Thursday, December 29, 2011

Hugo: Not Just a Story About a Creepy Robot

Ah, home for the holidays. Nothing like spending one awesome day with your entire family and then collapsing into that whole "well...what do we do now?" period after Christmas and before New Year's Day. What did my family do, you ask? One guess.

Hint: it begins with an 'M'...

In my family, my mother, youngest brother, and I have a tendency to go to the movies when we don't know what to do with ourselves. It's like the supercalifragilisticexpialidocious of actions, if you will; the something to do when you have nothing to do at all. So our family-friendly trio opted to go see Hugo for this year's round of post-Christmas dead time.

Judging from what I had of the preview I was mostly going on the ideas of "this looks really pretty" and "omigod this is a kid's movie directed by Scorsese!" Admittedly, I was a little skeptical about how good it would be as the well-known director's first attempt at a different audience, but I was pleasantly surprised at the end result.

The film begins with the story of a young boy named Hugo (Asa Butterfield) who lives in a Parisian train station. As we learn early-on, Hugo's father died in a museum fire and he was left to his uncle to help keep the clocks of the station in working order. But Hugo's uncle has since disappeared and he continues to work the clocks in order to keep himself off the radar of the bumbling station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen). After getting caught stealing parts from the booth of a toymaker (Ben Kingsley) the boy's cherished notebook, filled with pictures of parts for an automaton that he and his father were repairing, is taken away from him. Hugo is extremely distraught, even following the old man back to his house to try and get it back. In an attempt to win back this notebook, he befriends the toymaker's foster daughter, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz). Armed with a taste for adventure from her many books, Isabelle urges him to embark with her on an adventure to fix Hugo's broken "automaton" (robot, to you and I). During this journey, they find out a message that the automaton's been hiding, and with it Papa George's secret past.

Beautiful cinematography: ready, set, go!

Without giving too much away (or at least trying not to..), what they find out is strongly attached to the early history of film itself, making the film largely a love letter to cinema. Showcasing clips from early films such as Train Entering a Station, The Kiss, The Great Train Robbery, and A Trip to the Moon, Scorsese takes a young audience's attention and directs it to a subject that most children do not learn until they are college-bound. This movie sneakily incorporates a good deal of film history into a children's adventure plot, which of course makes crazy cinephiles like me absolutely delighted. It manages to capture the majority of film's modest beginnings without seeming like it's going off on a tangent, and thus keeps the mystery of the plot intact while teaching history.

In terms of the feel of the movie, I've got to say, it's beautifully shot. Everything is in crystal-clear high definition and the lighting in every shot is gorgeous. Each frame could be placed on a wall as art. The movie is also shot somewhat idealistically and romantically, reflecting in itself glamorous films of the 20s, and giving a nod to Oscar glam in the end scene.

What's the Great Depression?

That being said, perhaps the reflexive nature of the film is a bit much for a children's movie. Everything was just slightly heavier than most kid's movies are, which is a somewhat common mistake that directors make, in my own humble opinion (anyone else hate The Polar Express? Bleh.). For example, while I would say that all of the acting was very well done by the young actors Butterfield and Moretz (who I love. Please see Let Me In), there was a certain maturity to it that left them seeming a little unrealistic to some degree. Although that was probably on purpose (I imagine most children that live in train stations by themselves are slightly more mature than their peers), I had a hard time viewing them as regular children, and thus had trouble empathizing a little. Hugo has some moments that seem overly sentimental, which I feel is a little weird for a boy. Perhaps I'm being picky, but I should also admit that I have a low tolerance for sap (unless it's hilariously overdone. As in every Lifetime movie I've ever seen) and I have two extremely non-emotional little brothers who seem to foil Hugo.

Another qualm that I certainly have with the film is the creepy robot kid. In the days of such movies as Child's Play, I, Robot, and Surrogates, I was waiting for the damn thing to come alive and kill people for the entire movie. Also he keeps on staring at Hugo in, like, every scene. Dear Martin Scorsese: Why in God's name would you place a message from a poor boy's dead father in such a freakin' creepy "automaton"? Yeesh...

After a string of murders the children regretted ever fixing the damaged robot.

But besides Creepy Robot Child, the movie is actually quite a pleasure to watch. For those of you with a passion for film without much knowledge of how it came to be, I certainly hope that you will check this out and that it will pique your interest in learning the history of film (as I'm sure Sir Scorsese planned...sneaky man...).

Touche Scorsese, and well done.

Four outa five stars.

PS Sacha Baron Cohen is the funniest person in this movie. If for no other reason, see it to see his performance.

Also, here's the preview in case you need more persuasion to see how pretty it is.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tower Heist (aka Working Class People Rock)

Met up with Mom yesterday at the Cumberland Mall and decided that we needed more time to hang out with each other. So we did what we do best: we went to the movies. Apparently 2:00 PM is a very unpopular time to be screening films because the only things available were Breaking Dawn (couldn't bring ourselves to do it) and Tower Heist.


Now I wasn't too thrilled at first to be watching Tower Heist. THe movie was highly anticipated but after Thanksgiving I don't really recall hearing anything at all about it, and seeing Eddie Murphy made me a little skeptical (let's face it, after the disasters of Pluto Nash, Norbit, Imagine That, and Meet Dave, there has been little to redeem this poor man). But Tower Heist actually ended up being a pretty bearable movie, thanks to an awesome supporting cast and a plot that would interest people that have been perhaps screwed over by the recession (99%? Anyone?).

The plot revolves around Ben Stiller's character, Josh (he doesn't look like a Josh to me, but I digress..), who is the expert concierge of a high class apartment complex called The Tower. The man who owns The Tower, Arthur Shaw (played menacingly by Allan Alda), is pretty tight with Josh in the beginning and one gets the vibe that Josh kind of looks up to him as a father-type figure. But trouble strikes when we learn that Shaw is being investigated for fraud and that Josh invested all the staff's paychecks in his stock (or something...finanace isn't my thing. But basically all you have to know is that Josh screwed up by trusting this guy and everybody loses money cuz of him).

SO! Josh, feeling extremely guilty that these people don't have money because of him, decides to get back at Shaw and hence plans a Tower Heist (see what I did there?).

I'm pretty sure this is how they did it in Ocean's 11..

This film was actually kind of unexpectedly charming. The major plotters of the heist are adorably inexperienced. Matthew Broderick plays the hilariously bankrupt Wall Street banker, Mr. Fitzhugh, and I'd be lying if I said he wasn't my favorite character in the entire film. Additionally, Eddie Murphy, Casey Affleck, and Michael Pena made up an unbeatable team to match (and even overshadow) Stiller's charming underdog character.

In an interesting twist, the movie doesn't get caught up in gadgets and impeccable timing like other espionage movies. The film is obviously unrealistic, but is honest in that it never pretends that these guys are anything but working class heroes. Even Fitzhugh, who was an investment banker (or something else high up) is equal to the others in that he now has nothing. This film sort of realizes the problems of the recession, the issues with the wealthy, and the endless loop of unrecognized hard work and battles it with the camaraderie, love, and humor of the lower middle class.

I'm mildly surprised that this movie didn't do better actually. The ending isn't 100% happy, but if puts the working class in the position of martyr for the greater good, making honor more important than happiness (which is maybe hinting at an attitude that we should try). The only thing that bugged me about this film's sort of social agenda is the fact that these actors are top-grossing comedians who aren't technically in the 99%, so the material was therefore a little hard to swallow since you're kind of watching it and thinking "well, no offense, Ben Stiller, but I'm not buyin' it". So maybe I just answered my own question, haha, but check it out for yourself.

Your sack lunch does not fool us, Ben Stiller.

(Also, disclaimer: if you have a hard time watching people dangle from extremely high heights, make sure you cover your eyes)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Just as a side note...

I feel like I should acknowledge the fact that I failed my own challenge of watching 10 Thanksgiving movies. Sorry, kids. Guess it's hard to promote a holiday that's more based on food than most things.

Sorry, little guy.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


In the words of Kermit the Frog, "Yaaaayyy!!!" the Muppets are back!! Went to the theater last night with high expectations and I'll tell you what, guys, the critics are right about this one.

Best brothers ever.

The plot, written by Jason Segel himself, begins as the heartwarming tale of Gary (Segel) and the newest Muppet, Walter. Walter has been a huge Muppet fan his entire life and when Gary and his girlfriend, Mary (Amy Adams), are about to head out for LA for their tenth anniversary, they invite Walter along for a tour of the Muppet studios. However, when they arrive, much to their disappointment, the studio is in disarray. Walter leaves the tour to check out Kermit's old office and, while hiding, discovers a plot by an oil company to buy the rights to the Muppet studio and have it destroyed! The story then focuses on the three finding Kermit and trying to get a show together with the whole gang to try and raise money in order to keep the studio and the show going.

Well holy crap, guys. I have not seen a movie in a long time that manages to be upbeat without being sappy and light without being stupid. Well done, Jason Segel. The film manages to do what, up to this point in time, only Pixar seems to be able to do. The material is appropriate for children but includes jokes and characters adult enough for grownups to identify with as well. Even though it's two hours long, the show seems to be as short as any children's movie, keeping the audience engaged with a new slight conflict every 15 minutes or so and making them wonder if they'll end up getting the studio back!

Like a beacon in the night..

For any nostalgic Muppet fan, also, you have found your film. The movie's central plot revolves around bringing back the golden era of the Muppets, even though it pokes fun at itself by admitting that a lot of kids today are unfamiliar with them (speak for yourself, Selena Gomez, Muppet Christmas Carol is still one of my favorite movies ever.).

But even for non-fans, the plot is brightened by upbeat characters and catchy tunes (oh my God, "Man or Muppet" was my favorite thing in the world). And if nothing else, the celebrity cameos alone are enough to get you through til the end (look for Whoopi Goldberg, Sarah Silverman, Jack Black, Rashida Jones, Allan Arkin, Bill Cobbs, Ken Jeong, Jim Parsons, and a bunch more!).

It was one of those movies that had a sympathetic audience. When Kermit takes a minute to sing "The Rainbow Connection" everyone in the theater started singing along and seemed to love the Muppets' refound identity as much as I and my two equally nerdy friends did.


Check it out!

Five outa five stars bitches.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Puss in Boots: Not Bad, DreamWorks, Not Bad

So when I booked my flight in August to go see my lovely friend Emily in Los Angeles obviously I had no idea what her schedule would be. Bless her little med school-bound heart, she has two enormous tests on Monday and so we couldn't get sloshed and dance around like morons in a random bar for the weekend. Lady had to study. And understandably so (seriously, I had to ask her what organic chemistry was cuz i had no idea). So she leant me her fascinating Prius and I set out for downtown Claremont.

So what did I do there? I found a movie theater of course!


As maybe some of you have caught on at this point, I will watch almost anything (NOT Window Water Baby Moving. I don't care how much you pay me. I'm scarred for life from that horror.). The more intellectual fodder I like to save for watching with others simply because I enjoy the different perspective for the more complex themes. But going to see brainless rom coms, camp films, and kid's movies by myself? I'm totally always up for it! So despite the theater's really cool offerings (indie films galore!) me and myself opted for the new Shrek spinoff, Puss in Boots. Now I thoroughly enjoyed Shreks 1 and 2 but had missed Shrek the Third and other spinoffs (didn't they have a Halloween one?) so I wasn't really sure where the franchise had ended up. But I've got to say, I'm really glad I saw it.

I mean how could I resist that face?

The plot revolves around Puss reuniting with Humpty Alexander Dumpty and Dumpty's new partner Kitty Softpaws in a quest to steal magic beans from Jack and Jill and find the golden eggs of fairytale beanstalk fame. Puss is originally reluctant to join Dumpty and Kitty because of Dumpty's former betrayal of their friendship, a ploy that involved Puss unknowingly robbing the bank of their hometown, San Ricardo. But he reconsiders after Humpty Dumpty reassures him that the eggs will go to their hometown of San Ricardo. But Humpty Dumpty and Kitty might not be as trustworthy as they seem...The ensuing adventure is pretty well done and appropriate for all ages to boot.

Puss (Antonio Banderas) is his usual charismatic self and his new girl, Kitty (Salma Hayek), is pretty charismatic herself. Although some might argue that Humpty Dumpty was a little annoying, I feel like knowing that he was voiced by Zack Galifianakis suddenly made that ok.

Seriously, who trusts an egg in a matador suit?

The characters all blended together in a typical outlaw way (Typical boy interested in girl so he stays even though he hates the other guy even though the girl and the untrustworthy ex-friend are in cahoots. Formulaic.). Also, this film seemed to trim down the fairytale sidelines, giving the audience a better chance to get to know the characters as opposed to setting up multiple digs on classic folklore and nursery rhymes (although at this point that probably also has to do with the fact that they're running out of them). Cameos by Jack from the beanstalk tale and Little Boy Blue were my favorites.

The thing that I loved most about this film was the merge between the fairytale thing that we have seen in the earlier Shrek movies and the introduction of classic Western-style cinematography. There are quite a few scenes that recall classic westerns like The Wild Bunch, The Good the Bad and the Ugly, and even cheesier ones like Zorro. But this franchise never does anything without a little tongue in cheek and a lot of the genre is both honored and made fun of simultaneously. I enjoyed their usage of multi-perspective shots in the same frame, which is a very hokey kind of 1960's trick (circa The Thomas Crowne Affair original with Faye Dunaway, check it out!). But the whole aesthetic of the film was very fitting for the subject matter, and especially for the voice of Antonio Benderas. Good job DreamWorks!

4 outa of 5.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Anonymous, or Shakespeare's Not Really Shakespeare

So over here in California for the past week. Been couch surfing at my cousin's for the past couple of days and I've got tons of time to write new posts since she's at work til the afternoon. I know, I know, you're all waiting with bated breath. Well fear not, cuz I've got a new review for you. Unfortunately, I'm gonna have to break my Thanksgiving movie marathon for this one just in the name of staying current.

Last night we went and saw Anonymous, a film which I'd seen previews for but hadn't really had my eye out for in movie listings. I always feel a little dumb when it comes to movies that take place during Elizabeth I's time, and this one was no different. The English names are a bit repetitive, and after a while you had to remind yourself of which Cecil was which and who they were talking about when they referred to "William" (William Cecil? William Shakespeare? Will.I.Am?). After a while, though, you more or less understood what was going on.

So the movie begins almost exactly like Kenneth Branagh's Henry V, even to the point of having the same prologue (Derek Jacobi). The prologue introduces the subject matter in an anonymous playhouse and then the backdrop melts away to a realistic setting. The main theory surrounding the film is that William Shakespeare was not the actual author of his works. His close friend, Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto), is approached by the Earl of Oxford (played by Rhys Ifans pretty elegantly, and also known as Edward. Write that down.) to put on a play. Since Court doesn't approve of gentlemen writing plays or poetry, the Earl gives a number of plays to Jonson. When Jonson puts on the plays, the playwright is simply kept anonymous. One night the shows are such a big success that the audience begs for the playwright to show himself. So who volunteers? Illiterate actor and unpleasant fellow William Shakespeare.

But for the most part the film does not revolve around William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall), which is a good thing because he's really severely unlikeable. It revolves more around the life of Edward (Earl of Oxford, remember?). Having had a lifelong interest in writing and poetry, he decides to start sharing his plays anonymously in order to build English morale on the backdrop of Elizabeth's succession.

Who am I?

The plays are interspersed with big chunks of Edward's past as well. Young Edward (Jamie Campbell Bower) is shown marrying the daughter of William Cecil (David Thewlis) to keep a murder quiet, having an affair with the queen and impregnating her, and finding out his son is the Earl of Southampton.

When we get back to his future he is plotting with Essex to (re)win the queen's favor in order for him to get a leg-up in the succession and in Court.

So holy moly. Lot of stuff going on here. Not that conspiracy theories are ever simple, but it's even more confusing in an Elizabethan setting.

I've got to say, the movie dragged on quite a bit. They seem to get so wrapped up in the hypothetical politics more than the actual plays, which is a shame because I feel like their main audience was probably Shakespeare scholars. Also both my cousin and I were surprised with how overdramatic the acting seemed to be. I don't know about you guys, but Queen Elizabeth I in my mind has always been a pretty stoic, no-nonsense kind of queen (think Shakespeare in Love). Now I'm no history buff, but the Elizabeth we got in this film was like something out of a soap opera. She screams, she dances, she has sex, she's a wild card. And it's kind of uncomfortable to see her that way.

Another thing that was totally distracting, and I don't mean to hyperbolize, but almost every character in the film had a bizarre voice. Jamie Campbell Bower as a young poet? The creepy guy from Sweeney Todd that sings "I feeeeeel youuu, Joaaannnnnnaaaa"? I don't think so. Also I'm not alone in thinking that Ben Jonson kind of sounded like Hagrid and that Robert Cecil very closely resembled Gollum from The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I feeeeel youuuu, Eliiiiizabeeeeeth

Perhaps if the film had been a little less lengthy, one could better focus on the positive originality of it all. After all, the audience ends up sympathizing with Ben Jonson way more than they do the greedy Shakespeare, and really Edward is very beautifully played by Ifans. But there is so much plot clutter that at times they reach a little too far.

For example, I don't care how good of a poet you are, you can't think up verse in the middle of foreplay.


Not buyin' it.

3 outa 5 for some cool settings and such but bit of a letdown in terms of story.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Hope you like the blog makeover. Now it doesn't look like its written by a seventh grader anymore probably.

Dutch: The Almost Home Alone of Thanksgiving

This lesser-known John Hughes film is a pretty alright time. The plot revolves around Dutch (Ed O'Neill) going down South to pick up his girlfriend's son, Doyle, in hopes of striking up a bond with him on the road trip back home. However, Doyle (Ethan Embry) ends up being an absolute horror. Brought up obsessed by his father's world of high living and snobbery, he shuns everyone around him and detests Dutch. However, despite their differences they come together as the road's increasing hardships get them down.

I've got to admit, it's no wonder that the film isn't very well-known for a John Hughes movie. Similar to cringe-fests like Meet the Parents, this movie kind of leaves you tense. The two main characters absolutely foil each other. The kid is totally detestable as a friendless Scrooge-type who seems to prefer his dad's way of living (God knows why, he's raised by his mom) and has no tolerance for the working class. Dutch happens to be a bizarre cross between a kid and a no-nonsense adult. Their interactions swing dangerously between uncomfortable and borderline child/adult abuse. Unlike the funny torture scenes of Home Alone, this film seems to get real-life dangerous in a lot of ways including fireworks gone awry, an almost car accident, and bebe guns being shot at kids. Even when they do reconcile their differences at the end (SPOILER ALERT: Just kidding, it's a John Hughes movie, you know it's gonna end happily) you kind of think "WELL IT'S ABOUT TIME!"

The movie also seems to have its own agenda in the name of Thanksgiving. In fact, Dutch and Doyle get into more than one socio-economic comparison/debate. The movie is very obviously trying to cast a favorable eye on the lower middle class, which is awesome considering the themes of Thanksgiving, and really they do it pretty well thematically as well. While they don't want to make a blanket statement about the lower class (check out the scene when they get a ride from some sympathetic prostitutes), there are quite a few statements about the value of money against the value of family and friends. Dutch, it turns out, is pretty wealthy, but has no problem spending the night in a homeless shelter with Doyle. Not bad messages for a season where you're supposed to be thinking of those less fortunate.

It's not a bad film but I would've liked to have seen what John Hughes himself would've done with it (Hughes didn't direct it, but only wrote and produced it). The acting is alright, the kid is detestable and albeit that Ed O'Neill seems a bit too Married With Children he isn't bad either (although I wouldn't have minded Robin Williams or someone a bit more whacky to give the role a try). While the film is more of a road movie than anything else, it brings the principles of Thanksgiving through in the end (i.e. love, gratefulness, compassion, etc.). Not a bad alternative to less memorable Christmas movies.

In the Name of Thanksgiving...

Thanksgiving. We all celebrate it every year.

And by "we all" I mean Americans. No offense, rest of the world, but you're not applicable here.

And every year it seems to get semi-skipped over because of big, more-marketable holidays like Christmas. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm all about Christmas, but I'm getting kinda tired of this holiday fast-forward thing that our economy seems to jump on in order to sell more decorations for whatever holiday may be two months away. So after having this existential meltdown about what the hell has happened to Thanksgiving, and how it has merely become a gigantic Christmas Eve, I started thinking about the reflection of that kind of thinking in movies. Now, I don't know about you all, but I was hard-pressed to think of even five Thanksgiving movies that I have ever seen. So, I set out on a Google-quest.

After sifting through about seven random websites listing awesome Thanksgiving movies, I found ten movies worth looking over. Some I had seen before and some I hadn't, but all of them had SOMETHING to do with Thanksgiving. So far, I have:

ThanksKilling (we all know how that turned out...)

Grumpy Old Men

Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

Hannah and Her Sisters

Pieces of April

An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving

Desperate Crossing: Story of the Mayflower

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles


Home for the Holidays

So get ready for some coming attractions cuz I'm going to try and watch all of these in the approximate week before Thanksgiving. Here goes nothin'!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

ThanksKilling!: A Thanksgiving Acid Trip

Has anyone reading this (if anyone is reading this) ever seen The Room? I never have, but from what I've heard it is the most bizarre movie that has ever been made. Directed, written, and produced by the same whacko, the movie was a huge flop. Caught somewhere between camp, melodrama, and just plain awful, the movie has become a cult hit among a random public of fans (no doubt hipsters, but I'll try not to discriminate...). Check out a clip from it here:

ThanksKilling is the The Room of any holiday film I have ever seen.

Really weird. I mean like…really weird. Set during the Thanksgiving break of a group of teenagers (I would like to see, for once, a horror movie starring the elderly. But anyway...), the film is about five teenagers being stalked by a homicidal turkey.

Yes. That is the actual plot.

Legend has it that an evil Native American medicine man got pissed off at the pilgrims and "necromanced" [sic] a turkey to kill all the white people that he wants. But why has no one ever heard of this demonic turkey? Oh, it only comes out every 503 years. Of course. But how do they figure out how to destroy this half-dead zombie mutant turkey!? One of the characters suddenly remembers that her father keeps a lot of books in his garage, and--lo and behold!--there they find the 300 year-old book on how to kill the ThanksKilling turkey.

So, how to explain this film...When it began I was expecting the regular campy B movie trying to be halfway scary but making fun of itself. Y'know, something in the line of Bride of Chucky or something similarly weird. What I got was (I sincerely hope this was their intention) a movie that basically was just making fun of itself. While most other campy B horror movies have some semblance of actually trying to be scary (at least in my experience), ThanksKilling had absolutely no scary moments and is probably only in the horror-ish category because of its gruesome death scenes. In fact, almost everything about this movie was bizarre. The acting was awful. Like, actually awful, not intentionally awful. The love interests make no sense and, not to be a stickler, but the lead actress had some truly horrible zits on her face and no attempts seem to have been made by the lighting crew to make that even a little less obvious. Honestly, the only reason why I stuck this movie out was because of the weirdly hilarious turkey. In fact, not unlike America's favorite demonic doll, Chucky, this turkey had a really gruff and profane voice that was oddly humorous, and spewed out quite a number of stupid one-liners.

"Gobble gobble, motherfucker!"


Friday, October 28, 2011

Top Ten Foreign Horror Movies

Halloween TV listings gettin’ ya down? It’s such a shame, but I feel like the networks are slacking a little bit this year. Obviously Halloween is always the best time for watching scary movies. It’s easy to get extra scared seeing the fog onscreen match the fog outside your home or hearing the wind(?) rattle your windows, and the scary decorations everywhere certainly don’t help. In fact, perhaps one of the reasons that horror films are so terrifying in the first place is the fact that the audience realizes the monster/murderer/zombie/(insert foe here) is a totally unknown quantity. Most people have never been in contact with an alien from outer space, a serial killer, or a walking mummy, making them that much more unpredictable and menacing. Even the settings of scary movies can get to you. The isolation of a corn field or an abandoned forest is enough to make you go crazy wondering where the heck that muderer went.

But what about reeeaallly foreign settings? Like Romania? Or Japan? Or France? For some reason, seeing a Romanian teenage girl calling for her mother, who has just disappeared into the woods, is far more terrifying than seeing an American do the same. The language barrier kind of makes you think “Oh CRAP, they have those over THERE too!?”

So taking advantage of my Netflix and the high availablity of foreign films these days, I set out looking for some truly terrifying foreign horror films. Here’s my top ten if the Halloween franchise is getting you down:

10. HIDDEN (translated from CACHE) (2005) French

Tensions rise between wife and hubby
In this film, a married couple is haunted by the past of the husband. This movie runs on pure suspense, as it is never truly clear who is surveilling them. They are left a series of video tapes of their house, and then start receiving post cards with subliminal messages on them. I’m not going to give anything away, but ye be warned, don’t watch if you are impatient.

9. HAIR EXTENSIONS (translated from EXTE) (2005) Japanese

Interesting to see Asian horror camp. This film is about a man who, after discovering a cadaver whose hair still grows, sells it to a salon for use as hair extensions. Well, little do they know that the hair is cursed because the girl was brutally murdered so people start dropping like flies. Interesting film, but try to watch it with a sense of humor, it’s a bit odd. The ending is kind of hilarious but the movie itself is pretty creepy, and the use of hair in murders is gross in a new and inventive way.

8. DUMPLINGS (translated from GAAU-JI) (2004) Chinese/Hong Kong

I wouldn't eat that if I were you...
Wow, this film is not for the squeamish. Mrs. Lee, a has-been television star, is trying to save her marriage by looking younger and so seeks the help of Aunt Mei and her “special dumplings”. What makes them special you ask? Oh, y’know, she fills them with baby fetuses. As Mrs. Lee becomes greedier and greedier, she goes to higher and higher extremes to find what she needs. Not so much scary as deeply creepy and disturbing. Stay away from Chinese food when watching this one.

7. SHEITAN (2006) French

Is it creepier cuz they're French? It's highly possible.
You might recognize Vincent Cassel from OCEAN’S 12 or maybe more recently from BLACK SWAN, but the dude is straight-up 100% French, and started his career off there with LA HAINE (Translates to HATE. very good film. Highly recommend.). In this film, a group of teenagers (typical) have a really late night at a club in Paris and decide to follow some girl home to her house in the countryside. Little do they know that she’s luring them into a den of Satan-worshippers. Bizarre movie with a lot of scares that make you want to take your chances in the ghettos of the nearest city rather than visit the nearest farm.

6. THE RED SHOES (translated from BUNHONGSIN) (2005) South Korean

My feet are killing me!....No but really...
We all know from THE GRUDGE how deeply Asian cultures are rooted in the belief that trauma causes hauntings. Whether it’s a house like in THE GRUDGE or a pair of cursed shoes like in this film, for some reason the ghosts are always really pissed off. Sun-jae has just discovered her husband cheating on her and decides to live alone with her daughter until she can get back on her feet (haha, puns..). Then one day, while riding the subway, she discovers a pair of “red” shoes (I only use quotations because in the film they are blatantly pink, I don’t know why they used that title..). The shoes possess her and her little girl to the point where they fight over them like dogs, and Sun-jae starts acting very differently from who she was before. But the shoes never seem content with letting someone wear them for too long.. An interesting story with an interesting twist at the end and a lot of scary long-hair-in-the-face ghosts.

5. CINDERELLA (2006) South Korean

Sometimes plastic surgery is not the answer
South Korean film is one of my personal favorites (if you get the chance, check out JOINT SECURITY AREA and PEPPERMINT CANDY) but in this film they really creep it up. Yoon-hee is a successful plastic surgeon, and very rich. Her daughter, Hyeon-su, seems like a likeable girl and all of her friends seem to take advantage of the fact that her mother is a plastic surgeon. Everything seems great until Hyeon-su starts being haunted by a ghost that claims it wants its face back. A commentary on the dangers of self-image and the price of beauty, this movie has a crazy ending and the terrifyingly classic Asian ghosts keeping its audience on the edge of their seats.

4. THE DESCENT (2005) UK

American? No. Covered in blood? Very.
Okay, okay, don’t come at me with torches and pitchforks, but this film is just foreign enough to be on this list. In fact, being filmed in the United Kingdom, the cast only really has one American actress and the others seem to have been born in a plethora of different countries (you’ll notice immediately that none of them have the same accent). However, justification aside, this movie is both psychological and scary. A year after the deaths of her husband and child, Sarah decides to go on a spelunking trip with her friends in Pennsylvania (not actually filmed in PA, but whatevs). But two girls in the party have mislead the group and the caves that they are exploring have never been charted before. Before they know it they have entered territory as uninvited guests. Lots of jumpy shots and great effects. Don’t watch if you’re squeamish about blood!

3. THE ORPHANAGE (translated from EL ORFONATO) (2007) Spanish

Would not want to be haunted by this kid...
Okay, I don’t know where Spanish directors get their material from, but they are seriously doing something right. In this film, a small family of three moves to an old orphanage where the mother used to live as a child hoping to turn it into a home for children with special needs. But as soon as they move in, odd things start to occur. Their child, Simon, has been making friends with children he claims are in the house and they like to play games with him. But on the day of the opening Simon goes missing, and his mother is left hysterically searching for him. Did the children in the house take him? Are there children in the house? The acting by Belen Rueda is done incredibly well as Laura, a terrified but determined woman trying to find her son, and the ambiance of the creepy orphanage is enough to freak you out for weeks.

2. ILS (translated from THEM) (2006) French

Ain't no hiding from these guys
This movie had me freaking out from the first five minutes in and it maintains that mood throughout its entirety. A French teacher and her boyfriend are terrorized (emphasis on the word TERROR) in and around their home in Romania. Their attackers seem to have no other motif than to simply mess with them. Wait ’til you see who the attackers are. No breaks from suspense in this one, nail-biters warned: you will have nothing but stubs left.

1. [REC] (2007) Spanish

I wouldn't stand so close to him if I were you...
Once again, those crazy Spaniards have done it right. A cinema-verite look at a young news crew doing a story on fire houses when all of a sudden they ride with the fire trucks to a site that they’ll wish they’d never have visited in the first place. As they learn the apartment complex they received a call from is falling under quarantine, everyone is stuck in a building in which the residents are turning into zombies. The entire movie keeps you on your toes wondering who will be the next to turn and where the hell the reporter and her cameraman will go. Lots of moments that will make you jump half a foot in your seat and extremely convincing acting done by the entire cast. I dare you to watch it with the lights off.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Like, Totally Bitchin': Nostalgia Movies and Why They Do and Don't Work

Nostalgia is starting to become a huge part of our culture these days and it looks as though that whole "good ole days" bug is starting to leak into our movies as well. After watching Take Me Home Tonight and actually really liking the two main characters, I couldn't really figure out why I couldn't get into the story. Then I realized that it is almost impossible to make a rom com set in the 80's unless it is either: A. Making fun of itself or B. Actually extremely serious.

Unfortunately for the target audiences of the majority of these 80's nostalgia movies, a lot of the material is pretty foreign, unless you happened to watch a lot of I Love the 80's on VH1 back when that was a thing (seriously, after that show, I found The Wedding Singer 50% funnier). Additionally, the 80's, to people that didn't experience them, seem kind of...well...funny. Obnoxious colors, big hair, unflattering mom-waisted jeans and the like are so foreign today that they seem ridiculous. Why do you think 80's parties are so big?

This is where Take Me Home Tonight got it wrong.

Trying to be something along the lines of a lighter Dazed and Confused and a retro Can't Hardly Wait, the movie failed on both areas. Instead of the fun-loving stoners of the 70's or 90's, Take Me Home Tonight featured cocaine as its recreational drug of choice.

Word to the wise: people don't associate coke with fun-loving, they associate it with crazy.

The comic relief of the movie crashed hard amidst physical comedy based around his first use of cocaine. Not only uncomfortable to see a guy look like a moron because he thinks he's on top of the world but throughout the majority of the movie I was waiting for him to form an addiction. Not the fun stuff you want to be fixated on during a romantic comedy.

The other major problem seems to be using actors that were obviously alive during the 80's, even if they were only teenagers. Why did they use 30-year-olds to play high school kids when they were probably in high school (or at least middle school) during the actual 80s? All Hollywood's usual nonsense aside, that was weird.

Despite Take Me Home Tonight's obvious mistakes in its efforts, I will say that there is at least one movie that gets the formula right. If you're going to do the full 80's movie, you have to go balls to the wall.

The Wedding Singer. Filled to the brim with pop culture references, this movie knows how to poke fun at the 80's without losing the integrity of the entire film. Even though everything is realistic-yet-over-the-top, it has enough realism to keep the audience engaged and enough flamboyance to keep the audience entertained.

There are also a good number of movies, though, that have strong references to the 80's without going the full monty, as it were.

Thirteen Going on Thirty is a classic when it comes to 80's references, especially since its from a kid's view. Done in the style of Big but with an added time warp bonus, Thirteen Going on Thirty is a nostalgic 80's movie that ties in the past with the present, which is very interesting. Jenna (Jennifer Garner) thinks of the 80's as cool, bringing back everyone else's memories of what cool was when they were 13 years old. However, this movie never really takes a full leap into the era without coming back directly afterwards and making sure things end in the present.

Hot Tub Time Machine is another recent film that just couldn't go all the way into the 80's but is still hilarious. Despite the main characters retaining their adult facades for each others (and the audience's) sakes, they relive their pasts during a ski trip in the 80's through a magical hot tub. Lots of hilarious over-the-top 80's fashions and a nod towards self ridicule.

But what about option B? The serious 80's movie?

Well, I could only really come up with the cult classic Donnie Darko, whose plot reminds me of psychedelic songs from the late 60's. One wonders why they set it in the 80's? Oh well, still very well done in the style of a period piece and not necessarily a farce.

Unfortunately, I deem it nearly impossible to have a good-humored movie set completely in the 80's unless it has some kind of flash forward where people can be like "Oh my! Did I really wear those leggings? I had crimped hair? What was I thinking!?" Without this kind of a flashback there is really only one of two routes that will do successfully, as film history seems to have proven: either to make fun of the era and go overboard or to dedicate fully to honoring the era and making it a drama. Either way is totally bitchin'.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

More Delightful Predictable Fluff from Hollywood (Kinda)

Just went to see What's Your Number last night with my mom and though Anna Faris's work is usually a cheap laugh for me (see The House Bunny and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs) I actually really enjoyed the movie.

The plot revolves around Ally Darling (Faris) reading a magazine article that states that women who have over 20 lovers never get married. Panicked at the fact that she's already had 20, Ally tries to remedy her problem by going back to every guy she's ever slept with and trying to patch things up. Helping her find these guys is her neighbor Colin (Chris Evans), who is constantly trying to find a way to escape his seemingly endless one-night-stands by hiding out in Ally's apartment. All of this takes place against the backdrop of Ally's sister's wedding.

Hilarity then ensues. Ally bumps into ex after ex with something going slightly wrong with every next person she meets up with. The fat slob who is now a successful engaged doctor, the Brit who has found her out (definitely the hardest I've laughed in a WHILE, DON'T MISS THAT SCENE!), the OB-GYN who only recognizes her lady parts, and a handful of others. Serious laughs, and Faris is great as a girl who is so self aware. It's hard to find a film with that kind of character un-self-consciousness, especially when it's a girl in a romantic comedy.

Obviously this film is not about to win an Oscar, but there was a heart to it that was hard to ignore. Ally tries so hard to make it work with so many gross and incompatible guys and I feel like that's something that's not often brought up in movies, especially when you're dealing with such a hot lead actress. I mean, granted, she ends up with a really hot guy at the end but he's also kind of what society might brand as a loser: jobless, goal-less, and kind of a slut throughout the beginning of the movie.

But that's what made this movie kind of refreshing. It's so easy for films to go overboard with romance and heartache (like in 27 Dresses, another film based around a sister's wedding) that it was nice to see one that gave the characters a chance to be weird. Never before has the prospect of watching Mexican wrestling all day with margaritas and huevos rancheros seemed so romantic! I really liked the sloppy messy characters in this "fluffy" movie, who made me feel like "hey, sometimes Prince Charming slugs back beers and plays the guitar naked" and that not everything has to be covered in rose petals.

A very dumb, but fun movie.

probably 2 outa 5 for most people but a 3 outa 5 for me!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Pinocchio's Revenge: Thank God for Camp

Seriously who doesn't enjoy an awesome campy movie every now and then? Ashamedly I'm more into campy movies than I'd like to admit. I would have to say that about 1/4 of my streamed movies on Netflix have been Mystery Science Theater 3000s. Totally not normal, totally aware.

So I was bored out of my mind last night seeing as how I'm unemployed now and all and I found this gem that had been popping up on my recommendations for a while: Pinochhio's Revenge.

Yeah. It's exactly what you're thinking. Mostly.

So (wow I'm having a really hard time writing this without laughing) in the movie, Gotto is the carpenter that made Pinocchio. Gotto is also a convicted serial killer who is allegedly crazy and gets a death sentence about ten minutes into the movie. Enter mom, whose name I can't remember, and her child, some little bratty girl with curled hair and emotional problems from her parents' recent divorce (surprise, surprise). Mom also has a boyfriend who is way too good to be true and a nanny who is Italian and the film's token hot chick.

The movie is bizarre (as if you couldn't decipher that from all I've said so far). Surprisingly I was more scared by the possessed toy than I thought I'd be, but I think that that's just an imbedded childhood fear of being killed by malicious toys that I didn't love enough (back off ok? I took the wrong lesson away from Toy Story). But nevertheless the film was exactly as deliciously lackluster as I dreamed.

I mean, really, you could check off their plot on a scary movie requirements list:
- Mom is a working single parent who has an obviously disturbed child, but somehow overlooks this herself (see The Ring, Dark Water, Hide and Seek, Carrie, etc)
- Mom has a useless significant other who gets killed by either killer or obviously disturbed child (see The Ring, Hide and Seek, The Shining, Pet Sematary, etc)
- Gratuitous nudity and sex scenes (see all of the Halloweens, and basically any other slasher film ever made)
- Parent doesn't believe their child's claims that there is a murderer somewhere (see Amityville Horror, Child's Play, Darkness Falls, etc)
- Parent either dies or lives with some kind of horrible knowledge that their child was right and they were stupid (all of the films that I just listed, basically)

Check, check, check, check. Bingo! We have a campy horror flick. Pinocchio's Revenge does have a bit of an interesting plot twist at the end though, if you watch it (which I doubt) hang in until the end because I was trying to figure out how Pinocchio got out of the trunk at the end.

Final Analysis: Very terrible in a delightful way. Unless you're afraid of possessed dolls.

3 outa 5

So this may be a bit of a copout...

But since I'm already writing reviews for and they are about current movies, I'm just gonna copy and post them interchangeably onto both sites. So...thats all.

The Help needs help

So I finally went and saw The Help the other day after about a month of searching for the right time to fit into my schedule and I’ve got to say, I was a little disappointed.

The plot of the film revolves around two black maids, Aibileen (Viola Davis) and Minny (Octavia Spencer) who both work for white families, and a white girl named Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone). In the beginning, Skeeter has just graduated from college and is trying to become a writer but receives a decline letter from a publishing company in New York. However, the letter comes with an upside that if Skeeter can swing it, she should just start writing about things that bother her. Well guess what she decides to write about?

If your guess was the black maids then you were correct.

She ends up setting up interviews with Aibileen, who works for Skeeter’s best friend Elizabeth (Ahna O’Reilly), trying to see what her life is actually like with this job. Aibileen then recruits her best friend, sass-mouth Minny, to join in with her. Aibileen and Minny’s side of the story really drives the interesting part of the plot, showing the audience all the nonsense that they have to put up with like taking blame (or not!) for things they didn’t do, raising white babies, and really ugly stuff like the penalties of dissatisfying particularly cruel white women.

Basically my problem with this movie had nothing to do with the three main characters, who were all very interesting in their own ways. Skeeter is an open-minded postgraduate trying to find out why color matters so much, why her childhood maid (who was really more like her mother) disappeared, what she’s going to do about her mother having cancer, and what the heck she’s going to do with her life. Aibileen is a soft-hearted woman getting over the loss of her 24-year-old son, trying to raise a child for another woman, and becoming a writer through Skeeter’s book. Minny is probably the most hilarious as the strong-willed maid who doesn’t take shit from anybody (though she can sure dish it out, pun intended).

However, this movie has a problem that no one seems to be able to really solve which is: how the hell can you dare to make a melodrama about such a horrific time period? There seems to be the same problem in The Secret Life of Bees. It’s almost like a reverse Gone With the Wind, in which the main plot is driven by a white person who is sympathetic to the black situation. And, granted, The Help at least has Aibileen as a narrator to equal things out a bit, but seems to fall into the same mold. The story is pretty good but the minor characters become caricatures in that kind of a backdrop. Therefore there are the three realistic characters but there are also The Sadistic White Bitch, Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard); The Simple-Hearted Hick, Celia (Jessica Chastain); and the Bad Mother, Elizabeth.

There aren’t really very many black characters to even out the obnoxious white ones, though they obviously tried to. You might spot the soda jerk as Lafayette from HBO’s series True Blood and the one minor maid Yule Mae is impressionable but that is about it.

There also seems to be a serious lack of the actual danger surrounding these women and their project. Although the book makes a point to highlight what would happen to them if they were caught, the movie settles with one major hate crime to cover it all. But it kind of doesn’t do the time period justice. This is a time when people were still being lynched, when interracial marriage was illegal, when literally anything a black person did wrong was punishable by creative forms of torture. Yet Skeeter flits in and out of Aibileen’s house with nothing but a scarf on her head assuming no one will bat an eyelash.

All in all, not bad, but decidedly unrealistic, which I guess is what it had to be in order to be a heart-warming tale instead of a terrifying documentary.

3 outa 5 stars.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Contagion in one word: "Ewww"

Literally just got back from seeing Contagion and, wow, if there are two things on my mind right now they are "Lysol" and "gun". But, to be fair, obviously this was designed to be a "what-if?" kind of movie and it certainly served its purpose well. Yikes!

The film is a theoretical look at what would happen today if there were and outbreak of a new virus, much like the Spanish Influenza Epidemic of the early 20th century. The result that they confront their audience with is frighteningly realistic.

The beginning character, Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow), is shown talking on her cell phone to an unidentified man in the beginning shot and doesn't look very well. Over the next two days she goes from looking like she has a bad cold to dying, leaving her husband (Matt Damon) in confusion and with a terrified phone call from the babysitter, learning that his son has now suffered from the illness as well.

It then goes on to form a spiderweb sort of plot in which one subplot revolves around Matt Damon and his surviving daughter trying to live in a condemned neighborhood; another in which scientists are looking for a cure; another in which the government has to decide what to do with the people; another in which Jude Law blogs about possible cures; another in which a French woman is held hostage for a village vaccination; and a few others. It really looks at this issue from every angle, from the defenseless public to the frantic government who can't seem to get the situation under control.

The epidemic occurring in the movie appears to be like a modern-day Black Death. The virus has an incubation period of about two or three days, showing symptoms such as coughing and lung congestion, and after that the body goes into seizures after which death is imminent. Bodies are not allowed to be buried, being a liability for the gravediggers, and funerals are out of the question. Bodies are put into bags, sealing off the disease, and put into mass graves which are dug and covered by people in full bodied protective suits. Cities are quarantined, buildings are broken into, people are killed, taken hostage and robbed.

Even further than the obvious human nature questions, though, Contagion goes on to question many other facets of the social impact of an epidemic with attention to what the internet is capable of, what people are capable of doing in order to preserve themselves, and the complicated question of vaccines. In short: don't see this movie if you're depressed. While every question is intelligently answered and examined, the background for the film is one of terror. Where did the virus come from? Who is immune? What about transportation? Quarantines? Vaccinations? Food? Protection? Healthcare? The panic that befalls the general public is portrayed with what seems like a sickening accuracy.

Despite the desperate nature of the movie, though, I would still recommend it. Steven Soderburgh does wonders with his attention to human emotion, durability, and fear. Albeit a bit of a downer, there are glimpses into the good that men can do as well as the bad. Where there are lootings and rushes for any possible food, there is also human love and perseverance. Soderburgh creates a horrifying yet comforting portrayal of a horrible situation.

In terms of acting quality and the aesthetic of the film, going a bit outside the realm of analysis (as usual), I was shocked at how many stars I saw in this film. Kate Winslet, Lawrence Fishburne, Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Jude Law (with REALLY bad teeth, woah!), Marion Cotillard, Demetri Martin, Jennifer Ehle, and a LOT of others. In addition, the cinematography seems to be very somber but realistic. The camera never stays still for very long, giving an element of unease to the film as a whole. Overall very beautiful, very scary movie.

Guess I'll stop Lysoling this keyboard now.

4 outa 5 stars.

Monday, September 12, 2011

another vampire movie?

So a few weeks ago, my mother and I had a hankering for a movie so we basically went with whatever was playing at 7 (Mom has a rule about seeing movies past 10). The film we ended up seeing was Fright Night 3D. Now, unfortunately, I still can't really understand the logic behind making everything 3D. Though it seems to be used as a market ploy to attract audiences, the only films that seem to get away with it are either really badass movies like Harry Potter or something really silly like whatever latest Disney 3D movie came out (Cars 2? no?). Long story short, I'm not a big fan of the 3D thing.

Now at first I was hesitant to open myself up to this film because I thought it would be like Twilight/Blood and Chocolate/True Blood/The Vampire Diaries/(insert vampire movie here). However, I was pleasantly surprised with Fright Night. Not so much because of the 3D but more because of how much I didn't really mind watching it in3D. In fact, it kind of recalls campier 3D movies of the 80s but does it one better.

The basic plot of the films consists of what happens after Charley Brewster, a native of Los Vegas, discovers that his neighbor, Jerry, is a vampire.

Interestingly, instead of the audience pulling out their hair for an hour and a half while the protagonist tries to find a way to convince the people around him that there's a monster who lives next door, this film has everyone believe him from the get-go. This made the experience more like rooting for a sport team than getting pissed off at how stupid everyone is. The audience was really excited for him to conquer the vampire (well, at least me and my mom were, we were the only ones in the theater...not an uncommon occurence...).

But even more than cheerleading for the good guys against the bad guys, this movie relates more to a teenage audience than even Twilight does. Or, probably more accurately, if Twilight applies to girls, Fright Night would apply more to boys. It's less about emotions and more about growing up. The main subplot of the film is basically Charley learning how to be an adult and still maintain his true personality. In the beginning he shrugs off his old nerdy friends for guys that are friends with his girlfriend, only to realize later that they're total assholes. Only later does he find out that his girlfriend already likes him for who he was before. Not only in terms of message, but also in terms of entertainment value, Fright Night blows Twilight out of the water. Probably one of the funniest characters in this film, showman turned vampire-hunter Peter Vincent (David Tennant) carries the majority of the laughs although Ed (Super Bad actor Christopher Mintz-Plasse) has quite a few moments himself.

On another level, though, this movie does get pretty creepy. Even more in tune with a boy audience, Fright Night strives to wipe away the angelic view of vampires that the latest trends seem to be pushing. Far from being glamorous (although, let's all admit, Colin Farrell is far from hard on the eyes) the vampires look like demons when they reveal themselves. When Jerry's true self is revealed in one of the final scenes, his face looks more like an demon's than a human's, with rows of teeth and blind rage.

All analysis aside, though, the show is pretty entertaining. Comic relief follows those intense moments of quiet that happen so often in scary movies and Yelchin is believable as a nerd-turned-popular kid. Also nice to see Farrell acting in a part that's so intense. He's terrifying as the creepy vampire neighbor and then even more so when he is on a rampage later in the film.

Four outa five.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

You Again: Good Ole Fashioned Fluff

So recently I've found myself upping my usual intake of what I like to call "fluffy" movies, or rather, any movie with bad acting, a weak plot, cheesy music, and bad scripting (see Revenge of the Bridesmaids, Heartbreakers, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, etc). Now don't ask me why, but for some reason these movies always seem to put me in a better mood. Maybe it's the vapid dialogue, the gender stereotypes, the shallow romance plots, or maybe just the fact that the studios obviously knew that these films were definitely not going to be up for Oscars (something un-pretentious about it). I don't know. But one of these fluffy movies flew into my Netflix recommendations a few days ago and I saw myself utterly delighted with it.

Maybe you don't recall seeing the previews for the movie You Again starring Kristen Bell and newcomer Odette Annable. In case you don't recall the previews, the plot is basically a cross between 27 Dresses and Never Been Kissed. Marni (Bell) was a loser in high school who is now a big successful communications agent person. About 20 minutes into the movie she finds out that her high school tormentor JJ (Annable) is about to marry her brother, with whom she's very close (and who is inexplicably and unbelievably happy for the entire movie). To add to the drama between Marni and Joanna (JJ), there is added tension introduced between Marni's mother, Gail (Jamie Lee Curtis), and her high school best friend, Ramona (Sigourney Weaver).

Predictably all hell breaks loose.

But there is a heart to this movie that makes it cute, and maybe it's in the performances of the actors. As always, it's nice to see actors enjoying what they do without taking it too seriously, but in this film I feel like everyone was so relaxed that a bit of their true personalities seems to shine through. I say this with emphasis for Weaver and Curtis, who are absolutely hilarious as the two best friends turned "frennemies". Another great performance was by Bell, who is believable as the tormented teenager and also as the desperate sister.

All this being said, I wouldn't watch this movie expecting to nominate it for the next award or anything. The acting by lesser characters such as Marni's brother and even the evil Joanna are a bit vom-tacular. Every scene in which they are in love with each other makes you immediately sympathetic to Marni. But even if you don't watch it for the plot, watch it for the raucous cameos by Kristin Chenowith as the wedding planner and Betty White as the grandmother (look for the faceoff between her and Cloris Leachman!).

all in all, 3 outa 5.

another POC movie riddled with plot holes...

What the heck Disney? You couldn’t get it right the third sequel in? Come on now. Though I have to admit my expectations weren’t very high after the travesties that were Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and 3, I had a little hope for Stranger Tides. But alas! It’s like hoping for redemption from M. Night Shyamalan (who, by the way, I’m also still secretly pulling for). Stranger Tides left me feeling about as bewildered as I had after seeing 20 Jack Sparrows on that ship in the middle of that white thing in number 2 (or was it 3…).

For one thing, this movie (like the others) has gone waaaay over-the-top in terms of inexplicable mystical realism. While in the first film, the characters were shocked and amazed to find the crew of the Black Pearl able to turn into skeletons at the full moon, such phenomena in the fourth installment barely bat an eyelash and the lack of explanation for these strange things left me extremely confused. Among such unexplained elements were a fortune-telling zombie, Blackbeard the pirate controlling his ship by magic hand flutters, actual ships held in bottles, and vampire-mermaids to name a few.

But even besides the fantastic bits the plot was as riddled with holes as a block of swiss cheese. We see Angelica as the newly discovered daughter of Blackbeard but we are never told how they know for sure; they are on a quest for the fountain of youth but we are never really told why; they seem to add a lot of elements of religion only to completely drop them; and the most pressing, WHAT HAPPENED TO THE MISSIONARY AND THE MERMAID?!? Perhaps the others can be overlooked but I was pissed off leaving the theater simply because the fine directors and script writers at Disney couldn’t find a simple ending to the romance between the missionary and his sympathetic mermaid? Basically as it ends and he is slashed at the stomach telling her what a great person she is, she says “I can save you!”, takes him, dives under the water with him and then…THEY CUT TO ANOTHER SCENE. And really, this trivial plot point had barely been necessary to the entire story. The missionary was a totally expendable character and the mermaid, while unfortunately treated, didn’t really have much to do with the central plot either. In fact there seemed to be a lot of strange things added into the plot for pure whimsy: the bit with Jack and Barbosa in the treasure-filled tree-ship, Gibbs just…as a character, Jack leaving Angelica deserted on an island, Keith Richards again…as a character in general, and even the Spanish Armada (what the heck were they doing in there and why didn’t they speak to Angelica in Spanish).

Perhaps the one redeeming factor for the movie was the fact that it still had the same awesome characters (probably the main reason people keep returning to see these films). Johnny Depp as CAPTAIN Jack Sparrow was, as always, very hilarious and Barbosa marauding as a naval officer was hilarious. Even Gibbs, though I couldn’t find a purpose for which he would be in the film, was a comfort to see on the screen. Even the new characters weren’t bad. I enjoyed Penelope Cruz as Angelica (though I highly doubt that her character would allow herself to be left on an island alone) and even Blackbeard had some interesting spunk (I liked how they set his beard smoking at one point, which was something that he actually DID to intimidate his foes). Also the painstaking details to these characters and to the movie as a whole rendered the film watchable. With really dirty characters and impressive sets I think that this movie would be worth seeing only if you are literally in love with Johnny Depp or if you are a big fan of the franchise and don’t pay attention to plot.

three stars outa five.