Sunday, February 28, 2010

"The Crazies"

The Crazies - Directed by Breck Eisner, starring Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, and Joe Anderson - Rated R

This one deserves a Kurgan...I think.

Okay, this is going to be a tough review. Not because The Crazies is such a complex movie or anything, but because of how I had to watch it. I watched the movie at a theatre that hasn't fully converted to digital yet, so they still use reels. Now, most films are five reels long. I believe that someone, either the distributor or the projectionist, mixed up the reels. In other words, I watched a jumbled film. Instead of watching it 1,2,3,4,5, I got to see it 1,3,2,4,5. Needless to say, this led to a very frustrating viewing. (For the theatre's part, I hear that they have fixed thr problem, though the patrons that complained Friday night were told that the movie is "supposed to be like that.") So I'll do my best to review The Crazies, even though I saw it in an unintentional Pulp Fiction style.

The Crazies takes place in the small Iowa town of Ogden Marsh. It seems to be a wholesome, peaceful community. That is until an alcoholic farmer marches onto the baseball field during a high school game with a loaded shotgun. Not to worry, Sheriff David Dutton (Olyphant) is there to take him down. That's only the beginning, however. Something is causing the residents of Ogden Marsh to go crazy...and it's contagious.

So this is basically a survival movie with a nice chunk of paranoia thrown in for good measure. That's a winning combination in my book. I consider John Carpenter's The Thing to be one of the best films of all time, so I dig the paranoia. It always adds an amazing layer to a film. You start to look over each character with suspicion. And since that is what each character is doing as well, you can easily become engrossed in a film like this. My particular experience took me out of it a bit, but once I got my bearings it was easy to enjoy the paranoia.

Don't be confused by all this paranoia talk, this is still a brutal film. It doesn't revel in the gore or anything, but it certainly has its messier moments. The film mainly relies on jump scares and last second saves to evoke responses. I felt there were too many of these moments, but that doesn't mean they aren't effective. I imagine most audience members will jump at least once or twice.

The most effective aspect of the film remains with the paranoia. That means acting is required for this film, since it's not just a run away from the monsters movie. I know that acting normal then acting crazy isn't the performance that wins awards, but it is more demanding than looking scared for two hours. Olyphant does a suitable job. He's always been kind of a strange actor, but most of his performances work, and this one certainly does. Radha Mitchell also does some fine work as his wife/doctor. But it's Joe Anderson, as Deputy Russell Clank, who shines. He can give a great crazy gaze, then logically explain himself in the same scene. On top of that, he gets some of the comic relief, making him a very likable character.

The acting is fine, but what is great about this cast is that it doesn't contain many stars. Olyphant is by far the biggest name here, and Radha Mitchell has been in a few decent movies, but I didn't really recognize the other actors. This is important because we're dealing with a film in which many people die. You don't want to watch a film with an ensemble cast of A-listers which you know will survive at least until the very end while the vague B-listers die in droves. Since I didn't recognize some of these actors/actresses I wasn't sure if I was seeing a major character or a quick death. It might sound trivial, but a proper cast can really elevate a film like this.

This isn't an outstanding film or anything, though. I had some non messed-up-reels issues with it. First off, it's called The Crazies but we don't get to see much crazy behavior. I know, I know, turning into a murderer capable of killing your family and friends is certainly crazy, but I wanted some wackier glimpses of the craziness. There are a couple: the strange lady riding a bike and singing, the dudes using a dumpster as a punching bag, etc. But those moments were few and far between. The virus really just turned people into excellent, stealthy killers. It didn't ruin the movie for me; I was just hoping for a slightly campier film.

Another issue that some people might have is the treatment of the government. At its heart, the original 1973 George Romero version of The Crazies was about government conspiracies. This remake is no different and it might rub some people the wrong way when sane characters start attacking U.S. troops. I just found it compelling. The characters are not gung ho about fighting troops. They were just put in a kill or be killed situation. I'm great at suspending disbelief and my mantra regarding film is "it's just a movie." So I didn't have a problem with troops being used in slightly "bad guy" roles. Along those lines, the film features a couple of nifty elements to handle this problem. The best example is a short scene in which a soldier is captured and it turns out that he's just a guy following orders; he's not the devil in camouflage. But some people may take issue with it.

So The Crazies sticks with the original's paranoia and government issues and it turns out to be a better film in my opinion. Romero's version suffered from a shoestring budget and it hasn't aged well. I like the basic idea of Romero's film, but this new version retains the gist of the story while providing a much more effective and entertaining presentation. Some Romero purists might cry "Sacrilege!" at that but it's just how I feel. (For the record, I still think Romero is an amazing director.)

The Crazies is a completely solid film, and if I enjoyed it even though I watched it in a messed up order, then that means they did something right with this one. If you're looking for survival horror with some memorable scenes (like the scene involving the steak knife or the most suspenseful carwash ever filmed), then you should definitely check this one out. I hope you get to see it in order, I certainly wish I had.

Monday, February 22, 2010

"Shutter Island"

Shutter Island - Directed by Martin Scorsese, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, and Michelle Williams - Rated R

Scorsese has crafted a thriller as chillingly effective as Chigurh.

Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island is a bit of a departure for the acclaimed director. The film is a psychological thriller, emphasis on psychological. It is jarring, confusing, visually stunning and is incredibly effective when it comes to creating empathy for Leonardo DiCaprio’s character.

This film is as much DiCaprio’s as it is Scorsese’s, mainly because the focus is so squarely on DiCaprio’s character, Teddy Daniels. The film, which takes place in 1954, starts out literally in the fog, which is very fitting since the audience and Teddy are figuratively in the fog for the entire film. Teddy, a federal marshal, and his new partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) are on a ferry en route to Shutter Island, home to a creepy mental institute which is missing a patient. This sounds like the set up for a basic detective/mystery movie, but Shutter Island is anything but. The film is partly about the search for a missing patient, but there is obviously something more going on with Teddy.

Teddy has a troubled past, which we see in disjointed flashbacks. He lost his wife in a house fire and he is haunted by his actions in World War II. Scorsese handles the psychological issues of Teddy masterfully. The camera movement and multiple angle scenes instantly give you a chaotic feeling. The visuals are striking, especially Teddy’s flashbacks. I found the scenes from the concentration camp from Teddy’s WWII experience to be particularly effective.

What sets everything off, though, is the use of music. When the marshals first approach the facility, the score is foreboding to the point that it is overbearing, which I think is intentional. The rule is usually that a good score is effective but not noticed, but Shutter Island is the exception to that rule. It’s overbearing at one moment, eerie and strange the next, and nonexistent during the most powerful scenes. I know it’s strange to think that a score is at its most powerful when you can’t hear it, but less is sometimes more, especially when the more is so loud.

Scorsese tells the story in such an effective way, but the film is basically a character study, which means the entire film hinges on DiCaprio’s performance. DiCaprio is as good as ever in this one. When I heard about this project, I decided to read the novel it was based on. As I read, I found it hard to believe that DiCaprio was starring. I just couldn’t imagine him as a tough 1950’s detective with a war hero past, but he pulls it off and I never once thought that he looked out of place. On top of that, DiCaprio handles being the subject of constant close ups quite well. You can see the confusion/frustration/anger in his face throughout the film. DiCaprio has become one of the most consistent stars of Hollywood and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

This is DiCaprio’s show, but he still gets support from a talented cast. Ben Kingsley is great as Dr. Cawley. He speaks every line with a menacing calmness that added tension to every scene. Max von Sydow adds some gravitas as a fellow doctor. Michelle Williams, as Teddy’s dead wife, does a fine job as well. The most notable performance, however, is that of Mark Ruffalo. But I can’t explain why without giving spoilers for the film, so check out the spoilers section at the end of the review for more on that.

Speaking of spoilers, there are many people that claim they had this movie “figured out” after the first few minutes. I read the book first, so I knew the story already. I can’t say if the film is obvious from the get go. I will say this, though. I started to have my doubts about how it ended midway through…even though I knew how it was going to end. Make sense? The point is that you may have an idea very early on about what is happening in the story, but the filmmaking and the acting is so good that you’ll start to doubt yourself. Also, this film is a great example of the journey being the reward. I’m not saying the plot isn’t vital to this film; I’m saying that when you’re dealing with Martin Scorsese, you’re in for a full film experience, not just a story.

Shutter Island is definitely worth a close watch. It’s the most effective type of thriller: the kind that makes you question not only the characters on screen, but also yourself. But it isn’t for everyone. The film can definitely be described with one word: weird. Weird is good, though. There are plenty of “normal” movies out there. I suggest shelling out a few dollars to check out a weird Martin Scorsese film, and enjoy the journey.


Okay, let's talk Ruffalo. Early on, his performance is borderline cheesy. He seems to be hamming up this whole 1950's detective thing. This is actually a great performance, though. Ruffalo's character is actually a doctor impersonating a federal marshal. He does a great job of giving a bad performance. Ruffalo's acting is one of the many hints Scorsese leaves for the audience. If people figure out early on what's going on, I imagine a lot of that has to do with Ruffalo's character. There's an early scene in which the marshals have to hand over their guns. DiCaprio complies with no problem. Ruffalo, however, takes a considerable amount of time removing his holster, something only an amateur would have trouble with. Later on, while questioning a patient, the patient waits for Ruffalo to leave the table before she scribbles a note for DiCaprio.

Now, would these hints have given the whole movie away had I not first read the book? I don't know. The cheesy acting job wouldn't make sense until after you knew the twist so that wouldn't add to it. The holster thing is pretty obvious, though. So I think at the very least, I would have been suspicious of Ruffalo throughout the film.

This is what I really liked about the film, even though I knew the twist going in (for the record, I still haven't given away the twist, but just saying a movie has a twist is a spoiler, I suppose) I still had a great time dissecting it. I know that everything in a Scorsese movie is there for a reason and a close viewing is rewarded in the end. Whether or not you are fooled by the story does not matter. The simple fact that the film rewards close scrutiny is good enough for me.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief" / Mini-Reviews: "Black Dynamite" / "Revanche" / "From Paris with Love"

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief - Directed by Chris Columbus, starring Logan Lerman, Alexandra Daddario, and Brandon T. Jackson - Rated PG

It's not the second coming of Potter, but it is a lot of fun.

Okay, let’s get one thing straight: Percy Jackson is not Harry Potter. If you’d read anything else about Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (from here on out I’ll just stick with The Lightning Thief) then you’ve read that Percy doesn’t stack up against Harry. I have never seen a movie so completely defined by what it isn’t more in my life. I think this is the laziest critique anyone can give this film. I knew this wasn’t Harry Potter as soon as I saw the first preview; the title is a dead giveaway. Yeah, The Lightning Thief deals with supernatural elements, there is a quest involved, the heroes are young people, and it’s all based on a series of popular young adult novels, so the film shares basic elements with that other franchise, but I think it stands pretty well on its own.

The Lightning Thief is about Percy Jackson, a high school student who struggles with dyslexia and ADHD. It turns out that Percy’s learning impairments are the result of his strange parentage: Percy is the son of Greek god of the sea Poseidon. He has dyslexia because he is meant to read ancient Greek and his ADHD is really just battle instincts. He is a demigod, or a half-blood, and he is not alone. It turns out that the Greek gods and goddesses are very real and they are still around; they’ve just moved to America. I don’t want to get bogged down with more plot details than that, just know that the film contains plenty of Greek mythology references and it adds up to some entertaining, innocent fun.

Since this is the first film in what may be a franchise, there is a lot of setup to go through. This movie speeds through all of that pretty quickly, however. We’re introduced to the safe haven for demigods, Camp Half-Blood, but Percy is barely there before he has to take off on a road trip. I understand that movies like this need to move quickly, but I would have liked fifteen more minutes to set up the day to day life at the camp. It’s not much of a problem, though, because the characters are fun to watch.

Logan Lerman plays Percy with a sufficient amount of dumb wonder. Alexandra Daddario plays off of him quite well as his love interest/rival Annabeth (daughter of Athena). Out of the three leads, though, it’s Brandon T. Jackson (Tropic Thunder) who shines. Jackson plays Grover, a satyr who is Percy’s friend and protector…and his comic relief. Grover is mainly used for the laughs of the film and it might be painfully obvious that he’s only there to be goofy, but Jackson really does come through with the laughs. I won’t spoil any gags, but I think it’s safe to say that people of all ages will laugh at least a few times.

Aside from the leads, there is a plethora of stars in small roles as mythological characters. Pierce Brosnan stands out as Chiron, the centaur/teacher. Uma Thurman gets to ham it up as Medusa. Steve Coogan, Sean Bean, Kevin McKidd, and Rosario Dawson also star as supernatural characters. On the mortal side there is Catherine Keener, who is apparently stuck in “mom” mode and Joe Pantoliano in a fun role as Percy’s scumbag stepfather. Pretty much every actor handles his/her role ably, except, ironically, Jake Abel as Luke, the camp’s demigod leader. He is completely unconvincing, but his screen time is thankfully limited.

Of course, with all of these mythological characters there is going to be some CG. The Lightning Thief handles most effects quite well, never appearing completely goofy. The centaurs look decent, and Grover’s satyr legs look very convincing. There’s nothing here that will blow you away, but you certainly won’t roll your eyes at any of the effects, either.

The visuals are suitable for the film, but a lot of your enjoyment depends on your knowledge of Greek mythology. If you remember how Medusa is taken down, then you’ll probably smile when you see the modern way it plays out in this film. And if you remember the Lotus Eaters from The Odyssey, then you’ll love the scenes in the Lotus Casino. That was by far my favorite sequence of the film.

So The Lightning Thief isn’t Harry Potter. But it is a fun movie that I think people of all ages can enjoy. Yes, the younger viewers will probably like it the most, but the older viewers will probably find themselves having more fun with it than they thought they would. Just don’t take it too seriously and you’ll be fine. Save your serious viewing for boy wizards.


Black Dynamite - Co-written and directed by Scott Sanders, starring Michael Jai White (also co-writer), Salli Richardson, and Tommy Davidson - Rated R
Black Dynamite is the spoof version of blaxploitation films. Yeah, those movies are plenty goofy on their own and some would argue that the filmmakers were aware of how bad some of them were, but that does not take away from the hilarity of Black Dynamite. Michael Jai White is perfect as the titular character and I'm sure this will go down as his best performance. He knows exactly when to play it serious and when to wink at the camera. The film is funny on its own when it keeps things serious, but I found myself scanning back to check out all of the intentional mistakes; like when a fight scene gets accidentally serious and the rest of the scene features a different actor, or when Black Dynamite stands up quickly only to have the boom mic in the rest of the scene, even though he keeps staring at it, trying to tell the guy to raise it. It's the little things that will have me watching this again and again. That, and lines like, "I thought I told you honkies from the CIA that Black Dynamite was out of the game!" make this a comedy worth checking out.

Revanche - Written and directed by Götz Spielmann, starring Johannes Krisch, Andreas Lust, and Ursula Strauss - Not Rated (but if it was, it would be an R)
I've been itching to see Revanche for quite some time now. This Austrian film was nominated for Best Foreign Film last year. It's a shame how some of the better foreign films take so long to get a release in the States. It turns out that it is well worth the wait. Revanche is about Alex, an ex-con with a dream of leaving the city with his prostitute girlfriend, Tamara, and going to Spain to start over. Well, that dream doesn't happen, of course. Since the film translates to "Revenge" (or also "Return Match") you know that someone dies, so it's not a big spoiler to say that Tamara doesn't make it and Alex wants payback. But this isn't a typical revenge film. Alex doesn't go around bashing heads. He waits around his grandfather's farm stoically, biding his time to strike. "Waits around" is the key phrase here. Spielmann even lets the camera "wait around" a few seconds too long in numerous scenes. It gave me an impression that I was witnessing something utterly personal. The extra seconds the shot lingers really got me thinking and reflecting while I watched. Of course, a few lingering shots doesn't make a great movie. What makes this great is the emotional journey all the characters involved go through, including the man who killed Tamara. You can't really root for anyone, and that's a good thing, because it makes it seem real. I still found myself hoping for the best for Alex, but that might just be because of Johannes Krisch. The man has such a screen presence he makes what could be a boring scene completely tense and interesting. So if you're in the mood for a well acted, slow, realistic, thoughtful revenge film, then give Revanche a try.

From Paris with Love - Directed by Pierre Morel, starring John Travolta, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and Kasia Smutniak - Rated R
This one took me by surprise. I went into the theater expecting a decent, forgettable action movie. I ended up seeing a very entertaining film that I will definitely watch again when it comes to DVD/Blu-ray. From Paris with Love is about a fledgling spy, Reece, (Rhys Meyers) who partners up with Charlie Wax (Travolta), the craziest spy in American history. This is one of those movies that let's Travolta go crazy. Now, you either embrace a Travolta performance like this, or you despise it. I happen to embrace the crazier performances of Travolta, so I loved every ridiculous line of dialogue. Rhys Meyers, on the other hand, does a good job of looking flustered, but can't stand up next to Travolta (and he really shouldn't play an American until he figures out an accent). So Travolta is crazy and once he's introduced the movie never slows down. You get extended action scenes that feature Travolta laying waste to enemies while Rhys Meyes follows along with a cocaine-filled vase (which turns out to be a really funny element). Then there's Travolta taking out an entire terrorist filled apartment. And eventually you get Travolta hanging out of a car window with a rocket launcher...while talking on a cell phone. It is completely ridiculous and I loved every minute of it. The storyline turned out to be surprisingly satisfying as well. It's not ground breaking, but just when I was wondering what the point of an early scene was, I had an answer. But I can't strees enough: If you like Travolta, check it out; if you have a problem with his over the top performances, then skip it.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

"The Wolfman"

The Wolfman - Directed by Joe Johnston, starring Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, and Hugo Weaving - Rated R

Looks great, but it's hollow inside.

I am not a fan of the new trend of whiny vampires and wolf boys. I prefer my vampires to be menacing, and I think that a wolfman should be a mindless, bloodthirsty beast, not a teen heartthrob whose only acting “trait” is his ability to not wear a shirt. If you’re in the same boat as me, then The Wolfman will at least satisfy you in the monster department. If you’re expecting much more than a savage monster movie, though, you may leave the theater disappointed.

My expectations for this film were very high. The preview for the film is great and leads you to believe you might be in for something different, or possibly something great. I knew all about the delays of the film and the reports of editing up until days before the release, but the preview made me forget all of that. So, because of that preview, I thought this version of The Wolfman would be very similar to Francis Ford Coppola’s version of Dracula (one of my favorite films). Sadly, aside from the atmosphere created here, The Wolfman pales in comparison.

That’s not to say this film doesn’t have something to offer. It looks great. Late 19th century England has a gloomy and realistic look. The sets were particularly well done. The creature effects are fine, for the most part. The transformation sequences were by far the best, but some of the action scenes had a few flaws and looked a bit fake. I know I comment on special effects and cg quite a bit, but for a film like this, the effects are absolutely vital. If the wolfman effects looked even slightly goofy, the film would be ruined. Thankfully, I never had to fight back laughter when I saw the creature.

The film has a look to it, but it’s missing a mood. I never got a sense of foreboding or evil while I was watching this film. It was all just happening and I didn’t really care all that much about any of it. That might be the fault of the storyline, but I think it has more to do with pacing. The film starts off at a crawl, with stage actor Lawrence Talbot arriving at his father’s old, creepy mansion. His brother Ben has been killed and he intends to find out what happened. His off-balance father (Anthony Hopkins) and widowed sister-in-law (the beautiful Emily Blunt) are still there to help out. But there is no mystery. We know what killed Ben: a crazy wolf creature. We don’t need multiple scenes with villagers talking about what might be happening.

It’s not just the first mystery that is weak, either; it’s the entire film. At no point did I wonder what was really happening. It is painfully obvious what is going on from the get go. This isn’t all that terrible, but when the filmmaking is so-so, it makes the story issues much more blatant. These problems are nearly overshadowed by the visuals, but good set design and cg can’t fix everything.

The film does pick up in the middle, though. The asylum sequence was great and it made me wish that the majority of the film took place there. This is the problem. There’s this great, interesting sequence in the middle of the film, bookended by a bland, obvious plot. I probably shouldn’t use the word “bookend,” though, because that implies that this movie has an ending. It doesn’t, not really. It just stops. I don’t know what they were going for, maybe some kind of sequel set up, but there is a key issue that really should’ve been resolved at the end and it was just left open, pointlessly open.

The actors do their best to overcome these plot issues. Del Toro does a fine job. He has a presence that seems to fit with the time period. Blunt makes things a bit interesting here and there. It was nice to see Hugo Weaving as the Scotland Yard detective. He is a master of the intense stare, which is all he really gets to do with the role. It’s Anthony Hopkins who steals the show. You can tell he really enjoyed making this film and it makes for a very fun performance. I enjoyed every minute that he was onscreen.

The Wolfman looks great, features some good performances, has bloody, brutal action, but lacks the story and substance of a great film. There are a few great moments in the film, but they are too few and far between. This film garners a rental at best.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

"Crazy Heart" / Mini-Reviews: "Flammen & Citronen" ("Flame and Citron") / "Daybreakers" / "Cold Souls"

Crazy Heart - Adapted and directed by Scott Cooper, starring Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Colin Farrell - Rated R

The Evil Kurgan likes hard livin' characters.

Okay, so it's Oscar time, which means the limited releases are starting to expand into the smaller Midwest markets. This means I had three options over the weekend: Crazy Heart, A Single Man, and An Education. Nothing against the latter two options, but I didn't think twice about which nominated performance I wanted to see. I'll take Jeff Bridges as a hard drinking washed up country music star any day of the week over a coming of age British girl (Carey Mulligan) or a British professor (Colin Firth) contemplating suicide after the death of his lover. I still want to see both of those films, but I wanted to see a good American performance and that's exactly what I got.

Bridges plays Bad Blake, a country singer who is way past his prime. Bad makes his way around the southwest playing anywhere he can. The movie starts with him arriving at his latest gig. We're introduced to Bad Blake as he gets out of his vehicle, belt unbuckled (which it is through most of the film), and empties out a jug of his own urine. He's been driving for hours to reach his venue: a bowling alley. The venue is funny for two reasons. 1. It's a bowling alley, not exactly a prime spot to play live music. 2. It's great to see Bridges back in the bowling alley. I couldn't help but think of The Dude from The Big Lebowski during an early scene at the bowling alley's bar. Bad heads to the bar because not only is his career at rock bottom, but he also has a bit of a drinking problem. I know this sounds like the setup of a depressing, miserable movie and it might even sound like the country music version of The Wrestler, but it really is its own movie and it's a bit more light hearted than The Wrestler. Maybe alcoholic has-been doesn't sound like a light hearted character, but Crazy Heart does have a decent amount of comedy. It goes to show that you can show alcoholism without it being complete melodramatic misery (even though the film does venture into that territory near the end, it quickly rights itself).

This movie is being compared to The Wrestler for one more reason: it features a powerhouse performance. Bridges is favored to win the Academy Award for this film and I hope he does win it because he carries this movie. First off, he looks the part. Bridges embodies unhealthiness; he's overweight, constantly needs a shave and a haircut, and seems to struggle for breath (due to his constant smoking). Second, he finds a way to be charismatic despite his disgusting appearance. It's even believable that a younger woman (Maggie Gyllenhaal, also nominated, but has no chance of winning) would find him attractive and even start a relationship with him. Finally, the man can play the guitar and sing...and he's good.

Which brings me the music of the film. For the most part I am not a fan of country music...well, popular country, that is. I do enjoy the older stuff and that's the sound T-Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham went for in Crazy Heart. So I loved the music of the film even though I am not a huge country fan, but I don't think you'll like this movie as much if you truly hate all things country. There are quite a few music scenes and if you don't like the music, it's going to be hard to like the movie. If you like country music at all, though, you'll probably be like me and you'll get home and buy a few songs from the soundtrack (I suggest "Fallin' & Flyin'").

The music scenes are where director Scott Cooper gets to insert a little style. He's fond of showing the music from the musician's perspective by zooming in and moving the camera to the side. He uses the same angle multiple times but I thought it was a great way to film each song.

Aside from that, Crazy Heart isn't really a visually appealing movie and it doesn't need to be anyway. It's all about performance. This is Bridges' show, but he does get a bit of help from some talented supporting players. Colin Farrell is surprisingly good as Bad Blake's protege turned superstar (he even does his own singing on a couple of songs...and he can actually sing). Robert Duvall does well in a small role as Blake's hometown friend. And Maggie Gyllenhaal does a decent job sharing the screen with Bridges. But I think she only got her nomination because there are so few good roles for women these days and it was all they could think of.

Did I skip the plot summary on this one? I guess I did, but I'm not fond of giving too much away when I write these reviews and honestly, if you want to see this movie it's because of Bridges' performance, the Bad Blake character, and the great music. So check this one out if you get the chance and be sure to root for Bridges for Best Actor and "Crazy Heart" for Best Song.


Flammen & Citronen (Flame and Citron) - Co-written and directed by Ole Christian Madsen, starring Thure Lindhardt, Mads Mikkelsen, and Stine Stengade - Not Rated
Flame and Citron is the true story of WWII Danish resistance fighters Flame (Lindhardt) and Citron (Mikkelsen). It's a well done period piece (apparently it's the most expensive Danish film ever made) and it's quite powerful. I cared about each character and was cheering them on as they killed Nazis. But don't start thinking this is the buddy movie version of Inglourious Basterds or anything, this film is deadly serious and brings up a few tough questions when it comes to loyalty, the definition of a traitor, and trust. Great drama mixed in with some decent hit man/espionage type action. It's available on Watch Instantly right now on Netflix and will be on DVD/Blu-ray in a couple of weeks.

Daybreakers - Written and directed by the Spierig Brothers, starring Ethan Hawke, Willem Defoe, and Sam Niell - Rated R
I checked out Daybreakers a couple weeks ago and I decided that it was not worthy of a full review since it's already disappeared from theaters. Let me just say that this isn't a bad film. It's a fun B-movie that's certainly worth a rental. Hawke kind of sleepwalks through it all, but Defoe gets to ham it up and have fun with all his ridiculous similes ("Living in a world where vampires are the dominant species is about as safe as bare backing a $5 whore.") and Sam Niell gets to evil it up in his few scenes. Aside from that, the all vampire world created for the film is pretty convincing, even if it turns out that vampires are terrible at planning ahead. How did they not have better plan for keeping a blood supply? They just drain humans dry. If they take their time they can breed humans and also, they could take just a little bit of blood at a time and let the humans replenish it, then repeat the process. Whatever, right? As long as a vampire or two blows up into a fountain of blood, who cares?

Cold Souls - Written and directed by Sophie Barthes, starring Paul Giamatti, David Strathairn, and Dina Korzun - Rated PG-13
This movie was forgotten upon its initial release and has finally been released on DVD. I can understand why it was forgotten. It plays a bit like a Charlie Kaufman movie, except it's easier to follow, but it doesn't pull you in like Kaufman films do. Giamatti is great and all, but he has little to work with. That's not to say the film doesn't have its moments. The premise, that you can remove your soul, is amusing, especially when you see that everyone's soul is different and disappointing: a chickpea, a jelly bean, a prune, etc. The scenes in the soul extraction clinic are the best and the movie might have been much better if it had all taken place at the clinic, because that's where Strathairn's character is, and he should have been in the movie more.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Top Fifteen of 2009

I know the norm is a “top ten,” but I couldn’t help myself. I thought 2009 was a great year for movies, most notably sci-fi films. Before I set out my list, though, I need to name the films that I didn’t get a chance to check out this year due mainly to availability: Precious, A Single Man, Crazy Heart, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Fantastic Mr. Fox, An Education, Nine, and Brothers.

1. A Serious Man – I’m a huge Coen Brothers fan and I thought this dark comedy was brilliant.

2. Inglourious Basterds – Funny, brutal, and filled with tension and great performances.

3. District 9 – Smart sci-fi mixed with some gory action…I loved it.

4. Avatar – A visual feast, and the story and dialogue are not as bad as the haters make it out to be.

5. Watchmen – Underwhelmed most critics, but I thought this graphic novel adaptation was spot on.

6. Moon – Interesting sci-fi coupled with an award worthy performance by Sam Rockwell make this a must see.

7. Star Trek – Most fun I had at the theater all year.

8. The Informant! – Matt Damon may have been nominated for “Invictus,” but this performance was the one to see.

9. Antichrist – Strange, disgusting, and beautiful; I wouldn’t recommend it to many people, but I can’t lie, it was one of my favorites.

10. The Box – Absolutely destroyed by most critics (and filmgoers, for that matter), I found Richard Kelly’s latest mindbender to be endlessly fascinating. Can’t wait to watch it again.

11. The Hurt Locker – A terrific trio of performances along with some extremely tense moments made this one of the year’s best.

12. Zombieland – A hilarious zombie/comedy. What else can I say?

13. Up in the Air – Clooney is perfect in this timely tale about life and what it’s all about.

14. The Road – Criminally delayed then dumped into theaters, this faithful adaptation of the depressing novel deserved better treatment, and a wider audience.

15. JCVD – A painfully honest look at Jean Claude Van Damme. Technically, this came out in 2008, but it wasn’t available on DVD until this year, so I’m including it. Van Damme gives a great performance…I’m not joking.

There were also some notable comedies this year that didn’t make the cut for me but are definitely worth checking out: The Hangover, In the Loop, Observe and Report, and I Love You, Man.

It was also a great year for documentaries. I suggest checking out Tyson, The Cove, and Food, Inc.