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Movie Ratings and Reviews

The Raid 2
The Raid 2(2014)

The Raid 2 is one of the greatest action movies I have ever seen. Gareth Evans has stepped up his already impressive game and with this 2 hours 30 minute action epic, he has proven himself to be a true visionary behind the camera. Where The Raid: Redemption was a kinetic, fight-a-minute thrill ride, its sequel is built around a story. You won't feel its run time because you will be too engulfed in its gritty tale about family, loyalty, betrayal, and identity. Three crime families ultimately end up at war with each other with Rama being caught in the middle as an undercover cop exposing corruption.
Amidst the drama are incredibly choreographed, expertly staged, and graphically violent fight scenes. Weapons, hand-to-hand, gunfights, car chases, The Raid 2 has it all and it doesn't let up! There are at least two action scenes that I would rank among the best in recent memory. On a filmmaking standpoint, the film is beautifully framed, edited with skill and precision - it's so nice to see the actors doing their own stunts - and the sound mixing adds entire new dimensions to what an action film can do. The Raid 2 is a masterpiece!

Only Lovers Left Alive

Only Lovers Left Alive presents its vampires like ordinary people. They simply exist like normal human beings, adapting with the times, mastering the art of moving around the world before sunrise, and have their own ways of obtaining blood, which does not involve killing or turning humans into their kind. Vampires have never been depicted this way.
You really get absorbed in their lifestyle. There's no violence at all in the film. Sure, there's blood and people die (off-screen), but the film is more about how the vampires feel about their lives. Adam and Eve frequently refer to humans as "zombies" because they perceive the race is entering into a phase where all inspiration or innovation is gone and human beings just exist for the sake of existing. This makes the two of them question whether they even want to stay alive for the next hundred to thousand years because what would there be to look forward to? This is a totally engrossing film that blends music, romance and drama to create a unique mythology in which vampires exist in a human world. It uses the art of film as a language to influence its audience to think.

Oculus
Oculus(2014)
½

Oculus is freaky. That's all you need to know. Now go see it.
If you want me to go in more detail, I won't. The narrative progression explains everything you need to know and there's nary a plot hole in sight. The performances are solid and the story is unique. Jumping through different time periods, Oculus chronicles the story of a mirror that siblings Kaylie and Tim think is haunted and is responsible for the murder of their parents. Tim spent eleven years in prison undergoing psychiatric evaluation for being convicted of this murder. But Kaylie knows the truth, or at least she thinks she does. This mirror has a crazy defense mechanism in that it can possess you, make you do things or transport you to places without you being aware. The jumping through different time periods goes a little into excessive hyperdrive in the third act but it's still intense. There is some predictability, but overall, this is a well made horror film. Mike Flanagan shows great control over the visual style and the story, and the actors completely sell the story.
This film is just as scary and as enjoyably effective as The Conjuring.

Dracula Untold

One problem that Dracula Untold faces with its portrayal of vampires is that it doesn't really create an interesting mythology for these creatures. Terrified that the Turkish army will conquer his small village, Vlad strikes a deal to be turned into a vampire creature and thus, present the strength to single handedly destroy his opponents. But the audience doesn't get a sense of where vampires come from, why they exist in the first place, and most importantly, why does the thirst for blood turn them into senseless killing machines.
Dracula Untold is a PG-13 film that is really just about staging fun action and cool special effects. Sadly, it does neither. Thousands of people die in Dracula Untold but the fight scenes are badly staged and cut too quickly so you don't see any blood or anyone actually dying from a wound. The special effects aren't atrocious but nothing special. Every time the sun shines down on a vampire, the skin burning effect looks silly. The vampires also look heavily computer generated, bringing to mind Van Helsing as opposed to Interview with the Vampire.

The Raid: Redemption

Whatever The Raid: Redemption lacks in story, it makes up for with the coolest fight scenes I have seen all year. A SWAT team in Jakarta raids an apartment that is run by a drug lord. We follow Rama, an officer whose brother happens to be one of the drug lord's henchmen. Unfortunately for the SWAT team, the drug lord knows they're coming and is ready for battle.
Writer, director, editor, and choreographer Garreth Evans could be the next best action film director. He has surrounded himself with actors/stuntmen who know what they're doing. He frames the action in many long takes so you can follow it and be blown away by the incredible martial arts on display.
Most films like this do not need a story to work if the action is good, but The Raid develops its characters enough so we care about their survival. There are unexpected plot twists that keep the story from being too predictable. And last but not least, Mike Shinoda's music score could not have been better utilized. The Raid is a great action picture.

X-Men: The Last Stand

The first X-Men gave us promise. X2 made us proud to be comic book fans. X3 makes us want to cower down and cry. It's crap from the opening shot right to its cliffhanger ending, which is quite ironic since the film is titled "The Last Stand." There's no excuse for such sloppy, mismanaged execution especially when the budget is a whopping $210 million. It's really tough for me to explain how bad this film is because I could pretty much pick apart every scene and explain what is wrong with it.
Too many characters, poorly written dialogue, clumsily staged and edited fight scenes, and awful CGI are just some of the many problems with X-Men: The Last Stand. I swear I have seen better use of green screen in student films. I hated X3. It's a slap in the face to fans of the source material and a complete nose dive off the cliff in comparison to the previous films in the series. Not since The Godfather Part III has the concluding act in a well-received trilogy been so monumentally awful.

X2: X-Men United

X2: X-Men United not only improves on its predecessor in every way, it creates a stunning universe populated with incredible characters. Everything I loved about the original is here while its missteps have been corrected. This is truly a great film and one of the best sequels in recent memory. It begins with an incredible effects display as Nightcrawler takes out a whole security team. Then it builds on its story, tying in Wolverine's past with a psychotic military general set to eradicate mutants off the planet with an ingenious and diabolical scheme.
The action has been kicked up a few notches, complete with plane chases, sieges, and a Wolvering vs Lady Deathstrike fight that is just outstanding. With so many characters to follow it would have been easy to stumble with development. But every character has his or her own conflict to deal with, and it is resolved by the end. The film juggles its side plots incredibly well, even giving the villain a moment for us to sympathize. Expertly crafted to a fault, X2 is the X-Men franchise at its peak, in hopes that future installments will continue to amaze me the way this one has.

X-Men
X-Men(2000)

The success of X-Men was so great that it seemed to pave the way for Spider-Man, Hulk, Batman Begins, and a slew of other successful movies based on comic books. So in a way, one could probably make an argument that director Bryan Singer is responsible for the superhero movie craze that is now the staple of the summer season.
You can't deny the significance of X-Men in the evolution of blockbuster cinema. As a movie though, it unfortunately does feel like the obligatory pilot episode to a great series. It puts all the pieces into place, sets up the themes, and introduces some great characters. But the lame fight choreography, wonky dialogue, and vaguely explored social issues keep it from being a great stand alone film. It's nice to look back at a time when movies didn't resort to blowing up cities at the climax or forcing epic action sequences to entertain, but the film hasn't quite aged all that well. On the plus side, Hugh Jackman and Anna Paquin steal the show. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan show great chemistry. And the story sets the stage for its sequels very well.

Annabelle
Annabelle(2014)

Fourteen months to conceive, write, develop, shoot, edit, and release a film is not a lot of time and Annabelle is proof of that. It's a rushed, underdeveloped, and completely ineffective attempt to cash in on a new prospect. It takes one aspect from The Conjuring that was effectively creepy for the ten minutes it appeared and tries to develop it into an entire feature to which it fails epically. And there's a lot more wrong than that. The acting feels is low quality porn caliber. The scares are pretty much lame jump scares that are predictable as all hell. The story makes no sense and the dialogue is horrendous. This is an actual line from a cop trying to console Mia when she tells him she's seeing strange things: "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." What the hell does that mean? Believe me when I say I don't even think Daniel Day Lewis could have made the film's lines believable. And just in case you don't believe me, the director is John R. Leonetti who also made Mortal Kombat: Annihilation and The Butterfly Effect 2. Annabelle is equally as atrocious.

The Conjuring
½

The Conjuring is a testament to all non-believers that creaking doors, dead silences, noises coming from other rooms, and dark cellars can still be creepy when done well. Director James Wan has always been very technically proficient, especially with creating tension. Here he's been given a great script that explores its characters, and exceptionally strong actors who not only have great chemistry together, they actually look terrified (this goes a long way for the audience).
This well told little horror film does not do anything particularly new. It's got ghost elements, a doll, and even an exorcism, but what it lacks in originality, it makes up for in being the most effectively scary film in recent memory. I had a blast watching it. There are images so expertly crafted, I actually gripped my theatre chair a few times. Plus, that Annabelle doll.....freaky! Great job all around. Finally a studio horror film that shows real ingenuity, craft, and respect for the horror genre.

Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow is freaking awesome! It's easily the best movie of the summer so far and you need to see it. An unlikely mix of Groundhog Day, Black Hawk Down, and Aliens, this is one of the most original sci-fi films of the past decade and makes Tom Cruise's previous film Obliviion, feel like a teaser trailer for this.
The mimics are the coolest aliens since...well, Aliens. The premise is equal parts smart, bizarre, and trippy, all while undermining the cliches of the sci-fi action genre. And let's not forget the actors, especially Cruise and Emily Blunt; you won't see a better action team in any film this year.
Strong characters, a great story, and stellar effects make Edge of Tomorrow a near perfect masterpiece. Director Doug Liman has more than redeemed himself for Jumper, making this the best film he's made since The Bourne Identity.

Gone Girl
Gone Girl(2014)
½

The trailer for Gone Girl is as fantastic as the film and is an example of how all movie trailers should be. It gets you interested in the film by revealing the concept but doesn't spoil anything. All of the shots in the trailer are from the first third of the film. While the film is definitely a mystery, Gone Girl savagely attacks the media by showing how it twists stories or photos to attract viewers. It also examines how the legal system is completely flawed. There's so much going on that you can't view it as just one thing.
Ben Affleck proves that he's as fully capable an actor as he is a filmmaker by giving the best performance of his career. The same goes for Rosamund Pike, who up to now has been nothing but a forgettable supporting actress. Here, she steals the show. She will be nominated for an Oscar beyond a shadow of a doubt. Also giving career high performances are Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris.
This is just an incredibly well made movie in every shape and form, and will stay with you long after you leave the theatre. See this movie now as it will go down as one of the defining films of 2014.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

It's amazing how we now have two interpretations of the same material and can look back at how phenomenal the TV show and awful the movie still are. BtVS the film covers the same material as the show about a popular, superficial cheerleader who is chosen to defend the world against vampires. But its attempts at tongue in cheek humour are way too forced. The vampires' make up and costumes are cringe-worthy bad. Even the sound is terrible as some scenes have a noticeable echo in the dialogue despite the characters being in a car with the windows rolled up. No actor seems connected to the material. It was clearly a paycheck for Donald Sutherland and Luke Perry where Kristy Swanson and her co-stars seem happy that they're in a movie. The themes of an ordinary girl changing under extraordinary circumstances or the metaphor of the vampires as symbolic of teenage anxieties are there but left unexplored. There is nothing good about the BtVS film and anyone curious about it should stay far away less it taint their perception of the TV series.

V/H/S
V/H/S(2012)

When a horror movie review website gets involved in making horror movies, you can be pretty sure the pressure is high. I mean, if you're going to critique movies, you better show you know how to make a good one. And VHS (barely) validates Bloody Disgusting's idea of what makes a good horror movie. It's a found footage anthology with a framed narrative that focuses on a group of misfits who are contracted to break into a house and recover one tape amid a whole bunch of them. To find the right tape, they end up watching a bunch of them, and the results are not so great.
None of the stories tie into any overarching theme or villain. The directors of the short seemed to have free range to do what they want so long as it's found footage. What saves the film is that the segments are conceptually creative. The technical prowess in spite of found footage's limitations is also fascinating. Overly shaky cams, deliberate colour degradation (to mimic a VHS tape), and a lot of disbelief suspension detract the film from being the sum of its parts, but it's a mildly entertaining attempt to keep the found footage style alive.

A Walk Among the Tombstones

The detective plot is as good as the formula can be. It's complex and engaging. It depicts a world that is unforgiving, violent, and cruel to its characters. Despair is a common theme in almost all noir. A Walk Among the Tombstones looks okay and the subject matter is intense, but Scott Frank fails to communicate this intensity through the visuals. But what works are the incredible sound design and the villains. Gun shots are intensely loud and you hear everything from the cannon firing, the chamber discharging, and the casing falling to the ground in crystal clarity. A low hum during the night sequences adds an ominous mood to these scenes despite being too highly lit. The silences are unsettling. On top of this, the film has two of the cruelest, most depraved villains in years.
For the most part, this film focuses on developing its plot a lot more than its action scenes, but Liam Neeson is perfectly cast to play this role. Few things in contemporary movies are more fun than hearing him threaten the bad guys over the phone. While it may be a slightly more complex character compared to the other action heroes, A Walk Among the Tombstones delivers.

Under the Skin

The reality is that it's a polarizing film. Those that turned it off halfway through are completely justified in doing so. It's not for everyone, even those with good movie taste. So when I say that Under the Skin is a virtually flawless film, a masterpiece of sci-fi, horror, and filmmaking in general, this is an opinion I know that not everyone will share. The shooting style adds uniqueness, realism, and depth to the scenario and I thought it was astoundingly brilliant. The music is eerie. The imagery is haunting. I love this movie because it reminds me of the days when Hollywood made unconventional blockbusters. It shows a side of Scarlett that we have never seen before (and I'm not talking about her being full nude, I'm talking about her performance). This is a film that has a lot of emotion while not exactly expressing it. It feels raw. And it takes chances.
I was fascinated from the opening frame. Yes, it's a weird movie. But it's one of those weird movies I will revisit over the years. And yet, I can't recommend this film to everyone. Even for the most open minded of audiences, the film can be off putting. I just don't consider that a bad thing.

Deadgirl
Deadgirl(2008)

Deadgirl is fucked up, at least conceptually. In terms of execution, it doesn't really take any chances. Two horny, beer loving, but less than alpha-male friends find a girl in an abandoned hospital who seems like she can't be killed. In other words, she's a zombie, but they don't know it. JT, one of the boys, decides this girl is the perfect version of a sex toy, and pretty much spends all his time having some depraved but naughty fun.
Rickie is bent on impressing his childhood crush, who is dating one of the boys who bullies him. He doesn't agree with JT, but is soon caught in between.
There's a lot of opportunity here for a movie that could probably tackle interesting issues like women as objects of desire, sexual attraction, teen isolation. Nope. It does none of those. It goes for the gore, but then forgets to go all the way with its concept.
Thus, you're left with a film that is predictable and lifeless. It ends up being just another ordinary zombie film, which is a shame because it's trying to be everything else but that.

Locke
Locke(2014)
½

Similar to what Moon did for Sam Rockwell, Locke primarily exists to prove Tom Hardy is fully capable of carrying a feature film on his own. And it's his best performance yet (yes, even better than Bane).
Written and directed by Steven Knight (Eastern Promises), the film follows Ivan on the biggest night of his career. He's about to complete a multi-million dollar deal. His wife and sons are expecting him home to watch the big soccer match. But an unexpected phone call takes him away from all this, and we watch his life crumble as he drives to his new destination.
The film is a character study that suggests Locke's decisions in the film can be directly traced back to his experiences growing up. It explores the life he had, has, and will probably have moving past the end credits. It is 85 minutes, told in real time, and takes place in the interior of Ivan's car. You could say we are....locked....in a single perspective.
I can definitely see Locke failing to connect with a lot of people. But I can also see it being a highly engrossing experience for those willing to engage themselves in the story.

[REC] 4: Apocalypse
½

[Rec] 4: Apocalypse exists as an obligatory conclusion to the series. The film takes place on a ship where scientists have been working on a cure for the virus through testing lab monkeys. Little do they know that they have the only hope for a cure in Medeiros, who has possessed Angela.
The kills celebrate gore in Grand Guignol fashion. If you enjoyed Clara wielding a chainsaw, wait till you see what Angela does with a boat motor. It's the movie equivalent of a Left 4 Dead session.
Like the previous installment, this is not [Rec]. I get that director Jaume Balaguero wants to try something different. But he's just going through the motions. You never get a sense of claustrophobia even though the ship is stranded in the middle of nowhere. You pretty much know who will die and who will make it out. All the characters seem lifted straight out of other movies. And the final scene is so stupid it will have you rolling your eyes. If you like formulaic action thrillers, you'll enjoy [Rec] 4. If you want more [Rec] 1 or 2, this is not for you.

[REC] 3 Genesis

[Rec] 3: Genesis will appeal more to fans of grindhouse horror more so than fans of the first two [Rec] films.
The reason for this is because director Paco Plaza has completely changed the tone. He eschews the found footage style 30 minutes in for the more traditional aesthetic. Where its predecessors relied on atmosphere, this one relies on gore. Where the first two films built fear and suspense, [Rec] 3 offers B-movie action, humour, and romance. It does tie in with the previous two, but it also introduces completely new characters.
I liked the main wedding couple, Koldo and Clara. I cheered when Clara gets fed up with her wedding party guests attacking her as zombies and whips out the chainsaw in her dress. I love how Koldo frantically searches for Clara dressed as a knight in shining armor (the metal protects him from bites).
It certainly has its moments as mindless bloody fun. But for a franchise that was so legitimately scary, this feels like a step back, as its really a [Rec] film in name only.

[Rec] 2
[Rec] 2(2010)

[Rec] 2 is awesome! It picks up literally right after [Rec] left off. The focus is on a SWAT team going into the apartment to help an official get what he needs to end the quarantine, as well as rescue any survivors. The original [Rec] left us with the notion that the virus was started because of occult practices. In [Rec] 2, that idea is played on in great detail.
The action feels bigger as well. Instead of one camera, each SWAT member is equipped with a camera on their helmet, and the action cuts in between them. This is a brilliant decision, because it allows the film to feel bigger while keeping the concept the same.
Loose ends from the first are tied up as well. We find out what happened to the journalist from the first film, and we get to see the origin of Medeiros' powers.
[Rec] 2 is the sequel that does justice to [Rec] while taking the series in a whole new direction. No small feat, since I consider [Rec] to be one of the best horror films ever made! [Rec] 2 is filled with suspense, and some of the scariest scenes I've seen in a long time.

[Rec]
[Rec](2007)
½

Suspenseful, intense, scary, and gory, [Rec] is without a doubt one of the best Horror movies of the past decade, if not of all time.
2007 had not seen a whole lot of found footage movies, so this style was relatively new, and it's yet to have been done better. We follow a young reporter and her cameraman (who represents us) as they become unwillingly quarantined in an apartment with its residents. An outbreak is turning those infected into zombies (a term never used).
This film creates the "you are there" experience like nothing you have seen or will see before. Nothing feels staged. The scariest moments are things that are happening in the frame but not front and centre.
As the story slowly gets revealed, you get more unnerved. There are brilliant and terrifying scenes that will stay with you for days.

House at the End of the Street

There is definitely a great psychological thriller buried in House at the End of the Street. Unfortunately, the version that is available completely lacks any kind of suspense. Some plot twists are kind of ingenious while others are way too predictable. Leaving nothing to the imagination and eager to tie things together in a nice crowd pleasing manner, the film is only slightly elevated by Jennifer Lawrence, who is way too good for this material.
While Lawrence does bring some depth to her character, you won't care for anything that happens, and the clumsily executed mystery will have a tendency to bore rather than unnerve. Hitchcock would not be proud.

Compliance
Compliance(2012)

You will be hard pressed to find a more disturbing thriller this year. Compliance is a harrowing experience, made all the more stressful when you see the terrible way these characters behave thinking the law is on their side.
The film is ultimately a testament not just to our inability to question authority but our unwillingness to. We the audience sit helplessly as we watch a young woman humiliated by people who are supposed to be her friends, all in the name of compliance to what they think is a police officer.
This film explores the dark side of humanity in a way that few films have. It does it with minimal locations and a phone. When the credits rolled I couldn't believe this was based on a true story. Then I looked up the actual case this film was based on. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the events happened exactly as they were told in the film, and how unsettling it is to know that it happened 70 different times and that the perpetrator was acquitted.

The Legend of Hercules

The story of Hercules has graced us many times in numerous incarnations. Renny Harlin's latest turkey, The Legend of Hercules, is the myth told in the most lifeless and uninteresting way possible.
Sets look cheap. Costumes look put together from discount surplus attire. Actors don't act; they yell; all the time; every line - it's like high school kids performing bad Shakespeare without microphones. Granted, their performances are clearly the fault of the director.
Everything in this movie is a cliché, from the opening "prophecy" to the final siege in the middle of a thunderstorm set to booming Hans Zimmer-esque music. I don't understand why anyone bothered trying to make this movie and I can't fathom anyone being remotely interested in seeing it.

Looper
Looper(2012)

Rian Johnson's Looper is astonishing. It creates a unique time travel scenario, and is mostly consistent with the rules it lays out for itself. The action is great; the suspense is gripping, and all the actors do amazing jobs at playing lonely, grief-stricken characters. One of the most interesting aspects of this movie is how it questions notions of predestination and fate. Can someone really be held countable for crimes they have not yet committed, or could they become different people given a change of circumstance? Looper isn't shy about getting you to think. It's primed to blow your mind visually and logically.

Sin City
Sin City(2005)
½

Sin City is a gorgeous and cartoonishly violent mix of old school film noir style and new school digital technology. Robert Rodriguez has brought Frank Miller's graphic novel to life on the screen almost panel to panel. The results are fascinating. Each story has dark, brooding, yet interesting protagonists. Their villains are equally menacing. The all star cast is clearly having fun getting in touch with their inner Humphrey Bogart.
Fully embracing its pulp roots, Sin City depicts reluctant anti-heroes trying to exist in a city overwhelmed with corruption and despair. It's the ultimate in hard boiled fiction.

Afflicted
Afflicted(2014)

Afflicted is not just a near perfect horror movie (or movie in general), it's an inspiration to all of us that no matter how tired a genre is (in this case vampires and found footage), creative filmmakers can find a way to reinvent it. A genuinely scary, exciting new masterpiece to the greatest genre ever.
It's unfortunate that the film has to tread territory that is all too familiar to the audience. But sometimes, it's not about the story you tell; it's how well you tell it. Afflicted uses the cliches of the horror genre and injects the cool back into them (which is why they became cliches in the first place).
Clif Prowse and Derek Lee show real ingenuity with creating special effects, staging action, and building mystery. With $300,000 they were able to make a better film than any $300 million Hollywood studio production to come out in over a decade.

The Purge
The Purge(2013)

You will go into The Purge intrigued by its premise and you will leave very disappointed.
In a futuristic America, the new government (called the Founding Fathers) has managed to eliminate murder and unemployment by making all crime legal for one night each year. The logic is that this night of "purging" allows us to let loose our animalistic nature as well as letting the poor, less contributing members of society kill each other off.
The film does not expand on these concepts, leaving much to be desired. It'll be too easy for critics to expose all of its flaws as a plausible system. Instead, the plot devolves into a standard home invasion movie that is predictable and populated with really, really stupid characters.
The Purge is an example of taking a cool set up and turning it into cliche, forgettable crap.

Need For Speed

Need for Speed seems to have all the ingredients to be the start of a cool film franchise - great leading man, cool supporting cast, beautiful cars, and the budget to make it all happen.
But it's like this movie went out of its way to be disappointingly stupid. Things like one character always showing up in different helicopters kept having me think - how are you plausibly doing this? Or how Aaron Paul is established to be the best driver ever and the car he drives the fastest car ever, yet even a truck can catch up to him. Not to mention Michael Keaton's really annoying commentary throughout the final race, and the insanely awkward dialogue throughout the entire film.
It seems movies made from video games are a lost cause. Need for Speed does not make the case that this trend will change any time soon.

Transcendence

VERDICT: BARELY WATCHABLE -
Transcendence starts with a bang but ends up a mess of bad science and bad execution. It wants you to think about the relationship between humans and computers; namely, if a computer can manipulate nano-technology to make people stronger but ultimately place them under its control at will, is this a good thing or a bad thing? The problem is once you start thinking about it, nothing will make any sort of sense.
The script is underwhelming, with so many potentially key moments being glossed over to cram in other ideas. And the director, Wally Pfister (Chris Nolan's cinematographer of choice) does not have the experience or the ability to bring all these ideas together. The film looks great, but it was clearly brought into production less than half thought out.

Life Itself
Life Itself(2014)
½

VERDICT: MIDNIGHT SCREENING WORTHY -
A beautiful eulogy to the man who completely reinvented film criticism to what we know today. A brilliant writer who loved the movies arguably more than anyone, Roger Ebert is one of the most important figures in cinema history and this film shows you why, chronicling his life from birth to death in a manner that is as funny as it is heartbreaking.
Steve James, the director of Hoop Dreams (one of the greatest documentaries ever made), has been granted exclusive access to Ebert's professional and personal life, right up to his final days. With this access, James has created a biography worthy of a standing ovation. Two very enthusiastic thumbs way up!

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes
½

VERDICT: MIDNIGHT SCREENING WORTHY -
Audiences and filmmakers take note. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is one of the best films of 2014. You see it uses this thing called "mood." You may be unfamiliar with this concept cuz it isn't used in big movies today. It's created through manipulation of the setting, themes, and tone.
Dialogue is used to move the plot forward, not for lame attempts at humour. Characters are defined by their actions, not through exposition.
The film also proves you can have awesome fight scenes with groundbreaking CGI and use it to enhance your story rather than making it the story.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is not a product of business decisions (yeah Michael Bay I'm referring to you). It's opening weekend hasn't been pre-bought by the studio (again Michael Bay looking at you). It's a film with intelligence, artistic integrity, and parallels to our present day world. There's still hope for Hollywood yet.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

VERDICT: TOTALLY WATCHABLE -
Where did this come from? Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the biggest surprise of 2011.
The effects are great, but what really connects with you is Andy Serkis' performance as the ape Caesar. You feel as emotionally attached to Caesar as any of the human characters, and I believe that's exactly how the filmmakers wanted you to feel.
This is a film that concentrates heavily on its story. Boasting remarkable acting, and truly mesmerizing moments (some only involving CGI apes communicating in sign language), make sure you seek this film out by any means necessary!

Deliver Us from Evil
½

VERDICT: BARELY WATCHABLE -
Deliver Us From Annoying Strobe Lights is pretty cool if you've never seen a demon exorcism horror movie before. However, chances are you have seen a demon exorcism horror movie before, in which case you can skip this one.
I did like how director Scott Derrickson approaches the story as a gritty police procedural with horror conventions. Joel McHale (from Community) is also pretty cool as Eric Bana's knife-wielding partner. Unfortunately the film is way too predictable, feeling longer than it actually is. At the end of the day, Deliver Us From Evil offers nothing new, and what it does offer has been done better in other demon exorcism horror movies, including Derrickson's Sinister and The Exorcism of Emily Rose.

After Earth
After Earth(2013)

Boredom, as it relates to film, occurs when the audience is unable and unwilling to care about the story. After Earth is a prime example of a boring movie. Its premise is set up in broad strokes, never giving the audience time to believe in it. It's too violent for kids and too childish for the summer crowd. Lastly, the whole film feels tailor made to turn Jaden Smith into the next big star, and based on his performance here, that is an expectation he is unable to meet and does not deserve. Even if it isn't as bad as it's been made out to be, After Earth is still instantly forgettable.

22 Jump Street

An honest parody of movie franchise sequels, 22 Jump Street has no preconceived notions that it's a telling the same story in a slightly different way. But its directors (who also did Clone High, 21 Jump Street, and The Lego Movie) know how to entertain. There were scenes that had me laughing to the point of tears. Both Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are even better here than in the original. Kudos to all of you! This is how you make a proper follow up.

21 Jump Street

21 Jump Street was an unexpected surprise. It's the funniest film of 2012 and amidst all the laughs manages to accurately portray the modern day high school. While the script is smart and the self-referential jokes are welcome, the movie belongs to its stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. They are a great comedy duo. This movie alone made me a fan of Tatum.

Transformers: Age of Extinction

Transformers: Age of Extinction is the dumbest movie I've seen in a long while. Michael Bay's skill as a director has grown more incompetent as his career goes on, putting him in the same league as M. Night Shyamalan, Roland Emmerich and the guy who made Battlefield Earth. I went into this movie with the lowest amount of expectations and it still managed to piss me off. I know a movie like this should not really be judged on its story, but get a load of this: the CIA uses the Chicago incident (from the 3rd movie) as an excuse to band together with an alien race more threatening than the Decepticons ever were, locate and kill the Autobots, harvest their technology and use it build new transformers, unknowingly using Megatron as their "brain;" so when they activate their army, the robots go all evil on the humans. Can I get a collective, "Huh?" If that's not stupid enough, check out this line of dialogue, actually spoken by Optimus Prime: "I don't normally kill humans, but when I find out who did this, I'm going to. Kill. Them." Not to mention there's a transformer dressed like a samurai and voiced by Ken Watanabe, another one sporting a metal trench coat ala Neo from The Matrix, and a John Goodman Autobot, voiced by John Goodman channeling his best "Shut the fuck up Donny" impression. The Dinobots are the equivalent of Venom in Spider-Man 3, thrown in for about ten minutes for no other reason than "hey, we got Dinobots in our movie." Mark Wahlberg is okay but the character he plays is a deadbeat, overprotective loser who chirps on his daughter's boyfriend for no reason - not a very likable guy. The female characters are either damsels in distress or unable to exist without a guy around to help them. The action scenes are about as exciting as watching someone scrape their nails against a chalkboard. And if all that doesn't sound bad enough, the film takes 165 minutes to tell its "story," the same running time as Saving Private Ryan.
You're still going to watch the movie despite my warning and I feel sorry for you. My brain hurts from the memory of sitting through this garbage. It is every reason why Michael Bay can't have nice things.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

I've never written a troll review before, but Transformers: Dark of the Moon warrants one. This movie is shit. If you liked it, you have no taste in movies. It's 155 minutes of boring fight scenes stitched together with a illogical, laughably bad story that integrates Cybertron into historical events. Every actor is underused and their acting is so atrocious (how is Frances McDormand in this?), I actually missed Megan Fox. $200 million that could have gone to solve world hunger completely wasted.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen represents everything wrong with movies today. It seems worried that the audience will get bored by even a minute of plot that it bombards with explosion after explosion. No sense of space or relation to what's going on in the action sequences. Jokes replace story. Machines run in and out without ever being established.
It feels like the studio gave $200 million to a bunch of pre-schoolers and were told to go make a movie. A 2 1/2 hour waste of time.

Transformers
Transformers(2007)
½

Aside from its shameless product placement, lame jokes, and lack of coherent action editing, Transformers is visually awesome. Nostalgia is generally not a reason to recommend a film, but the Autobots and Decepticons look so cool that watching them on the big screen made me feel like an 8 year old kid again. This is why CGI was invented.

How to Train Your Dragon

How to Train Your Dragon not only creates a vibrant and luscious world, it develops its characters and its subject matter in such a spectacular way that adults and children alike can enjoy it. After watching this movie, I can't imagine anyone would not want to have a pet dragon, especially one like Toothless.

The Fault In Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars is a great film, based on the best novel of the past decade (if not longer).
Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, and Willem Dafoe are perfectly cast and manage to disappear into their characters despite being such huge stars. The dialogue if funny and natural. The heartbreak hits you like a sledgehammer. And the film approaches its subject matter with honesty, realism, and originality.

Drinking Buddies
½

This. Is. Mumblecore. Some critics and audiences feel that this movement is the official death of cinema. My take on Drinking Buddies is that not since Richard Linklater's earliest works has a film been so refreshing and unique. Naturalistic settings, minimal narrative structure, and what seems like improvised dialogue by four incredible actors, Drinking Buddies is the Indie romance I've been wanting to see again since the 90s.

Phantasm: Remastered

Don Coscarelli's cult classic is admittedly disjointed. It's not quite the sum of its parts, but there are many individual scenes that are wonderfully conceived and executed, some even with unexpected humour. The amateurish acting, odd transitions, and plot holes keep Phantasm from being great in my eyes, but the film is an exercise in creativity and ingenuity, not to mention in showcasing the coolest flying killing device in recent memory.

Seuseung-ui eunhye (To Sir With Love) (Bloody Reunion)

Bloody Reunion is all over the place. It wants to be a serious look at what I gathered to be the prejudice of the lower class in South Korea, a tale of revenge against the worst teacher in history, and a gory as all hell slasher flick. With such tonal imbalances and overly melodramatic performances, everything gets lost in the midst. There are several ideas for a number of potentially good movies, but too many ideas for a single good one.

The East
The East(2013)
½

It's uneven, especially in its lack of real suspense and character motivations. But The East's moral ambiguity and complexity of ideas makes for an engaging thriller that the studio system should be making more often. Writer/actor Brit Marling is quickly developing into a force to be reckoned with, standing alongside a great supporting cast with wit and ferocity.

Serenity
Serenity(2005)

Serenity is the work of an auteur. It's hard to call Joss Whedon that since he primarily works in fantasy, horror, and sci-fi (apparently only Godard, Scorsese, and Welles can be considered auteurs), but there hasn't been a space opera film thoughtful, funny, well acted, entertaining, and lively since the original Star Wars. A masterwork for fans of Firefly and great fantasy alike.

Side by Side
Side by Side(2012)

Side by Side explores the question of film's worth in an increasingly digital future. It all boils down to the simple fact that even if the format changes, the medium is only as good as the artist's ability to manipulate it to tell a story. Some filmmakers swear by film. Others by digital. But ultimately, it's the quality of the work that matters. A great documentary.

A Million Ways to Die in the West

A Million Ways to Die in the West is NOT our generation's Blazing Saddles. It is also not a great follow up to the director's debut film Ted. But Seth MacFarlane's western spoof has about two great jokes for every bad one so it's decent enough. There is also some unexpected cameos and you will definitely fall in love Charlize Theron's character. Stupid movie, but entertaining enough.

Bereavement
Bereavement(2011)
½

A small improvement over 2003's Malevolence, with more interesting characters and slightly better acting. Bereavement will satisfy die hard horror fans as a run of the mill gory slasher flick, but there's nothing here to attract anyone else, especially in the way of logic or an interesting narrative.

Insidious: Chapter 2

James Wan still knows how to pull off some cool, if not scary, haunted house sequences. But none of the problems from the first Insidious have been fixed, and now the novelty is gone. Insidious: Chapter 2 complicates its scenarios with too much backstory. Its twists are predictable and the film seems too concerned with building a franchise than making an entertaining movie.

X-Men: Days of Future Past
½

Welcome back Bryan Singer. The man who made us believe in superhero movies returns to the franchise he launched. And while the film stumbles having to juggle an abundance of plot and characters, not to mention bridging the gaps between all the films, X-Men: Days of Future Past is exhilarating. If for no other reason, it's worth your time because it completely wipes X3 off the map with a big middle finger.

Grand Piano
Grand Piano(2014)
½

Grand Piano proves two things: that Blackberry products will never fail you and that small, single location set films can be the most thrilling. Almost like Phone Booth in a concert hall, Grand Piano requires you to suspend a lot of your disbelief and its final act is very preposterous, but for the most part, this film is fun and suspenseful in a way that may have made Hitchcock proud.

St. Nick
St. Nick(2011)

You get the point early on, and the lack of dialogue or conventional plot structure may test most audiences' patience, but if you're open to it, St. Nick is an absorbing and beautifully made picture in the same tradition as Yasujiro Ozu, Terrence Malick and Gus van Sant's more ambitious works. This is a sad look at street kids surviving day by day, having to grow up way too soon.

Ain't Them Bodies Saints

Dark and lyrical to a fault, Ain't Them Bodies Saints is an exercise of style over substance, but is elevated by fantastic performances from Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Ben Foster, and Keith Carradine. The tone of this western sets up a tragic story about consequences and family as an outlaw tries to make it home to his family, and that hopelessness is reflected in the (now cliche) backdrop of a rural Texas setting.

Dread
Dread(2009)

Completely missing the point of the Clive Barker short story, Dread occasionally shows moments of promise but the psychological elements are completely glossed over in favour of gore and torture. Not that there's anything wrong with that per se, but because Dread lacks a proper set up (not to mention the most interesting characters are not given enough development), its final act is confusing and not as disturbing as it wants to be.

Contracted
Contracted(2013)

Body horror takes the form of an STD in hyperdrive spreading from one host to the next. Contagion focuses on Samantha, and the virus she's infected with can be a metaphor for unprotected sex, her homosexuality, or her shallow personality reflected outwards. There is a lot of territory that the film doesn't explore, and it ends abruptly just when things get interesting. But it does the trick in delivering plenty of gross out, unnerving moments.

In Time
In Time(2011)
½

The premise of time being currency, and that for a few to live forever many must die, is amazing. Also, the cast is great. But the film, written and directed by Andrew Niccol, is less than the sum of its parts. It does not explore the world it creates. There are too many heavy handed narrative arcs. And the film ultimately becomes a Bonnie & Clyde knock off. In Time is fun, but it could have been so much greater, especially in the wake of the Occupy movement.

Tôkyô Zankoku Keisatsu (Tokyo Gore Police)

Eihi Shiina, that freakish girl from Audition, stars as a sword-wielding agent of death in Tokyo Gore Police, a B-movie of epic proportions. Strange and unnecessarily violent, Yoshihiro Nishimura's dystopian futuristic horror packs in a lot of tongue in cheek humour and a sexy heroine you can't help but route for.

American Mary

The Soska Sisters are twisted indeed. With American Mary, they depict a struggling grad student who gets pulled into the nasty world of body modifications. Neglected and abused by the surgeons she hoped to one day become, Mary creates an American Dream of her own depraved creation, and the resulting film is disturbing, incredibly well acted, and absorbing right through to its anti-climax.

A Tale of Two Sisters
½

Unfolding like a Grimm fairy tale channeled through David Lynch, A Tale of Two Sisters is dreamlike, haunting, and thought provoking. Some of its plot points are disjointed. but the film works overall as a ghost story mixed with psychological thriller.

Ju-on: The Grudge
½

Arguably one of the scariest J-Horror movies ever made. While it's light on story, it works almost completely on a visceral level. The images are just downright creepy.

The Wolverine

The Wolverine shows potential early on, but a ridiculous action sequence on board a train undermines the dark tone and the film quickly plummets below mediocrity. Relocating the character to Japan is a welcome change and aside from a stupid last minute twist, the plot is intriguing albeit predictable. Unfortunately, all the characters lack personality and the pacing is far too slow. You soon realize the film would have been better without its title character, who grunts and stumbles through the story as a plot device. Yawn.

Godzilla
Godzilla(2014)
½

Godzilla is a mixed bag. It looks cool but it's missing that sense of awe I got from Jurassic Park. The action is cleverly filmed, but not any cooler than Pacific Rim. And I liked the characters but they're too stock and underdeveloped for me to really care what happens to them (a shift in perspective also renders the first half hour completely unnecessary).

Godzilla
Godzilla(1998)

In one scene, Matthew Broderick buys pregnancy tests from the local store and uses them to find out Godzilla is...pregnant. He deduces it's because Godzilla is asexual, to which his girlfriend replies, "where's the fun in that." This is an example of how remarkably lame and poorly constructed this film is. Dismissing the fact the monster keeps changing size as well as stupid Mayor Ebert and his sidekick Gene (way to bash the critics Roland Emmerich), Godzilla is a lame studio attempt to cash in on the Jurassic Park craze by using an established brand. But like Xander Harris said, Matthew Broderick killed a big, dumb lizard that was NOT Godzilla.

X-Men: First Class
½

Matthew Vaughn's prequel puts the series back on track. With a younger, all new cast and Kevin Bacon giving the performance of his career, X-Men First Class is the best X-Men film yet. Set in the early 1960s, the story uses the looming Cold War to examine the tensions between humans and mutants. It juggles multiple characters evenly and gives every character an identity and a motive. Not to mention the action scenes kick ass. Here's hoping the next X-Men film is equally as strong.

Gojira
Gojira(1956)
½

There ain't nothing like watching a guy in a rubber suit squashing cardboard buildings. But as silly as its special effects may be in 2014, Gojira is a timeless masterwork. The 650 foot monster is never portrayed as purely evil. Because it evolved out of misguided nuclear testing, the creature becomes a complex metaphor for the anxieties that plagued Japan in the wake of the H-bomb and World War 2. The film captures this in dark and honest fashion.

The Lawnmower Man

Both a cyberpunk retelling of Frankenstein and bastardization of Stephen King's short story of the same name, The Lawnmower Man is made worse by its preposterous plot twists, dated effects, and ham acting.

X-Men Origins - Wolverine

X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a clutter of bad CGI and underdeveloped plots. Not to mention that Gambit, Deadpool, and pretty much every other supporting superhero are extremely underused. Even the action scenes are lame and predictable. There's nothing remotely entertaining about this movie.

Divergent
Divergent(2014)
½

Divergent uses every teen movie cliche possible to tell a story about keeping your individuality as you integrate into society as an adult. It's by no means a bad movie. It has the best of intentions, looks great and is well acted. But where Harry Potter and The Hunger Games managed to connect with audiences outside their fanbase, Divergent is instantly forgettable. Unless you read and liked the book I guess.

Super Mario Bros.

So bad I have not enough words to describe it. I can nitpick as a fan of the video game how this live action version fails and I can tear it apart as a film fan, but why bother. You can either avoid this film like a plague of fungus, or you can watch it over a few beers and laugh your ass off at its awfulness.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2
½

You have to admire the actors of The Mediocre Spider-Man 2. The fact that they could deliver such awfully written dialogue is a testament to their talents. This movie lacks focus. The villains are cheesy and underdeveloped, and the web-slinging scenes suck. The chemistry between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy is by far the best thing. I wanted to see their relationship develop scene after scene, but an explosion kept interrupting. Alas.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
½

Catching Fire is not only better than its predecessor in every way, it's a sure fire sci-fi masterpiece. There are great ideas here about hope, fear, heroic figures, symbols, and government control, all of which are explored to the fullest. Great characters, great action, great narrative. One of the best films of 2013.

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games captures the political and social undertones of Suzanne Collins' brilliant novel while refusing to exploit the idea of kids being trapped in an arena to fight to the death. It is a great science fiction picture because of its pacing, ensemble cast, and portrayal of a nation that governs its people through fear and fascism.

Revanche
Revanche(2009)

A gorgeous, sentimental, and somewhat existentialist drama about revenge, forgiveness, love, and devotion. Shot in mostly long, static shots without any musical score, Revanche is a film that will absorb and envelope you into its world, staying with you long after the credits have rolled.

The Night of the Hunter

The very definition of a film noir. Robert Mitchum is spectacular as psychotic preacher and serial killer Harry Powell. Few films actually earn the title "edge of your seat" but this dark and incredibly well made film by first (and only) time director Charles Laughton will certainly have you gripping both seat handles in suspense.

Philomena
Philomena(2013)
½

A simple but deeply involving story about forgiveness and exposing the truth. Judi Dench and Steve Coogan give incredible performances, and the character of Philomena Lee is portrayed as a truly astonishing human being.

Law Abiding Citizen

As a fun, (un)intelligent revenge thriller, Law Abiding Citizen held my interest through and through. I would have preferred a less farfetched conclusion, but Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx give great performances as their characters square off and spew at each other there opposing yet equally flawed perceptions on the American legal system.

Batman: Under the Red Hood
½

Dark, emotional, and way too short, Batman: Under the Red Hood stands as strong a film as most of the live action versions of the Dark Knight. Focusing on the Red Hood / Jason Todd storyline, Under the Red Hood is a thrill ride with great voice talents (although I miss Mark Hamill as the Joker) and solid animation.

Friday the 13th

Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes takes another household name in the horror genre and desecrates it with a useless, unscary, boring, overproduced, and incompetently written joke of a movie. This is the kind of film that really gives horror a bad rep, providing further proof that the only worthwhile horror movies are the ones made independent of the studio system.

The Amazing Spider-Man

Spider-Man was by no means a film that needed rebooting. But The Amazing Spider-Man is about on par in terms of quality; it's just a different interpretation. Director Marc Webb injects this film with his indie romantic sensibility, creating a film that is first and foremost about relationships. Andrew Garfield is a great Peter Parker and a better Spider-Man, and you couldn't find a better Gwen Stacy than Emma Stone. This origin story has just as much intelligence as it does special effects.

Spider-Man 3
Spider-Man 3(2007)
½

The next film needs to focus solely on J Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons). He is the most entertaining element to Spider-Man 3, a film that is just filled with bland setups, predictable romantic tension, an emo Peter Parker, and the worst possible depiction of Venom - of which they never use this name. It's not just that there's too much going on. It's that none of it is interesting. A huge disappointment.

Spider-Man 2
Spider-Man 2(2004)

Spider-Man 2 is great fun in its action scenes and surprisingly thoughtful in its dramatic ones. Peter Parker has to deal with balancing school, work, love life, and being a superhero and it quickly becomes too much. Comic book movies rarely venture into this territory, but Spider-Man 2 does, and emerges with a definition of what it means to be a superhero.

Spider-Man
Spider-Man(2002)

Spider-Man is a strong entry into the comic book cannon, and not least because it's based on my all time favourite superhero. It gives Peter Parker a great origin story. The web-slinging action scenes are awesome. Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Willem Dafoe and James Franco bring unique perspectives to their characters. Sam Raimi's unique style permeates the film and enhances the material rather detracting from it.

Blue Is The Warmest Color
½

Blue is the Warmest Color is so much more than cheap exploitation. At 3 hours long, it is shot predominantly in close ups, with long passages of dialogue, and is about so many things: coming of age, class differences, sexism, art, food, and of course, same sex relationships. We'll never know if its Palme D'Or win was more political than personal, but this is too beautiful and wonderful a film to be defined by its controversy alone.

From Dusk Till Dawn

When Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino team up to make a campy B-horror movie, the result is true greatness as witnessed by From Dusk till Dawn. Chronicling the Gecko brothers on their escape into Mexico and culminating in a strip bar that is also a vampire haven, this film is the definition of cult classic, populated with memorable characters.

The Loved Ones

Prom night can be torture, and The Loved Ones takes that literally as Lola Stone captures Brent Mitchell and gives him a prom night he will remember, filled with hammering knives through his feet, lobotomy, cutting, and more. An incredibly intense and cringing addition to extreme horror that manages to explore many themes of teen isolation amidst all the violence.

Evil Dead
Evil Dead(2013)

Quite possibly the goriest film ever made by a Hollywood studio, Evil Dead is a new Horror classic, a film that accomplishes the nearly impossible task of staying true to the original's roots while standing firmly on its own.

The Devil's Backbone (El Espinazo del diablo)

The Devil's Backbone is more sad than frightening. It focuses on the children in an orphanage with nowhere to turn to as the Spanish Civil War soon empties on their doorstep. While the ghost of Santi is truly unnerving, the film reflects a common theme in Guillermo del Toro's films - that humans are the worst kind of monsters.

Insidious
Insidious(2011)

Insidious is the equivalent of a haunted house theme park ride. Frequent jump scares abound, most of them quite effective. By the time the ending roles around, you aren't as scared as you were when the film started (the third act goes into hyper-drive with effects overload), but if you're looking for a fun horror flick to watch, Insidious works.

Diabolique (Les Diaboliques)

Diabolique is a milestone in horror filmmaking and a wonderful look back at a time when filmmakers used suspense to frighten audiences, not cheap "boo" scares. Smartly made, chilling, and its ending is truly disturbing.

The Horsemen
The Horsemen(2009)

It's not that Horsemen is a bad movie. The premise is actually pretty intriguing. But it's executed in such a bland and generic fashion that it's really hard to care about anything that's happening. Not to mention the faux Silence of the Lambs jail scenes with Dennis Quaid and Zhang Ziyi would benefit from subtitles whenever the latter speaks.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson's films range from flawless to instantly forgettable and The Grand Budapest Hotel is exceptionally close to the former. Shot in a variety of cinematic styles while expertly blending two oft forgotten genres - screwball comedy and murder mystery - in a seemless story within a story narrative, this is a fantastic film. Funny, unique, and Ralph Fiennes is at his best.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Boasting an opening sequence with George St Pierre that puts to shame most action movie finales as well as one of most exciting car chases in years, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a great action flick, a smart political thriller, and one of the strongest entries in Marvel's Avengers franchise to date.

Maniac
Maniac(2013)

A depraved, disturbing, and uncompromising slasher that boasts amazing technical craftsmanship, forcing you to follow the kind of character you fear your sister or daughter would meet. Strictly for fans of extreme horror.

Suspiria
Suspiria(1977)

Dario Argento's most popular film is a must-see for seasoned horror fans. The violence is extreme, it's astoundingly creepy, beautifully filmed, and Goblins' score is one of the best film scores of all time. The only setback is the low production value and clearly dubbed audio, but don't let that stop you from experiencing this iconic work of the horror genre.

Ender's Game
Ender's Game(2013)
½

Ender's Game starts off with promise, but by the end, we're left with an oversimplified, rushed, and underwhelming adaptation of one of the greatest science fiction novles of all time. Gavin Hood takes another step back from his Tsotsi days as a director-for-hire on a project that shouldn't even exist to begin with.

Frozen
Frozen(2013)

Frozen is a great film. It's visually mesmerizing, evenly paced, and skillfully avoids cheap sentiment or pop culture references. Also boasting an arsenal of amazing song numbers, it'is the best DIsney movie since The Lion King and puts to shame Pixar's last three outings.

Despicable Me 2
½

It's just a really fun movie. Gru is a great hero, his girls are adorable and the Minions completely steal the show. You may not care much for the story but it's really all about the characters.

Retro Puppet Master (Puppet Master 7)
½

Direct to video, sloppily made horror shlock starring The Room's Greg Sestero boasting a ridiculously funny French accent and a weirdly flamboyant robe.

The Room
The Room(2003)

There are bad movies. Then there are atrocious movies. And then there's The Room. Probably the most awkward and incompetently made film project of all time, Tommy Wiseau is the yin to Orson Welles' yang. If you like bad movies, this is the one to see. Make sure you see it in a packed theatre to get the full cult experience. Bring plastic spoons and a football.

After the Dark

This could have been a great film if the story didn't derail itself in the final scenes. For the most part though, this is a smart existential science fiction that manages to dramatize philosophical thought in an interesting way. A thorough examination of choices and their consequences.

Veronica Mars

Here's the thing. If you never saw the show, you probably have no interest in seeing this. If you are a MARShmallow, the Veronica Mars movie is everything you hoped it would be. It's laugh-a-minute funny, dark, unpredictable, suspenseful, and populated with the characters you've grown to love. Made strictly for the fans, just sit back and enjoy no matter if you're part of Team Logan or Team Piz!

300: Rise of an Empire
½

300: Rise of an Empire more or less does what it sets out to do. It's a collage of big, epic battle sequences with tons of gore and swashbuckling action, although the slow motion is overdone and the film never rises above mediocrity. Eva Green steals every scene she's in and is by far the main attraction. You're reaction to everything else in this sequel is dependent on your opinion of the original.

Despicable Me
½

This is one hilarious film. The story centres around Gru, a villain who is forced to become somewhat of a father figure to three orphaned children while trying to execute a plot to steal the Moon. Gru's army of minions steal the show, but the jokes are non-stop and the story is heartfelt.

Club Utopia
Club Utopia(2014)

There is a lot of territory explored in Club Utopia. It's a smart comedy that shows that perceptions are never what they seem and nobody is necessarily who they say they are. One of the film's biggest themes is control, who has it, and how can someone lose it. To watch Sally evolve from trophy wife to empowered exotic dancer, and regain control of her life as well as her marriage is fascinating.

Side Effects
Side Effects(2013)
½

Movies like Side Effects quite simply don't get made often these days. And now that this is reportedly director Steven Soderbergh's final film, it is likely another one of this kind won't be made again.
This is a thriller that keeps the suspense high and the plots twists as unexpected as any of Alfred Hitchcock's best works. Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Channing Tatum are all excellent.

Nebraska
Nebraska(2013)

Nebraska is a portrayal of looking back at one's choices, a comedic mosaic on the uncertainty of life. Bruce Dern deserves his Oscar nomination. But the film is ultimately pedestrian, predictable and distant. It was too dark to be a comedy and too light to be taken seriously. I didn't care for anything that happened, and the underlying themes failed to resonate like they should have.

300
300(2007)

Zack Snyder stays true to 300's comic book origins, and the style makes the story feel like something out of a myth. This definitely works to enhance the larger than life experience unfolding on screen. The animated blood effects make the film feel less gruesome than it could have been. A pretty solid, well rounded B-action picture.

Byzantium
Byzantium(2013)

Byzantium will test the patience for some horror movie fans, particularly those who enjoy cheap boo scares every two minutes. But if you let this (slightly underdeveloped) story work its magic on you, it has a few pleasantly innovative twists up its sleeve.

Her
Her(2013)
½

I loved the first hour of this film. It hit all the right notes of how difficult loving another person can be. Themes explored the scenario that if a computer can adapt itself to you to be a perfect companion, how can another human being compete? And the scenes were delicately and wonderfully put together. The second hour just got ridiculously absurd to the point where I not only became emotionally detached but I no longer believed in the story. I love movies that take unpredictable twists, even if I don't like the twists (makes me think), but I just kept thinking, "Ok, this is getting stupid." Not a bad movie but a real let down.

Dallas Buyers Club
½

An incredibly moving picture. Matthew McConaughey gives the performance of his career, while Jared Leto and Jennifer Garner are wonderful supporting players. This story about a man infected with AIDS who defies corrupt FDA treatment to procur not-approved medicine that makes him and other AIDS patients actually get better is multi-layered and deeply emotional. Filmmaking does not get much better than this.

Zonbi asu (Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead)

What else would you expect from Noboru Iguchi? Zombie Ass has its roots in anime more so than horror. It's completely filled with bad taste so I can't recommend it, but I watched the whole film in fascination knowing that someone thought this up and convinced an entire crew/cast to make it.

Aftershock
Aftershock(2013)

Aftershock is garbage. It not only takes a while to get going, but once the earthquake hits, debauchery and mayhem of the most ridiculous kind ensues. While there is certainly the element that humans devolve into savages in response to a crisis, everything here is executed in the most heavy-handed, simple-minded, and uninteresting way possible.

RoboCop
RoboCop(2014)

Like last year's Evil Dead remake, RoboCop (2014) has been showered with hate, and just like Evil Dead (2013), the hate isn't warranted. While it doesn't touch the original, RoboCop is a different interpretation with an intriguing story, some interesting ideas about politics/propaganda, and solid acting by a great cast. I love the original film, but I was pleasantly surprised by this one.

RoboCop
RoboCop(1987)

A great science-fiction picture, meticulously blending action and satire into director Paul Verhoeven's gory and often hilariously disturbing vision of a future overrun with corporate greed, civil corruption, and rampant consumerism.

Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm

Aside from Christopher Nolan's recent interpretations, this is the best Batman movie out there. A harrowing origin story for how Bruce Wayne became Batman combined with a noir-esque femme fetale romance and one hell of an unexpected plot twist, this is an excellent film. The animation has also aged gracefully.

Skyfall
Skyfall(2012)
½

Skyfall delivers everything a Bond movie should: amazing stunts, excitingly lavish action scenes, gorgeous women, martinis, and an awesome opening theme intro/song. It even gives Bond an origin story. If you're a fan of the franchise, you can't miss it!

Capote
Capote(2005)

The late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman gives the best performance of his career. The film follows the writing process of Truman Capote as he researches and gathers info for his book, In Cold Blood. Along the way, he becomes connected with those he is researching and realizes how must he relates to them. A deeply emotional masterpiece that works both as a character study and psychological thriller.

Charlie Wilson's War

Director Mike Nichols and writer Aaron Sorkin are no strangers to political satire. Charlie Wilson's War is simply fantastic. It's funny and incredibly well written. But the real disturbing elements emerge in the films final ten minutes, when you realize exactly how dangerous America's meddling into world affairs has become.

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
½

Sidney Lumet's final film is purely an actor's movie. Every performance is first rate and while the drama at times becomes overly melodramatic, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead is heart wrenching drama told from multiple perspectives about one horrific action and the consequences that follow.

Rhymes For Young Ghouls
½

A dark, gritty, and at times supernatural crime drama about life on a Native reserve that opens your eyes to the injustice being done to this people and makes you really sympathize about young teenagers who have to grow up way too quickly in order to survive.

Frances Ha
Frances Ha(2013)
½

Life in your late twenties is scary; some of your friends are getting married, having kids, or making crazy money in their jobs while you are broke, single, and still trying to find yourself. Frances Ha understands this anxiety and while the film's pacing could have used a bit more finesse, the insight into its main character is honest and wholly relatable. Greta Gerwig is fantastic.

The Grudge
The Grudge(2004)
½

A haunted house exists. You go in it, you die. That's the premise of The Grudge. Now watch all the characters who went inside get killed in between long passages of pointless dialogue and nothing happening. If the image of a long haired girl in a nightgown creeps you out, this may work on you. I was just bored.

The Grudge 2
The Grudge 2(2006)

A much better film than its predecessor - the premise is intriguing, the scares are more inventive, and the characters are better developed. It's not great, but as far as creepy atmospheric haunted house stories go, The Grudge 2 gets the job done.

Devil's Due
Devil's Due(2014)

A bargain basement knock off of Rosemary's Baby told in the style of Paranormal Activity's Greatest Hits. The most innovative thing about this movie is the demon baby marketing campaign; the story is otherwise predictable, boring, and not the least bit scary.

Dredd
Dredd(2012)
½

A day in the life of a tough as nails cop, set in a dystopian universe where violence is everyday and human life is worthless, Alex Garland's adaptation of Dredd will not only please the fans, it's smart, brutal, and a hell of a lot of fun.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

Too drawn out, not enough story, and the one or two decent thrills it provides do not justify an entire feature. Paranormal Activity 2, 4, and The Marked Ones could have been condensed into one movie, and we would have been better off for it.

Paranormal Activity 4

A great 10-minute short expanded into a tediously boring 90 minute feature that only reflects the studio's desperation (and lack of inspiration) to milk this franchise for all its worth.

Paranormal Activity 3

It would have been a better film had it not been made as "Found Footage," because there is real ingenuity in the way this prequel scares its audience and expands on the mythology, but the drawbacks to this style, such as long drawn out periods of nothing happening and limited perspectives, are now at their most evident.

Paranormal Activity 2
½

Longer and more complex, but not as scary as the first film, relying too much on the same tricks that just aren't as effective this time around.

Paranormal Activity

Paranormal Activity is a prime example of how creativity can prevail through budget limitations; this movie is original and downright creepy.

The Wolf of Wall Street
½

Best film of 2013. DiCaprio and his supporting cast give career best performances, while Martin Scorsese has crafted his funniest film yet and also his most controversial since "The Last Temptation of Christ."

Jingle All the Way

Some movies are review proof. Jingle All the Way is one such movie. Of course it's bad. The effects are horrid and the story is so completely ludicrous that you can't help but shake your head and laugh. And laugh you shall!
I'm an avid Arnold fan, and Jingle All the Way is my annual Christmas movie. Every year, my brother and my cousins sit around the TV with some nice warm hot chocolate and laugh our asses off as we watch Arnold pummels his way through a pack of evil Santas, a reindeer, Sinbad, and a parade to ultimately make his son happy.
There is a certain charm to this movie. It may be in the sheer nonsensical slapstick humour, or in the way that it pokes fun at how people confuse mass consumerism with Christmas spirit, but there is an evident good nature to the jokes. I doubt the filmmakers wanted to do anything more than entertain and get people in the mood for Christmas. No movie does this better for me than Arnold's holiday family "classic," Jingle All the Way! It fails spectacularly as a satire and a legitimate feel good Holiday movie, but I don't think I would like it so much if it wasn't as bad as it is.
On a serious note, this was one of the last films to feature Phil Hartman, and his performance here as a sleezy divorcée is a true testament to his comic genius!

Gravity
Gravity(2013)
½

Like many of this year's best films - 12 Years a Slave, Captain Phillips, and to an extent The Conjuring - Gravity is about characters facing seemingly impossible odds while holding on to the basic core of their humanity. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt (George Clooney)'s will to survive is put to the test at every turn. The story is not overly complex but it develops these characters enough to make us care wholeheartedly about them and their terrifying situation.
Visually, Gravity is in a league of its own. The CGI, green screen effects, and sound design are groundbreaking. Some of the sequences last for over ten minutes without a single cut. The cinematography is breathtaking. From minute one the tension is high and for ninety minutes does not let up even for a second. Sandra Bullock deserves another Oscar nomination for her work here. She holds this film together. Director Alfonso Cuaron needs to be commended for creating another visual masterpiece that easily puts Avatar to shame. See this in IMAX 3D if you can. The film is a masterpiece in any format but the 70mm screen will add even more marvel to the visuals.

Thor: The Dark World
½

Thor: The Dark World is easily the best Phase One/Phase Two film since the original Iron Man (not including The Avengers of course). While the story isn't as thematically complex as some of the other superhero films in this universe, it manages to reignite the awe and imagination that recent superhero outings like Man of Steel and The Wolverine were lacking. The best thing is the humour. There are many seriously dark points, but the film always manages to wink at itself. Every character gets a sufficient amount of screen time, particularly Kat Dennings who plays one of the most charming comic relief characters in recent memory. Among an incredible cast of great actors stands Tom Hiddleston, who plays everyone's favourite villain Loki. Hiddleston steps up his game and almost steals every scene he is in.
Director Alan Taylor, known for directing multiple HBO episodes for Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, and Boardwalk Empire, stages exciting fight scenes and lavishly detailed worlds. Since most of the action takes place off Earth, the fantasy elements run high as does the filmmaker's confidence helming such a creatively detailed production.
Along with some great cameo appearances, an incredible post credit sequence, and undeniably clever writing, Thor: The Dark World raises the stakes and sets the bar high for the remaining Phase Two films, proving that Marvel still knows how to entertain its audience.

Blood Rage (Nightmare at Shadow Woods)
½

Blood Rage is a laughably silly slasher film where the whole premise is void of logic, the acting is horrendous, and the low budget feel poses too many awkward situations. This movie seemed like a small production studio's attempt to capitalize on the Nightmare on Elm Street popularity, but instead of an iconic killer like Freddy Krueger, Blood Rage introduces Todd and his evil twin Terry (both played by Mark Soper). While they were kids, Terry kills someone and blames it on Todd, and everyone without question send Todd to a mental institution because he was too traumatized to tell the truth. One night, ten years later, Todd escapes, which gives Terry the chance to go on a murderous rampage that everyone thinks Todd is the perpetrator.
The blood effects are incredibly fake, every actor gives an unintentionally hilarious performance, particularly Louise Lasser who gives one of the most unconvincing breakdowns I've ever seen. All this set to a 80s music score that would be better suited to an action film like The Terminator. Some films can be recommended because they're so bad that they're good. This doesn't quit cross that line. It's just bad.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Reasons why The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is awesome: 1) The title is misleading; it isn't The Desolation of Smaug, it's The Desolation of Legolas; 2) Dwarves in barrels mowing down orcs, freaking hilarious; 3) It's not that it's unfaithful to the book; it's very faithful to the book, Peter Jackson just added a lot of cool stuff; 4) High Frame Rate rocks; screw you non-believers; 5) For fans of Lost, Evangeline Lilly plays the elf version of Kate - she can't decide which man she wants to be with; 6) I feel sorry for any movie from now on that tries to include a dragon. Compared to Smaug, yours will suck; 7) Benedict Cumberbatch; 8) The orc death scenes rival any zombie kill in The Walking Dead; 9) Peter Jackson eating a carrot; 10) Did I mention Smaug?
This second installment to The Hobbit proves that this trilogy is not in the same league as The Lord of the Rings. But that's okay. J.R.R. Tolkien's book doesn't have the same depth as his follow up epic, but it is a whole ton of fun to read. Likewise, this film is crazy fun to watch. It is best to think of The Hobbit: The Desolaton of Smaug in a similar light to a film like Fast & Furious 6. This is not an insult (especially if you know how much I love The Fast and the Furious movies). It just means that audiences should not compare the two trilogies. Go into this film expecting a great albeit simplistic story, but most importantly to have fun. You will not be disappointed.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
½

Okay, first the bad news: The Hobbit runs about thirty minutes too long: the first hour takes so much time setting the story up that it begins to feel tedious by the 45 minute mark. Because of this, I can't put it in the same league as Peter Jackson's monumental Lord of the Rings Trilogy, which was not only a flawless adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's beloved fantasy novels, but also one of the best film trilogies of all time.
Now with that aside, once the set up is done, The Hobbit frequently exhibits the same magic and wonder of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Despite being so CGI heavy, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a gorgeous looking movie. Every frame, cut, and shot is amazing. Chief among making this possible is the high speed projector rate of 48fps. The detail in the shots, the clarity of the movements, and the 3D technology is the most amazing visual experience you will have at the cinema this or any year. The High Frame Rate may be jarring at first because the characters move so smoothly, but once your eyes adjust, it's a truly unique experience.
The action scenes are breathtaking. Martin Freeman's performance as Bilbo melds clever humour with emotional depth. The company of dwarfs are all remarkably lovable characters, and the returning characters like Elrond, Frodo, and Galadriel are welcome additions to enhance nostalgia. Gollum's return in particular is as creepy and suspenseful as any of his scenes in LOTR. This is great action filmmaking, and while Peter Jackson shows his tendency to self indulge a little too much, he hasn't quite lost his touch.

Pacific Rim
Pacific Rim(2013)

Being the only $200 million budgeted film this summer to feature no stars and a horrible trailer marketing it as a "Transformers vs Godzilla" knockoff, Pacific Rim has a long uphill battle ahead of it. Hopefully, word of mouth will get around to sell the damn thing, because it's a pretty decent blockbuster. Like most of this year's summer movies, Pacific Rim is heavy on special effects and light on story. But what makes the movie worthwhile is director Guillermo del Toro. The man behind the brilliant masterpiece Pan's Labyrinth, del Toro's focus is on developing a truly unique and believable world, while telling a story we actually care about.
Perhaps the coolest thing about the film is that the robots can only be programmed by two people through the process of mind-melding, which literally connects two people through their minds, memories, and thoughts. In other words, finding the right co-pilot requires mutual trust, respect, and friendship. This dramatic stuff is what Del Toro excels at, and while the script glosses over a lot of potential character development that could have been explored in greater detail in relation to this concept, he knows how to get his actors to communicate feelings with subtlety. The robot designs look great and their slow movements mimic a sense of realism in relation to their size. Some of the monsters look a little goofy, suggesting that this material may have been better served in the anime format, but Pacific Rim kick starts a potential franchise about as good as Man of Steel and Avatar respectively did. Only time will tell if the masses agree.

Man of Steel
Man of Steel(2013)

In the wake of four heavily dated movies and that travesty known as Superman Returns, this hero is in certain need of an upgrade. In response, Warner Bros has opted to give Superman the "Dark Knight" treatment, bringing in Christopher Nolan, David S Goyer, and Hans Zimmer as producer, writer, and composer respectively. Zack Snyder of 300 and Watchmen fame helms from the director's chair. With huge names behind and in front of the camera (the cast is packed with A-list actors), does Man of Steel live up to the hype? Not in my opinion, but others will certainly disagree. There are reasons to like this film, and reasons to hate it. The action and visual effects are amazing. The story, however, is virtually non-existent. Flashbacks into Clark Kent's childhood are executed in broad strokes where his Earth father provides textbook words of wisdom that never really resonate with the character later on. There's maybe about half an hour of plot development and two hours of random shit blowing up. Though I'm not gonna lie, these explosions looked freaking cool. Whether this is the Superman movie you've been waiting for or just another run of the mill popcorn flick is something you'll have to decide for yourself. The acting is top notch and the visuals are mighty impressive. If that's enough for you, then you'll have fun. If you're looking for a more character focused origin story, you may be disappointed.

Freakdog (Red Mist)

It's difficult to describe how bad Red Mist really is. But let's just say this is one of those movies that you'll probably find at the bottom of the DVD remainder bin or gloss over on Netflix without feigning much interest in watching. That's probably for the best.
The story primarily plays out like a "I Know What You Did in Med School" with a paranormal twist. A group of medical interns get carried away one night with drugs and alcohol and decide to play a prank on creepy loner Kenneth by giving him a hefty mix of these toxins. To their surprise (and keep in mind these are supposed to be med students who should be educated in the outcome of overdosing and mixing drugs and alcohol), Kenneth falls into a deep coma. Terrified for their futures, they make a pact to swear they had nothing to do with it. Soon enough, one by one they're all slaughtered, as Kenneth starts having out of body experiences by possessing other people to do his murderous bidding.
If this premise alone doesn't sound ridiculous/cliched enough to detract you, think about watching the dumbest and least interesting characters parade around trying to figure out what you already have. Or having to sit through botchy medical science. Or very lame and poorly constructed kill scenes. Or a really slow paced film devoid of anything suspenseful or scary. Needless to say, do not watch.

Ali G Indahouse
½

I won't lie; I love the first thirty minutes of this film. I have the film on my phone and occasionally play parts of these first thirty minutes when I need a good laugh. The rest of the film, however, is more or less rubbish and lacks much of the wit and satire that Da Ali G Show so often displayed.
Sacha Baron Cohen's Ali G is a brilliant character, particularly in the way he criticizes cultural stereotypes and subverts anyone who seems to have a superiority complex over people. The show featured real life politicians and celebrities, whereas Ali G Indahouse is a fictionalized story centred around Ali G and the life he most likely would be living. The film's set up (the first thirty minutes) is intriguing because it shows him as a middle class suburbanite who actually fears authority and respects his grandmother. He isn't the most intelligent person, so it's possible that his decision to dress and act as a thug reflects his inability to fit into society on "normal" terms. However, the film doesn't do much with this premise. It transcends into a series of unfunny dick and fart jokes set to a ridiculous plot that barely holds the story together.
Ali G fans will still want to watch this. There are some funny lines that will/have become very quotable, but the film itself does not have that much merit beyond the first act.

The Dirties
The Dirties(2013)
½

The Dirties is a complex fabric of fresh insights into school violence. Written, directed, and starring Matt Johnson, the film's title character is a social outcast and an aspiring filmmaker with very little actual talent. He decides one day to up his game by planning the most sensational climax to his newest film: killing those who he calls the "dirties," which is pretty much anyone who has bullied him throughout high school. Like Gus van Sant's masterpiece Elephant, The Dirties presents a series of vague reasons that forces the viewer to reflect on what could or could not have led to the character's decision to do what he does. Sure this is a topic that has been the subject of arguably one too many films, but it is still relevant, and The Dirties is above all a character study that unravels with a dark sense of humour and realism.
The high school students all feel like real people. They can't be easily classified into archetypes, which makes for an incredibly complex film. The insights into school bullying delve into territory that last year's documentary Bully seemed a little too scared to even tread. The Dirties is a strong directorial debut that might actually inspire some deep critical thinking and could certainly warrant more than one viewing.

All the Boys Love Mandy Lane

Before he conquered Hollywood with great films like 50/50 and Warm Bodies, director Jonathan Levine made a little horror movie called All the Boys Love Mandy Lane. It premiered in Toronto back in 2006, got picked up by a distributor, then sat on the shelf for seven years and is now finally getting a release.
There's been a fare bit of hype being built from those fans who did see it way back when. Now that I've seen it, I'm not so sure where the hype is coming from.
One thing I did admire about the film is the premise. Mandy Lane, who just one year ago was an average nobody, suddenly blossomed into the hottest girl at school. She's still a shy, quiet, "virgin-like" girl, but now all the boys want to get with her, persuading the "in" crowd to invite Mandy to come with them to a quiet cabin for a weekend of partying. The story definitely touches upon how superficial teenage relationships can be, and on the pressure teenage girls feel to look beautiful from both boys and their fellow female acquaintances. But the film doesn't explore this theme with much depth. The script is too shallow to extract any meaning.
Soon enough the teens are dispatched one by one at the hands of a serial killer. The violence is gory, but the execution is predictable and lacking any suspense. I never felt engaged towards any of the characters, and couldn't care less about the outcome, which by the way makes no sense in comparison to the rest of the narrative. As a slasher film, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane lacks scares and tension. As a critique on teenage life, it's a missed opportunity.

Escape Plan
Escape Plan(2013)
½

Earlier this year, Arnold and Sly couldn't quite recapture their glory days with their starring vehicles The Last Stand and Bullet to the Head respectively. Now they're teaming up to star in a film in which the posters, tag lines, and title scream B-movie silliness. This is not a bad thing, and there are many moments where Escape Plan does exactly what it sets out to do. But for a good chunk of its 116 minute run time, it feels like a chore to get through.
Sly plays Ray Breslin, a professional break out artist who detects flaws in the country's maximum security prisons. He's double crossed and left to rot in a prison called The Tomb, where he meets Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger). The two unlikely pals quickly begin to plot their escape. It takes almost 90 minutes for this escape to take place, and it feels longer than that. Stallone and Arnold's one-liners also fall flat way too often. Not to mention the convoluted subplots and logic that begins to start sounding ludicrous even in "turn off your brain" mode. Vinnie Jones, Sam Neill, Amy Ryan, and 50 Cent are all underused.
But the big prison breakout scene in the last thirty minutes is hella fun. Arnold and Sly do what we paid to see them do and the big, burly, macho testosterone runs so high, it almost makes up for all the tedium that came before it. Almost.

Don Jon
Don Jon(2013)

Don Jon is yet another reason why great actors make great directors. Joseph Gordon-Levitt's passion/vanity project is a wonderfully offbeat look at disconnections in relationships, and how the "typical" perceptions of sex differ between men and women.
JGL shows a confident ability behind the camera and in front of it. He's managed to get solid performances out of costars Scarlett Johannson, Julianne Moore, and Tony Danza. When spoken by the cast, JGL's dialogue flows in the same manner as a Scorsese or Tarrantino film, which is mighty impressive.
Ending on a deliberately ambiguous note that - spoiler alert - criticizes and undermines the usual climax of sappy romantic comedies, Don Jon is smart, thoughtful and doesn't shy away from the reality of its subject matter.

Prisoners
Prisoners(2013)
½

Judged solely on its whodunit psychological thriller plot, Prisoners is predictable and basic. But director Denis Villeneuve and writer Aaron Guzikowski seem to be after a lot more here. Clocking in at a lengthy 21/2 hours, Prisoners puts you right into the shoes of the main characters - the grief-stricken father who will go to any length to find his daughter, the tough-as-nails detective who cares more than he lets on, and the creepy suspect who is beaten and tortured in ways most movies wouldn't dare depict. It makes us think about what we would do in these situations and how far can we be pushed before our moral ethics are questioned. Coupled with Roger Deakins' incredible shot compositions, Prisoners is a hypnotic and hopelessly dark experience.
Hugh Jackman gives one of his most ferocious performances. This is a side of him you have never seen before. The supporting case including Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Paul Dano and of course Gyllenhaal are all spectacular here, but it is Hugh Jackman who outshines everyone. Prisoners is an emotionally complex and disturbingly eerie thriller that is brought down by its obvious plot twists, but is still worth seeing for its sheer intensity and Award worthy acting.

A Single Shot
½

A Single Shot draws influences from No Country for Old Men, A Simple Plan, and Winter's Bone, but is vastly inferior to all three of those films. The cast, which includes Sam Rockwell, Kelly Reilly, Jason Isaacs, Jeffrey Wright, William H Macy, and Joe Anderson does their best to elevate the material. But alas, the stolen money plot is too predictable to be suspenseful, the character study of John Moon a little too cliche to be sympathetic, and the pacing too slow to be engaging.
The film successfully manages to create a dark, eerie backwoods setting. Almost every shot screams atmosphere. This certainly helps to maintain a consistent mood. Yet where the film focuses on its mood, it loses focus in its narrative. There are several tangents that serve little to no purpose in the plot. 15 minutes could have easily been left in the editing room and the story would have been more effective and tightly composed. If you're a fan of Sam Rockwell or dark psychological thrillers, there might be some redeeming qualities here, but A Single Shot will not linger in your mind once its over.

Dead Hooker in a Trunk

The debut film from twisted twins Jen and Sylvia Soska has one of the coolest and most enticing titles for a grindhouse film in as long as I can remember. The Soska Sisters, like Robert Rodriguez before them, are out to prove that it is possible to do a lot with no money as long as you have the creativity and the ambition to succeed. I truly can't wait to see their next film.
Having said that, this movie didn't work for me. I get that this isn't a film to be taken seriously. But unlike Rodriguez's El Mariachi, Dead Hooker in a Trunk is filled with great ideas but poor execution. It attempts to confront and break down the notion of how men too frequently objectify women, but then gets completely sidetracked in needless subplots involving chainsaw gangs and crooked cops.
I'm also aware that the cheap amateur look fits the grindhouse style, but Dead Hooker suffers from especially poor sound, uneven picture quality, awful acting, and noticeably bad special effects. The whole thing feels like a home movie made over a weekend. I am the first person to champion DIY-filmmaking, but too many mistakes - both in the writing and the technical craft - have been made in the final presentation of this film for me to recommend. Die-hard grindhouse fans might dig this. Everyone else may not be able to make it through the first thirty minutes.

Vacancy
Vacancy(2007)
½

It's commendable that Vacancy attempts to leave the audience in total suspense while keeping the gore at a bare minimum. Not to mention the opening credits were pretty darn cool.
But the film tries way too hard to get the characters into the creepy motel; so much of the opening thirty minutes screams contrived. David and Amy Fox (played by Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale respectively) can't stand the sight of each other any more, not since their son died. This tragic act has caused David and Amy to act like total assholes to each other, never passing on the opportunity to make a passive aggressive mark. It's hard to really connect with these two.
Once they enter the room and realize they're actually in a room where assailants will soon come and torture them to death, they attempt an escape. What ensues are mostly uninspired chase scenes that occasionally succeed in executing a good scare or two, but for the most part feel cliched and reminiscent of too many other movies. It feels long and drawn out even though its 85 minute running time is barely feature length. While the references to Hitchcock are aplenty, Vacancy is nowhere near the same league. You'll forget having seen it as soon as it's over.

Riddick
Riddick(2013)

Vin Diesel's passion project is a trip back to the days of Pitch Black, where we find our lovable yet brutal anti-hero stranded on a remote planet with monsters and bounty hunters to battle. It's a very enjoyable piece of entertainment, featuring all the gore and bad one-liners that made the original film work. Director David Twohy tries to maintain some resemblance to The Chronicles of Riddick by creating a CGI-heavy world that looks like it took a much higher budget to create than it actually did. Fans of the previous two films should not be disappointed but they shouldn't expect a masterpiece either. There is little atmosphere, the CGI is iffy at times, and the film leaves you wanting more. All in all however, Riddick works as a simple yet engaging sci-fi action flick as well as a love letter from Diesel to his fans who have wanted this franchise to continue.

The Chronicles of Riddick

Pitch Black was a fun, entertaining sci-fi flick. The Chronicles of Riddick, with its budget ballooned to $105 million, an even more high profile cast, and an epic visual style that desperately wants to be the next Star Wars, we now have.....a fun, entertaining sci-fi flick. Pitch Black was a cult film with a niche fan base. The Chronicles of Riddick is an attempt to expand that fan base into a summer blockbuster franchise where sequels could potentially generate hundreds of millions of dollars in box office returns as the general public embraces this series like The Lord of the Rings or The Matrix.
Unfortunately, there may not enough here that will make such an attempt work. The dialogue is cheesy and the attempts at humour too often fall flat. Diesel doesn't have much to do other than look tough and say bad one-liners, which is great for fans of Arnold and Stallone movies but probably no one else. The script is also very convoluted. In trying to make this universe have as much depth, religious references, and culture as a galaxy far far away, it throws too much at the viewer, resulting in undeveloped subplots and a story that just rushes through everything.
Having said that, if you turn off your brain and just sit back, it's not a bad film. The design of the planets are visually fascinating and the fight scenes are well choreographed. The film is also well paced, so you never feel too bored or easily distracted. Call this the Star Wars for the ADD generation.

The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury

The premise of Dark Fury is the most intriguing of the entire "Chronicles of Riddick" franchise. Narrowly escaping the creature-infested planet, the escape shuttle carrying Riddick, Jack, and Imam is abducted by a larger merc (slang for mercenary) vessel. Here, Riddick is pitted against a psychotic captain who collects the most evil of criminals, freezing them in a strange form of cryosleep that keeps them awake.
Peter Chung of Aeon Flux and The Animatrix fame has crafted a great concept here, with lavish visuals and cool looking animation. Add to that the voices of Vin Diesel, Keith David, and Riana Griffith and it's a shame that Dark Fury isn't a full length feature, or that the entire franchise wasn't animated. Where Dark Fury stumbles is in its lost potential. There are moments here that could have been extended to develop not only Riddick's character but his relationship with Jack and Imam. Not to mention the introduction of Toombs is severely underused. This is due to the short running time. There is enough fighting, an episodic conflict, and a quick resolution to hold interest. But this could have been a great feature length film as opposed to an enjoyable yet underdeveloped and forgettable tie-in between Pitch Black and its sequel.

Pitch Black
Pitch Black(2000)

Pitch Black is an average - maybe above average but definitely B grade - sci-fi effort. It drops you into a new universe where all we're told is that a transport ship is gliding through a comet's field with its crew and passengers in cryo-sleep. Debris ruptures through the hull, and the ship crash lands on a remote planet with two suns. Soon enough, the rest of the crew realize others have been here before and that every 22 days, an eclipse blankets the planet in total darkness, unleashing winged creatures who love killing and eating.
This is standard stuff, but the characters are interesting and abstract enough that you get absorbed into the story. Chief among these characters is Riddick, a convicted killer who's shined eyes can see in the dark. He's played by Vin Diesel who pulls off bad ass like no other. The dialogue is weak and the script is rather cliche, but with a cool soundtrack, nifty creature design, and a solid cast that includes Radha Mitchell, Keith David, and Cole Hauser as a shady bounty hunter, Pitch Black is intriguing and entertaining.

The World's End
½

If you've seen Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, you will know exactly what to expect from The World's End. Here you have Simon Pegg and Nick Frost playing a pair of down on their luck guys whose lives haven't quite turned out as they hope. They're trying to relive their glory days by attempting to conquer a 12 location pub crawl on the famous Golden Mile. Of course, things don't turn out as expected when they realize the town has been quietly taken over by aliens assuming human bodies as hosts.
The references to post-apocalyptic epics and sci-fi chase thrillers like Invasion of the Body Snatchers are rampant here, as is Simon Pegg's brand of clever humour. Equally paying tribute to the science fiction genre while ultimately becoming a conventional example of how this genre works, The World's End is a welcome addition to the overall disappointing summer season.
Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, and Pierce Brosnan co-star and they add some epic flair to this already pretty cool conclusion to the Cornetto Trilogy.

Only God Forgives

Only God Forgives is crap. Sorry, that's an insult to anything else that could be classified as crap. There are no words to describe this 90 minute waste of paper, video, electricity, and time.
Throughout this entire movie, I couldn't help but think of Medellin, the overblown, pretentious art house flick that fictional characters Vincent Chase and Eric Murphy set out to make on the show Entourage. The similarities are there - a bankable Hollywood heartthrob goes to a foreign country with a respected art house director to make the most anti-studio of anti-studio movies. The result in both the fictional Medellin and the actual Only God Forgives is a film worthy of every boo uttered at the Cannes film festival.
This film is underwritten, poorly acted, incompetently paced, and needlessly violent, its story a basic vengeance plot and its theme obvious from the film's title. While Ryan Gosling and Nicolas Winding Refn can certainly say they have never been involved in a Date Movie or Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, their film is awfulness of a different sort, a film presented with not only contempt for its audience but a holier than thou "f*ck you" to anyone who prefers a cohesive and coherent narrative.

World War Z
World War Z(2013)
½

(See full review at http://horrorbuffs.net/movie/world-war-z/)

The Lady Vanishes

The Lady Vanishes remains arguably one of Alfred Hitchcock's best film. With an incredibly talented cast, a pleasant mix of humour and suspense, as well as a very satisfying ending, this film shows the director at his absolute best (before coming to America and making his more popular films). Some critics and audiences have claimed the first act is too long, but there's a certain charm to the way the story takes its time setting up the characters, particularly the relationship between Iris and Gilbert.
Hitchcock's brilliance is best displayed in movies with few locations - Psycho, Rear Window, Rope. The train setting in The Lady Vanishes ensures that the characters are limited and that any one of them could be the culprit behind the kidnapping of Miss Froy. There are incredibly well executed scenes of suspense, such as the multiple shots of Miss Froy's name written on the window sill. And it is all presented with a light-hearted touch that never forgets to keep the audience laughing as much as gripping the edge of their seats. This is a must-see for Hitchcock fans!

Killing Them Softly
½

If you thought Drive was slow, wait till you see Killing Them Softly. Andrew Dominik's second film with Brad Pitt is yet another critique of the American Dream as a sheer and utter lie. It spews dated, narcissistic, and at times naive philosophy disguised as drama. It starts promisingly enough: three not so bright guys planning to rob a poker hall previously robbed by its owner Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta). They believe that because Markie's previous effort was openly known but suffered no repercussions, Markie will be automatically blamed this time and take the fall while they get off scott-free. This robbery sends the entire criminal underworld into upheaval, forcing a hitman named Jackie (Brad Pitt) to come in and clean up the mess.
What follows are a lot of drawn out discussions that fail to progress the story or develop the characters in an engaging manner. The shots are uninspired, creating no tone. atmosphere, or any sense of a city collapsing under the weight of the 2008 Financial Crisis. Gangster life is as much a corporate business entity as Walmart. Movies like The Godfather and Scarface as well as TV shows like The Sopranos or Boardwalk Empire have focused on the relationship between gangsters and the economy, and they are far more insightful or intriguing than Killing Them Softly could ever hope to be.

Before Midnight

Before Midnight is a masterpiece. Plain and simple. It's the best film of this or any recent year, and it's also undoubtedly one of the most perceptive and insightful portrayals of middle age anxieties that I have seen in a very long time.
Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reprise their roles as Jessie and Celine respectively. The budding romance of these two characters in Before Sunrise was a wonderfully unique tribute to young love. Nine years later, their brief real time conversation in Before Sunset reflected their fears and insecurities as they matured into adulthood. Now, in Before Midnight, with a family (or families) of their own, Jessie and Celine are still unsure about each other or about their aspirations for life.
Before Midnight is by far the funniest of the three films, but it is also the least optimistic. As the decades have passed, Jessie and Celine have grown older, but they are not that different from the twenty year old versions of themselves who met on that train in Vienna. Nevertheless, this is a beautifully written, directed, and acted stroke of film brilliance that adds that much more depth to this wonderful franchise.

Fast & Furious 6
½

By their sixth installment, most franchises have completely run out of ideas. Others are more inclined to be wrapping things up. This is where The Fast and the Furious stands in a league of its own. Fast & Furious 6 is action filmmaking at its finest, and thankfully there seems to be more sequels on the horizon. This movie is filled with great characters, tons of humour, a silly but well told narrative, and plot twists that will have you screaming at the screen, not to mention one of the best post credits scenes ever! The addition of MMA queen Gina Carano, the return of Michelle Rodriguez, and Luke Evans' gleefully evil villain add new dimensions to this sequel's appeal, but the core of the film centres around themes of family and friendship.
The Fast and the Furious franchise is the action genre's answer to Star Wars. But where the latter's fans are giddy from fantastical worlds, alien races, and lightsaber battles, fans of Fast & Furious 6 revel in beautiful cars, criminal underworlds, and completely implausible yet incredibly well choreographed stunts. It's a shame that this movie will never be an Oscar contender, despite the fact that it's more fun, satisfying, and better made than any Best Picture win in recent memory (aside from Hugo). You will not see a better film this summer.

Fast Five
Fast Five(2011)

Whoa whoa whoa! What...where...how...no waay!
Never did I think I would not only be wholly recommending a Fast and the Furious movie, but that I'd be praising it as by far the funnest movie I have seen and no doubt will see all year, and quite possibly one of the slickest, coolest action films of all time! I know, I know. What am I thinking? Truth be told, I don't know. But I just came back from having the time of my life in a film that is nothing short of polished style, as polished as the wax job on the beautiful import cars that grace the screen.
Fast Five knows exactly where the previous four went wrong and not only doesn't make those narrative mistakes, it knows exactly what makes a great action film. The plot does away with most of the street racing points and centres around a crime caper. The tension gets so high that by the end, you're anxiously awaiting the big climax.
Anyone who doesn't like this movie is going to argue that it's implausible. No action movie is plausible in the sense of the world. John McLean could not single-handedly destroy an organized terrorist group in a plausible world. Keanu Reeves could not stop a bus from exploding by jumping a gaping hole in the highway. Likewise, this movie does not create a plausible universe. The over the top action is forgivable because it doesn't take itself seriously at all. The amazingly talented Justin Lin directs a fast-paced flick that fires on all cylinders while establishing likable characters who all have an identifiable personality. Michael Bay couldn't make a movie like this on his best day. This is the summer's best film, one of the best films of this year, and one of the best action films of all time!

Fast & Furious
½

In bringing back the original lead cast - Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, and Michelle Rodriguez - Fast & Furious is the "official sequel" to The Fast and the Furious, which is a good thing for the franchise. Neither 2 Fast 2 Furious nor Tokyo Drift could find a workable substitute for the chemistry that these actors had with each other. Like most good sequels, Fast & Furious retains some elements that made its predecessor so appealing but also morphs into its own kind of machine. Most of the focus is on its caper/revenge narrative, thereby eliminating most of the street racing elements.
Justin Lin stages amazing action scenes. He moves the scenes forward at a break-neck speed but always chooses angles that allows the audience to know where everyone is at all times as well as to clearly show every stunt without too many masking cuts. Of course, almost all the laws of physics and plausibility are completely thrown out the window this time. Some scenes are so void of logic that to complain would just create a bigger headache.
Fast & Furious has all the spirit of the original. This is definitely a guilty pleasure that puts the franchise back on track. How can anyone not love a scene where the drug lord is praying in a church and Diesel walks behind him, points a shotgun to his temple and says, "You're not forgiven." Classic, lol.

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

Tokyo Drift marks a point in this franchise where the filmmakers have had to broaden their horizons by venturing to other parts of the globe to keep making new movies. Maybe after this, we'll get The Fast and the Furious: London Meltdown, or The Fast and the Furious: Autobahn Speed. Lucas Black plays Sean, an American sent to live with his father in Tokyo to escape a jail sentence for street racing. So what does he do in Tokyo? He finds the street racing circuit. Japanese racers practice a style called drifting, which he quickly finds out is nothing like American street racing and ends up having to work off a debt to Han, who takes Sean under his wing to race for him to pay down the debt as well as beat Han's rival, DK, who happens to be the nephew of the Yakuza boss.
While the story is weaker than the previous installments, director Justin Lin displays a fine attention to detail. He authentically captures Japanese society by emphasizing the intricate differences that separate their culture from ours. He also creates amazing race sequences. The stunts performed in this movie are not only performed with minimal CGI, they are filmed from angles that show the entire thing uncut, which makes the visual effect that much cooler. If you simply turn off your brain and just try to enjoy the film for what it is, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift is a guilty pleasure that somehow manages to sustain the franchise.

2 Fast 2 Furious

Inferior to its predecessor in every way, 2 Fast 2 Furious is the result of a lead actor refusing to sign on for a sequel, leaving the producers to recast, come up with an entirely new story, and loosely relate it back to the original so they can market it under the same name. Paul Walker does return as Brian O' Connor, only now he's moved to Florida and is no longer a cop. He's still into street racing, making new friends along the way. Then the FBI rehires him and his friend, Roman (played by Tyrese) to go undercover and help bring down Carter Verone (Cole Hauser), a notorious criminal who is dumb enough not to realize that most of the people around him are undercover agents.
The racing sequences are as cool as you would expect them to be, and the plot follows a generally successful formula. It's just that this whole film feels more like a knock off of The Fast and the Furious than a sequel. It doesn't expand the story because all the characters are new. Director John SIngleton seems to be simply cashing in on the paycheck as he offers no grace or visual flair to the film. Eva Mendes is no Michelle Rodriguez, mainly because she can't act. Tyrese holds his own, but he doesn't have Vin Diesel's screen presence. The only significant thing about 2 Fast 2 Furious is that it reminds you how much better its predecessor is with respect to story, characters, and action.

The Fast and the Furious

As far as B-movies go, you can't do better than The Fast and the Furious. The story is a bit silly and runs familiar territory, but stars Paul Walker and Vin Diesel really have great screen presence. Pair them with their sexy love interests and one hell of a villain in Rick Yune, the stakes get pretty high. Not to mention that Paul Walker's character is an undercover cop infiltrating Diesel's crew. With all this going on, you would think the film would lose its focus. It doesn't. It establishes intrigue as you are taken deeper into the world of Diesel's Dominic Toretto, a world that is as intriguing as it is dangerous.
The film's last forty five minutes boast a lot of eye candy. There are also two amazing chase sequences, expertly staged and shot by director Rob Cohen. The truck hijacking is worth the price of admission alone.
The Fast and the Furious is a well made, unpretentious action picture for car junkies and anyone looking for 105 minute adrenaline rush.

Star Trek Into Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness retains the humour, charm, and eye popping visuals that made its predecessor such a phenomenal work. I was slightly disappointed with a subplot involving a possible war between the Klingons and the Federation that was suddenly dropped halfway through. The film is also not quite as dark as the trailer would suggest, relying a lot on humour and a sense of tongue in cheek fun. Aside from that, Benedict Cumberbatch is incredible as the narrative's central villain. You aren't likely to see a creepier villain in a summer movie this year. The friendship between Kirk and Spock is the heart of the film, and director JJ Abrams never loses focus in their developing relationship at every turn. A great sequel for fans of the original, die-hard Trekkies, as well as anyone who enjoys watching blockbusters with intelligence.

The Great Gatsby

Baz Luhrman's The Great Gatsby is gorgeous to look at and is quite possibly the most unique film adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald's novel to date. Having said that, it probably will have more of an appeal to those who haven't read the book. It runs about twenty minutes too long and is never quite as enthralling as Fitzgerald's prose. The cast is amazing, but some of the novel's most memorable moments - particularly the TJ Eckleburg billboard, the hit and run, as well as the flashing green light - have lost much of their poetic significance in translation to the screen. All in all, I'm not sure if I can recommend this film as a good adaptation of the book - and because The Great Gatsby is my all time favourite book, I'm exceptionally critical of this film - but I can certainly recommend it as an honest and faithful tribute, one that is certainly a visual feast if nothing else.

Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3(2013)
½

Not as good as the original, but a vast improvement over the second installment, Iron Man 3 is well made and eager to make you laugh at almost every turn.
The film frequently resorts to comedy - and Robert Downey Jr. has some of the best lines in the entire movie - to mostly cover up the dark thematic material that revolves around a ruthless psychotic terrorist known as the Mandarin. The Mandarin is played brilliantly by Ben Kingsley. His army of minions give Tony Stark a real run for his money since they all seem to be made out of fire.
Plot holes aside (ie: how exactly do you kill these minions?), the story is engaging and entertaining. The action scenes are nicely edited together with more than enough explosions that would impress even Michael Bay. The performances, particularly by Guy Pearce and Gwyneth Paltrow, are well done, even if some actors (Rebecca Hall and Don Cheadle) are incredibly underused.
I can't imagine a 4th film in this series, since I can't see any reasonable excuse to continue the Iron Man saga. Hopefully, director Shane Black and Marvel will quit while they're ahead, as this is a sequel that's definitely worthy of concluding the series.

The Place Beyond The Pines
½

Schnectady, New York: A town filled with people desperate to get out, corrupt officials, and kids with troubled pasts. It's the kind of town that you would never visit or even pass through unless you had to. The Place Beyond the Pines is a film about this town over a fifteen year span. It is an emotionally draining experience, but not necessarily a fulfilling one. The story's twists and turns are more predictable than director Derek Cianfrance seems to think they are. And just like Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines moves along with a kind of self-importance that often crosses the line from art to pretentiousness. All in all, a watchable film but not one that really requires more than one viewing.

Pain & Gain
Pain & Gain(2013)

Pain & Gain doesn't work, and that's not in the least because of its starring cast. Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, and Anthony Mackie really try hard to make this movie as entertaining as possible. The problem is that they're let down by a weak script and director Michael Bay.
This film marks Bay's first departure from large scale action pictures, and it shows. In the past, he has frequently been able to make up for ill conceived jokes and poor storytelling with eye popping visuals and fast paced action scenes. Not so in the case of this crime drama. He has no handle on setting the tone for the film. It sometimes tries to be lighthearted, while other times it's overly serious. Bay also frequently resorts to his "action film" tactics that feel out of place.
In the hands of more capable filmmakers like the Coen Brothers or Wes Anderson, this would have been a great film with a story that proves truth is stranger than fiction. But under Michael Bay's helm, the film is a misguided attempt at a caper that exists for the audience to ridicule the protagonists rather than sympathize with them.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
½

It would have been better if they had just left Indiana Jones as a trilogy. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a colossal disappointment, not least because it doesn't feel at all like an Indiana Jones film. Where the other three films had Indy chasing down ancient religious artifacts that possessed mystical abilities, Crystal Skull is about aliens. Aliens? Yes, you heard me right, alien crash landing. We've gone from the Ark of the Covenant to outer space. Why why why why why?
All of the Indiana Jones films required a suspension of disbelief, but the things that Indiana Jones and his companions manage to escape unharmed from in this film are so ludicrous it takes all the fun out of the film. Indy survives a nuclear blast by hiding himself in a fridge, emerging from it in one piece? Shia Labeouf and Cate Blanchett swordfighting while standing in two different moving cars? Indy and his crew surviving three drops down waterfalls the size of Niagara? Forgive me, but how could any director, not least one as seasoned in the craft as Steven Spielberg remotely think these were good ideas?
Let's hope Lucas, Spielberg and Co leave this franchise alone before they desecrate it like the prequels did to the original Star Wars saga.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

The most interesting aspect of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is, surprisingly enough, the relationship between Indiana Jones and his father Henry (played by non-other than Sean Connery). While the two certainly joke and fight evil together, the underlying tension between them is always apparent. Henry was never really there for his son, but, as he puts it, that lack of presence actually made Indy the great man that he has grown up to be.
The rest of the film is great. Steven Spielberg has still managed to find creative ways to test Indy's fear of snakes, and his ability to face impossibly odds to retrieve mystical artifacts that prove to have direly terrifying consequences. This time around, he's on a quest to find the Holy Grail, and no doubt some strangely sinister people are after it as well. As always, Last Crusade continues the franchise's ability to provide unique and incredibly fun adventures.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
½

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is nowhere near as good as its predecessor, Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it hasn't lost the sense of adventure that made that earlier film so iconic. Certainly the boundaries of realism and plausibility are stretched rather thin, but this sequel (actually a prequel since the events take place before the events in Raiders) is solid entertainment.
This time around, Indy finds himself narrowly escaping a botched attempt in China to retrieve a precious diamond. He ends up in India, where he is employed by a small town to find a stolen gem as well as a multitude of kidnapped boys. This endeavour is quite unsettling as the truth that Indy uncovers is not only mean-spirited but downright terrifying. Accompanied with a cast of popular Indian actors that add to this film's universal appeal, Temple of Doom is a fun adventure that will disturb and enthrall in equal doses.

Beerfest
Beerfest(2006)
½

Yeah it's stupid, and that's why I liked it. Any movie where actor Jurgen Prochnow tells a Das Boot in-joke is alright by me. The title of this film alone tells you exactly the kind of film it's going to be. Beerfest will be about a team of ordinary people practicing and preparing for the ultimate drinking competition. Audiences will be subjected to lots of drinking and lots of games. Some may prefer to be actually doing these things instead of watching characters do them, but Beerfest has a lot of fun with its concept. Anyone who has ever had a crazy binge story can relate to this ridiculously over the top yet hilariously charming film.
Also keep in mind that this was written by Broken Lizard, the team responsible for Super Troopers and Club Dread. Both of those previous movies were incredibly dumb but someone help you if you didn't find them funny. Beerfest is right in the same league.

Goldfinger
Goldfinger(1964)
½

As a James Bond fan, I hate myself for saying this, but Goldfinger has not aged well. No doubt that the film will go down in history as the film that defined the character of 007. Sean Connery's brilliant performance established the character's smooth persona. The opening fight scene alone is one of the most satisfying action scenes in all of James Bond's films, aptly ended with Connery uttering the hilarious pun, "Shocking." Not to mention that Goldfinger marked the first time Bond orders his iconic drink "shaken not stirred."
Unfortunately, the film looks quite dated. The misogynist undertones in the way Bond controls women as well as the ridiculously sexist names like Pussy Galore come off today as too objectifying to overlook. The action scenes are cringe worthy, and the plot seems rather flat when compared to Bond's latest adventures.
That's not to detract from the fact that Goldfinger is required viewing for any Bond fan. This is the film that established the character as we have come to know it. It's also interesting to watch this film to see how far we've come since its release, both for the better and for the worse.

The Big Lebowski

A cult phenomenon that seems to only get better with age, the Coen Brothers' absolutely hilarious comedy The Big Lebowski should keep winning fans over as it gets seen and rewatched by newbies and fans all over the world. Jeff Bridges' iconic performance as "The Dude" is one of his all time best, while John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, and John Tuturro as Jesus provide laugh after laugh after laugh. The film noir influenced plot is just the backdrop to the antics that The Dude and his bowling buddies are up to as they try to solve a kidnapping mystery involving a millionnaire named Jeff Lebowski and his young wife.
The Big Lebowski is classic Coen Brothers. It isn't quite a masterpiece like Fargo or No Country for Old Men. but it is a worthy film to the hype that has surrounded it over the past decade.

Oblivion
Oblivion(2013)

If a world where Star Wars, Independence Day, Total Recall, War of the Worlds, Predator, Moon, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Serenity, Tron, Blade Runner, Minority Report, Wall-E, and The Matrix didn't exist, Oblivion would be hands down the greatest sci-fi movie of all time. Literally every sci-fi trope can be found in writer/director Joseph Kosinski's narrative, including the kitchen sink.
Normally this would work against my enjoyment of the film, since Oblivion doesn't have an original thought in its head. Strangely enough, it's not always about the story being told; it's how it's being told and in this respect, Oblivion still feels fresh and unique. The visuals are absolutely stunning, the story is fascinating, the soundtrack is awesome, and every performer is at the top of his or her game. Cinema history may not recognize Oblivion as an example of great sci-fi, but just as some people defend James Cameron's Avatar to no end, I submit that Oblivion is damn fine entertainment, a much more satisfying experience than I expected it to be.

Jurassic Park

I saw Jurassic Park first at the age of 9. It was no secret to my mother how much I loved dinosaurs, so as a reward for getting an A+ on a research project, she took me to see this movie at the theatre, and from that moment, my obsession with film began. Jurassic Park was the movie that made me fall in love with the movies. It introduced me to the magic of film, being able to see fantastical worlds where anything is possible.
As Jurassic Park IMAX 3D is released, I am slightly older and wiser (with much emphasis on the word 'slightly'), but the film has lost none of its magic. From a technical standpoint, the effects look as incredible as ever. The narrative is a brilliant mix of sci-fi, adventure, and horror, filled with great dialogue and intriguing ethical debates. At 28 years old, I may be able to read into the subtext while also spotting the plot lapses and continuity errors, but seeing this movie on the big screen in today's most up to date technology made me feel like a 9 year old kid again. It completely renewed my love for the movies.

Men in Black III
½

While Men in Black 3 isn't as good as the original, it's a vast improvement over the immensely disappointing second installment. This is a sequel that is much better than you would expect it to be. Will Smith and Josh Brolin (playing a young K) have as much chemistry together as Smith and Jones. The special effects, particularly the time travel sequences are neat and never look cheesy or awkward. Even better is the story, that not only presents time travel in a way that hasn't quite been seen before, but it reveals aspects of K and J's past that is pleasantly unexpected. If you're not generally a fan of Men in Black, you probably won't like this film. It isn't a must-see blockbuster, but it is certainly a solid sequel, one of Hollywood's better attempts at reviving a classic franchise.

Reservoir Dogs
½

Quentin Tarantino's marvelous debut is not only a great heist film, it's an incredibly satisfying low budget Indie that demonstrates Tarantino's tremendous skill as a filmmaker. You never see the heist, but you don't have to. The circling camera shot of eight men at a diner talking about everyday life before leaving for the job, followed by a post opening credit shot of Mr. Orange in the backseat of a car, screaming in pain from a gun shot wound, tells you all you need to know. The film focuses on the aftermath, where the surviving thieves try to figure out who among them was an undercover cop. Reservoir Dogs is packed with suspense, brutal violence, and a plot that shifts through time with spectacular ingenuity. If you haven't seen this yet, what are you waiting for?

Olympus Has Fallen

Some critics have been calling this the best "Die Hard" film since the original Die Hard, and you'd be a fool to believe them. Olympus Has Fallen is Hollywood's latest joke of an action picture, one that exists pretty much to emphasize three important facts: 1. Without the presence of the United States, South Korea would be overrun by the North within 3 days; 2. Any secretary of state will sing praise to their country even while being brutally tortured; and 3. Morgan Freeman's soothing voice makes you feel like everything will be alright. Director Antoine Fuqua desperately tries to top John Woo's signature brand of action violence, but his action scenes are haphazardly stitched together with awful CGI, uninspired shootout sequences and murky sets that make the film feel more like an amateur re-enactment of COD: Modern Warfare. The one-liners fall flat, the attempts at showing Patriotism feel disturbingly like propaganda, and I think I had more fun watching that stupid dream fight sequence in Breaking Dawn II......wow, for me to think that, Olympus Has Fallen must have really sucked. And yes, it does.

The Messenger
½

We've seen countless war films about the battlefield, filled with graphic and shocking images that depict war as the ultimate hell on earth. Some of those films (Saving Private Ryan, Platoon) are incredible while others (Windtalkers, Pearl Harbor) are not. The Messenger is a film that doesn't concern itself with the battlefield. It is about the aftermath, when soldiers are employed to visit the families of those killed in action and give them the horrible news. It is an undoubtedly gripping picture, filled with moments of mourning, sadness, and insanity. The story is ultimately about grief that never goes away but has to nonetheless be overcome. Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, and Samantha Morton give career defining performances. This film is an absolute masterpiece that portrays the "war is hell" theme in a way that truly has never been seen before in film.

Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz The Great and Powerful is a Sam Raimi film in almost every sense, which means it is technically marvelous, funny, and at times pretty darn frightening, but also uneven, occasionally awkward, and better enjoyed with low expectations. It lacks the sense of wonder that made the 1939 Wizard of Oz such a phenomenon in its time. However, there are some interesting new characters like a winged monkey and a china girl, and the main cast is good enough to keep you entertained. The adventure plot - a fairly average man gets caught up in extraordinary circumstances that will help him find and unleash his inner hero - is rather standard and never really ventures into unfamiliar territory; at least the design of Oz is filled with plenty of homages to the original film. All in all, this is a decent fantasy that neither celebrates nor tarnishes the reputation of L.Frank Baum's classic series.

Prometheus
Prometheus(2012)

It's sad to see a film crushed under the weight of its ambition, and I hate to admit that Prometheus bites off a lot more than it can chew. I can certainly tell you that I liked the film. I was never bored and I was very fascinated in the mythology and where the story seemed to be going. And yet, I can totally understand the disappointment of disgruntled fans calling for the heads of director Ridley Scott and co-writer Damon Lindelof. The biggest problem with Prometheus is that it feels like the first act of a story that is only just gathering steam by the time the credits role.
No doubt Ridley Scott made the film he wanted to make. But he leaves too many things open ended and over complicates the mythology to the point where you have about 800 times more questions than answers. As a stand alone film, there is absolutely no reason to see it because it needlessly complicates the Alien mythology. As a first half or opening act of a trilogy, the film intrigues me to keep watching, ie: buy a ticket to the sequel. But the story as it stands feels incomplete and thus, I have no opinion yet.

Sinister
Sinister(2012)
½

While the story is rather compelling, the visceral Horror elements are trite, conventional, and not scary

Read my full review at http://horrorbuffs.net/movie/sinister/

A Good Day To Die Hard

I think my friend Anna said it best when she perceived A Good Day to Die Hard as the equivalent of Scorcher 6: Global Meltdown. You remember the Scorcher trailer from Ben Stiller's occasionally brilliant Tropic Thunder? Yes, A Good Day to Die Hard marks the point where the Die Hard films have gone the route of dialogue like "Who left the fridge open?" Nothing that made the first three films great is present here aside from star Bruce Willis, who seems like he's just going through the motions.
Die Hard 5 is filled with ridiculously stupid car chases, terrible storytelling, completely implausible and idiotic situations, as well as a villain who is about as interesting as a brick wall. Now there are certainly audiences out there who enjoy this sort of thing. As Phil and Clare Humfrey from Modern Family attested, the bad movie magic happens around a franchise's fifth installment.
So you dear viewer have two choices with regards to Die Hard 5. You can go in with your brain operating at minimal level and enjoy the badness, or you can attest that Die Hard ended as a trilogy (cuz Live Free or Die Hard also sucked) and skip this one altogether.

Warm Bodies
Warm Bodies(2013)

Yes, Warm Bodies does for zombies what Twilight did for vampires. But fortunately for us zombie fans, this movie does not suck. It's a heartwarming, hilarious mishmash of genres that plays like an extended episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There's comedy, action, romance, horror, and drama and it's all evenly balanced under the confident direction of Jonathan Levine.
It's also an interesting re-invention of the zombie film. Where the zombie virus infects humans with a single bite, consuming human brains can infect the zombie with certain feelings and memories of the person. In this sense, the film also reflects the whole notion of love being like a contagious disease. This is a cute and very entertaining movie.

Bullet to the Head
½

Bullet to the Head is every Sylvester Stallone movie cliche rolled into one, which wouldn't have been a bad thing if the film didn't take itself so seriously. There is no sense of fun here; the tone tries to be gritty and realistic but the script seems like it was written to be over the top formula action.
Seriously, how do you make such a poor excuse for a B-movie with a title like "Bullet to the Head" and with a cast that includes Stallone, Sung Kang, Mr. Eko, and Khal Drogo...I mean, Jason Momoa? How do you set up an axe fight and have it end in a lame lucky shot instead of a beheading? And is dialogue like "I'm going to kill you with a rock" or "If I asked for your opinion, I'd buy you a brain" really the best one-liners that you could come with? This movie is a total bomb. Go see Arnold's new movie, The Last Stand to see a silly B-movie done right.

Mama
Mama(2013)

Mama unfolds in a rather conventional manner, and while the ending is a bit of a let-down, the film is technically proficient, atmospheric, and scary

See my full review at: http://horrorbuffs.net/movie/mama/

The Last Stand
½

The Last Stand is every bit as awesome or as terrible as you would expect. The plot is ludicrous, and the villain is a power-crazed drug lord played in an insanely over-the-top way. And as most throwback movies go, the film is packed with jokes and references to star Arnold Schwarzenegger's early career works. Kim Jee-Woon, director of I Saw the Devil has a great eye for staging fun, exciting action sequences. He even tries to take the story into a more slow-burn crime drama during the first third of the picture.
The tone for the film will not draw audiences who aren't already fans of this sort of thing. It's also a bit of a disappointment for Arnold's big return to the screen as co-stars Luis Guzman, Johnny Knoxville, Peter Stormare, Forest Whitaker, and Genesis Rodrigues frequently end up stealing the show from Arnold. But there's no denying the mindless entertainment value of this film.

Texas Chainsaw

Texas Chainsaw 3D is an abysmal film that not only feels as derivative as any instalment within this franchise, but its third act plot twist insults the spectator's intelligence.

Read my full review at http://horrorbuffs.net/movie/texas-chainsaw-3d/

Zero Dark Thirty

I'm not really sure what all the controversy regarding the film's torture scenes are about. There'a few scenes in the first thirty minutes and they're not particularly gruesome. And I don't think anyone with half a brain does not think that some information regarding the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden were not obtained through some instances of torture.
Regardless, Zero Dark Thirty is quite simply a masterpiece. It proceeds mostly like a procedural a la David Fincher's Zodiac where Maya (played tremendously by Jessica Chastain) frantically struggles to locate the world's most notorious terrorist. It's almost like a David vs Goliath story, one that culminates in one of the most brilliant action sequences ever filmed. This is filmmaking at its finest and proof that Kathryn Bigelow is one of the greatest living directors.

Les Misérables

For all it's grand production values, talented cast (with the exception of Russell Crowe who is not a strong singer), and on set recordings of the actors' vocals, Les Miserables the film simply doesn't work. The same problem existed with The Phantom of the Opera from 2004. These musicals were meant to be seen on stage. Adapting them for the big screen creates an awkward result that is nowhere near as spellbinding as the stage musicals themselves, which also benefit from an intermission.
Les Miserables is audacious but over bloated and quite tedious to sit through. It runs a tiring 158 minutes. The heart of its story is lost amid the attempt to combine realistic settings with fantastical melodrama. This film benefits from some fine performances (mainly by Jackman, Hathaway, Baron Cohen, and Bonham Carter), but the rest of it is pretentious, frustrating, and largely forgettable.
(Having said that, Les Miserables the stage musical is the best I've ever seen. If you ever have a chance to see it, do so at any cost - it's worth it)

Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook is absolutely wonderful. There is so much to love about this movie I don't know where to begin. It's brilliantly acted, and its multi-layered portrayal of characters with mental disorders is realistic and moving. It is certainly tackling heavy material, but everything is done within a feel good romantic comedy story line, which makes the film feel less thematically complex than it actually is. David O Russell's ability to create quirky characters and enjoyably odd situations puts to shame other filmmakers like Wes Anderson and Alexander Payne who specialize in this sort of thing. Winner of the Audience Choice Award at TIFF, Silver Linings Playbook is heartwarming, perceptive, and simply quite perfect. I can't wait to see it again.

The Dark Knight Rises
½

The. Most. Overrated. Movie. Of. The. Year.
It's a somewhat entertaining one. Tom Hardy looks great as Bane, despite the fact he's inaudible for a good portion of the movie. Anne Hathaway is the ideal Catwoman. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt pretty much steals the show. But apart from that, the plot is just pointless. The set up is intriguing, as Bane's attack on the 1% raises a very interesting plot to create mass chaos by ridding the rich of all their wealth. But then you find out he just wants to blow up the city, and the last two thirds of The Dark Knight Rises is just a cliche ridden action movie about saving Gotham. We saw this already; it was called Batman Begins. The action scenes are completely uninspired. Plot holes are aplenty - how did he get back into Gotham? And the amount of contrived plot devices feel lifted from a film student's screenplay - of course Alfred's dream would come true. The film is fun in a mindless sort of way, but it's by far the weakest installment in the trilogy and a disappointing conclusion to what could have been the best movie trilogy ever made.

Rise of the Guardians
½

Essentially a family-friendly holiday version of The Avengers, Rise of the Guardians is a lot of fun. It's about time a movie not only gives Jack Frost a name, but actually portrays him as a fully dimensional character. Santa, the Easter Bunny, Sandman, and the Tooth Fairy are great supporting heroes who have unique personalities that pair together with great chemistry and a lot of humour. The world they inhabit is a colourful, beautifully rendered one. There's enough here that will entertain young kids as well as parents. It's a got a kind heart, a nasty villain, and a fast pace that rarely slows down. This is a welcome alternative to the majority of Oscar-bait and late season blockbusters playing at every cinema near you.

The Expendables 2
½

The Expendables 2 is big, loud, and stupid, which is just the way it should be. Delivering on some of the most insanely ridiculous action sequences of the year, the film is packed full of hilarious one-liners, in-jokes and self-deprecating winks at the stars' respective careers. This film is strictly for fans of Stallone, Statham, Lundgren, Schwarzenegger, Van Damme, Willis, and Norris. It's as dumb as any film these actors have ever starred in, and every bit as entertaining. It's a shame that Jet Li's role is so short (even though his cameo appearance is almost worth the admission price), but Nan Yu makes up for it with her action heroine role as a professional hacker. A wildly entertaining sequel that improves upon its predecessor in every way! Bring on Expendables 3!!

The Samaritan

The Samaritan is just simply too derivative, too cliche, and too much in love with the style of a film noir rather than creating an honest portrayal of characters at crossroads. Samuel L Jackson plays Foley, an ex-grifter who has just got out of a 25-year sentence for murdering his best friend. Foley is simply trying to live his life, get a legit job, and spend his nights at a local bar feeling sorry for himself. That is until Ethan, the son of the man Foley killed, comes to him with a "one last job" offer. Despite pulling one major twist, the plot consistently treads familiar territory.
The performances are restrained but not in a good way. Everybody here seems completely bored, as if they're looking forward to a nice tidy paycheck more so than a solid performance.
Furthermore, the piano based soundtrack attempts to create a very sad, melancholic tone for the picture, but it quickly starts to feel very monotonous. Combined with an uninteresting visual style where everything seems filmed under gold filters, The Samaritan just treads along in a meandering fashion that never manages to engage. Its minor twists aren't enough to make up for a story that we've seen way too many times before.

The Odd Life of Timothy Green
½

In the Disney studio's latest attempt at invoking the "aw shucks" reaction out of their audience, The Odd Life of Timothy Green misses the mark completely as it tries to create a story that directly appeals to the infertile-couple demographic. So the story goes that Cindy and Jim, played by Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton respectively, have tried everything and anything to have a child, but one doctor tells them in the opening scenes that it's just not meant to be. Drunk later that night, the couple write on paper what their perfect child would look and be like. They put these writings into a wooden box and bury it in the backyard. And in perfect Disney fashion, a child grows out of the dirt. Cindy and Jim are soon greeted by their son Timothy at age 10.
There is a pretty good concept here that would have been great in the hands of Guillermo Del Toro, Tim Burton, or even the Pixar studio. But it's a complete mess in the hands of Peter Hedges and company. It's too overly sentimental for its weird concept to work and too weird to feel believable in any sense. The script is paper thin, and is only good at creating scenes that are not only cliche but absolutely meandering, tedious, and fall flat in trying to communicate any sense of meaning.
Sure there are underlying themes of accepting people who are different, and that parents should not compare themselves to other parents, but when you hammer your audience with scene after scene that screams the take away points, it might have been a better idea to just make a documentary or create a parenting blog about the issue. And the way the story progresses to communicate these themes is paper-thin. Too many cookie cutter characters representing an ideal. Too many pointless scenes of Timothy holding his hands out to absorb sun as if it were some kind of life force; an action that is never given any meaning.
By the time the film ends, the Cindy and Jim have barely gone through any change at all. They start the film as a couple unable to give birth to a child, and in the end they learn they can adopt one. What wonderful development. Two hours of my life wasted that I'm never getting back. Perhaps there will be a better film made one day about the anxieties of parenting, one that actually has deals with such a circumstance with insight and substance and isn't as boring, uneven, or forgettable as this one.

Chronicle
Chronicle(2012)
½

The best sequence in Chronicle, an undeniable brilliant sequence, is the final showdown between the hero and the villain. Flying across the city, the hero tries to stop the villain, and like every superhero movie before it, the civilians get in the way. Buildings are smashed, cars overturned, people are running, screaming as the cops stand by helpless. But the camera is always looking at the action from the perspective of a civilian or the helicopter overlooking the two fighters. We see the fight as citizens would see it, distant from the action. The audience is finally given the chance to place themselves in the situation of the innocents. There are few close ups in this action sequence, and while most superhero movies revel in getting the best look at every energy bolt or window smash, Chronicle allows the civilians to finally become characters in a story.
It's really the only time in this film where the found footage style doesn't feel cliche, derivative, and tedious. Like all the films before it, Chronicle still has to find silly reasons to explain why the main character wants to carry the camera around, and while these explanations are quite creative, they still require a massive suspension of disbelief. Given how amazing the special effects are, how interesting the twists and developments of the main characters' stories get, and how involving the film is towards its audience, the found footage style does a rather large disservice to an otherwise unique and intriguing movie.
Chronicle deconstructs the superhero genre by not only taking the point of view of the villain, but in showing how a person with superpowers and an anger complex can be drawn to the dark side. It's often in superhero movies that the bullied loner is often the one who gets powers and then uses them for good - like Spider-Man. But what happens when the bullied loner uses his powers against his peers. And what if the kid who is actually not inherently a good person actually takes it upon himself to stand up for humanity when it matters. Does that make him an admirable hero?
All the standard superhero fare is top notch: seeing how the ordinary kids come into contact with whatever it is that gives them power, etc. The sequences where they test out their flying abilities is particularly incredible. But Chronicle is much darker, grittier, and more intimate then the ordinary studio blockbuster. There is no flash, no big budget set pieces. The characters in Chronicle feel real, and their actions have serious consequences on the environment. Now if only director Josh Trank could have accomplished this without using the found footage style - it's possible, and that would have been an amazing achievement.

Batman Begins
½

Christopher Nolan has breathed amazing new life into the Batman saga with this incredible reboot that finally treats the iconic comic book character with the respect, tone, and seriousness that he deserves. Right from the opening sequence, Batman Begins gets right into the mind of billionaire Bruce Wayne. Haunted by guilt over the death of his parents - a guilt that quickly turns to anger - Bruce leaves Gotham City to fight petty criminals all over the world, only to be indicted into the League of Shadows and trained under Ra's Al Ghul.
Batman Begins is an origin story in every sense of the world. It also shows Gotham City as a terrifying place to live, an urban metropolis that is filled with crime, corrupt politicians, a massive gap between the rich and the poor, not to mention the Scarecrow, a villain who works for some very disturbed people. Among this dark portrayal of the city and of Bruce Wayne`s transformation into Batman, Nolan`s film is essentially about a masked vigilante who is able to scare criminals into making them completely fearful of committing another crime. Batman has become the stuff of legend amid the city`s underbelly,and yet Bruce Wayne struggles to fit back in to life in Gotham.
Christian Bale is the best Batman to date. An accomplished actor in so many other roles, Bale ignites Bruce Wayne with a sensitivity and an inner monologue that creates a fantastic performance. In the suit, Bale has made Batman as scary and intimidating as never seen before. His raspy voice, cold stare, and unsympathetic tone show the audience that this Batman is not only committed to stopping crime, he is very capable of doing it himself.
Everything about Batman Begins works. Liam Neeson, Katie Holes, Cillian Murphy, Tom WIlkinson, and Gary Oldman create some of the most memorable interpretations of their respective characters. The action is expertly staged. The story is entirely engaging, an the tone is undeniably dark - just as it should be. SImply put, Batman Begins is the Batman movie we`ve all been waiting for!

Piranha 3-D
Piranha 3-D(2010)

Piranha 3D is all kinds of stupid. Right from the opening sequence, the audience watches Richard Dreyfuss - yes, Richard Dreyfuss is in Piranha - reprise his roll from Jaws thirty years older. He may have been able to fight off a great white shark, but he's no match for a pack of blood crazy piranhas as poor Hooper gets eaten alive. Then the film turns into a gleefully bright Playboy video as all kinds of young teens bare all at a spring break beach party right before the piranhas decide to attack them. Literally, this movie is all sex and gore.
But as the opening sequence shows, Piranha 3D is meant to be taken as big, dumb, stupid fun. It's completely tongue-in-cheek, and the more it revels in its sheer silliness, the more fun the audience has. They even got Christopher Lloyd to reprise his role as Doc from Back to the Future, playing a crazed marine biologist who tells the characters all they need to know about these types of piranhas.
As with all teen horror movies, sex and death go hand in hand. The hornier the teens, the greater their punishment and likely graphic death. And since everyone in this movie is pretty damn horny, guess how many people are going to get eaten. Of course, our main teenager leads are still relatively pure, so they will just be placed in life-threatening situations, but they won't fall victim.
Alexandre Aja directs, and Piranha 3D just may be the first movie of his that I actually enjoyed. He understands the film he wants to make and he really wants to pay homage to the exploitation horror films of the 1980s. He knows what works in those movies and he doesn't try to make a serious minded film here. This is Jaws gone wild and silly. However, just because this movie isn't to be taken seriously does not mean that it isn't well made. The photography is absolutely gorgeous. The scenery is given that "beach shine" where there isn't a cloud in the sky, the sun gleans off the actors' golden bodies, and the colours are lush and vibrant. The underwater footage is also absolutely incredible. Even the actors recite the B-movie dialogue in an A-list way.
Piranha 3D is definitely not for everyone. It has it's core audience and it's catering to the demands of only that core audience. But Aja and company know what they're doing and they do it with pride.

What to Expect When You're Expecting
½

So I looked around the semi-crowded theatre halfway through What to Expect When You're Expecting. It was Tuesday night in the beaches, so cheap movie day!!!! As I looked around, I counted how many guys were dragged into this movie by their significant other, and from this number, I began to think about how many of these guys are in that stage of their relationship where talk of having babies has become one of the more front and centre topics of discussion. Once the credits rolled, I knew that even if those guys weren't having this discussion before, they damn sure will be now on the drive home.
I can't imagine too many teens running to the multiplexes to see this one. This is solely for the ladies in their late twenties to early forties who are either thinking of becoming mothers or already are ones and are using this movie as a way of looking back on their pregnancy days to laugh about them. So clearly I was not the target audience here, and I don't think I have the authority to accurately critique such a film. But here I go anyway.
What to Expect When You're Expecting seems to be a product from all the pregnancy books and manuals out there (it's based on one such book). The writers and makeup artists have definitely done their research, not only in accurately depicting the pregnancy bulge, the raging hormones, and the desire for both women and men to want children, but they've created a whole ensemble cast of characters that are all going through different kinds of personal trials. We have the teens who accidentally get pregnant, we have the groups of fathers who are charged with taking care of the kids, we have the infertile 30 something who is looking to adopt, and we have different women experiencing different kinds of pregnancy pains. Within all that, we are supposed to laugh at the jokes, the sometimes witty lines, ooo and aww at the cute moments, and then the babies are born. Lesson to learn: pregnancy is hell but it's all worth it once the baby is born.
This movie didn't offend me. It wasn't stupid, and some of the jokes were actually quite funny. But I think the over-saturation of characters and the "aw gush" ending still couldn't make me connect with it. Maybe it's because this movie wasn't made for me. But then I remember how much I loved Juno and Knocked Up and how much more satisfying those movies were....

American Gangster

The great director Ridley Scott has three masterpieces behind his belt: Alien, Blade Runner, and Gladiator. He can now add a fourth to that list: American Gangster.
Besides another great performance by Denzel Washington, not to mention the incredible supporting actors he has to work with like Russell Crowe, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Josh Brolin, Arman Assante, and Cuba Gooding Jr., the film is a wholly original gangster picture. Denzel's performance is not to be understated however. His fans will get everything they watch the actor for; the smooth talk, the mannerisms, the bad ass stare, the yelling, and the cool demeanour. But like his best roles, he turns Frank Lucas into a fully realized character, a flawed but wholly sympathetic one.
The story focuses on how Frank Lucas was able to make more money than the Mafia through good business decisions. This film could almost be taught in economics classes, except for the fact that Lucas' product is heroine. Image, and an honest living giving back to the community were what helped Lucas get ahead, stay ahead for as long as he did, and never get backstabbed.
The film smartly contrasts his life with Richie Roberts (Crowe), who may stand for what's right, but doesn't impact his community the way Lucas does. Lucas isn't Scarface, nor is he Michael Corleone. He went a diferent way, which makes his story just as important as the others.
Ridley's production team successfully and accurately re-creates a gritty, realistic view of Harlem in the 1970s. They also don't shy away from showing what Lucas' product is doing to addicts. There's no denying that Frank Lucas does bad things. But given the world he grew up in, he did what he could to survive, and survive he did.
Note: I prefer the theatrical version to the unrated cut. I believe that Ridley made the edits for the theatrical cut for a reason and the additions interrupt the pacing and don't add any more depth to the already perfect narrative.

Goon
Goon(2012)

Goon is the kind of oddball, potty mouthed yet heartfelt comedy that the Judd Apatow gang lovingly churns out at least once a year. Except Goon is undoubtedly a Canadian product - despite being co-written by Superbad's Evan Goldberg - and it portrays a romantic view on hockey fighting, one that indirectly perceives the game as something of a poor man's UFC. Real hockey aficionados might criticize that the hockey portrayed in this movie isn't real hockey, and no one would disagree. But that's the charm of the movie. Writer/producer Jay Baruchel definitely exaggerates the most appealing aspect of the game; I mean, let's face it, a person who watches hockey with hoping a fight doesn't break out is about as realistic as a person who watches Nascar hoping nobody crashes. And yet, though this exaggeration, the script and the film reveal what is so great about this game in the first place. Hockey is a tough as nails game, fast paced, dangerous, and played by people who have nothing but a love for it.
At the front and centre of the story is Sean William Scott who plays Doug Glatt, a mentally slow bouncer who has one hell of an ability to brawl. Put it this way; if Doug hits you, you'll be lucky if all you get is unconscious. His buddy, Pat (Baruchel) runs a foul mouthed radio show. One day on Pat's radio show, Doug gets a call from a scout to play hockey. Despite the fact that he can't skate or handle the puck, Doug gains fame because of his ability to beat the crap out the other team's enforcers, hereby protecting his teammates and making them feel safer when trying to score. Doug is scouted to play for the semi-pro Halifax team.
From there, the usual sports movie cliches abound, but what elevates this film is how likable all the characters are. From the tough as nails coach to the team's Quebecois captain, you want to cheer for every one of these players that glory comes their way. For all the brute force, aggression, and instability these guys possess, they're just a bunch of big, sensitive softies with hearts of gold.
That's where the charm of Goon really shines through. It's full of coarse language and crude jokes that will have you on the floor laughing. But like the Paul Newman classic Slap Shot - a huge influence on this film - Goon will have you cheering to the very end.

John Carter
John Carter(2012)

Roger Ebert's opening line to his Star Wars Episode II Attack Of The Clones review reads, "It's not what's there on the screen that disappoints me, but what's not there." The exact same sentiment can be said about Disney's new over bloated, $300 million dollar (including marketing costs) gamble, John Carter. CGI has been done again and again. We live in an age now where there are no limits to what can be put on the screen; this is no longer something to marvel at, it's more of a given. My expectations in 2012 are far higher than they were in 1993, and while I acknowledge the amount of work required to create CGI, I'm just not impressed with it anymore. Nor am I any more impressed with 3D. Avatar, Hugo, Beowulf, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and Pixar's latest releases have all pretty much displayed the strengths and limitations of the technology. It's not enough for a film like John Carter to boast lavish visuals, scenery, computer animated characters, epic fight sequences all exhibited in 3D. It needs an intriguing story to work. And it's in this regard that the film fails.
No amount of special effects can make Taylor Kitsch any less awkward in his role, or spark any chemistry between Kitsch and his female co-star Lynn Collins. No amount of CGI can cover up the cliche story of a renegade anti-hero who falls in with the enemy only to learn and respect their ways and lead them into battle. No amount of 3D can make up for the story's lack of focus, character development, or just plain uninteresting characters.
This film is based on a series of popular science fiction books, written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, books that pretty much are the inspiration for so many similar stories like Avatar, and writers such as Robert A. Heinlein and Alan Moore. Unfortunately, the novelty of these books does not come across in the film. There is very little in the movie John Carter that hasn't been done before, and this is it's biggest weakness. I know how this kind of story pans out. This character, this world, and these situations are just not as good as the ones they take their cues from. The producers have seen too many other movies, and are simply copying what they liked into their own work, albeit lacking all imagination.

Incendies
Incendies(2011)
½

When films span multiple time periods and have several main characters, you can be sure that everything will come together in the most contrived way, often revealing things that are less shocking than intended simply because of their lack of believability. Incendies is one such film, but it manages to overcome the limitations of this narrative structure because of its compelling subject matter and stunning lead performances.
Twins Jeanne and Simon Marwan sit down to hear the will of their mother, Nawal, who has recently passed away. They are shocked to learn that Nawal's final wish is for the pair to deliver envelopes to two people they didn't know prior to this - their father and their brother. Simon refuses to do so, but Jeanne feels compelled to learn more about her mother's past, something that is now a complete mystery. So she leaves Canada for Lebanon. Meanwhile, the story also tracks Nawal as a young student caught up in a rising war between Christians and Muslims. This leads her to commit an act for which she's caught an imprisoned in the most horrific of conditions for well over a decade.
On the surface, Incendies embraces the usual thematic principles that war is hell and it cuts promising lives too short. But writer director Denis Villeneuve manages to elevate his story above the usual cliches that Hollywood war films love to embrace. Villeneuve's eye is on understanding and watching these characters as they try to come to terms with the unforgiving world they have been born into, and how that world shapes them. The detail that goes into re-creating the Middle East conflict for this film is precise yet unobtrusive. Incendies manages to create an epic scope of Lebanon and Canada while limiting the audience's perspectives strictly to that of its main protagonists, Nawal and Jeanne. Both actors - Lubna Azabel and Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin respectively - are expected to communicate much to the audience through their silence and restrained reactions. The camera maintains a lot of focus on their faces, capturing the subtle hints that suggest their characters are trying to figure everything out. Such performances are always challenging for actors and one of the reasons why so many poorly made movies often have their actors speaking how they feel out loud. Denis Villeneuve is too skilled for such nonsense and so are his actors.
As I mentioned earlier, Incendies runs a little too long, and it's twist ending feels very contrived and predictable long before it's even revealed. But that should not deter any audience member from wanting to experience this powerful film, a genuine highlight of contemporary Canadian cinema.

The Bourne Ultimatum

My personal belief is that in about ten or twenty years from now, The Bourne Trilogy will be regarded as one of the all time greatest action sagas. The intriguing setup from The Bourne Identity, the conflicting morals of The Bourne Supremacy, and now the balls to the wall climax of The Bourne Ultimatum. If I could describe this action masterpiece in one word, it would be - in all caps - EXHILARATING!! Picking up a few weeks prior to the end of The Bourne Supremacy, Jason Bourne is trying to escape Moscow. Meanwhile, in London, a journalist named Simon Ross (Paddy Considine) is publishing stories that slowly reveal Operation Blackbriar - a more lethal offshoot of Treadstone, and the CIA essentially want him dead or silenced. Once Bourne learns about Ross, he seeks him out hoping to find the missing piece of his identity: who recruited Bourne and who made him the precision killer that he is today?
Realizing just how much of a threat Bourne is to the CIA, the new agent Noah Vosen leads the chase in trying to catch him, against the persuasive influence of Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) who is in some indirect way Bourne's ally. Both of these characters create just as much excitement in the scenes behind computer screens and controlled towers tracking Bourne's whereabouts as the scenes where Bourne is fighting his assassins.
And what fight scenes they are!! The choreography is more complex, faster, and constrained to even tighter quarters than in the previous film. The camera has an even shakier, documentary styles look, resulting in jaw dropping, exhilarating (there's that word again!) car chases, hand to hand combat, gun battles, rooftop chases, and seek and destroy sequence with Bourne and Ross in a crowded mall that will have your eyes glued to the screen.
Nothing more can be said about Matt Damon other than a lame joke like "he was 'bourne' to play this role". Without Damon's likability this trilogy would not have worked half as well as it has. He has helped create one of the most fascinating and legendary on screen assassins that have graced the screen since James Bond. Simply put, The Bourne Ultimatum is the very definition of a perfect action picture. It's the most fitting end to a great trilogy, and an action film to which all espionage action films from this point on will be compared to.

The Bourne Supremacy
½

It's not often that a sequel can actually be called a better film that the original, but The Bourne Supremacy improves in every way upon The Bourne Identity, an impressive feat considering the quality of the latter. The film pushes the character of Jason Bourne into franchise territory, where Bourne will encounter more people who want to kill him as he continually attempts to figure out more about his past.
Matt Damon's second time around as the lead character elevates him into a bona fide action star. He walks through this picture with a real confidence in Bourne's strengths and weaknesses. But unlike other actors like Jason Statham or Jet Li, Damon doesn't try to take over the film. He embodies Bourne as a smart, captivating protagonist but doesn't try to overshadow the other characters, which include Joan Allen as a CIA Agent investigating a murder of two of her ops, allegedly performed by Bourne, Julia Stiles as Nicky Parsons, a young analyst who has more to do with Bourne's past than he may realize, Karl Urban as a Russian assassin, Franka Potente as his lover, Marie, and Brian Cox as the head of the Treadstone Project who means to put Bourne away for good this time.
The story does what the story of a sequel is required to do. It reveals more about the Treadstone Project. It places the lead character closer to reaching his motivations. It creates a more complicated plot that will allow for even more elaborate and bar-raising action sequences. It's also a lot more assured of itself, probably because it's written solely by Tony Gilroy, who's really good at these kind of plots.
Paul Greengrass takes over the director's chair, replacing Doug Liman, but ignites the same visual flair and pacing of the original. He opts for a more documentary style look for this film. The camera is almost always handheld, and shots are taken mostly from passenger seats in cars, behind or beside characters involved in the action, or placed among bystanders to give that "you are there" look. It does wonders for a film that also spans multiple locales like Berlin and Moscow, and in a climactic car chase sequences that I seriously would rank as one of the top ten car chases ever put on film.
I don't want to reveal anything else or talk up this great film any more. The Bourne Supremacy is without a doubt the action picture of the year, and elevates Jason Bourne into an action hero to remember.

The Bourne Identity

The Bourne Identity is without a doubt one of the coolest CIA espionage thrillers that I've seen in a long time. It outdoes most of the James Bond and all of the Jack Ryan movies with its fast paced storytelling, amazing action sequences, and gripping, edge of your seat drama that is the staple of all the best action pictures.
Matt Damon is perfectly cast. The movie starts with Damon as Jason Bourne, shot twice in the back and left for dead in the ocean. Waking up on a shipping vessel, Bourne has no idea who he is but realizes he possesses the ability to speak multiple languages, can analyze every room he's in to the most minute detail, and could kick the crap out of pretty much anybody, even if they were to gang up on him. As he tries to figure it all out, the CIA realizes he isn't dead and commences a plan to dispose of him before his memory returns. But Bourne is too smart despite not knowing his real identity. He pays a German invalid named Marie Kreutz (played by sexy Franka Potente) to drive him to Paris. From there, they are pursued by assassins from all over, and as they struggle to avoid being captured or killed, a romance blossoms.
The chemistry between Damon and Potente is great. Both actors are able to tap into the vulnerability of their characters and their own individual wants. Of course it's an action movie and it's typically formulaic for the guy and the girl to fall hopelessly in love, but the actors make it much more believable, so it doesn't feel like the film is just going through the motions.
Much credit goes to the director Doug Liman who is very proficient at balancing all the aspects of the cat and mouse chase between the CIA and Jason Bourne. This film spans a lot of locations - from Zurich, Paris, to Virginia - and it never once feels convoluted or confusing. The audience is never confused as to how each character fits into the puzzle, and just enough information is left out to hold interest for the outcome.
And of course the fight scenes are simply astounding. The choreography involves a lot of hand to hand combat that moves fast and is often staged in close quarters, keeping Bourne and his adversaries trapped in an enclosed area that warrants such close hand to hand combat. It's almost like elements of a martial arts film have been lifted into the espionage plot, creating a movie that you can watch for its exhilarating action scenes as much as for its intelligent story.

Congo
Congo(1995)

1993. Jurassic Park is the hottest movie of the year and the film's source material, a novel written by Michael Crichton, also becomes the year's hottest book. So what does Hollywood do? It purchases the rights to many other Crichton novels and for the next six years, audiences get a film adaptation of one of his works almost every twelve months, some high profile examples being Rising Sun, Disclosure, Sphere, The 13th Warrior, and Congo. Now Congo aims to do for apes what Jurassic Park did for dinosaurs. Let's just say it fails in every aspect. I'm sure the novel is much better, but this film is as disposable now as it was upon its release.
Let's start with the effects. Clearly Stan Winston was taking a day off, because I haven't seen gorillas this fake looking since the 1976 King Kong. Amy, the sort of talking gorilla looks like a walking carpet with a dollar store mask taped over her head. It's laughably awful. The killer apes look even worse.
Now on to the story. A diamond expedition goes horribly wrong and the psychotic owner of the company sends a doctor/former CIA op/ex-daughter in law to find out what happened. Accompanied by the usual cliche of characters including a mercenary, a greedy merchant, and a scientist who wants to set Amy free in the wild, this new rescue team soon discovers what happened to the team and that the same fate is in store for them. You would think that this premise would lead to a fun-filled B-movie. Nope. The movie is hopelessly boring, and really only contains two big gorilla vs human action sequences. Both of them look cheesy, horribly edited together, and possessing so many unintentionally funny moments that you wonder how any producer could have released this into the theatres expecting people to enjoy it. A flop in its time, I'm sure Congo has broken even by now, but the 4.7 imdb rating reflects that most people still don't think much of it, and frankly, neither do I.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie
½

Growing up as a kid, I had two obsessions: Star Wars and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And of these two, the latter practically consumed me for the first five years of my life. I had countless TMNT toys and would spend hours playing and making up my own adventures. When I discovered the show and the movies, well let's just say the hours I spent not playing with my TMNT toys were spent watching TMNT. Twenty years later, I'm all grown up, but I still look back on the heroes in a half shell with a nostalgic admiration. And I'll even defend this first live action movie as a legitimately good film. The costumes are remarkably well done, from the design to the people underneath the turtle suits. The action is lots of fun while not being too overly violent. Shredder is as much a badass here as he is in the cartoons, and even for an 80s film the story is well told and relevant.
The Turtles have always had underlying themes of family and brotherhood. Possessing excellent martial arts skills, they fight only in self defense and to help those who can't fight for themselves. Beyond that, the Turtles are very much like kids, having much to learn about life and looking up to a mentor and role model in their Master, Splinter. I think the whole idea lends itself well to kids because there is so much that they can relate to, especially if they come from broken or single family homes. This film really confronts this kind of subject matter by showing a lot of homeless runaway teens, some no more than 8 years old, finding solace in the wrong place due to a lack of guidance and parents but nevertheless being tempted by the notion of belonging to a family. Even among the comedy, silly Turtle antics, and Elias Koteas' amazing performance as Casey Jones, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has a lot of heart.
It bugs me that so many parents were outraged by the dark tone of this film. Its story allows kids to escape from reality while confronting some of the harsher aspects of it. I would have loved to see more films like this one rather than Turtles in Time or Vanilla Ice's Ninja Rap.

The Help
The Help(2011)

Viola Davis has only one scene in the movie, "Doubt." It's not a very long scene, but it is the entire crux of that film. In her few short minutes in front of the camera, Davis delivers the heart and soul of her character. It is a scene that should be studied in every acting school. Now, she plays the lead, Aibileen, in the much anticipated The Help.
There is no doubt Davis stands in a league of her own in this picture. And that is quite a feat since she shares much of the screen with Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard, Allison Janney, Emma Stone, and Octavia Spencer - who also gives a performance in a league of its own.
The Help is a wonderfully acted and wonderfully shot movie. Where it stumbles is in its execution of the narrative, which quickly becomes an exercise in audience manipulation as opposed to an honest story about racism and the wonderful women who struggled to overcome in. The sympathetic characters are very three dimensional, but the villains are stupid, evil, despicable, and essentially white trash. I never lived in this time or this place, so I could be talking out of my ass (then again, so can a lot of us); however, I felt this movie falls short of greatness because it often eschews its themes in favour of glossy, tear-jerking moments, which unfortunately oversimplify the issues. I enjoyed The Help quite a bit, but it tried too hard to move me in a certain way, and thus, I never became as emotionally invested into it as I did with a film like To Kill a Mockingbird, or even A Time To Kill.
It's a shame really, but the performances are simply outstanding.

The Tree of Life
½

Terrence Malick's The Tree Of Life completely redefines everything you expect a movie to be in terms of narrative, storytelling, and plot. This is a film told through the emotional states of a suburban family in the 1950s. It follows one child as he comes to understand the world through his parents.
The film suggests that there are two main outlooks to life: nature and grace. Nature is to be selfish, to blame others for your shortcomings, to think of your own pleasure and your own goodwill. Grace is to accept the life that has been given to you and do your best to make it wonderful. Brad Pitt parents his children more so through nature, and Jessica Chastain parents them through grace. But this isn't just a film about growing up.
This film ponders human life in relation to all of existence. It is as if all the millions upon millions of years that it took for life to evolve were all leading up to this moment, as if all human evolution is waited as heavy as the existence of the universe. We will continue to evolve until the end of time, and then what? The story progresses through shots of even the most insignificant of things, but it is these insignificant things that make up our humanity.
Terrence Malick made two great films in the 1970s. He then disappeared for twenty years and from what I understand, he did a lot of traveling. Whatever he learned or discovered has been reflected deeply in his past three films, but none more so than The Tree Of Life. This is a film that reflects on growth, evolution, God, time, space, and what it means to live. It's a celebration of everything that is life, from birth to death. Because really, what is more important to you than this moment in time, and the moments about to come.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
½

Once the sentiment, the tears, and the life lessons settled in and the credits started to roll, I wasn't quite sure what to take away from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. On 9/11, the world lost thousands of husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters. New York City was forever changed. Is there really a need for a movie to reiterate common knowledge? Yet what this film attempts to do is focus on a child who has lost his father in this horrible event, and throughout the course of the narrative, this child will learn to accept death and move on. This is staple stuff for a movie that wants the audience to identify with a small story that is essentially a metaphor for a much larger tragedy.
Oskar (Thomas Horn) loves is father, Thomas (Tom Hanks). Thomas frequently sends Oskar on little adventure quests that help him make sense of the world around him. Oskar suffers from Asperger's Syndrome, which causes a lot of "weird" behaviour, but in a nutshell, this disease prevents Oskar from being able to digest and understand subtle nuances in human emotional expression. He says what's on his mind and doesn't understand why that could be offensive to some people. When Thomas dies in the collapse of the World Trade Centre, Oskar can't seem to understand exactly what has really happened. Going through his father's things, he stumbles across a key in an envelope with the word "Black" written on it. Thinking that Black is the last name of some New Yorker, Oskar begins an expedition to seek out everyone living in New York City with the last name of Black. This quest, as Oskar believes, will reveal his father's last secret.
There is a much better film playing about similar themes. That film is called Hugo. While the acting of both films is on par with the other, the latter film has a more honest approach. Both protagonist children are looking for meaning in their lives, a place where they can understand themselves and the people around them. The films differ in every other aspect, but thematically, the two could not be more similar. The death of a father and the child coming to terms with it is a very sad, difficult-to-digest plot.
Viola Davis delivers her second performance where she's in the movie for maybe fifteen minutes, but her scenes form the backbone of the entire film. This woman deserves an Oscar because I believe that she is one of the greatest actresses of our time. Jeffrey Wright and Sandra Bullock are also excellent. Where the story stumbles is in its consistent aspiration to make its audience gush with feelings. There's nothing wrong with making a movie about a national tragedy and focusing it on a young child having to grief for his father. But Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is stuffed to the brim with contrivance and characters always crying. It may be occasionally moving, but for the most part, the film feels forced, and doesn't quite create the heartfelt experience it wants to instill in the audience.

The Artist
The Artist(2011)
½

In an age where Hollywood is heading in the direction of big, bloated 3D blockbusters, The Artist reflects on where we were almost a century ago. What was film like back then? In a very unique stylistic choice, French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius decides to give the audience the silent film treatment. And yet, this style is very much a way of identifying with the main protagonist, George Valentin.
Valentin is the most popular actor of his time. He is a proud man - too proud - but his films make money and audiences love him. That is, until the day that the studios decide to introduce sound into the process. As Valentin is told in a board meeting, audiences loved his face, but they won't love his voice. His days are over - out with the old, in with the new. As his life begins to crumble, a young actress named Peppy Miller replaces Valentin as the most in demand. Interesting enough, Peppy developed a friendship with George prior to his firing.
The Artist is a pleasant film, a reflection on a time when sound - something we all take for granted now in watching movies - was completely controversial, threatening to destroy the lives of many established actors and changing the face of Hollywood forever. Today, the evolution of 3D has reached the same level of controversy, and once again seems to be changing the way we will continue to watch movies. In times like these, it's important to reflect on the past.
I admire Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, who play George and Peppy respectively. They embrace the camera with the same kind of screen presence as Charlie Chapman or Lillian Gish. The soundtrack is equally exquisite, and is a key attribute to invoking the emotional arcs that this story travels through. Yet as much as I enjoyed The Artist, I am weary of the accolades this film is receiving. I don't think it's anywhere near the same league as Singin' In The Rain, still in my opinion the best film ever made about the transition towards "talkies". I find The Artist's story a bit predictable and rather shallow. What saves it for me is the style. In an age where every studio film has sucked the life out of the magic of visual effects, The Artist is wonderfully refreshing, breathing new life and new perspective into a dormant art form.

The Human Centipede (First Sequence)
½

Certain horror films have achieved popularity among fans simply because of how much grotesque violence they can successfully depict. Cannibal Holocaust, I Spit on Your Grave, Audition, Nekromantik just to name a few. And oddly enough, all of these have enjoyed a shelf life that many Oscar winning dramas can only dream of achieving. In my personal opinion, I don't support the idea that audiences can get a kind of catharsis from extreme violence. The film has to justify why it has decided to show this level of violence and for such a prolonged duration of time. I don't admire all of the films that I mentioned above because several of them don't provide that justification.
But despite opinion to the contrary, The Human Centipede does. The film shows a gradual devolution of a human being to nothing more than a pet, an insect even more so. It is the ultimate horror, not only in terms of body horror but in the cerebral sense that you are nothing, a mere piece in a much larger entity, although what that entity is supposed to be is completely obscure and undefined. Tom Six, the writer, producer, and director does not bother with any political undertones. He combines sexual desires with horrific metamorphosis of the flesh in very much the same way David Cronenberg has made a career out of.
The two female leads are the kind of bimbos that get killed off in the opening credits of most horror movies. But the end of the film raises things places the film into the realm of a tragedy. We've had to endure abusive, inhumane treatment to these three conjoined innocent victims and we can't help but feel sorry for them. It's almost as if the film is pointing the finger at the audience, not by putting us in the same position as the psychotic doctor, but by forcing us to see feel sorry for them as people, something that we weren't doing during the film's first half.
For my money, The Human Centipede is a solid horror movie. Tom Six is after something a lot more complex than most of the extreme horror films out there. I don't consider this a mindless exercise in torture porn. There are a lot of interesting ideas at work particularly in the way the film challenges the audience, not only to endure the characters' pain and suffering but to look beyond the violence and the horror. Great stuff!
Side note: The film is surprisingly light on gore. Most of the gross stuff happens off screen; your brain does most of the work.

Hugo
Hugo(2011)
½

Hugo is the most unlikely film Martin Scorsese would make, and yet, it is one of his best. The technical wizardry is fantastic, and the story being told here is among the greatest of children's stories, one that treats all its viewers with intelligence and inspiration. It is also among Scorsese's most personal films. It's strange that he would make a family friendly epic, shot in 3D in an almost fantasy-like world, but Scorsese's touch is delicate, affirmed, and sure of the film he wants to make.
The opening shot of Hugo is of a moving camera swooping along an overview of Paris into a train station wherein lives Hugo Cabret (played exceptionally well by Asa Butterfield). Forget Avatar. If I was ever to be convinced on 3D as a new film medium as opposed a passing fad, this single shot would be the one to do it. It's a glorious shot, well timed, well controlled, and the CGI is blended in firmly with the reality. As we meet and get to know Hugo, we see that he is an orphan living in the train station. He manages to maneuver through a system in the walls that lead to all the clocks, remaining anonymous and resorting to stealing food in order to survive while avoiding capture by the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen). One day, he meets Georges Melies (Ben Kingsley), a toy merchant who also happens to be one of the great pioneers of the movies. Hugo loves the movies as they are his form of escape. They inspire him to dream and one day become more than who he is. Hugo longs to find meaning in his life, as well as a place to call his own. He misses his father, who left him a broken automaton that, once fixed, may hold his father's final secret. As his journey unfolds, he develops a great friendship with Isabelle (the talented Chloe Grace Moretz), who he is able to confide in.
The first half of Hugo is a technical marvel. It boasts a magical and intriguing children's mystery set to the backdrop of a beautiful train station. Scorsese has also purposely overlit the setting, so that the film won't be too dark when seen through 3D glasses. It's also not a busy 3D; the camera may swoop in and out of areas, but it is a smooth, fluid movement that didn't make me sick in the least. Scorsese has perfect control of this technology.
The second half pays a wholehearted tribute to the history of the first movies. Where a film like The Artist examines an early period in film history, Hugo examines what makes cinema so special. Films have the ability to inspire, to help us find meaning in our own lives. In many ways, film helps us live better. Scorsese knows this, and hopefully, Hugo will inspire many kids to follow their dreams.

Moneyball
Moneyball(2011)
½

Sports fans love discussing player stats. They enjoy debating with each other every aspect of team management, player ability, and rank as if the only thing that's keeping them from being general managers and coaches is their will. But like everything else, politics drives sports. Money speaks volumes. And few sports films have captured the backdoor dealings and struggles of managing a sports team with such authenticity as well as Bennett Miller's Moneyball.
Brad Pitt stars as Billy Beane, a washed up baseball player who was scouted at a young age to be the next biggest name in baseball. It didn't work out, but his knowledge of the game landed him a job as the general manager for the Oakland Athletics, a struggling franchise with the lowest payroll in all of Major League Baseball. Pitt's performance here is subtle. He gives this character so much development, but because this is a movie mainly set in boardrooms and baseball dugouts, Pitt's added nuances are most likely to go over the audience's head. But that's supposed to happen because the movie wants you to identify with Billy's struggle to deliver a winning team against much opposition.
Jonah Hill is Pitt's supporting man and this is quite possibly Hill's first non-comedic role. He plays Peter Brand, a young sports analyst who is developing a theory on evaluating players. This theory uses statistics and a bunch of mathematical algorithms to accurately reflect a player's ability to perform what is asked of him. Using these principles, Peter and Billy attempt to completely re-configure the Athletics, and in doing so, not only changed the way players' stats are read, but they delivered the Athletics to one of their best season performances in years.
Moneyball will work best on sports fans and business people. The language and the dialogue reflect an atmosphere of discussions, thinking, analyzing, and meetings. It shows a side to the sport that is rarely captured in the movies. So many sports films are about the players and how they overcome obstacles to score the winning points and be holstered up to the many cheers by their fans and teammates. Yet Moneyball is about different kinds of people overcoming similar obstacles. The difference is that their hard work is rewarded with hand shakes and contract renewals, while the players enjoy the glory. Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillan have written a wonderful screenplay, Pitt and Jonah give wonderful performances alongside Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Wright, and Bennett Miller delivers another great film. Moneyball is a solid home run.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

The makers of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance have pulled off quite a feat; they managed to make a film worse than the first Ghost Rider. It is quite obvious that Sony didn't give a rat's behind about this movie and that the only reason it exists is so they don't have to give up the rights of the franchise. There's no excuse for a studio effort of a comic book movie to be this incompetent, poorly planned, and of the "direct to DVD sequel" quality.
Directors Neveldine/Taylor made a cool little flick called Crank almost six years ago. That movie was a kinetic, over the top thrill ride that felt like a video game, and it worked. Yet all Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance shows is that they can't make any other kind of movie. This movie is shot as if the tripod didn't exist. The camera continuously zooms in and out, almost always on an awkward tilt or angle, and the shots are edited together in such a frantic pace all the time that it comes off as completely amateurish and unable to set a consistent tone for the story. It's hard to care about the drama when you're feeling nauseous. The animation is equally as awful. Most of the CGI is unintentionally cartoony. There is barely any detail on the images, and it's made worse that the camera is rarely ever focused on less than five things at a time.
Nicolas Cage clearly just needed the paycheck as he puts no effort into his second portrayal as cursed stunt driver Johnny Blaze. His only one freak out moment isn't even funny in the way audiences have become accustomed to laugh at. In keeping with the comic book, Cage opts for a darker, angrier, and more anti-hero portrayal of the character, but that just means he shows less expression and speaks with longer pauses. It's a shame really because as Cage continually takes these kinds of roles that make a joke out of his career, audiences are more likely to forget what a great actor he really is. Last year, Cage starred in three massive flops - Season of the Witch, Drive Angry, and Trespass. The only thing that might put people in the seats this time around is that Ghost Rider has a comic fan base who will claim to watch this out of obligation.
There is only one scene in this movie that I actually liked. The villain of the film has the ability of decay. As he's trying to find something to eat, he picks up a slice of bread, which goes moldy before his eyes. Next, he picks up an apple, which rots just as quickly. The third thing he picks up is a twinkie. And of course, nothing happens; great meal. This scene shows that Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance at least had the aspiration to be trashy fun. Unfortunately, the film is so shoddy, badly written, and devoid of anything resembling entertainment that the experience is just plain trashy.

The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence)

I am apparently one of the few people who really enjoyed The Human Centipede: First Sequence. Before seeing that film, I was already aware that writer/director Tom Six had a sequel in the works that was going to have a 12 person centipede, but I had no idea what to make of that prior to watching the original film. However, after having seen First Sequence, I remember saying to my friend that I don't think a sequel is even warranted for this film. Everything that Six wanted to do with this premise he accomplished with this first film. What would be the point of a sequel? If he just wants to make a movie that's bloodier and more gross, he's negating the artistry he possessed in making the original.
Yes, The Human Centipede: First Sequence was not just torture porn. Read my review and maybe I can convince you to give it a chance. But everything that most people thought that first film was, this sequel is. It's a pointless exercise in trying to depict as many twisted, depraved, and disturbing acts to innocent people as the censors will allow.
The tagline for The Human Centipede: Full Sequence is the exact opposite of the first film - 100% medically inaccurate. That means that there is no surgery. The main character is a mentally challenged but deranged obese security guard named Martin. He's obsessed with Tom Six's original movie (yes, it's a meta-movie) and decides he wants to re-create that film with more people. But Martin doesn't have a surgical background. Thus, this entire movie is Martin abducting characters with no personality - most of the time you don't see these characters actually being captured, and since Martin is a dimwitted fool, it's hard to believe how he actually kidnaps them.
You get to endure Martin creating his human centipede with whatever tool happens to be lying around. It's a full 90 minutes of this. There is no story to care about, this main character goes through no change and is thus completely unidentifiable. The logic of how any of this can plausibly happen is beyond any suspension of disbelief, particularly since all these abductions happen within sight of security cameras. The gory scenes are gross, cringe-worthy, and unrestrained, and if these scenes are the only reason you want to watch a movie like this, you and I have very different opinions about what makes a good horror movie. Tom Six has done a complete 180 and made a despicable, disposable, needless film that offers nothing but contempt for its audience. This film is a disgrace to the horror genre.

The Descendants

It's been seven years since his previous masterpiece, Sideways, but Alexander Payne delivers another quirky, funny yet tragic work of art with The Descendants. George Clooney is receiving much deserved critical acclaim for his performance as Matt King, a descendant of Hawaiian royalty who is about to make a huge fortune by selling off family land.
His good fortune grinds to a halt when his wife is in a serious boating accident in Waikiki. She is left in a coma with little hope of recovery. This throws Matt's world upside down. He's forced to not only confront many of his and his wife's friends to tell them about the incident, but he must now assume the role of father to his two daughters, a role he has not taken responsibility for in years. Among all this, he later learns that there may have been more to his wife's past than he thought.
Matt has to come to terms with a lot throughout this film. The story forces Matt to examine his past, his present, and his future, questions that have probably never even graced his thoughts until now. Payne's film delivers this narrative with a delicate touch. The film maintains a tone between comedy and drama, and this steady balance keeps you invested in the characters and their journeys. Shailene Woodley gives an equally admirable performance as Matt's daughter, Alexandra. And is that Matthew Lillard I see??
The Hawaiian setting adds much to the film. The idea of preserving the island's natural landscapes, keeping it's picturesque and beautiful setting away from condos and shopping malls as part of what defines Hawaii mirrors the heart of the story. Matt's wife is dying, but the memory of her is what will live on. Everyone will remember her differently based on how she's effected each person, but all they can do in the midst of her death is preserve her existence in their memories. If they forget about or sku their perception of her, something important will be lost.
The Descendants works simply as a great story. It is complex, entertaining, and well told. Payne's touch allows the film to be as funny as it is serious, and he allows his actors to shine.

Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris is simply a delight to behold. If it isn't the best film by the end of 2011, I will be very very surprised. Like Annie Hall, Midnight in Paris highlights every facet of Woody Allen's talent, from his uncanny ability to create unique characters, his unmatched ability to write fascinating and quirky dialogue, to his willingness to take risks. I loved this movie!
Owen Wilson is perfectly cast in his role as Gil, a writer who feels out of place in his time. Wilson generally stars as these naive, soft spoken, likeable characters, and this is best work since Bottle Rocket. Never failing to mention his opinion that the 1920s Golden Age is be the best time to be alive, Gil undergoes much criticism from his soon to be wife (played by Rachel McAdams), her family, and his peers. He's just written a book and is fighting to publish it apart from the Hollywood system that employs him to do rewrites to scripts he feels far above. One night he decides to stroll through Paris and is whisked away into a magic realist portal through time, right into the Golden Age where he dialogues face to face with F. Scott FItzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and Dalle.
Woody Allen makes a film every year, and many of these are more like reasons to keep him working. But every so often he makes a film that is so unique, so wonderful, and so perfect that it reminds audiences to just what remarkable talent he has. Midnight in Paris is that movie. I studied the Modernist movement in university and every character is portrayed exactly as they might have been.
The beautiful and lovely setting of Paris is magnified in multiple time periods, so that the evolution of the city itself becomes a parallel story. Within it, the characters that Gil meets in the past and the present serve to change his outlook on life. Through Gil, Woody Allen seems to be reflecting on the common belief that a person alive today may have been better off having been born in another time. That might be so, and Gil certainly feels right at home in 1920s Paris, but what shocks him is how many people living in this time don't agree. As Gil comes to terms with his purpose in life, and the choices he must make, we realize that we too should embrace the life we have, as there is no greater time to live than the present. What a remarkable film this is.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2
½

And so it is over. Ten years and over 6 billion dollars later, the most successful film franchise of all time ends. And it ends not with a bang, but a freaking nuclear explosion.
Picking up where the first film left off, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2 shifts into high gear and never stops, like a 130 minute adrenaline rush. One by one, plot points are resolved, leading up to a climactic battle as epic and amazing as anything in The Lord Of The Rings and Star Wars.
At the centre of the film is Harry's transformation into a selfless adult. He must make the ultimate choice, and only a man as brave as Harry Potter could go through with what he must do to bring peace to the world. He's not alone, however. His army - the entire school of Hogwarts - fights alongside him. Many lose their lives in the battle, and the film is not afraid to show the dire consequences of battle, or the painful repercussions of real sacrifice to achieve victory. There is no glory without pain.
The greatest thing about this series has been the impeccable casting. Everyone, from Maggie Smith to Rupert Grint to Michael Gambon to Alan Rickman, put so much work into creating their respective roles that you can't imagine anyone else in them. They get the essence from the books and run with it in their own way. How audiences have responded to these actors is one of the main factors to the series' success.
Every scene, every frame is expertly staged. The scenes, when edited together, create an epic scope of the world. The dialogue is written with care and attention to timing. It is powerful and weighty. Things are explained clearly, so that by the film's credits, the audience has received the closure they've been waiting a decade for.
It is sad to see this series end. It has been a great joy as a film fan to await the release of a new Harry Potter film every couple of years. Having said that, these films will be around for many decades to come, and I have no doubt will stand the test of time throughout many generations. This is the kind of rare story that touches upon so many universal themes and universal characters that it becomes its own kind of enthralling.
Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman, David Yates, J.K. Rowling, Steve Kloves, and everyone else involved in the making of this series should be forever proud of their achievement.

War Horse
War Horse(2011)
½

Seriously Spielberg? Seriously? Look, I enjoy dramatic movies that are designed pretty much to stir tears in your eyes, and Steven Spielberg has made some pretty strong films of that ilk, but War Horse takes things to another extreme. I admit I haven't read the novel, and a Broadway play will be opening up in the next couple months in Toronto, but this movie leaves me with no desire to seek out either of those versions of the story.
For the first hour of this movie, I consistently rolled my eyes at the cheesy, predictable, and heavy handed set up of Albert, a young farm boy who strikes a friendship with a newly acquired horse he's named Joey. Much is expected of Joey in terms of plowing the fields as Albert's father foolishly paid too much for the damn animal (don't ask me to feel sorry for the family; this father is an idiot of a businessman). Of course, Joey is stubborn, but after a few moments of Albert pleading with Joey and almost ready to give up on the horse, John Williams' booming, overly-sentimental music will kick in and the horse will pull through.
Just as a storm destroys the farm's crops, Albert's father is forced to sell Joey to the English army, who just declared war with Germany. (Cue laughable scene of Albert hugging Joey and swearing he will be reunited with him one day.) Then, surprisingly, I started to get interested in the movie. As the years go by, the English soldier who rides Joey is killed in a battle, and the horse passes on to two German soldiers. These soldiers are also killed and Joey then ends up in the hands of a little peasant girl who has lost her parents in the war. I became intrigued in where this story was going - seeing many aspects of World War 1 from the perspective of this horse. I decided to give the movie another chance.
But of course, the third act of the film has Albert reunited with his animal friend in a ridiculously improbable circumstance. Predictable plot points designed with the sole purpose of manipulating the audience to tears happen almost every five minutes, and the final twenty minutes are just full of such over the top, sappy, corny, ridiculous sentiment, it made my eyes widen as I realized what a bad movie this really is.
There's very little wrong from a technical aspect. It's gorgeously shot, the acting is decent, the scope is epic, and the pacing is well edited. But that's to be expected from a Spielberg film, who has all the money in the world to throw into his productions. What kills this movie is Spielberg's heavy handed approach, which in the case of War Horse, gives the term heavy handed an entirely new meaning.

The People vs. George Lucas

The People vs. George Lucas is a fascinating "made-at-home" documentary that covers all sides of the argument over George Lucas' cinema. At the centre of this movie is the irony of Lucas' career. He started as a young lover of new ways of making movies, of telling new stories. Angry at the studio system, he rebelled against it and created Star Wars in the process. 35 years later and he's become the very corporate entity his younger self was fighting against.
This film exposes just how much the Star Wars saga has meant to many of the "geeks" all over the world. At the core of it all, Star Wars inspired young artists to follow in Lucas' footsteps and find new ways to embrace the world. Yet with any popular movie, Star Wars also became a business venture, one that turned all the "geeks" into hungry consumers, voluntarily wasting their money on toys, games, anything with the "Star Wars" brand attached to it.
And the debate rages on. The People vs. George Lucas presents the debate in its entirety and lets you the viewer make your own decision as to where you stand. For me, I loved the original trilogy and hated the prequels. I see Lucas' life story as a cautionary tale, and I also believe that when you make art, the only thing that allows you to continue to make more art are the people that embrace it - your fans. Lucas is nothing without his fans, and in my opinion, it is good business to listen to them. But at the end of the day, the Star Wars films are what they are. Fans can love or hate them as much as they want. Lucas has millions of dollars at his disposal. He has done what most people will never do in three lifetimes. I applaud him for that; and if he makes something I don't like, I don't support it. I hate the Special Editions and the prequels, so I refuse to buy the blu ray until he releases the "Original Trilogy." Until then, I carry on with my life, and I still remember what it felt like to see Star Wars for the first time. For that, I am very grateful to Lucas because that film inspired me in many ways to focus my sights on a film career.

Deadfall
Deadfall(1993)

This film is awful. I mean Wicker Man awful. This dreadful piece of incompetent "filmmaking" earns its place right beside Battlefield Earth and Gigli. Populated with stars like Michael Biehn, Charlie Sheen, James Coburn, Nicolas Cage, Peter Fonda, and directed by Francis Ford Coppola's nephew, Christopher Coppola, Deadfall is a film noir with a plot that you can't possibly care about, scenes that add nothing to the story, and dialogue that tries really hard to mimic dialogue of films from the 1940s but ultimately is delivered by actors who look like they're reading from cue cards hidden behind the camera.
There are two rewarding scenes, both of them involving Nicolas Cage overacting to the extreme. Cage plays a hustler named Eddie. Eddie is a ruthless criminal who has it out for anyone trying to double cross him. He isn't very smart though and is killed halfway through the film. *I include this spoiler as if you're watching this movie for Nicolas Cage's ridiculously awful performance, this is where you stop the film*
Cage screams his way through the entire film and much of what he says is incoherent anyway. But his overacting is the only thing that makes this film worth watching. The plot is mainly about a con game, but it's one of those plots that move forward with too many scenes of people sitting down talking, and talking, and talking, and talking. However, nobody has anything interesting to say, and the dialogue is a really brutal attempt at wit, but it doesn't just fall flat, it's completely DOA. Deadfall is so boring you really want to turn it off and do something more productive like make a Starbucks run. Do yourself a favour. Cage's best scenes from this movie are on You Tube, and they're all actually from the same scene in the movie. Watch those off of your computer, have a few laughs, and don't even think about this amateurish, snooze-inducing excuse for a crime drama again.

Vampire's Kiss
½

I like Nicolas Cage. He's a pretty good actor. But I really like Nicolas Cage when he chooses to play a character in such an over-the-top fashion, you're not sure whether he's overacting or deliberately trying to make you laugh. Vampire's Kiss is one such movie. It takes a great actor to give a truly bad performance, and I can't think of anyone who could have breathed such life into such an asinine movie as this. What's going on in the scenes do not matter. It's the ridiculous overreaction Cage is about to have that keeps you watching.
Cage plays Peter Loew, a douche bag literary agent who seems to really have it out for a young, timid, yet beautiful secretary. He constantly harasses her about a file that seems to have been misplaced, and his deplorable attitude towards her makes you want to kick him in the nuts. Mind you, Cage's odd and random mannerisms consistently take you out of the movie and have you laughing to no end.
Meanwhile, on one of his routine sexcapades at local Manhattan bars, Loew brings home a vampire, who bites him and almost drains him of all his blood. Afterward, Loew pines for this vampire's bite so much that it turns into a kind of obsession. Once he realizes this girl is actually a vampire, he begins to lose his mind, actually thinking that he himself has become one. Then the antics begin....
The latter half of this movie is an absolute riot. Cage walking around with a fake set of fangs pretending he's Nosferatu, chasing pigeons in a park, running along a crowded street screaming "I'm a vampire!" over and over, not to mention the famous scene where he recites the entire alphabet. Vampire's Kiss is as good as any movie you'd rent with your buddies over pizza and beer.
I'm still not clear as to whether this was made to be intentionally bad. People often describe this film as a black comedy, although I quickly grow concern when I hear this term as many filmmakers are quick to label their film a black comedy once they've realized their attempt to make a seriously dark drama sparks too many unintentional laughs. Either way, Vampire's Kiss is very entertaining, thanks only to Nicolas Cage's inanely over the top performance.

The Woman in Black

Daniel Radcliffe tries to break out of the Harry Potter typecast by starring in a straight up horror picture where he plays a grieving husband and father. Yes, he's made quite a jump, until you see the very first frame of his new film, The Woman In Black, where the camera has his face in extreme close up looking as sad and depressed as he has at the start of every recent Harry Potter installment. It's a shot that instilled quite a bit of a snicker in this audience member, but as this story unfolds, Radcliffe manages to create a performance very different from anything he has done. Some people may believe that he is too young to play this sort of character, but I believe they're still clouded by the Harry Potter years. The make up team goes to great lengths to have Radcliffe look older, and his facial scruff adds years to his look.
But enough about the film's main attraction. How fares the story you may ask? Is it as scary as it is being hyped up to be? Well, director James Watkins does a good enough job of keeping you interested in the mystery as it slowly unravels. There is a lot of atmosphere, and a lot of creepy imagery. If you don't like seeing children commit suicide, child toys making noises when they shouldn't, loud shifts in sound, rickety rocking chairs, and ghosts, you should probably stay clear of this one. There are many intense moments that keep coming one after the other, as effective as they are predictable.
The script could have used some work though. Too many cliche moments, too many plot holes, and a revelation by Radcliffe's character that occurs although it doesn't make a whole lot of sense how he could have possibly arrived at such a conclusion - at least, I didn't buy it. This is a very formulaic addition to the genre. It doesn't offer much in the way of surprising twists, or scenes that don't seem lifted from other movies of the same ilk. But there are effective moments, and if you're only expectation from The Woman In Black is to go in and have your spine tingle for a couple hours, then this is the one for you. And Daniel Radcliffe wisely uses this film to solidify himself as a serious post-Potter actor.

The Divide
The Divide(2012)

Clocking in at over two hours, The Divide is a vicious horror film. It's premise is simple enough. Nine tenants of a New York apartment complex narrowly escape a deadly nuclear blast by finding their way into a bomb shelter built by their paranoid, ex-Marine superintendant. Whatever caused the total decimation of New York City is never explained, but the focus of the film isn't on the outside; it's on how the nine characters deal with living in an enclosed space with food quickly running out and madness slowly seeping in.
As is typical with films like this, The Divide runs with the cliche idea that without rules and civilized order, people will eventually start killing each other for personal gain, the strong or most fearful will prevail and the weak will perish. Every character is as diverse as the next one, so there are plenty of different types of characters to identify with, most notably the heroine Eve (yes the Biblical reference is obvious), played by Lauren German. Not once does this girl make an immoral or selfish decision. And everyone else has a mix of good and evil attributes that will soon enough spark an all out war between them, leaving Eve with the realization that at least outside, she has a chance at surviving.
Yes, you've seen this movie before. Lord of the Flies covered this ground quite well, as did The Beach and almost every zombie movie you've seen. But The Divide isn't as bad as you might think. I for one was never bored. I didn't predict where the story would go in terms of who would turn on who, or just how atrocious some of these people become. It's true that in times of crisis, you never know how people will react over time, and I was able to buy most of the plot twists and character developments. I also really liked Michael Biehn in this movie. His portrayal of Mickey is pretty much Cpl Hicks if he returned to Earth, couldn't adjust to ordinary mundane life, and became a paranoid, creepy old man. So The Divide is pretty familiar territory, but at least it gets the formula right. There's enough here to scare, disturb, and entertain.

Shame
Shame(2011)

Steve McQueen's Shame is a tough little film to watch, as tough for an audience as it must have been for the actors. McQueen demands his actors bare all both physically and emotionally. This isn't a story about someone seeking redemption, nor is it about a man dwindling into the darkest depths of his own personal hell. It is an unforgiving and unrelenting reflection on personal desire.
Michael Fassbender gives a performance that is deserving of all the accolade being showered over him. His character, Brandon is a sex addict. This addiction has almost completely taken over his lifestyle. His laptops at work and at home are filled with the most vile pornography imaginable. A routine trip on the subway becomes a temptation ground as he encounters women who unknowingly seduce him by just existing in the same area. And his escapades after work always end with whores or horny business women. No back story is given explaining how he got this way, and the film makes no attempt to make you sympathize with his actions. Sex has completely consumed his life, until the day his sister, aptly named Sissy (Carey Mulligan) ends up living with him.
Something horrible happened between these two, but what that is will remain the elephant in the room, but will almost always be the motive behind Sissy and Brandon's interactions. Sissy is a struggling vocalist, but she's also a cutter and a lonely wanderer who seems to be in and out of horribly abusive relationships.
Brandon has always kept a secret life. In a wonderfully told subplot, the audience realizes that Brandon does not enjoy relationships, love, or family. Sissy's return sends his entire world into upheaval. Brandon is faced with the horrible reality that he needs to be there for her. She has nowhere else to go, and her time living in Manhattan with her brother seems to be not only her last attempt at reconnecting with Brandon, but her last attempt at starting over.
Shame is expertly filmed in long takes. There is so much going on in each scene, giving the characters and the story a sense of immediacy while detaching the audience from any emotional manipulation through cuts and close ups. Shame is a hard film to watch; it's a sad, raw, and heartbreaking journey into dark territory. But it is worth every minute.

Tears of the Sun

There's a lot to admire about Antoine Fuqua's Tears of the Sun amidst the "Ra Ra America" sentiment, and the weak storyline about a hard as nails Lieutenant who never disobeys an order until now. I really enjoyed the first hour of this film. Unlike most action war pictures that find a conflict to exploit, Tears of the Sun immerses itself in the horror of the political situation, and the horrific genocide that is currently taking place. Nigerian rebels have successfully overthrown a democratically elected government, and before the entire country descends into complete chaos (which it pretty much already has), the US Navy SEALS have decided to extract all American military and personnel in the area. Bruce Willis plays a commander whose team has been ordered to find and extract an American doctor, played by Monica Bellucci.
Things get complicated when this doctor refuses to leave without many of the nearby Nigerian civilians she's been treating. Against his orders, Willis agrees, and soon after, he and his team become pursued by the Rebels as this doctor seems to be more important to them than anyone could have realized.
Genocide is a horrible thing. Even more horrible is how so much of the world watches in dismay, yet does not lift a finger to help save these people. Wars between African tribes seem to always end in mass genocide, and this script means to put these American soldiers into a situation where they are forced to look face to face at the human cost they will have to bear by leaving the innocent Nigerians to fend for themselves. For the first half of the film, the violence is kept at a minimal, and we get to know all the soldiers in the platoon, as well as many of the innocents that are being led to safety.
Of course, this being a studio film, the second half of the film dissolves into an action packed firefight between the American soldiers and the African Rebels. Fuqua isn't the strongest action director either, and many of these scenes lack real excitement. Amidst these war sequences, the film pauses to focus on how grateful these civilians are that these soldiers are there for them and that God will bless them. There's nothing particularly wrong with including one or even two such scenes, but there are too many to count, and the "Ra Ra" undertones become a little too obvious for my tastes. And because the film starts off as a darker, more intellectual narrative, it's disappointing that the filmmakers opted for a typical action movie showdown as opposed to a proper and much more daring follow through.

The Kite Runner

Three word review: Read. The. Book.
Longer review: Marc Forster respects Khaled Hosseini's brilliant debut novel, but something does get lost in the adaptation process. The Kite Runner is one of the best books I've ever read, but the film version, while very faithful, acts like a Coles Notes for those with really short attention spans, or a "Disneyfication" of the source material. Several plot points are simplified to move the story forward so that it can cover as much ground as its 2 hour running time will allow. This quick, rushed pacing causes a lot of scenes that had more emotional weight in the novel to lose their impact. In a nutshell, The Kite Runner spans several decades and sees the two main characters as both children and adults. One of the kids, Amir, begins to grow jealous of his friend, Hassan, although why he feels this way is never fully explored in the film - the novel was much more clear.
Furthermore, the script by David Benioff doesn't fully grasp the conflict that is erupting throughout Afghanistan. Hosseini's novel speaks of the events through a naive narrator. In other words, Hosseini writes about the conflict but he does it through the perspective of the child; the child doesn't understand what he's seeing, but the readers do. While such a device works for the book, the film version never goes into any detail to explain the conflict between the two different tribes of Afghans and how that sparked much of the upheaval in the decades to come.
Where the film stumbles into cheese-ball territory is in the kite flying sequences. Blending close up tracking shots with CGI kites, these sequences are not only out of place, they subvert whatever symbolic meaning the kites had to the story. Where Hosseini was very poetic in describing Amir and Hassan flying their kites, Forster opts for a heavy handed, sentimental approach, which will either cause unintentional laughter or annoyed "alright, we get it" groans.
Nevertheless, I believe audiences who never read the book will still find this movie to be quite engaging. Judged as a film on its own terms, Marc Forster's Kite Runner isn't a bad movie. The actors are good, the music and the on-location mise-en-scene contribute to a very authentic experience. Much of Hosseini's story still successfully translates to the screen, and the final fifteen minutes are sure to make a few audience members shed tears. Unfortunately, this is a pale adaptation of a masterwork. Fans of the book will surely be disappointed. But if you're new to this story, the film is good enough to entertain you and hopefully inspire you to pick up the book.

Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1
½

Bella gets married. Bella finally has sex with Edward. Bella gets pregnant, and won't allow the baby to be harmed no matter how much it's killing her. The underlying Christian theology is very much alive in Breaking Dawn Part 1; more alive than any of these actors that much is sure.
By this point, only the die hard Twilight fans are running to the theatre, so they already know what to expect. But even by that standard, it's hard to really understand what kind of satisfaction they're getting out if this movie. There is absolutely no plot and no discernible story. If anything, Breaking Dawn Part 1 acts as its own kind of porno movie. The eye candy comes in the form of a wedding dress in which I'm sure the producers spared no expense in finding the best designers in the world to make. The sex scenes are tasteless, featuring a hilarious bed breaking scene that sparks no passion or chemistry amidst awkward cuts and cheesy dissolves. Also, there's been a lot of buzz around the C-section scene and that the filmmakers won't be shying away from the blood or harrowing violence that such a complicated pregnancy could cause. Well, you hear a lot of gross sounds; you don't see anything.
The makeup/CGI job done to Bella's body as the fetus ("you mean baby," one character continually corrects) drains her blood is perhaps the most successfully delivered part of the film, but it serves to deliver way too many scenes of other characters just sitting around telling Bella that she's not looking so well and waiting for her to make a decision. Taylor Lautner has the best line in the whole movie as his character, the hardly ever shirtless Jacob Black yells at Edward upon seeing pregnant Bella for the first time, "You did this!" As Jacob tries to keep his pack of wolves at bay, he eventually succumbs to an "imprinting" which unintentionally brings things to a whole new level of disturbing.
Keeping Bella's father (Billy Burke, the only actor here able to show a modicum of emotion) in the dark about her condition, Bella sits around dying for most of the movie. It's a depressingly bleak, humourless (well, it tries to be), and needlessly long story that shows more than ever a studio's desire to milk this franchise as much as it can. This film did not need to be told in two parts; more than an hour could have been cut out.

Them
Them(2007)
½

From the opening kill sequence, Them sets up a rule that it will maintain straight through its 76 minute running time: the ability for the victims to see their attackers is limited to the sides of the frame. The rule works to set up suspense, but in a practical standpoint, it creates a ridiculous amount of illogical sequences where any real person, including the blind, could see the killers coming from a mile away.
Writer/directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud have decided to stand apart from their extremely gory French horror art house siblings, opting for a more Hitchcockian approach where very little violence happens onscreen and most of the film's suspense comes from the long, stretched out periods of silence before the onslaught. This is perhaps the film's greatest strength, and its first 40 minutes continue the promise of a unique, edge of your seat home invasion thriller. And then as the final act slowly approaches, things go awry.
Clementine (Olivia Bonamy) and Lucas (Michael Cohen) play a young married couple new to Bucharest. They find a secluded home where they can have peace and quiet. Problem: Who in their right mind buys a big house in the middle of nowhere especially when they're new to the country? Maybe they have their reasons, but the film never explains why they decide to do this, and I can't relate to it because anyone I know who's moved to Toronto from another country has bought a place in the heart of the city, or as close to their work as possible. Without any reason, this secluded farm house seems too much like a horror movie cliche.
But forget about that. Home invasion movies almost always involve busted phone lines, power outages and a chase into the woods, and Them is no different. As mentioned before, the killers are rarely seen onscreen, yet they're everywhere and anywhere. But unless you're in a horror movie, I don't know how you can stand alone in the middle of the woods, quietly look around, and not hear someone come up behind you. Leaves and twigs make a lot of noise. The fight or flight paradigm that Clementine and Lucas find themselves in becomes more of a fight against physics and logic. I can't see how killers can know every nook and cranny of a house better than the tenants. I really feel for these characters because the script has found every contrived way to stack the odds against their chance of survival, so Them becomes more of an exercise in plot manipulation than minimalist horror.

The Adventures of Tintin
½

The Adventures of Tintin ignites a delightful spark of action and humour right from its opening frame, and for the most part, the fun never stops in this exciting adventure based on Herge's popular European comics and TV show. I knew a little about Tintin before going in, having been familiarized with the works in my childhood (though I was more obsessed with Encyclopedia Brown, if you can remember that far back). But even if you have no idea what this movie is about, this is a very welcoming film, thanks in large part to the writing, directing, and producing team.
Peter Jackson and his WETA Workshop geniuses utilize their revolutionary brand of motion capture technology that allows actors to create the performances and then CGI over them. The animation is actually quite impressive. The characters have a smooth, realistic looking texture and detail, but the production still allows the characters to "look" animated. Robert Zemeckis tried three times to make animated films similar in style, but his films seemed to prefer animation that enhanced realism, resulting in a kind of creepiness where animated people looked too human, but lacked any sense of emotions. Thankfully, The Adventure of Tintin doesn't make that mistake. The scripts is helmed by three masters of British comedy: Steven Moffat (Coupled), Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim), and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block). The film is filled with witty, hilarious dialogue as well as an intricate plot that pays homage to the original stories but ads a new twist. And of course the film is directed by non other than Steven Spielberg, who gives his commercial, mass market sensibilities to create elaborate chase sequences, bring out the best in his actors, and ensure that the film is big family fun.
On the negative side, I found the action sequences too similar in tone and setting as the Indiana Jones films, particularly the Last Crusade. The scenes are alike I felt like I was experiencing deja vu. Also, it amazes me how a kids film can get a PG rating even though it depicts quite harsh violence and scenes where hundreds of people are killed onscreen.
Perhaps it gets away with it because it's supposed to be popcorn fun. And it is. This is a fun film, an entertaining mix of British humour, action, and swashbuckling fun, especially if you like pirates.

The Devil Inside

The first release of 2012 is also the first big horror release of the New Year, and it's setting the bar really low for what's to come. Shamelessly rehashing cliches, telling the story through the extremely tediously tired found footage documentary style, and failing to create a single scare, The Devil Inside is a clunker that could almost be the movie definition of the word derivative. Kudos to the movie trailer guy for making this pile of manure look almost like gold.
Isabella Rossi, played by the gorgeous Fernanda Andrade, hires a documentary cameraman to help her investigate the case of her mother, Maria, who killed three people in 1989 during a supposed exorcism. She teams up with two rogue priests who have been performing exorcisms against the wishes of the Vatican, because the Vatican no longer recognizes demonic possession as a diagnoses. They tell the cameraman to document everything. And as fate would have it, they're all in for a "shocking" discovery. Of course the demon they're about to encounter is one they've never encountered before, and this demon will give them a fight they doubt they can win.
The plot moves at an incredibly slow pace. Scares are few and far between, and when they do occur, they induce far more laughter or frustrated groans than fearful screams. Much of the plot is revealed through character interviews and scenes with them around tables discussing their next move. But perhaps the biggest offense committed here is the one on one time the characters have to talk to the camera, just like in reality TV. You know, those scenes in The Bachelor, Survivor, and Jersey Shore where people complain about their peers and reveal their inner emotions. Yeah, those are aplenty in this movie.
I enjoy films about demonic possession. It's creepy subject matter. However, it's a very easy horror subgenre to screw up. For one, if you've seen one exorcism movie, you've more or less seen them all, since all the terror scenes involve someone contorting his or her body, screaming obscenities, and screaming really loud in multiple voices. It's very difficult to find new ways to tell this kind of story, and I acknowledge that. But I refuse to forgive a movie like this that so unabashedly exists to repeat ideas, concepts, and scenes that are far beyond uninspired. The Devil Inside fails as compelling drama, horror, and is a obvious knockoff of Paranormal Activity, The Blair Witch Project, and The Last Exorcism. A must miss.

The Eye
The Eye(2008)

I saw The Eye - not this one, but the Pang Brothers' Hong Kong original - about seven years ago when I was in my all things J-Horror phase, and while I found the concept rather unique, there were glaring flaws in the story and in the way the filmmakers decided to deliver their scares. The idea that a person who has been blind for her entire life can become so quickly dependent on her sight seems a little too convenient, and the incorporation of ideas that suggest organs contain parts of their original donors is a bit of a horror movie cliche. Also, the scare scenes are the typical boo-jump scares where everything is quiet and then the sound editors decide to racket the volume to ear piercing levels as the ghosts decide to make their presence known. In other words, the scares are predictable and only occasionally effective.
Now the problem that I have with this remake is the same problem I have with every USA remake of some popular J-Horror (this is the generic term used to describe all Asian ghost horror movies): the only fear these remakes have been able to instill in their audiences is a fear of subtitles. They take the same film, reshoot it almost frame for frame with American actors and American settings. All of the plot elements, no matter how flawed, remain the same. And almost always, something gets lost in the translation. Usually it has something to do with the cultural context of the original; in fact, the whole long haired female ghost dressed in white is a criticism of suppressed gender roles among the female population in Asian societies, and that certainly never comes across in any of these USA remakes. Basically, the filmmakers call this being faithful to the original. But when the original sucks because of glaringly lazy writing and predictable scares, you would think that Hollywood studios would try to correct these mistakes. The subtitle fear comes with the assumption that audiences have not seen the original, and thus, an opportunity exists to make a better film. Unfortunately, Hollywood has opted out to seize this chance every time they remake a J-Horror, and this 2008 version of The Eye is no different.
There's no need to watch this movie, because it's the same bad movie that the 2002 original was, except this one's got a bigger budget and Jessica Alba.

This Film Is Not Yet Rated

Almost right after watching A Serbian Film, I stumbled across a documentary that addressed the idea of corrupt movie censorship head-on, and the result is so much more rewarding.
Interviewing many of today's filmmakers who have had their films sanctioned by the MPAA, director Kirby Dick tries to get at the heart of what exactly is the criteria used when applying these ratings - G, PG, PG-13, R, NC-17 - to films, and who are the people who make such decisions. What follows is something quite disturbing. From first hand accounts of people who have worked at the MPAA as well as filmmakers who have had to battle to get their films "properly" rated, we learn that there is no real criteria that distinguishes an R from an NC-17, and that the decision makers are not only anonymous to the public but security measures have been set up to protect these people from ever being known.
This Film is Not Yet Rated shows just how much a particular rating can affect the box office performance of your film, and beyond that, how accessible your film will be to the general public. In one scene you learn that most theatres and big retail chains will not carry an NC-17 rated film. Talk about limiting freedom of expression. Also, through comparisons between how lenient the MPAA is towards violence as opposed to sex, how big studio films will receive detailed and specific ways to get their films tailored to a specific rating while independent filmmakers are left with nothing more than a vague response, this documentary reveals an organization that doesn't know what it's doing. Instead, it is a system designed as a false safeguard to parents based on some false moral ground that Uncle Sam is watching out for you and that "somebody is thinking of the children." But it's a joke. Filmmakers can argue their ratings on what they think is suitable for a particular rating, but if there are no standards set out for these ratings, how can any of these ratings be legitimate?

A Serbian Film
½

As soon as I hear about a film pushing the envelope in terms of graphic violence and redefining the term torture porn, there's a little demon inside me that begs me to seek it out. Such is the case with A Serbian Film. More often than not, I end up regretting the decision, not because of the violence, but because the films are often nothing more than poorly created excuses to celebrate violence (Inside, High Tension). But every so often, I'll see a film like Martyrs that actually makes me defend such extreme movies as being high art. I can't really do that with A Serbian Film.
The film chronicles Milos, a retired porn star who's savings are starting to run low. He is asked to take one more job by a director who seems determined to create a new style of porn. Unsure about what he is doing in the film, Milos takes the job because the payment would settle his financial woes for two lifetimes. Instead, he's drugged and turned into a sex crazy zombie.
So how violent is the film? Well, you will watch in explicit detail the beheading of a woman while having sex, necrophilia, pedophilia, skullf*cking, a woman suffocated while giving a blowjob, and something involving a newborn baby that I don't dare utter on this website. This is the kind of film where you really will question the artistic merit if you haven't already dismissed it as vile, exploitative filth.
There is an angry social commentary being made by director Srdjan Spasojevic. He is directing his anger towards the Serbian film industry and how their censorship laws make it impossible for any film that isn't government propaganda or naive romanticized viewpoints of the world to be made. It seems his film is a social critique on the Serbian government, a satire designed to shock like Jonathan Swift's Modest Proposal. But unlike Swift's elegant yet scathing prose, A Serbian Film doesn't explain to its audience what the Serbian government or the film industry is like. It's almost as if I would have to watch a separate documentary to understand why this horror film would have any merit. Instead of addressing the problems of government censorship, A Serbian Film revels in its violence so much that its critiques are an afterthought, something that gore hounds will use to try to justify their enjoyment of this kind of sexual violence. (I don't exclude myself from this category, as I actively sought this film out based on what I'd heard about it.) Swift was smart enough to subtly include proper solutions to his problem. A Serbian Film seems like the work of a very cynical, ignorant, irresponsible hipster crying out for attention, which is almost as dangerous as the institution he's criticizing.

Margin Call
Margin Call(2011)
½

Much of the praise I have for Margin Call is directed towards its director, J.C. Chandor. The performances are all great, but I've yet to see a film that so accurately captures the fear and inevitability of the 2008 stock market financial crisis. I read in an interview that his father worked for Merrill Lynch, so I suspect Chandor had first hand encounters with some of the high end CEOs and analysts who may or may not have seen this crisis looming as a result of corporate greed and lack of foresight.
In a 24 hour period of time before the crash, young analyst Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) survives a brutal round of layoffs, but one guy is not so lucky. He (played by Stanley Tucci) gives a data stick to Peter to look over. When Peter does, he realizes what is about to happen. What comes next is a board meeting to decide what to do. To save the company in the short term, they agree to sell their bad investments in packaged bonds to other investors, knowing that they're cheating their buyers out of a lot of money. Against the outcries of many of the board members, who scream that this will cause a ripple effect that will cost many more their jobs and trigger a financial downward spiral the likes of which has not been seen, the board agrees to do this.
What is arguably one of the best Wall Street movies made in recent years, Margin Call never forsakes giving the audience little bits of character development that allow us to identify with everyone in the story. One particular scene where someone is about to get fired plays almost like a gangster movie where being fired is the equivalent of getting whacked. There is much tension and interesting dialogue for a film so small in scope yet large in impact.

Red Riding Hood

I don't think anyone had any expectations for Red Riding Hood, so I wouldn't consider it as disappointing as say Cowboys and Aliens, but it's still awful and puts director Catherine Hardwicke firmly on the path to becoming the female Stephen Sommers.
Essentially, Red Riding Hood is a desperate attempt to update a fairy tale. And by update I mean the main character is a young, hot teenager involved in a love triangle between her and two equally attractive guys, and a werewolf who is given the Twilight treatment. And just to give this movie some credibility, they convinced Gary Oldman to take the paycheck (like who would refuse money) and play a werewolf hunter who is actually a crazy fanatic Christian.
Whoever wrote this screenplay also ran into a problem in not having enough material to expand this short fairy tale into a feature film, so instead, almost half this movie becomes a witch trial and chase as Amanda Seyfried's protagonist is accused of being a witch. So amongst the horrible dialogue and clumsy plotting....
I'm just going to stop. The acting is awful, aside from Gary Oldman. Nobody recites their lines with any real understanding of what the scene's about. Of course, the dialogue is cliche and awkward, but it all lays down on the director. The sets look like a cheap music video, there are no scares, poor editing, a goth rock soundtrack that makes the film all that more awful. I'm rambling. As you can see, one of the worst films of 2011. Think of how many starving children could have been fed with the money wasted on producing this garbage. Life is cruel and unfair that way.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Somewhere in the ongoing evolution of cinema, audiences have come to expect spy thrillers to be much like Jason Bourne or James Bond, in other words, glorified action pictures. But director Tomas Alfredson lends the incredible visual aesthetic and narrative plotting that he controlled so well in Let the Right One In to John Le Carre's classic spy novel, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and the result is the most interesting and unique spy thriller to come out in a very long time.
This is an acting powerhouse, lead by one of the best actors of our generation, Gary Oldman. In a very controlled and subdued performance, Oldman plays George Smiley, a retired British spy who is forced into rehired by the SIS to find and locate a mole working for the Russians. He interviews and interrogates a pantheon of spies played by some great British actors including Colin Firth, Mark Strong, and Tom Hardy finding out their stories relating to this mole. Through these interrogations we learn how every spy is involved in a game that plays by no rules, and every movement will have an effect somewhere or somehow. These spies have to be watch their every movement. That's something that really caught my eye about this story. As all these spies watch others, they have to be careful about their own actions, because they'll never know who might be spying on them.
Gripping, satisfying, and entertainingly complex, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy may unfortunately bore those who prefer watching big shootouts but will enthrall those who enjoy figuring out how each character fits into the big puzzle, and the angles that they're trying to take advantage of. Welcome to the strange, disturbing world of the Cold War spies.

Café de Flore
½

Jean-Marc Vallee is one of Canada's most daring and best filmmakers. In fact, Canada's best films tend to come from Quebec - Incendies, The Barbarian Invasions, Polytechnique, and C.R.A.Z.Y to name a few. And up to a certain point, I was ready to add Vallee's newest film, Cafe de Flore to that list. Unfortunately, somewhere around the film's third act, the film just lost me. A very ambitious picture about very complicated people with a great soundtrack to boot, everything that it had going for it fell apart from a lack of direction, or simply a mash-up of strange, existential ideas that all of a sudden get thrown into the story at random.
Following a very discontinuous editing pattern, the narrative follows two parallel stories - one in present day Montreal about a club DJ who has just divorced his high school sweetheart (and mother of his two children), and is now remarrying, the other in 1960s Paris about a mother with a Down syndrome child who struggles to provide that child with the most "normal" upbringing she can manage. The film balances these stories very well, and links them through the film's title, which refers to a song that both main characters love. Traces of Wong Kar Wai's Chungking Express are evident, and the beautifully composed shots juxtaposed with a lounge induced soundtrack make for what is almost a perfect art-house experience.
Yet all of a sudden the third act delves into a David Lynch horror picture, bringing up themes of reincarnation, a contrived drug relapse for characters you didn't even know were addicts in the first place (one was an alcoholic, but the drug part comes out of nowhere), the Parisian mother ends up tying her son to a bed to keep him from seeking out the girl he loves, sleepwalking, an annoyingly cliche dream sequence, and a ending that toots some magical clue to unlocking the picture. It just screams pretentious and shocking for the sake of being shocking. This third act completely undermines the film's touching and intriguing previous two thirds. Some people may love this film for its jarring and strange twists. I just kept asking myself, "where is Vallee going with this?" And wherever the hell we ended up, I just didn't care.

Atlas Shrugged: Part I
½

My problem with Atlas Shrugged Part 1 has nothing to do with the source material or Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism. It's about the film itself. It seems like a watered down version of Rand's work (I have not read The Fountainhead or this novel yet), and very neatly presents the good guys - the hard working, money making, capitalism loving executives who control their own companies - against the bad guys - the politicians, the poverty stricken people who believe they're entitled to jobs without having to work, the communists, and almost anyone who believes that people who have lots of money have a responsibility to help the less fortunate.
There is merit to Ayn Rand's philosophy. She raises many interesting points, ideas, and concepts of which I can't discuss in this review because I haven't read her novels, and to discuss her philosophy would require it's own review. But I can say that this film does not do it justice. For one, it breaks the first rule of filmmaking, which is never just film talking heads. This whole movie is boardroom meeting after boardroom meeting. There are no shots or scenes of the main characters immersed or reacting to the environment around them, which according to the story is supposed to be crumbling.
The dialogue is a joke. Every scenes will end in a victor for the good guys. The bad guys will say some threatening remark to which the good guy will say a profound statement - pretty much summarizing an ideal or theme where the music will cue and that good character will walk away. The actors do what they can. Unfortunately with scenes staged as they are, they can't do much accept sit down, talk, and walk away.
Atlas Shrugged Part 1 fails as a film. If Rand's books are meant to spark debate and discussion, this film simplifies her work to the point where it's barely a philosophy but a collection of unexplored, underdeveloped ideas. Dagny Taggart may work her ass off, but very little work was put into making this a movie to care about.

Cowboys & Aliens

An adaptation of a graphic novel that had a little fun on the concept of Cowboys and Indians, the film version of Cowboys and Aliens is a mind-boggling mess that plain out sucks. Every big Hollywood player is credited to have been heavily involved in the film's production. Steven Spielberg as executive producer. Jon Favreau as the director. Ron Howard and Brian Grazer as producers. The screenplay was written by no less than 5 big players in Hollywood - Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby who penned the brilliant Children of Men and Iron Man, Damon Lindelof of Lost fame, and the dynamic duo Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman who know how to write an audience pleasing script - Transformers, Star Trek, M:I 3. What goes wrong? Everything! Perhaps the end result has too many big ideas conflicting with one another. Maybe everyone was trying to please each other, leading to one too many compromises. All I know is that the film is painfully dull. It's needlessly slow, the alien design is atrocious, the story is hopelessly predictable and cheesy, and the action has all the originality and excitement of watching Pong being played on the Atari. Matthew Libatique shoots the setting with a sensibility of creating an epic scope; unfortunately, the shots are bland because the setting seems lifted from a dozen other westerns, offering the audience a backdrop that screams cliche. Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Adam Beach, and Olivia Wilde just go through the motions. Sam Rockwell and Paul Dano are completely miscast - ....I'm really trying to find something positive to say about this movie. It's just not coming to me. I can't even give this a Nicolas Cage bad seal of approval. You know, the kind of movie you watch with your friends, downing shots to a drinking game and having a blast laughing at the movie's inherent badness. Cowboys and Aliens offers no fun to be had, intentionally or unintentionally.

Conan the Barbarian
½

Conan the Barbarian 2011 is a better made film than its predecessor. It also has the benefit of a much higher budget, which gives director Marcus Nispel free reign to CGI as much as he wants, add as much blood and gore as he wants, and stage as many drawn out elaborate action sequences as he can cram in 2 hours.
I found the 1982 Conan to be frustratingly boring and cheesy. This new version kept my eyes on the screen as the violence and blood sprayed in epic fashion. Jason Momoa is a much better action lead than even Arnold was at this point in their respective careers. He's got a good balance of badass action hero for the guys, and dreamy, confident romantic for the ladies.
Unfortunately, all is not entirely well and good for this remake. I hated the original, but I understand that when it was released, there was nothing else quite like it. It's a dated film, but I know I would have a different view of that film had I been a teenager in 1982. It also launched the career of the granddaddy of all action stars - Mr. Arnold Schwarzenegger. This new Conan, as well made as it is, does nothing to distinguish itself from the many sword fantasies that are dime a dozen at the multiplex. 300, Immortals, Troy, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Clash of the Titans to name a few. This new Conan the Barbarian simply joins the list for better or for worse.
The film is fun, but it leaves you with nothing. It unfolds in a formulaic, predictable fashion. Even the action scenes feel uninspired. Simple action may be enough for some, especially fans of cheesy 80s inspired pictures, but that's only a small group of people. The turnout may not be enough to launch Jason Momoa as a bonafide action star, no matter how much he deserves it.

My Week with Marilyn
½

We're so caught up with a celebrity's image that we often forget that that image is not the real person behind the curtain. It's easy to point and judge a celebrity when they turn out to be different than the idea we have of him or her in our head, or even worse when that celebrity gets in trouble with the law. We assume celebrities have everything they want, and that they're simply taking advantage of the system when they fall out of line.
No more is this apparent than in the story of Marilyn Monroe. Who wouldn't want to be her? Her beauty, charm, and voice are only matched by her sex appeal. Men and women alike gawk at her in awe and admiration. Studios want to work with her. Money is pouring in to her and anyone who happens to have anything to do with her.
Yet behind this image is an insecure, melancholic woman who constantly faces scrutiny and betrayal. Her lovers feel like she manipulates and drains them of their dreams. Her business partners have her on drugs to keep her always sleeping so she has vast amounts of energy when on camera. Directors scream at her for being hard to work with, despite that she's just trying to figure out the character she's playing.
My Week With Marilyn presents us with a look at the real Marilyn Monroe, the person behind the celebrity. She reveals her true self to Colin Clark, a young production assistant who at first is starstruck but later falls in love with this person. He is the only person in her life who seems to truly understand not just her pain, but who she really is.
Michelle Williams creates another wonderful character and a truly remarkable performance. Oscars are definitely in her path. She too understands the real Marilyn Monroe. Not only is Michelle Williams a great actress, but she shows why Marilyn Monroe is one of the greatest actresses. In one wonderful scene where her and Colin are bombarded by a flock of men, Marilyn asks Colin, "Shall I be her?" and goes from a contemplative, tepid young girl to the witty bombshell that's made her famous. No one knew the real Marilyn Monroe because she was so good at hiding her.

A Horrible Way to Die

Sometimes there are horror films wherein the villain is exactly the real life horror. In Adam Wingard's A Horrible Way to Die that villain is addiction.
Amy Seimetz plays Sarah, a girl with a harrowing back story. Through flashbacks, the audience learns that Sarah has been unknowingly dating a serial killer (AJ Bowen). Once she finds out the truth, she is able to put her lover behind bars and leave without a trace, but the guilt of being so brutally betrayed builds up inside her so much that she turns to alcohol to make herself forget. She's decided to battle her addiction and try to regain some sort of control over her life. Meanwhile, Sarah's serial killer boyfriend Garrick has broken out of prison. His motive is clear. To find and seek Sarah out.
But like Sarah, Garrick is a slave to addiction, an addiction to killing. No better scene shows this than when he kidnaps a young woman and has her drive him through a police barricade. Once they successfully get through, the girl pleads with him to let her go as he promised, but the next scene shows him walking around the car, the girl stabbed to death inside. Wingard's use of restraint to show the murder emphasises that the focus of this sequence is not the act of murder but how Garrick feels before and after he commits the act.
Many audiences have complained about the shooting style: a marriage of nausea causing shots that constantly move in and out of focus. I have to agree with these complaints. No matter how much you attempt to maintain focus on a scene, you can be quickly taken out of it as the camera moves for almost no reason and you have to wait until it stabilizes so you can get back to following the action. It's a very bad visual decision.
However, this shooting style may not be enough to make you completely write off this otherwise thematically complex and very well written film. This isn't a typical horror film. It's very character driven and it often skips over the brutal killing scenes. Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett are a filmmaking team to watch out for in the coming years. A Horrible Way to Die will hopefully work out your brain more so than your eyes.

Like Crazy
Like Crazy(2011)
½

The trailers make Like Crazy look like a sappy tear jerking love story, and while the film might be tear jerking, it is definitely not sappy. This is a film that understands the pains of a long distance relationship, and emphasizes that sometimes love is so strong that it prevails over reason and practicality.
Director Drake Doremus does a masterful job of giving his actors the freedom to create scenes that feel very gripping and authentic. He moves the story forward through swift and unique editing choices, showing the passage of time in subtle ways that never disrupt the flow of the story.
Anton Yelchin continues his streak of great, film saving performances, but the real star here is Felicity Jones. You can't help but fall in love with her and her character. It is because of her gentle, subdued, yet complex approach that you really connect with the film. Jennifer Lawrence's appearance is brief, but she's too good an actress not to bring a lot to her minor character.
At first, I wouldn't say I liked the film. I disagreed with a lot of the choices and reactions of Yelchin's character, Jacob. I found him unreasonable, short sighted, and more in love with himself than with Anna (Jones). I resented the film for it. But I realized I shouldn't have. The film presents a scenario and characters. These characters act the way they act, and as an audience actively participating in the film, it is our job to discuss and analyze the characters' choices and what we would do in the same circumstances. The fact that this film provoked me to do that means that this film hit a chord with me. I've been in long distance relationships, thus, I responded strongly to Like Crazy. Sometimes the film frustrated me, sometimes it really moved me. It's a lot like the trials that Jacob and Anna face in their long distance relationship that spans years. Like Crazy is a really good film.

Polytechnique
½

Man vs woman. Misogyny vs feminism. Gender warfare. Denis Villeneuve's Polytechnique doesn't try to make sense of the seemingly never-ending battle of the sexes. His film is simply about the way such hostility directed towards the opposite gender threatens to destroy the humanity that connects us all. It's sad, tragic, and as objective as a film of this kind can be.
The shooter: This nameless young student writes a letter condemning the feminist movement and how it's a propaganda tool to repress males. He decides to take his own life but not before taking out as many women as he can. He enters his school - a Montreal engineering tech school - armed with a rifle and many bullets. The film doesn't take his side, but it forces you to see his point of view, no matter skewed it might be.
The victims: A young female student, Valerie meticulously preps herself for an internship. Her obsession over looking good suggests a vain attempt to manipulate the way her interviewer sees her, one that is quickly subverted when the male interviewing her makes sexist comments. And later, she, along with several other young women at her school are shot simply because they are women in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The hero: Jean-Francois sees the shooter and several women being shot. He takes it upon himself to help as many of the wounded as he can. But as the year's go by, he's still traumatized by the incident, despite not even being fired upon.
The aftermath: At the heart of Polytechnique isn't an examination into sexism or a psycho-analysis as to why this happened. It's an account of personal tragedy, how prejudice - in this case, prejudice between the sexes - destroys lives. It's a deeply personal, moving, and gripping masterpiece.

Trespass
Trespass(2011)

Nicolas Cage's latest disgrace of a film is a rehash of the cliches that plague the home invasion movie. This movie totally bombed at TIFF - fortunately, I already assumed the worst and avoided it then, but now that it's available for rent, hell what's $5? I guess I knew better at TIFF.
So, the movie starts by introducing Kyle (Cage) as a diamond dealer who is always too busy to spend time with his wife Sarah (Kidman) and daughter Avery (Liana Liberato). Avery is the typical rebellious but "not-stuck-up-so-we-like-her" rich kid, while Sarah is the disgruntled wife who feels Kyle isn't spending enough time with her. Like all home invasion movies, the film starts with the family at a disconnect; nothing like a robbery to bring them together.
Enter the worst pack of criminals to grace the screen all year. All they do is scream and yell and threaten to kill Kyle and his family, but it soon becomes obvious that they're only talk. This script has no intention of really putting the family in danger. Everything will work out just like they do in the generic formula of this ilk.
Among all this, Joel Schumacher can't muster up a decent thrill. He lets everyone in the movie overact, including Nicole Kidman. Everyone just screams and shouts, screams and shouts, hollers death threats at the other; you can literally leave the room for about half the movie and not miss a thing. The only one who doesn't embarrass herself is Liana Liberato, who manages to become the only sympathetic character.
I don't think I'm doing justice to just how bad this movie is. Okay, let me try again. 1. Nicolas Cage stars. 2. It's from the director of Batman and Robin, and The Number 23. 3. It's Panic Room minus the fun, and unlike The Strangers, Funny Games, or Vacancy, you never once feel like these characters are in a situation they can't get out of unscathed.

The Ward
The Ward(2011)

John Carpenter's comeback film, The Ward, does not reflect the same director who gave us Halloween, The Fog, They Live, and The Thing. The Ward stumbles in almost every way straight to video films stumble, most obviously lazy filmmaking, poor acting, and even poorer writing.
One appeal of the horror genre is that most such films are made by indie directors, on low budgets with seemingly out of date equipment, and inexperienced but cheap actors. When such a film works, it's because the director is very resourceful, and has meticulously thought out the story, plot, and themes. When it fails, the result often invokes much unintentional laughter and a film that is so unbearably bad it almost never sees the light of day.
Carpenter's new film shows that he is no longer as resourceful as he used to be. Not only did he choose a flawed script, he forgot to fix the problems. When a story works, the poor filmmaking is often forgiven. But when the story sucks, the poor filmmaking is even more apparent.
What's the film about? Simply a girl who is admitted to a haunted psychiatric ward. There are only a handful of inmates with her, all becoming cannon fodder for the demon until the main character remains standing. But there is a twist, and the twist is so predictable, you see it coming before the halfway mark.
The Ward is not eye-gouging bad, but it is instantly forgettable. It's only 85 minutes long, but it's 85 minutes you could have spent watching a much better movie. This is a half-assed approach to low budget horror, and the biggest problem with that - one John Carpenter should have been aware of - is that low budget filmmaking has to be anything but half-assed.

This Movie Is Broken

If this is an example of the current state of Indie filmmaking in Canada, things are worse than I thought.
Movies like Dazed and Confused, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, and This is Spinal Tap celebrate music and how a specific time's culture is influenced by it. There's so much that can be done, particularly if the subject involves teens all flocking to see a band they all like. Lots of room for character development, lots of room to examine a band's impact on a group of people.
Not so in the case of Bruce McDonald's This Movie Is Broken. The film focuses on the band Broken Social Scene, a popular Indie band that hails from Toronto. The setting is 2009, amidst a garbage strike that plagued the city for weeks. Because of this strike, Broken Social Scene had to cancel a show, but decided they'd still perform for free by the Harbourfront. This is the background for a cliche love story that offers very little insight into anything about romance. Bruno wakes up next to Caroline, a one night stand that he hopes he'll be able to turn into a full out relationship, since he's had a crush on her for a long time. She leaves for France tomorrow, so he has one night to convince her to stay. Hmm, I've seen this movie countless times.
Now the problem is that the movie is too focused on showing the band's concert that it forgets about the story. The resolution happens, and you couldn't care less.
Also, a movie based on a band should suggest why this band is important enough to have their own film. I don't like Kiss, but I was able to enjoy them in Detroit Rock City. I'm not a fan of hip hop, but 8 Mile was great. Broken Social Scene, to me, is mediocre at best, but this movie does nothing to celebrate the band's impact on the Indie scene in Toronto (which is massive), or anything at all that makes you appreciate these artists.
This movie is broken all right. And it'll be too difficult to fix. Just avoid it.

A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas
½

Back in high school, my friend and I purchased a rubber chicken that made orgasm noises every time you squeezed it. The harder the squeeze, the higher pitched the sound. We thought it would make a funny birthday gift. Being the immature teens that we were, we also thought it would be funny to continually squeeze the chicken in the food court. Nearby there was a mother, no older than 35, with her two children. I looked over at her. She was clearly trying to make a straight face, and maintain a real composure in front of her kids. When it was time to leave, my friend was having trouble fitting the chicken in his knapsack. He shoved it in. The chicken squeeled louder than any orgasm I'd ever heard up to that point. Most of the people in the food court turned around to see where that sound came from. But my attention was on the mother, who had finally given up and collapsed in a hoot of laughter.
Why am I telling you this story? Because it relates to A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas. Every joke in this movie is just wrong, offensive, and wholly inappropriate. But damn it, it's funny as hell. You may feel like the mother with her children. You shouldn't be laughing at the jokes in this movie, because they are the very jokes you as an adult should wholly disapprove. But you will laugh; you will laugh till it hurts. And hey, there's even a little bit of heart to this movie, about growing up and accepting the responsibilities that come with it. However, you're not watching this movie for that. You're watching it because you want to laugh at a baby getting high off weed, coke, and ecstasy. Yes, as a mature human being, you shouldn't think that's funny. But you do.

Battle: Los Angeles

Here it is kids! The first video game movie. No, not video game based movie; the first video game movie. Two hours of you running around in a deserted battlefield that was once Los Angeles fighting aliens Call of Duty style. The aliens have no personality. They're just moving targets who shoot at you so you can shoot them. Only problem is you don't get to play a movie.
Someone in Hollywood saw War of the Worlds and then Black Hawk Down. Soon enough, a light went off in that person's head, who would then scream, "wouldn't it be awesome if a movie was made just like Black Hawk Down, but instead of Somalis as bad guys, we put in aliens?!" Well, here is that movie.
Battle LA is every single war movie cliche thrown into one. It's central character is the disgraced war sergeant who will get a chance to redeem himself. Everyone else is cannon fodder, pawns to get blown up so the movie can show you the brutality of war. Two hours of soldiers shooting at aliens you barely see, edited together in a chaotic fashion to give you that "you are there" feel, but also so you can't tell what the hell is going on. Yaawwn.
The script must have been the easiest thing to write, since every scene contains many shouts of "Move!" "Watch out!" "Keep shooting!" and the like. Also, the film's lame attempt to sympathize with the enemy comes out in one soldier's laughable statement, "they're just like us. Forced to follow orders."
This two hour gunfight is supposed to be a metaphor for modern war, except how do you take that seriously when the war is against fantastical creatures like aliens. Symbolism doesn't work here, because the movie tries too hard to be super-realistic. If you want to see a film about war, watch the infinitely better Hurt Locker. Hell, go straight to the source, watch Black Hawk Down. But not Battle Los Angeles. This movie is shit.

Bronson
Bronson(2009)
½

Bronson is based on the infamous prisoner Michael Peterson, who changed his name to Charles Bronson, no doubt alluding to the action star of the same name. Peterson's celebrity status was not something I was aware of before watching the film, but director Nicolas Winding Refn carefully shows just how much of an impact Peterson made on the media for his violent behaviour as a prisoner and for his increasingly long imprisonment for a crime that show only have cost him 3 years of life. The man presented to us once the credits role is a fully realized character.
To further accomplish this, Refn blends existential scenes of Michael talking to an audience on a theatre stage as they applaud his performance. He crosscuts with scenes of sheer brutality as Michael picks fight after fight after fight, always expecting the same result. Refn presents us with this person but offers no explanation as to why he is this way. Instead, he forces us to ask questions about how society reacts to him. Michael brings to mind Alex from Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, a film that greatly inspires the style of Bronson. Both characters are social misfits impervious to treatments that attempt to reform them into civilized and productive members of their communities.
Thoughtful, insightful, unforgiving, brutal, but definitely original, Bronson is a film that many will hate and many will love. I don't know which one you will be, and you will have your reasons, but count me in the latter!

Rope
Rope(1948)

I think I would have enjoyed being involved in the making of Rope more than I did watching it. Stories like having to gag and drag off a cameraman who's foot is broken from being run over while the shot is still going on, or running to grab a a falling glass without making a sound are stories that would be great to tell at a party or while having drinks with friends in the backyard.
Rope creates a real time environment by limiting the amount of cuts made. There are only two obvious cuts in the movie, and the rest are masked to make it look like all the action is being filmed in one continuous shot. Where Hitchcock tries to mask these cuts is painfully obvious and flimsy, but that's because I live in an age of 1080p and digital manipulation; in other words, I'm spoiled. The auteur's choice reflects the fact that two young men have just murdered a man and stuck his body in a book chest, right before the guests arrive. Every minute passed is a minute that body is there, waiting to be discovered. How these two men maneuver their guests to have fun and get out builds a lot of suspense and tension, as one of their guests, Rupert (played by James Stewart) begins to suspect the murder.
The film is based on a stage play, and the style reflects a theatre setting. What doesn't translate too well is how Rupert suspects the murder and one of the men's overbearing guilt for committing the deed. Maybe on stage it works, but as a film, it feels very contrived, and in the space of a room, far too convenient that the film plays out in the way it does. A major problem, but Rope is still good entertainment. For Hitchcock fans, the artistry on display is worth a look.

The Ides of March

Since the film's premiere at TIFF, the critical and public reaction to George Clooney's The Ides of March has been a bit mixed. The main negative argument is that the film is more of a cliche story about corruption in politics, a story that exposes revelations that have been common knowledge in the social consciousness for decades.
I partially agree with this sentiment. The idea that politics is corrupt is nothing new and if this were all that the film was about, it would be a far greater weakness. I completely disagree that this film isn't relevant. The film is a morality tale that reinforces the difference between the public image of a politician and his ideals, and the actual man behind closed doors. Image is everything. Politics isn't about democratic vs republican ideals; it's about inspiring the public to believe that you will bring positive change to their way of life. Think about how Obama got in. He inspired people to renew their faith in government. It doesn't matter that he's only made things worse. He got the job. The Ides of March reflects on how a politician gets the job, and unfortunately, the public only matters when they have to vote. Clooney, a Democrat, chose to set the story within the party he supports. One argument the Democrats often make against Republicans is that they manipulate, and back-door deal to get what they want. Here, he admits that to win, the Democrats can be willing to do the same thing. The film shows that having ideals is one thing, but those ideals can easily be compromised when you have power. Nothing new yes, but how is this not reflective of the state of the world right now?
Whatever you're opinion is of the film's relevance, there's nothing negative to be said about the acting, mainly that of Ryan Gosling. In Drive, he showed us he could be the next Steve McQueen. In The Ides of March, he shows he has the chops to stand alongside Clooney, Hoffman, Giamatti, Tomei, and Wright - five of the best seasoned actors in the business today. The Ides of March solidifies he's an acting force to be reckoned with.

Bad Boys
Bad Boys(1995)

Bad Boys is a screamer of an action flick, Michael Bay's first and best film. It's classic Bruckheimer, and thanks to the one two punch team of superstars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, it's one of my favourite buddy cop movies.
Smith was still riding the popularity of his good boy Fresh Prince image by 1995, the year of this release. He wasn't yet a certified box office draw, as Independence Day was a year away. Lawrence had notoriety as a foul-mouthed comedian, and his career was just about to burst wide open as well. So the timing of Bad Boys was perfect. It solidified both these actors as movie stars who could draw an audience.
Then comes Michael Bay, a young, determined, and ambitious music video director who had already developed a style all his own. Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer's success seemed like they were the go to guys for action pictures. Hiring these three young talents was a great decision, as the film has the top three strengths going for it: great writing, great directing, and great acting. Bad Boys is total fun from beginning to end, and a stepping stone for three big Hollywood names who would go on to make some mad money.

Take This Waltz

From TIFF:
Last night, I had the pleasure of seeing the red carpet premiere of Sarah Polly's new film, starring the wonderfully talented people Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, and Sarah Silverman. Take This Waltz screams with confidence because Sarah Polly seems very attuned to what she wants and how to get it. This was also relevant in her previous film, Away From Her, one of the best films of the last decade.
Take This Waltz is gorgeously shot, framed, and the attention to detail in each scene gives the film a lot of depth and subtlety. It is also shot and takes place in my home city of Toronto. Toronto is a gorgeous city, and while the film isn't at all about the city, it reflects how living in Toronto affects the characters' lives, where they like to go, and what they like to do, making the setting as much a character as everyone else. Even the music is by some of Toronto's most famous artists.
Unfortunately, the film stumbles a lot because it's far too pretentious. The film is nothing more than a love triangle, but it tries way too hard to be this arty, Indie-rock infused statement on choices. If the film is about anything, it's about how the spark and chemistry that is so very apparent when we find new love disappears as the years go by, and we become too involved in routine, taking the relationship for granted. Sometimes, people find that spark in someone new, and too often get caught up in that new spark that they forget that said chemistry will eventually turn to routine just the same. This is a film that Richard Linklater would have made very well. Sarah Polley is too full of herself this time behind the chair that she forgets the kind of film she's making and in her quest to do something different, she chooses the wrong style for the wrong story, and almost wrecks the wonderful performances she's gotten out of Rogen, Williams, and Silverman.

Shark Night 3D

This is not a review. A film called Shark Night 3D cannot be reviewed. Critics are going to hate it. Film fans are going to call it a plague of the medium. The plot makes no sense. The acting is terrible. The effects are terrible. There isn't even a budget that allows for cool gore effects, as all that money probably went to making the movie 3D.
So, I am going to tell you a short and not all that interesting story. It was my birthday. My friends and I gathered to celebrate with food and a lot of alcohol. Long story short, I got into an argument with a friend who was being stupid, and the night was almost ruined for me. Nevertheless, that friend left, and the remaining group stumbled out of the tavern, wanting to do something silly. We walked by the theatre and saw the poster for Shark Night. Unanimously agreeing, we bought tickets and throughout the whole movie, we were laughing, making comments, counting the amount of walkouts, and you know what, the film provided us with an hour and a half of solid entertainment. It took my mind off the argument. I laughed at the entire movie, the dialogue, and my more squeemish friends who jump at anything unexpected. In other words, I had a blast. Thank you, Shark Night 3D!

Red State
Red State(2011)
½

A friend once explained to me that the USA has three kinds of states. Purple states who tend to vote for the leader who makes the best argument. Blue states who almost always vote for the Democrats. And Red states who almost always vote for the Republicans. So I take Kevin Smith's Red State as an attack on ignorant extreme right wing theology. It's not condemning Conservative or Republican thought; it's condemning the kind of thought that uses tradition as a way to promote dated, and dangerous fascist ideas.
Three male kids talk about the many ways they are going to fuck some older woman who they've been talking to on the internet. This reflects a white trash mentality that subordinates women, views them as objects to pleasure men when they see fit.
Instead of sex, the three are kidnapped and used as a sacrifice to Pastor Abin Cooper and his religious cult. This group abhors sexual acts without the intention of pro-creating, hunts and kills homosexuals - as they are an abomination to the family unit. Put it this way, this group it so right wing that even Neo-Nazis want nothing to do with them.
And then there's the corrupt government who sends a SWAT team in to completely annihilate this group, without any regard if there are innocent women and children inside. The orders are to kill everyone as they are all terrorists. Insert Iraq war parable here.
So there you have it. Smith's film has shown the monstrous side of sex, religion, and politics. His film is very well made and it portrays fundamentalism as the most evil kind of horror. His film isn't perfect, as all his characters too obviously represent some sort of symbolic ideal, and he doesn't seem to be aware that the extreme left wing agenda - communism, is just as evil and depraved as fascism. But his film makes a compelling argument and will spark much debate, as the film is very relevant to its time.

Final Destination 5
½

A Final Destination film with character development?? A Final Destination film with intense and suspenseful death scenes?? A Final Destination film that is thought provoking and asks questions about mortality, fate, and destiny? I must be dreaming. Apparently not, because Final Destination 5 is exactly all those things.
Where the previous sequels have maintained nothing more than consistent scenes that sensationalize death, Final Destination 5 actually makes you care for these victims. It contains scenes that would be nowhere to be found in the other four films that add depth to these characters. These are real people facing real life problems. It's such a bitch that Death is trying to get them. There's a hint of tragedy as this film hurtles to its climax.
Also excellent is the simplicity of the rules. The only way to cheat Death is to have someone take your place. There is no overcomplication of the rules like in the previous installments. This film keeps things simple by establishing and sticking to the rules without a last minute twist.
By no means should a fifth film in a horror franchise be this good. But good it is, and it provides much hope for this franchise, which I thought was DOA before buying my ticket.

Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark

The fact that Guillermo del Toro wrote and produced this film is depressing. Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark is a colossal miscalculation on almost every level. Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce, and the young Bailee Madison seem to just be going through the motions. They've played these characters before in other better movies, and it shows here that they're performing through memory. But the acting is the least of the problems.
Every set piece has been lifted from some other movie. The house looks like it could be from The Haunting, The Shining, The Orphanage, Thirteen Ghosts, and a countless other movies of the same ilk. Even the characters have become typical del Toro archetypes, particularly the young child Sally, who feels isolated and alone, longing for a companion. We've seen Pan's Labyrinth, The Devil's Backbone, The Sixth Sense, The Others, etc. Nothing new. Scares come in the form of the classic Hollywood "BOO" scare, where everything is quiet and then a loud shriek happens. For some reason, this film still believes that this is the way to scare people.
I'm running out of room, so the main reason why this film doesn't work are the CGI creatures. They scream CGI, and when seen up close, they look incredibly goofy. Not only that, the film loves to have them in scene after scene after scene. These things look like tiny gremlins, bouncing off each other, and instead of being creepy, they look like things you want to just kick out of the way. They aren't scary. And their movements are too fluid. Whenever they're on screen, you can tell they're computer generated, so instead of screaming, you're laughing because of how fake it all looks.
I admire the fact that the filmmakers tried to do something different, but the problems with this film stem from its very concept. It's a bad idea made into an unbearably bad film.

Trust
Trust(2011)

Trust is one of the most difficult movies you will sit through. It is made by people who understand the subject matter and the psychological states of the kinds of people involved in such a tragedy. The horror of the situation, the real damage that has been done, isn't so much the act of rape - which is despicable enough - but what comes afterward: the mental anguish, the self hatred, and the inability of others to really understand what you must now live the rest of your life with.
A long way from his Ross Gellar days, director David Schwimmer directs this film with a deliberately slow pace and shots that don't necessarily sympathize with any one character. Some shots take the perspective of Annie, the young impressionable 16 year old girl who is raped by a pedophile, but the bulk of the movie passes over with an objective gaze. It sympathies with few people, including Annie. Music is barely used, and the staging of the scenes keeps the action at the forefront, with most of the mise en scene blurred into the background.
This is the, IMO, the best way to shoot this kind of film. We will automatically sympathize with the family because of what has been done to them. But Trust is not so much after sympathy than to show how negligent parenting, teen loneliness, the internet, the disturbing nature of sex offenders, and childish innocence all contribute to this heartbreaking outcome. There is no easy resolution. When you're dealing with a rape victim, the damage has already been done and the only thing left to do then is to treat that woman with as much compassion as you can and hope they can move past it. Forget about the criminal; if he's caught, he's caught, but that doesn't change what happened. The film leaves you wondering, could this have been prevented and if so, how?

The Running Man

The Running Man can't capitalize on its cheesy premise. It doesn't make much of a satire either. The film comments on society's fascination with violence on TV, and how we're only interested in hearing stories about death and horrible events. But the commentary doesn't shock, doesn't inspire you to think. After all, it is an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. Watch Series 7: The Contenders if you want to see a real satire on the same subject.
The production of The Running Man screams 80s production. Over exposure on neon red lights, a never-ending synth pop soundtrack, and oh my God, what is up with the hair???
Oh, no wait! Did I say this was an Arnold movie? Or should I say Ahhhhnuld movie? Okay, all is forgiven. Cheesy one liners? Check. Arnold beats the shit out of people? Check. Great charisma? Awesome villains? Quick, brisk, pacing? Check. Check. And check. Oh, and the best line he's ever said is in this movie. "I'll live to see you eat that contract. But I hope you leave enough room for my fist because I'm going to ram into your stomach and break your goddam spine!"
Okay, you convinced me. I love this movie. This is proof that Arnold is in a class by himself. He doesn't make genre movies. He makes Ahhhhnuld movies!

Red Heat
Red Heat(1988)

Well, it was a dud back in 1988, and lo and behold, it's still a dud. The worst part of this movie isn't that it does anything so abhorrently wrong. It's that it doesn't excel at doing anything above average. The action scenes are watchable but not exciting. The villains are bad, but uninteresting. Same thing with the cops.
To me, the most interesting element is the character played by Gina Gershon. She happens to be the wife of notorious murderer Victor Rostavilli, and she's a real bargaining chip for the police, but her role is completely downplayed. Victor's deals, double crosses, plans to complete his goals all take place offscreen, so there's nothing to establish him as any real threat, especially because he's going up against the mother of all kick ass heroes: Arnold Schwarzennegger.
I was sold on this movie because I heard Arnold was playing a Russian cop. Arnold speaking with a Russian accent? This I gotta see! Unfortunately, while Arnold isn't a total train wreck in his performance, he's not that exciting to watch either here. He drifts in and out of his Russian accent, and is oddly unconvincing when he speaks the language too. He has very few one liners, so anyone watching this movie for a good laugh will be disappointed. Also contributing to the dullness of this dullfest is James Belushi, who doesn't say a single funny line in the entire 105 minutes, although he has many attempts.
All in all, this is a weak film. Not a horrible one. But a very mediocre one. So mediocre, you will forget about it almost as quickly as you watch it.

The Poughkeepsie Tapes
½

John Erick Dowdle's unjustly shelved The Poughkeepsie Tapes is not torture porn. It's a terrifying faux documentary that forces you to contemplate the mind of a serial killer.
The found footage "genre" has been done. But this film takes it one step further. Instead of playing the found footage ala [Rec] or The Blair Witch Project, The Poughkeepsie Tapes brings in the reactions of FBI officials, relatives of the victims, psycho analysts, and the like who talk about how the found footage has affected them, and how much thought, patience, cunning, determination, and sheer joy the killer put into his murders.
This is not a film for everyone. The way the interviewed describe what is on the found tapes is unsettling. But then, you're forced to watch parts of the tapes. While the build up is scarier than the pay off, both are effective nevertheless.
My main complaint is that the script tries to make this serial killer like Jigsaw, which means he's too perfect at what he does. The man has thought out every angle and much to his own satisfaction, he toys with the police. This makes the movie quite predictable. But at the same time, I think the film isn't about how the movie ends. It's an experience that the filmmakers want you to go on, an experience into the most depraved human being civilized society could know.

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Jennifer Connolly, Keanu Reeves, Jaden Smith, and Jon Hamm do whatever they can to make The Day The Earth Stood Still entertaining, but they can't do enough to cover up how poorly made this film is. Plain and simple, The Day The Earth Stood Still is a piece of crap, an epic failure on so many accounts.
For one, the effects are atrocious. The CGI bits scream fake, especially the big machine thingy that is supposed to protect Klaatu (Reeves) and destroy the world. It's very hard to care about what happens when you're laughing at how cartoonish everything looks.
The story makes no sense. So, Klaatu has decided that the human race must be destroyed in order for the planet Earth to continually exist. His reasoning is uninformed at best. SPOILER ALERT!!! All that it takes for him to change his mind is Jennifer Connolly hugging her son out of love. So, humans are capable of love and thus worth saving. If he had been watching humans live for as long as he claims he has, he would have realized that a long time ago and saved himself the trip, and me the wasted two hours I spent sitting through this crap.
Also, the Kathy Bates character is a walking cliche. The ignorant, power-tripping government official who doesn't understand her enemy, and her ignorance fucks everyone over. Uh huh. Real originality on her characterization.
Okay. I'm complaining too much. Skip this one at all costs. It's a terrible, boring, and underwhelming remake of a dated 1951 original.

Captain America: The First Avenger
½

Captain America: The First Avenger is a pleasantly fun thrill ride, and succeeds as a stand alone film, as opposed to an extended teaser trailer for the 2012 Avengers movie. It stars Chris Evans as Steve Rogers, a man with a heart that's bigger than his body. It is 1942, in the middle of WW2. Rogers is constantly bullied, and his small and frail figure prevents him from adequately protecting himself. But he tries desperately to join the Army to fight the Nazis, reapplying several times after his initial application was rejected.
This catches the eye of Dr. Abraham Erskine, who gets Rogers to undergo a procedure that will turn him into a super soldier.
That's essentially what Captain America is. He's a super strong, super fast hero with a shield that can stop a rocket and be used as a boomerang. It's not the most interesting superhero in the world, especially when compared to the likes of Iron Man and Spiderman. But it works nonetheless.
The pacing of the narrative is off. It takes too long to establish the characters, the setting, the villains, and the initial plot. It's very slow, and by the end, it feels rushed, as if plot points are being hit like a checklist and the film needs to go through it all before an imminent deadline. Still the film is saved by Evans and some solid work by Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, and newcomer Hayley Atwell.
This may not be the best film of the summer, but it's a worthwhile, imperfect use of two hours for those who can't wait to see The Avengers.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 1 is the first half of an epic masterpiece. It's the best book in the series, and at this point, it's the best film in the series. This is the film where Harry, Ron, and Hermione must go into the real world, away from Hogwarts and use what they have learned to complete a task that seems almost impossible. One of the film's most moving moments is at the beginning, when Hermione erases herself from her parents' memory. These are dark times indeed and no one is safe. The Ministry has fallen, and Voldemort's followers are killing humans and wizards alike, draining out what they feel to be the impurity of the wizard bloodlines.
The three leads venture into the wilderness to find the remaining Horcruxes. By destroying each Horcrux, they slowly destroy Lord Voldemort, although make sure you've seen all the films up to this point to understand how all this works. At 17 years old, these children are becoming adults, and their sexual maturity is set on finding true love. It is obvious that Ron and Hermione are in love; they're just too scared to make the first move. Harry is in love with Ginny; they just haven't had a chance to explore said love. This sexual tension so often intrudes on the task at hand, but it is the reason they're all fighting to defeat Voldemort from the start.
David Yates knows this series. He directs with the technical skill of Peter Jackson and the understanding of the story and the environment like Alfonso Cuaron. He is a great director, and he's really given this series it's own personality. This story is engaging and heartbreaking. Death touches everyone. This is not the same series that started with the Philosopher's Stone. The issues at work are decidedly adult and the violence is scary and brutal.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
½

Harry Potter enters his sixth year at Hogwarts, and things are darker than ever this time around. The Death Eaters are attacking wizards and witches left and right. Harry finds a book that was the property of the half blood prince and becomes obsessed with its teachings. He is also taken under Dumbledore's wing to learn more about Voldemort's past and what lays in store for all wizards/witches in the days to come.
Along the way, he, Ron, and Hermione take on new romantic interests. This subplot adds a lot of much needed and very entertaining humour to an otherwise very gloomy film.
This is the best blockbuster of the summer. It shows how a film can have amazing effects while telling a great and involving story at the same time. One of the great things about the Harry Potter series is that the stories aren't just about the plot, or how the wizard world will defeat Lord Voldemort. It is also about adolescence; growing up and learning to cope with the occurences in the everyday world. Not to mention all the great wonderful characters that have been the bread and butter of JK Rowling's brilliant fantasy.
Quidditch also makes a grand return. The scenes are as exciting as they were the first time we were introduced to the sport. David Yates, helming the director's chair for the second consecutive Potter film, is the perfect man to finish this saga. He retains exactly what he needs to from the book while changing enough to make this film as tight, concise, and coherent as it is. Things are falling into place, and the stage is set for an awesome finale.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Director David Yates and his screenwriter, Michael Goldenberg have trimmed all the fat from the novel, and the resulting film adaptation of Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix is a brisk, lean, and involving 139 minutes. This is the shortest film to date in the franchise, and it is better than the meandering book it is based on.
Things are worse than ever at Hogwarts. A new teacher, sent from the Ministry of Magic, has turned the school into a dictatorship. This teacher, Mrs. Umbridge, played with a cruel yet accurate honesty by Imelda Staunton, seems to be trying to control the children, taking away their ability to practice real magic, probably so that Voldemort can turn them into his slaves much easier. This influences Harry, Hermione, and Ron to create Dumbledore's Army, a rebellion of Hogwart's finest students.
Much of the film's attention is aimed at the Ministry of Magic who, like any government, is filled with corruption. The minister is filled with fear, and many of its greatest supporters are soon revealed to be Death Eaters - those loyal to Voldemort and his return to power. There seems to be a hint of satire here, as the film takes many humorous jabs at this governing body, from the nonsensical court system to the wall filled with new decrees as to how order is maintained at Hogwarts. It's as if this government doesn't know its head from its ass, even in the face of obvious reason.
Meanwhile, Harry is becoming more of a teenager. He's angry, feels completely alone, and hates how no one thinks he is capable to stand on his own. Sounds like me when I was a teenager. I think if I were to study this film as a metaphor, I would say this installment is most reflective of teenage angst. Although Harry has good reason.
Complete with an all star cast that now introduces Helena Bonham Carter as the delightfully evil Bellatrix Lestrange, the fifth film in the series is a solid effort that manages to bridge the gap between the fourth and sixth films. Things are beginning to unravel at an alarming rate, and a war seems imminent. Hold on tight as this tale is about to take some great twists.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
½

When kids first grasped Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone, no doubt they were roughly about 10 or 11 years old, much like Harry was at that age. Four years later, the kids, like Harry are now teenagers. Fitting that Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire is NOT a kid's film. This is a violent, dark, and thematically complex narrative that tackles the most frightening of all teenaged themes: raging hormones.
The centrepiece of this film is a dance. When Hermione descends the staircase in her dress, you realize that she is no longer a child; she's turning into a young woman. Both Harry and Ron have to deal with their sudden attraction to the opposite sex, as well as the latter's attraction to them. The authenticity of this sequence gets their anxieties spot on. I could relate completely and I didn't have the fate of the world resting on my shoulders, or a psychotic evil wizard plotting to kill me.
The story focuses on Harry competing in the Tri Wizard Tournament. He will face dragons, evil mermaids, and a plot to revive Voldemort. Ralph Fiennes is cast as The Dark Lord, and his short but brilliant performance invokes as much fear into its audience as the past three films have only hinted at. Fiennes is perfectly cast.
Director Mike Newell is know for adult fare like Four Weddings And A Funeral as well as Donnie Brasco. It is fitting that he would tackle the fourth Harry Potter film. The themes that this film touches upon are no longer for children. People, and kids, are brutally killed. Teen sexuality is making a very obvious appearance. And the inner turmoil that Harry has to deal with having to grow up without ever knowing his parents is something that few children - or adults for that matter - can relate to. This is a near masterpiece who's only flaw is that it doesn't resolve anything, making me have to wait another two years for this wonderful film franchise to continue!

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
½

Yes! It took three tries, but Harry Potter has finally carved a name for itself in the cannon of great fantasy films; the books are already one of the most beloved works in all of fantasy literature, but the movie versions have yet to stand on their own. That changes with Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban.
The best addition is director Alfonso Cuaron. A renowned Spanish filmmaker, who's previous film Y Tu Mama Tambien was a masterpiece, Cuaron injects a lot of visual flair into the shots. Take for instance how he accounts for the passage of time. He uses the image of the weeping willow and its reactions to the changes in season. Most directors would have just established scenes with a shot over Hogwarts, but Cuaron creates beautifully edited sequences. Also, he doesn't just use shot/reverse shot techniques when filming actors. He stages the action so the camera can linger and move with the characters, framing them in conjunction with their surroundings. Hogwarts is as much of a character as anyone else.
Instead of adapting the book page for page, this screenplay is extremely focused. Only scenes that move the plot forward are included, presenting themes and issues that involve the audience. The kids are growing up and so are the films. There is a lot of dark material that this film covers. The magical world of wizards and witches is just that, but it's also a dangerous one, and the misuse of magic, as well as the intentions behind it, can and do have serious consequences.
This is a great film and I can't wait to see what the next one has in store. Harry Potter is here to stay!

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
½

Potter fans listen up. This is what you get when you expect a film to be a page for page adaptation of the book.
Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets is a bloated, cheesy, and unnecessary use of 161 minutes. It was okay for the first film to run this length, as it had to set up the world.
This time around it's just tedious. I understand that no good film can be too long, but this is a story that's too self indulgent for its own good.
The mystery of the Chamber reveals itself in a very slow fashion, and the movie pauses the plot on several occasions to show more Quidditch, mythical creatures, and what not.
I love the characters in this series. I think Ron, Harry, and Hermione make a great team. Dumbledore is as wise as Gandalf. Hagrid is just completely lovable, and He Who Must Not Be Named is the best villain to come along in as far back as I can remember. Of course, many characters are just there to take up space, like all the ghosts, and most of the teachers.
I still look forward to the next installment, but I seriously hope that the next film is exactly that: a film and not the acted out version of J.K. Rowling's novel.
Don't get me wrong. There's a great movie buried within here; it just doesn't need to be this long. Potter devotees won't be complaining. But everyone else will be.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
½

Only a franchise that spans 8 movies can get away with spending 90 minutes to set up its story. That's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. The mystery takes about an hour to resolve, but the hour and a half before that is spent introducing the viewer to the world of Hogwarts. And what an enchanting world this is. J.K. Rowling has quite an imagination. This world is bursting with originality, intrigue, and colourful characters who are delightfully likeable. The British humour that can be found in almost every scene of this film is a much welcome addition.
The set design team has done an incredible job bringing Rowling's book to life. While a few things are changed, and the overall tone a slight bit darker, Chris Columbus and his crew capture the essence and the feel of the book. They also manage to re-create Quidditch as the coolest sport since soccer.
All the characters are perfectly cast, and John Williams' score creates the feeling of a magical world that is only going to become more realized with each subsequent film.
As for the story, well, there's a line in this film where a character tells Harry that he "is destined for great things." Likewise, this franchise is destined for greatness, and will be remembered as one of fantasy's greatest works. This film however is only an introduction. It is not a great stand alone film; I have many issues with the numerous plot holes and silly creature designs. But it's an exemplary introduction. Time will tell how great this franchise will be, but judging from the quality of the books, I don't think that will be a problem.

The Book of Eli
½

The twist at the end will leave you confused and bewildered, and you'll either want to watch this movie again, or you will throw your hands up and scream, "what the fuck was that?!" But despite your reaction, The Book Of Eli is an incredible experience. It takes place in a post-Apocalyptic America, but it's a western at heart.
The Hughes Brothers are very good at creating this world. With the help of CGI, they've scorched the skies, piled cars upon cars, and depicted vast deserts of wreckage as far as the eye can see. This is probably the first post-Apocalyptic action film that reaches and achieves an epic scope.
The action scenes are incredibly well staged, with some fantastic camera work and seamless editing. Some of the scenes are over quickly, but they're amazing to watch. Thanks to this, there is never a dull moment, not to mention Denzel, Gary Oldman, and Mila Kunis are all great. Gary Oldman hasn't played someone this evil since the corrupt cop in Leon.
As to the religious undertones - the whole basis of the plot is Denzel Washington carrying and protecting a Bible from savages far and wide - the story is more so a cry for a species that is desperately in need of saving. This is a brave film because instead of questioning the authenticity of religious faith, it dares to suggest the possibility that God is real. Westerns are always based around a sole hero who saves an entire town from evil. Eli does just that. But who is protecting Eli while he protects those who are persecuted? It's an aspect that turns the genre on its head, and the ending result is a great action picture.

Daybreakers
Daybreakers(2010)
½

Thanks to the current "pussyfication" of vampires - I'm looking at you Twilight - Daybreakers seems like it's coming out at a time where it's too old school to really connect with an audience. I really hope that's not the case, because this simply is a great film. It is a wonderful example of a genre film done right, mixing horror and action together with some intriguing subplots and a subtle sense of humour.
The Spierig Brothers wrote and directed this film. They've obviously put a lot of thought into their script and it shows. Their attention to detail in creating the vampire world suggests that vampires live pretty much the same lives as humans when they're not feeding on them. The central conflict reveals just how reliant on humans vampires really are, and in a world without humans to feed on, the vampire population would die off.
Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill, and Isabel Lucas all create very sympathetic characters. You wouldn't think a horror film would boast great acting, but Daybreakers combines an ensemble cast who all put in a lot of effort. Without spoiling the plot, which never gets too convoluted or cheesy, Daybreakers takes wild twists and turns, creating a world that is both authentic and believable. The action scenes will excite you, the scary scenes will make you jump, and the comedic scenes are hysterical. What more could you want from a genre picture?

Kindergarten Cop
½

Ten reasons why I love Kindergarten Cop:
1. The way this movie introduces John Kimble is one of the best Arnold introductions ever!
2. Thug: "Who are you?" Arnold: "I'm the party pooper." *shotgun blast*
3. "It's not a tumor!"
4. "We're going to play a game. It's called 'Who Is Your Daddy, And What Does He Do?"
5. "Shuuuuuut uuuuuuuuuppp!"
6. "Take the toy back to the carpet. Take it back!"
7. "THERE IS NO BATHROOM!"
8. "My name is John Kimble. And I like my car." *cocks shotgun*
9. Penelope Ann Miller is gorgeous and oddly enough, she shares great chemistry with Arnold.
10. This is just a nice, sweet movie with a lot of heart....and Arnold kicking ass. I don't see what's not to like.
I have a soft spot for Arnold movies. I admit it. I love them, despite how bad they are. I'm impervious to that reality. In other words, you could give me one hundred reasons why he's the worst actor in the world and why Kindergarten Cop sucks, and it won't change my mind one bit. Nobody entertains me the way Arnold does.

Sucker Punch
Sucker Punch(2011)
½

Beautiful and scantily dressed young women who wield guns and shoot the shit out of zombies, dragons, massive trolls, all while posing seductively for the camera with seeming effortlessness at the end of combat. There is no other image that could better fulfill a male's fantasy.
Such scenes are the bulk of Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch. I won't bore you with my many complaints about the wooden acting by all the actors, the inept dialogue, and the not as complicated as the film wants you to think plot. Where Sucker Punch completely fails to work is that it claims to be about female empowerment. It wants to show women in a situation where they are objectified by misogynist pigs, and to overcome this oppression, they turn said objectification against the guilty parties. But in almost every turn, the film undermines its intentions.
For example, what feminist theme is expressed in a close up of a girl's bare waistline as she gets out a sword and beats a dragon to death? A dragon is not a symbol of female oppression. Nor is a zombie. Why didn't Snyder use symbols that could suggest - in a subtle or obvious way - the obstacles in the way of women? The hypocrisy of Sucker Punch is obvious. It claims to subvert female oppression, but in turns ends up promoting it, since its main characters are nothing more than sex objects wielding weapons. And that's not to say women can't express sexuality in an empowering way, but the story does not give the girls any ideas to fight for, thus we're only cheering them on because they look good.

The Hangover Part II

If you were to play The Hangover and The Hangover Part II at the same time, it would progress much the same way as the YouTube Nickelback video "How You Remind Me Someday." Yes, the structure is exactly the same. Hell, scenes are almost exactly the same. But really, what could you possibly expect from a movie called The Hangover Part II. There had to be a hangover somewhere here.
The Hangover is one of the funniest movies I've ever seen, so right then and there, I was not expecting The Hangover Part II to live up to those ridiculously high expectations. Not to worry, this sequel is still extremely funny, although it's about as crude as gross-out comedies can come. This is not a bad thing, because the movie has Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis. Not to mention the return of Ken Jeong, who steals every scene he's in.
The exotic location of Thailand is a neat little twist on the Vegas theme. Not only is the group completely desperate to find their lost friend Teddy, they're stuck in a country where they speak little of the language, the heat is sweltering, and the gangsters are much more sinister. So, this sequel ups the stakes while keeping the formula.
This is fine for a sequel. I hear they've already green lit the third film. Now, while I did enjoy The Hangover Part II a lot, I shudder to think that the filmmakers would give us a third movie with the same structure as the first one. One sequel is okay, even expected. Two is just lame.

Daydream Nation
½

In an attempt to channel Juno by way of Drugstore Cowboy, Daydream Nation is an interesting, strange, but stunningly accurate portrayal of high school life in a run of the mill hick town through the eyes of one girl. Kat Dennings plays Caroline Wexler, a tomboy with a sassy wit about her who has just moved from the city to this small town where all the kids do drugs and pick on the outsiders. Add to that a serial killer who is abducting teenage girls and dumping their bodies into the woods.
Dennings is superb as Wexler. She has that dark, mysteriously sexy look about her, and she uses it to make her character completely believable. Wexler seduces a teacher and also manages to woo a depressed introvert named Thurston. Wexler is older than her years, and her perspective on high school life prompts her to become a physical critique of it, much like The Comedian in Watchmen. Things quickly begin to spiral out of control, and everything reaches a climax in the most holiest of places for adolescents, a massive house party.
Director Michael Goldbach portrays adolescence as it's own epic time period. It's interesting to see so many films like The Virgin Suicides, Donnie Darko, and to an extent Mean Girls that share this focus because it is so accurate in depicting teenage problems, despite the many scoffs of parents who don't think teenagers have it rough, High school can be one of the hardest experiences of your life, as it has the ability to make or break your growth into adulthood. This is the cruel reality of Daydream Nation.

Modra
Modra(2010)

What a wonderful little film this is. Director Ingrid Veninger channels a Sofia Coppola sensibility, turning Modra into a "Lost in Translation in Slovakia."
Modra differs from Coppola's masterpiece in that it focuses less on universal disconnect than on youth adolescence and their search for identity. The two main characters, Lina and Leco are both 17 years old. Lina's boyfriend has just broken up with her, 24 hours before they are supposed to leave for Slovakia. Before she has time to grieve, she gets a call from Leco, a boy she briefly met at a party. He's just as confused and lonely, almost desperate to find someone to hang out with for the summer. Lina invites Leco to accompany her on her vacation and he accepts. The scene is executed remarkably well, the camera holding on the teens' faces, the awkward silences of the conversation, capturing everything that is being said and not said.
The film plays out like a love letter to Slovakia, but not as a travel video. It celebrates the country as part of this girl's heritage. Lina's search for her cultural identity mirrors her search for a personal identity. She meets her extended family and learns why her parents left for Toronto so many years ago.
Along the way, her friendship with Leco buds into a romance. Their relationship takes them through periods of passion, anger, and hope. Both teens have their own personal demons, and unlike so many romance films, Modra knows that these anxieties can't be resolved simply through love. But knowing that they've made a special connection with each other makes confronting those anxieties that much easier.
Modra might not be an easy film to find, but it is worth checking out should you get the chance. It is a great example of how the quality of Canadian film has risen substantially in this new decade.

The Dilemma
The Dilemma(2011)

There is something seriously wrong with a comedy when the film hasn't been able to muster a laugh out of you in the first fifteen minutes. That The Dilemma goes from being unfunny to simply intolerable by that time is quite a new feat for a bad movie.
Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Queen Latifah, and Channing Tatum run around the film's bloated 112 minutes as one joke characters. Whenever they're onscreen, they try so hard to be funny that it becomes blatantly obvious. Jennifer Connelly is such a good actress, but here her talents are wasted. She's the only one you care about and she barely has any presence.
Another thing: the premise. Vaughn and James are best friends. Vaughn catches his best friend's wife having an affair with another man. This causes him much confusion, stress, and inner turmoil. Should he tell his friend? The answer is simple. Yes, he should. The story tries to over-complicate the matter by adding in that the friends are days away from launching a much desired product, and that Vaughn had slept with James' wife way before James even knew she existed, but the whole scenario is not set up as much of a dilemma.
The end result is a one joke movie where the joke wasn't that funny to begin with. Dump this one as quickly as you would a cheating spouse.

Bridesmaids
Bridesmaids(2011)

Bridesmaids is not Judd Apatow's way of saying, "This one's for the ladies." Men and women alike can enjoy this comedy as much as they've enjoyed Superbad, Knocked Up, and The 40 Year Old Virgin, simply because Bridesmaids is freaking hilarious!
Yes, the film revolves around five women and the men are more or less side characters. This shouldn't be a problem for anyone. The film's story is about life, love, and friendships. The film has major heart, but that's not to say it doesn't have a potty mouth, or that it doesn't have the courage to muster a good fart joke.
Kristen Wiig is a comic genius. Her script is very insightful and very, very funny. Her performance is the glue that holds everything together. Her cast mates support her just as well by creating well rounded characters that feel like real people. As with all of Apatow's movies, the characters are immersed in pop culture trends, but also struggling to deal with the harsh realities of life.
That's the beauty with movies like Bridesmaids. They're hilarious, but they deal with serious subject matter. These aren't fluffy, "forget em as soon as you see em" comedies. There is real art here, real filmmaking, and real talent in front and behind the camera. I hope to the powers that be that guys will not be scared away from this movie. When I saw it, there were two people laughing hysterically in the theatre: myself and another guy. Go see Bridesmaids!!

Bad Boys II
Bad Boys II(2003)

Bad Boys II is really a mixed bag. The reason for this is because the film almost plays completely like a checklist. Let me explain. If you're not familiar with the original Bad Boys, that film worked mainly because of the chemistry between Martin Lawrence and Will Smith. Their characters may not have been the most original addition to the buddy cop genre, but it was nevertheless fun to watch them on screen. Add to that some expertly staged action sequences, and Joe Pantoliano's Captain Howard, who gives the film a lot of great comic relief by chewing out Lawrence and Smith for their reckless antics, and Bad Boys was a solid and memorable action picture.
So Bad Boys II is more of the same. The film is a pattern of scenes. One features Smith and Lawrence banter, then we see the villain being bad, the next is an explosive action scene followed by Captain Howard yelling and screaming. The film pretty much rotates these scenes for 147 minutes.
This is a bad thing if you like your movies intelligent and with a compelling story. Bad Boys II has neither. It's a turn off your brain action picture that only works if you like Martin Lawrence and Will Smith. I like these two actors. I particularly like Will Smith. He is one of the few actors who has the ability to make any film good just by being onscreen; maybe that's why he hasn't had a flop in over ten years.
The thing is that I know Bad Boys II isn't exactly a "good" movie. It's ridiculous, silly, and is less concerned about story than stitching scenes together that provide nothing but mindless entertainment. Strangely enough, I was entertained by them. I liked the action scenes. I liked the characters, and I laughed at the humour. Call me an idiot, but the scenes work, even if the film as a whole doesn't.

Antichrist
Antichrist(2009)

I've never liked Lars Von Trier. From Dear Wendy to Dogville, Von Trier is nothing more than a pretentious, ignorant excuse for an artist who really wants to be the next Ingmar Bergman. I don't think Von Trier would have a problem with me saying that either; he'll probably think he's done something right in provoking such extreme hatred out of me.
Truth is, I don't think his films make any sense. Since I'm reviewing Antichrist, let's talk about it. The film's detractors have often criticized it as misogynist. I don't think the film is misogynist. It's more about human nature as inherently evil and destructive. Essentially, if you put two people in a room, sooner or later they will kill each other.
Antichrist is the Genesis creation story retold as a horror film. Von Trier doesn't name the couple (the only two characters in the film), so they are essentially Any-Man and Any-Woman. The cabin they retreat to is called Eden, and yes, the setting is ironically desolate, decayed, and debilitating.
But the mistake Von Trier makes is that both his characters are essentially nothing but evil. He is a selfish, sexist pig who thinks He knows what's best for His wife, while She is "Hate Incarnate". She watches her son fall out of a window to his death, but does nothing as she's in the middle of having sex. She believes women are inherently evil because human nature is evil and nature controls the female body. Eventually She snaps at Him, and the last twenty minutes are a gruesome bloodbath that does not invoke sympathy or disgust - maybe disgust if you can't stand gore. But why do we care about these people? They're not reflective of real people. They represent Ideals. So, right away, Von Trier's "message" is nul and void. Evil exists, but what's disturbing about the original Creation story is how Evil triumphs over Good. When Good is completely absent, who cares what happens? Maybe my ideas conflict with Von Trier and I can't put them aside to understand him. But that's okay, cuz I don't think he has any idea what he's talking about. YouTube how he just got banned from Cannes for calling himself a Nazi and you might just agree with me.

The Wicker Man

Top Five Reasons to watch The Wicker Man:
1. Nicholas Cage slowly walks up to a woman, never breaking eye contact. He reminded me of Clint Eastwood in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. He then knocks her completely unconscious.
2. Nicholas Cage, in a bear costume, clotheslines an old lady.
3. Nicholas Cage karate kicks Leelee Sobieski square in the face.
4. Nicholas Cage screaming, ``Killing me won`t bring back your damn honey!``
5. Nicholas Cage screaming, ``No! Not the bees!``
Actually, just Youtube The Wicker Man Best Scenes. Someone was kind enough to edit these scenes together.
Painfully slow, lifeless acting, and too many unintentionally funny moments to count, this is filmmaking at its most incompetent.
I truly mean it when I put this movie right up there with Tommy Wiseau`s The Room as one of the most unintentionally funny movies ever made. And just like The Room, maybe one day The Wicker Man remake will obtain a cult following where people attend, laugh, and just make fun of this horrible piece of celluloid.

Catfish
Catfish(2010)
½

This little independent documentary is almost like a companion piece to David Fincher's masterpiece, The Social Network. Both films reflect on what it is about Facebook that has attracted just about everyone to it, but they each reveal in their own way how social media has completely changed how people interact with one another. Catfish exposes the more disturbing side to finding a connection to a person through this social network, but it also tugs at your heart, especially in the final moments. The villain made me so uneasy right up to the climax and but soon enough, I began to really sympathize with this person. And I didn't feel manipulated in any way by the story.
The documented account is of a young photographer's new online crush from the attraction phase to the crazy stalker phase. It takes so many twists and turns that you will question whether this story could actually happen. Maybe it can and maybe it can't. The film is important because it asks provocative questions about how we present ourselves on Facebook, and to what effect are we trying to achieve with this edited presentation. While the story focuses on a more extreme case, there is nothing about these characters - both the protagonist and even more so the antagonist - that doesn't reflect something about ourselves and our attraction to social media.

Win Win
Win Win(2011)

Like Tom McCarthy's previous film The Station Agent, Win Win is a remarkably simple story about conflicted characters who all possess likeable and deplorable qualities.
There is a gritty, real life quality to the film as it doesn't shy away from the hardships of an attorney - Mike (played by Paul Giamatti) - who can't seem to make any money in his practice with the economy being slow and unforgiving. Desperately trying to hide this problem from his wife and kids, he manages to score a job as one of his client's legal guardian, collecting a residual check for doing so, but then exploits his guardianship by pawning the client into a care centre while still collecting the checks. All this changes when the client's son shows up at Mike's door.
The story is layered with ironies, outrageously funny moments, and serious undertones. Giamatti, Amy Ryan. Jeffrey Tambor, Bobby Cannavale, and Alex Shaffer all give Oscar caliber performances, and the script is unique, honest, and completely void of contrivance. There hasn't been a dramedy this wonderful since 2004's Sideways. Win Win tugs at your heart and at your mind.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II - The Secret of the Ooze
½

When the original TMNT movie came out, parents were enraged at the studio for making such a dark and violent kids film. The "snowflake" generation, as my generation is called, had to deal with our parents freaking out about how us children shouldn't be exposed to such issues as adolescent rebellion, crime, family division, and corrupt authority, real issues affecting the real world. My generation's parents wanted us children bubble wrapped. So what did the studio do for the sequel? They upped the childish banter, and made the film a light, comedic, ridiculous as fuck kids film.
The typical fight scenes have the Foot Soldiers gathered around a Turtle. One fights the Turtle while the other twelve watch and wait their turn. The Turtles now bicker, banter, and joke around like a group of clueless teenagers. These aren't the Turtles from the first film; worried about their survival. Here, they can walk into a grocery store and buy chips.
The film's epic bad climax features the Turtles fighting their foes in a club with Vanilla Ice improvising a "Ninja Rap" that has also been magically pre-taped so all he has to do is lip sync. The film allows kids to cheer the Turtles on, and really that's what it's all about. It's a shame parents would rather have their kids watch a toned down version of the Ninja Turtles, but what can you do. I watched this movie so many times as a kid, I could recite the whole movie word for word, and I turned out okay....I think....

Thor
Thor(2011)

As a stand alone film, Thor is saved mainly by the incredible performances of Chris Hemsworth as the title character and Tom Hiddleston as Thor's rival, Loki. Granted, Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgard, and Anthony Hopkins are all joys to watch, but its Hemsworth who is perfectly cast. His interpretation of Thor is precisely the one from the comics; his timing, delivery, just perfect.
The rest of the film is average at best. There is some much welcome humour, but the pacing slams on the breaks around the second quarter of the film and doesn't really pick up until the final act. Slowly but surely, Loki will put his plan to destroy the world into effect, and Thor will build a romantic but ultimately loveless - and void of much chemistry - relationship with Portman's Jane Foster.
However, I don't think Marvel is really worried about this. Thor exists mainly to build hype for the mega epic "greatest superhero movie event of all time" Avengers movie. This film sets up the hero and the villain, develops them, and leaves you wanting more. I doubt it's meant to be seen as a stand alone film; instead, it's part of a saga that includes Iron Man 1 and 2, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, and The Avengers. Now there's a movie marathon!

Conan the Barbarian

Conan the Barbarian plays almost like a silent film. It's got a loud, booming, choir orchestra playing through the entire picture. There's barely any dialogue. The entire film moves sluggishly through scene after scene, this soundtrack loudly playing. It pauses briefly to allow for some inept dialogue that doesn't enhance anything about the story before carrying on. The music isn't particularly good either. It never once sets the mood or tone for the scene. Instead, it makes the film play out like an extended music video for the Symphony Orchestra.
My biggest problem with this film is that it isn't really about anything. There's some talk of Conan's plot to revenge the death of his family. However, the film incoherently follows Conan's life as if it were some kind of epic. But the casting of Arnold Schwarzennegger is perfect only in a physical sense, not in the actor's range to communicate any emotion. Yes, I know it's an Arnold movie, and character depth is secondary to violence, but.....there's barely even any action. And the action is severely dated; poorly choreographed with obvious continuity errors and actors throwing blood packs on themselves. The film attempts to be more of a pulp epic fantasy but only turns out to be an epic failure.
The script contains the biggest screenwriting flaw in that a narrator recites the entire film. Why? It doesn't create any sense of a legend or mythology for the character. It distances us so much from what is going on that it is impossible to care about anything that happens. Laughable sex scenes, painstakingly long scenes of characters doing nothing, no character depth, and no plot. It actually takes over forty five minutes just to set up the so called revenge narrative. There is nothing of value in this movie.

Sanctum
Sanctum(2011)

The concept of Sanctum is an intriguing, albeit unoriginal one - cave divers get stuck in an unexplored cave system and have to find their way out before nature kills them. But it's so badly made that you wish the cave would just collapse and kill all of these cliched, underdeveloped, and completely unsympathetic characters.
Whoever wrote the script needs major lessons in writing dialogue. People here just talk for the sake of talking. No important information is being communicated to the viewer. To make matters worse, the dialogue does not set up how dangerous this cave system is supposed to be. They mention it's dangerous, but everyone seems to be on a camping trip, soaking up beers and telling jokes while allowing inexperienced divers in on the mission with them.
As an action film, the cave looks obviously like a set. The lighting is so poorly done that it makes the interior walls look like foam. Scenes are edited together with such laziness that there is no way to orient space between the actors and their environment, not to mention where the characters are in relation to each other. The pacing is slow and uneven.
Not to mention the terrible acting. and character arcs that are obvious and tired. Did I mention the clunky dialogue? From the opening five minutes, this movie sinks to the bottom of incompetent filmmaking and never rises an inch.

African Cats
African Cats(2011)
½

This year's Earth Day nature documentary from Disney is a heart warming tale about two mothers, a lion and a cheetah. The film follows them as they raise and protect their young cubs from predators. Of course, the camera captures incredible footage of the packs, the environment, and these creatures in action. Every shot is edited together to create a story, almost like a scripted film, and it's quite wonderful.
My only complaint is that the film focuses a lot on hunting and the mothers protecting the young, not much else. I think in trying to create an actual narrative for the animals, one cannot help but feel the film does not depict the true reality of the environment. Oh well. All animal lovers, as well as those families looking for a good film to see over the Easter weekend will be pleasantly entertained. And Samuel L Jackson narrates, giving the film a Pulp Fiction type flavour - just kidding. But his voice commands the words and makes the story that much more compelling.

Countdown to Zero
½

This documentary about the looming threat of all out nuclear war runs about 45 minutes too long, which means it would have made a disturbing, impactful, and very very good hour long TV special. As a feature length film, however, it wears out its welcome.
In a nutshell, the film argues that building a nuclear bomb is relatively easy, although it doesn`t tell us how to do that - for obvious reasons. What is needed is a lot of uranium or plutonium, a substance that is rather difficult to obtain. Investigating further, the film reveals that much uranium has nevertheless fallen into the wrong hands, and several nations have been able to obtain nuclear weapons, either by stealing them, finding missing nuclear warheads (yes, this has happened), or building them with obtained uranium. Frightening scenes emerge in a particular sequence that describes just what would happen if a nuclear bomb were to detonate in a major city. Not only that, several past instances are revealed where all out nuclear war was a minute`s decision away from occurring, many of these instances reminiscent of the Stanley Kubrick war film Dr. Strangelove.
Given the material that Countdown to Zero presents, this would have been a great 45 minute documentary that would have had me worried for the future, and anxious to make a difference. But the film is actually twice that length, and instead left me confused, wondering how much of the movie was made out of sheer concern for the survival of our species, and how much of it was incessant fear mongering.

I Spit On Your Grave

Let's put it this way. What if your sister, your girlfriend, or some girl you know is brutally gang raped and left for dead. Miraculously, she survives. Now let's say you were in a position to exact a bloody revenge on her attackers without the law knowing about it. Would you do it? I can speak for myself and say I wholeheartedly would but that could be because I watch too many movies. This remake may be cheap exploitation, but it's cathartic and I can't imagine a single person watching it feeling that these rapist pigs didn't deserve every ounce of pain that Jennifer Hills dishes out to them.
Now, the question remains whether the movie is worth sitting through. Well, if you think there's merit in a movie that depicts a girl being raped and then that girl turns around and tortures her attackers in scenes that look like they're straight out of a Saw movie, then this is the film for you. I mildly enjoyed Meir Zarchi's original film, and this is a less raw, more polished remake that is more or less the same in terms of quality. Like the original, I barely knew Jennifer Hills' character at all, I was horrified by her rape, and I cheered on her revenge. I won't deny I wasn't entertained by seeing a woman do to rapists what the law should be doing to those convicted of such a crime, and I think that was the intent of both Zarchi's original and this remake. Thus, the movie may not be a great movie per se, but show it to the right people, and you could get a great conversation going.

Scream 4
Scream 4(2011)

Freaking hilarious and bloody as hell, I welcomed Scre4m with open arms, and in doing so, it stabbed me in the heart,and then ripped out my intestines! It makes you think it's going to be a predictable run of the mill slasher sequel, and then it does something totally unexpected. Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson have brought their A game this time around.
Almost every time we hear about a new movie in this horror subgenre about to be released, it's a remake or reboot of an original work where everyone asks the question, "why is this movie being remade?" Quite simply, it has nothing to do with whether or not the original needed to be remade. It's about money. The studio doesn't need to have an original idea. Take an old idea, populate the cast with today's young stars, and just make it more bloody, and you have a guaranteed audience; thus, a guaranteed rate of return.
So Scream 4's self-reflexive self parody not only turns the idea of a remake on its head, it satirizes the adolescents of today who are hooked on social media as their ticket to stardom. Both aspects come together at the end, and the result is bloody great fun! Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and David Arquette still got it, while newcomers Emma Roberts, Rory Culkin, and that girl from Heroes are great as the new generation of victims. Can't wait to see this one again!

Scream 3
Scream 3(2000)
½

By the third installment, most - no, scratch that, all horror movie franchises have run so fast out of steam that when you walk out of the theatre, you usually vow that when the fourth one comes out, you won't be caught dead watching it. Oddly enough, Scream 3 is much more fun than you would expect. Maybe it's because I'm writing this review ten years after Scream 3 first hit theatres, and compared to the crap that passes for horror these days, this feels like actual quality work.
I remember not liking Scream 3 back in 2000. Maybe it is crap, and I'm more fond of it because crap back then was still higher quality than crap today. Maybe not. The film definitely has its flaws, the most obvious being the way the film packs on its critiques of sequels, more so here than in the other two, which seems more like an excuse to have the plot follow a formula and get away with it.
Scream 3 calls itself the concluding act of a trilogy. So essentially, it isn't a sequel. It's going back to the beginning. It brings all the events from the first two films full circle, and sheds a whole new perspective on them. Likewise, if the characters recognize they're in a trilogy, they can survive. But the characters of Scream 3 are dumb, wanna be celebrities only concerned with themselves. They don't have the slightest clue they're in a horror movie, so unlike Sidney, Dewey, Gail, and the new police detective played by McDreamy from Grey's Anatomy, they're all as good as dead.
At times the way events unfolded did frustrate me. But at the same time, I had a lot of fun. I think the film was made with a sensibility that if you understand how the movie is going to work early on, it's a lot easier to turn off your brain and just go along with the ride. Only a film in the Scream franchise could get away with that.

Scream 2
Scream 2(1997)

The funniest thing about Scream 2 is that within the first twenty minutes, a line is said by one of the characters, "sequels by definition alone are inferior films." This commences a debate about what sequels have proved to be better than their originals; films such as Aliens, Terminator 2, and The Godfather Part 2. When House 2: The Second Story is mentioned, the characters all throw their hands in the air, and one even says the horror genre has been completely ruined by sequels. Yet......we're watching a sequel. And a horror sequel at that. Does the film actually want us to hate it?
This is Scream 2, the follow up to a film that called itself on its formula and cliches. Of course the characters once again think they're in a sequel and thus have to abide by the rules of a sequel. The body count is higher. The death scenes are far more graphic and brutal, etc etc.
The screenplay offers the same irony upon irony that the original did. The question becomes, is the film better than the original? And my answer is no. I agree one hundred percent with the above mentioned line stated in the film. Sequels are cash cows first, films second. The only reason such a film is made is to duplicate what people liked about the first film, make it a little different, and package it in a way that will fill seats. Sometimes, like Aliens, The Godfather Part 2, and Terminator 2 achieve, a film manages to find a balance between maintaining what made the original so great and venturing off into its own territory. Scream 2 is not such a film. It acknowledges it's a sequel, a horror sequel to be precise, and follows the formula of a horror sequel. It's fun, don't get me wrong, but the irony of it is that the film criticizes sequels as second rate entertainment, and yet, doesn't aim to become anything higher than that. I'm saying the word "sequel" waay to much in this review.

Scream
Scream(1996)

Scream is such a smart, original work that it manages to avoid any sort of criticism by criticizing itself first. It manages to call attention to the formula and the cliches that abound almost every slasher film released since the 1980s. But it doesn't think it's any better than them. It thinks it's one of them. It parodies the films that inspired it, and then manages to become one of those films all within the same scene.
The plot essentially works like this. Teens die. The remaining teens have seen enough movies that they believe that if they adhere to the rules laid out by those movies, they will survive being sliced and diced by the serial killer who is supposedly watching their every moves. The ones that slip up, don't follow the rules, meet gruesome ends. The mystery plot slowly unravels as the characters deconstruct who in their group could be the killer, and then try to deconstruct the killer's possible motive.
It's as if the characters know they're in a horror movie, even though they don't know it. That's the kind of wit, irony, and complexity that screenwriter Kevin Williamson has laid out in this picture. The film is directed with precision by horror auteur Wes Craven, who populates the film with tons of neat little in jokes as well. Fifteen years since its release, Scream remains one of the best slasher films of all time, not just because it contains everything that works to make a great slasher, but because it has a sense of humour about how it works.

Your Highness
½

As far as stoner comedies go, you can do a lot better than Your Highness, but you can definitely do a lot worse. There are tons of big names that populate the screen; from James Franco to Justin Theroux. Natalie Portman steals every scene that she's in, and seems to look more and more beautiful with each new movie. It's great to see an actress do complex, Oscar winning work and then turn around and do something like this.
The same can be said about director David Gordon Green. He cut his teeth by writing and directing some of the best art-house Indie films of the decade, and now he's "working for the man" on a studio comedy that is nothing more than a mildly fun way to kill two hours.
If you've ever seen Danny McBride as a main character (particularly in the great show Eastbound and Down), you know that he's going to play a vulgar prick who's only intelligence comes from the many ways he can use the word fuck and its derivatives. Thrust on a heroic quest to save his brother's fiance, he must battle wizards, demons, cannibal hotties, and evil knights along with Franco, Portman, and his eunic sidekick.
I don't believe Your Highness is supposed to be a send off or spoof of any recent adventure fantasy. It's quite simply a really adult comedy, with a little something for everyone, Crude jokes, boobs, a minotaur's penis, and shockingly graphic violence. It makes for an uneven movie, but it knows its audience - people who get a kick out of nonstop toilet humour and senseless violence.

Source Code
Source Code(2011)

Source Code is fast, short, and grips you right from minute one. Duncan Jones, who has already made a masterpiece with Moon, directs this film, and uses his access to a studio budget in the best possible way. This is a young filmmaker who understands movies as first being about human stories, especially in the realm of science fiction, a genre he has now reinvented twice. In my opinion, Duncan Jones is the next Christopher Nolan.
His new movie stars Jake Gyllenhaal, who wakes up suddenly on a train. He has no idea how he got there, nor does he know the strange woman across from him talking to him like she knows him. Within minutes the train blows up, and then he finds himself somewhere else. What follows I will not divulge. This is a film that takes many twists and turns, none of them contrived, and all of them work towards building a great and complex film.
Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, and Jeffrey Wright are all at the top of their game. Their performances require them to communicate as much information about themselves in a short amount of time, and they all succeed in creating well rounded and believable characters.
As for the science in the film, I don't know. It works for the film world. If it is accurate science, I'll never know. But I still accepted its logic even after the credits rolled. The food for thought, however, isn't in the science. It lies in the humanity of the characters and in the themes. Well done, Mr. Jones. You've just made the best film I've seen so far this year!

Just Go with It

You can't really hate on Adam Sandler, even if you despise the movies he makes. The guy seems to really love what he does. His movies require a small modicum of intelligence to enjoy, and he gets to hang out all day with his friends in amazing locations for as long as the shooting schedule takes.
Take this movie, Just Go With It, for instance. The plot is stupid. The characters are in no conflict with each other, and the premise is formulaic and safe. But Sandler gets to hang out with Jennifer Aniston and Brooklyn Decker. He gets to shoot scenes with Nicole Kidman, and hang out with his buddies and even kids. Not only that, they're filming the movie in Hawaii.
So I really have nothing to say about the actual movie. The jokes are typical Adam Sandler jokes. The plot takes no twists or turns. Also, the characters make bad decisions after bad ones, some so bad you wonder how anyone isn't picking up on it. But it seems everyone involved was having nothing but fun while making the movie. In other words, it doesn't matter what the audience thinks. The utter lack of originality and by-the-numbers plotting is only an excuse so that Sandler and Co can get paid to have fun, and the producers can make lots of money by marketing this as light fluff to fill the seats with couples and people who don't really care about the film anyway.

Hobo With a Shotgun

I was never really impressed with the original Grindhouse trailer for Hobo with a Shotgun. While I loved the title, I didn't think the execution of the idea was particularly good. The movie version, however, is much better, thanks mostly to Rutger Hauer.
Canadian films have come a long way in the past few years. The quality has certainly improved, and as a straight up genre pic in the tradition of 70s vigilante pictures, Hobo with a Shotgun works as well as any of the other Grindhouse pictures. The film is over before you know it, but it packs a lot of action and gore into its brisk running time.
Rutger Hauer really makes this movie work. His delivery is spot on, even though the lines he has to say are pretty terrible. At times, the film tries too hard to be campy, and many dramatic scenes just play off stale and uninteresting, but Hauer never embarrasses himself or his character. He's still got the screen presence of an action hero.

Dead Silence
Dead Silence(2007)

Dead Silence exemplifies why more actually means less when it comes to horror. I don't understand why big studio horror films have to create this over the top atmosphere to make things scary. In one particular shot, it isn't enough to have the camera peering down a dark hall. The hall has to have windows and curtains flapping about in the wind, as the obvious spotlights peer in through each window to simulate the moon shining through. Or a character sleeping in a run down motel where the blood red vacancy light keeps flashing through the window; that would be really annoying in real life. It's like the filmmakers are trying to scream to you: this is creepy!!!
Shame because the film's concept reminds me of the urban legends I used to hear as a kid, either from my parents or the camp councilors trying to scare you over the camp fire. I enjoyed Dead Silence overall, but more so as a B-movie. Some of the scares were effective, despite being predictable as hell. Director James Wan uses darkness and low key light as effectively as some of the best Asian horror filmmakers like Hideo Nakata and Takashi Shimizu.
Ryan Kwanten is very likable as the protagonist, and the short roles played by Bob Gunton, Amber Valletta, and Michael Fairman do their part in establishing the deranged world of Raven's Fair. Except for Donnie Wahlberg, who hams up his part as the thinks-he's-smarter-than-he-is cop so much that the character seems very out of place for the serious tone that the film establishes.
Lots of flaws. Lots of things to admire. I can't recommend Dead Silence. But I can chalk it up to a guilty pleasure.

Death Sentence

Death Sentence would be the worst movie of the year if it weren't for two people. The first being Kevin Bacon. He creates the character this kind of movie needs. You're everyday man with the perfect family and the perfect job. Anyone can relate to him. But when his son is killed in a random robbery by a vicious gang, he takes it upon himself to enact his own revenge plot against them. It sucks when the judicial system can't help you, but I hear crap like this on the news all the time: scumbags getting off for killing innocent people based on sheer technicality. That's why you can cheer for a guy like this in the movies. It's cathartic.
The second is director James Wan. He doesn't really try to make the horrid screenplay better. He just covers the flaws up in style, flair, and some really hilarious action pieces. The gang members of this movie really are the dumbest gang members in the world, but then again, that can be said about any street gang. While he is often in too much of a hurry to get to the next action scene, he gets the required performances out of the actors. There isn't much to care about, but I think that sort of saves the film.
This is cinematic cheese at its finest, and I'm not hear to watch a story. I want to see dumb asses get their faces blown off by Kevin Bacon and his shotgun.

Unstoppable
Unstoppable(2010)
½

Unstoppable is a solid genre picture, one that hasn't been seen since the original Speed, and even then, this movie doesn't need the threat of a terrorist's wrath to keep you on the edge of your seat.
The concept is very simple. A human error on moving a train carrying explosive gases causes the train to speed continually down the wrong way of a major train track. It causes a panic amidst the control centre and the major corporation to come up with ways to stop the train, none of which work. Sounds like they need Denzel Washington to solve the problem.
But wait! There he is. He's a disgruntled veteran of the job who has just been laid off and is finishing up his last few days. Paired up with him is the new guy, a young, cocky Chris Pine. Both characters are having trouble in their personal lives, and this allows them to bond. However, the two of them must figure out a way to stop the train, and the excitement is incredible.
Expertly directed by Tony Scott with precision and efficiency. A good old fashioned action picture!

Saw 3D
Saw 3D(2010)

The most epic Saw movie ever, and quite possibly the worst. Basically, the script has two stories going on at once and neither of them come together at the end, except through the fact that someone dies (they seriously could have been their own movies). The first story follows the victim who must go on an hour long quest to save people close to him to learn an ultimate lesson, which he will continually fuck up right through to the end. The second follows the cops chasing Hoffman, who is always one step ahead of them. You know the drill.
But the traps. The traps were awesome! I've given up trying to make sense of them, or even trying to care about the people in them. I figure if you're dumb enough to be in one of these traps, you deserve not to make it, especially when the actor playing you has the range of a cutting board. Heaping amounts of gore. Completely implausible storyline. Twist ending. and even as bad as it is, it isn't bad enough to be one of those so bad it's good movies.
On another note: I'm just so glad I didn't see this in 3D. For the film they shot, implementing the technology was totally unnecessary, especially because the lighting is so dark already. How would you be able to see anything without straining your eyes?

Paul
Paul(2011)

First they conquered zombies. Then they became action heroes. Now, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have given us their love letter to science fiction with Paul. The duo play the kind of comic book geeks that would fit perfectly in one of Kevin Smith's early movies. Graeme and Clive, played by Pegg and Frost respectively, are two Londoners on a road trip through all the stops near Area 51 and Roswell. Imagine their luck when they actually encounter a real alien.
But while that alien might be a vastly intelligent life form, he's also a pot smoking, foul mouthed slacker, the kind of guy's guy every group of friends has. The alien's on the run from an unidentified organization, probably the Area 51 Secret Service, headed up by Jason Bateman.
The film isn't a laugh a minute comedy. Sometimes the laughs are big. But the film actually deals with some key issues, such as the clash between religion and science, and the way religion actually poisons the mind. It can also be seen as a metaphor for the human race, depleting resources of all their usefulness and destroying them. Of course, unlike other sci fi films like Avatar, Paul is well written and understands subtlety.
Equally great are the many references to the action sci fi classics like E.T., Star Wars, and Aliens. There's enough of them to make a fan boy jump for joy. The film is essentially a road movie with science fiction, action, and comedy all thrown into the mix. Great characters, great situations, and overall, a great film.

The Adjustment Bureau
½

I really enjoyed this movie right up until the third act. Honestly, I still don't understand why writer director George Nolfi decided to include it. I actually thought it was a pretty complete movie up to where I started hating it - was all set to grab my jacket and applaud an original, unique film that maintained a consistent tone while balancing romance with science fiction.
Unfortunately, the "climax", or second climax as I call it, turns the whole film on its head, creating a near train wreck that strips the themes of their intrigue by wrapping everything neatly into a box and sticking a pretty red bow on top. So much for being a thought-provoking movie. On the plus, Matt Damon and Emily Blunt really make the story believable because their chemistry is just that good. Terence Stamp steals every scene he's in, and Anthony Mackie is starting to show that he is also becoming quite the actor.
What was a 4 star movie, quickly turned into a 1 1/2 star movie by the time the last act was finished. As you can tell, I really hated the last twenty or so minutes of this otherwise fine movie.

Skyline
Skyline(2010)

It's not that Skyline didn't have the potential to be the best movie ever! Most of the film takes place in a high rise apartment building, where five friends are trapped while an alien invasion unfolds over Los Angeles. The aliens shine a light that catches people in a daze while the aliens suck them up. Most of the big action set pieces, like the Army planes fighting the alien crafts are seen from a distance as the main characters try to stay as far away from the battle as possible. We only learn what the characters learn as they learn it. Think of it as a cross between Cloverfield and War of the Worlds. Tense and really exciting stuff!
The effects are fantastic. That's no surprise, because the Brothers Strause are visual effects wizards But there is a saying that with all the advances in CGI and technology, the only limit is the filmmaker's imagination. In the case of Skyline, creativity was definitely a limit. The story does not progress in any logical fashion. Characters do stupid shit over and over again, like leave the apartment when they've been perfectly safe there for some time.
The Brothers Strause (the most pretentious screen credit for the quality of work they do) have no understanding of character motivation, tension, nor do they know good dialogue. The script is hackneyed with poorly conceived lines and character arcs that make no sense. None of the actors are able to create any sense of chemistry or believability that they're in this situation. The story and the characters do not click; there is nothing to make us care about them, and thus, we don't care about what happens to them.

Monsters
Monsters(2010)
½

My first instinct is to praise Gareth Edwards for making a film on this scale for under a million bucks, especially since he did all the effects himself, and created a story through on location backdrops.
The film has already been criticized by many sci-fi fans because the two main characters rarely ever encounter the creatures. But the problem with Monsters is much, much more than the fact that there are very few monsters actually in the movie. The camera looms around and captures actual shots of vehicles and boats turned on their heads, buildings blown apart, and attempts to masquerade them as effects of an ongoing battle between the armies of Mexico and America and alien creatures who have been quarantined in a large part of Mexico. Through this, the film attempts to use science fiction as a way to parallel actual world events, but it doesn't have an original thought in its head. Cloverfield, District 9, and Children of Men have all pulled this off more effectively and uniquely.
The characters have to travel through the infected zone to get to America. They talk and talk about their lives back home, and reflect on how ignorant American people are, how they'd rather be more comfortable in their suburban homes than realize what's actually happening in the real world. I hate foreign filmmakers like this who impose these simplistic, vague, and ignorant views of America onto the audience.
The most pretentious part of the film comes at the end. The characters are almost never in any danger for the film's 90 minute run time, and then as soon as they're in the hands of American soldiers, then something happens to them. Can you guess who the real Monsters are?

A Serious Man

A Serious Man is as great a film as the Coen Brothers have made, and they've made Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and my favourite film of all time: No Country for Old Men. This is a comedy that is so dark and bleak, you would think it's a drama.
It centres around a Jewish professor named Larry Gopnick, who, to make a long story short, is having to deal with more stress than anyone deserves to go through. He isn't really complaining about it, but he seeks out advice on how to cope, and begs an answer from God as to why all this is happening to him. You can see the similarities between this tale and The Book of Job. There is an interesting prologue to the film that suggests his ancestors had a ghost curse their family line, but the film mainly asks the question as to whether there is any reason at all for bad things happening to good people. God might be testing his faith, but it's just as likely that Larry is a mere victim of bad luck.
No matter how you interpret it, A Serious Man is a wonderfully original film. Engaging and entertaining in ways that only the Coens know how to do, I loved everything about this movie. It is exactly the right brand of dark humour, and it raises existential and religious questions without providing any easy answers, giving you much to reflect on once the credits have roll!

Robin Hood
Robin Hood(2010)

There's nothing glaringly wrong with Ridley Scott's "historically placed" tale of Robin Hood. But there's also nothing that stands out about it either.
Call me crazy, but I loved the Kevin Costner turkey Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. It was not the best film in the world by any means - Kevin Costner as a Brit speaking American English is evidence of this - but it had a sense of adventure. It was fun, and it lovingly told a story of a hero who Costner was able to create very well in my opinion. Even his supporting characters, played by Christian Slater and Morgan Freeman, were memorable.
But Russell Crowe does not give the necessary performance to make his Robin Hood stand out as a hero. He tries too hard to recreate the character of Maximus from Gladiator. It doesn't work. The merry men aren't developed enough for us to care about them beyond Robin's sidekicks, none of them are reminiscent for very long.
And perhaps Ridley's biggest mistake was to turn Robin Hood into a swashbuckling historical epic like Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven. Those were great films, the former because it told a powerful story of a hero, the other because it was the best September 11 parable ever made. I'm not sure what to make of his Robin Hood. The character may be a hero because the script says so, but he blurs into the background because the movie shifts focus so many times as to what else is going on. The needless politics and side characters betraying each other slow the film down, much like how political scenes killed the pacing of the Star Wars prequels.
The fight scenes are well done, in spectacular Ridley Scott fashion. And I liked the re-interpretation of Marrion as a very strong, independent character; without her, the farm she lived at would have turned upside down. Overall, the pluses of this film just outweigh the minuses, but unfortunately, not by much.

Fish Tank
Fish Tank(2010)

Seeing a movie like Fish Tank makes you realize that you can't look to the Oscars to tell you what the best films of the year are.
Where was the best actress nomination for Katie Jarvis?
Or the original screenplay nod to Andrea Arnold, whose writing is as good as her directing. She tells the story of an angst-ridden teen, living in the worst of conditions in an England slum, but she does it through observation. The scene is the scene and viewers may interpret it in different ways.
The characters are heavily flawed, but are also good people. You can sympathize with them, hate them, love them, wish that you could help them, or wish ill on them. Movies like this require an active audience, one that won't be told by a film how to feel. But you will feel something while watching this movie. The story is powerful and completely gripping, a far better film than almost every best picture nominee at the 2011 Oscars.
While it may not always be the case with other films, Fish Tank is a very good reason why the best films you'll ever see are the ones floating under everyone's radar, because these are the films made with a voice, not a studio marketing team.

Vanishing On 7th Street

There is a great movie buried somewhere in Vanishing on 7th Street. But the story resorts instead to cliche characters reacting to cliche situations. If you've ever seen a movie where a man wakes up to a completely abandoned city after a massive catastrophe, you can pretty much predict how the story will unfold.
Hayden Christensen plays the anti-hero, a man with a troubled past looking for redemption. Thandie Newton plays the grieving mother. And John Leguizamo plays the man who's only purpose is to briefly explain to the audience what is going on. None of these characters are particularly smart, and will do many things that will have you rolling your eyes.
Director Brad Anderson takes a major step back here. He's never been a director that has been able to revive or reinvent genres, but he's given us some interesting genre fair with Session 9, The Machinist, and Transsiberian. Here, he doesn't have a grip on the material, and his movie seems like it was plagued with problems in the production, from the uninspired sets, poor lighting, narrative twists that are never fully explained, and a rushed ending. We've all seen this before. A cool concept ruined by a bad movie.

True Grit
True Grit(1969)

John Wayne's Academy Award winning performance is reason alone to watch True Grit. The award not only commemorates the Duke's great career as one of cinema's timeless icons, but it bids farewell to the traditional Western. In 1969, films were being reinvented by several directors, and the Western genre was undergoing one of the biggest changes, some examples including Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, and the spaghetti westerns pioneered by Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone. A film like True Grit was the last of its kind.
Unfortunately, I don't the film is particularly a masterpiece. Kim Darby's performance is way too cheerful for the audience to get a real sense of determination and ambition that she is supposed to have. Glen Campbell ruins the movie with his god-awful performance as LaBoeuf - he makes Keanu Reeves look like Marlon Brando. And many of the scenes are too slow and not particularly eventful.
Not to mention the 2011 Coen Brothers remake is just so much better in every way, that it almost renders the film a forgotten swan song to the classic Western.

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

Sunrise is so timeless because it is, quite simply, one of the most beautiful films ever shot. Every frame is so expertly composed, and I guess that's what makes the film so engaging. Much has to be told within the frame since it is, for the most part, a silent movie.
The story is such: a man plots to kill his wife because he hates her, and has fallen for another woman. In following through with his plot, he has a sudden change of heart, but not before his wife realizes his intentions. The tone of the film often shifts from disturbing, to sad, to wonderfully joyful, and occasionally forays into slapstick comedy. Yet, all these emotions are woven together so effortlessly thanks to the editing and the shot composition.
The film progresses like a poem. Murnau allows the viewer to become engrossed with the action in the frame. He emphasizes close ups, creating an active relationship between the film and its audience. We experience every emotion felt by the two lead characters. Sunrise is an absolute masterpiece, a gem of its era, and is still an important cinematic milestone even today.

Taken
Taken(2009)

I am rating this movie waaay higher than I should. Why am I doing this? Because I used to think only Arnold Schwarzenneger could single handedly wipe out an entire crime rig without the help of any army or police. Well, apparently Oskar Schindler, no wait, sorry, Liam Neeson can do the same, and he's half Arnold's size!
Yes, the story is preposterous. Yes, the script is written by Luc Besson, who is known for plot holes big enough to drive a jet liner through. And yes, the whole concept exists simply to showcase brutal fight scenes. I ain't complaining. If Neeson does more movies like this (and he's started to with the release of Unknown this year), I forsee a Liam Neeson action marathon happening a few more years down the road. No, Star Wars Episode 1 will not be included in said marathon.

Year of the Dog
½

Year of the Dog, or what could also be called, The Life and TImes of an Animal Activist, focuses on Peggy, played with quirky yet lovable sentiment by Molly Shannon. Peggy is completely passive, and has no companionship in her life, except for her little dog. One day the dog dies and Peggy is forced to cope with the reality of death, yet also the reality of life.
In her grief, she meets Newt (Peter Sarsgaard) who works at a pet clinic. He also opens her eyes to an entire world/industry that abuses animals, kills them, and turns them into food. She begins a naiive yet noble campaign to save as many animals as she can and inform as many people as she can about what is being done to many animals in test labs, slaughterhouses, even in the pound.
Director Mike White has a knack for creating oddball characters. They are aplenty here, but it makes the film feel like a Wes Anderson picture, which is never a bad thing. The cinematography by Tim Orr borrows a lot from Anderson, and Jonathan Demme, as characters are framed in the centre speaking directly into the camera. Regardless of the unoriginality, the film works as a strange yet touching comedy.

Coach Carter
Coach Carter(2005)
½

Coach Carter packs the usual cliches of the sports film into its 136 minute run time. That means that we will get lots of locker room speeches, renegade kids who will mature into proper, intelligent young adults within a few weeks, and a community who opposes all the radical notions the protagonist instigates in his teaching methods.
Where the film shines is in the presence of Samuel L. Jackson as that protagonist. Jackson commands the screen. He yells a lot, which is customary for him to do, but he creates a believability in his character that doesn't happen often in films of this ilk. His character is a role model that I actually felt could connect with the youths on the basketball team, and his methods of tough love were strong enough coming from him to make the kids want to change their lives. Consistently engaging.

Animal Kingdom
½

This gritty, disturbing crime picture from Australia has as its best asset the subtle yet gripping performance by Jacki Weaver. Her performance is reason enough to seek out this film, but fortunately, the actual movie is one of the best movies of 2010.
The protagonist, a teenager named Josh, is born into an organized crime family. His mother has just died of a heroine overdose, and he is left in the care of his grandmother (Weaver), who might be more of a danger to him than a guardian. Josh has a girlfriend who he is madly in love with, one of the reasons why he wants to stay away from the life of crime that all his uncles are into, but unfortunately, he keeps getting sucked into it through fear and pressure.
Twists and turns aplenty, very few of them contrived, Animal Kingdom is an original take on a tired genre. This is a gripping film about being born into circumstances out of your control, and having to fight yourself, the law, and your own family just to survive.

Biutiful
Biutiful(2010)
½

I can confidently say that Inarritu's Biutiful is the most downbeat, depressing movie I have ever seen. At the centre of it all is a brilliant performance by Javier Bardem, who is sure to give Colin Firth a run for the Best Actor Oscar. His character, Uxbal, loves his children to the point that he will do anything for them, including funding a criminal sweatshop. When he's diagnosed with terminal cancer and given a very short time to live, he tries to reconcile everything in his life. To say he doesn't quite find the redemption he is looking for is a massive understatement.
The film is extremely well made, It presents a gritty, realistic flipside to the city of Barcelona, which I visited last year and thought was one of the most beautiful cities I'd ever seen. Side characters are developed just enough to effect the story. Also, the film is shot in two aspect ratios, something that I found quite daring and significant.
If you can handle it, Biutiful is a great movie, but expect to feel horrible throughout the entire experience. It makes Requiem for a Dream feel like Amelie.

Sunshine
Sunshine(2007)
½

Sunshine is one of the smartest science fiction pictures of recent years. Danny Boyle offers his third masterpiece (behind Trainspotting and 28 Days Later).
We meet our crew aboard Icarus II, already en route to their mission: the sun, where they must send a bomb into its core that will reignite it and save the world from freezing to death. The crew are all tired, scared, and they are almost certain that they won't see their families again. Two of them are obsessed with seeing the sun as if it were like seeing God. Then things go wrong as the crew intercepts a distress call from Icarus I, the ship that disappeared six years ago and failed to complete its mission. The film becomes an edge-of-your-seat thriller while at the same time, never forgetting the heart of its story, seeing the best and worst of humanity in the most trying of circumstances. Brilliant filmmaking! This is the disaster picture Hollywood should have made a decade occur, instead of pumping out expensive crap like Armageddon and Deep Impact.

Better Luck Tomorrow

Now this is how you make an independent movie! Completely original, trippy, and clever satire about Asian kids who can get away with anything as long as it looks like they've conformed to society's general stereotypes of their race.
Director Justin Lin has a master's command of the camera and the story he's telling. He also allows his actors to look like true movie stars, even though most of the audience may have never seem them before (except for John Cho). It just sucks that now, eight years after this movie's initial release, Lin has become a corporate tool making godawful Fast and Furious movies. The soul behind Better Luck Tomorrow is the soul of a true auteur.

The Hurricane
½

The Hurricane is a solid film, and could have benefited from a three hour run time. There are so many aspects to this story and so much ground to cover that I think director Norman Jewison might have slightly edited himself out of an Oscar. That's not to say that this isn't a well paced, well put together film, but it's missing that "wow" factor; it's hard to explain, but it's that feeling you get when the credits role and you're still sitting in your seat captivated by what you just saw.
I think it's because the film under-develops some of its characters. I wanted to know more about the racist cop who frames Denzel Washington's character, Rubin Carter, for murder. The guy's a prick no doubt, but I wanted to know more about why he does what he does, instead of just seeing him as Satan Incarnate. Also, I wanted to know more about the Canadians who fought tooth and nail to appeal the case; they seemed just as important as Rubin Carter, but the movie doesn't give them enough screen time - but then again, I might be biased because I am a Canadian.
Other than that, a solid effort, and Denzel Washington gave another brilliant performance; one of his finest even to this day.

Blue Valentine

Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams deserve their Oscar nominations for best actor and best actress respectively. Director Derek Cianfrance shoots them almost entirely in closeups, often never establishing the actors in relation to the setting with long shots. This maintains an emphasis on the characters and how they are feeling in every scene.
I can just imagine all the girls seeing this movie with their significant others. Once the end credits role, at least half of them will be have tears in their eyes, crying to their lovers, "Please, don't let that happen to us!"
But there's so much more to Blue Valentine then just a relationship on the rocks. The film cuts between two time periods: the past where the characters meet and fall in love, and the present where they barely have a marriage. The story that comes out of presenting these two time periods side by side creates an powerful, emotionally charged reflection on the life altering experiences that can destroy love just as easily as it can create it.

Jonah Hex
Jonah Hex(2010)
½

In the hands of better filmmakers, I'm sure Jonah Hex would have been a much more intriguing and entertaining western fantasy. Shame really, because the cast is wasted. Josh Brolin is quite good as Jonah Hex, as is John Malkovich as Jonah's arch enemy. Megan Fox is not as bad as I've heard; she gets the job done, what little is required of her.
But instead, the script by Neveldine/Taylor is a hack job that recycles tons of cliches, fails to develop any of its characters beyond stereotype, and ultimately sucks all the life out of the anti-hero and the premise. The pacing is swift but has no energy, thus, no one will care about what is going to happen next. The only thing good about this movie: it runs an hour and twelve minutes plus credits, so you're night isn't completely ruined.

The Company Men
½

Ben Affleck loses his job as a result of another round of downsizing by his company, GTX, a global shipping company who's share price is on a steady downswing. Along with him go Chris Cooper and Tommy Lee Jones. This film isn't trying to point a condescending finger at the greedy corporation. Instead, it wants the audience to live the experience of being laid off along with the characters. Those people who have actually been laid off as a result of downsizing probably faced worse problems than these three. The character I cared most about, the one played by Chris Cooper, who is 60 years old and unable to get a new job because of his age, is barely in the movie. While the movie's ambition is noble, the result is less so.

No Strings Attached

I think I would have enjoyed this film more had the Apatow crew been involved in the making. They would have taken this rather vulgar premise, at least to anyone who prefers sex after marriage, and injected it with a little more insight and realism, making it far less formulaic and cute. For what it is though, you could do far worse. Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher have just enough chemistry to make you believe they could very well be more than just f*ckbuddies.

Braveheart
Braveheart(1995)

Director Mel Gibson is not filming history, he's filming myth. The William Wallace portrayed here is the hero that legends are made of. The film is a flawless, and incredibly moving story of love and passion with complex characters and breathtakingly epic fight scenes. Braveheart is so enthralling, it has the power to make you forget that you're watching a film, which is exactly what the best movies are supposed to do.

Grindhouse
Grindhouse(2007)
½

It's a shame that this movie, or double feature, failed at the box office. Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez went out of their way to entertain. Grindhouse is a love letter to the kind of trashy cinema that B-movie fans would eat up like a Big Mac meal. But not just a homage, Grindhouse aims to recreate the entire theatrical experience you'd probably have in this kind of theatre.
I've heard that the actual experience in a grindhouse theatre is nothing like what Rodriguez and Tarantino set out to imitate. Maybe the film has created a kind of uber-realistic experience. I've seen a few grindhouse type films, and let me tell you, they are A-W-F-U-L! The segments, Planet Terror and Death Proof, are more thrilling than riding a high speed roller coaster through a zombie theme park. Cheeky, self-referential, and downright witty humour can be found in almost every scene of either film. The addition of fake trailers only add to the fun.
This is the kind of movie you'd play on a Saturday afternoon when you don't want to do anything all day but sit around and watch B-movies. In Grindhouse's 3 hour running time you'll get two entertaining-as-hell films, plus a bunch of fake advertisements that will have you howling in laughter. Not back for the price of one regular ticket!

The Green Hornet
½

The biggest problem with The Green Hornet is the script by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. For the kind of film that they seem to have wanted to make - a campy, fun, lighthearted superhero movie - they miss the mark by recycling similar jokes and scenarios from Superbad and Pineapple Express into the Green Hornet story. Unfortunately, there attempt to branch off into a different genre reveals their limitations as writers, and most of the schlock here just isn't funny.
To make it worse, the main character, Britt Reid (Rogen) is a complete douche bag. The guy does nothing his whole life, and then, once his Dad dies, decides he's going to prove that he's more than just a dead beat, but on his own terms. Then, he treats the one guy who practically does everything for him like crap. Cameron Diaz has little to no influence on the plot, and thus, could have been scrapped from the movie. Christoph Waltz' talent is wasted as he seems forced to parody his Colonel Hans Landa character from Inglourious Basterds. The only saving grace is Jay Chou, who is so good as Kato, you wish the movie were about him and only him.
The final climax is particularly annoying, filled with plot holes, scathing improbabilities, and one too many endings. This is the first big release of 2011, and it's a complete dud.

He Got Game
He Got Game(1998)

Spike Lee is one of the very few filmmakers possessing the heart and soul of an auteur, but none of the self righteousness. He Got Game is a perfect example of the directors sensibilities. Most basketball movies tell coming of age stories against gritty backdrops that all lead up to some big game. Lee's film is practically void of all such cliches. The central narrative does build around a father trying to reconnect with his son, but the narrative progresses in ways that most screenwriters or directors would be afraid to allow.
The movie explores how everyone - agents, politicians, legal guardians, even girlfriends - scrambles to get a piece of the possible glory and money behind a rising high school basketball star. But it also maintains a central focus on the basketball star and how close he is to reaching his dreams. This allows for an interesting mix in tones, where the character's field of dreams mixes with the harsh reality of the sport as a commercial entity, filled with people who's only goal, like in all business, is to make money.
At the heart of it all is Denzel Washington, a convicted murderer who happens to be this young star's father. He is let out on temporary parole to try and get his son to sign with a particular university basketball team. If he does, he might be released permanently. Regardless of the outcome, this allows the father to find some redemption in helping his son figure out his life. The end is anti-climactic, but beautifully executed, displaying Spike Lee at his artistic best.

Season of the Witch

You could pretty much go on and on about everything that's wrong with Season of the Witch, including Nicholas Cage's hair, but it would be too easy.
My expectations were at their absolute lowest going in, so maybe that's why I liked this movie. The inconsistent use of colour filters fail to create any sense of tone. The movie drifts between action, fantasy, horror, and drama, all while creating purely cheesy moments.
The story is simply about Behman and Felson, two crusaders who realize after 12 years of rape, pillage, and murder that what they're doing is wrong - sharp wits these two - and decide to leave the army. They wander into a village suffering from the black plague, and are asked to deliver a girl who the priests believe is a witch to a monastery. Whether or not the girl is a witch isn't a mystery for very long. The script isn't exactly one for subtlety.
Let's put it this way. Werewolf dogs, a demon, witches, zombie monks, and Nicholas Cage. That's a B-movie if I've ever seen one. And damn it, I enjoyed every minute of it!

Shooter
Shooter(2007)
½

Mark Wahlberg heads up a pretty solid cast for an action flick that attempts to make snipers as cool and intelligent as those CIA Jason Bourne types. For the most part, the movie succeeds.
Director Antoine Fuqua stages many an action scene involving helicopters, massive army squads, and a ton of gunfights, all of which see Wahlberg's character calculating his way out, then executing it with precision and some bad ass sniper kills. He's doing this to free his name, as he was framed for the murder of an archbishop and attempted murder of the President by a small organization of very crooked but connected politicians.
Wahlberg doesn't have the charisma that Matt Damon or Daniel Graig bring to their action heroes. But interestingly enough, he has the aura of a cool, everyday sort of guy. This makes his frequent switches from the average joe to cold blooded killer all the more intriguing, which makes up for the convoluted narrative.
One of the film's themes centres around vigilante justice, particularly in the face of people who can't be tried in the court of law, quite simply because they run the courts. The shooter's morals never come into question, and they really shouldn't, since he is constantly betrayed by his country. In that sense, the film celebrates vigilantism in the face of no other reasonable form of justice. I don't have too many problems with that.

Remember Me
Remember Me(2010)

To say this movie is bad is a massive understatement. I've seen train wreck romances before, ones with stock characters in stock scenes following by the numbers plots. However, I've never seen one that tries to pull what this movie pulls in its final minutes. SPOILER ALERT: Once the main characters' love for each other has been declared, once the emotionally distant parents have reconnected with their children, and once the Robert Pattinson character has found his new love for life, the camera pans out the window he stares out of, and pulls all the way back to reveal he is in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, as the plane is about to crash into it.
This is a major problem. Screenwriters are taught this basic rule in school never to introduce an entirely new concept in the third act, when the conflict needs to be resolved and equilibrium re-established. Remember Me's script breaks this rule by using a tragic event to enforce its message, that life must be lived to its fullest. Why? Because we don't know when we will be robbed of it. Fuck off filmmakers. A movie should never have to pull the rug on its audience like this to make sure they understand its universal message. Instead, this closing scene undermines everything that comes before it.
I read an article about a woman having lunch with her husband in an outdoor coffee shop. Somehow, a piece of the above building broke off, and fell on top of her, crushing her to death. This it tragic. This is horrible. But if a movie would be made of this couple's life, say, they met, fell in love, went through hardships, reconciled, and found solace in each other. Then in the last scene, this were to happen to the woman, how would you the audience feel?
Maybe I wouldn't hate the movie so much if every character wasn't a pure cliche lifted from other romances and family dramas, or if every dramatic scene wasn't so painfully contrived in ways only a screenplay could do. But with this new tacked on ending - whether or not it was intended from the beginning is irrelevant, because it comes across as very tacked on - the film can have more social and historical relevance than all the other formulaic teen romances that came out this year.

The American
The American(2010)
½

George Clooney's latest is an ambitious thriller that requires patience and attentiveness, something that most modern day audiences will have trouble with. Too many people will hate this movie, mainly because there are very few action sequences, lots of dialogue absent scenes, and nuanced performances that require some form of analysis to fully understand.
Thanks to this, I can wholly recommend The American as a breath of fresh air. It's not a perfect movie. Sometimes, scenes tend to drag on, long after the point has been made, and the latter half of the film strays too far into formulaic territory. But nevertheless, the film works.
There is one particular scene where a particular character calls George Clooney's character something that changes the whole circumstance in the picture. This is a well executed scene, and its point is very easy to miss. But this is the kind of subtlety that The American successfully uses to keep its audience on edge. If you get yourself into the mindset that The American is unlike any hitman thriller you've seen this year, you will be entertained.

Brooklyn's Finest
½

The cops and criminals genre has been done to death, and Hollywood's offerings as of late suggest that they have completely run out of ideas. With the exception of The Town (itself somewhat of a retread of Michael Mann's Heat), I can't even think of a movie from this genre worth mentioning that's come out in the past five years.
Brooklyn's Finest is no different. Instead of one cliched narrative, we get three, each connected with the other only through the film's central themes. There's the crooked cop who has had it with the system who he perceives just as corrupt. There's the undercover who's in too deep and it's destroying him mentally. And there's the beat cop who is on the cusp of retiring. He has no intention of making any difference in his profession, and just can't wait until the week is over, but before it is, he may just yet have a chance to do something heroic.
The plus side to the film features some strong performances by Ethan Hawke, Don Cheadle, and Richard Gere. Hawke is especially good, because he's essentially playing the Denzel Washington character from Training Day, and he pulls it off well. Interesting, since he played the heroic rookie in that film. Director Antoine Fuqua sets a very serious tone, so much so that the third act feels as epic as a Greek tragedy. The film was shot in an actual slum in Brooklyn, and the slang seemed, at least to me, to reflect the lifestyle and forms of speech in this neighbourhood.
But ultimately, no matter how good the visual flair or acting is, it doesn't save the film from feeling predictable. There is nothing that has been said about life in the ghetto, the corruption in the police force, or the personal toll that the job takes on its officers that hasn't been said before. It's extremely hard to engage in a story when we too easily recognize the character archetypes, and the direction the narrative is going to take.

Battle Royale
½

Battle Royale is a violent satire on the anxiety parents have towards their children. The fears of complete disrespect, attacks on teachers and authority in general, have led the Japanese government to pass a law called the BR Act. Delinquent classrooms are brought to a remote environment, with the consent of their parents, and are forced to kill each other off until one is left standing.
The result is a film that plays almost like a video game. But the script devotes a lot of time to developing its student characters into people we really do care about. Not all these students are deserving to be placed inside this game. In fact, any of the problems that are established between the kids and authority can be traced back to failure of their parents and teachers to give them proper guidance in their lives.
Some plot points and character arcs don't really make a lot of sense. But this is a film where inconsistencies don't matter. The concept is intriguing enough to promote thought and debate amongst its audience members. Any film that manages to do that is a pretty damn important one. Hopefully, some distribution company will bring this film to the North American market, or some competent filmmaker will consider remaking it. This is a violent, disturbing film that must be seen.

First Blood
First Blood(1982)

First Blood sets itself apart from most war movies, as well as the sequels that would soon come after it, in that it deals with the hero removed from the war trying to reintegrate back into civilized society. Like the similar themed The Deer Hunter, First Blood shows that these "killing machines" are actually too physically, mentally, and most of all emotionally scarred to just return to their pre-war selves. It's not their fault; it's the fault of the country that sent them to war in the first place.
John Rambo, played very well by Sylvester Stallone, has come to the ironically named town of Hope to deliver something to a friend of his who he served alongside in Vietnam. He learns that his friend died. With nowhere to go, no friends to see, Rambo wanders the town until he's picked up by the town sheriff and driven to the city limits. The sheriff doesn't want him there, saying that his kind are not welcome in the town. Rambo shows some resistance, and is arrested unjustly. The abuse that the rest of the officers show him set him off on a violent rampage and soon, the entire force is after him. Rambo survives only by doing what he was trained to do for war.
The film isn't afraid to look at this issue from both sides. The ignorance of the police represent the ignorance of anyone who assumes they know what Vietnam was about even though they never were there. But war changes man for the worst, and because of that, Rambo can never just blend in with these ignorant folk. The film's climax reveals the film as a tragedy.
The sequels celebrate Rambo's ability to kill people in graphic and vicious ways. This film, the original Rambo movie, mourns the man who could be forever lost to this ability.

Resident Evil: Afterlife

Nothing more than another installment in the video game franchise, Resident Evil Afterlife is more or less harmless, regardless of whether it's seen in 2D or 3D.
If you're a fan of the game, you already know that this movie, as with the entire franchise, will not retain any of the game's claustrophobic atmosphere (although the games have become more of action based games than survival horror since Resident Evil 4). This movie retains the bosses and villains from Resident Evil 5, but the story continues where the third film left off.
If you're a fan of the films, you can't really go wrong with this one. It's got tons of gory action, and a passable story that links it all together. You can't really think too much about the plot holes, as that would require the movie to have a plot begin with.
For me, I was satisfied enough to see the characters from the video games brought to life. The action entertained me and didn't overstay it's welcome. Anyone who has stuck around the franchise this long knows what to expect from it, and Afterlife won't disappoint. If it does, you might have been expecting too much.

Dead Alive
Dead Alive(1993)
½

Dead Alive, the first major studio film from Peter Jackson is one of the strangest, most over-the-top horror comedies I have seen. A cult film in the highest regard, this film has tons and tons of gore, horny zombies, a kung fu fighting priest, a zombie baby, and a tarot card prophecy that leads to a wonderful romance. If this doesn't sound like your kind of movie, don't bother, you will only be disgusted. If it does, then it was made just for you!
What's most interesting about this movie is the effects. This is one of Peter Jackson's jump start films, and in it, you see a real auteur at work. The director's passion for new ideas and innovative effect techniques are brilliantly displayed, especially for a film that is budgeted at only 3 million.
So zombie lovers, grab a bag of popcorn and enjoy. Squeamish people, avoid this one like the plague.

The King's Speech

There is a brilliant scene where King George VI sits with his family as they watch a newsreel that briefly shows Hitler speaking to the masses in German. "Papa, what's he saying" one of King George's children asks. "I don't know," her father replies. "But he seems to be saying it rather well." This scene defines much of what The King's Speech is about. Notice, if you watch the movie, how King George stares at Hitler in admiration. Not admiration for the monster, but admiration for the way the monster speaks.
This is a film about the power of speech, about how tone, pronunciation, and delivery can make all the difference to those who are listening.
Colin Firth is perfect as Albert/King George VI. His performance emphasizes the inner struggle Albert faces as he deals with his own problems as well as the country's. Geoffrey Rush deserves Oscar consideration for his portrayal of Lionel, the unconventional and unqualified teacher. Rush mixes just the right amount of humour with the character's determination to make Albert into a mighty King. Also of note is Helena Bonham Carter as Albert's wife Elizabeth. Only a great actress like Carter can play a woman so merciless as Belatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter films as well as someone so gentle, and merciful as Queen Elizabeth in The King's Speech.
Director Tom Hooper films most of narrative indoors. This is not an epic film, but a tight, controlled story that is small in scope but deals with something that anyone can understand, that speech is the most powerful tool one has.

A Few Good Men

"I want the truth!" - Tom Cruise.
"You can't handle the truth!" - Jack Nicholson
This scene is probably more famous than the movie from where it comes from. Of course, Rob Reiner's A Few Good Men was quite a popular movie back in 1992. But what a movie it is!
Two Army lieutenants stationed out at Guatanamo Bay are charged with the murder of one of their own. Tom Cruise and Demi Moore play two hot shot Navy officers charged with defending the case. What looks on the surface as an open and shut plea bargain becomes a complex and disturbing look at what it takes to be a soldier under the most extreme and life threatening of conditions.
I can't say any more about this movie. Everything works. The film is a masterpiece and one of the best legal dramas. Tom Cruise is fantastic as the arrogant defense lawyer and Jack Nicholson plays his perfect opponent as the lieutenants' Colonel. The scene that they share together is completely epic and one of the most tense courtroom scenes ever filmed.

The Town
The Town(2010)

Dog Day Afternoon. Bonnie and Clyde. Heat. The Departed. Three Kings. All of these great crime/heist thrillers have transcended their genre by creating in depth studies of their characters and settings. Add to that list: Ben Affleck's The Town.
Affleck demonstrates such an incredible understanding of complex narrative and command of the camera, you would think he's made several films prior to this movie.
An all star cast including Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm (MAD MEN!!!!), and Blake Lively create authentic characters who are all character studies in themselves. Each actor adds a necessary element to the film.
The Town is one of the best films I've seen this year. I hope it is remembered come Oscar time, and while you may not admire it as much as I do, there is no doubt in my mind that you will totally dig this awesome movie!

I.O.U.S.A.
I.O.U.S.A.(2008)

A very in depth documentary that breaks down America's economic problem into layman's terms and emphasizes just how big this problem is. The true horror of the situation is that the idiot leaders of the most powerful nation in the world have still not been able to foresee this problem and are not doing anything about it. One thing I know the filmmakers don't want to see is their prediction come true, and hopefully, the right people see this film.

The Back-up Plan
½

I liked some of the ideas that this movie touched upon, and I liked how it became more about how the romantic leads try to figure out how to cope with the hardships of having children. But the movie hasn't a clue as to what's funny. Every joke is painstakingly unfunny, and the insistence of the script, director, and producers that this film must be a romantic comedy is the ultimate shortfall.

Machete
Machete(2010)

Robert Rodriguez delivers on his promise to make the legendary fake Grindhouse trailer into a feature length film. The cast is stellar - Cheech Marin, Michelle Rodriguez, and Steven Seagal playing the main villain - you can't go wrong! The action is as over the top as any of Rodriguez's latest R-rated outings. Simply put, Machete is bloody awesome! It's just another reason why 2010 is the year of the genre film.

The Final Destination
½

It's a terrible movie, offering a plot no different than the first Final Destination; only this time, it assumes you know how this is going to work, so it doesn't even bother to explain Death's Design properly. The acting is abysmal, and the movie only seems to exist to show us gory, graphic, and sometimes hilarious death scenes.

Batman & Robin

You've all seen this film, and you all know it's bad. There's a you tube video that compiles 100 of Arnold's best film quotes and there are about a ton of quotes taken from this film. If you are contemplating re-watching this film to get a kick out of how many bad "ice" puns Arnold makes, don't. The film is just plain awful. Arnold is not onscreen long enough to redeem just how unwatchable the whole thing is, and his quotes get tired after the first hour. There are only so many "ice" puns you can make before they just get annoying.

Vampires Anonymous

There are some movies that are so bad they're good, and then there are those that are just plain bad. Vampires Anonymous falls squarely in the latter category. All the jokes fall flat. There are very few scenes that are even entertaining, regardless of whether or not they work. I kept thinking to myself that this might have made a pretty decent movie if they just tried to make a serious horror as opposed to a trashy comedy. Cuz there is nothing to laugh at here. Just cringe worthy scenes that leave a bad taste in your mouth.

Last Chance Harvey

Stories like this can only play out in the movies. A man goes through a life changing experience, finds love, and rights all his wrongs in the span of a few days. The plot contrivances are aplenty. But the movie isn't so bad, because Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson give two wonderful performances that only they could give. Before Sunrise this isn't, but it's a nice, sweet, harmlessly feel good movie that's as pleasant as afternoon tea.

The Other Guys
½

Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg pull off a modern day Abbott and Costello team in this very funny movie from director Adam McKay and the people involved in Anchorman and Talladega Nights. While most action buddy cop movies pair together a pissed off, tough-as-nails rebel with a loud mouth, bumbling fool, The Other Guys focuses on two guys who would be overlooked in almost any profession: the embarrassment and the weird guy. Somehow, Ferrell and Wahlberg not only make these characters likable, they make them seem like no other buddy cop team we've seen before. While the jokes are the same as other classic Ferrell movies, the concept is unique.

The Last Exorcism

Review Summary:
"This one's for the horror fans," I heard horror maestro producer Eli Roth say not more than three hours ago as he stood in front of a sold out Bloor Cinema at the Toronto After Dark gala premiere of The Last Exorcism. I couldn't agree more. Here is an honest, straight forward reworking of the demonic possession subgenre that is scary, tense, and delivers the goods. It presents an interesting conflict between science and religion that I hope will spark discussion once the credits role.
Opens August 27, and if you're a horror fan, check it out!

The Expendables

First he does Rocky Balboa. Then he does Rambo. Now it's...Rambo and Friends. Sylvester Stallone proves once again he's the real deal with a brutally violent, ridiculously gory film that doesn't fall short of its promise to be the best action flick of the year. Everybody brings their A game, and by that I mean they bring all of their muscle and testosterone filled rage to the set.
Mickey Rourke also shines in one great scene where he pulls off a surprisingly Oscar worthy monologue. Another nice surprise is a five minute scene starring Sly, Willis, and Arnold himself. Without spoiling anything, let's just say this scene is worth the price of the ticket alone.

The Box
The Box(2009)

The Box throws tons of ideas into a narrative that is next to impossible to explain, and it misses the mark more often than not.
The acting by Cameron Diaz and James Marsden isn't exactly top notch either. Cameron has the same clueless look that Kristen Stewart has throughout Twilight, and I keep thinking Marsden is going to shoot lasers from his eyes.
Richard Kelly covers a lot of ground. He touches upon a box that will reward those who push a button while killing someone they wouldn't know simultaneously, aliens, portals, the afterlife, and a town filled with people who seem to be in on the mystery. Juggling all of these concepts into one movie is sure to leave plot holes, story problems, and things that are just too much to accept. I admire the ambition, but there was very little in the way of suspense, just confusion that did not intrigue or interest me.

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

David Slade the director is better than Stephanie Meyer the writer. Slade takes the dreadful source material, fixes what was wrong with it, and enhances the things that made for a compelling story to make a movie that is still flawed, but surprisingly entertaining. But something must be done about these actors. Maybe delivery coaches, or enroll them in basic acting classes. While the supporting actors who play the Cullens, the Blacks, and even the newborn vampires actually hold their own, Taylor Lautner, Krister Stewart, and (not so much) Robert Pattinson create no compelling drama or even a little bit of chemistry. This sucks because for the first time in this saga, the movie is watchable.

The Collector
½

Review Summary:
There is so much gore that I really couldn't blame someone for dismissing this film as mindless torture porn. But the film doesn't have any aspirations to go beyond that genre. If you can stomach it, The Collector just happens to be good at what it does.

Salt
Salt(2010)
½

Angelina Jolie single handedly saves this movie. She's an incredible action star. The screen just bursts into flames with her presence, sex appeal, and ability to kick major ass. It's a shame that she has to carry the entire film by herself. The script by Kurt Wimmer is a real one star turd. It's premise is completely unbelievable, and there are plot holes big enough to drive a jet plane through. Then again, this is the guy who wrote Ultraviolet and Law Abiding Citizen. Philip Noyce doesn't do much but make sure the camera is on Angelina at all times. The action scenes are average and wear out their welcome.
Without Angelina, this film would have sucked. It's fun because of her. It's watchable because of her. Inception this ain't.

The Last Airbender

Last week I reviewed Inception and didn't want to talk about because that movie had so many great things, I didn't want to reveal anything. This week, I review M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender, and I don't want to talk about it because I wouldn't know where to begin. It is god awful from start to finish. Rushed, poorly put together, and just plain bad. The acting, effects, story progression, and bending sequences all suck. A slap in the face to all the Airbender fans out there.
This is a new low for Shyamalan, and he's the guy who made The Happening! Some directors improve with each film. He gets worse. And of all the things he can't do well, he's the worst with exposition. A story like Avatar is about wowing the audience with visuals. With his film, Shyamalan sucks the life out of every scene, taking away the magic and the sense of awe that the film should possess.

Predators
Predators(2010)

Saying that Predators is the second best Predator movie doesn't really mean much. I mean, it isn't much of a big deal that the film is better than Predator 2, and both instalments in the Alien vs. Predator franchise. Hell, Predators is even better than the last two Alien movies, but again that doesn't say much.
There's a lot wrong with Predators. First off, way too many characters. Almost every single ethnicity is accounted for in this group of survivors. Unfortunately, the movie doesn't really deviate from the standard order in which these characters will be killed off, so it isn't difficult to guess who is going to die next. Also, some characters are totally unnecessary. What was Laurence Fishburne's psychotic character doing in the film? He had no purpose.
I didn't particularly care for these "Super" predators either. Other than their masks, they don't seem to be that much more technologically advanced than the old school predators. Hell, they seem to be easier to kill too.
Nevertheless, director Nimrod Antal stages some fantastic set pieces like the opening shot with Adrien Brody waking up as he's falling thousands of feet. There is a one on one sword fight between man and predator that is almost worth the price of admission alone. And Adrian Brody is jacked! I'm talking borderline Arnold jacked! He even says one of Arnold's best lines from the original film.
All in all, a good effort. Not great, but it won't disappoint too many Predator fans. Hell, they've been let down far worse.

The Descent 2

(Review coming soon)

Land of the Lost

Less than twenty minutes in, I was ready to turn it off. The concept s so lame it's ridculous, the effects are awful, and the movie can't seem to muster a laugh beyond it's opening title. I like Will Ferrell, but this film was a big step back for him. His comedy is too crude for kids, and this movie is definitely not family friendly. It's also too kiddie-ish for the Old School, Anchorman crowd. No one there wants to see Will Ferrell cracking lude jokes in a fantasy with magical creatures and a T-Rex. Nothing works in this movie, and as quirky and unique as it wants to be, it just comes off as utterly stupid.

Splice
Splice(2010)

(Review coming soon)

Alice in Wonderland

I was so dead set on seeing this picture because I truly believed Tim Burton was born to make an Alice in Wonderland movie. But I'm really going to have to eat those words, because Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland is not a good film. It's not a terribly bad one either, There is no shortage of intriguing visuals. Mia Wasikowska is a good choice to play Alice, and the film is populated with the usual Burton crowd, which is always a stellar cast.
The film is simply put the most uninnovative, unoriginal, and uncreative Alice in Wonderland I have seen. It strips away all the thematic and satirical elements of the books and puts in place a fluffy, family oriented action flick that is only as fun as the abysmal 3D technology in which this film is displayed. A disappointment, that is for sure.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is made for people who loved the video game, and almost anyone who enjoys big, epic, swashbuckling adventures. There's nothing here that stands out as wholly awesome. The fantasy plot is substandard, and really just exists to tie together all the action set pieces. And there is a lot of action.
Jake Gyllenhaal and Gemma Arterton share great on screen chemistry, complete with witty banter and a sexual tension that keeps getting interrupted by a big fight. The real scene stealer here though is Alfred Molina, who provides excellent comic relief.
There is so much action going on, and so much CGI, it's quite easy to get lost trying to follow everything that's happening. That's the problem with summer movies nowadays. Too many effects, cuts, and quick flashes that disorient more so than excite the audience. But all in all, this is the kind of generic adventure that doesn't get made too often. Every movie takes itself so seriously, like the 2010 update of Robin Hood. Not too many movies want you to just turn off your brain and have fun, but Prince of Persia is one such movie.

Iron Man 2
Iron Man 2(2010)
½

A fun ride for sure, but the story could have used a lot of work. There`s a whole subplot involving Tony Stark`s depleting energy cores that keep him alive that is never fully developed in any way, and could have been cut from the film. And while all the characters get to have their time of day, the film seems more like a teaser trailer for the massive Avengers movie than anything else. Still, the performances are all excellent. Robert Downey Jr. is able to elevate himself above this material and create a performance that is consistently fun to watch. How he plays off Gwyneth, Don, Sam Rockwell, Sam Jackson, and Scarlett shows just how great an actor he is. The last thirty minutes of the film are very exciting. Overall, a solid effort, despite its many flaws.

Orphan
Orphan(2009)

There's something wrong with Esther indeed. I still don't know if I really liked the film's twist ending, which, to the film's credit, is completely unguessable. It's a creepy conclusion, but I had a hard time buying it. Nonetheless, Orphan is a good old fashioned horror that is tense, creepy, and filled with edge-of-your-seat suspense. Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard score big with their performances, but Isabelle Fuhrman steals the show. She makes Damien look like a fucking angel.
Jaume Collet-Serra also directed House of Wax. That was a much better film than it should have been. With Orphan, he shows even more command of the story. The film relies primarily on the device that the main character knows what is happening, but nobody around her believes anything she says. Kind of frustrating for her, and for the audience. Are these people blind?
In Orphan, however, the main character has a history, which makes her, at least to the other characters, unreliable. It's easy to see how no one believes her, and the fact that the screenwriters have taken the time to think that out adds a lot to the horror of the situation. Esther herself is brilliant at manipulating the situation and bringing out all the bad blood that lies underneath this seemingly perfect family. I love movies like this because they keep you guessing. This is by no means a predictable thriller, and in an age where movies take no chances, Orphan is something of a rarity.

Up in the Air

Up in the Air isn't just the best film of 2009, it's one of the best films of the decade! Here is a brilliant comedy that touches upon real and heavy subject matter and does not for one second try to flower up the reality of the situation. Jason Reitman is a genius! His film never makes a wrong move. Wonderfully well acted by the top three leads, Up in the Air is the film to see this year, and if it doesn't win the Best Picture statue, well....who cares?

Toy Story
Toy Story(1995)

Unprecedented in its technical achievements and a brilliant story that tugs at the kid in all of us!

Crazy Heart
Crazy Heart(2009)

What a wonderful film this is. A sad, bittersweet tale of a touring country musician who has made some bad decisions in his life and is now suffering the consequences. He's an alcoholic with one too many broken marriages. Along his tour, he meets up with a journalist who wants to write a piece on him. Their attraction to each other pits this musician, named Blake, on a road to self discovery. Always moving, sometimes funny, but very heartfelt, Crazy Heart also boasts one of the best performances of Jeff Bridges' career. A great film. One of the best films of 2009.

The Losers
The Losers(2010)

A movie that's fast paced and fun but runs right into a barricade in its final scenes, forgetting to conclude itself and ultimately making the pay off far less fulfilling than the set up. Chris Evans keeps us laughing throughout with a performance that is very similar to his Flaming Torch. Zoe Saldana's drop dead sexy screen spirit almost bursts right through the screen at a speed the movie never manages to catch up to. The Losers is never dull but it isn't Kick Ass.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
½

An incredible piece of filmmaking that introduces two characters who are as complex as they are intriguing. The camera just sits back and slowly observes these characters as they slowly unfold the mystery at hand. This movie also doesn't resort to cheap plot twists. The story never once loses momentum and the payoff is astounding. A thriller of the first rate kind!

Hot Tub Time Machine

The situation is beyond absurd, and the movie often falls disappointingly into cheap slapstick gags, but it works because it embraces its absurdities to speak about something that is a universal concern. No, not the well being of the planet, but the well being of our lives. It touches upon how are decisions have come to shape who we are, and how our lives would be different if we knew back then what we do now.
John Cusack, Craig Robinson, and Crispin Glover are all great here, not to mention Rob Corddry, a very underrated comedian, and Chevy Chase in probably his funniest career role. A solid movie and one of 2010's better entertainments thus far!

Fanboys
Fanboys(2008)

Fanboys celebrates a lifestyle that's rather self destructive. It encourages kids that it's okay to be completely obsessed with something because they can't live in the real world. There's nothing wrong with being a die hard fan of something like Star Wars, to know a lot about it, or even have debates among fellow fans about it, but it ends at a point. It doesn't go to the extent of these characters. They don't have jobs, they live in their parents' basements, and the one guy who decides to do something with his life is shunned by the rest of the group. And that's the problem with Fanboys. It celebrates social ineptitude. It's actually rather pathetic to see people camp outside a movie theatre for days, weeks, months on end because they don't have jobs, rent, or relationships to better devote their time.
The whole bit where one of the characters is dying of cancer is barely mentioned throughout the movie. It never comes into play at all throughout the plot. I'm pretty sure these guys would have tried to break into Skywalker Ranch if Linus was perfectly healthy.

Chloe
Chloe(2010)
½

Chloe would have a been a better film if its second half wasn;t so confusing and over the top. The film starts with Julianne Moore hiring a beautiful call girl played by Amanda Seyfried to see if her husband will cheat on her. While Chloe (Seyfried) does what she's being paid to do, she shares the details with Moore in such vivid detail that it starts to intrigue and sexually entice Moore to develop feelings for Chloe.
I know this sounds like a bad porno, but the film is directed by Atom Egoyan, and the story is played very seriously, and very subtle. The characters never reveal their true intentions, and their motivations are never made clear to the audience, because the characters themselves aren't aware of their own motives for acting. This is played out exceptionally well in the film's first act.
The second act is a lot less intriguing. The tone shifts unexpectedly into a film that mimics a lot of Fatal Attraction. This makes the film unintentionally hokey. Characters make a lot of "out of character" decisions, making me think that the characters became completely different people.
For the most part, Chloe is a very interesting film, a good erotic thriller that should have been great given the calibre of the performances and the director behind it all.

Clash of the Titans

I expected cheesy and stupid, and cheesy and stupid is what I got. Maybe a little too much. When Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes square off as Greek gods, there's no way this film couldn't entertain me. While it completely falls apart in its third act, the vast majority of the film is quite entertaining.
I like Sam Worthington as an action star. He knows how to carry a film and he looks like a guy we can root for all the way. His characters are always compassionate, determined, and seem to instinctually know what will win over the audience's sympathy. He plays alongside cast members who hold their own, but don't do anything to stand out (with the exception of Fiennes and Neeson), which makes his performance all the more memorable.
There are some great action set pieces, mainly a scorpion fight, and an intense battle with Medusa. I warn you now, the Kraken is the biggest disappointment in the movie.
Decent fun. Cheesy, stupid, fun. Don't expect anything more.

The Runaways
The Runaways(2010)
½

It's a shame that a story about a revolutionary band is told in such a cliche and predictable fashion. The Runaways tells the story about the teenage all girl punk band of the same name that was conceived by a very odd but tough-as-nails music producer. It covers the formation of the band, their rise to fame, their fall, and everything the main character Cherrie Currie did in between. It's not a boring film, but the script treads along such familiar ground you can easily conclude that the script was underwritten and not very well thought out.
However, the amazing performances by Dakota Fanning, Kristen Stewart, and Michael Shannon make the movie very watchable. Fanning is Oscar-worthy. Her performance is risque, complex, and mesmerizing. Stewart shows acting chops I didn't know she had. And Michael Shannon. Well, let's just say he's a very underrated actor but carries every movie he's in, including this one..
See it for the performances, not so much the story.

The Exorcist III

(Review coming soon)

The Exorcist
The Exorcist(1973)

(Review coming soon)

The Departed
The Departed(2006)

This is as perfect a film as Scorsese has ever made, and he made Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, and one of my favourite films: Raging Bull. I've seen the original Infernal Affairs and as good as that film is, The Departed uses exactly what's great about that film and makes it better. DiCaprio, Damon, Nicholson, Wahlberg, Sheen, and Vera Farmiga. Stellar cast, solid action, tension, and suspense. This is a film about men living double lives and being lost in their lies and who they really are. That is a recurring theme in all of Scorsese's movies. Another example why Scorsese is the best filmmaker alive.

Revolutionary Road
½

Revolutionary Road explores very familiar territory to Sam Mendes' American debut American Beauty. That movie was much better because it was more graceful in its presentation of the subject matter, and it wasn't as heavy handed. There is still a lot to admire about this film, however. First off, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet are astonishing. They make this movie work. You can feel the connection between the two as well as the hate that they have directed towards each other.
Sam Mendes brings his film down over the audience like a sledgehammer. It shows the American Dream as something that is spoonfed to the American society, a path to absolute happiness. But that is all a trap. People compromise and compromise to buy into mediocrity, having a house, children, a wife, and being cooped up in this house working at a job we don't like, never living up to our potential. Watching these characters may be the best self help we can get; this couple is a model couple for who we should not grow up to be.

Shutter Island
½

Shutter Island follows in the tradition of movies like Jacob's Ladder and Stay, only the payoff is much more fulfilling. While we've seen similar stories, whatever Scorsese lacks in originality he more than makes up for in style, great suspense, and a solid cast. Leonardo DiCaprio proves once again that he really is one of our generation's best actors. Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, Emily Mortimer, and Michelle Williams stand alongside him with great supporting roles.
The film is at its core a psychological thriller with elements of the war and horror film spliced in. Scorsese takes visual cues from Sam Fuller and Alfred Hitchcock, but manages to create a work entirely his home, a film that can stand proudly inside his unmatched body of work.

Avatar
Avatar(2009)

One of the best cinematic escapes I've had since The Lord of the Rings trilogy! Beautiful, old fashioned storytelling woven around stunningly creative visuals. James Cameron seems to be the only blockbuster director that can put his money where his mouth is. While the story echoes Pocahontas, Dances with Wolves, and even The Last Samurai, it allows us to absorb the amazing world that has been created. Long shots give us time to appreciate the work that went into creating the creatures and the landscapes. Simply astonishing.

The Hurt Locker

Kathryn Bigelow finally gets her due with this breathtaking, visually stunning, and nail-biting film that is quite possibly the best war film I've seen this decade.
This movie isn't just about the horrors of war. This is about the characters, how they cope under the highest amounts of pressure, and how they are mentally and physically changed by combat.
The action scenes are breathtaking, staged with precision and pieced together the way an action scene should be. Michael Bay could take more than a few notes.

The Twilight Saga: New Moon

Alright, so this film was nowhere near as bad as I thought it would be. Although my expectations were so low, had I gone into Battlefield Earth with the same expectations, I might have enjoyed that too.
New Moon is better made than Twilight, thanks in part to director Chris Weitz, who has a nack for special effects. And Taylor Lautner......wow, what a body! The twists and turns this story takes are much more interesting than the first film. I liked the ideas that were brought to the table.
What I didn't like was the ridiculously wiiden acting by everyone, and the awful dialogue. The dialogue is so bad that at times I feel like I can't blame the actors for giving shitty performances. I also feel sorry for any teenage girl who sees Bella as a role model. This girl has serious insecurity issues and is one of the most dependent female characters I've ever seen on screen.

Angels & Demons
½

The only thing worse than a Dan Brown novel is a Dan Brown novel adapted for film by Ron Howard and Akiva Goldsman. There's almost nothing that redeems this film, well, except for Tom Hanks' hair. The pacing is painstakingly slow, and the mystery unfolds itself in a predictable and lazy fashion. Once I predicted who was behind the whole thing, which was before the halfway mark, I gave up caring what would happen next.
I guess I can say it's better than The Da Vinci Code. But what does that really mean?

Edge of Darkness
½

There's essentially two competing movies going on. The first is a political thriller about a corrupt corporation developing nuclear missiles, and the second is a Mel Gibson "Give me back my son" revenge thriller. This time they kill his daughter, and if there's one thing the back guys should never do in the movies is fuck with Mel Gibson. Braveheart anyone? For the most part the movie works. It feels a bit redundant and it\s a more or less predictable ride, but it's very entertaining. Great to see Mel back in form after all these years.

A Perfect Getaway
½

(Review coming soon)

H2: Halloween II

(Review coming soon)

There Will Be Blood

There Will Be Blood is P.T. Anderson's story of a man achieving the American Dream. And while he does have ultimate wealth and power, he has nothing. Family and religion are turned completely upside down, thanks to people just as if not more corrupt than Daniel Plainview. It's less of a Dream than a Nightmare.
Daniel Day Lewis gives another stellar, Oscar worthy performance. He carries this picture from its gripping opening shot to its gruesome disturbing finale. This is an actor committed to his craft, and his ability to unlock the complexity and inner struggles of his characters is second to none.
This film is a marvel. It is technically amazing, but its story is able to balance themes of greed, corruption, family, religion without ever losing focus. One of the best films of its year, if not this decade!

Moon
Moon(2009)
½

Moon is floating under everyone's radar, and even more unfortunately, Sony has chosen not to back it for Oscar consideration. Makes no sense to me, because it's one of the best films of 2009 and Sam Rockwell gives not one, but two performances worthy of a nomination.
Rockwell plays Sam Bell, who has been stationed by an energy company called Lunar Industries to maintain the operation of harvesting energy from the dark side of the moon. He's been doing this for three years and is just two weeks away from being replaced. Of course, something happens that will most likely keep him up there permanently.
With Kevin Spacey doing the voice of GERTY, a computer who is very much like a nice, helpful version of HAL from 2001, Moon is an edge of your seat sci-fi thriller that questions morality, ethics, and reality. This is a must see! Rent it the next time you're at the video store!

Wings of Desire

Not so much a movie as it is a visual experience. It takes a director with real talent to create real emotions without having to use dialogue. Wim Wenders is that talent.

Dances With Wolves

Quite possibly the greatest American epic ever created. A film that absorbs you into a new world and makes you forget you're even watching a film.

Solaris
Solaris(1976)

On my first viewing of Solaris, I firmly believed that I had just seen one of the best sci-fi movies of all time. Having watched it a second time, I believe it more than ever.
I can only imagine people watching this movie today and writing reviews like this: "Boringest movie ever!" or "Put me to sleep in fifteen minutes." But what else could you expect from people who associate sci-fi with Transformers?
Solaris deals solely with the psychological aspect of the genre. A planet has the ability to give you anything you ever wanted. A man, who has just lost his wife, has the chance to be with her again, and not just an image of her. She is completely flesh and blood real, like a clone. What happens next will engage and challenge you. Beautifully shot, acted, and scripted.

Forrest Gump
Forrest Gump(1994)

Tom Hanks gives an outstanding performance, creating one of the most unique, inspiring, and wonderful characters the cinema has ever produced.

Idiocracy
Idiocracy(2006)

Idiocracy is a film with a concept. Humans are devolving into a bunch of idiots. And if you really think about it, this could happen. Yes, the film is utterly stupid. It would be so easy for an audience to throw up their hands any be done with this movie. But I'm willing to bet that the same kind of people who don't get this movie are the same kinds of people this film is ridiculing. We are becoming a nation of dumbed down idiots. We have to have everything spelled out for us. We don't want to think for ourselves. We hate reading, or anything that forces us to be creative. I can only look to the success of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen as proof that no one really wants to understand what they're watching. A scene doesn't have to make any sense; as long as there's a big explosion happening, it's got our attention.
I certainly see a bit of anger in Mike Judge's film. His film viciously condemns the dumbing down of society. We laugh at these people. Sometimes, we can't even laugh, because they are so stupid we almost pity them and their utter stupidity.
If you've never seen the you tube clips advertising Brawndo and Powerthirst, check it out. They are incredibly funny. The Brawndo advertisements seem like they are tie-ins to Idiocracy, completely stupid, ludicrous, yet hilarious. Idiocracy works because it makes you laugh at these characters. It's all in the name of good satire. .

State of Play

State of Play is a rather smart thriller ruined by a stupid ending. As is the case with so many thrillers nowadays, there seems to be this need to have twist upon twist upon twist, It's not enough to have one twist anymore. The film has to go int one direction, turn into another, and then another. Then, by the end, the final twist negates everything we just watched, stripping the film of all its dramatic power. Instead, we're left feeling confused and cheated.
Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, and a unjustly uncredited Jeff Daniels all shine with solid performances. State of Play is definitely an actor's piece. It's also directed nicely, moving along at a swift place where yyou're never once bored. There are some truly memorable scenes. It's a shame that the film as a whole won't resonate with you once the credits roll.

Enter the Void (Soudain le vide)

FROM TIFF:
Enter the Void has been called the 2001 of our time. I can acknowledge the validity of that statement, and I would definitely argue that Gaspar Noe is the Stanley Kubrick of our time. While Noe is not as well known as Mr. Perfection, both filmmakers have created films that challenge almost everything we have come to accept about society while diving head first into controversial themes, images, sylistic choices, etc. A Noe movie, much like a Kubrick one, is an experience, not a piece of entertainment.
Noe's third and best feature explores what happens after death. Death is terrifyingly evil because it permanently takes us away from all that we know and love, and brings us to a place where we have no idea what is in store for us to stay for all eternity. Noe's film focuses on characters who live at the brink of death, associating themselves with the worst of Tokyo's infamous underworld. A young drug dealer named Oskar is killed, and his ghost is able to watch over his sister while seeing his entire life flash before his eyes.
Imagine what it would be like to feel somewhat alive after your death. You can float over your body, fly through walls, race across city blocks within seconds, and oversee anything. As freeing as this may sound, however, you also can't escape the more horrific times of your life. A tragic event that changed your life forever may manifest itself in everything you see. On top of that, you have no control. You can no longer think, feel, or communicate.
2001: A Space Odyssey imagined what space and life have been and will be like as time progresses. It also ponders over what is time, what is the infinite. Similarly, Enter the Void imagines what death would be like. It makes you question what exactly is death, and if there is any salvation for any of us.
The key difference between the two films is that Enter the Void plays out like a nightmare. We see the characters left behind spiralling further into a more fucked up way of life. We witness an onscreen abortion, orgies, and a terrifying car crash. This is not a movie for everyone. There are many who will be turned off simply by the style because the movie is literally seen through the eyes of the main character, alive and dead. The camera wanders left, right, up, down, never staying still. It can cause motion sickness and nausea. Others may be turned off by the depressingly dark subject matter, the 160 minute running time, or the graphic violence/sex.
One major asset this film has is the way it uses CGI. This is the way CGI should be used in movies. Fuck giant transforming robots. CGI is supposed to help tell the story. And the CGI in this movie is subtle, but nothing short of jaw-dropping incredible. Oskar stands in front of a mirror. So does the camera. But the camera is nowhere to be seen. Oskar then splashes water on his face, and water trickles down the lens. Brilliant stuff.
Enter the Void is meant to disturb you, but it also wants you to think about death. Not a subject we want to think about, but if you continue to watch this film, you can't help but reflect on it. The film's ending is particularly interesting, and provides the audience with a sense of hope, unlike Noe's previous film, Irreversible. I saw several walkouts during the film, and by the time the credits roled, the only response was from someone who said, "Thank God." But I bet if Gaspar Noe attended this screening, he would have been proud of that remark. After all, if you can sit through a Gaspar Noe film, you can sit through pretty much anything.

Sorority Row
Sorority Row(2009)

What Sorority Row should have done was continue to play on its campy premise, the B-movie characters and dialogue, and come up with a better ending. Then it would have been a lot of fun.
Five sorority sisters decide to play a prank on a boy who cheated on one of them named Megan. It's a nasty prank. They make them think Megan overdosed and died from a date rape pill he gave to her, take her out to the woods, and talk about secretly chopping her up and burying her. Unaware she's alive, the boy actually kills Megan in an attempt to chop her up. Everyone, with the exception of Cassidy, out heroine, agrees to bury and never speak of it again. Unfortunately, six months later, they all begin to die one by one by someone who knows what they did. Wow, what a bad premise, but a great one if this is supposed to be a black comedy.
Every character is bland. They're all supposed to be stereotypical horror movie characters - the queen bitch, the Asian, the slut, the nerd, etc. But all the actors do is represent the cliche, as opposed to maybe having more fun with it. Even Carrie Fisher's shotgun wielding dorm maiden isn't as much fun as I was hoping it would be. The revelation of the killer and the reason is just stupid. It's like they weren't even trying.
When i saw the trailer for the film in a packed theatre, the audience laughed at the premise, at the title, and the whole movie. And judging from the way the film was meant to play out, this should have been the campy, fun, hilariously gory B-movie experience the trailer was advertising. But the film is so predictable, bland (there's that word again), and unentertaining that there's really no point to even consider seeing it.

Survival of the Dead

FROM TIFF:
When you think about it, George A Romero has only had two good films: Night of the Living Dead, and Dawn of the Dead. Of course, both of these films not only spawned the entire zombie genre as we know it, but they brought to the forefront the notion that horror filmmaking can be as deep and thoughtful as any Oscar winning drama. But Romero's attempts at social commentary have become only more obvious and even more annoying with each subsequent film in his ____ of the Dead saga.
Granted, I liked Diary a lot, and I seem to be the only one. I liked how Romero handled the contemporary need to document public tragedies, how we are living in an age where information is streamlined almost immediately, so what we are seeing is happening now, at this very moment.
Survivial of the Dead seems to be about tribalism, or in a more specific sense, warring factions who are stuck in their beliefs to the point where they will resort to violence to uphold them. The film takes place in a distant Quaker-esque island where one clan wants to kill all the zombies, while another clan acknowledges that these zombies were once their friends and family, thus, their bodies should be kept locked up and "alive" so they can find a cure.
Romero hammers this point into your head within the first five minutes. The rest of the film is a lot of bad acting, bad writing, lame zombie mayhem, and a climax that would have been great if the rest of the movie had been enjoyable. The film stumbles between B-movie cheez, while piling on blatant CGI gore. None of it works.
But perhaps the most offensive part of Survival is the idea that zombies can survive by eating other animals. Guess what happens by the end of the film? I might be overreacting here, but this idea negates my whole undestanding of zombies as metaphors for how we as a society destroy ourselves and each other through consumerism, war, etc..
Long story short, if you're a Romero fan, you'll be disappointed. If you aren't, you wouldn't have even bothered seeing this movie anyway.

Defendor
Defendor(2009)

FROM TIFF:
I only had time to see five films at the Toronto International Film Festival this year. Bummer.
Fortunately, I peaked early with this brilliant masterpiece starring Woody Harrelson, Kat Dennings, and Elias Koteas. The fact that this is Peter Stebbing's first feature makes this even more of a great achievement.
Imagine a superhero without Spidey sense, superhuman strength, or billions of dollars to create gadgets and weaponry. He probably wouldn't be very super at all. Meet Arthur Poppington, a self-made vigilante who dresses up in black, sports an old army helmet, duck tapes the letter D to his chest, and calls himself Defendor. His weapons: an old WW2 club, bags of marbles, and jars of angry wasps - yes, you read that right.
But Defendor isn't a comedy. Yes, it's very funny. But it's a serious character study about Arthur, a mentally slow and lonely individual who is trying to make sense of his life. His only friend is a fellow construction worker who's son is alive only because Arthur was at the right place to save him.
The magic of this movie lies solely in the hands of Woody Harrelson. What a masterful performance. Adding layer upon layer to the character of Arthur, Harrelson makes you fall in love with him and cheer him on as he fights crime in the goofiest and clumsiest way he only knows how. Yes, Kat Dennings and Elias Koteas are fantastic support, but the movie wouldn't work without Woody.
The story remained firmly grounded in a sense of realism. It was able to achieve this by showing all the repercussions that Arthur's behaviour caused on criminals and authority figures, sometimes with tragic consequences. Arthur is as naiive a character as they come. He has no idea what he's doing, who he's hurting, or who is manipulating him. But his heart drives him to stopping evil, which makes him almost as innocent as the civilians he's trying to save. Arthur's backstory is told in flashbacks, which help us understand how and why Arthur came to don the suit of Defendor. In one scene, he even tells us, "Defendor is a better man than Arthur." And it's true, not only to Arthur, but to the people who become influenced by his actions.
When the lights came on, the small theatre broke out in a huge round of applause. I could barely contain my enthusiasm. I told my girlfriend we won't see a better film at the festival. And we didn't.

Gamer
Gamer(2009)

The concept of a psychotic billionnaire creating an immensely popular show involving inmates killing each other for entertainment is tired. The Running Man, The Condemned, Death Race. And all these movies aren't meant to be critiques of society; they're an excuse to have chaotic, frantic and kinetic action sequences that have lots of explosions and people getting killed. Gamer is no exception, except that it's a sloppier, less interesting version of the previously mentioned films.
Why do we need a shot of Gerard Butler running ten feet divided into six cuts? The brain cannot digest the information conveyed by that image in such a short duration of time. It's a basic film rule: the longer you hold a shot, the more tense it gets. Why don't action fillmmakers understand this? The constant handheld, deliberately flimsy shooting and editing is both obnoxious and annoying.
The story is way too contrived, especially in the film's second half. There are also way too many plot points that don't need to be there. Why introduce a team of rebels if you're just going to kill them off almost as quickly? There are too many characters, all of them fighting for screen time, and the film leaves most of them underdeveloped and ultimately unnecessary. Even at 95 minutes, the film has too much fat on it.
Michael C. Hall was mainly the reason I wanted to see this movie. This is his first feature, but even he was a bit disappointing. It seems like he knew he was in sa shitty movie and just decided to have fun with his character, hamming it up to the point where he literally sings and dances.
Neveldine and Taylor are rolling down a downhill slope. They're definitely a talented bunch; they did make the awesome Crank and the solidly entertaining Crank 2. But they need to control their camera, read over their screenplays in better detail, and try to make a proper movie instead of a video game masquerading as one.

Knowing
Knowing(2009)

I really, really, really wanted to like Knowing. There are so many interesting ideas that the film wants you to think about, and the disaster set pieces are incredibly staged and photographed. Nicholas Cage isn't too bad either.
The problem is that the film juggles too many ideas and changes tone so quickly, you're not sure if you're watching a disaster epic, an alien movie, a horror movie, or a family drama. Alex Proyas has always been a director who aims to create intelligent action films, but in Knowing, he's working on maximum overdrive.
Instead of providing some great food for thought as to whether the universe operates at random or predetermination, Knowing leaves you not sure what to think. The final act of the picture is especially weird.
There are also gaping holes in the story and plot points that exist specifically so that the viewer can understand what is going on. But these plot points have no reason to exist within the story. I can't really go into detail without revealing major spoilers, but if someone can explain what the point of those stones are, and why if someone knows when the world is going to end that they need to warn us about every fatal disaster that occurs leading up to that point, please, I'm all ears.
Alas, Knowing is an admirable failure, a failure because it wants to tackle more ideas than in can handle instead of embracing a few themes and exploring the complexity of said themes. Alex Proyas has made films that are more like the latter: The Crow, I Robot (to an extent), and the masterpiece Dark City. Knowing could have joined that list, but sadly, it's an ambitious mess :(

The Last House on the Left

I don't know. I've seen this movie three times now. Wes Craven's 1972 Last House on the Left was an unforgiving, brutal horror picture where everybody suffers. The Virgin Spring, the Swedish Ingmar Bergman film that influenced Craven's film, is one of the best films ever made.
So here we have the 2009 remake of the 1972 remake of The Virgin Spring. Get that?
While this updated version is competently made, it will be forgotten as quickly as it has been released. I just simply don't see what this film has to offer that the other two didn't.
Wes Craven's 1972 version is unforgiving in its brutality, and its a definite shocker, a horror film if I've ever seen one. Bergman's The Virgin Spring was less about the violence and more about forgiveness.
This 2009 version is violent, but the violence has been extremely toned down. I refuse to compare the 2009 and 1972 films because such a comparison would involve grading rape scenes, stabbings, beatings, and I'm just not interested in doing that. The 1972 film left me shocked. When the parents began plotting their revenge on those who harmed their daughter, I wanted them to get even.
I couldn't help but watch this 2009 film passively. The violence disturbed me, yes, but having seen the film in two other incarnations, I knew what was coming and could prepare myself. At the end, I watched as the film got to revel in the parents' revenge. This time, a man gets his head blown off in a microwave. Is that really necessary? This scene seems to be nothing more than a product of its time: coming up with creative ways to kill people onscreen.
This film just exists. The performances aren't bad. The filmmaking itself isn't bad. But this film itself doesn't do anything the other previous versions don't do better.

Funny People
Funny People(2009)

Funny People. Let me tell you now, the title is meant to be ironic. Judd Apatow's third feature is dark, and plays for the most part like a serious drama with this crew's trademark blend of vulgar humour splashed in. These people are funny only when they're performing. Other than that, they're a very depressed bunch.
Adam Sandler plays George, a successful stand-up comedian who finds out he has a rare blood disorder that will eventually kill him. Depressed, he looks at his life, only to realize the mistakes he's made have caused him to be alone and hating everyone. Along the way, he meets Seth Rogen's Ira, a wannabe stand up who isn't very funny. George decides to pay Ira to be his assistant/caretaker, exploiting him mainly for his jokes.
Clocking in at two and a half hours, the film is way too long for a comedy, and moves along at such a sluggish pace that it feels long even for a drama of this calibre.
It's also a film that will polarize its audience. Teens looking for a good laugh will be awkwardly sitting through this one, unsure what to make of a film this serious but stars Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, and Jonah Hill. People looking for a more dramatic feature may be put off by several awkward attempts at humour and inserts of improv comedy that fire f-bombs this way and that.
I have to admire the attempt at creating something different. This is a very thoughtful film, and it develops its characters quite well. The movie is essentially about what you would do if you were given a second chance at life, and if that chance were given to you, would you change, or just go back to your old ways.
Funny People is awkward, clumsy, and drags, but it has its moments. Whether those moments are enough to enjoy this movie, I leave up to you.

District 9
District 9(2009)

Leave it to Peter Jackson to produce a movie that is not only visually amazing, but also thought-provoking and original.
The less you know about this movie going in, the better. The trailers have done a remarkable job at hiding the story, and I'm not about to give it away here. Let's just say the film is told in a mockumentary style that explains the characters, the situation, and oversees the relationship the MNU has with the aliens, which, suffice to say, is less than friendly. The second half is an action picture.
The film is essentially about how the government, under the guise of an organization called MNU, exploits these creatures, forcing them to live in slum-like conditions, experimenting on them, practically performing genocide, all for the purpose of understanding how their technology can be used to further advance military weaponry. Replace the aliens with any nation of people, and you have pretty much a documentary about many of the poor nations around the world. That's great sci-fi, and Neill Blomkamp as well as Peter Jackson have been wise to leave the metaphor as vague as possible. You can delve deep into the story's ideas, or you can lay back and enjoy it as a summer blockbuster.
This is the summer blockbuster I've been waiting for. Yes, I loved Star Trek and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, but District 9 is the kind of film that doesn't have an already built in fanbase. It's completely original, and it relies completely on the three key ingredients to a masterpiece: great storytelling, great acting, and great filmmaking.
It also goes to show that summer films CAN have action and effects that SERVE a story, as opposed to actually BEING the story. With movies like District 9, The Dark Knight, and Star Trek, there's no excuse for crap like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Fast and Furious, or GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Transformers bombards you with images, but there is no relationship between the viewer and what's going on onscreen. Your eyes and ears hurt, but you digest nothing. But that's the great thing about District 9. The effects and the action give you the exhilarating thrill ride you want out of a summer movie, but the effects and the action are second to telling an engaging story that gets you emotionally involved in the film. And that's awesome, because District 9, like The Dark Knight and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, will be remembered for years to come, whereas Transformers will fade into obscurity regardless of how much money it pulled in.

Dark City
Dark City(1998)

The greatest of all sci-fi films. It asks a simple question: what makes humans human? Not only ahead of its time, but a sure fire classic that will be around for decades to come.

JFK
JFK(1991)

Nobody makes films like Oliver Stone. JFK challenges you, disturbs you, and dares you to question everything the political body does. This is the best film of the 90s.

Stay
Stay(2005)

Stay is a film that almost requires at least two viewings. The first will take you on a ride where you will have no idea what's going on until the last fifteen or so minutes. The second viewing will allow you to see how the film's style explains what the last fifteen minutes will reveal. It's quite frustrating, but also fascinating.
What Stay is essentially about is how the mind pieces together life. We always form one simplified impression of a particular person, and usually that impression stays with us. Many of the characters appear to the main character in the same way he last remembers them. This film also allows its main character to come to terms with certain aspects of his life that have left him in a state of remorse, of constant grief. In a sense, Stay is a twisted redemption story. For who, I cannot say, for I would need to reveal spoilers. The less you know of this movie, the better. Hell, you won't even know what this movie is about until the last fifteen minutes.
Some people will be turned off by this mystery-thriller. It calls to mind the work of David Lynch, mainly his masterpiece Mulholland Dr (coincidentally, the film that made Naomi Watts a star). Stay is a far lesser film than Mulholland Dr, mainly because its payoff is underwhelming. Any movie that hides its secrets for as long as Stay does can't live up to its promise. But nonetheless, Stay is fascinating to watch. It's a competent exercise in style over substance. Strangely enough, in this case, the style IS the substance.

Audition (Ôdishon)

I've always seen Takashi Miike as an interesting but very inconsistent filmmaker. Those inconsistencies are non-existent with this horror masterpiece. Even more amazing is that Miike, a director known for his excessively violent and gory films, shows amazing restraint. While this film contains disgusting, gut-wrenching, seriously disturbing sequences, they are few and far between. Much of this movie plays like a family drama interspliced with scenes of horror.
Ryo Ishibashi plays Aoyama, a film producer who loses his wife, and, with some persistence from his son, sets out to remarry. He holds a fake audition to interview possible "contestants" and falls in love with Asami, who, as you may guess, is a psychopath.
Audition isn't just expertly crafted, it is a serious comment on male and female roles in Japanese society. While Aoyama is a pretty decent guy, he doesn't view women as being anything more than respectful servants. He apparently has had sex with one of his co-workers, and has left her to wonder if that night meant anything to him. Aoyama seems to reflect how conservative Japanese males seem to view women. This is evident in a scene where one of his son's girlfriends unknowingly eats Aoyama's dinner, and upon such a discovery, vows to cook him another meal. Would Aoyama feel obligated to do the same if he unknowingly ate HER meal?
However, Aoyama does not deserve the fate that Asami has in store for him. She has had an extremely troubled past, filled with abuse and neglect. Men have used her simply for their own selfish reasons, and then have thrown her aside like a piece of rotten meat. She has chosen to lash out at all males, who she believes are all the same.
What follows is a brilliant and incredibly tense film that hurdles into a showdown of suspense that rivals the best of Hitchcock, and gore that outdoes the worst of Argento. Audition is a gem, a horror masterpiece that must be experienced, unless you're squeamish.

Inside (À l'intérieur)

Ever since Alexandre Aja's abysmal High Tension, there has been a kind of revolution in French horror cinema, namely, films that present so much extreme violence and gore that they make Saw look like a Disney film. Inside is just about one of the most unpleasant, disturbing, brutal, and unrelentingly disgusting movie experiences I've ever had. This is not a compliment.
I am a seasoned horror fan. I love horror. I love slasher movies. But I have one exception. I hate any movie, horror or not, that serves to exploit violence and gore for no other purpose than shock value or to showcase the skill of its directors in depicting realistic carnage.
I've heard the fillmmakers talk about this film, and I've read many reviews of this movie that talk about it being a battle of wills, a deviant love story between a mother and her child. Wrong. The film has a one-track mind, which is pretty much the kind of intelligence that went into making this movie, and all that you need to watch this crap. Inside is an hour and 23 minutes of pointless violence.
The directors don't want a happy ending, so they manipulate every situation so that it will turn out bad for the pregnant lady. This is sickening. There is a scene where the cops enter the house, realize that the woman answering the door is the killer, and proceed to arrest her. Instead of properly arresting her, one goes upstairs, leaving the other to do all the work for himself. This second cop seems to have no idea how to arrest a woman, because he tries to do it while she's standing up, giving her the leverage. Umm, no, I don't buy that. Another scene shows a cop more concerned with fixing circuit breakers than getting the pregnant lady out of the house. And I guess these guys have never heard of calling for backup? Finally, when the pregnant lady has the advantage and the killing strike, a cop who's been shot through the head and dead through this whole time comes back to life and beats her into labour. Can you say, what the fuck?
There are great horror movies out there that are extreme in their violence. Think Audition, The Last House on the Left or even the recent French film Martyrs. They use violence to provoke thought and address issues of morality. Inside aims to do none of that. And it isn't thrilling. There are too many moments where this story would have ended, but it doesn't because the story doesn't want it to. And don't give me the it's a movie, it doesn't have to make sense line because how many times have you complained about the realism of a movie.
After watching Inside, I had to clear my head with something that stimulated thought with interesting, fully dimensional characters, and a properly structured plot. I watched two episodes of Six Feet Under. Now that is good filmmaking.

Rogue
Rogue(2008)

Rogue is an amazing piece of horror cinema up until the final showdown with the massive 25-foot croc. Pity.
But Greg McLean still deserves a lot of commendation for making a horror film that relies on pure old fashioned suspense as opposed to gore and a huge body count. The premise is totally believable and scary.
The setting is as great a setting as you will find in a movie. Just like his previous film Wolf Creek, McLean sets the action against the Australian outback. He shows the environment as its own character, one that poses its own kind of threat to the characters. These locations are downright incredible to look at.
Also praiseworthy is the A-quality acting that comes out of all the actors. They create real characters that you sympathize with. I totally bought how everyone reacted to the situation.
Rogue is definitely a horror film worth watching, and I really want to give it four stars. But the ending just didn't do it for me. The CGI is flimsy, and the final encounter between Michael Vartan and the croc feels too much like Arnold vs the Predator. I won't say what happens, but it requires too much suspension of disbelief. It would have worked for me if the film was going for the cheesy B-movie creature feature feel, but it wasn't. Maybe if Arnold WAS in this movie instead of Michael Vartan....I don't believe he's fought a crocodile yet.

Stephen King's 'Silver Bullet'

Silver Bullet reaks with cheese, and not the enjoybaly stinky cheese. This is the rancid kind that leaves a sour odour in the room even after it's been disposed of.
Based on Stephen King's great novella, Cycle of the Werewolf, Silver Bullet takes place not over the course of a year, but seemingly a few days, where every night seems to be a full moon. The werewolf effects are really bad, even for a 1980s movie. But then again, when has a werewolf movie ever had good effects.
The movie also opens and closes like a family drama. Wtf? Is this supposed to be a coming of age story where siblings learn to cope with one another, or a movie about a werwolf terrorizing the small town of Tarker Mills?
The concept isn't bad, but instead of playing the film for the straight up horror flick that it is, the movie decides to ham everything up. It doesn't want to work to invoke fear in its audience. But then again, how scary can a puppet werewolf be?

Bruno
Bruno(2009)

I don't think ten seconds went by without me laughing hysterically at the antics of Sacha Baron Cohen in the persona of his third character. Bruno evoked so many moments of hilarity and shock that I almost had to step out of the theatre for laughing too loud.
While Borat was certainly less staged than Bruno, I felt the latter to be the funnier film. Here, Cohen even further tests the limits of his joke. I love how this guy doesn't give a shit who he offends. He's probably managed to piss more than a few people off with this film.
Most of the jokes centre around exposing people's homophobic prejudices. To achieve this, there are several innuendos inciting gay behaviours, scenes where Bruno strips to his underwear, as well as multiple penis shots. It takes a lot of guts to do what Cohen does in this film, especially the last scene where I wonder how he was able to make it out of there alive! I like comedians who are able to take such great risks at the expense of a joke. And Cohen is a great satirist. He knows what makes people tick, and is even able to get some derogatory remarks out of politician Ron Paul.
The film also attacks the notion of celebrity status. Bruno wants to become famous, so he looks at everything celebrities have done that might have had a hand in making them famous, and attempts to follow in their footsteps. It left me to wonder how many celebrities are in it just for the fame: probably more than I'd like to believe.
Bruno is well made, and is very, very funny. It is extremely offensive and pushes the envelope more so than Borat did. That is reason enough to see this movie. And for Harrison Ford's cameo, which is THE funniest scene I've seen all year!

Cube
Cube(1998)

Cube is the best sci-fi horror film since Alien. Yes, it's that good. It's a masterpiece of originality, low budget filmmaking, and tapping into the darkest realm of the human spirit. Like the best horror films, the external horror of the cube reflects how fucked up we are as a species.
Six strangers wake up in this strange cube filled with smaller cube rooms. Some of the rooms are lined with traps, meaning if you enter them, you will suffer a brutally disgusting death. (And I bet if this film were made today, the movie would only be about the deaths, exploiting each trap to make you, the audience, squirm. Alas, Cube is too smart a film for that.) The six need to work together to figure a way out. Of course, as a character says early in the film, they have to save themselves from themselves. Because in the end, the group's greatest threat isn't the cube, but one of their own.
Movies this original are few and far between. It was an absolute pleasure to sit through Cube. I was completely absorbed by its ideas, by the characters, by the great performances, and ultimately, by the cube itself. Who would build such a thing? And for what purpose? One can only imagine how many things mankind has created that have the ability to ruin the world.

The Hole
The Hole(2001)

The Hole is a great blend of horror and psychological thriller. It's disturbing, not only in the amount of physical violence that the characters inflict on each other, but in the film's analysis of one girl's willingness to do whatever it takes to win over the object of her affection. Thora Birch and Desmond Harrington star alongside a young Keira Knightley.
Nick Hamm, who will go on to direct the forgettable Godsend, delivers a clever, tense, and terrifyingly realistic look at high school obsession underlying a whodunit that will have you guessing right up till the very end!

A Woman Is a Woman (Une femme est une femme)

Jean-Luc Godard's second feature film is a wonderfully refreshing romantic comedy. Its style is unique, containing multiple jump cuts, and scenes that may or may not be describing a character's subconscious. It is supposed to be a musical, but it isn't a musical in the traditional sense of the word. Music comes in brief, loud bursts, or is silenced so that the viewer pays more attention to the lyrics being sung. The best way to view A Woman is a Woman is to surrender yourself to the film, and the quirkiness of the characters. It would be hard not to enjoy this completely nutty but tenderly sweet piece of art.
Anna Karina plays Angela, a stripper torn between two men, Emile and Alfred. She loves Emile more. One day she comes home and tells Emile she wants a baby. Emile thinks it's a bad idea, however, Alfred is more than willing to do the job. Such becomes a comedy that celebrates womanhood. In a sense, it is a feminist film that refutes the idea that women have to act like men to become independent. There is a line sung by Angela that goes: "I am not a good girl. I am very cruel. But men don't get mad because I'm very beautiful." The film shows how men can objectify women, as they are more so concerned with the way she looks as opposed to connecting with her on any level above the physical. Emile claims he loves her, and I think Angela spends the majority of the movie asking him to convince her that he really does love her.
All in all, a masterpiece! A beautiful, sweet romantic film that shows Godard as a master of technique and narrative.

Predator 2
Predator 2(1990)

Predator introduced one of the biggest bad-ass villains in movie history squaring off against one of the biggest bad-ass heroes in movie history, Arnold Schwarzenneger. It's only natural for Hollywood to make a sequel to a movie as awesome as Predator is.
Unfortunately, Predator 2 offers none of the fun of its predecessor. It takes place ten years after the jungle incident, in a futuristic Los Angeles overrun by street gangs. These gangs have cartoon personalities, typical for 80s B-movies. They're extremely annoying. In my opinion, they're too easy prey for the predator, and thus, it takes the fun out of the movie. Most of Predator 2 plays like a bad version of Aliens, complete with a team of agents disguising themselves in foil suits to trap the alien so they can study it. When will these guys learn? And to make matters worse, Arnold has been replaced by Danny Glover, whom I like as an actor, but here, all he does is yell and scream at his superiors amidst talking to himself about how he is going to personally kill the predator.
The action isn't particularly well filmed either. One particular scene in a subway train has so many flashing lights that it is more likely to induce a seizure rather than excitement. Other action scenes are poorly staged, haphazardly edited, or just outright boring.
Ultimately, Predator 2 is completely void of any imagination. This film is very by-the-numbers, copying other alien flicks that came before it. The only thing worth mentioning is the now legendary shot of the Predator's trophy room that showcases an Alien skull. I can only imagine the excitement an Alien/Predator fan would have felt seeing that skull. It would probably have made up for having to sit through an otherwise dull, unentertaining sequel.

Public Enemies

You always know what to expect in Michael Mann films. Trippy, handheld camera movements, solid action sequences (Michael Bay could learn more than a thing or two from watching any of Mann's work), great actors giving rich portrayals of interesting characters, and the theme of good guy/bad guy as a doppelganger.
Public Enemies focuses on the legendary thief John Dillinger. It's a darker film than I was expecting, showing his life as a hopelessly tragic one. Depp is at the top of his game, bringing in nuances and quirks that allow the audience to surrender themselves to this character. Christian Bale is also great as the cop who can't seem to catch Dillinger. Marion Cotillard deserves another Oscar nom because she surprisingly gives the best performance in the film!
Unfortunately, for all its good, there's also bad. I felt Mann didn't pay enough attention to showing why the public loved to focus on Dillinger. You can't get any sense of what made this man so important, especially in the Depression era. The film never explores Dillinger enough to fully portray him as a mythological hero. Even more disappointing is that the doppelganger theme, which Mann explored so well in Heat and Collateral, is underdeveloped here. This hurts the film because we need to be able to sympathize with both Depp and Bale's characters equally in order to become fully immersed in the tension. Instead, we're almost always siding with Depp because he's onscreen more, usually in interesting but uninvolving ways.
On the plus side, the action is first rate, and the mostly handheld cinematography looks amazing. Combined with the very specifically detailed production design, you feel like you're right smack in the middle of 1933.
Public Enemies is smart, well acted, nicely shot, uninvolving at times, but never dull.

Killshot
Killshot(2008)

After going through four years of being delayed, shelved, reshot, and reedited, it's hard not to notice how Killshot has been affected by its troubled production. It clocks in at under 95 minutes in length, and it feels like many pieces of the puzzle, character arks, and important subplots have been omitted in favour of a sleek, quick, and harmless action thriller.
However, this is based on an Elmore Leonard novel, and no amount of reassembly can take away from the colourful and richly thought out characters that are always present in Leonard's work. Mickey Rourke, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Diane Lane, and Thomas Jane all give top notch performances. There is a lot of great tension in the film's more suspenseful moments. The drama does work. But ultimately, it feels rushed.
Carmen Colson and her husband Wayne are placed in a Witness Protection Program as a result of being hunted by a ruthless assassin. But we never fully understand why they come out of Witness Protection. This subplot is somewhere on the cutting room floor as our Johnny Knoxville and Rosario Dawson's performances. In fact, much of what could have made this film great is left on that same floor. Ultimately, Killshot is a decent thriller that was neglected by the Weinstein brothers and left to suffer a straight-to-DVD fate.

MirrorMask
MirrorMask(2005)

Mirrormask is one of the strangest and most imaginative films I've seen in a long time. It begs comparisons to an earlier Jim Henson film called Labyrinth. Both movies are about a troubled girl on a quest to save a kingdom, meeting all sorts of creatures along the way. In Mirrormask, however, the creatures are CGI creations of all sorts. Cats with human faces, duck-apes, and an Irish bird man are just some of the fascinating inhabitants the girl, Helena, faces in her journey through this incredibly bizarre world. There are definitely some magical moments, but the film does get carried away by its animation. While this movie is aimed at kids, it will attract people with a wild imagination. It isn't quite Labyrinth, but it's a consistently engaging film, alive with creativity.

Drag Me to Hell

Being a die hard horror fan, I'm not saying it lightly when I say that Drag Me to Hell is the best American-produced studio horror movie since The Sixth Sense. (While I did love The Ring and The Others, they don't really count since The Ring is a remake and The Others is also a Spanish film.) I could predict every scare and every twist, but director Sam Raimi executes the scenes in such a brilliant way that they still managed to freak me out. Believe it or not, this movie is actually scary!
I liked Alison Lohman as the everyday nice girl who tries to be a bitch just once, and gets literally condemned to hell as a result. Some scenes are a bit too cheesy, but the whole thing is just so much damn fun that I really couldn't fault Raimi for going a little overboard. After all, he did make Army of Darkness and Spiderman 3.

The Lookout
The Lookout(2007)

When you have great character suspense pieces like this one, you sometimes question the need for big dumb action flicks.
Joseph Fordon Levitt is quickly on his way to becoming the next Johnny Depp. He gives a subtle and brilliant performance as an ex-hockey player who has no short term memory. The film follows a Memento-like plot, but The Lookout is a character study first, a heist thriller second. Scott Frank blends these two aspects perfectly to create one hell of a film.
From the opening sequence to the last, The Lookout offers tense, well paced action. The film takes its time getting to know every character, which also allows for great supporting performances by Matthew Goode, the great Jeff Daniels, and Isla Fisher. When Act Three begins, you will be stuck to your seat until the credits role. The Lookout is smart, suspenseful, and downright awesome!

The Proposal
The Proposal(2009)

Ryan Reynolds walks away with this movie. He creates a really likable character, and his blend of humour and sarcasm is pitch perfect. Sandra Bullock is surprisingly fun to watch too! She shares great chemistry with Reynolds. That is the key for any romantic comedy to work because this film wouldn't be half as funny or as cute as it was without the successful performances by these two leads.
I can't really say much about the plot. It's filled with ridiculous situations and character arks that don't quite make sense. Delivering exactly what its trailer promised, the film is generic in every sense of the word, but it works because we buy into Sandra and Ryan, especially Ryan.

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

There's an inherent problem with the film's plot. It requires way too much suspension of disbelief. Like how no patrolling gunman can notice a laptop on the floor next to a kid talking into a bluetooth set. Or how a whole swat team of snipers are ordered to stand down when they can easily position themselves into taking over the train.
But Tony Scott just adds to the mess. He uses the same annoying zoom-pan-digital swoop style that takes away from the tension between Travolta and Washington. He uses a hackneyed script by Brian Helgeland that resorts only to cliche plot twists and an ending that seems like it's supposed to signify something, but what that would be doesn't come across.
The set up is interesting, but the pay-off never satisfies. Thus, The Taking of Pelham 123 remains another half-assed, disposable action flick that hopes to make a few million in its opening weekend and then fade into obscurity.

Up
Up(2009)

Up is simply wonderful! It goes to show that whenever a Pixar movie is playing in theatres, there is no better movie to see.
A balloon salesman decides after a bad confrontation with a construction company to fill thousands of balloons with helium and sail in his house along the clouds to his dream destination - Paradise Falls. With the company of a small, plump Asian boy, the man embarks on the adventure of a lifetime. The jokes are hysterical, the premise is heartwarming, and the film goes to show that old people can kick ass every so often.

The Hangover
The Hangover(2009)

The Hangover is as funny a film as you will see all year. The premise itself is something everybody in the audience can relate to, although I doubt the majority would have experienced anything quite like this. The jokes are laugh-out-loud hysterical! I think there might be some underlying tones about what friends will do for each other, but I might be stretching that a bit. Just go in and have a great time, because this is one comedy that will stay with you like herpes! (Watch the movie; you'll get it.)

Terminator Salvation

Terminator Salvation is saved by Sam Worthington and Anton Yelchin. Two great performances overshadow Christian Bale's Batman-esque, over-the-top, scene destroying portrayal of John Connor.
Despite its flaws, T4 is an extremely fun movie with awesome action sequences that reminded me of the great 80s post-apocalyptic flicks Mad Max and Escape From New York. There are some really nice touches that will please fans of the original Terminator films, such as a scene where Kyle Reese learns to attach his shotgun to his wrist, as well as a CGI appearance by a key character to the first three films.
While the story ultimately remains undeveloped because of the kinetic, non-stop noise of guns firing, the character played by Sam Worthington is a most sympathetic one. The story of John Connor actually takes a back seat to this character, which is great considering Sam Worthington is the reason to see this movie. A huge step forward for the franchise and I eagerly await T5!

The Foot Fist Way

Like Napoleon Dynamite, this is another MTV produced indie comedy that just falls flat. The film is all one joke and the joke is only mildly funny the first time you here it.
Danny McBride plays a karate instructor who takes out the failings of his private life out on his students. He's dry and blunt. Sometimes, you want to sympathize with him, because he cares for his wife, who is constantly cheasting on him. But other times, you feel like he deserves it, especially after he sexually harrasses one of his students and allows a kid to snort cocaine. I don't get the appeal of a movie like this.
The extra star is because I like Danny McBride. As much as I hated his character, I liked him.

Underworld: The Rise of the Lycans

Definitely the most enjoyable Underworld movie, Rise of the Lycans focuses on Lucien and Sonja. Their story was pretty much told in the first Underworld, but here it"s told in a bit more detail. You get to see Victor for the evil jerk off that he has always been. MIchael Sheen gives a great performance! I know acting is not a requirement for this film, but he's such a great actor. He draws you into the story. I would have loved to see a film series about just his character.
Great fight sequences. Nice werewolf morphing sequences, and a fitting conclusion make this a good rental, especially if you're a fan of the Underworld series. Just don't expect to see much Kate Beckinsale. Remember, this story takes place before she was around.

S. Darko: A Donnie Darko Tale

It's not as bad as you may think. It's just utterly pointless. Essentially what the filmmakers have done is tell almost an identical story to Donnie Darko, just with Donnie's sister as the main character. If you understand Richard Kelly's time travel talk, then the big twist in this movie is that Samantha is not the Living Receiver, like Donnie was. She plays the role of the Manipulated Dead, or the role of Frank the bunny from the first film.
It's a well made film. And Ed Westwick pretty much plays his Gossip Girl character here, which is always entertaining. But the film takes no risks. The filmmakers seem too concerned with making their film feel like Donnie Darko, that they don't explore the mythology in any way. The film is too safe, and as a result, is as forgettable as a bad meal.

Martyrs
Martyrs(2008)

Now this is a horror movie! A French-Canadian co-production, Martyrs comes in the wake of a new movement in French filmmaking that takes horror to completely new levels of extreme. These films are so gory, so relentless in their realistic depictions of what feels like neverending violence, that they might make "gore-hounds" turn away in dusgust.
But Martyrs is out to do more than just exploit violence like so many shitty American filmmakers (yes, I'm looking at you Eli Roth). It begs you to consider actions as a means to an end. It doesn't critique, but it forces you to witness how some people have no limit. To get what they want, they will do whatever it takes; the end justifies the means. And in this case, does it? If you're able to withstand the whole ordeal, this is definitely a film that will spark intellectual discussion, a sign of a pretty damn good movie.

Hellraiser
Hellraiser(1987)

Ah, yes, Hellraiser. I've finally watched it, and having been pleasantly surprised last month by The Midnight Meat Train, I wanted to see what else Clive Barker has been putting out over all these years. Well Hellraiser certainly didn't do anything for me. It's exactly the kind of picture I hate. Relentless violence for the sake of relentless violence.
I hated every character in this movie. Upon meeting one character, Frank, I didn't know enough about him to identify with him before he is turned into goo, but I hated him even more as the film went on. Julia is, for lack of a better term, a nutjob. Actually, no, she's a plot device. She's supposed to be unhappy with her husband, Larry, but is more than ecstatic to be with Frank. She'll do anything Frank asks so the film can get on with the killing. Larry is the definition of a douche bag. The only likeable character is their daughter Kristy. In any predicament she gets in, she will survive, no matter how implausible it may seem.
It's not that I only watch movies with likeable characters. But there's a difference between watching flawed people, and being completely indifferent as to what happens to them.
Furthermore, Hellraiser just throws images at you without explanation. It doesn't take much imagination to throw a monster down a hallway, or have weird people come out of a box. Horror is supposed to assault your senses, and maybe leave you comepletely shocked, but it is not supposed to leave you confused at what you just saw. I had no idea what was going on in Hellraiser. How does the box work? How can torture be pleasurable? How can the creatures just disappear at the closing of the box? How did Frank escape in the first place?
Hellraiser has spawned dozens of imitators and numerous sequels, all ridiculously flawed. But can you really blame them, when they have this crap as their inspiration?

Role Models
Role Models(2008)

There is better swordplay in this movie than there was in all of King Arthur. Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott are hilarious at times, flat in others. The film isn't exactly laugh-a-minute funny, but I found it to be quite charming. It talks a lot about responsibility, and about being your own person. Life lessons that no good comedy could be without.

My Bloody Valentine 3-D

A movie like My Bloody Valentine can only work on someone who knows exactly how everything is going to turn out, but sits back and enjoys it anyway. There's not much else to like about this latest entry to the American horror genre. It feels like a routine, like a product that will give you what you pay for, providing you are paying for the bearest minimum of entertainment.
Sometimes the movie does end up in 80s B-horror territory, which is exactly where it wants to be. For instance, a sheriff looks at a corpse and says "Happy fucking Valentine's Day." Or better still, a woman runs out of her motel room stark naked to stop the man who just videotaped her having sex with him.
I admire the film's intentions. It is unpretentious, and knows exactly what it is. It wants you to sit back and have fun. The problem for me is that I've seen this kind of film before. It doesn't want to take risks because it assumes you know the formula and are okay with it. But for me, it's just not fun anymore to sit through the same hack and slash, predictable gory horror that I've seen time and time again.

Star Trek
Star Trek(2009)

If I had to make a list of the top ten sci-fi films of all time, I would make room for this one. It's THAT good!
J.J. Abrams is simply incapable of doing wrong. Here, he takes everything that is great about Star Trek - the politics, the dynamic character relationships, the science - and gives it a contemporary appeal. No small feat for a franchise that has yet to strike a cord with the latest generation of moviegoers.
Everyone here is perfectly cast, from Chris Pine (Kirk) to Simon Pegg (Scotty). But more than that, the film strikes gold in the plot, which gives each of its characters their time of day, and never once becomes predictable or unengaging. Bravo!

Watchmen
Watchmen(2009)

Some minor flaws aside - a few odd music cues and Malin Akerman's hammy acting - Zack Snyder's film of ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS EVER WRITTEN is fantastic. The trailers were a bit misleading, advertising it as an action film like that of Snyder's previous and vastly inferior film, 300. That was kind of a dumb thing to do, because the trailer made Watchmen look like a brainless, stylish action flick, which is the kind of film the Watchmen story is completely against.
But Snyder captures the essence of the book, adapting it almost word for word and panel for panel. The film is every bit as complex and cynical as the book, a character study focusing on several retired/outlawed costumed heroes trying to exist in a world that is and always has been filled with evil and corruption, a world beyond saving. The heroes are flawed, almost unlikeable. But they have to be, given what they've experienced in their years acting as crimefighters.
The threat of Nuclear war between the States and the USSR is becoming a reality, the destruction of the entire human race is imminent. Our only saving grace is Dr Manhattan, a superhero created by accident, but who has the power to do anything, stop anything, and think completely objectively. The story that follows is a brutally violent mystery involving conspiracy and murder, forcing the heroes to confront their deepest, darkest secrets, all boiling down to a terrifying and completely amoral conclusion. It isn't afraid to show just how evil humans can be to one another. In the face of such evil, what can really be done to save us? It seems as if we're simply on a clock that is counting down the minutes to armageddon.
I fully respect Zack Snyder and his grasp over the material. He understands the book and everything it stands for. He showed that same understanding when he remade George Romero's Dawn of the Dead. His film adaptation of Watchmen is NOT boring. It is NOT too long. It is ambitious, challenging, and fascinating, just like the book.

Doubt
Doubt(2008)

Doubt is one of 2008's best pictures. It is meticulous, patient, and well constructed filmmaking. What appears to be a story about an ultra-traditional nun who accuses a priest of touching an altar boy is actually about so much more.
The performances here are completely flawless. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Amy Adams. Need I say more? They bring such authenticity to their roles. Their craft goes beyond mere acting. These performers disappear into their roles, and you are watching not actors playing characters, but the characters themselves.
The film, as the title suggests, is about the fine line between certainty and doubt, and how individual experiences distort one's perceptions. In the end, can we really be certain about anything?

Synecdoche, New York

Many critics have been bashing Charlie Kaufman's directorial debut as lacking exactly that, a director. I disagree. I think Kaufman is more than able to hold a film together. Synecdoche, New York is bizarre, but no more so than Adaptation, Being John Malcovich, or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
It is, however, extremely sad. It's hard for me to explain the plot without taking away so much of the film's magic. You have to see this film twice, three times, four times. It is simply wonderful.
What is it about? I'll tell you. The film is about us. How do we see ourselves? How do we see other people? Can we ever say we truly know ourselves, or our friends, or our spouses, and can we ever be happy knowing that we'll never know everything or everyone. Everyone goes through the same experiences, just in different ways. The specifics of each experience change our perceptions of ourselves and others. In essence, they help create a story to tell about our lives.
I'm not one to care about how much I could follow in Synecdoche, New York. I care about what I took away from the film once the credits rolled. And I can say that I was deeply touched by its message. I loved it and I want to see it again.

Crank 2: High Voltage

I'll be honest. I didn't like the first Crank. It was way too over the top, downright offensive in some scenes, and the editing was all over the map.
So how can I praise Crank 2? Crank: High Voltage is even more over the top, more ridiculous, more politically incorrect, and even more kinetic in its editing pattern.
Crank: High Voltage is exactly what it wants to be. An action picture, Not one second of film is wasted on back story or plot, which is fine. The point of this movie is to invite you to turn off your brain and laugh at every ridiculous sequence these guys can throw at you. I think that was pretty much the point of the first one too. Maybe I'll revisit it someday. Cuz I had a blast watching Crank: High Voltage.

Miracle at St. Anna

Spike Lee shot himself in the foot when he criticized Clint Eastwood's two-film Iwo Jima masterpiece for not showing the role of African Americans during WW2. First off, the Japanese army didn't have any black soldiers, and second, Flags of Our Fathers does talk about how minorities were mistreated at this time, despite their contributions to the war effort.
But Miracle at St Anna really is a great film, nowhere near as good as Eastwood's films, but still worthy of attention. It depicts in harrowing detail how all black soldiers were seen pretty much as Operation Human Shield throughout much of the war. Even the Germans were able to point that out to them. Lee also shows the division of black soldiers between themselves. There's a great scene where one soldier flirts with an Italian lady, and another onlooking soldier says, "People like him have set our people back almost 400 years." A little on the nose, but the line gets the job done.
Lee has always been a very ambitious filmmaker, and here, he tries to cover the battle from all angles: the peasant Italians, the Italian renegades, the Nazis, the white Americans, and of course the black Americans. At times, the film seems to wander on tangeants, but the emotional impact that Lee is aiming for is never lost. Even as cheesy as the last sequence is, it puts the title into a lot of perspective.

Mongol
Mongol(2008)

There are scenes of greatness in Mongol. Take for example, the scene where Genghis Khan, known in this movie as Temudgin, tells his son how he chose his mother well. His wife replies, "You did not choose me. I chose you" ti which Temudgin replies after a moment of thought, "True!" Mongol is about the man who would become one of history's greatest conquerers, and this movie focuses on how Temudgin's family life played an essential part in setting him in the path of his destiny. His wife remains his only constant through many ordeals of slavery, clan disputes, betrayal, and brotherhood. The problem is that the film oversimplifies a lot of these events. We never truly understand why after the death of his father, the remaining tribe wanted to hill Temudgin. Nor do we ever really see the Mongol way of life, which the characters speak so highly of throughout the film. In essence, it's an action picture that should have been a grand epic.
Many of the films scenes are beautifully shot and constructed. But others feel redundant, as if we've seen them in countless Hollywood action epics. Specifically, the battle scenes seem too much like Braveheart. A well made and watchable film. But not a great one.

The Midnight Meat Train

I've never seen a Clive Barker movie until The Midnight Meat Train, and I must say, I am thoroughly impressed. This story is a completely, almost literally downward descent into hell.
The main character, a New York photographer obsessed with capturing the worst, most deplorable aspects of city living becomes entangled in a seemingly vast conspiracy involving a train, a man, and a meat cleaver.
The CGI gore helps ease how truly gross this movie gets at times. The violence is relentless, brutal, and Vinnie Jones, who plays the killer, creates an iconic villain.
Director Ryuhei Kitamura, who helmed the brilliant Azumi and the pleasantly fun Versus controls scenes very well. He's a bit predictable at times, but the film is no less tense. It works primarily because of Barker's source material. You identify with the characters. They are ordinary people who possess a lot of intelligence, but just enough flaws that lead them into the rabbit hole.

End of Days
End of Days(1999)

Three words that explain why you should watch this: Arnold fights Satan.

One Week
One Week(2008)

Most Canadian films possess a feel of being second rate products manufactured in a system that really has no care for the art. One Week is no different. it's a second rate Into the Wild.
But what makes it interesting is how it mirrors the main character's search for identity with Canada's search for an identity. The film is filled with beautiful shots of the Canadian landscape, showing the country in a light that hasn't been seen in as long as I can remember.
Over the last few years, there has been a rise in big budget Canadian productions like Shake Hands with the Devil and Passchendaele that reflect on Canada's part in world history. There have even been some cool genre pics with a Canadian twist like Pontypool and Bon Cop Bad Cop. One Week is the quintessesntial Canadian movie, a film that is as much about Canada in 2009 as it is about a motorcyclist's journey to find himself. Unfortunately, all these films have that second rate feel to them, a sense that these movies are American films replaced with Canadian characters. But it's nice to see the attempt at producing films that are actually watchable.

The Reader
The Reader(2008)

I went in expecting Oscar bait, but you know what, I was very impressed by this movie. Some movies proceed with actions and lines of dialogue that seem to scream, "Look for the symbolism!" and no film of 2008 does that more than The Reader. Still, there is a sense of authenticity to this movie that other recent erotic thrillers like Lust, Caution failed to achieve. The Reader's focus on differences between morality, the court of law, and the ambiguities that lie in between make in an intricate and challenging piece of entertainment.
A lot is demanded of Kate Winslet for her portrayal of Hanna Schmitz. She brings a lot of depth and psychological complexity to her character that encourages you to analyze her actions, thoughts and words. I would not be surprised if she gets the Oscar statue tonight.
There is a lot going on in this movie. I can't really talk about it without telling you the entire plot, so I can only encourage you to check The Reader out. It's worth watching for Kate Winslet alone.

Milk
Milk(2008)

Milk introduces us to a key public figure who fought for what he believed in while never once backing down. Because of that fight, he has become one of the most important advocates for human rights. Films like this remind us that the freedoms we often take for granted were a long time in the making.
Thanks to the magnificent performance by Sean Penn, Harvey Milk is a well rounded character, with faults, quirks, and unflinching determination to achieve what he believes to be a better world.

Atonement
Atonement(2007)

A bumbling fool writes a love letter, and then a dirty sex letter, and accidentally sends his lover the latter. When follows is surprisingly not the next Charlie Chaplin comedy, but the most heartbreaking and amazing movie romance of the year!

In Bruges
In Bruges(2008)

Colin Farrell was born to play Ray. Finally, after so many flops, Farrell has found a film that illuminates his talent. Brendan Gleeson is flawless as per usual, and this time he finally gets a lead role to show off his talents. Of course, it's always a joy to watch Ralph Fiennes, and his extended cameo matches even that of William Hurt's short but stunning performance in A History of Violence.What makes this movie so interesting is how writer/director Michael McDonagh creates such interesting characters. The lead hit men, who are told by their boss to spend a weekend in Bruges and await his call, are about as fun to watch as Jules and VIncent from Pulp Fiction. Not to mention a midget American who gets mad if you don't refer to him as a dwarf.

DOA: Dead or Alive

DOA: Dead On Arrival. The person who chose this movie to watch has now been banned from ever having this privilege.

Poseidon
Poseidon(2006)

How many times have we seen ships or rooms fill up with water? How many times have we had to watch people running around these rooms trying to escape. Why should I have to sit through another one that takes no chances and uses its characters as nothing more than plot devices?

Down in the Valley

It's all over the place. The filmmaking is unfocused and too in love with itself to care about the real story behind it all. The acting isn't all that convincing either.

Underworld: Evolution

I'm not sure what the point of this sequel is. Scenes just happen out of random, neither adding or taking away from the story.

Blade: Trinity

The third act in a trilogy has to do something with the franchise, put everything into perspective. If I want to see mindless action, I can just watch the first two Blades.

The Butterfly Effect

Why does everybody like this movie? It's stupid, it contradicts itself, and the ending is a total cop-out. (the director's cut isn't any better, only more depressing)

The Matrix Revolutions

Never before have I seen a film trilogy just collapse under its own pretenses. It's laughably bad.

Ghostbusters 2

A disgrace to the hilarious original.

Batman Forever

It's a great Batman spoof, but I doubt that was the intention.

Chicago
Chicago(2002)

No. This is a bad movie. A depressingly bad movie. Action films get criticized for having no story. So aside from crappy stage numbers, where's the story here?

The Chumscrubber

I hate movies like this. Movies that try to analyze teenage angst as a result of poor parenting and the drab, artificiality of suburban life. What The Chumscrubber tries to do is go the Donnie Darko route, only to end up with delivering superficial, cookie-cutter ideas about teen rebellion.
Jamie Bell plays a loser teen who relies on drugs to feel good about himself. His parents try to understand him, but they do all the wrong things, because quite simply, parents just don't get their children.
I guess Jamie Bell delivers a good performance, since he's in almost every scene, and is able to look consistently depressed through the entire ordeal. Maybe he really was, having realized the movie he just signed on for.

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

Before Sunrise, Once, and Juno. I was hoping to add Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist to that list, but sadly, this film doesn't offer much more than a bunch of characters acting stupidly. Michael Cera is great, and he has perfect timing when it comes to making the audience laugh, but the film doesn't give him nor any of the supporting actors much to work with. The film is basically Nick and Norah falling in love while they search for Norah's drunk friend, who seems to be on her own little adventure.
There are some sweet romantic moments here, but nothing that hasn't been done before and better in the three films I mentioned above.

Sex and the City

Two words: CHICK FLICK. I'm sure there is some fluff entertainment value for fans of the show. There are times when the writing is surprisingly really witty, and other times when I became invested in the characters and what they were going through. However, there were also a lot of times where I was overwhelmed by the sheer superficiality of the overall film. Not to mention that it felt at many points like a two and a half hour ad for Apple. It has its moments, but for me, I now understand how my girlfriend felt when I made her watch Rambo in the theatre.

Street Kings
Street Kings(2008)

Had it ended 10 minutes earlier than it did, it would have been a pretty decent revenge flick. However, the plot twists upon plot twists create a payoff so ludicrous it sullies the entire picture. Say what you want about how implausible the ending of Gone Baby Gone was, at least that ending created a moral dilemma that fit in with the themes of the overall movie.
Good performance by Keanu Reeves; he actually pulled off the tough and dirty cop role. Hugh Laurie is great, although he was barely in this thing. Forest Whitaker, and Chris Evans provide decent supporting roles even with the awkward dialogue they have to utter. The film has a neat gritty feel to it. David Ayer is familiar with this material so he's able to bring a good sensibility to it. The weak link here is James Ellroy's script, which goes from convoluted to ludicrous to downright stupid.

Rendition
Rendition(2007)

A much stronger film would have measured the deplorable ethics of using extraordinary rendition with its results and debated its usefulness. This is not that film. It tries to cover an epic scope, throws in way too many characters, and even includes a plot twist involving time-shifting. The result is a film that is far too ambitious for its two hour running time, and by the end, it collapses under all the weight with a nice, tidy, typical Hollywood ending.

Pineapple Express

For a comedy, it certainly was...uh...violent.
Some funny scenes, but on a whole, I wasn't able to get into it. I blame director David Gordon Green, who previously made two wonderful Indie gems, Snow Angels - one of this year's best films - and All the Real Girls. He seems to be uncomfortable with directing comedy. He stages the action in a really gritty, realistic way that doesn't fit the tone of the movie, and then to muster laughs from the audience, he just lets Rogen and the gang improvise dialogue. How else can explain how this movie turns from Superbad to Heat in its second and third acts?

The Brave One

It's Death Sentence, the female version!!! What's funny is that if those punks had tried to mug Sayid, this film would have ended before Act II.

27 Dresses
27 Dresses(2008)

As a girly flick, it's bearable if not cliched and conventional. Judy Greer is always playing supporting roles, and she steals every scene she's in. Katherine Heigl is great here, but she's way too talented an actress to be doing stuff like this too often.

War (Rogue Assassin)

Weak script, weak execution, but I grew up on films like this, so I was still able to engage myself in many of the film's more intriguing assets like Ryu Ishibashi playing the Japanese yakuza leader or Corey Yuen's wicked choreography.

Shoot 'Em Up
Shoot 'Em Up(2007)

Every action movie after this will feel incomplete if the hero doesn't eat a carrot after killing everyone.

First Snow
First Snow(2007)

It's engaging enough, but it never hits any real payoff.

The Condemned

How can you rag on a bad movie that is so in love with its badness?

The Kingdom
The Kingdom(2007)

Very average thriller that is only marginally elevated by some political nuances. Everything from character development to plot twists comes off extremely contrived. Cool shootout at the end though, but will someone please get these people a steadicam.

Ocean's Thirteen

Very preposterous at times, and it's nowhere near as fun as Ocean's Eleven, but at least it's better than Twelve.

Wild Hogs
Wild Hogs(2007)

It rehashes too many tired jokes, and when it tries to do something different, it fails miserably.

TMNT
TMNT(2007)

The magic is lost to me. I say stick to the original live action ones. The premise of this film is ridiculous, even for a story about mutant turtles, and the fight scenes are edited so precisely it's like they don't want the kids in the audience to see anyone get hit,

Déjà Vu
Déjà Vu(2006)

This movie does feel like deja vu because it tries to abandon its really cool concept in favour of a by-the-numbers chase movie.

Inland Empire

Expect one weird movie. Think Mulholland Drive on drugs.

Shortbus
Shortbus(2006)

The film is essentially not about sex, but about people who find that sex is the only way they can communicate with one another. Unfortunately, the film follows too many characters and gets extremely tedious in its last act.

Saw
Saw(2004)

I don't quite see the reasoning behind saying this is as good a film as Se7en or The Silence of the Lambs. I also didn't like how everything in this movie seemed to happen just for the sake of prolonging the inevitable.

The Terminator

It's funny because I love Arnold and I just can't get into this movie.

The Mummy an' the Armadillo

It all came down to the end, which i found deeply moving and sad. But an hour and a half in a small room with people just talking?

Cronos
Cronos(1994)

It's got some creepy and bloody moments, but its focus is on the human relationship between a grandfather and his granddaughter. It's not scary enough to be a horror flick and too gory to be the former.

Money Train
Money Train(1995)

The chemistry between Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes is great, but the movie can't decide what it wants to be. Action flick or romantic comedy? Villains that have nothing to do with the plot - really, there is no plot - kind of just come and go.

From Hell
From Hell(2001)

A formula slasher flick masked as a beautiful period piece.

Control
Control(2005)

The setting feels more like a nightclub than a subway system. Cool scenes and music score, but the film tries to combine one too many genres to really grab hold of an audience.