Monthly Archives: November 2008
My Rating : *****
MovieStudio Quote >> “Fantabulous Action Thriller”
D.J. Caruso (TAKING LIVES, DISTURBIA) directs this tale of intrigue that utilizes technology as a character. Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBeouf) is a slacker who works at Copy Cabana–until he returns home after receiving bad news about his brother to find his apartment filled with incriminating packages, and receives a phone call from a mysterious woman advising him to vacate the premises immediately.
Single mom Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan) also finds herself at the mercy of the mystery caller after seeing her young son off on an overnight school trip. Soon, these two strangers find themselves caught in a tangled web, taking directions from the female caller who makes it very clear that if they disobey her, there will be consequences for them and their families.
They have no control over the course that’s been set in motion. But the real question is, who is making these calls and what is their ultimate goal? Filled with explosive action, car crashes, and high-tech hi-jinx, this thriller moves at breakneck speed. Technology is the co-star here: electronic signs relay the next move to Jerry and Rachel, traffic lights change as needed, and strangers’ cell phones ring with directions.
The strong supporting human cast includes Billy Bob Thornton as a hard-nosed FBI agent who is investigating LaBeouf for terrorism, and Michael Chiklis as the Secretary of Defense. Rosario Dawson, Ethan Embry, and Anthony Mackie also star in the film, for which Steven Spielberg served as executive producer. LaBeouf remains an interesting young actor, able to move from action sequences to emotional moments with ease, and Monaghan protects her screen son with a mother’s ferocity.
My Rating : ****
MovieStudio Quote >> “This will make you forget parking in P2!”
Most people who have been alone in a parking garage have probably felt vulnerable to an attacker amidst the silence of the cold concrete walls, but what would you do if your assailant were the attendant? That’s the question posed by P2, which fits into that sub-genre of thrillers that unfold in one primary location (think Mario Bava’s KIDNAPPED, PHONE BOOTH, or WIND CHILL).
The script, co-written by Alexandre Aja (THE HILLS HAVE EYES, HIGH TENSION), Franck Khalfoun, and Gregory Levasseur, offers a basic cat-and-mouse tale with a couple of jolts of bone-rattling gore. It’s Christmas Eve, and young New York executive Angela (Rachel Nichols) is the last to leave her office before heading to New Jersey for a holiday with the family. Already late, she is dismayed to find that her car won’t start. The handsome, seemingly helpful garage attendant, Thomas (Wes Bentley), checks out the car for her, but to no avail.
The next thing she knows, Angela wakes up in the garage office in a dress, chained to a chair, with a Christmas dinner laid out before her. Thomas has been watching her for a long time, and with everyone else gone for Christmas, he finally has her alone. Angela will have to fight with everything she has to make it through to Christmas morning. Under the first-time direction of co-screenwriter Khalfoun, P2 is a solid thriller that delivers ample action, despite being an amped-up two-person stage play.
Nichols is an appealing heroine in a physically demanding role, while Bentley’s wacko Thomas never veers into cartoonishness. This isn’t one for the SAW crowd, though the two brief moments of splatter are certainly of that gross-out caliber. Vintage Christmas songs are also used to strong effect.
My Rating: ***
SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO is prolific Japanese cult director Takashi Miike’s samurai tribute to the Spaghetti Western genre. With an irreverent style and an obvious knowledge of the oater canon, Miike sets out to celebrate the factory line artistry of films such as Sergio Leone’s A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and Sergio Carbucci’s DJANGO, while fully embracing the dazzling, post-modern aesthetic of movies such as KILL BILL and DESPERADO.
And while homage and cinematic genre mash-ups can both be high on genuine artistic vision, it’s clear from the supremely stylized opening prologue–with its transparent set pieces, outrageous kill shots, and cameo from that anointer of cult films himself, Quentin Tarantino–that Miike is out to have fun above all. The story follows a Man With No Name gunfighter brought to a small village in Nevada to protect the townspeople from two rival gangs at war over a treasure hidden in the nearby hills. Themes of honor, tradition, loyalty, and family give the film some dramatic weight, but SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO primarily works as a high-octane action flick, albeit one made by a director with style and smarts.
The samurai sword lust, kung-fu bar brawls, and John Woo-style operatic gun play remain completely gripping regardless of plot. Yet though the basic story has been told by everyone from Dashiell Hammett to the Coen Brothers to Akira Kurosawa, it’s one that has clearly worked its way into the pantheon of contemporary myth and makes for solid dramatic ground on which an entertaining spectacle can unfurl.
My Rating : ****
MovieStudio Quote >> “Every second gives me a grip! – Horror redefined”
After a group of hapless National Guard troops fails a training exercise, their commanding officer (Flex Alexander, SNAKES ON A PLANE) orders them to deliver supplies to some scientists in Yuma Flats, New Mexico.
The mutants from the first film (the unfortunate victims who live on nuclear testing ground) have returned to terrorize a group of Department of Defense researchers. The unlucky soldiers happen upon the remains of their camp (and its denizens), and the horrors begin.
The inbred family of cannibals stalks the soldiers and picks them off, one by one, in gruesome fashion. Alejandre Aja (HIGH TENSION) directed the 2006 remake, but this sequel replaces Aja with Martin Weisz, whose first feature, ROHTENBERG, was banned in his native Germany. Written by genre master Wes Craven and his son Jonathan, THE HILLS HAVE EYES II is a sequel to the remake of Craven’s original 1977 film.
It’s no coincidence that Craven changed this sequel’s victims from a band of motorcyclists to a group of unlucky soldiers, giving the film political undertones. For a brief moment, this film addresses the idea that war may be the worst kind of horror, even when it’s judged against mutant cannibals.
My Rating: ****
MovieStudio Quote >> “Thrilling, Killing and Grilling all the way!”
Music video director Dave Meyers’s debut film is an updated version of the 1986 shocker of the same name, featuring Sean Bean (THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy) in the title role of a chillingly sadistic hitchhiker. Twenty-something couple Grace (a mini-skirted Sophia Bush from ONE TREE HILL) and Jim (Zachary Knighton) embark on a road trip across the American Southwest to meet up with Grace’s friends on vacation. Things get off to a bad start when they almost run over a hitchhiker in the middle of a rainstorm, and then leave him to fend for himself.
When they later run into the man who calls himself John Ryder (Bean), at a gas station, their consciences get the best of them, and they agree to give him a ride to the next town. The couple’s passenger quickly turns on his hosts, and although they manage to escape, he follows them and makes their lives a living hell. Soon, Grace and Jim find themselves framed for John Ryder’s vicious crimes, and they are on the run from both the authorities and the Hitcher, of whose existence no one but they are aware.
As their flight gets increasingly desperate and the Hitcher’s methods of torture more brutal, Grace and Jim struggle desperately to discern what the man wants, and why he has chosen them. The film benefits from its beautiful, desolate desert setting, as it highlights the solitude and desperation of the couple’s situation. Despite a few problems of plausibility and the frequent foolishness of the protagonists–of which horror fans are well-accustomed–THE HITCHER delivers fright in all the right places, as well as beautiful women and plenty of gore.
My Rating : **.5
From Jason Friedberg and Aaron Setzer (DATE MOVIE, SCARY MOVIE) comes this everything-in-the-kitchen-sink, blender-set-to-grind comedy, which pokes fun at big crowd-pleasers like WILLIE WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, SNAKES ON A PLANE, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, X-MEN, NACHO LIBRE, and THE DA VINCI CODE, among others.
The loose plot involves a gang of teen orphans (including Jayma Mays and Faune A. Chambers) whose trip inside Wonka’s candy factory leads them to a Narnia-style wardrobe adventure. Jennifer Coolidge is the evil White Bitch they have to tangle with in this new land, and Fred Willard plays Aslo, the lion. Scene-stealing Crispin Glover plays the Wonka-be, David Carradine breakdances, and the vivacious Carmen Elektra morphs enticingly in X-MEN-style blue body paint. A bevy of eerie look-alikes pose as Paris Hilton, Anna Paquin, Samuel Jackson, and P Diddy, among others.
Of course there’s raunch a-plenty with humor both scatological and shot-to-the-crotch-ish, to keep the MTV generation of all ages amused. The jokes come so fast that no one need worry if a gag here falls flat: another one is right behind to jump on its back. Best of all, the directors keep a tight ship on the bad language, as befits the PG-13 rating.
My Rating : ****
MovieStudio Quote >> “Refreshing Divine Comedy”
In this sequel to BRUCE ALMIGHTY, newscaster Evan Baxter (Steve Carrell, THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN) has traded in the news desk for a post in Washington as a congressman. Though his campaign was based on the idea of changing the world, Evan drives a gas-guzzling SUV and spends more time trimming his nose hair than with his three sons.
When he has a strange encounter with God (Oscar winner Morgan Freeman, reprising his role from the first film), God tells him to build an ark, just as Noah did thousands of years ago. Though Evan is skeptical, he finally accepts the task after being hounded by dozens of animals that follow him, two by two. By obeying God, Evan risks his family, career, and sanity–but will a flood actually come and prove him right? Though BRUCE ALMIGHTY boasted an edgier PG-13 rating, EVAN ALMIGHTY is a pure family affair.
Its predecessor featured some sexual humor, but this is a squeaky clean film that kids and parents can enjoy equally. With hundreds of animals, poop jokes are inevitable, and they’re worthy of a chuckle or two. With his roles in THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN and THE OFFICE, Carrell has capitalized on playing awkward characters. The (over)confident Evan is quite a change, and it’s interesting to see Carrell stretch his comedic muscle.
Though EVAN ALMIGHTY also features the talents of Lauren Graham (GILMORE GIRLS) and Coen Brothers favorite John Goodman, the funniest lines and delivery come from Wanda Sykes (THE NEW ADVENTURES OF OLD CHRISTINE) and Jonah Hill (KNOCKED UP) as members of Evan’s staff. Most of the film’s jokes garner giggles, but the lines from this pair get guffaws.
My Rating: *****
MovieStudio Quote >> “An Outrageous, Terrific and Emotional Torture Epic”
The post-9/11 climate found the U.S. government resorting to many unorthodox methods to quash the perceived threat from further terrorist attacks. None was more controversial or more headline-grabbing than the detainment camp set up in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which was constructed to imprison and interrogate Taliban and Al-Qaeda operatives captured by U.S. soldiers. Prolific British filmmaker Michael Winterbottom (9 SONGS) turns his cameras on the camp with this true story of three innocent British 20-something Muslims who were captured and held at Guantanamo for two years.
Winterbottom cleverly marries extensive interview footage with the three men–Asif Iqbal, Ruhel Ahmed, and Shafiq Rasifknown, collectively known as the Tipton Three–with nerve-jarring reconstructive footage of what happened to them. After traveling to Pakistan for a wedding, the three men set out on an intrepid exploration of Afghanistan, only to find themselves captured by U.S. forces who mistook them for members of the Taliban/Al-Qaeda. The footage of the capture is intense and terrifying, with Winterbottom pulling some fearsome acting from his leads. But even that pales next to the reconstruction of their period in Guantanamo, where the men are stripped of their humanity and treated to brutal inquisition and torture methods, many of which seem untested and experimental in nature.
Sometimes it’s difficult to believe that one human being could treat another this way, until Winterbottom neatly intersperses more timely reminders from his interviews with the men themselves, adding further revelations to the shocking scenes the cast reenacts. Winterbottom mostly shoots on digital video throughout, and the gloomy, grainy texture of the film is perfectly used as a mirror of the personal hell these three men went through. Possibly Winterbottom’s best film yet, THE ROAD TO GUANTANAMO is must-see cinema that is likely to leave its audience shaking with rage and despair.
My Rating : ***.5
When three Texas University students travel to a Mexican border town on the eve of their graduation, the last thing they expect is to face their own deaths.
Without warning, they fall prey to an ancient blood cult hellbent on finding candidates for human sacrifice.
Based on true events, Borderland tells a story which blends the raw fear of Texas Chainsaw Massacre with the stark reality of In Cold Blood, evoking a world soaked in paranoia, fear, and dread.
My Rating : **.5
Music-video-director-turned-auteur Michel Gondry continues to charm with his low-tech offering, BE KIND REWIND. Set in dreary Passaic, New Jersey, the comedy centers on two of the town’s residents: trouble-making Jerry (Jack Black) and well-meaning Mike (Mos Def).
Mike works in a video store in an age where the VHS is long dead, but the store’s owner, Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover), doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to change. When Mr. Fletcher leaves town for a trip, he entrusts his store to Mike with one piece of advice: don’t let Jerry in the store. But after some mischief, Jerry returns to the store in a strange state. Not only is he weirder than usual, but he’s also magnetized, which causes the entire store’s stock to be erased. In order to keep the struggling business afloat, Mike and Jerry begin remaking the films in the store one by one. Their hilariously low-budget versions of films such as GHOSTBUSTERS and RUSH HOUR 2 soon begin to draw attention and business to the store, but that creates a whole new set of problems for the pair. Though Gondry’s three previous fiction films–HUMAN NATURE, ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, and THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP–were all essentially love stories, BE KIND REWIND captures another kind of romance.
Both the writer-director and his characters are in love with the cinematic medium itself, and their devotion shows. BE KIND REWIND doesn’t reach the heights of ETERNAL SUNSHINE, but it doesn’t seem to be aiming for that genius. This is simply a hilarious comedy, fun for film fans of all stripes, which celebrates the sheer joy of watching and making films.