random reviews, recollections & reminiscings

Monday, March 20, 2006

REEL REVIEW: Eight Below (2006) ***

Eight Below (2006)

written by: David DiGilio
(inspired by the screenplay for the Japanese film 'Nankyoku Monogatari' or 'Antarctica' as it was named in the U.S release. 'Eight Below' is the fictional re-interpretation of the true events of the 1958 Japanese expedition).
produced by: Patrick Crowley, Doug Davison, & David Hoberman
directed by: Frank Marshall

How can you not like this movie? Okay, I know. Not a very objective way to start a movie review. But, just about any movie that is about the Arctic or Antarctic should be appealing to everybody. Why? Cuz it's about a place that most people have never traveled to. We're talkin' South Pole people! A truly incredible place to be much less survive in as we all saw in last summer's Oscar "March of the Penguins." Everything about this environment is amazing, intriguing, and dangerous.

I'm sure many people see the poster or commercials for a movie like this, see it's Disney and immediately discount it. Part of that is Disney's fault because at the same time in theatre number 6 in the same multiplex you'll find Disney's "The Shaggy Dog", how pathetic.

Alas, that's another blog. The other fault lies in the moviegoer that sees this as just some kiddie flick. When I first saw the trailer for this last fall, it really had me. I wanted to see this. It looked dramatic and exciting....and indeed it was.

Dr. Davis McLaren (Bruce Greenwood) has come around the world to the most isolated place on Earth - Antarctica - to investigate a meteorite. To do so he's going to need professional Antarctic guide Jerry Shepherd (Paul Walker) and his crack team of sled dogs to get him across the ice. But when dumb McLaren is hurt in an accident, he and the rest of the field team must be evacuated, leaving the dogs to fend for themselves until the weather clears and they can be rescued.

Sure, at first sight it looks like it may be a fun but slightly sappy man-and-his-dogs story, yet "Eight Below" quickly evolves into a well-crafted wilderness adventure reminiscent of Disney's heyday as the dogs roam the naked Antarctic wastes, trying to survive. "Eight Below" moves back and forth between the dogs plight and the lives of the human survivors back in the States, particularly Shepherd, wracked with guilt for leaving them behind.

The sled dogs in Walt Disney Pictures' Eight Below

And that's where the real strength and enjoyment of the movie lies, with the dogs. Their journey is compelling and heartfelt whether its, hunting for food, playing with the Borealis, and in one particularly exciting sequence, fighting with a hungry sea leopard over food. It covers quite a bit of familiar ground, but it does so very well. It works best by focusing on the dogs, all eight of them (hence the title). There's dumb but hard-working, red-headed Buck, the twins Dewey & Truman, the maternal Alpha leader Maya, young Max, poker-playing Old Jack, silver-maned Shadow, and rebellious Shorty. They're all adorable and convey a wide range of emotion. Yes animals, especially dogs, feel and show emotions such as loyalty, anxiety, affection, hunger, and anger.

Shepherd never stops thinking about them, but there's not much he can do. He visits McClaren, whose research financed the dogsled expedition, and he hangs out at his mobile home on a scenic Oregon coast, and he pursues a reawakening love affair with Katie (Moon Bloodgood), the pilot who ferried them to and from the station. To give him credit, he's depressed & brokenhearted, by the thought of those dogs chained up in the frigid night, but what can he do? Meanwhile, the subtitles keep count of how long the dogs have been on their own which is from sometime in January to sometime in July. Yeah.

The movie may seem kinda long for what is given but I think it adds to the feeling if the dogs long endurance. It gets a bit sappy towards the end as earnest movies often tend to do and as this movie should. It's emotional, I shed a tear or two but then again I cry every time I watch E.T. The trip is worth it though, creating a fine piece of wilderness adventure, a genre I grew up with and has languished in recent years.

Could the dogs (six huskies and two malamutes) really have survived unsheltered for five months, scavenging for themselves through an Antarctic winter? I learned from imbd that "Eight Below" is inspired by a Japanese film, itself based on real events, but in the 1958 "true story," seven of nine dogs died. Still, the film doesn't claim to be a documentary, and the story, believable or not, is strong and involving. It's the stuff about the humans that gets a lil thin but I can deal with it because the dogs really pull the movie. Pum intended. However, when Shephard appeals to Dr. McClaren, one would think he'd exert himself a little more to save the dogs, since they saved his life. (How he gets into trouble and what the dogs do to save him I will leave for you to experience; it provides the film's most compelling moments.)

I've heard a lotta people scoff at the acting abilities of Paul Walker. Maybe they see him as just another pretty boy. From the interviews I've read with him and from what acting I've seen him in....I like him. Sure, he's a hunk but he strikes me as one of those guys that other guys would like to kick it with while the girls would like to just stare into his blues eyes. I'm looking forward to see what he could do under the direction of Clint Eastwood later this year in "Flags of Our Fathers."

Director Frank Marshall is mostly well-known for his decades as a producer. He's worked on many memorable hits such as the Indiana Jones & the Back to the Future trilogies as well as the recent Jason Bourne movies with Matt Damon. When I heard he directed this it locked me in. I trust him and he did not let me down at all. Cinematographer Don Burgess did a beautiful job with the overall look. The music by the always great Mark Isham is quite noticeable mainly cuz in the scenes with just the dogs there's no talking. Just three who made this movie seem so much more than another sad, tired Disney remake. This movie succeeds on another level as well. Those of you, like my wife, who aren't "dog people," will find as much pleasure in this movie as those (like myself) who are. When we got out of our seats my wife said to me, "I want one."

"Eight Below" breakdown
In the Future with Paul Walker
interview with Frank Marshall about his various projects

Sunday, March 19, 2006

REEL REVIEW: V for Vendetta (2006) ***

V for Vendetta (2006) freedom poster 3

Rated R (for strong violence and some language.)
2 hrs, 12 min.
written by: The Wachowski Brothers (based on a graphic novel by Alan Moore)
produced by: Grant Hill, Joel Silver, Andy Wachowski, & Larry Wachowski,
directed by: James McTeigue

Back in 1987, I remember seeing the original comic book issues of V for Vendetta at the comic shop I would frequent in high school. I didn't know too much about Alan Moore's 12-issue maxi-series except that I thought it was mysterious and had some cool art by David Lloyd. I recall seeing a cover of one particular issue worm's-eye view looking up a brick wall and seeing a dark figure with a flowing cloak running along or jumping off the wall. I wanted to know who that person was. I found out he was a British vigilante/freedom fighter named "V" and then I wanted to know what his "Vendetta" was. It appears Evey Hammond feels the same way.

The year is 2020. America is left decimated by a plague. London is under the totalitarian grip of a police state government that enforces nightly curfews complete with surveillance cameras, sirens, and loud speakers on every corner. The local news is cleverly spun to make the citizens feel rest assured that "England prevails." Every part of the media is controlled and every event is spun for the benefit of keeping the public in fear and the government in power. Until one man decides to fight back. He is the shadowy figure whose identity is unknown. He wears a mask frozen with a permanent smile resembling Guy Fawkes. He introduces himself to Evey (Natalie Portman) one night in an alley after he rescues her from a gang of police agents known as "Fingerman", her would-be rapists.

He is known only as "V".

As much as Eve is scared of V (Hugo Weaving) she is also convincingly forced to join him. He is polite and to the point with Evey. He sees something in her. Possibly a connection. There is some mysterious sense of security that V's presence gives Evey. It seems strange but makes sense once we see her back story as she tells V of her harsh and traumatic childhood. Of course, V's got his story as well that slowly unfolds (rather well) as we see just who will specifically will reap the vengeance of his vendetta. One aspect of his mission in his rebellious crusade is to send a message to British ruler Sutler (John Hurt) and his tyranny. Sutler appears in these fascist posters and media programs to the people and on an IMAX-size screen to all the government lackeys that report to him. The other aspect would be to remind people that ideas can still have strength. There's more to the world than just blindly following the government and media as they spin what they want you to know as truth. That people can still act upon their ideas of freedom and liberation.

Natalie Portman as Evey and Hugo Weaving as V in Warner Bros. Pictures' V for Vendetta

The movie is dark and stylishly visual. It's violent because of the way the world has become. Peaceful demonstrations are a thing of the past and just wouldn't work in this world. It pulls you in just as V pulls Evey in with his muffled yer alluring voice in all its enunciated cleverness. V tells Evey that "sometimes you can use violence for good," as he admits that, yes, men were killed in his methodically-planned attacks. We see V's world and actions through Evey's eyes from the beginning as they witness his "orchestrated" destruction of British landmarks like the Old Baily courthouse on November 5th. Is he a freedom-fighter or an anarchist? What's his agenda for his vendetta and how is it that he knows so many words with the letter "V"?

Besides Portman and Weaving, there are some supporting roles that flesh out some side plots. Investigating V's attacks for Sutler are Finch (Stephen Rea) and his partner Dominic (Rupert Graves). Both characters are more fleshed-out in the graphic novel but the actors portray enough of their character's essence successfully. Finch is world-weary and loyal to England and gradually less loyal to the law whereas Dominic is more by the book. One of Evey's only other confidants is a friendly older man, Dietrich ( Steven Fry) who works at the station BNT, British New Television she works at. There's also a character named Valerie (Natasha Wightman) who is important to both V and Evey in a dramatic way. All of these various roles help give the world of the film its character and adds a reality to this future, albeit a grim one.

Critics are saying alotta things about this movie. Some compare the relationship that V and Evey have to a kinda "Phantom of the Opera" style while others dismiss it as a film that "promotes terrorism." I could see the "Phantom" meets "The Matrix" comparison, but the terrorism stance is a bit misleading. This is a work of political science fiction with a alotta dramatized action and suspense. It's not based on a true story like the terrorist acts seen in Speilberg's "Munich". Was Speilberg promoting terrorism? Some said that he did. The point is to look at the perspective of those committing terrorist acts. We don't like to cuz it's easier to write them off as evil but alotta times we should. Once we see the environment V and Evey live in and all that they have lived through thus far, it is apparent that they don't see these "acts of terrorism" as anything more than "declarations of independence." Remember the Boston Tea Party? It's a celebrated historic event now but I'm sure back then some may have considered it an "act of terrorism". I'm not condoning violent acts. But, I'm just saying that through certain perspectives you can understand them.

Director James McTeigue has experience working with Portman, Weaving, and The Wachowski brothers. He was the 1st Assist. Director on the Matrix trilogy and on Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. So, once may thing that he was handed the directing reigns through association. Maybe that had something to do with it but he surely showed he's capable. What this movie owes its look to though is the amazing cinematographer Andrew Biddle (Aliens, The Princess Bride Thelma & Louise, & the Mummy) who really captures the look and feel of the graphic novel. Biddle died on December 5th, 2005 and was never able to see the movie released. At the end of the film there is an honorary mention to him and rightly so.

Moore has disassociated himself from this film as he has his other adaptations ("From Hell" and "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen") and confirmed himself as a disgruntled genius writer. I guess he's entitled, it's his baby. Despite some plot holes which is bound to happen in any novel to film translation, the film delivers very well. I wanna see it again just to pick up other nuances about this futuristic world. It'll be the number one movie in it's first weekend due to the ads promoting it as some kinda new "Matrix-type" movie. Once that all washes over I'm hoping the film has legs and people see the messages of freedom, vengeance, and rebirth that the film has. Their not necessarily "right" messages but their enough to make you think for yourself....much like Evey had to.

V for Vendetta (2006) freedom poster 4

V for Vendetta (2006) freedom poster 2

V for Vendetta (2006) release

V for Vendetta (2006) new teaser

V for Vendetta (2006) big teaser

Moving Pictures


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