The Eagle (2011)

February 17, 2011

I remember when King Arthur (2004), the Clive Owen movie about how legendary English heroes were really Roman legionnaires, first came out. It was the first time I was introduced to the Hadrian wall-type period flick. It was an interesting concept at the time, but I have to admit, as open minded as I was to it…It was rather cheesy. Man was that dialogue melodramatic, even for a major Hollywood flick.

Since that senario didn’t seem to go anywhere for a long time after King Arthur, I had long assumed the Romans in Britain schtick wasn’t meant to be. And then this new film comes out, starring a cast of relatively young and mostly unknown actors, about a bunch of legionnaires “north of the wall”. I started having deja vu big time. The ads looked like typical Clash of the Titans material. My expectations were rather low.

Fortunately, The Eagle surpasses King Arthur in every way. In fact, I dare say the Eagle is a thinking man’s King Arthur, if for no other reason that it makes the Roman frontier movie a surprisingly cool concept. Of course, this might be because the story doesn’t portray mythical characters in a peculiar new way while taking itself too seriously, but I digress.

The story of the Eagle is that a young centurion commander named Marcus Aquila (played by Channing Tatum) has taken command of a neglected fort near the edge of the Roman Empire. There’s always a Marcus in movies about ancient Rome, isn’t there? He specifically wants to serve in this part of the world, because his father commanded a legion that mysteriously disappeared without a trace. Naturally, not knowing what happened to his old man drives our young hero crazy, but the Roman elites also regard the father as a failure or even a coward, because he failed to bring back the golden eagle his legion carried as their standard. Such symbols are especially sacred, at least in this movie. I kind of think it as being like the flags soldiers would bear during battles in the 1700s and 1800s.

Marcus, enraged by a rude aristocrat who insults his family name, takes his British slave, Esca, (Jamie Bell) and ventures beyond the Hadrian wall in search of the lost eagle on a quest to restore honor to his family, and prove his father and he are good Roman soldiers. Of course, this isn’t a simple and easy task. the idol could be anywhere in the northern hills, and the various tribes and cultures are all venomously intolerant of unwelcome Roman invaders. If he is discovered, he would be immediately killed, and thus he must rely on his native slave, whose trustworthiness is questionable. After all, one slit of Marcus’ throat, and little Esca isn’t a slave any more.

I didn’t expect this movie to have as good as a plot as it did, and it was written pretty well. There were a number of twists and turns, and some of them were surprises. There are some issues with it, particularly some plot holes near the final climax, but even then the ending is still kind of neat. I’m not sure I believe that the Romans were quite as obsessed with the golden eagle symbol as the film makes them out to be, but it works for the purposes of this movie. It does seem though that there would be more motivation for actually finding out what happened to the people in the lost legion, but I guess the logic is that they are probably long dead since those soldiers had been missing for decades. If you see this film, you will see why the situation with the missing legionnaires becomes problematic. However, the convenient plot devices honestly didn’t bother me too much that I didn’t enjoy what was going on.

Whereas King Arthur had some strange ideas of what constitutes a proper weapon of warfare (Bors and his silly little knives come to mind) and had Clive Owen and company don some baudy suits of armor, the Eagle actually looks really good. The armor looks great, the locals look grim and exotic. A lot of the locals have that Boba Fett appeal. Boba Fett never really had a big part in the Star Wars films, but he looked freaking awesome. His mystique gave him so much character that in spite of only having one or two lines in the whole movie, he actually developed his own niche in the geek world. Well, there are quite a few characters that kind of have that mysterious cool look about them that spice up the dull, muddy northern countryside. Guys in big cloaks and manly beards. The blue seal people are kind of new and strange to me, and kind of look like the Na’vi from Avatar, but they fit the bill as far as being scary bad guys and all.

The biggest complaint I have was Donald Sutherland. He was the biggest name in the picture, but he was very out of place. Its odd enough that for whatever reason Romans are always played with a British accent when it makes more sense for them to be played by Italians (I must admit, that’s one thing King Arthur did do right), but it really messes things up when you suddenly get a Roman noble with a thick North American cowboy accent. That’s random.

This movie isn’t perfect by any means, but I think that for what it is, and for the post-King Arthur Romans-in-Britain theme it has bravely adopted, this is actually well worth a watching. If you don’t want to pay for movie ticket now, at least get it on Netflix, but a film this pretty deserves to be seen on the big screen.

7.9 out of 10.

The above title is not a typo. However, it is the name that you should remember the next time you go to the movies. With the end of the wave of summer action flicks, Inglourious Basterds  is a great way to cap the season. Especially since there wasn’t too many great hits this time around.

It is actually a bit difficult to summarize the plot of Inglourious Basterds, because well, there is just so much of it. One of the unusual qualities about this movie is that there is so much going on. It revolves around a band of characters known as “Raines’ Basterds”, a small but elite American squad of Jewish-descended soldiers with one sole purpose: “Killin’ Nazis”. Their leader, Aldo Raines (sound familiar?), is a former moonshiner from Tennessee who has an oddly humorous, carefree disposition to murder. Because he is part Native American, he decides the team will go “Apache”, meaning he wants his victims scalped. Beyond chaos and discord, the team has no definite objective. They are simply dropped in the middle of Nazi-occupied France for the purpose of terrorizing the enemy.

While they run around happily giving Germans extra short haircuts, another story unfolds in Paris. A young French woman is working a cinema, still coming to terms with her family’s slaughter at the hands of Nazis. Then, one day, a young Nazi soldier falls for her and starts courting her. Despite her rebukes, he keeps coming on to her. Then she learns he is very well connected with the Nazi leaders. With this in mind, she concludes that the only option she and her lover really have is to exploit the situation to get some major revenge against the Nazis.

Around this time the Basterds start coming up with similar plans to take out the Nazi hierarchy. The two groups proceed to plot and conspire, all the while resorting to all kinds of subterfuge and scheming under the watchful eye of colonel Has Landa (Christoph Waltz), an infamous and eerie Nazi officer equivalent of Columbo. 

Speaking of which, the ironic twist on Brad Pitt being billed as the star is that he is sometimes showed up by his European counterparts-all of which are wonderful actors. I thought they were American unknowns playing Euro’s, but no, Tarantino got around the language problem by recruiting top knotch actors from Germany and France. I truly hope that Cristoph Waltz decides to broaden his horizons and do more gigs across the Atlantic. The man rocked the house.

What is Tarintino’s recent film? A suspense movie? An action movie? Kind of, but not the type you are probably thinking of. See, from what I gather, this film was actually based in part on spaghetti westerns and old World War II flicks, and boy does it show. The opening scene is an obvious homage to Sergio Leone’s cowboy flicks. You might recognize these as Clint Eastwood “man with no name” westerns. In fact, this movie opens just like one of them. It sounds cheesy, but Tarintino makes this work pretty well.

However, like Sergio Leone’s Italian made movies, there is a lot of tension in between action scenes. Likewise, there is a lot of great suspense in Inglourious Basterds. Perhaps more than neccessary, too. One of the unique aspects of this film is that Violence is also brief…but when the shooting starts, it is brutal and abrupt. While this isn’t 300, its still a Tarintino flick. You may not get any epic war scenes or Rambo style action scenes, but rest assured you’ll get your share of scalpings and other wonderful graphic moments. If you haven’t seen a Tarintino film (shame on you), this is a good thing. Tarintino always knows how to make bodily harm fun.

Of course, if you haven’t seen any of the films this one references to, or remember them very well, alot of this film isn’t going to make sense to you. That it does not conform to any one genre means that it only really appeals to one crowd: the Tarintino crowd. I suppose it could be considered a war film, but its a very different type from those we are used to these days. It’s more like the Dirty Dozen than Saving Private Ryan. Of course, this isn’t really meant to be that kind of film anyway. Its an homage to early films. If you prefer a faster paced action flick, this isn’t going to be your thing. Nowadays though, that kind of movie is hard to come by unless you like horror. This film won’t be in theaters much longer though, so you should see it on a big screen if you still can. It is one of those films that are just that much better on a big screen.

9.0 out of 10.

Ha, looks like I made it just in time for X-Men Origins: Wolverine to make it out on DVD and Blu-Ray. It comes out September 15th. Again, I think you might wanna rent the thing rather than buy it. However, if you haven’t seen it, you might want to check it out for some quick and light entertainment. It really doesn’t compare to the other installments in this franchise, but it for all its glaring stupidity it is kind of fun.Keep in mind it still isn’t a great way to dive into the series, even though it is a sequel.

Wolverine (2009) Review

August 27, 2009

"I want my pony now, bub! Rawr!

While this movie came out months ago, I still can’t resist commenting on this summer action flick. After Three X-Men flicks with varying reception. The first two of course were part of the great comicbook movie revival. The third one seemed to miss the mark, and suggest that the franchise was running dry. Well, a great deal of time has passed, and  Wolverine (2009) has been released. Did Hugh Jackman’s uber-masculine alter ego cure the X-Men movie slump?

Oh Heavens, no.

At least, it didn’t bring it back to the level of Bryan Singer’s installments. That much is clear. But it doesn’t seem like it was ever meant to do that either. It was just made into a standard, blockbuster action movie to provide a summer special effects extravaganza. And it did just that, although it unfortunately didn’t even do that all that well.

Anyone familiar to the X-Men plot so far can easily guess what Wolverine deals with. The prequel deals with Wolverine’s past life, especially leading up to the mysterious Weapon X program that the mutant has been having trouble remembering for the whole trilogy. At last, the answer that so many fanboys dreamed of seeing on the big screen. Unfortunately, this flick has little bearing on the original Weapon X plot. You can definitely count this as one of those superhero flicks where the filmmakers took an awful lot of creative license with source material. For all of you fans of Deadpool….I’m sorry. Better luck with the hopeful Deadpool movie.

One thing that was disappointing that alot of people don’t seem to bring up is the claws themselves. Sometimes they looked okay, but much of the time the blades were rendered with bad CGI. It was a disappointing departure from previous X-Men movies, where so much of every character was so well done. Now, the main character’s namesake is reduced to bad graphical effects.

The really great effects in the movie are often handled oddly too. Gambit comes to mind. See, Gambit is a mutant whose powers is that he can charge objects with kinetic energy, causing them to explode after a few seconds or if they are thrown at something. He can do this to the point that he can flick a card and make it soar like a rocket, and explode spectacularly. This is obviously a reason for why he calls himself Gambit (the other is his rogue-ish nature). Well, apparently the makers of this film decided they didn’t like the card throwing thing that much. He often uses his powers in a variety of ways, which is good in theory. It would be good in practice had his debut fight sequence not been so abysmally goofy. I almost never mention little continuity errors or trivial screw-ups, because 90 % of the time I hardly notice and I doubt the average person would care. But one of the scenes invovled the biggest continuity error I think I’ve ever seen in a blockbuster style movie. In a fight between Wolverine, Gambit, and Sabertooth, Sabertooth manages to knock out Gambit or something at close range. Then all of a sudden Gambits leaping over rooftops from way in the distance. How did that happen? Seriously, it was confusing.

The good news is that the foul ups and silly moments are funny as Hell. This thing could almost qualify as a comedy in some points. Sometimes I even wonder if the director wasn’t flat out having fun with the movie’s most ridiculous moments. Such as seeing little kid Logan doing the murderous rage schtick in a red night gown, or the infamous “memories growing back” line. You’ve probably seen the best example in the trailer itself. Wolverine is clinging desperately to some military style hummer, and an attack helicopter fires a rocket, destroying the car and catapulting ole Wolvie into the Helicopter. Not into the air, where he can catch the chopper, mind you. No he makes a direct bee line into the offending aircraft. And of course, thats how he disposes of it. By accident. Trust me, when my friend and I saw it in the theater, we laughed for several minutes straight. It looks incredibly ridiculous.

At least Hugh Jackman seemed to really be into his role. The performance might not have been perfect, but physically speaking he sure did look the part. Out of all the superhero movie stars, I’d say Hugh Jackman looked most like the musclebound comicbook stud. He put in some serious time in a gym and you can most certainly tell in the movie.

I imagine Canadians beemed with tremendous pride watching this movie, too. Not only did Canada get some quality time in an American movie- but the biggest badass in the Marvel universe points out the land of his birth with dramatic flair. Best of all, the gritty do-gooder serves as definitive proof that Canucks don’t say “aboot” after all. Of course, the movie doesn’t portray any of the conspirators as being Canadian, just the badass hero. As usual, the American federal government is out to get everyone.

If you haven’t seen any of the films of this franchise, do yourself a favor and see the first two before you decide whether or not to see this one. Really, this is something you might want to save if you are a true die-hard X-Men fan or if you want to watch something relatively light.

4.5 out of 10.

Well the net and the entertainment industry are all a buzz. It’s official…nothing if safe from the world of remakes franchise revivals. Most people realized this after Star Trek became such a blockbuster success. Heck, G. I. Joe just came out, and that franchise was limited to toys and accompanying DVD’s for well over a decade. Of course, I’d wager that G. I. Joe would prove that some of these ‘revivals’ are can be bad as well as good. I for one am not eager to see it.

Oddly enough there seem to be a lot of 80’s kids shows turned into modern movies for somewhat more mature audiences. Transformers (2007), TMNT (2008), G. I. Joe (2009), before you know it Fraggle Rock is going to show up on the big screen.

Star Trek (2009 ) went back to the original cast of characters from the late 60’s TV show. Barbarella is in the works as we speak.

And now, someone wants to go back even further- the Farrelly Brothers actually want to make a Three Stooges flick.

Now don’t get me wrong- these guys are probably the best guys to do it, based on their track record. But will a brand name  from the black and white era sell in the 21st century? For a while it seemed Sean Penn and Jim Carrey thought so. Penn was rumored to be cast as Moe, I believe, and Jim Carrey was going to play Curly. He stated he was even going to put on weight for the role. Try to imagine Jim Carrey’s persona in Curly’s shoes. While they are both over the top, I can hardly imagine Carrey pulling it off very well. He’s just too set into his own stage personality.

As for Sean Penn, I’m not even sure I’ve seen him in anything remotely resembling a comedy. When I think of Sean Penn, I think of Mystic River (1998) and the Thin Red Line (also 1998). The closest thing to a comedy I have seen him do was Milk, which was still much more a drama than a comedy. Somehow the hardcore drama actor being thrown into the role of Moe doesn’t seem to be very realistic.

Thankfully, the two actors may have reconsidered. they seem to have moved to greener pastures. Meanwhile, another actor has reportedly come onboard- Paul Giamatti. Unlike Penn and Carrey, Paul Giamatti looks like he could make a fair Larry, and his highly laudable acting talent fits the mold fairly well. But with the other two star roles abandoned, who will accompany him on screen?

Curly might seem like a hard shoe to fit, but there are some actors and comedic figures that can physically fit the slapstick bill. Kevin James comes to mind. Perhaps even Larry the Cable Guy, if need be. Both seem to have made a name in pseudo slapstick or otherwise goofy comedy gigs. With a little work, either of them would look the part as well. I think between the two Kevin James is preferable given his adaptability. Larry the Cable Guy is, well, Larry the Cable Guy. Can you really imagine him not being the Larry so many fans have come to know and love?

Moe is a little harder I think. I think that one will be filled by a wildcard type actor. Somehow I imagine Johnny Depp will offer to take up the role. If the opportunity presents itself long enough, he might decide to add it to his long list of oddball roles that others cannot do so well. Of course, the Moe role isn’t too far from George Clooney’s character Everett McGill from O Brother Where Art Thou (2000). I suppose there are several actors that work here, but finding the right one is going to take some serious digging.

And even after all this is settled, is anyone really going to see a movie based on three clownish figures from the early decades of the last century? Inevitably I suppose it must draw a certain Friday night crowd. Any laugh will do after a particularly hard week of work. But is this going to be a kid’s movie, or something more mature? Is it going to be set in modern times? Will that even work? For the sake of nostalgia- and for this kind of movie, you have to inevitably appeal to nostalgia- that they keep the film set in times of the original Larry, Curly and Moe. Otherwise, it will lose all of its charm.

Assuming that there are still moviegoers who remember what that charm was after all these years.

Time for an Update

August 24, 2009

The wait is over, I can finally return to my blog. Oh, how I have missed it.

For the most part I’ve been celebrating my love of films in different ways. For one thing, I’ve been working on my own little projects. Some successes, some failures. Now that those are coming to a head, though, I can get back to good old Retroglory- I’ve even got a special program just for contributing to it.

One of my last posts was a preview for the recent film adaptation for the graphic novel The Watchmen. Now that the innovative and rather gutsy flick has hit the shelf, I should be posting a review of it shortly.

In the mean time, I’ve found an interesting video I’m sure all my fellow sci-fi geeks will get a kick out of. Barelypolitical.com is obviously known for its political satire and their little starlet “Obama Girl”, but the group also has been making nonpolitical,  dork-oriented parodies as well, and I thought particularly liked these two.

Moon Girl!

Sexy Cyborg!

I apologize for the lack of material these past weeks.  I needed to devote some time to other things, and took a break. A break that turned out to be much longer than intended. Although this may be an old topic at this point, I feel that I say a few things.

Honestly, this is as much a comparision as it is a review. While the remake of the Day the Earth Stood Still is a fair movie in itself, it strays considerably from the intent and theme of the 1951 original. Its the same situation as King Kong (2005).  Just as that movie drastically changed the plot from the original by altering the relationship between the damsel and the monster, the new Day the Earth Stood Still alters the plot by giving a certain pivotal character a certain disposition.

For those that have yet to see either the original classic, the general plot has to do with how an alien might percieve and react to humankind if it had a horrible first impression. What happens is quite predictable. We see it in all of these 50’s era monster/space invader flicks. The military rolls out the weapons and considers the visitor a threat, and this leads to drastic problems. The visitor, who answers to the name Klaatu, begins to realize that humans are violent and divided. They cannot even agree to give him a proper audience. At least, that is one supposed reason the US government refuses to let Klaatu speak before the UN. Even so, he is determined to make a mysterious announcement to the world, but refuses to tell any one person exactly what that announcement is, although it is clear that it is important. Eventually, he gets through to a celebrated scientist, and the two concoct a plan to get the military to understand that it won’t resolve anything with brute force.

The remake differs radically from this by making the alien being more unknowable and threatening, sometimes even violently so.  His intentions are incredibly hostile, and he manipulates those around him coldly. Whereas viewers see  the old Klaatu as curious and compassionate, the new one is detacted, fatalistic, and dangerous. This is how the remake is a thriller, whereas the original was simply a sci-fi drama. Klaatu went from being the main character to a potential villian. The tension and the seemingly inevitable apocalyptic senario are bound to sell box office tickets, but unfortunately it misses the point entirely. The alien race’s cosmic views seem almost nihilistic, and incredibly hypocritical. It makes no sense for an extremely intelligent race to punish destructive violence with its own destructive violence.  To a certain extent, this is also true for the original Klaatu, but in that version he made threats out of desperation rather than cynical xenophobia.

Now of course, the reason a monster movie becomes successful is when it emulates something we truly fear. In the 50’s, that fear was communism and widespread nuclear destruction. This is why Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)and Godzilla (1956) became so popular. They were symbolic of real threats, but could be quickly confronted and dealt with by a quirky scientist and/or a small military outfit. Today, the big scare is terror, mostly inspired by 9/11. The most modern monster movies seek to emulate the devestation of that tragedy- Cloverfield (2008), War of the Worlds (2005), and finally, the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still all portray seemingly helpless citizens with no real power trying to survive in seemingly apocolyptic situations. There is little room for escapist heroic fantasies in this approach. In fact, some of these movies don’t even attempt to provide much in the way of comic relief, leaving the films without a lack in tension. In a time where people see so much of this kind of bedlam on the news, it seems illogical to deviate for the heroic Hollywood fantasy when movie goers need escapism now more than ever.

That being said, this approach to monster flicks can work wonderfully, depending on how they are presented. Cloverfield is an excelent model for monster flicks that resemble disaster films. Often, images of terror or disaster are recorded on low quality electronic devices, so JJ Abrams was smart to go with the Blair Witch Project approach. It was also effectively advertised for what it was- a horror film, as opposed to a sci-fi drama that happens to have monsterous creatures in it.

The Day the Earth Stood Still takes the less successful path of War of the Worlds. Its classic Hollywood action movie look gives the movie-goer the impression that the film will have a traditional story structure. Instead, they get doom and gloom in the extreme, with no relief in sight. In the original Day the Earth Stood Still, there wasn’t such an omnipresent feeling of dread, and for those that have seen both the original and the remake, the difference is unmistakable, and possibly somehow inappropiate.

I do have to give the filmmakers some credit though. The explanation for why Klaatu looks human was fairly interesting and well thought out. The image of the alien being as being more of a celestial being rather than a stereotypical grey man with spiffy toys also has a certain appeal, even if they take it a little too far sometimes.

If this film was not a remake, it would be much easier to appreciate. In some ways, the grim Klaatu works. It just isn’t the same plot at all, and even by itself it seems a little forced. Regardless, there probably isn’t an actor in Hollywood that could be better for such a role than Keanu Reeves. He seems to have mastered the role of the Shatner-ish speaking sci-fi demi-god. The visuals are obviously mesmerizing. The only thing it is missing is the comic relief. But when you choose to remake a classic, certain things will be expected of it, and even with this new interesting spin on the plot, it wasn’t thought out as thoroughly as it should have been.

5.6