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20 reviews in total 
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208 out of 306 people found the following review useful:
Better than you might think, 25 December 2011

Just got back from a screening of The Darkest Hour and honestly this film was better than I anticipated. I confess, I hadn't wanted to go at all but my friend insisted and so to keep the peace I went. Granted, the beginning is a uneven and it was unclear where the story was going but once it clicks in the thing moves right along. You are never sure who is going to die next and that helps keep the suspense level high. The acting is serviceable and the location is a refreshing change from the usual New York/Chicago skylines. It's frankly more interesting to watch the tale unfold against the dinginess of contemporary Moscow, and with Russian soldiers instead of Americans. Moreover, the special effects are simple, but effective.

In essence, invisible beings are here to steal our electricity and only insulators (e.g. glass or Faraday Cages) enable us to be hide from them. Because they are ruthless and utterly determined, there is no hope for negotiation, no chance for peace. Early on it is made clear either we win or we will be exterminated.

I liked everything about the movie, even though the alien invasion genre has gotten a bit tired of late. I was never bored and was always in suspense as to what would happen next. At 89 minutes, this joint Russian-American production probably could have taken more time with its story and characters, and not be in such a hurry to kill them off. Since the background is so different, maybe they could have shown us more of the city or used the locations more effectively.

Yet for all the obvious complaints one can make, the move works if you let it. I believe viewers will find it worth their while. Take it for what it is, and I honestly think you will have a good time at The Darkest Hour.

8 out of 17 people found the following review useful:
An astonishing film -- imagine "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" done in live-action anime, 27 March 2011

I just got back from the theater and instead of letting the film settle in my mind, I thought I would just dash out some random thoughts. This is one amazing movie, a beautifully told story, emotional, grim (how did this ever get a PG-13?), wonderfully cast and acted throughout. I was mesmerized during the entire film; Sucker Punch held my attention effortlessly.

So why is there so much negativity regarding it? It honestly looks like most critics did not get it, did not know how to respond to it, couldn't figure it out if the first 5 minutes and gave up. Even the negative reviews, and there are a lot of them, seem to be cribbing from other, as if few knew quite what to say. So instead of just watching the movie and going with it, they chose to ignore what was on the screen, as if they could not get back to the office (Oh, why did I chose to be film critic?) and pound out their reviews. They and their colleagues need to return their diplomas from film school. And then find another line of work.

I honestly do not believe you can absorb this movie in one sitting. Many will no doubt think they can ("Oh, I get it, girl power. Been there, done that") but I assure you they will be wrong. My initial guess is that the film is primarily about freedom: existential, psychological, and perhaps even political (and no, I do not mean only sexual politics). I believe the film is intended to be prophetic. It is urging us, in highly symbolic terms to be sure, to draw on all the sources of strength (including fantasy) that we possess -- just to survive. We will surely need them all in the coming years. I would like to have young people see this film, but as noted it isn't for the 16 and under set.

The reason being my primary source of admiration for the film: there is so much one can talk about after viewing this movie and that is a very good thing.

This is Snyder's masterpiece. This is his vision, wonderfully realized. It is incredibly sad that this film is being ignored by the critics and will likely be lost to much of the audience. There is talk it will even kill Snyder's career. And yet, all that is necessary to enjoy "Sucker Punch" is to simply go with it. Everything is logically laid out and is easy to follow. You will never get lost. One might still not get it all on first viewing, but I assure you there is plenty there to enjoy.

A personal note: I don't recall ever going to see a movie whose ratings were at 20% (as given in the well-known movie review site). I decided to take a risk after reading some fan-boy reviews and watching the previews. I am glad I did. I had liked Snyder's other films and this one was so damn intriguing, I could not resist.

The late, great film critic Gene Siskel stated that whenever two (or more) critics go to a movie and there is strong disagreement between them, the movie must have something. Trust me, "Sucker Punch" has a lot, and it's all great.

Inception (2010)
1 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
A movie of dreams, a dream of movies, 7 September 2010

I have been reluctant to comment on Inception; there seemed little I could add to the already extensive commentary. My initial sense was that Inception, while it was a welcome relief to standard summer fare, possessed enough flaws and precedents to render its claims to greatness suspect. I gave it 8 stars over my first viewing and let it go at that.

Now, having watched Inception twice since then and having read the screenplay (see the excellent, Inception: The Screenplay), I have changed my mind. Inception is worthy of the praise given it. Without reservation I now give it a 10. This is the first occasion in which I have changed my verdict on a film following my initial viewing. Why? Because Inception is easily the best film of the decade in terms of sheer intelligence, the best film I would argue since The Truman Show. Moreover, its plot of obsessive love, fear of falling, and frightening dreams, makes it worthy of comparison to Vertigo. As good as Vertigo? The fact that Inception can be mentioned without blanching in the same sentence with Hitchcock's masterpiece tells you something.

I came to love the movie but I was desperate to say something new. I wanted to comment on the richness of the world of Inception, and give the viewer a bit more of an understanding of what underlies it.

In the near future, a drug has been discovered that enables people to share a common dream. Viewed by many as a fascinating opportunity for creativity, one danger is that a dreamer's mind can be invaded by an intruder and unless the victim has been trained to resist these "extractor(s)," he can be tricked into revealing his innermost secrets (visualized as being within a symbolic dream "safe"). The battle between a trained mark and one or more skilled extractors can be harrowing.

This technology can be described as a form of controlled lucid dreaming. Until this discovery, all experience had been that lucid dreams cannot be controlled; anything could happen. Since most people have had them, you know what I mean. But using this drug and its delivery system (termed PASIV in the screenplay book), lucid dreams can be controlled. These shared lucid dreams, however, are still subject to external conditions and the dreamer's own internal state.

Note: the idea of entering into people minds while they are dreaming is not new. See the movie "Dreamscape (1984)," which has dream specialists invading the mark, as protectors or attackers. But there are some remarkable new angles in Inception's approach.

First, the dreams can be recursive. There can be dreams within dreams within dreams, though at each additional level the dream state becomes increasingly unstable, requiring the addition of powerful sedatives to maintain control.

Second, the recursive levels cannot be extended indefinitely. They terminate in a state called "Limbo," i.e. "unconstructed dreamspace." Limbo may be infinite in expanse. Little is known of it, though according to the movie's math, time moves roughly 8000 times faster in Limbo relative to reality.

Third, the minds of the participants, particularly if there is an emotional involvement between them, can find their dream "waves" have become blended or entangled.

There are profound metaphysical dangers in this, ontological and psychological. Foremost is the loss of one's sense of what is real, over time being increasingly unable to distinguish between the dream state and reality. Then there is the loss of one's sense of self. Where the dreamers are emotionally involved, e.g. in love, their minds can begin to merge to such an extent that it is a difficult for them to determine where "I" begins and the other takes over, who is dreaming what in other words. There are mechanisms, "totems" for keeping track of where one is in these dream spaces, but the problem is unsolved.

Into this world strides Dom Cobb, one of the best "extractors," a disturbed, troubled man, with overwhelming feelings of guilt towards is dead wife, Mal. Cobb is desperately seeking an escape, and return home to the only happiness he has ever known.

Inception is strikingly original not only in that it introduces a new technology but a new terminology as well. A shoe-in for multiple nominations, it is brilliantly edited with a superb score, special-effects, and a wonderfully, attractive and likable cast. Nolan's meticulous screenplay pursues its sober and somber plot (you may smile/chuckle a few times but that is it) with grace and high-intelligence.

I wish I could sum up the meaning of the movie, but I can't. One possibility is that Inception is an allegory of the movie experience, a dream of movies if you will. There is a strong overlap in what Cobb and his team are pursuing with the movie experience itself as a shared dream in which we share our emotional secrets. Nolan plays on this, but the idea of a movie as reflexive of and subversive to one's life has been often done and it is unclear if Inception adds much.

Another is that Inception should be taken as a movie of dreams, i.e. on its own terms; that it works best if one simply accepts what is being shown on the screen and goes with it. Admittedly, for most, multiple viewings will be required to enable them to get to the heart of the movie's emotions but they will be amply rewarded if they do. The central vision in Inception of life's tragedy is compelling. Whether in the dream state or in reality, we cannot escape ourselves and it is impossible to tell if the happiness we have is real or an illusion.

Zombieland (2009)
0 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
ZombieBusters: Your funny bone will be ripped out and gnawed on, 4 October 2009

No critical analysis is possible. I just flat out loved this thing and there is not much more that can be said. It's the best comedy I have seen since Tropic Thunder. There's gore galore, it's a zombie movie after all, and it's not for kids but the worst stuff is over in the first few minutes of the movie. From then on, it's sheer inspired goofiness all the way. Zombieland is so good in fact, I wonder if it will kill off the zombie genre. If you watch Zombieland, you simply will not be able to watch another zombie movie without thinking of this one. Casting is perfect. I think this is Woody Harrelson's best comedic performance since Kingpen. And Bill Murray is in it! And he's funny for the first time is years and they're riffing on Ghostbusters! OMG, what more could you want? Man, we needed this movie.

The premise is that some kind of virus infects the burger chains and the next thing you know anyone who has eaten one of the mad-zombie burgers is crazy for "manwiches." I don't know about you but it makes sense to me. Now, movies about only a few survivors of the end of the world taking on the crazed remnants of civilization are old hat these days. Think about (or not) that awful Will Smith vehicle I Am Legend. Half the trailers these days show movies where people are running around screaming about the end of the world. Get a grip.

Zombieland makes the end of the world fun again. It doesn't worry about anyone's sensitivity and doesn't have a serious bloody bone in its body. It's like Mad Max on goofy gas by way of Douglas Adams. Someone must have told the writers to go crazy and not worry about a thing. And you know what, the result is a script that is pretty darn good, a real rarity these days. The survival tips which pepper the film were so good in fact, I was tempted to take notes. I mean if you must have an end of the world movie, at least tell us how to deal with it. Zombieland does just that.

My only criticism is that I wished they have made the movie longer so we could see how other survivors are coping (in the film we see only one, a nun who can dispatch zombies with the best of them). I'm embarrassed to say this, but I hope there is a sequel.

3 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
An attempt at a John Hughes movie without John Hughes -- it doesn't work., 11 August 2009

I have seen this movie but not in a single sitting. What happens it that it is playing on the TV, I watch for a few minutes, find that I have take all that I can take and then leave the room. During those few minutes I do not laugh once, experience no pleasure in what I am viewing, and find myself more depressed that angry. Interestingly, I am told the psychological states are incompatible, that is, one cannot be angry and depressed at the same time. This movie tests that theory.

I think part of the problem is that I spent nearly ten years in Chicago so as I am watching the scenes I am thinking of my own experiences in that rotten town and thus I am clearly bringing a lot of my baggage to the piece. It is entirely possible, I am willing to concede, that if you are not a Chicago denizen you will find the piece amusing. If so, I envy you.

And yet. John Hughes set his films in Chicago and those movies worked for me. I think the difference is that Hughes was a first rate writer. I think it obvious he knew how to comically balance his situations, as well as make his characters both sympathetic and believable. In a comedy (as distinguished from a farce) this balance vital. And it is not easy to achieve. If it was everyone would be making great movies and we would not have to fret as we do in the real world wondering when genius will ever appear. In "Adventures in Babysitting," it doesn't. I hated those characters.

There is a difference, profound and real, between sympathetic and simply pathetic.

For me every scene in this movie is a clunker. There is no humor, no humanity, no people one can recognize. Just actors reading their lines as if it all they can do to restrain themselves from screaming them out, certain that finally hilarity will ensue, this time for sure! It's like watching the antics of very bad comedians. It's embarrassing and after a while, usually at the point when I get up and leave, I start to feel pity for all concerned, which is a kind of emotional connection, I suppose. Elizabeth Shue is terrible. She doesn't act, certainly not act comically, and it's entirely possible she can't. But lord how she tries. She looks older than 17, and acts way younger like a seven-year old straining in a school play certain that this is how one gets an award. And she is not alone. It is as if everyone cannot relax and let the tale flow. As if everyone simply has no idea what they are doing.

Now, this was an early effort for Chris Columbus and he clearly would improve and having better writers (e.g. John Hughes himself) certainly helped, so perhaps some forgiveness is in order. But the film just reeks of desperation. Yet like I said it may work for some. If any of the above appeals to you, and it clearly did some of the reviewers, then go get the DVD and knock yourself out. Otherwise, avoid this mess like you would a dark Chicago alley where as you hurry by you can only see shadows and hear muttered threats.

Star Trek (2009)
2 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
A near perfect cast saves the day., 10 May 2009

When I first saw stills from this movie, I grudgingly admitted that the physical resemblance of the new cast to the original was strong, for the most part, but there is so much more that would be required to make this work. I honestly feared the worst from what I came to think of as "Tiger Beat Trek." So I can happily say that I was pleased, relieved one might way, when I saw the final product. Again, the cast for the most part nails it and goes beyond nailing it. In some cases, such as Karl Urban's take on Sylvester McCoy, the impersonation, the channeling if you will, is astonishing. Let's be clear on this. Urban steals every scene he is in. He doesn't have to but he could have carried the entire movie. He deserves some kind of award for his work here. I would have been happy enough to have watched "Bones McCoy: Space Doctor, part I" as I was to see "Star Trek: The Reboot."

The guys who do Kirk and Spock and Scotty are very good too.

So while the script I found to be confused and noisy in many places, is serviceable enough and gets the job done it was not worthy of the opportunity that had been given. The effects and sets are perfect, but with a little more work, a good film could have been a great one. With a cast this good, surely someone must have thought at some point: these guys are fantastic. Let's dump this pseudo-science, black hole, time travel stuff and really give them something to work with. And maybe in the second movie, they will. I have confidence there will be a second movie.

It was disappointing to have them riff on the the old series (which was as much fun to watch as it must have been to do) and fail to go beyond it. The original series was a mixed bag, to be sure, but it worked astonishingly well when they had good writers (and they certainly did the first season and for some of the second -- not so much the third, however). Good writing can triumph over anything, which is why fans of the original series can go back again and again to episodes like "City on the Edge of Forever," and "Amok Time." However, the greatest effects and production values in the world would never be able to salvage "Spock's Brain." When you have one of the best ensemble casts going, get a script that is worthy of them.

And I don't mean all that boring philosophical stuff. The original series wasn't really about anything so much as it was about this wonderful cast that Roddenberry with his great gifts as a producer had assembled, and would never be able to equal again. Star Trek is family, as another Gene, Siskel, noted. Perhaps, like a family real reunion, it is great when it happens that every one is looking and feeling good and holds promise for years of good times to come.

Keep the promise. All that I ask is that next time boldly go where few writers have gone before, to real feeling and depth and story, letting the work of Harlan Ellison be our guide, instead of roping in one more set of writers who don't quite know what to do when an incredible opportunity is handed them.

Watchmen (2009)
0 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Brilliant, beautiful, ugly, fascinating, baffling, thrilling, but where's the story?, 8 March 2009

Let me start off by saying that don't believe anyone can fail to admire the sheer audacity of the Watchmen. Unlike, TDK which danced around the R-rating, but stuck with PG-13 to ensure the box office, this movie embraces the R. It runs with it. This movie is frightening enough in terms of sheer intensity of, well, everything, not just the violence. It will twist your stomach. It all but shouts the viewer to deal with it or leave. You got to like that.

Yet while I was all prepared to give a thoughtful review when I got home from the showing this morning, I couldn't do it. Thinking about this movie is the wrong way to approach it. Ebert says a movie is about feeling. It should be about more than feeling, it can be about more than feeling (think of Vertigo, a movie about as far removed from this one as you could imagine), but sometimes feeling is all you have. Fine. Watchmen is a visceral experience, one that overwhelms every other aspect of the film. Intellectually, the film makes little sense, even as satire. Ebert, for example, is carrying on in his reviews about quantum physics and the vistas, visual and otherwise, opened by Dr. Manhattan. I cannot think of a more wrong headed approach to this film. You want Quantum Mechanics? Read a book.

This movie is like a gut punch and a kick when you are down. You don't see it coming and as you are gasping for breath, you certainly do not see where it is going. To the movie's credit, so powerful are the feelings little else matters, but I will mention them anyway. There are great characters, so appealing I wanted to see them in their own movie -- I really liked Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, who together give the film what positive uplift it has. Rorsach? Of course. The visuals are amazing, the narrative drive seldom flags. And by those standards, I guess that is what you would call them, Watchman is fantastic. I can't recommend it enough, though leave the kids (and your girlfriend) at home. But as a story, I'm can't really comment. What is there to comment on? It's not there. Save the world, blah blah. Done that. There's something that might have been a story if the writers had been permitted to create one, but they weren't. That shadowy something, to be sure, is serviceable enough, but is as brittle as Dr. Manhattan's Mars contraption. Brilliantly edited, wonderful to behold, but it is crushed by a hurtling meteor of feelings. And if feeling is what you want, then for 2 and 3/4 hours this movie will transport you away from a world that is numbing, to somewhere.

Here's an example of what I mean. In this alternative history, sticking just with the opening montage, we see the Comedian, one of the "SuperHeroes," (and one nasty dude) assassinate Kennedy. Why he does this we are never told. How he gets away with this we are never told. What are the implications of this horrendous crime in the Watchman universe, we never learn. This is not a minor narrative lapse. And don't shove the comic book in my face as I'm watching the movie. In a real film, this act would be crucial to understanding this very twisted character. It is not so much the lapse of taste (there are plenty of those), but a complete failure of story telling judgment. Of course, no one cares, certainly not audience I was with to whom the Kennedy assassination is as psychologically remote as the building of the pyramids. But to me it is bothersome. Again the movie attitude was -- got a problem with that? Go home. I stayed.

Admire the Watchmen for its daring, its courage, its brilliance. See the film for it astonishing polarities of beauty and ugliness, be fascinated by the characters, wonder at the scope of it all. But don't think about it. There's no story there.

19 out of 45 people found the following review useful:
Astonishing: the riskiest, most polarizing film of the year, 4 October 2008

If there ever was a film that deserved the appellation "Event Movie" this is it. I know of no film comparable except "Team America: World Police," and maybe "Red Dawn." To say this movie goes against the PC grain is like saying oceans are wet. That this movie is going to make a lot of people unhappy is obvious from the IMDb vote totals already. I also suspect that most of the people who voted the film as "awful" have not seen it. All that stuff aspiring film makers learn in film school about "challenging conventional wisdom" and not worrying about "bad manners," has been met with a resounding: "But we didn't mean this!"

And no doubt they didn't. Zucker and company did, however, and one criticism that could be given is that the film goes after everything. I honestly do not believe they left anything out. I could also say that sometimes the comedic styles don't gel that well together. And I could add that without Kevin Farley's bravura performance as "Michael Malone," managing to make his target both sympathetic and repulsive until the final redemptive scene, it wouldn't have worked, or at least nearly as well. The danger of this movie turning into a piece of counter-propaganda must have clear from the start and I think for the most part the film-makers avoided that trap. In sum this patriotic retelling of the Christmas Tale works very well as it goes right to the essence of the nation's past and current struggles to underscore that most unpalatable of historical truths: that wars will always happen as long as the alternatives are worse.

Like "Team American: World Police," the film works best when it is at its most serious. The movie's best scene has George Washington in a church just talking with Malone. It's calm, muted, and deeply felt. The scene had to be done just right for the payoff to work, and it is.

I suppose I could say now that the film should be a must see for students, etc., but that would be decidedly wrong. This country was built on the principle of individual liberty that has as one implication the freedom to ignore this movie. That the cost of this seemingly trivial freedom is so high is one of the points "American Carol" excellently makes.

I can only hope the best for everyone who appeared in and worked on this amazing film. It is quite likely that Mr. Farley will be strongly urged to do public penance for his participation in this film, should he wish to continue working -- such is the level of public discourse we have descended to in this country. The leftist intellectuals and professors entrenched in American campuses (mercilessly lampooned in the film's most all-out parody sequence) have done their job well. Fortunately, while their students who have not seen the film vote negatively on, the movie exists and is being distributed (I gather by a French company which in itself tells us a great deal) and will go on to DVD, etc.

So, would Mr. Super-Patriot Fascist expect or want to see a movie like "American Carol" every week? Well no, but I am grateful to see one like it every few years.

Note: I had originally intended to give American Carole 8 stars, but because of it's sheer audacity and Farley's superb performance I had no trouble giving it a 10.

37 out of 61 people found the following review useful:
An astonishing film, easily one of the year's best, 24 February 2007

It's clear a lot of critics don't know what to make of this movie. It's best described as mostly a fantasy with naturalistic elements. The emotions are real, they are strong, and the film is always grounded in the earth. But you are never quite sure where it is going. It will veer into farce, then melodrama, then social commentary, and back again. It seems to be taking place in the present day, yet not quite: the sensibilities are from the 60s, the entrepreneurial we-can-do-it spirit from the 80s, and the despair from the 00s. It is strange, and it is dreamlike, and at times it seems to barely make sense, but it all works. The audience I was with was enthralled and almost all of them stayed through the end of the credits -- a good sign indeed.

I can imagine what the high-concept presentation must have been like: "It's just your typical save-the-farm family drama, only dad is a . . ."

"Don't tell me. A space alien," yawns the studio-head.

"Well, close, but not quite. He's a former astronaut who may be a nut case, we're never quite sure."

The studio-head is a little more interested. "And he;s planning to blow up the world?"

"No, though a lot of people think he is."

The head of the studio thinks about. "I think I like it. Throw in some cute kids and we've got ourselves a movie."

I'm being cynical, of course, and this is not a cynical movie. There is not a false note in it in fact, the music is perfect, the cinematography is first-rate, the casting is superb (watch for Bruce Dern looking very similar to Doc Brown in the Back to the Future movies). While inspirational, follow your dream movies usually don't work for me, this one does, it has such an amazingly goofy charm that only the stiffest of film critics could resist it (and alas, according to that well-known movie review site, as I write this just under 40% don't get it.) If this movie in not on most 10-best lists at year-end, it is going to be one heck of a year.

I don't know if the film is going to do well. Early box office looks weak, but word- of-mouth may help. See it in a theater now if you are at all hesitant. This one will be remembered.

One final note: something like this story could actually happen in a generation or two, assuming humanity doesn't destroy itself. That spaceship-in-the-barn tale will make a great movie when it does. This story makes a great movie now.

United 93 (2006)
2 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
I can't recall seeing a more intense film., 29 April 2006

How can one give a spoiler to this film?

Make no mistake about it: this is strong stuff. For the most part the movie is played very low key, letting the events speak for themselves. Anything more would have been too much. The score is effective, but so muted that most of the time you do not know it is there. All the actors (and the air traffic controllers who in many cases play themselves, an extraordinary feat of casting) do an outstanding job. Both technically and as a story, the film is a marvel. You are there, and I sympathize with those who would prefer they weren't. If you have doubts, you may want to wait for the DVD.

But I have no sympathy for the accuracy hypocrites, the same who couldn't get enough of Michael Moore's rubbish. Yes, it is accurate. In broad outline, we know exactly what happened and the film conveys it very well indeed. Are there things we can't know? Certainly. For example, the hijackers may well have been scared (two of them anyway) but how can we ever know their feelings? What we do know and get to see is that they will murder even when there is no necessity. Greengrass spares us nothing.

Note to Hollywood: Jodi Foster is nowhere to be seen and she was not missed.

As I write the film has opened very well on a per screen basis, but who knows how well it will do over the next several weeks. I certainly can't imagine anyone wanting to see this film more than once, but I have been wrong on that before. Like a lot of people, I have wanted to forget 9/11/2001. "United 93" brings it all back. After I left the theater, I was grateful. But it's up to you to decide if that is a good or bad thing.

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