Friday, September 9, 2011


I liked Contagion, although it was flawed, particularly in the third act.  However, the first two acts were effective enough to make me forgive the third’s shortcomings.
Contagion was different, which is probably what I appreciated most about it.  The most noticeable differentiation between this and movies like it is the evident lack of zombies.  The disease in the film is not a supernatural, science-fiction future  disease.   It is just a disease we have not yet encountered, and are therefore unprepared for.  It doesn’t turn its victims into zombies or vampires or zombie-vampires.  It makes them sick and then it kills them.  Which, when you think about it, is much scarier than a sci-fi zombie disease.  In zombie movies, the breakout is just the stepping-stone for the real threat.  In this movie, the threat is the disease itself, which is much more elusive and less combatable than a hoard of zombies.  You don’t know when the disease will get you, and once it does, it’s too late.
The ensemble acting was fine, if not remarkable.  This isn’t a knock on the actors here, many of who are some of my favorites, but rather a flaw in the script itself.  The film had trouble expressing the emotional consequences of a deadly outbreak such as this.  The few times it did felt awkward and forced.  I also noticed a definite downplaying of significant deaths, which I’m assuming was on purpose, to show how sudden death could be. 
The first two acts of the film work efficiently and effectively.  They instill the sense of dread and helplessness necessary for a film like this to work, and more importantly, they don’t glamorize and dress it up.  The film presents the facts as they would be presented in real life.  The film isn’t trying hard to entertain the audience; it’s trying hard to captivate them.  This deliberate, realistic pace makes the later scenes of riot and destruction more terrifying, as we’ve already been convinced this is all taking place in the real world.
As I said, the disappointment comes in the third act, or roughly the last half hour of the film.  Basically, SPOILER ALERT, Contagion found its resolution too early and too easily.  There was never any real climax.  Things got bad, things got fixed, and then the movie went on for another thirty minutes.  I kept waiting for the other foot to drop, and some horrific twist to occur, but nothing ever did.  The film ended by showing how the disease began, which might have been interesting if scientists hadn’t already correctly predicted it in the first half of the film.  They didn’t show us anything we didn’t already know.
Mediocre third act aside, Contagion was a smart, engaging, and most importantly, very realistic portrayal of a possible phenomenon.  The first two acts of the film were expertly crafted, and have left me feeling very conscious whenever I touch my face or shake hands with someone.


Sunday, July 31, 2011


            With Somewhere, Sofia Coppola took a not very complex story and tried to pretend it was some deep, insightful masterpiece.  She did this by dragging out shots to nearly unbearable lengths, and made the bold move of not ever really having anything happening in the movie.  She tried to make her own little 2001: A Space Odyssey.  The problem was, she just didn’t have as much to say as Kubrick did.  With Odyssey, Kubrick would place an image on the screen, leave it their long enough for the audience to think about it, and then he would move on.  Coppola tried to do this too, but missed the part where you show something worth thinking about for ten minutes. 
            Take the opening shot of the movie:  A black Ferrari drives laps on a dirt course in the middle of nowhere.  Each lap takes a long time, as most of the track is off screen.  After about the second lap, the audience understands that this is probably a metaphor for the main character’s life; how he is “going around in circles”, and that despite his obvious financial success, he’s still left unfulfilled and bored in his life.  Then Coppola lets the shot go on for about another nine laps.
            She uses these excruciatingly long sequences of monotony throughout the film regularly.  I realize she did this to make the audience see just how dull and tedious the protagonist’s life is, but she could have done this in about four minutes and then moved on with the story.  Instead, we’re left with the feeling that she just needed to pad out the film’s running time.
            The fact is the story itself just wasn’t new or interesting enough to warrant such ballsy moves on the part of the filmmaker’s.  Stephen Dorff plays a guy who, despite his riches and numerous women, is left unfulfilled in life due to his lack of meaningful relationships.  This isn’t exactly a groundbreaking concept.  In fact, Crazy Stupid Love, which I just saw last night, deals with this same exact concept with a secondary character, and still manages to be entertaining and funny and dramatic, and doesn’t feel the need to torture the audience into understanding the point. 
            All this being said, I didn’t hate this movie.  I realized all the reasons that I should have hated it, but for some mysterious reason, I just didn’t.  It could be Elle Fanning as the protagonist’s daughter, who shines brilliantly and injects the film with a very intentional jolt of energy.  It could be the music, which I really dug.  But I think the reason I couldn’t hate this movie is that it actually tried to be something.  I would much rather see a movie that tried to be great and wound up being mediocre than a movie that tried to be mediocre and succeeded, (Green Lantern, Transformers, Thor, Captain America, which was so mediocre I couldn’t even think of enough things to write about it to warrant writing a full review).  This is the first time all summer that I’ve been able write a lot about a movie I’d seen, and for that, I’m grateful.  It feels good having a lot to say about a movie, even if most of those things aren’t positive. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Horrible Bosses

Horrible Bosses is hilarious.  Seriously.  Go see it.  You’ll like it.  I promise.
            And don’t worry. This isn’t one of those comedies that shows all the best jokes  in the trailers, which is what I was afraid of, since those were some damn funny trailers.  Don’t get me wrong, they showed some great moments, but there are many more to be had in this movie.  And it’s probably for the best that they showed such funny stuff in the trailers, since I actually wasn’t planning on seeing this until I watched the full trailer and laughed my caboose off.
            This is an unparalleled comedic ensemble cast, and each of the seven, yes seven, lead actors gets to have his/her moment in the sun.  That being said, Charlie Day is the best.  This will be the film to propel him to stardom.  Every line he said was met with uproarious laughter by my theater, and more importantly, he just portrayed an extremely likable guy.  Mark my words, Horrible Bosses will do for Charlie Day what The Hangover did for Zach Galifianakis.  Let’s just pray Day handles it better than Galifianakis did.  
            Like I said, the remaining six cast members are also hilarious, especially Kevin Spacey.  Jason Sudeikis had the toughest sell in front of him, as he was the only cast member I wasn’t partial to before the film.  Also, his character causes the most trouble for the protagonists, so he could have easily come off very irritating.  I’m happy to say he wound up being just as likable and funny the rest of the cast.
            It’s hard to discuss this movie without spoiling too much, as much of the enjoyment stems from the shocking and unexpected twists the plot takes.  For a comedy, this movie was surprisingly intense.  I jumped at a few parts, and was really concerned about what would happen to the main characters.  I guess that just goes to show how far good, likable protagonists can go.  Even if it hadn’t been funny, this would have made for a very interesting film.  The pants pooping hysterics are just a bonus.
            So seriously, just go see it.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Transformers: The Dark of the Moon

            It doesn’t make sense to rate Transformers: The Dark of the Moon.  This isn’t a movie that deserves to be described as “good” or “bad”.  The only way to describe it would be to call it “a Transformers movie”.
            That being said, this movie is bad.  It wasn’t as goddamn painful as Revenge of the Fallen was, but it was still bad.  To be honest, I have a hard time remembering anything from any of the Transformers movies.  They’re all just a blur.  But I do remember my reactions to them, and my reaction to this one was far less severe than my reaction to the second one.  So kudos on that Michael Bay.
            As with both the other Transformers movies, the only parts that I really found interesting were the scenes before the giant robots show up.  I enjoy seeing Shia LaBeouf’s crazy antics as he tries to get with a hot girl.  It’s entertaining to me.  I might even watch a whole movie of that.  Especially if you add an over the top John Malkovich.  Then the giant robots showed up and completely ruined everything.
            I’ve noticed with huge, CGI driven movies like these, my mind turns off as soon as the action starts.  When I see giant robots and aliens fighting in a big city, my eyes immediately glaze over, my brain turns off, and I don’t switch it back on until real people show up again and start talking.  This isn’t intentional, it’s just that it is very difficult to relate and be emotionally involved in scenes that you know were created in somebody’s computer.  That is why I was a little more pleased with this Transformers movie.  There was actually an action scene that I didn’t zone out on.  The scene in question is the one where the team of humans is inside the building that is being tipped over by a big worm transformer.  For the first time in this series, I actually was interested in one of the action scenes, which is a big deal.
            That’s really all I have to say about this movie.  It wasn’t as horrible as the second one, but it still wasn’t any better than getting punched in the head.  I’m looking forward to next week when I get to review Horrible Bosses, since for the first time this summer, I don’t already know if that movie is going to be good or not. It’s hard to complain too much about Transformers or Green Lantern, since you know what you are getting when you buy your ticket.  I’m excited for a surprise.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Green Lantern

           As far as stupid superhero movies go, Green Lantern was mostly watchable.  I wasn’t dying to get out of the theater five minutes in, which was a nice change of pace from most of the other summer blockbusters released so far (with the exception of Super 8).  I’m sure my expectations played a role in my enjoyment of the film.  I expected it to be god awful, and it was just semi awful.
            Obviously the acting wasn’t anything special.  Ryan Reynolds is a likeable guy, Blake Lively is gorgeous, and Tim Robbins is that guy from The Shawshank Redemption.  My favorite character had to be Peter Sarsgaard as the secondary villain, Hector Hammond.  My reason for this was that he was the only character that I hadn’t seen a million times in other superhero movies.  There’s the cocky lead that gets responsibility suddenly thrust onto him, there’s the generic love interest, there’s the nerdy comic relief friend, etc.  Sarsgaard actually thought outside the box with his character, and gave him some interesting depth that was unique in a movie like this.  In fact, I’m kind of surprised the studio executives let him get away with playing the villain as a whiny, darkly amusing nerdlinger.  However he got away with it, good for him.
            The main villain came in the form of Parallaxagam (or something like that, I’m not bothering to double check imdb for this review), a giant cloud of evil fear gas.  This villain was much scarier when it appeared 20 years ago in Fern Gully.  The only time Parallaxative was actually menacing was when it swarmed New York at the end of the movie, since the audience had something to compare it to, size wise.  This was actually a pretty intimidating visual.  For the rest of the movie, it just hung about in space, looking as ominous as a Rastafarian wig that someone dropped in a fish tank.  And for the love of God, if you’re going to make your villain a giant cloud of gas, don’t give him a tiny human head in the center.  That just looks stupid.  Seeing as how he never said anything important anyway, I’d have suggested just scrapping the head and all of its useless dialogue entirely. 
            I’d like to take a look at the comics the movie was based off of and see if there would have been a way to make the aliens look less cartoony.  There was uproarious laughter in my theater every time the “elder” aliens were shown, and stifled laughter every time Mark Strong appeared.  If they wanted the effects to look that ridiculous, the filmmakers should have made the movie itself a bit more light and fun, rather than taking itself so darn seriously. 
            All in all, if you’re expecting Green Lantern to be terrible, you’re mostly right, but maybe not completely.  And if you’re expecting Green Lantern to be a masterpiece, nothing I can say is going to dissuade you from seeing it.  Everybody wins.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Super 8

           I would like to take this opportunity to thank the makers of Super 8.  Thank you, J.J Abrams and company for allowing me the opportunity to see what it would have been like to have seen a film like E.T. or Close Encounters of the Third Kind or even Jaws in theaters.  As a guy who was born in 1991, I am very grateful.
            I understand Super 8 wasn’t quite on par with those films as far as quality, but it had the same spirit.  It was a blast of fresh air to see a summer movie that was content just having fun.  No darker themes, no sex scenes, and no leaving it open to create some sort of mega trilogy.  Just a romp through the imagination of its creator, and a nostalgic glimpse at an interesting time, especially for movies.
            It never fails to amaze me how far good characters can take a film.  It was especially surprising in this film, as I nearly always hate children in movies.  But this group of kids were instantly likable, and more importantly, realistic.  They didn’t sound like a surrogate for a screenwriter desperately trying to squeeze laughs from an audience.  They sounded like real kids, and what we hear from them was just us overhearing some of their conversations.  They don’t know we’re listening, and they don’t care.
            The scares in the film were fine, but really, the scares and the monster in general took second seat to the main bunch of characters.  At times, the monster plot almost seemed to be a distraction from the main attraction that was these kids attempts to make a zombie movie.  It never became a real issue, but the idea was there, gently tugging at my subconscious in some scenes.
            While I realize it’s impossible, I almost wish Abrams and company had refrained from using CGI at all, just for the purpose of rounding out the nostalgic 1970’s feel.  I’m probably the only one, but I would have loved to see a claymation monster, and old school effects. 
            In the end, this movie isn’t about the CGI, or the monster, or the viral marketing campaign.  It’s about a feeling, and it’s a feeling that hasn’t been experienced by audiences for a long time.


Sunday, June 5, 2011

X-Men: First Class

X-Men: First Class was a unique case in that every single problem the movie had was the director’s fault.  This is strange, because at it’s worst; direction is something most viewers won’t even consciously notice.  But really, the screenplay was fine, if not extraordinary, and most of the acting was phenomenal.  All of my complaints came from the clumsy, oftentimes inept direction handled by Mr. Matthew Vaughn.
The first red flag that went up for me was the opening scene, where Magneto reveals his power to the Nazis.  The scene was lifted nearly shot-for-shot from the original X-Men movie.  “Really?”  I thought.  I understand this is vital information for the audience, but isn’t it the point of a reboot/prequel to show us things we’re familiar with already in a new and interesting way?  I shrugged it off in the hopes that it was just a minor misstep for the film, but I soon realized this scene was the least of the movie’s problems.
I don’t think there was a single scene in this movie that didn’t make me laugh.  Between cheesy reaction shots, hilariously awkward exposition scenes, or bizarre choices as far as actor handling, the entire film had an uncomfortable, humorous vibe.  It was so excessive in fact, that I began to wonder if Mr. Vaughn had intentionally decided to adopt a campier, more retro tone to fit with the 1960’s setting.  That would have been fine, but if the director doesn’t let the audience in on the joke, then the joke is on him.  It’s never a good thing if the audience can’t tell if a movie is trying to be funny or not.   And considering the hundreds of repressed chuckles I heard during the scene where Magneto’s mother is shot in front of him, I’m going to assume Vaughn didn’t know he was being funny.  The kid who played Magneto might have been a fine actor, but even Daniel Day Lewis himself couldn’t make actions like these not hilarious: “Okay kid, I want you to shout ‘AAAARGH!!!’, pause, turn, then repeat three or four times.  Action!”
Vaughn also struggled to convey a coherent narrative for the audience to follow.  During certain points of the film, it would suddenly occur to me that I had no idea what was going on.  “Kevin Bacon bad, Xavier good” was about the extent of the information I absorbed.  Any other details were lost in a myriad of dull conversations and laughably obvious exposition scenes, where we would awkwardly cut to two generals presenting a few lines for the sole purpose of setting up the next scene.
As I said, if not for the incompetent direction, First Class could have been a very enjoyable film.  James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender were perfect as Xavier and Magneto.  I had no trouble believing that these two could grow up to be the Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen versions of the characters I was familiar with, but at the same time they brought their own traits to the roles, and made the characters more three dimensional in the process.  It’s just a shame that the man in charge of them couldn’t direct his way out of a paper bag.
Oh, and one more thing.  SPOILER ALERT.
Even the movie’s “best” moment could have been tweaked to make it a hell of a lot better.  The scene where Hugh Jackman appears to turn down Xavier for the first time was undeniably funny.  So why did Vaughn feel the need to ruin the joke by staying on Wolverine for about thirty seconds too long, just to watch him order another drink?  It’s as if Vaughn was afraid people wouldn’t get it, so he beat the cameo over our heads just to make sure, and made the one enjoyable scene awkward in the process.  Thanks Vaughn.  Thanks a lot.


Monday, May 9, 2011


            Thor is one of those movies that you expect to be terrible, winds up being pretty good, then you never think about again for the rest of your life.  At least until The Avengers comes out, maybe.
            I thought that Thor looked pretty stupid.  I mean, it’s hard to get excited about a movie that openly admits it is just a required precursor to a hopefully much cooler movie due out in a few years.  The situation wasn’t helped by some very dumb previews, and a main star who’s biggest credit is being “the dad of Captain Kirk in the Star Trek reboot”.
            All that being said, Thor turned out to be pleasantly surprising.  The action was cool, the ice monster things were scary, and Chris Hemsworth’s likability is not to be underestimated.  Really, the best thing about this movie was that it wasn’t afraid to be fun.  I love The Dark Knight, but not every superhero movie needs to mimic its gritty, realistic tone.  Especially superhero movies that feature a “rainbow bridge” and a 25-foot tall magical fire-breathing robot.  This movie would have been laughable had it all been treated seriously, and fortunately Kenneth Branagh and team realized this and decided to have fun with it.
            And, like most fun popcorn summer blockbusters, this one was not perfect.  I found Loki as the villain to be very boring.  It was an interesting attempt to have a comic book villain be multi-faceted and relatable, but the screenwriter and Tom Hiddleston make Loki so watered down, I don’t care what happens to him one way or the other.  Another puzzling casting move was having Natalie Portman play the scientist love interest.  If you’re going to hire one of the best actresses alive today, why not make her character more interesting than a brick wall?  And despite the riotous laughter coming from my theater, I thought Kat Dennings was ingratiating as the comic relief.  But that one might just be me.
            Still, I expected Thor to be completely stupid, and it was only a little stupid. It had fun, and the fun was catching.  That being said, I have no desire to ever see it again.  Although I am completely psyched for The Avengers.  Is it 2012 yet?


Friday, April 29, 2011

Why a Third Ghostbusters Film Wouldn't Be a Ghostbusters Film

I’m going to talk about Ghostbusters 3.
I grew up on Ghostbusters 1 and 2, and love is not a strong enough word to describe how I feel about those films.  Even now, after the Internet has informed me that the sequel isn’t very good, I still feel nothing but adoration for both of these films.  If you asked me to show you nostalgia, I’d hand you a copy of Ghostbusters.
So when I started hearing whispers of a possible third film in the franchise, I began bubbling with excitement.  I could experience what audiences did in 1984.  I could go to the theaters and see what the Ghostbusters had been up to in their 20 year absence, and experience a brand new story with them.  It would be like visiting old friends.
Only, it wouldn’t.  I’ve been thinking about it recently, and I’ve come to realize something surprising.  I don’t want a third film.  At all.  Even if it were good, even if it were acceptable, it wouldn’t be a Ghostbusters film.
When I watched Indiana Jones 4, I, along with the rest of the world, was heartbroken.  A trilogy we had grown to love had been brought into the modern world, rehashed, spit shined, and crammed through the hard drive of a computer, and came out soulless.  I hated the abundance of CGI, the horrible plot, and the ridiculously cheesy dialogue.  At the time, I didn’t think that Indy’s age was a problem.  I thought that with a better movie, I wouldn’t have noticed the fact that Harrison Ford was now 60.  But now, if you watch all four films in a row, the age difference between 3 and 4 is too jarring to ignore.  It’s depressing.  Indy isn’t supposed to get old.  He’s immortal.  He’s supposed to be fast and too clever for age to catch him.  But here is Harrison Ford, grunting and wheezing his way through another “adventure”.  The true Indy wasn’t even in the fourth film.  And how can you have an Indiana Jones movie without the real Indiana Jones?
The same tragedy is about to happen to Ghostbusters.  I don’t care if the story is hilarious and the dialogue is completely in sync with the original films.  Bill Murray and the rest of the cast are now retirement aged, and there’s nothing anyone can do about that.  Inevitably, a third film would only depress me.  It would only be a grim reminder that no matter what anyone does, you’re going to get old and die.  That’s not exactly what I want the subtext of a comedy film to be.
The second biggest problem I have besides the age issue, is that of special effects.  It is completely in the Ghostbusters world to have cheesy special effects.  In their world, the ghosts are all stop-motion, or men in masks, or models.  They don’t look realistic, and they’re not supposed to.  That being said, can you imagine a potentially huge blockbuster nowadays being given the go-ahead by the studio to film using completely old school effects?  Of course not.  They’d insist on shining everything up.  CGI ghosts, CGI proton beams, CGI fucking Slimer.  There goes the series that everyone loved.
Currently, the belief is that Bill Murray’s refusal is the only thing stopping the third Ghostbusters film from starting production.  I have never loved Bill Murray more than I did when I heard that.  I don’t know his reasons, but I can pray that  some of them coincide with the issues I’ve mentioned here.  Bill Murray is an intelligent guy.  He doesn’t need to go desecrating a near perfect comedy franchise just because some over eager fans think they want it.

Friday, April 15, 2011


            Unstoppable was a decent action film.  It was greatly helped by the likability of its two stars, Denzel Washington and Chris Pine.  I appreciate it for it’s simple, entertaining plot, which is reminiscent of such 90’s action classics like Speed and Die Hard.  I wouldn’t put it in the same league as those two, but it’s an admirable effort. 
            If you’ve read my reviews, you’ll know I try not to complain too much about obvious popcorn action movies, as long as they achieve what they set out to do: entertain.  This is why I approved of Sucker Punch, and despised Battle: Los Angeles.  Unstoppable achieved its goal of being entertaining, so I tip my hat to it for that.  I do feel it missed some opportunities in the suspense department though.
            This is mostly due to the camera work.  I’ve been reading a ton of stuff about Hitchcock recently, so I’ve noticed myself keeping an eye out for where the camera is placed in certain scenes and why.  Hitchcock talked a lot about the benefits of getting up close and personal in some instances, and why sometimes it’s better to back up and give a wide, unobtrusive view of things.
            This is where I feel Unstoppable stumbled.  There were some moments that could have been extremely tense and exciting for the audience, but due to the camera placement we felt left out.  The biggest example I noticed was when Denzel Washington’s character was jumping from car to car in an attempt to get to the front of a speeding train.  This would be scary as hell… for the person jumping.  For the uninvolved observer watching from 100 feet away, we don’t feel the intensity at all.  By placing the camera in the nearby helicopters and following trucks, we don’t get the full effect of the danger he is in, therein zapping almost all tension out of the scene.  If the camera had been from Denzel’s point of view, we as the audience would have been on the edge of our seats.  As it was, we felt like nothing but an uninvolved viewer watching from the safety of our television sets at home.
            There were many other suspenseful moments in the film, particularly when the camera did get up close and personal.  I was just disappointed the few times I felt an opportunity was missed.  All in all however, Unstoppable was a decent popcorn flick that more or less hit its target.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Woman in Black Trailer

This.  Looks.  Creepy.

Get Low

            Get Low is a good example of getting exactly what the trailer promises you.  Not sure if you want to see Get Low or not?  Get on Youtube and watch the trailer.  If you like it, you’ll like the movie.
            I liked the trailer.   
            The film tells the supposedly true story of an old hermit named Felix Bush, who decides to host his own funeral while he is still alive so that he can hear what everyone thinks of him.  Robert Duvall is terrific as the cantankerous old man.  He particularly shines in scenes where his vulnerability is shown, such as when he goes to Sissy Spacek’s house in the middle of the night to try to make peace.  I also really enjoyed the “dog dreams” speech he gives to the young funeral parlor assistant, played by Lucas Black.  Bill Cobbs was also very powerful as the Rev. Charlie Jackson.  When he and Duvall were onscreen together, their combined power made me feel very secure, and a little sleepy.  Their voices are so deep and soothing.  If this sounds strange, watch the movie and tell me if you don’t feel the same way.
             One of the biggest draws for me in watching this movie was, of course, Bill Murray.  He does not disappoint as the wily old funeral home director.  He plays Bill Murray, like he always does, and for that I love him.
            The screenplay was fine.  It did a nice job building up the mystery around Bush’s past, and kept you guessing whether or not he was really a good guy or not.
            While the trailer for Get Low gives you a good idea of the film itself, the film does make some unexpected choices.   The film tended to downplay moments that you were lead to believe were going to be big, such as the announcement of Bush’s odd funeral plans, or even his “get low” speech.  This was especially evident in the climax of the movie.  The funeral party had been built up so much that I was left a little disappointed by it’s abruptness.  I suppose I can understand the filmmaker’s reasons for downplaying the funeral, so that the focus was not on the party but on Bush himself, but still.  I wanted to see a party.
            All in all, the film was enjoyable.  The music was terrific, with the notable exception of the final song, which I felt was too modern and didn’t jive with the rest of the soundtrack.  If you liked the trailer, you’ll like the film, minor quibbles aside.  I promise.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Sucker Punch

I enjoyed Sucker Punch.  It’s hard to hate a movie that was so proud of it’s own ridiculousness.
Sucker Punch reveled in it’s own stupidity.  The entire movie was an experiment to see how much awesomeness the filmmakers could fit into one movie.  The answer, as it turns out, is a lot, provided you don’t worry about it making sense or anything.
The movie was about a team of hot chicks fighting their way out of an insane asylum, using their imaginations.  That means that in these girls’ minds they aren’t fighting guards and security personnel.  They’re fighting dragons, and ten feet tall samurais, and a trainful of robots.  And they’re doing it all with nothing but an armory full of assault rifles and the skimpiest clothes they can find.
Now you see what I mean.  This movie knew exactly what it wanted to be, and it had a blast getting there.  And for that I respect it.
Their wasn’t a whole lot of acting going on here, but I did enjoy Oscar Isaac’s suitably despicable performance as the man in charge of the asylum.  I did notice the movies obvious attempts to “un-Disneyfi” Vanessa Hudgens by giving her the worst swear words and having her do the most sexual moves.  These moments felt awkward and forced.
Sucker Punch did wear out it’s welcome by the third act.  The final dream action sequence on the train felt tired and repetitive.   After the movie returned to reality, it made the mistake of trying to be clever and explain everything that had happened.  This was not the Sucker Punch that I had come to know and love.
Overall, it was a fun ride.  Unlike Battle Los Angeles, another recent mindless action film, Sucker Punch realized that it was mindless action and pushed that to the limit in an original and undeniably cool way.
And if you’re wondering, the Scene Where I Decided I Liked the Movie was definitely the mayor’s entrance.  You’ll know why when you see it.


Monday, March 21, 2011


Paul was a funny, if uneven, road trip alien buddy comedy.  It had several laugh out loud moments, and a great cast of comedic actors.  It seemed to drag at some parts, and some of the jokes fizzled, but overall it was one of the more enjoyable comedies to come to theaters lately.
Paul starred Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, but unfortunately, it was not the third entry in the “blood and ice cream” trilogy, as it did not have the ingenious Edgar Wright as director.  Instead, Gregg Mottola, of Superbad fame, was behind the camera.  
My favorite part of Paul was the insane amount of sci-fi movie references it packed into every moment.  It was interesting listening to different parts of the audience laugh at different lines, depending on which reference they got and which they didn’t.  Every scene was chock full of lines and images from various sci-fi classics, ranging from E.T. to Star Wars.  I believe that the more you know your sci-fi movies, the more you will enjoy Paul.
For those people out there who’ve never seen a sci-fi film, you still may like Paul for it’s many physical gags and one-liners.  Seth Rogen is very funny as Paul the alien, although sometimes it is noticeable that he wasn’t actually on location reading lines with the rest of the crew.  This is rare, but it took me out of the spontaneous, chemistry built comedy world the cast had built up.
The numerous cameos and guest spots are very funny, and do their part to keep you engaged.  I won’t spoil any of these, as they are funnier when they are surprises.
Despite the laugh out loud moments and loving references, Paul never quite finds it’s footing.  The pace seems uneven, and some of the buildup for scenes plays out into nothing.  Paul never quite reaches the heights of the brilliant Shaun of the Dead, but it is an admirable salute to nerd driven pop culture junkies everywhere.



            Rango was one of the most entertaining, interesting, and adult “children” films I have seen in a while.  The animation was grotesquely beautiful, and the story was completely engrossing.  I’d quickly recommend it to anyone of any age.
            While Rango was not a laugh riot, it did keep me chuckling most of the way through, especially with it’s humorous throwaway lines.  The focus in Rango was not on jokes, but on the story, and for that I am grateful.  I cared more about Rango and his friends more than I have cared about some live action characters in recent movies.  Things became especially intense when Rattlesnake Jake was introduced.  I felt a palpable danger every time he was on the screen.  This is in large part due to Bill Nighy’s terrific voice work.
            Like Paul, the other movie I saw this weekend, Rango rejoiced in referencing other films.  This was especially impressive as most of the references would fly over most children’s heads.  The adults in the audience however were treated with lines and images reminiscent of films like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Chinatown, Star Wars, Apocalypse Now, and many others.  These Easter Eggs provided extra entertainment in an already enjoyable film.
            The animation in Rango was incredible.  Every texture looked so realistic I couldn’t believe I was watching something produced from a computer.  The majority of the characters were hideously beautiful, like illustrations from a Shel Silverstein book.  I became excited every time a new character was introduced just so I could marvel at their grotesqueness. 
            One of my biggest pet peeves is when people assume that little kid movies have to be dumb.  Little kids aren’t idiots.  They can like good movies just as much as adults can. It irritates the hell out of me when movies pander to the audience in hopes of entertaining the children.  Fortunately, Rango respected the audience enough to present them with an intelligent, involved, and humorous story.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Battle: Los Angeles

            Battle: Los Angeles has the prestigious honor of being the worst movie I’ve reviewed on this blog so far.  It might even be in the running for worst movie I’ve seen in theaters.  And I saw Bruno.
            A red flag was first sent up when I realized character’s names were being superimposed over them as they were introduced.  That’s never a good sign.  Next came a scene where the main character, played by Aaron Eckhart, meets an army official in his office.  The scene was so clumsily written it might as well have had a red flashing sign saying “EXPOSITION” appear over the screen as the two talked.  The scene sounded as if a high school student in a screenplay writing class wrote it.  It awkwardly attempted to introduce the characters and their back-stories before revealing that- Gasp!  The main character has a vague, mysterious trauma in his past military life he’d like to forget?  Where have I seen this before?  Oh yes.  In every war movie ever made by anyone ever.
            This was also the scene where the God-awful shaky cam became evident.  I don’t usually mind shaky cams when they are being used for a purpose, like if the movie is pretending to be a documentary, or if it’s a “found footage” type of film.   But this film is neither.  It has a shaky cam simply because someone thought it would look cool.  The worst part is that the shaky cam doesn’t just appear in action sequences.  It happens in supposedly calm scenes where two characters are just chatting.  And coming from a guy who has been around cameras before, simply filming handheld makes things plenty shaky on it’s own.  Despite what the filmmakers of this movie think, you don’t need to furiously thrash your arm around to get the desired effect.
            It was about at this point (approximately 5 minutes in) that I began praying for the end of the movie to come.  Unfortunately I had to sit through action scene after action scene, where the camera shook so badly I couldn’t even tell who was good and who was an alien. 
            This film also ran the gamut of war movie clichés, from the General getting shell shocked and having the audio drop out as his crew mates yell at him voicelessly, to the required “Go on without me!” /“I’m not leaving you!” exchange between two officers.  And if you’re wondering, yes, this scene did end with the wounded soldier grabbing a note and whispering “Give this to my wife.”  I thought Tropic Thunder put an end to this shit.
            The suspense sequences became so predictable I found myself giving a 100% accurate play-by-play in my head during one of the first alien raids.  It went like this:
Movie:  Soldiers hear rustling from behind car.
Me:  Cue dog.
Movie:  Dog runs out.
Me:  Cue all the soldiers dropping their guard and greeting the cute dog.
Movie: “It’s just a dog!  Look, his name is Glenn.  Who names dogs these days?  Laughter laughter laughter.”
Me: Cue explosion.
Movie: Explosion.
            And so on and so forth.
            Now, before I end this review, I must put in a footnote.  The three friends I saw this with enjoyed it.  They said it was fairly entertaining, and they didn’t even notice the things that drove me crazy.  So obviously there are differing opinions on this movie.  If you have a desire to see Battle: Los Angeles, please don’t let this review stop you.  I hope you enjoy it more than I did.


Thursday, March 10, 2011


           Monsters was a good film made awesome by the fact that it was filmed and edited by some guy on his Macbook for around 45 cents.
            Is it wrong to appreciate a movie more knowing the conditions it was filmed under?  Does it make for biased reviewing?  Probably, yeah, but I don’t care.
            What was so intriguing about Monsters, and what made it stand out apart from the plethora of other alien movies out there, was the focus it put on the relationship of the two main characters.  At times Monsters really felt like a romantic drama more than a monster flick.  This probably sounds horrible to some people, but honestly, what’s the point of a monster movie if you don’t care about the people the monster is trying to eat?  The audience has to identify with and care about the people in these types of movies for any suspense to be built up.  Monsters details the relationship of it's two main characters meticulously, and it pays off in the end.
            The scares do eventually come in Monsters, but they are more built on suspenseful scenes than sudden loud noises.  In fact, the scariest scene, in my opinion, didn’t contain a single monster in it.  With the proper background information, give me an abandoned town and an old lady pushing a cart, and I’m on the edge of my seat.
            If I had one complaint about Monsters, it was that they really beat the audience over the head with the “monsters=illegal immigrants” analogy in some scenes.  This didn’t happen frequently enough to detract from my enjoyment of the movie however.
The CGI in Monsters are obviously not up to par with the animation of some major blockbusters, but this is to be expected knowing that it was basically created on the directors laptop.   Despite this handicap, Monsters proved itself far superior to the majority of these blockbusters.  The director, Gareth Edwards showed that you don’t need jaw-dropping animation to create jaw-dropping scenes.  All you need is a good script, believable characters, and proper suspenseful buildup.  And a kickass intro/outro doesn’t hurt either.                                                                                                                                                    


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Winter's Bone

            Winter’s Bone was a subtly written, powerful, and devastating film.  It also happened to contain perfect examples of many of the concepts and standards that I judge movies by, so this review will be as good a time as any to introduce these terms and ideas.
            The film contained two remarkable performances by Jennifer Lawrence, who played the strong, desperate Ree, and John Hawkes, who gave an intense, unpredictable, and beautifully layered performance as her uncle Teardrop.
            The writing was superb.  Debra Granik’s screenplay is extremely subtle.  It never spells anything out, instead revealing the minimal amount of dialogue or action, and letting the viewer put the pieces together from there.  This is especially clear in the final scene.
            One thing I always appreciate in movies is a “real moment”.  This is just a moment in a movie that feels completely honest, like it could happen in real life.   This can either be a single line that a character says, or it can be an entire scene.  This sounds easy, but these moments are surprisingly rare, even in great movies.  The most obvious “real moment” in Winter’s Bone for me was the scene where Ree talks with the Army Recruiter at her school.  This entire scene just struck me as completely true, like a conversation I might have overheard in the lunchroom of my high school.  The fact that this scene felt so real made Ree’s desperation in it even more tragic.
            Another concept I look for when judging a movie is “The Scene Where I Decided I Liked the Movie”.  This one is pretty self explanatory, and you’d be surprised to see how easy these scenes are to identify in most movies.  For Winter’s Bone, the S.W.I.D.I.L.M came for me during the tender and emotional scene where the family looks through their father’s photo album.  This scene comes late in the film, but it wonderfully reveals the fact that Ree and her family truly did love their father, who had been seen as a mostly shameful and unpleasant character up until that point.  The scene sheds an entirely new light on the whole film.  I loved it.
            I’d also like to point out how wonderfully this film created different levels.  I hate it when a movie stays on one level for the entire film, whether that level is sad, funny, scary, or suspenseful.  Realistic movies need variation, because life has variation.  No one is always happy, and no one is always sad.  There are different emotions, and when a movie ignores this, it loses any connection it might have made with the audience.  Thankfully Winter’s Bone chose not to be completely depressing and somber all the way through.  It obviously had a very dark, oppressive overall tone, but scenes like the bluegrass band playing for their mother’s birthday, and the beautiful photo album scene gave layers to an already brilliant movie, and made it that much more believable.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Black Swan

            I did not like Black Swan at first, but now that I’ve thought about it for a little while, I think I can respect it.  I wouldn’t call it a masterpiece, but I do appreciate the fact that there are many different theories and interpretations for it.  I enjoyed some of the creepy thrills, and Natalie Portman’s good performance.  The parts I didn’t enjoy as much were some of the less subtle touches that were used.
            Natalie Portman played her character very well.  She captured the timid, eggshell spirit of her character Nina naturally.  She made you feel very uncomfortable and upset by the various forces that she felt were harassing and abusing her in her life.  Mila Kunis also did an effective job playing Nina’s potential rival.
            I liked some of the creepy, subtle touches in the film, like the eyes in a painting moving, or the reflections that were half a second too slow.  They really made you wonder whether you imagined them or not, and made you question your own judgment, just as Nina would be doing.   The club scene was handled very well also.  The strobe lights made it impossible to tell Portman from Kunis, which I’m sure was intentional.  I also noticed the “black swan” version of Nina appeared very quickly in a few shots.  Effects like these have been done in many movies, notably Shutter Island earlier this year, but I’m always a sucker for scary shots that are barely noticeable, and require a second or third viewing to catch.
            The fact that these scenes were handled so well made it more disappointing when the less subtle aspects of the film appeared.  It bothered me how obvious the outfits represented the good and evil personalities, or the “white” and “black“ swans.  Portman wore white in the beginning, and as she began her transformation her clothes grew gradually darker, ending in black.  And her rival, played by Mila Kunis, wore black the entire time.  I didn’t think this was necessary.  Everyone in the audience knows Nina is spiraling downward.  We didn’t need her to put on a black shirt to inform us that she’s switching into evil mode now.
            While I was not a huge fan of Black Swan, I like the fact that if you go onto the message boards of, everyone has a different theory about the film.  About what was real, who was being manipulated, and what the ending meant.  Movies like this are great for discussion.  I’d just personally rather discuss Mulholland Dr., or Barton Fink, which have all the interpretations, without the obviousness.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Buried is a tough film to review.  It doesn’t seem fair to judge it on the same plane as other movies.  The film is about a man named Paul Conroy who gets buried alive in a coffin.  The entire film, from beginning to end, takes place inside the coffin with Paul.
Now you see why it is so difficult to review.  To be honest, the only way I would have really hated this movie is if they had left the box, whether it was to show a flashback, or show what’s happening on the surface.  To its credit, Buried never does this.  All 90 minutes of this movie are spent in the cramped, claustrophobic space.
When you look at it that way, Buried is an incredible achievement on many levels, including screenwriting, direction, and acting.  The film effectively keeps you on the edge of your seat for the entire duration, even though when you think about it, it really is just watching a guy talk on a phone for an hour and a half.
Unlike 127 Hours, another recent “trapped” film, Buried is more focused on the plot, rather than the psychological aspect of such a predicament.  It is a thriller, taut with suspense.  It keeps you guessing all the way through.  Who put Paul there?  Who is lying?  What is going on in the outside world?  It is obviously influenced by Hitchcock’s thrillers, and while it never reaches the heights of his classics, it is a noble effort, which should be applauded for its originality and daringness.
Ryan Reynolds turns in a fine performance.  Not earth shattering in any way, but he does a very nice job considering the restrictions put on him.  His call home to his mother is especially tender.  This sad moment was when Reynolds really shined his brightest.
Rodrigo Cortes, the director, finds new and creative ways to film the box all the way through the movie, whether it is panning from Conroy’s feet to his head, or slowly zooming away, showing a black abyss on either side of the coffin. 
I’ve heard many complaints from friends about the technical faults in the film; such as the lighter Conroy uses should have sucked up all his oxygen quickly.  These quibbles are impossible to avoid with “trapped” films, and whether they are true or not, the movie succeeded in convincing me to suspend my belief, which is all that matters to me.
My biggest problem with Buried was the ending.  I won’t spoil anything, but I feel it was a particularly weak finale, that inspired more of a “huh?” response, than the “whoa….” It was looking for.
All in all, Buried serves as an interesting experiment in filmmaking that succeeds on most levels, but disappoints in the last five minutes.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Social Network

I saw The Social Network when it first came out in October, and wasn’t sure what to think of it.  It was good; there was no question about that.  But I felt it dragged in the middle, and there were some unnecessary scenes.
I recently watched it again this past Wednesday with some friends in my dorm.  It had obviously grown on me.  I picked up on subtleties and lines I hadn’t noticed before.  The “unnecessary” scenes revealed themselves to be crucial.
Today I watched it for the third time with my family.  I have become convinced this deserves to, and should win the Oscar for Best Picture.
The brilliance of The Social Network is that there are no bad guys.  The characters make mistakes, and they act in morally questionable ways at times, but every single one of them is relatable.  You know where they are coming from, and you understand the emotions that drive their actions, whether it is jealousy, competitiveness, the need to belong, or anything.
Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg rings true through every frame of the movie.  His boredom whenever anyone else speaks, his mile a minute, unable to focus mind, and his cockiness that masks his desperate need for human connection all combine to create one of the truest, most fascinating characters to grace the screen this year.  Also terrific are Andrew Garfield as the betrayed, hurt, ex-best friend, and Armie Hammer, playing both of the proper, enraged Winklevoss twins.  In fact, I could rave about each member of the cast, but I’ll just sum it up by saying this is a perfectly acted film.
Aaron Sorkin’s script is brilliant in that it is completely unique with its rapid fire, endlessly layered dialogue.  You can discover new complexities in it with each subsequent viewing.  It seamlessly blends humor with heart breaking drama, and constantly feels authentic. The dialogue reels the audience in from the very start with the unforgettable opening scene in the coffee house.
The Social Network is a wonderful film, filled with once in a lifetime performances, ingenious dialogue, and a story at once both modern, and timeless.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Rubber Trailer

Bat shit and wonderful is right.

Tron: Legacy

     Boy, did Tron: Legacy suck.  It was this year’s equivalent of Avatar, being that the only positive thing I can say about it is it was kind of cool to look at.  But if you’re hoping for relatable characters, interesting dialogue, or anything resembling a story, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
     Garrett Hedlund stars as Garrett Hedlund, son of that guy from the equally boring original film, Tron.  Hedlund doesn’t do a lot of acting, per se, but he does spend a lot of time looking at the camera going “Aren’t I cute?  Yes, yes I am.” Jeff Bridges appears to have fun reprising his character, but having fun and being interesting onscreen are two very different things.  Olivia Wilde is fun to look at, so that falls under my one positive thing.  Oh, the movie also features a baffling cameo by the great Cillian Murphy for all of about 30 seconds in the beginning, before he disappears for the remainder of the film.  I guess this is to hint at a possible sequel, but all it really does is make me wish I were watching a movie with more Cillian Murphy and less boring Windows screensaver action.
     The script manages to squeeze in every clichéd, overused, action movie line known to man, including, but not limited to: “This isn’t happening!”, “This can’t be good”, and the classic “Now THAT is a big door.”
     It’s tough to complain about “plot holes” in a movie like this, because theoretically the movie would have to have a plot in the first place in order to contain holes, but I’ll still mention some of my favorite moments.  At one point in the film, Jeff Bridges is seen reprogramming an evil guard, and then bonking him on the head to turn the guard into his own personal servant.  This seems like it’d be a handy trick to teach his son who’s been running around fighting these guards for days.  Another interesting note is the fact that despite the portal planting Hedlund in the middle of the virtual city, Hedlund must travel hundreds of miles outside the city to exit said portal. And of course, the realization that at the end (SPOILER) Jeff Bridges is God and can knock over badguys with a seismic foot stomp.  Magic might have been useful earlier in the movie.  But what do I know.


Monday, January 31, 2011

127 Hours

     I was blown away by 127 Hours.
     The film, a true story about hiker Aron Ralston, and the measures he must take after becoming trapped in a cave in the middle of nowhere, plays more like a music video than a feature film.  The director, Danny Boyle, constantly assaults the viewer with a jumble of images and sounds, and lets them affect each audience member in their own personal way.  There are no straightforward flashbacks, chronologically laying out Ralston's entire backstory.  Instead we get surreal, fleeting glimpses at past events, that draw the viewer into the emotions and feelings, rather than the logistics and details.  The movie is more concerned with how this situation would make someone "feel", than by detailing Ralston's efforts to escape.
     The movie is Franco's to lose, as he is the only one on screen for the majority of it.  And I'm happy to say he knocks it out of the park.  Who would've guessed the spunky little rebel from Freaks and Geeks had these kind of dramatic chops?  Franco's intense performance culminates in one of my favorite scenes, and one that will most likely live on in cinematic history, where Ralston performs a morning talk show program featuring himself as the host and guest, for the benefit of his cheap little camcorder.
     Boyle shows a return to form with this film, after his Disney channel original movie Slumdog Millionaire inexplicably took home Best Picture.  His fast paced editing and frenetic story telling ability call to mind his earlier works, most noticeably the one and only Trainspotting.
     This is the eighth 2011 Best Picture nominee I've seen.  I don't know that I would say it's the best picture of the year, but I personally loved it's raw energy and unapologetic originality.  I would like to write more about it, but I don't want to spoil even one of the brilliant quirks or images that make up this dazzling film. This is one of those movies that needs to be experienced to be believed.