26 September 2009

Flashback Fridays: Step Brothers

URBAN:The laughter falls flat and the story adds nothing to the humor.

Another will Ferrel movie

This film had highs and lows in both laughs and the thought department. As for laughs, it is hard to beat the straightforward hilarity of "Do you want to go do karate in the garage?". There were several lows also where the jokes went completely flat. I thought we got enough of kids swearing at their parents at the dinner table from Ricky Bobby's two boys in Talladega Nights. This film carried on that theme even farther, except that this time both the parents and the children were a lot older.

Most of the film was intended to be a laugher, which, as I described above, was hit and miss. For about 15 minutes near the end, the film turned into an intelligent discussion about what being a grown up really means, pawning off your night vision goggles to pay for car insurance. In the end, this film wasn't that good, it would have been outstanding if it had attempted to lay off on the humor and instead focused on telling a story.

URBAN: Not Recommended
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24 September 2009

Still Watching Movies

I've still been watching movies, viewed The Ghost In The Shell and Terminator on my PSP.

After this weekend will move out of the bunker and have a lot more room to write.

Look forward to some good stuff then.
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18 September 2009


Currently in Iraq. The facilities are pretty good, so hopefully I will be able to add content regularly. Hope everyone is enjoying the reviews.
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Flashback Fridays- X-Files: I Want To Believe

URBAN:As a huge fan of the X-Files television series, I highly anticipated the release of this film and hoped that it would at least attempt to tie up the loose ends of the show's mytharc. Instead of this, was something that I clearly recognized, and in the end will appreciate more.

The film doesn't deal with aliens. It doesn't deal with freaks. What it sacrificed in curb appeal is more than made up for with an outstanding story with tons of characters that the viewer will instantly recognize. The result, is a very engaging story about belief and the consequences thereof.

The primary plot revolves around Mulder and Scully as they try move on with their lives after their FBI careers are over. Scully is a doctor at a Catholic Hospital and Mulder is a,,,, I don't really know. After an FBI agent shows up missing and a former priest/pedophile claims that he has psychic premonitions regarding the event, the FBI calls in a subject matter expert to help them out. The case and the gruesome oddities that accompany it have little to do with the central themes of the story.

The central theme of the story is the issue of belief. As I described in an earlier post about the X-Files, while the show is full of oddities, the central theme has to do with matters inherently important to Pragmatism, experience and how we can know.

This film is no different. Without ever being explicit, the film focuses upon Scully's Catholic Faith. Her story has two focuses. On one hand she has to deal with the treatment of one of her patients, a young boy with an incurable disease. On the other hand, she feels incorrigible about the former priest, betrayed by his acts, and unwilling to accept the validity of his visions.

The result is familiar in one sense. As in the television series, Mulder is the believer, and Scully is the pessimist. In this case the situation shifts on a deeper level. Scully's faith does not allow her to believe that a pedophile who has done so much wrong to her faith can be forgiven and used by God in a meaningful way. Mulder doubts that he and Scully can have a romantic relationship and that the FBI can be trusted after his previous working relationship fades.

X-Files has always forced us to ask ourselves whether or not our experience can be trusted when it violates our inclinations. This film goes even farther in calling into question the experiences that support our inclinations.

Visually, it looked like a Chris Carter effort. I primarily recognized the masterful suspense built with the camera work and the falling effects. Rather than show a dummy fall off a building Carter has always preferred to show a closeup of the victim against a computer generated background. In the dark, no one makes a quick pan look spookier.

The film wasn't perfect. I am certain that many fans wanted a mytharc completion/addition. I don't think that the timing was right for these efforts. I am also aware of many other iconic stories that have tried to do the same thing recently that failed miserably (Star Wars is the first that comes to mind). I was pleased that the film chose to deliver on a philosophical level before it attempts an easy answer and swift and neat completion.

URBAN: Recommended
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14 September 2009

District 9

URBAN: District 9 is one of those films that comes along once and a while that has no star power, no stunning effects, but still manages to catch the imagination of viewers.

Directed by Neil Blomkamp and famously, produced by Peter Jackson, this film may be advertised as a contemporary sci-fi discussion of race politics in South Africa, but becomes much more in the time allotted.

URBAN: This film was very much unlike what I was expecting. Shot almost entirely in documentary format, it manages to entertain, disgust, and enlighten at once. It does so by focusing its story, bit-by-bit, until the discomforting end is tightly in focus.

The story begins with the given, an alien race has made contact above the city of Johannesburg in South Africa. The aliens must be cut out of their spaceship, and are given a home in a type of slum within the city. The race that remains is clearly not the leadership of the species. They lack direction, and quickly become a pax upon the city, and the focus of angry villagers who reject their crime and lifestyle. The aliens are officially managed by a large development corporation, but in reality, are run by a human gang-lord who meets out discipline and food with the same iron grip. His true aim, is to control the weaponry that the aliens have brought with them, which can only be fired by alien DNA.

The story is turned upside down, when the aliens are evicted from their home and given another slum, further from the city (to appease the citizens). It is during this sequence that two key events happen. First, one of the multinational corporation workers is infected by alien technology. As a result of this the viewers become aware that large multinational-corporations are not unlike ruthless gang-lords in their quest to control the alien weaponry.

These events continue to build, as Blomkamp does his best attempt at combining Kafka's Metamorphosis and the meta-arch from the X-files.

There were only two issues that I had with this film. The first was that the aliens were virtually indistinguishable. This wasn't so much of an issue once the film had found its focus, but it was impossible to realize that the characters from the junkyard scene were the same ones that were to become important later by sight alone. It seemed like another documentary style focus on a particular.

The second issue was that the battle scene that lasted for the last 20 minutes was a little too over the top for me. The fight scenes take advantage of the character disputes that are built upon at the beginning of the film, but they last too long and focus too much on the characters that the viewer can't necessarily relate to. These scenes are ultimately only redeemed by faux-news footage of the battles that contextualizes the violence in a modern and relevant setting for the audience.

It's a shame that the battle becomes the center-piece though. The compelling story here is that through all of this the viewer is made to feel empathy towards aliens that do not speak English and are often quite disgusting. The tale also incorporates many interesting and moving social motives that are integrated well by playing up the advertising and public service element that documentary and faux-news coverage often entail. By matching this form to the content Neil Blomkamp delivers a winner, and one of the most unlooked-for money-makers of the summer.

URBAN: Recommended
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09 September 2009

Post Grad

URBAN: Sentimental and undisciplined. The focus is missing completely.

A timely attempt to make light of the economic situation by focusing on the tale of a young woman who is unable to find a job after graduating from college.

While I can understand the need to address the current economic factors that go into this film, I feel that it would be irresponsible to review it without mentioning that the current state of the economy is only felt in the advertisement for this film.

Alexis Bledel is cute enough, but seems to have a huge problem depicting pain. Even in her obligatory, 'I'm sorry' message, she seems to be inescapably peppy. That really tells the story of this entire film. Michael Keaton overacts terribly. The writing is garbage. And the parts about the family hijinx are totally out of place for a film that is supposed to be about the failures of our society.

Of course, I understand why they added the stuff about the family. The film clocked in at only 84 minutes. Without those scenes, it would have been around 60-70.

The film does try to be something more than just garbage, by pointing out the importance of relationships to help one get through tough times, but the ultimate message that being unable to find employment is something that we can all giggle at is one that I find reprehensible. Not to mention,,, completely unrealistic.

To compare, there was a film in the not-so-recent past that did manage to make us desperately laugh at a pretty desperate financial situation. Fun With Dick and Jane, which premiered after the Enron and Worldbank fiascoes, was able to take a terrible situation and make some comedic hay out of it. It did so by providing an outlet,,, a scapegoat. The viewer could laugh (nervously at least) at the bank robbing antics of the characters, because they were forced into their situation. A clear and unwavering finger was pointed at the individuals who were responsible. This film does nothing of the sort.

There was one reference that I feel obliged to mention. In the one humorous scene, the song being played from the 64 Impala that the guys are driving (pouring one out for the deceased) is the same song featured to much greater effect on Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Amores Perros.

URBAN: Not Recommended
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08 September 2009

500 Days of Summer

URBAN: Very Charming and whitty for this type of film. Features the soundtrack too much.

Marc Webb delivers a film that is touching, artistic, and funny by turns. Hard to get out of your mind for many reasons.

URBAN: While I have mentioned in reviews before that I appreciate the Apatow committment to realism,,, in all of its gory detail, it is interesting to note that the characters in those films nearly always complete the relationship, even if they do so in imperfect ways.

This film goes in a different direction, veering away from the realism in its portrayal of relationship, but ultimately, it finds its way there by denying the viewer what he/she has come to expect from romantic comedies.

500 Days of Summer deals with the relationship of the title character (a lovely Zooey Deschanel) and the leading everyman (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). The film portrays there relationship, not in linear style, but by jumping back and forth between the days that their relationship contains,,,, all 500 of them.

To break up the act of breaking up the ebb and flow of this relationship, the director puts his best foot forward. The post-coital morning after routine and the references to The Graduate (both verbal and visual) stand out, but the film took a turn for the amazing when it transformed into a 45 second salute to the heroes of cinema. In one sequence, the character, in the pain of breakup, dreams himself into the great films of Godard (in New Wave style) and Bergman (from The 7 Seals). They throw the story into a realm usually not reserved for romantic comedies. To be honest, these films seriously reminded me Woody Allen at his best as a director of romantic comedy. Besides the obvious Annie Hall comparison, I think that there is a direct correlation between this and one of my personal favorites, the underrated Play It Again, Sam which displays an imperfect relationship in a non-linear sequence, that also makes great reference to films of the past, both emotionally, and to provide interpretation for character motive.

Also, did I mention it is only 1 1/2 hours long?

The only real area where there were shortcomings was in the reliance on the soundtrack. I honestly noticed this from the opening credits, which really only serve as an excuse to play some great music. The overflow of great music dominates the film in ways that could have been played out more subtlely without a score. The best example of this is to compare the use of score to the narration that the film contains. The narration in this film adds to the film, to help the viewer understand the action, but never enough that one feels the narration is essential or that the action is less for not having it around constantly. I felt that the scene in day 500 really needed music after hearing it constantly punctuate and color most of the other important parts of the film.

This film is filled with clever allusion and artistry in the way that it portrays the story. The issue with the music is a problem of abundance, rather than scarcity, and should not take away from a film that is probably the best romantic comedy of the year.

URBAN: Recommended
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05 September 2009

Summer Review- Based on my preview

Despite my expectations, this actually ended up being a pretty good summer for cinema.

The Good

Public Enemies: What I expected. Could have used some more focus on a unified story, but easily one that holds up. Not a long term success, but easily entertaining. I actually think that Steven Cronenberg would have been awesome on this project.

Funny People: Less than expected

The Bad

Terminator: Salvation: I liked this one more than most of the critics. Not perfect, but it wasn't bad, plus, it easily opens the doors for more in this series.
The Ugly

GI Joe: Terrible. Nevertheless, it was terrible enough that most people enjoyed themselves while attending.

Inglourious Basterds: What can I say? I expected a lot, but not this. Really a strong piece of work.

Aside from those, the blockbusters were a remarkable letdown. Transformers II and Wolverine were the two worst abominations of a summer that included the usual suspects of lackluster romantic comedies and weak horror franchises.

The summer of 2009 was a good one for film because the intrigue that District 9 brought, the show that Star Trek put on, and the art the Inglourious Basterds rudely put on display.
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04 September 2009

Flashback Friday-Hellboy II: The Golden Army

URBAN:The result was a film with great stylings but consistently lacked in one area that undermined the entire film.

From visionary director Guillermo Del Toro comes the second istallation of the Hellboy franchise.

Director Guillermo Del Toro's characters lit up the screen. The odd looking characters added a magical element to the proceedings. Aside from the title character, the other creatures are marvelous to behold, each in their own way. I especially liked the Angel of Death. He looked like one of the Seraphim described in Revelations 4. Completely stunning.

The story was character driven and most of the plot details arise from the particular individual psychologies of the characters. The primary issue is at hand is the return of the Elven Prince to reclaim the pieces of the crown, that upon reunion, will render control of the unstoppable Golden Army.

The most spectacular part of the film occurred only two minutes into the film, while the professor tells a young Hellboy a bedtime story. The story of the creation of the Golden Army. The story is Tolkein-like, but the visuals used to tell the story were unique to that section. To tell the story, Del Toro uses animation in an effort that is easily the best part of the film.

There was some stuff that I didn't like.

Despite the name, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, The Golden Army actually took up very little screen time. The plot dealt primarily with the characters gaining control of the pieces of the crown in order to control the army. Considering the title, I would have hoped that more time would have spent with this destructive force. It also would have been cool to see some symmetry by having Nuada see the destruction that the army causes and call them off the same way that the original Elven King did.

The young Hellboy in New Mexico looks like a joke.

The most outstanding negative that I took note of was the sets. They looked fake, obviously generated in a studio. The Troll Market and the government domicile where Hellboy lives were the two most egregious examples. In relation to the outstanding characters, I couldn't help but feel that the disparity of these factors lent the film an unevenness.

Also, the film clearly has some level of desire to be an explanation of mythology, yet is clearly more of an action/superhero movie.

I don't know how to summarize my thoughts on the film. I enjoyed it. I wouldn't mind seeing it again down the road. I loved a few small parts, especially the opening bedtime story. Overall, the pacing was slow and the action didn't always serve a purpose. The visuals were good, but the sets were bad. In a day when superhero movies come every other week, this one is unique enough to stand out, but not singularly better than some of the recent performances, namely Ironman and The Dark Knight.

URBAN: Recommended
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03 September 2009


Hello all, I am alive and well in Kuwait, awaiting to go with my unit to Iraq.

While here in Kuwait, I am limited to community internet. With this being the case, I haven't been able to find a way to transfer my reviews from my personal computer to the computers that are connected to the internet (DOD bans the use of thumb drives in Kuwait). Rest assured, that I have continued to write. On tap are reviews of the films, District 9 and 500 Days of Summer, as well as my essay about the ethics of Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds.

BTW, if you want to keep up with the news of the deployment, my wife has set up a blog urbans apart.
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