V for Vendetta (2005)

“Remember, remember, the Fifth of November, the Gunpowder Treason and Plot.”  Happy Guy Fawkes Day, everyone!  Here’s my old review of this movie I love.

Directed by James McTeigue and adapted for the screen from Alan Moore’s comic book by the Wachowski brothers (I guess they’re um, not brothers anymore, but siblings), V for Vendetta tells the tale of a masked freedom fighter in a future London, and his mission to bring down the totalitarian government that has assumed control. It’s the kind of frightening future that George Orwell once wrote about in “1984” (which, coincidentally enough, also starred John Hurt). Please don’t let the involvement of the Wachowski brothers siblings deter you from watching this film. To do so would be a disservice to the film and every message it’s attempting to bring to the public. The Wachowskis might not be able to make great sequels (Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions are better left forgotten), but they’ve certainly got the ability to adapt a comic book masterpiece to the screen.

I mentioned that the film has a distinct “1984” feel to it, but there’s another story that it appears to owe a lot to, and that’s “The Phantom of the Opera”. V (Hugo Weaving) never appears without his Guy Fawkes mask on throughout the entire film, and it’s a testament to Weaving’s phenomenal acting abilities that the mask never seems to be a prop, just an extension of the character. The mask is worn both as a statement and as a disguise, though there’s probably no one that could identify V thanks to the experiments the government performed on V when he was a “political prisoner”. Well, thanks to the experiments and the eventual facility explosion that V probably engineered. V’s backstory is shrouded in mystery and if you don’t like movies that don’t explain the entire plot to you, you’re going to be frustrated by the lack of information.

Natalie Portman’s Evey is essentially Christine Daae to Weaving’s V as the Phantom of the Opera, though with far less romantic inclination on V’s part. He truly may love Evey, but he won’t take his heart off the mission for anyone, and thankfully the story teases the pairing up but never pulls the trigger. I’m finding it hard to write this review with a critical mindset since I really, really liked it. There you go, sorry for not putting in a SPOILER ALERT, but this movie is near perfect despite the differences between Alan Moore’s story and the Wachowski’s.

The movie looks gorgeous, with crisp colours and wonderful lighting throughout. The score keeps you in the scene, building tension or filling you with righteous anger at so many freedoms lost. The acting is top notch throughout, from Portman’s convincing accent to John Hurt’s maniacal Chancellor to Stephen Rea’s disbelieving Inspector and so on. I’m not sure if the movie was released for Weaving to be eligible for next year’s Oscars, but he definitely deserves a Best Actor nomination for his wonderful performance here (the film received no Oscar nominations at all.  Fuck the Oscars). A lot of actors rely on their looks and their facial expressions to convey certain things, but stripping Weaving of those crutches only displays what a remarkable talent he truly is.

I mentioned that the movie was near perfect, and for that I do blame the Wachowskis. Apparently they didn’t learn from the Zion Rave Party in The Matrix Reloaded and included a slightly pointless montage scene in this film as well. The domino scene is quite visually stunning, don’t get me wrong. But when the main character – the anti-hero that we’re all cheering for – is shown tipping over a bunch of dominoes that took 200 hours to set up in real life to form his logo from the fallen dominoes when he’s got less than a year to iron out the details of his master plan… wait… where was I? Oh yeah. Unnecessary, but cool looking.

4.5 / 5

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Thor (2011)

With The Avengers having recently been released, I thought it would be a great idea to look back on all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films that have been released (read: search engine optimization).  The only one that I’ve already reviewed is Captain America so feel free to go back and read that one after reading this stirring bit of literature I’m probably not going to provide you with here.

Of all the Marvel movies that have been made and were rumoured to be being made, I thought that Thor would have been the hardest sell to mainstream movie audiences.  I don’t know much about the comic book version of the character, other than he fucking bored me.  I didn’t expect the cinematic interpretation of the Norse mythology behind the character to be anything even remotely approaching interesting.  And then a funny thing happened: Kenneth Branagh was named as the director and I thought to myself that at the very least, it’s going to be high quality boredom.  I just wasn’t expecting a movie that was a fun popcorn summer blockbuster, but that’s exactly what Branagh delivered.

Of course, all the directing miracles in the world wouldn’t be able to save a Thor movie if the actor playing Thor was completely unsuited for the part (I’d use Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze from Batman & Robin as an example but fuck that, that movie had more problems than just one miscast).  Thankfully, Chris Hemsworth got the part (and doubly thankful that Triple H didn’t), and as a heterosexual male, even I had to admit that dude was ripped.  He was Thor.  He also had a weird Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You accent going on for the whole movie, which was somewhat disorienting, but whatever, he was great.

Honestly, the entire movie was pretty great all around, visually stunning, great casting, super performances and a surprising amount of fun.  I might have truly loved it if I was completely familiar with Asgaardian stories and such, but let me just give it a solid thumbs up mark.

4 / 5

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)

After watching Episode III for the first time in years, I was struck by the fact that I seemingly enjoyed it far more than I did the first time I saw it.  It’s far from a perfect movie, but I’d definitely hold it up as the best of the Prequel Trilogy… now.  I used to give that underwhelming title to Episode II, but there’s a lot of good stuff going on in Sith, and it is probably the most schizophrenic of any of the Star Wars movies.

The first epic space battle sequence goes on for probably 30-40 minutes, starting with spaceships dog-fighting, then having Anakin (Hayden Christensen), Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor), and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) landing inside a star cruiser to rescue Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) from the evil Count Dooku (Christopher Lee).  It is a sequence that actually is quite light-hearted and struck me as more of a wacky buddy cop comedy vibe, until of course Anakin scissors Dooku’s head off.  Then there’s more absurdity, and then more darkness.  And it goes on from there.

Of course, this is the darkest of all Star Wars movies, with Anakin finally turning to the Dark Side of the Force and becoming SPOILER ALERT Darth Vader for the first time.  The execution of this is at times both brilliant and completely ham-fisted (“From my point of view, it is the Jedi who are evil.”).  The movie is a constant roller coaster, full of high spirits and funny line deliveries and then long, darker sequences dealing with Palpatine manipulating Anakin to joining the Sith, whoops another SPOILER ALERT.

I can see how people wouldn’t like it, but it’s actually grown in my estimation.  Sure, there’s the meme-worthy Vader freak out at the end that is laughably bad, but there’s also an amazingly entertaining movie in there too.  Wonderful action sequences that are gripping and – unlike oh I dunno, Michael Bay’s Transformers movies – completely easy to follow and understand.  Again, some of the dialogue between Anakin and Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) is bafflingly bad, but it does the trick.  The best way you can improve the Prequel Trilogy would be to actually find an onscreen couple that made you feel for them, kind of a Buffy / Angel thing that actually was heart wrenching.  Maybe Lucas will digitally replace Portman and Christensen in the next Blu-Ray box set.

3.5 / 5

Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)

For many years, I staunchly defended Episode II as my favourite of the Prequel Trilogy, for many reasons usually relating to how awesome the rain planet of Kamino looked.  I mean, none of the Star Wars movies before it had anything really remotely resembling weather.  Yeah, there was a dust storm in Episode I, but really, it’s just wind, and Hoth in Empire Strikes Back was just cold, with another wind storm.  ANYWAYS, after watching it for the first time in years, well, it really isn’t as good as I originally thought it was, I still enjoyed it slightly more than Episode I, if only because of the payoff of Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best) being the one character that is responsible for the downfall of the Jedi Knights.

The inherent problem with a Prequel Trilogy that isn’t a reboot, is that while yes, it is cool to see how these characters grew to end up as the ones we loved, there’s a lot less mystery to the story.  When Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) jumps out of a window on Coruscant to grab an assassin droid, I know that while he’s in a dangerous situation, he’s still going to be around come Episode IV.  This may shed some light onto why it seems McGregor is nearly always bemusedly smiling in every scene.  He has no fear, because he knows the history of his character has been written.  Kinda like another McGregor character, from Big Fish.

The Blu-Ray version is stunningly gorgeous, however director and writer George Lucas’ insistence on shooting nearly everything digitally looks downright terrible in some scenes.  Namely the digital stand-ins ones, like when Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) is riding that animal but it’s not really Christensen, just a terrible-looking digital replicant.  Or at least to my eyes it appeared that way.  Lucas still doesn’t know how to direct actors, or write for actors, as is evidenced by many painfully written scenes and directing choices he was completely fine with.

Episode II is kind of the weirdest of all the Star Wars movies, as it is essentially a companion piece to Episode I and III, not really the truest of sequels.  It seems to be filled with half ideas that will bear fruition in the future, but it doesn’t feel like a whole product itself.  It’s hard to explain.  There’s the weirdness of the Coruscant scenes – namely the fucking bizarre and wholly out of place Dexter Jettster diner scene – as well as the action sequence with Anakin, Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman), C3-P0 (Anthony Daniels), and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) on the planet Geonosis.  That scene is straight up a video game level and it is preposterous.

I balance all that terrible shit with the awesomeness of the rain sequence, the light shed on Boba Fett’s origin, the epic Jedi battle at the conclusion, where we finally see Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) whip out his purple lightsabre, and the sort of silly Yoda (Frank Oz) and Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) lightsabre fight.  All in all, the Star Wars movies are popcorn movies, epic space operas, and this one certainly is another one.  I rate it the same as Episode I, but I enjoyed it a bit more.

2 / 5

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)

As I previously mentioned, 2011’s #movieaday goal was based around watching 365 brand new movies (to me).  2012 will not have that limitation put upon them, which – honestly – makes it so much more attainable.  Also, I just did it, so I don’t care if I miss a day.  One of my Christmas gifts was the Blu-Ray box set of the Star Wars movies, all of them, episodes I – VI, the great and the bad.

I remember the anticipation for this movie as being, well it was the most anticipated thing of all time, anywhere.  The most modern thing I can attribute that to nowadays, would be the release of The Dark Knight Rises in several months.  It won’t be the same though.  I won’t be waiting outside until the ticket windows open, two weeks before the movie even hits theatres, no, I learned my lesson thanks to Episode I.

The hardest part when it comes to discussing the Prequel Trilogy is separating fanboy cronyism from actual film criticism.  Whatever you think of Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best), you have to be able to analyze the other aspects of the film, and just get over that completely righteous anger over Binks’ creation.  Because, even though he sucks (hard), there’s still a whole movie going on around him, and for the most part … well, it’s far below the standards of the Original Trilogy.

The two bright spots are Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor’s performances as Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi, respectively.  There’s humour and heart and actual emotions in their depictions of the two Jedi Knights.  You could also say Darth Maul (Ray Park) was pretty badass, but that is tempered by the fact that SPOILER ALERT he gets killed off far too early.  It was also neat seeing Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu, clearly the most kickass of all Jedi Knights.  And there’s all the little hints and Star Wars nerdery throughout that makes it tolerable.

However, director and writer George Lucas made such a terrible decision when it came to Jar Jar Binks, that it overshadows everything else in the movie.  Jar Jar’s stench is palpable in everything, and there’s also the silly little decisions that Lucas made when it came to directing actors in the movie.  He’s not an actor guy, he’s the tech guy.  Even though McGregor’s performance is fun and good, he looks entirely too bemused at the goings on around him.

And then there’s Jake Lloyd, portraying the future SPOILER ALERT Darth Vader as young Anakin Skywalker.  So many dumb things included, like his “WHOOOAAAAA” when Qui-Gon lifts him into Anakin’s pod racer.  This kid has faced death on numerous occasions in past pod races, yet he’s amazed at being lifted three feet up in the air by a Jedi Knight?  Better, nerdier, fatter and more socially awkward people than I have written longer articles on all the things that are wrong with Episode I, and while I don’t particularly like the movie, it’s a kind of guilty pleasure for me.  After all, it still is Star Wars.

2 / 5

Your Highness (2011)

A long time ago, on a different blog hosting site far, far away (Russia now), I wrote a review for Howl’s Moving Castle in which I made mention that it contained Billy Crystal’s best performance ever because the dialogue he provided was limited by the animation for the American dub.  He wasn’t around to riff constantly, ad-libbing and so forth (granted, any competent editor or director would find the best deliveries for the movie in theory).  Danny McBride and everyone involved in Your Highness need to figure out why they script movies.

I cannot imagine what the pitch for Your Highness had to be to win over the studio.  “The guy from ‘Eastbound & Down’ came up with this medieval movie idea!  He has an outline written down, and he swears he’s working on the rest of the script and it’ll be ready by the time we’re ready to shoot!” “Can we put James Franco in it?”  “Uh, sure, his reps have already expressed an interest in it!”  “We also need a hot, young, talented actress to strip down to her thong for this one scene.”  “That’s exactly what Natalie Portman said she wanted to do after losing herself in Black Swan!”  “LET’S MAKE IT *throws money*”  “HURRAH!”

The thing is, I don’t know if a written script would have actually helped the movie or not.  There’s just so much wrong with it.  For every time I laughed during the movie, there were nine other scenes when I seriously debated just turning it off.  But I held out for Natalie Portman’s ass, and in doing so was rewarded with even more tits!  I know these actors are all talented, but this was just a colossal fuckstorm of shit.

1 / 5

There, now you don’t have to watch the movie.