Sunday, January 30, 2011

Review: 127 Hours

What could you do in 127 hours? Read a book. Write a short story. Paint a picture. Take a trip somewhere. Watch a lot of movies. The possibilities are almost endless. Well, try fighting for your life at the bottom of a narrow canyon with your arm pinned to the rocky wall by a boulder.

Aron Ralston was an unlucky mountain climber and thrill seeker who had to do exactly this. On April 26, 2003, Aron was hiking in Bluejohn Canyon, Utah when a boulder fell and trapped him at the bottom of the canyon after attempting to use the boulder for leverage. Ralston spent five days chiseling away at the rock as his water supply and hope of survival slowly diminished. In a daring last ditch effort, Ralston amputated his own arm in order to free himself and lived to tell the tale.

If you are upset with me because I just spoiled the ending, don't worry. The brilliance of this movie doesn't come in the form of trying to guess what comes next. No. The brilliance of this movie comes in the form of knowing what's going to happen as the movie slowly builds towards its intense, yet emotionally rewarding, climax.

A movie like this isn't easy to do well. An immobile hero and almost one setting is cause for alarm for almost any filmmaker, but Danny Boyle ins't afraid of a challenge. By combining stylish camerwork that match adrenaline-junkie Aron Ralston's appetite for adventure with a convincing script and James Franco's terrific performance, we get this authentic, emotionally well rounded film.

You might recognize Franco from films such as the recent Spider-Man trilogy or even Seth Rogen's Pineapple Express, but 127 Hours is now his hallmark. Franco's performance is the element that ties this film together. He makes us like Aron Ralston which then makes it easy for us to cheer him on in his time of need. Without a whole lot of dialouge, Franco is still able to communicate volumes about his character without speaking a single word and that is the trademark of a truly talented actor.

This film does get intensely gruesome as we sit there and watch this guy's life go from bad to worse as the boulder falls on his arm and he can't escape. At times it even feels like we're down in the canyon with him as he recalls the greatest things about his life are the things he never truly appreciated and when Ralston finally decides to cut off his own arm, Boyle doesn't let us miss a thing.

Still, 127 Hours is gripping story about engaging life that makes you appreciate everything a whole lot more. Don't let the grim plot and intense sequences stop you from seeing this genuinely wonderful film.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Review: The Rite

If there's one thing Anthony Hopkins knows, it's horror films. Since gaining notoriety after portrayng perhaps cinema's most infamous villain, Hopkins has never stopped being creepy. So it was only a matter of time since the genre's most credible actor met its most popular subject- demon possession. Mournfully, not even Father Hopkins could save this film's condemned spirit.

Man, Anthony Hopkins is getting old. I hope this isn't contributing somehow to his judgement on scripts, which has been lacking lately. After I saw the trailer for this movie, I was hoping that Hopkins would redeem himself for his performance in Joe Johnston's remake of The Wolfman. Though the performances here are by far the best thing about The Rite, everything else isn't quite up to par.
The story here is intriguing but its script is weak. Matt Baglio and the Petronis' script is uneven and although its moral overtone is rooted in faith, tends to feel more agnostic as it doesn't feel like it knows what its going for. First it starts out as a promising dramatic thriller centered around a religious debate, then it quickly abandons ship as everything shifts towards over-the-top, supernatural camp with unimpressive GCI.
What's more disappointing still are the nonexistent scares. Everything in this film feels way too familiar for anything to be effective. It's jam-packed with loud noises coupled with intense music, deep, inhuman voices and strength, leather bonds, demonic hallucinations, vials of holy water, a lot of blood, crucifixes galor, and even a couple of deaths for good measure. If any of this rings a bell it's because we've seen it all before which makes The Rite depressingly boring.
As I mentioned earlier, the performances are the best thing about The Rite. Actually, they are pretty good. Anthony Hopkins is able to make the best out of a bad situation and he almost always gives a terrific performance. His brilliance shines through once more as Father Lucas Trevant, a famous exorcist in Rome who now must face the Devil himself. Colin O'Donoghue is convincing as an atheistic priest sent to Rome to learn the trade of exorcism from Father Lucas.
Sadly, the excellent performances do little to help out this film. The uneven feel of the script feels even moreso when the overdone, ultimately anti-climactic, resolution hits and once it did, I couldn't help but feel like this has all been done before and in much better films than this one.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

2011 Oscar Predictions

Best Directing

David Fincher (I want Aronofsky)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Colin Firth

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Natalie Portman

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Christian Bale (I want Geoffrey Rush)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Melissa Leo (I want Hailee Steinfeld)

Best Animated Feature Film

Toy Story 3

Best Original Screenplay

The King's Speech

Best Art Direction

The King's Speech

Best Costume Design

The King's Speech

Best Original Song

"We Belong Together" by Randy Newman from Toy Story 3

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Social Network

Best Cinematography

Black Swan

Best Documentary Feature

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Best Editing

The Social Network

Best Original Score

The Social Network

Best Visual Effects


Best Sound Editing


Best Sound Mixing


Best Picture

The King's Speech

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Review: The King's Speech

Straight from the King's mouth: Director Tom Hooper turns what could have been another boring lecture from your history teacher into a fascinating, inspirational biopic about giving lectures.

After the death of King George V, his scandalous son, King Edward VII, inherits the throne but gives it up shortly afterwards to his younger brother, King George VI, who must seek help from a speech therapist for his impediment.

Tom Hooper shows us what he's capable of with The King's Speech, his first mainstream hit. Hooper is obviously capable of understanding his stories and telling them so well that things just flow smoothly from one scene to the next, which gives this film a feeling of simplicity that allows the excellent preformances to captivate and sweep you off your feet into the story whithout anything going over your head.

And the preformances truly do make this film great. Colin Firth is arguably one of the most mesmerizing actors of our generation because he does such a nice job at drawing you in and making you feel something for his characters, particularly in this film; he does a nice job capturing the essence of who King George V was and what he was going through. Geoffrey Rush is superb as Lionel Logue, the King's speech therapist. The two play very well off each other and their scenes together is where most of the very funny comic relief is found. Helena Bonham Carter and the rest of the supporting cast also give great preformances, which really round out the film.

David Seidler's script, though brilliant in capturing the essence of each character and the inspiration that make this film worth it, feels a little dry, as well as cliche, at times. Not everything is developed 100%, which doesn't allow the drama to grow and flourish to the point of total emotional domination or satisfaction.

Still, The King's Speech is a solid Oscar contender with simple feel that flows along smoothly and an inspirational story lead by terrific performances all around.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Review: Dorian Gray (DVD)

Oliver Parker and Toby Finlay have given Oscar Wilde's one and only novel an uneeded, big screen touchup. Normally I would be open to this idea; there is good story here that addresses a darker side of society that I think could translate well into modern cinema. Regrettably, Dorian Gray fails to serve as a either statement or a good film.

If you are into handsome, young gentlemen who can't act then you will probably enjoy Ben Barnes' performance as an underdeveloped Dorian Gray, who forfits his soul in exchange for eternal youth and beauty. In what could have been a fantastic role for him, not even Colin Firth as Lord Henry, the man who convinces Dorian that youth and beauty are the only two things worth having, can save this film from being a complete distaster.

Writer Toby Finlay's script serves as only a hollow, boring representation of Wilde's novel. Too much attention is paid to the sin of earthly pleasures that the filmmakers totally forgot about the virtue of viewing pleasure as Dorian partakes in the company of an abundance of strumpets, and even a few gentlement, in scene after scene of vulgar relations , which gets old real fast.

Colin Firth's malicious interpretation of Lord Henry comes off as if he is trying to turn Dorian into a bad person, which is almost the only plotline here, instead of it feeling like a mentorship. Once Dorian succumbs to Henry's temptations, we are hammered with one sinful act after the other with almost no exploration of their effects on his personal life before the outrageous climax, which now extends years beyond the novel for no apparent reason.

Much like its title character, Dorian Gray is soulless and superficial. It pretends to serve as a profound declaration of society's greed and temptations when, in fact, nothing of the sort comes across and there isn't anything here is worth entertainment value.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Review: The Green Hornet

Seth Rogen is a rich heir by day who doubles as a crime fighting vigilante with sweet gizmos and gadgets by night. Is any of this ringing a bell? Because it should be.

An overexcited Seth Rogen is very whiny, sometimes funny, as the iconic, newspaper heir Britt Reid who inherits his father's company after his sudden death. Jay Chou plays his late father's assistant turned sidekick for Rogen when the two of them decide to team up and fight crime by disguising themselves as villains.

Rogen and Chou work too well off each other in their characters' on-again-off-again relationship. The constant bickering between the two leads to scene after scene of of scolding each other and eventually a pretty funny fight scene, but they always make up in the end. This gets pretty tiring after a while, and eventually kills the movie. Cameron Diaz does a nice job as the straight,  uninterested love interest who causes some of the guys' fighting. Christoph Waltz plays the archenemy who probably draws the least amount of laughs while still giving a good performance as a crime lord who is obssessed with being scary.

Co-written by Seth Rogen, I knew this film would make me laugh, if only a few times here and there. However, the eventual lack of charisma on Jay Chou's part as Kato begins to take its toll when he, along with the audience, begins to realize Britt Reid's true character when he continually acts like a child and all the humor becomes overshadowed by the fact that this guy is real jerk. This feud gets so bad at times that it sucks all the engery right out of the film and you wonder why these two stick together in the first place.

The action is cool at first. Kato's terminator-style karate and his tank-like Chrystler with huge gatling guns, although familiar, I found  fun to watch for a while. As the movie dragged on, I found The Green Hornet to be nothing more than the same annoying car chase, drug bust, and bad guy beatdown over and over again.

Eventually, this all begins to swallow up the story. Actually, there is no real story; the villain never hatches a real diabolical plan. Instead, he just sends out wave after wave of criminals to kill the Green Hornet. This leads to relentless fight sequences that we're forced to sit and take it, along with the duo's constant bickering and Rogen's child-like jerk of a character.

Don't get me wrong, there are some good laughs to be had here and the action can be pretty entertaining at times; however, The Green Hornet fails to be a good superhero movie or even a plausible spoof of the genre.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Review: The Dilemma

It's irritating to me that Ron Howard is selling The Dilemma out to be a whacky, buddy comedy because, truth be told, it is more than that.

The Dilemma explores the realms of the unspoken love that exists between two straight guys: Vince Vaughn is thoroughly likeable as a grown up version of his usual character who discovers that his best friend's wife is cheating on him. Kevin James works well with Vaughn as that particular best friend.

One thing that makes this movie stick out from others of its kind are its four leads. Vince Vaugh and Kevin James both do a good job at making their characters likeable and fun to watch. Winona Ryder and Jennifer Connelly are believable as these friends' two wives. These four actors all give good preformances that click well together and transcend this movie beyond any hopeless, deep comedy.

As a comedy, The Dilemma works pretty well. Vaugh and James are two of the funniest guys around who definitely know how to get the laughs and they do; there are a lot to be had here, even with the help of the supporting cast. Sadly, the script wasn't developed to its full potential and a lot of the jokes fall flat.

As for the deep part, this film asks "What does it mean to know somebody?" and questions the standard of our relationships with people. Unfortunately, it tries aswering all these questions and eventually everything starts falling apart quickly as everybody, including Connelly's character, starts coming clean about some hidden secret and it starts losing touch with reality which then drags on for far too long.

So add it all up and Ron Howard's latest is definitely not his greatest. Still, The Dilemma is leaps and bounds more prodound than other whacky, buddy films. It tries diving deep into the world of human relations with actors who are versatile enough to do it, and succeeds for a while, but the underdeveloped script doesn't allow everything to line up the way I think the filmmakers intended.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

My 2011 Hopefuls

2011 is going to be a year made up of sequels, prequels, and superheros; movies that are filled with the potential but will probably flop anyways. So, out of this broad array, I have gathered a list of these movies that I really don't want to suck.

Scream 4

In history, few movies have ever single-handedly saved an entire genre. By the time the 1980s ended, slasher films had pretty much run their course due to the overwhelming number that had been released that decade and as a result, the first half of the 90s didn't see many slashers; however, in 1996, the slasher film found renewed life in Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson's Scream. Brilliant writing coupled with great direction and understanding of the genre helped shape the future of slasher films with this pastiche and in 1997, we got a sequel that was even more witty than the original. Sadly, in 2000, Scream 3 failed to deliver the goods or raise any bar. Luckily, 2011 offers a reboot with original writer Kevin Williamson, original stars Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courteney Cox, and Wes Craven still behind the camera. Scream 4 promises the same amount of wit and scares for a newer generation of thrill seekers and with these recognizable faces, along with fresh talent, it sure has the potential.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Okay, I'll admit it... I am a huge fan of the original Curse of the Black Pearl. I enjoyed the seafaring adventure and the swashbuckling action; heck, I even enjoyed the craziness that is Johnny Depp at his best. Sadly, Dead Man's Chest was just hype, building us up for a climax that never happened with At World's End. Not only that, but the story eventually got swallowed up by Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley's premarital, on-again-off-again drama. Lucky for us, neither of those two are in this fourth enstallment which opens the story back up for the captain we all love and gives the filmmakers more room to explore. Yeah I know, Gore isn't directing this one, I'm sad too, but I believe  Rob Marshall (Chicago and Nine) can do it.

Cars 2

Pixar is one of my favorite film studios. They just put out hit after hit and, surprisingly, every single one of their movies has been good thus far. From the looks of the trailer, that might all change with this sequel. Since I first heard  about this movie, I have been wondering why Pixar would choose to follow up their first, very successfull trilogy with a sequel to Cars, especiall if they wanted to save the world. I mean, they already have a movie about a super powered family, why have these characters do it? Anyway, that question still bothers me but I have faith in Pixar and I trust that they know what they're doing and I don't want to see them put an end to their streak.

Transformers: The Dark of the Moon

Ask any of my friends and they will tell you that I am a big fan of Michael Bay's Transformers movies. All the explosions and high-octane action actually works for Bay with this story and these characters. The first film did a good job at establishing the characters and the story. Unfortunately, the story didn't varry at all in the sequel, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and it ended up being a whole lot of the same thing over and over again (ask Michael Bay and he will tell you that this was caused by the writers' strike earlier that year). Looking to the future, I am filled with tentative hope that Transformers: The Dark of the Moon (reportedly Bay's last Transformer film) far exceeds the last film in every way. Michael Bay, if you can hear me, please don't mess this one up.

Captain America: The First Avenger

Marvel Comics is known for putting out today's most recognizable superheros such as Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and Captain America. Right now, Marvel Studios is preparing the Avengers movie and in doing so, they are trying to rush the production of the Thor and Captain America movies; even Iron Man 2 is a giant posterboy for this upcoming project. This worries me because I don't want these movies suck just because Marvel wants to release one film. So, I guess, this post includes both Marvel movies coming out this year becausenobody wants to see their superhero looking like a fool on the big screen, especially Captain America.

Review: Season of the Witch

As I'm sure you already know, January is almost always a month made up of terrible movies; however, a good film slips through the cracks every once in a while and ends up with a January release date (Cloverfield, Nanny McPhee, and Taken). Dominic Sena's Season of the Witch is not one of them.

Nicolas Cage has played some pretty colorful characters over the years so it is never totally surprising when we see him do something like this; however, Nicolas Cage as a medieval knight just doesn't seem to work. Cage is more than awkward and less than inspired as an ex-knight of the crusade who must transport an alleged witch to an isolated monastery where a group of mystical monks will decide her fate. Ron Perlman plays Cage's tough, rugged buddy who doubles as the unfunny, comic relief.

This film misses a lot of its marks. The script has nothing going for it: it isn't witty, smart, or funny when it intends to be; it isn't even funny enough to be considered an unintentional comedy. Sure, I chuckled a few times at the inconsistancy of the script- I felt like never knew what it was going for, but nothing in this movie is so bad that it's good. Actually, it's  all just bad.

To make matters worse, almost everything else about this movie feels lifeless. As I mentioned earlier, Nicolas Cage's performance, along with the rest of the cast, feels uninspired and just makes the movie drag on and ultimately feel boring. Most of the special effects are so bad at times that I could practically see the green screen, which gets worse as the rising action leads to the all-hell-breaks-loose GCI climax. If that wasn't enough, the action is boring and choppy, which makes things even more difficult to follow, and most of the scares consist of nothing more than loud noises and quick motions.

Season of the Witch is a sad excuse for an action/adventure, mystery/suspense, fantasy/thriller, or whatever it's trying to be. Its dull, lifeless script feels even more-so with this boring presenation of a lousy product. If only there were a magical spell that could bring some life into this movie.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Review: Unstoppable

Tony Scott and Denzel Washington continue their love affair with trains with their second railway flick in a row. Don't let this sidetrack you, Unstoppable is a fast-paced, action-packed hour and a half of enthralling entertainment goodness.

Director Tony Scott knows the formula for perfect, over-the-top, headache-evoking, action films; however, he doesn''t always get it right; with Unstoppable, Scott perfects it. This film mixes a good balance of noisy, boisterous action with likable characters played by the right leads.

Denzel Washington and Chris Pine both bring their A game as members of two different feuding generations fighting over the same jobs. Unfortunately, the two get partnered up and have to learn to live with one another. Washington and Pine are both so experienced with action films that when things get intense, and they do, everything just felt natural. However, the thing that probably makes this movie special is its adoration for its characters. Another thing these two actors do a great job at doing is playing likable characters so when their back stories come up, we really start to like these guys and that owes a lot to these two actors' unique chemistry.

This is a story about a runaway train so it better be exciting. Don't worry, Tony Scott wouldn't leave us hanging like that. Outside the brotherly bonding between the leads, this movie is almost nonstop action and when there isn't any action, it's building up to it, which is what makes this film so much fun to watch: when it isn't keeping the audience's eyes glued to the screen with some intense train-on-train action, it's giving us something to look forward to while still keeping our attention with these likable characters.

I think it's fair to say that all the way around, this is an entertaining film. From exciting action sequences with some awesome camera shots to the likable characters and their back stories to the witty dialogue and news reels that make us feel like we're watching everything live, this movie will definitely keep your attention from the time it pulls out of the station to the very end. This is one heck of a ride.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Review: The Tourist

Going into this movie, I was expecting The Tourist to be a high-speed, action-packed, romantic, espionage, comedy flick. I know that's a mouthful, but sadly, it is almost none of those things.

Angelina Jolie has made a career out of big-ticket, action films such as Wanted, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and the recent Salt; however, this movie lacked that same spark. Jolie is less than great in her performance as  secret agent Elise Ward, who is trying to lead her lover's hitmen off his trail by finding some poor sap who looks just like him. Unfortunately, that poor sap is Wisconsin mathematics professor Frank Tupelo, played by Johnny Depp, who gives the most memorable preformance of the movie as only a dumbed down version of the whacky characters who have made him so famous.

These two talented actors have a unique chemistry together that is fun to watch on screen. This chemistry soon creates some what of a charm that is hard to resist and it is this chemistry that carries the film throughout; however, about half way through, it becomes the only thing holding the movie together as the script, plot, and even character development begin to sag along and the little momentum this film did have begins to die.

"I wanted to see people fight" were the words I overheard from a fellow viewer walking out of the theater. "So did I", I thought to myself as I rewatched the movie from memory. This movie had almost no action: no explosions, no fighting sequences, no overturned boats, nothing. Add this on to the fact that most of the movie is just witty dialouge between the two stars and you get the guy who was snoring a few rows in front of me.

Like I said, this movie is charming and almost irresistable at first. There is subtle humor that earns its chuckles and does add to that charm, especially during the first half. This humor continues through to the end and is enhanced by the supporting cast; however, it is about the only thing that makes it through the film without completely falling apart.

So if you have nothing to do one night once this film hits DVD and you like these two stars, then you will definitely enjoy the first half of this film. Otherwise, you should save your money for the better movies these actors have made.