February 28, 2007

24, Seasons 2 and 3 - $3

In January I rented the first season of 24 and enjoyed it, at least enough to go out and rent season 2. Following that I was somehow convinced to also rent season 3 and that's where things got even worse. It's not that 24 isn't entertaining at times, but it is predictable. It is full of unconvincing plots, inconsistent characters and worst of all 24 treats you the viewer like an idiot.

Maybe 24 is a better experience for all the fans who watch it on TV, it must be easier to overlook the inconsistent plot lines when you have weeks in between episodes and months between seasons. Watching 3 seasons on DVD in 2 months likely exposes the flaws of a TV show in a way that's harder to miss.

I still give the creators of 24 some credit for creativity. It is a brilliant concept to have each episode be in real time and each season take place over a period of 24 hours. The main character, Jack Bauer, is played well by Kiefer Sutherland and overall the show uses techniques that are innovative.

The problem is; this was all there in the first season and nothing really changed, there weren't any new concepts in season 2 or 3. 24 is all about surprising the audience and it worked in season 1. Now I come to expect them to kill off main characters and generally do the last thing I'm expecting. It's not new anymore, nor is the rest of the show.

24 is worth checking out if you've never seen it but basically if you've seen one season, or even most of one season, you've seen it all. It has become way too formulaic and I could only get through the last few episodes of season 2 and 3 by completely suspending my common sense.

24, Seasons 2 and 3 are definitely on my 'Don't Watch It' list and I give them both a value of $3.

February 25, 2007

Rushmore - $9

I watched Rushmore years ago and it was my first taste of writer/director Wes Anderson's unique style. Anderson is the writer of the brilliant and better known Royal Tenenbaums and Life Aquatic, Rushmore pre-dates both of them.

Like all Anderson's movies Rushmore is the kind of comedy you either love or don't quite get. I fall into the former category. I recently watched Rushmore again and was reminded of why I loved it so much the first time and how it literally changed what I look for in a great comedy.

Rushmore is full of dry wit, intelligent comedy and even touching moments. Some of the comedy is set up so well by everything else in the movie that if you joined the movie part way through you'd likely not catch the subtle hilarity of a given moment.

The story revolves around 15 year old Rushmore High School student Max Fischer. Max is smart and driven but mainly to start clubs, write plays and win a grade school teachers heart. He is flunking almost all his classes. Max meets Herman Blume when Herman comes to speak in a chapel service. Herman is a Rushmore alumnus and successful businessman. Eventually Herman falls in love with the same grade school teacher Max is in love with and their friendship turns to rivalry.

A young Jason Schwartzman plays Max Fischer and Bill Murray plays Herman Blume and the humour and chemistry between the two is a big part of what makes this movie great.

If you've never seen Rushmore but enjoyed either of Wes Anderson's better known movies I mentioned earlier; you owe it to yourself to check this one out.

Rushmore is definitely on my 'Watch It' list and I give it a value of $9.

February 13, 2007

The Shining - $9

I realize a lot of my reviews have been rated highly lately but I hope you don't take that as a sign that I'm easy to please, the reality is that I've been seeing movies that come highly recommended by trustworthy sources and that usually means I'm in for a good experience. The Shining was no exception.

The Shining leaves little doubt that it is a horror movie but right from the beginning with its scenic and beautiful opening it is clear that this movie sets itself apart from the cookie cutter gore and fright of most movies in this genre.

Set almost entirely in a remote hotel in Colorado called the Overlook, The Shining is the story of the Torrance family who are tasked with looking after the Overlook during the winter when it is shut down for off-season. Jack Torrance, played masterfully by Jack Nicholson, and his wife Wendy believe that this winter at the Overlook will be good for the family as Jack plans to spend the time working on a book he's writing. Danny Torrance, their son, has an ability referred to as "shining" by one of the other characters in the movie. Danny is able to see the future and the past at times and it's clear to him even before they move to the hotel that it has a tragic past and is not a safe place.

The Shining is full of terrifying images as Danny sees and hears things in the hotel while his family is staying there. At the heart of this horror movie though is the transformation of Jack from a caring husband and father to an out of control monster who tries to harm his family.

The Shining is shot with a surprising amount of beautiful cinematography; this movie is full of amazing images, brilliant acting, and a terrifying storyline. The only thing keeping me from giving it a perfect rating is that I don't love the genre, though The Shining is undeniably in a class of its own in the world of horror movies.

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

February 1, 2007

The Illusionist - $8

Eisenheim the Illusionist is a gifted magician and we begin this story in Vienna in the turn of the century, Eisenheim is in the middle of a performance. The crowd looks on in captivated silence as Eisenheim is conjuring something on the stage, it is clearly a woman based on the comments from the crowd. Before we are able to see for ourselves the Chief Inspector arrests Eisenheim for disrupting the peace, nearly causing a riot.

The Illusionist proceeds from this point by taking us through a series of flash backs. As a teenager Eisenheim loved a girl named Sophie but as is the theme in many period pieces the two were from very different social classes and had to hide their relationship. After an unsuccessful attempt to run away together Sophie is taken away and Eisenheim is threatened with imprisonment if he ever sees her again.

Flash forward to an evening in Vienna in the present, (not as far into the present as the start of the movie so still the past I guess) Inspector Uhl, the Chief Inspector, is tasked with making sure the theatre Eisenheim will be performing in is secure. That night's performance will be honoured by the presence of Crown Prince Leopold. Inspector Uhl being an amateur magician himself meets and is fond of Eisenheim immediately. That night at the performance the illusionist asks for a volunteer from the audience the Crown Prince offers up his fiance. As she comes closer to the stage you realize it is Sophie, Eisenheim's teenage love.

From here this movie takes some mildly predictable turns. Sophie and Eisenheim begin meeting privately, Inspector Uhl finds out and is forced to investigate Eisenheim. Despite these moments of unsurprising plot development The Illusionist offers enough unpredictable elements to keep the audience engaged and interested throughout.

This is a visually well made movie, the sets and costumes do not overwhelm the story as in some period pieces but they are done very well. The Illusionist was fun to watch, it was entertaining in almost every way and yet there are really 2 main reasons I recommend it as highly as I do. They are Ed Norton and Paul Giamatti.

Norton plays Eisenheim in what may be the most understated role of his career but it is a treat to watch. Norton is nearly perfect in this role as he resists the tempatation to make Eisenheim into a larger than life character. The subtleties of his performance make the movie worth watching on their own.

Giamatti plays Inspector Uhl and really ties the whole movie together. He convinces you that he is at once loyal to the Crown Prince and eager to please him to advance his own ambitions and yet he is also sympathetic and fond of Eisenheim and does his best to protect Eisenheim from the Crown Prince's suspicions.

Rufus Sewell's performance is worth mentioning as well. He plays Crown Prince Leopold who is the polar opposite character to Eisenheim, full of emotion and power and played well by Sewell. Sophie is played by Jessica Biel and though many call her performance poor I thought she was adequate. Her part was small enough that though her performance dwarfs that of her cast mates in it's quality it does not take very much away from the story.

Overall this movie is well worth your time. I put The Illusionist on my 'Watch It' list and give it a value of $8.