Archive for December, 2009

Humans have become extinct in a post-apocalyptic world. The only humanity remaining exists in small manmade dolls infused with the only real remnants of life.

The Great Machine, which was to bring mankind into the future, instead sparked social unrest and led to the annihilation of the entire human population. In an attempt to salvage the legacy of civilization, a scientist gave life to a group of small creations. #9 (Elijah Wood) awakens alone in the scientist’s room but it is immediately obvious he is endowed with human qualities, such as pity, fear and compassion. He soon finds those that came before him: #1 (Christopher Plummer) is the group’s long-time leader; #2 (Martin Landau) is a kindly but frail inventor; #3 and #4 are scholarly twins that mostly communicate non-verbally with each other; #5 (John C. Riley) is a bold but kind engineer; #6 (Crispin Glover) is an artist plagued by visions; #7 (Jennifer Connelly) is a brave and self-sufficient woman warrior; and #8 (Fred Tatasciore) is a bully and #1’s enforcer. The “stitchpunk” creations must combine their individual strengths to outwit and fight the still-functioning machines that continue to seek to destroy all traces of life on Earth.

9 is an intriguing tale of hope as the power of community and belief that one person can make a difference against impossible odds drives #9 in a quest to defeat the mechanical beast that threatens their existence. On the other hand, #1’s constant negativity is a powerful discourager; his favourite response to #9’s resolve is “It’s too late.”

The animated steampunk-style is fascinating. The darkened atmosphere and tones of green and black throughout the entire post-apocalyptic world is stunning. The feeling that life has been almost entirely drained from everything is evident in everything they see and touch. In addition, the detail in the barren landscape with its debris and textures, and the difficulties it poses for the eight-inch creations to traverse through shows a lot of consideration.

Alternatively, the story elements are not very original. The most apparent contributor is The Terminator mythology and the rise of the machines versus humans. Similarly, The Matrix trilogy appears to be an obvious inspiration for the Fabrication Machine, which is a multi-armed mechanical beast that creates new machines and attempts to consume the stitchpunks.

Furthermore, the straight-forward plot is simple enough for children to understand but the situations the characters find themselves in often appear too frightening for a child to watch. Conversely, it is an interesting viewing for adults but the simplicity of the narrative occasionally makes the film somewhat dull. The soundtrack is a mix of Danny Elfman compositions and Coheed and Cambria.

The special features include: feature commentary with writer/director/animator Shane Acker, animation director Joe Ksander, head of story Ryan O’Loughlin and editor Nick Kenway; deleted scenes; “The Look of 9,” an in-depth look at the design, colour and texture of the film; “Acting Out” shows how live-action references helped animators with the non-human characters; “The Long and the Short of it” shows how Acker transformed an 11-minute short into a full-length feature; and 9 – The Original Short.

This film deals with the immigration of people from the former Soviet republic to Western Europe. Once they arrive, they begin a life not much better than the one they left behind, forced to engage in prostitution and other criminal behaviour.

In this case, Lorna (Arta Dobroshi), a young Albanian woman, married Claudy (Jérémie Renier), a drug addict, to obtain her Belgian citizenship. But the gangster who made the arrangements does not want to pay Claudy the divorce bonus and intends on using his drug use to cover the tracks of a murder; except before they can cause his overdose, Claudy enters rehab and gets clean. Lorna is set to marry a Russian and make some money of her own but his patience is growing thin and she needs to change her marital status fast.

The story is intriguing and maintains a level of dramatics that draws in the audience and keeps their attention, even when not a lot appears to be happening. However, the turn the ending takes is perplexing because there are so many more logical turns the story could have taken. Also, Lorna is constantly wearing red but her character does not fit the standard definition that the colour represents (i.e. murderer, harlot, etc.). By the end, you are so confused by Lorna’s actions that it pushes you right out of the picture.

There are no DVD special features.

Oscar predictions are swirling and one of this film’s stars is in the middle of all the talk.

Julia Child (Meryl Streep) is famous for changing the way people ate in North America with a French cookbook written for Americans in 1961. Julie and Julia shows Child as she arrived in Paris, desperately seeking a hobby to occupy her time while her husband Paul (Stanley Tucci) was at work. Not taking to hat making or bridge, Paul suggests she take cooking lessons at Le Cordon Bleu. Child flourishes despite the head of the school’s distaste for her. About 40 years later, Julie Powell (Amy Adams) finds herself in a rut, so she decides to cook her way through her idol’s 524 recipes in one year. The writer in Powell leads to her to record the ups and downs of each day in a blog.

Running a little over two hours, the movie feels a little long; however, the unessential parts are mostly the sections about Powell. Streep’s portrayal of Child is so energetic and engaging, Adams’ Powell tends to fall flat in comparison. In addition, Powell’s bland yet slightly neurotic personality is not nearly as captivating.

Streep is magnificent as Child, who was quite the interesting character. She’s likeable, funny and a little odd. The other highly enjoyable element in the film is the blissful, loving relationship between Child and her husband. Their relationship is supportive and they complement each other perfectly. What this means is both Streep and Tucci deliver wonderful performances.

Similarly, there is nothing actually wrong with Adams’ acting; rather, she is simply lost in the shadow of Streep/Child. Her scenes pale in comparison to Child’s and she is not nearly as captivating. Furthermore, her drab appearance detracts from her usually warm personality.

The special features include: commentary with writer/director Nora Ephron and “Secret Ingredients,” the making of Julie and Julia.

Assassination of a High School President is trying to be a lot of things but failing at all of them.

Bobby Funke (Reece Thompson) sees himself as an investigative reporter. When asked to do a fluff piece on the high school president, he instead opts to look into the theft of the school’s SATs. When the two stories collide, Funke is the only one with enough of the pieces to figure out the real story.

The events turn out to be parts of a giant conspiracy with cover ups worthy of Enron, entirely orchestrated by a group of teenagers. Had the entire thing been more over the top to correspond with the fantasy-type, oddball characters that populate the narrative, it would have been more acceptable. Instead the movie plays as a poor impersonation of Brick, a brilliant, gritty high school film noir starring Joseph Gordon Levitt.

The well-known actors involved create initial interest: Bruce Willis, Mischa Barton, Michael Rapaport and Melonie Diaz. However, their roles are small and Willis especially appears misused. The more amusing and simultaneously irritating characters are the so-called “usual suspects,” as they are both funny and useless.

The special features include: feature commentary by director Brett Simon and writers Tim Caplin and Kevin Jakubowski, in which they gush about their favourite moments but provide little real insight; and numerous alternative, extended and deleted scenes that contribute little to the movie’s experience.

If you haven’t picked up this soon-to-be animated classic, then definitely get this limited gift set. The striking film is only complemented by the supplements in this beautiful boxed collection.

Coraline just moved into a new house in a new city. She’s bored, her neighbours are strange and her parents are too busy to play with her. But the discovery of a small concealed door soon solves all her problems. The tunnel beyond the door leads to a life much like her own – only better. Her “other” parents are attentive, the “other” neighbours are amusing, and Coraline is happy. It’s a fantasy come to life; except that everyone has buttons for eyes. When Coraline discovers the truth behind the illusion, the fantasy begins to unravel and she must fight to be reunited with her real family.

As if the images of this picture were not captivating enough, the film is presented in 3-D. However, it’s not your typical extension of the screen gimmick; rather, the dimensions are used to effectively enhance the story world. It becomes much more engaging to watch and impossibly more attractive visually.

Henry Selick, who also directed Tim Burton’s untraditional Christmas picture, was definitely the best person to bring this story to the screen. Employing the same stop-motion animation techniques he used to bring Christmas to Halloween town in The Nightmare Before Christmas, he sets the perfect tone for this eerie fantasy. It is the biggest stop-motion animation production ever made and the first to be made in stereoscopic 3-D.

Neil Gaiman, author of the original book, is a magnificent storyteller of both adult and children’s narratives. Putting this captivating tale of abandonment and courage on the big screen is sure to impress fans and draw new admirers. The character and story-world Gaiman imagined are familiar enough to relate to but strange enough to be unpredictable and fascinating.

Coraline’s voice is provided by the ever-busy teen star Dakota Fanning. This is not her first voice job, nor will it likely be her last, because Fanning has the ability to express so much vocally. Consequently, the quiver in Coraline’s voice as she makes her stand sounds honest.
This is the perfect pick for anyone who enjoys animated films but desires an alternative to the usual sugary releases.

The DVD special features include: feature commentary with Selick and composer Bruno Coulais; deleted scenes; a “making of” featurette documenting how the stop-motion film was made; “Voicing the Characters,” which shows Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French and Ian McShane recording their characters’ voices; and a digital copy of the movie. The gift set includes: both the 2-D and 3-D versions of the film with 4 pairs of 3-D glasses; four limited edition postcards; and Getting Things Right, a book containing Selick’s insights into the inspiration, process and production of Coraline.

Before The Tudors‘ scandals were being aired weekly on television, Rome was revealing the juicy secrets of Cesar’s empire.

Four hundred years after the founding of the Republic, Rome is the wealthiest city in the world. It was founded on principles of shared power and fierce personal competition, never allowing one man to take absolute control. These foundations are now being destroyed by corruption and excess. After eight years of war, Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) and Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson) become unintentionally involved in the historical events of ancient Rome, including its never-ending love and betrayal. Rome chronicles a turbulent era that saw the death of a republic and the birth of an empire.

For those that enjoy epic period films, sitting down for a marathon of the 10-disc set will be no chore. The production value for a television series was outstanding and the actors are entrancing as they inhabit their roles, breathing life into such intriguing historical figures. The consistent ambition, planning and back-stabbing is captivating.

The acting is superb, most of them appearing to have stumbled out of a time machine. The relationship between McKidd and Stevenson is particularly poignant, as they struggle through their characters’ various strains and disagreements. Furthermore, the women are not only stunning, but convincing and incredibly strong.

The Blu-ray special features include: “All Roads lead to Rome,” an in-depth, interactive on-screen guide prepared by the series’ historical consultant Jonathan Stamp, and “Bloodlines,” an interactive on-screen guide highlighting the connections between the soldiers, senate and families of Rome (which can be quite useful as the complicated relationships can be confusing).

The Montreal Canadiens are celebrating 100 years in the National Hockey League. To commemorate the centennial year, a four-disc retrospective DVD box set was released.

A member of the “Original Six,” the Habs were founded in 1909 and have won 24 Stanley Cups to date, making them one of the most successful teams in the league. The collection includes rarely-seen footage and images from the team’s history and never-before-seen interviews with some of hockey’s greatest figures, such as Jean Beliveau, Guy Lafleur and Patrick Roy. The insights and anecdotes are sure to satisfy Canadiens fans and gain the interest of most any hockey fan.

The collection was produced in both French and English and contains more than six hours of content including:

• 100 Years of Glory (The history of the Montreal Canadiens from 1909-2009)
• The 24 Stanley Cup Championships (Legendary Performances)
• Dynasties and Rivalries (Good Guys and Bad Guys)
• The Immortals (The Greatest Players)

This is the perfect gift for your hockey fan – and if you’re willing to go the extra mile, there’s a special edition five-disc set that includes: a bonus disc with three featurettes (“The Mecca of Hockey,” “Untold Stories” and “The Legends”); one of three framed game-used pieces from the 100th Season (hockey stick, jersey or net); a limited edition centennial pin; limited edition centennial trading cards (Upper Deck 14-card set); and vintage frameable art featuring the 15 members of the Canadiens who have had their jerseys retired.