Taking Chance is an HBO film starring Kevin Bacon as a number crunching Marine who has a guilt complex for not going to Iraq, so he volunteers to escort the body (PFC Chance Phelps) of a fallen Marine home to Wyoming. This is based on a true story and it is definitely as depressing as you might imagine it is, but I found this to be a powerful film. It's kept short and it shows a side of strangers in this country that is refreshing. By that I mean that strangers treat Bacon very well and show reverence for his situation. It's rare to see a film that doesn't make everyday regular people out to be immoral shells. That, along with the idea of a young man dying for his country and the effect it has on people that didn't even know him, makes this an extremely emotional film. That doesn't mean it's completely depressing, though. When a film makes you feel something, anything, it reaffirms your own humanity and that is anything but depressing. Also, this is based on a true story, which certainly makes it easy for the viewer to connect with it.
Quarantine is a horror film about a group of people who are, you guessed it, quarantined in an apartment building due to a strange sickness that causes people to act with rabies-like symptoms. Quarantine shocked me for two reasons. First, a few parts made me jump, so it came through with a few legitimate scares, thanks to the claustrophobic setting along with the use, and lack, of lighting. Secondly, this film is extremely entertaining and I expected it to be a complete ripoff and mishmash of every horror film released in the last ten years. Is anything new done here? No, but just because the film isn't innovative doesn't mean it isn't fun to watch. I enjoyed the Blair Witch style (not too shaky like in Cloverfield, due to the plot point of an actual cameraman using the camera) and the noises the infected people made were truly freaky at times. Also, there are a couple of very good stunts in this that will make you rewind the film just to see if it was actually done practically or if it was CG (I'm talking about the fall from about midway through, not the shock fall earlier on, though that first fall is surprising). Oh, and if you're into firefighting at all, the first fifteen minutes, which are meant to set up a few main characters and explain why the camera is there in the first place, is actually entertaining and does not feel like a forced set up at all. So, this movie, which I didn't even plan on reviewing at all, turned out to be a fun little horror movie that deserves a watch, even though a scene from the preview completely spoils the ending. And check out the behind the scenes featurette on the DVD if you want to see how complicated it actually was to edit this film to make it seem like a long continuous take. There's also something on the makeup and a short featurette on the stunt I mentioned above.
Blindness is an interesting film that asks the question: what would happen if people started going blind for no reason and in mass amounts? The answer is not always pretty. First off, the government takes all the blind and locks them in a dilapidated hospital/sanitarium and does not attempt to help them hardly at all. They are given food, but no medical supplies and no one monitors them other than shooting them if they try to leave. The only help the blind have is Julianne Moore, who is immune to the blindness virus, who followed her blind husband into the quarantined area. This film is quite miserable. Some of the characters (no one is given a name, perhaps to add to the fact that people stop acting like humans when they lose their sight) engage in such awful behavior (murder, rape, theft, etc.) that the film seemed to have no faith in humanity at all. Sure, the main characters (Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Danny Glover) seem to hold onto their morals, but they become so tired and hopeless that it doesn't matter. I found myself getting angry with so many of the characters that I wasn't able to relate to anyone and I was just waiting for them all to die or escape or anything just so long as the movie came to an end. It is filmed with decent style and it is truly interesting, but the misery was just too much for me. Also, I remember this film had a little controversy over the depiction of the blind. I usually think people are too sensitive when it comes to movies, but I can completely understand their issue. Yes, people would be a bit useless at first when hit with blindness, but to say that mass amounts of blind people would turn into savages is a bit harsh, especially when the mastermind behind the immoral activity in the sanitarium is a regular blind person. I'm not saying the movie should be boycotted, but it does send a kind of negative message about the morals and abilities of the blind.
Okay, this is going to turn out to be epic, but I'm going to add my top ten anyway. I know it's pretty late for a top ten list, but I had to wait a while to see most of the late-year releases.
Honorable Mention - Iron Man, Milk, Doubt, W., Rambo, Gran Torino, Man on Wire
10. Valkyrie - I was impressed with this film's ability to maintain suspense even though the viewer knows the plan doesn't work. Bryan Singer created an entertaining film the features some decent action and some strong performances (Tom Cruise does not ruin this film, as some reviews have claimed).
9. Pineapple Express - There were quite a few comedies that I enjoyed this year (Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Step Brothers, Tropic Thunder, Get Smart) but this one stuck out to me because of the great performances by Franco and Rogen and the interesting direction of David Gordon Green (check out the direct-o-rama featurette on the DVD to see the strange direction he gives his actors at times, like asking Keving Corrigan to do Karate while he delivers his lines). So those others are funny, but this one rose above with the funny dialogue and the ridiculous, and hilarious, action in the second half.
8. Hellboy II: The Golden Army - This is just a fun film that features some amazing character design that was done practically for the most part. They stepped up the goofiness a bit from the first film, but it remains funny rather than stupid, and it retains the interesting mythology from the first film. Perlman is still perfect for the role of Hellboy and the action is amped up a bit so this is just entertaining on so many levels that I had to add it to the list.
7. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - This movie is being bashed almost across the board but I don't care what everyone thinks. This movie is entertaining and it is in keeping with the rest of the Indiana Jones series. Sure, the whole alien thing is different, the CG animals and vine swinging and the nuke scene was too ridiculous for some, even though we're talking about the same character that used a raft as a parachute, which he then rode down a mountain and into some rapids. I'm just angry that people suddenly expected Indy to be a realistic hero, which he never was. I could go on a dork rant some more, but the point is that I enjoyed it very much and I loved all the ridiculous stuff because most of it led to some great visuals (I think the shot of Indy overlooking a mushroom cloud is one of the best shots in the series).
6. The Dark Knight - Lately I've been talking about what's wrong with this film because it is being heralded as one of the best films ever by so many fanboys, but even though I'm tempted to down it these days, I can't help but admit it was one of the most entertaining films I've ever seen, even if it is too long and Bale sounds stupid at times ("I'm not wearing hockey pads!!!"). Ledger is great in it and it really is a compelling crime drama coupled with the fact that it is a comic book movie.
5. Frost/Nixon - To save space, just refer to my review on this site for reasons why this is on the list. I will mention that I probably like this more than most because of my unhealthy interest in all things Nixon.
4. Australia - It bombed and most critics thought it was two movies in one that lacked focus, but I thought this was a great epic in the vein of David Lean. This film is worthy of being compared to such epics as Lawrence of Arabia as far as I'm concerned. It features characters that are likable, a story that spans a number of interesting issues (war, racism, love, etc.), and some beautiful visuals. Baz Luhrman is known for his visual style and he put a lot of work into making one of the best looking films of the year. So ignore the critics and decide for yourself whether this old-fashioned epic is a good film or if it's an overlong jumbled mess. It's out on DVD this Tuesday. (Note: I originally planned to have this at number 10 and possibly not even on the list, but that was mainly because it had been so long since I watched it. Upon reflection I realized just how much I enjoyed this film.)
3. In Bruges - The crime dramedy features three hilarious performances from Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, and Ralph Fiennes. They all work so well together and they deliver the hilarious dialogue in such a way that they make it their own. I can't think of anything bad to say about this film. A great, beautiful setting, perfectly cast, hilarious, shocking, and even a little depressing here and there.
2. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - I loved this dream-like movie because David Fincher created a world all with this one. Not many movies do that these days and this one really stuck with me. And the effects are great and Pitt shines through them at times. Blanchett also gives a strong performance that should have been nominated (though I had a hard time understanding her in the old age scenes). It's been criticized for being too much like Forrest Gump, but what is truly original these days? If it's entertaining and it has style, then I don't care if the story is similar to something else.
1. The Wrestler - Once again, just refer to my past post for a full review of this. Great direction, compelling chracters and story, some awesome wrestling scenes, and an amazing performance from Mickey Rourke. This film worked on all levels for me and I think in the coming years people will look back and ask how this wasn't even nominated for Best Picture and how, did the Academy not give the acting award to Rourke? The best thing to do is ignore the Academy and enjoy the film.
Next: Choke and Australia on DVD midweek, then Watchmen for next Sunday. I'll have a lot to say about this so I'm keeping it to just one movie on Sunday, especially since I'll be watching it on IMAX, which I haven't seen yet, so I'll have a bit to say about that as well.