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Iron Man 2 (2010)
10 out of 25 people found the following review useful:
Best film based on a Marvel comic, 1 May 2010

Put simply, Iron Man 2 is the best film I've seen so far this year. That doesn't mean no movie released this year can be better than Jon Favreau's masterpiece of a comic book film, but I certainly don't think any potential blockbuster this year will be as funny, exciting, well- developed and brilliantly acted. As hard as it may be to imagine, Iron Man 2 is even better than the original movie - and, you know, the first part was, along with Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, one of the best comic book films ever made. It does almost nothing wrong, and while it isn't 100% brilliant all the way, it's as good as any "traditional" comic book adaptation can be. (The Dark Knight being a "non-traditional" adaptation.)

The story is a little more convoluted than in the first movie, but fortunately director Favreau and screenwriter Justin Theroux (Tropic Thunder) don't make the same mistakes Sam Raimi made with Spider-Man 3. Sure, there is more than one villain, but the only "active" villain is Ivan Vanko; Justin Hummer is more of an instrument, and is not a classic villain in the sense that he is neither intimidating nor particularly dangerous. He only has the "resources."

Those who have seen the first installment might have noticed that, while the movie was excellently-written and acted, it kind-of-suffered during its climax because of some weak action. Well, this certainly isn't the problem here, since Iron Man 2 provides with some of the best action you'll see this year. Unlike, you know, a film like Transformers 2, the machine-on- machine battles in Iron Man 2 are actually exciting and tense because we know there are people behind those suits; because those people have been well-developed throughout two movies, and because Favreau, unlike Michael Bay, doesn't feel the need to shake the camera as much as possible and cutting every millisecond while shooting an action sequence.

Performances, much like in the previous film, are absolutely perfect. Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark, there is no doubt about it, and even in the film's weakest scenes - which are very few -, Downey makes the movie work. This time around, Stark is dying - the substance that makes the suit work and keeps him alive is actually killing him - and Downey Jr. now portrays Stark not only as a charismatic playboy, but also as a somewhat deeper character, who resorts to alcoholism because of all his problems. This alcoholism is not the main point of the film, though - it certainly is addressed, but it's something that gets dismissed rather quickly. This is for the better, I believe - even more problems and another sub-plot would have only hurt the film, and I'm sure the filmmakers will be able to explore this characteristic of Tony Stark in a deeper manner in subsequent films.

Don Cheadle, replacing Terrence Howard from the previous movie, is effective as Jim Rhodes. (He's even got some great one-liners.) Gwyneth Paltrow returns as Pepper Potts, and her relationship with Tony manages to move forward a little. There's great chemistry between the two of them, and they've got some great scenes together. Mickey Rourke is just great as Ivan Vanko - the majority of his dialogue is in Russian, and although he isn't precisely three- dimensional, we know just enough about the characters for him to remain both (a little) mysterious and intimidating. Sam Rockwell is also delightful as Justin Hammer - a very coward and unlikeable characters, that's for sure, but Rockwell manages not to turn him into a caricature. Scarlett Johansson, on the other hand, is just superb as agent Natasha Romanoff. With this part not only does she prove that she's the sexiest, most beautiful actress alive - one just has to hear men's reaction in the theatre whenever she appeared on- screen -, but also that she may be able to hand an entire action film by herself. She was just... *sigh*... amazing.

So is the film perfect? Not really, but its faults are small enough for them not to hurt he overall quality of the picture. Still, while the John Debney's score wasn't particularly awful or bothersome, it simply was... mediocre. There's nothing memorable or outstanding about his music. It's just... there. Completely forgettable. On the other hand, while I certainly was excited about the presence of a couple of AC/DC songs (Shoot to Thrill and Highway to Hell), I expected more of them, at least three or four, not just two! I mean, there's a reason why the film's soundtrack is made up entirely of AC/DC songs right? (I already bought it, by the way, and it's a nice re-collection of classic songs.) For example, if you know AC/DC has a song called War Machine and one of the characters in your movie is called "War Machine"... wouldn't it be logical for you to put that song in the film? Hopefully they're saving it for the next installment or something.

Anyway, those faults aren't particularly big, and the film as a whole is just amazing. It had been some time since I last left the theatre so excited. I mean, I am studying film-making, and when I left the theatre after watching Iron Man 2 I just thought "this is the kind of film I want to make." And by that I don't mean a superhero movie necessarily... I mean a film that does so many things correctly: it's laugh-out-loud hilarious at times, but it's also incredibly exciting. It's got some amazing special effects, interesting and believable characters, great performances, a complex but effective plot and it even works as a set up for a bigger universe of superheroes. Once again, Iron Man 2 is the best film I've seen this year so far, and I just can't imagine any blockbuster being more successful. I'm definitely seeing it again a couple of times in theatres... yes, it's that good.

Avatar (2009)
31 out of 48 people found the following review useful:
An epic masterpiece, 18 December 2009

James Cameron has never directed a bad - or even mediocre - motion picture; this is the guy who has brought us such classics as the first two Terminators, Aliens - one of the best sequels of all time -, True Lies - exceptional action movie - and, of course, Titanic. That's why, despite some negative buzz, I was always pretty sure his latest endeavor, Avatar, was going to be something else. Maybe not a "game changer", as many - including Cameron himself - have been saying, but certainly something that we haven't seen before.

Well, I still am not sure if this is a "game changer", but it certainly is "something else."

Avatar is the most visually impressive and most immersive motion picture I've seen in some time. Not since Peter Jackson released the last of the Lord of the Rings movies has someone marveled me in such an amazing way, transporting me into a different land where - apparently - anything is possible. So maybe the story Cameron is telling is not 100% original, but the way in which he tells it certainly is. I haven't seen the movie in 3D - I will on Saturday and a review will follow - and I imagine it must be impressive, but even while watching it on 2D I can't imagine anyone not being marveled and feel inspired by what Cameron has created. This is one epic, epic film - an event and an experience unlike anything I've seen this year.

Performances are quite solid. The real scene-stealer is Stephen Lang, whose Quaritch is one of the most effective villains I've seen in some time. We know he is the villain not only because the screenplay tells us so, but because Lang makes the character his own, a real sonofabitch who knows no compassion and no mercy. He never goes over-the-top and avoids turning his character into a caricature. (Although he is larger-than-life.) Sam Worthington is pretty good as Jake Sully - although his "American" accent is less-than-stellar - and Sigourney Weaver is memorable as Dr. Augustine. On the other hand, Zoe Saldana has a tougher job - Weaver and Worthington appear both in human and Na'avi form, but Saldana's character appears only as the former. No problem, though - her performance - with the aid of performance capture - is strong enough to make the audience believe in her. Like Gollum in the Lord of the Rings pictures, the audience believe in the Na'avi - we believe they are real characters who breath, cry, laugh and can even die, not just a bunch of pretty-looking cartoons.

But what about the spectacle? Despite all the drama and the romance, Cameron has actually managed to deliver action-wise - if there is someone in Hollywood who truly knows how to portray the right balance between action, special effects, character development and story, it is Cameron. Simply put, the film is breath-taking. Despite being approximately 60% CGI, there was never a moment in which I was aware that I was watching big, powerful computers at work. There isn't one - not a single one - fake-looking shot. Pandora is simply beautiful, and all the creatures - including of course the Na'avi - are amazing and totally believable. The way Cameron has populated his world is, simply put, worthy of applause - every single plant, creature, monster, predator, everything is credible and awesome-looking, showing that Cameron is talented at both creating great stories and characters and using his vivid, visual and fantasy-based imagination.

And there is the difference between a masterpiece like Avatar and a mindless product like Transformers 2: the viewer actually believes in all the computer-generated creatures, characters and locations, accepting them as real and believing they actually exist, even when they appear on-screen at the same time with flesh-and-blood characters. Unlike the soul-less Michael Bay movie, Avatar has spirit and charm, and never bores. Yes, there is action, but it is not mindless because there are incredibly high stakes at hand, and because we feel for the characters. There are a lot of ridiculously tense moments in Avatar because of this - on the other hand, I didn't even flinch while watching Transformers 2. (And if I did, it was because the action scenes were almost incomprehensible.)

Since I haven't seen the film on 3D, I really don't know if Avatar truly is a "game-changer" or not. Why I do know, though, is that the movie is one of the most imaginative, visually-arresting and gripping motion pictures I've seen in years, and quite possibly the best film I've seen this 2009. Avatar is not simply a "movie" - it is a experience, something that quite literally has to be seen to be believed. It boasts a smart screenplay, it has believable and sympathetic characters, it's got the most believable and awe-inspiring special effects ever seen on the big screen, and it contains more thrills and emotions that any other film this year. I don't care that Cameron took 12 years to make this film - the final product was definitely worth the wait. I just hope that all the rumours that say Cameron plans to shoot a sequel are actually true. This is one rare case in which I just wish a second installment is actually released. (Hopefully, it won't take 12 more years.)

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
A very enjoyable B-level horror movie., 30 November 2009

Although the first two Spider-man movies were really good - particularly the second one -, with the third one Sam Raimi was showing he was staring to get tired of the franchise. (Although it seems he wants to redeem himself - Spider-man 4 will reportedly be simpler, tighter and more exciting.) In fact, the film was such a creative - but definitely not financial - failure that Raimi decided to return to his roots... and craft a horror film in the vein of his Evil Dead trilogy. Drag me to Hell is the result of that. And although it isn't as effective as the aforementioned trilogy, it's every bit as creepy and darkly funny as Raimi would've wanted it to be. Not a perfect film by any means, but definitely superior (in every way) to his third Spider-man movie.

The film tells the story of loan officer Christine Brown (Alison Lohman), who wants to become an assistant manager at the bank in which she works. She wants this promotion not only because she needs the money and because she wants to secure her future, but also because she's wants to impress her boyfriend, Clay (Justin Long), and his parents. The bank manager, Mr. Jacks (David Paymer), has to decide between her and Stu, her rival, for the manager's position. One day, an old woman called Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver) comes to the bank asking for relief from a mortgage she can't pay, otherwise, she'll lose her house. Mr. Jacks leaves the resolution of the matter to Christine and she decides to be rough in order to impress her boss and secure her promotion. Predictably, Mr.s Ganush doesn't react very well and begs to Christine. She is taken away. But later, the both of them get involved in a physical confrontation which results in the old woman putting a curse into the girl's jacket botton. Soon enough, Christine is stalked by a demon from hell, so she ends up going to a mystic (Dileep Rao) who tells her the demon won't rest until he takes her to hell to burn for all eternity.

If the previous plot summary doesn't sounds like something out of a cheap, B-level horror movie, then I don't know what it does. Raimi has produced Drag me to Hell like an old-fashioned horror movie, making use of over-the-top (but suitably creepy) music, super-loud sound effects, odd camera angles and a very amusing mixture of horror and comedy. When the movie works, it can be both darkly funny and shocking, but when it doesn't... well, let's just say it doesn't seem like a very good motion picture at all. The main problem with Drag me to Hell (and hopefully this won't seem like regurgitating something out of my review for Jennifer's Body) is that it doesn't know whether to be a cheesy horror comedy or a straight-forward scary story. It definitely is a million times more successful than the aforementioned Megan Fox starer, but nevertheless, there were times in which I didn't know if the funny stuff I was watching on screen was supposed to be funny, or if Raimi had failed at scaring me.

Alison Lohman has been very good in previous motion pictures - her performance in Matchstick Men is almost impossible to forget - but in Drag me to Hell she's simply... forgettable. It doesn't help either that it's very hard to sympathize with Christine - granted, what she did doesn't really deserve her being dragged into hell for all eternity, but that doesn't mean she is a very likable protagonist either. Additionally, I didn't think she was particularly bright not that she had much of a personality - Christine seemed to me like a very unfinished character, someone very hard to root for in a film of this ilk. Justin Long is OK as her boyfriend, Clay (although did he really have to be surrounded by Apple products all the time?) and Dileep Rao, as the mystic, adds some gravitas to the proceedings.

Without spoiling too much of the film, I can say that I definitely didn't like the ending. In a very M. Night Shyamalan-ish sort of way, the movie features a last-act twist that a.) doesn't make any sense, b.) doesn't make the movie any more interesting and c.) is very easy to see coming. The film ends on a downer that made me think everything I had experienced before was for nothing, and that made me feel disappointed towards Raimi. I know most horror movies don't happy happy endings, but I definitely wasn't expecting such an abysmal, depressing kind of twist.

So why is Drag me to Hell recommendable, then? Alyson Lohman gives a lackluster performance, the movie doesn't know whether to be scary or funny, and the last-act twist is laughable. Well, these are all aspects that definitely don't work, but when the film does work - that is, when it provides with a shocks, gore, slime, dark humour or interesting plot points - it's a very enjoyable B-level horror movie. Don't get me wrong - it is a very flawed movie, but overall I enjoyed almost every minute of it until the horrible twist spoiled everything. It might not be the scariest or the funniest movie out there, but for what it's worth, it's almost an hour and a half of solid - yet unremarkable - entertainment.

3 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Tarantino's best film since Pulp Fiction., 30 November 2009

Quentin Tarantino's last great movie was Pulp Fiction. Now, don't get me wrong, that doesn't mean he hadn't made any good film since Fiction. The Kill Bill movies, for example, were immensely enjoyable, but nevertheless suffered from the fact that it actually was one film divided – quite inelegantly, I might add – in two. And Death Proof, while entertaining, didn't even try to approach the greatness of previous Tarantino productions – in fact, the other half of the Grindhouse experience, Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror, was superior.

Nevertheless, I was expecting his latest movie, this year's Inglourious Basterds, with tons of enthusiasm. The premise sounded great, the cast was interesting and the trailers actually made me more excited to watch the film. I was very excited for the film despite the fact that I knew it wouldn't come to Peru in a particularly near future, but there was hope: I've been in the States for the last week – in Connecticut, to be more precise – and I had the chance to watch the film. (My first experience in an American movie theatre actually, and despite what many critics and moviegoers might say, it was a positive one.) And although I can't say Basterds was as masterful, memorable and entertaining and Pulp Fiction, it's definitely Tarantino's best motion picture in quite some time.

If there's something nobody can deny – whether you like the movie or not – is that Basterds is unlike any other war movie that has come before it. This is war as seen through the eyes of Tarantino, which means it's something completely different from the likes of Saving Private Ryan or Flags of our Fathers. Granted, it does share a theme with these productions – that war is brutal and cruel – but it presents it in a very different fashion. Besides, despite the occasional bursts of violence and brutality, the movie is full of really funny moments that made me laugh out-loud, almost as if I were watching a "traditional" comedy. A scene involving three of the "Basterds" posing as an Italian film crew comes to mind.

Those expecting action and violence will be disappointed by the movie. Actually, anyone expecting anything traditional from the movie will be disappointed. Yes, there are some "action" scenes, but these are more brutal than exciting, and actually serve to release all the tension that has been building up in previous scenes. Not unlike other Tarantino movies, this one is pretty bloody at times - scenes like the "Bear Jew" beating a Nazi officer's head to pulp with a baseball bat certainly made me flinch, and should affect the more sensible members of the audience. This might not be a pure-action kind of film, but when it shows violence, it does so in a very unrestrained, almost ironic – and certainly darkly comical – manner.

Taratino's signature witty dialogue is present in the movie, and that's precisely what makes Basterds so enjoyable. Who cares if the film doesn't contain shoot-outs, battle scenes or explosions when one can listen to Tarantino's amazingly well written script come to life. There might not be as many one-liners or witty pieces of dialogue as in Pulp Fiction, but what I liked about the screenplay for the movie was that dialogue actually served a purpose; it wasn't simply there for Tarantino to show off. It either moves the plot forward, presents or further develops a character, or simply builds up tension to eventually explode in a very violent sequence. There certainly are a lot of very memorable talky scenes in Inglourious Basterds, and although all this talking might slow down the movie a bit – especially during the second act -, it certainly didn't cease to entertain me. I do understand if some members of the audience get bored, though – after all, the movie isn't for everyone precisely because it's so different.

Performances are excellent all across the board. Although Brad Pitt's performance as Raine has been maligned in some circles, I personally found him to be truly excellent. He is funny, he is charismatic, and even a little crazy. (His Southern accent is pure genius.) Eli Roth is surprisingly good – make sense that the creator of the Hostel movies gets to play a sadistic basterd who enjoys torturing people – and Diane Kruger is sexy and classy, but the real standouts are Melanie Laurent and Christoph Waltz. The former manages to turn her character into the most fleshed-out and interesting one – as well as the most serious one – while the latter oozes malice and shows that not all Nazi villains in Hollywood movies have to be caricatures. This is a very smart, very cunning kind of Nazi, not the kind you find in movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark, for example.

Inglourious Basterds is a superb motion picture, but it definitely isn't for everyone. Although it can be many things – hilarious, touching, exciting, surprising – it might turn some people off with its graphic depiction of violence and its very dark brand of humour, but for people who enjoy this kind of thing – and especially for those who know what to expect from a Quentin Tarantino film -, it should be a highly enjoyable experience. Just don't expect a cookie-cutter, predictable World War II movie – suffice it to say that Tarantino doesn't mind re-writing history himself, and although this might sound as an insult towards the movie, if you actually get to see it, you'll understand what I mean by this, and you will also understand why it works so beautifully.

0 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
An old-fashioned and compelling motion picture., 30 November 2009

Better late than never, I guess. Although Public Enemies was released somehow late in Peruvian theatres, I admit I have taken my time to write my review, having seen the actual movie a couple of weeks before Inglourious Basterds. This has happened not because I didn't know what to write about the movie - although I have found myself in that particular kind of situation before -, but because I'm having less and less time to write reviews. This is what college does to someone who enjoys doing something that is not particularly vital for his career or every-day life, and although I'm studying something I love -filmmaking - I don't like the fact that I'm starting to write less and less reviews each week.

But enough of my personal life. This particular text should concern Johnny Depp's latest movie, and thus express that, yes, I did enjoy the movie, although it didn't fulfill all of my - perhaps unreasonably high - expectations. Those expecting a very exciting, action-packed and thrilling motion picture will definitely be disappointed; although the film has its share of shoot-outs and deaths, it is more of a drama rather than a thriller or action picture, and thus succeeds at telling the story of the very interesting John Dillinger (Depp) without resorting to pointless action sequences or explosions. In fact, it is somehow old-fashioned in this respect, having more in common with movies like The Maltese Falcon than with the average star-studded summer movie of the 21st century.

The film tells the story of John Dillinger, and actually starts with him escaping a maximum-security prison with most of his gang alive. He already has quite a reputation as one of the most successful and daring bank-robbers of his time (the 1930s) but isn't planning on stopping to do what he does best, at least not on the short run. He becomes involved with a very pretty coat-check girl named Billie Frechette (the superb Mario Cotillard) and also becomes the obsession of FBI big boss Edgard J. Hoover (Billy Crudup), who assigns agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) as the head of the office whose mission is to apprehend Dillinger. Needless to say, most of the film is dedicated to Dillinger's seemingly-superficial relationship with Billie, but most importantly, to Purvis' hunt of the famous robber.

Although director Michael Mann has proved in the past that he can be a master of tension and intensity, even when working with a not-so-great screenplay (as in the case of Miami Vice), he has decided not to turn Public Enemies into an action-fest, and I applaud him for that. He understands that, being the story of a real life figure, it is more interesting to present the film in a more dramatic, old-fashioned kind of way. Fortunately enough, he succeeds at emphasizing the drama having a particularly slow movie, although it definitely isn't as fast-paced as other movies of its ilk. Interestingly enough, it is the performances, the plot itself and the character interactions that managed to interest me the most in what was happening on-screen, not the few action sequences. Don't get me wrong - they are expertly shot - and there are a couple of very tense moments here and there - it's only that Mann hasn't made any of these sequences the real focus of the film.

Performances are superlative. Johnny Depp once again proves that he's one of the most chamaleonic actors alive. Although Dillinger is not presented in a truly three-dimensional fashion, Depp manages to make him a suitably sympathetic figure, a very charming and "cool" kind of character, without turning him into a caricature of a gangster. Marion Cotillard is, as usual, great, even if her character is nothing more than an archetypical love interest. Christian Bale is a little bland as Purvis - and his accent never managed to convince me - but that's more due to the screenplay than to his acting. As Edgar J. Hoover, on the other hand, Billy Crudup is great, and Stephen Graham (Snatch.) manages to create a truly memorable and vile character in the form of Baby Face Nelson.

If there's one thing that truly bothered me about the movie, though, and that, for my money, prevents it from being a quasy-masterpiece, it would be Mann's visual style. Not unlike his previous efforts, Collateral and the aforementioned Miami Vice, Mann has used digital videocameras to shoot the film - without ever trying to hide the fact that he is, in fact, using videocameras - and it doesn't really work at all times. He's shot most of the movie using hand-held cameras, and although this works during the shoot-outs or the more intense sequences, because of the "different" nature of the digital cameras, all the blurriness and confusion that Mann's shakiness cause can become distracting and bothersome, especially during scenes that take place at night. I don't mind Mann using digital cameras, but if he's going the digital way, at least he should try to use a less shaky kind of camera-work.

Visual style aside, Public Enemies is a very gripping and old-fashioned movie that should find its audience not in hormonal teenage boys and girls, but in a more mature moviegoers. It may not be as masterful as previous works of a similar nature, but due to its solid performances and emphasis of drama over action and explosions, it works as a very compelling character study of a gangster who, during his time, was lauded by the public and hated by the authorities. This aspect of public popularity is not particularly developed by the filmmakers - save a couple of scenes in which it is very evident - but Depp's performance, I think, is good enough to make the audience believe that, despite all his wrong-doings, the public would love a man like him.

28 out of 38 people found the following review useful:
A hilarious and imaginatively entertaining animated movie., 30 November 2009

Although - as many people do - I generally prefer Pixar films to the animated fare created by other companies, I can't deny that a film like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is very hard not to love. Although it isn't particularly complex, thought-provoking, beautiful or masterful, it's a very entertaining, funny, cute-as-hell and effective animated film. Children with definitely love it, and adults... well, that actually depends on the adult in question. Although I certainly enjoy all kinds of movies, there's always - for me - some satisfaction to be had when watching something so obviously goofy and kiddy. Meatballs is kiddy, and that's precisely what I loved about it. It may not be this year's best animated movie - that honour goes to Pixar's Up - but it certainly is better than the likes of Monsters vs. Aliens.

The film tells the story of Flint Lockwood (voice of Bill Hader), a young inventor who dreams of, someday, creating something that will be loved by everyone and make him more popular and, most importantly, improve the lives of everyone in town. Unfortunately, he hasn't been able to do so, and his technofobic father (voice of James Caan) doesn't really help at all. One day, though, he manages to invent something that will change the lives of everyone in town forever: a machine that makes food fall from the sky. Everybody seems to be happy with him now - including mayor Shelbourne (Bruce Campbell) and the by-the-book police offer, Earl (Mr. T) - but, predictably enough, something goes wrong: excess amounts of food start to overload the island where the town is located, and now Flint, along with TV reporter Sam Sparks (Anna Faris) has to try to solve their problem.

Yes, the plot is pretty predictable, and it certainly won't make anyone above the age of 5 be shocked with surprise or anything of the sort, but it certainly is very imaginative, and it should work in a very "oh, it's sort of nice" kind of way. I liked the way Flint was portrayed - Hader's wacky and not-so-recognizable voice is perfect for the character - and the fact that, although most characters are either archetypes or stereotypes - consider, for the example, Bruce Campbell's greedy and - eventually - obese mayor - they are all voice so professionally and characterized in such an naive and cute kind of way, that one just doesn't care. I rooted for Flint the whole way, and I actually thought that the romantic sub-plot between him and Sam was cute and funny.

Visually, I don't think the movie is on par to the likes of Wall-E or Up, but I think that comparing it to those productions would be a bit unfair. Wall-E had a sort-of realistic kind of look, and Up, while a little more cartoonish, had a very realistic flair to it. On the other hand, there's something very old-fashioned in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs' look and the way it is animated. Characters behave and move the way old TV cartoons behaved forty or more years ago, and I like that. They jump a lot, are very "agile" and are just... cartoonish. Clearly, the animators didn't want the movie to give a palpable sense of realism; in a way, they were trying to craft an old-fashioned cartoon with the latest technological tools, and they have done it very successfully.

What else can I say about the movie? It certainly is very naive, and it doesn't explore any deep themes or moral problems, but that's just OK. While this year's mediocre Monsters vs. Aliens was terribly simplistic, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is just simple, and there's nothing wrong with that. Of course, there's nothing wrong with movies like Wall-E having very significant messages and complex love stories and such, but if a parent wants to go with their toddler to see a movie that isn't very complicated but that isn't stupid or boring either, then Meatballs is an excellent choice. After all, even if there isn't much beneath the surface, I can't imagine a single adult maintaining a straight face throughout the film's runningtime. The movie is hilarious, - just remember Flint's father's eyebrows! -, it's inventive, it's imaginative; it's also pretty gorgeous and it features some effective voice acting and interesting, wacky characters. It's not dumb and it doesn't pander to the least common denominator. Most interestingly, though, it made me hungry. That's not a quality many movies posses.

District 9 (2009)
3 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
A very gritty and compelling sci-fi story., 30 November 2009

District 9 is different. There's no doubt about that. The premise is not totally original, but it feels fresh enough to prevent the audience from feeling they're watching a retread. It's also very smart, very exciting and visually arresting. Like some of the best science-fiction stories of all time, it actually has something to say, and it stimulates the mind instead of killing it. Is what Transformers 2 would have wanted to be - yes, there's even a fight sequence in District 9 involving a big robot and it's a thousand times better than anything present in Michael Bay's movie - and what most sci-fi movies should be. Granted, I guess a lot of people - especially teenagers - will hate it because it doesn't follow the usual rules of "summer blockbusters", but it matters not. Although it's got its share of action and special effects, this is by no means a typical Hollywood blockbuster, and I thank director Neil Blomkamp and producer Peter Jackson for that.

District 9 is an interesting motion picture. During the majority of its considerable running time, the film is constructed as a mockumentary, with interviews with "experts" and even the protagonist's family being intercut with the actual events of the movie. And the actual events are shot and cut in a very "in your face" kind of manner, with a particular sequence - that in which Wilkus is infected - being the most obvious example. (The cameraman is an actual character.) Fortunately, the camera-work is not as shaky as in, say, Cloverfield, and the technique never really turns into a gimmick. Actually, Blomkamp's gritty, realistic approach works wonderfully, giving the movie a sense of verisimilitude that adds some gravitas to the proceedings. It makes the viewer feel like part of this world.

A lot must be said too about the film's special effects, which add to the feeling of realism instead of detracting from it. Simply put, they are top-notch, something that is quite surprising considering the film's modest budget of $30 000 000. The aliens' design is effective, and although they were all created in a computer, there wasn't a single moment in which I thought they were digital creations instead of palpable characters. The few action sequences the film provides with are all pulse-pounding and expertly shot - Michael Bay should definitely watch this movie -. (Consider the finale involving the giant, alien robot, for example.) Most importantly, though, the effects never call attention to themselves, and they make an appearance because they are needed, not because the filmmakers wanted to craft a CGI stravaganza.

Clearly, the film's tone is not very optimistic or cheerful, but that goes with the material. After all, it present a world in which aliens are "greeted" with discrimination and greed, and every good intention humankind could have had before is quickly disappearing. From a visual point of view, Blomkamp conveys this with a very gritty, almost black-and-white cinematography - this is a very bleak world in which people - and aliens - get all bloody, messy, dirty and even killed. On the other hand, although most people might think they "should" root for Wilke, things aren't as simple as they look. The way Blomkamp makes the viewer see things is very interesting - Wilke is not a "bad" man, but since he does things that look as terrible as anything done by a stereotypical movie villain, one doesn't really know if he's a protagonist worth rooting for or not. Maybe that's why the aliens - especially Christopher Johnson - were given a humanoid look and human-like mannerisms. Considering how they are treated, one should expect to feel sympathetic for them.

Still, compared to how scientists and greedy company CEOs are portrayed, Wilke is almost an angel. After all, there's still some humanity left in him - he has a a wife that he loves, for example -, and he becomes even more humane during the last few scenes, even though he suffers a transformation that, in theory, should make him less of a human. If anything, the movie shows how people can be overridden by greed and xenophobia and that, ultimately, they would care more about money and power than the human - or alien - condition. The worst thing about this is that, if aliens ever visit out planet, there are more chances of us treating them like they are treated in the movie, than of being all benevolent and peaceful. One only has to give a brief look to any history book to find proof of this.

District 9 won't make anyone feel happy or joyful, but that's beside the point. It's a very compelling movie that works in both a visceral and intellectual level, and that should be enjoyed by any "serious" science fiction aficionado. It's got some exciting actual sequences, amazing special effects and a very well-thought premise but, most importantly, it also has an interesting - and sadly plausible - message about humanity. The film's ending is also something of a set up for a sequel, but unlike other movies, it doesn't feel neither incomplete nor unsatisfying. I, for one, would certainly like a sequel to be made, although I have no idea of how Blomkamp could continue telling his story in such a believable and "in-your-face" kind of way. No matter. As it is, District 9 is one of the best sci-fi movies I've seen in some time.

61 out of 111 people found the following review useful:
Neither scary nor particularly funny..., 30 November 2009

Predictably, the only reason I went to see Jennifer's Body was because of Megan Fox. Not because I think she's a great actress - she's done nothing to prove this - but because... well, it's Megan Fox. The only reason why she was "discovered" by Michael Bay and put in the Transformers movies was because she's hot, and that's precisely the only reason why she was given her first starring role with Jennifer's Body. Because, really, although she isn't particularly awful - I've seen worst performances in porn movies - her performing skills don't deserve as much attention as she has been receiving. Yes, that basically means she doesn't give a very good performance in Jennifer's Body. And to be honest, that's something of a disappointment - before watching the movie, I had a little bit of hope that the reason why Fox had given such horrible performances in the Transformers movies was Michael Bay's inability to direct actors. After watching this movie, though, I concluded that Fox is nothing more than eye candy - whether she's directed by Bay or Martin Scorsese, she'll always give a bad performance.

The film tells the story of teenager Needy (Amanda Seyfried), whose best friend is the ridiculously hot Jennifer (Megan Fox). The former has a somehow timid but likable boyfriend, Chip (Johnny Simmons) while the latter loves the fact that she can sleep with whoever she wants whenever she wants. One night, Jennifer takes Needy to a bar to watch the semi-popular rock band Low Shoulder. The lead singer (Adam Brody) gives Needy the creeps but Jennifer likes him. After the show is abruptly ended by a fire, the group takes her to their van and they disappear... Needy fears the worst. Next day, though, Jennifer appears to be all right. It turns out that, instead of dying a pretty horrible death, she was turned into a demon who has to eat boys in order to maintain her hotness.

I understand what Diablo Cody (screenwritter of the fabulous Juno) tried to do. Instead of crafting a straight-forward horror story, she tried to write something a little more humorous and a little more quirky, but the problem with this approach is that the movie doesn't really know what it wants to do. At times, it can be hilarious - because the filmmakers are providing with a joke or gag or some weird-ish, quirky line -, while at others it can be unintentionally - and awfully - funny. And when it tries to be scary, it utterly - and somehow embarrassingly - fails. You'd have to be either a very small boy or girl or a very frightful person in order to be scared by the movie.

Although the aforementioned Fox is not very convincing as Jennifer - okay, that's unfair; she is convincing when portraying the mega-hot high-school girl because she's basically playing herself; it's when she turns into a boy-eating monster that things become laughable -, the rest of the cast are pretty much all right. Because Amanda Seyfried - who was delightful in the underrated Mamma Mia - can act, Fox's performance seems even more artificial than it already is. What's more - Needy is virtually the only believable character in the whole movie, which is a blessing considering she's the main one. Johnny Simmons is also very likable as Chip - his eventual fate was the only scene in the film that got me emotionally involved with what was happening on screen - and a very small supporting performance by J.K. Simmons - as a school teacher - is as memorable as things get in this film.

Those who want to watch the movie to catch a glimpse of a naked Megan Fox are definitely going to be disappointed. Although there's plenty of gore, guts and language, Fox never gets naked. During a weird skinny dipping scene, her nude body is hidden from view by tricky camera angles and other techniques, and the only really sexual scene in which she gets involved - not even Fox can make cannibalism hot - is a lesbian kissing sequence with Seyfried. Can't say it's not a hot scene - because it is - but it somehow seemed tame for today's standards. Really, though, these are only very small problems which I could have forgiven had the film worked as a horror flick - the main problem with Jennifer's Body is that it's neither scary nor laugh-out-loud funny.

Having seen and appreciated Juno, I was expecting more from screen writer Diablo Cody. This is a case of a very successful - and from what I gathered from her previous movie, talented - screen writer trying to do something different and failing. Yes, her intentions were really noble, but the end result - being, in this case, a motion picture - is nothing short of a disaster. While Amanda Seyfried tries to give her best - unlike Fox, she doesn't embarrass herself -, the rest of the production is so mediocre I can't believe someone thought it was worth releasing in theatres. If Jennifer's Body was a way to prove that Diablo Cody could write a successful horror film, it failed. And if it was to prove that Megan Fox was something more than eye candy, then it also failed. And really, Fox isn't that hot either. For my money, Seyfried is a million times prettier, and she has the advantage that, unlike Fox, she can act.

2012 (2009/I)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
A cheesy yet entertaining end-of-the-world film., 30 November 2009

2012 is not a particularly hard movie to review - that's because it belongs to such an specific sub-genre - the disaster/end of the world film - that it's almost impossible to be disappointed by it. That is, of course, if you watch it with the right expectations. One doesn't watch a film like 2012 expecting thorough characterizations, believable drama or exact science. All I expected from the movie was likable characters, amazing special effects and lots of destruction - and that's precisely what the film delivers. Because I went to see it with the right frame of mind, I enjoyed it. Granted, it isn't a good film by any means, but it's ridiculously entertaining, cheesy and visually exciting. And unlike films like Transformers 2 - which has very little redeeming value -, I didn't feel like my intelligence was being insulted. It simply wasn't required.

2012 follows fiction writer Jackson Curtis (John Cusack), who is on holidays in Yosemite with his children, until an earthquake warning makes them return home, but not before he meets a seemingly-crazy guy named Charlie Frost. (Woody Harrelson.) He warns Jackson that the end of the world is coming on December 21st, and although he may seem to be talking rubbish at first, his theories - based on the Mayan calendar - eventually prove to be true. Anyhow, Jackson arrives at his ex-wife's (Amanda Peet) house, just as the destruction of Los Angeles is about to begin. And this is where all the special effects start appearing, and also when our protagonists have to start fleeing from all sorts of disasters in the most seemingly-inane ways possible.

If there's one reason why people have flocked to see the movie, it is the special effects. And yes, these deserve a paragraph of their own because they are, simply put, amazing. Not credibly, mind you - these kinds of visually awesome disasters are almost impossible to make credible, and if they were, I'm sure they would be really boring - but interesting, tense and awe-inspiring. I'm not too sure which scenes involved a mixture of techniques and which ones involved pure CGI - well, maybe the more obvious ones would be the giant tsunami scenes -, but they all look breathtaking. Mind you, this is the end of the world we're talking about, so not only do they look incredible, but they also convey a sense of terror and desperation very hard to find in cheaper, lazier disaster films. The destruction of L.A. would be my favorite scene - not because you see lots of landmarks and recognizable places been destroyed - the city is pretty generic - but because it's a tense, pulse-pounding sequence that feels almost like a roller-coaster ride.

Now, don't get me wrong - although that's the best scene, it is not the only one involving chaos. Unlike other disaster pictures - including director Roland Emmerich's own The Day After Tomorrow -, 2012 doesn't involve a couple of cities - it involves the whole world, and it involves a whole variety of disasters. We get floods, tsunamis, earthquakes, ash rain, volcano eruptions... well, you get the idea. And although the main focus of the film is on the U.S., we also get glimpses of Brazil and even the Vatican getting blown to smithereens. It's all very entertaining and also very visually dynamic, and the variety of it not only left me in awe, but also made me realize I was watching the ultimate disaster film - it will be very hard for any filmmaker to top 2012.

And what about the actors? Emmerich, surprisingly enough, managed to get a very impressive roster of character actors - John Cusack, Amanda Peet and the amazingly insane Woody Harrelson I've already mentioned, but we've also got Chiwetel Ejiofor as a scientific adviser to the U.S. government, Danny Glover as the President, Thandie Newton as his daughter - and a potential love interest for the aforementioned scientist -, Oliver Platt as a somehow tired stereotype of the overambitious, selfish politician, and even Chin Han ("Mr. Lau" from The Dark Knight) in a small but significant role. They all fulfill their roles adequately and without looking too ridiculous but, most importantly, they understand that for both the filmmakers and their audience, they are less important than the special effects and the thrills the film has to offer.

The conclusion is silly - and has a very sci-fi feel to it - and there are some very fatuous, ridiculous moments, but the overall package is satisfying, if not completely successful. The screenplay is unapologetically cheesy - and some of the lines these respected actors have to say are simply terrible, but in a hilarious sort of way - and the direction is as over-the-top as it could be, but the amazing special effects and the whole grandeur the filmmakers convey more than compensates for it. And unlike directors like Michael Bay, who don't seem to know how to hold a camera still or how to maintain a shot for more than half a second, Emmerich allows his audience to be amazed by the special effects, providing with many epic "money-shots" and competent action sequences. 2012 may not be a "good" movie in the traditional sense of the word, but it certainly is lots of fun. Yes, cheesy, over-the-top and even a little long, but fun.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A flawed but undeniably entertaining CGI adaptation., 30 November 2009

A Christmas Carol is one of Dickens' most famous stories and, in turn, one that is adapted to the film medium all the time. While Robert Zemeckis' most recent version might be the most emotionally involving or mature, it definitely is the most fun and visually stimulating one. I'm sure many people will criticize because, to them, it trivializes Dickens' original story, turning it into something that belongs on a Play Station 3. And to a certain extent, this is true - the film looks amazing, but videogames are also starting to look equally amazing. But I disagree. While this aspect might be somehow distracting, the movie is entertaining enough to make one forget the - sometimes - cheesiness of the - admittedly impressive - animation and just enjoy the story.

I won't re-tell the story of the ever selfish Scrooge (here played by a CGI Jim Carrey) and how he gets visited by three ghosts in order to change the way he lives and views life and the people around him. It's well known enough, and for those four who don't know what I'm talking about, I'm sure you'll be able to find enough information about Dickens' story on the web. (Or better yet, you could actually read the original tale.) What I want to do is to focus on the way Zemeckis interprets the story - because, although for the most part he stays very faithful to Dickens, he has added a couple of scenes and situations that, although they make the movie somehow more entertaining - especially for children - they feel out-of-place. Consider the scene in which a tiny Scrooge gets involved in an action-packed chase - it's all very pretty and visually stimulating, but it doesn't feel like it belongs to a movie of this sort. Don't take me wrong, though - although there are "showy" moments like this in which Zemeckis is clearly trying to make the most of the 3D version of the film, A Christmas Carol is dark and faithful enough to the original tale for adults to take it suitably seriously.

Voice work is excellent. Jim Carrey is just perfect as Scrooge, and his work voicing the three ghosts is really good too. Gary Oldman plays a variety of roles - although one of them actually features his own physical likeness - and Bob Hoskins, Robin Wright Penn, Colin Firth, and Cary Elwes all do their jobs in their smaller - but not unimportant - roles. Visually, as said before, the movie is a marvel. Characters look very lifelike - surpassing everything Zemeckis accomplished with his previous two animated movies, The Polar Express and Beowful - the eyes are getting less and less creepy with each production - and the overall design is breathtaking. The opening scenes, in which the camera flies over Victorian London, is simply phenomenal, and although the "action" sequences are definitely out-of-place, they are quite entertaining on their own right.

What else can be said about the movie? It isn't the most emotional version of the story - if there's something that clearly makes this interpretation inferior to previous adaptations, is that Zemeckis favours visual razzle-dazzle over emotional impact. The film looks amazing, that's for sure, but Scrooge transformation didn't affect me that way I would've liked it to. Still, that doesn't mean the movie lacks any kind of emotional impact - it just isn't as powerful as it could have been. The thing is, being an animated Disney movie and all, this version of A Christmas Carol is clearly focused on entertaining kids, so - at least from a marketing standpoint - it made sense for Zemeckis to insert more "actiony" scenes so that children wouldn't get bored.

So is this the best version of A Christmas Carol there is? Definitely not. But it certainly is the most visually stunning, and one of the most entertaining. Indeed, for those who haven't become tired of watching the same story time and time again - in different versions, of course -, this represents a solid hour and a half of pretty-looking, solidly-acted, animated entertainment.

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