Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Unfinished Cut) Review

This was my first advanced screening of an unfinished film and I found it really interesting to see a movie three months before release. As such, however, the film was filled with a number of small nagging issues that, I think, prevent a full and proper appreciation. Still what's here is really funny stuff and should be yet another great check mark on Apatow's resume.

Yet another funny flick from the Apatow crew, this time allowing talented Jason Segal to move into the spotlight. He's quite effective in the lead role in both a serious and comedic sense; I'm also impressed by the screenplay he co-wrote for this one. Playing out somewhat like a combination of The Break-Up and The Heartbreak Kid, Sarah Marshall works far better than those other two. It's quite funny throughout. There are some fluctuations in tone at times, the sound mixing was so off it actually caused me physical pain and a number of continuity errors occur but I chalk all that up to the unfinished nature of the film and am quite certain it'll be corrected in the final cut. I rank it, assuming the technical issues are fixed, behind only 40-Year-Old Virgin and Superbad in the Apatow filmography (better than Talladega Nights, Knocked Up, Walk Hard, etc...). I'm planning on seeing the finished version upon release to give a more proper review. Apatow, in case you were curious, has continued with his mission, started in Walk Hard, to put a penis in every movie so that Americans won't be so afraid of them as numeros, somewhat terrifying, shots of a nude Jason Segal show up here.

Overall Score: 8/10

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Untraceable Review

I'm not sure if this is Saw for the more mature discerning viewer or Silence of the Lambs for the torture porn crowd. Either way, thanks to Diane Lane's superb performance and mostly strong supporting turns it's actually quite enjoyable. The story itself starts off very well in the first and second act as Lane and her FBI cybercrime unit learn of and track the killer. The film becomes predictable and contrived as the focus changes and moves to the killer infiltrating Lane's character's life. The only thing that makes the late scenes tolerable is Lane's superb performance. She creates both a tough and vulnerable character without it ever feeling contrived. The supporting turns from Billy Burke (who I generally don't like) and Colin Hanks (who has good charisma and timing) help pull the move through it's late tail spin as well. Hoblit's direction is adequate and unspectacular; though he does seem to have a knack for getting great performances out of his actors as seen here and previously with Richard Gere and Edward Norton in Primal Fear and Ryan Gosling in this past year's Fracture. While the film is frequently difficult to watch (violence-wise) it never feels as exploitative or perverse as the Saw/Hostel types. There is, I must mention, one terrible dilemma. The reveal and arc of the killer, and the actor's performance in the role, is both poorly conceived and distractingly awful. It should have been left more mysteriously and anonymously as, for me at least, the terror in this movie derived from the believability of how Americans would react to a 'kill with me' website. The killer doesn't create the fear, it's the believable chatroom comments on the site that really make one squirm. A better script, a better villain or a better method of piecing it all together could have made for one hell of a serial killer thriller. Alas, we have to settle for enjoying a great first half and a superb Diane Lane performance.

Overall Score: 7/10

Monday, January 28, 2008

Sydney White Review

It's actually quite a bit more tolerable than I would have expected. While much of it is pretty dumb I give it credit, conceptually, for doing a creative job updating the Snow White story. Amanda Bynes is fine but watching many of the supporting players, especially Sara Paxton, act is not dissimilar from smashing your head repeatedly into a brick wall. Unfortunately for Sydney, the film really pales in comparison to this year's other modern fairy tale movie, Enchanted.

Overall Score: 4/10

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Rambo Review

This is probably the most profound movie I've seen this decade....nah, who am I kidding? It's loud, it's dumb, the script is hackneyed and the acting is, shall we say, not academy award worthy. But I did have a good dumb time watching people explode as Rambo kills them in various creative ways. To get a bit more serious the film does seem to have a stunningly right wing 'violence is the answer, diplomacy isn't' world view, with which I don't exactly agree. I do have to give Stallone credit though, his returns to Rambo and Rocky have both been surprisingly enjoyable and better conclusionary films then where each series was left. Not a good movie, but enjoyable dumb fun.

Overall Score: 5/10

Friday, January 25, 2008

U2 3D Review

I wanted to give this a better score I'm just not sure I can really justify it. It lacks the life and creativity of the Beastie Boys' Awesome, I Fucking Shot That! and the 3D can be strangely disconcerting at times. Most of the big hits are accounted for and are just as exhilirating as would be expected from the big screen IMAX format but something is just slightly off about it. Occasionally the 3D looks like layers of cardboard cutouts, occasionally the 3D effects blur on the edges, and sometimes the crowd effects look like superimposed people similar to Mystery Science Theater 3000. Still, it's a must for any big U2 fan. There is one moment that truly showcases the power and impact of 3D. During Pride (In the Name of Love) the crowd comes to life and literally an entire stadium full of people is jumping up and down: the 3D effect is incredible, it's like a sea of humanity really brought to life and you get a feeling for what it must be like to perform in front of so many thousands. To Bono's and the band's credit they don't shy from using this opportunity to espouse a message. Generally I hate 'messages' in my movies but Bono, moreso than any other celebrity (except possibly Lance Armstrong) manages to make his message as sensical and apolitical as possible. I'm a bit worried after seeing this that poor directors using 3D (Final Destination 4: I'm looking at you) will relegate the potentially amazing experience to the same sort of 80s cheap thrill it's still thought of as by so many. Here's hoping that from a concert movie perspective Shine a Light (Scorsese's Rolling Stones concert movie) and from a technological standpoint James Cameron's Avatar (THE hope for the future of 3D) turn out stronger.

Overall Score: 7/10

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Contractor Review

Mixes up parts of Shooter, Bourne and Man on Fire to create an altogether awful movie. There's a good reason why Wesley Snipes has dropped off the face of the Earth (and it ain't racism like he thinks), it's because he is not a good actor. The only tolerable aspect of this garbage is Lena Headey's and Eliza Bennett's acceptable performances. Otherwise everything else about it is too awful to merit me writing anymore.

Overall Score: 2/10

Fido Review

This is a strange mash up of Day of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead, Lassie, Pleasantville and Edward Scissorhands that actually kind of works. The film begins with an uprorious 1950s style propaganda film about the zombie wars before wonderfully setting up the idealized town of Willard, the townsfolk and their pet/slave zombies. Unfortunately the movie is really unable to maintain the momentum from the first act throughout and it really peters out around the one hour mark. Still the performances are surprisingly strong from Dylan Baker (such a great character actor), K'Sun Ray, Henry Czerny, Billy Connolly and Carrie-Anne Moss. It's too bad this one couldn't keep up the humor and momentum throughout as the early segments give Shaun of the Dead (one of my favorite comedies) a run for its money. Definitely worth it for Shaun fans and horror fans...less so for others. Fitting in with 50s motif the gore is very tame for the genre nowadays which might make it somewhat more accessible to those uninterested in zombie films.

Overall Score: 6/10

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Black Book Review

Frankly I think Paul Verhoeven is a hack. He is the auteur of such artistic masterpieces as Showgirls, Starship Troopers, RoboCop, Hollow Man and Total Recall; some guilty pleasures certainly but nothing that would make you think he is capable of taking on such an 'epic' story as here. Playing out much like a German version of Ang Lee's Lust, Caution, Black Book follows a young Jewish woman who infiltrates the Nazi party and helps a resistance effort and is torn between her feelings for the resistance and the man she is supposed to manipulate. The woman, Carice van Houten, is absolutely wonderful. Van Houten brings a sort of grace and believability to a role that has to contend with a number of Verhoeven's perverse and manipulative trappings (at one point she literally has a vat of excrement dumped on her nude body). Sebastian Koch, also wonderful in last year's Lives of Others, gives a nice turn as the SS officer that van Houten aims to spy on. I really wish a better director had taken on this material, it's an interesting story (moreso than Lust, Caution) and deserves a more mature and respectful treatment. Surprisingly, considering his action movie pedigree, Verhoeven's battle scenes here are choppy, unbelievable and somewhat hammy. This could have been a really great film with a better mind behind it; despite the problems I still liked it more than Lee's intolerably overlong and ponderous Lust, Caution.

Overall Score: 6/10

Monday, January 21, 2008

Cassandra's Dream Review

This was the rare movie that actually manages to improve as it goes on. From a basically awful first two thirds comes a fairly moving last act. I really like both Colin Farrell and Ewan McGregor, but something went wrong here both of their performances (up until the moment of the murder in all the trailers) are really horrendous and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the delivery, maybe it's Allen's direction and maybe it's simply the screenplay: but it doesn't work. Farrell's last act meltdown is by far the most effective work here and I look forward to his upcoming In Bruges. Tom Wilkinson must need implants after all the scenery he chewed. I really havent liked Woody Allen's work all that much and this did nothing to change that. (Side note: whoever cut the trailer for this deserves an award...he/she made it look like a really good movie)

Overall Score: 4/10

The TV Set Review

A real funny take on getting a TV show on the air. David Duchovny is really funny (though he is basically playing a less surly precursor to his Californication character Hank Moody) and the supporting players are all pretty strong, if somewhat one no...(read more)te. Sigourney Weaver is especially funny as the lead network executive. Ioan Gruffudd, who I think is one of the most underated actors working today, is very strong and actually manages to make his one note character come alive (his work in Amazing Grace is the most forgotten of the year). While it's far from perfect and there are some definite lulls in the last third or so and numerous characters don't have completed story arcs, I enjoyed it and recommend it.

Overall Score: 7/10

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Cloverfield Review

I think this is probably the most intense and creative monster movie I've ever seen. For what is really such a silly plot (think Godzilla), it really works surprisingly well. I was especially surprised by how effective the handy-cam point of view camera work was. Even the acting was better than I expected, highlighted by Michael Stahl-David (who was the best part of the terrible Black Donnely's tv show) who brings surprising believability to sort of a one note character. I think it's definitely an experience worth having in the trapped environment of a movie theather and it's short runtime makes sure it doesn't overstay its welcome. On a side note: I think it's one of the best budget-to-output movies I've ever seen special effects wise...good stuff.

Overall Score: 8/10

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Ten Review

I found this thing to be rather grating and far too infrequently funny to justify the time. While it has assembled an impressive cast that's not enough to overcome sophomoric humor and a lack of good ideas. A few of the sketches are funny, but by and large they're just mediocre short films that don't even particularly apply to their given commandments. Paul Rudd is by far the best part of it as, more or less, the narrator but even he seems a bit bored. Not recommended...

Overall Score: 3/10

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

White Noise 2: The Light Review

I can't for the life of me understand why this didn't receive a theatrical release. It was released in theater all over the world this past year to moderate success and finally received it's first US release with a January straight-to-DVD release. I have to imagine that the nerd loved combo of Nathan Fillion (Firefly/Serenity) and Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica) would have been enough to open it stronger than most comparable Japanese-style horror films. It's certainly a better movie than the first White Noise (and basically unrelated). It's also the 2nd or 3rd best Japanese-style American horror movie, behind only the first Ring and on the level with the first Grudge. It's easily better than its predecessor, the sequel to the Ring and Grudge, Pulse, Dark Water, The Messengers, and (I'm assuming) One Missed Call and any others I've forgotten to mention. Nathan Fillion, as usual, gives a strong performance, much better than would be expected of the part. He consistently gives performances that are far stronger than would be expected from the roles he is often cast in (Serenity, Waitress, Desperate Housewives, Slither) but I'm sad that he has yet to have a 'breakthrough' role in terms of the general public. Katee Sackhoff, who does good work on Battlestar Galactica and was the best part of NBC's putrid Bionic Woman remake, is quite good in a very different role. The film, though marred by the putrid editing typical of the genre and mediocre direction, actually works fairly well and, unlike so many horror movies, is fairly satisfying throughout (until a somewhat out of left field ending sequence reminiscent of Pulse). I'm saddened that this wasn't given a theatrical release (can you honestly tell me that this thing with a decent trailer and ad campaign wouldn't have opened to the same $15 million that One Missed Call did?!?) as it could have raised appeal for two actors whose work I appreciate, even if it's in a not-so-great movie. Definitely worth it for Fillion, Sackhoff or horror fans...not so much for anyone else.

Overall Score: 5/10

Jackass 2.5 Review

I hesitate to review or grade this as isn't really a movie per se, it's more of a compilation of reflections and deleted scenes from the second Jackass movie. Regardless what's here is either FAR more vile or less impressive/gutsy than earlier iinstallments. It gets as high as a 3/10 for a couple of funny segments.

Overall Score: 3/10

Paris, Je T'aime Review

It's a cool idea to bring together a powerhouse collection of directors (including the Coens and Alfonso Cuaron) and a ton of well respected thesps (including Natalie Portman, Juliette Binoche, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Steve Buscemi among many others) t...(read more)o create a collection of short films. The problems here should be fairly self-evident, though. The shorts themselves are basically only linked by short transitional shots of Paris and a quick epilogue, which makes the experience somewhat jarring, and the films themselves vary wildly in quality. While some (like Faubourg Saint-Denis and Quais de Saine) are quite good others (like Tour Eiffel and Porte de Choisy) are basically insufferable. It's tough for me to really recommend this on the whole (it's 18 shorts and two hour run time get a bit long in the tooth), but there are some neat little short films in here.

Overall Score: 5/10

I'm Reed Fish Review

So I'm thinking this will be the lowest box office grossing movie I see this year with a remarkable take of $3,567, though it wasn't quite that bad. I would say with some degree of certainty that Jay Baruchel (one of the buddies in Knocked Up) is the...(read more) worst possible choice for a leading man torn between two attractive leading ladies. Looking like an emaciated reject from a punk rock band I can't imagine cuties Alexis Bledel or Schuyler Fisk even giving Baruchel the time of day. The story set in indie-ville, um...I mean Mud Meadow, is pretty typical but there are some moments that almost work despite Baruchel's inept work. Both Bledel and especially Fisk actually try to make something out of the material. It saddens me to see Fisk's career has fallen so far from her first noticeable role in the Colin Hank/Jack Black comedy Orange County as I think she actually has some talent. Even DJ Qualls is kind of funny, though I usually find him unbearable. The movie does, for whatever reason, have a too cute for itself twist at the end but I actually found the strange plot design decision kind of worked, even if it was a might bit confusing. There have certainly been worse indie comedies and romantic comedies this year...

Overall Score: 4/10

Talk to Me Review

It works surprisingly like a conventional music biopic, which is probably why it's a bit problematic in the second half. The first half of the film, anchored by a wonderful performance by Don Cheadle, a nice supporting turn by Chiwetel Ejiofor and a good part for Martin Sheen. It culminates in Petey Greene's role in quelling the DC race riots after MLK was assassinated. However, after this critical moment in Greene's life the movie sort of losses focus, not unlike Greene himself. Unfortunately this less focused part, equivilent to the 'post-breakthrough rise' and 'fall' in a typical biopic, really mars the film. In fairness, though, the depiction of the reaction to MLK's assassination is deeply moving and believable. Cheadle's work, and the direction of the scene, are wonderful. A good, but not great film marred by a poor second half.

Overall Score: 6/10

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly Review

In some ways this is the most wonderful film I've seen this year. Julian Schnabel's direction and Janusz Kaminski's lensing are nothing short of extraordinary. There are moments in here where the immersion is feel 'locked-in' with Jean-Do...(read more) and it's a remarkable accomplishment. The performances are uniformly strong including Amalric (who could make an interesting villain in this year's 22nd Bond film) and, in a smaller role, Marie-Josee Croze who plays his 'speech' coach. Croze is a remarkably effective facial actress who manages to convey remarkable emotion without words. As nebulous as this may sound, however, there were moments of the film that I found myself losing interest: a long flashback of a trip to Lourdes and its pounding religious overtones sort of lost me. Occasionally some of the ideas (usually Jean-Do's imaginary sequences) feel a bit over the top. It's definitely interesting to see and it's beautifully filmed...but I hesitate to call it a truly great movie.

Overall Score: 7/10

American Pie Presents: Beta House

By no means is this a good movie, surprisingly though I found it stupidly amusing. While the 'real' Pie movies declined in quality with each episode the straight-to-DVD films have improved with each episode. The first, Band Camp, was a torturous piece of trash that lowered the IQ of all that watched. It's follow-up, The Naked Mile, which wisely dropped all of the characters from Camp was somewhat more tolerable if still stupid and overlong. This was the best of the sorry lot. It has an appropriately short running length (less than 90 minutes), returns the tolerable cast members from Naked Mile, and has some occasionally funny moments. Eugene Levy is always good for a laugh, even if his character has been so far removed from 5 movies ago that he's barely recognizeable. As an aside this has basically removed any semblance of being an American Pie movie (read: a combo sex/romantic comedy) and has become more of a Porky's style frat comedy, which isn't a bad thing all things considered. I'm actually, this sickens me to say, almost excited for next year's inevitable chapter...

Overall Score: 5/10

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Tribute to 2007 in Film

This is a remarkable tribute to a damn good year at the movies.

Credit to Matt Shapiro who made this thing.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A Look Back at One of the Most Underated Films of the Decade...

Kingdom of Heaven: Director's Cut

First a caveat: I love Ridley Scott. Alien is one of my favorite films. I think Blade Runner is arguably the best science fiction film ever made. I loved Matchstick Men and I think Black Hawk Down is one of the most well constructed and believable depictions of combat I've ever seen. I unabashedly love Ridley Scott's Gladiator. Is it profound? Deep? An artistic masterwork? Not exactly... But it sure is one of the most exciting, compelling and well made epics I've ever seen. Russell Crowe's General Maximus is one of the most bad ass characters in motion picture history. Joaquin Phoenix is delightfully sinister, without chewing the scenery, as the evil emperor Commodus. All of the supporting players, from Connie Nielsen to Djimon Hounsou, are well cast and well played. So I was understandably fired up for his next epic: Kingdom of Heaven.

I was a bit surprised by his casting of Orlando Bloom as Kingdom's epic hero. I was uninspired by his work in Troy or Pirates of the Caribbean. Further, while I liked him as Legolas in Lord of the Rings I didn't exactly see that as the springboard for greatness and for suitability for a real starring role as such a strong character. I remember reading a few weeks before the film's release that studio executives were uncomfortable with Ridley Scott's cut of the film (clocking in at nearly 3 1/2 hours) and had the film chopped down to reach a somewhat less intimidating 145 minute runtime with the eventual intention of releasing Scott's cut on DVD.

I saw the film opening night with my father in a surprisingly empty theater. Bloom's performance in the film left me feeling vindicated in my initial doubts. While many supporting characters came off well, especially Liam Neeson in a far too small role and also Jeremy Irons and Alexander Siddig, I thought Bloom's Bailin was horribly underdeveloped. He seemed weak and his leadership ability seemed merely a function of plot requirement rather than a genuine strength of character. When Bailin delivers his penultimate speech for the defense of Jerusalem I felt like I would someday be seeing the scene on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Beyond that Eva Green's Sibylla seemed to be a nearly broken character, whose motivations made no sense. Liam Neeson disappeared far too soon and without clear intentions. I left the theater not just disappointed but angry that the film had let me down so bitterly.

Roughly a year after the film's release the once mentioned Director's Cut was finally released on DVD. Having heard numerous stories of studios tinkering with movies I was curious to see what Scott had meant to bring to the screen. His own Blade Runner had initially had a happy ending and a voiceover forced upon it by a box office leery studio. Boy am I glad I purchased the movie.

Everything about the film is refined and improved. Michael Sheen, so good in Stephen Frears' The Queen most recently, has a fully realized character almost entirely crafted in the film's reworked opening segments. Previously it had been a mystery how the hell Balian the blacksmith somehow became a monster in combat. Here his history in feudal combat is revealed through conversation with the men who follow his father, Liam Neeson. Liam Neeson, who felt so underutilized and, to some extent, forced in the theatrical version, delivers a wonderful performance that really works and helps bring our hero into this far more epic world. The film's first 40 minutes or so tell the same thing that took only 20 or so minute in the theatrical cut, yet here it feels compelling, exciting and moving.

Eva Green, undercut to the role of 'love interest' in the theatrical version, has a real character to work with here and she is wonderful in the new material. Even smaller characters such as Kevin McKidd's soldier role (who, by the way, was wonderful in the lead of HBO's Rome) feel more effective. Edward Norton's leper king, who feels held back by the leper mask in the theatrical version, feels like a more tragic character here. A subtle reworking of the film's wonderful score helps throughout. In this version when Bloom speaks there is simply more feels as though this character is the man we are meant to see him as. His speech to the people of Jerusalem comes off as passionate and inspirational here. All of this is earned by the wonderful 45 or so minutes reworked into the film. It's a remarkable thing when adding nearly an hour to a movie (the same thing happened with Wolfgang Peterson's Troy Director's Cut though not to as great effect as here) can actually make it feel like a much smoother experience.

I hesitate to speak too much of the film's plot so as not to ruin what a great experience it is, but I can't recommend it highly enough. While it isn't perfect (the combat editing can be so hectic that it occasionally either fails to be completely cohesive or can be difficult to follow, as is common for the genre and Brendan Gleeson comes off a bit hammy), it's one of the best epics I've ever seen. Orlando Bloom is great here. The supporting players are (pretty much) all extremelly strong. If only the studio had released this film I think it might have seen some well deserved Oscar nominations...

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

A Second Look at the 2007 Marvel Comic Movie Line-up

In the past few weeks I've had the opportunity to rewatch the three major Marvel comics film releases from this year and I want to post a few thoughts on how they hold up upon a second viewing.

Ghost Rider: Nic Cage is still on cruise control and Eva Mendes still can't act worth a damn. The poor special effects hold up about as well as can be expected. There are still some good laughs to be had here, though (mostly intentional). If only Wes Bentley was horrifically miscast. When I first saw this I had very low expectations and it actually exceeding them. I imagine this will decline on future viewings.

Spider-Man 3: It's maybe even more of a disappointing mess upon a second viewing. I don't know what the hell happened here, Spider-Man 2 (especially the 2.1 revision) is one of the best comic book films ever made, second only to Batman Begins in my mind. The movie is absolutely full of bizarre and awful inconsitencies in tone. Stupid moments from the first screening stick out even worse here, such as the dance scene, the creepy Osborn butler or Maguire's 'acting' when he is dumped by MJ. The greater problem here is that they absolutely wasted some wonderful ideas. Thomas Haden Church is pitch perfect as Sandman but they brutally underutilize and undercut his character. So much so that by the end his motives and actions barely make any sense at all. Venom is one of my favorite Spidey villains and should have been saved for Spider-Man 4 (have Sandman and the symbiote in 3, have Parker lose the symbiote at the end of 3 to set up for 4 and Venom). Topher Grace is so unbelievably miscast it's not even funny. Why does his Venom character randomly get to learn things, like MJ's nickname for Pete, Tiger? Why did anyone think this was good casting? Why did the studio force Raimi to stuff him into this? Ugh... I thought Dunst was awful on my first viewing but on second chance she actually tries to bring genuine emotion here instead of chewing the scenery, which is maybe the problem. She gets overshadowed because she's too subtle. Why introduce Gwen Stacy? What does that accomplish? Why, other than to create conflict for no good reason, have Peter kiss her at the ceremony? It's just so preposterously inconsistent with the characters. At least J Jonah Jameson gets a slightly larger role this time. I'm assuming the inevitable Spider-Man 4 will have Carnage and Lizard as villains. I'd actually like to see JJ get a better part by making the villain Scorpion whose creation Jameson could be involved in. Here's hoping a better director gets to take on future Spideys if Raimi doesn't return. Here's also hoping Raimi is not allowed anywhere near the upcoming Hobbit adaptation.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer: Sadly I think this is actually the best of the Marvel films for 2007. While it is certainly juvenile and Jessica Alba is horrifically miscast, it's also pretty funny and relatively faithful to the tone of the original. Gruffudd, Evans and Chiklis are all pretty much perfect casting. I'd like to see a more believable and serious actress in the Invisible Woman role, maybe Rachel McAdams? A younger Naomi Watts would've been perfect I think. Silver Surfer is maybe somewhat underdeveloped here, but the trim 92 minute running time allows for it to be a perfectly enjoyable experience without the self-importance and stupidity of Spidey.

Here's hoping 2008's Iron Man, Incredible Hulk and Punisher: Warzone turn out stronger...

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Devil Came on Horseback Review

Crafts a truly fascinating perspective on the conflict in Darfur. By focusing on how the conflict impacted one American aid worker, mind you not the typical idealogue aid worker but a Republican ex-marine, it creates a really compelling and effective narrative. The use of Steidle's photography is effective, warranted and, most of all, devestating. I reallly recommend this (though it might not be of the greatest help if one doesn't already have, at least, a basic working knowledge of the conflict in Sudan).

Overall Score: 8/10

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Namesake Review

For me this movie was a roaring success in one area: the cultural transformation of an immigrant Indian family. Two films this year (also Kite Runner) have really the cultural conflict that goes into the American melting pot. Little details here, suc...(read more)h as the Indian seasoning the family's matriarch adds to a Rice Krispies breakfast, really help create believable immigrant characters. My problems arise from some of the performances. While Khan and Tabu are both decent performers many of the other actors are undercut by underrealized depictions or, worse, their own limitations. Kal Penn is really not much of an actor. He tries very hard here to grow beyond Harold and Kumar but it's just so very difficult to take him seriously. The film's three main supporting characters, Penn's sister and two love interests, are fatally underealized. The girlfriend characters come off as catty or petty not because of a fault in character or as the result of a tangible action, but rather simply because the screenplays says they need to in order to further the plot. It's not a bad movie, per se, I just wouldn't really recommend it.

Overall Score: 5/10

Mr. Brooks Review

I'm nothing short of stunned that I liked this movie as much as I did. While Demi Moore sucks, as per the norm, Dane Cook was surprisingly believable (for the second time this year! Has hell frozen over?!?). Kevin Costner seems to be bringing his car...(read more)eer back to tolerability with last year's Guardian and now Mr. Brooks. He creates a surprisingly interesting and compelling serial killer not dissimilar from Dexter on the Showtime series. Is it perfect? No. But it is pretty compelling and, at rare times, creative stuff.

Overall Score: 7/10

There Will Be Blood Review

Daniel Day-Lewis gives the best performance of the year for 2 hours and 20 minutes here. Note, though, that the film holds a 2:38 running time. For me the film's critical final section so radically fell apart in tone, performance and style that it's ...(read more)hard for me to review a movie that I thought was otherwise amazing. I found myself completely engrossed in the story of Daniel Plainview and his growing oil empire and absolutely fascinated by his malicious/malevolent character. The period setting is well met by PT Anderson as well. The scenes depicting the actual construction and use of oil drilling equipment, accompanied by the film's grating but effective score, is strangely fascinating. Of special note are the films opening 15 mintues, depicted almost entirely without words they show Day-Lewis' earliest oil projects and work tremendously well. I do have to give a caveat that I found Paul Dano intolerable. I loathed him in Little Miss Sunshine and feel precisely the same here (sidenote: why the hell didn't they age him for a 16 year jump in time...?). Not really sure who would have pulled off this part better...but Dano isn't really the answer. Still for the bulk of it this is a truly fascinating character study that really blows a good deal of it's momentum in it's climactic act.

Overall Score: 8/10

The Bucket List Review

It is painfully manipulative and sappy but, at times, it sometimes almost works because of two great lead performances. The script might be the most putrid this year BUT Reiner actually managed to get Nicholson to calm down a bit and chew a little le...(read more)ss scenery than usual and got (as per the norm) a great turn from Morgan Freeman. If lesser actors were in this it could have easily been the worst movie of the year (or maybe even ever...). Well it's nice to see these two legends together and it may well be worth seeing just for that, but don't expect something great. Sidenote: Maybe I'm just a cold callous bastard because pretty much the entire theater was sobbing at the end...

Overall Score: 5/10

The Great Debaters Review

Though plot and screenplay-wise it's sort of like a mash-up of a cliche sports movie and a Hallmark channel special event, it works thanks to inspired direction from Denzel Washington and extremely strong performances. Washington has grown, visually,...(read more) as a director since Antwone Fisher. Some of his scenes are beautifully crafted and he has coaxed magnificent performances out of his surprisingly superb cast. Both principles, Washington and Whitaker, are very strong. Their mutual scenes have a nice snap, especially a scene set at a family party. In that scene their verbal rapport is one of the best small scenes this year. The three main students, and the supporting ones as well, are very strong. Newcomer Denzel Whitaker (unrelated to Forest) gives a surprisingly nice turn in what would, in most movies, come off as the 'comic relief'. Nate Parker gives a wonderfully intense role, somewhat reminiscent of Derek Luke in Antwone Fisher, that works without becoming a caricature. Jurnee Smollett is also strong without turning into the cliche her character is designed as. I would prefer to not see anymore Oprah productions I think, though, if they're even close to as cliched as this one...

Overall Score: 7/10

Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem Review

I'm surprised that I really didn't enjoy this all that much. It plays out like a highlight reel of memorable moments from the two series but for some reason it just doesn't really reach that sweet spot of guilty pleasure entertainment. The acting is ...(read more)absolutely putrid, especiallly Steven Pasquale (of Rescue Me) who is brutally miscast as the film's 'tough guy' lead. The only tolerable performance comes from Reiko Aylesworth of 24 fame...who, at least, tries to make something out of her character. At least the film is rated R this time and we get a number of nice action sequences. Alas it takes far too long to get to the action and by the time it arrived I just felt sort of worn out. It would have been nice if the action was spread throughout rather than focused in the last twenty minutes... Also the forced 'sequel-setup' ending is just ridiculous. Here's hoping the inevitable follow-up moves to the future and to more of this present day Earth nonsense, oh yeah, get a real director next time too.

Overall Score: 5/10

National Treasure: Book of Secrets Review

Up there with Fantastic Four: Silver Surfer for the title of my favorite guilty pleasure movie this year. It's a bit overlong and is almost EXACTLY the same movie as it's prequel, but it's hard not to have fun with it. The actors all seem surprisingly...(read more) invested in the characters and all seem to be having a good time with it. By no means is it classic or even 'good' but it's a fun two hours to turn off your brain and have a good time.

Overall Score: 7/10

Charlie Wilson's War Review

This is an EXTREMELY generous 6 and is based, in large part, on three things: an ingenious script, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. The screenplay is absolutely hilarious, even when undercut by poor editing, and brings a wicked sense of humor to...(read more) pretty deep material. Amy Adams, so delightful in Enchanted, is wondeful and brings life to every one of her scenes. Philip Seymour Hoffman, having the year of a lifetime with three stellar performances, steals every single scene he's in with wonderful delivery and a ridiculous character he manages to really bring to life. The problems here are many though. Julia Roberts is putrid. Tom Hanks is, more or less, miscast and, at times, the character just doesn't make sense. The editing is the worst I've ever seen in a prestige movie (it's of a level similar to Saw's) and ruins all semblence of pace and cohesion by the end. Still it's funny and worth it for Hoffman.

Overall Score: 6/10

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Review

Having no experience with Sondheim's musical much of my excitement for this came from my love of Tim Burton. Burton is one of the most creative and exciting directors working today and the material, perverse and dark as it is, is perfect for his styl...(read more)e. I think this may well be the best performance of the great career of Johnny Depp. It took about 30 minutes for me to really get into this movie. In the earlygoings I was really put off by the performance of Jamie Campbell Bower, who is simply terrible. It isn't until Depp really takes a commanding center stage that things pick up. Even still, the film almost always lags when he is off screen. Back to Bower, who is so befuddlingly androgynous that he makes me feel sick to look at, he has a decent voice but is a simply pathetic actor. One of the primary reasons Depp's performance worked SO well for me was amazing facial acting during songs, Bower merely sings. Also weak was Jayne Wisener as Bower's love interest who has a slightly squeeky voice and provides just as little in the 'emoting' category as her lover to be. If the two of those roles were recast this could have been my favorite movie of the year instead they're the only things that really hold it back. Alan Rickman is delightfully snarling in the villain role while Sacha Baron Cohen does a nice job with a surprisingly decent voice in an over-the-top role. Cohen, of Borat fame, gets to play with two different accents and creates a memorable presense and may well have a post-Ali G future. Helena Bonham Carter is rather a strange, though beautiful, looking woman. Her singing voice is merely decent, certainly not up the level of Depp's, but she makes up for it with exceptional facial acting. She possesses enormous saucer sized eyes that allow her to imbue each expression and lyric with extra emotional impact as she stares at Depp maddeningly. But, as I already mentioned, Depp is amazing. His performance is both moving and mortifying. His singing is impressive. I hope Depp wins an Academy Award for this performance.

Overall Score: 8/10

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story Review

A pretty funny send-up of various music biopics. It's hit or miss, with a lot of misses, but when it hits it's really hilarious. It's nice to see wonderful character actor John C Reilly get a true starring role here and he does a good job of it. Jenn...(read more)a Fischer is also quite funny as his June Carter-inspired love interest. With her work on The Office and in Blades of Glory, she's proving herself to be one of the most skilled comediennes today. Some of the songs are quite good as well (especially the Duet one, that slayed me). Some of it though is painfully dumb. Oh well still a pretty good time and it has the best movie tag line in history: Life Made Him Tough, Love Made Him Strong, Music Made Him Hard.

Overall Score: 6/10