Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
ListsAn error has ocurred. Please try again
Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)
The Best Horror Series of the Decade
When the first Paranormal Activity was released to theaters, it caused more stir than any horror movie had in years. It started as a super-super-super low budget film made by friends, and, slowly, by fantastic word of mouth it became one of the highest grossing horror films. For good reason, too; Paranormal Activity and its sequel are truly horrifying films.
In an age of movies like Saw 3D, it is difficult to find a horror movie that can genuinely scare you, and even rarer one that doesn't rely at all on blood and gore to do so. What makes the Paranormal Activity films so original is that they went back to the unfortunately-forgotten idea of slow-build and suspense; particularly in the first film, there was no sudden and quick thrills. You waited. You got chilled. The terror built and built and built, almost to the point of being unbearable. I will never forget the way the first film was able to turn the taped night-time sessions into increasingly intense prisons of fear. Each time the lights on screen went out, the fear in the audience became more and more tangible. And eventually that fear realized itself in a haunting, terrifying, perfect finale.
This sequel is, admittedly, not quite as dedicated to the slow-build style that made the first one so good; the scares come pretty quickly and pretty intensely from the start. Having said that, it is just as scary and the use of an infant was a perfectly horrifying idea. If you are expecting an average, bloody, cheap thrills horror film, you will be disappointed by Paranormal Activity. This is realistic, believable terror and it is done with an admirable reliance on slow-build suspense and subtlety that makes Paranormal Activity the best horror series of the decade.
James Cameron's political action extravaganza...
Avatar is not the best movie of all time. Let's get that out of the way right now. It might be one of the biggest, just like director James Cameron's last film, Titanic, was. And since comparisons to that other Cameron classic is inevitable, let's talk about it right now: Avatar is not as good. Titanic was a huge epic event movie and yet managed to deliver a story that was undeniably personal and human; Avatar doesn't quite do that, and therein lies its greatest weakness.
But let me back up a few steps: Avatar is a very entertaining and thrilling ride, and most definitely worth seeing on the big screen. Filled with breathtaking imagery, dazzling effects, and grand storytelling with big emotions, it's exactly what a crowd-pleaser is made of. Unfortunately, grand storytelling has a way of becoming lost within itself. Cameron's script is strongly lacking in the dialogue department. The words coming out of the character's mouths often feel dry and fake, though the cast does its best with the material. Of particular note is the wonderful Zoe Saldana, taking the difficult role of the Na'vi princess and filling it with genuine humanity and emotion. Yet perhaps her very personal performance stands out like it does because the rest of the movie is so broad. This is evidenced even by the running time, a whopping 2 hours and 45 minutes, a length that is felt on more than one occasion.
Still, Avatar shouldn't be dismissed, and it won't be. As ticket sales already show, this movie is going to be around for a long time, and love for it will flow profusely. Yet there's also something more to Avatar; it is an inherently political movie. The story of the indigenous people being pushed out of their home and impressed upon by the invading humans does not allow for a non-political movie. What's amazing about Avatar is the innocent way in which it brings about its message and the subtlety with which it convinces you of its truth. Cameron uses his tale and its great big emotions to present us with stark images of military extremity and (let's face it) American consumer selfishness. It's quite notable that a movie can get us to root against the evil humans and have the main character refer to them as the 'aliens' by the end. Even the most lightweight film viewer will find it almost impossible not to notice the strong messages, and one must give Cameron props for the way he makes a movie set on an alien planet hit America right at home. The way the themes are naturally embedded in the story allows for easy relatability, and makes it easier for us to consider that some of our methods need to be reexamined.
Avatar is a two-sided film. On a purely entertainment-focused level, it is nothing more than a thoroughly enjoyable, great big action extravaganza, but it has major flaws. However, you have to admire a mainstream film that can examine such relevant issues in thoughtful, honest ways, and promote the most simple message of all: Peace.
Confessions of a Shopaholic (2009)
All Credit to the Charming Ms. Fisher...
Confessions of a Shopaholic is shockingly lightweight entertainment. The story of a quirky young woman who cannot control her urge to spend, it doesn't exactly call for depth. Yet it's a movie that will catch you by surprise. You may find yourself genuinely involved in its charming little tale, and even discover that you're mulling over its thinking points in your head.
But don't be fooled: There is nothing profound here. In the end, it is a movie all about shopping, and the women who love it. The script is witty, but not overtly so, and there is nothing unique in the film's presentation. Yet it is hard not to be entertained.
Therefore all credit most go to the delightful leading performance by the wonderful Isla Fisher. Her shopaholic Rebecca Bloomwood is a comic character for the ages, just happened to be stuck in a modest little film. Ms. Fisher will make you laugh, but, even more impressively, she brings humanity and reality to the movie's more dramatic scenes, scenes that could easily have become mawkish in the hands of a lesser actress. Luckily, working around such a talent brings out the best in all the rest of the cast too.
There's something to be said for truly lightweight entertainment that doesn't make you feel totally ashamed watching it, and that's precisely what this movie is. A guilty little pleasure that keeps on giving, this one is definitely worth a watch, and one hopes to see more and more of it's wonderful leading lady on screen.
Jennifer's Body (2009)
The Incompletion of Great Premise...
When Jennifer's Body was first announced to me, I met the idea with cautious curiosity. The idea of Megan Fox playing an evil high school beauty queen who eats the boys she seduces sounded... interesting, to say the least. When the trailer finally emerged, I got excited. Seriously. The combination of thrilling and funny hadn't been explored well at the theater in a long time.
Unfortunately, it still hasn't been explored well; at least not very well. The movie understands what it's going for: a comic horror film with just enough gore and jumps to be jarring and plenty of witty dialogue to stay fresh. The problem is, the two don't seem to meld together very well at any point. It's hard to say whether this has more to do with Diablo Cody's script or Karyn Kusama's direction; neither is at it's full potential here. Although, on recollection of the film, the too-random use of humor sometimes seems to have been the biggest problem.
But let's talk about what works. The leads are both very good. It was Megan Fox who got lots of good buzz about proving she could actually act, but Amanda Seyfried really impressed me more with her edgy role. The performances of both are worthy of accolades. They bring honesty and realism to what could have become total caricatures, and their performances help paint the deeper themes of the movie quite well.
Yes, there are deeper themes. It's not too hard to spot what Ms. Cody is trying to talk about here: The relationships girls have with each other. The whole 'Frenemies' idea that so defines high school girls. It's an interesting concept to examine, and it could have made for a truly entertaining AND thoughtful film.
But it simply isn't. While it wants to get there, it gets too lost in trying to be hip and current and 'alternative' to really become a film. And while the tension builds decently toward the finale, it all leads up to a climax that... doesn't really climax.
However, this is not to say Jennifer's Body isn't worth watching. Hell, I was entertained, and there are some sexy little scenes in there. The disappointment lies in thinking about what the premise promised, a promise that sadly wasn't quite fulfilled... 6/10 stars
The School of Rock (2003)
The Creation of Musical Fusion...
Every now and then a mainstream entertaining film comes along that breaks the boundaries of what we expect and turns itself in as a truly great film. School of Rock is one of those movies. Sharp direction from Richard Linklater, a talented cast, and a fabulous script from Mike White meld together to create a heartfelt, gut-bustingly hilarious tribute to rock 'n roll that will make a believer out of anyone.
Not enough praise can be given to Jack Black in what is truly the greatest performance of his career. As Dewey Finn, a down-on-his-luck guitar player/singer who pretends to be a substitute teacher in place of his friend and forms a band out of his class of ten-year-olds, Black creates a laugh-out-loud hilarious hero for the ages. Never on screen have I witnessed a more passionate, genuine performance, and the film is truly what it is because of him. He speaks about rock 'n roll as something 'pure' and 'awesome', and every word is filled with love and admiration. Extolling the virtues of rock 'n roll to his classroom, he talks about 'creating musical fusion' and how 'one great rock show can change the world.' What makes the whole thing work is that Black truly believes every word he's saying. And so do the kids.
The movie never stops being funny and yet still manages to maturely show the deeper changes Black affects in the students lives, from helping an unpopular boy gain confidence to encouraging an overweight girl with her self-consciousness issues. And it's not just about the kids either; it's a personal journey of self-discovery for the main character as well. In the same way the the kids help him to find meaning in himself, he helps them come alive from their drab and plain school days. The film even goes so far as to subtly suggest the flaws of the educational system and the lack of values put into special talents.
But without ever delving that deep, School of Rock is still a masterpiece of comedy that is impossible not to enjoy. And when that final rock show scene is reached, it's one of the most emotional, rocking moments in history. It IS musical fusion. It IS something pure, and cool, and awesome. And it is a genuine, verifiable triumph that you get the feeling might just change the world. 9/10 stars!
About Schmidt (2002)
The Master Brings It Home...
Jack Nicholson, that master of acting, truly proved his versatility as an actor and cemented himself (in my opinion) as one of the finest actors to ever grace the screen with About Schmidt. We've loved Jack for years in all his really Jack-ish roles, playing the crazy, the hilarious, etc. But here we find him in a territory I've never before seen from him. In a role so vulnerable you can literally feel it, he delivers some of the most subtle and personal and moving work of his prestigious career.
Warren Schmidt is retiring. His daughter is getting married to a man who doesn't approve of. He and his wife can hardly relate to each other anymore. And with his retirement he has to face it all up front for the first time in a long time. And he doesn't much like what he sees. Through letters written to the impulse Tanzanian child Warren is sponsoring, we get a glimpse into what is going through the mind of a man faced with a life he isn't pleased with. But Warren isn't without hope. Rather than giving up, he gathers himself together and sets off on a mission to save his daughter (and maybe himself)- But is he too late? About Schmidt is a light-hearted film dealing with some very heavy issues indeed. It's a slow-moving, contemplative piece of work, and one that will keep you mulling for some time afterward. The character of Schmidt is a truly tragic; As he faces the close of his life he must also face that he's done nothing with it. He finds himself so very alone, a victim of never really going through with what his heart tells him to, limited by fear. Through the simplest of things Schmidt begins to see his life for what it really is, and this is where the movie excels.
The part is played to simple perfection by Mr. Nicholson; I defy you not to be moved by his journey. Hope Davis and Dermot Mulroney offer support as Schmidt's daughter and fiancé, and Kathy Bates even shows up as an hilarious and bizarrely unique mother-of-the-groom. No one can steal the spotlight away from Nicholson, though, as he really grounds the movie and makes it work as well as it does. Truly this is the work of a master, in a performance that really hits home.
Flaws? Well, it's a little too slow and a tad uneven in it's tone. It's definitely funny the first time through, and leads up to an undeniably heartbreaking final scene so memorable it's hard not to think about it the entire second time through. It's a movie that everyone should take the time to see. Can you learn a lesson from Schmidt? Do you see yourself in him? These are hard questions to ask, but as the movie brings us to that heartbreak and acceptance, it also leads us to a place of simple, beautiful hope that brings the entire film to a near-perfect close.
Marley & Me (2008)
This one sneaks up on you...
The advertising for Marley & Me set me against it, I'm not gonna lie. I didn't know much about it, except that it was about the "worst dog in the world" who was, of course, actually the best. The trailers made it seem like a not particularly funny money-making vehicle for the two stars in need of a hit.
Well, they got a hit at the box office, as was expected, but what I didn't expect was how much I would enjoy the movie. It's true, Marley & Me is about the dog, but it's also about a man and his family, and their realization that life can't be planned. The ample talents of Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston certainly help the movie along, but this really was surprisingly good. The dog goes through all the major changes of their lives with them, and as we watch the journey as well we don't quite realize how caught up in it all we are until the very end.
It's not a particularly fast-moving movie, and it is silly, but somehow the whole thing pulls itself off very well. It kept me entertained the whole time, that's for sure, and by the end it's clear how much the movie's actually meant to us; don't be too surprised to feel a tear forming in the corner of your eye. It's a credit to the filmmakers as well that the whole thing never seems too sappy to take. The supporting cast (Eric Dane, Alan Arkin, Kathleen Turner) were all good as well.
So take a chance on Marley & Me. I know that this one never looked any good, but trust me: It's worth your time. Sit back, relax, and enjoy! 7/10 stars!
A Harlequin Romance for Teens?
There was little doubt that Twilight was going to make millions at the box office. The books literally have become a phenomenon, with girls of all ages (and even some boys) delighting in their passionate, twisted love story. The inclusion of a vampire as the male lead was simply the extra dose of daydream fantasy that set the story on fire.
You probably know the plot. A young independent girl moves to a new town, meets and falls 'irrevocably' in love with a vampire, a member of a clan of strictly animal eaters. The fact that her blood is the most attractive blood said vampire has ever smelled (What a coincidence!) only heightens the passion.
Yet despite the steamy, sappy premise, the film somehow manages to make the relationship between the two leads truly captivating, much to the credit of the talented actors, Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson. The chemistry is positively electrifying between the two, and it's hard not to get excited about this complicated love affair. Despite more that their fair share of terrible lines ('You're like my own personal brand of heroin'), these two pull the whole thing off remarkably well.
The film certainly has its moments of pure silliness, and when the bad vampires come on screen (as they must) it really gets a little dumb. Despite the admittedly interesting inclusion of vampires, the movie has little gritty feel to it, which is unfortunate. Of course, it never has much hopes of moving beyond its harlequin premises, a fact reinforced by the inclusion of indie rock songs and the final scene being set at the high school prom. Ick. The movie never has aspirations beyond its pop culture material. However, the high school love affair themes are what made teenage girls lap it up.
Don't dismiss it immediately, though; Twilight isn't terrible. It has its high moments (and its lows), and the overall effect is satisfying. The emotion of the characters doesn't seem forced, and the human side of the story plays itself out pretty well. It never really seems like a real movie, but rather a somewhat cheaply-made book adaptation; which I guess is what it actually is. Honestly, though, the two leads truly recommend themselves, creating an utterly watchable romance. Their newly-discovered superstar status feels somehow deserved after this admirable effort. 5/10 stars...
Star Trek (2009)
Beyond the Final Frontier
It's not clear from the opening moments of J.J. Abrams' Star Trek what we're in for. A dramatic, action-filled opening greets us on a huge scale of special effects, makeup design, elaborate sets, and emoting. From there the film zooms along, introducing us to the characters, jetting off on a thrilling plot, racing us through action, humor, and character in an incredible display of movie magic until we reach the finale and simple ending. Yet somewhere along the way something has changed. Somewhere along the way we've been completely taken in, and Star Trek has emerged as something of a masterpiece.
To give away any of the plot would be to take away from what is truly a fantastic experience. I am in no way someone familiar with the original series, and guess what: This movie still blew me away. The feeling of elation filling me as I left the movie theater is a feeling the likes of which has not been produced by a summer action movie in a long time. Director Abrams has taken one of the most popular series of all time and created something current and completely enjoyable for all audiences. What's incredible is that he was able to take a material so beloved and turn it into something far beyond anything you'd ever expect from a Star Trek movie. It truly goes beyond the 'final frontier', and into great movie territory.
The cast all fit the movie perfectly, providing humorous characters with just the right amount of humanity to make them completely relatable. The film takes us on a journey that is so out-of-this-earth (excuse the pun), we can't help but drink it up. The movie is paced at a great speed to keep us utterly enthralled and still allow for the appropriate amount of depth. But most importantly of all, the film reminds us what true, wonderful movie-making is all about in the first place: Entertainment. 8.5/10 stars!!!
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
The loss of humanity...
When the X-Men series first premiered it was at the dawn of the new age of superheroes, and it was something of a revelation. For the first time, we were presented with mutants, heroes that were completely relatable. Instead of watching a campy B Movie, we were transported into an impossible world that seemed entirely plausible. While holding on to a great spirit of fun, the X-Men examined themes deeper than superhero movies; acceptance, identity, compassion, and forgiveness.
It's clear from the very beginning that X-Men Origins: Wolverine contains none of that. From the early-America set opening to the special effects overload finale, we are treated to nothing more than skin-deep cheesy pop. Even the cast list confirms the film's empty notions.
Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber lead the cast as mutant brothers without a place in the world. As the film rushes forward with little to no room for thought, they are approached by Col. William Stryker to join a top secret team of mutants going around the world on unclear missions. However, it's not long before the massive amount of killing being done becomes too much for our hero and he leaves the team to try and live life as a common man away from it all, which is, of course, impossible. You know where it goes from there.
Unfortunately even the ample charms of Mr. Jackman can't save this unadmirable dud. Despite having the makings of a decent plot on their hands, the film dissolves into nothing more than actiony silliness. That would still be somewhat acceptable, if it weren't for the tint it leaves on the source material. Instead of finding ourselves transported back into the thought-provoking wonder world we came to expect from this series, this thoughtless money-maker feels nothing but shallow. And with the recent advances made by films like The Dark knight and Iron Man to turn the superhero genre into a form truly respectable, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a dark spot in the repertoire. Do yourself a favor: skip this one and stick to the great original series. 3/10 stars, and that's a compliment.
The Visitor (2007)
A Moving Tribute to Life and a Thoughtful Political Statement...
It's not often in today's movies of blatant political stances and in-your-face messages that we can find a film that simply subtly makes its point, but that's just what The Visitor does. Walter is a windowed professor living alone who is forced to return to his New York City apartment to attend a conference. But when he arrives he's in for a surprise: two immigrants living in his apartment under a perfectly innocent misunderstanding. In a spur-of-the-moment decision, Walter allows them to stay, and changes his own life irrevocably.
Of course it's not long until the young man is arrested and put up in a prison awaiting deportation. Soon after the young man's mother arrives at Walter's doorstep. Together they set about working to free him from charges. And in this modern everyday occurrence, Walter finds inside himself a passion, a fire, a life he hasn't known for a long time.
And that's the beauty of this lovely little film. While it examines a common political issue in a thoughtful and mature way, it is also a charming examination of life. Walter is a man who has settled into a pointless, unhappy existence. Every thing about his demeanor shows it. But with this new, exciting development in his life, he is able to live for something, do something meaningful to him once again. As the young man living in his apartment teaches him African drum lessons, it is not only an amusing picture of progression, but is also a metaphor for reawakening. As Walter begins to assert himself his manner changes; He becomes more alive. And as he plays the drums faster and louder it is the beat of change coming into his life again.
Not enough can be said of Richard Jenkins wonderfully subtle and nuanced performance. This veteran actor is truly at his best, and he reaches his way into your heart without your even realizing it. Haaz Sleiman also delivers in a charming and reverberating performance as the arrested young man that Walter befriends. The film is simple; production values are nothing amazing, and the script is not the best, yet somehow this doesn't detract from the film's overall effect.
Truly, this is a film that deserves to be seen. It is simple, intelligent, subtle, and profound. It calls attention to it's issue, and causes us to reexamine our own thoughts. And it's a wonderful tribute to life lived passionately. Take the time to see this underseen little gem. 7/10 stars!
Friends with Money (2006)
If You're Looking for Realistic, Well-Acted Movies...
Friends with Money is a star-studded film that arrived with little fanfare, did not much at the box office, and was ignored for the most part by the public all together. I happened to catch it on TV last night and didn't figure I'd make it through the whole thing.
But what a lovely little film! The movie focuses on the problematic, intertwined, and utterly believable relationships of four women and their money. It's a testament to the caliber of all the lead actresses that the movie works as well as it does; the performances are wonderful. A surprisingly good turn from Jennifer Aniston. I would like to see more good films like this where she can display her talent. The best of the best, though, is Frances McDormand. She is truly one of the best actresses working today, and this role should have gotten her Oscar attention. She's that good.
This film is not for everyone; some people are not going to like it. It's not broad comedy, it's subtle humor. It's not overly romantic, it's sincerely realistic. And it's not typical fun Hollywood flick material, it's a thoughtful film about people's problems and relationships. But if you're looking for realistic, well-acted movies then look no further than this little gem. 7.5/10 stars!
Seven Pounds (2008)
The second film in a poor year from Mr. Smith
I love Will Smith. Honestly, he is one of my favorite actors, he has so much charisma and is able to show such emotion, and most impressive of all he does it in blockbuster films. He has always gotten my respect.
Seven Pounds is a film that appeals to our emotions, in the most literal sense of the saying. As the trailers suggested, the film is set up as a romantic mystery as we follow the bizarre actions of Smith's lead character and try to guess what exactly he's up to. Along the way, he meets a single woman with heart troubles and a relationship blooms. But an unhappy ending is to come, and come it does.
Smith's character is a depressed, troubled and, eventually, completely ununderstandable man. His actions are done with such purpose and precision, we are forced to believe he has a plan. When we discover the end result, though, the plan becomes dumb. One could even say a little bit sick. The whole film revolves around the "ultimate" plan the man has, yet when the final result comes about, it doesn't really make sense.
It is true, the film will appeal to your emotions. Smith is not at his best, turning in a rather one-note performance that doesn't reverberate well, but Dawson is surprisingly wonderful in her role as the heartsick (literally) young woman who steals Smith's heart, and Woody Harrelson does well in a small supporting role. Despite it's emotional immediate impact, it's a movie that just doesn't hold up to further thought. In fact, it pretty much falls apart. The worst part is that it's pretty easy to understand what the film was going for, but somehow it got lost in execution.
It's a pity, that Smith has to follow up his summer dud Hancock with this disappointing tear jerker. The movie had real potential, especially when you consider the basic premise, but it fell apart, a sad fate for a film. 5/10 stars...
The Dark Knight (2008)
A Truly Amazing Achievement
In this new age of superhero movies' box office domination, we've been treated to the good, the bad, and the ugly, the cool, the silly, and the utterly enjoyable- then along came the new Batman series. Batman Begins redefined the limits of what we thought superhero movies could achieve. With The Dark Knight, director Christopher Nolan has done something even more incredible: He's created an instant classic.
Huge in scope, fully realized in story, and amazing in entertainment value, The Dark Knight is an honestly fantastic film. From the very first action sequence we can tell that we are leaps and bounds ahead of the predecessor. The Dark Knight deals with things so realistic, so intense that I would be quick to say that it's not even a kids movie. It becomes so much more than a superhero movie, digging so much deeper into the human mind, and emerges as a thought-provoking, incredible masterpiece. Yet it still retains that superhero charm.
The film-making is all extraordinary. Nolan shows himself to be a master of suspense and storytelling. The screenplay is so smart and so quick that you might not catch everything even after several viewings, but it all still somehow works together perfectly. And the cast is perfect, particularly the incredible Heath Ledger. It would be a lie to say this film could have been what it is without him. His performance as the maniacal, anarchic Joker is the stuff of legend; it will haunt you long after the credits roll.
The Dark Knight is the movie of the year. It is a masterpiece, and a blockbuster that mesmerized people like no film has in a long time. It deserves to be remembered forever. 9/10 stars!
An Unlikely Film of Soul...
In this age of super-broad comedies and sexed-up teen films, there comes Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. It's all-too-easy to groan at the thought of sitting down to a high school film these days, yet 'Nick & Norah' attempts to make you rethink that. It tries to achieve that so rare of an achievement; it tries to make a genuine and honest teen comedy.
Michael Cera, that king of adorable dorkiness, stars as Nick, the sole straight member of a queer-rock band. Kat Dennings plays Norah, a rocking rich chick who is just as unattracted to teenage pettiness as the rest of us are. These two meet through a random encounter and together set out to try and find the secret show of the aptly titled rock band Where's Fluffy? They cruise the town like grown adults, yet underneath both are incredibly naive. They argue, fight, flirt, and, yes, fall in love; what makes the film great is how mature and honest a relationship they create. We know from the beginning that it is the destiny of Nick and Norah to get together, yet when they do it is nothing short of soulful. With a wonderfully witty script along for the ride, it's apparent that this is much more than your average teenage comedy. 7/10 stars!
Moulin Rouge! (2001)
The Witnessing of Masterpiece...
Moulin Rouge! never concerns itself with reality, possibility, or the common things of life. No, this is a film that shatters all preconceived notions of what a movie looks like and embraces the bizarre and the beautiful with arms wide open. Director Baz Luhrmann has created something utterly unique, a movie the likes of which I doubt I will ever see again.
The Moulin Rouge! is a risqué cabaret in the Underworld of Paris in the early twentieth century. When a young and naive poet comes to the show in hopes of writing it's very first real production, he falls in love with the cabaret's star, Satine. On the very same night, a rich duke who is considering financing the club to turn into a respectable theater is basing his decision on the charms and devotion of Satine. All is played out to dramatic and exuberant musical numbers.
Luhrmann directs his cast to perfection, with Nicole Kidman delivering one of her best (and Oscar-nominated) performances. Ewan McGregor, Richard Roxburgh, John Leguizamo, and particularly Jim Broadbent all deliver wonderfully charismatic performances as well. And the music!!! Using groundbreaking compilations of modern pop songs reworked as musical numbers, the soundtrack is simply enthralling from the very first moment. In the areas of costumes, makeup, and art direction, the film is monumental.
There is a strange feeling of both energy and exhaustion that overtakes you as Moulin Rouge! comes to a close. It's a feeling that is rare not only with films, but with life in general. It is the feeling you get when you realize you have seen a masterpiece, and it is the feeling you will no doubt have when you witness Moulin Rouge! 9/10 stars!!!
Eagle Eye (2008)
Accept and Enjoy, But Hope for Better
Eagle Eye marks yet another generic action film for Shia LaBeouf to add to his resume. Co-starring Michelle Monaghan, Billy Bob Thornton, and Rosario Dawson, Eagle Eye was presented by its trailers as some sort of psychological thriller. What we get is a paranoia-filled action film with very little in the way of plot, character, or depth. Yet, isn't that what action films are all about?
Eagle Eye is saved by that knowledge for the most part. We can accept it for what it is, and enjoy it for its exciting and fun sequences, which are pretty much non-stop. Unfortunately, Eagle Eye goes on a good twenty minutes too long, and its main plot device grows quickly tiresome. By the time the film is resolved, you're quite relieved to be done. Eagle Eye is generally fun enough, just not the smart thriller it seemed it would be.
But perhaps the biggest disappointment of Eagle Eye is the fact that LaBeouf is in it at all. I suppose if you want to remain a star for many years, it is smart to pick films that will be box office successes. Yet a scene of incredible vulnerability and anger coming from LaBeouf near the beginning makes us realize that he should be doing so much better work than this. 5/10 stars!
Ghost Town (2008)
Delightful Little Film!!!
Ricky Gervais, the star of the British "The Office" and "Extras", is someone you wouldn't really expect to be on the big screen. Yet here he is, delivering an hilarious and heartfelt performance in what one would usually consider the most clichéd of genres: the romantic comedy.
In Ghost Town, Gervais plays Bertram Pincus, a socially awkward prick of a dentist who dies for seven minutes while going in for a routine colonoscopy. Through this miraculous experience he gains the annoying ability to see ghosts- all of whom want him to finish their business on Earth. In particular is Frank, the unfaithful husband of Gwen, a woman who lives in Bertram's building. Frank needs Bertram to separate Gwen from her new self-righteous do-gooder fiancé, and if Bertram can accomplish this Frank will make all the other ghosts go away.
Greg Kinnear and the wonderful Tea Leoni round out the lead characters as Frank and Gwen. All three (Gervais, Kinnear, and Leoni) get big laughs and are utterly charming. Indeed, it is no overstatement to call Ghost Town riotously funny- the laughs come big and often. Too often it turns out, because when Ghost Town tries to stray into the more dramatic or tender areas of the story it feels somewhat awkward and forced. The mistake was made of focusing too much on broad hilarity, so that when the movie really attempts to focus on story it seems strange that the humor is suddenly gone. The film never becomes anything more than just a silly little trifle.
Yet there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. What we get is a thoroughly entertaining tale with a fascinating lead character. Add in the performances of the three leads and you have a fully satisfying movie-going experience. I would probably give this film a 7.5 rating, but since that isn't allowed and I'm not feeling an 8, I'll go with- 7/10 stars!!!
Michael Clayton (2007)
A Wonderfully Written Mystery...
Michael Clayton quickly became one of the most acclaimed films of its year upon release. What with performances from every actor being praised and pushed for Oscar, first-time director Tony Gilroy getting a pat on the back from everyone he encountered; Michael Clayton was that rare film that everyone enjoyed. It is so rare these days that we are given a really good mystery at the movies, that when we see one its like being given a great big gift.
Michael Clayton (the character) is a fixer at a large law firm that has been working on a case for a major corporation called UNorth for six years. Suddenly, their lead attorney strips down to nothing but his socks in the middle of a meeting and goes running through the parking lot. This is when Michael is called in; to fix things, to clean up, to help UNorth win a case against families who have been poisoned by the run off from their factories. For seventeen years Michael has been cleaning up messes so that big, rich corporations can stay in power. For seventeen years no one has given a second thought to whether what they do is right or wrong; until now.
Powerful performances abound in this fantastic legal thriller. George Clooney performs with quiet intensity as Michael, a man being forced to take a closer look at what exactly it is he does. Tom Wilkinson is the lead attorney, giving one of the most charismatic performances I've seen in years. And there's Tilda Swinton, finally getting the recognition she deserves, as Karen Crawford, the legal counsel for UNorth. All three went on to be nominated for Oscars, with Swinton getting a win. And yes, writer and first-time director Tony Gilroy deserves many a pat on the back for his sharply and intensely directed film. Gilroy received a writing and directing nomination and the film was nominated for Best Picture.
Michael Clayton is a perfectly crafted tale of mystery; but it's really much more than that. It's a story of redemption, of choosing to do what you know is right despite what you will lose. Michael searches for reason behind it all, only to find there is none. And it all leads up to a riveting finale. Yes, Michael Clayton is one you definitely don't want to miss. 8/10 stars!
Forrest Gump (1994)
Thoughtful, Funny, and Simple- More Than Meets the Eye...
Forrest Gump is a film that has a lot to live up to. Many people consider this one of their favorite films. Plenty of critics put it down as one the better films ever made. As someone picking it up for the first time over ten years after it was made, I was apprehensive of what to expect.
Yet, just like the character, the film Forrest Gump is never pretentious even from the very first minute. We meet Forrest sitting on a bench waiting for a bus to come. Someone sits down next to him, and Forrest begins to tell his life story. Simple, poignant, and ridiculously funny is this tale of a man who accidentally finds his way into every major event of his generation. Forrest changes the world in unimaginable ways, but all he really wants is Jenny, his childhood friend and the girl he's loved his entire life.
Yet this simplicity is where the movie's strength comes in. Everything is really very simple for a man whose IQ is no greater than 75. This simplicity deceives us into taking a whimsical tale for granted, and then surprises us with its incredibly moving final scenes. We don't quite realize how wrapped up in Forrest's world we are until we find ourselves in tears by the end. And when we leave Forrest's world, we miss him very much. We miss his easiness and simple way of living. 8/10 stars!
The Strangers (2008)
'The Strangers' are a little TOO scary...
We all know the plot: young couple, isolated vacation home, people in masks. Yet from the start of 'The Strangers' it's clear that this film is a different. In today's bloodthirsty society, horror films are often reduced to nothing more than gore-filled gross-out fests. While many young teens may rejoice at such films, many of us still long for original, suspenseful, and, yes, terrifying horror movies. 'The Strangers' came so close.
There is plenty here to recommend: Director Bryan Bertino shows himself to be a patient and smart director. Rather than going for just cheap thrills, he wisely builds tension up to near-breaking point. The feeling of suspense and dread that covers the whole film is classic. Both Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman do well in their leading roles, and the strangers themselves are things of pure terror... yet that's where the film loses some of its commendation. The strangers at times seem that they can't possibly be human because they are made to be almost supernatural in their abilities. They appear and disappear seemingly at will and instantly- a power the young couple probably wished they had but don't because they are, after all, HUMANS. It's a simple mistake used to give the audience one of those cheap thrills that were otherwise so wisely avoided. What makes it sad is that in every other aspect, 'The Strangers' is chillingly realistic and terrifyingly possible. Every time those strangers come and go like ghosts of some kind, it makes the audience sit back once more and say, 'Ah, well, it's just a movie." That's too bad.
Still, 'The Strangers' is much better than your average horror fare. It's at last a new movie that realizes what you don't show can be even more scary than what you do. Still, one hopes that Mr. Bertino can touch up the mistakes from this film and , and deliver a really great horror movie next time around. 7/10 stars! Jay Addison
Mamma Mia! (2008)
A Wonderfully Entertaining and Uplifting Musical
Mamma Mia! What more needs to be said? In the latest Broadway-to-film adaptation to hit theaters, Meryl Streep stars as Donna, whose daughter, Sophie, has discovered all three of her possible fathers by reading her mother's diary and has now invited all three to her Greek Island Wedding. From the first moment 'Mamma Mia!' starts you know you're in for a unique and uplifting experience, and the film does not disappoint that expectation. Full of catchy pop songs and fun choreography, this is one musical that embraces its flamboyance for all it's worth- and comes out the better for it.
The cast is all having a great time and it shows. Meryl Streep turns in yet another wonderfully entertaining performance and creates a character unlike anything we've ever seen from her before. Her Donna is a heroine for middle-aged women everywhere, a funny, saucy, and utterly lovable mom. Then there's Donna's two best friends played to comedic brilliance by Christine Baranski and Julie Walters. Any moment those two appear on screen you know is gonna be great. Amanda Seyfried also turns in a fine performance in her first semi-leading role as Sophie, and her "fathers" (Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan, and Stellan Skarsgard) all deserve praise for committing to such a different project for all of them.
I'm sure that there will be many people who will refuse to enjoy 'Mamma Mia!' and find it over-the-top, silly, and utterly cheerful. But if you open your mind and let yourself give in to the infectious happiness radiating from the screen you're in for a wonderful ride. It is over-the-top, silly, and utterly cheerful; it's also utterly entertaining and enjoyable. Mamma Mia indeed! How can I resist ya??? 8/10 stars!
Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
A wonderfully thrilling fantasy!!!
Hellboy II thrives in all areas; the performances are top-notch, the script is sharp, and the production and make-up design is nothing short of Oscar-worthy. Director Guillermo del Toro has followed up 2006's masterpiece Pan's Labyrinth with one of the best movies of the summer.
When the Heir to the Throne of an ancient civilization of elves plots to awaken the deadly and indestructible Golden Army, it is up to the societal outcasts at the Federal Bureau for Paranormal Research to save the day, once again led by their witty, charismatic, and endearing leader Hellboy.
As far as fantasy films go, this one might go down in my book as one of the best. The monsters are something amazing to behold, creations to stick with you long after you leave the theater. The action sequences are well-shot and quick. The special effects deliver perfectly. Most amazing of all though, is the real character and endearing story injected into all of it. It's easy to fall in love with these freaks, especially played to such perfection by Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, and Doug Jones.
I suppose I can see how Hellboy would not delight everyone. It is a fantastical story, not based at all in reality and it is a film that delights in making it's audience chuckle. For me that ability to laugh makes it all the more endearing. Easily one of my favorite films of the summer! 8/10 stars!
America's Sweethearts (2001)
Good Casting makes Silliness Watchable...
Big names are certainly in no short supply when it comes to 'America's Sweethearts'- Julia Roberts, John Cusack, Billy Crystal, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Christopher Walken, Stanley Tucci, and Alan Arkin name just a few. So often we complain and we whine about the superstars of Hollywood not being any good, etc, etc... This is one time when they've proved their worth.
The premise is clever: America's 'golden couple' Gwen Harrison and Eddie Thomas have broken up. However with both their careers fading, they must come together again to promote their last movie together at a huge press junket. Unfortunately, said film is being held hostage by the "genius" director, making Gwen and Eddie the main attraction. And then there's Kiki, Gwen's big-hearted sister/assistant who may play a much larger role than anyone thought.
'America's Sweethearts' is really a B-movie; it's nothing more than a bit of silliness. Satire abounds, and satire takes real talent to pull off. It turns out, though, that the stars are just the people to do it. Catherine Zeta-Jones in particular is perfect. Charismatic and energetic performances from the stars make a little bit of silliness utterly watchable. 5/10 stars!
Over-Animation, a Weak Story, and Ridiculous Situations... but Still Enjoyable
I will not pretend that I am any kind of die-hard Indiana Jones fan. In fact, I've only ever seen Raiders of the Lost Ark and this new installment. However, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull shows from the very first moments that it's going to be somewhat of a disappointment.
We can immediately tell how much time has passed. Gone are the day of amazing live-action special effects; just about every scene featured some very significant and kinda fake-looking CGI work. Apparently relishing the 'freedom' these new computer capabilities give, Spielberg has delivered an Indiana full of huge and ridiculous action sequences that very quickly make the movie lose any credibility. Of course, credibility was never a strong point anyway because of the weak story that reveals itself from the very start. Even for an action-driven movie like this one, the plot we are given feels like way too much over-the-top.
Yet in spite of it all, it's still easy to find enjoyment here. The performances are all full of energy, and the cast is clearly having a great time. Ford, LaBeouf, Blanchett, and Allen all somehow manage to keep us along for this silly ride and even manage to keep us amused. And while some scenes will no doubt have you groaning and rolling your eyes (a particular vine-swinging scene comes to mind), if you'll let yourself get washed over in the campy, hokey fun of it all, you can find yourself an enjoyable romp. 6/10 stars!