Monthly Archives: February 2011

Review: I Am Number Four

i am number four one sheetImagine the cast of Beverly Hills 90210 being dropped into Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters from the X-Men movies and you’ll have a sense of the uneven pastiche that is I Am Number Four

The film starts out with an exciting action scene where we see creepy aliens chase and kill Number Two in a lush jungle. After being outed as “some kind of freak”, we cut to teen John Smith (Alex Pettyfer) and his guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant) throwing their belongings into their car and burning photographs and anything else that connects them to the Florida community. “This is the part I hate the most. The running.” John explains in a lengthy voiceover, as they head to the tiny town of Paradise, Ohio where they just happen to have a long-vacant house on the edge of town.
Then the backstory really gets confusing. John is one of nine alien kids from planet Lorien who have special “legacies” that make them extraordinarily powerful. Henri is a warrior assigned to guard John. The bad guys are also aliens, the Mogadorians, or “The Mogs”, and after invading Lorien they’re tracking down The Nine to kill them, apparently in preparation for invading Earth. How those two tie together? I’ve no clue. 
The real problem with I Am Number Four, however, is pacing. After an exciting first ten minutes, the film settles into a cliche-laiden teen school soap opera, including John, the lone outsider, the bullied science nerd Sam (Callan McAuliffe), the jock bully Mark (Jake Abel) and his posse, and super cute Sarah (Dianna Agron), who falls for John which — surprise! — angers ex-bf Mark. Yadda yadda, you’ve seen all these trite interchanges a thousand times before on the big screen.  After an hour or so of High School Drama, the Mogs finally show up, along with the sexy Number Six (Teresa Palmer), and the action finally resumes. 
I Am Number Four wasn’t a bad film, and it’s certainly entertaining, but the pacing was awful. If you’re a teen who digs action films, this might be a wonderful movie for you — and the cast are all pleasant to watch, men and women alike — but if you’re used to more sophisticated action fare where the backstory is skillfully woven into ongoing action and adventure, you’ll be yearning for something better.

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Review: The Eagle

the eagle one sheetAfter such amazing films as Ben Hur and Gladiator, I’m a definite fan of what the industry refers to as “swords and sandals” epics, films that take place during the first century or two of the common era. The Eagle takes place during this same era, 140AD, and is a tale of a Roman commander who seeks to restore his family’s honor by recovering a lost golden eagle from the far northern hinterlands of Britain.

The story is based on the book The Eagle of the Ninth, with Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) seeking to restore the honor of his family twenty years after his father Flavius (Aladar Lakloth) led the Ninth Legion to their mysterious demise in the area we now know of as Scotland. The Ninth, 5000 men strong, marched to claim the lands for Rome, carrying along a symbol of Roman authority — the eagle — but were never heard from again. In response, Emperor Hadrian commissioned the building of Hadrian’s Wall, a dividing line between Roman Britain and the wilderness.
The problem with The Eagle is that Marcus and his slave pal Esca (Jamie Bell) fight the occasionally nobel savages and travel northward of the Wall to recover the lost eagle, but never with passion and enthusiasm. Indeed, there were times that it felt more like a History Channel reenactment of a famous second century Roman battle than an actual movie.
Donald Sutherland makes an appearance as wise, beloved Uncle Aquila, but seems wasted in the film and plays the part with a lack of commitment that had me expecting him to wink at us, the viewers, at more than one point in the narrative. “We’re just play-acting, right?”
The story of The Eagle is a terrific one of family honor, commitment and freedom, even occasionally touching on whether the Romans had the right to invade and occupy Britain, but the cast walked through their parts, leaving it curiously unengaging. Does Marcus succeed?  By the end of the film, you just don’t really care.

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Flashback Review: Breathless

breathless one sheet a bout de souffle

In this amazing film that defines the 60s French New Wave movement in cinema, Breathless tells the story of Patricia Franchini (Jean Seberg), a beautiful, naive American girl sent to Paris to study journalism who falls for the thuggish, cynical Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo). This film, directed by the great Jean-Luc Goddard, is about style, about irony, about cynicism and about cinema itself.
The film opens with Michel casually stealing a car and driving through the countryside, even as he narrates the drive to himself. Finding a gun in the glove compartment he shoots a policeman then bolts back to Paris, where he finds Patricia walking down the Champs-Élysées, hawking English-language newspapers. 
But Michel and Patricia aren’t just characters in a story, they’re symbols of the tension between cultured and rogue, law-abiding and lawbreaker, journalist and story, and most importantly, between the naive optimism of America versus the post-war cynicism of France.
Breathless revels in contrasts too, with Patricia carelessly dancing from reflector to reflector as she crosses a busy street while Michel casually clobbers a middle-aged businessman in a public restroom and steals his money. It’s shocking, but there’s a sort of depressing logic to their mutual attraction. Later Michel asks Patricia “Do you ever think about death”, as he sits in bed playing with her teddy bear.

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