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Project X (2012)
This is considered a movie? Hardly.
It's Thomas' (Thomas Mann) 18th birthday and his friend Costa (Oliver Cooper) has plans to throw him the biggest party ever. With his parents going out of town for their anniversary, Thomas has the house to himself. Thomas just wants a small get-together or "enough to be cool" as he puts it. However Costa wants this to be a party everyone remembers, one that everyone will be talking about long after it's over, and one that will change the lives of Thomas, Costa, and their friend JB (Jonathan Daniel Brown) forever. Not to mention the three of them finally getting laid. Chronicling the entire spectacle with his camera is a weird kid from school named Dax (Dax Flame). With his sights set on nothing but a sea of women and the most epic night he and his friends could possibly ever have, Project X is what Costa labels this little filming event.
A documentary-style party movie isn't exactly something that anyone should be excited about. A found-footage The Hangover is all this feels like going into it and Todd Phillips producing doesn't really help change that opinion. The end result is mostly exactly what trailers let on with a conclusion that is extremely predictable with few surprises in between.
Stupid high school humor and crude and raunchy jokes are what bridge the gap between first being introduced the characters and the party actually happening. Its immaturity practically becomes overbearing as the comedy will mostly just make people outside the high school demographic feel older than they really are. The biggest surprise comes in the form of a drug dealer named T-Rick (Rick Shapiro). This is where the mascot for the movie comes in and T-Rick's pursuit of retrieving that mascot is perhaps the only original aspect of the movie. The line about him being like The Terminator is the funniest line to come out of Project X. Nick Nervies and Alexis Knapp play Tyler and Everett who are hired as security for the party. Tyler has this big bouncer like attitude and is this teeny tiny little kid while Everett takes his job a little too seriously. These two, T-Rick, along with the quick montage of Milo the dog being in a bouncy castle and getting into crazy antics during the party are the closest things to highlights the movie has to offer.
With that said, nearly everything else plays out exactly as you expect it to. Losers try to throw a party to change their reputation, that party finally taking place and being even bigger than they imagined, and eventually said party getting out of control. There are so many instances in the movie where an entire song will play while we're shown various shots of this crazy party and Thomas and his friends enjoying themselves. If anything ever felt like an extended music video before it was outdone by Project X. There's barely a story here. Filming an out of control party doesn't make it a movie. Calling it a movie feels disrespectful to anything that came before it.
There is one small shred of depth Project X offers and it lies within that one party changing everything mindset. It's as if it offers this sense of accomplishment while doing something nobody thought you were capable of. Changing your life with the events that transpire in one night is something that probably seems strangely liberating, but this could also be viewed as the movie encouraging this type of behavior which is just as idiotic as the premise of the movie itself.
Project X feels like the combination of Superbad and The Hangover shot in the same style you saw in Chronicle, but doesn't come anywhere close to being as good or even as decent as any of those movies. Many people claimed to be surprised by Project X afterwards and that it was more or better than they thought it would be. The studio rep told me he found the movie somewhat inspiring. Unfortunately Project X inspired me to do nothing more than see something that's actually worthwhile.
Being Flynn (2012)
Memoirs of a Moron
I've lived without a father my entire life. He hasn't passed away and isn't comatose or medically disabled. He just had no interest in being a part of my life until I turned eighteen. Then his view on me changed, but it was too little too late. Even when he was around the first few years of my life, he actively showed that I didn't matter to him. That entire experience is perhaps what helped me relate to Being Flynn the most. While drugs or alcohol were never much of an issue, the strained relationship between a father and son is something I understand all too well.
Nick Flynn (Paul Dano) has always been in his father's shadow even though he was never around. Nick's father Jonathan (Robert De Niro) is a conman, a liar, and the self-proclaimed greatest writer in the world. As an adult, Nick is struggling to find his place in life. His never ending search to find a job that means something along with putting at least some effort into becoming a writer himself is taking its toll on him. He finally starts putting his life back on track; he finds a new place to live, he gets a job at a homeless shelter, and even starts dating a girl named Denise (Olivia Thirlby) who also works at the shelter. That's when fate intervenes and Jonathan re-enters the picture. Despite never being there for him growing up and only having over a hundred letters written by his father to fall back on, Nick struggles with either giving his dad one final shot or pushing him away for good.
Paul Dano is rarely ever disappointing, but Robert De Niro has been slipping in his most recent cinematic outings. The great thing about Being Flynn is that this is the best De Niro performance in years. His anger and racism towards people he doesn't understand, his delusions of becoming a great writer and his slow downward spiral into violent dementia are really powerful and De Niro portrays all of it exceptionally well. Yet it's still bittersweet to see De Niro driving away in a taxi cab in the opening scene to the film. Meanwhile Dano's struggle with following in his father's footsteps is also fantastic in this train wreck kind of way. Their chemistry together (or lack thereof) is perhaps the biggest driving factor of the film.
The dual narrative was a unique touch. This is very much Nick's story, but it's constantly jumping back and forth between his words and Jonathan's. Hearing the same story be told simultaneously from two different individuals was pretty fascinating. Being Flynn is a pretty gloomy little drama sprinkled with bits of messed up comedy throughout. The humor is dark and dry and nobody in the film is an upstanding citizen. It's as if the film is trying to tell you that everyone has their own demons and everyone has some messed up quality to them in some capacity.
There's this one shot of Jonathan curling up on a grate that's blowing warm air on a freezing night that sticks with you after the film ends. You're eventually looking down at Jonathan; all bundled up as the camera slowly ascends to the heavens. The scene of Nick playing catch as a young boy with all of the boyfriends his mom had over the years was fantastic, as well. The way the camera goes back and forth, a different boyfriend being at the other end of the glove every time we pan away from Nick, and finally the way Jonathan was never there to do it himself. Mirrors are also really important as they not only cause these characters to look inward, but both Paul Dano and Robert De Niro have some pretty memorable scenes standing in front of a mirror. Lastly, the violins are astounding. Rhythmic and their tendency to start soft and get louder add this aspect to the film that wouldn't have been accomplished with different music or none at all.
Being Flynn isn't an easy film to access, but will more than likely touch you in some way or form if you grew up with any sort of parental issues. With the expected strong performance from Paul Dano and the unexpected great performance from Robert De Niro, Being Flynn allows you to witness the troublesome times of an individual, destroy themselves because of it, and eventually rebuild themselves for the better. In a way, it's the most depressing self-help method to ever hit the screen, but that's what makes it so easy to relate to and unlike whatever you expected this film to be.
Choi-jong-byeong-gi hwal (2011)
Gorgeous, intense, and extremely action packed.
A skilled archer is betrayed by his king and is labeled a traitor. As his home is invaded, he has his children flee to the home of his best friend, Kim Min-soon (Lee Kyeong-Yeong). Before they can escape, his children witness their father's death. Thirteen years later, the archer's children have both inherited their father's archery skills. Nam-Yi (Park Hae-il) spends most of his days brooding, keeping to himself, and drinking his life away. Ja-in (Moon Chae-won) has bigger things in mind and is prepared to marry the son of Kim Min-soon Seo-goon (Kim Mu-Yeol) even if it's without her older brother's blessing. On their wedding day, Manchurian soldiers attack their village, kidnap Ja-in, and enslave everyone that isn't killed in the initial attack. Nam-Yi will stop at nothing to gain revenge and rescue his sister with his trusted bow even if it means going up against the Qing army and its remorseless commander Jyuu Shin-Ta (Ryu Seung-Ryong).
If the trailer doesn't sell you on War of the Arrows, then nothing will. The brief glimpses you get of the chase through the forest and arrows practically falling into your lap as they wisp by you should make that inner action child inside most of us squeal with delight. Have you ever been on the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland? There's a part where arrows are supposedly being shot at you and you feel gusts of air blowing from every direction giving you the feeling that you're narrowly dodging serious injury or death. I would love to see War of the Arrows in a theater with that effect when the action gets heavy. It would be one of the greatest movie theater experiences ever.
To state the obvious, there's an extreme importance lying on bows and arrows in this foreign action film. It does take place in the mid-1600s, so maybe firearms had yet to make it to Korea. It's fascinating to see a war movie like this with an absence of any sort of guns though, especially with such excellent results. The arrows are not only important as a weapon, but the types of arrows used by each individual archer usually helps identify the person shooting them. The half-pound arrow is a great example, but even Nam-Yi's red arrows make it easier for his enemy to track him.
The fast-paced action does get really heavy though and that should be the selling point. Get excited whenever somebody runs into a forest. Those sequences along with the ones in the field are the best in the film. Arrows flying in every direction, everyone hiding behind trees for cover, and blood spraying into the air as some unfortunate soul wasn't aware of Nam-Yi's awesome arrow shooting technique. It's also pretty much become the standard of all foreign films looking superb on Blu-ray. War of the Arrows is littered with luscious shades of green, red, and yellow. The film is just completely enriched with both color and fantastic action.
Complaints for the film are few and far between. The camera work is a bit too shaky at times, especially in the first half of the film. It seems like the camera man is running with the actors, which isn't necessarily a bad thing but will leave you craving a steadier shot. We probably could have gone without the barf scene, as well. The completely computer generated tiger also looks kind of funky, but isn't around long enough to be much of an issue.
War of the Arrows is beautiful to look at, has a solid story, features a strong cast, and its action is swift and intense. While the camera work is a bit wobbly at times during the action sequences, it eventually balances out. With its vibrant colors, breathtaking scenery, and accelerated chases that usually end in bloodshed, War of the Arrows is not to be missed by anyone who's a fan of action or foreign films.
Special features and extras are kept to a bare minimum. There's a four minute behind the scenes feature. The biggest piece of information you take away from it is how fast Park Hae-il was able to learn how to ride horses and use a bow and arrow. The three minute "Highlights" feature is a little odd. It introduces the characters, but also gives away several key story moments. Then there's the original trailer and the U.S. trailer. That's all the bonus materials War of the Arrows has.
Kari-gurashi no Arietti (2010)
Beautiful, but lacking in its conclusion
*This does include some spoilers in the fourth paragraph* Storyboard artist and key animator for several other Studio Ghibli animated films (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, Ponyo) Hiromasa Yonebayashi takes over directing duties from Hayao Miyazaki in Studio Ghibli's latest The Secret World of Arrietty. The film is based on Mary Norton's novel The Burrowers as Arrietty and her parents are only four inches tall. They "borrow" only what they absolutely need to survive from the normal sized family they live with unbeknownst to them. Things drastically change when Arrietty goes out on her first borrowing and gets spotted by an ill boy named Shawn who's come to rest up in the house his mother grew up in before an operation.
All Studio Ghibli films have this specific look to them. The human characters are all drawn in the same style with their larger than life eyes and narrow noses while each film is an absolute treasure to look at. The Secret World of Arrietty is no exception. Miyazaki was so adamant about using traditional animation and preferred everything to be hand-drawn. Visually, you usually can't tell the difference whether something is hand-drawn or not in a Studio Ghibli film. With The Secret World of Arrietty, the beauty is in the details. Seeing this four-inch family try and survive in a normal sized world is the amazing aspect of it. How they travel, what they use such simple things for, and realizing how dangerous our world really is to them is half of the film's charm. Insects, drops of water, a fat housecat, a bitter crow, and a simple cube of sugar all take on different meanings after viewing this. The film wastes little time putting things into perspective for you and you can't help but notice how extravagant it is.
The animation is as crisp and fluid as any other Studio Ghibli film. Arrietty is extremely colorful. There's this wide variety of plants, patches of flowers, and lush greenery that it doesn't take long for you to feel like you're also four-inches tall and running right beside Arrietty. Her miniature world is just extraordinary with how detailed it is. Most of the female characters tend to overreact quite a bit, especially Arrietty's mom Homily and Haru the housemaid. This is usually a pet peeve of mine, but Haru's fantastic facial expressions and over the top outburst at the end of the film save her character alone while Homily is just a worrisome woman who cares a little too much about her family.
The biggest flaw Arrietty has is that it doesn't end. Shawn is set to have heart surgery while Arrietty and her family along with Spiller have ventured out into the world to find a new home. Will Shawn survive the surgery? Will Arrietty find a new home? Are there more people like her out there? None of these questions are answered as the film just stops. But maybe that was the point. Arrietty and Shawn conquering their respective fears seem like the bigger accomplishments here. It's just a shame that a movie so good has no real conclusion.
The Secret World of Arrietty isn't nearly as good as its studio's back catalog, but is still more than a worthy addition to the animation studio's resume. It does feel a bit short as the awkwardly placed ending won't help matters. But Arrietty still engulfs your senses with its vivid and beautiful animation and ability to tap into your emotions at will. It's still incredibly imaginative and creative, which deep down is what made Studio Ghibli films so good to begin with. The Secret World of Arrietty will be the best animated film that everyone overlooks this year.
Raunchy, vulgar, disgusting, and downright hilarious
After missing "The State" when it was on the air, I became a fan of David Wain when "Stella" hit Comedy Central in 2005. From there I went back and visited Wet Hot American Summer and Role Models. Wet Hot American Summer is a classic while Role Models is humorous but just slightly better than average overall. Expectations were honestly pretty low for Wanderlust. The trailers were mostly just toilet humor (literally) and what appeared to be your everyday modern couple going to live with a group of hippies. How good could that be? It's probably because expectations were so low that Wanderlust is as great as it turned out to be.
George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston) are moving to New York to follow their dreams. Well, George is reluctantly moving there while Linda follows her dreams. Now they find themselves with a studio apartment (oh excuse me, a "micro-loft") that is incredibly tiny and massively expensive. But things get rough when Linda's hopes get washed down the drain and George loses his job. George's brother Rick (Ken Marino) has a job waiting for George, but they're all the way in Atlanta. Leaving their dreams behind, George and Linda go on a road trip and stop at Elysium before reaching their destination. Elysium is unlike anything George and Linda have ever experienced before as everyone shares everything, is so open with one another, and even believes in free love. As everything that could go wrong does, George and Linda are faced with the decision of continuing to live in the city for the technology and advancements they love or moving to the country, being stripped of that technology, and feeling happier than they can ever remember.
One could argue that Wanderlust uses the same formula over and over involving raunchy jokes and dialogue and featuring the most nudity of any film in your recent memory. That may be the case, but if you're familiar with David Wain's humor then this should come as no surprise. You probably know what you're getting yourself into and you're either a fan of his work or you hate it (but then why would you be seeing this anyway?). Wanderlust is labeled as a comedy and if it makes you laugh, then it's done its job. If anything, this is actually a return to form for both Wain and the majority of the cast of "The State." The film throws you headfirst into hilarity as the "breaking the apartment in the old fashioned way" scene is kind of a warm-up for what's to come. George's sarcasm is what will more than likely win you over the most while Linda's inability to commit to any sort of career causes her character to be pretty unpredictable. Elysium is a gold mine of eccentric characters; the most noteworthy being Wayne (Joe Lo Truglio) the nudist and Seth (Justin Theroux). Wayne's nude habits will either have you in tears from laughing so hard or cause you to turn away in disgust while Seth's outdated technology references, his ability to loiter around doorways out of sight and selfish tendencies are hilarious in their own right. Paul Rudd's mirror scene is what you'll remember the most though as you'll be laughing for a good two or three minutes straight from that scene alone.
Wanderlust does get pretty outlandish in its second half, but it isn't exactly the most grounded concept to begin with. There are several dream-like sequences that are fantastically surreal. The two that come to mind are Linda's peyote-like trip during the trust circle and George's fly dream. The fly dream is actually one of my favorite scenes in the movie since it's just so bizarre and random yet manages to fit the flow of the movie somehow.
The R-rated comedy does have its shortcomings though. Rick is easily the most annoying character to be featured in any film so far in 2012. You'll breathe a sigh of relief once his story arc is resolved. The other main one is the film's conclusion. It feels a bit generic when all of the raunchiness is dropped for heartfelt speeches and the struggle to do what's right. Everything still comes together in a logical sense, but it's in a way that seems so familiar which is kind of a letdown. The transition just doesn't feel as smooth as it should.
Wanderlust is vulgar, obscene, littered with jiggling unclothed man and lady parts, and downright disgusting at times, but it's laugh out loud funny because of all of these things. The story may be a bit lacking in parts, but your laughter will drown out whatever flaws the movie may have. While Wanderlust may not be for everyone, it certainly soars and caters to those who love this type of comedy.
Act of Valor (2012)
The new definition of trendy
Eight active-duty US Navy SEALs said no to Act of Valor for four months before finally agreeing to be a part of it. They also refused to be given credit in the film as none of their names are featured during the end credits. We're thrown into the lives of these eight men as they enjoy some brief time with their families before heading off onto a mission. They're sent to recover a kidnapped CIA agent, which eventually leads to a massive terrorist threat that could affect the entire nation.
The downside to Act of Valor is that you pretty much feel like it's going to be a recruitment video going into it and the film is never really able to shake that impression. You see men with families serving their country and doing all of these incredible things out on the battlefield including being masterfully stealthy, being an expert at several different types of weaponry, and fighting against a threat for the country they love. Who wouldn't want to be a part of that? Sure, tragedy may be lurking around the corner but who cares as long as we do it for our country? Act of Valor does have a fairly dynamic use of perspective though. Its camera work is pretty fascinating at times whether you're riding on the hood of a car, gripping for dear life in the back of a speeding ice cream truck, clutching the throttle behind the handlebars of a motorcycle, or being hit in the face by several intruders trying to kidnap you as they roll you up in the carpet to your home. There are some pretty great camera tricks used here. The most important one comes in the POV of the Navy SEALs as they're out on their mission(s). It literally puts you in their shoes. If you like first person shooters, then you'll probably enjoy this.
Having real US Navy SEALs portray them on-screen is both admirable and patriotic, but it feels like it backfires just as often as it complements the film. The acting feels a bit made-for-TV-ish on more than one occasion. One could make the argument that they're not actors or that they were off fighting for our country while we were sitting on our butts watching movies or someone else could ask what they were doing in a movie to begin with if they have no acting experience. It's a messy situation and both valid arguments, but it's also something that deserves to be mentioned.
This is very much an action movie as it's literally jam packed with explosions, heavy gunfire, and copious amounts of flowing testosterone. When the action first hits, it's like an immediate rush of adrenaline but its indulgence is mostly bittersweet and short lived. The rush wears off almost as fast as it bursts into your system and the movie winds up feeling an hour longer than it should which is bizarre since the movie isn't even two hours.
Act of Valor deserves accolades for its portrayal of US Navy SEALs and its strong message, but maybe it's because everyone goes into it thinking it HAS to be overflowing with patriotism that it just doesn't digest properly. The acting felt rigid at times and it just seems like it's trying too hard to convince you to fight for your country when it has no right to do so. I heard a man tell someone while walking out of the theater that, "This is the most important movie since The Hurt Locker," and I think I gagged a little.
Savor it like a fine wine. Moreau can vouch for it.
I think everyone had the urge to run outside and kick the ugliest puppy in their neighborhood when it was announced a second Ghost Rider movie was going into production starring a returning Nicolas Cage. The director of the original Ghost Rider (Mark Steven Johnson) was out and the directors of Crank (Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor) were in. Now that it's been released it's been getting nothing but a barrage of negative reviews pretty much anywhere you can think of. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is practically a reboot and could serve as a full on reset of the franchise if Cage wasn't attached. With everything working against this requel (that's reboot + sequel combined) and every entertainment site on the planet practically guaranteeing its atrocity, I seem to be one of the few critics in existence who was actually entertained by this movie.
Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) has gone into seclusion in Eastern Europe. Johnny fights not only the urge to become The Rider, but fights to stay hidden from those who are hunting for him. That is until a man named Moreau (Idris Elba) shows up on his doorstep offering Johnny a second chance and a way to lift his curse. The offer gives Johnny a chance for revenge against Roarke (Ciarán Hinds) who's Lucifer himself in human form and the man Blaze made a deal with to become The Rider in the first place. The one catch is Johnny has to guard and protect a boy that Roarke is searching for to fulfill the prophecy of becoming the antichrist.
The main attraction to this movie was how it looked. There's this featurette that highlights just how camera oriented Neveldine and Taylor are when they come to shooting their movies. Seeing Neveldine basically risk his life rollerblading on the back of a motorcycle or hanging off of a wire along with the stuntman just to get the shot was incredibly intriguing to me. Unique perspective and fascinating camera work is something I look for in movies and Spirit of Vengeance let you know it had that in the trailers. The flaw in this method though is that even though it gets you up close and personal with the action it also feels really shaky at times. It seems very rough in comparison to dolly tracks or tripods being used. The camera work also involves those slight zoom-ins at random intervals to make it seem like the camera wasn't in the right place when they started shooting.
I'm hearing a lot of people complain about the special effects, but those are another high point. Ghost Rider's appearance is more charred in comparison to how he looked in the first movie. His skull looks scorched, his leather clothes are melted, and the steel on his motorcycle is noticeably red hot and altered thanks to his transformation. The fire looks pretty fantastic all around and there's plenty of it. Everything The Rider drives becomes engulfed in flames and the special effects crew has a ton of fun with that. Maybe it looks terrible in 3D? I was going to recommend seeing it in 2D anyway. Johnny Blaze's transformations into Ghost Rider are pretty sweet, too. Seeing his eyes sink in for the first time is a bit unsettling, but it becomes a trademark. As he holds off The Rider the majority of the movie, his eyes are the first thing to show the transformation. It was a bit reminiscent of the T-1000 being shot in the face in the steel mill at the end of Terminator 2.
Nicolas Cage is exactly what you expect him to be here. The issue is that like always he's way too over the top during intense moments and not emotional enough during the quieter ones. The best example is when Johnny Blaze and Nadya (Violante Placido) are trying to catch up with the men who took Danny (Fergus Riordan) who's Nadya's son and the boy who's set to become the antichrist. Johnny and Nadya are interrogating a man named Vasil. Notice how twitchy Cage becomes here and how crazy he becomes during his "bad man" and "scraping at the door" speech. It's pretty insane in this so bad it's good kind of way. Cage's performance seems to evolve throughout the movie and he almost seems sincere by the end of it. Cage also modeled The Rider's movements off of his pet cobra and it's blatantly obvious. His performance as The Rider is full of rigid movements, swaying motions, and quick cuts. It's very bizarre, especially when it gets to the scene where The Rider is floating around in circles on his back as if he's duplicating Trent Reznor in the Nine Inch Nails video for "Closer." You'll wish Idris Elba's wine-loving Moreau had more screen time than he actually does as the Moreau character is generally pretty interesting, but doesn't really get a chance to shine. He does have a few really memorable scenes though. This will make more sense after you see it, but the "decay vision" gets a little bothersome. It's like looking at the action through a giant peephole or fishbowl. The evolution of the Carrigan character (played by Johnny Whitworth) is pretty awesome though.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is not as bad as people are making it out to be or maybe it is and it's just really entertaining anyway. The dialogue does get really cheesy at times ("You're the devil's baby mama."), but the story and part of the screenplay were written by David S. Goyer so that should give you a little bit of hope. The special effects are fantastic, Cage's performance eventually grows on you, and Spirit of Vengeance is a huge step up from the original movie overall. In the end, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is explosively entertaining and just the type of brainless fun you need to forget about a hectic week.
Intense and powerful
Bullhead is the story of Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts) a cattle farmer. He along with his business partners inject their cows with steroids and hormones to achieve the results they desire. The problem is the only thing Jacky injects more than his cows is himself as he's got some sort of chemical compound coursing through his veins at all times. Things begin to go south when Jacky makes a deal to distribute his cows to a well-known yet crooked meat trader. A federal agent is killed amongst their negotiations as Jacky is dragged into the investigation and his disturbing past comes bubbling to the surface.
Matthias Schoenaerts' performance is the first thing that will win you over. The reason why he shoots up so frequently along with what he injects himself with has this really breathtaking explanation. Schoenaerts has a short fuse the entire film and you never know when he's going to explode. That's the beauty of his performance. He's so dangerous yet you can't help but feel sympathy for the guy. Schoenaerts is a ferocious powerhouse that chews you up and spits you out like the most devastating hurricane imaginable.
Bullhead features some incredibly impressive cinematography. Belgium has never looked so beautiful. Those shots of the sky and the clouds that populate every inch of it and those lush moments of taking in the countryside speak volumes. Something as simple as grass blowing in the wind is made to look like this grand accomplishment thanks to how the film was shot. It was interesting to see characters that were out of frame become out of focus and or blurred in some way; whether they were approaching somebody in frame or walking away. It was a masterful touch.
The Belgian drama has a unique sense of perspective, as well. The dizzying staircase sequence near the end of the film is the best example. It kind of goes hand in hand with the cinematography though; a brilliant looking film is even better with distinguishing shots. Speaking of unique, the entire film is one of the more original experiences to grace the silver screen in quite some time. Bullhead does draw comparisons to films like Drive and even Bronson, but the mafia and mobster kind of storyline is presented in this rough, grainy, meaty, and intense package that hasn't been done before. Bronson is actually a really great comparison. Matthias Schoenaerts put on 59 pounds of muscle for Bullhead and Tom Hardy put on 42 pounds of muscle for Bronson. While the two films are almost nothing alike when it comes to their story lines, they're extremely similar at their core.
Bullhead is an extremely intense piece of cinema that includes a fairly bloody and hard hitting elevator sequence that rivals that infamous scene from Drive. With an incredible performance from Matthias Schoenaerts, gorgeous camera work, and a huge injection of originality, Bullhead should not be missed by anyone especially those who are looking for something different when it comes to movies. This comes highly recommended for those who enjoyed Animal Kingdom, A Prophet, Drive, and/or Bronson.
This Means War (2012)
Just a poor excuse of a comedy
McG hasn't really been seen in the director's chair since Terminator Salvation hit theaters back in 2009. Audiences were split as to whether they actually enjoyed Salvation or not as critics hated it and the movie failed to make back its budget in its domestic gross. So what's the logical next step after doing a movie about the nuclear holocaust and the ongoing war between humans and humanoid machines? You could probably guess the action bit, but the romantic comedy part would probably throw you off.
This Means War is the story of FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy) two CIA agents who are two of the best agents in their field. FDR and Tuck are partners and best friends, but come to a gentleman's agreement when they both start dating the same woman named Lauren (Reese Witherspoon). Both FDR and Tuck begin falling for Lauren and not only begin breaking the rules that they set for one another, but use whatever means necessary to keep Lauren in their good graces.
This Means War throws you right into one of FDR and Tuck's missions right from the start. The main issue becomes how dizzying the camera work is. The action hits extremely hard and is incredibly fast paced, but you have a difficult time actually following just what is transpiring in these quick cuts let alone trying to keep your wits about you. This is kind of odd since I wasn't a fan of Terminator Salvation, but felt like one of its strongest qualities was how the camera always seemed to be in the right place during the action. Maybe McG decided to regress back to his Charlie's Angels mindset for This Means War.
The action heavy romantic comedy is dragged down by annoying girl talk. Lauren and her friend Trish (Chelsea Handler) do nothing but whine and complain about their lives the entire movie while also revealing they're basically the biggest whores around. This Means War paints this picture of women that they all date multiple guys at once and will put out just to try and make a decision. It's pretty demeaning to women in general. Between Lauren and Trish's talks of the size of a man's private parts or a lightning round involving sex, every inch of dialogue between them is unbearable right from the start. Meanwhile, FDR and Tuck have quite a bit of immature bickering between one another as well. It becomes borderline homophobic at times and just feels very third grade for nearly half of the film. The second half becomes a little easier to digest and the highlight comes when FDR mocks Tuck's British accent.
The storyline is very imbecilic, as well. Using the gadgets, technology, and basically every ounce of intelligence of the CIA to try and win over a woman is just asinine. The actual mission, which is certainly more interesting than the love triangle you're forced to endure, isn't even second fiddle. It's more like the third or fourth subplot of the movie. The FDR/Tuck/Lauren love triangle being the primary, FDR/Tuck's friendship falling apart being the secondary, Lauren trying to mull things over with Trish being the third, and Tuck trying to be a stand up family man the fourth. So that would make the actual mission the fifth subplot of the movie. How lame is that? This Means War does get a little less irritating as it progresses. The jokes get slightly less offensive and Tom Hardy still manages to be the best part of the movie. While Reese Witherspoon has to make it a point to try and jiggle around while wearing horrible clothes and singing off key and Chris Pine attempts to be the biggest womanizer he possibly can, they still manage to squeeze in Tom Hardy being a complete bad ass. The paintball scene is one of the highlights, but the most original aspect of the movie comes in one of the first (of many) dates Tuck has with Lauren. He takes her to a carnival and at the end of it takes her on the trapeze. It's actually really cool and would be a really fun first date for anyone.
This Means War is a frustrating and awful excuse for entertainment. Its humor is lame and offensive in the way that it insults all of mankind by how stupid and immature it is, its plot is horrible and insulting, and Reese Witherspoon will test every last ounce of patience you possibly have. This Means War gives you the impression that women are easy and that if you've got enough game then everything works out for the best. While it does have a few moments that try to make up for how terrible it really is, This Means War still can't shake the fact that its spewed excrement into your face for over an hour and a half.
Sanbiki no samurai (1964)
A well-written samurai masterpiece
Shiba (Tetsuro Tanba) is a wandering samurai who's seen it all. He stumbles onto some peasants who have taken the magistrate's daughter hostage in hopes of ending the corruptive leadership that plagues their land. What begins as a spectator sport and a roof over his head for Shiba turns into him fully supporting the peasants and their cause. Two other samurai; Sakura (Isamu Nagato) another wanderer with a guilty conscience and Kikyo (Mikijiro Hira) a samurai who milks the magistrate for all he's worth eventually join up with Shiba. An epic duel to the death lies ahead for the three samurai as the magistrate will stop at nothing to get revenge.
Three Outlaw Samurai begins in simple yet extravagant fashion. We see Shiba take a few steps in the mud followed by an extremely loud music cue and the title card written in Japanese Kanji. Six seconds into this chanbara film and I already know I'm going to love it. The film buys its time though as the first half of the film is mostly very talkative and swords are drawn only briefly before lengthy discussions begin once again. The storytelling is a high point as loyalty and the overall cause for all of this mayhem are always both relevant to the events taking place on screen. The cinematography is also brilliant, especially since this is the debut of Hideo Gosha. The well-choreographed and intense swordplay sequences are always captured with the most precise camera placement.
Lighting and shadows also play a big part in how the film is presented visually. The one-shot sword fight in the two-story whore house is the best example of this. Right down to the drastic lighting on Kikyo's eyes before everything goes to hell, Three Outlaw Samurai is the type of film fans of samurai, foreign, and great cinema in general dream of. There's something completely gratifying about blood presented in black and white, as well. Maybe it's because it reminds me of the Crazy 88 fight The Bride has at the tea house in Kill Bill, but the crimson liquid almost seems more gratifying in grayscale at least when it comes to older and more legendary motion pictures.
The best exchange of dialogue comes when Sakura is running across a field to support Kikyo and Shiba in the final battle. Sakura yells, "Hey Shiba! I've done you wrong! I deserve to die! Kill Me!" In the heat of battle, Shiba merely replies, "I'm busy at the moment." While Three Outlaw Samurai may seem a bit slow at first, your patience will be rewarded. You'll become attached to the characters of Sakon Shiba, Kyojuro Sakura, and Einosuke Kikyo, get absorbed in their cause, and understand their decisions. As the swordplay and action becomes more frequent, you'll realize how truly amazing this film really is. Three Outlaw Samurai is a beautiful, well-written, and just a fantastic experience overall that is for fans of Seven Samurai, Shogun Assassin, and The Last Samurai.
Slow-mo heavy, falls flat thanks to forced feel-good moments
*This does contain some minor spoilers* Journey 2: The Mysterious Island is the sequel to Journey to the Center of the Earth; you know that movie with Brendan Fraser, Anita Briem, and director Eric Brevig all of which didn't return for the sequel. Fraser didn't want to return unless Brevig was back in the director's chair, but Brevig had his hands full with Yogi Bear when Warner Bros was ready to go for the sequel. So Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore director Brad Peyton stepped in and we have an entirely new cast other than Josh Hutcherson, which includes the likes of Dwayne Johnson, Michael Caine, Luis Guzmán, and Vanessa Hudgens. The result is a visual effects heavy amalgamation of corny dialogue and forced feel-good moments.
The movie immediately lost me in the opening credits as the score seemed to disrespectfully rip-off the famous theme to Jurassic Park. It doesn't take long for the corny dialogue to slap you in the face either. The phrase, "Here we go," should never be uttered in the face of danger or at all really. From the HDTV line to pretty much everything Gabby (Luis Guzmán) says throughout their endless string of adventures, Journey 2 will have you rolling your eyes and facepalming yourself more often than you can count. Characters seem to repeat words over and over again, as well. Dwayne Johnson is the guiltiest of this as his dialogue is pretty painful at times. Shall we bring up "thundercookie" or the "popping the pecs" scene that was only thrown in there for a cheap 3D effect? Maybe it's because a Looney Tunes short was attached to the movie, but Journey 2 certainly borrowed from classic Looney Tunes shorts on more than one occasion. When they first arrive on the island, Gabby thinks he's been cut in half but it turns out the lower half of his body is just buried beneath the sand. This sequence is awfully reminiscent of a scene in "Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid" and this scene in particular. Gabby also discovers a rock made of pure gold and essentially has almost an identical reaction as Bugs Bunny in "Barbary Coast Bunny." Even the camera placement is similar, so it had to be done on purpose. It honestly felt more like blasphemy than homage though.
I guess the hip thing to do with movies anymore is to make the majority of the cast as intolerable as possible, especially when it comes to family features. Nearly every male in the Anderson family is a snarky, smart aleck, prick; Michael Caine and Josh Hutcherson being the sole offenders. Alexander (Caine) already looks to have raided Indiana Jones' wardrobe and even uses that familiar sounding Jurassic Park-like theme when he first shows up. He spends the entire movie ripping on Hank (Dwayne Johnson). Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens) is the same way though in the way she gives Sean (Hutcherson) the cold shoulder, so maybe the aim was to write everyone like a seventeen year old girl. Meanwhile, Dwayne Johnson tries to cram as much of his The Rock personality into a PG persona as he can and even sings a little number that is actually pretty darn good.
Journey 2 relies on slow-mo to drive all of its biggest moments home and thanks to movies like 300 has made it all the more obvious in the movies that have followed suit. Even though the entire adventure is basically a race against time, it's like the characters always make time to try and be witty or funny or clever. It just rubs you the wrong way. "Quit standing around in the dark trying to amuse yourself and get out of that damn cave before it collapses on your scrawny butt," you'll say to yourself before throwing the nearest toddler at the screen in frustration. If that isn't the case, they manage to cram these family, touchy-feely moments in at the most inopportune time. "I know you're about to wrestle a giant electric eel, but I just want you to know that me being a hard headed douchebag towards you this entire time was my way of saying I love you." There's more than one comment about being killed after they die, as well. "If we die out there, mom is going to kill us." "If we get ripped to shreds, I'm going to kill you." But you'll already be dead, so who cares? And apparently, being in the Navy means you automatically become "MacGyver." If that's the case, send me a brochure.
Journey 2: The Mysterious Island wasn't quite as terrible as I expected it to be. A few of the jokes are mildly amusing and some of the special effects sequences are actually pretty entertaining. In the long run though, it still can't pass as a good film. Its lame humor gets on your last nerve, its feel-good moments make you want to gag, you can tell that everything was done in front of a green screen, and the writing is downright terrible the majority of the time ("THE LIQUEFICATION RATE TRIPLED OVERNIGHT!"). Why did Sean know so much about the island to begin with? Did he read the books over and over again throughout his childhood? Did he watch a lot of National Geographic and the Discovery Channel? Imagine taking a few of the halfway entertaining sequences from the original National Treasure and combining them with the absolute worst moments from the Land of the Lost film starring Will Ferrell and you have a pretty good idea of what you're in for. In the next movie, I only hope that Brendan Fraser returns and challenges The Rock to a wrestling match...IN SPACE!
The Vow (2012)
There's a review on IMDb of The Vow that says the romance movie "keeps its distance from clichés and cheesiness," and it just made me wonder just what in the hell this person saw that I didn't. The Vow is the story of Leo (Channing Tatum) and Paige (Rachel McAdams), a married couple that is very much in love. One evening, they get into a terrible car accident and Paige loses her recent memory meaning she doesn't remember the love of her life or their relationship. She basically still has a thing for her ex-fiancé Jeremy (Scott Speedman) and doesn't understand why she doesn't have her family in her life. Leo does everything in his power to try and remind Paige of the love they once shared, but Paige is showing no signs of recovery.
The one good thing The Vow has going for it is that there is decent chemistry between Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams. There's at least a mild connection between the two and the scenes when they're alone are perhaps the most powerful this romance has to offer. That isn't saying much though since a good portion of their on-screen time together is devoted to them looking longingly at one another, laughing endlessly, or acting like Beaky Buzzard from Looney Tunes. Then when they do open their mouth, the most inane excuse of flattery comes oozing from their lips. You'll debate on punching yourself in the face in hopes of knocking yourself out to prevent seeing the rest of this monstrosity.
Why is it that every time there's a movie like this revolving around a brain injury NOBODY knows anything about it? They all play ignorant or gullible and basically have no clue as to what they have to deal with. You'd think that they would've seen the dozen or so romance films they borrowed from before actually setting out and ripping them off. Rachel McAdams has pretty much been trying to make The Notebook again ever since 2004. There have been some exceptions like Red Eye, Wedding Crashers, and Sherlock Holmes, but everything in between has been along the same lines. It's as if The Vow recycles every Rachel McAdams movie you've ever seen and tries to combine them with the concept from The Lookout or Vanilla Sky, but it feels so regurgitated and so familiar that it comes off feeling like it heavily borrowed from The Number 23 which is the furthest thing from a compliment any movie could ask for. Is there honestly much of a difference between The Vow and The Time Traveler's Wife? In the meantime, you'll be groaning over every decision Paige makes after the accident. It's not as if Channing Tatum isn't to blame as well as his words and actions are just as mushy as the ones Rachel McAdams makes, but it's the way Paige saying she has to make decisions for herself only to wind right back where she started is what makes the entire concept, the actor's performances, and the entire movie totally and completely pointless. Channing Tatum plays guitar in one sequence that'll just make you hope and pray he doesn't break into song. Just because you have brain damage doesn't mean you have to be stupid. Is that a concept that's so hard to grasp? Leave it to a movie labeling itself as a romance being capable of triggering feelings of disgust, frustration, and hatred for fictional characters you probably haven't ever felt this strongly before.
The Vow IS extremely cliché and cheesy. Emotions are forced, sappy scenes go on way too long, and the movie is nothing but a string of stupid decisions. The Vow illustrates that nothing stands in the way of fate and even if you had the chance to do things over again that you'd follow the exact same path even if it wasn't your intention. This point is idiotic. Given the opportunity, why would you want an important event in your life to go down exactly the same way? The entire movie comes off as a complete waste of time. The Vow is the prime example of regression, moving backwards in life, or perhaps standing still for entirely too long. The Vow is typical and forcefully romantic trite that will make you wish you get into a car accident on the way home in hopes of getting your own form of brain damage to keep you from remembering this God awful excuse of a movie.
Safe House (2012)
Somewhat satisfying, but mediocre overall
Safe House has Denzel Washington return to the role everyone loves him for; that untouchable, bad ass, man of the hour kind of role that he's essentially played the majority of his career. Meanwhile, Ryan Reynolds sets out to try to prove he's capable of being more than a raunchy goofball. CIA agent Matt Weston (Reynolds) has anxiously been waiting to prove himself. He's been babysitting an empty safe house for twelve months and is eager to get out in the field. Matt gets his chance when Tobin Frost (Washington), ex-CIA agent, traitor to the organization, and currently one of the CIA's most wanted fugitives, is escorted there. But things are turned upside down when a group of unknown soldiers attack the safe house and take out the entire team who accompanied Frost. Now in over his head, Matt tries to cope with handling the situation on his own while Frost does his best to manipulate the rookie.
You'll probably notice the visual style of Safe House right away. It makes full use of that raw, gritty style. It's especially grainy at times as fluorescent lighting seems to jump off the screen. Judging by how the movie looks alone, you'd think Tony Scott directed it. But it's actually the English language debut of Swedish director Daniel Espinosa. So it just seems as though he patterned Safe House after Tony Scott's films. It doesn't take long for negotiations to get tense. Those moments in between the mayhem are when Safe House is at its best. It's like a game of tug of war between Frost's way of manipulating and Matt's attempt to stick to protocol while also juggling a relationship. Those moments of panic are explosive; especially the one at the safe house Matt was in charge of and the intense car chase immediately afterwards. Safe House has a way of getting really LOUD when you're totally expecting it. It usually involves a gunshot or six, but it's kind of the movie's way of telling you that some heavy stuff is about to go down.
The majority of the movie is basically Matt trying to prove himself as an agent all while absolutely everything that you could imagine to go wrong does. Safe House is actually pretty damn good for nearly half of the movie. Sure, Denzel is playing a character you've seen him play a few dozen times before but he does it so well and the audience obviously eats it up. So why wouldn't you give the paying viewer what they want to see? Ryan Reynolds makes the most of his performance though. He seems to be the most emotionally invested actor of the film meaning he shows the most emotion and has the most range. The movie kind of gets coiled up in itself with everything it has going for it in the last twenty minutes or so. It's like it couldn't handle the pressure of being a fairly strong action thriller or something. It becomes extremely excessive and it throws a ton of twists at you in this small amount of time. It's difficult to care about any of them when all of the characters feel so similar and you can pretty much see them coming a mile away. The movie follows this certain path that you may be expecting, but then it shifts direction before shifting again and shifting back again. Did you ever see the movie Basic with John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson? Safe House was reminiscent of the amount of twists in Basic.
Safe House begins as this white knuckled thriller with a fairly strong screenplay from first time screenwriter David Guggenheim. The action is heavy, the story reels you in, and the performances of both Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds are pretty superb. Everything eventually falls apart though as Safe House falls victim to stereotypical mediocrity. Brutal and intriguing at times and completely frustrating at others, Safe House is mostly exactly what you're expecting and the type of action thriller you've seen done several times before. It's basically a safe bet for success.
The Woman in Black (2012)
Another spoke in the wheel...
At the tail end of the 19th century, Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) still feels like the wound is still fresh when it comes to his wife who died four years ago after giving birth to their son. Arthur is drowning in a depressive state that even his son notices. As a lawyer, Arthur is forced to travel to a secluded town to take care of the work of the now deceased Alice Drablow as a last ditch effort to save his job. Arthur is expecting to be buried in paperwork until the weekend, but the odd occurrences that transpire are a bit out of left field. Everyone in town practically begs for Arthur to return to London immediately as children continue to die gruesome deaths left and right. Ignoring their pleas, Arthur decides to confront the problem head on and stay at the Drablow's menacing house where his constant run-ins with the supernatural eventually take its toll on him.
The Woman in Black is a horror film that I wanted to be good. It's Daniel Radcliffe's first movie outside of the Harry Potter franchise and he's been pretty enthusiastic about it in interviews, but every bit of promotional material seemed to point at the movie being your everyday, generic, run of the mill, "scary" movie. The Woman in Black does provoke your interest at first. The strange opening is a little hokey, but kind of intrigues you at the same time. The atmosphere the movie tries to setup is its strongest asset though. The heavy use of fog and old fashioned feel of the town does make the town feel like it existed in the late 1800s and the ominous score does its best to try and bring you to the edge of your seat. The Drablow house is the key to that atmosphere as it's absolutely gorgeous in this hideously grotesque kind of way. Everything is so dusty and creepy while the Victorian design only adds to that uneasy feeling the movie tries to stir up in the pit of your stomach.
In the meantime though, everything else in the movie is working against it. It's extremely uneventful. Daniel Radcliffe reads papers, walks through a house, holds a candle, and gets a little dirty. That's the entire movie in one sentence. The Woman in Black also resorts to relying on nothing more than jump scares to try and scare its audience. There are four in the first twenty minutes; two from the same sequence and there are at least ten throughout the entire movie. Jump scares can be fantastic in small portions, but come off as incredibly weak when you can see them coming a mile away and are strung together haphazardly for a cheap effect. There isn't much dialogue while Arthur is in the Drablow house either, which is practically the entire movie. This was probably done to try and make the audience more absorbed with what was taking place on screen, but seems like a bit of a copout overall. Radcliffe has proved that he is an extremely talented actor, but he's pretty bland here. He mostly wanders around in a daze with a frazzled look on his face the entire time. His hosting gig on Saturday Night Live was more impressive in comparison.
The Woman in Black will still be a very successful film as nearly everyone who was or still is a Harry Potter fan will be lining up around every street corner just to be able to see this movie, but the fact of the matter is that it just isn't a great movie. Its representation of the late 19th century is pretty good, but the writing, the "scares," and (most of all) the entire conclusion are all just extremely disappointing. The Woman in Black is a watered down version of last year's Insidious that will more than likely gain a lot of praise it doesn't deserve.
Cheap-looking at times, but otherwise pretty solid
Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan) is what you'd call your typical high school loner. Most students peg him as a loser, but he's really just misunderstood. His mom is practically on her death bed, his dad is an abusive drunk, and he has no friends. Nobody is willing to give Andrew a chance and he's too shy to break out of his shell on his own. Even his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) is a bit hesitant to hang out with him in public. As Andrew begins to start filming his life at all times, he soon discovers something of another world with Matt and student body president Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan). Despite each of them developing chronic nosebleeds, they also discover they now have superhuman abilities. Andrew, Matt, and Steve push themselves to the limit and become stronger in the process. But as Uncle Ben said to Peter Parker, "With great power comes great responsibility." Friendships will be tested and destruction will become nothing more than an afterthought.
I felt a little weary going into Chronicle. The original trailer was interesting, but the TV spots seemed to show too much. They essentially gave away every key point of the storyline. Not only that, but they gave away too much of the special effects as well. That wouldn't be much of an issue if the effects didn't look so shoddy and cheap. Seeing it on the big screen did help, but they still looked a little hokey in the process.
Chronicle is shot in the documentary-style you've been forced to accept as a regular style of filmmaking ever since The Blair Witch Project came out in 1999. The upside is Chronicle doesn't look as amateur as what you may be expecting. There are a few shaky moments, but it's mostly in the beginning before Andrew gets a new camera. Once that happens, everything visual becomes a bit clearer and the perspective becomes a lot more interesting. The "floating camera" perspective is one of the more original aspects to come out of the film. One of the highlights of this perspective is when Andrew first puts the firefighter costume on. That scene in particular is pretty awesome, but is even more exceptional thanks to the intriguing camera work.
Those scenes where Andrew, Matt, and Steve develop their superpowers to their maximum potential are the best in the film. What human being has never dreamt of flying? The way Chronicle pulls that sequence off is incredible. The humor in it isn't too shabby either. It's typical high school drama at times, but it eventually grows on you much like the rest of the film.
Coming back around to the special effects, they plague the film in the second half. It wouldn't be so bad if there wasn't such a heavy use of them. More often than not, something computer generated looks out of place or is heavily shaded when it shouldn't be. It's almost as if you can get a glimpse of the original CG model that was used in whatever special effects software they used before it was actually rendered or something. Andrew's view of life is awful as everyone he runs into beats the snot out of him. After viewing the film, you can understand why this was done but most individuals aren't that cruel and it seems a bit much. Chronicle does seem to get better as it progresses, but it drops the ball in its final moments. You can see the opening for a sequel coming from a mile away.
Chronicle is much better than the trailers and TV spots let on. The camera work is fairly dynamic for a documentary-style film, the acting is very good for a generally unknown cast, and it's actually a lot smarter than it lets on. With that said though, its $15 million budget becomes very obvious with its heavy use of special effects and the finale of the film practically ruins everything good the movie has going for it. Chronicle is a pretty fun ride in the long run though. While it may not be totally original on the surface, the journey in the middle is fairly unique. Setting its flaws aside, Chronicle is quite possibly one of the most exciting stories of the birth of a super villain to ever hit the big screen.
The Theatre Bizarre (2011)
The best horror anthology since Trick 'r Treat
What the hell happened to American horror? Remember when mainstream horror films actually offered either originality or creativity in the way victims died? Now we're practically spoon fed the same formula over and over and it doesn't help that more than half of the horror films getting the green light or being released in theaters are a remake of a film you love. The 70s, 80s, 90s, and even early 00s in some cases were a fantastic time for horror that seem to have gone the way of the dodo bird. The horror genre is no stranger to the anthology formula, but there's something about The Theatre Bizarre that manages to capture the atmosphere of certain horror films you know and love.
Tales From the Crypt, Dead of Night, Creepshow, Trick 'r Treat, and Tales From the Darkside: The Movie are a few films The Theatre Bizarre will either remind you of and/or it pays homage to. To bridge the story together, a woman is drawn to the worn down looking theater next door. Once inside, she's treated to a show hosted by a man acting like a living wind-up toy (played by Udo Kier). Just the framing segments alone are extremely creepy. The make-up, the way the people on stage move, and the way eyes are painted on the top of their eyelids. It's a bit unsettling in the best of ways. There are six stories in the film's nearly two hour runtime: "The Mother of Toads" is one of the weakest. A couple takes a vacation in France basically in the middle of nowhere. While they're browsing shops, they meet an elderly woman who draws the man, Martin (Shane Woodward) into her home with The Necronomicon. The tea she gives him puts him under her spell and all hell breaks loose from there. This is probably a lot like the movie Frogs. The multi-colored toad vision is pretty lame. The best scene comes at the beginning where Martin and his girlfriend Karina (Victoria Maurette) are driving through the countryside. The shot obviously pays tribute to the opening of The Shining. I was left with what felt like the punch line to a really bad joke at the end of the story. "Don't you hate it when you get really drunk and you wake up next to a giant multi-titted toad?" "I Love You" is the other fairly timid story and the one that features the stiffest acting. A man wakes up in his bathroom with blood everywhere. He calls his therapist, who's with his wife that he hasn't been able to get a hold of for days. She comes home only to tell him that she's leaving him. "I Love You" is basically an R-rated drama until the last two minutes where everything is turned upside down. The scenes that stick out the most are the ones of Andre Hennicke unconscious in his bathroom. Everything is white; the floor, the walls, his clothes. The only color in the scene is from his blood. It's not bad, deserves some credit for a solid buildup to its climax, and is at least a bit more threatening than toads.
"Wet Dreams" directed by and co-starring the legendary Tom Savini is up next. A man has very vivid dreams that usually involve his wife castrating him and feeding his severed member to him during breakfast. It's a pretty decent stab at a mind-bending horror story. It's no Inception, but it doesn't really have the opportunity to be and in the end has no reason to be as in depth as that as its story progression is just fine.
"The Accident" is another slow burning story. You can pretty much guess what it's about from the title. The way the deer acts is horrific enough, but what sells the entire story is the haunting music and the facial expression of the biker. The little girl asks some questions about death, which her mom gives really stupid answers to (seriously, a good zombie?).
"Vision Strains" is easily the most original and creative story of the film. A woman targets homeless women and addicts and kills them. In their last breaths and as their life flashes before their eyes, the woman injects their eye fluid into her own and basically experiences their life story. She writes it all down in an attempt to learn everything the world has to offer. A serial killer with purpose is something that doesn't come along very often.
"Sweet Dreams" rounds out the set. This one was a bit hard to watch. There are some really disturbing fetishes going on with this one all involving gluttony, sweets, and overeating. It's downright disgusting at times and it has the goriest ending of the bunch. It puts a pretty interesting twist on The Last Supper, as well.
It's not that The Theatre Bizarre isn't flawed. Like most horror movies, there's plenty of bad to go along with the good as it suffers from weak writing with actors in certain stories that don't have that natural flow that the rest of the cast does. One could also argue that only half of the movie really leaves a long-lasting impression. To be honest though, there were bits and pieces of every story that spoke to the horror fan in me in ways I haven't felt in years. Like a classic horror film, it's like you have to sit through some lameness to delve into the greatness buried deep within its core. Nauseating, phantasmagorical, and discomforting, The Theatre Bizarre is pure, gory, blood-soaked madness at its finest that will give horror fans the feeling of being a kid locked in a candy store for two blissful hours.
The Innkeepers (2011)
A film that proves patience is a virtue
Movies revolving around the supernatural have always felt lacking. Of course, the most recent ones are mostly remakes so they already have an uphill battle ahead of them but there are very few movies featuring ghosts or the supernatural that I feel are worth mentioning in a conversation about great films. Ghostbusters, The Orphanage, The Shining, Shutter (the Thai original), The Ring, The Frighteners, and The Devil's Backbone are about it for me. It's a sub genre of horror that just hasn't meshed well with me over the years much like exorcism films. In the same breath, I still haven't been able to get a clear read on what I think of Ti West as a writer and a director. The House of the Devil was really disappointing. Its slow pace made the film seem practically uneventful and didn't really feel worthwhile in the long run. The Innkeepers has a similar pace as The House of the Devil yet feels slightly more methodical on West's part in comparison.
Luke (Pat Healy) and Claire (Sara Paxton) are the only two employees working during the final days of the Yankee Pedlar Inn. This hotel is rumored to be haunted by Madeline O' Malley, a woman who hung herself in her room after being stood up by her fiancé at the altar. Luke and Claire try to make contact with the paranormal through EVP recording devices in between watching the front desk and handling the few stragglers who come to stay during the hotel's final weekend of operation. Needless to say, Luke and Claire begin to see results as the guests at the hotel become a bit stranger.
I'm surprised the score to The Innkeepers was as good as it was. It's a little bizarre to have such good things to say about movies coming out in between January and March since these are the months that studios decide to push whatever's been sitting on their shelf for a long period of time or release something they expect to do poorly at the box office. The score is really fantastic though, especially during the opening credits. It's usually very strings heavy and puts you on the edge of your seat on more than one occasion. It helps add that extra bit of tension. At other times, a lack of music speaks volumes. The way the film encompasses the importance of sound into the overall experience of the film is pretty extraordinary. Suddenly listening to a film is just as important (if not slightly more so) as watching it.
The camera work is really spectacular, as well. Slow, winding shots make it seem as though you're grudgingly snooping around the corner along with the characters on screen. The camera's pace as it travels through the hotel's hallways make you feel like you're walking through it yourself. There are also several shots directly behind Luke or Claire that feel very third person. It's just extremely solid camera work that's more stunning than you may be expecting.
The Innkeepers won't be for everyone though as it's incredibly slow moving. It crawls at almost a snail's pace, but it's the little things that keep you interested. Everything is very dialogue driven as Luke and Claire play tricks on each other and talk smack about each guest that comes to stay at the hotel. Claire's ghost story about Madeline O' Malley is around the time things really get interesting and Leanne's (Kelly McGillis) pendulum speech make the smallest things seem larger than they really are. The Innkeepers spends every expense establishing this thick, creepy atmosphere and is the prime definition of a slow burn at its finest.
The Innkeepers may seem a little dull on the surface, but all it needs is a chance to let its layers unravel right before your eyes. Character development and a horror film that isn't in your face showing you every gratuitous and gory detail is almost unheard of anymore. With its unsettling score, its superb cinematography, and engaging script, The Innkeepers delivers a rare horror gem that's a breath of fresh air to the genre.
The Grey (2011)
Carnahan's best work to date? Possibly.
There were a lot of things that felt like they were kept secret on purpose before sitting down and viewing The Grey for the first time. The trailer hints at the movie being nothing more than a survival thriller starring Liam Neeson as he struggles to survive not only the unrelenting cold elements, but also the ferocious wolves that inhabit his surroundings. The Grey is written and directed by Joe Carnahan, the man who brought us Smokin' Aces and The A-Team. The movie is also produced by Tony and Ridley Scott, which you think the marketing campaign would jump all over but doesn't even mention. Not only that, but there is quite a bit more to the movie than the trailer and TV spots let on.
As the movie begins, Ottway (Liam Neeson) narrates a letter he's writing to his wife. This segment just made me realize what my life is lacking most right now and that's a Liam Neeson voice-over for every thought that crosses my mind. Think about that. It'd be the most amazing thing ever. The trailer reveals a few major things: that Ottway is stranded in the middle of nowhere in the blistering cold thanks to a plane crash and that wolves stand in the way of him actually surviving this ordeal. The plane crash itself is one of the best executed in recent memory. The way it's filmed and edited is downright ruthless. It's as if you're on the plane as it goes down. The Grey doesn't just place you in this blizzard-ridden hell infested with wolves, it kicks your teeth down your throat, laughs in your face, and throws you into it with everything it has.
The movie gives new meaning to some of the simplest things. Seeing your breath in cold weather takes on an entirely new definition and the way The Grey deals with death just feels incredibly powerful. Ottway questions faith right from the start and takes matters into his own hands throughout the movie. The events that transpire take a toll on even the most religious plane crash survivors. Death is more of a relief than something worth distancing yourself from. Ottway describes it as being a warm sensation and thinking about the thing you love most in life before completely giving yourself into it. Many of the campfire conversations are entirely more impactful than they have any right to be. The conversation about faith in general hits you like a potato sack full of cinder blocks.
The Grey manages to shout its message even when there's nothing being said on-screen. One of the images that stuck with me long after the movie ended was the shot of blood flowing into the paw print of a wolf in the snow. There's a scene by the river that strictly relies on sound and the way you succumb to it is nothing more than brilliant. There's another shot at the end of the film where (and I'm trying to avoid spoilers the best I can) Ottway is arranging some objects in the snow. The way Liam Neeson's fat, sausage-like fingers delicately wrap themselves around these objects and the way his hands tremble as he does this illustrates not only what this man has been through, but also that he's at the end of his rope. Plus the movie will make you want to look over your shoulder the next time you consider relieving yourself out in nature somewhere.
That level of greatness The Grey eventually achieves isn't around at all times. Some lame dialogue does squeak through and characters manage to do really stupid things at times (John Diaz, played by Frank Grillo, especially), but that seems to help the movie more than anything. People, real people, occasionally do stupid things especially when they're scared. So this kind of made the characters feel more genuine and made it very clear that certain characters were caving under pressure.
There was a movie that came out back in 2000 that was called Vertical Limit. It was one of my most trying times at the movie theater. I fought vehemently to leave about halfway through because I hated it so much, but I was with people at the time who wanted to stay until the end. It was probably one of the worst experiences I've ever had to pay for. The Grey is basically everything I wanted that movie to be. The cast is fantastic, their actions are mostly believable, and there's this meaning to everything that really speaks to you.
The Grey is a grainy thriller that knocks the wind out of you on more than one occasion. In fact, it's rare that the movie actually allows you to catch your breath. Everything is such a raw, vicious, and brutal test of faith. It's fantastically violent and Liam Neeson is superb. If The Grey is anything to fall back on, then 2012 is going to be one hell of a year for movies.
Man on a Ledge (2012)
Beating around the bush
There are times when you can tell quite a bit of thought went into naming a movie i.e. Inception, Super 8, and 50/50. They're titles that perfectly describe the film you're about to see, but have a bit more meaning after seeing them. While other movies jump straight to the point with their titles, which certainly isn't always a bad thing; look at Drive, Moon, and The Crow. All three movies are better known for the acclaim they've received (from both fans and critics) rather than the amount of money they made at the box office. The title of a movie can go a long way, but in certain circumstances it can sum up an entire movie in a handful of words. Man on a Ledge is a prime example of delivering exactly what you're expecting.
Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington) is an ex-con who is trying to convince the world that he's an innocent man, but that's a bit difficult when you break out of prison after serving two years on a thirty year sentence. Instead of talking to a lawyer or taking the advice of his former police comrades, Nick steps out onto the ledge of a building. He wants the world to believe he is innocent or else he's going to paint the asphalt with his insides. Little do they know that Nick's suicide attraction is nothing more than a distraction. Across the street, Nick's brother Joey (Jamie Bell) and his girlfriend Angie (Genesis Rodriguez) are breaking in to steal the $40 million dollar diamond Nick was convicted of stealing. But time is running out and Nick can only stall for so long as Joey and Angie run into some unexpected surprises that weren't a part of the plan.
Man on a Ledge just becomes more and more awkward as it drags on. It's as if the movie can't decide what type of story it wants to tell. We follow Nick around for a bit in the present day seeing how the first part of the day panned out before he stepped out onto that ledge, but then we jump back three years to understand why he went to prison. The nonlinear sense of storytelling is fine, but it feels a bit out of place when it's used so early on in a film without ever really returning to that format again. Then the pacing becomes a huge issue. Man on a Ledge is very go-go-go the entire movie and it never really gives you enough time to properly process everything or let you really care about these characters. You're aware of the situation, the heist going on next door, the apparent corruption in the police force, and the fact that time is running out right from the start, but it just doesn't really matter. There's no character development as everybody feels so paper thin. Even Sam Worthington can't keep his American accent going the entire movie as his Australian accent seems much more apparent in the second half. It just comes off as a complete mess.
The other problem this crime thriller has is the fact you never really know who to pull for. You've got three people trying to pull off a heist claiming it's to prove one of them is innocent of a crime they went to prison for while an unsolved investigation concerning the police force comes up during Nick's suicide attempt to let them know that somebody on the force has been working for David Englander (played by Ed Harris and who was the main reason Nick went to prison) the entire time. Without much depth to the characters, you never really want to see either side succeed. Through all of Nick's pleading with negotiator Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks), the wire he's wearing in his ear becomes blatantly obvious. So her shock and surprise to its reveal later on seems more sarcastic than anything. To make matters worse, things stay this way nearly the entire time until the closing moments where every question you have is answered in the last five minutes. Man on a Ledge has some of the worst pacing to ever make it to the screen.
The only real redeemable factor of the movie is Ed Harris, but it's more of his character being so bad and cheesy that he's good. The scene where his character is introduced where he's given a watch by a colleague is hilarious for all of the wrong reasons.
Man on a Ledge is a combination of many movies you've seen before and it feels that way. It's a mishmash of ideas taken from movies like Die Hard, 16 Blocks, and Hostage. Oh wait; maybe it just borrows ideas from Bruce Willis movies. With its ridiculous pacing and even more incongruous ending, Man on a Ledge will invoke you with the urge to use some of that nonlinear storytelling to go back to the beginning of the movie and push Nick off that building yourself to help prevent you from seeing such buffoonery.
Red Tails (2012)
Flawed in every sense of the word
Over twenty five years after the fact and Maverick has become a drunk who makes hasty decisions under the influence, Goose has become a bit more reckless and still puts women before anything else, and Iceman's role has been reduced significantly as his smug arrogance is only felt in a handful of lines. What's that you say? Red Tails isn't the urban retelling of Top Gun? Well, you could have fooled me. It's not that it makes much difference though. No matter how you look at it, Red Tails doesn't really have much of anything to offer.
At the peak of World War II, African American pilots are considered the lowest of the low. They're considered to be incapable of performing their tasks to their country to the fullest and are given leftover missions that don't even qualify as scraping the bottom of the barrel. The Tuskegee training program is no different as the entire squadron is mostly reduced to shooting down trucks, trains, and perhaps a cow every now and then. That is until Colonel A.J. Bullard (Terrence Howard) succeeds in letting the higher ups give his men a chance and they take full advantage of the opportunity.
Red Tails feels really cheesy as soon as that quote is shown in the opening scene. The movie has a $58 million budget, but it certainly doesn't feel that way considering the opening credits. The amalgamation of planes ripping through the sky and tearing each other to pieces feels like a distraction or a cover up for the rest of your senses. Try to pay attention to the credits, how plain they are, and how cheap they look. That along with the score that feels like it was ripped straight out of a stereotypical action film from the 90s doesn't really seem like the type of tone they were going for here. The acting isn't much better as stiffness and monotony seem to be what they were aiming for. The Tuskegee airmen do begin to get a bit more comfortable in their roles as the movie progresses. David Oyelowo takes Lightning the furthest as far as Easy's (Nate Parker) squad goes, but they certainly seem their best in the face of tragedy. Terrence Howard has a few great moments, as well. Specifically his "highest expectations" scene he shares with Joe "Lightning" Little. But it isn't enough to save a second-rate film.
The script is very dry. I don't mean dry humor I mean about as pleasant as trying to listen to somebody with a mouthful of saltine crackers. It feels so stale and again contributes to that 90s atmosphere I mentioned earlier. Keep an ear out for the Americans and how third grade they sound. The dialogue along with the monotonous tone spread out amongst every actor in the film makes everyone come off as a robot. "These cows are armed," is a line that's actually used in the movie. There are a few lines that are almost decent. Winky's (Leslie Odom Jr) line where he says, "Every time I close that canopy I feel like I'm closing the lid to my own coffin," is surprisingly good. It gives the momentary belief that things may turn around, but they never do. Smokey's (Ne-Yo) "colored" conversation at the bar is the most amusing thing Red Tails has to offer, as well. There are many lame attempts at humor that just make you groan. Black Jesus is perhaps the worst joke of all, considering how things turn out for Deke (Marcus T. Paulk).
George Lucas fought for 23 years to get this made, but after viewing it you'll more than likely be convinced that the man has grown senile over the years and that retirement from Hollywood is the best thing for him. The turnout for the screening was insane and you can bet that Red Tails will more than likely make a killing at the box office, but there's no way in hell it passes as a good or even decent piece of cinema. Amateur cinematography, a boring script, terrible acting, and the fate of certain characters being extremely predictable (you can guess Lightning's fate around the time things start getting serious with Sophia), Red Tails is the equivalent of a stand-up act that gets booed off the stage. It is just awful. I was left wishing the entire movie was just Cuba Gooding Jr lifting a pipe to his lips, pulling it away, and pretending to smoke the entire film. If it was just those clips strung together with no dialogue and that dubstep track from the TV spot in the background, I could have at least gotten a good laugh out of it.
Jin ling shi san chai (2011)
"Sometimes the truth is the last thing we need to hear."
I'm really weird when it comes to war films. I have a fascination with both horror and extremely violent films in general, but tend to mostly not care for films that revolve around war. It's not that they're bad or unwatchable, but none of them have ever really made me think they're worth owning or watching again. Chinese and Japanese war epics seem to be a bit different as I adore films like The Last Samurai, Mongol, and The Warlords. The Flowers of War is in a similar vein as those three films yet is also incredibly different in comparison.
Yimou Zhang is a director that's pretty much made a name for himself as a director with his incredible use of color. Hero, House of Flying Daggers, and Curse of the Golden Flower are all lush, vibrant, and just visually brilliant. The Flowers of War is almost completely devoid of color. The battlefield is littered with shades of brown and gray until someone is shot and blood sprays into the air or trickles to the ground. The only real use of color comes in the form of the round stained glass window and the elaborate dresses the prostitutes wear. This adds for some incredible and dynamic shots seeing warfare on their doorstep through a multicolored filter and broken glass. Two prostitutes eventually escape with the intent of returning, but there's this amazing one-take sequence of their attempt of coming back to the church and their colorful dresses play a big part. That scene along with a few others was slightly reminiscent of Children of Men.
The evolution of John Miller (Christian Bale) is something wonderful. When he first arrives to the church, he's money hungry, a drunk, and a womanizer. But being around the students at the church and the group of prostitutes brings out the best in him. That sounds awkward, but it makes sense after seeing the film. There are a few wandering shots that show Bale standing or sitting alone in the church. They're fairly brief, but those images stick with you. The Chinese soldier that drops off Pu Sheng and returns one of the student's shoes is one to keep an eye on, as well. Without spoiling too much, his strategy is nothing short of amazing.
As you can probably imagine, The Flowers of War does touch upon some extremely vicious and barbaric acts that are difficult to watch. It is based on the Rape of Nanking after all. The sequences of violence are necessary, but aren't for those of you with weak stomachs. Children are stabbed and shot while prostitutes are raped and brutally murdered. Then there's all the bloodshed from the war going on. It's pretty intense, but the message the film offers makes it all worth it.
The Flowers of War is almost a war masterpiece, but there are several things that stand in the way of making it just that. The main one being that nearly every female character in the film will irritate the holy hell out of you for the entire two hour and twenty minute duration. Every prostitute but Mo (Ni Ni) has a voice that's the equivalent of scraping fingernails against a chalkboard, but there's a group of them so multiply that by twelve. Not only that, but they make stupid decisions. Risking your life for a cat or strings for your instrument seems kind of fruitless at this point, wouldn't you say? Then there's the group of students at the church that do nothing but cry, be spiteful towards the prostitutes, and hold grudges. Were they imperative to the story? Of course, but their stupid actions will only help you cheer for their deaths at the same time. There are also two musical numbers that feel out of place. Both are great concepts on paper, but they feel clumsy in their execution. And to be honest, I'm just glad the phrase, "No Mo," wasn't uttered at all in the film.
Despite featuring some of the most annoying and idiotic female characters of recent memory, The Flowers of War is an emotional journey with a heartfelt message. As John comes clean about a lie he told Mo earlier on in the film, Mo replies, "Sometimes the truth is the last thing we need to hear." That quote fits so perfectly with the tone of the film. Christian Bale delivers a spectacular performance as watching the evolution of John Miller through the duration of the film is nearly as great as the maneuver they pull off. Often brutal yet frequently beautiful, The Flowers of War is one of the few war films that is not only thoroughly enjoyable but is capable of maturing into one of the most selfless acts imaginable.
A solid action thriller
Steven Soderbergh's outbreak thriller Contagion was one of the biggest sleeper hits of last year. The film made a respectable amount at the box office and was critically praised, but if you're like me then you may have written off seeing it in theaters since most films in the same vein weren't so great, but Contagion broke the mold you may have thought it fit into and some of the credit can be attributed to the rather phenomenal ensemble cast. I'm behind with much of Soderbergh's work, but the general consensus is that he's always able to put together one hell of a cast for nearly every one of his feature films. His latest effort Haywire is no exception.
I don't follow MMA, so I had no idea who Gina Carano was going into Haywire. After it ended though, I certainly wanted to see more of her especially with how beautiful she is. Carano handles herself extremely well on-screen and is a fairly solid actress. The fact that she's able to kick ass and at least appear to have acting range is a serious plus. Despite the incredible cast, you're left wishing that the majority of them were around longer than they actually are. I'm looking at you, Michael Fassbender. Channing Tatum seemed a little less annoying than he usually is in his on-screen efforts while Ewan McGregor stepped outside of his comfort zone a bit and played for the opposing team for once. There was a lot of potential for Michael Douglas' Coblenz character, but he's used so sparingly as he's only in three scenes or so. Antonio Banderas appears on-screen about as often as Douglas, but plays a bigger role in the storyline as far as who's pulling the strings on who betrayed whom as far as Mallory's (Carano) mission goes. The only person who's somewhat forgettable is Bill Paxton. There's an amazing scene that takes place at his house, but he doesn't really contribute and is just kind of there.
One of the interesting things about Haywire is that nearly every scene that takes place inside of a building has this yellow filter to it. The hum of fluorescent lighting makes a scene that is otherwise just talking a bit more memorable. It's more than likely a Soderbergh trademark as I seem to recall the same technique being used in Contagion, as well. As Mallory tells her story to Scott (Michael Angarano), we're shown what transpired in Barcelona which is what sparked the events to come. The set up process is fairly meticulous and feels somewhat similar to the preparations a team would have to make to pull off a successful heist. There's this well executed montage in Barcelona with no dialogue and a killer soundtrack that is incredibly memorable. The soundtrack is really fantastic anyway as it has this bluesy jazz kind of feel to it that is really exceptional. When the action gets heavy though, the music disappears and you're left with the loud clamoring of two or more individuals beating the snot out of each other. Those sound effects along with seeing opponents' skulls bounce off counter corners and being thrown through windows are perhaps the greatest moments the film has to offer.
Haywire establishes this feeling that Mallory is being followed at all times, which is a must because she basically is. The way the camera shows how she's being tailed and those over the shoulder shots to show how she slipped behind a wall just in time to escape their line of vision is pretty extraordinary. The film takes us all over the world as we see the likes of Barcelona, San Diego, New York, Dublin, London, and New Mexico. One of the issues though is that despite a slight change in setting, every place feels exactly the same because a similar sequence of events occurs in every city. I overheard some people saying there were quite a few holes in the film, but I felt like the screenplay was incredibly solid. The spoken dialogue did a really superb job of reeling the viewer in while mostly feeling very natural. With that said though, it would have been nice to have a bit more action to compliment all of the talking.
Haywire is an energetic powerhouse of an action thriller with a fantastic ensemble cast, a story that throws you right in the middle of the action, and an absorbing script. The sensational soundtrack compliments the film in the best of ways. Just keep in mind that while Haywire is pretty good, it's nowhere near as good or as epic as the beard Antonio Banderas shows off in the film. That Peter Griffin beard of his is certainly something grandiose to be proud of.
A perfect addition to the Fullmetal Alchemist franchise
I have been following Fullmetal Alchemist since 2002. In college, I used to read scans of the manga translated into English by fans before it was picked up for U.S. distribution. I became addicted to the original series and blazed through its 51 episodes in less than a week (I went through "Brotherhood", a 64 episode series, in five days). The first movie Conquerer of Shamballa didn't exactly sit well with me in the long run though. It wasn't because the film was bad or of poor quality (in fact it was very much the opposite), but seeing the adventures of Edward and Alphonse Elric finally come to a close and live in a world without alchemy was extremely bittersweet. "Brotherhood" seemed to correct every misstep the original series had though while also offering better animation and was much closer to the manga it originated from. "Brotherhood" is more emotional than the original series and the conclusion just feels so right. I consider "Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood" to be one of the best anime titles of all time. So imagine the excitement when news of a new movie being in development finally reached this fan's ears. Maybe it's just because I've been on a Fullmetal Alchemist kick lately anyway, but The Sacred Star of Milos is everything I wanted it to be and then some.
The Sacred Star of Milos is a stand-alone animated feature much like Cowboy Bebop: Knocking on Heaven's Door and Trigun: Badlands Rumble. This means that as long as you have a basic understanding of the characters and the alchemy they use then you'll understand everything in the film and more than likely enjoy it thoroughly. Bones returns as the animation studio for the film (credits include the original "Fullmetal Alchemist" series, "Wolf's Rain", and "Cowboy Bebop" among many others), which is fantastic for us. The animation is so crisp, smooth, and seems so naturally fluid while everything is overflowing with color and appears to be an incredible series of paintings brought to life. The action sequences are illustrated so vividly and are so detailed. The alchemy battles along with its dynamic use of perspective never really let up. If the movie isn't impressing you with its animation or its eyecatching action, it reels you in with its story. Interesting and complex without crossing over into convoluted territory, The Sacred Star of Milos is a perfect addition to the Fullmetal Alchemist universe.
Stand-alone anime films based on well-known anime series always seem to include the coolest and unrelenting villains. The Sacred Star of Milos introduces Ashleigh Crichton and his sister Julia. The town Milos is located at the bottom of a valley directly in the middle of a rising rebellion. Julia feels like she owes an obligation to the people of Milos and looks to help restore the glory the town once had. Little does she know that her quest has her being drawn to the Philosopher's Stone. Ashleigh breaks out of prison six months before his parole and uses a mysterious alchemy that even the Elric brothers don't recognize. His motives are unclear right from the start. Then there's the wolf chimeras (along with their incredible transformations) and the mysterious masked man. All of these characters play intricate roles in the storyline.
Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos introduces some fantastic new characters wrapped up in an elaborate and intelligent storyline while delivering the exceptional animation you've come to expect from both series. Having such a sensational film be released in this timeframe of the year almost seems blasphemous.
What in the world does everyone see in this film?
I have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to Roman Polanski films. Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown, and The Pianist are all patiently biding their time in my Netflix queue waiting on me to get around to them and watch them for the first time. The Polanski films I have seen had the potential to be great, but kind of let everything they had going for it slip through the cracks as the film went on. I remember being fascinated by The Ninth Gate, but was extremely disappointed once the ending rolled around. There was also quite a bit of praise being thrown around for The Ghost Writer last year and it just didn't affect me the way any of that praise did for other critics. So while Carnage has gotten many accolades as one of the funniest movies of last year, I took it with a grain of salt. People seem to generally love Polanski and that's fine. His films are genuinely a pleasure to look at as the cinematography is always fantastic, but it certainly seems as though he may not be as great as everyone makes him out to be.
Carnage is basically a 74-minute discussion between two couples whose eleven and twelve year old sons got into a fight. Penelope (Jodie Foster) and Michael Longstreet's (John C. Reilly) son Ethan was struck in the face with a stick by Zachary, the son of Nancy (Kate Winslet) and Alan Cowan (Christoph Waltz). The parents get together to try and find a way for Zachary and Ethan to talk things out, but everything eventually falls apart and the two couples are eventually at each other's throats.
This was not the hilarious movie it was made out to be. While the other people in the theater seemed to be howling at everything on screen, it mostly just felt slightly snicker worthy at times. John C. Reilly is pretty funny. His views, the things that come out of his mouth, his character, and his performance are probably the closest thing to hilarious Carnage has to offer. "Is cobbler cake or pie?", the flush mechanisms conversation, "You certainly perked up after...", the hamster story, the doodle nickname being ridiculous, and "YOU'RE BLOWING THIS OUT OF PROPORTION!" are all mostly entertaining thanks to John C. Reilly's over the top performance. Michael Longstreet is probably the closest you'll come to relating to one of the on-screen characters, as well. The film is mostly a competition between four egomaniacal individuals competing for the spotlight though. Christoph Waltz's "god of carnage" speech is pretty amazing as is the "disfigured his schoolmate" conversation, but you want to slap the hell out of Alan Cowan the minute you realize he cherishes his phone more than anything else in the world. Kate Winslet is mostly nauseous and drunk the entire film and you probably won't walk away from this without thinking of Jodie Foster's bulbous, veiny, pulsating neck. Seriously, that thing will probably haunt your dreams the night after seeing this.
Carnage is very short. It feels like it ends as soon as it begins. It's like Cloverfield length. It also has one of the worst endings ever. How many films can you name that stop with a phone call? Nothing is resolved. Everything just stops. Despite a wonderful cast and a few chuckle worthy moments, Carnage mostly falls flat. It comes off as more of a contest between two married couples that become more interested in pointing out the flaws of their marriage rather than the task at hand. Maybe it's because I work in retail and I witness these kinds of conversations on a daily basis, but it just wasn't very entertaining at all. Carnage stumbles on the thin line between being extremely annoying and being mildly amusing.
Marky Mark's Comfort Zone
Don't you hate it when an actor offers you false hope? They throw a few projects at you that are different from the rest of their resume and seem to be taking a bit more of a risk and stepping out of their comfort zone, but then they jump right back into a project that is exactly what you'd expect from them. Mark Wahlberg is such an actor. The Fighter is probably his best work to date and I'd even give him some credit for his characters in both The Lovely Bones and The Happening even though both movies frankly sucked buckets of donkey rectum, but Wahlberg is known for that corrupt cop character who takes matters into his own hands and usually gets exactly what he wants. The Corrupter, The Departed, We Own the Night, Max Payne, and The Other Guys (this was more a parody of himself, but still) are just a few examples of this character. That's the biggest problem Contraband has; it does nothing to separate itself from every movie it reminds you of.
Wahlberg isn't a cop this time around, but he's basically the good guy being pulled back into the filth he distanced himself from. Chris Farraday (Wahlberg) used to be the best smuggler around. With a wife and two kids, he finds himself retired in the present day. But when Chris' brother in law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) has to dump a package for local crime lord Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) as customs boards the boat he's on, his life is suddenly in danger and he owes a massive debt that any living person would have a difficult time repaying. Chris has no choice but to do one last job to save Andy even if it means putting the rest of his family at risk.
Giovanni Ribisi and Ben Foster (who plays Chris Farraday's best friend Sebastian Abney) were the two reasons I actually gave this movie a chance. I'm a big fan of both actors, so I was hoping that the both of them would at least deliver some noteworthy performances. One of the other issues Contraband has (there are many) is that everyone in the movie is playing the exact same character. Every male character is competing with everyone else trying to display who has the most testosterone flowing through their system at any given point in time. Nearly every man in the movie yells loudly, tells raunchy jokes while stringing a half a dozen curse words together every time they speak, and/or forcefully displays their dominance by whipping out a gun, beating somebody up, or threatening to do one of the two. The only two who aren't like this are Lukas Haas (who plays Danny Raymer in the movie and is probably known best for briefly appearing in Inception) who seems to be the exact opposite (is mostly a coward, is afraid he'll never see his wife again, always wants to go home, etc) and Ben Foster. Foster is the best part of Contraband, but that isn't saying much since it still doesn't measure up to his performances in 3:10 to Yuma and The Messenger. He displays the most emotion and is the most complex character in the movie. The way his character evolves is almost decent. Kate Beckinsale isn't much help either as she mostly just worries and eventually becomes a liability rather than somebody you actually care about. It's as if everyone has the same back-story, acts exactly the same as everyone else, and they're all so one-dimensional that you just don't care about any of them.
The score to a movie is supposed to compliment it. It enhances the viewing experience the majority of the time by helping add tension or make something more emotional. The same can be said about a soundtrack. It should at least feel like it belongs there. The music in Contraband feels extremely out of place. Clinton Shorter (the man credited for contributing original music to the movie) seems to have just thrown in music he's a fan of rather than what would be appropriate to accompany the movie. What we heard felt like it clashed with whatever was taking place on film, which certainly seems as if somebody wasn't doing their job properly.
Then there's the message Contraband leaves you with that seems to encourage viewers to lie and steal and break the law since you never know how valuable something you steal is going to be. Why bother trying to turn your life around when you can make it big doing what you promised your wife you'd never do again? Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I'm under the impression that if you put together a bad movie you should at least deliver a good message. Have something admirable to offer your audience. Contraband doesn't really have much of anything.
Contraband is just the stalest form of entertainment you'd expect from a crime movie. The characters are so flat and dull, the storyline is something you've seen a dozen times before, its amateur camera work and rough zoom-in technique gets on your last nerve, and the cast is fairly forgettable since everyone seems to be portraying the same person. Contraband is basically this year's Takers and that is certainly no compliment.