Saturday, August 29, 2009

Die Hard: Death Doesn’t Take a Holiday in “The Final Destination”

Whenever you start to see more than three chapters of a horror franchise, you have to stop taking it seriously. Ok so I stopped taking the Final Destination movies seriously by the end of the first movie. The first film was, dare I say, a brilliant new take on the slasher film in which the Grim Reaper actually stands in for the masked killer and his weapons of choice are everyday accidents. The novelty of the films soon became any everyday situation could be a death trap. We’re talking going to bathroom, packing up your belongings, going to the dentist, riding an elevator, going tanning. And now we get to add car washes, swimming pools and movie theaters as potential places of gruesome deaths.

Director David R. Ellis who most recently gave us the hilariously campy “Snakes on a Plane” takes creative control of this fourth film “The Final Destination” (I’m not even going to spend a second complaining about the film’s strange and obnoxious title, whoops too late). Ellis directed the second chapter in this series and immediately turned it into a silly story about a bunch of people trying to escape death. These movies are just excuses to show people being diced and sliced and gouged and smashed and chopped. There is no artistic merit and no redeeming qualities. They are a product of which I enjoy supersized.

This time around Ellis stages a graphic speedway car crash in which many people are viciously killed by falling debris and tires and other sharp objects. This film’s hero Nick (second rate James Franco look-a-like Bobby Campo) has a premonition that him and his three friends and many others will die in a horrible accident. He’s able to warn them in time and his friends escape along with a few others. If you’ve ever seen any of these movies you know exactly what happens next. Death isn’t happy that these people survived because they ruined his “design.” So he comes up with even more gruesome fates for them. So it's only a matter of time before beautiful people are sucked through a pool drain, or sliced through a metal fence, or ground up in an escalator.

This is not a good movie. Want proof? The filmmakers knew the only way they could get people in the theater a fourth time was to film it in 3D. It's certainly the film's most original concept. The third dimension here actually helps the proceedings and employs some pretty desirable effects. It certainly doesn’t help build character, or make the story more plausible or help the actors with their bland performances. But you know what? None of that really matters. I just spent the night before watching Rob Zombie’s "Halloween II" and you can tell that guy really thought he was making a good movie. And he failed miserably. Here, Ellis and his team are trying to just make a fun, campy gory ride and while it’s not good cinema, I’m perfectly okay with that. He didn’t make an unpleasant movie. He knows he made a B movie and he succeeded.

If you’re a fan of these movies, there is no reason you won’t enjoy “The Final Destination.” It has a real fun sense of humor about itself (the film’s climax cleverly takes place in a 3D movie theater) and it is a welcomed source of “turn your brain off” fun. The film is probably more funny than scary but any movie in which a racist redneck is dragged down the street by his own truck while on fire is certainly ok in my book. GRADE: B

Friday, August 28, 2009

Halloween Bore The Return of Michael Myers: Rob Zombie’s “Halloween II” Sucks

OMG. Please whatever you do, please do not see “Halloween II.” I am a huge Halloween franchise fan and I’m here to say that it’s most definitely the worst of any Halloween movie starring Michael Myers (I don’t really count Part III, but it might even be worse than that piece of garbage). I’m not going to sit here and tell you what to do, so if you want to see the final chapter of Rob Zombie’s “vision” then by all means be my guest. There are so many things wrong with this movie I don’t even know where to start.

I’m going to forgive the fact that this movie even exists. There will always be Michael Myers movies it’s just a fact. Even the godfather of the Halloween movies, Moustapha Akkad (who unfortunately died back in 2005 in a Jordan terrorist attack) has said that he would make at least 22 Michale Myers movies, so there’s no surprise that we’ve got ten so far. What distresses me so much about this new movie is that the producers actually thought Mr. Zombie was talented enough to make another movie. Yeah he has vision, but I’m not so sure it fits with the Halloween movies. He should be directing “The Devil’s Rejects II” not “Halloween II.”

“Halloween II” picks up right where the remake left off, which I guess is sort of a nod to the original film’s sequel. Laurie Strode (played again by Scout Taylor-Compton whose acting ability has worsened since the last film) has shot her psychotic brother and she’s taken to the hospital. It takes six men to life Michael Myer’s body into a van where two idiots are in charge of transporting him to somewhere far away. The two idiots hit a cow and crash leaving one dead and leaving the other guy with a severe case of Tourette’s Syndrome. He literally says “F*ck, f*ck, f*ck, f*ck, f*ck, f*ck, f*ck, f*ck, f*ck, f*ck, f*ck, f*ck, f*ck, f*ck, f*ck, f*ck, f*ck, f*ck, f*ck.” Rob Zombie is obviously a talented screenwriter. So Michael Myers thankfully cuts the dude’s head off, sees his dead mother (soon to be Razzie nominee Sheri Moon Zombie) and a white horse (!) and is told that he must find Laurie at the hospital so that they can be a family again. Oy. Suddenly “Halloween 6” makes so much more sense.

So Michael conveniently finds Laurie in the hospital where she’s recovering from surgery. In an annoying little twist (aka writer’s block) it turns out everything at the hospital is a dream and it’s really a year later. Laurie has gone from a virginal, innocent teen into a wild and crazy young woman who has weird dreams. She lives with her friend Annie (Danielle Harris) and her sheriff father Brackett (Brad Dourif) in an isolated farm house in the middle of nowhere. Laurie is all goth now which I guess is what happens when you’re either a) an attempted victim of Michael Myers or b) in a film directed by Rob Zombie (I’m thinking it’s a little bit of both). So Laurie whines all the time because she thinks Michael is going to come after her, but little does she know that Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) has written a tell-all book about Michael Myers and he reveals Laurie and Michael’s blood relation. That makes her even more crazy so she decides to dress up as Magenta from The Rocky Horror Picture Show (remember Rob Zombie is the director) and weirdo goth friends dress up as Columbia and Dr. Frank-N-Furter. They both die, if you can believe it.

Do you even care about any of this? I certainly didn’t. Especially when Mrs. Zombie shows up all in white looking horribly out of place. If Mr. Zombie was going for unintentional laughs then her certainly succeeded by a mile. Oh those stupid flashbacks and visions are so stupid I literally slapped my forehead. Zombie also makes every victim so horrendously obnoxious that he practically justifies Myers killing him or her. He even breaks into a stipclub an and kills the sleazy owner and his stripper girlfriend for no real reason except to show a naked woman being smashed face first into a mirror. Now, if any of this were to occur in another movie not related to Halloween, then maybe it would make sense, but nothing in this movie feels like a Halloween movie. It’s obvious that Zombie had almost complete creative freedom to come up with whatever horrendous crap he could think of. And he did. It’s 100 minutes of crap.

Please for your well-being I cannot recommend “Halloween II” for any reason whatsoever. It has no redeeming qualities at all. The cinematography is lame and overdone. The music by Tyler Bates is dumb and he doesn’t even use John Carpenter’s theme until the end credits (the best part). Even the death scenes are repetitive and overly done. I realize Michael is a psycho but there’s no reason to stab someone 234385757 times and for Rob Zombie to show it. It makes the first film (which I hesitantly and generously gave a B-) look Oscar-worthy. Ok, not really but you get my point, right?

There should be a government warning on this flick ‘cause it’s bad for your health. Just do yourself a favor and Just Say No to “Halloween II.” I wish I had. GRADE: F

Friday, August 21, 2009

Jew Man Group: Tarantino’s WWII Flick “Inglourious Basterds” is A-Boomin’

I really want to spoil the ending of “Inglourious Basterds.” But I know I shouldn’t and since I want you to go into this film without knowing how it ends I’m going to do you a favor and just say it is awesome. I will say, however, that if you go into Quentin Tarantino’s World War II Nazi-scalping drama looking for historical accuracy then you’ll probably be disappointed. And if you’re a history teacher you may not want to bring your class to see this flick because they’re likely to fail their final exam.

Since Quentin Tarantino directed this war movie, a first for the former video store clerk, there are some things you know you’re going to see. You’re going to see long scenes of dialogue that at first appears to have nothing to do with anything. It’ll most likely take a second viewing to really appreciate these scenes. They’re in “Reservoir Dogs.” They’re in “Pulp Fiction.” They’re in “Kill Bill Vol. 2.” They’re in “Death Proof.” I’m sure they’re in "Jackie Brown," but I’ve only seen it once and was slightly bored. Probably because of the long scenes of dialogue. The opening scene of “Inglourious Basterds” is very simple and involves lots of talking but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t filled to the brim with excruciating suspense.

And you’ll also find lots of violence in “Inglourious Basterds.” Brad Pitt is the top billed actor and here he plays Lt. Aldo Raine who is the leader of the Inglourious Basterds which is a small group of mostly Jewish-American soldiers who go around Nazi-occupied France hunting members of Hitler’s army. There’s one soldier, dubbed “The Bear Jew” played here by horror director Eli Roth. His weapon of choice is a baseball bat (how American!) and his enemy of choice is, of course, Nazis who won't divulge important information. Raine orders his men to collect 100 Nazi scalps. If you don’t want to see Nazis getting scalped then don’t see “Inglourious Basterds.” (Although, the film could of used a few more scalpings if you ask me).

Meanwhile a young French Jewish woman (Mélanie Laurent) who escaped the evil clutches of a sadistic (aren’t they all?) Nazi named Col. Hans Landa (played with Oscar quality perfection by Christoph Waltz), sees an opportunity for revenge when her movie house is chosen to hold a huge Nazi movie premiere. Many high ranking officers will attending and she’ll stop at nothing to make sure they all burn to death in a fiery blaze of Nazi death (you see old nitrate film used to be highly flammable). Raine and his men also plot an independent mission when they find out that the highest ranking Nazi, one Adolf Hitler, will be attending as well. We all know what shouldn’t happen in this movie, but we all know what WILL happen.

Tarantino has crafted another movie based on a whole bunch of random movies you and I have never seen or heard of and turned it into a digestible slice of Americana. The title is based on an old Italian “man on a mission” war movie titled “The Inglorious Bastards” and don’t ask me why his title is spelled incorrectly (although it might be obvious since the title is wrong as is the film's historical accuracy). But when you’re Quentin Tarantino you can get away with things like that. And of course there are the random people that show up. Look it’s Mike Myers! Look it’s that guy from “The Office!” Look it’s what’s her face from the “National Treasure” movies! Look it’s Samuel L. Jackson’s voice!

If you want a movie with suspense, lots of dialogue (most of which at time seems unnecessary but can actually be pretty witty and funny), and some great performances, then you should be going to see Brad Pitt kick some Nazi butt right now. And if you don’t cheer at the end of this movie, then you’re probably a skinhead or something. GRADE: B+

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Out of Africa: You Shouldn’t Evict “District 9” From Your Summer Movie Schedule

The less that is said about “District 9” the better. Is that because it sucks and isn’t worth talking about? Heck no. It’s a great movie. It’s original and inventive and exciting and complex and entertaining. But to discuss it any further would to ruin the fun. It’s certainly everything that “Transformers 2” wasn’t.

“District 9” is interesting because it borrows so heavily from other movies and yet it feels so fresh and original. I can spot influences from as far away as “Blood Diamond,” “The Blair Witch Project,” “Independence Day,” “The Fly,” “Starship Troopers,” and “Dawn of the Dead.” And even Entertainment Weekly film critic thinks there’s a little bit of “Enemy Mine” thrown in for good measure. Basically what I’m going to tell you about the film’s plot is something you already know from the trailers. A large city-like space ship has arrived on Earth over Johannesburg, South Africa. It just hovers there. Inside is a large race of malnourished aliens. The humans bring the aliens down to the surface and over time force them to live in squalor in a place known as District 9. If you’re thinking apartheid you’re correct.

The begins as a sort of documentary which sets up this alternative universe in which aliens have arrived on Earth. They sort of look like giant bugs and are derogatorily nicknamed “Prawns.” They speak in a weird frog-like language, but don’t worry we get subtitles. We’re introduced to an employee of the Multi-National United (MNU) which one critic lovingly reminded him of Michael Scott from “The Office.” This is a random dude who thinks he knows everything. He’s chosen to go into Disctrict 9 and evict the “non-humans.” You see these aliens have been living on Earth for over twenty years and now the government is forcing them out. This man is Wikus van der Merwe and he’s played by Sharlto Copley and I’m sure he’ll become a big star. He’s supposedly just friends with the director Neill Blomkamp.

I refuse to say anything more about the film’s plot. But I will discuss Blomkamp’s wonderful direction. The scenes that are “documentary-like” are well done and are never cheesy. The film has a great set up and as the film’s plot points are reveals it is interesting how quickly you get into it. I will say that Wikus is a character who is difficult to like at first and he really didn’t have me on his side until towards the end of the film.

And of course there is whole political allegory that is never too painfully obvious and yet it’s SO obvious. There is a moral center here and I think we all know what it is. It’s sort of amazing at how seamless this world that Blomkamp creates is. We get this alternate history in which the people of South Africa are living amongst aliens and however ridiculous it may seem it’s all too painfully realistic.

The film is really violent. There are lots of exploding bodies and splashing of blood. But I would never say it was exploitative in anyway. There’s plenty of action for those who enjoy that stuff and just as much thought provoking themes that intellectuals will enjoy. Besides how many exploding bodies are there in Transformers? None, exactly. And I was sort of surprised at how well the visual effects worked here. The film was made for about 30 million and you’d never really know it. Check out “District 9” for a truly one of a kind experience. It’s nowhere near my favorite movie of the summer, but you’d be hard pressed to find something as innovative as this. GRADE: B

Friday, August 14, 2009

Fish Out of Water: “Ponyo” is a Colorful, Magical Tale of Earth’s Delicate Balance

I would have never guessed in a million years that I’d be reviewing “Ponyo,” a Japanese animated feature film from legendary animation director Hayao Miyazaki. I have never seen any of his other films and that equally makes me feel happy and ashamed. I’m ashamed to call myself a film fan even though ive never seen his other films and yet I’m glad that I haven’t had to sit through all that boring, fantastical anime. I’ve never had much a desire for anime and I don’t think “Ponyo” will really change my feelings towards the subject, but I am willing to agree that it is a fun and beautifully hand drawn animated film with an interesting story (inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s ‘The Little Mermaid’) a wonderful music score by Joe Hisaishi, and loveable characters.

“Ponyo” whose original Japanese title is something like “Gake no ue no Ponyo” tells the story of a little red fish. she winds up near the surface of the water and crosses paths with a young boy named Sosuke (voiced by the Jonas Brothers little bro Frankie). Sosuke is instantly smitten with the cute little creature and he names her Ponyo. He takes scoops her up in a bucket and runs back to his house on the cliff where he lives with his mother Lisa (Tina Fey). Of course Ponyo’s magical human-like “father” Fujimoto (Liam Neeson) who resembles the lead singer of an ‘80s glam rock band, isn’t too happy about this. It turns out that creatures who live in the ocean are meant to live in the ocean. And it also turns out that Ponyo, after licking a cut on Sosuke’s finger, has the power to turn human. And she has the desire to be as well.

Now anyone who has seen the Disney version of ‘The Little Mermaid’will recognize parts of this movie as being similar. Like for instance the desire of a character who is born of the sea to be on land. And let’s not forget the demanding father who doesn’t think it’s a very good idea. However, in this version there is an extremely evident environmental message as well (which I hear Miyazaki is known for). It turns out that the water in which little Sosuke’s house is near just happens to be very polluted. Fujimoto complains about the human’s using the water as their own personal garbage bin and how it angers the sea gods or whatever you want to call it.

Eventually little Ponyo (Miley Cyrus’ little sis Noah) makes her way back to daddy in the water much to Sosuke’s dismay. But there is no stopping the little critter and she begins sprouting arms and legs and she’s whisked off to the surface to be reunited with Sosuke. All of her little fish sisters transform into big beautiful blue fish and help her ride the waves back into Sosuke’s life. She takes on the form a young girl similar to Sosuke’s age and his mother says it’s alright if she stays with them. Here she learns all about basic human things such as eating dinner. These scenes inside the house are simply enjoyable in the traditional “fish out of water” way. Literally. But unbeknownst to Ponyo and her new human friends, the water is rising rapidly due to the moon’s new position in the sky (which is something I missed along the way) and because Ponyo is now a “human” earth is completely out of whack.

But let’s be honest, the real reason most people would venture to the theater to see this movie is its unusually animation style. Like I said, Miyazaki employs actual hand drawn animation and from what I understand no uses of computers at all. I can hardly remember the last traditional animated feature film I saw in the theater. It was probably “Lilo & Stitch” way back in 2002. Disney since has sort of given up on that type of animated, save for December’s “The Princess and the Frog” which will wisely return Disney to its traditional animation roots. At first I was almost a little put off by “Ponyo’s” animation. It almost seemed cheap and low budgeted. Something you’d find on Saturday morning but blown up to huge proportions. But then I realized that I just wasn’t used to seeing animation that way.

Another thing that is just odd to me is the use of American actors doing the voicework. This a foreign film through and through and while it was enjoyable to hear familiar voices (and it certainly helps the movie be more accessible to American audiences) it is sort of weird hearing Betty White’s voice come out of a character named Noriko. Lily Tomlin, Cloris Leachman, Cate Blanchett and Matt Damon are some of the other talented actors lending their voices.

“Ponyo” will be a huge success amongst those who flock to see these types of films and as an outsider I will say I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the film. I can’t say that it makes me want to see movies like “Spirited Away” or “Princess Mononoke,” but I’m glad I was able to put my prejudices aside when it comes to anime and enjoy a fun animated movie that anyone can enjoy. GRADE: B+

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Another Day in Paradise: “A Perfect Getaway” is Far From Perfect But is a Completely Sufficient Thriller

“A Perfect Getaway” does offers a few positives. It feature some beautiful tropical locations. It offers a pretty witty script from writer/director David Twohy. And lastly it has a pretty cool twist that won’t make you slap your forehead in disbelieve. I almost couldn’t believe it but then once I realized what was going on, I was like, hey that’s pretty cool and different. It makes me want to watch the movie again and see from a new point of view. But enough about that. “A Pefect Getway” I would classify as a thriller and although it takes awhile to get to the thrills, I appreciated it’s attempts at building suspense than just going for blood and guts whenever it had the chance.

The film opens with some home video footage of a wedding. And then we’re introduced to the newlyweds Cliff (Steve Zahn, shedding his goofy, typecast persona, kind of) and Cydney (Milla Jovovich, who is all eyes) as they’re about to embark on a treacherous hike in Hawaii for their honeymoon. There one of those couples who would rather do some dangerous hiking done rather than sit on a relaxing beach drinking colorful drinks. I’m going to get this out of the way up front, I didn’t really believe them as a married couple. I’m not saying their not good actors or that they’re necessarily miscast, but they seemed more like brother a sister than husband and wife. But that’s all I’m saying.

They meet up with another strange couple, also newlyweds, who are hitchhiking. They’re hesitant to give them a ride mostly because they’re super weird and creepy and grizzly. They are played by Marley Shelton and Chris Hemsworth. They speed off where they run into another couple played by Timothy Olyphant (perfectly cast) and Kiele Sanchez. Although sort of strange, Cliff and Cydney decide to hike along with them since they seem to know what they’re doing. Of course they run into a few other hikers who have just been informed that a newlywed couple had just been brutally murdered one on of the other islands. I take it you can guess that the killers might just show up.

A good chunk of the movie involves Cliff and Cydney trying to determine if Nick (Olyphant), an Iraq War veteran and innocent, southern Gina (Sanchez) are the killers or not. Cliff has his trustly Blackberry on hand, and when he gets a decent enough signal he attempts to read about the killings. There is even a poor quality surveillance photo of the killers, but Cydney informs him it looks like they could be anybody. They also think they’re being followed. Is it that strange hitchhiking couple or is there something more sinister out there?

Remember I said the screenplay was witty and that is mostly due to the fact that Cliff is a screenwriter. So him and Nick have conversations about one of Cliff’s scripts that’s currently in pre-production. They have conversations about plot and characters and even red herrings (which Nick naively calls ‘red snappers’). I found the conversation about red herrings most interesting as any alert viewer is going to try to figure out what exactly the red herring in the movie actually is. Some of the dialogue reminded me of “Scream” although it wasn’t quite as self-reflexive or savvy, but it was definitely above average for a movie of this type.

And like I said, the movie’s twists and turns were pretty interesting and well deserved. They never seemed forced and I enjoyed that the film took its time getting going. Too many movies these days rush to the gore, and not that I mind, but even I want a little substance once in a while. I enjoyed the film’s ultimate revelation and I think you might as well. And if anything could be learned from this neat little thriller, is that sometimes it’s safer to just stay home. GRADE: B

Monday, August 10, 2009

Fry Hard: Amy Adams and Meryl Streep Cook Up Great Performances in “Julie & Julia”

Julie Powell did an amazing thing. She spent 365 days of her life cooking all the recipes (524 to be exact) in Julia Child’s cookbook “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and wrote a blog about it. What’s so amazing? She never once made French toast or French fries. Julie’s real-life mission is depicted in the latest biopic to hit the big screen, “Julie & Julia” which tells two true stories. That of famed American chef Julia Child who gained prominence as a world class chef while living in France with her husband and went on to write numerous cookbooks and became a spunky TV personality. With her tall frame and her boisterous voice and attitude Julie Child quickly became one of the most recognizable people in America. And she never even had a sex tape.

Julie Powell was an aspiring writer who lived in Queens with her husband and cat. She worked in a cubicle and was unimpressed with her life. She wanted to do something. She loved cooking and writing so it was natural that she’d find a way to merge both her interests. She decided to cook all of Child’s famed recipes from her French cookbook and blog about it and in the movie she’s played wonderfully by Amy Adams. Adams is such a delightful and talented performer it’s no surprise she was selected for the role. You identify with her and you want her to succeed in her “Julie/Julia Project.” Her story takes place in 2002.

The film is crosscut with the story of Julia Child who is played also wonderfully by Meryl Streep. I’m sure Streep has a Golden Globe in the bag for this performance because it’ll definitely be considered one of her trademark performances. I learned so much about Child’s real life and I found most of it fascinating. She’s married to a loyal man named Paul (Stanley Tucci) who supports her always. Like Julie, she was bored with her life and decided to go to school for cooking. As she whipped up lots of delicious recipes she spent nearly a decade trying to get a cookbook published. She dreamed of having a cookbook written with lots of tasty French recipes tailor-made for American women. It was a difficult struggle but we’re with her 100% of the way.

I enjoyed how writer Nora Ephron, who finally getting her grove back since she hasn’t really had a hit film since “You’ve Got Mail,” chose to tell both of these stories simultaneously. She easily finds the commonality between Julie and Julia who have ironically similar names and shared many of the same ups and downs during their lives. Both were unhappy women who wanted to make an improvement in their lives and went for it. They had a dream and achieved it. The movie is a happy one and it’ll most likely make you happy as well.

As well as hungry. Now if you know me at all, I’m a picky eater and I probably wouldn’t have eaten 98% of the foods Julie or Julia made in this film, but that certainly didn’t stop me from smacking my lips every few minutes. This movie is certainly a feast for the eyes and for the soul. It is charming and features terrific performances. The film almost feels a little long and the ending isn’t quite as climatic as I’d have hoped, but the film is worth seeing. If you’re a fan of Meryl or of Amy or of food, and who isn’t, you could do a lot worse than the yummy confection that is “Julie & Julia.” GRADE: B

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

House Trap: Low Budget “The Collector” is Better Than the ‘Saw’ Sequels, But That’s Not Saying Much

I can’t help but blame the “Saw” movies for “The Collector’s” lack of originality. Had "The Collector" come out before "Saw" I’m sure it would get slightly more praise. Then again when it comes right down to it, "The Collector" is just a small, low budget exploitation flick with sadistic violence and torture. Of course it certainly has an intriguing enough premise that made me want to check it out. A man enters a house with the goal of robbing it. However, as he’s about to break into a safe, he realizes there’s someone else already in the house who is more sadistic then he ever imagined. Cool right? A robber is faced with a moral dilemma. Does he try to get out of the house to save his own life or does he attempt to help the very people he was intending to rip off?

"The Collector" is a low budget movie. It was shot on 16mm film stock which gives it a dark, gritty grindhouse feel. Fans of 1970s horror take note. The film features no name actors who are all decent enough. The film is apparently proud of the fact that its director wrote “Saw IV,” “V” and the upcoming “VI.” I stopped watching those movies at part IV simply because they were basically all the same. Of course that doesn’t really matter since most horror film franchises are the same plot or premise repeated ad nauseam. But anyways, "The Collector," which is a sort of strange hybrid of "Saw," "The Strangers" and "Home Alone" (!) is watchable enough and really nothing more.

Arkin (Josh Stewart) is a handyman who works for Michael (Michael Reilly Burke) in his home. Michael has a wife, a teenage daughter and a younger daughter. Arkin has a sweet moment with the young girl Hannah (Karley Scott Collins) because it turns out he has a young daughter himself. It turns out that his ex-wife owes a lot of money to a lone shark and she has until midnight to pay him off. Since desperate times call for desperate measures, Arkin, knowning about a rare and expensive stone in Michael’s safe, decides to break in while the family is away to pay off his ex-wife’s debt. Little does he know that when he breaks inside, a masked maniac has booby-trapped the entire house and has been torturing Michael and his wife, while their wild teen daughter is out unbeknownst with her horny boyfriend. And little Hannah is no where to be found.

Arkin, who is a decently fleshed out character for the most part, realizes that it's up to him to help the very people he was about to rob. It’s sort of amazing how quickly I was on his side. You try to put youself in his shoes and you’d like to think you’d want to do the right thing, but honestly, I’d be out of there! He sees Michael all bloody and attempts to release him. He quickly discovers that every time you grab a knife or flick a light switch something sharp or pointy will go flying into your face. The maniac even pours some sort of sticky acid in one of the bedrooms which eats through shoes and books, but doesn’t seem to eat through the floor. Oh and it melts a cat. Gross.

Being a fan of gross movies I appreciate the film’s dark and twisted Rube Goldberg-ian set-ups which always result in some kind of bloody or gory death. Of course, it’s really hard to swallow that this guy could really set up all these traps. And for what reason? Just because he’s a psychopath? It seems like too much work and too little payoff if you ask me. Like where does one get 20 bear traps to fill the living room with? It was hard enough to swallow Macaulay Culkin setting up his traps in “Home Alone,” but I guess I’ll give the Collector the edge since he’s a grown up.

This is certainly a horror film through and through, but is it really scary at all? The film features a few sequences of genuine tension, but I’m not so sure I would call it scary. The Collector himself is pretty creepy and when he looms into frame and stares the camera it sent a small shiver up my spine, but otherwise he didn’t give me nightmares (Niether did the film's unrealistic CGI spiders). Overall, “The Collector” is a decent enough horror flick, with a breezy runtime, but since there have already been five movies with saw in the title, it feels a tad too little too late (Although I still think this is better than all the “Saw” sequels). And I bet you’ll never guess what it is this guy collects. It ain’t stamps. GRADE: B-

Monday, August 03, 2009

She Loves You Nah Nah Nah: Simply Put “(500) Days of Summer” is This Generation’s ‘Annie Hall’

“Annie Hall” is my 9th favorite movie of all time. I easily consider it to be the greatest romantic comedy of all time. It’s a fascinating look at the beginning, middle and end of a romantic relationship. “(500) Days of Summer” could easily sit right along side it on a list of the best romantic comedies. It’s that good. Ok before I start raving, and make you think you’re going to literally see Jesus in person by going to see this movie, let me be frank. This movie may not change your life, but it simply is a pleasing and well made film that is certainly worth your time. It features terrific performances, original direction, a hilarious and heartfelt script and a killer soundtrack. All the sights and sounds are perfect, what more can you ask for in a movie?

Like the narrator states, “(500) Days of Summer” is not a love story it's a story about love. Yes it shows how a young man named Tom (a too-good for words Joseph Gordon-Levitt) falls in love with Summer (a perfect Zooey Deschanel). The problem is what happens when you fall in love with someone who doesn’t even believe in love in the first place? The film jumps back in forth in time, with various numbered title cards indicating how far or early into the relationship Tom and Summer are. We see around the 280 mark that things are not going very well. But we jump forward and see that things are blossoming circa day 40.

Of course we get to see day 1 where Summer is hired as Tom’s boss’s assistant at the greeting card company he works at. He sees her and, who can blame him, is instantly smitten. It’s ok that I used the word smitten because this is the type of movie where people become smitten with each other. Look at the trendy way Tom dresses; he’s a cool, easy going, slightly geeky, laid back type of guy. The one who isn’t afraid to show his emotions and fall head over in heels in love with a girl. While he finds Summer attractive he learns from her own mouth that she doesn’t want a relationship, although it doesn’t stop her from making out with him in the copy room. She doesn’t want the baggage that comes along with spending all of her time with the “love of her life.” Of course Tom is very much the opposite, he wants a woman to love and wants love in return. He even says that loneliness is overrated.

Director Marc Webb takes appropriate cues from Woody Allen by doing all sorts of fun cinematic stuff. He stops the film to show us various points along the way and even gives us a happy and hilarious show stopping musical number once Tom and Summer have consummated their “love.” Cue the marching band and animated blue bird of happiness. What I love so much about the film besides its cinematic trickery (and great use of split screens) is that I simply fell in love with these characters myself. They each have flaws, but like any good romantic comedy you enjoy seeing the main characters’ romantic behaviors. This is the type of couple who sits in the park on a nice warm day and decides to play the Penis Game (oh please like you don't know how to play) or hangs out in Ikea while an Asian family looks at them awkwardly.

I enjoyed all of the quirkiness writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber have weaved into their smart and highly original script. (Please Academy take note!) The sheer fact that Summer’s favorite Beatle is Ringo Starr instantly makes her unique. I loved the sequence in which Tom, all depressed over Summer, goes to an Ingmar Bergman triple feature in which he imagines himself in the films. Woody Allen would love that! And while the film does a lot of cutting back and forth, you’re never lost because of Webb’s masterful direction (and a big thumbs up to the music supervisor).

I can’t say enough positive things about “(500) Days of Summer.” It’s a movie that’s so enjoyable I just wanted to give it a hug after it was all over. Yes I just said I wanted to hug a movie, if it was at all possible. Or maybe I just wanted to hug Tom and Summer because I wanted to be their best friends, not that there’s anything wrong with my real best friends. I’m just sayin’. Please see this movie; I dare you not to fall in love with it ‘cause it’s one of the year’s best. GRADE: A

Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Comedy of Errors: “Funny People” Isn’t Really That Funny

I didn’t think “Funny People” was very funny. I know I know, I realize it’s supposed to be more a drama than a flat-out comedy. I knew it was about Adam Sandler’s character realizing he had a terminal illness. I knew all of that going in. but that still didn’t make any of the other funny parts very funny. I am one of Judd Apatow’s number one fans. I loved “The 40 Year-Old Virgin” and loved “Knocked Up” even more. I loved all the other movies he’s produced since then… “Superbad,” “Pineapple Express,” “Walk Hard,” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Heck I even liked “Drillbit Taylor” for crying out loud (and I even had Lisa Lampanelli, who has a small cameo, sign my Blu-ray when I met her and she even said, “This was a cute movie wasn’t it?”). So it is with my trepidation that I’m hear to say that I didn’t really enjoy Judd’s third film “Funny People” very much. There are a few scattershot laughs and although the movie’s never boring, it never quite gelled for me.

I’m not really much a fan of Adam Sandler. I enjoy some early Sandler, including “Happy Gilmore,” “Big Daddy” and “The Wedding Singer.” I don’t like Billy Madison, his Waterboy character is annoying, I refuse to watch any of his bits from SNL and his Hanukah Song is severely overrated. Having said that I guess I can blame him for 60 percent of the reason why I didn’t enjoy Funny People. He gives a decent enough performance as George Simmons, and Adam Sandler-like actor/comedian who learns he has a terminal illiness. He handles it rather strangely by confronting wannabe stand up comic Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) that he wants him to write jokes for him and be his assistant. Ira is the only one he shares his secret with and he’s forced to confront his own mortality. After all, stand up comedians don’t live forever.

Blah blah blah. I frankly didn’t like Sandler’s character that much and I’m not even sure if Sandler’s fans will enjoy the character that much. I realize Judd, who wrote the film, is making him purposely unlikable, but I think he goes too far. Rogen is likeable as always and is definitely one of the film’s bright spots, as are his roommates Leo (Jonah Hill) and Mark (Apatow newcomer Jason Schwartzman) who are constantly teasing Ira because they have roles on a popular NBC sitcom, which looks awful. I wish Apatow had focused more on this group of people, but if he had it would have just seemed like Sueprbad-lite or something, so I understand why he felt he needed to be more “serious.”

George then contacts an old flame named Laura (Apatow’s real life wife Leslie Mann) who has now started a family with Clarke (a game Eric Bana). The film’s third act involves George and Ira visiting Laura and her kids while he attempts to woo her back. Eric Bana gives a great performance, in his native tongue, and while he’s almost portrayed as the stereotypical “angry, unfaithful husband” he gives the role enough originality to break free from that mold.

Probably one of the more surprising qualities of the film lies in its cinematography. I’m not usually one to mention the director of photography when it comes to comedies, but since Apatow has employed Spielberg regular Janusz Kaminski. Some shots literally look as if they had been deleted frames from The Diving Bell & the Butterfly. The film has a beautiful and interesting look, but all I can say is it really necessary? Good work, as always, Janusz. And lastly the film has a great soundtrack with a sweet and simple score from cast member Jason Schwartzmen. And remember people he used to play the drums for the band Phantom Planet.

And lastly, not to be Debbie Downer or anything, but I’m honestly not the biggest fan of stand up comedy. Yeah there are the ones I like such as Kathy Griffin and Ms. Lampanelli whom I mentioned earlier, but none of the comedian jokes that were mentioned throughout the film made me laugh. What did make me laugh were the standard Apatow-isms, like when Eric Bana recounts his trip to China and Seth Rogen mentioned it seemed like a scene from “The Deer Hunter.” It’s jokes like that that are worth laughing about, and sadly, there isn’t much in “Funny People’s” overlong runtime worth dying over. GRADE: C+