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Movie Review: Priest (3D) (2011) September 1, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Reviews.
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In the space of a few months, Priest went from one of my most anticipated movies of the year to just another film at the cinema.  Happens when the film’s release is delayed by three and a half months in Australia and the reviews are ‘unkind’ at best.

Nonetheless, I tried to keep an open mind about this film loosely based on a Korean comic of the same name, about an alternate world where priests are kick-ass vampire killers in an eternal human-vampire holy war.  The initial teaser trailers I saw over a year ago looked extremely promising — pure horror action, a stylish visual feast and one of my favourite actors, Paul Bettany.

But unfortunately, the critics that saw the film before me were right.  Priest just didn’t have it.  Nice to look at, sure, but it’s the perfect example of a failed comic book adaptation.  A great premise bogged down by a contrived plot, boring characters, poor dialogue and an unnecessary seriousness.  At just 87 minutes, Priest felt overlong, but at the same time strangely incomplete.  The result is an aesthetically pleasing, slick, occasionally frightening/exciting film that is ultimately forgettable and never comes close to living up to its potential.

Bettany did the best he could here, and is clearly the bright spot in an otherwise weak line up.  Karl Urban, Maggie Q and Cam Gigandet were all merely serviceable co-stars and uninteresting characters.

If there is something the film did do right, it’s the freakish vampires, who looked more like the mutated beasts from Resident Evil than Edward Cullen.  Not surprising, considering director Scott Stewart started his career in visual effects and previously directed Bettany in another supernatural action/horror, Legion, which involved angels and demons and has a similar feel.  The creatures in that film were pretty scary too.  Sadly, neither film was particularly good.  On the whole, Priest is probably better than Legion, but I personally thought the best parts of Legion were far better than the best parts of Priest.

I’d say Priest deserves some consideration as a DVD rental, especially when put up against straight-to-DVD films on the shelves, but in all honesty it could have and should have been so much more.

2 stars out of 5

PS: Shockingly, Priest has been released exclusively on 3D over here (at least from what I can gather).  Needless to say, as a post-production conversion, it was no more than another pointless money grabbing exercise.

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800th post snapshot! August 30, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Book Reviews, Misc, Movie Reviews, On Writing, Reviews, Travel.
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A charm celebrating the 800th anniversary of the University of Cambridge (2009) -- which just happens to be the year I studied there and started this blog! (I got one of these when I graduated)

Congratulations to me!

This is the 800th post on this blog.  I thought long and hard about what to write about for this monumental occasion, but I had my usual brain freeze…so instead I decided to write about the fact that I am writing a post about my 800th post.

Today is the 30th of August, 2011.  I started this blog on the 11th of January, 2009.  By my calculations that’s 962 days.  That’s a lot of writing!

On average, that’s 1 post every 1.2025 days, 5.821 posts per week and almost 25 posts a month.  As at the time of writing I have 833,486 blog hits, which translates into an average of 1041.8575 hits per blog post and 866.409 hits per day.

When I started this blog I was happy to get around 10-20 hits a day, and certainly for the first month or two that was the norm.  Now the blog hovers around 1,000 hits a day, with occasion dips and spikes (like the current one courtesy of StumbleUpon, which is giving me around 2,500 a day).

I currently have 2,601 comments, which equals roughly 2.7 comments per day.  I’ve also been bombarded by 26,754 spam comments (I believe more as some slipped through the keeper), or a whopping 27.81 per day!  I find Akismet has been doing a much better job as of late, meaning less penile enlargement advertisements.

My top post remains My European Adventure Round-Up, which has amassed 66,273 hits, though it is almost certain to be overtaken shortly (in the next couple of days) by The 20 Most Rewatchable Movies of All-Time.

My top movie review?  Shock horror, it’s Ninja Assassin (with 12,825 hits), probably because no one else has seen it — or maybe it’s that topless shot of a ripped Rain that has web surfers flocking to it.  My top book review and writing-related post is the same one — Stephen King’s brilliant On Writing (with 12,766 hits).

Moving forward, I’m not sure if I can keep up with the same pace (pun intended).  I love to write, and that’s why I continue to write on this blog without compensation (apart from the occasional free movie, DVD or book).  Even though at some point I’ll likely be swallowed by the demands of work and other responsibilities I hope this blog can remain my sanctuary, a place I can come back to to express and rant and be creative.

Movie Review: Cowboys and Aliens (2011) August 27, 2011

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James Bond (Daniel Craig) and Han Solo/Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) in a western fused with nasty aliens, directed by John Favreau (Iron Man), with producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer and executive producer Steven Spielberg.  In terms of expectations, they don’t get much higher than Cowboys and Aliens (adapted from the graphic novel of the same name), which could explain the lukewarm reception the film has received thus far.

But was it really that bad?  No.  I actually thought it was okay.  Big stars, freaky monsters, large-scale battle scenes and some well-executed action sequences.  But given what this film could have been, Cowboys and Aliens was ultimately somewhat of a disappointment.

The story is relatively simple — Daniel Craig wakes up in the middle of the desert with an alien bracelet on his wrist and no recollection of who he is or where he has been.  Stuff happens, and along with Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell and Clancy Brown (everybody’s favourite prison guard from Shawshank), he goes on a mission to rescue some humans while trying to piece together his shattered memory.

All the requisite elements for an engaging motion picture are there.  Craig is excellent as the kick-ass, “don’t mess with me” protagonist, while the supporting roles are adequately filled by legend Ford and rising star Wilde.  The film has that dusty, gritty western feel, along with old fashioned bravado and gun fights — plus the strangeness and unknown feel you get from alien invasion films.  The special affects are fine by current standards.  The story is formulaic enough for a typical summer blockbuster but not to the extent that it becomes a distraction.  The character development and subplot boxes are also ticked.

And yet Cowboys and Aliens feels like an empty blockbuster — all style, (to be fair) a little substance, but no soul.  If I had to pinpoint what went wrong, I would probably say that the biggest problem lies with the aliens, who are menacing but that’s about it.  They’re just there to kill and be killed, monsters with no personality whatsoever, and as a result don’t invoke genuine suspense.

Another problem is that everybody in the film seems to play their roles too straight — there are some elements of humour but for the most part it’s all about being cool.  There’s nothing wrong with that per se, though I feel with such a potentially fun premise they should have had more fun with it than they did.

(And I’m not sure if it was just the cinema I attended, but many of the night scenes in the film came across as incredibly dark, to the point where it became irritating.)

Having said all that, Cowboys and Aliens is better than a lot of the criticism suggests.  I was never disengaged during the 118-minute running time, and I almost wished they could have dedicated more time to certain plot points (especially those involving Ford).  As far as action blockbusters go, it’s certainly a lot better than say Transformers 3, but given the crew involved I should never have even considered comparing the two films.

3.25 stars out of 5

Classic Movie Review: A Time to Kill (1996) August 18, 2011

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After reading the book of the same name by John Grisham (my review here), several people have recommended that I watch the film adaptation of A Time to Kill, directed by Joel Schumacher and starring Matthew McConaughey (in his breakout role).  It’s one of those films that I really wanted to, but for whatever reason never saw when it was first released in 1996.

For those who don’t know the background, it’s Grisham’s first book but the fourth of his adaptations (behind The Firm, The Pelican Brief and The Client).  It stars McConaughey as a young hotshot lawyer, Jake Brigance, who is tasked with defending a black father who took the law into his own hands after two white drunks raped his little girl.  Due to the racial politics of the time and place (very important to remember when watching), Brigance not only has to fight a seemingly unwinnable case, but also has to deal with the dangers of representing a black man in a racist community.

I quite liked the book, but didn’t think it was anything special.  For me, the film version was a rare improvement on the book that addressed some of the things I felt the book could have done better.

For starters, Brigance is a much more likeable character in the film than the book, where he was more egocentric, obnoxious, and cared far too much about publicity.  In the film they really toned it down and made him more of a ‘hero’, which works well because the audience really needed to connect with him.

The second big alteration is that Ellen Roark, the brilliant college student played by Sandra Bullock, is given a much bigger role in the film than the book.  In the book, Roark doesn’t appear until halfway through, but in the film she’s there almost right from the beginning.  In fact, Bullock received top billing even though she was a secondary character — most probably because she was coming of the phenomenal success of Speed and The Net and was a huge cash cow at the time.  Nevertheless, I liked Roark’s expanded role because I always felt she was one of the more interesting characters in the book.

Plenty of scenes, characters and subplots were condensed or removed in the film version, which I personally thought was welcoming because they clogged up the central narrative and slowed the pace.  When I read the book I always felt there was something not quite right in the structure and the development of the plot, as though Grisham couldn’t figure out what was important to the story and what wasn’t.  In the film, they were able to adjust the equilibrium to create a smoother, less stilted delivery.  For instance, I was glad to see the actual trial commence relatively early, unlike the book, which waited until the final 100 pages or so.  The final climax, in particular, was reformulated to make it more about Brigance’s ability than luck, which made for much better cinema.

The most pleasant surprise for me was the number of stars or would-be stars in this film and outstanding performances they delivered.  Of course, McConaughey went on to be a big star after this film, and even though I’ve paid him out ever since Contact (‘By doing this, you’re willing to give your life, you’re willing to die for it. Whyyyyyyy?!!’), I must admit he was excellent here as Brigance.  It also made his solid performance in the more recent Lincoln Lawyer easier to comprehend.

I already mentioned Sandra Bullock as the top-billed star of the film, and she was probably at the height of her stardom at the time (some may say she was ‘bigger’ when she won the Oscar, but I disagree), just before Speed 2: Cruise Control knocked her down a few notches.

Of course, there was also Samuel L Jackson, one of my favourite actors in one of the best performances of his career as the father, Carl Lee Hailey (I’d still say Pulp Fiction was his greatest achievement, but others might say Snakes on a Plane or Deep Blue Sea or perhaps The Search for One-eye Jimmy).  In 1996, Jackson was coming off a string of less than impressive films (with the exception of Die Hard with a Vengeance) and this film helped boost him back up to where he belonged, as he would then go on to appear in a number of blockbusters/hits over the next couple of years, such as  Jackie Brown, Sphere, The Negotiator and Out of Sight.

The list of goes on.  There’s Kevin Spacey as the snooty DA, Rufus Buckley, who was, as usual, marvellous, and one of the highlights of the film.  He brought out the essence of Buckley without overdoing it, making him less of a caricature than he was in the novel.  Remember, in 1996 Spacey was coming off his masterful performances in Seven and The Usual Suspects,  and would go on to appear in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, LA Confidential and The Negotiator, right before his career defining performance in American Beauty in 1999 (personally, Verbal Kint is still my favourite).

What about the always-good-to-have-around Oliver Platt, who plays Brigance’s best buddy Harry Rex, or Donald Sutherland, who plays Brigance’s mentor Lucien Wilbanks?  What about veteran actor Chris Cooper as poor officer Dwayne Looney, before he rose to prominence in films like American Beauty, The Bourne Identity and Adaptation?  Or Ashley Judd as wife Carly, at the start of her strong career, before she broke out in films such as Kiss the Girls, Double Jeopardy and Eye of the Beholder?  Heck, there was even Mr Jack Bauer himself, Kiefer Sutherland, as a KKK redneck, before he became the butt-kicking CTU agent in 24.  I knew the film starred McConaughey, Bullock and Jackson, but it was a pleasant surprise to see just how much star power this film had.

In all, I enjoyed A Time to Kill (the film) a lot more than I thought I would.  Yes, it is a little self-righteous, melodramatic and contrived at times, but for the most part it was still an entertaining, thrilling, though-provoking courtroom drama that was boosted by its awesome star power.

4 out of 5 stars

Movie Review: Green Lantern (2D) (2011) August 15, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Reviews.
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Green Lantern, the latest comic book adaptation (from DC), is the type of film that would have been better received a few years ago — before the genre got ‘realistic’ and before the bar was exponentially raised by films such as Iron Man and The Dark Knight.

Does that make Green Lantern a horrible film?  No.  But when lined up against the other quality superhero films of recent times — actually, even just 2011 (Thor, X-Men: First Class and Captain America: The First Avenger) — Green Lantern suddenly looks like a weak link.

I had almost no idea who or what Green Lantern was before this film came along — for years I got it confused with The Green Hornet (I thought the hornet lived in the lantern).

Well, in short, it’s about this intergalactic league of superhero protectors called ‘Lanterns’ that rely on the green power of ‘will’ (encased in a ring, powered by an actual lantern!) to fight enemies that utilise the yellow power of ‘fear’.  Stuff happens, a new Lantern is needed, and the ring chooses a human, a reckless fighter jet pilot by the name of Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds).  Of course, fear has also chosen someone, and it’s up to Jordan to overcome his own fear and save the world.

That sounds like a silly and derivative premise (it has shades of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Superman), and it is, but so are the premises of most comic superhero films.  It’s up to the makers of the film to make us believe in it, even if it’s just within the confines of the story’s own universe.

And that’s where Green Lantern struck out for me — apart from a fairly strong introduction, I didn’t believe in the story for the majority of the film’s 114-minute running time, and as a result, couldn’t connect emotionally with the narrative or the characters.   There were just too many gaps, inconsistencies and avoided issues to prevent the film from being a more engaging experience.  The writers and the director (Martin Campbell, who helmed Casino Royale and Edge of Darkness) didn’t make the necessary adjustments in bringing a comic book to life, and instead, the film played out like a children’s cartoon with (predominantly) human actors.  Perhaps for once they stayed too true to the original source.

Speaking of actors, Ryan Reynolds did everything he possibly could to fill the shoes of Hal Jordan but was still a disappointment.  On paper, Reynolds, with his pearly whites, ripped bod, boyish charm and wry sense of humour, was probably the one of the best choices for this superhero, but the poor screenplay never allowed him to fully break out.  The result was a relatively flat, forgettable performance and a character that should have been a lot more likeable.

Blake Lively plays Jordan’s childhood friend and fellow pilot Carol Ferris, and does a surprisingly good job, and dare I say looks better as a brunette than a blonde.  There is genuine chemistry between her and Reynolds, but again, something was holding them back.

The remainder of the all-star cast were all solid — Mark Strong, Tim Robbins, Angela Bassett, Temuera Morrison and Taika Waititi (from Boy), plus the voices of Geoffrey Rush, Michael Clarke Duncan and Clancy Brown (everyone’s favourite warden from Shawshank) — with the standout being Peter Saarsgard’s wonderful villain, who was more interesting to me than the hero and deserved more.

Having come across as rather negative, Green Lantern certainly wasn’t bad.  There were some exciting scenes, a few cracking action sequences and moments of ingenuity, and none of the film could be described as slow.  The digital effects were also very good, but nothing outstanding by today’s standards.  If we hadn’t been spoiled by so many good superhero movies in recent years, Green Lantern probably would have received a lot more love from critics and viewers alike.  Nonetheless, I hear Warner Bros are pushing forward with a sequel, with a potential for a trilogy.

2.75 stars out of 5

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