Archive for March, 2009

Releasing Today, 3/13/2009

Posted in Uncategorized on March 13, 2009 by C.F. Varnau

Race to Witch Mountain
THE RUNDOWN (no pun intended): Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson once again takes on a role in a Disney film, but this one looks a lot better than “The Game Plan” or even your average kids movie. Could this be the next “Spy Kids?” This one could get the number two slot, but it’d be an achievement if it beat “Watchmen.”

Miss March
THE RUNDOWN: Playboy-inspired humor could bring in some raunchy fun with an elevated R-rating and the promise of some nudity. Probably not a good date movie, but perfect for a night out with the guys.

Last House on the Left
THE RUNDOWN: Despite an R-rating, don’t expect too much gore from this horror-thriller. This remake of a Wes Craven film seems toned-down, but maybe that’s a good thing. After all, I think we’re all sick of “Hostel.” Still, can the film still have that shock and scare value?

Read my full review of “Last House on the Left” in next week’s newsletter. To subscribe, email hollywoodblockbusters-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Subscriptions are free!

Che: Where Soderbergh Went Wrong

Posted in Reviews on March 10, 2009 by C.F. Varnau

NOTE: This is a movie review in the sense that it is an opinion piece about a movie (or rather, two movies). However, this piece looks at the four-hour film “Che” as a whole, not in its soon-to-be-released separate parts. To get a detailed look at parts one and two, wait for the next issue of “Hollywood Blockbusters” set to hit your inbox later this week. If you do not have a subscription, they are free. Simply email hollywoodblockbusters-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

“Che,” the latest work from film mastermind Steven Soderbergh, is driving me mad. It’s a film that completely defies its audience. I’m running down a list of critical reviews from critics I have otherwise respected and am shocked to see their approval of this movie. I’ve already written my reviews for “Che” parts one and two for the newsletter, but the sudden burst of praise for this movie from people in my profession has forced me to write a response piece, and where better to put it than the “Hollywood Blog-buster?”

A critic from The Washington Post called it “absorbing” and “hypnotic.” Well, hypnotic it is, in the sense that it makes you sleepy… very sleepy. At well over four hours, “Che” becomes tiresome about thirty minutes in. Absorbing it isn’t. It’s very dull, in fact.

Why is it dull? I’ll let Roger Ebert from the Chicago Sun-Times explain one of the reasons in his 3 1/2 out of 4 star review: “The film plays in two parts, named ‘The Argentine’ and ‘Guerrilla.’ It resists the temptation to pump up the volume, to outline [Ernesto “Che” Guevera] (Benicio del Toro) against the horizon, to touch conventional biographical bases.”

What does that really mean, Mr. Ebert? Think about it, this is a movie about the revolutionary wars in Cuba and Bolivia as seen through the eyes of one of their key players (“Che” Guevera) and you’re happy that it doesn’t go back to old cliches from other biographical epics. I’m fine with that, too. But let’s look later in your review at one of your other praises: “There is no fancy camerawork; he looks steadily at Che’s dogged determination. There are very few subjective shots… This is not a war movie. It is about one man’s unrealistic compulsion to stay his course.”

Part Two is indeed not a war movie, and is indeed about Che’s compulsion to stay with the Bolivian Revolution. However Part One would’ve benefited from a little less chatter and a little more war.

The camerawork is too simple and dull. Its scenes are poorly constructed and most of them look the same. Some fancy camerawork would’ve come in handy during many of the scenes, if only to keep the audience awake!

Let’s talk script. Part One is handled by Peter Buchman, who may very well be one of the worst screenwriters alive. How he went from writing “Eragon” and “Jurassic Park 3” to a biographical epic I don’t know, but in my opinion, he went from bad to worse. Steve Ramos of Boxoffice disagrees with me in his 4 out of 5 star review: “With his best script to date, screenwriter Peter Buchman emphasizes character over action and small, intimate moments over grand spectacle.”

In other words, we learn a lot about Che and Castro but no real story is told and no real suspense is built. It’s ok to get up and pee during this one. Nothing’s going to happen.

Is Che a character worth delving into? Definitely. Perhaps the film’s only saving grace is a very underplayed performance by Benicio del Toro. He links us well through the two parts, and by the end is the only reason we’re watching.

Now, any critics tell me “That’s the point,” let it be on record that the main point is that I not be pulling out my hair by the end of the film waiting for something to happen.

The second half, scripted with just a slight improvement by Benjamin A. van der Veen, follows him to Bolivia. This half is better, not because everything we’re missing in the first half is present, but because the story and themes are far more interesting and better played off. It’s the perfect sequel, if it had been good.

Director Steven Soderbergh is what I call an “experimental filmmaker.” The guy will try anything once. His “Oceans” movies have been good Hollywood fun while “Traffic,” “The Good German,” and “Bubble” have all done things a bit differently, sometimes with no success. Here, he’s different. He’s ambitious, and he clearly had something in mind for this film. But this one’s a dud.

Then again, Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe could be right. He says, “It’s amazing that this movie, with its stretches of profound quiet…has come from a man who excels at extravagant Hollywood classicism. ‘Che’ is not an easy movie to sell…but in the coming years when the pressure of award expectations and marketing demands dissolve, Soderbergh’s film will be there ready for a serious audience to appreciate its makers’ achievement.”

Maybe someday…

Review: “Watchmen”

Posted in Reviews on March 5, 2009 by C.F. Varnau

* * * * out of four stars

I was reminded of one particular director as I watched Zack Snyder’s latest epic, “Watchmen.” Quentin Tarantino. “Watchmen” isn’t Tarantino-esque, but it accomplishes what Tarantino accomplished with “Kill Bill” and “Pulp Fiction.” It transcends the genre. It’s a whole new kind of superhero story.

The first question someone asked me after I had seen it was “Is it better than ‘The Dark Knight?'” In some ways it is. In many others, it isn’t. However, the question is irrelevant. “Dark Knight” and “Watchmen” are two entirely separate entities, with different struggles and morals. They’re apples and oranges. Both, however, are four-star, top-of-the-line superhero/action films.

“Watchmen” opens with the murder of former superhero The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Through an open credits sequence taking place after the murder we see the history of a group of superheroes named “The Minutemen” who fight together throughout the fifties and sixties (including Comedian). We see through their eyes several events in history, including the Kennedy assassination (which didn’t happen the way we all think) and Vietnam.

Then President Nixon passes the Keenan act, outlawing superheroes, forcing them to retire.

Now it’s 1985, Nixon is still in office, and the threat of nuclear war hangs over the world. Our remaining heroes are the sexy Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman), nerdy Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson), dark and mysterious Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), all-powerful Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), and rich entrepreneur Ozymandias (Matthew Goode). Each are retired now, thanks to Nixon’s Keenan act, trying to live normal lives.

Well, all except the paranoid Rorschach, who is undertaking the investigation of Comedian’s murder. Rorschach must work in secret, for he’s a wanted man. Meanwhile, Dr. Manhattan is perfecting a series of nuclear reactors while working with Adrian Veidt aka Ozymandias. He is also having problems in his relationship with Laurie (aka Silk Spectre II), and this could be because he’s lost his perspective on being human. Or maybe it’s because she’s tired of him walking around naked all day?

Dr. Manhattan was originally the son of a clockmaker who became a scientist. One day he forgot his watch in the lab and went back to get it. The lab doors then locked him inside and he was zapped into oblivion. Soon he found a way to reconstruct himself, and when he did he had incredible power, blue skin, and no clothes. Ladies, he’s worth the price of admission.

Laurie grows impatient with Manhattan. So she goes to see Dan aka Night Owl II. The two have a great connection, and maybe she’d be better off with him. The two reminisce about old times and have a drink together.

In the mean time, Rorshach is framed for murder and found by the police, who expose his true identity, and begin to move our plot from introspective character piece (which is done very well) to all-out action film (which is done much better).

I’ve been vague on details because chances are if you’re reading this, you’ll want to go see it, and would probably see it anyway even if I gave it one star. Well trust me, as vague as I am, this is no one star film. Great visuals, excellent storytelling and some very wild action scenes.

The most intriguing character is Rorschach, whose mask features a constantly-shifting ink blot. Rorschach occupies a world of his own at times, away from the other characters. And at the end we probably sympathize with him the most.

Speaking of the end, if you haven’t read the graphic novel, the ending is going to surprise you. It’s brilliant, it’s bold, it’s different. This is going to be one of the best films of the year.