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Sat, 2005-Jan-08

I, Robot

When I first heard about this series of Isaac Asimov's short stories being adapted for the big screen I also heard about Will Smith's leading role. This didn't inpire me to watch it, and I felt I needed independent confirmation that I wouldn't cringe at some wild misintepreation of the three laws.

Having now seen the film myself, my educated opinion is that it is not a travesty. That point concluded I can now look at the film in its entirety.

Let's get this straight: We're looking at an action film. In fact, I would say that the three tiers of the film are action, Will Smith, and a hint of 1984's big brother and world gone mad with love for something broken. No, I haven't even read 1984. Slap me.

It's an interesting blend. I am not a Will Smith fan, but found the other aspects of the film enough to keep me engaged with the character he played. That character is Del Spooner, A policeman who hasn't trusted robots since a past tragic event. He doesn't trust how the robots think, and that mistrust is central to the plot of the film. A character from the book that should have been more useful than she actually was is Susan Calvin (played by Bridget Moynahan). She is a robot psychologist who really is a bit of a wet fish in this intepretation, although it is difficult to see how she could have been better used without giving away too much of the plot in the early stages of the film.

Atmosphericly, the tension builds nicely throughout to a high-flying and enjoyable climax. My biggest complaint overall within the first fifteen minutes of the film's end was that the resolution itself was a little too audience-friendly.

Ultimately, the link between this work of the theatre and Asimov's books is fleeting and subtle where the link can be made at all. The main points that do survive are the laws of robotics themselves, and a few points that come out late in Asmiov's Foundation series of books rather than in "I, Robot" itself. "I, Robot" is a series of short stories rather than a single narrative but the film adaptation is a nice summary of the different worlds that exist in these and other Asimov narratives.

I've been thinking about the connections a little since I saw the film on DVD come New Year's Eve (I'm a party animal). I may start tending towards spoilers at this point so tune out if you don't want any major plot points revealed.

Hmmm... now that I look up specific stories from the compendium I find that the stories prompted by scenes from the film actually have come from other Asimov stories. I believe they came from "Robot Dreams" and "Robot Visions". I don't seem to have either volume in my library at present but I can recall the following:

Anyway... I've spent far too much time rereading robot stories while pretending to write a review, so I'll sign off now. To round it out I'll leave you with this final link: be sure to read the fliers. Repeal the second law! Oh, and my final score? I'd give it an 8/10, but maybe that's my supressed Asimov fan-boy youth speaking.


Thu, 2004-Dec-30

The Incredibles

This is the third film in my review series, and hopefully this will round out the style of movie I prefer and what I look for in the mind of the gentle reader.

Byron Ellacott writes "Best. Movie. Ever.". I tend to agree.

I really can't think of anything negative to say about this film. The animation was excellent. Clearly they had the capability for photorealism in a number of scenes and had to pare back the level of detail to maintain their preferred level of characture. This worked wonderfully. The storyline was classical, but applied very nicely to the premise. The premise itself was lovely and carried the freshness that Pixar have become known for.

I'm somewhat of a Pixar fan. I enjoyed the two Toy Story movies. I quite enjoyed A Bug's Life. Monster's Inc was not at the top of my list of favourites, though. It was too cutesy. I'm greatly relieved to see they've take a different turn with this film (although the opening pixar short might lead to to beleive otherwise). While this film had a baby to make use of, it didn't become the centre of attention. The two children in the story were well portrayed for their supposed ages and talents. The parents were both nicely played. Even the super villian was cleverly-conceived.

This isn't shakespere, and the motivations of some characters were left largely-unexplored and potentially unbelievable. On the other hand, the central characters were no more infallable than you would expect from this kind of film. I give this one 10/10. Any failings are weaknesses of the genre, not of this specific film.

Thu, 2004-Dec-30

A Series of Unfortunate Events

As a primary-school library technican my wife has read and is a fan of this series of books by Lemony Snicket. She describes it as being "for budding goths everywhere". That is an apt tagline, and this sweetly humourous film lives up to the books nicely.

A Series of Unfortunate Events the film actually covers the first three books in the literary series. It ties them together quite nicely as newly-made orphans see their guardians cut down one-by-one as an evil uncle tries to steal their inheritance. Don't bring the younger children to this one. Although there is no gore on-screen two murders are portrayed sensitively but directly. Some scenes may be a little too much.

The shining light of this film is the performance of australian Emily Browning as Violet. She plays the role perfectly, and clearly knows how to act. The acting of her on-screen brother Klaus (played by Liam Aiken) is not quite so good, but this is only obvious in an early monologue. The directing of Klaus, Meryl Streep as Aunt Josephine, and even Jim Carrey as Count Olaf is sublime. Despite Jim hamming his opening monologue slightly he is kept in check admirably thereafter.

Once past those early difficulties and having bought into the movie's style you can expect to enjoy the film immensely. It is well-constructed and I found my disbelief suspended nicely throughtout the latter stages of the film, until the very final scenes. I give this one a 9/10.


Thu, 2004-Dec-30

Phantom of the Opera

I have seen a few movies over the last couple of weeks, so I'll do a quick write-up on each in separate blog entries

I didn't go to this musical in the best mindset to see a musical. I was somewhat cynical about it from the start. Hearing Carlotta's (Minnie Driver) opening set didn't shift me from my mood, but it wasn't supposed to. I only really woke up when Emmy Rossum as Christine lit up the stage. At that point I was engaged and began to really enjoy the film.

It's a musical, and let's face it: If the music doesn't sweep you away the lyrics and the plot surely won't. A musical is a story read to the emotional inner child that doesn't care whether or not the show is something that should be worth enjoying.

The point where the Phantom (Gerard Butler) began to sing was where my inner child first really cringed. He doesn't have the voice for it. He doesn't have the acting skills for it. It just went on, and on. Let's just say that my emotional connection to the character wasn't being reenforced. Emmy's acting in the scene didn't help, either. In my opinion the whole exchange was poorly conceived, and terribly directed.

But another high-point: The letter opening scene. This is where Minnie shone to the point that I consider her contribution to the movie to be the best of any actor. My second choice goes to Miranda Richardson (Madame Giry) and Emmy would rate at best a third, despite her perfectly lovely singing voice.

In the letter opening scene we see chorus work done well. It was lovely and light-hearted as well as serious and foreshadowing. If the rest of the film had lived up to the quality of this scene I'm sure I would be rating this at around the eight out of ten mark.

As it was, the next (or nearly next?) scene was "Masquerade". Awful. Just awful. I wanted it to end. Not only had they decided to interpret the "robot" as a classical dance step, but they decided that blair-witch-style camera work would help enhance the audience's thrill of the night. No. That really doesn't help. That left the music alone to carry the scene, and let's just say that I don't consider that score one of man's greatest accomplishments.

So it was all downhill from there. Perhaps I was just lagging due to the late screening, but I did feel the rest was overly-long and uneventful. Nothing else occured that recaptured the emotional appeal. This left me wondering about the silly caracatures that made up a cemetry's monuments. It left me cringing at the obvious use of CGI to make the phantom's cloak move idiotically on the roof of the opera. It left me hoping that my companions (my wife and brother-in-law) were also critical of the film so that we could bag it together.

Overall, I'd probably still give it 4/10. The directing was inept. The casting was poor for two of the three leads. The music was familiar and broadly acceptable. The lyrics were best not thought about too much lest one lose one's suspension of emotional disbelief. The props and scenery were often lovely, and the supporting cast was a major saving grace of the film. If you're picky you won't enjoy the film. If you're not, you may find it strikes you in the right mood.