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Had potential, but...
This movie starts out strong with a lot of potential but slowly gets worse and worse culminating in one of the cheesiest disaster-film scenes I've ever watched (the demolition scene).
At first, the establishment of the main characters is clear and direct (if a bit one-dimensional) and the earthquakes at the beginning build quick suspense. But everything gets so muddled and there are some very major plot oversights... Namely: WHAT volcano? That's probably what you'll be asking yourself the whole movie. Sure there's lava, ash, giant red hot rocks spewing up out of the earth, but it isn't exactly coming from a volcano. Early in the movie the geologists mention that volcanoes can spontaneously erupt out of fault lines or something, but it's such a passing statement that you have no idea if that's what's actually happening. Only at the end is it clarified with a zoomed-out photo of a brand new volcano in the middle of LA so I could only conclude that the "volcano" causing all this disaster is really the FORMATION of a volcano.
This film does have its moments, and I was entertained throughout the movie and never bored. I thought the flow of lava was probably the best part of the movie - a red-hot stream that flows slow enough to run away from on foot, but devours everything in its path and can't be stopped. It definitely gave a sense of dread.
In fact, most of the actual disaster parts of the film were pretty good. This movie falls apart with the characters. More and more minor characters are introduced as the film goes on, just to be killed off in dramatic fashion, culminating in a scene where two guys are trapped in a building about to be blown up, which I think was supposed to be touching, but all I could think was "wait, who are these two people, and why do I care about them??". Then, there's the side plot with The Misjudged Black Guy and The Cop That Has It In For Him, which is nothing but distracting. And finally, we have the whole side plot with Tommy Lee Jones' character's daughter, which isn't really bad in itself, except that the character is so utterly helpless, stupid, whiny and useless for a 13-year-old. Though I guess those are the only traits that could possibly lead her character to end up in the path of an impending demolition because she had to chase after the small child she was supposed to be watching who ran off. The worst scene in the entire movie is when she emerges from the building right as the bomb is about to explode, and her dad is yelling at her to run away, but she just stands there like a deer in the headlights. My only thought at that moment? She doesn't deserve to live, it's called Natural Selection.
So yeah, this movie is fun, if you like disaster movies, but it's also fun to make fun of. If you want to watch it, watch it with your friends and laugh at the characters' expense, and then be thrilled by scenes of lava shooting out of the ground and killing people.
Psychology and intelligent sleuthing over modern flash
Sure, I love modern crime dramas like CSI, but in my opinion, Columbo is on a whole other level. Most crime dramas airing currently are all about complicated chemical tests, DNA, and high-octane car chases and shootouts. Columbo is subtler than that. His common sense, shrewd observation, and disarming demeanor solve the cases. And, more than that, you really get into the psychology of the killers, who are often at least somewhat sympathetic characters driven to the edge by circumstance. In every episode, the scene where Columbo finally confronts them with the solution and hard evidence is always fantastic. This is a gem of a TV show, and I think anybody who likes CSI, Law & Order or any other crime dramas, will seriously enjoy this series.
Paranormal Activity (2007)
good for the genre
It's hard for me to really compare Paranormal Activity with other movies, because these kinds of supernatural horror movies rarely meet my personal criteria for a Good Movie. That being said, this was still an enjoyable movie, which is something else entirely, and it was better than many in the genre.
There's nothing really new about Paranormal Activity. It sort of mixes up bits and pieces of movies like The Blair Witch Project, Poltergeist and The Exorcist. But it still does it pretty well. I think the best part of this movie was that I was actually more unnerved by scenes where the camera had fallen or been set down or was otherwise being pointed away from the action, than scenes where some supernatural activity was being shown.
The biggest downside of this movie to me was just the acting. The actors aren't terrible or unwatchable, but they're just not good enough to make you forget that you're watching people _pretending_ to be filming home movies. They do a passably good job going through the motions, but since their interactions with each other are basically the only focus of the movie, it just gets a bit stale, whereas I think two really fantastic actors could have made this movie feel truly realistic.
The other thing that bugged me about the movie was the set. I'm betting it was probably the house of somebody involved in making the movie, but the whole time I just could not stop thinking, why is their house so big? A young professional and his live-in girlfriend who is still going to college don't need a house with 3 bedrooms, a home office, and a sprawling living room. Maybe it sounds silly, but the shots of two unused but perfectly furnished bedrooms just felt awkward to me...
American Psycho (2000)
Unsettling to say the least
So much could be, and probably has been, said about this film. It's obviously a commentary on modern society, but it's also a look into one man's psyche. You will come to realize by the end of the film that everything you are seeing is through the almost certainly unreliable point of view of Patrick as he begins to come unhinged.
I want to talk about the end of the film though, because I think it's what will upset viewers of this movie. Throughout the film for the most part, you accept that Patrick is a serial killer. After all, he tells you he is - he takes bloody sheets to the dry cleaner, stabs a homeless man, chops up his coworker. As viewers of films we've been trained to accept what we see as fact. But in the end actions become increasingly more absurd and unrealistic, culminating in a final scene where an ATM tells Bateman to feed it a stray cat, and he goes on a much too over the top shooting rampage. We cannot accept that what we are seeing is actually happening.
I think this is what is so great, yet so annoying, about this movie. There is no catharsis, no resolution, no "A Beautiful Mind" moment where we or Bateman finally know for sure what's real and what's not. We're brought to the moment of climax but we don't get the resolution, so we're left feeling frustrated, so to speak. But that's what's so great about it too, because it forces you to think about it, consider it. Unlike so many Hollywood blockbusters that spoonfeed you tripe to gaze at blankly for an hour and a half, American Psycho engages your mind.
The movie is flawed. It's hard for me to put my finger on it exactly, but it's a multitude of little things that alternately alienate and bore the audience, mixed in with many brilliant scenes. It's hard for me to say if this story could've been done better, never having read the novel, but it's hard to pull off this kind of subjective reality on film. But American Psycho is certainly worth watching.
The Bad Seed (1956)
Chilling Psychological Thriller
Though this movie gets categorized as Horror, I think it's more fittingly a psychological thriller... I think the main Horror elements are mainly missing - there is no grime, no true monster, merely the fallout of the murders. The main thing that carries this movie, in my opinion, is Christine, who slowly realizes that her darling daughter Rhoda may not be what she seems.
From the beginning of the film you get the feeling that Christine doesn't trust her daughter fully - perhaps explained later in the film by the fact that she already has half-formed suspicions that her daughter killed their previous landlady. The horror of this movie is the horror we see in her face when she realizes the truth - her daughter is a sociopathic killer, devoid of emotion, who has killed a boy for a tiny trinket - a Penmanship award. The heartbreak and guilt in her face as the boy's grieving mother comes over is quite unnerving. This is a much more subtle movie than simply a "evil child murders people" film.
Psychology is very present in this film, as the characters discuss the merits of the theory that certain evil tendencies can be passed on genetically with no amount of nurture able to change it. That's where the title comes in - Rhoda is a "bad seed," born without conscience, doomed by the genetic legacy of her murderess grandmother. I'm not sure if these theories hold up scientifically in modern day of not, but the "nurture vs. nature" debate is certainly still ongoing.
This is a must watch if you prefer psychological horror and subtle suspense to outright gore. This "horror" is not an absurd fantasy - it could happen with anyone, anywhere.
The Call of Cthulhu (2005)
CGI Does Not Make a Movie
I've never read The Call of Cthulhu or any of Lovecraft's work, so I went into this movie not really sure what to expect. It came up in the Netflix Instant Watch Horror section, and it caught my eye because the of the old-timey cover, but the modern date. I looked it up and was more intrigued to see that it was a black and white silent film, made only 6 years ago.
I'm interested in movies that use the medium of film to do something more than simply capture moving images - films that have a unique take or message through how they're being filmed just as much as what is being filmed. "The Call of Cthulhu" indeed has an interesting message - to take you back to the time in which the story is set, you are watching it in the medium of the time. It is not a simple "period piece" where all the actors are wearing old fashioned clothing but being filmed with state of the art equipment... This is a true period piece, and feels as if it could've been made in the 20s. And I think this is the sort of medium, atmosphere and period that this story was made for... The time of the Creature Feature, but also a time where exploration and globalization were really just taking off.
In any case, it gave me a lot to think about as to how we view what we are viewing in a movie, and I highly recommend it. It really says a lot about how you can create a good story with bad (or at least outdated) special effects. At the end, well, I won't give anything away, but it really did frighten me. It's only 45 minutes and definitely worth your time.
Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
Wow, a nearly perfect movie experience
I just finished this movie and my only reaction was, wow. What an astounding film. Nuanced in every way, epic, moving, real. Glenn Close and John Malkovich dominate the screen. In my opinion, Madame de Mertruil is the most fascinating character... both a villain and a victim. A powerful woman in an age where women had little power. The scene that really illustrated this was when she told Valmont that she never took another husband so that she could never again be ordered around. She has manipulated and done terrible and unspeakable deeds, caused two deaths, ruined lives, but she is not entirely unsympathetic. And at the end we see her once again in front of the mirror, and she's truly lost everything. An epic film. Absolutely must see.
A quirky, poignant film about taboos
This movie may not be for the faint of heart. I'm sure it has offended plenty, and may have even been filmed with the intention of offending some. But this is a movie that I think really _needed_ to be made. The first step to destroying taboos is to bring them out in the open. This film deals with, obviously, trans-sexuality, in a very human way - issues about what it is to be a woman, and whether trans-sexuality is a psychological disorder (as Brie says in the beginning, isn't it odd for a psychological disorder to be cured with plastic surgery?). In the periphery it also deals with prostitution, drug abuse, homosexuality, incest, family acceptance, and honesty.
Transamerica skips ably from comedy to drama, and you'll find yourself laughing riotously at points("The Church of the Potential Father" got an lol from me) and perhaps crying at points. It deals with hard topics in a frank and touching way. I found it very interesting that they chose to portray Brie with a female actress as opposed to a m-to-f or male actress. I'm not sure if it's simply because of Felicity Huffman's fame after Desperate Housewives, or as yet another comment on the nature of sexuality/gender - she's a woman playing a man who is a woman...
As somebody who is very liberal, accepting, and already somewhat knowledgeable about lgbt topics, I found this an extremely moving portrait of what it is to be in a gender/sexuality-gray area in America. But, you really would need to go into this movie with an open mind to fully appreciate it. My sister, for instance, watched the first 10 minutes, commented "That's weird....." and left. Well, her loss.
Fun stupid silliness
If you liked Night at the Museum 1, you'll probably like this... It's more of the same, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Sequels can often be much worse than the original, but I thought this one was on par with the first.
So, this isn't really a serious movie. It isn't meant to have well-developed characters with believable motives. It's just lots of silliness with flashy effects. It will probably be enjoyed most by middle school age kids, but adults will probably get a good few laughs out of it as well. I did.
The best part of this was probably Hank Azaria. Amy Adams was fun and cute as always. Ben Stiller is probably the low point of the movie, but I never find him very funny.
All in all a good family movie. Worth renting, even if it's not the best movie ever.
The Last Airbender (2010)
This movie amazed and awed me... with it's awfulness
Honestly, coming out of the theater, I was just stunned. Stunned that it was even possible to make something so horrible out of such a good source material, particularly when that source material was television. I mean, when you're translating a work from book to movie, it's a completely different medium so there's bound to be some problems; everyone has a different idea of what the characters look like, sound like - a different idea of all the little nuances. But with Avatar: The Last Airbender, the source material was already on film, albeit cartoon, so I just don't understand how some of the mistakes were made, except for by willing incompetence.
Let's start with the pronunciation of the names. Now, I know it's a small thing as far as the movie as a whole is concerned, but it's really symptomatic of the movie's main problem. All the names were pronounced wrong - despite the source material being an American TV show... with sound... You can't really "interpret" the way a character's name is pronounced when it's spoken out loud in the source material; sure, with a book, there might be a couple ways to pronounce a character's name, but NOT WITH TELEVISION.
Next, the nationality of the characters... Again, when going from book to movie there might be a few different ways to interpret a character's heritage and appearance, but not with a visual medium. In the cartoon, the characters were clearly of Asian descent. Yet, the main characters Katara, Sokka, and Aang were all American actors. Also, I was surprised that M. Night Shyamalan chose to cast the Fire Nation (the main villains of the film) as an Indian/Middle Eastern nation (in the cartoon I always felt it drew from Chinese culture). It seems like lately Middle Easterners are becoming the Stock Villain of movies, just like Russians were during the cold war, or Germans before that.
Now, there were many other problems with this movie aside from the pronunciation and the appearance, like the dialogue and acting, but those are run-of-the-mill mistakes. Rarely does a movie come along that makes such visual and aural mistakes when working from a visual/aural medium. In my personal opinion, somebody wrote up a brief summary of the animated series, emailed it to M. Night Shyamalan, and he wrote his movie off that... the most probable reason I can think of that he would make such mistakes with the pronunciation is that he had only ever read the character's names, and never seen the show itself...Really, that would explain a lot.
I Kissed a Vampire (2010)
I smell a cult hit...
I went to what I think was the first ever public showing of this film at SIFF, at the Neptune theater. There were apparently some difficulties getting the film there, and when it finally arrived, they played it off what I believe was the director's mac book, and due to technical difficulties there was no color correction and the time code was across the top. However, we were informed that this was the final cut of the film - only the color correction was missing.
I had a lot of fun at this movie. I think I'll start with the best parts - It was immediately hilarious. This movie didn't take itself 100% seriously, and I loved that. There were some great breaking-the-4th-wall moments where the characters acknowledged that they were singing and dancing. All the characters were over-the-top and very funny ("Dan Helsing" in particular). The musical numbers (of which there are plenty) were probably THE best part. The songs themselves were all catchy and well-produced, and the dances were a blast to watch. Each musical number was as slick and flashy as any pop music video.
Now, for low spots of the film... The points where it lagged were when it started to take itself seriously - the dramatic moments between the characters were very soap-opera-y. Also, the plot was almost paper-thin and didn't always make much sense. It was sort of just a string to hang the big comedic and musical moments on.
I still recommend seeing this movie. I think anyone who likes rock musicals will enjoy this. This is the kind of movie you go see with all your friends to laugh together and sing the songs afterward. If this movie doesn't become a box office hit, I think it will at least become a cult hit, particularly with teens and 20-somethings...
Bizarre, touching, and an entirely new manifestion of the romantic comedy
This movie was not at all what I expected. I'd heard some very vague plot summaries, and what I had been able to deduce from this was "guy and girl erase each other from their memories and then fall back in love again" and it sounded like just another romantic comedy... Well in a sense that's the plot but it's like 10% of the whole movie.
I was surprised when I realized that the majority of this movie takes place in the main character's (Joel's) mind, as he goes from memory to memory of his relationship with his girlfriend Clementine while a bunch of doctor's assistants with problems of their own are erasing the memories one by one. This part of the movie is so bizarre, and yet so moving. It provides real insight in the nature of relationships, how we so often let the bad overshadow the good, and he only realizes this before it is too late and he can do nothing to stop them. I think this movie might not be everybody's cup of tea, but I found it quite refreshing and deep.
I definitely recommend that people give this quirky flick a chance.
Mediocre and generic, yet enjoyable
I think Eragon is the kind of film that isn't worth seeing in theaters or purchasing, but perhaps worth renting, or borrowing from a friend.
I know my little sister (15 yrs old) loved this film and recommended it very highly to me, and I think that if you are in the 12-16 age range, you probably will enjoy this movie more so than somebody older.
First of all, the plot of this movie is extremely hackneyed, as is obvious to anybody who has ever seen Star Wars or Lord of the Rings or has read or watched anything in the Fantasy genre ever. It covers just about every cliché in the book. There is no plot turn that you don't expect, and no real surprise throughout the whole movie. However, having said this, I think it was a very enjoyable and entertaining movie even if it isn't very deep.
Second, the acting of the main character, Eragon, bugged me. He seemed a bit amateurish and stilted, which makes it more difficult for the viewer to be drawn into this fantasy world created in Eragon. The other actor that really bugged me was John Malkovich - okay, we know he's a good actor, but I don't understand why he was in this movie. His character only said stiff clichéd malevolent one-liners and walked around menacingly. The character almost seemed like it was MEANT to be a stereotype of a fantasy villain. Not to mention his character's name was so awkward and strange that I couldn't remember it throughout the whole film. However, I did think Jeremy Irons and Rachael Weisz did decent performances for the script that was written. It did bring to mind though another terrible fantasy film that Jeremy Irons appeared in - Dungeons and Dragons which also rips off other movies and spews clichés at a hundred a minute, though that film was considerably worse then Eragon.
So, all in all my recommendation is to watch this film if you're looking for a little magic, a little sword-fighting, a little adventure and nothing all that deep.
Bridge to Terabithia (2007)
One of the best family films I've seen in ages
This movie is at once touching, moving, endearing and profound. I loved it. I wish I had given it a chance and seen it when it was still in theaters instead of waiting to get it from Netflix.
This film was completely mis-marketed. I suppose the marketing team in charge of this movie decided that they would play on the recent success of films like The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, Eragon and other fantasy films getting hype around the time this came out. However, this was, in my opinion, a terrible move, as they really had a beautiful, wonderful movie to work with and should simply have marketed it as it was, a family film, a film about friendship and family and love and coming-of-age and the importance and power of imagination. They took the "fantasy" parts of the movie (which were really just a minor part of it) and made it seem like that was the plot.
Bridge to Terabithia's Leslie is probably one of the most endearing, lovable characters I've seen in a long time. Her unique perspective on life, her kindness and bravery make her a character you can feel very touched by.
This movie actually made me cry. Made me break down and sob and I don't think I've done that during a movie since Moulin Rouge.
Bridge to Terabithia is also one of the few films that I think can be called a true "family film" - enjoyable by the WHOLE family. Many times, films that get this label are not much fun for anybody over age 13 and are full of fart-jokes and sexual innuendo to make it "more fun" for the adults. But this movie isn't like that. The characters and situations will be relatable and fun for children as well as to adults. In fact, in some ways this film is probably MORE suited to adults that children due to some of the deeper aspects of the film, though in my opinion it is certainly child-appropriate.
My recommendation is, definitely see this movie. In fact, buy this movie because you will probably want to see it again and again.