Movie Review: Priest

Hi there!

The Summer 2011 movie season has started even though Spring in Colorado has been one of mixed wind, snow, rain, and sun so far. Thor was fun, and I was hoping Priest with Paul Bettany, Karl Urban, and Maggie Q might continue the trend. Let’s just say I almost walked out after 25 minutes and wish I had so I could have used that time more wisely.

Let’s set the stage before I rip this film up however.

Priest is set in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic world where vampires and humankind have always battled for supremacy. People moved to cities with high walls to protect them, but we were losing badly. That is until the Church started finding people with extraordinary abilities who were fast enough to actually battle vampires effectively. This small band of brothers and sisters eventually got them under control. Rather than destroying the vampires however, they decided to put them on reservations and keep them locked up for eternity.

The Priest referred to in the title of the film (Bettany) gets a message from the outpost where his brother is living with his wife and daughter saying that his niece had been kidnapped by the vampires, her mother killed, and Priest’s brother slowly dying. Could he help? Sure, but it would mean turning his back on the Church and going against orders. Sometimes a little disobedience is required, and Priest goes off to save his niece. The Church isn’t happy and sends out four more priests after him, including the Priestess (Maggie Q, TV’s Nikita). And Priest discovers that it’s an old friend who’s taken his niece (Urban, Red, Lord of the Rings trilogy)…

I’ll stop there because I wouldn’t want to spoil the story. Not that you don’t already know all of that from the trailers, but hey.

So what went wrong with this film?

It starts off with an animated sequence that tells a bit of the backstory of the war, the priests, and so on. It has to be the bloodiest animation I’ve seen in quite a while, but it was fine. Suitably dark with a bit of narration to tell us what we need to know. But it quickly became evident that the soundtrack by Christopher Young was going to be a loud, less well written homage to the Conan soundtrack by Basil Poleadoris. That annoyed me throughout the film.

Once we actually meet Priest, it becomes readily apparent that Bettany decided this character wasn’t going to have any emotions at all. Even Urban’s “Black Hat” character only really has one good scene and it appears in the trailers where he’s directing mayhem Joker-style. Christopher Plummer puts in an appearance as Monsignor Orelas, a humorless control freak with little redeeming value.

Honestly the only character remotely likable was Maggie Q’s Priestess. She had the most emotional range of any of the characters and hardly received much screen time for her trouble.

And the vampires themselves were kind of interesting. Eyeless with four legs and big fangs ready to rip a person to shreds. They looked a bit slimy, but hey – they live underground and in the dark. You’d probably be slimy too.

Let me tick off the other things that bugged me. The story is transparent and railroaded. The cinematography has two modes – washed out and white in the desert or salt flats or dark, whether dark outside or underground. When it’s washed out, it’s really washed out. And when it’s dark, it’s dark. The wirework was uninteresting, even as Priest and Black Hat duel on the top of a speeding train. The 3D effects were largely uninteresting and did nothing to advance the plot (such as it was)…

Ultimately I really think the vampires should have won. I highly recommend you avoid Priest and skip it even when it comes out on DVD unless you’re really bored. Let’s hope that the rest of the movie season improves.

I just wish I’d walked out when the first inclination hit. [sigh]

–Fitz

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Behind the Scenes: Born to be Wild

Hi there!

On April 8th, a new documentary hit IMAX theaters in 3D… Born to be Wild 3D shows some amazing people helping orphaned orangutans and elephants return to the wild. The compassion, skill, and dedication needed for such an undertaking is huge.

Narrated by Morgan Freeman and captured in stunning IMAX 3D, I suspect we’ll all be blown away by this one.

They’ve released a new featurette:

Synopsis:

“Born to be Wild 3D” is an inspired story of love, dedication and the remarkable bond between humans and animals. This film documents orphaned orangutans and elephants and the extraordinary people who rescue and raise them-saving endangered species one life at a time. Stunningly captured in IMAX 3D, “Born to be Wild 3D” is a heartwarming adventure transporting moviegoers into
the lush rainforests of Borneo with world-renowned primatologist Dr. Birute Galdikas, and across the rugged Kenyan savannah with celebrated elephant authority Dame Daphne Sheldrick, as they and their teams rescue, rehabilitate and return these incredible animals back to the wild.

Director David Lickley and writer/producer Drew Fellman have done some great work. I look forward to seeing it on the giant screen!

Don’t miss it when Born to be Wild comes to your IMAX theater!

–Fitz

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Movie Review: TRON: Legacy

Hi all!

When I was a kid, many moons ago, and the personal computer era was just kicking off for me, the movie TRON came out in 1982. This was a different feature for Disney. It features concepts and characters ahead of their time. And I don’t think I saw it in the theater – but I saw it on video a few times in the next decade.

TRON would ultimately for me fade into the background noise, but be remembered as a “cool” moment I didn’t quite know how to process. It wasn’t like Star Wars or Close Encounters of the Third Kind where I still refer to scenes or characters in my everyday life.

So when I saw the teaser for TRON: Legacy a couple of years ago I was surprised when it really captured my interest. These days, computer-generated graphics and 3D are hot tickets, so I figured it might do well at the box office. I wasn’t able to see it on opening weekend, but finally got to see it yesterday.

And I think it has a similar less-than-lasting effect that the initial movie did. There’s a huge “oh wow” factor and plenty of homage to the original throughout. But though it’s amazingly cool, I doubt that it’s going to stick again.

I really wanted to love it – but I liked it a lot. Jeff Bridges was back as an older Kevin Flynn and Clu. Bruce Boxleitner was back as Alan Bradley and Tron. And then they added Flynn’s son, Sam, played by Garett Hedlund, and the beautiful but somewhat enigmatic Quorra played by Olivia Wilde. With this quartet, we get a story that latches on to the original with little effort and leads us back to the Grid.

Though it builds beautifully and has a few emotionally-charged moments, I almost feel like it’s the run-up to a third movie. I don’t know how to explain it other than saying that it sort of has a Two Towers feel like the big inhale before the final act.

Bridges lends some of his “dudeness” to the film while Boxleitner grounds it. Hedlund’s character’s lack of commitment is in stark contrast to Wilde’s total devotion to whatever she holds dear.

The CGI is out of this world. I wasn’t wowed by the 3D aspect, but it added a bit of depth without going overboard or making me get motion sick. This is what TRON couldn’t be nearly 30 years ago. And in that this movie succeeds beyond all expectations.

And I really liked the soundtrack from Daft Punk. It worked really well on the Grid to set the mood with electronic music. I’ll have to pick it up as something to work out to with an infectious beat!

The one thing that bugged me however was how they used CGI to make Bridges seem young again in the opening and with his alter-ego Clu on the Grid. It seemed very forced to me and was jarring enough to keep me from enjoying all that was going on around those characters in those scenes. But that was really it. There were a few places where the movie dragged – like on the train in the last third – but those moments were used to build the emotional bonds I think, so it wasn’t too bad. (Unlike the tent scenes in the latest Harry Potter which bored me to tears.)

If you’re a fan of the original film or enjoy flashy science fiction movies, I’d definitely recommend seeing TRON: Legacy if you get a chance. It’s not for everybody and the plot is a bit thin in spots. I went with my two daughters (ages 5 and 9) and my wife and we all liked it however. There’s plenty of eye candy to keep you busy for a while.

I’ll give TRON: Legacy a solid 3 out of 4 stars ([rating: 3/4]). It was fun and I hope I can pick it up on Blu-ray with the original in a few months to see what I missed on the first viewing.

Let me know in the comments what YOU think… Did you like it?

–Fitz

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