January 29, 2007

Pan's Labyrnth - $9

Pan's Labyrinth is not a movie for the faint of heart. It is also not a children's movie. What it is is one of the most visually stunning, intense, engaging and magical movies I've ever seen.

Guillermo Del Toro writes and directs this Spanish film which is set in Northern Spain in 1944. Pan's Labyrinth is the story of a young girl named Ofelia who moves with her pregnant mother to live with her mother's new husband, a cruel military man named Captain Vidal. Vidal has brought them to an area still in dispute and still at war.

Ofelia is a young girl obsessed with reading fantasy stories and upon arriving at her new home she enters into a fantasy world of her own. A fairy guides her to a Labyrinth where she meets Pan. When Ofelia asks Pan who he is he responds "Me? I've had so many names... Old names that only the wind and the trees can pronounce. I am the mountain, the forest and the earth. I am... I am a faun. Your most humble servant, Your Highness."

Pan tells Ofelia that she contains the spirit of the Princess of the underground realm who had long ago escaped, forgotten about her home and died in the human world. The King always believed she would return in another body. To earn her way back to the underground realm Ofelia is given three dangerous and magical tasks.

While Ofelia goes back and forth between the Labyrinth and Pan and the real world there is another story taking place. That is the story of Captain Vidal defending his territory from rebels, the story of Ofelia's Mother turning sicker and sicker by the day in her pregnant state and the story of a servant of the Captains who cares for Ofelia.

This is at times a horror movie, at times a war movie and at times a fantasy movie yet somehow it all connects and intertwines and works together. The non-fantasy scenes comprise more than half of Pan's Labyrinth and this part of the plot is such a well told and well acted story it could likely stand alone. Amazingly though Del Toro also weaves in a captivating fantasy story and brings the two worlds together.

There is quality imagery and acting in Pan's Labyrinth. There is magic and wonder and in both the fantasy and the real world of this story there is horror.

If you do not like gore there are times to look away but it is worth it to endure the frightening parts of Pan's Labyrinth to see a movie that is like nothing you've ever seen.

I put this movie on my 'Watch It' list and give is a value of $9.

January 27, 2007

24, Season 1 - $7

24 is a unique concept, 24 episodes that are 1 hour each and the entire season is one 24 hour day. This show takes place in real time. I've heard all the hype and seen how popular this show is but I had never taken the time to watch even 2 minutes of it. Recently I rented season 1 and over the course of a weekend I have now watched 16 of the 24 episodes. This review is my reaction so far.

First for those who've never seen 24, it is a show that revolves mainly around one character, Jack Bauer. Bauer heads up the LA office of the US Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU). The first season of 24 takes place during the day of the California Primaries after CTU learns that there is a terrorist organization trying to kill the Presidential front runner. Things get complicated when Bauer's wife and daughter are kidnapped by the same terrorist organization and we slowly learn how everything is connected.

24 is a well made show, the directing is unique for a TV show especially considering that season 1 was on TV 6 years ago. The show uses split screens very creatively but doesn't overdo it so as to dizzy you with multiple screens for too long. The pace of 24 is fast and tiring and everything about it is made to give you that impression, from the writing to the camera angles to the real-time concept.

Each show ends in 'cliffhanger' style and I was grateful more than once to have rented the DVDs rather than having to wait a week to see what happens.

Overall I've enjoyed the episodes of season 1 that I've watched. 24 is entertaining and worth watching. I have found it less than realistic at times but each episode has left me wanting to know what is going to happen on the next one and I suppose that is the main goal of any TV show.

24 is not blowing me away but I will put it on my 'Watch It' list and give it a respectable value of $7.

UPDATE: I finished watching season 1 the other day. I nearly came on here and lowered my ranking to $6 but decided against it. The end of the season wasn't terrible but was somewhat hard to believe. I didn't lower the rating mainly because I was left intrigued enough to go out and rent season 2.

January 20, 2007

Little Miss Sunshine - $10

This is a great movie and I am a better person for having watched it.

In Little Miss Sunshine we watch a unique family going through a lot of changes. Richard is a failed motivational speaker, Sheryl is on her second marriage, Grandpa sleeps on the couch after being kicked out of his seniors complex, Uncle Frank moves in after attempting suicide as the doctors recommend he not be left alone, 15 year old Dwayne hasn't spoken in 9 months and 7 year old Olive dreams of becoming a beauty queen.

Through a series of circumstances each of these people ends up in a Volkswagen van together in order to get Olive to the beauty contest of her dreams, Little Miss Sunshine.

This movie is full of impressive performances, at first glance Grandpa's inappropriate comments and drug addiction seem to sum him up but as we see more of him we realize he is at times a caring Father and loving Grandfather. This is really the kind of lens I saw each character through, I am given an impression of them early on and then this story proceeds to blow that impression away.

Little Miss Sunshine challenges our human tendency to hastily judge people through well developed characters that are brilliantly written and even more impressively performed. It is hard to pick out just one actor to praise from Little Miss Sunshine, however, the performance which impressed me most was that of Steve Carell. Carell plays Uncle Frank and this has to be considered the most subtle role of his young film career. Carell is funny as well as moving which is also a fair summary of this entire movie.

Little Miss Sunshine is one of the best movies of 2006 and hopefully the first of many that will be brought to us by first time screenwriter Michael Arndt. I enjoyed this movie from start to finish and I did something I'd never before done, I watched it a second time the next day before returning it.

You need to see Little Miss Sunshine, it is unquestionably on my 'Watch It' list and I give it a value of $10.

January 12, 2007

2001: A Space Odyssey - $10

2001 is a movie about human potential, about how we've evolved. It is a movie that touches on the amazing capabilities and the dangers of our advancements. 2001 is not an action movie and it's certainly not typical science fiction. The legendary Stanley Kubrick directs this unique look into the past and future of the human condition and he does it with immense skill and near perfect execution.

Kubrick gives his audience fair warning that they are in for something different when he opens the movie with the word OVERTURE against a black screen and has you listen to an orchestra warm up for 4 minutes. A fellow fan told me that it's as if he is telling the viewer to sit back and slow down because you're in for a whole new kind of movie experience.

2001 takes you from the dawn of man to what was the distant future in 1968, 2001. Though it's not entirely clear at what stage this movie is actually in 2001 as the year is only mentioned in the title.

At the dawn of man a mysterious monolith appears on earth in an area where some advanced apes live. One of these apes learns to use a tool shortly after the monolith's arrival and a separation from other animals begins for these primates. It is never stated what involvement the monolith plays in this great moment in human history. There is much speculation as to Kubrick's point, possibly that the ape was given an idea by it in some direct way, maybe merely seeing the monolith caused the ape to realize that not all was known to him, prompting him to think in ways he never before had.

Fast forward to the future where humans travel to space with the ease that we go on vacation today, spaceships carry passengers the way a plane transports you today. Gravity is created on the ships and on the spacestations by keeping them revolving. Humans have taken full control of their tools and are doing things never before imagined. In this way, unlike two other space centered stories in the same era, Star Trek (1966) and Star Wars (1977), 2001 takes great pains to make its space travel plausible. It is even rumoured that NASA copied and implemented some of the technology portrayed in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Compared to it's more commercial science fiction counterparts, 2001's imagery is astonishing, the special effects and cinematography are spectacular and even if its slow pace and unique style don't interest you, it is worth watching for the imagery alone.

In the future a discovery has been made on the moon and is being kept under wraps by scientists from the United States. The implications of this find are clearly immense though the object itself is not revealed to the viewer for some time. We follow a team to the moon whose mission is to find out just exactly what this is. In a scene that may be the best I've ever watched, this team slowly approaches the object which was buried under the moon's surface and has been dug up; it is the monolith. An examination of the monolith, paralleling the apes examination of the same, shows that it is sending a signal to Jupiter.

Fast forward further to the future as we follow a mission to Jupiter to follow the signal and learn who or what is receiving it. This mission is being carried out on a state of the art spacecraft, one with a computer guiding all major functions of the ship. This computer has never made an error, it has a name and even seems to have a personality; the computer is HAL. HAL is the first tool created by humans which may be capable of more than them. But HAL makes an error. This causes a conflict between HAL and the scientists on board as they attempt to disconnect some of HAL's functions. HAL kills all of them but one, Dave. Dave manages to regain control of the ship and continue to Jupiter where this movie once again shifts gears dramatically.

While approaching Jupiter Dave finds the monolith. Upon seeing it Dave is hurled through light and colour and comes out in a room where he sees himself as an older man, this older man sees himself as a dying man and this dying man sees the monolith. The movie ends on a shot of a fetal human cocooned in a bubble and floating in space. The next stage of human development?

This movie was well written, well acted, well directed: frankly it was well made in every conceivable way. 2001: A Space Odyssey is considered by many critics to be one of the greatest movies of all time and I must admit that having finally seen it, I agree.

I wholeheartedly put this movie on my 'Watch It' list and give it a value of $10.

January 10, 2007

Miami Vice - $4

Miami Vice was a movie full of style and impressive cinematography. Unfortunately it was also dreadfully boring.

In this movie we follow the lives of Rico and Sonny, two undercover cops from Miami. The FBI learns that they have been infiltrated and appeal to Rico and Sonny to get to the bottom of it.

Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx play Sonny and Rico and a good performance by Foxx nearly makes up for the unconvincing and feeble performance by Farrell. In fact the first major mistake of this movie was casting Farrell for the slightly bigger role.

Stylistically this movie is entertaining. Michael Mann directs and he uses some amazing camera angles and lighting tricks. The downside of a director who's willing to try new things is that he often tries too many and some of the scenes leave you feeling like you wished the camera had been focused on something.

Overall this movie wasn't bad, it had a complex plot and had some pretty good performances. As I said though it simply bored me and with Farrell's poor performance I can't recommend it.

I put Miami Vice on my 'Don't Watch It' list and give it a value of $4.

January 3, 2007

Rocky Balboa - $8

Like many other people I laughed when I first heard that a 6th Rocky movie was being made. This skepticism was well founded considering that Rocky 5 was truly a bad movie, Stallone is 60 years old and boxing isn't exactly popular right now. These are among the many reasons critic's everywhere went into Rocky Balboa with low expectations.

Just like the underdog Stallone plays in the Rocky movies, the 6th installment gives you the last thing you expect, a great movie.

The first half of this movie, the last installment in the Rocky franchise, follows an aged Rocky who is recovering from a bankruptcy and living a simple life. Rocky runs a little Italian restaurant where he tells stories of past fights to his customers. Adrian has passed away from "woman cancer" as Rocky puts it, and Rocky is shown as a quiet and kind man. One of my favorite sub plots is Rocky's charity toward a former fighter named Spider whom Rocky had defeated in the first movie.

Before you start thinking this movie can't possibly feature a fight, what with Rocky's age, it happens. In a computer generated fight between Rocky in his prime and the current unpopular champion Mason "The Line" Dixon, Rocky is victorious. To improve his image Dixon agrees to an exhibition with Rocky who feels he has more in the tank.

This movie came at me in ways I didn't expect. I was moved by Rocky's loneliness and kindness toward those around him an I was entertained by the classic training sequences and fight at the end. This movie was full of sentiment, surprisingly good acting and writing, and a classic Rocky storyline.

I put Rocky Balboa on my 'Watch It' list and give it a value of $8.