Digital Philosophe's Movie Ratings - Rotten Tomatoes

Movie Ratings and Reviews

Avatar
Avatar(2009)
½

James Cameron's Avatar is, like many modern science-fiction films, so obsessed with the world it creates that it forgets it needs to put interesting characters in that world, and give them an interesting plot to follow.

If you remove the gorgeous CGI and the computer animation and the special effects and the amazing lightshow and vibrant colors from the film, you really don't have much left. The plot is a combination of Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke and Lucas's Star Wars Episode Six. Big bad guys with advanced technology piss off forest, forest retaliates, and to the surprise of no one, forest eventually wins. Avatar tries to do a little more with this story than films in the past by adding a twist of Pocohontas, but it's not enough.

The characters are all stereotypes. Not archetypes, stereotypes. There's your do-whatever-it-takes-ruthless businessman who doesn't give a gosh darn about anything but money, your MISTER SCIENTIST, your hard-boiled-hard-talking-hard-fighting general guy, etc. I could go on with each and every character in the movie.

The script is not terribly well-written, and you'll hear the characters say some pretty odd things sometimes. Also, the pacing of the movie feels very inconsistent. Sometimes the movie covers the plot at breakneck speed, other times I would have checked my watch if I had one on.

If you don't mind watching a movie you're sure you've watched before but with a different setting, and one of the biggest deus ex machinas ever, you'll enjoy the movie. I did. It's a beautiful movie and it's very fun to watch, but I'm almost certain I will forget about it entirely in a week or so.

Oh yeah, and forest sex. Forest sex is hot. Maybe I'll remember that.

9
9(2009)
½

9 gets seven points for its visuals, and zero points for everything else.

I do not regret buying the ticket. It is well worth eight dollars simply to look at how beautiful the art is. Even though I've seen the whole "post-apocalyptic" environment before, 9's world has its own personality and uniqueness that fits perfectly with the characters and music. Watching the tiny, carefully-crafted characters move around in what's left of the dead world never gets dull.

Unfortunately, every other part of the movie does. I hate to say it, but the plot and stereotypical characters drag the film along through the dirt rather than elevate it. The plot is worthy only of a straight-to-tv Disney movie. Honestly, stop me if you've heard this one before: older, authority-type figure sets strict rules for his family/colony/whatever for "the good of the ___" or "to keep us safe." Teenage youth says rules are unfair, disobeys them, and through a few twists and turns, the older obvious metaphor for conservatism learns the error of his ways and everyone is happy. Seriously. The plot is that predictable and tired, which is very odd considering the visuals are anything but. It's just really odd to have such a dull story in such an interesting world.

Thematically, the plot is just as upbeat, which again, is strange because it doesn't seem to fit the landscape at all. The blind pursuit of technology will destroy us all. Yes, thank you, Mr. Director, I've known that since 1968's 2001: A Space Odyssey. And those Terminator movies. And the Matrix. And come to think of it, just about every movie involving a computer or machines...weird. Anyway, you see, after our technology inevitably turns against us (WE SHOULD HAVE LISTENED!!), we can only hope to survive if we all cooperate, throw away dogma and conservatism, and give chicks weapons. A fine idea, but it's not very interesting to watch on screen.

The characters do occasionally say interesting things, and the plot isn't always yawn-inducing, but set against the world around it, it seems a lot worse than it is.

But go see it. It's an intertaining movie, and it's worth watching just so you can imagine what will come next in the world of animation.

District 9
District 9(2009)

The documentary-blended-with-action style roller coaster ride of District 9 is well-made and entertaining, but loose ends and plot holes prevent the movie from being truly stunning.

I must say, when I first saw the trailer for this movie, I was not very excited. It looked like yet another "this-is-why-you-should-hate-humanity" liberal propoganda machine. I mean come on, the aliens just want to go home, right? And we're probably keeping them prisoner until they give us all of their military secrets and perform science experiments on them so we can advance our own civilization at the cost of theirs. And we'll do everything violently, right, because that's how everyone on Earth thinks and acts: with a gun in hand. So I watched the movie, and most of my assumptions were correct, but...in a good way.

What I mean is, I accurately predicted most of the backstory of District 9, but the plot itself was original and unexpected. The way in which the characters were portrayed elevates the movie beyond what I had expected. The expressions and speech of the main characters created a fantastic moral dilemma: Wickus, the lead male, is by no means a bad guy, and you find yourself rooting for him the whole movie even as he participates in the suffering of the alien species. The "lead" alien, by hardly saying anything at all, shows you life on the other side of the District 9 fence, and you find yourself rooting for him also. So who should win? The rest of the movie answers the question, but leaves other questions wide open for debate, or simple confusion.

Yes, sadly, there are plenty of plot holes in District 9, but they aren't blatant enough to be distracting. The action and intrigue kept me entertained, not questioning. A lot of the backstory needed further explanation, but the camera convinced me to just go with it rather than stop right there and raise an eyebrow. However, at the end of the movie, I reviewed the timeline in my head and found that I wished more questions had been answered. Especially because the film was mock-documentary style.

But with a strong moral stance and that gentle tap on the shoulder reminding us of our own humanity, along with a simply thrilling and entertaining story to tell, District 9 delivers a great movie.

Ponyo
Ponyo(2009)

Ponyo, though far from Miyazaki's best work, is still a fantastic piece of art from a director who understands how to use animation and film itself to captivate and amaze.

The plot of Ponyo is something like The Little Mermaid with a Japanese/Miyazaki twist, which is unfortunately the biggest flaw of the movie. The plot seemed unnecessarily complicated at times, too simple at others, but all the while being a little too similar to the old Disney classic. There's nothing wrong with a re-telling of an old fairy tale, but surprisingly, Miyazaki failed to do anything remarkably new with it. The changes that were made were welcome, but were sometimes convoluted, making me unsure about what Miyazaki was attempting to accomplish.

However, the overall theme of the work is impossible to miss, yet satisfyingly subtle. It avoids all of the usual pitfalls of the traditional movie-for-kids-but-with-a-message-for-adults genre. Miyazake creates a true wonderland, and with care and rarely-off precision, tells a beautiful love story that's simple enough for kids to enjoy yet deep enough to keep adults interested and ultimately, motivated to think, the aim of all art.

The characters are a fairly interesting bunch, but towards the climax of the movie, loose ends became tied up a bit quickly for my tastes. Besides Ponyo, Sosuke, and his mother, the characters seemed almost inconsequential. However, Ponyo and Sosuke are so fascinating on-screen together and alone that I could easily watch two more hours of their childish antics. They share true believability as children and as pieces of an elaborate puzzle in Miyazaki's world.

The film itself is quite beautiful. In true Studio Ghibli style, every frame of the movie is a piece of art in itself, and the visuals never once fail to amaze. And you'll never be able to get the theme song out of your head. Ever. And that's a good thing, because it's awesome.

Watching Ponyo was definitely a treat for me, and if you don't focus too hard on the shortcomings, you'll be spirited away.

See what I did there?

The Hurt Locker

For a movie about the army equivalent of a bomb squad, there are surprisingly few explosions. And that slow, tense, second-by-second drama is what makes this picture great above all its other positives.

I applaud The Hurt Locker's director for recognizing that great war movies aren't really about the wars. This movie was refreshingly non-biased, and very few scenes carry any political message. Instead, the movie focuses on the strange little world that war itself creates, and lets the well-acted and well-shaped characters explore the dimensions of brotherhood, comradery, and of course life and death.

There are few flaws in this movie. Some scenes don't end as predicted, and sometimes the characters behave in unexpected ways without any real motivation to, but these mistakes are easily forgiveable and are off-screen quickly.

I rather liked the soundtrack as well. Nothing like heavy metal to get the blood pumping. One of the more interesting aspects of this movie has to do with the blaring, chaotic music: it's the main character's favorite. In total silence he quickly and skillfully manipulates pieces of wire and metal to disarm explosives that would shatter his bones and burst his organs. Then he comes back to base, cranks hardcore metal, and quietly focuses. As a character living constantly on the edge, the movie always finds ways to both entertain you with his behavior and show you a little piece of his life. Very well done.

As each of the three main characters is carried through the journey of war, the audience is strapped to their backs, right behind them. As the characters and plot mature, so do we all, in a sense. Like most of the film, dichotemy is key: we learn about lonliness and togetherness, calm and fury, the neverending, and the over-too-soon.

Funny People
Funny People(2009)
½

Funny People has its moments of humor, intelligence, depth, and emotion, but unfortunately, not even Apatow can make a three hour movie out of moments.

The real flaw in this movie is that it's too spaced out to have any real depth: it tries to cover too much ground, and as a result, the whole pool becomes shallow. It's physics. The first hour of the movie is traditional Apatow cock comedy, but then someone at the helm flipped the drama switch and turned the remainder of the film into a tragicomedy with nothing of interest to say. This film unfortunately falls into a trap my 11th grade English teacher used to describe: it acknowledges the complexity, but it doesn't explain it. Apatow creates complex characters with a sardonic edge, but I never found any of the characters particularly funny, dark, or valuable. They were all too stale to connect with for me.

To go back to an earlier point, Funny People is an absurdist tragicomedy, featuring bizarre plot turns and characters, sardonic humor, and a noticeable lack of resolution. The problem is, many elements have to go right for the whole tragicomedy deal to really come together on the level of Beckett or Ionesco. Most of the humor is reasonably funny and hints at larger issues of emotional insecurity, sex, etc., but there's plenty of lame sex jokes that failed to really have an impact on me and distracted me from the plot. On the other side of the coin, the drama of the film, Apatow introduces interesting characters and concepts but fails to deliver any meaningful message with them.

The acting is decent, and the script is okay, but I think Apatow was aiming for the stars and landed somewhere in the Lifetime-original-movie-that's-funny-for-the-wrong-reasons atmosphere. It's a fine effort to create a comedy with depth and purpose, but it's off the mark.

Up
Up(2009)

Pixar once again finds away to not only create beauty on film, but to define what an animated movie should be. Up places itself easily on Pixar's wall of fame, and with few flaws, is likely to be remembered as one of the best Pixar films of all time.

Much like WALL-E or Toy Story, Up is an adventure movie for children that cleverly and seamlessly becomes a film for adults. The plot is a fantastic journey through faroff destinations as well as the soul. Not to be outdone by WALL-E, Up is a tearjerker, both sorrowful and remarkably rejoiceful at times.

And that's an important point, a winning formula that Pixar has been re-imagining for years. Up is not a story about loving life. Up does not face the audience and tell them firmly (like so many children's movies do) that everything will be okay, there are no boogeymen, and happiness is assured in life. Up is relentlessy realistic in it's outlook towards life, yet this theme is blended perfectly into a fantasy story full of wonder and beauty. Up reminds me that the spirit of adventure is not bound in physical objects, or any corporeal form at all; it comes from the heart. It is a spirit that reaches inside of all of us and assures us that there really is beauty out there, if we care to find it. And Up tells me all of this without ten celebrity voices and a cheap, predictable plot. And thank God, no singing.

Up is indeed a massive achievement, even with its flaws. Some scenes feel a bit longer than they have to be, and occasionally the film pulls antagonists out of a hat, but these issues are minor, and the film is heavily enjoyable regardless.

I can't believe I waited so long to see this movie. Up is the kind of movie that you'll hear and see in your head for months afterwards, until you give in and see it in theaters again. Go see Up, and marvel at Pixar's amazing ability to take life and animate it for us all.

And because this is a popular thing to do, a list of my favorite Pixar movies:

1) WALL-E
2) Finding Nemo
3) Toy Story
4) Up
5) The Incredibles
6) Toy Story 2
7) Monsters, Inc.
8) Ratatouille
9) Cars
10) A Bug's Life

Public Enemies
½

Public Enemies is a good movie, but it feels incomplete, and thereby unsatisfying.

To put it simply, I was not convinced by this movie. I was convinced that I was watching Dillinger and his persuers tear up cities in the 1930s, yes, but I wasn't convinced that what I was watching was meaningful, or even particularly interesting.

One of the major issues with this movie is the lack of character development. Don't get me wrong, the actors all did fine jobs, but I felt that each of them could have benefited from more screentime to develop their characters. Too often a scene prepares to introduce some intriguing element to the plot or open a window into a character...only to cut away right before the climactic moment. I found myself wanting Depp's character to make a speech...talk to his men, prepare them for a battle, or maybe talk to his girl, prepare her for a long trip away...but instead I get a mumbled line and a slight smirk. And that works, by the way, but not for two hours. Melvin, Billie, and Jack have the most screentime, but none of them ever have anything really interesting to say. And unfortunately, that drains the pool a bit for a drama.

Something interesting to note is that this movie is very similar plotwise to The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Both movies feature the life and death (yes, the depression-era gangster has unfortunately passed away) of an American hero/wanted criminal rogue-like character and his cohorts, friends, and family. But Assassination is the better movie by far because it feels more complete. I understood and cared about each of the characters. The movie's final minutes are unforgetable. But as for Public Enemies, I couldn't bring myself to empathize with any of the characters or connect with them because frankly, the movie didn't offer me much of a reason to.

The set and costume design is appropriately wonderful, and the cinmetography is decent, but I couldn't really good a good glimpse of any of the above mentioned because of an overuse of the too-popular-and-too-uninteresting-at-this-point-because-it's-so-popular-that-it's-overdone handycam. The quick cuts and short scenes from numerous camera angles didn't help either. Fortunately, once the movie picked up this became less obvious and thereby less distracting.

Thematically, I'm sure the writers had something to say, but they didn't convince me to listen. Some scenes are too obvious, others are too vague and needed expanding, and the mashup of these scenes for two hours creates an understandable thread, but not a very deep or interesting one. The whole death thing, let me tell you, has been done before. I'm not saying that the movie was completely without interest symbolically or thematically, but too often the writers hinted at what they should have been shouting, and scream what they should have whispered softly.

Public Enemies is a good movie, yes, but it struck me as a missed opportunity. The era is well created, but the characters that walk in that world, while fun to watch, aren't very captivating.

But damn, I want a suit, hat, and cigarette.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
½

I'm going to do you all a favor. If you want a visual experience akin to Transformers 2 without spending 10 dollars on a movie ticket, simply grab a camera, light it on fire, and throw it in a blender. After three hours, remove the footage and enjoy. Oh, and don't forget to splice about thirty minutes of your favorite softcore porn into it (especially the cheesy sexual jokes). And if you have any sound bites of Robin Williams doing his bizarre Hispanic accent, feel free to throw a few minutes of that into the mix. See, it's easy to make your own blockbuster hit, right at home!

I gave Transformers 2 a 50% rating because it's only half a movie. Seems fair to me. In the usual Bay fashion, most of the movie is eye-bursting explosions and nonsensical gunfights, leaving little room for plot, thematic depth, or...well, anything else. In fact, I bet there are more explosions in this movie than lines of dialogue.

"But wait!" says the casual moviegoer, "this movie isn't about plot or acting...it's about explosions and action!" Yes, that's true, I can certainly agree that this movie is not exactly a showcase of brilliant writing or direction. So what about the action?

Frankly, it's terrible. Overdone. Over-dramatic to the point of being quite cheesy. Random dialogue. Unoriginal. Bland. Illogical. I could keep going, but I feel that mere adjectives are not enough to describe how poor the action is in this movie. The biggest problem with the so-called "fight scenes" is that it's impossible to tell what's going on. Really. All of the robots look the same when the camera is shaking wildly and random scraps of metal are flying everywhere. Basically, the action scenes are like car crash footage caught on a camera phone held by someone who's very, very cold. And why do the Autobots and Decepticons continue to wrestle with one another rather than use guns or blades? Bay has done little to correct this common complaint from the first movie. For being action-packed, the action itself is not very impressive.

So how about the rest of the movie? Unfortunately, it goes downhill from here. The acting is decent, but when given a script full of sex jokes and mindless dialogue that doesn't advance the plot in the slightest, it's hard to go places with it. The soundtrack goes something like: Gunshot, Gunshot, Explosion, Gunshot, Transformers Theme Remixed, Gunshot, Explosion, Linkin Park. The editing only exists to make sure the movie has as many explosions as possible.

And the plot, well, that's the biggest problem with this movie. Like so many bad sequels, TF2 essentially ignores the events of the first movie and instead carries on with an entirely new plot with entirely new characters who, as far as I know, were not even a part of the original Transformers series. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's very odd that Bay and his writers would choose to ignore such powerful source material. In retrospect, the movie probably would have been much better if it was an exact remake of one of the old cartoon episodes. Instead, this plot feels sloppy, like it was thrown together at the last minute. Like a lot of the action scenes, the choices the characters make are largely illogical and random. This movie feels like Bay set a strict time requirement on his film and told the writers to come up with something to fill it. In five minutes. Writing with crayons.

There's much more to be said about this movie: the stereotypes in both characters and plot, the unbearable length, the plot holes, the unanswered questions...but I won't bother going into it. If you've been reading up to this point, I shouldn't have to say any more. Save your money. Go with the blender idea. It's probably bound to be more fun.