Thursday, May 27, 2010

"Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" (2010)

Strictly viewed as a video game adaptation, "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" succeeds just fine. The dagger is put to good use and integrated well into the story. You fill the dagger with magical sand, push a gem on the hilt and suddenly you are traveling a minute back in time. The effect looks cool with flowing, swirling gold sand. It doesn't happen frequently, though. But how could it? If you keep pushing the button, things get boring because nobody will die, and you'll run out of that sand anyway. The acrobatics are all there from the game, but again not as much as maybe we'd like. Even still, as far as video game adaptations go, it's better than the rest.

As far as being a movie on its own and trying to live up to the expectations of being the next "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise as a Jerry Bruckheimer production based on something hokey (this time not an amusement park ride), it fails in every respect and had me wincing in embarrassment. The movie is helmed by director Mike Newell who tackled "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" with more ease than he does here. He can't find his way around an action sequence without it being completely mind-boggling and disorienting. The CGI gets in the way in most instances as Prince Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) flips around disposing of his enemies. The enemies also all look the same, all turbaned in some way either shooting arrows or throwing knives. The color palette is brown, tan, gold and maybe some variations of that. The movie is the same all the way through, a rollercoaster ride without any drops, and it's downright ugly not only in its look but style.

Jakes Gyllenhaal plays Dastan how he should and adds nothing else to it. He's rightfully buffed up sporting long hair and Persian robes and garb. He cracks his one-liners, has his smart remarks, gets angry at enemies and charms the lady but all of it feels mandatory, never organic. Nothing about "Prince of Persia" is such. There's the Alamutian princess Tarmina (Gemma Arterton) who takes her job of protecting her city of Alamut and the magical dagger seriously. When she and Dastan embark on their quest together after realizing their motives turn out to be the same—of course they do—they bicker, just as they're supposed to do, and then they gradually—as if simply by their circumstances—fall in love, just as they're supposed to do. Nothing additional is created by either of these actors to aid the flatness of their characters. There's no chemistry, no fun, no wit, no charm. And at least let there be an ounce of sex appeal. Gyllenhaal goes shirtless only once briefly; all that working out for nothing. And that kiss the two leads finally share is painfully lame.

The villain is played by Ben Kingsley who played a more menacing villain, who turned out to not actually be a villain, in "Shutter Island" earlier this year. He wears black eyeliner, so that makes him scarier. He is Navim, Dastan's uncle who calls for the attack on the city of Alamut. Reasons for the attack are muddled, mixed around, jumbled, spun, twisted and turned, and while there are about three fake villains and one additional assassin villain who resembles Lord Voldemort, it is Navim who is the bad guy. Just so we're clear. I didn't give anything away; Kingsley is the one on the movie poster, not the others.

The magical dagger becomes important in that, if put in the wrong hands, it can end the world and destroy all of mankind. Even with such an imposing sense of doom, nothing about Dastan and Tarmina's journey escalates to any sort of importance or epic scale. There's falling, there's yelling and shouting, running and fleeing, but to what ultimate purpose? The journey is surprisingly boring for all that's going on, and in this sense the movie comes off as desperate. The excitement and emotion picks up for a moment during a big underground set piece, but even that is lackluster.

And you can't forget the obligatory character of comic relief. This time it's Alfred Molina as Sheik Amar, a wild-eyed Persian with a fetish for racing ostriches, finding gold and evading taxes. When this guy gives the most charisma out of everyone in the movie combined, you know you're in trouble. "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" is not the next "Pirates"-like franchise. When meant to be light blockbuster entertainment such as that, it doesn't work when Molina is honestly the best you get. The rest is a self-serious trudge through the desert.

"I Am Love" (2010)

"I Am Love" is a sensuous melodrama and a tale of sexual awakening, and at its center is the brilliantly talented Tilda Swinton (recently in "Burn After Reading" and "Michael Clayton") in her almost extraterrestrial elegance and grace. Her performance in this lavishly Italian film imaginatively directed by Luca Guadagnino packs an emotional resonance and brings meaning to the film's obsession with the senses. In one intimately shot sex scene, the camera does not gaze upon but rather gently caresses its subjects with close-ups of flesh and beads of sweat along with pollinating bees, blades of grass and flower petals briskly fluttering in the wind. Details are frequently lingered on so closely as to evoke all the senses with the smell, taste and touch of what is shown on screen. This is a film about feeling, and it is bold, an experience you have to let wash over you.

The story about a Russian immigrant (Tilda Swinton) named Emma assimilating into the Milan culture with the wealthy Recchi family is sparse. We watch as Emma gets dressed for a dinner party, an event-turned-ritual that happens not just once, and each time she slinksinto a dress of rich color. She is silent going through the motions of the esteemed family. The family patriarch has just passed down the company to a dual ownership to his son and Emma's husband and his grandson, Edoardo Jr. The grandson, however, has plans of his own to open a restaurant with a chef and friend of his, Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini). At the first dinner party Antonio shows up at the front door, and at this seemingly inconsequential moment when we do not even know who this man is, the lives of the Recchi family change forever.

There is a moment when Emma tries one of Antonio's dishes for the first time. In a clever manipulation, everything around her stands still and a spotlight shines down on her. The camera admires every aspect of her fork entering into the juices of the food. Here, food is lust. It is an astonishing moment, one of visual triumph. And so while the writing of the film, penned by multiple screenwriters, is slim, the real meat of the story comes from the delivery of Emma's inner reaction to her own passionate love affair with the chef, Antonio. Swinton, with her porcelain face and serious look, fits the role as if to actually belong in it.

Interlaced with an attention to detail are long shots of a snow-covered Milan or the warm, sun-drenched landscape of Sarmeno adding a wider dimension of elegance. All of this comes together all thanks to magnificent cinematography from Yorick LeSaux. Simply put, the movie is gorgeously remarkable to view. Dialogue fittingly becomes less and less as the plot escalates to its devastating and operatic climax. It becomes more about the emotion created by the extreme style and mood rather than the words that should be said. Aiding this ever-increasing intensity is the curious, pounding, titillating and sometimes downright ominous musical score from John Adams that grips you from the opening scene and refuses to let go.

"I Am Love" is tragic, poetic and alluring, a film that draws from classical drama while taking on modern issues of change. This really is a movie about change; change not only for the Recchi family as an established powerhouse, but more importantly, change for Emma in the face of enforced tradition. Its ending is of ambiguous beauty after Emma's husband brashly tells her, "You don't exist." It has Emma asking herself, "Who am I?" and whether it is of forbidden love or insatiable lust, whatever it is she runs away from or toward, it is stated right there in the title: I am love. The movie, and Swinton’s work, merits multiple viewings, and I already want to see it again.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Summer movie season is getting cut a little short this year. Though I'd regularly be making my way to the theater for the likes of "Macgruber," the latest "Shrek" movie (whatever its actual title is), "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time," "Killers," "Splice" and "Knight and Day" in the coming weeks, this will not be happening because I'm heading out of the country in just under a week now.

In its place, look forward to the announcement for the 2010 Edinburgh line-up which may very well, and more than likely will, contain movies much more important than the ones listed above. Is it just me, or is summer movie season just not as exciting this year? I'm really just waiting for "Inception."

I'm pleased to say that "Toy Story 3" has been announced to be included in the schedule. Any other Edinburgh news I will be sure to post here, as well.

Enjoy the next few weeks, everyone!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

"Iron Man 2" (2010)

"Iron Man" set the bar high for its inevitable sequel to come. Other superhero movies have done the same before. Christopher Nolan set the bar with "Batman Begins" and then subsequently made the triumph of "The Dark Knight," which made the first one feel like a mere warm up. Sam Raimi, on the other hand, set the bar with "Spider-Man 2," what was at the time the best superhero movie ever made, and then crashed and burned with the release of "Spider-Man 3." So, now there's Jon Favreau and "Iron Man 2." How does this superhero sequel fare among the others? It unfortunately falls to the fate of the latter example by being a disappointment, plain and simple. As the first blockbuster to kick off the summer, though, it does its job just fine, and so it's not that it doesn't deliver but that it doesn't deliver on what really matters.

It really is hard to pinpoint what went wrong with "Iron Man 2," but I'm willing to place the blame on the script by Justin Theroux, the writer-actor who helped write "Tropic Thunder." The snappy and witty writing allows Robert Downey Jr., returning as the lead role of Tony Stark, to shine. His gleeful narcissism pervades the entire movie, and he adds twice the snarky attitude to Stark since last time around. But when the script isn't giving Downey his breathing room for enhanced egotism, it meanders without any forward momentum. In these slow slumps, even Downey seems desperate in figuring out what to do.

Unfocused is the word that comes to mind. It's not that the screenplay tries to fit too much in but rather that it isn't sure of what it even wants to do. There's a painfully slow and dull midsection of the movie that almost entirely ruined it for me where actors trip over each other's lines and the story simultaneously goes everywhere and nowhere. There's something about Stark's father who brought Stark Industries its success. And Stark has a failing heart from high blood toxicity after wearing the suit too long, but he drinks and parties like a teenager inflated with the excess of celebrity status. He needs to discover and create a new element to fuel him. All of this pseudo brooding doesn't add emotional depth; instead it just drags down the fun.

The movie's villain, Whiplash, is introduced in the very best scene near the beginning. It takes place at the Monaco Grand Prix where Stark decides to drive his own sponsored car. Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), the tattooed Russian, shows up on the track slicing through the cars like paper with his powerful electric whips. Rourke proves to be a fine villain delivering his lines with cold assurance. The problem is that his villain is never really put face to face with Stark for a final showdown. Rourke is accompanied by Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), another weapons developer like Stark. He wishes to exploit Vanko and create an army of iron suits to rival Stark's own Iron Man. Rockwell gives a dastardly comedic performance that complements Rourke's well. If only these characters were put to more effective use.

The cast is big with great performers all working together with a smart sense of humor. This star power feels underused, however. Gwenyth Paltrow returns as the delightful Pepper Potts as Stark's assistant, now CEO of Stark Industries, but this time she is just bickering and shoved to the sidelines. You know that scene in the trailer where she kisses the Iron Man helmet just before Stark dives out of the back of the airplane? Yeah, not in the actual movie. Don't you hate when that happens? Especially with such a scene. Don Cheadle replaces Terrence Howard as Stark's buddy Rhodey with a role that gets beefed up but to no useful purpose except to have another metal suit blasting away at enemies in the action sequences.

The action looks great and escalates to an impressive final set piece. The movie itself looks great, too, with the Iron Man suit shining as it soars around in the night sky. There's a moment, though, where Rhodey and Stark get into a brawl while wearing the suits that is muddily motivated and comes off as a sorry excuse for just a bit more action.

Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury working for whatever organization it is they work for should've been saved for the next sequel because they're altogether wasted. Johansson is sexy, as is the norm with any role she's in now, and she gets one shining stunt wearing her tight, leather jumpsuit. Jackson gets only two scenes sporting that eye patch of his. These two showing up is a faint side note.

While it may think it's satisfying the requirements of a sequel, "Iron Man 2" is no "Iron Man." It's too in love with its newfangled hardware and less in love with its characters. Here's to hoping they figure this out in time for "Iron Man 3," inevitably to be shot in 3-D.

My review of the original "Iron Man"

Friday, May 7, 2010

Archive: "The Number 23" (2007)

Poor everybody who unfortunately had to be involved in this wreck of a movie. "The Number 23" looked fascinating, dark, disturbing, and intriguing. So, you must be wondering by now, what went wrong? Well, a number of things, actually (if it's 23 of them, I wouldn't really know). The problem is that the movie collectively tries really, really hard to be all of the things I mentioned above but miserably fails to achieve any of those descriptors.

Walter Sparrow (Jim Carrey) is an animal control specialist, and the movie opens on a most unfortunate day for him; this day is his birthday, February 3rd (watch out), and he is late to pick up his wife, Agatha (Virginia Madsen). While waiting for her husband, Agatha stops in at a used bookstore and picks up a red-covered book titled "The Number 23," a story of obsession. If it weren't for Walter being late to get his wife, she never would have picked up the book, and none of the proceeding events would ever have happened. Agatha reads this book and becomes fascinated by it and then tosses it to Walter to read for himself. He dives in and slowly discovers that he has strangely a lot in common with the author.

Soon enough, the most disturbing thing he finds in common with this mysterious author named Topsy Kretts, or Fingerling, is his obsession with the number 23. In reading deeper, Walter begins finding bizarre connections to this seemingly random number within his own life. Walter's obsession grows to the point that he fears he will fall to the same fate of the author who went insane and even killed because of the number. This story Walter is reading is shown in a blurry noir fashion that becomes downright laughable. Jim Carrey plays Fingerling, the character inside the story, and Virginia Madsen plays Fingerling's lover, Fabrizia. So with these blatant parallels, too much is already given away and these ridiculously stupid flashbacks become devoid of anything at all useful.

The worst part is that these insights into the novel take up a good majority of the movie, and they really are awful. The noir style is meant to be gritty and disturbing but it turns to bizarre stupidity and melodramatic sludge. Luckily though, Walter finally comes to what appears to be the end of the novel, which means the end of bad flashbacks, as well. It's only at this point that the movie musters up any intrigue in real life things that start happening with Walter trying to save himself and his family from this deranged new obsession. Even his son, Robin (Logan Lerman), finds a fascination in the number and all the connections Walter is finding. Soon enough, Agatha even helps, if only to make the whole thing end.

That all really does not even matter because none of it adds up anyway, contrary to what the movie is persuading us to believe. Nothing is carried out with excitement as it would be in a quality thriller. The problem here is that it's not at all thrilling; the only mildly enticing aspect here is how many connections Walter can actually make to that damned number, and even that gets tiring. One of the most blatantly disturbing allusions to the real world and this number is when there is a shot of "9 11 2001" scrawled on Walter's wrist. Thanks, but no thanks on that one.

The one thing that actually isn't wrong with this movie is the acting because two very fine actors have been collected for the parts; what's wrong is everything that these fine actors are partaking in. A slew of dull twists within the convoluted and uninteresting story lead up to an anticlimactic bad ending that the audience already sees coming. I mean, c'mon, those infinite amount of flashbacks gave enough away already. And so, what's meant to be shocking and revolutionary becomes mundane and repetitive; worse yet, once the bad ending is revealed, we spend another good while getting a long-winded explanation of this bad ending. This does not clarify the ending, but rather assures us that, yep, this ending sucks. A lot.

To go along with this, we're given a message on life as if we're supposed to get something useful out of seeing this badly executed thriller. I'm sorry, but no amount of pot or other hallucinogenic drug is going to make these messages have any emotional resonance or even relevance. Unless you're completely out of it 99% of the time, I think everybody pretty much already knows that you're in control of what happens in your life and that no little number can take over. Anyway, if you're still itching to see this movie, instead of trying to watch it, you might have a more enjoyable time trying to catch all of the 23s within each scene. I know I did.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Archive: "The Lives of Others" (2007)

When "The Lives of Others" won for Best Foreign Language Film over "Pan's Labyrinth" at the Academy Awards, I was anything but pleased. Now having actually seen the award-winning German film, my opinion has shifted dramatically. "The Lives of Others" is just as deserving, if not even more so. It's a taut thriller and a powerful psychological drama with a deep political and moral message. This is a truly great film.

A gray-haired balding man sits in a dark, dusky attic listening to something through bulky headphones. He is quiet with a pale face and dull expressions. He wears a gray jacket zipped up tight with sharp and uniform edges, like something a professional would wear. This man is a professional by the name of Capt. Gert Wiesler. He works for the Ministry for State Security as a domestic surveillance specialist. His codename is HGW XX/7, and he is listening in on somebody's life that is not his own. "The Lives of Others" starts in 1984 in East Germany, otherwise the German Democratic Republic. Wiesler is one of many, many anonymous secret police employed by the Stasi. Their goal is to keep track of any suspicious people and generally keep tabs on German citizens.

The specific man under surveillance is a playwright named Georg Dreyman, and consequently, his girlfriend actress named Christa-Maria Sieland. At the premiere of their play, Wiesler takes an immediate interest in the lives of these two people. It's not necessarily because Dreyman is a possible subversive, but more so because of his own dark fascination; he is nearly envious of Dreyman's situation with his lover. Included in the plan is the Minister of Culture who has his eye on Christa-Maria for most unsavory reasons; she is forced to obey only in order to keep her career. Almost immediately, Wiesler completely wires Dreyman's apartment. He sets up his station in the attic of their complex and keeps constant surveillance on them with daily reports.

Wiesler is dedicated and loyal to his job at first, but soon, his perspective starts to shift. An experience at work and maybe even a small encounter with a young boy in an elevator provokes these feelings of his. He gets more and more involved with the life of Georg and Christa to the point where his devotion makes a total transformation. He becomes a guardian for them rather than an intruder. One might think that "The Lives of Others" would base its plot progression around the couple and their "subversive" activities; ones that warrant for them to be caught and apprehended. This isn't the case, however, as the story bases itself more around the anonymous gray-haired balding man and his growing involvement.

Wiesler watches, catches on to something, and reacts; he wants to create something, and initiates confrontation for the people he is watching by simply sparking some wires to make a doorbell ring. It's at this single moment that Wiesler emotional attachment has taken hold and his professional outlook has cracked apart. Throughout the movie, Dreyman doesn't realize he is ever being watched to the point that he's bringing friends over claiming his apartment is completely bug-free; however, the audience knows otherwise, and it creates for a persistently tense and nerve-racking affair. It carries that ominous sensation of just knowing these people are being watched second by second.

I've already said too much about "The Lives of Others" and have probably already given too much away. Therefore, I won't go any further. This is an experience you must see for yourself; it's an experience made up of excellent pacing and timing, strong performances, vivid characters and development, and affecting individual scenes that convey meaning without hardly any spoken words. The movie ends on the perfect, uplifting note, as well. It reminds people what it was like when that Berlin Wall finally did get torn down and also proves the film's brilliant human transcendence for anybody who bravely sets out to see it.

Archive: "Zodiac" (2007)

David Fincher's ("Se7en," "Fight Club") "Zodiac" takes place over a sprawling couple of decades through the late 60s and the early 80s. Along the way, little reminders are given between just about every scene to remind the viewers how much time has passed by. It can get a little complicated at times, but this is complicated business being dealt with here; the confusion comes with the territory, and there's no backing out. The otherwise nameless Zodiac killer terrorized San Francisco citizens, and also taunted the police and reporters who were out to catch him. The ominous killer left the San Francisco Chronicle editorial letters describing each and every one of his kills, some of which may not have even been his own. He also sent four cryptograms along with these letters; only one of these four secret messages to this day has been solved. All of these small details make resonant the fact that this story is entirely real, and it makes you really hope that Zodiac is still not out there somewhere.

"Zodiac" is not about the actual Zodiac killer and the way he thinks or why he does what he does. The script of the movie does not revolve around the monster in discussion, but rather revolves around the actual talking that's being done; it sure is a lot of talking. It's about the public's fascination with this serial killer, and why people become so obsessed to begin with. This point holds strong because we're seeing this movie, and by doing so, we ourselves are becoming just as involved as the people on the screen. We are puzzled, horrified, tantalized, and drawn to the extreme edge of suspense throughout the entire endeavor. It's in this big way that the movie packs a certain emotional punch that normal "whodunits" really cannot ever possibly conceive. It's more than just a detective thriller, and David Fincher even jumps genres between scenes to keep the experience compelling.

Inside the crowded offices, the meetings, and the police stations, we meet the main people involved in the Zodiac case. Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) is a head writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, and he is the one publishing the most stories about the Zodiac killer. He is admired and "loomed-over" by Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), a cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Graysmith is merely a cartoonist, and when he tries to get involved with the Zodiac case, he is simply reminded that he has a deadline to meet and is shooed away. Lastly, there's Inspector Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) who is on the other end of the spectrum as a detective who gets quickly involved with the case; he is quirky and enjoys animal crackers whenever he has a crime scene to be at.

There are countless other people involved in the search for the Zodiac killer, but these are the main ones to name. These certain people are worth mentioning because they're played by great actors who all give excellent performances. Jake Gyllenhaal shines as the innocent bystander who becomes the most involved out of anybody, and eventually writes the novel about Zodiac. Mark Ruffalo is exceptional, as well, playing a character whose mood noticeably shifts as he is at times ready to strangle the reporters getting in the way. Then there's Robert Downey Jr. who is pitch-perfect as a man who gets eventually tired of the Zodiac business and completely drops out; he is an alcoholic and a drug addict. He is hysterical because he so casually plays a character that makes everybody else around him so uncomfortable.

Following the extremely paranoid process of finding the killer becomes almost a comedy during some parts, which brings up David Fincher's ability to genre-hop within the confines of one movie. Although short, the small insights we're given into the Zodiac's numerous killings keep us haunted. One scene in particular involves a woman unknowingly being tormented by Zodiac on the side of the road when her car breaks down. This woman and her baby hitch a ride with the killer, and she becomes suspicious of his intentions. The Zodiac then nonchalantly states, "Before I kill you, I'm going to throw your baby out the window." Each one of these similar scenes is just as bone-chilling, and there's almost a sense of relief when the focus is brought back onto the reporters and the investigators.

Just when it seems things are heating up, the trail goes cold. Four years later, Robert Graysmith is basically the only person left interested in the Zodiac case. This big shift in the movie that divides it into two parts is what makes "Zodiac" feel so lengthy. That's not to say that it isn't lengthy because running at just over 2-and-a-half hours, the movie really demands your attention for quite some time. At a certain point, you can't help but wonder if all of the previous investigating was really worth showing. There is a dull spot, and some of the information shown earlier starts to feel a bit extraneous and unnecessary, which means that perhaps the movie could've been cut down to save some time. The real meat of the story comes along when Jake Gyllenhaal's character takes control, revealing the only real-life suspect known in the Zodiac case.

The biggest complaint I've heard about "Zodiac" is concerning the ending. It has been called inconclusive and unsatisfying, but I disagree with both of these statements. People who don't appreciate the ending really must not have appreciated the rest of the movie. At the end of it all, one should be realizing that it certainly is not about the solution but rather all about the process involved with trying to get to a solution. The ending only gives off the illusion of being inconclusive due to the fact that the movie is based on a real case, which is still unsolved to this day. I found the entire experience to be extraordinarily satisfying overall. Before the credits roll, facts on the real-life Zodiac case are displayed to further remind us that everything we just witnessed is based on something that really happened and something that was really obsessed over this much.

Archive: "Black Snake Moan" (2007)

What a strange, strange movie this is. And what a remarkable one it is, too. I haven't witnessed something quite like this in a movie ever before. It's something of a rare movie experience that temporarily lets you escape into another dimension. The movie is meant to look and sound like a flimsy B-movie exploitation flick. It pushes a lot of uncomfortable buttons and touches on a lot of uneasy surfaces. It's a film that has a lot to say about race, sex, religion, and the ultimate loneliness of people. Yes, it's dirty, wrong, and weird, and therefore, it's not a movie for everybody. There will be those who won't like it and won't exactly catch the meaning of everything that unfolds; then again, there will probably be those who do. I happen to be one of the latter.

Rae (Christina Ricci) is one messed up girl. The movie opens with a steamy sex scene between her and her boyfriend, Ronnie (Justin Timberlake). Shortly after this scene, we see him trying to start his life over by leaving to join the army. As his truck pulls away, Rae chases after him for as far as she can. Eventually, though, she collapses into the grass and writhes in pain on the ground. She's squirming in this agony because she's already craving sex. And so, she dives back into her normal ways of promiscuity and drugs. After one night of instability and being used and abused at a party, she is dropped on the side of a long stretch of rural road. The next morning she is discovered by a man named Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson).

Lazarus isn't in much better shape himself. He's an ex-blues guitarist that only has the vegetables growing in his yard to rely on because his wife just left him for another man. And so, he, too, is alone, bitter, and broken. He finds Rae and decides to take the battered girl inside his house to nurse her back to health. After asking around town, though, Lazarus soon finds out that her scrapes and bruises are the least of her problems. Lazarus takes action, and when Rae finally becomes conscious, she wakes up with an extra surprise; not only does she find herself in a strange black man's house, but she also finds a giant chain wrapped around her stomach.

Lazarus plans to rid Rae of her wickedness. This proves to be an uneasy task, however, when straightaway Rae tries to seduce Lazarus, telling him she'll do anything he wants. Her bad habits are obviously pretty hard to break. Time passes, though, and Lazarus and Rae build a relationship. It's one that really works, though, and it's absolutely nothing sexual. In bringing Rae into his home, Lazarus actually finds a way to resurrect his own ways and not just hers. These two dysfunctional and neglected people come together and through their interaction, they transform and grow. It's not ever sappy, though, because the way in which everything happens between them is simply outrageous to say the least. I mean, c'mon, it all started with Lazarus having to yank Rae back into the house by her chain as she clung desperately to the porch.

There are other pretty oblivious people involved here in the crazy Deep South, like a friendly woman pharmacist who helps Lazarus, and also Lazarus' friend who is a reverend. We also meet Rae's mother through a gut-wrenching confrontation between her and Rae that's anything but friendly. Ronnie is also discharged from the army and returns for the second half of the film. His character proves to be surprisingly significant to Rae's progression, and the movie concludes on a most sincere note with an emotionally real scene between the two of them that does the rest of the film justice. I found "Black Snake Moan" to be witty and engaging. Occasional bursts of dark, twisted humor are followed by moments that are deeply sad and moving. I felt for these characters; I cared about what happened to them, and I was fascinated by watching them.

There are some wonderful images in this movie, too. The opening sequence was bitingly funny and effective with a tiny Rae strutting down the road with a massive tractor behind her taking up the rest of the shot honking for her to move. She merely flashes him the finger, and then comes the title across the screen. Only better is a scene where Lazarus is back to playing the blues at a small concert in a bar. It's visually intoxicating as we watch Rae out on the dance floor swaying rhythmically to Lazarus' smooth beats. Interestingly enough, it's in this scene that Rae has the most clothes on than she does in the rest of the movie, and yet she is the sexiest here. This scene is mesmerizing because here the film manages to focuses on Rae and Lazarus together even while they're apart.

Christina Ricci bares it all in this movie, figuratively and literally. Her performance is daring and brave; it's one of the most provocative performances of her career. Samuel L. Jackson takes equally as many chances with his role, and nails it right on the head. Here we have the classic Sam Jackson feel with even more classic phrases found here than in "Snakes on a Plane." Both of these actors took great risks to play these characters in order to make them as memorable as they are; these performances required energy, courage, and intensity, which these actors supply in abundance. Samuel L. Jackson even plays guitar and sings for real throughout the movie. The most powerful moment is when Lazarus sits down to play his song titled "Black Snake Moan" with Rae listening intently at his knee.

"Black Snake Moan" pulls off what it does without ever being preachy; it has so much to say and never plainly states it, but we understand it nonetheless. As the plot unfolds, more and more can be found within the film's subtext. It delivers a simply blunt message on life: We're all screwed up, we all need fixing, but we are only human.

Archive: "300" (2007)

Everything in "300" is big, loud, triumphant, and merciless. Once the rush is over, you definitely walk out of the theater feeling like you just witnessed something that was meant to be a huge deal. And I think that's exactly the kind of impact the people behind "300" wanted to have on its audience, so in that respect, the movie succeeds magnificently.

Zack Snyder's raw adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel of the same name is stuff not to be messed with. It tells the story of the most important recorded moment in ancient Greek history: The Battle of Thermopylae. This was when a small band of 300 Spartan soldiers, under the command of King Leonidas, went up against the piercing-clad Persian "god-king" Xerxe and his massive fleet of Persian forces. Merely calling this a retelling of the story would be beyond a stupid understatement on my part. Snyder goes further than that, using a lavish and insanely imaginative dreamscape full of terrifying foes and larger-than-life action sequences to depict the battles fought, with all the spurting blood to go along with it. Everything about this movie is pumped-up to such an extreme that you can't help from smirking at its absurdity.

This is manly, manly stuff being dealt with here. The group of 300 warriors yell and shout and then yell and shout some more. King Leonidas never actually closes his mouth for a good portion of the movie as he, along with the rest of his army, is constantly screaming in a teeth-bearing exclamation of glory and victory. It's all really beefed-up stuff with the perfectly fit, bare-chested men running around with their rippled torsos destroying everything in their path as they leave a satisfying spray of blood flying across the screen at all times (not to mention an eventual wall of dead bodies). These are the kind of men that have nearly orgasmic reactions to the thought of slaying their enemy on the battlefield.

Snyder makes sure to take our breath away in every single shot as there is an unlimited amount of moments done in slow-motion. To give an idea of how heavily stylized the entire film really is, let's just say that if it were not for the number of stop-motion sequences, the movie could've been a whole lot shorter. Every single battle sequence is done with such glorified violence and grace so that every moment of blood-gushing ferocity is captured sufficiently. The entire movie is glossed-over in a golden tint only to emphasize the dark red blood further, along with the accent of the flowing red cloaks of the Spartans. Everything explodes with a stunning visual power and beauty that is even more so apparent than in Frank Miller's other comic-turned-film experience, "Sin City." The fact that nearly all of "300" is done with CGI is why this statement holds true; the possibilities become endless.

Fleets of enemies and even elephants fall off cliffs as if they were nothing, deformed creatures stomp around and get equally slaughtered just like everything else, and a sheet of arrows that, as promised by the Persians, blots out the sun completely. The cutting-edge special effects is what makes this movie what it is; honestly, it's pretty much the best video game you have ever witnessed without actually playing it (and I mean that as a good thing) because of the overheated and over-the-top style in which the fighting is presented. I mean, the respect in which the movie shows a man getting his head sliced clear off is done in the exact same poetic and glorified style as a steamy love scene or a slow-motion orgy with rhythmically pulsating bodies. It's all very robust, very masculine, very vigorous, and my God, it's all so wonderful to witness.

As for the acting and dialogue, the only thing that can be said about it is that thank goodness it doesn't get overly distracting. The narration, especially, is spoken in a stately and pretentious language that takes itself just a little too seriously. Going into this movie, though, people probably realize that it isn't at all about deep characterization, so the lack thereof becomes entirely forgivable. When the movie isn't focused on the battlefield, the extra bits involving the politics with moral messages on freedom, victory, and corruption are merely times for the audience to catch their breath and then anxiously wait to get back to the surprisingly substantive entertainment of gorgeous human slaughter.

Archive: "The Namesake" (2007)

Gogol Ganguli (Kal Penn) may not be a name you would too favorably want on a work resume, or anywhere, written or spoken. Even if a name causes such embarrassment, what if it was something your parents wanted? When Gogol's mother gives birth to him, the doctor asks for a name; she and her husband are waiting for the grandmother to choose. It is her responsibility to choose what they call the "good name," rather than the "pet name," which they had already chosen to be Gogol. With no "good name" in sight, they put the name Gogol on the birth certificate. This seemingly simplistic idea about a name is the beginning and one of the recurring themes behind Mira Nair's "The Namesake," a marvelously moving cross-cultural family saga that tells a deep story spanning a generation.

Ashima walks downstairs to meet some visitors. Before she steps into the living room, however, she notices their shoes lined up against the wall. One of these pairs of shoes has "Made in the USA" written on the inside, and so, she puts them on and simply looks down admiringly at these shoes that surprisingly fit. It's a rather simple scene, but one that's all the more poignant with its kindness and innocence. It opens up the first half of the movie that deals with Ashima in her arranged marriage; it was her to-be husband, Ashoke Ganguli, and his parents waiting in the living room. Together this newlywed couple moves from Calcutta to New York and eventually fosters a family. Years pass and we are given insights into their warm relationship that has the genuine feel of someone newly arriving to a country; it's this early part of the movie that shows the most sincere affection seen in the entire film.

The reason behind Gogol's eccentric name is explained when Ashoke has a talk with his now teenage son. Gogol and his sister both are very American in comparison to their aging parents. The two of them sigh in boredom and exasperation during their family trips back to India to see the extended Bengali family. Interestingly enough, though, it is actually here where Gogol decides to study architecture after being inspired by the Taj Mahal. From here, more years pass, and Gogol is studying architecture under a new name of Nick. His father's favorite author was Nikolai Gogol, and therefore, we get Gogol's original name, and now, even his new name derived from Nikolai. The real significance of this name, however, is not explained until later when we see the connection to the very opening scene of Ashoke being in a train crash.

Throughout the movie, there are many referential flashbacks such as this that connect Gogol's life with parallels to his parents' life, such as Gogol's eventual marriage and even the subtle moment when Gogol steps into his father's shoes. This movie is beautifully filmed and uses dulled colors during different scenes simply for emotional resonance. The culture of India itself, with the lavish customs and all, provides a gorgeous backdrop for such a family journey to take place. With this, the movie is able to artfully depict the immigrant experience in a more affecting manner.

Gogol appears to be content with his girlfriend, Maxine, whose parents accept him warmly. He lives in the city, and therefore has become more detached from his family. At this point, Ashima feels like she's losing her own family all over again. It becomes obvious that Gogol simply needs to appreciate his own heritage more, and we get that immediately. It's clear that although he obviously loves his parents, he doesn't always show it the right way. He is inevitably torn between his own desires and the desires of his parents. Soon enough, a tragedy hits the Ganguli family, which initiates Gogol's ultimate transformation in finding a balance between these two internal conflicts.

Although an apparent landmark in the life of this family, unfortunately it's at this point in the film that the actual storytelling becomes more disjointed than before. The entire movie is definitively episodic to begin with due to large leaps through time with gaps of years passed by; even so, the movie cruises along smoothly, but then hits a wall here. It does not ever become entirely clear why Gogol drops his girlfriend so easily once he finds out about his father's death. His newfound devotion to his family is understandable, yes, but it almost interferes and the shift seems a bit too abrupt. Gogol gets into another relationship soon after that, except it is used only like a road stop in his evolution, and thus feels too contrived.

Kal Penn has distinguished himself now as a worthy actor with this role as Gogol. Sure he's been in other stuff and has done fine in comedic roles, but this is something new for him, and he approaches it with great sincerity and tenderness. He allows his character to transform from beginning to end, eventually finding that much-needed balance between family and free will. Even though "The Namesake" takes a stumble right near the end and loses track of its storytelling direction at times, the movie still wraps up cleanly and nicely, making for a fulfilling and satisfying conclusion with an especially sad and touching final scene.

Archive: "The Host" (2007)

This big, messy monster flick is one of the most bizarrely and delightfully enjoyable things to ever arrive on American screens from overseas. It's wild, loud, exhilarating, and boisterously preposterous, and all the better for it. It's dynamic, inviting, and absolutely sheer entertainment from start to finish. To prove this is such a good monster movie, consider this: Movies such as this usually rely on special effects to win people over, and yet "The Host" pulls off having the lamest visuals around and still holds the same lasting effect.

A man sits sleeping at a food stand, and the father lifts his snoozing son's face up to gather up some change for a customer. A young girl arrives to this food stand and joins her now awake father to watch her aunt compete in an archery competition on TV. She just gets done telling her father that he missed her parent day at school and that her drunken uncle had to come instead. The grandfather tells his son that he needs to redeliver an order of squid to a customer in the park. As he goes out to give it to them, he and a bunch of other people notice something out in the Han River under the bridge. Before being fully introduced to the dynamic of this ultimately dysfunctional family, the monster is already grown to full size, swims quickly to shore to this admiring crowd, and immediately begins terrorizing.

If you've noticed that I'm avoiding names here, it's because they're too hard to remember, and I don't want to bother to type them; however, I think the daughter's name was Heyon-Seu. Nevertheless, this daughter comes outside of the food stand only to be dragged along by her father fleeing from the monster, just like everybody else. He loses her grip, and suddenly, she is swooped up by the monster and taken away. When she is claimed deceased, this is when the real dynamic of this family is revealed. A darling scene ensues when both the aunt and the uncle come to grieve along with the father and the grandfather, and they all eventually roll around on the floor writhing in emotional pain together as standers-by discuss that there is a Hyundai parked in the wrong place outside.

The entire family is quarantined, along with the majority of the rest of the population, because there has been an announcement of a virus being spread and that the monster is, well, the host. This quirky family of ours escapes, though, involving a scene that is nearly reminiscent of "Little Miss Sunshine" as they all gather into a black van with a sliding side door that they all jump into. From here, the family runs around trying to find their little girl who they actually get a call from; she tells her father that she's stuck in a deep sewer somewhere. They become the wanted "infected" family, and so they intentionally and also accidentally split up along the way. There's always something going on in every single scene, whether it's something that makes you shriek or laugh. The movie is oftentimes hilarious, frightening, and sentimental. It combines all the makings of a truly great monster movie and is a surefire genre-bender in every sense of the term.

The movie becomes less about the actual monster and more about the consequences that arise from the monster simply being there. The monster itself is a giant lizard that can travel on land and water; although it sounds frightening, the monster actually isn't too menacing unless on some crazy rampage. And so, a large majority of the film revolves around the overly-protective government virus prevention programs that are implemented on the public. There's even a hint of anti-American sentiment with all of this; however, it's all good-natured fun and it only addresses things we as Americans are already thinking. It's just funny to see that Koreans are thinking some of the same things, and can show it through their films.

"The Host" is something of a bizarre treat. It is a film that bubbles with cinematic life, vibrancy, and energy. It breaks the mold of the usual Godzilla formula by adding a quirky family element, which is really what makes the movie shine the way it does. Simply put, it's a movie that's hard to describe and is something you must see to believe. This movie is not only one of the best monster movies, but quite frankly the single best monster movie I have ever seen. There really are not too many out there to begin with anyway.

Archive: "Grindhouse" (2007)

A grindhouse from the 70s was a theater that specialized in showing dirty exploitation flicks; these are the types of movies that are low-budget, poorly written, and include as much violence and sex as possible. These films laugh in the face of plot and characters and present only visceral thrills with immediate shock value with over-the-top outrageousness. So, here we are in the year 2007 and being taken to an evening at a grindhouse thanks to two of the most famously violent and acclaimed directors of our time. It is a double feature including Robert Rodriguez's "Planet Terror" and Quentin Tarantino's "Death Proof." It's obvious that these two directors were huge fans of grindhouses; they don't parody the idea but instead pay massive tribute to it. They're not being ironic or mocking themselves or the inspiration behind grindhouses; they're celebrating it, and through that, they're also celebrating the sheer joy of going to the movies. This is one night out to the movies that you will remember for a long time. It's like nothing you have ever seen before in theaters nowadays, and it should not be missed.

Rodriguez's "Planet Terror" is the first and main feature of the double presentation. The movie opens with a woman go-go dancing on a pole with a provocative and extremely catchy theme song pumping in the background. The camera follows her every curve, her every sway, and her every thrust. It is later discovered that this woman's name is Cherry (Rose McGowan) and that she should have been appreciating those two perfect legs of her more than she was. At a sleazy barbecue joint owned by a man named JT, she meets up with her rough-and-tumble ex-boyfriend, Wray (Freddy Rodriguez). Together on the road they get attacked by a zombie that tears Cherry's leg clear off, hence her lack of appreciation for it before. Meanwhile, at a nearby hospital, a woman nurse introduces her three anesthetic needles to a patient; they're her yellow, blue, and red friends. Her husband, who is also a doctor, finds out that his wife has been committing adultery with another woman, and soon the nurse isn't getting such good treatment from her little friends.

Cases of infected people start pouring into the hospital, and Rodriguez doesn't hesitate to show the most horrendous and gory wounds you've ever seen; it's some really sick stuff. Soon, the outbreak gets bad enough that pretty much every single main character introduced all band together to take down the growing mass of zombies. JT from the barbecue shack, the nurse who escaped the wrath of her husband, the nurse's bitchy teenage babysitters, and a few sheriffs from town all team together for an explosive blow-out of a climax. The chaos gets so over-the-top to the point that Cherry's automatic rifle prosthetic leg could not be seen as anything less than that.

Guns go blazing, and heads explode not just off but actually apart as to show fragments of face just sitting there. Zombies eat people's insides and there are close-ups of the act, and blood sprays across the screen with such thick, bright redness that you would swear it is slime. The zombies are dripping with oozing puss and disturbing growths, and they're frankly the coolest zombies I've seen in a movie. Although "Planet Terror" is basically the sole reason for the movie's explicit violence, it's still all in good fun; everything is so overblown and over-the-top that you don't scream when somebody's limb gets ripped off, but rather, you chuckle and laugh. Rodriguez's violent zombie fest is a celebration of campy violence, and this becomes clear when the nurse tells her young son to shoot a gun just like he does in his video games. This is a film where when somebody says "no-brainer," they mean it literally. The entire ordeal is gross, graphic, sick, disgusting, and ready to kick some serious ass; and so it does. Extensively.

Before and after the first feature film, we're shown trailers of fake coming attractions that really are exploitation whoppers. With titles such as "Machete," "Thanksgiving" (a parody on "Halloween"), and "Werewolf Women of the SS," you really cannot go wrong. These trailers are absolutely, flat-out hilarious and worth the price of admission alone. The trailers are directed by real-life directors such as Eli Roth and Rob Zombie, which is coincidental because there were previews for their films during the real previews. There's even a fake advertisement for a restaurant next door to the theater, and you'll see characters within both films drinking the pop that was advertised. Great cameos are plentiful in both the trailers and the feature-length movies, including Nicholas Cage, Bruce Willis, and Quentin Tarantino himself, who shows up in both films.

The two feature films are entirely different, yes, but they also have their connections. For example, the nurse you see in "Planet Terror" shows up early on in "Death Proof." Both movies at first seem to take place sometime in the 70s, and thus being shown in a style that seems from the 70s. Upon further investigation, however, you'll soon notice that both features actually take place in the present. In "Planet Terror" there is a reference to the war in Iraq, in "Death Proof" a car blasts through a movie theater sign presenting "Scary Movie 4," and in both movies the characters all use cell phones.

Both of these movies are meant to look and sound like crap, and become wonderfully artistic and stylish in doing so. Both films are shakily projected, and there are crackles in the screen, pops and fizzles in the audio, and fake scratches and tears in the film reel. In even a few cases, entire reels of film "go missing" and we're given a short moment of apology for the inconvenience. In a could-be steamy sex scene during "Planet Terror," the film reel heats up too much and literally melts away from the screen, thus ending the sex immediately and skipping to the next scene. It's this type of authentic 70s touch that makes the entire experience feel genuine and all the more fun. It brings back the joy and excitement and exhilaration of going to the movies all over again.

Quentin Tarantino's "Death Proof" is not nearly as violent or gory as "Planet Terror," but it's equally enjoyable and over-the-top. Tarantino's style of characterization and long segments of dialogue are all there and accounted for. You'll overhear conversations that are reminiscent of even "Pulp Fiction." Although obviously not to that level, even when he's not at the top of his game, he's still damn good and knows how to infuse dark humor into every scene. And remember, it's still meant to be campy and bad, but surprisingly, it does comes off less so than Rodriguez's flick with less film distortion than the other. The story at first follows a group of high, drunken women just looking for a good time; it's a time that doesn't end too well thanks to a man who calls himself Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell).

This man takes a woman named Pam home in his muscle car. Now, before I go any further, let me say that Rose McGowan also plays Pam, a much different character than Cherry from "Planet Terror"; however, it is definitely her seductive performance as Cherry that really takes the win. Anyway, this Stuntman Mike uses his car as a homicide weapon against young women such as Pam. Later on, he tracks down yet another group of women including actress Rosario Dawson playing the character of Abernathy. The star here, though, playing herself in this role, is actually the woman who apparently was a stunt-double for Uma Thurman in "Kill Bill," Zoe Bell. She gets on the roof of a car and barrels down the street with her two friends just for the hell of it. Unexpectedly, however, here comes Stuntman Mike, plowing his muscle car into the side of them, shoving Zoe nearly off the hood.

What ensues is the one of the most exhilarating car chase sequences I've actually ever seen in a movie, and it's especially cool to be coming from a movie such as this. Soon enough, the women escape Mike's clutches and dish out their revenge on him. Kurt Russell gives a multi-faceted but small performance here as he shows his dark, sinister side along with his hysterical frenzied side when he realizes now he's the one being pursued. The women finally catch him and give him the beating of his life; with hip 70s music pumping in the background, this over-three-hour experience ends with a literal kick, as Rosario Dawson takes her high-heeled boot and smashes it into Kurt Russell's face. And roll credits.

"Grindhouse" brings back the reason why people enjoy the act of going to the movies in the first place. It's so we can interact with each other through laughing at the absurd lack of story, cringing at the disgusting gross-out moments, and yelling when zombies get killed with a massive spray of blood. What Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez have brought to the screen this weekend is like nothing ever conceived, or at least not since the 70s. It's destined to be a cult classic because it already has the look and feel of one anyway. Even though it's definitely not something for everybody, and even though it lacks any human emotion or morality whatsoever, this is brilliant film making at work and a masterpiece of schlock. Going to see this film isn't simply going to see one movie; this is an event. For the price of admission, you are getting two feature length films, along with trailers and advertisements, and with no intermission; once you're in, you better settle in for good. I don't care what other people say; this is the best movie of the year so far and by far.

Archive: "Disturbia" (2007)

"Disturbia" has the refreshing feel of a movie that's cool and hip. This nifty little number of a fright fest updates an already used idea with current things like webcams, cell phones, Xbox 360, PSP, iTunes, and YouTube. I had no clue watching and catching a killer could be this much fun, and even more: Something for a group of bored teenagers over the summer to tackle with. However goofy this may sound, it's really a lot better than you walk in expecting, and it is actually more gripping than it should be. This is the most coherent thriller aimed at teens to come out for a while, and it'll have you thinking twice about who your neighbors are.

Kale (Shia LeBeouf) is not having a good summer. Right before school lets out, he punches his Spanish teacher in the face for treading on uneasy grounds in relation to his father who he witnessed die in a car accident. As a result, Kale is put on house arrest and is strapped with a bracelet on his ankle that will flash red if he's out of his house's range for more than ten seconds, sending the cops on their way. At first Kale occupies his time doing usual teenage things, but soon his mother rids him of his video games and his TV. What is the only thing to quench this "chronic boredom" of his? To spy on his seemingly average suburban neighbors, of course!

While spying on his neighbors with a pair of binoculars, he witnesses pretty amusing things such as cheating wives, porn-obsessed youngsters, and things of that nature. What really catches his attention, though, is a new neighbor, Ashely, who just moved in; he admiringly watches her sun, stretch, and swim on the poolside. Then there's his neighbor, Robert Turner, who may just so happen to be a serial killer living across the street. Just in time, too, because Ashley happened to stop by because she caught both Kale and his buddy, Ronnie, watching her through their window. She knows, and they know that she knows, and it's all humorous and witty fun. The hormone-fueled teenage dynamic here is just presented so well. They divert the conversation, however, to this Robert Turner guy and immediately begin to keep a close eye on him mainly just for kicks.

This seemingly innocent game, though, turns sinister when they dig deeper into this creepy man's life and begin following him. Soon the watchers through the windows become the ones being watched, and that's when things start getting violent. All the events leading up to this point in the movie are all clever and smartly paced with persistent building tension. The jumps and jolts that start happening are also well timed and used sparingly enough to not become too much, which makes the movie actually pretty thrilling for merely a teen thriller. The overall mood of the entire affair, too, is not too dark or grisly and keeps a good-natured tone. The only time it gets a little grisly is near the end, but the setup is always better than the conclusion anyway.

Although there are not any real twists and turns and the ending is still predictable, both the ride getting there and the standard ending full of brutal escape scenes are fully enjoyable on their own. The movie knows what needs to be done and gets it done with no strings attached. Surprisingly sharp performances from the young actors also keep things fresh and moving. "Disturbia" is slick, flirty, and clips along at a lively and brisk pace that keeps your pulse racing. This is the ideal thing teens are all going to see on a Friday night, so thank goodness for that oh so sly teen-appeal it has going on. This is pure popcorn excitement and a surefire crowd pleaser for a creepy good time. And besides, Shia LeBeouf has an undeniable rising young actor appeal, and he's got some cool shoes, too.

Archive: "Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters" (2007)

Even before the movie begins, there is a row of cheerful concessions dancing across the screen. For almost a second, you may think to yourself that whatever theater you're in randomly decided to do a throwback to those old jingles advertising concessions. Then the dancing soda, chocolate bar, and popcorn bag remind you to keep your penis in your pants and that not doing so is considered indecent exposure. The friendly concessions are then shoved aside only to be replaced by angrier concessions singing a screaming death metal song about what you should not even think about doing in the theater or else they'll rip your wife in half. This is most definitely the team behind the popular "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" show on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim here at work, dishing out not only an eleven minute episode, but an entire feature length film.

It's nearly impossible to try to explain this movie. When you're dealing with a group of bickering fast food items, there's really not much to go on. The real question becomes whether or not the extremely random and bizarre show successfully translates into a nearly 90-minute movie. The answer, I believe, is a...well, kinda, sorta, pretty much...okay, yes. It's basically like eight normal length episodes strung together into one long and weird adventure. The entire film is pretty sketch-oriented in this matter, but that's perfectly forgivable because somehow the random segments do manage to string together. It's weird to be saying this, but the movie might actually have a plot, or at least more of a plot than an individual episode does.

Master Shake, Frylock, and Meatwad come across some sort of exercise machine called the Insanoflex. They're missing some piece for it, need to find it, and get into a whole bunch of stuff with familiar characters from the show like Dr. Weird, the annoying Mooninites, the Plutonians, the Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past, and of course, Carl. Together they all discover that the Insanoflex is actually a terrifying piece of alien machinery that's going to just ruin the entire earth, or something. So, they need to somehow stop it before it causes too much chaos. How do they do it? I have no freaking idea and I even watched the damned movie. That's how messed up this show is, but also how perversely entertaining it is, as well.

The movie is definitely aimed at fans of the show with bringing back so many memorable characters. I don't think the creators really cared if lots of people are running out to see this movie or if anybody even likes it; it's only for true fans of the show, hence its limited release into theaters. The show's usual quirkiness is all there with things exploding constantly, random acts of violence, and lots of potty-mouthing. It's really funny to see a movie this poorly animated to be rated R. There's even some history to how the group began, which is just as ridiculous. Some watermelon alien created the Mooninites who then created Frylock, who then created Dr. Weird, and then Dr. Weird created Frylock again along with Meatwad and Master Shake. And their mother is a big, sexy burrito.

"Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters" is oftentimes downright hilarious in its absurdity with never a dull moment even when you're not laughing. It's a surefire hit for fans of the show and may even bring some curious newcomers in, provided they are even brave enough to see the movie in the first place. But, for those people who have no idea what all the buzz is about or for those who think people are insane when they're laughing over a talking shake, well then they will be more confused and baffled than hell.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

"A Nightmare On Elm Street" (2010)

What keeps this remake of Wes Craven's 1984 "A Nightmare on Elm Street" from being just another wholly unnecessary famous horror film franchise reboot, like the recreation of Jason, Michael Myers or Leatherface, is that this one is based off a premise that has endlessly clever possibilities due to the killer, Freddy Kruger, being in the teen victims' dreams. Whatever happens to them in their dream by the hands of Freddy happens to them in reality. If they get sliced in half, there's no waking up from the nightmare, and it's goodnight forever. This is a fun premise because it opens doors for visual creativity and, also, who hasn't had a scary dream? This isn't just some guy running around with blades for fingers in the real world. You're in his world, a dreamlike horror show where Freddy rules.

It also helps that the new Freddy is played by a truly talented and fascinating actor, Jackie Earle Haley who did superb work in "Little Children" and "Watchmen." Here he uses the same low, gruff-sounding voice as he did for Rorschach but to an entirely different effect, this time with sly touch of maniacal humor. With a disgusting-looking melted face sporting a worn fedora and a red and black striped sweater, he scrapes his finger blades down ominous halls and swipes them back and forth against each other like a nervous twitch. Even without the makeup, Haley is a strange-looking figure with a gaping mouth and sunken eyes. Whenever Freddy shows up, it's a relief, a familiar face among the young teen actors. Better yet that, just as he's about to utilize his razor hand, he lays out one-liners such as "Let me take a stab at it!" that may not be unintentionally funny, but Haley makes them work.

The movie starts out bad. But once the two less-talented young actors are disposed of leaving the two main teen actors, Rooney Mara as Nancy and Kyle Gallner as Quentin who each do surprisingly effective work, that's when things get interesting. And when the undertones of Freddy being a pedophile come into focus, that's when things get interesting. Sitting in culture references of laptops, ear buds, teenage high school angst and Red Bull and Ritalin, that, too, is when things get interesting. Yeah, the girl hides in the closet. Yeah, the other girl goes outside calling for her dog in the dark. But once you get past the occasional horror cliché that slips in, this "Nightmare" reboot from first-time director Samuel Bayer has some passable entertainment to offer.

There are some nice touches of special effects to give the bloody dream sequences some cool imagery. Nancy wades through a hallway of blood one moment and Freddy's face comes out of a bedroom wall the next. The height of the terror, which this movie supplies in a satisfactory dose, comes from not knowing the difference between dream and reality. They continually blur together more and more making the latter, and better, half of the movie an eerie dreamscape.

And, of course, there's no way to have an ending because how can you kill what's ultimately a dream? There's no ending it. And, like the eight other "A Nightmare on Elm Street" movies before it, this one doesn't end either.