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Trick 'r Treat (2007)
Scores big on atmosphere, but lacking in story development.
This film has been at the top of many "To See" lists for the past few years, including mine. It appeared with a rockin' trailer, but also with the stigma that no studio would release it. Word from the festivals was positive, but many of us were waiting on pins and needles to see it for ourselves. Verdicts will be coming in over the week and it will be interesting to see people's reactions to the film.
There is no doubt Dougherty has created an atmospheric ode to Halloween. The film is visually astounding and reeks of Halloween in every sense: the costumes, sets with smog and more jack-o-lanterns than you can count. The film's score, provided by Douglas Pipes, is eerily fun and provides a fantastic supplement to the mood Dougherty has created with all his visual elements. It should be an addition to any collection of film scores. The film is worth a look for these reasons alone.
The acting is on par with what the film demanded. The film has no star, and each actor or actress is only featured for a relatively short time. In that respect, each performer handled their material aptly.
However, where the film suffers is not from the story subjects, but their execution. The stingy 82 minute runtime is the crippling factor. The film's mythology supposes there are rules that must be followed during Halloween to survive the night. They are not all explicitly stated, and to be honest, I only can recall two of them: Always keep a jack-lantern lit for safety from the spirit world, and check your candy. Each story revolves around characters who break these rules and are punished by the child-like, pumpkin-headed "spirit of Halloween." This is a fine setup for a horror film, and indeed, Dougherty had great ideas, but they are not fully developed in the final product thanks to the film's length. Dougherty attempts to stuff too many elements into the film's hour and 20 minutes. As such, characters are never fully understood, the script's organization is sloppy and while some tales are more fleshed out than others, every tale leaves the viewer wanting and expecting more. Although Dougherty concludes each story, the viewer is left with a good handful of questions that seem key to buying into all the events that occurred. An extra 20 minutes would have filled in these gaps and made the film one to remember. Although we may never know, I would be curious to find out if there was more story left on the cutting room floor.
It is clear to me why this film never got a theatrical release. The overall story is just not strong enough. Without the viral and internet marketing accumulating over the years, this film would not have a wide appeal, and likely been a box office disaster. I must give credit to Dougherty for trying to put something different and original out there, and in many ways he succeeded. However, the film falls short in telling its stories, which makes everything else just sweetener at the bottom of an empty glass.
A creative, atmospheric, and original film that ultimately cuts itself short due to underdevelopment of its stories, I give "Trick 'r Treat" a 5/10.
About as fun as frostbite and as good as a snowcone mid-winter.
"Whiteout" was dead on arrival. Word has it that this movie has been sitting on a studio shelf for some time now. This usually isn't a good sign and while some films that have delayed releases turn out to be good, Whiteout is not.
The problem with Whiteout is not the acting or the direction, but with the awful script and tired storyline. There is not one thing here that is new or original. A "killer-on-the-loose" story needs twists, revelations, and the one's given in Whiteout are solely lacking creativity. Many will guess who is pulling the strings before the first act is up. Second, the story is boring and uneventful. Save a few chases scored to pounding music, not much happens. The film tries to establish a sense of urgency with an oncoming intense snow storm. This element does little to add to the story aside from a need to get off the continent.
Whiteout is truly a celebration of mediocrity that fails on all accounts. At the time this was supposedly filmed, Beckinsale was probably still trying to cement herself as a star in Hollywood. It makes sense that she took the role. However, and for her benefit, she has done far better since. That makes this film seem even more out of place.
Don't waste your time or money. Don't waste a DVD rental. Whiteout just isn't worth it.
Jennifer's Body (2009)
A worthy film not deserving of all the hate.
It has been some time since I've written a review on this site, but I felt this movie and its current underwhelming performance at the box office warrants some good press. "Jennifer's Body" is a very entertaining film, and is sure to be one that many discover in its DVD release, which according to interviews, director Karyn Kusama has material she is anxious to release.
Make no mistake, JB isn't an Oscar contender, then again, it's not trying to be. It is attempting to throw the viewer into a world of heightened teenage brutality, and in that it succeeded. Diablo Cody, who seems to draw a love her/hate her reaction from audiences, writes a script that perhaps has one too many pop culture references or quirky word choices. But, that is Cody's world. Why say someone is good looking when you can say they're "salty?" It may not make a whole lot of sense, but Cody captures "teen speak" in her dialogue and it is a lot of fun to watch her characters say such unusual things with such ease and normalcy. Cody's writing is what separates this film from other "evil-teen" horror films. Also impressive is when Cody is able to create some genuinely sincere moments between the characters amid the violence and chaos occurring.
This film does not apologize for its odd premise nor does it try to compensate for it. JB plays it straight, recognizing the plot is entirely superficial. This premise doesn't hold the film back. The plot throws enough fun details in the mix that drive this film forward, making it a fantastic platform for the starts of the film, obviously the cast and Cody's writing.
About the cast: As Jennifer, Megan Fox is quite great! Not only does she have the looks to support her character, she creates a girl you love to hate. Jennifer is the ultimate high school goddess, but underneath the sexy exterior and projected confidence lies a tortured soul...physically personified by the demon within her. Fox is sexy when she needs to be, but wrecked when it calls for it. One short scene has possessed Jennifer, disgusted with herself, smearing makeup across her face in a very desperate fashion, desperate to hide her insecurities from the world. It is an impacting moment. Fox is another love/hate personality these days who draws just as much backlash as praise. Say what you want about her prior efforts, but Megan took charge of her character and was creative with her.
Amanda Seyfried stood against Fox well. Naturally, Fox is a force to be reckon with these days and Amanda, playing the gawky, nice girl who hides her beauty, holds her own. The girl can act, and also creates a very sympathetic and relatable character. She manages to create some very humorous moments while being natural. Her admiration for Jennifer is quite clear and Seyfried manages to capture it nicely, without making the character seem obsessive.
The guys in the cast, most who are present so Jennifer can have a meal, are each unique. Props to Kyle Gallner who disappears in his emo-goth role. I had only seen him in the bland "Haunting in Connecticut." Adam Brody, who plays the lead singer of the band that sacrifices Jennifer, had a lot of fun with his role. He creates a character that is so selfish and evil, but seems like a guy who would be fun to have drinks with...if you knew he didn't want to kill you.
Finally, Kusama's direction is swift and competent. She captures the film well not overusing horror techniques and keeping the look of the film fresh. The film's soundtrack is also offbeat and unusual for the genre, but is filled with some great music. The song sung by Brody's band, "Through the Trees," has a great rhythm and lyrics. It's the sort of song that if actually released would undoubtedly be a chart topper.
Is JB the best film you will see all year? No. Is it the worst as many have been claiming? Not by a long shot. JB is different. It's star has been the center of a media obsession. JB is taking the brunt end of this. Behind the harsh criticisms of reviewers who seem to be shifting their disappointment lies a very entertaining and well-made film, despite its subject matter being quite superficial. Forget what you've heard against it, forget what you were expecting. If you like horror, Cody's style, clever films, character films or any combination of the above go see Jennifer's Body. This film deserves a better box office. I for one would like to see more films like this made, and that will only happen if people go see them. Make it happen ya'll.
Four Christmases (2008)
Has about as much Christmas spirit as a Friday the 13th film - although the horny characters are still present.
It's been a while since Hollywood gave us a genuinely good Christmas movie worth seeing. If you notice, the Christmas TV line-up is the same each year and the most modern film usually on the list is THE SANTA CLAUSE (1993). This just goes to show that, sadly, Hollywood isn't creating Christmas classics as it once did. Perhaps one of these years we will get a Christmas film reminiscent of the ones we love to watch on TV every year, but this ain't that year - or at least FOUR CHRISTMASES isn't that film.
The problem doesn't lie within the film's premise, but in the actual events that play out in the film. Kate and Brad live life with and for each other and that's it. They don't have much contact with their families - where each parent is divorced and some remarried - and each Christmas opt for a tropical vacation, telling their families they are doing charity work instead. All in all, they are happy with each other, but have buried their family issues. However, this year they get caught in their lie and are forced to visit each parent individually, celebrating a total of four Christmases. In the hands of an able and creative script writer this film could have been quite enjoyable as both Kate and Brad learn to appreciate their families and not exclude certain things - mainly marriage and children - in their lives just because their parents are bad examples of them. Instead, each visit with a parent seems to be a drawn out slapstick or sex joke and nothing else and is just not in any way funny or clever.
The film suffers from a lack of intelligence and it is shocking that it attracted the star power it did. The star's talents are hardly used and instead the film opts for over-sexed relatives, ultra violent brothers and insanely disobedient children - who get no reprimanding for their actions. As a genre of film that almost lends itself to families this one missed the mark and is not recommended for the kids. As an adult-geared Christmas film it just isn't funny. Adult humor can be funny and appropriate if there is other substance backing up the film - see 'KNOCKED UP' or 'FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL.' All we are offered in FOUR CHRISTMASES is one boring and uninspired vignette after the next with paper-thin character development and uninteresting characters.
With rarely an enjoyable moment and an atmosphere that provides almost no Christmas spirit, FOUR CHRISTMASES shouldn't be on anyone's list of holiday films. It is the awkward gift given by a relative. You know the type. It comes in a pretty package, but upon opening you find that it is a pair of underwear or a sweater that is designed to sit at the back of closets. This film surely will.
Not a bit of substance...but, who cares?
Putting it bluntly, 'WANTED' was a rather formulaic and predictable outing. A loserly, office shut-in with the help of a hot babe learns about his past and is suddenly thrust into the world of assassination, a world of flipping cars, extreme gun fights, and mind-altering stunts, thus shedding every bit of his shy, weak self. This we've all seen before.
Where 'WANTED' stands apart from any other action film I've seen is in its style. The director has upped the ante on how the action is portrayed. Gone are any sort of boundaries. This is a world where people can flawlessly flip cars over others and land perfectly upright on the other side, where people can shoot from miles away hitting nothing but their target, where people can put such a curve on bullets that they hit multiple targets standing on different planes all with one shot. If people can really do this, perhaps I'm living the same existence as Wesley, and I'm missing out. The film's major selling point is its style and its worth a viewing simply for that.
The A-List cast delivers solid performances, but the script they are given - with the exception of the last line uttered in the film - is mostly generic. James McAvoy is sympathetic and relatable as the guy who is overwhelmingly bored with his life but doesn't know how to change it - something many people understand. His transformation into tough guy is effortless and convincing. Angelina Jolie is Fox - a name quite fitting as Jolie looks fantastic; however, we've seen this character on her before. Still, she does it well. Freeman, as usual, injects intelligence into his role, playing the solemn leader of The Fraternity.
However, for all the edgy extreme events the film contains, the film is hurt by some pieces that are just plain odd and are never fully explained. For one, The Fraternity gets their targets from a secret code that is woven into tapestries by The Loom of Fate. Sounding like something from a Monty Python sketch, it is never revealed who - if anyone - controls the loom or where it derives its powers. Names are simply revealed through code and the members of The Fraternity don't ask questions. The members of The Fraternity are fully human, but seemingly invincible thanks to some sort of special wax bath devised to heal wounds very quickly. It's the film's easy out that allows them to deliver the goods on all the high-octane action they desire. Lastly, the film turns a very predictable corner that many will see coming from miles away.
When the film ends you will realize how simple it is and how ridiculous it is about 75% of the time, but you won't care. The film makes up for every flaw by smearing the screen with mind-bending stunts, unique filmography, and breathtaking visuals - yes, Ms. Jolie is one of them. It will be painfully obvious that all the simple plot details were just the framework and the real substance of the film lies not in its intricate story, but in the execution of its stunts and action. 7/10.
Dan in Real Life (2007)
A refreshing, well-done family comedy
In an age where more and more family members don't speak and relationships are continually strained, "Dan in Real Life" appears as an oasis out in the desert.
Nowadays, Hollywood seems infatuated with displaying families that have unhappiness at their core. Families who bite at each other, where adults set little boundaries for children and mom and dad do nothing but break each other down. It is typically only in 'kids' movies' where a strong family dynamic is presented. For those of us who don't see too many of those; however, the Hollywood rendition of the American family is rather defeating.
Dan's (Carell) family is not the typical Hollywood clan. They are a group of decidedly normal people who all have a love and appreciation for each other. They spend time doing crossword puzzle competitions and having family talent shows. The activities they do are silly, but the group enjoys each minute together.
They are also very accepting and inviting of Annie (Binoche), their youngest son's (Cook) new girlfriend. They also get excited when widower Dan shares that he, earlier in the morning, met a woman, Marie, with whom a shared a connection. Turns out Dan's woman and his brother's girlfriend are one-in-the-same. Thus presents the driving action of DIRL, as Dan and Ann-Marie work through the apparent problem amidst the family gathering.
DIRL is charming. It doesn't try to be anything else but a feel good romantic comedy infused with some important lessons and values. Carell is the perfect choice for the role of Dan. He is endearing and his average Joe persona works well here. Binoche, beautiful as ever, is both eloquent and energetic. Cook, who seemed an odd casting choice, creates a likable and loyal brother character, making it more difficult for Dan to sweep Marie away from him. Other family members, who receive less screen time, mix well together and create this contagious family environment. In a much smaller role, Emily Blunt delivers a quirky performance as a childhood friend, now grown up, and single.
DIRL isn't profound, but its optimism is contagious. Unlike other family-centered comedies that have come out over the past few years (The Family Stone & Meet the Fockers to name a few) DIRL doesn't wade in political agenda or filthy humor. It's a smart, well-written comedy that 's got lots of laughs and a lot of heart. Hopefully, we'll see more films like this.
Two parts amazing, One part lame
Moviegoers are always looking for something different--especially in an age of remakes and sequels--and when it came out that Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarrantino were working together on a throw-back double feature which would capture the feeling of grindhouse cinema people were curious, especially fans of the two directors.
Although it will be considered a flop and future projects of this type may be put on hold or axed, "Grindhouse" starts strong with tons of attitude but seems to come to a dead stop about two-thirds the way through.
The film's opener, "Planet Terror" is by far the superior film. It's a simple horror film that has an abundance of atmosphere, multi-dimensional characters and a quick, thrilling pace. Everything is over-the-top, but it's in this completely gritty and unrealistic world that's where all the fun lies. It plays with the audience's expectations and delivers an experience that demands attention.
An unusual but welcomed addition to the film is the inclusion of faux film trailers. Each trailer mocks a convention of the horror genre with hilarious and, often, repulsing results. Some are a bit self-indulgent, but in the context of the film do add to the grindhouse motif.
It is Tarantino's submission, "Death Proof" that brings the film to a dead halt. Tarantino has become far too comfortable in his own success and is at the point where he feels he can do no wrong. This film proves otherwise. From start to finish, "Death Proof" is a bore, lacking the flavorful dialogue and witty situations Tarantino's films usually contain. We are given about 15 minutes of senseless car chasing to combat the 45 minutes of girl talk, which might have well been written by a sorority girl. It doesn't help his film that it also follows about 2 hours of in-your-face action and violence. Tarantino should have rethought his portion of the film.
For whatever reason "Grindhouse" as a whole flopped (its not wholly Tarantino's film). Perhaps it was the Good Friday release or the fact that a good portion of the film's targeted audience is too young to buy a ticket to an Rated R film on their own or that the generation that once enjoyed these romps has grown out of it. However, this film, or at least the first two hours are entirely entertaining. You may choose to watch Tarantino's effort, but Rodriguez's film as well as the off-the-wall trailers are complete enough to enjoy on their own. It's a shame that something this different didn't do well, as it will discourage future attempts.
As it stands, "Grindhouse" rates a 7 out of 10.
Vacancy just doesn't capture what it could have.
Supposedly their actual existence is debatable, but snuff films could be reduced to urban legend status. Still, this world has some dark corners, so I wouldn't put it out of mind completely. Nevertheless, the idea of people getting pleasure from filming live murders and torture is frightening. However, as much as it could be, 'Vacancy' is not.
The idea for this film is not fully realized and instead it's reduced to a cat and mouse chase that becomes all to predictable. Beyond the initial viewing of the snuff tapes (left intentionally in the room by the manager), which is probably the film's most intense scene, the couple runs from room to room as they attempt to get away, which the film makes too easy for them at times.
The real issue lies with the lack of details in the workings of the villains and motel. It appears we have three men who do nothing more than check people into a room and kill them soon after. They do very little to toy with their minds. No mystery about the villains exists. The hotel manager is the only one afforded any time for development and it is all far too superficial. What is needed is some more for the villains to do. I doubt that after doing this for as long as they have, their methods would be as primitive and mundane as displayed here.
The always beautiful Beckinsale and seemingly aloof Wilson, who manages to sidestep his usual goof-ball role, do what they can with what they are given. Aside from an opening scene where they lay out the status of their marriage, they are given very little time for further development--outside of the typical "I love you now that we have been through something awful." All in all, a very mediocre film that could have been so much more with a reworking. Also, if you do see this film, see if you can spot the moment when the script writers had no other ideas on where to go next. It's obvious.
The Gathering (2002)
A concept that deserved a better movie.
This film is a perfect example of a great concept stuck in a very sedated and mediocre film. What could have been a very engaging, thrilling, possibly cult status film, is nothing more than an hour and a half of slow pacing and uninspired events.
Filled with clichés from start to finish, this film just never catches on and becomes far to predictable. Sadly, the ideas conveyed through the film and the overall concept are not done justice by the filmmakers. The film is just not that interesting.
Ricci has seen far better days and, especially with her Indie popularity at this time, I am surprised she took this role. Ricci's almost forced acting gives the idea that she wanted off the set as soon as possible. She has done much better. As for the other actors/actresses, there is nothing remarkable or even worth noting.
Its too bad. This film could have been so much more and its sad that the concept was wasted on this film. Maybe, somewhere down the road, it will come up again in a film, but in a film that is far more engaging and intelligent. I wouldn't mind.
Burton cooks up a winner
I was never doubtful of Burton's capability to pull together this movie. The book's satirical and playful twistedness fits right into Burton's M.O. It is quite evident that Burton had a vision is his mind for this film and for the most part he delivers a fun and satisfying film that serves for great escapism, even though we have seen most of the content before in the original.
While we've heard the story before and know exactly what happens to each character, it is still fun to get a tour of Wonka's factory through Burton's vision. The set crew has crafted some visually astounding sets from the Bucket's home to the colorful factory. Scenes that we will recall from the original, such as the boat ride, are more fun and exciting to watch. The original was very solemn, but here things are pretty fast paced.
With the exception of Depp playing Wonka, all the actors/actresses are duplicating the roles of the characters in the original. Each child plays up their signature bad character trait and Freddie Highmore is perfect as Charlie. Helena Bonham Carter is always a delight in Burton's films and does well here as Charlie's mother. It is Depp's performance that is significantly different from his counterpart. I consider Depp to be one of the best character actors in Hollywood at this time. He adapts well and commits to his characters. However, I found his Wonka at times a bit off. Depp opted to go for the same sarcastic oddity we found with Wilder's Wonka, but he also decided to be more childish and "punky" for a lack of better terms. His character is humorous for a bit, but the act gets old after a while. Nevertheless, it by no means ruins the movie and some people will probably really like the character.
Thankfully, the lamentful singing is replaced by the eccentric Oompa Loompa musical numbers. Each number is different and completely funny to watch.
Lastly, what is also fun about this film is that you can see glimpses of Burton's other films on display here. The opening credits, which consist of a tour through Wonka's odd chocolate bar assembly line reminded me a lot of the cookie maker machine in EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. Also, the Bucket's house looks like it was directly lifted out of BIG FISH with its odd slant. Just a few things Burton added in to bring together his style.
In the end, CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY's plot is reused from the original, but what else did you expect. A few things have been changed to follow more closely to the book. While Depp's performance is somewhat off, it certainly is not disastrous to the film in any way. The film is fun, colorful and entertaining. I give it a 7/10.