Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Cynics List Of The Worst Movies Of 2009

2009 was not a very good year for movies, this list of the worst films could have very easily been filled out before the summer movies rolled through. But I was willing to give most of them a more than just a second look. I was barely to try to JUST come up with a list of the top ten very worst films of 2009.

10. Transformers 2: Revenge Of The Fallen - Michael Bay's ode to noise and explosions. This sequel offered nothing to enhance the previous story. We got nothing worth cheering for except of course for Bumblebee.

09. The Unborn - What was supposed to be a horror movie turned out to be boring and dull, the special effects were as dumb as they get, even the big stars in this silly movie couldn't save it. This movie should be avoided at all costs.

08. Fame - Another remake of a classic film that shouldn't have been made. This movie showcases a lot of talent that seems unnecessary. Megan Mullally can sing but she doesn't do enough of it here. The young cast members are the only thing going for this film, its all glitz and no story.

07. Fired Up - A coming of age story at a cheer leading camp. What could have been funny and awkward was just stupid. American pie ripoffs should be a thing of the past. Its unfortunate that movies like this are made year after year.

06. Jennifer's Body - Megan Fox proves beyond any doubt that she is completely untalented. Thank God for CGI or Megan's career would have been over long before this stupid and dull movie was.

05. The Twilight Saga: New Moon - Why is it that so many teens love this boringly dull story of love between a male vampire and a human girl? I guess there's no accounting for taste. A bare chested Jacob can't even save this movie. You can go in sixty minutes after this movie starts and not feel like you missed anything.

04. All About Steve - Why a studio would think that a movie that makes fun of a handicap would make audiences laugh is beyond me. The fact that this dog attracted the likes of Sandra Bullock and Bradley Cooper didn't help. The studio that released this piece of filth should be boycotted.

03. White Out - Kate Beckinsale in the frozen tundra? No not Wisconsin, but it should have been. Maybe that would have made a better movie. The story of a Marshall in the Antarctica tracking a killer. Sounds good? No.

02. I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell - What was one of the stupidest stories brought to the silver screen in a long time. Movie goers are assaulted every year by vulgar and stupid movies, having one movie that is offensive and vulgar doesn't make it funny just stupid and unworthy of the time or money spent to watch it.

01. Crank: High Voltage - What can I say about this dog except that the most offensive scene is near the end where Jason Statham flips the audience off. It feels as if the director, writer and the star is saying this is what we thing of you, the fact that you spend up to eleven dollars to sit through this movie is bad enough but to be flipped off is just more than we deserve.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

It's Elementary, Sherlock Will Be Downey's Next Franchise Machine

Director Guy Ritchie has a style all his own, it has worked for him in several of his films. It is a style that many others have tried but have not been as fortunate with it. This filming style is like stop motion, it is done in almost all of his action or fight scenes. We get a slow look at what is about to happen, and we also get an informative narration telling us, then we see this same action in what looks like fast motion. Ritchie utilizes this format several times in his newest action comedy, "Sherlock Holmes"

The first thing that you will notice about this Sherlock Holmes is that the mood of the era seems to be recreated perfectly, the next is how perfect the balance between comedy, drama, and mystery seem to meld together. When the mysterious Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) is finally apprehended by Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and his partner Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) merry old England thinks that the latest murder spree is over and can breath easier. This illusion is short lived, and when the body of Lord Blackwood appears to have magically been rejuvenated, Inspector Lestrade (Eddie Marsan) once again calls upon the great mind of Sherlock Holmes.

Holmes is confronted by an old nemesis in Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams). Adler has been a bane in his side for so long, that Holmes can't imagine what life would be like if she was caught. Holmes deals with her because he knows that deep down he wouldn't be happy without her nearby. When Holmes is hired by Adler, to find a missing person he at first acts as if he isn't interested. Everyone knows that Holmes and Adler will be hip deep in the London underground muck before the movie is over. It is enjoyable watching the two try to outfox the other.

Downey Jr. has shown he has the flair to create a character, he has made a name for himself with his other franchise character, Tony Stark in the Iron Man movies. With the addition of Jude Law, Guy Ritchie is sure to have a hit on his hands. The running time of Sherlock Holmes is just over two hours and at times the movie does lag, but this is a minor snag and doesn't take anything away from the story. The back and forth between Holmes and Watson is very funny, but when ever Holmes needs help, Watson is always there. The story arc about Black magic and the take over of British Parliament is kinda far fetched and at times seems stretched beyond comprehension. The game is afoot, when the man that Adler needs found is indeed found in the coffin that is supposed to hold Lord Blackwood. When body after body starts to turn up Holmes is sure that Lord Blackburn has inside help. The source of this help is closer to home than one would believe.

The ease that Holmes solves the case will baffle some viewers, his wit is world renowned, but this is so Hollywood cliche like it must be a cliche. Everything is wrapped up neat and tidy, Holmes spots little clues throughout the film that leads him to solve a big mystery. The fact that the movie shamelessly leads itself to a sequel is not that big a deal anymore. Most Hollywood movies try to leave an ending that can easily be explained away in a sequel. This movie may go a long way to help resurrect a career that was at one time about as low as it could go, now that same man commands millions of dollars and can pick and choose his roles, like A DeNiro once did. There are few stars of this caliber left in Hollywood.

I give Sherlock Holmes a 3 and on my avoidance scale a 0, this is a perfect movie to send the family off to see early Christmas morning while the food is being prepared. Get the teens out of the house, it's this or the chipmunks mom and dad, and sending your teen kids to see one of the free worlds most read detective will be the wiser choice. Of course Rachel McAdams lights up the screen when ever she is on it and that's a huge help. A leading lady that bogs down almost every scene she is in, is death to any movie.

Sherlock Holmes is rated PG-13 for Thematic material Including Violence, Disturbing Images and A Scene Of Suggestive Material
Running time is 2 hrs. 09 mins.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Avatar Will Be Cameron's Next Masterpiece

Sci-fi fans can rejoice, James Cameron has unveiled his long anticipated blockbuster. A decade in the making, a CGI spectacular that will insure success all over this globe. "Avatar" should surpass Titanic in domestic gross. The movie will be a success because of the legacy of Cameron himself, this project has so much going for it, that it will have at least one thing for everyone that watches it. The running time is a little extreme at just over hours thirty minutes, but the first ninety minutes moves at a pace that will captivate everyone as we are introduced to Pandora, a world of luscious foliage and violent creatures. What most sci-fi lovers desire are fantasy and exploration and Avatar delivers.

The movie is set in the year 2154 and stars Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), as an ex-marine, bound to a wheel chair. He is recruited to fulfil his brothers slot in a major project on the planet Pandora, He agrees because he believes in the motto "once a marine, always a marine". The project involves Jake taking over an Avatar to try to find a way to get the people of Pandora, called the Na'vi, to relocate peacefully. The Na'vi race are a blue skinned species that are very tall, with long tails that they use to communicate with other creatures. The Na'vi people live in a small village that just happens to be over a huge deposit of a valuable mineral called unobtainium. The reason why the relationship between the Na'vi and the humans has become so hostile, that they even need Marines on site is never explained. The controllers go into a chamber and then can take over the body of an avatar. Jake using his avatar Goes into the forest, where he is chased by a wild beast and left behind. He is saved later that night by Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) who reluctantly takes him back to her village, where he is not really a welcome sight to her people.

Of course Jake is told that the company bottom line means more to the investors than any bad press, Jake is also told he will have enough time to convince the Na'vi to peacefully relocate, but the company wants the mineral more then they care about the Na'vi. Several of the scientist on Pandora try to convince the Na'vi to move as well, Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) even tried to teach the Na'vi English. The Marine unit is lead by Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) who is gung ho for the "shock and awe" part of the negotiations to begin. Each day as Jake gets closer to being accepted into the village the man running the show, Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) is growing inpatient for results.

When the second half of the movie kicks in, the movie turns from a compelling story to just another war picture, it becomes an alien Apocalypse Now, reminiscent of a Vietnam era movie and even brings to mind Dances with Wolves, where the lone man who reunites the clans to defeat the evil empire. When the epic battle takes place, and from the start we knew it would, the marines attack in fly ships and on the ground. The Na'vi join Jake as he tries to push back the marines, Jake is also joined by Marine helicopter pilot Trudy Chacon (Michelle Rodriguez) as the final battle takes place. When the inevitable battle between Jake and Colonel Quaritch takes place, Jake faces Quaritch in full battle gear that brings to mind the loader in the Aliens movie.

The ending won't come as much of a surprise to anyone, Cameron gives us the classic Hollywood ending setting up what may become the next big franchise. Cameron gives us a bit of everything, the CGI brings us into the Na'vi village and showcases a brilliant use of color and special effects. The plants appear to come to life in the 3D format, and this movie is being shown in several formats, I can't recommend enough seeing this film in one of the 3D formats. There is the standard format and an even better HD 3D format. The IMAX screen has it's own special 3D that has to be seen to be believed. The standard 3D format brings the images to life, the HD3D format brings them into your lap while the IMAX format takes you into Pandora and sets you free to explore.

I give Avatar a 3 and on my avoidance scale a 0, what ever format you choose to witness this grand masterpiece, you wont be disappointed. The special effects in any of the formats will blow you away, the fact that Cameron took over a decade to get his dream onto the silver screen shows his desire for his craft. Avatar is an exceptionally well crafted movie. The revolutionary 3D graphics will be long talked about. The running time may have a few people asking was it really all necessary? My short answer is Hell Yes.

Avatar is rated PG-13 for Intense Epic Battle Sequences and Warfare, Sensuality, Language and some Smoking
Running time is 2 hrs. 43 mins.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Disney's Newest Princess, Comes With Song, Dance And A Frog.

Animation has come along way in the course of the last several years, we have gotten stop motion animation that looks so good it is almost not animation anymore. Over the years Walt Disney Studios have given us many animated cartoons that we have come to treasure, Snow White is one of my all time favorites, the little known Fox and the Hound is still my favorite. Now comes "The Princess And The Frog" the classic telling of what true love can accomplish. Disney gives this story a little shake and stirs in a helping of evil and we get what is essentially a great cartoon.

This story centers on a young woman named Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) who is working two jobs to fulfill her fathers dream of owning a restaurant. Working as a waitress she runs into a long time friend Charlotte (Jennifer Cody) and her father, 'Big Daddy' La Bouff (John Goodman) who has just been named King of the Mardi Gras (hint hint). Charlotte has found out that Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos) is visiting New Orleans and wants Tiana to cater dinner for him. Thinking this would help her reach her goal that much quicker she agrees.

Prince Naveen is transformed into a frog by a conniving voodoo magician, Dr. Facilier (Keith David) and sees Tiana in a beautiful gown, asks her to help him become a Prince again by kissing him. At first Tiana is frightened but reluctantly kisses the frog. Here Disney turns from the classic Frog Prince story to tell their own. When Tiana kisses the frog she herself is transformed into a toad. Hearing of an old blind lady, Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis) who lives in a boat in a tree, the pair set off to find her. Mama Odie has magical powers and they think she will help them.

The story builds on friendship and trust, the pair meet a trumpet playing alligator, Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley) who helps them on their journey, they are also aided by a Cajun firefly, Ray (Jim Cummings) offers to help the pair as well. The four set out to find Mama Odie and when they get there, they find her to be less of a help then they anticipated, or so they thought. The friendship amongst the four is what saves the day, each one is able to do just a little more than the other, but combined they save the day. Prince Naveen must be kissed by a Princess in order to turn back into a human, and thinking that Charlotte's daddy was named King that she is the perfect one to kiss him.

The story takes on a little bit of sadness throughout the story, it is set in the golden age of Jazz and Tiana's father goes off to war, he doesn't come back. Tiana holds onto his dream because of her love for him. She is able to pull it off and in the end everyone gets what is coming to them. Classic Disney fair. This is a very well crafted cartoon, one the whole family will enjoy it has comedy, song and dance. I know, I know what Disney cartoon doesn't? The Princess and the Frog will take it's place with the other classic Disney cartoons. Disney also deserves some credit for making their first African American Princess. Tiana should be welcomed by every little girl and yes every little boy in America.

I give The Princess And The Frog a 3 and on my avoidance scale a 0. it is such a pleasure to see that Disney has gone back to their original animation format. The hand drawn animation is still amongst the best of it's kind. CGI and Stop Motion are both great but nothing beats the talent and desire it takes to craft a story by hand. Animation fans stand up and cheer for Tiana and run out and see this fantastic motion picture.

The Princess And The Frog is rated G
Running time is 1 hr. 35 mins.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Coming Up On Your Blindside Is One Very Good Movie

Hollywood has told the sports hero story so many times that they seem to be run of the mill cliche stories now. Every so often one comes along that will actually get you to smile and cheer. This year it is "The Blind Side" the story of Michael Oher, a homeless African-American youngster from a broken home, taken in by a well-to-do white family who help him fulfill his potential. At the same time Michael slowly becomes a part of the family.

Leigh Anne (Sandra Bullock) the leader of the Tuohy household spots Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) walking in the cold rain one night she stops him and discovers he has no where to sleep, she offers him a room in her stately home and in just a short time Michael is living in his own room under the Tuohy roof. Leigh Anne's husband Sean (Tim McGraw) is at first skeptical of taking Michael in but soon learns that he is just a gentle giant. The Tuohy kids S.J. (Jae Head) and Collins (Lily Collins) both come to accept and love Michael.

Michael's grades are so poor that at first the school board thinks they have made a mistake but letting him enroll in their program, but with the help of a tutor, Miss Sue (Kathy Bates) his grades improve enough so that he can go out for football, a sport that he is built for. On the field Michael is at first a tentative player until Leigh Anne tells him he must protect his teammates like he would his family, and in an instant he goes from inept to unstoppable. When Michael gets so good and college recruiters start calling on him the NCAA thinks the Tuohys led him to their college Ole Miss.

There is a even balance of drama and humor in this film, it is dramatic but doesn't get heavy the laughs feel genuine and are perfect for the moment. The drama comes when we as the audience get a look into Michael's childhood, we learn he has been removed from his mother's home because she is on drugs, we learn that Michael lives in a dangerous project on the "other side" of town, and we learn that Michael really has a knack for protective instincts. The movie does have its little quirks as well, the Tuohy family is too perfect, they never fight or argue. Blind Side also glosses over several racial and class stereotypes, the movie bashes Democrats, as well as some Southerners, a scene where Leigh Anne tells her friends they should be ashamed of them selves because of several statements that Michael was Leigh Anne's newest project. Her "Project project" as it were.

I give The Blind Side a 3 and on my avoidance scale a 0, this is a very good movie to take your family to see, even if your not a sports fan and a college football fan in particular. That's not to say the movie has a few faults, the one biggest is the fact that once Michael gets into the private school, Steve Hamilton, the boy whose family Michael was staying with when he started attending Briarwood is gone from the movie, and Bullock's Southern accent slips in a few scenes. If that is all this cynic can pick out then you should believe that this movie is going to be around for awhile and I can't recommend it enough. In a time of family dramas and Oscar contenders the Blind Side scores a touchdown.

The Blind side is rated PG-13 for One Scene Involving Violence, Drug and Sexual Referneces
Running time is 2 hrs. 06 mins.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Up In The Air Is By Far Clooney's Best

The classic Hollywood Road movie that we have all fallen in love with takes on a new direction with Jason Reitman's new film "Up In The Air," based on the novel by Walter Kirn we see the everyday man forced to deal with what every one secretly fears being terminated from his job and having no prospects to look forward to.

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is a corporate downsizing expert who is hired by employers to afraid to fire their own employees, Bingham comes in to help ease the transition of long-term employees from a daily work environment to the unemployment line. Bingham takes his job very seriously and he loves the 290 days he spends away from home each year, the only problem with this is the 75 days he is forced to spend at home in his empty apartment in Omaha Nebraska. Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) is a young upstart in the company who has come up with an idea to save the company money and her idea is to fire people over the internet, Bingham is shocked that his boss Craig Gregory (Jason Bateman) loves the idea of no longer sending his guys out on the road.

Ryan has issues with his family, he tries to avoid them at all costs, this is impossible since his younger sister, Julie (Melanie Lynskey) is getting married to Jim Miller (Danny McBride), his older sister, Kara (Amy Morton) has asked him to take a cardboard cutout of Julie and Jim around with him taking pictures of it at some of the more well known tourist sites. He agrees reluctantly, and goes out to fire people, Ryan has met a very nice older woman that he thinks can be someone special in his life, Alex (Vera Farmiga) is also a weary traveler and they click because they both have ideas of greatness when it comes to their collection of travel cards, and hotel keys. On the road with Natalie, trying to teach her that it takes a human to fire someone and not a picture of one on the internet in front of them, Natalie is confronted with the heartache that comes along with this endeavor. Being on the road takes it toll on both Ryan and Natalie, Alex is a staple in Ryan's life until the inevitable confrontation of ideals. Several shots were taken of real people interviewed and fired, their reactions are some of the best scenes in the movie.

Clooney plays confident and successful well but here he is allowed to also branch out and express the pent-up frustration that comes with an isolated loneliness, he has a passion for a job that seems horrible yet, he treats it with respect, he feels it is a job that should be taken seriously. The evolution Ryan undertakes is really pretty amazing and credit goes to where it is due, to both Reitman, and Clooney for pulling it off with grace and laughter. The thing that really stands out in this movie is that it doesn't get the standard happy Hollywood cliche ending, everything doesn't turn out ok in the end and life seldom does, Kendrick's plays the naïve Natalie to masterfully. She was at the top of her class, and able to get a job in her field wherever her heart desired, yet settled for this firm specializing in firing people, but her eyes are opened to the intimacy and fragility with which a person's mental state can be affected by mere words, and she becomes a better person for it.

I give Up In The Air a 4 and on my avoidance scale a 0, this movie will open in limited run and should be searched out it is well worth the time it will take you to find where this gem is playing. Up In The Air is hilariously funny almost every second of the way, but yet it is still unafraid to dig into the dark moments of life and treat them with the respect and relevancy they deserve. George Clooney is my front runner for a Best Actor Oscar, Reitman should also be a strong contender for a Best Director nod, Up In The Air is on the short list of Best Picture of the year as well. It is a sad thing that 2009 has had very few pictures so far that can be called Best Picture of the year, but if any one can contend with Precious it is Up In The Air.

Up In The Air is rated R for Language and Some Sexual Content
Running time is 1 hr. 49 mins.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

War Brings Tragedy Home For These Brothers

War movies are a Hollywood favorite, they entertain as well as being informative, sometimes they make a political statement that is so obscured it is almost unseen and sometimes they make one so loud it echos long after walking out of the screening. Director Jim Sheridan brings his new story to the screen, he has a unique way of telling a story that makes you care deeply for his characters and when they cry it impacts you deep in your core. With "Brothers" he tells the story of The Cahill Family, and what happens when tragedy strikes in their midst. Brothers is a remake of the Danish film Brødre, where one brother went off on a peace keeping mission and the other stayed behind and became a better person to support his brothers wife. In Brothers things are a little more defined and trouble is soon knocking at their door.

Capt. Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) is happily married to Grace (Natalie Portman) they have two daughters, the older precocious Isabelle (Bailee Madison) and the younger Maggie (Taylor Geare), the family appears perfect but they, like most families have some troubles as well, dad, Hank (Sam Shepard) drinks, and is more stubborn than loving, Sam's brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) is getting out of jail, as Sam has reenlisted to go to Afghanistan for another tour. Trouble starts when the family is together for the first time and Hank makes it clear to everyone that he respects Sam but cares less for Tommy.

During his tour, Sam's helicopter takes enemy fire, Sam and Private Joe Willis (Patrick Flueger) survive, but back home, the marines have sent a messenger and a Chaplain (Kevin Wiggins) to tell Grace that Sam is dead. Tommy steps up and decides that he will change his stripes and protect and help Sam's family. he helps to redecorate her kitchen and slowly Grace sees Tommy for the caring person he is. Things do get decidedly hairy one night when Tommy kisses Grace, things could have gone further but they are stopped before crossing the line.

Not to give anything away, the movie makes it obvious from the start that the two marines survive, it is what comes after the two men are sold to the Taliban, the torture the two men face is extreme, it is mainly off screen but we do see the consequences of it. When Sam is forced to do something that he believed himself incapable of his world is forever shattered, when he is rescued and told he is going home he responds that he wants to speak to his wife. having some problems that Sam thinks he can deal with himself, he goes home and things slowly get out of hand, when he confronts Tommy and asks if he slept with Grace, he doesn't believe Tommy when he tells him they didn't sleep together, things go from bad to worse when Isabelle gets upset at Maggie's birthday party and tells Sam that mom would rather sleep with Uncle Tommy, and that she has been doing it every day.

The Oscar buzz is sure to surround this film, it is the best work I have seen by both Maguire and Gyllenhaal, Portman does a fine job with the limited script she is given. The film itself is not an anti war film although it could have been, the previews make it appear to be a family drama and that is exactly what it is. The family at the core of the story isn't perfect ,they struggle with the day to day like everyone else and they are barely making it. The film is more about the family and their emotions not the war itself, little scene time is actually given to the war and it pays off in a big way. I found myself fully immersed into their struggles to cope, on a daily basis. When Sam is thought to be dead, grace has to deal with these struggles alone and when Tommy steps up she begins to see him for more than the loser she had up till now believed him to be.

I give Brothers a 4 and on my avoidance scale a 0, the torture scenes may keep a few light hearted people away, they are not graphic but some viewers may wince at a few scenes, this movie comes around at a time when thirty thousand more men and women are being called to duty, and the story may resonate with several families. If you or a loved one has a son or daughter in the service take them to see this heart warming family drama, I can not say any thing bad about this film Sam Shepard plays the mean drunk to perfection and when he comes around and accepts Tommy for what he is, it isn't cheap and all mushy like Hollywood likes. We do get the happy ending and we know in these situations the ending isn't always happy, here though it works, just because of its simplicity and charm.

Brothers is rated R for Language and Some Disturbing Content
Running time is 1 hr. 50 mins.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

When The Messenger Knocks It Means Sorrow And Sadness

Very few movie today can bring a touching story to the screen that may have an emotional impact on the viewers. With this Country at war in several places, director Oren Moverman brings the touching drama, "The Messenger" is the story of two men who bring to the doorsteps the most devastating news that they will ever hear. The news is that their loved one has died in combat. For every family member who has lost a loved one fighting for this Country, we the people of America salute you.

Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) has been wounded in battle, he has been given medals to showcase his bravery, so he is a little confused when he gets home and is basically forced to work with Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) delivering the news of a soldiers death in battle. The first day of his new duty finds the two men at the home of one soldier, his pregnant girlfriend answers the door, they can't tell her because of the Army's rules and regulations, they can only tell his mother, who isn't home at the moment. When she does come in, the scene is done with grace and tenderness, the mothers reaction is genuine and heartbreaking. When Will meets Olivia (Samantha Morton) he goes against protocol and gets involved in her life, it is clear that he is falling for her, but she is afraid that he will misunderstand her emotional state, and take advantage of her weakness.

The story doesn't get bogged down in sentimentality or emotion and at times some of the humor seems out of place. Some of the supporting roles of family members were played by well know actors and this took away some of the real genuine emotional impact of the film, Steve Buscemi plays the father of a fallen soldier and his reaction is near flawless but would have had a greater emotional impact if it was played by an unknown instead of such a great actor like Buscemi. This was one of two things that stopped this film from being a great movie, the ending is a little bit wrong as well, through out the film we hear that will is a hero, but we never hear why, the end has Will and Tony talking about what happened to get will his medals, this conversation seems forced and out of place its like one second the two men are doing one thing and then they are sitting on a couch talking about what happened over there. This showcases the inexperience of the director, it almost feels as if he thought "Well I dangled it in front of you so long I might as well tell you" thanks but no thanks.

The military does have a unit of men called casualty notification agents, usually they appear with a chaplain in tow and always bring bad news. When they knock on the door the devastation of that knock is always the same. One thing the director did with this movie was not tell the two stars what actor would be at the home when they knocked, he wanted the stars to be unprepared for whoever it was who answered. This worked because this made the emotions more realistic, it forced the stars to be on their toes, this fact alone makes each knock more sensitive and created a deeper impact not only on the viewer but on the stars as well.

I give The Messenger a 3 and on my avoidance scale a 0, this is a well crafted movie, except for the minor flaws, it is well worth the time it will take to search out this movie, both the performances by the main stars are exceptional, the supporting stars make their scenes work, but it is the performances of the actors who answer the knock on the door that carry the most weight and make this movie work. Bravo for taking that risk.

The messenger is rated R for Language and Some Sexual Content/Nudity
Running time is 1 hr. 45 mins.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Chock Full Of Ninja Goodness

In Ninja Assassin, Raizo (Rain) is one of the deadliest assassins in the world. Taken from the streets as a child, he was transformed into a trained killer by the Ozunu Clan, a secret society whose very existence is considered a myth. But haunted by the merciless execution of his friend by the Clan, Raizo breaks free from them…and vanishes. Now he waits, preparing to exact his revenge.

Ninja Assassin isn't just one of the year's best action films; it's one of the best this decade with each fight outdoing the last leading to an exciting climax that will have audiences spellbound if they can handle the sight of a lot of blood. The script, penned by J. Michael Straczynski and Matthew Sand is serviceable in bridging the gaps between the next spectacular fighting sequence, but anyone looking for a gripping plot might not bother watching a film about ninjas in the first place. An Europol investigator Mika (Naomie Harris) is looking into mysterious assassinations and her research has her convinced that the notorious Ozunu clan is taking in orphans and training them to be ninjas emotionless, deadly silent killing machines.  Ozunu (Sho Kosugi), reinforces failure to follow his implicit orders completely with vicious beatings. Ozunu's prized student Raizo (Rain) turned his back on the clan after Ozunu ordered the senseless killing of Raizo's one friend and has vowed revenge the old fashion way by killing every one of his former associates. Straczynski and Sand primarily use flashbacks to detail Raizo's ninja training, which help explain his deadly proficiency in killing and his torment in trying to gain revenge on Ozunu. Rain plays the brooding loner expertly and displays the type of charisma that could make him a major star in the U.S. if he chooses to continue to crossing over in the film world. Realizing that even with his skills he cannot defeat the entire clan by himself, Raizo partners with Mika in the hopes of bringing down Ozunu once and for all. 

Director James McTeigue stages some amazingly unflinching fighting scenes from a rainy battle on a rooftop with raindrops being sliced through with ninja stars and flashing swords to a final battle waged amid a burning dojo. McTeigue smartly paces the battles in a manner to keep raising the stakes and intensity so there's not an hour left of the film after the best fight. McTeigue knows a thing or two about directing blockbuster action sequences as he's worked as assistant director on 'The Matrix' trilogy and there's definitely a 'Matrix' feel to the action without an overreliance on the now over done slow-mo effects. Playing up on the ninja aspect of the film, McTeigue keeps the ninjas to the shadows, moving across the screen as if they were ghosts. The action is not for the faint of heart as the violence is very graphic, with Raizo's opponents spraying out blood like geysers and getting their arms, hands, legs and even heads chopped off with relative ease. The fights make The Bride's clash with the Crazy 88 in Quentin Tarantino's 'Kill Bill' seem like a very intense game of dodge ball by comparison. At first glance, the action is almost a bit too cartoonish and over the top, but McTeigue makes it work by making the Ozunu ninjas nearly as credible as Raizo so the only way he can keep them down is by incapacitating them. Ninja Assassin is a throwback to the 1980s action flicks where one highly skilled man could take out seemingly overwhelming odds and there's no sense in explaining the logic, but just to sit back and enjoy the ride. This gets an ass-kickin' 4 on my "Go See" scale.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Early Oscar Predictions

2009 hasn't been a great year for Hollywood, most of the movies that have opened this year have closed within a few weeks, a few of the big Hollywood summer blockbusters were just plain busters. The last few months of the year will see what The Cynic hopes will be movies worth talking about throughout the remaining months of this year, a year that I consider one of the worst for movies. I'm not saying that there have not been any movies that have actually been worth seeing this year, I'm saying that there have been only a handful of movies worth seeing a second time. This time last year I had a list of about twenty movies to opt from to fill out my year end best of list. This year I have five. Here's to that hoping December rocks.

The academy has opted to increase it's best picture category to ten. This is the only category that has been increased the other five remaining categories stayed at five options. So here are what I feel deserve the distinction of a nomination in all six categories for 2009.

Best Motion Picture
A Single Man > Colin Firth and Julianne Moore
An Education > Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard
The Hurt Locker > Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie
Inglourious Basterds > Brad Pitt and Christoph Waltz
Invictus > Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon
The Lovely Bones > Rachel Weisz and Stanley Tucci
Nine > Marion Cotillard and Daniel Day-Lewis
Precious > Gabourey Sidibe and Mo'Nique
Up > Edward Asner and Christopher Plummer
Up In The Air > Vera Farmiga and George Clooney

Best Director
Clint Eastwood > Invictus
Lee Daniels > Precious
Jason Reitman > Up In The Air
Kathryn Bigelow > The Hurt locker
Peter Jackson > The lovely Bones

Best Actor
Colin Firth > A Single Man
Daniel Day-Lewis > Nine
George Clooney > Up In The Air
Jeremy Renner > The Hurt Locker
Morgan Freeman > Invctus

Best Actress
Carey Mulligan > An Education
Gabourey Sidibe > Precious
Meryl Streep > Julie & Julia
Penelope Cruz > broken Embraces
Saoirse Ronan > The Lovely Bones

Best Supporting Actor
Alfred Molina > An Education
Christoph Waltz > Inglourious Basterds
Matt Damen > Invictus
Stanley Tucci > The Lovely Bones
Woody Harrelson > The Messenger

Best Supporting Actress
Anna Kendrick > Up In The Air
Judi Dench > Nine
Julianne Moore > A Single Man
Mo'Nique > Precious
Susan Sarandon > The Lovely Bones

The nominations are revealed on February 02nd, check back and see how many of my choices were actually picked by the Academy Of motion Pictures. I will reveal my pick for winners in a later entry.

The Cynic

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Love Triangle Unleashed In New Moon

In the second installment of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, the romance between mortal and vampire soars to a new level as Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) delves deeper into the mysteries of the supernatural world she yearns to become part of—only to find herself in greater peril than ever before in The Twilight Saga: New Moon.

While this second chapter of Summit Entertainment's four-part franchise is as good as Twilight and arguably a shade better, it's indisputably darker in its depiction of the throes and woes of adolescent love, especially when one gets dumped. That's how things kick off for Bella Swan (Stewart), whose 18th birthday begins with a nightmare and ends with vampire heartthrob Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) telling her he's moving away, with no plans of maintaining a long-distance relationship. Bella quickly slips into a massive depression that resembles a full-scale heroin withdrawal, while her cop dad (Billy Burke) and barely visible school pals can do little but look on. As foreshadowed in the closing minutes of part one, help soon comes in the form of Native American dream boy Jacob Black,(Taylor Lautner), who's clearly been working out since the first film (as Bella remarks several times). Although they start off as friends, it's no secret where things are headed, and Bella engages in several near-suicidal acts that leave her torn between Edward's far-reaching grasp and Jake's bulging biceps. Bella and Jacob's growing relationship is paralleled by rumors of random animal attacks in the woods, as well as the increasingly menacing presence of Jacob's macho buddies (all of whom, like Jacob, prefer to remain bare-chested, especially after it starts raining). When vampires from the first go-round resurface to take revenge on Bella, a pack of colossal werewolves comes to her rescue, and it doesn't take a degree in occult studies to make the connection between the beasts and the boys. The movie's first half maintains a somber atmosphere that is broken by spells of PG-13 violence (a decapitation, a few gory closeups) and some nifty cinematic tricks, including a twirling 360-degree shot that shows the passing of time as Bella recovers from the break-up. Director Weitz, taking the reins from "Twilight" helmer Catherine Hardwicke, and lenser Javier Aguirresarobe painstakingly depict the gloomy, dreamlike state of Bella's extended blues, and then pick up the pace about an hour in with several action sequences set in the rain-soaked woods near Forks, Wash. As expected, Edward soon reappears, albeit for confused reasons, and the quid pro quo eventually carries the action to a royal Italian vampire council (known as the Volturi), providing some handsome locations and a brief turn by Dakota Fanning as a mind-controlling, heavily made-up vampiress. The shortcuts needed to propel the narrative homeward feel a tad rushed, but screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg wisely keeps things focused on Bella's ever-changing, mostly darkening emotional states, and whether she will end up choosing Edward or Jacob.

Stewart is the heart and soul of the film, and not only because her Bella is surrounded by characters who literally have neither one nor the other. She gives both weight and depth to dialogue ("You're just warm. You're like your own sun") that would sound like typical chick-lit blather in the mouth of a less engaging actress, and she makes Bella's psychological wounds seem like the real deal. Fangirls may be disappointed by Pattinson's reduced presence here, as his Edward appears predominantly in mumbling visions until a cliffhanger that brazenly sets up the next episode. Lautner's Jake provides a strong alternative to Edward's pale dreariness, though the filmmakers overdo the "strong" part in an ongoing effort to keep their target audience enraptured. This sequel is by far a step better than the first, but some fans may be a lil disappointed with some things that were left out from the book, but it gets the point across. Vampires and Werewolves are pretty hot. So, which team are you on? Team Edward or Team Jacob? Go and see New Moon and make your choice. I sure have. This gets a 4 on my "Go See" scale. It will undoubtedly become the number one movie this weekend. Tween girls are gonna flock to the theatre to see Edward Cullen, but i'm a bit more partial to seeing Jacob running around shirtless for half of the movie. 

It May Be A New Moon, But The Story Is Still Boring

Hollywood is quick to latch onto what they consider a huge hit, when they purchased the rights to the Twilight books written by Stephenie Meyer, they figured they had a runaway freight train on their hands. Its sad to say that so many teen girls and many teen boys have made this a reality. "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" is the second in what looks like an inevitable barrage of teen vampire movies with stupid special effects. The second story arc doesn't give us anything to believe, it builds on this idiotic notion that vampires glow like diamonds in the sunlight. Growing up on vampire movies like I'm sure many of you have, we have come to expect certain things when we watch a vampire movie, the Twilight movies throw these ideas away and try to force us to accept what is truly stupid. The idea of vegetarian vampires is as stupid as trying to get through any of these boringly stupid books.

The movie opens with Bella (Kristen Stewart) having a nightmare, she sees herself getting older but yet Edward (Robert Pattinson) is still young and vibrant. This is the start of what is an increasing boring and stupid story arc. I know every teen girl across America is sighing at the thought of seeing Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) shirtless. I'm happy to say that he is repeatedly thus. At first Jacob has long hair and not to spoil anything, when he becomes a wolf he cuts it short. There are many of the first movies cast returning to this movie as well, the Cullen clan make an appearance in the movies beginning birthday party and then are basically Persona non Grata the rest of the way. The only one who appears later is Alice (Ashley Greene). She returns to inform Bella that Edward thinks she is dead and he is about to reveal himself to the world, the Volturi expressly forbid this action and Edward is sure to be killed. Rushing to Rome to stop him Bella and Alice make it in just in time to do so.

This movie does nothing to pick up the pace of the original, you can actually go into this movie an hour after it started and not feel as if you missed anything. It is slow and tepid, nothing heats up, not even the love interest between Bella and Jacob. The wolves are not the typical werewolf form but the down on all four legs variety. They are typical CGI effects and not all that amazing. The pointless, cliched dialog is dummied down for the audience, whom Hollywood assumes has the attention span of a five year old. The action picks up a little bit toward the end as Edward has to fight the Volturi to stay alive. The Volturi are centuries old clan leaders that keep the existence of vampires a secret. Michael Sheen and Dakota Fanning both play these pasty face leaders with all the dullness you come to expect from this story arc. The action takes place mainly off screen, Jacob tells Bella that his wolf pack has killed Laurent (Edi Gathegi) and are looking for Victoria (Rachelle Lefevre) who is back in town looking to revenge her clan by killing Bella. We do see the wolves attacking Laurent, but in flashback.

I give The Twilight Saga: New Moon a 1 and on my avoidance scale a 3, wait for this one to pop up on a Saturday night that you wont mind losing a little bit over two hours watching. To be fair I must admit that I have not read any of these books and have no intention of doing so. Therefore I can not say with any accuracy how closely the films follow the story written by Stephenie Meyer. I can say that there is a much better vampire show on HBO, one that is worth the time to watch. Girls of all ages may swoon over Edward and after this movie Jacob to, but the story is just plain dull and mind numbing.

The Twilight Saga: New Moon is rated PG-13 for Some Violence and Action
Running time is 2 hrs 10 mins.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hopefully By 2012 We'll Get A Better Disaster Movie

Never before has a date in history been so significant to so many cultures, so many religions, scientists, and governments. 2012 is an epic adventure about a global cataclysm that brings an end to the world and tells of the heroic struggle of the survivors.

Roland Emmerich has a new movie out, which means it’s time to start rebuilding our infrastructure, finding new places to live, dusting off memories of what it means to successfully duck-and-cover, and slapping bandages on the world’s landmarks. Or at least what’s left of them. His latest epic,  2012, once again finds the director wandering around the world, casually smashing it to bits with joyous ease, and all while delivering the destruction with some of the worst, most risible and predictable writing of the year. Any year. Pick a year. Doesn’t matter the year. The film, which Emmerich co-wrote with Harold Kloser, makes one wonder what Emmerich would be handed for a sentence if he were making movies during the McCarthy era. Would he be considered an American-hating communist for taking out the White House in not one but two movies (this film and “Independence Day”)? For felling the Washington Monument? For crushing our cities flat? Oh, likely, he would. And yes, he’d be on that list--the black one. And not just so he could look thinner. About the movie. Well, it’s just a work of art, and to some degree, I’m serious. Special effects have come a long way, baby, and this movie is a showcase for the cheesy best of the best. There is no denying the sheer pleasure that goes into watching disaster movies when the disasters are played up with the sort of sheen presented here. This movie is a spit-and-shine miracle of special effects, so much so that occasionally, you do slip out of the clutch of cliches Emmerich hurls at you and marvel at how talented computers have become. If only it were so easy for some writers. Talk about devastation--they can take out the world (and ruin a good time) with the swipe of a pen. That’s sometimes the case here, with the film’s slim shred of a plot going down like this: The year is 2012. John Cusack is Jackson Curtis, a divorced dad of two who is trying to be civil to his ex-wife, Kate (Amanda Peet), when the Earth’s crust starts to shift. Though the scientist Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) predicted this day would come and has warned the President of the United States (Danny Glover) as well as his staff, few others knew, with the exception of Charlie (Woody Harrelson), a pot-smoking hippie living high up in Yellowstone, where he has a radio show that long has declared the end of the world.

When the end comes, it hits hard (that’s the fun part), but who wants to bet that Jackson and Kate will be thrown together, in spite of the fact that Kate is re-married to another man (Tom McCarthy)? Will they all suck up their differences in an effort to survive? Will they squeak out creaky old dialogue that could crumble Rio? And what about their daughter, who is 7 and must wear pull-ups because, for sheer character development alone, we learn that she has bladder issues? Will those be solved by the end of the movie? Will the world live on? What do you think? What’s so frustrating about 2012, which nods its head broadly at Mayan prophecy, is that it could have been a great action movie. If the special effects team can do their jobs, certainly the producers behind the movie, which was budgeted at nearly $300 million, could have hired better writers that didn’t dumb down the proceedings. Not once in this film is something not telegraphed. Just try finding a surprise. It won’t be there, but the explosions will, and for some, that will be enough. Just not enough for me. This is lucky enough to get a 2 on my "Go See" scale. The special effects are the best thing about this movie.

2012 Is A Disaster Film That Is Truly A Disaster

Disaster movies have made audiences cringe in their seats for many years, The Towering Inferno was one of the best, Earthquake was probably the best. In between we have seen so many that are forgotten just as quickly as they played on the screen. In "2012" we get big special effect destruction scenes of California (would we really care), several National Parks, Hawaii and even Washington D.C. Along the way the CGI special effects wow you and disappoint you, nothing in this film is perfect but it isn't trying to be. The earthquake where California falls into the ocean is almost flawless, except for the buildings toppling over instead of crumbling to the ground, but who will be paying that much attention to detail, besides me?

The movie starts off in the year 2009 where we meet geologist Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who has traveled to India to meet a friend who has discovered that the Earths core is heating up and that this will cause devastation under the crust until it explodes outward. Adrian returns to Washington D.C. to inform White House Chief of Staff Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt) and US President Thomas Wilson (Danny Glover) that this will instigate a chain of events that will bring about the end of the world. Move forward to 2012 and we meet Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) is a writer in Los Angeles who works part time as a limousine driver for Russian billionaire Yuri Karpov (Zlatko Buric). Jackson's ex-wife Kate (Amanda Peet) and their children Noah (Liam James) and Lily (Morgan Lily) live with her new boyfriend, plastic surgeon and amateur pilot Gordon (Thomas McCarthy). Jackson takes Noah and Lily on a camping trip to Yellowstone National Park, where they find their usual camping spot fenced off. Instead of turning around they climb over and are soon captured by the military. They Meet Charlie (Woody Harrelson) who runs a ham radio, end of the world program, he claims he has a map to where the government is building huge arcs to take people off world.

Taking his family home, just as the earthquakes start, saving his family in the nick of time we see California slide into the Pacific Ocean. Jackson decides he has to get the maps that Charlie claims he has, they fly back to Yellowstone, just as the Yellowstone Caldera erupts, Jackson finds the maps but Charlie doesn't want to leave, the movie loses all believability from here on in. The Earth's Poles shift and the South Pole is now in Wisconsin but yet the planes guidance devices don't mess up and they are still able to land in China, even though they are running out of fuel. The ships turn out to be huge sailing vessels that the government has sold seats to the worlds richest people. like they are the best ones to repopulate the Earth. There is another unbelievable scene where the ship is taking water, once Jackson and his family manage to gain entry to it. The ship has a system where if it takes water on board, water tight doors close to ensure the rest of the ship won't take on the water, but yet Tamara (Beatrice Rosen) who is on board because she was sleeping with Yuri, drowns, and she was in a separate compartment, one that should not have taken any water once the compartment was sealed off from the others.

If you are going to see 2012 for the special effects you may like the movie but if it is story and believability you want don't bother, you will walk away shaking your head. I enjoyed the first half of this movie then it stopped taking itself seriously and then so did I. The performances almost seem phoned in, Danny Glover does an almost half backed performance as the President Thomas Wilson and we stop caring for anyone including Jackson and his family.

I give 2012 a 1 and on my avoidance scale a 2, wait a few months and catch this one on a late night cable channel, it may be worth the few hours you put into it, once the first destruction scenes happen, and they are about an hour into the movie, 2012 has nothing good to offer anyone. Woody Harrelson has given better performances in other movies this year, Zombieland and The Messenger are two much better movies of note for Woody.

2012 is rated PG-13 for Disturbing Disaster Sequences and Some Language
Running time is 2 hrs 38 mins.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

These Carriers Deliver More Than The Mail

Hollywood has given us so many horror movies that an original idea is so hard to come up with, so they rehash what has proven effective in the past, Satan is one favorite as is the viral pandemic film. This has been a staple of the horror genre for a long time. In Alex and David Pastor's new film "Carriers" we learn of a virus that has already killed most of the Earth population, we learn little of how it began or how it spreads, at first it is thought to be by the infected breathing on another person but soon find out it is airborne. The story centers on two brothers and their girlfriends as they journey to an abandoned beach the boys used to visit as children. During the journey they discover that the true danger isn't the virus but each other.

Brian (Chris Pine) and his younger brother Danny (Lou Taylor Pucci) are driving across the country, they are headed to a place where they once spent so much of their childhood, they believe nothing can hurt them there, they are hoping this will be true because most of the Earths population is dead or dying from a viral infection that spread so fast, no one knows how to protect themselves from it. Along for the ride is Brian's girlfriend Bobby (Piper Perabo) and Danny's school mate, Kate (Emily VanCamp). The journey is filled with enough tension that is is palpable and it only gets worse when they are confronted by a stranded vehicle in the road, the driver, Frank (Christopher Meloni) is standing in the road yelling that he is in need of gas, Kate sees a little girl in the backseat who is infected and Brian drives the car around the vehicle and speeds away. When their car breaks down the group is forced to walk back to Franks car, they think they can wipe the car down and it be safe for them. When they get there Frank tells them he is taking his daughter Jodie (Kiernan Shipka) to a medical center that claims they have a vaccine for the virus.

Reluctant to let the two come Brian decides that if they tape up the back of the car they four of them should be safe, so they set up what they think is a shield between the father and daughter and themselves. Of course this isn't going to protect them or the movie would be a standard run of the mill spoke fest. The virus is spread to one of the four and that person tries to hide it from the others, knowing that they are surly infected this person decides to ride the virus out and hope to not be discovered by the others. Of course this one person infects a second, although it is the second persons fault, (I am purposely leaving out who gets infected for a reason). When the group is confronted by what at first appears to be military they are forced to strip and that is when the virus is discovered amongst the group. Later this person is forced to get out of the vehicle and is left to fend for themselves on the side of the road. Later when the three try to rob some gas from another passing vehicle the group is forced to use violence when Brian is wounded by the passenger of the vehicle. When the second person discovers that they are infected it is up to one of the brothers to make the hardest choice he has had to face in his life. Dealing with the issue takes all of his courage and something more.

The movie ends all to sudden leaving a lot of unanswered questions, to say this disappoints the viewer is to say that the movie entertains us to start with, Carriers is cheaply made and looks it from start to finish, the script seems more rehashed than original, and the characters don't really come off as sympathetic just pathetic. This movie could have been so much better, but its sad to say this movie has nothing worth recommending it, not even Chris Pine.

I give Carriers a 0 and on my avoidance scale a 4, this is one movie that leaves the viewer with anything but a bad taste in their mouths, Hollywood has given us so many horror movies that are worth going to see, Paranormal Activity is amazing and Zombieland is awesome take your money and go see either of these be glad you didn't waste it on this movie.

Carriers is rated PG-13 for Violence, Disturbing Content and Language
Running time is 1 hr. 24 mins.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Beware Of Creepy Old Guys....And Buttons

What if someone gave you a box containing a button that, if pushed, would bring you a million dollars…but simultaneously take the life of someone you don’t know? Would you do it? And what would be the consequences? The year is 1976. Norma Lewis is a teacher at a private high school and her husband, Arthur, is an engineer working at NASA. They are, by all accounts, an average couple living a normal life in the suburbs with their young son…until a mysterious man with a horribly disfigured face appears on their doorstep and presents Norma with a life-altering proposition: the box. With only 24 hours to make their choice, Norma and Arthur face an impossible moral dilemma. What they don’t realize is that no matter what they decide, terrifying consequences will have already been set in motion. They soon discover that the ramifications of this decision are beyond their control and extend far beyond their own fortune and fate in The Box.

I love movies that are divisive. And I've been on both sides of that equation - really digging or really detesting them. What makes such films special is that they almost demand that you ponder them afterwards, which is more than you can say for the majority of stuff that comes out on a week-to-week basis. The Box (based on Richard Matheson's short story "Button, Button") is destined to be one of the most divisive movies of 2009. It comes from writer/director Richard Kelly, a man who specializes in love-it-or-hate-it cinema, such as Donnie Darko (loved it) and Southland Tales (hated it). Kelly starts off with a basic "Twilight Zone" premise, only to spin it into a story about religion, morality, and the unrecognized interconnectedness of strangers. Set in the 70's, the movie stars Cameron Diaz and James Marsden as Norma and Arthur Lewis. Norma is a schoolteacher, while Arthur has just been inexplicably passed over for a promotion at NASA. They are desperate for money. One winter afternoon, a facially scarred gentleman named Arlington Steward (Frank Langella) knocks on their door. He presents them with a wooden box that has a conspicuous red button on the top. Steward makes a simple proposition: If they push the button, they will receive one million dollars in tax-free cash, but someone whom they don't know will also die. The first half of The Box finds the couple debating the moral and ethical merits of pushing that button. They need the money for sure, so it's a matter of deciding whether they can live knowing they've caused an unseen death somewhere on the planet. The second half goes into much spacier territory, when Norma and Arthur start demanding that Steward give them answers about the box, only to discover that his proposition was never as straight-forward as it seemed.

I want to tread lightly here. Transmissions from Mars, a lightning strike, and portals to the afterlife come into play. How this happens I will let you discover for yourself. Suffice it to say that Kelly is interested in much more than just making a standard thriller; he's interested in taking on bigger themes, using the sci-fi genre as a pathway. The thing that so many people (myself included) loved about Donnie Darko was that it obviously said something profound, even if you couldn't quite grasp it upon initial viewing. The Box is, I think, a little easier to get the point of on the first try. For a lot of its running time, you aren't sure what is going on, but in the final five minutes, it all comes together and you're left with a parable about how one individual's ability (or failure) to act responsibly can impact other people in ways we may not be conscious of. There's no doubt that The Box is a head-trip. Whether or not you like it may depend on how willing you are to have your head messed with. Personally, I love the approach Richard Kelly takes with his films. He assumes the audience is smart enough to keep up with his big ideas, so he jumps into them wholeheartedly. Many filmmakers, especially those working in the sci-fi genre, are content to stick to time-honored conventions and themes. Kelly, on the other hand, is genuinely fearless, choosing instead to see how far out he can go. Perhaps more than anything, that is what I responded to most about The Box - I wanted it to keep going further out, and it happily obliged. Cameron Diaz is really good here, playing a kind of role she hasn't before. Since this is an admittedly out-there kind of story, she's not required to give a conventional performance; Norma is a low-key woman placed into an extraordinary circumstance, which she cannot begin to comprehend. Diaz effectively sells the "I'm trapped in the Twilight Zone" vibe. She has fascinating scenes with Frank Langella, who does that thing where Steward is so unfailingly polite that you just know he's not so benign underneath. The Box is not the masterpiece that Donnie Darko was. That film had a dark, lyrical beauty that this one never quite achieves. Still, I think this is a really adventurous, provocative piece of entertainment. And I got something from it as well. If you stick with it, the finale does offer a poignant message. When a movie is as unapologetically freaky as The Box is, one of two things happens: you either sit there wondering what you've gotten yourself into, or you get so involved as to become transfixed. That's what happened with me. Many people will hate this thing, and I completely understand why. But other people will really dig it and see what a cool, philosophical mindfreak The Box really is. This gets a mindblowing 3 on my "Go See" scale. 

Sunday, November 1, 2009

As The Weather Gets Colder Hollywood Heats Up.

Hollywood has a habit of saving the best movies until the end of the year, I for one can only say thank God. So far this year has not been overly great for movies. Finding five movies to place on a best of 2009 list was hard enough, Finding ten was next to impossible. Thankfully November and December will bring about twenty movies that could fit the list. For the older more mature audience member take a deep breath and relax the good movies are coming.

November brings comedy, and horror, alien abduction and world destruction and vampires and werewolf's. Some of these movies are sure to be playing long into the coming weeks, some maybe even months. I'm sure that every one will find at least one movie this month that they will be talking about for several weeks.

November 06th
A Christmas Carol
The Box
The Fourth Kind
The Men Who Stare At Goats
November 13th
Pirate Radio
November 20th
The Blindside
Broken Embraces (Limited)
The Messengers (Limited)
Planet 51
Red Cliff (Limited)
The Twilight Saga: New Moon
November 25th
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Me And Orson Welles (Limited)
Ninja Assassin
The Road

December brings cartoons and musicals, Nelson Mandela and the Morgans and avatars and Sherlock Holmes. I'm sure that many of these movies that are going to be released in December will find a wide audience to spend their hard earned money to watch them over and over again. I can spot at least three that I will want to see at least twice.

December 04th
Everybody's Fine
December 11th
The Lovely Bones
The Princess And The Frog
December 18th
Did You Hear About The Morgans?
The Young Victoria (Limited)
December 25th
Alvin And The Chipmunks: The Squeakuel
A Single Man (Limited)
The Imaginarium Of Doctor Panassus
It's Complicated
Sherlock Holmes
Up In The Air (Limited)

Several of the movies scheduled to be released during this time frame will earn Academy Award nominations, and several will disappear long before consideration is even given to any Award. There will be movies for adults opening just about every week, with a small list of movies for the children. The movies The lovely Bones and Precious will hit close to home for alot of people, the subject matter is a very serious one and may be hard for many people to watch.

This is the time of year for adults to cheer about, the next few weeks will be like an oasis for the mature movie goer. My suggestion to all of you who love movies is to go out and enjoy several of these, the first few months of 2010 will bring another wave of seriously bad movies. So rush out and take in several of the above listed movies. I know I will.

The Cynic

Thursday, October 29, 2009

This Goes Beyond Just Being Precious...Straight To Amazing

Lee Daniels’s Precious: Based on the novel "Push" by Sapphire is a vibrant, honest and resoundingly hopeful film about the human capacity to grow and overcome. Set in Harlem in 1987, it is the story of Claireece “Precious” Jones (Gabourey Sidibe), a sixteen-year-old African-American girl born into a life no one would want. She’s pregnant for the second time by her absent father; at home, she must wait hand and foot on her mother (Mo’Nique), a poisonously angry woman who abuses her emotionally and physically. School is a place of chaos, and Precious has reached the ninth grade with good marks and an awful secret: she can neither read nor write. Precious may sometimes be down, but she is never out. Beneath her impassive expression is a watchful, curious young woman with an inchoate but unshakeable sense that other possibilities exist for her.

Claireece "Precious" Jones (Sidibe) is a sixteen-year-old African-American who lives in Harlem in 1987. Although she is in the ninth-grade, she has not yet learned to read and write. This is no wonder given the ridicule she suffers from her peers who view her as a loser and a fat pig (they make oink noises when she walks by). Precious has one child by her father already: a daughter with Down Syndrome, who is looked after by her grandmother. After discovering that she is pregnant again, the principal of the school says that she must leave. Thankfully, Previous's math scores are exceptional and so she is assigned to an alternative school, Each One Teach One. There she is taken under the wings of Blu Rain (Paula Patton), who prepares troubled young women for the GEDs. She is a beautiful and charismatic mentor who inspires her students to express themselves in journals and to share the stories of their lives with each other. It is a perfect way for these girls to deal with the demons that have dragged them down. Precious is a survivor who has been severely abused physically and verbally by her horrific mother Mary (Mo' Nique), a lazy and angry woman who treats her daughter like a slave, denigrates her appearance and mental ability, forces her to eat more so that she becomes heavier, and blames her for stealing her husband's attention and sexual passion. The only way Precious can ward off the depression and emptiness of her daily life is by escaping into a fantasy world via her imagination. There she sees herself as a model, singing star, celebrity, or beautiful blonde. Precious is buoyed in her mind's eye by a fairy godmother (Susan B. Taylor) who bequeaths her with a beautiful orange scarf.

Precious is an emotionally poignant film directed by Lee Daniels and adapted from Push, a 1996 bestselling novel by Sapphire. This is a deeply spiritual film that conveys the many ways in which loving, kind, and compassionate people can be catalysts for real change in the lives of others. Blu Rain serves as a surrogate mother for Precious and offers her what she has never experienced before: someone who believes in her and nurtures her soul with love. Others who also offer lifelines are Nurse John (Lenny Kravitz), whose kindness surprises Precious, and Ms. Weiss (Mariah Carey), a welfare case worker whose professional detachment is shattered when she learns of the hellish dimensions of this degraded girl's home life. Precious is an inspirational film about one young woman's transformation thanks to the care and concern of those who take her into their hearts. Lee Daniels's Precious combines brutal domestic violence with be-all-you-can-be inspirationalism. Gabby Sidibe is remarkable as Precious, an obese black teenager in 1980s Harlem who is bullied at school, tormented by her mother and repeatedly raped by her stepfather. Precious maintains a stoic calm and dignity, taking comfort in poignant fantasies of a better life. This movie here is hands down, without a doubt in my mind THE BEST movie of the year and should not be missed. This gets a 5 on my "Go See" scale.

Life Is Precious No Matter Who You Are

In my review of Motherhood, I mentioned that it was the opening film in the International Film Festival, I also mentioned that the film didn't deserve that honor, and that luckily there were other, much better films that followed it and saved the Festival. One of those films was "Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire" This is one of the most emotional movies that I have seen in awhile. This movie will touch almost everyone, and some it will touch on a personal level. I found myself captivated by the power that this simple story contains.

Clareece 'Precious' Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) is an overweight, illiterate teen who is pregnant with her second child, the consequence of incest, by the boyfriend of her mother Mary (Mo'Nique). This isn't her only problem Precious is literally a shut in she goes to school, has fantasies about her teacher, comes home to cook and clean for Mary. Precious goes out to buy Mary's lotto numbers and then spends the rest of her night inside the house, her only activity is when she becomes a punching bag for Mary. One day at school she is called to the principals office, Principal Lichtenstein(Nealla Gordon) suspends Precious because she is pregnant. Later that night Mrs. Lichtenstein comes to Precious' house to tell her that they have enrolled her into an alternative school and that she starts the following morning. Mary blows up because she thinks that her welfare depends on this woman being happy. There is a later scene in the movie that is especially heartbreaking. The scene is where the grandmother brings Precious' first child, who is autistic to the house so that the welfare social worker can think that Mary is taking care of her, and this is truly a heartbreaking scene, the aftermath is gut wrenching.

When Precious gets to the alternative school her teacher Miss Rains (Paula Patton) takes special care to include all of the students in every project. The other students are not any where near the perfect role model but when Precious delivers her second child, a boy, they are there to support her. The movie conveys a dreary Harlem existence that is profane, hard-edged and brutal, but also has some rays of humanity and compassion that leave room for hope. With the help of Miss Raines and another social worker, Mrs. Weiss (Mariah Carey) Precious goes from a young woman in an impossible situation to a strong willed individual with the determination to push through it all, breaking free from the stereotypes that plague her, the past that haunts her and her mother's abusive control over her.

The films directing is of a high enough caliber that Lee Daniels deserves some praise this awards season and may be among several cast members to receive such a well deserved nod. The script is so well written that it never feels slow and the pacing of this film is steady enough that we're engrossed the entire time. Some praise should be given to Lenny Kravitz, who appears on screen to become a sort of guardian angel to precious in her time of need. This is one movie that you will walk out of thinking that no matter what your problems are, they are nothing compared to what you just witnessed. Precious has faced many such adversaries and has risen above everything thrown at her.

I give Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire a hearty 4 and on my avoidance scale an even heartier 0, this movie is hard to watch and several scenes will have you crying, this is not a movie for the entire family, this is one of those take you mom to see films and then spend some time talking about how fortunate you really are.

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire is rated R for Child Abuse including Sexual Assault and Pervasive Language
Running time is 1 hr. 49 mins.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

This Is It. The Way MJ Would've Wanted To Be Remembered

Michael Jackson's This Is It will offer Jackson fans and music lovers worldwide a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the performer as he developed, created and rehearsed for his sold-out concerts that would have taken place beginning this summer in London's O2 Arena. Chronicling the months from April through June, 2009, the film is produced with the full support of the Estate of Michael Jackson and drawn from more than one hundred hours of behind-the-scenes footage, featuring Jackson rehearsing a number of his songs for the show. Audiences will be given a privileged and private look at Jackson as he has never been seen before. In raw and candid detail, Michael Jackson's This Is It captures the singer, dancer, filmmaker, architect, creative genius and great artist at work as he creates and perfects his final show.

Ever since the project was first announced in August, the new documentary Michael Jackson’s This Is It has been shrouded in mystery. According to initial reports, Sony Pictures paid $60 million to acquire hundreds of hours of behind-the-scenes footage showing Jackson–who had died a little over a month before–rehearsing for his big comeback concert series in London. What exactly would that footage reveal? Would Jackson be a slurry, stumbling mess? Or would we see a flicker of the great entertainer– the King of Pop–who dazzled audiences for decades with thrilling dance moves and unstoppable tunes? Sony stoked the mystery by putting the footage on instant lockdown; aside from a short trailer, no scenes from This Is It have found their way onto TV or the web, which, in theory, only heightens its must-see appeal. To further fuel the hype, the studio decreed that the movie would only play in theaters for two weeks, borrowing a successful gimmick that Disney employed last year for its Hannah Montana concert flick. Not even critics got the chance to check out This Is It ahead of time. So, I did what any other good MJ fan would do. I went to the premiere scheduled for 11 PM Tuesday night. Surrounded by hundreds of fans, I found my seat, got completely comfortable and waited patiently for the actual movie to start. After a few movie trailers, at around 11:10, the lights went down, the screen went dark and…and…and…

And we saw a movie. The world didn’t spontaneously heal itself, the future of the music industry didn’t automatically become brighter and Michael Jackson didn’t rise from the dead and start doing the moonwalk. After all the pre-release and pre-show hype, This Is It is just a movie–a surprisingly well-made and compelling movie, but a movie nonetheless. In a way, all the studio-manufactured brouhaha surrounding the film may be doing it a disservice, as it leads viewers to expect a cinematic spectacle to rival a summer blockbuster like Star Trek or Transformers 2. But in reality This Is It is a more modest picture. This isn’t a concert movie–it’s a movie about the making of a concert. Director Kenny Ortega, a longtime Jackson friend and colleague, takes the audience through the show’s set list song by song–beginning with “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” (of course) and concluding with “Man in the Mirror”–revealing how each tune was going to be performed live onstage from the choreography, to the special effects to the King of Pop’s own vocals. Much of the footage is taken from a series of almost complete rehearsals, where the dancing is in place, but not all of the effects are complete and Jackson often sings along to backing vocals in order to go easy on his voice. There are also clips of additional material that would have been worked into the show; for “Smooth Criminal,” Jackson had himself digitally inserted into a series of film clips from old ’40s gangster pictures and Ortega shot new 3D footage of monsters tearing it up in a graveyard to accompany “Thriller.” In some cases, CGI-animatronics stand in for effects that were never finalized; “Earth Song,” for example, would have climaxed with an actual bulldozer rolling onstage to confront Jackson. If you’re at all interested in the art of stagecraft, This is It provides an invaluable look at what goes on behind-the-scenes of a mega-budgeted concert. Indeed, in some ways, seeing the process by which the show was put together is almost more interesting than the finished product ever would have been.

But what about the man at the center of the spectacle? Well Jackson–or as the entire crew calls him, MJ–is alternately engaged, enraged, enthusiastic, impatient and joyful. In other words, he’s an artist in his element, doing what he loves to do. His voice is strong and clear and he moves with the same grace he displayed throughout his life. Clearly the film has been edited to show him at his best, but, to his credit, Ortega does occasionally allow us to see behind his beautiful exterior. In some scenes, Jackson is visibly frustrated when the band misses a note or a dancer doesn’t execute a move correctly. And while we never see him offstage, a few moments do hint at his personal troubles. After rehearsing “Beat It” Jackson is so winded, he can barely speak–his age finally catches up with his body. Earlier, Jackson stops singing right in the middle of a medley of Jackson 5 tunes and launches into a rambling, nonsensical speech about his inner ear problems while Ortega humors him from offstage. One wonders how many more moments like that one are on the cutting room floor. Clocking in at almost two hours, This Is It does feel overlong. Part of that can be chalked up to the normal ebb and flow of a concert–some songs are simply better than others and everyone will have their own opinions about which tunes they would rather have seen cut from the set list. Personally, I could have watched Jackson rehearse “The Way Your Make Me Feel” and “Billie Jean” for a half-hour without growing tired of either song. On the other hand, his renditions of “Earth Song” and “They Don’t Care About Us” wowed me, but may almost put others to sleep. This Is It is far better than it had any right to be, largely because Ortega avoids turning the film into an overly sentimental obituary for Jackson. There are no images of teary-eyed fans despondent over the sudden death of their idol or awkward testimonials from Jackson’s peers and colleagues. In fact, the movie never addresses his death at all beyond a closing dedication. The focus here is entirely on the work that Jackson did while he was still alive. There is obviously much more to Michael Jackson’s legacy than this single concert, but that’s for future films to explore. For now, This is It provides a valuable service–it allows a gifted musician to deliver the career-capping performance he wanted the world to see, but never got the chance. This documentary gets an astounding 5 on my "Go See" scale. There will never be another quite like MJ and this is the way he should be remembered.