Saturday, January 26, 2008

Movie Review: I am legend

The world gets hit by a virus - a mutation from a manmade cure for cancer - that changes most of the Earth's population into crazed, violent, flesh-eating monsters who can't stand sunlight. Will Smith plays Robert Neville, the last survivor in New York City and maybe the world, a scientist who is dedicated to finding a cure in a little laboratory under his home. He has been at it for a couple of years and is going a bit odd, talking to mannequins he set up around town. Only his dog keeps him company on his trips around town for food, infected test subjects and the occasional dvd. He broadcasts to potential other survivors, calling them to a specific location, but without response. Lions and gazelles roam the streets during the day. At night Neville locks himself into his house as the mutated population comes out of hiding and hunts for their own version of food.
The beginning of the movie impresses the most, vividly painting the picture of Neville's lonely, desperate existence in a desolate city. I am Legend is at its best when nothing much seems to be happening. Later on, Neville gets unexpected company and quite a bit of explosive action ensues. We see the monsters more often and more clearly and that was probably a mistake. They don't look real and especially in some of the crowd scenes, you get thrown out of the movie and feel like you are watching a computer game. The ending serves its purpose in wrapping up the story, but there are also one or two unlikely coincidences that had me rolling my eyes. I would have preferred the movie to stay understated and a bit more 'realistic'. But it can definitely be recommended as a good popcorn movie.

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Sunday, January 6, 2008

Back in the Future: 80's Nostalgia

It's a great time to be in your early thirties and nostalgic for the entertainment from your childhood. A 'proper' Ghostbusters sequel is in the making, in the form of a computer game, with the original cast providing the voices and the story. The Goonies might get a follow-up in the form of an animated series on the Cartoon Network. And an animated sequel to the The Dark Crystal is currently in production, due for 2009. Manga publisher Tokypop is adding to the fun with two recently published titles: Legends of the Dark Crystal and Return to the Labyrinth. For those unfamiliar with Manga: they are smaller-but-thicker comics in black and white, which have a somewhat shared style of drawing, with a Japanese origin.
One volume has so far been published of the Dark Crystal series, which is in fact a prequel as it takes place before the movie. It's the Gelfling versus the evil Skeksis and Garthim, though the outcome seems predestined. Again a young Gelfling couple-to-be leads the way, making it feel a bit too familiar and I am not sure if the story will be able to surprise me, but it is well-drawn with a lot of detail and certainly worth a read for fans. Return to the Labyrinth is an actual sequel, picking up with Toby - the abducted baby from the movie - now a teen and finding himself drafted to lead the nutball Labyrinth as a successor to David Bowie - sorry, I mean Jareth the Goblin King. But there are hidden agendas yet to be uncovered, and older sister Sarah seems likely to join the fray, going by the end of the most recent volume (#2). The human characters don't look at all like their movie counterparts - likely due to legal reasons - but the silly and rambling tone of the movie is well-reproduced here, even if the humour is lame in places.
Fans of comics will also be able to relive their youth through omnibus collections from both Marvel and DC. Marvel calls their line Essential (Essential X-men, Fantastic Four and so on) while DC has dubbed theirs Showcase Presents. Each volume contains reprints of a lot of old issues in black-and-white. The colours have fallen by the wayside to cut down on costs, but that is a small price to pay for - well - paying such a small price. And as owners of the original issues can attest, comics colouring in days of yore wasn't very impressive yet anyway.
As for more recent nostalgia, I can't resist a quick plug for Buffy: The Long Way Home, the official continuation ('season 8') of the television series now out in trade paperback, written by none other than series creator Joss Whedon. Good stuff and 'entirely pointy'!
(By the way - all the book links here are to the site of the store I work at. If you are abroad, you might find them cheaper locally.)

Movie Review: Hatchet

Hatchet is a sweet, romantic comedy in which... oh, hang on, that was Enchanted. As the title suggests Hatchet is a horror move, either a homage to or a rip-off from the overly gory 80's 'classics', most notably Friday the 13th. Is has the 'isolate and kill'-setup: ship a little group of victims off to somewhere remote, where even mobile phones don't work and start bumping them off one by one. This location: the swamps of New Orleans. The group: a little clique of people foolish enough to take a 'spooky' tour through said swamps, lead by an inept guide. There are c-actors you might recognise: Deon Richmond (once that cute little kid from The Cosby Show), Mercedes McNab (whose character - amazingly and hilariously - is even 'stupider' than her most famous one: Harmony from Angel) and Richard Riehle (one of those 'He looks so familiar, but from where?' actors). There are cameos from Robert Englund (Freddy) and Tony Todd (Candyman).
The killer is one of those Energiser Bunny types that just keeps going and going and going, no matter if you shoot him, stab him or set him on fire. A hatchet is indeed used, validating the title, as are various power tools, though mostly this killer likes ripping people apart with his bare hands. There has been a move towards what has been dubbed 'horror porn' lately, in movies like Hostel, Saw and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, which show people being tortured fairly realistically. That's entertainment, folks! This movie consciously spits in that movements face. The gory killings are way over the top and for the most part no effort has been made to keep things believable. The chocolate milk coloured with red dye flies everywhere. My favourite: after someone's arms have been ripped off, this person is then dragged away by his legs and swung around through the air to have his head crushed against a gravestone. Don't you hate it when that happens?
To the movie's credit, time is taken in the beginning to sketch out the characters a little and the actors all seem to be getting into it. Especially McNab and Richmond grab a few giggles as the comic relief. Seeing how the group makes some really stupid decisions, you end up not feeling too bad for the people getting offed. Highlight: 'Hey let's have this person stand guard unarmed and alone with her back to some ominous shrubbery.... What!? She got ripped apart you say? I did not see that coming.'
Ultimately, how much you enjoy the movie will depend on how many of this type you have already seen. It all seemed very familiar to me and I doubt it will stick with me for too long. A sequel seems likely, but then don't they always in this genre?

Movie Review: Enchanted

About twenty minutes into Enchanted, my balls fell off and I was able to enjoy it - more or less - as its intended audience: pre-pubescent girls. It starts with a cartoon of such sweetness that it made me feel an urge to brush my teeth. Soon the princess from this cartoon ends up in the real world - that is to say 'ours' - and the fun starts. She tries to find a way back to her world and her betrothed, a dumb prince whose Evil Stepmother tossed her out of fairyland. Soon other fairytale characters cross over to either help or hinder her, causing all sorts of funny mayhem. An animated squirrel changes into a computer-animated 'real' squirrel who now can't talk but retains his intelligence. Meanwhile our princess falls in with a cynical divorce lawyer - literally - and his young daughter. As time goes on, she starts to be uncertain who her true love is. This is ultimately settled with a kiss, after which pretty much everyone lives happily ever after. The moral of the story is: true love exists, but it doesn't just fall into your lap, you have to work at it.
There are plenty of charming touches throughout: when the princess sings in her cartoon, cute little forest animals assemble to put together a costume. When she sings in the real world, animals do respond - oddly - but since she is in New York, her helpers are pigeons, sewer-rats and cockroaches. She is also able to lead a park full of people into a spontaneous though choreographed dance routine. Leads Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey are both charming in spades and easily carry the movie, helped along by comic assist from Timothy Spall and James Marsden as semi-evil henchman and prince respectively. However, the squirrel tends to steal the show whenever around. Susan Sarandon is deliciously evil but criminally underused. The ending is suitably, soppily romantic, but the big climatic scene involving a murderous dragon doesn't work: all build-up and no pay-off. This one is mostly for young girls and maybe not-too-cynical parents.