Quantum of Solace (2008)

Quantum - (n) a particular amount (adj) sudden and significant

Solace - (n) alleviation or comfort

Quantum of Solace - (?) Absolutely meaningless. Not explained through any medium, specifically the 2008 film Quantum of Solace.

Bond is back and he's...not as good as he should have been in yet another 007 film. Quantum of Solace marks the 22nd official James Bond film of the EON Productions franchise, the 25th James Bond film of all time, and only the 2nd James Bond movie I've ever seen. Although Ian Fleming's character is not my cup of tea, I do know what to expect from the man. As I sat down to watch Quantum of Solace I nestled myself into my chair and waited to be astounded by the gadgets and fancy cars that make Bond so recognizable. What I received was a poorly filmed, sloppily scripted, decently acted hodge-podge that did not capture the spirit of a James Bond film at all. Being only somewhat entertained by 2006's hugely successful Casino Royale, I was surprised to find that I actually prefer that film over this one. Quantum of Solace is a direct sequel to Casino Royale, with only a 20 minute gap between the films. The plot to this film is nearly incomprehensible. I actually had to check the internet for a plot synopsis when I got home to make sure I wouldn't make a mistake in my review. According to Wikipedia, the film follows James Bond (Daniel Craig) as he tries to prevent a group called the "Quantum" from executing a coup d'etat in the country of Brazil. His main focus is on Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), an "environmentalist" who seems to be spearheading the whole operation. Helping Bond in his fight is Camille (Olga Kurylenko), a woman whose family was killed by the very man attempting to take power in Brazil. At the same time, Bond is also seeking revenge for the death of the only woman he ever loved, Vesper Lynd. (This plot synopsis took me a week and a half to write, mainly because I had a lot of trouble putting it into words that were understandable. It's not my best work, but it'll do.)

There are not many good things to say about Quantum of Solace. Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade all returned as writers for this film, but failed to live up to the precedent set by their previous work on Casino Royale. They created a lackadaisical script that doesn't explain itself very well, and was far too reliant on the first film. It is understandable that a sequel will use the original film as a jumping off point, but you would need to watch Casino Royale immediately before watching this film to get anything! If you've never seen the first film and you plan on watching Quantum, good luck. These writers also abandoned the use of plot development for this film, turning it into an hour and 45 minute marathon of explosions. One of the few things I enjoyed about Casino Royale was that it followed a well thought out script and centered on characters that you learned a lot about. Quantum of Solace gives no backstory to many of the characters, leaving you in the dark when it comes to actually caring about what happens. The shift in director could also be to blame for the mediocre downslope the franchise took in just 2 movies. Marc Foster took the reigns from Martin Campbell, and I would like to take this opportunity to ask him to give them back. Quantum of Solace is the first action film to hit Foster's resume which is comprised of serious pictures such as The Kite Runner and Monster's Ball. From this, it is no wonder Foster seemed out of his element helming a James Bond film. His camera work was utterly dreadful in even the simplest shot. Every action sequence looked as though the man holding the camera was having a seizure. Foster also manages to take all of the intensity and anticipation out of a long awaited film that should have kept the audiences heart's racing. Quantum offers no build up to a final resolution, and the showdown between Bond and Greene was so lackluster that I didn't even realize it was the final showdown until the movie ended five minutes later.

If there is a positive thing to say about Quantum of Solace, it is that Daniel Craig is just as dynamic as he was in Casino Royale as the suave super agent James Bond. His performance alone keeps this film out of the dollar movie bin at Stop & Shop. His dedication to the role actually had me believing it is that easy to be entangled in a series of ropes yet still have the ability to accurately shoot a gun. Sadly, not many of the people around Craig were very convincing. Olga Kurylenko, whose most recent films include Max Payne and Hitman, pretty much lives up to her resume in her role as Bond girl Camille. A flat performance topped off by an inability to understand a word she says really doesn't do much to make the film respectable. In some scenes, Kurylenko's character discusses some grim memories of her family being killed. An actress of higher caliber would have been able to make this monologue memorable, but instead I was left straining my ears, struggling to comprehend the words that were heavily coated in a thick accent. Mathieu Amalric is not bad playing the villain Dominic Greene and is sometimes very engaging. But a one dimensional character makes his villain a forgettable and fruitless minor inconvenience.

Quantum of Solace is (mercifully) the shortest Bond film in the franchise, and I believe that may have been a disadvantage to the film. Perhaps the writers were afraid they would lose the audiences attention if they made the film too long. Whatever the reason, added length could have given Quantum of Solace the honor of being told properly with much more development. But it is futile to sit here pondering "what if's" and I must talk about the film for what it was. With only one and a half good performances, Quantum of Solace is nothing more than a a brief itch that once scratched is gone from your mind for the rest of your life. My rating (3/10)

Burn After Reading (2008)

In 1998, Joel and Ethan Coen introduced us to a man in a used up brown robe that liked to be called "The Dude" (or El Duderino, if you please). A simple man who wanted nothing more than to go bowling and drink white Russians. But instead this poor man was thrust into a world of nihilism, kidnapping, and ferrets just so he can receive some compensation for his defiled rug. After all, that rug really tied the room together. This, of course, is The Big Lebowski, the film that incorporated the Coen Brothers into mainstream America for the first time. Anybody who has seen it cannot go to a bowling alley without laughing at least a little bit. Ten years later, the Coen Brothers are returning to the world of comedy-crime-capers with the star studded Burn After Reading. Looking at the billing alone, one knows what they should expect from this film. Main actors John Malkovich, George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Brad Pitt have all either won or been nominated for an Academy Award. Cap it off with the reliable Joel and Ethan Coen, and you have a Best Picture award waiting to happen. Sadly, Burn After Reading does not warrant this praise, nor is it anywhere near as good as the iconic Big Lebowski. But like I said, if you put enough delicious ingredients into a single bowl, you are bound to find something to like. Burn After Reading is a terrific ensemble piece that takes effort from everyone involved to create something wonderful.

The story of Burn After Reading is very difficult to explain given the numerous characters and their respective plot lines. If it gets to be confusing... try reading it again. Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) is a physical trainer at Hardbodies Gym. She is a very unhappy woman who surfs internet dating sites for Mr. Right. She is also intent on undergoing numerous reconstructive surgeries to help boost her self esteem. However, her dreams are dashed when she finds she does not have the money to pay for all these procedures. Her luck seemed ready to change when her co-worker Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt) discovered a disc in the women's locker room which held secret CIA information. Linda convinces Chad to help her find where the disc came from so they could blackmail the person, which could help her pay for her surgeries. They find that the information came from Osborne Cox (John Malkovich), a CIA analyst who recently quit his job after they tried demoting him for his drinking problem. Unhappy with her husbands decision, Osborne's wife Katie (Tilda Swinton) files for divorce, kicking him out of the house so she can be with her man on the side Harry Pfaffer (George Clooney). Katie knows that Pfarrer is cheating on his wife with her, but little does she know he is also cheating on her with anybody he can find. After a chance meeting on the internet, Pfarrer ends up hooking up with Linda, who is still in the process of trying to blackmail Osborne. As every one's lives begin folding over into the others, the result is a very funny (and confusing) film.

To the Coen Brothers, it is not simple enough to just make a comedy. They cannot just write a film that is riotously funny, because it seems to be somewhat beneath them. Much like The Big Lebowski, Burn After Reading is not a one dimensional story that relies deeply on hilarity. The humor in Burn After Reading is found more in subtle plot elements and the traits of the characters than in actual jokes. It is the clever writing and perfect execution by the actors that makes the movie funny. There are few directors that could use this technique effectively, and the Coen's fall into that category. Joel and Ethan are unstoppable forces in the world of film making, able to mold a film exactly to their liking, whether it be a taught thriller or a goofball comedy. This is proved by the 1-2 punch they executed with No Country For Old Men and Burn After Reading. The brothers make sure they are involved in every element of the film making process. Acting as writers, directors, and producers of every single one of their films ensures that no outside force affects their work. Unswayed by the uneducated criticism that "the Coen's make boring movies", they repeatedly come out and deliver exactly what they want to, and the result is usually terrific. Burn After Reading is not their best effort, but in the hands of any other directors, it would have failed miserably.

But I'm sure if you were to ask the Coen Brothers, they would tell you that their success rests heavily on the shoulders of the actors. In Burn After Reading, spot on performances by every single actor involved helps keep the movie afloat. Given the confusing plot, it was imperative that the performers delivered exceptionally well to keep the audience interested. With not a single wet match in the pack, the movie exceeded typical standards that are expected even of a Coen Brothers film. Frances McDormand, whose character Linda can be considered the main protagonist, is often hilarious as she becomes wrapped up in the world of blackmail. Her real moments of recognition came as she interacted with Pitt and Clooney. Pitt acted as the real comic relief in Burn After Reading, due to his character's dimwitted nature and humorous dancing while listening to his iPod. He also served as a significant character foil in the film, especially when sharing screen time with Malkovich's smart Osborne Cox. George Clooney delivers the most engaging performance in the film as the womanizing hobbyist Harry Pfarrer. He brought a real sense of charisma to the screen and proved to be very enjoyable. But the two actors who deserve outstanding praise are John Malkovich and Tilda Swinton. Both are absolutely unforgettable in their roles. Malkovich's scathing and deeply irritated portrayal of the jaded Osborne Cox was not only intensely dramatic and entertaining, but also served as the jumping off point for some jokes. That is the textbook definition of getting the best of both worlds. Swinton too deals out a performance worthy of the Oscar winning actress. Balancing a divorce and an affair, her character was devoid of comedy but still managed to be fascinating.

Although Burn After Reading was blessed with brilliant writing, directing, and acting, it still manages to fall short of what you would hope it to be. The main reason for this is the constantly developing story that takes quite some time to fully reveal itself. Pacing usually is not a problem for the masterful Coen's, who can make a lengthy sequence of desert shots with no dialogue interesting like in No Country, but they seemed a tiny bit off their game here. In this one single aspect they suffered, and it managed to bring the film down a noticeable amount. Their script was full of cunning wit and clever components, but it was still confusing as hell. Even George Clooney in an interview stated he had no idea what the movie was about because it was so damn puzzling. I'm sure he was exaggerating a little, but it gives you an idea of what we are dealing with here.

Burn After Reading is a pleasant 96 minutes long, which is something I thank the Coen's for. Even The Big Lebowski, as terrific as it was, was verging on obscenity with it's length. Even if you are not a fan of the Coen's, Burn After Reading is a different movie for them, and I think they will be able to make a fan out of you. My rating (8/10)

Saw V (2008) -- Not an Official Review

If you have read any of my previous reviews, you probably know I can't stand modern horror films. However, my one guilty pleasure when it comes to modern horror is the Saw franchise. I acknowledge the fact that Saws 2-5 are just blood filled nonsense...but I can't get enough of it. Because of this bias, I cannot give Saw V an official review or even a number rating. I just want to say that Saw V is much better than any of the others sequels in the franchise, and David Hackl did a very good job directing. The movie focused more on the killer's point of view and wasn't really shrouded in mystery. The previous sequels were all deep mysteries and ultimately the endings were unsatisfying. Saw V was somewhat different, and I found it to be thoroughly enjoyable.

Quarantine (2008)

Being locked in an apartment building is nothing to get shaken up about. Fill that building with virus infected tenants that want to bite your face off, then you've got a problem. Just ask Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter), a news reporter who is simply trying to find a good story with the Los Angeles fire department. Angela gets her wish when an emergency is called in, forcing every firefighter in the precinct to spring into action. With her cameraman Scott (Steve Harris), Angela joins firefighter Jake (Jay Hernandez) as he sweeps through the building searching for the problem. But when one of their men is fatally bitten by one of the tenants, the group find themselves in a situation that won't play out in their favor. When they try to escape the building, they find the government has sealed them in, trapping them with whatever is causing the strange behavior in the tenants. I watched Quarantine following a strong recommendation from a friend. I now know I should never do that again. Quarantine is as unoriginal, cliche, predictable, and cheap as any other horror movie destroying a cinema near you.

Director John Erick Dowdle is the man to blame for Quarantine. Acting as writer and director, all of the atrocities and incongruities in the film are strictly on his shoulders. In my writing I try to avoid spoilers as much as possible, but for Quarantine, I don't care. What tried to be an innovative horror film was actually a sub par copy of every horror movie you have ever seen. First, the camera. The use of a handicam to shoot a movie has become increasingly popular after its success in Cloverfield. The problem with gimmicks like that though is they wear out their welcome extremely quickly. The camera in Cloverfield was shaky but even at its worst you can still have a general idea of what was happening. However, Quarantine thought it would be a good idea to have the cameraman never stop shaking the camera, perhaps to make it more "realistic". But with realism like that, faces and figures ended up blurring together to create nothing more than masses of differing colors. Second, the creatures. With the splendor of zombie films that are released year after year, it is easy to become exhausted by the genre. Some films recreate these villains, like 28 Days Later. But one thing that all these films hold in common, with the exception of 28 Days Later, is they never reveal why the events you are watching are happening. Usually if a film tries to give an explanation as to why people are suddenly hungry for flesh, they have to try really hard to make it convincing. Quarantine is an example of a film that tried to explain, but didn't do a good enough job. The genius explanation thought up by Dowdle was that a young girl's dog contracted some form of Super Rabies that got out to the rest of the building. Super Rabies. No explanation as to how it became Super. It just is. This leads into the third error of the film: continuity. The reason this Super Rabies is so devastating is because it is exactly like rabies, only people begin to feel the symptoms in a matter of minutes. Yet the little girl who owned the dog, who was shown as sick at the beginning of the film, took over 60 minutes to turn. Not only that, she happened to turn at the exact moment people started thinking, "Maybe the little girl is infected too". So to sound it off, we have bad camera work, bad script writing, and lack of continuity. Sounds like every zombie ever made.

I would love nothing more than to critique the acting in Quarantine. However I feel this may be a futile attempt, because most of the time I couldn't even tell which character was talking due to the awful camera work. All I can say is that the captives were good at screaming and the zombies were good at growling.

When marketing a film, you should do your best to give away as much of the plot as possible to intrigue people, but not give enough away to ruin the entire movie. When it comes to Quarantine, there isn't much of a plot to talk about. It is essentially just people locked in a house with flesh eating monsters. So the only thing this movie could possibly have going for it is hope. You should want people to hope these main characters get out alive (or die, depending on what kind of a person you are). An audience should be stuck to the screen waiting for the characters next move which could at any moment, be their last. Putting aside the fact that I felt no attachment to the characters because I was so put off by the terrible directing and writing, I still didn't feel that hope, because I already knew the ending of the film. No I did not research the ending or ask my friend how it concluded; it was the marketers fault. The fate of the main character is given away in every trailer, commercial, and even the poster. That scene of the woman being dragged away through a night vision lens is literally the last occurrence in the film before the credits roll. The filmmakers and marketing team completely took away the mystery because you knew ahead of time that rooting for them to live was pointless. I sat for 90 minutes watching a bad movie just so I can see what has already been shown in every commercial.

I'm sure many of you are saying "Well Nicholas, it is after all just a horror film. Just let us know whether it was scary or not, because all of these notes on the filmmaking are unnecessary". You are right, perhaps I am being a little harsh and judgemental. I should just worry about whether it was scary or not. Well you know what? It wasn't. Quarantine is nothing more than a pop up and scare you horror film. You could swap this film with any other of the same genre and not be able to tell the difference. If you enjoy cheap scares and terrible movies, I recommend Quarantine. If you want to watch a horror movie that is actually good, steer clear. My rating (2/10)

Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium (2007)

Once in a full moon, a movie comes around that leaves you scratching your head in utter and absolute confusion. Some of these films are deep and riddled with hidden meanings and subliminal messaging (2001: A Space Odyssey). The rest of those films are simply incomprehensible due to the over-active imagination of everybody involved. Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium is the latter. A film so whacked out and terrifyingly zany, Wonder Emporium left me deeply disturbed...and mildly entertained. 7 time Oscar nominee and 2 time winner Dustin Hoffman sports a painfully cutesy lisp as the magical Mr. Magorium, a 243 year old toy inventor. For as long as he has been alive, Magorium has brought joy to countless children through his mystical Wonder Emporium. There, kids enjoy toys that defy gravity, rooms with computer generated bouncy balls, and Kermit the Frog. Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman) is a worker at the emporium and shares the same goofy and lighthearted attitude as the store's proprietor. For everyone in the neighborhood, especially one young boy named Eric (Zach Mills), Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium is the happiest place on earth. But things start to go sour at the emporium when Magorium announces he will be leaving this world...because he has run out of shoes. (Seriously). With Molly in charge, the store begins to become very angry and starts losing its magic. Now Molly has to use the help of Eric and new hum-drum employee Henry (Jason Bateman) to restore the mystical place to its former self. With over 100 moments that made me say "What the crap?", Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium is a ridiculous attempt at over the top film-making...and it amused me.

With a plot like Swiss cheese, Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium left me dumbfounded time and again with it's ambiguity. First of all, if I were a parent, I'm not so sure I'd let my children spend their entire day at a toy store run by a creepy man with a lisp who claims to be over 240 years old. I feel like that should be a warning sign for parents. It is also all the more bewildering at how everybody in the neighborhood seems to accept the fact that this store is completely out of lines with reality. I'd be terrified if an octopus jumped out of a book and landed on my head! It is also never explained how Magorium gained his magic originally and then how he gave it to Molly. Was he an alien? Was he a wizard? Was he pumping noxious gas through the store to make people hallucinate causing them to believe what they were seeing was true? We don't know. I'm 95% sure if you were to ask writer and director Zach Helm that question, he wouldn't even know. But I think I might be giving Wonder Emporium too much credit by asking these analytical questions. It is after all just a children's movie. It is sort of like asking the writers of Spongebob Squarepants why Spongebob often takes baths, even though he's underwater. Or why when he speaks, bubbles don't come out of his mouth. You are just supposed to look at it at face value and be entertained by it. Regardless of how many times I was left stupefied by Wonder Emporium, I was slightly and surprisingly entertained.

The man behind Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium is Zach Helm, who previously penned the acclaimed Stranger Than Fiction. Helm is obviously a man with a vivid imagination, but somebody might want to check his drink for traces of alcohol, because what he created here was a demented work of delirium. He did everything in his power to make this film as wacky and zany as possible. Those really are the only words to describe it. Even the characters in the film use adjectives that are synonyms of wacky and zany. The final credits read all of the characters names as something silly like "Mr. Edward Magorium - Avid Shoe Wearer" and "Eric Applebaum - The Hat Collector". It are the little aspects like this that made Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium almost unbearable for me. Almost.

The performances in Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium weren't making matters an easier to take. Dustin Hoffman's campy, kooky, wacky, and nutty Mr. Magorium was enough to make me suspicious that somebody dropped a hit of acid in my soda. Complete with mad scientist hair and the aforementioned dreadful lisp, Magorium seemed like a character that should be in an early Saturday morning cartoon. Instead of being lovable and amicable, he flustered and perturbed me. His ceaseless corny jokes became tiresome and sometimes moronic. He seemed to have a strange obsession of trying to figure out why their are always more hot dogs than hot dog buns. It was amusing once, but when he brought it up again it was just unnecessary. Natalie Portman had to do her best to seem as childish and immature as possible in order to fit the bill in this movie. Perhaps that is why she was sporting the 12 year old boy haircut. Realistically speaking though, Portman is a good actress but she does not have the sparkle that is needed to be entertaining in a children's film. You could see in her face that she was hoping for the chance to do some real acting, but this movie was about fun, so she just held it inside and sleepwalked her way through it. Jason Bateman, who apparently felt this movie was more important than working on something better, say, a movie based on his hilarious hit TV series Arrested Development, shows up in this film to provide pretty much nothing. Maybe the only somewhat genuine performance in this schlock-o-rama was that of 12 year old Zach Mills, who played the outcast little boy that finds refuge inside the walls of the Emporium. He showed a real attachment to all the characters and was really the only sympathetic one of the bunch. It wasn't great, but it was very impressive.

What shocked me most about Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium was not it's wacky characters or outlandish plot, but the idea that I was somewhat entertained by it. After all the negatives I have thrown around about this film, I can't help but feel like I enjoyed it. It reintroduced me to the idea of magic and wonder that I had when I was a child. It took me away from dealing with horrible things such as applying to college, and brought me to a place that was nothing more than a place to have fun. For 93 minutes, I was in a place that I could enjoy, that I didn't have to worry about. Their was barely any viable conflict in the film because I knew how it would end, so I couldn't even be weighed down by that. Although still extremely flawed and altogether nonsensical, Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium creates a wholesome environment that your children will definetly enjoy...and you might even enjoy it too. This movie goes in my list of films that is so bad, it is good. My rating ( a very watchable 5/10)

David Blaine: Dive of Disappointment

This blog is primarily used for movie reviews, but after being duped by Mr. David Blaine, I feel I must share my anger.

It has been talked about all week. Magician and stunt expert David Blaine was going to hang upside down for 60 straight hours and then make a "dive of death" over 40 feet to the ground. Memories of past stunts come rushing back to me. I still remember over 8 years ago, when I was still in 4th grade, watching "that crazy guy in a block of ice". Over the course of the years he has done a number of ridiculous stunts, including standing on a 90 foot tall 22 inch wide pole for 35 hours, and escaping from a gyroscope after 2 days of spinning. But his most recent stunt was supposedly meant to be the most controversial of all. Doctors were concerned that hanging upside down for so long could blind Blaine, along with swelling and cramping his internal organs. His heart would be doing too much work to send his blood up into his legs regularly. Even his short breaks every few hours, where he was allowed to stand upright on a crane, would not help. Watching on ABC, there was an interview with a physician that stated it could take 12-24 hours for Blaine to recover fully, even with those breaks. For anybody who thinks Blaine was cheating by doing this, may I suggest hanging upside down for 10 minutes, getting down for 2 minutes, and then going up again for another 10? Let's see if you feel your normal self after a small break.

But it is not with this that I feel tricked by Mr. Blaine. I hold a significant amount of respect for the man who was able to last 60 hours upside down. But that was meant only to be part one of this "miraculous" stunt. David Blaine was supposed to stand 4 and a half stories above the earth, and dive to an unknown fate. Blaine himself stated he had never practiced this dive before so he had no idea what was going to happen. I thought, "I am either going to be blown away by what he will do, or I will see a man fall 44 feet to his death on live television. Awesome." This was well on its way to being one of the coolest things I had ever seen done. Press coverage only made it even more unbearable to have to wait to see what Blaine would do to blow us all away. Watching the clock in the lower left hand corner of the screen, titled "Dive of Death", slowly tick off more and more time made the suspense practically insufferable. In the meantime we were entertained with clips of street magic performed by the magician. We even got to see him catch a bullet with a small steel cup, which he was holding in his mouth. I was hoping these mind bending illusions were only foreshadowing the impending insanity. Unfortunately, these proved to be the best part of the program.

The time finally came. David Blaine was standing right side up on top of a beam 4 and a half stories in the air. He looks down at the crowd, luring us in, riveting our eyes to him so we don't miss a single move he makes. He stands for a minute longer, milking the anticipation as much as humanly possible. Then, an air of excitement as we see him lift his leg! He is about to jump and after hours of waiting we will finally bear witness to the single most daring stunt Blaine has ever done! But wait a minute...what is that? Is that a harness? As Blaine descends to the ground, an extremely visible rope is attached to him, which allows him to gently touch his feet to the ground. I sit, mouth agape, astounded that I stayed awake to see this. Then they begin to lift him and I wonder, "Was that a joke? Are they going to lift him back onto the beam and disconnect him so he can do the real jump? Was that just to keep the suspense going even further?!" Nope. Blaine is pulled even higher into the air, where he is then pulled away, "disappearing" into the night sky. Mr. Blaine, you are a jerk.

How could he do that? It was planted in all of our minds that he would be taking a freefall to the ground, and he would in some way survive. We were all excited to see the "dive of death", but what we got was the "slow, safe descension to the ground before he is obviously carried away by some form of floating device that would have been easily disguised because it was so late at night". When it was all over I thought that maybe something had gone wrong. Perhaps he was planning on doing something, but there was a problem so they just want to the extremely disappointing plan B. I watched the news and listened to the radio the following morning to see if my theory was correct. It was not. Knowing that, I didn't feel as bad that I changed the channel after David Blaine immediately to Criss Angel. My rating of David Blaine's Dive of Death: (1/10)
(UPDATE: There is actually a video on youtube that allows you to see very clearly that he is being carried away by big black balloons. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqRi4QAcJWI&feature=related )

Dead Silence (2007)

If there is one thing in the world that scares the bejeezus out of me it is dolls. Specifically dolls that talk and blink and all that stuff. To me that is one of the most frightening things imaginable. So when I heard that the creators of Saw were making a film about a homicidal ventriloquist puppet, naturally I had to see it. The result was Dead Silence, a movie low on good acting but high on good old fashioned scares. Dead Silence is essentially a ghost story revolving around newlywed Jamie Ashen (Ryan Kwanten). Jamie is still settling in to his home with his new wife Lisa (Laura Regan) when a mysterious unmarked package is delivered to their home. Like any smart couple, the two open it without question. Inside is a ventriloquist dummy, which for some reason does not freak out either of them. That tune soon changes when Jamie discovers his wife's dead body posed on their bed, with her tongue ripped out. Detective Jim Lipton (Donnie Walhberg) is assigned to the murder to gather evidence against Jamie, who is the prime suspect. But Jamie knows that there is something strange going on, so he sets off to his home town of Raven's Fair, a dreary and dingy looking town plagued by pale backgrounds and eerie wind noises. With the help of funeral home owner Henry Walker (Michael Fairman), Jamie begins to unravel the mystery behind Mary Shaw, a ventriloquist that was murdered because she was suspected of kidnapping a boy. Ever since then, Raven's Fair has been cursed with death, people being found without their tongues. With nothing more than a hunch, Jamie must find a way to make the screaming stop, once and for all. Dead Silence is a B-grade ball of cheese that happens to go great with a box of popcorn and a Big Gulp.

I frequently complain that modern horror films have forgotten what real scares are supposed to be about. (See my Halloween review). I am a big fan of being genuinely frightened or at least surprised by a horror film, rather than just grossed out. Whether people like to admit it or not, the first Saw film was not an all-out torture porn. It was primarily a mystery with an original plot and an amazing twist ending. Dead Silence is by no means original nor is the ending as good as Saw's, but it's mystery was good enough to keep me on the edge of my seat. It was also able to take old cliches such as billowing curtains and "the town where businesses are all closed and the people are all pale and hide in the their homes" and make them poignant again. Its special effects were second rate, keeping the film feeling like a small budget horror flick. It never became too extravagant and never did it glorify blood and gore. With a decently small body count, blood and gore take a back seat to suspense and mystery in Dead Silence. Not to give the film too much credit, Dead Silence is after all a mediocre attempt at terrifying film making. The whole idea that right before a victim is claimed, the surrounding noise ceases is a little ridiculous, considering in the film the only thing that would happen was you would hear the background music stop. But the characters in the movie wouldn't hear that, so the title of the movie wouldn't make sense to them. The only thing that makes this film better than a Hostel, Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the recent ones), or The Hills Have Eyes is the idea that it doesn't splatter blood on the camera at every turn. Unlike the makers of those films, James Wan actually tried to make Dead Silence a suspenseful film rather than a bloodbath. For that, I give him credit.

The idea for Dead Silence came from the minds of James Wan and Leigh Whannel who, like I've mentioned, brought us Saw. You can see in the writing of this duo that they really know how to scare people. They bring their own individuality to what they write, trying to outdo themselves with every page. They will not bring about an award nominations with their stories, but in a world of awful horror films the fact that they provide a slight sense of originality makes them elite. Wan's directorial style is also a plus in all of his films. Much like his past work, Wan delivers a genuine nail biter of a film because of his wonderful ability to pace. He doesn't allow films to go limp for very long, a characteristic I wish every filmmaker had. Dead Silence is not his best work, but is an above average film.

One thing that I wish could have been better in Dead Silence was its cast. Australian actor Ryan Kwanten, who can now be seen sporting a terrible southern accent in HBO's god awful series True Blood, plays the haunted lead character Jamie Ashen. In one's quest for truth in the mystery that surrounds their wife's murder, one would probably convey a plethora of emotions. But not Kwanten. He feels that in this situation, the most reasonable response is to look as calm and unenthused as possible. In a B-grade horror film you don't expect a terrific lead performance, but you at least hope for something. At times Kwanten does a decent job of capturing the moment, but more often than not he is a dud as the lead actor. The rest of the film is also littered with melodramatic performances from the supporting cast. Michael Fairman as the funeral home owner was a total bust. His "scared" face was just hilarious, and I basically laughed at everything he said. The one bright spot in the cast was new kid on the block Donnie Walhberg. As the skeptical Detective Lipton, Walhberg provided necessary comic relief to Dead Silence. He is not their for big laughs, but his cynical disposition makes the air lighter in the film, allowing the viewer to have a good time watching it.

The golden age of horror has been passed for a long time and I have learned to accept this. Never again will there be films like The Shining, Psycho, or the original Halloween. I must admit that it is not the absolute fault of filmmakers, because when you think about it, what hasn't been done yet? Then I also think that it is their job to think of new ideas, and I stop feeling sorry for them. The reason I am a fan of James Wan and Leigh Whannel is because they are innovators in their field. Although I am not particularly happy about this, they did pave the way for a lot of modern horror films with the success of their Saw franchise. They showed it was possible to make good and original horror films that were a hit at the box office. Granted, spawning 4 sequels isn't original, but if it hadn't been for those sequels, Saw could've been considered an innovative film. It is also a problem that although they showed you can still make good and original horror films, nobody else has been able to replicate that idea. So whether you love or hate the Saw franchise, you must give credit where credit is due. With the creation of Dead Silence, Wan and Whannel once again prove they are a horror duo for the ages. My Rating (6.5/10)

Definitely, Maybe (2008)

Hey everybody, I've been on break for a while but I am back to review more films. Since school has started I do not have as much time to see new releases, so I will probably review older films for a while, starting now.

Perhaps my least favorite genre of films is the romantic comedy. Not simply because they are primarily "chick flicks", but because they are just so similar to each other. I recall watching 27 Dresses with my girlfriend and I was able to figure out the ending as the opening scene began. In all my years, I have never seen a romantic comedy that had an unexpected ending...until now. Definitely, Maybe is the freshest romantic comedy to hit cinemas in a long, long time. It is the touching and remarkably engaging story of Will Hayes (Ryan Reynolds), who is suffering a divorce while caring for his young daughter Maya (Abigail Breslin). As Will tries to put Maya to bed, she relentlessly inquires to hear the story of how he met her mother. Will reluctantly agrees, and the real movie begins. A young Will Hayes just arrived in New York in 1992 to support Presidential candidate Bill Clinton in the upcoming election. Momentarily leaving his college sweetheart Emily (Elizabeth Banks) in Wisconsin, Will is left susceptible to the dangerous possibility of falling for other women in his new surrounding. One of those women is the beautiful copy machine girl April (Isla Fisher), whom Will becomes very good friends. The two share many comical encounters that are very easy to watch. The other woman testing Will's strength is up and coming journalist Summer Hartley (Rachel Weisz), who is also currently dating world famous journalist Hampton Roth (Kevin Kline), a man of 60 that still likes 'em young. It is also very enticing to learn that Summer possibly shared a romantic encounter with Will's Emily during their college days. With all the characters in place, Maya and the rest of us are left wondering, "who does he end up with?". That, my friends, is why Definitely, Maybe is a terrific film.

Definitely, Maybe was directed and written by Adam Brooks, who also wrote the romantic sports comedy Wimbledon. Coincidentally, that was also one of the very few romantic comedies I actually enjoyed, despite it's predictability. What Brooks did with Definitely, Maybe was take a film genre and set a new standard for it. His writing neglected the cliche conventions of writing a romantic film, and instead twisted it with a mystery theme. With this unique and original plot, the viewer is left with only speculations as to how it will end. Much like I always do with these types of films, I guessed how it would end at the midway point. For the first time ever, I was wrong. Brooks did a superb job keeping me guessing. Whenever I thought I had it figured out, he would throw another curveball. The three woman that swirled through Will's life and time and again knocked him down actually managed to make me feel sorry for the main character. I was able to see his dejection and I was able to feel the love that he felt for all 3 of these women at one time or another. I was also very surprised to find myself willingly engaging in the story, eager to see what would happen next. My first viewing of Definitely, Maybe was with 2 friends, both of which are heterosexual males like myself. I had no problem watching this movie with them because I heard it was good and I wanted to see it, regardless of who I was with. But what shocked me was that one of my friends, who was very unhappy with the idea of watching this film without girls around, was actually bothered by the fact that we had to shut it off midway (we had to go somewhere). Even he was interested in how it ended. That just goes to show you that guys, you don't need to have a girl present to watch this film. It is genuinely good.

With a romantic comedy, who always have to be sure you have good actors to make everything feel authentic. If you go and watch a film like Good Luck Chuck, seeing Dane Cook flirt with Jessica Alba is almost as enjoyable as a trip to the dentist's office (no offense to any dentist's out there). In Definitely, Maybe, every actor did their part to make sure every moment was legitimate. Ryan Reynolds is known to be a very charismatic actor. Even in lesser efforts such as Blade: Trinity, Reynolds always brings charm to his characters. Will Hayes is no different. A delightful and relatable character, audiences will enjoy watching his life unfold and actually root for his happiness. Reynolds also consistently interacts with the films 4 leading ladies believably. Talking to his daughter, played by Breslin, you feel a warmhearted relationship between the two that you could find between a loving father and his child. His heartache is unforgettable as he repeatedly loses those closest to him. Reynolds is also blessed with a wonderful supporting cast, specifically Isla Fisher. I remember in my review of Wedding Crashers I said that Fisher had a very promising career ahead of her and my opinion has not changed. Consistently entertaining and thoroughly amusing, Fisher is a pleasure to watch in any film (except Hot Rod which sucked and horribly underutilized her ability). Elizabeth Banks and Rachel Weisz both put in strong performances, but the only other noteworthy performance from the female cast was the young Abigail Breslin. Although she was nominated for her role in the overrated Little Miss Sunshine, I actually thought she was better in this film. Still not worthy of a nomination, but she showed real talent in this film. (I still don't understand how she was nominated. She wasn't even that good. WHAT DID I MISS!?). Kevin Kline also contributes a very funny effort as the sexagenarian that has a taste for younger women.

When it all boils down, there is really one thing that I am looking for in a romantic comedy, and that is believability. I do not want to watch actors make googly eyes at each other. I want to see people convincing me that their is a such thing as true love. Definitely, Maybe is the only romantic comedy I have ever seen that was both realistic and genuinely entertaining. Not completely without the romance cliches, Definitely, Maybe is not perfect, but is certainly a breath of fresh air for a stupid movie genre. My rating (7/10)

Lack of posts

Hey everybody, in case you were wondering when I was planning on posting another review, it may be a little bit. School has started for me and I am getting back into the swing of things. Thanks for your patience.

A Look Back and A Look Forward

The summer of 2008 is just about over and I'd like to take this time to reflect on some of the best movies of the summer. Although actual summer begins in June, the summer movie season began way back in May with the release of Iron Man. Robert Downey Jr. kicked off the summer with a fantastic superhero film that garnered major critical acclaim, receiving a 93% on rottentomatoes.com. Not to mention Downey Jr. gave a phenomenal performance as billionaire playboy Tony Stark. Iron Man surprised everyone by surpassing expectations and becoming the first film of 2008 to break $300 million at the domestic box office, a feat analysts only expected from Indy 4 and The Dark Knight. With this huge success, a sequel was greenlit immediately and is now slated for 2010. Iron Man was also the first piece of a puzzle that Marvel is putting together. For those of you who stayed after the credits you may recall the exciting reference to the Avenger Initiative, which sent comic book nerds abroad crazy. Well The Avengers film does appear to be happening, and Downey Jr's Tony Stark appears to be the first group member. That film is scheduled for July of 2011. I gave Iron Man a 10 out of 10.

The next huge release of the summer of 2008 was the long, long, long awaited Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Many people were left disappointed by the extra-terrestrial touch put on to the famous archaeologist's series, but not me. Indy 4 delivered the excitement and adventure that I loved from the previous 3 films. A 60+ year old Harrison Ford showed he still had the ability to bring the charming character of Indiana Jones to life. Joined by the rising star Shia Labeouf, Indy 4 went on to make upwards of $300 million just as predicted. Although you may not agree, I felt Crystal Skull was a fitting conclusion to a wonderful series. But now even I am a bit upset by the idea that George Lucas wishes to make a 5th film. George, enough is enough. Go out on a high note. You already sank your Star Wars ship with those awful Episodes 1-3, maybe you should come up with an original idea. Even if a 5th Indy flick got made, Lucas said Shia Labeouf would not take over and it would remain with Ford as the lead actor. Well by the time the film was released he would be about 70, and even I'd say it's time to hang up the whip. Let us all hope that a 5th Indy film never happens. I gave Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull a 7.5 out of 10.

The next film I saw in the summer was a film I didn't even want to see. It took my friend to say he'd buy half my ticket so that I would go see it with him. I unhappily agreed, and was happily surprised. The Incredible Hulk was a HUGE HUGE HUGE improvement over the god awful 2003 Hulk directed by Ang Lee. Although still nowhere near perfect, casting Edward Norton in the lead role pushed The Incredible Hulk into credible movie territory. A good performance from Norton really helped make this film better than it should have been. The Hulk is the least interesting superhero ever created in my opinion, but this film actually did him justice. A terrible performance by Liv Tyler bogged The Incredible Hulk down a bit, but top notch special effects pushed her weird shaped face aside. Unfortunately, probably due to the fact that the general public disliked the first Hulk, The Incredible Hulk only made $134 million, only $2 million more than the far worse Hulk. A regular film would love to make $134 million but since The Incredible Hulk required $150 million to make, fiscally it was a failure. But who cares about how much it made anyway, this film provided the second piece to Marvel's puzzle, joining Iron Man in the Avengers mix. I gave The Incredible Hulk a 7 out of 10.

But the summer 2008 really became fantastic when The Dark Knight rolled into theaters. Featuring the brilliant performance from late Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight has been a box office powerhouse, recently beating Star Wars as the second highest domestic grossing film of all time. At approximately $500+ million dollars and counting, The Dark Knight needs about $140 million more dollars to beat Titanic for the number one spot, but it's looking unlikely. Not only was The Dark Knight the best film of the year, but one of the best films of all time, and topped my own personal list as my favorite film of all time. With a record breaking opening weekend of $155 million, The Dark Knight was the only film great enough to make me go to a midnight showing. I hate midnight showings. No let me rephrase that. I HATE midnight showings. But this movie made me go. I'm glad it did. Originally I wanted to give The Dark Knight an 11 out of 10, and I did. But then I realized it was unprofessional and I made it a 10 out of 10. I just want the record to show that it deserves more. A script for the third film has not even been written yet, but rumors have circulated suggesting Johnny Depp as the Riddler and Angelina Jolie as Catwoman. Personally I think both are terrible ideas, and a third film shouldn't even be made. There is no way it is going to top this one. Absolutely no way. Like I said, I gave The Dark Knight a 10 out of 10.

Finally, the summer has ended with a laugh with the release of Tropic Thunder. After a controversial release due to the protest by disability support groups, Tropic Thunder didn't make much noise at the box office, only making $26 million over the weekend. Still it was good enough to knock The Dark Knight from it's perch at number 1 at the box office, which it held for a full month. What made Tropic Thunder so funny was the amazing performance by the very man who kicked off the summer of 2008, Robert Downey Jr. How appropriate that the man who brought us into the summer with an astounding movie now shows us the way out of summer with a hilarious movie. Some strong supporting performances and a random Matthew McConaughey made Tropic Thunder a hit in my eyes. I gave Tropic Thunder a 7.5 out of 10.

I did not mention Wanted or Hellboy II because I'd be here forever spitting out redundancies. Both those films were great as well.

The summer is now over. Go in peace.

Here are some of my recommendations for upcoming films in 2008:

Bangkok Dangerous (Sept 5) Burn After Reading (Sept 12), Igor (Sept 19), Eagle Eye (Sept 26), Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (Oct 3), Saw 5 Oct 24(that's right, I'm a closet Saw fan, you got a problem with that?), RocknRolla (Oct 31), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Dec 19), The Spirit (Dec 25)

Here are some movies I suggest avoiding in 2008:

Disaster Movie (Aug 29), College (Aug 29), Disaster Movie (Aug 29), Beverly Hills Chihuahua (Oct 3), W (Oct 17), Disaster Movie (Aug 29), High School Musical 3 (Oct 24), Punisher: War Zone (Dec 5), Disaster Movie (Aug 29), The Day the Earth Stood Still (Dec 12), AND FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY AND GOOD IN THIS WORLD, AVOID DISASTER MOVIE!!!!!!!! IF YOU KNOW SOMEBODY WHO PLANS ON SEEING IT, HURT THEM! YOU CAN TELL THEM I MADE YOU DO IT.

Tropic Thunder (2008)

August is drawing to a close, which means schools are re-opening, pools are closing, and movie companies start releasing Oscar hopeful films rather than blockbusters. But before the summer of 2008 disappears forever, one more movie attempts to right something that has been wrong. In a summer movie season filled with superhero flicks and other random action films, we have yet to receive a comedy that will have us rolling in the aisles. Tropic Thunder, a passion project Ben Stiller has been working on for years, will not make you fall out of your chair, but is however the funniest film of the summer. On the set of the most expensive war movie ever made, rookie director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) is having trouble keeping his narcissistic cast in check. Just 5 days into shooting, production is already 1 month behind. Action star Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller) is having trouble recovering from his recent film Simple Jack, which was a box office flop and was bashed by critics. 5 time Academy Award winner Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), an Australian actor, underwent a procedure to darken his skin so that he could play the African American platoon leader called for in the script. Fart joke comedian Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) is trying to break the mold of gross out comedy, but has trouble keeping his mind during filming because of his drug addiction. After being violently screamed at by movie executive Les Grossman (Tom Cruise like you've never seen him before), director Damien desperately takes advice from Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte), the war veteran that wrote the book from which the movie is based. Tayback suggests that in order to get real emotion and an authentic feel, the cast should be dropped in the middle of the Vietnam forest where some controlled explosions and gunfire will challenge them. But no more than 5 minutes after they land, the cast is thrust into a real war zone with Vietnamese drug lords...they just don't realize it. When Tugg Speedman is kidnapped, Kirk, Jeff, rapper turned actor Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), and newcomer Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel) must save their comrade from certain death. If you have seen commercials for Tropic Thunder, you probably don't think it looks very funny. Do not be fooled. Tropic Thunder is very funny and at some times hilarious, and has lots of fun action to satisfy your needs.

Just last week, Judd Apatow attempted to blur the genres of action and comedy together in Pineapple Express, but didn't succeed to the fullest extent. The trouble was his film had too many sagging points. Ben Stiller, who wrote and directed Tropic Thunder, made sure to add as many jokes as possible to keep things funny. This can be a very risky technique, as we've seen in You Don't Mess With the Zohan, where Adam Sandler crammed jokes into every orifice of that film but didn't land any hits making it unbearable to watch. Tropic Thunder has its share of misses, but not nearly enough to make the film droop. When jokes did hit in Tropic Thunder, much like Pineapple Express, it was hilarious. What makes Tropic Thunder better is the fact that is was continuously funny. There were less gaps in the comedy. Stiller did the correct thing in not letting the action overtake the film, and even during the action sequences the comedy never ceased. He also filmed everything very tastefully, not really glorifying the bloody part of fighting. Keeping in line with the rest of the film, Stiller kept things funny. Before the film even begins, we are treated to a series of hysterical fake advertisements and movie trailers starring the characters from the film. Once the film starts, show patience, as the first 15 minutes aren't particularly interesting. After you make it over that hump, Tropic Thunder becomes roaringly funny and endlessly entertaining.

What makes Tropic Thunder an above average comedy is some of the terrific performances displayed in it. One person who does not give one of those performances is Ben Stiller. His character Tugg Speedman is after all a slow witted tough guy, but he is actually the straight man in this film. Tugg is also a bit annoying because he took way too long to figure out that his kidnapping was not part of the film. Nobody can be that stupid. Providing few jokes (even fewer that are actually funny), one wonders why Stiller didn't write himself some better material. Another lackluster performance was that of Jack Black as Jeff Portnoy. Black is a rambunctious comedy actor, but his role is too small to allow him to show any type of range. His drug addiction is pretty much the only joke he delivers, and it isn't even that funny. The one exception being when he is tied to a tree and he says something that is just awful and hilarious. One of the better performances in Tropic Thunder is given by Brandon T. Jackson as the rapper who endorses a drink called Booty Sweat and a candy bar called Bust-a-Nut. Surprisingly, I found him very entertaining to watch and he had quite a few laugh out loud moments in the film, specifically in his interactions with Downey Jr. In a role that you would probably never have imagined him in, Tom Cruise has been earning praise as a show stealer as Les Grossman. I wouldn't call him a show stealer, but Cruise's over the top potty mouth performance was quite enjoyable and very uncharacteristic of him, which made it even funnier. Also a surprise, Matthew McConaughey randomly takes a supporting role as Tugg Speedman's agent Rick Peck. The role originally was meant for Owen Wilson, but he was forced to drop the film after his attempted suicide last year. McConaughey isn't exactly what I would call a "good" actor, but his concern for his client provided some extra laughs and probably McConaughey's best performance of his career. (That is not saying much). But the man who completely ran away with this movie is Robert Downey Jr. I'm sure when 2008 began, he had no idea how much of a household name he would become at years end. Playing an Australian actor that is playing a black man, Downey Jr steals every scene and delivers every line with consistent hilarity. The role of Kirk Lazarus was written to explore and make fun of how actors immerse themselves into roles, and Downey Jr perfectly exemplifies this...by immersing himself into the role. He created a character that was extremely hilarious without being racist or offensive. Every character in the film had a stale line or two (Stiller had a lot of those), but not Downey Jr. He hits the right note every time, taking comedy through a whole new frontier.

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the release of Tropic Thunder. Protests from groups supporting those with disabilities have plagued the film and no doubt had an effect on its weekend gross. (The film only took in about 26 million, it deserved much more). People are outraged over the use of the word "retard" in the film. They feel it is demeaning to all people with mental disabilities. Now that I have seen this movie, I can say without question that this film in no way offends mentally handicapped people. As somebody with a relative who has down syndrome, I did not feel angered by their use of the word retard. I laughed the entire scene. The word retard in the film is not used in a derogatory sense. Nobody says "You are a retard" or "That was retarded of you". That would be offensive because the line would be meant to be insulting to the person hearing it. Instead, Tugg Speedman and Kirk Lazarus discuss Tugg's role in his film Simple Jack, in which he did play a retard. (Notice how I have no problem using the word, because I am not using it to offend anybody). The whole purpose of the joke is to make fun of how actors will take on roles as handicapped people because they are hoping to get an award from it. The scene was actually extremely clever-minded and witty as Kirk explains to Tugg that there is a certain level of retardation you have to play to get an award, and that there is a certain point that can't be crossed. That joke is not aimed at retarded people, but at the actors who take advantage of the roles of retarded people. Honestly, I do not think you will be offended by this scene unless you are extremely overly sensitive. If Al Sharpton didn't freak out because a white actor was playing a black role, you probably won't freak out from the use of the word retard.

Tropic Thunder might not be every one's cup of tea, but it happened to be mine. Even with a slow first 15 minutes and the weak performance by Stiller, Tropic Thunder is the summer comedy we have been waiting for. At 107 minutes, time is not really a factor because you will spend most of it laughing. Ignore the bad press for this film caused by those disability groups and head to the movies for a good time. I have a feeling you will not be disappointed. I also feel that Robert Downey Jr. should be nominated for some type of award. Maybe not an Oscar, because that's a little extreme. Something less important, like a Golden Globe. It just doesn't seem right that his performance goes unrewarded. It was so perfect. My rating (7.5/10)

Pineapple Express (2008)

It seems that every few months another film written by the Judd Apatow gang surfaces and tries to breathe life into the comedy industry. In the past, any film with the Apatow Productions sticker attached to it has more often than not been a success. Whether taking on a middle aged virgin, two booze seeking best friends, or an accidental pregnancy after a drunken night, Judd Apatow has consistently proven to be a comedic genius that also has a lot of heart. Naturally, given this track record, I was very excited for the release of his most recent film, Pineapple Express. Trailers and commercials did even more to pique my interest. Entering the theater, I was all set to begin enjoying what should have been the funniest film I would see all year. Sadly, it was not. Pineapple Express chronicles the unfortunate tale of frequently stoned process server Dale Denton (Seth Rogen). After witnessing a murder committed by a policewoman (Rosie Perez) and the later identified drug lord Ted Jones (Gary Cole), Dale seeks refuge with the first person he can think of: his drug dealer Saul (James Franco). Ted, who mistakenly identifies Dale as a hitman from a rival Chinese gang, sends his best men to kill the two stoners forcing them to go on the run. With the help of Saul's friend Red (Danny McBride), the pair must fight fire with fire to save their lives, so they may smoke weed another day.

As somebody who does not smoke weed, drink alcohol, or do any kind of drug at all, maybe I missed something while watching Pineapple Express. Perhaps it would have helped to be stoned so that I could enjoy it more. But if a movie requires you to be stoned to fully appreciate it, then it's not that great of a movie. I could only speculate as to how marijuana makes you feel, but I imagine it is a lot like watching this film. When you are doing it (watching the film) you feel great and are having a good time, but once you come down from your high (exit the theater) you don't really remember much of what happened. Normally after watching a comedy with my friends, in the parking lot we will repeat jokes that we liked from the film so that we can renew the experience. Dead silent is the only term I can use to describe the walk out of the theater with my girlfriend. Neither of us could remember a single joke. I even had trouble remembering what the final scene in the movie was. I do recall that when Pineapple Express was funny, it was hysterical. But when it was not funny, it was dead, and there were a lot of points that were devoid of laughter. Judd Apatow's films usually do have a sagging point, but often bounce back by the end. Pineapple Express falls into a pit and spends the rest of the film trying desperately to climb back up from the depths of mediocrity. In the end it succeeded, but the line is very thin.

Aside from being a comedy, Pineapple Express is a heavily violent action film. Executed properly, Pineapple Express had potential to be a terrific summer flick. But the far from mainstream director David Gordon Green could not handle the new world of an absurd action comedy. Since the comedic portion of the film heavily relies on the actors abilities, I can only really comment on Green's ability to stage an over the top brawl. Put simply, he isn't particularly cut out for it. In some cases however, he did show professionalism and a good eye for comedy. In a scene where Saul and Dale steal a police car and are being chased by the corrupt policewoman, Green effectively mixes thrilling action with genuine humor. On the other hand, Green falters at creating an extravagant final showdown. The epic battle between rival drug factions and the stoners is poorly shot and beyond belief in some cases. In a different film like Wanted or Shoot 'Em Up, I forgive unbelievable and physically impossible events. But Pineapple Express was primarily a film grounded in reality for practically the entire duration. In the end, it was reduced to Wile E. Coyote running off the cliff but his feet are still moving. The only difference being those old Wile E. Coyote episodes were pretty funny. Green dropped the comedic ball completely and instead provided a third rate fight sequence with first rate special effects. For a first attempt at a wide release film, Green fell short.
Seth Rogen is a rising force in comedy, breaking through with the hits Knocked Up and Superbad and now has 5 in development credits on IMDb.com, including the leading role in a superhero film entitled The Green Hornet. Personally I am a fan of Rogen, and I hope he continues to be successful in Hollywood. But in Pineapple Express, Rogen is uncharacteristically weak in both his writing of the film and his performance. Sharing a pen with lifelong buddy Evan Goldberg (who he also wrote Superbad with), Rogen doesn't bring the sincerity that has made most of Apatow Productions in the past unique. He also doesn't create a character that is particularly likable. Although Dale is a very funny person, he has a girlfriend that is in high school. What is up with that? That's not funny, that's pedophilia. Actually they say she is 18, so I guess that is supposed to make it better. It still doesn't sit right with me. Aside from the fact that he is an irresponsible stoner and borderline pedophile, Dale is still pretty funny to watch thanks to Rogen. But the ray of light in Pineapple Express is without a doubt James Franco as the permanently stoned Saul Silver. Clad in a headband and pajama bottoms, Franco steals the movie right out from under the feet of the rest of the cast. I haven't been a fan of Franco's past work (especially his role as "the smiling idiot" in Spiderman 3), but Pineapple Express has changed my opinion of the kind of actor he is. He showed a terrific aptitude in creating laughter from every situation. Danny McBride provided intermittent comedy in his supporting role as Red. Once again though, much like Dale's character, Red is a bit of a jerk. By the end of the film he redeems himself by providing my personal favorite line from the film, "You just got killed by a Daewoo Lanos!" It's funnier in context. Gary Cole is a bit of a miscast as the sinister drug lord Ted Jones. I couldn't really get into his performance. He was about as intimidating as a Dachshund.

Pineapple Express isn't terribly long, but at some points you will begin checking your watch to see how much is left. The movie as a whole is a mixed bag that is full of funny performances but a lagging storyline and mostly poorly shot action sequences. If you plan on riding the express, be prepared to have a mild sense of disappointment and also the inability to remember anything you just saw. Although the experience won't stick with you, it gives you just enough fun while you are watching it to earn a mild recommendation from me. My rating (a disappointing 6/10)

Teeth (2007)

Warning: The following post contains numerous references to the male and female anatomy. If you haven't heard about the birds and the bees yet, I suggest clicking on another review.

Are you a parent of a teenage son? Do you live in worry that he will come home one day with the news that he has gotten a girl pregnant after an irresponsible night? Do you wish there was a way to somehow keep your son from making this stupid mistake? Well I have good news for you. A movie has been released that serves as the most potent anti-sex film since the dawn of time. I am talking about Teeth, a film that for some reason won an award at the Sundance Film Festival, and just so happens to have ended up on my friend's television screen when I went to his house. If you have a friend or if you are a person who keeps track of recent releases of independent films, you may have heard of this film as "the one with the girl who's got teeth in her danger zone". Well yes, that is essentially what the film is about. Teeth is the gag inducing tale of Dawn O'Keefe (Jess Weixler), a teenage girl who strongly advocates abstinence before marriage. After becoming the object of attraction for fellow abstainer Toby (Hale Appleman), Dawn discovers that she isn't like normal girls. When Toby attempts to take advantage of her (some nice guy he turned out to be right?), the event is short lived as his penis soon becomes a thing of the past. How could this have happened? You guessed it. Teeth in the va-j-j. Horrified by herself (as she should be), Dawn researches her unusual condition and discovers she has Vagina Dentata, a mythical affliction that seems to have been brought to reality through her body. Although this could possibly make for an effective scary story around a campfire, turning this plot into a feature film was a huge mistake. Then again, voluntarily watching it was a huge mistake on my part.

I saw Teeth a while ago, but am only just writing about it because I tried so desperately to remove it from my memory. I came to the decision that instead of keeping it locked away, I should share with the world the atrocities of this film, so that they could avoid the mistake that I was so foolish to make. I'm sure the makers of Teeth didn't plan on making a film that's sole purpose was to scare the sex drive out of teenage boys, but ultimately that's what they got. Being a teenage boy myself, it took me a day and a half to rationalize that it was just a movie. Looking back I feel silly that I was even affected at all. But in all seriousness, Teeth does not work as anything more than a film preaching abstinence. Even in that respect, it doesn't succeed. Like I said, it took me only a day and a half to get over it. I haven't had sex, but if my girlfriend offered it to me I wouldn't say "No, first I want you to get checked for Vagina Dentata". Teeth also fails as an amusing splatstick film, because I couldn't really find the comedy in watching multiple penises get removed. It just didn't sit right with me. I've grown fond of having a penis, and the thought of it having ripped away makes me very sad. I guess you could say if somebody tried to take it away, I'd have quite the BONE to pick with them =D....no? Nothing? Ok moving on. Director Mitchell Lichtenstein, who has done practically nothing in the past, should never be allowed to work again after bringing us this vile, poorly filmed squalor. Not to mention the most obnoxious and overly dramatic score since There Will Be Blood (I'd give There Will Be Blood a 9 instead of a 10 only because of the score, but that's a different review). In some particularly ugly shots (including the opening shot of the film), Lichtenstein shows a landscape view of the bright and sunny town that the film takes place in. Technicolor that is reminiscent of the early Batman television series makes this shot an eye sore, and it foreshadows the rest of the film as being a terrible viewing experience.

If you are going to be physically and emotionally sickened by a film, one should hope that there were some redeeming qualities that kept you interested. Teeth offers you nothing, and on top of that nothing shows you graphic scenes of penal amputation. Makes for one hell of a movie right!? Wrong. Jess Weixler is annoying and sometimes unwatchable as the girl with the devil's vagina, Dawn. Even though her character is reasonably in hysterics for a lot of the film, she still managed to over-act and sometimes even under-act. Never did Weixler hit the nail on the head. No supporting performances give Teeth an extra boost, not even John Hensley's performance as Dawn's drug taking, sex having, deeply disturbed step brother Brad. The relationship between Dawn and Brad had potential to be intriguing and memorable but instead falls flat on its back. The resolution between the two is predictable and altogether unsatisfying. You see what is about to happen from a mile away and when it is finally done you are left scratching your head thinking, "That's it? I really watched that entire movie just so I can see something that I totally expected to happen like an hour ago? I'm gonna go throw up". Now I didn't throw up when I finished the film, but if they had some kind of memory eraser that I could take to erase it from my head that would be swell. If you know any good ways to remove something from your memory without damaging everything else in your head just leave a comment.

Now underneath the repulsive visuals displayed in Teeth, there lies the foundation of any film, and that is the script. The director Mitchell Lichtenstein also wrote the screenplay for the film, and I must say this man really does not have any talent. He managed to take a completely original idea (something that is very rare in today's movies) and drive it so far into the ground that the heat from the earth's core melted it. Lichtenstein could not decide whether to make his film heavy on the horror and light on comedy or the other way around. Scenes flip flop between scary and comical, and sometimes the scary scenes are more laugh producing than the funny ones. Either way, I didn't find the film to be funny at all. The subject matter is a bit too grotesque to be funny. Beneath his sequences of horror and violence, there is meant to be a feeling of female empowerment delivered by Dawn, who can somewhat be classified as a hero given the film's ending. The idea that this girl is using her "gift" to punish sex driven men (albeit by having sex with them) probably would give a woman a sense of pride and the feeling that she can overcome the oppression of any man. WELL I'M NOT A WOMAN! I fail to see the pride one can gain from having teeth in her vagina! And as a boy, I learned absolutely nothing from this film. The only possible message could have been to not be so hasty with who you become intimate with. But all I learned was to always check the quality of the turf before you step out on the field.

Teeth runs at the longest 94 minutes you will ever endure, and shows you no mercy along the way. I had a feeling going in that I wouldn't enjoy this film, and I was dead right. Perhaps if the film was not as graphic it would have been easier to watch. But the pervasive obscenity of the amputation scenes were unnecessary and in no way entertaining. Maybe if you are a woman you can watch this film and laugh and say "Ha! Take that you stupid man! Chicks rule! Girl power, woohoo!" But other than that, there is nothing that can come from this film except misery and unhappiness. Everybody, especially men, should run away from this film at all costs. My rating (1/10)

Be Kind Rewind (2008)

There are some values that have become lost in our modern day society that at one point we cherished. Many of us take for granted our neighbors and friends and go through life feeling alone. Michel Gondry's Be Kind Rewind is on the surface a comedic story of two friends Jerry and Mike, who remake films for their customers after Jerry becomes magnetized and erases every tape in Mike's video store. Beneath that exterior lies a touching exploration into the forgotten values of unity and friendship. Although it is refreshing to see such ideals being displayed, they don't exactly make for a very exciting film. Although I have already given you a brief synopsis of the plot, I'll paint a more elaborate picture for you. Elroy Fletcher (Danny Glover) owns and operates a rundown video store in Passaic, New Jersey called Be Kind Rewind. When Mr. Fletcher goes away to honor the passing of a jazz legend that was supposedly born in his building, he leaves Mike (Mos Def) in charge of the store. Before he goes he leaves Mike one warning, and that is to keep Jerry (Jack Black) away. After a freak accident at a power plant, Jerry is left magnetized and confused and ends up in Be Kind Rewind. Sure enough, Jerry causes problems as he ends up erasing every tape in the store. When frequent customer Miss Faliwicz (Mia Farrow) comes to rent Ghostbusters, Jerry and Mike desperately put together their own version of the film, hoping Miss Faliwicz wouldn't know the difference. Surprisingly, the video becomes popular and the entire neighborhood stops by to have a film of their choice "sweded". Be Kind Rewind has plenty of heart, but lackluster performances and a dull script keep it from achieving greatness.

French born director Michel Gondry has become famous for his vivid and whimsical imagination and his ability to transfer it onto the screen. In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, (a film of which I am a huge fan of), Gondry touched on the subject of love and the joy it could give you, and also the great lengths you would go through to erase it from your memory. The reason he was able to turn that film into such an accomplishment was his oddball humor, his amazing script, and his unique cinematography. In Be Kind Rewind, Gondry does not delve into an emotion that we all endure, but instead discusses the bond between friends and the happiness that can be shared with one another. This message was especially potent with me, as I just so happen to enjoy making short films with my friends. Seeing the characters put together a poorly shot, almost completely improvised film struck a chord with me, as it was all too familiar. Be Kind Rewind is not without bizarre humor, especially in a scene where Jerry unleashes a river of magnetized urine down the street, attracting mufflers and other metal objects as it flowed. Although that scene was particularly outlandish, the rest of the film isn't nearly as ridiculous. The premise of Be Kind Rewind is intriguing, but unfortunately the script that holds up that premise is blandly written and unimpressive. The conflict that arises from these characters actions is predictable and unremarkable. Not to mention the trailers pretty much give away what happens. Finally, the cinematography and direction of Be Kind Rewind are trite and simple. With the exception of a continuous shot of the main characters filming several films at once, there is no originality or memorable scenes. The dazzle that Gondry gave to me in Eternal Sunshine was noticeably absent from this picture, and it is very disappointing.

Performances are another downfall that plague Be Kind Rewind. The characters are meant to be relatable and loveable, but I felt neither of these emotions watching this film. With the exception of Jack Black, there were absolutely no bright spots in the entire cast. Possibly the only good rapper turned actor Mos Def wasn't so good in his role as Mike. Unenthusiastic speaking and a constant thousand mile stare had me thinking somebody swapped out the real Mos Def for a pod person that looked just like him. Danny Glover is practically negligible as Mr. Fletcher, the owner of Be Kind Rewind. Much like Mos Def, Glover seems unenthusiastic and doesn't seem right for this film. If you would have put Def in Glover's role and vice verse, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference. Neither provided humor to the film, nor did they provoke any sort of feeling that made me interested in their life. As I mentioned, Jack Black gave the only truly enjoyable performance in the film. He actually seemed fit for his role. Playing the eccentric Jerry was effortless for Black, as he is a bit of an eccentric himself. His endless humor helped save Be Kind Rewind from sinking to the depths of garbage.

Be Kind Rewind runs a little above 100 minutes, but it does go by pretty quickly. Despite the fact that not much happens, the film doesn't lag so it doesn't bore you to tears. And although the performances were interchangeable and lackluster, I still found myself watching the film voluntarily, instead of wriggling in my chair waiting for it to end. Even though the number of negatives outweighed the number of positives, I was still mildly enthused. The majority of the entertainment came from watching Mos Def and Jack Black put their own spin on movies such as Ghostbusters. I for one have been a Ghostbusters fanatic since I was a little boy (I even had a proton pack that I would run around my house with), so it was extremely amusing to watch them remake it. Be Kind Rewind is simply a nice film with a good message and a big heart. I am just barely recommending it for your viewing pleasure, but do not expect another Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. My rating (5.5/10)

The Dark Knight (2008)

Up to this point, the summer of 2008 has been the summer of great comic book movies. The Incredible Hulk and Hellboy were both great fun, and Iron Man brought us the best superhero movie since Batman Begins. Well I hope Iron Man enjoyed it's time on top, because The Dark Knight has come and left every single one of those films in the dust. I'm somewhat afraid that with this review I will be unable to fully convey how spectacular this movie was. Christian Bale, a man that has time and again proved himself to be an amazing actor (American Psycho, The Prestige, 3:10 To Yuma) returns as the caped crusader, who seems to have fallen out of favor with the public. Ever since he has began patrolling the streets of Gotham, the crime rate has soared, and a new breed of criminal seems to have been born. Batman, who cannot fight injustice alone, takes up support of new District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). Dent has become a beacon of light for Gotham, vowing to be a "white knight" and make the street's safe again. His campaign could not come soon enough, as a new villain emerges from the depths of Gotham to play games with its inhabitants. This individual is The Joker (Heath Ledger), a man who simply came from nowhere to challenge Batman to see how far he was willing to go to stop a madman. At every turn, The Joker makes another move that is completely unexpected and always catastrophic. Unconcerned about what happens to him, this green and purple freak will do anything to cause chaos, and to push Batman to his limits to see how moral of a hero he really is. While Batman has his own set of problems, billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne must deal with the fact that he has lost the love of his life Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) to the very man he is supporting, Harvey Dent. The Dark Knight is not only the best superhero movie ever made, but one of the best crime dramas ever put on film, and should be considered for a Best Picture Oscar.

Everything works in The Dark Knight. There is not a single weak link in the chain. Christopher Nolan, the man behind one of my personal favorite films Memento, does an outstanding job of handling this material. He has created a city that has descended into disorder and desperation. Gotham is unforgiving and the people that dwell there are just as harsh. They would have to be in order to survive. Even though this city has fallen to corruption and crime, Nolan does a tasteful job of not exploiting that fact to a point beyond where anybody can appreciate it. His focus lies on the conflicts of Bruce Wayne and the rise of the evil Joker. He presents us with the question of how far should anybody be willing to go to protect what they believe is right. Nolan also accomplishes the feat of tackling multiple storylines without becoming jumbled and confusing. The movie slides easily from scene to scene, changing directions but always remaining focused. Some excellent cinematography helps to ease the viewer into each scene without jarring them, but also without dragging them in kicking and screaming. The action in The Dark Knight is without a doubt heart racing, adrenaline pumping fun that doesn't get too bogged down in its scale. Although not without its share of CGI, Nolan only uses it whenever is absolutely necessary and doesn't turn this epic crime drama into a third rate superhero flick. That's right, I don't even consider this film a superhero film. It packs the punch of an excellent action film, but also is an enthralling exploration of the unending battle between good and evil, right and wrong. Nolan is at the top of his game with The Dark Knight, as he somehow manages to surpass his masterpiece Memento. I guess that would make The Dark Knight a....super masterpiece?

Direction alone cannot make a movie brilliant, though. One needs a cast that can take a script and turn it into a something real. In other words, take a fictional story but make the audience believe it's true. To say the all star cast of The Dark Knight did that would be an understatement. Christian Bale is the most intimidating Batman and the most arrogant Bruce Wayne in the history of the franchise. His struggles and battles that he must face as both Wayne and Batman are all exemplified perfectly, bringing the viewer into his head to feel exactly what he feels. His struggle to maintain composure in the face of the insane Joker shows us all that everyone has a breaking point, even people masquerading as a bat. Bale's versatility as an actor really permeates through to the audience in every movie he does. You can also feel Bruce's heartache as he loses Rachel to Harvey. Aaron Eckhart gives a top notch performance as righteous Harvey Dent, the man who wants to clean up Gotham without wearing a mask. As Dent, Eckhart is a delight to watch as he spreads his ordeals and stands up to the injustices of his city. When Dent unavoidably becomes Two-Face (that's not really a spoiler, so don't be upset), his fight for what is right becomes a flawed mission as he turns to vigilantism himself. Using the flip of a coin to decide whether someone lives or dies, Harvey "Two-Face" Dent is a depressing reminder that everyone is corruptable. Echkart's performance is definitely note-worthy, but unfortunately he will most likely be overshadowed by another performance (Hint: It's not Maggie Gyllenhaal). In Batman Begins, Rachel Dawes was played plainly and unenthusiastically by Katie Holmes. Well in The Dark Knight, since everything else was better, Holmes was swapped out for an upgrade, but not too much of an upgrade to Maggie Gyllenhaal. Gyllenhaal brings us a much more convincing performance as the one woman in Gotham to know Batman's true identity, and the agony that comes with that knowledge is detectable on her face. Although her character is in love with Harvey, anytime she is near Bruce you can sense desire between both parties.

But you probably don't care about Maggie Gyllenhaal's performance. Chances are if you care about this movie, there is only one person you really want to hear about. That is the late Heath Ledger, who portrays the dysfunctional Joker. Ledger has brought forth the most frightening and deranged villain since Hannibal Lector. The way he so completely became this role, creating strange mannerisms and tics, makes you believe that there is not even an actor playing this man, and that he truly exists. The paint on his face that is often a runny mess symbolizes the insanity lying beneath that face, and how utterly diabolic his mind works. Christopher Nolan does not give a backstory to the Joker either. He has no identification, his fingerprints are unique, his DNA has no matches, he has no discernible origin whatsoever. He is genuinely an entity that was born from the presence of Batman. In a few memorable scenes, the Joker explains how the scars on his face came to be, but the story changes each time. This could simply be a part of his insanity, or maybe it is a sign that not even the Joker himself can remember who he was before Batman. Ledger is absolutely phenomenal as this unprecedented character, stealing every scene that he is in. His actions and words hypnotize you so that you cannot help but be scared. It would be downright foolish to not nominate him for Best Supporting Actor. Now some people might be saying "Oh well you are just saying this because he died and it's sympathy for him that everyone is giving him this praise". Well I'll tell you right now that what happened to Heath Ledger in real life is completely irrelevant. As I watched The Dark Knight, I didn't even see Heath Ledger. I saw the Joker.
Whenever I review a film and give it a high grade, I always consider that it is just my opinion and that there are probably many people who dislike the movies that I give tens. People could find No Country For Old Men boring and I understand that. People could find A Clockwork Orange too controversial and inappropriate and I understand that. People could find The Shining too slow and I understand that. But not this film. I find it hard to believe that anybody could completely dislike The Dark Knight. Yes the movie is dark and it has a very bleak message, but Batman is a dark comic book. That is the way it should be. The way it was meant to be. Length is not an issue with this film, despite a run time of 2 and a half hours. I promise you it will fly by, and you may even want it to last longer just like I did. With not a single flaw (except maybe some improbable forensic software), I am obligated to give this film the highest rating possible. With a movie this captivating, the sad question is asked: How will they top it? My rating: (10/10)

This review is dedicated to the memory of Christopher Nowak.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)

The year of the comic book continues with Guillermo Del Toro's Hellboy II: The Golden Army. If you have seen a film by Del Toro in the past, you probably know that the man's imagination is only exceeded by his belly. Perhaps it was his wild imagination that got this sequel greenlit, considering the fact that 2004's Hellboy only grossed a little above $55 million domestically. No matter how he managed to do it, I am glad he did. Hellboy II is a step up from its predecessor in every way. At the beginning of the film, we are told the story of the golden army by Professor Broom (John Hurt) to a teenage Hellboy. Long ago, humans and beasts roamed the earth together. But the humans, unhappy with living with trolls I guess, started a war against those beasts and ended up winning the first battle. Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) was deeply enraged by this, and when the offer arose, the Prince convinced his father to build a golden army to teach the humans a lesson. To control the army, a gold crown was created to be worn by the King. After a brutal slaying, King Balor, riddled with regret, created a truce with the humans and divided the crown into 3 pieces. Prince Nuada, ashamed by his father's actions, went into exile, waiting for the moment he could make everything right. Now it is present day and Nuada returns to reclaim what was his, and the only people that can stop him are the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. Our familiar friends Hellboy, Liz, and Abe (Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, and Doug Jones) get the call to stop the Prince before he destroys all of mankind. With the help of new team leader Johann Krauss (voiced by Seth MacFarlane), the team investigates an underground world of unimaginable creatures, protecting people that don't seem to want protecting.

More than anything, Hellboy II: The Golden Army is a visual feast, or rather, a visual all you can eat buffet. Director Guillermo Del Toro's creativity is exhibited in the forms of monsters who are hideous yet at the same time beautiful. In a scene where the Bureau members walk through a troll market, I was left astounded by the brilliant variety of ghouls that Del Toro has served up for us in this magnificent display. Del Toro must have been running the makeup team ragged with his wild imagination. On that note, Hellboy II is a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination for Best Makeup. Attention to detail and consistent diversity amongst the creatures makes the film a never ending source of magic and whimsy. Del Toro's love for the characters and their world shines through with unyielding brightness. Aside from the stunning landscapes and creatures, Del Toro also paces the film very well, not allowing the film to crumble under its own weight. Once you make it past the cheesy, cornballish first 15 minutes or so, entertainment ensues for the remaining 95.

When you are covered with makeup and prosthetics, it can be difficult to fully convey emotions and actions properly. The actors in Hellboy II do a very good job of making their costumes complete non factors in their performances. Watching a group of abnormal beings portray familiar human emotions, such as love and shame, makes you forget that Hellboy has the right hand of doom and that Abe is essentially a talking fish. All you recognize is how similar to us these misunderstood creatures are. Ron Perlman is great as the gruff, rebellious Hellboy. His ability to maintain an intimidating exterior while cracking jokes and smoking cigars makes Hellboy a likeable character despite his "lone wolf" ideals. Unlike recent superhero flick Hancock, Hellboy succeeds in combining humor and drama because it doesn't lay it on too thick. Earlier in his career, Perlman donned excessive makeup for his role as Vincent in television series Beauty and the Beast. This experience most likely made playing Hellboy somewhat familiar to Perlman, and it really shows in this film. Hellboy's relationship with Liz is a recognizable one, reminding me of a normal couple dealing with normal problems. The actors really do a terrific job of making you sympathize with the characters as you would another person. Another man who is no stranger to prosthetics, Doug Jones reprises his role as the all knowing amphibious being Abe Sapien. In the first Hellboy, David Hyde Pierce provided the voice of Abe but refused crediting because he felt that Jones really did all the work. Pierce pretty much hit the nail on the head. In Hellboy II, Jones does even more work providing his own voice and the difference is practically negligible. What makes Abe such an interesting character are his mannerisms and his impressive ability to know EVERYTHING. Since the latter characteristic is uncontrollable, Jones had to make this weird fish man a delight to see on screen, and he does. We also get to see the romantic side of Abe when he falls in love with the enemies sister. Forbidden love is always awesome (and in this case hilarious). My absolute favorite part of this film was new character Johann Krauss, the team's new leader that was called in to watch over Hellboy. Krauss was played by 3 different people: James Dodd, John Alexander, and Seth MacFarlane. Addressing the work done by MacFarlane, I couldn't help but laugh at the fact that the creator of Family Guy, the man who does the voice of Peter Griffin, was in Hellboy II as a German ectoplasmic scientist. He also did a great job of matching the voice with the motions of Krauss, that were acted out by either Dodd or Alexander. A thoroughly entertaining character, Krauss' level-headed mindset and brilliant psychic abilities make him a formidable match against the brute force of Hellboy.

Hellboy II is not a terrific film though, as it does have it's fair share of infirmities. I briefly stated before that the first 15 minutes are a bit rough to get through. That might be giving it too much credit. In comparison to the rest of the film, the first 15 minutes seemed like a different movie altogether. I almost completely lost interest as I watched an awkward young Hellboy beg his father to read him a bedtime story. Clumsily shot, horribly acted, altogether unappealing to watch, I feared this movie was over before it even got started. Luckily because of Del Toro's ability to tell a story, I soon became entangled in this movies web. Although, the storyline itself was a bit difficult to appreciate. It was a little too familiar for my taste. A superhero that isn't favored by the public and must fight his own demons is a recipe that has been used in too many dishes (Spiderman, Batman, Hancock). The message of acceptance of everybody despite our differences has been played for years (All 3 X-Men films), and is becoming redundant now. It was also unrealistic to see not a single person stand up for Hellboy. In a scene where Hellboy saves a baby from a car about to be destroyed, not one person in the crowd shouts a positive comment. Every person is portrayed as close minded and arrogant. Even in a world of monsters, that seems a bit unrealistic.

Although not perfect and not quite as good as Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy II is energetic and amusing throughout. With an enchanting score from Danny Elfman, the action sequences in Hellboy II are a thrill to behold. They do not run too long and they do not indulge in blurry CGI. You can see everything that happens clearly, something that recent action films don't offer (Transformers, Spiderman 3). I was not a big fan of the first film so I did not expect much from this one. I was pleasantly surprised. With just the right mix of humor and action and a plethora of beautiful creatures, Hellboy II is smashing summer fun that could be appreciated by all ages. My rating (7/10)

Oh yea, there is also the funniest rendition of a Barry Manilow song EVER.

Movies given a 10/10

  • Milk
  • In Bruges
  • Slumdog Millionaire
  • The Dark Knight
  • Iron Man
  • No Country For Old Men
  • The Shining
  • A Clockwork Orange