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Archive for March, 2005

Review: I, Robot

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I, Robot Fresh from the Certainly Better Than I Thought It Was Gonna Be Department, we’ve got Will Smith‘s I, Robot, an entertaining and surprisingly thought-provoking movie. Not too thought-provoking, of course…it’s still a movie largely about a bunch of psycho robots. But coming as it did for me hot on the heels of the abysmal Daddy Day Care, I, Robot felt downright cerebral.

Smith plays Detective Del Spooner in a typical Will Smith Action Movie Hero role. He’s got the confidence and the charm and the smarts and the likability that we come to expect, though Spoon’s got just a little more edge on him than most of Smith’s good guys. He’s also got a great deal more muscle–Will’s definitely been keeping the Ali physique going. I thought The Wife was going to Have A Moment next to me during the Fresh Prince’s numerous shirtless scenes.

Bridget Moynahan was somewhat less than successful as the theoretically-brilliant (yeah, pun intended) Dr. Susan Calvin–when she delivers her lines of Asimovian techno-speak, she sounds like an actress reciting words she doesn’t understand rather than a top-flight scientist. Picture fidgety seventh-graders standing in front of the class reciting bits of Shakespeare they were forced to memorize and you’ll get the idea. Smith’s homicide cop sounds smarter thank Moynahan’s psychologist/roboticist (though I think Smith has a hard time playing down his considerable natural intelligence).

I, Robot (2004)
Grade: B
Directed By: Alex Proyas
Written By: Akiva Goldsman Jeff Vintar
Starring: Will Smith Bridget Moynahan Alan Tudyk James Cromwell
Studio: 20th Century Fox

The movie doesn’t really have a lot to do with Isaac Asimov’s collection of stories of the same name–apparently the script, about a robot suspected of murder, bounced around Hollywood for a few years until it got snapped up by the people who actually owned the rights to Asimov’s material. The screenwriters (final credit for which went to Akiva Goldsman and Jeff Vintar) munged the script and Asimov’s concepts together and came up with something that might not bear much beyond superficial relation to its namesake but ended up being a pretty solid story.

That story wound up being smarter than I was expecting–closer to Smith than to Moynahan on the Smart Screenplay Scale. Maybe I was feeling particularly dense the night I watched it, but I actually didn’t figure out the movie’s big mystery beforehand (though to my credit I did correctly guess Spooner’s personal issue early on from what I thought was a nifty visual clue by director Alex Proyas–I’d tell you what it was, but we’ve got a No Spoilers If Possible policy here at Moviegeekz).

Proyas (The Crow, Dark City) presents the kind of realistic view of the near future that always gets my imagination fired up, though I have to admit the overall look of the movie hews a little to close to the aesthetic Steven Spielberg created for Minority Report, most notably with the cars and magnetized roadways. Minor complaint, though–just how different are competing-but-complementary views of America Plus Thirty Years going to look, anyway? Proyas has a good visual flair for action and crafts some nicely intense action sequences, though I could have done out without a couple of his dizzying Spin The Camera moments.

The effects, not surprisingly, were well-done throughout. We’ve gotten to the point in the development of special effects houses that any major-studio action flick that doesn’t have gorgeous effects really must not have much of an idea how to budget their tens of millions of dollars. Buddy, the robot suspected of murdering Dr. Alfred Lanning (the man who invented the robots’ positronic brains in the first place), gets the Gollum treatment courtesy of the always-awesome-and-underrated Alan Tudyk, who infuses the robot with integrity, sweetness and soul. Funny that the CGI-animated Buddy shows more emotion and range than the live-action Moynahan.

Written by Allen

March 17th, 2005 at 5:22 pm

X-Men 3, Toy Story 3 Get Directors

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The guys over at The Movie Blog have posted some news indicating that the third installments of a couple of my favorite movie franchies ever both now have directors attached.

  • According to Ain’t-It-Cool News, Matthew Vaughn has been picked to direct X-Men 3. I don’t honestly have much of an opinion about this one yet as I haven’t seen the one movie he’s done, Layer Cake. But he’s obviously from the Empire Award for Best British Director. We’ll see, I guess–I didn’t necessarily think Bryan Singer was going to be a great choice for the first two, but he did a fantastic job. My main complaint with Vaughn’s hiring is that it officially puts to an end my hopes that the people at Fox would be smart enough to hire Joss Whedon to write and direct. If Whedon had been at the helm, I think it’s quite possible that X-Men 3 might have shot somewhere toward the top of the list of my Most Anticipated Movies EVER, especially given what we know X-Men 3 has to be about (*cough*phoenix*cough*).
  • On the OTHER end of my anticipation scale, Toy Story 3 also has a director (supposedly, this one’s still unconfirmed)–Bradley Raymond, veteran of such modern Disney classics as The Lion King 1 1/2 (which was at least watchable), The Hunchback of Notre Dame II and Pocahontas II. It looks like Michael Eisner’s belief that people will watch any computer-animated movie is so strong that they don’t even have to try to make this movie any good…it’ll rake in the cash regardless. I haven’t heard any cast involvement yet, but I can’t imagine either Tom Hanks or Tim Allen will want anything to do with this project. I have this sinking suspicion that Eisner has a Machiavellian plan to purposely try to damage Pixar’s reputation with this movie. If he can stick a stinker out there and still make money off it, that validates his reasons for letting Pixar walk–and if it’s creatively a bomb, will most people even realize that it wasn’t made by Pixar, or will they just assume the same people made it as made the first two? I don’t see any way that Toy Story 3 can be any better than mediocre in any sense, and I think it’ll have to stretch hard to make it that far–this movie’s officially on my LEAST Anticipated Movies EVER list.

Written by Allen

March 14th, 2005 at 10:30 pm

Posted in General

The End (of Eisner) Is Nigh

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Michael Eisner, nemesis of animation lovers everywhere, is leaving his gig as CEO of Disney a year early. My first thought, as I’m sure it was for many others: “What does this mean for the Pixar-Disney partnership?”

The IMDb has this to say on the subject:

The selection of Robert Iger to become CEO of the Walt Disney Company immediately touched off speculation about whether he would be able to lasso Pixar chairman Steve Jobs and Miramax co-chairmen Bob and Harvey Weinstein back into the fold. Analysts generally agreed that much depended on the amount of authority Iger would be granted with Michael Eisner remaining in his position for the next six months. Jobs has previously indicated that he intended to wait until Eisner’s successor was chosen before talking to other studios about a distribution deal. Jobs had no immediate comment on Iger’s selection. But on Sunday, Harvey Weinstein issued a statement saying, “I’ve had a great working relationship with Bob Iger and think he is a terrific choice for chief executive of the Walt Disney Company.” Wall Street took a wait-and-see attitude toward the upcoming change, with Disney shares moving up slightly at midday.

I think it’s in the best interest of both Pixar and Disney to keep that relationship intact. Not from a creative standpoint, since Pixar has traditionally done their own thing without any interference from Disney, but purely from a marketing standpoint. While Pixar’s in bed with The Mouse, they get their creations featured in the Disney parks and in all manner of Disney merchandising efforts. Do they need that promotional push now as much as they did in 1995? Of course not, but when you’re producing the best animation of your generation, having the Disney name (and marketing arm) attached helps ensure some level of legacy and permanence. To most Americans, especially those over 30 or so, “Disney” and “animation” are pretty much synonymous.

That said, I know that the financial details of their current deal are skewed heavily in Disney’s favor, and that’s not fair, especially given that over the last ten years all of the most successful of Disney’s cartoon output have been from Pixar’s. It’s pretty obvious that at this point that Disney stands to benefit more from Pixar than Pixar does from Disney; let’s hope Bob Iger understands that in a way that Eisner refused to.

Written by Allen

March 14th, 2005 at 10:29 pm

Posted in General

Review: Shaun of the Dead

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Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Grade: A-
Directed By: Edgar Wright
Written By: Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg
Starring: Simon Pegg Kate Ashfield Nick Frost Lucy Davis Bill Nighy
Studio: Rogue Pictures

It’s exceedingly hard to create a movie (or any other work of fiction) that both lampoons a particular style or genre but also manages to be a great example of it at the same time; Shaun of the Dead manages to pull it off. It also manages to pull off some body parts from its cast in the process.

The makers of Shaun of the Dead bill the flick as a zom-rom-com–a romantic comedy with zombies. That’s both fair and a little misleading. Don’t go into this flick thinking you’re going to get When Harry Ate Sally… or You’ve Got Entrails; the romance part’s pretty light. What’s heavy are the laughs and the blood.

Simon Pegg‘s Shaun perfectly personifies those people most of us in our thirties think of as “slackers” when they’re in their early twenties but haven’t yet broken out of that low-rent lifestyle by the time they hit their thirties; at this point, we begin to call them “losers.” Shaun works at a job he doesn’t much like where he doesn’t get much respect; his girlfriend wants more of him than he’s willing or able to give, even though she really doesn’t want all that much from him; his best friend has earned squatter’s rights on his couch, where he does nothing but play video games, drink beer and sell pot. Shaun is a zombie, though not of the brain-eating variety; he’s sleepwalking through his life in the slow shuffle of the undead.

At some point most of us get the kick in the pants we need to get our life in order, though, and Shaun is no different. It just so happens that what he needs to inspire him to find the strength to take control of his is a zombie rampage.

Surprisingly, in the midst of the jokes (well, “jokes” might be the wrong way to put it–this is British humor through and through, so the humor tends to be more situational) and viscera some real emotion comes through. No zombie movie would be complete without the main characters having to make tough choices about friends and family, and Shaun of the Dead is no exception. Screenwriters Pegg and Edgar Wright (who also directed) don’t make things easy on Shaun simply because the movie’s a comedy.

And that brings me back to the particular brilliance of this movie: the ability to make fun of the cliches of the zombie movie and adhere to them at the same time. Several times, for instance, Shaun or one of the other characters makes fun of the fact that the zombies move so slowly–yet that doesn’t make them any less threatening in large numbers.

Bloody good fun.

Written by Allen

March 7th, 2005 at 4:51 pm

Review: The Village

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M. Night Shyamalan‘s The Village, while not a bad film by any stretch, suffers because of the reputation of its director: if you’ve seen any of his previous movies, you know that at some point there’s going to come a pretty major plot twist, most likely in the last reel of the movie. And if you know there’s a twist coming, it’s hard to lose yourself in the here-and-now of the film–you’re always waiting for the reveal and looking out for clues instead of simply soaking the movie in. It’s Audience-as-Detective instead of Audience-as-Spectator, which makes for a totally different experience.

The Village (2004)
Grade: B-
Written and Directed By: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix Bryce Dallas Howard Adrien Brody William Hurt Sigourney Weaver
Studio: Touchstone Pictures

That experience doesn’t have to be a bad one, of course, but in the case of The Village it turns out to be somewhat less than ideal. If I say at this point that there’s a plot twist or two along the way, I doubt that would come as any real surprise; unforunately, the twists themselves aren’t surprising, either. There are, by my estimation, four events in the movie that could count as a twist, but only one of them really caught me off-guard. The big one at the end, while perhaps not telegraphed, certainly couldn’t have been much of a shock to anyone paying attention both to the movie and to our society at large. Shyamalan also throws a couple too many Macguffins into the plot, as if he realizes that the audience is onto him by now.

The Village does have one surprising reveal, however, and her name is Bryce Dallas Howard. Don’t be fooled by Joaquin Phoenix‘s name coming at the top of the credits–this movie is Howard’s all the way. She could have relied on her character’s blindness as a crutch, as an easy way to gain the audience’s sympathies, but she doesn’t. Her Ivy has more strength, courage, heart and depth of emotion than any other of Shyamalan’s characters to date. Howard isn’t traditionally pretty in that way we expect our ingenues to be–she looks far too much like her father for that–but she lights up the screen and commands attention in virtually every frame she’s in. This movie should be just the first step in a bright career for her.

The rest of the cast, however, is wasted. They all perform to the best of their considerable abilities, but Shyamalan simply doesn’t give them enough to do. He’s formed a supporting cast with actors as talented as Phoenix, William Hurt, Adrien Brody, Sigourney Weaver, Brendan Gleeson and Judy Greer, but only Hurt and Brody gets any meat to their parts (and Brody’s is really just the kind of showy mentally-challenged role so usually loved by Oscar).

As always, Shyamalan’s sense of visual style shines through. His camerawork (with the ever-excellent cinematographer Roger Deakins) remains strong, crafting gorgeous compositions painted mainly with yellows, oranges and browns (as in The Sixth Sense, the color red takes on special significance here and is used sparingly). His camera frequently seems to catch the characters in private moments and hangs back from them, making us feel like we’re listening in on conversations we’re really not supposed to be hearing, or focuses not on the character speaking but on the one being spoken to. I’d love to see what Shyamalan could do with a straight drama, or with any movie where he wasn’t quite so worried about trying to trick his audience.

Written by Allen

March 6th, 2005 at 11:51 pm