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>> Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Life imitating art imitating death. Beautiful.

A couple of years ago director Darren Aronofsky brought us The Wrestler, a wonderful film about a man who lives (and dies) for his performances. A couple years before that he brought us The Fountain which was about ... well, I don't really know. Now he brings us the inspiring, the delusional, the dark, the horrific and mostly, the fantastic Black Swan.

Nina (Natalie Portman) is labelled as the rising star for a prestigious New York ballet. Nina, perhaps under the influence of her mother (Barbara Hershey), strives to be the perfect ballerina. She practices so hard it often becomes debilitating, and as her boss Thomas (Vincent Cassel) says, "It's not about perfection, it's about passion".

But this isn't the way Nina works, and when she lands the role of the Swan Queen in Swan Lake, all bets and all inhibitions are off. Much like the attitude of her predecessor (Winona Ryder), Nina now feels she is constantly in a battle with someone who wants to take her place - a new girl named Lily (Mila Kunis). Although Lily seems to only want to be Nina's friend, she seems mischievous and like she's hiding something. To say this creates a paranoia for Nina is an understatement - as is the constant pressure of trying to be the perfect lead, right down to last detail.

Black Swan is a haunting film about the obsession of ‘making it’ - a theme carried over from The Wrestler. Nina has a true passion for the arts, to the point where you see she eats, breathes and sleeps ballet. You can feel her obsession, always on the verge of complete despair and teetering on the fragile breaking point of success - every move is calculated far in advance to it's action. Yet when she secures the role she's always wanted, there is no real happiness - no sense of relief for the one who strives to have it all, and finally achieves it. This unrest is what makes Black Swan so intriguing.

The look and design and direction of the film is also something to really pay attention to, as it presents itself to the viewer as another character. Black Swan is a movie that gets into the mind of it's characters, and allows you to see what they see - feel what they feel. This is by far Aronofsky's best work to date and I am certainly interested to see how he pulls off next year's The Wolverine, seeing as it's not his usual forté.

I am giving Black Swan an open door. The film is just as patient, quiet and delicate as it is exciting, loud and harsh. Normally I would say you have to be in the mood to watch an Aronofsky film. They're the type of film that if you watch just the right moment it may blow you away - other times, you can't wait for it to be over. With Black Swan, it takes you in and grips you until it's final moments - all without you really knowing why. Watch for Portman and Kunis come Oscar time, they both did excellent with this one.

*Stills courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures



>> Saturday, December 25, 2010

Go fock yourself... seriously.

Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller star as grumpy father-in-law and the subject of his ridicule (respectively) in the third installment of this fockin' silly series, Little Fockers. This time around Jack is having heart problems, Greg is getting boners over Jessica Alba (due to a new Viagra-like drug they're promoting together), and the Focker kids are having a birthday party (enough to name a movie after, apparently). Now, when it came to Meet the Parents (2000), I didn't mind the flick. It was funny enough and one could make light of poor Gaylord Focker's name, as well as the series of unfortunate incidents he got himself into.

Little Fockers, however, is something else entirely. Not only does it not center itself around the Focker children enough to make that the title, but simply and purely, it's not funny. It's insulting to anybody that's made a good comedy movie (or enjoys them), and when one of your scenes relies on a five minute back-and-forth using the term GodFocker continually like it's actually funny, you know your in trouble. We get it, Focker sounds like a swear word. You want to make the movie funnier? Rename it and don't mention the last name unless applicable - it was worn to death after the sequel.

Relying on the wholly un-clever wordplay shouldn't have been a factor anyways. Little Fockers has three (count 'em - THREE) two-time Academy Award winners - Dustin Hoffman, De Niro and Barbara Streisand. Between those three (and their awful managers), perhaps somebody could have thrown out some better ideas to make this movie a little more likable - or maybe they did, at which point I shudder to imagine how bad it was before. Also, Owen Wilson is back again? He adds nothing to the story besides the presence of a rich idiot who's still in love with Pam (Teri Polo). Don't get me wrong, I like Wilson - just not here.

Simply put, Little Fockers doesn't measure up to something that's worth seeing, so it gets a closed door. I get the likability of it's 'just okay' predecessor, Meet the Fockers (2004) but this one just isn't worth your time. The storyline is weak, the characters typical and predictable and the humour is absent. If this isn't the last one, trust me, I won't be going to see the sequel - which will probably be titled Look Who's Focking.

*Stills courtesy of Universal Pictures



>> Monday, December 20, 2010 come here often?

Tron came out in 1982 to mixed reviews. I saw it for the first time earlier this year and while I can appreciate it for what it meant to audiences when it was released, frankly I found it a little dull. The storyline proposed an interesting way to view how computers worked from a first person point of view, but the look of the film (colors, not graphics) was uninteresting to look at.

Twenty-eight years later, we find ourselves in the midst of a sequel to draw in a new generation of Tron fans, and of course it comes to us in 3D. Tron Legacy starts off seven years after the end of Tron. Kevin Flynn (the Dude himself, Jeff Bridges) now has a son, Sam (of whom the older version is played by the relatively unknown Garrett Hedlund). Kevin has also taken his experiences from the first film and turned them into a video game called, unsurprisingly, Tron. However, one night Kevin disappears forever, leaving his legacy to his son, Sam.

Fast forward to 2010 and Sam has the usual 'grew up without parents' complex that wealthy troublemakers like Bruce Wayne also seem to have. Although he could take over the company his father acquired after the first film (Encom), he decides to instead frivolously break into Encom on a regular basis and leak the company's software for free - as his father originally intended.

That sums up Sam's life until one day his lawyer and second father, Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) tells Sam he received a page from Kevin's old arcade (aptly titled 'Flynn's'), which has been closed for the last twenty years. Sam heads there to investigate the strange occurrence and finds a secret basement room containing the portal into the virtual world we became aware of in the first movie.

As with his father, Sam is immediately put into a gladiatorial game as soon as he enters the system. Now that technology has advanced, so has the look of this virtual reality. As Sam identifies himself as a a user and not a program (more specifically as Kevin Flynn's son) an old friend named Clu (an exact digital replica of Kevin) takes sinister interest in Sam and it soon becomes clear what Clu's motive is. Clu wants to use Sam to get to an aging Kevin, who has since been trapped in this world for the last twenty years. More specifically, Clu wants to obtain Kevin's information disk and use it as a way to get out of the virtual world and into the real one, where he plans to continue his journey of creating and maintaining Hitler-esque perfection. With that threat against them, it's up to Kevin and his estranged son Sam, along with Kevin's mysterious protege, Quorra (Olivia Wilde) to not only stop Clu from getting to the outside world, but get themselves home.

Speaking of Clu, I was relatively impressed by the CG they used to animate both the younger version of Kevin Flynn as well as Clu. Although there is something uncanny about the way they move and they both indeed look like characters from The Polar Express (2004), it's a neat way to bring back a younger Jeff Bridges from the pre-Lebowski era and an effective story-telling technique. There are some people that are bashing this, but considering Clu exists in a computer generated world for the most part, it's not something I had a problem with.

On a pure aesthetic level, Legacy looks fantastic and is certainly easier to get into than its predecessor. I give it some credit for the idea to make the virtual reality world 3D and not the real world that sandwiches the middle of the film. Although the 3D isn't come-at-you amazing with Legacy, I believe this decision was still effective, at the very least.

The biggest problem Legacy does have is not anything that makes me hate the film per say, it's more or less just an improvement that needed to be made. Although some will gauge this problem as perhaps bigger or smaller than I am making it out to be, it is a problem nonetheless. What you will find as you exit the theatre after the credits begin to roll, is that although you have been pleasantly entertained for the last two hours, you weren't blown away - at least not as much as a fan of the first film (or even a newcomer) should be. The action was fine, the storyline okay but ultimately (and oddly) forgettable. I don't really know if it was because we've seen films with a similar storyline before (ie: Inception, The Matrix, I, Robot) or if the darker look and lighting of the film put your mind more asleep than doing what it should have, which was creating an effective atmosphere.

I would have ultimately enjoyed the film a bit more should they have explored the other possibilities this virtual reality had. There is moment in the film where Kevin gives Quorra (a virtual reality-born individual) a new arm by locating the broken code on her disk and fixing it, thus having her new limb grow right before their eyes. I couldn't help but think of a similar thing being done for people with cancer, who are handicapped or blind, and having their problems being solved as simply as a computer virus can be. Although this may not be viable in this storyline, it was something I felt should have at least been discussed. Meh, perhaps the sequel.

I also wondered why even simpler things aren't questioned - like why or how food exist in this world and why Kevin needs it, or more poignantly - why he even ages in the first place. These are things Sam didn't ask, and seeing as he was representational of the audience's point of view - it would have been nice.

Tron Legacy ultimately gets an open door. Although there are movies I've liked on a higher level in recent months, this one still has it's moments and is worth a trip to the theatre. Don't go in expecting too much and you'll have a good time. Also, let it be known there are some things left unanswered at the end of the film. It doesn't make or break the movie for me and I don't know if they're saving it for a follow-up, but it is something to be aware of as it may be a bother to some.

*Stills courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures



>> Friday, December 3, 2010

Chicago? No. Moulin Rouge? No. Good movie? Well....

If you don't already know, I'm a fan of musicals. I watch Glee every week and two movies that play in my DVD player on a regular basis are Moulin Rouge (2001) and Hairspray (2007). I think what I've always enjoyed most about them is that it's clear from the first number how much work has been put into them, to get them to flow correctly so the songs don't seem out of place or forced. A song's introduction should be just as organic as the film's dialogue and so should its exit. As I mentioned in my review for the poorly done Score: A Hockey Musical, when it comes to songs in a musical, it's my belief they should exist only when the message or emotion cannot be easily or efficiently conveyed in another fashion, such as through dialogue or visuals. This is the first and most obvious key to a successful tune-filled film and while the act may be made more difficult when characters in real life need to belt out a number, it's still a feat to successfully blend songs into a film - even one such as Burlesque.

In her first leading role (perhaps movie role, at all), Christina Aguilera plays Ali, a small town girl with big town dreams. As she states to a colleague when asked why she left her hometown, Ali responds by saying that when she looked around, nobody had a life she wanted. Fair enough. So what do all young girls do who are down on their luck? They pack up their shit and they move to LA. Not the best of lessons to impose on the younger generation, but nonetheless, suspension of disbelief, right? Turns out Ali was lucky enough to snag an apartment immediately, and on her first day out on the town she floats into a seedy little whorehouse called Burlesque. Well, whorehouse may be a little extreme (especially with a PG rating), think more along the lines of a slightly riské set for American Idol.

Finally, Ali sees a life she wants. Glitz, glam and Cher as a teacher. Knowing only how to waitress (and sing and dance and show up the local snobby girl), Ali grabs a tray and gets to work until she can get the chance to audition. At this point you're aware that no matter how little she gets paid, she just wants to be closer to her dream. Now I know that we're supposed to believe that she came to LA to find just something different, hell - anything, but even I was surprised that this was the first job Ali said "I want that" to. I mean, look around, see what's out there. Unless of course Ali was thinking what I was the entire time - "The girl in Coyote Ugly did it, so why can't I?"

Low and behold persistence pays off, and Ali snags a stage job, much to the chagrin of fellow problematic dancer Nikki (Kristen Bell), who decides to screw Ali by pulling the plug on the pre-recorded vocals right in the middle of a performance. Thankfully for Ali, despite Nikki's Milli Vanilli outing attempt, Ali finally gets the chance to let her vocals shine - and goes for it! Good for her, she needed it. The rest falls into place, no doubt, and soon she's the talk of the town - all in the nick in time to save the club from closing down and going bankrupt. Ali does of course get help from her trusty sidekick Sean, played very well by Stanley Tucci - even if he does play the exact same character he played in The Devil Wears Prada (2006). Whatever, he has a thing for young girls in need - that's decent of him. Oh wait, didn't he play the pervert in The Lovely Bones (2010)? Never mind.

Interestingly enough, I started out this review thinking Burlesque deserved an open door. Then as I actually started writing my review I realized there wasn't a lot of originality here. I mean, don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it. I liked the musical numbers and despite its unoriginal premise I still fell for the "Oh my God, what's she gonna do now?" moments as much as one can. I actually had a decent time watching it, but in the end I had to let my musical-loving bias go and see Burlesque for what it was - an impressive array of music videos strung together by a stingy storyline. I'm giving it a closed door. It doesn't do anything wrong per say, but it's far from special. For the record, Christina Aguilera does a fine job acting here, and movie lighting is definitely her friend. Just a thought.

*Stills courtesy of De Line Pictures



>> Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Shocking perhaps. Yes. But watching the trailer, it just fails to, I dunno, grip me as much as it maybe should. Don't get me wrong, I love Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. But I feel we've seen the whole 'beautiful woman sucks poor schmuck into a danger-ridden adventure including a boat chase in Europe and he ends up being a bad-ass for once in his life' type of thing. I'm not saying this will be an awful movie. In fact, I'm willing to bet you if I saw it I might even give it an open door. But I can tell right now I don't feel this will be an original tale, even if it on occasion has some exciting action (and I don't mean just between the two leads either, wink wink).

So go see this one if you want. I don't think you'll hate it, you may damn well love it. You may even be asking me, 'But Angry Charlie, why would you refuse to see this and not obvious flops like Yogi Bear, or Gulliver's Travels?' Truth is, when it comes to those flops I'm more curious about the end result and how the filmmakers handled them. With The Tourist, I feel as if I already know what I'm going to feel like exiting the theatre. Also, why is Angelina Jolie always the secretly, tough seductress? Isn't it obvious by looking at her that she's a heap load o' trouble? And why is that when Johnny Depp finally steps out of the make-up chair for a second he's weaker than an injured duckling? Whatever. point is, this ain't for me. Plus, anybody else thinkin' Tron Legacy far outweighs the hype of this flick?

The Tourist opens December 10th. Have fun.


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