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