Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Videodrome

Directed by David Cronenberg.
1983. Rated R, 89 minutes.
Cast:
James Woods
Deborah Harry
Sonja Smits
Peter Dvorsky
Leslie Carlson
Jack Creley
Lally Cadeau
Lynne Gorman


About 25 years ago, one of my best friends and I were up late. Finally tired of countless hours playing Atari 2600, when most video game characters looked like a collection of rectangles with eyes, we flipped on HBO. We happened upon a movie called Videodrome. The early scenes included nudity, always helpful in capturing a boy’s attention. However, what kept us there were the strange and exciting visuals. This included things coming out of TV sets and VHS tapes that seemed to be alive. We had a vague understanding of the story: watching this particular videotape would seriously screw up your whole world.

Over the next year or so, I watched Videodrome several more times and gave it a warm spot in my heart. I kept it there and remembered it fondly, thereafter. Time causes memories to fade and warp to your liking. When I saw it on the shelf at my local library, I naturally became curious to see if it is the masterpiece I’d come to think of it as, or if it is something I loved as a boy but had no use for in adulthood. I had to investigate.

The plot follows Max (Woods). He runs Channel 83. The station’s niche is perverse programming. In the words of a woman interviewing him, they show “everything from soft-core porn to hardcore violence.” This has made Max something of a pariah in the industry, a focal point in the debate over what should and shouldn’t be on television.

Max comes into possession of a series called “Videodrome.” All of the “episodes” are on grainy pirated tapes and depict hooded figures mercilessly beating some poor soul. Of course, Max is not only intrigued but sets out to find out where this show is coming from and if it is indeed real. The short answer is yes, it is real. Don’t worry, that’s hardly a spoiler. In fact, that’s merely the very tip of a deeply submerged iceberg. What follows is a twisting and twisted tale of betrayal, paranoia and conspiracy all revolving around a fear that’s been around since televisions invaded our homes so many moons ago.

I remember being blown away by the visuals when I first saw them as a youngster. I was most curious to see how these stood up to the test of time. Surprisingly, they are still remarkable. There are a few instances when you can see the seams in the production. However, this is no different than many of the big blockbuster movies of today in which you can easily spot what is cgi and what is not. It’s actually a little better because these effects are all organically created. Even though many of them look a bit more crude than today’s stuff, they feel more real, more unsettling. In this case, prosthetics and tubing work better than a collection of pixels.

Given the current state of television and all forms of media, for that matter, Videodrome is a piece of dark, satirical social commentary that doesn’t feel as dated as its age indicates it should. Sure, it uses the VHS and VCR as impetuses for its action instead of Blu-Rays or downloads but the principle is the same. What appears on the screen is still wildly imaginative and the story still taps into our own fear of what we find entertaining.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Batman: Under the Red Hood

Directed by Brandon Vietti.
2010. Rated PG-13, 75 minutes.
Cast:
Bruce Greenwood
Jensen Ackles
John Di Maggio
Neil Patrick Harris
Kelly Hu
Jason Isaacs
Gary Cole
Vincent Martella
Jim Piddock


Using one of the Joker’s old aliases, the Red Hood (Ackles), an apparently new masked baddie is extorting all of Gotham’s crime bosses. After dispatching a number of their henchmen, he claims to offer protection not only from the police, but from Batman (Greenwood), as well.

This time around we find a guilt ridden Batman, beating himself up over the death of Robin (Alexander and Vincent Martella) at the hands of the Joker (Di Maggio). It doesn’t help that the original Robin, now known as Nightwing (Harris) keeps popping up to help out, a morbid reminder of what could’ve been. Like the best of Batman, the psychological aspects of the story are as much a part of the story as the action. At the heart of the matter, we come to learn, is Batman’s self-imposed code of ethics. Many Batman fans have often said to themselves if they were the hero, (place name of villain, here) would be dead. Someone here thinks the same. Out loud. To Batman’s face.

The action is well-done. Continuing a recent trend in the franchise, it’s also fairly brutal. Unlike the old Adam West TV series or any of the Batman animated shows from my childhood (the 70s and 80s), people die. At the risk of advocating murder I’ll say it fits the mythology of Gotham City, given the people depicted. Our hero is up against bad people who do bad things, not the vaudevillian mischievous characters they were once made out to be.

For me, the one real drawback was the voice-work of a couple of main players. It wasn’t necessarily bad, just not the voices I wanted to hear. Greenwood as Batman is adequate, but he’s no Kevin Conroy. Conroy perfected the Batman voice. His is always the one I hear when I think of the character. The same goes for Di Maggio as the Joker. He’s actually a little less than adequate making Mark Hamill’s work in the role stand out that much more.

Those minor drawbacks aside, this is a true delight for Batman fans. The story is intriguing and flows nicely into the action. It is one of the better entries into the canon.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman

Directed by Curt Geda and Tim Maltby.
2003. Rated PG, 75 minutes.
Cast:
Kevin Conroy
Kimberly Brooks
Kelly Ripa
Eli Marienthal
Elisa Gabrielli
David Ogden Stiers
Kyra Sedgwick
Kevin Michael Richardson


Carlton Duquesne (Richardson) is having gangster issues. The Penguin (Stiers) is employing him to supply the muscle that will ensure that a dirty deal gets done. At every turn, Duquesne’s henchmen take a beating at the hands of new Gotham hero, the mysterious Batwoman. Not even the Dark Knight himself knows who she is, where she came from or what she’s up to. With room enough for only one vigilante in town, one and a half if your count Robin (Marienthal), Batman sets out to discover her identity.

Duquesne is also having daughter issues. He and his all grown up little girl just can’t see eye to eye on anything. She also resents the fact that because of his problems in the underworld he insists on sending a couple of goons with her everywhere she goes. Nevertheless, she manages to break loose long enough to start up a romance with Bruce Wayne.

Visually, we get the classic blocky style we’ve come to expect from Batman: The Animated Series. This is no more or less in terms of quality.

The story seems to be moseying along in an easily predictable manner. Thankfully, we get a great twist near the end that really spices things up. It really elevates what was a decent but ho-hum affair to a very nice experience.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Sticks and Stones


Directed by George Mihalka.
2008. Not Rated, 92 minutes.
Cast:
Alexander de Jordy
David Sutcliffe
Daniel Magder
John Robinson
Richard Fitzpatrick
Debra McCabe
Cary Lawrence
Lori Hallier
Scott Beaudin
Mark Camacho


A few days after America’s “Shock and Awe” campaign, which officially began “The War on Terrorism”, a youth hockey team from Brockton, Massachusetts travels to Canada for a tournament and is treated very rudely as anti-American sentiments run high. Feeling bad about the situation and going through some problems of his own, Jordan (de Jordy) one of the Canadian players wants to make it up to the kids from the U.S. He decides to try and organize a “friendship tournament” and invite the scorned team back to his country to show them that all Canadians aren’t jerks.

That’s pretty much all I got. It’s a feel-good made-for-TV movie so you should know how this goes down. Coincidentally, I had no idea this was a TV flick until the first long fade to black where there was obviously a commercial during its airing. The back of the DVD cover doesn’t tell you this. Not surprisingly, it’s all rather bland. There are a few tense moments when the Brockton team makes their first trip across the northern border, but that’s about it. The rest of the movie is Jordan trying to convince people his tournament is a good idea. So yeah, it tries to warm your heart whether you want it to, or not, and never lets up.

The two subplots are only vaguely interesting. One is about our hero’s parents seemingly in the early stages of a divorce. From the looks of things, they may have just bored each other to an unbearable degree. The other involves the Canadian team’s star player, Kyle (Beaudin). He’s only twelve but is already diligently working toward a career in the NHL. Of course, he’s also a jerk, making him and his even more of a jerk dad (Camacho), pseudo-villains. This latter storyline should’ve been much more intriguing. It possesses the potential for all sorts of social commentary. Alas, just like with the bigger issue at hand, the tournament, it lets us skate by unscathed rather than checking us into the boards.

When the credits finally roll, we’ve been inundated with all the warm and fuzzy clichés and breezed through all the conventional plot twists that seem to happen on cue. Early and pre-teen kids will probably like it a good deal, even the life-lessons about how to treat others. It’s cute, even enjoyable if you can take all the schmaltz, but we’ve seen it before. A lot.

MY SCORE: 5/10

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Clash of the Titans (2010)


Directed by Louis Leterrier.
2010. Rated PG-13, 106 minutes.
Cast:
Sam Worthington
Liam Neeson
Ralph Fiennes
Gemma Arterton
Jason Flemyng
Alexa Davalos
Mads Mikkelson
Izabella Miko
Luke Evans


In Ancient Greece, mankind and the gods are pissed off at each other. The Gods think we’re a bunch of ingrates that need to be taught a lesson. We’re behaving…well…like a bunch ingrates that need to be taught a lesson. Of course, there is that thing about Zeuz (Neeson) coming down from Olympus and sleeping with some dude’s wife. Why would a god, the most powerful of the gods, stoop so low? Because he can, silly. Anyhoo, Zeus’ little rendezvous begets our hero, Percy Jackson…er…Perseus (Worthington).

Perseus has got his own issues. He’s all moody because Zeus is a deadbeat dad and the first time he meets his old man, pops asks him to move in like nothing ever happened. The nerve. So, feeling more than a little rebellious, Perseus joins us mere mortals and discovers he might be the only one who can stay out past curfew, I mean kill the Kraken. For ancient Greeks, the Kraken is kind of like the boogie man, only it’s about the size of Delaware with countless arms and teeth plus a very nasty disposition.

The special fx make it gorgeous to look at. I’ve heard all sorts of bad things about how the tacked on 3D effects ruined it in the theater. I saw it in plain old 2D on the very nearly obsolete DVD format and it looked great. The one letdown being the cartoon character they tried to pass off as Medusa (Natalia Vodianova).

Story-wise, it’s dull. Even if you’re not familiar with Greek mythology there’s still no mystery. We find out very early all we need to know. And I hate to come back to this, but if you’ve seen Percy Jackson or the 1981 original CotT or bothered looking at the movie poster or DVD cover then you either already know or figure out very quickly how our hero is going to be heroic.

Sadly, that hero doesn’t have the charisma to negate such a problem with the story. Maybe it’s just me, but Sam Worthington seems to have become the go-to-guy for action movies requiring bland leading men (he starred in Avatar and Terminator Salvation). His look is reminiscent of a young Russell Crowe. Unlike Crowe, Worthington never compels you to watch him. He’s simply there, dutifully blending in with all the techno-wizardry on display.

When it’s all said and done, the remake lacks the campiness and silly fun of the original. However, it amps up the special fx and is still an entertaining watch. There’s just a lot lacking between the action. It’s better than the present day set, unofficial remake Percy J, but that’s not saying much.

The Opposite View: Richard Corliss, Time

What the Internet Says: 6.0/10 on imdb.com (8/26/10), 29% on rottentomatoes.com, 39/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 5.5/10

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

Directed by Niels Arden Oplev.
2009. Rated R, 152 minutes.
Cast:
Noomi Rapace
Michael Nyqvist
Sven-Bertil Taube
Peter Haber
Lena Endre
Ingvar Hirdwall
Peter Andersson
Tomas Köhler


Plot: Journalist/corporate watchdog Mikael Blomkvist (Nyqvist) is hired by ultra wealthy Henrik Vanger (Taube) to investigate the 40 year old murder of Vanger’s then 16 year old niece. Along the way, Blomkvist enlists the help of Lisbeth (Rapace) a hacker who had been hired to investigate him. Based on the novel by Stieg Larsson.

The Good: With any Cold Case style murder mystery, the twists and turns have to be interesting and here, they’re very much so. Trying to guess “whodunit” is a task you’re likely to fail. On top of that, our title character is infinitely mysterious and intriguing in her own right. As our heroine, Noomi Rapace gives a fantastic performance of an amazingly written role. She exudes attitude and a tough exterior but we can tell it hides deep scars and vulnerability even before we’re shown this. This is key because without it, she’d be totally unlikeable. We might even think she deserves some of the things that happen to her. Instead, we root for her even though we really don’t know her. She, and the movie itself through Oplev’s excellent direction, puts up a tough front but only reveals the soft core very late in the proceedings.

The Bad: The story surrounding Mikael’s problems outside of this investigation could’ve been much more interesting. It’s there at the beginning and mentioned a coupled times in the middle and resolved at the end, but fails to grab us. As a whole, the movie runs a bit long. The actual length isn’t the problem. I’ve watched plenty of great movies longer than this. The problem is it’s ending could’ve been more concise instead of lingering the way it does. Finally, there’s the question of Lisbeth’s love life. In the end, we’re not sure whether she’s in a love triangle or not. This is a minor detail in the grand scheme. However, since this is the first of a proposed trilogy, it’s something I’d like to see addressed.

The Ugly: Everything involving Lisbeth’s new probation officer.

Recommendation: If mystery is your thing run, don’t walk, to get your hands on this movie. It’s got all the key ingredients: murder, suspense, sex and violence somehow mixed in to a pretty unique dish. Oh yeah, subtitleophobes beware: we’re speaking Swedish.

The Opposite View: Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

What the Internet Says: 7.7/10 on imdb.com (8/25/10), 86% on rottentomatoes.com, 76/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 9/10

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Diary of a Wimpy Kid


Directed by Thor Freudenthal.
2010. Rated PG, 94 minutes.
Cast:
Zachary Gordon
Robert Capron
Rachael Harris
Steve Zahn
Devon Bostick
Chloë Grace Moretz
Karan Brar
Grayson Russell


Greg (Gordon) is just starting middle school. He also begins his quest to become one of the school’s favorites, and in fact already ranks himself 19th out of 200. His less mature best friend Rowley (Capron) seems to be holding him back. Meanwhile, his big brother Rodrick (Bostick) and other neighborhood “big kids” threaten to kill him on a daily basis.

Watching our hero repeatedly try and fail to raise his popularity quotient is fairly entertaining. It captures the transition from elementary to middle school rather nicely. For us adults, those days when our best laid social plans went astray may come flooding back to us. For kid, most can relate but won’t admit it. Who wants to be the kid that only wants to be liked?

It help that there are some genuinely funny moments. Like the best of this movie, they’re slightly over the top but somehow still universal. For instance, there is a scene where Rodrick chases Greg, causing Greg to lock himself in his own room. Greg’s lengthy hideout is the universal part. It’s not unlike what plays out in houses all over the country. The conclusion to this segmen just ices the cake.

Even better, the filmmakers have the confidence and trust in their audience to make Greg unlikeable for much of the movie. His self-centeredness both compels and repels us. When his inevitable redemption comes about, and I don’t think I’m spoiling anything, it’s about his relationship with his best friend. That is something we can relate to.

There are a few stretches of flatness. During those times, the jokes get a bit repetitive and don’t work as well. Chloë Grace Moretz, who stole the show as Hit-Girl in [i]Kick-Ass[/i] mostly just take up space, here. Her character should’ve been much more important or absent all together. Like most family movies the adults are only there to show that they do exist in this universe of little heroes and villains. It’s not the greatest kiddie flick you’ll ever see but it’s enjoyable.

The Opposite View: Ty Burr, Boston Globe

What the Internet Says: 6.1/10 on imdb.com (8/24/10), 53% on rottentomatoes.com, 56/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 6.5/10

Monday, August 23, 2010

Kick-Ass


Directed by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn.
2010. Rated R, 117 minutes.
Aaron Johnson
Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Mark Strong
Chloë Grace Moretz
Nicolas Cage
Omari Hardwick
Michael Rispoli
Clark Duke
Garrett M. Brown
Dexter Fletcher


Like a lot of boys, Dave (Johnson) wonders what it would be like to be a superhero. He even carries the fantasy one step further and tries to act it out in real life. He gets his hands on a green wetsuit, names himself Kick-Ass and takes to the streets looking like a jade ninja. From there ensues a wild ride full of perfectly just over the top violence and fueled by an absolutely wicked sense of humor. It’s based on the graphic novel of the same name.

This isn’t Batman Begins so there’s no real training for superhero. Things don’t go smoothly. They go about as good as if you yourself decided to don tights and become a crimefighter. Actually, they go better because he doesn’t wind up dead within the first few minutes. Despite becoming a media sensation, he’s not a very good superhero.

Closer to the real deal, but more homicidal than most, we learn, is Hit-Girl (Moretz), a pint-sized killing machine and her father Big Daddy (Cage). Like everyone else who’s watched this movie I have high praise for Hit-Girl. She totally steals the show. We need more Hit-Girl. However, I’ve not seen anyone give Nicolas Cage his just due. I get that there’s a lot of Cage hatred out there. He’s done a lot of dreadful movies. I also understand that most of KA’s audience is too young to remember what Cage is making fun of. His parody of Adam West’s version of Batman is just dead-on and completely hilarious. Well, it’s hilarious if you have the old TV series as a reference point. If so, you’ll recognize everything he does and might laugh yourself to tears.

This brings me to my next point. KA isn’t just an action-comedy. It’s a brilliant spoof of all things superhero. It’s simultaneously reverential and irreverent. It lovingly skewers the genres of literature, television and cinema that birthed it, holding their feet to the fire even as it gives them a hug. Comic book fans will notice the subtleties that make KA special. For instance, notice the unspoken joke of our hero wearing glasses in his regular life but not when dressed as his alter-ego. What makes it great is that even if you miss those little touches you can still have a great time watching it. This is because the best spoofs use the genre they’re spoofing for inspiration, making fun of that genre’s absurdities while also working within its confines and stand alone as narratives.

In those dreadful “____ Movie” (Scary, Date, Dance, etc) flicks there appears to be no love for whatever they’re trying to parody. It’s all mean-spirited and void of creativity. They merely reenact a scene from some other movie and add something gross to it. When they’re over, you can’t really remember the story it’s trying to tell. Here, you needn’t have seen any specific movie to get most of the jokes. You only have to be familiar with a certain type of movie. This is why Young Frankenstein works for people who’ve never actually seen the original Frankenstein or Scream for people who aren’t necessarily fans of slasher movies. Kick-Ass is one of the best spoofs.

The Opposite View: Stephen Himes, Film Snobs

What the Internet Says: 8.1/10 on imdb.com (#183 all time as of 8/20/10), 76% on rottentomatoes.com, 66/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 10/10

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Black Six


Directed by Matt Cimber.
1974. Rated R, 94 minutes.
Cast:
Gene Washington
Mean Joe Greene
Mercury Morris
Carl Eller
Lem Barney
Willie Lanier
John Isenberger
Rosalind Miles
Marilyn McArthur
Lydia Dean
Robert Howard
Maury Wills


Six NFL stars…err…Vietnam vets venture into the small hometown of one of the crew whose brother has been murdered by a white motorcycle gang for dating the gang-leaders sister. Since the police can’t, or won’t get to the bottom of the matter, the six will.

Watching our heroes try to stick it to The Man is goofy fun in spurts. The first twenty minutes or so and the last twenty make up the bulk of the festivities. The middle of the film contains a few fun moments along the way but it drags, terribly. During this stretch, five of “the six” hardly speak as we focus on Bubba (Washington), the dead guy’s brother. He’s busy doing his own investigation and simultaneously trying to reconnect with his old life, namely ex-girlfriend Ceal.

When the rest of the crew is allowed to shine, things thankfully lighten up. Former Miami Dolphins star Mercury Mooris gives the best performance with a hilarious monologue early in the film. This should come as no shock to anyone already familiar with Morris. The rest of the guys are pretty bad and their lines are spread out thinly and evenly. Of course, the iconic Mean Joe Greene is among this group and doesn’t have much to say. This movie reaffirms the notion that his best performance was in a Coke commercial. In case you’re too young to know who the rest of the guys are, don’t you worry. The opening credits puts each guy’s name on screen while the camera is right in their mug and even tells us which team they play for. Nice.

In all, it’s a clunky, slow movie that starts off pretty good and ends pretty good. Everything in the middle just meanders along until we finally get to the finale. It holds some nostalgic value for people who were fans of the NFL in the 1970s but it’s not a movie that demands watching on any level.

MY SCORE: 4/10

Saturday, August 21, 2010

From Paris With Love


Directed by Pierre Morel.
2010. Rated R, 93 minutes.
Cast:
John Travolta
Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Kasia Smutniak
Richard Durden
Eric Godon
Yin Bing
Rebecca Dayan
Amber Rose Revah


James Reece (Meyers) is not only the personal assistant to the U.S. Ambassador to France, he has a side-gig as a low-level CIA op. In an effort to advance with the agency he accepts an assignment to partner with Charlie Wax (Travolta). He’s told this mostly entails driving Wax around Paris. Travolta talking loudly, dropping “mf” bombs in most sentences and killing lots and lots of people ensues.

I’ve no problem with over the top, non-stop action movies. After all, I went through puberty nurtured by movies starring Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Segal. If I were still fifteen, I’d probably love FPWL. Unfortunately, I’m not, so I don’t.

Violence for violence sake does not a great movie make. Films with all manner of brutality work best when they seem organic to the plot, even if there’s a gratuitous amount. At the very least, the action scenes are linked by dialogue and circumstances that lead to the action. Here, there’s no plot to speak of so it’s all pointlessly violent. It’s also not nearly smart enough to pull off the trick of being pointless and still enjoyable like the Crank movies.

Even Travolta’s speech is violent. It’s meant to be funny, but it’s not anything of the sort. Travolta just barks at his partner, dropping in a lot of “mf”bombs just like I said earlier, and often questioning Reece’s manhood, or at least his toughness. Then he shouts some directions at him and the two men drive to another location where Travolta kills everyone in the vicinity. Pointless.

Back to that so-called plot. It has the distinct feel of being made up as filming went along. It twists and turns in a manner that doesn’t so much lead us to action as it does make an excuse for it. It holds together about as well as a training bra on Jennifer Love Hewitt. Pointless.

There were two things that gave me small enjoyment. One is the friend of James’ fiancée. Her name is Nichole and she is played by Amber Rose Revah. I happen to think she’s quite pleasant to gaze upon. Of course, her time on screen is cut short in graphic fashion. The other is a blatant reference to Travolta’s role in Pulp Fiction. It was hardly subtle, but I grinned, nonetheless. Too bad, even that was ruined by them doing it twice, pointlessly.

Admittedly, a lot of the action is done well and is even fun to watch in “Did you see that?” sort of way. But we don’t care one bit about what’s actually going on. All that action simply degenerates into a lot of noise. To quote the great William Shakespeare, it’s “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Allow me to translate that bit of olde English for you: pointless.

The Opposite View: Stephen Holden, New York Times

What the Internet Says: 6.4/10 on imdb.com (8/20/10), 37% on rottentomatoes.com, 42/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 4.5/10

Friday, August 20, 2010

Crazy Heart


Directed by Scott Cooper.
2009. Rated R, 111 minutes.
Cast:
Jeff Bridges
Maggie Gyllenhall
Colin Farrell
Robert Duvall
Jack Nation
Paul Herman
Tom Bower
Rick Dial


Country music legend Bad Blake (Bridges) is trying to regain his former glory by traveling across the country performing in rundown bars, bowling alleys and any other place that would have him. He’s broke and hasn’t written a new song in years. He’s the epitome of washed up. However, he still has his name. It’s enough to keep getting him gigs, groupies of advanced ages and far more whiskey than he should drink, though he tries valiantly. When Jean (Gyllenhall), a much younger than he reporter, comes calling for an interview he falls head over heels.

All of this sets the stage for a remarkable performance by Bridges. Every single moment of his work rings true. Before now, the role most people identified with Bridges was that of “The Dude” in The Big Lebowski. In The Men Who Stare at Goats, he plays a military version that character, one that somehow tricks the people in power to give him a little of his own. Consider Bad Blake a real world version. There’s a real sadness and loneliness to the constant party that his life has become. In every town, he plays with a different band at a different dive, sleeps with a different woman in a different hotel room while getting sloppy drunk and puking all along the way. Somehow, it’s all the same and aside from the vomit, none of it is his. Bridges conveys this brilliantly.

We quickly understand why he’s so into Jean. She represents a stability and happiness he’s never known. Just how unstable his life has been becomes more apparent as the movie moves along. We also understand that she is reluctantly going against her better judgment. She’s clearly following her heart and not her head. The movie’s title may actually refer to her.

Gyllenhall is excellent in her role and as Bad’s love interest, obviously she plays off Bridges and he, off her. This aspect works well. For me, though, the performance that really makes Bridges’ work what it is, is that of Colin Farrell as country music superstar, and former Bad Blake protégé, Tommy Sweet. The casting of Farrell is a stroke of genius. He’s the opposite of Blake, and Bridges for that matter, in every way. Most of us who know anything about him would never have dreamed of giving him this role. Nothing about him says country singer. Yet, that’s precisely why he works so well. His glossiness serves to authenticate our hero.

Sadly, it’s a case where the performances are better than the actual movie. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not at all bad. It’s actually quite good. However, after a certain event involving Jean’s son Buddy (Nation), it goes on autopilot. We know what’s coming and the film dutifully follows the path it laid for itself. Still, Jeff Bridges is worth the price of admission. I will warn you, if you just can’t stand even a note of country music, steer clear. If you’re a fan of the genre, or at least willing to overlook it, you’re in for a treat.

The Opposite View: Sean Burns, Philadelphia Weekly

What the Internet Says: 7.4/10 on imdb.com (8/20/10), 92% on rottentomatoes.com, 83/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 7.5/10

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Up


Director: Pete Docter.
2009. Rated PG, 96 minutes.
Cast:
Ed Asner
Jordan Nagai
Christopher Plummer
Bob Peterson


Plot: Carl Fredericksen (Asner) has lived a long and happy life with his beloved wife Ellie (Elie Docter). After she passes away he sets off to do the one thing they never got to: go to Paradise Falls in South America. He sets off on his adventure by inflating thousands of helium balloons and tying them to the top of his house, transforming it into a gigantic aircraft.

The Good: The brief scene and the lengthy montage that open the movie is a brilliant set up for the film that follows. More than understanding, it makes us feel there is a bond between Carl and Ellie even death cannot do part. By the time we get to the end of our adventure, we really identify with Carl's emotions. Between the beginning and end we get a wildly inventive movie that's not afraid to run with a ridiculous premise and silly notions. The key is in the execution of them and keeping you vested in both Carl and his initally unwanted sidekick Russell (Nagai), which it does beautifully.

The Bad: Its rather inconsistent with regards to Carl's need for a walking stick and his physical capabilities, in general. Sometimes he needs the stick, sometimes not. Sometimes he can perform great feats of strength, other times he's feeble. For older viewers, this will occasionally take you out of the moment and you might find yourself thinking too much.

The Ugly: That cane when "Kevin" spits it back up.

Recommendation: The folks at Pixar have hit another homerun. Its a tale that combines big adventure with big emotion. It even ALMOST got me (but darn it, I'm a man! I choked them back like a big boy). However, it never feels manipulative. Instead, its an expert illustration of character development that never sacrifices fun. By pretty wide margin, its the best kiddie flick of 2009 and possibly the best movie of the year, period.

The Opposite View: Matthew Sorrento, Film Threat

What the Internet Says: 8.5/10 on imdb.com (#64 all time as of 11/23/09), 98% on rottentomatoes.com, 88/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 10/10

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Broken Embraces


AKA: Los Abrazos Rotos
Directed by Pedro Almodóvar.
2009. Rated R, 127 minutes.
Cast:
Penélope Cruz
Lluís Homar
Blanca Portillo
Jose Luis Gómez
Rubén Ochandiano
Tamar Novas


Sometimes, really good movies aren’t really about what they seem. For instance, to borrow from Roger Ebert, really manipulating his words just a bit to fit my exact interpretation, the classic comedy Some Like it Hot pretends to be about two guys on the run from the mob, their friendship and Joe’s (Tony Curtis) romance with Sugar (Marilyn Monroe). In the end, it’s really just about sex and sexuality. Pedro Almodóvar’s Broken Embraces pulls a sleight of hand at least as impressive.

When the movie opens we meet Harry Cain (Homar) a famous screenwriter and former director who also happens to be blind. One day a frantic young man named Ray X (Ochandiano) mysteriously shows up at his door and says he wants to work with him on a script. Once he figures out who the man is, Harry then reflects on the events that led to this meeting. This is the story BE pretends to tell.

Make no mistake, it does an excellent job of pretending. Sex, jealousy and guilt swirl round and round, spinning a saucy tale. It’s fantastic melodrama, an R-rated soap opera, if you will. To pull off this part of his movie Almodóvar draws on a tour de force performance from Penélope Cruz as Lena. She’s ambitious, seemingly fearless, willing to act on her impulses – consequences be damned – and above all, beautiful. It is indeed shallow to place her looks atop the totem pole of her attributes. However, it’s precisely that which ensnares two very successful men in her constantly tangling web.

If I may digress for a moment, I’ve always felt Cruz performs better in her native Spanish language films. This is no exception. She seems more confident and free. In her American movies she appears to be efforting to enunciate in English which taxes her acting. Then again, it could just be me. Yes, subtitleophobes, this means the movie is in Spanish. Bring your reading glasses…or just switch the DVD over to the English track.

The tale of Cruz’s character and the love triangle in which she finds herself is the wool the director pulls over our eyes. What his film is about has absolutely nothing to do with her or even anyone else in the picture. Through his characters Almodóvar, who also wrote the film, uses the aforementioned themes of sex, jealousy, etc to entertain us. To entertain himself, perhaps even to elighten both himself and the audience, the entire film is an extended metaphor for something else. I won’t tell you what it is here for fear of robbing you of the joy of figuring it out yourself. Rest assured of one thing. First, the movie works on both levels so even if you never pick up on what I’m talking about, it’s a very good watch. Though, I will say he does tell us. In fact, he practically puts it in italicized, underlined bold print. After all, it’s only the most important thing.

The Opposite View: Amy Biancolli, San Francisco Chronicle

What the Internet Says: 7.2/10 on imdb.com (8/17/10), 81% on rottentomatoes.com, 76/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 9/10

Monday, August 16, 2010

A. I.


Directed by Steven Spielberg.
2001. Rated PG-13, 145 minutes.
Cast:
Haley Joel Osment
Jude Law
Frances O’Connor
William Hurt


Sometime in the future, a robotics company creates a robot, or a mecha in the movie’s lingo, that can be programmed to love unconditionally. They make it in the form of a child (Osment), and test it on a couple who’s son is in a coma with little chance of regaining consciousness. The questions the movie wants you to ponder are posed at the top of the movie: If you could program a robot to genuinely love people, would people love them back? Should people love them back? What would be the consequences of such a relationship? To complicate matters, these machines are extremely life-like. They feel and look like humans. They also “think” and have “feelings.” Think the machines of [i]I, Robot[/i] taken through their logical and technological evolution. Instead of simply answering the questions, the movie takes us on an adventure. It’s really an updated version of [i]Pinocchio[/i]. The movie itself acknowledges this by explicitly referencing the famous fairy-tale while simultaneously using its story-line. Doing this gives us easy-to-follow themes while reminding us that the questions posed have not only been around since man first made any inanimate object in his own image but if technology continues to advance at a dizzying pace will have to be dealt with in full on a world-wide scale. Visually, it’s still stunning. Even though cgi has advanced in the years since this film was made, it has seldom been done better than here. There are a few instances where you can see that a computer did the work but far more times where you know a computer did the work but it sure looks real. It does drag in spots and seems to go on too long. I personally would’ve cut out everything dealing with aliens. That said, it’s still an excellent movie.

MY SCORE: 8/10

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Not Quite Hollywood


Directed by Mark Hartley.
2008. Rated R, 103 minutes.
Cast:
Phillip Adams
Graeme Blundell
Glory Annen
Christine Amor
Victoria Anoux
Quentin Tarantino
Deborah Gray
Jamie Lee Curtis
Dennis Hopper


In the early 1960s the Australian film industry was almost nonexistent. With a little nudging from the powers that be, the industry explodes with an enormous output of b-movies and flourishes for the next two decades. At some point thes films came to be known as Oz-ploitation and peaked with the movie that made Mel Gibson a star, Mad Max. They were filled with action, gore, low-brow comedy and naked bodies. So, too, is this documentary. We listen to the people who were there and/or helped create the style of the vast majority of Australia’s cinematic exports. Oh, and a lot of famed director/movie geek Quentin Tarantino plus a little Jamie Lee Curtis and Dennis Hopper thrown in. For film buffs and fans of b-movies, this is a goldmine. For others, it’s a bunch of people, most of whom you’ve never heard of, discussing and showing clips from a lot of bad movies you probably didn’t know existed. I fall into the first category and had a blast watching. Many of our interviewees were quite funny and the clips were amazing. I understand that it’s not for everyone, though.


MY SCORE: 8/10

Friday, August 13, 2010

Where the Wild Things Are

Directed by Spike Jonze.
2009. Rated PG, 101 minutes.
Cast:
Max Records
James Gandolfini
Catherine Keener
Paul Dano
Catherine O’Hara
Pepita Emmerichs
Mark Ruffalo
Vincent Crowley
Sonny Gerasimowicz
Nick Farnell


Tiny Max (Records) is going through a crisis. His big sister hardly pays him any mind and since his single-but-dating mom works all day, he’s left mostly to his own devices. One night, after throwing a particularly dramatic temper tantrum he runs away from home, goes down to the nearby coast, hops in a boat, crosses a raging sea and winds up on a strange island filled with bickering and depressed creatures that look like out-of-work mascots. When he figures out they want to eat him, he makes up some cockamamie reason why they shouldn’t. He tells them he’s got special powers and promises to make all the sadness in their lives disappear. Of course, the mascots do the only logical thing they can and make him king.

I’ve given you the first thirty minutes. For the next hour plus, we watch Max run, jump and play with the mascots, trying his darndest to keep his promise about ending sadness. Obviously, the task seems impossible. It is especially so when dealing with such a morose group. Conflict raises its head time and again. Most of the time, it involves the easily upset and heartbroken Carol. Carol is voiced wonderfully by James Gandolfini. Yes, Carol is a he. Just a little fyi: Tony Soprano is not actually in the suit. That would be Vincent Crowley. Anyhoo, we come to see Carol largely as this island’s version of Max. Between Carol, Max and the rest of the group, life lessons and dirt clods are bandied about.

It’s an odd watch that ignores any plausible real-world consequences of his actions, including just how much time actually passes. Then again, the movie never definitively says that Max went to a real place. That much is up to you. Whether or not the island is real, the movie focuses solely on the wonderland this particular Alice has fallen into and the therapy it provides. I can see some kids being totally enthralled by watching another child just play while also empathizing with the mascots. I can see others bored to tears because once you get past how these creatures look, it lacks the fizz and pop of most movies aimed at the pre-teen audience. The personalities of our friends are droll, at best. The movie seems to drag on and on…and on. There’s also not much in the way of special fx and though there is humor, it’s not made up of pratfalls and fart jokes.

The lack of crassness may be a welcome reprieve for parents. However, the same sentiments apply. You’ll have to think your way through this one. Normally, that’s not a problem for me, but here it was a chore. Unfortunately, big action scenes where our hero battles the bad guy and hordes of his minions never come. Therefore, if you don’t mind the slowness of the proceedings then this will be a nice treat for you. If you’re easily bored, don’t bother.

The Opposite View: Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly

What the Internet Says: 7.2/10 on imdb.com (8/11/10), 73% on rottentomatoes.com, 71/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 5.5/10

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Brooklyn's Finest


Directed Antoine Fuqua.
2010. Rated R, 132 minutes.
Cast:
Don Cheadle
Ethan Hawke
Richard Gere
Wesley Snipes
Will Patton
Lili Taylor
Ellen Barkin
Wass Stevens
Vincent D’Onofrio


Three Brooklyn police officers with various problems try to do their jobs and gain control of their personal lives. Tango (Cheadle) is so deep undercover he’s starting to forget who he is. Sal (Hawke) is trying desperately to move his family into a bigger, better house. Not only does he already have six kids, his wife Angela (Taylor) is pregnant. Finally, Eddie (Gere) is a mere week away from retirement. Apathy has set in. He’s also a heavy drinker who happens to be in love with a prostitute.

The question of right and wrong is at the heart of all three stories. More importantly, what the benefits are of each and just who is actually benefiting is analyzed. As we follow these three men, these themes arise time and again. Actually reaping rewards for your work is something that seems just out of reach.

Antoine Fuqua, most known for directing Training Day, crafts another engaging cop drama with three situations that feel genuine and have no easy solutions. In fact, many have compared this to TD but I think that’s a mistake. BF is told in a similar style but is a very different film. TD is much more black and white. There is very clearly a hero and a villain. Here, there are plenty of villains. However, it seems that other villains control our heroes. The powers that be are as self-centered and self-preserving as the criminals they purport to hunt.

If there is a movie BF reminds me of, it’s The Departed. Don’t go getting your panties in a bunch. I’m not saying this is anywhere near as good. I am saying that the storyline with Tango is similar as are the fireworks that play out at the end.

Don’t go looking for a Steven Soderbergh style linking of the stories, either. They’re only connected by proximity. None of our three leads seems to know either of the others and only pass one another on the streets a couple times while on their disconnected paths. I suspect this is the source of much of the hatred directed towards this movie since this gives it a disjointed feel. When we come back to one storyline or another we realize it’s been a long time since. In addition, we keep waiting to see how the stories are linked and though it happens physically, it never does on any level worthy of our anticipation. It could just have easily been three separate movies.

Our three leads all turned in outstanding work. There doesn’t seem to be a sour note hit. It is also nice to see the return of Wesley Snipes from his problems with the IRS and the straight-to-DVD hell his career was stuck in. Among the supporting players, Ellen Barkin stood out and displayed a commanding presence during her few scenes.

For me, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable experience. It seems to have received a lot of negative backlash for some of the reasons I gave above. It’s also not one of the best crime dramas of all time, like it was hyped to be. Still, it is a lot more cerebral with less action and more to think about than TD. Like I said, there are no easy answers. The masses tend to shy away from puzzles that aren’t solved for them.

The Opposite View: Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic

What the Internet Says: 7.0/10 on imdb.com (8/11/10), 43% on rottentomatoes.com, 43/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 7.5/10

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief


Directed by Chris Columbus.
2010. Rated PG, 118 minutes.
Cast:
Logan Lerman
Brandon T. Jackson
Alexandra Daddario
Pierce Brosnan
Sean Bean
Steve Coogan
Catherine Keener
Rosario Dawson
Joe Pantoliano
Uma Thurman


Someone has stolen Zeus’s lightning bolt. He’s so pissed, he warns Poseidon that if he doesn’t get it back soon, there will be hades to pay. See, Zeus believes that Poseidon’s son is the culprit. Poseidon’s son is none other than Percy Jackson (Lerman), a high school kid who thinks he’s just an ordinary joe whose life sucks. He’s got a slight case of ADHD and apparently severe dyslexia. However, we soon discover that the writers are fans of The Facts of Life because no one in this movie is handicapped, they’re “handi-capable.” If you’re under 30, you probably don’t get that joke, but whatever. Laugh now, google it later.

This is a classic case of the filmmakers trying to keep us from thinking about the lame-brained script by distracting us with lots of shiny objects. Yes, it’s action-packed almost literally from wall to wall. With beautifully rendered creatures and exciting battles scenes, it’s generally a fun watch.

It’s also incredibly stupid. Things that make no sense kepp happening. There seems to be no logical explanation for many of the things people do. This includes actually trying to kill each other during training excercises. Imagine young soldiers in training actually shooting one another with live rounds. That doesn’t make any sense, now does it?

There are other problems, as well. The attempts at comic relief are horrendous, our heroine evidently likes having a guy that can smack her around and the sidekick has a horrible case of “Magical Negro” disease. If you’re unfamiliar with that particular stereotype, the “Magical Negro” is a black character in American literature or cinema with special powers whose sole purpose is to protect and/or enrich the life of the white protagonist. Think The Legend of Bagger Vance or The Green Mile. While that aspect of those films is bothersome, it worked because they were generally well-written stories whether they used stereotypes or not. In a lesser movie such as this, it’s closer to being an unforgivable offense.

The bottom line on Percy Jackson is it’s often dazzling to “look at” but if you’re over 12, it’s probably a chore to “watch”. Oh, since I know you’re smarter than I, when you see it, or if you’ve already seen it, please explain to me how Pierce Brosnan’s character ever sat in a wheelchair.

The Opposite View: Mary Pols, Time

What the Internet Says: 5.8/10 on imdb.com (8/11/10), 50% on rottentomatoes.com, 47/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 4.5/10

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Black Gestapo


Directed by Lee Frost.
1975. Rated R, 88 minutes.
Cast:
Rod Perry
Charles P. Robinson
Phil Hoover
Angela Brent
Wes Bishop
Lee Frost
Donna Young
Uschi Digard


The Peoples’ Army is an all Black army in Watts, California trying to protect the community from the White gangsters who get a substantial cut of every dollar that moves within the city. It seems TPA is rather unsuccessful as the gangsters not only come and go as they please, they also do as they please to anyone, anywhere, anytime.

General Ahmed (Perry) is TPA’s leader. His girlfriend Marsha (Brent) is nearly raped by the bad guys. This prompts him to allow his second-in-command, Col. Kojah (Robinson) to head up a special security force with a few handpicked men. The colonel is sick of his boss’ reactionary and seemingly passive leadership and decides to be more productive.

What starts out as just another Blaxploitation flick where the endgame is simply “stickin’ it to The Man” throws us a curveball. We get a very nice twist that elevates it above most of its genre. While doing so, it still maintains much of the silliness the genre is known for: unintentional humor, cheesy 70s music and gratuitous female nudity. Speaking of females, they really get the short end of the stick, pardon the pun. The movie can certainly be construed as misogynistic. Another flaw is our hero. He seems too weak to even hold the position he does, let alone go all Schwarzenegger-in-Commando like the way he does.

To the good is the surprisingly sharp dialogue. There’s plenty of 70s lingo and some of it is indeed corny. Still, there are enough lines that actually qualify as good writing which places this a cut above its contemporaries. In all, it’s a very flawed movie. It’s flawed enough to be so bad, it’s awesome!

MY SCORE: -10/10

Monday, August 9, 2010

Hurricane Season


Directed by Tim Story
2009. Rated PG-13, 102 minutes.
Cast:
Forest Whitaker
Taraji P. Henson
Robbie Jones
Isaiah Washington
Courtney B. Vance
Bonnie Hunt
J. B. Smoove
Shad Moss
Bow Wow
Lil’ Wayne


In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, high school basketball coach Al Collins (Whitaker) forges ahead through basketball season with a makeshift team.

It’s a movie that’s hard not to like based on the subject matter, alone. Wisely enough, though there is plenty of actual footage of the wreckage Katrina left behind, they aren’t lingering and constant to the point that the manipulation becomes unbearable. It’s there, Coach Collins is trying to deal with it and move on.

HS is also a hard movie to love. For starters, it’s too short. It only skims the surface of most of the situations it reveals, never letting them play out satisfactorily. What we get are a lot of different things touched on but underdeveloped. In the end, most things are resolved because, well, mostly just because. The logistics of the season are reduced to very minor obstacles. For instance, when we see the team’s home gym in the days immediately after the storm, it’s barely standing. The floor is completely destroyed, the baskets are leaning and seem to be hanging on for dear life and the bleachers are unfit for even one behind, let alone the hundreds they were originally intended to hold. We see the coach and the custodian/bus driver scraping up the carnage with shovels. They are joined by a couple players. That’s all until we next see the gym which has been fully restored to pristine conditions and is ready for action. This epitomizes the movie as a whole. It’s full of the magical fixes the real victims of Katrina were looking for.

One storyline that is nicely fleshed out is that of would-be star player Brian (Jones). Given that this particular storyline doesn’t get started until well into the movie it becomes an unexpected but welcome centerpiece. Its father-son angle is well-worn but also well done.

Katrina left filmmakers with another backdrop for compelling drama. The potential for greatness is indeed there for HS. It pretends to reach for it but never really does. It’s a nice, harmless feel-good flick that only hints at real issues, then skirts them. It is definitely enjoyable but not quite satisfying.

The Opposite View: Brian Orndorf, DVD Talk

What the Internet Says: 6.1/10 on imdb.com (8/9/10), N/A on rottentomatoes.com, N/A on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 6/10

Friday, August 6, 2010

Sorority Row

Directed by Stewart Hendler.
2009. Rated R, 101 minutes.
Cast:
Briana Evigan
Leah Pipes
Rumer Willis
Jamie Chung
Audrina Patridge
Julian Morris
Margo Harshman
Carrie Fisher
Matt Lanter


During a sorority party, a prank goes terribly wrong and one of the most popular members of Theta Pi takes a tire iron through the chest. Since her sorority sisters and dim-witted boyfriend are to blame, but haven’t been witnessed, except by each other, they dump the body in a nearby mine shaft and pretend she’s gone missing. Nine months later, she has apparently risen from the dead and starts picking off her former friends. Oh yeah, this is your run of the mill chop ‘em up so she picks them off……(doing my best Vincent Price impersonation)…one…by…one, muwahahahah……sorry.


Anyhoo, the reality of it is it’s a not-as-good update of I Know What You Did Last Summer, but with almost all girls. By the way, those girls come straight from all those movies about teenagers in cliques. There’s the domineering blonde, the slut, the nerd, the Asian girl…hmmm. How they didn’t have the chubby girl or the Black girl is beyond me. Haven’t these people seen any of the High School Musical movies? Someone must’ve been asleep on the casting couch.

SR also borrows heavily from Scream. The ending is clearly inspired by it. In addition, where that movie uses 70s icon Henry Winkler, AKA The Fonz, this one uses Carrie Fisher, AKA Princess Leia. As the heavy drinkin’, shotgun totin’ house-mom she gets some of the best parts of the movie. Finally, Scream’s director Wes Craven should probably sue the makers of SR for the way the killer is dressed.

If it isn’t obvious, one shouldn’t expect much, other than what one watches these movies for – namely, seeing people get hacked up in creative ways. And for some, the opportunity to see bare breasts without the use of a website that’s potentially harmful to your computer. While there are enough boobies to keep the average boy somewhat interested, it falls woefully short in the death department. At the risk of promoting sadism, I have to say they’re not nearly spectacular enough. Even worse for a slasher fan, they’re often obscured from view by a wall, a sheet, the camera cutting away. I would expect this from a PG-13 money grab like the Prom Night remake but not in a low-budget R-rated hack flick that knows its bread is buttered by blood and guts.

Lame kill scenes combined with a storyline we’ve already seen in other, better movies render SR a rather ho-hum experience. In fact, you might have a hard time remembering what you just saw as the credits start to roll.

The Opposite View: Matthew Turner, ViewLondon

What the Internet Says: 5.1/10 on imdb.com (8/5/10), 23% on rottentomatoes.com, 24/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 3/10

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Our Family Wedding


Directed by Rick Famuyiwa.
2010. Rated PG-13, 103 minutes.
Cast:
Lance Gross
America Ferrera
Forest Whitaker
Carlos Mencia
Regina King
Diana Maria Riva
Lupe Ontiveros
Charlie Murphy


Marcus (Gross) and Lucia (Ferrera) are young, in love and getting married. First, they have to tell their respective families who have no idea that they’re even dating, let alone about to tie the knot. There’s two other little details: he’s Black, she’s Mexican. Racially charged hijinks and shenanigans ensue.

There’s nothing here we haven’t seen before. Each side cracks jokes about the other and do the same sorts of things we’ve seen in movies involving couples who are Black and White, White and anything else, Jewish and Catholic, Greek and Anglo, so on and so forth. The details change to fit the cultures being portrayed but everything important is pretty much the same.

Some amusement is derived from the scenes shared by our two fathers, played by Forest Whitaker and Carlos Mencia. Speaking of Mencia, he was okay in the role, but I just couldn’t help but wonder why the more family friendly, and actually Mexican, George Lopez wasn’t playing the part. Was he too busy or too smart?

As for the couple in question, they’re both hopelessly unmemorable. It’s no fault of the actors portraying them, they’re written that way. Gross and Ferrera are both more famous for their TV roles, Gross on “House of Payne” and Ferrera as the title character of “Ugly Betty.” They both did well enough, but they’re essentially supporting players in their own movie. It can be argued that that’s the point. Still, it feels like lazy writing. Why bother making them interesting when we can just have the two dads scream at one another, again.

All in all, it’s not necessarily a “bad” movie. It’s just shamelessly unoriginal. That said, it’s somewhat enjoyable in spite of itself. It’ll probably work “ok” for a movie night gathering when you’re looking for a light-hearted rom-com with just a hint of meanness in its humor.

The Opposite View: Stephanie Zacharek, Salon.com

What the Internet Says: 2.9/10 on imdb.com, 13% on rottentomatoes.com, 38/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 5/10

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Midnight Meat Train

Directed by Ryûhei Kitamura.
2008. Rated R, 100 minutes.
Cast:
Bradley Cooper
Leslie Bibb
Vinnie Jones
Brooke Shields
Barbare Eve Harris
Roger Bart
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson


Leon (Cooper) is an artistic photographer who is struggling with his craft. High-powered art dealer Susan Hoff (Shields) tells him that something is missing. He seems to find it when he goes prowling the streets at night and happens upon a woman being hassled by a group of thugs. After snapping a few pics he manages to get the lady out of harm’s way, for the time being. Soon, he discovers that she is a famous model and has gone missing. Of course, we already know that the psychopath riding a particular subway train and wielding a rather large blunt object literally made a bloody mess of her. Through some serious stalker work, our hero figures out who our psycho is and that he’s slaughtering people every night on this train.

The cat and mouse that develops between these two men is highly intriguing and tense. There’s also the question of Leon’s own sanity sliiping. He seems to be losing his grip on reality. His obsession with his craft and following this guy around is threatening his relationship with Maya (Bibb), as well.

Interspersed with all this are some beautifully grisly murders. Some of the blood splattering is obviously cgi but most other things in those scenes are very well done. There are some terrific images throughout. The point-of-view shot from the viewpoint of a person being decapitated is simply amazing.

When we get to the last act, we jump the shark. At some point all of this madness has to be explained. The explanation we get is among the lamest in cinematic history. To make matters worse, it’s not even fully explained. The basic question of why is unanswered. Of course, this is all to facilitate the stupid twist that ends the movie. What seemed to be an intelligent and unsettling horror film, possibly on the path to becoming one of the greats, instantaneously becomes one of the biggest letdowns in recent memory. I’ve since found out this is based on a Clive Barker story. Had I read the story, I might not be so disappointed. Either that, or I just wouldn’t have watched the movie. This is very much like my experience watching Sunshine. Therefore, I’ll give the same advice: If you love the twist, you’ll love the movie. For me, that twist is unlovable.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Final Destination


Directed by David R. Ellis.
2009. Rated R, 82 minutes.
Cast:
Bobby Campo
Shantel VanSanten
Nick Zano
Mykelti Williamson
Haley Webb
Krista Allen
Andrew Fiscella
Justin Wellborn


Once again, a lucky teen, but really unlucky, has a premonition about a catstrophic accident that will kill him and all his friends, plus countless others. He gets all frantic and gets himself and said friends kicked out of the event they’re attending. In this case, it’s an auto race. Feeling cheated, Death itself hunts the survivors down one by one int the order in which they would’ve died had things gone according to plan. If you’ve seen any of this movie’s three predecessors then you know this set-up well. It’s exactly the same throughout the franchise. Why this isn’t called Final Destination 4 escapes me.

The problem with this franchise, this movie in particular, is no one has found a way to inject any creativity whatsoever into the storyline since the original. Essentially, we get the same movie once again. What was once, very recently, fresh for the genre has quickly become trite. If you’ve seen one, you’ve almost literally seen them all. The creative forces behind the FD franchise make the people behind the Friday the 13th movies seem Shakespearian by comparison.

Why watch such a movie? There’s really only one reason: the kill scenes. This is the only area in which we see any creativity whatsoever. The early deaths are a disappointment because they’re too cartoonish. That’s because the special fx are pretty weak in this particular version. You can see it straining to be a 3D movie as it was theatrically released. Unfortunately, I saw it in plain old 2D and the result in underwhelming.

However, all is not lost. Even though one of the later deaths mimics one that was done in the original, the kills get better as the movie goes on. The death-by-escalator scene might be among the most amazing murders the DTM genre has ever committed. By the way, thank famed critic Roger Ebert for the term DTM: Dead Teenager Movie.

It’s all pretty simple. If you like FD movies, this is right up your alley. If you don’t, skip it. You’re not missing anything special.

The Opposite View: Derek Elley, Variety

What the Internet Says: 4.9/10 on imdb.com (8/1/10), 27% on rottentomatoes.com, 30/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 4.5/10

SCORE VS. OTHER FD MOVIES: 6/10