Elijah Wood

REVIEW: The Last Witch Hunter

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REVIEW: The Last Witch Hunter

 

Films featuring the supernatural have been in a slump for a while now. If it’s not about sad-sack vampires or the living dead taking over the Earth than audiences don’t seem to be asking for it. Enter The Last Witch Hunter and a little up and coming actor named Vin Diesel, he’s done some movies about cars or something. No stranger to action though and a fantasy geek at heart, Diesel serves as more than the star of this mystical movie, but also as Executive Producer. Word is that the main character of Kaulder is largely based on an old D&D character of Diesel’s.The-Last-Witch-Hunter-Poster

Witches, secrets hidden in plain site, and The Deez doing what he does best! What’s not to love!?

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Movie Issues: The Faculty

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Movie Issues: The Faculty

This week the guys go back to school with Robert Rodríguez’s 1998s sci-fi horror flick, The Faculty. The teenage version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers mixed with some of The Thing. What we get is a rather fun creature feature with tons and tons of actors who have gone on to become huge stars. Over all a pretty fun flick. The guys also talk Star Wars and more dumping on WB and their “plan” for DC Comic films. Just another average week.  Read On

9

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In the continuing tradition of post-apocalyptic adventures, 9 posits a world where humanity, indeed all organic life, is gone, obviously our fault. Let’s say that 9 takes place about 10 years after The Road and 75 years before Wall-E; or else right after the spaceships left to mine Pandora. It’s actually shocking how many movies 9 reminded me of in every scene, despite appearing to be entirely original. It’s got adorable sack boys wishing they were playing Little Big Planet instead of scrambling to survive in Huge Hostile Planet — and doing so in some quite scary sequences for something ostensibly for children.

Our stitchpunk heroes, known only by the numbers drawn on them by their late human creator, struggle amongst themselves to live in their empty world. It’s about three weeks after the Rise of the Machines and there’s not a naked human hero in sight — well, not alive. Corpses we have plenty of. I am used to seeing corpses litter the landscape in movies, but in a children’s film, not so much. Kids grow up so fast these days.

The production design — from the evil machines and expository materials to our burlap protagonists — is wonderful. If I were only rating on visuals I would give this film four and a half stars. The story starts out intriguing, trips over a philosophical arc (then puts it back where it found it), and then ends up being unsettlingly like Knowing, or maybe Coccoon. When the machines turned on their unsuspecting creators, the story had some interesting potential (albeit one adequately explored by the contents of any Blockbuster Video). But really — even after decades of filmic and literary foreshadowing and the clear SS-helmet design of the chassis of the main War of the Worldsish killing machines — who didn’t see this coming? In real life, Japan even has a product called HAL that they make at the company they named Cyberdyne. Are we even trying to avoid these consequences?

How can these sewn soldiers be alive and what is that dealie-thing they found and who made that crazy awesome cat skull robot beastie and why would it need prey in the first place? You will never know. So, I think our lead bag, 9 (Elijah Wood) has to go get the thing and take it to Mordor — no wait – and rescue Sirius Black, but then he opens the Labyrinth and lets in the Nothing and how will they ever get back to Kansas? And how exactly are 9 (well, fewer) bags of sentience a threat to a machine the size of the Cloverfield monster?

Maybe you can’t tell, but I was pretty disappointed. The look is gorgeous, but so have been a lot of movies (most of which are in this one). 9 didn’t knock me to sleep like Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline, thanks to innovative camera work and pretty decent pacing, but it did completely fail to capture any sense of interest or purpose after the first few close encounters. I think if I were not diligently taking notes for this very review I might have folded laundry or something to pass the time. This film felt like a long movie cut down without any of its creators’ permission and important scenes got excised at random, like something about souls vs. intelligence being the stuff of life and maybe something else about the characters, like anything. 9 is a beautiful movie to look at and a clumsy story with a weird ending.

MPAA PG-13

Release date 9/9/09

Time in minutes 79

Director Shane Acker

Studio Focus Features

Comments Off on Happy Feet

Happy Feet

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My companion summed up this odd little movie best, though I would change the recipe slightly: “Part March of the Penguins, part Grease, and part Apocalypse Now…[one section] was like, all Apocalypse Now.” I would substitute Newsies for Grease, but that’s being particular. Newsies is more about a group united in effort, with dancing, and Grease is more about making the girl give up her personality to get the guy. I don’t want to say what part is Apocalypse Now, but I think you will know.

Happy Feet starts out with a kooky courtship – well, it starts out kind of emulating the beginning of the movie Contact – between main character Mumble’s parents, and then a little March of the Penguins refresher course and then your standard “he’s different and needs to find himself” movie begins. You could have gathered that plot from the rapturous previews. In the course of this ugly duckling tale, the plot veers alarmingly into exile and an epic quest (interrupted occasionally by frustrated romance). Casting Frodo/Elijah Wood as Mumble could not have been an accident. Then the quest gets all One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and drops vertiginously into the Newsies finale. It’s weird.

Folks are raving about this movie, but I came out kind of apathetic about it. The pop songs are fun arrangements; the dance numbers (choreographed by Kelley Abbey and Savion Glover) are exciting, modern, and infectious. You can’t help but respond positively to a catchy beat and Mumble’s joyous expression of his inner soul. The comedy is sporadic but funny (Robin Williams does most of the heavy lifting here, channeling the Robin we loved best), and the story is chock full of morals (tolerance, self-expression, follow your heart, don’t irreversibly destroy major links in the global food chain, the usual). It’s a romp, longer than you would expect, but pretty well-paced. The animation is top of the line, water and ice and snow and feathers and other intense rendering challenges. The voice acting is sometimes weird, with Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman inexplicably emulating Elvis and Marilyn Monroe. Brittany Murphy makes a surprise nightingale out of her Emperor penguin in an impressive turn. Elijah Wood brings his entire doe-eyed career to bear as Mumble – but he’s definitely the straight man here. A group of Crested penguins, The Amigos, are sweet and funny in a moderate fashion.

It was all very competently done, but the overall effect was underwhelming and a little awkward. The whole movie is a little off, a little disjointed, feeling like the story was written around the concept of a penguin who cannot sing, only dance. When the story is not king, generally the big picture suffers, and Happy Feet reaffirms that adage. Its intentions are honorable and its messages are great, but the result…well, wait for video.

MPAA Rating  PG
Release date 11/17/06
Time in minutes 100
Director George Miller, Judy Morris, Warren Coleman
Studio Warner Brothers

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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

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What’s not to love? Charles Kaufman screenplay, Focus Features. Jim Carrey. A mind-bending premise about memory erasure and the pain of love. A killer cast, including Kate Winslet, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, and Elijah Wood. I am certain that the same people who tut-tut at Carrey stepping outside his butt-talking box in movies like Man in the Moon and The Majestic will skip this movie. Their loss. I simply adored it. I could say that Eternal Sunshine is sweet, but that’s not quite right. It’s rich and meaty, yet delicate and fragile. Some scenes are just as butterfly-wing light as anything in Lost in Translation, and others are as emotionally intense as – well, we all have our own movie to fill in there. It feels like a really personal movie, because we get so close to the people. It’s like a stew that is delicious but tastes slightly different depending on who eats it.

The central concept of the film is that Tom Wilkinson’s company, Lacuna Inc, has developed a process to target and erase specific painful memories from the mind of the patient. The procedure is no more mysterious or scary than a boob job or a CAT scan in this film. Scientifically speaking, the idea of associating memories by their emotional anchors is sound; using a mini fMRI to “map” the areas they then erase is already in practice today. Rather than over-explaining the procedure, and either insulting us with dialogue that will either be terribly wrong or quickly dated by scientific progress, Kaufman treats it as a matter of course and does as much explaining as any patient would want to hear before undergoing a procedure like Lasik.

Clementine (Winslet) and Joel (Carrey) erase each other, and finds in the newly purchased lacunae what’s really important about memories and themselves as a product of their memories. But I don’t want to give too much away. Most of the film is a tour through Joel’s memories of Clementine, happy, sad, private, and public, witnessed as they disintegrate, and Joel feels their value even as they slip away. It’s tricky conceptually and it’s pulled off beautifully. This is not John Malkovich in drag inside a slimy tunnel; this is a real science fiction double feature, with the love story and the adventure tales superimposed.

It is wonderful and fascinating to see Carrey play such a quiet, introverted person as Joel. To see the physical change when Clementine is around and the effects of her absence works better as an emotional barometer than even Jon Brion’s interesting score; parts of the music sounded as if it were recorded backwards, as if it were being sucked back up into the movie, or into Lacuna’s memory zapper. Brion also did the music for Magnolia and Punch Drunk Love.

What struck me the most in the film was the graceful and innovative use of editing and the production design to weave through the disintegrating map of Clementine in Joel’s mind. The photography is an intimate as a first person point of view and also as epic in the private moments as From Here To Eternity’s beach scene. I saw it twice in a weekend and I will be seeing it again. Art director David Stein and cinematographer Ellen Kuras meld their crafts into a perfect onion to be peeled apart by the movie. Their work delights even as it drags you kicking and screaming through Joel’s overlapping and failing memories even as Joel kicks and screams with you. The camerawork is so intuitive that you feel almost as if you turned your head, so would the point of view change; they are almost your memories.

Sunshine is poignant, nerve-wracking, tenuous, and disorienting. Director and co-writer Michel Gondry strikes a perfect balance between the intellectually high concept and the emotionally complex after effects. To discuss the finer nuances would be to destroy the surprise. Keep your eyes peeled for what’s happening in the entire mise-en-scene, not just the actors talking. This movie rewards your attention and it might pluck your heartstrings. It’s another triumph for Focus Features.

MPAA Rating R -language, some drug use & sexual content
Release date 3/19/04
Time in minutes 108
Director Michel Gondry
Studio Focus Features