Rare Addict's Movie Ratings - Rotten Tomatoes

Movie Ratings and Reviews

I, Frankenstein

There's the January that I remember! After last week's formulaic but passable "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit", I had nearly forgotten about you.

Thanks to the slew of stinkers that tend to be released post-Oscar season, January has cemented itself as a veritable dumping ground for films. At least it's consistent, though, as "I, Frankenstein" handily secures this month's reputation.

Based on the graphic novel of the same name, "I, Frankenstein" stars Aaron Eckhart as Dr. Victor Frankenstein's infamous creation. Having survived into the present day, he finds himself in the middle of a war between duty-bound gargoyles and power-hungry demons, the latter of which seek to uncover the mystery surrounding the monster's immortality.

Perhaps the only compliment that this film deserves is that the cast members, virtually all of whom have established themselves as solid personalities, are doing their best with the material that they're given. Ultimately, though, there's only so much that these guys can do with such stilted dialogue. Eckhart's opening narration in particular serves as a red flag.

Although last November's "Thor: The Dark World" had a similarly Saturday-morning-cartoon-worthy premise, it possessed an appropriate degree of humor and verve. Contrast that with "Frankenstein", which is played completely straight throughout. Now might be the perfect time to make a pun about the movie being lifeless, yeah?
Certainly, given the subject matter, the film should feature more than a handful of action set-pieces. Even so, the story should be given room to breathe. The characters, too, should at least react like real people. I mean, if I was told by a complete stranger that a war between gargoyles and demons had been raging in my town, I would instantly accept it, no questions asked. Right?

"I, Frankenstein" also makes its fair share of baffling design decisions, the most notable being the titular character's appearance. Although he is viewed by others as a monster - an amalgamation of human corpses -- his perfectly proportioned structure would hardly suggest this. The guy does have a few minor scars across his face, though. Hideous!

Additionally, I have discovered a newfound appreciation for genre film extras - the civilians that are fleeing as their city is under attack. Aside from one nightclub full of patrons, this film boasts a whopping two named human characters! With all of the destruction that is taking place throughout this movie, we should see at least a few ordinary faces. It's an element that has become so commonplace in these types of productions that it's absence in this one becomes noticeably apparent.

"I, Frankenstein" could be given a pass, however, if the destruction in question was entertaining. Although its lack of shaky-cam and use of wide takes are to be commended, the choreography is bland and unimaginative. The visual effects, too, would look sub-par by an iPhone app's standards.

Until next year, January. Thank you for saving the worst for last.

The Cabin in the Woods
½

"Five friends go for a break at a remote cabin in the woods, where they get more than they bargained for. Together, they must discover the truth behind the cabin in the woods."

Taken from the film's IMDB page, that synopsis is all that you should know before watching Cabin in the Woods. Without being facetious, I almost want to say "just go see the movie. Trust me on this," as it would be a crime to spoil any one of this film's surprises. That being said, it's time to rise up to the challenge and review this thing. Somehow.

One of the most endearing aspects of this film is its self-awareness, which primarily shines through the dialogue between these five friends. Each of the actors fit neatly into their respective archetypes, with Fran Kranz stealing the show as the gang's stoner. More than just another token, however, the character actually ends up being considerably deeper than I initially expected. The same holds true for both Richard Jenkins' and Bradley Whitford's characters, though I won't elaborate on those two any further for the sake of spoilers.

The bulk of Cabin serves as both a parody and an homage to classic horror movie tropes, with the sharp, witty writing of Joss Whedon and director Drew Goddard carrying the day. It's the climax, though, wherein the horror film genre is turned completely upside down, that the movie elevates to a whole new level. Simply put, shit hits the fan.

While single-handedly destroying the genre, Cabin in the Woods provides for one chaotic ride. Not since last year's Hobo With a Shotgun have I had this much fun at the movies. I just about permeated this review with insufferable hyperbole, so I might as well end it with some more: nothing can prepare you for this movie.

Seriously, though, don't let anyone spoil it for you.

Tangled
Tangled(2010)
½

With John Lasseter having gained creative control over the studio several years ago now, it's more than fair to say that Walt Disney Animation has become a force to be reckoned with in the industry. While I felt that Meet the Robinsons was a fairly middling entry in the "classic" canon, it was 2008's Bolt that proved that it was still capable of creating films on par with those of its sister studio, Pixar. For me personally, it was the film that quickly found its way among Pulp Fiction and The Big Lebowski as one of my all-time favorites. So, when I heard that Tangled (or, as it was initially titled, Rapunzel) would also be under the helm of Byron Howard, along with Nathan Greno, Bolt's head of story, I naturally got pumped. Thankfully, Disney Animation's 50th feature continues the trend of excellence set by the duo's last project.

If there's one area where Tangled challenges Pixar, it's in the animation. Much like in the studio's previous computer-animated entry, all of the environments in the movie, while looking incredibly realistic, don't contradict the cartoon-esquire design of the characters. The film also provokes feelings of nostalgia, due in part by the painterly backgrounds that are reminiscent of films from Disney's first Golden Age.

As far as the plot is concerned, it's more or less what one would expect. That said, what Disney Animation tends to do best is have characters that are so relatable and different from one another that they make an otherwise traditional, borderline-formulaic tale feel virtually brand new. Definitely, that's pulled off here. The two leads, Rapunzel and Flynn (played with genuine sincerity by Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi, respectively) make for one of the most likable Disney couples, and the two side characters that accompany them along their journey are just as endearing. Often, when going into an animated film in particular, I'm afraid of running into agonizingly annoying "sidekicks." However, Rapunzel's pet chameleon, Pascal, got quite a few laughs out of me, and Maximus, the horse of the Head of the Palace Guard, pretty much steals the show. The less said about him, out of fear of spoiling anything, the better.

You probably wouldn't know it based on the way that this film was marketed, but Tangled is a musical. While I don't see the soundtrack as a whole going down in history as one of the studio's greatest, there are a couple of truly memorable musical numbers, one of which coming from the film's villainess, Mother Gothel. Voiced excellently by Donna Murphy, she's a character who constantly kept me guessing. If Gothel isn't on par with Keith David's Dr. Facilier from last year's Princess and the Frog, she's close.

Despite a mildly slow beginning, Tangled is one of the most entertaining, as well as one of the most emotionally resonant, movies that I've seen this year. Directors Byron Howard and Nathan Greno prove themselves to be more than just one-hit wonders by providing a film with mesmerizing visuals, catchy musical numbers, and a cast of characters that is almost entirely memorable. If nothing else, it's the first film since Inception that's reminded me why I go to films in the first place.

The Expendables
½

For anyone growing up during the ?80?s and early ?90?s, the notion of having a film including all of Hollywood?s most legendary action heroes seemed like little more than a pipe dream. So, when I initially heard that Sylvester Stallone was going to be putting together a movie titled The Expendables for just that purpose, I literally freaked out. But does this supposed ?culmination of wishes? deliver the goods? Absolutely.

One thing that I was worried about going into Expendables was that, despite how exciting the idea of having all of these guys together sounded on paper, the filmmakers wouldn?t be able to give each of them the amount of screen time that they deserved. Personally, very seldom did I find this to actually be the case. Perhaps one or two members of the crew could?ve received a bit more time in the limelight, but on the whole, I thought that they balanced the focus considerably well, without making the whole venture feel like a cluttered mess.

Say what you will about Stallone as a director, but the man knows how to handle action. Not only do these heroes of yesteryear provide the film with such a tremendous sense of nostalgia, but the action sequences, as well as the way in which they?re shot, harken back to their time as well, before - and I know that I?m about to sound like a curmudgeon here - action scenes were plagued by the infamous shaky-cam. I won?t go into describing how any of these sequences play out, but suffice it to say, it?s some delightfully brutal stuff.

Now, as far as the plot is concerned, what you read in the synopsis is? Well, that?s pretty much it. Sure, there are a few twists and turns along the way, but if you?ve watched any action hero classic, you?ll see them coming from about a mile away. On top of that, I found the main villain to be pretty silly, and a good portion of the dialogue is just hysterically awful. But, admittedly, that?s kind of the fun of the whole experience, as I simply looked at it as a cartoon. A very gory, decapitation-heavy cartoon, but nonetheless!

Overall, I got just about everything that I could want out of a movie like The Expendables: sheer badassery. Sure, the plot is paper thin, and the scene involving a couple of cameo appearances felt just a little anticlimactic, but as far as mindless action films go, this one?s tough to beat, at least compared to what else we?ve been given this summer.

Predators
Predators(2010)
½

This past decade hasn't been particularly kind to the Predator franchise. Keep in mind that this is coming from somebody who is in the minority of people who actually enjoyed Predator 2 (despite the ridiculousness of having one of the mandible-faced freaks in Los Angeles in the first place), and feels that the series didn't begin its downward slope until the wasted opportunity of a film known as Alien vs. Predator. Thankfully, however, this latest entry proves to be a return to form, focusing much more on the hunt, while also providing this universe with a surprising amount of depth.

My favorite aspect of Predators is how it deftly returns to the roots of the series, placing a much bigger emphasis on the aforementioned hunt. In a jungle. There's just something naturally hostile about being in such an environment, as opposed to city streets, or...the caves of Antarctica? And the unfortunate individuals who are trapped on this Predator home world aren't just standing around, waiting to be picked off like victims in a teen-slasher flick. No, these guys decide to fight back, and it becomes a ton of fun to watch! No, it's not particularly difficult to guess who will and who won't be ending this trip alive, but it's just refreshing to see these victims retaliating for a change.

To touch briefly on the audio front, Alan Silvestri's original theme, as well as the classic Predator battle cry, is still firmly intact here. These may not seem like much, but I was surprised by how much they added to the overall experience.

And speaking of returning elements, as you might've expected, this film pays homage to several moments from the original Predator, particularly in the third act, when the film simply goes nuts. They're all very much appreciated, but there is one -- specifically, a certain line taken out of the first film -- that just isn't the same as when it was delivered by Arnold.

Nitpicking aside, though, Predators breathes new life into this franchise, providing plenty of new elements that separates it from the pack, while maintaining what was so engaging about the first film. It's a quick distraction, but an entertaining one all the same.

The Other Guys
½

From Anchorman to Talladega Nights, the duo of Will Ferrell and director Adam McKay has become one of my favorites ? comically ? in the industry as of late. And based on the trailer for The Other Guys, the quirky spirit of those two films in particular seemed to be relatively intact, but does it hold up over the course of the entire film? Unfortunately, no.

To start off with aspects of this film that I enjoyed, virtually every cast member involved does a solid job in their respective roles. Both Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg play off of each other much better than you might expect as the titular characters, and Michael Keaton ? once again, this summer ? steals just about every scene that he's in as the Guys' more-calm-than-he-probably-should-be captain. Also, for what little screen time that they have, both Sam Jackson and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson shine as the two celebrity-status-garnered cops, being responsible for what could be the funniest movie moment of this year so far. Even Eva Mendes (who I'm typically not the biggest fan of) shares a couple of enjoyable moments with Ferrell as his purposely-out-of-his-league wife.

It's unfortunate, then, that the plot of The Other Guys is an absolute mess. After about the first forty-five minutes, the movie begins to shovel in unnecessary parts of the story, and by the time that the climax hit, there was simply too much going on for me to even care (despite some surprisingly well-shot action sequences). Also, don't confuse this with last month's Inception, whose complicated narrative was used to challenge the viewer.

Still, though, I'm a firm believer in that, no matter how much I may not like the plot of a comedy, if it makes me laugh, it's done its job. A similar rule goes for horror films in my book, where the primary goal should just be to frighten me. Even in this area, The Other Guys only succeeds during its initial half. Similarly to Knight and Day from earlier this summer, once the second half rolls around, most of the appeal is lost, and the movie becomes more of a financial thriller than a buddy-cop comedy.

The Other Guys, while still enjoyable to a degree, with the laughs being nearly consistent throughout the first forty-five minutes, is yet another film from this summer in which a significant chunk of its steam is lost within the latter half. Overall, my suggestion would be to pay half of the ticket price to see half of the film. Doesn't sound too unreasonable, does it?

Inception
Inception(2010)
½

From Memento, to The Prestige, to The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan is quickly becoming one of the premiere directors of intellectual, yet crowd-pleasing entertainment. Now, just to jump right in, Inception continues this trend, while demonstrating more creativity than perhaps any of his other films.

If there's one complaint that I can imagine people having over this film, it's that the plot can be particularly difficult to follow. And while I feel that this is true to some extent, that's because Inception is, in and of itself, a puzzle. All of the pieces are presented to you, and solving it depends not so much on intelligence, but on whether or not you find that sort of element appealing in a movie. It's a film in which much of the dialogue is spent simply explaining the rules of this complex dream world, and therefore demands that you be wide awake.

Even so, there had still better be an endearing cast of characters to follow, especially with this being a two-and-a-half hour experience, and thankfully, Inception delivers. While none of them, outside of DiCaprio's character, have much back story to speak of, they all feature exceptionally likable personalities, so by the time that the stirring climax hit, I was concerned about the fate of each and every one of them. Joseph Gordon-Levitt's performance as DiCaprio's right-hand man, Arthur, blew me away in particular. The guy doesn't have a ton of screen time, but damn, does he leave an impression!

Ultimately, however, Inception is the story of DiCaprio's character, Cobb. Now, I won't say much, as giving any plot details outside of the synopsis would be a crime, but suffice it to say, it's some pretty engrossing stuff, and DiCaprio definitely brings his A-game here.

Also, as expected, Hans Zimmer proves once again that he is the boss when it comes to musical scores, as each scene is enhanced tremendously by his material. He's the sort of musician who can make even the simplest of actions seem more important than anything else that's happened in human history. If only you, sir, could score my life.

With its challenging narrative structure, likable characters (if somewhat lacking in depth), and sheer visual splendor, Inception is easily among my favorite movies of the year, second only to Pixar's latest classic. It's been a rough summer movie season, and while we've still got quite a few weeks left before it's officially over, Inception succeeded in reminding me why I dig this medium so much.

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
½

While it's certainly been the popular thing to criticize the Twilight series, it's not without good reason. As much as I wanted to enjoy the first two installments, the constant intensity on the melodramatic meter, as well as the annoying-beyond-belief lead characters, make the films nothing more than a soap opera with just a higher production budget. But what about Eclipse, the third entry in the saga? Well, I enjoyed it a bit more than the first two...

To start off with aspects of the film that I actually liked, the way that Eclipse is shot is done much more competently than in Twilight and New Moon. There are several particular images, in fact, that are still looming in my head. Also, the action sequences have a grander feel to them this time around, and -- on the whole -- end up being pretty fun to watch. This is due in part by the special effects, which I think are a significant step up from those found previously in the series. The wolves, especially, look much more convincing, despite the occasionally apparent green screen.

The film also pokes a little bit of fun at itself. It's as if director David Slade said "Okay, there's no way that we can take some of these scenes seriously." These types of moments don't occur all that often throughout the film, but the ones that are present go a long way.

It's unfortunate, then, that the rest of the film is just what you would come to expect from this series. Edward is still that controlling boyfriend who won't allow Bella to see her friends, Jacob is still that kid who, try as he might, will never exit the "friend zone," and Bella herself is still that two-timing slut who doesn't know what she wants.

To be honest, though, there are characters in this series who I genuinely like -- specifically, Bella's dad and Edward's family. They're each 100 times more likable and interesting than either of those three. The problem is, though, that neither of them are part of the main cast, and as a result, we're forced to sit through dialogue that's become so melodramatic to the point where I was laughing in my seat, as well as a love triangle that I don't find myself invested in in the slightest.

While the overall fun factor has been significantly enhanced this time around, I still can't find myself interested in this aforementioned love triangle that's been set up. It's amazing that, after two hours, it feels like so little happened in the way of this story. For those who are already fans of Twilight, I'm sure that they'll enjoy themselves. For the uninitiated, however, more of the same just isn't going to cut it.

Knight & Day
Knight & Day(2010)

Based on the trailers for Knight and Day, I expected a fairly middle-of-the-road summer flick. If nothing else, I thought, having Tom Cruise back to doing what he does best in the action-hero role would warrant a viewing. Having just finished seeing it, though, I feel almost as though I should be reviewing two separate films.

The first half of this movie promises a solid, fun experience due primarily to the banter between Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz's characters. Initially, these two have terrific on-screen chemistry, with several scenes between the two of them being absolutely hilarious. It's the perfect marriage of action and comedy, and all seems to be going smoothly.

About mid-way through the film, however, it completely switches gears and becomes this lazy, meandering, worn out mess of an action film. The witty banter between Cruise and Diaz feels lost, and the movie almost seems to go out of its way to show as little action as possible. Specifically, there are several sequences in which the duo is in peril, and rather than showing us, the audience, how this conflict was resolved, we see one of the two characters get knocked out, followed by them awaking in a safe and secure location. It's these moments in particular that make the second half of this movie frustrating, and this is all on top of a story that ends up being not the least bit engaging.

Even the action that actually is present in Knight and Day, though, is hit-or-miss. The few action scenes found in the initial half are solid, with well-choreographed stunts, as well as the aforementioned dialogue between the two leads, which serve to enhance the fun factor of each sequence. However, as with every other aspect of the film, the action found in the second half isn't nearly as entertaining, and as often as John Powell's (the Bourne trilogy, Bolt) musical score attempts to liven the scene up, it all just feels like old hat.

Knight and Day is a film that, despite its initial promise of a simple, fun action flick, takes a tremendous nose dive about mid-way through the experience. Ultimately, it's just another addition to the list of mediocre action films in a summer that's, thus far, been virtually full of them.

Toy Story 3
Toy Story 3(2010)

I've said this before, but I'll say it again: Pixar has shown with their initial ten films that they haven't the faintest clue how to make a bad movie. And yet, somehow, I always find myself feeling doubtful whenever a trailer for one of their new films is released. With Toy Story 3, I got the impression that it would be just another adventure with Woody and the gang for the sake of having one. So, with this, and a movie year that has been relatively lacking so far, would Toy Story 3 disappoint? The answer: absolutely not.

Probably the most surprising aspect about this film is that, even after eleven years since the release of Toy Story 2, the material that has made this series so damn enjoyable hasn't been lost one bit here. All of the old characters are just endearing as ever, if not more so, and all of the new ones feel right at home here. Ken (voiced by Michael Keaton) is especially hilarious, to the point where even the mention of him got me laughing.

To touch briefly on the visual front, the characters themselves are just as expressive as they've always been. However, like Wall-E, the world that they inhabit looks much more photorealistic this time around. Also, this is one of the few instances when the 3D aspect actually enhances the film. It's by no means as crucial to the experience in the same way that it was for Avatar, but it gives the film a little extra something.

The action sequences, too, are spectacular. These are toys that we're talking about, and somehow, Pixar's managed to provide these scenes with one hell of a punch. Not much else to say about 'em other than that the climax in particular feels as epic as anything from The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

What really puts Toy Story 3 above most films out there, though, is how it deals with the themes of loss and growing up. Even after getting to know these characters over the course of two films, I was still surprised by just how much I got sucked into their despair. Without giving anything away, there were two scenes that caused me to tear up, and even more that had me on the verge of doing so.

Toy Story 3 is not only a worthy conclusion to a fantastic trilogy, but also the one third installment (other than Return of the King) that I feel is better than its predecessors. For all of the reasons already mentioned and more, it's one of the studio's best entries. Sorry for doubting you, Pixar, even if it was just for a bit.

Kick-Ass
Kick-Ass(2010)
½

Being based on a beloved comic book series, and as a film that redefines what a super hero movie, specifically, should be, Kick-Ass would make for quite the companion piece to last year's Watchmen. It's a film that will assuredly offend many more people than it already has. If you manage to get past that, however, what you'll find is a piece of cinema that's pure fun.

Let me say, first and foremost, that Kick-Ass has a terrific ensemble. Aaron Johnson, who -- as others have mentioned -- will likely end up being overshadowed by other cast members, as great as the titular character. This is a character that, with even the slightest bit of mishandling, could've come off as pretty unlikable, but Johnson captures that perfect blend of awkwardness and badassness?. Christopher Mintz-Plasse also delivers a surprisingly resonating performance as Red Mist; the days of him being simply known as McLovin' are over.

The real stars of this movie, however, are Nicolas Cage and Chloë Moretz as Big Daddy and Hit Girl, respectively, the former having officially redeemed himself for his performance in Ghost Rider. I won't say much for the sake of spoilers, but there's some brilliant stuff that only Cage could do with that character. As for Moretz, this is a career-making performance from her. Her introduction alone will go down as one of the great character intros. And even while committing such horrible acts of violence, she strangely manages to capture that sense of childlike innocence. It's something else, to say the least.

Speaking of violence (most of which done either to or by children), this is easily one of the bloodiest, nastiest mainstream movies to hit theaters in some time. Even as somebody who's watched all of the Saw movies (to give a more recent example), there were a couple of scenes that I just wasn't prepared for. That being said, the action is fast-paced, yet -- thankfully -- not so frenetic that you can't understand what the hell's going on, and there are some real nail-biting moments during the film's stirring climax.

Amidst all of the mayhem that goes on in Kick-Ass, however, there is some real human drama to be found here as well. The film definitely succeeds in getting you to sympathize with Dave, and by the time he's doing what's expected from a guy with an alter-ego named Kick-Ass, you're cheering him on. The film then equally as well succeeds in making you hate the villain, Frank D'Amico, played by Mark Strong. This isn't a guy who, right before killing you, will present you with some long, drawn-out monologue, he'll just kill you. And by the time the aforementioned climax rolls around, you see just how despicable this guy really is.

Kick-Ass is the most fun that I've had at the movies in a while. Just about everything in this movie works, from the Superbad-esque humor, to the often over-the-top action sequences, to the surprisingly believable cast of characters. And hey, I managed to get through this whole review without saying "Kick-Ass kicks ass," even though I'd really like to.

Clash of the Titans

Ah, the pre-summer action movie. Admittedly, due to word of mouth from those who had attended earlier screenings of the film, my expectations for Clash of the Titans were fairly low. On top of that, many of the initial casting choices appeared to be somewhat suspect. So, what's my verdict? Well, I didn't hate it...

The plot of Titans is extremely straightforward -- practically to a fault. Often, the film acts as though it's in a hurry, attempting to get from one action sequence to the next as quickly as possible. The scenes that occur in between each of these battles ultimately amount to nothing more than brief segments of exposition delivered by Perseus' "guardian angel" of sorts, Io (Gemma Arterton). So, while the film never really drags, it feels very soulless.

And while we're on the subject of these action sequences, none of them end up being particularly memorable. About half of them are so frenetic to the point where they're almost disorienting - honestly, I'm glad that the 3D screenings were sold out this time 'round. On top of that, there's virtually no character development outside of Worthington's character (and even he isn't all that likable), so I never really cared about the outcome of these action sequences either. Also, as I mentioned earlier, my biggest fear with Titans was in regards to the acting, and thankfully, most of the cast do what's expected of them. Neeson's Zeus aside, none of the performances truly stand out, but they're nothing cringe-worthy either.

Ultimately, Clash of the Titans ends up being a forgettable piece of entertainment with a couple of gaping plot holes, hit-or-miss action sequences, and performances that fail to leave much of an impression. It's not horrible -- just hollow.

How to Train Your Dragon
½

As I've said numerous times already, I'm not exactly DreamWorks Animation's biggest fan. I feel that, aside from Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, and last year's Monsters vs Aliens, their films symbolize the worst of mainstream animation, focusing primarily on cringe-worthy pop-culture gags. What convinced me to buy a ticket for How to Train Your Dragon, then, was seeing that Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois -- directors of Lilo and Stitch (one of the few rays of light in Disney Animation's "dark age") - would be at the helm. Oh, and that 97% on Rotten Tomatoes may've been a part of it, too, admittedly. Whatever the reason, I'm happy to say that Dragon not only surpasses the duo's previous effort, but is also my favorite film delivered by the studio.

While the premise of How to Train Your Dragon may seem tenuously related to that of other films of its ilk, the way in which it's actually delivered makes the whole movie feel all its own. The two main characters, Hiccup (voiced surprisingly brilliantly by Jay Baruchel) and Toothless, are incredibly endearing, and their relationship is unfolded in such a way that's nothing short of tear-jerking. It looks like the folks at DreamWorks Animation have been taking lessons from Up and Wall-E, as the most beautiful moments of the entire film are those without dialogue.

Speaking of beauty, the use of 3D in Dragon is the most impressive I've seen in any animated film, and actually, rivals that of Avatar. Unlike, say, Alice in Wonderland, the film doesn't rely on the 3D clichés of awkwardly bringing objects toward the screen. To put it simply, the 3D visuals enhance the story, rather than act as a substitute for one.

How to Train Your Dragon, while including an engaging, character-driven story, is an awe-inspiring theater experience. While the basic story may not be the most original, what these artists do with it make it extremely lovable. On top of that, the characters are particularly endearing, and the visuals are some of the most impressive that I've seen in any animated film. DreamWorks Animation, consider me a fan.

Avatar
Avatar(2009)
½

Despite being a huge admirer of James Cameron's work (particularly Aliens and Terminator 2), I was skeptical about Avatar from the beginning. I just had this feeling that Cameron's statements about how "this movie will change the way we look at films" would lead to a significant backlash, not to mention the basic story sounded very much like that of -- and forgive me for using the "popular complaint" -- Dances with Wolves. That being said, I just walked out of one of the best moviegoing experiences I've ever had in my life.

If there's one area in which Cameron has assuredly pushed the envelope, it would be the visuals; an argument could seriously be made that this is -- visually -- the most beautiful film ever crafted. The sound and effects presented here -- especially when experiencing it in IMAX -- really draw you into this world of Pandora, and the motion-capture character animation is far beyond that seen in Robert Zemeckis' recent films. This is, honestly, one of those instances in which the awe-inspiring visuals are essential to the experience.

Even so, there still has to be a solid story in order for Avatar to be a great movie, and thankfully, Cameron delivers. While the plot of this film does indeed feel like it's taken a couple dozen pages out of Kevin Costner's award-winning western, it all fits in perfectly with this ecology -- this world -- that Cameron's created. The characters and the performances of them, too, are terrific. Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana carry this film beautifully as Jake Sully and Neytiri, and the relationship between them, surprisingly, ended up being very touching. There are a couple of scenes in particular, actually, that had me tearing up a bit. As for the other performances, Stephen Lang -- while not exactly given the best lines at points -- is chilling as Colonel Miles Quaritch, and Sigourney Weaver is endearing as Dr. Grace Augustine.

Avatar is one hell of a moviegoing experience, with -- at the risk of sounding cliché -- breathtaking visuals that compliment the engaging (if familiar) story rather than overshadow it, some extremely likable and believable characters, and an intense, forty-minute-long climax that would be a crime to go into detail about here. Avatar is a prime example of why we all go to films in the first place.

The Princess and the Frog
½

With such disappointments as Home on the Range and Chicken Little, Walt Disney Animation Studios -- on the whole -- has had a pretty rough decade. Last November, however, the Mouse House released Chris Williams and Byron Howards' Bolt, which is not only generally accepted as a return to form for the studio, but over the course of this past year, has usurped Pulp Fiction as my personal favorite movie of all time. With that said, I went into The Princess and the Frog with relatively high expectations; having walked out of the theatre just a couple of hours ago, I have to say that John Musker and Ron Clements' latest only continues the magic of the studio's previous film.

Visually, The Princess and the Frog is absolutely mesmerizing. Seriously, 2D animation has never looked better than it does in this film. As executive producer/Pixar founder John Lasseter, it's very much like stepping into a pair of old, comfortable shoes. Familiar, yet seemingly brand new. The energetic look of New Orleans is perfectly captured on screen, enhancing the story all the more.

Speaking of which, the story of this film is just like the animation in that, while being traditional Disney fare, it's executed in such a way that it feels completely different from anything you've ever experienced. As many times as this movie will make you laugh, it'll make you cry, which -- for me -- has always been the sign of a classic Disney Animation film. The movie also succeeds in making you feel invested in each and every one of these characters, major and minor ones alike, which is definitely one of the most difficult tasks that any film could hope to achieve.

Unlike most Disney princesses, Tiana is strong, independent, and isn't looking for her Prince Charming. In fact, it's these differentiating traits of hers that make Tiana my favorite Disney princess to date. It also helps that Anika Noni Rose delivers a stunning performance as her voice, making Tiana all the more captivating every moment that she's on screen. Bruno Campos also does a terrific job as Naveen, whose character is also a departure from the traditional Disney prince. He's a fellow who, while being stuck-up and lazy, somehow manages to come across as extremely likable. Both of these characters make for what is easily the most convincing Disney couple to date.

The real stand-out performance, however, is that of Keith David as Dr. Facilier. Since his performance as the Arbiter from the Halo video game series, I've been a huge fan of this guy's work, and couldn't have been more excited when I heard that he'd be doing the voice of the villain in this movie. With his low, creepy voice, David captures the essence of this character perfectly, and by the end, you're genuinely scared of this guy. Because of this, Facilier is definitely one of -- if not my absolute favorite -- Disney villain, challenged only by Gaston and Frollo. With his performance as the Cat from Coraline, and now Facilier, Keith David continues to prove that he is the man.

As with every other aspect of the film, the musical numbers in The Princess and the Frog are extremely memorable, most notably Dr. Facilier's "Friends On the Other Side", a deliciously creepy piece that ranks right up there with "Hellfire" from Hunchback of Notre Dame as one of the best Disney villain songs. You'll definitely find yourself humming several of these tunes on your way back home from the theatre.

The Princess and the Frog is not only an excellent return to 2D animation, but also one of the relatively few films that I can't help but give a perfect score to, making it a tie with Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds as my favorite movie of the year. The animation is more beautiful than ever, the characters are some of the most memorable ones I've ever seen on film, and the musical numbers are infectiously catchy. The Princess and the Frog clearly reiterates the statement already made by last year's aforementioned Bolt: Walt Disney Animation is back and here to stay.

2012
2012(2009)
½

Based on Roland Emmerich's previous [disaster] films, I was expecting nothing more than a campy, yet occasionally fun, and visually stunning experience, upon going into 2012. And wouldn't you know it, Emmerich came through, unintentionally delivering one of the best comedies of the year.

As expected, the visual effects in 2012 are absolutely stunning, with the first major sequence - ironically - being the most memorable one. Due to the stupidity of many of the characters actions, however, that sense of awe is somewhat diminished. Also, I think the reason why I found the first destructive sequence to be the most spectacular is because all of the ones that follow are essentially repeats of that: Mother nature throws literally everything she's got at us, we just barely manage to escape, then land at a safe zone for a brief period of time.

The acting in this film, surprisingly, isn't half bad. While both John Cusack's and Chiwetel Ejiofor's characters are boring, to say the least, they still manage to come across as relatively likable. Oliver Platt also does a fine job, delivering what are easily some of the best lines in the film. It seems like Woody Harrelson is the only one who understands what kind of movie he's in, and as a result, makes the most of his short performance.

2012 really is one cheesy, melodramatic, cliché-ridden piece of cinema, but personally, that's where I found the film to be rather funny. Those who are only searching for sheer spectacle should not feel cheated by paying to see this in a theater, as 2012 is also the very definition of dumb fun.

Disney's A Christmas Carol
½

Going into A Christmas Carol, I was both excited, yet apprehensive. As much I'm a fan of Robert Zemeckis' work (my favorite of which, unabashedly, being '07's Beowulf), I couldn't help but feel worried that this would be just another retelling of the story in the exact same manner. Fortunately, this Christmas Carol takes a very different approach, focusing primarily on the horror aspect of the classic story.

While I was already somewhat worried upon hearing that this movie was even going to get made, knowing that Jim Carrey would star in the lead role didn't help much. Now, I personally appreciate Carrey's brand of humor, and have enjoyed most of his comedic performances. However, he's usually hit (with The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) or miss (with The Number 23) when it comes to his dramatic roles. So, I initially didn't know what to think about him being put in the role, and didn't hold out much hope after watching the trailers. To my surprise, however, Carrey actually ended being phenomenal as the old miser. Every aspect of his performance, right down to the way he moves, nails the character perfectly, and the unnaturally thin body of Scrooge sure is one monstrous creation.

Speaking of the CGI in this film, A Christmas Carol has never looked so beautiful, yet so frightening, than in this version. For those of you who are planning on seeing this film, definitely try to check it out in IMAX 3-D, as it just adds so much depth to the experience. Occasionally throughout the film, the 3-D is used in gimmicky ways, but for the most part, I thought it was handled pretty appropriately.

As I said before, this movie feels more like a horror story, as opposed to the joyous, feel-good tale of previous adaptations. There are some truly nightmarish images here, especially throughout the middle portion of the film, when the Ghost of Christmas Present arrives. As a result, though, Zemeckis strays away from the heart of the story, which I think is really going to disconnect a lot of viewers. I walked out of the movie split, honestly, and had to analyze it quite a bit more afterward.

Overall, Robert Zemeckis' take on A Christmas Carol is a darker, more terrifying version of the tale, and one that -- if seen at all -- should definitely be viewed on the big screen. The imagery is dazzling, yet disturbing, and the performances are brilliant all across the board. Just don't expect to be in a very "Christmasey" mood afterward.

Saw VI
Saw VI(2009)

It's no secret that I love the initial two Saw movies. I've never denied the weaknesses of the films (particularly in the acting department), but have also never hid the fact that I hold the first two entries in extremely high regard. Providing a grueling sense of tension, as well as jaw-dropping plot twists, they're definitely among my most beloved horror/thriller films of all time. The three installments that followed, while not horrible, were significantly less enjoyable than the first two. I consider myself a fan of the series overall, however, and went into Saw VI with feelings of both excitement and apprehension. Fortunately, the sixth entry proves to be a return to form for the series, and an excellent film in its own right.

One of the primary issues that many fans had with the previous two Saw films was that they delivered more questions than answers, to the point where -- perhaps -- there was too much build-up. Thankfully, however, the payoff is in this movie. The way in which writers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton tie up such a multitude of loose ends in just a single film is far better than I ever could've hoped. If you're a fan of these movies because of the stories (as I am), then you'll be more than pleased with what Part VI has to offer. My only question now, though, is this: what the hell are they going to do for Saw VII ?

For those of you who are in it for the traps, rest assured that this is easily the most gruesome film in the series. The gore in entries IV and, especially, V didn't really phase me, and for the most part, the traps themselves really weren't all that inventive. The bar has definitely been raised this time around, though, with several scenes in particular that nearly had me turning away from the screen. And unlike Saw III, this film never feels like an exercise in gore just for the sake of gore.

What really makes this film a step up from its last few predecessors, though, is that the main Jigsaw victim is actually relatively likable. Peter Outerbridge definitely surprised me with his performance as William, creating a flawed, yet compelling character. Even though this man does what he does, you sympathize with him as the film progresses, and you hope that, by the end, he'll have overcome these trials.

Overall, Saw VI is a twistedly clever film that went well beyond my expectations, to the point where it may just usurp Saw II as my second favorite installment in the series. Virtually my only problem with the film is that, as in any Saw film, some of the acting is a bit suspect. If you're one of the many that absolutely despise this series, this film certainly isn't going to change your perspective. However, for those of you who are fans, Saw VI is an excellent return to form.

Where the Wild Things Are

Wow, what a tough film to review. Its main focus is certainly not of a grand adventure, with some moral that?s easily digested. With that said, this film isn?t for everyone. In fact, in order to get the most out of Where the Wild Things Are, you really have to put yourself in Max?s shoes. And if you can do that, then you?re in for one hell of an emotional rollercoaster ride.

The live actors in this film, of the virtually two that exist, are a perfect choice. Young Max Records as the film?s protagonist excelled in a way that, I think, no other child actor could. This kid carries the film for a good 90 minutes, proving to be both likable and relatable. As a friend of mine said, he?s ?basically a stand in for your inner child and all those feelings that you thought you forgot.? Catherine Keener is also terrific as the mother, playing the part of the ?everyday mom? just about perfectly.

The voice actors, too, are perfectly cast. James Gandolfini gives a powerful performance as Carol, ranging from kind and innocent to unpleasant and frightening. While all of the Wild Things are ids of Max?s imagination, it?s through Carol where Max views himself. However, as much as I hold Gandolfini?s performance in high regard, it?s Lauren Ambrose as KW who really stole the show; she?s the character everyone most wanted to love and be loved by.

As much as I love Where the Wild Things Are, I don?t think my feelings on the film will be fully understood until a second or third viewing. Again, this is not a straight-forward, easily digestable fantasy adventure. In fact, the closest thing that this film has to a weakness is its being ? at least to some extent - more suited for adults than for children. Right now, I can see Spike Jonze?s latest only getting better with age.

Zombieland
Zombieland(2009)
½

Arguably one of the finest horror comedies of all time is Edgar Wright?s Shaun of the Dead, and since its release in ?04, there have been a good number of wannabes. Based on the trailers for Zombieland, however, I thought that the film had some serious potential to match Shaun in terms of quality, possibly even usurp it. Having seen the film, I?m happy to say that Zombieland does just that.

Unlike many comedies in recent memory, in which the majority of laughs are already provided by the trailer, Zombieland is filled to the brim with laugh-out-loud moments, thanks largely to the brilliant cast. Eisenberg is awesome as the main protagonist, Columbus, portraying that sense of vulnerability and awkwardness, without becoming too Michael Cera-esque. Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin are also terrific as the sweet, yet tough Wichita and the more-mature-than-she-seems Little Rock, respectively.

The real stand-out performance, though, is Woody Harrelson as the Twinkie-lovin?, zombie-hatin? Tallahassee. Next to that of Woody Boyd on Cheers and Frasier, this is definitely the best performance of his career. There?s also a painfully hilarious cameo appearance about mid-way through the film that would be a crime to spoil. Suffice it to say, this is ? hands-down ? the best cameo that I?ve ever seen in a film.

The most surprising aspect of Zombieland, to me, is how much heart there is. All of the characters feel warm and alive, and what drama there is to be found feels extremely sincere. Ultimately, you feel invested in the story and the characters, which ? I think ? is the most important thing any film of any genre can do.

Zombieland has instantly become a horror favorite of mine (comedic or otherwise). The ? for the lack of a better word ? quotable dialogue, consistently hysterical tone, and endearing characters, all come together to create a film that will undoubtedly become a cult classic.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
½

Just to set the record straight, I?m not a fan of most non-Disney Animation, non-Pixar animated films being released these days, and even my faith in the former was just recently renewed with last year?s Bolt (which has topped Pulp Fiction as my personal favorite movie of all time). Sure, every once in a while, a brilliant piece such as Coraline will come along, but honestly, I find that to be one of the relatively few exceptions from this decade. So, with that said, I initially wasn?t looking forward to seeing Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. What further detracted from my excitement were the trailers, which led me to believe that the film was going to be strictly targeted towards children. Having just seen the film, though, I am happy to say that all of my fears were put to rest.

Visually, this is perhaps one of the most spectacular animated movies I?ve ever seen, with literally every frame being a feast for the eyes. There were moments, especially throughout the movie?s undeniably thrilling climax, in which my jaw just dropped in amazement. Not to throw in so much hyperbole, but this truly is one of the best animated films in terms of pure eye candy. While there?s so much else in this movie to enjoy, the visuals alone make it worth the price of admission.

The vocal performances in Cloudy are some of the most impressive ones I?ve heard in quite some time. Both Bill Hader and Anna Faris as Flint and Sam, respectively, capture the essence of these two socially-awkward, smarter-than-you-might-think type of characters perfectly. Overall, I felt these two characters had some real chemistry, and as a result, I thoroughly enjoyed watching their relationship evolve throughout the course of the film. Mr. T is also terrific as the city cop, Earl, delivering some of the most gut-bustingly hilarious lines in the entire film. With that said, this is quite possibly the funniest animated movie that I?ve ever seen. To put it simply, there were a couple of moments in which I literally thought that I was going to be ill.

I walked out of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs with very much the same feeling as I did with ?08?s aforementioned Bolt: astonished by how mediocre I initially expected the film to be, and how enjoyable it actually ended up being. The only thing keeping this film from getting a 10/10 in my book is ? even with the few scenes that managed to tug at my heartstrings - the lack of an emotional punch powerful enough to get me choked up. However, given the film?s quirky nature, I view that as a mild complaint at best. Go see it, folks.

9
9(2009)

Aside from perhaps The Princess and the Frog (and, prior to May 29th, Up), there hasn?t been a single movie this year that I?ve been looking forward to more than Shane Acker?s debut film, 9. The basic premise, while somewhat familiar, really intrigued me, and the art direction looked superb. Along with a decidedly darker tone than most animated films, this one definitely looked like it had potential to be one of the all-time greats. But does 9 live up to its full potential? Well?not quite.

On the positive side (and as one would guess from the trailers), the movie looks spectacular. By use of both the environments and the characters, this harsh, post-apocalyptic world feels extremely real, and successfully draws you into the film. I simply couldn?t take my eyes off of the art on display here.

The voice acting is also relatively solid. Jennifer Connelly as 7, the strong-willed warrior of the group, and Christopher Plummer as 1, the gang?s self-proclaimed leader, are especially terrific in their roles.

As much as the visuals draw you into the film, and as strong as the voice acting is, though, the story feels pretty bland, and in fact, is littered with several gaping plot holes. The movie is also quite short, and with the majority of it centered on the action, I don?t think I had enough time to connect with any of these characters. There was only one scene in which I truly felt attached to them, which was toward the end, with the song ?Somewhere Over the Rainbow? playing throughout. To me, as well as a few other people that I?ve spoken to, that was easily the best scene in the film.

Overall, 9 is a thoroughly entertaining film with beautiful animation and a strong voice cast. Unfortunately, the story itself ends up being pretty dull, and not as complex as one might hope. It?s still a solid film, and I look forward to whatever Shane Acker?s next project is (animated or otherwise). However, it simply doesn?t live up to the potential that I thought it had.

Inglourious Basterds

As an enormous fan of Quentin Tarantino?s work (with Pulp Fiction, specifically, being my second favorite movie of all time), I?d been looking forward to Inglourious Basterds quite a bit. Somewhat apprehensive, given the premise of the film, but for the most part, I went in expecting to have a pretty good time. Now, as the end credits started to roll, all I could say was ?Damn.?

First of all, it should be noted that the trailers for Basterds are very misleading. Watching them, I expected an almost action comedy primarily about this group of soldiers going around, killing Nazis. And while there is some of that (along with its fair share of hilarious moments), that really isn?t the focus of the movie. In fact, the Basterds themselves only take up about a quarter of the film (if not less). The real heart of this movie lies in Shosanna, as she?s virtually the only character who?s given any backstory. As a result, about 80% of the dialogue in this movie is subtitled. With that being said, it all plays out extraordinarily well, and I greatly respect Tarantino?s choice to include said subtitles. Also, the more that I think about it, the more I appreciate the less-than-expected number of brutal moments in this film. They?re so sudden, so few and far between, that when they actually do happen, you find them all the more enjoyable.

The acting in this film is superb all across the board. With his thick Tennessee accent, Brad Pitt is gut-bustingly hilarious as Aldo Raine, and contrary to what post people have said, I highly enjoyed Eli Roth?s portrayal of Raine?s fellow Basterd, Donny. Mélanie Laurent is surprisingly exceptional as Shosanna, delivering that sense of both innocence and toughness. Even Mike Myers, who I wrote off as an actor years ago, is solid during his cameo appearance. However, the real show-stealer here is Christoph Waltz as Colonel Hans Landa. On top of being able to act well in several different languages, he manages to do what almost every great, classic villain manages to do, and that is to accomplish being both charming and menacing at once. Personally, I believe that he should, at the very least, get an Oscar nomination for his performance.

The movie is extremely dialogue-heavy, and again, without much action to speak of. Also, the majority of characters came across as somewhat cartoonish to me (especially Pitt?s). So, I can understand why this film may not be for everybody, and even partially why some may feel ?cheated?, given the way in which it was advertised. That being said, I thought that the dialogue was heated and clever, and found that the ?cartoonishness? of the characters added to the film?s needed sense of humor.

For me to give a film a perfect score is rare enough as it is, but this is the first time I?ve given one to two films in a row (having seen District 9 last weekend). It?s been a damn good year for films so far, with Coraline, Up, and the aforementioned District 9 ranking somewhere in my all-time Top 15. And while I?ll have to see it a few more times to say for sure, Inglourious Basterds is perhaps my fifth favorite movie of all time. Aside from last year?s Bolt, never has a movie surpassed my expectations by such a great amount. Go see it, right now.

District 9
District 9(2009)
½

I wasn't expecting a whole lot out of District 9, to be honest. The trailers looked alright, and the premise sounded fascinating, to put it simply. Besides, I've always been interested in what director Neill Blomkamp has been up to, ever since I initially heard about his now long abandoned Halo adaptation. Having just seen the film, though, District 9 is not only perhaps my favorite movie of the year so far (challenged only by Coraline and Up), but one of the greatest films I've ever seen.

Arguably the most surprising thing about this film is its budget; the movie cost approximately $30 million to make, yet looks as though it cost $100 million. The folks at Weta Workshop, as expected, did a truly exceptional job with the animation. All of the aliens (or Prawns) are given so much expressiveness, and in very subtle ways, too. In fact, I often forgot that I was watching a computer-animated character, which I think is the highest compliment that you can give to an animator.

The highlight of this movie, though, is Sharlto Copley's portrayal of our main protagonist, Wikus. Throughout the first 30-45 minutes of the film, he's viewed as a relatively unlikable character, yet becomes increasingly sympathetic as the film continues. It's done so in an extremely compelling, extremely real, way, which is refreshing to see in a film. It's this character and his relationship with the aliens that give these already incredible action sequences (that look as though they were inspired by sections of Halo and Half-Life) some genuine weight. I found myself tearing up a couple of times, actually, fearing for the safety of one of the characters, and rarely does a film manage to get that kind of response out of me.

District 9 is an original, thought-provoking masterpiece that shows how a system can force its citizens to be unwanted, without becoming preachy on the subject. I'll have to see it again, but I think that this film may actually dethrone Coraline (which is virtually tied with Up) as my absolute favorite movie of the year so far.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

Going into G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, I was expecting ? to be fairly blunt ? an absolute trainwreck of a movie. I?ve hated just about every one of Stephen Sommers? films (with the exception of the first Mummy, which I simply didn?t mind), the cast that was announced didn?t impress me in the slightest, nor did the trailers or clips that were released. However, for some bizarre reason, I still found myself being excited to see it, and having just done so, I have to say that I was pretty pleasantly surprised.

One of the things that I found refreshing about this movie is that, unlike, say, Transformers 2, it knows what it wants to be. The film doesn?t pander to any specific audience, nor does it try to make the source material out to be anything more than what it actually is. Also, while the film has a good number of very cartoonish moments, it never goes too over the top, to the point where you feel that the tone of the film has been disrupted.

The action sequences, too, are solid and fun, despite the visual effects ranging from so-so to outright laughable. The camera, for the most part, stays perfectly still, giving you a clear view of what?s going on ? another refreshing aspect about this movie.

Now, the performances are a mixed bag overall. Sienna Miller (Baroness), Dennis Quaid (Hawk), Arnold Vosloo (Zartan), and Rachel Nichols (Scarlett) are pretty solid in their roles. Ray Park and Byung-hun Lee as Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, respectively, are especially brilliant; in fact, I could?ve easily gone for an entire movie centered around those two characters. However, Channing Tatum and Marlon Wayans as the film?s two main heroes, Duke and Ripcord, are extraordinarily awful (the former?s performance being one of the worst I?ve seen on film in a long time).

Overall, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, is a solid, fun flick that features some decent action sequences, a simple, yet not overly stupid, story, and some surprisingly likable characters. It?s not a particularly memorable film, but certainly much better than I was expecting.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
½

Having recently watched the first five films again, I have to say that I have slightly mixed feelings about the Harry Potter film series as a whole. The first three, while still solid films, are not nearly as ?amazing? as I remember them being (though Prisoner of Azkaban comes pretty damn close). Goblet of Fire, however, is much better than I remember it being, and is considered to be one of my all-time favorite films. Part five, while not as brilliant as its predecessor, is definitely among the series? best. So, despite being a huge fan of the last few books, I?ve never particularly loved any of the Potter films, with the exception of the fourth?and now the sixth.

Performance-wise, virtually everybody was terrific. The central trio, as always, captures the essence of their respective characters perfectly. Emma Watson has especially improved as Hermione, delivering what I think is the most moving performance of the three. As for Michael Gambon as Dumbledore, I wasn?t a huge fan of him in films three, four, and five. In Half-Blood Prince, though, I felt he really nailed the character, containing that sense of power, wisdom, and a hint of arrogance all at once. Alan Rickman, as expected, was brilliantly chilling as Snape, and Jim Broadbent gives what it easily one of my favorite performances in the series as Horace Slughorn.

One of the complaints that I?ve heard a bit was that the movie spent too much time on the romantic relationships, and not enough on the ?main plot? centered on Harry and Dumbledore. Personally, I didn?t really find that. Sure, I would?ve liked to have seen one or two more of the ?memories? that were shown to Harry in the book, but for the most part, I felt that every key portion of the novel was translated very effectively to the screen.

While the visual style is absolutely incredible, and the action sequences (of what few there are) are thrilling, this is very much a character-driven film, which is really what makes it the best in the series for me. The movie also has a nice balance in tone, from portions that are light-hearted and fun, to others that are dark and somber. It?s a tough mixture, but I felt that they pulled it off extraordinarily well.

Overall, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a terrific film that, while delivering impressive bits of action and visual wizardry (no pun intended), finds the characters again. With incredible performances all across the board, a solid balance in tone, and a surprising amount of faithfulness to the source material, David Yates and his crew have put together what is my personal favorite of the six Potter films. As far as I?m concerned, the rest of the series is in good hands.

Public Enemies

Firstly, the performances in Public Enemies are terrific all across the board. Johnny Depp (who, even despite being one of my all-time favorite actors, I was initially a bit skeptical about), especially, is perfect as John Dillinger. Literally, from minute one, you buy into his character. Obviously, we?re still far from ?Oscar Season?, but I?d honestly be a bit surprised if Depp didn?t ? at least ? get nominated for his performance in this film. Now, Christian Bale, much like in Terminator Salvation, isn?t given as much to work with in terms of his character. Unlike his performance in McG?s latest film, however (and contrary to what most people have said), Bale does an extremely solid job here, doing the best with what he?s got.

The action sequences, too, are surprisingly well done. Everything is pushed just to the edge of reality, while not becoming too frenetic or too unbelievable for a film like this. However, perhaps the greatest strength of Public Enemies is how it manages to capture the feel of the 1930?s. Everything, from the settings and costume design, right down the dialogue, comes together to really bring you back to that time.

Now, on the negative side of things, I never once bought into the relationship between John Dillinger and Billie Frechette. Dillinger just looks at her once, and instantly falls in love with her. On top of that, I didn?t feel that there was any chemistry between the two of them. With love being such a huge motivating factor in what Dillinger does, it makes their lack of ?spark? a real problem for me. This lack of character development carries through the rest of the film, though. Every character (excluding Depp?s) feels extremely one-dimensional, despite the solid performances of the actors portraying them.

The story doesn?t flow very well either, making the movie feel more like a series of clips (as enjoyable as they may be to watch) randomly strung together. While I still really enjoyed Public Enemies, it?s these shortcomings that kept it from being a truly great film for me.

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
½

Having not seen the original Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, I went into this film fairly open-minded. Denzel Washington is one of my personal favorite actors working today, so I expected this movie to - if nothing else - have a solid lead performance. What I ended up getting was an intense, if a bit formulaic, thriller.

What makes this movie work is the interplay between these two main characters. Denzel Washington, again, as expected, does a terrific job portraying the redemption-seeking Walter Garber. Surprisingly, though, I found myself more impressed by John Travolta as the overconfident "Ryder." In fact, aside from his performances in Bolt and Pulp Fiction, this is probably my favorite role that I've seen him in. It's just intense when watching these two characters play off of eachother throughout the first two acts of this film, which leads me to my biggest problem with The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3.

While the first hour of this film is extremely ? again ? intense, around the last 30-40 minutes, the movie just becomes your typical action, chase film. Throughout that final act of the movie, I was just thinking ?C?mon, go back to the two of them talking!? And with that said, the action sequences aren?t really impressive, as the directing is simply too frenetic.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3. While the movie does lose a good bit of its steam towards the end, I literally found myself on the edge of my seat throughout the first two thirds of it, not to mention that the acting is excellent all around. It?s by no means a must-see, but I?d certainly recommend it.

Up
Up(2009)

If Pixar - as a studio - has any weakness, it's that they have no idea how to make a bad film. Again and again they release entertaining movies with not only a terrific sense of humor, but a level of storytelling that has set a standard for today's films, animated or otherwise. While I was obviously extremely excited to see Up, never did I expect it - or, to be honest, anything else from this year - to reach the level of quality of this year's first animated film, Coraline (which, along with last year's Bolt and Wall-E, became one of my top 10 favorite films of all time). Well, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. Simply put, Up is a perfect movie.

Easily the most emotionally impactful portion of the entire film, the first ten to fifteen minutes of Up are nothing short of beautiful. Using little to no dialogue, the opening "montage" of this film tells the story of Carl and his wife Ellie, and the wonderful life that they share together. Carl is such a lovable character, that you feel for him from the very beginning. Without trying to come off as cliché or anything, you feel the joy that he feels, and when his wife passes away, you feel his loss. By the end of the whole sequence, I was in tears.

This movie is freakin' hilarious. Without a doubt the funniest film that Pixar has ever made, each and every character in Up provides their own bit of humor. Dug the dog (voiced by co-director Bob Peterson) is especially hilarious every single time that he "opens his mouth", and yet still proves to be a key part of this emotional roller coaster ride. The movie also does a terrific job at making you feel a sense of wonder, and you just buy into the adventure of these two characters. Finally, I want to give a special nod to Christopher Plummer as the famous wilderness explorer, Charles Muntz, who is easily my favorite Pixar villain.

I love Up. Go see it now, as my review just can't do it justice. Not only is it extremely entertaining, but also gut-bustingly hilarious, and beautifully told throughout. To quote John Campea of TheMovieBlog.com, "The only negative thing I have to say about this movie is that it ended." The result is a film that's on par with Wall-E and The Incredibles as my favorite Pixar movie to date (which, again, is saying a hell of a lot, considering that they're two of my top 10 favorite films of all time) and while it may take a couple more viewings to say for certain, I have no qualms with saying that Up is one of the finest films I've ever seen.

Terminator Salvation
½

Admitedly, it wasn't until just weeks ago when I decided to watch the first two entries in the [i]Terminator[/i] series. I thoroughly enjoyed the first film, with its terrific action, compelling story, and solid performances. [i]Judgment Day[/i] instantly became one of my top 20 favorite movies of all time, expanding upon everything that made part one such an engaging film. Now, going into [i]Terminator Salvation[/i], I wasn't interested in whether or not it would top the first two films; what I received was a fun but ultimately unnecessary entry.

Much like this month's [i]Wolverine[/i] (and, frankly, the [i]majority[/i] of all other summer blockbusters), I found [i]Terminator Salvation[/i] to be little more than an action film. However, unlike Fox's X-Men prequel, nearly every bit of the action in [i]Salvation[/i] is spectacular. Rather than relying on the frenetic shakey-cam "technique" that has plagued so many recent action films, the camera observes what's going on.

The acting is, overall, decent. Sam Worthington is especially great as Marcus Wright, and Anton Yelchin (or "Chekov from [i]Star Trek[/i]") does a solid job, surprisingly, portraying the young Kyle Reese. Now, despite being a terrific actor, I never bought Christian Bale as man's only hope. He's not a very compelling voice on the radio, to be honest, and what heroic deed he accomplishes to inspire so many people is never really shown. In fact, it almost felt as though John Connor was, dare I say, shoehorned into this movie, as the plot mostly seems to center around Marcus and his struggle. As a result, there is next to no character development from anybody (again, aside from Marcus), and the movie simply goes from set-piece to set-piece.

Despite being an unnecessary entry in the series, [i]Terminator Salvation[/i] is entertaining. The action sequences are terrific and most of the performances are solid. However, there isn't much for these actors to work with, as the characters they're portraying are severely underdeveloped. Whereas the first two [i]Terminators[/i] strived to be so much more, [i]Salvation[/i] proves to be nothing more, and nothing less, than a straight-forward action flick.

Star Trek
Star Trek(2009)
½

First of all, I've never been that much of a Star Trek fan. Throughout the years, I've only watched a hand full of episodes, and it wasn't until rather recently when I decided to watch [i]Wrath of Khan[/i], which not only thoroughly impressed me, but got me even more excited for this latest installment. Now, while it may be too early to say for certain (as I've only just come back from seeing the movie), I'm tempted to call [i]Star Trek[/i] one of my all-time favorite science fiction films.

On top of this being one of the best [i]looking[/i] movies I've seen in a long time, I was very pleasantly surprised by the action in this film. Ships aren't simply staring at eachother, waiting for somebody to fire the next shot. Here, they're swooping past eachother, and diving under chunks of ship debris; it's just a ton of fun to watch. Also, the fight choreography is top-notch, and - in some ways - more engaging than any of the ship battles in the movie. If anything, I felt that there was almost too much action in the film. Not a huge gripe, but there were a few action sequences that felt irrelevant to the story. Overall, the action, as well as the special effects, are superb.

The most impressive part of the movie, however, is the acting. Even as somebody who hasn't watched a whole lot of the orginal TV series, I felt that each of the actors nailed their respective characters [i]perfectly[/i]. Zachary Quinto as Spock and Karl Urban as Dr. Bones McCoy were especially brilliant, from their mannerisms and nuances, to just the overall essence of their characters. The only character whose motivations I wasn't able to buy was Nero, despite being very well portrayed by Eric Bana.

Overall, [i]Star Trek[/i] is a smart, funny, action-packed thrill ride. Whether you're a die-hard Star Trek fan or somebody who has never even heard of the series up until now, you'll have an absolute blast. This is not only my second favorite film of the year so far (with [i]Coraline[/i] still sitting firmly at the #1 spot), but one of the finest science fiction movies I've ever seen.

[b]9/10[/b]

X-Men Origins - Wolverine
½

Quick thoughts on the X-Men trilogy: I thoroughly enjoyed the first film, with its compelling storyline, solid acting, and terrific action. X2 improved upon part one in just about every aspect, and is one of my personal favorite comic book films; and while I did enjoy the third movie, I felt that it was a pretty dramatic step down from its predecessor. I went into X-Men Origins hoping for the best, though like most viewers, expecting the worst. Now having seen the film, I have to say that, while still not a particularly good film, Wolverine proves to be a better start of the summer movie season than most.

The acting in the film, first of all, is all over the place. Some performances capture the essence of their respective character perfectly (most notably Logan and, my favorite of the bunch, Gambit), while others simply come across as overdone at times (such as Stryker and Wraith). The script is the real culprit, however, as the film is filled to the brim with cheesy dialogue. There are also a couple of characters from the previous X-Men films who, I felt, were shoehorned into this movie; and while I hate to be nitpicky, Wolverine's "claws" looked incredibly fake to me.

Despite these flaws, though, Wolverine is an occasionally fun movie. The action, although a bit too frenetic at times, is solid for the most part, with a couple of sequences that truly stand out being the helicopter "chase scene" and the film's climax.

While I can understand why this film has already gotten such a bad rap from long-time comic book fans and critics alike, X-Men Origins: Wolverine worked for me, at least to some extent. A good amount of the acting seemed overdone, the dialogue came across as cheesy throughout a good chunk of the film, and some characters felt as though there were placed in the movie just for the sake of it. That said, the occasionally witty dialogue and solid action made it somewhat entertaining. It's not a film that I'm going to remember a year from now (perhaps not even several months from now), but I'd be lying if I said that I didn't have a bit of fun.

Earth (Disneynature's Earth) (Planet Earth)

Admittedly, I'm not a [i]huge[/i] fan of documentaries in general, so I was personally a bit unsure about [i]Earth[/i]. Having been thoroughly impressed by the trailers, though, I decided to give the film a chance. And while not terribly informative or thought-provoking, [i]Earth[/i] proves to be a visually breathtaking film, and a solid initial effort from Disneynature.

Let me say again that - at the risk of sounding cliché - the cinematography in [i]Earth[/i] is absolutely breathtaking. Honestly, this is the most beautiful-looking film I've seen in some time. From the lush forests of South America, to the tranquil, snow-covered Boreal Forest, the vistas showcased are nothing short of incredible. This is a film that [i]has[/i] to be seen on the big screen (though it's a shame that the film wasn't displayed in IMAX), and if nothing else, you'll at least appreciate the film for its visuals.

The problem with [i]Earth[/i], though, is its lack of focus. While it was apparently intended by the filmmakers that the film be about the journey of these three animal families, it never really feels like it. I felt that, especially in the case of the two whales, more time should've been spent focusing on them, as their few scenes are easily the most intriguing parts of the film. In fact, while the Superb Bird of Paradise's mating ritual scene is simply hilarious, seeing a family of baby chicks fail first flight as they jump from a tree and plummet to the mound of leaves is adorable (which actually includes a pretty clever reference to a certain Pixar film), and the entire film just [i]looks[/i] astonishing, the majority of the middle portion of the film just feels hollow to me. Ontop of that, [i]Earth[/i] seems somewhat unbalanced in its desire to teach, as well as entertain.

Despite these flaws, though, [i]Earth[/i] is worth seeing. The story of these three families, while a bit too short, is both heartwarming and borderline tear-jerking. James Earl Jones does a fantastic job as the film's narrator, and the action sequences, though few and far between, literally had me on the edge of my seat. Check it out, folks.

[b]7.5/10[/b]

Observe and Report

Um...Wow. To be honest, I'm not exactly sure what to say in this review. Let me just start off by saying that I completely understand why this film has been getting such mixed reactions from both audiences and critics alike. There is absolutely nothing likable or endearing about any of these characters (save for perhaps Collette Wolfe's character, Nell), and the whole film just creates an uncomfortable feeling. For me personally, though, that's precisely why [i]Observe and Report[/i] works.

Seth Rogen, who gives the best performance of his career so far, adds a surprising amount of depth to the borderline psychotic Ronnie, and Michael Peña does a fantastic job as crime-fighting partner. In fact, while some view it as merely a distraction, my favorite part of the film is their montage, in which the two security guards "enforce justice" upon a group of skateboarders; I was just dying throughout that entire sequence. Also, Anna Faris and Ray Liotta are both solid as Ronnie's trashy "girl of his dreams" and adversary, respectively.

Now, again, this movie doesn't cater to all tastes. Seriously, there are some moments in this that are truly disturbing (most notably the film's climax). However, it's that brand of dark humor and mean spirit that had me laughing uncontrollably. Ontop of that, it's just refreshing to see a comedy that's completely different.

If you're tired of the predictability of today's films of this genre, and if you believe that comedy should ocassionally make you feel uneasy, then this will probably be one of your favorite comedies of the year. It automatically earns my respect for taking bold chances (that I felt paid off, for the most part) in such a "play-it-safe" genre. And aside from [i]Coraline[/i] (which has quickly become my absolute favorite movie of all time), [i]Observe and Report[/i] is my favorite film of '09 thus far.

Monsters vs. Aliens
½

Let's get this out of the way first: I'm not a huge fan of DreamWorks Animation. Usually consisting of nothing more than unfunny pop culture gags, I think the majority of their films are mediocre at best, with the only ones that I really enjoyed being the first [i]Shrek[/i] and [i]Kung Fu Panda[/i]. The trailers for [i]Monsters vs. Aliens[/i] did get me interested, though, and the voice cast seemed pretty impressive. Even so, I was still fairly skeptical about how it would finally turn out. Now, having seen the film, I have to say that I was [i]very[/i] pleasantly surprised.

There isn't a whole lot in the way of story [and character development], but suffice it to say, it serves its purpose. What makes [i]Monsters vs. Aliens[/i] such an enjoyable film is how it works as a comedy. The pop culture references are still present, but I found them to be more clever and funny this time around, and in much smaller amounts. I was smiling through virtually the entire film, and had about 5 or 6 hard laugh-out-loud moments throughout. As expected, I was also very impressed by the voice cast in this movie. Hugh Laurie does a fantastic job as the voice of the sophisticated (though mildly insane) Dr. Cockroach, and most of the laughs are generated by Seth Rogen's performance as B.O.B.. Even Reese Witherspoon helps you feel some sympathy for her character near the beginning of the film, and Stephen Colbert does a surprisingly solid job as President Hathaway.

The 3D, while not used as effectively as it was in [i]Coraline[/i], is still one of the more impressive showcasings that I've seen, and that's largely due to the film's incredible action sequences. Seriously, this is some of the best action that I've seen in an animated film; as far as I'm concerned, it's right up there with that of [i]The Incredibles[/i].

Overall, I found [i]Monsters vs. Aliens[/i] to be a surprisingly entertaining film, with clever and witty dialogue, as well as terrific action. I'm not usually in favor of sequels, but if they're able to keep it as balanced and charming, I would honestly like to see this become a successful, long-running franchise. Nice job, folks at DreamWorks Animation.

Watchmen
Watchmen(2009)

While I was pretty excited going into Watchmen, one of my biggest fears was that the film would only cater to fans of the graphic novel. However, as one of the uninitiated, I can safely say that Zack Snyder's latest does not disappoint. First of all, I found the action/combat sequences in Watchmen to be some of the best that I've seen in any comic book movie. Many have complained about the film's use of slow-motion, but it really never bothered me here. As I've said before, it's definitely preferable to the fast, close-up quick cuts used in many action sequences nowadays (most notably those found in Batman Begins). Now, it did get on my nerves a bit when it was used in 300, but somehow, it manages to work perfectly in Watchmen. Beautiful in both choreography and shooting, the film gives the audience clear shots of every bit of the action.

As far as the acting is concerned, Watchmen delivers for the most part. However, one of the cast members that's been receiving a lot of negativity already has been Malin Akerman as Silk Specter II. While I didn't think that she did a great job, she certainly wasn't horrible; her performance was what I'd call decent.

Now, Jackie Earle Haley, on the other hand, does an absolutely incredible job as Rorschach, creating what I think is one of the coolest comic book film characters ever. His desire to enforce justice grounds his loose grip on sanity, and has his past is explored throughout the film, we begin to understand how and why he snapped. Two other performances that I really enjoyed were those of Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian, and Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan, whose character is no less complex than Rorschach's. His observations of the crumbling world help set the context of the film's beautifully executed story. Patrick Wilson also does a fine job as Nite Owl II, although Matthew Goode felt a bit miscast as Ozymandias.

When you get down to it, Watchmen is about the mystery behind who is killing off the heroes. The movie got me caught up in this whole pursuit, and it was one of those few times when, throughout almost the entire duration of the film, I was literally on the edge of my seat.

Overall, Watchmen is a thoroughly entertaining film with complex characters, a compelling story, and some of the best action sequences that I've seen from any comic book movie. There are a couple of issues that I have in terms of casting, but nothing too major. Go out and see it.

Coraline
Coraline(2009)

First off, the visuals in Coraline are absolutely, undeniably breathtaking. I managed to catch this film in 3D, and I have to say that I admire the way that it's used here, as it doesn't rely on constant "flying off of the screen and into your face?" moments. In fact, this is probably the most effective 3D movie I've ever seen, right up there with 2007's Beowulf (which, coincidentally, was also co-written by Neil Gaiman). That said, I'm sure that Coraline looks almost just as beautiful in 2D, as nearly all of the environments are just so incredibly lush, and the ones that aren't are bizarre and spooky.

Ontop of being one of the best 3D films I've ever seen, this is also one of the scariest animated films - period - that I've watched. Seriously, there were several kids in the audience screaming during the movie's opening credits (which involves a cloth doll having her innards removed and replaced by The Other Mother, and is definitely one of the more creepishly enjoyable moments of the film). I'm not sure if I would recommend Coraline to anyone under the age of 6.

As far as the story and characters go, and for somebody who hasn't read the book, I was thoroughly impressed. It's an involving, sophisticated fairytale with a ton of heart, and one that I'm sure a lot of adults will enjoy. Ontop of Coraline being such a lovable protagonist, The Other Mother is brilliantly frightening in all of her forms, rivaling some of the best animated villains before her. Another one of my favorite characters was The Cat (voiced excellently by Keith David), who is used as a great "tool" near the end of the film. XD About the only problem that I had was that Coraline's real parents treat her with such disdain throughout the beginning of the movie. Again, even as somebody who hasn't read the book (though now I'm really wanting to), I still felt that that was a little...off.

Overall, Coraline is an excellent work of art that surpassed most of my already high expectations. It's the first film that I've seen from 2009, and already I consider this to be better than any of the movies released in '08, which is saying a ton. In fact, while I've only seen the movie two times at this point, and that some might mock me for saying this, I can't help but say that Coraline is personally my favorite film of all time. Seriously, go out and see this movie, folks -in 2D or 3D. I'll definitely be seeing it at least one more time while it's still in theaters.

Bolt
Bolt(2008)

The 2000s have not been very kind to Walt Disney Animation. While there has been the occasional Emperor's New Groove or Lilo and Stitch, the majority of their films from this decade have been rather mediocre (most notably 2005's Chicken Little, which - ironically - remains the studio's highest-grossing film of the 2000s). With that said, I initially had some doubts about Bolt, despite hearing that it would be Disney Animation's first film supervised by Pixar founder John Lasseter. The surprisingly positive reviews posted shortly before the film's release convinced me to buy a ticket. Thankfully, I was forced to eat my words; welcome back, Disney.

The film revolves around Bolt, a white German Shephered who has spent his entire life on the set of a TV show in which he portrays a "superdog". As a result, he believes that the events on film (and his super powers) are real. When he is accidentally shipped from his Hollywood soundstage to New York City, he embarks on a cross-country journey to reunite with his owner and co-star, Penny. Along the way, Bolt teams up with a jaded alley cat named Mittens and a TV-obsessed hamster named Rhino who also happens to be an extreme Bolt fanboy.

First of all, the effects in this movie are unbelievable. Everything in the movie looks so realistic and yet doesn't contradict with the animated cartoon-esquire characters. Also, while Bolt is obviously the star of the movie, the real comedy comes from his unlikely companions. In fact, my favorite character of the bunch is Mittens the cat, voiced excellently by Susie Essman. Very seldom do I hear/see a character (animated or otherwise) and say "I can't imagine anybody doing a better job as the voice of him/her", but Essman really brings a lot to this already memorable character. And though I found him to be pretty irritating at first, some of the best lines in the movie come from Rhino the hamster.

Lastly, in one of the opening scenes we see Bolt as he is in the TV Show to set the understanding of Bolt's world. Seriously, that was made of awesome. The scene was action packed and full of excitement. I would watch the show that Bolt is in. XD So, I wasn't that interested in seeing it, but very glad that I did. If I had to have a complaint, it would be that it takes some ideas from several other films (such as Homeward Bound, Toy Story, and The Truman Show). That said, it still feels like its own film.

With terrific animation, an incredibly heartwarming story, and some of the most endearing characters I've ever seen on film (animated or otherwise), Bolt has not only become my favorite Disney film (Pixar included), but also one of my (personal) top 3 favorite movies of all time. It's also one of the very few films that manages to bring me to tears every time that I watch it, and when a movie is able to affect me on that kind of level, it automatically becomes a winner.