Monthly Archives: February 2010

Shutter Island (2010)

I wonder, is it better to live like a monster, or die a good man?

— Teddy Daniels

Martin Scorsese’s latest movie Shutter Island, which stands as the 197th movie on the Top 250 of All-Time on IMDb, has been getting a bad rap since its studio, Paramount decide to move the release date of the movie from October 2009 to February 2010, because it couldn’t afford the Oscar campaign for the picture. I call bullshit on that. This could mean certain death for a film not being remember a whole year from now. This is the fourth collaboration of Scorsese and lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio. Even though the movie is highly predictable, I still enjoyed the majority of the ride.

Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, former WWII soldier/U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) and his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) travel by boat to Shutter Island, which is a home of Ashcliffe, the prison for the criminally insane. They are met by Deputy Marshal McPherson (John Carroll Lynch) who them that they have to surrender their firearms. They take a tour of the complex which has separate wards for men, women prisoners and an old Civil War era, Building C that houses the most dangerous criminals.

The team meets the head psychiatrist of the institution; Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) to investigate the disappearance of a patient that mysteriously escaped from her cell, who killed her kids, Rachel Solando. She is loose somewhere on the island, because there is no way for her to escape the island without drowning.

Searching through her cell, Teddy fines a piece of paper in her room that has “The law of 4. Who is 67?” scribbled on it. In order to try to find out the circumstances surrounding the escapee, Teddy and Chuck want to interview the staff. Dr. Cawley and Dr. Naehring (Max von Sydow) doesn’t want the investigators to rummage through the staffs personal files. Teddy wants to leave immediately.

The more time that Teddy spends on the island he has flashbacks of an incident when he was a soldier in WWII liberating a Dachau concentration camp or his life with her wife, Dolores (Michelle Williams) that was killed years earlier.

A massive hurricane hits the island and the prisoners try to escape the island, Teddy comes to realization when Rachel is found that they are 66 patients on the island, but Rachel implies there is a 67th patient. Who is that patient?

I thought the performances were very good, especially DiCaprio, Jackie Earle Haley and Patricia Clarkson.

I thought that the score was unnecessary in the beginning segments of the film. I guess, Scorsese wanted to set the mood. It was ear deafening. The biggest problem of the movie is the twist. Watching the trailers lately, they talk about the twist ending. The twist you could predict thirty minutes into the movie. I wasn’t a surprise at all, but I was half right about it. There was another sharp turn that I didn’t see coming.

Judgment: This movie was mess with your mind until the very end.

Rating: ****

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010)

First rule of battle strategy. Don’t ever let your opponent distract you.

— Annabeth Chase

I was mildly interested in the movie, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, because it an obvious Harry Potter ripoff that was based on the book series by Rick Riordan. On the /Filmcast, one of the hosts railed on how bad the movie was, so I had to check out how awful the movie is. The movie is not horrendous, but it’s not that great.

Mixing ancient Greek mythology into modern times, Poseidon (Kevin McKidd) is summoned to Olympus, which is situated on top of the Empire State Building to his brother, Zeus (Sean Bean). Zeus is angry that his lightning bolt has been stolen from him. Somehow, he only blames the offspring of Poseidon for the theft. Zeus warns Poseidon that if the bolt is not returned to him within two weeks before the summer solstice then a full scale war will ensue.

Poseidon’s offspring turns out to be a troubled teenager named Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) suffering from ADHD and dyslexia. He is living a shabby apartment with her mother, Sally (Catherine Keener) and dickhead stepfather, Gabe Ugliano (Joe Pantoliano). He dreams that his life was be better than it is.

On a field trip to look at the exhibit of Greek and Roman art, he attacked by his substitute teacher, Mrs. Dodds (Maria Olson) who turned out to be a butt ugly fury who seeks the lightning bolt from Percy. A wheelchair bound curator, Mr. Brewer (Pierce Brosnan) and Percy’s best friend, Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) think that Percy is in danger. He has to leave town with Grover being his protector with a pen that was given to him that turns out to be a sword. Huh?

On the drive to Camp Half Blood, his mother explains to Percy about his birth father and why he wasn’t in his life. The car they are in is attacked by a Minotaur. It turns out that Grover is a satyr, a half-person/half-goat creature that is the protector of Percy. During the fight, the Minotaur kidnaps his mother. Percy passes out. Three days later, he wakes in the infirmary with Grover telling him about his father, Poseidon, him being a demigod, and that he has to train for battle.

Mr. Brewer turns out to be a Centaur, Chiron, whose sworn duty to train the heroes for anything that the Gods could throw at them. While Percy is getting situated, the whole camp is involved in a spirited game of “capture the flag”, where he gets into battle with Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), who is the daughter of Athena. He is wounded. He regenerates from the water by the voice of his father in his head.

At a bonfire, Hades (Steve Coogan) appears in his menacing transformation to tell Percy that his mother is in the underworld with him. If he ever sees the mother, he has to return the bolt. Percy wants to go to Olympus to tell Zeus the truth, but Chiron thinks that is not a good idea. Outside the protective shield of the camp, he is vulnerable.

Not heeding his warning, Percy, Grover and Annabeth decide to try to find a way to get to Underworld to get his mother back. To do that, they need to find three pearls to open the portal to Hell told by the son of Hermes, Luke (Jake Abel).  They have to go on a cross country journey to vaguely Grecian places to find them.

I don’t have the same hate for Chris Columbus and his films like everyone else. I think that Chris take a source and translate it to the screen without any imagination or pizzazz behind it. That is why this movie is laughable at times and not in a good way. Is this movie serious? Sometime I can’t tell if it was supposed to be campy or been taken seriously. That bit with the iPhone? The satyr dancing to Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face”? You have fantastic cast of good actors, but it feels like a B movie you find on the Syfy Channel. An utter disappointment.

Judgment: I would suggest waiting for the Clash of the Titans movie. Don’t watch this.

Rating: **

The Wolfman (2010)

I am what I say I am… a monster.

— Lawrence Talbot

The Wolfman is another movie that was bumped of the 2009 season so the studio could make changes to the score, changing directors and the digital effects of the werewolf transformation. I did not see the original movie that this reboot is based on, but I wished I did see that movie. This movie is mediocre at best.

1891 London, Lawrence Talbot (Benicio del Toro) is with theater troupe when he gets a letter from his brother, Ben’s fiancé, Gwen (Emily Blunt) telling him of his brother disappearance. He is estranged from his family for years. He drops his life to go back to his childhood home to find out from his father, John (Anthony Hopkins), but learns that his brother’s body was found, mangled and mauled. They are preparing for the funeral.

Lawrence out of the blue decides to investigate the circumstances of his brother’s murder when he saw his body at the morgue. He sees a gold medallion in his brother’s possessions and tries to find the origin. The people of the town think that something is killing people that make it look like a wild animal attack them.

Not heeding his father’s warning about venturing out on a full moon, Lawrence goes into the woods where the gypsies live to find out what exactly killed his brother. It was not a wild animal. It was a beast. The beast attacks the settlement in a gory blur, spraying gypsy blood all over the forest. Lawrence tries to shoot the wild animal attacking the villagers. He is attacked by the wild beast. Gwen tries to nurse him back to health.

Scotland Yard Inspector Francis Abberline (Hugo Weaving) comes to town to interview Lawrence about the attack. He wants a specialist to examine his injuries suffered in the attack that have miraculously healed. People want to take him because he was bitten by the beast, a werewolf. They want to restrain him before the beast comes out again.

This movie is so lame. The characters are bland and boring. I did not believe that del Toro and Hopkins were family. Emily Blunt was wasted as the scared woman going between brother to brother. The “love story” was forced and uninspiring. The story meandered. I had no idea what was going on. I didn’t care. I was sick of jump scares. Stop it! What the fuck is with that dream sequence in the insane asylum? Lawrence’s flashbacks had me scratching my head.

Judgment: This movie almost made An American Werewolf is Paris look like a masterpiece. Almost.

Rating: **

Daybreakers (2010)

Immortality is the miracle, we are blessed.

— Charles Bromley

I wasn’t that interested in seeing Daybreakers, because of the back story. The movie was supposed to come out in 2009, but it sat on the self until it was released early last month. I guess, somebody wanted to cash in on the vampire mania that is sweeping the nation. I thought that the movie was different take on the vampire genre with a social allegory.

Taking place in 2019, ten years after a virus mutation turned most of the world into vampires. The humans are an endangered species. Five percent of the world populations are human. There is not enough blood to feed off the human. Vampires are starving and turning into subsiders, Nosferatu-like creatures that live underground. They turn to the head of Bromley Marks, Charles Bromley (Sam Neill) to farm the last remaining humans.

With a month of actual blood left, Bromley turns to the top hematologist at the company, Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) to find a blood substitute to help the vampires from starving. He has been working with his partner, Christopher (Vince Colosimo) to desperately find a solution with disastrous consequences.

On a drive home that night, Edward gets into an accident where he learns that the people in other car are human. When the accident happens, the cops try to apprehend the humans, but Ed feeling sorry for the humans, protect them and let them escape.

Ed’s little brother, Frankie (Michael Dorman) comes home to celebrate Ed’s 35th birthday for the tenth time. Frankie is military enforcer for Bromley Marks to round up any humans to be harvested. He brings home a carafe of pure human blood for Ed. Ed doesn’t want it. He is reluctant to drink human blood.

The next day, Ed’s security system goes off when Audrey (Claudia Karvan), the human that met at the accident scene, offers him to meet her at a place in broad daylight to find a way to stop the blood shortage.

Driving around in blacked out windows, Ed meets Audrey at the meeting place which in another a huge tree. Audrey introduces Ed to Lionel “Elvis” Cormac (Willem Dafoe), who used to be a vampire. Ed thinks that this is impossible, but when Lionel tells him his story. The trio try to find a way to harness a way to cure the vampirism.

I thought that this movie was a fascinating take mass consumption, overpopulation, and dwindling food supply. Is this a great movie? No. I had some people with the vamps smoking cigarettes. They are dead. How could they inhale the smoke? Why would the first vampire test subject be strapped to a heart monitoring system? No heartbeat. Why were the doctors in scrubs? It’s not like they are going to catch cooties.

Judgment: An enjoyable film that doesn’t have anything to do with sparkling skinned vamps.

Rating: ***1/2

Oscar Predictions

I wasn’t intending to formally publish my predictions for the Oscars that are less than two weeks away, but I gave up my picks on the Oscar Contest. Nick from Voucher Codes wanted me to publish my picks to enter another Oscar pool. I will do something a little different. I will have the vanilla predictions and the predictions that I want to see happen. I will publish the vanilla one for the Oscar Pool.

VANILLA OSCAR PREDICTIONS

Best PictureThe Hurt Locker

Best Director – Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker

Best Actor – Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart

Best Actress – Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

Best Supporting Actor – Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

Best Supporting Actress – Mo’Nique, Precious

Best Adapted Screenplay – Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air

Best Original Screenplay – Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker

Best Animated FeatureUp

Best Foreign Language FilmThe White Ribbon

Best Art DirectionAvatar

Best CinematographyAvatar

Best Costume DesignThe Young Victoria

Best DocumentaryThe Cove

Best Film EditingThe Hurt Locker

Best MakeupThe Young Victoria

Best Original ScoreUp

Best Original Song – “The Weary Kind”, Crazy Heart

Best Visual EffectsAvatar

MY DREAM PICKS

Best PictureThe Hurt Locker

Best Director – Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker

Best Actor – Colin Firth, A Single Man

Best Actress – Carey Mulligan, An Education

Best Supporting Actor – Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

Best Supporting Actress – Mo’Nique, Precious

Best Adapted Screenplay – Nick Hornby, An Education

Best Original Screenplay – Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

Best Animated Feature Fantastic Mr. Fox

Best Foreign Language Film The Secret of Their Eyes

Best Art DirectionThe Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Best Cinematography – Inglourious Basterds

Best Costume DesignBright Star

Best DocumentaryFood, Inc.

Best Film EditingThe Hurt Locker

Best MakeupStar Trek

Best Original ScoreThe Hurt Locker

Best Original Song – “Almost There”, The Princess and the Frog

Best Visual EffectsDistrict 9

Those are my predictions. I’m more invested in this year than last year. Let’s see what happens.

The Honorable Discharge of “The Hurt Locker”

(Note: I wrote this article for the Atlanta Free Press for their Oscar Bound feature a couple of months ago. You could find it here.)

“Ferociously suspenseful” and “a near-perfect film” are a couple of the apt descriptions that have been bestowed upon director Kathryn Bigelow’s eighth feature film, The Hurt Locker. It has been garnering praise from critics and audiences since its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in 2008. Now, this release from Summit Entertainment is pressed as a front-runner for the Best Picture Oscar in March.

The Hurt Locker is a bit of a departure for Bigelow. Best known for the surfer mystery thriller, Point Break, and the Russian submarine action film, K-19: The Widowmaker, she has been working on the fringe of Hollywood since her feature film debut, The Loveless in 1984. She strictly works on independently financed action-oriented films where she has optimal creative input. Today, she is the talk of the town with Oscar buzz surrounding her.

The components of making this groundbreaking film are as fascinating as what Bigelow has captured on super 16mm. Its genesis came from her chance meeting with writer and war photojournalist Mark Boal in the winter of 2004. Boal talked about his experiences embedded in a bomb disposal unit in Iraq and Bigelow decided she wanted to make a big-screen fictionalized account of it.

In the film, three soldiers, the maverick Staff Sergeant James (Jeremy Renner), the withholding Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and the anxious Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), dismantle roadside bombs over the span of 38 days. Boal’s accuracy and Bigelow’s keen eye make the audience wonder about the motivations of the characters. The typical action hero does not make mistakes or rash decisions. These characters do. You might not understand the intentions of Renner’s James, but you could sympathize with him.

Bigelow is a hands-on director who goes outside the studio system by filming on locations instead of sound stages. The $11 million-budgeted movie was shot over 45 days in the summer of 2007. Both cast and crew endured 115-degree weather and sandstorms in Amman, Jordan. Jeremy Renner as James wore an actual bomb suit made of Kevlar and ceramic plates weighing close to a hundred pounds. Bigelow wants everything to be as authentic as possible.

As a director, Bigelow wanted to make the film feel like a documentary, using a dozen cameras hidden at the bomb sequence locations. It makes the film more organic because the actors did not know where they were placed. She wants the audience to be transported to Baghdad circa 2004, from the battlefield to the streets and inside humvees, watching out for potential insurgents as if they are present with the characters.

The final product is a testament of perfect pacing. The smallest detail is not overlooked. There is cinematic poetry in a recently fired bullet falling to the ground and the slow motion of a roadside bomb detonating. The tension is palpable.

Kathryn Bigelow may not be a household name, but with the critical success of The Hurt Locker, she is poised to compete for the Best Director Oscar this year. She received a Directors Guild of America nomination for her work, competing against Lee Daniels, Jason Reitman, Quentin Tarantino and her ex-husband James Cameron. Cameron, who has described the film as “the Platoon for the Iraq War,” recently won Best Director at the Golden Globes for his sci-fi action spectacle, Avatar. Accepting the award, he disclaimed, “I’m not well prepared because frankly I thought Kathryn was going to get this. She richly deserves it.”

Bigelow’s Hurt Locker is the first movie about the Iraq war conflict that does not beat the audience over the head with an obvious political message. It immerses you in a world that has never been explored. This could be the year when, for the first time in Academy history, the Oscar for Best Director goes to a woman.

“Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” Trailer

When it was reported that Oliver Stone is revisiting his classic film, “Wall Street” with the sequel , “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” I was uneasy about it. Taking place twenty years after Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) is sent to prison, he comes out to find the world his embraced his motto, “Greed is good.” He has to repair the strained relationship with his daughter (Carey Mulligan) and is training a new apprentice that happens to be the daughter’s boyfriend, (Shia LeBeouf).

The movie also stars Josh Brolin and Frank Langella. It is set for release in late April.

The Invention of Lying (2009)

The television spots for The Invention of Lying had me befuddled with a world that could only tell the truth. The spots let the main character knows how much the other characters hated him, which I thought was strange that they wouldn’t hold up. They would be lying by omission which goes against their code, sort to speak. The movie has a lukewarm reception last fall when it was released; I thought that this film was much more than brutal honesty.

In this alternate universe, the human race has evolved with only the ability to tell the truth. Anything that pops into their minds comes out of their mouths like oral diarrhea. Damn it, some of their bluntness has rubbed off me. Oh, well. The narrator of this story is an ordinary man named Mark Bellison (Ricky Gervais) that recounts the events of his before telling the first ever lie. He is afraid that he will be fired from his job as a screenwriter for Lecture Pictures. There is no fiction in this world so everything is researched from found documents are recited into the camera by an orator. Mark works with the 14th century, which is mostly about the Bubonic Plague.

His slacker friend, Greg (Louis CK) sets Mark up on a blind date with his longtime crush, Anna (Jennifer Garner), who is not terribly impressed by Mark when she opens the door. She doesn’t have high hopes for their date, because he is poor, fat with a smug nose. Anna is the complete opposite with discussing all the material things that she can get for work that she doesn’t want to do. Making her feelings known throughout the date takes Mark by surprise where Anna kisses him on the cheek. He thinks that he has a legitimate shot with her.

His worst fears are realized when the next day; he is canned by his boss, Anthony (Jeffery Tambor). Then, the landlord comes by for the rent. He has only three hundred left in his account. He has one day until he is out on the street. Going to the bank to withdraw the amount with the system down the teller asks Mark how much to withdraw, a switch is triggered in his mind to say eight hundred. The systems goes back online, the teller sees three hundred, but she trusts that Mark is telling her the truth and gives him the eight hundred.

Mark is giddy like a schoolgirl. He tests out his leap of the evolutionary ladder by telling Greg about this new idea he stumbled upon. He is drunk his new found power that he could do whatever he wants; cheating at a local casino, telling white lies to keep people from killing themselves like his neighbor, Frank (Jonah Hill), write a fictional screenplay that stick it to fellow screenwriter, Brad (Rob Lowe) and former assistant, Shelley (Tina Fey) and have the “stature” to have a second date with Anna. The more lies he tells, the greater the ramifications of those multiply.

I’m surprised that people aren’t depressed in this world. Some subjects should have been explored more with the damage done by hearing nothing but the truth all of your life. I thought some instances of this world rang false. There is supposed to be no doubt in this world, but at the end of the movie a character is having them. Wouldn’t that be a lie? There were some instances about genetic match ups that got on my nerves a little bit. The movie is not laugh out loud comedy. It’s actually sweet and touching.

Judgment: It makes you rethink about what is right instance of telling the truth and telling a white lie.

Rating: ****

Drag Me to Hell (2009)

You’d be surprised what you’ll be willing to do, when the Lamia comes for you.

— Rham Jas

Don’t hate for this proclamation, but I am not familiar with Sam Raimi’s comedic horror past with The Evil Dead series. I should visit them in the future, but I thought I would start with Raimi going back to his roots with Drag Me to Hell. This movie freaked me out.

A plucky loan officer, Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) longs to be assistant manager at her bank, but she is constantly undermined by ass kisser, Stu (Reggie Lee). Her boss, Mr. Jacks (David Paymer) is deciding between the two of them. In order for her to get the position, she needs to make tough decision to secure it.

As by maligned fate, a decrepit woman Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver) appears at her desk, asking Christine to stop the repossession of her house. With two extensions under her belt, there is nothing for Christine to do. She decides to turn her down. Mrs. Ganush begs her to try to save house. Christine stands her ground. Mrs. Ganush pounces on Christine and is forced out.

When Christine is going to her car after work, she is attacked by Mrs. Ganush who felt that she has publicly shamed her. They fight. Christine thinks she defeated her, but the old hag got the upper hand reciting an incantation by using a button from her jacket. She hands the button back to Christine.

Visibly shaken from the ordeal Christine wants to get her fortune read when strange occurrences start to happen. Her boyfriend, Clay Dalton (Justin Long) goes with her. The fortune teller Rham Jas (Dileep Rao) says that she has been cursed by the old woman. A dark spirit surrounds her. Clay is skeptical of the fortune teller’s powers.

After Christine arrives home alone, she hears strange noises in her house when she is alone. She sees a demonic figure. A doctor thinks that it’s post-traumatic stress disorder because of the attack. In the middle of night, a fly enters her body. She thinks it’s not real but she can here is buzzing inside her. She begins to see the old woman in nightmarish hallucinations.

She tries to get back with Mrs. Ganush to ask her for forgiveness, but she is recently died. She goes back to the Rham Jas; he tells her about the dark spirit that is haunting her. It is called a lamia, which takes the possessor of the cursed object to Hell. He offers alternative to rid of the curse. She wants to do anything to not be condemned to hell in three days time.

I thought that this movie would be a cup of tea. Damn, I was sucked into this movie. The genesis of how Christine got the curse was a little ridiculous, but I could forgive it because of nature of the movie. Besides I think the posters and the trailer kinda give away the ending. That’s unfortunate.

Judgment: It’s a wild ride that everyone should get on board.

Rating: ****1/2

Food, Inc. (2009)

There are no seasons in the American supermarket. Now there are tomatoes all year round, grown halfway around the world, picked when it was green, and ripened with ethylene gas. Although it looks like a tomato, it’s kind of a notional tomato. I mean, it’s the idea of a tomato.

— Michael Pollan

Food, Inc. is another documentary that flew under the radar to general audiences. I have heard about this movie before it was nominated for Best Documentary Feature. Numerous podcasts were talking about that when you see this movie, it would make you a vegetarian. While this film didn’t make me a vegetarian, it made me sad for the fried chicken that I had for dinner that night.

Director Robert Kenner delves into world that Americans don’t know about the food that they have been ordering in fast food restaurants across their country. Where does the meat in those Big Macs or Chicken Club Sandwiches come from? This documentary sheds light on the notion that we think that when we goes to grocery stores there is a lot of varieties on the shelves. The truth is that four companies control almost of all of the meat that is served to Americans everyday.

Corporations like Tyson are placing growth hormones in feed to make chickens grow rapidly. The chickens’ bones cannot support the weight of their ever changing bodies. The beef industry has a huge slaughterhouses that are force feeding cows to eat corn so they could grown big and fat to be slaughtered. The problem is with these huge slaughterhouses is cows are cannot digest the corn in their four stomachs, they stand in their own shit, when they are slaughtered nobody is testing for any contamination.

You think that the FDA or the USDA would step in to regulate the food industry? Wrong. The corporations are trying to force the feds out of their plants. They are turning to high tech solutions to try to solve the country’s problem. There is still leaks in the system where the Mad Cow’s Disease was found in tainted meat, the E.Coli scares in the past couple of years in ground beef and spinach or the salmonella poisoning in peanut butter.

The companies are buying independent farmers to work for them by forcing them into massive debt to upgrade their chicken coops or the way their crops are utilized. The ways that corporate products like soda, hamburgers, etc are cheap and fresh vegetables are expensive. The average American family has to go to the drive thru than buy fresh vegetables, because it’s cheaper. The chemicals in the food are focusing the obesity epidemic and are leading the diabetes in most people.

This movie is a call to action for farmer to stand up to the corporate greed, to go to the farmer’s markets for organic foods. Personally for me, I understood for a long time that there were growth hormones in meat, genetic modified crops, pesticides and all that. I am not one of those people that eat a lot of vegetables. I’m a carnivore. Do I wish I changed my eating habits? Of course. I think that Americans are complacent about the way things are going that nobody is realizing that the corporate chokehold is killing us with the infrequent inspections of products or putting ammonia in the meat to “kill the E.Coli” in it.

Judgment: This movie will make you think about the monopolizing of how the food supply is being handled.

Rating: ****1/2

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