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Review: After Earth

bluray after earthAfter Earth is a Will Smith and Son project directed by M. Night Shyamalan.  Smith is credited for the story and the M. Night Screenplay was co-written by video game and Book of Eli writer Gary Whitta.  The movie would work much better as a game actually, as the set-ups and stages lend themselves to more potential action a player can create then what actually occurs on screen.  The resulting movie seems like a bad adaptation of a game that never even actually existed.

The look of this futuristic sci-fi tale is not bad.  The fanciful architecture of the canyon dwellings notwithstanding, the more practical materials and designs present styles and textures that befit a proper narrative.  Beyond that, there is less to enjoy or respect.  The narrative is slow and empty.  Will Smith’s story had great potential, as I said it would probably be a really fun video game and it could have been a thrilling movie.  The story of a father and son crash landing on a hostile planet, both of their fates resting on the son’s ability to cross the alien terrain and retrieve a beacon from a lost portion of the ship, is very enticing.  But it misses the mark with lackluster performances and noncommittal challenges for the hero on his quest.

Without properly fleshing out the skeleton of a story, yet presenting it as an exceedingly long feature, it unravels slowly and becomes tedious in no time.  Conflicts arise predictably and are quickly delt with, abandoning the promise of thrill or adventure. The strained relationship between the characters never gets pushed to the point of real drama so the turning point comes suddenly and subsides leaving all the scenes around it wanting for more of anything relatable, threatening, endearing, or otherwise.

Without the spark of passion or inspiration from the actors or director, it is like watching grown men anguish over completing a child’s connect-the-dots puzzle.  The choices decided on in the process, such as miraculous occurances that save the hero in times of despair, are questionable, but really don’t matter, because the movie is a bore, regardless of how, or why.

I’m a big fan of Unbreakable and I have been a supporter of M. Night up until The Last Airbender.  I even liked The Lady in the Water.  I felt that movie delivered exactly what it promised.  I never expected him to make another The Sixth Sense and have enjoyed the bulk of his work.  I was hoping this movie would serve as a sort of comeback or show somehow that he had once again found his way.  But the movie is a disappointment that casts doubt in even my mind as to whether, or not Shyamalan can ever again deliver a substantial movie.

Review: Much Ado About Nothing

bluray much adoMy impressions after watching Joss Whedon’s micro production Much Ado About Nothing are pretty simple, but my feelings about it’s creation are much more complicated.  If I separate everything going into it from the finished project in an effort to be fair to the production’s value, I may unjustly discredit the film just as I would taking all things into account.  All in all however, I found it to be pretty enjoyable.

I have not been so enamored with Whedon since he scripted and helmed the pivotal Marvel production The Avengers. Having seen how mediocre his direction can be and seeing a clip out of Much Ado itself, I was prepared for a terrible cheap look for the no budget movie.  I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of photography and the direction which showed more forethought and creativity than I expected.  The house was smartly used for the most part and created a very unique and special feel for the movie.  Alexis Denisof, whom fans will recognize as Wesley from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel is superb as Benedick.  Though American, Alexis is known for his british accent and lived in London for some time.  It adds a small dose of irony to hear him speak shakespeare with an American tongue.  Aside from that, his whole performance as the character is admirable and he almost bore the entire movie on his back with the support of Fran Kranz as Claudio, and Reed Diamond and Don Pedro (Both actors from the Whedon series The Dollhouse). Not to discredit the rest of the cast, but I thought this unit was particularly enjoyable and really seemed to grasp the material.

The whole cast was assembled from friends of Joss who had worked with him at one time or another, the side effect of which is that they all have a special place in the hearts of the fans who fell in love with them in their previous settings.  It adds a sense of familiarity in the spirit the impromptu production conveys.  Some of the dialogue comes off a little rocky. I noticed the lighter moments were harder for some of the actors to pull off than the scenes that took a more serious tone.  One of the things that unfortunately did not work for me was the casting of Amy Acker as Beatice.  As much as I love Acker, I just could not be persuaded to accept her in the role.  I would think a more obvious choice was Marena Baccarin, Or even Alyson Hannigan, Alexis’ wife.

I realize of course that the nature of the production was somewhat prohibitive in terms of assembling the cast (Joss made it during a vacation from post production on The Avengers) and it’s wonderful how many great talents got together for this, including Acker, but that’s part of what I mean when I talk about the strength of the movie, as it is, without the distractions of how it came to be.  As a no budget movie put on by a big family of friends in the director’s house, It came out pretty damn good.  But– and this is a big but, like something Sir Mix-a-lot would only dream of– would you pay the premium ticket price or purchase the $20-$25 Blu-ray if it didn’t have Joss Whedon’s name attached to it?  There is even a $15 paperback written by Joss Whedon and William Shakespeare!  Come on.  Are you kidding me?

If a student film maker with limited resources and a passion for film pulls something like this together, then it ought to be supported financially by those who would encourage independent filmmakers.  But should a successful writer/director with a dedicated fan base who has landed (and is yet to finish post production on) the monumental Avengers gig not be held to a higher standard?  I’m not saying it should not have been made, but maybe he should have waited.  It seems to me like the fans are being exploited and taken for granted.  In time– perhaps sooner than later considering what a let down Agents of Shield has turned out to be– they will resent him.

One such lapse in the quality that might have been forgivable in the hands of an amateur is the locations used for the scenes with Dogberry and the watchmen.  It was an unfitting mess compared to the rest of the production.  But it was shoehorned in in order to shoot the whole thing on Joss’ property, with a minimum of preparation.

As a whole– though it is enjoyable and has a terrific cast and is shot beautifully in black and white– the settings and performances are inconsistent with the entire production and the momentum slows from time to time when it ought to be less indulgent and just keep moving.  It’s pretty good for what it is, but what it is is not what it should be.

Review: Rush

poster rushRush is a based on real events story directed by Ron Howard and scripted by frequent Ron Howard collaborator Peter Morgan.  The film attempts to explore the infamous rivalry between two Formula One racers during the seventies.  As a period piece it is composed rather well with costumes and set pieces consistent with the time, but not as flashy and obvious as, say the upcoming American Hustle.  This may have been a deliberate choice, perhaps in order to not distract the audience from the story.  Unfortunately, the story lacked balls and could have done with some style and a little more TLC from Howard.

I say balls, rather than boldness, guts, tenacity, or fearlessness, because that is the way I think the characters in the movie would express it.  For all the mandatory rhetoric about passion and heart that you are bound to find in a racing movie, I found none of that in the composition.  Whenever a driving sequence got on the verge of becoming a thrill it was cut short.  It is also uneven with most of the longer race scenes weighing down the end of the film with very little payoff.

One of the flaws of the film is that by attempting to shed light on Hunt and Laude (both characters involved in the rivalry) they fail to give the audience someone to root for.  The point is not the rivalry or who wins, the point is that they push each other to be better.  It’s an interesting idea, but its not a movie and it failed to arouse true interest as the stakes supposedly mounted, because I had no investment in one character over the other.  It was so passive, and thusly, boring.  It might have been a good character study if more attention were paid to dialogue and creating scenes that we could dwell in and enjoy without feeling the need to trudge forward, but trudge it does, from one uninspired scene on to the next, creating a sense of impatience for it to all be over.

Despite the noble attempt to not chose sides, or rather to expose the virtue of both sides beneath the surface, and the desire of the producers to stick to the actual events that inspired the film; I think the fair and balanced approach was a failure.  If Rudy hadn’t made the new Notre Dame coach the villain in the third act, the whole spirit of the story would have suffered.  In the end, these two very different, but very driven racers had nothing to fight for but to beat each other.

The events of the past are little more than a blip in history that most people won’t even recognize and this movie will do little to change that fact.  It too will soon be forgotten.  Renny Harlin  captured the pulse pounding action of Indy racing much better in the Stallone film Driven twelve years ago.  I recommend that for good racing action, or even Cars, or The Dukes of Hazard.  As a sports movie with a historical context it may be of interest to some people, but I believe it fails as an adaptation to be a fully developed story and the direction is not what I expected from Ron Howard.