Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Directed by Ang Lee
Written by Written by James Schamus
Starring Dimitri Martin, Henry Goodman, and Imelda Staunton
Taking Woodstock is the story about how the legendary three day concert, which celebrated it's 40th Anniversary this past August, came into existence. The townsfolk in the original location ran the Woodstock organizers out of town because of the counter cultural people (hippies) it would attract. At the same time, Elliot Teichberg (Dimitri Martin) is working hard to save his parent's fledgling hotel from foreclosure. When he hears that Woodstock is in jeopardy he works hard to save both the concert and the hotel by bringing the event to his hometown despite similar objections from the locals. What starts as an attempt to pay the mortgage explodes into the defining event of a generation.
The story is interesting but in this film it has no weight, no depth, and is just flat out empty.
One of the reasons is because the film is exclusively comprised of 60's stereotypes. The hippies are beyond peace loving and approach some kind of transcendental state of harmony. The townsfolk are so conservative that they spend most of their time grimacing at anything that resembles counter-culture. The theater group, led by Devon (Dan Fogler,) spends all their time doing unique acting exercises and putting on shows that challenge the audience to "expand their mind." Vietnam vet Billy (Emile Hirsch) is affected by the war but only in a movie way. He suffers from the movie version of flashback, which means he wakes up screaming and feels like people are watching him when he is in the forest. None of these characters are authentic by any stretch of the imagination, they are all surface deep. It feels like rather than really researching the people and the culture of the era the filmmakers based the characters on people from other movies about the 60's; everybody is a copy of a copy.
Elliot, the main character, appears to be in a constant daze through out the film peppered with a few moments of worry or confusion. It's hard to root for a character who constantly has a "why me" look on his face. In this film, Dimitri Martin has absolutely no charisma or screen presence, he is a complete bore. In a few scenes, when he does display some emotion, it is kind of surprising and a little off putting because it seems to come out of nowhere. I was shocked to see that he could do something besides stare at everything in a wide-eyed wonder.
If I were to pick a favorite character or performance in this film it would almost certainly be concert promoter Michael Lang (Jonathan Groff) not because he does anything special but because it is so outlandish. He speaks in a ethereal tone and uses a horse as his primary means of transportation. He is the ultimate hippie bringing peace and enlightenment everywhere he goes. Who else could have been the guy to start Woodstock but somebody that rides around on a horse?
I say that he is almost certainly my "favorite" character because I can't ignore Vilma (Liev Schreiber), the cross-dressing former marine. This character is the kind of person that can only exists in the movies. Not only is Vilma a cross-dresser, but he also provides magical sage-like advice to people, wears a gun strapped to his leg, and provides people with pot brownies. Now, I'm sure that a person with all these traits exists, but I've never met them. This whole character is fantastically unbelievable and outrageous and it feels likes he would be more fitting in a farce, than a comedy-drama.
As for the concert, well, if I had never heard of Woodstock before I watched this film I would have no indication that it was the defining moment of a generation. The film tries to show the significance of this concert amid the turbulent year of 1969, but it doesn't sink in. The characters seem largely unaffected by the lunar landing and war in Vietnam, though it could be because I was largely unaffected by the characters. Still, the story asks the audience to be in the era without being willing to bringing them into it. As a result Woodstock just feels like something that happened.
I was completely underwhelmed by this joyless experience. Director Ang Lee fails to capture any of the energy of the original concert. I was completely and utterly unmoved by the characters and story of this film. It's a film that tries to tell the story of Woodstock without being able to capture the reason why it was so significant. It's like the Pepsi sponsored Woodstock of 1994, without the spirit of the original it's just a show.
Friday, August 21, 2009
Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Starring Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, and Melanie Laurent
I'm of the opinion that Mr. Tarantino has already made his greatest film, the masterpiece known as Pulp Fiction (1994). Like Orson Welles with Citizen Kane (1941), Tarantino reached the pinnacle of his success early and has nowhere else to go but down. Now in this case, much like Welles, down for him is better than most people's good films. Let's just be honest, how could he ever top Pulp Fiction? This is actually kind of a cool place for a life long film nerd like Tarantino to find himself; he has the opportunity to indulge every cinematic desire he has and make any project he dreams up a reality. He is able to just simply play while being confident that he has cemented his place in cinematic history with his second feature film.
This is both a blessing and a curse and it has never been more evident than in his latest film, Inglourious Basterds. The blessings are obvious, Tarantino has a great deal of knowledge and love for cinema and fills every frame of his films with that knowledge and love. I have to admit that for the most part it is fun watching Tarantino, a cinema geek, indulging his every whim.
From the opening shot this film feels like an epic. It opens on a small dairy farm in Paris where a farmer is chopping wood and his daughter is hanging laundry. They are visited by a Nazi officer named Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) who has earned his nickname "Jew Hunter" doing exactly what his name describes. This scene is wonderful and very reminiscent of the opening scene of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, (1966) where a serene landscape is disturbed by mayhem at the hand of a villain.
From that point we meet the "Basterds" who are led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), their job is to simply drop behind enemy lines and kill as many Nazis as possible. They are driven by their desire to strike fear into the entire Nazi party by committing acts of carnage. We also meet a Jewish cinema owner named Shosanna Dreyfus, (Melanie Laurent) whose family was slaughtered in the opening scene and a German actress named Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) who is a double agent working with the British to fight the Nazis. Also a British film critic named Lt. Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender), who specializes in German film, is given the assignment to set up a meeting between the Basterds and Bridget. The climatic showdown takes place at a movie premiere for a Nazi propaganda film called "Nation's Pride," in which the entire Nazi high command attends, including Hitler himself.
So, in a film directed by a movie obsessed director an actress and film critic aid a bunch of soldiers in fighting the Nazi's at a movie theater. Not very subtle, and more than a little self indulgent, but a great deal of fun.
Tarantino is a writer/director and he is great at both jobs. He writes rich, detailed, and highly entertaining characters. These characters are the kind of characters that only exist in the movies and there is a reason why; they are legendary from the moment they arrive on the screen, larger than life than life in every way. They talk as if they know that every word they say will be quoted for decades to come.
As a director, Tarantino has an eye for casting that makes these characters come alive. Brad Pitt is highly entertaining in what is essentially a comedic performance. Pitt is a movie star because of his good looks, but he is a great actor because he is highly talented and committed to doing great work. There is glee in his performance and it is contagious. Melanie Laurent is the emotional center of this film. She witnessed the slaughter of her family and is now driven by revenge. She is willing to give up everything for a chance to make the Nazi's pay for their crimes. In addition, she has the screen presence of a classic movie star. Much has been said about the performance of Christoph Waltz since the film premiered at Cannes this past May. I don't have much more to add than to say that he is indeed great as the film's villain.
Yes, this film is a good deal of fun with some great performances and epic scenes but it is heavily weighed down by Tarantino's greatest indulgence: his love for his own dialogue. The man can write beautifully and he knows it. He writes twenty minute scenes full of dialogue that give great insight into the characters but eventually they stop the flow of the movie dead in it's tracks. After awhile the characters are just talking and the plot shifts into idle. I became bored at the inane conversations they began to have about anything and everything. That indulgence is the curse of this movie.
Everything else is so rich and exciting but the long scenes of dialogue make them fade into the background. I'm not complaining about Tarantino's dialogue because it can be very exciting, fun, and insightful. My complaint is that in this film it often fails to serve the rest of the film and slowly drags the entire story down. It tends to strike out on its own leaving the rest of the film behind.
Also, there are a few scenes in which Tarantino fails to skillfully balance the humor of one character with the sincerity of another. One specific scene is when Raines is interrogating a German officer named Sgt. Werner Rachtman (Richard Sammel). Raines makes Rachtman a deal that he will spare his life if he reveals the location of German snipers. Out of an admirable loyalty to his brothers in arms Rachtman refuses and Raines and the Basterds kill him. Pitt is playing this scene for laughs, as his character and the film dictates. Sammel is playing the scene with conviction and sincerity, as his character and the scene dictates for him. These two contrasting performances and contrasting directions in the scene are in conflict and as a result the scene becomes cruel and more than slightly disturbing.
Overall, I can't say that I enjoyed this film because of that over indulgence of Tarantino dialogue. It stalled the movie for me despite my enjoyment of Tarantino's cinematic indulgences. Replacing the word "indulgence" for the word "drunk" I would say that when Tarantino is a cinematic drunk he is the life of the party and you want to be around him. When he is drunk on the love of his own dialogue he kills the party by trying to bring attention to how great he thinks he is and how we should all celebrate him. Nobody likes a drunk who is desperate for adoration.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Directed by Neill Blomkamp
Written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
Starring Sharlto Copley, Vanessa Haywood, and Jason Cope
District 9 is an example of what happens when science fiction is used to both entertain and educate an audience. The film never fails to deliver on "wow" moments and at the same time makes a rather profound statement on racial discrimination and segregation. The film is directed and co-written by Neill Blomkamp, who is from South Africa and used his experiences with Apartheid as an influence for this story about aliens who have no place in our world.
From the opening scene the audience is immersed into the world of District 9. One of the ways Blomkamp is able to make the world seem so real is by how he wants us to react to the aliens on screen. They are suppose to be accepted as a fact of life in the world he created. He achieves this feeling of normalcy by employing a few techniques. The first of which is that the actors on screen are never once in awe of the aliens. Nearly every interaction a human has with an alien is depicted as a regular part of daily life. JJ Abrams did the same thing in Star Trek. There is something disarming about this technique that I really enjoy. It keeps me from being distracted by cheap special effect thrills and keeps me focused on the story.
When humans discover something new about the aliens, usually concerning their technology, there is a sense of awe. That sense of awe is communicated by the character's reactions and felt by the audience.
The film is presented in a mockumentary fashion; it combines a traditional narrative storytelling style with that of a documentary. The title of the film refers to a section of government housing that is home to a race of aliens known as "prawns." This is a derogatory as it infers that the aliens are more like insects than anything else. We are told that the aliens arrived to Earth twenty years ago and since that time humanity has grown tired of them. The excitement of the discovery of an alien life form soon gave away to annoyance when it was discovered they were nothing more than refugees. Somehow their ship was disabled and now they can't leave the planet. This information is told to us through talking heads during on camera interviews. The documentary style allows the filmmakers to give the audience all the necessary background of "district 9."
This mockumentary style adds to the authenticity of the world that Blomkamp created. Because the information is given as a "history" it sort of tricks the audience into taking the film as fact. Now, obviously nobody should come out of this film feeling like it was an authentic documentary, but it certainly feels like an authentic documentary. I mean to be honest, it's not that different from the filmmaking style of Michael Moore. You tell a story by claiming people are experts and then you cut the footage to make it feel like fact. During that process it begins to resemble reality.
The documentary footage prepares us for the story that is told in this film. The story begins when we are introduced to a young and inexperienced government worker named Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) who has been given the task of relocating all the aliens to new government housing. During this assignment he comes into contact with an alien substance that changes his life forever. He is forced to seek the aid of an alien referred to as Christopher Johnson.
Blomkamp is also a director that knows how to use special effects and it is so refreshing. There are actual set pieces in this film that get crushed and destroyed. All of the aliens in this film are computer generated. Despite that fact they all seems so authentic. They interact flawlessly with the humans. It has become so easy for filmmakers to rely on special effects that in many cases they fail to impress. Here is a filmmaker who is using effects to enhance the story rather than telling it for him.
I feel like filmmakers are constantly taking their audiences for granted. It's almost like they feel like they don't have to earn the time, money, or emotional investment that we put into a film. Blomkamp is giving the audience a great story, with strong social themes, and moving characters; as well as some awe inspiring moments along the way. This film is smart, entertaining, and in some respects, challenging.
There are so many things that I admire about this film. First of all, it is so refreshing to see that there is somebody out there willing to take a chance on a new and original idea. Peter Jackson is the producer of this film and he was the one who was willing to take such a chance. Upon reading about how it came to be I discovered that it started because of a planned adaptation of the popular "Halo" video game series. Blomkamp had made short films to promote a new installment of the series and later, when Jackson was preparing to make a feature film, he tapped Blomkamp to direct it. Complications with the studios involved resulted in the plans for the film to fall apart and Jackson reportedly gave Blomkamp $30 million and told him to go make whatever he wanted. I sincerely hope that this inspires studio heads every where to take risks. Still, a great behind the story of a film's production does not make for a great film.
Everything else about District 9 makes it a great film.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Written by Bruce Joel Rubin
Starring Eric Bana, Rachel McAdams, and Ron Livingston
This film had everything it needed to succeed. It has two great actors in two great roles. It is a great story adapted from Audrey Nuffinegger's great novel of the same name. Yet, it did not succeed.
What happened? Well, the film requires the audience to be invested in not only the characters, but in their lives, and in their marriage as well. It doesn't allow for the audience to know the characters, their lives, or their marriage. It simply moved through out the story without inviting the audience to be invested in it. In the story, Henry DeTamble (Eric Bana) is a time traveler and I felt like I had the same reaction to the film as he did to his life. He is constantly being tossed through out time and I was constantly being tossed from one plot point to the other.
In this film, being a time traveler is not a good thing. It is actually a disease that causes a person to jump around in time. Why this genetic disease causes the character to slowly fade by way of pixie dust I do not know. It seems like it would be sudden and violent, instead of looking like taking a trip with Tinkerbell by way of her fairy dust.
Henry's wife, Claire, (Rachel McAdams) meets him when she is six years old and he is in his late thirties. He doesn't meet her until he is in his late twenties/early thirties and she is in her early twenties. It was an older versions of himself that met her when she was six. You'll just have to trust me that those last few sentences make sense in the context of the story. The reason why he met her when she was so much young is because when he travels in time he is pulled towards "big events" in his own life. Claire is an important part of his life, so he is constantly pulled towards her.
With that in mind it seems like the filmmakers would have put a great deal of focus on the marriage of these two characters. I mean the marriage is strong enough that Henry is passing through time and space to meet his wife when she is a child. In order to understand that we should have really gotten to know these two characters as well as their life together. As it stands, we didn't get to know them or their marriage. We simply pass through the big events of their lives. I didn't understand why Henry was visiting her beyond the fact that the story required him to do it.
The characters have the potential to be really deep and interesting but we only get snapshots of the complexity of them. When Claire first spends the night with Henry and finds lipstick (not his) in his medicine cabinet that should say something about Henry's nature at that point in his life. That isn't explored at all, it is passed right on by it to the next scene. They talk about it, it's barely addressed, and the story moves on. In that next scene Henry and Claire are much closer. Again, I was asking why? The only reason that I came up with was because that is what the story needed.
I would have loved to spend time with these two characters. Eric Bana is a fantastic actor and I always enjoy seeing him in a film. He has been in two other films this summer and they couldn't be more different from one another. He was the villian in Star Trek, which was a bit role but he really committed to the part and seemed to have a lot of fun with it. He also had a great role in Funny People in which he gives sympathy to a character that we are initially suppose to hate. He plays Henry with a certain sadness that comes from being burdened by constantly being ripped from his present life, which is his home. Also, he is a character that more or less knows what is going to happen for the rest of his life. If that isn't enough he is burdened by knowing the fate of nearly everybody around him. Bana gives us a glimpse into that character but the filmmakers don't let us explore it.
Rachel McAdams has a strong screen presence and it is no fault of her own if we don't fall instantly in love with her character. She plays the younger Claire with a wide eyed wonder. Claire has finally "caught up" to the love of her life and it is all excitement. The reality of living with, and being in love with a time traveler starts to wear on her. Again, McAdams gives us something in this character, but we don't have time to enjoy it.
There is no sense of wonder in this film. There is no sense of romance in this film. There is no sense of joy or sadness in this film. I didn't get to experience the marriage of two characters that have fallen in love despite the fact that one of them is constantly being thrown through time. It is, quite simply, a wasted opportunity.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Directed by Neal Brennan
Written by Andy Stock and Rick Stempson
Starring Jeremy Piven, James Brolin, and Ving Rhames
A film that relies so heavily on jokes about erections shouldn’t be this impotent. One of the running gags in this film revolves around “boy bands,” specifically a group called O-Town. Never heard of O-Town? That’s fine, they are an obscure boy band from 2001, during the height of the boy band craze. Remember boy bands from like eight years ago? Basically, if you weren’t a teenage girl in 2001 then you probably haven’t heard of them and therefore, probably won’t laugh at the dozen or so jokes that are made at their expense. Yet, that is only the symptom, not the illness that runs rampart through out this film.
The illness is that the makers of this film are not talented. They don’t seem to understand the ins and outs of jokes, or even story telling for that matter, but they have cracked open a comedy self help book and have followed the formula to the letter. Remember that scene in Borat (2006) in which Sacha Baron Cohen visited that comedy school and the instructor taught him about “not” jokes? Well, I think it is safe to say the makers of this film have visited a similar class.
The symptom causing the O-Town reference is the result of the filmmakers knowing that pop culture references get laughs in other films but failing to understand why. They don’t understand that the reference needs to be instantly recognizable by the culture at large or it won’t be funny. They don’t understand that obscure references can work but they still have to reside in the collective conscience of culture.
This film is like watching amateur level stand-up or sketch comedy. They are just doing what they saw others do. They have watched their comedy fathers mow the lawn and now they are following behind them with plastic mowers.
The screenplay of this film is the most obvious example of the “follow the formula” technique that it employs. Local car dealership owner Ben Selleck (James Brolin) is in danger of losing his business to a more successful dealership ran by Stu Harding (Alan Thicke) and his son Paxton (Ed Helms). They want to use Ben’s lot to sell cars and provide a rehearsal space for Paxton’s boy band. In order to save the dealership Ben hires legendary salesman Don Ready (Jeremy Piven) and his gang to come to town to move all the cars and save the dealership. Along the way Don begins to fall in love with Ben’s daughter Ivy (Jordana Spiro), who is engaged to Paxton.
So let’s take a look at the basic elements of this screenplay. You have a down on his luck family man seeking the services of a charismatic funnyman to save them from the schemes of the rich man and his son. In the process of helping the family man the funnyman falls for his daughter who is engaged to the rich son. Doesn’t it sound familiar? The writers of this film didn’t write a screenplay; they came up with lame jokes and plugged them into some generic screenplay formula.
There are high caliber performers (not performances) in this film; they all have highly respected resumes. Most of these people have worked with Judd Apatow and/or appeared on The Office. Cast members Ken Jeong, Rob Riggle, and Ed Helms were in The Hangover. Riggle was also a correspondent on the Daily Show. Jeremy Piven is an award-winning actor for his performance on Entourage. These are great performers and people who really understand comedy. However, this film goes to show that without a vision from the director it will all be in vain.
Director Neal Brennan and writers Andy Stock and Rick Stempson don’t give the performers anything to do with their talent. They are stuck relying on gags that don’t work and a formulaic story to move through. All their talent is wasted in this film.
There are a few gags that work but they are few and far in between. They are lost in everything else in this film. They might work but they aren't enough to redeem the film.
Saturday, August 8, 2009
Written and Directed by Nora Ephron
Starring Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, and Stanley Tucci
The story of Julie and Julia is one of two lost people who use the act of preparing meals to find a purpose. Julia is Julia Child, (Meryl Streep) world-renowned chef who introduced French cuisine to American audiences. Julie is Julie Powell, (Amy Adams) a woman who decides to cook every meal in Child's cookbook within a year and blog about her experience. Both women are married to kind, supportive, and understand husbands. The similarities between the two women pretty much end there.
Julia is a very tall woman with a big personality to match. She is loud and full of life. She is very personable and seems to bring joy to the lives of others. She is married to Paul Child (Stanley Tucci) and even though they are both in their forties they are very romantic and very vigorous in their physical relationship. They adore one another and it shows. We open on her story as Julia and Paul are moving to Paris because of his work in the American Embassy. Julia finds that Paris is thriving with excitement and culture and she falls in love with it. She loves the city and she moved to support Paul but she still needs something to do with her time. She loves eating so she decides to become a chef and quickly finds that not only does she love eating but she also loves preparing food. She isn't out to prove anything to anybody, she just wants to do what she loves and she wants to do it well.
On the other hand, Julie is a petite woman with a gloomy personality. When we open on her story she is moving into a shabby apartment in Queens with her husband Eric (Chris Messina). Within the first few moments in this new apartment she has a break down from the stress in her life. She doesn't want to live in Queens she wants to live somewhere with more prestige. All her friends are successful businesswomen and she works a small government job helping the victims of 9-11 with their insurance claims. She needs to find a purpose in her life because she needs to feel successful. She needs to be validated in the eyes of her friends. Her marriage is strong but she isn't always as engaged in it as her husband. She is more concerned with herself than her marriage.
For the first half of this film the opposite personalities of these two women work well together. It is essentially the same story taking place in two different time periods. It is a case of iron sharpening iron, the weakness of Julie and the strength of Julia make for an interesting dynamic. Both women are trying really hard to establish themselves and the two stories are strengthened by their opposite motivations and goals.
In the second half the individual stories change and rather than feeling like two stories working together they become two separate stories. The story of Julia Child becomes about who she is, her marriage, and how she came to author one of the most famous cookbooks of all time. Success in the culinary world is not the focus of the story about Julia Child. The focus is Julia Child and it is a great story. It is very easy to root for this character because she is so lovable. Streep gives into the force of nature that is Julia Child with reckless abandonment.
Child is not the kind of person who lets the bad times slow her down. There are times in this film in which Paul gives her bad news and you see her take it for the briefest of moments before she changes the conversation. Streep makes it clear that Child is not simply brushing it off. She has this look on her face that lets you know she is processing the bad news and when she is done she moves on to something else. For some undisclosed reason (in the film at least) Julia and Paul cannot have children. We first come to know this because in one scene they are walking in a park and pass a baby carriage. Julia looks back at the baby and then down at the ground. Paul then puts his arm around her and they keep walking and talking. This is a brilliant scene and the credit goes to Streep and Tucci for completely selling the scene without making a statement.
In the second half of the film Julie's story becomes all about her. She is writing this blog and cooking these recipes because she needs to validate herself. It isn't about wanting to do something she loves. She is doing it because one of her best friends has just started a blog and it is met with instant success. Through out the film she is constantly keeping track of how many people comment on her blog and celebrates each time the number is raised. At first it is fun to watch her tackle the recipes in Child's book but after awhile it becomes completely about her vanity.
Julie is always complaining about everything and her husband just tries to hear her out. He is standing by her as she works on this project and cheers her on. She doesn't appear to be interested in anything that he is doing. Their marriage feels just as real as Paul and Julia's but it is completely different. Where as Paul and Julia had a marriage based on mutual edification it is one sided with Julie and Eric. In short Julie Powell is a bitch and I want to credit to both writer-director Nora Ephron and Amy Adams for letting the character be a bitch.
Last week I shared my respect for Adam Sandler and Judd Apatow because they had the courage to let their main character be an asshole for the purpose of the story in Funny People. Adams and Ephron are doing the same thing in this film. The character isn't completely unlikeble she is just shallow and narcissistic and it serves their story well. The story is about a woman trying to prove herself to society and they are okay with letting it be vain pursuit. Adams is not unlikable in this performance. She isn't a villain, she is actually very likable. She is okay with playing the character as she is without trying to make her cute so people will like her.
The only problem with it is that it is happening at the same time that we are rooting for Julia Child. These are two great stories but they don't always play well together. Still, I highly recommend this film. It is so refreshing to see a film that is based on character not cheap thrills and when it is done as well as this one it is worth checking out.
Friday, August 7, 2009
Directed by Stephen Sommers
Written by Stuart Beattie, David Elliot, and Paul Lovett
Starring Channing Tatum, Siena Miller, and Marlon Wayans
The action in G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra is coherent. I was able to follow what was happening on the screen because it was clearly shot and well edited. For some time now all actions scenes have been cut together in an incoherent mess. Quick cuts and handheld cameras have become the norm and it is refreshing to view a film in which those techniques are not employed. Nothing about the action is impressive it is just coherent, much like the rest of the film.
For this film to be a complete disaster it would have had to strive for greatness. For it to be a failure of epic proportions it would have had to have nearly impossible to reach aspirations. To be labeled a “complete mess” the filmmakers would have had to demonstrate some level of incompetence. There are no boom mics in any of the shots and as I mentioned the actions scenes are well put together so they aren’t totally incompetent. To achieve the “so bad that it’s good” status the filmmakers would have needed to demonstrate some level of commitment to the material. G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra cannot be classified as any of these things because it doesn’t aspire to be anything more than on the screen. It does succeed in achieving that goal.
Director Stephen Sommers is like a high school student who just does the work he was assigned. He doesn’t put any effort into it beyond getting it done. When it is finished he turns it in and walks away from it. The teacher might ask him if this is his best work but he doesn’t care, it’s done and he can move on. This film is effortless as in it is completely without effort.
The first indication of this complete lack of effort is the quality of the special effects. This film has a great reliance on special effects, which is confusing because they are so poorly done. Yes, they do look fake but there is more to it. There are scenes in which the audience is supposed to be in awe, but all I could think about was how cheap the effects looked. I have seen independent shorts with better special effects than this film.
Sommers relies on effects when he could have gone without them. There are shots of the characters doing super human jumps and rather than relying on practical effects he uses CGI. Most filmmakers try hard to make their CGI blend into their live action, but not Sommers. For shots in which he could have used live action it was much easier for him to use a cheap looking CGI characters. In the before mentioned independent shorts the directors try to shoot around their CGI limitations. That would be too much work for this director; he puts his cheap looking effects front and center.
The three screenwriters don’t seem much more interested in doing any kind of work. There is a particularly annoying plot device concerning a tracking device in a briefcase. First the good guys have it and then the bad guys steal it. Then one of the good guys steals it back only to lose it again to the bad guys. Both sides know that there is a tracking device in the briefcase and rather than remove the device or the contents in the case they take turns turning it back on and off. Of course the story is filled with contrived dialogue and ridiculous situations but it is the lack of creativity that bothered me the most. There is a complete lack of spectacle in this film.
This is a film that was based on a cartoon that was made to sell toys. It should have been easy for the filmmakers to indulge themselves in this outlandish film. They could have gone off the wall and really had some fun. It didn’t have to be a great movie, because it never was going to be, it just had to be a fun and exciting film.
The only people who seem to be having fun are the cast members. Sure some of them really chew the scenery, like Dennis Quaid for example. However, at very least he is having fun. Marlon Wayans plays a character named Ripcord and he is the comic relief. He is irritating but at least he is committed to the film. Channing Tatum doesn’t really have any sort of commanding presence but he plays his part with a slight grin on his face. Now don’t get me wrong they are not great performances they are simply engaged. There are only two performances that really do stand out in this film.
Sienna Miller plays a villain named Baroness and she represents the complete opposite of the filmmakers. She plays her part with complete conviction and really understands the film. She completely commits to her character and there is a sort of twinkle in her eye that tells us she is really enjoying herself.
The same goes for Joseph Gordon-Levitt as The Doctor. He is a very talented actor who doesn’t water down his performance just because he is in a movie based on a toy line. He also plays his part with complete commitment even though he is wearing heavy make-up and is hidden in his Darth Vader like costume. He could have played the costume, but instead he plays the character.
If the filmmakers had the same level of commitment to the material as these two actors then this movie would have been totally different. It wouldn’t have been a great film but it would have been an entertaining film. As it stands, it is neither impressive in success or failure, it is simply forgettable.