Mini Reviews (August 2009)
Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, The Cove, District 9, The Time Traveler's Wife
Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (August 2/09)
Though it hardly seems possible, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li ultimately fares worse than its eye-rollingly campy 1994 predecessor - with the lack of a compelling protagonist and the egregiously deliberate pace certainly standing as the film's most overt deficiencies. The storyline - which details Chun-Li's (Kristin Kreuk) efforts at saving her father from the villainous Bison (Neal McDonough) - boasts few attributes designed to echo the universe established by Capcom's infamous '80s videogame, as screenwriter Justin Marks' decision to place an ongoing emphasis on hopelessly generic elements ensures that the movie primarily comes off as a run-of-the-mill actioner (and a particularly dumbed-down one, at that; Marks utilizes flashbacks for things that have just happened). Far more problematic, however, is the entirely underdeveloped nature of the central character, with the viewer's inability to form any kind of rooting interest in Chun-Li's success effectively cementing the film's downfall (Kreuk's competent yet bland work only exacerbates such concerns). Only Chris Klein, of all people, manages to make anything even resembling a positive impact, as the actor (cast as cocksure cop Charlie Nash) offers up an impressively go-for-broke performance that almost feels like a parody of an action-movie authority figure - complete with a permanent sneer and absurd instances of tough-guy dialogue (ie "you don't want a ticket to this dance, Detective!") Director Andrzej Bartkowiak's notorious incompetence is certainly reflected in the movie's uniformly underwhelming fight scenes, with such moments drained of their energy due to the filmmaker's obsessive (and lamentable) reliance on eye-rollingly hackneyed cinematic tricks (ie slow motion, shaky camerawork, etc). It subsequently goes without saying that Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li is sure to leave most viewers checking their watches on an all-too-frequent basis, and one finally can't help but walk away from the film with a new appreciation for Steven E. DeSouza's failed take on the title (ie at least DeSouza tried to evoke the videogame's landscape).
The Cove (August 4/09)
As has already been made abundantly clear by other reviewers, The Cove quickly establishes itself as an important and emotionally draining documentary that holds the viewer in rapt interest virtually from start to finish - yet it's just as clear that the movie's exceedingly (and appropriately) brutal subject matter ensures that it's often quite difficult to sit through. Filmmaker Louie Psihoyos details the ongoing efforts of several activists - including former Flipper trainer Ric O'Barry - to put a stop to the annual slaughter of thousands of dolphins in Taijii, Japan, with a particular emphasis placed on the group's attempts at surreptitiously placing cameras in and around a hidden cove where the majority of the killing occurs. There's little doubt that Psihoyos does a consistently impressive job of infusing what could've been a dry documentary with bursts of cinematic flourishes, although it's clear that the director's decision to focus on O'Barry's admittedly fascinating journey from trainer to activist proves instrumental in initially drawing the viewer into the proceedings. The consequent atmosphere of suspense attached to the team's illicit nocturnal jaunts is far from surprising, as the viewer has become deeply wrapped up in the exploits (and hopeful success) of O'Barry and his ragtag group of environmentalists (and it certainly doesn't hurt that Psihoyos offers up a selection of genuinely detestable villains, including the memorably-named "Private Space.") The inclusion of a few admittedly less-than-enthralling digressions - as well as the rather needless application of thrilling music to certain sequences - ultimately proves easy enough to overlook as a result of the movie's myriad of exceedingly positive attributes, with the haunting climax effectively ensuring that The Cove ends on as unforgettable and downright devastating a note as one could possibly envision (ie there are images contained within the film's final stretch that will stay with the viewer for days and weeks afterwards). Far more impressive, however, is the degree to which The Cove leaves the viewer wanting to help the cause in some small way, thus cementing the movie's place as an absolutely essential piece of work that deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible.
District 9 (August 11/09)
Though it does boast a few admittedly impressive action sequences within its third act, District 9 suffers from an opening half hour that's almost oppressive in its unpleasantness - as filmmaker Neill Blomkamp offers up a pervasively low-rent atmosphere that's exacerbated by a total and utter lack of compelling characters. The storyline follows a twitchy bureaucrat (Sharlto Copley's Wikus Van De Merwe) as he attempts to evict thousands of aliens from a Johannesburg-based shanty town, with problems ensuing after Wikus accidentally ingests a foreign substance and is subsequently forced to go on the run with one of the outer-space visitors. Screenwriters Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell essentially drop the viewer into the movie's gritty environs with little by way of context, which - when coupled with Copley's competent yet far-from-sympathetic turn as the central character - ensures that one's initial efforts at wholeheartedly connecting with the material fall flat. Such concerns are compounded by special effects that look like special effects, with the almost cartoonish appearance of the various creatures certainly ranking high on the film's list of unconvincing elements. It's not until it morphs into a full-bore chase movie that District 9 starts to slowly-but-surely win back the viewer's flagging interest, as Blomkamp augments the brutal fight sequences with a frenetic pace that temporarily compensates for the inherently unappealing nature of the world in which the film transpires. There's little doubt, however, that the movie - even during its more overtly high-octane interludes - never quite becomes the intense, balls-to-the-wall thriller one imagines Blomkamp was striving for, with the final result a marginally entertaining endeavor that's sure to leave most viewers wondering what all the fuss is about.
The Time Traveler's Wife (August 12/09)
Based on Audrey Niffenegger's superb novel, The Time Traveler's Wife follows reluctant time traveler Henry DeTamble (Eric Bana) as he attempts to maintain an ongoing love affair with Rachel McAdams' Clare Abshire - with his penchant for disappearing for days and weeks at a time inevitably placing a tremendous strain on their relationship. It's clear almost immediately that screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin - best known for penning unapologetically sentimental flicks like 1990's Ghost and 1993's My Life - is primarily interested in exploring the more overtly maudlin elements within the source material, which ensures that the film will probably be received best by those viewers with a high tolerance for syrupy love stories (ie this is more The Notebook than Timecop). And although it admittedly does take a while to get used to Rubin's laid-back modus operandi, there quickly reaches a point at which it becomes virtually impossible to resist the film's unabashedly (and irresistibly) romantic sensibilities. The palpable chemistry between Bana and McAdams certainly plays a significant role in cementing the movie's success, as the performers' thoroughly engaging work ensures that the bond between their respective characters remains grounded and believable despite the inherently far-fetched nature of the premise. Director Robert Schwentke - along with cinematographer Florian Ballhaus - has infused the movie with a meticulously composed and impressively lush visual style that proves an ideal complement to Rubin's idealized (yet awfully low-key) script, with the inclusion of several genuinely moving interludes (ie Henry meets his 10-year-old daughter for the first time) consistently elevating the proceedings above its romantically-inclined brethren. And although one can't help but question the decision to jettison the book's note-perfect conclusion, The Time Traveler's Wife ultimately establishes itself as one of the most moving and flat-out indelible love stories to come around in quite some time.