Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wanderlust - Movie Review

I remember a few months back I did a Nielsen survey for a movie called "Shiny, Happy, People".  The survey involved being shown a trailer and then asked me how I felt about it.  As you might have guessed, the trailer featured the R.E.M. song of the same name.  When we got to how I felt about the movie, I said that I liked the cast, but that it looked cheesy and that I wasn't all that interested in seeing it.  I also added that I didn't care for the name of the movie and use of the R.E.M. song (I've always hated that song!).

About a month or two later, I saw a different trailer for a movie called Wanderlust and got a laugh when I realized it was just a recut version of the trailer for "Shiny, Happy, People".  They even removed the R.E.M. song.  The weird part was that now that the name was changed and song was gone, I suddenly felt like watching the movie more.  It just kind of goes to show you how a movie is marketed can really change how you feel about it.  Oh, I've just been informed by a friend that "Wanderlust" is also an R.E.M. song.  Someone really likes R.E.M.

Wanderlust is defined as a strong desire or impulse to wander or travel the world, but that's actually not what this movie is about, so the irony is that the original title of "Shiny, Happy, People" would have fit a little better.  Anyway...I'm getting way the hell off topic.  Lets actually talk about the friggin movie.

Wanderlust is about George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston), a couple living in New York.  In what may feel all too familiar for many, they recently purchased an undersized apartment that they can barely afford.  Unfortunately, their timing couldn't be worse, as shortly after moving in George loses his job and Linda's current project also fails.  They have to dump their apartment and move to Atlanta where George's brother (played by a hilarious Ken Marino) runs a business.

On their way to Atlanta, they make a quick stop at the Elysium bed and breakfast, where they are greeted by a nudist (Joe Lo Truglio).  Freaked out by the sight of his fake penis, they try to leave, but in their haste, flip their car over and are forced to stay overnight.  Despite their initial reservations about staying there, they meet a lot of interesting people and end up having a good time.  They find the the bed and breakfast is more of a commune than just a standard B & B.  Once they make it to Atlanta, they quickly find that they are unable to deal with George's abrasive brother and alcoholic wife (Michaela Watkins) and decide to go back to Elysium and give living there a try.  Who needs a job and money, right?  It's all about being happy.

That's pretty much all you need to know about the story.  It really comes down to the comedy, which I ended up thinking was pretty funny.  Don't get me wrong, there are some jokes they overuse and some eye-rolling moments, but I thought overall it worked.  I like a raunchy comedy though, so if you're not the type of person that likes sex and drug jokes, or nudity used for comedic effect, then this probably isn't for you.  If you do like those kinds of things in your comedy, then I think you'll dig this.

I actually wasn't sure I was going to like it after the first 10 minutes or so, as it took a bit to get going.  It helps when a movie features a likable cast and I think I gave it chance because of that.  I also think I might have been a little more forgiving of certain elements because of the people involved.  Once I warmed up to it, I just enjoyed it for what it was.  I know I have a tendency to over-analyze movies or be hypercritical, so it was a nice change to have a movie that I didn't have to think about too much and just laugh.

The cast is great.  Paul Rudd is, well, Paul Rudd.  Who doesn't like Paul Rudd?  Just about the only thing wrong with Jennifer Aniston's performance is that her nudity is blurred when it happens.  On another note, is it just me or is she getting hotter as she gets older?  As for the rest of the cast, if you've spent any amount of time watching cable, then you're likely to recognize many of the people in the movie.  You'll see people from shows like The State, Stella, Reno 911, Childrens Hospital, Key and Peele and various stand-up specials.  Everyone in the cast seems to have a line or two that gets a laugh.  It's difficult to single everyone out but I thought Todd Barry, Kerri Kenney, Justin Theroux, Alan Alda and Lauren Ambrose all had their moments.  Justin Theroux (Aniston's current boyfriend) as the leader of the Elysium commune really shined.

Despite my own reservations about seeing the movie, if they had told me up front that this was from the makers of Role Models (which also starred Paul Rudd) and produced by Judd Apatow, then I would have been on board from the beginning.  I loved Role Models, so that alone would have sold me.  Wanderlust was directed and co-written by David Wain (The State, Stella, Childrens Hospital) and also co-written by Ken Marino (also from The State and Childrens Hospital).  I hope these guys keep doing more movies as I really think they are all funny.

Oh and there's a blooper reel during the credits, so you'll probably want to hang out through them if you liked the film.

Whether you're simply a fan of Paul Rudd or Jennifer Aniston, liked Role Models, or just like raunchy comedy, there's a lot to like about Wanderlust.  It's not as strong as other Apatow offerings or as funny as other recent comedies of this type, but I thought it hit more that it missed.  It has a talented cast and it made me laugh a bunch.  I recommend grabbing a friend or two and checking it out.  I think it's a worthy matinee.

3.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ghost Rider: Sprit of Vengeance - Movie Review

For those of you that actually watched the first Ghost Rider and remember how bad it was, I'm sure you were just as surprised as I was that they were even making a second one.  Then, the trailer came out and while there were some silly elements, the effects looked much, much better and the action looked ramped up.  Finally, I see that the Crank directors are directing this one and I actually became optimistic.  It couldn't be any worse than the first one, right?  Well...

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance attempts to sort of pick up where the last one left off.  This felt similar to 2008's The Incredible Hulk where you're watching it and wondering if it's a sequel, a reboot or a combination of the two.  There's an animated opening sequence that kind of recaps why Johnny Blaze (Nic Cage) is the Ghost Rider and I actually thought this part was done in an interesting style.

At the beginning of the movie, you find that Johnny Blaze is hiding in Romania.  It's not clear why and I don't think it's ever really explained other than he's avoiding people because he knows he can't control Ghost Rider.  Even if that's the case, why hide in Romania?  There's plenty of out of the way places in the States you could hide.  How about Wyoming?  You can hang out by Devils Tower.  Ha!  Anyway, Blaze is tasked by a mysterious man (Idris Elba) to help track down and rescue a boy that is wanted by The Devil/Roarke (Ciarán Hinds).  If Blaze helps bring the boy to safety, then his people will help Blaze lift the Ghost Rider curse.

Why is Roarke (which was pronounced differently by just about every character in the movie) after this boy?  He wants to possess his body, of course.  Totally new concept in a movie featuring the Devil.  The boy (Fergus Riordan) is apparently half demon/devil or something, so he can handle the possession, where a full human host cannot.  That's about all I really need to say about the story.  It's not very original and pretty predictable.  But lets face it though, you aren't watching this movie for a great story, you want to see some good action and Nic Cage freak out right?

Nic Cage does get to be the over-the-top Nic Cage here.  Most of the time Nic Cage freaking out in a movie is a good thing, but outside of a scene or two, it all felt really odd.  Some of his zaniness comes out of nowhere and his performance seemed really uneven overall (although that's due in large part to a bad script).  There was one sequence where he's just freaking out on his bike and it didn't do anything for the story except be absurd.  It ended up being silly instead of cool.

How's the action then?  It's actually pretty good in spots.  I thought the CG for Ghost Rider was definitely an improvement over the first film.  However, there were lots of times where Ghost Rider would just stand there, stare and do nothing.  When he would move, it would have this jerky, reptilian quality, but mixed with that weird strobe-light girl from The Grudge.  Then, Ghost Rider would get a hold of a guy to do his penance stare, but nothing would happen.  There was no visual effect for this and he'd just stare and hiss at the guy for what felt like minutes.  Was he doing something?  Was he just trying to scare them?  Even the characters in the movie seemed to lose patience with it.  It was weird to watch.

Plus, another annoying thing was that Ghost Rider's powers fluctuated wildly during the movie.  Early in the movie, Ghost Rider takes a hit from a rocket launcher and he's pretty much out of commission.  The next scene is Johnny Blaze waking up in a hospital in obvious pain.  However, later in the movie, he's hit multiple times by a more powerful rocket and doesn't even appear to be phased by it.

After the action would wind down it felt like there were long sequences of them just driving and talking.  For a movie that's only 95 minutes long, these sequences made the movie feel even longer.  After the first 20-30 minutes, it becomes very dull. Plus, the entire movie seemed to be set in abandoned buildings, desolate freeways, and rock quarries.  It felt like they were always in the middle of nowhere due to there never being anyone else around other than the main characters.

The script and dialog are pretty awful.  There are many, many bad attempts at humor just thrown into the film.  They actually stop the movie at one point for additional narration and they throw in a joke so bad, it felt like it was something out of a bad student film.

Despite the good supporting cast, their performances weren't anything special.  Idris Elba, who's normally great, feels totally wasted here and he spoke with an accent that I couldn't tell where the hell it was supposed to be from.  Ciarán Hinds as Roarke isn't given much to do except stand there and be creepy.

The Devil's dirty work was primarily carried out by Johnny Whitworth's character.  I felt like he was the only person that was trying.  At a certain point in the movie he's turned into a character from the Matrix (seriously though, it's Blackout from the comics).  He's actually given a cool power, but once again, they use it to crowbar in a very obvious and old joke.  Plus, they don't really have him face off against Ghost Rider, so giving him powers felt like a setup to something that they didn't bother finishing.  It's anticlimactic.

I was surprised to see that David S. Goyer wrote this, as he's done stories for other superhero films that have been much better (Blade, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight).  However, much like Like This Means War, it's a bad sign when a movie has three writers for the screenplay (Seth Hoffman and Scott M. Gimple share writing credits with Goyer).  It's another example of having too many cooks in the kitchen.  I have to imagine there was likely some heavy handed studio interference here, as well.

Oh, I guess I should talk about the Crank guys now.  I'm not a huge fan of the Crank series, but I do appreciate how crazy those movies are and how they didn't take themselves too seriously.  I thought Neveldine and Taylor's over-the-top-style would work for Ghost Rider.  Unfortunately, it was just too much.  Throughout the movie, it would either pause or switch into different visual styles. While this works for a movie like Crank, too many times I felt like I was in the middle of a bad drug trip, as if the directors were doing lines of coke or dropping acid before shooting scenes.  Not that I'd know what being on coke or acid feels like, but it was just off-putting and it all felt forced.  How about some regular action scenes?  Everything doesn't have to be all shaky or hyper-stylized.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is a bad film released during a time of the year when mostly bad movies come out.  Even then, it still stands out as very bad.  It features uneven performances, bad dialog and humor and a very generic story.  While there are some good action sequences, I found the whole film kind of boring.  It's all a big misfire as far as I'm concerned.  I can't really recommend that anyone go see it.  It's a rental at best and even then I can only recommend it to the die hard Ghost Rider or comic book fans.

1.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

This Means War - Movie Review

After watching This Means War, I feel like there was an attempt to manipulate me.  "Why?  How?", I'm sure you're saying.  It's mainly because this movie lures you in with a good and attractive cast; a cast that is much better than the material in this movie.  If this movie would have featured a bunch of no-names or less likable actors, I would have walked out after 20 minutes.  Like imagine this movie starring Kate Hudson, Dane Cook and Jason Biggs.  Sounds pretty awful now, right?

I've seen a few people say that it's nice to see a movie with good looking people that can act, but that doesn't give the movie a pass for being shitty.  This Means War is one of those movies were it doesn't take much to poke holes in nearly everything that happens.  This review is likely to be filled with spoilers, so be warned if you read on from here...

The movie opens with a scene of FDR (Chris Pine and why he's called FDR I don't think is ever really explained), and Tuck (Tom Hardy) entering a fancy club on a mission to stop some guy.  Why? We don't have a clue and we don't care either.  I don't even remember what the guy's name was.   Almost immediately, a gun fight erupts and all hell breaks loose.  Then again, if you see Captain Kirk and Bane walk into a room, you can probably guess that shit is about to go down.  What does this have to do with the plot though?  Again, I have no idea.

The next scene abruptly switches to Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) just doing her job.  I know they were trying to establish her character, but there's no real need to do that yet.  You've barely even introduced the two leads.  Neither one of them knows Lauren yet, so her introduction at his point seemed forced and out of place.

Back to Kirk and Bane.  You find that they are both spies and best friends.  It's not really clear who they work for (CIA, I think), but they appear to have been friends for a long time.  Bane/Tuck has a son and ex-wife that he appears to still have thing for.  Kirk/FDR, by default, is the ladies man that can meet chicks anywhere (oh and we'll get to that).  Tuck doesn't date much and decides to try online dating.  Doesn't it seem pretty risky for a spy to have an online dating profile?  Wouldn't that be totally against the spy rules or something?  At the same time, Lauren puts up a online dating profile (actually put up by her friend).  The two talk on the website and meet for a date.

They go on their date and appear to hit it off.  However, Lauren decides to cut the date short to go rent a movie.  She tells him this on the date.  If you were on a date that you thought was going well and then she announces she's leaving to go rent a movie, would you think you were on good ground with her?  Anyway, Lauren heads to a video store that could not exist in reality.  It looked like a friggin upscale department store, like the kind that would charge you $10 to rent a movie like this.  Who even goes to video stores anymore?  Well, in a totally amazing coincidence, who do you think Lauren meets at the video store?  Captain Kirk!  They actually don't hit it off though, but Kirk not being able to accept defeat, stalks her until she agrees to date him.  Both of these guys use their spy skills to stalk Lauren.  It's so cute and romantic!

Oh, speaking of implausible things, both spies live in lofts that appear to be million dollar homes, and yet their cover jobs (travel agent and cruise ship captain) would likely not generate the income to afford these places.  Plus, Tuck is presumably paying alimony and child support, but nobody finds it odd that his job as a 'travel agent' allows him to afford an amazing loft in Southern California (again, I'm assuming they are in SoCal).  Being a spy pays really well, I guess.

Anyway, FDR and Tuck find out they are both dating Lauren.  Initially, FDR says he'll back off, but then makes some back-handed, passive-aggressive comment about how it wouldn't be fair, which of course Tuck takes exception to and also as a challenge.  This is why movies like this bug me.  You have two guys that establish themselves as best friends, but then don't act at all like best friends the second a member of the opposite sex is in the middle.  If FDR had just kept his mouth shut or backed off (he even says, 'hey you met her first'), none of this would have happened, but then there'd be no movie.

Neither person ends up appearing to be very mature.  You both really like this girl you just started dating that much?  Enough that you're willing to risk your friendship?  The fact that one of these guys is a clear ladies man when the other doesn't date much makes it even harder for me to accept.

Anyway, all kinds or ridiculous stuff happens from that point. I could continue picking apart this movie, but what's the point?  I'm sure you already know how I feel about the movie by now.

That's not to say that everything is bad.  I actually liked the cast and I think they did the most with the material, but they deserve better than this.  Chelsea Handler is brought in for some comedy relief and I'll say that she was actually kind of funny even though I'm not a big fan of hers.  There were a few moments that made me laugh, but I couldn't quote you a line.

I can see women liking this more.  I'm sure it's the ultimate female fantasy to have two successful, hunky guys fighting over her.  Reese Witherspoon is cute, but she's not the kind of actress that's generally a draw for guys.  They ramp up the humor and action to appeal to males, but it doesn't work very well.

McG doesn't do anything to break out from the his reputation of being a hack director.  Like many things he's been involved with, it's all style and no substance.  This movie is like a Barbie or Ken doll hanging out a club that's only concerned with how good they look, but cares nothing about being interesting or aware of how vapid they are.  If you tried talking to them, you might laugh a few times at a lame joke they say, but it's courtesy laugh because you want to get in their pants.  After you're done talking to them, you can't remember anything meaningful that they said, because they didn't.  That's This Means War.

There were three writers for this and it feels like it with how many disparate plot elements are in this movie.  There's a plot thread involving the dangerous guy from the opening scene that pops up randomly throughout the movie and it just felt thrown in.  I guess they felt like they needed a villain, but there's really nothing menacing about him.  I don't even know what he's after or why he's still in the movie after the opening scene.  It's all very nonsensical.  The writers (Timothy Dowling, Simon Kinberg, Marcus Gautesesn) have written stuff like Just Go With It, X-Men: The Last Stand, xXx: State of the Union, Jumper and Mr. & Mrs. Smith, so we aren't talking about writers with a stellar track record here.

Oh and the ending of the movie is a total cop-out!

I wrote the word 'charm' at the bottom of my notes (yes, I do take notes sometimes).  This Means War is a bad movie that tried to get by on charm.  It has a likable cast and there are some funny moments, but the story is a train wreck if you take a moment to think about it.  Nothing I've said here is going to stop people from seeing it this weekend though.  If you're looking for a date movie, I suppose this is your best option (I'd rather you see this over The Vow), but I'd save it for a rental.

2 (out of 5) Death Stars.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Safe House - Movie Review

This one is likely to be a shorter review.  I tend to get lazy about writing reviews about movies that are just so middle of the road.  It's kind of a drag.

Anyway, as the movie poster shows, while this is a 'Safe House', no one is safe. Maybe they should have called this "Unsafe House" then. If nobody is safe in the safe house, then where do you go?  It's madness, I tell you!

You ever notice that the least safest place to be in a movie is a safe house?  It's like having your identity changed.  That just means the wrong person is going to find you.  I'd love it in a movie if a character would freak out once finding out that his destination is a safe house.  "Oh, hell no!  They'll find us for sure!  Take me anywhere but there."

In Safe House you have Matt (Ryan Reynolds), a low level CIA agent that's the "housekeeper" for a safe house in South Africa.  As the safe house is rarely used, Reynolds is bored and wants to have some real action and experience.  He gets his wish when a notorious, ex-CIA agent, Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), is brought in for interrogation.  Frost recently turned himself in after acquiring some secret files that make him the target of some mercenaries.

As you'd expect, the safe house is hit almost immediately by the mercenaries trying to get to Frost.  Despite there being obvious bottle necks and choke points in the safe house, the entire CIA team is killed, leaving Matt to escape with Frost.  What's their objective?  To get to another safe house!  Um, yeah, sounds like a good idea.  I'm sure they will be totally fine at a different safe house.

Frost then starts to play psych games to get into Matt's head and makes several attempts to flee on his own.  Frost points out to Matt that there must be a traitor in the CIA that's leaking their location.  Of course there's is.  You can't have a movie like this without a traitor.

You're watching this movie mainly for Denzel's performance as Frost.  While he's good here, I kind of felt like he was phoning it in a bit.  Denzel does a role like this in his sleep.  Plus, he's played the same role before in better movies.

Ryan Reynolds performance was fine, but it seemed like half the movie he looked like he was about to cry.  That's another one of my issues with the movie.  It seemed like there was too much melodrama in an action movie.  I'm sure they were trying to be 'smart' by having some emotion, but it just didn't seem necessary.  

Brendan Gleeson, who's one of my favorite actors, is in this just to play a cookie-cutter character.  You know almost from the beginning of the movie how his character is going to play out.  The rest of the cast is actually pretty good, so it feels like a waste.  Safe House is very cliched from beginning to end.  As a result, I found myself not really caring about anything that was going on.

The action sequences are actually pretty good for the most part, especially Ryan Reynolds' fight scenes.  There are some decent car chases sequences as well.  However, I found Denzel's fight scenes to be edited poorly.  It's funny how a movie like Haywire makes you hyper aware of when a fight scene is shot in a way to cover for an actor that doesn't fight all that well.  They have to hide it with stuff like shaky cam work and quick cuts. 

Safe House was written by David Guggenheim and directed by Daniel Espinoza.  Both are relative newcomers and it feels like it.  There's a reason this movie is released in mid-February instead of during the summer.

Safe House is another movie that's very mediocre.  It has a good cast, is acted well and has some decent action, but it doesn't do anything new or original.  It's not a bad movie, but it's instantly forgettable.  Even now, I'm having a hard time remembering anything specific about the film.  There are better movies available to see, so I'd save this one for a rental.

2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Innkeepers - Movie Review

I watched The Innkeepers last night and it's interesting that this was released the same week as The Woman in Black.  Both are ghost/haunted house stories, but set in different times.  They had drastically different feels (and presumably budgets) about them.  You'll have to forgive me if I make a lot of comparisons to The Woman in Black in this review, but when you release two ghost/haunted house movies in the same week, that's what you're going to get.

The Innkeepers is about Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy), two hotel employees working for an old hotel, The Yankee Pedlar Inn.  The Yankee Pedlar Inn, which is actually a real hotel, is closing soon (in the movie, not in real life), so it's largely unoccupied and running on a skeleton crew.  Skeleton crew!  Ha!  Do you see what I did there?  Initially, you think that these two are ghost hunters, but then it becomes clear after a bit they are just bored employees, passing time until the hotel closes.

As with all ghost stories, the hotel has a history that explains the hauntings and mysterious events.  What I liked about how it was handled in The Innkeepers is that, unlike a movie like The Woman in Black, they don't spend too much time on the back story or even try to solve the mystery.  I'm not going to either.  The story is  just about how Claire and Luke are tying to capture evidence of ghosts that they can put on on a website they are working on.

You spend time getting to know Claire, who is an adorable, somewhat clueless, goofball and Luke, who's awkward and clueless in his own right.  The one hotel guest that gets any significant story time is Leanne (Kelly McGillis), a former actress and now spiritual healer/psychic.  Leanne's talents come into play once Claire confides with her about what they are doing and she even tries to help them make contact with the ghost of the hotel.

The first 40 minutes or so felt like it was played for laughs more than anything, which I didn't mind.  Movies like this would benefit from not taking themselves so seriously.  It helps being a little tongue-in-cheek.  Break the tension up, you know?  The problem is that way too much time goes by before anything happens.  For a movie that's 101 minutes long, there's just too much dead time.  Ha!  Dead!  I did it again!

The last 20 minutes or so the tension does ramp up and there are some genuinely creepy moments that actually gave me the chills.  It's pretty rare when a movie can actually creep me out on any level, so it gets extra points for doing that.

Another thing I really liked in The Innkeepers is that they did a lot without showing you much, having fancy effects, or relying on lots of jump scares.  It's more atmosphere and creepy noises and it's used to good effect. I criticized The Woman in Black for using too many jump scares, but on the other hand, I felt like The Innkeepers might have benefited from using more of them.

The performances are all fine.  The story focuses on Claire and I think Sara Paxton did a good job with the role.  I kind of have a thing for her though, so I might be a little biased.  I thought Paxton was the only good thing about Shark Night, by the way.  I was surprised to find out that Leanne was played by Kelly McGillis.  I didn't recognize her.

This was written, directed and edited by Ti West.  I think I like this guy.  I really like the effort here.  However, as I've alluded to earlier, I think the real problem of this movie was the editing.  This movie is a good 15 minutes too long.  If this had been cut down into the 85-88 minute range, I think it would have felt a lot more tense and then my above point about needing more jump scares would be moot.  I can understand wanting full control over the finished product, but West really should have let someone else edit the film.

The Innkeepers is a good movie betrayed by it's length and early slowness.  I appreciated it though for what it tried to do with what it had to work with.  If you like ghost stories and you're willing to wait it out, I do think the end was worth it.  It is genuinely creepy.  The Innkeepers is currently available On Demand and in limited theaters.  I'm not going to say to rush to your cable box and pay for it, but if you can round up a friend or two to watch it with you, go for it.  Turn off the lights and turn up the volume, especially if you have a good surround sound system.

3 (out of 5) Death Stars - If this movie had been 15 min shorter, it's a 3.5 or a 4.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

This week in DVD - Febuary 5th

Happy Superbowl everyone!  I very much enjoyed the large men of New Yorktown defeating the Sam Adamses of the New England area.


You can read my original review here.

In short, I was not a fan of this movie.  It's basically about a bunch of Yakuza killing each other until pretty much everyone is dead.  There's no character development, so you don't care about anyone as they die.  Just a fail of a movie as far as I'm concerned.

1.5 (out of 5) Death Stars - Don't bother with it.

The Thing

I didn't think it was that bad, but it didn't really do anything to stand out from the original.  My recommendation from my original review is still the same.  Rent John Carpenter's The Thing first and then rent this one.

2.5 Death Stars - I think it's worth a rental.

In Time

In my original review I wrote that I was bummed out by this one.  It's a good concept, but poorly executed.  The story needed to explain more and I felt that just about everyone, especially Justin Timberlake, was miscast.

2 Death Stars - It's a mediocre film, but an okay rental if you're bored.


A well made film and Albert Brooks was robbed on a best supporting actor nomination.  It's a good movie, but with all the priase it got, I do think it's a little overrated now.  Also, this movie really isn't what it seems based on the trailer, so don't expect a movie that's action packed.  It does have some very brutal and violent scenes though.  You can read the original review here.

3.5 Death Stars - Definitely a good rental, especially in you're the mood for something different.

Dream House

This was a mess of a film.  If you've seen the trailer, the 'twist' is spoiled in the trailer.  Even after the twist is revealed, the movie goes on for another 30 minutes not knowing what to do with itself.  I hear that after test screenings, they scrapped the original ending and then re-edited the film.  That seems like a mistake as the current ending is pretty bad and the movie felt like it was confused as to what it wanted to be.

1.5 Death Stars - I can't really recommend it.  It's just not good.

The Double

Another mess of a film that telegraphs every 'twist' in the movie and contains no suspense at all.  Richard Gere felt like he sleepwalked through it.

1 Death Star - It's streaming on Netflix and even then I think you'd be wasting your time.

Everything is Illuminated

This movie is based on the book by Jonathan Safran Foer, who also wrote Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  A friend of mine recommended the movie to me recently and since I had just watched ELaIC a week ago I figured now is as good as time as any to watch this.

I have to say I liked this a lot.  It stars Elijah Wood as Jonathan Safran Foer (the book was expanded from his college thesis) who travels to the Ukraine to find a woman that helped his grandfather during the Holocaust.  While that might sound like a downer, the movie turned out to be a very sweet, funny and emotional tale.  Much of the comedy relief comes from the character, Alex, who sounds like a younger version of Borat.

3.5 Death Stars - I definitely think you should give this a rent if you haven't seen it already.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Woman in Black - Movie Review

Otherwise known as Harry Potter and the Haunted House.  As I'm sure you're aware this is Daniel Radcliffe's first feature since the Harry Potter finale.  I hope he can get out from under the shadow of those films.  It would suck to be typecast as Harry Potter for the rest of your life.

The Woman in Black follows Arthur (Radcliffe).  Arthur's kind of down on his luck at the start of the film.  He's having trouble playing his bills and you find that his wife died in childbirth, leaving him alone to take care of his 4-year-old son, Joseph (who's cute as hell).  Even though he's having financial trouble, he seems to have a nanny, so maybe she's working for free, I guess.

To make matters worse, his employer has threatened to terminate him if he doesn't properly handle the estate sale of an old abandoned mansion.  He travels to this town to take care of his business.  Immediately, it's clear he's not welcome there by the townsfolk.

Almost as soon as he arrives in town, the children of the town start dying and again, it appears the townsfolk blame Arthur for this.  They want him to leave, but fearing the loss of his job, he can't.  As he spends time in the mansion, he learns more about what happened in there and why people don't want him there.  Creepy things happen nearly every second he's there.  If he wasn't fearing the loss of his job, you'd have to wonder why he just doesn't get the hell out of there.

The movie does have an eerie vibe and there are some scary moments, but I did feel they relied too much on jump scares and loud noises.  There's no gore, it's only PG-13, so if you're into the more creepy type of horror film, then this is likely more your speed.

Scary movies like this always bug me when there's a ghost still haunting the town, but the people in the town didn't have anything to do with her pain.  Why not pick on the right people?  If they've died, then move on yourself.  Ghosts are assholes that really hold on to grudges.  Then, someone finally helps the ghost, and what does the ghost go?  It still haunts them!  It's like, "Bitch I just helped you and I don't even know you!  Why are you still haunting me?  Piss off!"

Having said that the ending of this may either disappoint you or be a kick in the gut.  It's actually the one part of the movie that actually worked for me.

I think Daniel Radcliffe did do a good job here.  It probably helps that he wasn't wearing glasses during the film, but after the opening moments, I got over the Harry Potter thing and was able to just look at him as the character he's playing.

The Woman in Black is based off a novel by Susan Hill.  The screenplay was written by Jane Goldman, which I'm kind of surprised by because she's done the screenplay for many movies I've really liked (The Debt, Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class), so I would have expected more.  Perhaps it rests more on director James Watkins, who has only directed 2008's Eden Lake to his credit.  I've seen Eden Lake, but I barely remember it and I'm shocked to see that Michael Fassbender was in it.  I guess it didn't do anything for me.

The Woman in Black is an okay movie.  I didn't hate it, but I think there was a lot of hype that made me expect more.  It certainly better than some of the other horror films that have come out recently.  If creepy horror movies are your thing, then I think you'll probably enjoy this, but there's no need to rush out and see this.  In fact, I think this is better suited to seeing at home.

2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Chronicle - Movie Review

I've stated in the past that I'm not a big fan of the found footage genre.  That's not to say there aren't good examples of them, but I usually roll my eyes when I see one's coming out and prepare myself for more bad acting and a shitty ending.

After seeing Chronicle, I can't really call it found footage as much as just it was just shot in a found footage style.  Maybe it's that it does a good job of transcending it's genre.

Chronicle follows the story of Andrew (Dane DeHaan).  Andrew is shy and kind of a social outcast.  You see in the opening moments that he has an alcoholic and abusive father and that his mother is sick and bedridden. He's picked on at school and his only friend is his cousin, Matt (Alex Russell), and even they aren't that close.

Andrew buys a cheap video camera and starts to film his life.  He does this as kind of a social barrier and to chronicle (yes, I did it) his life.  One night at a school party, Andrew, Matt and another classmate, Steve (Michael B. Jordan), go to check out a mysterious crater they found in a field.  They find 'something' in the crater and things get weird.

The next thing you see is that the three of them have found that this encounter has given them telekinetic powers.  They quickly learn that the more they use their new-found power, the stronger they become.  At first they are just having fun with it, using it to screw around and play pranks on people, but as their power grows they start to realize they can do almost anything.

After an accident, things get a little serious and they setup some rules for how they should use their powers moving forward.  For a brief time, things start to look up for Andrew, but stuff just keeps happening to him to bring him back down, and you know where this is all going to end up.  That's about all I'll say.

This movie was a pleasant surprise.  Chronicle is essentially is superhero origin movie.  For a lower budget film, it does some really creative things.  The effects are done pretty well, although there are a few times where I thought they looked kind of cheap, but that's easy to forgive here.  You wonder why you haven't seen stuff like this in some of the bigger superhero films.  This movie doesn't waste any time either.  It's only 83 minutes, but it's so packed that it actually felt longer.  I mean that in a good way.

The performances by the three main teens are all great.  Dane DeHaan in particular.  I felt his portrayal as Andrew was very sympathetic and while you'll see that he's a little off from the beginning, you'll understand why a kid like him gaining powers might do the type of stuff he does.  I found myself rooting for him in the early parts of the movie.  I joked on Twitter earlier that he decides to become Darth Vader, and I don't think that's all that far from the truth.  I actually think his reasons for turning bad were better than Anakin's reasons in Episode III, so I still sympathized with him.  Maybe my darker leanings is why I enjoyed it so much.

This was directed by Josh Trank, who co-wrote this along with Max Landis.  This appears to be the first feature film for both of these guys, so I'm really impressed with the first time effort.  I'd love to see what they could do with a bigger budget.

Oh and it actually has an ending, so it doesn't leave you hanging like other found footage films.  In fact, the end of this movie rivals any big budget superhero movie you've seen in the past few years.

Overall, I really loved Chronicle.  I've already said it this year, but I think this may end up being one of my favorite films of the year.  It's great for an early February movie, but this would have help up well during the Summer.  It's a great superhero film, that doesn't follow the same superhero format you've seen a ton of times lately.  It's original, creative and definitely worth watching.

4 (out of 5) Death Stars