Friday, October 14, 2005

Movie Reviews...

Serenity

‘Firefly’ was an acclaimed television series, unjustly cancelled after only its first season due to a combination of the interference of inept network officials, and a misguided scheduling strategy. However, after belatedly finding its audience, mostly through its dvd release, it’s enormous sales and ever increasing fan base prompted director Joss Whedon to recreate the story for the big screen, using the same, largely unknown, cast and collaborators. ‘Serenity’ isn’t an easily classified movie. A universe populated with what at first, seem like stereotypical sci-fi characters (square-jawed All-American hero, feisty female second-in-command, etc.) infused with stylized, almost cheesy speech patterns and, at times, impenetrable dialogue, may turn newcomers off. But that would be their loss entirely. Given a chance, it soon becomes apparent, just how unique these characters and settings really are.

Set in an unspecified future time, Earth has become severely overpopulated and humans have taken to ‘terra-forming’ planets into inhabitable environments, under an intergalactic Alliance. Genre conventions are turned on their heads (main characters and hero’s die in this universe!), while the usual Sci-fi clichés are skilfully avoided.

There isn’t a single alien or strange creature to be found here, rather the human race spreading across the universe in search of new frontiers. In a way, ‘Serenity’ is a lot closer in scope and feel to a western than a science fiction movie. The film is written in such a way that the audience is constantly being fed information about this universe. Revealed mostly through witty, often very funny, dialogue though, it never feels like hard work. ‘Serenity’ is highly recommended viewing.

4 out of 5


Land of the Dead

George A. Romero’s fourth ‘Dead’ film (in as many decades), delivers every ounce of biting political satire, cutting-edge gore, and of course, fun as its much loved predecessors. Romero is widely credited with the invention of the zombie genre as we know it, with his 1968 feature ‘Night of the Living Dead’. Staunchly independent of studio interference, Romero is usually restrained by a low-budget look and feel to his movies, which (arguably) only adds to their charm. However, with this latest entry, you would be hard pressed to tell it from any other Hollywood production, with perhaps the only obvious exception being the less than stellar cast.

The biggest names here are Dennis Hopper and John Leguizamo. Hopper predictably hams it up as a crime boss who has managed to salvage one of the last remaining zombie free cities. The remaining cast are mostly unknowns or T.V. regulars, but everybody knows the real stars of the show are the zombies anyway. Tom Savini’s effects are, as always, top notch, delivering some of the most creative and inventive ways-to-die ever put to screen.

3.5 out of 5


A History of Violence

Director David Cronenberg has delivered a fantastic tale of identity, violence, and the difference between reality and perception. Family man Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) has a run in with two killers on the run, when they attempt to hold up his small town coffee shop. Our introduction to the killers is blunt; a child is murdered, and it seems Tom Stall is about to be killed. Out of nowhere, in a sudden burst of extreme violence, Tom manages to save himself and his customers and staff by reversing the situation and shooting the two killers. Televised attention to Tom’s heroics catches the (good) eye of Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris), a scarred mobster from Philadelphia who claims Tom isn’t who he says he is. Tom fervently denies it, but Carl lingers to menace Tom’s family and exact revenge.

Cronenberg cranks up a claustrophobic sense of unease, by portraying Tom’s family life, as almost too perfect. The actors create an almost surreal sense of familial happiness, through their deliberately wince-inducing, sickeningly lovely dialogue.

The audience is just waiting for it all to fall apart for them and it does so in spectacular style. Mortensen is perfectly cast. Watching his eyes, he conveys innocent disbelief, flirting with slight hints of a darker ambiguousness in the next. He, wonderfully, keeps us guessing the truth until we learn it in full. Highly recommended.

4.5 out of 5


Nightwatch

Based on a novel by Russian author Sergei Lukyanenko, Nightwatch is the first in a trilogy (Day Watch and Dusk Watch) of fantasy films, which was made for $4.2 million, and took over $16 million in Russia alone. Quentin Tarantino called it one of the best films of 2004. The idea is that 'Others' (witches, shape-shifters, vampires etc) live among us. ‘Others’ must decide between the Dark and Light, but thanks to a medieval truce, the two groups co-exist in a state of uneasy peace, policing each other's activities. A prophecy says that a Great Other will come, and forever destroy the balance between Light and Dark.

The central character Anton, learns he is an ‘Other’ after he visits a witch, asking her to cast a spell on his ex-girlfriend. He joins the Night Watch, but still has a dark streak, and he suspects a woman called Svetlana could be the prophesied virgin, who may destroy the city. Nightwatch is an incredibly original and thoroughly enjoyable slice of far-fetched fantasy filmmaking. Comparisons to other wildly varying, but high quality, fantasy fare such as ‘The Matrix’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ have been made. They are justified. Nightwatch is subtitled in English, but the sequels are being shot in English so as to broaden its audience. It deserves to do huge business.

4 out of 5

Cinderella Man

The true story of James J. Braddock (Russell Crowe), a heavyweight contender whose career peaked early and crashed with the stock market in the late 1920s, Cinderella Man is a predictable but poignant comeback saga, safely directed by Ron Howard (‘A Beautiful Mind’, ‘Apollo 13’). By 1934, crippled by poverty, Braddock is standing with hundreds of other broken men on the New Jersey docks, begging for work. One scene in which the boxer goes to the old Madison Square Garden, begging for a handout to pay his family’s electricity bill, wonderfully conveys how the mighty have fallen. The scene aches with desperation. His old manager Joe Gould (a scene-stealing Paul Giamatti) appears with a one-time offer: A boxer has dropped out of a match with an up-and-coming heavyweight; $250, win or lose. Braddock delightedly quips: ''For $250, I'd fight your wife!”.

Howard’s film immerses the viewer in the terrible, grinding poverty of the Great Depression. Charting the course of Braddock’s comeback; step by step, fight by fight, portraying the growing fascination of the press and public, Cinderella Man seems however, to outstay its welcome with a flabby middle hour, but eventually gets back on track for a satisfying, if somewhat expected conclusion.

3 out of 5