Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Dark City: Director's Cut / **** (1998)

The opportunity to revisit “Dark City” ten years from whence it found its way into the imaginations of a generation of eloquent and sophisticated movie-goers is, in many ways, just as staggering as it is rewarding. A personal barometer for which most (if not all) films have been measured in the years since, the film endures with me as one of the ageless, nourishing visions of modern cinema, significant for the fact that it attained a certain scope of detail that continues to drive the true promise of filmmaking. When I wrote my first series of online reviews in the summer of 1998, here was the film that I would proudly call the benchmark of my critiquing inspiration – and now a decade has passed, time has caught up with me, and both the movie and I meet once again at the center of the spiral. It is amazing how important things have a way of taking you on long journeys, only to end up bringing you right back to the place where you started.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

So it goes like it goes... a decade of film criticism

How’s this for an eye-opener?

Out of sheer coincidence, I reflected late last week on the amount of time and energy I have spent reviewing film on the internet, and much to my surprise, it dawned on me, rather suddenly, that the following Tuesday was to be the tenth – yes, TENTH – anniversary of my first time being published online. The review was for “The Black Cauldron,” and Buena Vista Home Video had just released the Disney cartoon for the first time ever on VHS.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Dark Knight / **** (2008)

“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

The crazed, almost hypnotic dance of wits that is shared between Batman and the Joker is the most memorable of the public rivalries exhibited in the comic books about the caped crusader, a savagely perceptive conflict in which good and evil forces meet and clash with dizzying arrays of results ranging from the exciting to the profound. They also share a chemistry that is often imitated but never fully replicated, and despite a broad arsenal of enemies that have been thrown into the midst of the dark knight’s presence, none of them come close to matching. That’s because the Joker is, for better or worse, the only antagonist in the original stories that seems to understand enough about the Batman identity to dissect it; much like the hero, here is a villain whose own “trauma” in life has essentially made him the spiritual opposite of Gotham’s biggest crime fighter, and the two engage in elaborate plots against one another as if they are brothers of war destined to counter-balance one another’s existence in the scheme of life. Theirs is a tumultuous love affair that is almost endearing as it is wicked.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull / *** (2008)

10 things that come to mind when watching the new "Indy" flick

1. It has been nearly 20 years since the last installment into the George Lucas/Steven Spielberg franchise that solidified Harrison Ford as a Hollywood action star. For those that express concern and/or confusion over the prospect of a movie hero being dusted off and revived so long after the fact, we should remind you that the resurgence of the aged action star is but a new hot commodity in Hollywood. Otherwise, how does one explain the rousing success of recent return ventures into film franchises like "Rocky," "Rambo" and "Die Hard?"

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian / ***1/2 (2008)

The Narnia of Caspian X is a place more menacing and cutthroat than that of the early age, ravaged by land-hungry totalitarians known as the Telmarines, its wondrous populations of fawns, talking animals and tree spirits silenced by their ruthless pillaging of the establishments of old. They occupy the screen in “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” with a certain arrogance in their demeanor, dressed in lush robes and observed carrying themselves less like invaders and more like monarchs of England’s Tudor era. To say that their existence feeds into an assumption that the movie’s writers are beginning to see C.S. Lewis’ magical world from a more political context would be an understatement; when the movie opens, there is no doubt in the minds of its would-be heroes – or the audience, for that matter – that the battle between good and evil no longer comes down to impressive displays of magic and fantasy. Instead, what we get is a film with impressive battle sequences, talk of strategy and intrigue, and character development that spend less time marveling over fantastical sights and more time contemplating the pros and cons that come with change.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning / * (2006)

The blood-soaked horror movie has become a disgusting and contemptible beast, burdened by notions of macho-sadism and traces of insanity that suggest their filmmakers are either overzealous with visuals, completely twisted and warped, or somewhere in between. They only get away with it because audiences have embraced it for 30 years. Recall the success of the original “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” or how audiences flooded to “Friday the 13th” and its sequels. Moviegoers seem to be amused by brainless bloodbaths in which idiotic teenagers are sliced and diced like cuts of meat at a slaughterhouse. Does that make them pointless? Not always, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that there’s only so many dumb teenagers you can kill in a century on screen.

Speed Racer / *** (2008)

“Speed Racer” is a stylish, electrifying, intense and visually breathtaking catastrophe of a movie, a picture so filled with wondrous images and astonishing sights that one is left bewildered by the notion of so much technical energy being squandered on a narrative so obviously uninterested in matching it. Or maybe that is basically the whole point. I dunno. Based off of an old 1960s Japanese animated series– one which I am unfamiliar with – the filmmakers present their endeavor with just the kind of flat-footed, shapeless screenplay you half expect to be derived of the source material. But what empowers these filmmakers with enough nerve to justify giving this clueless premise much more enthralling a presentation than it so clearly deserves? This is a movie that forces us to question our very nature as moviegoers: do we simply dismiss such an endeavor because it is all style and no substance, or do we embrace it based on the notion that the style’s scope is so ambitious and intricate that it is basically high art?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Best and Worst of 2007

2007, you might say, was the year of revelations at the cinema, a year of surprises, startling discoveries and spectacular achievements. But that is not necessarily a positive prospect, either. Saturated by ambition and ambivalence, the movies that occupied theater screens in the 12 months of the calendar year offered high stylization, great energy and loud explosions, and payoffs too brief and momentary to make many of them deserving of that output. The trend was not one limited to the more prolific of box office competitors, either; like a disease that transcends culture and social divides, no one, including the Indies or the art-house flicks, were safe from the mediocrity that spread through the crops.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Oscars 2008: Nominee Predictions

2008 opens with change in the air. Hollywood quivers under the clout of a potentially drastic change to the industry with an ongoing Writer’s Guild strike. Studios face a future filled with gaps as scripts become more sparse and projects face delays. Networks cope with the prospect that high-profile awards ceremonies will get shortchanged by the absence of important figures. And yours truly has settled back into a groove he had not expected to return to when he gave it up over five years ago: sifting through heaps of awards hoopla in order to come up with a fairly accurate prediction of what the envelopes might contain when the Oscar nominations are announced this Tuesday morning.