Monday, February 22, 2010

The Hurt Locker (A World of Pain)

The Hurt Locker - (3 1/2 Stars)

Disarming a bomb probably ranks among the most stressful things that someone can do. As the saying goes, it’s a dangerous job, but someone has to do it. The Hurt Locker follows an EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) team during the Iraq war as they are called in to evaluate and disarm various threats.  This team of three not only has to deal with the ever present realization that each day could be their last, but they also have to learn to work as a unit and trust each other.

The Hurt Locker is shot using a variety of cameras that give it a more personal feel than your typical big budget war movie .Combine this with lesser known actors and a non-traditional narrative structure and you have a gritty, realistic, documentary style thriller. It is this realism, along with moments of chair-wrenching suspense, that makes Hurt Locker stand out.  If you are looking for a more ‘Hollywood’ style of war movie, this is not it. However, if you are looking for a more realistic, gritty representation, the Hurt Locker delivers. (Netflix)

(130 Minutes - Rated R for War Violence and language - 2008)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Paranormal Activity (Who You Gonna Call?)

Are you troubled by strange noises in the middle of the night? Do you experience feelings of dread in your bedroom or attic? Have you or your family ever seen a spook, spectre, or ghost? Then get out your video camera and start recording. At least, that's the solution our characters in Paranormal Activity come up with when faced with a supernatural threat.

The movie centers on Katie and Micah, a couple who experience...paranormal activities. In an effort to determine the source of the disturbances, Micah decides the best course of action is to video record their (almost) every move. What they discover shakes them to their core.

The idea for Paranormal Activity seems sound enough: create a ghost story that feels like a home video in order to escalate the thrills. The movie starts out creepy enough but  as additional encounters occur, the movie becomes more laughable. Even during moments that should have been tense, I found myself chuckling as opposed to being scared. This was due to the fact that I had already reinvisioned the threat into something less menacing because of the way in which the filmmakers decided to portray the presence. Paranormal Activity could have been a  pleasant surprise of a movie (Much like what Cloverfield did for monster/disaster movies) but instead ends up as another disappointment in the horror genre. (Netflix)

(99 Minutes - Rated R for Language - 2009)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Whip It (Whip It good!)

Whip It - (4 Stars)

Sometimes a movie can tread such familiar territory that it hardly feels worth watching. Other times a movie takes a tried and true formula and demonstrate how enjoyable it can be to revisit an old idea with a new twist. Whip It fits into the latter category. With an interesting set of characters and a quirky sense of humor, Whip It is an enjoyable ride from start to finish.

Drew Barrymore's directorial debut revolves around Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page), a teenage girl growing up in the small town of Bodeen, Texas. Having no real purpose of her own, she participates in beauty pageants to appease her mother (Marcia Gay Harden). But everything changes when she discovers the heavy-hitting world of roller derby.

Whip It is does not follow a very original plot structure. The various turns were both expected and familiar but at the same time welcome. I found myself thinking of other movies without ever being to exactly place what movie I was being reminded of. The characters are definitely Whip It's greatest asset. The diverse and colorful cast drive the recognizable vehicle from mediocre to well above-average. For those that are a fan of the unconventional, idiosyncratic humor of movies such as Juno or Little Miss Sunshine, Whip It is right on track. (Netflix)

(120 Minutes - Rated PG-13 for Sexual Content including crude dialogue, language and drug material - 2009)

Zombieland (of the Dead?)

Zombieland - (3 1/2 Stars)

Zombies are an acquired taste. But, like a popular meal, they can be "prepared" in different ways to suit different tastes. There are your "Zombie Lite" movies which appeal more to a wider audience, but in doing so take liberties with the zombie rules, and then there are the zombie movies that adhere more closely to zombie canon for the purists like myself. Zombieland is of the former category. The movie offers an enjoyable introduction to zombies that can serve as a "gateway" to the more established zombie movies.

Zombieland follows a group of four misfit survivors to a plague that has wiped out most of mankind and turned them into zombies. Going by location names so they aren't too attached to each other, the group faces the zombie horde, and each other, with shotguns in hand. Among the group are Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), who's fear of everything helped keep him alive, and his exact opposite Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson).

With vampires taking center stage in current popular media, it only makes sense that someone would try to resurrect another favorite "monster" of the horror genre and make a movie that appeals to a wider audience. Zombieland is that movie. It is a horror-comedy that doesn't take itself too seriously and just wants you to enjoy the ride along with its cast of characters. The movie has its share of comedic moments (and one hilarious cameo) to keep the momentum going back and forth between horror and comedy, but if you are a zombie purist, this is not the zombie movie for you. Instead of the shambling, corpse-like zombies of Romero fare you have the quicker, "pop culture" brand of zombie. To make a long review short, Zombieland is a movie that is enjoyable as long as you don't mind the bits of flesh and blood flying around and tongue in and out of cheek humor. As a horror-comedy it's definitely worth a watch, but for those who like their zombies shuffling and stumbling it won't quite have the decaying legs to stand up to some of the more definitive in the genre. (Netflix)

(88 Minutes - Rated R for Horror violence/gore and language)

Friday, February 5, 2010

Surrogates (The Importance of Being Human)

Surrogates - (4 Stars)

Imagine a world where you could live your life without the worry of being in a car accident, catching a disease, or injuring yourself. Surrogates takes this premise and explores what could happen if people didn't have to worry about these problems but also what consequences result from this choice. The movie stars Bruce Willis and despite a few "suspend your disbelief" moments and a little cheesiness at times, the movie is a solid action movie with an interesting idea.

In the near future, humans have adapted the use of surrogate robots for their everyday lives. Instead of going to work, people send their surrogate and control them from the safety of their own home. When two surrogates are attacked and unexplainably their operators are killed as a direct result, FBI Agent Tom Greer (Willis) is sent to investigate. Further complicating the matter for Greer is the fact that, following a similar attack, he is left without the safety of his surrogate.

Surrogates is a movie with a thought-provoking premise. Humans have essentially stopped being human and instead live their everyday life through a machine. What seems like a perfect world (less violence, less crime, less worry or fear) is in reality one fraught with isolation and loneliness. Nowhere is this more evident than in Willis' character, a human who uses a surrogate but isn't entirely comfortable with the idea. There are some moments that seem a little forced or cheesy, but overall the movie takes its intriguing notion and delivers an exciting thriller. (Netflix)

(89 Minutes - Rated PG-13 for Intense sequences of violence, disturbing images, language, sexuality and a drug-related scene)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Public Enemies (Not so Number One)

Public Enemies - (2 1/2 Stars)

I was excited to see Public Enemies as soon as I discovered that it would star Johnny Depp and Christian Bale. The more I heard about the movie, the more interested I was. When I finally had the opportunity to watch it I expected a well-written, well-acted story of "cat and mouse." Unfortunately, despite how much I tried to enjoy Public Enemies, I was left feeling disappointed.

Based on the book by Bryan Burroughs, Public Enemies tells the story of public folk hero and bank robber John Dillinger (Depp) and the FBI's pursuit of him. Led by its top agent, Melvin Purvis (Bale), the FBI attempts to bring to justice who they have dubbed "Public Enemy Number One" and to do it their way. But the FBI underestimates Dillinger and his band of gangsters and soon find themselves in over their head when trying to apprehend the master criminal.

The movie takes the approach of portraying the typical antagonist as the main character. This inevitably leads to more of an attachment to the "villain" than to the "hero." Johnny Depp helps this along with his charismatic portrayal. Unfortunately, the rest of the characters fall flat. Instead of a story focused on characters and motivations, the movie feels more like a collection of scenes pieced together. It's not for lack of talent or source material, but rather the direction the movie takes. The movie lacks real character development and instead substitutes a good performance by Depp and a revolving door of other gangsters. With the story and the cast it had, what could be an excellent movie ends up being unsatisfyingly mediocre. (Netflix)

(140 Minutes - Rated R for gangster violence and some language)