes are spent watching the couple attempt to understand what is going on and slowly crumble as their sleep is terrorized. It's almost normalcy for most of the movie. It's like a safety buffer between the parts where your palms start sweating and your heart picks up again. This is horror done not for the sake of gore and death, but to actually create fear. Not just fear inside the theater, fear after you leave and as you're going to bed. This isn't a horror film, it's a a lesson in how to build fear.

'Swingers' guys are all growds up

It happens to every comedian. They get older, and their comedy veers from that of the youth to that of the not so youthful. Couples Retreat is the epitome of this. The guys who made Swingers, possibly one of the most iconic male relationship movies of the 90s, have grown up and made a movie not about picking up girls, but about settling down and falling in love. For those of us who were weened on the idea that we're all "money, and we don't even know it" it's a little difficult to see, but is it bad? Not entirely. It's not entirely good either.

Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau have once again teamed up to write the screenplay for a buddy guy film. This time, however, the guys are mostly married and staring 40 in the face. When one of the guys and his wife feel that their marriage is falling apart they convince the rest of the couples to head to a marriage counseling resort with the promise that the marriage counseling is optional. Turns out it isn't, and all the couples go through questions about their marriage and life. Now the idea of Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Jason Bateman and Fazion Love trapped on an island doing hilarious things while accompanied by Kristen Bell, Malin Akerman, Kristin Davis and Kali Hawk (all in bikinis) sounds like one of the greatest ideas on earth for a bunch of various reasons -- it sadly is not.

The film actually starts out amazingly well, especially if you've been judging its comedy from the trailers. It seems Favreau and Vaughn (accompanied by Dana Fox) still have some comedy gold in their pens. It's not as quotable as their previous efforts, but there some great lines in there. As the group gets to the island and starts counseling the comedy is sharp and entertaining. It's looking like this is going to be a far more enjoyable movie than the standard rom-com trailers made it out to be. Vaughn, Favreau, Bateman and Fazion all seem to be on some good comedy 'A' game, even if some of the slapstick is pretty cheesy. The ladies, who play a much larger part than women in previous Vaughn/Favreau films, handle much of the comedy extremely well despite the fact that the boys get all the best punchlines.

Then things take a turn for the worse. As the actual story of the film starts to unfold the comedy falls flat, like it was sprinting down the white sand beaches pictured in the film and hit the ocean to fast causing it to fall over. As the comedic scenes dry up so that we can have some romance the film completely loses its charm until it feels like a romantic comedy from hell replete with a Guitar Hero showdown of epically stupid proportions and all four couples magically working everything out at the exact same time in the exact same location. Gone is the actual quality humor of the first hour and it's replaced with the kind of stuff you expect to find in a romantic comedy about married couples going to an island.

And so we are once again left with the question of why good comedians start making terrible movies as they get older. Is it just something that happens? Once you're past 35 or so you have to start making films that have lost their edge entirely. Are they that out of touch with what is funny? If that is the case then Couples Retreat mike actually show us the exact moment when this happens to Vaughn and Favreau.

[Please click the link in my profile so I may continue to fight off the evil that attacks the Australian clams every year.]   read

8:45 AM on 10.02.2009

Monday Review: Zombieland and Whip It

Remind you of anything? *cough*Left4Dead*cough*

'Zombieland' has it all

Zombieland has one flaw, and its so minuscule that it's almost not worth mentioning, but for any zombie movie lover it is important. See, it should really be called "Infectedland" as, according to the main character's narration, the flesh eating creatures are infected by a disease which causes a zombie like state and are indeed not actually the walking dead. That's the one flaw. Otherwise Zombieland is a bloody, gorey, funny, over-the-top, zombie slaughtering piece of perfection.

The premise of the film is that America has pretty much been overrun with zombies (we're going to call them that even if it's wrong) after a zombie apocalypse has occurred. Like any good zombie apocalypse there are survivors. Four, in fact. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), a nerdy college student; Wichita (Emma Stone), a hard-edged babe; Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), Wichita's little sister; and Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a zombie killing, one-liner spouting, badass cowboy. If the setup sounds a little contrived, it is, but it's what the movie does with it that makes it so awesome. The four meet, and after a little controversy decide to head toward an amusement park in California where the girls have fond childhood memories. Zombie killing ensues.

In an immensely smart move, and one more and more zombies films are taking, the film completely glazes over the arrival of the apocalypse and plops right down in the middle of it. The movie runs a blood soaked 80 minutes, and it's the perfect amount of time to run in, kill some zombies, throw out some brilliant jokes and then kill some more zombies. It might be unclear, but there are a lot of dead zombies (not in the redundant way, in the "shot through the head" way) in this movie and they all die in ways too creative to ruin here by mentioning them.

If the screenplay and directing were any sharper it would slice through its own zombie's necks. Normal comedies don't usually make you laugh this hard, let alone ones involving copious amounts of blood and guts. Harrelson's Tallahassee is particularly a joy to watch as he decapitates and dismembers zombies in some of the most creative ways out there. On top of this Columbus's narration and strict set of rules he follows (Rule #2: Double tap all zombies) make for the perfect parody of the classic zombie film. It's refreshing that these four survivors seem to have actually watched a zombie movie in their life and know not to be an idiot, except near the end when they light up an entire theme park like a giant zombie beacon.

They do that, however, in order to remain human (spiritually), and it's that part of the film that really shines through. It's not just blood and guts, but there's a solid storyline with character development and actual human choices, which are often far, far away from movies that involve zombies. Of course no one paid a ticket for that stuff when they came to see a movie called Zombieland so let me reassure you that the film has some of the greatest zombie kills I've ever seen. In fact it's a point of pride for the movie and its characters to come up with the best ways to eliminate zombies, and director Ruben Fleischer's use of slow motion to an epically overused point fits the film perfectly. There's probably more slo-mo shots than 300, but they're gloriously well done or campy.

If none of this has convinced you that Zombieland is worth the price of admission (and rewatching with beer when it comes out on DVD) then let me just throw one more nugget at you. Zombieland contains the greatest cameo put to film since Neil Patrick Harris stole Harold and Kumar's car and started snorting coke after a strippers butt. Go now, and enjoy.

'Whip It' whips up the girl power

If you're famous in Hollywood and you want to direct the chances are it's going to happen. Film companies love putting name actors' names on their movies so when one wants to direct it usually happens. Sometimes it works out, other times it doesn't. Whip It is Drew Barrymore's directorial debut and she chose a girl power/indy comedy/sports film starring Ellen Page to do it with. Three genres, one first time director, a young actress; what could go wrong?

Evidently, not that much, but just enough to miss the mark. Whip It goes down and indy with the world of roller derby, a sport that was kind-of big in the 70s and is actually seeing quite the resurgence at the moment. It's not really about that though, it's really about Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page), an indy rock girl trapped in small town Texas looking for a way to truly express herself. Her overbearing mother forces her into beauty pageants and her father is a push over. She has one best friend and gets made fun of by the "cool kids." Then, on a shopping trip to Austin, she discovers roller derby and falls in love. After trying out, and discovering she's actually really fast on a pair of roller skates, she makes the team.

Of course she hasn't told her mother or father about any of this, she's underage for the league and she's falling for a boy in a rock band. If you think you've heard it before, you probably have as the film is both a bit cliche and based on a book by the same name. However, the film's story (by far its strongest point) weaves around all out sports movie/coming-of-age-story cliche by mustering up its girl power message over all else. Bliss's mom is not an evil creature, simply a protective mother. The girls on the roller derby team aren't just gags, but women and the whole relationship thing takes a decidedly refreshing turn for a movie of this type. Yes, Whip It is definitely bathing in the pools of cliche, but it's making enough waves to make it hard to tell.

Barrymore on the other hand is hardly splashing at all. Unfortunately it shows that this is her first time directing, and it shows bad. The film feels almost slapped together from the random parts she was lucky enough to capture and the actual scenes of roller derby competition are seriously lacking. Now this is the first time I've ever seen actual roller derby put to the screen (Rollberball doesn't count, I assume), so maybe it's a really tough sport to capture, but I doubt it. There's no flow to her games and it's often hard to tell what is going on. In fact it would be impossible if Jimmy Kimmel wasn't narrating the entire match as the announcer. It's too bad as more cohesive roller derby sections could have really tied the film together.

On the plus side, all the actors seem to get what is going on. Page is at once likable and plucky and Kristen Wiig, as team captain, is once again enjoyable (she seems to be the new go to comedy gal). The overall "we're so trendy" vibe of the movie doesn't ruin it either, but it sure as hell is there. Of course, when you're filming in Austin it's most likely hard to avoid that, and Bliss's mother perfectly offsets it in a very human way. Somehow, through her muddled directing, Barrymore captures some actual truth.

As a whole Whip It can entertain and is a rare girl power film that is actually about girl power. While it has its many flaws, those either in love with roller derby or just looking to have a girls night out aren't going to come out of the theater disappointed. Whip It is good, it just needs to be whipped into better shape.

[Please stop the spread of a zombie like disease by clicking the ol' link in the profile]   read

7:35 AM on 09.25.2009

Monday Review: Pandorum and Surrogates

'Pandorum' brings space horror back

In the future, when interplanetary space travel is required because earth is about to be destroyed and we need to find a new planet, if the ships that are built are huge hulking things of metal with iron gratings and black tubing everywhere and cryogenic freezing is necessary I'm going to stay on earth to die. Enough space horror films have taught me that traveling in a ship like that is just bad news. The ship is either going to be attacked by an alien, have the computers turn on the crew or have the crew turn on it itself and go insane. Science fiction horror has taught us well that this is what will happen.

In the case of Pandorum it's the latter issue. After awakening from a cryogenic sleep, Cpl. Bower (Ben Foster) finds himself on a darkened, powerless spaceship of the type described above. He remembers almost nothing as cryogenic sleep will evidently do that to a person, but he knows the ship is on an important mission (to colonize an earth like planet because we destroyed earth), and that something isn't right. Lt. Payton (Dennis Quaid) comes out of his sleep about an hour later, but the two are stuck in the room and thus Bower must climb into the air ducts to try to get power back to the ship. Unfortunately, the ship has been overrun by deadly hunting creatures with pale skin and super strength. A few of the non-crew who were on the ship also seem to have survived by fashioning weapons and running constantly from the creatures who have been hunting humans as they randomly wake up from their cryogenic sleep. Clearly something has gone wrong. Bower meets up with two of the ships survivors and the group attempts to make it to the reactor core before the ship explodes, while Payton seems to be steadily losing his mind (what the film calls pandorum) holed up in the room that he and Bower woke up in.

All the ingredients are there for a solid space horror. There's a worrisome mental breakdown, fast moving creatures that keep to the shadows and a deadline before everyone dies. Believe it or not Pandorum bakes those ingredients into a pretty decent space horror pie, and works a bit of originality into it as well. Quaid delivers a particularly disturbing performance, especially as the film comes to its climax, and while the idea of one man being trapped alone in space is hardly new for the genre the film does treat it very well, throwing a dash of space psycological thriller into the horror film exterior.

Meanwhile, on the outside of Payton's solitary confinement the attacking creatures offer up some very solid scares and even more impressively some decent action. While the monsters do keep to the shadows, this isn't a film where you don't see the big bad until the end. Hand to hand fights with the creatures take place early and often, and the sort of tribal weaponry of both the few survivors and the creatures themselves makes for some very cool fights. It's a very slight twist on the classic theme of being trapped on a ship with predators after you, but it makes the movie far more interesting.

Pandorum is interesting. While director Christian Alvart has some issues directing his fight sequences, and even worse his horror sequences, he still manages to deliver some immensely taught moments and a couple of genuine scares. It helps that Travis Maloy's screenplay isn't dumb as dirt and keeps everything moving at a decent pace. This means that while Alvart is needlessly chopping up a scene the story is moving forward enough to make the viewer stay locked in with the characters despite the poor editing and directing. There are parts of the film where Alvart does well, experimenting with montage and visual effects, but for the most part these fall through or are rampantly cliche (Why does a blurry screen and echoing voices always equal space insanity?).

For fans of the genre I can't see Pandorum disappointing. It literally has it all. Is it of the pedigree of Aliens or Event Horizon (note: these two films themselves are not of the same pedigree)? No, but it's far better than most films involving these themes, and actually attempts to do something interesting with the story it has. In a genre that has pretty much stayed stagnate for years (for better or worse) that's worth seeing alone.

'Surrogates': good idea, poor execution

Surrogates is possibly the most metaphysical film ever made. Not that it is trying to be, but it definitely could be. See Surrogates is about a world where humans basically live their lives through surrogate robots that they control from the comfort of their own home. Everyone is shiny, glossy and beautiful on the outside, but their souls - the interesting parts - are stuck back at home. Everything and everyone is shiny and pretty, but it takes away what makes humans interesting. In much the same way the film itself puts a shiny action movie gloss over an incredibly interesting concept - obscuring its soul.

Surrogates is based upon the graphic novel of the same name, and the concept behind it is brilliant. Even its story could actually be immensely interesting if it was pulled off right (the graphic novel most likely did this). In a world where everyone is living their life through surrogate robots murder has disappeared and everyone can be exactly who they want to be. However, someone figures out a way to kill people through their surrogates and that is when Detective Greer (Bruce Willis) is called onto the case. He is dragged into a conspiracy that eventually leads him into the underground world of a group of people who shun surrogacy and are led by a man named The Prophet (Ving Rhames). Not only this, but Greer is dealing with issues of a dead son and a wife who has become addicted to her surrogate (as much of the world has). A foot chase and car chase ensue.

Seriously. That's it. After spending the first 30 minutes actually setting up and delivering an interesting world and plot line, the film goes into a foot chase and a car chase... and the obligatory twist. Maybe it's because the run time for the film was crammed down to 85 minutes for some reason, but after the filmmakers got all the exposition out of the way they just sort of stopped working. It's one of the most dreadful screenplays based on an amazing concept I've ever seen. You could literally feel the cool ideas begging to be released from the tepid screenplay binding them in.

If you simply saw the first 30 or so minutes of the film you would probably come away thinking you might be seeing a serious sci-fi success, with a slightly poor screenplay. Hints of Blade Runner pervade, though in a far brighter and cheerier world. The film teases at being a truly well done science fiction thriller, and then suddenly stops. Subtle hints at questions of humanity become clear lines between good and evil. Questions and ideals raised disappear into the clear cut definitions of Hollywood cinema. The film truly becomes a surrogate of itself: cold, removed and slightly off from what you know it should be like.

Speaking of the surrogates, they're awesome. If you've seen any film that features an actor made younger by digital effects you know the strange "too smooth" look they get. In Surrogates that look actually makes sense. The filmmakers and actors did a wonderful job of making the surrogates seem just that slight bit off. They're a bit too smooth, a bit too postured, a bit too uncanny. Almost everyone in the movie nails it, except for Ving Rhames, who was one of the worst casting decisions in years. The incredibly cool execution of the surrogates makes the film's last hour all the worse, as you watch the subtle hints of the surrogate's lack of humanity get replaced by speed running and massive jumps onto the roofs of speeding buses. I'm all for action, but not when it's at the cost of something that could have been truly special.

Thus we come to two conclusions. The first is that Surrogates is a brilliant art film that parodies and critiques itself by actually becoming a surrogate for its true soul. The second is that Surrogates is yet another film that got swallowed by the Hollywood machine and spit out the other side. It's a surrogate of itself, but it's hardly aware of that fact. Sadly, I believe the truth of the matter to be the latter.

Oh, and despite the bad review, Bruce Willis is still awesome.

(My poor Italian mother needs money for her open heart surgery, but the doctors won't come to her remote location unless I can also fly them there. Please donate by clicking the link in my profile.)   read

7:13 AM on 09.11.2009

Monday Review: 9

'9' is not so fine

What an absolutely gorgeous and intriguing yet entirely underdeveloped and sadly shallow world the film 9 takes place in. It's like watching a painting come to life, and then realizing that the world of the painting is only as deep as its inks. Or, more aptly in this case, watching a perfectly good idea for a short film get stretched out into a full length movie and injected with a bit of Hollywood.

The latter is more apt because of the fact that this is exactly what 9 is. Adapted from the the Academy Award nominated short film of the same name, 9 is the story of nine living rag dolls (gamers out there will be reminded of LittleBigPlanet, though 9 came first) who find themselves living in an utterly demolished world where humans and machines have fought each other to the death leaving behind only the nine doll people, a cryptic message from a dead scientist and robotic dog-skeleton beast. The story begins with the awakening of the ninth rag doll and his exploration of the world he finds himself in.

He eventually finds the other nine dolls. The dolls, led by 1, are living in a church hiding from the creature (religious and Greek myths play a massive part in the film) until 9 comes along and starts to shake things up, eventually accidentally triggering the rebirth of the big, bad machine that builds all the other machines. The nine aren't sure why they exist or where they're from, but they do know that a big robot building machines that want to kill them is a bad thing, and so they go to destroy it.

The world the film takes place in is without a doubt one of the more creative ideas to come out of a movie in a long while. Director Shane Acker, who also created the original short, has a wicked imagination that leads to some pretty creepy robot creations. The nine rag dolls are also deceptively well designed and instantly likable. Acker's direction and pacing are also superb throughout the film, with action sequences being true edge-of-your-seat affairs and the movie being immensely well paced for the time it has. Acker has some true talent for animation, which makes 9 ring far deeper than normal animated film. While mostly acceptable for children, 9 is far more geared toward those who will understand its themes on life, the soul and mortality.

Unfortunately, those themes aren't presented in a very concrete world. The gaps in logic and plot are just too big for 9's good looks to overcome. By the time the film rolls around to its immensely disappointing and out of place ending it feels about as hollow as an unstuffed rag doll. There are all these great ideas floating around, but none of them ever come together to make a truly cohesive whole and the film suffers a death toll because of it. Maybe it was the forced Hollywoodization of the film or maybe Acker just didn't have enough ideas to go around, but the movie stops being as interesting as it could be around the exact time it needs to truly be interesting. In an ultimate twist of irony for those who have seen the movie, the film lacks soul.

As the first attempt by a talented animation director, 9 is truly a pleasurable film, but as a whole it falls flat far more than it should. While creativity and great ideas might get a movie off the ground there has to be more there to really make it work. Hopefully in the future Acker will be able to piece it all together, because if that is ever the case PIXAR could finally have a fantastic rival for the digital animation throne.

(Please help raise money for the Regional Moonwalkers Club by clicking the link in the profile.)   read

10:26 AM on 09.04.2009

Monday Review: Extract and The September Issue

Sorry guys, no Gamer review as my screening was canceled. Hopefully I'll get to see it over the weekend.

Judge extracts the plot, leaves the comedy

It's pretty clear that at some point in time Mike Judge was a comic genius. Anyone who fails to see the satirical humor in Beavis and Butthead or who doesn't appreciate the comedic masterpiece that is Office Space is missing out on the best of modern comedy. However, since Office Space it's been a little more rocky. King of the Hill has its sweet spots and so did Idiocracy, but overall they've been far more uneven than his early work. In Extract Judge returns to the workforce, the question is does the magic return with him?

Extract doesn't quite approach the workplace the way that Office Space did if at all really. The film simply takes place in an extract plant and isn't about "working." The plant is owned by Joel (Jason Bateman). He's stuck in a marriage that has gone flat and no one seems to appreciate the wonder of extracts as much as he does. After a freak accident involving an employee losing a testicle Cindy (Mila Kunis) comes into town looking to con her way into the money that Joel's employee will get if he sues the company. Meanwhile, Joel hires a gigolo to sleep with his wife after his friend, Dean (Ben Affleck) convinces him its a good idea while Joel is drunk and stoned. Things then spiral out of control.

Or they should. Things actually never lose any control. In fact the entire film has almost no dramatic pull to it at all. The 90 minute running time keeps things so tightly confined that the only storyline that gets truly developed is Joel's love life, leaving Cindy and her conning relatively pointless to the main thrust of the film. It makes what should be a quick and punchy comedy into one that feels like it drags on far longer than it should. At the end of the film, when everything is being wrapped up in a convenient way, it literally feels like the film hasn't moved anywhere.

Thankfully, while Judge's pacing and storytelling skills are way off, his comedic skills still shine. The film would have been far better off as a series of humorous vignettes touching on topics from drug use, to sleazy lawyers to blue collar workers. There are some seriously funny scenes and a priceless cameo from Gene Simmons. However, the comedy doesn't quite hit the same perfect spot that his previous work has. It seems less genuine. You'll laugh, but it isn't from the smarts the film has, but from the stupid. The movie is funny, yes, but classic, no.

Of course expecting every film to be a classic is a little ridiculous, and you can definitely do far worse with your comedies. The main problem is it never really pops, and with a cast and writer that we know can actually pop, this fact is a bit surprising. Extract actually has to extract its laughs from the movie (pardon the pun), and that is something great comedy never has to do.

No issue with 'The September Issue'

There are two types of people in the world: those who know who Anna Wintour is and those who don't. The September Issue is a documentary that will easily be enjoyed by both these groups. Those who don't know who she is will find it interesting and humorous to learn about her and those who do know who she is will be able to discover the real woman behind the inspiration for The Devil Wears Prada, not to mention drool all over the copious amounts of Yves Saint Lauren, Louis Vuitton and other high end designers flung across the screen.

Yes, The September Issue is all about putting out the massive and iconic September issue of American Vogue, but this documentary is not just for the fashion elite. The film chronicles the five month lead up to the publication of the 2007 September issue and documents with incredible openness notorious editor-in-chief Anna Wintour's epic feat of putting it together. It also documents those who work with her to do this feat including American Vogue's Creative Director Grace Coddington who seems to be the one who butts heads with Wintour the most. The 2007 September issue was the largest in the magazines history with 840 pages and a weight of over five pounds. I say that's big, my fiancee describes it as wonderful. We come from different points of view on this, obviously.

We can both agree that the movie is wonderful, though. Shockingly candid for a film about a section of the world that is usually closed off to most the movie deftly weaves not just through the production of the magazine, but the people who put it together too. Yes, much of what you see in The Devil Wears Prada is actually true. Wintour rules fashion with a powerful fist, and what she says goes. Unlike The Devil Wears Prada, Wintour doesn't come across like an ice queen, but more of a determined editor doing what she has to do to put together 840 pages of magazine involving a plethora of models, photographers, fashion designers and editors -- all of whom quake in their boots in hilarious fashion when Wintour is around. If you ever want to see some of the most high powered designers in the world shake like scared, little children arrange them a meeting with Wintour.

While Wintour is immensely interesting, especially the few parts with her daughter, who blatantly states she doesn't understand what her mother does and doesn't want to work in the fashion industry because people take it far too seriously, it is Coddington who steals the show both with her frankness and humor. Coddington puts a large portion of the photo shoots together and subsequently has them torn apart and cut to shreds by the discriminating eye of Wintour who she has worked with for the past 20 years. It is this give and take (and it's mostly take by Wintour) that envelops the entire development of the issue and truly makes the film interesting. Coddington is often livid with what Wintour does, but she's also respecting of the skill and power that she wields. It's an immensely interesting study of a work relationship, and also makes for one of the most entertaining documentaries in years.

This might also be because the film is surprisingly unpretentious for its subject matter. Director R.J. Cutler has woven together a film that neither denigrates nor hails its subject matter -- a feat that is no easy task. While the cameras and film crew are clearly there (this isn't some grasp at "real life" being documented) they never intrude to a point where one believes they are influencing the goings on to any great effect and when they do they do it in ways that show the nature of the characters (Coddington plays on Wintour's ego to raise the budget of a shoot by discussing it in front of the cameras).

What is most surprising about he film is just how entertaining it is. It isn't simply interesting to see how American Vogue is put together, but actually fun, humorous and insightful. Plus, Wintour is really a b**ch sometimes, and that is always good to watch.

(Please help me end the senseless war between the dolphins and the pigeons that has been ravaging both species for so many years by clicking on the link in my profile.)   read

7:18 AM on 08.28.2009

Monday Review: Taking Woodstock

'Woodstock' wants it all, but misses

I was not alive to experience Woodstock, and since the hippie movement (or anything like it) doesn't seem to be coming back any time soon I seriously doubt I'll have the pleasure of ever experiencing anything like it. No, us twenty-somethings must rely on documentaries and stories from our parents to attempt to understand how important the concert was and exactly how it felt. It is then a little disappointing that Taking Woodstock simply scratches the surface of what Woodstock meant, fleetingly dabbling in true ideas while mostly staying light and airy.

The main issue seems to be that Taking Woodstock wants to be two different movies. One is a screwball comedy that plays off the antics of hippies, Vietnam vets and New York Jews and the other is a serious film about the changing world of the late 1960s. Sadly, making fun of the hippies and the culture of the 60s completely contradicts praising it and them, and thus the film unevenly wobbles between its own ideas, unsure if it wants to treat the generation of peace and love with reverence or as a bunch of cliche punchlines.

However, this doesn't make Taking Woodstock a bad movie. When it is on point about the culture and the festival it shines. Most of the time this is when the film is about its lead character Elliot Teichberg (Demetri Martin) and not about the planning of the concert and the hippies who invade the small town Teichberg lives in so they can come to Woodstock. Elliot and his parents own a motel that is on the skids, and so, Elliot invites Woodstock to town, and Woodstock comes. It's Elliot's story of love, finding himself and acceptance within the context of the concert that gets interesting eventually, but the slow pacing could definitely throw a few people off.

Of course it wouldn't be an Ang Lee film if it wasn't full of slow pacing. The director couldn't even make Hulk move quickly. Aside from the pacing though -- which may or may not be a bad thing -- Lee does some very solid directing. A drug induced trip is one of the better moments of the film where the movie seems to be actually taking itself seriously instead of simply sloshing its way through the stereotypes of hippies. This comes near the end, as does most of the powerful parts of the film, but the film's opening didn't attach viewers enough to the characters thanks to the levity and inconsistency and thus the scenes that should be powerful are simply a wash.

Again, it's hard to not enjoy aspects of Taking Woodstock. The film is indeed not bad. The acting is fine, the directing works well and the film's story is interesting enough to carry it through its over two hour running time. Thanks to its inconsistencies though it never truly seems to be about something and for a movie about a concert and a generation that was the epitome of being "about something" that is a terrible crime. Taking Woodstock is a fine film, it just isn't what it wants to be or what it should be.

(Please click the link in my profile so that I may further the activities of my foundation for saving the lives of baby polar bears.)   read

6:41 AM on 08.21.2009

Monday Review: Inglorious Basterds and Post Grad

(Ok, I lied. There's no Inglorious Basterds review. All of the press screenings were at times I couldn't make so you'll have to wait until Monday by which time you'll probably have already seen it. Until then though, enjoy me beating on Post Grad like a red headed step child.)

There are bad movies and then there are bad movies. Bad movies have are just bad, but bad movies are insulting to the medium of film, the intelligence of the audience and humanity in general. When the highlight of your film is Michael Keaton acting goofy you have made a bad movie. This means that when I say the highlight of Post Grad is Michael Keaton acting goofy you know how truly terrible a movie it must be.

It's been a bad summer for action movies, but on the flip side of the that we've actually been blessed with a decent slew of solid indie comedy films like (500) Days of Summer. However, instead of the quirky comedy genre closing summer with a bang we get Post Grad, a film so insanely insipid that it is almost guaranteed that screenwriter Kelly Freemon is actually a 13-year-old girl whose only knowledge of the actual world is what she has gleaned from bad coming of age movies. That is after all what Post Grad is trying to be. The sad tale of grade-A student Ryden Malby (Alexis Bliedel), who after graduating college can't find a job right off the bat because she doesn't get the dream job she thought she would. Oh no! Time to fall apart and question who you really are and what life means, Ryden!

After not being able to find a job for a week Ryden starts getting grumpy and turning against her family and friends, which makes about the least likable person in the world considering the current employment situation of the country. This is all despite the fact that her family is amazingly understanding and helpful, her friend is a ridiculously good looking guy who is in love with her and she actually has a roof over her head and plenty of options to make some money somewhere, which is something that is a struggle for many in the real world at the moment. The film doesn't even mention the fact the we're in a recession, begging the question of if it was released simply to insult a large portion of the population.

Oh, and yes that was a mention of a best friend of the opposite sex whose really into her, but she doesn't realize it and so breaks his heart. Sure that plot point is incredibly contrived, but this is a coming of age story so it can work, right? Well, it doesn't actually work when the "guy hiding right in front me" is a caring, handsome, musician/lawyer/athlete who has already professed his love for our intrepid heroin before we are ten minutes into the film. It's easy to miss the great guy right in front of you when he's human, but when he's Superman then you're an idiot. That situation is systematic of the entire film's need to incorporate every single aspect of a coming of age story and failing completely at all of them. There's even a pesky little brother who doesn't get enough attention from dad.

The film has absolutely no cohesive parts or characters to care about, and even if you did some how find yourself wanting to care the idea that someone would make a movie about a recent college grad unable to get a job into something as trite and idiotic as this is really offensive. One wonders why the filmmakers thought anyone would care about a whiny, annoying brat with almost no redeeming value.

Then there is the ending. It's the ending you know is coming from the beginning of the film and you want to stop it. You want to shout out, "No! We've moved beyond this kind of thing in society. Don't... please... stop." But Post Grad doesn't stop, it heaps more bad on top of the bad that it has already delivered until all it can do is wallow in its own cliche, wondering why even the teenage girls in the front row of the theater -- the very girls that should be lapping its message up -- are whispering about how pathetic a film it is.

(I would be forever thankful you clicked on the link in my profile so that I a may continue my one man excavation of child-killing landmines around the world.)   read

6:24 AM on 08.14.2009

Monday Review: District 9 and Ponyo

'District 9' brings humanity to aliens

There is one key thing the best science fiction films have in common, and that is that if you took out the aliens or lasers or spaceships or androids they'd still be compelling stories. Despite all the gadgets and gizmos in science fiction, it's still the story that matters. Two films this summer illustrate this point perfectly: Terminator and District 9. The former lacking any interesting story at all and the latter being a triumph in science fiction storytelling that is rarely seen. It's a little ironic that the film about the survival of humanity has less humanity in it than the film about the survival of the human race, but here we are.

Describing the actual plot of District 9 would partially ruin the film, especially since the marketing guys have done such an amazing job of not letting much of it slip out. Instead the trailers, advertisements and discussions focused on the world that District 9 takes place in, which is all I will describe here. Some 20 years ago an alien ship appears over Johannesburg. The aliens inside are eventually settled into a slum in the South African city and the predictable problems of crime, "race" issues, and violence ensue. There are obviously stark parrellels between the film's premise and current situations in South Africa.

Director Neil Blomkamp, whose future in Hollywood should now be a lock, along with screenwriter Terri Tatchell (not to mention Peter Jackson, the film's producer) have created a world with massive scope. One gets the feeling that we are simply seeing one story in a world that houses thousands, which is probably true since the film is based on Blomkamp's short film Alive in Joburg. The film's interspersing of documentary style and straight action cinema creates a feeling of a world that has layers far beyond what we're seeing. A fictional world, yes, but one that feels absolutely real.

It helps that the film's protagonist , played by newcomer Sharlto Copley, starts off as nothing more than a character that would normally be an opening gag in almost any other film of this size and scope. With a name like Wikus Van De Merwe and a seemingly ridiculous accent he comes across as nothing more than a punch line, but evolves into a real character that few science fiction films ever have. Even more amazing is the supporting cast of "prawns," the aliens who crash landed. There is nothing cheesy about these aliens, nothing fake (and that isn't just in reference to the high quality CGI). Blomkamp has somehow created real aliens. It's impressive and a little creepy at the same time.

It should be noted that part of the reason this world seems so real is that this is not an action movie. Action does show up near the end, and their are very cool alien guns that explode people, but the film's focus is not on them. When the action does pick up its done immensely well, with a sort of gritty style that belies the flying bullets and mech suit... I've said too much.

If you haven't seen the film yet I advise you to not read anything more on it. Head out and let its world open up to you with no expectations. There hasn't been a world or idea in film this intriguing for a long while, but if that isn't what gets your summer movie juices I believe that aforementioned guns that obliterate people should be enough to get you intrigued.

Magic on the screen

Magic. That must be what Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki animate every film they make with. No other animation studio around breathes so much life and beauty into their films. Every hand drawn scene in every film teams with more life than most live action films have in them. This is once again the case in Miyazaki's latest film Ponyo, which practically overflows the screen with creativity and wonder.

Disney, who has been bringing Miyazaki's films out in the US for years now, once again has brought this one over and dubbed it over with big name actors including Matt Damon, Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, Lily Tomlin and Cate Blanchett. I'm a strong promoter of watching a film in its original language with subtitles, but if dubbing it over mean that more children get to see Miyazaki's work than it is well worth it. Plus, Disney has done a wonderful job of bringing a subtitled version to their DVD releases, which are the kind of high quality release that very few Japanese animation films sees in the US.

But what about Ponyo itself? It seems that this time Miyazaki's story doesn't quite live up to his work. In fact its almost as if the entire concept was based around what he wanted to draw, which in this case turns out to be not such a bad thing since you could enjoy the film with the sound off it is so stunning. Ponyo (voiced by Noah Lindsey Cyrus) is a little fish with magic powers. She accidentally washes ashore and is saved by Sasuke (Frankie Jonas) and they fall in love. Here father, a man who lives under the sea trying to save it from humans pollution, bring sher back. So she runs away using her ever growing magic to get back to Sasuke, but happens to flood all of the island town he lives on. The entire film seems like a big excuse for the artists to draw fantastic and wondrous sea creatures, not to mention one of the most adorable animated creatures even in the form of Ponyo.

The film tries to tackle issues such as pollution, love and motherhood, but most of it gets lost in some of the more absurd plot points, like the calmness with which everyone seems to act after the world has been flooded. Again, non of this is a complaint. It would have been easy enough to watch this movie without sound or a plot at all and still left the theater entirely happy. It does help that most of the voice acting is top notch, and if you don't stay to listen to the ridiculous closing theme song you'll miss out on some of the best unintentional hilarity in years.

I can't say that Ponyo is my favorite Miyazaki film, but much like Pixar, even my least favorite film of his is a masterpiece. The worlds Miyazaki creates are nothing short of epic, and if you're simply waiting for this to come out on DVD don't. Seeing Ponyo on a big screen is breathtaking, especially the opening ten minutes or so, which could only be described as a work of true art.

(Please give the link in my profile a click so that I may continue my work on saving the albino toucan.)   read

Back to Top

We follow moms on   Facebook  and   Twitter
  Light Theme      Dark Theme
Pssst. Konami Code + Enter!
You may remix stuff our site under creative commons w/@
- Destructoid means family. Living the dream, since 2006 -