Marter's Reviews

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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Fri Mar 01, 2013 9:25 pm

Alfie
Alfie plays out like a warning for perpetually single, womanizing men. Don't do it. While the lead character takes a long time to realize it -- and that is, indeed, the only character growth that occurs -- that is what the film wants us to learn. It can lead to a lonely life, one in which other people get hurt by your actions ... not to mention you get hurt, too. It has its pleasures, but for the most part, it's not worth it. Sorry for ruining the suspense.

Jude Law takes the lead as Alfie, playing the same role Michael Caine played in the original film, made in the 1960s. That movie was set in Britain, while this one is in America, although Law's Alfie is also English. He has come to America because New York has the most beautiful women, he tells us near the beginning. He tells us a lot of things, breaking the fourth wall more frequently than is probably necessary. We learn all about his life, his suave nature, and how he does everything possible to make sure that it's not his apartment that he's coming back to late at night.

He has an on-and-off-again girlfriend, Julie (Marisa Tomei), although the "off" part plays in more prominently. He doesn't want committal -- ever -- while she's hoping for a ring. So that relationship has to end. Alfie then spends the rest of the film looking for someone to fill that void in his life, going through a myriad of women before the film's conclusion. This, thankfully, doesn't happen in a montage; these women are all given personalities, meaning it matters when they get hurt, which they do.

What doesn't matter a whole lot is Alfie himself. He's a cocksure man, unaware of the effect he has on others. This is his flaw. He's got it all figured out, except how to deal with another person's pain -- or his own, which he smiles through. We're supposed to care for him by the end, but I didn't notice a large change. The growth, the redemption, it's missing. He's figured some things out, but he seemed to have figured it out a lot earlier, too, and didn't act on it.

There's a lot of indecision in Alfie, which seemed weird considering all of its moralizing. While he tells us this early on, the lead character has an inability to commit. It turns out that this doesn't just apply to relationships; it also means that he won't make a decision in life that cannot be undone easily. He learns that his lifestyle isn't all that good for him or anyone else fairly early on, but he doesn't change for whatever reason. The film continues on showing us how it doesn't work, perhaps to hammer the point on, despite all logic telling us how easy it would be to fix.

This makes it a bit difficult to take Alfie seriously. When the lead character simply isn't smart enough -- despite one character harping about how smart he is underneath his ego -- to recognize a mistake, especially after seemingly understanding his problem, you just have to lose faith in him. The moral of the story is there, and it's effective in preaching what it wants to us, but on a narrative standpoint, Alfie lost me by the end.

There are certainly moments that are effective, but they involve the secondary, underdeveloped characters. One such scene is when Alfie is at a loss for words to use in a breakup with a model, Nikki (Sienna Miller), right after she finished cleaning up the apartment, making dinner, and promising that, while there had been some issues, she'll try really hard. Another involves Omar Epps' character giving a stern look, which the camera focuses on for what feels like forever. You can see the pain and anger in Epps' face at that scene, which is powerful.

It all works because you dislike this character. You don't like Alfie, and you don't like what he's done to everyone else. The film tries to sell him as sympathetic, especially as we close toward the end, but it doesn't work. Jude Law is too good at being cocky egotist. He sells us so hard on that at the beginning -- and the fourth wall breaking scenes help with that -- that when he's in the redemption phase of the film, we can't get over what he's already done.

Like I said, Jude Law is effective, but not quite strong enough to endear himself to us once his character has been a slimeball for the majority of the film. The women in the film all get some screen time, but not enough to become anything more than archetypes. There's the model (Miller), the older, yet attractive woman (Susan Sarandon), the best friend's girl (Nia Long), and the married one (Jane Karakowski). All of the women are fine, but can't elevate their characters beyond formula.

Alfie is an occasionally funny, sometimes effective movie that's too focused on its main idea and message that it ruins any chance it has to make the main character work out in the eyes of the audience. We need to be able to care about him by the end of the film, and that just doesn't happen -- either through his incompetence or because Law can't convince us that he's made a change in his life. It has its moments, and it's rarely dull, but Alfie is only intermittently worth your time.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sat Mar 02, 2013 9:26 pm

Godzilla
I'm not a Godzilla fan. I haven't watched many of the Japanese films about the giant monster, and I don't care whether the American version stays true to the original in look, sound, or theme. What I want from a giant monster movie is fun, which isn't what we get here. I might dislike Godzilla immensely, but it's not because it didn't stay true to the original. It's because it's boring, lifeless, brainless, gives you little reason to watch, and for a good half hour stretch, isn't even about the titular giant monster.

Here's how Godzilla became the giant monster in this version. A nuclear test a few decades ago mutated an iguana egg, and it eventually grew up to be Godzilla. We don't see it grow, but presumably it took a while, because otherwise it would have started to wreak havoc earlier. It destroys a couple of ships, and then turns its sights on New York, all while the humans are trying to figure out what it is, where it is, and how they're going to stop it. All in all, it's as generic a monster movie as you can get.

That is, save for the parts that suck. Which is almost all of it. You can have a monster running around New York for a couple of hours, and it will almost certainly be fun. Somehow, director Roland Emmerich sucked all of the potential enjoyment out of the film. It's really, really hard to do that. You have a monster the size of -- actually, considering its shape and size change from scene to scene, I don't know what to compare it to; "Size does matter" is a lying tagline -- something big enough to destroy buildings, seemingly impervious to bullets and other human devices, and yet it's not fun whatsoever. How does that happen?

Well, you set the majority of the film in the dark so nothing can be seen, you don't make the monster do anything other than run around the city, occasionally destroying a building or two, and then you make the humans fight mini-Godzilla creatures for a half hour while the big one is doing nothing of importance. And, just for good measure you make the human story incredibly dumb and pointless, while making the people involved unlikable or unimportant.

Some spoilers follow, so if you somehow care that Godzilla happens to be pregnant, you probably wanted to stop reading after the previous paragraph. He (they still refer to it as a male after learning this), eventually gives birth, and after the eggs hatch, the characters stop caring about the big one, instead focusing on the little ones, which look like worse versions of the raptors from Jurassic Park. That is not what I want from a monster disaster flick.

To be fair, when you first see Godzilla destroying New York City, it's kind of neat. You like seeing iconic landmarks being destroyed, and it's fun for a little while. That is, until the humans start getting involved, Godzilla stops actually doing things, and it gets progressively worse until the film finally comes to an end. This mutated, gigantic iguana could have caused so much destruction, but it seemed very content walking around buildings, so as to not inconvenience the humans.

There is one scene in the film that I appreciated. It involves a scientist, and our lead character, Dr. Niko Tatopoulos (Matthew Broderick), explaining that Godzilla is just an animal, and that it's following its natural instincts. We then zoom in on some fish flopping about on the concrete. Two things are told to us here. The first, which the film later explicitly states, is that Godzilla is hungry and that it eats fish. The second, which is implied, is that it's like a fish out of water -- a creature out of its element.

That's as smart as Godzilla gets, and that's the only scene with a bit more depth than what's at face value. The rest is just dull. It's stupid, it's not enjoyable, and I wanted it to end almost as soon as it began. But it doesn't end, not for 139 minutes. Did any of the Japanese Godzilla movies last for that long? Somehow, I doubt it. Or if they did, they at least had the characters do something in that time.

None of the human characters or their relationships to each other matter. There's Broderick's character, who has a history with a want-to-be reporter, Audrey (Maria Pittilo), there's a Frenchman (Jean Reno) who may or may not know more about the situation than we think he does, and there's a parody version of Roger Ebert (Michael Lerner) and Gene Siskel (Lory Goldman), which made me laugh for their first scene but not a single time afterward. All of them are inconsequential and it would have been better had they all be excised, and just let Godzilla go around killing everyone.

Godzilla is a complete waste of time for you, and for everyone who made it. While it might not keep the same spirit of the Japanese films, that doesn't matter to me. It's a boring monster movie, which is the one thing that it can't be. You can forgive everything else in this type of movie as long as the monster and its destruction is fun. That's not the case here, and since everything else is just so terrible, this is one movie you must skip.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sun Mar 03, 2013 9:48 pm

Young Adult
Young Adult, the latest not-quite-a-comedy penned by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman, is an odd piece. Billed as a comedy, performed as a drama, and probably looked at by us as a tragedy, it's a film that plays out about as inconsistently as a motion picture can, while still managing to be interesting and kind of enjoyable. It's a mess, one in which scenes exist for one specific purpose and relate only tangentially to the ones that precede and follow, but a film that's worth seeing regardless because of the performances turned in by Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt.

Theron plays the lead, a women who wrote a series of young adult novels, Mavis Gary. She hates her life, that is clear, although the reason behind this hatred is not initially clear. She drinks Coke to wake herself up, writes as few words as possible while ignoring calls from the publisher, and just tries to get by. When her high school sweetheart sends her a photo of his new baby -- which she claims is only done to insult her -- she decides to head back to her hick hometown in hopes of winning him back.

Before she meets him for the first time in years, she runs into the person who had a locker beside her in high school, Matt (Patton Oswalt). He, limping due to an assault which left his legs and another appendage shatter, continues to show up throughout the film, and seems like the perfect match for her. Of course, that would be clichéd, and Young Adult doesn't want to be that. It wants us to not look at it like a movie, but like real life. She is a disturbed person and her single focus is on Buddy (Patrick Wilson), the ex she can't get over.

The rest of the film consists of scenes in which Marvis shows us how crazy she really is, or when she tries to act normal to seduce Buddy. That's about it. She's presented as a selfish, childish person -- who uses real life events to write her story and in turn uses that to process the real life events -- and that's where the "dark" part of our comedy comes from. We're supposed to find some of her antics funny, because they're not something that a sane person would do. The sympathizing is what's missing, despite the final act's attempts to make us care.

See, when she's presented as so unlikable for the first 2/3 of the movie, a quick turnaround is kind of impossible. She can't just become worthy of sympathy with the snap of your fingers, but that's what Young Adult wants us to believe. For the first 70 minutes or so, Marvis is the selfish, alcoholic crazy person that the trailer shows you. But then, in the last twenty minutes, we're supposed to start caring about her -- even though she hasn't changed much.

And then there's the fact that even after she realizes that she has to change her life for the better, she soon comes to the conclusion that, no, that would be silly. There's a life-changing conversation that she has with Matt's sister, Sandra (Collette Wolfe), in which she learns how everyone else is jealous of her because she actually escaped this town and did something with her life. She makes a few stunning (to her) realizations in this chat ... before going back on all of them and continuing on the way she was going. And we're supposed to care because it's clear that she's ill.

As a character study, Young Adult works. Marvis is interesting and has a few different layers that get peeled back as the film progresses, and some of the things that she says are funny. It's not a prerequisite to like the main character, after all. But when the film tries to change its tone in its final portion to get us to care, and it can't make us because of how well-established its character already is, it ultimately doesn't work.

There are, admittedly, a couple of funny moments. That was the same case in Juno, Cody's most famous project. I laughed more and more as Young Adult progressed, actually, as it grew on me. But then the tone shifted, and I couldn't enjoy it anymore. And all of that leads up to an anticlimactic finish, which, because the movie doesn't want to be formulaic, makes sense. It's not enjoyable and it certainly doesn't resolve anything, but it makes sense in terms of the story and film structure.

What keeps it all together is the performances. Theron does a fantastic job reminding us why she's an Oscar winner, here playing a woman with more tics and problems than most out there. And Patton Oswalt draws the most sympathy, playing the more relatable character whose high school career wasn't glamorous. Patrick Wilson continues to be charismatic as the stalking target, and Elizabeth Reaser gets an under-appreciated role as Beth, Buddy's wife. Oh, and you'll be surprised to hear J.K. Simmons' voice in a cameo role in a Jason Reitman film. Very, very surprised.

Young Adult is a mess of a movie that ultimately works because it has a few moments of humor, and a very strong cast. It works, for the most part, as a character study, but when it tries to make us care about the lead, it fails. It portrays her as unlikable for that majority of the time and then tries to turn it around way too late at the end. It's kind of fun, kind of sweet, and only kind of worth your time.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Mon Mar 04, 2013 9:58 pm

Dark Water
Atmosphere can get you really far in a horror film, and Dark Water is a good example of this. Here is a film that manages to stay watchable and somewhat entertaining just because of the creepy tone that's established after about the twenty minute mark. It's a remake of a Japanese horror film from 2002, and that's not usually a good sign, but at least it's not so awful that there's no reason to watch it. It's only kind of bad, mostly because, while it sets a strong scenario and atmosphere, it's never genuinely scary.

Dark Water stars Jennifer Connolly as Dahlia, a woman going through a mediation with her husband, and trying to find a new place to live with her daughter, Ceci (Arial Gade). They pick one of the first apartments they find, the landlord of which is played by John C. Reilly and the scene when he tries to sell them on what's clearly a dud of a building is genuinely funny. That takes us to the aforementioned twenty-minute mark, the point when things start to go wrong.

They notice a leak in the ceiling. The elevator doesn't work all that well. The doorman (Pete Postlethwaite) is creepy. The door to the rooftop is unlocked, and Ceci finds a Hello Kitty backpack there, despite no other children living in the building -- Reilly's character claims that they've all grown up, despite one of the best schools in the area being just two blocks away. This building is a creepy place, and if you're just getting a new apartment, might serve as a warning sign and cautionary tale. Look out for these things when searching for a new place to live.

Oh, and Ceci also now has an invisible friend named Natasha. It's not exactly uncommon for children under a certain age to have one of these, or so the school teacher tells Dahlia, but in a horror movie like this, you know there's going to be more to it than that. Are there any horror movies in which a child has an imaginary friend and it really is just that? I can't think of one off the top of my head, but that would work well as a red herring, don't you think?

It's fun to see all of the delusions -- if they really are delusions -- going through Dahlia's mind. We see water flood her room, we see her negligent mother appear at her every now and then, and so on. She's on pills that are supposed to help with migraines, but they seem to knock her out and cause her nightmares. The film is filled with imagery that will be unnerving to some. The only thing it misses is actual scares. These images rarely amount to anything, which leaves you wanting so much more than Dark Water is able to deliver.

Tim Roth also shows up, playing a lawyer who's a good guy even though he's a bit of a liar and mysterious just in case we need a final twist involving his character. It helps with the atmosphere. It feels really silly by the end how hard the film is trying to get us to be scared, but at least the effort is there. It's just too bad that very few of the payoffs work as well as director Walter Salles wants. We've seen most of it before, and you're likely to see through any misdirection the film tries to throw your way.

It's nice to see that the ending -- which I've read felt disappointing for some people -- didn't wind up taking the easy way out. Part of the side story in Dark Water involves Dahlia's attempt to be a better mother than hers was, going the extra mile to be the best person for her daughter. The ending concludes that theme, and works perfectly in doing so. The film could have chickened out, but it didn't, and I respect that. Now, if this theme mattered more throughout the film, perhaps this could have been its saving grace.

I also would have liked to see more of the supporting cast. Tim Roth doesn't show up until halfway through, while John C. Reilly disappears after the opening few scenes, and is seen only a few short times afterward. Pete Postlethwaite is one of the few constants, and he's a lot of fun to watch. As the role of the child, Ariel Gade actually turns in a very convincing performance, which is a rarity coming from child actors.

It's Jennifer Connelly's film, however, and she's successful if not necessarily great. I'm not her biggest fan, but she pulls off the paranoid, delusional mother role quite well. Granted, a large portion of the film rests on her acting against special effects and dirty water, so it's not like she has a great deal to play off against, but she's just fine in this film. The effects used to alter the apartment building are also fantastic. Sometimes these things aren't given enough budget to look convincing, but the ones used in this movie certainly are.

Dark Water is a watchable remake of a Japanese horror movie. That alone puts it ahead of most of the pack in the same situation. It's really creepy and has good actors and convincing special effects. It's just never really all that scary. The payoff for most of the imagery shown throughout just doesn't add up to anything. And it ties is central theme together nicely at the end, even if it isn't terribly prevalent or impactful through most of the picture. Can I recommend Dark Water? Not really, although it's not something you need to stay away from, either.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Tue Mar 05, 2013 9:49 pm

Jawbreaker
There are four girls. One of them is having a birthday, so the other three kidnap her, stuff a jawbreaker in her mouth and tape it shut, stuff her in the back of their car, and drive off. Upon opening the trunk, they find out that she died, and that the jawbreaker found its way inside of her throat while they were driving. She is now dead, and they are responsible. Here is what happens at the start of Jawbreaker, a black comedy written and directed by Darren Stein.

These four girls were the most popular of all the high school students. They were feared, loved, and worshiped. The dead one, Liz (Charlotte Ayanna), was the only "nice" one of the bunch. The rest are all mean, in large part because of their leader, Alice (Rose McGowan), the queen bee of the school. She's the one who takes the blame for Liz's death, although because the other two were accomplices, they're just as guilty. This is high school after all, so despite it being an accident, they decide that covering it up would be the best plan of attack.

Unfortunately, homework still needs to be done, even though Alice calls in sick for Liz that day. A shy student, one who fantasizes about being as popular as this gang of girls, is sent to deliver the homework to Liz's house. She becomes a witness to the coverup, and is given a choice: Become one of them and keep her mouth shut, or tattle and remain a nobody. She chooses the former, presumably because "pretty girls in prison" is an overdone genre. And what we end up getting somehow isn't.

A makeover later, and Fern (Judy Greer), now going by the name "Vylette" is a popular student. It's here where much of our satire of the high school life comes in. There won't be a whole lot that surprises you about Jawbreaker, but it is kind of funny and the points it makes are solid, if not terribly original. We get an inside look at the popular clique, and it's from this perspective where we spend most of the film. One of the members drops out, and Vylette becomes more obnoxious than the rest of them, but this is a relatively formulaic affair.

Each of the main girls gets a distinct personality, which is helpful because some of them look similar. One of them is really mean, another isn't terribly intelligent, one is regretful and turns "good," while the last is just learning what true (high school) power is. It's not exactly a clash of personalities -- they're all, save for the last one, subservient to Alice, at least for most of the film -- but there are few similarities between them, which allows us to tell them apart.

Despite Jawbreaker taking place in a high school, this isn't a film for children. It's vulgar, profane, and wickedly dark; it's aimed at adults, perhaps in a way to bring back the nostalgia of their high school years. It allows them to reminisce about when they were in school, and think about which group they were apart of -- or which one they wanted to be. You know someone or many people who fit into one of these character types, and it can easily bring up memories, both pleasant and painful, about the high school years.

The plot is mostly vacant, and barely plays a part in the proceedings. Secondary characters come and go, change personality, and don't even attempt to use their brain. The coverup that the girls use is to try to make it look like Liz was raped. Apparently no tests are done on her body, because that totally gets bought by everyone. A detective played by Pam Grier shows up and is initially a hard-line type of person, but soon finds herself easily persuaded by lies that make little to no sense when you look at them logically.

Jawbreaker is quite funny if you're a fan of black comedy, and it definitely doesn't overstay its welcome, playing for just under 90 minutes. By not trying to draw things out, Stein doesn't have to lay back on the humor. He's able to keep the jokes and situations coming, and never has to save the best material for later. Sure, it's not as funny or as good as Heathers, from which it draws much inspiration, but it's still funny in its own right and I know I laughed with relative frequency as it played.

One of the reasons to watch Jawbreaker is for Rose McGowan, who can chew the scenery -- and her fellow actors -- with the best of them. She takes the "bee" part of the "queen bee" title literally, having the "b" stand for something else. She is so intense, yet at the same time causal in her dialogue. The rest of the actors are fine, but cower beneath her in this film. Even Pam Grier can't stand up to Ms. McGowan in this film, which might come as a surprise to anyone watching.

Jawbreaker isn't a great film, but it is a funny dark comedy with an intense leading performance that will probably make you laugh for most of the time it plays. Plot and characters aren't terribly important; it's all about the social criticism and watching Rose McGowan chew through absolutely everyone with whom she shares the screen. It's a film that's a lot like its title: It can be absolutely worthwhile, but has the potential to be a waste of your time if it's not your kind of thing.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Wed Mar 06, 2013 9:47 pm

Crazy, Stupid, Love.
Crazy, Stupid, Love. (called, for the rest of the review, "Crazy Stupid Love," without any punctuation) is a film that's smart, funny, sweet, and not on the whole satisfying. For the most part, I had a good time while watching it, but by the end, I felt as if the whole experience could have been avoided. A film like this one is good to watch with other people as a way to pass the time. It provides some solid entertainment while it plays, although isn't something you need to pay full attention to, and it's forgettable enough that it won't occupy the rest of the night. It's the perfect potato chip, except you will only want to eat one.

I think much of the success of Crazy Stupid Love is because of the stars. Steve Carell is a man who is funny, but here shows his dramatic side. He plays a man named Cal, who is in the process of getting a divorce from Emily (Julianne Moore), who announces she wants one while the couple picks out dessert after a lovely meal. On the way home, Cal jumps out of the moving car, presumably because he no longer wants to go on. He justifies it by saying that he doesn't want his wife to continue talking.

They get home, and we meet their kids and the babysitter, Jessica (Analeigh Tipton). She has a crush on Cal, while Cal's son, Robbie (Jonah Bobo), is in love with her. Molly (Joey King), Cal and Emily's other child, is too young and oblivious, or so we can assume. That love triangle will continue for the majority of the film. After leaving and finding his own place, Cal heads to the bar, where Jacob (Ryan Gosling), noticing that Cal has no clue how to be a ladies' man, starts instructing him.

Emma Stone also makes an appearance, first by being the woman who first gets hit on by Jacob, and later playing a more prominent role. Marisa Tomei shows up as the first of many lovers that Cal eventually gets, which causes more tension between him and Emily, the beginnings of tension between him and Jessica, and, of course, some trouble in communication between him and his son -- especially after all feelings of love are revealed. Right, there's also Kevin Bacon, playing the man who broke up the marriage.

It all amounts to characters changing, discovering things about themselves that they wouldn't otherwise have known, and doing several embarrassing and/or heartwarming things. You'd be unsurprised to learn that a speech comes at the end of the film as a last-ditch attempt to win another character's heart, but, then, it is a romantic comedy. There's on kind of surprising reveal which throws things for a loop -- and gives the final third of the film a much-needed burst of energy -- but for the most part, this is a formulaic movie.

It's also quite funny, charming, smart, and enjoyable up until the last few scenes. It's then where it finally falls apart, where the contrivances get too much, and where I started to roll my eyes. Once the energy goes out for the second time -- the first time being rejuvenated by that character reveal -- it depletes fast. The formula comes through, and you start to get bored.

Perhaps that's because Crazy Stupid Love is just under two hours long, which even for the best of comedies is too long, or perhaps it's because, even though the film desperately wants to elevate itself above most romantic comedies, it can't because of the restraints of the genre. It takes a very talented team to completely make you forget that you're watching a rom-com, and the directing team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, working off a script penned by Dan Fogelman aren't quite there. They're close, sure, and for the most part, I did enjoy the film, but I feel like it was more because of the stars, not because of much of the work behind the camera.

Steve Carell isn't someone I often enjoy. He's good here, even though he's not the star. He manages to be funny and dramatic while not drawing attention to himself. It's not the Steve Carell Show, which is beneficial. It's more of an ensemble, and without him trying to steal the spotlight, the ensemble works.

It's Ryan Gosling who draws our eye the most, even and especially in the scenes with Carell. He's the type of idealized charismatic man that every guy secretly wants to be, and Gosling pulls it off with ease. His scenes with Emma Stone are sweet, and while teaching Carell his secrets, he's funny. And there's just enough self-awareness in his performance to make it feel somewhat like a joke -- take the scene where he takes his shirt off and a character exclaims something about his body looking like it's Photoshoped; he just laughs and nods.

Crazy Stupid Love is the type of film that's satisfying in the moment -- funny, sweet, and altogether a good time -- but after it's over, you'll have nothing more to think about. It's not a long-lasting film, and you'll likely feel disappointed as it draws its final breaths. It goes on for too long, running out of steam a good twenty minutes before it concludes. It's a movie that rests on its star power, and while they're up to the task, the film won't stay with you, even though it's a good thing to put on to pass a couple of hours while waiting to do something more important.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Thu Mar 07, 2013 9:52 pm

Oz the Great and Powerful
I hope that by now everybody and their dog has seen and knows the story of The Wizard of Oz. Disney is thinking along those same lines, so with Oz the Great and Powerful, we're getting a prequel to one of the most famous movies of all time, detailing the Wizard's trek through the magical land of Oz. Or through wonderland, because this film looks a lot like the 2010 Alice in Wonderland film. And by "a lot," I mean, "it's almost identical in a lot of parts."

It makes a lot of sense from a business standpoint, doesn't it? I mean, Alice grossed over $1 billion worldwide, so why not do the same basic thing with another well-established franchise and make another billion? Making a prequel to The Wizard of Oz is almost guaranteed to make back its budget, so why should effort be put into the story and characters when all people want to see is some pretty visuals? If it worked for Alice, why can't it work here? I get Disney's thinking on this one, and I don't really blame them. This is, apparently, what the people want.

The basic story is this: A magician (James Franco) is taken from his carnival life in Kansas to Oz, a place of wonder and imagination. It turns out that there's a prophecy that foretold his arrival, and that he'll be able to rid the world of the evil witches (Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz). Or, at least, he will after an early plot twist revealing them to be the evil witches. They initially trick him into thinking that the good witch (Michelle Williams) is the one that's really evil, which is rectified when she tells him that, no, she's the good one. He's the most oblivious and gullible lead character in a while.

Accompanying our hero on his quest are two sidekicks. One is a talking monkey (Zach Braff), while the other is a china doll (Joey King). Don't think that they're going to be terribly helpful, though, because their main purpose is to say funny things that will hopefully make the audience laugh. Yes, they could have an actual purpose, and they each get to do one important thing in the final showdown scene, but they're mostly relegated to comic relief.

Then again, it's not until this final showdown that the Wizard does anything of importance, either. The film runs for over two hours, and there are only about 20 minutes of genuine excitement. The rest has the characters exploring, traveling from place to place, and talking about how important stopping the evil witches is, despite them pretty much being in control from the start and never really doing anything that horrible.

The witches never show us that they're evil, is what I'm getting at. There's no reason to fear them. Sure, they can throw fireballs and one of them turns green -- which creates an uncanny valley effect; pure makeup would have been more effective than whatever was done here -- but in terms of actually causing terror and making lives miserable? That doesn't happen. Why is there a prophecy in place to stop them? Why does the Wizard need to put an end to their reign of tyranny? Money. It's all about the money.

I suppose it's fitting that the Wizard's primary motivation for the film's first two acts -- before his character "develops" into something more -- is greed. He wants to rule Emerald City not because destroying the witches is a good idea, but because there's gold in it for him. That seems to be precisely the motivation behind making this movie. It doesn't matter if it's good or even entertaining; as long as there's money in it for the studio, everyone is going to be happy. My hope is Disney will learn, like the central character of the film, that there's more to life than gold.

What positives are there about Oz the Great and Powerful? Well, it does look good. Alice in Wonderland looked good, too, even if there are a few scenes where there's a disconnect between the CGI background and the actors. The opening 15 minutes -- taking place in Kansas -- are done in black and white and in the 4:3 Academy ratio, which was quite entertaining. In fact, I kind of wished the whole production was done like that. Rachel Weisz also completely nails the villain role, and it's really too bad she was relegated to second fiddle after the initial "twist" in the story. There are also some interesting cinematography choices, ones that will be appreciated by fans of director Sam Raimi.

However, what few positives the film has are easily overrun by the negatives. James Franco has never truly been leading man material -- he was outshone by a CGI ape in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, after all -- and it's painfully obvious even with the somewhat campy approach the movie takes. And when the most interesting, deep, and funny character comes in the form of a china doll, there's a real problem with your characters. I mean, how many names did I give in this review? That should tell you something about how important they are.

Oz the Great and Powerful is probably going to make a lot of money. That will please Disney. Will the film please audiences? I'm not really sure. If you liked Alice in Wonderland, this is pretty much exactly that, so you'll probably have a good time. We're doing the same dance again. It passes the time, I suppose, but it's really not worth seeing. The Wizard of Oz deserves better.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Fri Mar 08, 2013 9:50 pm

Dead Man Down
While nothing particularly fresh or even terribly interesting, Dead Man Down is a mostly competent thriller. There. Done. Can we move on now? That's almost just about all that needs to be said about it. The poster and trailer tell you all you need to know -- except that there's a lot less action than they promise -- and being "competent" is generally enough for most thrillers to get by nowadays.

The theme of the day is revenge, with the lead character and his supporting cast all wanting to get that one key word on pretty much everyone else. Victor (Colin Farrell) plays our hero, a bodyguard for a key criminal, Alphonse Hoyt (Terrence Howard). Hungarian at birth, Victor has worked hard to lose his accent, although he keeps to himself anyway. Being in that kind of lifestyle doesn't exactly bode well for potential relationships. There's a woman in an apartment across the way, Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), who waves to him every now and then. Eventually they have dinner. It's here where we learn of the first revenge plot.

Beatrice is disfigured after being hit by a drunk driver. He served three weeks in prison and was released. She wants him dead. She saw Victor kill a man in his apartment -- you'll learn exactly who that was much later in the film -- and is blackmailing him to perform her revenge for her. She can't kill the driver, but he can. She doesn't know what his true profession or even key motivation is, but she's seen him kill and that's good enough for her.

Victor, on the other hand, is working on a revenge scheme of his own. It's not exactly complicated, but I think delving into his exact plan would be entering spoiler territory. Suffice to say that he's a good guy, there are bad guys, and there's a tragic back story for each good person in the film. Even Beatrice's well-meaning mother (Isabelle Huppert) lost her hearing at a young age. This is how we're building sympathy for these people. Admittedly, it's effective enough, especially when all you really need to feel is disdain for the people who did awful things to our good characters.

It's kind of nice to have such an open and honest movie, I think. I mean, there's no moralizing about the revenge, no hidden agendas about wanting it for anything other than somewhat selfish and personal reasons; it's just a good, old-fashioned, straight-up revenge story. Once it gets rolling, there are no big twists and no major reveals. We just get to watch the attempts at revenge taking place, and see how these wind up impacting the characters involved in them.

Most of the film is talking, which isn't what you'll expect if you saw the trailer, or just saw the opening couple of scenes. It shouldn't surprise you if you're aware of the director, Niels Arden Oplev, and his previous work -- most famously, the first adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. He does try his hand at staging action scenes with Dead Man Down, and when he does it becomes clear why most of the film is talking and atmosphere building: He has no idea how to do action. Or, at least, he doesn't show that he can in this film.

The action scenes are incoherent messes. You can't tell who's doing what to whom, for starters, and there's also a distinct lack of proper lighting, which further hinders our ability to determine friend from foe. They're disastrous how poorly they're shot and put together, which makes a clichéd and "Hollywood" climax seem even more forced; he didn't seem comfortable doing action scenes so why is our finale a big shootout? Because American audience require that, the studios believe. Are they wrong?

Speaking of studios, you'll notice that one of the ones that produced this film is from the WWE. Starting with 2012's The Day, they've actually begun transitioning into a non-wrestler-starring film studio -- somewhat, anyway. What was their impact in changing the final product? Well, WWE star Wade Barrett plays another one of Alphonse's bodyguards. That's about it. It's not even a big role, and if you didn't know he was a wrestler going in, you probably wouldn't even be able to tell.

That isn't to say he's any good in the role, because he performs awfully, but that would probably be typical of anyone signed on to play "Bodyguard #X." As for the stars, Colin Farrell has a single facial expression in the film, Terrence Howard sucks the life out of the room whenever he shows up -- which is rare, actually -- and Noomi Rapace, teaming up with her former Girl with the Dragon Tattoo director, is playing a French woman for reasons that I don't fully understand, and does admirably at the job. If one actor doesn't take a slight lambasting after this film, it'll be her.

Dead Man Down is a competent thriller with a couple of big action scenes that really drag it down. Is it worth seeing? I'm not really sure. You can do a lot better -- watching the entire Dragon Tattoo trilogy would be a better use of your time, for example (even if Oplev only directed the first installment) -- but you can also do way worse. There are a couple of really terrific scenes in Dead Man Down, and seeing its honesty about its subject matter makes me admire it.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sat Mar 09, 2013 9:59 pm

Mission: Impossible
Mission: Impossible is a slapdash effort that might not make complete sense, but always has something interesting and fun going on. It's a thrilling affair, one that doesn't take itself too seriously, and I have to say that I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would. It's not a complete winner, in large part because of its convoluted plot, but with director Brian De Palma's visual flourish, and some of the fantastic sequences, this is a film I easily have to recommend.

The basic idea here is that Tom Cruise plays an American James Bond named Ethan Hunt who works for an agency that puts him in some ridiculous situations. A job goes wrong, the agency believes he's a mole, and he finds himself hiding and on the run from his former employer. Now, he has to bring the real mole to justice, coincidentally by stealing the thing that the mole wanted to steal in the first place. Some twists and turns happen -- the man you think is the villain isn't actually, characters you thought were dead aren't, and so on -- but that's the gist of it.

You know how many heist movies lead up to a big job at the end, and spend large portions of the time early on devoted to the characters and the preparation? Mission: Impossible thinks that's a silly idea, and instead gives us several heists separated only by minor exposition. There's no time for characters here; there's a sense of urgency. Lives are on the line, after all, as the big ticket item here is a list of agents undercover all over the world, all of whom could be executed if the list is released.

It's amazing what silence can do to increase tension. You watch one scene in this movie -- it involves breaking into Langley to steal the NOC list I mentioned earlier, kept in a room where an increase in temperature, a single drop of sweat on the floor, or a single sound will trigger an alarm -- and it becomes apparent how important silence can be. You sit there, watching, holding your breath, feeling like if you make a sound, the alarm will go off. Obviously, you can't, but it feels that way given the situation in the film.

It's very immersive, is what I'm saying, which thrillers often aren't. You become involved in this movie. While you might not necessarily always be able to follow its plot, you'll always be thinking or thrilled, one of the two. I'm not sure if the ending action scene, which I will not spoil, has ever been done before Mission: Impossible. There's something to be said about the film's originality, and yes, I say this even thought this is a movie that is based on a television show that was around in the '60s and '70s (and briefly in 1988-1990, but nobody's counting those).

If you're a fan of the television series, you're not going to notice a great deal of similarities here. There are a few references scattered throughout, but they're different bodies of work. Ethan Hunt wants to be James Bond, not anyone from the older series. That's just fine, and Cruise is charismatic enough to pull it off, but if you're expecting a faithful retelling, you're going to be disappointed.

There are some fun supporting performances coming from some relatively well-known actors. Jon Voight and Emmanuelle Béart play two of the people on the team of the job that goes wrong, while Ving Rhames and Jean Reno play the men that Hunt recruits for the mission at Langley. Vanessa Redgrave plays the buyer -- the person who employs Hunt and tasks him with stealing the list. None of them are memorable in the film, but it's nice to see such talent involved, even if Cruise (who also produced the film), is the star attraction.

Brian De Palma is a director who rarely makes a boring film, even if they don't happen to be very good. Here, he brings with him several camera angles and cinematography choices that you wouldn't initially think would work with an action film of this ilk, but it turns out to be tremendously effective once you adjust. After the confrontation scene where Hunt learns that his agency thinks he's the mole, I was sold on this shooting style. It's not something that should be used all the time, but sparingly, and for this one film, it worked.

A special mention should be made for the score, which is incredibly catchy, and you'll find yourself humming it after the film ends. Sure, it's a reworked version of the original theme of the film, but it's a good version of it and I don't know if I could get tired of listening to it. There's a school of thought -- to which I subscribe most of the time -- that a noticeable score is a bad one, but in this case I think it adds to the experience.

Mission: Impossible is a whole lot of fun. It has a great deal of memorable sequences, a fantastic score, a strong cast, and a director who brings a non-traditional shooting style to this action film and makes it work. Tom Cruise is charismatic enough to make his constantly grinning character endearing, a couple of points are absolutely fantastic, and the film saves its best moment for last, with an idea that I don't believe has ever been done on film previously. The plot is a mess, but this is still and engaging film and I wholeheartedly recommend it.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sun Mar 10, 2013 8:45 pm

Mission: Impossible II
Mission: Impossible made a lot of money so it was only inevitable that a sequel was going to happen. Tom Cruise seemed to genuinely enjoy his starring role as Ethan Hunt, an agent working for a top-secret agency, and the first film certainly left a lot of opportunity for a sequel. So, here we have Mission: Impossible II, which brings with it, in its first few scenes, more character depth than the entirety of the first film had. That's not a theme that will linger, but at least the initial attempt was made.

The second scene of the film has Ethan Hunt rock climbing, and it seems so real that you almost believe that Cruise did it without a harness or safety net. This is how the character vacations, which is almost as entertaining as the precarious situations that he gets himself into later on. He learns of a heist, which happened in the opening, involving the theft of a deadly virus and anti-virus that had been manufactured. It was, apparently, stolen by Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott), posing as Hunt, establishing for ourselves a villain.

The last film had a plot so convoluted that I'm not even sure the filmmakers behind it knew what was happening by the end. The villain changed forms and characters, twists and turns happened, and it was tough to keep track. In this one, Sean is the villain from start to finish, and that's a certainty. We know this time around that this is the case, and I'm quite glad that this is the case. You can follow along this time around, and while the film as a whole isn't quite as enjoyable, at least you know what's going on the whole time.

A love interest is also introduced right away, this time in the form of a "professional thief" -- I guess someone hires her to steal for them, but that's never stated -- named Nyah (Thandie Newton). There's even a lovemaking scene in which the characters act out their love while in separate vehicles driving down the road. It's a fabulous scene simply because of how well-made it is, and it's a clever way of getting the MPAA's rating system.

The plot essentially has Hunt, Nyah, a computer hacker named Luther (Ving Rhames' character from the first film returns and a pilot, Billy (John Polson) attempting to retrieve or destroy the virus so that it won't fall into the wrong hands. Nyah was, coincidentally, a former partner of Sean's, so you can see how she fits into this. A lot of misdirection occurs, mostly in the form of latex masks which disguise identities so effectively, but the plot isn't terribly complex. You know where it's going from the start.

John Woo has made a career out of making action movies, and here, like De Palma -- the director of the first film -- before him, he brings a sense of style to the film. There's a lot of slow motion and some wire-fu, which sometimes doesn't work, but does in this case. It's kind of funny seeing Tom Cruise do a bunch of backflips and somersaults, but it winds up working here. If nothing else, Mission: Impossible II is a more action-oriented film, and whenever that's the focus, it works just fine.

The problem comes from whenever Dougray Scott's character attempts to do anything. He's a villain, sure, but he's not a very good or memorable one. The only memorable scene he has is when he's threatening to cut off another character's finger. After that, there's nothing interesting about him. It doesn't help that Scott has very little going for him as an actor in this role, showing absolutely nothing in the way of range. He doesn't come across as a bad guy who could do real damage or even one who has much of a plan. He's just there and needs to be stopped for whatever reason.

I mean, I get it: There's a virus that could kill everyone on earth, and there's a scene showing -- in great detail, I might add -- exactly what it does to someone over the 37 hour period after exposure and prior to death. It's gross, and quite frankly, if the virus was handled by someone who really wanted to cause harm, perhaps the film might have felt more important. But the villain here is just dull, and doesn't seem genuinely nefarious. He just wants money, and doesn't seem to care about anything but that.

Tom Cruise still makes for a charismatic leading man, and seeing him grin his way through action scene after action scene is fun. The supporting cast, with the exception of Scott, is also quite enjoyable, although, like the first film, Cruise is spotlighted for the film's entirety. Hey, Brendan Gleeson and Anthony Hopkins are both in this film, and if that's not an endorsement, I don't know what is -- I am disregarding a spotty filmography, I'll admit, but both actors are generally worth watching regardless.

Mission: Impossible II is a fun movie that doesn't have any standout moments like its predecessor, but it makes a lot more sense and actually establishes a set villain from the start. Now, if that villain was played by a better actor or was written in a move compelling way, we'd have ourselves a movie. The action, however, is fun, in large part because John Woo was directing, and he knows a thing or two about action scenes. Cruise is enjoyable to watch, and gets some fantastic stunts, and the movie is, on the whole, worth seeing.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Mr. Wiggles on Mon Mar 11, 2013 1:10 am

Yo Marter have you seen the Original Alfie?

How does Jude Law's compare?

It sounds like they missed the point of the original. Which was Alfie starts out as a charismatic and charming womaniser, who is revealed slowly to have no emotion and in fact bears no traits to be aspired to. Ending with the abortion scene, in which it emerges that Alfie not only has no real redeeming qualities but also lacks any ability to change or better himself, despite the traumatic events.

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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Mon Mar 11, 2013 2:20 am

I haven't, unfortunately.

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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Mon Mar 11, 2013 8:39 pm

Mission: Impossible III
At this point in the Mission: Impossible series, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), has gotten out of his active field work. We saw him in the last two films risking life and limb to save the world, but at this point, he's happy with the home life. He's about to married to a lovely woman named Julia (Michelle Monaghan), and only trains people these days. However, that probably wouldn't make for a terribly exciting movie, so soon enough he's got a villain to stop and heists to pull off.

Of course, because the first film begins in medias res, we know the point the film must eventually reach. In that scene, we see the villain, a black market dealer named Owen Davian (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), intimidating Hunt while threatening Julia's life. So, we know that, until we see that scene, neither of them can die. Knowing this takes a little bit of the tension out of some of the scenes leading up to there, because we know that nothing terribly bad can happen. Seeing Hunt lead from building to building, potentially falling to his death, can't fail because his character has to reach a certain part in the story before death is even a possibility.

Anyway, there's a thing named the "Rabbit's Foot," this story's McGuffin, which will serve as the object of desire for both Davian and the team that Hunt puts together -- this time consisting of the returning Luther (Ving Rhames), and newcomers Declan (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and Zhen (Maggie Q). The initial plan is to capture Davian and bring him to the agency for interrogation, but when that goes wrong, Julia is captured and Hunt finds himself with 48 hours to steal the Rabbit's Foot for the villain.

Like the first film, there is more than one heist scene. Each one is very exciting, relatively creative, and always fun. This is the first film in the series where bouts of drama are scattered throughout, showing the progression from the initial installment. That film had no drama or character development, while the second had some at the beginning but nothing afterward. Even the secondary characters are given some depth this time around.

The result is the most complete film thus far in the Mission: Impossible series. It has both the action and the drama, which leads to a satisfactory emotional conclusion. I mean, there's still a large amount of film, chronologically speaking, after the opening scene, and everything after that point is weighted quite heavily. Seeing Hunt's quest to save his girlfriend is quite fun, and while the final scene isn't as visually impressive or inventive as the one in the first film, it is more dramatic.

It does all this while still making complete sense, despite the numerous plot twists and misdirection present throughout. As a total package, this film tops both previous films. It doesn't quite have the same memorable moments as Mission: Impossible, and the pure action scenes are better in Mission: Impossible II, if only because there's more danger to the majority of them -- since we don't know who will live or die -- but this is the first film in the series that works from start to finish without any moments that don't quite add up.

I think I can watch Tom Cruise run for hours on end. There's one scene near the end of the film where Cruise is running through Shanghai alongside a river and it's a wonderful unbroken shot that goes on for a good minute or so. He's on a full-on sprint, and it's just so beautiful. There's something about it, perhaps because he puts so much into it, that makes it fascinating. The same can be said about most of the things that Cruise does, really, and it's the main reason that I like watching him as an actor.

He makes everything he's done in this series feel so real, even if it's not. He does many of his own stunts, and there isn't an overuse of CGI, and he's so charming that watching him grin and laugh his way through the movies is so enjoyable. They've all been made by talented filmmakers who have brought something unique to the table, and with Cruise at the lead and behind many of the decisions made -- he's been a producer on all three -- all three have been interesting for varying reasons.

This is also the first film to have a compelling villain. While there's some misdirection and twists which change who is behind everything -- a prime suspect early on is the head of the agency that employs our hero, played by Laurence Fishburne -- Phillip Seymour Hoffman delivers such a venomous performance that he's impossible not to despise. He's so effective that he actually takes some of the spotlight off Cruise, which is so difficult to do. He plays the part with a mixture of insanity and efficiency, and it makes for a memorable role.

Mission: Impossible III is the most complete film in the series up to this point. It has some good action, some solid drama, and characters that are deep enough to have some emotional payout at the end. If there's anything negative to be said about it, it's that nothing is exceptional; it's all just very good, with the exception of Phillip Seymour Hoffman's tremendous villain. It doesn't really have any major problems, though, and is definitely worth seeing.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Tue Mar 12, 2013 6:40 pm

Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol
Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol seems to be the beginning of the end for Tom Cruise's starring role in the series. It was rumored before Ghost Protocol's release that Cruise would finally retire his character, Ethan Hunt, after this, the fourth installment in the long-running Mission: Impossible film franchise. Whether or this serves to be the case still requires a "wait and see" approach, but if the series is to carry on without Cruise in the lead, this film establishes a character who could take over for him.

That character is played by Jeremy Renner, an "analyst" named William Brandt. You'll see midway through the film why he could take over for Cruise, but let's just say that he's got the action chops to pull it off and leave it there. Why is Brandt even here? Well, some nuclear launch codes have been stolen, the entirety of the IMF -- the agency for which Hunt works for -- is shut down, and Hunt and his team are the only people able to stop a World War. The team this time around will consist of Hunt, Brandt, Jane Carter (Paula Patton), and Benji (Simon Pegg), the only other returning member from previous films.

The villain is a man named Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist), who is as clever as anyone that Hunt has ever faced. He singlehandedly blows up the Moscow Kremlin and manages to put the blame on America. This is the most international Mission: Impossible yet, having the group move from Russia to Dubai to India over the course of the film. These places allow for some amazing scenes, the pinnacle of which is in Dubai.

It's here where two things happen, neither of which I will reveal. One of them, either done because Tom Cruise is insane enough to put his body at risk, or because special effects are just so advanced nowadays -- the producers claim the former -- is unlike almost any other scene I've ever seen. It is the most thrilling scene of all of 2011. The second, which directly follows the first, is also tense, but for entirely different reasons. All it (initially) involves is talking, while the other is far more physical.

Most of the film is intense, making you feel at almost every instant that feeling where, if one thing goes wrong, it's all over. The stakes have never been higher for Hunt and his crew, and with no backup, they have no opportunity to mess up -- despite everything seeming to work against them. It has the coincidences stack upon one another, and it's a bit unbelievable at times, but for the most part, thanks to a breezy pace and some incredible sequences, you don't think about this while it's playing.

Not a moment of Ghost Protocol drags, which is saying something considering it's the longest Mission: Impossible yet at 130 minutes. Thanks to Brad Bird, the director of the animated classics The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille, there is never a dull moment. It's surprising how a man who is making his live-action directorial debut can appear on the scene like he's been making films of this nature for two decades. I suppose it makes sense, as animated films thrive on action and creativity -- there's certainly not a lack of either in this film.

This is the funniest entry to the series, in large part because Simon Pegg -- who appeared in a couple of scenes in the third film but was firmly in a supporting role -- has been added to the main cast. Many of his lines are comedic, in large part because he's just become a field agent and doesn't quite know how things work. His inexperience is funny, I suppose, although the actor playing him certainly helps. Renner wouldn't be able to pull off most of Pegg's lines if the roles were reversed.

Unfortunately, Ghost Protocol peaks midway through -- in Dubai, if that wasn't clear -- and can never reach the heights, both literally and metaphorically, that it accomplishes in that sequence. The ending feels anticlimactic as a result. There's a futuristic parking garage where the final showdown takes place, and while the fate of the world is at stake, and context ensures that it's nowhere near boring, I couldn't help thinking back to the earlier moment when -- no, I shouldn't say. Watch it for yourself.

I don't hope that Cruise is done with this franchise. He's been one of the reasons that it has been such a success. He's certainly still in good enough shape to continue, and while he's close to 50, he doesn't look it. He does many of the stunts in this film himself, so we're led to believe, and I believe that. Renner is fine, and can also handle the action, but this is Cruise's series and considering the output has been consistently good, I would be disappointed to see Cruise retire his character.

Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol is another solid entry into the series, and contains a scene that finally tops the finale to the 1995 movie. It's incredibly well-made, it's funny, it has enough depth to the characters to allow you to care about them just a bit, and it's superbly paced, never giving you time to question it. Its only real problem is that its best moment comes in the middle, as the rest of the film cannot possibly top that. It is definitely worth a watch, though, and might just be the success Tom Cruise needs to agree to star in another one. I can only hope.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Wed Mar 13, 2013 8:37 pm

The Machinist
If The Machinist was a stew, the ingredients would be Insomnia, Fight Club, and Memento, with just a touch of Darren Aronofsky sprinkled in for good measure. It has a character, Trevor, played by Christian Bale, who hasn't slept for a year. Trevor is also seeing things, has a terrible memory -- he leaves notes around his apartment in hopes he'll see them later -- and there's a mysterious man named Ivan (John Sharian) who turns up but nobody else even believes he exists. And it's all dark and stylishly created, like something Aronofsky might cook up.

The director is Brad Anderson, not Aronofsky, who has come up with a very interesting film, not quite as good as most of the elements that it takes inspiration from, but enjoyable nonetheless. The Machinist is a horror-noir, one that brings elements of the psychological thriller to the table, using the paranoid and sleep-deprived state of its main character to show us visceral imagery -- and confuse us, and him, because of the odd things that we both see.

For instance, who is this Ivan character, and why doesn't anyone else acknowledge his existence? Why doesn't the clock ever move past 1:30? What exactly is causing Trevor's insomnia? Who is playing a game of hangman on Trevor's fridge? The state of mind of this character is something that we understand perfectly, and we don't even need narration to convey that. That's skilled filmmakers at work there. While lazier and less talented people would use narration as an easy way out, Anderson doesn't flinch, instead giving us imagery and coaxing a strong performance out of Bale.

A large portion of the film relies on Bale, actually. He lost 60 pounds in preparation for the role, and looks sickly. I was concerned about his health watching him, and I can only imagine how much of a struggle it was for him to perform without a healthy body weight. The thing is that his character is often full of energy, rarely suffering the effects of being the underweight. When your actor is actually malnourished, keeping up that energy has got to be really hard.

However, the weight loss and Bale's appearance helps add to the creepiness of the character, and the atmosphere of the film. It wouldn't be quite as effective had Bale decided to, I don't know, not put his health into jeopardy. I suppose CGI could have been used to make him appear as thin as he does here -- and there are only a few shots in which you see how thin he truly is, so this might have been feasible even with The Machinist's small budget -- but you have to appreciate the actor's commitment to the role by going through the physical transformation required to make the film effective.

There are parts of The Mechanic that feel clichéd, like the character Stevie, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh. She's the "hooker with a heart of gold" character that we've all grown to ... become bored with. She's one of two females that Trevor finds comfort in. The second is Mario (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón), the nighttime server at the airport, and who takes Tervor to the fair for Mother's Day (along with her son), wherein many of the film's secrets lie -- if you know where to look.

You won't know the first time you watch it. You might not even figure it out after the second. But at the fair is a ride, "Route 666," which contains a lot of the answers you'll look for. Consider that a hint for when you watch the film, although it won't explain everything right away. You'll still have to wait for the reveals, and only then will the fun house ride give you many answers.

Even at that point, there are still many points open to interpretation, depending on how deep you're willing to look. You can think of the ride and its symbolism, or you can take the film more at face value. Either way, you'll get something out of, although your experience will be different depending on which way you look at it. Perhaps both are correct, and it makes for a richer film as a result. I do recommend watching The Machinist at least twice, as it'll allow for a much more enjoyable experience.

Well, "enjoyable" might not be the best word for it. Watching Trevor trudge through life is not fun, nor are any of the things that happen throughout the film. It's a dark film that has been stylishly created, but if you're looking for enjoyment, you'll want to see something else. Bale doesn't smile much, if ever, and neither does anyone else. They lead sad, sad lives, and it might just make you appreciate what you have. At least you can get to sleep, and you can remember most things that happen during the day, and you aren't becoming psychotic.

The Machinist is a grossly interesting film, although it's not at all fun. It has a severely malnourished and insomniac main character, it features a lot of dark, twists things, and it's a film you have to think about in order to completely get -- and even then, it's open to interpretation depending on how deeply you look at it. It has a very strong performance given by Christian Bale, who lost a lot of weight yet still has to be quite energetic, and it's absolutely worth watching at least twice, regardless of the formula and shameless ripping-off it does of other movies.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by GrinningManiac on Thu Mar 14, 2013 2:56 pm

I loved Ghost Protocol.

Just popping my head it to let you know I read and love these things even if you don't often get feedback

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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Thu Mar 14, 2013 7:14 pm

Thank you!

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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Thu Mar 14, 2013 8:33 pm

The Rock
The Rock is a relentless action movie courtesy of Michael Bay, a director who needs relentless pacing to hide the flaws in his films. It works to his advantage here, as barely a moment goes by without something used to get our heart going. We open with action, we close with action, and there's a lot of it in the middle, too. If what you want is a pure action movie, you can't really do a whole lot better than The Rock.

We begin by learning about our sympathetic villain, General Frank Hummel (Ed Harris). He steals a bunch of chemical-filled rockets from his own military, then takes over Alcatraz, complete with 81 hostages. All he wants is $100 million, the majority of which he plans to give to the families of men who died in the military -- people who have families to whom the government refused to pay compensation. He says that after 48 hours, he'll launch the rockets, which contain enough of the deadly poison to kill every single person in San Francisco, not to mention the environmental impact. He knows the ins and outs, and knows that he's more or less unstoppable atop the fortress from which nobody has ever escaped.

At least, that's what he thinks. It turns out, one man did escape from the prison. His name is John Mason (Sean Connery), a former M16 Agent who has been detained, illegally, for thirty years, despite the government having nothing on him. Is he innocent? Is he guilty? What does it matter? He's the only person who can lead a group of SEAL members into the prison without getting lost, caught, or detected. Now all we need is someone to defuse the rockets.

This introduces us to our lead character, a chemical weapon specialist named Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage). He initially thinks that he's flying to San Francisco just as part of a training exercise, so he invites his girlfriend -- whom he recently learned is pregnant -- along for the ride. Then he thinks that he's just going to be a consultant, before learning the truth: He's going in with the team, and if he fails, his girlfriend will be killed along with the rest of the city.

You can see how the stakes are high. They get even higher when (1) the entire team except for Mason and Goodspeed are killed, and (2) we find out that Mason has a daughter who is also in the area. Oh, and since Mason has been imprisoned for the last three decades, he's not exactly in a cheerful and helpful mood. And if he and Goodspeed aren't successful, the entire island is going to be blown up before the rockets can be allowed to launch.

This leads to a number of very interesting and exciting action sequences, which span pretty much the last hour and a half of the film. Along the way, we get some fun chemistry building between Mason and Goodspeed, a bunch of witty retorts from both of them, and relentless and nonstop thrills. It all comes down to the wire, as films involving a timer and a terrorist always do, and your heartbeat will quicken as it plays. While the ending plays out quite generically, it still works and ends a very enjoyable film on a strong note.

There are some points in The Rock that come across as really fresh and aren't seen very often in action movies. The stunts feel real, the gunfights as if there is actually something on the line, and the villain as complex. The last one is something that the film does really well: It crafts a deep and interesting villain with many motivating factors, played by an actor who can turn in both a sympathetic and intense performance. Ed Harris is kind of the one that keeps us grounded in reality, and in humanity. He doesn't want to kill; he just wants others to get proper compensation after their family member was killed in battle.

Logic doesn't exist in this movie, but it doesn't matter. How we go from one action scene to another is inconsequential because there isn't enough time to think about it. Does it all make sense? No, but why should it? You're here to be entertained, and you will be. There's the obligatory car chase, multiple gunfights, and a film full of tension that will keep you on the edge of your seat. What more do you want?

Much of the reason that The Rock works is because of Connery's wit and charm. While the action scenes alone are often inventive and fun to watch, if they aren't happening to people we either like or can at least identify with, they ultimately become a bore. Watching Connery's character -- the maybe wrongfully accused and definitely wrongly incarcerated man -- go through it all, along with a Cage's not-a-real-soldier scientist is thrilling. They shouldn't be able to pull it off, and the odds of the world are against them -- and yet, they still have time to bond and make jokes, which is endearing.

The Rock is a very, very fun action movie. It's relentlessly paced, filled with action scenes from start to finish, and while it doesn't always link them with logic, the aforementioned pacing doesn't allow you time to think about them. It has two lead actors who we care about, and a villain possibly more sympathetic than any other character, played with intensity. It's absolutely worth watching, and a shining example of what Michael Bay is capable of.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Fri Mar 15, 2013 8:58 pm

The Chase
The Chase, one of the most appropriately titled movies I can remember, is just that: One big, long car chase. The first scene has bad boy Jack Hammond (Charlie Sheen) capture a young woman, Natalie (Kristy Swanson), and then embark on a car chase with various police vehicles for the next hour and a half. It's the same plot from 1955's The Fast and the Furious, basically, with a different ending and a couple of subplots changed. But, essentially, see one and you've seen the other.

Chase scenes get boring in action movies after a certain amount of time. It doesn't matter what happens in them; they always get stale. That's true here, which is unfortunate because it manages to last a lot longer than other films. However, after about the first hour, I had grown tired. The police really didn't seem to be trying all that hard to stop the fugitive, neither Jack or Natalie seemed to be taking the situation all that seriously -- and while that's all good and charming for the initial bit, it eventually grows tiresome.

The film manages to fit in a love story into the mix, as Jack and Natalie eventually grow from their captor/hostage relationship to one that is amiable. The two have little chemistry, ensuring that we won't believe in the relationship, but, then, there isn't a whole lot of effort put into making us believe it anyway. Jack stands up to her father, who calls them on the car's phone, in a way that nobody else ever did, and from that point on, she's all starry-eyed. Prior to that point, she had burned him and tried to make the hostage situation as miserable as possible for the both of them.

There's no organic growth, is what I'm saying. We instantly move from one end of the spectrum to the other without any time spent in between the two extremes. You can't buy into them instantly falling in love because of this -- especially given both how they meet and because the two actors seem so out of it that hiring a couple of budgerigars might have been more enjoyable for all the emotion put into their roles.

The actual chase gets less and less focus as the film moves on, too, which makes no sense. If the relationships was to be the focus, it needed to not peak as early as it does. We stay in the same place -- love -- for the majority of the film, meaning that there is no development. The chase then takes a back seat to a stale relationship devoid of growth. It makes sense to do this if we were still going to have these people grow given that the car chase simply cannot sustain a feature length film, but the way it was handled was wrong in almost every way.

What also didn't work was the way the film almost had a running commentary regarding the chase. There is a documentary crew inside one of the cop cars, which has Henry Rollins and Josh Mostel explaining what their thoughts are about the chase and about being police officers. Meanwhile, the local news reports go to absurd lengths to get good footage of the chase and draw in viewers. And, back at the local police station, we have Natalie's parents and the Chief of Police trying to make heads or tails of the situation.

This gets increasingly annoying and felt a lot more like filler than it should. It's cute and kind of funny at the beginning, but by the end, when they're repeated the same thing in scene after scene, it's dull. Much like real news, which isn't watched by most people for more than an hour at a time, seeing the same story over and over again gets boring. Seeing it from different perspectives gave us the chance to hear differing opinions, but everyone except Jack and Natalie think the chase is bad, for obvious reasons, and never get a deeper understanding than that.

The parts of the film that actually do involve the car chase contain some fun moments and some formulaic ones. For instance, how many movies have corpses end up being used as one of the obstacles to slow down the police? Not many, I would reckon. But there are a great deal of random car flips that you can't believe would actually happen, and some other points that are just silly, like the ending.

I don't want to ruin the film's finale, but let's just say that it involves blowing up a helicopter with a single pistol shot, as well as a little bit of misdirection on the part of a daydream. No, you haven't just figured it out, so don't even think that. But it is quite silly, as is the whole idea that Jack is wrongly convicted and that things just aren't going his way. He pleads his innocence over the course of the entire film, but it never actually matters whether he did what people say he did or not.

The Chase has a bevy of weak points, but as an unpretentious piece of action movie history, it works just fine. It almost manages to sustain the excitement of a car chase for an entire movie, and while all of the elements outside of that don't really work, that single point, and the fact that it rarely wants to be more than an extended chase scene, makes it almost worthwhile. You have to admire something that is as simple as this film is, and while it does eventually grow tiresome, leading up to a terrible conclusion, it just might warrant a watch.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by GrinningManiac on Sat Mar 16, 2013 12:31 am

Y'know what's the best car chase?

Duel

Goddamn that film is awesome

Have you seen Argo yet?

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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sat Mar 16, 2013 2:17 am

Never seen Duel.

I saw Argo -- about two weeks before it was out. Smile

There's that review.

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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sat Mar 16, 2013 9:01 pm

World's Greatest Dad
World's Greatest Dad is the type of satirical black comedy not meant to appeal to mainstream audiences -- at least, not for the most part. It probably had even less of a chance of gaining widespread acceptance in its first draft, but it's still more a film geared toward a certain audience. That type of audience is one that is cynical about the majority of people, particularly those who deify the dead after feeling the complete opposite when the deceased were, in fact, living.

Robin Williams once again plays a poetry teacher in the film. He's Lance Clayton, teacher of the least popular English elective, one which faces the possibility of being cut if attendance doesn't improve. He's having a fling with another teacher, Claire (Alexie Gilmore), although they keep that a secret from everyone else in the entire world. Why? Because it allows Claire to hang out with a fellow teacher, Mike (Henry Simmons), rousing suspicion in Lance, especially when Claire blows off dates for random and increasingly crazy reasons.

Lance, the soft-spoken, soul-of-a-poet man, has a lousy son, Kyle (Daryl Sabara). Calling this kid a jerk would be an understatement. He is rude to everyone, including his supposed friend, Andrew (Evan Martin), and is the type of person who shouldn't be allowed out of the house. The home is where he dies, after the first half hour of the picture, so perhaps a mental facility is a better idea. Autoerotic asphyxiation is the cause of death, although Lance, not wanting to cause further embarrassment for either member of the family, frames it as a suicide, note and all.

Imagine the surprise he gets when that note gets leaked to the school, and before you know it, everyone is idolizing the student that they hated not just a few days ago. Oh, and they're also praising the writing of the note, despite Lance having several failed attempts at getting a novel to be accepted by publishers. Things begin spiraling out of control from here, and the film's targets become even more clear.

You can liken it to the death of Michael Jackson, which makes the timing of World's Greatest Dad's release perfect (he died in June; the film was released in August). Jackson was the butt-end of jokes for years prior to his death, but not only a day after, he was held up in a near-perfect light. All because he died. People who do that are the ones that Bob Goldthwait, writer and director, is taking aim at. And if he can get in some commentary regarding how difficult it is to become a writer that's a bonus.

The first half-hour of the film doesn't tell you that whatsoever. All it does is set the stage for the characters, but not the situation they're soon going to find themselves in. It doesn't convey tone or meaning, either, and does a poor job of involving us. There's not much of a hook to World's Greatest Dad, and the beginning does not at all prepare you for what you're about to see. All it does is give us archetypes -- depressed dad, jerk son, love interest -- some of whom we'll have to spend some more time with, and others that disappear.

The rest of the film doesn't exactly develop these characters as it does poke fun at many potential members of the audience. Lance doesn't stop being a depressed, lonely man -- he just finds a medium in which to express himself: Kyle's "journals," which he's writing after his son's death, presumably filling them with his own thoughts. As the situation escalates, it's kind of fun to watch the film go over-the-top with its portrayal of the worship that comes to Kyle, but it eventually grows tiresome when you find out that this is pretty much the only thing on its mind.

It's still quite funny, and charming and occasionally sad in its own way. After Kyle dies, Robin Williams gets a few touching scenes, reminding us once again that when he goes for drama and not comedy, he is effective. He's good at deadpan, too, which is the most common style of delivery that he uses in World's Greatest Dad. You'll have some points where you'll laugh -- and even more when you'll feel bad about even thinking about laughing -- and you might just feel sad, too.

The latter satire would not work if not for Daryl Sabara's performance as the most unlikable kid ever. He has to be so despicable that I can only imagine how unenjoyable the filming of his scenes would be. He pulls it off, though, which allows us to laugh even more at how his character is worshiped just days after his demise. It allows the film to make its main point. The other characters, all starry-eyed as most of them have to be, are fine, but play archetypes or obsessed fans -- sometimes both.

World's Greatest Dad is effective at doing what it wants to. It makes a point, sticks with it through to almost the very end, and while it chickens out to avoid being too dark and cynical, it still manages to hammer its ideas home in a way that will keep them in your head. It has two effective lead performers in Robin Williams and Daryl Sabara -- playing polar opposites -- and it will make you feel a whole range of emotions, even though it fails to hook you in, which may make it hard to get into for many viewers. It's worth watching, though, especially if you're a fan of black comedy.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by GrinningManiac on Sat Mar 16, 2013 9:46 pm

Movie Martyr wrote:Never seen Duel.

I saw Argo -- about two weeks before it was out. Smile

There's that review.

Ah thanks

Duel is literally just a car chase. But it's the most goddamn intense and awesome thing in your life. Barely a word of dialogue and basically only two "characters"

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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sun Mar 17, 2013 8:44 pm

Laurel Canyon
Laurel Canyon is about as boring as a good movie can get. It has some interesting developments, a couple of characters worth watching, but nothing particularly special and it all drags on for far too long with little that's actually worthy of your time. It's predictable, relatively dull, and while it's made with skill and has good to really good actors taking part, I just couldn't invest myself in the story it was trying to tell. Perhaps that's a failure on my part, but the film didn't win me over.

I like movies with smart characters, and this one has two very smart people in the leading roles. Sam (Christian Bale), has recently become engaged to Alex (Kate Beckinsale), and the two have decided to move to Los Angeles. Sam has recently graduated and is starting his residency at the local hospital, while Alex is continuing her studies. They are going to stay at Sam's mother's house, which she won't be at because she'll be on her beach house. Or so we think. Turns out, she gave the beach house to her ex-husband -- something you can do when you're a rich record producer -- and has herself, and a band, staying in the one she promised Sam. Oops.

It's no big deal, right? Alex only needs peace and quiet to finish her dissertation, and a band will totally not be an inconvenience considering all they do is play music really loud. Right. Anyway, Sam's mother, Jane (Frances McDormand) is in a relationship with the band's lead singer, Ian (Alessandro Nivola), which is about as open a relationship as you're going to get. You can already see the ways these different lifestyles are going to clash.

So, Alex, who spends the day around the house, eventually starts to get involved in the culture that is Jane's life, while Sam, who rarely gets to leave the hospital -- such is the life of a doctor -- starts finding himself spending a lot of time with another woman, a fellow doctor, Sara (Natascha McElhone). Problems arise that need solving, obviously, and it'll all work itself out in the end. Maybe. Probably not. I don't really know or care.

The point is that it doesn't matter. The film could have complete closure, or it could be open-ended, and it would make no difference to me. None of the storylines managed to connect in any meaningful way, and even in the really tense, dramatic moments, I found myself yawning. There's not a whole lot of character depth, and any development that happens is superficial. These characters have to act this way because of the way the film has been written, not because they really should.

At the center of all the film's chaos is Frances McDormand, the only actor here who both creates a new character and becomes fully immersed in that creation. She deserves the top billing received here, even though the film isn't about her; it only becomes that way because of the presence she has while on-screen. Here, her hippie-of-the-70s woman is always compelling to watch, and if Laurel Canyon was about her and not a couple set on different trajectories, it might have worked. But, alas, this is not the movie we've been given.

Everyone else in the film is fine, but nothing special, especially when compared to or sharing the screen with McDormand. Bale, Beckinsale, Nivola, McElhone -- they're all accomplished in their own right, but their performances here are just fine. Nothing special, nothing bad; they do what they're told and they do it believably and credibly, but without managing to capture the screen. There are only so many ways to say that their performances are what's required and nothing more.

Fun fact: McDormand is also the only main actor who gets to use a natural accent. Beckinsale in English, playing an American. Bale is Welsh, also playing an American. Nivola is American, but playing a Brit, while McElhone is English, but playing an Iranian, I believe. That's not noticeable while the film is playing -- all of the accents are credible and if you didn't know the actors' natural accents, you wouldn't notice -- but I thought it was a fun thing to mention.

The problem for me is that it's all well-made, and that if it had something to interest us, I would have been very appreciative. Lisa Cholodenko, whose previous directorial effort was the acclaimed High Art, knows what she's doing. But the story is the problem here, not the director. Very few people could make this plot captivating, as it has been done before and isn't particularly interesting regardless of how many times it has been done.

Laurel Canyon is the type of film about which I have little to say. It's all fine and competent, but not compelling. If you're looking for a film to watch just because it's technically sound, then it's fine, but if you want a drama in which you can invest yourself, you'll want to look elsewhere. Good dramas have strong characters; Laurel Canyon has one. Frances McDormand shines, and fans of her should see it even though everything around is uninteresting. She captures the screen with the character she creates, and actually helps hide flaws in other areas. But, the film as a whole is not worth your time.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Mon Mar 18, 2013 8:36 pm

All the Real Girls
All the Real Girls is a film of tender romance, one that is rarely seen in the movies. It has little plot, being approached much more like a documentary than your normal drama. Much of it appears to be improvised, and I would almost believe that the relationship between the two leads was real instead of scripted, based on their chemistry and the way that each scene plays out. You stop becoming aware that you're watching a movie. You forget that the camera is showing you these events and that you're not just standing there, watching these people go about their lives.

The cause of all the drama is a man named Paul (Paul Schneider), a former womanizer who wants to start turning his life around. He meets Noel (Zooey Deschanel) before our film even begins, and in the very first scene we see them together, he refuses to kiss her on the lips. Why? Because he's afraid. Afraid that he'd have to explain himself, and possibly because he doesn't want his past tendencies to take over. She, in her first real relationship, has no clue what she's doing.

However, because she trusts him intimately -- each one is clearly in love with the other; we can see that clearly -- she lets him make the decisions regarding how fast the relationship moves. There's not a whole lot of tension here, save for Noel's brother, Tip (Shea Whigham), starting to wonder if Paul is the right guy for her, and another twist in the story that I'm not going to reveal, as you need to witness it for yourself. It'll be more powerful that way.

Much of the film involves talking. That's pretty much it. You learn a lot about each of the main characters this way, and the seemingly heavily improvised dialogue always gives you something interesting to hear. I'm sure the characters were given to the actors and they were given a basic direction regarding how each scene should play out. Afterward, they were free to make up their own words and the camera would just focus on them for as long as they wanted to go on.

This makes the characters for real, as they basically are. Maybe many of the emotions aren't actually being felt by these actors, but they're so convincing that it doesn't matter. They're fully in character, and they're saying whatever it is that they think their character would be thinking about at the time. And Director David Gordon Green, in his second feature, just allows them to go about it. He places his trust in these actors, and the payoff is superb. These characters become real, not like most movie people, and we care for them all the more because of this.

There are a couple of additional subplots, like Paul's relationship with his mother (Patricia Clarkson), with whom he still lives despite being in his mid twenties, or the one between Paul and all of his friends, but the focus is most definitely on the one with Noel. Every scene that the two characters share are worthwhile. They're given all the time in the world to talk, to work on things, and to show us who they are. It's only natural that we care about them with this technique.

Some of what little story there is feels forced. I didn't understand one decision by a character late in the picture, and I felt like I should have. You can, I'm sure, justify it, given where the character is in life and the influences pushing against him/her, but the rationale for the character to do it wasn't there. Perhaps that's the point, in that irrational decisions are a part of life, but even that's not talked about. It was just an "I did it, okay?" thing, and that was that. And if you're thinking I just gave away what happens, think again.

It all leads up to an ambiguous and slightly unsatisfying ending. It makes sense in context, but when the emotions are this high, you want to see, for better or worse, how it's all going to work out. You don't get that here. You have to interpret it and figure it all out for yourself. I don't mind doing the work, but when you can see it either way, the ending feels like a letdown -- like Green wasn't sure how to finish, so he let us complete it for him.

It ultimately doesn't matter. The performances are so strong that they carry All the Real Girls regardless of its flaws. They make you feel something in every scene, which is very rare. It's only when we lose focus on the romance between Paul and Noel that the film starts to drag. It's an unfocused film in general, but at least for most of the time, it knows which characters deserve to be the center of attention. A film like this one leans on its actors and the emotions they generate; this is one that's successful in doing so.

All the Real Girls, David Gordon Green's second feature film, is a large success. He seems to give minimal direction in regards to his actors, allowing them to go about each scene as if they were involved in it in real life. This allows for a film that feels natural and very real. When the emotions run high, we feel like we're there every step of the way. When it loses focus of the leading romance, it does start to drag a bit, but because of how much we care about the main characters, it is absolutely worth a watch.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Tue Mar 19, 2013 8:44 pm

Being John Malkovich
One of the strangest movies I've ever seen, Being John Malkovich comes to use from director Spike Jonez. Here, he manages to get so bizarre that I'm not even sure where to begin, where to end, or what to tell you about. How he pitched the film to not only the studios, but to John Malkovich, could probably warrant its own film. But, alas, this is not a documentary; it's a film in which people literally enter the head of John Malkovich, but only for fifteen minutes at a time.

Let's backtrack. Craig (John Cusack) is a puppeteer who is currently unemployed. After his wife, Lotte (Cameron Diaz), gets him to find a job, he winds up working on the 7 1/2 floor of an office building downtown, filing things for a Dr. Lester (Orson Bean). It's behind one of these filing cabinets that he finds an old doorway. It leads to a portal which transports you into the head of John Malkovich, who plays himself for all of these experiences -- and for some others, too. You get about fifteen minutes at a time, before you're dumped into a ditch at the side of the road.

Craig, and a woman at work with whom he has desperately fallen in love, Maxine (Catherine Keener), decide to turn this into a business. $200 and you can take a trip into John Malkovich's head for as long as the portal allows you. Meanwhile, Lotte has become obsessed with being inside Malkovich, claiming that she might be a transsexual. Maxine has started dating Malkovich, but only sees him when Lotte's inside his head; the two are falling in love, but only when Lotte is in the man's body.

Obviously, that causes some tensions at home, and it eventually leads to Craig staying for prolonged periods inside our favorite actor, while learning to control him much like his puppets. I'll say no more, for fear of spoiling some of the insanity that comes of this, and of many of the subplots in the film, but suffice to say that this is a surrealist film through and through, breaking conventions left and right, and being all the better for it. A film like this can't be forced to adhere to anything.

It's funny how Being John Malkovich initially brings up deep philosophical questions and then promptly has anther character dismiss them, never to be brought up again. You're told exactly what to think about, and then told not to think about it at all, because it would be a waste of time. You're more here for the absurdity of the experience, not to question the soul, spirit, or whatever you want to call it. The portal exists, and that is all that we need to know. Anything past that is a waste of time for this tightly paced film.

The film is such an experience that describing it is useless. You simply have to see it to truly understand, and even then, it might take a while. There's a certain style to the proceedings, a way in which Spike Jonez captures our attention, and then manages to surprise us just as much in the second half -- at the time when we've grown accustomed to how he presents his work -- which is amazing. After you've figured out what's going on, a new twist is thrown in, and you're surprised again. That's quite the feeling.

How many movies give you a flashback of how an ape was traumatized as a child? And how many use that flashback as a way of allowing an ape to not only remove that trauma -- something it had been going to therapy for -- but also to explain how it can untie knots? This one does. Now, you might be wondering why there is an ape at all, in which case I'll tell you that Lotte cares for injured animals, and takes them home. In one scene, she tells her husband that the ape will sleep with them, as it has had a hard day.

The film is also quite charming and funny, with more than a few laugh-out-loud parts to it. Being able to be a fictionalized version of John Malkovich is kind of inherently funny, and many of the scenes inside of his head are quite hysterical. That all works because of Malkovich's portrayal of, well, himself, and how he's completely unrestrained. He's doing it for a laugh, sure, but considering he's not holding back, not thinking he'll be shamed for doing these things, the performance works.

Not to be outdone are the three other lead actors. Cusack, with long hair and an indecisive personality is strong, while Diaz is almost unrecognizable underneath the grunge of everyday life. Keener and Cusack have a really good chemistry, which works wonders when he's trying to hit on her and she rejects him at every turn -- except when he's John Malkovich. Meanwhile, Orson Bean is fun to watch as a man who is, apparently, 105 years old, and still going strong, working on half of a floor which makes everyone have to bend down at all times due to its low ceiling. He must really love his job.

Being John Malkovich is such a strange experience that, even if it doesn't sound like your kind of thing, I have to recommend. There's no way to properly describe it; it simply has to be watched to be believed. It has a completely committed performance by the man in its title, as well as a style and a plot that can't be imagined by most people. Go watch it, and have fun.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Wed Mar 20, 2013 8:40 pm

The Croods
The Croods is very similar to Dave the Barbarian, or, at least, it reminded me of that show while I was watching it. If you remember and like that show, you're awesome. In a lot of ways, the characters are interchangeable, and The Croods winds up feeling like the longest and funniest episode of the canceled Disney show. And funny it is; this is, so far, the funniest film I've seen of 2013. You can quote me on that, advertising people.

Our film opens with some monologue from the teenage girl character, Eep (Emma Stone), who is sick of her overprotective father, Grug (Nicolas Cage), keeping her and her family in their cave. She explains that this is the reason that the Crood family has survived for this long, but also wishes for the freedom that could come from exploring the world. Soon enough, she sneaks out and meets a boy, Guy (Ryan Reynolds), who tells her that the end of the world is coming, and that the family needs to search for safety. The earth splits open, the cave is destroyed, and the family embarks on a journey, along with Guy, for the aforementioned safety.

Along this quest, they come across many varied and interesting environments, as well as some cute, funny, and dangerous animal hybrids. It's all very colorful, very exciting, and will keep both children and adults entertained. The "end of the world" notion keeps the family moving and keeps the film's pace brisk, while the areas that they're forced into provide new thrills and dangers with every turn. And that's about all The Croods had to do well in order to succeed.

Thankfully, especially for the older members of the audience, that isn't all it does properly. It is also incredibly funny, delivering almost a laugh a minute -- after a relatively slow start, when we're setting up our basic premise, which is not funny and needed to be cut down. It also provides the children with strong themes told to them in a relatively simple and straightforward way. This isn't anything unique to this movie, but it's best not to put any confusion into the minds of the target audience.

As you'll be unsurprised to learn, The Croods' story winds up having a lot of father/daughter bonding. The daughter starts the film hating her father's over-protectiveness, while he needs to do some growing, too. There is also a conflict between Grug and Guy, not only because the latter is trying to woo the former's daughter, but also because they represent two stages of evolution. Grug is the primitive caveman, while Guy is the "modern man," who knows how to make things like "fire."

It's these little touches, I suppose, that elevates The Croods above other animated films, particularly the lesser films that come out of DreamWorks' animated studio. The film was co-directed by Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders, the latter of whom was behind How to Train Your Dragon, which was also very good. There's enough heart and charm, while also providing plenty of laughs, great animation, and simply a lot of fun. It's hard to see anyone coming away from this film with a frown on their face.

The animation team has even somewhat sidestepped the problem that 3D animated films almost always face, which is that the human characters almost always look significantly worse than the rest of the picture. Humans are more difficult to animate, apparently, and also wind up looking like rubber in comparison to the fur or textured surfaces that surround them. Anyway, making most of the characters look oafish -- they are cavemen, after all -- slightly fixes this issue. It also allows for some unique looking individuals. The female protagonist is nothing like the toothpicks that populate the animated genre, for example.

It might not initially make sense to cast Nicolas Cage in the role of a giant caveman, but once you see the movie, you can see the brilliance in the casting. Cage can make any line hilarious, and his character often has to overact in an attempt to scare away predators. It makes sense for Cage to voice him, as he's one of the best hammy actors in the business, and his delivery style adds to the charm and humor. Emma Stone and Ryan Reynolds are less impressive, although they're much more reserved, down-to-earth characters.

If The Croods suffers, it's because of the supporting characters or, as the film calls them, the rest of the family. There are four other members of the Crood family, but they're all painfully underdeveloped and essentially have one gimmick each. They provide some laughter and some good lines, but most of the time is dedicated to the three characters mentioned above. There's really no reason for the other family members to even be in the film, and it would have been nice to see their roles expanded.

The Croods is a very enjoyable film, animated or not. It looks good, it's got a lot of charm and heart, and it is very funny. While it would have benefited from a greater supporting cast -- or their excision from the picture -- it still manages to be one of the first truly enjoyable movies of the year, and the funniest one that I've seen in 2013. If you have children, or remember loving Dave the Barbarian during its short run, you should definitely give The Croods a watch.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Thu Mar 21, 2013 7:39 pm

Stoker
If there's one real negative to Stoker, it's that its script is relatively simple and familiar. The writer is Wentworth Miller, an actor best known for his work on Prison Break. It's not difficult to figure out most of the twists and turns that Stoker takes, in large part because the screenplay isn't all that original. This is a complaint that you have after the film, not during, because Park Chan-wook's direction is so strong, and the actors are so good, that you won't be thinking about the mediocre screenplay. I mention it now to get the least exciting aspect out of the way now.

Stoker begins on the 18th birthday -- legal age, so to speak -- of our young female protagonist, India Stoker. Her father, Richard (Dermot Mulroney), has just died, making her birthday a more sullen experience than it should be. Her mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), wasn't terribly close to her father, and by all accounts isn't a great mother. Her idea of parenthood is to correct a "no" to a "no, thank you." India appears to be even less emotional about the whole thing, taking the entire experience with a sigh of apathy. Something's not quite right.

That feeling continues with the arrival of India's Uncle, Charlie (Matthew Goode). There's something off about Good Ol' Uncle Charlie, although whether that's true and what is really causing this sense of uneasiness isn't revealed until later. He essentially moves in to the upper-class family's mansion, and always seems to be watching, listening. His inhuman charm is offset only by the sinking feeling that he's waiting for an opportunity to strike, much like the way an eagle hunts for its prey.

I mention an eagle because one is shown on a couple of televisions, and signals exactly what's going to happen in an upcoming scene. Director Park Chan-wook -- best known for the Vengeance trilogy -- making his English-language debut, fills his film with these types of moments. Symbolic imagery used in ways that you won't understand until after you've seen it. After a single viewing, you'll want to see it again in order to observe what you've missed from earlier on. This is a film that rewards additional watches.

In addition, Stoker doesn't cheat. So many thrillers these days hide any clues, ensuring that the audience won't be able to figure out what's going on. Stoker doesn't do this -- at least, not in a way that feels deceitful. Everything is there to figure out, but it might be hidden in more clever ways. The imagery, the cinematography, the editing -- all of this is used in a way to disguise the reveals. You have all the information there; you just have to decipher it. You spend most of your time watching Stoker thinking about it and trying to figure it out. That's in relation to both its plot and its themes, of which there are many for you to look out for over its duration, in particular the way that a sexual awakening/coming-of-age is linked with that of a sociopath -- this is a gross simplification of what the film presents, by the way, but I've avoided as much spoiling as I can in this review.

There are points in the film when Chan-wook's style has the potential to overtake the rest of the film. Here, I'm thinking about some minor instances of non-linear editing, as well as some gorgeous -- absolutely stunning -- slow-motion shots. I say "has the potential" because, while I can see it being a detractor for some viewers, they wind up serving a larger purpose, and are a joy to behold for most of the people who are going to see Stoker anyway. The art house crowd will get a kick out of them, is what I'm saying. However, the way that tension is built and then executed is something that everyone will be able to appreciate, and also something that Chan-wook does exceptionally. There are a couple of scenes that will linger for a long time in my mind.

Even though there are moments that come close to becoming self-indulgent to the point of hurting the final product, Stoker is cut down to the bare minimum, which works in its favor. There are no scenes in the film that don't matter. The pacing is perfect. There isn't need for any more, or any less, exposition. The dialogue is scarce but effective; any more would ruin the effect. This isn't even getting into some of the less conventional methods by which the film was crafted, most of which remind us that we're dealing with a director who completely understands film.

Directly after seeing Stoker, I was both puzzled and disappointed by the ending. I figured that if it had ended five minutes earlier, it would have been more effective. We didn't need to see what essentially amounts to an epilogue. In further observation, it cements the ideas generated about the main character. Her arc is now complete, and there are no questions left about how she finishes the film. I still wonder if it would work as well without this last segment. But, then, you would also need a different opening, because the ending in the film ties everything together.

The language barrier was clearly not a problem for the actors, as two of the leads -- along with a couple of strong supporting performances from the aforementioned Mulroney and Jacki Weaver -- turn in what might be career-best work. Mia Wasikowska takes herself to a dark place that we haven't seen from her before, while Matthew Goode is both charming and sinister, a perfect combination which makes for an effective maybe-villain. And I only say that Nicole Kidman has had better performances because, well, look at her filmography. Her motherly character is essentially what you'd expect from a poor parental figure, and she pulls it off effectively.

While I don't want to oversell it, Stoker is one heck of an effective thriller, able to easily overcome any deficiencies in its screenplay due to fantastic direction and great performances. It's more for the art house crowd than the general populace -- and no, I'm not saying that's a bad thing -- simply because of the bounty of creativity from its director, I feel like it might be able to be appreciated by all potential audiences. If nothing else, it will keep them guessing, creep them out, and provide an absolutely sensational visual experience. I definitely recommend Stoker.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Fri Mar 22, 2013 5:42 pm

Olympus Has Fallen
Antoine Fuqua's Olympus Has Fallen is pretty much exactly that. The White House's code name is "Olympus," and it does indeed fall. A terrorist team effectively and efficiently takes control of the White House within the film's first half hour, even going so far as to kill the South Korean Prime Minister and take the President of the United States (Aarron Eckhart) hostage. Night soon falls, the situation looks bleak, but don't worry, because a Secret Service agent is on the case: Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) wasn't killed in this raid, and he's now America's only hope.

The rest of the film plays out like a higher-stakes Die Hard. One man against thirty or so terrorists, with the end of the world eventually being on the line. Of course, nowadays it's the Koreans who have to be the villains, and while there's an initial shrouding regarding whether or not they're from the North or the South, you'll be able to figure it out pretty quickly. The leader of this attack is Kang Yeonsak (Rick Yune), someone who has a precise plan and is very good at executing it.

On the outside, we have Morgan Freeman playing the Speaker of the House (and acting President), and Angela Bassett as the head of the Secret Service. Freeman's character essentially gives orders to Banning, based on the intelligence that is received from the inside. There are a lot of stealth takedowns from the point of Banning -- guns would alert the bad guys to his position, I suppose -- as well as some shootouts between nameless and faceless people.

The initial siege of the White House manages to overcome this. There's a lot of bloodshed, a great deal of bullets being shot and lives being lost, and it's actually pretty tragic. Innocent people are being killed, important monuments are being destroyed, and the shooting style often mimics what the local news might be showing if they were given a decent budget. It feels real, even though much of the actual action is improbable. It doesn't really matter who's getting killed, as the sheer numbers overwhelm the lack of familiarity.

However, as Olympus Has Fallen progresses, it loses that edge. There are plenty of violent and pretty gruesome kills, but they're almost all happening to nameless Korean terrorists. Even when high-ranking members of the government are tortured or flat-out killed, it doesn't leave much of an impact. The only thing we know about them is their name, presented to us with a blurb of text when they're first introduced. Apart from that, they have no character, and give us no reason to care.

Is the film pro-American? Will it reaffirm the values of the country in which it was made? What do you think? Do you really believe they'd make a movie like this and not, at times, have it drip in patriotism? Of course there are these moments. You can't make a movie like this one and not do that. You can't show the White House getting destroyed and the President being disgraced without also providing your audience with the type of material that will attempt to get them to stand up out of their seats and put their hand on their heart.

That only really works if you're American, however. For most of the world, it won't come across in the same way. The White House is too recognizable to be mentally transplanted to a local landmark. You can set your film in, say, a hotel, and that could resonate with audiences all over the world. It's not the same with the location in Olympus Has Fallen. It will definitely play differently overseas, and while this doesn't ruin the action, it might wind up annoying more audience members than it will inspire.

It makes sense, then, to cast All-American Gerard Butler in the lead role, right? Wait, that's not right. Gerard Butler? Really? Why? I get that we want a rugged and sufficiently believable lead actor, but Gerard Butler? The man can't even do an American accent. It's painful watching him try to be the American Hero in this film. He can handle the action, but whenever he has to speak or do anything resembling drama, it doesn't work at all. Was Jeremy Renner unavailable during filming? His casting would have been a significant improvement.

To be fair, the action scenes are fine, or would be if we could see all of them. The majority of the film takes place at night, in the White House, after the power has been cut. And since most of the action scenes are hand-to-hand battles, it's often tough to tell exactly what's going on at any given moment. There's some inventiveness and a couple of genuinely good moments, but most of it is routine and some of it is incomprehensible.

Olympus Has Fallen has the pieces to be a decent action film. It will do well with American audiences. It has some strong moments, but it also has some really weak ones. It's a lesser Die Hard taking place in a strongly American setting, meaning it won't resonate as well with non-American audiences. You can't separate the location from the film this time around. That's a disadvantage. Gerard Butler was miscast, too. There are points when the film is fun, and if we could see all of the action, that would help, but it's really hard to recommend Olympus Has Fallen.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Xandy on Fri Mar 22, 2013 7:45 pm

Review Foodfight.

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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sat Mar 23, 2013 5:41 am

Buy me Foodfight.

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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Xandy on Sat Mar 23, 2013 3:34 pm

It's free to watch on Youtube.

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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sat Mar 23, 2013 4:29 pm

Could you please post the link? I can't seem to find it.

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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sat Mar 23, 2013 8:50 pm

Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Set in the 1970s, Close Encounters of the Third Kind tells three distinct stories, all of which conclude together in a beautiful ending. The first is about a man who sees some bright lights in the sky that drive him to a point of insanity. The next, a woman whose child was snatched up, presumably by those same lights. The final, a scientist and his team trying to discover just what these lights mean, and where they're coming from. Each story is simple, yet charming and quite pleasant to watch, with very few twists to get in the way of the plot.

The everyman story is the first, which has Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) and his family learn a valuable lesson about chasing after UFOs that emit bright lights. After their encounter, he begins to see only a mountain, which he feels the need to draw or sculpt, on or out of anything available to him. It's really quite sad watching Ronnie (Teri Garr), his wife, and his kids, be driven away from him because of how crazy he becomes. This obsession takes over his life, and perhaps functions as a cautionary tale to those with passion projects that begin to play a more important role than everything else.

Next, we have Jillian (Melinda Dillon), whose son, Barry (Cary Guffey), is taken away from her after a sequence which is startling in how scary it is. The film is family friendly enough, but this one scene could startle children and adults alike. Bright red lights fill the room, and you fear not only for Barry and Jillian's safety, but for your own, too, simply because it's from a source unknown.

Finally, we have the French scientist, Claude (played by French New Wave director François Truffaut). He and the government are trying to figure out what's behind the UFOs, and more importantly, what's inside them. The only other important character in this arc is David (Bob Balaban), who acts as the translator between Claude and the other scientists -- as well as sometimes being able to read maps. That's important, maybe, so make note of it. Or don't. I don't really care.

The first thing that I have to praise about Close Encounters is that it looks absolutely amazing. The fantastic special effects -- practical effects, mind you -- that were used in its creation look fabulous, especially near the climax, when you finally get to see the thing that has been, by some accounts, terrorizing civilians for a few days. I'm sure you can already figure out what it is, especially considering the UFOs in the sky, but if you happen to remain pleasantly oblivious, I'd like to keep it that way.

Seriously, you watch the ending to Close Encounters and you are awestruck by just what director Stephen Spielberg has managed to create. It just looks so good that even though it is also thrilling and fairly emotional, you're almost taken aback simply because of how impressive it is on a visual scale. However, just because the visual is almost overpowering doesn't mean that the other elements aren't there. It is an absolutely powerful ending, thrilling and full of emotion that might take your breath away.

The lead-up to the ending isn't quite as good. You have to trudge through a lot to get to this point in the film, which is really too bad. It does allow for us to get to know these characters, but if they were doing something more interesting with their time, I would have been happier. There's a lot of repetition in Rob's story -- it's actually surprising how much his wife and kids put up with, to be quite honest -- and there's not enough development or explanation to the other two, especially with Jillian and Barry. Barry gets taken away and then that's it until the end -- at which point, Jillian functions as a love interest, for no reason.

The main thing that I remember Close Encounters for happens after the revelation regarding what is inside of the UFOs and what their desire is. I still won't give it away -- you have to watch for yourself -- but suffice to say that it's rather unique and interesting, especially for 1977. Add that into the fantastic visuals and you have a memorable conclusion to an otherwise solid but not terribly interesting film.

The only two characters that I can really remember from the film are Roy, because he's given so much time on-screen that it's impossible not to remember him, and Truffaut's scientist, if only because it's amazing that Spielberg got Truffaut to play a role in his film. Dreyfuss is an everyman who makes us feel as if we could be in his place, making him effective -- far more effective than someone like, say, Jack Nicholson, who most of us would recognize, would be (he was the man Spielberg initially offered the role to).

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a film that is largely unspectacular right up until its ending, but at that point, it comes alive and becomes a memorable, exciting, and engaging movie that's absolutely worth your time. It makes the previous two hours worthwhile because of how effectively it makes us feel awe, wonder, and almost everything that one can feel while watching a motion picture like this one. It's also so visually impressive that you owe it to yourself to see it simply for how much work was put into this area of production.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Xandy on Sun Mar 24, 2013 4:51 am

Movie Martyr wrote:Could you please post the link? I can't seem to find it.

Huh, apparently it got taken down. Well have an Aliens rip-off instead.


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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by PayJ on Sun Mar 24, 2013 9:30 am

Sounds like a porno.

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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sun Mar 24, 2013 5:16 pm

The Hangover Part II
To steal a quote from a much better movie (The Wrestler), I think this perfectly describes my feelings about The Hangover Part II: "You know what? I don't care. I don't hate you. I don't love you. I don't even like you. And it was stupid to think that you could change. I don't care. There is no more fixing this. It's broke. Permanently. And I'm okay with that.” I am past the emotional breaking point with this series. I can't feel anything anymore.

Let's give that some context. The Hangover was probably the worst movie I've ever seen. Everyone has that one movie that they absolutely despise, even if they know a lot of people like it. I couldn't stand a moment of that film. It wasn't funny, offensive, or in any way, shape or form meaningful. It didn't even have an original plot; Dude, Where's My Car? did it first and better. That is a film that enraged me. It made me feel something, and that something was pure anger. I know it's melodramatic, but it's true. There wasn't a single thing about that film that worked for me, and I sat through it twice to make sure I wasn't just missing it upon a first viewing. Now that I've seen The Hangover Part II, I feel like I've seen The Hangover three times, because they didn't alter anything for this installment.

However, all of that emotion is gone from my body. I don't even care at this point. The anger has been released, and right now I can't muster up the energy to get heated about what's proving to be one of the worst franchises of all time. I hoped that it was a fluke that some talented people, and Todd Phillips, teamed up to make an awful movie. I wanted to like The Hangover Part II. I got the same thing, transplanted to Thailand, that I got last time around. It's too awful for me to care.

The plot, as you'll remember from the first one, involves a night of excessive partying that nobody can remember, and one of the people involved in that partying turns up missing the next morning. The remaining people need to try to find him, and there's an artificial time limit brought about by one of the characters having a wedding that is scheduled for some point in the very near future.

The characters: Phil (Bradley Cooper) is kind of the straight man; Stu (Ed Helms) is the kind of nerdy doctor; Alan (Zach Galifianakis) is the man-child; Teddy (Mason Lee) is the brother of Lauren (Jamie Cheung), Stu's fiancée; Doug (Justin Bertha) is the guy who was missing in the last film; and Leslie (Ken Jeong) is there as a plot device and because apparently a lot of people liked his character in the first movie, although I can't share that sentiment.

The first four of these stereotypes are the ones who go partying. Teddy is missing, because you really want to re-live the shenanigans that the other three got up to the last time around. Stu now has a Mike Tyson tattoo on his face, Alan had his head shaved, Phil doesn't actually have anything wrong with him, and a monkey has now replaced the baby. Oh, and Leslie overdoses on cocaine in his very first scene and is thrown into an ice machine because these people are very, very stupid, and not at all sympathetic.

It's not even that we need to like them that much. The first movie didn't do that, and it was a great success. The real likable guy is the one who was missing. These people were the sideshow. This one tries to make us like them. After the last film, how on earth are we supposed to do that? And after we learn what goes on during the "big night" in Part II -- which comes to us in bits and pieces as they go from location to location to discover what took place in unfunny skit after unfunny skit -- I felt nothing.

I also didn't laugh. I didn't laugh during The Hangover, either, but it at least seemed to try. I could understand where the "jokes" were; I just didn't find them humorous. I didn't even see the effort this time around. I mean, I understand that this is a cash-grab -- not changing the plot, characters or situations is your first hint with that -- but a comedy can keep all of that the same and just have strong jokes and still work. But the people behind The Hangover Part II don’t even try to do that. They know the film will make money and know that any effort is pointless.

The film is raunchy, sure, but we've had a lot of raunchy comedies over the last few years. One could probably make the argument that the first Hangover was the one that gave a surge to the genre. Considering how much money it made, that might be a discussion worth having. This film is dirtier and more obscene, like it wants to push what is acceptable under an R rating. It's also stupid. I guess what I'm saying is that there's no difference between this movie and the last.

I'd be remiss to say that The Hangover Part II is worse than the original. I laughed one time in the first one, and I laughed one time in this one. It was for the same reason, and the same cameo. Perhaps it's just that this personality -- whom I won't name for fear of spoiling -- is just inherently funny to see. Regardless, if you liked the first Hangover, and just want to see it, but in Thailand, you have your movie. Now leave me to my sorrow and permit me to drink away the bad memories.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Mon Mar 25, 2013 8:59 pm

Legally Blonde
The main reason that Legally Blonde works is Reese Witherspoon's performance as the lead character, Elle Woods. If not for her charm, energy and charisma, the film would fall flat. As it is, it's a moderately successful comedy that sends mixed messages, is completely unrealistic, and kind of funny. Okay, so it's also kind of sweet and so optimistic that you can't help but find it endearing, but it's really predictable and relies so heavily on its lead that you can't help but wonder what it would be like if someone less talented was given the role.

We begin with a breakup scene, and I thought I was going to hate the movie. Elle, after much preparation, goes on a date with her boyfriend, Warner (Matthew Davis). She assumes he's going to propose. The exact opposite happens. She gets dumped, as he's going to Harvard and needs to get "serious" about his life. That means that Elle, a fashion student, isn't good enough. She then decides to get into Harvard and win her beau back, because, I guess, she's in love with him or something.

That's the first message that Legally Blonde brings us. If you're not good enough for someone, change! Don't, you know, look for someone who appreciates you for you. No, you need to prove to that one person that you are, in fact, worthy of their time. The next message it'll give us completely disregards that and borders on empowerment fantasy, but I was kind of surprised by the initial thing that Legally Blonde told us. It just surprised me that a movie like this would be so opinionated, regardless of what that opinion is.

Elle makes it to Harvard, somehow, because it's not difficult, and then goes through the year. It all concludes with a trial that she gets involved with, as first year students are allowed internships while still in school. And they would be the teacher's first pick. And Elle would be smart enough to not only get into Harvard, but be granted one of these internships. Elle, a fashion student, someone who, not just a few months earlier, had no interest in law. Right.

Forgive my skepticism. We're not supposed to look for logic or realism in a movie like this. It's a comedy, it's all done for laughs, and Elle isn't actually all that stupid in the first place, so we can kind of see some hidden genius within her -- which goes completely contrary to her personality, but that's sometimes the case. Fine. And if you work hard, you can achieve anything, regardless of what other people say. I get it. I don't believe it, and that made it hard to accept the film, but I do get it.

Not only that, but much of what Elle accomplishes seems to be the result of fluke, not of talent. She uses some sort of magical pixie logic in order to get by, which goes completely contrary to everyone else. But it somehow works. That's part of the joke, which is, admittedly, kind of funny, but it just doesn't hold up even with the loosest inspection. The ending of the trial is especially noteworthy, because it makes only the slightest sense -- but in the film, it is completely fine and nobody doubts it.

Perhaps they were also won over by Witherspoon's charm. That can happen, I suppose, even though people begin the film hating her. She is the polar opposite of all of the lawyers-in-training, so it makes sense that they dislike her. Maybe they're jealous. But, like them, the character and the actor's bubbly personality won me over. For them, it kept characters from thinking straight and doubting illogical statements. For me, it allowed me to enjoy the film, because I stopped, for a while, thinking how stupid the whole thing is.

So, for most of the film, I was won over. I was happy that I was watching it, and I was enjoying myself for the most part. It was kind of funny, kind of sweet, very happy -- it was the perfect kind of bubblegum movie. After it ended, I was less happy, more doubting, and a lot less down on it that I ultimately should have been. For the time it was playing, though, I had a good deal of fun.

There are a couple of fun supporting characters, too, although everyone is here just to set up Reese Witherspoon. Still, seeing Selma Blair as a rival classmate (and Elle's ex's new fiancée), Holland Taylor as one of the professors, Ali Larter as the woman Elle has to defend (from murder charges, no less!), Luke Wilson as an attorney and possible love interest and Jennifer Coolidge as a manicurist and more or less psychiatrist -- that's all enjoyable to watch. It's almost all done for comedic effect, but it works more often than it doesn't and I enjoyed seeing all of them in their small, but important, roles.

Legally Blonde is the type of movie that's fun in the moment, but completely worthless just moments later. The charm that Reese Witherspoon exudes throughout the proceedings absorbs you so fully that you forget the problems that it has -- for the time being, at least. Once it's over, you might start to dislike it more and more, but as it plays, it's a fun mixture of comedy and bubbly-ness. It's such a happy and innocent film that it's hard to hate it no matter how cheesy it gets, although it becomes even sillier under any inspection.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Tue Mar 26, 2013 7:13 pm

Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde
Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde quickly wipes away the character transformation that happened in the first film of the series. In that film, Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) transformed from a sorority girl to a lawyer. Here, she moves from lawyer to a Congresswoman's aide. It's like the same thing, except that instead of having potentially thrilling courtroom sequences, we get dull meetings about different bills. There's a reason that she quits being a lawyer, but it's all superfluous; she's here to go through the same plot as the first movie, but with a different chosen profession.

Okay, the reason: Elle is getting married to an attorney and now professor, Emmett (Luke Wilson). She is going over the invite list, and realized that Bruiser (her dog), has family that he's never met. She seeks out his mother via a private investigator, and learns that Bruiser's mother is a test animal for a cosmetics corporation. She wants to make animal testing illegal, so she hops in her car and drives to Washington D.C.

From there, we go through the same type of storyline that we went through last time. Elle is initially disliked, but her charm eventually wins people over. Her illogical and backward philosophy somehow works despite having no prior reason to, and the charm and bubbly personality that Elle brings with her is enough to distract us from much of the film's flaws. This time, though, I was onto her. I was disappointed after the first film ended, because of how silly it ended up being. This one is even sillier, and it doesn't work nearly as well.

At this point, it's established that Elle isn't a stupid person. She wasn't really in the first film, either, but her ditzy personality made you think she might be. The transformation from that to a hot-shot lawyer is a relatively large one, and seeing that happen -- as well as all the crazy scenes that happen during it -- is kind of neat. This time, she takes a step down, not up, becoming an aide to an important person while trying to get her bill passed.

Not only is it a step down, but we've already seen how she can accomplish things as a lawyer. Seeing her try to succeed in Congress is, well, not as impressive. We've seen her do well elsewhere, in a more personal and therefore important setting, so seeing it here just isn't as enjoyable. Not only that, but the character transformation from the first film only barely plays into it this time. She's a more generic, idealistic person, and it's only because (1) we've seen the first film and (2) Witherspoon is still enjoyable to watch that she's even remotely close to the same character.

The story is formulaic and done in the previous film, the characters are far less and are barely relevant, and I can't think of more than one reason to give this film the hour and a half of your life that it will steal. That single reason is Witherspoon's performance, although you've seen that before, too. She's still fun to watch here, and you almost feel bad for her given the mediocrity all around her, but not that bad considering she probably got paid well for the role.

Bob Newhart is also in Legally Blonde 2, which is probably something he'd like you to forget. He plays Sid, a doorman at the local hotel, who ends up spending practically every moment he can helping Elle in her quest to get Congress to accept her bill. Why? Because it's funny, the film wants you to believe. I mean, it's a good cause if you're an animal lover because testing on animals hurts them and whatnot, but I'm not sure if that factors heavily into his reasoning.

Everything is done for the sake of comedy, which is fine, I suppose, if you don't need reason, logic and intelligence in your movies. There are a few funny moments, and no cringe-worthy scene like the "Bend and Snap" dance number in the first film, but this is a significantly less enjoyable experience than the first Legally Blonde. There is, however, and even more cringe-worthy montage involving Elle's former sorority sisters and their campaign into Washington -- but that's worse for a whole other reason: It's boring and stupid and functions as a deus ex machina, which, somehow, is possible in a film like this.

The only thing that Legally Blonde 2 does over its predecessor is that it doesn't mix messages. It has one message, one way in which to inspire its viewers, and that's what it goes with. It doesn't start with one and then switch midway through, which works in its favor. Really, though, I'm grasping at straws trying to find out one thing that it does well, or give you one reason that you might want to watch it, and I'm coming up empty.

Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde is a movie that devalues the first installment in the series simply by existing. It makes everything that happened in that movie seem worthless as, for the most part, it ignores it. It's more of a remake than a sequel, too, going through the same story, with almost identical scenes through and through. It's even sillier, even cheesier, and it's harder to take in without cynicism. Reese Witherspoon is the only undeniably enjoyable part, and you almost feel sorry for her that her name is associated with it.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Wed Mar 27, 2013 8:42 pm

The Gift
The Gift is a murder-mystery with a touch of psychological thriller mixed in. It's only the latter because the main character, Annie (Cate Blanchett), has psychic powers, which she uses in her "readings" in order to earn money. She flips over cards and tells the person something about him or herself, either in the past or in the future, based on what she "sees." There's no doubting these powers exist, and the film isn't really about whether or not she has them. It's about finding a missing woman, Jessica (Katie Holmes), and the powers occasionally factor into that.

Annie is someone who is raising her kids on her own. She has three boys, which could be a handful, and although she gets welfare checks now that her husband passed away, she still needs to work. Paying for psychic readings is illegal where she lives, so she accepts "donations" instead, a legal loophole that one character points out makes her more of a lawyer than a psychic. We meet a bunch of her clients, the school principal (Greg Kinnear), the abusive husband of one of her clients (Keanu Reeves), and before you know it, Jessica is missing and we've got a murder mystery.

Not only that, but we also have a film with a bunch of creepy imagery thanks to these visions that Annie has. This is where the psychological thriller comes into play. She gets to see things every now and then that spook both her and us, while also revealing a touch more about the crime. It Jessica dead? Did the abusive man, who previously threatened Annie, do it? You have to watch to find out.

It's all misdirection anyway, even after the presumed perpetrator is thrown behind bars. You know things can't end that way, especially because there was no previous connection between the victim and alleged murderer. So, after the crime is solved, we get another 30 minutes of film containing nothing of surprise, as the film becomes even more formulaic than it already was. You won't guess who's behind it all unless you have seen a lot of these before, as the film doesn't give you any hints regarding who did it.

It's essentially the worst type of misdirection. The best kinds of these films allow you to figure it out even if they're trying to mislead you. The clues are all there, and you have to look hard to find them. Then, when all is revealed, you don't feel cheated; you feel inspired to watch again and look for all the things you missed which would have led you to the conclusion that the movie came up with.

The Gift doesn't do that. It leads you in one direction and gives you nothing in regards to what actually took place. It holds your hand the entire way, not allowing you to move an inch. It's because Annie is the one we're focused on, and her "gift" is what makes her important. We see what she sees, and therefore aren't allowed to have any other clues or opinions. That's all well and good, but in a murder mystery, we need that ambiguity, and we need to be thinking the whole time. With a film as linear and simple as this one, there's no room for the brain to get involved.

Essentially, because of the way that The Gift tells its story, and the decision by the people behind it to use this method, there's no mystery to this murder. We can't get involved because there's a magical power that will do all of our thinking for us. It will reveal what the story needs to tell us whenever it is convenient, and that is that. There is nothing for us to do but sit back and enjoy. And while it's kind of an interesting plot with a fun idea, it's not all that engaging on an emotional or intellectual level.

Characters are introduced and subplots happen so as to mislead us. Take one of Annie's patients, a man who needs medication to get over some sort of childhood trauma. Then, at one point in the film, he decides that he's going to burn his father alive. Therefore, I guess, he's a suspect. Although he has no connection to the victim, we have to suspect him -- and the film wants us to think that even though there's no reason for him to have done it. Same for the person actually convicted, except he had a personal grudge against Annie.

See, the whole concept of Annie having a "vision" about the man whom she personally disliked could have been interesting. She could have been making it all up to fuel her own needs, which is something that psychics are always accused of, in large part with the personal gain being monetary. However, that's a concept that is rarely brought up and not at all pivotal to the story, as it's discarded almost as soon as it is mentioned. She's having the visions and that is the only fact we have.

The Gift is a film with some creepy and spooky imagery, but apart from that it's a mundane murder mystery that you have very little reason to watch. It has no way to engage you on either an intellectual or an emotional level. It doesn't allow for you to think or question what the characters are saying, and apart from the aforementioned creepy imagery -- typical of a Sam Raimi film -- there is nothing that's actually worth your time. Skip The Gift and do something more worth your time.
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