Sunday, December 30, 2007

Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem

Dark, dark, dark, shaky, someone gets killed, dark, dark....That about sums up the ostenato found in this awful sequel. I feel I may loose some credibility saying this, but I kind of enjoyed the first one. It was dark (thematically), isolated, and in a really interesting Antarctic setting. It reminded me a bit of John Carpenter's Thing. Requiem, however, was dark in hue only, and featured an uninspired cast that I was losing track of even as their ranks were being thinned. Even if you're looking for a brainless action movie, avoid this one like it's a Predalien.

The plot (if you can venture to even call it that) this time out has one Predator trying to quell an alien outbreak in a small mountain town. The humans, of course, are again caught in the middle. Directors Colin and Greg Strauss are visual effects wizards who have worked on dozens of films. They are experts at their craft, but unfortunately being good with effects does not necessarily translate into being good at directing.

It was an interesting concept of having one Predator act as a cleanup crew. They even named him "The Wolf" in an homage to Pulp Fiction. It's a bad sign, though, when the most interesting character never says a word. In fact, I'm not even going to get into the cast list because there's too many people, and none of them have screen time of any importance. I would have no way of even determining who the main characters were. The funny part is...I don't care.

I can't give this a complete zero, because that's is reserved for a select few movies that have absolutely no redeeming qualities. I believe I've only given out four of those. The effects in this movie were very well done. I just can't fathom any of their decisions in this piece of garbage. Killing off the only romantic interests? Seeding an already pregnant women with aliens? Or what about destroying the whole city? In case you have no idea what the Predalien I referred to earlier is, it's a hybrid between the two. Don't worry, they ending was left not only open for a sequel, but requiring one.


Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

This marks the sixth collaboration between Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. It seems that all of their Gothic styled previous outings (Sleepy Hollow, Edward Scissor Hands, etc) have been leading up to this. This most bizarre hybrid of horror, drama, musical, and even a little comedy create the perfect fodder for this well seasoned team.

The story of Sweeney Todd dates back to the mid eighteen hundreds. It is the story of Benjamin Barker, and man wronged by a judge. Years later he seeks revenge by opening a barber shop and killing customers in his chair- all in hopes of getting to the judge. In various versions he has a partner, Mrs. Lovett (played in this version by Burton's significant other and frequent collaborator, Helena Bonham Carter), who bakes the dead bodies into meat pies and sells them in her restaurant. The story is a clear commentary on class divisions in 19th century London, and the vapid living conditions in the city. Not only is he trying to exact revenge on a corrupt government official, but he is also killing the rich and feeding them to the poor. Seems like a pretty bitter commentary to me.

It wasn't until 1979 that composer/playwright Steven Sondheim got hold of the material and turned it into the version we are familiar with today. His musical is filled quirky, memorable, and sometimes haunting songs. His music and requires much more appreciation than most musical fare. The surprising part was that it took almost thirty years for a major movie release of it (there were some TV and non-musical versions made in that duration). I'm glad it fell into the ample hands of Tim Burton. Nobody but him could do this movie justice.

First of all, everybody can sing. Depp's and Carter's characters don't have the vocal gymnastics you would expect from Andrew Lloyd Webber. That was left up to newcomers Jayne Wisener and Jamie Campbell Bower, who play Todd's daughter and her suitor. In fact, Campbell took the lead on my favorite song in the musical. Some humor is variously inserted throughout the movie, especially during some of the musical numbers. Sacha Baron Cohen (of Borat fame) plays a rival barber in all of his over dramatic glory. His song garnered more than a few laughs from the audience. His apprentice (played by 14 years old Ed Sander) navigated through several numbers that would have left most people tongue tied. Perhaps my favorite scene was the unlikely duet between Depp and Alan Rickman (the judge that had wronged him) in the barber chair.

Besides the utter absurdity of the plot, and the even more absurd idea of it being a musical, there were some rather funny moments in the relationship between Todd and Lovett. He plays out an incredibly dramatic imaginary musical number, and she patiently waits for him to be done. Or the scene when the two of them sing about what the people pies will taste like. It's this sort of sick humor that gives the characters a feeling of hopelessness. When the characters are singing about cannibalism, it shows just how dark the society is in which they are living.

If you strip away all the music and the supporting characters, Sweeny Todd is a classic tragic hero. He becomes so engrossed in his own obsession that it leads to his downfall. Depp plays this very well, and everybody else plays off him equally well. Burton creates a dark portrayal of 1800s London. The only vibrant colors in the movie occur during an escapist dream sequence- one I could have done without. Aside from this the only color is in their blood-shot eyes, Cohen's flamboyant clothes, and the blood.

You didn't think I would write a review without talking about the blood did you? There was a lot of this, making it well worthy of its R rating. The blood was very cartoony, but if you're squeamish, you should probably steer clear. The movie combines some wonderful talents we're already familiar with (Depp, Rickman, Carter, Burton, etc) and some very promising rising stars (Wisener, Bower, Sanders). If you can handle the violence, see the movie. If you can't, get the soundtrack. It's not quite the same, but you'll still enjoy it.


Saturday, December 29, 2007

National Treasure: Book of Secrets

Nicholas Cage returns in the inevitable sequel to 2004's National Treasure. Like its predecessor, this movie is a paint by numbers hybrid of Indiana Jones and The Da Vinci Code. That worked okay the first time around. This time, however, it fell flat. It lacked adventure and ingenuity found in the first one, and runs over two hours- something a simple action/adventure movie should never do. Or something a Nicholas Cage movie should never do.

Book of Secrets re-assembles almost the entire cast from the first one. In addition to Cage as treasure hunter Ben Gates, Justin Bartha, Diane Kruger, Jon Voight, and Harvey Keitel all return. They are up to their old tricks, except this time Gates and his crew are setting our to prove the innocence of his ancestor in the Lincoln assassination. For some reason this requires him finding one of the biggest treasures in the history of civilization- again. This time an emaciated Ed Harris makes an appearance as Mitch Wilkinson, a rival treasure hunter. Unfortunately, the motivation for his actions in this movie is razor thin. Rounding out the cast is Helen Mirren as Gates' mother. Not exactly The Queen, but I'll forgive her cause she brought a little sparkle to the movie.

I thought this might be another holiday popcorn movie. It's always fun watching someone figure out puzzles and the dynamics between Gates and his recently estranged wife (Kruger) were charming at first. This quickly lost my interest, however. I'm not sure if it was when they broke into Buckingham Palace, or the Oval Office, or maybe when they kidnapped the president. It doesn't matter, each was more absurd than the last. This was only matched by the absurdity of the clues, and the characters solving them. Why would someone inscribe a clue on a statue after it was useful, and so cryptic that those it was intended for could not even figure it out? I don't know, but somehow Gates was able to decipher it in a matter of seconds. Or why would this all exonerate his ancestor?

Plot holes aside, there were some fun moments. Not since Indiana Jones: Last Crusade was a scene in a library so cool. And despite how unrealistic it was, one of the puzzles towards the end was really inventive. This is about what I would have expected from Jerry Bruckheimer and John Turtletaub. There was just too much length, with not nearly enough substance to make it worth while.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Golden Compass

Now I haven't read the book, so I can't really comment on the faithfulness of the movie to its source material. I'm under the impression that much was left out, as the movie progressed fairly quickly without explaining much- aside from simply telling us "This is how it is, so accept it." This is okay, however, since it's a fantasy story. You have to do into it, suspend your disbelief, and don't think too much about it afterwards.

It's very difficult to quickly summarize this movie adapted from the first installment of Phillip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy. In short, it is about a mythical world where all the citizens have a demon (an animal that is attached to everything they do) and where an iron fisted magistrate controls almost every aspect of society. Daniel Craig stars as Lord Asriel, an academic set on disobeying the magistrate. He is researching a mysterious substance known as dust, something the government is trying to cover up. His niece, Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards) is on a mission of her own, finding children who have been taken during the night. She is truly the lead in this movie, setting off on an adventure that will introduce her to a wide array of characters and landscapes.

The strongest part of this movie was the acting. That's right, we have a new Dakota on our hands now- same age as Fanning, and just as good. Nicole Kidman plays a villainous, but conflicted extension of the ministry. She does what she does best- bring human characteristics to a generally unlikeable character. The rest of the movie is filled with a stellar cast, in perplexing small roles. Craig was not in much of the movie, but I'm sure his character will come into play much more in the sequels. Freddie Highmore (starring in August Rush) lends his voice to Lyra's demon, Pan. Ian McKellen is the voice of Lorek Byrnison, the polar bear featured so prominently in the trailers. Sam Elliot plays what else- a cowboy. His character is joyous, but horribly out of place in the context of the rest of the movie. Kathy Bates contributes her voice as Elliot's demon. Even Christopher Lee is in this, with no more than one or two lines. Even in the most minor roles, the cast was a huge priority in this movie.

As with any movie of this scale, huge stock was put in the visual effects. Rhythm and Hues (The Chronicles of Narnia, Night at the Museum) contributed world class effects and animation. The movie features a huge cast of computer generated demons, each with its unique look and personality. The greatest compliment to be paid to these artists is not saying how good these effects looked, but how good the characters were. The minute you stop thinking of them as effects, and think of them as characters, they've succeeded.

There has been tremendous controversy surrounding this movie and its source material. Pullman's books have been accused of being anti-Christian, and certain groups have spoken out against the movie. Director, Chris Weitz, made a conscious effort to distance the movie from these themes. Having not known about this controversy, I would have never drawn any connections to this issue. Despite toning down this controversy, the movie is still not for children. The movie is violent and in a few cases, graphically so. It's no Lord of the Rings, or Braveheart, but it's also not as tame as Harry Potter. A movie that has a cast featuring very strong children seems to be good.

It was a fun, interesting movie, but not without its flaws. As I mentioned earlier, even though it's fantasy, it still should have done more to explain why things are how they are. I'm hoping some of this is cleared up in the sequel,


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Bring it On: In It to Win It

In an earlier post I picked Saw as the next franchise to reach a tenth installment. Changed my mind- Bring It On will reach that prestige long before. This is the fourth installment of the series, but with them being released straight to video, there's little slowing them down. I've seen the first and the third movies, and out of all of them, this has been the worst.

Believe it or not, the movie revolves around two rival cheer-leading squads, and a big cheer competition. This time, however, there is a romantic entanglement between Carson (Ashley Benson) leader of the Sharks, and Penn (Michael Copon) a member of the Jets. The Sharks and the Jets? Ugh. A curse befalls the two teams, and they are forced to work together and form a single squad- the Shets. I was really really hoping that the name was supposed to be a joke, but I don't think it was. Any sort of romantic conflict between the two warring families ends at this point.

The movie is filled with all sorts of delightful phrases such as "Cheer smack down," "Cheer-tastrophy," "Cheer rumble" (That scene was straight out of West Side Story), "Cheer-off," you want me to keep going? Thought not. Very little in this movie is even worth mentioning, except to say- if you like cheer-leading movies, go ahead and watch this. Most people, however, may get more enjoyment from my idea for a crossover between the two most over worked series out there. Bring It On: The Land Before Time.


Charlie Wilson's War

Charlie Wilson's War combines a number of great talents into a winning piece of cinema. Mike Nichols' directing, Aaron Sorkin's writing, the talents of Tom Hanks, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Julia Roberts, and the true story this is based all contribute greatly to the success of this piece.

The story is about Charlie Wilson (Hanks), a senator from Texas who teams up with Gust Avrakatos (Hoffman) a CIA operative, and Joanne Herring (Roberts) a Texas socialite to wage an almost single handed war on the Soviet army invading Afghanistan. The three of them manage to shape policy, direct money, and somehow orchestrate cooperation among half a dozen Middle Eastern countries- all while keeping everything under the radar. It's a brilliant study on the workings of congress, and had it not been a true story, it would have bordered on farce worthy of Dr. Strangelove.

Tom Hanks is, of course, always amazing. That goes without saying. Julia Roberts plays pretty typical Julia Roberts, and I didn't find myself having much empathy with her character. Hoffman is fast proving himself to one of the great actors, and his cynical, yet zen-like role here is evidence of that. Finally, Amy Adams is cast as Wilson's assistant, Bonnie. This was a small role, but she functioned rather well as a foil to Wilson's outlandish behavior. It's his staff that keeps his political career alive.

I honestly can't believe Sorkin and Nichols hadn't worked together before. Nichols directed such political gems as Wag the Dog, and Catch-22. Sorkin is of course the mind behind the West Wing television series. They both brought to the table wonderful wit, while still commenting on a rather dark topic. It was very interesting seeing one representation of how Congress may have worked (and may still work). In the movie, it's all about favors, and Wilson was owed more favors than anyone. Votes are not determined necessarily by the issues themselves, but by whoever is willing to return a favor.

The movie had even more poignancy now than if it had been made several years ago, given the current hostilities towards America in the region. On top of the studies in character and Congress itself, Charlie Wilson's war is an interesting study in repercussions. What seems bad at first may turn out for the best, and what seems to be very good, may not be in the end. "We'll see."


Saturday, December 22, 2007


Enchanted is a twist on the old tales of the damsel in distress and Prince Charming. This movie combines traditional animation in one part, and live action in the other. The animated characters are thrust into our world- a world that is certainly no fairy tale.

Amy Adams stars as Giselle, the aforementioned damsel. She is all set to marry her Prince Edward (James Marsden), even planning him rescuing her in distress. On her wedding day, however, Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon) pushes her into a well that transports her to modern day New York. Edward soon follows, as does Nathaniel (Timothy Fall) close friend of the prince, but secretly a toady for the Queen. In New York Giselle meets Robert Phillip (Patrick Dempsey) and his daughter (Rachel Covoy). Apparently he's also McDreamy to her, because she begins questioning her relationship with Edward, and her whole concept of love.

I really enjoyed this movie. It was cute, and was certainly not your typical approach to a fairy tale- live action or animated. It deals with the characters questioning themselves, and it doesn't turn out how any of them expect. Of course there are the obligatory gags found in any fairy tale. Forest critters help Giselle clean Robert's apartment, Edward slays a formidable beast- which turns out to be a bus, and the poison apple is replaced by a poison appletini. Perhaps best of all is the role of Edwards furry side-kick- a squirrel that, logically enough, loses his ability to talk and sounds like a squirrel in the real world. Little self-conscious tidbits like this really made the movie.

Enchanted kept me entertained throughout- something that is becoming ever increasingly difficult to do. And there's little doubt in my mind that the plethora of gags, and lovely animation will keep young and old audience entertained. It combines sight gags, with mature innuendos that may be inappropriate, but are also above the heads of young children. This is a difficult line to tread, but Enchanted does it quite well.

Director, Kevin Lima, brought years of Disney experience to the table, most notably being a character designer on Oliver and Company and the Little Mermaid. Enchanted thankfully keeps that Disney style alive, even with their 2D department currently closed. But of course, that's not all that holds this movie together. As with any good movie, the story is king. In this movie, the royal family of story, acting, and animation are all enchanted.


Friday, December 21, 2007


This movie passed through theaters without much fanfare this Summer. I was actually not going to spend the time to review it, if not for two reasons. The first is that it is now out on DVD, and I'm sure plenty of youngens will be yearning for a copy. The second is that this is the first of three movies I'm sitting down to review that feature Amy Adams. Just to give a heads up, they're also going from worst to best.

The movie is based on the classic cartoon character with one twist. He's a real dog this time. Underdog (voiced by Jason Lee) was caught in a lab accident giving him super powers (evidently including the ability to talk). He comes to find an owner in Jack Unger (Alex Neuberg). The two of them team up to stop Dr. Barsinister (Peter Dinklage), the man responsible for Underdog's powers. All the while Alex is trying to hook up with Molly (Taylor Momsen) and Polly (Amy Adams), Molly's dog.

I really think this could have been okay had it been a fully animated movie. Instead, it was live action with some mediocre visual effects. There were some entertaining throwbacks to the original series. Underdog's name is Shoeshine (a reference to his occupation in the series), speaking in rhyme, and his love interest-Polly. Unfortunately Frederik Du Chau's attempt at an update just succeeded at taking all the fun out of it.

Patrick Warburton is again the best part of the movie. Even in the worst movies, he is downright hilarious. This time, he stars as an inept sidekick to Barsinister. His presence makes this movie almost bearable. That is until you remember the rest of the movie. The main problem with Underdog is that it took a beloved cartoon character, and made it a dull visual effects piece without any of the charm of the original.


Friday, December 14, 2007

5 Minute clip from Cloverfield

I Am Legend

This is the latest iteration of Richard Matheson's 1954 novel of the same name. This is essentially the book that gave birth to the apocalyptic zombie story. Everything from George Romero's Living Dead series, to Resident Evil, to 28 Days Later their existences to this novel. I Am Legend is only the second version of the story I've seen (the other one being Charlton Heston's Omega Man), but this one was far superior.

I have dubbed 2007 the year of the one man show, with 1408, Into the Wild, and now I Am Legend. Will Smith stars as Robert Neville, a military scientist trying to contain an global virus (a cancer vaccine gone awry). Most of the movie is spent with him being the sole survivor (along with his dog) in the ruins of New York City, continuing his research to try to cure this virus. Of course he's not actually alone. Hiding in the shadows, and emerging only at night is a race of infected people who for simplicity sake, I'll just call zombies. It's a game of cat and mouse, as Neville rules the day, and the zombies rule the night. Turns out they're a lot smarter than he gave them credit.

I Am Legend delves more into the human condition than any zombie movie I've ever seen. This immediately puts it leagues ahead of most zombie fare. Neville talks to mannequins and his dog to prevent himself from going crazy. No end of the world movie I've seen explores this isolation and loneliness as this one did. Unfortunately, this doesn't last long. By the mid-point, the creatures begin emerging more and more, and it becomes just another horror flick.

Then we are introduced to two new characters, Anna (Alice Braga) and her son, Ethan (Charlie Tahan). They are traveling to a supposed survivors' colony. This creates an unnatural, and uninspired dichotomy between the two of them. Oh well, I guess they couldn't keep Neville alone for the entire movie.

It was quite haunting to see New York City as a ghost town (take Vanilla Sky and multiply it by a hundred). They reportedly spent $6 million just shutting down and transforming different areas of the city. Unfortunately some of the other visual effects weren't done nearly as well, with the creatures acting a bit too cartoony, and some very obvious CG work.

I appreciate one technique they tried to employ- non-linearity. Francis Lawrence, in his second feature flips back and forth between before the outbreak, and after. This worked for a bit to keep some important events from the audience as long as possible to build suspense. Unfortunately, what it builds up to is obvious long before we see it. This results in a fairly climactic moment- being fairly anti-climactic. In general, though, the movie is handed quite well by Lawrence.

I Am Legend makes attempts to reach beyond the typical zombie movie. It delves into isolation, and paranoia, and even religious themes. In the end, though, these ideas aren't fully explored. This does possibly go down as a definitive zombie movie of recent years.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Golden Globe Nominees

American Gangster
Eastern Promises
The Great Debaters
Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

Across the Universe
Charlie Wilson's War
Sweeney Todd

Tim Burton, Sweeney Todd
Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men
Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Ridley Scott, American Gangster
Joe Wright, Atonement

George Clooney, Michael Clayton
Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
James McEvoy, Atonement
Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises
Denzel Washington, American Gangster

Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Julie Christie, Away From Her
Jodie Foster, The Brave One
Angelina Jolie, A Mighty Heart
Keira Knightley, Atonement

Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd
Ryan Gosling, Lars and the Real Girl
Tom Hanks, Charlie Wilson's War
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Savages
John C. Reilly, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

Amy Adams, Enchanted
Nikki Blonsky, Hairspray
Helena Bonham Carter, Sweeney Todd
Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose
Ellen Page, Juno

Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson's War
John Travolta, Hairspray
Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton

Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There
Julia Roberts, Charlie Wilson's War
Saiorse Ronan, Atonement
Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone
Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton

Diablo Cody, Juno
Ethan and Joel Coen, No Country for Old Men
Christopher Hampton, Atonement
Ronald Hardwood, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Aaron Sorkin, Charlie Wilson's War

Bee Movie
The Simpsons Movie

4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (Romania)
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (France/U.S.)
The Kite Runner (U.S.)
Lust, Caution (Taiwan)
Persepolis (France)

Eastern Promises
Grace is Gone
Into the Wild
The Kite Runner

''That's How You Know,'' Enchanted
''Grace Is Gone,'' Grace Is Gone
''Guaranteed,'' Into the Wild
''Despedida,'' Love In the Time of Cholera
''Walk Hard,'' Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

No Country For Old Men

The Cohen Brothers finally created a perfect companion piece to Fargo. It's been six or seven years since their last good movie (The Man Who Wasn't There), and they are back in full force. No Country, adapted from Cormac McCarthy's novel of the same name, teams of up the brothers with Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson, Josh Brolin, Kelly MacDonald, and in perhaps the most terrifying role ever- Javier Bardem. This is one of the best movies I've seen in a long time, but despite its recent Golden Globe best picture nomination, I don't see it holding up against an all around powerhouse like American Gangster.

This ultra-violent, tex-mex flavored movie features a winning ensemble cast. Brolin stars as Llewelyn Moss, a simple blue collared worked who stumbles across a drug deal gone wrong. In addition to several bodies, he discovers $2 Million. This sets into motion a cross country chase with Anton Chigurh (Bardem), a cold blooded killer hired to retrieve the money. Tommy Lee Jones stars as Sheriff Bell, a third generation lawman, functioning as the observational voice much like Frances McDormand's character, Marge, was in Fargo. Bell is continually one step behind Chigurh, forced to pick up the pieces in his trail of destruction. Harrelson makes a short appearance as Carson Wells, another hired gun, this time sent to track down Chigurh who is now considered unreliable.

The violence aside, this is a very interesting study on human nature. Why do people act the way they do? Chigurh has a certain twisted set of morals. Despite all the pain he inflicts, he always is true to his word. Moss perhaps the most human of any of the characters, tries to do what's best for him and his wife (Macdonald), short of giving up the money that is. Bell is very similar to Morgan Freeman's detective in Seven. He's waiting out retirement, jaded and stoic.

Like all of the Cohen's movies, this one is filled with razor sharp wit. Throughout there are expertly crafted conversations with lines such as:

"That's very linear sheriff"
"Well, age will flatten a man."

"Just how dangerous is he?"
"Compared to what? The Bubonic Plague?"

"You've seen him? And you're not dead? Huh."
"Who's this guy supposed to be, the ultimate badass?"
"Well I don't think that's how I would describe him."
"Well how would you describe him?"
"Well I guess I'd say he doesn't have a sense of humor."

These are just a few of the brilliantly written lines, brining in a sense of humor to an otherwise very dark movie. At its core, it seems that No Country for Old Men is about the cruelty of the world, and the progression of time. As time goes on, life gets meaner and meaner. As was spoken in the movie: "You can't stop what's coming." Even if we don't understand this, we have to accept it.


The most R Rated Trailer Ever

Sorry, but I just had to post this. I don't think I've ever seen a trailer more inappropriate for any audience. It's for Alien Vs. Predator Requiem. This is not the one they're showing on TV.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Fred Clause

This is 2007's answer to The Santa Clause franchise. This movie deals with Santa's family, including his older brother, Fred. Good holiday movies have been in short supply in recent years, and this addition at least makes an effort to rectify this. It's not entirely successful, but at least it's not "Jingle All the Way"

Paul Giamatti was an interesting choice for Santa. It works in that he brings a more realistic tone to the character, though he sometimes comes across more as a curmudgeon than jolly old Saint Nick. Maybe it's just that Giamatti timbre we've all come to know. Fred is typical Vince Vaughan- the slacker with a heart of gold. At least here, there's actually motivation for his character to act the way he does. His entire life he's been upstaged by his younger brother. After a series of misfortunes, he goes to the North Pole to help Santa prepare for Christmas. This could not come at a worse time. Clyde (Kevin Spacey) is an efficiency expert sent by the board to determine whether they are going to keep Santa Clause on or not. I'm not sure what "board" he represents, but he said they already dumped the Easter Bunny, so maybe it's some Christian/Hallmark board of directors? Regardless, this is a pretty funny concept. As is absolutely required with this premise, Fred proceeds to turn the North Pole upside down.

You can tell what movie this is from the end of the exposition. The lines stating that with Sainthood comes immortality for you and all your family, and that none of you age, sums up the mentality of the movie. Any questions about plot holes or unbelievability are to be answered by "magic."

The movie drags a bit as it gets closer to the end,and the 2 hour running time might bore some of the younger ones- especially for a cookie cutter Christmas movie. However the performances by Giamatti, Spacey, and Kathy Bates (as Santa and Fred's mother) can be appreciated by older audiences. It seems that they main problem with the movie is that it tries to split its target audience, not fully appealing to either one. Sight gags are a plenty when elves are involved, and the reconciliation of the Fred and Santa attempts to create a theme of family values. Nothing really pans out, though. Not a great movie, but as far as holiday fair goes- not terrible.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007


From the opening slates stating that every year such and such number of people go under anesthesia, and every year such percentage are awake the whole time, I knew that I was ready for the movie to be over. This opening was just short of saying this was based on a true story. Does that mean we're going to immediately start feeling for the star, Hayden Christensen? Sorry, didn't work on me.

I can't tell much about the plot, because it is filled with some twists. Essentially, it's about a very rich and powerful heir going under the knife for a heart transplant. He then suffers from anesthesia awareness, resulting in him being conscious, yet paralyzed during the operation. How does he handle this? Somehow he makes it through by screaming to himself, "it's only pain." Somehow all that pain vanished in time for him to be able to overhear a plot to kill him during his operation. And that's all I'm gonna tell you about the plot.

I really don't Hayden Christensen (except for his role in Life as a House), and this movie continues that streak. It seems fitting he'd be paired with the sexy, yet vapid Jessica Alba. Finally, add Terrence Howard, the actually decent actor who's been in six other movies this year. Him, and Lena Olin (playing Christensen's mother) are the only two characters with any sort of convincing emotional struggle. And the audience still doesn't care all that much about them.

There were some interesting directorial techniques from Joby Harold. He blurred the lines between time periods, consciousness, and reality. Scenes with Christensen leaving his body and witnessing events he could not possibly know about were a little troubling, but they were a little reminiscent of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I was able to suspend my disbelief for this, and actually appreciate it. Unfortunately, the interesting directing doesn't make up much for a mediocre script, and terrible acting. Thankfully, it has a merciful 80 minute run-time. If it stuck around any longer, Awake could be a perfect cure for insomnia.


Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium

This is possibly the best children's movie I have seen in a long time. Zach Helm, in his directorial debut, crafts a world of wonder not seen since Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory- and this one isn't creepy as hell. You can't help but feel like a kid and leave with a smile on your face.

Dustin Hoffman plays Mr. Magorium, the owner the titular Emporium. After an over 200 year career, he is thinking of leaving his store to Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman) the manager. I will say it's a bit difficult to watch her in a children's movie after seeing her in Closer. Enter Henry Weston (Jason Bateman), the exasperated accountant who is charged with organizing the store's financial records. Of course, he doesn't believe any of the magic surrounding the store (real magic, not the "illusions" his Arrested Developmental brother Gob created). In the midst of this shakeup, strange things start happening to the store.

There are a lot of undertones to this movie. Mahoney is a struggling musical prodigy, and must decide between following her dreams, or taking over the store. Weston is grounded in the real world and is unable to see the wonders going on around him. Throw into the mix Magorium facing his own mortality, and Eric Applebaum (Zach Mills), a nine-year old patron struggling with loneliness, and you get a whimsical movie filled with a lot of rather serious texts. All of these characters work so well together, bouncing opposing personalities and traits off each other. Mahoney is drawn between the far-out wonder of Magorium, and the analytic nature of Weston.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect out of this movie, but I loved it. It made me smile, and it actually made me feel good. Despite the movie being oh so fun, it deals with issues children and adults face- the loss of innocence and imagination, as well as isolation and loneliness. Go see this movie, and enjoy.


Wednesday, December 5, 2007


There's clearly nothing special about this by-the-numbers horror flick, and there's certainly not much original in it. But, it is kind of creepy, and the locale lends itself really well to a scary movie. As a matter of fact, I can't believe I haven't seen a parking garage horror movie before now. P2 is like the parking garage episode of Seinfeld gone horribly horribly awry.

Workaholic Angela Bridges (Rachel Nichols) is working late on Christmas Eve and finds herself locked in the parking garage. Of course she's not alone, and the movie quickly decomposes into the standard story of the heroine trying to escape the psychopath. Both Bridges and her pursuer (Wes Bently) use the parking garage to their advantage. Director Franck Khalfoun also uses the parking to his advantage fully integrating the location into the action of the movie. The entire movie hinges on the claustrophobia and isolation induced in a parking garage. Many people already have fears about these structures, and this movie would certainly not help.

The first twenty minutes or so progressed very nicely. It built atmosphere and really worked to isolate the main character. Once Bently entered the picture, however, it all devolves into a standard horror flick. I expected this movie to be more of a psychological thriller, but it certainly disappointed on that front. It was a lot more gory than I was hoping. It seems that today even a movie with this much potential doesn't take advantage of it.


Into the Wild

I had to spend a little time thinking about this movie after I saw it. I was underwhelmed when I watched it, but after mulling it over for a bit, I grew to like it more and more. It was a tad long, coming in at almost 2 and a half hours, and there were some techniques used that I didn't really care for, but overall, it was very successful.

This is the true story of Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) who after graduating college, gave up all of his possessions, and took off traveling West on a journey that eventually took him to Alaska. The movie flips back and forth through time between him in Alaska, and his adventure getting there. It also flips back and forth between the characters McCandless meets along the way, and the family he left behind.

This is clearly Sean Penn's pet project that he was wanted to make for a long time. I would wager that he wanted to play McCandless himself, but it took ten years to get the project signed off on. By that time Penn was far too old to play the character. That's okay, because Hirsch plays the role amazingly well in what is essentially a one-man-show. Like Christian Bale, he fully immerses himself in his roles. Hirsch did all of his own stunts, and lost over 40 pounds for the part. This left Penn free to focus entirely on directing, which he did very well. Everything was shot on location, including three separate trips to Alaska for three different seasons.

McCandless met some of the most interesting people along the way. Whether it was Wayne Westerberg (Vince Vaughn) the farmer in North Dakota he worked for, Rainey and Jan (Brian Dierker, and Catherine Keener), the aging hippies, or Ron Franz (Hal Holbrook) the elderly man who wanted to take him in as his own son. He touched all of these people, and learned from them in turn. Still nothing could stop him from his Alaskan adventure. This led to an interesting theme that wasn't directly spoken of in the movie. In spite of all the people that cared for him, and everyone who he affected, he was still selfish in his desire to go off alone into the wild. This is a difficult path to tread when you're making a movie commemorating someone. Do focus on their flaws as well? To his credit, Penn managed to paint McCandless as a hero, while not glossing over any of his flaws.

The only part I didn't really care for was the voice-over narration by his sister, Carine (Jenna Malone). It's not as if there was anything really wrong with how it was done, I'm just not a big fan of voice-overs when not needed. It always strikes me as a bit of a lazy way to progress the plot, without actually showing anything. It's similar to when characters reveal plot points awkwardly in conversation- it draws attention to it being a movie.

This is something I normally talk about, but I have to in this instance. The soundtrack is amazing. I really appreciate when movies like this have a sort of continuity in the music. Nearly the entire soundtrack is contributed by Eddie Vedder. In a break from his grunge roots, he provides a number of folk songs that perfectly compliment the movie. It felt as if he was channeling Bruce Springsteen.

Occasionally while I'm writing a review, my opinion of the movie changes. This is one of those cases. Every paragraph seemed to make me like the movie even more. I stand by my assessment that it was too long, but I still strongly recommend this movie anyway.


August Rush

I've been falling behind a bit on film reviews. There's several that I have seen for a while now, that I still haven't written reviews up. I'll try to rectify this situation- starting with August Rush. This was on my top 20 for the rest of the year list, and unfortunately, it didn't meet my expectations. I'm not sure what I expected. It was inspirational, and had good music, but it was just way too sappy for me.

This may sound crazy, but I found some distinct similarities between this an "Perfume: the Story of a Murderer," which I reviewed in August. Both of these movies are about orphans who are incredibly gifted with one of their senses, but lack any sort of social skills. The difference is that in Perfume, he goes on to be a murderer, and in August Rush, he simply wants to find his parents. This movie is a bit more friendly.

August Rush (Freddie Highmore) is the aforementioned orphan with the impeccable ear for music. He was a product of one night of romance between concert cellist Lyla (Keri Russell), and punk singer Louis (Johnathon Rhys Meyers). Apparently she was trying to get away from her overbearing father, or at least slum it for the night. After an unlikely series of events, she had her baby taken away from her and put in an orphanage. The rest of the movie focuses on her and her son trying to find each other, using music as a guide.

August leaves the orphanage in hopes of finding his mother, using music. Along the way he an array of characters including The Wizard (Robin Williams) a performer who runs a band of street urchins who play guitar for money. I couldn't help but wonder if I was actually watching Oliver. Highmore and Williams were both very good, but I just didn't really buy the characters themselves.

The whole thing is pretty inspirational, with August being a musical prodigy, and using his talents to try to find his parents. It also throws in a kind of tacked on contrast between the upper class (Lyla's concert venues, and August's time at Julliard), the lower class (Louis's punk band, and the street musicians), and the in-between (a group August meets at a church). All of these groups come together in the end because of music. It's a nice little story, but nothing special. And when it comes to musical inspiration, it doesn't hold a candle to movies like Mr. Holland's Opus.