Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Ultimate Gift - 3 stars out of 10

The Ultimate Gift - 3 stars out of 10

I have very mixed feelings about "The Ultimate Gift."  At first, I was thrilled to find a highly moral film that does not shove religion down your throat but makes it very clear that we were created to live our lives in a particular way.  I was happy that the acting and script were of a much higher quality than Hallmark Channel-ish films.  I was particularly impressed to see big names like James Garner, Abigail Breslin, Brian Dennehy, and my favorite, Billy Cobbs, taking part in a great high-moral film.  But then... the main character was taken hostage by the guerilla in Ecuador (I know, right?)  What started as a real-world story about a materialistic brat learning about the important things in life began its downward descent into an unnecessary and long-winded sequence that doesn't really even make sense.  For some reason, once this random happening occurs, the quality of acting from Drew Fuller and Ali Hillis and the remainder of the story progressively fall apart.  The story was wonderful for the first half of the film, but then the Ecuador thing happens and the key component (Breslin) to Fuller's transformation disappears for a month.  That hiatus breaks the emotional attachment to Breslin and the rest of the film becomes so rushed that it never returns.  After the initial twist with Breslin I was prepared to cry buckets, regardless of the outcome of the film, but the script eliminated any sort of emotional reaction at the end.  What starts out as a strong film that can keep pace with any major studio production ends in disappointment; however, the big-name actors carry the film and it still delivers its important message of compassion and generosity.  I will still recommend this film for its great message, as long as you promise to fast-forward the Ecuador sequence.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Great Mouse Detective - 7 stars out of 10

The Great Mouse Detective - 7 stars out of 10

"The Great Mouse Detective" is a Disney film for adults.  Kids will enjoy watching the mice and rats on the screen but the script is not written with Timon/Pumbaa characters, nor does it make use of "kid humor."  This story is one that features scary villains and relies on the deductive reasoning of Basil to engage the audience.  This Sherlock Holmes allegory constantly alludes to the world of Holmes and the characters from the stories as this detective tries to crack the case and save all of Mousedom.  This film is a great artistic achievement, bringing Victorian-era London to life (as both a real world and a mouse world), providing visual appeal through the elaborate chemistry and "mousetrap" sequences, and keeping the film kid-friendly through the use of silhouettes to mask intense content.  The most impressive sequence of animation occurs during the final showdown inside of Big Ben, with gears threatening the lives of the characters with every turn.  This is one of Disney's first ventures into CGI and produces a breathtaking effect.  Aside from the artistry and the excellent story that contains a few twists that extend the ending when all seems to be resolved, I love the voice acting.  My favorite voice from the film was Susanne Pollatschek who provided Olivia's perfectly adorable Scottish accent.  According to IMDB, this was the only role that she ever played and that's a shame, because I adored this performance.  Probably the most underrated performance comes from Alan Young (the voice of Uncle Scrooge from DuckTales, Wilbur from Mr. Ed).  His character -Flaversham- did not receive much screen time but in one emotional monologue, he really had a chance to shine.  I would be remiss if I did not mention Vincent Price, who offered his famed speaking voice to the film as Ratigan toward the end of his fruitful career.  Finally, Barrie Ingham is amazing in the title role, mixing sophistication with emotion.  I love the character of Basil because he shows real human emotions.  Throughout the film, he exudes confidence, frustration, insensitivity, defeat, and a dozen other emotions that give him life.  This film is not an epic like "The Lion King" or "Aladdin."  Instead of showing a character's progression throughout a large portion of life, this film just focuses on one event and explores its details.  I believe that this is one reason that "The Great Mouse Detective" is often overlooked as a significant installment in the Disney Canon but do not be misled - it may not have a king who is reclaiming his throne or a distraught Disney Princess but this story is unforgettable.

Source Code - 9 stars out of 10

Source Code - 9 stars out of 10

"Source Code" is entirely farfetched and yet, you won't question "how" because it is presented in such a believable manner.  Wow, this is an incredible mindbender.  After directing "Moon," director Duncan Jones needed an mind-bending story to raise the bar and he did so with success.  You might expect an "alternate reality storyline" reminiscent of "Donnie Darko" because of Jake Gyllenhaal's involvement in the film... and that would be an accurate expectation!  This is probably my favorite performance by Gyllenhaal, as I have never claimed to have been impressed by his dramatic acting in Brokeback Mountain and Brothers.  Vera Farmiga stands out as the best actor in this film, her clear blue eyes filled with emotion as her character is trapped in a heartwrenching dilemma.  Even though her screen time was far less than the other two leads, she is the one that made this viewing experience very memorable.  The thing that I love about this sort of sci-fi story is that it takes place in a real-world setting.  Elaborate fantasy costumes make me immediately think "Okay, this is unrealistic so let me prepare."  But any sort of military setting tends to be realistic as we acknowledge that in real life, we are unaware of the many advanced technologies that our govenment uses.  The story also impresses me because it is the same story 7 different times, and yet the plot continues to thicken, especially as we gain insight into the real-world fate of this soldier.  The pacing of the film is perfect as the action is balanced by the character's (and the audience's) thought process to solve this mystery.  The twist made me like this film.  The ending made me love it.  You will be confused and sit on the edge of skepticism for a large portion of the film, but it's worth it simply for these two plot twists that will leave you speechless as the end credits begin to roll.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Jazz Singer - 7 stars out of 10

The Jazz Singer - 7 stars out of 10

"The Jazz Singer" is the experiment that changed cinema forever.  This is the first feature-length talkie and its popularity challenged every film studio to begin filming with sound, establishing talkies as the new standard.  It is actually a hybrid of a silent film and a talkie, as the musical sequences are the only sections with an accompanying vocal track.  I've seen silent films before, but the inclusion of sound really made me notice the silent moments - I chuckled as Debbie Reynolds' monologue from Singing in the Rain about "pantomime on the screen" came to mind, showing me how true that statement was and how revolutionary the inclusion of sound in film became.  This film is an accurate representation of life in the 1920's and, although I have trouble getting into silent films, I enjoyed its heartfelt conflict between honoring your parents and pursuing your dreams.  The film moved at a good pace and I was never bored with it.  Al Jolson IS this entire movie with the perfect personality (and unique voice) to bring talking into the world of film.  The beauty of his voice is reason enough to watch this film, as well as the cute love story between him and May McAvoy.  It is a true testament to their acting because, without a single word of dialogue between them, you will fall in love with their love story.  You can really see the transition between the older generation of silent film stars and the new generation of talkies during the scene of dialogue between Jolson and his mother.  He delivers all of the dialogue with vigor as she shyly sits without uttering much of anything.  She really seems to be uncomfortable with the scene, but in all of her silent sequences she shines.  My only complaint about this film is its use of blackface.  I always feel uncomfortable with anything involving blackface, but became okay with it in this circumstance for two reasons.  1. It is culturally significant to this character piece from the 1920's.  2. There is no racial mocking in the two blackface performances (unlike "Babes in Arms").  I can't give this film my highest rating because there are a ton of films that I'd watch a second time before I'd repeat this one, but I truly enjoyed this piece of cinematic history and believe that it should be seen by everyone to appreciate the progression from silent films to talkies.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Abduction - 3 stars out of 10

Abduction - 3 stars out of 10

Oh "Abduction," where to begin... The city of Pittsburgh looks wonderful on the big screen and as a native of the city, it was very exciting to see so many familiar sights throughout the movie.  This ends the complimentary portion of the review.  Enter Taylor Lautner: the worst actor since Hayden Christensen.  There must have been someone off-screen saying "Okay, now turn and look at your parents.  Okay, start walking away.  Okay, awkwardly pause and look back at your parents again."  I'm sure that teenage girls love this film because he takes his shirt off, but anybody outside of that realm will be looking to throw tomatoes at the sceen (and the occasional watermelon).  Lily Collins was better but still had her moments of bad acting.  More maddening than anything was the inclusion of quality actors Alfred Molina, Michael Nyqvist, Maria Bello, and Sigourney Weaver into this weak script.  They all should have known better, particularly when Sigourney read through the script and saw that one of her lines was "I hate balloons..."  One would think that she delivered it in the dry, monotoned voice to stress the fact that the script is absurd, but she just should have run in the other direction when offered this contract.  This script was obviously written as a vehicle to turn Lautner into a "masculine fantasy" with an unnecessary shedding of clothing, lengthy fight sequences where several punches would do, and an endless make-out scene that grows in intensity every time that it should stop.  Once again, how do you intend to make any money when your target audience cannot drive themselves to the theater and the parents will not want to sit through this?  I actually thought that the concept and twists were all very good.  It's just ruined because of a poor script that becomes more farfetched by the moment, and this is coming from a guy who loves to suspend his disbelief for a great action flick!  I just couldn't see this high school student destroying a ton of professional killers.  The action truly is enjoyable but too unrealistic.  The film does a good job of explaining how he knows how to fight, but asks too much of the audience during the fights in the house and on the train.  Not to mention the 22-hour timeframe from the house to the hospital to the woods to Virginia back to Pittsburgh to a train ride to a train escape back into the woods.  Honestly, this is merely a weak film trying to capitalize on the success of Twilight and your best bet is to read a synopsis on Wikipedia and then watch the final 20 minutes at PNC Park.  There is little to gain from this story but everything to gain from seeing a chase scene through the ballpark and a slide down the glass about the escalators.

The Muppet Movie (1979) - 5 stars out of 10

The Muppet Movie (1979) - 5 stars out of 10

In their first feature film, the Muppets tell the story of how they got their start... "sort-of."  The puppetry in this film is amazing, with Kermit the Frog sitting on a log in a pond playing a banjo (which is the first time that a hand-puppet appeard on-screen with its entire body showing) and then riding a bicycle down the street..  These special effects are what set this apart from other films of the same ilk.  As far as story is concerned, it's okay but sometimes feels as if they were trying to squeeze in as many cameos as possible.  Every huge actor that you can imagine appears, EVEN BIG BIRD, but sometimes it felt like too much.  My other complaint is that there are too many songs.  I do love the song Rainbow Connection and am happy that it was recognized with an Oscar nomination; however, when there are 11 songs squeezed into 90 minutes, they keep coming one after another without enough space between them.  There were multiple times when I had the thought of "Another song?  Really?"  I like how the writers created some backstories to show how all of these Muppets came together to take over the entertainment industry, and I wonder if its "Wizard of Oz-ish storyine" was intentional.  In the end, "The Muppet Movie" will appeal to any fan of The Muppets, particularly because of the cool puppet effects and opportunity to learn the beginnings of each character.  Personally, I feel as if the film had the potential to be a lot funnier, with Statler and Waldorf (and a bunch of the other characters) being underused.  Expanding the film to 100 minutes would have taken away the rushed feel.  It is designed to be a children's movie and these shortcomings will not matter to a child who will love the catchy songs and comedic characters.  If given the choice between this film and 6 episodes of The Muppet Show, I'll take the tv program any day, but I am glad that this film was created.  It paved the way for the Muppets to move beyond the television and establish a place in media history that will make them familiar to children past, present, and future.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Moneyball - 7 stars out of 10

Moneyball - 7 stars out of 10

"Moneyball" is an enjoyable film for any fan of baseball as it offers an opportunity to see what happens behind the scenes.  I tells that amazing true story of the 2002 Oakland Athletics whose general manager used an unorthodox approach to putting together a winning team on a very limited budget.  As a warning, the movie does move very slow for the first hour and might lose you if you aren't interested in baseball.  I attribute a lot of the slow pace to a lack of musical score to create a flow in the film.  Once the baseball sequences, the film gains momentum that lasts until the very end but the slow pace of the first half made the film seem really long.  Brad Pitt is excellent as Billy Bean and he can chalk up one more successful role on his long resume.  The screenwriters wanted this to be a dramedy, making Brad a perfect candidate to create both comedic and dramatic moments, but I don't believe that the comedy translated very well.  There are definitely "amusing" moments but the majority of the film reads as drama.  That's actually okay with me, since the dramatic difficulties faced by the main character emphasize the themes of failure in his life and the need to provide for his daughter.  Jonah Hill is perfect in the role of Peter Brand (who is actually a composite character primarily based on the assistant general manager to the A's).  He brings the necessary geekiness to the role while selling the audience on this philosophy of creating a team.  The other actor of note is Philip Seymour Hoffman, who gives a performance far below his standard.  It is really interesting to see familiar baseball players portrayed on the screen and the entire film has a magical feeling as you realize that this unlikely scenario actually occured.  I'm not sure if I would recommend this to non-baseball fans but the drama is great and it properly explains this unlikely (but successful) story.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Third Man - 7 stars out of 10

The Third Man - 7 stars out of 10

"Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly."  The Third Man was a very enjoyable movie, with an amazing villainous performance by Orson Welles (but then again, when is he anything less than amazing?)  A great feature is that there are no subtitles when characters speak in a foreign language.  Since Holly is a foreigner, it helps us to relate to him and to grasp what he experienced.  Post-war Vienna is a great setting for a murder mystery.  And of course, it features an outstanding twist that you will never anticipate.  Though this was a great movie overall, it bothered me that the music didn't quite line up with the mood of the movie.  It almost sounded more like the soundtrack from Spongebob Squarepants than a murder mystery.  Though I wouldn't put this movie up there with Hitchock's movies, The Third Man  provides a great mystery that is fun to experience with well-written characters.

Pete's Dragon (1977) - 5 stars out of 10

Pete's Dragon (1977) - 5 stars out of 10

I have to begin my review of "Pete's Dragon" by saying how amazed I am at Disney's ability to make a cartoon dragon interact with live characters for the duration of the film.  Disney has always been an innovative company and films like this show us why.  I highly recommend watching the bonus featurette on the "Pete's Dragon" dvd to understand the complexity of the process to bring this film to life.  "Pete's Dragon" is the story of a boy and his friend Elliot (who happens to be a dragon), and the small town that believe him to be an imaginary friend.  The idea to portray this "imaginary friend" with animation in a live-action world is the perfect visual concept.  The actual animation of the Dragon is very expressive and this is a reminder of why it was a huge loss for Disney when Don Bluth went his own way (and proceeded to create classic flims like Rock-A-Doodle...).  At first, I was annoyed that the dragon couldn't talk and instead behaved like a dog, but in the context of the story those were the perfect attributes for Elliot.  I wouldn't say that any of the acting is excellent but it is generally above average.  I absolutely adored Helen Reddy in this role with perfect maternal instincts.  Mickey Rooney made a good comic drunk and Sean Marshall had a beautiful singing voice.  The highlight for me was Jim Dale as "Dr. Terminus" (a.k.a. Doc Ter-Menace), not only for his clever name but because his acting was the perfect amount over the top.  Even though I was a bit disturbed that he was singing a song detailing how they will kill and chop up a dragon, “Every Little Piece” is incredibly catchy and was my favorite moment of the film.  It's definitely not "Mary Poppins", but I was surprised and impressed with how good the music was.  This film has a very child-friendly feel to it, but the Oscar-nominated song “Candle on the Water” is obviously intended for adults.  This beautiful and moving piece of music gives us a short moment to forget about the dragon and get lost in the themes of loss and love before returning to the main story.  "Pete's Dragon" isn't one of my favorite Disney movies and cannot compare to other live-action Disney films like "Mary Poppins," but the impressive animation and catchy music make this a film worth watching once.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer - 7 stars out of 10

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer - 7 stars out of 10

How do you rate an iconic Christmas classic?  It would be unfair to grade it purely on "quality" because a film like this is so near and dear to our hearts that the warm-fuzzy-factor must be included.  The stop-motion animation from the 1960's may be outdated but there is something to be said for catchy music and loveable characters.  Burt Ives has the perfect voice to narrate this film and the reindeer are very cute.  This movie is unique because it stretches the original story to include the Island of Misfit Toys, which allows comic characters (like the Charlie-in-the-Box and Hermey) to join in the plot.  Interestingly, the original 1964 broadcast ended with the fate of the Misfit Toys remaining unresolved, and an alternate ending was filmed (and broadcast ever since) due to protests that all of the toys deserve to be enjoyed by children.  This review would not be complete without mentioning the best character: Yukon Cornelius!  If you ever find yourself face-to-face with an Abominable Snow Monster, just remember that "Bumbles BOUNCE!"  Most importantly, this film carries the Christmas spirit and the theme that no matter how different we may be, we should accept others for their differences.  Everybody has a place in this world and I'm thankful that nearly 50 years later, Rudolph continues to remind us each Christmas.

Fred Claus - 2 stars out of 10

Fred Claus - 2 stars out of 10

"Fred Claus" is sort of like a Christmas movie for adults, only shot like a children’s movie.  Yeah, it doesn’t really make any sense to me, either.  The constant shift between child-pleasing visual gags and humor intended for adults make it difficult to identify a target audience.  If they were trying to make it appeal to adults and children, they failed as it doesn't really appeal to either.  The film provides an interesting look into life at the North Pole but I just don't like the story.  It was an interesting concept to have Santa reconnect with his estranged brother, but then it became an awkward mess of elves learning to dance and an auditor trying to shut down Christmas.  Paul Giamatti, I love you as an actor, but you make a horrible Santa Claus.  Vince Vaughn delivers his typical comedic role.  And that's not a compliment.  This brand of humor works perfectly in "Wedding Crashers" but feels annoying in a Christmas movie.  The film is filled with stars like Kevin Spacey, Rachel Weisz, Kathy Bates, and Paul Giamatti but the lack of a quality script hinders them from performing to their potential.  I know that some of them probably signed on with the opinion of "It'd be nice for us to be in a family film that we can show our children," but they chose the wrong one.  The film does have a few positive aspects.  They convincingly turned John Michael Higgins into an elf, to the point that I was contemplating "I think that's Wayne Jarvis from Arrested Development, but that's probably just a midget that reminds me of him."  I'll admit that the "Silent Night" sequence is amazing (but not worth watching the 90 minutes prior to it).  We always think about how excited kids are when they open their gifts on Christmas morning, but has anybody ever portrayed the satisfaction that Santa would have if he could see the excitement of all of the children opening their gifts?  The brotherly moment at the end of the scene is also pretty awesome.  AND I have to give bonus points to Fred Claus for taking those kids to Gino’s deep dish pizza.  That being said, I now understand why this film has nearly been forgotten after only four years and can safely say that it will not be added to my list of Christmas movies that I look forward to each year.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol - 9 stars out of 10

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol - 9 stars out of 10

"Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" has finally found the perfect balance of action, intrigue, and comedy that the series has been searching for since M:I 2.  Although I cannot say that it is as good as the original (whose plot and twists will probably never be matched), this film is better in a few ways.  The original relies completely on mind-games but this fourth edition in the Mission: Impossible series continues the awesome mind games while adding stunning special effects and heart-pounding action sequences.  Our HD culture doesn't hurt when it comes to filming these exotic locations.  It differs from previous installments by basically splitting the story into three definitive chapters - Moskow, Dubai, and Mumbai.  The previous films have had a very linear feel from start to finish but this format works as this mission makes us feel the step-by-step process that this crew goes through when things go wrong and they have to revamp their plan.  While the enormous, monster twist does not involve the villain like the previous films, there are a ton of little twists and unexpected events that make this film the opposite of predictable and will keep it from ending the way that you expect.  Tom Cruise is excellent in this one and I also liked Paula Patton's spunky performance.  Jeremy Renner wasn't nearly as good as in "The Town" and I also think that Michael Nyqvist fell short of my expectations because of his performance in the original "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" series.  Actually, the performer that I enjoyed the most was Lea Sedoux, who I think was severly underused in this story.  Of course the gadgets were cool, particularly the moving screen and the BMW.  This film focuses on the gadgets more than Missions 1-3, but I didn't mind the Bond-esque feeling that these gadgets created.  The Dubai sequence is my favorite of the film, from the complexity of their plan to Tom Cruise scaling the side of the tallest hotel in the world (in real life!) and the explosion at the Kremlin.  I could go on about other awesome scenes (like the prison break and the sandstorm car chase), but that's the joy of this film: every single scene is good.  There really isn't a single boring part in this entire film.  While we are used to the cool gadgets and unexpected twists, the effective use of comedy is what sets this film apart from the others for me.  Simon Pegg is so funny, and yet his jokes come at all of the right moments and never seem like a momentum-killer.  With this subtle comedy, the film adds a new facet of entertainment value.  It's just a well-rounded film and there are only two negative comments that I have.  First, some of the injuries are a bit far-fetched.  Granted, I appreciate that they actually show the characters being affected by their injuries, but nobody could get up and run around with this much physical trauma.  Also, the last 5 minutes - an incredibly important explanation that creates an enormous twist - are rushed.  It almost seems like the characters on-screen are speaking too fast for us to comprehend the twist that they are trying to leave on our minds.  Yes, the movie is over 2 hours long but don't rush through the most important dialogue of the entire film!  Despite these two short-comings, it is easy to give this film such a high rating because it was truly awesome and had my adrenaline pumping from start to finish.  This is a great accomplishment for an already successful series and I really hope to see a new Mission: Impossible in the near future!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Mission: Impossible III - 8 stars out of 10

Mission: Impossible III - 8 stars out of 10

Without question, "Mission: Impossible III" is the most intense of the series.  It finds the balance between action and mind game that the second one was searching for without the attitude of "more masks = more mind games."  Philip Seymour Hoffman makes such a sinister villain as he is calm and collected but uses his resources to impose misery on others.  The film's opening sequence cleverly sets the tone with a "what the heck is going on" moment and immediately gets your adrenaline pumping.  Without explaining who, where, when, or why, the scene throws off your equilibrium and yet, it does not seem out of place or confusing because of the nature of this series.  When you finally return to the scene toward the end of the movie, every single confusing detail makes sense.  This opening scene alone makes me look at the film and say "awesome."  I like the militaristic feel that the extraction creates, once again giving the series a fresh feel.  Cruise continues to make his character one of the coolest in film and thank goodness for the inclusion of the awesome Ving Rhames again.  Simon Pegg and Keri Russell were not used enough but I do love the twist with Lawrence Fishburn.  His role is a bit confused as he uses a little too much Morpheus in his character for me to completely buy it, but his attitude really does fit the character well.  Every scene is mapped out really nicely, from the momentum of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge attack to the clever lip reading and escape from the prison.  I love that in Shanghai, they show Ethan's break-in (PS "the fulcrum" is one of the coolest aspects of any of these movies) but do not show what happens inside of the building.  It may seem like a cop out to some but in my honest opinion, this is a strategic move on the writers as they anticipate the audiences familiarity with the complex break-ins throughout the series.  By leaving it to the audience's imagination, our familiarity with the series enhances the sequence as you subconsciously piece together a million different cool scenarios in your head while the chase ensues through the city.  After the ginormous twist at the end, It gets a bit far-fetched but you won't care at the time because it's so intense while the resolution has your heart pounding out of your chest (and hopefully his).  Nothing can beat the original but "M:i:III" is a complete package that will thrill you and twist your mind in circles.

Mission: Impossible 2 - 6 stars out of 10

Mission: Impossible 2 - 6 stars out of 10

"Mission: Impossible 2" is often criticized but is still enjoyable to watch.  I put it in my "Amazing action and special effects, but I wish that it had a great plot to match" category.  Since this story lacks a CIA conspiracy aspect within its plot, the writers attempted to make up for it by adding more action sequences that aren't always related to the story.  This did not work.  They look cool but just take away from the reality of the film (like the convertible chase sequence and dueling motorcycles(?)).  Don't get me wrong.  I truly enjoy watching this film but I have to consider it as purely an action film instead of an espionage thriller.  Th thing that does impress me about this film is Hans Zimmer's incredible film score which ties everything together with its Spanish flair.  The story of the Chimera is really cool, particular as we discover the results of this disease and begin to feel helpless.  The story utilizes the masks again, this time almost feeling like too many plot twists reliant on these twists.  I'll just say it: there are too many masks..  The anticipated break-in in this film is just as poignant as the one in the first film, keeping you on your toes and being a part that you'll look forward to the entire film.  I really don't care for Thandie Newton (who never shows the right emotion at the right time), but Ving Rhames is back as the incredibly Luther Stickwell.  Dougray Scott makes a good villain.  Unlike the first film, we know who the villain is the entire time and the love triangle between Cruise, Scott, and Newton becomes more important than the actual mission (the recovery of the Chimera virus and antidote).  This film would be okay if it wasn't in the "Mission: Impossible" series, but the label creates an expectation of intrigue instead of a love subplot that imposes itself over the mission that we care about.  It also loses the realism that makes the original so special as this film contains over a dozen "yeah, right..." moments that make these IMF agents seem like a fairy tale instead of a secret, hidden branch of our government that exists without us knowing.   The chase scenes are intense and the special effects are stunning, but this film will leave you wanting more "mission" and less "impossible."

Mission Impossible - 10 stars out of 10

Mission Impossible - 10 stars out of 10

Mission Impossible is one of the most classic spy films ever imagined.  With characters disguised by masks left and right and twists lurking around every corner, your mind will be working overtime.  A lot of people dislike Tom Cruise but it is difficult to dislike him in the role of Ethan Hunt.  In this story, a special agent finds himself in an "impossible" situation (see what I did there?) when his entire team is killed and he is wrongly identified as a mole in the system.  Unfortunately, he has to put himself into an even more "impossible" situation (See? I did it again) in order to clear his name and put the real mole behind bars.  This excellent cast includes Jon Voight, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames (who plays one of the coolest roles in film), Kristin Scott Thomas, and Vanessa Redgrave.  You can't go wrong with 4 Oscar-nominees in your cast.  The film's iconic scene, with Cruise lowered from the ceiling of a secure room in the CIA, is just as intense as when it first came out over 15 years ago.  The film delivers the perfect blend of action and mental intrigue and I cannot imagine anybody figuring out how all of these twists can possibly be resolved on their first view.  Who is a good guy and who is a bad guy?  Don't bother answering the question since the roles will be reversed five minutes farther into the movie.  Even on my 10th view, I pick up new little subtleties that keep the plot interesting even when the ending is known.  I am so glad that this series has been extended over several films and hope for more in the future.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

In the Line of Fire - 9 stars out of 10

In the Line of Fire - 9 stars out of 10

Clint Eastwood is B.A. (as always) and deserves a lot of praise for a wonderful performance, but the shining star in this movie is John Malkovich.  I was really glad to see him receive an Oscar nod for his strong (and disturbing) performance.  Movie writers know that the most threatening villain is the one who is not afraid to die, but that character requires a very talented actor to bring it to life.  Malkovich was the perfect candidate to play Mitch Leary.  The story is thrilling, but only because Eastwood and Malkovich's characters are so well written.  Though the cat-and-mouse plot does not have any sort of twist, it will definitely keep you on the edge of your seat and keep you wondering what will happen in the end.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Ronin - 4 stars out of 10

Ronin - 4 stars out of 10

"Ronin" is a decent espionage thriller but lacks in several areas.  First, the title's association with the samuri from the feudal period was entirely unnecessary.  Even after the random scene where that ancillary character explains what the ronin were (and the awkward introductory captions), it just felt like the producers saying “The ronin have absolutely nothing to do with this story but we're going to try to tie it in anyways.”  My other complaint is that the first 20 minutes are entirely confusing.  And not in that great "I'm on the edge of my seat and can't wait for an awesome revelation!" way, but in a "I have no clue who these people are and am not sure why I turned this movie on" way.  It just feels like you missed something by not watching the preview first.  Good films explain themselves without requiring prior knowledge.  I was also really annoyed by a misplaced and unnecessary love scene.  It had nothing to do with this film.  At all.  That being said, the main draw for "Ronin" is its two incredible car chase scenes, and they were actually so good that they made the entire film worth watching.  The acting is pretty good, with DeNiro delivering one of his best acting moments EVER during the bullet removal scene.  This was a nice role for Jonathan Pryce, Jean Reno is always awesome, and I really enjoyed Natascha McElhone (that girl from The Truman Show)!  Stellan Skarsgard was okay, but nothing special when you consider some of his past roles.  Finally, I know that they are trying to maintain some mystery about the box by treating the ending the way they did, probably trying to make a point that "it doesn't matter what is in the box, it's what people will do for money," but all that it did was left me unsatisfied.  Watch it for the car chases, but don't expect much more.

Bride of the Monster - 1 star out of 10

Bride of the Monster - 1 star out of 10

"Bride of the Monster" is... just awful.  It is often difficult to laugh at this atrocity because it is such a sad reflection of the failures of Ed Wood.  There came a point midway through this movie when I realized: “I have no idea what this movie is about.”  I mean, there's a mad vampire scientiest (not actually a vampire), his henchman, and a giant octopus.  The title confuses me, considering that the octopus is refered to as "the monster" but its doubtful that the captured woman is intended to marry the octopus.  While we're on the topic of the octopus, I love that it doesn't actually move and when people are "killed" by it, they basically wrap themselves up in its arms and roll around so that it looks like it is strangling them or something.  In the end, the acting is bad, the editing is shoddy and inconsistent, and the story doesn't really even do anything.  The only way to enjoy this film is by watching the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Awakenings - 10 stars out of 10

Awakenings - 10 stars out of 10

This movie is an absolute emotional rollercoaster.  It takes a fair amount of drama or happiness in a movie to make me cry, and I cried at least 3 different times throughout this movie.  Even though the situation of the patients is sad, you can't help but feel an overwhelming sense of happiness during the movie as someone finally cares and wants to make a difference in their lives.  This is DeNiro's "Rain Man/I Am Sam role" and I do not understand why it has been hidden behind those other movies and nearly forgotten - his tragic portrayal is genius.  Supported by great acting by Julie Kavner, Ruth Nelson and Penelope Ann Miller (the dancing scene is so touching), Williams also puts forth a thoughtful performance, reaching out to empathetic audience members.  "Awakenings" is a must for any serious movie viewer but make sure that you have your tissues nearby.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Juror - 4 stars out of 10

The Juror - 4 stars out of 10

This movie hinges on the relationship between Demi Moore and her son, and the chemistry just is not there.  If you are expecting A Few Good Men meets G.I. Jane, be prepared to lower your expectations to those of an okay thriller.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Gnomeo & Juliet - 7 stars out of 10

Gnomeo & Juliet - 7 stars out of 10

I can't believe that they translated Romeo & Juliet into garden gnomes... but it totally works!  Anybody who is very familiar with the original story will be thrilled by the parallels between these characters and their Shakespearean counterparts as well as the high-brow literary jokes.  And yet, a child who doesn't know the story at all will still find it entirely entertaining.  I thought that this movie was going to be a lot of fluff but it was incredibly clever, relying more on witty dialogue than slapstick visuals.  The entire visual atmosphere is impressive as well, accentuating the ceramic textures on all of the characters.  Speaking of characters, so many of them are memorable.  My personal favorite is Featherstone the Flamingo - absolutely hysterical.  And the garden Fawn voiced by Ozzy Osbourne?  Genius.  The writers did an amazing job of using actors to voice characters within their stereotypes.  Hulk Hogan, Dolly Parton, Patrick Stewart (his scene as "Will" is fantastic), Maggie Smith, Michael Caine, and Jason Statham all have awesome performances simply because of those stereotypes.  All of the actors are worth mentioning: James McAvoy and Emily Blunt in the leads, and particularly Ashley Jensen as Nanette the Frog (so many laugh-out-loud moments).  I wondered how they would get around having a dual-suicide ending and the writers effectively wrote a happy ending without ever making you think "Wow, they sold out Shakespeare..."  They properly pay homage to his ending while allowing themselves the freedom to end it however they'd like.  I really can't say anything bad about this film.  It's funny, well animated, cleverly cast with an all-star cast, and is up there with Tangled and Toy Story 3 as one of the only good computer animated films to come out over the past 5 years.

Monday, December 12, 2011

La Bamba - 10 stars out of 10

La Bamba - 10 stars out of 10

This definitely helped me to understand the tragedy of the historic plane crash that turned the rock and roll world on its head.  Just like "Selena," you will feel as if you are watching this true story unfold for real.  They were so young and even though you know what has to happen in the end, you will find yourself praying that history will rewrite itself.  Lou Diamond Phillips... wow.  His incredible performance will make you fall in love with the humble and all around nice guy - Ritchie Valens.  You'll smile anytime that he begins to sing, feeling so happy for his success.  Esai Morales is an absolutely incredible drunk and shows pure acting talent with his transformation throughout this movie.  I think that he deserved a 1988 Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor - his raw emotion will make your heart pound.  The music is excellent and is enhanced through the story line, like getting to know Donna so that you can understand the significance of her song.  There are a few really classic scenes, like the 60 takes of recording "Come On, Let's Go" and his performance of "La Bamba."  When you finally get to hear "La Bamba," it's glorious!  Every single line about flying enhances the irony of this story and will prepare you for the inevitably heart-wrenching ending.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Birdemic: Shock and Terror - 1 star out of 10

Birdemic: Shock and Terror - 1 star out of 10

The mere title “Birdemic: Shock and Terror” indicates that this will be one of the worst movies that you have ever seen; however, nothing can prepare you for something so awful in so many categories!  Amidst awful acting, laughable CGI effects, and an absurd storyline, I can confidently say that this is the most poorly edited film that I have ever seen.  Although it is marketed as a “romantic thriller,” Birdemic is actually a “hilarious atrocity.”  I feel very sorry for the actors who devoted 4 years of their lives to this weekend project.  I also feel sorry for the actors because they are simply awful, from the over-exuberant mother to the guy that delivers his lines like a robot.  I don’t know where this script came from and, although the “actors” have a horrific delivery of their lines, what are they supposed to do with classic lines such as “Hey look, a fishing rod!  I can catch some fish!  Oh look, a stove!  We can cook it.”  And who could forget “I'm not worried about the birds, they're not the dangerous animals. It's the human species that's the dangerous, terrifying animal.”  Annnnnd let’s blame it all on global warming and give a 4-minute Public Service Announcement about global warming and its affect on the environment.  How about a side of anti-war sentiments to go along with that global warming entrĂ©e?  While it attempts to educate its audience on global warming, the guy who lives in the woods eventually makes global warming look like a complete joke.  Mix all of this in with random remote control cars, extended scenes around a conference table with people clapping, and a bunch of statistics/prices that all conveniently begin with a one (i.e. a sale of $1 million, a buy-out of $1 billion, $100 for gas) and you have an unforgettable film.  Let’s not forget that nothing says “party” like a random guy (sort of) rapping while the only two patrons of the restaurant do an awkward dance.  Worse than the script is the editing.  When the sound keeps cutting in and out, don’t bother checking your DVD player.  The movie is just THAT poorly edited.  They must have used a single camera to shoot the same scene several times at different angles because the ambient noise in the background is constantly changing.  Or sometimes simply becomes silence for extended static shots.  They also must have been too lazy to dub over dialogue when the background noise was too loud, as evidenced by the consistently lost lines anytime the actors are around traffic or in a restaurant.  On top of this, the editor includes lengthy, boring establishing shots (like extensive scenes driving around in a car and a long pan across the wall of a Vietnamese restaurant).  By the time that the same 4 bars of music repeats for the eighteenth time during the opening credits, you’ll know that you are in for a dismal experience.  I love how you find yourself halfway through the movie and the only reference to birds has been a very poorly made news cast.  And without transition, there are suddenly thousands of horribly animated CGI birds.  I don’t know which I enjoyed more – the terrible CGI birds floating in the air or the awful CGI forest fire whose graphics (reminiscent of Sega Genesis) disappear before the camera cuts away from the scene.  I can talk about this movie forever but no words can properly prepare you for this train wreck.  Therefore, I shall conclude this review with a clip from “Birdemic” that says it all:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrxZblVUkMU
It may be helatiously bad, but it is an absolute joy to mock and I can't remember the last time that I laughed this hard.

Across the Hall - 5 stars out of 10

Across the Hall - 5 stars out of 10

"Across the Hall" delivers some thrills and a few enjoyable twists, but this movie leaves something to be desired along the lines of dialogue and acting.  Brittany Murphy is good but the other two guys could have brought a lot more emotion (and realism) to their characters.  My favorite part of this movie was the storytelling technique, jumping through time to reveal a few twists that make you say "Wait, so that means that ...... the whole time!"  I can't tell you what happens, you'll just have to see for yourself.  All in all, it's an average suspense film but I would probably see it again.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Moon - 10 stars out of 10

Moon - 10 stars out of 10

"Moon" is a hidden gem within the science fiction genre.  Sam Rockwell puts forth the greatest performance(s) of his career in this mindbending film.  Moon starts out as a typical sci-fi movie but after the first major twist 30 minutes in, your attention will not waver for a second.  This movie takes a concept that is typically received with skepticism but presents it in a way that makes it completely believable.  I won't reveal what this concept is, but I will say that the only thing missing from this movie is the explanation of "how?"    I feel that GERTY had to be a tribute to "2001: A Space Odyssey" and Kevin Spacey was the perfect choice for the voice.  He really brought life to that computer.  Overall, this is an incredible one-man show as Rockwell lights up the screen with drama and intrigue.

9 - 3 stars out of 10

9 - 3 stars out of 10

Eh... I expected more from this movie.  This movie is a short story that should not have been made into a full-length (well, sort-of) film.  This is obviously an animated film intended for adults (due to the PG-13 rating and deep subject matter) but I just don't believe that there's enough in this hour and 19 minutes to satisfy an adult audience.  I did not feel any attachment to any of the characters and was not really bothered when any of them died.  Not even the fist-full of famous actors (like Chritopher Plummer and John C. Reilly) could help me connect with these characters.  When I don't connect with a movie emotionally, it becomes a wash for me.  The animation was good and the robotic creatures were pretty cool, but overall that was not enough to salvage this plot that never seemed to develop.  I'm just glad that I didn't pay 8 bucks to see this film that never establishes itself beyond "expensive eye candy."

Nine - 6 stars out of 10

Nine - 6 stars out of 10

"Nine" tells the story of a film director by artistically depicting his interactions with the women that impacted his life (mainly ones with whom he had affairs).  Each girl sings her own song to tell her significance, giving the movie a slightly disjointed feel; however, each song is so creative and artistic that this movie is just fun to watch.  I love Kate Hudson's song.  You can tell that she was having SO MUCH FUN when they filmed her scene!  Daniel Day-Lewis is amazing as Guido and his Italian accent is spot-on.  Penelope Cruz will leave you absolutely breathless.  Like, seriously.  You won't be able to breathe until about 5 minutes after her song is done.  But in the end, Marion Cotillard steals the show, shining brighter than the rest of this star-studded cast.  Her eyes are filled with the heartbreak that her character suffers.  You can tell that it's a great movie when Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench, and Sophia Loren aren't even really mentioned in my review.  Though it isn't the best musical I've seen, I enjoyed it and would see it again.

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire - 10 stars out of 10

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire - 10 stars out of 10

This movie makes me so thankful for a family that loves me.  Few movies in cinema history have captured the realism seen in "Precious."  At first, it is difficult to believe that there are families that actually operate like this.  It then becomes even more difficult when you accept the reality of this film.  Her "stream of consciousness moments" are really sad as she replaces her pain and suffering with unrealistic hopes and dreams.  Mo'Nique is positively evil - her interactions with her daughter are very upsetting and her Oscar was well-deserved.  Honestly, you should think twice before seeing this if you are not prepared for disturbing family interactions.  Gabourey Sidibe gives an extremely emotional experience, capturing the highest highs and lowest lows along the way.  Paula Patton's character serves as an inspiration to all teachers out there, reminding us that it is our responsibility to believe in the kids who seem like they will never succeed.  Mariah Carey's performance is also excellent and the reason that this movie is so effective is because every actor interpreted their character's emotional development with perfection.  The dialogue in "Precious" is well-written and though I believe that "Up In the Air" should have won the Oscar, this was certainly a deserving script.  I am confident that this movie has secured its spot amidst critically-acclaimed dramas like "Rain Man" and "Girl, Interrupted."

Runaway Jury - 10 stars out of 10

Runaway Jury - 10 stars out of 10

"Runaway Jury" is just a fantastic film.  The story is intriguing and relevant, the acting is top notch, there action sequences offer a ton of intensity while the courtroom scenes foster the same intensity, and the resolution of the story is perfection.  I give the writers a ton of credit for conceptualizing this storyline about a Jury For Sale, but throwing in a twist that elevates this story to another level when you least expect it.  Gary Fleder did a great job of pacing the release of particular information throughout the movie so that this twist could achieve its optimum potential.  The acting is simply stunning as Gene Hackman continues his legacy as one of the most sinister villains in film.  He is incredibly B.A. in this film.  John Cusack (a.k.a. "The Man") gives one of his best performances as the conniving, manipulative Nick Easter.  Rachel Weisz is as spunky as ever, and Dustin Hoffman delivers his line with such passion, as if he firmly believes every word that his character says in this script.  They even pay homage to Bruce McGill by putting him into another "judge role!"  There are movies and then there are MOVIES!!!!, and this is certainly the latter as this complicated web of truth and lies unravels from start to finish.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Glory - 6 stars out of 10

Glory - 6 stars out of 10

"Glory" tells a great Civil War story but falls short of being a *great* film because of it's lead actor.  Matthew Broderick is entertaining in comic roles but he never should have been given the lead in a war movie.  His character never comes to life and his accent is a constant distraction as it fades in and out throughout the entire film.  Despite great performances by Morgan Freeman, Andre Braugher, and Denzel Washington (though I don't believe his was Oscar-worthy), Broderick just kept me from really getting into this film.  You'll probably feel that Broderick should stick to being Ferris Bueller, but it is worth watching this movie just to see Denzel Washington's tear - you'll understand when you see it.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Robin Hood: Men In Tights - 8 stars out of 10

Robin Hood: Men In Tights - 8 stars out of 10

One of the best parodies of all time!  Mel Brooks finds the perfect balance of Robin Hood storyline, pop culture references, stereotypes, and slapstick comedy in "Men in Tights."  With it's perfect cast, this film provides you with many memorable characters to keep you laughing from start to finish, complete with outstanding cameos by Patrick Stewart and Dom DeLuise.  If you enjoy Mel Brooks or movie parodies, this movie is a must-see.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Children of the Corn - 4 stars out of 10

Children of the Corn - 4 stars out of 10

"Children of the Corn" isn't scary as much as it is one of the weirdest movies that I have ever seen.  The cinematography is great as they can create the brutal murders in your mind without actually showing it on-screen.  A lot of this film is average, such as the acting and the special effect, but Stephen King's unique and perplexing story is this film's greatest draw.  Although the whole religious side of it made me cringe, I'm amazed at how believable it was that this kids took over their town and couldn't stop wondering what the secret was behind it!  I also really appreciated the set with its deserted town with corn mysteriously all over the place.  More than any imagery, the music absolutely sets the freaky tone from the very start.  It certainly isn't the best scary movie ever, but I will certainly think twice before venturing into a cornfield ever again.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Limitless - 5 stars out of 10

Limitless - 5 stars out of 10

I take issue with "Limitless" because of its glamorous portrayal of drugs.  Sure, it does show some of the dangers of drug usage, but the other 80% of the movie teaches the falsehood that you can make a better life for yourself if you are on mind-altering drugs.  Instead of ending this film in the "Requiem for a Dream" way (a.k.a. the way that things are in real life), the ending shows that if you take drugs and then up the dosage to a near-lethal level... your life will be better than it ever could have been without them.  I would be surprised if a large number of impressionable teenagers will not become curious and try drugs as a result of this film.  That being said, the film does have an interesting theme of the possibilities if we could access more of our brain and some decent action sequences.  Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro play their roles well and it was actually easy to look past the impossibilities in the plot.  Unfortunately, I really can't recommend this film because it gives a horribly skewed portrayal of drug usage.  Instead of lying to the audience and delivering a message that drugs can help a person live a normal, healthy lifestyle, I wish that they would've given Ozzie Osbourne a cameo in the final scene and said "If drug usage does not kill you first, this is what the remainder of your life will be."

Oliver & Company - 3 stars out of 10

Oliver & Company - 3 stars out of 10

The word that I would use to describe “Oliver & Company” is “underwhelming.”  The original story by Charles Dickens leaves this film with so much potential in the realm of character development, emotional themes, and catchy music.  Instead, we are left with a rushed and confused desire for more.  Disney had found success by placing animated characters in a modern setting (such as Dumbo and 101 Dalmatians), and this film had the same potential with its unique 1980’s flair; unfortunately, the script failed to capitalize on this opportunity and instead created a 73-minute runtime (including credits) that feels like an undeveloped quick release, drastically falling short of Disney’s standard.  In this short film, the characters and emotions are not given time to develop (like, at all) and it gives the film a sense of being hastily thrown together without consideration for the important themes introduced in Dickens’ story (i.e. saying “This is a kids movie.  Cartoon dogs will be enough to satisfy them.”)  This may account for my enjoyment as a child but criticism as an adult, and also might contribute to its box-office success in spite of negative reviews.  The sense of being hastily thrown together is accented by the odd and unnecessary placement of the poodle’s show-stopping number (that literally stops the momentum of the film) by completely killing the 1980’s vibe.  I understand that they probably put this in for Bette Midler but this is the antithesis of the writers creating a kids movie instead of a work of art like most of the Disney films.  Unnecessary fluff is not the Disney way; in fact, I did not even know that this was a Disney film until a few years ago - I had assumed that it was the off-brand. 
The film will draw you in with its all-star cast (Billy Joel, Bette Midler, Cheech Marin, Roscoe Lee Browne, Dom DeLuise, Robert Loggia, etc.), but these stars are misused.  I don’t understand why you would feature a 1980’s pop star (Joel) as the voice of one of the main characters... but then begin the movie with Huey Lewis (another 1980’s pop star) singing the first song.  Also, an occasional monologue from the bulldog with Browne’s eloquent speaking tone would have been hilarious... but every line out of his mouth was about culture and it lost its charm after the eighth monologue.  Finally, there is the issue of the gang.  Oliver is seeking their acceptance when he is adopted during their first heist.  I don’t understand their attachment to him (shouldn’t he become “one of them” first?)  But then when they kidnap him after a short amount of time, he wants to go back to the house instead of wanting to hang out with the cool gang.  If you had the chance wouldn’t you want to hang out with Dodger in lieu of living with some people that you just met?  These moments work in Dickens’ story because they are given time to develop relationships.  A simple thought toward pacing could have made this into a rewarding watch but instead, it has become one of the more confused Disney animated features.

I Wake Up Screaming - 8 stars out of 10

I Wake Up Screaming - 8 stars out of 10

“I Wake Up Screaming” is simply amazing.  This is definitely in my Top 5 for Film Noir both for its unpredictable story and breathtaking acting.  I am dumbfounded by this film’s failure at the box-office.  It is perfectly cast as the trio of leads offer wonderful chemistry.  I think that I may have fallen in love with Betty Grable a bit while watching this film.  Her spunky attitude and big eyes will capture your heart and have you in a trance from start to finish.  She is paired with Victor Mature (who has a perfect face for film noir) and Carole Landis (whose performance convinces me that her suicide was a tragic loss to the acting community).  The story is enchanting as the guilt shifts from person to person, until the least-expecting ending comes to light.  The film uses expert cinematography, particularly with the use of shadows throughout the film.  I don’t care that the critics did not care for this film - it is one of the best of it’s genre and should not be overlooked.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Cronos - 4 stars out of 10

Cronos - 4 stars out of 10

Guillermo del Toro's debut is a vampire story that avoids all of the stereotypes.  It is effective only alludes to the characteristics that are the focus of most vampire stories (stake through the heart, light sensitivity).  Although it isn't my favorite film of this genre, I enjoyed this fresh, realistic approach.  As I think back on it, I never really had a "yeah right" moment - the script was written pretty seamlessly to take us from real world to fantasy without us realizing (gee, can't think of any other del Toro pictures that do that... [cough Pan's Labrynth]).  The story is interesting but I don't feel as if enough happened in this film.  It was a bit one-dimensional in the respect that the story just goes from point A to point B without ever changing direction.  This low rating is deceptive because I enjoyed it and thought that it was a good film, but the acting was just average and there are many other films that I would have enjoyed more.

Do the Right Thing - 8 stars out of 10

Do the Right Thing - 8 stars out of 10

"Do the Right Thing" is a slice of Americana, but not the slice of it that we typically like to advertise.  Spike Lee takes a typical hot summer day and shows how a few personality clashes over insignificant events can escalate into violence and hate.  The racial tension is disquieting and the penultimate scene is simply uncomfortable to watch.  With a simple setting as a street of NYC with a pizza place and a market, and characters like and irresponsible delivery boy and big man with a boom box, it is tough to believe that this setting will become the medium for the upsetting events that unfold.  Even though the story is very well written, the true charm of this movie is its vast array of characters, none of which has a "lead role."  By not having a main character, the film puts the audience into the story, almost allowing each viewer to take on a role in the story.  Unlike most films where you form an empathetic connection with one character, this film makes you connect with an entire race as your perspective shifts from one group of people to another in the middle of a scene.  I honestly can't explain how, whether it is the unique camera angles or way that the script reads, but each scene takes on multiple first-person perspectives.  You view the conflict as an Italian American, then suddenly view the conflict from an African American perception.  Even though there is no stand-alone "lead actor," there are so many memorable performances.  Danny Aiello's closing monologue is one of the most emotive of film in the 1980's and earned a deserving Oscar nomination.  Spike Lee brings great depth to the character of Mookie, often unemotional and hiding the complex emotions and internal motivations that cannot be explained.  John Turturro is intense, Ossie Davis has excellent mannerisims as Da Mayor, and Bill Nunn (the cop from Sister Act)  gives my favorite performance of this film as Radio Raheem.  His mere presence is intimidating at 6'3, but the thing that amazes me is the smooth flow of profanity from his mouth.  There are so many f-words in this film, but it truly creates an atmosphere and a culture that is absolutely necessary to this movie.  His speech is so natural, as if he grew up as this character.  I also love him because he is from Pittsburgh... This really is an incredible script by Lee, as the story's slow progression over a 1-day period allows you to get to know a large volume of characters and their motivations in a short period of time.  The ending is particularly poignant as life goes on the next morning, as if these events are commonplace in the world of the inner city.  Although this film's graphic language will have your ears burning, it is an amazing achievement for Spike Lee.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Little Nicky - 4 stars out of 10

Little Nicky - 4 stars out of 10

I enjoyed this movie a lot more than I expected (though I had very low expectations).  Although I thought that I'd dislike Adam Sandler's character, after about 20 minutes he became pretty loveable - this is the only reason that I was able to enjoy this film.  I didn't care much for the demononic themes in this movie and felt that the plot was pretty weak; however, an unprecedented number of cameos used in clever and entertaining ways held my attention.  The humor in Sandler's movies is usually fairly intelligent but this movie is all slapstick.  I would watch parts of this movie if it was on tv for those entertaining moments, but I don't feel a need to watch this movie in its entirety again.  Definitely not Sandler at his best.

The Hurt Locker - 6 stars out of 10

The Hurt Locker - 6 stars out of 10

This movie was good... but when compared to the movies nominated against it for the "Best Picture" Academy Award, I cannot understand how "The Hurt Locker" won.  This movie failed to transport me into it's world in the same way as Avatar, Precious, or Up in the Air.  Rather than feeling an emotional attachment to the characters and empathizing with their conflicts, I felt like I was watching a documentary... and that was another problem with this film.  The film was shot in documentary style with first-person camera angles, shots zooming in around corners, and a shaking camera, and yet it was not intended to be a documentary.  I was excited to see Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes' names on the credits, but their involvement cannot be considered more than a cameo.  Jeremy Renner was okay but I would've rather seen the aforementioned actors.  This unending display of machoism did not provide any twists or surprises.  A few scenes made me hold my breath but other than that, I was indifferent to what might happen next.  I felt a tiny bit of emotion in the last 10 minutes of the film but aside from that, I felt removed from the plot and waiting for something new to happen.  Instead, I seemingly watched the same scene 4 times with a few random fights thrown in to split them up.  If you want to enjoy this film more than me, be sure to walk into it with a low level of expectation.

Flatliners - 7 stars out of 10

Flatliners - 7 stars out of 10

"Flatliners" is an excellent concept which is so far beyond our understanding that the writers never have to explain "how".  All 5 leads (Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, William Baldwin, and Oliver Platt) shine in Schumacher's thriller, making this story intense and believable.  Important information is revealed at precisely the right time, keeping the viewer curious and on the edge of their seat without ever creating confusion.  I would recommend Flatliners to anybody who enjoys a psychological thriller that you will really have to wrap your mind around.

The Fisher King - 7 stars out of 10

The Fisher King - 7 stars out of 10

Wow!!!!!  Who is Mercedes Ruehl and why have I never heard of her before?  Amidst incredibly real performances by all-star actors Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams, plus a surprising performance by Michael Jeter, Ruehl steals the show with the performance of a lifetime.  Even if intense/upsetting drama is not your favorite movie genre, Ruehl's performance makes this a must-see for every movie fan.  "The Fisher King" is full of highs and lows (though mostly lows), as you will see in Bridge's eyes within the first 10 minutes of the movie.  Terry Gilliam brings his style to this movie (through Williams' imagination and the dance scene) without making it feel wierd or fake.  Though I feel that some of the humorous moments are inappropriate for the serious tone of this movie, it is a very effective movie as it explores a side of the homeless that you have never seen.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

In Old Chicago - 3 stars out of 10

In Old Chicago - 3 stars out of 10

In spite of practically advertising their close work with the Chicago Historical Society in the making of this film, "In Old Chicago" is nothing more than boring fiction with a cool fire at the end.  I understand that you have to spend time developing the characters so that you will be rooting for them during the disaster sequence, but they could have at least used the real people involved in the Great Chicago Fire instead of completely making up people that they thought would be more interesting.  No actor is bad but most are "just okay."  The exception to the rule is Alice Faye, particularly in her musical numbers.  I also enjoyed seeing Andy Devine (the voice of Friar Tuck in Disney's Robin Hood), simply because I wondered where this voice came from!  Unfortunately, I just didn't fall in love with the characters and spent the whole time waiting for the fire.  The special effects were impressive as the town went up in flame, but the boring-to-fireball ratio was simply out of proportion.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Disney's A Christmas Carol (2009) - 7 stars out of 10

Disney's A Christmas Carol (2009) - 7 stars out of 10

"I've come to Christmas dinner... if you'll have me." The entire film is worth it for that single line.  There are countless adaptations of “A Christmas Carol” and Robert Zemeckis’ animated motion-capture rendition is unlike any other.  Honestly, I've never cared much for fully animated motion-capture films.  They look pretty creepy and I feel that the technology is much better utilized in films like "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," but it certainly emphasizes the acting talents of Jim Carrey.  The use of motion-capture allows Carrey to play a variety of characters in the film including Scrooge at three different ages and the three ghosts.  His casting in these roles was a no-brainer as every detail of his over-the-top facial expressions is perfectly captured by the computer technology.  Moreover, he mastered the British and Irish accents to make sure that this film would be accepted by audiences in the UK.  As a display of Carrey’s acting chops, this film is a masterwork.  I will always cite the George C. Scott version as my favorite serious telling of this tale, but this version does a great job of portraying the story.  I am impressed that they told this story so effectively in just 90 minutes as Robert Zemeckis' screenplay captures the important moments so well that you won't notice any little moments that are left out.  I feel as if they glossed over Christmas Past a bit too quickly, but outside of that it was a complete story.  I appreciate that dark tone of this classic Christmas story is kept intact, as it is often interpreted in a lighthearted or watered down manner.  The tone is especially surprising due to its animated facade (figuratively and literally).  Unfortunately, the emphasized dark tone requires an even greater embellishment of hope at the end and the closing moments fall short.  My eyes should have been filled with tears of Christmas joy and instead, I barely felt anything.  I believe this to be the reason that the film faced so much criticism for its tone – the resolution fails to keep the moral of the story at the forefront of our minds.  The production design is the real star of this film.  The first half has some interesting visuals but the film really comes alive with the Ghost of Christmas Present.  The scenic design of watching these moments through the floor is magnificent.  The story often hinges on Scrooge’s (and our own) fear of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come and this shadowy interpretation is awesome.  The best use of the motion capture technique is seen when they shrink Scrooge down in size and everything else becomes huge.  It is actually quite unnecessary to the story but creates some interesting visuals.  Alan Silvestri (Zemeckis' go-to composer) creates a beautiful score to accompany the film and I particularly like some of the statements of Christmas carols in minor.  “Disney’s A Christmas Carol” may seem superfluous at times but I applaud its bold, dark tone and believe that it captures the heart of the story up until the very end.  The ending lacks the Christmas spirit that I look for in a Christmas Eve tradition but I look forward to introducing my children to this interpretation of the story once they are old enough to handle its tone.

[Pictured: The Christmas Present sequence is creative and well-executed]

Contagion - 2 stars out of 10

Contagion - 2 stars out of 10
450th Review

"Contagion" is [long pause] an interesting film.  Sorry for the delay, I had to run into the room and wash my hands three times.  I believe that this germ-awareness film would have been successful if shot in a documentary style (a la District 9).  It would have been difficult to explain why the documentary crew found their way into certain areas, but this film felt way too much like a documentary to be filmed in such a conventional manner.  With the 6 stars on the movie poster, you would expect this to be a tour de force of acting but, since few of the stars ever appear in the same way, it gives the impression of "which one of these stars should have the lead role" and in the end, none of them are featured (particularly the one who dies within the first 10 mintues of the film...)  The entire idea behind this film is amazing and terrifying.  You can feel everybody in the theater fighting to stop touching their face 3-5 times per minute as the movie progresses.  Of the stars, Marion Cotillard shines the brightest with Kate Winslet in a close second place.  Matt Damon showed potential but his character really kept him from a dynamic expression of his emotions.  I honestly cannot say whether I would recommend this film or not.  It has definitely changed my perspective of germs and will encourage me to wash my hands more often, but despite it's great story and star-studded cast it somehow manages to be extremely boring.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

House On Haunted Hill (1958) - 3 stars out of 10

House On Haunted Hill (1958) - 3 stars out of 10

My familiarity with the 1999 "remake" gave me a certain expectation... which was completely inaccurate!  The only similarity to this original is the idea of a rich guy offering a large amount of money to a group of people to spend a night in a haunted place.  After the introductory moments, the film is completely different, so be prepared if you've seen the 1999 version.  That being said, "House On Haunted Hill" is a slow-moving thriller with a few classic twists.  While it does not offer any overly-horrific imagery or frightening moments, it'll keep you on edge waiting to hear the solution to the mystery.  The story is easy to follow and would be a good starter scary movie for a child, except that it does not have enough action and could lose your attention.  It's enjoyable to see Vincent Price in any role and Carol Ohmart offers the most impresive performance, but overall this film fell short of my expectations.  If you're unsure whether you'd like , give it a shot - it's only 75 minutes long!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Black Cauldron - 2 stars out of 10

The Black Cauldron - 2 stars out of 10

As a cartoon, it isn’t horrible.. but considering the expectation set by Disney animated feature films, the only word that comes to mind is “lackluster.”  "The Black Cauldron" is not one of the more memorable Disney films and less than 3 hours after viewing, I cannot remember the names of any of the characters.  This film aspired to be dark and, while it manages to be darker than the other films in the Disney canon, its last minute censorship has created an awkward combination of "almost good" and "kinda bad."  Even though they cleaned up most of the gore, the horrific death of The Horned King (which kept this film from a G-rating) gives a brief taste of how amazing this film could have been.  In its time, Disney relied on family audiences to bring money in at the box office but I believe that if they released a dark, PG-13 animated film today, they could still draw in a large crowd (like this PG-13 franchise that you may have heard of called "Pirates of the Caribbean"...)  The story feels so disjointed with random characters wandering in to the story for eight seconds and then disappearing for the remainder of the film (unless they manage to sneak into the last scene for no explainable reason... to deliver the resounding final line of “Yep!”).  I nominate Gurgi for the “Most Annoying Character in Cinema History Award.”  I feel confident that the Academy will unanimously vote for him.  Like most people, I spent the whole movie wishing that he would die and, just as I thought that my dream had come true... he came back.  And to make matters worse, every redemptive moment was erased during his obnoxious comeback and I wanted to see him die again.  I can't give the film my lowest rating because, at the very least, Disney animation is always quality and this film dabbled with a few early computer graphics.  That being said, there just aren’t any great, memorable Disney moments.  Aladdin has the “A Whole New World” carpet ride, Lion King has Simba climbing Pride Rock, and The Black Cauldron has... the climactic kiss lasting less than two seconds before an abrupt change of mood.  I can't really support watching this film when you could be watching a Disney masterpiece but if you insist on watching, at the very least it will give you an appreciation for the GOOD Disney animated films and have your imagination exploring "The Dark Disney Film That Could Have Been."


[Pictured: Gurgi, the most annoying Disney character ever]

The X-Files: I Want to Believe (2008) - 2 stars out of 10

The X-Files: I Want to Believe (2008) - 2 stars out of 10

Why would anybody make an X-Files movie without any aliens in it?  Especially after the cliffhanger at the end of the first movie?  I can understand if you were releasing a movie every other year and you wanted to break from the ongoing alien theme (as they did in the tv show)... but if you are going to make us wait 10 years for the second movie, there had better be some frickin’ aliens.  They could have put any two arbitrary characters into this story.  It is almost as if they decided to name it “X-Files" so that they didn’t have to devote any time to character development.  The final result of these filmmakers’ efforts is a confused psychological thriller that forgot to include the thrills.  This film will leave a sour taste for anybody who enjoyed the well-written series and are stuck with this as a last impression.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Houdini (1953) - 7 stars out of 10

Houdini (1953) - 7 stars out of 10

How could the life of an escape artist be anything but fascinating (even if it is mostly fictionalized)?  "Houdini" is a great film but not a great biopic.  This film should be followed by the reading of his biography (or at least a skim of his Wikipedia page) to avoid believing fictionalized moments from this film (particularly the way that Houdini died).  That being said, Tony Curtis is awesome in the role of Houdini, aided by his real-life wife Janet Leigh as as his movie wife and assistant.  Their chemistry is wonderful and drives this entire story along, from their first meeting to the final scene on stage.  Curtis and Leigh were sworn to secrecy by magicians as they learned the secrets of the trade to bring many of these tricks to life.  This film should not be treated as fact but still provides interesting insight into the man who was Harry Houdini.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) - 10 stars out of 10

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) - 10 stars out of 10

"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" may be the best prequel that I have ever seen.  It would take the perfect story to properly connect it to the 1968 classic and this film hit the nail on the head.  I am so thankful that they did not make this into an action film.  The action sequences have their place and they are absolutely stunning, but it is the character development that makes this into the perfect prequel.  Above all, Andy Serkis (known for his portrayal of Gollum and King Kong) deserves high praise for bringing the character of Caesar to life.  His mannerisms and facial expressions will make you empathize with him more than any animal that you have ever seen in cinema.  And this is absolutely vital to the story as we aren't supposed to hate Caesar as a killer, but to understand why he is seeking justice.  The animators also did an amazing job bringing him to life and these graphics will not disappoint.  James Franco has come a long way from Spiderman to again prove himself as one of the most dynamic actors of our generation.  Just like Caesar, he must be liked by the audience for them to understand the selflessness of his actions.  He makes a logical scapegoat but performs so well that you will feel sorry for him, even through the final scene.  I have to mention Brian Cox because he is my favorite character actor (along with William H. Macy, of course).  Finally, John Lithgow is stunning.  He is one of the most underrated actors out there and delivers some Oscar-worthy scenes in this film.  The subtlety of his facial expressions are incredibly effective.  Acting aside, this film has a great script that seamlessly ties this story to the 1968 film.  I really hope that they do not create a sequel to this film or else it will negate the awesome connections created by this film and steal that wonderful moment where everybody in the audience's imagination fills in the blanks between the two films... but realistically the produces won't be able to help themselves when they see dollar signs in front of their eyes.  I love the use of time to create a realism with this virus - by allowing for  the circumstances of the virus to develop over 13 years (5 before the film starts, 8 as the film progresses), this story goes from fiction to possibility.  The writers assemble a puzzle of several different factors that believably lead to these otherwise far-fetched results.  I love how this film sets the wheels in motion for the 1968 film through the shuttle launch, showing the significance of spraying someone with water, and moving the virus to New York.  The expected references to the original film (like the Statue of Liberty puzzle and Charleton Heston on tv) are subtle so that fans will smile but they don't interrupt the flow of the story.  I was skeptical about this film, particularly after the 2001 remake, but it will be awhile before another film can freeze me in my seat as this one did!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Lean On Me - 10 stars out of 10

Lean On Me - 10 stars out of 10

Morgan Freeman (arguably one of the Top 10 actors in cinema history) delivers another incredible performance as Joe Clark in "Lean On Me."  With one powerful and inspirational speech after another, you will be glued to the screen.  It is hard to believe that he appeared in this AND "Driving Miss Daisy" in the same year.  He deserved a nomination for both films and I believe that if this had come out in another year, he would have been nominated for this performance.  If you are a Morgan Freeman fan, see this because it is one of his finest acting roles.  The young actors portraying the students in this true story bring the movie to life.  Karen Malina White captured my heart in particular as she brought so much emotion (whether it was sentimentality toward Freeman or her tear-jerking confession) to each scene.  The movie also features strong, realistic performances by Lynne Thigpen, Robert Guillaume, and Regina Taylor.  If you want to experience pure emotion on screen, watch this bio-drama of the life of Joe Clark.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Phenomenon - 9 stars out of 10

Phenomenon - 9 stars out of 10

"Phenomenon" was, well... phenomenal!!!  This movie gets off to a perfect start with beautiful themes composed by Thomas Newman in his ethereal style.  John Travolta delivers a passionate performance.  I am not typically a fan of his work but he really delivered in this film.  I think that every audience member can connect with him as he experiences the changes in his life.  Though he undergoes the physical transformation, the amazing aspect of this movie is that the conflict is driven by the tranformation of the people around him and their treatment of him.  I wasn't impressed with the chemistry between Travolta and Sedgwick at first, but after the hair cutting scene, I was in love with their love.  There are some amazing scenes in this movie, including two incredibly emotional moments with Robert Duvall that will tear at your heart.  I also think that the special effects deserve to be complimented.  They are so simple and well-executed that you forget that they even ARE special effects!  I approached "Phenomenon" with skepticism (mainly because of Travolta), but with a realistic sci-fi plot that is well explained in the end and strong acting performances by all, this is a spectacular cinematic achievement.

Marnie - 8 stars out of 10

Marnie - 8 stars out of 10

Although it isn't my favorite Hitchcock film, "Marnie" does a great job of creating intensity through confusion until the answers are finally revealed in the end.  Between filming James Bond roles, Sean Connery delivers this similarly suave role.  Tippi Hedren displays pure acting talent throughout the movie, particularly any time that she freaks out and through her transformation in the final scene.  This movie caught me by surprise, in that I expected the events that occur midway through the movie to be the ending; instead, Hitchcock makes you think that you have the movie figured out and then takes the entire thing in a new direction.  The character development is excellent, as we learn about Marnie in the first scene without even seeing her, and then get inside of her head and understand how she developed as a child as we see her interactions with her mother.  Despite a few slow scenes, Marnie is an enjoyable enigma that any Hitchcock fan will appreciate.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Hard Day's Night - 4 stars out of 10

A Hard Day's Night - 4 stars out of 10

"A Hard Day's Night" doesn't have a great script (or much of a story for that matter), but it's purpose is well served - it gave/gives Beatles fans an opportunity to get to know their personalities and enjoy their music.  The movie feels like candid footage of the Beatles with musical sequences intersperced like an episode of Scooby Doo.  Though I would not consider it an epic achievement in cinema history, any Beatles fan will enjoy the catchy music and personalities of America's most beloved rock band.