The Movie Buffer

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Oscar Picks 2009

Here are my picks for this year's Oscars (click to enlarge, red dots are my picks). There are a decent number of good nominees, but I was pretty surprised by some of choices - Anne Hathaway for Best Actress, for instance.

I don't agree with Heath Ledger getting nominated for Best Supporting Actor either, but he's an extraordinary case. If the academy wanted to give out a pity award, they should have nominated him for the Lifetime Achievement award.

I hope that you have as much fun watching the show as I do. Though I am going to forgo the live blog and twitter following that seems to have become rampant at these events. Isn't a 3 hour broadcast enough?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009



No MSG! - mono-spoiler glutamate


Welcome back, 90-minute action thriller, I’ve missed you!

These days, longer seems better, but given a decent actor and relentless pacing, a short chase movie can be the perfect reprieve from two plus hour “epic” films.

This isn’t particularly new ground – father figure killing his way up a gang hierarchy to save his daughter from kidnappers. But this time the father is Liam freaking Neeson. He’s a genuine actor, so to see him dive into what should be a role for someone younger and greener in the biz, is an interesting juxtaposition.

Neeson plays a retired spy, Bryan Mills, trying to reconnect with his teenaged daughter, Kim, after missing much of her life. Even though he is uneasy about it, he caves to her request to go on a trip to Paris with a friend. Upon arrival at their Paris hotel, the girls are kidnapped and Bryan springs into action.

The draw of this kind of movie isn’t the story, though; it’s the star and the action. Anyone else and this would have been just a sub-par action movie, but with Neeson’s stone cold gaze and surprising brutality it’s a fun watch. The rest of the cast are set-pieces: the bereaved mother, the foreign goons, the wimpy French cops. They fulfill their roles by really making Neeson stand out and shine.

When it comes to the slick action film, we’ve seen many unlikely stars rise as action heroes, Matt Damn in the Bourne series and Daniel Craig in the Bond series, and Neeson has got his foot in the door with this role.

The main flaw about the film is that the story is so firmly entrenched in cliché. It will certainly be hit or miss with many viewers. See this film for the action, but remember the check your brain at the door, you won’t need it.

Monday, January 12, 2009

DVD review: Postal


A spoiler a day keeps the doctor away.


Uwe Boll – this name strikes fear into the heart of every videogame/film fan. From House of the Dead to Far Cry, Boll has become one of the most prolific and maligned video game film producers with half a dozen completed and several in development. Brutally maligned is more like it. Rightfully so because none of his films have been well received.

Writers note: With so many unsuccessful films under his belt, you may ask yourself where Boll gets the money for these films. In Germany, there is a government program that allows investors to get big tax deductions and other write-offs for financing films, especially if they fail to turn a profit.

Postal is yet another strike out notch on Boll’s bedpost. Based on run-and-gun third person shooter of same name, it stars an unnamed man (usually called “Dude”, “Bro” or “Guy”) who has no particular agenda other than trying to make a living. Along the way he gets involved in several shootouts, a heist for a cult, and a terrorist plot. It’s also supposed to be a humorous, so they’ve heaped on some shit and gay jokes.

The film is a collection of 5 subplots connected poorly by “random” events in an attempt to capture the open world, choose-your-own-adventure aspect of the game. An open world works great in a game because the player thinks it and then makes it happen. In a movie it’s terrible because it’s difficult to follow one event to the next because what seems like a logical progression to the director may seem like an incoherent mess to the viewer.

Zack Ward, Dave Folley and Verne Troyer are in this film, but phone in their performances. Even if it’s a cash-grab guys, do your job!

There’s not much to say about because the film is pure fluff. I guess Boll was trying to make a movie that’s awfully bad, but kind of endearing. It’s too bad that everything that happens in this movie is so crass that any nugget of satire that may have existed was reduced to a dick joke. This sort of film would have been a challenge for any director (I’m looking at you DOOM director Andrzej Bartkowiak) which is probably why the rights weren’t picked up before Boll.

One thing in Boll’s defense is that he seems to be a guy who loves what he does and doesn’t mind taking some flak to get his projects completed. Look at Christopher Walken and Samuel L Jackson, they’ve done some goofy films and people love them. So why not Boll? Well, you need at least a couple decent films under your belt before you start going out on a limb. Then, people need to know that you realize that you’re doing a crummy picture.

Postal is a disjointed failure that wastes the talents of its actors and more importantly the viewers’ time. Pass on Postal. I tried to work in an undeliverable joke, but it didn't seem to have legs.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

DVD Review: Kabluey


Hey, Hey, kids! No spoilers below!


Dressed in a blue corporate mascot costume, Salman (Scott Prendergast) stumbles around listlessly advertising office rental space and comes to realize that he’s trapped, not only in the suit, but by his way of life. He’s been fired from several jobs and has had to move in with his sister in-law (Lisa Kudrow) to help her with her children; her husband (his brother) is fighting in Iraq with the armed forces. He’s a grown man, but not quite because he’s living an extended childhood by relying on everyone’s sympathy and charity.

Things begin to change for Salman when he dons his blue suit because people recognize him and even enjoy his company. This Jekyll and Hyde transformation sets up an emotional coming-of-age story and some bone-dry humor.

The trailers for this film are highly misleading because they focus on the absurd sections of the film and paint a picture that this is a pure comedy. With these expectations, I was surprised by what unfolded, a drama with deliberate pacing and plot development. After recovering from my initial disappointment, I bought into it and started to like that it for what it was.

Much of the humor is found in Salman’s deadpan reactions and timid speech. His bashful personality leads him into many painfully awkward situations, but they all have a thread of kindness as a lifeline from being too repellent.

Writer-director-star Scott Prendergast uses the stark environment of a small “every-town” to heighten the sense of isolation. Salman is a weird guy to begin with and it gets much worse when he enters the microcosm of the closely knit community.

The supporting cast came up huge in the film to drive the story forward. Jeffrey Dean Morgan as a loud-mouthed, womanizer is perfect casting and his dialog is the most quotable in the film. Lisa Kudrow delivers an emotionally complex performance as the lonely sister-in-law. Some may call her bitchy, but given the circumstances, she’s over-worked and under-appreciated, her reactions are understandable.

Even though I came into this film thinking comedy, the deeper story did grab and hold me. I enjoyed seeing Salman’s evolution into a more complete character, though the ending is a left to our imagination. Ultimately, the film was better than I would have thought and I liked it a lot.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Day the Earth Stood Still


Here comes Spoiler Claus, here comes spoiler claus


Authors note: It was hard to put this article together because my initial reaction was so strong that this would have just come of rant-y. So, I’ve let my thoughts settle and here’s my take on the film. I won’t sweat the small stuff and I’ll only give a couple of the biggies away because there are just so many.

To say that remakes are tricky business is to say the very least. It’s never the awful movies with a decent idea that get remakes; it’s the great or memorable movies remade as a cash grab. A cynical thought, but appropriate in this case.

To avoid comparing the new to the old is impossible, so I’m going to have to take this one head on.

The original the day the earth stood still is a cinematic classic made in 1951, which played on anti-communist fears to reveal that the human race needs to grow up and put aside our petty differences, or face the dire consequences. Both the story and the presentation would probably stand up with the appropriate technological upgrades. Though the special effects are laughably primitive, they were used in just the right way to keep the tension and the tone of the story even.

The new film plays up the environmental issues that are hot button today, which is an interesting spin on things. I was curious about how they were going to contort the plot to fit around this premise because it’s quite a different matter to change the perception of the planet rather than wrestle with the nature of being human.

Unfortunately, the wheels start coming off right after the 30 minute introduction of the players. Beyond the cosmetic changes of the characters and the story, there is a plethora of failings that doom the film, worst of all the terrible rewriting of the story.

The message of this film is very poorly articulated, even though it is a very important topic and should have some gravitas attached to it. There are many plot points that the director shoves in our face only to have every one contradicted.

Klaatu and Gort are now exterminators, rather than messengers, who arrive on Earth ready to pull the trigger on the human race. Right out of the gate, Klaatu says he’s here to save the earth from us because we’re violent, small-minded and irrational, but doesn’t even after he’s shot, imprisoned and denied access to anyone that has any power.

After seventy years of observation, the aliens claim, rightly, we’ve polluted and subsequently doomed the Earth to a slow death, so we must be eliminated. But what’s the first move they make – blowing up some planes which lights some trees on fire. Great appropriateness for environmentalism, guys. This scene was just a short filler device to show that our weapons wouldn’t work, so why not leave the original idea of Gort having a vaporizer ray? It even works from an earth-friendly perspective.

Upon reflection, it’s hard to imagine what was going on in the writer’s head. He portrays humans as brutally violent in one scene, Klaatu gets shot for trying to shake hands with Helen(the original had Klaatu offering an alien device that was mistaken as a weapon), and then five minutes later she’s begging him to see we aren’t all that bad, while he’s strapped onto an operating table. He gives us Klaatu, who says that he won’t let anyone get in his way, being stopped by a simple “no” when he asks to address the world. We also get a terrible rewrite of Helen’s son Jacob, who in the span of one scene flip-flops from glib adult to a petulant child.

In order to update the stuffy alien visitor, Klaatu has superpowers this time around: He can connect his eyes to closed circuit video cameras through electrical outlets; He can become a polygraph machine and defibrillator; He can heal wounds in his larval stage. Furthermore, his spacecraft can subvert all communications and defensive satellites, travel at the speed of light and has an impervious shield. Even with all these upgrades, he needs to walk around and talk to people to deliver the bad news about the planet. In the original film, the idea that he has to talk to everyone personally makes sense because it’s the simplest way. Here, Klaatu can easily hijack the satellites, broadcast his message, and reach practically the whole planet.

If I really stretch, the story works between Klaatu, Helen and Jacob, but the whole world is involved and everyone outside these three would have been totally in the dark about what had transpired. Originally, Klaatu sees that we have the potential to change, so he addresses the world and tells us to shape up or there will be consequences. Here we get a feel good ending where on the brink of destruction, Helen and Jacob forgive each other for their failings as parent and child (A great scene if the story is about peaceful co-existence but this movie is about saving the planet and all the hugs in the world won’t stop greenhouse gasses). Then, Klaatu disappears into his ship and leaves earth.

My feelings really varied about this movie, though none of them were good. At first, I was upset because nothing was resolved, which dulled over a few days to where I am now, disappointment. They missed a good chance to capitalize on a current fear and shine a bright spotlight on what could be done about it. The anti-war message of the original, I think, is still very relevant and could have been involved. Like The Critic, Jay Sherman says, “If it’s a remake of a classic, watch the classic” and that’s the best advice I can give you.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

DVD Review: Fido


Spoilers, bad!


There’s not denying that Shaun of the Dead reopened the zombie movie door. Now, we’re seeing a renewed interest in the genre and some pretty interesting takes on the classic zombie movie. One such film is Fido, which is part Dawn of the Dead, part Lassie and part Pleasantville, as strange as that sounds.

In typical zombie horror fashion, the world has been overrun by zombies, so the humans have had to setup a safe zone with electric fences, sentry guards, the whole nine yards. There are also neighborhood zombie extermination squads, marksmanship taught in schools and up to the minute zombie reports on the news. To further combat the zombies, a mind controlling collars has been developed to pacify and reintegrate zombies back into civilized society, many of them are used for menial labour or as household servants. Now, set this paranoia against the wholesome vibe of Leave It to Beaver and the stage is set for Fido.

Fido is the Robinson’s servant zombie, who is picked on constantly by family patriarch, Bill. Though everyone thinks that he is an unthinking monster, Timmy tries to befriend the zombie and humanize him a little by giving him his name and teaching him to play catch. Timmy believes that Fido is a good zombie, but when his zombie control collar malfunctions reverts to his cannibalistic ways. This Jekyll and Hyde back and forth is the pivot of the story as Fido and Timmy try to figure out ways of fixing the trouble they create.

Billy Connelly plays Fido and is terribly likeable as the zombie. We see that perhaps even zombies have a lighter side to them and the viewer is made to sympathize with his plight. I liked Carrie Ann Moss as the dainty housewife who is far more rugged than appears. Though she is treated as just the lady of the household, she quickly becomes fifth business and really pushes the action forward. The rest of the cast is pretty one note but they get the job done in a humourous fashion.

Fido was a pleasing experience, if a little saccharine at the end. It wouldn’t have hurt the film to end on a less absolutely happy ending, but it fits in with the 50s sitcom theme. I would have liked a little more depth to the mischief that Timmy and Fido get into, but really, Fido’s a zombie so the worst he could do is eating people. This is a well made zombie centered film, but a comedy at its core. For the zombie enthusiast, this is a lightweight but a nice one.

DVD Review : Smart People


The spoilers are everything that is the case


A story about dysfunctional intellectuals is great material because a culture of the unrelenting pursuit of knowledge (and the notoriety that comes with it), it is easy to sacrifice other aspects that make up the human experience. Smart People consists of two such stories: Lawrence’s (Dennis Quaid) story and Vanessa’s (Ellen Page) story.

Lawrence is a tenured English professor, who actively distances himself from his students, discourages their growth by stifling their interpretations of his subject, Victorian Literature, and loathes having to simplify his books and essays to get them published. His abysmal relationships with students and co-workers are only eclipsed by his disastrous handling of his family.

Vanessa is a child sized version of her father, the above mentioned Lawrence, though she does have a dream of moving away from her dreary surroundings. She shuns all her cohorts and isolates herself, but she’s lonely and wishes that she could just integrate.

The crux of the film is that Lawrence has a seizure and is treated by Dr. Janet (Sarah Jessica Parker), who was a former student of his. One of the side effects of the seizure is that he can no longer operate a motor vehicle, so his lay-about brother, Chuck (Thomas Haden Church) moves in to help him out.

Chuck becomes a comedic foil to both Vanessa and Lawrence, but nothing can save these two utterly unpleasant characters. Chuck tries to remind Lawrence that even fleeting happiness is still happiness and he should take a chance with Janet, though Lawrence seems just as happy to remain sullen. Chuck also tries to introduce Vanessa to adolescent banality by getting her drunk and stoned.

To put it absolutely plainly, Smart People tried to portray academics like Sideways portrayed wine connoisseurs, but instead of showing their humanity and frailties, we see that they are terrible people who sabotage themselves and those close to them. There is no reason given to believe they don’t deserve to be in their particular situations or that they can change.

I wanted to enjoy this film. I like Dennis Quaid, Ellen Page, and Thomas Haden Church but for the life of me I just couldn’t connect to the characters or the story. This film appeared with little fanfare and went quietly into the night and I think we’re all better for it.