REVIEW: Doom (Andrzej Bartkowiak, 2005)

The phrase "roller coaster ride" has been slapped on movie previews left and right and often misused ever since it was brought about. Doom is the kind of movie that should be labeled as a roller coaster - its really a fun ride. When you're not in the middle of an exciting action sequence, you're either on the edge of your seat or you're laughing your ass off.

The art was something to see. There's some really insane set decoration on some really insane sets. Dr. Frankenst-- I mean Stan Winston's creations may not move as smoothly as they usually do here, but they look creepy enough. Weaponry was taken as no joke, either. When most of the character association you get from a video game is the look of the gun, its pretty important, and these ones don't mess around. Hell, The Rock has been toting the BFG around with him on interviews!

Music was a big factor in Doom - the entire score remeniscant of Resident Evil's now semi-infamous (is semi-infamy possible?) laser room theme.

There are plenty of expectations for this flick, as there are for all video-game flicks. And, for the hype Doom may have, it lives up to it. The source material doesn't have much storyline, but the little it did have is still present. The dark, dank, unpredictable surroundings are familiar to anyone who's played the game. And yes, the first-person shooter sequence does kick ass. The Pinky Demon (below) was extremely cool. Speaking of cheap thrills, seeing The Rock go all demonic was right up there with Pinky.

Sure, I enjoyed Doom. It was downright fun - but it is what it is, a dumb action money-maker with a built-in audience. You'll probably see it on TV in two years. It'll be interesting to see tomorrow how well it did in the box office and if anyone has written an article questioning why Rosamund Pike isn't more well known if not for her acting chops at least for her unique good looks! Yow-wow!


REVIEW: The Dreamers (Bernardo Bertolucci, 2004)

Set in the late 60's with a legendary soundtrack to match, Italian visual poet Bernardo Bertolucci's latest film follows the American Matthew (Michael Pitt) as he expands his horizons in a French college and through a mutual passion for film meets Isabelle (Eva Green) and her twin brother, Theo (Louis Garrel) who live in a very different, personal world. The graceful plunge into the 60's youth culture of France opens the mind to many fertile paths of thought.

Bertolucci shoots beautiful scenes with ease and re-imagines cinematic techniques at every turn. His outstanding approach to the commonly stale use of mirrors brings further uniqueness to the film.

The three lead talents come off with such realism they rarely seem to be acting at all. This is a highly memorable feature debut for both Green and Garrel.

I loved the insertions of scenes from older films such as Breathless and Freaks. Inspired by the characters' love and frequent immitation of film, these cut-aways also serve as a great offset to the movie's storyline, making it seem even more realistic when paralleled with the classic images.

The Dreamers is an enchanting piece that explores a rare route in life, and entertains the idea that an adoration of movies creates a voyeuristic audience that feels deprived of physical senses. Highly recommended.


QUICKIE: Kingdom of Heaven (Ridley Scott, 2005)

In a time when film mimics film, when movies fall victim to expectation, when audiences' craving to experience the next renewal of their previous heroes, villians, conflicts and so on, Kingdom of Heaven stands alone. Instead of doing what so many movies are doing, manifesting sub-culture and immitating the past to coerce people to love them, Kingdom presents the significant events of Balian's (Orlando Bloom) life in a fashion that makes sense for the story. Staged here are the important substances, not fabricated yarns gasping for adulation. People coming out for Kingdom with hopes of a realistic Lord of the Rings or at least a non-stop medieval action drama (as there have been plenty, I'm sure, due to the film's self-defeating advertising campaign) will most likely be disappointed. This is a carefully paced, challenging film.

I will say that the storyline is awfully difficult to follow - if you don't already know the history, you may easily become lost as I did. This is my sole qualm, as although I had a hard time following, everything else was spectacular, and I not only agreed with, but admired the hero and his personal quest for internal peace. Not only does he deal with taking up his father's position as Baron, he questions religion and has an open view for humanity. I could relate to Balian, and that, teamed with Scott's eye for quality scenes, kept me very interested in his progress.


QUICKIE: Thumbsucker (Mike Mills, 2005)

Justin Cobb's father has a problem. His teenager still relies on the safety blanket that is sucking his thumb. That's only the catalyst in this film that is one part family issues drama, one part coming-of-age, tongue-in-cheek comedy.

What separates Thumbsucker from its contemporaries is its atypical sense of humility. We interpret the conflicts based on the dialog, and therefore understand based on our own moral set. Mills does not ask us to move right or move left in situations concerning topics like drug use (both medical and illegal) and underage drinking. He presents the events and allows us to come to our own conclusions. Unlike other films that exhibit humility such as Pleasantville with its intentionally flaky in its first half that it utilizes to drive its point home that much harder, 'Sucker simply presents the spoon and invites us to decide if we want to eat or not. With the Polyphonic Spree doing the soundtrack, it's at least worth a rental.

QUICKIE: Waiting... (Rob McKittrick, 2005)

Waiting is an uproar that has a bit more storyline than Clerks, a lot less modesty than The 40-Year Old Virgin and is sure to become a cult classic. Partially through the eyes of a rookie server we are led through a moderately realistic day inside an Americana-style restaurant called Shenanigans. The levels of depravity to which the rookie's new co-workers stoop shock, disgust and eventually... that's right... enlighten.

One of the things that makes Waiting so funny is the familiarity of the setting. This place looks exactly like every Friday's or Bennigan's we've ever been to. The humor is backed by a delicious (yep) ensemble cast that embraces it. Some may expect the gross humor to make you think twice each time you bite into an entree and maybe it will for some... but amongst it I actually found a better respect for people who work as servers for a living. Surely this will hit home with many people who have been there, done that and hopefully moved up and out.


REVIEW: Serenity (Joss Whedon, 2005)

The first two thirds of Serenity are, plainly stated, messy. Aside from the grand opening, each shot is but a glimpse of the material it tries to encompass. The scenes mimic the shots in brevity and overpower them in nonsense. Bits of storyline (which are in fact interesting) that are important come across with stunted, choppy dialog that you have to repeat to yourself in your head before comprehending.

I did see a whole crop of potential in these first two thirds. The scenes have all the power a better movie might have in its foundations but seem overloaded and played in fast-forward.

After the crew leaves, however, to discover the truth behind the planet that supposedly rejected the terraform attempt that is at the center of the storyline, things really kick off. The ship's new, macabre appearance is exciting enough. Then the shots and scenes take more form and generate loads of excitement. Also, we begin to understand what the heck is going on a whole lot better. Yes, there is actually a story behind all the clever Whedonisms! I easily invested in this final act. Specifically, everything about the battle in outer space accomplishes precisely what it sets out for. There are even hints of great artistic and classical flair.

Set construction and wardrobe are huge pluses in the world of Serenity. The aforementioned opening shot is not only one of the most impressive long takes this side of Paul Thomas Anderson, but it exhibits a fully constructed interior of the ship - and oh, how sweet-looking it is in there - while everyone's outfits, for the most part, present shades of what may someday be iconic sci-fi uniforms.

On a majorly positive note, the future presented in Serenity sure does at times seem like a probable one. This is so important in a film of this sort. The politics certainly connect to what one may predict as the evolution of our chapter in the universe. I quite respect how many of the details connect in some way to a current actuality.


QUICKIE: A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, 2005)

Finally! A film that brings back everything that makes the classics classic. This character is not just well rounded, he brands himself into your memory the same way any Eastwood/Wayne/DeNiro great Hollywood hero would. And that's just him - every other character here is loaded with realism - almost impossible not to care for. From the male perspective for the film's duration Viggo Mortensen's character is every man I want to be, Maria Bello's is every woman I want to love, and Ed Harris' (along with a slew of other baddies) is everything I fear.

This is the first David Cronenberg film I've ever seen. When I first saw a picture of the man, all I could think of was the shriveled old prophet of doom from Jason X. In A History of Violence, the shriveled prophet has crafted an unforgettable cinematic experience that is unmatched by anything else I've seen this year. He shows no hints of restraint when it comes to two key subjects - sex and gore. At the same time, his filming style is unobtrusive, showing precisely what is needed to tell the story without distracting by drawing too much attention to the craft. For once in the past few years we have shots with space behind the characters that don't force us to think something could possibly jump out from the shadows.

The delicate manner in which this story is weaved is highly admirable. Each scene that sets up for everything about to go down is subtly and artfully assembled to prepare us in a way we can barely recognize until its all said and done. I'm sure I will return to A History of Violence many a time.