Sunday, July 31, 2011

Review: Cowboys & Aliens (2011) TH

Truth in the title

A memory impaired man (Daniel Craig) awakes with a strange metal shackle on his wrist and a wound on his side. After showcasing hidden skills like a 19th century Jason Bourne on some rough and tough dudes, he heads to the nearest town of Absolution only to find more hassles. He deals with a spoiled, troublemaker named Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano), who's father is a not-to-be-messed-with head honcho of sorts. Percy lands in jail and soon enough the man with no memory ends up in the cell next door, as he turns out to be the infamous Jake Lonergan who has a rap sheet longer than the Oregon Trail. When Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) gets word of his incarcerated son, he storms the streets with his cowboys. Right before a tense showdown, the alien part of the equation shows to make things go boom and people disappear. Jake's bracelet suddenly turns into Mega Man status and he blasts one of the ships down with an energy beam. The creature that operated the vessel flees and they round up a posse to track it back to where their kidnapped loved ones are.

"Cowboys & Aliens" is more about the journey to the final showdown involving various characters that it never fully scratches below the introductory surface on, which at times makes them more plot devices than natural. Along tags a bartender who's more business than brawn; a mysterious woman who eyes Jake; a practical preacher who knows how to pray and shoot; a young boy who's not yet a man; a loyal Indian who looks at his boss as a father figure; and the former colonel Dolarhyde who's got a thing or two to teach the youngins about battle. Now, where westerns in the past had everybody out for their ruthless selves, this uses the enslaving extraterrestrials as a means to get along for the greater good of humanity, including fierce outlaws and warrior Indians who are in the same dire straits. In the meantime, no one ever claimed the abominable aliens didn't have punctuality as they make a few well-timed appearances to the point of predictably just before a human vs human conflict is about to get all gun crazy. Though like throwing a rock at a tank, these basic, booze-drinkin', boot-wearin' westerners look to be completely overrun and overwhelmed. That is until they have to get sneaky and use strength in numbers to put a stop to the aliens, which at this point are so one-dimensional the movie plays out like an easily sold good vs evil template with nothing left over to put in the bank to accumulate interest.

This is more the former than the latter of the title. The western portion on its own isn't groundbreaking to the genre, and the sci-fi side isn't inventive enough to blow the lid off a long time fan, even if the combination is definitely original. Other aspects to fall back on like the pacing can feel like it revs the engine, then levels at a lower gear. This wouldn't be such an issue but it's not that contemplative of a film to hit the locker room in between for a break, and as a result creates a building list of questions from the viewer that never end up answered about certain plays. It's a film that treads more on mystery when it comes to its antagonists, by at first seeing a shadow, a claw and then a quick full frontal, as well as it only gives little snippets of information for the viewer. Problem is, it doesn't create that intriguing enough of creatures to pull the enigma off--no communication, no interaction with each other, very few distinguishing elements with behavior or appearance--or even go further into why they're on Earth other than laying out a questionable reason at face-value.

Daniel Craig played a simple but commanding presence, as he said little but when it came time for action delivered with full force as if he meant it, and then some. It causes you to focus in on him to not miss his next move, despite getting knocked about with a lesser blow or two. Clancy Brown plays a memorable role as a tough holy man that adds humor to the situations, but Chris Browning includes cartoon flavor with his crusty chompers and oafish demeanor. Paul Dano, as much as he tried and has the most range, his performance felt misplaced as if he's a tortured man rather than just a fearful kid with no perspective from growing up safe and spoiled. Harrison Ford's character is built up and built up, with other people making not only a legend of him but a power not to be reckoned with, though by the time it comes for him to show his stuff, he falls somewhat short on punch. It's a shame that some of his gruff lines come off as unflattering imitations rather than truly compelling. On an entertainment level, you get massive explosions, O.K. Corral-thumping gun fights, built up thrills, mystery, situational humor, potential love, tragedy, resolution and you get to see two separate genres at the same time. It sounds like a lot, but it didn't always come one after the other or always in a smooth, edge-of-your-seat transition together. The mentioned certainly made this enjoyable and an interesting concept to see but unfortunately it wasn't capable of thoroughly traveling beyond expectations for such a cool premise.

Director: John Favreau (Made, Iron Man 1 & 2)
Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Keith Carradine, Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, Olivia Wilde, Noah Ringer, Clancy Brown
Website: IMDB

Review: Due Date (2010) TH

Having toleration is an understatement

After Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.) gets a quick look at the guy who just hit the door off of his chauffeur's car at the airport, like with everything else he's a busy man who doesn't think very much about the bearded guy who's probably got more than an issue or two hidden behind the facial fortress. But soon enough that man with a perm to match turns into that person who just won't go away. He's the most foulest, unashamed "companion," but one who instead acts more like a capture of his every next move. As the saying goes, "Sometimes you have to give a little to get a little," but no matter what he does to compromise, the pesky man named Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis) just keeps getting worse and causes Peter to nearly reinvent himself along the way so he can just get to his wife's labor in time but first he has to cover a stretch from Atlanta to L.A. Simple enough, right?

This is easier said than done, as he's got no ID, money, luggage or car, and he just got put on the No-Fly list due to a misunderstanding involving Ethan. Now, the man who just caused him enough grief offers him a ride in his rental car with his little dog Sonny because he's going to Hollywood to become an actor, face-shot portfolio, impressions and all. Peter grudgingly excepts, because how bad could it really be? Well, he probably puts up with more idiocy than Charles Darwin himself researched and catalogued. He's the Clint Eastwood of comedies as he's a man of fewer, quicker words and isn't used to opening up. Ethan, on the other hand, is an imploding, extroverted personality all his own. Though he's a walking, talking conundrum: nice, but rude, giving, but takes, a talker, but not a listener, and then sympathetic in one way and a jerk the next. If that wasn't enough Peter meets all kinds of contradictory characters in middle America that he might not have ever seen or wanted to see ever again. Including rude and violent employees and drug dealers who want him to watch their obnoxious kids while they score a deal.

"Due Date" is a comedy/adventure that is often delivered with deadpan humor that revolves around the ridiculousness of the situations and interactions, rather than droves of inventive dialogue or witty one-liners. The whole trip is a trip, so some impossible and implausible scenarios happen that can insult one's intelligence from getting into fights, near death accidents and possible trouble with the law, but that is only if you take it seriously. Zach Galifianakis puts on a detestable but commendable role as a delusional, sheltered man who's naive and unapologetic but he doesn't even realize it himself. Robert Downey Jr. plays it straight but is able to still line up the comedic scenes and slip in a few lines of his own when it gets the best of him. The R is for drug use, frequent cursing and some minor sexual references. The greatest aspect about this movie, is it never lets up. Even when there's a supposed sad and touching scene, something still manages to goof up, go unexpectedly wrong or put the two actor's back on the ropes. Like the old gag of pulling away with a handshake, it puts the unsure audience on edge but still leaves room to anticipate what will happen next. It's still a growing experience that breaks down their barriers to make the two leads who are entirely different people beforehand now either best friends or just knowledgeable chums that are still at each other's throats.

Director: Todd Phillips (Road Trip, Old School, The Hangover)
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis, Michelle Monaghan, Jamie Foxx, Juliette Lewis
Website: IMDB


Ethan: "Dad, you were like a father to me."

Heidi: "You know, only, like, fucking jerk-offs get perms."

Ethan: "I'm not an accountant Peter. I'm not even Jewish."

Peter: "How have you made it? How have you not run yourself over in a car?"
Ethan: "I've done that."

Ethan: "God Almighty, holy moly. It's like I'm traveling with a child!"
Peter: "Did you use the restroom?"
Ethan: "Good point. I need to take a pee-pee."

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Review: Date Night (2010) TH

A night of misadventures and misunderstandings

Phil (Carell) and Claire (Fey) Foster are an average couple from New Jersey who have harmless full time jobs, two highly active kids and most importantly no time to build on the romance and adventure they once started out with. They seem to have become a cross between best friends and brother and sister, as they're familiar enough to give out sarcastic and sometimes dry jokes with some comedic observations thrown in at what was them or could really be them. They're so busy and responsible that they hardly noticed the slump of doing the same ol' things in the same ol' order until their close friends the Sullivans (Mark Ruffalo, Kristen Wiig) are getting a separation from lack of wind in their sails. Claire and Phil decide to turn a regular date night into one they'll remember, except it ends up being more than they bargained for.

After getting shot down for a reservation at a trendy, upscale restaurant called Claw over in New York, they pretend to be the Tripplehorns to snag a table. Quicker than you can say, "If you're looking for trouble, it's bound to find you," two guys who appear to be restaurant employees ask the now drunk couple to step outside. Soon enough things turn for the "North by Northwest" worst, as these are gun waving fellows are looking to get a flashdrive back for their boss Joe Miletto (Ray Liotta) and don't believe the two aren't really the Tripplehorns. Instead of getting filled with lead, Phil and Claire go with the flow and make up information in hopes that something will come up in the meantime. Opportunity strikes and they get away only to find themselves jumping back and forth to escape the two that look like henchmen but might be something else.

From one location to the next, they end up breaking every other law, get help from the continually shirtless private security guy named Holbrooke Grant (Mark Wahlberg), to meeting the real Tripplehorns called Whippit (Mila Kunis) and Taste (James Franco) that are just a couple of movie referencing Bonnie and Clydes who got in over their heads. This is an exaggerated cinematic world where regular people exceed and bad guys are really bad. Everyone is a caricature of their type from shady gangsters, perverted politicians to corrupt cops, which makes the experience purposely silly and far from ground-breaking but still a somewhat fun formula because it doesn't even take itself seriously. Some situations jump the ship of just being plain dumb, such as both attempting to pole dance and then like a miss episode of SNL it carries on far too long. There's a tad of action between the one-liners and sometimes inventive remarks, including an impossible but wild car chase and some guns waved and fired. Fey and Carell are both energetic and well-timed out with their back and forth banter in between their characters trying to figure out an exit strategy. This is about two regular folks attempting to save their own skin and simultaneously save the day. Been there, done that countless times, but it's still an easy and unchallenging ride to relax and loosen up with to pass the time even if it doesn't claim to be a first rate film.

Director: Shawn Levy (Just Married, Night at the Museum)
Starring: Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Mark Wahlberg, Ray Liotta, Mark Ruffalo, Kristen Wiig
Website: IMDB


Claire: "That's amazing, Jeremy, but I'm gonna go home now and fart into a shoe box."

Woman at book club meeting: "This part really spoke to me. I mean, to walk 20 miles for water, and then to suddenly discover that you're menstruating?"
Phil: "Quite sad."
Woman: "Sir, you have no idea what it is like to be a teenage girl having your first period under Taliban rule."

Taste: "This is about how I'm an asshole all the time, huh? How you have no trust that I can pull things through."
Whippit: "Yeah!"
Taste: "How I can't do anything right? I buy the wrong soda?"
Whippit: "Yeah."
Taste: "The wrong beer!"
Phil: "I hear you, man."
Taste: "The wrong nipple clamps."
Phil: "Well..."
Whippit: "Those clamps hurt me!"

Friday, July 29, 2011

Review: The Tourist (2010) TH

Fanciful events for a whimsical vacation

This is another movie that uses a bait and switch with its trailer. It's made out to be an action/thriller with a constant, heart-racing traction, though the actual tone plays out as a somewhat light hearted mystery with an element of humor and some romance that comes across as lackadaisical, never knowing which angle to stick with, which makes the general mood an emotionally confusing and conflicting experience for a viewer. It's a film where the music acts as another character--sometimes distracting, sometimes getting the job done--to do the talking over panned shots that capture the rustic scenery of Italy that "The Tourist" primarily takes place in.

A woman named Elise (Jolie) is related to an investigation by the Financial Crimes Division of the Scotland Yard and in turn is being followed by agents wherever she goes in Europe. She receives a letter from a past lover named Alexander Pearce who she hasn't seen for over two years due to laying low after stealing billions of dollars (or millions of British pounds) from a gangster named Reginald Shaw who deals in businesses of vice such as casinos and brothels. Pearce, who reportedly had plastic surgery, tells her to find a man that looks similar in build, as others don't know what his new face looks like, to use as a distraction so Elise and him can finally meet up again and take off. While on a train destined for Venice, she picks a tourist that catches her eye. Apart from being bashful, Frank Tupelo (Depp) is a math teacher from Wisconsin despite his odd accent who reads spy novels and is more brain than suave. He lost his wife to a car crash three years earlier and is looking to rekindle a relationship, and what better way to do that than with a stunning woman who compliments himself, as he's honest and reserved, and she's sophisticated yet confident.

The Yard realized the ruse from a quick background check and let the dogs off of Frank, yet Shaw hears that Frank might actually be Alexander from a tipster going on old information and still places a bounty on him. Shaw surrounds himself with Russian henchmen and with his wealth pays off a few people to get ahold of Frank. This leads to a few chases--one involves a roof top and another a boat--but the amount of action scenes in this film can be counted on one hand. Even so, the tone feels up and down and has its moments of plodding along as it shoots inconsequential scenes and scenarios while the characters don't always feel like a solid part of the framework. The shots of the scenery and the bombastic score over top seem like they're more imposing than the human interaction at times.

Jolie isn't stretching very far outside of her range, as she acts more as a staggering presence who's seductive and elegant, not to mention secretive, while giving subtle looks and gestures to maintain the enigma. For the most part Depp surprisingly plays it normal and held back. The police and lower gangsters, despite some well-known names such as Paul Bettany and Timothy Dalton, feel like they play their parts evenly with nothing extra to remember them by. Steven Berkoff gets a chance to shine somewhat by bringing some distinguishable and compelling elements to the role of Shaw. The movie has a final twist, though the problem is prior to that it wasn't able to maintain a firm command even if the viewer gets a little reward for the wait.

Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (The Lives of Others)
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton, Steven Berkoff
Website: IMDB

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Review: Easy A (2010) TH

Imaginary foreplay is the newest rage

"Easy A" is about a mixup that spirals out of control in a moderately populated town high school in California that blends literature, religious fanaticism, homages to '80s John Hughes flicks as well as adolescents at their peak with hormones. This is frequently narrated with snappy dialogue that's self-aware of its every move to a fault, as it often arrives at conclusions even before it allows the viewer to. It includes some humorously awkward situations of high school life, as well as pokes fun at other teen flicks even though it ironically embraces some of the same cliches. Minus the honesty and self-degradation and it's still riding as a passenger on the same train.

Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) is overheard in the ladies room by the do-gooder Marianne Bryant (Amanda Bynes) when she tells her best friend Rhi (Aly Michalka) that she slept with a fictional guy named George despite still being a virgin to dodge going on another uncomfortable camping trip. Marianne, being the antagonist of the story and the moral crusader she is, sticks her nose high and uses the modern day equivalent of a rumor mill--text messages and social networks--to self-righteously put Olive, who was previously hidden from view, back in her place. Or so she thought. Olive has a hide thicker than a rhino and attempts to use reverse psychology on her hecklers and simultaneously fake it till she makes it about her own dating status. Marianne's lackeys come at her but she's like instant oatmeal with comebacks. After getting in trouble over calling one the "T" word, she serves detention with Brandon (Dan Byrd)--a gay kid who's made fun of and gets into fights--and he begs her to pretend to have sex with him so people will lay off his back. They go to a party so the socially elite can be a witness and both put on a noisy stir in the bedroom while none of the drunkards are the wiser.

Why this charade wasn't stopped short was because Olive has liberal, adoptive parents who still think they're cool and trust that she'll make the right choices and correct her own mistakes. The overly honest mom played by Patricia Clarkson is hilarious because she says everything the daughter doesn't want to hear and doesn't always come with the best advice. Olive goes about in seductive outfits with an "A" stitched on relating to a literature story called "The Scarlet Letter" and takes it all in with stride as to whether she's gawked at or dismissed. From what at first started out as having sympathy for Brandon, turns into a gift-card giving business where she pretends to give nooky to unconfident guys who want the status but without actually doing the physical deed. This part of the story doesn't exactly transition due to it never being explained that she's greedy or desperately needs money. Though despite her cunning wit that's twice her age, she still seems a little naive with the trappings of a teen as to what she's doing and without exactly thinking about the afterwards. It has moments of causing the pacing to get lost in the shuffle and her character development to feel up and down: one moment helping those who can't help themselves, to going with the flow and then back again when she volunteers to take the rap for someone other than a student. After a date gone bad and a meet up gone right, she wants people to revert their stances to get her life back in order until she finds out people's true colors.

"Easy A" seems like an abstinence ploy within a ploy, but I digress this isn't out to make a major point about the subject of promiscuity besides to say that you should own up to your own actions and not perpetuate notions if you didn't actually do any action. This is more sarcastic, playful and clever than roll-on-the-floor funny--partly because it seems too well scripted than naturally delivered--but it comes with a relating factor that a chunk of teens go through when it comes time for blossoming sexuality: how to tell what they like, how to go about finding it and most importantly how to do it. Not to mention double standards of girls and boys, and peer pressure to do it and then an opposite pressure not to do it. This has an original take on an age old idea that covers common ground but came with some contrived caricatures such as the I-know-exactly-what-to-say knight in shining armor conveniently showing up at just the right moment despite being peppered throughout and giving a nod to John Cusack. Is that supposed to qualify as a reward? Not to mention what sucked out intrigue was a chunk of the story feels laid out like a spoon fed blueprint with easy little chapters and nearly every nuance told to what's going on even though the story is fairly simple on its own. Fortunately this did right by not having any closing morals pushed on the audience rather than letting them choose themselves where they stand.

Director: Will Gluck (Fired Up!)
Starring: Emma Stone, Amanda Bynes, Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, Thomas Haden Church, Lisa Kudrow, Malcolm McDowell
Website: IMDB

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

REVIEW: SAW 3D (2010)

Well, I think it’s time to level with you guys; the SAW series, after 7 movies, has gotten played out and tired. I know, I know. It’s hard to believe, and I had a hard time writing it myself.

Director: Kevin Greutert
Starring: Sean Patrick Flanery, Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor

Our movie begins with a flashback to the first movie while the credits play, where we get to see Dr. Lawrence Gordon, played by a very not-Princess-Bride Cary Elwes yet again, cauterizing his stump of a leg on a hot wall…then we see some other very “important” shots of Hoffman and Jill from the last movie. We’re not even three minutes into this yet and already all I’ve seen is the table scraps from old movies. That’s not a good start!

OK, so the actual story begins with an interesting twist on the previous SAW films – two guys waking up in a trap. No, wait; that isn’t interesting or a twist at all…scratch that. What is a little different is that they’re actually in a big glass cage in the middle of a public square, where everyone can watch. Basically they have to play tug o’ war with two big saws or else this chick they were both dating at the same time dies. Yes, you read that right. SAW is now catering to the whims of teenage dating sitcoms.

Pfft, they wish that many people would be interested in a SAW movie.

After that we are introduced to our main character Bobby, played by one of the Boondock Saints. He’s gained a lot of fame and is even on TV just because he pretends to be a Jigsaw survivor and wrote a book about the “experience.” OK, where do I start? For one, what the hell does that book read like? I seriously want to know. “And then I slowly had to chop my leg off. The pain was excruciating. I was seriously getting tired of that dark green and black scenery everywhere. I remembered the good days when I was in slasher movies starring Sylvester Stallone…” And second, WHY?! Why would you do this? Isn’t there ANY OTHER WAY of getting money and fame that you could try first?! I just don’t get it. Is this really the best idea you had? Were you just sitting around one day going ‘hmmm, how to make some money…oh, I know! I’ll pretend I got put into a trap by a known psychopathic mastermind who can probably track me down when he finds out what I’ve been doing! I AM A GENIUS.’

So to amp up the douchiness of this whole scenario, Bobby actually has the stones to host a self help seminar for people who have been in Jigsaw’s traps; yeah, just like an AA meeting or something. Wow. I think we have a high-water mark for horribleness here – have you ever heard of a more despicable piece of human garbage? This is the equivalent of a guy claiming to be a cancer patient and trying to talk real cancer patients into feeling better about themselves. He makes Patrick Swayze in Donnie Darko look like Gandhi in comparison!

Not to mention the stuff he says about surviving the games helping your life outlook actually agrees with what the Jigsaw Killer has been spouting out since movie #1, which is testamount to being objectively incorrect and insane anyway. The character of John Kramer was a very sick man who had some very disturbed notions about justice and repenting for one’s sins, and while some sick-minded individuals in these films might have gone along with that, that doesn’t mean it’s anywhere near his place to judge people. And for this guy to be on TV spouting this kind of nonsense, and holding help groups for is just so amazingly and incredibly insulting in this movie’s universe. Christ; he’s worse than the other victims of SAW traps in all the other movies combined. Combined.

So, after that debauchery, we see another Jigsaw trap, and I have to say, for those of you who always wanted to see the singer from Linkin Park playing a skinhead, you’re in luck. And for those of you who always wanted to see the singer from Linkin Park as a skinhead AND in a SAW trap where he gets himself and 3 other people killed at the same time well…Christmas done come early for you this year.

OK, the obvious joke is to use the lines "I tried so hard/And got so far/But in the end/It didn't even matter" here...but I'm not going to do it. That's right; I'm not!
I think we've got a new candidate for silliest face in a horror movie right here. Bonus points for the hook in his mouth; that's always a game-winner.
Speeeed racer!

OK, but seriously, let’s go through a play by play, because this is seriously amazing. I mean, it’s so goofy! The basic idea of this trap is that the skinhead leader Linkin Park-singer guy is glued to a car seat (it happens), and has to pull himself loose and pull a lever. If he doesn’t, things will happen in this order:

1. The car he’s sitting in will fall on top of his girlfriend, who is tied down below him.
2. Then the car will accelerate forward and rip out his friend’s face, who has a hook through his jaw attached to the back of the car.
3. And finally, the car will ram into his other friend, who is strapped to the wall.

Needless to say, he fails, and the ensuing mayhem is perhaps doubly the series’ goriest AND funniest moment ever. Click here to see it! I'm not putting the video itself here, since it's pretty graphic. Linkin Park members mean it's serious business for sure, and I know that will make it very hard to watch for any of you who have taste in music. But if you can get past that hurdle...this is a funny video. At least I thought so...

So after that incredibly glorious moment of cheese, the movie sadly never recovers, as we pretty much go into the same old stock blandness that every other SAW movie has to offer: a guy wandering through a dark, abandoned building, encountering various traps with people he knows in them and crying when he fails to save them…but wait, this SAW movie has something that the others don’t. Lead actor Sean Patrick Flanery is impressively bland and nonchalant about pretty much everything that happens, barely registering any kind of emotional reaction at all. I’d say this is horrendously silly and unrealistic, but at least we don’t have to listen to too much ear-aching whining this time around. Oh, except from his wife, who is attached to what looks like some kind of failed sex toy:

Yeah, on her hands and knees in a dark, creepy dungeon of an insane asylum? Not exactly a turn on, movie. I can't decide which part turned me off more; the fact that we saw a girl's throat torn open in the previous scene, or the fact that she's acting in a SAW movie at all.

The traps are really, really dull this time around, and even when they maybe could be interesting, it’s hard to be invested when they border on actual impossibility, like the one where the girl somehow has a hook perfectly latched into her stomach with a key to the trap on it – how did Hoffman get that in there, again? And the one with Bobby’s best friend having to walk around blindfolded borders on ludicrous. Bobby has to throw him a key from across the room, with a very high chance of it falling through the large open spaces between the wooden planks they’re standing on.

The blindfolded guy can't catch a tiny object thrown at him from several feet away? Call the presses. This trap is totally stupid and unfair.

That story ends when Bobby has to do the same trap he made up when he sold his fake story, which involves putting meat hooks into his chest and climbing up some chains. The only thing this scene evoked was mild amusement when I considered what was going on in his head: “I really wish I had picked a less painful trap to lie about now!” He fails, his wife gets burnt up and not a pulse is raised. One of the least captivating death scenes ever put on screen. This movie’s failure is visible from space.

Oh yeah, and let’s not forget the storyline between Hoffman and Jill, which continues in perhaps the most dull way imaginable, as both characters are about as interesting as stale toast. They try to act, a little bit, but their best efforts can’t combat the soul-crushing blandness of this movie’s script, and so it is in vein. When Hoffman kills her, I felt about as much tension as the last time I clipped my little toenail. I mean it’s seriously really underwhelming.

Hoffman escapes and it looks like he’s going to make it out OK, but he gets taken out by Dr. Gordon, who was put in so that the fans felt like this movie had anything at all to do with the first one, which was frankly the only movie in this damn series worth anything. And it ends on another clich├ęd and tired "Game over" line with a door closing and leaving Hoffman in the dark? The circle of worthlessness is complete. Can you even get any less interesting?!

Eh…this was really, really bland. I’d say more, but really I just feel bad for even watching this movie, so I’m just gonna end this review now and save myself the trouble of thinking about it further.

Review: Friends with Benefits (2011) TH

Hypocritic oath

This is a romantic comedy on the candid side that attempts to evenly round up both the female/male viewer by throwing out some honest, self-depreciating jokes about the sometimes awkward and frustrating aspects of what either side goes through when dating and attempting to secure a steady relationship. "Friends with Benefits" is an unchallenging film that comes across more as a spoof of other contrived rom-coms while still managing to fall into a few of the trappings and part of the formula itself the more involved it gets.

This is by no means quintessential and it's hard to say if it tackles the promiscuous question any better than "No Strings Attached" as they don't always take themselves very seriously but are more for brisk and painless recreation instead. "Friends (with Benefits)," the indy flick from 2009, answered a little more about the debatable question. The main difference between the recent "NSA," is it had one side who felt more attached than the other and previously they were more acquaintances than friends. All three seem like different experiences in their own little ways, but where both "FwB" 2011 and "NSA" borrowed off of "F (wB)" 2009 was they all start off as silly comedies and then revert back to a similar rom-com template, not to mention all boil down to emotions that everyone was trying to suppress. Now that a template is officially established, hopefully this is the last of 'em.

This has a very loosely laid out plot that instead of going for layer upon layer keeps it simple by concentrating on character development, leaving ample room to evaluate emotions and coming with little recognizable patterns throughout in the meantime that looks at their on-the-fly lives in the city and charismatic friends and family members. There's the premise: they go through unserious and unreasonable dates, then meet through business--Dylan (Timberlake) is from L.A., Jamie (Kunis) is from N.Y., now he moves to N.Y.--they become close friends and, of course, they're done with the emotional side of sex, hence they should be friends with benefits. Problem solved! Not exactly. Both are still romantics at heart even though they try and hide their emotions so they don't get hurt again with Jamie being a blunt, cursing New Yorker, and Dylan avoiding talking about private issues when confronted. They try and keep it cut and dry or as a "tennis match," but if it wasn't inevitable enough start to grow onto each other. They want to keep the friendship, so both date outside but confusion sets in if they should go back and further the connective bond they had.

From what at first has them yelling out calculated directions of how to please one another like a business transaction, this turns into some believable chemistry between Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake with some spontaneity thrown in to give them some natural interaction. This comes with lots of undergarment shots, a few butts, as well as plenty of bedroom banter that only holds back in showing the full detail. Shaun White shows up as the token and somewhat pointless antagonist who's nice to everyone else but chides on Dylan because he had a thing with Jamie prior. Woody Harrelson plays the proud and macho gay friend Tommy who's got a thing for sports. Harrelson tries a little too hard, but still manages to keep one's undivided attention whenever he enters the screen just for what he'll say next. Patricia Clarkson--from "Easy A"--plays Jamie's irresponsible mom Lorna who goes through more men than floss and has some pretty humorous lines despite not being the perfect role model.

Everybody seems to be checked out when it comes to steady relationships, including Dylan's father (Richard Jenkins) who's going through Alzheimers but wishes the mother was still around and that he actually went after a former crush. This causes Jamie and Dylan to reevaluate what they had, despite the flaws and hangups, and the film from having rapid edits and quick quips in the beginning starts to eventually ramble on and turn a tad bit long so it can avoid falling into a cliche and sappy closer, which it nearly does so anyway. Who are they fooling? Even though some of the humor and serious subjects don't always mix at this stage, it was still somewhat mushy, easy fun that's perfect enjoyment for a date night or a relaxing nothing-to-do day. "FwB" doesn't necessarily answer any questions as it shows more than it tells, but when it concludes still comes with a few relating puns and jabs at what people go through just to find the right person, or who that right person actually will be outside of our preconceived notions. I guess there's hope even for the ones who want to cut to the chase and eliminate all those courtship rules.

Director: Will Gluck (Fired Up!, Easy A)
Starring: Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake, Woody Harrelson, Patricia Clarkson, Richard Jenkins, Jenna Elfman
Website: IMDB

Review: No Strings Attached (2011) TH

Snuggles and pancakes not included

What if your friends step in and say you might be a hopeless fool to pass up what you have despite how unconventional it appears? Yet, those tingling little jitters aren't there, that is unless you're afraid to confront them or are purposely pushing them away.

Fifteen years ago Adam (Kutcher) tried to get a little somethin' somethin' at summer camp with an emotional ruse about his parents getting divorced but was deflected from the unaffectionate Emma (Portman). Adam and Emma by chance catch each other five years ago at a frat party and she invites him to her father's funeral as if it's just some "stupid thing." He shares that he likes her but she's again upfront that they probably won't ever see each other. Now, one year ago they stumble into each other for the third time and he gets her phone number. From a drunken stupor about finding out that his dad is with someone he knows, he ends up at her place naked, thus starting their physical, get-in-get-out, wham-bam-thank-you-mam entanglement that comes with no strings attached, rules and boundaries included to make sure of it.

This is a comedy first and foremost, though it begins a little too headstrong and in the audience's face as there's no build up to the point-blank jokes. It's incredibly self-aware of its own ridiculousness and it becomes forced at times. Though after meeting more characters and getting an outline, this handles the unabashed and crude humor a little better as it turns over to the relationship angle. Despite the R rating--which is more for drug use and cursing--this takes a PG-13-like route about the physical side and doesn't exploit the angle such as provocative pictures like "9 1/2 Weeks" or the more extreme "9 Songs" as it's a little more fun and goofy than seductive. "No Strings Attached" also transitions between phases of growth as they continue to see each other more frequently to the point of appreciating one another and liking the stability--yet still don't use those no, no words like "girlfriend" and "boyfriend."

This starts wild and crazy and then lessens down to a mildly serious simmer that leaves the characters both torn between regretful decisions and emotional tangles. If it's not obvious enough this is going to get a little sappy for the hopefully romantic and everybody's going to end up some kind of winner no matter if it's how they planned it or even if it is who they thought it would be with. But that should have been expected from the humorous angle, as there's nothing dark or racy about this. Sometimes even coming with hip and trendy music and playing on the immature angle despite everyone's age.

"No Strings Attached" on its surface is an easy movie that's made to be briefly rewarding and give a momentary good feeling when the credits roll. It comes with some challenges for the skeptics, such as how it deals with that coincidental thing called "Fate" that relationship movies abuse too often with all too convenient scenarios. Yes, this definitely has them--stumbling into each other at the coffee shop and all--but they're a little more buried than the normal formula as some complications arise and time is spread out. This borrows some conventions, as well as goes against a few, such as the guy being the fonder one despite growing up with an absent mother but instead a playboy, celebrity dad who chases tail.

The co-stars range from token black and gay guy, to socially awkward for the sake of quirkiness if we cinema goers haven't seen enough of it. The sister adds the element of marriage and the alpha male co-worker poses a threat by attempting to step in. Despite the cliches, some of the specific scenarios promote easy beguilement to the storyline even if they don't tally up enough to make this a classic down the road. Natalie Portman plays Emma by going through a few different phases from emotionless and direct to sentimental and confused. Her character development feels a little up and down as she attempts to transition back and forth till she's an adapted person, which makes the tone of the picture go from dealing with a risque subject, to a rom-com, to reevaluating herself by searching for answers. There's not much to anticipate from Ashton Kutcher's role as he plays Adam with a big heart, which makes him spontaneous, giving and sometimes a little slow on the upkeep and spaced out, which gives him that teddy bear persona that he consistently carries from movie to movie.

Director: Ivan Reitman (Ghost Busters, Kindergarten Cop, My Super Ex-Girlfriend)
Starring: Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, Kevin Kline, Greta Gerwig, Ludacris
Website: IMDB

Review: Friends (with Benefits) (2009) TH

When your friend's bed seems convenient

Six gals and guys--Chloe, Owen, Alison, Jeff, Shirley, Brad--who are all close friends figuring out what they want out of life, in a non-linear fashion candidly hang around with back and forth talks about drinking and sex with a lingering question in the middle: Can you be friends first before being physically involved and would it jeopardize the friendship if feelings arise? It just can't be done everybody defends. Little do the rest know that recently childhood companions Owen and Chloe are already rustling in the sheets currently without consequence.

They're all promiscuous anyway with everyone else but themselves, with Jeff a porn webmaster, Shirley a frisky bartender, and Alison a goody two-shoes looking gal who sees a sex therapist and has a plethora of wants and desires. Soon enough the cat jumps out of the bag about the two and eventually the other four are all going at it in a free-for-all, including man on woman, woman on woman, and man on man. For the most part it leaves out the point blank shots, except for one of the chicks being topless and everybody kissing. Some can't get the lust out of their heads, though feelings get hurt and things feel awkward as some didn't want to go that far. Meanwhile Owen and Chloe can't figure out what they have and if it should be taken to the next level since he's gotten a scholarship offer and she wants him to go on the road with her band.

"Friends (with Benefits)" is like a feel-good party that you wish you had an invitation as everybody is charismatic and happening with a beer in hand and is openly telling stories and jokes without an end in sight, but then suddenly somebody shoots the clown. Friends run in all directions with confusion and mixed feelings, but then attempt to carry on and mend what they had back together again. The beginning feels all over the place with random people, time lines and conversations that spark interest but only a minimal interval to appreciate them unless you hit the rewind button three times. That at least gives this replay value, but the dilemma with "F (wB)" is its latter pacing that attempts to show rather than say, but in contrast makes the picture look top heavy with ideas. It starts fresh with engrossing and inventive energy by saying a lot in a short amount of time, and those creative aspects can be appreciated in an indy film, but then it gradually turns into a predictable rom-com formula despite a few misdirections.

The exaggerated world they live in is filled with anywhere from catchy to sympathetic music of the soundtrack kind to lend feeling and atmosphere, with a tone of crude but fun perversion and at times seduction. The jokes range from interspliced shots with all cast included doing private interviews with a sex therapist named Dr. Richard Weed, to just exceptional sex stories and mishaps. "Friends (with Benefits)" has extremely good chemistry and at times surprisingly good performances between the cast. It sets up what their profession and hobbies are so the audience gets to know each of them and how it relates to their conversations and interactions. The principle players could have made several other movies together similar to how Kevin Smith's View Askew Universe is connected because they all seem like believably good friends who have some hiccups here and there but for the most part seemed tailored to their part.

This is a simple story surrounded by some workable and not so workable gimmicks, such as tediously being broken into 19 chapters ("A novel with moving pictures"), which at first seems innovative but eventually its ornate sails only get blown so far, not to mention it holds the audiences' hand every step of the way to what's going on. There are some split screen shots that effectively handle the characters interacting similarly but in different locations. It definitely has some funny moments, dialogue and performances that are charming enough that you wish you were actually there to be apart of, but part of this feels unrefined from getting a little ambitious with trying to tackle everything at once about the "big question" and then letting itself off the hook a little easily when it concludes. This goes from a snappy, somewhat wacky comedy to a slowly developing melodramatic romance. It went from not taking itself seriously with everything being in excess to expecting you to still be with them when they flip that upside down to polar opposites, as it turns sober with weighing the gravity of what they've done.

In regards to "No Strings Attached" and "Friends with Benefits" from 2011, this early movie from 2009 actually attempts to answer some of the questions, where those others had more of a guise at being provocative. "No Strings Attached" didn't actually have them as friends but rather childhood acquaintances with a guy with a heart who convinces a gal who hides hers to go further with what they have after getting used to each other and liking the stability despite it being unorthodox and not a "normal" relationship. "FwB" 2011 was a simpler and safer version but more in the direction of a poke (no pun intended) at other rom-coms with two suppressed romantics at heart who click because the unconventional terms they established were actually relationship material for them specifically. Where those others did borrow off of "Friends (with Benefits)" 2009, was they start out as somewhat goofy comedies that present a promiscuous premise and then revert back to a hopeful rom-com outlook, not to mention all boil down to emotions and show that it can possibly work under exceptions that they themselves frequently dismiss. Now that Hollywood ran the idea into the ground we need Adrian Lyne to make another come back with one of his sexy thrillers.

Director: Gorman Bechard (You Are Alone)
Starring: Margaret Laney, Alex Brown, Anne Petersen
Website: IMDB

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Review: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) TH

An Uncle Sam who gets his hands dirty

While other superheroes are just out to stop thugs and fight crime for what the police and average citizens can't handle, instead Captain America is a political savior with a chunk of the world in his sights: someone who has a knack for heroics, team leadership and is capable of changing the tides of war with not only his brawn but his determination and unselfish attitude.

"Captain America: The First Avenger" is set during World War II and like "X-Men: First Class" it creates an alternate universe with shared commonalities to the past, as what's unfolding isn't just working in the shadows like, say, "National Treasure," rather it's stepping out to the light to make its own substitute history with different names and faces. In doing so it manages to pose a series of what if questions: What if Germany perfected scientific weapons before the US? What if one man could actually make a significant difference in war? What if they had more advanced artillery and technology in the '40s and how would it have panned out otherwise? Hitler is only mentioned with mock and referenced talk, but instead the main Axis bad guy named Johann Schmidt (Weaving) is at the forefront with possibly more ambition than the tiny mustached dictator could hope. Nazis and swastikas aren't delved into but instead an organization/political party/cult named "HYDRA" with a different but still threatening emblem to wave.

A scrawny guy named Steve Rogers (Evans) from Brooklyn, who has the underdeveloped frame of an average 13 year old but the courage of a warrior, is doing all but holding his breath to enlist in the military so he can serve his country despite health issues and a Hobbit stature. After continually getting denied, he gains his chance when meeting an honest man named Dr. Abraham Erskine (Tucci) who's an idealist scientist who sees potential in Rogers for a new experiment. The serum can't be used on just anyone as it will transform the person into an unstoppable super soldier as well as amplify their temperament from bad to really bad, and good to extremely good. Thus when the ultra-patriot-to-be comes out a taller, bulkier one-man-army, not to mention a lady magnet, he has the perfect antithesis of a rival with Red Skull on the side of HYDRA who uses his powers for gain and domination.

Like "Green Lantern" this thoroughly concentrated on character development, including what it means to have these awesome strengths and how to direct and use them to their maximum potential. Though when it came time to get his hands dirty, the antagonist vs protagonist element seemed somewhat straightforward, glossed over and easy to the unchallenged Captain. The only moment the brain kicks in is when a scene is too vague rather than being too complex. From doing campaign pledges for war bonds and gimmicky shows that include American flag dressed woman dancing to hooting soldiers, Cap gets heckled off stage by real combatants and decides to put his abilities to the test to save his friend Bucky (Sebastian Stan) and fellow soldiers held prisoner. Soon enough with the help of Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) with his uniform, he has a motley crew of fighters that go out on missions that somehow have a detrimental effect on the war effort, yet it's never fully explained how that's possible. It makes things extremely simple and that part of the story only seems there to do nothing but perpetuate fast flying, combustive action.

Red Skull, apart from his intensely commanding appearance and dress, wasn't as outlined and the performance came across at times like a run-of-the-mill, snide villain who ends up being somewhat predictable. Not to mention some of the delivery was scripted to a fault as some lines felt preplanned and a lost cause to the quick pacing. Chris Evans went for sincerity due to toning down his usual showmanship and humor from past films like "Fantastic Four" and instead lets others take on one-liners like the hilarious Tommy Lee Jones who plays the no nonsense, southern Colonel Chester Phillips. Evans performs the role as somewhat naive to the world at large from knowing exactly what he wants and everything else along the way being second, such as dames and his own well-being. Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) shows up as the physically attractive agent on the surface but underneath is confident and not to be underestimated. There's a budding love angle but fortunately the picture never slows down to entirely make it a distracting cliche that every blockbuster summer flick "must" have.

"Captain America: The First Avenger" never lets up from being relentlessly theatrical as a number of scenes are set up with the intention of going for a grand show and timed out unveiling rather than attempting to create a piece of naturalism or history lesson. Despite its exaggeration and garish ways, it indeed works as a mostly simple and entertaining experience with a little food for thought about Cap's little guy background and eventually plenty of action fodder to give it energy. The 3-D wasn't completely maximized to its full potential but it did have its moments of shining, such as a few particular scenes that for the first time actually made me flinch with his iconic shield coming right out of the screen! The film moves steadily along and doesn't feel its two hour time length partly due to frequent location changes. The effort put into the art direction and set pieces while melding CGI positively showed as they were generally constructed down to the finest detail. In terms of fire power in a war movie, this shuffles between guns that shoot bullets and fictitious ones with beams of energy, as well as flame throwers and tanks, and, of course, more fiery explosions than can be counted on fingers and toes in a packed theater.

Director: Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer, Jurassic Park III, The Wolfman)
Starring: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, Hayley Atwell, Stanley Tucci, Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper, Neal McDonough
Website: IMDB

Saturday, July 23, 2011

REVIEW: Taking Lives (2004)

Director: DJ Caruso
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke

This was really dull and contrived. Angelina Jolie was supposed to be a secret agent in this? Could have fooled me. She acts about as secret agent-ish as a love-sodden high school girl most of the time in this movie. I couldn't believe that performance for two seconds. Ethan Hawke does a good job, but the writing is just all around shoddy, and provides little in the ways of interesting moments. The story moves sluggishly through various cliches and hoops of the detective-serial killer movie genre, and while some parts are interesting, I was never really sold on this. Gena Rowlands was pretty interesting as the mother of the killer the cops are chasing, but she's really not given her due in terms of captivating scenes, and so mostly it's just kind of a waste. There are some interesting plot points here and there, like a few of the chase scenes and some of the deceptive thrills, and there is at least an attempt at atmosphere made, but the writing is just poor, with very little interesting dialogue and very few scenes that really make you sit up and pay attention. This isn't necessarily awful, but it does not really engage you at all, and there are honestly just so many other, better movies you could be watching, so why waste your time with this anyway?

REVIEW: Cinema Paradiso (1988)

Director: Giuseppe Tornatore
Starring: Salvatore Cascio, Philippe Noiret

A sentimental and even tragic tale of an Italian boy named Toto who grew up in the 50s with a burning passion for movie projecting. He befriends the kindly elder man who runs the theater, and the movie chronicles his life growing up in Italy, through the good times and the bad. This is a very wholesome and light-hearted tale, with a lot of romantic movie-esque things going on even when the characters claim that real life isn't like the movies. The acting is memorable and the story flows quickly and admirably. There isn't a dull moment, from the early days when Toto is a boy to his teenage years, and even to the denouement as he comes back as an adult in the present time. I like how this film manages to be both happy and sad at the same time. I think that’s really the core of why it works. That happy-sad mixture it evokes is sort of the core of nostalgia, which really is the big thing this movie is going for.

The whole film pretty much revolves around the titular movie theater, which goes through lots of changes and pretty much runs concurrent with what's going on in Toto's life. It's a story about growing up, as played out as that might sound, and nostalgia, too. The film spins a yarn about experiencing life and reaching one's potential, the juxtaposition between doing what you love versus becoming successful. But really what this is is just a great, lighthearted and fun film for anyone. Recommended.

REVIEW: Amazing Grace (2006)

Director: Michael Apted
Starring: Ioan Gruffud, Michael Gambon, Rufus Sewell, Benedict Cumberbacht, Romola Garai

This was very good, and one of those movies you watch just for how gripping and hooky it is. It's a story set in the 1700s as influential English politician William Wilberforce crusades to abolish slavery. There are a lot of characters here, and maybe the only reason this doesn't get a full 5 is because they do kind of get confusing to keep track of at times - blame the powdered wigs. But either way this was still a really good film. It's a good story that shows a lot about people, how they are resilient to change, caught up in their ways, but eventually do see the greater good. Even if it does take them a while. Ioan Gruffud is a great actor with a ton of charisma, and I'm surprised this is the first time I've seen him in a movie. Other veterans like Michael Gambon and Rufus Sewell do a good job, too. Romola Garai as his love interest Barbara is really great, and had a lot of charisma. I was disappointed when they relegated her to a more typical 'wife' role by the end. That’s something I never like in movies – if you want to you’re your female character a domestic stay at home wife, do that; but don’t take a previously interesting character and relegate her to such a passive position.

But rest of the film really is quite excellent. Mostly this is just a fast paced, engaging tale that skips briskly and misses not a step throughout the whole thing. Everything feels very authentic and the emotions run as high as the sky, creating a passionate and engaging piece of film. Very good cinema. Powerful and consistently interesting throughout. You will care about everything Wilberforce is rallying for like you were there in the thick of it.

Review: Endure (2010) TH

One life for another

A bound and gagged woman in central Florida is driven to an out of reach location in the middle of the night by a stranger and has her photograph taken as she's tied against a tree in the woods. Leaving her alive and alone, the man drives off and somewhere on his trip suddenly has a deer go through his windshield killing him. An experienced detective named Emory Lane (Judd Nelson)--who's at home with his terminally ill wife Sirena (Joey Lauren Adams)--is called out to what initially looks like a normal car wreck but because there is a photograph, blood and handcuff keys the police want to look further into the suspicious evidence that might point to foul play.

A young, former west coast detective named Zeth Arnold (Deven Sawa) is called in as an apprentice in account of Lane being tied up in his personal life. They frequently butt heads as Arnold is over-confident and has a somewhat brash way of handling the case than the by-the-book veteran. Judd Nelson plays the character somewhat reserved and contemplative to the point of appearing detached. His character has trust issues, but gives some leeway as he can't be two places at once. Devon Sawa delivers some dry banter and his character speaks what's on his mind, which comes off as cocky but might actually have something to offer under that rookie demeanor.

There are hundreds of miles of roadway and five hundred thousand acres of swamp to comb through, so the detectives start with what they know. They question the dead man named Macey's neighbors, who explain that he was a loner, not right in the head and doesn't have any living relatives that he keeps in touch with. The girl is identified as Daphne (Clare Kramer) by a friend who said she just talked to her last night but is currently missing. A profiler is called in and suggests that there might be an accomplice that he seeks approval from. Taking cues from John Lithgow in "Dexter" of who you wouldn't expect, Tom Arnold brings a good-guy face to his role as Simon but makes you think twice about what's underneath. From one revelation to the next the detectives uncover an underground network, which gives them more to contend with to save the young woman's life before it's too late.

This is a gradually paced drama about searching for answers. It also deals with saving a life and watching one depart. Lane's wife is cooped up with nowhere to go, and he wants to stay but has everywhere to be; though he eventually uses the time away to push aside his feelings and in an odd sense cope. What a viewer gets: a basic story about human suffering that isn't confusing or muddled with layer upon layer of twists as it keeps it conventional as far as crime plots go. This is more held back than the typical shoot-'em-up-warrantless-bustin'-down-the-door-alcoholic features you normally see in the genre. This injects some feelings and leaves ample room open for the viewer's own interpretations, as well as the actions and motivations in the movie seem reasonable.

The major issue with "Endure" is it doesn't always capitalize on its own story line due to trying to meld two different subplots and be thoroughly realistic while at it. This isn't going for the usual cinematic experience, as the editing and cinematography are restrained, the dialogue is close enough to how real people speak and the situation isn't glamorized or sensationalized. There's drama to be had here though the delivery felt somewhat flat and the characters didn't end up being as memorable as they could have. At times it comes across as cut and dry, even when a piece of evidence is unraveled to get closer to finding the victim while she's still alive. Not until the latter portion is there much in the way of being gripping. There's no sense in over-dramatizing the story like so many do and force it, but the atmosphere feels calm and relaxed to the point of being dozy and less important than it should be, as the dire circumstances at hand don't always have the capability of captivating one's undivided attention for the then and now.

Director: Joe O'Brien
Starring: Judd Nelson, Devon Sawa, Joey Lauren Adams, Tom Arnold, Clare Kramer
Website: IMDB

Review: Hereafter (2010) TH

Death doesn't always come a knockin'

On the surface, "Hereafter" is a film that takes on aspects related to the moment before death (including "close calls"), the shock of death itself, as well as the after effects of this oft-times tragic, misunderstood and hard-to-cope facet of life. We all wish things would last forever but that isn't always the case.

The film begins with separate stories involving seemingly different characters with varied age, gender and background, and, as fate would have it, makes the world a little smaller when you have a similar set of circumstances underneath all those social constructs. This is a slower moving drama that's made to relax and ponder upon. Part of the reason is due to dealing with George's (Matt Damon) ability to peak into the after life. Unlike other films that take on a person with special abilities, this builds itself up with enough time for the skeptics, myself included, to catch up. His powers aren't glorified by selling the audience a this-could-be-you storyline, but rather focuses on the search for his real self, including others who are looking at him for resolve, potential love or just plain greed. He's confident when tapping into his ability, though one can see that there are more truths in his readings of others than honesty in his own deeper feelings for himself.

"Hereafter" works as a film for the believer as well as the unbeliever, as it uses this supernatural premise to ask a pivotal question: Are some things better left alone or unsaid? Its gradual pacing can be its best friend and enemy, though it's still a movie that plays on what you wouldn't expect, often times panning a certain scene and not being so obvious on what it focuses on. This doesn't have action-packed car chases and there isn't a heart-pounding revelation at every single turn but the film manages to effectively capture some hope, acceptance, as well as realism even if the mode it's dealing with in the movie is a subject on the fence in real life.

Director: Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven, Mystic River, Gran Torino)
Starring: Matt Damon, Cecile De France, Bryce Dallas Howard
Website: IMDB

Friday, July 22, 2011

Review: From Paris with Love (2010) TH

Cupid shoots bullets in Paris

James Reese (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), an assistant to the US ambassador in France, is working covertly as an operative in Paris with a secret "voice" or control officer to give orders on the other end of a phone that he never meets. They're starting him out small as they want to see what he's capable of, such as planting a microphone in the conference room of the Foreign Minister to gather intelligence. He eventually wants to become special ops and his next assignment might give him all the experience he'll need after picking up his new partner Charlie Wax (Travolta) at the airport.

Right from the get-go you realize both are nearly polar opposites: Reese is step-by-step and methodical with a studied background in politics and foreign language, and Wax is spontaneous and unpredictable with know-how for combat and weaponry, not to mention a humorous slang for every situation he encounters. He's a man who doesn't turn his back to vices but like Jack Bauer from "24" or William James from "The Hurt Locker," he's able to cast his own feelings aside to get the job done at whatever the cost. Wax, being the loose cannon he is, takes his new partner on a series of misadventures through the city from drug dealers leading to gang members leading to pimps leading to terrorist cells and more spies.

Wax is an American operative who's supposed to be covert but instead tears up the shady areas of Paris to demand the info he needs because their mission is time sensitive. The audience gets to experience all these over-the-top scenes through the eyes of a new man on the job who signed on to something more dangerous than he initially expected to get himself into. Reese maintains an unsure trust with Wax but also tags along with a glued fascination to see what's around the next corner while his pretty and caring French girlfriend Caroline (Kasia Smutniak) stays at home with no idea that they're spilling copious amounts of blood and racking up a substantial body count. She just proposed to him that night with her father's ring, and now he has to make a sacrifice for the woman he loves when she gets wrapped up in the operation.

This is a rapidly moving action film with secrecy and espionage that barely has time to stop and take a breather, so it can be a little spoon fed at points and exaggerated for effect to keep things looking forward and never back. This results in some plotholes glazed over so things can conveniently line up, but, on the other hand, this manages to take serious stuff like protecting national security and turn it into a fun and wild ride more so than a couple of stiffs negotiating official business. There are car and foot chases, shootouts, some quick hand to hand combat and then fast paced music over top to give it all charge. The viewer's perspective is through Reese, so events seem to happen so quickly that it feels like a dream sequence only to be remembered in pieces and snippets, but for the moment a massively diverting one at that. John Travolta plays the character Wax as brazen, brash and belligerent, and is able to keep you guessing about him by making you wonder if he's formulating decisions on the fly or has a game plan already in place--maybe both. "From Paris with Love" is basic entertainment in the end but an experience that feels energizing, steadily paced and ultimately unpredictable.

Director: Pierre Morel (Taken)
Starring: John Travolta, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Kasia Smutniak
Website: IMDB

Review: The Losers (2010) TH

Losers become winners

This is a movie that would be followed by "The A-Team" and "The Expendibles" with a team of varied guys out on high-octane missions at the tax payers' expense. "The Losers" is simple entertainment down to the frequent location changes, thousands of ammunition fired, casual property destruction, inventive covert missions and party-like jokes in between like everyone is having a ball of a time even if their lives are in danger and their country is in peril.

A colonel with a conscience named Clay (Jeffery Dean Morgan) gets an order to paint a target for an air strike in Bolivia, when he spots a truck full of innocent children that are going to be collateral damage. Control tells him to stand down, yet he goes against orders anyway for a quick rescue with his four other team members that have varied specialities ranging from driver, tech, sniper to demolitions. After telling them to take the kids first on the helicopter safely away, headquarters orders a missile to obliterate the chopper thinking they're on it as they stand by idle and watch in horror. They're now thought of as deceased and with the help of a newly met woman named Aisha (Zoe Saldana) who's tough, seductive and sneaky, they plan how to take out the eccentric man named Max (Jason Patric) who set them up and is so deplorable and devoid of emotion that he makes the typical Bond villain look neighborly. At first the rough around the edges "heroes" want to give up and look the other way, though they all have something to look forward to back home. Soon enough they pit their skills together and act like a tight-knit brotherhood who's got each others' backs through thick and thin to clear their names and possibly figure out the truth in the mean time. Except where money's involved who knows what could happen.

This is an action/comedy with flashy camera setups and hip music to move things along without a moment's pause. The serious and comical scenes don't always transition smoothly back and forth, with some one-liners feeling out of context and like crickets and drum rolls should proceed instead. This is cinematic amusement at its most basic, such as trained professionals never hitting their target, so they have to expend countless rounds of ammo to make it look more intense and dramatic. This tries to be gritty with a certain chromatic look at points and some shady locations, but the action is typically exaggerated and feels preplanned to the point of not always lending out any serious weight. "The Losers" has its moments and passes by with some excitement but feels like a one-off movie that can be soon enough forgotten because there's not much to it that already hasn't been done apart from a few gimmicks up its sleeve.

Director: Sylvain White (I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer, Stomp the Yard)
Starring: Jeffery Dean Morgan, Chris Evans, Zoe Saldana, Idris Elba, Jason Patric
Website: IMDB

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Hahahaha…oh, man, this was funny. I’m sorry; I really shouldn’t be trying to do this review without showing you some of the absolutely hilarious acting and scenes this movie has, but I’m afraid still pictures will have to suffice, because it’s all I’ve got handy. This is the sixth SAW movie, and it mostly fails at being scary, instead just hitting comedic and silly. Let’s dig into this carnival of camp and see what makes it so enjoyably over the top.

Director: Kevin Greutert
Starring: Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Peter Outerbridge

Our movie begins with a young woman waking up with a really out-dated dental contraption on her head:

It could also be some kind of headset to communicate with aliens...

OK, OK, it's not any of that stuff. It’s actually our favorite animatronics nightmare, the SAW doll. He tells the young woman that she and her companion, who both do good jobs giving people loans they can never pay back, that they have to cut off their flesh and put it on a scale, and whoever can get the heaviest flesh wins. A great contest for the whole family indeed. Let’s introduce the idea at the next elementary school field day!

Now, pardon my sick sense of humor, but aside from the fact that this is incredibly gory, I just find this whole scene hilarious. I think it’s for two reasons. One, this is just SO OVERDONE. Look, movie; in Se7en, all the guy had to do to get the lawyer to cut his flesh off was point a gun at his head. You’re doing it all wrong. You don’t steal old 1930s dental contraptions and mix them with crude bear traps. You don’t have to construct all these elaborate traps. A simple gun to the head is enough to make people do anything!

And I know nothing about that…nothing except what I’ve seen in movies. Stop looking at me like that.

Oh, and two, the acting is just silly. I’m going to introduce a little game that I like to call ‘silliest faces in a gory horror movie’! Here’s candidate #1:

How do you think the script for this scene went?

JIGSAW: All your life, you’ve blah blah blah…



Truly worthy of Shakespeare!

So, yeah, then we see our new Jigsaw Killer, Mark Hoffman, cleaning up a crime scene while a flashback from the last movie plays. He gets called over to the crime scene we just saw, and gets a shock when he finds out that another character from the older movies, Perez, is still alive, and is now helping look for the guy they think is Jigsaw, who Hoffman framed. Meanwhile, an evil health insurance man named William Easton is busy having flashbacks to happy times when he used to deny terminally ill patients money just to be a giant jackass. Oh, the better days. He interacts with his whole firm which means you’ll get to see them all die eventually…oh, I’m sorry, was that a spoiler?

Then Jigsaw’s wife comes into the picture and it turns out that the big reveal IS…she has no personality aside from being in on the whole murder game plots. That’s it. Hurrah? Also, there’s a journalist character, who is portrayed as sneaky, over-confident and self serving, doing a lot of exploitation pieces about Jigsaw to make him look bad in the media after his death…yeah, because he would have looked so good otherwise; what with being a mastermind behind several gruesome murders and all, right?

"Ohoh, I have no other character traits but being a nosy, moral-less journalist! Muahahaha!" Yeah, it was a generic picture caption for one of my reviews, but it's about as much work as the writers put into this character, so you shut up, reader!

Either way, aren’t you tired of journalists in movies being portrayed as moral-less leeches who don’t have any qualms with digging in unpleasant places for stories? I am. Next paragraph!

So, yeah, not much to say about the rest of the movie, as it all kind of runs together. The parts with Tobin Bell playing Jigsaw are quite good actually, as he has a lot of charisma and still seems like an interesting character. Costas Mandylor as Hoffman is decent, too, although the writing for him is pretty phoned in, and doesn’t realize the full potential of the character. Mandylor does a decent job at playing the character, with some fits of subdued insanity, but eh, he still could have been better, because after all, who doesn’t expect amazing Oscar-level performances from a SAW film, right? The directing is riddled with all kinds of spastic cuts and quick edits that would probably give small children seizures. Pretty stock stuff for these films…

While I don’t want to get away from this very objective critiques of this very important movie, we do have a plot to continue slogging through, don’t we? Now we find all our characters moved into this abandoned building with tons of elaborate torture games set up. You know, I’m amazed. I’m amazed at the lengths these movies go to set up these traps. In a few movies it’ll be like, “Oh no! They’ve kidnapped the entire US Senate and forced them to do some horrifically gory act! And they got the entire Iranian military defense team too! They’re setting them up in that suspicious old abandoned building in the middle of nowhere that has a bunch of complex machinery being hauled in during the day!...why didn’t we notice this earlier again?”

So let’s take a rundown on the traps for the movie, i.e. the only reason anyone ever watched a SAW movie. First up we have a delightful game in which whoever breathes first gets their lungs crushed.

And you thought all those times you played 'who can hold their breath the longest' at the pool would be useless...

Then we see what happens when William the evil insurance man has to choose between an old sick woman employee with lots of family, and a young guy employee who has no family and “will disappear from the world without a trace,” because he has no family? How does one even do that? Does he really have NO ONE at all who cares about him? Did he kill them all? Oh, screw it; this is just making me more confused.

After that we get an intense game of Double Dare when this attorney has to make her way through a maze of hot pipes or else she’ll be…hot-piped to death. Man that sounded like a bad innuendo. She makes it to the end and finds out the key to the bomb strapped on her is actually inside William! What follows is a horrible reality show in the making:

When Survivor just doesn't cut it anymore.

While this is all going on, we have a sequence of scenes with what is APPARENTLY William’s family, locked in a room opposite the journalist from earlier. Both rooms have lots of deadly acid in them locked inside containers, along with switches that say ‘Live’ or ‘Die.’ But that doesn’t matter anyway. Let’s have a scene with a super-fun merry-go-round ride:

Yeah, I remember when I used to wake up tied to childrens' playground equipment all the time; fun days, those.

Yes, this is the movie’s big ace in the hole. Apparently he can stop this gun from shooting two of his assistants from work, but the other four will die. This leads to perhaps the most hilarious scene in any SAW movie when they all start trying to appeal to him not to kill them, like they’re vying for an extra bonus pay-raise at the job. I don’t mind the ones who plead saying they’re pregnant or have kids to look after, but it’s the ones who try and bring up stuff from work like “I did everything you said!” or “I made the most money for you!” It’s just really over the top, and it comes off as ridiculous rather than desperate with the actors they chose. Maybe if we knew these characters better, it would seem more serious, but I had to hold back laughter watching this scene.

And speaking of over the top, I think we have a new candidate for ‘silliest faces in a horror movie’!

Is he turning into a werewolf or something?

This guy is just a RIOT, man. When he gets picked to die, he goes on this huge rant about how much women suck and how much he hates William’s policy…because the hardest way to hit a man who’s been tortured all day is by telling him he’s crappy at his job. When he looks away, the kid goes berserk and screams “YOU LOOK AT ME WHEN YOU’RE KILLING ME!!!” Gee, I think this kid’s on the fast track to becoming the new Kiefer Sutherland. You know, if we ever need a replacement for him…

"YOU DON'T!!!"

So then William gets to the end of the maze, where it’s revealed that the family that we thought was his was actually the family of the last guy William denied a loan to. The mother is too wimpy to kill him for this, but the son goes ahead and kills him. The movie basically just brushes over this and doesn’t bother to try and give the scene any emotional weight at all – I mean I know it’s a SAW film and I shouldn’t expect much, but seriously, they could have a really gripping story here if they wanted to. It wouldn’t be too hard to incorporate some depth into the kid’s character as we see what effect killing a man has on him. But nope! We just get a scene of William getting burned to death by acid and having half his body fall off. Hooray for lazy writing!

There’s another subplot about Hoffman going nuts and killing everyone who finds out he’s the new Jigsaw Killer, and then getting killed himself by Jill. But that’s plot, and so, it is unimportant compared to the gore and traps. There. Am I a true SAW fan now?

This movie is silly. I don’t hate it like I’ve hated some other films I’ve reviewed, but it’s just so over the top and ineffectual at displaying any kind of real tension or drama that it becomes a big self-parody. It’s not as bad as some of the other SAW movies, but it’s not good either. And that’s my review for this movie. See you next time when I review SAW: The Final Chapter.

Man, that was a lot nicer than some of these review endings get…I hope I’m not losing my touch.