Saturday, November 14, 2009

Zombieland (2009)

Movie quotes:
"I haven't cried like that since Titanic!"
- Tallahassee

"I could tell she knew what I was feeling, we all are orphans in Zombieland."
- Columbus

"You're like a giant... cock blocking robot, like developed in a secret fucking government lab."
- Columbus (to Tallahassee)

Tallahassee: Sno-Balls? Sno-Balls? Where the fuck are the God damn Twinkies?
Columbus: I love Sno-Balls.
Tallahassee: I hate coconut. Not the flavor, but the consistency.

Columbus: You know there's a place untouched by all this crap?
Tallahassee: Out east, yeah?
Columbus: Yeah.
Tallahassee: Out west, we hear it's out east, out east they hear it's out west. It's all bullshit. It's like you're a penguin at the North Pole hears the South Pole is real nice this time of year.
Columbus: There are no penguins in the North Pole.
Tallahassee: You wanna feel how hard I can punch?

Tallahassee: [referring to Wichita and Little Rock, who previously hijacked them] They're in the back, aren't they?
Little Rock: [pops up holding shotgun] Just me.
Tallahassee: You got taken hostage by a little girl?
Columbus: She was like a crouching tiger...
Tallahassee: She's twelve!
Columbus: Well, girls mature way faster than boys. She's way ahead of where I was at that age.
Little Rock: Twelve's the new twenty.

"No! She's only famous when she's Hannah Montana! She's only famous when she's wearing the wig!"
- Little Rock (to Tallahassee)

"In those moments where you're not quite sure if the undead are really dead, dead, don't get all stingy with your bullets. I mean, one more clean shot to the head, and this lady could have avoided becoming a human Happy Meal. Woulda... coulda... shoulda."
- Columbus

Little Rock: Have you heard about Pacific Playland? There are no zombies there.
Columbus: The amusement park?
Little Rock: Yep!
Tallahassee: That place totally blows!
[Little Rock and Wichita shoot Tallahassee angry looks]
Tallahassee: ... my mind. Just fun for the whole family.

Little Rock: [as Bill Murray is dying] Do you have any regrets?
Bill Murray: Garfield maybe.

At a glance:
Even non-gore fans will love the constant laughs and the smart scripting of Zombieland

Our review (with spoilers):
Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg, channeling Michael Cera) never liked people very much, anyway, so when mad cow disease turns almost everyone into cannibal zombies, he doesn’t miss the human company all that much. His loner life and anal retentiveness has prepared him to be a survivor. He lives by a long list of rules like "Don’t be a hero" and "Double Tap" (don’t spare ammunition – always shoot until the zombies are dead). Still, he misses his parents and hopes that his home town of Columbus was spared. As he heads there, he meets a cowboy-hat-wearing non-zombie: Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson). Tallahassee’s ‘no fear’ attitude compliments the phobias of Columbus. These guys seem to be savvy survivors, but in a moment of weakness, they are scammed by two con artist sisters, Wichita and Little Rock (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin). For a while, the battle between human and zombie is usurped by the feud between the guys and the girls.

Zombieland has it all: the movement of a road movie, a witty and often hilarious script, a coming of age story for Columbus, and vomiting, bleeding-from-the-mouth, ravenous zombies. There’s also a big surprise ‘guest’ appearance when the non-zombies choose a Beverly Hills mansion as a rest stop – and I’ve already said too much about that. There are also some quirky touches – like everyone except the big star is referred to by their home. Columbus even calls his first ‘girlfriend’ by her apartment number (406).

Brimming with topical pop humor and movie in-jokes, Zombieland is laugh-inducing – and sometimes stomach-churning – from start to finish, often at the same moments. I am not at all a fan of gore, but if every gore movie was as funny and as well-written as Zombieland, I’d watch them all.

Rating: 3.5 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"This spoof on the zombie genre literally and figuratively is killer. It's laugh-out-loud funny, the gore is beautifully over-the-top, and the wicked script is laced with a cutting wit."
- Christopher Smith (Bangor Daily News [Maine]

"Very funny, often thrilling and full of neat little touches that should make it entirely rewatchable, Zombieland sees Fleischer join the ranks of directors – Romero, Wright, Raimi, Snyder – whose first films aren’t just zombie films, but great films."
- Chris Hewitt [UK] Empire Magazine

Terminator Salvation (2009)

Movie quotes:
Kate Connor: What should I tell your men when they find out you're gone?
John Connor: I'll be back.

At a glance:
The fourth Terminator installment is packed with loud battle scenes and imaginative special effects, but director McG and the usually brilliant Christian Bale can’t deliver the required emotional depth

Our review (with spoilers):
In the Terminator-infested future, two of the most important people in the history of the saga intersect: the almost terminally indestructible resistance leader, John Connor (Christian Bale), and a teenage boy named Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), fighting almost on his own . It matters little that Connor is a man and Reese a boy; through the miracle of time travel, Reese is Connor’s father. Separate but linked by Connor’s radio broadcasts, they battle against a varied array of SkyNet-brand threats: motorcycles, jets, and the usual army of walking skeleton machines. Into the mix is a new element, a machine who thinks he is a man, with the strength of a Terminator but the conscience of someone who has made mistakes and wants to make things right.

Salvation is loud, exciting, and sometimes dumbed down, but not with that charming Bruckheimer self-awareness of its dumbness (a la National Treasure). Bale is a wonderful actor, but he’s often rendered ineffective by clichéd dialogue. There are parts of Salvation that work smoothly. I was intrigued by the concept of the ‘human’ terminator becoming aware of who he is (although I’m sure a lot of people would cringe at a terminator turned into someone with a conscience, just as many people felt that later Trek franchises humanized – and weakened- the Borg). There’s a great ‘cameo’ by an almost nude and fully terrifying Arnold Schwarzenegger lookalike (made with a scan of Arnie’s face CGI’d onto another actor). Other bits of Salvation don’t work quite so well. There are some scenes, such as Marcus’s computer interaction in SkyNet headquarters that are almost yawn inducing. And the terminators and their various and sundry forms (planes, motorcycles, etc.) are creative, but they are also not as terrifying as they were before. Sure, they are relentless and everywhere, but they also seem a lot easier to defeat. Finally, SkyNet hasn’t learned anything from all those James Bond films. They still make the Villain’s Mistake: their spokesperson (Helena Bonham Carter, sounding like an arrogant schoolmarm) tells their entire evil plan to Marcus just in time for him to attempt to foil it. If only they had continued the façade a little longer! And of course, the ultra machines know how to pursue in slow, measured steps (rather than, say, running and attacking quickly), just as all monsters have done since the days of Frankenstein. This gives the victims time to drop various molten liquids and shoot frozen hydrogen on them: very obliging!

Rating:  of 2.5 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"It's easy to see why Bale was attracted to this role, but this often fascinating actor gives one of his least interesting performances."
- Jake Wilson (The Age [Australia]

"Unfortunately, whenever this film attempts to depict anything resembling the motivational keys of emotional storytelling -- love, revenge, anger -- it feels like McG is wishing he could be blowing stuff up."
- Jason Di Rosso (MovieTime, ABC Radio National)

Paranormal Activity (2007)


Movie quotes:
Micah: You're screaming like that over a spider?
Katie: Well, yeah... did you go run and get the camera first?

"What is your quest? What is your favorite color?"
- Micah (trying to communicate with the entity)

At a glance:
Paranormal Activity defies its shoestring budget to generate tension and suspense from its simple poltergeist story

Our review (with spoilers):
Katie has been haunted by a shadowy specter since she was five. Although it appears to be mostly a poltergeist (turning on taps, scratching the walls, etc.), there was that unexplained house fire as a child; her family survived but lost the house and everything in it. Now she wants to find out what this thing is. She invites in a psychologist, and her boyfriend Micah buys an expensive camera and monitors their bedroom at night: the hotspot for visitations (but not much else while the camera is on). Micah’s filming and his ‘bring it on’ attitude seems to be aggravating the demon spirit, to the point where visits become louder and more frequent. And since Micah’s attitude toward the visitor is in direct counterpoint to Katie’s (she doesn’t want to challenge or aggravate it, or to find out what it wants), it is causing a rift to develop in what used to be a healthy relationship.

Paranormal Activity is a successful film for so many reasons. First of all, it epitomizes what indie film is all about. At the same time as you can completely enjoy the film’s created tension and inexperienced but ultra-effective performances, you can marvel at the tiny budget. Oren Peli does a lot with a single camera, two actors, and one set.

True, there are weaknesses of repetition – although this somehow works to build suspense. Katie Featherston character – and performance – has more depth to it than the one-note Micah Sloat. It’s difficult to tell if this is the actor’s fault, as Micah simply does not grow much during the film, remaining almost constantly arrogant and disbelieving. And, as in most horror films, the characters are not proactive enough to actually try to do something to get out of their predicament. The expert says it won’t help to leave the house, so they don’t leave. This seemed more like a budgetary limitation than a rational decision. Likewise, Micah is a day trader who works on a computer all day, but when it comes to research on demons, all he finds (and shares with us, anyway) is one website that, again, tells him what they shouldn’t do. You would think that many people would be trying lots of things: garlic, potions, chants – even a panic room. After all, this thing does seem to be able to close doors. Maybe it would have trouble opening a locked door.

But despite minor weaknesses, Paranormal Activity is a major success.

Rating:  3 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Fun, creepy, unpretentious little haunted house rides like these are so hard to come by these days that slight overpraise is understandable."
- Michael Dequina (TheMovieReport.com)

"The time counter clicks away in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen, and you'll find your eyes clinging to it like a life preserver."
- Josh Larsen (LarsenOnFilm)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Up (2009)


Movie quotes:
Dug (talking dog): My name is Dug. I have just met you, and I love you.
[Dug jumps up on Carl]
Carl: Wha. -
Dug: My master made me this collar. He is a good and smart master and he made me this collar so that I may speak - Squirrel!
[Dug interrupts himself to stare intently at something in the distance for a few long seconds]
Dug: My master is good and smart.

At a glance:
Stunning animation is used to embellish the funny and heart-lifting story of an old man who rediscovers the joy of life

Our review (with spoilers):
Carl (voiced by Edward Asner) is in the latter stages of his life. He lives alone in his tiny house, sandwiched between loud, rapidly rising skyscrapers, and endures what seem to be daily visits from people wanting to buy his house and demolish it. When he loses his temper and strikes one of them, he gets ‘invited’ into a retirement home. But Carl has a secret escape plan: on the morning of his last day in his house, thousands of tethered helium balloons are released, taking him away. Also with him is an uninvited guest: Russell (voiced by Jordan Nagai),a local boy scout who happened to be on the porch when the house detached. Carl heads for South America to pursue the dream he shared with his deceased wife Ellie. Along the way, he learns to tolerate (and even love) Russell and life.

Up’s narrative has moments of weakness, but the film also has a way of touching something deep in our psyche: the fear of growing old, the sadness of dreams that are never realized, and the joy of using our ingenuity and our imagination to achieve peace and happiness. The occasional weak links in the script are dwarfed by the general good feelings and sense of wonder. The highlight of this good vibe is one long sequence, early on, as we view the life adventure of Ellie and Carl told solely and magically with images and music. The wonderful Pixar animation serves the story rather than distracting from it; of particular beauty are the ultra-realistic jungle panoramas.

Rating:  3 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"If it had lived up to its golden first five minutes, Up would have been the film of the decade. As it is, it remains the best animated flick of 2009, a funny, moving, beautifully made argument that dreamers can move mountains."
- Ian Freer (Empire Magazine)

"A hugely enjoyable work, whose care, craftsmanship and creative courage are rarely found in mainstream films — animated or otherwise."
- Cosmo Landesman (Sunday Times [UK])

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009)


Movie quotes:
Ryder: So, for five-hundred bucks they'll take you on a dog-sled ride on a glacier.
Garber: Dog-sled?
Ryder: Yeah... and you know that old saying that if you're not the lead dog, the view never changes?
Garber: [stares at his boss] Right, otherwise you're always looking at the asshole of the dog in front of you.
Ryder: That'll be funny in a minute when I get to that part.
Garber: It's funny now.

Ryder: These tunnels don't change much, do they?
Garber: Just the people in 'em.

At a glance:
A solid cast, led by John Travolta and Denzel Washington, try to salvage this weak train-hijack remake, but are done in by a poorly structured script and needlessly over-stylized action sequences

Our review (with spoilers):
Personality-laden psychopath Ryder (John Travolta) assembles a band of tough ex-cons and hijacks a New York subway car, complete with hostages. His ransom demand is a cool 10 million dollars, but he has a hidden agenda that will earn him much more. To facilitate his goals, he forms an unlikely partnership with his nominated negotiator, train dispatcher Garber (Denzel Washington). Ryder considers Garber a kindred spirit – they each got in trouble for stealing money, although the amount stolen and the amount of trouble varied greatly.

There’s a bottomless well of potential drama available when you pit a crazed hostage taker in a tense battle of wits with a sharp but unsure dispatcher. Throw in Tony Scott’s ambitious editing and what could go wrong? Well, a trainful of things could. The structure of the script is way off. The psychological battle between Ryder and Garber takes center stage and becomes the dominant feature of the film. This still could have worked, but the story is again derailed by a pointless side-track into Garber’s redemption story. It seems Garber may have taken a bribe. Or maybe he didn’t. He got demoted and is under investigation by a bully boss who is obviously jealous of Garber’s success. My thoughts on this? Who cares about Garber’s redemption! Have we forgotten that we have to rescue a subway car full of hostages?  Eventually, even Ryder doesn’t care about the hostages, and this ends up being a huge plot hole. His flawed escape plan is to jettison the hostages and sneak through a neglected side-tunnel and out onto the street. Except – he’s trying to sneak out a tunnel that all the subway workers know about! This also leads to a long Ryder/Garber car chase - something that had no place in a film about a train hijacking. Finally, even Tony Scott goes fully over the top with his staccato editing. He attempts to make flying a helicopter from point A to point B much more exciting than it really could ever be.

In the end, Pelham milks what it can from its star-studded cast, with John Turturro and James Gandolfini improving on clichéd lines. Scott keeps things moving as he always does, so the film is as easy to watch as it is to forget. But why does it exist - why remake an almost perfect film?

Rating: 2 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Featuring good work from the dependable Denzel, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is hampered by hyper-kinetic visuals from Scott, an over-zealous turn from Travolta and a thoughtless script from Brian Helgeland."
- James Mottram (Channel 4 Film)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Whatever Works (2009)

Movie quotes:
Perry: She explained to me your theory about life being meaningless.
Boris: Don’t let it spoil your evening.

Boris: It’s uncanny. She exactly the kind of moron you described.
Marietta: You are not the gentleman I was expecting.
Boris: I’m sure not. I’m sure you’d be happy if she married the guy who caught the biggest catfish in Plakemun County.
Marietta: I’d be happier if she married the catfish.

Melodie: Oh, wait…I always carry some Viagra with me.
Randy: That’s alright, I eat a lot of red meat.

John: Who are you?
Boris: I’m her husband. You wanna pass out here, or go in the living room.

John: I can handle the truth: does she hate me?
Melodie: That was a pretty awful thing you did with her best friend.
John: Then she hates me?
Boris: Yes, yes, she hates you! I can’t stand it! I hate you and I just met you!

At a glance:
Although still a faded copy of his greatest films, Whatever Works has perfect casting and enough humor and pathos to rate as Woody Allen’s most successful movie in many years

Our review (with spoilers):
Woody Allen never gets  tired of telling the same Pygmalion-style story. An older, neurotic, intelligent Jewish man crosses paths with a much younger woman – a girl, really. She’s not too bright and she’s naïve, but she’s eager, sincere, and she learns quickly. And, of course, she’s beautiful. She’s easily influenced by this supposedly more intelligent older man, a man who is generous but complains about it. Allen’s script isn’t often funny, but it has two obvious strong points. One: Larry David has the ideal look, personality, and delivery to play the Allen character. He’s got a great ‘I don’t care if I’m funny’ going for him. Two: Evan Rachel Wood is a truly charming screen presence who refuses to play the role as a typical ‘Allen female’ clone. There are a few laugh-out-loud moments, and some heartfelt speeches about life and love. What doesn’t work are the gay jokes, and John’s (Ed Begley Jr.) lightning fast coming out transformation. Don’t compare this to early Allen – it’s obvious now that he’ll never make ‘em like he used to – but for latter-day, Allen, it is the funniest he has written since Mighty Aphrodite in 1995. I’d like to call it a comeback, but this is tempered by the fact that Allen pulled the script from a bottom drawer where it had been sitting since the 1970s.

Rating:  2.5 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"[Larry] David's human sandpaper delivery gives a full, deep voice to Allen's reckless misanthropy."
- Sean Burns (Philadelphia Weekly)

District 9 (2009)

Movie quotes:

"When dealing with aliens, try to be polite, but firm. And always remember that a smile is cheaper than a bullet."
- Automated MNU Instructional Voice

MNU Agent: MNU! We're serving eviction notices.
Alien: What is ‘eviction’?

At a glance:
Director Neill Blomcamp’s first feature length film is a gritty, action-packed, and ‘realistic’ appraisal of humankind’s most expected reaction to the presence of drastically non-human aliens in their midst

Our review (with spoilers):
Johannesburg, South Africa is the unlikely entry point for the first Earth visit from extraterrestrials. A massive ship hovers over the city for months, taking no action and showing no signs of life, before it is finally raided from below. Its starving ‘cricket-like’ occupants appeared to be rejects from another world, and they are treated as such on Earth as well. They are held in an internment camp near Johannesburg. This decrepit shack city quickly deteriorates into a slum. When the residents of Johannesburg tire of the behavior that these violent scavenging aliens bring, a mass force eviction is planned to move the creatures 200 miles north to a new tent camp.

The man sent in to command the operation, Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley), is as prejudiced as anyone. He’s probably a moderate – he’s derogatory, and has no qualms about illegally moving the aliens as long as there is a token effort made to make it look like it is legal. To his credit, he wants to do it without violence. While inspecting an alien’s shack, a small metal device sprays his face with a black fluid. De Merwe gets progressively more ill. Admitted to hospital, his arm turns into an alien claw. This is big news for the MNU, the alien wrangling / arms dealing multinational that employs him. They whisk him away and perform tests that prove De Merwe can now fire the aliens’ advanced DNA-specific laser guns. De Merwe is quickly sentenced to death by operation, his body to be unceremoniously harvested for organs and DNA, and then sold on the open market at great value.

While fleeing from his death sentence, De Merwe is sheltered by an alien (Christopher Johnson) and his son. Christopher, one of the most technically advanced aliens, has a plan to rescue his comrades and cure De Merwe.

District 9 paints an ugly picture of how humans might treat a visit from aliens. The documentary-style vision is bleak – and it’s probably a realistic appraisal of how humans would actually react. The aliens are grossly different in appearance. Humans hate and distrust those who are different. It is fair to say that the more differences, the greater the hate and distrust. Apartheid is used to isolate the aliens – in fact, the shacks used in the film are existing shacks from an apartheid area of Johannesburg. Most refreshingly, the film also scrupulously avoids any attempts at sentimentality via anthropomorphism.

District 9’s powerful themes cannot help but overpower their execution, especially when the budget was so small. The movement of the aliens suffers from obvious low-budget CGI constraints. Those comments aside, I have rarely finished watching a movie and been as keen for a sequel as I was at the end of District 9. The touching and open-ended conclusion cries out for more. And encouragingly, director Neill Blomcamp has already mentioned the ‘S’ word.

Rating:  3 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"District 9 is a ferocious fable. Potent and provocative, it is an allegory for our time. It is bursting with contemporary themes -- oppression, greed, power, propaganda, and the conflict of disparate cultures."
- Tony Macklin (tonymacklin.net)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Army of Darkness (1992)


Movie quotes:
[Upon getting the powered glove in place of his right hand]
Ash (Bruce Campbell): Groovy.

Possessed Woman: I'll swallow your soul!
Ash: Come get some.

Ash: Lady, I'm afraid I'm gonna have to ask you to leave the store.
Possessed woman: Who the hell are you?
Ash: Name's Ash. [cocks rifle] Housewares.

At a glance:
This loose sequel to the Evil Dead films lets Bruce Campbell flex his slapstick comedy and action hero talents while we watch with guilty pleasure in Sam Raimi’s fun-filled sword and sorcery / horror romp

Our review (with spoilers):
Army of Darkness is a loose sequel to Evil Dead 1 and 2. Once again, Bruce Campbell stars as Ash, but unlike the other two films (which were straight horror), Darkness add time travel, sword and sorcery, and slapstick comedy to the formula. Here’s the story: the evil force that tormented Ash in films 1 and 2 propels him, his car, and the chainsaw (that fits over the stub of his arm) through time and into the middle ages. There he is viewed as the chosen one sent to defeat the evil forces that torment the people of that time. For his part, Ash only has an interest in returning home, but since the goals of defeating evil and returning home both require that he obtain the nefarious Necronomicon (book of evil), Ash agrees to the plan. When he messes up and incorrectly recites an incantation (in a hilarious scene), Ash unwittingly unleashes a skeletal army, commanded by a gruesome walking corpse (a former Ash clone – and also played by Campbell). His medieval girlfriend (Embeth Davidtz) is captured, prompting Ash to lead the forces of good into battle.

Campbell’s dream role has him on screen about 97% of the time. He has the chiseled good looks of a matinee idol or a superhero, and no one delivers a ‘groovier’ hero catchphrase line than him. But he’s not just a pretty face; he’s a face so pretty that Maryann Johanson (the Flick Filosopher) ached to push Campbell’s wife out of the picture and marry the big lug. He exudes charm and camp (and he has gone on to assume the unofficial crown as the King of Camp – making his "Hail to the King, baby" closing line strikingly prophetic), but he also can act. Even in this script that wavers between a sincere sword and sorcery epic and a Three Stooges movie, Campbell still manages to make subtle physical changes to his gaze – that faraway regal bearing when he commands his army against the evil - that made me believe that Ash had assumed the responsibilities of leadership. The weakest bits are probably the overlong slapstick scenes pitting Ash against graveyards of skeletons or miniature copies of himself, and the somewhat anticlimactic final battle. Some viewers will say that the skeletal army was done before and/or better in Jason and the Argonauts; others will consider it homage. The high points are the pure camp, and director Sam Raimi’s use of zoom and blackout (with no dialogue) in a scene where Ash is building his robotic hand. The film is a highly entertaining, guilty pleasure; aspiring Campbell ‘brides’ should add at least another half ratings point.

I’ve watched Army of Darkness at least four times now, starting in about 1995, when good friend Carlos was leading me through the Evil Dead films. Carlos considered Darkness the weakest of the ‘trilogy’, but I was thrilled to be treated to something funnier, nobler, more inventive, and with less horror (a genre that is not my favorite).

Rating:  3 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Camp isn't just an undercurrent here--it's the grindhouse force that drives the movie, with Bruce Campbell clearly happy behind the wheel."
- Christopher Smith (Bangor Daily News [Maine]

"Raimi and Campbell (who also produced the films) are among my indies heroes, mortgaging houses and maxing out credit cards to finance their wonderfully silly flicks."
- Maryann Johanson (Flick Filosopher)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Antichrist (2009)

Movie quotes:
"Little tears are hiding among the ferns as usual."
- She (Charlotte Gainsbourg)

"A crying woman is a scheming woman."
- She

"Chaos reigns."
- The Talking Fox

At a glance:
Controversial director Lars von Trier worked through his own personal depression by creating this massive misstep: a slow-moving, distastefully misogynistic horror/torture film

Our review (with spoilers):
Thirteen years ago, I subjected myself to Breaking the Waves, the first English language film by Lars von Trier. Yes, I know that many ‘art’ film critics with film study credentials greater than mine (that’s easy; I have none) thought this film was fantastic. I was appalled at the stupidity of the characters. If they were not real people, just symbols of world conditions, then let’s have a documentary, I say. The little Cat-in-the-Hat smile of Emily Watson haunted me for years; I refused to watch anything with Watson or by von Trier. Yet, I grudgingly admit that von Triers is an artist who painstakingly sculpts film (whether I like them or not). Antichrist was my chance to give von Trier – and myself - a second chance. Keep in mind, however, that I view films primarily as entertainment. I have little time for directors who have more interest in furthering a personal, semi-subliminal agenda, and who have little interest in creating a work that is both entertainment and art.

In Antichrist, Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg – known only as He and She – are engaged in passionate sex when their un-minded toddler son climbs a chair, opens an unlocked window, and plunges to his death from their upper story apartment. Von Trier’s guilt-laden graphic imagery (a brightly lit close-up of a fully erect penis plunging into a vagina) leaves no doubt in my mind that he wants to blame sex itself for the death of this toddler. As events transpire, She also seems to blame sex – or herself – for the death. How much does von Trier hate women? He abused Watson in Breaking the Waves. He abuses Gainsbourg’s character here. I do give him credit for creating good roles for actresses, and for masking his hatred behind the façade of artful film-making. I was secretly pleased, after forming this opinion, to find out that the ecumenical jury at Cannes gave Antichrist a special ‘anti-award’, stating that the film is "the most misogynist movie from the self-proclaimed biggest director in the world".

And why is all this guilt being heaped on She (and He)? I’m for a more rational approach to the initial situation. If you live on the third floor of a building where the windows are not permanently closed, and you have a toddler, you need to take precautions first, as there is no way anyone could possibly watch the child 24/7 even if they weren’t having wild shower/laundry room sex. So there’s plenty of ways to spread that blame around.

Despite his usual misgivings about it, He (a psychiatrist by trade) decides to treat She’s depression himself. He identifies that the source of her fear is a forest cabin called Eden that they have visited before. They hike there together – in slow motion - stopping every once in a while to stare at a series of dead baby animals that keep appearing before them. This subtle imagery is too oblique for me; I have no idea what these dead baby animals were supposed to represent – but they certainly seem to be upsetting to He and She. Maybe the talking fox knows the answer. The forest scenes are visually beautiful. Too bad that beautiful forest will soon be buried under two feet of acorns (at the ridiculous rate they are falling on the cabin roof).

She works through the pain of losing her son; soon after, she has a long night’s sleep and wakes up with a smile on her face, claiming that she is cured. He isn’t so sure, and he’s right. He’s also going a bit mad. He meets the previously mentioned talking fox (never a good sign unless you are in a children’s story). He sleeps with his arm out the window, hanging over the sill, no less (in an attempt to get RSI?) and wakes up with his hand covered in engorged ticks. These he rips off (I thought this left all the heads in and he will get infected, but of course he doesn’t). He discovers that her thesis on witches and persecution of women has somehow led her to the conclusion that women are evil. When He finds a series of pictures of their son, always dressed (by She) with shoes on the wrong feet, he begins to suspect that She is a demented torturer. Too late! Soon he is knocked out and is having grotesque, turn-your-face-away acts inflicted on parts of his body. When she’s done with him, she mutilates herself in a scene that is almost impossible to watch.

Antichrist is a horror film – admittedly, a genre that I do not usually like – embellished with shallow trappings of great portent by a self-indulgent director. Von Trier has made wonderful films; hopefully, this one is an anomaly.

Rating:  1 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Dogville, Von Trier's cinematic masterpiece from 2003, was a film that said so much about so many things. It explored America, evil, men and women, humanity, power and more, while being ambiguous enough to treat its audience with respect and let them draw their own conclusions. Antichrist just seems horribly shallow in comparison. Von Trier has confessed that in working on the film through a bout of almost debilitating depression, Antichrist was made using "about half" of his "physical and intellectual capacity". The truth is that it shows."
- Mayer Nissim (Digital Spy)

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Transporter (2002)

Movie quotes:
Look, I’m gonna give you some advice. I don’t know what you’re into; I don’t care what you’re into. But whoever wants you dead thinks you’re dead. You have a free pass to start over. Here’s the advice: START OVER!"
- Frank Martin (Jason Statham)

At a glance:
Jason Statham’s makes Frank Martin a worthy action hero with top-notch car chases and Jackie-Chan style fight choreography, but the dramatic/love scenes are clunky

Our review (with spoilers):
Frank Martin is a transporter – the transporter, as a matter of fact. His job is to deliver anything you want by car. Should troubles arise, he’s built to handle it. He’s a former Special Forces operator who left the Armed Forces due to disgruntlement with all his good work going to waste. So he decides to just become a mercenary with a very short list of unbreakable rules (like #3: Never Look In The Bag). Of course, he breaks his own rules and looks inside one of the bags he is delivering. Circumstances build until he is fully involved – romantically and otherwise – with Lai (Shu Qi), as Asian woman small enough to be stuffed into a bag, and yet tough enough to hold a gun to her own father’s head. Lai wants to break up a people smuggling racket. About 30 guys with guns, knives, axes, and martial arts training stand in the way, led by Wall Street (Matt Schulze), a man so lanky and so evil that he even sneers in his official police file photo. Statham also has to fend off Inspector Tarconi (François Berléand), a laconic, persistent local detective.

Your general vibe about Transporter will depend on whether you view Jason Statham as just another small-brained, superficial movie muscleman, or a quiet, intriguing hooligan. I happen to be in the latter camp, so Statham movies amuse me and Statham holds my interest.

Strengths are the opening and closing car/truck chases, and a series of brilliant Jackie-Chan-like martial arts fights pitting Statham against roomfuls of heavily armed thugs and martial arts experts. When things get tough, Statham even greases himself up and fights from the floor, wriggling around like a farm animal. The action looks even better when compared with the attempts at love and drama. Shu Qi is adequate as the comic relief femme fatale, although I must admit I liked her better years ago during her full frontal nudity days (under the monikor Hsu Chi). The plot is facetious, yet still seemed to be taking itself seriously (this is never a good thing). Some of the Statham/Qi dialogue is clunky; this often happens when the directors (in this case, successful Hong Kong filmmaker Corey Yuen and French filmmaker Louis Leterrier) speak English as a second language.

Rating:  2.5 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"The acting might be shoddy, the plot nonsense and the dialogue clunky, but the fighting is exquisitely done. Inventive, athletic, fun, stylish and tight, it's everything the rest of the film isn't."
- Time Out

"Statham impresses in a movie that is simultaneously the best (the fight scenes) and worst (everything else) action movie of the year. Destined for drunken Friday night rental heaven."
- Empire Magazine

State of Play (2009)

Movie quotes:
"You have your show horses and you have your work horses; I’m sure we can all find a way to get along."
- Rep. George Fergus (Jeff Daniels) to Rep. Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck)

At a glance:
Headed by an understated, effective performance by Russell Crowe, State of Play’s robust, top-shelf cast creates an intriguing political thriller that ultimately fails under the weight of one twist too many

Our review (with spoilers):
Washington-based investigative reporter Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) looks disorganized, and is often late for a deadline, but he’s almost detective-like in his approach to a story. He’s connected with the police and the coroner’s office. His clothes, demeanor, and car are similar to another investigator named Columbo. His college friend Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), who is now a Congressman, is in big trouble. The pretty young staff member that he fell in love with (and neglected his wife for) is dead. Collins heads a congressional committee investigating Pointcore, a multi-billion dollar defense contractor that stands to lose a lot if their business interests are curtailed. Collins asks McCaffrey for help; McCaffrey agrees, although he sees Collins as both a friend and a ‘story’. Competing against McCaffrey is the up and coming blogger, Della Frye (Rachel McAdams). Frye and McCaffrey learn to work together and to pull back the cover on a story that keeps growing and getting more convoluted and interconnected.

State of Play steams along beautifully for two-thirds of its running time, building intersecting emotional relationships and a web of political intrigue. Then, suddenly, the human element is dropped, and the final 30 minutes feature Crowe dashing around, servicing the plot and its multitude of needless twists. Eventually, every single major character either reveals a dark side or has a saint-like epiphany, as can only happen in a Hollywood film. Character development is dropped and a tied-up Hollywood ending is contrived. This film did not build to its conclusion; it built its conclusion.

Before these unfortunate missteps, however, State of Play features a fantastic cast at the top of their game. Crowe is unafraid to share screen time and lines, and to speak softly and carry a big pen. Rachel McAdams is sufficiently beautiful and intriguing until her character is given short shrift toward the end. Helen Mirren turns up her obnoxious factor to play the hard-nosed newspaper editor; Jason Bateman (always a pleasure to see) is a delightfully sleazy PR guy.

Rating:  2.75 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"The film held me a fair way in, because it's well paced and the actors are competent. But finally, the plot took one or two big twists too far."
- Julie Rigg (MovieTime, ABC Radio National)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Killing Room (2009)

Movie quotes:
"People will do anything to survive, don’t you think?"
- Dr. Phillips (Peter Stormare)

At a glance:
A thoroughly harrowing film, The Killing Room forces the viewer to observe innocent victims trapped in sadistic, government-sanctioned mind control experiments

Our review (with spoilers):
In the 1950s and 60s, the CIA conducted mind-control experiments that involved subjecting private citizens to deprivation, torture, and worse. These programs were officially ended in the 1970s. The Killing Game puts forward the fictional but believable notion that these programs have begun again (or never stopped), this time in response to the events of 911. We watch four innocent people, trapped in a room and subjected to horrific acts of torture and violence. Watching along with us is Emily Reilly (Chloe Sevigny), a rising star at the NSA with a special talent for military psychology. Reilly is there as an observer to prove to sadistic team leader Dr Phillips (Peter Stormare) that she is talented enough – and has a strong enough stomach – to join the team.

Having just watched a similarly themed film, The Chaos Experiment, I can state that Chaos got it wrong and Killing Room got it right. Chaos makes a brief attempt to give us background info about the four steam room inhabitants, in the hopes, perhaps, that we will sympathize. Killing Room makes no such attempt, and merely subjects us to the terror that is imposed upon the prisoners, with Reilly’s emotional reactions mirroring and intensifying our own. This would have been an intense thriller on its own, but it is intensified by the fact that it could be real – there is a sick and twisted logic in the end result of these experiments.

Rating: 3 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Unremittingly gripping and unnerving, The Killing Room transforms a simple premise into an almost unbearably tense experience."
- Tim Grierson (Screen International)

Gigantic (2008)


Movie quotes:
Mr. Weathersby (Edward Asner): Ah, whatever that boy wants, he’ll figure it out at some point. Now, you’ve got 15 years on him, both of you. You – you forget what you were like when you were his age?
James (Robert Stanton): I was finishing my residency when I was his age.
John (Ian Roberts): Yeah, I was in Russia buying oil tankers

Al (John Goodman): Here, take this.
Brian (Paul Dano): What’s this?
Al: A switchblade. Don’t lose it, I got it in Corsica

"Effectively combines three of my great fears: the dark, heights, public nudity."
- Happy (Zooey Deschanel)

Brian: How’s your soup?
Happy: A little…ligamenty.

At a glance:
Gigantic has many original and witty moments, and its low-key quirkiness is fun to watch, but it struggles to create characters that we care about, and its slight transformation into a conventional love story is a distraction

Our review (with spoilers):
The late great film critic Gene Siskel had a propensity to not only critique a film, but to make suggestions on how to improve the script. I tend to avoid this type of exercise. I believe a film is like an artist’s painting. We can view it and comment on it, but there’s no point in suggesting that there should be another tree added to the lower right. Having said that, I wish Gene was here now to rewrite the slightly sentimental turn that Gigantic injects into its story.

Brian (Paul Dano) has an unusual life-long ambition: to adopt a Chinese baby. He’s 29 now, and still on a waiting list. But this is obviously a strong passion with him, set apart from the other elements of his life. He almost sleep-walks through his job (selling luxury Swedish beds on commission). Brian is genetically disposed to quirkiness. His father (Ed Asner) walks the border between wit and dementia, and his brother John (Ian Roberts) speaks his mind, even during the pointy end of a massage. As Brian moves closer to getting that baby, he meets and get into a relationship (a quirky one of course) with Happy (Zooey Deschanel). Happy is passionate, but specializes in backing out of jobs and relationships whenever they get too serious. Happy is also quirky, as predetermined by the genes of her father Al (John Goodman). Goodman is again cast in a variant of the role he most often plays; a tactless businessman with a colorful past, he has the body shape and social graces of Homer Simpson; although, granted, he’s got a lot more intelligence than the cartoon character.

To complicate matters more, Brian is occasionally attacked by a street person – the same street person – who for some unexplained reason is stalking him, challenging him.

Gigantic is very funny at times; there are oodles of great lines. It is at its best when it delivers a steady stream of original, unusual scenes and situations (all presented in a low-key, somnambulistic mood). But it’s hard to care about the characters. As appealing as Paul Dano is, I had trouble taking his character seriously: a man who, as a boy of nine, was pleading for a Chinese baby? That’s intriguing but also a little creepy if true. Similarly, the success or failure of his relationship with Happy held no emotional meaning for me. Hopefully, other viewers had better experiences, because parts of the movie were charming and some of the dialogue is very clever.

Rating:  2.75 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"An indie comedy that's been kooked to a crisp. Wearing its quirkiness on its sleeve, the whole thing's just too self-consciously strange to engage."
- David Edwards (Daily Mirror [UK])

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Chaos Experiment (2009)

At a glance:
Val Kilmer still has almost enough screen charisma to carry this flawed adaptation of an intriguing premise about a climate scientist who uses human subjects in his extreme global warming experiment

Our review (with spoilers):
Jimmy Pettis (Val Kilmer) walks into a newspaper editor’s office and proclaims that he has six people imprisoned in a steam room, and plans to kill them all with 125 degrees heat if he is not given a front page headline. He says it’s all to prove his extreme theories about the end result of unchecked global warming. The editor isn’t so sure, so he brings in a buddy of his, off-duty Detective Mancini (Armand Assante). A subdued game of cat and mouse ensues between Pettis and Mancini; is Pettis insane, or does he really have hostages, or both? Switched on viewers will probably guess the correct answer a lot sooner than I did.

There certainly seems to be six people trapped somewhere in an ornate steam room. As the heat rises, they attack each other and themselves. When they try to escape, someone cruelly stops them. Of course, the sleazy Latino is the first to go, but soon most of them will succumb to fear or anger. Yes, Pettis has certainly proved that a future with global warming is a living hell. Of course, if the temperature really does rise above 125 degrees Fahrenheit, people will probably have to go crazy while under water.

Kilmer is still captivating to watch on film; he’s got that special magnetism and slight touch of craziness that makes for a live and unpredictable performance, even when he isn’t doing much of anything in front of the camera. He’s let himself go a fair bit in a latter-day Marlon Brando sort of way, and this movie isn’t going to have helped that at all, since he spends virtually all of it sitting (in an editor’s office, then in a car, and finally in an interrogation room).

To portray the steam room inhabitants, ambitious editing, saturated colors, and weird juxtaposition of background tracks don’t always succeed, but at least show someone trying to create an original work of art. Unfortunately, the script did not successfully generate anything about these trapped characters that would make me care whether they live or not. Another problem is that it never seems to actually get hotter and hotter in this room. In reality, I thought people would barely be able to move. They move a lot in this steam room, and the only thing they seem to be subjected to are brutal yellowish tints added in post-production.

In the end, (major spoilers follow) the two survivors worship Pettis (who is actually dethroned climate scientist Dr. Gregory); however, they have also been turned into ruthless survivalists by their steam room experience, and plan to kill Pettis rather than take the chance that he will again go to the media and risk exposing their behavior in the steam room. At least, that’s my interpretation; I always get a slightly queasy feeling when I’m not sure what just happened in a film.

Rating: 2 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"After a round of introductions, director Philippe Martinez does all the heterosexual males in the audience a huge favor by having Jessie (Eve Mauro) remove her bikini top, strut across the room in slow motion, and recline invitingly on a tiled bench, all to the strains of Ravel's "Bolero." For me, the movie will never get quite that good again."
- porfle (HK and Cult Film News)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Project Moon Base (1953)


Movie quotes:
General Greene: Now that we have a space station -
MST3K: - or Frisbee -
General Greene: - it is at last possible to send a ship -
MST3K: - or batteries -
General Greene: - all the way around the moon.
MST3K: - or playground ball.
(MST3K, commenting on the origin of props)

At a glance:
The Mystery Science 3000 team adds some humor to this flawed, misogynistic space procedural

Our review (with spoilers):
The USA is on the verge of building a base on the moon that will be used to monitor/defuse nuclear threats. Russia, of course, wants to foil that plan, so they send a spy to infiltrate a mission to circumnavigate the moon and take photos. The spy will attempt to take control of the ship and crash it. In his way are the pilot, Colonel Briteis (Donna Martell) and co-pilot, Major Bill Moore (Ross Ford). Briteis and Moore have to get past their petty squabbling and sexist jibes to defeat the spy.

Project Moon Base should, I suppose, be commended for showing women in positions of power (Colonel Briteis and the US President are women). However, these efforts are negated by its portrayal of ‘Brite-eyes’. She rarely shows any regard for army protocol, and what’s worse, when the situation turns dour, she all but relinquishes command and suddenly defers to the man in the space ship for help and guidance.

The film has a similar problem with the script and action, or lack of it. Fans of Star Trek: The Motion Picture and other more ‘realistic’, procedural-style films will like the basis in science and the lack of tricks or editing to speed up the action. Ships accelerate slowly; they dock slowly; everything happens slowly. Even the big spy fight happens slowly (because of gravitational issues).

I reviewed this film along with the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew, headed by Joel Hodgson, in this season 1, episode 9 entry. Hodgson’s shows are laconic and match the pace of the film, allowing the movie to be appreciated on its own merits and demerits. There are occasional funny MST3K lines, but nothing to split your sides.

Rating:  1 of 4 (original film); 2 of 4 (MST3K)

Other reviewers said:
"One element that Heinlein tries to add is a touch of feminism, or to at least portray feminine equality in the male military environment. Maybe it was just Robert Heinlein, who tended to be a dirty old man at times, or maybe it was just the era in which the film was made, but much of the cod-feminism in fact collapses into embarrassing sexism."
- Moria (Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Hurt Locker (2009)


Movie quotes:
"You know, this doesn’t have to be a bad time in your life. Going to war is a once in a lifetime experience! It could be fun."
- Doc to Eldridge

Guard: What the fuck were you doin’?
James: I was in a whorehouse.
Guard: Alright…if I let you in…will you tell me where it is exactly?

At a glance:
The Hurt Locker is a harrowing and tense quasi-documentary of a US Army bomb squad deployed in the Middle East

Our review (with spoilers):
Imagine your job is to work in a bomb squad. All day, every day, you are called out to investigate and defuse live bombs that can kill you, your co-workers, and innocent bystanders. Tough job. Now imagine you work in a bomb squad…in Iraq. Not only do you have to deal with explosives, but you have a populace that either loves you, is indifferent to you, or wants to kill you – and you don’t know how they feel until they start shooting or blasting. It is literally hell.

If you do go, you’d best leave your fear of failing at home. James (Jeremy Renner) does so. He shows no fear of the bombs exploding – he just finds the wires and cuts them, even removing his protective suit so he can die in comfort should something go wrong. James’ confidence is so strong that it crosses the border into insanity. To some, he is a hero, but at least one higher ranking officer treats him slightly more like a freak than a hero when he hears how many bombs he has defused. He throws money at an Iraqi boy in exchange for DVDs, but when they are not up to his standards, he jokingly threatens to kill the boy. To Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), he is the alpha male, needing to be challenged, matched kept in line. To Specialist Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), his lack of fear is an inspiration – to a point, anyway.

In 1995, director Kathryn Bigelow's film Strange Days also showcased her knack for presenting an uncompromising, often ugly story. The Hurt Locker’s subject matter is perfect for her dark perception of the world. Combined with frenetic editing by Chris Innis and Bob Murawski, Locker is filled with tension that cannot be defused.

Rating:  3.5 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Like every war before it, the U.S. invasion of Iraq has generated its share of movies. But The Hurt Locker is the first of them that can properly be called a masterpiece."
- Rene Rodriguez (Miami Herald)

Tyson (2008)


Movie quotes:
"While I’m in the dressing room, five minutes before I come out, my gloves are laced up, I’m breaking my gloves down, I’m pushing the leather to the back of my gloves, I’m breaking the middle of the gloves so my knuckle could pierce through the leather. I could feel my knuckle piercing through the tight leather gloves on the Everlast boxing gloves. When I come out I have supreme confidence but I’m scared to death. I’m totally afraid. I’m afraid of everything. I’m afraid of losing. I’m afraid of being humiliated. But I’m totally confident. The closer I get to the ring the more confident I get; the closer, the more confident I get. The closer the more confident I get. All during my training I’ve been afraid of this man. I thought this man might be capable of beating me. I’ve dreamed of him beating me. But that I’ve always stayed afraid of him. The closer I get to the ring I’m more confident. Once I’m in the ring I’m a god. No one could beat me. I walk around the ring but I never take my eyes off my opponent – I keep my eyes on, even if he’s ready and pumping. He can’t wait to get his hands on me as well. I keep my eyes on him. I keep my eyes on him. Then once I see a chink in his armor, boom, one of his eyes may move, and then I know I have him. Then when he comes to the center of the ring, he still looks at me with his piercing look as if he’s not afraid. But he already made that mistake when he looked down for that one tenth of a second. I know I had him. He’ll fight hard for the first two or three rounds, but I know I already broke his spirit. During the fight I’m supremely confident. I’m moving my head; he’s throwing punches. I’m making him miss and I’m countering. I’m hitting him to the body; I’m punching him real hard. And I’m punching, and I’m punching him, and I know he’s not able to take my punches. One, two, three punches; I’m throwing punches in bunches. He goes down, he’s out. I’m victorious. Mike Tyson, greatest fighter that ever lived."
- Mike Tyson

At a glance:
Mike Tyson paints a mesmerizing portrait of his tumultuous life and troubled soul in his truth-laced, psychologically fascinating soliloquy

Our review (with spoilers):
Tyson is the story of heavyweight boxer and former world champion Mike Tyson, tracing his tumultuous life from his start as a troubled child, his teenage years as a hood, his ascent to the world title, and his descent back to earth. At the heart of all was his intensely close relationship with his trainer/mentor/father figure, Cus D’Amato. D’Amato pulled Tyson from a life of crime that would have surely ended in an early death or a long jail sentence, and honed his raw boxing talent into the skills of a world champion. Tyson, for his part, gave D’Amato a reason to live – to watch this man that he had molded improve and excel. D’Amato saw Tyson start to climb the steps toward the world championship but died before Tyson reached his goal. D’Amato also missed Tyson’s rapid descent. With his mentor/conscience gone, and lured into believing his own hype, Tyson stopped training and gave in to the temptations of non-stop groupie women. He lost the title to Buster Douglas, a fighter he probably could have beaten easily had he trained properly. As his professional life nose-dived, so did his personal life. His marriage to Robin Givens ended in humiliation. And later, he was convicted of the rape of an aspiring Miss America contestant, and spent three years in prison. When he emerged, his heart, mind and body were no longer dedicated to boxing; he fought again, with varying success, and admitted that often it was only for the paycheck.

What makes this story so compelling is that it is told by Tyson himself, with no holds barred (except for those parts where it is obvious that Tyson doesn’t really understand what happened to him, or perhaps has no intention of admitting the facts). Most of the film consists of close-ups of Tyson’s face as he recounts the highs and lows of his life. There is an interviewer, but they are never on-screen, and their questions are never heard; only Tyson’s answers are there to guide us. Interspersed with this are some awesome clips from his bouts that led to his heavyweight title; he was a terrifying superior fighter, expertly trained, singular of purpose, and with amazing hand speed and power.

Even Tyson himself seems only vaguely aware of just how out of control he can get when he is high, hurt, or enraged by current events or his harsh upbringing. He is quite raw, unrestrained, and animalistic, and, amazingly, he shares much of this when he tells his story. For example, recounting the details of when he attacked Don King, he first insults King, calling him a number of names and saying the man only loves money. It is as if he is reliving the anger that led him to attack King. He then says that he loved Don King. Both versions appear to be true, or at least he believes both to be true.

Rating:  3.5 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"...if Tyson never manages to charm us, there are other times when he comes off as touchingly naive. He's uncommonly empathetic to those who might think him a monster. It seems he often sometimes thinks of himself the same way."
- Philip Martin (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

"It all adds up to a fascinating psychological study, a film that goes beyond both the public persona and the fighter's own spin to get at the frightened, angry, explosive, yet utterly understandable boy who became a very troubled and very public man."
- Roger Moore (Orlando Sentinel)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

I Love You Man (2009)


Movie quotes:
Peter: So what do I do? How do I make friends?
Robbie: If you see a cool looking guy, strike up a conversation and ask him on a man date.
Peter: Ok.
Robbie: You know what I mean?
Peter: No.
Robbie: Casual lunch or after work drinks. You're not taking these boys to see The Devil Wears Prada.
Peter: Oh god, I love that movie. No I won’t.

Man at Open House: [after trying to discretely fart] I like it, but I'm not sure about the space.  I'm thinking it might be a little bit small.
Sydney: Totally, and it smells like fart.

At a glance:
Paul Rudd is funny, likeable, and believable as the quintessential "girlfriend’s boyfriend’ who undergoes a freedom of inhibitions when he bonds with a male free spirit played by Jason Segel

Our review (with spoilers):
Like most men, Peter (Paul Rudd) is thrilled to have found the love of his life, but unlike most other men, he doesn’t seem to be feeling the least bit of trepidation about his impending loss of freedom. And also unlike other men, he doesn’t have any male friends. Peter is the quintessential boyfriend, always devoting his time to making life good for his fiancée Zooey (Rashida Jones) and her friends. He’s a lover of chick flicks like The Devil Wears Prada, he doesn’t crave a night out with the guys playing poker and vomiting, and he’s not averse to treating his girlfriend’s hens to a round of root beer floats garnished with Pepperidge Farm Pirouettes chocolate straws.

After a humorous and fruitless search for male companionship on a series of ‘man dates’, many sponsored by his gay brother and misguided mother, Peter finally happens across someone he can bond with: easygoing free spirit Sydney (Jason Segel). Anchored by their shared acquired passion for the rock band Rush, they become such good friends and frequent companions that their relationship begins to crack seams in the bond between Peter and Zooey.

I Love You Man is a very funny movie (especially before it turns a bit maudlin and contrived in the final third). It also had its humorous base in truth; much of Peter’s pre-Sydney situations reminded my very much of my own life.

Although the basic bones of I Love You Man is a tried and true clichéd friendship/redemption story, there are enough funny and original lines that it’s still a rewarding journey. In fact, this works both ways: fans of easy to access happy endings will like it, those who crave originality will like it, and there’s even a fair bit of gross-out humor thrown in to please every taste.

Rating:  2.75 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"A blokey comedy that ironically doubles as a good date movie, I Love You, Man is funny nonsense that just drops short of fulfilling its ripping premise."
- Shannon J. Harvey (Sunday Times [Australia]

"Starting with a pretty funny script, writer-director Hamburg lets his cast have a free hand with their characters, and the improvisational atmosphere is what makes this male-bonding comedy thoroughly engaging."
- Rich Cline (Shadows on the Wall)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Franklyn (2009)


Movie quotes:

"If a god is willing to prevent evil, but not able, then he is not omnipotent. If he is able, but not willing, then he must be malevolent. If he is neither able or willing then why call him a god?"
- Jonathan Preest

At a glance:
Writer/director Gerald McMorrow creates a beautiful mystery, told across parallel universes, where the stories of four seemingly unconnected strangers intersect

Our review (with MAJOR SPOILERS):
Somewhere in a sci-fi future, the dark, architecturally-complex city of Meanwhile possesses laws that require every citizen to join a religion, even if that religion is as obscure as the Seventh Day Manicurists, or has a preacher that reads care instructions from clothes tags as if they were Holy Scriptures. In this madness, one masked man, Jonathan Preest (Ryan Phillippe) has defied the government and belongs to no church but his own. Preest is imprisoned for his ‘crime’; after four years, he is granted freedom if he will kill The Individual (Bernard Hill), a particularly dangerous religious leader who, years earlier, was responsible for the death of a girl that Preest was contracted to protect. Running parallel to this universe, in present-day London, are our other protagonists. Emilia (Eva Green), is a troubled young woman who makes monthly failed attempts at suicide as part of her art project. During her previous art project, when she was following strangers with a video camera, she tracked Milo (Sam Riley), a young man whose fiancée recently dumped him on the eve of their wedding. Milo, for his part, has seen glimpses of Emilia in a red wig and believes she is his childhood sweetheart, Sally. Unfortunately, Sally was not a real person, but an imaginary friend that Milo created when his father died. This becomes even stranger when he meets this Sally, and she remembers him.

There is also an older man who is searching for his son, David. Deep into the film, we discover that David is really Preest, and that the girl whom Preest failed to protect was his sister Sarah. As impossible as it may seem, all of these people’s stories will intersect and be resolved.

Franklyn requires heightened levels of concentration and observation to avoid losing interest or missing telltale clues and plot points. In my case, this was not an issue; the acting and the lost-souls love story that is at its core held my attention, as did the beautiful and often poetic production design. Franklyn is the type of film that polarizes viewers and reviewers. This often means that the director was trying to do something ambitious, inscrutable, and original that did not connect with the majority Typically, I rate these types of films at the high end of the scale, with extra points awarded for the effort of creating something that has not been done hundreds of times before. So if some parts do not work (like the occasional cumbersome prose), that’s okay; we can appreciate the many scenes that do.

Rating:  3 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Franklyn is wonky and self-defeating: there are lots of gauche moments. Still, it’s entertaining, and commendable for its strangeness."
- Edward Porter (Sunday Times [UK])

"If ambition and flair were the only hallmarks of a five-star film then Franklyn would be top of the class."
- Allan Hunter (Daily Express)

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Bourne Supremacy (2004)


Movie quotes:
Jarda: Word in the ether was you'd lost your memory.
Jason Bourne: You still should have moved.

Pamela Landy: What if I can't find her?
Jason Bourne: It's easy. She's standing right next to you.

Kirill: You told me I had one month off.
Gretkov: You told me Jason Bourne was dead.

"Get some rest, Pam. You look tired."
- Jason Bourne

At a glance:
The second installment of the Matt Damon-led Bourne Trilogy is still an effective action thriller with exotic Euro locations, but it lacks some of the emotional punch of The Bourne Identity

Our review (with spoilers):
Jason Bourne is back. Once again, various people and agencies consider him a rogue and want him dead. He might have been able to stay beneath the radar, but a Russian agent kills two men in Berlin and plants one of Bourne’s prints at the scene. This sends CIA coordinator Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) in pursuit of Bourne. Allen steps into a similar role that Chris Cooper played in Identity; she’s perfectly cast; she even looks a little like Cooper in drag. Landy pursues Bourne in Berlin and Moscow; those two cities provide exotic backdrops, although they are decidedly less pleasing to look at than Paris was from Identity. Likewise, there are attempts made to put emotional hooks into Supremacy, but for a reason I won’t mention here (since it would reveal a major spoiler), they aren’t as effective as Identity. There are also more contrivances (like Zorn taking Abbott aside to show him evidence first before Landy; and  Bourne not killing Abbott) that are there to serve the character’s arc rather than make any sense. Consequently, Supremacy is a more conventional thriller; its top shelf locations and casting of Damon and Allen still make it better than many.

Rating: 2.75 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Flashes of color and streaks of movement can make for a striking picture, but only if you can see what's taking place, not to mention if you care about who is in jeopardy."
- Eric Melin (Lawrence.com)

"Supremacy is, minor quibbles aside, a worthy successor to The Bourne Identity."
- Pete Vonder Haar (Film Threat)

Quench (2007)


At a glance:
Writer/director Zack Parker takes a miniscule budget and wrings a captivating story of a grieving young man who may find solace within a tightly knit circle of Goths

Our review (with spoilers):
There is no peace for the grieving Derik (Bo Barrett). His film-opening visit to a grave informs us that someone close to him has died. But we don’t know who or how close, since he chooses not to share this with anyone. He doesn’t even tell Jason (Ben Schmitt), an old school friend who he visits now because he doesn’t want to go home and has no one else to turn to. To Derik, Jason has changed so much since the two of them were close in high school. Ben now is a full-fledged Goth, having been influenced by his live-in Goth girlfriend, Veronica (Samantha Eileen DeTurk). Jason and Veronica are part of a very tight knit group of Goth friends who attend weird, dark parties where drugs and sex are exchanged. Derik is only partially accepted into these circles. Eventually, Derik’s lethargy and inability to deal with his grief causes conflict between he and Jason, and Derik moves out.

As Derik is about to board a bus to anywhere, fate intervenes; he crosses paths with Gina (Mia Moretti) a Goth girl who has taken a fancy with him. Derik moves in with Gina, and, again, is accepted into the group. This time, however, the extremes of the group’s practices cause Derik to reject them, which leads to disastrous consequences.

Quench is a quiet, thoughtful, slow-paced film, with many moments of silence. This is no Gilmore Girls patter; the characters think, and the story is intriguing enough that we don’t mind wondering, in those silences, what they are thinking about. Since the movie is classified as ‘horror’, horror fans looking for gore may be disappointed (this might account for the 3.9 of 10 rating on IMDB). Conversely, virtually all reviews of the film are overwhelmingly positive. The acting is occasionally amateurish, but Mia Moretti is very good. Bo Barrett proves that though it is difficult to play the role of an almost comatose grieving person without appearing truly wooden, it is not impossible. I’m looking forward to more from Zack Parker.

Rating: 2.75 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Usually when dealing with darker subjects, movies will take a wild turn into fantasy or horror, Mr. Parker keeps his movie firmly grounded in reality, and the horror of that is more than enough…"
- Brian Morton (Rogue Cinema)

"A chilly examination of decaying hope, Zack Parker’s Quench exemplifies the drive and spirit that embodies truly independent filmmaking."
- Collin Armstrong (Twitch)

"Quench" is a rich tapestry of sub-genres, moral questions, and undertones that ends as a great indie horror picture that works against being another typical horror entry."
- Felix Vasquez Jr. (Cinema Crazed)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Bourne Identity (2002)


Movie quotes:
Jason Bourne: Look. You drive, I pay, it's that simple.
Marie: Scheisse. I got enough trouble, okay?
Jason Bourne: Okay. Can I have my money back?
[Marie looks down at the wad of bills in her hand. Cut to Marie driving Jason in the car]

"How could I forget about you? You're the only person I know."
- Jason Bourne

"I can tell you the license plate numbers of all six cars outside. I can tell you that our waitress is left-handed and the guy sitting up at the counter weighs two hundred fifteen pounds and knows how to handle himself. I know the best place to look for a gun is the cab of the gray truck outside, and at this altitude, I can run flat out for a half mile before my hands start shaking. Now why would I know that? How can I know that and not know who I am?"
- Jason Bourne

At a glance:
This rare character-driven thriller combines tense action, exotic locations, and a stellar cast, anchored perfectly by Matt Damon as the boyishly innocent-looking but still-deadly Jason Bourne

Our review (with spoilers):
A half-drowned man (Matt Damon) awakens on an Italian fishing vessel, rescued from the ocean, with two bullet holes in his back. He remembers nothing. Slowly, pieces come together; an implant leads him to a safe deposit box that contains cash, numerous passports with a variety of names, and a gun. When threatened, he is surprised to observe himself dispatching two or more armed men with ease. The puzzle takes time to unravel, but what is immediately clear is that many people want him dead. Through convenience, he teams with a troubled, free-spirited woman (Franka Potente) who initially provides transport out of a touchy situation.

This thriller provides plenty of action, but it is, more importantly, character-driven, with strong performances across the board. Matt Damon provides a perfect blend of surface innocence, intelligence, and boyish charm; he is as surprised as we are to find out he is a trained assassin with all the skills of a top secret agent. Franka Potente provides this thriller with an unusual luxury: a strong female lead. Chris Cooper is excellent as Bourne’s boss. Clive Owen is also particularly effective in a small role as an assassin known as The Professor. This nail-biter is laced with occasionally shockingly cold violence (made even more effective by Potente’s heartfelt reactions to it) and lavish European locations; there’s even  a two-second throwaway shot of assassin ‘Castel’ (Nicky Naude) vespa-ing through Rome with the Coliseum in the background. Rating: 3.5 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Efficient set pieces come neatly spaced every ten to 15 minutes -- just often enough to keep you credulous -- and the trans-European settings lend a classy backdrop."
- Time Out

"Liman can uncork leap-out-of-your-seat shocks, draw out suspense scenes with malicious finesse and even ease a touch of romance and droll humor into the yarn."
- Colin Covert (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

Friday, July 10, 2009

For Your Consideration (2006)


Movie quotes:
"You can't throw the baby out with the bathwater because then all you have is a wet, critically injured baby."
- Lane Iverson (Michael McKean)

At a glance:
Christopher Guest’s first ever misfire looks behind the scenes at low-budget film-making; an attempt is made at both comedy and sincerity, but neither is delivered

Our review (with spoilers):
This inside-Hollywood film looks at the making of Home For Purim, a 1940s Jewish-themed drama about the American South. Three of the actors (two in the twilight of their careers, and one just making the jump from comedy) find out that they may be nominated for Best Actor Academy Awards. It’s likely these are just rumors and nothing more, since the script, performances, and direction are not really a-grade.

There are talented performances by Guest’s usual team of potentially hilarious comic actors, but, sadly, very little of the film is funny. The too-broad jokes do not feel like they have a basis in fact (for example, an agent who has never used the Internet). What did make me laugh were the intonations and accent (is that supposed to be New York?) of Christopher Guest’s character. I also appreciated the wonderful Catherine O’Hara. She gets the best character to play here: a fully fleshed out role as an ageing actress who believes her waning career may be on the ascension.

Christopher Guest movies are not meant to be side-splittingly funny. Rather, they are best appreciated as low-budget, humorous and affectionately-made gems, featuring a returning cast of familiar faces. Waiting for Guffman, Guest’s first and funniest, benefited from its status as a true comic surprise. Best in Show had perhaps the broadest comic appeal and was the most successful of the lot. A Mighty Wind was not as funny but was carried by the humorous, entertaining folk music parodies and moments of touching sincerity. For Your Consideration doesn’t have the music, comedy, or sincerity to salvage it.

Rating: 1 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"The problem with For Your Consideration is that it breaks the cardinal rule of comedy: it just isn't funny."
- Ted Murphy (Murphy's Movie Reviews)

"The best jokes are the true jokes, and truth has not been best served here."
- Anthony Quinn (Independent)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Freezer Burn (2007)

Movie quotes:
Virgil: Oh! Hey! It’s a tiny wooden moose!
Blake: It gave me a whittle cramp.
Virgil: Oh! You got a whittle cwamp?
Blake: A whittling cramp, a whittling cramp, ‘cause I was – I was up all night whittling!

Virgil: Alright, I’ll see ya – later.
Rex: Fifteen years.
Virgil: Fifteen years.

Gary: Here are your fuckin’ French Fries.
Rex: They’re Freedom Fries, Gary.
Gary: Yeah, sure.
Rex: You’re letting the terrorists win!

Rex: I’ll give you the rundown. A few years back, terrorists attacked us, fucked shit up royal – so, now we’re back in Iraq, and we’re asking for help, and the Frenchies are like, ‘No!’. So we’re all, like, ‘Bye, French Fries; hello, Freedom Fries’.
Virgil: Sounds…stupid and convoluted.
Rex: Yeah, and we got Freedom Toast, Freedom Bread, Freedom Dip, Freedom Kissin’…it’s a different world now, Virg – welcome to it. Need some ketchup – Gary!

At a glance:
An entertaining concept and some enthusiastic acting make Freezer Burn’s tale of cryogenic love a low-budget sci-fi gem

Our review (with spoilers):
Virgil Stamp (Robert Harriell) is a scientist whose goal is to prolong the ability to freeze donor organs. Buoyed by his success with monkey hearts, he makes the jump to believing he can freeze an entire living thing. A terminally ill dog is his first test; when that succeeds, he looks for another subject. In the meantime, his devotion to his work has caused tension between him and his wife, Blake (C. C. Seymour). This isn’t helped when he takes a liking to the paintings of Emma (Ella Rae Peck), a comely 14 year old student of Blake. When Blake finds out that he purchased one of Emma’s paintings behind her back, she destroys his frozen specimens, ruining his upcoming presentation. With his funding and his marriage terminated, Virgil realizes his feelings for Emma are true love. To prove his theories are correct, and to set up a legal meeting between Emma and himself, he freezes himself, leaving instructions for his assistant Rex (Michael Consiglio) to thaw him out in fifteen years. He also leaves instructions for Mendelson (Ivo Velon), a dodgy criminal who owes him a favor, to keep track of Emma. Eleven years later, a failure to pay notice means Virgil climbs out of his freezer in the middle of a dump, homeless and in his underwear. He has no friends, no money, and no outer garments. He eventually finds Rex, who is now homeless, and Mendelson finds him. Mendelson’s news is that Emma died in a car crash, but as he tells his story, we see that in reality, Mendelson fell in love with Emma and married her (this plotline is a bit similar to There’s Something About Mary).

There are moments of amateurish writing and acting in Freezer Burn, but not many, and not nearly enough to reduce the enjoyment of the clever concept, entertaining story, enthusiastic acting, and the general ‘feel-good’ mood of the whole project. Robert Harriell is particularly good in a demanding role that requires he is on-screen almost all the time, often by himself. Some of the fall foliage location filming in Connecticut is also beautiful. I’m hoping to see more from writer/director Charles Hood.

Rating: 2.75 of 4

Click here to order Freezer Burn on DVD

Other reviewers said:
"If you can look past the lack of polish, there are some very fun and entertaining bits in here."
- Curse of Greyface