Alex Proyas: The '00s
Garage Days (July 18/03)
Though Alex Proyas does deserve some kudos for breaking away from the dark and sinister worlds of his first two films, The Crow and Dark City, Garage Days ultimately takes things too far in the opposite direction. The film - which follows the members of a fledgling rock band (Kick Gurry's Freddy, Brett Stiller's Joe, Pia Miranda's Tanya, and Chris Sadrinna's Lucy) as they attempt to make it big - has been infused with generous bursts of style, as Proyas inserts kooky camera tricks in the least expected places. It's that over-the-top sensibility that proves instrumental at consistently elevating the proceedings, with the filmmaker's gleefully over-the-top visual sensibilities resulting in a number of thoroughly compelling sequences (ie Tanya's LCD trip causes her to hallucinate her parents singing Rick James' Superfreak while attached to snake bodies). And though Proyas' visual hijinks were better served in his earlier movies, they are unquestionably the highlight of Garage Days. The real problem is that none of the central characters are terribly compelling, primarily because they've been drawn in broad strokes - ie there's the eager-to-please one, the sardonic one, the wild one, etc. Proyas (along with screenwriters Dave Warner and Michael Udesky) doesn't really take these people anywhere new or exciting; instead, the script puts the characters through the motions of a soap opera-esque storyline. The film's primary focus, aside from the band's attempts to get signed, is a love story concerning Freddy's attempts at wooing Maya Stange's Kate, even though he's currently dating Tanya, while Kate (who's pregnant) tries to decide whether or not to stick with Joe, who's sleeping with a goth groupie, etc, etc. It's kind of interesting, in a Melrose Place sort of way, but there's nothing here we haven't seen before in countless Aaron Spelling shows. But the film always remains watchable, mostly due to Proyas' direction and a killer soundtrack (featuring everyone from The Cure to Tom Jones to Travis), while the unfamiliar cast brings a suitable amount of enthusiasm to the material. Gurry, who spends most of the flick gazing upon his surroundings with wide-eyed wonder, comes off like an Australian Jimmy Fallon and proves to be an exceedingly charismatic leading man. Stange essentially acts as the emotional core of the film and does a nice job of portraying Kate's confusion and indecision. Interestingly enough, Garage Days spends very little time actually dealing with the central characters' music; then again, the whole point of the film seems to be that following your dream is more important than whether or not you're actually any good at your dream.
I, Robot (July 13/04)
As the trailers have generally indicated, there's not much in I, Robot linking it with Isaac Asimov's celebrated novel. Though an above average summer endeavor, the film's emphasis on action and Will Smith will undoubtedly disappoint fans of Asimov's book. Yes, Asimov's famed three laws are intact and referenced throughout the movie - however, that's about the only thing the two properties have in common. Directed by Alex Proyas, I, Robot stars Smith as Chicago detective Del Spooner - a cop with a deep hatred of robots (the film takes place in the year 2035). After the apparent suicide of a noted scientist (played by James Cromwell), Spooner begins to suspect that perhaps foul play was involved. As he delves deeper into his investigation, he comes across a robot who seems to have been imbued with emotions and the ability to dream. Named Sonny, the robot insists he didn't have anything to do with his master's death - though Spooner, not surprisingly, isn't convinced. While I, Robot is tremendously entertaining essentially from start to finish, it could've been so much more. The film's screenplay, written by Jeff Vintar and Akiva Goldsman, takes the emphasis off the science and puts it onto Smith's character. As a result, I, Robot's midsection is devoted almost entirely to Spooner's investigation - with the occasional action sequence thrown in for good measure. Though the movie is always compelling - the case involves robots, for crying out loud! - it's hard not to wish that more time had been spent exploring the day-to-day existence of these machines. The inclusion of wisecracks into the script - all of which emerge from Smith - is baffling, given the fairly dark nature of the story. Smith himself gives one of his better performances, occasionally embracing the bleak trajectory of the film's events though often falling back on his comedic persona. In all fairness, the barrage of one-liners is mostly limited to the film's first half; still, it's a shame Proyas was forced to shoehorn such moments into the plot. Then there's the thrilling conclusion, which features Smith and company battling a robot uprising. Despite the similarities to movies like The Matrix and the recent Star Wars installments, there's no denying that Proyas has done a marvelous job of integrating the myriad of special effects into the real-world antics of the various characters. Though the robots have clearly been rendered using computer graphics, they blend in seamlessly with their surroundings (unlike some of Lucas' recent creations, ie Jar Jar Binks). So, what we basically have here is a summer movie disguised as a sci-fi epic. On that level, it works.