Archive for December, 2006

27
Dec
06

Lady in the Water: Review

On a whim last night, I made a trip to Blockbuster (it’s been about a year — boy is that place losing business.) I was in the mood for a challenge and so I picked up M. Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water. The trailer I had seen was appropriately mysterious and other than the fact that Paul Giamatti and Bryce Dallas Howard were in the film, I didn’t know much else about it.

Before I hop into the review, I need to say a few words in defense of Night. I’ve heard folks say that he’s ‘gimmicky’ and that in person he’s very cocky with a big ego. I don’t know much about his personality, but I think folks should be going a little easier on him. I wasn’t a huge fan of The Sixth Sense or Unbreakable. Particularly for The Sixth Sense, I think it was a very mysterious film that created a unique and eerie mood, but it was also very overrated. However, starting with Signs, I really started to become a fan. For each of his films, he manages to capture that sense of tension and suspense that carry your attention throughout the story. This film is no exception. For his ability to create tension….truly unpredictable suspense (where you have no idea of what’s going to happen next) I think he should be commended.

The area where people often try to take stabs at Night are for his endings. I had to watch The Sixth Sense a few times to appreciate how much of a technical marvel it was to have the film work on two completely different levels — even after you understand the ending. But after that film, people started looking for the “signature revelation at the end” and were pissed if it didn’t come. And in most films, Night kept giving it to us. I’m no genius, but in The Village, I saw the ending coming after about 20 minutes into the film. But unlike so many others, I didn’t let that take away from my enjoyment of the film. Taking your focus away from the ending, I think the movie is exceptionally entertaining, suspenseful, and, at times, shocking. I think people should take a break from trying to judge Night by “the strength of the endings” and enjoy the journey that he’s taking us on to get there. We all know where Space Mountain is going to let us out — the exit is right within view. But does that take away from the ride that happens in between the line and the exit?

The last area where Night is incredibly strong is in his sense of creativity — and this is where I’ll begin to discuss this film, Lady in the Water. In each film after The Sixth Sense, Night has managed to create a science fiction story within everyday settings. He brings us intricate, creative worlds with detail and rules that quickly help us to get into the lore of his story. Lady has this sci-fi theme perhaps more than any of his other films since Signs. Bryce Dallas Howard plays an other worldly creature who enters into the lives of a small community of people. To say any more would be ruining the journey. Night establishes the fact that Howard’s character is from another world within the first 20 minutes of the movie and spends the next hour plus developing the plot and keeping us guessing. This development happens sometimes at a very slow pace, and I found myself being easily distracted and occasionally even bored.

Lady can probably be best appreciated by lovers of sci-fi or comic books, but if you’re watching an M. Night Shyamalan film, well….you should already have expected that! There’s a world that we’re introduced to that cause you to absolutely put on your imaginative cap. If movies like Lord of the Rings and The Matrix upset you because they force you to stretch the capacity of your mind to include this “other world” — even for only two hours — this isn’t the one for you. Also, people looking for deep drama and Oscar-worthy emotional performances should look elsewhere. Especially when Night himself is onscreen. (More on that later.)

There are some solid character actors in the film. Jeffrey Wright (one of my favorites and a truly underrated actor) plays a small but interesting role. Paul Giamatti plays the same guy that he plays in almost every film. For me, his lack of versatility in leading roles is almost detracting from his credibility at this point. For the past five or six films, he’s the nervous, on-edge, slightly overweight, talkative, self-conscious-but loveable guy. This film is no exception. (Taking a slight tangent, I’d really like to see Giamatti start to challenge himself and act in roles that require him to venture out a bit. Perhaps play a villain. Or a womanizer. Anything but the guy from Sideways again. We’ve seen that already.) Continue reading ‘Lady in the Water: Review’

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23
Dec
06

Miami Vice (2006): Review

If there’s one thing we all can agree on, it’s that the last thing that we need for a little while is another remake of a 70s or 80s TV show. It doesn’t surprise me to see all of the remakes considering the fact that creativity — true creativity — is becoming more and more scarce. I don’t need to run down all of the remakes of TV shows into full length movies, but suffice to say that it’s been about 95% bad — and maybe I’m being a bit charitable there.

That said, I kinda groaned when I realized that I went through my Netflix queue so quickly that Miami Vice somehow snuck to the top and had “Shipping Today” next to it’s title. Ugh. I just wasn’t in the mood to watch another remake. Somehow I found myself with some free time and the red envelope was staring at me. So I popped it in. And somewhere in between then and now, a funny thing happened — I was entertained. The movie is by no means perfect. But it definitely exceeded my expectations.

Michael Mann appropriately directs Vice — he served as Executive Producer for the original 80s drama. I’m a fan of some of his other films (particularly Thief, Heat and The Insider.) I should definitely interject here that I’m not a hardcore fan of the original TV show. I had a stint where as a kid I watched maybe twenty episodes, but even then I could see the formulaic approach as the show gained more and more success. But I think I’ve seen enough to be able to draw comparisons between this movie and the TV show.

The plot isn’t deep — but then again, neither was the TV show. You have two partners who’d just about die for each other. As a black and Caucasian vice detective team, Sonny Crockett and Rico Tubbs get to drive cool cars and have romantic encounters with hot women as they chase down foreigners who run drugs. That’s basically it. Both the TV show and the movie. In the movie’s defense, if this was going to be an effort that embodied the spirit of the original, it should follow the format of the show. It also borrows a lot of the cheesiness of the original, but it does so in a very enjoyable way.

Jamie Foxx (Rico) and Colin Farrell (Crockett) both have their own take on the characters they are portraying. Neither tries to imitate Don Johnson or Philip Michael Thomas, but their performances are pretty commendable. They play the characters seriously — no tongue-in-cheek shots at the original movie. They share very few on screen moments where they let the viewer see the bond between them, but Foxx and Farrell seem to convey the bond without words as they are always backing each other up. They even managed to put Detective Trudy in the show (originally played by Olivia Brown). In the movie, she’s played by Naomie Harris (who I thought was incredible in 28 Days Later.) The rest of the cast are your token bad guys — you know, the Columbian drug guy, the mysterious Asian lady, the Spanish guy who goes in between the real dealer and the runner, and countless other guys whose sole purpose is to go down when the bullets start flying.

Overall, the movie plays out like an extended version of the TV show. It’s centered around one big boss that Rico and Crockett are after (and get to use non-conventional means to take him down.) Somewhere along the way, love happens and Farrell gets into one of those “in too deep” situations. A lot of the movie is very predictable. But the execution is well done and by the time the credits roll, the feeling you’re left with is very satisfying. Continue reading ‘Miami Vice (2006): Review’

13
Dec
06

The PS3 and the Misunderstanding of Blu-Ray

386px-blu-ray_discsvg.pngI read articles and listen to podcasts from analysts in the gaming press regularly and the one annoying point that keeps getting raised is around the topic of Blu-Ray. You know, Blu-Ray — the billion-dollar technology which is supposed to be the successor to the current DVD format? For those that haven’t been keeping score, Blu-Ray is one of two high-definition disc formats (HD-DVD being the other) which is being backed by several companies — one of which is Sony. (And that’s another big misconception — BluRay is not a Sony-created standard. Sony is part of the consortium, but not the sole company pushing a standard, as they did with the Memory Stick or UMDs.)

The media debate for and against Blu-Ray drives in the PS3 has been pretty much split into one of two camps. The first camp (and the most popular these days) are preaching doom and gloom about the evils of Sony “bundling” this Blu-Ray technology into a gaming system, thus raising the cost to consumers. “We think Sony is making a big mistake here — they’re forcing customers to buy their new disc format and building it into the cost to consumers.” Quite often, these folks then bring the Xbox 360 into the discussion and point out how Microsoft is offering gamers the “choice” of a high definition gaming format for movie playback.

The second school of thought appears to be countering the first. They’ll speak from a business perspective and talk about how Sony is targeting the high-end gamer who wants the biggest and best. They mention how many people bought PS2s in 2000 and used them as DVD players as much as they did gaming consoles. They often talk about how Blu-Ray will win the war against HD DVD and that this bundling of Blu-Ray with a gaming system is a smart thing for Sony and for it’s partners.

There are probably some truths to be mined from both camps, but there seems to be one critical point that both are missing — and particularly the first camp. While Blu-Ray has been stamped as a “a high-definition movie format”, people don’t seem to be paying as much attention to the fact that Blu-Ray (and HD DVD) have the capacity to hold four times the space of a standard DVD! For movies, this is important (in order to have a movie run at a high resolution for two hours, you need sufficient space) but for gaming this is an eventuality that MUST occur! I recall the days when Nintendo was sticking to their guns with their cartridge based format — holding developers at ransom and making them squeeze their content onto 30 meg catridges. When the PS1 was released, developers were none too happy to sacrifice the speed of access in catridges for more room to put music, images, full motion video and other rich content on a 650MB disc. While there is some debate, it is believed that this is a big reason why Square — a long-time partner of Nintendo in the 80s and early 90s — jumped on the Sony bandwagon with exclusive content. Similarly, when developers made the jump from CD to DVD, many scoffed at the idea that game assets would top 650 MB and, for that matter 4.7 Gigabytes. However, reading a recent interview from the lead designer for Tecmo’s PS3 Ninja Gaiden Sigma indicated that Tecmo was already running out of space with the last Ninja Gaiden game. Continue reading ‘The PS3 and the Misunderstanding of Blu-Ray’