Saturday, January 12, 2008

REVIEW: I am Legend

I Am Legend (PG-13)
Ebert: Users:

Will Smith the sole human survivor in New York City in “I Am Legend.” He has a dog.

I Am Legend

/ / / December 14, 2007

Cast & Credits
Robert Neville: Will Smith
Anna: Alice Braga
Ethan: Charlie Tahan
Zoe: Salli Richardson
Marley: Willow Smith

Warner Bros. presents a film directed by Francis Lawrence. Written by Mark Protosevich and Akiva Goldsman. Based on the novel by Richard Matheson. Running time: 114 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence). Opening today at local theaters.

By Roger Ebert

The opening scenes of "I Am Legend" have special effects so good that they just about compensate for some later special effects that are dicey. We see Manhattan three years after a deadly virus has killed every healthy human on the island, except one. The streets are overgrown with weeds, cars are abandoned, the infrastructure is beginning to collapse. Down one street, a sports car races, driven by Robert Neville (Will Smith), who is trying to get a good shot at one of the deer roaming the city. He has worse luck than a lioness who competes with him.

Neville has only his dog to keep him company. He lives barricaded inside a house in Greenwich Village, its doors and windows sealed every night by heavy steel shutters. That's because after dark the streets are ruled by bands of predatory zombies -- hairless creatures who were once human but have changed into savage, speechless killers with fangs for teeth. In his basement, Neville has a laboratory where he is desperately seeking a vaccine against the virus, which mutated from a cure for cancer.

The story is adapted from a 1954 sci-fi novel by Richard Matheson, which has been filmed twice before, as "The Last Man on Earth" (1964) starring Vincent Price, and "The Omega Man" (1971) starring Charlton Heston. In the original novel, which Stephen King says influenced him more than any other, Neville cultivated garlic and used mirrors, crosses and sharpened stakes against his enemies, who were like traditional vampires, not super-strong zombies. I am not sure it is an advance to make him a scientist, arm him and change the nature of the creatures; Matheson developed a kind of low-key realism that was doubly effective.

In "I Am Legend," the situation raises questions of logic. If Neville firmly believes he is the last healthy man alive, who is the vaccine for? Only himself, I guess. Fair enough, although he faces a future of despair, no matter how long his cans of Spam and Dinty Moore beef stew hold out; dogs don't live forever. And how, I always wonder, do human beings in all their infinite shapes and sizes mutate into identical pale zombies with infinite speed and strength?

Never mind. Given its setup, "I Am Legend" is well-constructed to involve us with Dr. Neville and his campaign to survive. There is, however, an event which breaks his spirit and he cracks up -- driving out at night to try to mow down as many zombies with his car as he can before they kill him. He is saved (I'm not sure how) by a young woman named Anna (Alice Braga), who is traveling with a boy named Ethan (Charlie Tahan).

He takes them home, and she explains they are trying to get to a colony of survivors in Vermont. Neville doubts that such a colony exists. I doubt that she and the boy would venture through Manhattan to get there. Yes, she has doubtless heard his nonstop taped voice on all AM frequencies, asking to be contacted by any other survivors. But we have seen every bridge into Manhattan blown up as part of a quarantine of the island, so how did they get there? Boat? Why go to the risk?

Never mind, again, because Anna and the boy import dramatic interest into the story when it needs it. And director Francis Lawrence generates suspense effectively, even though it largely comes down to the monster movie staple of creatures leaping out of the dark, gnashing their fangs and hammering at things. The special effects generating the zombies are not nearly as effective as the other effects in the film; they all look like creatures created for the sole purpose of providing the film with menace and have no logic other than serving that purpose.

"I Am Legend" does contain memorable scenes, as when the island is being evacuated, and when Neville says goodbye to his wife and daughter (Salli Richardson and Willow Smith), and when he confides in his dog (who is not computer-generated, most of the time, anyway). And if it is true that mankind has 100 years to live before we destroy our planet, it provides an enlightening vision of how Manhattan will look when it lives on without us. The movie works well while it's running, although it raises questions that later only mutate in our minds.

REVIEW: I Am Legend

Posted Dec 14th 2007 12:01AM by James Rocchi

''When I started in movies, I said, 'I want to be the biggest movie star in the world.' The biggest movie stars make the biggest movies, so (my producing partner James Lassiter and I) looked at the top 10 movies of all time. At that point, they were all special-effects movies. So Independence Day -- no-brainer. Men in Black -- no-brainer. I, Robot -- no-brainer.'' -- Will Smith, Entertainment Weekly, "Hollywood's 50 Smartest," Nov. 28, 2007

And that's a fairly loaded turn of phrase, because to many movie fans, 'no-brainer' better describes the scripts and direction of Independence Day, Men in Black and I, Robot than it does the decision to star in them. And before seeing I Am Legend, a third Hollywood version of Richard Matheson's 1954 book following in the footsteps of 1964's The Last Man on Earth and 1971's The Omega Man, the specter and spectacle of Smith's track record in big-budget science fiction loomed like a dark cloud. I walked into I Am Legend cautious and underwhelmed, with Smith's past genre efforts in mind; I staggered out of I Am Legend impressed and enthused and a little wrung-out after a well-executed and perfectly pitched demonstration of brute-force big-money horror-action film making. I'm hesitant to say how well I Am Legend will endure the test of time, but while you're watching it, you're caught in an iron grip, moved and manipulated and carried away by film makers who know exactly how to make you sink into our seat with dread. I shivered and tensed throughout I Am Legend, and at the end of the credits, I was dumbstruck to learn it was PG-13; it felt far more gripping and grim and upsetting than that rating would suggest.

I Am Legend opens with a TV newsblip, as the disarmingly unpolished Doctor Krippen explains that she and her team have found a cure for cancer by re-engineering potent viruses to attack it. The cure works; it works every time. Dr. Krippen (played by an uncredited actress whose name I won't give, but she's perfect) smiles, nervous and nerdy in her moment of triumph, and then a title jumps us Three Years Later. We see Manhattan desolate and quiet. The tunnels are flooded; the bridges destroyed; cars rust and molder as weeds crack through the pavement; some buildings wear plastic sheeting like a burial shroud. And then we see one car -- just one, a Mustang GT -- racing through the ruined streets.

The driver's Dr. Robert Neville (Smith); Neville was a doctor for the U.S. Army, a virologist. Now, he's a survivor. He may be the last one. He and his dog Sam forage and worry, with all of New York as their empty playground during the daylight. Night time, as we gather from Neville battening down iron hatches over his doors and windows at the dimming of the day, is a different story. I Am Legend has almost no voice-over, and does its best to keep exposition to a minimum, both of which add to the slow-poison sense of dread in the movie. When Sam's raced into a darkened building chasing a wounded deer during one of their daytime excursions and Neville hesitates to follow, the only thing to explain the stakes to the audience is Smith's performance and the storytelling choices of director Francis Lawrence (Constantine) as a frightened Neville sneaks through the dark, desperate to find Sam and even more desperate to get out. Smith is a charming star, but he's not charming here; watching him in I Am Legend, he's constantly sad, scared or lonely; Neville is constantly at the edge of madness or the brink of death. And Smith, to his credit, turns a character that could have been an off-the-rack collection of action hero clich├ęs into a real and affecting performance. If we believe I Am Legend's flights of dark fancy, it's in large part because Neville believes them, to the trembling core of his soul.

And Neville should be scared; flashbacks and current events explain to us that the Krippen Cure became the Krippen Virus, and literally decimated the human race; any who survived live on as seemingly mindless, colorless, blood-hungry revved-up predators that burn at the touch of the sun. Neville is one of the minuscule fraction of humans with natural immunity to KV, but that scattered and struggling group was swiftly wiped out by the monsters as near as Neville can tell. Neville is still trying to find a cure -- he mutters "I can fix this" repeatedly as he walks the ruined world -- but he's hardly hopeful. He thinks he's the last man alive, facing an army of mindless monsters. He's wrong about a lot of things.

Regrettably, if a monster movie is only as good as its monsters, then I Am Legend loses a few points for the execution of the KV-creatures. Making every appearance of the creatures computer-generated animation (with scattered exceptions of make-up and models in specific shots) means that the KV-creatures begin to look a little too similar, a little too familiar. When the creatures swarm, you can almost hear the mouse-click sound as they're copied and pasted over and over again, an army of the identical. And while the 28 Days Later adrenaline-zombie aesthetic may be overly familiar, it still works in scenes where the howling half-human KV-creatures race towards murder -- and Akiva Goldsman and Mark Protosevitch's script always makes the level of threat the creatures present scary, even as Lawrence leans on every B-movie trick in the book. One of the best things in I Am Legend is how firmly things go from bad to worse to far, far worse like an elevator to hell, smoothly oiled and gaining speed on the way down to the depths. Goldsman and Protosevitch also fill the film with tiny, quiet details -- an abandoned apartment is posted with public health warning from the beginning of the plague; Neville's working his way through the 'G' section at the video store; Neville's bunker-brownstone is decorated with pilfered masterpieces. And while the script may have a few groan-inducing moments where subtext is spoken as text, there's nothing here to compare with the worst moments of modern big-budget sci-fi, whether the staggering stupidity of Independence Day or the clumsy cloying closure of Spielberg's War of the Worlds.

Lawrence had the good judgment to fill his technical staff with professionals, from cinematographer Andrew Lensie (King Kong, The Lord of the Rings films) to second-unit director Vic Armstrong, whose stunt and action-director work makes him legend in and of itself. (Armstrong's resume ranges from Bond to Blade, Superman to Starship Troopers, and his work here is top-notch.) Not every decision Lawrence makes is perfect -- one of Smith's forays into Times Square is shot hand-held, which feels curiously distancing, subconciously implying that the Last Man on Earth is being followed by the Last Cameraman on Earth -- but at the same time, the film's mix of present-tense (in fact, very tense) action and flashbacks is well-handled and engrossing. As I cautioned before, I don't know how well I Am Legend will hold up on repeat viewings, or over time -- but while it's happening, I Am Legend is a slick, scary, superbly made action/science fiction/horror film with a lot more art, heart and smarts than you'd expect.

Review: I Am Legend is Decent but Way Too Short

Will Smith in Warner Bros. Pictures' "I Am Legend"
Warner Bros. Pictures

You know, I figured I would hate this film. The trailers for I Am Legend have been nothing short of odd; the early word on the film was dismal; and there were rumors of the ending being re-shot less than a month ago. All in all I figured it would be a bit of a disaster. So perhaps those low expectations made this come off better than it would have otherwise. Whatever the case, this bad boy is fairly watchable and I won't even be bitter when it banks a large payday this weekend.

The story is based on the novel of the same name, though I'm told by those that have read the book that the stories are so dissimilar as to be considered different works. In this, the movie version, Will Smith is Robert Neville, the last man left on Earth. He's a scientist, and I believe an Army Lieutenant Colonel to boot. The movie jumps back and forth to explain what happened, why he's the only man left... and what Neville is trying to accomplish in the present day.

What really works here is the suspense level. It's difficult to ascertain what's going on, so every corner and dark shadow is filled with dread. Will Smith does well here too: he's a man beset by troubles, clearly coming unglued after years of solitary living in New York City. That's the other cool portion of the movie, imagining a giant city, and what would become of it without people. Evidently you'd get to hunt deer from a sports car! They should have cleared out Brooklyn years ago, eh?

What doesn't work is the depth and logic of the situation. With regards to the depth, there isn't any, this movie flies by at a brisk 92 minutes. It's no wonder they are adding the first six minutes of The Dark Knight on to the front of the film. Which leads to the problem of logic. There are many situations here where you think, "Hmm, I hope they explain/elaborate on this." But nope, whoooosh, it's on to the next setup. It works for keeping the tension up, but not so much for keeping you engaged.

With all that said I'm moderately recommending this film to you and yours. You could do worse on a holiday afternoon. You may roll your eyes a time or two but you probably won't yawn. The film moves well, and the only thing I'm truly appalled by here is the marketing. They've taken pains to hammer home that Will Smith is the last man in NYC, only the film really isn't about that. They should have said "It's just like Die Hard, only with less people!" It would have been more honest, and probably wouldn't have gotten this film so much bad press. As it stands I Am Legend is a decent flick - just not worthy of the book, and not worthy of much thought past the time you spend in the theater.

REVIEW: The power of trailers is legend

Phelim O'Neill
Friday December 21, 2007
The Guardian

The Dark Knight
Batman returns... The Dark Knight

If you go to see Will Smith starring in the big-budget adaptation of Richard Matheson's influential apocalyptic vampire novel, I Am Legend, at an Imax cinema, you'll see some spectacular scenes - but perhaps not the ones you were expecting. You'll see an armed robber tear off his mask to reveal an even scarier visage: his whitened cheeks bearing scars cut from the corners of his mouth, with a crude, red smear of lipstick. This terrifying apparition, taking up all of the colossal Imax screen, marks moviegoers' introduction to the Joker, as played by Heath Ledger.

If you've read I Am Legend or seen the previous movie adaptations (The Last Man On Earth and The Omega Man), then you'll recall that Batman's nemesis has thus far been conspicuous by his absence. That's still the case, sadly, but Warners has tagged on to the programme seven minutes of its new Batman movie, The Dark Knight (six minutes being the introduction to the Joker, with the rest made up from snippets of key sequences), way ahead of the movie's July 2008 opening date.

This experiment marks the convergence of two trends in film marketing. Firstly, the practice of delivering exclusive footage with another film. You may recall the fuss when George Lucas's Star Wars: The Phantom Menace trailer hit cinemas. In the US, for many weeks, you could only view it in theatres playing the Denzel Washington thriller, The Siege. Washington's pre-9/11 piece of scaremongering had nothing in common with Lucas's space opera - yet screenings were packed with Star Wars fans who had paid admission simply to catch the two-minute trailer before leaving en masse as the main feature unreeled.

The Phantom Menace trailer leads us to the second of the new marketing schemes. Trailers are traditionally, by and large, as misleading and dishonest as they can legally be: they cut together the best shots of a film without giving anything close to a true representation of what it is about. So now, usually on the internet, it's becoming common to release a few minutes, often from the movie's opening, to give the audience a proper taste of what to expect. This has worked exceedingly well for films with impressive opening sequences that seemed almost tailor-made to stand alone and leave viewers wanting more, such as the remake of Dawn of the Dead or Joss Whedon's feature version of his cancelled TV show Firefly, Serenity. Perhaps that was always the intent.

It was definitely the intent this time: director Christopher Nolan was clearly looking for the big bang of the Imax trailer effect when he made The Dark Knight. Four of the film's big action scenes were filmed in the format, a first for a blockbuster. The air was sucked out of the room by a collective gasp from those attending the preview in London recently as Gotham city appeared in razor sharp detail on a 20-metre screen.

So what has the Dark Knight footage done for the buzz about its parent film? Apart from anything else, it has silenced any doubts viewers might have had about the controversial casting of Ledger as the Joker. It may not sound particularly vital, but the core fan groups of genre - and particularly comic book-adapted movies - are incredibly vocal on the internet and can be merciless on a perceived casting mistake or thematic alteration from source material long before cameras have even stopped rolling. The effect such criticism has is palpable: the studios have run scared since the demolition job did on Batman & Robin in 1997. And one happy side effect for Will Smith? It may just give I Am Legend the extra push he needs to survive a box office apocalypse.

REVIEW: I am Legend

So, is it third time lucky for Richard Matheson’s acclaimed 1954 novel? Anyone who’s read I Am Legend will already know that cinema has not been kind to his masterwork. Vincent Price hammed it up in 1964’s The Last Man On Earth, while Chuck Heston was watchable in 1971’s The Omega Man. Yet neither flick managed to capture the novel’s finely tuned suspense, or its depiction of one man’s psychological nightmare after a virus has turned the world’s population into vampires. Alas, Francis Lawrence’s (Constantine) version is little improvement.

To its credit, it does at least try. The superior first half sees Will Smith give a convincing, angsty performance as Robert Neville, a scientist trying to find a cure for the hordes of Infected swarming the Earth. His only companions are a gaggle of mannequins and a dog, who not only gives the Fresh Prince someone to talk to, but also helps him hunt the iffy CGI deer now roaming the deserted streets of Manhattan.

As Neville goes about the day-to-day business of survival in this new New York, Andrew (Lord Of The Rings) Lesnie’s dazzling cinematography overshadows his every move. Bathed in a champagne glow, the Big Apple has rarely looked more eerily beautiful. While many of the effects are achieved through CGI, real location filming in sealed-off sections of New York lend the film a believable air.

Sadly, this only lasts until we catch our first glimpses of the Infected. Moving with that daft super-speed that can only come from a hard drive and about as scary as a pack of boy scouts after too many M&Ms, the virus-carrying creatures are nowhere near as threatening as they should be. They’re also unintentionally amusing, head-butting everything in sight like demented football hooligans. Factor in the syrupy moralising (via Bob Marley, of all things) of the film’s final scenes and I Am Legend emerges a valiant effort, annoyingly undermined by a misplaced faith in its computerised bad guys and a script that stutters halfway through. Read the book instead.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

MODERNIST MONTAGE: The Obscurity of Vision in Cinema and Literature

Writer: P. Adams Sitney
Columbia University
Press, 262 p, 1990
Modernism (Literature)
ISBN 0231071833

These are the front and back covers of this highly recommended book.

BOOK: The Eye's Mind: Literary Modernism and Visual Culture

Karen Jacobs
Cornell University Press
Modernism (Literature)
426 p, 2001
ISBN 0801486491

The Eye's Mind significantly alters our understanding of modernist literature by showing how changing visual discourses, techniques, and technologies affected the novels of that period. In readings that bring philosophies of vision into dialogue with photography and film as well as the methods of observation used by the social sciences, Karen Jacobs identifies distinctly modernist kinds of observers and visual relationships.

This important reconception of modernism draws upon American, British, and French literary and extra-literary materials from the period 1900-1955. These texts share a sense of crisis about vision's capacity for violence and its inability to deliver reliable knowledge. Jacobs looks closely at the ways in which historical understandings of race and gender inflected visual relations in the modernist novel. She shows how modernist writers, increasingly aware of the body behind the neutral lens of the observer, used diverse strategies to displace embodiment onto those "others" historically perceived as cultural bodies in order to reimagine for themselves or their characters a "purified" gaze.

The Eye's Mind addresses works by such high modernists as Vladimir Nabokov, Virginia Woolf, and (more distantly) Ralph Ellison and Maurice Blanchot, as well as those by Henry James, Zora Neale Hurston, and Nathanael West which have been tentatively placed in the modernist canon although they forgo the full-blown experimental techniques often seen as synonymous with literary modernism. Jacobs reframes fundamental debates about modernist aesthetic practices by demonstrating how much those practices are indebted to the changing visual cultures of the twentieth century.