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13 Tzameti (2005)
13 out of 17 people found the following review useful:
Your man kills a third and there'll be a bonus for you…13 Tzameti, 23 September 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

If you desire to see an edge of your seat thriller, definitely take the opportunity to go downtown to the Market Arcade Theatre and check out the enthralling, French-language 13 Tzameti, while you still have the opportunity. This film is a debut that any veteran director would love to have included in his/her filmography. A minimalist film in terms of dialogue and set, the real magic lies in the performances. Each character has his life on the line at some point during the proceedings, whether it physically, monetarily, or emotionally. The closest film I can compare it to is the final half hour of Eli Roth's Hostel, only with tension amped up to the extreme, and the gratuity of gore and sex turned down to an almost non- entity. By showing reactions to and only short bursts of violence, director Géla Babluani has created a master-class in the school of less is more. Whereas Roth went for the outlandish, gross-out effects, Babluani sticks with reality and it is that much more effective as a result.

While all the acting is top-notch in terms of expressing the weight of the world trouble laid on almost every character's shoulders, our star Sébastien, played by George Babluani, really stands out. He starts out as a young laborer, capable and taking pride in the job he is doing. His family at home really needs the money this job will soon afford, hopefully to take some pressure off his gimp brother who seems to only have time to sleep when he is not hard at work. Sébastien soon realizes that his employer is not well, mentally or financially. He overhears a conversation while working on his employer's roof that, besides fronting the advance for his construction work, the old man really doesn't have the money for anything else, and is not sure he can do the task awaiting him again. This task is given through a striped envelope containing a train ticket and paid hotel room. Circumstances soon play out which leave young Sébastien broke and in possession of said letter, whose conversations around seem to show a bountiful of wealth upon receipt. The desperate times call for him to go in his employer's place, without any knowledge of what he will have to do, in order to bring some money back to his family.

George Babluani gives an emotionally draining performance, transforming from a hopeful boy with work to a broken heap of nerves, fighting for his life knowing that his only hope for survival will be to kill at least one other human being. As the film's trailer showed, the task at hand is joining an underground gambling event of Russian Roulette, with a twist. Your gun is pressed against the back of the head of the man standing next to you. When the light above turns on, everyone shoots; there can be only one victor after the three rounds and final duel. But don't look in the others' eyes; it is much harder to pull the trigger on someone whose soul is bare than the matted down, sweat drenched hair motionlessly dead ahead. These actors are battling the nerves to not only stay alive, but also deal with being a murderer in order to survive. Babluani, the director, shows us such realism that you almost believe these men have real guns in their hands, playing God while their handlers wait in the adjacent room to see if their millions have been betted on the luckiest man. The final duel is painful to watch, seeing these men resolved to tears and a need of forgiveness knowing what they will have to do.

While the contest is the crux of the film, it is not the only trial needing to be overcome. We have police on the hunt for the hideout to put a stop to the games and we have handlers with novices who have never shot a gun—they must put the unknown players in because they will be fined if not, and if for some reason that person brought the police, they'd be considered the rat if they left before a raid. The stakes are high, the outcome always looking bleak. As a viewer, you have no idea where the story will take you next, no one is special and everyone's life hangs by a thread. The gorgeous black and white cinematography helps keep you on edge, viewing through sharp angles and thick grain, adding to the tension and heart- pounding action unraveling itself on screen. I almost can't wait to see the Hollywood remake, which has been recently greenlit for development, just to see how they ruin an amazing feat of cinema.

1408 (2007)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Let's "Encyclopedia Brown" this…1408, 30 June 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It seems that the best Stephen King films are culled from his short stories (Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me among them). However, those also tend to be the dramatic films with little supernatural scares. So, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the new film 1408. It is a short story, so it would hopefully be concise and to the point, but it was also a thriller/horror which never quite make the jump from book to screen successfully. What works in words at creating imagery in your head doesn't pack the same punch when someone else shows you what it looks like to them. The film has been garnering good buzz though, and I'm a John Cusack apologist; the man can still be loved even in the drivel he associates with lately. So, the question becomes, was the film a successful thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout? My answer here is actually yes, but with numerous reservations. There was a lot to like with this movie, but unfortunately there was just as much to shake your head at.

The real winner in all of this is Cusack. He gives a fantastic performance while being the center of attention throughout the entire duration. He must get through many emotions as we slowly find out the motives that led him to being a cynical occult writer, estranged from his wife. His story is a tragic one and Cusack delivers on the repressed anger and sadness he has tried to keep buried inside. Once he enters room 1408, however, all those feelings are used against him and brought to the surface, creating the most horrific hour of his life. Horrific in the psychological sense; he deals with his own demons in the film, not ghoulies and monsters. The way in which director Mikael Håfström deals with these manifestations of Cusack's soul is very effective.

As far as the progression of what was happening to him in that hotel room, I couldn't have been more pleased. The set pieces were creative and the climate changes that transformed the room with every increase in the scale of terror were effective. Sure the jump scares were tried and true, (a crazed person with a knife that popped up every once in a while, the high tension of walking a building's ledge—Cat's Eye anyone?—and the dead man trapped in the ventilation system), but they were also paced right and less boring than just common. All the effects were good, the TV-like holograms of the dead walking around the room was handled well if also the norm in all horror films these days, and the room's destruction seemed real rather than computer-generated. I wouldn't be surprised if they actually destroyed the set rather than dressed it up to look that way.

Where the film really fails is in the supporting characters and the misstep that occurs towards the end. For a movie that works when it is just Cusack in a hotel room, we are given too many outsiders and too many scenes outside of the room. Not to ruin anything, but there is a moment when our lead exits the hotel towards the conclusion of the film. This ends up derailing any suspense that had been building for me. Not only does it kill the claustrophobia that was settling in, but it kills the pacing and makes you think they are going in a specific direction which I just keep saying to myself, "I really hope they don't do what I think," instead of watching to see how it plays out. The use of twists these days is so common that when utilized correctly or not, the audience finds themselves thinking about the structure of the trick rather than letting it happen to them.

As far as the supporting roles, I'm not saying they were poorly acted, they were poorly written and fleshed out. Besides Mary McCormack as Cusack's estranged wife, all the roles were made to seem more important than they are. The real failure, to me, is the Gerald Olin role, played by Sam Jackson. What begins as a setup character, someone to give us the hotel's history and create mood becomes something else completely by the end. If Jackson never came back on screen after Cusack goes into the room, I would have been happy. He soon becomes our lead's default person to blame for the crazy events happening, and that is OK. What isn't is that as the film goes on, we start to see Jackson some more, almost like he is really orchestrating it all. The truth is though, that it makes no sense because all that is happening is inside Cusack's head. It is the final scene with Jackson that put me over the top on hating his role. The moment takes place outside of the room and therefore is real, but it is so cryptic and unnecessary that it just makes you subvert all you were thinking for absolutely no payoff whatsoever.

So, overall, the mood and atmosphere were effective, Cusack was amazing throughout, and the way the psychological horrors play out, right to the end scene with his tape recorder, is spot-on. Unfortunately, the actual scares were generic and the writing of the supporting roles weak. While it is definitely not a total loss, I wouldn't recommend seeing it in the theatres. A rental or TV-sitting is all that's needed here.

17 Again (2009)
16 out of 25 people found the following review useful:
Let's push some pills my peeps … 17 Again, 15 April 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Complete with a cast of notable faces and a stellar soundtrack featuring The Virgins, Santogold, and The Kooks, my initial trepidation was pushed aside as I decided to go into this "spiritual journey" mish-mash with an open mind. I'm glad I did, because there are some genuinely funny moments along with a sweet and touching overall message. However, when you look deep into the work you will not find much to grasp onto below the surface. It's been seen before; the relationship between young-again father and his high school children gets beyond creepy; and everything happens just as you'd assume it would. There are no surprises, but did you really think there would be? The film is all about Mike O'Donnell, a soon to be 40 year old who has been looking back on his life with regret. As the star basketball player in high school, he chose love and family above a chance to play in, or even go to, college. The past twenty years have been a chore of responsibility he never could own up to despite his beautiful wife and two children. When divorce proceedings commence and he sees once and for all how little his kids see him as a father figure, he comes in contact with Brian Doyle-Murray's janitor who sends him back, in body not time, to rediscover why he made the choice he did. What is initially looked upon as a chance to be the hero on the court again becomes an opportunity to help his kids against the angst and horrors of high school—becoming a hero in his home life, the path he chose back when he was actually seventeen.

It all begins enjoyably as we see this hotshot kid, (Efron's young Mike to Matthew Perry's adult version), do pretty much whatever he wants—he is the most popular boy in school—even being best friends with the biggest dork their age. I've only seen Efron in one other film, Richard Linklater's criminally unreleased Me and Orson Welles, and he was very good in it. What worked in that film is my one criticism of him here, and that is the fact that he looks like he is acting. For a very theatrical role in Welles, it fit perfectly, here, however, in a world that is supposed to be natural, he just doesn't quite have the skills yet. The ability to be good in a few years is there, but right now I believe his charisma carries him. And that isn't a bad thing. I actually really enjoyed the moments when his "adult self" came through in his actions and speech after the transformation takes place. The kid is definitely enjoyable to watch.

The real success, though, are performances from Thomas Lennon and Leslie Mann. Mann is in her element with this role; very similar to those her husband Judd Apatow usually casts her to play. Something about this woman just works in portraying the attractive mother any guy would be insane to let get away. As for Lennon, well his absolute crazy absurdity steals each scene he is a part of. As the grown-up version of Mike's friend Ned, he is a rich computer programmer that collects and lives in the fantasy/comic worlds he grew up idolizing. When Efron's Mike comes in the house unknown, the two partake in a massive fight scene complete with mace and shield as well as a fun lightsaber dual. But where he really shines is in interactions with high school Principal Masterson, played by "The Office's" Melora Hardin. Once we discover her true internal workings and Lennon ceases his "peacocking", the two of them cause massive laughter in their creepiness.

But that is the "good" creepiness. There is a lot of bad to go with it, much to the detriment of the movie. The inherent problem of having a father become the age of his children and try and help them make the basketball team, (Sterling Knight), and practice abstinence, (Michelle Trachtenberg), is that he will become best friend and/or love interest to them respectively. Then there are the pedophilic tendencies of Mann's mother towards Efron, (even though they are technically married), and what is unavoidable becomes used front and center for jokes. Unfortunately those jokes are of the uncomfortable kind, the audience can't get their heads around the fact a seventeen year old is hitting on a forty year old or a daughter trying to make out with her father. That's right … creepy.

Couple that awkwardness with the sheer predictability of it all, 17 Again becomes just a run-of-the-mill teen comedy. I did really like the message at its core, that selflessness and the ability to love outweigh any dreams of grandeur for financial or popular success. Sometimes it just takes longer for some—I'm not sure twenty years is a credible length of time, but the writer did need to make the kids of age—or an event to push them back into the reality of how great their life is. I also liked certain scenes like that of Efron verbally abusing bully Stan, ("Weeds's" Hunter Parrish), in the lunch room, as well as his trying to help the Health teacher get her point across after passing out condoms—there are funny moments. I even enjoyed the filmmakers' knowledge that they were ripping off so many movies that came before. The allusions to It's a Wonderful Life, (the greatest "spiritual journey" film in existence), like on the bridge, are great, as is the homage to Back to the Future with Efron's supposed awakening from his dream to be with his daughter much like Marty McFly wakes to his mother. In the end, though, its weaknesses win out. While it is reasonably harmless, there are just too many quality alternatives to recommend.

21 (2008)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Did that dazzle you?…21, 8 June 2008

I wasn't averse to checking out this new film. That is until I started hearing all the bad press going around the circuit. So, with low expectations I finally took the opportunity to try it out and while there are definite problems, 21 is not too bad. Obvious and generic as far as story structure goes with a concept well known in America about beating the game of Blackjack, my main gripes were with the small stuff. What I found really working was the fun/entertainment factor. Even though I could guess how it would all turn out, the ride was a joy to partake in.

We have our genius student who did everything right throughout his school career to get into Harvard Medical. What does this kid have to complain about, besides maybe the lack of a stimulating social life? Well how about the $300,000 tuition necessary to actually attend the school itself. Thankfully for Ben, an opportunity presents itself very early on in the application process, for a full scholarship, that could solve all his troubles. A whiz at numbers and pretty much everything to do with analytical thinking, Professor Rosa sees a younger version of himself in Ben, the perfect choice to lead his team of card counters in wiping Vegas clean. Not only does this proposition play on Ben's need for money, but it also gives him an excuse to get away from the dweeby friends and drab school life. Las Vegas was calling and he was ready to live for the first time in his life. I mean, without any consequences—counting cards is not illegal—what did he have to lose? It turns out everything. I'm sure if you've seen the trailers at all you understand the magnitude of what happens in the "backrooms" of casinos, the place where those on the payroll inflict their own sort of justice. The thing about this film is that the moment when they experience what truly happens isn't until pretty much the end. We are allowed a nice exposition of how the team nurtures their new point-guard and gets him game ready. The relationships formed become stronger, the takes become bigger, and the theatrics more brazen. There is some nice movement in the shooting style, low angles, extreme close-ups of the signals, and nicely choreographed sequences with the cards flipping, giving a cursory introduction to the system being utilized. I really liked this aspect because it allowed me as the viewer to get a handle on what was going on. At first I was bored, hoping movie magic would gloss over the lesson, but in the end I am thankful for having watched it. All the process jargon is tempered with more humanistic moments to keep us grounded in the story too. Ben and Jill's friendship evolves; Ben begins to distance himself from the only two friends he had before his recruitment; Ben and ex-top dog on the team Fisher butt heads; and "eye-in-the-sky" Cole Williams watches everything from behind the scenes, looking for a huge bust in order to save his job from being replaced by computer facial recognition software.

It's all by the books, our hero faces the challenge of stepping out of the villain's shadow and then giving a little pain back himself. We watch to see how it all turns out, no matter how obvious it will be. The scholarship meeting bookmarks help frame the story nicely, showing what it was all for…$300,000 and he was out; sometimes it's not that easy. And because of that fact, the cast needed to be a good mix of personalities, all who could pass for geniuses and miscreants. Jim Sturgess has the exact unassuming charm needed to pull off the transformation from bookworm 4.0 student to the high-rolling playboy Ben becomes. He has an everyman quality about him perfect for us to put ourselves in his shoes and think whether we would have been able to resist temptation. The rest of the team is great as well with Aaron Yoo and Liza Lapira adding some humor, Jacob Pitts showing what fame and jealousy can do to your soul if not held in check, Kate Bosworth is solid as the love interest, and Josh Gad exudes soon to be millionaire dork with grace. The real surprise had to be Kevin Spacey though. I would have thought he'd chew as much scenery as possible and while he does overpower at times, the humor he portrays as a quick-witted professor and the glee when he gets to Vegas in the middle of the action really rings true for Rosa, as well as the serious times when his darkside comes out.

Besides the generic Hollywood quality on display, the small things are what bugged me. Should they have as much as they did? Probably not, but nonetheless they nagged at me the entire time. One is Sturgess' bad American accent. It is weird because when he plays the role, it's hardly noticeable; however, during every instance of voice-over narration, it was as if he was reciting dictation in a class where he was learning to hide the British. Another example is in the casting of Ben's friends. These guys are the epitome of geek and yet they are with Sturgess, a guy that can pass for geek if necessary, sure, but do they have to stick him with these two guys? The juxtaposition is so broad that it just stuck out like a sore thumb. Sometimes bashing the audience over the head isn't the best way to go about your business. Otherwise, a good effort for a brainless popcorn flick. One could do a lot worse.

27 Dresses (2008)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
What color is that—vomit? … 27 Dresses, 19 April 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

With a scene of impromptu karaoke featuring Elton John's "Bennie and the Jets"—bearing similarities to another rom-com I abhorred despite its own brilliant use of song, My Best Friend's Wedding—a fun cast, and some entertaining moments, (the opening cab scenes as Heigl's Jane attends two weddings in the same night is inspired), I have to admit I didn't hate 27 Dresses. Are the obvious clichés and plot evolutions that seem recycled in every film of this genre at work? Yes. But even so, those "been there done that" moments carried enough interest to keep me from throwing the movie out as complete waste.

It's that old adage, "always a bridesmaid and never a bride", at work. Jane is a career woman who gives herself completely to those around her, whether friends, boss, or family. She will do anything for Edward Burns' George because she is in lust with him, her idyllic image of the perfect man for which she can be the perfect employee and hopefully trick into falling for her; she'll organize and break her back in order to give all her friends perfect nuptials, killing herself in the process and taking up her closet space as she keeps each dress for the memories they contain; and loves her sister Tess so much that even after having helped raise her when their mother died, she decides to keep her mouth shut while watching a web of lies spin out of control, resulting in baby sis getting the guy she always wanted for herself. If it weren't enough to watch a selfless patsy make everyone around her happy while she devolves deeper and deeper into a self made depression for laughs, add in cocky, wise-guy wedding editorialist Kevin, (the always stellar James Marsden), and you get that perfect piece of abrasive sandpaper to get under Jane's skin, even though you know his volatility only exists to eventually be overcome with burgeoning love.

You know how this tale of unrequited love and love unknown will end, so it is up to the filmmakers to keep it interesting enough so that your butt doesn't leave the seat. The best way to do so is by creating some humorous moments to alleviate the clairvoyance-induced boredom you'd otherwise be feeling. A scene like the drunken karaoke is priceless as a result. It's unexpected, forging the first glimpse of romantic bonding between Kevin and Jane, two opposites that appear to have more fun mocking each other than finding what they have in common deep down. Adding a morally ambiguous best friend in Judy Greer's Casey helps as well, infusing the proceedings with some crass fun to counteract the wholesomeness Jane exudes. Even Malin Akerman as sister Tess does a good job at playing the puzzle piece to throw everything out of whack, in other words, the reason there is even a conflict to create a film at all. While not the greatest actress in the world, Akerman excels as the beauty turning heads and causing a wholesale upheaval of her sister's world.

27 Dresses cannot rely on its supporting cast to carry it though. Oftentimes, these periphery players come and go quickly, showing face to advance the plot, disappearing when their job is done. While not necessarily a bad thing, being that none of them really have a fully-fleshed out role, (Akerman sort of does and Ed Burns maybe, despite his very one-dimensional dreamboat humanitarian façade), their comings and goings mean that Heigl has a lot of work to do. I think anyone asking whether she would be up to the task is correct to do so. After all, she only has two lengthy television credits and a whole lot of forgettable theatrical roles to her name. Can Izzie from "Grey's Anatomy" carry a big budget rom-com expected to bring in huge money? I will never lie in saying I'm a big fan, she doesn't quite have the looks and most times comes across as bitchy in the parts she gets, but I give her a hand here for doing an admirable job. I do believe Marsden carries her many times, stealing some moments with his charm and comic timing, but Heigl holds her end well, especially since she is on screen close to 100% of the runtime.

The premise is ripe for quality comedy pertaining to something we all know, that insane pomp and circumstance of wedded bliss manufactured to be more "party of the year" than the moment when two people's love manifests itself into a union of kindred spirits. Once you get beyond the convenience of having our two leads meet coincidentally at a wedding—the down on her luck bridesmaid and the jaded wedding writer who's flowery words no longer match his feelings about the "big day"—you will enjoy the comedy their meeting creates. Besides the opening yellow cab changing room sequence and karaoke extravaganza, there is one more crucial moment. It is the scene that encapsulates the entire film, Marsden's discovery of Heigl's closet of memories. This one scene has every emotion that director Anne Fletcher is looking to portray. It's the embarrassment of having been in so many without a love for herself; the genuine smile on her face as she remembers the good times had in each; the morphing of his mocking smile to one of understanding as he sees the true worth of each dress; the devastating expressions of both when he takes that final photo of her sad face. His is so apologetic, both for taking the photo and knowing what it is he will be doing with it. The rest is all fluff, leading up to the conclusion we played in our heads an hour before we saw it. Thankfully, amidst all that window dressing lie a few moments of truth where all involved got it right. They may not make 27 Dresses a resounding success, but they do make it ever so slightly relevant and worth a glimpse.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
That was longer than a heartbeat…28 Days Later, 13 May 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

In anticipation for the sequel 28 Weeks Later, I decided to revisit the superb zombie entry 28 Days Later from director Danny Boyle. I remember back to when I first started hearing the buzz about this film and how surprised I was that it came from the guy who brought us Trainspotting and A Life Less Ordinary. However, because this was the guy who made those films, I decided to give it a try, as I am not the hugest fan of the zombie flick or even horror in general. As far as these films go, though, 28 Days Later has got to be my favorite entry to the genre. It could be that there is an actual story involved and an intelligence that is usually lacking in favor of gore and sex, or it could be that this film isn't really very much a zombie film per se at all. The movie is not about humanity surviving against a race of undead beings, but instead about man fighting man, as they always have. The only thing these infected beings bring to the forefront is that rage inside us all, on the surface and unable to be suppressed behind a falsely neutral façade.

Our zombies here are not dead and living to kill. The victims have been infected by a virus, which makes pure rage takeover their bodies. One does not need to be dead in order to become a zombie; all that is needed is a drop of blood or saliva to enter the bloodstream. Whether through a cut, your mouth, your eye, or any other exposed orifice, one tiny drop is all it takes for you to crave murder and flesh. Thankfully some people have stayed behind in England to survive and try to find others who have luckily escaped exposure. Our heroes are than common people striving to get through the horror that is happening all around them. Cillian Murphy plays our lead protagonist, helping out his new cynical friend Selena (played realistically by Naomie Harris who has been seeing more and more roles since), yet holding on to his feelings of compassion and needing to help others. Selena is very in the open about her own survival and the fact that when push comes to shove, it is her neck she will save. Murphy's character Jim tries to bring a bit of humanity back to her, tries to subvert the carnage she has seen that has darkened her soul. I believe this is the true crux of the story right here—what is the point of saving humanity from extinction if you can't see the invaluable worth of the life of those around you?

You cannot survive alone. This moral comes up often in the film and really drives it during the numerous stretches without zombies. True, the action scenes are completely riveting throughout, the quick paced editing and sharp movements of blood and violence are harrowing to watch, and the chase scene in the tunnel while trying to change a flat tire gets the pulse running high. However, it's the quiet points really allow the story to mean something with the viewer. The relationship between Brendan Gleeson's father and Megan Burns' daughter are heartbreaking moments. They are only alive because they have each other, someone to love and survive with within the growing isolation and loneliness surrounding them. Their bond shows what living is about and helps break the harsh façade Harris' character has built up to cope. Each does their hardest to never give up hope and their emotions run high at times, but also have show lapses of joy and happiness to counteract it all. I love the scene at the supermarket when they go shopping for food. Gleeson's rant about good wine and his leaving the credit card at the end brought a much- needed smile to my face and totally entrenched my attention into what would soon happen afterwards.

It is the end that brings up the political connotations of what has happened and the necessities of life. Whereas most zombie films end with the military coming in and saving everyone from death, here Boyle subverts that into a more telling truth—cynical yes, but true nonetheless. These army men, led by a fantastic role of duality from Christopher Eccleston, have created a bunker to try and rebuild society with. Their answer to the zombies is to arm themselves and make a life inside their quarantined home. This is a military state, however, and a utilitarian one. In order to recreate society you need procreation to keep the generations going. With only two female characters in the movie, you can imagine where this goes.

Sure the ending becomes a bit too much like your run of the mill actioner, but overall, one cannot ask for more from it. You learn what it is to survive and that you need to have a reason to live and someone to live with. Murphy and Harris deliver the goods during their fight to get out of their island prison. You see, as we later find out, the virus has been contained on the island. England has been quarantined from the rest of the world and sacrificed in order for society to continue on unfettered. The infected are dying of starvation, and salvation seems to have finally come. Now if that doesn't scream sequel, I don't know what does. Hopefully Boyle's producing credit on the follow-up will mean quality and a keeping of tone as well as meaning from this well-done original.

6 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
Code Red…28 Weeks Later, 15 May 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This was definitely a film that I didn't see any necessity for. 28 Days Later was a fantastic genre film whose main success was not really being the film people expected it to be. What worked there was that we were able to wake up into the world just as our main character did. We experience the disorientation and the horror right along with him, as well as the humanity still within him having missed the original outbreak—unlike the disheartened and beaten comrades he meets along the way. When we enter the quarantined world of England, now seven months past infection, we see a country trying to rebuild, all the infected dead of starvation. It is inevitable that there will be some way in which the virus is released again, or else we would have no movie. The real question is, then, will the film work when we already know what will happen? I wasn't quite sure because we had exhausted the running for freedom motif with the first one, however, the filmmakers sure do surprise. What 28 Weeks Later may lack in originality and story depth, it more than makes up with suspense, emotion, and non-stop action.

The original film was new and different because it wasn't about fighting the undead, but about surviving against mankind's brutality. Its one flaw was that it got away from this a bit towards the end as Cillian Murphy went on a one man killing spree, yet it worked because he was killing men and not infected beings. I expected this film to be that ending for two hours, but instead, it actually stayed consistent with the running and surviving. Whereas the first needed that shift in order to get its storied point across, this one already had it as a backdrop. Our only story here is trying to get two kids, who may hold a cure to the virus, out of England in the midst of total extermination. Therefore, the story needs the chase, and the film delivers to its utmost.

Our opening scene, showing how Robert Carlyle loses his wife and stays alive to eventually reunite with his children sent away on a school trip, puts us right into the action. The jerky camera style remains, showing us the brutality without the graphic details. These people care for each other and there is as much fear on their faces as there is sorrow and helplessness in being unable to help. It is a great entry into a story that soon slows down a bit to catch us up with what has happened in the weeks since our last visit. Repopulation has begun and Carlyle's children have finally been allowed back in. Their reunion is short-lived on the happiness factor with him explaining how their mother died, and soon the children set off into forbidden territory to find a photo of her before the youngest forgets her face. To everyone's surprise, the children find their mother at the house, infected but not raging. The military take all back into District 1 and we soon have chaos back in action.

What occurs as a result of the re-infection of society is a mass extermination by the hands of the US army overseeing the reopening of England. They have failed and must cover their tracks so the virus can't leave the island for mainland. Caught inside, though, are the two children, played effectively by Imogen Poots and Mackintosh Muggleton, an army doctor, (a favorite of mine, Rose Byrne), trying to keep them alive because a cure might be inside their blood, and a sniper who could no longer handle killing innocents, (Jeremy Renner doing a great job). It is their race to keep alive that drives the final three quarters of the film and it never gets tiring. With the infected and the military on their tails, attempting to do them in, only Harold Perrineau's pilot can get them off the island.

Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo does an admirable job in keeping the same tone and aesthetic as his predecessor. I have to believe that Danny Boyle staying on as producer helped keep the two films as consistent as possible. 28 Weeks Later never falls back on jump out of your seat moments and never takes the easy way out. The utter destruction of England at the hands of those trying to salvage it is a sight to behold and the death count of characters that you would think were untouchable, is astounding. You cannot blink once because you really have no idea what may be coming, and the brilliant industrial score keeps tension high throughout. Unfortunately, though, the filmmakers didn't quite trust their audience as they spell out what happens at the end in a short epilogue, possibly trying to segue into a third part. What could have been an ominous final shot of our young hero gets subverted by the unnecessary showing of what transpires as the survivors leave the island for France.

Rarely do sequels live up to their predecessors, especially those that probably never need to be made. Much like Aliens and Underworld: Evolution live up to their originals, by upping the action and suspense in a story without the depth needed for a part one, 28 Weeks Later holds its own with Days. To sum it all up, if you enjoyed Boyle's vision of horror you will not be disappointed at how the story continues.

300 (2006)
5 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
Sparta!…300, 11 March 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is what film was destined to evolve to. After decades of directors making storyboards as reference before filming and the slow building trend to adapt comic book work, we finally have the ultimate fusion of both. Sure Sin City did amazing things with the medium and created frame-by-frame transfers from drawing to celluloid, however, it was still shot as a movie first and foremost. Zack Snyder has done something different with 300; he has created a true work of art. Frank Miller's story was one steeped in truth and history if not entirely non-fiction. The heightened reality came across in the stylized drawings of the graphic novel and the honor and respect held in such high regard by its characters. Snyder takes these aspects to another level with his film, creating some of the most brutal yet beautiful moments I've seen at the movies. The artistry is gorgeous to behold and the story and acting only enhance the quality with deeper meaning. What Picasso's Guernica is to painting, an epic portrayal of war and death and the hope that can come out of it all, 300 is to cinema.

I am surprised how the huge success so far for this film needs to be footnoted with the fact that it has a starless cast. To me, this is a slap in the face of all the great talent involved. Gerard Butler, for one, has steadily risen in the acting ranks and just cements his talent with this role as Spartan King Leonidas. He has the rugged physique and harsh mentality of a true warrior, but also the compassion needed to lead a band of soldiers to their death and the love for not only land and country, but also wife and child—their freedom being the reason he needs Sparta to stay safe from tyranny. Then you have the beautiful Lena Headey, the actress that was forced into Terry Gilliam's Brother's Grimm after producers refused to let Samantha Morton have the role. Knowing Gilliam's history with Hollywood and being forced to do so many things against his will, the words saying that Headey actually did the role justice to his vision means wonders. To be complimented for a part he had a singular vision for can only prove the worth she holds. I still want to see last year's Imagine Me and You, the kind of chick flick that looks like it could be a really good film. Lastly you have the up-and- coming David Wenham, one of the best performances, in my opinion, throughout the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. After a fun role in the dreadful Van Helsing and a total metamorphosis in The Proposition, I believe he has some great things ahead of him. Even Dominic West as the treacherous Theron surprised me. After his laughable acting in The Forgotten, I couldn't believe this was the same guy. I have never seen "The Wire," but maybe the guy has some talent after all.

Again, though, no matter how effective the acting was, the true strength of the film was in the overall aesthetic. Sure many scenes were culled perfectly from the comic, but Snyder also put his own flare to it. Not only was the role of Queen Gorgo expanded from a single drawn frame to integral role of the film, but it was done so successfully. When I heard of the expansion I sort of chuckled, thinking here is an infusion of femininity in an otherwise macho story—if for nothing else, but to add a reason to have some sexuality and nudity in this hard-R movie. Instead it is her character's drive back home in Sparta against the villainous Theron that makes the final moments as poignant as they are. While the comic gave us an insight into a warrior fighting for freedom of men, the addition of the Queen here gives us the story of a man fighting for the freedom of humanity and equality of all those living on earth. The softer side of the king makes his brutality that much more necessary and his love for his wife the reason he is so ready to give his life for the war. The only addition I disliked in the entire film was that of a grotesque creature/decapitating machine. The "monsters" in the story are supposed to be elephants and inbred freaks of nature, (this is ancient Greece), not monstrosities fixed with blades as arms. I find myself forgiving it though because it was on screen for so short a time, and the only misstep I saw.

Zack Snyder has outdone himself. I enjoyed his remake of Dawn of the Dead, but didn't quite understand the critics when they said he had an immense talent and hold on how to shoot and craft scenes. 300 definitely showed me this to be true. Whether light scenes of stunning visuals like the dance of the oracle or dark sequences of battle and splattering blood, he succeeds with them all. The first long take of Leonidas fighting through Persian after Persian with the speed slowed and increased while the zoom jumps forward and back is amazing and makes the hallway fight scene in Oldboy seem like child's play. This is truly the first great film of 2007, whether it stays atop my favorites at the end of the year remains to be seen, but right now it sits above all with quite a gap in between.

2 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Where's my phone?…30 Days of Night, 23 October 2007

Here is the next chapter in the graphic novels cum film movement that has been taking over the industry. The ingredients seem pretty foolproof: a revisionist vampire tale screenwritten by the novel's authors, a setting without the sun for thirty days, a hard-r rating, a good cast, and visionary music video director David Slade fresh off his debut feature Hard Candy. 30 Days of Night is a brutal look into a world where the monsters reign supreme with little in their way to slow them down. With stunning cinematography, a beautiful washed out/dark cool color palette, realistic gore with unflinching detail, and a dark empty void of happiness, this one looked like a winner all the way. That is, until the ending. It is a shame that a story as hardcore as this one would take the path it does at the conclusion. Something a bit more tongue-in-cheek or satirical could have easily gotten away with it, but this one deserved to be allowed to run its course of brutality without a convenient finish putting a bittersweet smile on our faces before the lights turned back on, releasing us from the hold of Alaska's darkest moments.

I can't say anything bad about the directing. Slade has shown again that style can add a lot to a visionary tale such as this. He is given more room to move as opposed to the two leads, one venue he had for the brilliant Hard Candy, but still closed in enough to be able to create an aesthetic that didn't need to change. The entire film takes place in the town of Barrow, amongst the houses, stores, and streets with the everyone knows everyone cast of locals. The Stranger who treks into town cuts them off from civilization and keeps the director trapped inside as well to find inventive places to shoot. Complete with jerky, frame missing attack scenes, Slade does not disappoint when it comes to eye candy. Close-ups abound and his ability to keep the camera on the casualties while they are chalked up is a bold breath of fresh air. Very few moments are actual scary jolts. This film's true fear creator is in the unabashed view of all the carnage at work.

Staying on course, visually speaking, you have never seen vampires depicted quite like this. Their faces are distorted and smooth without blemishes. I have not read the books, so I don't know how much these creatures are manifestations of the artwork, but I couldn't help see the similarities to the beasties in videos by music group Aphex Twin. While the beings I'm thinking of were in the promos by Chris Cunningham, Slade too directed some of the band's work. Not only were the facial structures otherworldly—very fallen angel—but the blank stares and open mouths they possessed showed a detached side to them as they were only out for blood. This is a dying race not attempting to expand their legions, but instead to just survive. I loved the one bald creature with blood on its face throughout the film. He was so memorable because the blood almost created a five-o'clock shadow on his face.

Credit all involved, and the actor himself, for getting Danny Huston into this film. He is amazing as the lead vampire Marlow. I thought the foreign language was a stroke of genius, but it is his mannerisms that really allow the part to succeed. The mouth breathing is foreboding and creepy, dried blood keeps adding upon his face, and his eyes are made up of a continuous blank stare. Someone as accomplished as he is in supporting roles should be commended for taking a role such as this and performing it seriously. This is no Bela Lugosi, as one character says, this is a malicious being out for survival amongst a race that he knows is inferior to his own.

As for the other actors, it is a pretty good job across the board. Josh Hartnett is surprisingly competent. I attribute that to the fact that he is mostly shown with a stoic, contemplative face. If there is one thing he does well, that is it. It's usually when he smiles and tries to be mister cool that he falters, but thankfully he never really gets that chance here. Ben Foster shows again that no one can do what he does…no one, and Melissa George shows she is an interesting actress whom I have not been able to see yet. Not quite sure if I liked her completely, but she didn't do anything to make me think I shouldn't have. Also, it's a pleasure to see Mark Boone Junior take on a role that lasts. Too many only have like five minutes of screen time (Batman Begins) and he is better than that.

Again, though, the ending just left me cold. Sure what happens as a result stays true to the event, it is just the event itself that made me cringe. Harnett's sheriff must make a decision before his whole town and all he cares about goes up in flames. Up until that point, the movie had been an edge of your seat thrill ride where it seemed that no one was too important to die. I was even starting to smile that I might be getting a fully tragic end devoid of survivors. Unfortunately, the sheriff makes a decision so out of left field that it elicited more chuckles than poignant tears as a more thought out sequence might have. It doesn't totally derail an otherwise solid genre flick, but it does leave just the right amount of bile in your throat to sully what comes before it with a faint bad taste.

2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Even bad men love they mommas…3:10 to Yuma, 8 September 2007

It is interesting how having an Oscar nominated director and actor, along with an Oscar winning actor can make a film garner award season buzz rather than the backlash of being a remake. The stigma of remake usually spells the kiss of death for most films, but it seems almost an afterthought with James Mangold's 3:10 to Yuma. Based on an Elmore Leonard short story, the original is somewhat highly touted, so it is not as though people don't know of it to have forgotten. Either way, I believe a film should be looked upon individually and not necessarily compared to what came before it. Sure, that will never happen, as comparisons are too easy to not be made, but if a remake works, it works on its own. As far as this one goes, hot on the heels of two remakes I did not enjoy—The Invasion and Halloween—we finally have a winner. I have not seen its predecessor, however, the Western genre has been seeing somewhat of a revival lately. As far as those go, this does not quite match the brilliance of The Proposition from last year, it does ultimately warrant a look.

By far, it's the acting that really shines. Between the Oscar winner in Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, (no he isn't the nominated actor here, that's Peter Fonda, Bale still surprisingly hasn't been so honored), you have an acting clinic. These two are phenomenal as the outlaw being taken to his death and the rancher who volunteers to do it. Bale has shown that he is fantastic as the honest, hardworking, moral figure trying to do right by his family, but rarely have we seen Crowe as a complete villain. Even his L.A. Confidential badass was at heart a good guy that was working for bad men. Here he is great as the cocky, fast-talking, charismatic, psychopathic killer. Bale's character's son says, he is not all bad, when actually, Crowe says, he is. No matter how affable he can appear, it is always for his own devices in order to get close and pull the trigger. While this aspect is wonderful on the whole, it is also the one main flaw of the film. We are shown this dark side of Crowe for the entire duration, and, as a result, the evolution of the relationship between he and Bale becomes implausible. I just truly didn't believe that they would have opened up to each other as they do.

Those two leads are by far the reasons to check out the film. It's like the buzz surrounding Righteous Kill which all culminates to the fact that we will be able to see DeNiro and Pacino on screen together; these two have that same dynamic and possibly are a tad better at that. There are more good actors here too—Alan Tudyk plays a rendition of his usual persona, Gretchen Mol is a welcome sight having been away from the scene for awhile, and Ben Foster again shows why he is the actor of choice for crazed lunatics. The one bad casting call is Luke Wilson in a bit part. Being Luke Wilson is a detriment because all the audience does is laugh at him trying to be serious. He might have been spot-on in the performance, but I'll never know; you really can't get past who he is to actually find out.

There is a plot involved here too, and it isn't that bad of one. The tension and wonder at whether they will make the train weighs heavy throughout the film and the interactions between the characters help create the interest. Aesthetically, the filmmakers do a good job showing the grime and filth of the time period as well as the carnage and selfishness that was prevalent. Were it two lesser actors, however, I have to believe I might have been bored by the length of the journey. It is Bale and Crowe chewing scenery that keeps the film from falling into a slow, plodding pace. The finale saves everything with the action amped up fully, the shootout is orchestrated to perfection. Again, though, I didn't quite believe why Crowe does what he does during it. I understand his ego and him thinking he had the ability to help Bale's psyche while still not hurting himself, but it was a bit too convenient. The bittersweet ending did help save any problems I had with it and in the end I will say I had a real good time.

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