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El cuerpo (2012)
Spain's industry -or, to better say, some young filmmakers and studios- are producing fine thrillers lately. "The body" feels like the last installment of a trilogy of movies all produced by the studios Rodar y Rodar and all starred by Belen Rueda, the first being the awarded and applauded "The orphanage".
Anyway, "The body" is an entirely different movie with very different goals, and it is more similar to the second movie, "Julia's eyes": it's a fast-paced thriller filled with twists, red herrings and a satisfactory ending. It follows young Alex, recently widowed of his older and richer wife, Mayka, who died of a sudden heart attack. Mayka was the owner of several pharmaceutical companies and is portrayed as a woman with a strange sense of humor and a domineering personality. This part of the movie is quite well done, because we are well informed of the peculiarities of this couple, even when the movie doesn't take a lot of time for this description (it's all done in flashbacks). Anyway, the action begins when Mayka's body goes missing from the morgue it was stored at, which brings police detective Jaime Peña to the crime scene.
Shortly thereafter, we learn that Alex has an affair with young and beautiful Carla, and that they have both plotted and executed the murder of Mayka. But the questions promptly arise in the characters' and the viewers' mind: is Mayka really dead? If so, who snatched the body, and with what purpose? And if she isn't dead, what happened and where is she?
Mayka is nowhere to be seen, but, dead or alive, her presence quickly infects the place, plaguing Alex's mind and making him fearful for whatever may be happening. Jaime Peña is deeply suspicious of him from the get-go and quickly becomes a fierce adversary to Alex.
As the search for the missing body goes on, Alex and Peña struggle to find out the truth, each with his own motive. And so does the viewer. The whole story unfolds in a bleak setting -a morgue, in the middle of the night-, with some winks to the supernatural, giving the movie the looks and feel of an extended "Tales from the crypt" episode.
"The body" is a good thriller that really delivers. The script takes some liberties in order to bamboozle the viewer, but -in my opinion- such liberties are not only inevitable but also forgivable (although many will probably differ). Ultimately, "The body" achieves what it set out for: grab our interest from the start, follow the story closely, keep guessing and changing our mind as to what really happened, and provide us with an ending that, even though it is not perfect and could be regarded as far-fetched, is quite fulfilling and fitting for this story and its characters.
The acting by the main four actors is good, the strongest man being the well-respected Spanish actor Jose Coronado.
Ultra-violent action movie
'Dredd' is an adaptation of a comic, which I have never read, so I will judge (no pun intended) this as I would a stand-alone action movie.
'Dredd' is set in a not so distant, bleak future, where America has gone to wasteland and one massive city extends from Boston to Washington DC. Single blocks of apartments give shelter to thousands and thousands of families and, in the worst cases, are controlled by gangs. In this civilization, judges have become one-man armed forces that judge and execute sentences, which in practice means that they apply the law as they go.
The real action in 'Dredd' confronts judge Dredd and his new sidekick, judge candidate Anderson, and Ma-ma, the villain of the show, a drug- dealer who has taken control and, in practice, rules one megablock of apartments.
'Dredd' is, in essence, a cat-and-mouse game between Ma-ma and the two judges, whose goal is to arrest her and apply the law on her.
'Dredd' is therefore an action movie, but not any action movie. It goes one step further than most of its kind, in its treatment of violence. 'Dredd' is an ultra-violent movie with an extremely graphic treatment of violence. Thumbs gouging eyeballs, skinnings, human heads crashing against the floor, bullets parting cheeks... and all of that in slow motion. Those are some of the scenes that you're going to be prepared to watch if 'Dredd' is your movie of choice. I can hardly remember any other movie that displays human violence in such gory detail. It's almost pornographic.
'Dredd's best asset -perhaps its only real asset- is its visuals. The bleak world of the near future is very well built and, from what I've read, it has been created on a relatively low budget, but it's entirely believable.
Everything in 'Dredd' is over the top, except for the acting, where perhaps only Olivia Thirlby stands out. But, surely, good acting wasn't the aim here.
'Dredd' is entertaining, for sure. It's highly adrenalinic, although it doesn't offer anything substantially new as far as the story goes. One could say there is a moral, perhaps, but just like you could say there is a moral to every movie, if you look for it. No; the goal is entertainment. The reason 'Dredd' made me think is quite another: that action movies come packed with bigger and bigger amounts of violence, and that the violence seems to actually be the whole point. If this is the route that entertainment is taking, the dystopia that 'Dredd' proposes doesn't seem all that far-fetched.
The don't make them like "Copycat" anymore
"Copycat" is a good and meritful thriller, perhaps one of the best from the 90s, where thrillers were usually more suspenseful and rich in plot lines than packed with action scenes. (This is a compliment). In other words, they don't make them like those thrillers anymore. Therefore, I think "Copycat" deserves the attention of any old-school thriller aficionado. It is less crude than "Silence of the lambs" and, in my opinion, more intelligent, too, but it simply suffered from the fact that it came later in time.
"Copycat" is a movie about serial killers and, to a good extent for a commercial-purpose movie, it offers a great deal of information about the psychology and typical rituals of serial killers (apparently, the film-makers recruited world expert Robert K. Ressler for assessment and guidance throughout the making of the movie). There is one serial killer here, too, and one heroine, psychiatrist Helen Hudson, who is fighting incapacitating agoraphobia after being attacked and nearly killed by a psychopath who was obsessed with her. However, she can't help getting involved when young women start to get murdered. Helen will soon notice that the crime scenes are exact copies of grimly famous murders by famous serial killers from the past.
"Copycat" is not a perfect movie. It does have its weaknesses: some plot lines are clearly superfluous and don't really fit in with the main plot line; there are other scenes which seem to intend to exploit a certain humorous potential about M.J., the female police detective, but don't really fulfill their purpose; and the last third of the movie feels definitely rushed in, as if some significant scenes had been left off at the editing room. I also got the clear feeling that the starting point, the idea behind the story, was not exploited to the fullest, and that a great movie could have come from it.
But then, again, "Copycat" is also better than most others in its genre, and I would definitely put it higher than most thrillers that are made these days. Both Sigourney Weaver and Holly Hunter are perfect in their roles -I especially enjoyed Hunter's character, a mix of innocence and toughness-, and, even though William McNamara has more modest acting abilities overall, in this role he did a great job. Another good point about "Copycat" is that it respects the pacing and the tempos of a suspenseful movie, with building-up tension and a very good and long climax.
My score is 7 stars out of 10.
A great choice for all girls who aren't necessarily into chick flicks
Kristen Wiig is the kind of actor who doesn't let her ego get in between her and her character. Which means that, in "Bridesmaids", she is so good because she isn't afraid of laughing at herself or, to better put it, at her character, Annie Walker, a 30-something who is currently failing at the most important sides of her life and who is asked by Lillian, her lifelong best friend, to be her bridesmaid. Annie is delighted, but will soon have to face hard competition from Lillian's new friend and contender to the best friend title, classy and beautiful Helen.
The whole movie is a series of misadventures starring Annie, who manages to ruin every step of Lillian's wedding arrangements, as well as her own living arrangements and her barely extant love life. Of course, everything will end up nicely and happily for everyone involved.
Though I'm not precisely a fan of the Apatow factory's kind of gross humor style -and this is also quite present in "Bridesmaids"-, I enjoyed this movie, and I think it stands out, because it works well on many different levels. If, like me, you don't much appreciate gross, in-your-face jokes involving natural bodily functions, for example, you can still enjoy "Bridesmaids" because, for instance, it makes fun of the many clichés that Hollywood rom-coms have been pushing down our throats (and into our brains) for decades; it also makes fun of the stereotypical chick-flick heroine (Annie is cute in a girl-next-door fashion, sweet, and has her own style, but she is approachable and she is definitely quite real; she is awkward and acts silly or downright stupid sometimes, which we all do) and of the real things that real men and women do in real life. It also has good comedy dialogue and a nice message at the end -it's not a mere sequence of funny sketches. The characters are real and there is a story behind the whole thing.
Besides, the whole cast is great and you can tell everyone loved being in this movie. For me personally, it was especially delightful to see Rose Byrne in her role.
My score: 8 stars out of 10.
John Carter (2012)
Go watch this!
If you haven't yet, what are you waiting for to go watch "John Carter"? Grab your kids, grab your boyfriend or girlfriend, your spouse, your parents, your friends and run to the nearest theatre where they're showing this. For you can watch "John Carter" being any age, and in any company, and have a good two-hour cinematic joyride.
It doesn't matter that it has reportedly failed at the box office (but then, failure is relative, isn't it? It all depends on how high the expectancies were raised). "John Carter" is a great movie, and I hope it will have a fruitful second life upon DVD release and in other forms. It doesn't matter that Mars doesn't hold almost any interest for human fantasy anymore as it did back in Edgar Rice Burroughs's time. It doesn't matter that the plot isn't perfect and that the movie sometimes reminds us a little too much of "Avatar", what with the interspecies romance, the seemingly hostile environment and creatures then turned into allies (or not!), the ecologic, Earth-loving message. It has lots of adventure, love, humor, and enough symbolism to get the point in just one viewing and walk out of the theatre with a smile in your face. The characters -the good guys and gals, that is- are all good-looking, well-spoken, brave, smart and funny. And the bad guys also make a good point in the story -perhaps the most intriguing, most modern message of them all. And the cast is really gold, especially the more minor characters (it has Dominic West, by God!).
In summary, please, do yourself a favor and watch "John Carter". At worst, you won't find it anything special, but I trust you won't be bored.
Day of the Dead (1985)
The perfect zombie movie
It's a scandal that such a brilliant film as "Day of the dead" has been overlooked for so long, and still pretty much continues to do so. In fact, being an avid horror movie consumer and favoring zombie movies especially, it is only now that I've been lucky enough to get a copy of this. I'm so glad about that! "Day of the dead" is, to my mind, not only the best of all Romero's zombie flicks, but also in the top three of all zombie movies ever made. It has every single asset that I consider desirable for a zombie film to be perfect: a claustrophobic environment with little realistic ways out, characters pushed to the limits, paranoia, darkness (literal darkness as well as an obscurity, a density of word, thought and mindset that clearly reflects the apocalyptic world that they now live in), powerlessness, lots of quality suspense, and gore. Many of those elements are missing in an awful lot of zombie movies.
"Day of the dead" is also ahead of its time (1985) in special and makeup effects and, beyond that, in the general pessimistic mood that is now sadly a reality. There is nothing funny, redeeming, thrilling about the new world dominated by zombies; the heroes of this show do not make a point of killing zombies as if it were some sort of hunting expedition with lots of adrenaline. They are simply the last humans standing, a group of scientists and military who happen to have survived so far (how, and why them, is never told), and trying to live another day in an underground facility (which is one of the best settings ever devised in a horror movie). Some kind of science project or experiment is also taking place, with a Dr Logan leading it (great character, that one), but this doesn't leave for much optimism. Basically, the gray, primary, claustrophobic setting, the rivalry between the military and the scientific communities, and the sickness and nightmares that ail the heroes let us know early on that we're in for a gloomy tale.
"Day of the dead" is also worth watching because it introduces elements that are completely original in the genre, and have still (to my knowledge) either not been used at all, or have been so only recently.
My score is a resounding 10/10!
The Final (2010)
Tricky little number
The story in "The final" is very simple: a bunch of high school outcasts and bullying victims plot and execute a bloody and terrible form of revenge on their bullies.
The movie is about one hour and half long, and it doesn't really abound that much into the bullying that the kids are subjected to, although it expressly makes a point of informing that it's been an ongoing thing since they were little. The main part of the movie is all about the form of revenge that they choose.
The term "torture porn" comes to mind. The movie contains several scenes not apt for the faint of stomach, although for those who have watched the "Saw" or the "Hostel" sagas, this will probably look like nothing. However, this is not violence for the sake of it -there is more to the characters and to their actions than you might think.
After the first bit of the movie, we are invited and encouraged to root for the outcasts. However, as the movie continues and they give way to their revenge, the tables turn. My personal conclusion is that there aren't really good-natured characters in the movie (with one exception). It's not a movie about good vs. bad people. Also, there are differences between the characters, both within the bullies and the outcasts, which mark them as individuals and help us to consider each one separately. Both of those are good points, in my opinion.
"The final" is a little bit weird, sometimes. It's not your usual gory movie. It has also hurt from what appears as bad edition, silly subplots or scenes, and irregular acting. It will make many people uncomfortable, for sure. However, it attempts (and I think it succeeds at it) to make a point -a warning?- about the consequences of violence (violence brings about more violence) and responsibility.
My score for this is 7/10.
Grave Encounters (2011)
What nurtures it kills it eventually
I love good haunted house films, and Grave Encounters looked like a good pick, but it ended up a big letdown as it's terribly overdone, and the excess of everything just feels like a horror comedy (a genre that I definitely do not appreciate).
It starts as a mockumentary, a style that is as overexploited as it gets, but I didn't find this annoying -even if it somehow spoils the story a little bit, it sets the gloomy and ill fate atmosphere right from the beginning. So we're introduced to Lance Preston, an ambitious TV host and director of a show called Grave Encounters, whereby he and his crew go spirit-hunting in various locations. The movie is based on the "found footage" that they recorded during their stay at an abandoned mental asylum said to be haunted.
What follows is more or less what you would expect from a premise like that, but -here's the good news- the film makers add some very nice surprises along the way, making it not quite the typical haunted house story. The first half or so of the movie is therefore quite pleasing and effective (even though I have to say I did not find the scary elements scary at all -but this didn't diminish the enjoyment). Kudos to the film makers for the choice of location and the setting, decoration, lighting and all the technical elements, as the place is really the kind of place you wouldn't want to spend one minute at, let alone a whole night, like Lance Preston and his crew.
Now, the bad news: for some reason, the makers decided that all that was not good enough, and the movie takes a different turn during the second half and very especially for the last 40 minutes or so. I found that what they decided to do with the film absolutely killed it for me as the creepiness and the enjoyable subtlety from the first part are totally gone. Now, there are probably many horror fans who will be thankful for those additions, but I personally found them a little bit silly and quite boring.
My rating for this movie is 6/10.
Apollo 18 (2011)
If only they had stayed in the capsule!
"Apollo 18" is a typical case of movie that promises more than it then delivers. I will also add that its trailer was the main reason I watched this. The trailer I watched suggested a film full of mystery and shocking revelations; instead, I got a lame, cliché-packed movie with very little to salvage.
The narration is based on an already well-known narrative technique: the old footage found through not explained means, from a source (NASA, in this case) that apparently kept it a secret or, at least, would rather not have it publicized. The footage allegedly explains the fate of the secret mission to the moon called Apollo 18, and why it was the last expedition to the moon. This is, undoubtedly, a very tempting and promising layout.
There actually isn't so much new, or interesting about the story. It is an entertaining and okay film, but nothing more than that; its suspense and not-too-horrible-horror climax come in a bit too early, and from that moment on it's all downhill. If you've seen sci-fi movies about space expeditions, then this movie will probably remind you of this and that famous film more than once.
On the other hand, I found this movie technically well-made, and it provides some beautiful and quite creepy scenes -for example, when an astronaut is exploring a lunar crater. I also enjoyed the claustrophobic feeling that it reproduced and conveyed, with two astronauts living in the crammed lunar capsule, with barely no room to sleep comfortably, deprived of even the pleasure of having something tasty to eat, and as far away as one can possibly be from their home and loved ones. That's the strongest point of the movie, in my opinion -but it isn't exploited enough.
My score is 4/10.
Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)
I don't usually like the kind of movie that "Under the Tuscan sun" is supposed to be -a "chick flick", romantic movie where the romance is the whole point and a happy ending for our heroine is imperative, and basically what the audience is paying the ticket for. Anyway, I just watched this, and at first I was prejudiced, but then it started to look different and I (reluctantly) started to find pleasure in watching the adventures of Frances, who, having been left by her husband and kicked out of the house that she bought, gets the chance to travel to Tuscany, falls in love with an old house in the countryside and starts to renew it. As one would expect, the story of this eventful process of renewal is also that of her own renewal as a person, pretty much including (or her main point being) finding love again.
This last part -the finding love- is the one I have most problems with. Frances will go on to live many adventures and misadventures in her new home, meeting colorful characters and, yes, keeping us guessing about her destiny.
I think the movie is ruined precisely by how much the driving force is her quest for love, almost to an obsessive point. Right, what can you expect, huh? I know... but the story being as full of opportunities and life experiences, I was expecting and wanting for it to be something else than another movie about relationships, coupling up and falling in love the way it is traditionally depicted in Hollywood movies.
The biggest asset of this film is undoubtedly its aesthetic beauty, showing us Italy and Tuscany like I had personally never seen them before in film. Diane Lane is also always a delight to watch in film, because she's such a naturally gifted actress and she has the kind of classic, delicate beauty that fits so well with the story and the tone of the movie.
However, because I was personally disappointed with the film, I rate it 5/10.