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Posts Tagged ‘Movie Reviews’

Video Review: Beverly Hills Chihuahua

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

Beverly Hills Chihuahua

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Movie Review: Eagle Eye

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

Eagle Eye

Harry at Ain’t it Cool News has this review of the upcoming thriller Eagle Eye (some profanity here, but that’s Harry):

I tell you – I knew it when I first saw THE SALTON SEA that DJ Caruso was a filmmaker to watch, but then he went through a rough patch of just not being teamed up with the right material. Then we had that great DISTURBIA screening at SXSW – where the film that looked like a total ripoff of REAR WINDOW, from a Teen vantage point – turned out to be… well, pretty much a ripoff of REAR WINDOW from a Teen vantage point… only, it not only didn’t suck, but was incredibly entertaining. So much so that it reminded me that DJ existed and when that film succeeded beyond everyone’s wildest box office predictions – it kinda meant that DJ should get a promotion of sorts. That he was ready for the next stage budget and a higher grade of script.

Enter EAGLE EYE. A project hatched from a notion and conceit that Spielberg had been percolating for a while – waiting for the right team to hand it off to. D.J. seemed to be the key ingredient. And boy was it.

So what is EAGLE EYE… essentially it’s a NORTH BY NORTHWEST style film dripping with paranoia, conspiracies and a story that is always a few steps ahead of the audience.

That’s due to a great device. The voice on the phone. The faceless female that is seemingly everywhere and all knowing is a great character. Essentially – she’s an RPG Game Master controlling the most dangerous ‘game’ of surprise LARPing ever concocted.

You see, Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan are just your average nobodies. Folks just working to get by, the sort of folks you don’t really notice. THEN… extraordinary shit begins to happen – a voice directing them… rather insistently with perilous ramifications for those that do not cooperate… to do her bidding.

Just like a Dungeon Master, the voice is the source for all information for the characters, and just like an asshole Dungeonmaster – if you piss them off, she’ll put you nostril deep in a bog of eternal fuckedupness. The voice controls everyone and knows seemingly everything in real time.

Now – it isn’t announced what time period this is, but I’ve got the feeling it’s no further in the future than some time in the next 5-15 years. The world seems stuck in the same sort of paranoid-fed levels of personal rights infringements – and the question that is forced into the forefront of my mind through most of this film is… WHAT IF – the access that is developed to learn everything about everything is turned against us.

Who is the puppetmaster? Frankly, to me the most important question on your mind through the film is, “What Next?” – and you think that often and quickly.

The film has an aesthetic look that is everybit as “pretty” as something that comes out of Michael Bay’s Dear Penthouse, I never thought I would shoot a film this well developed… fantasies. It has that beauty, without ever being stupid. The characters are developed, the turns are not predictable, the casting and random PEOPLE IN HIGH PLACES are there to SERVE THE STORY, not to artificially give it a sense of some misplaced grandeur and importance.

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Hitman Movie Review

Monday, November 26th, 2007

While Hitman is not the best video game to film adaptation, it is nonetheless enjoyable.

Fox’s Hitman may not be the best game-to-film adaptation yet made, but it’s an enjoyable enough diversion despite its many formulaic elements. Offbeat casting helps make otherwise sketchy characters appear more dimensional than they are, while director Xavier Gens and cinematographer Laurent Bares deliver a number of sharp-looking, adrenaline-pumping action set-pieces.

The Skip Woods-scripted film has a simple enough plot: Tthe mysterious master assassin known only as Agent 47 (Timothy Olyphant) is sent by his employer — referred to here as “The Organization” but called “The Agency” in the games — to assassinate Russian leader Mikhail Belicoff (Ulrich Thomsen). But 47 — who never misses his target and is referred to by law enforcement as “The Ghost” because he’s so stealthy — is advised by his contact at The Organization that there is an eyewitness, a hooker named Nika (Olga Kurylenko), that he will need to eliminate.

Quicker than you can scream “set-up!,” 47 finds himself on the run in the former USSR with Nika in tow and hunted by other bald, well-dressed agents from The Organization. Also in hot pursuit are Interpol agent Mike Whittier (Dougray Scott) and Russian secret police officer Yuri Marklov (Robert Knepper), who are at each other’s throats as often as they’re after 47. Why was 47 betrayed? What are the bad guys up to? These are the questions that drive Hitman towards its bullet-riddled conclusion.

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Things We Lost in the Fire

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

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Halle Berry lights up the screen Things We Lost in the Fire, while turning in her best performance since Monster’s Ball.

Metaphorically speaking, we don’t see the fire — just the ashes — the formless dust left behind in the wake of a transformative event.

It’s not the easiest way to tackle a story of family tragedy, but Danish director Susanne Bier (Brothers) pulls off a small movie miracle by turning the empty space of a lost loved one into the central character of her English-language debut, Things we Lost in the Fire.

A non-linear examination of loss that stars Halle Berry as a grieving widow and Benicio Del Toro as a recovering heroin addict, the movie opens with a brief but ideal moment in the human experience: A father and son standing next to a pool, sharing a moment of palpable, mutual love.

Before the scene even has a chance to reach its final beat, the opening credits float across the screen. When we rejoin the narrative a few seconds later, we’ve already crossed the invisible line separating one reality from the next.

For the next two hours, we watch the characters struggle to make it to the other side as they wrestle with the death of the family patriarch.

Brian (David Duchovny) was the perfect guy: Attentive, flattering, kind, good-looking and unconditionally loving, he was the backbone of the Burke family. To his wife, Audrey, (Berry), Brian was more than a great father and provider; he was the man who made everything all right, the man who could put his arms around her and make her feel safe and loved when the monsters loomed at night.

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Stardust

Friday, August 10th, 2007

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Sienna Miller as Victoria and Charlie Cox as Tristan in Paramount Pictures’ Stardust – 2007

Stardust might well be one of the best movie this summer. Read on:

Watching Stardust, Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of the acclaimed fantasy novel by Neil Gaiman, it’s obvious that the filmmakers were trying for a sly if special-effects-heavy update of Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride — a film equal parts romance, fun and fantasy. But I was more immediately reminded of Ron Howard’s Willow, not just because I loved that film and all of its disjointed parts, but primarily because those same disparate elements are only occasionally combined in consistent measures here. That said, Vaughn’s film eventually proves to be a far more delightful and engaging adventure than Howard’s — although it may take a little patience enduring Stardust’s front-loaded fantasy before you get to the fun that follows.

Charlie Cox (Casanova) plays Tristan, the son of a local shopkeep whose dreams of marrying Victoria (Sienna Miller) become a possible reality when she sends him on a quest: recover a falling star. Urged on by his father Dunstan (Nathaniel Parker), Tristan uses a magic candle to travel to the place where the star fell. But when he arrives, he discovers that the star is not merely some hunk of charred rock but rather a beautiful woman named Yvaine (Clare Danes), who is none too happy to be enslaved to this ambitious but awkward mortal after falling from the sky.

Soon enough, the two begin to make their way back to Tristan’s village. But it turns out that Tristan is not the only person who wants to get his hands on Yvaine: A decrepit witch named Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) and her two sisters want to eat her heart, which will provide them with decades of youth and beauty. Meanwhile, the King (Peter O’Toole) has died and his sons fight to recover a lost gem — which coincidentally Yvaine finds — that will declare one of them heir to the throne. Before long, Tristan and Yvaine are thrown into a whirlwind journey across the globe facing witches, pirates, and kings-to-be, all the while discovering that heroism, leadership and most of all love may appear in the last place one might expect.

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In Theaters: August 10, 2007

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Grindhouse

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

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Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriquez celebrates the low-budget, exploitation movies of the 1960’s and 70’s. Read on:

Grindhouse is the latest film by Quentin Tarantino, a celebration if not culmination of his lifetime love for B-, C- and Z-grade exploitation movies. Yet strangely enough, this is not his best work. A groundbreaking co-production with longtime creative partner Robert Rodriguez, the anthology aims to recall the low budget double-feature format pioneered in the 1960s and ’70s, but update its formulas with modern-day money and technical know-how. While this appears to have liberated Rodriguez, a director who has toiled for more than a decade in otherwise overdressed genre pictures, it curiously has exposed Tarantino’s filmmaking Achilles’ heel — namely, his inability to distinguish when that celebration of movie magic interferes with a well-told tale.

At the same time, there are so many amazing and innovative ideas in Tarantino’s pastiche-cum-homage that it’s hard to hold his section in too low regard, particularly given its wealth of breathtaking action sequences and one particularly powerful performance. So even if Rodriguez’ effort surpasses his headliner’s by an outright star or so (consider it a four-and-a-halfer to Tarantino’s three-and-a-half), this tribute to cinema’s exploitative dregs is some of the most dynamic and engaging filmmaking produced in years.

At three-plus hours, Grindhouse is comprised of two short films, Planet Terror and Death Proof, which are connected by a series of fake trailers shot by industry colleagues like Eli Roth (Hostel) and Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead). Rodriguez’ Planet Terror is presented first, presumably because he is the lesser-known of the two directors, but his proves to be the better movie and more faithful interpretation of the grindhouse “ethos.” In the film, Freddy Rodriguez (Lady in the Water) plays Wray, a traveler with a shady past who becomes the unlikely savior for a band of survivors when the rest of humanity succumbs to a mysterious disease that turns them into zombies.

Predictably, there are several other characters acting out their own little melodramas against the backdrop of this larger event: William (Josh Brolin) and Dakota Block (Marley Shelton) are locked into a cycle of jealousy and revenge as their marriage slowly falls apart; Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan) tries to rebuild her life when she leaves her job as a go-go dancer, only to find her dreams of being a stand-up comic shattered when she loses her leg in a zombie attack; Sheriff Hague (Michael Biehn) must uncover the secrets of Wray’s background while uncovering the recipe for his brother J.T.’s (Jeff Fahey) tasty barbeque; and scientist Abby (Naveen Andrews) tries to find a cure for the zombie “infection,” while attempting to outrun a general hell-bent on controlling the disease for his own fiendish purposes.

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Pursuit of Happyness

Tuesday, December 19th, 2006

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Will Smith knocks one out of the park with Pursuit of Happyness. Read on:

When I mentioned to a friend that I was covering Will Smith’s new movie, The Pursuit of Happyness, the only thing he said to me was “make sure you ask Will Smith why the hell they misspelled ‘happiness’.” Well, rest assured, Steve, the answer to that question (and many others) lies in the movie itself; besides, Will Smith stopped returning my calls months ago (if only I hadn’t pressed him so hard on that “Parents Just Don’t Understand” follow-up, “Parents Really Just Don’t Understand”). But at any rate, Smith gives the performance of his career in a movie for which phrases like “heart-warming” and “life-affirming” were made, or if not they would certainly have had to be invented.

Smith plays Chris Gardner, a struggling salesman who spends his days trying to sell expensive, unnecessary medical equipment to doctors who don’t need it. When he randomly runs into a Wall Street trader who informs him all one needs to do his job is be good with people and numbers, Chris decides to pursue a coveted internship at a brokerage; unfortunately, the job is unpaid, which means that he will have to support himself and his son Christopher (Jaden Christopher Syre Smith) without any promise of a paying job in the future.

There isn’t much more to tell about Happyness in terms of plot, but it’s not because nothing happens; rather, the obstacles that Chris faces are likely familiar to many or most people who watch, read about or follow underdog stories like this. The difference between this tale and others, however, is that it’s based upon a true story – naturally with some of the details changed. For example, the real Chris Gardner’s son was only about a year old, not five as in the film; whether this was changed because the real story seemed too outlandish or just because Smith’s son Jaden was available to play the role remains unknown, but rather than undermining the believability of the tale it adds a counterpoint – namely, the child’s perspective – that enriches Gardner’s struggles.

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In theaters now


Apocalypto

Tuesday, December 12th, 2006

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Apocalypto delivers. Read on:

Once thought to be the appropriate epithet for his post-mug-shot career, Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto may well represent a step toward the fallen actor-director’s resurrection.

Revisiting similar emotional and visual terrain as he did with his divisive but phenomenally successful The Passion of the Christ, Apocalypto is a period piece set in ancient times that revolves around one man’s struggle to save something of personal importance. For Jesus, the object of salvation was the entire human race. For Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), the quest is more humble. He simply wants to save his family, and his small group of forest tribespeople, from the blunt axe and bloodlust of the Holcane warriors.

If you’re not up on your Mayan history or the timeline of human settlements on the Yucatan Peninsula, the Holcane warriors are fierce killers who serve the Mayan leader and his sacred priest by rounding up mountain-dwelling tribesmen for sacrifice.

With failing crops and a disfiguring illness claiming villagers, the Holcane warriors are working overtime to meet the demand for ritual killing, and when the film opens, Jaguar Paw and his people come face-to-face with a group of ragtag survivors.

They are in shock, and they have the vacant look of someone already half dead. Jaguar Paw’s father tells him they are sick with fear, and as a result, their fate is sealed. A few scenes later, we meet the Holcane warriors in the flesh and immediately understand the terror they inspire.

Zero Wolf (Raoul Trujillo) is the death squad leader and, thanks to his epaulets made of human mandibles and his necklace made from fragments of human skull, we can be assured he’ll figure as the central villain.

The rest of the narrative is self-sustaining: Jaguar Paw must elude capture by the Holcane, save his wife and son from certain death, and preserve his tribal way of life for future generations.

Seems simple enough, but surviving massive cultural upheaval and a climate of ambient fear is not easy — and if Apocalypto has any great thematic goals, it’s teaching its audience some timely lessons about the perils of paranoia, and the risk of non-resistance.

Jaguar Paw comes close to certain death several times over the course of this adrenalin-fuelled jaunt through the jungles of Mexico, but thanks to his manly resolve and the acceptance of his own human limitations, he refuses to fold in the face of terror.

In this way, he shares some key similarities to other Gibson heroes — including the blue-faced warrior William Wallace (Braveheart) and Jesus (Jim Caviezel in The Passion of the Christ).

Even Gibson’s pre-lapserian alter egos from the Lethal Weapon and Mad Max franchises fit under the same manly banner.

Gibson seems to enjoy watching half-naked, muscular men engage in bloodsport. Half the scenes in Apocalypto involve mano-a-mano bonding and intense violence.

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Deja Vu

Wednesday, November 29th, 2006

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Deja Vu is thoughtful, moving and generally exciting. Read on:

It’s hard not to like Tony Scott. Even though he may have single-handedly generated our fascination with filmmaking style over substance, he still created a memorable — nay, classic — body of work, and proved that even folks like Michael Bay can mature over time (albeit in admittedly microscopic measures). His latest film, Déjà Vu, is sort of a hybrid of the two impulses that have defined his career thus far: unrelenting visual excess and a tenuous relationship with actual human feeling. Starring Scott’s longtime leading man Denzel Washington, the film transcends the superficial appeal of its core concept — what if you could go back in time? — and actually offers a thoughtful, moving and genuinely exciting thriller that will likely serve as terrific counterprogramming for the Oscar bait and family fare releasing in the weeks to come.

Washington plays Doug Carlin, an ATF agent who inadvertently finds himself drawn into a murder mystery while investigating the explosion of a New Orleans ferryboat. Recovering the body of one of the supposed victims, Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton), Carlin takes not only professional but personal notice of the young woman’s… attributes. Before long, he determines that she may be the key to discovering the terrorist’s identity. Thankfully, a cadre of technology-wielding federal agents (including Val Kilmer and Adam Goldberg) offer the agent a unique opportunity to revisit Claire’s life. But Carlin is soon forced to decide whether cracking the case is more important than saving one woman’s life — especially if he has unexpectedly developed feelings for that woman, and knows what will eventually happen to her.

While we’ve seen quite a cross-section of cops and authority figures from Washington over the course of his career, Carlin feels like the most comfortable of these he’s yet played — the actor no longer seems determined to prove or insist upon his leading-man status. In a film like this where the chemistry between the star and his leading lady is reliant on their ability to overcome the technological backdrop, the hairpin storytelling and most of all the fact they barely have any actual screen time together, Washington carries the growing attraction effortlessly. It’s a testament to his performance that the film hardly ever feels like a sci-fi odyssey or any sort of high-concept adventure.

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In theaters November 22, 2006


The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause

Tuesday, November 7th, 2006

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Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause is good clean fun, but not condescending. Read on:

The Santa Clause franchise began, in 1994, as the ultimate collision of workaholic-Dad-snapped-into-line-by-fantastical-intervention cinema (see The Family Man, Liar Liar, Click, et al) and high concept piffle (ordinary guy becomes… Santa Claus). The movies have since served as one of the two twin pillars, alongside the Toy Story films, in star Tim Allen’s otherwise scant big screen career. Eight years passed between the original and its sequel, but the $172 million worldwide gross of The Santa Clause 2 (almost on par with its forebear) cemented plans for a trilogy.

While the films have taken a turn for even more family-friendly terrain (the original was rated PG, the latter two flicks both G), the result — somewhat paradoxically, when stacked up against many other live action family franchises — is not a movie that feels tame or uncertain, but one emboldened by the clear purpose and vision of its mission. Yes, there are still, dishearteningly, reindeer flatulence jokes and a sound mix full of cartoon cacophonies, but for the most part The Escape Clause succeeds as a credible adventure flick for little tykes.

Michael Lembeck returns as director from The Santa Clause 2, and guides the movie with a sure hand. He’s aided by a solid screenplay by Ed Decter and John Strauss — the original writers of There’s Something About Mary, who’ve generally refocused their efforts on younger audiences, going on to pen scripts for The Wild and The Lizzie McGuire Movie, among others — and an engagingly colorful villainous performance by Martin Short as the jealous Jack Frost.

After having become Santa in the first movie, Scott Calvin (Allen) has tried to juggle the demands of the job with his personal life. The Escape Clause finds Santa taking on new challenges as his extended family continues to grow. At the risk of giving away its secret location, Scott invites his in-laws, Sylvia and Bud Newman (Ann-Margret and Alan Arkin, a rich pair) to the North Pole to share in the holiday festivities and be near their daughter, Carol (Elizabeth Mitchell), as she prepares for the eagerly anticipated birth of Baby Claus. The problem, of course, is that Carol’s parents don’t know about Scott’s secret identity (they just think he’s a north-of-the-border toymaker), so he disguises the North Pole as Canada, instructing all his elves to cover up their pointy ears and go about appending, “ehh?” to the end of every other sentence.

Further complicating matters are Scott’s own blended brood — ex-wife Laura (Wendy Crewson), her new husband Neil (Judge Reinhold), their daughter Lucy (a very effective Liliana Mumy) and Scott’s son Charlie (Eric Lloyd) — who beg on for a trip of their own, and have to be entertained as well as keep the secret from the Newmans.

The main complication, though, is Jack Frost (Short), an icy-browed outcast on the Council of Legendary Figures, a group which includes the Easter Bunny, Father Time, Mother Nature, Cupid, et al. Jack wants his own holiday, and when rebuffed by the council he hatches a mischievous scheme to wreck Scott’s holiday and make him unwittingly invoke the titular “escape clause,” thus freeing the path for Jack to become the new Santa Claus.

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