30 December 2008

Seen in 2008

So, instead of doing a 'best of list' (which I actually might do sometime early next year), I've decided to just list all the films I've seen theatrically and rate them. Overall, I've seen 78 titles in the theaters, but I have yet to see some of the "big time" (and I hold that term loosely) flicks like Gran Torino, Let the Right Ones In, Frost/Nixon, etc. Keep in mind, this is only a list of what I've seen with my impressions, not a "best of" or "worst of"; that should be forthcoming. So, without further ado, here's the list, with links to complete reviews when applicable:

10,000 B.C. dir. Roland Emmerich * (out of ****)
This is one of those cases where the trailer made a really bad movie look appealing, and it really stinks that I got suckered into seeing it. Emmerich (Independence Day) has crafted yet another lackluster motion picture 'extravaganza', (and keep in mind, this has nothing to do with 10 Million Years B.C.) with horrible, one-dimensional actors, and a screenplay that even I - a person who is quite forgiving when it comes to these type of mindless 'have-jolly-good-fun' films - thought was pretty damn terrible (proof: the whole redundant 'prophecy' storyline). Even the sight of Camille Belle didn't help matters. Definitely one of the weakest titles of 2008.

dir. Robert Luketic *** (out of ****)
Why or why is the concept of opening a movie with the conclusion a trippy thing? I honestly don't get it. Sure, there's every once and a while where the tag is so damn good, you want the movie to be over already so you can have all the pieces of the puzzel together, but this wasn't one of 'em. This film also marks my love for Kate Bosworth, who didn't really impress me in Superman Returns, but is more than just a beauty here. Her SR co-star Kevin Spacey is his ol' menacing self, and hits every note perfectly. Morpheus - er, Laurence Fishburne - shows up for a solid 15 minutes and eats up every scene he's in. 21 survives being medicore, I wager, because of this energy that's in every scene; and how, at least for me, all the characters were human enough (you know what I mean) that you gave a bugger about them that there was a sense of jeopardy. Sorta. Kinda.

Appaloosa dir. Ed Harris *** (out of ****)
As a person who dislikes westerns, I actually liked this one. The previous western I had seen was the 3:10 to Yuma remake, which I wasn't all up in praise for, actually. This film's greatest strength is its characters - Virgil (Harris) and Everett (Viggo Mortensen), who are captivating to watch on screen, and are completely three-dimensional. The same, unfortunately, can't be said about Renee Zellweger's sorta trampy character; uninteresting, slutty, and confusing, that portion of the script coulda used a bit of a work-up. However, I will forgive all because of the awesome Jeremy Irons (seriously, I dig the Dungeons & Dragons adaptation because that dude was phenomenally horrible - but in a good way) who plays the film's antagonist.

Baby Mama
dir. Michael McCullers *** (out of ****)
Tina Fey rules the world, and definitely ruled the box office with this little gem. Baby Mama was one of those movies I was literally conned into seeing by the mom, and ended up loving the hell out of it. Before this flick, I wasn't aware of Fey as a comedy force to be reckoned with - hadn't watched her television program 30 Rock yet (which I believe was airing during that time period, not totally sure), but now, well, the entire world is aware of her (for the uninformed, Google "Tina Fey/Sarah Palin"). And the best part of the movie - aside from being quite hilarious - is that there are some unpredicted moments (or maybe I was just enjoying the movie too much to guess what was going to happen). Overall, a terrific comedy and well worth your time. 2008 was the year of Fey.

Babylon A.D.
dir. Mathieu Kassovitz ** (out of ****)
I love the two Riddick movies, so the idea of Vin Diesel starring in another science fiction film was just too good to pass up; no matter the large negative buzz, my ticket was bought. The first hour in, I could deal - lots of shooting, punches, a bit of blood, strange girl, and Vin being a mercenary; alright, cool. And then something happens within its final twenty minutes. The Diesel man is shot by the girl he's protecting ("in order to live", she says), and a bunch of other stupid bollocks happens for fifteen minutes, and the final, agonizing, confusing scene with Diesel's character and two children. My explanation here doesn't make much sense 'cuz I left some things about, but these particular plot points hold a auora of "wtf? really?" In closing, the first and ten of the movie is fine, just everything else is pretty horrible. Hell, I'd recommend a MST3000 commentary.

The Bank Job
dir. Roger Donaldson * (out of ****)
I was bored during the entirety of this bank hesit film. I think the main persuasive argument that got me to see it (aside from a cheap $4.00 admission ticket) was that I fell in love with Spike Lee's Inside Man (also a hesit film, for the uninformed), and I thought this could be just as good. It was not.
Be Kind Rewind dir. Michel Gondry *1/2 (out of ****)
A comedy/drama hybird, Be Kind Rewind isn't the most conventional movie around. It's definitely one of those flicks that's deeper than what the trailers lead us to believe. Jack Black appears in his second not-annoying gig (the first being Jackson's King Kong), as does the ever-increasingly-hard-to-make-out-what-he's-saying Mos Def (Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy). In truth, I didn't dig the movie all the mutch. The film's true genius - and what I'm sure everyone will agree - is the "Sweded" movies; as in, the home video-filmed adaptations of certain big-time motion pictures like Ghostbusters and 2001: A Space Odyessy. This film is a ode to VHS tapes - a rememberance and honor to the format as well as to amateur filmmakers.

Burn After Reading
dir. Joel & Ethan Cohen ** (out of ****)
First off: wasn't a fan of No Country for Old Men. In fact, I didn't really like most of 2007's "best of" movies. But Burn After Reading is great fun. Great, great, great fun. Seeing the most-of-the-time-deadly-serious Brad Pitt (Mr. & Mrs. Smith) be wacky and energized in every sequence, and George Clooney be more paranoid than in his '07 thriller Michael Clayton - it was all sublime. Sure, Pitt and Clooney were phenomenal, but the real show-stealer for me was the banter between a CIA worker and his superior (J.K. Simmons, Juno); the last scene between the two of them was some of the funniest dialogue the year brought us - rivaling Diablo Cody's quick-wit and Joss Whedon's brilliant storytelling ability.

Charlie Bartlett
dir. Jon Poll *** (out of ****)
I love teen dromedies (drama/comedies) as much as the next guy, and luckily this one was actually worth my time. Being more than a simple-minded comedy a la Accepted, Charlie Bartlett has some heart and soul. Even better, the film has been blessed with a cast of performers who can actually act. Most notably, Robert Downey, Jr. I had seen this flick before Iron Man, and Downey rocked for me - easily the highlight. Downey is perfect as a principal/father torn between his professional duties and needing to connect with his daughter. Anton Yelchin (Star Trek) is charismatic as the title character, and you can't help but dig the guy. Kat Dennings (40-Year Old Virgin) fairs well as the girlfriend to Bartlett, but isn't given nearly enough to do. A fantastic movie, and far more intelligent than most teen comedies. Worth a shot.

Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian dir. Andrew Adamsom
***1/2 (out of ****)
For me, Caspian is one of the best pictures of the year, which plenty will probably disagree. Improving on every element of Wardrobe (and there was a lot that needed fixing), Caspian has three-dimensional characters that you can care and root for, a solid storyline, raised stakes and dilemmas, a majestic score by Harry Gregson-Williams, and a over-bearing darkness that must be fought. I guess the best way to put it is that it felt real, like these things mattered and might not get resolved by the end of the movie's running time. My problem with Wardrobe was that everything felt very "cut+paste": all the characters were cardboard cutouts positioned here and there, saying the necessary squibs of dialogue and moving to the next scene. Even the damn battle at the end was difficult to enjoy. Well, that's all been rectified here. All of these elements (score, script, actors, dilemmas) mesh together perfectly, creating a real sense of emotion in the viewer (at least for me) that made everything powerful and real.

dir. Matt Reeves *** (out of ****)
When the teaser trailer peremiered before 2007's blockbuster Transformers, I suddenly had no interest whatsoever in the movie I was about to watch but 100% interest in this giant monster movie from 'executive producer J.J. Abrams.' (I guess his name's getting as big as Spielberg and Lucas) When the film finally premiered in January, after months and months of viral marketing that put The Dark Knight to shame, it had a lot of hype it had to live up to; and for the most part, it succeeded. Cloverfield is a really good movie, no doubt in my mind; my only problem is that I wanted more from it. It's sort of one of those things where there's such a build-up, and when the thing finally happens, it's not entirely satisfying or it was over too quickly and you're left thinking, "that was it? But, I want more!" This is by no means dissing the film, just that although there was plenty featured, a longer running time with added material wouldn't have hurt it. The monster was beautiful, and the cinematography (or lackthereof) was satisfactory. I think the aspect I enjoyed the most was the relationship between Beth and Rob, which was felt even though it was left mostly unseen with the exception of occassional, fleeting moments of a happier time between the two spliced inbetween past and present footage. Bring on Cloverfield 2!

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
dir. David Fincher ***1/5 (out of ****)
I initially wasn't all 'Oooo, ahhh' with the idea, nor with director Fincher (I still don't get why Fight Club is so dearly loved, but that's a review for a different time), but this was actually a good movie. I enjoyed it. In fact, it's 2 hr and 48 minute running type went by pretty fast. Concerning Brad Pitt, he delivers the role, but he's nothing outstanding (actually, I was more impressed by his performance in Troy. Go ahead - smite me all mighty smiter!) Cate Blanchett, however, completely stole every scene she was in. Fantastic, fantastic performance. And the whole being amazingly beautiful thing doesn't hurt matters, either. The CGI for the Oldie Baby was visually stunning - I was amazined they could pull it off convincingly.

The Dark Knight dir. Christopher Nolan ***1/2 (out of ****)
Just wait for my forthcoming, obsessively thorough review.

The Day the Earth Stood Still
dir. Scott Derrickson **1/2 (out of ****)

It's not perfect, and there are some serious laps in logic, but this remake of the revolutionary 1951 classic is still pretty alright. And during a age where remakes and/or "re-imaginings" are commonplace - and mostly sucking - that's quite the achievement. As some commentators - er, commentated - this is the dream job for Keanu: wide eyed, not necessary to show emotion, etc., etc. Myself, I don't have any problems with the Reeves - I'm actually a defender of his (the Matrix movies were phenomenal, and I dug his performance in all three). Replacing the anti-nuke theme of the original in favor of 'Save the blasted environment!', the flick conveys it's message well, but where it truly failed was it's explanation of why Klaatu decides, 'Well, sure, I'll tell that big orb thingie to just leave 'cuz I'm not convinced humanity deserves to survive.' Being a bloke on planet Earth, even I wasn't convinced mankind should stick around, so Klaatu's "turn" wasn't successful in the slightest. Still, good movie. Dug the poster.

Death Race
dir. Paul W.S. Anderson *** (out of ****)
This film has no right to be as fun as it is. It's utterly ridiculous and dumb in so many ways, but I loved every minute of it. Plus, you have Jason Statham (Transporter 3) as your lead, how can you go wrong? Oh, and attractive girls in skimpy outfits. The racing sequences were fun, if nothing extrodinary. I confess, I became quite involved when the Bad Woman (forgot her name, and not really in the mood to look it up) was messing around with Statham's character, trying to get him to fail.

Definitely, Maybe
dir. Adam Brooks ***1/2 (out of ****)
Alright, don't kill me: I dig this romantic comedy. In fact, I think it's a near perfect film. From the producers of the sublime 2003 comedy Love Actually, this is the type of romantic comedy I'd rather sit through than The Notebook or Nights in Rodanthe. Sweet, earnest, and fun, Definitely, Maybe also did what I thought was impossible: it made Ryan Reynolds. It's a fantastic look back to the 1990s (so, so long ago...), and it also works as a good character study. The great thing about this flick is that you actually care about our main character, and you're completely invested in the identity of Abigal Breslin's mother. So, instead of looking at it as a romantic comedy, look at it as a thriller!

Drillbit Taylor
dir. Steven Brill ** (out of ****)
One of those ‘Big Guy stands up for the Little Guy’ stories, but with a twist: the ‘Big Guy’ is actually a ‘Big Loser’, and initially is using the Little Guys for money! Not brilliant by any means, but Drillbit Taylor was a nice distraction from life when I needed it. If it wasn’t for the suck-fest of that week, I probably wouldn’t have liked this film as much as I did. Although most of the jokes during the first hour was rather hit and miss, the finale was perfect; the fight in the house, the samurai sword, Drillbit’s “turn”, and the friendship between the three leads. It’s your standard fare, but at least it was well done, which can’t be said for too many pictures these days. Drillbit is definitely worth a rental.

Eagle Eye dir. D.J. Caruso *** (out of ****)
A smart thriller (or maybe dumb, and I'm just unintelligent) starring Shia LaBeouf (Transformers) and Michelle Monaghan (Made of Honor), it handles action and sci-fi elements and mixes 'em together rather nicely. I liked the movie, and enjoyed the thrillyness of it (hence being a thriller), but what I remember most from the flick is Michael Chiklis dressed in a suit (a sight not so common), Rosario Dawson looking beautiful as usual, and Billy Bob Thorton in yet another movie. Seriously, that dude's like Sam Jackson and Morgan Freeman - they're everywhere! But honestly, good movie - nothing spectacular; nice waste of time.

Forbidden Kingdom
dir. Rob Minkoff ***1/2 (out of ****)
Two names - Jet Li & Jackie Chan. Two awesome martial arts masters. In a movie. Together. Kicking ass. That alone makes this a "must-see" movie, and what's even more surprising is that it's not a total loss. I was expecting something near Jaws: The Revenge territory, but it was actually pretty well concieved and written. Acting wise, I found it a little above Disney-channel area (including Mr. Chan, regrettably). Although there was more special effects than I would have liked, and it felt far too "American" than Chinese - I still dug the movie. For fans of these two martial arts masters, this is a must-see; it may not be all that great, nor is it how I would make the flick, but it's entertaining. Plus, Li as the Monkey King in the flashbacks - priceless.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall
dir. Nicholas Stoller **1/2 (out of ****)
Second only to Dark Knight, Sarah Marshall was the one movie I absolutely had to see - like, immediately. I'm not too sure if it was the premise, the trailer, or the fact that the beautiful Kiersten Bell (TV: Veronica Mars) was co-starring, but Sarah Marshall was destined to be one of my favorite films of the year. Sadly, it didn't meet my rather absurb expectations. Don't get me wrong - the film is great, truly; one of the better projects Apatow has been associated with (I would definitely put this ahead of Knocked Up, behind 40-Year Old Virgin and Superbad), but it just wasn't the laugh-a-minute comedy I was expecting. There were some awkward moments spread throughout the flick (which I guess is what people have come to enjoy from Apatow comedies), and the presence of Jonah Hill has never been more excruciatingly annoying. The movie also has another fantastic thing going for it: Segel's friggin' brilliant "Dracula" musical. I have never loved puppets more. Also, great lyrics, too, dude.

Get Smart dir. Peter Segal *** (out of ****)
A surprisingly solid comedy with Steve Carrell (the awesome Dan in Real Life) and Anne Hathaway (Havoc) as secret agents. Actually, the biggest surprise was that it was pretty funny; as in, I laughed. I didn't expect that from this. And Carrell is bloody fantastic as Max Smart, the bafoon-turned-agent smart dude who also has a crush on Hathaway's character. Speaking about Hathaway, she isn't given all that much to work with, but she creates a memorable character nonetheless. Dwayne Johnson (Southland Tales) shows up, and you pretty much guess how the movie's gonna go from then on, sadly. But overall, fun movie. Definitely a 2008 fav.

Ghost Town dir. David Koepp ** (out of ****)
"Get ready for this novel idea: a dude (this time the socially awkward Ricky Gervais) dies for some odd mintues, wakes up, and finds that he has the ability to see the dead walking amongst the living! This individual begins to talk to the dead, slowly realizing that he is, in fact, having conversations with himself, and must thus weevil out his way out of sounding insane to everyday people. One of these dead have a "final wish" that must be fulfilled, and then they can get off this damn Earth and go get some peace and quiet in the afterlife. A truly stunning and original premise that doesn't get expounded or given a original landscape all that much. GHOST TOWN is nothing more than a alright time-passer when there’s no better comedies on, like PINEAPPLE EXPRESS or SUPERBAD. Although, I admit Gervais occasionally makes the ‘talk-himself-out-of-a-odd-convo’ moments fun to watch, but that’s few and far between."

Hamlet 2
dir. Andrew Fleming * (out of ****)
Some loved, some hated. I fall into the latter category. It was a freakin' genius idea, the whole "Hamlet 2" thing, but the entire movie was simply flat. No laughs. A slight chuckle. And rather stupidly handled overall. Now don't get the impression I went into this movie looking to hate it - nah, the exact opposite: I was quite eager to see it. With all the rave reviews from Cannes and a bunch of other festivals, and a brilliant idea, how could it go wrong? Well, I blame two aspects of the film: actor Steve Coogan (Tropic Thunder) who is anything but humorous, and a shitty screenplay.

dir. Peter Berg *** (out of ****)
I'm apparently one of the few people on the planet who thinks this is a terrific film. Obviously, it has it's faults here and there, but what flick doesn't? Sporting a brilliant story and a nice version of supehero mythology, Hancock is everything I was looking for. Sure, I wouldn't have minded a bit more of that seriousness prevelent in the film's first thirty minutes - Hancock's darkness and self-destructive nature - but the rest of the movie follows the same formula in every other superhero movie, so I got no complaints. Oh, and Will Smith is still the man.

The Happening
dir. M. Night Shyamalan ** (out of ****)
I gave Shyamalan the benefit of the doubt; I went into the movie with a open mind, and when it concluded, I couldn't believe that this is what he came up with, and actually thought was good enough to film. In retrospect, it feels very much like a fan's interpertation of what a Shyamalan movie should feel like. Mark Wahlberg stars here in a performance worse than Max Payne (and that's accomplishing something). No film this year deserves a Razzie quite like this one. Now, before anyone passes down judgement on me saying I'm anti-Shyamalan, keep in mind I've dug this guy's flicks (I LOVE Unbreakable, LOVE Signs, ENJOY Lady in the Water, LIKE The Village, and have yet to watch the full movie of SIXTH SENSE), but this is just bad. Lazy direction, uber-super-duper shitty screenplay, Roger Corman-esque performances from our "stars", and the dodgy CGI work (the tiger/arm sequence, anyone?). Skip!

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay dir. **1/2 (out of ****)
The first one sucked, in my opinion, and this was very, very, very good. The trailer itself made me laugh, and the movie delivered absolutely. With a stoned George W. Bush, a apperance by Neil Patrick Harris (a memorable one, at that), escaping from Guantanamo Bay (as the oh-so-subtle title suggests), running into rednecks & inbred children, and some more crazy shennanigans, Harold & Kumar 2 is worth your time.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army dir. Guillermo del Toro *** (out of ****)
The sequel hardly anyone was really anticipating, Hellboy II nonetheless turned out to be a fantastic, visually stunning, beautifully written action/adventure with brains. Instead of commenting on the overall film, I'll just bring up one particular sequence that is one of my favorite scenes of the year: at one point, Red (read: Hellboy) is wounded, and a mystical creature with the ability to heal him tells Selma Blair that if it does heal him, he will bring about the world's end, and that she must choose - him or the world?. Selma doesn't even take a moment to think about it, and she answers "Him." It's a beautiful, powerful scene, and that alone makes it reccomendable. Plus there's that whole sword fighting and kick assery going on.

High School Musical 3: Senior Year dir. Kenny Ortega *** 1/2 (out of ****)
Everyone's favorite high school kids are back for their third and potentially final outing! I confess, I am a HSM fan. I initially wasn't, but I was swayed with the sequel. And, turns out, this third installment is actually the best. It may not have the best songs (that'd be HSM2), but the screenplay, the performances, the stage direction, the musical numbers, etc., etc. - everything is better (and not just bigger) and, well, sorta more adult-ish while keeping the teen/family friendly atmosphere. And I think it's a safe bet that somehow, one of the tunes will be stuck in your head at the end of the day.

The House Bunny
dir. Fred Wolf ** (out of ****)
Surprisingly funny, I was initially reluctant to watch the flick, but in retrospect, glad I did. The wonderful Anna Faris (infamous for the Scary Movie installments) is a Playboy Bunny, but is kicked out of the mansion for being a bit "too old." She enlists in some campus Delta clubs or whathaveyou, and she meets up with a dweeby band of loser girls. Taking it upon herself to "pretty" them up, she, um, pretties them up. OK. Not bad. Alright flik.

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People
dir. Robert D. Weide
"There’s something I call the Pegg Factor, meaning that Simon Pegg is so awesome I’ll see something he’s done just because he’s so damn awesome. This applies to this movie. Perhaps the only other reason why I would go see HOW TO LOSE FRIENDS AND ALIENATE PEOPLE would to find out once and for all if Megan Fox can act (debatable). But instead of making this entirely about Pegg (which I will try my hardest to accomplish), I’ll try to talk about the flick a bit. Honestly, I don’t know how to review this movie, so everything’s going to be more like little scribbles of thoughts."

The Incredible Hulk
dir. Louis Leterrier *** (out of ****)
Go ahead and kill me, but I actually enjoyed Incredible Hulk more than Iron Man. Starring Edward Norton as Bruce Banner, the film is very much a thrilling action adventure, with Banner on the run from the military who want him back in custody to control and experiment. Co-starring the beautiful Liv Tyler as his love interest, she regrettably doesn't come off as anything more than the damsel in distress cliche. Tim Roth (Pulp Fiction) is terrific as the soon-to-become Abomination. And talking about the Big Red, their brawl in L.A. is awesome. Really, super-duper awesome.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
dir. Steven Spielberg **1/2 (out of ****)
The first fifteen minutes is terrific - seriously great stuff. Everything else...sorta fell apart. Towards the films middle, I actually started to get a bit sleepy and/or restless (and this has happened during most screenings for me); the finale is the thing I have the biggest grudge about: the aliens. Nah, excuse me - "interdimensional beings." I would have been fine with the Crystal Skeletons, but once they formed together and it became a breathing being again (oddly resembling classic 1950's aliens), I was angry. That is not the direction it should have went. Another small problem: the Tarzan moment with Shia; I believe that if they filmed that on location, and didn't rely on such heavy CGI, and perhaps shot it a bit tighter, it might have worked, but as it is, not so much. A dissapointing attempt, but I'm still game for a fifth installment.

Iron Man dir. Jon Favreau **1/2 (out of ****)
When I walked into the theater for the early screening of Iron Man, I went out of obligation and not interest; obligation to comics and Marvel, really. But, hey, I got news for yah: turns out Iron Man is a pretty damn good movie. Intelligent screenplay, the fantastic duo of Robert Downey, Jr., Terrance Howard and Gwyneth Paltrow, and some cool action sequences to boot. Only downside: the flick could use a bit of trimming in the editing suite.

umper dir. Doug Liman *1/2 (out of ****)
Directed by the dude who introduced Brad Pitt to Angeline Jolie in Mr. & Mrs. Smith (thank you, Liman, ger), Jumper stars Hayden Christensen (Star Wars - Episode III: Revenge of the Sith) as a really self-indulgent bloke who can teleport. Thought dead by his childhood sweetheart, he gets lonely and "resurrects" himself to see her. Now all grown up (Rachel Bilson, The O.C.), they go to Rome and have the time of their lives - until the kickass Sam Jackson arrives to damper their oh-so-jolly day. Bad script, bad dialogue, decent special effects - Jumper is a sleeper.

Kung Fu Panda dir. Mark Osborne, John Stevenson ***1/2 (out of ****)
I waited until the dollar theaters to see this gem, and it turned out being a great comedy film with jokes for people of all ages. Sure, the animation may not being spectacular, but the script and the jokes more than make up for any imperfections. And this is coming from a bloke who initially had no interest in this. So, yeah, Kung Fu Panda is awesome.

The Love Guru dir. Mr. I Should Be Ashamed of Myself
Mike Meyers was a God after Goldmember (I loved it), but this fell so completely flat, this was a giant disappointment. The only saving grace was a laugh I had during the final credits, in which Mini-Me (the actor) says something related to his height, and that gave me a nicce chuckle. Otherwise, this was a true, Titanic disaster. Stay away, I commend thee! Nothing but badness to see here. In fact, I'm pretty sure my humorless teachers can not only interest me more but also make me laugh. So, sod this flick. Meyers, your next film is a "make it" or "break it" for this audience member - better do something good.

Made of Honor dir. Paul Weiland * (out of ****)
Pretty. Damn. Bad. Now, I can endure romantic movies - comedies and dramas - but this was just dreadful. Like, almost worst movie of 2008 bad. Patrick Dempsey has never been more annoying. Not even the presence of Michelle Monaghan (Mission: Impossible III) could save this movie from being garbage. Suck-tacular script, shit-pile performances - just....GUGH! Honestly, take it from me: skip it, cool?

Max Payne dir. John Moore * (out of ****)
The damn trailer tricked me into wasting $10.25 on this piece of garbage flick. If I knew this movie was going to be about a pharmacutical drug, I wouldn't have bothered. My interest was in the giant winged beasts and the end-of-the-world, Constantine-ish feeling that I got from the trailer. And the idea of seeing Mila Kunis kick ass and look hot doing it was appealing as well. Turns out, the movie didn't hold up to expectations even remotely close. The only somewhat positive thing to say about this film is that the action sequences, when such a thing happens, are actually fun to watch.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
dir. Rob Cohen ** (out of ****)
No doubt some believe the Mummy franchise died with Mummy Returns, but this is the true nail in the coffin. Seemingly made with hardly any enthusasim, this quickly-made third film stars Fraser (Weiz is out, and her absence is greatly felt) and brings in Jet Li to spice things up, but his presence really doesn't add anything. I blame the screenwriters and Rob Cohen for turning a fantastic franchise into B-movie territory.

My Best Friend's Girl
dir. Howard Deutch ** (out of ****)
"MY BEST FRIEND’S GIRL is an alright movie. Much to my surprise, I actually laughed quite loudly (in the vacant theater) during one particular montage/countdown sequence. In the very beginning of the movie, the flick jumps between dates Tank have had and some of the tactics he’s used to repulse his companions. Some of these moments are pure, beautiful genius. The movie has its high points, surprisingly, but the rest of it is just sorta…there. Nothing exciting or new, nothing that will exactly make you want to recommend this ‘masterpiece’ to your buddies – it’s just a nice time passer."

Never Back Down dir. Jeff Wadlow *1/2 (out of ****)
I enjoyed the movie. Sorta. Kinda. At least, I think I did. Anyway, I'm not going to write anything more down for this, but what I highly suggest is you check out this review from Foywonder.com. It's brilliant. Deserves to be published in a magazine.

Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist dir. Peter Sollett *** (out of ****)
No, this is not Juno 2, and I'm surprised so many people think it is. Instead, it's one of those life-changing teen drama/comedies that take place during the course of a single night. This eagerly anticipated release (on my part) didn't dissapoint. Feeling very realistic and naturalistic, Nick & Nora is a pretty damn good movie about relationships, friendships, and life. The dialogue sounds accurate (except when it comes to the discussions on music - then I got no frakkin' idea what they're saying), the music is nifty (in fact, TARGET has the CD on sale for $7.98 this week, might pick it up), and Cera and Dennings truly kicked major ass. Speaking about Katt Dennings, that girl needs to make it big, right now-ish. She's a great, charismatic actress who deserves a part that will make her even more notable. Don't miss this one.

Nights in Rodanthe dir. George C. Wolfe

I thought the film was rather blah, if you get my meaning. It was one of those romance movies where the entire thing felt forced, and nothing organically evolved. Thing is, I can't pinpoint who to blame. I feel as though both Gere and Lane did a respectable job as far as their performances ago, and the script was tight enough but yet loose enough for their romance to develop, but it just didn't click. I have no intention of watching this movie again, so maybe someone else can tell me their reflections. Overall, it's neither good or bad, it's stuck in the inbetween bin, really. Though, props to James Franco, who's in the movie for a total of two minutes, and his few scenes were quite touching.

Over Her Dead Body dir. Jeff Lowell
Would it surprise anyone that I saw this movie solely because of Eva Longoria? Didn't think so. Oh, and also to support my homeboy Jason Biggs (Saving Silverman). The fact that Paul Rudd (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and Lake Bell (TV: Boston Legal) also starred only helped matters, and made this pretty much mediocre movie rise a little bit above the bar of Dumbville. There's not a ounce of originality in its body, and the jokes are more often flat than not, but it's the actors and us loving them that sells the flick. Enitrely skippable, but if it's on TNT or some station at night, there's worse things to watch.

Pineapple Express dir. Seth Gordon Green ***1/2 (out of ****)

The funniest comedy of the year, hands down, and I was reluctant to see it. The perfect popcorn/pop combo, beautiful ex-girlfriend to my side, Pineapple Express had us laughing very, very loudly throughout most of its running time. Not only was it a great laugh track, but the characters were so wonderfully written and acted by everyone (show Franco some love, guys - he's completely made up for the abysmal performance in Spider-Man 3). Everything about this movie - the acting, 'script', the jokes, the music - was perfect. Definitely the most enjoyable time I had at the multiplexes this year.

Pride and Glory
dir. Gavin O'Connor ** (out of ****)
If you're looking for a decent good cop/bad cop drama, go watch The Shield. As it is, Pride and Glory offers nothing in the way of originality, and the only real reason to watch the flick would be a one Mr. Edward Norton, playing the "good cop." "Bad cop" is played by Colin Ferrel (In Bruges), and he delivers a supbar performance. Really, the flick's main fault is that you're never truly invested in these characters or their plight - nothing seems to matter. The script very much feels like a "beat-by-beat" outline, not ever coming into its own. It's decent, but I recommend Street Kings over this.

Prom Night
dir. Nelson McCormick
Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad. Nothing good. Just bad. Stay away. Stay very much away. As in, looking at the DVD cover for a long period of time might BURN OUT YOUR EYES! ....you've been warned...

Quantum of Solace
dir. Marc Foster ** (out of ***)
Big-time disappointment. This Bond film could have beaten the hell out of the Bourne movies (which I hold to the highest regards), but instead became a uninspired, uninteresting mess of ideas (when they were apparent), and an abundant amount of laziness in every area of production. The single bright side of Solace is the imposing and friggin' Bond personafied Daniel Craig (The Invasion), who reeks of awesomeness in every scene. Now, if only the script was better, Craig could seriously have owned every ounce of this movie, but as it is, his awesomeness is leveled at normal awesomeness, not jaw-dropping awesomeness like the film's potential had.

Rambo dir. Sylvester Stallone *** (out of ****)
The quintissential action movie of the year, Rambo delivered in every sense. Now, I've never actually watched any of the others, but this Rambo - for what it is - is off the hook awesomeness. The violence of Shoot 'Em Up and Wanted is child's play compared to this.

Run, Fatboy Run dir. David Schwimmer ** (out of ****)

Similar to another movie on this list, there is only one reason why I saw it: Simon Pegg, the brilliant actor from the likes fo Shaun of the Dead, Spaced, and Hot Fuzz. Luckily, he's able to infuse enough life into this flick to not make it a total waste.

Saw V dir
. David Hackl **1/2 (out of ****)
Look for a more solid review when the DVD comes out.

Seven Pounds
dir. Gabriele Muccino **1/2 (out of ****)
The posters and the trailers were extremely vauge on the story's plot, and honestly drew me in; I needed to see this film. While it's a pretty decent film, it's nowhere near the dramatic masterpiece I was expecting. But Will Smith is still unquestionably The Man. Accompanied by Rosario Dawson as a dying woman who Smith befriends, Smith's Ben Thomas seeks to help seven people, though his motives are clouded in secrecy (though there are some pretty big hints throughout the flick). If one stands back and takes themselves out of the publicity for this movie, they'll find that Seven Pounds is all-around good, but nothing spectacular movie that deserves to be seen.

Sex Drive dir. Sean Anders *** (out of ****)
"Almost every minute there's a joke; sometimes it falls flat, but most of the time, it elicited a laugh-out-loud moment. Sure, there's plenty of gags or plot points that have been 'lifted' from several other teen comedies, so the originality factor isn't very high, but somehow, everything felt fresh - like hearing it for the first time, sitting in that theater, and I loved 'em."

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2
dir. Sanaa Hamri ** (out of ****)
Superior than the original, Sisterhood 2 puts our main characters through dilemmas a plenty: a pregnancy scare, dealing with family history, coerced into a performance, and something about man troubles. I enjoyed the first one, and this time 'round, I was more or less swayed by Amber Tambyln (Normal Adolescent Behavior). I was intrigued by Tamblyn's storyline, but I was most impressed with Lively's family problems. This probably is one of those movies where I shouldn't really admit I watched it, but what the hell - it was good, I liked it.

Slumdog Millionaire dir. Danny Boyle **** (out of ****)
Total surprise for me. Slumdog ended up being my favorite film of 2008 because it mixed a bunch of elements, and story threads, into one coherent, wonderfully made film. The 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire' storyline with the interrogation, the host and his misgivings; the life-time long connection between Jamaal and Latika; the answers to 'How did he know the answer to the question?'; and finally, the over-arching story of Jamaal and his brother Salim. Bring in the wonderful choice of music, and you have a fantastic movie that I will most definitely pick up the DVD for opening day.

Speed Racer dir. Larry & Andy Wachowski ** (out of ****)

I don't get the hate for this movie. Sure, maybe the script isn't all that great (there's worse in the world), and the acting is very 1940's-ish, and every shot has a rainbow of CGI colors (creating a feeling that you're on acid), but for me, I liked the crazy CGI and I thought the script was actually better than anticipated. At the very least, it had a plot. May have been a loose plot, or a plot in name only, but there was a plot. The Wachowski's presented a very interesting way of direction with this movie, and that alone is why I would recommend it - bring a bit of originality to Hollywood, y'know? Look, the movie is filled with faults, but it's also very well done, and extremely enjoyable (ecspecially the racing sequences).

The Spirit dir. Frank Miller ** (out of ****)
"The Spirit isn't the horrible, plague-ridden movie everyone seems to make it out to be. It's essentially really mindless fun, and a nice way to kill almost two hours. However, their complaints are warranted, and among some: the over-use of the Sin City black & white/occassional color technique, the lack of any sort of originality in script or direction, and a lackluster but not entirely horrible screenplay. I do wish a different director was chosen for this project, but for what we have, it's a decent movie that could use some improvement."

Star Wars: The Clone Wars
dir. Dave Filoni ** (out of ****)
Critics have been unkind, mercilessly bashing the flick every chance possible - though it's not like the die-hard Star Wars fans are being any more lenient. Clone Wars isn't nearly as bad as everyone makes it out to be. This movie is aimed specifically for the younger audience, and in that regard, it is quite successful. It doesn't have the darkness of Episode III because it's not suppose to be that. Now, I absolutely agree that Zorba the Hutt (the Truman Capote-sounding thingy) was quite terrible - in fact, that creature infuriated me moreso than Jar Jar Binks. I'm still not so much a fan of Asoka, but I do like their versions of Anakin and Obi-Wan. It's not great, but it also doesn't deserve ridicule either. The only downside of this release is that the last theatrical Star Wars movie in theaters would be, well, this; I woulda rather have Episode III be the last, but oh well. I still recommend this flick.

Step Up 2: The Streets
dir. Jon Chu *1/2 (out of ****)
Not the target audience, got that. Only reason I went to see this was for the dances, see if I would be 'awed' and 'wowed' as I was with Take the Lead. I wasn't. The dance sequences in Step Up 2 are actually quite lame, as is the extremely redundant and lacking in the slightest bit of originality screenplay.

dir. Kimberly Peirce ** (out of ****)
Um, yeah. It was good. Good as in fantastically acted, decently scripted, and averagely directed. Very dramatic. Might cry. Yeah, um...there's a reason I didn't review this movie, and it's pretty much that I got to idea what to say about it.

The Strangers
dir. Bryan Bertino *1/2 (out of ****)
After a first viewing, The Strangers doesn't hold up well. The 'suspense' is pretty much gone, and all you're left with is a rathing boring feature with only Liv Tyler to look at. However, first time around, it's pretty decent. Predictable, mostly, but successful when it comes to tension. To me, the film's best sequence is its third to last, when the three Baddies stand over their two victims (this has been seen in the theatrical trailer several times over). There's room for improvement, but taking into account the mega amount of horror crap released lately, this was pretty good.

Street Kings
dir. David Ayer *** (out of ****)
Sure beats the hell out of Pride and Glory; but it also cheats because I am one of the few people on Earth who like Keanu Reeves. I thought his was a decent, if all-around unspectacular good cop/bad cop drama with some twists and turns. The main draw for the flick was Forrest Whitaker, who had recently delivered a outstanding performance in season 5 of The Shield, and although he isn't given as much to do as I'd like, he still kicks some serious ass in all his scenes.

Superhero Movie dir. Craig Mazin
*1/2 (out of ****)
That was mildly funny, and I don't know why. I am completely against such parodies these days, but this was is a tiny exception. Making fun mostly of Spider-Man, this comedy has laughs here and there - sometimes far and inbetween - but the underlying message is: there's worse. Not sure if that's much of an endorsement. Worth a rental.

Swing Vote dir. Joshua Michael Stern ** (out of ****)

I hate politics, and I don't like movies with Presidents in them. Oh, and Kevin Costner is annoying to look at every once and a while. But oh well, the flick was decent. It played like a big-budget Hallmark Channel picture, and that's grand for some, but I'm not a fan of the channel. One thing I appreciated was that it addressed bigger topics than I initally anticipated; I thought it was going to be simple kiddie fare. Easily skippable, but it's a nice distraction.

Transporter 3 dir. Oliver Megaton ** (out of ****)

"Martial arts, bullets flying, Big Bad guy, hot women, giant explosions, loose plot, terrible one-liners, and scenes constructed for the sole purpose of getting Jason Statham's shirt off: this formula has been the centerpiece for all three Transporter films, and it worked like a charm the first two times. The third time around, not so much. Now, I love the first two: they are a insanely fun, hour and a half diversion of everyday life where you get to watch random dudes get the shit kicked out of them - cool style, stuff getting blown the hell up, and a plethora of very attractive girl(s) (romantic interest or not). I get that these movies are mindless entertainment, the purest form of escapism. Watching the first and second installments, it felt no time had passed at all as I was witness to all this awesome kick-assery; however, with this one I felt myself checking my watch every once and a short while, wondering when the hell this flick was either going to improve, get to the point, or end."

Tropic Thunder dir. Ben Stiller ** (out of ****)
Going in, I assumed this was going to be the comedy event of the year - turned out I didn't laugh all that much. It feels like a war movie a la Platoon with jokes sprinkled in here and there. Of course, Robert Downey, Jr. was amazing as his role of Kirk Lazarus, the deeply method actor. Hands down, the highlight and definitely deserves a nomination. Ben Stiller is slightly likeable, whereas Jack Black is annoying in every single sequence he's in; boy I wish he got blown'd up in the movie. There were some really awesome action sequences, but I feel as though this movie didn't live up to what it potentially could have been - and it could have been the best movie of the year. But, at the very least, it was mildly entertaining; not something I'm gonna watch repeatedly.

Twilight dir. Catherine Hardwicke *** (out of ****)

Since Harry Potter's in hibernation for a while, the teen-vampire romance series Twilight is taking a go at the spotlight. I can honestly say I am flabbergasted that I liked this flick. Granted, it has problems, but the movie is enjoyable enough to just not bother with it. However, I still have a huge problem with the romance between Edward and Bella - the whole relationship is founded purely on Edward's oh-so-dreamy looks, and pretty much nothing else. If that was touched on at all during the course of the movie(s), I would have been satisfied, but we're stuck with a girl willing to give her life to a guy she hardly knows, and out of context is actually a creeper, without a good, solid reason.


It was January time, and I needed a good movie to see. Ultimately, Untraceable is just mediocre, barely able to sustain my interest during the running time. Nothing new, nothing interesting, and nothing remotely engaging, Untraceable was a by-the-numbers 'thriller' that was lackluster in all departments, and not all that enjoyable. Still, I know people who liked I Know Who Killed Me, so compared to that movie, this is akin to The Godfather.

Valkyrie dir. Bryan Singer ** (out of ****)

Unfortunately, not the Oscar-worthy film I was expecting, but it was nonetheless a modest, if unspectacular attempt. Sporting plenty of phenomenal actors - with the likes of Kenneth Brangah and Bill Nighy - theren't nothing wrong in the performance department (no Cruise dissing here), but I probably would spice things up in the screenplay; draw out the tension a little bit more, clarify a few things here and there, and adds more emotional depths to said characters. As it stands, we have only a sentence-like understanding of who these people are. But no, definitely not the horrid movie people make it out to be.

Vantage Point

I thought this was a smart, adrenaline-inducing action/thriller that definitely had me at the edge of my seat no matter how many times the clock was irritably reset.

Vicky Christina Barcelona dir. Woody Allen ** (out of ****)

Am I the only one who didn't think this flick was all that great?
Almost every review I've read of Vicky Christina Barcelona hails this as a near masterpiece, with the constant voice-over being the only glitch from making this a Oscar nominee (slight exaggeration, but one gets the point). I really don't get it. For the most part, I thought it was decent, but there was no point to any of it. Zilch-o! Or maybe there was and I didn't get the memo - it happens...

W. dir. Oliver Stone *** (out of ****)

The George W. Bush movie, made by no other than Oliver Stone (World Trade Center). Overall, it's a decent, well-crafted movie; I just didn't care for it. The entire thing felt more along the lines of a chore to get through, in all honesty. I do, however, appreciate that Stone made the film specifically on Bush's life, past and present, and not constructing some not-so-subtle message to the likes of: "George Bush is the Antichrist, he is evil!!!" There are some pretty amazing performances from the co-stars (most notably Thadine Newton and Richard Dryfuss), and Brolin is quite convincing as Bush. Overall, a decent movie, but improvements could be made.

WALL-E dir. Andrew Stanton ***1/2 (out of ****)
Normal stuff: social commentary, adorable robot, funny moments, brilliant animation, great script, majestic music, and an all-around fun time, WALL-E is pretty much near perfect. And I hate it when that damn robot says "EVE-A", it just breaks my damn fragile heart; bloody robot.

Wanted dir. Timur Bekmambetov ***1/2 (out of ****)
Great action sequences, great performances from everyone involved, and a wholly enjoyable score, Wanted is one of my favorite movies of the year. The first time I saw it, I ate up every second of it with awe and admiration. The entire first hour and twenty was great - really, but once our main character blasts into the fraternity, guns blazing: well, that was just plain friggin' awesome! It was beautiful! And as guns fly in the air, he throws his guns and grabs the in-flight guns and continues shooting, and repeats. Oh, and the best use of a keyboard ever! Wanted features as these great moments, and some really great dialogue (it was a blast hearing Mr. Narrator Morgan Freeman swear). In summation, Wanted was perfect; it was like Shoot 'Em Up, but with a narrative.

What Happens in Vegas
I actually rather liked this Cameron Diaz/Ashton Kutcher comedy. Granted, wasn't solid gold, but it was pretty enjoyable. Plus, the addition of Lake Bell (Over Her Dead Body) was nice, as she was, once again, a highlight. Hitting each beat of the entirely predictable screenplay, it's the performances of Diaz and Kutcher that actually make it better than mediocre. Their bantering and shenanigansthey they play on each other is one sells the movie; it's fun, it's relatable (sometimes), and you end up rooting from the couple in the end. There's much worse out there that seen by more people than this, so it's worth a shot.

Yes Man dir. Peyton Reed **1/2 *(out of ****)

It felt like this comedy was being marketed for a year - and when that happens, certain expectations tend to occur; I expected this flick to outdo Pineapple Express as the best comedy of 2008...turned out, not so much. While it was good, and definitely a improved performance from Jim Carrey, it still wasn't anything special. There were plenty of successful jokes here and there, but nothing that will overly stand out as time passes (such as Liar Liar's "I'm kicking my own ass!" I apologize to those who thing that's dumb, but I find it funny everytime I watch it; but this is also coming from the bloke who didn't like Elf all that much). If you need one single reason to watch this flick - Zooey D. Aside from being one of the most beautiful Goddesses of the year, she is also hilarious.

You Don't Mess With the Zohan
dir. Dennis Dugan **1/2 (out of ****)
Surprise, surprise, Adam Sandler made a decent post-50 First Dates comedy. I'm going to sum this up rather simply: I enjoyed the character of Zohan far more than I liked the movie he was in.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno dir. Kevin Smith ***1/2 (out of ****)

Sod Judd Apatow
(Knocked Up), Kevin Smith is the true comedy genius. With this jem, Smith has created characters that far surpass anything Apatow concieved - these people are genuine, relatable, and all around fun blokes you wouldn't think twice of hanging out with. Smith is also burdened with the ability of writing romance with comedy elements (something Sarah Marshall was unable to achieve) better than most in the business. Elizabeth Banks and Seth Rogen are perfectly cast, and a joy to watch onscreen. It took two viewings for me to fully love this movie, but now I'm convinced it's Smith's second best (Clerks II will always rank supreme).

28 December 2008


STARRING Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy, Kenneth Brangah, Tom Wilkinson, Thomas Kretschmann, Terence Stamp, Eddie Izzard, David Bamber
WRITTEN BY Christoper McQuarrie, Nathan Alexander
DIRECTED BY Bryan Singer
PG-13, 120 mins.

** (out of ****)

Everywhere I turn, VALYRIE is mentioned in the same sentence as “Tom Cruise”, “couch jumping”, and that wonderfully annoying woman “Oprah.” This is unfortunate. The movie should not be judged on Cruise alone, nor should psychologists and industry insiders ponder, “Is Cruise back from that whole being crazy trip?” But for me, the only thing I was thinking about was, “I hope this is enjoyable and I hope I’m not as bored as I was with Singer’s last directorial outing [which was SUPERMAN RETURNS, for those who forgot – yep, bet you just remembered the movie, didn’t yah? It’s alright; it’s an entirely forgettable flick]”. Turns out, VALYRIEwas pretty entertaining, but not nearly as good as I was expecting it to be. I mean, this is Oscar season, and flicks released around this time of year tend to be critiqued a little bit harder then, say, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD'S END (2007).

Aside from Cruise, major complaint #2 for VALKYRIE is a "lack of suspense", because, for those who know even the littlest inkling of history, know that Operation Valkyrie was unsuccessful. I'm happy to report that complaint is unfounded. Somehow, Singer was able to create an insane amount of suspense/tension throughout the flick (especially scenes with Stauffenberg and Hitler in close proximity). Hell, while Stauffenberg was carrying out the mission, my heart was beating rapidly, anxiously thinking, "What's going to happen? What's going to happen?" So, good job in that regard, Mr. Singer! (and for those who think I need a history lesson, you're most likely right on target; besides, most of my knowledge of World War II is Manhattan Project related) Although, honestly, I would love to see Edward Zwick's (THE LAST SAMURAI) version of this movie - it probably would be bloody brilliant whilst emotionally moving.

Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Cruise) joins a group of high-ranking German officials in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler (Bamber). Codenamed "Valkyrie" after a emegency plan created to use military reinforcements in case of a revolt against the Nazi government. The group intend to use this plan - with some modifications - to control the military reinforcements after Hitler's demise and create a new government and attempt to make peace with the Allies before Germany falls. After one failed attempt, they initiate Operation Valkyrie July 1944, but events don't quite go as planned.

So, with an all-star cast, solid pacing and genuine suspense, why not with the love for VALKYRIE? Well, my main problem is something I know others applaud: lack of character development. I'm quite aware that this film is specifically about these 1944 events, but I wouldn't have minded the film to be more character based then, say, checking off boxes from a 'event' list.

One idea I'd like to mention was Singer's choice to use German in the first minute, and as
Stauffenberg speaks, the German transforms into English. It's a subtle, but very cool way of cue the audience they're speaking German and not perfect English (c'mon, you know there's going to be someone complaining that Germans are speaking English).

There's not much to say about VALKYRIE. It's a well made movie with a great cast. My only grievance is that I would like more time devoted to the characters and who they are and why they're fighting this fight. It could not only be a great thriller, but a good character study. Overall, there's nothing to turn one away from it, nor is there anything that makes it a "must-see." WWII enthusiasts will enjoy it, as will your everday audiences. But honestly, spend your time wisely - go see SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE instead (which I'd call my second favorite film of 2008).

The Spirit

STARRING Gabriel Macht, Eva Mendes, Scarlett Johansson, Stana Katic, Louis Lombardi, Eric Balfour, Jaime King, Samuel L. Jackson
Frank Miller
DIRECTED BY Frank Miller
Lionsgate, PG-13, 103 mins.

** (out of ****)

A unfortunate side-effect of reading reviews of a movie before you’re able to view it is that sometimes those reviews impact your opinion of the film as you watch it. I think that happened with The Spirit. However, despite the negative buzz that might have altered my open-mindedness, there is plenty of bad in the movie to validate the reviews. But there also are a few positives things that can be said, just nothing involving writer/director Frank Miller.

Deceased cop Denny Colt rises from his grave as the seemingly indestructible “Spirit” (Macht), a well-suited masked individual who stalks the buildings of Central City to fight and punish crime. Of particular notoriety is the tyrant Octopus (Jackson), who is equally invulnerable, and seeks to rid himself of the Spirit, his eternal nuisance. Also arriving onto the seen is the mischevious San Saref (Mendes), who not only has a history with the Spirit's former life, but is entering in a deal with the Octopus. Additionally, the Octopus seeks the blood of a God to make him immortal. With stakes raised, the Spirit must finally finish his arch nemesis for the sake of mankind, and that may mean sacrificing those he cares about.

So, let’s begin with Mr. Miller. Obviously taken with the visual style of
Sin City (co-directed by Robert Rodriguez, El Mariachi), Miller decided to incorporate it here. Ultimately, its application is not successful. Although I can say that the style does lend itself to a noir-ish atmosphere, it doesn’t feel particularly right for this project. I haven’t read a single page of Will Eisner’s 1940s Spirit comic strips, but I don’t believe this is the style he would have wanted for a film adaptation. I would think a story like this would be perfect for a dark, moody film, instead of this comic-book-come-to-life treatment. Actually, for those who saw Speed Racer (2008), Spirit echoes its use of cartoonish backdrops: such as a sequence in which The Octopus and his maiden are revealing their master plan; the background is white with a red sun. Also, by using this style once again, Miller has officially lost any interest I have about Sin City 2, since this film pretty much is that movie. The monologues, the black & white (and occasional vibrant colors), and the long coats – this movie is, essentially, the second installment of the Sin City franchise - which is unfortunate.

As ‘The Spirit’, Gabriel Macht is great in the role. Macht always conveys what the Spirit is thinking or feeling, has good comic timing, and, when necessary, can be broody and/or heroic. Maybe it’s the wardrobe that inspired him, but Macht completely owns the role. The film has plenty of problems, but he isn’t one of them. Surprisingly, the actors who perform the worst are the ones I thought who would be terrific. The biggest offender is Scarlett Johansson (Vicky Christina Barcelona), who seems to be trying to channel a little Adam West Batman speak for her character to horrible effect. Her Ms. Floss isn’t remotely interesting, performance-wise or as a character. Eva Mendes (We Own the Night) is, essentially, all beauty and nothing else. Actually, Seychelle Gabriel performs better than Mendes as the younger version of her character! And finally, the magnificent Samuel L. Jackson (Deep Blue Sea) plays the Octopus as manic and over-the-top as possible.

The best performance her
e, surprisingly, is actually Stana Katic (TV: 24) as rooke-cop Morgenstern, who is alive with energy and hilarious, tongue-in-cheek dialogue that made her, for me, my favorite character in the entire movie. Aside from being stunningly beautiful, Katic is also a lot of fun; as opposed to the other actors who appear to be trying too hard to create the illusion of a comic book world, she seems to effortlessly fall into line, obviously enjoying herself while she does it. And her final scenes involving one hell of an awesome fire arm makes me more interested in seeing a spin-off of her character than a sequel of this.

And poor Eric Balfour (
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre); the guy can never seem to get a break: his TV stints usually become canceled or his character dies (24), and this case is no different. His character is onscreen for a good two minutes (that’s being generous) and then dies. Oh well, at least we got to hear a convincing accent. Lous Lombardi (also from 24) is the comic relief as the apparent down sydrome-cloned goon of the Octopuses'. The hilarious part of the character is watching all the different ways he/he's are dispatched.

The movie gets diced for its dialogue and, more specifically, its monologues. I can’t say I completely disagree with their grievances – that they aren’t all that well written – but I enjoyed them. I admit, the constant inner monologuing of the Spirit can get a tad irritating after a half hour, and seem rather redundant (and again, echoes Sin City too much), but I dug that it was part of the film’s style and who the Spirit is. The script also sports some pretty funny one-liners and jokes, and that automatically makes me defend it a little more. It truly is a personification of the Adam West Batman days, really. Although the screenplay is far from perfect, it's not entirely dreadful, either. If there is a second, though, I recommend giving the Nolan brothers a shot at the script - just to be safe.

Concerning the film's storyline, it's not what I expected. Greek mythology and the Gods of Mt. Olympus are introduced and surprisingly are integral to the Spirit and the situation he must face. Although not the direction I would have went, it is, nonetheless, an interesting idea that's rendered nicely, though not entirely successfully. The tale of Jason and the Argonauts is also brought up as part of the history between the Spirit and Saref, which is actually pretty nifty.

As far as any score goes, I can honestly say I can't recall a single note (if there even was a score). So that's a little sad. Editing wise, the film went by smoothly, and nothing seemed to drag, at least for me; I know its length has been unkind to some. In fact, the ending kind of snuck up on me. The foundations for the climax were being laid, and I thought to myself, "Holy potatoes, we're already at the end?" (and it's a pretty damn fun ending with plenty of bullets and Sam Jackson mayhem).

The Spirit
isn't the horrible, plague-ridden movie everyone seems to make it out to be. It's essentially really mindless fun, and a nice way to kill almost two hours. However, their complaints are warranted, and among some: the over-use of the Sin City black & white/occassional color technique, the lack of any sort of originality in script or direction, and a lackluster but not entirely horrible screenplay. I do wish a different director was chosen for this project, but for what we have, it's a decent movie that could use some improvement.

26 December 2008


STARRING Min-sik Choi, Hye-jeong Kang, Ji-tae Yu, Byeong-ok Kim
Garon Tsuchiya
Chan-wook Park
2003, R, 119 mins.

**** (out of ****)

Holy potatoes, Batman! That was one helluva damn good flick. Hell that was a bloody brilliant revenge story, as well. Upon first putting the DVD in my player, I knew absolutely nothing about what I was about to experience – all I knew was that it was a moderate seller at my store and has received some pretty positive reviews. I didn’t know I was about to watch something that not only excels in the story level, but also in the technical side of filmmaking, and features characters so real, so emotionally engrossing that the two-hour running time flows by in what seems like mere minutes.

Now perhaps I’m more predisposed to like Oldboy because of the subject matter of revenge, a particular plot of movies that I favor aggressively (The Count of Monte Cristo is one of my all-time favorite books; though, the Guy Pearce movie adaptation was serviceable at best). But even if that was so, director Chan-wook Park has filmed a masterpiece by his own accord - with beautiful, artsy cinematography and actors so fine tuned that it half feels like you’re watching a documentary.

On a rainy night, Oh Dae-Su (Min-sik Choi), your everyday businessman, is captured and imprisoned for fifteen years in a bedroom. With only a television to keep him company, Dae-Su learns about the death of his wife, and that he is the main suspect. In order to keep track of the passing years, he tattoos his body and teaches himself how to fight. Suddenly, fifteen years in captivity, Dae-Su wakes up and finds himself a free man. Famished, he walks into a restaurant recommended by a television station and meets up with a feisty girl by the name of Mi-do (Hye-jeong Kang), who immediately grows a liking to him. Together, the two find out why Dae Su was abducted and who is responsible, and with each passing clue, Dae Su comes closer and closer to his revenge.

Something Oldboy is most notable for is its ‘twist’ ending that puts anything M. Night Shyalman to shame. Knowing next to nothing about the flick going in, I wasn’t really thinking it was leading in the direction it ended up taking, but once certain elements of the story were introduced, I was beginning to piece them together. Still, the climax is a woozy, and I am utterly dumbfounded it concluded in such a way – but it is undeniably bloody brilliant, and entirely appropriate, not to mention very intelligent. Kudos to you, kind sirs!

Also, I just want to give a shout-out to the title. I imagine anyone looking at the cover, knowing nothing about the plot, have a huge question mark on their face, "What the hell does 'Oldboy' mean and what the hell does it have to do with this?' Bad me - the cover and story lead me to believe it was a love story of some kind. Yeah, I know, laugh at me all you want. But once certain scenes showed up, and the reason the title is what it is is revealed, it's one of those 'Holy potatoe-fries, Batman!' It's brilliant. The title sums up the entire movie whilst any foreigner to the title will be completely dumbfounded as to what it means. I haven't been this happy and/or proud of a title since The Dark Knight revealed it's true meaning once the credits rolled.

There are many reasons why Oldboy is so well crafted, but there are two in particul
ar I want to mention. First is actor Min-sik Choi (Dae-Su), who best creates his character through expressions. If the entire movie was filmed with the camera stationed at Dae-Su’s eyes, you would still register every emotion and every thought that passed through his head. I was quite surprised by the range Min-sik Choi was able to convey just by, say, the way he brushes back his hair during certain sequences. Give this guy no dialogue whatsoever, his performance would still excel above and beyond.

Second is writer/director C
han-wook Park, who films the movie with such energy that helps the 2-hour running time pass like nothing at all. The camera seems to be in constant motion, which could be a reflection of Dae-Su’s character. One brilliantly filmed sequence – which has no doubt been discussed before – is a three-minute, uninterrupted fight in a hallway, where Dae-Su puts Kill Bill Vol. 1’s ‘House of Blue Leaves’ swordfight to shame. Another thing about how Oldboy was crafted – it seems to relish in the tension. Additionally, there are moments where something rather cartoony happens onscreen that, despite its absurdity, doesn’t take you out of the film; it’s obvious Park is having fun, and that translates well with the audience. I believe I mentioned editing earlier, and if I didn’t, now I am – but I would like to also give kudos to the editing team because everything is so skillfully put together. With everything that happens in the movie, it would be inevitable that the film would drag – but through some miracle, it never does; the movie goes by at lightning speed.

And for those who are interested in watching Oldboy but are turned off by subtitles (such as the theatrical release of Jet Li’s Hero), Tartan Entertainment has also included a English dubbed track which starts automatically. Luckily, the original Korean dialogue is included as a audio option with English subtitles – which are thankfully easy to read (I’m used to the shoddy subtitles work by Classic Media for their Godzilla DVDs). The DVD also comes with a plethora of bonus material I didn’t expect, first and foremost being an audio commentary with writer/director Mr. Park and cinematographer Jeong-hun Jeong.

Armed with an amazing screenplay, phenomenal actors, airtight editing, catchy m
usic, and a twisted although wholly-awesome finale, Oldboy comes highly, highly recommended. And this is coming from a dude who was resilient to watch it in the first place, so doesn’t that say a little something? Hell, I feel like I don't want to finish with this revie and just keep on talking about the movie.

Oldboy has sparked a renewed interest in foreign films for me. I will be actively seeking out Park’s other revenge films (Sympathy for Lady Vengeance and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance) and reviewing them here, as well. In case my proclamation is too subtle, I will blatantly say this to you: locate a copy of Oldboy and watch it immediately; there's bound to be something that anyone will enjoy.