ZOOLANDERBEAST's Movie Ratings - Rotten Tomatoes

Movie Ratings and Reviews

Hot Tub Time Machine

-Critically (and I imagine otherwise as well) Hot Tub Time Machine has been drawing comparisons to last years The Hangover and for good reason. Both films cater to the same demographic (anyone who enjoys their comedies anchored on the ridiculous and overstated end of the spectrum), revolve around 4 men in an incomprehensible situation, and are aware they live or die based on how the consequences of said situations play out. Other then The Hangover not venturing into time travel territory (though not completely removed from the temporal concept) the main difference between these 2 films that try compensate for a paper thin plot by assaulting us with an endless stream of jokes is The Hangover leaves a moderately larger dent on our collective funny bone then HTTM. It's not that HTTM isn't funny it's just that it isn't very funny, most of the humor draws chuckles rather then the nonstop uncontrollable laughter promised by the trailer.

-Hot Tub Time Machine is one of the best titles I've seen in recent cinema history. It's very bold, regardless of your reaction to it it makes you ask yourself if only for a second; Do I want to see a film about a hot tub that also happens to be a time machine? Or is it a time machine that happens to be a hot tub? It's such a powerful title because it immediately divides people into two groups; those that answer yes and those that answer no. Which is important to note because it goes to show regardless whether you're interested in it or not it did if only for a second grab your attention, something many film titles can't do. Finally it lets you know exactly what you're getting into and while it's not necessarily a good thing to give away so much of the plot it's acceptable here because the film doesn't hinge on a mystery of any kind it simply want to make you laugh and if the title doesn't then you've been given fair warning.

-Roughly the first 20 minutes serve as exposition, offering us insight into the lives of 4 characters who lead to put it mildly lackluster lives. Adam is one of these characters; an insurance salesman who although disillusioned by getting dumped and not being able to make his nephew see what the world outside his computer is like is not unfamiliar territory for John Cusack. His nephew Jacob (Clarke Duke) serves as Steve Pink's commentary on younger generations preferring to live life through an electronic screen then through physical experience, and apparently by the look of his basement sunlight is Jacob's eternal enemy. Nick couldn't make it as a musician and now cleans the insides of dogs which I'm sure thrills him to no end, although Craig Robinson transports his sly dry wit into Nick giving us a very bitter and funny in the sad way man. Rob Corrdry throws himself way out there not giving heed to any sense of self preservation as Lou a hyper depressive teen in the body of a middle aged man. While it may seem trivial on the surface I really liked this beginning portion because while comedies don't necessarily require us to like the characters (and sometimes it's more fun to hate them) we are asked to understand their stations in life so that what follows makes as much a difference to us as it does the characters.

-After a near death experience Lou is in the hospital where Adam and Nick and eventually even Jack attempt to brighten his spirits (as well as their own) with a getaway trip to a ski lodge holding fond memories only to find it's a dump with as much life as the dirt it's built on. 4 depressed men, a broken down ski lodge, and a gloomy atmosphere call for massive amounts of alcohol but apparently they didn't read the instruction manual on their hot tub especially the part about spilled alcohol inducing time travel. Attempting to relive the fun they had in the 80's or in Jack's case the fun he never had the quartet go with the flow while trying not to ruin their futures. After a few drinks and 2 decades later (or before in this case) at some point you have to ask yourself why am I not taking advantage of the situation? That's exactly what they do except for Jack who although half the age of his peers is the only one focused on getting back to the proper time.

-The stage is set 4 men from the 00's are in the 80's!...but now what? According to HTTM showing how unfashionable and silly the time period was is the best course of action rather then taking advantage of such a ridiculous plot Steve Pink keeps us focused on a gag reel of the 80's masquerading as the 80's. While the bulk of the film takes place in a ski lodge the imagination and humor level isn't too far off from resembling a barren wasteland. A few of the countless jokes most notably Crispin Glover's turn as a supposedly soon to be one armed bellhop offers fresh humor and a taste of how funny time management can be but at the same time illuminate how much better HTTM could have been. Like with all movies including a time controlling hot tub each character needs to use the opportunity given to right past wrongs with hilarious results in some cases and not so much in others which brings me to my next sticking point. While considerable time has been invested in making the audience see and sympathize with the cast, very little time if any is given to let the consequences play out and breathe, the third act hurries together a conclusion that assumes death is at hand for the filmmakers if audience expectations aren't met!

-HTTM is worth seeing if only to satisfy your curiosity about what such a title could contain but be warned those expecting stomach pain inducing humor will leave disappointed. There are some big laughs and most of the jokes are in line with the time travel motif it's just that most of it is very lazy. Take leg warmers, lack of email access, knowledge of future events and set for frappe and what you regurgitate won't be too far off what you find in HTTM. John Cusack collaborates again with Steve Pink although the results are confusing because Cusack clearly understands his character and Pink clearly knows what we remember about the 80's but watching HTTM you'd think Cusack never argued his convictions as strongly as he did in High Fidelity nor would you know Pink is over 20.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Initial Score: 8.5

-Most people take the luxury of there time on Earth for granted, because it's inherently more difficult to appreciate what's common rather than what isn't. We know the roses are there and we probably have a good idea of what they smell like but how often do we take the time to stop and find out for ourselves rather then rely on any preconceived notions? The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button is a love letter to those who contemplate the meaning of life and the roles of others within ours only to show how the latter universally defines the former.

-David Fincher one of the greatest living directors is known mostly for having a slick, efficient style that showcases both technical and lavish flourishes similar to that of Alfred Hitchcock goes in what initially appears to be the opposite direction with this latest effort. All of his films up until now while differing wildly in content have in common a pessimistic outlook on life stemming from a dark heart. This is undoubtedly not a coincidence, David Fincher uses the movie watching experience as an outlet to showoff extreme examples of reality's cruel truths that factory sealed and bubble wrapped feel good vehicles that are all to common in Hollywood try so hard to make us forget until the credits roll.

It revolves around the life of a man who is born with the body of an old man and physically ages backwards, nearly the entire movie is devoted to showing the audience life through his point of view. If such a fantastical premise no one can empathize with Benjamin's condition however, we can sympathize with his internalized feelings

Love is universal, a fairy tale romance married with the ugliness reality often surprises us with.


-There are a smattering of themes packed in but primarily this is a film about death or more specifically it revels in the hardships of life through the eyes of a man for whom age is in one form or another a life long prison. The lives of Benjamin and Daisy are intertwined from the time they meet till death but it isn't until they "meet in the middle" are they truly right for each other. The time they share together as a happy couple is fleeting due to the difference in aging and the consequences that arise from Benjamin's case. This in turn makes the time they do share that much more important and as they come to realize this everything falls into place accordingly though not for the betterment of there lives.



-It's very easy to dismiss Benjamin as an uninteresting character with no personal depth but to make this claim is an oversimplification. So many experiences (mostly bad) and all he can do is quietly soak it all in and process it internally because all he wants is what everyone wants; to be with the person he loves and experience what life has to offer in the meantime.

-In his signature style Fincher (my favorite director) delivers a long tale of epic scope encompassed in a gritty, melon colic decaying flavor. This time however, he injects enough fantasy, whimsy, love, and overall positiveness to make it stand out like a thorn compared to his previous work as well making the sad moments that much more significant.

-Curious will inevitably draw comparisons to Forrest Gump considering Eric Roth wrote the screenplay for both and there's just enough Forrest in Benjamin to be faintly recognizable but it benefits instead of impeding on it. Also I have to give Roth more respect for being able to so eloquently adapt F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story into modern times without losing any of the poignancy or vision his story has.

-I liked how Fincher grounded this tale by reminding the audience of hurricane katrina every so often so that his sprawling epic doesn't ever lift itself too high to be touched by Fincher's obvious unflattering intentions.

-Visually it's perfect. Fincher's unique dark and rotting art style is apparent throughout the film but at the same time there is so much detail from the scenery to the time periods shown to Benjamin's body and facial morphs, it's a technical masterpiece.

-A few clever touches I noticed; The backwards ticking clock showed at the beginning and end representing Benjamins life, the hummingbird's 2 appearances represent learning from your past, and the music progressed with the times throughout Benjamin's life.

-the running gag of a man struck by lightning 7 times was one of the best parts of the film. While the short scenes were funny enough they were also significant echoing Benjamin's mother's lesson: "You never know what's coming for you" (unless you're watching a movie you've already seen.)

-The cast couldn't have done a better job. Pitt really makes for a person who takes in the lessons and experiences the people he meets teaches him never having to try selling his performance and instead makes it natural. Everyone in the supporting cast does an equally wonderful job as well most notably Cate Blanchett, Taraji P.Henson, and Jared Harris.

-This is a memorable period piece because it embraces the expansive time line it inhabits. A few scenes may have not been as engaging as others but overall an ambitious idea depicting Fincher's signature themes organically. Not the least of which is the last scene where he pulls at the heartstrings and we're happy to be instruments used in this orchestra of emotions.

There Will Be Blood

Initial score: 10

-This is what you get when you combine an ambitious director with an even more ambitious script, Paul Thomas Anderson is at his best yet continuing to show characters who exist to be watched in their natural environment, mastering it for our entertainment or in this case horror. I didn't know what to expect going in but now that I've seen it I'm still left with a sense of awe thanks to the absolitely abosorbing performance of Daniel Day-Lewis which is one of the best I've ever seen. Because of him There will Be Blood is both an intimate meditation on man's greed and an epic struggle between opposing forces vieing for total control.

-The plot starts out simple enough; a man goes into the oil drilling business and wants to be rich but as the film progresses the story, characters, and scope of everything matures like a cub into full grown lion before our eyes. Daniel Plainview ( Daniel Day-Lewis) by chance assumes control of a well off oil company, a son whom he uses to perpetuate his wealth, and a tip on where to find more oil so it seems destiny is more then willing to line his pockets. At first I thought Daniel Plainview was a good man with some inner demons because he like all manipulators is convincing in the diabolical sense he even seems to have a genuine love for his son, however shortly after he meets Eli for the first time it becomes clear this is a man who wants money and no one is going to get in his way. Everything else is just a facade to hide his true nature and further his only goal because above all else TWBB is a character study into a man who doesn't know the meaning of enough or too much, someone whom I assume the Bible would agree personifies the deadly sin of greed. I suspect Daniel Plainview and Gordon Gekko would be great drinking buddies.

-At one point Daniel promises to let Eli the priest of the chruch of the third revelation bless the first drilling yet when the moment arrives he gives the honor to his younger sister as an unspoken but blatent display of power and warning to Eli that he should tread lightly. This is where the cold war first sparks up and as the story progresses so do the stakes and heat of their conflicts. Daniel's only goal in life is to get rich and this new town he settles in is nothing more then a stepping stone on his way but buried underneath his greed he's very insecure evidenced by Daniel showing off his power every chance he gets. He doesn't just want money because it's a symbol of power and happiness to him he wants everyone to see how wealthy he is. While Daniel exploits the locals for his own financial gain Eli does the same to Daniel though under the guise of church donations.

-Eli is just as ruthless as Daniel however, he sees religion as the ultimate form of control and even so Eli is a true believer in a higher power which is what fuels the mostly bloodless conflict because Daniel believes in nothing but himself he doesn't think God or anyone else will be of use to him and see's Eli's faith as a critical weakness of character and conviction. A cursory glance at TWBB makes one believe the central theme is greed and desire for control and while that's certainly true a deeper look yeilds a more subtle and grandiose conflict between man and religion. TWBB depicts the 2 as enemies not companions and it's up to the viwer to sort out who's right or wrong.

-Something I noticed early on was how the music is so appropriately haunting and overpowering, I loved the orchestral score it simply fit right and elevated the mood but as imposing as the score there's a tight restraint as to not upstage the content of what's happening. Johnny Greenwood picks the perfect sound to evoke the same feeling the barren yet beautiful visuals from cinematographer Robert Elswit so. There isn't a moment in it's 158 minutes that the audio and visuals are out of sync.

-DDL's performance was simply amazing and no one else could have done it as well, I've always been a big fan but this is his him at his finest acting doesn't get much better then this. Such a story demands a commanding, over powering charisma who doesn't need to do so much as lift a finger to project an aura of a unimaginable evil beneath the surface, DDL chose correctly in playing Daniel as a monster in human skin. Paul Dano also put on a noteworthy performance and provides as a formidable opponent to the indomitable Daniel Plainview I almost expected a boxing ring to drop in any second. Eli isn't nearly the tryant Daniel is but he stands his ground and schemes to further his goal in a way that suggests he and Daniel think alike.

-Some have criticized ending for not making sensebut to those viewers I say the ending is the culmination of Daniel's efforts to achieve his goal in an appropriate fashion fitting the intensity of his character. Several times throughout the movie he could have been more considerate and yet his own hyper competitive compulsion forced him to not just ignore the kindness of others but go out of his way to dominate and to beat his chest and claim his superiority. Usually a character ignoring the tell tale signs of imminent defeat lead to exactly that but instead Daniel seemingly succeeds and gains everything he ever wanted; riches, and yet there's something unexplainable missing.

-TWBB burdens itself with a lot but instead of crumbling under the weight of it's own vision it focuses the grandiose scope of the story on Plainview. The film was either too entertaining for me to notice or it wasn't too slowly paced as I've heard it was no scene felt like it overstayed it's welcome and I appreciate a director who can make a grand tale not feel heavy handed. There is some ambiguity like why Daniel's son started the fire, why Daniel wasn't more suspicious of a certain character, and of course the abruptness of the final scene but all of this serves to enhance the movie by being left unanswered there is no clear cut ending to the story of a man who is not a man but greed incarnate. Simply put this is what happens when a great story telling meets great acting I have no complaints here.

Repeat Viewing Score: 10

Terminator Salvation

Initial Score: 6.8

-Don't let the title fool you while it is the latest Terminator there's no screwing around with the chronological order, there is no singular futuristic threat, there is no tongue in cheek humor. In the place of all that is humanity's deteriorating struggle against an army of machines bringing with it all the impressive set piece battles and effects a war epic with robots is capable of it's too bad most of the humans are upstaged by such displays and the lack of script cohesion runs rampant throughout.

-John connor is finally realized on film as an adult played by the always intense Christian Bale he's not yet the commander he's somehow destined to be but in a high enough position to have a say in how things are done, but not over General Ashdown played by Michael Ironside. The two have a conflict of interest, Connor's willing to save the human captives with an ulterior motive of finding his father while Ashdown having found a way to potentially end the war is not wiling to let compassion for a few get in the way of saving everyone else. This tension between the two who have different ways of achieving the same goal could have been expanded upon giving a more human touch to a film too absorbed in it's action sequences it forgets to show humans can be their own worst enemy.

-I can understand when you're being hunted everyday by homicidal robots and most of your race is already dead you won't be in the greatest of moods but even so, Bale's yelling is a bit too relentless he treats everyone as if they're deaf the word over acting comes to mind. On the other hand Sam worthington delivers as a man trying to atone for his past as the only cyborg in the film he's infinitely more human then any fully fleshed character, having a ribcage of metal and not knowing who you are isn't easy.

-Moon Bloodgood is certainly no Linda Hamilton but she does have the humane characteristic that cements her as a martyr for what she believes in and she doesn't have to yell constantly, Christian Bale I hope you're taking notes. Between watching a literally faceless robot vaporize random humans and a motorcycle be swung into a Skynet ship Marcus and Connor get closer to each other (again literally) and somehow instead of feeling cheated out of a true climax the two team up against what is a nod to what made the previous Terminator films successful and the film's sense of purpose is finally solidified (yes again literally) on screen.

-McG understands lots of really cool action scenes involving impossible to defeat robots being defeated satisfies those who are looking for something to get the pulse pounding and Sam Worthington saves the balancing act from tipping over since metal is denser then flesh. However a sequel trying too hard to pay homage to it's predecessors and not stand on the legs of it's own writing does nothing to advance the Terminator mythology beyond showing us an alternate universe where the color saturation is as dead as most of the human population.

Inception
Inception(2010)

Initial Score: 10

-Dreams are subjective realities which so often at the time seem like the real thing we don't question the reality we're presented with, it's only after waking up do we realize our perception was flawed. Lucid dreaming however, is the ability to identify when in a dream even being able to control what occurs and it's this ability Christopher Nolan seems to be most interested in playing with in Inception. Nolan started on the script while filming Memento, a brain twister in it's own right and seeing the finished product 9 years later reinforces my belief he used his previous films as practice for what is one of the most ambitious works ever filmed. The nature of reality is tricky to explain or prove definitively but you know what it is much like oxygen, but what if a lucid dream simulated reality and reality felt dream like? Christopher Nolan is a master puppeteer when it comes to making the audience define reality from fantasy all the while dropping enough hints for us to figure it out and not leaving us in the dark as long as we pay attention not letting Inception's seemingly straight forward plot wash over us as so many modern movies let us get away with.

-Dom Cobb played by Leonardo Dicaprio is the most skilled extractor in the business, that's what you call someone who with the aid of technology is able to steal any valuable idea one might have while sleeping. When attempting to extract from rich businessman Saito (Ken Watanabe) he's countered with a proposal to do the opposite, Inception; the insertion of an idea into one's head for as yet unknown benefits. Saito dangles the possibility of Dom being able to return to his 2 kids in the U.S and settle the fate of his wife (Marion Cottilard) without fearing criminal punishment for as yet unknown crimes in front of him and having done it once before accepts the proposal before Saito says "Assemble your team". Which is exactly what he does and how we're introduced to Arthur played by Joseph Gorden-Levitt in his most impressive role to date Arthur is an extractor too and in many ways similar to Cobb. Next is Eames (Tom Hardy) a forger capable of impersonating in dreams, then Yusuf (Dileep Rao) a chemist who concocts the sedatives needed to keep everyone asleep long enough to pull off the heist. Araidne (Ellen Page) a prodigy architect capable of designing elaborate pathways in the mind is the final recruit she's introduced by Michael Caine who plays Cobb's father in-law Miles who also taught Cobb a former architect himself.

-With the team introduced in typical heist movie fashion they plot against the target of inception Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy.) Along the way Cobb teaches Ariadne the ins and outs of dream manipulation which acts as a brilliant tutorial device for her as well as the audience giving both a clear understanding of the 3 levels of dreaming. First the dream, then a dream within a dream, and finally a dream within a dream within a dream all of which would be impossible to display without confusion especially when juxtaposed to reality had it not been for Nolan's clever rules and logic keeping all the layers plausible without alienating the attentive viewer. Most impressive of which is the rule of time moving progressively slower the deeper into a dream which you go so with 3 levels of dreaming and reality there are effectively 4 clocks simultaneously counting down adding dramatically to the tension felt each step of the way.

-At one point an entire city folds in on itself in perfect symmetry, a gravity defying hallway fight ensues as if the combatants were swimming, and a van takes an hour to fall off a bridge all these moments rank among the most impressively choreographed action scenes ever filmed.

-Inception has many influences from the greatest sci fi's such as The Matrix, Dark City, and Blade Runner to Nolan's own Memento and The Dark Knight, but Shutter Island seems to be the most obvious since both films have Dicaprio successfully playing a burdened protagonist who'd feel at home in any noir, play with his perspective, and feature strained relationships with his wife.

-The true genius of inception is like it's 3 levels it has 3 levels of comprehension every engaged audience member must go through. First because of Nolan framing the big picture in a fairly straight forward manner the actively engaged viewer may lose sight of many fine details but retain the grasp of the plot, then upon further inspection of those finer points beyond the general plot even the most perceptive viewer will reconsider their position on several plot points. And finally in retrospect to the general plot, the carefully laid out trail of breadcrumb details ambiguously leading to multiple conclusions, and fusing them to adhere to the rules Inception sets up the reconsidered notions can be concluded upon or be put under even further scrutiny.

-The mental defenses Fischer projects act as the catalyst for nearly all of the gunfire, explosions, and chases making Inception one of the most entertaining action movies I've ever seen at face value. Because of how well edited the action is the personal stake we the audience tie to the conflict is never cut; we're always interested because we know what failure would mean for the team.

-Hanz Zimmer's score relentlessly adds to the tension and intensity of the time needed to pull off the inception and as a clever nod to Nolan's universe Zimmer constructed a score to reflect the slowing down of time: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UVkQ0C4qDvM

-Inception like 2001: A space Odyssey is about ideas and scope more then the characters but unlike 2001 We're given with at least 1 richly developed lead who has enough sullen looks and emotional complexity to make Orsen Welles proud. Leonardo Dicaprio in one of his best roles in an already admirable career displays once again all the negative emotion a man can carry with him. Ultimately however, it's Nolan's script which allows Cobb to drop one or two details at a time along the entire way that by the climax his character arc is revealed to have more heart and significance then the entirety of casts in many other films. The supporting cast isn't entirely developed but they don't need to be this is Cobb's story the other players are meant to act as functions within the scheme of the inception and even with that Ellen Page manages to wring every last drop of concern from her character. Joseph Gordon-Levitt takes the mostly silent strong approach with just enough playfulness to come off as a likable and essential second in command, Ken Watanabe in contrast to his villainous role in Nolan's Batman Begins is someone who we grow to care for and displays a wide range of feelings of authority mostly wisdom alongside Michael Caine. Dileep Rao displays an archetypal obsessiveness for knowledge men in fields of knowledge often have and yet has a likable warmth to him, and Marion Cotillard is incredible displaying many different emotions often switching them at a moments notice never missing a beat in dialogue.

-In a time where originality is sorely lacking in movies evidenced by endless sequels, remakes, and spin offs it's nice to see something as creatively original as Inception and even nicer to see how such a multilayer patchwork of reality and fantasy rewards multiple viewings as well as incisive analysis giving a viewers a point to go through it again beyond sheer entertainment value. Also unlike films like Mulholland dr. Inception isn't confusing for the sake of artistry or atmosphere it's not really confusing at all on the surface but it's the richly layered details within details which leave audiences in heated discussions long after the credits roll making us ponder over every scene in multiple perspectives for better or worse. The labyrinthine metaphors beautifully litter every frame because while Inception is paced briskly we still have the architecture of how confusing the film could have been in the back of our minds.

Amadeus
Amadeus(1984)

-Initial Score: 10

-Those who're masters of their craft usually attract both those who have not the perception to appreciate a master's talent and envious peers. The brilliance of Amadeus is anchored around the burden such a peer carries of being the only one to recognize the greatness of a creatively superior person while simultaneously hating him for that very reason. Amadeus is arguably the best film ever made about a man who strives to destroy another who doesn't have to strive at all to create, and while the title may lend insight into the film's subject it's clear that the man who lives in Mozart's shadow is the true focus. We're treated to the significance of classical music because we are witnesses to it's birth in the mind and paper of it's composers so when we hear Mozart's music director Milos Forman conspires with Paul Shaffer who wrote the original play and script it's almost as if we hear it the way envious composer Antonio Salieri hears it. It's very easy to wallow in an artist's art especially with a generous 3 hours to do so and more so when such an artist is so well known but Milos Forman wisely opts to focus on the people behind the art specifically so we can appreciate it because we understand the impact it has on others.

-Antonio Salieri consumed by regret for killing Mozart or more specifically the music of Mozart attempts suicide only to be thrown in an insane asylum and reminisce about his experiences with Mozart to a young priest. As if regailing with details the source of his grief wasn't enough the priest rubs salt in Salieri's wound by not recognizing any of the music he created yet being familiar with the work of his hated and simultaneously loved superior Mozart. Salieri devotes his entire life to becoming a great composer not for the praise it may bring but for the personal satisfaction that mastery of anything accompanies. However, during his efforts he encounters Mozart's music which is more then what Salieri's wildest dreams could afford him and his image of what the inventor of such music could be like is shattered when he finds out Mozart is little more then a selfish and immature man child. There's well documented evidence of the correlation between genius's and the lack of effort they put in to become the iconic figures we know them to be and Mozart is no exception. He's more concerned with women and alcohol then music yet when prompted to play by his father Leopold (Roy Dotrice) he executes to a degree as to make Salieri remark him as "taking dictation from God". Trying so hard and amounting to nothing in comparison to Mozart Salieri can't help but feel contempt for the God who could allow such an undeserving human to possess such a wonderful gift and he takes this self perceived insult so seriously he devotes the rest of his life to bringing down Mozart.

-What separates Salieri from other villains is his love for music, specifically Mozart's. No matter how much he hates the man he has an equally if not larger love for his compositions so much so that he cannot deny this to Mozart himself on his deathbed yet this truth is bittersweet because by feeding his contempt in destroying Mozart he also destroys what he loves most in life. F. Murray Abraham understands this tragic irony makes up the core of Salieri and uses it to portray subtleties that we as an audience understand to have great meaning because they reveal more to us then to anyone in the film. When Salieri smiles everyone else may think he's in agreement or content but we can see right through him to the point where he might as well be snarling and/or crying every time he encounters Mozart or his music. Tom Hulce is great in Amadeus too if for no other reason that he doesn't hold back, and why should he? Mozart is a larger then life figure a man who boasts talent to spare and because he recognizes this (but doesn't recognize that Salieri too shares this knowledge) he acts without impunity expecting everything but in reality gains much less.

-Everyone in Amadeus holds Salieri in higher regard then Mozart except for Salieri and Mozart. Another ironic tragedy arises in the realization that Salieri wants to be as great as everyone thinks he is for personal satisfaction's sake and never reaches that lofty goal while Mozart wants to be recognized publicly for being as great as he really is yet he too never achieves his goal at least not while he's alive.

-As much screen time as Salieri and Mozart get the music of Mozart is an equal in the eyes of the film mainly because Milos Forman makes us hear his music as he creates it only to treat us to a finished piece upon it's completion. Usually accompanied by the practical use of it so audience's in the film react to the music at the same time as the audience of the film but another great nuance here is our reaction differs from those of the opera house attendees because as omniscient viewers we are given the proper context to appreciate that the film's audience doesn't which only helps to underscore the tragedy that is not getting credit where it's due.

-The greatest of the several Shakespearean tragedies in Amadeus even more then Mozart's death may be the audience's realization that all the time Salieri spent trying to torture Mozart could have been better spent on bringing himself to Mozart's level, of course now we'll never know if such a feat was possible. It's hard to accept the reality of how unfair life can be sometimes or in Salieri's case all the time but, to let such misplaced contempt consume a person to such a degree as to rob him/her of any joy life unfair as it may be can bring is the line of thinking Salieri never pondered but Mozart seemed to always have in mind. Salieri outlived Mozart but when comparing the quality of life between the two it's easy to make the argument that what Salieri had before and after Mozart's passing wasn't much of a life so much as it was a self imposed mission to restore a misguided sense of balance. Another tragic irony exists in the legacy of Mozart's music which not only lives to this day but more importantly serves as the final nail in Salieri's coffin is that Mozart eventually got the recognition Salieri always wanted but one must ask is that something Salieri would be pleased to hear or not?

Vacancy
Vacancy(2007)
½

Initial Score: 5.6

-The title aptly fits because the answers to why this story was chosen and where the horror is are so vastly vacant. watching it at 5am on tv I recalled the trailer and knew what I was in for but to my surprise my low expectations were slightly exceeded however, don't let the R rating fool you to call it scary is to call a light drizzle a storm.

-From the start we're introduced to the two central characters and you immediately see how Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale's characters play off the negative tension they create the problem is Kate excels in this act all too well and it blatantly disrupts the balance meant to be set. Where Luke goes the sarcastic and quietly spiteful route Kate's character brings out her full wrath and comes off as too unlikeable which does little to help the audience care about her fate. I felt insulted at how obvious the foreshadowing was throughout the entire film as if Antal was scared he'd lose his audience without leaving clear context clues every step of the way. Another thorn in my side is how it's never explained what exactly is the cause behind the hatred and resentment between the two protagonists outside of a vague reference to their child dying before the movie took place.

-To this films credit the scene where Luke and Kate realize the tapes they're watching took place in the room they're in had the slightest hint of true horror and the cat and mouse game between the homicidal hotel goons and our protagonists wasn't completely disappointing. However by the film's final confrontation between potential survivors and maniacl murderers what little this film has going for it abruptly vanishes after an all to well treat path the third act takes.

-Structurally Antal does a fine job sticking to the premise not going off on any tangent which is commendable especially since the a common flaw in modern film is lackadaisical pacing so he succeeds in evading that pothole. However the core story has no substance and no amount of polish can blind the audience to this fact which is made all the more obvious by how devoid of passion and style vacancy is.

Repeat Viewing Score: 4.5

Shutter Island

Initial Score: 10

-Movies are not meant to simply entertain but also to be experiences in and of themselves, (hopefully) engaging audiences in a way that makes them feel as if there is a point to what they're watching but more importantly just making them feel something. In Martin Scorsese's Gothic thriller meets film noir the point lies in Shutter Island being as much of a character as anyone who inhabits it evidenced by nearly every frame being filled with a grimness that can't be scrubbed away. It's exactly this looming sense of foreboding he chooses to indulge in that makes Shutter Island as much a visual and auditory treat to be felt as an intellectual challenge to be pondered and discussed long after the credits roll. Martin Scorsese one of the greatest directors of all time is a master of defining time and place so it's only natural to hand him the reigns on a property that lives or dies by how evocative it's setting is. I'd wager if anyone else directed Shutter Island the atmosphere of subdued glumness wouldn't reach the same palpable levels thus diminishing any sense of urgency for the audience to relate to the dread Leonardo Dicaprio's character Teddy Daniels experiences once he arrives on the Island.

-Often great films which require the audience to do more then a little heavy lifting are frowned upon initially for that exact reason or simply because at the time of release they aren't fully comprehended or appreciated. This sad truth holds even more weight in today's current climate where too many films come neatly wrapped in easily digestible packages further conditioning audiences globally to be completely passive viewers rather then the actively engaged movie goers some movies require them to be. Shutter Island is one such great work of art I feel has been dismissed outright rather then analyzed at length as intended by Scorsese which is sad because he's left us with a great film that contains many nuanced details that reward incisive viewers. Hopefully in time those who have made simple and misguided conclusions about Scorsese's latest work will at the very least consider their position on it which I'm hoping a second viewing will encourage people to do.

-In 1954 off Boston, U.S Marshals Teddy Daniels and his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) arrive at Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of Rachel Solando (Emily Mortimer) a patient at the Ashecliffe hospital for the criminally insane. This simple plot turns into a labyrinthine mixture of truth and lies created by the staff at Ashecliffe who's mannerisms tell Teddy and Chuck they aren't being given the full scoop, and that something else something darker is going on here and as long as they're here they're going to find out what. The thought that someone could escape the heavily guarded confines of Ashecliffe let alone find a way off Shutter Island when the ferry which is the only means on or off hasn't been used since the marshals arrived is a tough pill to swallow yet only the tip of the iceberg. The less of the plot revealed the better for first time viewers however it should be noted that Teddy is somewhat of an unreliable narrator. The lines between fiction and reality are blurred several times requiring viewers to deduce and cut through the intricate web as if they were Teddy and Chuck's silent partner.

-Leonardo Dicaprio takes on another Boston accent as Teddy Daniels in a role cementing him as one of the best actors currently working, he is pitch perfect as our flawed hero. Every film noir worth it's weight in stylized dialogue needs a protagonist plagued with pangs of guilt for past sins and Teddy isn't lacking in that department. It's obvious in the creases of his face and clothes that he constantly feels as bad on the inside as his tie makes him look on the outside. Dicaprio studied his genre well because the trappings of a man attempting to compensate for his past usher out a obsessive, unhinged intensity we haven't seen from him before. Mark Ruffalo doesn't bother channeling the logical fact gathering drive he had as a detective in Zodiac, he takes a backseat to Teddy playing a strict support role. However, the few lines he gets early on show promising glimmers of what might have been a very prominent counterbalance to Teddy's manic behavior. Ben Kingsley doesn't have to lift a finger to exude the creepy and more then meets the eye attitude of his character Dr. Cawley. A man who seemingly has the key to unlock all of Shutter Island's secrets puts all his effort into saying how helpful he wants to be rather then actually being helpful and even at times impeding Teddy and Chuck's investigation or are the hindrances out of his control? Either way he personifies the atmosphere of Shutter Island casting an atmosphere of doubt and mistrust upon himself as much as everyone else. He and Dr. Nahering (Max Von Sydow) know something that there pleasantries toward the 2 protagonists betray and it's exactly this feeling of cover up that frustrates Teddy especially because while trying to keep it together he also has this uphill battle for information ahead of him. However can we sympathize with a character who's perspective is not as objective as one would expect? This is the question teasing audiences as they involve themselves with the mystery of Rachel's disappearance.

-What makes Shutter Island a masterpiece is it's ability to weave the unsettling feeling such an island fortress emits with the similar feeling doled out by it's inhabitants while at the same time making the audience figure it out along with Teddy and Chuck. There's no simple curtain pulling going on here, like in true film noir fashion we're subjected to question constantly and be apprehensive of those around us making it that much harder to see through the haze of deceit laid out before us. The stormy skies, the on edge men with guns, the demeanor of the patients, all tie into something that doesn't quite add up in Teddy and Chuck's mind but even when all is said and done Martin Scorsese won't lower himself as to spell it out for us just because we're spoiled by all too familiar explanations. No he respects the audience's ability to reason as much as he respects the medium's ability to make the audience feel something.

-For those that have seen it at least once a friend of mine wrote an excellent commentary on the ending which I suggest everyone read for further clarification: http://ievolvedintothis.com/?p=91

The Sixth Sense
½

Initial Score: 7.4

-Too many horror/supernatural films focus on scaring and bewildering the audience with otherworldly creatures rather then involving us with their significance in relation to the leads. The Sixth Sense fortunately is in the latter category, although there are a few tastefully controlled scare tactics at play it's largely a drama that attempts to develop (and at times hinder) the relationships between the characters. The problem with The Sixth Sense lies in it's reliance on characters who aren't properly realized into plausible humans as much as they are puppets to the plot save for one person. It's refreshing to see a ghost story through a unique lens however, such a lens is dimmed by an all too solemn cast and sluggish pace that sucks much of the life out of the cinematic experience. There are too many scenes that don't serve any vital purpose they just meander through the film masquerading as setting the tone of the film when in reality they're simply filler. That being said The Sixth Sense is a powerful story of connection and disconnection. I appreciate M. Night Shyamalan's efforts to develop the relationship between 2 of the leads however, in the process of neglecting 2 other vital characters relegating them to plot points much of the emotional punch is softened.

-Bruce Willis in a change of pace to broaden his range stars as Malcolm Crowe a highly respected child psychologist who has a brush with death after being shot by an unsatisfied former patient. Cue to next fall where he seems to have made a full recovery yet is still haunted by what he perceives as a failing on his part (have you noticed how so many protagonist idealists seem to take on the burden of the world and are stunned when they inevitably fail?). Enter Cole Sear played perfectly by Haley Joel Osment who is an unusually emotionally withdrawn child exhibiting symptoms similar to Crowe's former patient so in him Crowe sees his chance for redemption.

-Most of the time is devoted to the give and take exchanges between Crow and Sear which is both a blessing and curse because Haley Joel Osment isn't your typical child actor lacking in the subtleties and compensating with youthful charm. He understands the material well enough to take the serious subject matter head on. Bruce Willis best known for snappy one liners and an all or nothing attitude, isn't the first name most people think of when trying to come up with actors who have a knack for keeping a mental journal of their emotions and The Sixth Sense doesn't help shatter the reputation either. He overstates every line making all too obvious what would otherwise be better implied or not said at all. Less is usually more however, in the case of The Sixth Sense less is too much because so much of Willis's lines depend on extracting a quality of subtlety that isn't there that illuminate further to the uselessness of so many scenes within the painfully slow pace of it all. By the end of it you'll be hoping for a seventh sense in which you gain the power to be amused by what would usually bore you however, such an ability isn't required because the film is saved By Osment. He thankfully gets most of the lines and most of the screen time which he uses to display his understanding of Cole's internal conflict balanced against his fear of being left abandoned by the one person who can help him or at least thinks he can.

-Cole's famous line "I see dead people" should come to no surprise to anyone who's seen the trailer beforehand, or the title of the film. The Sixth Sense has been billed as a psychological thriller but aside from a powerful ending there is nothing truly thrilling about the plodding. If anything it's the anti thriller, M. Night Shyamalan continually tests his audience's patience right through to the end as if building up towards something that won't materialize on screen. It would be more accurate to describe this movie as a character study between troubled patient and troubled doctor each helping the other to get closer to the end of their personal crises and in the process building a bond others will not or possibly even couldn't understand.

-The long periods of shallow, murky, nothingness doesn't mar the film as much as the introduction of Malcolm's wife Anna (Olivia Williams) as a central character, yet after the first 15 minutes or so she is relegated to a painful reminder of Malcolm's shaky marriage rather then an actual human with mind and motivation of her own. The other central female character Cole's mom Lynn (Toni Collette) struggles to recognize and address the mental state of her son and I'm not sure which is the greater tragedy: Her inability to understand her son or the audience's inability to understand her as a person rather then a plot point.

-The Sixth Sense is M. Night Shyamalan's outlet for communicating his thoughts on life after death and in that context there's a great film buried here somewhere because what he has to say is substantial. However, the message is buried under too many layers of on screen trampling of the plot so the themes on display don't rise to the surface as much as they are dragged kicking and screaming. There's simply too much of too little going on here, it seems M. Night Shyamalan has mistaken hollow scenes for being moody or atmospheric when in reality it's simply retreading of the ideas introduced earlier just in a different way. With the exception of Cole everyone in The Sixth Sense are not people any of us could reasonably expect to meet let alone interact with for any period of time because people are dynamic, people have different facades and by watching The Sixth Sense you'd think people are supposed to be robotic in displaying range of emotion or enlightenment. There's a great premise, a great performance, some great dialog, but like my favorite and in my opinion the world's most insightful critic Roger Ebert said: "Movies are not about what they're about, they're about how they're about it".

Scanners
Scanners(1981)
½

Initial Score: 9.0

-Scanners isn't the deceptively simple type of film David Cronenberg is usually known for however, there are a few undercurrents of his stance on government and politics present throughout. While missing this trademark it has 2 others of his: A healthy amount of gore and a protagonist struggling with himself both of which are put to effective use. With Scanners Cronenberg proves he's adept at delivering the cliched battle between good and evil in a visually striking package coated with all the common trappings of sci fi/horror in the name of fun and there's plenty to be had here.

-Scanners are people who possess telepathic abilities ranging from reading minds to spontaneous human combustion to telekinesis. In the case of Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) he doesn't know he's one and unintentionally causes a woman who makes fun of him to have a seizure which catches the attention of agents of a government run Scanners program called Consec. After ending up under the employ (or is it imprisonment and brainwashing?) of Dr. Paul Ruth played by Patrick McGoohan who convincingly lets his sympathy towards scanners shine through, Vale is trained as a makeshift secret weapon with the promise that the voices in his head will be quieted. The good doctor hopes Vale will infiltrate and undermine Revok, a homicidal rogue scanner with plans to take over the world with a scanner Army.

-Gary Zeller does a great job with the special effects as they hold up well to this day, Scanners best known for it's exploding head scene is a testament to the quality of special effects on display. It's so easy especially in the days before CG to fail crafting plausible sequences of implausible acts but here the visual punch is a knockout that doesn't even teeter on B horror territory by drowning each scene in blood and gore. The havok scanners are capable of wrecking on other people is almost tasteful because as much violence as there is it's never extravagant or self indulgent.

-Michael Ironside digs deep to balance the hot blooded indiscriminate blood lust of Revok with his more coldly calculating side. What's more impressive is Ironside's understanding of Revok's ability and motivations, he isn't the archetypal criminal mastermind however, he is smart enough to take advantage of his gifts and the opportunity to recruit a scanner army after getting an address list of all known scanners. Virtually no time is spent on developing Vale's character however his need for ephemerol the drug which stunts scanner ability to stop the voices in his head and the contempt we have for Revok's disregard for anyone who doesn't help further his cause is enough for us to be invested in Vale's and by extension Dr. Ruth's cause.

-Scanners is a movie for people who love what make movies unique. It isn't about it's characters or even the plot it's more about the ideas presented and their ability to take advantage of the stranglehold cinema's suspended disbelief can have on it's audience. This is a visual experience first and foremost and Cronenberg never forgets that nor is he content to rest on the laurels of the film's concept. The idea of powerful beings walking among us and using their powers for good or evil are explored in a basic way however, that's not to say it's totally shallow, there's a real sense of playfulness here and Scanners above all else successfully shows us how scary a stare can be.

Dune
Dune(1984)

Initial Score: 4.2

-David Lynch known for his penchant for delightfully confusing films succeeds too much on the latter and not nearly enough on the former with the incomprehensible mess Dune. Adapting the sci-fi classic novel of the same name David Lynch set out to recreate the multiple planet spanning epic which he does however, only those who have read the novel stand a chance of understanding what's going on. The problem with Dune is it spends so much time trying to cram all the events of the novel (which is well over 300 pages) into a little over 2 hours that no time is spent on explaining what any of it means. Dune's saving grace is it's special effects and Lynch's penchant for decadent visuals while not exactly state of the art and dwarfed by other high budget films like Star Wars still creates a visual feast for the eyes in nearly every scene.

-The movie starts with an unnamed character who's relevance we're not aware of at any point (like most of the cast) giving a short background history explaining the planets, who controls them, and the significance of the spice melange which everyone pines to control found only on the planet Arrakis otherwise known as Dune. From this opening even the Dune uninitiated will have a strong suspicion that there's much more to the story then we're told.

-If you asked me for specifics of the plot I would be at a loss for words as I imagine everyone who has seen Dune would be but from what I can tell the plot revolves around a conspiracy. House Atreides is growing stronger and the fearful emperor joins forces with House Harkonnen to give control of Arrakis to house Atreides only to spring a surprise attack soon afterward with the help of a traitor whom duke Leto Atreides trusts. Why these two families hate each other, why the spice is so valuable, who the people we see for the majority of the running time are, what purpose the ridiculous and inconsistent costumes serve, are among a few of the many unanswered questions.

-The pacing is a much fiercer enemy to the audience then the emperor's entire army! It moves with the pace of an intense action movie like The Dark Knight or Die Hard yet it attempts to underscore the significance of words like Kwisat Haderache and Muad Dib without actually trying to explain or portray what they mean.

-The color palette is muted 80's style for sure, but there's an unmistakable beauty in the superficiality of the special effects especially in the shields. It's simply a gorgeous treat in Lynch fashion vibrant colors are taken advantage of for maximum effect, so much so that in all seriousness Dune would work much better as a shorter silent film to appreciate the visuals and not be bogged down by meaningless dialogue.

-It almost feels like watching a pretentious, shallow version of Star Wars without being told who anyone is or why we should care or what the goal of the protagonists are. There are some echos of religious and ecological overtones that aren't explored probably for the better however, I can't fault David Lynch completely considering Dune's legacy as serving as an example of what happens when the studio gets final say (and final cut.) Still regardless of running time it was still Lynch at the helm of this embarrassingly short 2 hour 13 minutes clunky mess excising plot and character development which the film's content implies to be the heart of it all for a manic need to get every page on the screen.

Sherlock Holmes
½

Initial Score: 7.6

-Attempting to modernize one of the most filmed and well known characters in all fiction in a light we've never seen him in before is an ambitious risk to say the least. With strong performances all around, an intriguing mystery, a villain worthy of challenging the great detective, exciting action, a good chunk of understated humor, and more then enough time to let Holmes be Holmes the real mystery is why the dish Guy Ritchie serves us isn't as tasty as it's ingredients? The trailer showcases Robert Downey Jr. as the star of the show so no one can fault the marketing campaign for false advertising because his performance is the main reason to see Sherlock Holmes. But the character is so well ingrained in social consciousness because of his deductive reasoning skills, so while the plot certainly doesn't forget this crucial fact the trailer does which may cause a rift between what audiences expect and what they receive. It's a pleasure to see Robert Downey Jr. in the drivers seat too bad the vehicle he's in is dented by a collision from a plot that while initially engaging eventually summons more of the ridiculousness of The Da Vinci Code then necessary.

-Guy Ritchie's signature burning desire to get things moving is at it's best in the opening scene where we see Sherlock and his buddy Watson played by the usually excellent Jude Law who is as always very comfortable taking backseat to the lead but no less commanding foil a black magic ritual attempt by Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). He's sentenced to be hanged with his last request being telling Holmes "death is only the beginning" which is apparently true since the day after he's buried he escapes his stone sealed tomb and is seen walking according to the graveyard's understandably shocked groundskeeper. Sherlock Holmes has an inhuman level of logical reasoning and like many who possess a natural gift it comes with the price of needing to be tested, without an appropriate outlet for his talents he sees no purpose in life and lets himself rot under the haze of drugs and indifference.

-There are 2 examples early on that show How Sherlock thinks both involving how to dismantle his opponents bodies in the manner of a brutally effective surgeon. I'd have liked Guy Ritchie to incorporate this mental planning more often because it's refreshing to see the process of his mind as it's happening rather then only the end result and it makes for a rare necessary use of slow motion too.

-Sherlock Holmes has a yearning for competition no one has been able to satisfy since he caught Blackwood but now he's back from the grave and although this only means danger for his next victims Holmes can't deny gaining a perverse pleasure from the confirmation of his purpose Blackwood gives him. As the supernatural plot threads weave in and out of the narrative we're forced to focus on the friendship between Holmes and Watson perhaps too much so only to learn Watson's soon to be wife threatens to steal away the 1 person Holmes can confide in at least that's what he thinks. To add to the sense of his world caving in on him Irene Adler played playfully by Rachel Mcadams the only person to win his heart makes him question her motives not knowing a literally shadowy figure is using Holmes through her.

-All of this sounds sounds like mystery worth solving and it is until Guy Ritchie loses much of the rampant energy powering the first half to let the supernatural battle of wits play out in a disappointingly incomprehensible manner. Holmes has always been a man of facts yet the 4 writers involved with the script obviously forgot that tidbit an hour in. Here more then ever it matters how the inner workings of the film are explained and how the pulling of curtains we didn't know existed converges with the plot, it's too bad the latter is far more fulfilling then the former.

-There's some thrilling action in here Guy Ritchie should be proud of and it's often enough for fans of the more adrenaline inducing films to appreciate, there's also a strong focus on comedy, companionship, and it succeeds as a great mystery too. For all it's striving to establish itself as a suitable update it really does justice to Arthur Conan Doyle's vision of a man who's insight is beyond question. Much of the poignancy of the mystery is compromised by a muddled explanation that is as unnatural as the magic it seemingly incorporates but in return we get Robert Downey Jr. stretching his legs for 2 hours 10 minutes revealing more then a few surprises along the way. I'd say that's worth the price of admission even if a loose end isn't tidied up by a possible sequel Sherlock Holmes teaches us ignorance can be bliss.

Hancock
Hancock(2008)

Initial Score: 4.6

-With all the superhero films released this decade it seems only natural for one to be a satire of the rest, and at least for the first 20 minutes or so Hancock succeeds in taking a few clever jabs at the mythology surrounding these larger then life beings. By taking clever jabs I mean having Will Smith lend his trademark charisma to a drunk, irritable superman known for being that guy you don't want to piss off as well as the ultimate bull in a china shop the china shop in this case being anywhere he goes. Some films like those by the Coen brothers bend and twist genres while others like Hancock suffer from multiple personality disorder because what appears to be a fresh comedy devolves into a ludicrous origin story. Or is it a weak excuse to showcase lots of things being destroyed? or is it a tragedy? I'm not really sure and neither is Hancock or Will Smith.

-Hancock saves people's lives but with such reckless abandon he leaves a telling trail of destruction not unlike a natural disaster wherever he goes and he's a jerk too so don't expect him to smile while he pulls you out of a burning building let alone treat you with an ounce of respect. When a man can say it's not unusual for him to throw a whale into the ocean only to have it land one someone's yacht and saves a car at the expense of a train he probably won't be the most well liked guy at the courthouse. Fortunately for him and everyone who owns anything expensive he saves the life of a P.R. agent Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman) who sees Hancock as a diamond in the rough and with polishing of his act the public perception is sure to follow.

-After a brief stint in prison Hancock is released so he can once again save us all which he does but this time he doesn't land on anyone's sports car nor does he look like he woke up with a hangover, he even goes so far as to tell the police "good job". This is about as much plot as is worth mentioning because from this point on Peter Berg decides to ignore tiny details like consistency or logic opting instead to get things moving at a more Michael Bay like pace. I'm fine with not knowing exactly how and when Hancock got to Miami it's a movie I can cling to my suspended disbelief blanket all day but when a film betrays it's own intention or breaks the rules of it's own universe that's when my acceptance gives way to scrutiny.

-Ray's wife Mary is more then just that because if her constant head turning gazes don't give it away the fact that she's played by Charlize Theron probably will. I won't spoil even this horribly kept secret but I don't think I'm too much of a curtain puller when I say she plays a much more significant part in Hancock's life then he imagines. The script calls for an explanation the audience probably didn't ask for at least not to such a great extent but there it is Hancock's beginnings are revealed one ridiculous justification after another and at the end of it all I think the writers are just as confused as us.

-This new melancholic direction the film's second and third acts go in fit within the context of the comedic, lighthearted first act about as well as a wet puzzle piece. Clearly Peter Berg wants us to take notice that the unkempt and impolite mess we see in the beginning is nowhere to be found in his place is a hero the public can depend on and look up to. The problem here lies in the transition to such a dramatic character shift or rather the lack of one, I'm in no position to educate anyone in anything related to films but if I were and someone asked me what the word lazy or contrived meant I'd point to this film as a prime example.

-Conflict is born from compelling drama but when that drama is downsized to fit within the comparatively rigid and tiny box that is the PG13 rating we have Hancock. Peter Berg clearly believes we require lots of destruction and gibberish spewed at us in order to connect with a man rather then letting the inherent comedy of a rude drunk who happens to be able to run faster then the speed of light run it's course. Hancock is the product manufactured by sloppy editing an infinite indecision but even so there's a strong premise in the beginning proving Hancock as a whole (both the character and film) are train wrecks never set on a straight course.

The Book of Eli
½

Initial Score-5.8

-The Road, 9, and 2012 are just some of the movies released within the past few years to feature the all too familiar post apocalyptic background in which the protagonists struggle to survive in. Whether this is pure coincidence, or film makers suddenly watching The Road Warrior too much is something I'll leave others to dwell on because the important question here is if The Book Of Eli stands on it's own legs or does it need the crutches of it's own crowded sub-genre to prop itself up on? The answer unfortunately is too much of the latter and not enough of the former however, the aftertaste of this religious flavored rusty world isn't entirely unpleasant. And when one of the best actors currently working is the lead against another actor who's no less formidable but infinitely more experienced in his villainous role The movie is like many of the makeshift objects within it; it almost gets the job done.

-The first 15 minutes are silent to let us soak in the desaturated gray skies and rusted metal heaps that litter the barren wasteland, the uncompromising bleak color palette is reminiscent of Terminator: Salvation. The scenery scorched and ravaged by time still somehow lends itself to some beautiful shots yet makes me question at least for a moment how such a world came to be? Several answers are hinted at throughout but they conflict with each other leaving me confused about a detail that could have easily been defined clearly or at least ignored altogether.

-Denzel Washington probably isn't the first person you think of when a film requires a blade wielding, gun toting, death dealer but here he is in the titular role of Eli; a man tasked by God to carry Earth's last Bible westward and spread it's message. Luckily Eli's equipped with all the righteous fury and precision needed to remind those who would stand in his way that God is the best martial arts teacher in the universe. During his arduous journey Eli happens upon a small town to fill up on water (an understandably precious resource given the circumstances) and charge his ipod when he piques the interest of thugs you expect to see here you know the type that have a fetish for nightmarish patchworks of tattered clothing and armor and usually some kind of unnecessary eye and/or headpiece. Several corpses later the plot reveals it's existence when Carnegie (Gary Oldman) who wants the Bible to control the masses learns Eli is in possession of it which may be the last copy because according to some all others have been burned for being a possible cause of "the flash".

-Solara (Mila Kunis) the daughter of Carnegie's mistress sees Eli as a means of escape from her enslavement and although refusing to carry the burden of another life at first he later sees she needs his help. This isn't a buddy bonding movie so don't expect to see the plot contort itself to service an artificial cause for concern they have for each other rather, it's out of necessity they stick together and later prove invaluable to each other. There are some nice angles utilized to make the long stretches of road more appetizing to trek on but it's all a weak illusion at best if the duo aren't walking without conflict they're engaged in some boring hollow action sequence.

-I know the Hughes brothers want to make there vision of Earth as devoid of color as possible to reflect the hopelessness of the people who inhabit such a terrible place, but would it really kill anyone to wear a piece of clothing that isn't brown, black, or gray? Actually considering how valuable something so colorful might be here or how it might attract the wrong kind of attention maybe it would.

-This is a western first and foremost there's a hero and a villain and the plot revolves around them inching closer to each other as the film progresses regardless of one's attempts to do the opposite. When the two do finally meet it's not nearly as exciting or as emotionally involving as it should be because so much of the focus has gone on the journey itself as well as the action that very little time is spent on convincing the audience why we should care.

-As the film gets closer to it's ridiculous conclusion the writing falls apart as surely as the remains of the weather beaten house after Carnegie's men shoot it up. The Book Of Eli is almost arrogant in it's boasting of justification of violence in the name of religion but really the only point that connected was the importance of water and how we take for granted something that is well worth appreciating. This is a small saving grace for a film that has gaping plot holes and stretches the wire of suspended disbelief so thin it will most certainly snap in two by the conclusion if not earlier.

Avatar
Avatar(2009)

Initial Score: 10

-I'm not sure which is more extravagant: Avatar's $300 million production budget or the hype surrounding it, what I do know is not a penny has gone to waste nor does the film fail to live up to the seemingly insurmountable expectations set for and by James Cameron. I wasn't alive in 1977 to bear witness to when the world first laid eyes on Star Wars however, I like to imagine that those who were so fortunate felt similar to how I felt after seeing Avatar. It's as much of a visual feast as a movie (or any work in any entertainment medium) can possibly be yet at no time are the key ingredients such as character development, writing, or plot progression to name a few skimped on. Avatar is the best film of 2009 and although I wouldn't dare make comparisons to the masterful Terminator, Judgment Day, or Aliens it's still proof positive that James Cameron dominates the action genre and can conjure up a credible romance if he wants too as well.

-In the year 2154 the RDA corporation lead by Giovanni Ribisi as Parker Selfridge attempts to mine the moon Pandora for a valuable mineral called unobtanium employing the muscle of Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) and his mercenaries. The only thing stopping these bloodthirsty warriors from crushing the natives (called Na'vi) under their technological might is RDA's scientific endeavor to peacefully communicate with them using Na'vi/human Avatars controlled via mental link while the hosts real bodies are in a stationary dreamlike state. Enter Jake Sully played sincerely by the very worthy Sam Worthington as a paraplegic ex marine who's dead twin brother affords him the opportunity to inhabit his own Avatar and experience the beautiful yet dangerous wonders of Pandora. The Avatar program lead by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) has been a minor success at best but race relations don't seem to be getting the Na'vi to move and the mercenaries trigger fingers are getting itchier by the second so Jake is the last hope for a non violent solution.

-I've noticed for every 3 eyed, tentacle possessing, unrecognizable alien I see in films there seems to be a humanoid counterpart. Is this because filmmakers have disagreements about how resonant beings from other planets should be in respect to audience expectations? or is the bipedal form simply more efficient from an evolutionary standpoint? I suppose either way it doesn't matter because given how little we actually know about what may or may not exist beyond Earth it's the unknown factor that makes us easily give in to whatever form filmmakers present to us. This may be a truth Stanley Kubrick would refuse to acknowledge given his belief that aliens are impossible to invent on the big screen and given the fruits stemmed from such a belief (2001:A Space Odyssey) no one could doubt him.

-I'm neither skeptic nor proponent of 3-D, I've always regarded the technology as a gimmicky if not small aesthetic bonus to films that emphasize visuals but never has this tool been more appropriate or slight then in Avatar. First and foremost there isn't a barrage of objects generated for the sole purpose of being hurled at the audience, on the contrary most of the 3-D elements focus on details like flickering embers or metal crates jumping out from the screen as opposed to at us. The end result is simply beautiful complimenting the myriad of vibrant colors found on Pandora, I'm sure Avatar looks just as visually arresting in 2-D but it's certainly worth it to see it in IMAX 3-D. James Cameron clearly anticipated the slight dimming effect of the 3-D glasses because they ever so slightly temper the unusually high contrast of the film nicely.

-As with any popular film that makes any attempt at message delivery any number of political allegories can be derived from the Na'vi's respect to nature versus most of the humans lack of such. I won't bother reading too much into it however, I don't think it's a stretch to say that most people who see Avatar won't have a hard time believing the way humans are painted. One of Avatars greatest strengths is it's personification of human greed and bloodlust in Selfridge and Quaritch this enables us to rally against something tangible rather then an idea making us more emotionally involved in our desire to see the good guys win. There are spurts of action throughout but it's all appetizers compared to what we get in the final 40 minutes which is flat out muscle on metal goodness enhanced by Cameron's nearly 2 hour buildup of why this last stand matters.

-I couldn't help but appreciate how much screen time is devoted to developing the slow but progressive love between Jake and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) amidst the rising tensions and visual affair at play the real beating heart of Avatar is their connection. It's nearly impossible to not feel involved at least somewhat in this world because by the film's climax you come to understand a great deal about each characters goals and where they stem from which is a testament to Cameron's ability to never let spectacle no matter how great intrude on honest entertainment.

-The entire cast is on point from Ribisi's greed, to Weaver's motherly instincts, to Worthington's perception transformation, to Quaritch's almost palpable hate for the Na'vi to Saldana's tribal instincts slowly giving way to her feelings. While the main draw to see Avatar lies in it's visual buffet leaving no stone in the world of Pandora unturned the classic struggle between good and evil is what creates honest connection to this world. We come to understand exactly what is at stake and James Cameron never lets us forget that so Pandora never becomes something simply to be marveled at it's a place we never knew before but deeply feel at home in.

I Am Legend
I Am Legend(2007)
½

Initial Score: 7.8

-I Am Legend is the third big screen adaptation of Richard Matheson's novel which may be a testament to Hollywood's recent lack of originality and the inevitable comparisons it will draw to other near future apocalypse tales like 28 Days Later and Children of Men don't help. However this is a minor itch that need not be scratched because the film succeeds (mostly) in it's portrayal of a man who's as out of touch with himself as he is in touch with the necessities of survival. There's a midpoint shift where exploration on the physical and mental toll isolation has on humans is abandoned in favor of generic action sequences that undoes some of the groundwork laid earlier. However, Will Smith's performance while not hyperbole inducing is still admirably strong enough to power through whatever flaws there are within the progression of plot.

-A lot of talent has been considered in the development of this film (Ridley Scott, Tom Cruise, and Arnold Schwarzenegger to name a few) and yet I couldn't be more satisfied with Will Smith landing the part which is a testament to him as one of the most consistent actors working.

-The sweeping opening shots that introduce us to this desolate vision of New York are hauntingly beautiful and proof positive that no matter how far technology advances there will never be a replacement to shooting on location. Will Smith is Dr. Robert Neville a military virologist committed to transferring his natural immunity to the cancer curing, vampire/zombie hybrid creating virus to the rest of Earth's population. He's frustrated at his long string of failure, the loss of his family, his loss of connection to humanity, and his dog Sam and DVDs are poor substitutes. Slowly he lets his loneliness overtake his sanity which is evidenced best when he feels rejected by the female mannequin he placed at the video rental store only to confide these feelings to Sam, while it's common for people to talk to animals here Smith treats her like a real human.

-There's a brilliant scene that bares mentioning where Robert is shocked to see a mannequin he placed in the video rental store entrance instead in the middle of a road only to take the bait and be trapped. We're left to ponder whether this trap was setup by the head "Darkseeker" as ironic revenge for Robert using the same method to capture a specimen earlier or did Robert set it up himself at some point and forgot? This is an excellent display to the creeping unraveling of the mind one experiences when cut off from all human contact.

-I'm not going to give away what happens towards the end but I will say there's an artificial focus on standard action and all too neat a wrap up that to a certain degree betrays the intentions of I Am Legend as a character study. Even so the performance of Will Smith, tasteful revealing of flashbacks of how the event occurred, and cinematography of the first hour make I Am Legend one of the better films of 2007.

-Note: There's a much better alternative ending on the home version so if you disliked the theatrical ending as much as I did you owe it to yourself to check it out it it's much more satisfying and insightful. Also there's a prequel slated for 2011 release so I'll say I don't think it's necessary to reveal anything beyond the flashbacks and I certainly don't think significant material exists for a feature length film.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
½

Initial Score: 9.0

-Ending a string of mediocre performances in even less mediocre films of recent years Nicholas Cage is pleasantly insatiable as the drug fueled Terence Mcdonagh. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans is the title you get when you try to please everyone but fortunately such indecision on what to call the film hasn't interfered with it's ability to be any less then those first 2 words. Nicholas Cage is a Lieutenant encompassing all synonyms of selfish, addicted, opportunist, and yes bad so if Werner Herzog in the director's chair doesn't clue you in to what you'll experience the title most certainly does.

-BL:PoCNO starts out with Mcdonagh and his partner Stevie Pruit played by Val Kilmer betting on how long it will take for a prisoner to drown in an increasing flood when abruptly Mcdonagh decides to save the poor soul regardless of what the water does to his $55 underwear...what a saint. Such a character brazenly uses his badge and gun throughout to get as much up his nose as possible in an increasingly amusing and bizarre decent into madness only a pairing as wild as Herzog and Cage can deliver. The relationship between the two is so admirable here because Herzog seems not only able to polarize Cage at his best but put it on display for 2 hours without such displays getting old and in fact escalate it.

-The plot is your standard noir setup between cop and murdering drug lord played By Alvin "xzibit" Joiner who inevitably confront each other. However, this is a thinly veiled excuse for Cage to let loose as a man with an unquenchable thirst for drugs having episodic encounters with archetypal but still compelling characters. Eva Mendes is the kind hooker we've all seen somewhere else but somehow she doesn't blend in with the furniture and her clientele's intertwining with Mcdonagh solidify her significance within the context of why we should care about her. Terence's dad Pat (Tom Bower) is a good man battling his own addiction demon along with his wife Genevieve (Jennifer Coolidge) while the two give us an understanding of where the lack of self control stems from.

-Werner Herzog knew exactly what he was doing in showing us the point of view of imaginary iguanas, fish, and alligators juxtaposed with Cage's uninhibited drug induced one liners such as "Shoot him again his soul is still dancing" with a controlled chaos that can only be appreciated not understood. As one can expect Terence's world crumbles around him as a result of the collateral damage his drug and authority abuse cause but it's in this ever decaying state of affairs he finds himself in that we appreciate Herzog's ability to make us laugh rather then cry.

-New Orleans is not a pretty place nor is it a safe haven for those who have any hope of escaping the vacuum like hold drugs seem to have on everyone, but maybe it's to some degree understandable given the post Katrina climate.

-I'm not sure how most other people will react to BL:PoCNO because it isn't immediately obvious that Herzog is framing his film as a noir thriller which gradually but progressively transforms into a parody of itself, emerging on the opposite end of the spectrum it started on. I can only hope that whatever audience the film is intended for doesn't bother concerning themselves with the trivial details and learn to enjoy the simple pleasure of observing ever festering madness.

Surrogates
Surrogates(2009)
½

Initial Score: 5.7

-Surrogates is a major disappointment not for being too mindless (which it isn't) or for being outshone by other better examples of the virtual sub-genre like The Matrix or existenZ (which it is.) The film's fatal flaw is it's eagerness to show us a world begging to be explored only to just as quickly blanket all but the most narrow of paths just to keep things moving along briskly. An over reliance on slickly paced yet hollow set piece sequences only makes it more obvious Jonathan Mastow wanted our pulses not our minds but Surrogates functions as a competent and visually appealing thriller so it's not beyond repair.

-Technology has advanced to a point where people (98% of the world's population according to the film) no longer dare to venture outside to get the morning paper or greet their neighbors...at least not physically. Now they have custom tailored robots operated by the mind through which people quite literally reinvent themselves to be who and what they always wanted to be living the dream but such a groundbreaking invention opens up a myriad of intriguing possibilities. I don't think ignoring questions like how do surrogates operators not get atrophy? and how can so many people afford such technology was a smart decision. If only because the film relies on suspended disbelief to a progressively increasing degree.

- The plot revolves around Bruce Willis and Radha Mitchell as Greer and Jennifer Peters investigating the first ever simultaneous murder of surrogates and the 2 hosts 1 of whom is the son of the inventor of surrogate technology Lionel Canter (James Cromwell.) Greer unravels a conspiracy around a surrogate host killing weapon while the small number of humans who reject surrogates referred to as "meatbags" led by "The prophet" AKA Ving Rhames in dreads don't make things any easier for him. Canter was cast out of the company he built be seeing his creation being turned into an addiction of endless and equally meaningless upgrades that continue to dehumanize the human race.

-There is no time to ponder exactly how such a world came to be let alone how it currently operates Mastow while a sure handed director when it comes to stunt work and cg lays it on a bit thick towards the end. The second half falls prey to the common trappings of technology run amok which draws comparisons to a much better film: Minority Report.

-Bruce Willis and Rosamund Pike ricochet their subdued angst at their creeping isolation from one another well enough to stem the tide of robotic performances but the taste of a world ripe with potential still left a very sour taste in my mouth.

The Last Supper

Initial Score: 6.4

-Extinguishing evil when the opportunity presents itself so easily is a tempting prospect as well as a great opportunity to satirize evil doers as much as those who judge them as evil. The Last Supper tackles this idea pitting people who wear their ideals on their arms against one another however, the deck is stacked against the supposed more evil of the 2 opposing sides. Some people don't understand the world is largely comprised of gray shades rather then black and white then there are people who are aware of this fact and choose to disregard it for sheer convenience, The Last Supper deals with the latter group.

-5 young liberals live together sharing meals as well as seemingly similar beliefs accidentally kill a racist dinner guest only to realize that the world is better off without such ignorant people. Every Sunday the self righteous 5 invite a guest for dinner to put him/her through a gauntlet of questions only to poison them when they've had their fill of extreme hatred.

-The darkly comical irony runs it's course as the self proclaimed open minded group grows increasingly aware of their premeditated murder masquerading as acts for the good of humanity. The problem here is the edge of such a sharp satire dulls more and more with every death and the functional but one dimensional cast with the exception of Cameron Diaz) doesn't help.

-If only a more significant second act were to supplement the strong opening I'd be willing to forgive the woefully underdeveloped cast but as it stands this is not the case. Thankfully Ron Perlman's charismatic Rush Limbaugh persona literally saves not just himself but the film from leaving a bitter taste in my mouth, too bad the same can't be said of the victims of political extremism.

Up in the Air
½

Initial Score: 9.4

-In a time where an ominously large percentage of films pander to basic desires being afraid to probe anything deeper then the skin we have Jason Reitman. Who for the third time in a row marinates conventional laugh out loud humor into a thick steak like significance. His work isn't an intellectual indie lovers feast but more impressively a filling entree for the mainstream audience's appetite for someone who has something important to say. Up in the Air couldn't have come at a better time, but make no mistake this isn't a comforting hand on the shoulder for those who have been affected by the current recession. It's as Ryan Bingham describes "a wake up call" and not just for the unemployed but for anyone who's had an uncertain future.

-Ryan Bingham travels constantly to places he's never been to fire people he's never met. If these companies had any backbone Ryan would be in the same boat as those he visits but in a slight jab to corporate America echoing Thank You For Smoking work for him is plentiful. Having Fantastic Mr. Fox which I haven't seen yet but have been reading good things about currently in theaters while having having Michael Clayton, Syriana, Goodnight And Goodluck, among others under his belt George Clooney has been increasingly solidifying himself as one of the best actors currently working.

-Sympathetic but direct in his approach to ending careers Clooney's signature charm does much to soften the blow preparing the "newly departed" for their next destination. He's happily detached from everyone and everything moving with not a care in the world beyond how many free amenities he can get from the next trip and becoming the 7th person to ever attain 10,000,000 miles. Eventually he meets Alex who says to Ryan "think of me as yourself, only with a vagina" and as the on screen chemistry sizzles it becomes obvious the two were made for each other. Their relationship rides the line between casual fling and serious romance they can be the most happy couple and then go on about their lives enjoying their freedom but if anyone could ground the constantly flying Ryan it's Vera Famiga's sexy phantom.

-Ryan occasionally gives motivational speeches saying the same lecture about unpacking the backpack of your life telling his audience to not be weighed down by life's souvenirs and to be on the move living it. Natalie Keener shows promise breathing life and exuberance into her role as Anna Kendrick a hopeful new addition to the company who makes her mark suggesting to fire people via web cam to cut down on costs. Of course such an idea completely grounds Ryan's high flying lifestyle so as he shows her how it's done he exposes her to the grim reality that is letting people go to fend for themselves and as her experiences gradually diminish her bright hope it's never fully extinguished.

-Up in the Air features a very interesting character who rejects people and possessions but not the world they inhabit, he represents the antithesis of social bonding and couldn't be happier. Maybe we can all learn to be more like the sharks he says we are, the final destination is happiness so why not try a more isolated route if the more dependent one isn't working out? This is a great film everyone should see if for no other reason then to learn how important our own personal backpacks are and if the strain is worth it.

Dream Lover
Dream Lover(1994)

Initial Score: 6.4

-Where many thrillers fail to ignite the cause for concern and sense of suspense intended to be instilled within the audience Dream Lover mildly succeeds avoiding some trappings of it's genre while playing with others. Thrillers draw their strength from giving us enough rope to hang ourselves with while exposing our deep seated hope to see what lies beneath the surface and to this extent Nicholas Kazan strings along our expectations from the genre well. With that being said a captivating second half doesn't exactly over compensate for a boring first half which is more of a very long setup then anything else.

- James Spader plays Ray Reardon an architect recently divorced who inadvertently catches the fury of a stranger who to put it mildly consumes his life from that day onwards. As the blossoming of short lived success within a films first act demands the wedding ensues and it then where Ray's paranoia becomes reality an fog of half truths and lies is what Ray seems so understandably eager to cut through. Madchen Amick strings him along however there is no single big reveal the film hinges upon, rather there is a succession of rugs pulled out from under us and Ray each more mysterious then the last but not in an unpleasant way.

-A large portion of Dream Lover's success or failure depends upon Amick's ability to command the screen when she explains at least partially anyways the inner workings of her motives. This pays off dividends in the second half so the mental cat and mouse game can emerge however, such surprises don't clarify why we are treated to a beginning that leaves much to be desired. It's almost like a long joke you with a funny punchline that leaves you wondering if it was really that funny, the jokes here of course is thinking we know what's going to happen.

-I really don't know if a lesson in knowing someone before marrying them is worth teaching if it includes a boring lecture on knowing not everyone may be what they seem. What I do know however, is there are disastrous results when you get involved with someone you don't fully understand but trying to understand is where the entertainment lies.

Max Payne
Max Payne(2008)
½

Initial Score: 3.8

-Added to the embarrassingly large list of failed video game to movie adaptations is Max Payne. This predictable formulaic noir thriller doesn't do much besides going out of it's way to destroy any potential the opening of Max Payne's seemingly watery grave may give viewers. Everything looks the way it should the scenery of a snowy, decaying city whets the appetite for a visually melancholic tone however, such a setting only emphasizes how hollow the story within it is. The small pockets of unrealized potential make you wonder if somewhere in this city there is a better story waiting to be shot but thanks to the title we're stuck with one man's story and it is as lifeless as he is.

-Of the few things done right Mark Wahlberg is correctly cast finally playing a role that caters to his trademark Stoicisms but even his heavy handed approach to a heavy world does little to make anyone care what he unearths. Max payne's wife and kid are murdered reducing him to a vessel for revenge and most of the movie is him shooting his way to the truth which I'm sure was done to pay some sort of homage to it's game roots even if the lack of narrative doesn't. Eventually he allies himself with Mona Sax (Mila Kunis) who does what she can with her limited screen time, the closer the two seem to get to their revenge target the closer the two seem to get romantically. Mona brings with her the same single track mind as Max yet still retains the unique qualities that maker her appear human I think it might have to do with the fact that Max doesn't get laid often.

-While this over abundance of shooting goes on Chris "Ludacris" Bridges hovers over Max's every step doing his best to tie him to several murder investigations never doubting Max's guilt even when he comes up empty on evidence. I liked the starkly humorous bits of dialog he gets this is someone who I can get behind and see fit within the context of the film perfectly, too bad his role is relegated to giving audience members doubt of Max's no stone left unturned policy. Beau Bridges makes his involvement in Max Payne's quest obvious to the point of nearly insulting, he doesn't outright proclaim anything he shouldn't it's his lifeless delivery that gives it away.

-As is enough wasn't wrong here, there's some kind of conspiracy with an addictive drug called valkyr that makes it's users hallucinate with visions of homicidal angels this is as odd of an addition as it is pointless. It would be interesting if any attempt was made to suggest these hallucinations were more then just that but no we get a glimpse into the vision of substance abusers just for the hell of it.

-Max Payne is a man with nothing to lose and not much to gain other then the satisfaction of revenge but his methods involve nothing beyond shooting sequences and pressing the wrong people. These 2 supporting elements are common in many much better films of the same genre because they are just that: Support, but when you substitute a main course for a side dish don't be surprised if the customer wants his money back or you'll be in Max Payne.

Note: Most if not all fans of the video game hold it's narrative in high regard for being well written, surprising, and giving an insight into this world beyond the bullets. A game with such potential as a film failed miserably because the interactive element of the game was shoehorned and warped into a passive medium.

Appaloosa
Appaloosa(2008)
½

Initial Score: 7.5

-Westerns which were once among the most common genre found in cinema are now among the rarest but every once in a while we're treated to a modern example that does justice to though not matching the great westerns of yesteryear. Appaloosa (bearing no connection with The Appaloosa starring Marlon Brando) so perfectly looks and behaves like the real thing it's authentic not beautiful and even more impressive is the cast who are people living lives that just happen to further the plot. An uneven pacing of the relevant events only moderately mars what is otherwise a genre film made to be exactly that while also weaving in a good chunk of psychological depth so the characters are not as easily pinned down as the film itself is.

-Ed Harris shows so much understanding by playing his character Virgil Cole as straight laced as possible. He see's life in black and white knowing only 3 things: He's the best shot around, his partner Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen) is loyal and smart, and the law is on his side or so he thinks because after a woman enters his simple yet dangerous life his beliefs are tested to say the least. Like any evil doer with muscle and money Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons) exercises his unchecked control over the small town until the legally endowed killer duo make it clear no matter how many players he has they'll still win the game. The parasitic relationship between a woman drawn to power and a man to the healer of his internal suffering couldn't be showcased better then when Allison French (Renee Zellweger) makes her presence known to Virgil. The two become as intertwined romantically as they do by the threat of death from Bragg's men after Virgil loses his cool with them.

I wish not to spoil the intricate web spun from this point on however, I must comment on the delicate struggle between "Allie's" ability to obscure the focus of the single minded Virgil is as impressive as Everett's unflinching aura of calm and levelheadedness both balanced through out the 114 minute running time. Ed Harris shows the more mundane details such as what the main characters are having for dinner can be just as engaging as the inevitable shootouts which are tastefully ended with the pull of a trigger or two. So many films have long drawn out shooting scenes I've often questioned why a culture of people so gun crazy could all be such terrible shots perhaps Harris and Mortensen should open up a training ground they'd make much more then any lawman for sure.

-Some clever if not so well timed twists occur after the first hour that don't seem out of place as much as they do too early or too late but a very satisfying climax almost completely picks up the slack the pacing set. Appaloosa is deliberately slow to give it's inhabitants and audience time to think yet by the end of it nothing lingers in my mind not because the food for thought presented isn't filling it's all substantial I've had my fill by the end as intended.

Hitman
Hitman(2007)

Initial Score: 6.3

-The significance of an ambitious premise centering around political conspiracy is washed away by a muddled execution but there's enough time spent on developing the protagonists to care about their circumstances. There's a healthy dose of stylish video game like violence to pay homage to the film's inspiration while not impeding on the plot and enough surprises to keep the audience guessing. In between the action and revelations there's a functional if flawed thriller that fulfills it's genre obligations.

-Agent 47 an apparently nameless hitman among many in "the Agency" is ordered to kill the russian president for reasons unknown at this point to the audience and himself but as he's been trained to do his entire life he completes his task. Hitman's main strength lies in Timothy Olyphant's ability to successfully pull off the archetype of a professional contract killer who's world outside the job (or lack of) is challenged by Olga Kurylenko who plays Nika a prostitute who embodies everything 47 is not. This juxtaposition between killer and potential victim is explored enough to make the 2 reliable witnesses giving the audience reason to care about each layer of ths story as it's peeled.

-After 47 kills his target only to see him on alive not long after he discovers a devious plot that goes far beyond his comprehension. All he knows is that something smells and he needs to get to the bottom of it for his own curiosity...and I guess the preservation of his and Nika's life might be a good incentive as well. I won't spoil the plot however, it's worth noting that more then anything Hitman is about 47's world crashing down on him and how it forces him to think contrary to how he's been conditioned.

-Even those who had no idea the film is loosely based on a game franchise it doesn't take a Sherlock Holmes or even a Watson wannabe to see that's clearly what it's modeled after with all the bullets and fists flying around so decadently. Hitman doesn't deliver on it's potential considering I don't blame anyone who left the theater confused rather then impressed but it does put us on even ground with 47 and Nika making us feel as if we're putting the pieces together with them rather then for them.

Inglourious Basterds
½

Initial Score: 9.2

-A self indulgent WW2 alternative so unmistakably imprinted with the trappings of Tarantino's signature style it's easy to forget asking why hasn't anyone made such a film before on such a well tread genre only to find the answer by the time the credits roll; Tarantino waited till now to make it. IG deserves praise for it's ability to weave nods from multiple films most notably one of the same name and the Dirty Dozen into a dialog based western without falling under it's own weight of ridiculousness.

-On paper a movie about jews posing as nazis killing nazis sounds like a juvenile revenge fantasy but Tarantino's experienced hands craft a fine line between comedy and human drama elevating it above what one would expect from such a plot. The tension generated by the time and location is enough to make Michael Mann jealous, every encounter involving a Nazi could turn violent at a moments notice and it's in this instance Tarantino shows how mature he is in knowing when to play with our expectations.

- What makes Col. Hanz Landa one of the best villains in recent cinema history is his unmatched ability to let his prey know they're doomed from the start yet still humoring their defenses probing them in a seemingly innocent manner until they're forced to admit their own farce. Christopher Waltz sent chills up my spine by ordering a glass of milk and that's about as much praise as an actor can get. Playing to his strengths Brad Pitt serves as our hero and comedic relief whether he's butchering nazis or the italian language he commands the audience as well as he does his basterds. A character as serious and with as much motivation as Melanie Laurent's Shoshanna seems so against Tarantino's vision but somehow she fits like a shoe. I think it's because her encounters where much of the humor and tension stems from acts as a reminder to how crucial the success of the mission is.

-It's a delight to see the rarity that is characters taking advantage of the scenery and even more so when said scenery is what makes conflict bubble, brewing until filled to the brim. What makes IG so great is it's ability to not shy away from showing us what happens after it spills over and not cleaning up it's mess immediately yet when it does it shines. If there's fault to be found it's in Tarantino's eagerness to not allow his dialog to soak in opting to drench us in a deluge of it instead, either way it's a storm of words we should embrace being swept up by.

District 9
District 9(2009)
½

Initial score:9.3

-Choosing to have a large portion of District9 shot as a mockumentary remininiscent of Cloverfield (albeit without shaky cam effect) it succeeds in showing a reliable account of it's events from our 2 protagonists perspective complimenting a large scope idea with a personal feel. Recently theaters have been filled with sequels, remakes, and movies based on already existing works not to mention how hard it is to make something someone already hasn't done so new guy Neil Blomkamp deserves praise for such a fresh premise...which is ironically based on his own 5 minute short alive in Joburg. A creative idea means nothing if it's not done well right? That's why Peter Jackson deserves praise as well for his eye for talent giving Blomkamp enough freedom to cast first time actor Sharlto Copley as the lead a role few others could be fit for.

-It's clear Blomkamp has a stark view of humanity perhaps rightfully so showing the contradictory nature we're capable of. Saving aliens from starvation only to subjugate and exploit them, Wikus feeling enough sympathy to not kill "prawns" senselessly but laughing as embryos incinerate, MNU killing the aliens they need to use the weapons they stole from them both sides of the human conscience are shown.

-It would have been so easy almost inevitable for D9 to lead itself into a heavy handed lecture about equal rights yet Blomkamp deftly gives us the message without lingering on it. We see the mistreatment of aliens because it's there and then the plot briskly progresses moving us away from the lesson.

-Christopher Johnson (a name no doubt given by the government in an attempt to humanize the creatures which is yet another show of irony) seems to be the only intelligent one among his race, yet there are hints of the others being workers who act as a hivemind and losing their leader so what makes him so special? These and many other questions like where they came from, why were they near enough Earth to "crash", etc are never answered because they don't need to be what matters is there here now and although not welcome to stay they aren't free to leave either. However, one obvious question of why these aliens with such advanced weapons didn't demand the fuel they needed to leave can be answered by their behavior. How many aliens in D9 were hostile towards humans without being backed into a corner first? This low number indicates that perhaps us humans can learn a lesson in pacifism oh look more irony world peace from another planet.

-Only after walking several miles in the prawns claw does Wikus van der Merwe begin to sympathize with those he has oppressed and even then a display of human selfishness doesn't completely diminish the efforts he makes to redeem himself. Which bring me to the action packed latter half of D9, rarely do movies demand action as much as here, anytime an oppressed group seeks to upset the unfair status quo in our history there's been bloodshed and this is no different besides the guns that shoot lightning. I really loved how enjoyable the action was in it's culmination of the hostility built up on both prawn and human sides, where the MNU mercenaries represent the evil humanity is capable of Wikus is the champion of human redemption. Having the two do battle both physically and to give meaning to the third act elevates the shootout.

-New ideas aren't as common in cinema anymore let alone with this level of polish from a director's debut I think anyone who goes on to make an action film can look to D9 that not all set pieces need to exist as eye candy but as a logical progression of events. If ever there was a poster boy for unlikely hero we have finally found him in 2009 and we can only hope we have as much prawn in us as he does otherwise we're not really human.

Public Enemies

Initial Score: 8.7

-This period piece played perhaps a bit too on the straight and narrow is as factual a biopic as it is an entertaining drama with not much to say other then watching Dillinger's crime spree makes for a very good movie.

-Foregoing establishing Dillinger's rise in the world of crime Public Enemies opens with an exciting prison break and a demonstration of how Dillinger is used to losing those he works with even when it's his mentor Depp maintains this calm persona throughout. Cut to Bale's Purvis who is apparently a crack shot and a true embodiment of lawful justice a stark contrast between Dillinger and Purvis is made right away we see these two are bound on a collision course.

-It's easy to see why Dillinger is initially attracted to Billie Frechette and even easier to see what sustains and even escalates his interest. In one of the best female leads I've seen in years Marion Cotillard elevates what it means to be a gangster's girlfriend put simply she isn't the damsel in distress Dillinger thinks her to be but he is her girl and she protects him even under physical threat.

-Mann's classic tense and moody staging runs rampant throughout the entire 140 minutes notably in a scene where a woman's shoe salesman isn't. And again where a red traffic light seems to conspire against Dillinger I was expecting a hail of gunfire to rip through the glass after he drove away but it never came, a true testament to the buildup we set in our minds or expectations we have from the director. Not the least of which was a absolutely terrific shootout sequence in the woods I could watch that scene 10 times before feeling like I was watching someone play a video game.

-Depp plays it a little too to cool for school early on but he shapes up into the cold, precise leader as the movie continues. I was slightly disappointed at not being given any underlying motivation behind Dillinger's bank robbing or even the slightest peek into what makes him tick but maybe that's Mann's way of telling us to shutup and enjoy a criminal mastermind at work. Bale's role doesn't give him any room to shine but there is an unmistakable subtly to his performance that I found so impressive most notably after Dillinger asks him if he can handle seeing those close to him die that he just may be the best performance in PE. I have an issue with how woefully underdeveloped Dillinger's crew was however they were exactly that his crew so maybe that should be enough. As long as I'm critiquing acting chops I have to mention Billy Crudup his bit part as Hoover was perfect, a flawless incarnation of the time as his background of the film.

-Worth noting is the ending, so endearing Mann knows how to weave romance into a crime story without the marriage of the two ending in a divorce. This is how you illicit an emotional response from an audience who knows beforehand how it will end.

-A Crime drama drenched in Mann sauce isn't more then the sum of it's parts and I am confused as anyone else as to why he decided to tell this particular story but I'm glad he did and maybe that's enough of a reason.

The Wackness
The Wackness(2008)

Initial Score: 6.7

-A predictable coming of age tale that doesn't ever find a balance between it's serious moments and comic relief and apart from having the worst title of any film I've ever heard of there's nothing here that truly stands out. However, there's enough humor, sincerity, well acted performances, and atmosphere to keep itself from drowning in a sea of wackness.

-Johnathan Levine's choice to have this film take place in the summer of 1994 was very interesting and helped imprint a unique charm indie pics like this tend to have. I liked how the imagery and allusions to the time period made it feel authentic and successfully produced a summertime fun vibe that permeated throughout in contrast to the main characters outlook on life.

-The story is centered on a drug dealer who's unhappy being alone and initially desires nothing more then to lose his virginity. To remedy his unhappiness he offers one of his customers free pot in exchange for therapy and as the film progresses so does the budding friendship between Luke and Dr.Squires. Josh Peck puts on a decent performance as the quiet and apathetic lead with the occasional comedic quip, however the other 2 leads clearly outshine him. Ben Kingsley loses himself in his role as an adolescent minded and supremely self indulgent psychiatrist who although entertaining seems to be a bit too chaotic to fit into the realistic mold that everyone and everything else does. Olivia Thirlby proves her acting chops with a genuinely believable performance of a typical teenage girl who doesn't take things as seriously as Luke.

-The charismatic Dr. Squires warns Luke early on about his step daughter and her tendency to get bored easily but undeterred by his advice Luke seeks her out and to great success his feelings are reciprocated. The inevitable and obvious happen; the relationship culminates in him telling her he loves her after losing his virginity to her so she not being serious about him distances herself from him. So he learns the life lesson heart break teaches and although losing the girl he gains a friend in Squires once again this is incredibly original stuff here.

-Luke's drug dealing is dealt with in a nonchalant tone which I thought was a pleasant change from how pot dealers are usually shown in films to be and I liked how his pot dealing only occasionally intersected but mainly took a backseat to the drama. A lot of the drama was very cheesy and unremarkable at best notably Squire's wife leaving him and the scene where Squires is convinced by Luke not to kill himself.

-it's interesting to note how all the parents here act very immaturely while Luke is the only one who shows any sincere maturity which isn't even until the last 20 minutes of the film.

-I liked this film it was a quirky take on a very well tread genre but it heavily gave in to the genre conventions too many times and the humor didn't gel with the serious drama going on. Nonetheless the overall charm of this film's characters and the city they inhabit barely save this film from mediocrity

Changeling
Changeling(2008)

Initial score: 8.7

-Like with Gran Torino Changeling falls short of greatness but Clint Eastwood proves he's in a league of his own when it comes to drawing an emotional response from his audience. Never has any film I've seen made me cheer for the protagonist and hate the antagonists so much and the fact that it's all based on a true story makes it hold even greater weight.

-Jolie plays Christine Collins a single mother who works as a telephone supervisor, returning from work to find her son missing the corrupt LAPD start searching and locate the boy months later. The problem here is Collins doesn't believe the boy they found is the one she lost and despite the obvious evidence confirming her doubt police captain Jefferey Donovan uses the boy's discovery as a means to redeem the LAPD's public image. As any mother would Collins presses the police to continue searching for her boy, but to admit they found the wrong boy would undo their fabricated redemption so the captain shuts her up by sending her to a mental ward.

-In this first act Collins is depicted as a victim against the sheer power and authority of the LAPD so Eastwood smartly used Reverand Briegleb played by John Malcovich as her champion who brings such an intense ferocity to his role. Unlike most religious figures in movies Briegleb is an objective and logical man who's eyes are open to the LAPD's abuse of power and uses his position to expose them. At the same time a parallel story is told by detective Lester Ybarra played by Michael Kelly who's discovery is key, and the way Eastwood made the connection between both tales is so seamless.

-Jason Butler Harner playing even more of a villain then the LAPD is scary in how in tune to the mind of a serial killer he gets. There's simply something very wrong and creepy behind this guy and Harner gets that he embodies and enigmatic man who's actions clearly speak for themselves.

-For all the glamor of it's supporting cast the set design is almost a character itself being so appealing to the eye without any extra frills the backgrounds, wardrobe, and look of Changeling is stunning it's hard to know whats CGI and what's real.

-Some scenes in the beginning mainly following the boy's disappearance dragged a little and again during Ybarra's discovery I love Eastwood's direct to the point style but some of these scenes were in opposition to the tone of the film. That being said so many scenes provoked rage or sympathy I couldn't help but be moved by a true story that seemed so fictional and the final act is so incredibly satisfying because of the range of emotions built up throughout the film's length. I want to say this is a feel good tale but Eastwood pulls at the right heart strings at the right moments that it's more of a roller coaster of sadness, hope, redemption, and anger then anything else.

The Mist
The Mist(2007)
½

Initial Score: 7.5

-You've probably seen the mist years before it came out, just change the title and setting and this could be any number of monsters attack people film. The difference here is The Mist is one of the better B movies I've seen and it's fully aware that it is in fact a B movie with a bittersweet third act. Before the light in your head goes off and you realize this is a King and Darabont collaboration keep in mind it's no Shawshank Redemption and not much worse then Green Mile.

-Thomas Jane...yes the Punisher is a mild mannered man who isn't a particularly interesting character until his logic is compared with that of the people who inhabit the town. Enter: The Mist, but never mind that the Punisher has to get supplies from the supermarket to repair the damage the previous night's storm caused. So it isn't long until everyone finds out the mist hides deadly creatures leaving those in the super market trapped...well the ones without a death wish at least and cue the skeptic, this time in the form of a bag boy who of course pays for his skepticism with a gruesome death.

-Marcia Gay Harden plays Mrs. Carmody another archetype cliche in the form of the over zealous religious nut who uses the people's fear of The Mist (I am so tired of two words for the rest of my review I won't type them) to manipulate them for her own gain. There's a handful of actors throughout but the Punisher and Harden are really the only two that stand out as especially noteworthy or entertaining and so to the rest of the cast you did what you could but the result didn't yield much.

-If you read this far it doesn't sound like I liked the film much but on the contrary I thoroughly enjoyed the film's obvious premise showing how the real monsters are the people's fears, anxieties, and paranoia all bouncing around each other till they collide. More importantly as cliche and unoriginal as the film that has stuff resembling fog is it's still pretty entertaining fluff.

-It's worth noting Darabont wanted it to be released in black and white but the studio wouldn't see as high a return but the option is on the blu-ray.

Martyrs
Martyrs(2008)
½

Initial score: 9.4

-You know those films which are not meant for the younger and weaker stomachs? Well I'll let you in on a little secret; martyrs is one of them. One of the most uncompromising, brutal, and intelligent films I've ever seen it's the icy remorselessness that will haunt you more then the actual victimization. A violent and disturbing vision of plausible horror with a philosophical twist isn't the type of film that can reasonably appeal to everyone but for those who can accept it's terms they're the ones rewarded with modern horror at it's finest.

-The opening scene where Mylène Jampanoï is running away from her captor immediately lets the audience know what kind of a viewing experience they're in for and the first act doesn't wast time on irrelevant banter the movie wisely spends the bare mimimum to stage the friendship. From this the audience can conclude the friendship only grows with time then suddenly a seemingly innocent family is murdered mercilessly I thoroughly enjoyed this part it appealed to my blood lust I expect from horror films. Mylène Jampanoï and Morjane Alaoui have a natural chemistry that holds this act together which is important to make the audience care about them trying to help each other in this awkward situation. The guilt realization scene is not one to be revealed in a review but I'll say this much; old tricks do work when the film calls for it.

-When Morjane is captured by the mysterious cult the second act takes the film in a very different direction but a logical cause and effect sequence keeps us engaged but not confused. The rest of the film until it's ending sequence to being pushed down a bottomless pit where the sole focus is hoping the pit ends soon only to realize there's no cavalry arriving even in the nick of time. Unlike most films where the protagonists are given at least the slightest glimmer of hope there was nothing here to even entertain the notion of rescue it just got darker and more disturbing as it went on. Presumably this wave of hopelessness is what's intended, it's almost as if Pascal Laugier lures us into a trap us victims (read: NOT martyrs) can't help but appreciate only when it's too late to get out.

-The ending is such a bizarre and brilliant twist that like the minor twist earlier on comes as a surprise but this time the rest of the film takes on a deeper context giving reason for what we just watched and what a reason it is to say anymore is sinful. It's one of the greatest endings of any movie I've ever seen and one that will linger in your mind not only because of the ending but also because martyrs sets such a distinct and moody tone.

Repeat Viewings Score: 9.0

Michael Clayton
½

Initial Score: 9.4

-The film is as succinct as it's title, relying on nothing more then the straightforward story and ability of it's cast, both of which play off each other perfectly. Michael Clayton is such a thoroughly engrossing story with just enough tension to be considered a thriller yet never fast paced enough to be considered explosive...except for the one explosion.

-Michael Clayton is the behind the scenes guy who cleans up questionable legal matters and sweeps them under the rug for a powerful law firm and he's also in debt to an even more questionable loan shark teaching us lawyers suck at owning bars. The meaty story can be condensed to a lawyer who grows a conscience but what makes this so interesting is that while at no time does the film not remind us how conventional it is it's done with such slick finesse by Gilroy that we don't care even during the predictable ending.

-The cast is perfect all 4 leads shine in their roles especially Tom Wilkinson who gives such a frenetic and serious performance especially in his opening voice over which may be the best I've seen. Tilda Swinton deserved her oscar for playing such a well put together villain who although very good at looking confidant and secure in public is a nervous, job obsessed wreck internally. Sydney Pollack has a masked complexity about his character without needing to show too much effort which compliments George Clooney as the two opposites are friends throughout the film. In the highlight of his career the role of Clayton naturally caters to Clooney's quick wit and always one step ahead of everyone else mentality there's a subtle confidence he exudes which almost reminds me of what an older fresh prince would be like.

-Seeing some of the final scenes first and then having the rest of the film lead to them helped give those scenes a clear perspective which was tastefully done. The ending dialog between Crowder and Clayton was perfect each actor fed off and elevated the other it's easily one of the best exchanges I've seen in years. Such an enthralling and exciting climax I didn't care how conventional the trap was because by that point I really wanted her, U-North, and the firm to go down while Clayton avenges his friend. The last scene showing Clayton wanting to get as far away as possible from what has just happened shows his disgust of the gambling, illicit nature of his job, and the pain of losing a friend with whom he now shares a common bond with by succeeding to do what he was killed for.

-The appropriately minimalist score further advances the idea that this film is not out to send a message of be any sort of philosophical tale, it is simply meant to be enjoyed at face value and on this front Tony Gilroy hits it out of the park. I appreciate the lengths he went to to make a film about a legal battle without ever involving a court so plausible choosing to discreetly use the characters themselves as the judge and jury so maybe Clooney should have starred in Judge Dredd as well.

Repeat Viewing Score: 9.4

Eyes Wide Shut

Initial Score: 10

-A misunderstood and underrated masterpiece, EWS is a work of art that lives up to the Kubrick name filled with a myriad of subtle nuances this engrossing story rewards all willing to soak up what it has to offer. There's a lot going on here but put simply this is a movie about a man who's insecurity and curiosity lead him through a psychological nightmare cloaked in death, deceit, and sex all of which hang in the air at all times.

-After a brief introduction to the Harford's they arrive at Victor's Christmas party where the couple through circumstance become separated and each hit on by the opposite sex during which Bill is called on by Victor to care for a prostitute named Mandy. Neither initially has a problem with the other flirting but the night after a heated argument spawns from the mutual flirting. Alice is appalled Bill wasn't jealous of the man she danced with taking it as her sexual appeal is all she has going for her, Bill rebuts with his belief of women requiring love before being able to have sex. His confidence in her faithfulness makes Alice laugh and admit weakness a year earlier of being willing to abandon him and their child for a mystery man. You can really empathize how he felt on the way to the deceased patients apartment the visual imagery Bill has of his wife and the mystery man fuels the chain of events following.

-Marion confesses her love to Bill and I liked how it echoed his wife's recent confession further shattering his ideals on female sexuality, which is what probably leads him into the arms of the prostitute where once again his faith is tested.

-Throughout, Bill uses his money and doctor status to get what he wants out of people which parallels how the men in EWS objectify women and use them to get what they want as well, this is smart commentary on how people think of others as commodities not people.

-The strange and sexual tone Kubrick keeps throughout is tautly controlled along with each scene so the deliberate tension created by looming threats works very well and it's the greatest strength of the film. I equally appreciated the narrative which Kubrick paid special attention to to make each encounter Bill had an episode itself so the film is more like a dream which is part of the title of the novel EWS is based on I expect no less from Kubrick.

-The black and white mental images Bill has of his wife and the naval officer are cleverly in contrast to his grey area principles continue to plague him on the way to a mystery party and throughout the entire film spur him on to pursue the on goings of what he witnesses at the mansion. The entire orgy scene is a disturbing way to portray sex and further advance the intent to shed the superficial appeal of sex and reveal it can be frightening.

-EWS has one of the best supporting casts of any film I've ever seen everyone in their own way contributes to Bill's journey and the actors play their parts equally well. Nicole Kidman gives the best performance of everyone showing the intensity of her character and somehow makes it so that what she doesn't say has a presence even when shes off screen. Sydney Pollack plays a somewhat father like but mostly self indulgent and successful sexual deviant friend to Cruise, while Todd field the pianist who Cruise hasn't seen in years is happy to reunite with his buddy and gives a whimsical performance. Rade Sherbedgia the rental service man who later rents his daughter to others is charming, Vinessa Shaw is the uncommonly kindhearted hooker, and Marie Richardson plays a distraught woman who shares the same impulsiveness Bill's wife once did.

-The final act where the previously assumed double murder of Nick and Mandy are explained and Bill takes Victor's explanation at face value where the happy ending wrap up between him and his wife follow took away some of the mystery. Sometimes questions such as who put the mask on Bill's pillow are better left to be pondered not definitively answered. However other then Victors word no evidence is presented showing Nick and Mandy weren't killed for their actions against the orgy so the possibility of conspiracy still remains. Mental infidelity can be just as devastating as the real thing and although the Harford's try to go back to normal it won't be the same because they've chosen to be honest with each other and themselves.

Repeat Viewing Score: 10

Cloverfield
Cloverfield(2008)
½

Initial score: 7.8

-While it isn't as good as it's brilliant viral ad campaign would have you believe (what can match the might of the internet?) it's a chaotic film that ultimately gives in to convention and oozes with style. Cloverfield emulates a roller coaster ride as much as any movie can complete with possibly drawing the same physical reaction! For that reason alone it's an experience that shouldn't be missed but will leave you feeling a little bit disappointed because you can only see it for the first time once.

-Immediately we're made aware the entire film is a recording recovered by the U.S department of defense and then thrust into a seemingly mundane dialog between two people and then thrust once more into a surprise party. I admire how this start quickly sets up for the parallel story between Rob and Beth's romance and the present day situation in which the film takes place while also setting the brisk pace for the rest of the film.

-The shaky cam is a little disorienting at first and although I got used to it within minutes I can understand how others might not adapt so quickly due to the relentlessness of the camera which may have felt a little too real. The shaky cam succeeds in humanizing the experience but it fails to rise above being more then a visceral gimmick nonetheless a gimmick that can hold it's own for 80 minutes is still impressive.

-Back to the party where Hud (how clever) takes over the camera and we're soon introduced to the rest of our main cast who are not interesting or well developed and the drama is a contrived way to setup the rescue portion of the film. However, we are not being asked to like these people we are asked only to believe that these are people living there lives and reacting to what's happening around them as anyone of us would react and in this regard the unknown cast succeeds in immersing it's audience.

- I liked how the 9/11 references are not offensive reminders but instead tastefully bridge any anxieties anyone could have in a post 9/11 society to the characters feelings and help the audience relate to them more.

-What I liked most about Cloverfield was how the monster was made more scary by being shown in short glimpses and to highlight the time that it is on screen. I liked the decision to focus on the impact the monster's presence on the citizens of New York not wasting time answering the currently unimportant question of where it came from because if you're asking that you're watching the wrong movie.

-The cheap thrills come at the price of being tarnished in repeated viewings so if there's a sequel please no more shaky cam one film is enough. It may not be the most well rounded nor the most refined but it still managed to grab me by the throat and not let go for 80 minutes and isn't that what movies are supposed to do?

Repeat Viewing Score: 7.5

Watchmen
Watchmen(2009)
½

Initial Score: 9.0

-As a big fan of the graphic novel and firm believer of it being nigh impossible to film due to the chaotic pacing of the story that could only succeed in the medium of comics I was very skeptical anyone could competently capture what made watchmen so great and put it on screen. Snyder succeeded in doing exactly that and did Moore's tale justice, however that is not to say his approach was without flaw or that the film is anywhere within the realm of greatness as the source let alone a replacement for it.

-For all fans of the comic the transition of the story from novel to film inherently demands some concessions be made in order to make it a viable act at all. If you don't understand this you're already lost and nothing anyone says could convince you otherwise.

-That being said I was absolutely floored with how incredibly faithful Snyder was to the comic the vast majority of the film mimicked the comic line for line scene for scene. I would have preferred to see a little bit more of Snyder's own interpretation rather then a completely devoted tribute but no matter what he did he nor anyone else could have pleased everyone so I applaud Snyder for giving the most faithful adaptation of any fictional work to date.

-Okay enough comic to movie comparisons the majority of people who are going to see this film will not have any knowledge prior to entering the theater so I must review this film in their capacity to remain objective. The opening montage was perfect it explained a good deal of back story prepping the audience for what's ahead while not spending too much time having to spell out some of the more trivial details. The Comedian death scene following the montage was perfect as well it was an entertaining fight between 2 "heroes" as well as a great plot device from which the rest of the film evolves from.

-The casting for Rorschach, Nite owl, and the Comedian were absolutely fantastic these guys really go into their character and deserve credit for having fun with what they had to work with without overselling it. Dr Manhattan's tone of voice is hit or miss and for me it hit right on point with his loss of interest and distance to humanity, ms. Jupiter had her acting chops too but forgettable compared to the rest of the watchmen. Ozymandias was the only person I felt was incorrectly cast as Matthew Goode didn't embody the spirit of the world's smartest man competently.

-The score was great echoing the serious tone of the film while the individual tracks were hit and miss but mostly worked for me so other then hallelujah during the sex scene with owl and Jupiter I was pleased.

-I don't mean to go back to comparisons but in the comic my favorite part was the sessions between the psychiatrist and Rorschach where they have two completely different outlooks on life but the more time they spend together the more the psychiatrist sees things Rorschach's way. In the film however, the sessions are brief and there is no real meaning or point given to why the psychiatrist was there in the first place, other then to understand how Walter Kovacs assumed the persona of Rorschach.

-The scene on mars where we see how Dr. Manhattan perceives time while on mars was absolutely perfect a great demonstration of current cg tech while also being indicative of what makes this unstoppable force tick and how he came to be in his current position of power.

-All the scenes with president Nixon were completely lost on me there were enough allusions to the world being on the brink of war these scenes did nothing for me and didn't add anything to the experience let alone the plot.

-The final act poses a very poignant moral question giving the audience a sense of ambiguity to discuss after the credits roll. as well as giving good explanation of Manhattan's leave. Overall Snyder did a great job with a few confusing choices here and there most notably the overuse of slow motion yet it's as good as character study about hopeless heroes as one can ask for.

Sunshine
Sunshine(2007)

Initial Score: 8.3

-With Sunshine Boyle puts the science back in science fiction in giving us a film that compels us with the inherent dangers of voyaging into the sun so those looking for aliens dueling to the death with robots will be disappointed. The strict focus on presenting plausible setbacks as well as nods to the kings of the genre like Alien, 2001, and Solaris result in a strong example of the quiet strength sci-fi films can possess who's third act undoes much of what preceded it.

-Like any proper sci-fi the slow beginning shows how daily routine is supposed to function before exposition, plot devices, and conflicts make everything go horribly awry. Set in the year 2150 the sun is "dying" so the plan is to set off a bomb to reignite it, sounds simple enough right? well we all know it isn't and Sunshine like Of Mice and Men teaches us about what can happen to the best laid plans.

-The art direction, set design, and cg are top tier throughout it's no WALL-E but it's still pretty damn impressive. The deliberate green, blue, and grays found in the Icarus2 interior beautifully contrast with the black, yellow, and orange emptiness of space. What's equally impressive is how seamlessly the actors interact with the CGI and although in reality they are staring into green screens they do a great job of making it look natural.

-The actors themselves are effective in not trying to look like actors but instead function like the cold, rational scientists and astronauts they play as. Each member fulfills an archetype sci-fi role such as the leader who prioritizes mission success above all else, the GAME OVER MAN GAME OVER comms tower coward (say that 10 times fast), the martyr, the guilt ridden one, and so on. The group dynamic succeeds not because the individuals are more then what their roles require them to be, it's not even their grisly fates that catches our attention but rather their devotion to the mission despite great hardship.

-The third act is what I have a problem with because Pinbacker's introduction feels as artificial as the gravity on Icarus2. I didn't mind his addition as much as the fact that up until his arrival the film's atmosphere and tension comes from the real dangers of space, but this villain comes out of left field to ruin that air of realism. However I do appreciate how the mad scientist further brings to light the three way wrestling match between man, machine, and nature with man being the guy who stumbled into the wrong weight class. As much of a triumph of the human spirit Sunshine is Pinbacker serves as a reminder that our mental strain capacity in not unlimited. However, considering the plot pushes the characters out of the driver seat since he appears this small praise may be the equivalent of finding a dark spot on the sun.

-Though marred by a way too subtle or not subtle enough commentary on God and the odd choice of adding a concrete villain when the environment was enough this is everything a sci-fi experience should be. The visuals draw you in but the inherent problems of deep space and how this believable crew deal with them is what should keep you watching. While Alex Garland's penchant for the morbid shines through to the core of the script to too great an extent Danny Boyle shows how a great director can sway our hearts and minds with the right questions and images.

Repeat Viewing Score: 8.3

Frost/Nixon
Frost/Nixon(2008)
½

Initial Score: 9.2

-Let me preface by saying I haven't seen the original interviews, nor the 2006 play, and I'm sure there are a few historical inaccuracies, nonetheless I enjoyed this film thoroughly and I'll judge it solely on it's own merit.

-Michael Sheen put on a great performance as David Frost playing not only as a worthy counterpart to Frank Langella's Nixon but doing well to showcase Frost's gradual transformation from mild mannered talk show host to well informed, stern interviewer. The setup to show exactly why and how he became the one to quench the American public's thirst for truth AKA elicit a confession of cover up from Nixon regarding the watergate scandal was very briskly paced and I enjoyed watching his struggle to live up to expectations. The scenes showing Frost's efforts to secure the interviews as well as a network to play them showcased the mental and financial toll the ordeal had on him which made the payoff of the final interview that much more satisfying.

-As praise worthy as Sheen's performance was it goes double for Langella who completely steals every scene he's in with his commanding presence giving us some of the finest acting of anyone in recent years with a few laughs along the way (I'll never look at cheeseburgers the same.) Langella really got into the character and embodied him fully in speech as well spirit by portraying him as a conflicted, guilt ridden, and earnest believer in his ideals rather then a one dimensional uninteresting villain...yeah W kind of sucked. To say he did the part justice would be unjust the once staggeringly confidant unashamed former president was not the man who left the house after the final interview and Langella's face made sure to let the audience know it.

-Best scene was the conversation where a drunk Nixon completely lets his guard down and lays out the cards on the table giving Frost a deep look into what makes him tick while also igniting Frost's fervor to emerge the victor. I believe it was intentional because even in his drunken state Nixon yearned for a challenge for someone to meet him in his level to truly validate himself should he "win" the interviews.

-Sam Rockwell's part as an overzealous investigator and Kevin Bacon's performance as Nixon's fiercely loyal aide were noteworthy because they elevated what would otherwise be minimal roles. It's worth noting Bacon's character came off as intolerant as David Cooper in American Beauty but there is no Langella on Bacon action to be found here sorry perverts.

-While a bit over romanticized at times the culmination of the interviews to which the entire film hinged upon worked for me and the ending was an adequate wrap up to such an intense polidrama which Ron Howard should be proud to have in his resume.

Gran Torino
Gran Torino(2009)

Initial score 8.8

-It's really an injustice Clint Eastwood didn't get nominated for best actor because he deserves it just as much as any of the other oscar nominees as this is one of his finest roles. The same can't be said of anyone without the last name Eastwood but Clint does a fantastic job carrying the film with his performance so it's a good thing he gets most of the screen time.

-There are some flaws and Clint's directorial approach Isn't always consistent but overall it's a praiseworthy film because of his acting chops and the smart messages he delivers without feeling forced or unnatural. He's just a great storyteller and the dramatic string of events that are setup by the first 30 minutes were well executed to give the audience a strong emotional impact.

-The ending is one of the best of any film I've ever seen because not only was it enjoyable in it's own right but one of the best ways to convey your message without insulting the audience. Walt's confession to Thao after locking him up of how guilty he felt about his past killings is a personal revelation hinting at a possible origin for his predjudice and pissed off at life demeanor. I was however, laughing during this serious scene because Thao's mindless yelling after being locked in the basement was just that bad.

-I was surprised at how funny this film was the humor really shined through all the drama and provided a good upbeat tone to the seriousness of everything else while still keeping within context of the film's themes.

-I liked how Clint poked fun at his own hollywood image by really deconstructing the tough guy he's been playing for the past few decades as well as showcase a previously unknown side to this well worn alter ego.

- Mortality, racism, vengeance, redemption, family, and compassion are all heavy themes tackled apologetically throughout the film but presented in such a simple package you can't help but soak it all in and enjoy watching one man's transformation from racist war veteran to selfless hero.

Slumdog Millionaire
½

Initial Score: 9.4

-It's as much of the ultimate romance film showing the lengths of what 2 people destined to be with each other will go to as it is the ultimate rags to riches story depicting the harsh reality that is living in the slums of India.

-Simon Beaufoy deserves much praise for creating such a well woven script that blends lots of things together nicely while Danny Boyle deserves equal credit for so elegantly guiding the audience with his signature cinematic flair. What immediately struck me as brilliant was how the flashbacks were used as the anchor for most of the movie while also being a bridge between Jamal's harsh life as a slumdog and his present day situation. I appreciated how the movie shifted focus several times but only when necessary in accordance to Jamal's account and the journey never felt rushed nor dragged for even a single second, everything was perfectly paced.

-Still probably in his teen years just so much is captured throughout the films running time Jamal and company experience so much and if ever a film can make you laugh, gasp, and cheer for the protagonist this is it. Boyle does a hell of a job capturing the brutality of living in India and how life just shits on you constantly but never did any part of the film begin to approach being preachy or too heavy handed.

-The cast is just as colorful and talented as the scenes Boyle chooses to showcase the beauty of India with. Dev Patal really stole it for me he was the Heath Ledger of slumdog, Madhur Mittal did a great evil yet ultimately compassionate brother, Frieda Pinto balanced out Jamal nicely, Anil Kapoor was so entertaining for every minute of his screen time. Irrfan Khan played an overly harsh but well intentioned police inspector, even Saraubh Shukla was a damn good bumbling idiot sidekick archetype.

-the finale is everything a finale should be; a stunning culmination of everything the film was building up towards that provided a supremely satisfying ending following a great twist.

-Favorite scenes: Salim witnessing the blinding of his peer and not wishing it on his brother, the bathroom conversation between Jamal and game show host, Latika's race to get her cellphone, and Salim giving Latika the keys whispering "have a good life".

-The soundtrack was phenomenal it helped modernize the film, added a good punch to many scenes, and you have to be deaf and dead to not enjoy such a mix of homage and originality.

-The emotional response and enjoyment the experience of this film prompts from me is exactly the reason I have such a passion for film in the first place, this is an honest and soul satisfying experience without any true flaw to mar the after taste whatsoever. In the face of so much tragedy and unforgiving reality slumdog perfectly captures the jostling energy of India leaving me in a pleasantly upbeat mood as I'm sure was Boyle's intention.

Breach
Breach(2007)

Initial Score: 8.1

-4 Years after his directorial debut Billy Ray follows up with Breach showcasing he fares far better as a director then a screenwriter even with the added challenge of doing the true story justice. To say this well tempered thriller succeeds due to Chris Cooper delivering the performance of his life is an understatement, the role was tailor made for him and for 2 hours we're graced with watching him walk in his comfortable loafers.

-The first time I saw breach I was a passive watcher not trying to really absorb what was going on fortunately a second viewing gave me a clearer perspective of how well the film uses it's star power. The scene where Cooper and Phillippe meet for the first time is my favorite, it's here where Cooper sizes up his clerk who says "I'm not very good at bluffs" to which Cooper replies "That would count as your lie and if I catch you in my office again you'll be pissing purple for a week". This sharply funny scene perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the movie and so much is communicated in so few words I loved it.

-The cold and intelligent Cooper slowly but surely begins to warm up to his clerk who in turn starts doubting the maliciousness of a man who's life revolves around religion and his work. When Laura Linney reveals him for the traitor he is Phillippe's resolve is strengthened but there is a lingering respect for his boss which disrupts things with his wife played by the unknown Caroline Dhavernas. Which brings me to my gripe with an otherwise film, she should take some speech lessons from Guy Pearce and Russel Crow because several times she broke accent and it really took me out of the experience.

-On a related note she got a little bit too much camera time as she did not really do anything for the movie she was just there as a requisite to the true story. That's just me nitpicking my real complaint here is it isn't as tense or suspenseful as it could have been. Breach is a good example of how a payoff no matter how big means nothing if ou don't have a proper buildup slow burns can be great but here it's like watching embers peter out. This lack of consistent tension mars the film by detracting from the weight of it's significance and made the film overall not as exciting as it sounds on paper.

-The film hits it's peak and maintains it throughout as the seed of paranoia grows slowly but steadily in Cooper's mind and there's a real transformation from someone who was always 2 steps ahead of everyone else has become easy to manipulate and ignorant of what's going on around him. This leads to the scene where Phillippe deftly puts his acting chops to the test and fast talks Cooper back into the car buying the search team some more time to...well search.

-Culminating in a psychological breakdown Cooper finally lets his guard down revealing how conflicted he is and you can't help but feel a little bit sorry for the country's greatest traitor knowing what's ahead of him. By the time he's caught in the act he regains his distant exterior and with one line he brings his brilliant performance to it's end, reminding us his performance deserves a better stage.



Repeat Viewing Score: 8.1