Archive for March, 2009

31 Mar 2009

Monsters vs. Aliens

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Insectosaurus, The Missing Link, Dr. Cockroach Ph.D., Ginormica, and B.O.B are monsters in "Monsters vs. Aliens." Picture courtesy of Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Animation


In its latest attempt at amusing the masses with cheap laughs and enticing visuals, DreamWorks has created an animated monster movie that alienates everyone expecting something more than a lame knockoff of countless Saturday morning cartoons.

“Monsters vs. Aliens” is set around one unlucky soon-to-be bride, Susan Murphy (Reese Witherspoon, “Four Christmases”), whose life and size changes dramatically after getting hit by a meteor hours before her wedding. During the ceremony, she unexpectedly grows a few dozen feet and is quickly captured by the government, which takes her to a containment facility for beings known only as monsters.

The monsters serve only as test subjects until a powerful alien force invades Earth. When the government’s attempts to destroy the invaders fail, general W.R. Monger (Kiefer Sutherland, “Mirrors”) calls upon Susan and her new friends to destroy the aliens.

It’s well-known that DreamWorks animation is the immature stepbrother of the intellectual Pixar animation. While DreamWorks has relied on spoofing pop culture and zoo animals (“Shrek”and “Madagascar”) to bring home the dough over the past decade, Pixar has won Oscar after Oscar for creating heartwarming animated masterpieces with stories that stick with you (“The Incredibles”and “WALL-E”). With the release of “Monsters vs. Aliens” it’s all too obvious that the immature brother has been watching too much “Kim Possible” and “Dexter’s Laboratory” to realize the importance of originality.

OK, so the purpose of the movie may have been to spoof the classic sci-fi monster movies of the ’50s, but directors Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon merely dumbed down the material to entertain today’s youth. The two completely leave out any character development and rely on juvenile one-liners to compensate for the characters’ stereotypical mannerisms. The prime example comes from the alien invader, Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson, TV’s “The Office”), who when frustrated shouts “What the flagnod!” or “Oh spaceballs!” While it doesn’t make any sense or serve any purpose, it sounds funny. That appears to be the only thing that matters.

Like most other animated films today, “Monsters vs. Aliens” relies heavily on its voice talent and one targeted character, promoted heavily in all the movie’s trailers and advertising, to carry the film.

For the most part, the voices were great, with standouts including Sutherland’s gruff W.R. Monger, Hugh Laurie’s (TV’s “House”) loony British Dr. Cockroach Ph.D. and Wilson’s menacing Gallaxhar. Most actors are cast based on their voice recognition, but all three of the above do a fantastic job of altering their voices to create amusing characters.

Unlike her castmates though, Witherspoon’s interpretation of a strong independent woman comes off more as a whiny schoolgirl bimbo. Her high-pitched complaining would make a deaf person cringe.

Then, of course, there is Seth Rogen (“Zack and Miri Make a Porno”) as B.O.B., the genetically altered tomato that functions without a brain. As expected, most of the film’s laughs come from his infantile antics involving flirting with Jello and randomly forgetting how to breathe. Beyond that, all other jokes, including stabs at global warming and other mature issues fall flat.

What truly makes this film bearable though is the stunning animation. Seen in 3-D, “Monsters vs. Aliens” is by far the most engrossing animated film ever made. From the flowing life-like fur on Insectosaurus to B.O.B.’s bubbly blue mass, the animators’ hard work is obvious. If only as much time would have been spent on the script, this movie could have been not only one of the year’s best blockbusters, but a contender for the Best Animated Oscar. Alas!

As a means to entertain the younglings for an hour and a half, the film serves its purpose. As an animated film in the age of Pixar, it is an extremely pathetic and disheartening attempt to make a giant industry a profit.

‘Monsters vs. Aliens’
Release Date: Mar. 20
Directors: Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen, Rainn Wilson, Hugh Laurie, and Will Arnett
Genre: Animation, Sci-Fi
Rating: PG for sci-fi action, some crude humor and mild language
Grade: D+

Jay Brissenden can be reached at jbrissenden@nevadasagebrush.com

23 Mar 2009

Duplicity

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Oh, the life of a spy – backstabbing at every turn, sex with gorgeous people and secret missions involving stealing multi-million dollar items. “Duplicity”offers all of the above plus an endless twisting plot, ranking it among the best spy thrillers of the past decade.

Set in the typical spy movie fashion, “Duplicity”takes viewers inside two former spies’ attempt to con two major corporations.  Years after MI-6 agent Ray Koval (Clive Owen, “The International”) was the target of CIA agent Claire Stenwick’s (Julia Roberts, “Charlie Wilson’s War”) operation, the two have a chance encounter in Rome. After all hard feelings are put aside and a steamy romance forms, the two decide to perform one last mission to steal enough money to retire comfortably together and leave behind their deceiving ways, which have destroyed their relationships in the past.

In his sophomore outing in the director’s chair, Tony Gilroy has found his true calling.  After the highly convoluted and tedious film that was “Michael Clayton,”Gilroy loosens up and creates a playful movie that basks in its intricacy. While most spy thrillers try to lead you in one direction and then shatter your conceptions with a shocking ending, “Duplicity”tells you straight out where it’s going, but throws surprises along the way.

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The film itself could be called a mystery within a mystery. Through a “24″-esque editing style, viewers are shown pieces of the backstory of how the con was planned and committed. Then the viewers get thrown into how the two spies are currently pulling it off.  All of this leads to an ending that is hardly satisfactory, but effective in the cleverness the plot has displayed throughout the movie.

Leading us along are the perfectly casted Roberts and Owen as two witty intellectuals who are too smart to realize who they can and cannot trust.

Back in leading lady form after six years off, Roberts shines as Claire.  Dominating the screen with an intimidating presence, she plays perfectly off of Owen’s sly impersonation of a vulnerable James Bond. The result is poignant, yet often hilarious verbal jousting and chemistry as hot as Roberts herself.  In fact, the film’s best moment comes when the two argue over their true intentions directly after having a three-day love marathon in a hotel suite.

As one of the corporate bosses being conned, Paul Giamatti (“Fred Claus”) solidifies the prestige this film carries in its cast lineup. As the underdog willing to do anything to get one up on his competitor, Giamatti plays his most enthusiastic character to date. Some of the film’s most amusing moments come when he yells at his hired spies for not knowing the difference between a cream and a lotion.

The true star of the film and what ultimately sets it apart from others in its genre is the cinematography, crafted by Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Elswit (“There Will Be Blood”).  While many viewers have been subjected to the irritating shaky camera work that seems to be popular today, Elswit instead creates a visual feast in “Duplicity.”  Rather than trying to fit as much in as possible, the camera focuses on a subject and slowly reveals the value of each shot.  Whether it be the revolving shot around Owen as he realizes his mission has been compromised or the panoramic views of the Atlantis Hotel in Bermuda, the movie is mesmerizing.

With its theme of deception, “Duplicity”is actually the least duplicitous film to come out in quite some time.  While many thrillers of its kind promise thrills and excitement, this film actually delivers.

Jay Brissenden can be reached at jbrissenden@nevadasagebrush.com.

“Duplicity”
Release Date: March 20
Director: Tony Gilroy
Starring: Julia Roberts and Clive Owen
Genre: Spy, Thriller
Rating: PG-13 for language and some sexual content
Grade: B+

09 Mar 2009

Watchmen

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The graphic novel that was said to be impossible to adapt to film has been adapted. Having not read the graphic novel, I was confused as to why many thought it was not possible. Now that my “Watchmen”cherry has been popped, I understand where those cynics were coming from. In short, “Watchmen”is too profound for its own good.

In accordance with Alan Moore’s masterpiece, “Watchmen”is set in a dark alternate vision of 1985.  The U.S. and Russia are on the brink of nuclear war and all superheroes, besides those who work for the government, have been forced to retire. While some of the retired heroes hide in shame, others either bask in their fame or continue to work to bring justice to a world they still believe in.

As a movie, “The Dark Knight”thrived on its dark societal message of human corruption, but kept it to a few simple themes. In adapting the novel, “Watchmen”screenwriters David Hayter and Alex Tse did not have the luxury of keeping things simple.

“Watchmen”is too much film for its own good.  At nearly three hours long, the story seems to stretch on forever and after two hours, I found myself mentally checking out. That is unfortunate because the film’s epic conclusion is something that deserves the viewer’s attention and respect, even if it drawls out longer than “Lord of the Rings:  The Return of the King.”

Though the film often gets lost in its own intricacy, the large variety of characters and their development are what keep this movie from disaster.

“Watchmen”opens with the poetic death of Edward Blake, aka The Comedian (Jeffery Dean Morgan, TV’s “Grey’s Anatomy”), a former member of the Watchmen group. Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley, “Semi-Pro”), one of the few masked vigilantes still working, quickly learns of his acquaintance’s death and spreads the word to the other former members, who may also be in danger.

The film then takes the next hour or so diving into the background of the Watchmen and their ideals.  Without question, the heart of the movie lies with The Comedian. Morgan creates a vivid character who adapts with the increasingly graphic world. As a supposed hero, he unflinchingly shoots down pregnant women and attempts to rape a crime-fighting partner. No matter how morally devoid he gets, I found myself caring the most for his character and his representation of society. He gives the rest of the Watchmen a reason to fight for a better world.

The rest of the actors create unique and individualistic characters, but rely heavily on their character’s subplots to keep them interesting. While Rorschach adds much-needed humor to the grim film, it is Dr. Manhattan and his teleportation and matter transforming powers that give the film its superhero feeling, though his flailing, glowing penis (or penises when he multiplied) didn’t feel all that necessary to development of the film.

All this said, director Zach Snyder (“300″) did a commendable job creating a unique film-going experience. His imaginative visuals and slow-motion action sequences engage a viewer better Michael Bay’s giant robots any day. Like any other director, though, he has his odd quirks that sometimes add to the experience or feel extremely out of place. For example, his song choice for The Comedian’s death, “Unforgettable”by Nat King Cole, adds a feeling of poetic justice that makes his brutal death a unique experience. On the other hand, his need to add somewhat awkward sex scenes, just for the sake of having sex, adds nothing to the film’s tone. I will admit, however, playing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”during a scene where two characters finally have sex for the first time is ingenious.

If the film of adaptation of “Watchmen”teaches us anything, it’s that maybe it is best to leave some of the world’s most praised written work in its original state. But if Hollywood has taught us anything, it is that that will never happen.

Jay Brissenden can be reached at jbrissenden@nevadasagebrush.com.

‘Watchmen
Release Date: March 6
Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Jakie Earle Haley, Jeffery Dean Morgan and Patrick Wilson
Genre: Action, drama, fantasy
Rating: R for strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity and language.
Grade: C+

09 Mar 2009

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly: Spring Movie Preview ’09

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As winter comes to a close, Hollywood enters its traditional spring dump months with a variety of low budget horror films, teen sex comedies and the always predictable adult thrillers on the silver screen.  While 2009 offers more of the same, film distributors are throwing a curveball by adding a few big-budget blockbusters, the type normally reserved for summer. Budget size aside, viewers should still be prepared for the good, the bad and the ugly.
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03 Mar 2009

WonderCon Day 2: Terminator Salvation Movie Panel

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In the most adult oriented panel at WonderCon 2009, director McG and his sailor tongue turned a Christian Bale-less panel into the event panel of the day.

The instant the moderator called his name, McG sprinted onto the stage, jumped up onto the panel table and after pumping the audience up, he premiered the new trailer for his revival of the Terminator by shouting out a string of profanities involving male genitalia being shoved up ones butt.

In similar fashion to the new  “Star Trek” trailer, the “Salvation” trailer was nearly two minutes of pure action.  While the action takes a commanding role in the trailer, it also dives deeper into Bale’s character’s relationship with the new T-800 robot played by Sam Worthington.  The trailer premiered online Monday and can be seen in front of “Watchmen” this Friday.

Once the trailer ended, McG introduced onto the stage many of the film’s stars, including: Anton Yelchin, Bryce Dallas Howard, Moon Bloodgood, and Common.

After that, the panel turned into one big joke.  McG brought up on stage a WonderCon attendee who had been to ComicCon this past summer and did an impressive Arnold Schwarzenegger voice impersonation. Throughout the rest of the panel, the guy would comment randomly in his Schwarzenegger voice about the movie.  While amusing, I don’t think the film’s actual stars appreciated his presence on stage. McG then later had another random attendee dressed all in yellow come up on stage.  Besides harrasing the stars by begging for some form of physical contact, he added nothing to the panel.

During the Q&A session, McG also commanded the panel.  When asked about how James Cameron, the director of “Terminator” and “Terminator: Judgement Day,” felt about the making of this film, McG said Cameron did not necessarily give his blessing, but wished him good luck.  He also talked about his arguments with Warner Brothers over content.  While we filmed shots of Bloodgood nude, WB doesn’t want to put those scenes into the movie, McG said.

“Who does not want to see Moon’s boobs in the picture,” McG asked the crowd.  Moon then chimed in by saying her breasts are a 34 C, which was followed by a loud audience roar of excitement.

On the story, McG talked about how action is a big part of the film, but the story is the most important aspect.

“Our goal is to truly put character and story first,” McG said. “The theme of the movie is where does humanity lie and when do you lose your humanity.”

Finally, a WonderCon commentator asked McG if he would comment on Christian Bale’s explicit rant towards a director of photography after he walked in Bale’s lighting during the filming of a scene.  McG’s response, “What don’t you fucking understand?”

For more information on the movie, visit the film’s Web site at www.terminatorsalvation.warnerbrothers.com.