Marter's Reviews

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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Thu Dec 05, 2013 5:00 pm

Premium Rush
In an age where car chase scenes are obligatory when it comes to action movies, here is a film which consists almost solely of that very idea, except instead of cars chasing other cars, it's cars chasing bicycles. And while other films often start to drag when they get to that part in the film -- it often feels tacked-on -- Premium Rush succeeds almost solely whenever it has its lead attempting to outrun a car and sometimes another bike on his own bicycle, which has no brakes, because that's practical.

The aforementioned protagonist is Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), like the coyote, who is one of 1500 bicycle messengers in New York City. He weaves in an out of traffic, runs red lights with great frequency, and has developed a keen sense for avoiding hitting anyone, or getting hit himself. He peddles as hard as he can, and he does this job for the thrill of it, not because it's a lucrative endeavor. In addition, he takes the job very seriously. If he gets a package, it will get to the location on time and safely.

His skills are really put to the test in Premium Rush, which sees him given a package and moments later having someone else, who winds up being a corrupt cop, Bobby (Michael Shannon), demand him for it. He refuses, and the chase is on. Wilee will be biking all over the city in an attempt to escape his pursuers. In the beginning, it doesn't seem like such a grave matter; once the movie really gets going, we see how serious Bobby is about this. That package contains something very valuable.

What it is, I will not reveal, although it is just a MacGuffin. It drives the plot along, and it is something desired by a bunch of people, but its true purpose within the story is too long and boring a story to tell here. In fact, I was tired of it when the film was telling it to me; I wouldn't want to bore you with it now, and then when you see the film you'd have to get the exposition twice. So, I'll save you from that now, but only if you promise to at least consider watching Premium Rush at some point in your life.

In fact, the only parts of Premium Rush that aren't thoroughly enjoyable are the points in time when it uses flashbacks to establish back story. It gets boring as soon as we start to actually think about the plot or characters, which runs in contrast to many films. Most of the time, we want to get to know these people and grow to understand them. In this one, we want to keep them at arm's length and just watch them go about their business. The thrill of the chase is all that matters.

The truly exciting moments of Premium Rush don't come until its second half, when most of the stunts you'll see in the trailer come into play. There are a few points earlier in the picture, but it's only later when it becomes truly pulse-pounding. If you're already sold in the beginning, the latter portions are incredibly enjoyable. If you're not, then it's unlikely that anything the film throws at you by that point will be sufficient. If this straightforward action film doesn't hook you early, it's never going to.

It's that notion -- that it's concerned with absolutely nothing more than being an action film with no hidden agenda or ambitions beyond entertaining you -- that could potentially alienate some of its potential audience. Believe it or not, lots of people care about characters and story, and Premium Rush has very little that fits into either category. If you can't just mindlessly enjoy a film with as specific a goal as this one, then you should search for something else to watch, as you likely won't enjoy Premium Rush.

You'll miss some good performances if you skip this film, even if the actors are given very little to work with. If you have forgotten how amazingly psychotic Michael Shannon can act, this film will serve as a helpful reminder. In fact, because the villain is so poorly written, the only reason he's a menace at all is because of how well Shannon plays him. In supporting roles, Dania Ramirez and Wolé Parks plays work colleagues, as well as the girlfriend and rival, respectively.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has to carry the film, however, and it's with his charm, charisma, and determination that a believable character is created. You can believe that he is as reckless and carefree as the character is written because of the way that Gordon-Levitt plays him. And while it's impossible to know exactly how much of the riding and how many of the stunts were performed by him, I completely believed that it was him for the film's entirety. There were no moments that jumped out as impossible for the character.

Premium Rush isn't great, and you don't need to see it, but if you want to see a film sustained solely by its chase scenes -- which last for the majority of its duration -- and characters made credible not by writing, but by the performances, then you probably should give it a watch. It's a lot of fun, and I definitely enjoyed it for its brief running time. It drags when it tries to explain back story, and it's difficult to overlook how little is under the surface, but for a mindless, straightforward action movie, it accomplishes its goal of being entertaining.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by MilkyFresh on Thu Dec 05, 2013 5:11 pm

Wow Marter, you have serial killer dedication

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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Fri Dec 06, 2013 6:26 pm

Thank you.

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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Fri Dec 06, 2013 6:26 pm

Expecting
About the best thing one can say about Expecting is that it isn't quite as bad as the last theatrical movie about pregnancy, What to Expect When You're Expecting. That's faint praise, to be sure, and I hope nobody takes that as a recommendation, but Expecting is better than the 2012 film. At least this venture has a shred of depth and a couple of characters who actually sometimes act like real human beings. That alone makes it better, although even with those it still is somewhat far away from being a success.

I think the problem with Expecting is a lack of polish. Given that the film marks the feature-length debut of Jessie McCormack, that's understandable. Everything just needed to be slightly better for it to fully work. Characters needed a touch more depth and a bit more understandable motivation. The plot needed to be tightened and more focused, but only slightly. The attempts at laugh needed to go through a couple of re-writes, with more than a few jokes coming off as slightly tasteless or just unfunny. All the elements of a successful dramedy are here; they weren't handled quite well enough to come together as a successful motion picture.

The film begins with a married couple, Lizzie (Radha Mitchell) and Peter (Jon Dore), seemingly in love and happy, unable to conceive a child. Lizzie has wanted one her whole life -- I figured she and the Paul Dano character from Gigantic would make a good match -- but she and Peter just can't get it done. Lizzie's best friend is Andie (Michelle Monaghan), who after a one-night stand winds up pregnant. Jealousy may or may not ensue.

It might, but it doesn't matter. Andie decides to have the baby for Lizzie and Peter. She'll go through the pregnancy that she doesn't want to do, and because she's such a good friend, she'll allow her best friend, whose sole motivation appears to be wanting a baby, to adopt it. Peter isn't even asked, and when he does find out he's not on-board. Perhaps he doesn't want a child. Maybe taking care of his recently-out-of-rehab brother, Casey (Michael Weston), is already more responsibility than he can handle.

I've already said a few things with indecision because apart from Lizzie, who is motivated by wanting a child and seemingly nothing more, we're often left to guess what exactly these characters want at any given time. Andie seems to just want to have fun and hang around the house -- she moves in with Lizzie and Peter after the pregnancy because she has nobody else, I guess -- Peter's work and brother stress him out but he mostly keeps that to himself, and Casey just wants his brother to leave him alone. Okay, so Casey's motivation is also pretty clear, but until the midway point he's barely even in the film, and even once he starts appearing more he's still not on the same level as the main three.

The problem with thinly motivated characters is that the film is robbed of any insight it wants to have into both the pregnancy and relationships between these people. It can't exactly say anything when it's unsure of what its characters are thinking and feeling. That's where the polish comes in. Bringing us closer into their heads would allow Expecting to have some much-needed poignancy.

It also either needed to work on its sense of humor, or cut the comedy altogether and attempt to function as a straight-up drama. There are more than a few scenes designed to make us laugh, but most of them follow this formula: Andie says something "inappropriate" that any normal person wouldn't say. For example, she continually taunts Casey about his drug problem. Exactly how is that funny?

In fact, I continually had to wonder exactly why Lizzie and Andie are friends at all. Apart from a couple of early scenes, they don't share a whole lot of joy together, and Andie is so ... "pure id" that it's easy to side with Peter in his logical disdain for her very being. She doesn't positively contribute to conversations or the household as a whole, she's high-maintenance and she's actually kind of mean. Why would Lizzie even want her baby?

About the only laughs come from a couple of scenes in which the characters go to the office of a therapist played by Mimi Kennedy, who gets to deliver a more R-rated version of the therapist Jane Lynch plays on Two and a Half Men. These are but a few sparks in an otherwise humorless picture. The actors -- and these are typically good and/or funny actors -- don't even seem fully committed. Nobody seemed to particularly care about what was going on, even during the scenes that are supposed to be heavy in emotion.

Expecting is a surprisingly dull take on pregnancy and friendship that could have been a powerful and potentially enlightening experience but ultimately falls flat due to its lackluster characters. Without being able to understand them, the film loses its ability to say anything. It tries to mix humor and comedy and can't manage to do either. The plot needed a more focused approach. And the actors needed to look like they cared more. It's lacking in polish and it's difficult to recommend, but at least it's not What to Expect when You're Expecting.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sat Dec 07, 2013 4:35 pm

The Warrior's Way
If there was ever a competition for the most subtle film, the award for "least subtle" would possibly be given to the extremely silly and over-the-top The Warrior's Way, a clash of East and West, cowboys and ninjas. It takes place primarily in the Wild West, although its climax involves a battle involving a good swordsman, good cowboys, bad cowboys, and bad ninjas. If that sounds awesome to you, well, that's too bad. Unfortunately, it actually isn't all that good. I'm sorry to be the one delivering that news.

The film begins with the almost-extermination of an entire clan, somewhere in Asia. A man named Yang (Jang Dong-gun) has recently become the best swordsman in all the world. We know this because the narration tells us so, as well as some text that pops up and hammers the point home. There has been a clan war for 500 years, and after defeating the final adult of the opposing clan, Yang is ready to deliver the killing blow to the last remaining person, who just so happens to be a baby girl. He decides, like a good person would, to spare the child. This turns his whole clan against him. He flees to America.

It's here where he wanders into a small town -- filled primarily with carnies -- and tries to fit in. For a while, that works fine. He catches the eye of the woman running the town's laundry shop, Lynne (Kate Bostworth), starts a flower garden, and seems to be enjoying himself. And then trouble comes in the form of a corrupt Colonel (Danny Huston), as well as the aforementioned evil ninjas.

Did I just describe the majority of the film? Yes. Yes, I did. What more do you want from me? The Warrior's Way is so completely devoid of content that there's little more one can say than to set the scene for the final battle. There's little to any of the characters, the plot is basically non-existent, and I can't think of a single memorable moment that didn't involve people slicing each other up in various, often bloodless, ways. And since most of that happens at the end, I don't know what more you want. It's impossible to "spoil" a movie like this one.

The worst thing about The Warrior's Way -- yes, worse than the lack of content -- is that it seemed to be aiming for a PG-13 rating and therefore the violence of the action scenes had to be significantly toned down. It did, however, still get an R. The bloodiest fight, for instance, took place with shadows because that's the only way that scene could be included. Most of the fights don't even show characters getting hit. There's no weight to the blade, and the scenes are less impressive as a result.

That's really too bad, because director Sngmoo Lee has a keen eye for visuals in these scenes, and if he was allowed to actually show most of the violence, instead of just having someone slice near another character and have them fall down, The Warrior's Way might be worth seeing just for the fight scenes. But because the film was neutered for the teenage crowd, so too were the filmmaker's talents. Even with the terrible, lifeless script, if the action scenes were fun, the movie as a whole might be enjoyable.

After learning all this, perhaps you might be thinking to yourself that it might be a fun ride to make fun of with friends. I don't think that will be the case, but you're welcome to try it. It's too self aware of all its clichés and stupidity that poking at it is like beating up a defenseless bunny; it's just cruel, and you shouldn't do it. There's little fun that can come from watching a movie as bad -- but not so bad that it winds up being good -- as this one.

The Warrior's Way does have a unique look, but that look is cheap and as if a low budget was being compensated for with CGI backgrounds and a style which attempts to hide anything that might be expensive. Much of the action is done in slow motion, which initially looks cool but soon becomes tiresome -- Zach Snyder often faces this same problem -- and while the promise of cowboys fighting against ninjas seems like it could be fun, it barely even factors into the equation. And when it does, the scene is a confused blur that's almost impossible to follow.

Only Jang Dong-gun as the silent warrior, Yang, is any good in this movie. Kate Bosworth is laughable as her character hopes to get revenge on the evil Colonel -- he killed her family and almost killer her, many years earlier. Geoffrey Rush shows up as a drunk for most of the film and a skilled gunman for the final fight. Danny Huston's Colonel is silly and you can't take him seriously, even in the scenes where that's the intent -- which, admittedly, is rare. This is a film that you try to hide from potential employers.

The Warrior's Way could have been an enjoyable B-movie destined to find a cult to follow it. However, without any sort of ambitions or even content beyond a few lackluster action scenes, there's nothing to take from it, good or bad. It's a boring, low-budget-looking action movie that not only has as many Western clichés as it could fit, but also as many Asian ones, too. It is a very unenjoyable movie and you have no reason to seek it out.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Mon Dec 09, 2013 4:08 am

Moulin Rouge!
Moulin Rouge! is a movie that you will either love or hate. It's an exercise in style, in art, and in energy. Can a film be completely sustained by song, dance, frantic editing and a single theme (love)? Moulin Rouge! hopes to prove that, yes, that is something that can happen. I'm not necessarily sure if it's successful, but I know that I'm not upset that I watched it. Seeing it, just to know that you've seen it, is worthwhile.

Our protagonist is Christian (Ewan McGregor), a writer who begins the film reminiscing about the past, which is where we will spend most of our time. He has come Paris to write with the Bohemians, a group dedicated to, above anything else, love. He winds up visiting the fabled Moulin Rouge, where he hopes to pitch a script to a play. Instead, he winds up falling in love with one of the couresans, Satine (Nicole Kidman). She, likewise, also falls in love. The two have a chemistry, which makes it all the sadder that (1) she has to keep company with the Duke (Richard Roxburgh) in an attempt to convert the Moulin Rouge to a proper theater, and (2) she is terminally ill, a fact not hidden from us but unknown to both leading characters.

What follows is an unconventional take on a relatively conventional story. One woman is torn in between two men, with another man, Fidler (Jim Broadbent), the owner of the Moulin Rouge, pushing her in the direction she doesn't want to go. You've seen this type of story before, but you won't have previously watched a movie like this one. Or, at least, I don't remember seeing one like it.

The first thing you'll notice is the amount of color that saturates almost every frame. Bright, vibrant colors fill each shot. Red -- further making you think about love -- is the most prominent color featured here, and I'd be surprised if there was a single scene without the color red. Maybe there's one later on, when the power of love comes into question, but I can't immediately think of one. You don't see many films with the same type of mis-en-scene as this one.

You'll also notice the way that it was filmed and edited together, which involved a great number of setups and as many cuts as you'd normally see in a music video -- except the frequency of cuts lasts for the two hours that Moulin Rouge! is on-screen. It's initially off-putting, but the pacing is beneficial in the long run, as it allows for no breathing room, and no time to lose focus. While there isn't a whole lot to the plot, the way the film has been assembled makes it seem like there is.

Part of it is because of the overwhelming feeling you get from watching a movie like this. It goes for sensory overload, and it definitely succeeds in doing that. Whether or not you'll be able to tolerate the sense of style that director Baz Luhrmann goes for will determine how effective the film as a whole is. You won't like the numerous musical numbers, you won't enjoy the performances, and the love story won't be beautiful if the style with which it has been crafted is irritable.

What might be off-putting is the idea to combine various time periods, despite the majority of Moulin Rouge! taking place in Paris in 1899. That's the setting, but the musical numbers mix and match pieces of music from times much later than when the film takes place. The Sound of Music is one of the first main titles you'll recognize. Later on, you'll get to hear Jim Broadbent belt out "Like a Virgin," which is one of those must-see experiences. And the opening and finale make it seem like the whole production is being shown in the 1950s -- the villain also gives it this feeling. It's an odd blend but it continues to give the film a unique aesthetic.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Moulin Rouge! is that its leads can actually sing quite well. While the dubbing is sometimes quite obvious -- part of me wants to believe this was intentional as a throwback to older musicals -- the actors were the ones doing the singing in the studio, and they do an admirable job, despite neither McGregor or Kidman being singers in addition to acting.

As their characters, both the actors are pretty good, too. Kidman is the highlight, being both the target of desire and also someone who has her own motivations. McGregor is generally strong, although some of the more emotional moments were a little silly. In the supporting roles, both Broadbent and Roxburgh are over-the-top and silly, which is hilarious. Roxburgh, especially, has an old-school villain feel about him. He even has a mustache that you're just waiting to see him curl.

Moulin Rouge! might or might not be a great film, but it's ambitious and absolutely worth seeing regardless, just to say that you have done so. It's a film where overproduced musical numbers fill the screen more often than anything else, shot with bright colors, a great number of different camera angles, and as many edits as your typical music video. But it all makes for a unique experience that livens up a story that you've seen before. I can't recommend seeing Moulin Rouge! enough, as it's definitely an experience you need to have.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Mon Dec 09, 2013 5:09 pm

True Lies
True Lies is one of the good action-comedies. It's a film that has some inventive action scenes, as well as a generally light tone mixed in with cartoon levels of violence. It's action-packed, funny, and there isn't a dull moment even though its running time is almost two and a half hours. Its plot is enjoyable, the screenplay has more than half a brain, and it's a movie that is fun from start to finish. All in all, it's worth seeing.

The film opens with Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger) attempting to pull off a mission for a covert government operation. He's a spy, not unlike James Bond, and the first job we see him do involves infiltrating a high-class party and stealing some information from a computer. He does it with style, class, and, eventually, explosives. It's funny to watch and it easily sets the tone for the rest of the picture. Adding on: Harry is married to Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis), has a daughter, Dana (Eliza Dushku), and neither of them know about his actual job. They think he sells computers.

At this point you've already come to the assumption that either Helen or Dana will get involved with one of Harry's missions. You're right, except it winds up being both of them in different capacities. But it takes a long time for the film to reach that point. First, it has to go through a long subplot involving Helen maybe-or-maybe-not cheating on Harry with another man, Simon (Bill Paxton), all while Harry uses his special set of skills to spy on her, as well as attempting to bring down a group of terrorists, as is his job.

Some of the scenes are outrageous and over-the-top violent. You're not going to be impacted by the violence, because it's ultimately very silly. But despite this, there's a lot of creativity to the action. There are a few moments you won't have seen in other films, while others have been crafted in a way that makes them feel new again. Simple shootouts can be made exciting again with the right director at the helm, and True Lies has James Cameron.

There are a bunch of scenes where dramatic irony is at play. That leads to some truly hilarious moments. I'm undecided as to whether the film works better as an action movie or a comedy, but that I'm even debating between the two means that it does both quite well. I laughed a lot and had my adrenaline pumping for most of the time it played. That's a success in my books. That's also really all that True Lies needed to do. Having deeper characters would have improved things, but it didn't need them.

Some people going to have an issue with the adultery subplot. In particular, it seems to halt the main plot and much of it isn't necessary. There are a couple of scenes that, while funny, run on for too long. I'll agree, but I think that they add to the finished product. It's possible that True Lies could have been cut down to 120 minutes instead of the 135 that its final cut is, but those extra 15 minutes are fun and don't really ruin the pacing. Why would you want to get less bang for your buck?

It also has some less-than-clear villains. The main bad guys are terrorists, although their motivation is only revealed after we've been watching for 90 minutes already, and they're helped by at least one character whose sole driving factor is the money. I didn't buy it. The characterization is so thin that I couldn't believe someone with a lucrative business would help terrorists nuke America because they pay well. 135 minutes is plenty of time to craft genuine characters instead of paper-thin caricatures.

That's especially true of our lead, who is about as deep as a hot tub. Sure, there's a bit of depth there, but when compared to a swimming pool, it's going to look inadequate. The character is all-good, and apart from being good and liking his job, there's not much propelling him from scene to scene. He has to because he's the hero, essentially. Helen is better, in that she at least has seemingly unachievable ambitions due to her current position in life -- which gets shattered later in the movie -- and she winds up the most human of the main cast.

Maybe part of that reason is that Jamie Lee Curtis is such a better actor than Arnold Schwarzenegger. She can bring something to a role that he can't -- emotion, for one -- and that means she can craft things into her performance that weren't in the script. Schwarzenegger is here for the action, and while he's fine at that, I don't think many people are going to call him a good actor. He's got a certain charm, I suppose, but that's about it. He's a star because he has the physique to make a believable action hero.

Despite its flaws, True Lies is a very funny and entertaining action-comedy. Sure, it doesn't have strong characters or motivations, but those aren't necessary; they are bonuses. Schwarzenegger can pull off the action hero, and he's given a lot of over-the-top scenes to do that in. There are a lot of laughs along the way, too, and while the film doesn't need to be as long as it is, it's never really dull and I enjoyed it a great deal while it was playing.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Tue Dec 10, 2013 4:53 pm

Chatroom
Chatroom is a film with an idea and a unique vision of how to bring that idea across to an audience. Essentially, half of the film takes place in cyberspace, in a chatroom for teens living in Chelsea, but instead of showing us teenagers typing away on keyboards for half of the film, we see them inhabit real rooms. This permits the actors to do more acting than staring at a screen and mashing down the keys, and it gives the audience a great deal more variety. It also makes the chatrooms feel more like a real place, and thus making their potential for manipulation more poignant.

There are five teenagers who enter this chatroom. Each of them has problems which the film uses to define their characters. William (Aaron Johnson) has been in therapy, hates his family, and used to be suicidal. Eva (Imogen Poots) is an aspiring model with confidence issues. Jim (Matthew Beard) suffers from depression and has been on anti-depressants for years, which stems from a traumatic weekend he had as a child. Mo (Daniel Kaluuya) is a pedophile and has strong desires for his best mate's sister. And Emily (Hanah Murray) feels as if her parents don't love her.

They take solace in the anonymity of the online life. This chatroom in particular is a place where they can vent, talk, and be themselves. However, one of them, William, quickly becomes more of a villain than a friend, and much of the film follows his attempts to manipulate the group -- and in particular, Jim -- into doing things that don't typically benefit people. Things like career manipulation, random acts of violence, and suicide.

If Chatroom didn't also feature scenes set in the real world, one might suspect William to be a much older person than Aaron Johnson, and he would be more of a typical internet predator. Having him as a normal teenager, and there's no doubt about his age, might make him even scarier. The idea that, yes, it is that easy for unsuspecting victims to be manipulated online is an inherently creepy one. You hear about it on the news more times than you would like to. The film functions somewhat as a cautionary tale.

What it doesn't do is work as a successful drama or thriller. The characters are all too underdeveloped and underwritten for any attempts at drama to be successful. You're not going to care much for any of these people, and their problems all seem superficial. Even Jim, who delivers this length monologue about why he's so upset, doesn't come across as sincere. Part of the reason for this, I think, is because of the setting of lots of the film, the chatroom.

Despite what a significant amount of people will say, people do not act or talk the same way online as they do in real life. The "ums" are eliminated, for one. But it's more than that, isn't it? Each word can be more perfectly crafted and selected. Sentiments that might burst out of spontaneity are cut back on, because the delete button exists and you have to hit the Enter key before sharing with the world. As a result, the scenes taking place in the chatroom, dramatized by the actors or not, can't feel real.

The dramatization does make their presence feel like it's actually happening, but the dialogue comes across as fake and overly calculated -- not like teens talk -- and it makes the characters the same way. This could have been rectified by the real life scenes bringing out the depth, but they do little more than emphasize a particular issue in each character's life. These are people built on a problem, not already defined ones who have a problem thrown on them. There's a difference.

The scenes taking place in the chatrooms -- there are many, even if the "main" one is hosted by William -- are more highly stylized, and the sets are interesting if not necessarily unique. The whole internet is represented by an endless hallway, while each chatroom is presented as a room at the side of the hall. They're all small rooms which have some unique decorations (although the same wallpaper). They'll keep your eyes busy the first time, but without any change, they'll get stale by the end of Chatroom's 90 minutes.

One also has to wonder exactly why a chatroom was the focus of the film. This is a 2010 release. Who still uses chatrooms? The way the film portrays it, all teenagers living in Chelsea do. Facebook has been around for a half-decade; Myspace has been a popular website for even longer. Chatrooms? Have they been popular since the turn of the century? Maybe this film would have been more impactful had it come out a decade and a half earlier. It feels outdated as a 2010 release, even if the message is still sound.

The hope of Chatroom is that a novel take on an interesting idea would be enough to distract us from a complete lack of drama or thrills. It's not. The primarily online setting doesn't allow for deep characters, the offline scenes don't compensate for this, and the chatroom idea would have been more appropriate 15 years earlier. While the message is sound and there are some visual flourishes almost worth seeing, I can't recommend that you see Chatroom.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Wed Dec 11, 2013 4:46 pm

Bad Boys
While not in the least bit original, Bad Boys is a rather solid entry in the buddy cop genre of films. Every cliché in the book is here, but it really doesn't matter because (1) the chemistry between the two leads is fantastic, (2) the energy of the film and the filmmakers is electric and (3) the action beats are perfectly serviceable and are effective because of points 1 and 2. A fresh story would just be the icing on the cake, and would be what takes the film to the next level.

The two cops are Marcus and Mike (Martin Lawrence and Will Smith, respectively), the former being a family man and the other a committed bachelor. This allows for some banter between the two and also a very odd, silly diversion involving Mike living with Marcus' family and Marcus assuming that Mike is cheating on him with his wife, despite the pair being partners for the last six years and friends for life. It really doesn't work, and it added nothing to the film. They have to switch identities in order to keep a murder witness, Julie (Téa Leoni), safe, and the reason for that is too ridiculous to even being to explain.

Indeed, there is a murder. First, there is a theft. A $100 million heroin bust is the target, meaning that it had to be someone on the inside, working for the cops. How else would criminals break into a police station. Did I mention it was $100 million worth of drugs? That's an incredible amount. And while I'm not saying it should be more of a focus than a human life ... it kind of gets forgotten about after the murder. What's up with that?

Okay, so one of the cops asks an informant, Max (Karen Alexander), to try to find out who stole that amount of heroin. She winds up dead, so both Marcus and Mike -- along with Julie, who becomes like a sidekick -- swear to bring her killer to justice, and also get back the drugs, assuming they remember to do so. I get that the vengeance-type story is more personal and emotional than recovering the drugs, but to almost completely ignore that part is unbelievable.

Stop me if these plot points sound familiar. There is an angry police chief (Joe Pantoliano) who yells a lot. There's a woman from Internal Affairs (Marg Helgenberger) who wants to ruin all the fun. There's a wife who may or may not want trust her husband, but will eventually stay with him even though he constantly lies to her (Theresa Randle), spoiler alert. The police officers frequently argue with one another because they have very different personalities. There is a car chase (this one ruins a Shelby Cobra, which is the film's biggest crime). And so on.

There's nothing original about Bad Boys. That's okay. It succeeds because it's got an energetic approach to the material. It is probably over-edited, but that's okay because it makes the film feel relentlessly paced. Working with first time director Michael Bay, cinematographer Howard Atherton is inventive behind the camera. The score perfectly accompanies the action scenes. If you need a film to pump you up before a sporting event or something of the sort, this one might do the job.

It also contains a couple of easy-going performances from two sitcom actors. Martin Lawrence and Will Smith are funny people, and their back-and-forth dialogue makes up a lot of the film. In fact, some scenes appear to exist just to allow them to talk at one another. It rarely does anything for plot or character, but sometimes you can appreciate a couple of smart people arguing back and forth about things that really don't matter. It is eventually irritating but in small bursts, it can work to a film's advantage.

From these exchanges of dialogue is where some of Bad Boy's humor is derived. This isn't a straight-up comedy, but there are some points when it decides it needs to keep the mood light. And considering that its two leads are comedians, this makes sense. Allowing them to ad-lib and just try to be funny can be an effective technique. There is also some situational comedy, because there are times in the film when the two leads shut up -- although these moments are infrequent.

Where it falters is in its lack of originality and serviceable, yet ultimately unspectacular action scenes, the worst of which serves as the film's climax. Right as we should be getting ready to see a spectacular finale, we're given kind of a dud. All of the energy and enthusiasm in the world -- of which there is plenty for most of the movie's duration -- can't hide what is a letdown of a conclusion. It is also where the aforementioned Shelby Cobra is totaled, which is a crime no matter when it happens and for whatever cause.

I hesitate to call Bad Boys a good movie or even something that's worth seeing, but as an adrenaline-fueled experience filled with inventive cinematography, in-your-face editing, charismatic leads, enjoyable banter and a plot you've seen dozens of times before -- well, it certainly is just that. It's not original and the action scenes are nothing special, but the film isn't a boring watch and I can't say there was much I disliked about seeing it. Bad Boys just might be worth a viewing.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Thu Dec 12, 2013 2:42 pm

Bad Boys II
For a while, I really thought that Bad Boys II was a lot more enjoyable than its predecessor.  But then it started to drag on and on and I found myself losing interest and finding the whole experience painful. I think it was around the point when the two lead characters, Marcus and Mike (Martin Lawrence and Will Smith), found themselves threatening and ridiculing a teenage boy. It was mean-spirited and added nothing to the plot, and while I found it funny on one level, I found it cruel and pointless on another.

Picking up years after the first Bad Boys, the film following the two "lovable" police officers as they attempt to stop another nefarious plot by some drug dealer who is smuggling million and millions of dollars worth of ecstasy into the United States of America. One reason I initially liked Bad Boys II was because of the way that the crime they're trying to stop actually seemed to matter, unlike how it was forgotten about in the first film.

There are, however, a couple of subplots that wind up taking up a bit too much time. The first of which involves Marcus hiding a secret from Mike: He no longer wants to be partners with the man he has worked with for over a decade. Meanwhile, Mike has his own secret: He is dating Marcus' sister, Syd (Gabrielle Union), an undercover officer working with the DEA, and is also attempting to bring down the ecstasy dealer. The three team up despite these secrets, which leads to the same awkward and terrible sitcom drama/comedy the filled portions of Bad Boys.

The majority of the film is here just to set up forgettable action scenes. I'm writing this review a few days after I saw Bad Boys II, and I'm struggling to remember much of anything that happened. It's like the vast majority of the movie is filler. Action scenes lead into filler which leads into further action scenes. Oh, and we get another generic plot because that seems like the theme that the filmmakers are going for with this series. Why craft an original plot when -- Boom! Explosion!

It's all very violent and flashy and looks good, but there isn't an ounce of humanity to the majority of the proceedings and I found myself caring less and less as it went along. There's only so long that this type of filmmaking can sustain itself, and that time is generally around 90 minutes. At over 140 minutes long, Bad Boys II is far too lengthy and contains far too much mediocrity to be worth seeing. If you fall asleep while watching it, I wouldn't be surprised. Constant action scenes is as dull as having none.

A lot of Bad Boys was successful because of the chemistry given by Martin Lawrence and Will Smith. They had an energy that isn't often matched in the movies, and the dialogue between them was generally quite entertaining and funny. The parts of the film that worked did so in large part because of them. This time around, something has changed. Maybe it's because they're no longer ad-libbing, or perhaps the years and movie success has changed them, but the energy is gone and the chemistry is largely non-existent. Perhaps the latter part was intentional -- they are supposed to be drifting apart, after all -- but it isn't a good choice if it was on purpose.

When Bad Boys II succeeds, which isn't often, it's because of the highly stylized style with which Michael Bay infuses it. Like the first film, this is a good looking movie, and while the editing is very quick-paced, you can usually tell what's going on. And while cinematographer Howard Atherton has been replaced by Amir Mokri, the visual style and flair for aesthetics is something that carried over.

Bad Boys II wants to be funny. It is very often not. There are so many jokes that are misfired. They are mean and sometimes filthy. There are also many that approach new levels of stupidity. Yes, there are some successes, but without the energy and chemistry of the leads, there aren't a lot of them. I found myself cringing and hating myself for watching this movie. I constantly wondered who would like this and why the filmmakers would think it would be widely adored.

The odd thing is that these moments aren't too frequent, but they pop up just enough to make that type of thinking continuous throughout the film. You watch it and basically fall into a stupor in which you think "Explosion! Stupid Joke! Another Explosion!" rinse and repeat. The film as a whole isn't terrible -- this isn't another Michael Bay disaster like Peal Harbor -- but it comes dangerously close at times. There's just nothing more to it than ugliness and explosions.

Bad Boys II is a worse movie than its predecessor, which relied heavily on the chemistry and energy of its two leads, Martin Lawrence and Will Smith. The two, both having lots of success since Bad Boys' release, just aren't as good here. The writing is worse, the energy is absent, and there's a distinct lack of chemistry between them. Add in a seemingly never ending series of action scenes and filler, and a tone that is often incredibly vicious, and you've got a 147-minute unmemorable action movie that wears thin after an hour and a half.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Fri Dec 13, 2013 4:40 pm

American Hustle
Based on an actual operation in the 1970s by the FBI -- the film claims at the beginning that "some of this actually happened" -- American Hustle is a funny, exciting and wholly enjoyable movie that might not work all the way but it does enough things correctly to definitely warrant a watch. It might be a bit too convoluted at times, and it does eventually throw too many characters into the mix, but it fires at all cylinders and even if you're not sure who's doing what and why, it never stops being fun.

Given how complex the story eventually gets, it's hard to even set it up, because what it initially looks like isn't what it winds up being. It essentially boils down to something like this: A couple of con artists, Irving (Christian Bale) and Sydney (Amy Adams), are incredibly successful at parting money from people. They're caught, one day, but FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who forces them into helping him uncover and catch corruption in the political system. Their initial target is the mayor of Camden, New Jersey, Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), but things soon get bigger and more complex than that.

For instance, by the time a cameoing Robert De Niro enters the picture, Polito is no longer the target, and the method by which the characters are attempting to ensnare their victims has become rather silly. It works while you're watching the film, I suppose, but looking at it afterward makes it seem a little bit ridiculous, even if that's what actually happened.

At times, American Hustle is far less interested in its narrative than in the characters who populate it. Minor details become the focal point of scenes. We get to know these characters so well that we can predict some of their actions before they do them. One character will eventually start feeling sorry for the mayor, and we can see that early on, even if it doesn't amount to anything until the finale. That can almost work against the story, as it gives it an element of predictability, but there are still enough twists thrown into the mix to keep it feeling fresh.

Another way it attempts to add a splash of unpredictability to the mix is to have Jennifer Lawrence show up -- she, in her most unhinged role ever -- and chew the scenery. She plays the wife of Irving, and plays a comedic presence while also causing trouble thanks to her character's big mouth and uncaring attitude. Lawrence has the least screen time of the five main actors, but I think it would be fair to say she steals most of the scenes she's in.

Actually, it seems the main actors are all at least somewhat playing against type. Christian Bale has a gut and a baldness-disguising comb over, and is playing a bit of a schlub. Bradley Cooper forgoes his "sexiest man alive" title to play a possibly crazy FBI Agent with curly hair. Amy Adams has a British accent for lots of the film -- by design; it's not as if she drops it accidentally -- and is sexed up like never before. And Jeremey Renner is an enthusiastic, chain-smoking, Joisey Boy.

It's surprising how funny American Hustle is. I suppose it shouldn't be -- the film is directed by David O. Russell, who can do both drama and comedy very effectively -- but I expected a less comedic film for some reason. You'll be laughing for a good chunk of this movie. It keeps the tone light, and even has some running gags. Take, for example, a fishing story that Louis C.K. continually attempts to recite to Bradley Cooper. Or how the Jennifer Lawrence characters has a propensity for setting things on fire. She blows up a microwave with reckless abandon.

There's a real heart here, and it's hard not to feel the affection that the filmmakers had for this story and these characters. Sure, most of them are bad people, but they're interesting and most of them are quite likable. In fact, too much affection might be what causes the narrative's downfall. By trying to fit in every last detail, to take things in new directions so constantly, it becomes too much of a confusing mess to really work. You'll get the gist but just try to remember the names of anyone outside of the Big 5.

It's likely that the only reason the film was set in the '70s is so that a '70s soundtrack could have some justification, but the film does a good job of using its time period. In addition to some jokes that would only work at this point in history, we also get to be taken back to a different time for a couple of hours. That's a reason to watch period pieces, and it can be one to watch American Hustle, too. I'm sure it'll get compared (unfavorably) to Goodfellas or other Scorsese films -- and not without reason -- but I think it can exist alongside those, not in direct competition with them.

American Hustle is a good, maybe even great film. It's energetic, stylistic, funny, and very enjoyable. The filmmakers clearly care about this material and that comes through in the final product; there's a real heart here, in other words. Where it falters, it does so because of over-ambition and an attempt to add too much complexity to the narrative. I think this is a film that's worth checking out.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sat Dec 14, 2013 4:45 pm

Eight Legged Freaks
A half-funny, half-scary B-movie that fits right in with monster movies of the '50s, as well as the likes of Tremors and Gremlins, Eight Legged Freaks certainly can't be accused of taking itself too seriously. Even the initial premise -- a bit of toxic waste finds itself in a local lake, which then leads to giant spiders terrorizing the small town -- is silly. But it's hard for me to dislike a movie similar to this one, because it's just a lot of fun, and it doesn't care what the snobby among us think.

The film opens with the aforementioned toxic waste falling off a truck and winding up in the lake. It contaminates the crickets, who are then fed to the spiders kept at a spider farm owned by a creepy man named Joshua (Tom Noonan). The spiders are growing larger after eating these crickets, he notes, and these "steroid crickets" are going to make him millions of dollars. Of course, he doesn't live long enough to prosper, as the spiders escape from their cages, kill him, and then make nest in an abandoned former gold mine that happens to be filled with methane gas.

Coincidentally, this is happening just as the owner of the mine, Chris McCormick (David Arquette), has wandered back into town. The reason for his return is unclear, although it doesn't really matter, as once the spiders start attacking, he leaps into action. He's joined by the Sheriff, Sam (Kari Wührer), on whom he's had a crush since his youth, and Sam's two children: a spider-loving kid named Mike (Scott Terra) and a rebellious daughter, Ashley (Scarlett Johansson).

Everyone has to team up to save the town from the invading spiders. The majority of the film takes place over the course of one night, and it's during this night when the most fun of Eight Legged Freaks occurs. The buildup is almost painfully slow, but once we trudge through the first half hour and get to the humans vs. spiders warfare, it's a lot of fun. We get to see people armed with all sorts of not-really-a-weapon weapons, some ill-planned attempts at saving themselves, and some (hopefully purposefully) terrible CGI spiders. It's a win for all involved, really.

Okay, so it's not a win for the actors, who get to spout hilariously bad lines of dialogue for 90 minutes and are given such underwritten characters that you have to think they were sketched out in an afternoon, after which point the screenwriters said "good enough" and called it a day. They're all likable enough, though, which is good for this type of film. You don't want to see them all die, which only works to the film's benefit.

It's also not a win for whichever special effects team was hired to do the CGI spiders. Whether they were chosen due to a lack of talent, or because they understand how to make it look like they're talentless is something you best ask the filmmakers, but if they were to create a portfolio of their work, this wouldn't be a film to include. The spiders are often stiff, have little texture, rarely feel as if they're actually there (as opposed to just being superimposed afterward), and have a completely different sense of lighting when compared to everyone actually being filmed.

But apart from these groups of people, it's kind of a win, I guess. I mean, the director made a funny and occasionally scary B-movie which plays out better for horror geeks than the general audience, the trailers alone will scare arachnophobes, which is always kind of funny, and the film might get a whole new audience to watch monster movies of the '50s. They! plays on the television of one of the characters in Eight Legged Freaks, and it's just a reminder that They! is pretty awesome.

For my money, Eight Legged Freaks is a pretty good time. If you like Tremors or Gremlins, or the monster movies of the '50s, you're likely to have a good time with this one. It skirts the line between being an homage to these types of B-movies and being worse than them, but I thought it fell on the right side. It is funny, sometimes scary, and as soon as the spiders start doing their "kill everything in sight" thing, is incredibly entertaining. I suggest giving it a watch.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sun Dec 15, 2013 4:43 pm

The Art of Getting By
A film which opens with dialogue explaining how everything is pointless and meaningless had better not change its tune later on without sufficient reasoning. The Art of Getting By is a film without such a reason, in large part because of a lack of depth to its lead character. He changes his tune without an explanation, and while you can speculate and postulate, the fact remains that the film doesn't offer sufficient reasoning. Spoiler alert: Pessimism and misanthropy don't conquer all.

The teenager ascribing to these philosophies is young George Zinavoy (Freddie Highmore), who explains that 120 million people die every year and that there's no point to anything because out of every human to ever live, the only certainty is death. This idea extends to his homework, which he's since ceased doing. This causes him to be put on probation, and causes tension at home, which most teenagers will tell you is already tense enough. At this point in the film, he's consistent in his outlook, and I respected him for that, even with the overwhelming feeling of "I used to be that teenager." Most adults will feel that way, looking back without nostalgia at this phase in life.

He continues this attitude even after a popular girl, Sally (Emma Roberts), takes an interest in him. He has no friends, but now he does. We can tell that she has a crush on him; he has one on her, too, but either doesn't know how or doesn't want to act on that feeling. So, they become friends, and hang out, and all that good things. She tries to expand his horizons, he grumpily proclaims how little meaning it all has.

She sticks with him, because love triumphs over logic, I suppose. A third character is introduced, this one an artist named Dustin (Michael Angarano) who sees what we see in regard to the pair. He acts as a mentor to George, who wants to maybe someday become an artist, as well as, later on, a foil. He's a nice guy and it's hard to root against him, especially with his positive demeanor acting in contrast to that of our lead.

The plot meanders around before an ultimatum is issued, characters have to make tough decisions, and prior conflicts finally reach the boiling point. And then there's the outlook change, which is largely unmotivated. How one finally finds motivation to do something he's been proclaiming is pointless for nearly an hour of screen time really needs to be explained, not guessed upon by the audience. It's this sort of polish that keeps The Art of Getting By from being a film that's worth watching. It approaches that level but never quite reaches it.

Of course, it all goes to teach a lesson to the main character and the audience, but without that motivation it falls flat. Why contradict yourself without reasoning, even if that contradiction is "right"? It's not going to wake up anyone in a similar situation to its lead because it doesn't use any logic to back up its new position. "Hey, you should totally not think life is pointless and stuff," it says. "Why?" we ask, to which we are greeted with silence and nothing more.

The relatively unimportant problems that the characters have to face are also solved rather effortlessly, making us wonder exactly why they were built up so far. Essentially, they characters just get up and do a single thing to fix them, or, even better, they're fixed without any direct action. Again, I have to wonder what the point is, especially if the characters don't have to do anything to fix their problems. Even the central relationship comes to an unsatisfactory conclusion -- and not because it doesn't end the way you want it to.

It's all predictable and kind of boring, and the 84-minute running time seems to last forever. It's an indie film that tries its hardest to be an indie film, and that isn't something that often ends well, especially when it's not as quirky as those who enjoy the genre will expect. And what's with these 18-year-old kids getting to buy alcohol at every single restaurant and bar they enter? Is that how it is in New York City? The drinking age there is still 21, isn't it?

You can't blame the cast. Freddie Highmore is transitioning well from a child actor to an adult. Emma Roberts is sweet and likable as the manic pixie girl, even if her character is written without reason or logic. Michael Angrano is so nice that it's tough to see what his character does in the latter half of the film. All three of the younger actors have undeniable talent and they've done and will do better movies than this one. And it's not even that The Art of Getting By is terrible; it's just not quite good enough to recommend.

The Art of Getting By sometimes approaches a level of quality where it would be worth seeing, but it never crosses that threshold and it ultimately serves to remind us of better films involving teenagers, young love, and a view of the world that isn't at all positive. There's little depth to the characters, unmotivated actions, "huge" problems solved without much (or any) effort, and while the acting is overall just fine, the actors aren't playing great characters to begin with. If you're a huge fan of the actors or this type of film, it might be worth seeing, but for anyone else, it's something to skip.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Mon Dec 16, 2013 4:26 pm

Easy A
How does one go about describing a film like Easy A? It's a sharp, funny movie about a whole host of subjects -- lying, popularity, rumors, virginity -- and actually has something to say about them, unlike a large number of other teen movies. In fact, because it has so many targets in its sights, it's difficult to say what it wants to declare most, except that all of these issues face both teens and adults, and that there's a clever way to make fun of them without being mean about doing so.

The film stars Emma Stone, in one of her best roles, as Olive Penderghast, a straight-A student who has never done a single bad thing in her life. As she chats with her parents, who jokingly ground her, she doesn't know how to be grounded any more than they know how to inflict that punishment on her. It's surprising, then, that she tells her friend a lie about how she spent her weekend, attempting to cover up that she did nothing but lie around the house for two and a half days. She says she spent it with a college boy -- nobody from school could question this -- and before the count of three, the whole student body knows.

It's at this point that most people go into damage control. A rumor, which isn't true, has gotten out of hand, so a good deal of people would squash it here and there. Olive, getting attention from strangers for the first time in her life, decides to embrace the labels now placed on her. You know how some celebrities are worth following because their lives are such train wrecks that you feel compelled? That's kind of how Olive's life heads for much of Easy A. Yes, it's satire, and yes, it's funny.

In the film are a bunch of colorful characters. An overly religious girl, Marianne (Amanda Bynes) becomes one of Olive's enemies. Both of Olive's parents (Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci) deserve to be placed among the best movie parents. A teacher (Thomas Haden Church) is hilarious, a guidance counselor (Lisa Kudrow) is also very funny, and they are a secret couple meaning the actors get two or three scenes together. The school's principal is Malcolm McDowell, and while he's not in the film much, it's Malcolm McDowell and seeing him is always fun.

While these are all interesting and usually entertaining characters, none of them are deep. Only Olive has any development or depth, while everyone else is a stereotype or cliché. I have a feeling much of this was intentional -- the film is told from Olive's perspective, and part of the satire is based around the concept of "celebrity" -- but it doesn't lead to the best experience.

Still, watching Emma Stone chew through all of these other actors, often having very sharp and interesting dialogue exchanges, is a blast, and it's also quite funny. Well-read teenagers are something of a rarity in the movies, but Easy A has at least one of them in Olive Penderghast. She also provides narration -- explained by the film as a "webcast" -- which has the same sense of humor as the rest of the film. I don't always enjoy voice-over narration, but it works effectively here.

If you've seen a bunch of '80s teen comedies, you've seen a lot of Easy A already. The film makes no bones about taking inspiration from the John Hughes movies of yore, as well as having its main story being partially inspired by The Scarlet Letter -- which is also the book being studied in English class in the film, a fact that Olive notices. The words of Mark Twain also make an appearance, and if this paragraph hasn't convinced you to see Easy A, I'm not sure if anything will.

Where the film goes wrong is in its attempt at anything other than the acceptance or defiance of the rumor mill and "celebrity" status. The relationships between Olive and, well, everyone are all painfully underdeveloped, leading to more than one feeling as if the characters have no reason to feel the way they do about one another. There's a hammered in romance at the end which the film will defend because the guy showed up a few times earlier but I will criticize because having three-line conversations (filled with jokes and nothing else) does not lead up to falling in love.

It's true that Emma Stone shines in the lead role. She has the amount of confidence, snark, charm, and grasp of sarcasm to make this character work. Other actors could have made Olive come across as silly, but Stone delivers in spades. All of the supporting actors are good, too, but because of their clichéd and underwritten characters, they aren't able to elevate the material like Stone does. She makes the character her own; they play a character we've seen before.

Easy A is an intelligent, sharp, funny comedy about a whole host of subjects that can always use a little more exploring. It's superior to many teen comedies in that it's consistently humorous, insightful, and respects its subject matter and audience but not dumbing itself down to either. While it doesn't have the strongest supporting characters -- they're all colorful stereotypes -- its lead is great and wonderfully performed by Emma Stone. This is a very enjoyable movie and I recommend giving it a watch.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Tue Dec 17, 2013 5:59 pm

Perfect Victims
Perfect Victims is a film that attempts to use plot twists as a late-game saving grace. For most of this incomprehensible mess of a film, I had not a clue what was going on. It turns out that this was intentional, because the final few moments explain to us that we shouldn't have been able to make sense of the ones we saw earlier. We've seen these types of twists before, but they were done better in large part because the movie preceding them is still watchable. In Perfect Victims, it isn't, and the twists don't serve to do anything but irritate.

Ostensibly, the film is about a wannabe frat boy named Jack (Jesse Bradford), who is smart but spends all of his time drinking, doing home-grown drugs, and performing stupid stunts in an attempt to get into a coveted fraternity. He does this with his best friend, Freddy (Scot Williams), whom he's known since the two were children. Jack was poor, Freddy was wealthy, and if you think there's going to be talk about class disparity, don't worry, as Perfect Victims isn't smart enough to take that approach.

Both of these men are in love with Anne (Sienna Guillory), who was also a part of their childhood. Yes, all three of them grew up in the same neighborhood and now they're all attending the same college, although the extent to which they are present during their classes varies from person to person. Jack, for instance, is rarely sober enough to be there. Anne, on the other hand, is almost always there. Again, here is an opposition that might have a deeper purpose but the film is too stupid to take advantage of it.

Not that Perfect Victims wants to make you think it's stupid. It is filled with a few long stretches of pseudo-intelligent babble, most often delivered sharply by Jesse Bradford. Bradford has a talent for these types of monologues, but I have to wonder if he ever paused to think about what he was saying. Isn't there a point when making a movie where the actor goes, "wait, this doesn't make any sense"? When it comes to this film, apparently not.

The drama comes from Freddy and Anne being a couple, despite Jack and Anne having an affair behind Freddy's back. Except that only really comes up after the first hour, and then it doesn't wind up being very important. There are maybe one or two scenes -- which are eventually rendered completely redundant --  where this matters. Apart from them, there's no actual drama to be had here. The characters do drugs and drink and do nothing of value for a while, and then it becomes a horror film out of nowhere, and then the twists serve to complicate matters further. This is the film we're dealing with.

It doesn't help that Perfect Victims looks as if it was shot with a home video camera and edited by someone on a continuous mix of speed and cocaine -- life mimicking art, and all that. The cinematography is dizzying, and you often can't tell what's going on or who's doing what at any given moment. The editing is often too fast to show a clear shot of anything, and it's also done in a non-linear fashion because that's the cool thing to do when you want to be deliberately confusing.

I should mention that Perfect Victims was shot in 2004, and was finished by 2006. It cost its production company a reported $10 million (on what?), which was likely one of the reasons that the company eventually went bankrupt. It was then shelved, and only got released in 2010. That seems like something of an excuse. Put it aside for a while, change the title from Perfect Life to Perfect Victims, and release it in hopes that unsuspecting victims will pick it up without knowing how bad it might be.

There are some movies you want to see again after knowing the story to see if everything holds up, and to see if the film cheats. Perfect Victims is not this type of movie. It's too bad for that. You watch it once and then you try to instantly forget that you just wasted 100 minutes of your life on it, and that a group of people decided to spend $10 million making it. It's baffling how anyone read this script and decided that it was a good idea. A better plan would have been to throw it in the trash.

This extends to the actors, who really should know better. Perfect Victims isn't the lucrative, high-budget production which gives out a good paycheck, so it's worth doing regardless of its quality. Jesse Bradford has charisma and a natural wit, but both of those factors can't help the dialogue sound anything but stupid. None of the actors come out from this project unscathed. Their agents should be fire. It should be hidden on resumes, preferably with copious amounts of whiteout, allowing everyone to be aware that a mistake was made.

Perfect Victims is a mess of a movie that is almost worth watching just to see an excellent example of how not to do it. The script is awful, the direction is sloppy, the editing ensures nothing makes sense, the performances are poor, and the film wants to make you think it's smart, even when it's less intelligent than the budgerigar who keeps you up at night even though it's dark and it should be aware that it's sleeping time.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Wed Dec 18, 2013 4:43 pm

Woman on Top
To call Woman on Top a romantic comedy would be doing a disservice to the genre. It is neither romantic or funny, and I have no idea what the filmmakers were thinking when filming it. Its failures are on the script level, and also in the actors hired for the underwritten roles. If the film was romantic or funny it might be worth watching, but being neither ensures that you had might as well forget that it exists.

Woman on Top stars Penélope Cruz as Isabella, a woman who has been plagued by motion sickness for her entire life. She can't do anything involving motion unless she is in control. She can drive a car but cannot ride in the passenger seat. She can dance, but she must lead. This also pertains to the bedroom, where she must always be on top. In the first few minutes of the film, we learn that she fell in love with a restaurant owner, Toninho (Murilo Benício), in their native Brazil. She's a wonderful cook, but he took all the credit and slept around, claiming that he needed to take control sometimes and that doing so is totally okay.

Understandably, Isabella flees to San Fransisco to live with her transsexual friend, Monica (Harold Perrineau Jr.). She winds up starring in a cooking show, after a producer, Cliff (Mark Feurstein), discovers her at a cooking lesson. Meanwhile, Toninho has come to San Francisco to win Isabella back, while Cliff is also trying to win her heart. She's apparently so magical, and her cooking smells and tastes so good, that every guy in the movie wishes to be her lover.

You can already see how this is going to play out, right? Isabella is clearly not ready to move on from Toninho, and yet his actions make it obvious that he's a jerk. Cliff comes along and gives her a cooking show, and seems like a genuinely good person, so he's the obvious choice in this love triangle, even if he'll have to wait a while until Isabella has fully moved on. This is what logic would dictate, and I don't blame you for attempting to use logic while trying to figure out how the story will go.

You would be wrong, however, to use logic in a bad romantic comedy. There is your problem. You're also assuming the screenplay for Woman on Top is competent and follows some sort of semblance of intelligence, which it most certainly doesn't. Even though Toninho is seen almost right off the bat cheating on Isabella, the film presents this as completely okay. His viewpoint is that he needs some control in his life, and that if he couldn't get that with Isabella, searching elsewhere is fine, as long as he still loves Isabella.

Because True Love Will Prevail, I guess. Even though Toninho (1) took advantage of Isabella's exceptional talent by using her as the restaurant's cook and not giving her any of the credit and (2) cheated on her with the weakest type of justification imaginable. In order for the love triangle to work, he has to have a fighting chance. As a result, he's portrayed more favorably than he should, while Cliff, seemingly the nicest guy, winds up completely changing character later on in an attempt to create false tension.

This might be fine if the film was funny. It's not. There's nothing humorous about the screenplay or the situations. It doesn't even try to generate many laughs. Instead, it goes more for the romantic route which doesn't work because one of the two males is a jerk and the other randomly changes characters to look more like a jerk. And then there's Isabella, who has little personality except that she likes cooking a whole bunch. We haven't even got into the fact that there is no chemistry among any of these three people.

Even though the personalities are wishy-washy, we might be able to get over that if the chemistry was so intense and the screen presences were so commanding. If we're so enthralled in watching these actors lust after each other, logic kind of can get thrown out the window. "They're driven by love," we'd say, and we wouldn't question it. But when the actors look at each with a lack of passion, then that potential isn't there.

That isn't to say that, individually, the actors aren't good. Penélope Cruz only needed to look good and be charming in the lead role, and she most certainly pulls off both of these. But she shows an almost disdain for her romantic co-stars. Harold Perrineau Jr. pulls off a thankless job in a pointless role as the transsexual, Monica. Both potential lovers for Cruz, Murilo Benício and Mark Feurstein, are fine when alone but have no idea how to act when they're with each other or with Cruz.

There really isn't any good in Woman on Top. It could be forgiven in so many places if it had just gotten one thing correctly, but it fails on each successive level. It wasn't romantic, but could have been saved if it was funny. It's not funny, but if the actors had strong enough chemistry it wouldn't matter. It doesn't make sense but if the love was believable we wouldn't care. No one area makes up for all the other flaws, and I just couldn't find a single thing to like about Woman on Top. Skip this one. It's not worth it.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Thu Dec 19, 2013 5:00 pm

The Brothers Bloom
An exercise in swindling an audience, The Brothers Bloom is a movie where each character holds many tricks up his or her sleeve, and the film as a whole doesn't reveal everything until the very end -- and even then you might not understand what just happened. It does all this with a light, happy, comedic tone, meaning you will laugh while shaking your head. At times, it might try to be too clever, and attempt to trick up one or two times too many, but it's an enjoyable movie which will leave you smiling at the end.

The basic conceit involves the Brothers Bloom, Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrien Brody) -- no, I don't know why they're the "Brothers Bloom" when only one of them is named "Bloom" and he's not even the most important one -- deciding to swindle money from a rich, lonely and eccentric woman, Penelope (Rachel Weisz), through an incredibly convoluted and silly con. Along with a silent partner, Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi), they approach her and take her on the ride of a lifetime, all with the hope that they will wind up being millions of dollars richer for the experience.

It's also a "last job" movie, because that's a popular story template. I get it: it provides a chance for a proper conclusion, and it raises the stakes. This isn't really a heist movie -- although some could easily classify it as such -- but it uses elements from the genre. There is definitely a target and there's a few characters who have to work together in order to acquire it. But the film around it works more like a road movie, moving from place to place with various stops along the way.

What The Brothers Bloom does best is keep its audience guessing. Exactly how much of the film is planned by Stephen as part of the con? How much does everyone involved know? What unplanned events happen? What's with a man named The Curator (Robbie Coltrane)? There are so many questions you will ask yourself while watching this film, and you'll be unlikely to guess all of the answers for them before you're shown. This isn't a predictable movie.

In fact, all of the questions you'll ask of the film while it's playing are going to do a better job of holding your attention than the characters or the situations they face. The thinking that The Brothers Bloom makes you do is something you don't often have happen with a movie. It does an exceptional job of exciting because of the way that it doesn't let you in the know. I'm not sure if everything holds up upon closer inspection, but it certainly seemed like it does after a single viewing.

There are some points when the convolution becomes too much, when you can no longer follow along and have to work to catch up. The twists upon twists upon twists make you wonder what the point of it all is. Everything most assuredly happens, but what's the point of it all if it gets rendered redundant because of a twist in the story? The Brothers Bloom can be frustrating at these moments. Stick with it, though, as almost all of it makes sense at the end, even if the ending itself will leave some with a perplexed face.

I liked that it didn't dumb itself down for those in the audience unwilling to commit fully to watching it. If you aren't paying attention, you will get lost. You won't be able to remember whether what you're seeing is real, or a con, or a con-within-a-con, or even another layer down. You'll have trouble keeping track of when a character is acting for the benefit of another, or if he or she is being natural. The film is complicated enough to inspire thought on the part of an audience, and I appreciate it for this. When a filmmakers respects those who watch his or her film, that's a positive.

The film's director is Rian Johnson, whose debut film, Brick, was much the same as this one. Both have an impeccable sense of style, have a great deal of charm, and are very funny. This is a filmmaker who gets how to make a crowd-pleasing film with an intelligent plot and characters. And he does it with underutilized genres and by making films which seem to transcend time.

He's also shown a talent for getting good performances out of his actors. Here, the lead is Adrien Brody, who acts mopey but somehow is also charming and an effective romantic. Mark Ruffalo is always smiling here, and is the brains of the con operation. His character writes "scripts" for the cons, and it's because of this mechanic that we wonder, at all times, exactly how much of the plot is "scripted." Rachel Weisz delivers the best performance, acting both ditzy and smart, ignorant and all-knowing. Mention should also be made of Rinko Kikuchi, who has an expressive face and steals more than a couple of scenes, despite getting only a handful of words -- not even lines.

The Brothers Bloom is a successful movie on many levels. It's funny, exciting, and keeps its audience guessing at every turn. At times, it tries to be too smart, but for the most part it ties everything together perfectly if you pay attention and stick with it. It has a strong script, good performances, and an interesting premise. I recommend giving it a watch.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Fri Dec 20, 2013 5:16 pm

Inside Llewyn Davis
Perhaps one of the best in a series of (mostly) very good efforts, Inside Llewyn Davis marks the newest film from the directorial team of the Coen brothers. This is a smart, funny, and yet not terribly upbeat movie that follows approximately a week in the life of its lead character, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac). That's it. Or, that's about all that it has to offer from a narrative perspective. When you dig deeper you find an even better movie filled with so many small touches that you won't see many of them on the first viewing.

Llewyn Davis is a folk singer who perhaps invented couch surfing. He spends each night sleeping at a different friend's house. He's not a success, is what I'm saying. It's not even that Llewyn is a bad singer; the film takes place in 1961, which was before Bob Dylan burst out and really popularized folk music. Llewyn has a record out that isn't selling, and he's spending his days and nights hoping to find work. He's stuck in a rut, and through circumstances partially out of his control is going to go on a journey which may or may not free him.

It all starts with a cat. At one of the houses Llewyn spends the night, there is a cute cat (whose name is a spoiler, kind of, if you think about it). As Llewyn leaves, the cat gets out. He has to chase it. This kick-starts a series of events which leads Llewyn down paths he otherwise would not have taken. And, yes, there is a cat along for much of the journey, which just adds to the movie. Movies don't get worse with the inclusion of a cat; in fact, it's almost always the opposite which occurs.

The film is interested in Llewyn as a character, his journey, and his interactions with the people he encounters. There is Jean (Carey Mulligan), who at one point slept with Llewyn and now needs an abortion; Jim (Justin Timberlake), who is Jean's beau and Llewyn's friend; Roland and Johnny (John Goodman and Garrett Hedlund), with whom Llewyn takes a road trip to Chicago, as well as several other analogous-to-real-life-people characters -- references you'll likely only get if you know your (folk) music history.

If you like offbeat and quirky humor -- similar to that found in other movies by the Coen brothers -- then you will laugh quite often during Inside Llewyn Davis. There are lots of comedic lines, a couple of funny characters, and the antics of the cat, all of which keep the film humorous. This is at odds with the film's melancholic tone. For the most part, Llewyn is in a cycle from which he cannot escape. Nothing ever seems to go right for him; this isn't a Hollywood rags-to-riches story.

It does, perhaps, offer hope at the end, although even that comes with a bit of reservation. It's really tough to discuss this without spoiling, but suffice to say that any happiness you read into the finale -- a select couple of things change and you get the sense that, just maybe, there might be hope for Llewyn. But, assuming you get a reference -- that shouldn't be too obscure for most people -- you'll realize that it's not as upbeat as it might initially appear.

In fact, a lot of Inside Llewyn Davis works similarly to this. If you think about it harder and contemplate what it means or represents, the surface events and plot will reveal a deeper meaning. You might first ask yourself what the purpose of the John Goodman character is. Think on it, and it might come to you. The cat also isn't just a plot device or MacGuffin; it has a symbolic purpose as well as a practical one: it's cute as a button and it winds up getting a great deal of laughs.

All of that kind of talk deserves significant discussion and multiple watches of the movie. From a single watch, you'll catch some stuff and miss others. If you know your folk music history, you'll get more out of it than if you don't, although anyone can enjoy it. Many full-length songs are contained in the film, too -- almost enough to call it a musical -- and they help to further set the mood and scene, which is something the Coen brothers do very well. While watching this film, you feel like you're back in 1961.

Oscar Isaac will get many accolades for his leading role in this film. So much of the film relies on him. His signing has to be good enough for us to believe that Llewyn has a chance of success, and he has to also be charming and charismatic even when the character is going through an incredibly tough time. Isaac pulls it off, and becomes a leading man in the process. Everyone else, even the second-billed actor (Carey Mulligan), is given a very supporting role; if anyone else has more than fifteen minutes of screen time, I'd be surprised.

Inside Llewyn Davis is short of a masterpiece but it's one of the better films to come from the Coen brothers, and that's saying a lot given their filmography. It's well-acted, funny, and has a seemingly simple plot which allows for a great deal of symbolism and important smaller details. Oh, and it also has a really cute cat, whose importance to the film is more than just being cute or a MacGuffin. It's a film you think on and then desire to see more than once. It's that good.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sat Dec 21, 2013 4:27 pm

Æon Flux
At some point in the future, most of the human race will be wiped out. The movies have shown me that this is an inevitability. That's fine, because it's usually so far in the future that I won't have to be alive to experience it. Granted, Æon Flux's disaster happens in 2011, but it's easy to forget that since the vast majority of the film occurs in 2415, where the final 5 million people on the planet all live in one city, where the government is evil because governments in science fiction movies are rarely good.

This one didn't seem that bad to me. Everyone is provided for, there didn't seem to be any poverty, crime, or other problems, and it was all well-lit, which is important. Sure, the government might be lying to its citizens about the outside world -- you can't leave the walls -- and there's a bit of a lack of freedom, but compared to other future governmental bodies, this one seemed okay. Regardless, there's a rebel group, the Monicans, and one of its members is our protagonist. Her name is Æon, and she's played by Charlize Theron.

The rebels hope to overthrow the government and/or learn what secrets have been hidden from the people. Æon gets tasks to perform like "kill this guy," and takes them without thought. However, when one mission goes wrong, she winds up involved in something much bigger, much more twisty, and ultimately a lot more boring for an audience than the missions she does in the first 30 minutes of the film. Oh, and her sister is killed, so she wants revenge, even without proof that it was the government's fault.

Part of the problem is that the better action scenes get used up early on, leaving nothing more exciting to hold our interest later. And even the "impressive" action is routine and not terribly well-crafted. There's one scene where Æon and her sidekick, Sithandra (Sophie Okonedo), are attempting a breach of the Citadel, and this involves running across a booby trapped-infested field. This is the film's best scene, although I couldn't figure out why the characters performed so many unnecessary flips.

The action that follows is less impressive. It's primarily fist fights where many of the hits occur off-screen, and it lacks any sense of visual style. After Æon learns things that the government wanted to keep hidden, we move more toward trying to -- and I'm trying to be delicate here by not spoiling the film -- "fixing" whatever issue it is that she encounters. Does that give it away? I don't think so. This doesn't allow for too many action scenes.

This would be okay if we weren't promised a ton of action by the film's opening, and if the plot was anything other than a mess. Unfortunately, Æon Flux shows us that action is on its mind, setting our expectations from the first few scenes, and also contains an uninvolving plot. Or perhaps it's just revealed and presented to us in an uninteresting way, because on paper it's actually not that bad. A touch convoluted, I suppose, but that comes with the territory, doesn't it? It's just that it didn't translate well to film.

Perhaps part of the problem is that Æon Flux is based on an animated television series of the same name, which wound up running for far more that 90 minutes. One would think that taking inspiration from a longer material would permit the filmmakers to borrow some more creative action scenes, but there you go. From what I can gather, the show has gathered somewhat of a cult following. If you happen to be a part of that group, you're probably going to be disappointed with the live action adaptation. If you're not, you're still going to be disappointed, but at least it's not doing a disservice to a property you like.

If Æon Flux has a strength, it's in its look. Science fiction movies almost always look good or cheap, with little room in between. Æon Flux falls into the former category. It wasn't the most expensive movie, having a budget just north of $60 million, but that money has been put to good use. The city has a unique look, there's a lot of interesting set designs, and this is all brought out well by director Karyn Kusama and cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh, even if they can't film action scenes as well as they can the sweeping shots of the city.

It's odd that a cast containing Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand and Pete Posthlewaite exists and does not bring with it even a single good performance. Nobody shows a shred of emotion -- even Theron, whose character's sister is killed and that's supposed to be a big form of motivation for her -- and every actor should be ashamed of the performances in this movie.

Æon Flux is not a good movie. There are some interesting ideas at play, but they wind up feeling far less important than they should. The action is mundane after a certain point, and the plot is muddled and while it might have worked on paper, or even in a television series that had hours and hours to show it, stuffed into a 90-minute action film it doesn't work. The actors all seem to be ambivalent about their performances, too. It looks nice, for the most part, but that's the only praise I have for it.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sun Dec 22, 2013 5:22 pm

Defendor
A low-budget superhero movie taking place on the streets of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, Defendor is an oddball black comedy about a mentally ill man who dresses up and fights crime down on the streets. No, he's not Batman; Batman has more money and is a fictional character, guys. The lead in this film is Arthur Poppington (Woody Harrelson). He dresses up as "Defendor" at night and beats up bad guys on the street ... with varying success. His goal is to find and kill Captain Industry, because he is under the delusion that (1) Captain Industry is one person and (2) Captain Industry killed his mother when he was a child.

He actually begins the film in an interview environment, meaning most of the film is a flashback as he tells his story to a psychiatrist (Sandra Oh) who is trying to determine if he belongs in jail of back out on the streets. His tale isn't a particularly long or interesting one, but it does do something different for the superhero genre. He meets some fun, if stereotypical, supporting characters -- a crack-addicted prostitute named Angel (Kat Dennings); a corrupt undercover cop (Elias Koteas); and his only friend, Paul (Michael Kelly), among others -- and gets a couple of action scenes.

What's surprising about Defendor is how it portrays its hero. Arthur is a naive but good-hearted person who is suffering from severe mental problems. In order to escape from his life, which isn't particularly great, he assumes this Defendor persona, retreating to a comic book world where he is the most important person and the only one making a difference.

I suppose that says something about the writer-director, Peter Stebbings, who must feel that we can't fully buy the idea that someone completely sane would don a costume and fight crime. There's a reason that real-life vigilantes like this are rarities. Most people know that it's not going to work out. Going out to fight gangsters (who have guns) with a handful of marbles -- literally, not just the common idiom about marbles and brain matter -- and hockey pads isn't a smart move most of the time.

Defendor doesn't quite work as a superhero deconstruction. It tries but it plays more to the tropes than it really should in order to work in this light. Its heroism is a strong focus, and you'll root for Arthur throughout even though we know that he's probably digging himself into deep trouble. Arthur gets beat up more frequently than he does the same to others, and while his quest is noble, any sane person would realize that it's not going to work out. Arthur, not being that sane person, keeps going.

That makes the film kind of sad, in a way. It takes a couple of darker turns later on, and it would be hard to call much of it "fun," but it's just depressing to watch Arthur, this kind but mentally ill person, go through the trials and tribulations that come from trying to fight crime. He's manipulated by most people he encounters, he often fails at his goals, but he keeps going. This gives him a purpose and a reason to live. It's awful but it also makes for a compelling story of determination.

Where Defendor goes wrong is when it comes to tone and pacing. Tonally, the film moves back and forth between mediocre drama and somewhat successful black comedy. "Mediocre" and "somewhat successful" aren't the same thing as "bad," but it's true that neither means "good," either. It doesn't blend the elements and it doesn't do a great job at using either of them. A couple of points are truly funny and one or two scenes work as strong drama, but the rest is relatively bland.

Defendor also feels far longer than its 100-minute running time would suggest. Watch it and jot down all of the important scenes and plot points, and then figure out how they managed to stretch out over 100 minutes. I'm not about to say that there's a lot of filler, but it does feel as if the film moves a lot slower than it should. I think it might have been the gangster scenes that slowed it down. We're focused on Arthur -- he's the only truly interesting character, after all -- and the movie works best when we're fixated on him.

This is helped by Woody Harrelson's unhinged performance. He has to make both Arthur and Defendor separate characters with their own personalities, and he pulls it off. The shy, nice, kind of slow Arthur gets juxtaposed against the deep-voice, extremely confident Defendor, and Harrelson is great in both roles. Elias Koteas works as a slimeball of an undercover cop, Michael Kelly is a nice man who serves as Arthur's guardian angel, and Kat Dennings is good as the hooker with a heart of gold.

I hesitate to call Defendor a good movie or one that's a necessary watch. It's too mediocre, tonally inconsistent, and feels overlong to truly recommend it. But its take on the superhero genre, and real-life superheroes in particular, is novel, and if you're looking for something a little different from the superhero blockbuster, this one might fit the bill. It has moments of brilliance and some good performances, and while it does feel long it's never truly dull. It's a mixed bag, but if it sounds like it's for you, I recommend seeing it.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Mon Dec 23, 2013 5:07 pm

Kingdom of Heaven
Set during the Crusades of the 1100s, Kingdom of Heaven is a historical epic which attempts to make a hero out of a blacksmith and present a more neutral view on religion than anyone likely thought possible. The Crusades were a period of turmoil, and it was all brought about due to religious conflicts between the Christians and the Muslims. In the film, religion is certainly present, but the struggle for power, land, and wealth is the driving factor for the wars; the religion of the people comes second.

The lead is Orlando Bloom, who plays the aforementioned blacksmith, Balian. He, grieving the loss of a child and the suicide of his wife, is approached by a knight, Godfrey (Liam Neeson), who explains that he is Balian's father, and that if the blacksmith wishes, the two could journey together to Jerusalem. Reluctantly, Balian tags along, only to see his father killed in a raid. He takes over that position, and soon enough is in a position that one would assume is way over his head. He's dining with Princesses, Counts, high-ranking knights, and so on, and becomes something of a leader.

It's here where the film gets more complicated. We get to see a lot of the scheming of the supporting cast. The King (Edward Norton), is a leper and has been keeping the peace with the Muslims for his reign, although he knows he's dying. The man who will succeed him, Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas), along with another knight, Raynauld de Châtillon (Brendan Gleeson), want the war, and believe they will win, even though that seems incorrect. They want to defeat their only opposition, as it will ensure the Christians keep Jerusalem for themselves.

Meanwhile, the Muslims want Jerusalem, too, but not because of any religious importance. They had it taken from them, and want it back because it represents power and wealth. That's the motivation behind most of the actions in the film. Balian himself isn't even particularly religious, which allows this perspective to be effective. The film isn't anti-religious but it doesn't present one side as better than the other. Muslims and Christians are shown as good and bad, depending on the character.

There's a lot going on and there isn't a whole lot of time for everything to be explored and concluded. Kingdom of Heaven runs for only 144 minutes, and it's edited quickly and without a lot of cohesion. Some motivations are left unexplained, while many characters show up only to be removed just a few scenes later. This is a movie that moves at a very quick pace, and could have used slowing down.

If you're expecting a lot of action, you're going to be disappointed. Kingdom of Heaven only contains one lengthy action scene, which occurs right at the end and features the inevitable battle for Jerusalem. There are a couple of smaller ones scattered throughout, and they're all well-made, but I couldn't help feel that they were too similar to one another, as well as to those of other films in this genre. I get that it's hard to make sword fights and castle invasions feel unique, but Kingdom of Heaven's action beats eventually grow tiresome.

For instance, the Jerusalem battle feels a lot like the Battle for Helm's Deep in the second Lord of the Rings film, and it was done better there. In that movie, there were a great number of creative moments. Here, it's all by-the-numbers. It's relatively exciting, but since we've seen it, almost shot for shot, before, I couldn't help feeling let down, especially for what was supposed to be such an emotional climax -- there was little emotion because we only know one character particularly well.

Kingdom of Heaven is a film that draws you into its proceedings thanks to its fantastic production design and gorgeous cinematography. A lot of historical films feature both of these, but it can never be said enough how amazing a film like Kingdom of Heaven looks. You get lost in the time period and wish to spend a lot longer here than the film permits. If you need one definite reason to see this movie, it's because of its visuals, which are incredible.

Initially, I didn't think Orlando Bloom would make for a strong lead in a film like this one. He works out rather well, in large part because his character is supposed to be an underdog. He doesn't begin the film as a confident person, but rather a broken one. It is over the course of the film that he builds up to the type of man who could lead an army. The supporting cast around him is good, but are unfortunately not given enough character to do a whole lot. Some are gone the scene after they're introduced.

Kingdom of Heaven is a film of epic scope and potential, and in large part, it reaches those lofty heights. It looks amazing, it tells an interesting -- although poorly explained -- story, and its neutral stance on religion in the period is interesting, if not terribly insightful. It has good actors in roles that are largely underwritten, and its pacing is incredibly quick especially given its 144-minute running time. Is it is a success? Absolutely. It's an enjoyable film and I recommend seeing it.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Tue Dec 24, 2013 5:13 pm

The Wolf of Wall Street
As the movies have often taught us, greed promotes more greed and will eventually be one's downfall. Here comes The Wolf of Wall Street, which more or less shares that same philosophy but does it with more drugs, nudity, and profanity than most. This is a Martin Scorsese movie, and while it often feels like one, there are points when you think it was being made by someone else. When was the last time Scorsese shot the naked human body as often as it is seen here? Or injected his film with enough laughs that it could easily be listed as a "comedy" without anyone accusing it of being mislabeled?

The Wolf of Wall Street details years in the life of a man named Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), who is a real person. We get to watch his life from the age of 22 to some point after that; I don't think the year at which we end is distinctly mentioned, although I'd wager he's in his mid 30s. Belfort begins as an eager up-and-coming stock broker who winds up starting his own company, making millions, and then wanting more -- eventually turning to illegal methods to obtain even greater wealth.

Meanwhile, while all of this is going on, an FBI Agent (Kyle Chandler) is trying to find him out and take him down. While this only becomes a primary plot point in the film's final third -- I suppose given its near three-hour running time that's still a significant portion -- it does become important. The rest of the film, mostly earlier on, deals with Belfort's company, his family life, and his excessive partying.

I'm not hyperbolizing his lifestyle, either. As he tells us himself -- either in voice-over narration or a fourth-wall-breaking monologue; both are used here to accomplish the same goal -- he does enough drugs to sedate the entirety of the state. Uppers, downers -- if they're illegal, he's probably taking them. The film doesn't condemn their use but it does put them to good effect, especially in one absolutely hilarious scene involving extremely old and powerful versions of Quaaludes. This makes for the funniest scene in a movie full of them.

When was the last time that Martin Scorsese made a film that could rightfully be called a comedy? Many of his films have funny moments but not as many and not as frequent as The Wolf of Wall Street. Much of the comedy is dark, but that comes with the subject matter. The American Dream isn't often depicted as a happy thing, even when it all goes right for the protagonist. This is a picture that explores the underside of this business, although without a whole lot of judgment.

The characters are all good, bad, or too complicated to sum up in one word all one their own. The way they break the law, do copious amounts of drugs, and so on wind up just being parts of their personalities. Even with Belfort constantly addressing the audience directly, this is a more objective retelling of his story than you might think. It's not here to make you feel one way or another about the man; it's going to tell you a story that contains things you may or not have previously seen, and then it's going to leave you to think on what you just saw.

This more objective method of storytelling poses a bit of a problem, though. Belfort is smart, smug, and funny. He is not, however, a terribly compelling individual, especially when we have to watch him for three hours. We watch him go through this life and we wonder why. Apart from a speech early on given to him by a cameoing Matthew McConaughey, the film provides little reason other than the fact that money, power, and greed just cause someone to want more money and power.

You'll want more, I guess. The immorality of the characters and scenario is made clear in scene after scene -- what you can stand as an audience member will also be tested -- but we're never really told why. It's funny, it's told in an energetic way, and you're not likely to be bored (maybe repulsed, as is the intention), but if you're looking for something that delves deeper into the characters than a simple "because it tells a good story," then you'll want to look elsewhere. Maybe to one of Martin Scorsese's earlier offerings. Last I checked, you could find copies of Goodfellas lying around in retail stores.

To skip out on The Wolf of Wall Street would be to miss what is probably the finest performance of Leonardo DiCaprio's career and one of the best ones of the year. He is tremendous in this role, throwing in everything that he has. He's not afraid to embarrass himself, show real passion and grit, and also display his natural charm. It's all at play here. It's clear that he's taking roles designed to give him a shot at an Academy Award, and this finally might be his time.

The Wolf of Wall Street is an incredibly funny movie that delves into the glutton-based culture that is the world of stock brokers. Led by a tremendous performance by Leonardo DiCaprio and crafted in an unflinching and stylistic method, this is a movie that tells a solid story more objectively than you might think. This leads to it having an issue where we question exactly what, apart from greed, drives the characters, but I'll happily take this movie as a more surface-level entertainment piece than most films any day of the week.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Wed Dec 25, 2013 2:41 pm

Grudge Match
30 years before Grudge Match begins, two boxers, Henry "Razor" Sharp (Sylvester Stallone) and Billy "The Kid" McDonnen (Robert De Niro) had an intense rivalry. They had squared off two times and had each won a single time. Right before the third and tie-breaking match, Sharp retired. Their feud wasn't over, but it wasn't going to be settled in the ring. Or was it? Both people, now past retirement age, are going to get that chance thanks to an energetic promoter (Kevin Hart). They will get their Grudge Match.

Or will they? Grudge Match wants to constantly toy with whether or not the match that it's building up to is actually going to happen. Forced drama is introduced simply so that it can make us question if we're actually going to get to see two men, 65 years of age or older, get in the ring and box. This never works because (1) we've probably seen the trailer, meaning we've seen them in the ring, and (2) there is absolutely no way they wouldn't let us see the main attraction. The filmmakers would be lambasted if they pulled that sort of thing.

Most of the film focuses on the two men both training and dealing with some family issues. Sharp gets to start dating a woman he has loved for 30 years, Sally (Jim Basinger), while McDonnen starts spending time with a son, B.J. (Jon Bernthal), he has never had any contact with. We spend about the same amount of time with both sides, which means that the film isn't telling us who to root for in the final showdown. Realistically, though, does anyone here think 70-year-old Robert De Niro can really go toe-to-toe with 67-year-old Sylvester Stallone?

As it turns out, the filmmakers believe in De Niro and they actually do a competent job of making him seem like a credible threat to Stallone. During the multiple training sequences, we actually watch De Niro get into what seems like pretty good shape, especially for his age. Stallone never changes; he does a training montage or two simply because he has to. And when the final fight gets shown, the two actually seem like a match for one another.

Grudge Match is primarily a comedy. Most of the jokes come in the form of cheap shots at the aging athletes. These get stale after the first time or two. The ones that wind up hitting home the most come from Kevin Hart -- a comedian who understands how to deliver lines in a funny way even if they're not the greatest lines in the world -- and Alan Arkin -- who shows up as Sharp's old friend and trained, and is funny simply because he's Alan Arkin.

In fact, the only portions of Gudge Match that I can wholeheartedly recommend are the scenes in which Hark and Arkin have a dialogue exchange. These points are really quite enjoyable and I'd almost like to see them in a two-person play where they just riff on one another for a couple of hours. During these scenes we can completely forget about all of the incompetent family drama and "Ha, he's old" comedy. Unfortunately, these moments only amount to a few minutes of screen time and in a movie that's pushing two hours in length, that's not enough.

Given the fact that the two lead actors in this movie are best known for starring in violent, R-rated features, seeing them in a tame PG-13 comedy just doesn't feel right. Grudge Match plays to a family audience, it's true, but it does so because it's too tame to be particularly funny to the primary fans of Stallone and De Niro. This isn't an unofficial Rocky/Raging Bull crossover; it's an uninspired movie that just so happens to include the leading actors of those films, and has maybe two references to the classic movies -- references that the children won't get, by the way.

Still, Grudge Match is almost redeemed by its final fight. As cynical as I am I still couldn't deny that watching Stallone and De Niro box each other at their ages works as pure spectacle, and if the film around them was better I'd be able to recommend seeing it. All the boxes are checked off, and on paper this is a film that should work wonderfully; the problem comes from it all feeling obligatory -- like boxes are being checked off -- and the comedy not being able to make up for that.

I don't think anyone is going to be accusing Sylvester Stallone of being a particularly deep actor. Even at his best -- probably the first Rocky -- he wasn't exactly great. He's part of the reason neither the comedy nor the drama works. Robert De Niro is a good actor and he puts in some surprising physicality and a few scenes where he exhibits strong comedic timing. Stallone is here for the boxing, and it's unfortunate that so much of the film revolves around him and his relationship with the Kim Basinger character.

Grudge Match almost comes close to working but the majority of both the comedy and drama falls flat, leading to a relatively dull two hours watching the movie. It feels uninspired, as if it's just going through the routine. The only bright spots come from Kevin Hart and Alan Arkin in comic relief, and the end fight -- which we all know is coming, meaning any forced drama the film throws at us that might end up canceling the fight carries with it no tension; we know how it ends. You have little reason to watch Grudge Match.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Thu Dec 26, 2013 5:11 pm

August: Osage Country
Based on the play of the same name written by Tracy Letts -- he also wrote this screenplay -- August: Osage County is a very funny and surprisingly dramatic movie about a group of unlikable people in a family with them. It all works, to be sure, and the film throws enough curveballs and jokes at us to keep itself entertaining. Just know that you're not going to come away liking too many of its characters; they're interesting people, but they're not nice.

the film opens with the hiring of a woman named Johnna (Misty Upham), who is brought in to be a live-in housekeeper for an older couple, Beverly (Sam Shepard) and Violet (Meryl Streep). They have an arrangement: Beverly can drink and Violet can pop pills and neither one will say anything to the other. A little while later, Beverly goes missing, prompting an impromptu family reunion. Violet's sister and both of their children, their children's spouses, and their grandchildren all get together in a small house outside of town. Tensions are already running high prior to this get together, so what do you think happens when you coop them all up in a house where the mean temperature hovers around 90 degrees Fahrenheit?

The answer: everyone fights at all points in time. Violet has three daughters, Barbara (Julia Roberts), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), and Karen (Juliette Lewis). They all have their own relationship issues. Barbara, for instance, is currently separated from her husband, Bill (Ewan McGregor), and they shuttle their daughter, Jean (Abigail Breslin), back and forth. All three of them took the tip to Osage County.

Meanwhile, Violet's sister, Mattie (Margo Martindale), made the trip with her husband, Charles (Chris Cooper), and their son, "Little" Charlie (Benedict Cumberbatch). They have their own problems. Some of these are independent from the rest of the family, while others are directly related. Everyone seems to fight with everyone. One select scene, taking place during dinner, has every character in it, and it is so wonderful that you almost wish the whole movie contained just this one scene.

It takes a little while to absorb who all of these people are and what their relation is to everyone else. I'd wager it takes about the first half hour to really feel comfortable knowing this. Thankfully, most of the drama is saved for after this part, as if the filmmakers knew that this is a large number of characters to introduce in a drama. There are jabs and barbs thrown in this early section but nothing like what comes later -- everything boils over after this introductory section is over.

The film is darkly funny. The premise isn't in the least bit comedic, and if one were to draw a timeline of the events depicted here it would be difficult to even draw a smile, but the way the script plays out and the way the actors deliver their lines -- it actually does wind up being very humorous. Julia Roberts, by herself, gets more laughs than some comedies. Here, she is stripped of all glamor and style, dropping F-bombs like nobody's business, and it's both a great dramatic and comedic performance.

August: Osage County throws in a lot of reveals and twists as it progresses. I think there almost might be too many. It's tiring watching this movie and keeping track of everyone and how they relate to everyone else, and then even more information needs to be taken in, on the fly, which throws a wrench into what you thought about everyone. It's thrilling, and if your mind is up for it, it's worth it, but it's also kind of exhausting. Caring after all of the events in this movie is more difficult than you would hope.

It's all still very effective family drama, though, and you're likely to gain some sort of insight into your own family and relationships by watching this one. Characters occasionally drop into monologues designed to teach us -- and the other characters, I suppose -- something, and there are more than a couple of recurring themes scattered throughout. Abandonment, for one, is probably going to be what many people take from the picture.

This is a movie filled with Oscar winners and those who previously have Oscar nominations. Putting them all in an enclosed space makes for an acting showcase. The film will likely have three nominations this year when it comes to the performances. Meryl Streep was going to be nominated regardless, and Julia Roberts and Margo Martindale should also both get in. Almost every actor here gets one scene to steal, but it's these three who get to show off for more than just a couple of moments. These are all complex emotional roles, and each actor here deserves some sort of credit. More ensemble awards should be given out.

August: Osage County is a film that tires you out. There are so many characters to keep track of, a great deal of reveals and twists scattered later in the film, and so much emotional tension that you will likely want to take a nap after you watch it. That speaks highly to how effective the movie is. It might not make you like many of its characters, but it will keep you interested in them until they leave you.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Fri Dec 27, 2013 5:12 pm

Manic
Shot in a raw, gritty, handheld manner that often makes it feel like a documentary, Manic is a film that you've likely seen before, or at least you'll feel as if you've seen it at some point in your life. If you've ever seen a movie in which a character is placed in a mental hospital, you've seen Manic, as it hits all the beats required of such a film and rarely deviates from the formula. Manic's claim to fame is that its characters are primarily young teenagers.

The lead is Lyle Jensen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who is forced into a juvenile psychiatric ward after nearly killing another kid with a baseball bat. He claims nothing is wrong with him, but the cigarette burns on his arms and obvious anger issues say otherwise. The primary psychiatrist is Dr. Monroe (Don Cheadle), and he says that they're going to help him with his issues. Perhaps having a caring and genuinely good primary doctor is another thing that Manic does differently. Dr. Monroe does seem like he really wants to help these kids.

From this point, the film progresses mainly as you'd expect. Each of the secondary characters at the mental hospital is defined almost solely based on the problem that brought them there. One likes to fight. One is self-harming. Another lacks self confidence and screams at night for what seems like no reason. One is agoraphobic and manic-depressive. That's how we're to tell these characters apart. I can't be the only one who finds that a little sick, right? We're defining these characters solely by their issues? That happens too much in real life, and these types of movies often reinforce that viewpoint.

It's convenient and considering that the characters have all gathered in this location to deal with their problems, I suppose it's not too condemnable. Most of Manic winds up following the day-to-day activities of Lyle. He goes to group discussion sessions, plays basketball, talks with a couple of the other kids -- he befriends one and begins a relationship with another -- and loosely plans an escape.

There are also fights, which makes sense considering more than one character is in this ward to deal with anger issues, and almost everyone else seems to be antagonist. It's like they want to see a blow-up; they hope to see their peer "lose it" because it's entertainment for them. The dialogue, especially in the group sessions, is taunting and toying. We'll probably never know how much of the dialogue was improvised but it at least gives the impression that a good chunk of it was.

Perhaps that feeling is owed more to the filming style than the writing. This is one of those films that wants to give off the appearance of being a documentary. The camera never once even thinks about being placed on a tripod; it is instead held in the hands of someone who has no idea how to keep it even remotely steady. Lots of close-ups and lengthy takes are used. The effect is to make us feel like we're there, and that the events are really happening. It's effective at both of those things. Some people hate shaky-cam work, and I'll admit that in the wrong projects it can be overused. It fits with this one.

It feels raw, it feels unrehearsed, and it feels real. That's what the filmmakers are going for and that effect was realized in Manic. You often don't remember that you're watching a movie when Manic is playing. You feel there, like you're watching real people struggle with their mental disorders. Part of this success also comes from the filmmakers not exaggerating the issues these people are facing. They define them a bit too much, sure, but the characters have all been written in a realistic way.

Going hand-in-hand with that writing is the acting. Many of the younger actors in the film hadn't been in more than a handful of projects before this one, and even for the ones who had, this is a departure. As our lead, Joseph Gordon-Levitt exhibits surprising depth and charisma. He, a child star, had not had a role like this one before. For him, it works well as a transition to more adult roles. He has to be profane, angry, and carry the whole film on his back. It works.

The supporting cast also has to perform with more subtlety than these types of roles sometimes require. You've seen "crazy people in a mental hospital" before, but the ones in Manic, while dealing with several issues, aren't over-the-top in their portrayal of mentally ill individuals. And Don Cheadle's caring doctor who has unconventional methods -- and as a result comes across as a breath of fresh air in terms of movie characters -- winds up stealing the show.

You've seen the basic story of Manic. A person being forced against his or her will to enter a psychiatric ward isn't a new storyline. But in the details lie the reasons to give this film a shot. The gritty filming style makes you feel like you're there, or at the very least watching a documentary of real events, the characters are well-performed -- Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Don Cheadle stand out -- and while I wish the secondary characters weren't strictly defined by their mental illness, it works in a setting like this one. You've seen films like Manic before, but this film makes it a story worth revisiting.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sat Dec 28, 2013 5:27 pm

The Kids Are All Right
More about the general concept of family than any particular situation, The Kids Are All Right is a drama about an unconventional situation which contains many instances easily applied to all sorts of familial struggles. The fact that it centers on a lesbian couple who happen to find their relationship complicated upon meeting their sperm donor makes it noteworthy, but I do think that despite a specific story and cast of characters, many of the lessons and discussions within the film apply to the lives of almost anyone.

The aforementioned couple includes Nic (Annette Bening), a doctor and the more controlling member of the family, and Jules (Julianne Moore), who is hoping to start a landscaping business, but has never been able to follow through on anything in her life. The two are in love but even at the film's opening, we can see there are troubles. Together, they have two kids: Joni (Mia Wasikowska), recently 18 and heading off to college at the end of the summer; and Laser (Josh Hutcherson), who wants to meet the biological father of both the children. And it was just one father. Both women had one child from a single sperm donor.

That donor happens to be Paul (Mark Ruffalo), who owns an organic restaurant and acts as the antithesis to Nic. He's a laid-back person who says "cool" a whole lot, which plays in direct opposition to the controlling, dominant personality of Nic. It's little surprise they don't initially get along after being introduced. Jules, on the other hand, takes to him quickly, and certain things happen which will jeopardize all of the relationships mentioned earlier. No points for guessing.

All of the issues which was already brewing is exacerbated because of Paul. Jules and Nic begin fighting more. Joni stops being the perfect child and begins to take more a more independent approach to her life. Laser questions whether his choice of friends is good for him. The kids and the parents don't get along as well as they did earlier. The catalyst here is Paul.

The Kids Are All Right does not attempt to solve everything. Some people may dislike it for this. At the end of the film, while some of the characters' problems have been fixed, there are just as many which are left open. You will have to think for yourself which path the characters will take after the credits begin to roll. Who will forgive whom? Who will even talk to whom? Will a seemingly stable relationship stay that way? While it's not exactly a thinking film, there's enough left open to ponder for a while after it ends.

This is a tactic that only works because of how strong and well-defined these characters are. If you're thinking on the terms of "What would so-and-so do when facing Situation X?," then you can be sure that the characters in the film are very good. When you think of them as people instead of as scripted characters who are fulfilling a predetermined plot, then they are a success. The writers give them strong characterization and dialogue, and the actors do a fantastic job of bringing the words of the screenplay to life.

The film, I believe, has the potential to speak to everyone. While its primary situation is awfully specific, I think it works to prove the point that these types of issues, relationships, and so on are universal, and the way it goes about dealing with them is the same. All families go through problems, and working them out is important; The Kids Are All Right knows this and hopes that by watching it you might learn something.

The reason that this movie works well at doing that, beyond its strong characters, is that it's also funny, smart, well-made, and doesn't ever have a tone that's too serious. Some of its subject matter is certainly pretty dark, but writer/director Lisa Cholodenko knows that it will be a more appealing movie -- and one whose lessons we might be more inclined to accept -- if the comedic aspect and lighter tone are kept throughout. It has been edited tightly and shot well, too, both of which certainly help. There isn't a poorly framed shot or a scene that drags.

It is also expertly acted. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are both incredibly believable as the lesbian couple, a fact emphasized when they explicitly state that they hate watching fake lesbian couples in the movies. Or, more correctly, the "movie-movies." As the new-age hippie, Mark Ruffalo is charming. Mia Wasikowska gets far heavier material than Josh Hutcherson, and as a result shines more brightly. Surprisingly, each actors gets a lot of screen time; it's more of an ensemble picture than one focusing just on the adults.

The Kids Are All Right is a very good movie. It is highly entertaining, and has some points to make and lessons to teach on familial values, regardless of how weird you think your family happens to be. Its strength lies in its characters, which are wonderfully written and acted. They feel as real as people in the movies can be. It also tells an interesting story, and has been shot and assembled with great care. This is a winner, and I absolutely think it's worth seeing.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sun Dec 29, 2013 5:34 pm

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is an action movie that is a lot of fun if you can get your mind into the place of its intended audience: The twelve-year-old boy who just loves smashing up his toys real good. Or, more correctly, smashing up the rest of the house, because the toys themselves rarely take a hit. Seriously, with all the gunfire, high-speed chases and close-quarters fighting in Rise of Cobra, it seemed to me as if people missed far too often, while everything around them was getting completely destroyed.

Purportedly based on Hasbro's long-running line of action figures, Rise of Cobra is exactly that: An origin story for the bad guys in the G.I. Joe universe. The Joes, as they are called -- a team of the best and brightest soldiers from all over the globe -- have already been established prior to the film's opening. They protect the citizens of the world from bad guys, or something of that nature. They seem to exist solely for the plot of this film, and could easily have been on vacation leave prior to its opening events, in which four "nanomite" missiles are almost stolen by some bad guys.

The army was guarding them, and while they failed in their protection, the Joes managed to secure them. For whatever reason, two army men, Duke (Channing Tatum) and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans), are soon recruited into the Joes. Both the Joes and the villains contain too many people to mention. Essentially, though, they do battle a few times, fighting for these nanomites which apparently have the power to level entire cities.

The mastermind behind this plan is the man who created these weapons using NATO money and then attempted to steal them in order to, I dunno, take over the world, I suppose. The opening scene showed a Scottish clan member getting disgraced, so it's not unreasonable to think that many centuries later, one member still hasn't put that past him, right? I don't really know. It ultimately doesn't matter, because all we need is a villain who has assembled a team, and also acts as a cover for the real villain, whose name I won't reveal but won't be too surprising if you're even paying the smallest amount of attention.

Luckily for you, attention isn't really required with a movie like this. It works perfectly well as background noise, as something you look up at every now and then as you do something more important. It's a fantasy movie for the 12-year-old boy who hasn't been allowed to play the "violent" video games and has to, instead, stick to action figures. It might be too much to take for most people.

However, if you're totally into the zany energy of a film like this one, it's going to be a fun ride. Plot? What plot? Characters who are discernible by more than a funny nickname? Who needs those? Action scenes? We got those. We've got plenty of those. That is the single thing that matters in a film like this one, and for the most part, they're pretty fun. There's some creativity, some pretty strong special effects, and enough sci-fi gadgets to permit some thing you don't get to see very often in the movies.

Admittedly, with what little plot there is, Rise of Cobra does a good job of tying all of its elements together. Sure, it'll seem coincidental, but that kind of comes with the territory, doesn't it? Everything in this type of universe has to connect to something else, right? When you learn the big reveal at the end, it won't at all be surprising. It would be a bigger surprise if the villain was just some random guy whom we'd never previously met, wouldn't it? And that would ruin some of the charm, I'm assuming. Remember that this is a movie primarily aimed at those still buying the G.I. Joe toys.

Primarily targeting this audience isn't an excuse, nor does it make up for all of the film's flaws. It won't please many people, and while you can take it as a pure action film and have some fun with it, its shortcomings -- primarily in the script and the acting department -- are a touch too big to just overlook.

There are too many characters, to follow, too, and unless you know of them all from the toys or the animated series, you're going to have a hard time keeping track. There are only a few important ones, while others seem to come and go, only having a purpose if their special talent can come into play; if it can't, they just sit in the background. Most of the actors phone in their performances, and while you're not looking for deep acting in a film of this nature, charisma can go a long way, and there are few actors in the film who display that here.

Taken as a pure action film, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is a fun movie. It's paced very well, it has some inventive and creative scenes, and it has enough characters to ensure that the fights are rarely the same. However, if you look past the pure "fun" aspect, you'll notice a severely lacking script, too many characters to pay attention to or develop, actors who don't seem to care a whole lot, special effects that are sometimes good and sometimes lacking, and a film that works best as background noise while you do something more important with your life.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Xandy on Mon Dec 30, 2013 9:08 pm

Review the Director's Cut of Kingdom of Heaven now.

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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Mon Dec 30, 2013 11:20 pm

Not now. Someday. I still have The Toxic Avenger to get to, too.

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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Mon Dec 30, 2013 11:21 pm

G.I. Joe: Retaliation
You would have to press me really hard in order for me to tell you anything that I could remember about the first live-action G.I. Joe film, which I had to look up again to learn that it was subtitled Rise of Cobra. I only watched it a few months before the sequel, but remembering anything that happened within it is a struggle. The only thing that clearly came to mind was the final reveal right before -- or was it during, or after? -- the credits, which (spoiler alert!) told us that the President of the United States had been impersonated by a member of Cobra, the bad guys.

Not remembering a whole lot is a theme that I sadly took to the sequel, as even a few moments after G.I. Joe: Retaliation came to a close, I was struggling to remember what had just happened. I only wish I was kidding. This is the kind of film that is moderately exciting in the moment, but if you're trying to remember any of it afterward, you're going to struggle. There's a lot of action and a lot of funnily named characters, but that's about it.

Given that the lead from the first film is killed in the first few scenes in Retaliation, it almost seems as if the film wants to be more of a reboot, focused on a new team, than a true sequel. Or maybe it thinks we're heavily invested in Duke (Channing Tatum), so killing him off will have some sort of impact. It didn't for me, I'm sorry. It took me a few minutes to even remember he was the protagonist of Rise of Cobra. He dies here, along with a bunch of other Joes, after the fake-President orders an airstrike to kill them all.

A few survive, lead by Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), who wasn't in the last film, as far as I can remember. He, and a couple of others, will try to figure out who was behind the attack, why, and then save the world, because the fate of the world is always at stake in movies like this. As it turns out, it's Cobra Commander, because as far as I know, that's the only villain in this series who is actually a threat. Everyone else can be taken down easily by a team of Joes.

Yes, G.I. Joe fans, I'm sure that's not the case. But for someone whose only investment in the franchise comes from these two movies, that's all I've been lead to believe. Given that the team of Joes is somewhat different this time around, wouldn't it have made sense to introduce a new significant villain? That's what I'd hope for. We've seen Cobra Commander before, and we don't need to see him (maybe) defeated again. Give us something new, movie, and then we might have more reason to care.

I'm only somewhat joking. The action is mostly different -- from what I can remember -- taking a more personal approach. Instead of large-scale action scenes, it's primarily a small team against another small team. It's likely this was done to keep the budget down, but it also means we're not being forced to follow too much at one time. It also makes the sequel have a different feel than its predecessor, and isn't it kind of nice to see a counter to the "bigger is better" approach to making a sequel?

What does it matter. You're here for the action and the action is perfectly fine. The last film worked best if you could think like a 12-year-old, and the sequel works much the same way. Is that really a compliment, though? How many 12-year-olds have a well-developed taste in cinema? Aren't most films -- at least, ones with bright lights and near-constant action -- better when you're 12? Regardless, this is the type of brain-off action movie that you have to think in a certain way to appreciate.

There's one scene in G.I. Joe: Retaliation that I can remember clearly, and it's the rock climbing ninja fight that featured prominently in the trailers. Granted, I remembered it before even seeing the movie, given that it was the coolest thing about the trailer by far, but seeing it in its entirety actually wound up being a bit of fun. It's inventive, it has ninjas running along walls and slicing each other up -- and even as I describe it I realize that it sounds silly and that I should just be 12 years of age again because wouldn't that be the "very bestest"?

Here's what it comes down to. Did you enjoy G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra? If you did, this is more of the same, just with a different team and a smaller scale. If you didn't, it will continue to offend your intelligence, sensibilities, common sense, and anything else you want to claim it offends. There are an abundance of action scenes, a lacking of plot, character development, and anything remotely resembling depth. It's well-paced and has at least one good moment, but asking me to remember it even a few hours later is a task with which both you and I are going to struggle.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Tue Dec 31, 2013 5:32 pm

Gigli
An oddball comedy/crime movie that might be a bit insensitive the mentally impaired, Gigli isn't a horrible mess, and it actually contains a bunch of individually great scenes which show us just how much better it could have been. It's ultimately a failure of a movie, but there's enough good material here that I almost want to suggest that you watch it, simply because a few scenes are worth seeing. Perhaps you'll be able to catch them on television or watch them on YouTube.

The film stars then-real-life couple Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, each playing a "professional" contracted to kidnap a mentally handicapped kid and hold him for purposes of extortion by their boss. Affleck's character, Larry Gigli (pronounced Gee-lee), takes Brian (Justin Bartha) from his assisted living facility and brings him back to his house. Ricki (Lopez) shows up a few minutes later, informs him that Larry's boss didn't trust Larry to do the job himself, and so that's that. Larry and Ricki have to babysit a plot device until events sort of just happen to them that cause reactions.

The film subverts a few clichés. Larry is attracted to Ricki from the start, and he hopes that they'll fall in love. Perhaps he is in love with her at first glance. She is a lesbian. She informs him of this right off the bat. She doesn't get "turned" and while their relationship grows as Gigli progresses, it's not, strictly speaking, a romantic one. It's one built on admiration and on similar personalities. They each like the other, but not necessarily because they think there's a future, as much as one might hope.

Or, at least, that's the way I read it. Perhaps some people will see it as Ricki slowly being "converted" by Larry's charms. Or maybe she wasn't actually a lesbian after all. Bisexuality is a thing, last I checked. And she does admit about midway through the film that she has been with men. You know what? The sexuality of its female lead is one of the more interesting things that Gigli has going for it. At least the film will get you talking.

Its characters do a lot of talking. It won't sound natural. The dialogue doesn't often come across as if it is being spoken by real people. Much of the time, it's monologue followed by monologue followed by monologue. Most of the time, the monologues are on the same topic, although not always. The film's best scene involves one where the two leads have a back-and-forth "discussion" about who's better to please a woman, who has the better tools, and which sexual organ is better. No joke. And while it might not sound "real," it gives the actors some fun material to work with.

Other great moments involve cameos from the likes of Christopher Walken, Lainie Kazan and Al Pacino, each of whom shows up for one scene. They get some fun lines, they get to completely steal their one moment, and then they disappear. We think about their scene for a few afterward, and what happens in the plot ultimately doesn't matter for those few minutes. And since the plot is mostly inconsequential anyway, that actually works to the film's advantage. 

It also doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I mean, if you kidnap someone with a mental disorder -- Brian calls it brain damage, but we never learn if it was the result of an accident or if it happened at birth -- and that person is the brother of a powerful prosecutor, are you going to drive him around the city in a convertible and take him out to restaurants? You wouldn't if you were any good at your job, and because of this you're going to have a hard time buying both Affleck and Lopez as contractors. They're far too nice and likable for that line of work.

Gigli is tonally inconsistent. Its style of humor is impossible to pin down, its plot moves from trying to be a romantic comedy to a crime film to ... I don't even know. Is watching a mentally disabled guy rapping funny? Because that's one of the film's running gags. I think it's inconsiderate at best, but what do I know? I just know that I didn't find it particularly funny, and I don't think many others will, either.

Do Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez turn in good performances in Gigli? I actually sat and thought about this for a while. Together, they display some chemistry -- they were engaged on release day -- but the film's script keeps them at arm's reach. This isn't your typical love affair; it's better than that. The way they rattle of length monologues is something worth seeing, and their banter is enjoyable. Justin Bartha is believable as the mentally impaired man, although his character either does what he's told in service of the plot or slinks into a back room. He's incredibly well-behaved for a kidnapping victim.

At the start of this review I wrote that I almost want to suggest you see it. After a few paragraphs in, I came to the conclusion that it is worth seeing. Sure, it might not work well as a story-driven film, but its individual scenes and exchanges of dialogue have some interesting things to say, and are executed well. It will get people to talk, and even if you absolutely hate it, it's one of those bizarre movies you'll be glad you saw at least once.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sat Jan 04, 2014 5:57 am

Beautiful Creatures
Set in a small town in South Carolina, Beautiful Creatures is a teen romance whose trailers will remind scoffing audiences of Twilight, even if that isn't exactly a fair comparison. In fact, with both the characters, the central themes, and the way the story unfolds, Beautiful Creatures isn't anything like Twilight. Sure, they're both romantic fantasies determined to appeal to young girls, but that's mostly where the similarities end.

The lead is a male, Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), a teenager hoping to get through high school and eventually get into a college as far away from the town of Gatlin as possible. Some say the only thing to do in a small town is plan your escape. He's a relatively normal kid, although each night he dreams about a girl. When this same girl, Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), winds up moving to town and attending his school, he knows they're destined to be together. It turns out, she dreams of him, too. Oh, and she's also comes from a family of "casters," or as we would call them, "witches."

The central conflict comes from Lena's upcoming 16th birthday, at which point the cosmos decide whether she'll be a good caster or a bad one. Yes, in this world, female casters are "claimed" for one side or the other on their 16th birthday. Males are not. Ethan and Lena begin a romantic relationship, but she's reluctant to make it serious because she knows she might turn evil. Meanwhile, some members of her family (Emma Thompson and Emmy Rossum) are trying to bring out the evil in her, while others (Jeremy Irons, primarily) are attempting to ensure she is claimed for good.

Now, explain this to me. If a female caster is "claimed" one way or another based on her true nature, then how can anyone influence this process? Doesn't everyone just sort of have to wait and see? A true nature can't exactly be altered by external forces. And what's the difference between the good and evil ones anyway? The film doesn't really make it clear, but both seem as if they'd be able to live relatively normal lives among the non-powered humans.

The whole mythology and world-building in a film like this one is insubstantial. There are multiple books in the Beautiful Creatures series, and this is the film that needs to establish what the rules are, why everything matters, and who everyone is. It does the last one relatively well, but the universe as a whole is more wishy-washy. Not being familiar with the books, I need the film to lay everything important out, and Beautiful Creatures doesn't do that job well enough.

As a result, the climax is confusing and muddled. Why everything works the way it does at the end is explained only vaguely, as if there's more to it but the filmmakers didn't want to spend the proper amount of time to tell us. And this is with Beautiful Creatures running over the two-hour mark -- and it feels it; this movie should have been no longer than 90 minutes. There's already plenty of exposition, and a great deal of extra time when explanations could have organically been interwoven, but we're left confused.

There are certainly good moments to Beautiful Creatures, and I think there are almost enough of them to make it worth seeing. The two leads, for example, are both quite good, even though they're relative unknowns. They have a strong, believable chemistry, and the screenplay provides them with sharp, witty dialogue exchanges which are probably funnier than they have any right to be. Because of the actors, you can believe in their romance. Their scenes of falling in love are strong.

I also enjoyed the way that the film establishes the town of Gatlin, which, given its location and the fact that it is a small town, makes it the perfect location for some subtle -- and not so subtle -- poking at overly religious fanatics. I wouldn't go so far as to say the film is anti-religious, if only because one of the characters (played by Viola Davis) acknowledges the existence of the casters and of God, but if you wanted to read that into it, you wouldn't be stretching too far.

The supporting actors, save for perhaps Jeremy Irons, are all wasted. This is a film that has Emma Thompson, Emmy Rossum, and Viola Davis, and none of them get much to do. Thompson (spoiler alert?) becomes the main villain, but she has maybe five scenes, none of which showcase her talents. Rossum gets about three scenes in the whole movie, and while she's fun in them, that's not enough time to do much. Viola Davis didn't even need to be in the movie; a lesser actor could have done just as much given how limited her role was.

It's hard to recommend a film like Beautiful Creatures. Most people who want to see it are going to see it regardless of its quality, and it's not good enough to overcome its weaknesses for those who aren't in its target audience. It's not bad and it won't feel like a complete waste of time if you do choose to watch it. It has good lead actors who have strong chemistry and snappy dialogue, but the waste of its supporting cast and unclear universe building stop it from being a success, especially as the first chapter of what the studio will hope is a long series. Thankfully, it's not just another Twilight re-tread, even if that's what it looks like on the surface.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sun Jan 05, 2014 7:43 am

Assassination of a High School President
A film that can only really be described as "Brick, but worse," Assassination of a High School President is a neo-noir set in an American high school, involving a wannabe journalist attempting to uncover a conspiracy involving stolen SATs. I really have no idea why it's called "Assassination of a High School President," as such a thing doesn't occur in the film, but I suppose that sells more titles for its bankrupt distributor than "Brick, but worse," especially because Brick, while pretty great, is still somewhat unknown.

The film stars Reece Thompson as Bobby Funke, the aforementioned wannabe journalist. He is a writer, but he's never finished an article for the school newspaper. This changes when he finds out that the student body president steals the SATs. Or, at least, he had the potential to do so, and the tests were in his locker, so make all the assumptions you want. As it turns out, there's more to it than that, so Funke (pronounced improperly by everyone) digs deeper and winds up finding out far more than anyone would expect, except the audience, who are hopefully familiar with film noir.

If you're not, and are hoping for "baby's first film noir," you'll probably want to look elsewhere. This isn't so much an introduction to the genre as it is an attempt at homage. Translating all of the genre clichés to a high school environment is something that Brick did well, and it works reasonably well here, too. The problems Assassination of a High School President faces is that its story is less interesting and its characters are far shallower.

The plot isn't terrible, but it's predictable when it really needs to be surprising. You live for the reveals, for the twists, and for the uncovering of the myths and rumors, for which a high school is a perfect setting. When its main character, who is supposed to be quite intelligent and savvy, can't figure out what you already have, it takes credibility away from the film. It also makes for something of a boring watch and a predictable film.

There's some satire of the high school environment thrown in, as well as the idea that high school and its populace can be just as awful as the streets of most noir films. But then director Brett Simon throws in stupid teen comedy moments which serve to undermine any attempt at actual commentary or insight. The tone is upset and so is the movie. What's the school principal, Kirkpatrick (Bruce Willis), even doing for most of the film? Plotting his next stupid moment? Because that's what it seems like. He shows up as comic relief, and while the individual scenes work, they are largely unmotivated and ruin the tone.

Why is it that the lead character is a socially inept outsider? Is this the type of person who grows up and becomes something of a private detective? Or is it because we need that character to fall for the out-of-his-league Francesca (Mischa Barton) and finally do the things the cool characters are doing, like going to parties? It's not even like his smarts are put to the test, like I mentioned above; it's that the filmmakers think that artificial growth amounts to something.

In fact, most of the characters are incredibly shallow or inconsistent, which is one of the film's main problems. There's not a whole lot of reason for Funke to do the things he does in the film, and even less character to fall back on when that motivation is questioned. Francesca should be a femme fatale equivalent, and at times seems to almost do that, but eventually does nothing worthwhile except be involved in a late-game reveal that (1) the film hides and (2) you'll figure out anyway.

The supporting cast is worse. They all do things for reasons that either don't exist or don't matter, and some of it appears to exist for the sole purpose of having a plot for the movie. It's as if they know they're in a movie, and need to act a certain way for that reason. It's unnatural and makes the whole experience feel fake. And, no, I don't think that's an intentional commentary on high school by the filmmakers; it's just poor filmmaking.

The film isn't without its moments. While Willis' character shouldn't really be in the film, at least not as he is presented, he's consistently funny. One scene has a driving exam go horribly and hilariously wrong, or right, depending on your viewpoint. And ... actually, that's about it. Willis and one driving scene make up the film's highlights. The rest is mostly uninteresting or something you have to trudge through. Worst of all is that it's largely boring. There's little here you need to see or haven't seen before.

Assassination of a High School President wants to be a fusion of film noir and teen comedy, and it falls short in both regards. Its plot is easy to figure out, and yet needlessly convoluted, its characters take away the film's credibility, and the comedy undermines the tone that is so crucial to film noir. None of the actors, save for Bruce Willis, turn in a performance that's good or memorable, and in Willis' case, his character should have been re-written or excised, as he helps to further ruin the film, despite being one of the best things about it. Makes sense of that.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Mon Jan 06, 2014 6:15 am

The Lazarus Papers
Disregard both the DVD cover and the trailer when deciding whether or not you should watch The Lazarus Papers. The former promises and action-thriller led by Gary Daniels and co-starring Bai Ling and a Machete-like Danny Trejo. The latter is not dissimilar to that promise and, like the cover, doesn't even tell you who the two leading actors of the movie are. Such is life in the direct-to-DVD world, I suppose. Promote the stars who might draw buyers. I get it; I just don't agree with it.

The film actually stars Krystal Vee, playing Nana, whose village gets massacred and imprisoned by the Gary Daniels character, Sebastian Riker. She gets dragged -- almost literally -- into the middle of a prostitution ring, as well as into a life of drugs. After one particularly nasty job, she teams up with a terminally ill man, Lonny (John Edward Lee), steals a bunch of money from the leader of the ring, and attempts to escape. The rest of the movie has Nana and Lonny running away from Riker. That's the gist of the basic plot, although there are a couple of subplots which serve primarily to confuse us and secondarily to do something else, although exactly what is beyond me.

The most prominent subplot involves a shaman (Trejo), who can heal anyone from any injury and is unable to die. He's tired of this, and decides to spend a lot of the film trying to pass on his powers to someone else, which apparently will finally let him rest in peace. There's also a cop, played by Forest Whitaker's son, Damon, who tries to bring down Riker.

Pretty much every one of these characters meets up in the finale for some sort of showdown. It really comes down to Nana and Riker, but most of the other ones are present, too, simply because they must be. The Lazarus Papers almost gives the impression that everything and everyone is connected, but never brings the idea full-circle. In fact, that's a pretty apt description of the entire film. Everything is half-done, but never fully realized. That, or it's some sort of higher plane genius I'll never understand.

I don't think that's the case, however, as one scene has Gary Daniels dropping some martial arts on unsuspecting guards. It comes out of nowhere and is exactly what you'd expect out of a Gary Daniels B-movie -- except that this sort of over-the-top action doesn't exist for the rest of the movie. It makes no sense to throw it in there except likely because of a contractual obligation in order to lure Gary Daniels to this type of project. It's not a full-on action movie; there's a lot of talking, although I can't really remember about what.

The problem I have with The Lazarus Papers, apart from the aforementioned lack of completeness, is how not much of it sticks in your mind afterward. It's a bad movie, I'm sure, but I actually had a good time while watching it. Or, at least, while watching its main story, which takes up about 2/3 of the screen time. Watching good-girl-turned-bad Krystal Vee was a great time, and John Edward Lee made a good sidekick; their romance and situation was just crazy enough to work. But if you asked me to remember more than one or two specific scenes, I'd be at a loss.

The supernatural aspect seemed to be building up to something profound, but then it petered out into nothing of importance. The cop character does one thing in the entire movie and it could have been accomplished by another character. Nana's heroin addiction gets ended midway through and doesn't crop up, even though heroin addictions are kind of a terrible thing to try to overcome. The terminal illness plaguing Lonny also doesn't matter.

The Lazarus Papers really seemed like a movie which attempted some big ideas but didn't have people behind it with the competency to pull any of them off. As a result, it sits there like an ambitious and yet incomplete school project. You like the idea, but you still can't give the student a passing grade because he or she didn't actually deliver something worthwhile. It would probably be well worth watching if its ideas were expanded or even mostly (not even fully) realized.

I'm not sure if most of the actors in the film are going to entice you into seeing it. Danny Trejo is in lots of movies and isn't in this one all that much, despite what the limited advertising would lead you to believe. Bai Ling and Tony "Tiny" Lister are essentially in cameo roles. Gary Daniels doesn't get much of the action you'd expect from him. It's mostly Krystal Vee's show (who gets an "introducing ..." credit), and she was a lot of fun to watch.

I don't know if The Lazarus Papers is worth watching. I lean toward saying it isn't. However, unlike most straight-to-DVD movies, there are some interesting ideas that are at least thought of, if not actually used, and it's not like distractingly bad CGI is going to hamper your enjoyment of this movie. It has actually been shot rather competently and has performances that aren't terrible, too. It just feel incomplete, as if ambition levels were far above the talent of the filmmakers. Appreciate what we get, I suppose, although I'm not about to recommend seeing The Lazarus Papers.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Tue Jan 07, 2014 6:25 am

Twisted
When people talk about terrible, generic thrillers which do nothing to excite or challenge an audience, they're talking about films like Twisted. There isn't a single moment in this movie that is worth seeing, and not a single scene that's even anything beyond being competent -- and there are few of those. It's a painfully dull movie, too, which is the biggest sin a thriller can commit. How can something go so wrong and be such an awful watch?

It begins at the screenplay level and doesn't improve from there. In lieu of character development there are twists. Instead of a coherent plot, there are twists. And, in addition to the twists, there are more twists. It's almost as if the film is called "Twisted." The problem with this, apart from giving us absolutely nothing to watch except the twists, is that the twists are predictable and easy to figure out. It's a whodunnit, on where you'll figure out who did it early on because there's no other reason for the character to exist -- even though the film tries to hide the murderer by not really giving the audience a fighting chance.

Isn't that an odd situation to be in? If you've seen a few of these types of movies, you'll figure it out early on, even though the film cheats in order to hide the resolution to the central mystery. The contrivances start stacking up and while the film wants you to suspect one person, she's the central character and because of all the hiding the film does, you can pretty much check her off the list. In fact, you can cross off most characters, leaving only one, implausible as he or she might be, as the most likely person.

The plot: Police officer Jessica Sheppard (Ashley Judd) recently pulled in a wanted bad guy, so she's been promoted to the homicide division. Her first case involves a body washing up on the local beach. The twist: she has slept with the deceased. Another body, and another former lover. Jessica drinks at night and passes out, only to wake up to a phone call to investigate a new body. Oh, and her father snapped one day and killed her mother and himself, so you know she could have a mean streak.

She is the prime suspect of her own investigation. In addition, there's her partner (Andy Garcia), who might be a little creepy but might not. Those are really the only two suspects the film gives us. There are two other prime characters: A psychiatrist (David Strathairn) and the Police Commissioner (Samuel L. Jackson), the latter of whom raised Jessica since her father's incident, as he was her father's old partner and presumably felt some sense of responsibility for her.

None of this matters. It's all about trying to figure out who killed everyone, and why. The film won't tell you who, and once it explains why you'll want your 90 minutes back. I don't think it was ever explained how the killer knew that Jessica had slept with each of the victims, or why framing her as the prime suspect would be a good idea in the first place, but I suppose that only matters if you care about characters and motivation, which is something none of the filmmakers did.

There's no sense of atmosphere, no building of tension, and no characters thought about for more than a couple of seconds. It's not clever, it's not fun, it's not scary, it's not intellectually stimulating -- it's nothing but terrible filmmaking and abhorrent storytelling. There are a lot of whodunnit out there, and this is one of the most forgettable ones I've ever seen. If it wasn't for the magic of the internet, I wouldn't have even been able to remember the main character's name.

If there's one thing that the film did well, it's using different areas of San Francisco as backgrounds for each scene. You really get the feeling that you're in a specific city, which is better than Genericville, the town of most movies. A specific locale gives a feeling of realism. There's only so far this can go, however, and it doesn't come close to saving the absolute disaster that is the rest of the film. One good element in a sea of awfulness hardly registers.

How this script managed to attract some of the cast members who wound up in the film is beyond me. Ashley Judd, Samuel L. Jackson, Andy Garcia, David Strathairn -- these are all good actors who have turned in great performances. They're all flat here, seemingly in it just for the paycheck. And considering Twisted's budget was over $40 million, and it didn't even need a quarter of that for everything shown on-screen, I have to continue to think everyone showed up for the money. Or, at least, I hope that's why they're in it.

There is so little to enjoy about Twisted that you should forget that it exists and end your relationship with it there. It doesn't have any one moment that truly works, and the whole package isn't much better, being a boring, incoherent, generic thriller filled with flat acting and stupid plotting. Do you know where this movie belongs? On television, where you can watch it for free. And the commercials won't even ruin anything. Nor will any scenes cut for running time issues. Please never see this movie.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Wed Jan 08, 2014 5:20 am

Butter
Jennifer Garner stars -- because we're apparently still trying that -- in a satire about butter-carving competitions in Midwestern America, Butter. Exactly what the film is a satire of, and who it wants to make laugh, are questions that you might be unable to answer after you see it, because it's a very muddled and unfunny film. That's not to say that this movie doesn't have its moments, but given the talent on-screen, it should have been sharper and funnier.

Garner stars and also plays the antagonist, a conservative woman named Laura Pickler, the wife to 15-time butter-carving champion Bob Pickler (Ty Burrell). He is asked to step aside by the committee, and while he's fine with this, his wife isn't. Laura decides she'll run and win in his place, claiming that it's the only thing in life that she has. Meanwhile, Bob is having an affair with a stripper, Brooke (Olivia Wilde), to whom he now owes money. Bob has a daughter, Kaitlin (Ashley Greene), who dislikes her stepmother and wishes to escape their small town.

On the other side of the spectrum is an orphan girl named Destiny (Yara Shahidi), who has bounced around from family to family before finally settling in with Ethan and Jill Emmet (Rob Corddry and Alicia Silverstone). Being a Black girl in an all-White town might make you think race might play into the plot, but it really doesn't. Instead, it comes down to an innocent girl against a win-at-all costs woman, in the most important of events: a butter-carving contest.

The film is decent until the halfway mark. We get the inevitable training and buildup, some of the subplots are introduced and then seemingly concluded, and it seems like Butter is going to conclude on-time and quite nicely. The results of the competition are revealed, and I was prepared to write up at least a mostly positive review of the film. Then I looked at my watch and realized only 45 minutes had passed. We still had half the movie to go, and we need contrivances and repetition in order to keep it going. And going it went, for another 3/4 of an hour, dragging almost every second.

The problem here is that the narrative had reached a proper conclusion, and the writers had run out of jokes or anything to say. The darkish comedy had been used up, all of the plots had been wrapped up, and even the film's eventual message could have easily been delivered. But, instead, we need to have a rematch, for no reason other than to reach feature-length. When a bullpen pitcher is done warming up, what does he do? He stands around, only occasionally throwing a pitch. That's what Butter feels like. Its second half only has one or two moments worth filming (the pitch); the rest is either filler or a repeat of an earlier event (standing around).

As a result, otherwise quirky and interesting supporting characters who had been on-screen for just long enough wind up feeling as if they should go do something else, and the plot comes across as having completely run out of steam. The first half of Butter isn't terrible, but even if it ended at the 45-minute mark, I wouldn't have wanted to see it again any time soon. Forcing me to rewatch much of it in the very film in which I just saw it is aggravating.

I'd like to give some credit to Butter for at least having some interesting ideas. Taking the small-town event and blowing it up to make it seem like the most important thing ever is funny in its own right, and that concept works here. There is some good supporting work, some funny lines, and a couple of speeches that will make you think not of butter, but of politics, which I hope was the point.

However, it also has one of the biggest wastes of talent I've seen in a film. Hugh Jackman shows up on the poster (despite the second most prominent actor, Yara Shahidi, not appearing at all), and while it would have been nice if he was in the film often, he only gets a couple of scenes, none of which are particularly funny or requiring Hugh Jackman. There's really no reason for Jackman to be in the film, and if you're going to watch the film for his appearance, you might want to reconsider that.

I maintain that Jennifer Garner is not leading-actor material, but she's better here than in most films, and seeing her character fight the urge to completely snap is actually kind of funny -- especially when that fight is lost for just a brief moment. Yara Shahidi makes for a competent foil, and is one of the better child actors currently working. Rob Corddry, Olivia Wilde, Ty Burrell, and Ashley Greene all get a few moments in the spotlight.

Butter starts out with some promise but it runs out of steam halfway through and in its final half is repetitive and dull. It has a lot of talent in front of the camera, and while many of the actors get a chance to shine for a few scenes, they aren't able to carry this film for the entirety of its running time. The jokes eventually wear thin, the plot is wrapped up at the 45-minute mark, and it just sits there, idling, and reminding us of the decent time we had in the first half, which wasn't good enough to warrant a second watch so soon in the first place.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Thu Jan 09, 2014 6:07 am

The Bourne Legacy
If there was one thing that the first three Bourne movies weren't, it was boring. The hyper-energized, conspiracy action thrillers easily kept your attention, and in the leading role, Matt Damon was a lot of fun to watch. While the rapid cutting and shaky-cam during the action scenes was something that some didn't like, it gave the films a style and sense of urgency. The audience was engaged, and they were all a good time, at least as far as I'm concerned.

Here we have The Bourne Legacy, which goes far in the opposite direction from all of these tendencies. Matt Damon isn't to be seen, save for in a couple of photographs, the shaky-cam and quick cutting is all but gone, and the central conspiracy and evil government plotting has been relegated to the background in favor of a much more simple task: Getting the lead character his drugs. No, really. That's what the first 75% of The Bourne Legacy is about. By the time new protagonist Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) is nearly hyperventilating while asking Rachel Weisz for his meds, I was in a laughing fit. I don't think that was the intention.

I had to laugh. There was nothing else to do. The plot isn't engaging, there's so little action that calling The Bourne Legacy an "action film" would be misleading, and the film is definitely missing Matt Damon in the leading role. In fact, if The Bourne Legacy didn't have to live up to the Bourne name, it might not have such high expectations placed upon it. And since it clearly wants to kickstart a new series of films, maybe that would have been the better way to go (although money talks, I suppose).

As we already learned in previous films, there are more super soldiers than just Jason Bourne. After some convoluted reasoning that I'm not sure made even a lick of sense, all of them are to be terminated. Most of them are, save for Aaron Cross, who manages to escape. But in order to retain both his physical and mental enhancements, he needs pills. And he's almost out. So, he needs to find a way to get more. This is what happens for the vast majority of the movie.

This could be a potentially interesting premise. We learn that the mental enhancement far outweighs the physical, meaning that if Cross doesn't get his drugs, he'll start mentally regressing. But all this does is add a time limit to something that was already a rushed job -- for the characters, if not for the film -- and it ultimately matters very little why the pills are needed or what they accomplish. Cross never feels ill effects from not taking them.

He tracks down Weisz's character, a scientist who worked on the agents, in an attempt to get the drugs. She functions as a plot device and nothing more. Edward Norton is also in the film, playing the man who shut down the program, and also the one tasked with attempting to locate Cross. It would be a fruitless task to attempt to figure out who has a relation to whom, and what all the different programs and agencies have to do with each other. Someone smarter than me can draw up a mind map some time.

The problem, I think, is that all of the convolution to the plot that aided the earlier films doesn't do the same here. Instead, it draws out the running time, adds further confusion to a series that didn't need it, and doesn't really bring anything new to the table. As long as you've grasped that everyone who has an office probably has ulterior motives and those motives are not going to benefit whichever protagonist we're following at the time, you'll be just fine. You'll just dislike all of the chit-chat that ultimately serves as filler.

The Bourne Legacy is actually kind of boring. It plays for over 2 hours, and it feels a lot longer than that. Not a lot of important things happen, redundancies are abound, and it ends right as it feels like it's finally going to ramp up. The film has few ideas of its own, and when it finally seems to be going somewhere, the credits begin to roll. And with no sequel guaranteed, that could prove to make The Bourne Legacy an almost completely worthless movie. It doesn't have enough content within its own movie to be worth seeing.

If the filmmakers' goal was to help establish Jeremy Renner as a leading man, it succeeds. He has charm, charisma, a touch of snark, and can carry himself in the couple of action scenes the film contains. I would watch Generic Action Movie #6712 if he was the lead, as long as it moved at a good clip and actually had decent action. He could be a box office draw. Rachel Weisz gets nothing to do, Edward Norton hangs around and accomplishes very little (perhaps he represents the film as a whole), and there are cameos from Joan Allen and Scott Glenn and a couple of others from earlier movies that might excite die-hard fans.

The Bourne Legacy is by far the worst installment in the Bourne franchise, and is the only one I don't necessarily recommend watching. It's a boring, overlong, convoluted film, filled with a simple plot that the film does little with, and very few action scenes. Jeremy Renner makes for a capable lead, and there are some big names in the supporting cast, but without giving them anything to do, their talent is wasted. I can't think of many reasons to see this movie.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Fri Jan 10, 2014 4:40 am

Lone Survivor
Based on the failed Navy SEALs mission Operation Red Wings in 2005, Lone Survivor is a war film telling the tale of four Navy SEALs who were tasked with killing a Taliban leader in Afghanistan. Everything should have gone right, but then it all went wrong thanks to an over-reliance on shaky communication technology and a chance encounter with a local goat herder, whom they had to let go lest they commit a war crime and whose release led to what seemed like an entire Taliban army popping up and gunning (most of) them down. The title kind of spoils that one of them makes it out alive.

The four SEALs: Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Matthew "Axe" Axelson (Ben Foster), and Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch). These were or are all real people and their real names have been used here. After about 45 minutes and their mission is compromised, their communication equipment cuts out and the Taliban start descending from the hills. They're now in a fight for survival, one only a single individual (it's Luttrell, and that's never in doubt) will survive.

He doesn't do it alone. His comrades help him out a great deal, all of them talking about ten times the punishment that a normal human would. Director Peter Berg seems to love showing just how abused the bodies of these individuals become. Wounds are presented in graphic detail. So many shots hit these men. A tumble down a cliff lasts so long and then has to be repeated. It might appear realistic and it very well could be, but it felt excessive to me.

The middle section of the film is this fight for survival. The four men -- and later three, then two, and finally one -- shoot at countless members of the Taliban, and get shot by just as many. There's no strategy, just shooting. I hate to say it, but it gets boring. It should be thrilling or at the very least scary. It's none of this. Eventually the barrage of bullets becomes background noise but nothing more interesting happens in the foreground. Dialogue is limited to orders and profanity.

And then, after this gunfight is over, Luttrell winds up being helped by some local villagers. They hate the Taliban, too, although we learn what their true motivation is in the epilogue text. This makes for a far more tense experience, even though there isn't as much shooting. We knew all but one of the soldiers was going to die but what about these altruistic civilians? We don't know their fates. Watching a dying Lutrell try to survive and communicate with people he can't understand also makes for some strong cinema.

The title does inevitably remove some of the suspense. When you know the lead can't die it's hard to really feel tension when the film hopes to generate it. Lone Survivor also plays really hard at these people being real, and that's why we should care. It does a terrible job of characterization, even in the scenes when that's all it's doing. One of them -- I can't tell you which -- is getting married. A new recruit -- who doesn't even end up mattering -- embarrassing dances. There's no point.

That's especially true when the major gunfight is happening. Everyone winds up so bloodied, bruised, and covered in mud, and the camera shakes so much, that you're going to struggle to tell who's doing what at any given time. They all look the same -- save for Ben Foster who has blonde hair, not brown -- and it's hard to tell a shout from another shout. We might be able to tell them apart if we cared more and learned more about them, but they could be generic soldiers for all it matters.

Lone Survivor wants to present these men as valiant, courageous, patriotic, and all other positive words that the US Army would approve of being called. It does this just fine. Perhaps it also paints them as super soldiers, but that's only a small issue. It has no more ambitions beyond portraying them as heroes and telling the unbelievable true story. It succeeds at both of these. It might not quite work well as a film or even as a narrative production, but if something accomplishes its goals and nothing more while not winding up a complete waste of time, that's not a bad thing.

I'd like to say that it was worth hiring actors as good as Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, and Emile Hirsch to play these soldiers, but the truth is that they're all underutilized. After the fighting begins, anyone with their type of physique and the appearance of a generic white male could play these roles. They're definitely not bad, and there's a bit of fun to be had at the beginning when they mock each other, but it would have been nice to make them feel more like real humans and less like generic soldiers who get shot a bunch.

A well-paced and incredibly graphic recreation of Operation Red Wings, Lone Survivor accomplishes its two main goals -- tell this story and do it while presenting its characters are Real American Heroes -- and does little more. If you want to see a violent depiction of what these SEALs went through back in 2005, this is a film you'll want to watch. If you instead want a war film with strong characters and non-repetitive action, you should look somewhere else.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Fri Jan 10, 2014 4:40 am

Her
The main premise of Her is one that could easily be played for laughs by people who pander to the general audience. I think The Big Bang Theory did this when one of its characters pretends to date Siri. It takes a strong talent -- both behind and in front of the camera -- to make it into a heartfelt love story. This premise involves a man falling in love with artificial intelligence (AI), in this specific case an operating system (OS) in the near future which acts more like a personal assistant than anything we have available to us currently.

Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a lonely man. He spends his days working at a place that writes letters between lovers who can't find the words themselves. He is very good at this job -- a real romantic, I guess. He has recently separated from his wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara), and has not gotten over the breakup. One day, he hears of a new OS that contains AI to allow it to adapt to a specific user. After answering a couple of personal questions and deciding that he wants it to have a female voice, in his ear he hears Samantha (voice of Scarlett Johansson).

They become quickly acquainted. They make one another laugh. She seems as real as any person, even going so far as to take pauses for breath, despite being an OS and living in a computer. She even declares that she has wants and desires. They're beginning to fall in love. We see that perhaps before they feel it.

If you're laughing at the idea on paper it's because for many people it's an inherently funny one. That's why a show like The Big Bang Theory would play it for laughs -- it's easy to see how this would be funny. But Her manages to make it feel sincere. The film was written and directed by Spike Jonze, who has some pretty bizarre ideas floating around his head, but this might be the best filmmaking he's done. The idea might initially seem weird but it's quickly accepted and from there the film plays out something like a standard romance, going through all the phases and parts you'd expect.

What this allows for are calculated observations not just about this futuristic romance, but about the way that relationships play out nowadays. It gives specific characters -- sometimes Samantha, sometimes Theodore's lifelong friend, Amy (Amy Adams) -- ample opportunity to present philosophical viewpoints on life. And it sees Theodore grow tremendously over the course of the film. You feel as if you've learned something after watching Her. This is an intelligent and thoughtful movie.

It's also very sweet. Somehow -- perhaps through magic and hypnotism -- Jonze has made the romance between Theodore and Samantha into one of the sweetest you'll be able to see at the movies. You can understand how this person would fall in love with the OS, and listening to Samantha makes you feel as if she, too, could fall in love, despite being an operating system. It's surprising how heartfelt Her is, and how much you root for these two individuals to make their relationship work. Other characters might judge them but the film is so effective that the audience doesn't.

The science fiction aspects to Her include essentially just slightly updated technologies that we currently posses. I think that's important. The sci-fi doesn't get in the way of the central story or its themes; instead, it highlights them and makes them possible. On a technical level, the film is shot beautifully and scored wonderfully. Samantha spontaneously composes piano pieces which are gorgeous. Some scenes involve nothing but Phoenix sitting, the camera panning around him, and "Samantha's" composition playing in the background -- and they're fantastic cinema.

About the only part of Her that doesn't fully work is a few events right before its conclusion. Without wanting to spoil them, a subplot is introduced too late to come full-circle. It's a logical place for the film to go but an unsatisfying one emotionally, especially because of how late it starts to crop up. A few hints might have been dropped early on -- or they might have been referring to something else; I'd have to see it again to be sure (and I will, someday) -- but more would have helped make the ending feel less like a convenient way to wrap things up.

Joaquin Phoenix is a tremendous actor and here he plays his character with the perfect amount of awkwardness and sincerity. Any more of either could have pushed the project into silly territory, uprooting the whole tone. If awards were given for voice work Scarlett Johansson would win them all of her work in Her. With just a voice and Jonze's script, she creates more of a full character than in most movies where a person is seen on-screen for most of the time -- and she's not playing a "person." The two manage what might seem impossible. They create a believable romance that maybe should never be -- or perhaps that's where we, as a species, are headed.

Her is a tremendous piece of filmmaking slightly let down by its rushed ending. It manages to craft a sweet and surprisingly believable romance out of an awkward loner and his operating system, and with this premise the film has a lot to say about relationships in general, not just the one we happen to be watching. It's an often beautiful film, it has a few moments of humor, and it's incredibly affecting. The actors turn in great work and writer-director Spike Jonze has another bonafide winner.
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Re: Marter's Reviews

Post by Movie Martyr on Sat Jan 11, 2014 4:39 am

Mr. Popper's Penguins
If you were like me, when you saw the trailer for Mr. Popper's Penguins, you fell out of your seat laughing at how bad it looked. Jim Carrey? In a movie in which he has terrible-CGI pet penguins? Whose idea was this? I was sure I was going to be in for a terrible time. Or, perhaps it would be one of those cases where the movie is so bad and so pandering toward 6-year-olds that I might have a blast with it. Surprisingly, it's none of those thing, although don't get too excited. Just because it's not terrible doesn't mean it's any good.

So, yes, the film stars Jim Carrey as Mr. Popper, a man who deals in real estate, primarily in convincing people to sell their properties so that the company he works for can develop something more lucrative on the land. He's divorced from his wife, Amanda (Carla Gugino), on rocky ground with his kids, Janie and Bill (Madeline Carroll and Maxwell Perry Cotton), and he has no friends. He's focused almost solely on his work, which after the film's opening scene involves him attempting to convince one Mrs. Van Gundy (Angela Lansbury) to sell her restaurant.

Popper's father recently died, and he was sent a package in the mail, as per the will. It's a crate, and upon opening it, a frozen penguin appeared. It quickly thaws out and then starts causing minor damage to his expensive apartment. Despite that, it's relatively well-behaved. Popper doesn't want it, though, and attempts to send it back, only to be mailed five more penguins, all with one character trait which will be used to tell them apart, not that you ever actually need to do that.

Obviously, this premise is supposed to be inherently funny. Kids love penguins, kids intermittently love Jim Carrey, and seeing the funny animal with the funny man should create laughter. The problem comes from the filmmakers running out of ideas relatively quick, and the penguins being too well-behaved to lead to hilarity. They basically do what they're told and only misbehave on occasion.

Essentially, the penguins act as a catalyst for Popper to get his priorities straight and his life back in "order," which for a family movie means that he needs to fix the relationship he has with his kids, reconcile with his wife, and learn that family comes before everything else. And, in order to cause a bit of tension and keep everyone from falling asleep, there's also a zookeeper (Clark Gregg) who shows up every now and then and tries to convince Popper that the penguins don't belong in his apartment, but in a zoo. That somehow makes the zookeeper the villain, even though he's right on every account.

Mr. Popper's Penguins is sentimental and sweet and harmless and if that's all you need for a family movie, it'll do the job. There are a couple of jokes only the adults will get, a lot that will be funnier to kids than to their parents, and it moves at a decent clip and only plays for just over 90 minutes, meaning it won't eat up a large portion of the day. It reinforces familial values, and it's not so bad that it's unwatchable. You can do a whole lot worse.

It's not even that the movie is entirely devoid of humor, either. Jim Carrey is generally a funny person, and he gets a few moments here. A problem for most of the adults in the crowd will be that the penguins take away a great deal of the comedic spotlight. Instead of playing against one another, Carrey kind of just lets the penguins do their thing, all while he stands in the background. For some of the film, a cardboard cutout of Jim Carrey could have been standing there while the CGI artists rendered the penguins doing the funny things around him.

Speaking of the CGI penguins, they generally look pretty horrible. It's the lighting and the textures, I think. They often don't look like they're actually in the scene; they appear to be added afterward, which leads to a disconnect. There are times they look fine, but a bit of research suggests that these might be the points when real penguins were used. Or maybe certain anthropomorphized actions are easier to animate than others. Who knows? The point is that there are moments when the penguins don't look real, and when most of the appeal is in the animals, this is a problem.

It might have been funnier to see Jim Carrey go full-manic mode in this picture. Then, perhaps, he could match the energy that the penguins bring. In supporting roles, veterans Angela Lansbury, Philip Baker Hall and Dominic Chianese get small, but funny roles. Ophelia Lovibond plays Popper's assistant, and speaks primarily in alliteration using the letter P, which must have been tough.

Is Mr. Popper's Penguins worth seeing? Not really, unless you have to entertain some kids for 90 minutes. Those under the age of 10 won't find much to dislike, while those over that age will be entertained but only moderately so. The penguins are sometimes unconvincing, the laughs come and go, and Jim Carrey isn't the draw that he once was. But it's well-paced, has some good gags, reinforces values that family movies should, and I'm happy that it was far better than it easily could have been.
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