Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Brief Movie Reviews: Enchanted and The Mist

So, the theaters are finally starting to play movies I want to see again, so I thought I'd write a pair of reviews of two movies I saw recently.

First off, Enchanted. Now, it's probably fair to wonder why I wanted to see this movie at all, let alone be motivated to see it in theaters shortly after it opened. Well, I can certainly tell you that it had nothing to do with that first trailer they released for it. My God, I remember seeing that trailer and just being embarrassed for Disney. It's the one that brings up all their classic fairy tales, basically so that it can make fun of them for the sake of advertising this movie. Ouch, huh?

That ad made me not interested at all, but then all these reviews came in that suggested something very different from the idea of poking fun at Disney's storied tradition of classic animated films, many of which involved princesses and happily ever afters. Thankfully, they were right. The movie is not meant to make fun of those things at all. It's celebrating them the only way people are still willing to pay to see anymore (besides in CGI, of course...except I can't think of any CGI movies involving princesses except for Shrek, which actually WAS meant to poke fun at Disney's storied tradition of classic animated films, so it doesn't count).

So, anyways, we get to enjoy a live action fairy tale, with a princess. And, well, it's a success. Totally. They managed to recapture some of their Disney magic or whatever. For the first time since Kingdom Hearts, as far as I'm concerned. This film provided Disney with a transition from the classic animated fairy tales to what will hopefully one day be their classic live action fairy tales. Except for the evil stepmother, all of the live action characters just shined on screen. Our dear heroine, her prince, even the bumbling henchman were just as fun and lively and exciting as anything the animators have ever created (except maybe Genie). These characters came into the real world, but the actors still managed to be animated caricatures and that was how it should be.

Even better, they had one of the best catchy musical numbers of any Disney movie. I didn't particularly enjoy the "Happy Working Song" or whatever, but "That's How You Know" (I think) was absolutely perfectly done. It was totally cool to watch that sequence unfold. The way everyone introduced in the park slowly becomes caught up in the song and finds themselves joining the refrain made it feel absolutely like a Disney song. And, more importantly, it didn't feel stupid at all (silly, yes, but not stupid). That can't be easy.

Completely unrelated, Amy Adams looked pretty decently hot for the ball. I was impressed, at least.

For me, though, the fun was really in trying to contemplate what the final message of the movie actually was. The girl is obsessed with the romantic ideal of falling in love (especially at first sight) and the expectation that this can only lead to Happily Ever After. To her, any thing else is a tragedy to be prevented at all costs. The Grey's Anatomy dude, on the other hand, doesn't believe in any of that stuff and thinks that love can only be maintained if it is well planned and thought out. He's not interested in romance and thinks that love at first sight can only end in tragedy. this conflict of ideals is a huge part of the movie.

(assuming you have never seen a Disney movie and couldn't have predicted 90% of the movie from a 3 sentence description)

The interesting thing is that, in the end, she falls in love with him, not at first sight as she had always dreamed, but only by spending time with him and getting to know him for who he actually is. He falls in love with her as well, but I'm not totally clear on the why, there. I'll be nice and assume that it's because she shows him the joyful possibilities of living a romantics life or something (and not because she's a pretty safe bet, since she's basically promising to stay loyal and in love forever).

In any case, I guess they both learn something from each other and so complete each other or whatever. But, here's what I like: their happily ever after (which the ending assures us they got) did not fall into their laps. They earned it. They shared and learned from each other. I like that. I think that's a fair compromise from the stories of old and I was impressed to see Disney present it as such. Or, maybe I just like messages that lower girls' standards, if just a little bit.

Onto, Stephen King's The Mist.

First off, this movie pretty much had me won over the moment I heard about it. If it hadn't, then about the first 10 seconds would have done it again. To see it open with a guy painting a beautiful poster of Roland and the Doorway and the Rose and the Dark Tower, was just, amazing. I would have been happy with 90 minutes of just watching him adding little details to that poster. It was such an amazing way to start. With this story's gunslinger illustrating Stephen King's beloved gunslinger. I might have shouted my approval just a little bit.

But, so yeah. The movie was great. Just as good as I hoped. They made some changes to the story (including the ending) and I appreciated all of them. The tension was awesome and the creatures were scary. I also loved just how big the creatures got. I know a lot of reviewers didn't like Ms. Carmody, but I thought she was awesome. All good horror movies have both a mixture of fear of the unknown and a fear of those around you. Ms. Carmody supplied that second fear perfectly. The movie also didn't use very many known actors, so everyone was fair game and you really never knew who was going to get it next (or how).

I'm a little disappointed that basically no one is seeing this movie. It's really too bad. But, well, I'm betting Cloverfield manages to capture a lot of this too, and hopefully that'll do some good business.

But, yeah, all I can say is that it was awesome. Easily the best Stephen King horror adaption I've seen (no, The Shawshank Redemption doesn't count as horror, yes that movie is better, but whatever). So, go see it before it disappears from theaters, which I'm gonna go out on a limb and say will probably happen a week from Friday (okay, you might get an extra week if you're lucky).

That is all.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Takashi Shimizu

So, for Halloween, I've been watching some horror movies. I try to be fair and watch a decent variety of movies, but I have a slightly different definition of variety than most people.

So, in the spirit of variety, I checked out: 1 big budget zombie movie (28 Weeks Later), 1 low-budget, Australian (well, it's probably from New Zealand) zombie-sheep movie (Black Sheep), 1 low-budget Japanese ghost movie (Reincarnation), 1 low-budget American ghost movie (Unrest), 1 big-budget Japanese-American ghost movie (The Grudge 2), and 1 low budget '80s John Carpenter ghost movie (The Fog). Oh, I guess I also rewatched Blade II and saw 30 Days of Night in the theaters.

I think that's a pretty decent amount of variety. Admittedly, I still have 3 more horror movies coming in on my queue (a big-budget Japanese ghost movie, Ju-On 2, a low budget independent zombie movie, Fido, and the original zombie-comedy: "The Return of the Living Dead"). Once those come in, the variety level kind of sinks a little bit.

Anyways, if you were paying attention, you might have noticed three different Japanese ghost movies, of varying budget size. I picked these three for a very specific reason. The director is named Takashi Shimizu, and, well, I think he is something special, and so I keep watching his movies, typically against my better judgment.

It all started years ago. Back before I regularly watched Japanese horror movies. My brother and I had seen The Ring and had agreed that it was pretty much one of the scariest things we'd ever seen, bar none. However, being lazy, isolationist bigots, we never bothered to see Ringu (because we couldn't really imagine it being better than The Ring). Then, we heard about Ju-On. Apparently, this movie was even scarier than Ringu. And, well, in that case, we had to see it.

It was only playing on one screen in a theater way away from home and the earliest show we could make was pretty late (like 10-ish). So, we went and saw it. And it totally blew our minds.

We honestly weren't even sure if we liked it, when we got out. We agreed that it was crazy freaking scary (at least on par with The Ring). But, we had no clue what was going on through at least 60% of the movie. My complaint was that basically every single victim in the movie was either a pretty, young Japanese woman, or a Japanese Schoolgirl. So, they all pretty much looked the same (plus, many of them were supposed to be related, so they REALLY all looked the same). Plus, the movie skips around through time (without being kind enough to tell you), which can really play hell with the viewer, since then you're not really sure if the character you're seeing is a new one who looks just like another victim, or that previous victim in the past.

Anyways, it was crazy. And most of the credit goes to Takashi Shimizu. In researching this masterpiece, I learned that it all actually started out as two direct-to-video movies that were crazy freaking scary. The movie, in fact, is more like a sequel to those (which explains some things associated with the ridiculous amounts of confusion involved in watching the movie).

What I liked about the movie, though, was how it played with the viewers. It is clear from the beginning that entering the haunted house is sealing your own death. There is no escape. But, the ghost toys with the victims. A lot. Especially at the beginning, it acts like there are rules and if the characters had just made the right calls, they might have survived. Then, we do get to see later characters make the right calls. In fact, we see characters completely lose their minds, doing everything they can trying to avoid the ghost's wrath, but it's always all for naught. The slow erosion of hope over the course of the movie is totally cool.

Takashi Shimizu was also recruited to do the American version (and the sequel to the American version). These are both really disappointing. The American version is still set in Japan (which is a weird call, but it works since they use the same actors to play the ghosts), but the main character is a foreign exchange student or something. Yeah, it's already lame.

Anyways, my complaint with it was that they regurgitate the exact same scares, but got rid of anything resembling confusion or the sense of losing your mind or everything else that is key to Japanese horror. The result, not surprisingly, was just stupid.

I recently watched the American sequel (and the Japanese sequel is arriving soon). I actually liked this one more, than the previous American one. It did manage to capture a lot of what was best in Ju-On (while totally screwing some other stuff up, but beggars can't be choosy). It did play with the viewers sense of time a little bit. It did include characters going insane trying to keep themselves safe. It even included the people all around a marked person going crazy as the rage of the ghost just turns everyone around the target into murderous and suicidal psychopaths. That whole section was, really, an excellent addition to the story (as the ghost follows a victim back to America).

It was for scenes like that, that I bothered to watch it at all (hoping against hope for something half that awesome). Thankfully, Takashi Shimizu delivered. I wasn't too surprised, though, because he delivered in both his other low budget flings I've checked out as well (Marebito and Reincarnation). Marebito does a great job of following the main character's trip into insanity (although it doesn't do too much else right). Reincarnation doesn't have the scares of Ju-On, but it does a great job of playing with the audience's sense of reality and time (where we start to really wonder whether the stuff that's happening in reality or in her ghost-inspired dreams is the bigger threat to her life...the answer: both).

So, yeah, I'm going to keep checking out his movies, because I think they embody the best of Japanese horror. The good guys probably aren't going to win (and they might not even be the good guys). The scares are going to be simple, but effective thanks to the excellent mood he is able to generate (an example of excellent mood, but no scares would be the Japanese version of Pulse, not the one starring Veronica Mars and not directed by Takashi Shimizu). But, most importantly, I'll be challenged as a viewer. I'll be able to try to formulate rules that the ghost follows or explanations of what's going on and I'll know that there's more than one right answer, because he's toying with me just as the ghosts are toying with their victims. And I enjoy that.

That is all.


PS - I'm currently faced with a tough decision, since the one movie he's made that I haven't seen, is the third in a series called Tomie. Reviews say you really need to see the earlier ones if you want to be able to follow, but that his is the best by far (not surprising). On the other hand, the reviews also say you need to be Japanese to understand most of it anyways, so I could just ignore those recommendations (so maybe I can get away with just watching his... or maybe I should just rent the whole series... or maybe I should move to Japan and study the culture and then watch the whole series... or maybe not).

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Serious Talk about Heroes

Well, it's time for a long, serious discussion of Heroes. Monday's episode was obviously meant to be the key episode to let everyone know that it's time to get back to business, and, well, we should respect that.

I would like to start by saying that, while I'm glad they finally got around to giving us Monday's episode, I still feel disappointed in them. For those first 6 episodes or so, they were stalling by keeping Peter, Hiro, and Sylar out of the picture. In the meantime, they were trying out having a variety of only vaguely related sub-plots as the various "special people" tried to deal with their abilities (amongst other things). As a concept, it's not a terrible way to stall. It should be interesting to watch them try to go about their lives after saving the world. Well, it could be interesting. But, it wasn't.

So, instead, we got Monday's episode. They gave up and just gave the audience want the audience was screaming for (which of course isn't really what the audience wanted at all). They're going to give us season one all over again. By the looks of it, almost exactly, too. Everyone is going to need to unite once again and work together to save the world and prevent a disaster, which has already been set in motion. Linderman has been replaced by Adam as the evil guy bringing this all together, and um, yeah, everything else is the same.

(Heavy, sad, sigh...)

What a disappointment. I remember, before the start of season 2, trying to imagine where they were going to go next with Heroes. I was hoping there would be some sort of reaction by the general public to the fact that a giant bomb had gone off in the sky. I had hoped that Nathan Patrelli had died, leaving Peter feeling guilty and borderline useless as he blames himself for Nathan's sacrifice (instead of the other way around, minus the dying). I had hoped the company would start doing something interesting now that their leader was dead. I was not really hoping for some new disaster for our Heroes to prevent.

But, whatever, that's what we got. Okay, fine, we'll make some lemonade and we'll like it, thank you very much.

First off, let's talk about Adam. Our new villain masterminding disaster. I have a confession to make. I totally misread his character when we were introduced to him in the past. As soon as we saw him healing, I was certain that he was a fellow time traveling mutant (oops, did I just say mutant out loud) and he was just leading Hiro on. There were a couple reason I thought this. The first one was the silly convenience of it all, that Hiro's hero was a "special person". It made more sense to me that someone with a variety of powers including healing and time traveling would potentially use them to go around being a dick throughout history (and therefore be a legend throughout history). Given all that time, I could totally imagine him learning Japanese so that he could be a hero there too (or an Englishman being Kensei could just be for the purpose of reducing the quantity of subtitles used in the show).

In my defense, there was one other reason I thought he was from the future. I assumed (and, yes, I know that assuming makes and ass out of you and Ming), that the mutations necessary to create the Heroes requires multiple generations of random mutations to occur. This was supported by the fact that we assume there has suddenly been an explosion of these people arising in the last two generations (as opposed to thinking that these people have been around throughout history). This is especially true because it is so clearly hereditary (unless Angela Patrelli has a power we don't know about, Nathan and Peter's father passed on the gift to both of them...although the chick whose dad was a former Hero didn't have any powers, so it's not guaranteed). So, considering these two details, it didn't occur to me that all the necessary mutations would have happened in one individual a long ass time before they occurred in anyone else, ever.

But, I was wrong (or the writers didn't care...they were too busy negotiating for higher percentages or something, I don't know...not that I don't support the strike or anything...of course). An alternative (and fun!) theory, considering that we currently now believe Adam has been around for a long time, is that all of the current Heroes are somehow related to him. That maybe he decided it was time to just start making babies and see how the investment would pan out. I kind of like that theory, if only because it's weird and random.

One more brief complaint (brief, huh?). I was really annoyed with how they used Peter's ability to move the plot forward. That was not at all how they did it last season. They're still being good with that series of 8 paintings or whatever, but Peter's was just a cop out. That power is supposed to show what happens in the future, not cause it. The closest we've ever seen it coming to causing the future (also happened when Peter painted), and that was when it provided enough information to get him to where he already wanted to go (Claire's high school). Admittedly, it showed him there, so you might be able to argue that it was causing the future, but he might have potentially figured out where to go anyways (since he was at least trying).

Compare this to his painting at Caitlin's (I don't remember the spelling, but that's my guess) house. They don't know where to go or what to do. So he paints them at some building in Montreal. Therefore, they go to this building at Montreal, not knowing what it is or why they're going there. It's just a stupid way to move the plot forward (also known as Dues Ex Machina, but whatever, it's not like we haven't seen plenty of that in Heroes already).

So, Heroes is moving into high gear. Hiro is back and ready to get revenge on the person who killed his father. Matt's dad is decommissioned for now, so our pseudo-evil filler villain is all done. Peter even has his memory back (admittedly, he's with Adam right now, but I think it's safe to say that Peter is probably not going to side with him for too long). Now we're just waiting on Sylar to get his powers back and start wreaking havoc on all sorts of innocent people (unless the show decides to go super, crazy, lame and makes him do something good, but I have faith that they'll keep him as the awesome psycho...assuming they let him have his powers back soon).

We're also starting to really wonder why Claire still counts as a main character (besides as fan service, of course). I mean, for goodness sake, she has the least helpful power ever. She can heal herself. Whoo! Until someone plates her skeleton with adamantium and gives her big ass claws for ripping into people, she's never going to do anything useful (except for give Peter her power, which she did last season). And, I'm serious here, why do we have to have another "Find the cheerleader!" mission? Do the writers really have that little imagination? It's totally pointless. Besides, why do they even think she'll be useful?

So, Jessica (or Nikki, I don't really care) has the virus that's going to destroy the world. Okay then, let's bring in a mutant that can regenerate. She'll totally be able to provide us with new antibodies to fight the virus and stop the end of the world. All I can say is: "NO!" That makes no sense at all. The virus takes away people's abilities. Therefore, it seems pretty likely that if Claire gets exposed to the virus, she won't be able to heal anymore and will therefore be even more useless. And, even if she was still able to regenerate and therefore not die, she still wouldn't have any antibodies. Her power would be keeping her alive by regenerating everything the virus destroys. So, in either case, you don't need her.

A better (read as equally terrible) plan would be to look for a new Hero who has the power to raise the dead (we could even magically say that the siblings from Mexico can use their powers together, or something, I don't know, to bring people back to life). This new Hero could then raise Linderman from the dead for us and then Linderman could heal Nikki (or Jessica, I don't care). I think that plan has better odds (if they wanted to cheat, they could try to find that guy on Pushing Daisies or whatever and just introduce him to Peter, and that would probably work too, plus you could keep a pretty tight leash on Linderman that way).

Alright, that's all I have to say about Heroes for now. I'm glad that they've decided to move the plot forward. I'm proud of them for that. I guess.

That is all.


Sunday, November 4, 2007

I Am Legend, Trailer 2

So, maybe I'm a little obsessive. It's not my fault. Anyways, a day or two after I wrote about 30 Days of Night and proceeded to pin all of my hopes for the future of awesome vampires movies on I Am Legend, they released a new trailer for it. This trailer was a little unusual in that it basically gave the entire plot of the movie from start to finish. For this reason, I'm not going to link it in case you didn't want to know what was going to happen.

Besides, it's like the second hit on Google, so if you want to, you can find it easily enough (although you have to click an additional link if you want to watch it in HD instead of crappy Flash Player).

Anyways, this trailer surprised me. A lot. It took me more than a week to organize my thoughts about all this.

So, before I go any further, I want to just throw out one of those SPOILER WARNINGS things (although you ought to be pretty well warned, considering I'm talking about something I've already described as full of spoilers). However, you should probably take these spoilers with a grain of salt, since I haven't seen the movie yet (I've only read the book). But then again, I've seen the trailer, and you might not have yet.

So, if you haven't bothered to go watch the trailer, now would probably be a good time, since that's what I'm going to be talking about. But if you want to go into the movie fresh, stop reading this post and don't go find the trailer on Google and don't go see any upcoming Warner Brothers movies or horror movies in general because you might be exposed to the spoiler filled trailer against your will. Upcoming Warner Brothers movies are: Fred Claus, August Rush and One Missed Call (which is also a horror movie, so that one's almost certain to have the trailer ahead of it). Current Warner Brothers movies that might have the trailer on it are Michael Clayton and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Also, probably don't accidentally read I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, which can be found new at Amazon for 7.99.

So, now I'm actually getting to the post.

First of all, the trailer is kind enough to finally show us the vampires. This is a good thing, since we all really wanted to know how they were going to turn out. Personally, I had been ever-so-secretly hoping for the vampires to all be wearing white make up, like in The Omega Man, just so that it would be the last black against a world taken over by whites. I would have found that awesome. I'm not sure what anyone else would think.

But, well, these vampires aren't just people wearing white make up, which is probably actually a good thing. These babies are definitely scary looking. I appreciate the naked, hairless, veiny, but-still-wearing-pants look. I also like that they all seem to look well over 6 feet tall in the trailer. That's totally cool. The sheer massive number of them that we see is nice as well.

On a side note, at Comic Con this past summer, Warner Brothers was distributing a free little comic book collection of short events leading up to the events of I Am Legend (primarily during the society crashing down part). One of them was even written by Richard Matheson. Anyways, I guess that gave me my first glimpse of what the vampires were going to look like, so their reveal wasn't as big to me as it possibly could have been.

On a barely even related side note, if you didn't happen to go to Comic Con and pick up this free little collection, Apple Trailers has animated versions of at least one of them (listed as I Am Legend: The Awakening). This is done in that same cheap, flash animated style as a pseudo-internet sensation that nobody's ever heard of called Broken Saints. Personally, I hate that style, because it's incredibly boring. You can literally read the entire little free comic book in about the same amount of time it takes them to do the single selection they picked. This isn't surprising because reading the comic books doesn't take very long, but slowly moving little paper cut-out looking characters and narrating it apparently takes forever. But, whatever. Feel free to check it out and agree with me. In either case, the original little free comic book was actually pretty good. Broken Saints and stuff that's done in the same style pretty much isn't.

Okay, back on track. So, they show us the vampires. Awesome. And we like, them. Cool. But, really, did they have to show us the dog dying? I mean, really, that's totally unnecessary. Obviously, we knew the dog was going to die (what else is going to get him to start changing his pattern after three years? Unless, they're actually keeping the girl he meets in the book, and they've just been keeping it a surprise). But, why show it? It's not going to make me want to see it more (like that's possible). It'll probably even turn some people off because some people like watching people die more than watching animals die (but at least the animal is getting well-mourned). So, yeah, unnecessary.

Lastly, and I'm serious on this one, why show him captured by the vampires? I mean, we're talking last 5-10 pages of the book here. It really feels like they decided to just give me the entire movie in that trailer. I mean, I totally still want to see it, but that was still too much. Just the scene of the mass of vampires in the distance coming at his car would have been good enough to make me start thinking about it all the time and planning my December schedule around the release date.

So, instead, now I'm in a similar situation as I was in a couple of summers ago as War of the Worlds was approaching. I was excited and stuff and I thought it would totally be cool. But, I got even more excited when I read an interview saying that they were really excited about the ending because it was totally different from the book and blah, blah, blah. So, I came into the movie really excited because I wanted to see just how it would end (the end of the book was totally cool and clever back when HG Wells wrote it, but that was a while ago, and it needed a fresh perspective). And, well, apparently quoting the end of the book as you use the same ending is considered a totally different ending than the book (I mean, the book can't quote itself, that would be way too meta to even contemplate). So, yeah, I was disappointed with the end. I thought the movie was pretty good, but the end really let me down.

So, flash forward to I Am Legend. Technically, I don't know how the movie is going to end. But here's the situation, the trailer is basically yelling out: "We're following the book!" The title is also shouting to everyone who can read: "This one is going to be like the book!" But then the question becomes: do they have the balls to follow through with that promise? And, well, I'm not sure they do.

I mean, Francis Lawrence is directing it. And, well, I'm willing to put a fair amount of faith in his first name, but not everything. And I actually liked Constantine, but he totally wussed out of letting Constantine die (admittedly, that's at least probably because he was hoping to turn that into a franchise, and franchises don't usually work when the title character dies...Pirates of the Caribbean doesn't count because Jack Sparrow's name isn't in the title and, besides, Jack can do whatever he wants in my book). So, that's what we've got. I'm pinning my hopes on the balls of a former music video director named Francis (admittedly, things could be worse, but they're definitely not good enough).

I've also been more than a little confused by selection of the release date. It's kind of hard to make sense of that choice. Less than two weeks before Christmas, they're releasing a "Will Smith against the vampires" movie, and it's not supposed to end well. I guess they want it to be this year's King Kong, but that doesn't seem like the best goal (I was always under the impression that it under-performed...and was just okay anyways). But, I guess December might give it better odds of not taking the easy, and by easy, I mean stupid, crowd-pleasing, ridiculous, way out compared to being released in July (where humanity is required to win, no matter the odds, and it better be at least as patriotic and uplifting as Independence Day). But, whatever, I just want it to come out sooner (I hear October is a good month for horror movies, even ones whose titles don't start with Saw and end with a number...and well, November probably isn't too shabby either).

So, yeah, I'm excited and so I'm thinking about this way too much. That is all.


PS - SPOILER WARNING: I didn't want to go into the ending in case you hadn't finished accidentally reading I Am Legend over the course of the post, but by this point, I've probably gone on long enough for you to catch up, assuming it was accidentally purchased with one-day shipping. The question I can't help but ask is whether, after being captured by the vampires, Will Smith is going to find out that they have started building their own society and that they consider themselves to be the humans and him to be the monster. Every morning, they go to sleep afraid that he might find and kill them, even as he goes to sleep each night afraid that they will do the same. Equally important, is the question of how he is going to come to this realization and bravely face them and their execution, knowing that he will be immortalized in their fear and loathing of him (the book concludes with this realization and the very last line is, in fact, "I am legend", which is why I'm excited they're actually using the title).

Unlike with War of the Worlds, I don't want this ending to be modernized. I would love it if it finishes by quoting the book.

Okay, that really is all.