The Golden Compass Movie Review

24 06 2008

  Guess what everyone?  Hollywood has made another big-budget Blockbuster and it’s based on a book.  Why, of course, it’s based on a book silly.  The Golden Compass is an unexpectedly interesting flick that showed a lot of promise but in the end falls short of being a memorable film.  Some of my problems with the film might just stem from my own personal issues but other problems are, unfortunately for The Golden Compass, more weighted.



     As for my personal “beefs” well enough already with British children saving the world, I mean seriously.  How much more of this do we, the audience, have to stomach.  Could the message be any blunter?  I for one don’t believe it is solely the responsibility of British children to bail our collective butts out of the fire.  Every time one turns around there is some movie being pushed down our collectively raw throats about a British kid being the only one to save the world and most of these films, like The Golden Compass, are aimed at children around the world.  Uncool-film industry, uncool.



     So you have that much of the plot-another freakin’ British kid must save the world.  But this time, it’s even bigger than that, as this particular British girl must save the entire universe and all parallel universes from an evil, repressive religious group called the Magisterium who suppresses knowledge of all kinds.  Gee, I wonder where the inspiration for this comes from?



     There is much to enjoy and admire in The Golden Compass, however.  The concept of one’s soul being repressed as a sort of interactive spirit animal, while borrowing rather obviously from the Native Americans and others, is still a fun mechanism to play with and is well used.  The core story of Lyra being given the powerful Golden Compass and the adventure that this ensures keeps ones attention, but is also a problem in and of itself.  Too much happens in The Golden Compass. Characters are not explained nor developed, and it is clear that there was enough material to split this film in half.  The Golden Compass could have benefited tremendously from better exploration of its core themes and characters as many of the films ideas are, in fact, worthy of exploration.



     Another major flaw of the film is that for all its undercurrents of reason and progressive thought, the core story falls back on clichés, small minded ideas and whiffs of the nepotism and inherited/genetically innate ability, as our young heroian Lyra is, of course, from an important and special family as well.  How many more times, must we see that?



     All the substantial criticism aside it is too bad, in a sense, that we may not see sequels to The Golden Compass.  The film tackles religious repression in a novel way and this clearly scared many away from the film as the media pushed the “anti-religion themes” of the film strongly just before the opening.  I watched numerous reports on major news outlets that had text headlines on the screen all the lines of “Golden Compass Anti-Religion?” during the debates and discussions of the film.  By now we all should know what that question mark means. 


Even if parents weren’t totally convinced that the film would damage little Joey’s fragile brain, they were apparently scared away, which is impressive considering the film starred Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Sam Elliott, Ian McKellen and Christopher Lee among others.  Yet despite all that precious starpower, which usually works very well on US audiences, The Golden Compass failed to life up to domestic expectations.  The story was very different overseas, as The Golden Compass earned around $300 million dollars, perhaps Europeans parents are less fearful of ideas? Perhaps they feel that their children’s faith is so remarkably strong that it can withstand exposure to a variety of ideas, who is to say?



     There are real problems with the film, ranging from pacing and cramming too much into the film, to the ridiculously abrupt ending, to the selection of Chris Weitz as director.  Who made that call?  Chris Weitz?  The same guy who directed American Pie and About a Boy, good films but this is who you get to direct a massive CG laden flick?  Your lucky things went as well as they did Hollywood studio.


Story B- (Lots of nice ideas and concepts, but underdeveloped characters abound, and the entire film seems to rushed.)

Acting B-

Visuals A

Originality/Innovation B (The originality of the film is sapped by the decision to fall back on silly clichés.)

Enjoyability Grade B

Home Theater/HD Factor A

Overall Grade B- (The abrupt ending really hurts the film and Chris Weitz as the director-come on now.)




Miami Vice-Like Having Your Head In A Vice

25 10 2007

Miami Vice-Like Having Your Head In A Vice

Ponder this for a moment. If there was a subversive working within the movie industry, trying to destroy the film business, could they really be any happier than having a studio give Michael Mann hundreds of millions of dollars to direct an action film? He just doesn’t know what to do with the money and should stick with directly smaller, safer films. This film was so much worse than I expected. I was seriously stunned. Now, with that said, I expected very, precious little out of a Miami Vice The Movie. Why? Do you really need to ask that question? It is a Miami Vice The Movie! Given, a Miami Vice movie was bound to be foolish fluff and when I heard that the powers that be were making a feature film, I just assumed we were talking Ben Stiller comedy vehicle. Nope, they tried to go “all serious” with it, and it sucks.

Let’s just establish that the script is garbage. Honestly, its just a series of rehashed stuff you’ve seen a million times before, that is when you can actually follow the convoluted action, when there is action. For an action film there is a whole lot of talk in this one. Perhaps, Mann was trying to show us that he could direct a film that was simultaneously about blowing stuff apart and the human condition- he can’t. With Miami Vice, the audience is given a bloated, long film that is far lighter on the action and fun than people were probably expecting.
As for Colin Farrell as Crockett, where to begin? Crockett, is a silly character, that is a given, but Farrell’s “interpretation” of Crockett is sort of like the interpretation one would get in an acting class—in an insane asylum. Jamie Foxx as Tubbs, is dull, flat, sad. A boring script and boring acting performances, oh what fun.

At no point in the film can any honest person look on the screen and say, “this look like a $130 million dollar film.” You can’t do it, only Hollywood insiders that THINK they understand the BUSINESS can look up on the screen and say the money is reflected. It’s not. If you are a frequent reader of my reviews you know what $130 million dollars well spent can buy you in the film business, if you use your money wisely. But, Miami Vice is still a blockbuster. Why? Well, as usual, it’s obvious, the studio exploited name recognition and in all honesty, sort of sucker punched the audiences. Fans of the television series might have not expected too much, but they were at least expecting some escapist action and fun. They got little of either. Seeing a guy ripped apart by a high power sniper rifle, I don’t know Mann, you’ve got to do better than this, or sooner or later the Hollywood gods will find someone else to deliver the circuses to the masses. Then again, you’ll probably be retiring soon anyway, right?

Story D (The script written by Michael Mann is completely lacking, but its not totally his fault as few could have penned a brilliant script around Crockett and Tubbs. I know many Hollywood wanna be’s might think they can, but seriously, Crockett and Tubbs, folks. Crockett and Tubbs. A good script maybe, a brilliant one, one the studios would have signed off on and not been afraid of, pretty unlikely.)

Acting D (The acting was more like a Internet parody video than the real deal. What were these guys thinking.)

Visuals B (The visuals were okay, here and there, but lacked the visual sizzle that most were probably expecting.)

Originality/Innovation F (Well, I don’t think I have seen a guy ripped apart in slow-mo by a sniper rifle before, but other than that…)

Enjoyability Grade D (Considering the vast sum of money that was spent on this film, watching Miami Vice was much like having my head placed in a vice.)

Home Theater/HD Factor B

Overall Grade D (Disappointing from beginning to end and way too long.)

The Pink Panther-Casting via Celebrity Rags and Darts

7 09 2007

As we all know with complete clarity at this point, or at least for god’s sake you should, it is that all the Hollywood Studio System cares about is money, and the occasional lackluster attempt at social commentary and engineering, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the primary goal of making money that is. Well, not too worry, there are no real attempts at social engineering in The Pink Panther, and if there is, wow it is over my head. No, what you have with this masterpiece is a pure, old-fashioned money grab, just the way the studio executives like it.

Overall, I am a Steve Martin fan, and Martin was one of the writers on the film. That said, however, this pic just doesn’t deliver. Of course, you are not looking for substance with a Pink Panther film, you’re just looking for laughs, and at times The Pink Panther has them…here and there. Obviously, that is problem for The Pink Panther is just not that funny overall, as the entire project seems unnatural and forced.
A big part of the problem is that Martin is wrong as Inspector Jacques Clouseau, as would be any known actor. What this flick really needed was a new face, supported by a star cast, but I fear the egos must have gotten in the way. Kevin Kline is good as the villain Dreyfus and likewise Jean Reno plays a good sidekick, but as always, Reno is playing Jean Reno. Let’s face it this guy is sort of famous for being famous, don’t you think? Then, there is the whole issue of Beyonce Knowles as the love interest. The problem with casting here is obvious; she is playing a relatively nice, simple girl, totally unbelievable people, totally. No Beyonce, if we must be subjected to her, MUST play the villain, plain and simple, end of story. She doesn’t have the talent to play a nice person, just forget it, okay Hollywood, you’re only hurting your own money making machines with moves like this one with Beyonce, who of course, plays a singer in the movie. You can imagine my eyes rolling here as I type.
It should be obvious, why I don’t think this panther is too sexy. The script is pretty lame and the casting borders on horrible and definitely comes across as being weird. The whole thing is just, uncomfortable. That said, its not uncomfortable like any of Eddie Murphy’s recent clusterf**k’s but it is such a let down. However, as always the name recognition carries the day and that is why this flick pulled in over $150 million dollars across the globe. More likely than not we will see this “reinvisioning” (why we need this is a different story) of The Pink Panther once again with a sequel or two, but the real point here, is that we the audience deserve better than another Pink Panther movie, let alone a sequel. Dear god when does it end?

Story D (Oh sure the story has a laugh from time to time, but watch enough user created internet videos and eventually you’ll get a chuckle as well. Big difference is most of those “creations” have about one ten-millionth the budget, at the most. Why do people keep going to these sub par sequels and remakes when they know they are going to be bland or even dreadful?)

Acting C (Martin does a good job, but should have never taken the part. Beyonce is horrible in her part. This casting move was just unkind for an audience that paid good money. Let her cut her teeth in a high-school play, alright? Based upon her performance in The Pink Panther alone, one would have to conclude that she couldn’t act, “a lick.” I suspect that casting is done these days with torn out copies of celebrity rags and darts.)

Visuals B- (Surprisingly, the film is well shot, there is some good costuming and set design as well. Truly a surprise actually, and it does, at times make up for what the film is lacking in other areas. In fact there is a costuming bit with Martin and Reno near the end of the film, that nearly makes up for some of the earlier underachieving.)

Originality/Innovation F (Increasingly, it seems as if big-budget Hollywood flicks see innovation much as a vampire sees, or smells garlic. I wonder if innovative scripts must send Hollywood executives into cold sweats and panic attacks similar to their failed attempts at rehab. While they would never admit that they hate innovation, it scary you know, but the proof is in their work, in what they “greenlight.”)

Enjoyability Grade C- (If you are a fan you will probably be disappointed and if you are not a fan you will probably be even more disappointed.)

Home Theater/HD Factor B
(Some of the work that went into the film will be appreciated in high-def.)

Overall Grade C- (Sure this grade could be a bit lower, but as I am a Steve Martin fan, and the film does have a few funny moments, The Pink Panther passes with a C- by a whisker.)

300-Visual Elegance Mostly Devoid of Substance

3 09 2007

Anyone whose read my Sin City review probably could conclude, with just a tiny amount of effort, that I think Frank Miller is totally, totally and completely overrated, almost beyond comprehension, which, of course, makes him a perfect partner for Robert “I let my six year old write my scripts” Rodriguez. Whatever. That said, 300 is a visual masterpiece, of this, there can be absolutely no doubt. The story of 300 completely gay, oiled up and ripped Spartan love slaves against a million ugly deformed, deviant Persians, well hell and yeeha, now that is a good time alright.

Speaking of ripped (as in muscles) it is true that I am ripping on this movie a little bit. Anyone who pens a review of this film and doesn’t smack it around a little isn’t really doing his or her job. Yes, yes and yes it is visually stunning and unique and really showcases what the future of cinema, to some extent, will be like. 300 does a masterful job of showing the combined power of digital acquisition and green/blue screen and cgi magic. However, the 300 falls, and fall deeply, into the trap that so many Hollywood blockbusters fine themselves plummeting into. The characters of 300 are little more than Rockem’ Sockem’ Robots, which is particularly true of the baddies, the Persians. Their kinky, their ugly, there are lots of them and they are mean. And? Well, that is about it for the Persians of 300. Now, the Spartans don’t fair much better. We know they live rough lives, are dedicated to war, hate clothes and really seem to love each other. Okay, well, hey Frank Miller, a bit of originality here, please. I know it is a historical event, but to say you took liberty with it, oh that is an understatement. Perhaps only Star Wars and My Big Fat Greek Con Job are less based on actual historical events than 300. Keeping this in mind, Miller was at liberty to draw fuller, more developed characters for the audience and he just didn’t. In the end I was not able to change my mind on the fact that Miller is wildly overrated.

What makes this movie such a top-notch experience is, obviously, not the silly script. What makes 300 one of the best times you will have at the movies is the sheer innovation of the visuals. Director Zack Snyder whose experience mostly resides in the realm of directing music videos, does a masterful job on the look and overall experience of the 300 and creates incredible action sequences that mostly make the viewer forget that the characters are poorly drawn and recycled.
So, again if you go to a Frank Miller movie expecting a story, well, you are either a fourteen boy, who thinks that Sin City had something to “say” or you are not paying attention. However, in terms of eye candy you probably can’t do better and for this reason alone, the visually innovative feast that is 300 is a must see.

Story C- (While the story does little to create interesting characters, 300 does excel in creating an incredible blue screen meat grinder that will satiate a many blood lust.)

Acting B (Given what they had to work with the actors did a good job. The dialogue is often laughable but they did what they could to pull it off. Let’s face anyone who is willing to work out the way these guys did, well, they deserve a decent grade for acting. Yes, even if they happened to be Paulie Shore.)

Visuals A+ (If only the recent Star Wars movies had been this visually innovative. If only.)

Originality/Innovation A+ (300 is a rare beast indeed, for while the film leaves much to be desired in terms of story, the visuals are just too compelling and drive up 300’s originality score.)

Enjoyability Grade A (You might laugh at much of it, but you will still be having a good time.)

Home Theater/HD Factor A+ (A must own for any HD-DVD/Blue-Ray owner.)

Overall Grade A- (Credit must be given to all involved for making very solid use of the roughly $60 million dollar budget that was supposedly allocated. The film looks much grander and impressive than the dollar amount put into its production. It is surprising that with a look this unique, 300 didn’t pull in even more than its approximately $450 million take worldwide.)

The Island–Environmentally Conscious Hollywood Loves Recycling

13 08 2007

The Island by director Michael Bay is about humans being grown to be harvested for their body parts when the original traditionally born human needs them. Got it? City of clones waiting to give up a kidney or whatever, if the original rich boy needs said kidney. Only, they have no idea any of this is the case, they are all basically naive children who believe that there is a special lottery that will enable to move into heaven on earth. The Island, is this Valhalla and the last uncontaminated place on earth or so the clones are told. Yeah, there’s more but you have the picture.

The 1979 film The Clonus Horror is highly similar. Clones in the desert waiting for the rich and powerful to need body parts. What can I tell you? Regardless, a lot of recycled material from a lot of sources go into this script written by Caspian Tredwell-Owen, who has one previous writing credit and Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. Orci previous penned The Legend of Zorro and Mission Impossible III. Kurtzman was apparently co-executive producer on Herculus the Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess, he also wrote episodes of Alias the television series for JJ Abrams.

While the film borrows heavily from numerous sources, it does keep your attention as the action moves along nicely and the film doesn’t really drag. The acting performances by Ewan (and I am still waiting for someone to tell me what a Ewan is) McGregor and Scarlett Johansson are good in light of the dialog of the script which at times can seem quite recycled. At the core of why The Island sputters is the fact that most of what you see in the film you’ve already seen elsewhere in other science-fiction films including Logan’s Run, which is also being remade and The Clonus Horror.

The visual and special effects and actions sequences are nicely done and serve as fine eye-candy. The sets, props and costumes show effort and all get passing marks. But again, one is left not only wanting more, but feeling as if you have seen it all before. Apparently, my reaction mirrors the audiences, as the film was a light-year away from a profit. The $110-$120 million dollar movie made back a mere fraction of its budget back domestically as audiences generally stayed away. But, as frequent readers know, I always remind that almost all major Hollywood releases make a healthy profit once all revenue streams have been calculated. Which was the case with The Island, which faired better outside the US and made a fairly healthy profit.

Truthfully, its not a bad movie, but equally true The Island is generic, recycled and is endemic of where Hollywood currently stands, namely afraid to take any sort of chance of any kind. But, at least there is lots and lots of product placement so you’ll know what to buy.

Story D+
Acting B-
Visuals B
Originality/Innovation D (While heavily recycled there is enough that is slightly original to avoid a meltdown.)
Enjoyability Grade C-
Home Theater/HD Factor B
Overall Grade C- (I am in a good mood today.)

Hannibal-Creepy British Psychos Sell Tickets

9 08 2007

Ridley Scott’s Hannibal is centered on the premise that our favorite cannibal, Hannibal Lecter is being tracked down by a wealthy victim that escapes. Hannibal is more of what audiences loved in The Silence of the Lambs, namely a British actor doing what British actors do best, acting creepy and evil. This is why they make the best Nazi’s, it is arguable that they are better at it these days than the Germans. But that is another story isn’t it. Sir Anthony Hopkins seems as though he was born for the role of Lecter and once again slices through the films dialog with uniquely keen precision.

Hannibal is one of those films that audiences craved, more of that Silence of the Lambs goodness, more “it will put on the lotion,” more crazy British cannibals wearing psycho masks. What can you say, this film is chucked full of fun and then there are the pigs. In case you have not seen Hannibal, you’re in for a treat.

David Mamet and Steven Zaillian are quite successful in adapting Thomas Harris’ novel of the same name. The same foreboding tone that has made the novels so captivating for audiences has been translated well by Mamet and Zaillian.

Julianne Moore makes for a solid, but a bit uninspired Clarice Starling and Gary Oldman and Ray Liotta both turn in good performances. But all are overshadowed, as they should be, by Hannibal and Hopkins. It is Hopkins, more than any other single component of the film, that keeps the audience enthralled and hanging on every word.

Hannibal, like The Silence of the Lambs, is a great example of how a film can keep an audience completely engaged without the aid of runaway visual or special effects. As most movie goers will remember it is not uncommon to be in a movie and see people checking their watches to see what time it is. This did not happen with Hannibal, at least not at the screening I attended. Why? It is simple. Hannibal had already been established as one crazy, unpredictable and evil freak, who you never knew what he was going to do next. Did anyone go to the bathroom when Hopkins was on the screen? No, they waited until he was missing from a scene, and why? Because, no one wants to miss the crazy British psycho eating someones face or toes or the like. It is a bit of a sad commentary but Harris, Mamet, Zaillian and Scott and the executives that greenlighted the film all seem to understand what audiences want out of psychological horror films.

Deciphering the success of Hannibal isn’t really rocket science. Hannibal is a long awaited sequel to a scary film and much like Se7en, The Silence of the Lambs left a lasting impact on audiences. To be all fancy pants about it, Hannibal Lecter left a resonance that lingered throughout pop culture and has become part of our common and collective pop culture references. Seriously, how does one forget Hannibal Lecter. That built in familiarity and a desire to see one of the screens basest and scariest creations brought back to life could only be a hit. With Hannibal, Scott and the studio knew they had the audience by the throat.

Story B+ (The script is good fun but doesn’t live up to Silence of the Lamb.)
Acting B (Exceptional acting by Hopkins is one of the highlights of Hannibal.)
Visuals B+
Originality/Innovation B+
Enjoyability Grade B+
Home Theater/HD Factor B+

Overall Grade B+ (Hannibal is definitely one scary and disturbing film. Name recognition and the fact that Hannibal was a long awaited sequel made the success of this film all but predetermined.)

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events-You Sir Are No Harry Potter!

5 08 2007

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events has some pretty easy jokes built right in, and yes, I am going to use a few of them. The first unfortunate event is the title. Some thug with a three colored 1991 Toyota Celica, with the newly added fuel efficiency wing and a overpowered stereo system that rattles the fine Japanese engineering, is not going to walk up and say “yeah, give me two for Lemony Snicket,” nor will he say, “yeah, give me two for Lemony Snicket A Series of Unfortunate Events, dog.”

The name may have been great for the book, because people that read books, don’t care if a film has a long title, but a lot of people who go to the movies, in fact most of the people, who go to the movies, are products of an educational systems that has failed them, often intentionally and by design. They don’t like titles that make them feel stupid or silly, as if saying it could question their fragile, tiny manhood. Likewise, just to show I pick on everyone now, you won’t get some alcoholic redneck to say “Lemony Snicket” very easily either. Lemony Snicket sounds more like a horse that let aforementioned closeted redneck down at the track, or his secret KKK name, etc.

Now that we have the typical nasty opening paragraph out of the way, I will try to give you some idea what this film is about. In many ways the story is far, far from original, although the studio tried to play it off as such. The core story-three young kids are recently orphaned and have no alternative but to move in with their evil, twisted uncle. That isn’t a very original premise but some originality does reside in the visuals, which are pretty good at points and are most of what keeps the film interesting.

With a budget in the range of $120-$135 million one has to wonder, however, if what is on the screen is worth the cost. Keep in mind, that we are talking about enough George Washington’s to make an episode of Star Wars or say nearly three Underworlds or 30 MirrorMasks, which in some ways is visually similar at a tiny little fraction of the budget. Thus, in terms of what was done with the cash on hand, these boys score an F on this project. Yeah, it looks cool at points, but it looks about $50-$60 million cool, not $120 cool or $130 cool. That is a problem for director Brad Silberling whose previous credits include the painful and disturbing Casper and the sappy but somewhat underrated City of Angels. Honestly, Bradley was a weird pick for this job and he should have never received the final nod.

In case you are unaware, the books upon which the film is based, are very successful. After seeing the movie, I don’t get it. Why are these books popular? I don’t know. The Harry Potter stuff I can understand, but this was a little puzzling. It has the usual components found in a successful kids movie or book–adults underestimate the kids, kids outsmart the adults. Pretty simple formula there. But this just isn’t that interesting of a flick and I think most kids probably will not be that taken by it, either. To be sure, there is an abundance of swirling stimulus and great set design and visual effects, but once again, a studio has forgotten that it all starts with the script, and this script, just isn’t that interesting. Some works make great reads but horrible movies. This may just be the case here.

Jim Carrey, who plays Count Olaf is his typical Jim Carey self, but it seems a bit like a cry for help, a sort of “Jesus not again, here I go, stop me–yes, somebody stop me.” followed by weeping and a longing for Canada and maple. We’re tried of your bit and your tried of your bit. This will not be another successful chain of films, sorry, as the magic isn’t there. No magic wand is going to make this Harry Potter.

Story C- (Seems that this story, with all of its clues and investigations, lends itself more to novelization than the big screen.)
Acting B- (Carey is fine, but he is going through the motions of being Jim Carey to some extent. At times there is an air of “oh yeah, they paid, like $20 million dollars for this, I better turn it back up a notch.)
Visuals B+ (With a $120 to $135 million dollars a director has to bring his A game or he is in the wrong line of work. Great visuals but for the money spent, we should have gotten way more.)
Originality/Innovation C+ (Sometimes something, whether it is a book, a movie or a newly discovered virus, can be new and innovative, but that doesn’t mean its great.)
Enjoyability Grade C-
Home Theater/HD Factor B (This will be a great HD flick for hypnotizing kids.)
Overall Grade C