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>> Saturday, January 22, 2011

Be honest, guys. Do I look fat to you?

Jack Black stars as Lemuel Gulliver in Gulliver's Travels - the big screen adaptation of a book I was supposed to read (but didn't) in my English 101 class. In this version, Gulliver accidentally ends up as a travel writer in an attempt to impress his co-worker, Darcy (Amanda Peet). She sends him off to the Bermuda Triangle and dang it, wouldn't you know it? He gets caught in a storm and ends up in the undiscovered midget land of Lilliput - and by midget I mean little people, like actual, tiny people.

The Lilliputians know not of our land (the rest of the world) as they stay away from a looming fog that surrounds their island. This allows Gulliver to use all means of popular culture to fabricate his own historic and heroic stories - usually in the form of Star Wars, Titanic and Avatar. I don't quite remember the chapter summaries or cliff notes from the literary version - but I'm pretty sure that wasn't in there. Also not present in the original novel by Johnathan Swift - the discovery of electricity by the local Lilliputians, giant robots and cell reception via iPhone absolutely everywhere. But lets face it - a modern day adaptation of a 280 year-old novel with Jack Black in the lead probably isn't going to take itself seriously. And thankfully, Gulliver's Travels does not.

There's a lot to be said for what director Rob Letterman (Monster's vs Aliens [2009]) has done here. The usual attempt may have been to do a faithful adaptation of the novel down to the last pantaloon, but Letterman recognized from the get-go that this film needed to be different and that at a certain point you can borrow all you want from the source material, but in the end it's about having fun. That's exactly what Gulliver's Travels is all about.

I am giving this film an open door. While some moments in the film veer on the edge of going too far (and ending up in the same crap-humour category as Vampires Suck), more often then not you have a smile on your face and can enjoy the witty, harmless and often hilarious dumb fun that comes with a film such as this. Speaking of dumb fun, Jason Segal also stars in this film - which should give you a bit of an idea of what I'm talking about.

*Stills courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox



>> Saturday, January 15, 2011

Kato, I think I love you.

Seth Rogen and Jay Chou star as Britt Reid and Kato in The Green Hornet, not to be confused with The Green Lantern - the Ryan Reynolds superhero flick coming out later this year. The Green Hornet, like Batman, has no superpowers per say. Reid is simply a wealthy man who's recently gone through a terrible ordeal and uses crime fighting as a means of dealing with his feelings.

After his unsupportive father passes away (due to a bee sting), party man Reid is left to run his father's newspaper (The Sentinel). After decapitating his father's memorial statue (out of love, no doubt - and maybe a small homage to The Simpsons), Reid runs into some hooligans bent on causing trouble. In this case - it's a couple out for a night (and a mugging) on the town. Reid tries his darnedest to help the victims but just doesn't have what it takes - that is, until Kato shows up and takes down the thugs seven at a time. While Reid insists it was his doing, the two decide that helping people is actually kinda fun and come up with a ploy. The idea is that if all the bad guys think The Green Hornet and Kato are one of them, then the crime-fighting duo can get closer to the villains and bring 'em down from the inside.

The main man they are trying to tackle? A Russian kingpin (sigh...) named Chudnofsky (Inglorious Basterds' Christoph Waltz), who likes to call himself Bloodnofsky (double sigh...). So the pair head out night after night in their specialized vehicle known as the Black Beauty, and leave calling cards while shutting down all of Chudnofsky's operations. Eventually ol' Chud-Blood notices the chaos and it's on like Donkey Kong.

Now down to the nitty gritty. Was Green Hornet good? Does it live up to it's heightened 'why wasn't this released in summer?' expectations. Yeah, it did a'ight. What you get here is a lot of Rogen's usual loser shtick mixed with some pretty decent action - compliments of Kato, of course. I've never read or seen any of the original Hornet material, so I can't comment on how close it comes or what they've changed. I know that the costumes and car are almost dead on and that Kato-vision also existed before. What I don't know, however, is if Reid was actually that lame a crime fighter and if his secretary, Lenore Case (played by the not-very-present Cameron Diaz) actually played a big role in his life. Either way, Rogen plays the role in a way that seems semi-realistic enough that you believe a person would act like he does in some of the situations Reid finds himself in.

I liked The Green Hornet enough to give it an open door. The acting was fine, the action was better and the overall premise was interesting enough to keep my attention. It had some moments that definitely made me smile, some that made my eyes roll and unfortunately there was never a moment I was super-blown away. While i can always appreciate director Michel Gondry's vision - his films have always been a little lackluster for me (eg: 2008's Be Kind Rewind). I was also left wondering just exactly why Reid and Kato even started crime fighting in the first place. Is the high from stopping a mugging really enough to put your ass on the line every night? Apparently so.

*Stills courtesy of Columbia Pictures


127 HOURS (2010)

>> Saturday, January 8, 2011

Hello....? Spider-Man? I'm sorryyyyyyy....

James Franco plays Aron Ralston in this amazing true story directed by the wonderful Danny Boyle. The tale goes like this: one day in 2003, Ralston was canyoneering in Utah when he slipped down a crevice and inadvertently got trapped, by pinning his arm in between a rock and a hardplace (also the title of Ralston's book). Surprisingly, a few years before the age of MySpace and Facebook, Ralston still felt the need to document his adventures via the mediums of digital photography and video. Boyle uses these devices, by the way, as a great storytelling tool - but it's certainly nothing we haven't seen before.

The movie itself does not run the actual 127 hours, but a mere ninety or so - which is perfect. During this time we become privy to knowing who Ralston is and a bit about his life. Boyle uses some nice techniques to take us inside Ralston's head as he slowly slips into madness from lack of nourishment. The parts I found the most intriguing though were those where Ralston filmed his video diaries. Even as he came face to face with impending death, a part of who he was and his casual demeanor shone through and he was still able to hold onto a sense of humour - as dark as that humour may have been at times.

Unsurprisingly, this film reminded me a lot of movies like Cast Away (2000), Into the Wild (2007) and more recently, last year's Frozen. Although I don't suspect it will happen, eventually I would like to see a documentary containing the real footage and photos Ralston captured. While Franco is at his best here (I've never really been a fan), there's something to be said for seeing the real Ralston going through the real thing.

127 Hours easily gets an open door. It's incredibly haunting, very touching and in some ways - a bit spiritual. Boyle does a great job with everything from the unique cinematography to the incredibly effective soundtrack. This is by far the most compelling docudrama of 2010 and I would keep an eye on it come Oscar time.

*Stills courtesy of 20th Century Fox


TRUE GRIT (2010)

>> Monday, January 3, 2011

As gritty as the trail to high adventure! -excerpt from the 1969 True Grit trailer.

As I sat there and watched True Grit the other night, I felt pleasantly involved. Hailee Steinfeld captivated me as the 14-year old star of the movie, Mattie Ross. Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon more often then not made me smirk with their banter, and the brief appearance of Josh Brolin (who plays Tom Chaney) was amusing. Yet, I am disappointed and in some ways, I feel ripped off.

True Grit is about a young girl named Mattie Ross who hires Rooster Cogburn (Bridges) to hunt down and bring to justice the man who killed her father - Tom Chaney. Accompanying Cogburn on his search is Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Damon). The three head off into the wild west bound for adventure... sort of.

The film itself, while shot and produced beautifully (one wouldn't expect less from directors Joel and Ethan Cohen), starts off slow and didn't ever seem to pick up speed for me. Even the climactic moment at the end of the film felt more like a slight pick-me-up rather than the moment I was waiting for for the last ninety minutes . While one can't deny that the acting in True Grit is top notch, I often wondered if it would actually be enough to hold the film together. For the record, it is.

I aforementioned that I felt ripped off and it's because after seeing this remake of the 1969 John Wayne vehicle, I checked out the original. Much to my dismay, the remake was made nearly shot for shot - therefore making this new version moot. Creatively speaking, True Grit didn't need to exist as it does nothing for bringing new ideas to the table. More often than not remakes fall into the failed category because the people behind the film either rely too much on the source material and follow it exactly (Psycho [1998]), or they stray too far from it and it's even worse (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory [2005]). I expected more from the Cohens, but it's not the first time I was let down (Burn After Reading [2008]).

Despite this huge factor, though, I am giving True Grit an open door. It's still really well made and directed, and the actors and acting all create a very believable 19th century atmosphere. If you go in expecting a good movie, that's exactly what you'll get - good. Great on the other hand, is an entirely different thing.

*Stills courtesy of Paramount Pictures



>> Saturday, January 1, 2011


One word: Ashton Kutcher. He's the biggest reason I won't see this movie. I've liked him enough in other things (most recently last year's Valentine's Day), and it's not his doughy-eyed, clueless look alone that pushes me away. It's more or less what his presence in a film indicates about that particular movie. In most cases it's a typical comedy with a few funny lines here and there and some off-the-cuff romance that results in everlasting love.

Watching the trailer for Kuthcer's most recent vehicle, No Strings Attached, it's obvious what's going on, and what's going to happen. While I am intrigued (and partially confused) by Natalie Portman's presence (especially after Black Swan), it's not enough to drag me to the theatre to see this one - and probably not even the video store.
This movie looks like an accidental parody of every other romantic comedy. It has the wise-cracking best guy friends, the wild and "unexpected" love interest, the shocking funny guy, etc, etc, etc. While I could go on, I'll save Interweb space like I hoard it and stop here.

If your interested*, No Strings Attached takes up space in theatres on January 21st.

*I advise against being interested.


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