January 26, 2008

Apocalypto - $8

My experience of a movie is always affected by what my expectations were going in. I'm aware that this does not lend credibility to a person trying to be objective but I can't help it. If I expect greatness from a movie, and it's only good or average, I'm more critical than I should be. In the case of Apocalypto the opposite is true, I didn't expect much and I was blown away.

Apocalypto was written and directed by Mel Gibson and is a story set in the last days of the Mayan empire. The Mayans have become a wealthy kingdom obsessed with showing their grandeur and this wealth is beginning to intersect with the more remote members of the Mayan culture. The story follows Jaguar Paw, a young hunter living in one of the remote villages of the Mayan kingdom. His village is attacked and many are taken prisoner and brought to the Mayan capital to be sold as slaves or sacrificed to please their god. Jaguar Paw escapes to get back to where he has hidden his wife and child and is pursued all the way back to his village by his captors.

I'm not kidding when I tell you that I was blown away by this movie. Their was little or no CGI used and the authenticity of the settings and costumes is truly amazing. There is an astounding scope to the imagery in Apocalypto and it's captivating story hits the audience with many moods, everything from scenes that are quite funny and lighthearted to moments of brutality and cruelty that will make you cringe. This is a truly incredible movie.

The latter half of Apocalypto follows Jaguar Paw running through the jungle, injured and desperate to get back to his family. All the while he is pursued by men intent on killing him. This chase scene is long and all on foot but may be the most intense, creative, and thrilling chase scene I've ever seen.

Apocalypto is not without it's flaws. There is some characteristic Mel Gibson gore that seemed a little unnecessary and some of the acting during the scenes of sacrifice was over the top and distracting.

This is a movie I will watch again though. I put Apocalypto on my 'Watch It' list and give it a value of $8.

January 24, 2008

3:10 to Yuma - $9

3:10 to Yuma is visually stunning, almost flawlessly acted and extremely well written. I'm not big on westerns but this one was fantastic.

3:10 to Yuma is the story of Dan Evans, a poor but good man who is struggling to keep money lenders he is in debt to from taking his ranch. Evans happens to be around when a ruthless outlaw named Ben Wade is captured and in exchange for money he offers to help escort Wade to the train which will take him to the Yuma prison. A very unusual relationship is formed between these two men and throughout the movie the ragtag group escorting Wade is constantly hunted by Wade's gang.

I am hard pressed to pick out anything about 3:10 to Yuma that I have a significant criticism for. Each and every character brought something to this story for me. Often in Westerns most of the characters are two dimensional but not so in this movie. There is an average family thrust into an extraordinary situation, villains who seem to be good people and vice versa and of course the main characters, Dan Evans and Ben Wade.

Evans and Wade are rugged western cowboys perfectly portrayed by Christian Bale and Russell Crowe, an Englishman and an Aussie respectively. Their chemistry carries long moments in this movie which revolves mostly around them. I'll save my highest praise for my favorite performance of all though, the leader of Wade's gang in his absence, Charlie Prince. He is young, quirky and borderline psychotic and his loyalty to Wade keeps him chasing Wade's captors at all costs. Prince is played by Ben Foster in what I consider to be the best individual performance in a Western since Val Kilmer brought us Doc Holiday.

My only mild criticism for this story is the initial distaste for his Father that one of Evans' sons has. The level of the dislike seems unwarranted and poorly explained, though the young actor portrayed it convincingly.

3:10 to Yuma is a must see, even if you don't love the genre. It probably would have made my top 5 for 2007 if I hadn't waited until 2008 to see it. I put it on my 'Watch It' list and give it a value of $9.

January 23, 2008

Heath Ledger 1979-2008

Heath Ledger passed away yesterday.

I know that death is a reality of life and a celebrity dying shouldn't elicit more response than anyone else but this news saddened me deeply. Ledger was only 28 and was a father. I have an immense respect for his acting, his talent was great and from all accounts of those who've crossed paths with him, he was also a good person.

Moviegoers will surely miss Ledger but not as much as his family and friends. My sympathies go out to all who knew him.

Here's another short tribute with some more information if you're interested.

January 19, 2008

Domestic Disturbance - $4

Domestic Disturbance can be found in the old section of your video store, it will probably have gone unrented for several months when you find it and you'll want to just leave it there to go unrented for at least one more night.

The story revolves around a divorced couple who's 12 year old son Danny is trying to come to terms with his mom getting remarried. The new stepdad is a local businessman who is widely respected in town but as we learn, he isn't the great guy he appears to be and Danny's real dad risks everything to protect his son from this man he does not trust.

In the end it's not that Domestic Disturbance is all that terrible. Travolta and Vince Vaughan both put in adequate performances as the dad and stepdad and the story is never boring. If you like cookie cutter thrillers you might even want to blow the dust off that old copy of Domestic Disturbance at your neighbourhood rental store and give it a try.

Here's the problem though, this is as predictable a movie as they come. The next plot twist is never really in doubt at any moment in the movie. Even the initial set up of the stepdad being a good guy is obviously preparing us for the "surprise" that he has a shady past.

I didn't hate Domestic Disturbance but I can't justify recommending it. I'm putting it on my 'Don't Watch It' list and giving it a slightly generous value of $4.

January 9, 2008

Two Brief $7 Reviews

1) The Kingdom - $7

A group of FBI agents travel to Saudi Arabia to investigate a terrorist attack there. They quickly find that they cannot do their jobs the same way they would in the US as they are being hindered at every turn from doing any actual investigating . The interference in their efforts escalates to violence and The Kingdom changes pace hitting its audience with quick and intense action sequences in the last part of the movie.

The Kingdom was good but not great. I went into it not knowing what to expect and I was pleasantly surprised by how well made it was. I also appreciated the many sides of the terrorism issue that were presented in what I found to be a balanced way.

This movie just didn't amaze me though. I'm putting it on my 'Watch It' list and giving it a value of $7.

2) Eastern Promises - $7

Easter Promises is the story of a midwife in London named Anna who is attempting to find the family of a young pregnant woman who died while giving birth at her hospital. Anna finds a diary written in Russian among the possessions of the young girl and soon discovers a link to a Russian mob family operating in London. The driver for this family is Nikolai, a mysterious Russian man working his way up the ranks of this powerful crime family. Nikolai becomes inexplicably kind to Anna and a great story unfolds around these two.

I had high expectations as I sat down to watch Eastern Promises and truthfully I really enjoyed it. Viggo Mortensen is incredible as Nikolai. Much like The Kingdom though I just didn't feel that I had seen a great movie when it was over. A good one no doubt, but not great.

Easter Promises is certainly on my 'Watch It' list though and I give it a value of $7 as well.

January 7, 2008

A Bunch of Lists

Here are some lists for those who like opinions in list form. Remember, these are based only on what I saw in 2007.

Most Disappointing Movies of 2007

4) Knocked Up
3) Spider-Man 3
2) Shooter
1) Evan Almighty

Best Performances of 2007

5) Shia Labeouf - Transformers
4) Adam Sandler - Reign Over Me
3) Will Smith - I Am Legend
2) Denzel Washington - American Gangster
1) Adrien Brody - The Darjeeling Limited

Movies You Should See That You May Not Have (in no particular order)

Reign Over Me
Fugitive Pieces
Across the Universe
Paris Je T'aime

January 3, 2008

I Am Legend - $7

I Am Legend is a movie that should have been brilliant. I enjoyed it immensely as it was, this is an action packed science fiction story with a great performance and images that stuck in my head for hours afterward. It could have been so much better though.

I Am Legend is the story of Robert Neville (Will Smith) who is the last person alive in New York city after a virus, initially hailed as the cure for cancer, wipes out most of the worlds population. 99% of the survivors of this virus devolve into creatures who can only exist in the dark and feed on the very small percentage of people who are immune to this virus. Robert Neville is one of the few to be immune, he is a scientist and a military man and is attempting to find a cure using his blood as a base. He has also developed intricate methods of staying alive along with his only companion, his dog.

Will Smith is great in this movie and he needed to be as most of the story revolves only around Robert Neville. The story itself is intriguingly told in a series of flashbacks while the audience follows Neville around in his day to day existence in an empty present day New York. I Am Legend is full of fascinating imagery and very good pacing especially in the early parts of the story as we are introduced to Neville and the life he now leads alone.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie, besides some slightly disappointing CGI there really isn't much to criticize in what this movie had in it. My criticisms instead are reserved for what it did not have. There was so much more I wanted to know when the movie was over that I felt I had only been told part of a story.

What was going on in the rest of the world during the years Neville was alone in New York? There is a subtle rivalry between the strongest and seemingly smartest creature Neville comes in contact with throughout, where did this come from, why was this never explained or expanded on? I was also frustrated with the gap in storyline, the flashbacks at the beginning of the movie only take the story to a point when things started getting bad and the virus is only just getting out of control. We are never told what took place between that point and the state that the world is in now. There is just so much more background that I Am Legend could have given it's audience and at a running time of 100 minutes there was certainly time for more.

It would be impossible not to recommend a movie when my only major criticism is that I wanted more. Still I can't rate I Am Legend as highly as I'd like because it really could have been so much better in my estimation.

I put I Am Legend on my 'Watch It' list and give it a value of $7.

January 2, 2008

Coming Soon...

I've been on the other side of the planet for the holidays and so I apologize to readers for the unusually long hiatus on the site.

I'll be posting a worst movies of the year list soon so stay tuned.