Saturday, November 24, 2007

Need-More-Wonder Emporium

A children movie about a magical toy store, Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium appeared to already has the right ingredients to charms its viewer, very much like Willy Wonka's chocolate factory in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. After all, what more could children love as much as chocolate if not toys?

But that is exactly what they failed to do, imbueing enough wonder into the film.
The film actually has a promising start. Hoffman's Mr Magorium, being the over 200 years old magic character he is, was delightful and likable and naturally said the strangest thing. His toys store has been around for a long time and he was planning to pass it down to store's manager, Molly played by Natalie Portman. To faciliate this transfer, the accountant Henry was hired. But when the magical store itself learnt of his planned departure, it began to throw a temper tantrum. Colours on wall desaturated and toys started to misbehave. It is up to Mr Magorium's as the fatherly figure to the store to persuade the store to accept Molly as the new owner and to Molly to retain the magic in the store.
Charming story this. If only the writer knew where to focus the story on. Everything that seems so wonderful and creative about the movie appeared to dwindle as the movie progress. I would prefer to see Mr Magorium training Molly to take over the store and using the opportunity to showcase more magical things that happened within instead of Molly trying to convince him not to depart. The direction got a bit too serious, even when the writers tried to make it light. In the end. they tried too hard to write a meaningful story that they neglected the magic. Some adults seems lost to what story the movie is trying to tell, I doubt the children will get it.
Children's movie does not always need to tell a meaningful story. The writers need to let go of reality and let their imagination just take over. I read a children book off the shelf of a bookstore about a boy taking a bath and before long, he was joined by many wild animals one by one. I admitted I don't remember the details much there is at least an elephant and a whale in his bathtub before he is done. In the end, the book never suggested that it was all just his imagination and it was an absolute delight to read it.
Yes.. the playful cardboard dinosaur was funny and the hug-hungry sock monkey was totally adorable. That were exactly what the movie need, in extra large helping. All that is sadly wanting in this movie.
But not all is lost. There is one scene in the beginning of the film when Mr Magorium told Henry how very long ago, he fell in love with a pair of shoes and bought enough pairs to last him a lifetime. That is how he knew his time is up because he is now wearing the last pair. Of course that doesn't make sense but there is something so charming about it that it will probably be the one thing I will remember about the movie in years to come.
Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium could certainly do with a little more wonder.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Of Hero and Liar

Look at the movie pass above. Apart from Kee Lin is too broke to pay for movie that is why he only watches free movie nowaday, what else can you tell?
Is anyone aware that the entire movie is rendered in CG? Looking at the promotional image, I never suspect a thing. Something doesn't quite looked right but I never once suspect the movie isn't a live motion picture.
I was told that Beowulf is a Scandinavian mythology but really, all those praises to Odin is already a dead giveaway. The movie begins with celebration of victory in war and of the new hall built. This celebration is cut short when a monster, a giant in the form of a very deformed human attack and killed most of the men there. When King Hrothgar challenged the monster however, it chose to flee. Out of sorrow, the new great hall is sealed and the King offered as reward to anyone who can kill this monster Grendel, half of all the golds he owns. Beowulf arrived and slayed Grendel, not realising that its mother is an even greater terror.
The story and script is acceptable but after the first confrontation between Beowulf and Grendel's mother, it kind of lost its direction. Much is not explained in the movie with the biggest question of all, why did Grendel's mother did what she did? She did not kill the killer of her child but instead bear another with him and gave him glory as king and warrior, undefeatable as long as she deems fit.
Isn't she trying to avenge Grendel's end?
I have no problem with how the story ends however. It was actually quite apt. How else can it ends? That's the way folklore goes.
Though not exceptional, the script is provoking enough. Fans of Neil Gaiman will still be disappointed as it somehow lacked the depth that he well known for. Still, the speech he gave to a defeated invader on why he cannot be killed is pretty powerful. It was also interesting how he tried evading Hrothgar's direct question on whether he kill Grendel's mother. I also happen to recall a scene when he explained how he lost a swimming marathon because he got caught up in a battle with a sea monster when in fact he was seduced by a mermaid.
Damned Beowulf is horny and a liar!
Since most of us were fooled by the poster of the movie, it goes without saying that the graphic was what really stood out in the movie. Due to its realistic factor, it will bound to draw comparison to Final Fantasy: The Spirit Within. The difference though, is that the color in FF:TSW is more highly saturated and the characters have more beautiful hair. I recalled right away that in the movie Virtuocity, Denzel Washington had his entire head scanned so the special effect team may render him likeliness and filmed all his stunt digitally, which is what is being done to the entire film here. To compress the size of the file however, they scraped off some unnecessay details.
Herein lies the problem with CGI. Making everything in full detail takes too much time and space so the programmers tend to cut corners somewhere, ie the supporting characters and the extras. Most of the men in the movie are probably fully rendered digitally and thus, lack the realism compared to the main characters. Even the stars were rendered in different level of details with Angelina Jolie's character as Grendel's mother the strongest while John Malkovich's Unferth the weakest. Unferth was almost unable to make any expression whatsoever. And with the raw data of the highly detailed rendition of Jolie, the programmers are now free to render her anyway they want. Tsk.. it wasn't so difficult to understand how they list their priority after all.
But why make it a CG? Why can't they just film it? With a script like that, the film would be made better when we can see some real acting. Not Oscar worthy definitely but live would still be better.
In the end, this is a movie that leave much to the viewers' own imagination. Though it has good monster fight scene supported with a decent script, it doesn't really has the substance or depth. Falling short from being an epic, most viewers were probably more interested in seeing Angelina Jolie.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Eat Your Vegetables, Shoot Your Load

"You know what I hate the most?"
Watching a crappy movie like Shoot 'em up and actually found myself enjoying it.

Shoot 'em Up is a satire of action noir movie. The story begins with Clive Owen's Smith rescueing a pregnant woman from a group of assasins. The woman died and he ran off with the baby, intending to keep him safe and finding out the reason for the assasination.
Everything in the movie, from the people to the words to the action are either vulgar or downright ridiculous. Smith actually delivered a baby in the middle of an action in the beginning of the film and later does the same in the middle of making love to Bellucci's Donna.
"Talk about shooting your load", he said.
The movie could easily become a very bad B-graded movie except that it was evident that everything incredibly stupid about the movie is actually quite deliberate.
As if to show that this is not just a mindless action film, a lot of twist and turn are thrown in, wrapping the film in a tight conspiracy theory. Both the hero and the baddy, Hertz, also demonstrated intelligence in the pursuit for truth for the former and in locating his target for the latter. Yes... the logic used in their "investigation" is silly, I admit. Hertz located Donna because he realised that the baby needed to be fed and started looking for all lactating prostitute in the city. Smith discovered who the baby's real father is when he noticed an article in the newspaper he was using as diaper for the baby.
Clive Owen, both as an actor and as the character Smith in this movie is without a doubt the reason why this movie is so fun to watch. He is perfect for such kind of role isn't he? The dark noir type of tough guy in trench coat with a haunting past who smokes heavily to drown away his sorrow. Except for the unique twist that he doesn't smoke. He eats carrots. It is, after all, a healthier alternative, not to mention that he can used it as a weapon, or to reach a gun just beyond his grasp. Eating carrots never looked so cool before.
Another thing that most of us, or at least I can relate to is how much he hates road bully. Smith drove up to the car and forced it off the road. A very bad influence, I always wanted to do that. Most, if not every character such as the one he played here is righteous but his choice of what to be righteous about is really fresh.
With Smith disposing all the assault thrown onto him, including the 50 henchmen who ambushed his home, Hertz asked a very valid question.
"These men suck... or is he that damn good?"
Pretty much what crosses our mind in just about every action movie we saw. The heroes are good but the goons remained goons... idiots.
The writer director went to great length to portrayed Smith as a very exceptional and extraordinary man. His deductive reasoning is (silly but) sound and his skill with guns has to be seen to be believed. Actually it was still unbelievable even after you seen it but that was again, quite deliberate from the director.
I stepped into the theater hoping to catched a movie that would not assault my mind - I was too tired to think. I did not expect one who would tickle my senses the way this one does. An enjoyable movie as long as you are open to the idea that is is a satire. All those punny one-liner alone is enough to leave you in stitches. Leave your brain at home, just enjoy the ride.

For the record, I still rated Hot Fuzz as the classier and more intelligent satire to action movie.