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16 reviews in total 
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The Raven (2012/I)
88 out of 132 people found the following review useful:
Tell Tale Movie, 27 April 2012

On October 3, 1849 Edgar Allan Poe was found wandering the streets of Baltimore, delirious, calling out the name Reynolds. There have been lots of theories as to what Poe died of, from tuberculosis, rabies or to a drunken bender. "The Raven" puts forth a more romantic theory and a detective story for the man who invented the modern detective novel.

"The Raven" as a movie demonstrates that you can make a movie that bridges the biographical facts of Poe's life and its own artistic vision and still make an interesting movie. The movie is driven by the premise, a serial killer starts a series of killings in Baltimore that emulate some of the more gruesome murders in Poe's stories. When the first murder is done inside a locked room, police detective Fields (Luke Evans) recognizes it as the setting of an Edgar Allan Poe story. Fields brings in Poe (John Cusack) at first as suspect, but when another murder occurs Poe quickly becomes the first criminal profiler and consultant. Poe helps Fields both in what kind of mind the killer may have and of course in the details from his stories. The killer kidnaps Poe's girlfriend Emily (Alice Eve) with the killer promising clues as to Emily's whereabouts with each new murder he commits.

The filmmakers, director James McTeigue and writers Ben Livingstone and Hannah Shakespeare don't try to recast Poe's character as a superhero or give the movie Poe attributes that the real Poe didn't or couldn't possess. As mentioned before, the filmmakers stick fairly accurately to the known elements of Poe's last few days, although there are some artistic liberties taken, and they still present an entertaining movie with a few twists and turns as to who the murderer is.

Cusack is spot on as Poe from his look, thin with a black mustache and goatee, to (more importantly) Poe's character. Poe was a writer who had the ultimate confidence in his own abilities as a writer and was dismissive of his contemporaries, especially if they were more successful. Cusack is supported by a cast that hits every note right.

If you think a movie about Edgar Allan Poe won't have enough action for you, this is a movie for you. If you're more literary minded and think this movie will have too many inaccuracies or violate Poe's character or will throw in too much action, you won't be disappointed.

Predators (2010)
4 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
Welcome Back to the Jungle, 9 July 2010

"Predators" is back to basics return for the "Predator" franchise, they have juggled the elements that made the first film successful but couldn't seem to get right for the sequel or the "Alien vs. Predator" movies. "Predators" starts with the original premise of the first movie. Eight people of different ethnicities (if not occupations) are thrown into a living green hell of a jungle except they all don't know how they got there or where they are. The only thing they're sure of is that they were involved in some war, they saw a light and the next thing they remember is waking up as they fell into the jungle.

As the eight get to know each and their surroundings, "Predators" relies on the camaraderie of the individuals and the stress of the situation for each character to reveal themselves to each other and the audience, and they discover every one may not be what they seem. There's also a nice bit of gallows humor to lighten the moments and was one of the things that gave the original "Predator" some of it's charm.

The predators have some new toys including the spiky dogs, and we learn there are two different kinds of predators, the standard one we're used to seeing is the smaller of the species and are hunted by the larger super-predator when no other game is available.

One bit of casting I was worried about was Topher Grace, the geeky Eric Forman of "That 70's Show," he seemed miscast or ill fitted for Eddie Brock in "Spiderman 3," and here he's the one element that doesn't fit, but he isn't supposed to, and he looks right for the part and delivers a role that at first looks like a straightforward but has some twists. Laurence Fishburne does a near-cameo as Noland, a soldier marooned on the planet and who may be from the Vietnam era, I think he hums a bit of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" used to such great effect in Apocalypse Now.

I at first thought "Predators" was directed by Robert Rodriquez and that was one of the reasons I was looking forward to seeing the movie. I was a little disappointed that Rodriquez only produces, but this movie does incorporate some of the feel of a movie directed by Rodriquez but that may be because "Predators" is based on a screenplay Rodriguez wrote sixteen years ago . Directing is Nimrod Antal and he moves the movie tautly along never veering off course or too far off course, and he does add some visual artistry that hasn't been seen in any of the previous movies but gives us a sense of the alieness of the world the characters find themselves trapped on.

"Predators" is conscious of the events of the first "Predator" movie and the climatic battle is a tweaked version that is an homage to Arnold's battling of the predator while building on some of the inferred weaknesses of the predators. "Predators" is a good telling of a "Predator" story, using bits of the original and adding its own devices to the "Predator" mythology.

33 out of 49 people found the following review useful:
No Climatic Scenes, No Big Plots, But Compelling Viewing, 25 April 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

There's no story, no heroic plot to Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker. There's no search for prisoners, no tracking of a villain, no hostages to rescue, no hill to liberate, or town to capture, or even a search for looted gold. There's not even an overarching allegory of life or war built into the theme of the movie. Despite this lack of war movie plots The Hurt Locker is still compelling with the only goal of the characters, is to stay alive.

The Hurt Locker follows the lives of a team of EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) unit members, Sergeant First Class Will James (Jeremy Renner), Sergeant JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), and Specialist Eldridge (Brian Gerahty) as they finish the last five weeks of their deployment in Iraq. Their job in Iraq is to defuse IED's (Improvised Explosive Devices) and after their first Sergeant (Guy Pearce) is killed Staff Sergeant William James is assigned to the unit. Sanborn and Eldridge discover that James takes more risks in the field than their previous Sergeant and is addicted to the adrenaline surge of war which is putting them at risk. They find themselves in the position of finding out if they can live (literally) with James' approach to the job.

Kathryn Bigelow's direction isn't heavy handed and neither does she use a heavy hand in imparting themes or other usual theatrical devices. The Hurt Locker is a very naturalistic representation of the Iraq war zone. While it touches on aspects of war that other movies have, such as the surreal aspect of war that Apocalypse Now illustrates or the dual nature of war that's found in Platoon, she lets them exist as a natural part of the world the characters find themselves in. This low key, naturalistic approach is also evident in the actor's portrayal of their characters. There's no big emotional blow ups between them, no huge revelations of a characters' back stories to pull on your heartstrings. The film highlights just what occurs naturally from the job they're there to do. The movie also doesn't take a political stance on the war. It's neither anti-war nor pro-war. It puts the viewer in the situation with the characters and you're free to feel or have whatever reaction the events stimulate in you. Bigelow even sparingly uses a soundtrack. It's more of a tense buzzing that keeps us feeling a little uneasy, as must soldiers in the field feel.

The Hurt Locker was written by Mark Boal who had been an embedded reporter with an OED unit in Iraq in 2004. While the story is fictionalized, many of the events shown were based on actual events Boal either witnessed or heard about from soldiers in the field.

Bonus Features: The Hurt Locker DVD has a small bonus feature section that includes an audio commentary that I found a bit lackluster, but I thought was more than compensated for with an image gallery section that includes a Q and A session from the Institute of Contemporary Art in London. And there is a behind the scenes documentary that I found myself wishing there was more of.

10 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
In The Immortal Words of Jim Morrison "Pretty Cool, Pretty Neat!', 21 April 2010

Man, there's been a lot said about this movie, then there's the word, and the word is, go see When You're Strange.

Not a true documentary in the sense of a Ken Burns style intensive, exhaustive look into a subject, When You're Strange starts with scenes of Jim Morrison's HWY and uses the fictional device of Morrison hearing of his own death in Paris, then we see The Doors story pretty much from the beginning, and moves chronologically through The Doors career. This is The Doors through The Doors' own lens. All the footage derives from HWY and the concert film, Feast of Friends, that The Doors filmed in 1968. Also, included is footage from Ray Manzarek's student films, 60's period footage for context, and there's a lot of previously unseen footage, except for maybe the hardcore collectors.

For years Doors fans have been asking when and where, and if Jim Morrison's HWY and Feast of Friends will be released. Although, this isn't the stand alone films and a lot of the footage has been used before, Ray Manzarek used Feast of Friends footage for MTV videos in the 80's, and the Soft Parade video in 91. HWY has been bootlegged for years and only the fortunate few have seen it (although You Tube expanded this base). This is the movie Doors fans have been asking for. Writer/Director Tom DiCillo (Johnny Suede, Delirious) intricately weaves together HWY and Feast of Friends and provides a narrative the footage has lacked before, and perhaps if Jim Morrison had lived combining the two might have been a solution he might have chosen. DiCillo also makes choices that are a little riskier in presentation. As an example, he doesn't use the songs and the footage as obviously as before, usually, Riders On The Storm is presented with images of thunderclouds and storms, DiCillo chooses images of Vietnamese jungles flowering in explosion.

And the movie looks great! The footage has been restored and it looks as good as it did, if not better than when it was shot 40 years ago. Not only has the film been restored, so has the sound. Things have been pulled from the background you hear things that before were only muttered or obscured by crowd noises. The complete effect of the film is a much more immediate, impressionistic, visceral view of The Doors than before.

Narration for When You're Strange is provided by Johnny Depp and although it is a little basic and simplistic and sometimes a little intrusive there isn't enough expository footage to move the narrative along without adding the intrusion of contemporary or even period interviews. Depp's narration is subtle and understated and his phrasing while not overly dramatic has the timing of the poetic.

A lot of fans and The Doors have been critical of Oliver Stones 1991 movie The Doors (although, I think Stone was using the band as an archetype for the times, in an unstated trilogy of the 60's). The Doors have said they like this movie and I think the fans are going to like it too, and may consider it the definitive version/vision of the band. A good 3.5 stars movie.

You're going to dig this movie.

3 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Great Special Effects, 2 April 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Never mind that Clash of the Titans play fast and loose with the mythological story of Perseus. Never mind that Medusa wasn't a Titan. Never mind that the Kraken is from Scandinavian mythology, and that casting Lawrence Olivier as Zeus in the 1981 version was sort of typecasting.

The new Clash of the Titans is a darker, grittier more realistic Bronze age world than the 1981 version, but the story hasn't changed all that much. The citizens of Argos have become disenchanted with the rule of the Gods. The Gods have caused too much chaos and ruin to their lives so they've decided to take their destinies into their own hands, and destroy the temples and statues of the Gods. In doing so, Perseus'(Sam Worthington) family is killed by a falling statue of Zeus. When Zeus (Liam Neeson) learns of the desecration urged on by Hades (Ralph Fiennes), he decides to destroy the city in four days or they can offer the sacrifice of the King of Argos' daughter Andromeda (Alexa Davalos). In a visit to the throne room of Argos, Hades lets it slip that Perseus is a son of Zeus, a demi-god. Being told of his near divinity, Perseus and a group of soldiers go off on their quest to save the city.

The special effects are great! The monsters look real and the characters realistically interact with them. In 3D the water roiling off the undulating tentacles of the Kraken must look really cool! The problem is they shortchanged the story in favor of the special effects. The story only follows the barest of outlines of the myth. Same with the 1981 version, although it's a little more faithful to the myth. The most glaring lapse is there really isn't any reason for Perseus to save Argos. In the myth his reason to save the city is for the love of Andromeda. In this version he's a stranger to Argos and doesn't fall in love with Andromeda. She's barely a consideration until she's needed to be sacrificed to the Kraken. The only reason he seems to take up the quest is because he's the nearest handy demi-god that can help out. Worthington's Perseus doesn't seem very heroic, there doesn't seem to be any emotional investment in Perseus in either the quest or the surrounding characters. Most of the time he has a stoically sullen, put upon attitude, and this keeps the audience at arms length from the character. He doesn't seem to embrace the heroic at all. Yes, he kills the monsters, but the tasks he must accomplish like tricking the Stygian witches and figuring out how to survive the encounter with Medusa, he seems to accomplish almost by accident. It seems that Perseus isn't meant to be heroic. he repeatedly says he wants "to do this (the quest) as man, not a God," and he keeps refusing the gifts of the Gods. The message in the myth is for mortals to find the divine, to find the god, the hero within themselves, Perseus' refusal of the gifts of the Gods, is the refusal to find the hero within himself.

The 1981 version, although a bit campy in it's delivery tells the hero's story better. The 2010 version delivers better on the special effects. If such a thing were possible as to merge the strengths of both, you would have a better movie.

1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Too Many Elements Fail to Remake A Classic, 15 February 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I'm a connoisseur of werewolf movies; as a kid I watched all the old Universal Wolfman movies with Lon Chaney Jr. as the tormented Lawrence Talbot until they ran it down into things like Abbot and Costello Meets the Wolfman. In the late 70's early 80's there was a resurgence in were-wolf movies, The Howling, An American WereWolf In London, Wolfen among others so I was really looking forward to The Wolfman.

The Wolfman has Benicio Del Toro playing Lawrence Talbot, the prodigal son of Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins), summoned back to the family's decaying estate in England after the murder of his brother. Investigating the murder, Lawrence meets and falls in love with his brother's fiancé Gwen (Emily Blunt) and runs afoul of a werewolf, surviving the attack but cursing him to become a werewolf every full moon.

The Wolfman tries to mix too many elements, Gothic atmosphere, a little Freud, ghost children, a decaying estate, deep dark family secrets, Victorian asylums, Gypsies, curses, frightened townspeople, werewolf movie lore, and the ingredients don't mix quite right. The Wolfman also borrows from modern werewolf movie lore incorporating the febrile dreams used to greater effect in An American Werewolf in London. Lawrence is taken to a London asylum where the doctors "get Victorian" on Lawrence with their treatments. It's in the asylum that we see the first real transformation of Lawerence into the wolfman. He's wheeled into a filled operating theater for observation as the full moon rises, and Lawerence vows he'll kill them all. Unfortunately, the scene evokes more chuckles than terror or horror.

Del Toro as Lawrence turns in a solid performance as Lawrence, but doesn't deliver the tortured soul that fears becoming The Wolfman. Benicio Del Toro is a much better actor than Lon Chaney Jr's heavy handed Lawerence Talbot was, but I think Chaney's Talbot was much better at conveying this element of the wolfman. The love affair between Lawerence and Gwen is hampered by there being very little chemistry between Del Toro and Emily Blunt, whose love must save Lawrence from the curse, we never quite believe or see how these two have fallen in love. I think this Wolfman may assume the viewer knows much of the mythology and provides only the outlines of the characters. Hugo Weaving plays Inspector Aberline, fresh off the Jack The Ripper case, who doesn't believe in curses and werewolves but suspects Lawrence of being the lunatic murderer he's searching for. Anthony Hopkins seems to chew the scenery (pardon the pun and the cliché) as Sir John, but it's a much different role than the Claude Rains' Sir John of the 1941 original. Hopkins seems to be taking the roundabout way of being the modern Karlov or Lugosi, he was in Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula, as well as that modern monster Hannibal Lecter.

Rick Baker did the make-up on The Wolfman, and you can see Del Toro's face in The Wolfman make-up (maybe The Wolfman looks a little too pretty). Director Joe Johnston who was formerly a storyboard artist for George Lucas is great on atmosphere and mood and does better on the technical end than the performance.

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Where Do You Go At The End of The Road?, 29 January 2010

People have been complaining about the overabundance of big budget Hollywood blockbusters that are heavy on action, and explosions and don't focus on characters or plot. Crazy Heart should quiet some of the criticisms.

Jeff Bridges plays Bad Blake a Country Western star on the far end of his career. He was once a star with hit songs, albums people would buy and stadiums he could fill. Now he drags himself across the southwest in a car that could breakdown at any minute, playing whatever small gigs his agent can find with pick-up bands he fears are getting paid more than he is. He drinks so much he sweats whiskey. At one of his shows, small town reporter Jean Craddock (Maggie Gylenhaal) interviews him, and over a couple glasses of whiskey he falls for her. Despite her previous bad experiences with men she takes a chance on Bad. And for a while Bad vicariously experiences the family life he missed with his wife and child.

The relationship with Jean, which at first seems like the classic older leading man mismatch with the younger woman that wouldn't necessarily happen in real life. But Gylenhaal plays Jean that is desperate in her own way. She may not be at the end of her road like Bad is, but she definitely feels like she's backed into a corner, and the relationship between the two feels real.

Crazy Heart is as gently paced as a Country Western song. Colin Farrell appears in a nicely understated role as Tommy Sweet, a former protégé of Bad's who has hit the big time and is trying to help his former mentor out. Unfortunately, Bad resents Tommy's success and the opportunities he tries to steer Bad's way. Robert Duvall plays the voice of wisdom in Bad's life as his hometown bar owner. Bridges does his own singing in Crazy Heart and really works to the advantage of the character. Bridges' untrained voice exemplifies Bad's broken voice and broken life.

To answer the question posed by my review's title, where do you go when you hit the end of the road? Hopefully, you find yourself again. I don't know if this role will garner Bridges an Academy Award nomination, but it's a solid performance and you should find this movie.

Experimental Film-making Makes it to Mainstream Movies, 10 January 2010

It's hard to relate the Rock 'n' Roll experience to film. Even harder to relate is the experience of the actual lives of rock stars. Rock stars live their lives on the edge of experience. Most rock bio-pics while great at relating the biographical details, fail at the existential experience of the person. So, maybe the way to relate an avant garde life is through an avant garde film? We all have many selves within ourselves. Maybe it should be cellves, the different cellular aspects of our personalities that build the whole person. I'm Not There tries to capture the experience of Bob Dylan by breaking down the different aspects and personas Dylan has projected over the years of his fame. The young Woody Guthrie acolyte trying to find his voice, the Rimbaud rebel, the star, the born again preacher, the aged outlaw trying to lay low. A lot of writers, filmmakers, artists, and psychologists have all tried to break down the human psyche to one degree or another and I'm Not There does portray an interesting and complex personality in an interesting and avant garde manner.

Given it's experimental or avant garde credentials, I'm Not There isn't incomprehensible to the viewer. The portrayals of the different selves overlap and bleed into each other but the fragments fall together into the jigsaw of the whole. You just may have to spend a little time to let it all play out before you.

Probably the most daring aspect of I'm Not There is the casting of Cate Blanchett as Jude Quinn, the mid-60's era Dylan that went from folk music to electric. This could have been nothing but a cheap gimmick to flaunt the experimental nature of the film. But it isn't a gimmick, you quickly forget Blanchett is a woman playing a man, or in the context of the film you're never really conscious of it. It fits in with all the other portrayals in the film. Each is a subtle, nuanced fragment. Christian Bale's usual knock you over the head delivery is toned down to match the rest of the film. Richard Gere as the aging outlaw living in the surrealistic village of Riddle that's full of anachronisms and you're never sure if it's set in the 19th and 20th century. Gere's performance is sympathetic to a man trying to live out quietly his later years without all the fanfare and attention his early celebrity generated. A feeling I'm sure Gere can relate to. Another performance I really liked was David Cross as Allen Ginsburg. Cross leaves behind all his comic goofiness and delivers a nice little cameo.

The movie admits it's failure to categorize Dylan in the title, I'm Not There. As soon as you think you've nailed down the complexity of a person they've moved on.

Special Features-There's an Introduction to the film that gives you a little thumbnail synopsis of the personas. I thought it was a little unnecessary, the movie more than adequately defines the characters. There's a commentary by Director/co-writer Todd Hynes, and a making of documentary.

9 (2009/I)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
One of The best Movies of 09!, 7 January 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

9 is a burlap man, he wakes to find himself in a laboratory, the humans around him dead and the world we know has suffered an apocalypse. 9 goes out into the world and soon finds friends like him numbered 1 through 8. Together they discover the secret of how the world was destroyed and the reason for their existence while battling "The Machine." As the numbers struggle for survival they come to realize that each of them has a piece of the answer to the riddle of their world and they each other.

The characters are computer generated, and the characters are more like sock puppets but you find yourself very quickly forgetting that and you start to care about the characters, their plight, their safety, their concerns. Each character is developed as fully as it can, even a couple characterizations that could have safely remained clichés like that of 8, who is a bully and enforcer of 1 is later shown to have some quite human attributes and when the machines attack it is 8 who leaves all differences behind and uses his brawn to save the others. The other characterization that could have remained a cliché is that of "The Machine" it could have been a static Darth Vader like symbol of that is bad and evil, but even the "The Machine" is shown to have been at one point an innocent that has it's use and functions corrupted.

9 is one of the most pure film-making experiences I've had in a long time. 9 started life as a 7-8 minute animated short by Shane Acker. The short didn't have speaking parts, characterization was delivered through expression and body language and 9 the feature film carries on that original intent, although not totally wordless a lot of subtle, nuanced points are shown subtly with expression, tone, body language, and doesn't overly rely on the human actors who voice the characters. And the actors who do voice the characters do an excellent job. Christopher Plummer, Crispin Glover, Martin Landau, Jennifer Connelly, Elijah Wood all seem to be the perfect casting for the roles.

I read some of the other reviews that suggested 9 is a kids movie, but it doesn't seem to be. Yes, the characters are cute and would seem to have great merchandising potential, bit the world revealed in the movie has some depth to it and And if you want to let your kids see the movie, I wouldn't hesitate the darker elements aren't that dark probably less than the average Disney movie and aren't horrific or traumatizing for younger viewers.

There are plenty of bonus features and they are all around excellent. There are a lot of behind the scenes looks at the creation of the movie talking with everyone from Shane Acker who created the original short and directed the feature. Production designers of every ilk talk about their participation in the movie but it's never boring or too technical. The bonus features include the original short the movie is based on.

As a reviewer you find that good books or movies generate a lot of ideas, questions, and thought as you watch or read, 9 does that extraordinarily well. After watching 9 I think you'll find yourself satisfied with the experience. The only thing I regret is, I wish I had seen this movie before now.

Amelia (2009)
5 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
Earhart Went Where No Man Had Gone Before, 23 October 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Amelia is a pretty standard issue bio-pic. The story is told as Amelia makes the last journey with Fred Noonan to find Howland Island. Amelia Earhart was a pioneer of aviation when flying was still dangerous, when airplanes crumpled like kites, and only to be undertaken by adventurous men. Although, for a while women's aviation was competitive with men's aviation, since engines and machines even up the playing field.

The story is pretty much about the adult Amelia Earhart (Hilary Swank), although we're shown a young Amelia become enthralled with flying upon seeing her first barnstormer. Earhart's accomplishments are pretty hit on this film. The first woman to fly across the Atlantic, as a passenger, winning a cross country air race, her meeting with and falling in love with G.P. Putnam (Richard Gere) who made her a celebrity. The film makes it clear Earhart was uncomfortable with that celebrity endorsing a cigarette brand when she didn't smoke, luggage, a clothes line, a waffle iron, all that was missing was a perfume. It's clear that Earhart was not only a pioneer in the air but in the area of celebrity endorsements, and that status chaffed at her. In her eyes, her accomplishments were diminished by having to be only a passenger on that first trans-Atlantic flight. Putnam made a her feel like a "white horse jumping through hoops" but rationalized that it was necessary to fund her wanderlust of the skies.

Also detailed is her setting up with Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor) the first airline shuttle within the United States, again, for this business venture Earhart allows herself to be used as a figurehead to attract business for Vidal's airline. Earhart also meets Vidal's son the future writer Gore Vidal, who even at a young age it seems was proposing alternative lifestyles.

Earhart wanted to erase all doubts about skills as an aviator (aviatrix in the parlance of the day), that she was more ambition than accomplishment, and undertakes to circumnavigate the globe, which no man had done. Did Earhart undertake this expedition because she was insecure about the circumstances of previous accomplishments? The acting by all the principals is what you would expect of actors of this caliber, there's nothing flashy here, but then the script doesn't really call for it until the end with Earhart and Putnam promising to see each other soon.

Of course we all know the outcome of that last flight and the speculation and mystery it's generated since, but this movie doesn't rise up to the level of the mystery, or of it's stars.

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