Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Film Review: The Last King of Scotland

I got a chance to watch The Last King of Scotland on dvd yesterday. Seeing as it was such a big deal last year, I figured I'd give it a review here.

For those who don't know, the movie revolves around a young Scottish doctor who heads to Uganda on a whim and gets caught up with the new and eccentric general-turned-dictator Idi Amin.

For portraying Amin, Forest Whitaker picked up the Best Actor statuette at the Oscars.

Which brings me to my first issue with this film.

Whitaker cannot be the lead actor, because Amin is not the lead character. The movie is clearly about Nicholas Garrigan, played by relative nobody James McAvoy (remember the faun in The Chronicles of Narnia?). Sure, Whitaker chews the scenery and Amin is a dominant force in all his scenes, but the fact remains that the movie is not about him. This is like giving Sean Connery the Best Actor nod for The Untouchables. Sure he's enjoyable, sure he dominates scenes, but the movie is about Kevin Costner's Elliot Ness. Besides, while The Untouchables had Connery scenes without Costner, all of Whitaker's scenes include McAvoy - and there are no scenes without McAvoy. Whitaker's performance is quite good, but clearly he should have won for Best Supporting Actor - just as Connery did.

But my big complaint about the movie itself is the story. It's colour-by-numbers. There are no surprises to be found here. Every story turn is predictable - whether it makes sense or not. See Gillian Anderson's character for the "no sense" variety. Like The Namesake, this movie is based on a novel and, once again, we see a screenplay that doesn't know where to trim. At first I thought the movie was supposed to be a semi-true account, like Almost Famous, but I have since read that it is fictional (so why base it in a real country with a real leader? I dunno either).

The movie had promise, and it wasn't boring, but in the end it left me with little in terms of "attachment".

How could a movie about a Scottish guy in Africa be this unoriginal?

Thumbs sideways.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Film Review: The Namesake

So this was movie no. 2 in my double feature. Personally, I could have gone for something a little more action-packed after Waitress, but this was my friend's choice and I'm a sucker for a pretty lady.

The Namesake is a movie about two generations of an Indian family and the struggle between their traditions and their desires.

It's a good movie. I enjoyed it. But like most movies these days, it's a little long. Typical of films based on books, it seems to struggle between being faithful to the book and catering to the audience. If this had been simply a movie, I'd be crucifying the filmmakers for not cutting a rather pointless series of events covering about a half hour near the end of the film. As it is, I understand. Gogol needs to have his story too. Still, it was too long.

My other complaint was the screenplay. Every twist and turn is set up. Nothing catches you by surprise. This really hinders the impact of some of the more dramatic events. Also, the "bad" characters slip into very convenient cliches when the filmmakers want you to turn against them. This shows a lack of characterization and makes the writer look lazy. The filmmakers also seem to woefully overestimate our affection for some of these "bad" characters. If we don't care about them in the first place, then their "turns" don't affect us.

As for the characters and acting, the parents (Ashoke and Ashima) played by Irfan Khan and Tabu (is that like Hindi for "Cher"?) are quite enjoyable and far more entertaining than Kumar... I mean Kal Penn (Gogol). Penn has a likeable demeanor, but not so much in this movie and I remain unconvinced the guy is suited to dramatic roles (I just about choked when I saw him as a terrorist - go figure - on an episode of 24).

But the sentiment behind the story saves the movie from these missteps. It's a movie not without its charms and the overall movie experience is a thumbs up.

I hope some of my South Asian friends will tell me what they thought of it. Something tells me they'd get a bit more of a kick out of the culture conflicts.

Film Review: Waitress

Have you guys seen these movie pass coupons on cereal boxes? They had a similiar promotion last year. The funny thing is the cereal ain't crap, the pass is worth $10-12 and the cereal is on sale for $2.99 to boot!

I picked up about 13 boxes a couple of months ago before they disappeared off the shelves.

The passes are due to expire today and since last night was my last free night to go I took in a double feature to use up the last of them.

First up: Waitress, starring Keri Russell.

Now I was not what you'd call a fan of Felicity, so I did not go into this movie with high hopes for her acting prowess. The reviews, however, convinced me to go. Apparently, this film was the darling of Sundance and rottentomatoes had been giving it big props. With the Sundance stamp of approval, you kinda know what you're gonna get: quirky independent American movie with charm.

And that's exactly what you get.

At first, the movie hits you with its clumsy dialogue and line delivery. I thought this was gonna be a poor man's Fargo. But after about half an hour, the movie kinda hooks you. The stories flesh out a little and the quirkiness isn't so prominent.

The problem with this movie is that it kinda stalls, story-wise. The writer kinda paints themself into a corner and there's nowhere for the characters to go except to the rather obvious conclusion.

So the movie really relies on the "feel" of the film: you'll either buy into it and enjoy it, or shake your head with boredom. I was more the former, my friend was more the latter.

Overall it's a thumbs up, but you don't need to rush out to see it. I'm sure it'll be on tv plenty.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Harvey's is back on the list

It seems I have two lists.

This list deals with eateries I simply refuse to frequent.

I have a rather delicate stomach. It is my burden for being otherwise flawless. Even Achilles had a weakness, dontcha know.

My delicate stomach tells me when I am eating something less than healthy; a belated Spidey-sense if you will. I can eat a meal and tell within minutes if it was not exactly top shelf.

As a result of my gastronomic disasters, I have made note of restaurants and fast food joints that are classified "Off Limits".

For example:

Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) - the deadliest of offenders. The foulest of fowls. Eating here is tantamount to bulimia.

Taco Bell - Te quiero, Taco Bell. But you don't love me back. You taste so good and cost so little, but you break my heart almost every time. You rip out my guts - the hard way.

McDonald's - I still haven't been back. 8 months. "F**k you, clown!"

Pizza Pizza - a recent addition to the list. It might depend on which location I eat at, but I've decided to no longer take the chance. Too bad: it ain't half bad and it's cheaper than Domino's.

For a good while, Harvey's (aka Starvey's) was on the list. In fact, I believe it was a founding member. Recently, however, I had placed it on probation; but it re-offended.

It's back on the list.

"There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once... shame on — shame on you.... Fool me, you can't get fooled again."
- George W. Bush The biggest fool on the planet.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Film Review: 28 Weeks Later

Ah, another sequel...

I went into this movie with somewhat low expectations since it was a sequel and sequels tend to disappoint (notable exceptions? Hm...Aliens...Superman Returns...Star Trek II...). But it was hard not to be a little jazzed because I loved 28 Days Later so much. I also knew this one had potential judging by the expressions on friends' faces whenever a trailer was shown (I was watching them, not the screen, naturally, 'cause I hate having any part of a movie blown for me).

Did it disappoint? Kinda...but not terribly.

The major problem with the movie is the premise. I'm trying to avoid any spoilers here, but I don't think I'm giving much away by saying that the basic plot revolves around the return of some Britons to the island under military watch. Why are people returning to the island?

...Good question. I wish I had an answer. In the context of the movie, it makes no sense. If they were scientists or specialists of some kind, ok, I'd buy it. But these appear to be just yokels.


The problem is that this little quirk affects the rest of the movie: while the military seem to have their sh*t together for the most part, the civilians are just zombie fodder. So, in some ways, it makes it hard to feel sorry for them.

You wanna go back where? Why?

Which brings us to the actors. Again, no big spoiler to mention that there are kids in this movie.

I hate kids.

Don't get me wrong, I like children and I hope to have some of my own some day if I can get some poor woman to agree, but just keep them out of my movie-going experience; that means on screen and in the theatre (the little girl was easily the worst part of the first movie). They just don't have the chops to pull off characters with great depth and you can see their acting choices coming a mile away. The ones in this flick aren't too bad, but this movie could have been awesome without them.

As it is, I have to give this movie a very lazy thumbs up. It'll give you the willies and you'll get your zombie fix, but it just seemed unnecessary and it isn't worthy of the original.

Oh, and the ending? Don't get me started...

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Film Review: Away From Her

Wow. And I thought Spider-Man 3 was depressing...

First off, let me say that this is a good movie. It's a great Canadian movie.

It's all relative, folks.

For those out of the loop, Away From Her is directed by Sarah Polley, the largely-overrated Canadian darling, and features the likes of Gordon Pinsent, Julie Christie and Olympia Dukakis in a script adapted (by Polley) from a short story entitled "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" by Alice Munro. Basically, the story is about a husband and wife who struggle with the latter's worsening case of Alzheimer's.

While the direction might be simple and straightforward, the movie works because of the great performances - especially those turned in by Pinsent and Christie. For the most part it's a subtle film, a nice change of pace from most cinema fare.

I actually felt a bit of dampness around my eye region at one point, which is saying something 'cause I'm a cold hearted bastard . I haven't cried in a theatre since E.T.

...both times.

My friend and I were the only two in the theatre without blue hair, which is a shame. This is the type of film "kids" need to be exposed to - willingly or not. I can recall a similar film from my childhood: On Golden Pond, which was also a film featuring older actors and pretty depressing themes.

But this film? THIS film is depressing.


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Spider-Man 3 ...out of 10.

There's so much suckage I don't really know where to start.

How about the very beginning? From the very first line I knew we were in trouble. "I'm Peter Parker. Your friendly neighbourhood...you know."


This movie was REALLY poorly written.

If there is any truth to the recent story claiming there are more Spidey sequels to come, I have one suggestion: Sam Raimi must go.

The two major problems with this movie were the writing and direction. Guess who?

Sure, it didn't help that some of the acting was sub-standard, but the actors can really only work with what they're given and they were given a pile of shite.

I won't spoil anything for those who haven't seen it (judging by the box office, I'm not sure who hasn't), so I'll break it down succinctly:

- The Venom storyline stank. I knew it'd be impossible for them to do the plot justice. I was right.

- I didn't like Gwen at first, but she grew on me. Maybe because I liked Bryce Dallas Howard in The Village, too.

- Topher Grace was...Topher Grace. Does he have any other characters in his arsenal? Apparently not. I like the guy, but when your range is that limited, two things happen: a) you wear thin quick b) you don't do some characters justice. As Eddie Brock he was tolerable. As Venom he was ridiculous.

- Sandman.... I didn't mind Thomas Haden Church, despite the unusual casting. He was probably the best actor in the cast. But the Sandman character drove me nuts. He exhibited powers that I don't believe are part of the comic book version. As a result, some of the fight sequences seemed, for lack of a better word, unbelievable.

- Goblin. I think they mishandled this character from the start. I'm not quite sure that what I saw in this movie was the Goblin. More like Rocket Racer.

I could go on and on ripping the actual plot apart, but I'm afraid I've already pissed off KA enough. Seems she actually liked the movie. Freak.

Don't get me wrong. It wasn't ALL bad.

...I gave it 3, didn't I?

Friday, May 04, 2007

Film Review: Hot Fuzz

Caught Hot Fuzz at the Paramount last night (no, it's the Paramount - Scotiabank can kiss my ass).

It was really good. I laughed out loud - really loud - many times.

It starts off slowly, and at first I thought this was gonna be another Shaun Of The Dead (funny, but not FUNNY), but at about the midpoint of the film it really takes off and the laughs come pretty fast and furious after that.

Unfortunately, KA, those laughs usually come accompanied by a good amount of blood (I don't think I'm giving anything away by stating that) so you'll have to decide if comedic gore is disturbing.

It helps, too, if you've seen your fair share of action flicks and can recognize when the genre (and specific films) is being spoofed. (Bad Boys and Point Break are particularly useful - again, I don't think I'm giving too much away by stating that)
Overall, I was pleased that this was, in fact, better than Shaun Of The Dead and I left the theatre in a good mood. What more can you want?
Thumbs up.
On a side note, there was a trailer for 28 Weeks Later before the film and despite turning my head and covering my ears, I still had some of the movie spoiled for me. Oh well. If the expression on my friend's face is any indication, this sequel to the spectacular 28 Days Later is very promising.
Spider-Man 3 however, is getting very mixed reviews. I accidentally saw about 1.5 seconds worth of movie clips this morning and - ARGH! - had a very important plot point blown for me. I have little doubt that the clip in question came from the latter half of the movie. Why do media outlets insist on revealing key moments of the film like this? Mother f***ers!
I'll write a review as soon as I see the film - likely this weekend sometime - but I'm not holding out much hope that this film will satisfy a Spidey fan like me. The Venom/alien symbiote costume plotline is complicated and was pivotal to the comic book Spider-Man mythos. Much like Revenge of The Sith, I don't see how a film can cover so much ground in so little time. Already the casting of Topher Grace as Eddie Brock is maddening. (In the comic, Eddie is a bodybuilder - thus Venom is like Spidey, only bigger and stronger.)
The movie reviews should be coming fast and furious over the next week or so - I'll get to 250 in no time!