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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Tag Archives: 2009

Polytechnique (2009)

What a time to be alive. And unfortunately, still live in.

It was December 6, 1989 and it was just like any other day at the École Polytechnique in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. People were going from class-to-class, thinking of their days, getting ready for the holiday-break, and most of all, looking forward of what was next to come. But little did most of these people know that, by the end of the day, they would be shot and killed by one deranged loon (Maxim Gaudette). Due to issues with his mental well-being, as well as with authority, the killer enters the school and decides that it’s about time that the world heard and understood his hatred for all things women, which is exactly who he targeted in this attack, killing an overall of 15 and injuring 14 more.

Director Denis Villeneuve knows that he’s dealing with a difficult, downright disturbing subject here and while he doesn’t try to gore it up in an unsettling way, he doesn’t shy away from the harsh facts, either. A good portion of the movie is mostly dedicated to this school-shooting and as such, it’s chilling, compelling, and very hard-to-watch, meaning that as a director, Villeneuve gets what he needs to get done.

Just two gals looking for a fun time.

Shot in black-and-white, Villeneuve allows for the camera to swoon back-and-forth, following our certain characters as they go about their day and truly does put us in the place of this shock and horror. We feel as if we are right there, feeling the same distraught confusions that these people must have felt, having no clue where to go, what to do, or just what the hell was actually going on; this constant stream-of-confusion and cause-and-effect is shown quite well, as Villeneuve displays just how the actions took place, with people figuring out stuff a lot later than others, and often times, almost too late. It’s unflinching and as disturbing as it should be, making Villeneuve feel like one of the better displays of a school-shooting ever put to film.

Issue is, that aspect is so well-done, it’s hard not to find everything else lacking.

It isn’t that Villeneuve doesn’t try to aim for something deeper and smarter here, because he absolutely does. Much like Gus Van Sant did with Elephant, Villeneuve focuses on a few characters, giving us their lives, hopes, aspirations, conflicts, and backgrounds leading up to the school-shooting. It does help give us a point-of-reference once the carnage starts, but the issue is that there’s such an intense feeling in the air, these characters, as well as their developing-sequences, can’t help but feel like plodder to what’s to come. Maybe that’s the point – perhaps Villeneuve is meaning to have us expect the worst, but still keep us around, sitting, and waiting for it all to happen.

Do it. Idiot.

But then again, maybe not. What I do know is that for a 79-minute-movie, it’s a surprise how much of it can actually feel a tad meandering. Van Sant’s Elephant felt the same way, but it was much more deliberate and worked much better for the movie’s sense of style and meaning – here, it can’t help but feel a little long. The actors are all good, too, but as I’ve said, they’re sort of stuck with faceless characters who we see through this tragedy and that’s all we really need to know.

It’s a shame because they were real people, too.

But still, Polytechnique works because it gets the point across that not only are guns bad, but the ideas surrounding this sort of violence is even more scary. See, the killer in real-life wanted to get rid of all women in the world and very much opposed their equality, by any means necessary. It’s something that, unfortunately, we see too much of in today’s world and while the movie was made in 2009, it still hits on a lot of points that are often made whenever another mass-shooting comes around. The violence, the blood, the loss, and the death is there, but the actual ideas that this may never get better are also there, and it makes this all the much more sad.

When will it ever end?

Consensus: Chilling and frightening, Polytechnique can’t quite overcome its issue with its narrative, but still gets the hard and heavy points across without preaching, while also reminding the world of the tragic-loss.

8 / 10

Never forget. Not just this one, but every one.

Photos Courtesy of: Alliance Films

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Daddy Longlegs (2009)

Safdie

Lenny (Ronald Bernstein) is really trying to make it work. After his divorce, he was given custody of his children with his ex, but for some reason, he can’t even seem to make that work. He constantly yells, gets frustrated easily, and doesn’t really know how to maintain his time to ensure that he has enough of it for work, for his kids, and for the rest of his personal life, and whatever the hell else that entails. Issue is that it’s all starting to catch up with him now and for some reason, a mental-health disease is back in full-form and keeping him away from being able to grasp with all of these responsibilities even more than before. What’s he to do? Give it his best shot and see what happens? Ask for other people’s help and see if they don’t mind? Or, simply put, just give up on it all and abandon anything that he has left in life.

See? He’s a nice guy!

Daddy Longlegs, like all of the Safdie Brother’s flicks, seems a lot like a Cassavetes clone. Or, I guess in this case, the right term is “wannabe”. See, it’s not that they don’t nail the style, the mood, or even the look of that legend’s films, because they definitely do, and then some. It’s more that they don’t really nail much else, like compelling characters, or even an interesting story worth sitting by and sticking around for, regardless of time, or subject-matter.

And sure, you could even make the argument that a lot of Cassavetes films were like that, where we didn’t really want to sit and spend time with a lot of these awful people, but there was still something about them that made us want to stay glued to our seats and screens. Most of that had to do with in the way of the performers and in Ronald Bernstein, the Safdies are lucky. Bernstein has a ticking time-bomb look to him where we’re never too sure just when, where, or how this guy is going to crack, but we just know that he is, so standing by, watching, and waiting for it all to happen, is a bit of ride in and of itself. The character is thin and a bit conventional, honestly, but Bernstein makes this guy seem a little bit more crazy than we’re used to seeing with this kind of character and makes him watchable.

The rest of Daddy Longlegs is watchable, too, but once again, the Safdies feel like they are getting at something, but only scratching the surface.

Uh oh. Nut’s about to crack.

Cause while the movie wants to sort of sit there and poke fun at Lenny’s crazy actions and his seemingly dysfunctional life, it also wants to focus on how nice of a guy he is, who takes time out of his day to take care of his kids and ensure that they grow up fine. Or, at least that’s what I think. See, this aspect of Daddy Longlegs is a bit confusing and makes the movie a tad bit uneven; it wants to be a dark, somewhat twisted comedy, but also show us a softer side to this nut-ball, too. It never quite chooses which way it wants to go down and because of that, it gets to be a bit frustrating to watch.

It helps that the movie can look a lot like a documentary and that it feels authentic, but they never quite nail down a compelling story to sit by. Cassavetes always seemed to be making things up on the fly, so it didn’t always matter what his story was about, or what the central-conflict would even turn out to be – all that mattered was characters and the relationships they had with themselves and the world around them. The Safdies seem to itch close to achieving the same goals that that wizard did, but unfortunately, come up very, very short.

Thank heavens for Bernstein, though. Guy saves the day.

Consensus: The Safdies are clearly going for a Cassavetes vibe here with Daddy Longlegs, and while they somewhat succeed on a technical level, they don’t have solid writing to back any of it up. Instead, it’s left to Bernstein to sort of save the day, which he does.

5.5 / 10

That’s how all dads treat their children. Correction, only the “best” ones do.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Hurt Locker (2009)

War is a drug. Use it wisely.

Sgt. J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) are members of a bomb-disposal unit in Baghdad and currently, they’re reeling after the death of one of their fellow soldiers (Guy Pearce). But there’s not much time to sit around and mope, and before long, in struts Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner), who by his own count has disarmed 873 bombs and is a bit of a daredevil. It’s something that Sanborn and Eldridge aren’t quite ready to get used to, especially after having just suffered a serious loss, but they decide to stick with it, for as long as the missions are set. But as the missions continue to get deadlier and deadlier, the more and more Sanborn and Eldridge begin to clash with James – he doesn’t quite care, however. He’s too busy diffusing bombs and throwing all sorts of protocols out the window with reckless abandon. It’s something that may not only prove to be his undoing, not just as a soldier, but as a human, and it’s why Sanborn and Eldridge are absolutely terrified of what’s to come next. You know, as if the Iraq War itself wasn’t already scary enough.

Cool, calm, collected, and a total deuche.

Surprisingly enough, throughout its two-hour-and-ten-minute run-time, the Hurt Locker never seems to make one single political statement. It would be easy, too, considering that it was a war with more than a few sketchy reasons for existing, starting, and continuing on to take on greater new heights, but director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal are much smarter than to get too bogged down in that kind of stuff. After all, when everyone out there in the mainstream media is doing it, then really, what’s the point of beating a dead horse?

Instead, the Hurt Locker stays absolutely closed-in and focused on the soldiers, what hell they go through, how they survive, what gets them through each and every day, and just why the hell they need this war in the first place. Some do it for the sole sake of fighting for their country, meanwhile, others do it for the sole sake that they have nothing else better to do at home, so why not pick up some guns and shoot down baddies, eh? Once again, these aren’t necessarily ground-breaking statements being made on the parts of Bigelow, or Boal, but they do help us grow closer and closer to this movie as it goes on, continues to get more dangerous, and yes, depict that war is hell, no matter where it’s fought.

Case closed.

And as far as the war itself, the Hurt Locker is a total thrill-ride. Having already seen it three times, I can easily say that the movie doesn’t lose its tension, or even its element of surprise, because Bigelow just knows how to film this sort of action. While there’s a lot of shaky-cam, and chopping, and cutting, and editing, and fidgeting, it still feels reasonable – it puts us in the mind and state of these soldiers while they too are in this battlefield and it helps us get a better sense of just what sort of electricity may be running through the air. It’s basically a docudrama, but with really good performances and action that somehow, still continues to shock us, the more brutal it can get.

So many careers before Marvel came around and snatched them all up.

Which is to say that, of course, the Hurt Locker is an anti-war flick. But then again, it’s also not really making a statement, either. Through these soldiers, like James, like Sanborn, like Eldridge, Bigelow and Boal are trying to get down deep into the root of the war and what the real costs are. We see so much of the big-wig politicians on TV speaking about the war and how the enemy needs to be taken down, but is they who are in the battlefield? Is it they who sign up? Or if not them, what about their fellow family-members who may meet the criteria for being soldiers in the Army?

Once again, nothing new here, but it still deserves to be said and noted, especially in a war-thriller that has way more on its mind than just thrills, chills, bangs, booms, and shots fired.

Because it really is, surprisingly, a character-study of these three soldiers who, over time, get to know and trust one another, a little more. They may not love each other, but that’s sort of the point, it seems; Sanborn and James go throughout the whole movie holding a sort of disdain for one another, but when push comes to shove and their lives are in-stake, they come together and yes, kick some ass. It’s what soldiers do best and it’s nice to see them get the salute they so obviously deserve, having to pick up the pieces and the dirt from what the politicians leave for them.

It’s a shame, but yep, it’s reality. When will it end?

Consensus: Hard-hitting, brutal, thrilling, and above all else, thoughtful in its large presentation, the Hurt Locker is a much smarter Iraqi War film that honors those who fight, day in and day out, with all sorts of danger surrounding them.

9 / 10

Can’t be too hot, right?

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Five Minutes of Heaven (2009)

Forgive. Forget. Go a little crazy.

During the 1970s in Northern Ireland, times were tough and they were onlu getting tougher. The IRA was running rampant and people were dropping dead, for no real reasons other than because, well, it was a sign of the times. One such person was Joe Griffin’s older brother gets shot dead by the teenage leader of a UVF. It’s disturbed Joe so much that, all of these years later, now, as an older fella (James Nesbitt), he can’t quite get by in life. He is still haunted by that murder, as well as the memory of it, along with his brother. And it’s why, now nearly thirty years later, Joe is finally ready to meet his brother’s killer, Alistair Little (Liam Neeson), on live TV, with all sorts of producers and agents standing around, expecting some sort of huge emotional breakthrough that only reality television can provide. And well, they’ll most likely get that, except in this case, they won’t be expecting; see, Joe didn’t show up to this meeting for reconciliation, but to extract revenge for all of the pain and anguish that Alistair has caused on his life. It’s just a matter of getting the deed done that matters most.

The most adult game of “hide-n-go-seek” I’ve ever seen.

Five Minutes of Heaven, no matter which way you put it, works best because of the two great performances in the leads, mostly Nesbitt as the strange, deranged and incredibly disturbed Joe. Nesbitt’s a pretty great actor and has been able to play these kind of angry roles before, but never this deranged and crazy, and it’s a nice change-of-pace for him, because while he could have easily gone overboard, he never does. Instead, he plays it short, small, and subtle, making this person’s pain felt the whole time throughout; we know that the man is suffering, but the movie doesn’t have to tell us that at all. Just one look at Nesbitt’s upset face is more than enough to clue us in to what’s really wrong.

And yeah, Liam Neeson is good, too, but he doesn’t show up nearly as much as Nesbitt. That said, he provides a very interesting character who, in any other movie, would have easily been a cold-hearted and evil villain, without any heart, soul, or humanity to be found. But instead, he’s actually a much rather soft and understood man, who has guilt, who feels shame, and wants to be forgiven for all of the awful actions that he’s caused, giving us a chance to see the true human underneath the brooding.

In other words, two great performances in an otherwise fine movie.

Halloween or IRA?

All that said, Five Minutes of Heaven is still a good movie because it asks all sorts of questions about guilt, forgiveness, death, life, and sadness, but also seems interested in actually answering them. We’re told that old wounds can heal with time and separation, but at the same time, we see someone as torn-up and destroyed as Joe, that almost all of that goes out the window. The movie doesn’t always get the chance to answer everything it wants, but the ideas and elements of the story it brings up, guess what? It actually develops and seems to go somewhere with.

Even if the ending is a bit silly. But hey, not all movies have to be absolutely, positively perfect. Sometimes, all they have to do is make you think, watch, and get excited, if only for short, brief instances. Five Minutes of Heaven sort of does that, but also allows for us to feast our eyes on two of the best Irish actors working today.

Aside from the one and only Colin Farrell. I mean, honestly, how charming is that guy!

Consensus: Benefiting from two amazing performances in Nesbitt and Neeson, Five Minutes of Heaven is a smart, challenging thriller that has more on its mind than guns and murder.

7.5 / 10

Some men just want to watch random cars burn.

Photos Courtesy of: Michael McVey, SkiffleboomFlick Diary

The Messenger (2009)

Possibly the only instance in which Jehovah’s Witnesses would actually be a welcome presence.

Partnered with fellow officer Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) to bear the bad news to the loved ones of fallen soldiers, Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) faces the challenge of completing his mission while seeking to find comfort and healing back on the home front. Meanwhile though, he strikes up something of a relationship with a widow of a fallen soldier (Samantha Morton), who shows him that there’s truly something to live and be happy about with life.

Co-writer/director Oren Moverman uses the Messenger to get across two points: The pain and grief one feels after the death of a loved-one is greater than any hurt ever felt, and also, that life after the war is incredibly difficult. Are either points being made anything new, or necessarily fresh? Not really, but somehow the Messenger feels like a real, hard, honest, and raw indie that doesn’t back away from getting down to the hard truths of the hard psyche, as well as still attempting to build character along the way. In other words, it’s a movie right up my alley and it’s a perfect example of what can happen to your movie when you don’t have a very high, mighty and flashy script, but plenty of heart and emotion to make up for all of the style and the bang.

When you’re doing the job they do, fishing sounds perfect.

And because people still can’t seem to get enough of watching veterans cope with everyday society.

But is the Messenger an anti-war film? In a way, it is, but in other ways, it isn’t; the movie is never necessarily arguing about the war, why it happened, and what it’s true intentions were, as much as it’s just highlighting the fact that there were many souls lost during it, both home and on the field. Like the Hurt Locker, the Messenger essentially says that come back from the war, can’t escape it, go crazy, and end up losing their minds, only wanting to go back for me. It’s the same old song and dance every single time but this time, somehow, it feels different as Moverman takes a look inside the mindsets of all of these characters and we see sad people that seem to not be able to move on in life, all because they were sincerely crushed by the war. You feel for them, you understand them, and when it’s all said and done, you sort of end up hating the war because of what it’s done to these characters. Moverman never once gets preachy and instead, just lets us look at the view of the war from these character’s sides and make up our own decisions on our own. It’s a smart move on Moverman’s side and it’s great to see an anti-war film, that doesn’t try to spell it’s message out for you on-screen in every single shot, even though, yeah, we know what it’s trying to get across.

And playing these characters are some of the best talents working today. Ben Foster’s pretty solid in his lead role as Will Montgomery, someone who, obviously from the start, has issues. However, the movie, nor Foster ever ask for our sympathies, or our love. We feel for him enough as is and can feel his pain from a mile away – it makes the performance all the more gritty, as well as his character all the more believable.

All a vet needs is some pizza.

And if Foster being a good actor in the first place wasn’t enough, then he’s given two possible love-interests here, both are pretty amazing in their own rights. Samantha Morton is always tremendous and here, she’s even better, playing the widow who may or may not just be lonely and need some human connection, or generally actually like Will. The two have a nice bit of chemistry that does grow gradually over time, without ever making it seem all too clear just where it’s headed. Playing Will’s “other gal” is Jena Malone and while she doesn’t have a whole lot of time here, her presence is felt, just by the very few scenes she and Foster share, bringing more insight into who this guy really is.

But the real stand-out of this whole film and this whole cast, is in fact Woody Harrelson as Tony Stone.

Woody is, no matter what, always great to watch. He can be light and charming one second, but then, out of nowhere, scary and disturbing the next second. Here, he plays a little bit of both, with the later portions shining the most; he plays Tony as a stern, serious and by-the-book guy who seems like he’s never smiled in his life, but can also be quite the charming fella, too. Harrelson’s performance can get so intense sometimes, you never know when the acting begins or ends with him, making each and every one of the scenes he has with Foster, all the more suspenseful and compelling. They’ve worked together since this, so obviously there was no love lost, but come on, you can’t tell me they didn’t give each other a nudge every now and then, eh?

Who knows? We may never find out.

Consensus: Heartfelt and humane, while also never trying too hard to get its anti-war message across, the Messenger is a smart, well-acted, and emotional look at grief, loss, sadness, and of course, PTSD, yet, handled oh so perfectly well.

9 / 10

See? Like they definitely beat the snot out of one another during breaks.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Down Terrace (2009)

Keep it all in the family. No literally, everything.

Bill (Robert Hill) and his son, Karl (Robin Hill), have been working together for so long and even though it just so happens to be organized crime, they’ve gotten by for the longest time in it, so they don’t get caught up in all the details. But that all begins to change when, after spending a few days in jail, they return home and realize they may have a rat in their midst. This is clearly not something they want to put up with, which is why they try to get down to the nitty gritty of it all and figure out just who the rat in the whole gang may be, or if there isn’t one, who’s the first who could rat on them in the first place. As they try to pick out the informant from a group that includes a corrupt politician (Mark Kempner), an unpredictable hit man (Michael Smiley), and yes, even the annoyed and pissed-off matriarch, Maggie (Julia Deakin), Karl learns his girlfriend (Kerry Peacock) is pregnant and doesn’t quite know what to do with that, or how the hell his family is even going to react. Needless to say, it’s not pretty.

Oops. Out come the guns.

Down Terrace has essentially one-joke going for itself throughout the whole hour-and-a-half, but it’s such a good joke that co-writer/director Ben Wheatley finds himself constantly playing around and toying with the whole time: It’s that everyone is suspected of being a rat and because of that, they’ve got to meet their maker. Of course, the movie may play-off like a very serious and tense episode of the Sopranos, but what’s interesting about Down Terrace is that, besides it being incredibly dark and morbid at times, it’s also quite funny.

Cause of course, British gangsters can’t be too serious the whole time, right?

And that’s why Down Terrace, while not an altogether perfectly put together movie, is still entertaining and interesting enough to watch, because it’s trying something new and bold. Inside of it, is a combination of the kitchen-sink drama, the suburban crime flick, and of course, the black-as-hell comedy, and while it’s definitely obvious when the movie changes into one mood, it still kind of works. Wheatley knows how to film each and every aspect of this story into a manner where we don’t know what to expect, or know exactly where it’s going to lead into, and just watching him give it a try is where most of the fun is to be had.

This is the part of the movie where the subtitles definitely need to be put on.

He and fellow writer Robin Hill don’t forget to give audiences a little bit of everything, but they truly know how to make their comedy crack and their violence, well, disturb. In fact, it’s maybe a bit too disturbing at times; characters that we come to know, love, and grow very intimate with over a very short amount of time, are all of a sudden killed-off in very heinous, in-your-face ways the next second. It’s as if no one’s safe and those that definitely aren’t, are going to meet a very gruesome end. Which once again, is pretty brave, despite it not always working.

But hey, in the film-world, bravery has to count for something.

And that’s basically where Down Terrace works in the end; it’s probably Wheatley’s most cohesive and simple-to-read picture, but in that, also isn’t his dullest, either. You can tell that he’s working out some of the kinks into how to make this kind of material to work, but when you have a first-timer making so much noise, by combining all of these different subgenres, and making something still work, then yeah, it’s definitely worth the watch. If only to see just where Wheatley himself has come, gone, and where he’s going to be heading-off towards in the very near-future.

Let’s just hope he sticks with more movies such as this, and more away from High-Rise. Sheesh.

Consensus: With a crazy combination of different tones and styles, Ben Wheatley definitely takes a lot on his plate, but handles it well with a very funny, surprising, and altogether interesting hybrid with Down Terrace.

7.5 / 10

Cheers, mates. Get ready to die.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Stand By for Mind Control, New York Times

True Adolescents (2009)

Grow up, or don’t. Just don’t stop listening to indie.

Sam Bryant (Mark Duplass), for lack of a better term, a bit of a loser. He’s jobless, homeless, and oh yeah, his hopes and dreams of one day breaking it in the music-business seem to be dwindling more and more each day, but for some reason, he just doesn’t seem to know, or understand that just yet. And now that he’s getting up there in his 30’s, it’s time for him to do a bit of growing up, even if he’s too stubborn to ever figure out how. Which is why when he ends up staying at his aunt Sharon (Melissa Leo)’s place, he thinks he’s got it made. He tries to get a job, he tries to clean up after himself, and oh yeah, his younger cousin, Oliver (Brett Loehr), he gets along with quite well, even if there is a bit of an age-barrier and different understanding between what’s “cool”, and what isn’t. Then, they head out on a small hiking trip along with Oliver’s friend Jake (Carr Thompson), who seems to be really close with Oliver, and Sam doesn’t want to get in the way. Until, well, he feels that he has to.

Always stick with the hipster bands.

The “man-child” subgenre of movies, or better yet, indie movies, is a bit old and slowly, but somewhat surely, beginning to die. There is, of course, every few exceptions to the rule, but for the most part, it seems like watching a tale about a mid-30 dude not holding down a job, having a place to sleep, and just never allowing himself to grow up is, well, a tad bit boring. That’s not to say that it isn’t true and isn’t definitely the case with most dudes out there, but as far as indie-movies go, yeah, they can tend to be a bit repetitive.

But True Adolescents is a small and somewhat rare exception to that rule, if only because it seems to have a tad bit more something to say about these man-children; instead of getting down on these people and showing why they’re losers, writer/director Craig Johnson does realize that there’s more to these kinds of people than we initially expect. For one, they’re not all terrible people – immature, sure, but definitely not immoral, evil human beings who have no clear mind about the law, or how to exist in a governing society. If anything, they’re just sort of babies, the kinds that need to be coddled and cared for, as opposed to kicked out and thrown onto the streets.

And in a way, this makes Sam Bryant a tad bit more sympathetic, than we’d normally expect.

It does help that Mark Duplass is great in this role and can practically play this character in his sleep, but it’s interesting to watch someone like Sam develop over time, as we begin to realize more and more that he’s just a total tool, and less of an actual baby. Okay, maybe he’s a huge mixture of both, but still, Duplass never makes him unlikable – he’s always someone we enjoy watching and want to see more over time, whether he’s learning a thing or two about the world, being nicer to those around him, or even getting a job. No matter what this character does, or says, Duplass is always there to pick up the pieces and remind us that, oh yeah, he’s one of the most likable presences on the screen today.

Coolest aunt ever? Probs.

In a pre-Oscar role, Melissa Leo is also quite charming as the smart, understanding, and stern Aunt Sharon who doesn’t really take much of Sam’s crap, but also knows to listen to him more and not judge him for who he is, or what it is that he represents. Even the two kids, played by Brett Loehr and Carr Thompson, are good, too, but their characters is where the movie starts to confuse itself and get a little odd. Without saying too much, there’s a small revelation made about halfway through that doesn’t necessarily come out of nowhere, but also doesn’t seem pertinent to the story and what we’re going for, either. Johnson seems to start True Adolescents out in a familiar way, then puts more of a focus and attention on the characters and their relationships, only to then, halfway through, make it about something else completely.

Which is hard for me to say, without spoiling a whole lot about this movie.

It just seems that Johnson was fond of throwing us for a loop, did just that, but also as a result, forgot to keep his story cohesive. It becomes a whole entirely different beast in general and honestly, lost me a bit, almost as much as it seems to lose itself. That said, a solid first and middle half are fine enough, so whatever.

Consensus: True Adolescents loses itself after the halfway-mark, but still keeps itself interesting with good performances and a smart approach to the whole nauseating “man-child” subgenre of indie flicks.

7 / 10

I’d hike for days with Mark Duplass. Maybe not Jay.

Photos Courtesy of: Now Very Bad…., Filmwax Radio

Halloween II (2009)

Yeah, Michael’s a little more severe than today’s masked-creepo’s.

A year after narrowly escaping death at the hands of Michael Myers (Tyler Mane), aka, her brother, Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) has been through and seen a whole hell of a lot. Probably more than any kid her age should ever have to witness, but now that she’s living with her best friend, Annie (Danielle Harris), she feels as if everything’s going to get back to normal and that she can, for lack of a better word, have a rather care-free existence. Meanwhile, Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) is all over the globe promoting and having discussions about his latest book on killer’s psychology, and most importantly, Michael himself. But even though both of them think that Michael is dead and gone for good, somehow, he’s brought back to life by the spirit of his dead mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) and is now back on a rampage, not just taking down everyone in his path, but to find Laurie and get rid of her once.

Yeah, that kid's growing up to be a serial-killer.

Yeah, that kid’s growing up to be a serial-killer.

You know, the typical family stuff.

In a way, it’s too easy to despise Rob Zombie’s movies. The man himself, is actually quite an admirable figure; someone who has made the leap from musician, to movie-director successfully, making a movie almost every two years or so, and also, a person who seems like he knows a thing or two about horror movies in general, just judging by how he handles himself in interviews and whatnot. But unfortunately, the movies he makes are so trashy, so gloomy, so screwed-up, so depressing and so, as much as it pains me to say, boring, that it’s hard to really give him the benefit of the doubt, respectable artist or not.

And that’s why Halloween, his first remake of the famous franchise, was absolutely terrible. It was slow, focusing on the dread, pain and suffering, but never really actually doing anything interesting or exciting with any of it. That seems to be Zombie’s go-to with mostly all of his movies – rather than actually going out and trying to make sense, or make things deeper than what they appear, he just continues on with the unnecessary carnage, blood and gore, and doesn’t really care about what he’s saying with it. While that’s normally fine and all, the fact remains that his movies, including this sequel to Halloween, just aren’t all that entertaining to watch; they’re the kind of horror movies that make you wonder why they were made in the first place, considering they don’t seem like they were all that fun to film.

But maybe they are to Zombie, which is a shame, because there are inklings of a good movie to be found somewhere, deep inside of the dark nether regions of Halloween II.

If there is a big step-up from the first movie this time, it’s that Zombie takes his focus away from the conventional plot-line of the first and has decided to shake the story up a tad bit. Now, instead of constantly focusing on Michael Myers as he walks around, savagely kills people, all while mumbling and grunting his way along to the next victim, the movie also shines a light on Laurie “Myers” Strode and Dr. Loomis. While they are both interesting plot-lines that get some moments of energy and inspiration, unfortunately, they don’t go so well side-by-side; Strode’s coming-of-age, horror-tale is far too serious to really work alongside Loomis’ sometimes satirical publicity-tour.

While Zombie does try whatever he can to make sure that Strode’s story a sympathetic take on someone grasping with death and destruction, it doesn’t help that Scout Taylor-Compton isn’t able to make her scenes work. Despite working with the likes of Brad Dourif, Danielle Harris, and a random, but great Margot Kidder, Taylor-Compton just can’t get her act together to make sense of a character that should be an unquestionably bleeding and sad heart. Instead, she just seems like a needy, whiny and ungracious brat who can’t stop yelling at those around her.

Pictured: Apparently not Rob Zombie and his thoughts on modern-day culture

Pictured: Apparently not Rob Zombie and his thoughts on modern-day culture

And Malcolm McDowell is good as Loomis here, but honestly, that’s a whole other movie completely. He’s a whole lot more arrogant than he was in the first movie and because of that, we constantly wonder where his adventure is going to take him and how he’s going to hook back up with Laurie and Michael, even if it does come at the expense of actually having to spend more time with Laurie and Michael. Still, McDowell is having a good time here, in a role that seems to be Zombie’s way of speaking out against the critics who have an issue with the slasher-horror and violence he depicts in his movies.

It’s not really subtle, but it’s a whole lot easier to swallow than whatever Shyamalan does when he has a bone to pick with critics.

Anyway, still though, the main issue with Halloween II is that, despite some interesting avenues being looked at, the movie never gets itself together. Despite Loomis and Stroude getting more of a focus, Michael still has a lot of scenes where he daydreams of his dead mother and childhood-version of himself, which feels unnecessary and only adds more to a running-time that comes close to nearly two hours. Of course, it also gives Zombie plenty more time and opportunity to kill people in disturbing ways, but it doesn’t really do much of anything for the movie; it’s not entertaining, it’s not shocking, it’s just, for lack of a better word, there. Zombie may feel as if he’s showing us, the world, something that we don’t want to see and sticking our noses in it, but in reality, we’ve seen far, far worse in real life and you know what?

We don’t need to bother with his version of those events.

Consensus: While a step-up from the original Zombie remake, Halloween II still ups the ante on the blood, gore, ugly violence and grime that may please Zombie and his fanatics, but doesn’t do much for anyone else wanting a good, exciting and actually shocking horror flick.

4 / 10

Cheer up, Mikey. You'll get more remakes.

Cheer up, Mikey. You’ll get more remakes.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Whatever Works (2009)

Living with Larry David can’t be all that bad.

Boris Yellnikoff (Larry David) is pretty tired with the world around him. When he’s not picking a fight with the kids he teaches chess to, he’s crying on and on about everything he can find himself to complain about like politics, sex, books, entertainment, and yes, women. He even goes so far as to talk to “them” – mysterious people out there in the world that he thinks are always watching him, no matter what he does or says. That’s why, one night, he decides to end it all and throw himself out of a window. Problem is, he doesn’t succeed and is forced to live with his sad and miserable life. It all changes one day though, when a random drifter named Melody (Evan Rachel Wood), comes to his door-step all of the way from the Deep South. While Boris is initially against Melody, the two end up hanging together, more and more, teaching each other things about life that neither originally knew about. Which is fine and all, until they start to fall for one another – something that everyone around them seem to have problems with.

Even Ed is begging for that next season of Curb.

Even Ed is begging for that next season of Curb.

Why haven’t Larry David and Woody Allen worked together before? Honestly? I mean, with the exception of his small bit in Allen’s segment in New York Stories, it’s crazy to think that two people on this Earth as similar as David And Allen haven’t gotten together to cook-up something lovely and magical before. Sure, you could blame that on the fact that David liked to stay behind-the-scenes for a large portion of his career, but either way, it’s worth bringing up because, even though Whatever Works isn’t Woody’s worst, it also isn’t his best, either.

Which is a shame because, once again, David and Allen could make magic happen.

However, time has passed and over the years, Woody Allen has definitely lost his touch. That’s why another story featuring a much-older man and much-younger woman falling for one another, for no reason because they stand one another and talk about the more infuriating things in life, already sounds boring. After all, it’s the story that Allen’s been working with since the beginning of his career and honestly, just taking him out and putting David in can only help matters so much.

And yes, David is playing himself, but he’s also the stand-in for Allen himself, which is a tad bit confusing, because the two aren’t all that different. In fact, it’s honestly a wonder to me how much of this was scripted, or how much of it was David deciding to take an eraser to some stuff he didn’t like and just roll with what he had? I really don’t know, but regardless, David is fine in this role; he can sometimes lash out and say the same things, over and over again, but that’s sort of the point of this character. He’s supposed to be a grump and always have an issue with the world around him.

In other words, he’s Larry David. Signed. Sealed. And delivered.

Others around David are quite fine, too. Evan Rachel Wood’s character may start out as a caricature, but eventually starts to show more shadings that make her likable; Patricia Clarkson shows up about halfway through and makes the movie a whole lot better; Henry Cavill in a young role of his, is as charming as they come and as you’d expect for Superman to be; and Ed Begley, Jr. showing up for not too long, is actually the funniest of the whole cast.

Where's his glasses?

Where’s his glasses?

But still, a fine cast doesn’t always make a great movie, and that’s where Whatever Works sometimes falls. It isn’t that the movie itself is bad – Allen’s annoying writing is toned-down enough to where it doesn’t get in the way of the story, or the characters – but it also doesn’t change much up about what we’ve seen from Allen in the past. His characters talk about existentialism, they fight, they screw, they drink, they host dinner parties, they listen to jazz, they go on walks to the park, and yeah, that’s pretty much it. Occasionally, Allen himself will throw a small twist in there for good measure to make us think that he realizes a lot of his movies are the same, but really, does any of it matter?

Woody is getting up there in age and a lot of his movies are starting to seem a little like the same thing, over and over again? Does that make them “bad”? Not necessarily; they’re enjoyable and pleasant because he has a knack for catching the right tone with his movies and always getting the best and brightest talents for his flicks, but that doesn’t always make a “great” movie.

Even if your movie does have Larry David complaining to the camera.

Now, how could that be “bad”?

Consensus: While not his worst, nor his best, Whatever Works gets by because of its charming cast, but really, is a solid example of Woody possibly running out of ideas.

6 / 10

She's going to learn to hate life and everyone in it after that conversation.

She’s going to learn to hate life and everyone in it after that conversation.

Photos Courtesy of: A Woody a Week

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (2009)

Just when you thought playing video-games was “cool” again.

In Bangkok, M. Bison (Neal McDonough), an evil, maniacal, and powerful crime boss, cobbles up all of his henchmen (Michael Clarke Duncan, Josie Ho, Taboo) to begin a bid for power in the city’s slum. They take out all of their competitors, so that the fruit is all theirs to sow and if anybody gets in their way, well, they won’t be in it for much longer because they’ll be dead. However, when you’re as bad of a guy as M. Bison is, chances are, after awhile, people are going to start getting ticked at you and rise up to take their power back. That’s exactly what Chun-Li (Kristin Kreuk) does when her father is all of a sudden kidnapped by Bison. Why? Well, Bison believes that the man has a certain skill that’s perfect for whatever evil stuff he has planned. But in order to get back at Bison and all of his evil a-holes the right way, she’ll have to be trained by the smart martial-arts master, Gen (Robin Shou). Meanwhile Interpol agent Charlie Nash (Chris Klein) teams up with Maya Sunee (Moon Bloodgood), to figure out just what’s going on and hopefully, get to the bottom of all the violence before it’s too late.

So, uh, Asian or not?

So, uh, Asian or not?

Why aren’t there any “good” video-game movies out there? Sure, you could make the argument that there’s been a few, every so often, that have been “serviceable” at best, but really, that’s if we’re grasping at straws. What that question really means is why there isn’t one, clear-cut, definitive video-game adaptation that almost everyone can agree to as being “good”. Some will say that has to do with the fact that video-games are meant to be played and not watched, therefore, they aren’t fun and lose their edge, while others will say that it has to do with some of the video-game material being so cheesy and odd, that to adapt for a movie, would be defeating the purpose altogether.

So, with all that said, is Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li a “good” video-game movie?

Nope. Actually, nowhere even close.

However, it also isn’t as terrible as people make it out to be. The reason why so many people ragged on this movie in the first place is because, yes, it’s awfully miscast. There’s no denying that. Neal McDonough can play these evil, sick and twisted baddies in his place, but he does some weird accent as M. Bison, to the point of where we don’t know what nationality he is, nor does it seem like he knows. It may not seem like much, but it’s hard to be scared of the villain of the story when he sounds like an odd mix between Sean Connery and Ivan Koloff.

Oh and, yes, there’s Chris Klein. If there’s anyone I feel bad for in this world, it’s Chris Klein. In all honesty, I do believe that the guy’s a good actor, when he’s given the right material to work with and right direction from people who actually know just what the hell to do with him; Election is a perfect example of Klein hamming it up, yet, also knowing his strengths and weaknesses, which may have to do with the fact that Alexander Payne is just great at directing actors, but still, it’s a good performance nonetheless. Here, Klein is left without a paddle, wading through corny-as-cob dialogue that no classically-trained thespian could ever get through without choking a bit, let alone the guy who played Oz.

And honestly, I could go in deeper and deeper as to why he’s so bad, but I think much of the internet has already made material for that. If anything, the script is what really makes everyone and everything, well, “terrible”. Every line is coated in cheese, characters that are supposed to be cool and tough, just sound like morons, and nobody can ever be taken seriously, even though that’s clearly the intention. Which is fine to not be taking seriously – after all, it’s a video-game adaptation we’re talking about here – but there’s something to be said for a movie that wants to portray its heroes as absolute gods and its villains as downright spawns of Satan, yet, can’t help but have everybody launch into sweet and cool ass-kicking kung-fu when push comes to shove.

Even Moon has no clue what he's doing here.

Even Moon has no clue what he’s doing here.

And yes, the sweet and cool ass-kicking kung-fu is actually why the movie isn’t as terrible as some make it out to be.

In the spirit of the video-games, Legend of Chun-Li gets the action as right as it possibly can. It’s goofy, wild, hectic, over-the-top and as bloodless as you can possibly get when all you’re doing is portraying people getting their asses kicked left and right, which is all that it needed to do and be. Sure, the dialogue and characters are awful, which is why it’s easy to lose interest in these bits and pieces, but when the gloves come off and people are ready to throw down, well, the movie’s entertaining. It’s pretty awful, but it’s awful in a kind of fun way, which also has a little something to do with why the action here works.

Of course, nothing else seems to really work, but that’s fine. At least 35 minutes of this movie’s 95-minute run-time is dedicated to action; in between are long patches and stretches of talented actors getting saddled with awful dialogue, characters who we never get to actually know or understand, other than that they’re characters in a video-game, and a plot about how Chun-Li is going to rise up against the oppressor that seems so half-baked, that I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if this was somehow left in there during post-production, when everyone involved seem to give up, call it a day, and go home, acting as if this never actually happened.

Problem is, it did and there’s no denying that fact.

Consensus: Though it gets the action right, Street Fighter: the Legend of Chun-Li is still poorly-acted, horribly-scripted, and just damn silly at times, that you wonder if anybody cared, took this seriously, or wanted to be elsewhere.

3 / 10

"Don't worry, honey. Your career will get better. Mine, unfortunately, not so much."

“Don’t worry, honey. Your career will get better. Mine, unfortunately, not so much.”

Photos Courtesy of: Games Retrospect, Aceshowbiz

The Invention of Lying (2009)

If you think about it, can’t all religious text possibly be “lies”? #Controversial

Mark Bellison (Ricky Gervais) is so down-on-his-luck that he’s practically given up now. While he has an okay job as a screenwriter and a nice apartment to live in, he lives in a world nobody is able to lie, so therefore, nobody ever does something for another person cause its the right thing to do. This means that Mark has to go out on a lot of dates where the girls he meets don’t really like him, nor do they ever expect to take anything further than just a simple date and leaving it at that. One date in particular, with Anna (Jennifer Garner), Mark seems to want more out of, but because he, according to her, is “fat and ugly”, the relationship will never work. But somehow, on one fateful day, Mark decides that he has the rare ability to, believe it or not, lie. This means that everyone around him will believe anything he says and can basically get away with whatever he oh so pleases to get away with. Clearly, this means that Mark’s going to do some easily questionable things that are for his own self-gain, but eventually, he starts to realize that it doesn’t matter if you can lie the rest of your life and get away, all that does matter is that you feel something lovely and true.

is the handsome, slack-jawed man her choice?

is the handsome, slack-jawed man her choice?

The Invention of Lying has so much promise that it’s an absolute shame watching went goes down with it. For one, this world that’s been created here, while yes, a tad odd and unconventional, is still an interesting one that you can spend a whole miniseries on, exploring every piece by piece, while also having some real great fun, with jokes and all that. And for awhile, the movie seems like it’s more than up to that opportunity; a commercial with Coca-Cola is perhaps the funniest moment of the whole movie, only to then be up-staged by a Pepsi ad moments later. There’s other bits and pieces in which Gervais explores this world a whole lot more than just having people blurt out mean, nasty and cruel things, but yeah, what eventually happens isn’t good.

And yes, this is a huge problem.

After awhile, it seems like co-directors Gervais and Matthew Robinson, truly did want to get deep down into this world, explore it more, find more jokes to make about it, and, if it got to a certain point, make some interesting contrasts to the real world we live in now, but for some reason, they get distracted. Instead of trying to make something that’s really biting, smart and almost satirical, they opt more for the conventional route, where we’re now more interested in whether or not Ricky Gervais’ character is going to get the girl at the end.

Obviously, he probably will, but to see this idea get explored more so than the other ones going on here, is pretty wasteful. Now, of course, I don’t know if this is on behalf of studio interruption, or if the guys themselves just really wanted to make a rom-com with this thing, but either way, it’s a shame to watch after awhile, because the jokes can sometimes be very funny, but sometimes, it doesn’t always hit its mark.

That said, yes, the Invention of Lying can be a pretty funny movie and yes, can deliver on some of its promises.

Or, the very ugly, but ambitious loner?

Or, the very ugly, but ambitious loner?

The whole add-on of religion was not only a nice touch, but a smart one that yes, was commenting on the idea of religion, but wasn’t doing it in an over-the-top way where some people may feel offended or pissed. However, at the same time, those who don’t follow any sort of religion by any means, won’t find themselves pissed that a well-known atheist like Ricky Gervais backed out on his original ideas. It’s just the right amount of poking fun, but also, reservation that makes a movie like this, while not perfect, seem a little more interesting and smarter.

And yeah, it also helps that the cast is pretty darn solid, too. As an ordinary, everyday man gifted with this one spectacular talent, Gervais is a lot of fun, but also, seems like he wants to do more than just be a stand-in for the story. He does give this character a heart and soul, and even though it may not totally work in the grander scheme of things, and just get in the way of the funnier moments of the movie, it still proves that Gervais himself isn’t just all about gags and making people laugh uncontrollably. Sometimes, he does like to get a little serious and dramatic and it works in most of his pieces.

Here, maybe not so much.

The reason for that is because it does feel very shoe-horned in, especially when you take into consideration that the movie is less about finding true love, as much as it’s just about the lies we are told and the lies we tell ourselves to make us feel better. Jennifer Garner is fine and, surprisingly, has some sweet chemistry with Gervais, but any moment that the movie seemed to focus on their possible budding-romance, it felt like it was being dragged down by a very heavy anchor that couldn’t be lifted. Once again, this could have been studio interference, but still, that doesn’t make it a worthy excuse. But it’s easy to forgive Gervais because even a movie like the Invention of Lying, while not perfect, still reminds us why he’s one of the smarter, brighter voices in comedy, as well as in animal rights.

You go, Rick.

Consensus: Despite not fully delivering on the promise of its premise, the Invention of Lying is still an entertaining comedy, mostly thanks to the talent working in it.

6 / 10

Or, the snarky Brit? Who knows who she'll choose!

Or, the snarky Brit? Who knows who she’ll choose!

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

The International (2009)

Always trust in a Brit who looks and sounds like Clive Owen. Even when he’s spouting possibly unreasonable conspiracy theories.

After a fellow friend and confidante winds up dead under some incredibly odd and suspicious circumstances, Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) decides to take matters into his own hands. He not only joins forces with New York prosecutor Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts), but decides that if he’s going to take the International Bank of Business and Commerce, he’s going to have to get his hands a little dirty. This means not just doing some recon work, where he’ll be on the ground, but may also have to do some fighting and, possibly, killing. However, all is in the good name of putting an end to the powerful bank’s funding of terrorism. But as Salinger and Whitman begin to follow the money more and more closely from such lovely places like Germany, Italy, New York, and even Turkey, they both find their own lives at risk from those who will stop at nothing to protect their interests – meaning that, yes, there’s going to be a lot of rich, evil baddies looking to kill anyone and everyone, so long as they continue to remain rich and evil.

Yeah, stay away from Clive when he's got a gun.

Yeah, stay away from Clive when he’s got a gun.

What’s interesting about the International is that it seems to ask the heavy and hard questions that most action-thrillers of its same nature would hide from even bothering to bring up. What do we do, as a society, when the rich continue to get richer and use their gains for sinister-acts like terrorism? In the Night Manager, this question gets brought up quite a lot, where we see a billionaire deal in arms, yet, not give a single care in the world that he is, essentially, killing millions and millions of people. The International seems to take that idea one step further and show that there’s perhaps more at-play; maybe, just maybe, there aren’t just single, independent arms-dealers out there working all by their lonesome selves, but there are bigger corporations out there working to achieve the same things.

Except that, believe it or not, they’re protected by law enforcement for some reason.

In a way, yes, the International is your ordinary story of the one inspired and passionate man to take down the big, evil and rich corporation, but it also takes it a step further in showing that said big, evil and rich corporation can actually do whatever they want and possibly, end up living to tell the story at the end. After all, they’ve got practically everyone in their pocket, so why couldn’t they stop one peon of a person who, yes, may know some stuff, but who is going to listen to him? Especially when there’s nobody to actually listen to in the first place – something that these big, rich and evil baddies are quite capable of, as we’re made to believe.

But for some reason, the International is far too messy and crazy to really drive that point home. Sure, we get the idea that some real bad and powerful people are at play here, but after awhile, there starts to be so many baddies seen, heard from, and mentioned, that it’s not long before all of it gets incredibly confusing. We know that if somebody looks like a bad guy, based solely on who is cast in the role, then yes, they’re the bad people. However, the mission that Owen’s character goes on, where it takes him, and why, never quite gels or works in the grand scheme of things. We know he’s looking for bad guys and that’s about it – everything else is left up to us to pay attention to, or make up our own minds about.

That isn’t to say that the International doesn’t try to be something more than just your ordinary crime-thriller.

"First Pennsylvania, and now, the world!"

“First Pennsylvania, and now, the world!” *Banshee joke

Tom Twyker is a very interesting director who has made some very good films in his career, and also can’t help but make a shot seem as pretty as humanly imaginable. Anybody who has ever seen this movie will tell you one thing about it and that’s the whole Guggenheim sequence in which it’s basically just Clive Owen, facing off against a bunch of armed-baddies with machine guns. It’s an exciting sequence, even if it seems to come out of nowhere and not make much sense, but the constant winding around from Twyker’s camera is what keeps it watchable, as well as for the other scenes concerning action. Considering that some of the violence here is pretty brutal and bloody, Twyker could have easily made this out to be an ugly, gory blood-fest, but instead, he uses it all to juxtapose the sometimes lovely scenery surrounding his characters and the story.

Which isn’t to say that the movie gets by, solely on Twyker’s eye for art, but it’s something. Everything else about the International still, not only feels stale, but rather boring. A lot of information is thrown at us to decipher and think about, yes, but after the third or fourth back-stab from a secondary character we don’t really care much about, it was hard to really care or pay much attention. After all, the story was just going to find another way to make sure that it threw a random, seemingly inconceivable plot twist or two just to shake things up.

It doesn’t always work and instead, feels manipulative. Sort of like having Oscar-nominated actress Naomi Watts advertised quite heavily as being in your movie, but not do much with her, other than just keep her to the side of Clive Owen, and there to answer his beck and call. It’s nice to see Watts here, but it’s a bit of a disappointment, especially coming from someone like Twyker. Of course, Owen is fine in his role, where he does a lot of glaring, growling and sweating, but it also feels like he’s just working with a dull character, who is stuck in a plot that’s way beyond his, or anybody else’s reach.

Consensus: Despite some action-sequences working, the International never makes full sense of its convoluted, sometimes ridiculous story, leaving this all to just be a mess.

4 / 10

Coffee-meetings have never been so attractive.

Coffee-meetings have never been so attractive.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Knowing (2009)

Nic Cage could probably save the world. Issue is, we’d all have to put up with a lot of yelling.

Professor Ted Myles (Nicolas Cage) makes the startling discovery that an encoded message predicts with pinpoint accuracy the dates, death tolls and co-ordinates of every major disaster of the past 50 years. As Ted further unravels the document’s secrets, he realizes it foretells three additional events – the last of which hints at destruction on a global scale, which leads him to go totally gonzo and do whatever it is that he can to warn, as well as possibly save the rest of society. If that’s at all possible, without being laughed at first.

"Okay, but seriously, which one is Earth?"

“Okay, but seriously, which one is Earth?”

This is one of those rare “bad movies” that are pretty terrible and you know that. Yet, there’s something so bad about the way they go about themselves, that they’re actually pretty interesting, as well. Not because you like the story, or anything that the movie is doing really, but because there’s just something about itself that draws your mind to it, if only because you want to see how it all turns out at the end.

That’s exactly how I felt with Knowing – yeah, it was a terrible movie, but one that I couldn’t stop watching.

While, at the same time, not laugh my rear-end off at.

Calling this flick “terrible” and a “piece of a crap” probably isn’t right since it honestly isn’t the worst thing that I’ve ever seen grace the screen, it’s more or less that it just doesn’t do much for you or what your thinking. Director Alex Proyas knows how to make anything beautiful and there are a couple of scenes here that he definitely shows that. There’s a plane crash sequence very early on that’s all filmed in one shot and definitely has a look and feel as if you were right there to begin with. Then, there’s another crash sequence with a subway station that’s well-done and features special-effects that actually make it more realistic than I had imagined the plane crash one as being. There’s also a couple of other scenes where Proyas really cranks up the special-effects volume and allows there to be more than you’d expect from him and his vision, but sadly, it falls like a dud.

"Give me my agent! NOW!!"

“Give me my agent! NOW!!”

If anything, the problem with these scenes is that no matter how striking they are, they still don’t have any emotion or feeling in them whatsoever. For both crash sequences, you hear yells, screams, hollers of terror and fright, but you never get that upset feeling in your stomach, nor do you ever feel anything for these characters whatsoever. It’s almost as if Proyas just wanted to throw these scenes in cause he had the money and he thought it would look cool; which is fine, because it can definitely look cool, but when there’s hardly any emotional connection to something like the world exploding, then that’s a huge problem.

Get all the artistic points you want, but this is the end of the world, dammit! Let’s feel that tragedy!

And it’s not like there isn’t any recipe for that to happen here throughout Knowing. There’s a story between the father-and-son here, but is so under-cooked that it’s easy to forget there’s a kid even in this; the religious themes come and go as if Proyas was just Spark Noting some parts of the Bible to make himself seem more smart; and, aside from the last 20 minutes or so, there’s never really any big surprises to be found.

Oh and of course, if you couldn’t tell by now, Nic Cage is in this movie and does what he usually does – give goofy-faces, deliver some terrible lines, and make us feel as if we are watching the same performance he did, two movies ago. However, Cage owns it all and is pretty fun to watch, because you don’t know if he sees this as a crap script, or is just really giving this his absolute all. Cage pulls a lot of his usual Cage-isms here as Ted Myles, and while I never fully believed him as a college professor, I still believed him as a guy who may, or may not, be slowly, but surely losing his cool and letting people know of a possible apocalypse. If anything, I’d like to see that movie, where instead of us just getting what appears to be a rip-off of the Day After Tomorrow and Armageddon, we get something more interesting and thoughtful to where we don’t know if we can trust this guy and all of his rants – all we do know is that he’s Nic Cage, so he could either be insanely out of his mind, or telling the surprising truth.

Either way, none of that is found in this movie.

Rose Byrne is here and mopes around practically the whole time, which is a huge shame. Considering we’ve seen her light the screen up quite well in the past few years with comedies like Bridesmaids, Neighbors, and Spy, it’s interesting to look back on these earlier flicks of hers, where she was still on Damages and everybody saw her as this drop dead, serious actress who couldn’t crack a single smile. Now, that seems to be what most movies rely on her for and it’s great to see that kind of transition from her.

Cause I bet you she’ll definitely think twice about taking up another part in a Nic Cage movie.

Consensus: Knowing is all bits of bad, but at least gives some entertainment in the form of Nic Cage and the occasional burst of inspiration from Alex Proyas, but they come very few and far between utter garbage.

2.5 / 10

I would not trust Nic Cage to save me from a plane crash.

I would not trust Nic Cage to save me from a plane crash.

Photos Courtesy of: Thecia.com.au

Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)

People, hide your money under your mattresses.

Why exactly did the Stock Market crash in 2008? Well, Michael Moore, using his notorious tactics, will try to find that out, while at the same time, still shinning a light on what exactly is capitalism. And while many may see the U.S. as a capitalist-free society, Moore shows just how exactly capitalism operates in the U.S. and why it’s probably not the best idea to allow for the wealthiest of the wealthy to make it out to of certain financial predicaments alive. Moore also puts some focus on those said human beings who, despite being responsible for some of the biggest financial downfalls in U.S. history, are still able to get away with it all through bail-outs, general support from shady characters, and the will of the citizens who are, sadly, still paying for the mistakes made by these immoral and sometimes, downright evil, pieces of human specimen. But of course, this being a Michael Moore documentary, there’s plenty of time dedicated to those who lost their jobs in the crisis, and just what it is that they’re trying to do next to survive and thrive in an economy that, quite frankly, doesn’t know if it can contain them, or give them any help whatsoever.

Who wouldn't want Michael Moore into their building?

Who wouldn’t want Michael Moore into their building?

As is usually the case with Michael Moore and the movies he creates, you tend to get more of a sermon, rather than an actual life-lesson learned. Though there’s no denying the fact that every documentary film-maker has an agenda from the very start, some are obviously better at hiding it than others. Whereas some directors are more known for playing the middle-ground and letting it be known that they’re not necessarily trying to force you feel a certain way, but instead, presenting the facts for what they are and allowing for you, the audience, to come up with your own conclusions (Erroll Morris). Then, there are other directors who tend to just tell you what they want you to think right away, present facts as to why you should, and do his absolute best, but not-at-all subtle way, to strong-arm you into thinking the same he does.

And yes, this kind of director is in fact, Michael Moore.

But that isn’t to say that this approach is a bad one, as it’s definitely helped such flicks like Sicko and Bowling for Columbine really hit hard and at-home, regardless of how you felt about either the health-care system, or violence in the states, respectively. Here, when approaching the subject of capitalism and all of the other factors that were at-play with the financial crisis of 2008, Moore shows that he clearly has an agenda set and ready for this movie, but at the same time, it’s not hard to actually join in his frustration and outrage. After all, the people he’s talking out against here are in fact those who are held solely responsible for what occurred on Wall Street in 2008, which is to say that if you feel bad for them, or in a way, want them to be given an equal trial just as the others focused on here, then you shouldn’t be watching this movie in the first place.

Granted, Moore could have definitely done a bit more focusing on the opposite side of the coin that he loves to attack and prod, but really, he does an effective job at just presenting them with all of the mistakes and follies they’ve committed over the years, that it’s hard to really expect him to ever bother with getting actual interviews from any of them. After all, Moore believes that this movie is for the people who got screwed over in the crisis, and as such, we get to hear from a lot of them, their stories, what jobs they had, what they lost in their lives when they lost their jobs, and most importantly, how they’re doing now just to try and scrape by. Moore loves these kinds of sentimental, almost too-hokey stories to thrown into the mix of all his reporting and casual stunts, and while they’re nonetheless corny here, they still work.

Moore taking on the White House? What else is new?!?

Moore taking on the White House? What else is new?!?

For one, they’re real people we are seeing in front of our eyes. It’s hard to dispute the fact that these people have lost their jobs and have in fact, been trying to do what they can with what they’ve got, and just however much they got left after the stock market crashed. Of course, most of the time, it’s all about context with a movie like this, and because Moore is clear from the very start of what he’s trying to say and do, it still works.

At the same time, the reason these life-affirming interviews don’t hit as well as they have done in Moore’s past flicks, is because they’re caught in a mix and mash of a whole bunch of other stuff going on.

At nearly two-hours-and-ten-minutes, Capitalism is a pretty long movie. However, what’s weird about that fact is that it probably could have been a little longer and possibly benefited from the added-on time. Right from the very start, Moore makes it clear to the audience that he’s going to make us fully understand everything there is to understand about capitalism, which is fine and all, but in order to do so, he goes through all of these other hoops and alley-ways to discuss why capitalism is relevant to today’s issues. By doing this, Moore runs the risk of losing his audience and while he tries his absolute hardest to make sure all of the info is easy to decipher for any layman, he still misses the mark on delivering what he set-out to do in the first place: Actually explain what capitalism is all about.

Granted, I know exactly what capitalism is, but watching the movie and seeing how Moore tries to draw lines between that topic, as well as the current day’s economy (this movie came out over six years ago, however, much is still the same), and he loses himself a bit. With all the countless interviews, pie-charts, facts, ideas, and dramatic music, Moore gets a little too loose for his own good and forgets what he made this movie for in the first place. That isn’t to say that Capitalism doesn’t have a true message at the dead-center of it, but maybe next time, Mikey, give us a bit more time and space to cobble everything up together.

Consensus: Capitalism: A Love Story presents a very dark side of the American economy, and while it doesn’t always gel well together, Moore still offers plenty of fine and interesting insights into just what went wrong on that fateful day in 2008, and how we can all move forward, as a whole.

7 / 10

Let 'em hear it, Mike! But hey, less preaching.

Let ’em hear it, Mike! But hey, less preaching.

Photos Courtesy of: Joblo, Indiewire

Angels & Demons (2009)

Always blame the Church. They’re pretty easy targets.

A few years after the events of the Da Vinci Code, it appears that Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is back to all sorts of dangerous adventure! However, rather than being called to the scene of a crime and getting falsely accused of it again, this time, Langdon is helping out with a case that may be a whole lot more complicated and serious than he had ever expected it to be. Surprisingly, four cardinals have been snatched from the Vatican and are now mysteriously hidden all over Vatican City; one of them will be killed each hour until midnight, which will then allow for a supposed bomb to go off and take out Vatican City. Over the course of this one evening, it is up to Langdon to figure out just who is committing all of these crimes and for what reasons. Is it just a bunch of angry, disillusioned people who want to raise some hell for good chuckles? Or, are these members of a religion that, in some way, shape, or form, feel betrayed by the Catholic church and believe that it is finally their time to step up and have their voices be heard, regardless of who they may kill in the process? Well, the questions are, apparently, all in the symbols.

Imagine this, for nearly two-and-a-half hours, and you've got the first flick.

Imagine this, for nearly two-and-a-half hours, and you’ve got the first flick.

Angels & Demons is an improvement over the Da Vinci Code, however, that isn’t saying too much. For one, it’s shorter. Another, it movies a lot quicker. These two factors come into play quite well because, when you think about it, you don’t really have much time to think about why or how hardly any of this matters; the movie itself isn’t harping on those facts, so why the hell should you?

With the Da Vinci Code, it was obvious that Ron Howard and co. set out to make a very serious piece of drama that definitely didn’t spell itself out as such. Here, Howard still seems to be playing in an ultra serious playing field, but also loosens up a bit; there’s a slight bit of self-awareness to the fact that none of what’s going on actually makes sense or matters, which helped the movie seem like actual fun. Rather than just trying to make sure that the audience members at home aren’t too tired just yet, Howard kickstarts this movie’s premise and gets going right away.

Which yes, was definitely the saving grace here.

Still, by the same token, I still can’t help but feel the same problems are around this time around. For one, the plot really makes no sense and it isn’t until the very end that you begin to wonder, “Huh?”. Granted, the movie isn’t totally relying on whether or not everything gets spelled-out in a perfectly clear manner or way, but it also wants us to follow along and think that it’s clever by doing whatever it’s doing. But whenever Langdon gets into a room, stares at stuff and starts speaking about its significance, I couldn’t help but not feel interested.

There were some interesting tidbits that Langdon made about the Illuminati here that most definitely worth the listen, but everything else, not only felt/sounded like bullshit, but didn’t do much to keep the plot going. Instead, it just slowed things down a bit so that characters could drop into unnecessary exposition. Like I said before, not much of that here, when compared to the first movie, but at the same time, still a whole lot more than there should be.

For instance, take Ewan McGregor’s earnest priest character. We have an idea of what he’s about and then, all of a sudden, the other cheek possibly turns and we’re left to think of whether or not he’s someone who can be trusted. The movie never makes a clear case of why this came to be, if only to say that they’re needed to be a baddie or back-stabber found somewhere – so what better person than Ewan McGregor? McGregor, here, is fine and does what he can with a role that seems like it was written for anyone who was willing to take a pay cut, but really, everything gets bogged down to so much speaking and yammering on about lord knows what, that it almost doesn’t matter if he’s in the role or not.

Obi-Wan went to Sunday school.

Obi-Wan went to Sunday school.

You could have put me in and it still may have not mattered.

As Langdon, Hanks gets to have a bit more fun this go around, as he’s not sitting around quite as much as he was before. Instead, a good portion of the movie finds himself running around all over Vatican City, looking for clues and, occasionally, giving us a small history lesson along the way. Truly, I wouldn’t mind having this around everyday of my life, but so be it. Tom Hanks doesn’t want to hang with me, no matter how hard I try.

And as for the controversial material that so plagued the first movie? Yeah, not much here, which is actually fine. The movie doesn’t really need to harp too much on what it’s trying to say or mean with its material. It’s more concerned with just being a bit of a goofy thriller that, yeah, may or may not make much sense at the end of the day, but at least has a bit more of a grin to work with this time around and doesn’t want to be too stern and serious for the older crowd out there.

Consensus: Angels & Demons is a slight improvement over its predecessor, which may not sound like much, but also means that it’s less serious and a little bit more in-touch with its crazy side.

5.5 / 10

A lot of popes, but no Francis.

A lot of popes, but no Francis.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Push (2009)

X-Men clearly did it better. They always do.

Due to a government experiment gone wrong, Nick Gant (Chris Evans) is what some call “a mover”. Meaning that, well, he’s able to move things with his mind. However, he’s been on the run at an early age and in a way to stay even further off the grid, he’s been holding up shop in Hong Kong. But due to a couple of bad decisions made on Nick’s part, he ends up getting found out by these sinister powers-that-be who want to kidnap Nick and take away his powers. Or something like that. Along with Nick is 13-year-old Cassie Holmes (Dakota Fanning) who is what people call “a watcher” – someone who can see the future and certain tragic events before they happen. So yeah, Nick and Cassie are on the run from bad and evil people, meanwhile, they’re trying to meet up and find Kira Hudson (Camilla Belle), who may have all the answers to the questions that they need answering so that they can defeat these villains and get back on with their lives. But as time rolls and Nick and Cassie start to talk with her more, they realize that Kira may not be who she is and better yet, actually may be playing on the same side of those people they’re on the run from to begin with.

Round 1, eh, who cares!

Round 1, eh, who cares!

I think.

The whole thing about Push is that it’s incredibly convoluted. Certain powers of these characters, when they’re able to use them, what keeps them from using them, is hardly ever explained; all we’re supposed to make up our minds about is that they do have powers and they want to use them for the greater good. This makes it all sound like an over-extended episode of Heroes which, quite frankly, I would have been totally fine with.

But nope.

Instead, what we get with Push, is an overlong, overly complicated, very silly sci-fi flick that doesn’t know where it wants to go, or even what it wants to be. While the movie does stage some flashy action-sequences, they come so few and far between, that they become an afterthought. Instead, the movie wants to focus on the inner-workings of these characters, what makes them tick and just how it is that they get by in a world that, honestly, doesn’t quite accept them for who they are or what skills they possess. Obviously, I’ve seen this all done way better in X-Men and it just goes to show you just how easy it is to make a tale like that.

But for some reason, no one on-board with Push seems like they want to give anything an honest effort. Director Paul McGuigan tries his hardest to give this movie a cool, slick feel, but overall, can’t overcome all of the issues that the script has going on. While he gets a lot of play out having his movie shot on location in Hong Kong, the shame about this all is that he hardly gets a chance to use it to its fullest extent. Sure, there’s a few chase scenes through fish markets and narrow, over-crowded streets, but really, these scenes aren’t ever around as much to make an impression.

In all honesty, we just have to sit around and watch as these characters piss and mope about whatever problems they have and, you know, it’s nothing to ever care much about.

Which is to say that yes, despite the script thrown at them, everyone in the cast seems to be trying. Chris Evans, pre-Cap, was still trying to find his feet in Hollywood and not be type-cast as “a poor man’s Ryan Reynolds” and though he tries to inject his character that winning personality and charm of his, it doesn’t help. That’s nothing against him, though – it’s more that Nick Gant, the character, is way too bland and boring to ever register as a strong protagonist that we get behind and cheer on until the very end. We just sort of watch him move things every so often, then cry, and that’s it.

Oh well. Chris Evans is doing better things now, thankfully.

Together, they're not scary. Like at all.

Together, they’re not scary. Like at all.

Dakota Fanning gets to play an against-type role as a cranky smart-ass who can see the future and despite her seeming like she’s having a good time with it, it’s a terribly annoying role that just goes on and on without ever ceasing. She’s not funny, over-bearing and if anything, ruins just about ever scene she’s in; which, in something already as dreary as this, is definitely saying a whole lot. None of this is against Fanning, because she’s clearly on-board with this character, but the movie itself thinks she’s so hilarious, that they keep her going with the wisecracks and none of them ever conjur up a chuckle or two. Instead, it’s just sighs. And then, the always bland Camilla Belle shows up, hardly do anything; Djimon Hounsou shows up and tries to be scary, but never does; and Ming-Na Wen is, yet again, another worker who can feel happy that she’s apart of the Marvel universe.

But regardless of these performances, the true problem of Push lies with its screenplay. Writer David Bourla never seems to make sense of anything that’s happening and doesn’t even seem interested; he’d much rather try to distract us with random scenes of action and mutant-like things that, because we’re never fully explained on where they came from or what they’re capable of, are random. Bourla also tries to dive in deep into what all of the mytholgy surrounding these characters mean, and really, it never goes anywhere. All we know is that the government was up to some shady dealings and now, they want their product back. 

Or something.

Seriously, I’m still trying to figure out just what the hell this movie meant and why it went, where it went. But instead of focusing on it even more than I need to and wasting more of my precious time, I’m just going to say that, yeah, Push blows.

That’s it.

Consensus: Despite some fun and flash to be found, Push is a mostly dull affair, without much understanding of what’s happening, nor anything happening of actual interest.

2.5 / 10

Run from her, Chris! Hell, run away from this movie! Do what's best for you!

Run from her, Chris! Hell, run away from this movie! Do what’s best for you!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Cold Souls (2009)

Just take my soul already!

Paul Giamatti stars as a fictionalized version of himself, who is an anxious, overwhelmed actor who decides to enlist the service of a company to deep freeze his soul. Complications ensue when he wants his soul back, but mysteriously, his soul gets lost in a soul trafficking scheme which has taken his soul to St. Petersburg, making Paul have to venture all the way out there to see just what the hell is even going on in the first place.

What you see in the title, is exactly what you get in the movie’s tone. Seriously, don’t come expecting some minor laughs here and there, because the film really just doesn’t seem all that concerned with that aspect at all. It’s more about being dark, moody, bleak, and overall, pretty frigid in its portrayal of where our society may be turning towards. Actually, it’s a pretty far-fetched idea, but I could definitely imagine, just waking up one day, and wanting to be and have Brad Pitt’s soul.

Damn, now that I think about it, I hope this future does come to existence!

Here's a shot of Paul Giamatti being sad.

Here’s a shot of Paul Giamatti being sad.

This is the debut flick of Sophie Barthes who not only directs, but writes this flick as well and the information I was looking up for this said that apparently she had this idea in her dream. Now, I could only wish that any of my dreams had anything as ambitious lingering around in them, as apparently the ideas she has swimming in her brain when it’s sleepy-time, but considering that she’s working off of an idea that was probably no less than two minutes, I have to give the gal some credit because it’s pretty intriguing what she comes up with here. Even if the results don’t fully match the ambitions, you have to at least give her credit where credit’s due, because it’s sure as hell not easy to make a movie in today’s day and age – let alone one with as kooky of an idea as Cold Souls.

Barthes doesn’t paint a portrait of a future that’s groomed for doom, where people are in desperate need to be others, have different lives, and basically just erase or escape any type of life they have and don’t like. It’s sort of like the same ideas that went through mind-benders like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich, and although this one doesn’t really stack up anywhere near those masterpieces, Barthes at least tries to capture that Charlie Kaufman-esque nature of her material without really going overboard. There’s a lot of weird, sci-fi stuff going on here that’s definitely thoughtful, but it’s also grounded in a reality to where you feel like something could happen like this, had somebody gotten a more well thought-out plan. Barthes definitely deserves style-points on this one in terms of his screenplay, but damn, did we really need to be so sad the whole time?

The answer is no, but most people will probably disagree with me.

Even though the premise definitely promises a bunch of weird, wacky fun in the same light as a Kaufman flick, that promise never gets fulfilled. Instead, Barthes seems like she’s content with just focusing on the sad aspect of this story with long, gloomy shots of a snowy Russia, and an even more horrid-looking New York City that looks as if it hasn’t seen the sun in a decade. All of the colors in this movie feel like a mixture of soft blues and muddle grays, and as much as that may make this flick seem more depressing and sad, do we really want to feel like we, as well as the characters were watching, should just go kill themselves and get it all over with? I don’t think so, because even while you may have an interesting premise to work with, to just constantly hammer us over the head with your inherent seriousness about it can get pretty old.

And another, even despite the fact he's in the same bed as Emily Watson.

And another, even despite the fact he’s in the same bed as Emily Watson.

But even despite the actual lack of fun in this movie, probably the most disappointing aspect of this whole flick is that it brings up all of these questions, ideas, and messages about life and exactly where we are headed as a society, but loses them about half-way through once the last act kicks into high-gear; and then, it ends, just leaving everything up in the air. Listen, I’m totally game for any type of film that wants to bring up a lot of food-for-thought, have me doing thinking about what’s it trying to say, and eventually allowing me to go out with some people afterwards and talk it up, but this movie doesn’t even seem like it wants to give me that privilege. Even when that last act comes around and the movie oddly changes from this existential drama, into this mystery/romance/off-kilter comedy that now all of a sudden wants to please us, rather than having us contemplate jumping off the San Francisco bridge. It was a change in tone that not only felt phony, but showed that Barthes maybe backed-out on an ending, that could have answered a whole lot, and even left some more up for thought and discussion.

But nope, she didn’t even give us that.

What’s even more surprising than this change in tone, was how Paul Giamatti seemed to be a bit boring to watch as well. Granted, the guy isn’t given all that much to work with, other than a slew of shots of him just staring off into the space, looking all mopey and sad all of the time, but when the guy does need to liven things up, he does with that charm and wit we all know and love the guy for. His character (which is pretty much him, just not nearly as famous), is a downer and that’s why it’s pretty fun to see what happens to him when he switches souls, gets a little bit more energetic, and a bit more inspiration with how he lives his life and it’s one of the very rare moments in this flick where not only he comes alive, but the movie as well. Sadly, Barthes knocks his character back down to reality, and he becomes the same old, sad sap we started out with in the first place and it’s a bummer, because Giamatti’s always good and entertaining to watch. You just got to give him the right material that allows him to have some fun every once and awhile.

Consensus: Cold Souls deals with a very interesting idea about the current landscape of our society, but is too dour to really bring anybody into the world it’s trying to portray, nor does it really follow through on any of the rules it sets up to begin with.

5.5 / 10

And, yet again, another. But with snow!

And, yet again, another. But with snow!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Girlfriend Experience (2009)

Maybe Jenna Jameson truly does have an Oscar-winning performance in her somewhere.

Set in the weeks leading up to the 2008 presidential election, we are thrown into  five days in the life of Chelsea (Sasha Grey), an ultra high-end Manhattan call girl who offers more than sex to her clients, but companionship and conversation. Aka, “the girlfriend experience.”

Steven Soderbergh, god bless him, because he’s one of the last few original voices we have left in cinema who is absolutely willing to do whatever he wants, experiment as much as he can, and constantly challenge himself to even his own furthest limits. Not only does he make many jealous by the sort of skill he has, but also shows that all you really have to do when making movies, is to constantly be changing yourself up – not just to keep your fans guessing, but you as well.

However, even the lovely greats like Steven Soderbergh can sometimes fall flat on their faces with no one else to blame, but themselves.

Oh well.

Range.

Range.

The Girlfriend Experience is the exact kind of film you expect Soderbergh to create just in a way to test himself more and more. It honestly seems like he just picked up an HD camera, went out onto the streets. got some cash here and there, found some little-to-unknown actors to play roles, and started shooting a movie that he made up just in his head. This may seem like an exaggeration, but I really do think that’s exactly what Soderbergh did here and it’s pretty cool since a lot of what we see here in this film is pretty interesting, from a visual stand-point. The HD camera definitely gives New York City a certain gritty but polished, textured vibe to it, and I liked how Soderbergh didn’t feel the need to just move the camera around all that much. He just kept the camera there and let the story tell itself.

But style can only go so far when, you get right down to the brass tacks and realize that there’s hardly any story to work with. Which wouldn’t have been so bad for something that runs a lean, mean hour-and-a-half, but when you’re film hardly even comes close to 77 minutes, it feels like a waste of time; which is almost, if not worse, than an over-long, two-hour slog.

The problems mostly show in these characters, but most importantly, Chelsea. There’s a non-linear approach to the narrative that Soderbergh uses in a way that I can only imagine was on purpose so that he could distract us from the other problems lying within this story. But it also hurts Chelsea and the very few other characters here because we have very little time to actually get to know any of them, but we also have to endure seeing them in only little snippets here and there; most of which, don’t make any sense whatsoever until the final five minutes when things somehow come together. The approach is not used poorly, it just doesn’t help this story when it came to making us care for these characters and it ends up hurting the one character the most, Chelsea herself.

Actually, if there was anything in this movie that I didn’t believe in the most or even care for at all was the relationship she had with her actual boyfriend in this movie.

Even more range.

Even more range.

First and foremost, it’s downright unbelievable that a dude would actually allow his girlfriend to take a job where all she does is get treated to dinner by countless rich dudes, only to have sex with them moments later and complete the night. Maybe some dudes don’t mind this, but it seems pretty ridiculous here especially considering that this seems to be the only problem this character seems to be having with his girlfriend. He had to know what she was all about before, right? And if not, why stick with her when you finally figure out who all of those checks came from in the first place? Whatever the reasons here may have been, they didn’t make much sense to me and only allowed for the scope of this flick to seem all the more silly.

Still though, in true Soderbergh fashion, the guy does treat us to an actress who, believe it or not, for being a highly-qualified actress; I would have said she’s not widely known for “acting”, but type her name into any search database, and you’re more than likely going to find that out to be false and realize that, yes, Sasha Grey has indeed acted many times before the Girlfriend Experience. But instead, much rather than doing a lot of dirty, gratuitous sex for the sole pleasure of, well, pleasuring on-lookers, she’s actually thrown into a story, where she has to make us believe in her character, her motivations, and just exactly what kind of person we’re dealing with here. Soderbergh did the same thing with MMA fighter Gina Carano in Haywire and while that movie was definitely a bit different than this one, it’s still a trick on Soderbergh’s part that had to work, right?

Well, surprisingly, it kind of did.

That’s not to say that Grey’s amazing here; there are some small glimpses that she was heavily coached on how to emote and act for the camera, that she does fine with, but when it comes down to allowing us see any sort of subtlety in her character, her acting sort of comes undone. But considering that Grey has never been called on to do this much acting before, it’s interesting to see that she can handle this script and whatever Soderbergh calls on her to do. Sure, there’s still plenty of nudity, banging, and talking seductively – all things she’s used to doing in countless other flicks – but there’s something more to latch onto here that impressed me. Sasha Grey may not be an amazing actress just yet, but there’s still plenty of time for her to grow and believe it or not, I look forward to it.

Now, if only she can keep her clothes on.

Consensus: Though he seems to be trying his hardest to make it work in any way imaginable, the Girlfriend Experience still can’t help but feel like a misfire from Steven Soderbergh, albeit a very interesting and inspired one that at least benefits a bit from Sasha Grey’s stunt-casting.

4 / 10

Okay! Maybe she doesn't have the best range here, but she's not terrible, okay!

Okay! Maybe she doesn’t have the best range here, but she’s not terrible, okay?!?

Photos Courtesy of: League of Dead Films

State of Play (2009)

Bloggers can’t pull off stunts like this. Not even me. And I’m Dan the Man, dammit!

Washington D.C. reporter, Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) is the type of guy you want telling the news. He gets his facts straight, no bias-stance whatsoever, and he always seems to find an impressive hook on how to make it worth reading or caring about. The latest story that comes his way, puts him in a bit of a rough position because not only is one of his close friends involved with it, Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), but because it’s surprisingly a life-or-death situation that escalated to that level quite quickly. With young, hot-and-ready reporter Della Frye (Rachel McAdams), he’ll figure out who exactly was Collin’s mistress, whether her death was a suicide or a murder, why somebody would want her dead, and whether or not it’s even worth risking their life for. Then again though, he works at a newspaper, and I think any story, is a story worth telling, so he’ll go with what he can get.

"Be careful, Rachel. We all know what he does with phones when he's upset."

Be careful, Rachel. We all know what he does with phones when he’s upset.

Surely a movie about a newspaper industry seems already dated, way before conception and release, but that’s where this flick works so well. It is a modern-day thriller, where computers, the internet, smart phones, and texting reigns supreme; however, director Kevin MacDonald also frames this movie in a way that makes you feel like you’re watching one of those old-school, classy, and cool thrillers from the 70’s, where conspiracies ran high, and it was all up to the dedicated reporter to get the truth out. Nowadays, it seems like you go anywhere for any bits of news information, everybody knows about it and has reasoning/sources, but that makes it so sweet to get a flick that reminds us that the old methods of information-sharing still exists, even if it isn’t used quite as often as it once was. Then again, maybe being the fact that I’m a Journalism Major makes me more sympathetic to the issue.

Actually, that’s most likely the reason, but so be it!

Anyway, the film. What works well here is that even though it does seem to be very dense in every piece of detail, every clue, and every hint it throws at us, it never feels confusing. Practically, we are strung along on a trip of finding out anything we can about what’s going on, and are left in the dark about other stuff as well. We think we get the full picture more than a couple of times, and then, we are thrown right for a loop when a slight piece of info comes out and proves us wrong. It messes with our minds and has us curious by how it’s all going to pan-out; but it never feels manipulative.

Where most thrillers would make have conceit becomes over-used and overstay its welcome, MacDonald uses it more to his advantage, in a way to almost coax us into believing all that we hear and see as fact, and nothing but it. With most thrillers like these, we can’t always expect to take in all that’s thrown at us as pure fact, but we do have to believe in it, and I never felt like I was seeing a movie that went maybe a bit too over-zealous with its twists. Mainly, I always felt like MacDonald always knew what he was doing, what he wanted to show us, what he didn’t want to show us, what he wanted us to think at certain moments, and how he wanted us to feel when certain conclusions were made. Many times you’ll be surprised with where one twist will take you, but such is the skill of a thriller, when it’s a thriller done right. And to add on the fact that it’s a movie about the dedication and hardships that reporters take when it comes to getting their stories right, while also making sure to get them out there first; it’s almost like adding a cherry on top. Especially for me.

What can I say? I’m a sucker for these types of movies. Twisty-thrillers and movies about journalists!

But while the movie does work in keeping us on an unpredictable, turny path, it does show some weaknesses as well, ones that became more apparent to me once I got to thinking of them. First of all, I think that having the friendship-clash between Collins and McAffrey works as its own thing, so therefore, to throw in Collins’ wife to the mix, as to set-up some sort of love-triangle, feels manipulative and unnecessary. Don’t get me wrong, Robin Wright is solid as Collins’ wife, as she plays around with the feeling of being betrayed by her own husband, but also curious enough to get him right back. She’s the perfect form of snidely, evil, and sexy that I’ve ever seen from her, but her character doesn’t need to be used in this light, or even at all. She definitely brings on more guilt to the Collins character, but other than that: Not much else.

While I’m on the subject of the cast, let me just say that all-around, this is a very solid ensemble that feels as if they were hand-picked, for good reasons: 1.) they can all act, and 2.) they actually get a chance to show the mainstream world what they can do when they aren’t slumming themselves down for Hollywood. Russell Crowe seems like he’s a bit too brutish and tough to be taken seriously as this meek and soft, but determined reporter, but somehow, the guy pulls it off very believably. There’s an essence to his character where you know you can trust him to do the right thing, but you don’t quite know if he’s going to get coaxed into doing it, or not. Actually, that’s a pretty interesting point about his personality that movie brings up, but never really develops further, is the fact that not only does he have a job to do, which indicates responsibility, but he has a friend that he obviously cares for and wants to protect. So, basically: What does he do? Turn on his friend, and give the world the spicy story, no details left aside, or, does he stay true to his friend, and give the public a story that has him come out unscathed? The movie sheds this light a couple of times, but by the end, totally loses all sense of it and just stops worrying about it after awhile. Could have really done wonders for itself, but sadly, just does not.

Batman getting rough with Kal-El's daddy? Is this a sign of things to come?!?!

Batman getting rough with Kal-El’s daddy? Is this a sign of things to come?!?!

Boo.

Playing Congressman Stephen Collins is Ben Affleck, and I have to say, the guy does quite a swell job here. No, he’s not perfect and he isn’t as enthralling as you’d expect a conflicted-figure like his to be, but he does what the roles asks upon him to do: Show enough feeling to where you could be viewed upon as “sympathetic”, but not too weak to where you don’t seem like you couldn’t be a bit of a rat-bastard as well. With that idea, Affleck does wonders and shows the rest of the world that he can still act (even though by ’09, people already knew that).

Rachel McAdams is also a fiery-sword as the young and brass blogger that hops aboard this story, and seems to be really enjoying herself, whether it’s when she has her time on her own, or if she’s around fellow co-stars and gets a chance to strut her stuff. Either way, she holds her own and doesn’t come off as annoying, or way-too-in-over-her-head or anything along those lines. She’s just Rachel McAdams, and that’s perfect as is.

The rest of the stacked-cast is pretty awesome too, with some getting more notice than the others: I wish there was more of Helen Mirren, but then again, I feel like that could be a criticism for any movie, so I’ll leave it be with that; pre-Newsroom Jeff Daniels shows that he has the acting chops to, one minute, be playing a sophisticated charmer, and then the next minute, be as corrupt and evil as the same politicians he talks out against; Viola Davis gets a short, but sweet cameo as a morgue-employee; and Jason Bateman shows up all coked-up, high-living, and fun as one of Collins’ known-associates, and almost steals the movie all by himself. Almost.

Consensus: Sure, State of Play is nothing more than a classic-piece of deception, cheating, lying, and suspense, all placed around the idea of a newspaper, but for that reason, it’s still entertaining and compelling to watch.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

In this situation, I think Helen Mirren is the one to be feared the most.

In this situation, I think Helen Mirren is the one to be feared the most.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

A Prophet (2009)

Initiation in jail is just the same as initiation in frats. Except, in jail, you have to kill somebody. Then again, who knows about some frats.

Condemned to six years in prison, Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim), part Arab, part Corsican, cannot read or write. Cornered by the leader of the Corsican gang currently ruling the prison, he is given a number of “missions” to carry out, toughening him up and gaining the gang leader’s confidence in the process, which also leads him to make his own way of business. And eventually, little Malik becomes big, bad Malik and before he knows it, ends up becoming the top dog in the prison. But, as usual, when one becomes the top dog, you always got to check every corner you turn down.

Prison movies – we’ve seen ’em all, we know what they do, and yet, they hardly ever get boring. That is exactly the way I felt going into this movie because I know that there is only so much one person can do with the whole prison movie subgenre, but somehow, co-writer/director Jacques Audiard found a way to do so.

"Pretty birds...."

“Pretty birds….”

And also make me want to really re-watch some Oz.

What’s so great about this film is how it draws you in right from the start. We don’t get any back-story, no flash-backs, or any type of reasons given for why this kid is in jail, and we don’t really need to; all we know is that he’s in jail, he’s a bad kid, and he’s going to have to survive for the next six years of being locked up. This whole introduction brings you right into the world/setting that you’re going to stuck with for the next two-and-a-half-hours and no matter how dirty, no matter how disgusting, and no matter how vile it may get, you just cannot look away. This is just one of those gritty tales that starts off strong, brings you into it’s atmosphere, and never lets go of you, even if it does try to stretch out its ambitions every once and awhile. However, in the end, this is your typical prison movie, just with an extra addition of grit.

The best way to sum this film up would be to call it a combination of Goodfellas and The Shawshank Redemption. The whole story revolves around this one kid who does anything that he can to just survive and live out his six-year sentence, but soon realizes that he has to be apart of a bunch of mobsters in order to do so. Meaning, he has yo do whatever he can to survive, which usually entails climbing the mobster-ladder, trying to make more money, trying to gain more respect, and most of all, trying to just stay alive in a prison that feels like hell on Earth. It all sounds so predictable, but it’s surprisingly not and features a character that we sympathize with early on and keep with, even if he does make some nasty, brutal decisions here and there.

But he feels real, and that’s mostly why he works and can mostly keep us in his corner practically the whole time. As soon as he’s thrown into prison, we see a young punk who is very scared of his surroundings and has no idea what to do, but then musters up the courage to start doing all of these monstrous actions to gain some respect in prison. He’s not the nicest kid actually; he’s greedy, he’s selfish, he’s a cold-blooded killer, and he doesn’t really think about others before himself, but for some odd reason, we always root for him and just want him to live on. That is probably the biggest strength of this movie and Audiard’s direction, it’s that we always feel sympathy for a kid that doesn’t seem like he even deserves it in the first place. This movie probably would have cracked and been less interesting, had it not been for the development done to him and for that, I gotta say, “Well-done, Frenchies!”

"Dammit! Sat on the ketchup packets again!"

“Dammit! Sat on the ketchup packets again!”

And of course, I also have to give plenty of credit to Tahar Rahim, who does quite an awesome job as Malik because the guy is called out to do a lot of things with this character, and he somehow makes it all work in a believable way. He goes from being this scared, sheltered little kid in a very big and mean place, to becoming a dirty, slimy, and brutal bastard that takes over the prison in a way that would seem unbelievable, had it been any other story and any other character. There’s also a lot of personality to this guy to where you can actually see why the film is mainly focused on him, and the whole story surrounds everything he does, whether it be good or bad.

As good as Rahim is though, the real scene-stealer of the whole movie just so happens to be Niels Arestrup as the prison-mafia kingpin, César Luciani, who takes Malik under his wing from the start. What surprised me so much about Arestrup is that this guy does not look any bit of intimidating; he’s stoutly, he’s in desperate need of a shave/shape-up, walks around like he’s got something in his pants, and in all honesty, looks like my pop-pop, if my pop-pop was homeless and an alcoholic. So basically, if you saw this guy walking down the street, you would not fear for your life one bit but somehow, Arestrup makes us feel that with his character in every scene he’s in. The guy obviously shows you that he has power and control in this prison and lets you know, early on, that he’s not messing around when he orders you to go kill some guy, and he makes sure you don’t forget who the boss of this prison is and if you double-cross him, you better hope to the heavens that you get the hole, and even that won’t save your life. It’s really strange to see Arestrup play such a manic-like role here, whereas in something like War Horse, he played this sympathetic, grand-pappy figure that seemed to cry a little too much the whole film. Even though this movie came out before that one, it’s still nice to see a change of pace for an actor that obviously seems like he could have a big career just playing any type of role he wanted.

Consensus: It’s a long one, but if you stick with it, A Prophet is not only worth your time and effort for the small spin it puts on the prison genre, but also because of the performances for these fully-detailed characters.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

Not the line for the soup kitchen, fellas. Move it along.

Not the line for the soup kitchen, fellas. Move it along.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au