Monthly Archives: May 2009

Review: The Brothers Bloom

brothers bloom onesheetI’m not sure if I am going to have my film reviewers membership card yanked for saying this, but The Brothers Bloom was one of the most delightful, entertaining films I have seen so far this year. That’s right, no complaints, no “but…”, just a straight out positive review of a film that works beautifully on so many levels.

The first of these levels is that in a bold move the distribution company released a “preview” trailer that I recall watching a few months ago, the first seven minutes of the movie. You can still find it online with a bit of Google help  I watched it – it’s very wry and amusing, you should watch it too – and I recall thinking “nice, I want to see that film”.
Problem was, the film is an indie, released by Summit Entertainment during the beginning of the summer “tentpole” season and it hasn’t gotten any visibility against such blockbusters as Star Trek, Night at the Museum II, Terminator Salvation and more. Which is too bad, because in many ways I think that The Brothers Bloom is a much better example of the art of film making, from its acting to its focus on storyline, to its witty segues and exotic locales.
A few days ago I noticed it was still playing in the local theater, stuck on the small screen at the local cineplex against the blockbusters, and on the strength of the seven minute preview trailer that Summit had released, I went to see it.
And I’m really glad I did.

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Screen Size Does Matter with IMAX Movies!

I have to start by saying that I’ve seen a number of films shown in the IMAX format, but have never seen a commercial feature film in this format. Since the screen is so much bigger than a traditional movie screen, I find it a bit fatiguing to watch IMAX movies, so the idea of watching one for two hours or more is a bit daunting.

Nonetheless, I am a definite fan of the format and while we’re all waiting for the new high-def 4K digital projection systems to arrive, IMAX is the biggest negative, highest resolution option you have to see a movie today. Or is it?
In the last few months IMAX Corporation has begun foisting a smaller-screen IMAX format on us with the popular name of “Realimax”. But it’s not real at all.
Or is it?

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My Favorite War Films

There’s something about war that inspires people’s imagination. Whether it’s the sword fight of a film like Captain Blood or the archery of Robin Hood or the sheer firepower of Battle of the Bulge, warfare has long been a favorite subject for Hollywood.

I think that one reason for this is simply because when someone’s shooting at you or trying to kill you with an axe or mace, there’s no space to worry about nuances, only to focus on the raw emotions, the unfiltered interaction between people. Stripping away all the pretensions of society, warfare is interesting and therefore excellent fodder for movies.
Since today is Memorial Day here in the United States, I’ve been thinking about war films and trying to decide which are a few that I really have found thought-provoking, frightening perhaps, and great cinema. And I’ll start with one that I’m sure will surprise you…

Iron Man

robert downey jr ironmanThe film is based on a comic book character so it’s not exactly Apocalypse Now, but in many ways, the storyline of Iron Man serves as a great example of what I find interesting about this genre. It starts out with Tony Stark, head of a highly technological arms manufacturer demonstrating the seeming invincibility of its new weapon line in a war zone. The demonstration is ambushed and Stark is kidnapped by guerilla rebels, all armed with Stark Industries equipment. While a prisoner, Stark is forced to create some powerful weapons and instead creates capability-enhancing body armor and fights his way through the rebels and back to the United States. 
Along the way he has an epiphany and decides that he wants to stop making weapons of destruction and work towards peace instead, just to find that his executive team then blocks him: they want to continue making money from arms deals.

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Review: Terminator Salvation

I’ve written before about the Curse of the Sequel, and when you’re doing a fourth installment of what we modern film people call a “franchise”, it’s doubly difficult to have a film that’s interesting, engaging, and consistent with the mythos of the earlier movies. It can be done: the new Star Trek movie is an example of a great addition to a huge franchise. It can also be messed up, as was the case in the lackluster X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

terminator salvation onesheetHaving just seen one-name director McG’s Terminator Salvation, I have to say that it falls into the category of a sequel that does not do justice to the franchise storyline and characters.
If you never saw the original Terminator film, you’ve missed out on a great sci-fi action film. It’s set in contemporary times, with a cyborg that was sent from the future to kill main character Sarah Connor before she gave birth to her future son John Connor. John would otherwise grow up to lead the anti-machine resistance.
What made it such a good film was that it stuck to what Alfred Hitchcock always talked about: the ability of the audience to identify with a character in the film.  Without that, we watch movies dispassionately, not particularly caring if they live or die. I think it’s a universal truth of cinema: No engagement leads to an uninteresting cinematic experience.
That’s the problem with the new Terminator Salvation. I just didn’t care much about the characters or the main plotline of humans versus the all-knowing Skynet network and its roaming cyborg “terminators”.
In the movie, John Connor is played by Christian Bale, with his love interest wife Kate Connor played by Bryce Howard. True story, the relationship is so poorly developed that it wasn’t until I was doing research for this review that I realized the two of them were married in the story. She’s yet another example of the far too common dutiful sci-fi wife who doesn’t contribute a heck of a lot to the storyline.
The more problematic character for me, however, was Marcus Wright, played by Sam Worthington…

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Review: Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

Since Battle of the Smithsonian is the sequel to the popular film Night at the Museum, I should start this review by saying that I really enjoyed the first film and own a copy of it. My kids really like it too and we’ve watched it at least a dozen times. 

The core storyline in the first film was that divorced father Larry Daley (played by Ben Stiller) has a poor relationship with his son Nicky Daley (played by Jake Cherry) and when he ends up taking a job as a night guard at a museum, Nicky is embarrassed and disappointed. Once the people, puppets, sculptures and even animals in the museum come to life, Daley brings his son to the museum and after some missteps his son is impressed and the film ends with their relationship restored.  A nice, straightforward story arc with a fun background chaos of a living museum.
By contrast, Battle of the Smithsonian is lacking any sort of overarching story. Well, maybe there’s one, but if it is, the story is that Daley’s now a successful entrepreneurial businessman and as the film proceeds he learns that doing what he loves with people he loves is more important, but really, a far less engaging story.
I did enjoy Battle of the Smithsonian as a straightforward entertainment, even given these problems, but, please, read on…

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Review: Angels & Demons

Just got back from a preview screening of the new Tom Hanks / Ron Howard movie Angels & Demons, based on the book of the same name by Dan Brown.  You’ll remember Dan Brown because he wrote the extraordinary best seller The DaVinci Code.

If you’re lucky, you won’t also remember that Ron Howard directed, and Tom Hanks starred in the movie version of The DaVinci Code too, a film released in 2006. I’ve actually watched the movie a couple of times so I could better understand why it was so painful to watch and why it just didn’t work as a film, even though I greatly enjoyed the book.

angels and demons

The problem with the movie The DaVinci Code was that the individual contributors to the film were top-notch, but, like an orchestra without a conductor, it never melded into a strong storyline, a comprehensible sequence of events and a satisfying movie.
While Angels & Demons is definitely better than The DaVinci Code, it too suffers from the same problems. The story just doesn’t work, the character motivations aren’t logical, and there are so many narrative glitches and inane sequences that it’s a wonder they released it rather than going back to the editing room to tighten things further.

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Are movies too violent, or is cinema just evolving?

I got an interesting question in the mail:

“I am not very familiar with your website but I came across an article you wrote about the increase in violence in cinema while doing research for a paper I have to do. I found the article very interesting and was wondering if I may ask a question to you. I am a student at the University of Notre Dame and am writing a paper dealing with violence in movies. Specifically, if violence in movies is ruining the art form of cinema. I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Thanks.”

This is a very interesting topic, and one that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about.

The answer is easy, however: violence isn’t ruining cinema, it’s part of the evolution of cinema. The question instead, perhaps, is whether it’s evolving in a good direction or not.
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