Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Dearth of Quality Movies: South Carolina Style

For the last six months or so, I have been living a crazy existence down in the city of Columbia, South Carolina. And along with this living situation, I have had a fair share of ups and downs. Mostly downs. Because for those of you who know me know that I have one major passion in life. And that is the Cinema. I capitalized it because it sounds more culturally refined and proper to do so. Plus, it sounds better than "Movies." (P.S. I'm better than you because I call it the Cinema.)

Unfortunately, the choices in Cinema are sorely lacking in comparison to other places where I have lived. And that is rather frustrating.

I bring this up now for one major reason: I want to see Juno. And I have been given no opportunity to see this movie. Normally, I can withstand such withholdings. Because I'm no film snob. I like my mindless action movies as much as I love the subtle dramas. So it follows that I have something to watch on the weekends, even if it is only Alvin and the Chipmunks. But it becomes a serious issue when people who are much less passionate about this pastime than I am are essentially brought to a theater to see Juno. And I'll be honest. I'm rather envious of them and I'd prefer they didn't see it at all.

On Christmas Day, Juno expanded into almost 1000 theaters. And, not one of them was within 70 miles of my current location. The problem is, I do not know what to do to get these movies here. I, and I alone will not be able to bring these movies to this city (or even this state for that matter, but that's a completely different conversation.)

There is one theater, called the Nickelodeon, located downtown, which apparently has one screen and on the weekends will show an artsy movie. And it changes every week. And Juno isn't on its schedule. The Nickelodeon is a recent discovery for me. I have yet to go there, but hearing about it months ago I immediately dismissed it as a place to play Double Dare or Legends of the Hidden Temple. (On second thought, I don't know why I didn't seek it out sooner. Nothing I'd love more to have a deep conversation with Olmec about Cleopatra or Davy Crockett.) But when I realized what it actually was, I became intrigued. Alas, the fact that there is only one theater and the selections are limited makes it a place where I probably will not end up frequenting too often.

The fact is, this place essentially sucks. Between the lack of movie choices and the lack of pizza choices, I sometimes wonder how these people even get by at all. Sure, Michigan often times wasn't anything to write home about, but I promise that you would not want to trade me. Especially if you were me.

I could probably complain more. Much more actually. But I will refrain. Because the only thing that's affecting me dearly is the lack of ability to go see Juno. And now that I'm thinking about it, the lack of an IMAX theater. There used to be one about an hour and a half away from my current location, on the beach in Charleston to be exact. But the week Transformers was to open up there, it shut down inexplicably. It's almost as if there's a higher power that is trying to wreck my movie-going enjoyment. (Crap. I called them the movies. Well, I'm still better than you anyway.) This has also forced me to forgo the 6-minute Dark Knight IMAX preview before I Am Legend. It's like everywhere I turn, there is more evil lurking its way into my life. An evil that I must turn around.

I welcome any suggestions that are deeper than "move away" or "get a new job". Simple in theory, but much more difficult in practice.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

National Treasure: Book of Secrets Review

What can really be said about National Treasure: Book of Secrets other than it's a standard by-the-numbers Jerry Bruckheimer movie. The plot is fairly simple, the acting sufficient, and the overall tone of the movie is just one of general accessibility. Yet, putting all that aside and taking it in for what it is results in an entertaining event that could have been much worse than it ended up being.

Benjamin Gates (Nicolas Cage, in his first ever sequel) has recently been thrown out of his girlfriend Abigail's (Diane Kruger) house because of communication issues. He's also currently on tour discussing some Civil War findings. Of course, completely out of no where, Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris) reveals a page of John Wilkes Booth's missing diary, which purportedly connects Gates' great-great-grandfather to the assassination of President Lincoln. The audience is already aware of the ancestral Gates' innocence, as the first scene of the movie shows what really went down regarding that page, and, surprise, surprise, the real conspirators were using Gates to decipher the lost City of Gold.

So, in order to clear his family's name, Gates must now prove that his great-great-grandfather was in fact on the trail of the City of Gold. Somehow, by finding this City, it will prove that he was innocent. Because apparently the former Gates couldn't have simultaneously plotted an assassination AND searched for a lost city.

What follows is a series of nonsensical clues that Gates must follow while staying one step ahead of Wilkinson in a manner that could be likened to Indiana Jones meets James Bond. Unfortunately, Gates is lacking the ultimate charm of either of those two legendary heroes and does not quite command the same excitement.

What National Treasure DOES do is present even the most implausible situations in an entertaining and relatively exciting way so that boredom never really has an opportunity to present itself. The entire cast of characters is likable and charismatic enough that while you are never really concerned with the ultimate outcome of their arcs, you are curious enough to let it play out as it is. Some of the situations are just so ridiculous that its tough to swallow. The clues are put in such insanely difficult places to get to, but not only do the characters retrieve those clues, they do so with such ease that it amazes me that security for any elected official is continued to be employed. Then this is followed up with little to no retribution, adding a layer of insanity that would not quite be there otherwise.

But, like was stated before, this is a standard Jerry Bruckheimer movie, so to expect anything else would kind of be pushing it. Obviously people are not going to see this for intense plotting and intricate characters. No, people are going to go see it to spend an enjoyable evening out, and in that regard, the movie does deliver. People who did not like the first one are obviously going to hate this one as well. And it's certainly not going to change anyone's mind who already hates Bruckheimer's mindless movies in general. Yet, if you just want to see some crazy people getting into some crazy situations that span the globe, then National Treasure: Book of Secrets is worth checking out.


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sweeney Todd Review

Tim Burton is one of those directors who I am always curious to see what comes out of him next. His newest movie, "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" is a unique entry from him as it is based on the Stephen Sondheim musical of the same name. I went in with absolutely no expectations, since I am only vaguely familiar with the musical itself and have never heard a song from it at all. So fortunately I was able to take everything in without any preconceived notion about what the movie should be.

Despite a few small issues, Sweeney Todd is one of Burton's best movies and succeeds on a number of levels. The story follows Sweeney Todd (Johnny Depp) as he returns to London after an exile of nearly 15 years. What happened is never fully explained, only to say that Todd, then Benjamin Barker, was sent away on trumped up charges so that Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) could take Barker's beautiful wife Lucy and their daughter away from him. Upon Todd's return, he meets up with the equally disturbed Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), who happens to have quite an infatuation with Todd and informs him that his wife poisoned herself shortly after escaping Turpin and that his daughter, Joanna is now living under guard of Turpin himself.

Upon hearing the news that his beloved is now dead, his thoughts only move to one thing, and that is to exacting revenge upon Turpin for ruining his life. He then sets up a barber shop where he rarely gives actual haircuts but murders most of the customers to be served in Mrs. Lovett's meat pies.

Burton crafts an incredible interpretation of London that reflects the craziness of both Todd and Lovett. Their pale, darkened eyed complexion within their decrepit shops is juxtaposed against the more flesh-colored and colorful people around them. While the world is still ultimately a dark and unfriendly place, the external world that Todd and Lovett do not inhabit is much more of a welcoming place than the place in which they reside. The resulting atmosphere is incredibly effective in crafting a disturbing mood throughout the length of the film.

Depp and Carter in particular give excellent performances highlighting the specific issues troubling their individual characters. Rickman is equally disturbing as the fiendish Judge Turpin, a man whose moral code seems to be blinded by his own carnal desires.

What Depp, with the help of Burton, does is craft a character who is so blinded by his lust for revenge, he fails to see what it is doing to his life. Despite having the knowledge that his daughter is alive, he still seems to be more concerned with taking lives than he is with trying to start a new one for himself. Carter's Mrs. Lovett is equally blinded by her infatuation with Todd that she is willing to do things for him that she probably wouldn't do if he was not around. Despite the fact that Todd gives her very little reason to support him, she is wrapped up in him nonetheless.

The music is also excellent. The majority of the movie is sung, not spoken, and while Depp and Carter might not have the most beautiful singing voices, they are definitely sufficient and the way they sing is most certainly in line with the types of characters they are portraying. A few of Sondheim's numbers sound a little dated, but ultimately they are all catchy, intense songs that definitely help to create a mood for the film.

The issues that I had were rather minor. I was rather curious as to why Barker/Todd was taken away to start with and how he ended up on a ship back to England. I suppose we can assume that he escaped from prison and attempted to swim away, but this is never fully explained. Also, I was curious to know about what happens to a few characters once the movie ends, but given the movie is about the journey of Sweeney Todd, I can understand why the choice was made to end it where it did. People can come to their own conclusions about the other, more ancillary characters.

Also, in a few places it just felt too much like a stage production. There were moments when I realized that this was meant to be seen on stage that was a jarring moment that took me out of the movie. Fortunately, moments like those did not last long and it was very easy to fall back into the world of the dark London.

The film also delivers its R-rating rather strongly. Certainly no one will be complaining over a lack of blood, as the violence is so unflinching, yet it somehow delivers a sense of humor about plenty of the violent situations. The dark humor that is threaded underneath the tragic journey of Sweeney Todd creates an excellent movie that is sure to be recognized come awards season.


Walk Hard Review

Judd Apatow is the new Hollywood golden child. Every movie he has any involvement with these days is immediately touted as being "From the people who brought you 'Knocked Up' and 'Superbad'." Which, let's face it, is a very helpful message for any movie to have since both were such successes both financially and in terms of laugh content. Unfortunately, Walk Hard does not quite live up to the same levels of hilarity those other two movies had.

Walk Hard is a pretty simple movie to describe. Essentially, writers Judd Apatow and Jake Kasdan took the basic plots of "Ray" and "Walk the Line", melded them together, added jokes when necessary, and called it a day. That's not to say that the movie does not work, because on the whole, it does. Functionally, the movie works rather well and uses the fact that John C. Reilly is playing the same character from age 14 to his 70s to a humorous advantage. The problem lies in the fact that the movie is not nearly as funny as Knocked Up or Superbad.

On the positive side, the laughs are pretty consistent. Most of the jokes are relatively humorous and there are a few very funny situations in the movie. It never bored me. I was constantly curious about what sort of wacky, out of control situation they would throw out next. So in that regard, the movie succeeds. There are also numerous small roles that are meant to illustrate the time period in which Dewey Cox is currently residing in, ranging from Elvis to the Beatles which are all very funny in the ways they send up the actual musicians.

The ultimate problem is that the movie just is not funny enough. There was nothing particularly memorable in the movie, except for the fact that a few penises are shown on display for no apparent reason than for people to go "Hey look, it's a penis." There is very little reason for them to be there, but I suppose the same could be said about the naked women in the movie. Except people are going "Hey look, they're boobies." But whatever.

It's also lacking the heart that the last two Apatow movies had. Knocked Up and Superbad were not only extremely funny movies, but included characters that you truly cared about and wanted to see succeed. They were flawed individuals who were trying to make their way in the world. Dewey Cox does not have that same connection to the audience that those previous characters had. I suppose that is somewhat the point in a parody movie, but when all the marketing materials are used strictly as a way to compare the movies, one cannot help but do an actual comparison.

For what they have, all of the actors do an extremely proficient job with their material. John C. Reilly is genuinely funny as Dewey Cox and the supporting cast including Kristin Wiig as Dewey's first wife, Edith and Jenna Fischer as his second wife, the June Carter send-up, Darlene, all deliver very funny scenes. The material they have to work with is just unfortunately somewhat lacking.

Despite the negatives, Walk Hard continues Judd Apatow's dominance of comedy. Even though it does not ultimately achieve the levels of greatness, it still exists as a funny movie that is leaps and bounds above such recent drivel as "Good Luck Chuck" or "The Heartbreak Kid". Apatow has raised the bar on himself, so it's just that much more obvious when he fails to meet it, even if the movie itself is an entertaining and funny way to spend two hours. Hopefully this is just a small slip-up in a line of excellent movies to come.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

I Am Legend Review

"I Am Legend" had a very unique opportunity to become an intimate big budget picture. The fact that Will Smith and his dog are essentially the only two characters in this movie made for a rather interesting experience throughout the majority of the film. Unfortunately, the movie does not ultimately end in a satisfactory way, leaving me to ponder alternate ways things could have been wrapped up.

Being unfamiliar with the source material and the two films prior to this one that attempted to adapt it, I was able to come in with essentially zero preconceived notions about what it was supposed to be. Yet, it does make me wonder how different the original novel was, since the last 30-40 minutes or so seem to be a completely different movie.

The movie begins in a televised interview announcing that cancer has been cured using a modified virus that only attacks cancer cells. This is the only set-up, save for a few minutes of flashbacks, for the remainder of the film. Immediately we are thrown into the world of Robert Neville (Will Smith) who spends his days hunting for food and searching for survivors of the mutated virus that killed the majority of the population and turned the rest into zombie-vampires.

Will Smith carries this movie as really only he can. His performance is relatively nuanced in comparison to many of his other films and the fact that he is alone for such a huge portion of the movie speaks volumes to his capabilities as an actor. The interactions with his dog, Sam, show a desperation for contact that would not be nearly as evident in a lesser actor. Also, one particularly moving exchange happens between Neville and a mannequin that truly shows where he is emotionally. What this provides is a welcome departure from most big budget actioners which primarily focus on gigantic effects sequences and have little in the way of emotional development.

Unfortunately "I Am Legend" turns into exactly the type of movie that it seemed to be rebelling against in the last quarter. About 3/4 the way through, a major turning point happens in the movie and it becomes almost like the writers had no idea where to go from there, but realized that the movie needed to end. What follows is a few ridiculous conveniences that just seemed to undermine the psychological intensity of the majority of the movie. This coupled with an intense zombie/vampire showdown creates a complete lack of focus in an otherwise focused movie.
The resolution seems to be obtained too easily and much too quickly.

The zombie/vampires are also much too plain. Yes, they are dangerous, but they seemingly exist as just mindless challengers for Neville except when they are inexplicably able to set up elaborate traps. The movie certainly would have benefited from an exploration as to what the people infected with the virus have become, beyond these mindless zombie/vampires.

"I Am Legend" suffers from a few ailments that hold it back from being a really good movie, which, unless someone goes back and reshoots the last half-hour, will not change. As it stands, it's absolutely an engaging way to spend two hours if only to see Will Smith continue to improve on his movie star status and acting capabilities.


Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Golden Compass Review

Much has been written regarding "The Golden Compass" and the author, Phillip Pullman, with his apparent master plan of converting the world's children into atheists, if some are to be believed. Yet, while this may be an issue within the books themselves, none of that controversy is apparent in the finished film. And maybe by using those controversial elements, the movie would have been much better off.

As it stands, "The Golden Compass" is little more than a cheap imitator of fantasy films that have come before it, such as Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. The movie itself is a textbook situation of the whole being less than the sum of its parts.

To sum it up, Lord Asreal (Daniel Craig) has discovered "Dust", a mystical energy force that apparently allows people to travel between universes. The concept of Dust goes against the teachings of the Magesterium, so this organization, which controls the vast majority of the world it would seem, wants to stop Asreal from making the existence of other worlds known to the public as this would undermine everything they teach.

Meanwhile, 12-year-old Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards) is taken into the care of Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman) where Coulter attempts to subdue Lyra, as Lyra is the child stated in the witches prophecy to be the one who decides the coming war. Lyra is also in possession of an alethiometer, or Golden Compass, which is an object that is capable of seeing the truth within any situation. Lyra escapes, and ends up on a whirlwind adventure that includes polar bears, sky cowboys, and witches.

There are so many issues with this movie it is difficult to find a place to begin. First and foremost, the movie is just too short. Clocking in at just under two hours, absolutely nothing is given any time to develop. Moments pass from one scene to the next with no real connection to any of the characters. In one example, Lyra uses her golden compass to ascertain the location of the great Polar Bear Iorek's (voiced by Ian McKellen) armor. She then tells him, he listens with no question of her motives or how she got this knowledge, picks up the armor and immediately becomes best friends with the child. Shortly after, a situation arises where Iorek's life is put into jeopardy and Lyra shows a connection with him that just does not make any sense whatsoever. No evidence was given in this movie to justify her reaction to the situation.

It is completely obvious that much was cut from the book in an attempt to fit into a sub-2 hour run time and ends up reading more like a cliff's notes on the novel instead of an adaptation. Other characters come and go with seemingly no compelling reason as to why they are there. Unfortunately, this means that it becomes impossible to connect with any of the characters on any more than a superficial level, making the movie less of a coherent whole and more of a mish-mash of situations.

The plot is also a difficult issue to grasp with as there does not seem to be any real goals until the movie is literally over. The characters stumble across things that lead them from one place to the next and very rarely do they ever take matters into their own hands. Every new character seems to lay out some clunky new exposition that attempts to fill the audience in on what has happened or is going to happen instead of just showing us. The movie then therefore follows into a large portion of summaries about the world instead of immersing the audience within the world.

Yet, not is all bad about the movie. There are individual moments of fun that are scattered throughout. The entire sequence with the Ice Bear army were probably the most engaging moments in the entire film, as they not only showed Lyra's true cunning and intelligence, but was also a showcase for an intense battle where the movie truly earns its PG-13 rating in a shocking conclusion.

Nicole Kidman's Mrs. Coulter is also an incredibly effective villain because she is just obviously off her rocker. Her desperate attempts to maintain self control are undermined by moments of pure insanity where it is clear that not much is right with this woman, and Kidman plays it wonderfully. Unfortunately, her time in the movie is very short and she is given very little to do when she is there. I certainly would have enjoyed to delve deeper into her story to understand her more, even though there was an unoriginal twist thrown into her character near the end. Yet, because there was such little explanation, it could turn into something much deeper in future films if they are made. Craig was also charismatic as Lord Asreal, but unfortunately he is in the movie for what seems to be all of 10 minutes.

Dakota Blue Richards delivers an excellent performance as Lyra, but again, her character suffers from the same problems as all the others, being a lack of development and a paint-by-numbers plot.

Ultimately, I found myself wanting to forget about this portion of the saga and more interested in what is to come. And hopefully, if they do make those other installments, they will learn to cut only what is necessary and focus on the characters much more. There have been worse ways to spend two hours, but I can think of so many better ways to spend them as well.


Saturday, September 15, 2007

Halo 3 Hype: For Those Who Love It....and Don't

There is no denying the fact that the Halo 3 hype has reached almost insurmountable levels in these past few weeks. From soft drinks to fast food to pretentious marketing campaigns, Microsoft is looking to permeate every facet of society in an attempt to reach the largest possible demographic.

And the question therefore remains: Is there too much hype for the game?

The answer to that would have to be both yes and no.

But before we get into the why's and how's of this situation, let me give you a little background on my Halo experience.

I'm a huge Halo fan. In the summer of 2002 I heard that if I was to purchase only one game for my Xbox, then Halo it had to be. After taking that plunge I was absolutely immersed in the world. While I recognized that a good portion of the storytelling was ripped straight from Aliens, I still loved it. The game was relatively easy to pick up, fun to play, and I didn't even play multiplayer that often.

Two years later, in 2004, I jumped on the marketing train and took it all in. While not an active participant in I Love Bees, I made every attempt to follow the story as that was going. I downloaded every commercial. I borrowed "The Fall of Reach" and "First Strike" from a friend and read them prior to launch. In essence, I was preparing myself completely.

And following the release of the game, I played multiplayer extensively. There was something about being able to just jump in and play and not have to worry about finding a decent match or waiting for people to join my specifically hosted game that truly appealed to me. On the other hand, I did feel that the single player was a bit of a let down. It didn't have the scope that Halo 1 had, despite having much better graphics. The narrative was a little disjointed and who could forgive that horrific ending?

Yet, here we are almost three years later and a similar situation is upon us. Except after the massive success that the hype had on the second game, Microsoft feels content to multiply that by what seems to be 100.

So back to the original question: Is the hype too much?


Not everyone likes Halo. There are a huge contingent of people that despise it with every fiber of their being. They see Halo as a substandard First Person Shooter that does absolutely nothing new with the genre, is not a graphical revolution, and regurgitates standard Sci-Fi plots in an uninteresting manner. And many of these people are the hardcore of the hardcore. And they have every right to their opinion. So when this section of gamers sees their favorite pastime being enveloped by this marketing machine, it angers them immensely. Why should such a horrible, barely better than average game be getting all this attention? It's a travesty to all TRUE first person shooters that SHOULD be getting this attention. On top of all that, it dilutes how serious they take their gaming life and packages it in a soda can to be sold to them later.

For those people, the attention given to that creates the perception that MORE games like Halo (in their eyes a substandard shooter) should be made. And this, of course, is a terrible thing to them. And in that regard, it's completely understandable.

And I do feel the most recent ads are a little pretentious in treating that diorama like it was truly from the future, but I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's disrespectful to current servicemen and women.

The hype is also creating a lot of unrealistic expectations for people. How is it possible that a game that pretty much says "If Jesus were alive today, he would be wearing MJOLNIR armor" could possibly deliver on its promise?

The thing is, it doesn't have to. Which brings me to the second answer.

....No. It's not too much.

What we, as gamers, sometimes don't realize is that Microsoft is out to make money first, and entertain us second. This is the way of the world. Whether it is a movie, or a new CD, or a brand new television show, or Britney Spears at the VMA's, these things are pushed heavily so that the parent brand can profit off of them. And what happened with Halo 2 is that suddenly the profits on that game justified them doing what they are doing now. Mountain Dew, Burger King, 7-11, all these other cross-promotional partners are USING Halo 3 to their OWN advantage. They certainly would not do it if they did not think it would drive traffic into their stores. They saw the raw data of what Halo 2 was able to accomplish and realized that there was this whole subset of the population they could use to make money for themselves. And so they did and are.

It's no secret that Halo is Microsoft's Golden Child. And the struggle to obtain profitability in the games division has been a difficult one. So when they opportunity arises to take advantage of this, people do. But what is different about this in comparison to other marketing endeavors is that Microsoft isn't telling you anything that you didn't already know. It's attempting to get the common man, the man who only buys a game or two a year, excited about Halo 3. They're trying to make it an event, something that can be shared between friends.

And despite what might seem to be a whoring out of the franchise, I would argue that Microsoft/Bungie are doing anything but. They're not allowing substandard tie-ins into the marketplace. All the comics and storytelling material is tied into the actual universe. It's not some shameless ripoff. Say what you will about the "Believe" ad campaign, but it's certainly well crafted. (Even though Bungie did recently say the commercials weren't canon.) I mean, they created a completely new DRINK. They didn't just put a face on a Dew can and call it a day. An entirely new flavor was invented. I think it's terrible tasting, but they get points for trying.

If you look at the marketing of something like Spider-Man 3, if you had seen all the trailers, you could literally put the movie together in your head. They marketed it to death but they gave away too much. In so many other movies, you see the same thing. Halo isn't doing this. Regardless of what you feel about the story, you're not seeing anything about it. It's guarded and protected and doesn't ruin the plot for those interested.

The cross-promotions exist mainly to create awareness in the everyday man. Of course, if you're reading this you're probably thinking "But EVERYONE knows that Halo 3 comes out on September 25th, regardless of whether or not they want to!"

I think that is not necessarily the case. As gamers, we often surround ourselves with other people who have similar interests. We scour the internet for news, we talk to our friends, and in that we are acutely aware of the existence of Master Chief and his fight against the Covenant. There is a HUGE portion of the population that does nothing of the sort. And THAT is who the campaign is primarily for, not us.

But why is this a bad thing? It doesn't have to be. What it is doing is raising awareness to the public that a good portion sees the gaming community as Wii Sports Players. The campaign is attempting to prove that this IS a legitimate entertainment event on par with any major movie release. That there is a hardcore game that can get everyone involved. These people who are being targeted have no idea what "Saved Films" are or what "Forge" is. They're thinking "Hey, this looks like a cool game, I should check it out." I do not see how more people purchasing game consoles is a bad thing.

Yet, ultimately the reason that I feel the hype is not a bad thing is because if you let it, the hype can be fun. A huge community is sharing in the same experience. A large group of people who all enjoy the same thing are able to come together and follow the progress of what I believe is a great franchise. And people are looking for different things. Some people think that story is king, others want to do nothing other than play multiplayer. The same game is approached from many different angles. The game will probably not revolutionize the genre or have a radical departure in storytelling, but at the very least it will be fun. Whether or not you think it's deserving of all the attention is yours to decide. This is the final act of the trilogy and while there will be other Halo-related projects in the future, I highly doubt they will acquire the same attention as this one did. For the sole reason that they will be different formulas. Halo 3 is operating on the same tried-and-true formula that has helped it succeed the last 6 years.

There is a difference between "hype" and "expectation." Hype is the experience that surrounds the release of a product. It tells you what it wants you to believe. And the more money a product has, the more hype it's going to give you. The more proven its been in the past, the more intense they will be in the future. They're trying to alter your expectations.

Except your expectations can be completely separate from the hype. Will Halo 3 be the greatest game I've ever played? Maybe. But maybe not. Do I expect it to be? Not necessarily. But I do expect it to be fun. And I expect people who I normally wouldn't see on Xbox Live to be there. (Hopefully a larger contingent of respectable humans. God bless the new mute button.) And even if the game is the worst game I've ever played, I can accept that. But I think some of the fun is in the waiting period and I've certainly had some up to this point. And knowing that there are more and more people each day who are enjoying it to is a fun thought to have and will hopefully bring more opportunities to gaming as a whole.

In closing, I understand the frustrations of those who cannot stand it. But the only thing you can really do is try to ignore it. And to the Halo community, while it's hard to believe that there are people out there who don't like this franchise, they have a right to their opinion just as much as we do. And I hope that one day when the tables are turned and they're in love with a completely hyped game that I could care less about that they respect that in turn.


Saturday, September 8, 2007

3:10 To Yuma Review

As has been written numerous times before regarding the subject, the modern western seems to be dead. Given that there have been very few westerns over the last few decades, one might venture to guess that Hollywood has just lost faith in westerns in general.

But my personal philosophy is that if you can tell a good story, regardless of the genre, then that film deserves to be made. Fortunately, despite my predilection against westerns as a whole, 3:10 To Yuma is an incredibly well made movie that showcases even more evidence that Russell Crowe and Christian Bale are some of the finest actors around.

The plot of the movie as it exists is rather simple. Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is suffering through a harrowing drought on his farm. Since he cannot farm his own land, he has nothing to see to make the payments on his barn. If things don't change soon, then Dan and his wife and two children will be forced off their farm and into poverty. When the outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) is captured, Dan volunteers to help escort Wade to a neighboring train station for $200 to help pay the bills. The one catch is that Wade's psychotic gang led by Charlie Prince (Ben Foster) is on their trail and will certainly not hesitate to kill and maim every person in the party.

Yet, this movie is less about the plot and more about the characters being able to explore what it means to survive in this world. Evans is a man who is beaten and broken and has something to prove. His son looks at him like he's a joke since he cannot even seem to provide for his family. His wife has been rather distant towards him lately. On top of all that, he has one wooden leg from a Civil War injury. Despite the danger, this is all that Dan can do to provide for himself and for his family. So he goes on the journey. Bale plays Dan with such quiet desperation that it is easy to feel for the situation in which he resides.

On the other hand, Ben Wade is a killer. He takes what he wants, and has no problem killing anyone who gets in his way. Yet, this is not with malicious intent, no. These people just happen to be between him and what he wants, so he takes care of the situation. Wade recognizes that no one is out there to do him any favors and that everyone is out for themselves, therefore he feels that he is not going to do any favors for anyone else, and just kill them.

This leads to the juxtaposition of the two men in a very interesting situation. The two of them are able to communicate and slowly begin to understand one another. They may not completely respect what the other is doing, but at least they being to have some understanding of it. This, ultimately, is why the film works as well as it does. The fact that these two archetypal men are given such layers of complexity in their characters speaks volumes about the quality of the film. Going in, one might think that Bale is the good guy and Crowe is the bad guy, but to come in with that assumption would be completely incorrect. No, these are characters with their own motivations that go beyond "I like to kill" or "I'm the hero." Gone is the idea that the Old West was so black and white and people now show up in many more shades of gray. That isn't to say that one cannot understand who is good or who is bad, but there is a deeper exploration of those themes that allows the viewer to contemplate the ramifications of the characters' actions and their reasons for ending up in the situations in which they ended up.

Yet, Bale and Crowe aren't the only strong actors in this movie. On the contrary, the supporting cast is filled out with a number of excellent actors, both young and old. Peter Fonda shows up as a Pinkerton agent named Byron McElroy who may be fighting for the side of the good but can be a bit of a ruthless man himself. This exploration of good vs. evil when coupled with Wade offers an interesting insight into the character of Wade himself.

Alan Tudyk is also excellent as the reluctant veterinarian Doc Potter who is forced on the trip in an attempt to make sure that McElroy does not suffer from his recently acquired gunshot wound. Despite his complete inability with a firearm, he moves on the journey with the rest, accepting the fate that stands before him.

This truly is one of the best character pieces I have seen in a long while. Director James Mangold (Walk the Line, Copland) crafts an excellent picture that rises above the stigma of a Western and can be placed in the same category as such westerns as "Unforgiven" and "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly." Yet, it's not all character work. The action is also rather brutal and well-shot. The numerous gunfights throughout the movie are engaging and add to the intensity of the story. Even if you are not even interested in the subtleties of the actors, then I could recommend it based on the action alone. But when the action means something and this is recognized, then it amps things to a whole new level. The last scenes in particular are the ultimate culmination of everything that came before it. There is a new understanding for the characters and one that leads to an incredibly satisfying emotional conclusion.


Friday, August 10, 2007

Stardust Review

Now that the summer is coming to a close, I have to say that I have been pleasantly surprised by the movies that have been released. And not in the way I thought I would be. In retrospect, I probably gave the two big summer tentpoles (Spider-Man and Pirates) a little too much credit. I was dazzled by many of their special effects, but while watching them I could not help but think about all the problems they had. Spider-Man in particular I saw a great movie lying within the good one that I saw.

Which brings me to Stardust. Movies like Stardust are the reason I love going to the movie theater so often. I went in with very little expectations. I heard some positive buzz about the movie, and knew this was far from Matthew Vaughn's previous directorial effort (the slightly above average "Layer Cake", which shares almost NOTHING in common with this movie). While he does not do anything particularly new or innovating in the fantasy drama, Vaughn excels in telling a wonderful story about an incredible adventure and the pursuit of immortality.

The movie surrounds Tristan (Charlie Cox) who is desperately in love with the seemingly superficial Victoria (Sienna Miller). Realizing he comes from a modest background, he attempts to pull out all the stops to convince her to marry him and plans an elaborate evening next to The Wall. Meanwhile, the king of the neighboring Stormhold (Peter O'Toole), a magical kingdom that is separated from the human world by The Wall, is on his deathbed and tells his remaining four sons that the one who is able to return a ruby necklace back from a piece of glass would become king. The resulting transformation and dispersal of the necklace knocks the star Yvaine(Claire Danes) out of the sky and into the kingdom of Stormhold.

After witnessing what he believes to be nothing more than a small meteorite fall beyond the wall, Tristan pledges to retrieve the star in time for Victoria's birthday to prove his love to her and receive her hand in marriage. Of course, the queen witch Lamia (Michelle Pfieffer), along with her two sisters, is also aware of the star's presence and wants to find, kill, and eat the heart of the star to regain her youthfulness. Sounds fun. And so the quest begins.

If anyone out there considers themselves a fan of fantasy, you should really give this one a shot. While it seems to borrow from other fantasy elements, there is just the sense of excitement that the movie has that really emanates throughout the majority of the picture. Even if you do not like fantasy, I urge you to give it a shot. This is overall, some excellent storytelling that succeeds on so many levels.

Charlie Cox is very good in the role of the likable Tristan and truly does go through a journey from a boy to a man, as the narrator Ian McKellen simply states at the beginning. His start as a love-struck boy to a self-assured confident man is easily apparent. Claire Danes also is rather likable as the fallen star Yvaine, although she does have some instances of overacting and general annoyance when she first appears. Of course, this could be a result of her character not being human and attempting to adopt the mannerisms of a human so its either brilliant acting or slightly below average. That's for you to decide. Yet, since the movie rests essentially on the shoulders of these two, their chemistry more than makes up for any lack of acting on either part. The two of them play off of one another quite well and as the film goes on, there exist many situations in which that chemistry can be exploited.

The supporting cast is what really makes this an excellent movie. Michelle Pfieffer plays evil excellently and was a great villain. Robert DeNiro as the air pirate Captain Shakespeare along with Ricky Gervais' merchant Ferdy add a hilarious element to the movie. Shakespeare in particular is certainly not at all as he seems to be from first appearances and it really adds an unexpected twist to the whole story. Gervais is his usual self and he shows himself to be absolutely hilarious in seemingly every role he takes. And the ghosts of the dead princes added some hilarious comic relief at many unexpected moments.

The intensity of this movie also surprised me, and is one of the reasons I believe this will have a difficult time finding a very wide audience. At first glance, it looks like nothing more than a kid's movie with the aesthetic that it appears to have. But there are also some instances of real brutality and death along with quite a few risque innuendos and situations which would certainly not be present in any "kid's movie". Without a few cuts that were made, I could easily see how this could have obtained an R-rating, although I do not expect that we'll be seeing any "Unrated" cuts on the DVD. Yet, adults may shrug it off as for kids and parents might think that the PG-13 is too intense, leaving it in this unseen limbo.

But there are things that anyone can appreciate. The themes of love and immortality are handled in some surprising ways and it was welcome for me to not be able to predict what was going to happen right off the bat. When there is action, it is exciting and just when I thought that there would be no swordfighting in the movie, a creative, albeit short, swordfight ends up developing. I just feel you cannot give a character a sword unless he plans on using it for more than stabbing things. So fortunately, my swordfight quota was met with the movie.

There are a few issues to be had, though. The movie is a little overly long at two hours and 10 minutes. The first hour or so really takes time to pick up to the point where I found myself rather bored with the movie thinking that maybe this could be it. But once Tristan and Yvaine start on their journey, things seem to move much quicker and it becomes much more engaging. There are also a few other pacing issues that develop throughout the movie but nothing that was too distracting. I was also ready to complain about the swordfighting until the end when it actually happened. While this is nitpicking, also did not understand the concept of the kingdom of Stromhold. When it is shown on the map early in the movie, it appears to be rather small, no bigger than a city. But when they are traveling around the kingdom, it is obviously much larger than some small city. Also, the relationship with the human world is never fully explained, but I suppose it doesn't necessarily have to. The movie is primarily about the quest of one man to find out who he is and become a man, and this journey is followed closely. But I cannot say that I would have complained about the opportunity to understand just what this kingdom is.

Ultimately, this is an incredibly fun movie that had me smiling incessantly for the last hour or so. I was drawn in to this world and was happy I was given the opportunity to see it. The film may not bring anything new to the genre, but it was an exciting adventure almost from beginning to end and would easily recommend this to anyone who loves a good story.


Friday, August 3, 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum Review

"The Bourne Ultimatum" is probably the best sequel this summer. The reason for this amounts to something very simple. The attempt was made to tell a good story, not to unnecessarily top themselves.

The trap that Spider-Man, Pirates, and even Shrek and some of the others fell into was that the first movies were big, so the attempt is made to keep making it bigger. Bigger battles, more characters, more complex plot. Yet, this is not the case in "The Bourne Ultimatum". The fights are in the same style of the earlier movies, but different. There are no out of control explosions or absurd amounts of gunfire. Only Bourne and his insanely proficient spy skills.

What I found most interesting about the movie is the way in which it is structured. In essence this could be edited together with the second movie to make one epic spy movie. Taking place over the course of about 7 weeks, the movie begins as Bourne (Matt Damon, in case you were somehow living under a rock) is attempting to bandage himself after suffering from a gunshot wound and following his confession to the daughter of his two first murders near the end of "The Bourne Supremacy." Then, approximately 3/4 through the movie, the final scene of the second movie is recreated, albeit now under a different context than shown in the second movie. Which makes the majority of the movie take place between the second to last scene in "The Bourne Supremacy" and the final scene in that movie.

This is a structure that I have never seen before in a movie, unless you count the direct-to-DVD cash-in of The Lion King 1 1/2. Which, fortunately, I do not. Giving context to that entire last scene was something that I was not expecting and that offered a fresh perspective.

In addition to this structural difference, the movie itself was a spy movie at its finest. Almost nothing is done in this film that could not happen in real life. There are no crazy gadgets like James Bond and no face changing like in Mission: Impossible. No, when a fight breaks out, it's brutal. The action is in your face and does not let up throughout the entirety of the movie. The car chases are also incredible and are the only point where the suspension of disbelief needs to be raised just a little bit. The way in which the characters are able to maneuver through traffic seems to be unrealistic, but then again, I am not a professional driver so maybe it isn't. Either way, the car chases are still more grounded in reality than most other movies.

That's not to say that there is no story. On the contrary, the story accommodates the action in such a way that it never feels forced. Bourne only uses force when necessary and never crosses the line. And the film is better for it. Still not able to remember his past, Bourne attempts to put an end to everything once and for all and follow his past back to the beginning. He desperately needs to put it all behind him in order to continue the life that he now wants to lead. Hot on his trail is Deputy Director Noah Vosen (David Strathairn) who knows who Bourne truly is and wants to make sure Bourne does not ruin anything for him. Also brought back into the fray is Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) who is convinced that Bourne wants to be left alone but argues with Vosen over what to do about Bourne. The dynamic between these two characters is very reminiscent of the dynamic between her and Brian Cox's character in the second movie. Yet, this time Pamela knows more and is more calm about her decisions than she was in "Supremacy".

What follows is a satisfying conclusion to the Bourne trilogy and an excellent way to end the series. The answers about Bourne's past, who he is, and what he is to become are all answered in a way that does not feel tacked on but part of an elaborate plan set up from the beginning. Given that the movies deviated so much from books, this is somewhat hard to believe but the way it is shown, it works very well.

All is not great with the movie though, as Julia Stiles' character Nicky Parsons seems to serve no real purpose to the story and was almost thrown in there just to give an unnecessary closure to her character. She shows up completely unexpectedly and coincidentally and what follows did not really work for me. I understood what they were trying to do with what they did, I just did not feel that it was necessary. Unfortunately, I cannot say more without giving it away, so I will just have to leave it at that.

All in all, this is an incredibly well-made, thrilling movie that deserves to be seen by anyone who considers themselves a fan of spy movies. Easily the best of the three, "The Bourne Ultimatum" stands strong against its predecessors and I find it nice to see that a sequel was done so well in this summer of disappointing sequels and especially three-quels.


Sunday, July 29, 2007

Bionic Woman Television Review

Created by one of the co-creators of the critically acclaimed series "Battlestar Galactica", David Eick, "Bionic Woman" stars Michelle Ryan as Jamie Sommers. Jamie is a bartender who takes care of her deaf sister after the supposed death of their mother. After an attempted vehicular homicide against her boyfriend of five months, Jamie is injured almost beyond repair. Fortunately, her boyfriend works for a top secret organization that specializes in bionic replacement parts. So her boyfriend, the one who was supposed to be killed in the accident, walks out with nary a scratch and takes Jamie to be outfitted with two new legs, a new arm, and a bionic eye and ears. The rest of the episode has her struggling with the new power she has obtained that culminates in a final battle with the original bionic woman, Sarah Corvis (Katee Sackhoff, star of "Battlestar Galactica").

Unfortunately, despite an interesting premise, the show does not live up to expectations. The pilot is all over the place. Things seem to happen out of the blue and there really is no coherent structure overall. After realizing she's been outfitted with new bionic parts to replace the old, irreparable parts, Jamie freaks out. She gets angry at everyone around her and asks "What did you do to me?" Oh, I don't know Jamie. Maybe they just saved your life? Maybe THAT'S what they did. I think that having no legs and one arm would be highly negative in comparison to having a couple of badass bionic limbs. But maybe that's just me.

Michelle Ryan as Jamie Sommers does not seem to exude the presence that a role of this magnitude requires. Although it may be a result of poor writing, her attitude changes like the wind and this is not presented in a believable manner. Starting off completely angry and upset with her changes, by the end of the episode she is telling those who want her to join the secret organization that she will help on her terms and that she will kill anyone who tries to control her. Now, it may just be me, but it seems to follow that a person who may have never been in a fight in her life would not be so open to killing people with such conviction. This constant change in emotion is jarring and does not ring of much realism.

Despite the unfinished effects, they certainly need some work. The scenes of Jamie running super fast look dumber than the young Clark running along the train scene in the original Superman. When the POV moves to her bionic eye for the first time, it becomes somewhat difficult to understand what exactly it is that she is seeing, so having that cleared up a bit would be nice.

That is not to say that all is bad with the show. Some of the fight scenes are pretty decent as is Katee Sackhoff's original Bionic Woman character. And there is also an interesting premise lying within the show. Whether or not it could be fully exploited remains to be seen. The problem is at this point I do not ultimately care that much whether or not it gets there. When it airs, I may watch an episode or two to see where it goes, but given that there are so many other good shows I am currently watching, I do not see this overtaking my staple programming anytime soon.


Saturday, July 28, 2007

Pushing Daisies Review

Almost every year, there are inevitably those shows that may be difficult for the general public to really take a handle on. Despite the actual quality of the show itself, there exist certain irreverent aspects that sometimes are not able to translate to the mainstream. Pushing Daisies is one of those programs.

Written by "Dead Like Me" creator and former "Heroes" writer Bryan Fuller and directed by Barry Sonnenfeld of "Men in Black", "Pushing Daisies" tells the story of Ned (Lee Pace) who has the inexplicable ability to bring the dead back to life just by a touch. The only caveat to this gift is that if they stay alive more than a minute, someone dies in their place. And if he ever touches them again, they die again. This discovery was made as his mom kissed him goodnight as a child after suddenly dying from a brain aneurysm. In an attempt to honor his mother, he opens up a pie shop and distances himself from everyone in his life.

One such person he is distanced from is his childhood love, Charlotte "Chuck" Charles (Anna Friel) whose father he unexpectedly killed by keeping his mother alive for more than one minute. Kristin Chenoworth also stars as Ned's neighbor and employee at the pie store Olive, who is secretly in love with Ned and is curious as to why Ned seems to show no affection whatsoever for any living soul.

The only other person aware of Ned's gift is Private Detective Emerson Cod (Chi McBride) who witnessed the power when Emerson chased a suspect off the top of a building. Cod saw how he could exploit this power and entered into a business arrangement in which a person being murdered is brought back to life, tells them who the murderer was, and the two of them collect and split the reward. Their first big case happens to be solving the murder of Chuck and Ned, almost inadvertently, keeps Chuck alive. The rest of the subsequent episode is devoted to solving Chuck's murder.

The show has a very lighthearted vibe despite the premise being so heavy. Visiting murder victims and bringing them back for less than a minute at a time sounds much more morbid than it actually ends up being. Bryan Fuller has written an incredibly funny pilot which sets the stage for what could be an incredibly interesting show. A narrator humorously explains events and thoughts of the characters, which is not too different from the excellent contemporary classic "Amelie". This adds to the quirky atmosphere that so heavily permeates the program.

There is also the issue of the love between Ned and Chuck that can never be fully realized as a result of the fact that if he ever touches her again, she dies. What will be interesting to see is how this ultimately plays out and how the series will ultimately resolve this issues since it is one that truly defines the show.

What is mostly concerning is where they will go from here. Yes, Chuck's murder is one that needed solving but she was able to stay alive for more than one minute. Having this gift and keeping people alive for only one minute should be enough time to give them the information necessary to go straight to the source. Whether or not more situations like Chuck arrive in the future makes me wonder how much information can be given in one minute's time.

While the pilot was rather satisfying, I cannot help but wonder exactly how this level of quality will be maintained throughout the duration of the series. I will be watching this show with a high level of curiosity and could end up being one of the best if this quality continues.

"Pushing Daisies" airs Wednesdays 8/7C this Fall on ABC.


Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles Pilot Review

The Terminator franchise is one that just will not seem to go away. The first two movies by James Cameron were nothing short of brilliant. The Terminator was revolutionary for its time and made Arnold Schwarzenegger the star he is today. Terminator 2: Judgment Day was a completely different movie. Where the first movie was about accepting fate, the second movie was about changing it. T2 seemed to close essentially all gaps in the franchise. The creator of SkyNet was killed and all of his work went with him, thereby preventing Judgment Day from ever occurring. Of course, despite this, people still wanted to see some Terminators, so twelve years later, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was released making a decent amount of money but was somewhat disjointed from the rest of the franchise. SkyNet was now essentially the internet and more focus was placed on John Connor's future family than that of John and Sarah, especially given that Sarah was written out by succumbing to leukemia.

Now here we are, barely four years later and a new, possibly long running installment in the Terminator franchise has arrived. What this television show, which will be running on the Fox network beginning in January, is attempting to do is stand in place of Terminator 3. Essentially pretending that T3 never existed, the show is open to so many more possibilities than it would have otherwise and could possibly be a worthy successor in the Terminator universe.

The show begins in 1999 as Sarah Connor (Lena Headey from 300) was just proposed to by her boyfriend of 6 months. Taking on the alias of Sarah Reese (after Michael Biehn's character Kyle Reese), she and John (Thomas Dekker) are trying to lie low after blowing up Cyberdyne two years prior. An FBI agent, James Ellison (Richard T. Jones) is hot on their trail so Sarah takes John away and brings him to New Mexico to start a new school and yet another new life. Since they stupidly did not change their aliases, the two Terminators are able to track them down with relative ease. When the initial Terminator battle happens between the protector, a seemingly fellow high school student Cameron (Summer Glau), and the killer (Owain Yeoman), the resulting witnesses see a robot leg and all sorts of destruction not able to be caused by normal people. This puts doubt in Ellison's certainty of Sarah's insanity. The rest of the episodes centers around the fact that Sarah still wants to stop SkyNet from going active and therefore the journey begins.

What is great about the episode is the casting of John and Sarah Connor. Edward Furlong, who played John in T2 was not the greatest actor. Yet, Dekker brings to the table a vulnerability that Furlong was missing and certainly does a better job than Nick Stahl in T3. Lena Headey does a phenomenal job of replacing Linda Hamilton in the role of Sarah Connor. Sarah Connor was Hamilton's iconic role and it is a hefty challenge to replace her. While not surpassing Hamilton, Headey does a more than adequate job of commanding the role and it should be interesting to see where she takes it over the course of the series.

The action is also phenomenal. The producers seemed to spare no expense. While there was only one shot of an all-out terminator, as cool as it was, the battle worn terminators are very realistic and on par with T2, if not quite T3's effects. The intensity of the earlier movies is still present here and I am very curious to see where it is going to go and how they will keep it up. The Terminator Cameron is a very interesting character and plays it with more humanity than any previous terminator, despite having no explanation as to why at this point.

There are a couple of big negatives that could ultimately be rectified by further explanation down the road. First of all, the creation of SkyNet happens in 2011 instead of 1998 or whatever the original timeline was. How this is possible given what transpired in the second movie will need a lot of explanation, although it is very superior to the completely unrelated SkyNet that was created in T3. Secondly, the way time travel is handled in this movie is completely against everything that was established in the first two movies. The Terminators and Kyle Reese all took one-way trips before the time machines were destroyed. There was no way of going back. Now, there seems to be more time traveling happening that does not fit into the established mythology. Yet, because this was such a blatant violation of the rules of the universe, I expect that there is a distinct possibility that there are good reasons for these changes. This is one of those things that I will have to wait on.

On one final note, the pilot that I have seen will be changed slightly upon its final airing since they recently revealed that they were going to be reshooting scenes in which a shooting occurs at a school in an attempt to be sensitive following the Virginia Tech shooting. Since this scene was so integral to the plot, I am curious to see how they will be changing it. Nevertheless, it was a very cool scene and a fun introduction to the Terminators.

Overall, the show begins with a bang. The cast is good and the story so far seems interesting, even though it's starting out to be a rehash of T2. I trust that they will find their footing and come up with some compelling Terminator stories. When I initially heard about the show, I thought it was going to be a terrible idea. I did not want to see it. Now that I have seen it for myself, I think it could have some serious potential and will definitely be on my must-see list come this January.


Friday, July 27, 2007

The Simpsons Movie Review

Over the past 17 odd years, The Simpsons have been a staple of Sunday night television. Banned from my household when I was very little because of the attitude the children have towards the parents, it eventually saturated television enough that my parents moved on to more pressing concerns and I was able to catch a good chunk of Simpsons episodes for a good number of years.
Yet, as the years went on, the show seemed to become somewhat stale, so over the last 8 years or so the number of new episodes I have seen have been few and far between. Of course, I could not pass up an opportunity to see how The Simpsons would fare on the big screen and the answer to that question would be rather well, if not particularly spectacular.

What "The Simpsons Movie" does well is necessarily expand the scope to a degree that one would expect for a film. Instead of cramming all sorts of ancillary characters into the movie in an attempt to please the legions of fans of the show, they instead focus primarily on the Simpsons family themselves and the story is ultimately Homer's.

Through an unfortunate series of events that highlight the irresponsibility of Homer Simpson, the town of Springfield becomes the most polluted city in the country. President Arnold Schwarzenegger is told by the Director of the EPA that a drastic plan needs to be put into effect. Through this, a giant dome is placed over the city of Springfield, separating it from the rest of the world. Once the facts are revealed that Homer is the one responsible for this travesty, the town is looking for vengeance. Now, the Simpsons need to find a way to save Springfield and keep their family together.

As stated before, the movie is good, but not great. And most of this is a result of the writing. A huge trap the writers could have fallen into was taking a 20-minute story and stretching it to 90-minutes in length. Fortunately, this was not the case. Every event follows logically from point to point and never lingers incessantly to pad the length. The narrative is largely coherent and rather focused. Despite the irreverence of much of the plot, Homer does go through a personal journey in which he attempts to grow as a human being. Whether or not this has happened before in the show, I am unaware, but it was certainly welcome to see here since this is a feature-length film.

Yet, there is nothing that really separates this from most of the run-of-the-mill comedies out there. Yes, these are the Simpsons and it would probably be one of the better episodes of the series, especially of the last few years, but there was nothing truly great about it. Most of the jokes only gave me about a half-smile until the end, where a few actual laughs shone through. And there were a few pretty funny jokes comparing the movie screening to watching the show on TV, but with those few exceptions, it just was not that funny. The alternative would be that the jokes were unfunny, like in Evan Almighty, so mildly funny jokes are much preferred.

Surprisingly, many of the most popular characters of the show are only shown in the background given little or nothing to say at all. Characters like Barney and Principal Skinner are barely in the movie and the two of them probably have a total of five or six lines, maybe less. This was necessary in keeping the story focused and it makes sense for why decisions like this were made.

"The Simpsons Movie" is a must see for anyone who is a fan of the Simpsons. They do a lot of things relatively well and they do not really do many things that are particularly negative. After nearly two decades waiting, expectations are obviously very high. Whether or not it met those expectations is up to individual viewers to decide, but as it stands alone the movie is slightly above average. If you do not like The Simpsons, nothing in this movie will probably change your mind even though it is a fairly well-told story. The Simpsons Movie is a nice, welcome diversion as the summer heads to a close for Simpsons and non-Simpsons fans alike.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Review (Pretty Much Spoiler Free)

I have never really done a book review before, as books are not really my thing. Lately, I have been trying to make more of an effort to actually read things above and beyond my normal reading habits, Harry Potter included. But every so often an entertainment experience happens that needs to be shared and therefore I have decided to share that experience with you.

My Harry Potter history is one that has happened more recently. I watched the first two movies because I certainly cannot miss any event movies, and when the third movie rolled around I found it to be the best so far, yet it did not entice me very much to read the books. Yet, in the summer of 2005, I found myself surrounded by fans of the books in massive anticipation for the sixth installment, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. At this point I found myself wanting to get on the bandwagon. There is nothing like an entertainment experience that is shared on a level with so many others. So, the day after the Half-Blood Prince was released, my friend Audrey loaned me the first five novels in their paperback form. And despite some bumps along the way (like a sunburn, a story for another time), I devoured those books like nothing I had ever done before. Within two weeks all six books had been read and I found myself a huge fan greatly anticipating not only the fourth movie which was to be released in less than six months time, but the 7th book, which I was willing to place money would be released on 7/7/7. Of course, someone should have taken me up on that bet because I was wrong. Not by much, but I was certainly wrong.

I followed the revelations with fervor. I was ready to experience the last chapter of the saga. Is Snape good or evil? How will Harry be able to manage his final quest without the aid of Dumbledore? Will Ron and Hermione finally get it on? These were questions begging serious answers and I could not wait to get my hands on them.

I was really hoping to experience the prerelease madness with some of my peers on the evening of July 20th. Unfortunately, given my recent move to South Carolina, I had no friends or relatives with which to share that experience, so I opted for the route. Then around 2PM on Saturday afternoon, I received the book. At 4:00PM I began reading and I read throughout the evening and night sporadically. At 2:30AM when everyone was asleep I picked up the book for the last time and read it until 6:08AM on the morning of the 22nd.

As a result, I can happily say that this installment did not disappoint, despite a few issues the book had along the way.

The book starts out the way the previous few had started out: outside Harry's perspective. Almost a brief prologue, it sets the stage for what is to come in the rest of the book, and for what you expect to see. When the story shifts back to Harry, the book really takes its time to get going. There is so much to be done in the book, as there are at least 4 Horcruxes that need to be destroyed before the final battle with Voldemort. Events such as Bill Weasley and Fleur Delacour's wedding do not even happen until Chapter 8. Much of what precedes the wedding is necessary exposition and moves along at a relatively brisk pace. Sure, I may have wanted them to do a little more during the beginning and really get into the heart of the quest, but compared to what happens next, the first portion is incredibly fast paced.

After the chapter on the wedding, things seriously start to slow down. A huge chunk of the middle section of the book is Harry literally camping in a tent wondering what to do and where to go next. Every time I turned the page, I expected them to get going but they really never seemed to. This isolation was not particularly helpful as there was surely so much going on in the wizarding world that would be interesting to see. Yet, this is Harry's quest and what must be done is done.

Fortunately, once that section ends, a stretch of somewhere around 250 pages is essentially non-stop action leading into a phenomenal conclusion and a battle that I could not stop thinking about how cool it would be to see on screen. There are moments near the end that I will not share for those of you who have yet to read that just floored me. Certain characters were developed in ways that I had never expected and acted in brilliant ways.

What really impresses me the most about the series is how intricate the fabric of the seven novels is woven. At no point do you believe that any of what was put in earlier books was by chance. Everything had a purpose. Characters whose motivations seemed to be clear cut in earlier novels are now turned on their heads. Fortunately, it never feels like a betrayal of those characters. If a change happens, then the reasons and purposes of those changes have been intricately laid in prior novels. Rowling did not write these books flying on the seat of her pants. She had a plan and implemented it almost perfectly. Very very few plot holes exist in these books. Granted, I am sure there are a few if a person looks hard enough, but you will be hard pressed to find them. There are a few questions I have (most interestingly about an item called the Elder Wand), but I feel there are answers out there that Rowling has just not given yet. I am sure there are answers to those questions, and maybe I just glossed over the answers and missed them.

The amount of death in the book is almost astonishing. Many characters die, some expected, some not so expected. Yet, with one exception, all of them are handled well and some are actually very touching.

The biggest complaint I have about the book is not enough time is spent with many of the periphery characters. Granted, this is ultimately Harry's story but after spending so much time with so many people it would have been nice to see how everyone was coping with the onslaught of the evil Voldemort rising to power. A little more time with Snape would have been crucial since he was so integral to the sixth book and the conclusion of his storyline is not exactly what I would have liked to have seen, even though it may come across better filmed. Indeed, there was a good portion of development given to Snape's character which was absolutely welcome to see because you are shown precisely the reasons why he did what he did and whether or not what he did was for good or for evil. Prior to the book's release, I was willing to bet loads of money on Snape's goodness, but no one took me up on the offer. Did they agree with me or was I just lucky that they didn't want to take my money? I won't give the answer here but I will say it was great to get the backstory that we did.

An epilogue was placed on the book telling you the fates of some of the characters, which I have somewhat mixed feelings about as it really does not give the reader that much information. While it was nice to have, it seemed to be somewhat disjointed with the rest of the book.

Ultimately, this is fiction at its finest. Many, if not all, of the themes are themes people have seen before. Good vs. Evil, dealing with issues of racial purity, an innocent thrown into a situation of which he seems to have little control, and so many more are all pulled almost straight out of a textbook on mythology written by Joseph Campbell. But the way Rowling was able to string together the plight of adolescence with so many of these heavier themes into a compelling narrative, one in which some of the most cohesive storytelling of all time is shared with the world, makes Harry Potter a definite recommend for anyone who loves a good story. These are not children's books. They are books for anyone who loves stories.
A definite recommend.

Overall: A-
Last 250 Pages: A+

Friday, July 6, 2007

Video Games Live: Detroit Review

As an avid video gamer, I have spent countless hours listening to the music from my favorite games. While many people would consider that to be rather odd, I feel that in today's video game environment, listening to that music is akin to listening to a piece of classical music or a composer's newest symphony.

Many games today are embarking on the trend of using fully orchestrated scores with renowned orchestras in an attempt to bring the player further into the game. An advantage of this revolution is that often times the music is wonderful on its own merits, outside the realm of video games. Which is precisely what Video Games Live attempts and is successful at accomplishing. This was my third video game concert in the last three years and I would unhesitatingly consider this to be the best one.

Prior to the show, an area of Orchestra Hall was sectioned off where people could play Guitar Hero II, enter a costume contest, or play some Halo 2 or Madden sponsored by GameCrazy. This really allowed a sense of fun and enjoyment to overwhelm you prior to the start of the actual concert. There was also some souvenirs that one could purchase in preparation for the meet and greet with the creators after the show. So I picked up a program and a poster.

We went to go sit down and saw people from all walks of life showing up for the event. It was quite interesting to see. The show began with a wonderful medley of classic games from Pong to Donkey Kong to Super Ghouls 'N Ghosts all set to perfectly choreographed video and brand new orchestrations, the likes of which raised the quality of much of the music to realms I had never expected it to. Even the games with which I had no personal connection were wonderful to hear live and knowing the humble beginnings from whence the music came was astounding, especially seeing how far the music has come.

After the medley, Tommy Tallarico came out to pump up the crowd and introduced a video of Hideo Kojima, creator of Metal Gear Solid, talking about the music to his game. This was immediately followed by one of my favorite performances of the evening, a Metal Gear Solid suite. Most of the music came from Metal Gear Solid 2 and if I am not mistaken a little from 3 as well. Hearing this live was truly remarkable. Video from Metal Gear Solid 1, 2, 3, and even 4 was shown to help emphasize the intensity of the music. A man dressed as a Genome Soldier (complete with exclamation point above his head!) ran around searching for Solid Snake. Of course, who could find Snake when he was hiding in a cardboard box just behind the soldier?

Yuji Naka, creator of Sonic the Hedgehog appeared on screen following the MGS Suite and introduced his music. Music from the original Sonic the Hedgehog was played in orchestral form as video from every Sonic game shown above. An excellent piece overall, although I would have liked to hear more from other Sonic games.

The box was still on stage after the piece and out popped Tommy Tallarico to bring a new twist to the evening. A person was pulled out of the crowd to play Space Invaders to the music and he had two minutes to beat the level to win some cash. Unfortunately, this guy was all over the place and won nothing, but it was fun to watch nonetheless.

In another interesting move, the next piece was from Medal of Honor, written by one of my favorite current composers, Michael Giacchino (Lost, Alias, The Incredibles). Instead of playing video from the game, video on loan from the History Channel displayed images of World War II. While never playing the game, I was fond of this music and found the footage to be absolutely moving when compounded with the orchestra.

Next up was a piece from Sid Meier's Civilization IV. Another game I am not familiar with, this was an excellent piece that was punctuated by a young male vocalist singing in a language with which I am not familiar but sounded right at home with the video playing above him.

Of course, what would a video game concert be without some classic Nintendo music? Mr. Tallarico introduced a video from Koji Kondo who introduced a piece from Zelda. The only complaint I have about this piece is that any rabid video game music fan would be familiar with this exact same orchestration, since it has been around for years. While I have never heard the piece live, I knew precisely what to expect because I had heard it before. This is not much of a complaint though, since it was beautiful to hear being played by the DSO and having video from every Zelda game played brought back some wonderful memories.

Coming back from intermission, Kingdom Hearts was next. Since Square would not authorize the use of their video in the concert, VGL went to Disney and used video from all the Disney movies represented in the Kingdom Hearts series. The video was astounding and beautifully choreographed to the music. This was only the "Simple and Clean Orchestration" from the first game, but after hearing the ineffective mash up that was attempted at last year's "Play! Symphony", this version was WHOLLY appreciated.

World of Warcraft came next and in my opinion this was the weakest piece of the night. I have never played WOW so there is no emotional attachment to the music, but hearing it on its own, I was not particularly impressed.

Next up was the Video Game Pianist, Martin Leung who played a suite from Final Fantasy, starting with my personal favorite "To Zanarkand". Running the gamut from a number of different Final Fantasies, I was mind boggled as to how a human being was able to move his hands so fast. Absolutely incredible. He would come out again a few minutes later to play some music from Super Mario World and Tetris. This was completely unexpected and an incredible surprise.

Somewhere around this time, two 8-year-olds were given the opportunity to play Frogger against each other in an attempt to win a $2500 laptop. No 8-year-old needs that kind of laptop, so yes, I'm a little bitter I didn't get the opportunity. Each child claimed he never played Frogger before, but one of them seemed like he may have been lying since the first kid never got to the logs and the second kid was kicking the crap out of the first one. A hilarious and fun moment which was presented with the Frogger music in real time by the orchestra.

Then, Koji Kondo came back on screen to present the Super Mario Bros. piece. This, again, was the same orchestration that has been around for nearly a decade. Despite this, it was still incredible to hear and was glad I got the opportunity to hear it while watching video from numerous Mario games.

The night was coming to an end and Michael Salvatori was brought on stage to introduce what was to be the final music of the night, music from one of my favorite games, Halo. This piece was so awesome and phenomenal to hear. Yet, once it ended, the music from Halo was not over yet, as Tommy Tallarico came out with his Pong-flavored guitar and started rocking out to the Halo 3 announcement teaser. This may have been my favorite piece of the night since I am a Halo nut and hearing all of that put together was almost something out of a dream.

Then, the night ended...wait, not exactly. How could ANY video game concert be complete without a rendition of one of the most overplayed video game tracks of all time? Nobuo Uematsu's "One Winged Angel" from Final Fantasy VII. While I thought I would be annoyed at hearing the song once again, having Tommy Tallarico on guitar injected a MUCH needed sense of fun that was missing at all other performances of the piece I have ever heard.

This being the third video game concert I have attended, I expected it to be on par with the other two. It wasn't. Bar none, this concert blew "Play! Symphony" right out of the water. Looking back, "Play!" seemed to be a concert put on almost to exploit those who like video game music. Nothing more than another revenue flow. The video was out of sync, sometimes the video did not work at all, and there seemed to be little to no care for the actual compositions. Every piece that "Play!" did that "Video Games Live" did, Video Games Live did better. No question. The music in VGL was more natural and did not attempt to cram entire soundtracks from a game into a 4-minute suite. Sure, there may have been disappointments in that this piece of music was not heard or I wished they played this instead of that, but these are all minor complaints overall. I would rather hear that which is played WELL and works as an individual work than a piece I prefer that is played shoddily.

The VGL production is top-notch. Despite the fact that I paid more than twice as much last year for my "Play!" ticket, I certainly did not get any more than I got here at VGL. The little touches such as yellow, ringed lights being shown during the Sonic suite really gave off an atmosphere of fun that made me smile like I was a little kid again. Prior to the show, I thought the lights were going to be gaudy and overwhelming, but I was incredibly wrong. All it did was add to the atmosphere in ways I did not expect.

The only real complaint I can offer is that it was too short. I wanted more. I wanted more Final Fantasy orchestrations, I wanted Beyond Good and Evil, I wanted Splinter Cell and God of War. Yet, at the same time, they probably were not able to be there all night. I suppose when your worst complaint is that it was not enough, then you came out all right.

After the show, there was a meet and greet with Tommy Tallarico, Jack Wall, Martin Leung, Michael Salvatori, and another composer whose name escapes me at the moment. All of these guys seemed genuinely excited to be there and talk to the fans. There was a passion there that was missing at the prior concerts I attended. These guys are fans like I am and truly wanted to share that love with us. And it makes all the difference in the world.

I leave you with one final note. If you go to one video game concert ever, go to Video Games Live. And if you're debating on whether or not to go to "Play! Symphony" or VGL, if you have the money, go to both. But if you only have enough for one, then pick Video Games Live. Trust me, you'll thank me later.


-Sean Diroff

Monday, July 2, 2007

Transformers Review

I am not familiar with the history of the Transformers. I watched them periodically as a child and I am sure I had a few of the toys as well, but the subtlety and nuances of character that were apparently evident in the cartoon show were not something that I picked up on. So going into this movie, I had no real expectations for which characters interacted with others and the histories between them.

At the same time, I find it hard to respect that sort of history which really boils down to advertisements for a toy line. Sure, people were greatly attached to these characters and these stories but to expect them to be adapted perfectly to the screen probably would have resulted in not much of a different movie and could ultimately have been bogged down by the attempts at robot characterization.

Of course, all that aside, Transformers essentially blew me through the back of the theater. The sheer spectacle of the film (I hesitate to even use that word since this is not a "film" in the auteur's sense of the word) is one that cannot and should not be missed by anyone who enjoys movies. Michael Bay ("The Rock", "Armageddon", "Bad Boys") crafts what could be considered his best movie yet and does it with such style that any lack of substance becomes a moot point.

The premise of the movie is a very simple one. Thousands of years ago, a cube known as the "Allspark" crash landed on Earth. Megatron, leader of the Decepticons, was able to locate the cube and attempted to track it down. Unfortunately, he missed his mark by a bit and was frozen in the Arctic Circle. So years later, his Decepticon buddies attempt to track him and the Allspark down. And of course, it's up to the Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, to stop them. The catalyst for all of this robot madness is Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) who puts the glasses of his grandfather on eBay, which just so happened to have Cybertronian (that's the homeworld of the Transformers for those keeping track) symbols etched into them from the discovery of Megatron in the Arctic over 100 years ago. Oh, and there is also something about a love story between Sam and Mikayla (the ridiculously gorgeous Megan Fox). So, in summary, track down the Allspark, have robots fight and all hell break loose.

The thing is, you never think about that. The human element works, absolutely. The charisma of all players is something that truly emanates from the movie and is what gives the movie its roots. Whether it be the members of the US Air Force (played by Josh Duhamel and Tyrese) or the Defense Secretary (Jon Voight), everyone plays it with such believability that this alien threat is accepted.

Of course, the true stars of the movie are the Transformers themselves. The things that these robots are able to do are incredible. After a few minutes on screen, you completely forget they are CGI creations and are completely believable as things occupying space and having mass. The transformations they undergo are completely mindboggling every time they occur. And on top of that, they all seem like characters, not just robots. Yes, I am sure to the diehard Transformer fan out there, they are missing certain characterizations that make them their unique selves, but each Autobot specifically brings something to the table. The Decepticons on the other hand are pretty interchangeable. With the exception of Megatron (voiced by an almost unrecognizable Hugo Weaving) and Starscream, they were really nothing more than showcases for the incredible technology and amazing battles.

The movie starts off relatively slow in comparison to what ends up happening, although in many action movies, the first couple of action scenes would be the pinnacle of the entertainment. Showing Sam's acquisition of Bumblebee and subsequent learning about his origins take up a fair amount of time. Yet, once Optimus Prime and the rest of the Autobots show up, there is essentially nonstop action with a few pauses for brief exposition. Of course, this is interspersed with some Transforming action in Qatar in which Tyrese and Josh Duhamel are responsible for holding the Decepticons Scorponok and Blackout at bay. Sam and the human element remain a factor throughout and most of the action is seen from their perspective, adding to the sheer spectacle of it all. Even small characters such as Anthony Anderson's hacker and Bernie Mac's auto salesman add to some of the many bits of humor throughout. And you also have the token hot hacker, played by Rachel Taylor, who figures out important alien info akin to Jeff Goldblum in Independence Day and is not taken seriously. And why should they? She's a ridiculously hot female computer nerd. I don't even believe those exist.

Steve Jablonsky delivers a rousing action score that is effective in ramping up emotion in particularly important scenes. It certainly helped to add to the overall mood of the movie and I will be anxiously waiting a score release.

Personally, I do not know who could have done a better job at crafting such amazing giant robot battles other than Michael Bay. Say what you will about his characterization and storytelling, the man knows how to shoot action. It pulls you in and doesn't let go. The fact that it was reportedly made for half as much as both Spider-Man 3 and Pirates 3 goes a long way to showing how well he is able to do his job, because to be quite honest, the action is twice as good as either movie.

If there are any complaints about the movie is that Optimus Prime is not given as much to do as I would have liked to see. Using the original voice actor was a choice many fans were happy about and I can certainly see why. Peter Cullen has such an amazing vocal charisma that he almost made me spur into action against the Decepticons. Being given a decent amount and wanting more is not that huge of a complaint to have in a movie such as this one.

I suppose I could complain about the lack of story. Yes, I can always appreciate a fleshed out story, but to be completely honest I did not expect one here. It just was not necessary. This was ultimately a battle between good and evil with the fate of the world at stake. With the increasingly complicated Pirates 3 and to an extent, Spider-Man 3, it was nice to see a movie where you could enjoy the movie for what it was and not be frustrated because of all the absurd turns it was taking.

The movie is left absolutely wide open for a sequel. I hope that we get one sooner rather than later because I personally cannot wait to see the further adventures of the Transformers. I may even check this one out again tomorrow. After a summer of perpetual tentpole disappointments, I am happy to say that one movie has finally delivered on its promise. I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys a truly fun time at the movies.


Friday, June 29, 2007

SiCKO Review

Let me get this out of the way first and foremost: I do not particularly like Michael Moore. I think that for the most part he raises very very interesting questions that are ultimately supported by his manipulating of random facts and figures. The truth value of his assertions are likely to be questioned, and justifiably so. Therefore, his credibility comes into question and his movies are looked at hesitantly.

That being said, I think that SiCKO is one of the most important movies I have ever seen in my life. The topics raised by Moore have their usual extravagance but he does not use facts and figures to convince us of anything. He uses people. Real people. And not just ridiculously poor people. Middle class people who are crushed under the weight of their own medical expenses. Families of people who were essentially murdered because of the denials of health coverage by their insurance providers. Families of people who could have been given a fighting chance, if not for survival, but for more time with the people they loved, were put in the forefront. And seeing this, seeing these atrocities happen to people all over the country was heartbreaking.

Yet, Moore wants to answer the question of what is happening in the rest of the Western world in regards to health care. The answer seems to be a hell of a lot more. He goes to Canada, England, and France to ask people how much they pay for health care. He wants to know who protocol is for going to the hospital and finding out whether or not a person is covered. The answers to those two questions? Nothing.

People in those countries pay either nothing or almost nothing for health care. And it boggles the mind.

Of course, a criticism that could be brought up is "Yes, but the doctors are of a lower quality. They don't get paid as much."

That could be the case in some places. Yet, what about all the Americans who cannot afford a quality doctor? Also, the payment issue is also raised, and for a doctor living in London, he drove an Audi, lived in a $1 Million home and lived a pretty damned comfortable life. Moore asks him whether or not he thought he could be making more. He responds that if he wanted 4 cars and 6 flat screen televisions and a $3 Million home, then he might be more satisfied in America. But he doesn't want that, therefore what he's getting is good enough for him.

Sure, the people over there pay higher taxes, but look at the trade-off. These people are able to walk into just about any hospital when they are sick and get treatment without being asked who their HMO is.

The film is also hilarious and quite honestly more humorous than many comedies that are released in any given year. The way people respond to some of Moore's questions and some of his questions themselves lend themselves to some genuine laughter. The movie never ceases to be entertaining. I went to the movie very sleepy but came out alert and engaged. The duality of the humor and the serious makes for a movie that rises above traditional entertainment to truly say something about the world in which we live.

I do not have all the facts and do not claim to. But one cannot look at the American health system and say that it is not broken. Too many people deserving of health care are not getting it. I am sure that Moore manipulated things in this film. It is in his nature. And therefore it is in mine to be skeptical of all that he puts before us on the screen. Yet, there is much that just cannot be manipulated that is on display for the world to see. And it made me angry. Wanting to know what I can do to help change this. I urge all of you to see this movie some way. Whether or not you hate Michael Moore, whether or not you pay for the movie, it is irrelevant. Just see it. I cannot stress enough how worth it this movie really is.


Ratatouille Review

Pixar is an example of everything that is right with movie making today. And one needs to look no further than Ratatouille to understand why.

Ratatouille is the newest Pixar movie from writer/director Brad Bird, who previously directed "The Incredibles" and the little seen and highly praised "The Iron Giant." For those not up to speed, Ratatouille is about a rat named Remy (Patton Oswalt) who cannot stand his rat-like existence. Having an exquisite sense of smell and a well-defined palette, he is set apart from the rest of his clan who are content eating yesterday's garbage. He knows he wants much more out of life than being the poison-checker, and he does everything possible to achieve the goal of being an excellent chef, even if that means reading chef books in the woman's house in whose walls he lives. An unfortunate set of missteps causes him to be separated from his rat brethren and in an attempt to find his family, comes across Gusteau's restaurant, which was created by his idol of the same name. After watching a garbage boy in the restaurant, Linguini (Lou Romano), accidentally butcher a pot of soup, Remy feels he has no choice but to fix it, coaxed on by the ghost of Gusteau himself (Brad Garrett). The delicious soup is accidentally attributed to Linguini and he is suddenly made chef and put under the wing of Collette (Janaene Garofalo), where he realizes the rat was the one who cooked the soup. Since Linguini does not want to lose his job, he asks Remy for his help which leads to a series of misadventures in an attempt to keep the ruse alive so that Remy can cook and Linguini keeps his job.

The premise of the movie is absolutely absurd. Not only because of the communication between humans and animals, but because there is little more disturbing to most people than a rat in the kitchen. Rats, in reality, are dirty, disgusting creatures and therefore the premise is initially difficult to buy into. Yet, everything clicks. Despite the fact that Remy can only communicate with humans using only nods and gestures, the relationship between Remy and Linguini is one of the more developed relationships in any movie so far this year. Their dependence on one another in an attempt to achieve their mutual goals is incredibly touching. Even the relationship between Collette and Linguini does not come off as forced even though the two of them were effectively forced into their situation.

Of course, the realistic relationships between the characters is not all this movie has to offer. Ratatouille has some rather intense action sequences that can easily compare to the big summer tentpoles. The reason for this is that the action serves a purpose involving characters in whose outcomes the audience is invested. Also, the outcomes are not entirely predictable. Assuredly one probably would not be able to guess the exact nature of the ending until it actually happens. This lends heavily to the suspense of the action sequences.

Yet, what really makes this movie work is the writing and direction of Brad Bird. The way the "camera" moves around is reminiscent of a live action movie and helps to bring the audience further into the story. The pacing is almost perfect and no scene really seems superfluous. There is just something about his ability to connect with an audience that makes his movies so great. So far, all of his movies have been excellent and I cannot wait to experience the next one he has to offer.

Michael Giacchino also puts up another excellent movie score to go along with his work on "The Incredibles" and the television show "Lost." The way he works in original music with what seems to be an authentic French sound is magnificent, as he is already one of my favorite composers.

Finally, the artistry in these movies continue to get better and better. The hair on the heads of humans and on the rats themselves looks so realistic that it is a marvel just to look at it. The recreation of Paris is stunningly beautiful and gives off an almost majestic aura. One cannot help but wonder how much further technology can go to keep upping the ante with more stunning imagery.

Ratatouille is an incredible film for anyone who loves the art of storytelling. There is enough in the movie for both children and adults alike to enjoy. After last year's somewhat misstep with "Cars", Ratatouille returns to Pixar's form of creating incredible, touching stories that are leaps and bounds above what other studios have been putting out as of late. Absolutely recommended.