People Tell Me I Look Like Han Solo.
Friday, May 29, 2009
  Summer Movie Preview: Part 2
It’s time for the second part of my preview of the upcoming summer movies, this time looking at the big June releases. As usual, I haven’t actually seen any of these movies yet, so keep that in mind that these are just my opinions of the big summer blockbusters.

Up (May 29)
This is sort of cheating, as this movie comes out today, which is obviously technically still May, but I forgot to include this in my May column, and it’s probably going to be one of the biggest movies this summer. Pixar has a pretty much spotless track record for quality family films that rake in tons of cash, and as much as Up is ostensibly risky compared to their previous movies – there’s apparently concern about the limited merchandising appeal of a cartoon in which a crotchety old man is the protagonist – I doubt that will make much difference.

Land of the Lost (June 5)
This big-screen version of the beloved classic kids show comes with the requisite upgrade in special effects, as well as a newly comic spin thanks to stars Will Ferrell and Danny McBride. The original series was before my time, but I love Ferrell and McBride, and this one looks like it could be a lot of fun, especially if it manages to work as an adventure movie as well as a comedy. Nobody plays a clueless, in-over-his-head buffoon like Ferrell does, and when you throw in dinosaurs and ape-boys and lizard men, it sounds like the recipe for a good time at the movies.

The Hangover (June 5)
I admit the first time I saw the trailer for this comedy, about the aftermath of a crazy Las Vegas bachelor party that none of the participants can remember (and now the groom-to-be is missing), I laughed my ass off. It’s a solid premise, but I’m sort of afraid it’ll be ruined by an eventual explanation. It’s also sort of odd that director Todd Phillips’ attempt to get another Old School-level hit is opening against the latest vehicle for Will Ferrell, the breakout star of that film, but Land of the Lost is obviously aimed more at families than this R-rated comedy. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that there’s quite a bit of overlap between the potential audiences for The Hangover and Land of the Lost, and I guess we’ll see who wins. Whatever movie makes more money, I’m expecting co-star Zach Galifianakis to steal this movie; I’ve seen a bit of his comedy online, and while it’s pretty out-there, it’s also very funny. If it's a hit, The Hangover could do for Galifianakis what Old School did for Ferrell.

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (June 12)
irector Tony Scott’s remake of the 1974 thriller about a New York City subway train taken hostage stars John Travolta as the terrorist mastermind and Denzel Washington as a transit worker who reluctantly finds himself thrust into the role of hero. I’m a big fan of Tony Scott’s movies – I even dug the much-maligned Domino and his last collaboration with Washington, the sci-fi thriller Déjà Vu – and the concept is certainly intriguing. Travolta leaves me cold these days, but Washington, obviously, is one of the best actors out there today, and if Travolta rises to the occasion, this could be a sweet acting face off (no pun intended. Oof.) While The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 may get lost in the churn of summer blockbusters in terms of box office success – it feels more to me like a movie that should be coming out in the spring or fall – if comes even close to being as awesome as my favourite Scott/Washington collaboration, 2004’s revenge flick Man On Fire, I will be satisfied.

Imagine That (June 12)
Eddie Murphy’s latest family comedy sees him playing a workaholic executive who learns valuable life lessons with the help of his young daughter’s blanket. (I didn’t really understand it either, but that’s the story the trailer lays out.) These sorts of movies are complete toss-ups; this could come and go with barely a box-office whimper, or it could be a Nutty Professor-size hit (though Murphy thankfully doesn’t appear in any fat suits in this one). Either way, this couldn’t be any less up my alley, but I’m sure lots of parents will take their kids to this one.

The Proposal (June 19)
Sandra Bullock, the reigning queen of romantic comedies, returns to the genre as a pushy boss who forces her handsome young assistant (Ryan Reynolds) to marry her so that she can avoid being deported back to Canada. Leaving aside the irony of Bullock playing a Canadian and Reynolds (who is actually Canadian) playing an American, this sounds like pretty standard rom-com blockbuster counter-programming stuff. Again, not my thing at all, but the I guess the idea is that women will drag their boyfriends or husbands to this as revenge for dragging them to Terminator (or, pre-emptively, Transformers).

Year One (June 19)
Jack Black and Michael Cera, two comic actors often slammed for their respective one-note shticks (Black for being an obnoxious loudmouth, Cera for being awkward and meek), star in this comedy set in the year 1 A.D. I assume the movie plays relatively fast and loose with reality – Black and Cera apparently go from being cavemen to soldiers in the Roman army, somehow – but it’s a goofy com
edy, and if it’s funny then that’s really all that counts. But any movie that stars David Cross and Paul Rudd as Cain and Abel automatically has my interest.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (June 24)
Quite possibly this summer’s most anticipated blockbuster sees Michael Bay, Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox’s abs (and some CGI robots) all returning to the big screen. The first Transformers was one of the most fun popcorn movies in years, and I can only hope Revenge of the Fallen will up the ante the way Bad Boys II makes the original Bad Boys look like a talky drama. I don’t know much about the plot, but really, when giant transforming robots from space are wrecking cities and duking it out among the Egyptian pyramids, who cares? I’ll be there on opening day, as will millions and millions of others.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009
  DVD Review: Killshot

Killshot is a very odd movie, for a number of reasons. It was apparently finished quite a while back – I distinctly remember watching trailers for it three or four years ago – and it’s been sitting on a shelf ever since, I guess dusted off in the wake of Mickey
Rourke’s deservedly acclaimed comeback turn in The Wrestler. It’s based on a novel by Elmore Leonard (this is not odd in and of itself; Hollywood’s been adapting his books for decades), and it follows a half-Native Canadian mob hitman (Mickey Rourke) stalking a married but separated couple (Diane Lane and Thomas Jane) living in rural Ontario after they see his face during a botched attempt to blackmail the realtor Lane works for (he has a thing about not letting people live after they see his face). Ultimately, it fails on just about every level, but a lot of that seems to be connected with the process of adapting a novel to a movie.

I’ve never read an Elmore Leonard book, but after seeing quite a few movies based on his crime novels (Out of Sight is one of my all-time favourites, and I think Jackie Brown is, objectively speaking, Quentin Tarantino’s best movie), I feel like I sort of get the vibe a lot of his books have; I don’t like using clichés like “quirky characters,” but Leonard’s work seems to have them in spades. His books apparently manage to switch from being absurdly funny to dark and violent, and this juxtaposition is notoriously difficult to pull off in a movie. Think about Don Cheadle in Out of Sight or Samuel L. Jackson in Jackie Brown; both go from being charismatic and funny oddballs to cold-blooded sociopaths on a dime, and you believe them in either mode. But those movies were made by Steven Soderbergh and Quentin Tarantino, respectively, filmmakers with far more talent that Killshot director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love). Madden removes what I can only assume were the similar injections of offbeat humour in the source material – there are a few absurd plot turns that may have been handled more comically in the book, but the film plays them completely straight, which just gives it a weird, random vibe – with the result being a clichéd, overly grim hitman story that takes itself far too seriously.

As I mentioned, it seems like the recent success of The Wrestler, and Mickey Rourke in particular, prompted Killshot finally getting a release. Rourke’s not terrible here, but he’s also nowhere close to his work in The Wrestler. Again, I have no idea how much of this stuff is taken directly from Leonard’s novel, but he plays his half-Native character with what I believe is supposed to be a French-Canadian accent (which he really plays up in some scenes and drops entirely in others), and he’s under a layer of orange-y make-up, which I assume is meant to make him appear more Native, but, combined with his craggy face, makes him look like a burn victim. Beyond this, he’s the same hitman featured in a hundred movies before: he’s a closed-off loner who lives according to a strict set of rules so that he can do his job as effectively as possible, and his world begins to collapse when he allows himself to feel an emotional connection to someone he meets (in this case, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s loudmouthed wannabe bank robber). It’s a character arc that’s been done so many times that I was half embarrassed just typing that out. Madden and screenwriter Hossein Amini make some obligatory attempts to make him seem vaguely sympathetic, but again, it’s not anything that hasn’t been done before, and they seemingly lose interest in exploring the idea as the film nears its ridiculously predictable climax.

Despite Rourke having more screen time, Killshot is clearly supposed to be about the Lane and Jane characters, but there’s nothing to them other beyond a half-assed, been-there-done-that subplot about their crumbling marriage; it’s as if even Madden realized how uninteresting they are, and focused instead on the more colourful criminals. (At the risk of beating a dead horse with this comparison, one of the things that makes Jackie Brown work so well is that the “normal” protagonist, Pam Grier’s titular character, is the most interesting and well-drawn character in the entire movie; here it’s the opposite.) The bottom line is, I never cared about the state of their marriage or whether Rourke killed them or not.

The lone bright spot in all of Killshot – and the reason I’m not giving the movie an even lower grade than I am – is Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Richie Nix, a brash, small-time hood who Rourke takes under his wing because he reminds him of his dead kid brother. Who would have guessed that the kid from 3rd Rock From the Sun would turn into one of the best actors of his generation, but there it is (I’ve been a fan of his since I watched the oddball 2005 high school-slash-detective flick Brick, which will be the subject of a future post). While he comes a bit too close to going completely over the top in some scenes, Gordon-Levitt often seems like he’s acting in a completely different, far more interesting movie. He manages to make Nix a completely loathsome scumbag, but he also gives him enough charisma that you can see how his petty cons could actually work on occasion, possibly even on you. If it wasn’t for his performance, I might not have made it through to the end credits.

Killshot is an Elmore Leonard crime flick with all the cool Elmore Leonard stuff drained out, leaving a dried-out husk of a by-the-numbers hitman thriller. I could devote an entire post to listing other movies that cover exactly the same ground that Killshot tries but in far more entertaining fashion. This one probably should have stayed on the shelf.



There’s absolutely nothing on the Killshot DVD. On the one hand, it was nice because it meant I didn’t have to spend any more time with this movie beyond the hour and 35 minutes it took to watch it, but on the other hand I was sort of disappointed that I didn’t get to see or hear Madden or anyone else involved with the film try to explain what they were going for in this bizarre misfire.

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Friday, May 22, 2009
  Review: Terminator Salvation
Terminator Salvation is the first summer movie I’ve seen (I heard nothing good about Wolverine so I’ll probably wait for DVD, and I’ve yet to see Star Trek), and it’s a very good popcorn blockbuster. It definitely has its share of faults with the story and pacing, but overall it’s got exactly the sort of fun action that most of us look for in a good summer movie.

I wasn’t expecting Terminator Salvation to come anywhere close to James Cameron’s first two Terminator movies, and, lo and behold, it did not. That’s hardly an insult however, as the original two are both bona fide classics (T2 being one of the greatest action movies of all time, period), and Salvation doesn’t really aspire to being more than an above-average big-budget action picture. As a kid who always preferred playing with my Star Wars toys to my G.I. Joes, the post-apocalyptic future war between scrappy human resistance fighters and huge metal monsters only glimpsed in the first Terminator (and revisited in the sequel) always interested me more than the time travel angle that Cameron used to set the bulk of his movies in the present day. So by virtue of the fact that Terminator Salvation is set entirely in a bombed-out future wasteland (which owes more visually to the Mad Max movies than the short sequences in the earlier entries in the franchise), it’s automatically appealing to me. I love me some giant robots, and there’s quite a few of them in this movie.

Terminator Salvation follows John Connor (Christian Bale), a soldier in the human resistance in 2018, a man who’s been told his whole life he’s destined to lead humanity, but he’s not quite there yet, and he frequently butts heads with the resistance’s current leaders, who tool around in a submarine to avoid detection by Skynet. Into this world comes Marcus (newcomer Sam Worthington), a mysterious wanderer last seen on death row in 2003. He eventually meets up with a young Kyle Reese (the character who eventually goes back in time to protect Sarah Connor in the first Terminator movie, becoming John Connor’s father along the way), and later a resistance pilot (Moon Bloodgood), who leads him back to the humans. But, as the trailers all reveal (and the movie doesn’t really try to disguise), Marcus is actually a Terminator himself.

Director McG, who made music videos before breaking into film with the Charlie’s Angels movies, mounts several impressive action sequences, and the special effects are top-notch. The cast is uniformly solid, too; nobody does the grim hero better than Christian Bale these days, and Sam Worthington is very good as Marcus, which is impressive for a new guy (like a lot of other Handsome Australian Actors, he sounds American 85%-90% of the time). He's apparently the Next Big Thing – he, I guess sort of ironically, is also the lead in James Cameron's 3D sci-fi epic Avatar due next year, and he's also the lead in the remake of the beloved 1981 Greek mythology cult classic, Clash of the Titans – and he does the “charismatic tough guy” thing well.

But it was Anton Yelchin (who also plays Chekov in Star Trek) who really stood out for me as Reese. I’ve been an appreciator of Michael Biehn’s work as an actor for years (he was the hero in the first Terminator, and he turns up in a similar role in Cameron’s Aliens, and he’s wonderful as an evil outlaw in my favourite western, Tombstone), but I never could have imagined such a thing as a “Michael Biehn impression” until I saw this movie. I don’t know how he does it, but Yelchin manages to mimic Biehn’s voice and body language to an almost uncanny degree. He also has a lot of screen charisma, and I found his Reese to be the most compelling character in the whole movie, despite his relatively small role.

I did have some problems with Terminator Salvation’s story, and as much as I normally give movies like this quite a bit of slack in that department (really, I just wanted to see robots blow stuff up, which this movie has in spades), I couldn’t get them out of my head and they did detract a bit from my overall enjoyment. I don’t usually like to include behind-the-scenes rumours in a review, but in this case I think it’s useful for the sake of context. Apparently McG originally wanted Bale for the Marcus role (which was in earlier drafts the only lead; Connor was a secondary supporting character at that point), but Bale wanted to play Connor, and brought in a writer to beef up Connor’s part. I mention all of this because it’s actually pretty obvious from watching Terminator Salvation that Marcus was initially supposed to be the sole lead, because his character arc is far more interesting (he personifies sci-fi’s classic “what does it mean to be human?” debate). He’s the second-most interesting character in the movie (next to Reese, who, criminally, basically vanishes from the movie to become little more than a plot point less than halfway through), and his storyline has most of the cool action scenes. He also has younger sidekicks, a romantic subplot with Bloodgood, gets chased by giant robots and blows up two or three times – all the cool stuff, essentially. This is actually pretty normal for a Terminator movie – it's what Schwarzenegger spends all of the other Terminator movies doing – but it's weird in Terminator Salvation because he and Connor spend most of the movie apart (again, presumably because Connor's part was originally supposed to be smaller).

One of the other distracting plot details that comes about because Connor's part got beefed up is that it requires him to be one of the main characters trying to achieve the goal of keeping him alive. Having the main heroic character's primary motivation boil down to "I MUST SURVIVE! AT ALL COSTS!!" makes Connor seem unfortunately self-serving – and decidedly unheroic. (Though the movie goes to considerable lengths to make clear that Connor must live so that the future can live. Still.) And they do attempt to rectify it by having Reese be the token Character Who Must Be Rescued From The Terminator going into the film’s climax (though he shares this distinction with Bale, which, again, is weird).

Still, I'm probably focusing too much on the stuff I didn't like about Terminator Salvation. I enjoyed the movie for the most part, and it’s certainly fun to watch. The action is good-to-excellent (I particularly liked the digitally-fudged "single take" bit with Bale in the helicopter in the opening sequence), which, really, is all I was looking for out of it. On that level, Terminator Salvation an above-average summer blockbuster, although it doesn't hold a candle to the first two. And it is considerably better than Terminator 3, which, I guess, is a higher note on which to end the series. Not that I think that'll be the case (I assume that like any blockbuster nowadays, the producers are hoping it’ll become a new franchise), because if it rakes in money, well, everyone knows how Hollywood works. Maybe the next one will be the leap forward that Dark Knight was to Batman Begins. The kid in me who loves giant robots can dream.


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Wednesday, May 13, 2009
  DVD Review: Galaxy Quest

Galaxy Quest is the minor 1999 comedy classic about the cast of a defunct, Star Trek­-like sci-fi show thrown in the middle of an actual intergalactic conflict. It’s an excellent premise – in the special features, the original screenwriter refers to the obvious Star Trek influence as an “in-joke with everyone on the planet” – and the movie was a pretty huge success in its day, developing a devoted cult audience. And now Paramount is rewarding the fans with a loaded 10th anniversary DVD.

I’d seen Galaxy Quest when it first came out on video about 10 years ago, and I remembered liking it okay (I also remembered that a lot of people seemed to like it way more than I did), but my memory was more than a bit foggy. So I was eager to take another look at Galaxy Quest with this new DVD. Turns out I’d forgotten how awesome this movie is .

The plot follows the cast of a sci-fi show called Galaxy Quest that ended 15-20 years earlier, now reduced to making the rounds of the convention circuit. Their captain, Tim Allen, is accosted by what he assumes are just particularly whacked-out fans who claim to be aliens who desperately need his help. It turns out they are aliens, and somehow managed to find broadcasts of the old Galaxy Quest show, mistaking them for “historical documents.” The Thermians, as they’re called, have based their space-faring technology entirely on a cheesy old sci-fi show, and don’t realize the bickering actors they eventually bring into space to help them fight off a savage reptilian race are not actually intergalactic heroes.

The movie makes no bones about the old Galaxy Quest show basically just being Star Trek, and several of the characters – Tim Allen as the supercool, two-fisted captain, Alan Rickman as the Spock-The (incompetent) crewlike alien Dr. Lazarus, Sam Rockwell as a random crewman who was killed off in a single episode who now happily milks his brief TV appearance more than a decade later, and Tony Shaloub as the almost comically ethnic chief engineer – are lifted just about completely from that iconic show.

The brilliance of Galaxy Quest is that, like the best films of its kind, it’s an effective spoof of the sci-fi genre while actually also working as a sci-fi adventure flick (the evil aliens are cooler and scarier than anything in any of the Star Wars prequels). It just happens to also be really, really funny. There’s such a genuine love and affection for not only Star Trek and the sci-fi genre in general, but also to the fans (Trekkies/Trekkers/whatever) – which is the easiest group to make fun of – that it’s really infectious. Galaxy Quest manages to make you feel for what are, on the surface, completely ridiculous characters, particularly Enrico Colantoni, who injects genuine pathos into Mathesar, the Thermian leader.

The cast of Galaxy Quest is brilliant from top to bottom; Sam Rockwell is hilarious as Crewman No. 6, a.k.a. Guy, who’s all too aware of the fate that usually befalls nameless crewmen. Tony Shaloub was also amazing as a guy playing an Asian guy (chief engineer Kwan), who remains totally unfazed by any of the crazy outer-space stuff the crew comes across. Justin Long (the Mac guy) also turns up in a small but eventually crucial role as a teenaged Galaxy Quest nerd (Rainn Wilson The Office fame also turns up in a tiny part as one of the Thermians). Sigourney Weaver deserves praise for playing aging sexbomb Gwen DeMarco as the complete opposite of her iconic character of Ripley from the Alien movies. And I can’t leave out Rickman as the bitter, theatre-trained thespian trapped in his fame as a purple-prose-spouting alien scientist.

Galaxy Quest is a wonderful little gem of a movie. If you haven’t seen it in years, like I had, I heartily recommend you pick up this new DVD. If you’re a fan, this is the package you’ve been waiting for. Great stuff.



There’s a great retrospective mini-documentary called ‘Historical Documents: The Story of Galaxy Quest,’ which features new interviews with the entire cast and cThe Thermiansrew. I’ve said before how much I enjoy featurettes that look back on a movie, as the passage of time usually gives the people involved more perspective (and cuts down on the usual PR shilling that comes with interviews meant to promote an upcoming movie or DVD). Everyone involved reflects fondly on the Galaxy Quest experience, especially Justin Long and Sam Rockwell, who were pretty much unknowns at the time.

There’s also a segment specifically on the cast, a look at the special effects, a piece about the creation of the Thermian race (apparently Colantoni basically came up with their bizarre speaking style himself), and some deleted scenes. There are a couple of silly extras as well, like a short video of Sigourney Weaver “rapping” in a video she sent to her longtime agent for his birthday while she was filming, as well as an audio track in Thermian, which is fun to watch for a few minutes, but I can’t really imagine someone watching the entire movie that way. Still, it’s fun. Overall this is a great DVD package for a great movie. Highly recommended.

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Friday, May 8, 2009
  I can't wait to go to District 9
It’s not often that a trailer hits the web for a movie I’ve never heard of. Even before this blog, I spent a lot of time reading movie news websites, so I’m usually pretty on-the-ball about upcoming movies. So imagine my surprise when the trailer for District 9 turned up online last week, immediately vaulting it to the upper reaches of the list of movies I am absolutely dying to see this summer. (It’s now a toss-up between it and Michael Mann’s Public Enemies).

The premise of District 9 seems to be that it’s a faux-documentary about aliens who have landed in South Africa. The primary difference between it and most other movies about aliens is that the visitors in this movie appear to be more like refugees than invaders. It’s the feature debut from South African commercial director and visual effects guy Neill Blomkamp, who I first heard about a few years back when he was attached to helm an adaptation of Microsoft’s massively successful Halo videogame franchise for producer Peter Jackson. After the news broke that the unknown Blomkamp was making the Halo movie, I (and many other movie geeks) found a short film he made called Alive In Joburg, which he’s apparently expanded into District 9. (The Halo movie eventually fell through when the two studios that had signed on to co-finance the film balked at the skyrocketing budget, and it’s too bad – Blomkamp’s documentary style in a movie about a war with aliens could have made Halo the first legitimately interesting videogame adaptation, and the thought of the design and effects team behind Lord of the Rings doing Halo probably would have been awesome. Oh well.)

But I’m digressing. The District 9 trailer knocked me on my proverbial ass; this is a movie about aliens that looks like nothing I’ve seen before. And it seems like Blomkamp, as he did in Alive In Joburg, is using his concept to explore real-life issues surrounding refugees and xenophobia, something not enough science fiction movies do these days. I’ve got high hopes for this one.

In the meantime, check out the trailer for District 9 here, as well as Alive In Joburg below.

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009
  DVD Review: Battle In Seattle

Ah, 1999. Those heady pre-9/11 days where the scariest thing we as a society could collectively conceive of was the fear our computers would crash that coming January 1. Terrorism was something that happened in faraway places, and a bunch of self-styled anarchists and anti-globalization activists managed to effectively shut down a World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle. It was a pretty huge story at the time, as what began as fairly standard protests soon escalated into rioting that impacted the entire city, and is still seen as a turning point in the anti-globalization movement. It’s since been largely forgotten about, but Irish actor Stuart Townshend (apparently inspired by an essay he read in 2002) has written and directed a film dramatizing the events. It’s always a dicey proposition when an actor makes his debut behind the camera, and while Townshend has a lot to say, Battle In Seattle is an overly simplistic and biased film that tries very hard to make its point, without really giving much thought to what that point actually is.

The first thing that struck me about Battle In Seattle is its cast. While not exactly packed with A-list stars (though it does feature Townshend’s real-life wife, Charlize Theron, in an important role, and Woody Harrelson plays her cop husband), it’s one of those movies in which just about every character with a speaking part is played by someone at least somewhat recognizable (though maybe that’s just because I watch a lot of movies). It reminded me of Bobby, Emilio Estevez’s similarly star-studded, vaguely political passion project about Robert Kennedy’s assassination (which I didn’t see). But for the most part, the actors, including Ray Liotta, Martin Henderson (star of my beloved Torque, which one day I’ll find an excuse to write about) and Channing Tatum, do a pretty solid job.

My main issue with Battle In Seattle is that Townshend clearly takes sides (with the protesters), which, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. It’s that he pays lip service to presenting a “balanced” view of the events, but it’s about as balanced as the average Fox News broadcast. The Harrelson character is meant to show how the cops aren’t necessarily all bad, despite the fact that the rest of the movie paints them pretty broadly as thuggish stormtroopers who can’t wait to crack some hippie skulls. Townshend also includes a tiny subplot about a doctor (the excellent character actor Rade Sherbedzija) attending the WTO summit to try to raise awareness of the cost of AIDS medication – a noble crusade by just about anyone’s standards – only to have his efforts derailed by the protests. It’s a fascinating moral grey area that Townshend never really does anything with – surely the protesters would be sympathetic to the doctor’s campaign, which they’ve unwittingly set back considerably – but he doesn’t go beyond including a couple of scenes of the doctor acting frustrated.

I’m all for taking artistic license in films “based on true events,” but in a movie like this, where the director clearly has a point of view he’s trying to convey (i.e. the WTO and globalization in general are bad), playing fast and loose with the facts to reinforce your point is a dangerous proposition, to say the least. In one scene, a random riot cop attacks Charlize Theron’s character, a pregnant clerk at a high-end retail store just trying to get home to safety (and she’s married to a cop – how ironic!) for no reason, and Townshend admits on the commentary that he took liberties with accounts of what actually happened to make the scene more dramatic. It smacks more of anti-globalization fanfiction than an honest attempt at portraying real events. And the token reporter (Connie Nielsen) starts out as a typically cynical journalist who doesn’t believe in anything before, over the course of about a day, she realizes how corrupt the system really is and decides to throw her lot in with the protesters. It could just be my own journalism background talking, but I found that whole subplot more than a little ridiculous.

Battle In Seattle feels like it was made by a 17-year-old suburban kid who just read Naomi Klein’s No Logo and has decided that all the world’s problems can be blamed on that old faceless antagonist, “corporate greed.” (And I say that as a guy who has more issues with capitalism than most; keep in mind, however, that I’m a Canadian, and we’re all a bunch of socialists up here.) There’s certainly many valid points to be made about the morally questionable things that the WTO (and other groups like it, or “big corporations” in general) do and are complicit in, but films as simplistic and prejudiced as Battle In Seattle don’t do much good to anyone. What is the point Townshend is trying to make? He doesn’t provide enough information about what the WTO does or what it stands for, aside from a quick primer in the opening title sequence, to say anything significant about it, other than it’s bad because it oppresses poor people (though how exactly it does that is never explored in any real detail). By focusing so much on the people – specifically the protesters, his noble, ragged hippie heroes – Townshend never really gets into what they’re fighting for. Or maybe the problem is that beyond their stated aim of ending something as nebulous and intangible as “corporate greed,” it’s the protesters themselves who’ve lost sight of what they were trying to accomplish? These are questions I certainly don’t pretend to have answers to, and I think the exploration pf them would make for some pretty interesting fodder for a movie. Sadly, Battle In Seattle is not that movie.

I respect that Townshend had something to say, and I’d probably agree with him on a lot of the issues presented here if I sat down and talked to him, but he probably should have cut his filmmaking teeth on a movie about another, less complex subject. To have Battle In Seattle not come off as clichéd and far too morally black-and-white as it does would have required a better director with more nuance (which is not to say that Townshend is a filmmaker without talent; I just think he bit off more than he could chew here.) As it is, Battle In Seattle is just a vanity project by an actor who doesn’t seem to have anything to say that hasn’t been said more eloquently elsewhere by more interesting people.



As mentioned above, Townshend contributes commentary alongside editor Fernando Villena, and he seems like a smart enough guy. It’s not a terribly thrilling track by any means, covering the usual bases of the ins and outs of the production (the film was financed by a Canadian company, and Vancouver stands in for Seattle), how certain shots and scenes were hard to pull off, etc. It’s all fairly basic stuff. Not bad, just unremarkable.

Also included are a couple of featurettes, one on the production and another called ‘The Battle Continues,” which features interviews with labour leaders and members of the U.S. Congress. The former is sort of standard making-of stuff (though Townshend’s presence is, curiously, limited to shots of him on the set while he narrates the whole affair, going over a lot of ground covered in the commentary). The latter is kind of interesting, if dry – if watching members of Congress and labour leaders discussing trade policy is your thing, get ready to be happy – and I appreciate that the DVD producers included some real-world content about the topics Townshend’s film covers. That said, it’s pretty one-sided, with just about everyone demonizing the WTO and breathlessly discussing the “Battle in Seattle” (the event, not the film) as some watershed historical moment. It’s all very rah-rah if you’re into that sort of thing. Personally, I was just glad it was fairly short.

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Friday, May 1, 2009
  Summer Movie Preview: Part 1
X-Men Origins: Wolverine opens today, which officially kicks off the summer blockbuster season. At the beginning of each month from now through August, I’ll be going over that month’s big releases, weighing in with my (admittedly uninformed, as I will not have seen them yet) opinions on each. Some of these movies really aren’t my thing – I’ve never really seen any of the Harry Potter movies, and I don’t plan to start with the newest one – so take my words with the requisite amount of salt (something longtime readers probably already do).

Okay, let’s do this thing.


X-Men Origins: Wolverine (May 1)
I mentioned a few weeks ago here that I thought X-Men Origins: Wolverine looked kind of weak. (And I say that as a comic geek who really loves the X-Men.) Reviews I’ve read today suggest I was right, but I know I’ll be going to see it anyway. Bryan Singer’s X2: X-Men United remains easily the best movie in the franchise by a country mile, and I personally still consider it one of the best comic book adaptations ever made. (Maybe it’s just the X-Men fan in me, but I’ll take X2 over any of the Spider-Man flicks any day of the week.) Still, Wolverine is the first big summer release, so people will flock to it just out of excitement that the summer movie season is now underway. I really like Hugh Jackman though, and Liev Schreiber (who plays the villain who may or may not become Sabertooth, who’s played by a different actor in the first X-Men movie) is a great actor, so at the very least I’m sure they’ll do good work. And Jackman’s never been more famous than he is right now, so this thing will make tons of money, Internet piracy or no.

Star Trek (May 8)
Star Trek and Star Wars are sort of like the Beatles and Rolling Stones of sci-fi geekdom; people tend to really like one and can usually take or leave the other. Me, I’m a Star Wars guy (though I did enjoy Star Trek: The Next Generation when I was a kid). But I have no nostalgic connection to the original ‘60s series, and, apparently, neither did director J.J. Abrams, who’s gone on record as preferring Star Wars as well (at least he was going into this project). And that seems to makes sense, as the trailers for his new Star Trek movie – which apparently reboots the franchise with some sort of time-travel/alternate universe chicanery – are all filled with laser-shooting spaceships and explosions and all the swashbuckling adventure that made me fall in love with Star Wars, as opposed to the clinical, more scientific and philosophical approach the Star Trek franchise took on after the original show. Will it work? I have no idea what hardcore Trekkers will make of this movie, but it looks like a good old fashioned popcorn blockbuster. All I'm looking for out of Star Trek is a good time at the movies, and it looks like it may deliver precisely that.

Angels & Demons (May 15)
At the risk of invoking the ire of Dan Brown/Da Vinci Code fans, I couldn’t be less interested in the prequel/sequel/whatever to the 2006 box office smash. It looks as stupid to me as The Da Vinci Code (which I’ve never seen, and have zero interest in) looked three years ago. But clearly I’m in the minority. This will make disgusting amounts of money, and probably a lot of people will really like it. None of them will be me.

Terminator: Salvation (May 21)
The first two Terminator movies are awesome, albeit for fairly different reasons. I love the original because director James Cameron manages to tell a cool, scary little sci-fi story (that hints at a larger, more epic one thanks to the time-travel conceit), and, and Terminator 2 is, hands-down, one of the greatest action movies ever made. But I really didn’t like Terminator 3 for a bunch of reasons I won’t bother going into detail about here (liquid metal over a solid-metal skeleton would NOT allow the “T-X” to shape-shift like the T-1000 in T2; you don’t have to be a physicist to figure that out), but overall I just thought it was a retread of T2 with better computer effects but with a far, far crappier story. So why am I so exited about Terminator: Salvation? Because I’ve always been far more interested in the crazy futuristic war just barely glimpsed in Cameron’s films, and now we’re getting a full movie of that. And it’s my firm belief that the inclusion of giant robots makes just about any movie better.

Drag Me To Hell (May 29)
Director Sam Raimi is obviously most famous for his three Spider-Man movies, but any movie geek worth his or her salt knows he got his start with the Evil Dead trilogy, the latter two of which I love dearly. But the reason that the geek community is so excited about Raimi’s return to, as the trailer says, “true horror,” is also the reason I’m sort of lukewarm about Drag Me To Hell, the story of a young woman cursed by a gypsy (or something) to be haunted by a demon that will eventually, as the title suggests, drag her to hell; the reason I love Evil Dead 2 and its sequel, Army of Darkness, is that they’re funny as hell (the original Evil Dead plays things pretty straight, which is why I’m not a big fan). And Drag Me To Hell looks like it covers all the vintage Sam Raimi bases – crazy-looking monster makeup, portals spouting demons, creepy imagery – without the humour that makes Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness so brilliant. I’m sure I’ll end up seeing this, but there’s probably no movie blogger on the Internet as skeptical about Drag Me To Hell as I am. We’ll see.

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