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1. Scream (1996)
2. Grindhouse (2007)
3. Requiem for a Dream (2000)
4. Titanic (1997)
5. Donnie Darko (2001)
6. The Descent (2005)
7. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
8. I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
9. Toy Story 3 (2010)
10. The Faculty (1998)
11. Across the Universe (2007)
12. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
13. (500) Days of Summer (2009)
14. Jawbreaker (1999)
15. The Craft (1996)
16. Cruel Intentions (1999)
17. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
18. Perfect Blue (1997)
19. American Beauty (1999)
20. Scary Movie (2000)
My Favorite Actors
ALL-TIME FAVE: River Phoenix (R.I.P.)
Michael C. Hall
Johnathan Rhys Meyers
My Favorite Actresses
Sarah Michelle Gellar
Jennifer Love Hewitt
Bryce Dallas Howard
Top 20 TV Shows
1. Six Feet Under
3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
4. Queer as Folk
6. Freaks and Geeks
8. True Blood
11. Big Love
12. Sex and the City
13. Gossip Girl
14. The Office
15. Dawson's Creek
16. Pushing Daisies
18. American Idol
19. Tales from the Crypt
20. Courage the Cowardly Dog
My Favorite Bands/Music (in no order)
The Academy Is, Animal Collective, Belle & Sebastian, Brand New, Coconut Records, Coldplay, Daft Punk, David Archuleta, Death Cab for Cutie, The Decemberists, Honor Society, Jonas Brothers, Kelly Clarkson, Lady Gaga, Matt & Kim, Modest Mouse, Muse, My Chemical Romance, Neutral Milk Hotel, Of Montreal, Owl City, Panic at the Disco, Passion Pit, Portugal the Man, The Postal Service, Queen, Rilo Kiley, Rob Zombie, Say Anything, The Shins, The Smiths, Sublime, Vampire Weekend, Wheatus, White Lies, Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Top 20 Video Games
1) Kingdom Hearts II
2) Fatal Frame III: The Tormented
4) Resident Evil 4
5) Katamari Damacy/ We Love Katamari
6) Pikmin 2
8) Radiata Stories
9) Eternal Darkness
10) Paper Mario 2: The Thousand-Year Door
11) Chibi-Robo/ Banjo-Kazooie
12) Dead Rising
13) Tales of Symphonia
14) Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly
15) God of War
16) Final Fantasy X
17) Super Smash Bros. Melee
18) Mario Kart: Double Dash!
19) Super Mario Sunshine
20) Viva Pinata
The Lovely Bones, The Ruins, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Cell, Twilight, Holes, Final Destination: Dead Man�s Hand, Through Violet Eyes, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three, A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Vile Village, A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Penultimate Peril, The Hobbit, The Eyes of the Dragon, Clay�s Way, Snuff
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My Favorite Since Jurassic Park
Three years ago, we were gifted with the new franchise entry Jurassic World, a film that broke records and stole my heart. It was a beautiful love letter to the original films, deeply rooted in nostalgia, but it also amped up the action and gave us a new set of characters to fall in love with. I loved every minute of it, and never wanted it to end.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a completely new monster. This carries the basic DNA of what we expect from a Jurassic movie, but takes it to crazy new heights, relying very little on nostalgia or setup from earlier installments. New director J.A. Bayona brings a new perspective to the sweeping action set pieces and a dark, riveting tone that isn't present in any of the other franchise entries. The ensemble cast, including Chris Pratt's charismatic Owen Grady, Bryce Dallas Howard's Claire Dearing, and (my personal favorite) newcomer Isabella Sermon's Maisie Lockwood, all bring something to the table that fits together in a nice cohesive way thanks to a lot of onscreen chemistry. Maisie is the anchor of film's twisty story, and she is just downright adorable unlike some of the annoying children this series is known for. Depending on how you look at it, the real stars are the dinosaurs and special effects, which are the best they've ever been. This one feels like a love letter to the dinosaurs themselves in more than one respect. Best of all, though: this might be my favorite sequel since the original Jurassic Park.
The opening sequence alone made me fall in love with the film almost immediately, already setting up the scarier tone and feel. This movie has such a large scope that it dwarfs any other Jurassic film in that way. It just feels bigger, and of course it's extremely entertaining. The action pace is nonstop, but Bayona also gifts us with beautiful and tender shots (there's one in particular that broke my heart) and great character beats. The claustrophobic setting of the film's second half is atmospheric gothic horror meets creature feature. It's something I never thought I would say about any Jurassic film, but it felt exciting and new and certainly nothing like what we've seen previously.
Fallen Kingdom is a dark, explosive blockbuster that takes the series in an exciting new direction and I absolutely loved it. It expands the scope of the series in such a way that it feels like there is so much more story left to tell here. I can't wait to see it again, and I can't wait to see where this series will go next.
Furious Seven (2015)
Solid Installment with a Touching Conclusion
Ridiculous, over the top, and somehow fantastic, Furious 7 is another very very fun installment in the franchise. It's crazy how Five, Six, and now 7 are all considered the best installments. How often can you get quality films 5, 6, and 7 movies deep? The dialogue is a bit stilted at times, and there are moments when the CGI Paul Walker is pretty noticeable, but for the most part, this is a very well-done film. James Wan brings incredible vision and skillful direction to the franchise. I can only imagine the woes this production underwent as a result of one of its main stars, and while the ending clearly was added later on, it is basically perfect. I can't think of a more tasteful way they could have handled things. Without spoilers, this is a very loving tribute to Paul Walker. His presence is felt throughout the whole movie, but the ending especially really hits close to home and weighs heavy in the spirit of Paul. I think he would have been proud. It will be interesting to see where they are going to take things from here, and especially whether or not this will be as successful minus one of the leads. After the excellence of Furious 7, I'm definitely ready for whatever they are going to churn up next, even though the way this ended felt like a very fitting conclusion for the franchise as a whole.
The Hunted (2013)
Disappointing and Terrible
I'm a huge fan of horror, found footage, and Josh Stewart. How could The Hunted not be good? It has all the right ingredients: a creepy setting, two promising actors, and a nice low budget feel. Somehow, The Hunted is just plain awful. There is no sugar coating it. The script feels like a skeleton. The "screams" that scare these two throughout the movie are just plain not scary. Why is there music in a found footage film? You don't need suspenseful music to create a mood - let the situation speak for itself. The ending is frustrating and enough to make you question why you even bothered watching in the first place. Josh Stewart, always reliable, is actually kind of bland here. It is probably to blame on the characters, which feel as hollow as a chocolate Easter bunny. I wouldn't have minded not seeing the entity stalking these two if the film itself had come out on top in the end and really delivered some great moments. The film was clearly heavily influenced by The Blair Witch Project: if you're going to imitate one of the greats, you had better be bringing something original and awesome to the mix. The one and only compelling aspect of this movie lies in the ghost story told during the middle. Sorry, Josh, but it's time to go back to the drawing board for your next movie. I'm rooting for you!
This Is the End (2013)
Best Apocalyptic Comedy Ever
A new comedy classic has arrived in Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's masterful creation, This Is The End. The ultimate apocalypse movie with too many celeb/pop culture references to count, this is a film that can easily be considered the comedy of the year. Check out my full review.
James Franco is having a huge party at his place, and all his best buds are in attendance. Jay Baruchel is with his best bud Seth Rogen, but he's not big on the party scene and really isn't feeling much like staying. When the two take a trip to a store to blow off some steam, the apocalypse comes in terrifying fashion, complete with demons, rapture, hellfire, and sinkholes.
Going into the movie knowing very little about what to expect, I adored every moment of This Is The End. The direction is stellar and the music selection is comprised of tunes you won't soon be able to get out of your head. The six lead actors play off each other and every other actor to make an appearance in the film delivers, sometimes mocking themselves in highly memorable fashion.
For the first third of the film, Michael Cera kind of steals the show as a coked-out crazed version of himself, slapping around Rihanna and getting blown in Franco's bathroom. My favorite cameo comes by way of Channing Tatum, who clearly has a sense of a humor and has cemented my respect by appearing. There is also a certain boy band that cameos at the very end, bringing back a familiar 90's tune and ending the film on a high note.
More than the cameos, there is a ton to be said about the phenomenal performances from the six leads. It's difficult enough to maintain consistent character arcs, story, and one-liners with one two characters, let alone six. There is no clear stand-out among the group, as they all fight for the the title on more than one occasion. James Franco is super laid-back and obsessed with Seth Rogen. Jay Baruchel is best buds with Seth and has trouble trying to live with the rest of the crew. Craig Robinson tries to stay on everyone's good side. Seth Rogen is the same lovable character you'd imagine him to be in real life. Danny McBride is hated by everyone and causes a major rift amongst the others with his outlandish behavior, annoying none as much as he annoys James. Jonah Hill is overly nice to everyone around him and always sticking up for them. Throw these six people into one house with little food and water to spare during an apocalypse. What's the worst that can happen? Each actor seems to have a blast digging into each other and more than one joke is made at the expense of films they have done in the past.
This is a technically very well-made film as well as being solidly acted, and there are lines you will be quoting for days to come. I want to see it again, immediately. I still think I prefer the original title (Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse) but I'm totally okay with the new one as well, as it pretty accurately portrays the somber mood and gives you a hint of the darkly perfect comedy.
The horror elements of the movie are done very well and easily stay in sync with the comedy elements, which come fast and fresh. Once you hit the faux trailer for Pineapple Express 2, it's clear that This Is The End isn't slowing down any time soon. This is a movie to be remembered for years to come. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are my heroes. This Is The End is the best apocalyptic celebs-playing-themselves horror comedy you're ever likely to see.
Scary Movie 5 (2013)
Hysterically Funny Spoof Film
It's been 7 years since Scary Movie 4 hit theaters to a pretty impressive box office run, and Scary Movie 5 brings the series back in a big fun way. If you loved the other four films (especially part 3) you will definitely get a kick out of Scary Movie 5. This is a spoof done right, written by David Zucker, the master of slapstick humor. Sure, like any spoof movie there are tons and tons of jokes and some miss the mark. However, Scary Movie 5 succeeds by sticking to its roots and rebooting the entire series for new audiences and old fans alike.
The first thing you will probably notice is the rather unfortunate and upsetting lack of Anna Farris. Farris rose to stardom almost exclusively through the Scary Movie films at first, building her comedic repertoire along the way. At the time of filming, Farris was pregnant, so Ashley Tisdale fills Anna's shoes in a surprisingly fulfilling turn. Sure, she's no Cindy Campbell, but Jody is a character you can root for and Tisdale really does prove she has good comic timing. Unfortunately, there is also no Brenda (Regina Hall) or any of the other great characters to be found in the other sequels. For this film, it actually works this circumstance to its advantage, bringing back both Charlie Sheen and Simon Rex as relatives (again) but playing completely different character than their counterparts from the third and fourth installments. Some of the side characters bring the most laughs, from Molly Shannon as Heather to Tyler Posey as a hardcore Christian chilling at a cabin in the woods (long story.) The opening scene rivals the best ones in this series, and the scene fully concludes after the credits roll so stick around for a fun moment and obvious ode to the other four movies. Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen were absolutely perfect choices for the opening and I really missed them once they were gone. Also, I could watch Simon Rex do his awkward comedy schtick for hours and never get bored. Rock on, Dirt Nasty!
There are some really nitpicky issues to be found within this feature, but when you are watching a spoof film you really need to switch your brain off to have any fun. There are some odd dubbing issues as far as sound goes where it looks like the actor was saying something else, which most likely was a product of the numerous reshoots this movie underwent to remain more relevant. The Inception and 50 Shades of Grey spoofs kind of fall flat on their faces and bring the movie to a bit of a halt, but they are mere bumps in the road compared to the laughs to be found in the rest of the movie. I'm anxious to see an unrated version of this on DVD to see what was cut out or what footage/spoofs were excised completely from the final product.
If spoofs are your thing, there is plenty of hysterical moments to be found within Scary Movie 5, which actually takes chances and doesn't rehash the same material over and over again. This isn't your typical throwaway spoof. Though the ending could have used a bit of polishing (come to think of it, I've never been fully satisfied with an ending apart from the first), the final product is very watchable and has some decidedly off-the-wall moments. I can honestly say I loved Scary Movie 5, and if you're a fan of spoofs you will probably love it too.
Final Destination 5 (2011)
Best in the Franchise
The best in the series, in my opinion. After The Final Destination, I wasn't really sure what to expect but this was an excellent return to form for the series, boasting all the dread and suspense that this series is known for. Every performance in this one is gut-wrenching, that ending was thrilling and incredible on every level, and I think the story this time around held the most emotional weight. It's hard to tell who really steals the show more, D'Agosto or Fisher, because both of them are fantastic. Emma Bell is lovely as always. I hope this is the last film because if they end it here, they will be finishing up the series on a major high note. Not only was every death fantastic and unexpected, but the last ten minutes had me practically biting my fingernails in terror. One of the year's best sequels and all-around best features.
Evil Dead (2013)
Perfect in every way
Evil Dead, simply put, is a new horror classic. It's a remake of the memorable 80's time capsule The Evil Dead (a film which has actually aged quite splendidly thanks to some impeccable filmmaking), but this new film is a creature all by itself. Directed by Fede Alvarez and featuring very little CGI (if any), Evil Dead is the horror movie by which all modern horror films should will be looking up to years down the road.
The most immediately distinguishing and intriguing characteristic about this new Evil Dead is how polished and neat the storyline is able to flow. These aren't just some people coming to hole themselves up in a cabin for awhile with no particular rhyme or reason other than that they just want to have a good time. David (Shiloh Fernandez) comes to the cabin to help kick his sister (Jane Levy) Mia's drug addiction with some of her closest friends, Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), Olivia (Jessica Lucas), and Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore). Her addiction is becoming a downward spiral and negatively affecting everyone around her. As a last effort, the group decides the best way to get Mia back to normal is to hole her up in the family cabin and not let her leave.
The movie takes its time to let us know the characters before bad things start going down, even though the opening scene kicks things off pretty deliciously as it marks the audience's first introduction to a deadite. From there, things don't kick into overdrive until Eric starts playing around with the flesh-covered book they recover in the basement. After this, really bad things start happening rapidly that lead to blood. Lots and lots of blood. To discuss what happens in further detail would be to divulge entirely too much information.
The directing is slick and stunning with some phenomenal camera-work and shots that rival anything you will find in the original movie. To compare Evil Dead to the original is unfair, though, because the original movie is a product of its time and the best possible movie it could have been at that time. Evil Dead is polished, precise, perfect down to the last scene of the movie which will stick with you long after the credits have rolled. The cast couldn't have been better, either, with Shiloh Fernandez and Jane Levy especially standing out as the brother and sister duo. Each of the five main roles contributes something significant to the flick and there isn't a single player involved that the movie could have done without. The new design of the Book of the Dead is flawless and creepy: while it might not be a face like the original, the skin on the cover and the pages within are still effectively chilling.
If you are a horror fan in any fashion, Evil Dead is the must-see movie of the year. At this point, I'd be shocked if any other horror movie this year comes close to matching the brilliance, brutality, and spectacle that is developed over the course of 91 minutes of terror. Evil Dead is a modern horror classic that you have to see to believe. Bring on the sequel!
Awful 3D and mediocre storyline leads to wasted potential
As a movie, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is kind of a mess. There is no denying that there is some fun to be found here, especially if you're into the so-bad-it's-good genre. The cast is adequate and visually, it is quite striking. If you're looking for something any more substantial, I would suggest considerably lowering your expectations. I caught the midnight show.
If you know the title, you can pretty much figure out the plot. We follow Abe Lincoln on a life- long journey after discovering that the creature who killed his mother was indeed a vampire. Along the way, he meets the love of his life and a fellow hunter who shows him the ropes.
So right off the bat: I wasn't expecting an Award-winning film here. I mean, do you go into a movie called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and expect something extraordinary? Hell no. That said though, even with a premise as silly as this one you still have to find ways to make it work, ways to engage the audience beyond anything glimpsed here. For me personally, this movie just does not work when it needs to.
The casting isn't the problem; everyone is actually quite good including the big man himself, played by a dashing Benjamin Walker. I did have a big issue with the aging makeup, though not so much on Abe. Everyone around him is supposed to get older as the time passes, and yet no one looks to be aged within ten years of Abe. I can understand some minor discrepancies, but seriously? The makeup on Mary Elizabeth Winstead made her look about five years older. The visual look of the film also isn't the problem, even though the special effects are overly shoddy at times and can pull you right out of the movie. Overseen by Tim Burton, the cinematography looks great even when the special effects don't. The action scenes usually fall pretty flat for the most part and didn't really impress me much. The whole section where Abe hunts down his mother's killer made me practically keel over from laughter, it was so preposterous.
For me, the biggest problem lies in the script which relies quite a bit too much on the historical side of things without doing anything to really flesh out the characters. It also takes itself much, much too seriously for the movie's own good. Some dialogue and even entire situations don't make the slightest bit of sense. For instance, (minor spoiler here) it is established early on that one vampire cannot harm another vampire. So why, in one specific instance, does the very opposite of this established rule occur? There is no given explanation. There are all sorts of little plot holes, issues with the mythology, and logical impossibilities that definitely bothered me (how was Abe's hat able to hold the entire body weight of Mary without capsizing?), but there was quite a lot that I was willing to let slide.
The positives: An energetic Dominic Cooper. Benjamin Walker completely immerses himself in the role of Abe and is believable even when the situations aren't. The visually pleasing look of the film. Lots to laugh at, even when it's unintentional. The look of the vampires. The comical overuse of slow-motion.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter isn't your typical vampire movie and it certainly doesn't establish any of the mythology to an understandable extent. However, I laughed a lot. It was a fun throwaway movie and certainly could have been much worse. Hilarity ensues from the second the movie begins. If you're looking forward to this flick, I would wait to check it out on DVD. The 3D was absolutely terrible and there was nothing that popped out at all, unless you count a few specks of dust. / Rating: D+
Magic Mike (2012)
Beautiful directing, Beautiful men, Beautiful film
I had the great pleasure of catching the midnight show for Magic Mike, with an all-star cast including Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matt Bomer, Matthew McConaughey, and Joe Manganiello. I absolutely adored the movie from start to finish, and even though it was about two hours long, I still wanted more!
First thing's first: don't go in expecting nothing but stripping for two hours. Sure, Magic Mike is mainly about a group of strippers but it also intimately deals with the private lives of both Mike and Adam. It goes to darker places than I would have imagined and explores themes and ideas you wouldn't exactly expect from a stripper flick. I'm not trying to diminish any of the fun you will most likely have if you go to see Magic Mike this weekend, just adjust your expectations accordingly because the movie is equal parts drama and comedy.
Essentially, the plot deals with Magic Mike, a stripper who works for Dallas, who takes a young kid under his wing (Adam). The more comfortable Adam gets with the stripping game, the more his world spins out of control.
I absolutely loved the casting in this movie. Really though, whoever was in the casting department deserves an Oscar, because it's all perfect and brilliant. I couldn't have envisioned a better or more well-suited colorful cast of characters. While the minor characters (like Joe Manganiello's Big Dick Richie and Matt Bomer's Ken) aren't given a whole lot to do throughout the duration, they all still have shining little moments. I especially adored Bomer's swagger, which was pretty much unparalleled. Channing Tatum is absolutely epic in the movie, playing what is essentially an extension of himself and doing so quite well. McConaughey is also quite striking in what I'd consider to be a daring career move. I couldn't have imagined anyone else doing his role or performing it halfway as good as he does.
Director Steven Soderbergh does an overly competent job as director here, serving up equal parts heart and epic sexy strip scenes. The music and every scene where shirts are shed are downright memorable, and may serve as great DVD extras if extended sequences are made available. I know I'd certainly watch a full-length movie of all the stripper performances.
So, there is actually one small complaint that I had: the ending was way too abrupt. I'm all for ambiguity, but it seemed really sudden and somehow unfinished. Maybe it's just me being greedy and wanting a bit more specifics. I also kind of find Cody Horn quite annoying, but that is neither here nor there.
If you have nothing better to do this weekend and you're in to sexy beefcake-y guys, definitely check out Magic Mike. I loved everything from the costumes to the sets to the camera-work to the absolutely brilliant casting. Can they make a sequel or spin-off that's at least an hour of male stripper dancing This movie is as close to the perfect fantasy flick you're going to get. The DVD had better have extended musical scenes because it really should; how many more DVD's would they sell that way? I must see this movie again, and as soon as possible! / Rating: A+
Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)
Solid Installment in Fun Franchise
It's October so you know what that means
a new installment in everyone's favorite found footage horror franchise, Paranormal Activity, of course! The fourth installment is another fun ride with plenty of shocking surprises
Paranormal Activity 3 was a prequel, and Paranormal Activity 2 ended (in movie time) in 2006 so I was as surprised as anyone that in this installment they took things to 2011. It works wonders in giving some fresh take on the material, including a pretty flawless filming technique that actually works and isn't hammered over your head like some other found footage features. Plus, Katie returns in a surprising way and the advances in technology (including webchats) really make Paranormal 4 feel new.
Essentially, we follow teenager Alex (Kathryn Newton) and her boyfriend (Matt Shively) as a new kid who has moved in across the street with his mom starts to result in some weird occurrences in Alex's family home. The mysterious kid, named Robbie (Brady Allen), talks to an "invisible friend" and his story pulls the present situation into a relationship with the other three Paranormal films. To reveal anymore would be to rob the film of its surprises and scares (of which there are plenty.)
If you're seeing PA4 for the scares and jump moments, then there is plenty of bang for your buck. The scares come aplenty, and most of them are in large part to the webcams on the Macs littered throughout the movie. The Xbox 360 Kinect also contributes to one of the most scarring moments of all, and that ending wow is all I can say. It is super abrupt but it could mean big things for this franchise, especially if the fifth installment picks up right where this one ended.
The best part about this flick is that it continues to mysteriously build upon the mythology established in the other films while leaving the door open for more installments. We aren't given all of the answers here, just enough to satisfy. Just like previous installments, plenty of answers are given but many more questions surface. The acting is just fine as well: I mean, none of these actors are going for the Oscar or anything, but I particularly enjoyed Matt Shively as Alex's meddling boyfriend. He brought just enough tongue-in-cheek schtick to the movie and serves for some welcome comic relief.
If you're a fan of the Paranormal Activity franchise at all, then there is literally no possible reason why you shouldn't go check out this new installment. Newcomers will be totally lost and, like the Saw franchise before it, I would really recommend you check out the other three films before jumping into this one. Unlike the third installment, which you could basically see without viewing the first two due to the fact that it was a prequel, this one essentially demands that you see the other ones first.
Like the other movies, this one starts off with plenty of story and character development before the final act goes totally batshit. The ending (and the whole final twenty minutes or so, actually) is thickly infused with a sense of dread and tension and is the main reason this franchise is so loved by the horror community. I totally dug it!
Overall: Paranormal Activity 4 is a fun new installment in the franchise and thusly ends just as abruptly as the others. Be sure to stick around after the credits for a bizarre tease at a new, currently untitled Paranormal Activity spin-off. / Rating: A
21 Jump Street (2012)
I saw an advanced screening of 21 Jump Street this week, and it didn't disappoint. So many clever jokes in such a brisk runtime: you really won't want it to end. The best thing about this movie is that it doesn't insult the audience at all, and is completely showered with brilliant gags and phenomenal writing. Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill are a completely impeccable duo, and they really need to do more films together. Tatum's true calling is definitely comedy, and Jonah Hill shows off a different side from what we've seen. Dave Franco has been turning in scene- stealing supporting roles for years now, so it's nice to see him have a pretty meaty role in such a comedy. There is also a really bizarre but strangely effective cameo that had the entire audience clapping; the final act is a series of increasingly more hilarious situations that bring all the ideas to their highest peak. I really hope this movie receives the critical acclaim and audience attention it so rightly deserves, because it really is the best comedy of the year so far and it will be pretty much impossible to top it.
The Sitter (2011)
A near-perfect end of the year Comedy
Hilarious from start to finish, The Sitter injected a much-needed R-rated comedy boost to the draggy awards season of December. Jonah Hill delivers another funny performance, but the real surprise for me was the shocking pro-gay message featuring one of the first kid-related gay story lines in a mainstream film. Max Records, the awesomely talented kid from Where the Wild Things Are, has no problem with the content and easily delivers a calculated performance. I guess I was so surprised because gay content is rarely dealt with so carefully in a Hollywood film marketed toward young adults, and I have to say I was really impressed. The kids make the movie all the better, and each of them is given a relatively well-developed backstory. The movie never sputters out, running at a perfect pace and hitting all the right punches. Even Sam Rockwell is awesome as a crazy could-be-gay drug dealer who chases the sitter and the children all across town. The Sitter is a movie I'd easily recommend and another fun treat from director David Gordon Green.
A fun film that's oodles better than the book
As flawless as anything from Stephenie Meyer is going to get. The makeup and special effects- work in this film were absolutely stunning, and Bella's transformation into a weak, powerless shell carrying a child inside her was magnificent. Once again, Taylor Lautner shows off his acting chops (he even has an intense crying scene this time!). Shockingly, the haircuts and costumes were the best out of all the films in this movie. Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) who normally looks absolutely ridiculous, manages to actually have decent hair for once. There are a few things that seem just as dumb on screen as they did on the page (Jacob imprints on Renesmee? The name Renesmee?), but for the most part, screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg works with Stephenie to craft something much better than was actually in the book. The birthing scene alone has a lot of power to it. The cinematography was great and, as always, I totally loved the soundtrack (which was kind of a mix of indie and pop/rock). I honestly don't feel there's any proper way they can make Part 2 cinematically pleasing, because the last half of Meyer's novel was an absolute trainwreck. Here's hoping that it's even halfway as good as this one.
I Spit on Your Grave (2010)
Savage and unrelenting.. utterly excellent.
Remakes of horror classics can easily make people angry, unless of course they find some way to improve on the original or just take the story in a completely different direction. I Spit On Your Grave, the newest in a long line of horror remakes takes a cue from some of the greats like last year's The Last House on the Left and 2003's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (among many others) in changing the movie's original story into a slightly more complex but awesome gritty thrill ride with plenty of intense gore scenes and deeply intense moments to go around. The remake is directed by Steven R. Monroe from a script by Stuart Morse, and starring in the production are Sarah Butler, Chad Lindberg, Daniel Franzese, Jeff Branson, Rodney Eastman, and Andrew Howard, most of whom are relatively unknown and do very competent jobs in their respective roles.
Going deep into seclusion to stay at a cabin and work on her newest novel, Jennifer Hills (Butler) expects a quiet few months in the middle of nowhere. After a brief run-in with a few folks from town, she is assaulted in her home and savagely raped, then left for dead. The bulk of the film deals with the aftermath of this event and Jennifer's fight to get revenge on those who wronged her.
Having just watched the original, it was a real treat to see how much the filmmakers really put into giving it justice. There are several scenes that are lifted from the original, but this remake adds so many modern aspects to the plot that almost every inch of it is something fresh. I loved how the ending was a perfect wink to the original, although this one goes out on a much more awesome note.
While the original had a few plot holes and some inconsistencies as well as a lack of any real edge-of-your-seat suspense, the final act of this remake pumps it into full gear with some superb kill scenes. The violence is incredibly extreme and admittedly made me cringe more than a few times. While the original's kills were less about the gore and more about the simplicity, the brutality of this remake never seems to hold back. Probably the most brutal of all is the ultimate ode to the most famous death scene in the original, which I won't mention here for fear of spoiling it for the uninitiated. The particular scene made me slightly queasy, but it's extremely effective.
The female empowerment quotient that is so obvious and evident in the original is all the more powerful here; the audience almost has to question if the sort of overly sadistic torture that Jennifer grants her victims has been rightfully deserved. So much exposition is added to the story that it makes us care much more for Jennifer and root for her as soon as she comes back a bit later in the picture. The introduction to our characters and the subsequent horrors is a very great one; there are many great camera angles utilized, as our director clearly has skills behind the camera.
The acting has very few holes and was actually pretty impressive. While few of these actors have been seen in major studio productions, they all manage to impress and mostly shatter audience expectations. Sarah Butler delivers her lines with a sarcastic witty nuance that few actresses with as little experience would have been able to pull off effectively. The hillbillies are all particularly horrific, but it's Jeff Branson that really shines here. He has massive charisma on the screen, and several scene-stealing lines throughout the movie. It's a shame he hasn't had the chance to do more with his career yet, but I easily see a bright future ahead for him. The rest of the cast is not without their own respective merits, and they carry the film's crisp runtime easily on their shoulders.
This movie was above and beyond one of the best horror films so far this year. It's incredibly brutal and deeply controversial with its depictions of death and rape, but it's message is a very interesting one. The acting and direction are exceedingly perfect and the movie's final act is sure to be remembered. To say it surpasses the original movie by a country mile would not be inaccurate; I Spit On Your Grave is a hugely entertaining and outrageous thrill ride.
The Final Destination (2009)
Stellar 3D and amazing kills
The Final Destination films have always been more suspenseful than anything, and in a genre full of stalk-and-slash films, they were always a fun diversion and often even encompassed incredibly good film-making. The newest and supposedly last installment in the ten-year series, aptly titled The Final Destination, does an incredible job of matching some of the series' best moments, and ends things in a very satisfying way. Explosions and insanity abound in the new horror film directed by David R. Ellis, and starring Bobby Campo, Nick Zano, Krista Allen, Haley Webb, and Shantel VanSanten.
So, the basis of all the Destination films relies on the opening disaster sequence, and in stunning 3-D, I believe I can honestly say that this one was the best of the four. There's all sorts of blood and cool CGI-effects blazing across the screen, it was just a very fun and exciting sequence.
Obviously by now, everyone knows the most enticing aspect about these films: the highly original and creative deaths. In this movie, it's heightened tenfold by the extremely fascinating use of the 3D, which at times sends all sorts of really cool things flying at the screen. We get a lot of really disgusting death scenes and sequences, the coolest stuff definitely taking place at a mall towards the end. Saying even a single word about the hugely inventive deaths in the film would completely spoil the whole point of the movie, but at a series high of eleven, The Final Destination displays the most kills of the entire series.
The 3D works the very best in the film when it comes to the high-definition, CGI-laden premonitions, which are vastly different than the brief glimpses at future events that were in the first and second films (the third had a complete lack of person-to-person premonitions due to the interesting and vastly original picture-death system). The premonitions are highly effective and in-your-face, for once displaying just the perfect amount of foreshadowing without going overboard. And in a Final Destination movie, foreshadowing is what it's all about.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this installment of the series is seeing the return of "presence" or evil force that was so prevalent in the original movie that started it all. While many of the situations and things this time around were incredibly unrealistic, the 3D definitely was an excuse for all sorts of crazy stuff. The presence works well in this installment, definitely fitting more with the semi-cheesy tone of the film overall. I really enjoyed the red herrings that popped up all throughout the movie; it almost got to a point where you're never really sure quite how a character is gonna bite it, and it makes for an extremely entertaining watch.
The acting? Probably the last thing the audience is thinking about when they come to see a Destination movie. There's some impressive performances here, and a very charismatic lead performance from Bobby Campo, but nobody is trying to win an Oscar here. It's horror, after all. All the actors and actresses are just trying to have a good time, and it really shows. They all work well off of each other. Honestly, with the short runtime, I was seriously concerned that the acting and character development would sort of fall by the wayside. In a lot of ways, the development definitely did, but the actors bring a lot of life to their characters, even the ones who have very little screen time. It's almost like a very fun little ensemble.
David R. Ellis was, absolutely, the perfect choice to close up the final chapter of the franchise. He's at home behind the camera, and he seems to really "get" the whole feel of the movie. The tongue-in-cheek thing is his specialty; he also directed Snakes on a Plane and the well-received Final Destination 2.
What the third film succeeded in the most was three things: character development, highly realistic death scenes, and building tension to a massive boiling point. Where The Final Destination fails in building up much decent character development and in making the deaths hyper-realistic and disturbing, it succeeds in both a fun factor that wasn't present much in the other movies and building tension. Horror-suspense is pretty much the perfect genre classification for these films, and there's just as much fear and intensity emanating from the big screen in this one as there ever was before. A scene toward the middle that I especially liked where two people were in danger at the same time was one that really got to me.
For months now, I've been raving about how badly I wanted to see this movie. After all, it was without a doubt my most anticipated movie of 2009. Did it live up to the hype? Hell yes. It was every bit as brutal as I was expecting and I pretty much loved everything about it. One of my favorite things about the movie was the highly original opening credits sequence, which was sort of a lament to all of the series' death scenes. It was very well-orchestrated, and it set an extremely fun mood for the scenes that followed. All in all, this was definitely near the top of my list for best horror films of the year. It was absolutely fantastic.
While I still think Final Destination 3 was the perfect film and the best out of the stellar franchise, The Final Destination was definitely a good contender and loads of tongue-in-cheek fun. I dug the characters, dialogue, death scenes, and ending a whole hell of a lot, and I'd recommend it to any fan of the franchise or any fan of 3D.
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
A film brimming with creativity, perfect direction, and an incredibly enthralling storyline, one of 2009's best movies? Quentin Tarantino's appropriately named Inglourious Basterds fits quite snugly into this description. It's almost as if Tarantino has risen to such cinematic high standards that to see one of his films in a theater is simply mind-blowing. Basterds features the acting talents of Brad Pitt, Melanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger, and many, many others.
In Nazi-occupied France, a young Jewish refugee Shosanna Dreyfus witnesses the slaughter of her family by Colonel Hans Landa. Narrowly escaping with her life, she plots her revenge several years later when German war hero Fredrick Zoller quickly takes an interest in her and arranges an illustrious movie premiere at the theater she now runs. With the promise of every major Nazi officer in attendance, the event catches the attention of the "Basterds", a group of Jewish-American guerrilla soldiers led by the ruthless Lt. Aldo Raine. As the relentless executioners advance and the conspiring young girl's plans are set in motion, their paths will cross for a fateful evening that will shake the very annals of history. (From IMDb)
Just as I have expressed countless times, I really love films that take on a life of their own and maintain a certain personality through their music. It's a thing where you hear a song and you instantly know it's from that film. And this movie is another perfect example of this phenomena. It's just perfect. The dramatic music is one of things that makes the movie so very magnificent. My favorite song in the movie was probably the usage of David Bowie's "Cat People (Putting Out the Fire)", which was just so very perfect in the context of the film.
Pinpointing the movie's finest performance is a much more difficult feat than simply giving kudos to the entire cast. Laurent's soft-spoken Shosanna? Waltz's delightfully evil Hans Landa? Pitt's off-the-wall Aldo Raine? Bruhl's kind but complicated Frederick Zoller? It's most accurately a combination of all the movie's performances. After all, where would it be without each of these core characters? All play a central role in the finale and all are played with care for detail. An ensemble piece has never fit together so perfectly before.
It's actually pretty interesting to hear about some of Tarantino's original casting choices, several of which could not be in the film due to scheduling conflicts. He was on a very strict schedule because he wanted the movie all ready in time for the Cannes film festival. Adam Sandler was attached as Donowitz "the Bear Jew" at one point. Had he not been filming Bedtime Stories and Funny People back-to-back, he would appeared in the film, and I don't think it would have been for the better. David Krumholtz was originally cast as Hirschberg (Samm Levine's character), and apparently in the script he had a much bigger role. Even Simon Pegg was set to play the British Hicox, but he was forced to pull out due to scheduling conflicts and abruptly replaced by Michael Fassbender.
The directing is absolutely phenomenal, I might even go so far as to say it's Tarantino's most structurally sound and well-flowing film. It just all comes together so perfectly well with so many different characters and acting talents filled with so many interesting camera angles. It's clearly a work by Tarantino, and it's fantastic to see another film of his because he has become such a modern staple of cinema. After this movie, Tarantino has officially and quite firmly stationed himself as one of this generation's finest directors/writers; Grindhouse, Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction, and Reservoir Dogs all received phenomenal reviews, as did this one.
And of course, there's the dialogue. Quentin Tarantino is perhaps most known for his long stretches of dialogue in his films that make or break his audience. For once, though, I don't really think there's any arguing: there's not a single line of dialogue in this taut drama that feels unnecessary or out of place. It all seems to flow and greatly add to the characters so that the film's final hour is all the more effective.
I can't say much about the film's final half hour without spoiling too much, but it surely is really strong stuff. It's beautifully crafted, somewhat poetic, and altogether perfect. All of the movie's many elements all come together at once for an absolutely insane climax. Perfectly orchestrated and perfectly paced, the final 30 minutes just might be some of the finest to have ever graced the history of cinema. And that's a big, bold statement.
In simple terms, Inglourious Basterds is a masterpiece of modern film-making, a tour-de-force that leads up to a shocking and powerful final act that throws convention out the window. What more could one ask for?
(500) Days of Summer (2009)
500 Days of Perfection...
Every year, there's at least one movie that makes you reflect upon choices you've made in your own life, one which touches you on a personal level. Last year, that film was The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. This year, it's 500 Days of Summer. Deeply poignant, original, touching, and creative, Summer is a film which will stay in your mind for weeks to come. Directed by Marc Webb, one of the year's best movies also features stellar performances from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel.
Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) believes in true love, in that one special person that everyone will find some day. Summer Flinn (Zooey Deschanel), however, does not. When Tom falls for Summer, a new intern at the greeting card company he works at, he knows it's love at first sight. Summer on the other hand remains skeptical.
While there's a whole lot more to the plot than that short paragraph, to spoil it all here would definitely be quite a shame. There's lots of twists and turns, and an ending that ties everything together quite beautifully. The whole thing is done with so much care for the characters, and all of the fantastic realism that shines through just makes it all the better.
The acting, for the most part, is what makes a film like this work so well, and this one is no exception. The two leads worked great off each other, showing raw emotion and talent all around. It's simply beyond me how Deschanel can go from a mediocre, predictable crapfest like Yes Man to a beautiful, original indie movie. Gordon-Levitt, as always, never ceases to impress, but he was definitely at his best in the this movie; it's quite possibly his best performance to date.
The originality and creativity present in this movie is, honestly, the best thing about it. It's just so damn easy to fall in love with it. The setup of time passing, the cinematography, the inventive narration, hell, even the after-sex dance party in the streets were simply phenomenal. The whole production is just oozing with talent and creativity, and it's astounding to see it all unfold. It's so simple and so effective that it's very easy to be taken aback by the beauty of it all.
I could probably rave about this movie for days. It was really that good. Just do the right thing: go out and see this indie film which has everyone talking. 500 Days of Summer is an early contender for best movie of the year. And if that doesn't get you to go check it out then I don't know what will.
Funny People (2009)
Rogen & Sandler - a match made in comedy heaven
Seth Rogen and Adam Sandler are two of the most iconic comedic actors in the business, the former of which has become increasingly popular over the last couple of years. So here it finally is: a collaboration project harbored by modern comedy's most sacred helmer: Judd Apatow. And, simply put, Funny People is the year's next best dramedy, after Adventureland, of course.
Judd Apatow is no stranger to comedy. Having produced a large batch of popular comedies from Forgetting Sarah Marshall to Pineapple Express and directing and writing two other insanely popular and incredible films, Knocked Up and The 40-Year Old Virgin, Apatow is perfectly suited for this type of film, the ultimate bromantic dramedy.
Dying of a rare blood disease, comedy-movie actor George Simmons (Adam Sandler) picks up a struggling comedian, Ira (Seth Rogen) to serve as not only his assistant, but also something of a friend. Simmons, who rarely holds friendships for long periods of time, quickly develops a bizarre but powerful bond with Ira, and attempts to right some of the wrongs in his life by trying to reignite the love of his old flame Laura (Leslie Mann), one of the only people in his life that he was truly head-over-heels in love with.
Seth Rogen has quickly become one of my favorite actors. After seeing him glow in a bit role he had in The 40-Year Old Virgin, he continued to outshine some of the best in the business through subtle comedic performances in films like Pineapple Express and Observe and Report. Rogen, having lost a lot of weight since he was last seen on the big screen, is absolutely at the top of his game here, especially in a role which requires him to show some emotional depth. His character, Ira, seemed to share an insanely deep connection with George, deeper than just them being friends. It seemed to be more on a personal level; Ira never really connected well with people in general or found much success in relationships, so he thought of Simmons as something of a role model. Along the way though, he starts to see that Simmons may be just as troubled as Ira but in different ways, and during a fight late in the movie, Rogen explodes with the kind of passion that certain actors could only dream of being able to achieve.
Adam Sandler is quite different from the normal role he plays here. He's still playing the funny man, but this time, it feels a little more real, more personal. He's a fading comedian whose movies rarely tend to be funny, he's depressed, he's dying... and I totally believed it every step of the way. Sandler is definitely believable in the role, something we haven't seen much of aside from his stellar turns in both 2002's Punch-Drunk Love and 2007's Reign Over Me. George Simmons makes movies that oftentimes mirror Sandler's own choices in films, something that makes the movie even more fun because he doesn't mind picking fun at himself.
Leslie Mann, the arguable third lead cast member in Funny People, has popped up in more than one Apatow-related production. Most recently, she was in 17 Again with Zac Efron. As Laura, Mann is perfectly well-rounded and conflicted, making her character way more interesting than it probably appeared to be on paper. She takes what could easily have been a misstep of a dull role and transforms it into a heartfelt, semi-deep performance.
The supporting cast, as always in an Apatow film, is one of the many deciding factors that makes the movie so extraordinary. There's tons and tons of cameos, from Sarah Silverman to Eminem, but the larger roles are definitely the meat of the movie. Jason Schwartzman plays a cocky sitcom star, Jonah Hill plays a plus-sized comedian, Eric Bana plays Mann's over-protective Australian husband, and several more. Even the kids are exceptionally well-rounded and adorable child actors. There's really just no losing in the movie no matter how small or insignificant your role may be.
Where Funny People succeeds the most is in its combination of comedy and drama. The message of the movie is all about rediscovering yourself and really trying to give things another try, because in life you rarely have that opportunity. The idea of death is scary, and the movie does mask this fear well, but when it gets right down to the raw, emotional stuff, it succeeds even more. It's great to see all of the actors step up to the plate and just embrace it with such open arms. Some of the most heartwarming scenes in the film involve Seth Rogen comforting Adam Sandler by his bedside. The whole notion that two guys could be this close without being physical is just altogether poetic, and takes the bounds of bromance so much farther than what was achieved most fantastically earlier this year with I Love You, Man.
Running almost two-and-a-half hours, Funny People is definitely one of the longer comedies to hit theaters this year, but also one of the best. In terms of emotional intensity and laugh-till-you-cry moments, you'd be hard-pressed to match the subtle brilliance of this film. Apatow knows his young audience, and commands the screen like a real pro. Marrying Rogen and Sandler into one movie couldn't have possibly been a more perfect notion. Was it quite as good as Knocked Up? Superbad? Only time will tell. It's hard to judge a film the first time you see it. But Apatow has, without a doubt, made his most mature film to date, and audiences everywhere are sure to appreciate such a finely scripted dramedy.
Drag Me to Hell (2009)
Sam Raimi's Return to "True Horror" is a Triumph
From the intense opening scene to the stellar and shocking finale, Sam Raimi has officially returned to the horror genre with vigor and spark in the year's best horror film so far. Starring Alison Lohman in the leading role (Ellen Page was originally cast as the lead but dropped out of the project early in production), Drag Me to Hell feels like much more than your average, predictable horror popcorn flick. It's filled with plenty of twists and turns and, like any good ride, a satisfying conclusion. And the PG-13 rating? Forget about it! You hardly notice that little factor because of how immersed you become in the story. Also starring are Justin Long, David Paymer, and Lorna Raver.
Christine (Lohman), a loan officer at a bank with a lovely boyfriend (Long), is being considered for a promotion. Jumping at the opportunity, she comes across an old gypsy woman (Raver) who requests a third extension on her house. Her boss (Paymer) tells her it's a tough decision, and its her call, so she refuses the woman's payment. Absolutely infuriated, the woman stalks Christine after work and bestows her with a supernatural curse, one which she has only three days to overcome before the spirits drag her to hell.
Lucky enough to have won tickets to a pre-screening of the film, I had heard nothing but great things about it. I was hoping for the best, but I wasn't sure how the comedy and horror would mix together. Much to my surprise, the horror and comedy in Drag Me to Hell are that rare perfect mix of perfection that one craves in horror movies. If too funny, they can go overboard, but not this one. In fact, I don't think I've seen quite a proper mixture since Raimi's own Evil Dead II.
Perhaps the most shocking thing about the movie is how well it's made technically. It had all sorts of interesting shots and the real work of a master filmmaker. Having both written and directed the film, Sam Raimi more than proves his worth to the horror genre despite his long absence since Army of Darkness. In ways, this is also a sort of revival of what people with think of PG-13 horror movies. Drag Me to Hell is one of the most intense, scary horror films in quite some time, despite the PG-13 rating which many tag as already crap.
Drag Me to Hell is full of its epic shocks, and the less you go in knowing about it the better. I could go on for hours about the movie and spoil everything there is to know, but that would truly ruin some of its appeal. Which is certainly not to say that it is lost after a first viewing, just that it's an experience unlike any other going into this movie watching virtually no clips and reading very little about it. It becomes a truly rewarding experience.
Mrs. Ganush is one truly phenomenal villain that provides plenty of scares. Lorna Raver infuses the role with an enthusiasm - an terror - that is rarely seen in big-screen baddies. She has more personality than The Ring's Samara for sure. Clay's character provides a much-needed balance between the goofy and the horrific, and helps make the film's heroine, Christine, all the more believable. It was an interesting twist to see Justin Long in a horror film, despite the nature of his role. I believed his performance and the sincerity of his character. Lohman had a lot resting on her shoulders with this movie, and she totally pulled it off with flying colors. Nobody plays the terrified, but headstrong and determined female lead better than Lohman, and she proves her worth over and over again in this movie. She totally has a career ahead of her.
Overall, Drag Me to Hell did more than just impress me nonstop. It was a masterpiece of a horror movie, with unrivaled intensity, scares, and one killer of an ending. More often now, horror directors/writers seem to have such a difficult time ending their movies properly. This one has an ending which snugly solidifies the movie as an early contender for best horror film of the year. Don't miss Drag Me to Hell... you will never look at handkerchiefs the same way!
best dramedy ever
With a stellar 80's soundtrack and unforgettable performances from leads Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg, Adventureland is one of 2009's finest subtle comedies. Without completely overdoing things with over-the-top sexual jokes and in-your-face moments of physical comedy, the R-rated film written and directed by Greg Mottola (2007's smash hit Superbad) is the perfect example of the right way to do a memorable comedy.
Sometimes the simplest of plots can produce the greatest films. This is just your average tale of guy gets summer job, guy falls for girl, and then problems arise. Only, Adventureland longs to be more than just your average tale. It has all the makings of a cult following, and it's a big throwback to the 80's, with a very groovy soundtrack and even a trip to a disco club.
Like I said before, the acting is one of the film's best aspects. Having a cast of hilarious people, even if they aren't hilarious in this specific film (I'm looking at you, Kristen Wiig), is always a plus. Jesse Eisenberg was probably the movie's biggest surprise. I'd only seen him in Cursed before this movie, so I wasn't sure what to expect. In a way, his performance channeled a bit of Michael Cera, but somehow better, slightly more sophisticated and less awkward.
Kristen Stewart, though, has always had awkward as her strong suit, and this movie is no exception. While she might have seemed a little uncomfortable as Bella Swan in the Twilight movie, Stewart seems right at home here as the pretty, quiet girl who is much more than she seems on the surface. The role is challenging in that she needed to bring a lot to the table. Stewart really becomes the character of Em, so much so that she just comes off completely effortless.
One of the strongest suits of the movie is how subtle all of the jokes are. The scene with the googly eyes was one of my personal favorites, one of the very few scenes with Kristen Wiig. The love story that becomes a central plot point of the movie really flourishes throughout the course of the movie, and you definitely get the feeling that these two like each other. I almost want to say that they had better chemistry than half of the current selection of movie romances.
In the smaller roles, Ryan Reynolds is quite the douchebag, and he plays the role with great enthusiasm. While it was a very different role for him to play (he's usually the funny sidekick or the leading man), he played it well. All of the rest of the side players make harrowing contributions to the story and laughs, and make everything all the better.
Overall, color me surprised with how much I totally fell in love with Adventureland. The immersive story, 80's feel, and layered characters make for one of the year's best films. I wasn't expecting to like the movie half as much as I did, but the script and actors elevated the movie far beyond what was glimpsed in the trailer.
The Last House on the Left (2009)
One of the all-time greatest remakes
Normally, I'm a huge fan of remakes. I just enjoy seeing a different director/actor/screenwriter's take on the original movie that may or may not have been especially great. Last House on the Left has the good fortune of a little-known cast and a virtually unknown director, which makes the overall quality of the movie all the more impressive.
Mari Collingwood and her parents drive to their summer cabin in the woods for a nice, relaxing vacation. When Mari goes to spend the night with her good friend, Paige, all sorts of problems arise that question the fabric of human nature, good versus evil, and how far you'd go for the one you love.
The rape scene that the original is so well known for is just as brutal here, if not moreso. It's done in an incredibly effective and saddening way, one which I won't describe here. There are some really good questions raised in this movie, one of the biggest asked right in the tagline - "If bad people hurt someone you love, how far would you go to hurt them back?" It's a very interesting question that's just as relevant now as it was more than thirty years ago.
Like mentioned before, the cast of this remake is one of the aspects that elevates it above the original. The acting is just absolute perfection by all of those involved. Sara Paxton was really the shining star of the movie, going places as an actress that I never thought she'd be able to. She shows a lot of range, and is especially great in some of the more challenging scenes. Her phenomenal acting greatly contributes to something that makes the movie work so well. It really gets under your skin, and that's because you can relate to these women. You can relate to the parents. It's all done so realistically, and that's largely in part to the fantastic performances. Martha MacIsaac, who was great in 2007's Superbad, shows a completely different side in this movie as Paige, who really wants to escape the increasingly terrifying situations.
The parents were amazing as well. Monica Potter comes off beautifully as the average mother, one who not-so-willingly resorts to violence. She really loves her daughter, and it comes into major play later in the movie. Her best scene is when she and her husband John discover Mari on the porch, and bring her inside. When he tells her that the daughter has been raped, you just feel the emotion poring out of her. Tony Goldwyn, who I only remember from Ghost, definitely comes off strong as a father who acts on rage. He's furious that people who do something like this to someone he loves so much. His ferocity later in the movie is slickly-acted and it makes the final act all the more effective.
Obviously in any movie like this, the antagonists are an extremely important part of making the movie both believable and relateable. One of the most effective scenes in the original is kept intact here. After the rape scene, no one, not even Krug (the main baddie) himself can believe how far they just took things. It all elevates so quickly. It's nice that they made the villains so believable and so vile and terrible. Krug is played very well by Garrett Dilahunt, who carries a lot of the movie on his shoulders. Riki Lindhome, who had big shoes to fill considering how iconic the Sadie in the original film was, does a spectacular job here even though she has a little less to do overall. All of her lines hit the mark, and she's always believable. She never quite gets as crazy as the original Sadie, but in doing so, she almost creates another character all together. Spencer Treat Clark was perfect, and I enjoyed him all the more after seeing him in The Babysitters. He brought a subtle quietness to the character of Justin, and made you feel something for a character that could have gone either way in the hands of a lesser actor. Last but certainly not least was Aaron Paul as Francis, an actor I recognized from Big Love. His performance was pretty damn perfect, especially later in the film when he had more difficult scenes. He just did an incredible job, and delivered some of his lines with the skills of a seasoned pro like Johnny Depp. He has a quiet creepiness about him that worked well for the movie and especially for his character.
Like any good horror film, the director either makes or breaks the effectiveness of it all. Dennis Iliadis is one of the genre's most skilled filmmakers after only one film, and here's to hoping he's here to stay. The intensity of chase scenes is coupled with incredible cinematography and shots. He makes swimming look absolutely gorgeous. This movie is just the perfect example of how an incredible director can have such a profound effect on a film. Iliadis is just absolutely fantastic, and he makes this movie his own.
Overall, it's just fantastic to see all of the support Wes Craven has given to this film, and it was all well-deserved. This will most definitely be one of the best movies of '09. Fantastic cast, good metaphors, a meaningful ending, outrageous kills, an emotionally draining journey into the depravity of humanity, and an awesomely great director make Last House on the Left an astounding piece of genre film-making that ought to be remembered for years to come. Its in-your-face brutality, shockingly tender chase scenes, and edge-of-your-seat thrills make one unbelievably perfect movie.
My Bloody Valentine (2009)
Like a classic 80's slasher... in 3D!
In the world of modern day horror, seeing a movie like My Bloody Valentine 3D is especially a treat. It never takes itself too seriously, it has extreme violence and nudity, and it's the most fun I've had in a theater since 2007's Grindhouse, my personal favorite film of all time. It's original in more ways than one while at the same time being a remake. It just feels like one of those classic '80s slasher films that, despite being cheesy as all hell, people love to death. Jensen Ackles, Kerr Smith, and Jaime King star.
The gore and special effects are among some of the finest in the genre in recent history. It's just great to see things popping out at you in 3D. It's almost like you can reach out and touch the shovel that a girl is decapitated with. The 3D definitely doesn't make the movie because it's a great one with or without the 3D, but it helps add to the atmosphere and, at times, the gross-out factor. While there were a few scenes here and there where I wish we had been shown a little bit more, it was overall evenly paced. I personally loved the cast because they just made that whole B-movie experience feel more real. The Miner, who is the film's killer, had perfect presence and was just scary enough to carry the film. He just felt like a big brutal dude, and that was more than enough to sell the film for me. Add to the mix a motel-keeping midget, a completely nude chase scene, a cool plot twist, and the gory effects, and you have yourself a nearly perfect horror movie with all the makings of a classic... and this was a remake!
My Bloody Valentine doesn't shine with phenomenal acting or note perfect dialogue: what works so well with the movie is its obvious ode to the horror films of yesteryear. It's filled with cheesy dialogue, horror movie clichés, plenty of boobs, and over-the-top gore. That's one of the reasons why it's so perfect, though. It's a cheesy, fun, 80's or 90's movie through and through, never once overestimating the audience or playing pretend. My Bloody Valentine knows what it is. It's a well-made 3D horror movie that aims to entertain, and it never tries to be anything more than that.
Cadillac Records (2008)
Absolutely horrible... nothing flows well
Don't know how real to life it was, but as a movie it failed horribly. The thing I noticed most was the lack of cohesion. Characters disappeared for long lengths of time (sometimes an hour or longer), and Beyonce's character didn't even come in until an hour and 16 minutes into the movie. The acting and singing were solid, but the rest came up short. Nothing went together cohesively and made for a good movie. It was all too... random. I didn't know much about what I was going to see or the events depicted in the movie, but overall I felt it would have worked much better as a TV miniseries or something. There was just too much information to display all at once and too many characters and things going on at once. It was often difficult to follow the time frame and to distinguish between people. It had some great moments (a scene of explicit police brutality, Beyonce singing for the first time, and a few others including a scene where Adrien Brody is having sex, hears a phone ring, looks at it, and keeps thrusting away), but for the most part it was... terrible. Like I said, great performances does not a great movie make... it was in desperate need of cohesion. This is speaking as someone who knew nothing about most of the people in this movie.
Absolutely moving and powerful
With a sprawling, epic feel, wonderful acting, and makeup and digital FX work beyond Oscar-winning, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is an instant classic, a movie that doesn't just want to entertain. It makes you think about life, about all the mistakes you've made, about how short the whole ordeal really is. The movie is so effective and powerful with such a subtle delivery of its message that it's hard not to tear up just a little bit. The movie has two of the best performances I've ever seen on screen with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett both being at their very best. Button is based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and is directed by David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en, Zodiac).
Throughout the passage of time in the movie, if you know anything about it, Benjamin keeps getting younger and younger, and basically starts out as a baby who has the looks of an older man. This is where the movie works its magic. Just seeing Brad Pitt reappear as his 20 year-old self, the movie works on so many levels. The constant metaphors with the clocks, the present-day storytelling, the narration... it all just flows together so rhythmically into a film with no flaws. This isn't just the best movie of the year, it's one which transcends time and makes for a moving and powerful piece of film-making gold.
Amazingly real and poignant
One of the most beautiful, rewarding, and challenging films I've seen in a very long time. At first glance, this is just a movie about sex, but it's way deeper than that. It's all about the inside, what's happening inside as we all discover ourselves. It's perfectly constructed, beautifully written, insanely true to life, and the acting is beyond amazing. The best thing is that it's also tongue-in-cheek hilarious, with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, and the music is fitting in more ways than one. This is truly a one-of-a-kind film that almost pushes you to reexamine your life, and its characters are completely timeless. Shortbus is a beyond perfect masterpiece that will be loved and cherished by the gay community, and even by straight people that are willing to give this a shot.