Monthly Archives: October 2009

Review: Astro Boy

astro boy one sheetI like animation in just about any form, whether it’s the stop motion brilliance of Coraline or the computer graphics gleam of Toy Story or Shrek. I’m not a huge fan of manga, however, Japanese comics,though I am a definite fan of graphic novels and probably buy a dozen or so every month (which my kids definitely appreciate).  Astro Boy was a mixed bag, therefore, because it’s animated (good) but based on a very Japanese manga comic and story (not so good).

What I hadn’t realized until watching this animated feature was that the story of Astro Boy is really just a robotic retelling of the story of Jesus, with lots and lots of visual and story ideas inspired by pop culture, including Robocop, Toy Story, Frankenstein, I Robot, Minority Report, a definite inspiration from Wall-E, and Pinocchio, just to name a few.
The story is set in a mythic future where the inhabitants of Earth have created a floating city built around Mt. Fujiyama called Metro City. Robots are pervasive and exist as distinct second-class citizens, destroyed on a whim and discarded over the side of Metro City in massive junk piles on the surface. In an amusing introductory video narrated by Charlize Theron, we are shown how the broken robots are discarded with the elegy “may you rust in peace.”
Brilliant boy scientist Toby (Freddie Highmore) is the son of Dr. Tenma (Nicholas Cage), and there’s no mother in the story at all, not even a mention of a missing, departed or deceased parent. Dr. Tenma is perpetually too busy to pay attention to Toby, who is left instead to play with his robot pal Orrin (Eugene Levy). Orrin is one of the best characters in the film, actually, with an emotional range far beyond most every other character in Astro Boy.
Through an accident, Toby is killed but his father resurrects him by tapping into pure positive “blue core energy” in a scene clearly reminiscent of the classic Frankenstein film.
There’s a lot more that transpires in this exciting film, but ultimately it was so derivative that it left me flat, unengaged in Astro Boy or any of the other character in the story. It was also too loud and too scary for small children. The target audience is probably only tween boys or perhaps younger teenage boys, along with manga fanatics.

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Review: Law Abiding Citizen

law abiding citizen one sheetIt’s not hard to find someone with a cynical view of lawyers, especially trial lawyers, many of whom are more interested in their own careers and in winning cases than they are in seeing that justice is served. It’s an old story that’s been told again and again in the cinema.

Law Abiding Citizen is the latest in the bad lawyer genre, with Jamie Foxx as career focused attorney Nick Rice who accepts a plea bargain from the killer of affable inventor Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler)’s family. 
The film opens with Shelton and his daughter working together in the basement, while his wife prepares dinner. There’s a knock on the door and when Shelton opens it, he’s wacked with a baseball bat, tied up, and then watches as the assailant picks up the daughter and (mercifully for us viewers) murders her off-camera. Later, we learn that the wife was also murdered.
Cut to attorney Rice and his team accepting a plea bargain where the killer, Darby (Christian Stolte), has agreed to turn state’s evidence against his co-assailant, Ames (Josh Stewart). That will end up putting Ames on death row, while Darby – the real killer – would only be guilty of third-degree murder and imprisoned for 3-5 years.
Shelton’s not happy about this plea bargain, resulting in Rice yelling at him that “it’s not what you know, it’s what you can prove in court. I know you don’t think it right now, but this is a victory for us.”
It’s not a victory, and, frankly, Law Abiding Citizen gets so muddled up with its complicated storyline and poor performances from both Butler and Foxx that it’s a movie best left for a DVD rental or even skipped entirely.

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News: Redbox testing DVD sales from its kiosks

redbox kiosk front viewThere’s a very interesting article published today in Video Business that shares that Redbox is testing what happens if it sells DVDs through end-user kiosks.

Wow.
Apparently they’re tapping a new kiosk design that’s black, not red, and have the Vidigo brand banner (though not for long as there’s already a TV production company by that name at vidigo.tv), but they’re not at the same price point as the $1/night Redbox rentals. Instead, they’re going to be $19.96 and $20.95, depending on title.  
At that price point I don’t imagine that they’ll find much business as it’s cheaper to go to Target or Wal-Mart and buy at their discount prices (typically $13.99-$16.99), but then again, is it worth a few dollars to complete the transaction at the local convenience store?  Maybe.
In addition, Redbox is also testing both video game and Blu-Ray disc rentals through its bright-red video rental kiosks, though I certainly haven’t seen that at the Redbox units I’m aware of in my community in Colorado.
The interesting timing here is that the major studies are starting to complain that the $1/night rental price is cannibalizing their DVD sales, clearly something that’s impacted the pricing strategy of the Vidigo systems. Will that cause the studios to chill out?  Well, the Redbox execs told Video Business that they have data that indicates a typical Redbox renter bought, on average, 3.3 new and 1.4 used DVD discs in the previous six months, versus non-Redbox renters who bought 3.1 used and 1.2 used discs in the same time period.
Of course, that’s correlational data so there might well be a separate explanation, but still, it’s certainly interesting that people who tend to rent DVDs also tend to buy them more than the average person.
Back to the point, though: point-of-sale physical DVD kiosks at $20/unit?  Very interesting, but way too little, too late, given the shift to digital distribution. But what do you think?

Review: Couples Retreat

couples retreat one sheetDirector Peter Billingsley had a tough assignment: take four suburban couples and put them through a series of “relationship building” challenges that were thought-provoking, poignant, revealing, and funny. In his attempt to accomplish this, he commits the cardinal directorial sin: he makes everyone a crass caricature, preventing us from engaging with any of them, nor caring about the outcome of their journey. Worse, it’s just not that funny.

Couples Retreat could have been a funny movie but even the significant acting and comic skills of its stellar cast left me completely uninvolved.  The fact that it blatantly stereotyped and poked fun at gays, African-Americans, Asians, therapists, couples who need a therapist, and on and on just added to the pain of being in the audience.
The film stars Vince Vaughn as Dave, a video game salesman who is married to Ronnie (Malin Akerman). They have two young boys and while he works long hours, she obsesses over remodeling their house, dragging him to pick out $1000 kitchen tiles and insisting he choose which of the different finishes he prefers for new towel rails. 
Dave is pals with uptight dweeb Jason (Jason Bateman), overweight black guy Shane (Faizon Love) and perpetually on the make good fella Joey (Jon Favreau). None of these guys are believable and some pretty heavy material is played, awkwardly, as comic. For example, Jason is a survivor of testicular cancer, but it’s just a setup for a few jokes about a PowerPoint presentation he makes to his friends about avoiding what they call “ball cancer”.
Couples Retreat has the feel of a series of skits from a late night TV comedy show, loosely stitched together into a film, rather than a coherent story of four different couples being forced to face the weaknesses – and strengths – of their relationships. If you can think of a cheap laugh in that context, it probably shows up in this film. There are some chuckles, but it’s just not a funny movie.

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Review: Surrogates

surrogates one sheet
Some films start out with bad buzz from the get-go and never seem to shake it, even as people actually see the film. The comments end up being “it’s not as bad as I thought it would be” or “ah, it’s okay”. Surrogates had this problem, and it’s because of the star: Bruce Willis. He’s an actor who has had what Hollywood types call a “checkered career”, with some great films (Die Hard, The Sixth Sense, Twelve Monkeys) and some bombs (Hudson Hawk, Hostage).

So here’s something that might surprise you: I really liked Surrogates and think it deserves a better box office take, though it has taken in $27 mil in two weeks, with the second week down 56%. 
In the same vein as I, Robot and Minority Report, Surrogates posits a future where just about everyone has a robot surrogate that lets them stay home, safe in their Stim-Chairs, while the surrogate goes to work, parties, and can be attacked and even killed without the human adversely affected.
When things go awry in this future utopia and assassin Miles Strickland (Jack Noseworthy) uses a super-weapon to kill humans by attacking their surrogates, the FBI’s Surrogate Crimes Division gets the case, and Agent Tom Greer (Bruce Willis) is assigned lead investigator. Or, to be more precise, Greer’s “surrey”, as they’re called, is on the job. But how do you investigate a crime in a world where everyone’s safely at home and it’s robot surrogates you keep encountering?
I’ll be candid, Surrogates is not a great film, but it is an enjoyable sci-fi action thriller. If you like this genre, check it out while you can: I don’t expect it’ll last too long in the theater.

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Review: Zombieland

zombieland one sheetIt takes a certain sense of humor to enjoy a horror comedy film like Zombieland, but if you can laugh at graphic violence and can see the humor in parody, then this is a great movie for you to catch. Brilliantly funny, full of great lines, Zombieland offers a zombie film unlike any other I’ve seen, though perhaps the cult hit Shaun of the Dead comes somewhat close.

The film is set in the present and, as we learn from main character and narrator Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), everyone has turned into a flesh-eating zombie due to “patient zero” eating a virus-infected burger. I envision a really, really bad outbreak of E Coli. and think that those veggie burgers are sounding better all the time. Columbus explains “mad cow turned into mad person turned into mad zombie”.
Columbus, named after the city he’s trying to reach, hopefully to find his parents alive and well, has survived the zombie apocalypse by sticking to a set of survival rules, starting with Rule 1: Cardio. Zombies in this film can run pretty fast, so to survive you need to be in better shape than they are. Unfit humans don’t last long in Zombieland.
Rule 2 is the importance of the “double tap”: that second gunshot that ensures the zombie you’ve just shot, run over, or otherwise disabled is really, truly out of action. As he explains in the narrative, “a double tap helps you avoid being a human happy meal”.
If that sounds twisted, troubling and shocking, this probably isn’t the film for you, but if you’re thinking “human happy meal” and grinning just a little bit, run, don’t walk, to go see Zombieland!

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