Friday, January 29, 2010

Batman Returns

The first, but not best, follow up to the successful "Batman" includes two villains: Catwoman (Pfeiffer) and an unnecessary hideous rendition of The Penguin (DeVito). Keaton puts the cape on a second time for a wonderfully meek Batman/Bruce Wayne. Director Tim Burton, however, appears to be more interested in doing things the way he wants, instead of even attempting to continue a good story. The first was a darker and realistic take on a superhero that most be associated Adam West with — but the darkness and reality of the 1989 film worked well. Here, however, Burton tries to make "Returns" darker, uglier and less realistic. Instead of The Penguin being a beak-nosed mobster who wears a tuxedo, he's a mutated human living in the sewer. Instead of Catwoman being everybody's favorite anti-hero, she's wicked enough to be the main villain. Instead of Billy Dee Williams reprising his role as Harvey Dent, he's replaced with Christopher Walken as the evil Max Shreck — a new character who looks more like a mad scientist than a corrupt businessman. Even the art design of Gotham City is significantly different and less believable than the first. Burton completely ruined the wonderful world he made in the previous film. Danny Elfman's score is the only thing this and the first film are equal at; everything else is significantly inferior. A huge disappointment.


Cameron makes another dent in film-making with an experience best viewed in IMAX 3D. But even then, this self-indulgent, overlong, technologically impressive… yet coy… film gets boring really quick. The groundbreaking special-effects amazes at first, but it doesn't keep you interested like the SFX did in "T2". "T2" had characters you loved or loved to hate; "Avatar" has characters that well… you're indifferent to their fate. A good film should include talented acting and a solid story. This film has neither. And Cameron knows it. And he tries to disguise it with jaw-dropping special-effects, which ultimately is just nothing more than an insult to the audience's intelligence and time. The only character you can have any feeling towards is hatred for an arrogant and stereotypical colonel, played by Stephen Lang who can't even deliver a believable performance.

Crazy Heart

A broken down, drained, has-been country star (Bridges) finds inspiration at rebuilding his career and life from a journalist (Gyllenhaal) and her 4-year-old son (Nation). Jeff Bridges delivers a fantastic performance — the best of 2009 — as an all-to-real cranky old country alcoholic, with a singing performance on par with Willis Alan Ramsey or Jerry Jeff Walker, and even a touch of the well-loved Dude from "The Big Lebowski". Colin Farrell plays a supporting character as the country star Bad Blake could've been. Farrell too does an astonishing musical performance. The love story is a bit unbelievable, but a solid script and great acting makes your heart melt nevertheless. The acting couldn't be better, but what about the story? The tale of a person that's more typical than unique makes this film only worth watching once.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Terminator Salvation

The story of the future has finally arrived with plenty of references to the previous films, a possible attempt to make up for no returning actors. A film for the fans. John Connor suffered a recast yet again, this time with A-list actor Christian Bale. Only an actor as talented as Bale could be taken seriously as a recast. A more solemn story, but has plenty of spectacular action scenes (though nothing groundbreaking). It is what it is: not a classic, but rather just a Terminator story… but it's a great story! McG was able to make this just as dark and nail biting as the first three despite a PG-13 rating.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

After nearly twelve years, a third installment was finally made. While certainly inferior, it had so many obstacles to overcome legally and financially that we're lucky we even got a film at all — and in the end; at least they did the best they could. Arnold looks like he hasn't aged a bit since "T2" and that alone must've been a lot of work. There's an obvious void with the absence of Cameron and Hamilton, and Nick Stahl is a poor recast of Furlong. The T-1000 is replaced with T-X (Loken), a female terminator that is dangerous and sexy, but she can't live up to Robert Patrick's nearly invincible villain. The story is well-written, with a decent attempt at explaining away any holes left in "The Terminator", but it fails to recognize important plot points from "T2". The self-awareness of the filmmakers knowing it's an inferior film makes "T3" an entertaining, fun and even humorous journey. The special effects live up to "T2" and the story's outcome is unpredictable. It's sometimes darker than the first two, sometimes lighter; at some points better, at other points inferior. Earl Boen (Dr. Silberman) is the only other actor, besides Schwarzenegger, to reprise a role.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

A follow up to Cameron's successful "The Terminator", this time the Terminator's mission is to protect… not terminate. Maybe it should be called "The Protector"? The bond between the Terminator and the person he's programmed to protect — John Connor (Furlong, in his debut role), the son of the preceding film's target — is actually touching. Only Cameron can pull that off. Linda Hamilton reprises her role as a much darker and tougher Sarah Connor and Earl Boen reprises his role as a more important (and less likable) Dr. Silberman. Is it purposely ironic that the good characters from the first one grow dark in this film, and the dark character from the first one turns good in this film? Regardless of its intention, it works. The T-1000 (Patrick) is the cherry on top (the T-1000 makes "The Abyss" look like a student project). 139 minute action/sci-fi/thriller isn't long… it's epic! Special edition runs over 2½ hours, including a scene with Michael Biehn reprising his role as Kyle Reese.


Based on Peter Landesman's cover story, the film follows a Texas cop (Kline) and Jorge (Ramos) who are on the trail to save Jorge's sister (Gaitan), a 13-year-old girl from Mexico City who was kidnapped to be sold in the sex-trade. A powerful story, with Kline and Ramos making an interesting duo. The conflict seems to always be easy to overcome, with the two leads never loosing the tail of the kidnappers no matter what the obstacle is. The tragic irony at the end is an eye-roller. The hunt begins to feel far-fetched as the film progresses, and Kline is as dull as usual. The Mexico City setting alone is a plus to this roller-coaster of thrills and yawns.

The Wizard of Oz

29-years after the first adaptation of L. Frank Baum's classic novel, Victor Fleming's version came along with the colorful (literally) Oz that will forever touch anybody who watches the film. One of the greatest soundtracks of all-time. Supposedly, Pink Floyd's "The Dark Side of the Moon", one of rock's greatest albums of all-time, will synchronize with the film. Judge for yourself — the experience (plus an excuse to watch "The Wizard of Oz" again and listen to "The Dark Side of the Moon" again) is worth it even if it fails. Buddy Ebsen had to back out as the Tin Woodman due to an allergy from the makeup. Followed by "Journey Back to Oz" and "Return to Oz".

The Terminator

In an age when computers began to be relied on more and more, not a scarier film could come along. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays the title role, a cyborg sent back through time to kill the mother (Hamilton) of a then-unborn resistance leader that would defeat the invading Terminator-race in the future. Michael Biehn plays an unlikely but well-done hero, with Henriksen, Boen and Winfeld as the unexpected comedic relief that lacked in the sequels. The story suffers from a paradox you could drive a big rig through; the special-effects weren't that far ahead of its time; and the soundtrack may have suited the mood for 1984, but it ended up dating poorly. Schwarzenegger fits the role perfectly. Originally, Henriksen was supposed to play the Terminator. The series continues with the far more impressive "Terminator 2: Judgment Day".

Harry and the Hendersons

An unlikely creature touches the hearts of a family in this underrated beauty. John Lithgow, Melinda Dillon and the rest of the cast all fit their characters perfectly. A wonderful chemistry of happy moments, sad moments and funny moments. The conclusion is both heartbreaking and heartwarming — not your typical family-film ending, but too perfect to be rewritten. The beautiful scenery of Washington State and the costume design are also to be admired. Joe Cocker's "Love Lives On" is the perfect song for this film's end credits. Followed by an inferior television series of the same name.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Godfather: Part III

Don Michael Corleone (Pacino) seems to have mellowed down in his later years, and he wishes to keep it that way. But just when things start going the way Michael wants, he's pulled back into the life of a mobster. The brilliantly eerie similarities between an old Michael and Brando's elderly Don Vito is what makes this film a must-see. Many fans were disappointed at its tameness and the incestuous subplot. The film does an excellent job of earning its keep by not mimicking the previous two films and moving the story forward as opposed to a full circle. The bias casting of Sophia Coppola is the film's only downfall.

The Godfather: Part II

Isn't it difficult enough to make a film as good as "The Godfather"? For Coppola and Puzo, perhaps not. All the surviving characters from the first installment return in this bravura masterpiece, each of them seems to be growing tragically colder as they age. In the first, the plot exercised the relationship of a mobster father (Brando) and his son (Pacino) following in his footsteps; this time, prequel sections of the film exercise the similarities and difference between the two men in seemingly two different worlds. Robert De Niro made his career off of his Oscar-winning role as young Vito Corleone. First sequel to win an Oscar.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Terry Gilliam takes us on another fun ride, this time into the imaginations of both colorful and dark characters. Dr. Parnassus (Plummer) leads a traveling theatre troupe and has also made a deal with the devil (Tom Waits). Heath Ledger passed away during production, but filming continued with some clever rewrites, having Depp, Farrell and Law sharing the remainder of Ledger's unfinished scenes. The costume design is spectacular, as expected from a Gilliam film. Special effects are great, but not excellent. Gilliam seems to be becoming a bit self-indulgent in his later years – a stretched out story, with a short climax and the film, honestly, is a bit too ambiguous and deep for what it is.