16 January 2010

In the End...

Sometimes the best part of a movie is the ending but when reviewing movies it's not a good thing when you give that away. So, here, in no particular order and spoiler-free are seven movies that I think are better because of their endings:

The Italian Job (1969) -- Michael Caine leads a crew of Brits through the streets of Turin to pull off a heist during the World Cup celebrations. Don't be hoodwinked into renting the re-make; it's a pale imitation that lacks all the imagination and cool of the original.

Shallow Grave (1994) -- Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston and Kerry Fox are roommates who share a very dark sense of humour. When they find a dead body and a lot of money their friendship may be at risk. This film is very dark, and more than a little violent but also very funny.

The Prestige (2006) -- Michael Caine again, here with Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman in a tale about two rival magicians. Before I saw this film, someone told me to pay close attention to a certain scene because it would reveal the ending. I paid attention and still gasped as the ending played out screen.

The Spanish Prisoner (1997) -- Campbell Scott and Steve Martin headline this clever con film. Maybe my favourite David Mamet film, the script is filled with sharp dialog and plot twists right to the last lines.

Knowing (2009) -- Strange things start to happen after a time capsule is opened; Nicholas Cage leads. Probably the cheeziest movie on this list but I really appreciated the follow-through.

War of the Roses (1989) -- When Michael Douglas and and Kathleen Turner decide to get a divorce, it gets ugly, fast. Another black comedy, the details in the final scene paint it even darker.

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) -- Matt Damon finds that he is skilled in impersonation while on a trip to Italy to retrieve a playboy living in luxury. At once dreamlike and creepy, this film will stick in your mind.

09 January 2010

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009)

All Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader) wants to be is a great inventor. Unfortunately, he lives in Swallow Falls which is known only as the world's biggest supplier of canned sardines. After years of failure, he finally finds success with a machine that can turn water into food -- what could go wrong?

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is inspired by a bestselling picture book by Ron and Judi Barrett that tells the story of a scientist trying to solve world hunger. Similar problems evolve in both the book and the film, though, and lead to a similar conclusion.

Like many animated films, Cloudy includes some sight gags and dialogue that is aimed at the parents in the audience but for the most part this film is perfectly suited to young kids. The characters are miles away from the uncanny valley with oversize heads, big eyes, and wild hair. They live in a crayon-hued world that follows the rules of cartoons rather than physics.

The voice work is top notch, having borrowed half the current cast of Saturday Night Live and thrown in Bruce Campbell, Mister T, Benjamin Bratt, Neil Patrick Harris, and Al Roker just for kicks.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is not Oscar-worthy animation but it's not a bad way to spend 90 minutes with the kids.

*** ½

08 January 2010

Daybreakers (2009)

What happens when the population has adapted to the vampire lifestyle but starts to run out of humans? If you are the CEO of Bromley Marks, you offer a supply of human blood while researching a synthetic alternative. Of course, Charles Bromley's (Sam Neill) blood bank clearly has its own agenda and isn't about to let its star researcher Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) alter it. In the meantime, the army has been re-deployed to hunt humans and blood-starved vampires are mutating into something much more frightening.

Unlike similar films -- think of The Matrix, Blade, Underworld, and Zombieland -- that take some time to pull the audience aside and explain "how we got into this mess," Daybreakers skips all of that. It skips a few other key points too, leaving it wide open for sequels, prequels, spinoffs and whatever else might make a future buck.

Daybreakers connects some interesting dots. For example, there are a lot of smokers among the vampires -- I guess if you're already dead, lung cancer is not an issue -- and coffee, the universal lubricant of the white collar worker, is being served with 20% blood. Chrysler got some product placement, too, with cars modified for "daylight driving systems" -- a series of shields, cameras and heads-up displays -- one of several tech and infrastructure modifications for our future vampire selves.

Overall, I appreciated the world the filmmakers built but it lacked some basic aspects of, well, humanity. I know who we were supposed to cheer for but somewhere in the midst of a car chase that belonged in a different screenplay I lost interest. The characters had little to offer me in the way of emotion -- even (maybe especially) the human characters. There's also a subplot with Bromley that works only as a plot device to shove the story forward, however awkwardly.

In fact, awkward may be the best word to describe this film -- a little bit like a gawky teen who has grown faster than he's matured, Daybreakers features some great ideas and inventive special effects and makeup work, but it sends mixed-messages with its inconsistency. I suspect the Spierig brothers have a great film in them but Daybreakers isn't it.

I will give it top marks in one department: Daybreakers delivers on its promise of sparkle-free vampires.