Archive for September, 2009

"Surrogate" has good concept, but spirals by end of film

Posted in Reviews on September 26, 2009 by Steve Mesa

Never has a movie take an incredible concept and muck it up through the film’s trailers and TV spots.
In the vein of the Will Smith vehicle I, Robot (where robots are subservient to the humans), Surrogates takes it a step further. In an alternate world, 98% of the world population is using “surrogates”, which are robots they can operate from the confines of their home in order to live out their wildest fantasy without fear or harming themselves. The other 2% of the population are part of a rebellious group known as The Dreads. They are opposed to the idea of surrogacy and are lead by a man known as The Prophet (Ving Rhames).
Somewhere in Boston, there is a murderer on the loose who is using a high-tech device called that not only the operations of surrogates, but liquefies the brains of their owners hooked to their surrogates. It is up to FBI Special Agent Greer (Bruce Willis), who must disconnect from his surrogate to find out who is behind the murders and why.
Surrogates allows the filmmakers to explore the concept of today’s robotic technology and the role-playing gaming world a la Second Life to combine a cautionary tale that is refreshing to the science fiction genre. In the pre-title credit sequences, there a certain amount of real news footage based on robotic technology. This becomes a platform for the audience to believe this could happen in the nearby future.
The acting in this movie is as stiff as the robots in the film. Bruce Willis is the only saving grace when it comes to the acting in this film. He needs to escape from the real world through his surrogate in order to cope with the loss of his son. His wife (Rosamund Pike) is addicted to new technology as she refuses to do anything that does not involve her surrogate. When is separate from his surrogate, his character has to get use to being in the real world as he stands out like a sore thumb in the world of filled with robots that look like supermodels. There is also a treat for Pulp Fiction fans as they are given a brief scene with the reunion of Willis and Rhames, who overacts and looks absolutely ridiculous in dreadlocks and a bushy beard.
The script is littered with several abbreviations and new terminology for this alternate world that sometimes it is hard to determine what the meaning of the words, whether someone is using an OD (overdrive device) or they are into “jacking” (the surrogate equivalent of getting inebriated).
The film may look an all-out action film, but it really feels like an episode of Law & Order with robots. The main focus on the film is the investigation of who is killing people and destroying their surrogates with an unknown device. At the length of 88 minutes, the movie feels extremely slow as many plot twists begin to unravel a catastrophic event that involve a million casualties.
The most frustrating thing about watching this film is that the majority of the action sequences that occur in the movie have already been exposed for a great length of time through the studio’s promotional campaign. Based on that, I would recommend that anyone who is planning to see or has an interest in this film should avoid seeing the film’s trailer and television spots. Otherwise, you are not going to miss much when it comes to the action in the movie.
Surrogates has a great concept from the get-go but it is more like a noir-film then a slam-bang action film with explosions and the only acting that is sufficient in this movie is Bruce Willis’ performance.
SURROGATES 2/5 stars

Damon and Soderbergh reunite to tell an ‘Informant’s’ tale

Posted in Reviews on September 18, 2009 by Steve Mesa

This year alone, Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic) has released two films that tackled the subjects of a controversial Cuban rebel (Che) and the oldest profession in the world (The Girlfriend Experience). With his third directional outing, he takes on corporation greed and capitalism in The Informant!
Following his supporting/ensemble roles in Soderbergh’s Ocean movies and a cameo in Che, Matt Damon gets method acting-mode by gaining 30-plus pounds for his role as Mark Whitacre, a former biochemist-turned-executive on the rise at Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), a agriculture business firm in Decatur, Illinois. In early November, 1990, Whitacre is coerced by his wife (Melanie Lynskey) to confesses to FBI agent Brian Shephard (Scott Bakula) that ADM executives has met with competitors to fix the price of lysine. Whiacre becomes a willing participant with the cooperation of Shepard and another FBI agent, Robert Herndon (Joel McHale), by wearing a wire and concealing a tape recorder in his suitcase to record the business meetings he attends with other ADM executives. When the FBI raids the ADM’s Illinois headquarters thanks to substantial amount of evidence of the price-fixing, the company reveals to the FBI that Whitacre has stashed away $9 million of the company’s money while under the supervision of the FBI.
The major reason to see The Informant is for Matt Damon’s portrayal of the charismatic, eccentric and sometimes awkward whistleblower. He is almost unrecognizable as Whitacre with an added layer of flab, a distracting porn star-lie moustache, an obvious pompadour-like hairpiece and geeky glasses to match his geeky wardrobe. Damon plays Whitacre as a victim to his downfall with a cherry perspective to any upcoming crisis that he is about to face. Whitacre would come across as being naïve and stupid, but as the movie progresses, Damon reveals his character to be more than meets the eye. There is no doubt that Damon’s transformation would get him attention during this year’s award season.
The film’s humor comes from Whitacre’s behavior his inconsistent pattern of not shutting up, and an inner voiceover that reveals Whitacre’s thoughts, thanks to Scott Z. Burns’ script. Whitacre’s inner monologue ranges from the curious (“How come older Japanese business men buy used little girls underwear?”) to the inane (“Do dogs know that their noses are black?”).
The script also reveals that Whitacre’s obsession with Michael Crichton novels and Tom Cruise’s character in The Firm creates an illusion of grandeur within himself that he believes that he is living the life of a double agent. Recognizing that himself, he dubs himself Agent 0014 because he is “twice as smart as 007”.
Aside from Damon’s performance in the film, another treat that The Informant provides is a plethora of cameos from several recognizable comedians that goes from the old-school (Tommy Smothers as the ADM chairman and Dick Smothers as a judge) to the new-school (Patton Oswalt as government official).
Marvin Hamlisch’s score goes hand-in-hand with the mood of the film and the actions that takes place on the screen. You get everything whether it is a score that is reminiscent of an old 1970s game show or a James Bond-esque music score featured during Whiacre’s “missions” for the FBI as agent 0014.
The Informant is Steven Soderberghs’ third and best film of the year that provides an amazing performance from Matt Damon, a script that is as nutty as its main character and an impressive score that synchronizes with the action and tone of the movie.
THE INFORMANT!: 4/5 stars

Two NBC shows for the price of one

Posted in Reviews on September 14, 2009 by Steve Mesa

The beginning of fall for the television/entertainment industry usually means it is time bring in new shows and bring back new shows to the major networks. Two established shows will be returning in September as the Emmy award-winning comedy series The Office returns for its sixth season on September 17th and the superhero action/drama Heroes returns for its fourth season on September 21st. With the return of these series’ approaching, here are the Blu-ray reviews of Heroes: Season Three and The Office: Season Five.
Heroes: Season Three
This season is divided into two volumes: Volume Three: Villians and Volume Four: Fugitives. This season has the same problem with what happen with last season the show introduces and re-introduces so many characters left and right, it almost hard to keep up if you are not following the show.
Following the cliffhanger at the end of season two with the shooting of Nathan Petrelli (Adrian Pasdar), we find out that the shooter is his brother, Peter (Milo Ventimiglia), who is sporting a scar on his face. We also find out that he comes from the future where everyone has superpowers and the indestructible cheerleader known as Claire (Hayden Panettiere) is hunting Peter down. It also turns out that Nathan and Peter’s father, Arthur (Oscar nominee Robert Forester) has returned from the dead to devise a plan in order to steal a formula that create superpowers and use it to create super soldiers, ala Captain America.
In Fugitives, Nathan betrays his friends and family when he heads the operation of capturing every person he knows that has superpowers and imprisons them. After Claire comes to the rescue, the group manages to make a run for it and become fugitives. The problem I have with the series you never know who is good or who is bad unless you have been keeping tabs on Heroes. You have Sylar (Zachery Quinto) switching from bad guy to good guy throughout the season and one of the most beloved character in the series, Mohinder (Sendhil Ramamurthy), turn into such an absolute heel and then back to being a good guy in the next volume.
The advantage that the Blu-ray discs have over DVD discs is that Blu-ray has more exclusive featurettes then the DVD discs. With Heroes: Season Three, Universal has U-Control, which allows viewers to view featurettes via picture-in-picture (PIP) without having to watch the series uninterrupted. “Heroes Connections” is an interactive feature used on the U-Control and keeps the viewers updated with profiles of the characters throughout the series. Each episode also has commentaries from the cast and crew of Heroes using PIP to watch and listen to the cast and crew reflecting on their scenes and other scenes. You also have the choice of turning it off instantly if you do not enjoy the commentary. “Alternate Stories” are three Web series that shown online during the season three. “The Recruit” follows the story of a female solider with superhuman strength. “Going Postal” is about a mailman being chased by the Company in order for them to exploit his powers. “Nowhere Man” features a character that was appeared in eight episodes of this season, the Puppetmaster, who tries to have a normal life working in a office without using his powers.
“Building Coyote Sands” takes a look at the building and shooting of the Coyote Sands Internment camp shown in episode 21, “1961”. Over the span of ten minutes, the crew built the set from the ground up whether it is shooting the present (a run-down site of the camp) to the past (the camp in its heyday). “Genetics of a Scene” is divided into four mini segments as viewers get an in-depth look at the production process on four different scenes shown in season three and how the precise methods it takes for the scenes to look realistic using the combination of visual effects, makeup and prosthetics. “The Superpowers of Heroes” shows the task of stunt coordinator, Tim Gilbert, by trying to translate the powers of the characters and designing them into stunts on the show that will work on-screen.
“The Writers’ Forum” allows to viewers to heart creator Tim Kring, co-executive producer Adam Armus and supervising producer Aron Eli discuss the storylines of season three, the character development that have been shifting throughout the show and the process of writing their characters and the plots of this season. “Completing the Scene” explores the different visual effect scenes throughout the season with a look at the tricks used on set and in post-production to create scenes requiring visual effects whether it is showcasing a superpower or creating a scene that takes place in the future. “The Prop Box” basically says it all: the room where all the props used in the show, past or present, and how some of the props are made.
Heroes: Season Three is somewhat similar with the previous season as it introduces and re-introduces too many characters to keep up with. It also has a lot of characters switching sides whether it is good guy to bad guy or vice versa. The special features have many interesting featurettes that would be interesting for anyone who wants to know how there are able to make the special effects and stunts on the show.
The Office: Season Five
In the adaptation of the acclaimed British BBC that has a documentary crew following the mundane 9-to-5 duties of the men and women at the Scranton branch of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. In the season five premiere, we find out that Jim (John Krasinski) proposes to Pam (Emmy-nominee Jenna Fischer), Dwight (Emmy-nominee Rainn Wilson) and Angela (Angela Kinsey) are having a torrid love affair behind the back of right after accepting a marriage proposal from Andy (Ed Helms) and Michael (Golden Globe-winner Steve Carell) might have a chance to romance a replacement HR rep, Holly (guest star and Oscar-nominee Amy Ryan).
After the first episode, things seem to be going downhill, beginning with Pam enrolling in a three-month graphic design course at the Pratt Institute in New York, leaving Jim all alone in the office to fend for himself. When Dwight and Angela’s affair becomes public, Andy and Dwight duel for the Angela’s affection, only for both of them to dump her. When the corporate branch finds out that Michael and Holly are dating, Holly is transferred to another branch and lateron, we find out that she has acquired a new boyfriend. When Michael finds out , he goes through moments of heartache. Through these moments, Steve Carell not only shines as a comedic actor, but as a dramatic actor. This bring more memorable moments as the series continues on, especially small scenes before the credits. In the episode “Stress Relief”, Dwight locks all the exits in the office and set a trash can on fire to demonstrate a realistic fire drill. This only causes panic in the office with Oscar (Oscar Nunez) climbing through the roof tiles, along with furniture and cats being thrown in every which way.
Exclusive to the Blu-ray edition of The Office: Season Five is the “One-Liner Soundboard”, which allows the user to string together one-liners and quotes from the show to create an audio mix that can be shared online with other fans of The Office. Flubs, giggles, outtakes and goofs are shared in the 14-minute gag reel in which I discovered that John Krasinski giggles like a little girl, which in itself is hilarious. The “100 Episodes, 100 Moments” features short clips from every episode from the past five seasons of The Office. “The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Presents The Office” a half an hour long and has the entire crew from the show participating in a question-and-answer panel that features Andy Richer as the moderator.
Deleted scenes in The Office are great additions on the Blu-ray as they were deleted because they did not have enough room for a half hour episode. Some of the stuff included in the deleted scenes is hilarious with jokes, physical humor, long talking head scenes and alternate takes. Included in the special features are television promo spots shown on-air during the Summer Olympics and the Super Bowl. A highlight from one of the promos is where Michael asks Dwight to hit in the groin because he is wearing a cup, only to be kicked in shins, punched in the stomach and hit by an orange on the throat. Dwight explains his actions and says “If you want a predictable fight, don’t fight me”.
The Office: Season Five has manages to give characters a purpose in life and then within the season, takes it away from them as fast as it was given to them. Carrell’s performance is extraordinary this season and it might earn him his first Emmy in September. The gag reel and deleted scenes is funniest feature to be included on the special features section.

‘Final Destination’s best kills

Posted in Best of... on September 1, 2009 by Steve Mesa

Opening on top of the box office with $28.3 million, the gory 3-D flick The Final Destination overcame the wrath of Rob Zombie’s Halloween II in the battle of the two horror franchises. For ten years, the Final Destination movies have took the premise of Death haunting unfortunate souls and turned it to a money-making franchise. The formula for these movies is this: person has premonition of a horrible accident, person freaks out that causes other people to follow him, accident happens and horrible things happen to the survivors. The excitement of the franchise is not the acting or script, but the elaborate Rube Goldberg-like ways that the survivors are killed off to make it look like an unfortunate occurrences or freak accidents. Here are the ten most elaborate deaths in the franchise, starting with the first victim in a long line of unfortunate souls haunted by the Grim Reaper.
Final Destination
Todd Wagner (Chad Donella)-The first one to be knocked off by the one who carries a sickle is very creepy because it is something that might happen to someone. Even though some liquid from a leaky pipe that follows your every movement. But that is what happen as Todd slip on the liquid and fall on a hanging wire in his bathroom, wrapping around his neck and strangling him to death in the shower.
Terry Chaney (Amanda Detmer)-Not only is this one of the most unexpected deaths in the franchise, but also one of the unexpected deaths of all time. As Terry is scolding his boyfriend, Carter (Kerr Smith, she makes the mistake of crossing the street backwards without looking. A few seconds later, her face and body has a meeting with an oncoming bus that just shows up out of nowhere. I would think that Alex’s (Devon Sawa) premonition of the reflection of the bus on a store front would have clued him in.
Billy Hitchcock (Seann William Scott)- After Alex and Claire (Ali Larter) saved the life of Carter from being crushed by oncoming locomotive in his car, Billy stands by the rails of the train and scolds Carter on staying away from him. Remember what happen to the last person that scolded Carter? A piece of scrap metal from what was left of Carter’s vehicle flies off the train tracks and brutally decapitated Billy through his mouth. Alex realized that in Death’s design, if someone is saved by another person, it skips the lucky person and moves on to the next person, which happened to be Billy.
Final Destination 2
Evan Lewis (David Paetkau)-This lucky bastard not only avoided dying in a highway pileup, but also won the lottery. When he arrives in his apartment after a spending spree, Evan’s apartment catches on fire after his microwave malfunctions after he catches his hand in a sink to retrieve a newly bought ring. After nearly escaping his fiery home, he climbs down an escape ladder and slips on some spaghetti he threw away earlier. In classic fake out fashion, the ladder comes close to hitting him in the face with a resounding “Oh Shit” from Evan. That is when the ladder finally penetrates through Evan’s right eye socket. He isn’t lucky no more.
Tim Carpenter (James Kirk)-After nearly choking on a toy fish in the dentist’s office, Tim walks out the dentist office with his mother to see Officer Thomas Burke (Michael Landes) and Kimberly (A.J. Cook). Unfortunately, he was not paying attention and decided to chase off some pigeons nearby. The flying pigeons caused a construction worker to drop a window pane on poor little Timmy, folding him like an accordion in all its spectacular gore.
Kat Jennings and Rory Peters (Keegan Connor Tracy and Jonathan Cherry)-It is not enough for people being dispatched in weird ways, Death also happens to literally kill “two birds with one stone”. After getting into a near fatal accident, the remaining survivors escape unscathed except for Eugene (T.C. Carson), who was sent to the hospital. Bitchy career woman, Kat, was nearly impaled by a plastic pipe and is stuck on the driver’s side of the car. With the paramedics on the scene, they use the Jaws of Life to rescue Kat, who is taking a nicotine break. When the Jaws of Life activates the car’s airbag, Kat’s head retracts back into said pipe and impaling her through the head. Kat’s lit cigarette falls from her cold, dead hands into a stream of gasoline that ignites an explosion which propels a barbed wire fence to unsuspecting stoner Rory. It takes time before anybody knows what happened, especially Rory. It is then his body slowly begins seperating into three places.
Final Destination 3
Frankie Cheeks (Sam Easton)-Wendy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Kevin (Ryan Merriman) narrowly escape the “drive-thru from hell” when a runaway semi crashes into Kevin’s truck, which caught between a convertible and a beer truck. The semi crashed into his truck, causing Kevin’s truck engine to propel into the head of the convertible’s driver. Unbeknownst to them, the driver was poor Frankie, who they were trying to contact in order to warn him about his upcoming fate. In the end, all Frankie got was a REAL bad headache that resulted in his brains being splattered all over the drive-thru window.
Erin Ulmer (Alexz Johnson)-You would think working at a Home Depot-like store would not have consequences on their workers. This unfortunate soul met her end at the end of nail gun after her boyfriend, Ian, is saved by Wendy and Kevin from falling sharp objects. This act causes Death to skip Ian and move on to the next person, which was Erin. One of the sharp objects propelled toward Erin, causing her to fall backward and headfirst into the nail gun. The nail gun gave Erin eleven skull-crushing piercings from the the back of her skull and penetrating through her cheek, hand, wrist, nose and eye.
Ian McKinley (Kris Lemche)-Still stunned from witnessing her girlfriend’s death, Ian look for wants payback and was planning to kill Wendy. His plan did not succeed as he confronted Wendy at their town’s centennial celebration and they were nearly get incinerated by stray fireworks. As it seem like the fireworks did not do the trick, the nearby crane with McKinley’s name on it (he was named after the town) surely did Ian in as it dropped down upon him, splitting his body in half.