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151 reviews in total 
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Knowing (2009)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Aside from a few riveting moments, annoyance and boredom permeate., 4 April 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Knowing - A page of numbers found in a time capsule from 50 years ago reveals the date and body count for every major disaster (really? on just one double sided page?) from then until up to now. It's up to Ben Gates...I mean Edward Malus...I mean John Koestler (Nicolas Cage) to save the day.

Before I get to the review, anyone else tired of one word titles that this year in particular seems to have accumulated? Taken, Push, Knowing, Duplicity, Fighting, Obsessed... It should be fairly insulting that marketing groups think our intellects cannot remember a title that's more than a word long.

Nicolas Cage is Nicolas Cage. He's been giving the same performance with different levels of quirk and moroseness thrown in for the last 10 years, so you pretty much know what you're getting in to. He's got another dead relative to grieve over, and is rocking the single parent act again. His kid in this film, well...the less said the better. Okay I'll say it. Are there any good child actors in Hollywood? Is it all just based on who Julia Roberts' kid goes on play dates with? The first 20 minutes or so of the film are a bore, as the film takes the longest time of any in recent memory to roll through the credits. Things pick up occasionally and get very visceral, but by contrast make the low points feel that much lower. The film feels very long with several scenes that should have been cut. When there is action, the camera perks right up and we have some quality camera work, but this only happens two or three times. It felt like waiting for a car crash at a NASCAR race. The script offers few thrills as well. Funny (or is predictable?) that a film about knowing what is to come should offer so few surprises.

Another note-worthy problem which this film takes part in: the role and rules of prophecy. Prophecy is in the ranks of time travel in the writer's arsenal; an interchangeable plot device that gets used to the point of abuse. Either prophecies come true and there's nothing we can do about them, in which case there is no reason to watch. Or prophecies can be defied, in which case they were never truly prophecies, which is annoying.

This film has the guts to go through with it's prophecy, but it's still unsatisfying. I feel fairly disgusted that the film implies and seems to campaign for several of my least favorite ideologies: Scientology, Creative Design and the end of the Mayan Calender. Overall the film felt like a waste of time. If it felt meaningful or well made to you, you probably haven't thought it through well enough.

It didn't have Nic Cage in a bear suit and spin kicking women, but it was enough. D+

Watchmen (2009)
2 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Not all of it meshes, but very entertaining., 8 March 2009

Watchmen - Zack Snyder's much awaited treatment of the Alan Moore saga has vigilante Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) on the hunt for the person responsible for another superhero's death. In a sweeping epic that spans several decades, we see an alternate world where the U.S.A won Vietnam, Richard Nixon serves as president for three terms, and America has Dr. Manhattan, a man turned demi-god with unfortunately the same amount of vested interest in our human affairs.

Goodness, it took an ordeal to bring this to the cinema. I hope those who have waited far longer than me for Watchman are satisfied with the results. More than satisfied in my case. I enjoyed the graphic novel, loved Rorschach and Ozymandias, but didn't acquire quite the same level of adoration as millions of other comic book fans. I can safely say that Zack Snyder and screenwriter David Hayter did a fine job transposing the enormous source material into something fitting for the cinema. Is it perfect? No. But it's as good as anyone could hope for, and I had a really good time.

First off, Jackie Earle Haley deserves much props, if not some sort of nomination for bringing this excellent portrayal of Rorschach to the screen. He is an inspired choice, though I will always wonder how Daniel Craig would have done. Patrick Wilson brings the persona of Clark Kent to a very Adam West Batman (costume-wise) version of the second Nite Owl. Billy Crudup's voice is soothing and appropriate as Dr. Manhattan. Matthew Goode was intellectual and intimidating as Ozymandias. I hope to see more from him in the future.

I won't nit-pick about what was left out of the film because that's a fairly useless way to go about things on what is a FILM review. I learned my lesson when I was 13 and would not stop nit-picking about what was left out of a Harry Potter film. What is important is that this film contains much of the spirit of the original source. Watchman is still very much so a thinking comic book fan's film. Whether it appeals to audiences outside of that group is up to the box office figures to say.

I won't deny there are some cogs that don't mesh. For the love of God, could our make-up and prosthetics teams come as far as CGI has in the last 17 years? Some of the agings are fairly unrealistic. The violence didn't need to be quite this graphic, which is not to say the fights weren't entertaining. They are, but some of the bone crunching would have been more effective had it not been so splattered in our faces. The fights are lovely and visceral, but more befitting of current superhero films than of Moore's original work. Hence my being on the fence about that subject. There's also the heavy hint of Snyder's slo-motion work, which was really over-used on 300 and borders on being so at times here.

Not all of Watchmen meshes as a whole, but it's still an entertaining film that I'd gladly see again. A must for fans of comic books, philosophy and history, Watchmen gets a B+

Taken (2008/I)
1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Fun but predictable., 31 January 2009

Taken - Brian is divorced but still deeply loves his daughter. Consequently he's very protective of her, and doesn't want her to go to France. Brian relents and, sure enough, the daughter is kidnapped in France and he goes in to bust some heads and rescue her. Also along for the ride is Famke Janssen as the bitchy ex-wife Lenore, and that's about as much of a character as she gets.

Look, there's not a whole lot in this film that has not been done before. Your taste for this is limited to how much you enjoy Liam Neeson knocking out, killing, or otherwise incapacitating 50 or 60 people. As unbelievable as that strike it. It's just largely unbelievable. There are many things that are unbelievable in this film, such as killing so many people, in another country no less, with no repercussions. Also the various technological devices used to get Brian from points A to B to C border on magic. But the fights are so pretty and hard and fast.

Liam Neeson does a decent turn as Brian. I love his attempt at an American accent. I hope it replaces Arnold's voice in popularity in the 21st century. It's hard to believe his able to go from mildly over-protective humble giant to Frank Castle in the course of a plane trip, but those who have lost family members in the past are free to dispute that. His willingness to put innocents in similar predicaments does him for favors in my eyes though.

In the end we learn four crucial lessons from this: 1) Never go to a foreign country. 2) Foreign countries only want to sell our women for prostitution. 3) Over protective fathers are always right. and 4) A father's love for his daughter extends to using torture on others to ensure her safety. Why oh why do we have a film advertising torture days after a new president bans it's use? *sigh* I just had to laugh afterwards. All the film needed at the end was a "This could happen to YOU!!!" Fun, fast, simple-minded and hard-edged. Just don't go in expecting any life lessons whatsoever. B-

Another spin on the annoying Blair Witch legacy., 9 January 2009

Diary of the Dead - George A. Romero's fifth zombie film that involves a bus-load of college kids and their film teacher driving around to....give the film a plot I suppose. This is unconnected to the previous quadrilogy, a wise move considering Land of the Dead was pretty questionable in quality and kind of left nowhere to go. However the style chosen, a Blair Witch theme, does the film's thematic style no favors and probably one of the reasons it didn't merit a theatrical release in the US (Considering that Cloverfield mess also coming out in 2008).

The film starts out with some fairly whiny kids shooting a horror picture about mummies. An obvious nod to the infamous "running vs. walking undead" is made, and then the main kid named Jason, keeps filming after the end of the scene in his film, even before any mention of the undead is made. Then he never stops filming, even to defend himself. It's a small thing, but opens the floor for the question of "why keep filming?". The answer is "To let everyone know what happened". It's a pretty weak excuse because anyone within the film who DOES survive has probably got a good idea of what happened already. There's no point. My main point is that these Blair Witch knock-offs have to stop. They just aren't very scary. When I see Romero knocking off Blair Witch, things have gotten out of hand. It's like if Steven Spielberg started knocking off Michael Bay. In the span of a year and a half we've had three of these films, and it's too many. POV is fun, when done sparingly like The Descent. When it's the whole film it just makes no sense, and is nauseating on the big screen.

Romero is famous for his social commentary, but generally it used to play second or third fiddle to the zombies and the characters. Not this time. Romero is just hitting us over the head with issues left and right. Blogging, internet overcrowding, youtube and Hurricane Katrina are just some of the themes narrated languidly by the main girl Debra (Michelle Morgan) who sounds zoned out on Valium. Her really annoying boyfriend Jason (Joshua Close) is the main schlubb doomed to never have his face on camera. They are accompanied by a decent enough crew of red shirts who don't really get enough time to be full fledged characters. The worst (and mercifully shortest time on screen) performance is from Ridley (Philip Riccio). There is the memorable exception of the truly interesting character of Andrew Maxwell (Scott Wentworth), played by a London Theater and Broadway actor who deserves to be in better films than this. I do love my Brits in my zombie films. Wentworth has such a dry sometimes cheeky personae and many of the (admittedly few) best lines and moments.

Note to Romero: drama, societal issues, and cartoon violence don't go together well. You can't have it both ways. This is the third film I've seen make that mistake this year and the mishmash is just ridiculous. This was shot in 23 days so I'm going to assume it was pretty rushed in production. At least that's how it looks. Half the zombies have no physical signs of bites and the blood is way too brightly colored. Bottom line, a lot of the stuff looks fake. You'd think working under (count 'em) 5 production companies could buy a better movie. It does not. Oh Canada. Where would we get our zombies movies without you? Occasionally fun. Mostly ridiculous and eye-roll worthy. Romero, you haven't been able to do a halfway decent zombie film in 20 years. Leave the subgenre to the new kids and the runners. We don't go to zombie films for the social subtext. C.

2 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
A taste of old school in these troubled times., 9 January 2009

Gran Torino - Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) is a Korean War vet with a mean temper and an unlimited bag of racist slurs. He unwisely chooses to live in a run down urban area in Detroit with gangs aplomb. After his Hmong next door neighbor Thao (Bee Vang) unsuccessfully tries to steal Walt's Gran Torino, the boy is ordered to work for Walt for absolution.

Clint Eastwood delivers a great performance. The man is still damn intimidating, even at 78, with a face chiseled out of concrete and those just plain mean eyes. I'd be hesitant over whether I could take him. He's also damn funny, with his world weary attitude and obvious disappointment with just about everything. The mentioned racial slurs are ever so tongue and cheek, making the film just about as guilty an old school pleasure as can be. It's a comfort knowing, behind the screen, that Eastwood doesn't mean any of them. This also comes through on screen as well because Walt's interactions with the "Chinks" next door proves many of his assumptions wrong. Gran Torino has a few clichés sure, but the ones used work and work well. It's the truth and feeling behind them that is important.

It's the first film Clint has made in a long time I've felt like I could watch over again and probably buy the DVD. Unforgiven, Letters from Iwo Jima, Million Dollar Baby, Changeling... All good to great films. Not a one of them I could sit through and watch again. They're just too painful and touch far too many vulnerable points. Gran Torino has wit to go with it's heart and head. This film considers what is going on in our society and what our younger generations are being passed down. I'm a young man, and I can safely say that generally, my generation is not polite and rather ungrateful. Torino also hits several sore spots considering violence. Eastwood is tired of violence. It's made far too easy down on film and the act of killing has been marginalized over the years without being given the magnitude it deserves.

Perhaps it's because I love the Dirty Harry films and Eastwood so much, or perhaps because the film touched the old soul within me that constantly wonders just what the heck is going so wrong right now, but this film really spoke to me. It's one of the best, and last, films of 2008, and I enjoyed every minute. Gran Torino gets an A.

Hancock (2008)
3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
This film gave me a headache., 6 January 2009

Hancock - The streets of New York are simultaneously protected and suffer the excessive collateral damage done by Hancock (Will Smith), a none too nice and largely ineffective superhero. He saves the life of a similarly ineffective (though is not presented as so) personal relations agent named Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman) who is so grateful that he dedicates his career to improving Hancock's image, despite the lack of any real fiscal benefits from doing so. But Embrey is one of those humanitarian P.R. reps you read so much about, whose pitch to the corporations always seems to involve them giving away their products for free. They unsurprisingly decide to do otherwise.

The first thirty minutes or so of the film are decent enough. It's mildly amusing to watch a superhero that genuinely doesn't seem to give a crap about anything. Hancock causes a tremendous amount of collateral damage. But if he ultimately doesn't care about people, then why try and help at all? Hancock is supposed to be an "asshole", but comes off as just morose. Smith's been playing that a lot lately and judging by the box office receipts, it's what people want. The film could explore why Hancock feels he owes anything at all to these people. It does not. Note to filmmakers: Never make a superhero without motivation.

It's when Hancock voluntarily goes to jail that the film slants into place getting ready for a tremendous nose dive. It becomes boring (superhero sits around in jail = fun movie?) and changes from a comedy to a drama, a critical mistake partly because the writing of the second half is seriously lackluster. The other reason is the special effects are just not good enough for a dramatic film. They come off as cartoonish. Things disintegrate on impact far too easily like there was nothing holding them together in the first place. If Hancock has the mass and strength to stop a train without any recoil and makes craters on landings (inconsistently for comic purposes I suppose), then shouldn't the mere act of walking or running around cause mild earthquakes?

I mentioned the second half of the film. It absolutely sucks. I was having a migraine trying to figure out what was going on with Charlize Theron's character, and her's and Hancock's back story in general. The whole thing doesn't make a lick of sense. There's just a series of fights for absolutely no reason other that to satisfy action junkies. This is the first and hopefully last time I ever see Jason Bateman take part in an action sequence. Hancock really felt rushed, I assume because the call of the July 4th box office. Money beats art any day of the week. The producers of Hancock know this, and Bateman's character should have known it too.

Boring and rushed in appearance and execution, Hancock gets a D+

5 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Boring, unoriginal and without personality., 2 January 2009

The Tale of Despereaux - The story of Despereaux (voiced by Matthew Broderick) involves a dangerously brave big-eared mouse trying to rescue his princess and bring back cheer to the land of Dor. March of the Penguins brought us a rush of those miserable penguin cartoons, and it looks like Ratatoulle did the same for films involving mice and cooking. Not only does the film derive much from Ratatouille, but Gulliver's Travels and Dumbo (yes, the mouse can fly) as well. Its morals are also lifted from Charlotte's Web and just about any fantasy story you can think of.

"Despereaux" also features a much better cast than it deserves, with William H. Macy, Kevin Kline, Robbie Coltrane, Christopher Lloyd, Emma Watson, Dustin Hoffman and Sigourny Weaver. They all give decent performances, but none portray three dimensional characters or are given anything witty to say. Dustin Hoffman is stuck as a somber and bitter rat. In fact most of the characters are bitter. Poor Sigourney Weaver is stuck dully narrating, or rather lecturing cheap morals to the audience. There's lots of "Remember when I said"'s and heavy layering of the smarm, making this G-rated film exclusively for the very young. There's a bitter irony in the film's message of being liked for who you are and togetherness when there seems to be some sort of race war between the mice and the rats. Is there so much difference between mice and rats when it comes to which you'd prefer in a kitchen? Apparently. Mice town resembles a quaint normal countryside whilst Rat town is a Middle eastern harem in appearance. Who says the racist soul of Disney is dried up? Ah Perhaps I'm just reading too much into it.

This is directed by Robert Stevenhagen and Sam Fell, the latter of whom should have also done the writing. Fell's 2006 film Flushed Away is infinitely superior in style, personality and wit. Broderick gives a game performance, but Despereaux has no personality beyond being the stock hero. He's brave, and mice are supposed to be cowardly. The writers never try to explain just why a mouse by all rights should be afraid. One sidenote, and a BIG sidenote: what was up with the man made of vegetables? There's no other real magic in the film, other than the presence of soup in the town of Dor having some strange effect on the weather patterns, so what's the deal? Note to filmmakers: When there's magic in your film, tell the audience in advance and why, and set rules. It's a particularly bad and lazy way to do things to just have the soup chef conversing with a magic sprite made of vegetables for no reason. There's a sentence I thought I'd never write.

I don't normally comment on the animation, but every person in the film looks terrible. The mice and rats are decently rendered, but all of the people look like crap. The fantasy sequences look like something cranked out on mid 90's technology. The scenery too is dull without any sort of vibrancy. At least it matches the tone of the film. Would it have killed the writers to put in a few more jokes or a fun villain? Despereaux is palatable, and mercifully short. There are some minor thrills and a chuckle or two, but this is recommended to children and their patient and tolerant parents. The Tale of Despereaux gets a C-

24 out of 31 people found the following review useful:
Good story. Interesting and mostly believable in presentation., 1 January 2009

The Duchess - Set at the end of the eighteenth century, The Duchess is based on the life of Georgiana Cavendish (Kiera Knightley), Duchess of Devonshire. The film delves into Georgiana's passionate and doomed affair with Earl Grey, the future Prime Minister, and the complex love triangle with her husband (Ralph Fiennes) and Georgiana's best friend, Lady Bess Foster (Hayley Atwell).

Kiera Knightley again does a period piece and again looks mostly out of place. She's British alright, but a few stone away from looking like she belongs in 1770's Britain. It's augmented by the fact that her character, based on a real woman, was supposed to have gone through about 6 pregnancies, 4 of them successful. Knightley's emaciated form is just wrong. What is right though, is her performance. As a mother, as a chasismatic political presence and a woman desperate for a happy life she nails it absolutely.

I could have seen a little less focus on the love triangle and a little more on the "hows" and "whys" of this woman becoming such an important and popular cultural icon in British society. The film glosses over how this came to be, and asks us to take it as a fact after one brief scene showing the Duchess's political shrewdness. It's another case of Hollywood ignoring what's different about a film, preferring the safety of delivering what people have seen before.

Fiennes gives such a quiet performance right from the start but it grows and fills the area. It's often a mesmerizing performance because of his rigid adherence to societies expectations and rules at the cost of all else. Fiennes occupies the screen whenever he's in a scene. When he and the Duchess argue, she's like water smashing up against the unyielding cliff. Ralph Fiennes is aw-inspiringly scary in one scene without seeming in anyway over the top or demonizing of what his character represents. Ultimately his character is human and believable; purely a man of his times. His character is so down to earth and in the end simple. All he wanted from his marriage was a son and to be left alone to play with his dogs.

A mesmerizing turn from Fiennes in a likable, if familiar film, The Duchess gets a B+

2 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Good little movie., 28 December 2008

Slumdog Millionaire - A former street child Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) from Mumbai is arrested and questioned for knowing all of the answers on an Indian version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" He explains, in flashbacks, his past and how he has come to know all the answers to the questions. The film is shot and diced up with three time lines: Jamal's childhood, his experience on the show, and his recounting of both to the police. It's a cool novel way to tell a story that is essentially a love story between Jamal and Latika (Frieda Pinto)

The first half of the film is gritty, urban and akin to realism in aesthetics. The rundown lived in qualities of India are rich and very human. I enjoyed them in Salaam Bombay and I liked them here. It's very pleasant to see India's culture unadulterated. India is beautiful and beautifully shot. I expect this film will get many props for Cinematography. The soundtrack is also very good, with many catchy easy-to-groove-to songs. The performances are all top notch. It's a sweet little journey Jamal and his big brother Salim (Madhur Mittal) are on. They commit all sorts of trickery and get into much hi-jinx to survive.

It's the main contrivance of the plot (the catch) that is irritating, and leads to the pulpy fluff of the second half. Nearly EVERY question asked on the show pertains to this young man's life in some key way? He didn't study at all? I just have to roll my eyes, and did several times. Many of the questions are also dead easy in addition to corresponding far too easily with Jamal's past. It's less a tale of a poor man making it to fame and riches with his own abilities than being carried there by the movie gods.

In the end, we have a rather good movie that should not be held up to the hype surrounding it. This happened for me with Babel a few years ago. It's a shame we have awards and award campaigning to cloud our judgments on films. This will probably be held up as better than it is by people looking for hope in our current depression. Slumdog's not the best I've seen this year, but it's still a good little movie that rekindles the faith lost in Danny Boyle after Sunshine. Good but not the best, Slumdog gets a B+

War, Inc. (2008)
5 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
So....wasn't it supposed to be funny?, 27 December 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

War, Inc. - Corporations take over war in the future and use a lone assassin Brand Hauser (John Cusack) to do their wet-work against rival CEOs. A dark comedy satirizing the military and corporations alike. It was often difficult to figure out what exactly was going on. I kept waiting for things to make sense. There's no reason or method to the madness.

It's considered by Cusack to be the "spiritual successor" to Grosse Point Blank. I.e., War is more or less a knock-off. We again see Cusack as an assassin protecting *spoiler* the person he's supposed to kill as he grips with his conscience. To be fair, John Cusack looks kind of credible taking out half a dozen guys with relative ease. The brief fights look good. The rest of the film does not. It's all quirky often bordering on bizarre. War Inc's not funny enough to be a parody, and too buoyant for anyone to even think about whatever the film's message might be, which I suppose might be the heartless ways that corporations, like war factions compete and scheme without a drop of consideration given to how they affect average citizens. Interesting, but the satire just doesn't work because it's not funny and at its heart the film has no heart. We're supposed to give a damn about how war affects Cusack's shell of a character rather than the millions of lives torn apart by war.

John Cusack gives a decent performance. His character chugs shots of hot sauce and drives the tiniest private plane but quirks are meant to replace character traits. Marisa Tomei is slumming as the romantic sidekick journalist. There really isn't a lot of chemistry between them. Hilary Duff tries a Russian accent and doesn't make a fool of herself. Joan Cusack just screams and whines and wigs out. Blech. Ben Kingsley might have to return the Oscar if he doesn't start doling out a decent performance now and again. Pathetic.

It's not a terrible movie, but in the end you gotta ask "War, what is it good for?" Absolutely nothing. C-

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