Archive for May, 2009

The Spirit

Eva Mendes

Eva Mendes

The Spirit is a Frank Miller adaptation of a DC Comics series started in the 40s.

It stars the beautiful Eva Mendes, and the not less beautiful Scarlett Johansson, alongside Samuel L. Jackson.

Frank Miller is a very unusual director and his movies are highly unique. Miller is a writer artist and film director, who originally wrote comic books, and that shows in his movies.

He directed the truly brilliant Sin City, where real footages were merged with a comic books overlay in a way never seen before.

He also produced 300, a movie  of splendid computer generated images mixed with real shots. “The Spirit” follows in the same vein, with the comic books fantasy look overwhelming each scene.

Unfortunately, The Spirit is a much weaker creation than the two other movies. My feeling is that one significant difference stems from the leading actor. In Sin City, Mickey Rourke was amazing as the villain turned hero, genuine, powerful and unstoppable. Mickey truly melted into the comic books images.

In 300, Gerard Butler similarly was the perfect actor for the role of an antique Spartan King who personified glory in War. A true hero and brilliant general defending his country at all cost.

But in The Spirit, Gabriel Macht was too weak an actor for the role. Certainly a fine actor, he nevertheless does not have the personality to represent a convincing masked vigilante fighting crime when the City sleeps, as the Spirit likes to do.

The story follows the general line of DC comics books, with one superhero fighting an equally powerful villain criminal. Here the villain is the person of the “Octopus” (Samuel L. Jackson), whose quest for immortality imperils the entire city. The Spirit is the hero with similarities to Batman, helping the police but staying in the shadows and always keeping his mask.

The Octopus is assisted by his accomplice Silken Floss (Scarlet Johansson) and a herd of easily disposable genetically engineered clones. The Spirit is helped by femme fatale Sand Saref (Eva Mendes) who was his sweet heart from his previous life.

The Spirit does not remember who he is and the truth will be revealed by his arch-nemesis the Octopus, but let us keep the suspense intact.

The message of the movie: Frank Miller makes really beautiful movies.

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

Amy Adams

Amy Adams

Ben Stiller is back with a sequel to his 2006 Box Office, “Night at the Museum“, which takes place in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. this time.

For those of you who loved the first one, this movie is as good, if not better. This is a perfect movie to take your young children if you have any, as the ones around me kept on getting all excited. Or if not, you can bring your parents. This is a great family movie with lots of fun.

Ben Stiller plays Larry Daley, a Museum night guard who lives unbelievable adventures at night at the Museum, as the statues, human pieces and animals suddenly come to life.

In this sequel, Larry finds out that some of his nocturnal friends from the American Museum of Natural History are to be moved and stored in the archives of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.  Once there, they are attacked by Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria), who is an ancient Great Pharaoh from Egypt.

They all battle for the “Tablet of Arkmenrah”, which can be used to open the gates of the underworld and unleash an army that could help Kahmunrah conquer the world.

Interesting characters abound. Kahmunrah hires Napoleon (Alain Chabat), Ivan the Terrible and Al Capone to help him open the Gate. On the other side, there is Abraham Lincoln,  Albert Einstein bobbleheads, Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams), Attila the Hun and many more.

Last but not least, there is also Amelia Earhart, the first woman pilot to cross the Atlantic, played by the beautiful Amy Adams. She rapidly falls in love with Larry.

This is a very fun comedy to watch. The dialogues are excellent, especially when the bad Pharaoh speaks. And the special effects make it look all too real. Sometimes the characters jump into a painting and the scene inside the painting becomes alive. Or in the scene in the National Air and Space Museum, Amelia flies an old double wing plane through the entire Museum. Fortunately, the capuchin monkey opens the door at the last second.

The message of the movie: it is fun to be a kid.

Terminator Salvation

Moon Bloodgood

Moon Bloodgood

Terminator Salvation stars Christian Bale as John Connor, Sam Worthington as Marcus Wright, Moon Bloodgood as Lt. Blair Williams and Bryce Dallas Howard as Kate Connor.

If will not hide that sci-fi is my favorite genre, I think the top logo makes it rather clear. And if I had to make a top ten sci-fi movie list, then “The Terminator” (1984) would probably make it. It find both the special effects and story line to be top of their class, and this is what makes most of a sci-fi movie.

This iconic movie more than deserves sequels. Terminator 2: Judgment day was almost as good as the first one. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, still good but a bit weaker. Now this fourth release Terminator Salvation is an improvement from the third one.

The sad thing is that we lost Arnold Schwarzenegger as he quit acting (action actors do not age well), but he appears in a small cameo in the movie, and that is excellent.

The best side of Terminator Salvation that all sci-fi fans and non fans will love is the special effects. There are robots in all sizes and shapes. The fast motorbikes, the giant human-shaped robots, the spaceships all are amazing.

The storyline focuses on the origin of the T-800 model of Terminators, which are cyborg-types of robots with human appearance made famous in the original Terminator. Skynet, the robotic ennemy of the human race, needs real human tissues in order to create these cyborgs. This is why they must capture human beings and this is what John Connor is trying to uncover.

Marcus Wright is the first ever cyborg. He seems to have appeared from nowhere, thinking that he is human. He was a prisoner on death row in 2003, and this is now 2018.  He meets the beautiful Ltd. Blair Williams after a heated battle against the robots, and she falls for him. But as he walks on a magnetic mine revealing his true robotic nature, he is captured by John Connor’s group.

He manages to escape and the question is which side of his human and  cybernetic nature will prevail to decide the fate of the human race in its war against the robots.

Overall an excellent science fiction movie. It was directed by McG who is not a very prominent director, but did a great job.

The message of the movie: “I will be back.”

Angels & Demons

Ayelet Zurer

Ayelet Zurer

Angels & Demons is a sequel to “The Da Vinci Code” (2006).

Both movies are inspired by Dan Brown’s novels. Technically “Angels & Demons” was written first, but it is “The Da Vinci Code”that put Dan Brown on the map of ultra bestsellers with 81 million copies sold so far.

Angels & Demons stars Tom Hanks (Robert Langdon), Ewan McGregor (Patrick McKenna), Ayelet Zurer (Vittoria Vetra) and Armin Mueller-Stahl (Cardinal Strauss). Ron Howard directed both movies.

If you have seen “The Da Vinci Code“, then you know what to expect.

A mystery story, with top quality direction and acting. Just as is often the case for a second release, it is a bit weaker then the first one. But this is nevertheless an excellent movie, and the IMDB of 6.4/10 is rather severe and unjustified.

I find both Tom Hanks and Ewan McGregor to be outstanding actors and I like all of their movies (am I biased then?). Ron Howard has an impeccable reputation. Dan Brown has demonstrated an exceptional skill to captivate readers and audience alike. So how bad could the movie be?

If there is a weakness in the movie and the book, it is that The Da Vinci Code is a much more complicated mystery with many more historical references and ramifications than Angels & Demons.

In both stories, Robert Langdon is a Harvard symbologist with the mission to solve a mystery involving the foundations of both Christianity and the Vatican itself. This encompasses finding the meaning of intricate symbolic clues that only someone with as profound a knowledge of the history of the Catholic Church as Robert Langdon can decipher.

In Angels & Demons”, a secret religious sect called the Illuminati is threatening to destroy the Vatican with a anti-matter nuclear device. Just as the Pope died and the Cardinals are gathered in Conclave to choose his successor.

The Illumanti was (or is still?) a sect promoting the discoveries of Science but the Vatican tried to exterminate its members  400 years ago. They had to stay underground all these years but they are now coming for their revenge, using Science to destroy the Vatican.

For those of you who like mysteries, history, beautiful pictures of Rome and the Vatican, you will not be disappointed.

The message of the movie: Visit Europe.

Two Days in Paris

Pacific Design Center

Julie Delpy

Yesterday, I rented “Two Days in Paris” from Netflix.

This is a 2007 film written, directed, produced and starring Julie Delpy. Even her parents in the movie are her real parents, and her boyfriend is her real ex-boyfriend Adam Goldberg. It is an understatement that Julie impregnates the movie.

Even though this movie was well received including a nomination at the Cesar Awards, France, it only grossed around $14 million worldwide. The IMDB rating is a low 6.9/10.

Frankly, this movie is not for the general public.

OK, let us start with the story line. A young couple living in New York, she is French, he is American, visits Venice. On their way back by train from their ill-fated vacation, they spend two days in Paris in Marion’s (Julie Delpy) parent’s place. Jack (Adam Goldberg) discovers Paris as well as Marion’s parents and old friends, including many past lovers.

Culturally the interesting aspect of this movie is that the dialogues are half French (with English subtitles), half American English. The movie attempts to emphasize some of the cultural  differences between France and the United States, and succeeds to some degree. The dialogues in both tongues are of excellent quality.

For those who likes images from the City of Light, it is always nice to get reminiscences of Paris.

One of the nicest aspect of “Two days in Paris” is that it feels like two days in the life of real people, and not the fabricated adventures of some super-heroes speaking in strong short messages as is often seen nowadays. So it does not feel like a big production Hollywood type movie and it is refreshing.

The main theme of the dialogues is the constant arguing  going on in this couple. I do not remember any conversation where they agreed. It fact it reminded me of my wife and myself, so there must be some authenticity to achieve that. Not all couples are like that, in constant debate about all little and big things in life, but for the sad afflicted ones, they will recognize themselves.

Another theme that is not seen much in American movies but more so in European and French ones, is a heavy dosage of sexual allusions in the dialogues. In a party, a man starts a discussion with Jack with a reference to the way women shave their pubis in a small rectangular shape, nicknamed “ticket de metro”, i.e. subway ticket. And he says how this turns him off completely.

In another scene, Marion’s mother narrates her sexual adventures in the sixties. And it goes on and on. Her father in particular speaks in a disgusting way almost all the time.

It seems that Marion is still in contact with a myriad of ex-lovers. This adds to the sexual images and the tensions in the couple, making Jack feel even more estranged from his fiancee. This leads them to the question of knowing if they reached the love of their life or not.

There is a good dose of humor in “Two Days in Paris“. I loved all the scenes in taxis, where each time the driver demonstrated a typically French type of behavior.

The message of the movie: if you are in a couple, try to be nice to the other half.

Taken

a beautiful young actress

Famke Janssen

Liam Neeson and Famke Janssen star in “Taken“.

The movie has done very well in the box office, grossing $144 million domestically 4 months after release. The IMDB rating is 8.0/10, which is fair and puts it in the good movie category.

“Taken” is an action/thriller telling the story of a father whose daughter is kidnapped by Albanian girl traffickers.

Unfortunately for the traffickers, Liam Neeson aka Brian Mills is a retired CIA operatives from their Special Activities Division, called a “preventer”.

As you can imagine, the movie is action packed as it is going to take a lot of bullets, blood and wit for Liam to recover his daughter.

He must find her fast, very fast ,  as he is told that if he cannot locate her in the next 72 hours, she will have disapeared forever into the labyrinth of European prostitution.

The movie is centered on Liam Neeson’s quest for his daughter and it is unusual to see him play such a merciless hero, but his performance is excellent and he deserves A+. The beautiful Famke Janssen plays his ex-wife and mother of his daughter played by Maggie Grace. They certainly both do their part well, but the focus in on Liam Neeson and how he will be able to recover his daughter with nearly to clue to start with.

Yes, but he was a CIA operative, and he knows how to follow a track, however thin it can be. There is of lot of action and it somehow reminds me of “The Bourne Identity” series, which is my opinion is one of the best action/thriller of the past ten years. Without reaching this level, “Taken“will keep you riveted to the screen from start to end.

The character of Brian Mills is also very similar to Jack Bauer from the TV show “24“. But even more ruthless, as this is not just any mission, but a personal situation with his own daughter involved. And he takes NO prisoners.

Most of the movie takes place in Paris. If you like the French Capital, you may recognize some streets or neighborhoods.  The final scene takes place on a boat crusing the river Seine at night. Beautiful scenery of the noctural Seine quais. and bridges.

Pierre Morel who is a new director did an excellent job of directing the movie and you will never get bored while watching. Luc Besson produced and co-wrote the script, which explains the overall qualit and interest found in “Taken“.

The message of the movie: (except the obvious “Do not mess with a retired field CIA operative”): Prostitution and girl trafficking is a SERIOUS problem, not just in Europe, but worldwide.

State of Play

a georgeous young actress

Rachel McAdams

Russell Crow is one of the most likable and talented actors of his generation.

In his latest appearance on the big screen, Russell pairs with Ben Affleck in “State of Play” from Universal Studio Pictures. The movie did reasonably well in the box office with about 31 million dollars three weeks after its release.

State of Play is a rather good movie, but nothing extraordinary, I would say.

The movie’s acting is excellent. Russell Crow runs the show as in all his movies. State of Play revolves around his character Cal McAffrey, who is a maverick, overweight, but talented, intelligent and perspicacious newspaper journalist. Ben Affleck plays Stephen Collins, a Congressman who gets in a lot of trouble. Complementing the two, the lovely Rachel McAdams incarnates Della Frye,  Cal’s colleague journalist from the blogosphere. And Hellen Mirren adds Oscar quality acting in her role as Cameron Lynne who is running the newspaper.

The conflicting relations among this trio of journalists is one of the interesting aspects of the movie, as these three are all great actors. Russell Crow is the cool veteran journalist who knows all the tricks to get any information he needs. His dark side is that even his close friends never know if he is manipulating them to get some information. In this regard, this unorthodox and disillusioned personality is similar to his other recent role as Ed Hoffman in “Body of Lies“.

Rachel McAdams is the fresh out of school motivated (and beautiful) young blogging journalist who is still very idealistic about the profession. She makes a great couple with Russell. And Hellen Mirren is the experienced boss who is trying to lead this team. Unsuccessfully, as no one really leads Russell Crow, who does not hesitate to take the most dangerous paths to uncover the truth.

The plot in itself is one of these recurring corporate conspiracy theories that appear  on a regular basis. This is a genre that the public loves, with many masterpieces such as “Enemy of the State” eleven years ago.  To be honest, the story line from beginning to end is a little pushed to support the various dramatic events occurring during the movie. This is often the case in many movies, but here it seems a bit outstretched.

Murders, mystery, suspicions, they are all there, but it misses a zest of credibility in my opinion to make it all click. The first half of the movie is better than the second. As the story progressively unwinds, the viewer may wonder if this all makes sense or not.

The strongest part of the movie is the interaction between Russell Crow and Rachel McAdams. He must be nearly twice his age and acts in a very detached manner, showing no sign of interest (the usual trick). She is genuinely beautiful, sincere and idealist. The courting is really going in slow motion all the way. No love scene if this is what your are looking for (Russell does not do much of that anyway). A rather clumsy romantic scene toward the end reveals that he may have some interest (?). Yes, Russell plays one of his clumsiest ever role with regard to flirting.

If you like Russell Crow in an action and mystery packed movie, you  will like “State of Play“. But a much better recent achievement from Russell would be “American Gangster” for instance. The IMDB rating of 7.7/10 is fair. The director Kevin Macdonald is only moderately famous and has yet to strike a major hit. The script has been touched by five different writers and this is maybe why is feels a bit shaky.

The message of the movie: there are still idealistic heroes who seek the truth, and only the truth.