Archive for the ‘Movie Time’ Category

Movie Time: Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant

October 27, 2009

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Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant
Directed by Paul Weitz
Starring John C. Reilly, Josh Hutcherson, Chris Massoglia

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Darren and Steve are best friends. They are also opposites in almost every way. Darren is the good kid, works hard in school, makes good grades, etc. Steve is the teenage punk from a troubled home that is apt to get into trouble. After finding a flyer for a traveling circus of freaks, the two decide to attend… and both of their lives are transformed.

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During the show, Steve recognizes the magician to be a vampire from one of the many books he has on the subject. Darren, on the other hand, is far more interested in the unique spider that works with the magician/vampire.

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When the show is broken up by local citizens and police, Darren and Steve are separated. Darren finds himself outside the dressing room of the magician/vampire, and decides he wants to see the spider again. Inside he finds the spider, but hears someone coming down the hall and grabs the spider and sneaks into the closet.

The magician/vampire and a friend step into the room and shortly thereafter… and so does Steve. Steve confronts the magician/vampire, and tells him he wants to be made a vampire, that he has nothing else to live for. The vampire sends him away.

When he gets the chance, Darren makes a run for it, and goes home, with the spider.

The next day, Darren takes the spider with him to school and meets up with Steve. The spider, accidentally freed from its cage, bites Steve, leaving him near death.

Darren makes his way back to the theater where they saw the show, hoping that the vampire can help Steve. The vampire makes a deal to help Steve, in exchange for Darren becoming his assistant… and a half-vampire.

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Thus begins Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant. This movie is an obvious foundation for other films planned for a series based on the Cirque Du Freak books, which is both good and bad. Good, in that it is trying to establish a world and we are introduced to a lot of characters so that we get a feel for that world. Bad, in that many of those characters are given little time to truly establish themselves.

But, if the film does spawn the sequels, that will be forgiven, perhaps even lauded as we don’t have to deal with the problems of introducing so many characters with each subsequent installment.

The real basis of the story, though, is the rivalry between two sets of bloodsuckers – the Vampires and the Vampanese. Vampires, in this setting, are the “good” guys – they still drink blood, but they only sedate their victims, they don’t kill them. The Vampanese, on the other hand, are violent and bloodthirsty, and power hungry. There has been a long tentative peace treaty between the two groups, but it is now threatened.

I’ll admit that I knew nothing about this film going in. I had seen one commercial for it, and decided to see it just because of the planned theme for this week. And, though the film had a lot of faults, I was pleasantly surprised overall.

This isn’t really a vampire film, though. There are “sorta” vampires in it, but it is almost… vampires sifted through Tim Burton’s brain and then highlighted with Harry Potter-ness… if that makes any sense. The film is more of a quirky fantasy than anything in the realm of horror. Because of that, a lot of people will be immediately turned off of the film. Me? I’m rather proud of myself. When I realized what this film was going for, I thought, “Oh, okay. Well, I’m not exactly the target audience, but let’s see what happens.”

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And, sure enough, I’m not the audience for this film. I can’t imagine rushing out to get the DVD for it when it comes out, or even going out of my way to see it again… but I did find it enjoyable.

Yeah, I could talk about the shortcomings of the film all day. I could tell you that Chris Massoglia, who plays Darren, is essentially a clone of Ashton Kutcher and that his performance seemed disengaged. I could complain that the other freaks of the Cirque didn’t get anywhere near enough screen time, and that the large number of name actors were generally wasted in the film.

But, you know what? That is a bunch of nitpicky kinda stuff that, while accurate, didn’t really stop me from enjoying this movie. The effects for the movie were pretty cool, even if some were a little too obviously computer animated. The makeup on this film was stellar, though, top notch stuff that really made this world come alive.

And, though they had limited screen time, the cast of freaks were really good. Jane Krakowski as Corma Limbs was bizarrely perky.

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Orlando Jones as Alexander Ribs was… well, Orlando Jones. (Orlando Jones seems to be himself in most things.) Ken Watanabe had an amazing presence as Mr. Tall, and Patrick Fugit was so fantastic as the Snake Boy that I’d like to see an entire movie based on that character.

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And, there is Salma Hayak… being all Salma Hayak and hot and all.

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The most amazing performance for me, though, had to be John C. Reilly as Crespley, the vampire. The role is so completely against type for him, but he manages to completely own it.

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His turn as the weary, cynical vampire is enough for me to recommend this movie to anyone I know. He delivers some of the best lines in the film that range from dark, wry humor, to an almost sad melancholy, and delivers them well.

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Honestly, other than when he appeared on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and tore into Kevin Costner about when they both were doing For Love of the Game, this is my favorite thing John C. Reilly has ever done!

(And, by the way, if anyone knows where to find a clip of that, I’d be forever grateful to have it!)

For me, this movie was an unexpected treat. It won’t appeal to everyone, as it is definitely aimed toward mid-teens, but it wasn’t bad. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that I wouldn’t mind seeing this film get some sequels, if only to expand on this world and to see the actors in supporting roles get a chance to shine.

I’m giving Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant three out of five Running Steves.

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If nothing, this film has made me want to seek out the series of books on which it was based.

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Movie Time: Zombieland

October 22, 2009

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Zombieland
Directed by Ruben Fleischer
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, and Abigal Breslin

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How to sum up this movie? In a post-apocalyptic world filled with zombies, four individuals join up… sorta… in search of a safe place that at least 75% of them don’t even believe exists. And Twinkies. Oh, and along the way, they learn a little about themselves, family, and they kill zombies.

And, honestly, that’s about it.

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If you are looking for anything more than that, Zombieland is going to be a great disappointment. If you are just looking for a relatively fun film with some zombie killing, you’ll probably like it. But (and, this is where I differ from about 90% of the people that see this movie), if you are looking for a great zombie movie, you’ll probably be a little let down.

Parts of the movie were fantastic. Early on in the film, we are introduced to Columbus (Eisenberg), in all his nerdiness, and his rules for surviving in the new status quo, which is really funny.

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(By the way, I find that Eisenberg:

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… is completely interchangeable with Micheal Cera:

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… who I originally thought was in this movie before I actually saw the film.  Just sayin’.)

And, when Tallahassee (Harrelson) and Columbus are in the early stages of their road trip, the film takes total advantage of the contrast between the characters. The comic chemistry between the two was fantastic, and the zombie killin’ they commence to doin’ is top notch and entertaining.

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If the whole film had been just that, I would’ve enjoyed the whole thing much more.

Once Tallahassee and Columbus meet up with Wichita and Little Rock (Emma Stone and Abigal Breslin), though, the focus shifts away from zombies almost altogether to the bonding of the group of four individuals… which isn’t a horrible thing, but it kinda sapped away my enjoyment of the movie in the manner it was shoehorned into the middle of the film.

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At this point, you get the weakest portions of the movie – a sequence of destruction of a souvenir shop that was pretty “eh”, and the Cameo (which you likely already know about, but I’m not going to spoil). The Cameo was surprising to me (because I was fortunate enough not to have heard a thing about it), but it was also only mildly amusing. And, then you get more character bonding (which is undermined by some less than stellar humor).

Which then leads up to the big finale, where two of the characters, in maybe the greatest display of stupidity in the entire film, run off to an amusement park and turn every light and noise-maker on, so they can play for a while. This, of course, attracts every zombie for miles around, and the two idiots have to be rescued by the only two other remaining people on earth (okay, we aren’t expressly told that, but it is implied). This rescue, though, lacks the creative and comic sense of the zombie kills early in the film, and kinda seems a little easy, despite the overwhelming numbers involved.

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I enjoyed the movie as a sort of mindless popcorn film, but I wasn’t as blown away by it as most folks. As a result, I can only give Zombieland two and a half out of five Running Steves.

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I just wish they had kept up the momentum from early on in the film.

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Movie Time: Fido

October 20, 2009

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Fido
Directed by Andrew Currie
Starring Billy Connolly, Carrie-Ann Moss, Dylan Baker, K’Sun Ray, Henry Czerny

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Combining the nostalgia of Leave It to Beaver and the tender mercies of Dawn of the Dead, Fido is the story of a boy and his zombie.

In an alternative 1950’s era, the world is perfect in its innocence after recovering from the Zombie Wars (a time when the world was ravaged by space-dust reanimated dead). And, thanks to innovative technological advances, everyone can now even have their very own zombie servants!

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Sure, every once in a while, a zombie goes bad and has to be taken care of, but folks are prepared. Children hone their shooting skills during the school day, and there is always ZomCom, the company that makes the control collars for the zombies, and their security division that keeps normal folks safe.

In the idyllic setting, we meet the Robinsons – Bill, Helen, and their son, Timmy. Bill is the responsible father, making sure that each member of his family have a funeral savings, ensuring that they will not revert to zombies after their deaths. Helen is a loving wife and mother, perhaps a little too concerned with keeping up with the Joneses. And Timmy? Timmy is the average boy, who’d just like to play catch with his dad.

Despite Bill being against it (for pretty good reasons when you see the movie), Helen orders a zombie after the head of ZomCom’s security division moves into the neighborhood. After a short period, Timmy becomes truly attached to the zombie and names him Fido.

Unfortunately, Fido’s control collar goes on the fritz, and he attacks and kills a neighbor. Despite the best efforts of Timmy to keep this under wraps, it is eventually found out, and Fido is recalled to ZomCom. Then, it is up to Timmy to rescue Fido.

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I have to admit, when I decided to watch this film, I wasn’t expecting much. I had seen the preview, and thought, okay, I’ll give it a shot.

I’m very glad I did.

The look of this film is unbelievable. Despite the low budget, the feel is captured every bit as well, if not better, than in most movies that try the same. Everything from the costumes to the houses are era-perfect. It is a beautiful and lush setting, full of bright, synthetic colors that make for a great contrasting look with the zombies, clad in blues and grays to match their skin tones.

The acting throughout the film is pretty top notch. I wasn’t annoyed by the kid actor playing Timmy (which is a feat), and Carrie-Ann Moss as the mother was really fantastic, as, perhaps, the most dynamic character of the entire film.

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Henry Czerny stole every seen he was in as spot-on casting for no-nonsense Head of Security Mr. Bottoms. The delightfully creepy Tim Blake Nelson as Mr. Theopolis, neighbor to the Robinsons, is worth the price of admission!

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If there was any fault in the cast, I’d have to give that to Dylan Baker, who I usually really enjoy. In this movie, though, he seemed to be the only one playing a bit over the top, which was a contrast to the other actors that seemed to be playing the ridiculous as straight.

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Still, overall, no major complaints.

Oh, and, let me just say that it blows me away that Fido:

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Was played by this Billy Connolly:

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Which was a fact I didn’t realize until very nearly the end of the film! I knew Billy Connolly was in the film, but I just didn’t connect it until late in the movie.

For better or worse (depending entirely on your tastes), the gore of this film was very understated overall (especially considering that it is a zombie movie). As a result, if you are looking for a bloody mess of a movie, you’ll probably be disappointed. On the other hand, if you are looking for a zombie movie that non-horror fans might enjoy, this is a heart-warming film (with a nice touch of satire and a bit of gore) that will probably fit the bill.

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I’m giving Fido three and a half out of five Running Steves.

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While this film isn’t quite up to the level of brilliance of the amazing Shaun of the Dead, it is certainly high up on the list of wonderful zombie comedies. Check it out if you have a chance!

Movie Time: Surrogates

October 14, 2009

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Surrogates
PG-13
Directed by Jonathan Mostow
Starring Bruce Willis

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There was a time, not too long ago, when Hollywood offering a token of science fiction with good production values and name stars was unusual. It was a dark time. As a result, I still get excited when I see a movie preview from the genre, despite the greater number of offerings.

Enter, Surrogates.

I saw the previews for this film and was really amped to see it. Real life delayed me, until this past weekend, but now I’ve seen it, and thought I’d go ahead and give my two cents about it.

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In a future world quite similar to ours, technology has allowed the vast majority of people to purchase robotic surrogates, physically perfect avatars, to interact in the real world. No more need to fear the dangers of the outside world, people plug themselves in and live through these machines in perfect safety. Even if the surrogate is damaged, the operator is perfectly safe.

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That all changes, though, when a college student is somehow murdered via their link with a surrogate. FBI agent Tom Greer (Bruce Willis) investigates the death, running into roadblocks from the company that creates the surrogates, the military, and those that rebel against the use of surrogates.

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The movie is based on a limited comic book series from Top Shelf Productions.

I’ll admit, I haven’t read the comic book. I thought about seeking it out before seeing the movie, but I tend to believe that is a bad idea. Seldom to films live up to the source material, and I wanted to give this film every chance.

At the start of the film, I was completely struck by the look of the characters. I would bet that underwear companies had to delay their ad campaigns while every perfect underwear model in the world worked on this film. That isn’t a knock against the film – it establishes very early on the feel of the movie, and artificial perfection, a “fakeness” that allows the premise that people living through perfect machines is plausible.

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In fact, this is reinforced when we meet up with the plastic version of Bruce Willis’ character. I don’t know what all they did to Bruce Willis to give us the plastic/perfect look that blends in with the underwear model cast so well, but it is impressive.

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And, when his character is forced to go without his surrogate, the grizzled, wrinkled, and bald look of the actual human behind the puppet is also great for establishing the contrast of the film.

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Unfortunately, one aspect of this compare/contrast demonstration didn’t really work. In the movie, there are those that are resistant to using the surrogates. Resistant is probably too subtle a term. “Violently opposed” is more accurate. They have been separated from the general populace in various camps. To emphasize the difference between these “real” people and the surrogates, most of the real folks are too real – sloppy looking, craggy, unkempt. It made me wonder, as I was watching, why none of the “real” people looked basically average. You can’t tell me that only the least attractive members of society reject surrogates. There have to be a couple of average folks mixed in, or it seems too black and white, which actually took me out of the movie.

The movie does have several good action sequences, and I have no complaints about the effects within the film. And, with a running time of under 90 minutes, the movie certainly doesn’t drag!

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On the other hand, the film is pretty heavy handed in its moral. Not only does the main plot seem to revolve around the detachment of humanity, the sub plot of the relationship between Greer and his wife does as well. I think the makers of the film were trying to use the sub plot as a more personal reflection of the widespread issue of the main plot, but what results is the feeling of being hammered over the head in a “well, if you didn’t get the idea from that, how about this” sorta way.

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(Ooh, by the way, wanna see what that surrogate having its face pulled off looks like? Okay!)

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And, had the film stuck with the single social commentary of the detachment of humanity, I think they could have had a better product. Unfortunately, that non-dragging 90 minutes doesn’t really allow for the exploration of that theme, the violation of personal civil liberties, the question of justification in terrorism, and any of the other statements that the film failed to sufficiently elaborate on.

The movie failed to really offer anything new, though. We’ve seen this same sort of story done before, both better and worse.

The real problem with the film, though, is predictability. Every action seems to be telegraphed throughout the movie. Plus, I was able to figure out most of the film in the first five minutes, which is something I hate. OG tells me that this is partially my fault, because I never go into any book or film without overanalyzing as I go along. Maybe he’s right, but I still hate knowing how things are going to be put together at the beginning.

Overall, the movie was okay. Nothing spectacular, but it wasn’t unwatchable. I wouldn’t recommend running out to the theater to catch it before it moves to DVD. It isn’t worth that.

I’m going to give Surrogates two Running Steves.

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I don’t know that they could have really done enough to make the film great, but there was definitely room for improvement.