RoboCop (2014)

March 6, 2014 by  
Filed under Movies

I had initial reservations about this remake–first, because I’m tired of remakes. Second, because what exactly was lacking in the 1987 film? It never really left you wanting more as far as themes and characters go–and even if you did, you had 2 sequels to…well, enjoy may be a strong word.

In the past few years, though, there were talks about a reboot. Names got thrown around like Darren Aronofsky and David Self. But it was like one of those things you just wanted to pretend wasn’t happening. It seemed to be more of a realistic thing coming to fruition when the “Total Recall” remake was released. And then we knew it was only a matter of time.

So, now, in 2014, ready or not, we have “RoboCop” the remake, directed by Jose Padilha (director of the “Elite Squad” films). I didn’t have high hopes going into the film; but from the opening sequence to the final frame, I have to say this is a remake that does what few remakes do–have its own story and idea.

There are films I”d love to see be remade–such as “The Stuff”, which is a timeless plot about consumerism and certainly has plenty of relevance nowadays, and the original film was actually kind of weak. “RoboCop” was certainly not one of them. But this film takes the idea of a cop KIA turned into cyborg and does something a little different. For one thing, this time, Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is not killed. He is set up after a sting goes wrong with a criminal syndicate, and a bomb is planted in his car. He is horribly burned and loses most of his body parts–but his brain is very much intact. His wife has to make the decision to keep him alive.

Meanwhile, OmniCorp is a very successful robotics corporation run by Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) who is not allowed to produce robots for the United States, but has a highly lauded campaign going on in the Middle East with robot soldiers that are cleaning up the streets much like police officers would. Detroit is a city that’s still riddled with crime; and, according to Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson), host of the show “The Novak Element” (serving as the bookends of the film), we need these machines just as badly. But, there is a bill in Congress known as the Dreyfus Act which denies the use of robots as enforcers, because they don’t have morals or a sense of right and wrong. They’re too clinical. Sellars tries to convince the Senate that the Dreyfus Act should be repealed, but he isn’t getting any support. He believes it’s due to the fact that Americans need a “face”. So, “put a man in a machine”, and suddenly there will be support.

Murphy is one of the candidates for the program. Chief Scientist, Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman, borrowing his Commissioner Gordon accent and persona) is hired to create what’s going to be known as RoboCop. He designs a mechanical body for Murphy, covering most of his eroded body. Murphy is at first horrified by his appearance and wants to shut down the program and be put down; but the whole operation came about because his wife authorized it, and she wants to see him again. This, along with wanting to be with his family again, prompts Murphy to continue with the program.

Then, RoboCop is completed and becomes a powerful tool of the police, cleaning up crime easily. But there’s a problem–he has a conscious, and he’s still haunted by his attempted murder and wants to find the men who did it. He has a new set of tasks, however, and isn’t authorized to continue his search. Unfortunately for Murphy, he is mostly machine and can be controlled. Norton is ordered to shut down his emotional system in order for him to perform his duties clinically, as a machine would. But this alienates his old partner (Michael K. Williams) and his family which is tearing them apart.

Norton then finds himself with his own moral dilemma, and decides RoboCop should retain his emotions and memories. What RoboCop uncovers after changing his prime directive back to locating his attempted killers drives the climax of the film, and it’s a satisfying one. There’s a character, Rick Mattox (Jackie Earle Haley) that comes into play as a somewhat shady guy and has a lot to do with RoboCop’s programming and de-programming. It’s a bit of a predictable angle, but Haley adds a nice touch to the character where in some situations he’s borderline likable; and other times, you love seeing him get his. And speaking of performances, Kinnaman’s is very strong as Murphy/RoboCop. He isn’t your typical cardboard cut out hero. There is a lot of pain behind the visor, and we see that come through.

But what really makes the film separate from the original is that it constantly asks questions about compromising our emotions in favor of efficiency. Are we losing our touch with humanity? Do we want to? As amusing as the Novak Element is, it stands as a symbol and a commentary on where the world seems to be right now. We have all of this access to social media and everyone has a voice–but does anyone really know what to say? Or are we content with drones carrying out our dirty work?

The film could have developed these questions further–but it only has so much time and has to sew up its plot in two hours. What I’d like to see is a TV spin off that allows the characters to grow along with the themes the movie introduces us to.

Overall, though, the film works enough and is entertaining. The second half of act two drags a little bit, just because so much is going on and it starts to break down in its direction on where it’s going–but it certainly finds itself enough in the end. There are a few nods to the original; I definitely missed the amusing satirical ads such as “Nuke ’em!” and the interview with Keva Rosenberg. Other than that, though, I actually started to forget about the original while watching this film–and that hasn’t happened to me in regards to a remake in a long time.

My rating: :-)

Gravity

October 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Movies

NOTE: I am reviewing this film after seeing it on IMAX 3-D. I recommend this be the way the film is seen, to get the ultimate experience of it.

I’ve always enjoyed Alfonso Cuaron’s films. From “Y Tu Mama Tambien” to “Children of Men”, I like that he seems to do things his way and doesn’t back down from studio pressure or anything. His films are fresh and honest, and aren’t afraid to be tragic and dark. He carries this tradition on in the big budget “Gravity”, a film that is not only an incredible visual experience, but also a pretty incredible emotional one as well.

We are introduced immediately to a space mission already in progress between veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and a bio-medical engineer, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock). They are operating at two opposite places of a career: Ryan at the beginning, Matt at the end. He waxes poetic about old stories to Houston Mission Control (voiced by Ed Harris), and teases Dr. Stone while listening to lazy, irritatingly twangy country music. Then, the mission is abruptly aborted when Houston informs them that during a Russian missile strike to destroy an out of service satellite, space debris is headed their way and they’re ordered back to the Hubble. But Dr. Stone moves a little too slowly and they can’t all get back in when the debris hits, knocking the Hubble out of commission and killing everyone on the shuttle. Dr. Stone and Kowalski are the only survivors, and their communication with Houston gets cut off, leaving them stranded.

But they’re not completely out of options. There is an ISS (International Space Station) around them with an escape pod, and they can make it there before the debris comes at them again. The ISS is Russian as well, but according to NASA, all escape pods run basically the same. While on their way to the ISS, Dr. Stone is running out of oxygen, but Kowalski assures her she can still live in the suit if she takes smaller breaths (“Sip, don’t gulp. It’s wine, not beer.”). He tries to get personal information out of her; but she is very closed about herself, even though she does reveal that she had a daughter who died in an accident at school one day very suddenly during recess.

Once they find the ISS, however, things don’t turn for the better for them. They find that the ISS has been damaged, and the crew has already vacated, leaving only one pod behind that has already deployed its parachute. This leaves the pod useless to return to Earth. Again, Kowalski has a plan. There’s another space station a little ways away (“It’s a Sunday drive”) owned by the Chinese. Again, their pods work the same way so they should be able to get back home using that. En route, however, Stone’s leg gets caught on one of the parachute cords, and she can only let Kowalski drift off into space to untangle herself. He tells her to let him go, and she’s alone to try and find the Chinese space station.

The remainder of the film is Stone’s personal sojourn, an allegory of sorts of re-birth and resurrection. There are many symbols, some overt and some subtle, and the film can certainly be seen as a metaphor for the cycle of life. Kowalski resonates with Stone, and there’s even a glimpse of him again, giving her hope that she’s not really all alone out there.

The film thrives on pulse pounding suspense, especially during the chaotic space debris sequences and when she’s facing a crisis in the Russian Soyuz. But where the film is strongest is in the quiet moments when Stone is left to face herself. There’s a wonderfully painful and emotional sequence in which Stone wants to give up and let go. She reaches communication with a random person (possibly Chinese) who has picked up her frequency from his house. He can’t understand her, and calls her “Mayday” (since that’s what she keeps repeating), and she listens to hear a dog in the background, and the sound of a baby. She finds comfort in this, because even though it’s remote, it’s a connection to life–something she has lost a connection with both literally and figuratively.

Obviously, she does not give up. And all of this builds to an incredibly intense climactic ending that really keeps you clinging to your seat. I won’t reveal how it ends, of course. But at 91 minutes, you won’t be waiting that long for it. And you’ll be so engrossed in all the goings-on you won’t even feel the time.

The performance by Sandra  Bullock is one for the ages, and will certainly come with an Oscar nomination. And well deserved. All in all, is film will make you feel like you just went through all of it with Dr. Stone and Kowalski right next to you, and that’s a great achievement by Cuaron. It’s one of the few films, like “Avatar”, where 3-D actually makes you feel “a part” of the whole experience.

My rating: :D

Prometheus

June 12, 2012 by  
Filed under Movies

In 1979, we were introduced to a new kind of alien monster that we had never seen before in the movies. We were always used to aliens either looking like the “little green men” in flying saucers that were popularized in the 50’s, or possibly something tentacled. But in Ridley Scott’s alien horror film simply titled “Alien”, we saw a new kind of monster. It was terrifying, but also mesmerizing. This kind of alien wasn’t necessarily an “intelligent life form” like us; it was more like an insect. And it was simply a killing machine. The film spawned an entire franchise that had its ups and downs (mostly downs) and was finally put to sleep a few years back.

Then, someone had an idea. Ridley Scott admits that this new film, “Prometheus”, is somewhat of a prequel to “Alien”, but not entirely. I think that there’s enough evidence (especially at the end) that gives us an idea that it’s at least a companion piece. It begins mysteriously on an unknown planet with an unknown being that resembles humans disrobing and drinking some kind of sludge from what looks kind of like a petri dish. The being immediately begins convulsing and his status takes a horrible turn for the worse as he plummets into the nearby sea. In the distance there’s a giant ship just hovering above.

The hypnotic beauty and terror of that scene sets the stage for one of the most striking visual experiences you’ll have in modern film–after all, this is Ridley Scott, the same man who brought us visual masterpieces like “Blade Runner”. What’s lacking, however, is a good cast of characters and breadth of story to back it all up.

We’re soon introduced to two archaeologists in 2089, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) who, while on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, find some artwork from ancient civilizations that match up to others and think that this is an invitation to go find them. I don’t know why, but it’s comforting to me to know that the Isle of Skye is still going to be here in 2089. Fast forward a few years, and we’re on the Prometheus, an all-too-obvious name for the symbol of what this movie tries to be about. We’re then introduced to one of the more interesting characters (albeit inexplicably devious) named David, the resident android (played extremely well by Michael Fassbender). Besides the captain of the ship, Janek (played charismatically by Idris Elba), the other characters are mere throwaways–fodder for the upcoming monsters to gorge upon. The real disappointment is Meredith Vickers played by Charlize Theron. She’s icy, almost robotic (and at one point accused of being one), and she’s skeptical. But we never get a good idea why she is the way she is except for maybe a hint toward the end. She works for the company, the Weyland Corporation, that has funded the project. The owner, Peter Weyland (played under bad old man makeup by Guy Pearce), believes in the archaeologists and wants to find these ancient civilizations. But, like in all the “Alien” movies, his motives may not synch up to the good-natured intentions of Shaw and Holloway.

Once they land, the film really gets going and it isn’t too long before stupid crew members play around with things they shouldn’t and all hell breaks loose. This is where the film is at its best–Scott may be getting up there in age, but he still knows how to build tension, and create wildly chaotic scenes that are admirable in the way they push visual horror. The creatures they discover are incredibly hostile and certainly resemble the “xenomorph” structure we’re used to in the “Alien” franchise. There’s also the humanoid “Engineers” who speak in a different language, and we’re never really sure what their true motivation is. But they are hostile toward the humans, and seem to want to go to Earth and bring their slimy friends with them.

The mysterious qualities of the film are where it is most interesting. You can ask yourself a lot of questions about these creatures and what their relationship is to us. But what bogs this film down are the cliched ancillary characters, the predictability of the plot once it starts going, and even a clunky third act that gives you a few “Is it over?” moments that may make you shift in your seat. Be sure to stick around, though, because you certainly don’t want to miss the last scene.

As a monster movie, the film is pitch perfect. It has all of the ingredients of a thriller and it delivers on that. But as a philosophical movie about aliens, other worlds, ancient civilizations, the meaning of it all, it just gets lost in a lot of goo, gore, and derivative dialog. I wish the screenwriters (Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaihts) would’ve spent a little more time developing a more interesting plot and characters with more depth rather than try to mesh sci-fi mumbo jumbo with quippy one-note characters. Holloway’s character starts off with promise but quickly devolves into an alpha-male meathead. The “geologist” who looks like a futuristic cyberpunk is downright cartoonish. Even our “hero”, Shaw, is somewhat bland (Rapace is no Weaver). Comparatively, ”Sunshine”, which also featured a sci-fi space exploration crew, at least had more interesting and likable characters.

All of this makes for a good movie experience, but not a great one. I’ve heard there is more to this film that was cut for the initial release, and that there are plans for more films in this series. What I’d like to see is this lead up to a full on reboot of the “Alien” franchise to give it new life the way “Star Trek” did a few years ago. This “alien” can easily be given a fresh story and still be entertaining. With the right filmmakers and writers and cast, I think it could work. As it stands now, though, there’s a lot of work to be done.

My rating: :-)

The Hunger Games

April 3, 2012 by  
Filed under Movies

Oh, those dystopian futures. We can’t seem to escape them in arts and entertainment. The future is always bleak, and it’s always violent. This has been visited many times in film, including the screen adaptation of “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, “Blade Runner”, and “Children of Men”. This time, it’s not adults killing each other, though, it’s kids. This plot is almost identical to the film (also a book) “Battle Royale”, but with a few changes. This, too, is based on a popular novel series, by Suzanne Collins. Its protagonist is a girl, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), who is known as a Tribute, when she “volunteers” for her sister who was selected in her District to partake in the annual Hunger Games, a tournament in which 24 Tributes (participants) compete in a battle to the death, and one sole survivor wins. That’s what I call March Madness.

The Districts are all controlled by the Capital, a place where the wealthy inhabitants look like a cross between a Star Trek convention and a Culture Club reunion. This Capital’s fascination with seeing adolescents fight to the death isn’t really explored in the film–except that I suppose it represents the harsh coldness of the ever oppressive government. This is what they’re willing to subject the people to. Oh, and it’s sort of “punishment” because at some point, one District decided to rebel against the Capital. So they control the Districts, which are all ravaged and starving, and they give these Hunger Games out as entertainment (they’re broadcast to all the Districts). They also have their own version of SportsCenter with two hosts, played amusingly and joyfully by Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones, who comment on the games while they go on, and Caesar (Tucci), interviews each participant before the Games.

Before the Games begin, there is a series of trainings by mentors, and Katniss is given Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), a former winner in District 12 and a drunk (but he serves more as just comic relief than anything else). He helps her along the way, and the boy from the same district, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). During the interview process, Peeta reveals to Caesar on air that he has had a crush on Katniss, seemingly to spark a new interest in the two of them as they’re hyped as “star crossed lovers”.

The two of them initially don’t get along, but as Katniss recalls in a flashback, Peeta had tried to give her a loaf of bread in the rain. Instead of handing it to her, though, he merely threw it on the ground. She also mistrusts Peeta after his revelation of the crush he has because she thinks he’s only done it to gain favor by the audience. Haymitch is on Peeta’s side, however, and tells her to go along with it because it will help her chances as well.

Throughout the Games, Katniss survives by skills she had learned in her own homeland, including bow and hunting skills. She scores high during the training and is hunted by an alliance of other Districts. She escapes them with the help of Rue (Amandla Stenberg) who forms an alliance with her. Meanwhile, she has to remain faithful to Peeta as rules begin to change, and her own feelings for him do as well.

The performances by Lawrence and Hutcherson are what make this film so captivating. There are some inconsistencies in the plot and some elements that seem to set up for a bigger pay off and don’t–but the genuine chemistry between these two cannot be denied and take you from beginning to end cheering for each of them in your own way.

There are a few logical problems I had with the structure of the Games themselves: everyone at the start is right in a circle. Normally, in a game where you fight to the death to win, wouldn’t everyone just clamor at the center, grab the biggest weapon, and kill everyone they could? That sort of happens, but some people just escape into the woods, leaving themselves to the elements. It seems like if this were an option, it would be a keener idea to drop them off at random points and let them find each other. Besides, according to the Gamemakers rules, they can change just about everything in the Games’ little universe. Everything from starting forest fires to creating mean little dog-like animals seems to be at a finger’s length. So why not just randomly put them in different parts of the forest? I also didn’t see much audience participation. It’s said that they could help the Tributes by sending aid. But the only person who does that is Haymitch, for his own District. And then I thought, if he’s doing that, where are the other mentors for the other Tributes? One of them dies by eating poisonous berries. Wouldn’t their mentor have told them about things like that to watch out for? There are some other contrivances but I’d have to give away some of the secrets of the plot and I don’t want to do that.

The main reason is, for all the nitpicking I could do, I still found myself enjoying it, even though the biggest flaw with it was in its inherent theme that it seemed to be completely ambiguous on whether this dystopian future is good or not. Sure it’s violent and it’s sad to see some of the Tributes die–but on the other hand, sometimes you’re rooting for some for them to die. If you’re trying to make a statement against humankind’s violence, that pretty much betrays your message. If you’re trying to say that this is the way mankind is, then why give us any humanity to side with at all? In the end, you do of course side with Katniss and Peeta. And you certainly have no choice but to be against the cocky Tributes from other Districts who are out to get our heroes. But in a world where the Capital is the ultimate villain, it just seemed like the film merely poked fun at the outrageous way the “infotainment” motif is exploited at the expense of the human lives.

This coming from the director of films like “Pleasantville”, Gary Ross, is somewhat curious to me. In the past he’s had no problem making statements about politics (“Dave”) and the human condition (“Big”) in amusing, heartwarming ways. With “Pleasantville”, even harshly critical ways. But here in “The Hunger Games”, he, like the Capital, just lets these kids go out and slaughter each other without saying much about it. While the ride is enjoyable, it leaves you a bit hollow afterwards. And for something with a premise that has this much gravity, that’s a bit of a disappointment.

My rating: :-)

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

August 7, 2011 by  
Filed under Movies

Look out, Hollywood! The apes are back! But where’s Estella Warren? Hm? Where are you?? She’s gone…it’s all gone. It’s all been re-booted. In the totally original genre called “re-booting” franchises that was handled with brilliance like in “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (which would have been a hated movie by me if I could have just stayed awake throughout it)…or wait, I think that was just a remake. This is a true re-boot. It’s like “Star Trek”; except, it’s different. There’s no Captain Kirk, for one thing.

So let me tell you the plot because it’s OMG so totally WeSoMEZZ (I just made that up; think it can become a meme?)

It’s about this guy (James Franco, who holds a record of being miscast in films; I think his streak is up to 5 now or something) who wants to treat his dad (the Harry-less John Lithgow, who trades Sasquatch for a chimp) for Alzheimer’s disease by creating a retrovirus called “113” and tests it on apes. The result? The chimps have a heightened intelligence. This is pretty amazing, of course. But it doesn’t impress his boss, played as standard as possible by David Oyelowo (say that five times fast! starting…now!), and so the project is scrapped. Well, there is a test subject that he takes home with him, named Caesar (named after the dressing), and this is no ordinary chimp–it’s a CGI! (Chimp Graphic Interface). Forgive the cheap joke.

Well, Caesar is quite limber and intelligent, and the film spends a few reels showing something that’s very akin to cut-scenes in a video game as we see Caesar grow up and become more intelligent; meanwhile, Dear Old Dad is given a dose of the medicine as well, and it actually works. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last forever…and he replases eventually. Meanwhile, the guy, Will, develops a relationship with a doctor named…oh…you know? I don’t remember. Why? Because she serves no purpose other than to say a few things to Will about how careful he should be. And they kiss at some point. Finally! The film lapses through about 8 years–this girl knows how to hold out.

Also, Caesar starts to really emo out. He gets lonely and sad, and wonders if he’s just considered a pet (which he is), and winds up taking out his self-loathing on a neighbor (who gets a few shots taken at him…but not enough payoff). He is sent to a little…monkey prison, where he is tormented by Draco Malfoy (well, Tom Felton, the guy who played him) to the point where Emo Caesar starts to really get peeved. He befriends the apes in the prison, and they basically break out and wreak havoc.

And that’s actually where this movie is so disappointing! Here you’ve got a pretty entertaining premise, and Andy Serkis is so good as a CGI actor that he’s basically a human special effect…possibly the best ever. But they go so by the book, standard, garden variety, no violence and no real tension…it’s not that it’s boring, it’s just that it’s so sterile! This movie could have had a lot of fun with itself, or gone the complete opposite direction and make it a real bloodbath. Apes just killing and pillaging and whatnot.

Instead, the movie feels like some kind of weird kid’s movie, which is confusing because kids would probably be scared to death of these chimps once they turn, and I gotta believe zoos better be aware that kids need to be told that A) the chimps in the zoo are not computer generated and B) not going to suddenly go America all over your ass.

Yes, the apes hold our attention more than the cardboard cut out human characters; but they’re also given very formulaic personalities that never really lets them breathe…so we get something that could be maybe enjoyed at a Drive-In; but it could have been a really fun movie if it wasn’t so Studio-tweaked.

I wanted to have fun with the movie; but it just didn’t let you in. It looks good, the CGI is well used, and the emo factor is fantastic–all Caesar is missing are the bangs. And maybe a Twitter account. But this movie just doesn’t explore any of the amazing possibilities (like Apes using Twitter) that it had, so we’re left with a very banal and standard action film that’s so synthetic that we can’t connect with any of it.

I can only hope the sequels do something more; but I highly doubt that’ll happen.

Maybe they could at least use LinkedIn though…

My rating: :(

Tron Legacy

December 29, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

In 1982 we were introduced to a different kind of science fiction action film: a computer action film. These days, that may sound either common or at least, somewhat exciting. But back in 1982, computers were fairly unknown and computer games were extremely rare. But Disney was willing to shell out for a film called “Tron”, which was about computers and computer hackers and computer games. It revolved around very basic colors and designs, but make them look very unique even if the story seemed lethargic and 4-bit. The film gathered some good reviews at the time, and eventually became somewhat of a cult classic.

Now, 28 years later, we have a sequel. It’s been a long time coming, I suppose. But whatever originality and creativity went into the first one…it was drained by the sequel. “Tron Legacy” not only has a slow moving plot but it also contains nothing but a series of hackneyed dialog scenes accompanied by action sequences that have been taken from every sci-fi action flick in the last 20 years.

The plot centers around Kevin Flynn’s (Jeff Bridges) son Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) who has broken into the ENCOM system like his dad did, and finds that his father has sent him a “page” to get back to the arcade and find him. What Sam finds, however, is that he’s been tricked by his father’s nemesis in the program, Clu. Flynn is sent to “Games”, in which he partakes in disc throwing fights until he is identified by Clu has Flynn’s son. From there, the story is extremely familiar and the cliches just keep on coming.

Everything from the mysterious “savior” in the Games realm for Sam turns out to be a beautiful female with all the moves (I think I last saw this device used in “Nine” but I guess “Avatar” could count as well) to the guy who is supposed to save them but turns out to be a double crosser…this film offers very little in the department of surprise or even wonder. Bridges returns in the dual role of Kevin Flynn and Clu. He is much more interesting as Flynn, sometimes invoking The Dude a few times. But the film is so formulaic that it doesn’t even seem worth it to follow the formula to the final resolution.

I guess what would keep anyone watching are the special effects. They are, at times, very impressive. At other times, however, they are just stealing from other sci-fi action films such as “The Matrix” or “Star Wars” or even “The Dark Knight”. The 3-D used is worthless. Nothing seems to come right out at you. You could experience 3-D and 2-D with this film and get the identical experience either way. But apart from its generic plot and plot devices, the colors are rather bland, too. The light blue is rather dull compared to the more embracing cyan that was used in the original. It comes off as very pale; and so does the movie. It’s either extremely dark, or extremely bright. The contrasts never seem to come together.

And neither does this film. There’s nothing to really get excited about or have fun with because the movie doesn’t seem have fun with itself, either. There are a few nods to the 80’s, but that hardly makes up for the utterly brooding look the film has. Even in the quieter, more conversational scenes, nothing is learned about the characters because they are all drawn so superficially that there’s nothing to actually learn about them whatsoever.

While the first film may have been formulaic and possibly devoid of character development as well, it at least had an interesting and unique look to it. This film just borrows from that and not only doesn’t make an improvement, but takes a few steps back. If you were a fan of the first one, you’ll see this and possibly be entertained. Maybe that’s another thing that frustrating: this film had a built-in fanbase that was already going to like it for what it was. I was looking for something more; and all I got was more of the same.

My rating: :?

Body of Lies

October 14, 2008 by  
Filed under Movies

I had mentioned in my review of “Burn After Reading” that the opening and closing shots are amusing and poignant to what the film is about; in that, here’s a picture of the globe, here we focus on a random area, and see random events that prove to be much more hectic and dramatic than they should. In “Body of Lies”, it’s pretty much the complete opposite effect.

The film revolves around two characters throughout, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe. Now, I’m going to go ahead and let you know that the trailers for this film have been their own “body of lies” by somehow trying to portray Crowe as the villain in the film. He’s not. I’m not ruining anything by telling you that, either. In fact, knowing that should aid you through this movie, so that you’re not thinking there will be some big twist at the end or some kind of revelation that turns Crowe into a bad guy. He is a bit of a window character for DiCaprio’s character, named Roger Ferris, who is an undercover agent for the CIA investigating a series of terrorist bombings that have led him to Jordan.

Ridley Scott directed this picture, and he shows time and time again that, even in his advanced age, he can still shoot a picture. The script, by William Monahan, has a great first act. It sets things up very well. You are intrigued by the layers of plot thickening. But, the film goes to such an extent to set things up that really, it can only be justified by having an even bigger ending. I think the film’s eyes were bigger than its stomach.

This film is based on a novel, and I believe the script wanted to treat this as much as a character movie as it was a plot-driven thriller. But because it tries to go into two different directions at once, it goes nowhere instead. There is a brief love interest that Roger becomes involved with–but he goes to an extreme (and unbelievable) length to protect her, and winds up getting right into Ground Zero, and throws himself into the proverbial Lion’s Den.

This is a film of great set up and poor pay off. The “body of lies” that Roger entangles himself into are very natural, it’s not that contrived. But how he gets out of them are exactly that. And it leaves something to be desired by the ending. It’s a film that is also ensconced in themes about deceit and truth and honor. Crowe’s character, as I mentioned before, is used well in this metaphor.

Overall, the movie is well acted, and well paced. I never felt bored, even if I was confused on exactly where it was going. The villains were a bit simple and predictable. But I can’t endorse the film because the biggest thing lacking in the film was the third act and the ending and that’s really the most important thing. It just didn’t have the punch that it should have, and it was a great let down after a wonderful set up. It’s a shame that so many great names are attached to this inferior effort. But, it is worth a viewing if you’re a big fan of Scott, Crowe or DiCaprio. All gave A efforts, but the film winds up with a C result.

My rating: :???: