The New World

new_worldrating-4.0Terrence Malick has directed very few films and written a very few more. He's well-known as an auteur and award-winner for The Thin Red Line, Days Of Heaven, and Badlands and as an uncredited writer on such hits as Dirty Harry. Malick is not exactly a workhorse director and his projects tend to come slowly and deliberately.

It does seem strange, then, that Malick chose to make his first movie since 1998's Thin Red Line a period piece about the founding of Jamestown and the romance between the native princess Pocahontas and Captain John Smith. The tale has been told and retold in storybooks, history books, and Disney films, so many would wonder the purpose of such a movie, but Malick does what he does best: provide a dreamlike and beautiful reality to the tale, highlighting the strange primordial state of America in the 1600's, and give a quiet humanity and understandability to American and English alike.

The film plays out well but will easily lose more casual viewers in its quiet, nearly dialogue-free trek though time. The usage of voiceover of thought, choppy editing, and dream-like shots and lighting lends a strange quality to the film that seems to finally come to fruition in its final scenes. The film rarely features any exchange of dialogue between characters; scenes tend to have one person talking at another with no real response. In the final movement of the film, Smith and Pocahontas have a last meeting where the dream quality of the previous two and a half hours are dispelled with a full conversation, both characters conversing, before life is changed and lives return to a reality never before attained in the movie.

The hyperreal dream of the earlier film is excellently filmed and beautiful to look at, but those just looking for a good-time movie will be disappointed. This movie is a thoughtful visual retelling of a story, stripped of most of the drama and dialogue usually afforded to historical dramas. The voiceover and dialogue that there is plays out like a reading of historical letters left by the characters and it somehow suits the film.

The actors peform their parts well, somewhat detached from the normal standard for these dramas, left with minimalist delivery. Christian Bale does a good job in the last act, Colin Farrell does the same in the previous two thirds, and young Q'Orianka Kilcher carries the film sheerly on the intensity of her eyes, the set of her jaw, and the light and playful dignity she inhabits her character with.

While it lacks the conventional plot, conflicts, and endless scripted lines of other films, the film delivers a beautiful experience as deserving of acolade as any of his previous films, giving the history of discovery the same touch of human reality that Malick has given to World War II and Midwestern thrill-killers.

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Aeon Flux

aeonrating-2.5There's something about an adaptation of anything into another format that immediately lends itself to more scrutiny than it would naturally receive. This is certainly because of the fact that comparisons will be made between the adaptation and the original, be it a book, comic, TV series, etc. In the case of Aeon Flux, there was the "Aeon Flux" cartoon series to contend with, which, for what it was, was very intelligent and well-made, a dystopian future where a "1984"-like war existed eternally, neighboring states keeping up a continuous fight. This movie, of course, greatly diminishes that concept.

As a stand-alone film, Aeon Flux would have been an enjoyable enough movie, assuming it didn't bear the Aeon Flux name. But, as any form of adaptation, it was a miserable failure. The dystopian nature of the original and its neverending battle between equally faceless sides is lost entirely, instead choosing to make this film revolve around a concept of a last city on Earth, surrounded by primeval jungle, utopian in its goals but attacked from within by Monican terrorists/freedom fighters. The countries of Bregna and Monica, in the film, become the city and the freedom fighters and nothing more.

The plot is stupidly simplistic as Aeon attempts to invade and destroy the Bregnan patriarchal overlords, until she realizes things are awry and decides to take a new tack, putting herself between the two sides, both intent on her destruction.

It's said the original director's cut was 30 minutes longer before being hacked down by the studio, a cut that was apparently vastly superior. It would still be a travesty, given the lack of inclusion on all the source material's best elements. Peter Chung referred to feeling "helpless, humiliated and sad" while watching the film and I can relate. It was as if the few fond memories of my teenage years watching the show were pissed all over and stomped out. As an adaptation of "Aeon Flux", Ultraviolet did a better job.

It's no great help that Charlize Theron spends most of her time trying not to act, because she's busy trying to mimic the series' breathy and husky-voiced Aeon. Instead of being sexy, Theron comes off as a monotone charicature. She's better than this movie and I hope she knows it. I applaud her for being totally willing to get into something that's generally looked down on in Hollywood, but the result was unfortunate. Aeon she is not. Nor is anything in this movie.

This is not your father's Aeon and Trevor Goodchild. Shit, this isn't even a very well-made film. The show was a simple transition to screen and they blew it, losing the cool weirdness and blood-soaked gunfire for bloodless, boring action and a plot unfit for consumption.

If this weren't Aeon, it'd have a chance. As it stands, it just sullies the Flux name and makes it even more difficult to see anything more made by Peter Chung.

imdb   amazon


300posterrating-4.5The very concept of 300 was exciting: a heavily-stylized and violent period action based on the visual look and story of Frank Miller's graphic novel. Maybe a little too exciting, as this movie became one of the most over-hyped films in recent memory.

At least the movie lived up to most of that hype. Going into the film expecting the best movie ever made will undoubtedly disappoint, but the movie was probably one of the most excellent visual experiences that you can see on screen. (And, with the movie in IMAX, that option is worth looking into if you've got one of those big-screen theaters nearby.)

The story is even more straightforward than I would have imagined. The violent battles and stylized scenes of the Spartan homestead never quite escape your expectations of what might come next and there's no real surprises to the film. Every event follows entirely as you would imagine, but the process of watching it play out is the real joy.

The film is like any other performance art... It would be like seeing a band live and complaining that they play the music just like you'd heard on CD. The enjoyment of watching the film is seeing how something you understand plays out before you beautifully.

Not that the movie couldn't be better, but there's only so long you can drag out the inevitable and keep piling on the severed limbs and blood. Though there's nothing wrong with the piles of bodies, it just begins to wear you down after a point, continuing the same pace of violent dispatch until it no longer carries much weight.

At least the battles are few so that it doesn't totally blow its load early in the movie, but I felt that the film wasn't the boiling cauldron of bloody discharge that I had hoped. It's a well-crafted, exceptionally good-looking movie, but it somehow feels slightly hollow when it's all over.

Though, given that, it's still one of the best movies of the year and deserving of all the accolades it receives, despite the "freedom" talk that the Spartans beat you over the head with for most of the movie and how historically inaccurate it all is. You can't help but feel like the movie is trying to make some pseudo-jingoistic point about "freedom ain't free", but if you can ignore the undertones, the movie is exceptional.

imdb   amazon

Ghost Rider

ghost-rider-posterrating-1.5I finally gave in and saw Ghost Rider, facilitated by 300 being sold out. I had intended to catch it, at least for laughs, but had never gotten around to it, lacking the time to go out and see it.

Well, let me save you all some money and time... Don't bother. Wait until it's on cable. The movie is horrifyingly, laughably bad. It's a clusterfuck of total retardation.

Sure, some people will point to the bright spots like the effects and... well, the effects. But you can't trust those people. Those people are fucking liars and want only to hurt you and everyone you love. Either that or they are the dumbest bags of shit you'll ever come across. Only a severely impared and mentally inferior human being could enjoy this movie.

Okay, I know. It fills the time, it doesn't murder you family, and it's only a few bucks. Who cares? Well, probably anyone that had an expectation that the movie would be written instead of shitted up onto the screen in a torrent of wet squirts.

Ghost Rider is a dumb character, I understand. When your character is best expressed in song by "Ghost Rider - motorcycle hero", you're in trouble. I mean, Evel Knievel is then on the same par if that's all it takes.  And, of course, this movie steals heartily from the likes of Mr. Knievel and makes Nicholas Cage into a deathless daredevil, recruited by the devil (apparently Mephisto was too good to be in the movie) to reclaim the souls of the damned, in this case his unruly son, Blackheart.

Blackheart in the comics was a spiky, black monster. Apparently the vastly incompetant shithead director, Daredevil's own Mark Steven Johnson, thought it would be a better idea to make him into a simpering wannabe-Goth fuckhead who pouts around the world, killing people for no reason other than to show off how "evil" he is. He's accompanied by a rouge's gallery of nephilim, an interesting idea, executed in the dumbest way possible by Johnson, turning them all into element-based douchebags in matching dusters. Yes, they're all ugly, pouting Linkin Park-listeners, showing daddy Satan how they're their own men and they don't need anybody. So the forces of the underworld have all been turned into spoiled, pouting, angsty teenage shitsticks. Wes Bentley should be publically flogged for his performance.

The movie opens slowly and takes a while to get to the present and its point, but, after it does, you so very much wish that the opening had gone on longer.

Johnny Blaze, played by Cage, is betrayed by the devil, who takes his soul, saves his daredevil father from cancer, and then kills him in an accident. This leaves Blaze apparently a fucking weirdo who spends all his time reading books on the occult. His comic relief sidekick played by Donal Logue is really one of the only highlights of the movie and it's during the long start that we see the most of him.

The early parts play out fairly well until Johnson starts stylizing the film with lame jump-cuts that attempt to "scare" you with screaming monster faces, a tactic so fucking tranparent that it wouldn't scare a 4-year-old. In fact, the movie elicits groans a-plenty with its tacky and stupid visual hijinks.

Cage is interspersed in between, trying to reclaim the lady love of his youth, played by Eva Mendes. Cage's acting veers wildly back and forth between seeming almost retarded, severely drunk, and chewing scenery like a coked-up Willem Dafoe. The audience is forced to watch slack-jawed as he delivers his odd performace while trying to pick up the 20-year-younger Mendes.

Eva is actually one of the highlights of the film, as her appearances allow you to take your attention off the "plot" involving Ghost Rider and Mephistopheles. Her acting is actually rather naturalistic and she provides some great comedic moments, breaking up the monotony of the sub-Elektra writing of the film. In fact, the only moments the movie works are when people are just sitting around, talking - shoeleather scenes where the director doesn't bother to do more than point a camera at people and film. The rest of Ghost Rider is a badly-cobbled together visual nightmare of stupid shit happening, even bothering to drag in Sam Elliot in one of the biggest throwaway wasted performances ever.

The dialogue trickles out in phrases that one would expect from an aspiring third-grade comic-writing hopeful. It has everything short of Ghost Rider claiming that his dad could beat up Blackheart's dad.

Every point plays out transparently and in the most obvious and stupid fashion possible, leaving you to hope that the movie ends quickly, as you've got to get an early start on talking about how fucking bad the movie is to everyone you know.

The Ghost Rider design and effects are the only thing that works about the film, the rest of the monsters being fucking worthless and shitty (especially sad considering the fact that Ghost Rider came pre-visualized, so the movie did nothing well at all).

There are few things to compare the film to, except possibly herpes. The writing could also be likened to herpes, except it definitely doesn't carry that much weight. Thankfully, a few days after you've seen it, most of it has been erased from your memory. You can't ask for much more than that.

Really... Don't watch this shit.

imdb   amazon

The Number 23

number_23rating-3.5Not one of the best but one of the most interesting films to come out this year, The Number 23 is a return to dark subject matter for both Jim Carrey and Joel Schumacher.

Best known for his failures, Schumacher will forever wear the albatross of the last two Batman monstrosities made before the whose series was thrown out and restarted, as well as having been critically panned for Falling Down, 8mm, and the Hitchcock riff Phone Booth.

Carrey, a longtime annoyance, has recently attempted to make good, much like Robin Williams, by abandoning his comic instincts and diving full-bore into the realm of the incredibly dark drama. His idiocy left behind, this harkens back to the well-crafted everyman he managed to portray so well in Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. Much like Williams, he continually reminds his viewers that his every return to comedy is a painful experience, only impressive in how unfunny it can be. The two would best be served to maintain their dark nature on film.

Carey plays another generic Anyman, going about his daily life, when he's drawn into a dark world by reading a book, "The Number 23", which bears too many similarities to his own life.

The ensuing thriller plays out fairly well, taking Carrey and his family, Virginia Madsen and Logan Lerman, along on a ride of increasing madness as the man is stretched to his mental limits, all played out well by the irritating comedian. He is exceptionally believable as a man on the edge, as the plot and the character unravel under the pressure put on them by the madness of the novel, which plays out in beautifully stylized and pulpy vignettes of the novel's passages, with Carrey and Madsen as characters.

Both the schlub and his dark fictional alter-ego, the detective known as Fingerling, move through their arc nicely, but there is something lacking in the way that the movie plays out at its end, somehow lacking the bite that the viewer expects or fulfilling the promise that the movie builds up in its tension. The ending comes and the twist isn't there, the shock doesn't exist, the climax is stunted, and the audience is left pleased but wanting the ending that would throw them entirely out of their seats.

Simply, it's Schumacher's best directorial work, easily surpassing the flat blandness of his early work like St. Elmo's Fire and The Lost Boys or movies like A Time To Kill, Bad Company, or Phantom Of The Opera. The visual effects and style are fairly untried for Schumacher, who usually just points the camera and films, not really getting into such visual complexity. Its visual pallette harkens back to 8mm, but much more stylized and color saturated.

What the movie does lack feels like a hole where its heart should be, though what surrounds it is of interest, though I'm not sure how well it would bear repeated viewings.

At very least, it should prove enjoyable viewing for those who enjoy a good twisted mindfuck thriller.

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