Justin Smith's Profile - Rotten Tomatoes

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Rating History

Broken Sun
Broken Sun (2008)
6 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Everyday we are faced with multiple decisions, some of which involve people close to us, but what if your decision was your friend, wounded on the battlefield, begging you to kill him so he would not have to live as a prisoner? Would you do it? Could you do it? Or would you let them live, and be forever haunted that you made the wrong decision?
Broken Sun is the tale of two men who, despite being from different parts of the world, each with a different belief system on life, death, and honor, find themselves sharing a small living space near the end of World War II. Jack (Jai Koutrae) lives alone in a small shack on a quiet Australian farm. His days and nights would come and go peaceably if not for the constant hallucinations of his long dead war buddy from his tour in France during World War I. This, along with a bad cough caused by prolonged exposure to mustard gas, makes it difficult for Jack to enjoy his otherwise serene lifestyle.
After a botched escape attempt by Japanese soldiers from a nearby POW camp, Masaru (Shingo Usami) stumbles onto Jack's farm and into his life. The men, at first untrusting and at odds with each other, soon form a friendship of sorts as they're desire for companionship and an understanding of the suffering they've both faced from war, finds them in an awkward friendship.
As the film jumps back and forth from Jack's farm, his memories of WWI, and Masaru's memories of life in WWII, before the POW camp, the cinematographic color pallet changes from warm yellow, to dingy greenish-gray, to bright greens, yellows, and white sunshine. This technique makes is easy to tell what time period we are seeing at any given time and changes the mood of the scenes as well.
Koutrae is believable as Jack, the tortured soul who is haunted by visions of a war buddy he feels he betrayed several years ago on the battlefield. Jack is likable and gives the sense that he wants to put the war and the killing behind him and focus on his new simple life. Usami's portrayal as Masaru, gives heart to a character that has been taught to be a killer, and to be willing to kill himself to keep his honor so his family will never know he was a prisoner. This heart, and a desire for self-preservation, is what gives Masaru and Jack common emotional ground. They're done with the wars and they want to live peaceful lives.
Eventually, Jack and Masaru are faced with the same question, and they each deal with it in a different way, but there's not a lot of meat to the story. We're given a look into their lives and see how they acted as soldiers, compared to who they are now, but the film doesn't get much deeper than that. The characters are developed, but in the end, we don't feel for them as strongly as we should.
While Broken Sun is an interesting look at how people of other cultures can overcome obstacles to become friends, it remains too close to the surface and doesn't go as deep as it should into the characters, which still leaves us with an enjoyable film, but not the great work it could have been.

Scrooged (1988)
6 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Scrooged may not be as overlooked and underrated as other films in this category, but it's the holidays and Scrooged fits the bill better than any Christmas film I know. You may have seen it before, especially if you grew up in the 1980s, but most people I know haven't seen it since the 80s and are in need of a re-watch.

Scrooged is a unique take on the oft-filmed Charles Dickens classic story, A Christmas Carol. Frank Cross (Bill Murray), a TV station executive, is a modern day Scrooge, who runs second rate Christmas fodder such as The Night the Reindeer Died, around the holidays. Cross's company is in the process of preparing a live televised performance of the very tale he's about to become a part of. Meanwhile, Cross is busy firing employees, forcing others to work late, and even arguing with a member of the censor board about the visibility of an actresses nipples in her costume.
After a visit from his deceased boss (who gives Cross the usual spiel about how he's a bad person and he'll be visited by three spirits), Cross, in a fit of desperation and panic, contacts his old flame, Claire (Karen Allen) who has taken to helping others at a homeless shelter. From here, the film takes on the form of any other 'Scrooge' film, except with a comedic twist.
Bill Murray is always going to be Bill Murray in any comedy role. Which means Cross is a witty, insensitive, megalomaniac, and we love him all the more for it. This is a perfect blend for an updated version of the penny pinching miser we all love to hate.
Supporting roles are filled with talent that you would have recognized in the 80s, but may be asking, "Who?", when they're names are presented to you today. David Johansen is entertaining as the cigar chomping cab driving Ghost of Christmas Past who taunts Cross while his emotional past is presented to him. Carol Kane (who I loved in The Princess Bride (1987) and Transylvania 6-5000 (1985)) always brings spark and life to her roles, and her rendition of the Ghost of Christmas Present is no exception. Kane even manages to use a toaster as a weapon while appearing as pure and wholesome as the Good Witch of the North from the land of Oz.
I'll admit it here and now (and proudly too), I'm a die hard Bobcat Goldthwait fan. If Bobcat is in it (or directing it), I'll watch it. I'd like to shake the hand of whoever come up with the idea of putting Bill Murray and Bobcat Goldthwait together in a movie. Every moment these two share on screen is comedy gold.
A handful of cameos, which older film goers will enjoy, are dropped into the comedy mix, however, today's 20-somethings may be left scratching their heads wondering why you're amused by the presence of Mary Lou Retton, Robert Goulet, and even the unforgettable Lee Majors.
Whether Scrooged is new to you, or a long lost holiday friend to reconnect with, it's sure to give you a dysfunctional form of holiday cheer while providing a new twist on a classic story. This Christmas, get your family and friends together and show them exactly why Bill Murray is still sought out after all these years.

127 Hours
127 Hours (2010)
6 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

On April 25th of 2003, hiker, Aron Ralston, headed out to the rocky desert areas near Canyonlands National Park, Utah. With minimal supplies, and no one knowing where he was headed, Aron was unwittingly setting the stage for a life changing event in the Bluejohn Canyon.
127 Hours is director Danny Boyle's biopic about the five days Ralston (James Franco) spent with his arm wedged between a boulder and the rock wall of the Bluejohn Canyon.
Before getting his arm trapped, Ralston meets two friendly, and attractive, female hikers, Kristi (Kate Mara) and Megan (Amber Tamblyn), who aren't sure if they're headed in the right direction. The happy-go-lucky Ralston is eager to help and after showing them the 'best' way to reach their destination (which involves squeezing through a crevice and dropping into a pool of water below), the girls show their appreciation by inviting Ralston to a party going on later that night, but the canyon has different plans for Ralston.
What happens next is the meat of the film. Once Ralston is back on his own, a boulder gives way and he finds himself trapped. With his arm pinned between the bolder and the canyon wall, Ralston comes to the inevitable conclusion: the arm must come off. But not before exhausting every other option available to him.
Movies like 127 Hours, where most of the film takes place in one location, it's necessary to jump through hoops to keep the audience interested. Danny Boyle, with the help of an excellent performance from James Franco, shows that he has the ability to keep the audience interested while Ralston is all but immobile in the deep and narrow canyon. Boyle uses a combination of camera angles and movements, along with the memories and hallucinations Ralston experienced while trapped in the canyon, to keep the film moving. Breathtaking shots of the landscape not only give the viewer a break from the claustrophobic canyon, but also make it clear how secluded Ralston is from the rest of the world.
Saying that James Franco delivers an Oscar worthy performance is an understatement. His portrayal of Ralston, as the happy-go-lucky care-free spirit with a great sense of humor, would have been a great performance in any film, but being able to keep it up through the films many intense situations, is the mark of a great actor.
It should be noted that Boyle is a master of song selection. Tunes that would seem out of place on their own fit perfectly in the context of their scenes. Some songs help portray the humor that Boyle provides as a way to relieve the tension between the intense (and often graphic) drama throughout the film.
As for the removal of Ralston's arm, I will say that while it is graphic, it's not only what you see that makes you cringe, but the way Boyle makes you 'feel' every second of what is happening.
The execution of 127 Hours is not the only thing that makes it a really good film, it's also how close the filmmakers stuck to the actual events and how the audience is affected by watching it (some theaters have even reported faintings). It's a film that should be seen, but I'd advise against taking people with a weak stomach.

Due Date
Due Date (2010)
6 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987) was the standout odd couple road movie of the 1980s, Due Date may not stand out the same way, but following a similar format as the aforementioned John Hughes classic (which starred Steve Martin and John Candy), Due Date holds its own. Providing originality within a classic format, Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis work well as a team, and while there are a few not-as-funny-as-it-could-have-been moments, the rest of the film provides enough laughs, making it easy to overlook these few flaws.
Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jr.) is a well to do businessman, flying home to Los Angeles to be with his pregnant wife before she gives birth, or so he thinks. Ethan Tremblay (Zack Galifianakis), who has 90 friends on Facebook (although 12 of them are pending) is also headed to Los Angeles (or Hollywood as Ethan prefers to call it) with his dog, Sonny, where he hopes to become an actor on his favorite TV series, Two and a Half Men.
True to form with Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Peter and Ethan have a brief encounter on the way to the Atlanta airport, which sets the tone for the remainder of the film. After inevitably getting kicked from their flight, Peter and Ethan reluctantly become travel mates as they take on the open road, via rental car, across the country to Los Angeles. Along the way, Peter and Ethan encounter a variety of characters, including a drug dealer from Craigslist, unruly children, a disabled veteran, and (you guessed it) airport security (most of which are filled with cameos you're sure to enjoy).
The film didn't set well with critics and I can only image this is a result of comparisons to Planes, Trains & Automobiles, and director Todd Philips previous outing with Galifianakis, The Hangover (2009). It can be argued that Due Date is not as good as either of those films, but that doesn't make it bad. Due Date works as a cross between these two films and ups the crudeness in the process.
Galifianakis as Ethan is more underhanded and unintelligent than John Candy's Del Griffith. Not to mention Ethan's tight ass, tight pants walk, complete with scarf (in the summer no less), makes him an odd creature to behold. On the flip side, the character of Peter could be the nephew of Steve Martin's Neal Page, as they both go through the same range of emotions and realizations in regard to their travel partners and their own selves.
With all the remakes, reboots, and rehashes going on in Hollywood these days, it's good to see a film that, while technically fitting into one of these categories, manages to present itself in a way that is still entertaining while reminding us why we fell in love with the odd couple road movie in the first place.

Until the Light Takes Us
6 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

I went into Until the Light Takes Us with no prior knowledge of its subject. After being given the assignment, I read a brief synopsis, which informed me that I was in for Norwegian black metal music and church burnings. That was enough to peak my interest, but what I received was more than black metal and smoldering churches, I saw depth in, and had sympathy for, the two central characters in this documentary.
We first meet Gylve "Fenriz" Nagell (Darkthrone, Valhall), who is traveling by train when his belongings get searched by the officials on board (we later learn this happens often to Nagell). Nagell has been in the music business since the late 1980s, his face reflects the unsettled frustration with the world around him, he's looking for something real, tangible, something to bring him joy. At the same time, he's willing to let the camera follow him through his daily life as he speaks candidly about his life and the events surrounding the central subject of the film, which leads us to Varg "Count Grishnackh" Vikernes.
Vikernes (Buzum, Mayhem) can only take us through his life with his words, because (at the time this documentary was filmed) he's in the Trondheim Maximum Security Prison in Norway. Initially we're not told why Varg is there, but as the story unfolds we learn that he is not only responsible for some of the church burnings, but also murder (although Varg's testimony points to it being a matter of self-defense).
As a music buff, it's interesting to learn about the roots of black metal in Norway and how Nagell and Vikernes each played a role in its development, however, what makes this documentary interesting (beyond learning what seems to be a more honest and believable account of what really happened with the church burnings and murder), is the glimpse of what lies deeper within Nagell and Vikernes.
Nagell is subdued, and often appears uninterested in the camera and the questions. On the surface it's easy to think Nagell's done this a thousand times before, it's old hat for him, but later it becomes clear that Nagell has passion for what he does and passion for the truth to be told. Most artists say they're not in it for the money, but I think Nagell's voice rings true, he's a willing slave to his craft.
Just as Nagell is true to his music, Vikernes is as true to his political beliefs. Both men are searching for truth, but Nagell has come closer to finding it. Vikernes seems more sane in this film than he does if you read about him, but regardless, Vikernes is still seeking truth, however, he's at a disadvantage because his mind has been clouded with unsound ideals. And while it can be argued that every individual is responsible for their own deeds and thoughts, Vikernes is someone whose well intended search has led him down a misguided path. With that said, both men have a mutual respect for each other, and the paths they've chosen, and this is what really drives the film.
There are others interviewed and discussed throughout the film, most of which are uninteresting and spout off a few lines of uninspired thought, before falling back into obscurity, where they most likely belong (Harmony Korine even shows up and provides his own misguided take on the subject). It is worth noting Bjarne Melgaard, who Nagell begrudgingly meets during an art exhibit. Melgaard is influenced by the Norwegian black metal, but like so many others, he just doesn't get it. Kjetil-Vidar "Frost" Haraldstad, who is associated with Satyricon, as well as other black metal bands, gets involved with Melgaard for a gripping and intense piece of performance art that ends up being too much for even the hardcore fans.
Until the Light Takes Us delivers on its goal of getting the truth out about Norwegian black metal, church burnings, and murder, but it would have been even better to dive deeper into the lives of Nagell and Vikernes, while leaving some of the other interviewees on the cutting room floor. Be sure to watch after the end credits, as Nagell shows his humorous side and hams it up for the camera, giving the fans, and the media, exactly what they want.