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All reviews - Movies (204) - DVDs (1)

Salt

Posted : 6 years, 9 months ago on 6 September 2010 01:15 (A review of Salt)

The final 10 minutes of SALT accomplish one heck of an amazing feat: they manage to be muddled, anticlimactic and (worst of all) sequel-begging, all at the same time. I was utterly shocked by how this largely entertaining action flick literally deflated before my eyes during its coda. The "twist" and "twist within a twist" are both resolved in a mediocre way that requires two characters to sit awkwardly and explain things to one another. The film's final moments feel jarring and misplaced and don't give the slightest bit of closure to the audience. If there's something that offends me severely is when a film is apparently so confident in how well it's going to do at the box office that it chooses to leave loose ends so that the audience will look towards a sequel (another case in point is this year's disastrous THE LOSERS). It makes it seem as though the producers are so smugly convinced that they've got something good on their hands that they become responsible for ruining their film's ending.

The impressive thing about Angelina Jolie is that she's a fantastic actress when she takes on serious roles like she did in A MIGHTY HEART and CHANGELING, yet at the same time, she can also play femme fatale a thousand times better than anyone, and she's easily more badass than most action movie stars (male and female). That may be what the producers were counting on in their hopes that a "Salt 2" would follow, and unfortunately, I'm not sure if it's going to be enough. Why? Because, aside from the ending, one of the other problems with SALT is that, as much as the action sequences are thoroughly entertaining, none of them offer anything new or awfully creative, and to be honest, they aren't edited quite as well as they should have been.

If the film really wanted to go for broke, it should've elected the large-scale, balls-out approach taken two years ago by WANTED (now, there's a movie of which I'd LOVE to see a sequel). WANTED had Jolie's appeal as a femme fatale, but it also had incredible special effects and crackling action. The makers of SALT seem to believe that Jolie's persona as a badass action figure would be enough to make for a good movie, and they seemed to believe that people would hardly care about the ridiculously convoluted and poorly-explained plot. Too bad that wasn't the case.


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Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Posted : 6 years, 9 months ago on 6 September 2010 01:13 (A review of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World)

Vibrant, hilarious and relentlessly creative, SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD is nothing but a ceaselessly joyful cinematic experience. Some have already branded it as the type of film that can only be enjoyed by gamers, members of the Nintendo generation or people who are familiar with the comics, and while those people may get one or two of the inside jokes more easily, the truth is that this is a film that can easily be thoroughly enjoyed by anyone who's open enough to the wittily frenetic piece of work that is Edgar Wright's latest offering. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD is blessed with one of the year's funniest scripts and with some of the most creative, well-choreographed action/fight sequences I've seen in a long time.

Scott (Michael Cera) is a 22-year-old guy who's "sort of between jobs" (as he explains), which means he doesn't have much money for a place of his own, so he shares a room (and bed) with Wallace (Kieran Culkin), who serves as a sort of confidante for Scott, as he listens to him talk about all his toils and troubles... except that the information isn't really confidential, because Wallace usually relays it by text immediately to Scott's sister, Stacy (Anna Kendrick), who then calls Scott to nag him about whatever it was she just found out about. The latest "outrageous" development in Scott's life is that he's dating a high school girl, Knives (Ellen Wong). Things start to get complicated, though, when Scott loses interest in Knives when he meets the pink-haired Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who has that "I'm too cool for you" look and seems to be totally out of Scott's league. Surprisingly, Ramona gives in to Scott's geeky charms, but the bliss doesn't last too long, as Scott soon discovers that, if he wants to continue the relationship with Ramona, he has to physically defeat all SEVEN (!) of her ex-boyfriends. The film's dramatic core focuses on the relationship between Scott and Ramona and on each of the two characters' emotional demons, while the action-based scenes feature Scott battling with all the guys (and the inevitable lesbian) that Ramona previously dated, with all the fights being choreographed in the style of a video game.

It has to be admitted that the premise sounds totally ridiculous and that I would've had serious doubts about seeing this were it not for the director and cast. Silly as the synopsis might seem, the truth is that SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD is a delightfully colorful, nimble piece of film-making, and on top of that, it's got a spree of immensely hilarious lines. Scott is in a band, and there's a guy whom people refer to as Young Neil (Johnny Simmons), who is not really a member of the band, but he's there to fill in for Scott whenever Scott can't be available. The movie relishes how dumb and simple-minded this character is (there are some soft-spoken lines you have to pay attention to, like his repetition of the word "sucks," and the way he gets the lyrics wrong at one point when he's singing along with the band). A lot of the hilarity in this film comes from unabashed sarcasm which at times makes some of the characters seem insensitive... but let's be honest, niceness isn't very funny, and a sarcastic/insensitive personality is what led to the success of excellent works of comedy like the TV show Seinfeld, which director Edgar Wright happily pays tribute to during the film (in a brilliant sequence that starts out with the show's theme music and even features a laugh track).

One of the ways in which comedies succeed most often is in poking fun at little things through pop culture references that everyone in the audience will understand. There's a line that indirectly ridicules the Uma Thurman film MY SUPER EX-GIRLFRIEND and it is delivered pitch-perfectly. Later, there's a sequence in which a character says "fuck" repeatedly during a conversation, but it gets bleeped out (and her mouth is covered with a black square, a la EYES WIDE SHUT)... but the movie goes further than that in its knowing brilliance, by having a character ask her, "Why are you doing that with your mouth?" The film also constantly features title cards that are "supposed" to be helpful to understanding the plot, yet are really just ways of further tickling the funny bone. Oh, and a word of caution to vegans: you may be offended by one of the sequences in which satirical jabs are aimed at your, um, "lifestyle" (if it can be called that), but I'm confident that you'll be open-minded enough to take the joke (plus, it's freaking hilarious, and the punchline features a cameo by two actors you'd never expect to see in this movie).

If there's a problem that sticks out in SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, it's the number of ex-boyfriends that Ramona has. I realize that the number 7 is frequently used for purposes of symbolism and whatnot (and the movie has a witty quip about this, in relation to a phone number), but the problem is that, as expertly-choreographed and delightfully frenetic as the fight sequences are, it's impossible for a sense of repetitiveness not to kick in during the last act (a feeling of "ugh, why won't Jason Schwartzman's character just die already" isn't unwarranted). The film is definitely about 15 minutes too long. In addition, the subplot of Knives' jealous rage in wanting to get Scott back is initially effective, but gets too played out during the final act (and it's resolved a little too easily at the very end).

After the misfires that were both YEAR ONE and YOUTH IN REVOLT, Michael Cera is finally back to giving yet another delightfully sweet and endearing performance. I'll never get tired of saying this, so I'll repeat it here yet again: it's not correct to criticize an actor for playing basically the same role in every movie, AS LONG as he/she does it WELL. In the case of Michael Cera, he can play dorky/awkward/adorable better than a lot of people, and he deserves much credit for it, unlike other actors, who play the same character in every movie and always do a bad job at it ::cough:: Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl ::cough:: The rest of the cast is equally good, with Kieran Culkin, Alison Pill and Johnny Simmons having the most scene-stealing moments. My beloved celebrity crush Chris Evans has a few minutes in the film as one of the ex-boyfriends, in a role that was tailor-made for him, as he plays a smug, quintessentially American action movie star, and gets to kick Michael Cera's ass for a little while.

This year has seen two films that have accomplished the amazing feat of both glorifying and satirizing a genre (with the balance never tipping in favor of one approach over the other), while also being relentlessly entertaining. The first one was KICK-ASS, and now we've gotten SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD. I could easily make a comment here about how it probably means something that neither of the two films was directed by an American... but it'd make me sound prejudiced, so I guess I won't do it. :) The fact remains, though, that they are two of the year's most well-crafted films. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, in particular, deserves an immense amount of praise for its savagely clever writing and for its incredible visual creativity.


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Eat Pray Love

Posted : 6 years, 9 months ago on 6 September 2010 01:12 (A review of Eat Pray Love)

The most puzzling thing about EAT PRAY LOVE is the fact that the "Eat" segment turns out to be the most complex, well-developed, emotionally affecting part of the movie. The "Pray" segment is shockingly unfocused and superficial, while the "Love" segment is rushed and haphazard. This is the type of film in which the thematic depth should've actually escalated as it moved from one stage of its protagonist's journey to the next, but alas, the exact opposite happens.

Liz (Julia Roberts) feels like she hasn't dedicated enough time to make herself happy and that she got married too soon. So, she divorces her current husband and starts a fling with the much-younger David (James Franco) to see if maybe he'll infuse some life into her and get her out of the doldrums. Though she's still conflicted about possible feelings for David, she decides she'll have to do something much more drastic to achieve an emotional turnaround, so she decides to go on a trip to Italy, then India and finally Bali. The three verbs in the film's title are appropriate because they represent the way that Liz tries to get in touch with her inner self: in Italy, she savors some incredible food in and sees beautiful places; in India, she secludes herself in a religious haven and tries to get her spirituality moving forward; in Bali, she meets Felipe (Javier Bardem), who seems to be just as emotionally dissatisfied as her, and (as you'll have predicted by now) love supposedly ensues.

The Italy segment of EAT PRAY LOVE is a wonder to look at. It may not be anything great in the dramatic scale, but the characters that Liz gets to meet are a joy to get to know, and she even visits a few places that aren't commonly showcased in other films shot in Italy. Things get incredibly worse once we move to India, though. The 2008 Best Picture Oscar winner SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE was a true love letter to that country, which certainly can't be said of this movie; there's no intention whatsoever to highlight the Indian landscape. I understand that Italy is more conventionally beautiful than India, but there's no reason for the film to start constricting its display of scenery so much when it switches countries. But worst of all, the attempt at portraying Liz's supposed connection with a "higher being" is flimsy at best. It doesn't get much better once we finally get to Bali. The "Meet Cute" between Liz and Felipe is ultra-contrived and their relationship is hardly developed. We simply "accept" that they're in love because the film TELLS us that they are, but we don't believe it. When one sees the final kiss between the lovebirds right before credits roll, one usually knows whether it was earned or not. In this case, it definitely isn't. In the grand scheme of the film's approach, it almost would've made more sense for Liz to fly back to New York at the end and jump into David's arms, seeing as her romance with him at the beginning was far more well-developed. Oh, and let's not even talk about the fact that, even though Liz's last location (Bali) is in Indonesia, the guy she meets and falls in love with is actually Brazilian rather than an Indonesian local. The movie chooses to go for the stereotype of the white woman who falls in love with a Latin American, bohemian guy, rather than take risks. If Liz had met and fallen in love with say, a Muslim living in Indonesia, I may have given the film more credit... but this is certainly not the type of movie that'll go out of its way to miff mainstream audiences and surprise those of us who prefer something different.


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The Last Exorcism

Posted : 6 years, 9 months ago on 6 September 2010 01:10 (A review of The Last Exorcism)

The problem with THE LAST EXORCISM, for the majority of its running time, is that it's more interesting than scary. It's easy to get engrossed in the story even if the moments that are meant to be scary aren't milked as effectively as they should be. "Interesting" isn't quite as fun as "scary" but it's still a good enough attribute for a film to have. If that were that, I would still give it a mild recommendation, but something happens during the final minutes of the film that I find hard to forgive: plagiarism. Let's be honest, if plagiarism were an ACTUAL crime that filmmakers could be accused of, there would be too many convicted directors and screenwriters. Ideas are stolen frequently from other films, often to make worse films, but sometimes to make better ones. The problem with this particular movie is how SHAMELESS the plagiarism is. The final moments of THE LAST EXORCISM don't even TRY to conceal how much they borrow from both ROSEMARY'S BABY and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. The similarities are even more shocking than what actually happens to the characters during these final moments.

The film tries to make use of the same first-person approach taken by THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. A character is filming the events, thus giving us the impression that what's happening is real. Unfortunately, the approach doesn't work here. As opposed to THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, we are constantly, acutely aware of the fact that THE LAST EXORCISM is just a movie, and a lot of it has to do with the acting. Ashley Bell is the only exception, giving a courageous performance as the girl who may or may not be possessed by a demon; unfortunately, all the other actors would be at home in a made-for-TV movie. One of the many reasons why BLAIR WITCH, and to a lesser extent PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, worked so well was the presence of unknown actors who behaved like real people throughout the entire running time. There's never a doubt that we're watching something staged in THE LAST EXORCISM.

There are several moments during this film in which the characters are moving about in the dark, and all of these moments had the potential to be terrifying, but sadly, they turn out to be intriguing at best. As we watch THE LAST EXORCISM, we're interested in seeing how it's all going to turn out, but we're not on the edge of our seats while waiting to see how it's all going to turn out, even though we SHOULD be.

*SPOILER WARNING*

A discussion of this film doesn't feel complete without further comment on the ending. What looks to be the INITIAL ending of the film would've been a wonderfully ironic, interesting way to conclude it. It initially seems as though the girl who we thought was possessed was simply pretending to be possessed because she's ashamed about the fact that she's pregnant. This would've added a touch of realism to the proceedings and would've been a departure from what often happens in this type of movie. Of course, though, there's the last-minute twist, which would've been perfectly fine had it been good. First of all, the ending leaves one confused as to what were the roles of the girl's father and brother in what was being done to her. But the biggest sin here is the one I mentioned already. The makers of ROSEMARY'S BABY should at least try to sue for plagiarism - nothing may come of the lawsuit, but the makers of THE LAST EXORCISM should at least be slapped on their wrists for this shameless imitation. Similarly, the very last moments of the movie feature a character running with a camera while the final, horrific events start to unfold. No matter what, this film could never aspire to be as great as THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (still one of the best, most underrated horror films ever conceived), but that doesn't make the similarities any less outrageous.


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Get Low

Posted : 6 years, 9 months ago on 6 September 2010 01:09 (A review of Get Low)

Robert Duvall's performance as the protagonist in GET LOW is a master's work. If this turned out to be the last film he acts in, people would easily use the phrase "went out with a bang" in reference to his exit from the acting career. During the movie's climax, his character, Felix, has to deliver a speech, and it is Duvall's job here to convey the guilt and frustration from a man who has kept his emotions bottled up for years. The results of his performance during this particular scene are simply staggering.

Felix is a haggard old hermit, who is generally feared by the rest of the townspeople, most of whom gossip about mostly untrue stories of "horrible" things that Felix has done throughout his life. Since Felix thinks that the end of his life is coming sooner than later, he decides he doesn't want anyone else making his funeral arrangements - he wants to make HIS OWN arrangements. He tries at the local church, but no luck; however, a contrivance allows Buddy (Lucas Black) to hear about Felix's intentions, and as it turns out, Buddy works at a private funeral home, so he immediately tells his boss, Frank (Bill Murray) about what Felix wants to do. Buddy and Frank are soon knocking on Felix's door offering their services. The young Buddy seems to actually be interested in Felix's demons and turmoils, while Frank is more interested in the money to be made from this venture. It turns out that Felix doesn't want his funeral to be accompanied by the conventional dreary atmosphere - he wants a funeral party! And that's not all. He wants there to be a raffle-type drawing in which the name of the guest that gets pulled out will win his entire property. As expected, this prompts excitement from a lot of the townspeople, and the "funeral party" now promises to be a huge event.

The most interesting aspect of GET LOW is the constant uncertainty as to what Felix's actual intentions are. Events take place later that make him apprehensive about going through with it. We soon meet Mattie (Sissy Spacek) and we discover that she's somehow connected to Felix's early life, but we don't know how yet. It all becomes clear when Felix delivers that terrific monologue at the end. The problem I do have with GET LOW is that the revelation that comes from the monologue isn't as emotionally devastating and searing as it may have been. We had gotten the feeling that Felix was packing a lot of feelings of guilt, and when we finally discover what the "secret" is, it seems like a more sanitized version of what a better script could've offered us. Additionally, in light of the revelation, I take issue with a line that is delivered earlier in the film ("Did you have anything to do with her death?!"), not only because the line itself is soap-operatic, but also because it partly spoils the revelation, and also because it's slightly misleading.

Still, GET LOW is certainly worth the watch for a performance that I truly hope won't be forgotten by the Academy come the end of this year. The film also deserves commendation because it's the type of movie that could've easily been 100% morose and serious during its entire time, but the trio of Duvall, Black and Murray offers a great sense of humor. Some of the business involving the awkwardness in setting up the "funeral party" is very funny. I wouldn't go as far as calling the film's last act "anticlimactic," but well, it's... not very climactic. There's an expectation that the ending would plunge into darker waters that the film ultimately shies away from, but thanks mostly to Duvall, the film retains much of its punch through the end.


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