Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Solomon Kane (2009)

Michael J. Basset's Solomon Kane, based on Robert E. Howard's pulp creation stars James Purefoy as the titular damned soul is a great ride even if somewhat forgettable. Solomon Kane is a mercenary who has killed many men, having sold his soul to the devil for his prowess on the battlefield. Presently Solomon is a man of peace, afraid of bearing arms, lest the reaper come to collect. Joining up with a caravan (led by Pete Postlethwaite and Alice Krige in good but throwaway roles) that is destined for tragedy, Solomon is spurned back into a life of violence but for the first time he has a purpose.
The first thing I have to notice is that for a $40 million film, Solomon Kane looks much better than most of the films coming out of Hollywood right now. The creature effects are great and the moody look and feel of the film is lovely. Secondly, the cast is fantastic. James Purefoy is a gravelly bad ass, but manages to not take it too far as to be off-putting. Max von Sydow is his usually stoic, majestic self. Even a surprise third act reveal of Jason Flemyng is a fun turn. Bassett has a little tendency to let the film get a little bombastic, but the film had me so worked up, it felt genuine instead of beating me over the head over something I cared nothing about (see Transformers).
However, where the film succeeds the most (and my favorite of the film's attributes) is how respectful it is to Howard's source material. Unlike John Milius' Conan the Barbarian, which felt like it pick and chose what Milius liked best from the Conan mythos and came up with his own backstory for Conan, Solomon Kane feels like the character leaped directly from the pages of Howard's tales onto the screen. This is the film Marcus Nispel should have been watching and taking notes while filming his Conan reboot. It's a great little film that I hope to revisit when Nispel's impending disaster comes along.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

It's always a hard job adapting a comic book to a film, especially when said comic has it's own visual flair and a way of doing things that just doesn't translate to the screen as well as you'd think. Last year Zack Snyder brought us Watchmen, albeit a much different comic, trying to adapt one of the medium's most celebrated volumes to the screen with very tepid results. Sometimes directors and studios miss the point, sometimes the work is either too colossal to fit into a film or really doesn't lend itself to the format. Scott Pilgrim is one of those comics that you would think upon reading would never work in a live-action format. That fact was not lost on Edgar Wright, who rose up to the task of directing Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Instead of straining against his genius comic source, he dives into it, with phenomenal results.
The brilliance of the film is in that it literally is a living, breathing version of Bryan Lee O'Malley's epic anime/punk/video game inspired opus. When Scott destroys an enemy he visibly gains experience points, rising out of the disintegrating body. Emotional battles become full scale showdowns with past baggage. Wright pulls out every stop to bring us images that stimulate our senses and advance the plot without giving us a break to think how silly it might all look with a less competent director. Wright is also very crafty in condensing down six volumes (containing about 200 pages each) to a two hour film and barely losing any of the core material. Yes, I missed several subplots and I was surprised to find dialog coming from different mouths, but I'd take that over a bloated film that didn't know when to stop.
For those not in the know, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World tells of Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera, in the first role I have fully enjoyed him in) who meets the mysterious Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). The problem with Ramona is that her exes have formed a league to torment Ramona and destroy any would be boyfriends. Scott must defeat them one by one with the help of his sarcastic gay roomate Wallace Wells (Kieran Culkin, stealing the damn show) and his band, Sex Bob-omb.
The cast in this film is perfect. Not one actor feels out of place and they all click with each other. Cera, Winstead, Culkin, Ellen Wong, Alison Pill, Mark Webber, Johnny Simmons, Anna Kendrick, Brie Larson, Aubrey Plaza, Satya Bhabha, Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, Mae Whitman and especially Jason Schwartzman all deserve major kudos for their excellent work here and being so damn game. I only feel like Shota and Keita Saito are left out as most of their story from the comic is left out, which is the only minor problem I had with the film. Kudos also to Beck and Broken Social Scene for bringing the bands' music to life and rocking the shit out of it.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a unique film and the most successful direct comic book to film adaptation to date. It's a film that deserves to be seen and marveled at. Few films these days give us protagonists we can relate to on such an epic quest. I would say not since the Star Wars trilogy have I been this involved with the hero's journey. Sadly, it's already looking like Scott Pilgrim is having a hard time reaching those outside it's target audience. It's nothing new to us geeks and we wouldn't have it any other way.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Inception (2010)

Before I start off the review, I want to say this: If you haven't seen Inception yet, don't bother with my, nor anyone else's review. Just go see it. Even if you don't enjoy the entire film or don't buy into it, there is at least one minute of this film worth everyone's time. My silly little review will be here when you get back. Now then...

Inception is the story of Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) a man forced to live by illegal means outside the USA and away from his children. His illegal means is a method of stealing ideas from the sedated and dreaming called "extraction". When his latest job goes south, he and his partner Arthur (Joseph-Gordon Levitt) are offered a once in a lifetime opportunity: use "inception" (planting an idea instead of stealing it) to plant an idea in the heir of an empire's head and Cobb can go home to his children.
That's about all of the plot you need to know up front (even though I told you to go see the movie first). Thankfully, Christopher Nolan's films seem to be the only films that don't have the entire plot and scenes from the whole film in the trailer, a practice which is both nauseating and disappointing, allowing you to view the movie without too many apprehensions beforehand. It also allows you to realize that this isn't a traditional story. Whether the events in the film be dream or real, the film itself is an exploration of what it is to create films and how through film the director, the writers and even the audience can sometimes go through the most therapeutic experience in their lives.
All that meaning and story wouldn't mean jack if Nolan didn't assemble his talent well. The cast is excellent: DiCaprio and Levitt deserve some awards, Ellen Page gives the first performance of her career that I've actually liked, Tom Hardy in the most fun role in the film, Ken Watanabe reminding me of why I'm such a big fan, Dileep Rao making look forward to even more work from him, Cillian Murphy giving me another one of his great sympathetic turns that I love so much from him, Marion Cotillard scaring the crap out of me, and Tom Berenger and Pete Poslethwaite, who I had to check IMDb just to make sure it was them. They may seem underwritten, but in the big picture they all fit perfectly.

On a final note, I'd like to address Hollywood in general, since they may be confused by an original film staying on top of the box office for three weeks in a row. We didn't just see this film because Nolan directed The Dark Knight. We didn't just see this film because of DiCaprio. We saw the film because we were intrigued by an original premise and wanted to learn more. We saw it again because it had the substance to allow us to come back. Love it or hate it, it is not the disposable trash you keep dumping in our laps week after week. I love films. Please take this as a lesson. Give original films a chance. I'm tired of unwanted gimmicks, remakes and sequels.