Friday, December 30, 2011

Deck the Halls with Blu-ray Movies. Fa la la la la la la la la.

The day after Christmas may be the saddest day of the year. We spend so much time and money getting prepared for the holiday and then it comes and goes in a flash. You blink and you miss it. But if you are a big kid at heart like I am, there's one positive in all this. After Christmas is done you now have a bunch of really cool toys to play with!

As I've gotten older the items I find under the tree come Christmas morning have changed. At one time my packages were full of G.I. Joe, Transformers and Super Friends action figures. Now I get clothes, books, DVDs and Blu-rays. Oh who am I kidding, I still get G.I. Joes, Transformers and other cool toys and collectibles. Let's be honest. That will never change! This year I was fortunate enough to receive a lot of nice gifts, and included in that stack of presents was a little bundle of Blu-rays. Since I haven't written about movies yet I wanted to share my thoughts on the latest additions to my film collection.

Maybe you've haven't seen some of these and hopefully this will expose you to something new. If you have seen them, let me know what you think. Did you get any cool movies or television series for Christmas? Let me know in the comments.With that said, let's jump right in.....

Sucker Punch
This was actually a gift to myself. I ordered it online about three weeks before Christmas because it was ridiculously cheap. Now I'll be honest, the plot of this movie is almost non-existent. It's basically a two-hour music video. But it's friggin' gorgeous.

The story centers around "Babydoll," (Emily Browning) a 20-year-old institutionalized by her stepfather after the passing of her mother. Here she meets up with other female patients, all of whom are subjected to routine sexual abuse at the hands of the guards and orderlies. To cope with her situation, Babydoll retreats into an alternate reality she has created in her mind, using this fantasy world to devise a strategy for helping her and her friends escape.

From a visual perspective, Zack Snyder was the perfect director for this movie.  The alternate reality that Babydoll creates pits her against larger-than-life foes symbolizing the real threats she faces in the mental hospital. For example, the first time Babydoll escapes into her subconscious we find her fighting giant demonic samurais in a snowy Feudal Japan. Much like in 300, Snyder's use of music and slow-motion camera work adds to the epicness of each fight sequence. From a story perspective, I understand what the writers were going for, but it ended up being too much. They introduced too many layers of fantasy, culminating in an ending that tried to be clever but never really delivered.

While it's hard for me to recommend this movie on story alone, I want to stress again that it is beautiful to watch. I rarely buy a movie for visuals alone, but this one ranks at the top of that list for me. There is a sequence where our heroines fight off a horde of steam-powered, Nazi zombies during World War I! I could watch this sequence over and over again. In fact, I have watched it over and over again. It sold the movie for me. In addition, the extended version has a previously unreleased scene at the end that I really wish was in the theatrical release. It doesn't make-or-break the movie, but it is a nice character piece that helps flesh out one of the film's final moments. It's worth checking out.

The movie also stars: Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Carla Gugino and Scott Glenn. 

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole
My wife and I were fortunate enough to have seen this in movie theaters when it was first released and were blown away by it.

The film is based on the Guardians of Ga'Hoole book series by Kathryn Lasky. When the movie opens we are introduced to a young barn owl named Soren and his family. Soren's father is always telling his children stories about the legendary Guardians of Ga'Hoole, a group of warrior owls who are rumored to have saved owlkind from an evil threat. Shortly after meeting Soren, he and his brother Kludd are kidnapped and taken to the the base of Metal Beak, leader of the "Pure Ones."  Metal Beak believes that barn owls, referred to as Tyto owls, are superior to all others breeds and should rule the owl kingdom, enslaving anyone in their path. Soren, along with a few friends, escapes from Metal Beak's cave and sets out to find the Guardians to aide in freeing the other captured owls. 

It's no secret that the quality of animated movies has improved dramatically over the years, especially the visuals, but I still couldn't believe how real these owls looked. Three times during the movie I wanted to reach out and pet them, and I wasn't even watching the movie in 3D! That's how real the feathers looked. The Blu-ray copy is stunning and I would be happy sitting there watching this thing with the sound off. It's a visual masterpiece. Now I would be remiss if I didn't take a minute to applaud both the story and the voice acting. The plot is simple and moves quickly, but I was never bored. It has some really great character moments, a strong sense of humor, and the action sequences are well choreographed. And check out this list of voice credits: Hugo Weaving, Helen Mirren, Geoffrey Rush, Anthony La Paglia, Joel Edgerton, Sam Neill and Abbie Cornish.

I'd recommend this movie to any one. It's truly an all-ages film and will make a nice addition to any Blu-ray collection.

Repo! The Genetic Opera
Ok, so this one is NOT an all-ages film. But being one part rock opera and one part horror film, I think this flick is a lot of fun nonetheless.

Adapted from a play written by Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich, Repo opens in the distant future. We learn that the world was decimated by widespread organ failure, and from the ashes rose a biotech company called GeneCo, run by Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino). The company has cured the epidemic by offering organ transplants at a cost. Patients who are unable to pay for their transplant will find the organs being repossessed, literally ripped from their bodies by one of GeneCo's masked Repo Men.

I have to admit that this movie is not for everyone. First off, it's a musical. Not everyone is in to that sort of thing. I am. I've been trying to find something akin to The Rocky Horror Picture Show for years now, and while this movie is no where near as good, it has some of the same strengths. Second, the movie is very campy, and although the songs are catchy, and many are very well produced, a few lyrics are a little cheesy. Certain ones actually make me cringe even after repeated viewings. But for me, this is part of the movie's charm. And third, Paris Hilton sings. Not a lot. But too much.

The movie stars Paul Sorvino, Alexa Vega, Paris Hilton and, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame, Anthony Stewart Head. I have to say I love him in this movie. He has the film's best songs by far and is over the top at times, but in a good way. However, the award for most surprising cast member has to go to Sarah Brightman. I couldn't believe she was in this thing. But I'm glad she was.

Like any good opera, Repo combines drama, romance, betrayal and action. If you dig musicals, horror, and a little bit of camp, it's definitely worth a watch.

The White Stripes: Under Great White Northern Lights
I arrived late to The White Stripes party. The first song of theirs that I ever listened to was "Seven Nation Army," and although I liked it, I never made an attempt to listen to any of their albums in full. That changed about a year and a half ago, and the band quickly catapulted to the top of my all-time favorites list. Their sound is unique, it's raw, it's simple. I love their adherence to the "rule of three" in both recording (vocals, drums, guitar) and their design aesthetic (red, black, and white). When you hear one of their songs on the radio you know it's them instantaneously. No one else sounds like them. 

Under Great White Northern Lights is a documentary that follows the band on their first tour through Canada back in 2007. It combines footage of the band performing, doing interviews with the documentary crew, and scenes of Jack and Meg White interacting backstage and with fans across the country. Watching Jack and Meg White together alone is worth the price of admission. Much has been made of their relationship. More specifically, much has been made of their unwillingness to confirm the true nature of their union. Are they a divorced couple, brother and sister, cousins? They've never really said. And truthfully, who cares? The point is they make outstanding music together and that's all that should matter. 

Shortly after this documentary was released, the band announced that they would no longer be recording or touring as The White Stripes. As devastating as this news was, it shouldn't have come as much of a surprise. If you watch this documentary you'll see why. It's widely known that Meg White suffers from acute anxiety, making it difficult for her to perform in public. It's so severe, that she doesn't even feel comfortable doing sit-down interviews. If you watch any interview with the band, Jack does all the talking. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I've ever heard her speak. Her shyness comes across in a major way in this documentary and it's rumored that during the Canadian tour, which was cut short because of Meg's condition, the band decided that it was time to break up. Jack couldn't see recording if the band was unable to tour in support of those efforts.

As you can probably tell I found this documentary fascinating. The music speaks for itself, and is a must have for any White Stripes fan. If you don't considered yourself to be a huge fan, but are interested in the inner-workings of one of the most unique and mysterious bands of the last 15 years, you should check this out. Finally, just a little word of warning, if you love this band as much as I do, the final scene is heartbreaking.  

The Goonies

I'm going to assume that everyone who visits this site knows about, and has seen, The Goonies. So I won't give a plot description or any background. I will simply say that this has remained one of my top 5 movies since I was six-years-old. 

I just finished watching it and if I could only say one thing about it I'd say that this movie holds up extremely well. At no point does the film seem dated. This movie is fun. It has heart. I don't want to sound like an old fogey, but kids today are not like kids in this movie, and I think we are all a little worse off because of it. These kids left the house. They rode bikes. They had imagination. They sought adventure. There's something about The Goonies that affects me in a major way and I am willing to bet that many others feel the same. I don't think there has been a movie like this made since it's release in 1985. The closest we came was Super 8, but even that was a distant second. 

Everything about this movie works. The set locations, the effects, the story, the characters, everything. It also has the best crop of young actors a director could ask for. But as perfect as these elements are, there is one thing that puts it over the top: the performances by Joe Pantoliano and Robert Davi as the Fratelli brothers. Having just watched this last night I can honestly tell you that these two made me laugh more than anything else in the film. Their comedic timing is spot on and they get off these subtle lines under their breath at just the right moments. The kids are fantastic, and obviously get all the credit, but these two deserve an honorable mention. 

If you don't own this movie on Blu-ray you have to go an get it. It is superb in every way. And if you've never watched it, well, I don't know what to say about that.

Batman Begins

This was another pre-Christmas gift to myself. I ordered it along with Sucker Punch. Much like The Goonies, this one needs no introduction I'm sure. I've had this movie on DVD since its initial release, but I never went and picked up the Blu-ray. I watched The Dark Knight so many times that I almost forgot this movie even existed. When I saw it on sale I had to grab it.

What is there to say about this flick that hasn't already been said. It saved the Batman franchise for me, at least in terms of live action adaptations. Batman has been depicted in a variety of different ways since the character's initial debut in 1939, so while there is no one true version, I have always preferred the Frank Miller/Neil Adams take. That's my Batman. And thankfully it seems to be Christopher Nolan's as well. I couldn't have asked for a better depiction of the Dark Knight and his path to wearing the cape and cowl. When this movie finished I really didn't think it could be topped, and then The Dark Knight came along and completely blew my mind.

When all is said and done, and the smoke clears after the release of The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan's trilogy will be spoken of with hushed reverence. It will go down in history as the greatest film adaptation of a comic book property there has ever been. I had to have this on Blu-ray and now I finally do. So excuse me while I go and watch Batman Begins and The Dark Knight repeatedly until Summer 2012!


Tressina Bowling said...

I've kinda vowed to not watch any more Snyder films so you lose me on the first two, but the rest I say a resounding "HELL YES!" I LOVE The White Stripes so I'll have to check that one out.

Christopher John (@Christopher2814) said...

I get what you are saying about Snyder, but I have to admit that I loved Watchmen. Here's a book that everyone assumed was impossible to translate to film and I thought they did a great job. It was near perfect to me. It gets 4 stars for Jackie Earl Haley's Rorschach alone. But he's not a director where I'm automatically on board just because he's at the helm. I will say that you'd be surprised to know he directed Legend of the Guardians. I thought it was a joke at first, but you can barely tell it's him. It's just a straight up animated flick.

I can't wait to watch the White Stripes documentary again. I've seen it three times already and it never gets old.

Tressina Bowling said...

OK...I'll give him Watchmen, I also think it's the best interpretation of that book we'll ever get. I'll watch anything Jackie Earl Haley is in, he's amazing. So frakkin' pissed they cancelled Human Target.

Matt Seckman said...

I love the shout out to Sarah Brightman!! She's the reason I was excited this movie was made...then I saw the movie, which is great. Fun movie (like Rocky Horror) AND Sarah Brightman? Drool!!

You've intrigued me about the owl movie. I've hated owls since I saw The Fourth Kind, but maybe this'll help.

Christopher John (@Christopher2814) said...

Between Legend of the Guardians and Harry Potter I want to own an owl more than you know. I have a feeling these movies will be the closest I'll ever get.

CommunionNimrod said...

Anthony Stewart Head FTW! I love Repo. I LOVE him in Repo.
Great additions. ^_^

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