Monday, December 15, 2008

Bite-Sized Reviews

I wrote the other day about how I'd been putting work in on the reviews I'd been planning. And in regards to that, I finished two reviews Friday night, and I'll hopefully be able to finish my Christmas review within the next week or so. But I decided to take a break from writing those full-length reviews to watch some of the movies I'd downloaded over the last few months. So why not do some quickie reviews?

The fun began on Saturday night with Resident Evil: Degeneration, the CGI-animated movie commissioned by Capcom to bridge the gap between Resident Evil 4 and the upcoming Resident Evil 5. So what did I think of it? As a ninety-minute video game cutscene, it works. It has everything you could want from the Resident Evil franchise: guns, zombies, a giant monster, blood, evil pharmaceutical corporations, and more blood. Plus there's the obligatory reference to Raccoon City and even a cameo (in flashback form) from Resident Evil 2 villain William Birkin. Alas, no Wesker and no Ada. Bummer.

I did enjoy the movie, though. It stays closer to the spirit of the games than the live-action movie trilogy, but I don't know if I would call Degeneration a good entry point for the world depicted in the Resident Evil games. If you've never played the games, you might not "get" the movie. But I liked it, and that's all that matters to me. So I'm giving Resident Evil: Degeneration three and a half stars and a thumbs up.

Next on the list was Tropic Thunder, a movie that I wanted to see this past summer and missed. I'm bummed that I'm just now getting around to watching it, because it's hilarious. The acting is what really drives a movie like this, and the cast are all on their A-game. Robert Downey Jr. completely steals the show, really earning all the praise he's been getting with his incredibly funny, over-the-top performance. The supporting cast is good too, and Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and Tom Cruise - none of whom I can really say I'm a very big fan of - are all really, really funny.

Tropic Thunder was a pretty big hit during its theatrical run, and it's been on DVD for a while. So I'm pretty sure every one who wanted to see it has by now. But if you have any interest in Tropic Thunder at all, head out to the local Blockbuster and rent it. Me, I'll give it four stars and my seal of approval.

So those were just the movies I watched Saturday night. I decided to keep the ball rolling into Sunday, and watched two more movies last night. Starting off the evening was Gran Torino, the new movie from Clint Eastwood. It isn't in wide release until January, which means that it won't be playing in my neck of the woods for another month. But I managed to find a screener intended for Oscar voters that had turned up online, so I figured, "why wait?" And after watching the movie, I was really blown away by just how gripping it was. I just couldn't turn away from the movie for more than a second. It's got its flaws, but it's otherwise fantastic.

I've heard a rumor that this might be Eastwood's last movie as an actor, and if that's true, he's picked a fine note to go out on. His character is a crotchety old racist who can't quite get along with his Hmong neighbors and is treated like crap by his spoiled sons and his disrespectful grandchildren, a character that Eastwood really brings to life. (And if my family was like his character's, I'd probably be in a pretty pissed off mood all the time too. I don't know if I'd use all those racial slurs, though.) There are also very good performances from Bee Vang and Ahney Her; I've never heard of either of them previously, but both of them contribute their fair share of the movie, and by the end, you find yourself liking them a lot.

But to sum this all up, I thought Gran Torino was a great movie. Once it opens up in your area, I'd totally suggest going to see it. I liked it enough that I might even have to go see it again theatrically. The final rating is four stars out of the usual five, and one huge recommendation.

The second flick on last night's double feature was Fido, a Canadian comedy that saw a limited theatrical release last year. The plot? It's the 1950s, and zombies have been domesticated and turned into pets/slaves. Hijinks ensue. Yeah, this is exactly the kind of movie that one would watch immediately after watching a drama about a racist who overcomes his long-held prejudices by defending his Asian neighbors from a gang. Right? All kidding aside, I'd heard a lot about the movie over the last year and a half or so. But when I got the chance to actually see it when it aired on the Sundance Channel last weekend, I totally forgot about it and missed the whole thing. But thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I finally got to see it, and I enjoyed it a lot.

For those of you still with me here, Fido is a parody of 1950s pop culture. From Lassie to bad monster movies to those crappy, overblown propaganda film reels, Fido hits all of those bases and has a silly go with it all. If you ever wondered how the ultra-saccharine world that Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon visited in Pleasantville would deal with a zombie apocalypse, this would be the movie for you.

The movie's writing is really clever and smart, but it's main drawing point is its cast. Though it's ostensibly an ensemble cast, the movie really hangs on K'Sun Ray and Carrie-Anne Moss. Their performances really hold the whole movie together. Ray is innocent and charming, which is exactly what his character needs to be, while Moss's turn as Ray's character's mother is warm and full of life. It might sound hyperbolic, but Fido is a better movie because of Ray and Moss. And I also have to say how much I enjoyed Tim Blake Nelson in his small supporting role. That guy is a hoot.

So yeah, I totally dug Fido. It isn't quite the best zombie comedy I've seen, but it's a cute movie that probably deserves a bigger audience than what it has. I'm going to give it a solid "thumbs in the middle" with three stars. Give it a rental, you might like it.

And that's all for the downloaded double features right now. I'll probably pick back up with more of them in the future. But for now, I need to get back into my work on "Super Saturday 2" and my Christmas review. Those things aren't going to write themselves, unfortunately.


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