25 February 2010

Edge of Darkness, From Paris with Love


Cast: Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston
Writer: William Monahan, Andrew Bovell, Troy Kennedy Martin (series)

Director: Martin Campbell

Release: 29 January 2010

BBC Films, 117 mins., Rated R

For a movie that's visually pleasing and a powerhouse performance vehicle, it's a tad saddening I don't have much to say about Edge of Darkness. I'll get the most publicized portion of the movie out of the way right now: this is Mel Gibson's return to a starring role in almost eight years, since the really, truly awesome Signs, and he comes back with a tried and true role in which he always kicks ass in: a pissed off father/husband seeking some retribution. Yes, Mel's still got the chops, but it seems like it's takes him a while to get back into the game. More on this later.

Edge of Darkness is a movie adaptation of a BBC miniseries (also directed by Campbell) that follows Thomas Craven (Gibson) embark on a bloodhunt to find the murderer of his daughter Emma. As he investigates with absolutely nothing to lose, he finds that Emma worked for a seedy organization that may or may not have been manufacturing some not-exactly-legal things, and that puts him as Target #1 on the company's hit list. A problem control specialist, Jedburgh (Winstone) is tasked with controlling the situation, or hunting Craven down. Either way, Craven ain't gonna stop until either A) the company is exposed, or B) everybody's dead.

Notes & Reflections (Spoilers)
Good, but not great. Carefully structured, screenplay wise, by William Monahan and Andrew Bovell, with the tragic event happening within the first 10 minutes and with each new act a new revelation totally jaw-dropping Thomas. And then the ending sneaks up on you, which sorta comes off anticlimatic - a strange thing to say considering there's a gunfight, and a lot of people die, a la The Departed (also scripted by Monahan). Speaking of a gunfight - this is NOT Taken 2.0. This is a far more intricately plotted story, with corporate conspiracies, hitmen, hired publicity control dudes whose idea of stopping a story is by permanently stopping those who can tell it. It's a revenge story, yes, that drives the plot forward - the momentum of Thomas finding out who is behind Emma's murder - but that's not the only element here. It's a complicated story...sorta. But when the guns do go blazing, it's short, sweet, and awesome.

Gibson seems a little rusty. Sometimes he just doesn't seem to know how to 'do' or 'sell' a certain thing, which is weird 'cuz he should be a master what with his revenge-driven movies like Patriot and Payback. But overall, his performance was fine. His Massachusetts accent was kinda distracting; perhaps DiCaprio can give him some voice lessons? And the always awesome Ray Winstone gives another phenomenal performance as a man unsure of himself and the messed up situation at hand. His character, Jedburgh, was almost more interesting than Thomas was. And finally, there's the movie's villain, played by Danny Huston. All I'll say about him is that I now forgive him for partially shitting up Wolverine last summer with his horrible William Stryker.

Awesome Scene of Awesomeness
Thomas Craven has the whole story, and it's finally time to take some well-deserved bullet-to-body revenge on these motherfrakkers. Chaos ensues.

Final Verdiction
Good movie, just not good enough. However, I can say that the film has inspired me to find a copy of the BBC miniseries. I'm not sure if the momentum would be lost, or if there's a bazillion other things in the miniseries that wasn't even touched upon in the movie that makes up for a lot of its running time. As for Martin Campbell and Mel Gibson's Edge of Darkness...I liked it, but I wasn't moved by it. I guess I just would have liked to be closer to the Edge...(get it? Edge? As in Edge of Darkness? The movie's title? Alright, I'll stop: I'm annoying myself)


Cast: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, John Travolta, Kasia Smutniak
Writer: Adi Hasak & Luc Besson

Director: Pierre Morel
Release: 05 February 2010

EuropaCorp, 92 mins., Rated R

I love surprises. As in, you fully expect a movie not to be all that fantastic, but at least a little bit decent so you can justify the money you just spent from your hard-earned paycheck. From Paris with Love had a bit of a dodgy beginning - the first 15 or so minutes where things just didn't really groove (although we did get to see the beautiful Kasia Smutniak is a pretty outfit, which I didn't for a second mind) - but then Charlie Wax enters the picture, and it's just one awesome fun sequence after another, and by the time the credits rolled, I was sincerely hoping for a franchise to stem out of this baby (am I the only one?)

James Reece (Meyers), personal aide to the U.S. Ambassador in France, is trying to get into the CIA business, see some real action. For now, mostly all low-level stuff, like planting a bug in a secretary's office, changing license plates, etc., etc. And then he gets to go back home to his beautiful French girlfriend (Smutniak). Impressed by his desire and determination, the CIA offer his a special assignment: partnering up with special agent Charlie Wax (Travolta), who's one of those 'stick a bullet in his head and then ask questions' type of action-y blokes. Initially disturbed by Wax and his style, the two form a sort of comradery. James' already bad day gets worse as he finds out that not only has he been bugged, but he's a person of special interest in a big Bad Guy Group. Wax fires guns, James carries some coke, and it's bromance in France like no other.

Notes & Reflections (Spoilers)
Jonathan Rhys Meyers didn't exactly thrill me with his skills, and his goofy-looking mustache was a little distracting. By the end, his character warmed up to me, but I'm still not fond of Meyers. He's kind of...one note? Travolta, on the other hand, is having a friggin' blast, and I was right along with him. Thankfully a bit more subdued than his erratic character in Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, although he seems to sport the same style (leather jacket; bald head; a lot of facial hair; excessive swearing). Kasia Smutniak is the girlfriend, and she's surprisingly more pivotal to the plot than I thought. So kudos, writers, for throwing a cruve ball. Plus, she's hot. So that works in the movie's favor.

The script seems to be leveling a Pulp Fiction/Lucky Number Slevin playing field, and for the most part, it works (but unfortunately doesn't reach the levels of sheer brilliance as those two flicks). There's long tantrums (mostly made by Charlie) about seemingly inconsequential things (food, the use of 'motherfucker', snorting coke), and they're quite amusing to listen to. There's also a funny homage, deliberate or just by mistake, to Travolta's character Vincent Vega from Pulp Fiction, with Wax being a fan of the 'royale with cheese.' Another nifty thing is that there's two genuine surprises in store, but I guess I should have expected it, what with all the action/thriller movies I've seen, it's a common plot device (especially in 24).

The action is fast and exhilarating. The jokes are actually funny. The relationship between Charlie and Reese is amusing and entertaining. The script is smart. Yeah, I'd say From Paris with Love is good, and definitely worth watching.

Awesome Scene of Awesomeness
Not all the bad guys are dead. Wax, in turn, takes some handy C4 that just happens to be on a nearby table, and along with Reese, calculate the seconds or minutes it takes for a group of three to run down eight or so flights of stairs. Wax prepares the C4, walks to the window, drops the C4, and everything comes together at just the right time for a oh-so-pretty explosion of Bad Guy body parts. The day is saved.

Final Verdiction
I liked it. I thought it was a fun, quirky, sorta twisty-turny buddy cop/CIA movie with one awesome lead actor and another not as stellar lead actor. The pace was quick, too the point; the script was intelligent and actually seemed like effort was put forth into the making of this baby (a rarity for January/February movies; e.g., When in Rome, The Tooth Fairy). At the end of the day, when I look back at the highlights, watching John Travolta shoot up some bad drug lords and explode a car whilst calculating how long it takes to run down 8 or so flights of stairs for example, I can safely say I dug the flick. And for that reason, I'd recommend it. Now hit us with the sequel, Hollywood.

24 February 2010

The Hurt Locker

Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Ralph Fiennes

Mark Boal

Kathryn Bigelow

26 June 2009

Summit, 131 mins., Rated R

Oh boy, I wouldn't want their job. But it makes for a thrilling movie, no less. Thank God for all the major amount of attention given to this little flick, or else I wouldn't have given it a shot. Me and war movies aren't Facebook friends. I dig Saving Private Ryan (the movie universally held as one of the best eva) and Jarhead (a title I doubt will be on many peoples list), and not much else. Well, now this. Aside from being a good war movie, it accomplishes two other things: it's definitely the best flick based in Iraq to date, and it creates a sense of realistic comradery between the three teammates (even though they made be at odds), which makes every outing, sequence, and bomb defusing rife with hands-clenching tension.

The only bad part is that the movie relies so much on the energy and tension of the Iraqi excursions, that there really isn't much of a plot.

Staff Sergeant William James (Renner) becomes team leader of an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team. Basically, defusing bombs so they don't go KA-BOOM! His teammates Sergeant J.T. Sanborn (Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Geraghty) become a little uneasy with James' tactics: care-free, reckless, disregarding a little thing called rules, and basically begging to be killed, this creates a riff in their friendship. The film follows the team's tour in Iraq as they stop potential BOOMS, reflect upon their lives in America and the people they've left behind, face life and death situations, and try to work together as a team.

Notes & Reflections
Eh, that plot sum-up probably sucks. Here's the nitty gritty: the movie's main function is showing the EOD team doing what they do best. And at that, it exceeds with flying colors.

The tension and sense of dread this movie is able to conjure is unnerving. Every bomb defusing situation is friggin' intense. The very idea that any person with a cellphone could be the trigger of a bomb that might very well kill you. Wowage. Perfectly brought to life by the opening sequence, and the first time James goes out in the field with Sanborn and Eldridge.

Renner, Mackie, and Geraghty are bloody fantastic, and they absolutely make this movie. No amount of rapid-heartbeat moments of bomb defusing sequences would even mean anything if it wasn't for these three leads meshing so effortlessly. James, the main centerfold of the movie, is brilliantly realized by Jeremy Renner (28 Weeks Later). Cocky, but not to the extent he becomes instantly unlikable for his annoyingness. Mackie playing the soldier petrified that today might be the day he dies. His role I wasn't completely sold on; it's interesting to have a nice contrast to James, who seems to be more reckless than anyone else on the team, but his character sorta rings as false. Geraghty is the Seargent Doakes of the team [sorry about the Dexter reference; it's just that the Ice Truck Killer from season 1 is in the film for, like, 10 minutes, so I felt obligated], direct the point, and one pissed off dude.

Director Kathryn Bigelow goes the hand-held route, as most war directors do in order to transport the audience into the 'now' situation. Luckily, the hand-held isn't sloppy, meaning it's not going all over the place directionless. And she has quite a few nifty angels for coverage, which help sell intense, 'Holy crap (!), what's gonna happen?' scenes.

The script is the weak part, but hardly anyone's going to notice because they're so caught up with the movie. Which is OK. It's a testament to how well The Hurt Locker is acted, filmed, and edited - all three divisions where the movie excels greatly. To make some sort of drama that isn't manufactured by the situation, there's a subplot with James believing a young boy that's he's encountered a few times and is sorta fond of is dead, and sets out on a solo mission to find the killer. It's interesting to watch, and the scene where he finds a young boy's body is moving and equally interesting, as his reactions to situations is mesmerizing.

Surprisingly, the best part of the script is the final 10 minutes, when James comes home to his gal and child, and finds it more foreign to him than the land he fought on. It's a chilling, poignant, depressing, dark, real moment that elicits more of a 'wow, woah' moment from me than anything else from the movie. I believe with some direction with the script, with some sort of idea as to what they wanted to 'say' with the movie aside from creating heightened drama, The Hurt Locker would definitely be a powerful movie to be reckoned with.

Considering how much attention Hurt Locker's been getting, and the innumerable reviews out there, I won't go further into it, but I'll just say it was enjoyable, and whatever the next war movie that comes out...well, it'll have one hell of a flick to surpass.

Awesome Scene of Awesomeness (Spoilers)
William, Sanborn and Eldridge are called to a exposed location with a car armed with explosives. They watch as time goes by, and William is unable to find the source to sever the connection, and the public starts to watch with interest - which makes controlling the scene more and more difficult. As the increasing number of people could potentially blow the car at any minute, and kill all three of them in the process, Sergeant William James breaks the car apart to find the source...and time is running out.

Final Verdiction
Pretty damn good movie. Visually stunning, awesome cast, tightly edited. I'd say this could nearly pass as a documentary, it's so well pulled together, and the actors are that comfortable with each other. The lack of direction in the script is a bummer, but what The Hurt Locker does so well at far exceeds any lacking in the script department. It's a thrilling movie full of drama, intensity, and fun characters. The final line is that Hurt Locker is worth the hype, and definitely needs to be seen.

22 February 2010

The Good and Bad of 2009

It's been over a month since 2009 concluded, and plenty of online bloggers wrote up not only their Best of the Decade lists, but also compiled their Best of 2009 post. I'm a tad late at the game, my apologies. There's still plenty of movies I want to see and haven't had the chance to see, like the much-loved A Serious Man, World's Greatest Dad, Sin Nombre...basically just a lot of flicks that get a lot of mucho diggin' by critics professional and bloggie. But I decided I wanted to finally just write this baby out, and watch such flicks later (like The Road, which I super, super, super duper wanna see) and give 'em some good ol' honest reviewin'. As it stands, my picks of 'Favorites of 2009.' Hope you enjoy.


1o] Avatar

The most hyped movie of 2009, Avatar had a lot to live up to. Whether or not it actually did is a matter of opinion, as it seems to vary from 'crap-ola!' to 'O.M.F.G!' I found the experience to be enjoyable, as the digital creatures and 3-D effect helped transport me into the land of Pandora, onto the back of these winged creatures as they soared through the sky and attacked the humans that were destroying their home. The experience, I wager, is what basically made this movie for most, and is probably what many will remember moreso than the actual plot. The story left much to be desired, but the characters, creatures, habitat - hell, the imagery: it all came together to create a experience that made me feel like a kid again, playing with action figures and imagining a world like no other...and I thank you for that, James Cameron.

9] District 9

Funnily enough, I didn't really find myself enthusiastic about the film initially (before it started), but post-District 9, I thought it was terrific. If that's the case, why is this so low on my list? I guess it all boils down to rewatch value. As a piece of cinema, District 9 is fantastic. Completely digital characters interacting with actors in an striking environment, and even the nitpicking CGI dudes would be hard-pressed to find any faults in the computer animated graphic work. It's pristine. It truly felt like these creatures - fully rendered digitally - filled that space, interacted with those characters, and actually lived and breathed. It's a remarkable accomplishment.

8] I Love You, Man

After 40 Year Old Virgin, Paul Rudd was in, like, a bazillion movies. And I hardly think that's an exaggeration. Jason Segel starred in a few films here and there, such as his break-out hit Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but he primarily stayed TV-driven with How I Met Your Mother. The first quarter of 2009 had a comedy high (Fired Up!) and a comedy low (Miss March), but little did I know that perhaps the funniest movie of the year would be out so early (and yeah, that's counting The Hangover). A beautiful dramedy of a bromance, with one dude, Peter (Rudd) completely unable to make guy friends 'cuz it's waay too awkward; and there's Sydney, a carefree bloke who has no filter. Get these two awesome actors and awesome characters into a scene together and you got some magic. Add in some fantastic co-stars (Jaime Pressley, Jon Favreau) and one of the best girlfriends ever to grace the screen (Rashida Jones) with a intelligent, no-bullshit screenplay that has enough jokes that hit home you leave the theater completely satisfied, and ready to watch it again on DVD. I love you, I Love You, Man.

7] Zombieland

Here begins a trend of 'top movies' that I haven't written reviews for (either to my being unable to be critical about a movie, like I was with Star Trek, or others have written far better stuff that encapsulates my thoughts perfectly). Being a dude who doesn't really like zombie movies all that much, Zombieland was terrific fun. Far superior to Shaun of the Dead (although I LOVED Hot Fuzz), Zombieland is a great comedy that follows these charismatic, unique characters as they try to survive in, well, zombieland. Along the way, a lot of jokes result, a not-much-of-a-surprise-anymore-but-it-was-when-it-came-out cameo by a famous actor, a AWESOME shoot 'em up at a amusement park, and plenty of screentime for the hot Emma Stone and surprisingly awesome Abigal Breslin, who is a actress to be reckoned with, no doubt. The sad part is that it doesn't hold up 100% with repeated viewings, but it's still a fun movie, and I'll be there opening day for the sequel (which, sadly, seems to be getting a 3-D treatment).

6] Push

God, I love this movie. I really, really do. And I seem to be one of the only people on planet Earth who think so. Director Paul McGuigan infuses the script and the actors with such energy, the movie blazes through at lightning speed. Seriously, it begins, and then ZOOM!, it ends. And I had one helluva journey in that short hour and a half. Dakota Fanning gives her finest performance yet, and Chris Evans oozes coolness in every frame as he kicks some government cronies ass. This is how NBC's Heroes should have been. It takes the superhero genre, and makes it fresh and unique, and gives us a couple of awesome characters fighting equally awesome antagonists whilst fighting a seemingly unchangeable future that sees them all dead. Push is some of the greatest fun I had at cinemas in, like, EVER, and it's a treat in every department: the script, the visuals, the music, the acting. Forget what all the negative writers are saying, Push is 'da bomb diggity!

5] Whip It

Hit theaters and left theaters in a span of about three weeks, I didn't have much interest in the title and saw it as a freebie after another much publicized movie blew chunks. Turns out that this was a phenomenal movie that effortlessly mixed drama and comedy, and on top of that, was great fun. The directorial debut of Drew Barrymore, Whip It! features Ellen Page (aka, the forever-known Juno) as Bliss, a young teenage girl in a small town trying to find her own way in life, her own identity, and find out what exactly she likes, and her search leads her to a roller derby and joins the club. Powerful performances by Page, Marcia Gay Harden (The Mist) as her unwavering mom, and Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development) as Bliss' best friend Pash. The movie's great fun, but it also deserves kudos for excellent music choice and pristine editing. If you've skipped Whip It!, please remedy this immediately.

4] (500) Days of Summer

I love Joseph-Goron Levitt. I like Zooey Deschanel. I love break-up/relationship movies when they're good. I love quirky scripts. I love movies with a good music selection. Thus, I love (500) Days of Summer. All these elements come together seamlessly, and make a movie of the utmost awesomeness, enjoyability, and relatability. There's not much to say other than I think it's a great script with a smart director. I loved the reality vs. expectation sequence when Tom attends Summer's party, the constant switching between days to show what used to be and what is now, the nice and real conversational exchanges between two ex-lovers...it's all very real, very unique and stylish, and very well done, and I love this movie for everything it is.

3] Watchmen

It took a lot of viewings to fully fall in love with Watchmen, to fully understand, acknowledge, and equally love what Zack Snyder did with the source material. Like so many fans of the graphic novel, I watched the movie with a harsh, criticizing attitude. The first two times the experience was more akin to a 'Why did they exercise that? Why did they add that?' exercise than any sort of movie watching enjoyment. But finally the DVD hit in July, and the more I rewatched it, the more I understood what this was, and what it is is brilliant. Zack Snyder adapts the graphic novel quit well, taking all the absolutely necessary elements from the novel and basically dramatizes them for the big screen. Running motifs and symbols - and sometimes emotional moments that carry real weight in the novel - are omitted, but I can handle that. And yeah, the ending was changed from the novel, but I actually think it was for the better, and it makes more sense. It wasn't until some random review of Watchmen where it all clinked: the movie is a reference to our culture, not just right now but through the last 30 or so years. It plays both as a 3-hour homage and brand spanking new movie simultaneously. The sound effects of the punches and the capes, the music selection, the suit designs...it was something more than just bringing a comic book to the big screen, it was a movie immersed in what the culture views superheroes the past few decades: from a complete satire to dark and brooding. That realization, whether it be my own demented mind thinking so, improved the film in so many ways for me. Watchmen may not have satisfied lovers of the graphic novel (such as I initially), but it's the best adaptation we could hope for, and the positives of the film far outweigh the negatives. I don't think I'm far off in saying that Watchmen is the third best hero movie ever made, next to Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

2] Star Trek

Read the review, because I'm pretty sure the opening paragraph tells you all you need to know about my reaction to Star Trek. In short, I loved it. The movie renewed my interest in the franchise, and was super galactic fun. Thanks to the intelligent, funny, and dramatic script by Transformers scribes Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman, Star Trek hit so many high notes, that any negatives seem void of purpose. Although I may not be able to hold my ground to a true Trekker (or Trekkie), I will try to defend the film as best I can. It's undeniable that J.J. Abrams, Orci and Kurtzman has created something unique: a movie that generally guarantees that anybody can join the party without needing prior knowledge, and yet making a film that makes it seem like we've known these characters all our lives. To find the best of 2009, look no further than Star Trek.

1] Inglourious Basterds

I've loved Quentin Tarantino movies since I was 11 (so about 9 years), having watched Resevoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction (yes, I started young; although I didn't really appreciate 'em until three years down the line). Jackie Brown was sort of crappy, and I completely felt in love with the Kill Bill saga. I collected books about Tarantino and owned the best DVD/Blu-Ray versions available for his films. This Inglourious Basterds, which he'd been talking about for years, was probably never gonna happen - since Quentin is notorious for announcing stuff but not really getting to it - so it was a major surprise that within only a few months of announcing the movie, it was shot, edited, and released by August. Turns out it's phenomenal. There was, of course, the powerhouse performance by Christoph Waltz (Hans Landa) that has received quite a lot of deserved attention, and a lot of sure-bet awards. The movie also boasts three insanely intense sequences - the beginning (the prologue), the middle ('Operation Kino'), and the end (the premiere). A superbly written screenplay as only Tarantino could write and personified by a wonderful cast, Inglouruous Basterds is a tough act to follow, but I can't wait to see what's next. And the other cool think is, Basterds has helped Tarantino become a name in households and movie goers who don't really concentrate on that type of stuff, but they'll always remember Basterds and the experience of watching it.


This was dumber than a Hannah Montana episode with guest stars Dora the Explorer, Blues Clues, and the Jonas Brothers all uniting to save the world from a world-ending mecha-horse that snorts musical notes of doom (!). My stomach literally felt yucky (and it was by no means the delicious pizza I just consumed at Broadway Pizza), my head felt lighter (I probably lost a few dozen brain cells), and I just was left with a stunned expression on my face. This could, I wager, be the very epitome of a 50/50 movie - for those who understand and appreciate the high-energy insanity that this flick is, it's probably one of the best of 2009, but for a bloke like me, it was just too much and too crazy. The best bit of the entire movie, however, (and I applaud them for it) is the War of the Gargantuas-esque fight scene in a electrical power plant. That was pretty awesome. But Amy Smart seeing a horse's penis - not high on the 'must-see' list.

A blah 'inspirational' movie if ever I saw one. I haven't given it much in the way of thought since I saw it. Boring, sporting a super epicly bad acting choice by Terrence Howard, and a sleepwaking performance by Channing Tatum. It honestly was just a waste of time. It wanted to tell a story I've seen countless times before, and didn't honor that particular story enough to be worth the experience. It was just...dumb.

Still can't decide if this is one of those 'so stupid it's actually good' type movies, or really just stupid with a good ol' bold period at the end. As it stands, I think it was a stupid comedy with 30 something actors trying to pass as teenage/early 20's kids [though still not as bad as the 40-something protagonist in I Love You, Beth Cooper], with only a few jokes that actually hit the spot, and a earthquake chunk that were bbbaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaadddd. But one quality that Miss March has that most on this list lacks, is that I was at least amused and entertained during its running time, so kudos to you, Ms. March, on accomplishing that. Still, not necessarily a comedy I'd recommend. Expect for aspiring filmmakers to see what not to do when crafting a sex comedy.

I think it's partially my fault. I don't believe I fully prepared myself to take this as a drama instead of a comedy. But at the same time, I feel Judd Apatow failed either way at achieving what he wanted to get across. The movie follows the declining years of a comedic artist, only to find himself facing his own mortality. And along the way, he acts like a asshole to everybody. And during the last 2/3rds, when I felt like I sorta understood what was going on, characters act in ways that made no sense by what I'd seen before, and everything just went to Hell. Funny People, for me, just failed at being good as a drama and a comedy. There was nothing of value in the whole movie, and by the time the credits rolled, I didn't experience a story worth being told, a documentary (if you want) of a character that's worth our time. It just went nowhere, and meant nothing.

Talk about lost potential. If Fox greenlights a X-Men Second Origins: China Man Wolvie, I sure as hell hope they remedy everything that made this flick crap. The tone of this movie was completely wrong. Logan should not be treated as a Disney character, nor should his environment, enemies, stories, and dialogue reflect so. From what I get of Logan, purely based off the few comics, TV-shows, and other misc. stuff I've read/seen, his world isn't all bright and sunny, full of stupid one-liners, a dumb lost love plot line, a vehicle to show off other mutants in a far greater light than the title antihero, or be simply ridiculous (e.g., Wolverine examining his new claws at a old folks house). I don't necessarily want to use the words "dark" and "gritty" to describe what I wanted from this movie, but I would have at least appreciated a serious approach to this material. It honestly felt like a screenwriter took 20 minutes of their time to look over X-Men comics (just long enough to catch a glimpse of a few characters and a mention of some sort of 'Weapon X'), tossed out all notions of a sensible, smart story idea, and just wrote a by-the-numbers screenplay with one-dimensional characters and eye-rolling one-liners. Logan's a tormented person, always in pain - physically and emotionally - and after a brief scene of Wolverine going all 'Grrr!', I'd have expect him to be at Toys 'R Us playing with plush kitties. It's that type of movie.

Leaving the theater totally devastated and beyond disappointed that Pink Panther 2 sucked majorly, I can hardly express it. Unlike 89% of movie watchers, I quite fell in love with the original 2006 Pink Panther, found it friggin' gut-bursting High-larious! even. And then Steve Martin comes back with this two years later? Delivering a stupid MacGuffin, stupid jokes, pointless cameos, and not even remotely trying to rekindle any of the magic of the '06 version? (and yeah, I know plenty of people will be like, 'what magic, dude?') As a fan, I hated it. As a avid film watcher, I was insulted. Biggest disappointment of 2009.


Yep, that's right. That is the poster for Dragonball: Evolution. Critically ridiculed by film critics and hated by every fan of the franchise. But damn it, I love this movie. It's just so friggin' awesome, words can hardly describe it. There's a sense of fun that's contagious when watching it; the movie hardly makes a lick of sense, a impending Apocalypse takes second fiddle to a disbelieving romance, and on top of that a even worse attempt at a romance with two zero-dimensional characters that have no real impact to the story, to a admired martial arts expert clearly having a blast while collecting a paycheck. It's almost like a superhero/sci-fi/apocalypse satire, but approached with a dab of seriousness. Likely a abomination of epic proportions for fans of the Dragonball series (similar to my feeling of Roland Emmerich's GODZILLA), I just can't help but rewatch it and rewatch with a smile on my face. At the very least, DBZ fans, it was better than what Street Fighter fans got last year.


Damn, I Had Fun at the Movies:
The Best: Star Trek
The Best, Part 2: Push
The Best, Part 3: Avatar

Best Sex Comedy
American Pie - The Book of Love (Direct-to-DVD)
Loser: Miss March

Best in the Name of Horror:
Winner: Paranormal Activity
Loser: The Fourth Kind

Best Sci-Fi:
Winner: Star Trek
Runner-Up: District 9
Second Runner-Up: Moon
Loser: The Fourth Kind

Best Romantic Comedy:
Winner: (500) Days of Summer
Loser: Couples Retreat

Best BOOM! Explosion Epic:
Winner: Taken
Loser: Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li

Best SupaHero Direct-to-DVD Animated Feature:
Winner: Wonder Woman
Runner-Up: Hulk vs.
Loser: Superman/Batman: Public Enemies

Most Bodacious Babe With Acting Talents:
Winner: Rachel McAdams, The Time Traveler's Wife
(Uber)Loser: Megan Fox, Jennifer's Body

The Time of Man:
The Best: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Runner-Up: Woodey Harrelson, Zombieland
The Bad: Terrance Howard, Fighting

Biggest Surprise Performances
The Best: Jackie Earle Haley, Watchmen
Runner-Up: Nicholas Cage, The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Third-Up: Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air

Remake Time:
The Good: Star Trek
The Bad: The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
The Badder: Fame
The Eh: Halloween II

The Good: Star Trek (yes, it qualifies)
The Bad: The Pink Panther 2
The Eh: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

I Name Thyself 'OMG!' Ending:
Best: Paranormal Activity
Worst: Antichrist

The Best: Watchmen
Runner-Up: Push
The Bad: X-Men Origins: Wolverine

The One Movie You'd Have to Pay Me $100 To See: Crazy Heart

Best Fight Scene of 2009: Kirk vs. Spock, Star Trek

The biggest ‘this-isn’t-the-movie-I-paid-for-the-trailers-lied-to-me!’ movie: Observe & Report

It Coulda been worse: I Love You, Beth Cooper/ Hannah Montana: The Movie

The 'Whaaaaaaaaa....????????????' Award:

Overrated: The Hangover

My Favorite Scene in a movie:
From the moment Hans Landa of the SS walks up to Hammersmark at the film premiere to the chillingly hilarious conclusion, Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds kept me captivated. I'm not even sure a team of cheerleaders taking their tops off could have persuaded me to tear my eyes away from the screen. These collection of scenes (which I know breaks the 'favorite scene' equation of this award) is some of cinema's finest in '09. There are so many sequences from Basterds to choose from (the 20 minute opening, 'Operation Kino', etc...), but this sticks in my head the most. If I had to really cut it straight and narrow, the scene with Landa, Aldo, and Ultvich debating the end of the war was superb.

My Favorite Dialogue: "Roses are red, violets are blue, you're a whore. Bitch." (500) Days of Summer

My Favorite Character: Captain James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise, from J.J. Abrams fantastic Star Trek sequel/reboot. Played to perfection by Chris Pine, who was basically unknown to me prior to his undertaking this role, Kirk is at his best. I've never loved the character more than when handled by him and writers Orci and Kurtzman. The 'numb tongue' sequence onboard the Enterprise, his continuous hitting on Uhura, his barfight in Idaho before he joined Starfleet, his tactic with the Kobayashi Maru, his interaction with Spock Prime, and finally, his disbelief in no-win scenarios. This is the James T. Kirk fans fell in love with years ago, and I never could quite get the grasp as to why. Now I do.

The Technical-ish Stuff:

Best Score: Star Trek - Michael Giacchino (he got snubbed; a far inferior score being nominated instead of this masterpiece?)

Best Theatrical Poster: Drag Me to Hell

Jaw-Dropping Visual Effects: Avatar

Best Visual Effects that Feel Real: District 9

Best Director: Neil Blomkamp, District 9

Best Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

This Actor Makes Any Movie 40% Better Than it Out To Be: J.K. Simmons, Extract/Up in the Air


Winner: The Soloist
Number Two: Michael Jackson's This is It
Number Three: Crazy Heart
Fate Worse Than Death: Alvin & the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel

17 February 2010

The House of the Devil

Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov,
Writer & Director:
Ti West
30 October 2009
Studio, Running Time, Rating:
Glass Eye Pix, 95 mins., Rated R

Once Freddy in Space gushed about The House of the Devil, I knew I'd end up seeing it one way or another (aka, I like his reviews). A throwback to the 1980's horror films, what with the slow build-up, the bagillions of film roll used on just shooting a girl walking around a house saying 'Hello?', ugly hair, and deliberate avoidance of spiffy visual effects, The House of the Devil does indeed match the hype that's been circulating around it. However, it does have one single unfortunate quality about the film, and it's the same frustration Johnny had...but I'll get to that in a minute.

Before I get into the nitty gritty, just wanted to mention a cool bit of marketing that went behind this production. First, it was treated with two really retro posters - the one that accompanies the DVD & Blu-Ray, and the one I assume was theatrically released, which just screams vintage. Secondly, before the DVD/Blu-Ray release of the title early February, the studio released a VHS copy of the movie (!!!). VH-friggin'S! The last VHS I recall being manufactured was in 2005, and it was David Cronenberg's A History of Violence. I didn't pick this little gem up, but I can only assume this 2009 movie that looks and feels like a 1980's production only further solidifies its retro feel on VHS. Darn the lucky buggers who bought one.

Samantha Hughes needs money pronto. She's eyeing a one-bedroom apartment and needs the dough to put towards a down payment, and I'm sure college is a bit hefty in the price arena. Ever so lucky, a flyer for a babysitting gig is put up at school, and she snatches at it. Turns out the babysitting is much less the sitting of a baby as much as it is making sure a elderly woman is A-OK in this rather desolate mansion in the middle of nowhere. The night turns from boring to freaky, and it all culminates in blood on a full moon.

Notes & Reflections
It's always the damn babysitting gig that gets girls in trouble. Famously used in John Carpenter's 1978 production Halloween, it was a perfect device to get Laurie Strode separated from her friends (which were picked off one by one), and eventually confronted by The Shape. And that's a movie that still holds up to today's viewings! More examples aren't circulating around my head right now, but it's a common plot set-up. The getting Samantha to the house is just a device, the real meat is as the night progresses.

The eerie lack of sound. The lack of anything living in the vicinity. The freakiness of the house and the many doors. Plus the freakiness of the old man who hired her, Mr. Ulman, is unparalleled; he's freaky, but somehow charming at the same time. All of this is exceptionally well presented in a tightly edited, well paced, beautifully acted film that ups the suspense with each walk down a hall or opening of a random door. Plus there are some genuine freak-out moments, which is hard to come by these days. The unexpected murder of a character nearly made me jump, and the quick flashes of a demented figure that tortures Samantha's mind is similarly chilling.

The set design, costume design, hair design, and even the use of 16mm film all come together to make a horror flick that seemed to have come right out from the '80's. Harsh, dark tones, stupid hairdos, a lot of walking and butt shots, weird old people...it's all present here, and it's all excellent.

And then the ending came. It's a average length production, and 90% of it is all build-up. The unfortunate part is that the conclusion, which comes at a break-neck pace once started, doesn't pay-off the ginormous suspenseful lead-up. What happens is spine-tingling freaky, a little awesome when Samantha fights back, and then a freaky, sorta dumb but also smart twist in the final seconds. All in all, it lasts about 8 minutes. I guess I would have liked something a little...more? Or am I becoming infected by Hollywood's need of more, more, MORE!!!? Perhaps this is a suitable ending, and fits the production and I'm just spoiled...

The House of the Devil isn't a movie with a serial killer stalking and chasing after a babysitter; it doesn't have massive amount of plot or scares to pad the 75 minutes before the 'All Hell Breaks Loose' moment. What it does is that it takes a relatively creepy house, douses it in darkness, and sticks a wonderful actress that seems to have been plucked from the '80's and unfortunately tossed in this sucky situation, and let's the camera rolls. If that sounds appealing, Devil is for you. If on the other hand, you're looking for Saw level of grotesque bloodshed and drug-induced craziness, look elsewhere.

I will close by saying that I'm not a fan of the original Cabin Fever, but with Ti West behind Cabin Fever 2, I might get give it a chance. I got faith in the guy.

Awesome Scene of Awesomeness (Spoilers)
Samantha is bound to the wooden ground, sacrificial ritual style. Nah, she ain't gonna take any of this. She kicks and screams, and finally gets free and runs for her life. Except she ain't leavin' without some knifin'.

Final Veridiction
A unfortunate but tolerable anti-climatic conclusion to a well-built up 1980's horror throwback knocks off a few marks in the lovin' department, but overall, The House of the Devil is a very well put together movie, with some brilliant casting and excellent editing that keeps the viewers engaged as the minutes roll on. Definitely recommend for folks who want to re-experience the time when horror movies had a little important element in them called suspense, because this baby's got 'em in spades. Or for people who want to get their Satanic groove on and are looking for inspiration (although not recommended).

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus


Cast: Christopher Plummer, Heath Ledger, Andrew Garflield, Verne Troyer, Lily Cole, Tom Waits

Writers: Terry Gilliam & Charles McKeown
Director: Terry Gilliam

Release: 25 December 2009

Lionsgate, 122 mins., Rated R

Imagination is a wickedly beautiful thing. One can conjure up limitless possibilities, a legion of sparkly new, fresh ideas, and bring to the screen such originality that it leaves its viewers in awe. Although not brimming with originality from second to second, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is rife with imagination. A fantasy world brought to life. Tim Burton-esque minus the major amount of Gothic overtones in even 'happy' scenes. Nah, instead this is the world of Terry Gilliam, who I have only encountered twice before: The Brothers Grimm (which I love) and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (which I hate). It's a safe bet to say that I will be paying a closer look to his filmography from now on...

Admittedly, the Imaginarium probably wouldn't have been on my radar if it wasn't for Heath Ledger and his unfortunate passing in 2008. I've been a fan-ish of Ledger's (10 Things I Hate About You and A Knight's Tale being prime examples), but his portrayal of The Joker in The Dark Knight officially solidified my love for the late actor. So going into Imaginarium, I probably wasn't heading in with the best intentions. I was intrigued on how writer/director Gilliam would finish out his vision with his main co-star missing from several key scenes. Through another example of brilliant ingenuity, Gilliam crafted a plot device that allows Tony, Ledger's character, to change faces once inside a mirror, which works as a portal to the individual's imagination. Um, a world of brilliant. To realize this idea, actors Johnny Depp (who Ledger owed inspiration for his performance as Tony to), Collin Farrel, and Jude Law. But anywho, back to that in a second...

Like nearly all movies with some true creativity, Doctor Parnassus barely made a pass theatrically. I was honestly flabbergasted a theater a few miles down was actually showing it, and it wasn't in Minneapolis! It was actually, y'know, nearish. So there was absolutely no way I was passing up this baby. And boy gee golly, I'm glad I did. Terry Gilliam crafted a visually stunning movie with phenomenal performances by everyone, and this is one title that definitely doesn't deserve to be overlooked.

Doctor Parnassus (Plummer) is the leader of a traveling theater troupe, which includes the young Anton (Garfield), who admires Valentina (Cole), and Parnassus' dwarf friend Percy (Troyer). They suck at making money, and constantly get ridiculed by civilians. To make matters worse, Parnassus has a gambling problem; he keeps making bets with Mr. Nick (Waits), a devilish entity with a appetite for souls, and now this demon wants Valentina, Parnassus' 16-year old daughter as payment. Along the way, they come across Tony (Ledger), a enigmatic man with memory loss who helps the theater troupe to make a few bucks and get Valentina out of her stint with the Devil. But in this imaginarium, everybody has second faces...

Notes & Reflections
Deal with the Devil stories are interesting. It's even more interesting when you have two main characters (Parnassus and Tony) that you're not quite sure of; they're constant surprises with whatever choice they make. Parnassus with his inability to stop gambling, and Tony who has unclear motives but is nonetheless helping the traveling troupe immensely. And then there's Mr. Nick, the Devil dressed in black, smoking his signature cigar all Joe Smooth like. Here's three rich characters that could, on their own, support this script and keep it strong. But luckily we're graced with three other remarkable characters and, furthermore, actors - Anton, Valentine, and Percy, each with their own identity and likability.

Valentine, the virginal, confused daughter of Parnassus who must face head-on living a rather messed up life or the very real possibility of eternal damnation in Hell for no crime of her committing. Anton, the young man in love with Valentine and sees the deception of those around him; the best 'Hero' character in the story (and it was hilarious seeing Anton's adult face juxtaposed on the child in the conclusion - friggin' hilarious). And then Percy, the long-time friend of Parnassus who tries to help his bud make the right choices, albeit not always successfully.

Just with these characters along we got a strong story. But Gilliam brings it several steps further: there's a magic mirror that transports you to wherever you can imagine, and by extent, along Gilliam to realize any creative ideas he's had brewing to the surface; there's a centuries-long bet between the Devil and a Mortal/Immortal man where anybody can be the victor; and the mysterious man found at the brink of death who can be either friend or foe. So, yeah, the script's wonderful.

The actors are the best thing about it, though. Christopher Plummer would have made a good Dumbeldore. He's able to be stern, humble, joyful, calculating, and old all with a slight facial movement. Plummer was 'da bomb, although he looked quite frighting sometimes with theater make-up on. Andrew Garfield was endearing as Anton, and Lily Cole has a beautifulness to her that is something to behold. And finally, of course, Heath Ledger bringing his A-game. Sort of mirroring a Jack Sparrow/Johnny Depp style with his body movements, and deepening his voice ever so slightly, it's quite obvious Ledger had some great fun with this role. And the really surprising bit was how much he had actually filmed - I thought there were going to be great lenghts of the film that needed revision, but he was in quite a lot.

And speaking of the presence of Tony, the transformation into Depp, Law, and Farrell was seamless. Unless you knew about the incident beforehand, the whole face change would never have given yah a second thought. As it stands, it's a brilliant device that allows three equally brilliant actors to shine. Depp gets the least of all, and doesn't really seem all that enthused about the project, weirdly; Law, on the other hand, was having great fun, but he didn't really seem to flow as another version of Tony; Farrell, on the other hand, did a exceedingly well job finishing Tony's story.

There's just a sense of wonder in Doctor Parnassus that is severely lacking in movies today. James Cameron's Avatar was able to transport audiences to another planet with his three-dimensional effects; and Peter Jackson resurrected dinosaurs and monsters in combat on the big screen with 2005's King Kong. But the ability to just run wild without any real restraints to rationality and logic? Now there's a wide-eyed concept that is fully brought to fruition, and the result is mesmerizing. There's plenty of cool things, freaky things (a river turning into a snake), crazy things (a giant face and open mouth coming up from the soil), and beautiful things (the bright colored atmosphere of Jude Law's Tony). Also, strangely, the art design has a similar Tim Burton-esque vibe with their eccentric presentations.

Any drawbacks to the movie would be that it needs a little bit tighter editing, and a better marketing team.

Awesome Scene of Awesomeness (Spoilers)
Inside the imaginarium, Tony (Law), chased by the police, walks with giant ladders that extend to the sky, and he's just having a blast. The Pleasantville color-coding of Tony's world shatters as the police etch closer, and things take a dark turn.

Final Veridiction
Weird, brilliant, and a vehicle of fantastic performances, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a treat of pure imagination. Coming from a bloke who didn't really expect to be liking this at all, it's a bit surprising to say that I'd completely buy this beauty on Blu-Ray, and definitely has high re-watch value. If the contents of the movie is second to your curiosity of Heath Ledger's final performance, than in that regard you won't be disappointed. His surprisingly lengthy screentime and fantastic performance is a wonderful send-off. Overall, give it a watch. But pray Tim Burton never decides to make his own Imaginarium - one can only imagine how truly messed up that film could be.

14 February 2010

The Book of Eli


Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson
Gary Whitta

The Hughes Brothers

15 January 2010

Warner Bros., 118 mins., Rated R

The apocalypse is all the rage these days. Don't get me wrong, vampire/werewolf/dumb-ass-teen girl romances are still the IT thing of the decade (and now Angels seem to be getting a resurgence in literature), but a lot of End of the World type stories are getting produced these days, at least more than normal. The most obvious and typically brought up comparison is The Road, that film that I still haven't seen and was hardly shown in theaters after sitting shelved for more than a year. And zombie movies - which basically all deal with a post-apocalyptic landscape where it's all 'fend for yourself! Only the strong survive!' And then there's the stories of a character or characters trying to avert a apocalypse, fighting baddies and sometimes goodies. The Book of Eli is set in a post-apocalyptic world where it's dog-eat-dog, yah dig?

This is a story about a man and his book. He loves his book so much, that if anyone tries to take it or touch him, he slicies their fingers right off. Or he resorts to lightning-quick kick-assery. The power hungry Carnegie is looking for a special book, a book that will make him even more powerful, and it just so happens Eli is in possession of this book. A pissing contest ensues as Carnegie does his damnest to persuade Eli to hand over said book, but Eli doesn't give, and so much kick assery ensues.

Notes & Reflections (Spoilers)
I remember sitting in the dark theater many year ago watching the Hughes Brothers previous outing, From Hell, and being absolutely terrified the last 20 or so minutes. I will always recall the intense feeling of 'what's going to happen now?' and 'when the frak will Johnny Depp find Jack the Ripper?' The jeopardy, the sense of dread each day as the sun fell and darkness spread over London. But I will also always remember the style, the cinematography, much in the same way I'll remember The Book of Eli for it's plenty of slow motion, desert walking shots of Denzel Washington looking as badass as he always does. However, the emotional attachment to the film isn't there.

Which probably isn't the fault of the Hughes Brothers completely. It really seems like this is a project they were passionate about. Beautiful cinematography that fully capitalizes on its desert scenery, and uses the dry, rugged landscape of Carnegie's town to its own visual advantage. There's plenty of scenes dedicated to exploring Eli's character, his motivations, his sense of personality, although the same couldn't be said for Mila Kunis and her Solara character. Speaking of Solara, it was nice to see her character (apparently) transform from the tossed around ragdall to a gal who wants to follow in Eli's footsteps. But at the same time, women, it seems, always become slaves to men in power in post-apocalyptic worlds: always objects of sexual gratification, never in league with men. It's a tired concept that I'd like to see go bye-bye.

If Denzel's not your cup of tea, than Gary Oldman absolutely steals the show. Crazy, single-minded, determined, calculating - Carnegie is a character to be reckoned with, and I can honestly say there was a sense of jeopardy in some of the situations, something that doesn't always come across in flicks with big-name actors as our protagonist.

Action isn't the movie's prime goal, per se, but when it erupts, it goes bonkers. I'm thinking particularly to a scene with Dumbeldore, his wife, Eli, and Salora locked in a raggedy ol' house with Carnegie and his goons blasting it with bazookas, ammo, and anything else they can find. And then there's the moment between Eli and Carnegie, and whenever these two actors/characters square off, The Book of Eli is grand.

The biggest offender to the movie, and this still boggles me a month after seeing it, is the 'totally unpredictable OMG! twist' at the near end, when Carnegie seems to be victorious, and Eli reveals a little something about himself that makes no sense with a first viewing, let alone a second.

But fun was still had. Eli could very much be one of those movies where the actors' powerful presence is strong enough to nearly overlook the flaws of the script. And for the most part, it's successful. But then the lame-ass twist comes, and the illusion of a grandiose movie comes crashing down, and The Book of Eli isn't as spectacular as it once was.

Awesome Scene of Awesomeness
Eli just wants a cup of water, and some dumb drunk has got to make things complicated. Losing patience, Eli tries to talk some sense into this dude rather forcefully, but that doesn't go well with all the other people in the pub. They wants a fight. Reluctantly, with sadness, Eli prepares himself for some slicin' and dicin'. I wonder who comes out the victor...

Final Verdiction
A wonderful waste of two hours, but post-movie, when you're sitting in your car or eating some delicious pancakes at Perkins with some buds and you're actually thinking about the movie, it kinda does hold up. And then there's that ridiculous 'twist' ending that doesn't really make a lot of sense, even after watching it a second time (or else I'm extremely blind to the clues). But at the end of the day, despite the movie's attempt at meaning, it really is a powerhouse showcase of Denzel Washington fighting the good fight, and us loving him for it.

12 February 2010

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightening Thief

Cast: Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Alexandra Daddario, Uma Thurman, Kevin McKidd, Pierce Brosnan, Steve Coogan, Rosario Dawson,
Writer: Craig Titley & Joe Stillman

Based on the book by Rick Riordan
Director: Chris Columbus

: 12 February 2010
Fox, 120 mins., Rated PG

Out of the bazillion of Harry Potter rip-offs to hit bookshelves and eventually theaters, I'd say the Percy Jackson franchise could possibly be one of the few to actually survive the one-note wonder (e.g., The Spiderwick Chronicles). And I say that coming as a bloke who was entirely pessimistic over this series, had no interest in it, and completely wrote it off as a cash-in for the book publishers. Although that may or may not be true, it would be tough to deny that the Percy Jackson franchise has the same time of...er, flare (?) that makes Potter so interesting book after book.

[Turns out Rick Riordan wrote the manuscript for this first installment back in 1994, basically the exact same time, I believe, that J.K. Rowling wrote her Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone manuscript, or at least submitted it to publishers. So, uh, never mind, I guess]

The movie is far more entertaining and fun than it had any right to be. Aside from the predisposed dislike of the supposed 'cash-in', the movie also had another strike against it: director Chris Columbus, who was the mastermind behind the camera for the first two Harry Potter movies, which I consider the least interesting in the franchise (as far as the films are concerned). I could possibly overlook that, but then I have to bring into mind my displeasure watching 2009's I Love You, Beth Cooper, which I partly hold Columbus accountable (inappropriate actors hired and lazy directing). So, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief wasn't exactly a title I had any intention of liking, let alone enjoying.

To my utter disbelief but ginormous pleasure, the movie's great fun, and far better directed, written, acted, and thought-through than I could have thought. Granted, it's not freakin' David Yates' Order of the Phoenix level of awesomeness, and the script doesn't maximize its ideas and great cast to their fullest potential, but damned if it isn't smart, awesome, enjoyable, family fun that basically everybody can enjoy.

Percy Jackson (Lerman) has never known his father, and lives a rather unextraodinary life with his mom (Keener) and her douche boyfriend. Meanwhile, Zeus' lightning bolt, the greatest weapon on earth, has been stolen, and he's decreed 14 days for the bolt to be returned or all-out war will commence. Little does Percy know that he's the prime suspect, and now all of sorts of Gods and monsters want the bolt from Percy, because whoever controls that power controls the world (or something like that). Percy Everyday Joe life is in jeopardy, and is sent to Camp Half-Blood, a training ground for demigods (half human, half God - born to a mortal and a Olympian God), to hone his, er, 'skills.' When Hades reveals he has his mother's soul, Percy - along with Annabeth Chase (Daddario), the most skilled swordsman at the camp, and Grover (Jackson), Percy's best bud, set out on a journey to find a way into the Underworld to save his mum, or die (although hopefully not) trying.

Notes & Reflections
First bit of goodness, the script is solid. Already at two hours, the movie seems to fly by, and I quite understand production companies' unease when a film runs too long, but Percy Jackson could definitely have benefited another 15 minutes to its running time. Characters needed to be fleshed out a little more than just a single story beat (one wishing to prove oneself; one always wanting to see their mum; one just wanting to save ones mum), and by doing just that, the writers and actors allow room to grow their characters and create a more emotional resonance with the audience. It's serviceable as is, the bare minimum, but these three characters are interesting enough that I would quite have liked the amount of depth they deserve.

As I understand it, the movie hardly resembles the book (in the same way the Bourne movies by no means mirror their novel counterparts), and a lot of material that delves into personalities, character history, and opens the doorway for important plot points in the further installments are disastrously ignored. It's this sort of response that makes me petrified of reading the book, something I really wanna do, because it might impede on my enjoyment of this one. So, I guess, read the book at your own cost (?).

Columbus lucked out with some fine actors. Lawrence Lerman is quite good. He proves that he can headline his own movie, and play a convincing, relatable hero that we can immediately root for. Alexandra Daddario goes all Xena, Warrior Princess on Percy, and is the perfect woman who can be a kickass warrior and a beautiful teenage demigod simultaneously (example: her mesmerizing blue eyes when Percy and Annabeth lock sights for the first time). Brandon T. Jackson gets major props for being more than just the third wheel sidekick who gets to have fun and make all the jokes. Big-timers Uma Thurman (Kill Bill), Pierce Brosnan (Die Another Day), Kevin McKidd (Made of Honor), and Sean Bean (Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) all appear as Gods, monsters, or Obi-Wan Kenobis. Particular kudos to Uma Thurman, who plays a menacing and sorta awesome Medusa, what when she's not trying to stone you.

Directed with style by Christopher Columbus, the movie looks epic, feels epic, and is just a beauty to watch. Definitely a step up from his uninspired style to the first two movies, and most def his point-and-shoot technique to Harry PotterI Love You, Beth Cooper. Visual effects are marvelous: the Hydra that attacks Percy and his buds is a visual treat of spectacularness, as is anytime Percy controls the water element (such as the confrontation with the Hydra, and later on in a battle with his nemesis). Also major amounts of props for scenes in the Underworld and Mount Olympus. Cool, cool, and more cool.

Awesome Scene of Awesomeness (Spoilers)
Percy, having just arrived at Camp Half-Blood and immediately thrust into training mode, is brought into a game of 'catch the flag.' The only problem: everybody else has swords, and they're not afraid to use 'em. Eventually, Percy fights against Annabeth Chase, the gal with all the sword skillz. Percy gets his ass handed to him, badly bruised and bleeding. But all hope is not lost, as Annabeth crowns herself the victor, Percy submerges his hand in water, and heals himself. Renewed in strength, Percy goes into battle, and shows himself a force to be reckoned with.

Final Verdiction
Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief is terrific fun, and it's great to see all these Greek mythological Gods and monsters pop up on screen. The larger-than-life Olympians who come across as Colossal Men when they walk on Earth; the monsters Percy, Annabeth, and Grover encounter on their journey to the underworld; etc., etc. I really do hope this is the beginning of a lucrative franchise, because I desperately want to see these characters in action again. Meanwhile, check it out, man! Most fun I've had at the theater all year (thus far)!