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Green Lantern (2011)
4/10
The most powerful force in the galaxy is not Fear or Will, but Boredom.
24 June 2011
Green Lantern - Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) receives a ring from a mysterious dying alien and finds that through it his thought can be turned into reality. He uses the ring to fight a fear-based enemy Parralax, which is not a pharmaceutical drug but an intergalactic glob of space doom.

You know, for a story of such intergalactic peril, it's hard for me to remember anything of significance. The movie is literally slipping from my mind, but I'll do my best to diagnose the film.

The Good: The Green Lantern planet of Oa, and the power ring effects are pretty. The performances aren't bad. Ryan Reynolds is a good actor, even though he wouldn't have been my choice for Hall Jordan. Peter Saarsgard is also good as Hector Hammond, and the film would have benefited from more of him. Whenever Mark Strong appears, I feel like caring. There's a training sequence that is easily the most entertaining thing in this film. Mark Strong just has a gravitas and an intensity that the movie needed more of. That's not to say that the rest of the film is full of laughs. It's not. Humor would have also added a lot to the film.

The Bad: About that lack of humor. I'm going to blame most of the faults in this film on the writers. Nearly all of them have only written for television. They've all produced more than written, and two of them have written for No Ordinary Family and the bad half of Heroes. Oy. To quote the Mythbusters in a pseudo-plumber voice: "Well there's your problem." There are a bunch of superfluous scenes and some fairly random cuts to unrelated stories scattered through the film. Nearly everyone mentions Hal's dad's jet fighter fatality to him at least once, just to make sure we remember. Then there's the problem that the audience is supposed to believe two test pilots, a senator, and biology scientist all know each other stretching back to childhood or are related. And two of them receive superpowers. It's not like this is going to ruin the film. It's just another thing that subtly tells you someone wasn't trying. And that's the gist I get from this film.

The film basically has no real antagonist. There's a floating cloud of blackish-yellow Parralax doom, but it never really poses a threat. It's kind of laughable that Hal Jordan travels to Oa and back to Earth twice before Parralax could conceivably reach either. Thank goodness when it gets to Earth it attacks the half of that planet that's in broad daylight, or you'd never find it. Hector Hammond should be a better nemesis, as he has telekinesis and telepathy and an actual personality, but the film spends too much time trying to make him sympathetic rather than a true villain. He has no real scheme or goals, he's just a victim of Parralax. I know the reason the filmmakers went with these two sad sacks is they want to save Sinestro for a sequel, but judging from the box-office returns (only $50 million on the opening weekend? for shame.) they should have hedged their bets and spent that rainy day money early.

Because there's no real villain, the problem Hal faces is...self doubt. How exciting. He has substantial fears, which is exactly the sort of thing I would think should probably disqualify someone from being a test pilot. Anywho, I think Hal's real problem is a lack of imagination. A minigun, chainsaw, and a couple of jet fighters are the most interesting things Hal does with the ring.

The Ugly: The film has a drastic overuse of CGI. Green Lantern should at LEAST have a real honest to goodness costume. Superman's from another planet too, but his costume is made of honest to goodness cloth. It's hard to really be interested in a hero when 85% of his body is digital. And when his power is to create green CGI from the power of will, there should be more creative uses than what we see. What should be Hal's iconic entrance into the public eye has him instead - I kid you not - rollar skating a helicopter through a series of Matchbox Car-style loops to safety. Like a Cartoon. I think Daredevil slicing a man in half with a subway train was a better superhero introduction. Even the characters later admit how stupid and un-iconic an introduction Green Lantern's display of power was, which means the writers probably also knew.

Bottom line, the movie is ho hum. There's just no wow factor. Aliens and power rings and telepathy seem to faze almost nobody in this film. And if they're not interested, I'm not interested. There are few moments of power, depth, or interest or anything. Therefore, I give the film a D+
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Tron (2010)
6/10
Good for 10 year old boys. Disposable but not worth hating.
23 December 2010
Tron: Legacy - A sequel 28 years later to the original, Tron follows Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), son of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) the creator of Tron. Sam is called to his father's old arcade mysteriously and gets zapped into a program where he interacts with other bots including his father's doppelganger Clu (Jeff Bridges), a murderous zelot program.

This is a sequel that few waited for or wanted, probably. I suppose someone wanted to do a remake, but someone else had too much nostalgia to deny Jeff Bridges (guy's on a roll lately) another movie. It works much better as a sensory experience than a film. The atmosphere is enjoyable. Whilst everything in the Matrix was a flat black and green, here we get black, blue and orange! Although otherworlds are supposed to be vastly more complex and intricate than ours, look at how many colors they have and the simplistic nature will come crashing down to you. There's freaking nothing to do in the world of Tron. There are the discus gladiator matches and the races (both cool), but that seems to be all that's interesting in this world. Bottom line, the story sucks and the world doesn't feel like a universe worth exploring. It makes no sense for the most part (why are there storms in a computer world?). The Iso's aren't explained properly an neither is why a 20 year stalemate is in place between Clu and Kevin when they live a 5 minutes drive from each other and Kevin seems to care little for home defenses of any kind.

There's nostalgia aplomb. Bruce Boxleitner (guy from the first movie) appears at the beginning and end of the film. Sam puts a quarter in an old arcade game and I thought of the Zoltar machine from "Big". Journey's "Separate Ways" is used to great effect. That song, awful music video and all, is a good metaphor for this movie. Its feel is nice and it's a great song, but it's also a bunch of campy guys running around an empty warehouse with nothing to do.

The performances are a mix. Jeff Bridges is always welcome in a film, but here he is channeling "The Dude" from The Big Lebowski. He's all zenned out and I almost expected to here him say "this aggression will not stand" or "hey man, that's just like, your opinion man". Garrett Hedlund is pretty much a blank slate. There's nothing exceptional about his performance. I'd have forgotten his name if I didn't look him up. Olivia Wilde is better as Quora. She adds some much needed spunk and glee to the movie. A pity Garrett has so little chemistry with her. Cillian Murphy has a blink and you'll miss it cameo. He has to be one of the most talented working actors of his generation to be in so many bit parts in blockbuster films. Michael Sheen seems to be channeling campy devious performances from any 70s to 80s sci-fi film. Movies like "Logan's Run" or "Mad Max" come to mind as Michael chews scenery and does kicklines in albino makeup. And Jeff Bridges as Clu is a mix. He's good when he is malevolent and ambivalent in the first scene but keeps getting worse and worse and bellows at everyone far too much. And why do stadiums of loyal computer programs need so many over the top motivational speeches? Maybe that's how programming works in the world of Tron.

The effects and music are really the show. And a pretty good show at that. It would be better as a thrill ride than a 2 hour film. The music is fitting and atmospheric, so hats off to Daft Punk, though I'd like to hear what MGMT might have done. The film's story and universe don't really work, but the trimmings, costumes and effects are enough to warrant viewing. They, thankfully, will be what stays with you later.

Remember the CGI, forget the sci-fi, The Big LeTronski gets a C.
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5/10
Disappointing, though not quite the train wreck that was Public Enemies.
13 November 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Superman/ Batman: Apocaplyse - Superman's cousin Kara/ Supergirl is discovered in a meteorite, and her existence is a point of dispute for Batman and Superman, and she also becomes a being of interest for Darkseid.

The main problem with this film is the story and dialogue. Parts of the story don't quite make sense. Why does Kara emerge a full grown woman from her pod when Clark was a baby in his pod? Why was her trip so much longer than Kal-El's? Kara's alieness and lack of control of her powers seem to completely disappear with no explanation other than she goes to swing a sword with some Amazons for training. Why does a girl who can bend steel need sword training? Relations between characters are skimmed over for time, the creators are obviously hoping the audience will fill in those gaps. It's not enough to be told that someone is someone's best friend. That's lazy scripting. Kara's relationship with every character feels brief and 4 to 5 lines of dialogue long. There is a heartfelt scene mourning the loss of a character that literally had two or three lines of dialogue. Superman acts less like Kara's cousin but instead her father, which is weird, considering they were both babies when Krypton was destroyed and thus should be the same age.

With characters raced through poorly scripted scenes, there's no real emotional connection to these demi-gods. Fight scenes are impressive but unengaging. Thus there is never a moment of tension when main characters are constantly on the brink of dying, but don't. Batman and Wonder Woman are scripted as a stubborn jerk and a bitch, respectively.

The creators were hoping you'd ignore this and focus yet again n the stunt casting of Tim Daly, Kevin Conroy, Summer Glau and Andre Braugher. It's not enough as they have nothing good to say. Conroy in particular is wasted. It's less a script than a bare bones outline, this movie. Swearing, blood, and camp don't mix. I could go on, but you get the idea. It's not worthy of the Justice League of old, much less fine films like Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, Justice League: The New Frontier, or Batman: Under the Red Hood. At least it's not quite as jaw-droppingly bad as Superman Batman/ Public Enemies.

Other lowlights include Superman having a caped dog, which is dumb.
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5/10
Shallow and lacking. But what else could one expect from Jeph Loeb?
17 September 2010
Superman/Batman: Public Enemies - Lex Luthor becomes president because the DC world inevitably tips the scales in favor of Lex Luthor for some reason. Superheroes become outlaws, and a meteor of kryptonite is going hit Earth. This is based on a comic series written by Jeph Loeb.

One aspect of this story did not need to happen, and it's the meteor. By now, everyone must be rolling their eyes at the lack of rarity of kryptonite. Approximitely all of Krypton must have exploded onto Earth at this point. And there are other types of krytonite. Surely one of those could have brought a fresher element to the story, like say, Red Kryptonite? Batman and, more importantly, Superman being public outcasts (Batman has always been on the in and out with public opinion) is a far more interesting story. It the story this movie claimed to have been about, but decided it couldn't follow through on. Instead we get 5 minutes of plot and 55 of action. Intermittently there are spots of overly friendly dialogue between Batman and Superman (when the hell did that happen?) and fairly stark wooden dialogue from anybody else. Luthor's super-enforcers and Luthor's scene with Power Girl stand out best in my mind.

The animation is decent, but why oh why is everyone so overly muscled? Did necks go out of style? Genitalia must have too for Captain Atom because that looks like a skin tight suit. Power Girl is kind of a joke too, albeit decent eye candy.

Just to be clear, where did the rest of the Justice League go? And since when did Supes and Batman become an item (Batman doesn't like to be held? Awww. Intimacy issues)? Because the two men should be completely different and less trustworthy of each other to my knowledge, like when Batman kept a log on how to defeat every other member of the Justice League in case they turned rogue. It's a relationship the audience is to accept with no explanation, or lead into. There is a niceness to the differences in their combat styles. Batman's inventiveness, gadgetry and martial arts expertise are nicely demonstrated as he puts down superpowered foes. I also like Superman's ability to whip up tornadoes and flying of foes into levels of the atmosphere where they can't breath.

Frankly though, a little goes a long way. While action is expected over story in a 65 minute cartoon, it's too much muscle and no meat and bones. There is almost no drama, tension or story. It's a slugfest, worthy of a generic video game. While other films like Justice League: The New Frontier, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, and Batman: Under the Red Hood had drama, themes and issues to explore, this film does not. Superman never loses faith in humanity or doubts whether or not he is in the right. Lex Luthor is simply evil and cannot be trusted, which WE KNEW. It would have been better if some other politician had come around to demand a ban of the superheroes. Marvel's Civil War this isn't. The less I say about the end the better. It involves a giant robot/rocket, an irritating Japanese boy out of left field, and Lex Luthor losing whatever menace he ever possessed.

It's a shame and a lost potential. Kevin Conroy and Tim Daly should not be whored out like this for subpar animated films like this. And what the hell was with bringing John C. McGinley into the mix as Metallo and only giving him two lines?
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Iron Man 2 (2010)
8/10
A blast! well, several....
7 May 2010
Iron Man 2: Taking place immediately after Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) reveals himself as Iron Man, enigmatic rival Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) has some sort of grudge against the Stark family and builds his own unique suit of power armor. Flash forward, and Tony Stark finds not all is roses with his new life. His armor's power source is slowly killing him, and government suits and military forces are demanding the power armor be handed over.

I find it funny that when Iron Man first hit the scene in 2008, some people scathingly pointed out the similarities between Iron Man and Batman. Now that enough clear differences have been made between the characters and the original walks on water in many people's eyes, the sequel has been dismantled and hardly given unanimous praise. If you're wondering why I first mentioned Batman, it's because I find many of the complaints critics have made about Iron Man 2 to be the very things they loved about The Dark Knight. Too many supporting characters, too many plots juggling in the air, too dark, the villain isn't shown as much, and the film seems like a set-up for a sequel.

Suffice to say that, damn the critics, I had a great time. There is a perceptible change in tone and scale between the first and second movies, but on the whole, I think people want to see the universe a character occupies expand between movies. That child-like glee you felt at Iron Man flying for the first time? Yeah. Look we can't have a second film that just involves Tony tinkering in his workshop again. Sequels are supposed to offer challenges and complexity.

Robert is great. He brings believability and gravitas to a larger than life character. He shines particularly in some unexpected scenes such as one where he is trying to win Pepper's favor back (unsuccessfully). Tony really likes his redheads, as he's now juggling Pepper Pots and Natasha (the vivacious Scarlett Johanson). Gweneth Paltrow is sharper as Pepper this time around and seems more comfortable bantering with Tony a la Robert Altman. Am I the only one who notices that her character seems to spend a LOT of time watching shows where talking heads bash the Stark company? Kinda lends a perspective to her typically on-edge persona.

Don Cheadle gives more presence to the role of Rhodey than Terrence Howard, and by the end is swingin' one liners with the best of them. It's nice to see the director Jon Favreau on screen more this time as Happy Hogan the driver. Sam Rockwell is over the top and a treat in Stark-less scenes as part-time rival and full-time jackass Justin Hammer. Mickey Rourke disappears into the role of Ivan Vanko, and sans the Batman sequel, there isn't enough of him. He definitely makes his mark in the first third and the conclusion of the film. Iron Man has never been known to have the best villains, but the same could be said for most of the Marvel Universe (About half to two thirds are generic thugs with super-strength) as far as a realistic movie villain goes. I think Jon Favreau did well combining a few choice elements from a few villains and getting a great character actor like Rourke to play Whiplash. I'm extremely interested how he'll pull off the questionably named Mandarin.

The story holds interest through what some people might consider quieter moments. Despite many things given away in the trailers the film still has some surprises. There are thrills and laughs a plenty. Some of the action is frankly quite awesome. The film does not close quite as quickly as the first one did, but it still feels wrapped up too soon. There are some cool scenes hinting at the much anticipated Thor and Avengers films, I for one, can't wait. You can't go home again, but you can grow up. Iron Man 2 gets an A-
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Alice in Wonderland (I) (2010)
5/10
Incredibly pedestrian given the subject matter and the director!.
6 March 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Alice in Wonderland - Alice (Mia Wasikowska), now 20 years old, is being forced into an arranged marriage and decides to escape again to Wonderland. She finds her old band of weird misfit characters, The Hatter (Johnny Depp), The Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry), The Caterpillar (voiced by Alan Rickman), who all seem to know each other this time around. Team Alice must take on the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and it is up to Alice to slay the mighty Jabberwocky.

Of all the good directors to lose their touch, Burton's descent is probably the most interesting. Don't get me wrong, I love Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Big Fish, and Sleepy Hollow very much, but Burton has undeniably lost his touch over the last few years. A man always attracted to images, he has always enjoyed the imagery of horror but not necessarily the pathos behind it. Motivations and details tend to elude Burton's characters and their worlds in his works. Burton has gotten frankly lazy with his casting over the years. Now, in Burton's seventh film with Johnny Depp and his most eye popping yet conventional film yet, it is clear that Burton is comfortable in just letting the imagery and Danny Elfman's music do the dramatic work for him. If I found parts of Sweeney Todd boring and emotionally vapid, it had nothing on large chunks of Wonderland. There is not an ounce of drama to be found anywhere. Now I ask why would a man who has admitted to not being familiar with fairy tales or good scripts, desire to do Alice in Wonderland? If one had large chunks of time to spare, they could go over what a weird mistake it was to put Alice, whose original adventures ARE the archetype for the woman's adventure, squarely in an archetypal male's adventure of achieving their destiny by slaying a dragon. I mean really, what was the point of rebooting Alice just to turn it into Narnia? This is not entirely Burton's fault. Linda Woolverton, who wrote The Lion King, is also behind this.

If there is one place where schmaltz, logic, conventionality, epic battles and foretold prophecies/destinies, should be forbidden, it's Wonderland. Gone is the political satire, the wackiness and the randomness of Wonderland. Mr. Burton, good lord but what were you thinking? Mia Wasikowska is completely lacking in charisma. I liked some of the things Depp tried to do with Mad Hatter, even if a random Scottish accent appears sometimes and a horrendously inappropriate hip-hop routine comes out of freaking nowhere at the end. Ironically, trying to give the Hatter depth was a huge mistake. Stephen Fry is pitch perfect as the Cheshire Cat. Alan Rickman's voice is similarly great for the Caterpillar. Helena Bonham Carter raises the performance level some with The Red Queen. Anne Hathaway looks vacant and sashays around as the White Queen. The film is beautiful, and Burton fans will be satisfied. It is, I repeat, a shallow conventional Wonderland. Alice in Wonderland gets a C-.
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7/10
Standard fare, but entertaining turn from Mel and Martin!
6 February 2010
Edge of Darkness - Mel Gibson's first film as the lead in almost decade has him as Boston policemen Thomas Craven who is seeking revenge for crimes against his daughter. His harrowing quest for justice gets Craven deep in bureaucratic affairs and intrigue aplomb. I went into the film knowing almost nothing about it, and would likewise like to keep you viewers in the dark, or on the edge of it (tee hee!) as well. Trust me, you'll have more fun the less you know.

It's a nice reminder of why Mel Gibson used to garner such attention. Talented as he is behind the camera, he is far more enjoyable on camera. Unlike Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson, Mel Gibson actually gives credibility to an old man kicking a fair amount of ass simply because he has nothing left. As a man tortured by the deception and cruelty unfolding around him, Mel gives the film vitality. The same can be said for director Martin Campbell, action director extraordinaire. They project the film a notch above similar fare. Danny Huston and Ray Winstone give good performances to fairly generic characters: a corrupt businessman and a Deepthroat style character.

The film is tight and occasionally surprising. And by surprising, I don't mean as to whether a character is going to die or not, but how they are going to die. The plot is comprehensive if a little far-fetched given the surroundings and motivations. It too elevates the film above the likes of a Steven Seagal film.The action is tight and well choreographed. I loved watching Mel Gibson enact revenge in Lethal Weapon. I loved it in Braveheart. I enjoyed it here as well. His brand of crazy vengeance is just one of the simple things you treasure in life. It's a film about a simple man who demands honesty from a frequently morally bankrupt world that is driven by greed. I think that's why we have so many films in which good is portrayed as winning in the end. Not because it's true to life, but it's the truth that we desire to see.

Sidenote: This film was made largely in my home of Western Massachussetts. I am reminded of how I felt during my viewing of "In Bruges" in which a quaint countryside town is given a wildly-inappropriate-given-its-settings gangster story. This alternate Massachussetts is like if Sin City were mixed with Dr. No's nuclear scheme. Sounds like a fun place. Wish I lived there.

A solid entertaining film that delivers in February no less. Edge of Darkness gets a B.
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Avatar (2009)
10/10
Moving blockbuster with appeal to all ages.
31 December 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Avatar - Avatar is James Cameron's much awaited epic - the likes of which has not been seen in several years. It's great to know that something this long in the making was actually worth the wait. Jake (Sam Worthington) is a marine sent to replace his twin brother in a mission on an enemy planet. Jake is uploaded into an "Avatar", a genetic copy of the Na'vi the alien race he is to infiltrate. Jake's loyalties are put to the test.

Avatar reinforces why certain ideas, now scathingly called cliché in the first place, are still so potent in the collective unconsciousness. The problem with so many films that tried and failed to utilize similar themes, is they have lacked the emotional maturity and depth of Avatar. The mere fact that Avatar succeeds so well indicates the truth of it's message. Is Jake going to convert? Of course he is. A relatable realistic portrayal of Jake by Sam Worthington makes us believe this. Who wouldn't want to fly? Who wouldn't want to see so much simple natural beauty and trade it in a heartbeat for their mechanized, false environment? One of the things I liked with that Jake's defection was not just for the sake of his co-star Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), who is played with vitality and heart.

There is great work form the ensemble. Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez and Joel Moore all give quality work as the good guys. Stephen Lang plays the badass villain Colonel Miles Quaritch, while Giovanni Ribisi plays a scummy corporate shill.

The aesthetics and scope of the film are incredible. Whether it is seen in 3-D or not the film is a work of art. The planet is gorgeous from head to toe. Its destruction is a painful reminder of the Amazon Rainforest. Some of the creatures resemble underwater creatures, whilst others bear resemblance to the conquered by nature dinosaurs. The Na'vi are a subtle mix of various conquered peoples through history. Part Indian in bone structure, part African. And who took these people by storm in the first place you ask? It is a look into the other side's shoes that Avatar provides. We haven't been the good guys for a long time guys. I love my troops for their sacrifices, but I feel that these are very much the wrong wars.

The film succeeds at being preachy by diving in with it's heart on it's sleeve. The message isn't tacked on: We are the assholes when we go forth with our worst instincts for cruelty and greed. The message is strengthened by a millenia of history. The film jogs it's viewers over to the side of peace and naturalism and has them rejecting corporate greed and military strong-arming in the course of three hours. If that's not a testament to the amazing power of correctly done film than I'm not sure what is.

My tiny problem is the choice of the name for the precious metal the Earthers desire so badly: unobtainium. Yeesh. C'mon guys. How about a little subtlety for audience members over the age of 12? How about "nofindium" or "macguffium". In such a well crafted film, this feels like a first draft problem everyone was too deeply involved on the project to feel like changing.

Several sites indicate that two sequels are in the works. My initial response was a groan, as I thought this was a great stand-alone film that needed no further examination, but this is James Cameron the master of sequels we're talking about here. I'm sure this will bear amazing children for the years to come.

2009 was a sorry year in many respects, but film was not one of them. Virtually all of the films I deeply enjoyed for using their brains, brawn and wit were financial successes. Perhaps the mass appetite/recognition for quality has not been diminished, only starved in the past few years. Maybe there is hope after all. If we're going to survive, we'll need intelligence, artistry, and ecological conscientiousness, whether we like it or not.

Avatar gets an A.
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The Road (I) (2009)
6/10
Mortensen is strong but this suffers from tired problems of the genre.
28 December 2009
The Road - Viggo Mortensen stars in the role of "Man" who contends with cannibals and earthquakes all for the safety of "Boy" (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Flashbacks to the start of the not-explained apocalyptic situation show us "Man"s relations with now dead "Wife" (Charlize Theron).

I eagerly awaited this film as soon as I saw the trailer, in spite of my growing impatience with the litany of apocalypse films now on the market. Viggo Mortensen has, with the exception of "Appaloosa", been in a series of exceptional films in this decade and created several unforgettable characters. His portrayal of "Man" is, if not unique, certainly convincing as a man on the edge of defeat in a harsh and impossible situation. If anything can bring him over the edge, it is his incessantly whining hindrance of a son.

In the genres of horror and survival, writers feel that no situation is too barren and terrible that a defenseless sidekick cannot be added on to make it even more unbearable. It's one of the things that needs to be dropped from the mix because when it doesn't work, a film risks being plain unenjoyable. In this case, Kodi Smit-Mcphee says "Papa!" enough times with enough incessant pleading to give all but the most maternal viewer a headache. When Man gives Boy a revolver with one bullet to commit suicide, I immediately think that with those big gloves and that sad sniffle, the Boy will likely botch the job. This is a child with no born survival instinct. Every decision Boy demands (loudly) is almost certainly the wrong one. Can we invite scary looking Robert Duvall over to dinner? Can we follow the possibly cannibalistic boy back to his tribe? Can I shout loudly whenever something might be around, thereby directing it to my location? If Boy is supposed to be a gift from God, I'd say God truly has screwed the world over.

It transformed quickly from being an eagerly awaited film to one that demands nit-picking concerning logic in character choices, especially since survival is so pertinent. If you have a small gun with two bullets, do you a) teach your son how to commit suicide (for over the top dramatic effect) or b) use one of said two bullets to kill an armed man and take his gun? Alas, director John Hillcoat and writer Joe Penhall are less interested in logistics and specifics (what exactly happened to bring us to this state?) than in loose Bible associations and simple Western ideas of "good" and "bad". "We're the good guys, right?" Struggling for that nobility in a world ripped apart is as futile as it is tacky and simple. The only thing that seems to be in shades of gray is the scenery.

The atmosphere of The Road is bleak and suitably depressing. The film provides some thrills and chills but they are few and far between. It loses steam about two thirds of the way through, where I lost concern for the safety of the characters. It's not bad, but a long shot from Mortensen's usual. The Road gets a B-
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Nine (2009)
5/10
Estranged material lacking in emotional resonance kills this one.
26 December 2009
Nine - A renowned Italian filmmaker Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) is having trouble writing a script for his latest film. Why he does not simply hire a few writers or simply call off the film is beyond me. Instead Guido racks his brains and visits several different women (to call them muses is too much of a stretch, as they don't actually help him write). They are played by Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Kate Hudson, Judi Dench, Fergie, Sophia Loren and Marion Cotilard.

A movie about writers block does not make for great entertainment. It is the lazy man's way of telling a story. I should know, because I've done it for a school project. Nine immediately feels both too long and too short. Some puzzle pieces appear to be missing, and what would be a perfectly acceptable two to two and a half hour theater piece crawls to the finish on the silver screen, probably due to languid scripting. The film has become far too quiet and vague in its transition. I'm not familiar with the original show, but Guido's character feels lacking. As such, one loses interest in his troubles and all the women he has had fornicated with or had interest in. It doesn't help that the country and the filmmaker the film centers on are terribly obscure to American audiences.

Day-Lewis disappears into the role with what I suppose is an Italian accent. It was only near the end when he starts shouting and grows a beard that I recognize his trademark acting. Again Antonio Banderas has got the short shift for a lead in a musical in favor of someone from the UK (Last time it was Gerard Butler in Phantom of the Opera). Day-Lewis does okay, but it was a part that could have been done by anyone, and would have been best left to someone with musical theater training. He looks out of his element dancing and hanging from rafters. When he sings, Day-Lewis is sometimes reminiscent of the Count from Sesame Street.

Marion Cotilard does much better and does so much more with even less. For a few minutes, the film is golden as she heartbreakingly sings "My Husband Makes Movies". Of the few reasons to see the film, she is one. Why Guido didn't simply divorce her years ago rather than torture her by sleeping with other women is, again, beyond me. Lo, what fools these mortals be.

Kate Hudson and Fergie tie in the my contest for whose character least deserves a musical number. I have to give it to Hudson, as her song is more annoying and likely to stick in your head and she is in all of two scenes. Why give a character a song if they have nothing to say and the song does nothing to advance the story? A musical only works if the music ties into the story and has emotional resonance for the characters. This only happens a few times, as director Rob Marshal (Chicago) tries to use that film's trick of compartmentalizing the music again. It doesn't work as well in Nine as it did in Chicago. At times, the other world music and the real-world dialog even fight each other for supremacy. You'll find yourself quickly rooting for the music as the dialog is often dull.

Sidenote: This is the second musical of the last few years to cut the theme song(Sweeney Todd was the first). To future musical makers: Don't. There are so few catchy tunes in this that Nine would have benefited from it's theme song.

Nicole Kidman's screen time is mercifully short. Actually everyone's screen time is incredibly short. I'm having trouble remembering where the time went.

Fergie and Penelope Cruz shake their admirable ahem...assets and provide welcome eye candy. What is less welcome is when Judi Dench gets into the cleavage game as well, with a small presumably traumatized boy by her side as well. Blech. They're all game for singing but none of them are Broadway, though Fergie's voice is impressive. With the exception of Cottilaird, no one acts their songs. The casting by and large is easy to decipher. As "Nine" has such little appeal nationally, the filmmakers thought they'd crowd the stage with as many Oscar folk as possible. Director Rob Marshal (and the Golden Globe committee) would have you think he has made another Chicago. He has not. Nine gets a C.
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9/10
Sherlock Holmes for the remake generation
25 December 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Sherlock Holmes - Based on the books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the popular detective is portrayed by Robert Downey Jr. His loyal companion Watson (played superbly by Jude Law) is getting married and Holmes is none too happy. Their antics are put on the shelf because Lord Blackwood (ice cold Mark Strong), a powerful man of the occult world, has committed a series of murders. When he is hung, he rises from the grave and promises to drastically change the world with himself as master. With the future of several countries at stake, it is up to Holmes to stop Blackwood. Downey Jr. disappears into the role like the character does with various disguises. He is completely believable as a detective whose deductive skills are so powerful that, without focus, mundane situations are overwhelming to his psyche. The film and role are his.

Holmes is portrayed as a borderline manic depressive eccentric who cannot function unless he has a goal to accomplish. In other words: Robert Downey Jr. The film has fun exploring the part of Holmes left untouched by the films done by varying Television productions for many years. Namely: the physical side of Holmes. Yes, Holmes is a boxer, stick/sword fighter, and a martial artist. It was in the books, and it is done in this film as well. He flung Moriarty down a chasm with jujitsu in one of the stories for God's sake! It always bothered me that Holmes's eccentricities and drug-use seemed to be shelved on the screen in favor of a more well-put together stern man who would never deign to get his hands dirty. Holmes was never meant to be a symbol of stiff-upper lip Britain, yet that's what he became. The obvious reasons behind these choices were probably finances (or lack thereof concerning fight co-ordination) and censorship. It's funny how interpretations work. Icons are taken down such a strange path that, when someone decides to bring them to where they started, the old looks new. Batman was always noir. Bond was a quipless suave killer. Holmes could fight.

A down and dirty Holmes is more interesting (surprise!) to a 21st century audience than an omniscient uppercrust man eternally in a bathrobe. This Holmes is fairly true to the original character. It may not be true to the Holmes some people have in their heads, but that version cherry picks elements of Doyle's original creation. Actually this Watson is not as close to the original version (younger with no limp), but this Watson ties Holmes to reality, is less of an audience fill-in (read: a dumb shmoe) and kicks some major ass.

The film is riveting with only a few parts that actually lag. Huge explanations are saved until the end. We realize we have seem more or less all that Holmes has seen, and yet he gleaned far far more with his powerful intellect. Guy Ritchie's directing is vast and yet detail oriented. It's fairly comprehensible yet there is enough in the dialogue and character relationships to warrant future viewings.

Sherlock Holmes is smart and entertaining, a combination which always works better than either adjective by itself. This is an invigorating re-boot that reminds us why the detective is such an icon. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law have perfect chemistry like an old married couple. Mark Strong plays a chilling villain and one lament is that, as part of the film is spent trying to find him, his performance is surprisingly brief. Rachel McAdams is the one part of casting that feels disingenuous. She's not quite devilish or sensuous enough to be the one woman that outsmarted Sherlock Holmes. Still, a thoroughly entertaining film for the head and heart. I look forward to the inevitable sequel. A-
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2/10
Made on a budget and boy it shows!
1 December 2009
Ninja Assassin - In a continuing train of movie plots that take far longer than they should, an ancient clan of ninja offer their services as killers to whomever pays them 100 pounds of gold. I really shouldn't mention this, as it's a premise only mentioned in the film. There's absolutely no mentioned reason stated for why the ninjas go after the targets that they do but they have chosen to go after a Europol agent (Naomie Harris, thoroughly wasted) is beyond me. But rogue ninja Raizo (Rain, who's sort of like Seal what with no last name) is there to the rescue because his girl ninja was killed. Raizo carves his way through his brother ninjas to kill the master ninja.

If that sounded dumb, trust me. It's actually much dumber on screen. The really short version of this film is a poorly rendered CGI shruiken going through a leg and creating a geyser of blood. The ol' IQ takes a beating every time the word ninja is spoken. I know they actually exist, but this film makes a mockery of everything ninjitsu stands for. Make no mistake, this is bad cinema. It's not so-good-it's bad. This is just so bad any-amount-of-money-spent-is-too-much bad. I thought we were past this sh!t in the 80's with the Cannon Group Inc. (Cobra, American Ninja) but someone thought those days deserved an homage. That and director James McTeigue (V for Vendetta...boy does that hurt to write) watched a lot of animes and clearly missed the point of them. This cannot be the legacy of Ninja Scroll, an infinitely better way to spend two hours.

Everyone enjoys cartoons, but no one wants to see a bad cartoon come to life. And that's what Ninja Assassin is. Cartoonishly stiff dialogue. Ridiculous geysers of blood. Incomprehensible action and story. Poor characterization. Awful CGI. And an utter lack of interesting imagery. All of this and two hours = boredom. I could have put more effort into this review but for a film like this, why bother? I recall a similar experience last year with the hokey Punisher: War Zone. That film had an amateur writer and director. This film had a seasoned action director and a re-write by J. Michael Stracynski (of the amazing series Babylon 5). There's no excuse. Ben Miles's character says a variation of the same line at least four times. Rain says the same line several dozen times. And everyone won't stop talking about their hearts. The Wachowski siblings (producers) are earning themselves a reputation almost as dismal as M. Night Shyamalan.

D-
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4/10
Glorified fan-fiction
24 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Twilight: New Moon - Picking up a little while after the first film, the film again follows the trials and tribulations of Bella (Kirsten Stewart), the plain but beautiful, dull but fascinating girl. She turns the big 18 and the Cullens invite her to a birthday party. An accident ensues, and Edward (Robert Pattinson *swoon*) decides to send his threatening family away so he can live with Bella in piece. Ha ha, just joking. That would have been the smart thing to do. Edward instead decides to leave Bella forever, out of a desire to not hurt her. Surprisingly this does not work as Bella has several hilarious bitch-fits and gets even more inhumanly stupid. She takes ridiculous risks such as taking an ill-advised ride with the biker dudes, cliff diving all in the name of seeing her boyfriend in weird unexplained visions. Man-tastic Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) is there to the rescue, though he is not all he seems to be. Bella must choose which man to go with and the stakes become higher as Edward, with two films to go, decides to kill himself whilst under the impression that Bella is dead.

It's funny that it took me so long to write that out, considering the fact that this film has almost as little plot as the first film. In fact by all accounts it is the same film told over. Bella, in a state of sorrow, meets another man and discovers he is a monster inside. Thank god this time she found a man who can even slightly act. Taylor Lautner is warmer and more engaging than Robert Pattinson, who still painfully stammers his lines and always seems to look down at a tree stump next to Bella when he is talking to her. If only they could both keep their shirts on (a thousand times over for Pattinson)! There is enough man-ab action in this film to make Mathew McConaughey blush and put a shirt on. There's also enough terrible CGI to make the guys at Industrial Light & Magic's heads explode. Seriously, I haven't seen effects this bad outside of the Sci-Fi channel.

I have finally realized why Stephanie Meyer has done so well with these books. It's not just that they are bastardizations of classical horror themes. It's that they are bastardizations of horror that are especially appealing to girls (or gay men). Androgynous pale men with glitter on? David Bowie's been rocking that look for decades. Werewolf men who never wear shirts? What's next, zombies with codpieces to hold their enormous packages? Some that glitters, however, is gold. Michael Sheen is very watchable as the villain Aro. It was lovely to be reminded what real acting is. Ditto for Ashley Greene as the spunky sister vampire Alice Cullen. Gee, Alice must have considered slitting her immortal wrists a couple of thousand times at reading all the melodramatic drivel Bella kept sending her in a grieved state. I can think of no worse penpal to have. As a matter of fact, can we just follow the story of Alice and the Vampire Illuminati for awhile instead? I'll probably get lynched for saying this, but these films are still an awful influence on young girls. Bella, with an absence of self esteem, is the worst role model for any young women and brings a new low to the empowered girl image everywhere. She tries to kill herself just to get closer to a boy. What could possibly be a weaker character image? Her main bargaining chip in all instances is that she could get hurt. Edward too is an awful influence on young women. He's invasive, domineering and caught up in self loathing. "My life is awful as an immortal." Um...maybe if you didn't put yourself through high school for the last 90 years things might be better.

New Moon is better than Twilight, though this says nothing. It's funny when it tries to be, and has fewer accidentally funny moments (minus for me actually). It has more likable supporting characters, and only about 20 minutes of Edward Cullen. It's still too damn long and melodramatic. I guess that's what happens when you give fan-fiction a film treatment. D+
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Zombieland (2009)
8/10
Catches most of the love behind the Zombie fantasy.
13 October 2009
Zombieland - The world is once again (or maybe it's the same virus as the one in Shaun of the Dead) ravaged by a virus that turns the world's population into hordes of mobile (is the running/walking debacle really so worthy of ire? Either would destroy the world) cannibals. The main character is Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), a squeamish nerd who has survived so long because of strict adherence to a rulebook that neatly skips over most of the mistakes horror film characters fall prey to. He soon meets Tallahassee (played with vinegar and vigor by Woody Harrelson), a man with a savage penchant for killing zombies. They meet two untrustworthy young women (Emma Stone and Abigail Bresnin) and the four slug it out joyfully in an apocalypse of enormous proportions.

The film marvelously captures most of the love most teenage men have for the zombie scenario. In a word or two: legitimized anarchy. If the story lacks direction for any reason it's this. One of the best sequences (of which there are several) shows the foursome breaking everything in a shop just because they can. The jokes come often and are amusing, with pop culture references aplenty. One cameo made me fall in love with the film. There really is nothing like the comedy greats of the 80s and 90s, is there? The opening credits sequence would be the best if the Dawn of the Dead remake hadn't done theirs so perfectly.

The film only sparingly adheres to reality so as not to detract from the fantasy. Running out of ammunition never seems to happen. It's hard to imagine three out of four of the crew, capable as they are at times, faring any better than millions of other people, much less the US Army. But speculation about that hardly seems the point of the film. The final quarter is nothing if not constant visceral fun.

If I have some minor issues, apart from the ammo tiffs, it's this: The casting of the film seems extremely calculated. We have a kid that looks and acts like Michael Cera, the hot girl from Superbad, the cute kid from Little Miss Sunshine, and Woody Harrelson. If there weren't zombie nudity, blood, and cussing here I'd say it's practically a family friendly film. I've become a little less of a fan of comedy relying on pop culture over the years because it relies on an audience's knowledge of other films, not the film standing on it's own merits. But I don't want to flog an undead horse too harshly, especially such an entertaining one. I'd gladly watch Zombieland again, and it remains at least the second best zombie comedy ever.

The masses have spoken: we love us some zombie films, and it is a fantasy that will likely spawn countless more movies, both comedic and horrific, being made. And for once, I'm okay with that. A-
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10/10
I can honestly say I've never been more terrified.
11 October 2009
Paranormal Activity - Micah and Kate are a couple with a large house and a camera that they will not turn off. This is not a haunted house. Kate is the one who is haunted and has been since she was a child. She is haunted by a ghost so malevolent it is known as a demon. She and her husband are never alone, never safe, and never at ease.

And neither are you.

Brrrrr....This film brings to mind the most primal sense of fear and never stops hammering away at your sense of personal safety. If you've ever had paranormal experiences or just unexplainable ones, this film will bring them all back to the present. It does not stray far from the realm of possibility, unless you count how spacious a home this couple has, and one particularly dim-witted (well several, but what would you do in the situation?) mistake made by Micah. The biggest fear we have is not zombies or vampires, but a conscious malevolent unknown. Bottom line, you never see ANYTHING.

Without giving much of anything away, nor building you up with false promises, I can say this is the scariest film I have ever seen. It's a slow build, yet I felt like I was going through hell at points. It just never ends. And then it does. And it stays with you. I have never been so scared by a film in my life.

This film does it's job brilliantly, and was almost thrown away by the Hollywood folk. It proves just how ineffective the current horror industry is at producing genuine terror like what this film offers. This is eons better than Blair Witch, Cloverfield, or any of the other shaky cam films. It gets a well-deserved A, and is not recommended for people with heart conditions, weak constitutions, and my parents.

A.
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4/10
I hope Hollywood will stop cheating us with this style of storytelling someday.
3 September 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Taking Woodstock - Ang Lee's skewered look at the most notorious concert of all time from the point of view of...wait for it...the kid who organized it and never actually watched the concert. Sounds like a blast right? I had almost as much fun at this film as I did at Jarhead back in '05. Do not go to this film if you want to hear music from the actual concert. The main character taunts us by carelessly mentioning the bands and singers at the start of the film, and we never see/hear any of them.

Stealing the thunder of the most famous concert of our time is Eliot Teichberg (Demetri Martin), sporting a hairstyle and personality straight out of a Wes Anderson film. His journey is just plain not interesting. It sounds like it would be more interesting to have read the real person's book, where he meets numerous famous people and gets involved in riots for being a homosexual. That sounds like a better film than one that constantly cheats an audience out of a great concert in exchange for Jethro Tull. My guess is that they simply couldn't get the rights.

It's a film that focuses on all the wrong things. It focuses on sneaking gay love under our noses rather than making any sort of statement, as the actual writer did, about it. A film that spends more time on the preparation involved in preparing a space for a million and a half people to watch a concert, as opposed to the concert itself. I was reminded once of Kevin Smith doing stand-up and explaining why he would never direct an action film. His version of "The Green Hornet" would have involved the guys sitting around and talking about dick jokes. They see a fight occurring off-screen and go break it up, then go back to dishing about movies and whatnot. This is that equivalent.

I could give the film points for the way it sweetly delivers nudity and intimacy of both hetero and homosexual variety, but I instantly take those away for the offensive Jewish stereo-typing of Imelda Staunton's character, Mrs. Teichberg, as a money grubbing witch. She is a stereotype and worse, a two-dimensional one. The hippies, too, are exactly what you would expect. I guess Elliot was the only normal guy experiencing a life-changing event. Only Liev Schreiber salvages some entertainment value as a witty crossdresser.

I never knew Woodstock could be so dull, tame and boring. D+
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9/10
Dark, funny, and not weighed down by too much exposition.
19 July 2009
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince - A footnote: Funny thing about Harry Potter reviews. If you peruse enough of them, you'll notice that "lack of nit-picks" is a substitute for praise. Everyone comes from different points of view when they go in to see these films. Some people read the books, some haven't. Everyone has their favorites, or hates the films in general. I have never experienced the films without having read the books first so I cannot comment on how hard it is to follow any of them. For some they are too long, for some not enough. I have enjoyed all of the films to varying degrees all for different reasons. David Yates continues from where he left Order of the Phoenix, arguably the weakest of the seven books but one of the stronger films.

In the sixth Harry Potter, Harry works with Dumbledore to unlock a key secret about Voldemort. To do this, Harry has to get close to Professor Slughorn (played with aplomb by Jim Broadbent). What interested me most about the way this is played out are the quiet similarities presented between Harry and Tom Riddle. Dumbledore actively wants Harry to act more like Tom in an attempt to defeat him. This enhances the idea posited back in the 2nd film and book. The sub-plots surrounding this are delightful. Quidditch has never been done so well. The Slug Party is also delightful. Harry's fancying Ginny and Ron's troubles between Lavender and Hermione round out the film. A small downside of this is there is less room for some of the best talent in the UK, many of whom merely supply the garnish on a good meal.

Michael Gambon is wonderful in this turn as the greatest wizard Dumbledore. He just needed the screen time to shine. I hope this nails the lid on the doubters. Alan Rickman plays Snape to perfection, much as it would have been fun to see him momentarily lose his cool. Maggie Smith and Robbie Coltrane have wonderful cameos. I seem to be the only person that appreciates Daniel Radcliffe post-Equus. I think the young man has really come into his own. Rupert Grint has also become a fine comedic actor. Tom Felton slowly freaks the hell out as a young man given an impossible task. My favorite little scene stealer is Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood.

The film plays fast and loose with the source material, and, unlike with Prisoner of Azkaban, the results are not disappointing. On the contrary, this might be, next to Goblet of Fire, my favorite of the films. Part of the reason this time is the film's atmosphere is so appropriate, the characters so well acted and written, that it makes us yearn for more of everything that IS in the film, not lament what was cast aside. I can forgive plot simplification as film is a different medium. I would not have made all the choices Yates has, but he nails the beginning and end of the film, includes many touching character moments, and the movie on the whole is FUNNY damnit! True Potter fans should see that Yates has broken the letter to preserve the spirit of Harry Potter.

One note from the Potter die-hard within the competent film critic: it is disappointing to miss out on one crucial flashback that would have given Ralph Fiennes a terribly awesome scene to do with Michael Gambon. As for the rest. Potter-ites, Yates has this well in hand. Put aside the canon-charts, and enjoy watching small variations on a story you know and love. I know, given the choice, I prefer a story that pops to life over one nailed down to a strict regiment of plot points and exposition. A-
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Star Trek (2009)
9/10
Nearly perfect mix of action and story.
22 May 2009
Star Trek - In lieu of successful reboots of James Bond and Batman, we have one of Star Trek. A young James Kirk (played with swagger and heart by Chris Pine) joins Starfleet to join Romulans from an alternate future in battle. He is not alone, with young Spock (played to perfection by Zachary Quinto) and a excellent supporting cast including Simon Pegg, Karl Urban (actually playing a funny character. nice)and John Cho. There are a few other surprising cameos from various TV shows, and a friend from the original show.

I will start by saying that I was never a big watcher of the original series. William Shatner and the low budget scared me away from it, but I found Next Generation to be a pleasing show. This film is a good combination of story, action, humor, and most importantly, characters. It's very much an ensemble piece, and rightly so. The original Star Trek was not meant to be solely about Kirk. Zachary Quinto comes close to stealing the show a few times. Spock is of two worlds and conflicted about whether to follow in his human or Vulcan roots. He and Kirk meet at Starfleet Academy, and they are not friends. Their relationship is one of the more interesting parts of the film.

As dodgy as the premise of time travel has become what with being abused by several sci-fi series such as the "Terminator" franchise and "Heroes", it's surprisingly well maintained here with few perceivable plot holes. Surprisingly this is one reboot that doesn't want us to forget the original. The script is also funny and allows for good characterization. The film is a nearly perfect mix of story and action.

There is only one kink. Eric Bana plays a rather mediocre villain Nero in comparison. He is underwritten to be fair, what with an Enterprise cast to become familiar with and all. Still a little more care should have been considered with character that commits acts to the level that Nero does.

Of note is the fact that the writers of the smart screenplay, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, were also responsible for the incredibly dumb Transformers screenplay. Clearly they a) have a lot more respect for Star Trek or b) were pandering to the masses with Transformers and did not feel that movie needed a clever script. What's important is that this one does. It's not so much a disguised morality tale with allusions to a present day concern like many of the television episodes were. Star Trek is firmly in the family of space opera. And why not? This fits the form of a 2 hour film much better than a 45 minute episode. And I would venture this is a Trek that everyone can find something to enjoy.

The action is enjoyable. Kirk is a brawler with more brawn than ability. You could play a drinking game for every time he gets the crap knocked out of him. Spock's fighting style is suitably stiff and alien. The space combat too has weight. And thank goodness there is no noise in space. The Enterprise does make a very satisfying noise when being shot into hyperspace though.

Another thought was given considering the remake. Historically, for every period of innovation, there are typically several decades that pay homage to that time period. The 2000s will probably be known for this. In this decade we have remade good films into bad ones like, god take your pick. We have rekindled love for tired and stale franchises, like Star Trek and James Bond. Enjoy their quality of course, but will we find our own voice and stop making love letters to the past? Star Trek gets an A-
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6/10
Fun with strong performances from Bale and Worthington.
21 May 2009
Terminator Salvation - The year is 2018. The machines rule, and the humans are on the losing side. John Conner (Christian Bale) battles on, but he needs the help of Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a half-human half machine experiment of Skynet to save Kyle Reese.

McG seems to have a chip on his shoulder that stems no doubt from his nickname. He and this film are twin souls - each trying to prove their existence in the world of cinema. T3 left the world bombed to hell and added a few carelessly thought out plot elements that hurt the attitude of the series in general (nuclear cores? robots pre-designed to not kill?), but the underlying problem with the series has always been the characters struggling to undo the future that has already had it's shape on the past. Now we have characters trying to secure the past that has already happened. Confusing? Kind of. Does it need to be here? Questionable. Is it fun? Quite often actually.

Christian Bale adds weight and seriousness to the film. He's still not freakin' leader of the resistance, but we see elements of why this will be so. Sam Worthington is very watchable as Marcus Cole. His battle for humanity is (literally) the film's beating heart. If nothing else from this movie stays with you afterwards (and hopefully more than a few elements will, as it's a decently put together film) his performance should. Bale and Worthington's scenes together are some of the best in the film, and it's a pity there aren't more.

There are lots of cool robots. Robots that swim, drive motorcycles, shoot the series' iconic miniguns, and giant ones with cannons and grabbers. All of these make for good bangs and summer entertainment. The lack of laser weapons and fields of skulls ripe for crunching might disappoint series diehards, but overall the action is quite good. The T-800 has never been so formidable.

Terminator Salvation, like John Conner for mankind, was hoped to be the tentpole for future movies. It's hard to see happen, unless Direct to DVD is your thing. This was a good film, but it's hard to see them taking the series any further.

Terminator Salvation gets a B-
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5/10
Has "rushed" written on it's forehead.
1 May 2009
X-Men Origins: Wolverine - We see Logan (Hugh Jackman)'s past, or a summary of it in the opening credits, and then flash forward to...either the 70's or 80's. I'm not sure. It's not very clear. In any case, the film follows Wolverine and Sabretooth and *sigh* another too long list of mutants through various shenanigans. There are some decent fights and a few funny and/or awesome moments, but it's unsatisfying overall.

I'm still trying to figure out what went wrong with what should have been better than X-men3 and probably X2 as well. Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber do their best and bring their A-game. Ryan Reynolds should have had far more to do in this film as he was great. Unfortunately writers Skip Woods (Hitman. ugh) and David Benioff cannot claim the same. The story is rushed and there are multiple points one just cannot get their head around. Why is Sabretooth doing the things he does? What is Stryker's ultimate goal and why does he get an entire sect of the American military to go along with essentially stupid ideas, in Canada no less? Why does it take a plane trip to get to a place we later see has bridge access to it?

What is apparent from these X-Men films is that two hours cannot support the number of characters they cram in. The fact that this was a Wolverine movie should have cued the writers into the notion that we want more Wolverine. It did not. The script is not awful, but offers little room for Wolverine to actually brood or have character moments or do anything but go from point A to point B. No one is really allowed to do much but confer plot, which is bad, because the writers gave little thought to the plot or the character treatments. Deadpool is more or less tarnished and Gambit's part is pretty insignificant.

What we have here is an unfinished feeling film due to a poor story. Admittedly, the X-Men comics were never as much about story as they were about cool looking characters dealing with isolation and whining about their pathetic lives inspite of their awesome powers. Nevertheless, Jackman and Schreiber deserved a better movie to be built around them. It's not bad, but I'll always wonder how much better a film this would have been if David Hayter has scripted it. C
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Knowing (2009)
4/10
Aside from a few riveting moments, annoyance and boredom permeate.
4 April 2009
Warning: 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+
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Watchmen (2009)
8/10
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+
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Taken (I) (2008)
6/10
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 sounds...no 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-
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5/10
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.
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Gran Torino (2008)
10/10
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.
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