Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Movie #107 - Star Trek (2009)

"The future begins."

For you Lost fans out there, J.J. Abrams is starting to take his influence outside of television and impressing us with his elaborate plot themes and clever story-telling in a storied franchise that to this point had gotten quite stale. Abrams' reinvention of the Star Trek franchise is both bold and compelling. I finally got the chance to see this movie over weeks of procrastination, but low and behold, it was a great investment of time and money.

The only true disappointment related to this film is the fact that it was originally promised for a Christmas 2008 release. In retrospect, a release date during the holidays of 2008 would have had more of an impact in terms of ticket sales and merchandising, not to mention not having to compete with the abundance of summer blockbusters that captivate the younger viewers. Having to make fans wait an extra five months or so is acceptable as the movie was done extremely well in my opinion.

However, Star Trek will always have a loyal audience and this movie does not disappoint. Abrams teams up with Damon Lindelof, Roberto Orci, and Alex Kurtzman to derive a wonderfully written script and plot. For those of the fans of the original series and relevant movies of the 80's and early 90's, nothing is lost in the flare for the dramatic combined with strong character development and relationships amongst the key players - mainly Spock and Kirk.

The great benefit of this film is Abrams' comic book way of solving timeline issues and predictability - allowing newer audiences to enjoy the movie and upcoming sequels, but also taking into account a progression that many die-hard Star Trek fans were hoping for... a reinvention of the whole scheme.

Not only does Abrams mix in a great deal of special effects, wonderful set designs, and creative action sequences, but similar to his success with Lost, the casting in this movie is superb. Having to re-cast the original cast of actors from the series must have been quite difficult, but Abrams accomplished this feat with a wide array of unknowns.

Chris Pine as Kirk was a gamble, but similar to the one accomplished in the 60's with William Shatner. Zachary Quinto of Heroes television fame is an awesome Spock and actually outshines Pine in terms of full character development. Not surprisingly, Leonard Nimoy reprises his role as Spock as well (I won't tell you how), which pays homage to the older fans of the genre. Zoe Saldana, Anton Yelchin, Simon Pegg, and Karl Urban round out the original cast and there is Canadian content in there - with Bruce Greenwood donning the Captain Christopher Pike character.

Overall, the movie does the original series and subsequent movies justice. No one can say that this film usurps Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan as the best of the original films, however, many can believe that this might be the first of many spectacular films produced by Abrams within this franchise. I've seen all 11 Star Trek films now and in retrospect, I would have to rank this one pretty high.

In terms of the films - here is where it stands already... maybe after a few more viewings, it might go up in rank:

1. Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan
2. Star Trek: First Contact
3. Star Trek (2009)

For a first attempt - it already broke through my top 3... not a bad start.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Movie #106 - The Deer Hunter

"Best Picture 1978."

I love this tagline - I wasn't around in 1978, but I am hoping that they didn't use this as the actual tagline back then... if they did, it was definitely presumptuous, however, was quite accurate.

From a personal opinion, this is one of my favourite movies out there... it obviously doesn't outrank some of my top 5 movies, however, it is in my top 10 for sure. Over the years, I have tried to get people in my circle of friends and family to watch this film and give it an unbiased chance. Unfortunately, for many, the movie comes off the same way - the consensus feedback I get is that the movie tends to move too slowly and its almost like two separate movies.

If you watched this film in the 80's or 90's, you would enjoy this movie as a two-pack VHS box set. In fact, the movie itself is written in a way that it tells two different stories. What life was like before the Vietnam war and what life is like after the Vietnam war. For those that enjoy strong character development and background story, this movie is definitely for you. However, if you are the "action movie" type, then you will easily enjoy the Russian roulette dramatic sequences.

However, as a fan of this entire film, you really cannot gauge the movie on specific scenes alone as everything ties in together. You follow the characters of Michael (Robert De Niro), Steven (John Savage), Nick (Christopher Walken), and Linda (Merryl Streep) as they experience life in a small steel town before and after the ill effects of the Vietnam War.

Its great to see a collaboration of stellar acting in this film, deserving of the Best Picture award and awards for Best Supporting Actor (Christopher Walken) and Best Director (Michael Cimino). I recently watched an interview with Cimino on TVO's Saturday Night at the Movies and he stated that the concept of the Russian roulette scenes were never in fact confirmed by the Vietnam government as being based on true events, however, they were never denied either. Also, although many have tried to interpret the storyline of this film, Cimino does tie everything into the "one shot" theme - a sort of masculine way of expressing camaraderie, toughness, and the bond that Michael and Nick have for each other.

If you have about 3 hours or so to kill, please find the time to watch this movie. There are no special effects and there is some stock footage intertwined from historical references of the war and scenes filmed in the Philippines. This movie is truly about friendship and the effect war has on it - as it shows the demise of the lives of the friends at home and the lives of the people coming back.

Its a treat to watch 3 Academy Award winners on the same screen (Streep, De Niro, and Walken), something that nowadays would be the only thing used for promotional purposes. Back in 1978, producers just wanted to entertain and tell a compelling story... they really hit the mark with this one.

Also, for those who have watched this film in its entirety, please watch the trailer... its pretty much a cut and paste job of the entire movie from beginning to end - with The Deer Hunter title screen every 5 seconds... I love trailers from the 70's!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Movie #105 - Three Amigos!

"They're Down On Their Luck And Up To Their Necks In Senoritas, Margaritas, Banditos And Bullets!"

As part of a recent fan poll, Three Amigos! was selected for the next review. I figured I'd sway away from the Oscar reviews at this point and move onto the regular movie selections - including the weekly fan poll to select the Friday blog entry.

Three Amigos! is one of those hilarious 80's films starring a multitude of funny actors from television and film. Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Chevy Chase play three silent film actors who are fired from Hollywood and are mistakenly cast into what they believe is a Mexican silent film - hired to thwart the exploits of the local thug, El Guapo - loosely translated as Mr. Handsome.

The hijinks that ensues is worth the effort of finding this film on DVD as a Friday night rental. The plot is somewhat silly and the action sequences are super cheesy, but that is the point - what else did you expect from these three yahoos. Either way, you are bound to get entertained... especially with the physical comedy displayed by the three actors and the abundance of one-liners.

Whenever this movie is shown on television, like many of the films reviewed in this blog, I tend to watch it from beginning to end. Its a fun film with many laughs and generally much better than many of the comedies rolling out nowadays. I actually hope that in the near future, producers decide to remake this movie with the original script, but a re-tooling of the cast. I can see many of the current comedic stars doing a great job with this silly film - possibly having fun with the casting of the main characters... going over the top in many cases.

I could easily see this film reuniting some of the cast members from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy being in this film, probably minus Will Ferrell, who has been a little overexposed in terms of television and film these days. I could easily see Steve Carrell replacing Steve Martin in the lead role - that would be a treat. Either way, of all the recent remakes coming out recently, I would like to see some new blood infused into comedies such as Three Amigos! - at the very least, they won't break any budgets on movies like this one.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Movie #104 - The Silence of the Lambs

"Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Brilliant. Cunning. Psychotic. In his mind lies the clue to a ruthless killer. - Clarice Starling, FBI. Brilliant. Vulnerable. Alone. She must trust him to stop the killer."

A very descriptive tagline for a movie that almost everyone watched back in 1991. What's funny is that many casual movie fans consider this role as the defining moment in the career of Anthony Hopkins, however, leading up to this ground-breaking film, Hopkins had a wonderful resume of great film and television achievements across the pond in the United Kingdom along with a number of North American film roles that achieved critical acclaim.

Most notably, Hopkins was part of the ensemble cast for the war epic, A Bridge Too Far (1977), along with the creepy horror film Magic (1978), and the stark drama The Elephant Man (1980). It actually took Hopkins quite some time to cross into mainstream recognition, but he accomplished that with his portrayal of Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Based on the Thomas Harris novels, the Lecter character is viewed as both an antagonist and protagonist in many of the films that were produced for this franchise.

If you watch Hannibal, the storyline follows more of a romantic infatuation between Lecter and FBI Agent Clarice Starling, mixed in with the suspense and violence associated with his character. If you watch Hannibal Rising, we are shown the younger version of Lecter and why his life is what it becomes.

Outside of this original film, however, I enjoy the prequel of Red Dragon as much as Silence of the Lambs - it goes slightly before the timeline of Lecter and Starling and adds in a wonderful ensemble cast of Ralph Fiennes, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson, Mary-Louise Parker, and Philip Seymour Hoffman - however, nothing beats the original.

At the time of production, Foster was in her prime coming off her Academy Award performance in The Accused (1988) and her character portrayal of Clarice Starling has had loose ties to the development of the Dana Scully character from the X-Files. Outside of the poor attempt at a southern accent, which I believe is the only drawback for this film, The Silence of the Lambs is a suspenseful, intense, and psychotic thriller - with great scenes to enjoy due to wonderful scene development and exceptional acting.

Well deserved Oscar wins for Best Picture, Best Director (Jonathan Demme), Best Actor, and Best Actress, and Best Writing - this movie shows that you don't necessarily need to spend a ton of $ on a movie budget - a good script, great actors, and a creative director will result in a tremendous movie... one that is highly recommended.