Monday, August 31, 2009

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009)

Title: G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009)

Director: Stephen Summers

So the latest craze in Hollywood is taking a cartoon from the 80s and turning it into a big budget special effects filled movie. It happened with the Transformers, which Michael Bay and his trigger happy crew turned into a huge box office success. Not to mention that the film already spawned an equally successful sequel, which by the way was for me one of the worst films made this year, but that’s a whole other review. The latest of these 80’s cartoon adaptations is G.I. Joe, which was one of the most successful cartoon series to emerge out of the 80s. Whoever was a kid during those years has to remember the show. It lasted half an hour and basically served as a commercial to sell the Hasbro produced G.I. Joe toy line. Its basic premise was that of a top secret military operation which was trying to stop Cobra, a terrorist organization hell bent on conquering the world. Aside from that, the show itself also served as a propaganda machine for the U.S. Military. Now I see that, but when I was a kid I did not realize this at all, to me it was just a cool show. In reality, it was a show trying to infuse kids with a desire to serve the U.S. Military services with pride, get that patriotic pride going at an early age. I guess it was made in part to get kids to want to serve their country just like the characters did in the show. The main slogan of the show lets you know this: “G.I. Joe! A Real American Hero!” The premise of this new film has the Joe’s trying to stop Cobra from destroying the world with a new kind of technology. Basically, a bomb of nano machines (read: microscopic machines) that will eat through anything and continue eating through whatever comes along its path. The Joe’s have to stop Cobra from using this new weapon to bring the world to its knees.

Basically this movie was exactly what I was expecting. Not much invested in depth or a good story, but lots invested in special effects an action. The movie brings absolutely nothing new to the table in terms of storytelling, in fact, it feels tired and done. Many of the plot devices on this film can be traced down to other films we’ve already seen before. For example, when you see the final confrontation between G.I. Joe and the Cobras where the Joes infiltrate Cobras hidden underwater lair, you kind of feel like you are watching a remake of Return of the Jedi or something. Right down to having the Joe’s go into the underwater base as if they were infiltrating the Death Star and escaping mere moments before it blows up into smithereens, just like the death star blows up in the last moments of Return of the Jedi. There’s a confrontation between two ninjas in the film (named Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow) that feels and looks a heck of a lot like the final confrontation between Darth Maul and Quai Gon Jin in Star Wars Episode I. The suits that the Joe’s use in the film which augment their strength and agility are directly influenced by Paramount Pictures Iron Man (2008). Scenes like that just let me see that the director wasn’t trying to be original at all. He was just going down the easy path of doing what others have already done. For Christ sake, we even get a character who is evil but tries to turn good, just like Anakin.

That’s the main problem with films like this one. They are produced so fast, and so little time is taken to come up with a worthwhile story to tell that we just end up getting more of the same. But aside from that, did the film entertain? Let’s face it, while watching a film of this kind, I don’t going in expecting a masterpiece. I was just looking for a fun time, and I went to the theater simply out of nostalgia for this old cartoon show I use to watch when I was 12 years old. I went to see these characters Id seen in my childhood brought to cinematic life. And I have to be honest, that’s exactly what I got. We get some of the key characters from the show, and they looked exactly like what I would have expected them too. The premise of the film mimicked that of the show, which was always about trying to stop Cobra from trying to take over the world. There was nothing ever truly profound of life changing about the shows themes, it was just a poorly animated show made to sell toys. The movie took the cartoons basic premise and went with it.

Have to admit it, nostalgia got the best part of me. It was cool to see the Joe’s secret facilities with all these nifty vehicles and jets, it brought me back to when I was 12, watching the show . It was cool to see Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow kicking each others asses. It was cool to see Cobra becoming Cobra and Destro becoming Destro. And I’m sure this is a movie that many a little kid will find entertaining. Me, I was just a big kid in the theater remembering the Joes. And I had a good time in doing so, there’s lots of car explosions, lots of non stop action sequences, and lots of fx to keep you entertained for half an hour. After a while though, you might feel the CGI overdose light go off inside your head, cause let me tell you, there are times when I felt like the only real thing in the film where the actors and the other 90% of the film was made up of computer generated images. But whatever, that’s a whole new genre of films that’s emerging. That’s where Hollywood wants to go now. I guess it brings down costs some, its cheaper to build something in a computer then building it for real. Sadly, this is the state of big budget special effects films, 90% of what you see on screen exists only within the confines of a computer.

But most of director Stephen Summers movies have always been like this. One look at his resume and you will find CGI infested films like The Mummy, The Mummy Returns, Deep Rising and Van Helsing. Also one look at this films cast and you see that Summers has brought many of his old friends back, like Arnold Vosloo who played the mummy in The Mummy movies. Heck, even Brendan Frasier is here in a small role training some of the newer Joe’s.It was a fun movie for what it was. I recommend it to fans of the G.I. Joe cartoons. Those thirty something guys who grew up watching this show in their afternoons after school. I’m sure they will be happy to see their childhood heroes brought to life. Movie goers who dont know what the hell G.I. Joe is will find an empty yet entertaining special effects driven film, that’s derivative of other films and doesn’t try in the least to show us something new or meaningful. It simply wants to wow you with its gee whiz effects, never keep you bored for its entire duration, and have you leave the theater feeling like you just had a sugar rush, only thing is you'll probably forget the film five seconds after you leave the theater.

Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5

G.I. Joe: The Rise of CobraG.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (Two-Disc Edition + Digital Copy) [Blu-ray]G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (Two-Disc Edition)G.I. JOE: The Rise of Cobra

Soylent Green (1973)

Title: Soylent Green (1973)

Director: Richard Fleisher

Socially conscious science fiction is my favorite kind of sci-fi. Its the kind of sci-fi that speaks about the realities of our lives, what we are living through, but filters thouse experiences through a science fiction tale. Just re-watched this classic sci-fi film because I thought it would be appropriate considering the situations were recently lived through in the world. Im talking about how in certain parts of the world, the goverment issued this massive warning against the swine flu a.k.a. H1N1. I personally saw people going "swine flu crazy". I never thought I would live through something like this, but Ive seen people wearing masks everywhere for fear of contagion. Food establishments have their employees wearing gloves and masks, people are not going out (have to admit it was great to see the movie theater line so empty) and the streets are emptier then usual! The hospitals are filled with people who think they got the swine flu but dont, and cases of people having died of the flu have been offcially reported. People are buying hand sanitizers by the truck loads and are even afraid to shake other peoples hands! Ive even personally seen people opening door knobs with paper towels so they wont get infected! Like I said, swine flu crazy.

So anyways, I immediately related to Soylent Green because of this. On the theme of mass hysteria. In Soylent Green, the world has fallen into poverty. Theres not enough food for anyone, the masses depend on the goverment to provide everything for them, so the world has fallen into chaos! The goverment provides people with this cracker/cookie thats made of soybean, and everyone goes crazy for it! People go into riots when theres no supply! I love these scenes in the film where everyone goes batshit insane because they ran out of Soylent Green. These are the most memorable scenes in the film because people just go crazy, so much so that the goverment has to use these trucks to pick them off the streets, as if they were garbage in order to control the mass hysteria that ensues.

This movie is very apocalyptic, its the end of the world and you got front row seats to it! As I watched it I realized George Romero' s Land of the Dead might have been heavily influenced by this one. It has that theme where the rich people are living apart from the masses, living in luxury, apparently unaffected by the whole thing. Similarities between both films are actually numerous! The rich vs. the poor, the rich hiding away in luxury, but eventually, the apocalypse catches up to the rich as well, and they got hell to pay as well. Finally, all out mayhem ensues.

Charlton Heston plays a cop whos investigating the death of a rich guy who is somehow involved in the production of Soylent Green and the mystery surrounding its production. Dont know what it is, but I normally dont like Hestons performances in films. On this one, he plays this macho dude, hitting women, stealing, being an asshole all the time. Except when he is with his best buddy, who is this old guy that lives with him. He treats him really nice, bringing him food and taking care of him. I guess he was just playing a guy trying to survive in the crazy apocaliptyc world, where its not easy to do the right thing.

But the best part of this film really is its feeling of paranoia and the masses going insane, the goverment being unable to handle the craziness that they themselves have created. Kind of like the same craziness I went through a couple of weeks ago with the whole swine flu paranoia! But now, who cares about the whole thing? Right now, the swine flu paranoia has died off. I find it kind of interesting how a couple of weeks ago, people didnt even want to shake hands for fear of catching the "deadly" virus! Yet now, after a few weeks have passed (and the media has cooled off their swine flu obssesion) people are slowly going back to normal. Its kind of sad how easily peoples perception of reality can be manipulated. What ever the newspapers and news channels say, is what the grand majority of people take for reality. The media stops talking about that subject matter and the world forgets. Its kind of scary when you think about it. Whatever they focus on, is what the world will focus on. Even if its exxagerated lies.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Suite Habana (2003)

Title: Suite Habana (2003)

Director: Fernando Perez

The focus of this documentary is the everyday life of thirteen real cubans. The documentary follows them around doing their regular every day chores, from getting up in the morning to go to work, to getting off and having dinner, to going to do whatever it is you do after work, to the last moment when you go to sleep. This documentary is a real eye opener to the type of harsh life Cubans live on a day to day basis. Still, its so inspiring to see people thriving and continuing their struggle inspite of the difficulties.

The documentary focuses all its attentions on the city life in Habana. Because of this we can see just how beautiful the city of Habana is. I mean, the architecture in Habana is so beautiful. Its ancient, most of the buildings are falling apart and crumbling, yet still, theres a beauty to it. The director has a real eye for capturing the beauty amongst the decay.

Whats most interesting though is the people the filmakers chose to focus on. Thirteen people from a kid called Francisquito who has down syndrome but is so self reliant that its awe inspiring, to a 97 year old lady who has energies only to watch t.v. all day. We get to see people from all age ranges, we get a 20 something, a 30 something and a 40 something, each going about their daily lives, doing what it is they do to survive. Some work in a factory, others work in construction, and its great to see them going about their labor helping a country survive on a daily basis. But you also get to know who these people are when they go back home, after work. Each of them has a different ability they are good at after work in their leisure time. One is a clown, one is a saxophone player at church, one is a transvestite, one is a professional dancer, they kind of become somebody totally different during the night time, each of them, adding a little bit to their communities on their off time.

The film is shot on video, but the shots and the direction are superb. The director has an eye for beauty, and the lighting in some of the sequences (specially those scenes depicting the Cuban nightlife in Habana) are something truly beautiful to behold.

A word of warning though, this documentary has no dialog whatsoever. Its a completely visual trip. Yet, somehow, without any dialog the film tells its story, it moves you. It gives an emotional resonance by sheer visuals alone. Which is probably why so much attention was put into capturing such beauty through the camera lense.

A real testament to the resilience and beauty of the Cuban people, this film won many award in many film festivals across the world. Highly recommend it to those who want to venture further then the world they live in, see how different other parts of the world are and maybe even make you thankful for the abundance of things we have and take for granted.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Stalker (1979)

Title: Stalker (1979)

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky


Are you a philosophical person? That’s what you really gotta ask yourself before seeing this movie. If you aren’t, don’t bother skip this review and wonder on to your next film. But if you are one of those brave minds who enjoys diving deeper into the human psyche, into the how and the why and the where of things, then this is a movie for you.

Stalker is the story of a man who guides people to what is referred to in the movie as ' The Zone'. What is 'The Zone' you might ask? Well, supposedly, it’s a place where all your innermost dreams come true. Some say it was an alien spaceship that crash landed there and created the zone, others think it’s a meteorite. Point of the matter is, nobody really knows how The Zone got there or how it came to be. But people have been there, and they have never returned. The main characters of the film are these three guys who are on their way to the zone. One of them is the guide, known as 'The Stalker', he guides the other two. One is a philosopher, a writer always analizing everything and going into philosophical converstations. The other is a Professor, always thinking empirically. Searching for the mathematical and scientific side of things. The Stalker loves the zone, and he loves taking people there, for a price. In a way it could be said that he worships The Zone, he serves it and he has all his faith on it. The film is about what happens on their journey to the zone, and the philosophical conversations that ensue.

I really enjoyed this movie because it addresses many of the mysteries in life. The three are in search of the ever elusive Zone. A mysterious place that will answer all problems, and your wildest dreams will come true. Supposedly in it, you will find true happiness and peace. The Professor and The Writer are always questioning themselves why they are going to the zone. While The Stalker is always trying to convince them that it’s the best thing they could do, that getting there is the most important thing in their lives. Professor and Writer are not so sure of it. They question the need for the zone, they even question its existence.I thought it was a bold film with a heavy message to put across.

Gotta say that not everyone will find this movie interesting or watchable. The film is one of those long slow affairs. Though I will say, if you enjoy a director who takes his time composing a beautiful image, and letting you enjoy it then you will most certainly like this movie. It’s the kind of film that stays focused on an image, on landscapes, on a moment so you can really absorb and transport yourself into the world of the film. Famed German director Werner Herzog (Fitzcarraldo, Aguirre: The Wrath of God) is known for doing this as well. Sometimes the camera focuses so much on a scene that it appears to be a still image, others times scenes feel like moving paintings. I guess it takes a certain level of artistic appreciation in order to enjoy this film. It’s a change of pace from your regular commercial films, where theres always action, special effects or dialog going on. Not so here. In Stalker the director wants you to feel like you are there with these three guys on your trek towards The Zone. Its a very slow paced film, and to top things off, its spoken in Russian, reading subtitles makes things a bit more difficult to grasp. What really matters in this movie is what characters are talking about and the themes they address, it is not a film made to impress with its action. Its more about what its saying.

Most of the film takes place in a forest, and amongst ruins. It appears as if the filmed the whole thing in an abandoned factory or something, cause everything seems destroyed, old, putrid, decaying. Yet all this ugliness can somehow make for beautiful imagery. The colors, the contrasts. Loved that about it. Lots of greys and blacks to accentuate the dull boring lives of the main characters.

Story behind this film is interesting. The director Andrei Tarkovski (who also directed the original Solaris) shot a lot of the film, and then had to burn the footage because he used the wrong kind of film. He almost gave up on the project, but decided not to. So he went and shot the whole film again! Interesting story: a lot of the cast and crew got sick or died after shooting this film. Why? Because they shot in a real abandoned factory, and there were dangerous chemicals which resulted in cast and crew getting cancer. The director himself died of cancer soon after. There were reports of strange bubbles in the water, they later concluded these bubbles were actually chemical waste from a nearby factory.

This movie has guts, and it questions weather humans need religion or not. Can you live without it? Who made it up? Is religion composed of fantasies made up by someone? Should it be eliminated or should it continue? Do some people need it to survive in this harsh world? Does it really give hope? Why do religious leaders decide they have to lead others to it? Like I said, very important issues. Interesting thing about the film is that it addresses these issues from various angles. Everyone gets their time to say what they think: the religious zelot, the philosopher and the scientist. After seeing this film I noticed where films like Cube and Dante 0.1 came from. Highly recommend it if you like visually striking and artistic films, and films with a philosophical angle.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Hi, welcome to my blog!

Hello to everyone and anyone out there reading. My name is Francisco Gonzalez (thats me on the left with the video camera in hand) and in case any of you might be wondering, Im a professional movie buff. I have been writing movie reviews for years now on many a movie web site. I've never written movie reviews on what you might call a professional level, though its been suggested as something that I should be doing by many of my friends. Ive always reviewed movies simply because I enjoy doing it, as a hobby. I enjoy letting others know what I think about a given picture. Ive been told I do it quite well. Its been years since Ive been doing this, so at the request of some of my friends (and for my own personal pleasure) I finally decided to start up my own movie review blog!

You might be asking yourself just what kind of movie reviews you might hope to find on this blog. Well, as the name of the blog suggests, Im a 'film connoisseur', which is really just a fancy word for a guy who knows a lot about movies. And I dont wanna pat myself in the back or nothing but I do watch a lot of movies! And I love writing, so I guess starting up a blog to speak about the movies I watch was only a natural step. I gotta write all this stuff I know somewhere!

Just so you know, I watch all kinds of movies. So on this blog you will find reviews for the strangest kind of artsy fartsy films (or 'high art' films to use the correct term) and the most commercial type of films or Hollywood films. From the sleaziest low budget b movies, to the classiest Oscar nominated flick. I also love horror and science fiction, so you will be seeing reviews for a lot of those types of films as well. In other words, this blog will not be limited to only one kind of film. Here I will be reviewing everything and anything that comes down my movie watching path. I just hope you guys will find it interesting or even useful somehow when it comes to choosing what film you want to sitdown and watch when youre ready to kick back and relax for a while.

So, without further ado, I leave you with my blog. My first film review will be up soon, wait for it!
See you around!

Francisco "Franco" Gonzalez


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