Friday, June 27, 2008

Wanted (Review)

Mrs. Pitt is really the only bankable action heroine in business these days. But you never really know what your gonna get when she shows up all guns blazin’. Surprisingly she has very little to say in this film compared to what the trailers would have you think. She is pretty much the shapely facilitator for James McAvoy’s rippled assassin… but not just yet.

The film opens with a helping of Matrix set up and a McAvoy voiceover telling us all about how much his life sucks stuck in his office job and how his dad left a week after he was born. This could be the guy we just witnessed get blown away after jumping through plate glass across the Chicago skyline and killing 4 assassins on the opposite building. This trite and badly staged intro is made more surreal due to the fact that this is the first time we’ve seen Mac putting on an American accent. In fact the whole first act of this film screams “set-up” and brings you out of the film. However, it becomes a little more worth it when Fox (Jolie) shows up and the bullets rain and rubber is burned. Even more so after Gibson (Mac) wakes up the next day with a attitude that actually feels believable (the whiney kid bit at the outset feels more like a role for Hayden Christiensen). One of the best scenes in the film occurs when he finally gets fed up at work and gives his tormentors their due. After which he is scooped up by Fox and his assassin’s training begins.

The Fraternity, (a little too on the nose) as they are called consist of a gunsmith named Gunsmith (Common), a knife guy, a healer and they're all lead by Morgan Freeman (Sloan, or Ra’s al Guhl). Gibson is told that his father (indeed the dead guy) was one of the worlds greatest killers and that he has inherited some of his “powers” that just need to be harvested in order to kill Cross – a rogue member who took out daddy and a lot of other frat boys. What follows is an extended montage wherein we are introduced to the world through our hero and he is broken down so that his skill level can be built up. We are also introduced to the great power the Fraternity believe in… 1000 thread count sheets!! They were started by weavers who discovered the secret of binary code in their weaves and thus decided they should kill people (Cross for some reason questioned this).

This all sounds completely ridiculous and it is. The comic the film was based on pretty much stole from a whole lot of other yarns (pun intended) and what wasn’t stolen is the least believable stuff but is all just a place to hang the action. And what fine action it is. Timur Bekmambetov brings a lot of his creative techniques that made the Night Watch films so great but tones it down just a bit and it really fits perfectly. The set pieces are expertly staged and never (ok once) feel like a Michael Bay looky-what-I-can-do moment. As the killing starts an the chance is joined our cardboard characters pursue Cross around the world but just when you think things are gonna go in a different direction the Empire Strikes Back leading up to the big finale with a V for Vendetta round the room bit and a lot of exploding rats (Willard maybe?)

Once Mac gets going he’s actually an ok action star though he might need a few more improving montages before he can take on Bale or Jackman. Freeman uses his persona to good effect here especially in the final act where he gets some big lines and even bigger laughs. Jolie as I said earlier had very little dialogue despite a large amount of onscreen time but they way she exudes confidence eliminates the need for words. This is a fun summer spectacular and as such the brain should be left in the Abby Normal jar on the shelf but as far as summer blockbusters go this bests all but Iron Man so far this year.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Get Smart (Review)

When updating classic TV shows there is usually a formula that is followed – short intro quickly placing characters in their respective rolls followed by the bulk of a ridiculous plot featuring where possible cameos from people associated with the original show. This film thankfully does not follow this formula. Instead Get Smart takes the Casino Royale (apropos) origin story and overlays it on one Maxwell Smart.

The film opens with a quick montage then its off to the Spy Museum in DC (again - nice touch) with Steve Carell carrying a stack of papers that is just slightly to large for him. We hear a tour guide mention that C.O.N.T.R.O.L. has been defunct since the end of the Cold War and then a smirk show’s up on Carell’s face as he enters the secret entrance. But Maxwell does not start out the film as an international super-spy. No, he is only a lowly analyst awaiting his Field Agent’s test results. Anne Hathaway’s Agent 99 isn’t even introduced for a half hour! After a leak exposes most of C.O.N.T.R.O.L.’s agents its up to rookie 86 (Smart) & a facially reconstructed 99 to take on K.A.O.S. and their attempt to get their hands on a stock pile of nuclear weapons… and fall in love along the way. Carell plays Smart somewhere between the unconfident Andy of 40YOV and Michael Scott’s bumbling never admit your wrong attitude on The Office. While this feels like a retread for the first ½ of the film, once he starts to become Agent 86 (about the time he first utters the famous line “Missed it by that much”) the film become an effortless piece of summer fun. They even take some time to lampoon Entrapment to hilarious results.

(Listen to the classic theme)

The acting is mostly top notch. Alan Arkin re-teams with his Little Miss Sunshine co-star and he is again great and the back office shenanigans between tech-geeks played by Masi Oka & Nate Torrence and sidelined field agents Terry Crews & David “Whammy” Koechner fill the b-story gaps nicely. The only disappointments in the cast are the bland Dwayne Johnson and the surprisingly uninteresting Terrence Stamp who seemed to be phoning in his role as Siegfried, head of K.A.O.S. There are also a boat load of cameos including James Caan (President), Geoffrey Pierson (Veep - demoted from 24), Kevin Nealon & Larry Miller (CIA), Patrick Warburton and Bill Romanowski (Air Marshall). Bernie Kopell – Siegfried in the original show makes and appearance as does Leonard Stern, writer and exec. producer of the series. The only cameo that didn’t work for me was an odd turn by Bill Murray as Agent 13 who spends his entire scene inside a tree and is desperate for attention (was Agent 13 aways like that?).

As one who has only ever caught a few episodes snippets of the show from Nick at Nite I’m sure there are a ton of geek out moments that I missed (shoe phone makes an appearance at the end). I also didn’t have much of an attachment to the series or characters and was not expecting very much from this one but in the end Carell’s turn as Maxwell Smart won me over. The film is fun, mostly solid and an excellent addition to his career, which I thought was headed downhill after last year’s output.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Incredible Hulk (Review)

One can hardly blame Marvel for wanting to hit restart on the Hulk films. As one of their big 3 properties and second only in character mass appeal to Spidey, it must have been hard to stomach the fan reaction to the Ang Lee joint. I guess this one is for the fans but as a stand alone film it’s only just OK. During the opening credits you see (silently) the creation of this version of the Hulk. Interesting that despite the reset this is not an origin film and it is set 5 years after the events of the credits… which also happens to be 5 years after Eric Bana went GREEN. I’m still not sure what to make of that. But in the present day Ed Norton’s Hulk is hiding out in South America doing odd jobs, keeping a low profile and taking anger management courses. One small misstep sends William Hurt’s General Ross down Amazon way with hired gun and all around psycho Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) in tow. Norton of course escapes but only after long foot chase and a teaser of a hulk-out. Back in the good ol’ USofA Banner has returned home to find his girl Betty Ross – daughter of the general (Liv Tyler – daughter of the rocker). They catch up but an ambush is in the works and we finally get a full on fight… one in which a slightly enhanced Blonsky is left a shattered husk. But that slight enhancement kept him alive and he juices up for fight #3 where we switch coasts (Iron Man already trashed LA) to Harlem(!) where Banner and Ross go to meet a not all there scientist type overplayed by Tim Blake Nelson. He succeeds in quashing the genetic changes of one outburst but in doing so Banner is captured. As he’s flown away Blonsky who is now totally off his rocker forces the doc to give him the Hulk treatment turning him into the Abomination and setting up the next villain in the process. And then there’s the final Showdown at the Apollo!!!

While this film doesn’t quite touch the lows of the former film, it never comes near the highs either. Lee explored the psyche of the character while Norton’s version is worried about how a lusty romp might excite him too much. Lee’s brilliant comic book editing, stunning visuals (non CG) and iconic superhero moments are all absent from this film as are the great acting abilities of Bana and Connelly. The villains though are a step up with Hurt’s no nonsense General getting a slight edge and Roth’s seething but never hammy performance blowing Nolte away. The tone of this film is more “bland damsel in distress melodrama” with pithy jokes tossed in, ya know - a superhero movie. Its also chock full of full on geek-out moments that will have the fans cheering which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Unfortunately, Hulk drops a month after Marvel Studios brought us the revelatory RDJ as Iron Man and this one just can’t hold a candle to that. It’s not an abomination but it ain’t nothin’ to ink home about either. If Marvel can keep all their output somewhere between this and Iron Man though, I’ll be quite happy with the master plan.

Geek Note: no need to stay for the credits – they bumped the Tony Stark cameo to just before it fades to black.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Viva La Vida or Big Brother Is Watching You

So as a denizen of the blogosphere you already know about the "record company destroying" leak of the new set from Coldplay last week. (Legal Listen) But there is also the little business of their US tour fiasco with production delays forcing postponement by almost a month - and now the kick off is in LA? Philly deserves better. (j/k - let them work the kinks out on the left coast).

I did however win tickets to the free live show up at MSG on the 23rd (jealous?) which as of yet has not been bumped. This means it should be a nice little productionless fan/band/jam in the most famous arena in the world. When checking the inbox today I found this:

This is your order number for your pair(2) of tickets to the Free Coldplay show
at Madison Square Garden on June 23rd, 2008.

Doors are scheduled for 7:00pm. Showtime is scheduled for 8:00pm You will learn your seat locations when you receive your tickets in the mail. Tickets will be mailed via US Mail - Delivery Confirmation. Tickets will be mailed on or before June 13th, 2008. They will be mailed from Musictoday in Crozet, VA. You will receive a white bubble padded package in the mail. Be on the lookout!

You will also receive a shipping confirmation email on the day that your tickets ship. We know we've told you before, but we're going to tell you again.


We're watching and we'll catch you. Trust us!

If you can't make it, email or call us. We'll find some other fan who
will go in your place.

Thanks again. We'll see you at the show!

Ya just have to laugh at this. Not sure who is behind the watching but i'm keeping my blinds closed till next Tuesday just in case. I don't plan on selling these but I fear they might catch me in some kind of compromising position (NSFW). Can't wait for this and the eventual "big show" when the tour stops by the Wac... wait minute - they are playing at the Wachovia center. Wachovia/WatchOvaYa... I feel like Agent Mulder, or Nic Cage in those Indy rip off movies.


Bonus MP3: Bloc Party vs. Coldplay - Hunting for Witches In My Place