Moneyball

•January 6, 2012 • 1 Comment

Moneyball is different for me than most movies I’ve seen recently. It’s about something I have a keen interest in, baseball, and I had read the book only a month or so before I saw the film. This seems to be both a blessing and a curse for it, since I have an appreciation of what they are talking about, and am a fan of sabermetrics (the type of stats that they use in the film to find good players). However it means that I can also see glaringly the things they left out or changed. I’m never a fan of the people who always say that the book is better than the film; they are two different pieces of art and it would be like saying a Picasso is better than a Shostakovitch symphony. There are times on the other hand where changes to the book seem needless and maybe even counter productive. This is, unfortunately, the case in Moneyball but we’ll come to that after a look at what is good about it.

One of the best parts about this film is the acting, with all the main characters giving at least an average performance. I had read so much about Pitts performance that I was somewhat disappointed in his portrayal of BIlly Beane. He was by no means bad, I could see an Oscar nomination, and he seems to capture most of what we see in the book, but one of things the book pushes a fair bit is Beane’s anger issues which, while we see it, seemed slightly out of place from Pitt. Thankfully Pitt was the worst of the major cast members with Jonah Hill and Phillip Seymour Hoffman really bringing their A game. Hoffman, true to form, has a great showing as Art Howe being both forceful and convincing. Jonah Hill came as a big surprise for me, I’ve never been a fan of his and wasn’t expecting too much from him. But he manages to pull of the Yale educated economist perfectly, with an almost perfect mix of awkwardness and assertiveness. It is with Hill’s character that my main issue with the screenplay comes in, the character in the book, Paul DePodesta, is rather different from the one Hill plays.

In the book,and real life, Paul is a good looking outspoken man, maybe not a polar opposite of Hills character but pretty darn close. I’m always unsure about permissions and such that are needed to feature people in biopics so that might be the reason they couldn’t show Paul. However if he was in the book I would think that a movie on the book would be able to use him also. The problem is just how stereotypical the nerd Hill plays is, it just seems to be too much and I don’t see how the film was improved by the addition of such a tired trope. Other than this the rest of the screenplay is well done, though more time spent on BIlly Beane’s career would have been nice. Seeing how much trouble he had, when he was supposed to be a perfect prospect, really puts his trying to put a cheap team together into perspective.

The soundtrack is adequate, while nothing amazing it does its job and puts you in the mood. Though they make it seem like the song Beane’s daughter plays is her own, which it isn’t (The Show by Kerris Dorsey), and I don’t understand why they couldn’t just write a song for her to play. The acting is good enough that even an only adequate soundtrack doesn’t really take much away from the experience.

Overall Moneyball was an enjoyable film, with the acting being the highlight, and I would say it’s one that everyone should try to see. Even if you’re not a fan of baseball you should be fine, and can still have a good time watching it.

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Captain America: the First Avenger

•July 22, 2011 • Leave a Comment

One more in the string of summer superhero movies, Captain America (C.A.) is another of the Marvel hero’s who will eventually become part of the Avengers (a film which I am anticipating less and less every Marvel movie I see). But unfortunately C.A. carries the baggage of his creation, he is a product of propaganda. An American equivalent to Soviet films like Battleship Potemkin, and films from Goebbels studio like Triumph of the Will; though in comic form. While this doesn’t predispose me towards the film, it has more than enough of it’s own issues which make the film less than spectacular.

The acting, unfortunately, as seems far to common with superhero movies, is somewhat lacking. C.A. (Chris Evans) himself is rather lackluster, he just seems to be there ,no emotion, no force. While performing all his scenes without any great mishap he doesn’t really bring any inspiration or drive to the role. Upon becoming a hero he loses what little depth he had. Unfortunately none of the other good guys seem to be much better,either being without any real character or being far too contrived. Tommy Lee Jones may be the best of the lot, though even he is just an uninspiring military man. Apart from him we have C.A.s best friend (Sebastian Stan), who goes from being the alpha dog, in the start, to a softy at the flip of a switch. This is clearly possible of someone, but it seems so much a change that it would really have to be convincingly done. As for the female lead, thankfully we don’t see too much of her. She doesn’t really seem to have much character, even though as an army officer you would at least hope she had some fight in her. Hugo weaving however does a rather good job as Red Skull. He manages to pull off the craziness, and evil, well and I really wish he was in more of the movie.

Somewhat redeeming is the cinematography, with the scenes being well shot. While there were no scenes which were poorly done, there was nothing really exceptional. Unfortunately the movie is in 3D, which I still think has a long way to go. While this was one of the better uses of it I’ve seen it’s still too hard to focus on the entire screen with the glasses on, which really detracts from the movie. Especially since I saw it in the new Cineplex AVX cinema, which has a larger screen, there were always sections of the screen which were out of focus due to the 3D. While this isn’t the movies fault it does make it difficult to be able to comment on the quality of the filming if you can’t see the whole screen properly. While the filming itself seemed decent, it was marred by the fact that many of the scenes were rather poorly written leading them  to be some well shot but contrite.

Even if we ignore the plot holes, and oddities, there is nothing stellar about the writing. It’s not terrible, we’re not talking G.I. Joe here, but it does nothing to add to the film. The change in tone from when C.A. goes from being a glorified chorus girl to becoming an all American hero is so abrupt that it seems almost like two movies smashed together. Thankfully most of the hero part is fighting and battle scenes so it’s not too bad. The plot itself as far as I can tell is a standard fair C.A. story, with him in Germany fighting off Nazis. While this in and of itself isn’t a bad thing with how often it’s done some innovation would have been nice.

All in all while not being an amazing movie, Captain America was enjoyable to watch (even with all the bad things I have to say about it). In comparison to other super hero movies from this summer it’s better than Thor and worse than First Class, though closer to Thor. Superhero movies seem to be far too much about the action, which is somewhat understandable, while completely ignoring the development and characters which make comics interesting. Thor and this are making me think that The Avengers might end up not being as good as I had originally hoped, but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Mission Accomplished?

•June 21, 2011 • 1 Comment

I was sure that I had posted this over a month ago right after Bin Laden had been shot. But I guess I forgot to hit post, it’s as true now as it was then, so here it is.

Those are the words president George W. Bush said 7 years ago. Mission accomplished, we had fought and defeated terrorism in Afghanistan and had brought them democracy. Those words were laughable when he uttered them then and are beyond idiotic today. It took 10 years to find Osama Bin Laden, one of the most wanted men in the world. Even with Bush’s change of tune a few years into the invasion, that he really wasn’t that important, he was still actively being searched for.

The mission clearly wasn’t accomplished then, and it would seem even with OBLs death we are no nearer any sort of end. We went into Afghanistan to fight terrorism, to help the Afghanis build a democratic government. I say we because of Canada’s part in this invasion and since Canada chose not to go into Iraq I will try and make this only about Afghanistan. Troops have been there for 10 years, almost all of which have been with the Afghanis having their non Taliban government.

But what have we really accomplished? There is no denying that the Taliban were evil people and can in no way be defended. But is the Wests occupation really much better? Many women are still forced to wear the veil, and opium production is reaching unprecedented levels. Civilians and Afghan security force personal are killed daily, by Afghan militants and coalition troops.

Both the US and Canada are being investigated by the ICJ for the torture we commit in our prisons. It seems even some in allied countries like Pakistan hate us for being there. It is laughable to think that no one in their government knew that OBL was hiding in a house a few hundred maters from the Pakistan Military Acadamey. These people are not fighting against the coalition because they hate our way of life, we are occupying their country and killing their people. We see on the news any time a Canadian soldier dies, it is everywhere, but we never hear about the hundreds of thousands of Afghans who have died fighting, or who have just been in the way.

The Taliban forces we are fighting are not going to be dealt with quickly by any means. The US trained them in the type of warfare they use to fight against the Soviet invasion. The west laughed at the Soviet failure in Afghanistan which helped ruin their economy, yet we are in the same position. Billions are spent keeping troops there, fighting for some ill-defined cause. Most Afghans don’t want us there and most of us don’t want to be there.

It is possible that pulling out will cause the Taliban to return to power. But I doubt it, with people like Hamid Karzi and his drug lord brother having power and the security force mostly in their hands I can’t see a return to what once was. For better or worse we have created a new monster, this time not fundamentalist but seemingly equally despotic. Bush’s slogan of mission accomplished wasn’t true than and is equally untrue now. There is of course much more to say, and everything is far more nuanced and intricate, but an analysis like that is for another time.

Green Lantern

•June 20, 2011 • Leave a Comment

It’s summer so I guess there being so many new superhero movies shouldn’t be much of a surprise. With the possibility of being some of the best action movies, who wouldn’t want a superhero movie as a summer blockbuster. But unfortunately, while you may end up with with a few great ones (see my X-men first class review) most seem to fall a little short. It would seem that Green Lantern falls into this latter category, with lots of potential, but pulling out as lackluster. Having never really read any comic books I came into the theater not knowing anything about the story other than what I’d seen in previews or gleaned from pop culture (the whole ring/lantern thing).

Unfortunately for the film the two main characters, Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) and his love interest (Blake Lively), are less than stellar. While most of Reynolds career is built on cocky joking characters, though none of them in big films, for some reason he doesn’t seem to pull it off. He comes off contrived and out of place, in the humorous bits he does well , but outside of that he just doesn’t seem up to it. As for Lively she’s not as bad, and definitely not as impotent as Natalie Portman in Thor, but she’s definitely nothing stellar. She does her job fuffiling the needy, always been in love with the hero, female role but doesn’t add anything. However most of the rest of the cast pulls off their parts well, especially the human villian. Peter Sarsgaard seems right at home playing the disregarded man turned to evil. With his character actually coming off as a real, albeit greatly flawed, person.There aren’t really any other major characters but none of the minor ones are offensively played, and the other biggest Lantern part is done well by mark stone.

Unfortunately I saw it in 3D which I’m still not thrilled with. Though this was one of the better 3D movies I’ve seen this year it still seems like a gimmick. But even dealing with those issues the cgi looked good and did stand out. For this kind of movie cgi is pretty important and it really didn’t let down. The main enemy, parallax, looked really good and all the stuff involving the Lanterns turned out quite well. But unfortunately good cgi does not make up for poor acting and poor writing.

Which brings us to the screenplay itself, which while not being terrible is nothjng special. Hal Jordan seems to jump between being an asshole fighter pilot to an honourable hero at the drop of a hat. While sarsgaard’s villain character is extremely well done, the writing as well as the acting, the main plot surrounding parallax was not particularly well done, especially since the final battle is so lackluster. The film would probably have been better off with leaving parallax for a later film, and left this one as just dealing with the human villain. Though it is very possible they kept very close to the comics, which would be a good thing, it still seems very poorly done.

So all in all not a very good movie, it is better than Thor but that’s really not saying anything. Especially when we compare it with something like X-men: first class, the film is seriously lacking. It would seem that even with huge budgets and big names these new superhero films in the ‘summer of the superhero’ seem to be coming up short. This is especially saddening since the stories behind most comic book characters seem to be interesting and have potential for some truly inspiring films.

X-men: First Class

•June 6, 2011 • Leave a Comment

After the awful Wolverine movie, another X-men prequel, I didn’t have high hopes for this film. But it came out and had started to get good reviews, so I went in with decent expectations, and was not disappointed. Other than right near the end, which I’ll get to later, pretty much everything about the movie was good. Obviously not the best movie ever, though probably the best from this year I’ve seen, but it is possibly the best out of all the X-men films (though I don’t remember the first one so well). In this summer of super hero movies, X-men: First Class has really raised the bar and we’ll just have to see if Green Lantern or Captain America can meet it.

The movie starts off with an intro to Magnetos part of this story which we saw in the first X-men. We briefly meet the German doctor who experiments on him and who becomes extremely important later on. We then jump to a similar intro for child Professor X and his meeting Mystique. These two vignettes give a nice view into the differences in the two (Magneto and Prof. X) and the things in their childhood which cause them to end up becoming enemies. While the small amount of acting the children do is adequate, it is adult Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Prof. X (James McAvoy) who really make the movie shine. Both seem to know exactly what is motivating their characters, and portray it expertly, with the few scenes with just the two of them (if only there were more) being some of the films highlights. While none of the actors do as well as those two they all have good showing and no one really brings the movie down.

The writers did a great job, with the story flowing extremely well and there barely being any points where you get bored. The story itself does it’s job, giving a good introduction and explanation of the formation of the X-men, and why Prof. X and Magneto are fighting. But there is one point right near the end of the movie which I do feel was poorly done (skip to the next paragraph to avoid spoilers). After the Russians and Americans try to destroy the island the mutants are on we get the break between the two main characters. But it all seems to happen way too fast, with very little explanation from either side. While it’s clear to us what’s going on, you would think that Magneto would take some more time to try and convince the other mutants and that with no defence from Prof. X about why they shouldn’t leave after the people they are supposed to be working for tried to kill them that more would actually go with him. It kind of seemed like it was nothing more than an afterthought, with it happening that way for no other reason than because they needed it to. But it’s not really enough to ruin the movie, though I do wish it were done at least somewhat differently.

All in all the movie was very enjoyable, seeing as this is my only positive review so far (though I doubt anyone actually reads these things). As I said before this is by far the best movie I’ve seen this year, and it really is one that people should go see if they can.

Hangover 2

•May 30, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Hangover 2 was a film I had been looking forward too watching. I greatly enjoyed the first one, which while not being the funniest movie ever is a great comedy which keeps you hooked. So I had been hoping that part 2 (which I saw a few days ago) would live up to the original, which it did do just not in a good way. It turned out to be nothing more than the exact same movie, just done worse. It didn’t really add anything to the formula that worked in the first movie, except the new ‘exotic’ locale. This probably has a lot to do with the writers, the sequel is written by a different group of people, who just didn’t seem able, or willing, to try and bring anything new (and funny) into the mix.

The actors have a good showing, with Bradley Cooper probably doing the best of the main three, portraying Phil well in line with the first film being a likeable dick. My main issue with the characters is Alan (Zach Galifianakis), who seems to be a whole lot worse in this film than the first. His character is obviously supposed to have social issues, and not really understand the world, which worked fine as a contrast to the other two in the first film. However, be it Galifianakis changing his portrayal or more poor writing (my bet), in this one he is, putting it lightly, over the top. Rather than making funny out of place comments about the groups actions he just makes inane remarks about whatever is going on (but I guess the line between funny and inane is a matter of personal aesthetics). Unfortunately I waited too long to write this so can’t remember any exact quotes, but suffice to say he was more cringe worthy than funny. Ken Jeong’s return for an expanded role as Mr Chow worked well and his craziness did help the scenes he was in.

Back for a moment to the plot, while they did change things around slightly most of the main points are the same (skip the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want any spoilers). Again we have Alan drugging the group, though I’m not sure how muscle relaxants would give the same effect as the roofies in the original. They manage to go to another strip club, though this time no marriage, but it is less important to the story and just seems thrown in. Stu (Ed Helms) instead of pulling a tooth gets a tattoo ala Mike Tyson (who does make an appearance at the end), and makes another song about the groups misadventures. Another animal is present, a monkey, and again it is an important part in the film. Money and gangsters are a main issue in finding the lost character, and in the same fashion as the first film solving this problem doesn’t really help on the search. There are others, but there isn’t much point in continuing on listing them. So all in all most of the major plot points are straight from the original with a slight, and in some cases non existent, twist. This leads to a boring story which seems more along the lines of a remake than an entirely new movie.

The soundtrack is a good fit, with songs fitting the point in the movie and mood well. But a few well placed songs is nowhere near enough to deal with the many problems plaguing the film. While not being a terrible movie, I did enjoy it far more than Thor, it doesn’t hold up to the first by any means. It has its moments, some of which are rather funny, but a few good scenes can’t make up for a rehashed plot and a completely insufferable character. I’m sure I’ll end up watching it again, after the original no doubt, and as with so many comedies in recent years it will be enjoyable when watched but quickly lose appeal after it finishes.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt 1.

•May 8, 2011 • 1 Comment

Watched this for the second time, first time was in theaters, and seeing as how I enjoyed writing my Thor review I figure this is as good a film as any to try my hand at next.

Films based on books are always an interesting case, it’s a chance to try and bring fiction to life. This brings with it countless issues and problems, from choosing what parts of the book to use, to dealing with trying to portray all the complex ideas present in fiction. Disregarding the cries of fanboys Harry Potter seems to deal with most of these issues, book to film issues not necessarily the films themselves, better than most others such as LOTR.

This is by no means saying the movie is perfect, far from it. There are important parts of the books which are left out, but in the context of the movies it turns out okay with there being good continuity and storytelling. Maybe not the best novels turned movies, but it can always be worse.

As for Deathly Hallows in particular, it seems to be middle of the road, not the best in the series and not the worst. There are good parts, but unfortunately on of the major parts of the movie is less than stellar and really does bring it down. The 3 main characters are well played and the actors, having played them for years, seem to have a good hold on them and their motivation.

However for whatever reason the section of the film where the 3 of them(Harry, Ron and Hermione) are by themselves searching for the Horcruxes they seem to lose it. Even taking into account the cursed locket which is affecting them they seem overly childish and forced. But they are fine when they are with others, and it’s not enough to ruin the whole movie. The supporting cast all handles their job well, and there aren’t really any exceedingly poor jobs.

The effects, as in all the series, are well done and aren’t over the top as in some movies with magic. Though at some points Voldemorts snake seem a little unreal. As with the book, the film is significantly darker than the others, and it’s pulled off well. There is nothing to complain about with the filming itself, and it works well to portray the gloom and despair.

The music is well done with Desplat greatly adding to the atmosphere. He seems to be an improvement over the previous few films and even over Williams’ composition in the first 3. Williams music clearly influences some of the pieces, which makes sense and is a nice touch to help continuity. It’s hard to fault the LSOs playing, and their performance is about as good as it could be.

Overall a fairly decent movie, only riddled by some writing/acting inconsistency and the problems that plague any book made film.