Movie Reviews: 01/2010
Movies seen this month: 24
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  Title: A Perfect Getaway
Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller  Year: 2009  Country: USA  Rating: Starring: Steve Zahn, Timothy Olyphant, Milla Jovovich, Kiele Sanchez, Marley Shelton  Director: David Twohy

My Review: The previews sure looked good. This wasn't all that bad. The story was a bit predictable. Yes, I figured it out. A classic misdirection thriller where all the red herrings are quite obvious. As a matter of fact, the movie itself even instructs the viewer on the concept of the 'Red Herring'. The story - Couple on honeymoon is tormented by murderous duo in remote jungles of a Hawaiian island. With the knowledge of 'whodunnit' firmly nestled in my skull, I deconstructed the movie as it unfolded, and that's no fun. The acting was pretty good, but this movie was more about scenery; gorgeous babes, beautiful Hawaii, and handsome hunks, than it was about story or acting. The camera work was very well done, and I liked the movie for it's aesthetic features more so than the story. 3 out of 5.

Summary: For their honeymoon, newlyweds Cliff and Cydney head to the tropical islands of Hawaii. While journeying through the paradisaical countryside the couple encounters Kale and Cleo, two disgruntled hitchhikers and Nick and Gina, two wild but well-meaning spirits who help guide them through the lush jungles. The picturesque waterfalls and scenic mountainsides quickly give way to terror when Cliff and Cydney learn of a grisly murder that occurred nearby and realize that they're being followed by chance acquaintances that suspiciously fit the description of the killers.

  Title: 9
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi  Year: 2009  Country: USA  Rating: Starring: Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, John C. Reilly, Crispin Glover, Jennifer Connelly  Director: Shane Acker

My Review: Far in the future - After a great war - Man is extinct - Defeated by the machines he created. The world is void of life, or is it? Living between the cracks, surviving as best they can, is a small clan of strange creatures. Part man and part machine, the spirit of humanity lives on inside the circuits of these strange doll-like constructs. The 'creatures' struggle to uncover the secrets of their creation and the downfall of mankind. An amazing cgi animation film. The story is very well crafted, directed and voiced. The colors and pacing are perfect, the music is great and the story fantastic. My only criticism is the lack of depth in the story. 4 out of 5.

Summary: After an apocalyptic war between human and machines, the world is completely destroyed and without human life. The burlap doll 9 awakes without voice and finds a weird object in the middle of the debris that he brings with him. While walking through the ruins, 9 is attacked by a machine called Beast but he is saved by another doll called 2 that fixes his voice. 2 brings 9 to meet his hidden community, leaded by the coward 1. When 2 is captured by a machine, the newcomer 9 convinces the other dolls to go with him to rescue 2. However, 9 places the device that he found in a slot and activates a lethal machine called Brain. The burlap dolls are chased by Brain and despite the advices of 1 that they should hide, 9 organizes an attack to destroy Brain.

  Title: Up
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Family  Year: 2009  Country: USA  Rating: Starring: Edward Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai, Bob Peterson, Delroy Lindo  Director: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson

My Review: Approaching the end of his years, Carl Fredrickson is saddened by the passing of his wife, Ellie. An adventurous spirit, Carl had always promised a trip to South America, but reality always got in the way. As he laments her demise, a big construction company raises the neighborhood around his home. When a regrettable incident forces Carl to give up his home, he sets his mind to Ellie's adventure. When workers arrive to escort him to the retirement home, they're shocked to find an airborne home and defiant Carl. Sailing away on balloons into the wild blue yonder, Carl has escaped to adventure. A young stowaway joins Carl on his journey, and together they make their way to Paradise Falls. An amazing movie. It left me on the verge of tears many times. This animated Pixar presentation features a fantastic lineup of voice talents, excellent direction and a terrific story. Sad, happy, soaring, exciting. Who could ask for more? I've added it to my 'Must Buy' list. 5 out of 5.

Summary: A young Carl Fredrickson meets a young adventure spirited girl named Ellie. They both dream of going to a Lost Land in South America. 70 years later, Ellie has died. Carl remembers the promise he made to her. Then, when he inadvertently hits a construction worker, he is forced to go to a retirement home. But before they can take him, he and his house fly away. However he has a stowaway aboard. An 8 year old boy named Russell, whose trying to get an assisting the elderly badge. Together, they embark in an adventure, where they encounter talking dogs, an evil villain and a rare bird named Kevin.

  Title: Avatar
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi  Year: 2009  Country: USA, UK  Rating: Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Joel Moore  Director: James Cameron

My Review: The second time I saw this amazing movie. This time I went with Kim. She enjoyed it, but doesn't rate it as highly as I did. I think she's been poisoned by some co-workers. Here's a shocker - There's a group of 'Avatar Bashers' out there. They think themselves high minded movie snobs, decrying the movie for little more than it's popularity. I've heard their arguments, but I can't imagine why they don't admit the truth. This movie is outstanding entertainment. It's not a 'Fellini' flick, or deep thoughtful treatise on the state of current political affairs - or is it? With more layers than Saturn's rings, this movie actually offers all the deep stuff, then coats it in a sparkling blue candy wrapper. This movie isn't breaking records because it sucks, it's breaking records because its a visual feast with some substance. You may be offended by its success, but don't deny its appeal or brilliance simply because you can't abide a winner. This movie was filmed in 'RealD-3D', a technology which uses circularly polarized light to produce stereoscopic images. This technology allows viewers to tilt their head and look about the theater naturally with no loss of 3D perception. Amazing! As the movie got going, I found myself looking all over the place, exploring the limits of the screen, the environment of the movie. This visual exploration produced some feelings of disorientation, and I eventually decided to stop 'rubber-necking' and focus on the movie. Viewing the offered point of focus completely eliminated any disorientation. The 3D effects were truly spectacular, and they definitely added to the movies overall impact. Another technology featured in this movie was an advanced motion-capture technique. This technology transformed the cgi characters into highly realistic replicas of the real-life actors. I found the cgi to be flawless, so life-like that I completely bought it. Seriously. I've never seen animation that looked this life-like. I've actually seen some live-action movies that were more wooden and less life-like. The movie is a visually stunning smorgasbord. It sucked me in entirely, and the previously mentioned technologies were two of the reasons why I loved this movie. The story is an environmental, anti-imperialist, cultural-preservation treatise. Humans in the far future, have conquered space travel in order to seek out extra-terrestrial resources. The arrogance of might-makes-right is mixed with scientific curiosity and lip service to diplomacy. The Humans have 'invaded' the eden-like planet of Pandora in order to mine a precious resource - Something called 'Unobtanium'. The Humans are mining this mineral without regard to the native intelligent species of Pandora. The "Na'vi" are a tribal people with very strong ties to their environment. Their highly complex and evolved culture rebels at the presence of these invaders, but their 'technology' is primitive and ineffective in comparison to that wielded by the Humans. The Humans liaise with the natives by way of 'Avatars'. Bio-engineered blanks which perfectly mimic the "Na'vi" in physical appearance. These Avatars are mindless biological puppets, which Human 'drivers' control using a mind-melding, remote-control technology. Initially, the Humans use their Avatars to study the "Na'vi" and educate each other, but that changes when the military and company men decide to use these Avatars as instruments of diplomacy, espionage and deception. While the intentions of these 'corporate' minded Humans is rather clear, they didn't quite count on the drivers developing actual relationships with these primitives. When the Humans decide to disregard the natives in their quest for more Unobtanium, a clash of cultures and outright aggression threatens the "Na'vi" with genocide. The struggle is epic, glorious and I couldn't pry my eyes away from the screen. At nearly three hours long, the dark theater and 3D took their toll. I wish they had offered an intermission, as my eyes were badly abused by the time the curtain fell. At times the plot felt a bit over the top, a bit contrived, a bit preachy (the source of offense to those who bash the movie?). Despite this fact, the characters were believable, the environment completely engrossing, the effects sublime, and the setting amazing. The acting and direction were outstanding, and I found myself applauding (along with many other patrons) as the movie came to an end. Already set to overtake Titanic as the highest earning movie of all time (Worldwide earnings of $1.64b as of 18 Jan 10. Five weeks as number one at the box office), I will definitely buy a blu-ray copy, and this movie made me want more 3D. I rate this movie 5 out of 5. Two more 'Avatar' movies are likely, given the success of this initial effort.

Summary: In the future, Jake, a paraplegic war veteran, is brought to another planet, Pandora, which is inhabited by the Na'vi, a humanoid race with their own language and culture. Those from Earth find themselves at odds with each other and the local culture.

  Title: The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition
Genre: Documentary, History  Year: 2000  Country: Sweden, UK, Germany, USA  Rating: Starring: Liam Neeson, Julian Ayer, John Blackborow, David Cale, John Henry Cox  Director: George Butler

My Review: Disaster strikes the captain and crew of the Endurance. An ocean going sailing ship which set sail in 1914 for an Antarctic expedition. Helmed by Sir Ernest Shackleton, the Ango Irish explorer and officer in the British Navy. In a final adventure to cap his career, Shackleton set out to cross the newly discovered continent of Antarctica. Admittedly dangerous, the adventure began with this advertisement - "Men wanted: For hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success. - Sir Ernest Shackleton" Those few words marked the start of a fateful journey. With a well supplied ship, sturdy Canadian sled dogs and a hearty crew, Shackleton's adventure was well equipped to make this deadly journey. Unfortunately, the fates conspired against him and his crew. Here is a documentary which examines the fateful events which befell the crew of the Endurance, the super-human efforts to survive, and the miraculous outcome of that deadly adventure. Excellent documentary which included some first hand testimony, rare film footage, gripping narration and excellent editing. 4 out of 5

Summary: A retelling of Sir Ernest Shackleton 's ill-fated expedition to Antarctica in 1914-1916, featuring new footage of the actual locations and interviews with surviving relatives of key expedition members, plus archived audio interviews with expedition members, and a generous helping of the footage and still photos shot on the expedition.

  Title: Knife in the Water / Nóz w wodzie
Genre: Drama, Thriller  Year: 1962  Country: Poland  Rating: Starring: Leon Niemczyk, Jolanta Umecka, Zygmunt Malanowicz  Director: Roman Polanski

My Review: An early (considering his nearly 60 year carreer) Polanski film. This is his first Oscar nominated film. It was a joy to watch, a return to simpler times despite its suspenseful edge and potential for violence. In the early 60s (present day of filming) a couple of beautiful people are out for a drive in the Polish countryside. They pick up a hitchhiker and make their way to the lake. After reaching the marina, a fateful decision is made. The couple sets sail with the young hitchhiker. The sailing weekend is beset with complications. Male egos, class struggle, false bravado and erotic tension fill the air. Eventually a knife appears and claustrophobic ship becomes a bit too close for comfort. Great direction, political subtext, tension, acting, editing and pacing. 4 out of 5.

Summary: An attractive young woman, Christine, takes the wheel of a car belonging to her partner Andrzej, a sports columnist. While he criticizes her driving skills, a reckless student leaps out in front of the car. Andrzej gives the student a ride and invites him to accompany them on their yacht trip. Attracted to Christine, the student becomes increasingly clumsy. He spends his time jabbing the point of a pocket knife rapidly between the fingers of his other hand. Andrzek argues with the student, who topples overboard, vanishing into the lake. Andrzej dives in to save him, though he fails to find the student and swims ashore. Despite an earlier claim that he couldn't swim, the student manages to hide behind the nearest buoy.

  Title: Shakes the Clown
Genre: Comedy  Year: 1991  Country: USA  Rating: Starring: Bobcat Goldthwait, Julie Brown, Bruce Baum, Steve Bean, Blake Clark  Director: Bobcat Goldthwait

My Review: Comedian Bobcat Goldthwait wrote, directed and starred in this ridiculous movie about an alcoholic clown trying to survive the treacherous world of clown competition. Set in the fictional town of Palookaville, Shakes the clown is surviving on the edge of employment and alcoholism. Barely in control, he competes against other clowns for the coveted shows and party gigs which define the lives of the cut-throat clowns of Palookaville. Crafted as a insiders jab at the movie industry, this movie failed to impress this viewer. The only thing that really set this movie apart (in my opinion) were the early roles afforded Robin Williams and Adam Sandler. The story was too dark to really make me laugh, and clown costumes made it too ridiculous for the serious aspects of the movie. It may be a cult classic, but I didn't buy into its dark and poignant themes. 2 out of 5.

Summary: Shakes plods about his duties as party clown, and uses all of his free time getting seriously drunk. Binky, another clown, wins the spot on a local kiddie show, which depresses Shakes even more, and his boss threatens him with unemployment if he can't get his act under control. When someone murders Shakes' boss and makes it look like Shakes did it, he goes undercover, posing as a hated mime, and tries to find information that will clear his name.

  Title: District 9
Genre: Action, Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller  Year: 2009  Country: USA, New Zealand  Rating: Starring: Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, Nathalie Boltt, Sylvaine Strike, Elizabeth Mkandawie  Director: Neill Blomkamp

My Review: In an alternate reality, aliens visit Earth back in the early 80s. Unfortunately for the aliens, they arrive over Apartheid South Africa, in a crippled space ship. Are they refugees, criminals, colonists, conquerors? We've no idea, and these aspects of the film are not explored. Instead the entire population is quarantined in a segregated slum known as District 9. The South African government governs these aliens in the same way they 'governed' 'the blacks' - As an undesirable element of their population. The movie starts out as a mockumentary, giving us flash backs of what happened. Then it switches to a third person view, as it follows 'Wikus Van De Merwe' the less than competent bureaucrat charged with governance of these aliens. Wikus is charged with a relocation plan. A plan which will 'solve' the alien problem. As we follow Wikus, the alien problem becomes a personal problem. The film has some good parts, the pacing and editing are well executed, the acting was fair and the cgi pretty good for a low budget film (only $30m). I enjoyed some of the cultural/societal aspects, relationships and the aliens. Unfortunately, the story suffered greatly in other regards. There were numerous plot flaws (in my opinion), and some characters were unbelievable. Come on, who would really put Wikus in charge of anything this important? In addition, I found the egregious gore to be unnecessary and a bit offensive. The ending contained a rather useless and overly long slug fest. Despite all these problems, I still rate the movie 3 out of 5.

Summary: In 1982, a massive star ship bearing a bedraggled alien population, nicknamed "The Prawns," appeared over Johannesburg, South Africa. Twenty-eight years later, the initial welcome by the human population has faded. The refugee camp where the aliens were located has deteriorated into a militarized ghetto called District 9, where they are confined and exploited in squalor. In 2010, the munitions corporation, Multi-National United, is contracted to forcibly evict the population with operative Wikus van der Merwe in charge. In this operation, Wikus is exposed to a strange alien chemical and must rely on the help of his only two new 'Prawn' friends.

  Title: The Cove
Genre: Documentary, Drama  Year: 2009  Country: USA  Rating: Starring: Joe Chisholm, Mandy-Rae Cruikshank, Charles Hambleton, Simon Hutchins, Kirk Krack  Director: Louie Psihoyos

My Review: Set in a small Japanese town, this documentary shines a bright light on a big secret. All around the world, whales and Dolphins are kept in captivity, trained, and compelled to perform for the amusement of cheering school-children and adoring adults. It's a big business, and it draws millions of dollars into the pockets of large corporations. Someone has to supply these aquariums with copious amounts of their cash crop. Many of those animals come from one particular cove in Taijii, Japan. A former Dolphin trainer; Ric O'Barry (responsible for the capture and training of 'Flipper' (5 dolphins played the title character)) is the leader of an animal rights commando team. Their goal? Expose this place to the harsh light of big-time media exposure. If people learn the secret of what's going on at this secret lagoon. Armed with infra-red scopes, camouflaged HD cameras, scuba gear, and underwater cameras; this team of truth finders is pitted against a seasoned, stubborn, and stoic wall of weathered fishermen and corporate media shills. The documentary has a very gritty, undercover feel. Constantly on the edge of danger. These men and women risk physical danger, Japanese jails, and diplomatic censure, in order to expose the hidden secret of 'the Cove'. What's so bad about capturing Dolphins for sea-parks? Well, if that was the only thing going on… Watch this film and you'll be shocked by the astonishing consequences hidden behind this seemingly innocuous premise. I give it a 5 out of 5. Best documentary I've seen since 'Man On Wire'.

Summary: This riveting documentary (winner of the Audience Award at Sundance) follows a group of animal activists to a scenic cove in Taijii, Japan, where they use surveillance equipment to capture footage of a secretive and heavily guarded operation run by the world's largest supplier of dolphins. As the daring group risks their lives to expose the horrifying truths behind the capture of dolphins for the lucrative tourist industry, they also uncover an environmental catastrophe.
This riveting documentary (winner of the Audience Award at Sundance) follows a group of animal activists to a scenic cove in Taijii, Japan, where they use surveillance equipment to capture footage of a secretive and heavily guarded operation run by the world's largest supplier of dolphins. As the daring group risks their lives to expose the horrifying truths behind the capture of dolphins for the lucrative tourist industry, they also uncover an environmental catastrophe.

  Title: The Crow / Le corbeau
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller  Year: 1943  Country: France  Rating: Starring: Pierre Fresnay, Ginette Leclerc, Micheline Francey, Héléna Manson, Jeanne Fusier-Gir  Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot

My Review: Written (in part) and directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot under Nazi Occupation (France - 1943), this movie features a small French town - Any small town in the French countryside - and a poisoned pen. The residents of this small town are tormented by the mysterious condemnation of a secretive author. Letters begin to appear, signed by 'The Raven', which expose the petty lies, truths and accusations of this towns residents. Marital infidelity, drug use, illicit liaisons, medical malfeasance and even murder!. Nasty habits of all manner are exposed, aired and disclosed to the populace at large. As the rumors grow more heinous, the village becomes more vicious. The film ratchets up the suspicion and suspense as the movie progresses. Excellent direction, and camera work. My only problem with the film? I tried to out sleuth it. Thinking that I was watching a murder mystery or something I had to solve, I found myself frustrated when I realized that there really wasn't any single coherent mystery to solve. 3 out of 5.

Summary: A vicious series of poison-pen letters spreads rumours, suspicion and fear among the inhabitants of a small French town, and one after another, they turn on each other as their hidden secrets are unveiled - but the one secret that no-one can uncover is the identity of the letters' author...


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