Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Book of Eli

(I'm going to be as vague as I can with any details on this film, but it's hard not to say anything without treading into *spoiler* territory. You have been warned.)

I had no expectations for The Book of Eli, other than I wanted to see it because it starred Denzel Washington, had Gary Oldman, looked to have striking visuals, and was from the guys behind Dead Presidents and Menace II Society.

In essence, the film is an different take on a missionary journey in a post-apocalyptic world. Washington portrays Eli, a drifter (a "walker") with a holy purpose, who is at cross purposes with a barren world; a struggling, devolved society; and the intent of his own mission.

The movie is tough. While not particularly gory, it is at times brutal, and briefly visually (and less briefly, thematically) unsettling.

Eli is front and center in the film, but shares time with the town baron he battles (portrayed by Oldman), a tag-a-long foil (Mila Kunis), the underrated Ray Stevenson (Oldman's lieutenant), and even a pleasant surprise performance from Tom Waits.

The cast is solid, with my only criticism being a meta one for Kunis (would someone that attractive really exist in a post-apocalyptic brothel?).

I'm surprised the film hasn't spun up more controversy on both sides (but maybe I'm just not paying attention). It has the potential to make Judeo-Christians uncomfortable with its portrayal of their faith, and the anti-religious expecting the non-religious post-apocalyptic film it's being marketed as irritated at the content (one couple did walk out muttering during my viewing of the film).

It's a worthwhile film I strongly recommend, if for no other reason than the discussions it could possibly engender (the top-notch acting and cinematography are extra perks).

Sunday, January 10, 2010


I caught a matinee of Daybreakers yesterday at the Alamo Drafthouse Village (avoid the brunch scones), and find it a good, worthwhile film.

It's a newish take on vampire lore (not unique to the film, but not as tired as a lot of genre conceits), stylish and at times gritty, and it did a good job of sucking me in (ahem).

The basic premise is that it's the future, vampires are the dominant population, and humans are facing extinction as they're farmed or hunted for blood. But blood's running out, and unless a substitute is found, vampires face their own extinction as they devolve into brainless animals.

Vampire fandom aside, I'd watch Ethan Hawke or Willem Dafoe just sit and drink coffee, so I was likely to enjoy this movie just because of them. The hard-working Claudia Karvan makes a great muted romantic foil, and I appreciate that she's strong and sexy without being overbearing or slutty (both in-character and in the film).

Despite my enjoying the film, I do have to say it is amazingly uneven -- on pretty much every front (other than the acting, with the possible exception of Sam Neill, who plays up the whole "evil corporate entity"" role way too stereotypically).

By "uneven", I mean from the pacing to the focus on the mythos to the cinematography to the dialog.

Pacing ranged from staid and thoughtful to frantic and music video-like. The film didn't feel like it knew what to do with the mythos -- here was this great take on a modern vampire utopia, complete with the mundane versions of non-vampire living (commuting, getting coffee, etc.), that was at first set up and explored, and then thrown out to focus on serial happenings.

Ironically, this caused the film to lose a bit of its humanity, as it bulleted through plot points, at the expense of the relationships and exploring the societal impacts of this whole system.

The shooting is great, though there are some marquee moments in the film I found jarring, because you can almost see someone working hard to pose the actors and setup the shot, for the sake of it looking "bad-ass", at the expense of authenticity (and frankly, I almost laughed out load when I saw them).

At the same time, there are some great nods to traditional vampire tropes (staking, etc.) that are put in in surprising, fun, and non-obtrusive ways.

Overall, a worthwhile flick, at times unnecessarily gratuitous, but, overall, a good movie to add to your queue.

Tropic Thunder

I had not scene Tropic Thunder. Last night, I fixed that.

It's easy to dismiss films of this genre as low-brow tripe -- and that's partially the fault of how it was marketed -- but it's a good film with solid (and at points amazing) acting.

The cast includes Jack Black, Ben Stiller, Steve Coogan, Bill Hader (SNL), Nick Nolte, Christine Taylor, Robert Downey Jr., and Tom Cruise -- the latter two of which put forth amazing, unexpected character roles. I recognized these two in the role, but a surprising number of people don't.

And for those folks that are in the biz, I think you'll enjoy all of the in-jokes and industry self-effacement.

Lotta fun, lotta great real-world (limited CGI) war effects, and fun DVD "special features".