Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Away We Go

I'm starting to tire of these quirky independent comedies. The eccentricity of many of the characters in these types of films just feels all too typical after the success of quirky films like Little Miss Sunshine or Juno. Away We Go, another post-modern equivalent of the screwball comedy, is the fifth film from Sam Mendes (director of American Beauty, Road To Perdition, Jarhead, and Revolutionary Road) and the first script from Dave Eggers (Salon.com writer who is also penning the upcoming Where the Wild Things are with Spike Jonze). I expected them to be able to anchor the quirkiness and the eccentricities of these characters but they practically amplify it because the two main characters, Burt (John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph), are flawed to such an extent that I found myself (and I think others will too) looking at ways that I would be able to succeed over them. Not that Burt and Verona are pathetic excuses for human beings, but they just frankly haven't got their shit together at such a late age and as Verona puts it, they are "fuck-ups." 

The premise of Away We Go is that Burt and the pregnant Verona take some time away from their professional lives to go and travel the country to find the perfect place to raise a family. Along the way they meet up with friends and family with the film consisting of a talented but unorthodox ensemble cast. Jeff Daniels and Catherine O'Hara play Burt's parents, Allison Janney and Jim Gaffigan play colleagues of Verona, and Maggie Gyllenhaal is just as annoying as she was in The Dark Knight but instead of crying for Harvey Dent she just spouts new age academic beliefs to the always entertaining Paul Schneider. Away We Go is a film that it is easy to watch from beginning to end but because all of the quirkiness and eccentricity that I keep mentioning being misplaced for such sad characters, the film needs an emotional anchor. 

The anchor ends up being Verona who grows into her role as a mother and Burt is only really there to help anchor her. This makes Rudolph's character the easiest to connect to but I almost feel like I have to have shared an experience with her, and I don't think most men have been pregnant while traveling across the country. Like Jarhead or Revolutionary Road, Mendes's film would work better if you had a deeper understanding of the characters and their jobs in life yet if you like how the characters of those films (and especially the families of American Beauty) are total misfits, and that is what you can relate to, then there is some enjoyment to be found on the Away We Go road trip.

Land of the Lost

Land of the Lost falls in the same batch of "I should watch a bad movie to know what a good movie truly is" kind of thinking that I used for Dance Flick, will probably use for Year One, and continue to use as justification for when I'm bored at night and I happen to pass a few Megavideo or Supernovatube or OVguide links (because lets face it, I'd never pay for this). Like, Dance Flick, the main problem with Land of the Lost is just how damn simple and one-minded the story can be. I'd like to maintain that Will Ferrell can be a good actor (see Elf, Melinda and Melinda, and Stranger Than Fiction where Ferrell is still a goofball but at least he flexes some dramatic muscles), however, Ferrell will still not hesitate to pick something that will lead to him making a simple buck. In short, he sold out rather quickly, but who can blame him (have you seen those salaries?)? 

Ferrell's routine in this film tires rather quickly, he acts like the manliest of men but is frankly a little girl and the only proof you need is his constant girly shrieking as he runs away from dinosaurs and the other horrors that inhabit this lost land. The sissy-man routine actually tires out not after but during the first time we learn that Ferrell's Dr. Rick Marshall is a huge put-on. Take the scene where he gets bit by a giant mosquito and so he dumps urine on himself to help with the pain but he ends up burning his eyes and so he decides to... pour more urine over his face? Yes, a doctor that figured out how to travel to a lost world full of lizard people and cave men is one of the most stupid human beings that have graced a movie screen. Your response might be that "well this is a comedy film with science-fiction/fantasy elements so anything is possible..." well perhaps, if this was a satire. 

The reason why the illogical makes sense in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy is that the film as a whole is a complete parody. Here we have a serious character that is just too moronic for his own good. Danny McBride and Anna Friel also star but quickly into the adventure you realize that they only exist to fill the desired roles of sidekick and eye candy. Also, I'm not one to criticize harsh language, but when Will Ferrell says "fuck," does anyone not feel like the film is trying to be more mature than its childish premise? Anything seems to go in Land of the Lost, including the entertainment.


This once again demonstrates the genius of Pixar. The studio truly regards animation as a storytelling device, and that is frankly what makes the guys at Pixar so damn good. Not the fact that they have such amazing digital technology to bring everything to life, but the fact that they represent some of the best storytelling in film. Yes, animation is not live-action and therefore what you are looking at is only a depiction of the corporeal form, and yet Pixar's animated movies often have more characterization and substance then their more "real" competitors at the box office. The story of Up, directed by Pete Doctor, follows Carl Frederickson (Ed Asner), a Spencer Tracy lookalike whose adventurous wife died earlier in their marriage leaving Carl to be quite the lonely tenant of his old fashioned house that is becoming surrounded by skyscrapers. Their marriage is represented by a wordless montage which I only point out because it is frankly the most emotional and well written part of the film. Carl then one day decides to strap a bunch of balloons to his house and fly off on an adventure (of course Carl decides to bring his house with him, he is the type to be afraid of "the new" without something from "the old"). Unfortunately, a fat boy scout named Russell (Jordan Nagal) was standing on Carl's porch during take-off and the two find themselves as companions on the trip. On the trip they encounter some very wild and humorous animals over in South America such as Dug the Dog or Kevin the bird. In a sense, Carl needs Russell as a solution to the loneliness that he feels in his life and Russell needs Carl to learn that some of the best experiences that one can have in life are accessible right in your own backyard (and it quite literally is a backyard in Carl's case). That is the beauty of Pixar, they bring about these deep adult messages in a story that is not just meant for kids (where many animated companies screw up by being too child-friendly) but a story that is for all ages, even if you are a senior citizen like Mr. Frederickson.

Drag Me To Hell

Nothing is more pleasant than a movie sneaking up on you and surprising you in terms of how good in quality the final product is. In fact, it was foolish of me to doubt Sam Raimi (especially in the genre that he is a master of) but the previews for the film weren't doing anything for me. I at first wasn't sure if the whole "girl is cursed because she forecloses on gypsy woman's house" plot wouldn't be feasible for a horror film. The second problem I had was with that Mac Guy, um I mean Justin Long, playing the boyfriend which looked like meaty dramatic role. Well, rest assured Justin Long absolutely surprised me, as did Alison Lohman in the main role of Christine Brown. You were able to see this in Where The Truth Lies but Lohman has this innocent blonde look about her, but she can turn into a geyser of emotion and feeling before you realize it. An actress like Lohman falls in with Naomi Watts and Rebecca Hall as ladies that Hitchcock would've loved if he was still alive. Drag Me To Hell is full of moments that will make you jump out of your seat but not disgust you, and I will confess that some of the horror is more on the silly-scary side ala The Evil Dead. But that's the point, this movie is going for the campy horror. With all the various ghouls and special effects that are trying to bring Christine Brown to hell, the fun of being scared never lets down (try not jolting back into your seat during the bedroom nightmare scenes). This is Raimi's own The Exorcist, and it demonstrates just how painfully underrated of a director he is.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Girlfriend Experience

The Girlfriend Experience was one of Steven Soderbergh's more experimental films that he shoots on an inexpensive (at least when compared to what is used on a big budget production) digital video camera and he was able to complete production relatively fast. With this film being more in line with his films Bubble and Full Frontal, I'm reminded of just how god damn versatile of a director Soderbergh can be. He can handle big budget escapades like his Ocean's Eleven series and then he can bring the drama all the while being stylistically superior to his peers with films like Traffic or Sex, Lies, and Videotape. For example, The Girlfriend Experience tends to consist of medium or long shots that keep us at a distance from the characters as if the camera is part of the shield that Christine (Sasha Grey) puts up when work calls. What is her job? Some might call her a prostitute but she is something more, she is a cross between a prostitute and an actress. She actually goes and pretends to be the girlfriends of various men and she acts as if she has developed these everlasting emotional bonds with these guys only to tear them away come morning. The movie takes place in the days leading up to the 2008 Presidential Election between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama. At first I was curious as to why this time-frame was being picked. Well, a main issue of the presidential debates centered on the economy and many Americans are being bombarded with the news of how screwed our country is, so why not just turn and give into our desires? Sasha Grey embodies desire in this film and I honestly can't believe that not even a former porn star but a current porn (or "adult film" to be technical) star can nonetheless give this deep of a performance... it is like we are watching the method actor do his or her method acting. At the end of the day, the experience is that of having watched a good documentary. We almost feel like a fly on the wall with the events having just the right level of passivity. Christine's (known to her clients as Chelsea) home life is also examined as we see her personal relationship with Chris who is a personal trainer and as much as he and Christine bicker, he is also trying to sell himself out in a way so he can climb up the social and economical ladder. Soderbergh's technique is flawless, and I wholeheartedly agree that we have our first masterpiece of the year, and it looks like too simple of a movie to be true, but nevertheless it is.

Dance Flick

Whatever you do, don't panic, I did not pay a penny for this movie. Now that you've all breathed a sigh of relief, I bet you are wondering 'why and how did you see this movie?' Well as for the how, lets just say that I got bored one night and some websites that I frequent just happen to offer some viewing options (notice I did not say "I illegally downloaded Dance Flick," because I *cough*gag* swear I didn't *fingers crossed*). But back to the 'why." I personally think one needs to watch shit to put things in perspective. I'd be praising every movie to kingdom-come if I didn't raise my standards by observing what uses the cinema as an art-form versus what is done to clearly make money. I have a feeling I'll be watching just as shitty movies with Land of the Lost and Year One but I'll try not to get too angry with the gimmicky stuff (I'm saving my anger for Michael Bay's new movie). Man, remember when spoof movies used to be good (Airplane anyone?). Then Jason and Aaron whatever their names came along and helped to continue with the eventual bastardization of the genre. The Zuckers even screwed up, I mean ever see their Scary Movie installments? It consisted of poo jokes and bumping one's head at a constant rate of twice per minute. Dance Flick surprisingly has SOME thoughtful lines, most of which were featured in the trailer, and no I'm not being kind, I was actually surprised that the Wayans could get a chuckle out of me. Then again, a majority of the humor is stupid and it preys on the typical racial stereotypes to such a level that I could probably finish the joke before they start it thanks to two years of watching Dave Chappelle. But there isn't anything to get angry about when you seem to know that film stopped trying to be classy entertainment. The films that actually try and fail are probably going to involve twin robots that speak jive (and yes, I'm looking at you Revenge of the Fallen).

Terminator: Salvation

The fourth installment in the Terminator franchise takes place post-Judgement Day from Terminator 3 but before John Connor (Christian Bale) has to send his father Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) back in time so the events of the first Terminator could occur. The world is desolate and the humans are fighting as hard as they can to push back the tide. Connor is just an eager resistance soldier at this point but he isn't the only player in this puzzle. Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) just wakes up one day to find out that he is alive and the world has gone to shit. In case the twenty previews running on the television didn't reveal this to you- Marcus is a terminator but he doesn't have any knowledge of it, making him the first human/terminator hybrid. He is still second fiddle to John in the scope of all things which makes me question why the film is called Salvation. The war is still continuing after the film has ended and the only character that experiences salvation is Marcus, and yet John is the one who needs it. Then again, Salvation sounds a lot cooler than Terminator 4: Revenge of the Robots. 

McG, the director of the film, was hoping that this would make people take him seriously. Well the whole thing is shot in a bit of a messy manner so that won't be happening anytime soon. The grainy look of the environment should somehow work with the story and yet this could've taken place just as well in a forrest with unicorns. The cinematography allows for some pleasures but even then the film is too energetic to really benefit anyone who is looking for some everlasting eye candy (I didn't even get to admire a robot before the camera cut away to look at John's grin). Even "da original terminata" Arnold Schwarzenegger is on screen for only a few shots and the rest of the time we just see his bicep. For all of the black-and-white junkyard battles that don't amount to much, one would hope that this stellar cast would at least keep skeptics at bay. But unfortunately Bale feels the need to play himself as Bruce Wayne as John Connor (just watch the scene where Marcus goes off to Skynet, John is very calm before suddenly yelling "WHO ARE YOU?" leaving us to yell back "WHAT THE FUCK IS HIS PROBLEM?"). The rest of the talent that includes Common, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jane Alexander, and Michael Ironside all feel underused with limited screen time during the "John and Marcus Show." The only character that we get even a bit extra glimpse into the mind of is Blair (Moon Bloodgood) a girl that predictably begins to feel for Marcus (of course there has to be a love story). And even then, none of the main players are distinctive. I find it insulting that Edward Furlong and Nick Stahl were more unique as John Connor than an actor with a pedigree like Bale's. 

The movie also raised some questions about the Terminator franchise in general. I mean, the time loop doesn't make sense because to kick start the timeline, John has to send Kyle back so Kyle can have sex with Sara to be sure that John exists but John already exists because he is sending Kyle back to protect his mother.... you can go in a circle all day with this stuff. Terminator: Salvation just amounts to a bunch of noise with eye candy. I'm really surprised that Bale's only problem with the film was the "fucking lighting."

Angels and Demons

Angels and Demons has the constant forward momentum that The Da Vinci Code lacked. Ron Howard's latest drama is full of chase scenes and spirited talk on religion that is sure to cause some debate (but the film's central mystery is no where near as "controversial" as the first film). Now I've never read the book, but I've read other work by Dan Brown that makes me comfortable enough to think he could pull off this idea with his storytelling abilities (if the plot of the book is in fact the same as the film) but Howard, along with with screenwriters David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman, just keep piling on twist after twist after twist with no immediate context and the surprises end up being so out of left field that they almost border on nonsensical. It's as if a piece of paper or a clue is suddenly found every time a twist needs to take place as another layer is revealed. Especially when you look back on the movie at the end and try to trace the villain's plot backward, why is it all so complicated? Also on the note of the spirited talk, some of it feels out of place. The content of the conversations about how the church should deal with the Illuminati is well thought out but would the cardinals really be holding these meetings with the future of the church in charge. It makes little sense to stand up and debate church politics when there is looming threat on the horizon. The supporting players that surround Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) are also too typical for a conspiracy/adventure movie. The beautiful Ayelet Zurer as Langdon's partner is there to provide latin translation, with priests being played by Ewan McGreggor and Armin Mueller-Stahl that all know the correct information at the correct time, and Stellan Skarsgaard as the head of the Swiss police who of course doesn't always listen to Langdon's suggestions. No matter what the particulars of this story, the broad strokes could've been implanted on any other number of plots or characters. This is too typical of a thriller with all the walking and talking that one would expect. Yes there is some excitement, but Ron Howard once again falls into a generic predictability.


Adoration is the the eleventh film from auteur Atom Egoyan, another filmmaker whose work I adore. I should confess that I've seen more clips from his movies then having actually seen the movies as a whole, but of this eleven I've at least fully seen two (The Sweet Hereafter which I highly recommend, and Where The Truth Lies which is also pretty good). To sum Mr. Egoyan up, his films often explore alienation and isolation with characters that are somehow related to/controlled by some sort of system of bureaucracy. Often his films are non-linear with scenes or moments being revealed at later times to elicit a very strong emotional response. I'm more aware of Egoyan's talents then having experienced them but I've heard that not all of his films have achieved high critical acclaim, with several getting mixed responses. Adoration is a film that I feel quite mixed about. The story is very complex and only intensifies as time goes on but in short, for a school project, a boy stands up in class and tells the story about how his terrorist dad attempted to blow up a plane that just so happened to have his mom on board. From that concept things get very hectic. A car crash from the boy's past is revealed while his story from class becomes an internet sensation bringing up much debate. My problem with the film is that the tone is one gloominess and Egoyan's erratic pacing is far too complicated for this type of a tale, in other words, Egoyan's style steps over the substance and I feel as if this story is being forced to us by jumping around between the principal players as opposed to just coming about naturally. Also, the guilty turn out to be not as guilty as we thought which leads to the muddled messages that underly this drama. This film would've been more suitable if it was released closer to the events of September 11th, 2001 but now the themes of this film have reverberated in the news for eight years, does this type of tale just serve as a reminder of the effects of a terrorist attack or is it more about the boy who believes to be the spawn of two historical figures? I really wanted to enjoy Adoration and it is well directed and acted enough to be watchable, but the thoughts it leaves you with are too open ended for you to admire the story as much as the themes that it represents.

Rudo Y Cursi

In 2001, Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna starred in Alfonso Cuaron's Y Tu Mama Tambien in which they played two friends who were growing up with sexual needs and were both in love with the same woman. The film launched both to stardom and they both have had a fair share of mostly supporting roles in some very acclaimed films. This film, Rudo Y Cursi (translating into Rude and Corny, and directed by Alfonso's brother, Carlos Cuaron), features the reuniting of the two actors as brothers who are part of a simple family that farms bananas. Diego Luna plays Beto who is very rude and Gael Garcia Bernal plays Tato who is very corny thus making them two distinct personalities that only share two similarities, one being their family and the other being their love for soccer. They are both discovered by a scout and before you know it they are both being tempted by the fame of becoming international soccer stars from Mexico. Although the film has a pleasant homely vibe that mostly comes from the interaction between Beto and Tato, the stories behind all of the success and failures aren't as interesting. I'd much rather have the film just be about the the two brothers as the whole soccer plot feels slightly unnecessary. And yet those few soccer scenes are shot with such a stylistic eye that befits Cha Cha Cha Productions (the company was formed by Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo Del Toro, and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu; three spanish filmmakers who shocked us all in 2006 with their films Children of Men, Pan's Labyrinth, and Babel respectively). Overall, a better title for this film would be the spanish translation of "charming yes, memorable no." And yet I felt attached enough to these characters to give the film another viewing some other day.

Star Trek

For the eleventh Star Trek film, the franchise has seemingly been rebooted to tell the origin story of how Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) met on board the U.S.S. Enterprise. J.J. Abrams has found a clever way to take everything back to square one by setting this story in a different reality from the one that we knew, where the older Spock (Leonard Nimoy) fought to save the universe from the likes of the villainous Nero (the always intense Eric Bana). The prime appeals of Star Trek are here- there is an absolutely sci-fi influenced story, tongue in cheek humor, and special effects that just seem all so well choreographed alongside one of the most effective uses of camera lens flares that I've probably ever seen. The rest of the characters are all younger versions of the original crew. Anton Yelchin plays the always loyal Chekov who is just mastering the english language, John Cho plays the sword-fighting Sulu, Simon Pegg plays the giddy genius engineer Scotty even though he shows up a little late into the movie, Karl Urban plays the grumpy ship's doctor Bones McCoy, and Zoe Saldana plays Uhura who is the sexy love interest of Spock who still takes notice of Kirk. As you might guess the movie becomes a bit crowded at times but we should all be thankful that after the dull Wolverine, we now have an action film with both a heart and a mind (very much like the early episodes of Roddenberry's creation). And a cameo from someone who thankfully isn't William Shatner.

The Limits of Control

I really worship at the alter of Jim Jarmusch. I actually keep a collection of some his quotes that mostly consist of how he operates and well his thoughts on film in general and I also agree with those that state he is one of the many that saved independent filmmaking, paving the way for others to follow in his steps. Yet I'm not a supporter of all of his films, some like Dead Man I just find too random and boring as if I'm missing a special message behind the story. I've had this stubborn streak in me when it comes to films that go too deep, and hopefully some of my peers that study film could help me understand a lot of the motivations that characters in Jarmusch films have. And yet here I'm pretty sure that I'm not missing any messages with The Limits of Control. Maybe it is a deconstruction of Hitchcock or Lee Marvin thrillers? Whatever the case may be, this film is one of Jarmusch's most self-conscious films with characters undertaking long pauses when they speak and any moments that build up with suspense tend to just sizzle into another long talk. Isaach De Bankole stars as the Lone Man (that is in fact his credited character) who must be an assassin of some kind that sort of operates like a character from a road movie. He moves around meeting several contacts that include the Blonde (Tilda Swinton), the Mexican (Gael Garcia Bernal), the Guitar Guy (John Hurt), the Driver (Hiam Abbass), and the Nude (Paz De La Huerta). Bill Murray also appears and is credited as the American. This self-indulgent film might gain a little bit of praise from the art house crowd but it is frankly too boring to engage you in any way than that of an overly passive observer.


DISCLAIMER: I'm aware that this film is called X-Men Origins: Wolverine but because that sounds incredibly stupid, I'm going to call it Wolverine.

So the big secret origin of Wolverine in this Gavin Hood directed prequel to Bryan Singer's X-Men is...... something we could've guessed all along. James "Logan" Howlett went to the Weapon X program (as seen in Singer's X-Men 2) and got adamantium bones and then lost his memory, ta-da! This film is that story only with some morose moments of Hugh Jackman starring in the mirror contemplating his past, present, and future, as well as some very poorly constructed CGI effects for a big-budgeted summer blockbuster (the claws, the CGI stunt men, the shot of Daniel Henney sniping those farmer on those clearly fake looking hills). I would've been content to just watch Hugh Jackman scream and slash his way through some mercenaries as anyone else but instead a more morose and sometimes-forgiving sometimes-vengeful Wolverine is depicted and we never get too close of a look into his head before another mutant special effect is revealed. There also are such a wide number of continuity goofs that are easy to pick up on. A lot of the times goofs are present but you don't notice them and yet I couldn't help it. All over this film, the shots change to reveal a character standing in another position or pose or angle with no transition to how they got there. IMBD.com has several of them listed at the moment if you need to understand what I'm talking about.

This isn't a very daring movie and any attempts at emotional complexity between Wolverine and Sabertooth (Liev Schreiber) or Kayla (Lynn Collins) are too short or simple. The supporting cast barely even bothers to make a long-standing connection with the audience despite the charisma of actors Danny Huston as William Stryker (who turns out to be too devious to like) and Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson (who ends up as a mute in the last quarter of the movie) and Taylor Kitsch as Gambit and Will I. Am as Wraith are both too gimmicky of characters to bother liking. If you want B movie action that pales in comparison to what else is coming out, then Wolverine will provide you with an unfortunately unemotional start to your summer.

I Love You Man

It has become pretty hard to review good comedies. All you can pretty much comment on is how funny the script is and how well the actors go about performing it. I should probably thank Judd Apatow. His film The 40 Year Old Virgin brought about the craze to have mature comedies. I mean everyone grows up so quickly so why should the box office be populated by the light stuff that very few people laugh at anyway. Then came Knocked Up and then Apatow produced some hits such as Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and Pineapple Express. Others joined in the fun with Step Brothers, Role Models, Zack and Miri Make A Porno, Tropic Thunder, and now I Love You Man. Like those other comedies I just mentioned, everything is refreshingly original and only more so when so well delivered by the likes of Paul Rudd and Jason Segel. Rudd plays Peter who needs a best man for his wedding since he doesn't have many guy friends and he soon meets Sydney (Segel) and before he knows it Peter is discovering all of the joys of having horny-guy talk, playing in a rock band, and giving people nicknames. The supporting cast is also spot-on (with a variety of players ranging from J.K. Simmons to Andy Samberg to Jon Favreau to Joe Lo Truglio to Thomas Lennon to Rashida Jones). This is another in a long line of comedies that proves that naughty adult humor balanced with a well thought-out story is the more truly freeing of movie experiences. In fact, the same thing that happens to Peter in the movie after he meets Sydney is the same thing that happens to the audience- everyone starts to enjoy life (even if it is for an hour and a half in a movie theater) a bit more.

The Soloist

The Soloist is the kind of movie that is made to win those fancy Academy of so-and-so Awards, but when it finally hits theaters, everyone is left going, "what's the big deal?" Well The Soloist was pushed back from November to April as there would be no way for the film to make its release date with such a short time to film and since there weren't any openings past November that would allow the movie to be nominated for awards, the producers decided to stick it at the end slot of the pre-summer months. And yet if you watch the very well edited trailer, you still would think that this movie would be good. It's directed by Joe Wright (director of Atonement) and starred Jamie Foxx (who was garnering some Best Actor rumors based on screened footage) and the re-birthed Robert Downey Jr. (who was garnering some Best Supporting Actor rumors based on screened footage). The premise is that an LA Times writer named Steve Lopez (Downey Jr.) one day comes upon the homeless Nathaniel Ayers (Foxx) who is playing his string instrument in the park and he turns out to be good. Well Lopez writes a column about Nathaniel and the two become brothers and so on and so on.... 

It could be a movie that would pull at your heartstrings and make you weep. It is pretty much Reign Over Me with Jamie Foxx replacing Adam Sandler and Robert Downey Jr. replacing Don Cheadle.  And therein lies the problem, it would be a good movie if it wasn't something you've seen one hundred times before because The Soloist is unfortunately not as unique as you might want it to be, in fact it's quite generic and predictable (I could've called it "The Pursuit of Happyness with mental illness and news reporting" as well). Despite the actors trying to garner as much sympathy as they can, the overly inspirational nature of the movie clashes with the sad cruelty that life can sometimes bring and the result this need for the audience to try and find something to connect to. But since the acts of Downey's missionary preaching and Foxx's providing feeling through music don't seem to really cut it, the movie is just begging for us to cry and feel for nothing at all. 

Part of the problem does seem to be the lack of direction, whether this is Wright's problem or just one of the flaws of this kind of film is something I'm not well informed enough to comment on. After sitting through a lot of emotional mumble-jumble, I hate to sound derogatory but to sum it all up, The Soloist moves like it has a pair of balls but it just not man enough to actually do something with them. And yes, William Shakespeare, I'm not.

State of Play

I know I get carried away with saying "it is like a modern day version of...." but I'll be damned if State of Play isn't a modern day version of All The President's Men. State of Play was made for a more mature audience who want a more mature story-line that doesn't feel the need to dumb anything down for those that just can't keep up. To achieve this, Kevin MacDonald (and his bevy of screenwriters that include Tony Gilroy, Billy Ray, Matthew Michael Carahan, and Peter Morgan) have assembled a cast of actors and characters that only someone who prefers to think during their movies could understand the motivations of. State of Play just manages to feel that real and adult-like thanks to the talents of Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Jason Bateman, Robin Wright Penn, Jeff Daniels, Harry Lennix, and Viola Davis. These actors create such a real sensory world consisting mainly of this shadowy conspiracy, that one can't help but become more personally involved in the deception as the investigation continues to unfold, but I'm getting ahead of myself...

Russell Crowe plays Cal McAffrey, a reporter who is still on his old fashioned computer at his Washington DC newspaper job where he is the quiet badass of the newsroom. This isn't one of Crowe's temper-tantrum and screaming roles, but instead McAffrey is scruffy, observant, and so well versed in the crafts of his trade that he becomes the mentor to a new age blogger (played by Rachel McAdams) and explains all sorts of the physical responsibilities and psychological reasoning  that one has when reporting the news. While McAffrey is eager to give out information, his former friend Stephen Collins, a politician, feels the urge to hide it all away. A mistress of Collins is murdered and McAffrey ends up investigating the case leading the two old friends to meet up with each other and rekindle their friendship as well as come to blows as more information is revealed (McAffrey also had an affair with Collins wife, played convincingly by Robin Wright Penn). Supervising all of this is the head editor at the newspaper played by Helen Mirren, who acts like the shepherd of a dying breed, as paper news gives away to the more virtual and popular route of receiving your news on Yahoo or Google. 

The genius and addictive nature of State of Play comes from the numerous layers that are added to the story. As you can see there are already a number of relationships between characters but throw in a loyal assassin or a coked up club owner (Jason Bateman in one of his few dramatic roles) or a Blackwater type group (all with a connection to a shadowy lobbyist played by Jeff Daniels) and you have a mystery that continually grows as the movie naturally moves on. That kind of mystery is frankly, the best kind. The kind that doesn't feel the need to recap at the end of every commercial break.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Observe and Report

Welcome to Paul Blart: Taxi Driver. Wait a second, does that not sound like it would work? Well then you sir or madam, are within reason, because not only is this film overly violent for a comedy, it shouldn't even be considered a comedy. It isn't funny. Not even humorous. It is frankly depressing and perhaps Jody Hill and company were hoping that it would be seen as too dark of a comedy that the sudden grotesque violent moments would make us all burst out of our seats in a fit of nervous laughter. Instead, we have Seth Rogen at his most awkward. He plays a complete fucking moron of a mall-cop named Ronnie, who is not only stupid but is also bi-polar and he lives with his mother and he has a crush on a make-up girl named Brandi (Anna Faris) that won't give him the time of day but ignores the girl that works at the coffee stand who is such a nice young lass (and you can deeply analyze all of this later because I clearly think I was meant to, just to find some deep sick enjoyment from all of this... probably has some deep statement about the economy in there). Well a flasher "attacks" Brandi and so Ronnie takes it upon himself to stop the crime with his cop posse (played by Michael Pena, Jesse Plemmons, and two asian guys) all the while avoiding a professional detective (played by Ray Liotta). I know what you're thinking, "Ray Liotta and Michael Pena in a comedy, well they really must've taken this project seriously," and to correct your thinking, "um, no they didn't."

My big question for the themes behind this movie (that mostly have to deal with becoming 'something more') is so what? Just because we see the normalcy of a happy mall get screwed up by a police investigation led by some quirky... um excuse me, I meant to say retarded... characters where race and sexual orientation are mocked so freely and derogatorily that chaos reigns supreme. Comedy should push the boundaries but a lot of these jokes and instances sound like stuff that would happen in my high school (probably even the flasher). The film tries to achieve this sense of anarchy and chaos by being politically incorrect but the chaos caused is on par with that from Fernando Meirelles's film from last year called Blindness where it is chaos for chaos's sake (or even shock factor). The world for these characters just goes to shit but none of us care because we all know that it completely in the realm of fiction. Unlike Borat which correctly dealt with chaos on American soil by "Punk'ing" random REAL people that would then reveal something about how we as Americans treat foreigners. This film has none of that deep insight into anyone's psyche.

The only part that might make you laugh during Observe and Report is when the flasher runs around and the camera seems content to follow his penis. But Rogen comes out with a gun (at this point Ronnie is off of his meds, literally, in his quest to save the world) and shoots a big fucking bloody hole through the guy therefore killing the comedic mood and making us all gasp. The movie is somewhat worth it for that, but imagine if this was actually a funny comedy....

Fast and Furious

What was it that actually made The Fast and the Furious an enjoyable movie? I feel it was how it celebrated that underground culture of street racing and balanced it all with such a brash and sudden sense of action-violence. 2 Fast 2 Furious and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift felt like footnotes that took place off to the side whereas the first film had a certain sense of urgency (would Paul Walker's Brian have to eventually face Vin Diesel's Dom?). Consider it Point Break just replace surf boards with cars, bank robbing with car heists, Patrick Swayze with Vin Diesel, and Keanu Reeves with Paul Walker. This fourth film in the franchise (and it truly is a franchise, like as if  The Fast and the Furious is a banner attached to the films that really don't require much prior viewing to understand the next installment) manages to be the either the second best or just as good as the original frankly because it features the same players and therefore it continues with that same sense of comradeship clashing with that same sense of rivalry. For some reason this feels like the most natural of a sequel, I guess there is just something about seeing the imposing Vin Diesel and pretty-boy image of Paul Walker together alongside skimpy women and rap music. As for why this takes place between the second and third installment, I'm not really all that sure, but the film's creative action scenes tend to not make one care about chronology in a series where the stories don't rely on each other. I suppose this film is successful because unlike Singleton's sequel and the Tokyo incarnation, Fast and Furious knows its limitations and knows when to take itself seriously as just a simple action flick and when to pump up the drama for maximum effect (which mostly consists of Diesel calmly boiling himself up on the inside... but that is badass enough to keep me entertained).


Greg Mottola's Adventureland was clearly marketed as a comedy. Frankly, there wasn't much I found to be all that funny. I mean there were humorous moments but nothing that made me break out in hysteria. Once you get past the fact that Adventureland is a slight departure from what'd you'd expect from the commercials that were so eager to remind us that Mottola also directed Superbad, you find yourself with a dramatic summer love story that brings about such a strong sense of nostalgia. The movie moves at such a pleasant leisurely pace that it is possible to take note of all the things in the background of the theme park sets that place this film square in the eighties (even though up until the point you hear a song or see the characters in a dance club- this film could've taken place yesterday). The film has such a strong and yet welcoming sense of nostalgia that you rarely see outside of television's Mad Men so consider this a more modern American Graffiti or Dazed and Confused in the way that it chronicles in-detail these relationships that have taken place in an older era of love while being balanced with this sense of sharps wit. The cast of characters include James (Jesse Eisenberg) who is perhaps too chivalrous for his own good, and his love interest Em (Kristen Stewart) who has several dark secrets that mostly relate to her sexual relationships with older men such as a guy who claims to have been a part of many notable bands (played by Ryan Reynolds). Em is by the far the most interesting in the love triangle as her home life is one that could be on par with the families from Ordinary People or Terms of Endearment. Combining that sense of tracking time as it passes with such a strong moving story leads to Adventureland being one of the most endearing low budget films that features elements that can please both drama thespians and nostalgia-nuts.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Great Buck Howard

I guess that because I didn't expect that much from a limited release that went on demand the day it came out, I was very surprised with how enjoyable The Great Buck Howard turned out to be. The premise is that young man named Troy (Colin Hanks, son of Tom Hanks who also has a role in the film) decides to try and make some money as a road show manager for a has been magician named Buck Howard (John Malkovich) while Troy's college buddies are busy becoming lawyers. Every time Buck goes to a town he exuberantly shouts about how much he loves performing shows there (Steve Zahn and Ricky Jay appear as two show managers). Of course Buck is performing to half-empty rooms and he is a total has-been. However, he has quite a level of charm and a certain energy that only Malkovich could bring about when he tries to hypnotize or read the minds of other people. As Troy starts to take note of how damn good Buck actually is and just when it seems like Buck is going to flicker out and die, he suddenly puts a mass crowd to sleep with the snap of a finger. The performer is suddenly back in the spotlight (returning to his late night talk show interviews) and it turns into charming little story about all of the life lessons Buck can teach Troy as well as Troy's budding romance with sexy publicist (Emily Blunt).

The film received mixed reviews but I have to agree with the positive ones. This is one of Malkovich's better roles and one can't help but sit back and be enchanted by the magician and this quirky tale about show business.


I would've never given this movie a second chance if it had not been written and directed by up-and-coming genius Tony Gilroy, the man behind Michael Clayton, and in fact this movie shares some similarities with Clayton. Duplicity is about people who play tricks on other people and there is a faint echo of the deception that Michael Clayton was capable of balancing with a good dose of characterization. In some ways this movie is a downsized Clayton that is just a lot more happy and playful. Even with the witty banter and back-and-forth'ing that takes place, because the movie is so lighthearted, none of the deception feels prevalent enough for us to truly enjoy it. Not that this movie is a boat full of smiles but this story could've been told with a completely gritty tone and thus the movie doesn't feel as secure of a story as it should. The consequences just don't seem to have as much meaning when they either spell doom or fun for the con man and woman.

For those not in the know, the movie follows an MI6 agent (Clive Owen) and a CIA agent (Julia Roberts) who decide to con two competing pharmaceutical companies (whose CEO's are played by Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson respectively) by becoming the heads of each company's security force. Like I said before, none of the characters have deep dark secrets on their conscience, they are just here to win some money but none of the players are fleshed out enough to make this movie as enjoyable as say Ocean's Eleven. Despite the tomfoolery and the light-hearted moments, because nothing too serious happens, one will find it hard to enjoy the lack of depth in this movie. And yet the characters are kooky and wacky enough (don't get me wrong, this ain't Looney Tunes, everything is still inside the realms of realism) for audiences to not mind any of the film's shortcomings.


Finally, the adaptation of the highly acclaimed comic book series that had been in production hell for the longest of times. Of course the film would never achieve the magic that could be found in the graphic novel (the story is one that was very much suited for its medium). Snyder's attempt gets a few things right but ultimately, it falls short. The movie does at least present every thematic element of the graphic novel. The characters and their backstories are all elaborated on and yet in the comic it felt natural to go into a flashback while here it is time consuming and forced. The superhero noir-inspired mystery is still just as complex and interesting as it was in the comic which frankly surprised me as I thought Snyder would downplay that in favor of some good ol' fashioned superhero on superhero action. The credits sequence is also one of the most ambitious things I've seen in a long time. The whole thing is set to The Times They Are A Changin' by Bob Dylan and every moment is placed rhythmically alongside the catchy and meaningful tune.

Now enough of the pros, lets get to the cons. Despite the strength of the faithful plot, the pacing, caused by frantic camera movement, is all over the place. The whole feel of the movie is MTV-itized with moments feeling like they came out of a music video. There is also an abundance of moments in slow motion that make this feel like one step away from a Michael Bay film. As opposed to the graphic novel where stuff was crammed into panels for a reason, little homages to the story are also present in every scene (like the trash lying around the Comedian's apartment) but in the comic book medium there was a reason for all of that- it provided substance. Here it just feels like filler material that is part of the set. The story demands that we can stop and admire things but instead the camera rushes by it all and the only time we can admire something is when a bullet or a punch goes flying. The comic also allowed equal room to appreciate the characters while the film places a few of the heroes above the rest. It gets the point where the rest of the cast pales in comparison to Jackie Earle Haley (who was excellent in Little Children) and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as their characters prove to be the most complex and interesting. The comic was a product of the eighties and this film just doesn't hold up with the same allegory that one might hope it would.

It leaves you feeling emotionally distant thanks to the pointless and emotionless substance that is more prevalent then anything thought provoking or intellectual as the film might've been under Darren Aronofsky, Paul Greengrass, or Terry Gilliam. Perhaps this movie just wasn't meant to be filmed. I mean it can be, but you just won't walk away with the same feeling as you would when you read the source material.

Crossing Over

Crossing Over sounded like Oscar bait. The movie was initially going to be released in August of 2008 but was pushed back to December 2008 and finally to the death slot of February 2009. It sounded like it could be perfect. It starred Harrison Ford, Sean Penn, Ray Liotta, Jim Sturges, and Ashley Judd and it was a piece of hyper-link cinema that dealt with the theme of immigration (for those not in the know, hyper-link cinema is the kind of movie that Robert Altman and Quentin Tarantino made popular with a bunch of unconnected characters all being brought together by a singular theme or event and the characters would sometimes cross paths, see Pulp Fiction, Magnolia, Traffic, Crash, Babel, etc.). Then Sean Penn's entire sub-plot was cut for a bevy of reasons (didn't make sense, Penn found some politics of the movie too offensive, etc. etc.). The end result was post-production hell and Wayne Kramer (director of The Cooler) and his film was seen to be a drama that was just too over-complicated and emotional for its own good.

Quite simply, this is just a drama that fails. I was looking forward to seeing Harrison Ford in this role (he was originally going to play the Michael Douglas role in Traffic and the George Clooney role in Syriana). Yet Ford decided to just scowl his way through most of his plots but the vet would at least let us see what it was that made his character crack (the "she died in MY country" bit stands out). The movie is instead too concerned with its multi-narrative message that is one of those "we are all the world and the world is one" kind of morals. The characters are all too lively and over-dramatic for their own good. Jim Sturges and Alice Evans as an illegally immigrated British couple are the most interesting next to the Korean teenager who is drawn into violence followed by the girl that reads a paper in class about the high-jackers of 9/11. The film tries to be overly melodramatic with the way that it connects the characters by the themes and ideas associated with immigration but unlike Crash, the film doesn't leave us with many questions about the topic. Instead it leaves us with a bevy of emotional characters that just stepped through their paces to make us go "aww, poor thing, now why is this happening again?"

Street Fighter

I almost have too much to say about too little of a movie. First, I'm aware that it is subtitled The Legend of Chun-Li, but in my continuing battle to question why American cinema is becoming corner, I refuse to acknowledge it. I imagine someone somewhere finds these subtitles helpful- "so this movie will be about a girl named Chun-Li who becomes a legend, now I get it" or "so the movie will feature a tomb and a dragon emperor, now it all makes sense" or "revenge of the fallen, hmmm... GOT IT." Now this is a movie based on the famous video game series but there actually was an older Street Fighter movie with Jean Claude Van Damme. And that was memorably bad. So bad that it kicked ass. This movie is just bad. Razzie Award winner bad. The acting is so stale that nothing is ever given emphasis. Even good actors like Neal McDonaugh and Michael Clarke Duncan deliver their lines without a sense of emotion. Kristen Kreuk isn't even as sexy as she normally is (not to sound shallow but anyone who watches the train wreck that is Smallville knows that she can at least pull of the sexy damsel in distress to keep us entertained). This movie is just so stiff and I'm not even sure how it connects to the Street Fighter games outside of the names of the characters. The action isn't even inventive and it is all shot in the most amateurish of ways. Like the camera swinging to the left will make M. Bison's kick that more exciting. When the most emotional line of dialogue is "sorry Charlie," you know the Razzie award committee has already picked a Worst of the Year nominee.

The International

To start off, I didn't like The International yet I admire what it wants to be. This film came at a time where the economy was going further downhill, and yet the film is almost as interesting as trying to understand the stock market. There is an awful lot of talking about the "how" behind this mysterious bank that is committing a lot of crimes, but we get very little of the who/what/where/when/why that is going on in this movie. Instead Clive Owen and Naomi Watts travel the world and witness a few crimes, talk a bit, pose some questions, and nothing is followed up until we all stop caring about it because the next important moment of the movie has already taken place. Tom Twyker shoots it all with a fancy panache that befits a world traveling movie. This is kind of like a boring version of a James Bond film and it truly is boring. There is actually only one significant action scene and it's at least a very a good one. It takes place in the Guggenheim Museum in NYC and out of nowhere glass is falling and blood is spurting but this happens towards the end of what feels like a three and a half hour movie (the sad thing is that it is only two hours). You actually want the movie to end, or you wish that James Bond would swing in and teach Clive Owen's character how to stop being dreary and put this film into gear so that we could witness something that will actually interest all of us. But no, Mr. Owen's character is just content to schedule interviews with insidious bankers (one of whom is played by the underrated Armin Mueller-Stahl) and we just have to sit back and wait for the boring talk about banking to be over. This movie is a bug-on-the-wall's worst nightmare where we see too much of everything that happens to the point that you'd rather watch something else.

Friday the 13th

This remake of the cult horror film, Friday the 13th, is one of those "so bad it's good" kind of films where the smart audience member in all of us will go- "how incredibly stupid was that 'supposed to be cool' moment." Let me explain some of the stupidity (in fact, there was this guy in the theater behind me who looked and sounded like Bill Cosby who offered more amusement than the film by often uttering "those stupid fucking kids"). You know that old horror film adage that characters who misbehave by society's standards are the ones that are going to die. Well every character that decides to smoke pot and flash their tits is sure to get it. This might make more sense than some other recent horror slashers because Jason was "killed" by counselors who were too busy fucking and smoking to bother watching after a boy who couldn't swim. Jared Padelecki's character is the one that you would think would have the most sense but no, he instead decides to follow Jason instead of running away from the crazy hockey goalie. 

There are also a lot of pointless kills that are around just to show Jason killing. By pointless kills, I mean that Jason goes out of his way to kill other characters that aren't even related to the main batch of teens (like the prologue with the campers or that hick in his farm). The kills themselves aren't even creative. Like how Jason kills that girl who is hiding under the dock and then lifts her up to show us her nipples (speaking of nipples, pay close attention for this genius line of dialogue that I'm paraphrasing- "you have stupendous nipple placement"). Also, why does the environment look so grungy in a desolate kind of way- if there isn't fog there is a think underbrush.

The ironic thing is, this could've actually been a meaningful movie. Jason could be like Wes Craven's Freddy in A Nightmare On Elm Street or John Carpenter's Mike Myers in Halloween (pretend those pesky sequels didn't exist for a minute). Jason Voorhees could have a lot of deep complexities to him but even in the original films those were brushed over. And isn't the point of a remake these days, to lend a sense of that more modern real world flawed characterization that James Bond and Batman memorably received. Not for Friday the 13th. Jason is instead the same old crazy psycho-killer that doesn't seem to do much else.


Fanboys is one of those films that has been in post-production hell for quite a while. Many cuts of the film were done because there was a debate over what the central motivation for these characters should be. The final cut tells the story of five friends, one of whom has cancer, that decide to break into Skywalker Ranch to catch a glimpse of the soon-to-be-released Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. The debate was whether the filmmakers should keep the cancer plot. Either way, the cancer plot doesn't leave us with much gravitas. The film is instead like a less hornier American Pie for Star Wars fans. We very quickly forget that one of our main characters is going to die before the theatrical release of Episode I because there are too many lame jokes (that even Star Wars fans won't find amusing). And I personally found the end of the movie to not really satisfy common logic but I'll leave it at that so not to ruin anything. What could've been a much better parody with better writing, just falls flat after a few giggles.


Push is very much this year's Jumper. There are a group of characters that are running around with super-powers and the government (with Djimon Hounsou replacing Samuel L. Jackson) runs around and tries to capture our heroes. While Jumper was just about teleporting, Push is about moving things with your mind and seeing the future, kind of like the psychic powers of your typical X-Men character. Paul McGuigan (who also directed Lucky Number Slevin) and his cinematographer and production designer do have a bit of fun with the camera. We get to watch all of these cool effects against the back drop of a chaotically lit Hong Kong. The sights are all that seems to exist in this somewhat mindless sci-fi action film. There are no memorable characters and there just isn't much to care about. I can't be too harsh on the film because there really is nothing to be angry or fed up about. This is simply just a brief exercise in chaos that ultimately goes nowhere.


Pixar and Hayao Miyazaki have set the bar quite high these days when it comes to meaningful stories told with the efforts of animation. Stop motion is somewhere in between the digital realm and the tiring hand drawn process that produced so many classic pieces of animated film. Coraline was based on a story written by modern fantasy master Neil Gaiman and the film is directed by Henry Selick (the man who along with Tim Burton, helped bring us The Nightmare Before Christmas). Borders launched a mini-site around the release of the movie that chronicled the production and to see Selick put all of this attention to detail and moving everything along shot-by-shot, part of my appreciation from the film goes into the thought that must've been put into the production to create this magical realm.

A few months later I saw the Where The Wild Things Are trailer in which you could somewhat infer that a young boy has decided to escape to this far away fantasy realm. Something similar is being done in Coraline. Coraline is also the name of the main character and her life in the real world has a lot to be desired. Her parents are distracted and she lives in an apartment with a ton of very weird neighbors. So one day she finds a magic portal/door in her room and like any fearless child (such as Alice going into the rabbit hole or Lucy running into the wardrobe to Narnia) she plunges right in. And she is delighted with what she finds. The world is a parallel reality where she has the perfect family. Then the movie turns somewhat frightening when our heroine realizes that nothing is at it seems. I'll stop there at the risk of ruining too much.

Now the catch of this movie is, it can also be viewed in 3D. 3D is sometimes seen as a gimmick (*cough*Journey to the Center of the Earth*cough*) but here the 3D effects give depth. Very little comes out of the screen to surprise you. Instead everything goes inward to give us all depth and put us further into Coraline's monstrous "other-world." I'm not sure if there will be any way to re-create the 3D effects on the DVD but this was a must see in theaters and the inner child in you will enjoy it just as much if you decide to seek this out to watch at home.

Friday, June 26, 2009


I'm split "half-and-half" with Taken. Pierre Morel's film has a great European style of action (Luc Besson did in fact write the script) with a strong central character (Liam Neeson) whose love for his daughter will make him stop at nothing to find her. And yet, that is pretty much all there is. The concept has nothing else to really give its audience. For all the fast paced gritty realism of certain scenes, there are also outlandish and action packed moments that quickly follow. I'm not sure if this film is more Jason Bourne or more James Bond. Either way, you will be entertained once the movie gets started and you move past the way too quick introductions to our central players. It makes sense that a father would do anything to save his daughter, and yet we are brought into the protagonist's world way too quickly to really take notice of his CIA skill set or the strong bond between him and the daughter. And the movie spends too much time with this set-up and misuses that time to instead place the characters into position while we could be learning more about them (the director could have cut the entire concert sub-plot and replaced it with something else to let us know that Mr. Neeson can still kick ass). Yet when the characters are all in place and the action moves completely into Europe, the film doesn't let down for a bit, despite how ridiculous (and yet still with a hint of being down to Earth) some of those set pieces can get.


Okay, let me try to talk you all through the plot- a real estate agent (Diane Lane) happens to see a hitman (Mickey Rourke) kill someone. The real estate agent and her husband (Thomas Jane) go into the witness protection agency. Hitman then teams up with fellow assassin (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to kill real estate agent and husband. There is a hooker (Rosario Dawson) somewhere in there too. Now lets take the story and give it the quality of flair that you often see with direct-to-DVD releases. Oh, and pretend Mickey Rourke still did drugs and made bad movies. You then have Killshot. I was barely able to watch this all the way through. There is just nothing inspiring, motivational, and it lacks a central thrust to everything. The scenes just float by but this isn't a passive experience, you will be annoyed by the time you finish the film. The characters and their interactions with each other (especially the husband with the wife and the two killers with each other) have the validity of random pieces of cardboard cutouts trying to attach themselves to any humanistic quality that normal people would have. They just talk (or yell) and you question why are these poor souls putting up with all of this unnecessary tension. You can only tell if someone is happy or sad or angry or dumb or neurotic or psychotic (which is the entire range of emotion that is present here). This whole film is an exercise in hopelessness with no point or end in sight once you are twenty minutes in.

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

I have to give the producers credit, at least it took them two previous films before they decided to try the eventual milking of this vampire/werewolf war franchise. This chapter has little to do with the other installments except serve as a prequel to the first Underworld and deal with the origins of the Vampire's war against the Lycans (which is pretty self explanatory... they decide to get in a war). Yes there is a love plot going on but that gets moved around for some Spartacus style action where Bill Nighy and Michael Sheen really look like they are trying but alas to no avail, they are forced to ham it up in this oddly blue tinted film about special effects and stupid longings for forbidden love (this kind of sounds like another shitty vampire movie...).


The key to this movie for me, was the casting of Biggie Smalls. I had heard of how the script was being handled and from what little I knew of the Notorious B.I.G.'s life, I knew whomever would portray the looming presence of a modern poet, he would need to be able to convey that cool exterior of living the life of a superstar and still convey that he was haunted on the inside. Jamal Woolard (a virtual unknown) nails it down very well. Watch the scene where Biggie goes into that seedy bar and raps a little before deciding what his career should be, you'll notice Woolard knows how to throw his weight around and I quite literally mean his weight. There are moments where he takes up the frame as he rightfully should as his character was, to put it frankly, larger then life and even larger in death. The stare is also there. It's that stare that lets me know that "okay, he may look like the doughboy but I shouldn't fuck with him because he has power." 

The movies holds nothing back when it comes to viewing Christopher Wallace's life style. He was at times nothing more than a thug. He lived at times his dangerous view of a life that would often come to bite him back in the ass in the worst of ways. And yet Biggie still has that twinkle in his eye that lets us all know that he 'can do it.' No matter how bad things will look, just wait a few scenes and we learn that C.J. has some other part of himself that will prevail. 

But first let me backtrack. The film starts off with his death before rewinding to his youth where he got caught up in the "gangsta" life style despite the protection of his caring mother (Angela Bassett) and he soon hooks up with Sean Combs (Derek Luke) when he discovers his talent for mixing words together to create a deeper meaning (just listen to the Party and Bulls bit and how Biggie relates it all to nihilism). He uses these words to seduce one too many woman and before you know it, his life is complicated and things only get worse when a rivalry emerges with his former peer/friend Tupac Shakur (Anthony Mackie). The only regret one can have about this movie is it struggles with showcasing hip-hop/rap culture at large and comparing and contrasting that with Biggie's life. George Tillman does a great job but there are times where he doesn't seem sure if he should let us know more information about certain incidents or just let us be with Biggie and see what he decides to make of them.

Either way, this proves to be a fascinating story about hope, change, redemption, and one man's way of doing all that for his own personal world, even if he doesn't always see it that way.

The Unborn

Movies about demonic possession and satanism have somewhat become a sub-genre (almost like holocaust or prison films). Polanski's Rosemary's Baby, Friedkin's The Exorcist, and Donner's The Omen are three notable films that handled the subject matter of demonic possession with a sense of poignancy that something such as The Unborn doesn't have. Consider it The Exorcist-lite. The first problem is that you take a lot of things at face value in this movie, especially when it comes to a lot of the demonic imagery that doesn't seem to hold much value in the grand scheme of the story (dog with an upside down head?). The script is also weak when you compare it to how men such as Blaty or Polanski handled the idea (and Goyer, who penned Batman Begins and Dark City, is capable of thrilling an audience) and frankly despite the savagery and brief intensity of some of the moments, there is very little else to be found here. The thrills and frights definitely still hit you in the face, but they just leave so very quickly.