Sunday, March 02, 2008

Weekly Roundup; Movies

Lately I've had more time to watch movies than I have had to write about them. Actually, that statement is a bit misleading, because any time I'm watching a movie I could be writing instead, but forgive me, I recently got cable for the first time in about 20 years, so I've been overwhelmed lately by so many viewing options. Some of the movies inspire a few random thoughts, but sometimes not enough to warrant a full review. So here goes, my first weekly roundup of the movies I've seen, but don't think I can stretch a full post out of. A little disclaimer; these weren't ALL within the past seven days, lest you think I've done nothing but sit on my couch 24 hours a day. I'm being a bit lenient in my first post so I can clean out the backlog.

Justice League: The New Frontier
Rating: 5
I haven't read the graphic novel this is based on, but seeing how closely the animation follows the stylistic illustrations of artist Darwyn Cooke, I'm going to assume it's fairly accurate. It's possible that the comic book is a little more coherent, since the central plot concerning a new villain called The Center doesn't get nearly as much screen time as the individual journeys of it's heroes. The New Frontier is an alternate history story set in the mid-50s, as the Justice Society, disbanded amid McCarthyism and public distrust, investigates individually some pretty gruesome cult activity. While this is going on we get to witness the seeds of the Justice League, as all of the founding members of that group start getting their powers. As I said the central plot tying everyone together is a little vague; I'm still in the dark as to who or what The Center is, or who that man who committed suicide in the movies opening scene was(oh yes, this film takes advantage of it's PG-13 rating), all I know is that it all culminates in a pretty badass battle between the Justice League and some weird sentient island that spawns dinosaurs, and veers off into some weird, 2001, A Space Odyssey style mindfuckery. All that aside, the animation is stylistic and smooth, with some unfortunate CGI(something you can't really avoid in DTV animation these days) that isn't actually too distracting, and the voice work is across the board impeccable. The main cast is of course full of name actors, but instead of stunt casting they all come across pretty well, particularly Neil Patrick Harris as the Flash. Also, it was great seeing Batman in his old school, big eared costume, and a humorous, self serving reason for getting a sidekick.

I bought this film on blu-ray(making it my first such purchase), and despite some cool extras(including an awesome sneak peek at the upcoming Batman: Gotham Knight anthology), I have to complain about their presentation. The entire menu is one screen, and filled with text. Even on my big screen TV I couldn't read the options, and had to go by trial and error.

Rating: 4
This one wins the title for least appropriately named horror film of the decade. The cover features a blood spattered hatchet, and yet only once does the killer wield the titular weapon, although he does so memorably. The setup isn't even worth mentioning, because it's all just filler to get to the gory murders, but props must be given to a screenwriter with the wit to inject real humor into the proceedings, and a cast capable of pulling it all off. And I know it's not really worth complaining about, because all slasher films do it, but I started to get annoyed at the group of tourists stalked by a deformed backwoods maniac; every time the killer showed up, someone would get a hit in and incapacitate him, and everyone would run away. After shooting him, and seeing him fall to the ground, no one thought to walk over and shoot him in the head, or stab him AGAIN with the pitchfork once he stumbled bleeding and incapacitated into the mud.

The Matador
Rating: 4
I really liked this movie, about a burnt out hitman and a struggling, slightly emasculated everyman, but something held me back from outright loving it. I think it was the on-the-nose nature of Julian Noble's(Pierce Brosnan) breakdown. I totally loved the storyline surrounding the mental decline of this character, and appreciated how nicely it was represented in his life, and how he envied Greg Kinnear for the simple act of owning a home. It was the more stylistic flourishes that I disliked, such as the visions of Julian framed in a gunsight and screaming to the heavens, or of Julian jumping on a trampoline in a cheerleader outfit. This seemed a bit of a hackneyed way of illustrating something that was already perfectly defined in dialogue and character interaction. Still, I enjoyed this movie for at least aiming high, even if I didn't feel it quite hit the mark.

Rating: 2
The same can't be said for this film, which seemed to set the bar low, and not even try that hard to reach it. The setup could have lent itself to any number of superior films; a tense crackerjack thriller, a biting examination of race relations, or an emotional character study of a mother suffering unspeakable loss and an African American cop trying to straddle both worlds; that of the street, and that of the establishment. Instead the film shows absolutely no interest in really examining any of these aspects of the film, and it doesn't even seem interested in any type of story. People arrive at conclusions to the central mystery with no discernible reason, and not even the capable performance of Julliane Moore made me care about her dead child. Which is surprising, given how sensitive to the subject I've been since having a child of my own.

The Lookout
Rating: 3
I hate to get into the wishing game when it comes to movies. That is, I hate to say of a movie that it could have been better if only it had done such-and-such different. A movie is what it is, and saying you wish it had been different means you should have watched another movie to begin with. And yet, I still wish this movie had done certain things differently. I found Joseph Gordon Leavitt's performance, playing ex-hockey player Chris Pratt, who has a brain injury due to a car accident, to be finely tuned and deeply affecting, and his friendship with a blind Jeff Daniels felt real and rewarding, but the movie itself was full of too many cliches. It had an interesting central twist(pinning the focus of the film on a man with brain trauma), but the rest of the film was standard fare. In the way that characters would stand in the freezing cold and stare at the horizon to show they were conflicted, or the menacing character who only scowls angrily at people through sunglasses that seem to be attached permanently to his head. The Lookout almost seemed ashamed of it's thriller lineage, until the very end, where Chris, with fairly severe memory problems, must figure out how to murder two thugs and save his friend. For a brief moment there, the film embraced the two-fisted allure of the thriller, and offered a few genuine thrills.

It occurs to me that my description of The Lookout, and it's central character, sound suspiciously like Memento. I should note, however, that that's probably due to my interpretation, since I watched the entire film without making the connection. Chris Pratt's condition isn't primarily associated with memory, but he instead must make do with limited physical and mental capabilities. He's aware enough to realize everything he's missing, but not always aware enough to do anything about it. And I should say again that Joseph Gordon Leavitt does an amazing job here. Pretty soon he'll be getting reviews that call him his generations (insert famous, respected actor here).

A quick note should be made about the ratings. I'm stealing the system almost directly from, since I find that one fits most intuitively into my viewpoint. I really have no idea what separates a B- from a C+, or a 7 from an 8, but the following system seems to work OK for me:

5 - I loved it
4 - I liked it
3 - I'm neutral
2 - I disliked it
1 - I hated it

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to watch Duck, You Sucker! so check back on Friday for what I thought of it.

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