Anonymous Blu-ray review

Starring: Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, Joely Richardson, David Thewlis, Xavier Samuel
Director: Roland Emmerich
Language: English
Subtitles: English
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Release Date: February 7, 2012
Run Time: 130 minutes

            I was hesitant when first discovering Anonymous, the Roland Emmerich film about a hidden truth about the works by William Shakespeare. I feared another Romeo & Juliet sub-plot, another gaudy imitation of Shakespeare in Love. The fact that Anonymous is directed by Roland Emmerich did little to put my mind at ease, as his past few films have left a great deal to be desired in my estimation. Though I feel it could have been cut down to a slightly shorter length, Anonymous is a solid piece of entertainment; one which relies on wit and clever connections to famed works, rather than relying heavily on the undressing and idolizing of Gwyneth Paltrow.

            The storyline is somewhat difficult to grasp in the beginning, both because of the disorienting jumps back and forth in time and the fact that William Shakespeare is not even present for the beginning of the story. This is because the true author of the plays must only release them under the name of Anonymous. During the political world of Elizabethan England, image is everything. It was well and fine for a commoner to be writing poetry and plays, but royalty was held with much greater expectations. When Earl De Vere, Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans) continues writing in secret, it threatens to destroy his chances for political advancements which are expected of him. This all takes place during the rule of Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave), and the Essex Rebellion against her.

            In order to see his material played before an audience, the Earl enlists a local author to pose as the writer of his plays. Instead of stepping into the role himself, the author passes the duty along to actor Will Shakespeare (Rafe Spall), an obnoxious drunken oaf. Though there is little reason to believe that this theory is actually true, Anonymous makes for great entertainment. The dialogue by John Orloff is rich and well deserving of a film about the greatest playwright to ever put ink to paper, and Anonymous is a film adorned with costumes and period London pieces that look spectacular in high definition.

            Exclusive to the Blu-ray are a group of extended and alternate scenes, as well as a featurette on the film’s speech and one for the special effects. Special features also include a commentary track with Emmerich and Orloff, additional deleted scenes and a featurette about the theories behind the true author of Shakespeare’s works.

Lady and the Tramp Diamond Edition Blu-ray review

            Because their films keep returning to that imaginary vault, Disney classics come with an upgrade each time they are released into the wild once again. Lady and the Tramp was last seen with the Platinum Edition, but now we have been given the Diamond Edition in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. No matter how you watch it, Lady and the Tramp is one of the great accomplishments of Disney’s past. On high definition Blu-ray it is even easier to see why.

            The story itself is an ingenious use of the classic star-crossed lover storyline, only with the use of dogs instead of humans in true animal loving fashion of Disney. Lady is a pampered cocker spaniel with owners and a warm bed each night. Tramp is a street mutt who lives free with the risks that it entails. These two have absolutely nothing in common, but still manage to find a way to love each other. The spaghetti eating scene alone makes this one of Disney’s most cherished love stories, and a perfect release in time for Valentine’s Day.

            This isn’t the type of film I need to sell to anyone, however. It is the Blu-ray combo pack which makes the latest release so spectacular. There are few genres which look as good in high definition as animation does. This 1955 has a breath of new life in high definition, looking more vibrant than ever. It also comes with many never-before-seen special features, including deleted scenes and even a deleted song.

            The DVD includes a feature with Diane Disney Miller talking about her father, and a Puppypedia feature which is cute. The Blu-ray disc has these as well as many more. There is a featurette about Walt Disney’s story meetings, as well as one about the casting of the voices for the Siamese cats. There are also many classic features from past releases and a generic making-of featurette.

La Jetée/Sans Soleil Criterion Collection Blu-ray review

            La Jetée and Sans Soleil are extremely different films, though they are the two crowning achievements in the eclectically magnificent career of Chris Marker. Marker is not a filmmaker as much as he is an artist, who occasionally uses film as a medium, the way a painter may switch from oil to watercolor, or a photographer varied lenses. One could use all sorts of words to describe Chris Marker; writer, photographer, filmmaker, editor, videographer. I prefer artist.

            Indeed, these two films have often been shown on exhibition at museums, and each defies the longstanding methods of mainstream cinema. Remarkably, they were also made twenty-years apart in the enigmatic career of French filmmaker Chris Marker. La Jetée (1963) is a short film which was later a great inspiration for Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys. Involving space travel and death, this doesn’t sound like an avant-garde film, but what makes it unique is the manner in which the film is presented. Rather than a moving picture, we are given images, photographs taken by Marker. And rather than dialogue, we are given narration, as a story would have. It is more like a moving storybook than a film, but the final result of this unique science fiction film is astonishing.

            Sans Soleil (1983) couldn’t be any different in many ways, although the reliance on voiceover for facts rather than dialogue is again present. It plays out like a travelogue, showing the footage from a tourist’s trip to Japan and Africa. Often it jumps back and forth, juxtaposing the two together. As the raw footage plays out we are read letters from a man named Sandor Krasna, read in voice over by Alexandra Stewart (Florence Delay in the French-language version). The images are often simple, though they are paired with unfathomable life questions and musings. Then there are times when the images are horrific, such as the shooting of a giraffe, and we wish that the words were more profound. By the end of the film, we feel as though we have been on this journey, and never actually seeing the writer of the letters or the man behind the camera allows us to step into his place.

            The Blu-ray release puts both of these modern classics on one disc, in glorious restored high definition digital transfers, approved by Marker himself. The disc also includes two interviews with filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin, who discusses the influence of Marker. The special features also include a video piece on Marker called “Chris on Chris,” created by critic and filmmaker Chris Darke, and two excerpts from the French television series “Court-circuit (le magazine). The highlights of the special features, however, are a pair of features about the inspiration of other works. One is about the influence of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo in the making of Sans Soleil, while the other is a look at the influence of La Jetée on David Bowie’s music video for “Jump They Say.” There is also an additional short film co-directed by marker and a 45-page booklet with essays and articles by a collection of critics and experts, as well as Marker himself.

32 Films With Titles That Begin With Numbers


            It is impossible for me to review the Australian film, 2:37, without making comparison’s to Gus Van Sant’s Elephant. First-time filmmaker Murali Thalluri has even admitted that this is where the visual style of the film came from. The story only varies in the conclusion and the way in which the melodrama is forced down the audience’s throat. Both films surround an incident at high school, though Elephant ends in a bloody shootout resembling the horrific tragedy at Columbine. 2:37 has a tragedy which basically just affects one person, but the focus of the film is on the many unrelated problems of other characters, which actually make the tragedy less significant rather than more.

             The film takes place over one day at high school, which is like two full seasons of “Skins” in 95 minutes. Melody (Teresa Palmer) has a secret which has her moody and depressed all day as we follow her around school. She is the neglected daughter, whereas her brother faces the opposite problem. Marcus (Frank Sweet) has too much expected of him, though this is no excuse for the inexcusably despicable character given to him. There is also a jock that is actually gay, a nerd with horrifyingly embarrassing medical issues, and a stoner trying to stand tall after coming out to his family and classmates. Then there is a marvelous performance by the underused Clementine Mellor. I kept wondering why she wasn’t used more, giving the only subtle performance in the film. The resolution just proves the manipulation in the filmmaking; a sign of an amateur director.

            It would be easy to compliment this film in the decent photography (though it comes nowhere near Elephant), praise the performances and ignore the manipulating melodrama. If only this film felt at all realistic and/or original. Instead it just feels like a lazy hack job from a young filmmaker who has a lot of living left to do before any profundity can be found in the high school experience. Instead this just feels forced.

3 Days of the Condor

            3 Days of the Condor was released in theaters at the beginning of 1975, just about six months after Richard Nixon’s resignation from his position as the president as a result of the Watergate scandal. The believability of government conspiracies and cover-ups seemed all too familiar, and Sydney Pollack’s thriller was able to come off as convincing as well as entertaining. Ultimately the film works as a tense piece of fiction, and looking back on the film now it is the quality of the action and suspense which makes the film a classic, whereas the political relevance has been diminished over time.

            This was the third film that Pollack made with star Robert Redford, who was at the top of his game in the mid-1970s. This time round Redford played Joe Turner, a CIA operative working at an office that merely analyzes books for possible codes and ideas. He essentially reads a lot for a living, reporting to the CIA what he finds, and at the same time he gathers random knowledge as he goes along, making him extremely intelligent. Turner, code name: Condor, has discovered what he thinks is a book worth investigating, discovering that it has been released only in three seemingly random countries. Before Turner is able to make the connection between the countries his office is attacked, all of his coworkers brutally murdered while he is out getting lunch.

            The film is about a world of paranoia in everyday life as soon as Turner realizes that he has made a discovery which will lead to his death if he doesn’t handle the situation carefully. When Turner realizes that the CIA may not be able to help him, and could have been directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of his co-workers, he is forced to go into hiding somewhere unknown. Fay Dunaway co-stars as Kathy Hale, an oddly believable woman who goes from being held hostage by the desperate Turner to becoming his lover and accomplice. As Turner tries to carefully uncover the truth behind his new need for paranoia, he is also hunted down by a ruthlessly efficient killer played by Max Von Sydow.

4 Months 3 Weeks 2 Days

            Even the best filmmakers can find their film in trouble when things become too busy. Simplicity in a film is always welcome, but only an accomplished filmmaker can make simplicity engaging and suspenseful. 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days is extremely simple, never speeding dramatically through a tense situation, instead leaving the camera and the audience hanging on the suspense of each moment. Visually speaking 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days flawlessly engages the audience in the same experience that the heroine of the film is going through, and in the final moment we are given recognition from that character that she relates to the audience in the breathless and unnerving experiences they are. She looks at the camera, a simple act of recognition, but necessary after the slow intensity of the day.

            Romania has had an extremely good couple of years, growing in the film world, and that was only further confirmed when the direction of Cristian Mungiu was the first Romanian to win the Palme D’or at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. Awards have also come to the actresses and actor involved in the film. Anamaria Marinca and Laura Vasiliu are roommates going to school away from home. We find that one of the roommates has become pregnant and the other seems to be taking care of all of the arrangements, even borrowing money from her boyfriend in order to help her roommate. Since abortion is illegal, arrangement are difficult and include securing a hotel room to have an abortion in. Set before the fall of Communism, the country is sparse and difficult. Securing a hotel room proves to be troubling enough, and dealing with the doctor willing to perform the abortion is no easier.

            Each event leads them in deeper, and requires more and more commitment from the roommate who is unfortunate enough to be friends with the obnoxiously irresponsible and naïve girl. The black market abortion is made even more dehumanizing with the treatment by the doctor, and the remainder of the evening is no more pleasant, even when there are no surprises. 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days shows a world in which the simplest things can become dangerous and burdensome and even when things go as planned they are not without tension and difficulty.

8 Mile

            When Eminem won an Oscar for his musical contribution to the film 8 Mile, it seemed one of the historically bizarre moments of the Academy Awards, only further heightened by the celebrity’s refusal to return to Los Angeles for the ceremony. It seems strange to think that the controversial rapper obtained what so many in Hollywood were desperate to get, and the success came to him when he had tired of the trying environment of Hollywood. Watching the film it becomes quickly apparent that Marshall Mathers, otherwise known as Eminem, is the driving force behind 8 Mile.

Loosely based on Eminem’s experience struggling to make his way out of trailer parks and into the rap game, 8 Mile is about Jimmy ‘Rabbit’ Smith Jr. (Mathers), though no senior is ever present in the film. We join the white twenty-something as he is about to enter a freestyle rap battle in a club where he sticks out as one of the only white people. Expecting to see Eminem as infallible in this film would be a mistake, as he certainly fails this first brave endeavor. More importantly, he fails much along the way, and by the end of the film we are nearly praying for success. Having seen him fail in so many ways, whether he deserved it or not, even the simple redemption of returning to the club for another rap battle is a towering achievement.

What makes 8 Mile such a success is that it never delves too far into any period of real success for Jimmy. We have all seen the rising star film, dozens of times, and inevitably the only way for there to remain conflict in the film once the star is at the top is addiction, adultery or abuse. 8 Mile wisely follows the star to his bottom, and we only get a glimpse of his steady rise from that low point. Jewel was living in car before she was discovered. This is somehow far more interesting than any of the films about the success, which tends to be far less unique than where each person came from.

9 Songs

            Music has a way of attaching itself to memories and feelings, making it near impossible to hear familiar songs without thinking of a past relationship. Michael Winterbottom’s latest film, 9 Songs, plays more like an extended memory of a relationship than anything else. Mixing raw music with graphic un-simulated sex scenes, 9 Song is brutally and unflinchingly honest about the nostalgia of love.

            The story is merely a series of memories that Matt, a twenty-something glaciologist has as he travels across the vast and empty world of The Antarctic. Each of his memories are tied uncontrollably to each of the titled nine songs from concerts he attended during the relationship, the first being the night that he met Lisa. It is a purely physical relationship to start but as they spend more time together it is clear that Matt loves Lisa, but never really clear if the feelings are returned. Using the music to show the state of the affair, 9 Song bounces back and forth between dynamic performances and the unadulterated lovemaking that occurs always at Matt’s apartment but never Lisa’s.

            The decision to have the sex between the two characters be real was a strong choice which gives the film a slightly pornographic feel at times, but the purpose is not arousal. It clearly shows the strong physical side of the relationship in a way that few films have been able to capture so honestly. There is little dialogue and it is improvised, but the images are so powerful that the feeling comes across with unquestionable strength. As close as films such as 91/2 weeks may have come to showing the sexual attachment of a physical relationship, 9 Song clearly captures the moments with music and very real situations, making the film a piece of nostalgia for anyone who has ever been in love.

            What little dialogue there is shows the difference between the two characters; Matt usually being dominated slightly by Lisa despite his attempts to make her think she can’t control him. There is more known about Matt as he talks about Lisa through voiceover in the South Pole.

            The music ends up speaking more about the film than the characters themselves do, with fantastic live performances by nine great bands including the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, the Dandy Warhols, Super Furry Animals, Franz Ferdinand, and a great bit from Michael Nyman’s 60th birthday concert. As well as the concert scenes, music is used throughout the film. Most memorable is the haunting piano nocturnes by Melissa Parmenter which creep into the scenes of lovemaking making them seem more like a sad memory than any form of eroticism.

            There is no doubt that many people will be turned off by the extreme use of sex in this film, making it difficult to recommend it to anyone with the slightest bit of conservatism, yet I found myself less offended by the use of sex in this film than I did the discussion of sex in The Aristocrats. Although many might view 9 Songs as pornographic, those that truly understand will see the artistic qualities of the film far outweigh any offensiveness.

            There are really only two elements to the film; the music and the relationship.


            There have been films of apocalyptic fear in many other genres, ranging from the horrors that bring the end of the world to action heroes resisting; comedies of zombie destruction to the unrelenting drama of The Road. With all of the fears and concerns in the world today, the end of the world dominates the big screen. The fears of the average person are often creative enough to inspire dread of everything or anything, even a specific year. Science fiction has also been a popular genre for these films, because of the creativity allowed in the genre, and the themes that can be placed within the context. With Shane Acker’s short film which was nominated for an Academy Award a few years back, he proved that animation provided an arena for a similar freedom or imagination.

            With the theatrical film adaptation of 9, I was hopeful that the simplicity of the short film would not be lost. I suppose I should have been more careful what I wished for. The simplicity of the narrative is fitting, supplying many scenarios for action sequences with breathtaking imagery. The simplicity of the dialogue, however, is a lost opportunity. The originality of the idea begs for more in-depth dialogue or none at all. With the cliché lines and pointless discussions that plague the script, the may as well have remained silent.

            9 begins with a breathtaking sequence of the construction of the ninth life-filled doll that is to survive as the last hope of humanity in the wake of apocalypse. The last doll is somewhat incomplete, awakening without vocal abilities or an understanding of his surroundings. The small burlap sack creature ventures into the world, finding that there are others like him, as well as creatures hell-bent on their destruction. The end of the world resembles many other recent films, most noticeable being the latest in the Transformer and Terminator franchises. Machines have destroyed the life on Earth, leaving only nine dolls to face the monstrous creations that man could not destroy.

Acker was given a helping hand from visionary directors Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov, and the visuals are amazing. It simply may have been more helpful if a director with a strength in narrative rather than visuals had been involved as well. Screenwriter Pamela Pettler may have seemed the obvious choice, having written the screenplay for both Monster House and Burton’s Corpse Bride, but these were two films that were directed at children. Dark as the narrative may have been, the dialogue never needed to be complex. The opposite would have been nice for a PG-13 animated film like 9.

10 Things I Hate About You

            There is nothing particularly original or spectacular about 10 Things I Hate About You, though the cast seems to elevate the material. It seemed that way when the film was released, and many in the cast went on to have increasingly successful careers. This was not Heath Ledger’s first big role (which would be The Patriot), but it was an honest attempt to introduce him as a teen heartthrob. Generic as the script may be, Ledger manages to be a highlight that can’t be ignored. Sadly, now that there are only a finite amount of films to have Ledger in them, the re-release of past films is a bittersweet reminder of what he accomplished and what audiences have lost.

            10 Things I Hate About You also stars a boyish Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and transitioning teen Julia Stiles. These two had careers as child actors and this film brought them successfully through the transition. Many actors fade after puberty, and there is a reason for that. Gordon-Levitt and Stiles never had that problem, though I have to wonder if they are embarrassed to watch this film now. They look so young.

            The plot is said to have been adapted from William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, but this is quite a stretch. The only plotline taken from the classic is the shrewish sister an appealing younger sister. Bianca Stratford (Larisa Oleynik) has many suitors, including the school stud, Joey Donner (Andrew Keegan), and the romantic Cameron James (Gordon-Levitt). The only problem is that her father’s rule is that the younger daughter cannot date before the elder. Kat Stratford (Stiles) is infamous for her icy exterior and outspoken opinions.

            Seeing that Kat is unlikely to date on her own, Cameron devises a plan which has Joey paying the school rebel to date the un-dateable girl. Patrick Verona (Ledger) agrees to woo Kat for a price, discovering that he is a match with the girl everyone is afraid of. This leads to the inevitable revelation of his true reason for approaching her. These sequences are so predictable that moments of this film feel as though they could be a spoof of teen comedies. There are also some fresh moments, most of which only seem possible due to the excellent casting.


            10 is a painful midlife crisis comedy of errors. The transfer of this spectacularly effective Blake Edwards film to Blu-ray high definition is welcome, especially for the fans of the nude scenes with the enchanting Bo Derek. Unfortunately there is not much in regards to special features, but the film itself stands the test of time.

            42-year-old composer George (Dudley Moore) has a successful and fulfilling life, but he can’t seem to stop thinking about a woman that he glimpsed fro just a moment. He risks the steady and strong relationship with his singer girlfriend (Julie Andrews) in order to chase after a woman (Bo Derek) he glances on her way to get married. Following her to find a way to possess her is the beginning of the end for this tragic mid-life crisis.

12 Angry Men

There is nothing original about a courtroom drama. These stories fill prime-time television as much as they do the big screen, and it has been this way for decades and decades, and yet somehow 12 Angry Men remains remarkably original fifty years after it was made. Somehow, while staying in the genre, 12 Angry Men doesn’t ever need to spend time in the courtroom. Able to convey the entire courtroom drama without ever showing the courtroom is the sign of fantastic writing, which it was, careful direction, faithfully carried out by Sidney Lumet, and twelve engaging actors, and there is no arguing the effectiveness of the ones chosen for this classic.

It may seem a cliché to claim once again that this film is just as good as it was fifty years ago, so I will go a step further and boldly claim that it has improved with time. Just looking at the failed attempts over the years to recreate the tenacious energy contained in the small juror room of 12 Angry Men is as obvious a sign of increasing value. The longer this film stays on the top of the genre, the more valued it should become, and I certainly can’t think of any film even coming close to this one in simple brilliance.

Henry Fonda stars as the one man on the jury that thinks the young man is not guilty of the murder he is accused of. Using a calculating eye and piecing together details missed by the incompetent lawyer, Fonda starts to sway some of the men on the jury. Others are in a hurry just to leave and get on with their daily lives, so they stick stubbornly to the guilty conclusion, but as the rest of the men start to examine the facts every one is forced to look at the details closer and come to a true conclusion they can all proudly say they believe in. The other jurors are played by Lee J. Cobb, Ed Bergley, Jack Klugman and a number of fantastic and memorable character actors.


            The difference between the classic Hollywood Twelve Angry Men, directed by Sidney Lumet in 1957, and the Russian 12 from 2007, is all in the title. In 1957 the men were angry, but 12 is in not so hurried to make the men angry. At first the plots seem remarkably similar while differing in order only to integrate certain cultural issues of modern Russian life, but by the end of the film it is more than lifestyle which differs. There is also the consideration of mindset, which is uniquely Russian in this film. There are still some similarities that never change. Ignorance and bigotry look pretty similar regardless of country or race, and so does kindness.

            The basic premise is the same, taking place almost entirely within the sequestered walls of a dilapidated jury room. In this case the jury room is being remodeled and the twelve men are forced to deliberate on a murder case in the rundown gymnasium of an elementary school. Most of the men are in a rush to be done with their duty, clearly fine with convicting the young man without any concern about the details. It only takes one man to go against the rest, which sparks debates about everything, though nothing more important than the issues of the justice system itself.

            With a running time of 2 ½ hours, 12 is never rushed or labored in the depiction of each altered position of the eleven remaining men. None of the characters have names but each is given an opportunity to shine, convincing others. Director Nikita Mikhalkov gives himself the role of the jury foreman, but each actor has a moment or two within the lengthy but never dull film. Few stories can captivate an audience while also keeping them captive to one setting, and few others can do this with a story that has an outcome already known to most. This is a testament to the skill of the filmmaking, showing that the experience outweighs the results of the film.

12 Monkeys

            Terry Gilliam is one of those directors who has had terribly bad luck and made some terribly confusing films. More than anything Gilliam has seen box-office trouble, often with the films of the largest budget. When 12 Monkeys was tested, the audiences were unsatisfied with the film, but Gilliam was surprisingly able to release the film as he had imagined and it was a surprising success. Not quite as surprising is the relevance which remains in the visionary director’s re-imagining of the short film, “La Jetée.” Perhaps now more than ever this apocalyptic vision of the future has relevance. Although the film largely takes place in the 1990s (when the world apparently ended, in a manner of speaking), the chaotic society of fear and disease seems still able to mirror the world we live in today.

            The film actually begins in the future, after the civilization of humanity has all but perished, forced to live underground due to disease. The future earth is ruled by the animals on the surface, who are immune to the disease that caused humans to go into hiding. James Cole (Bruce Willis) is simply one of many men kept in cages for experiments. He is sent to the surface and then later given the task of time travel, all so that he might discover a clue that will help the future society to find a cure of some sort. When he arrives in 1990, Cole’s tales of a future apocalypse quickly find him put away in a mental asylum. Within the asylum he meets Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt), a man who claims to be the son of an extremely important man, despite his mad ravings. Cole is given a psychiatrist Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe), who is amazed to find that his story may be true after he vanishes, only to appear again in 1996, the actual year of the supposed disaster.

            There is something of a mystery in regards to the way that the world ends, and who is to blame. In a dream which bookends the film, there are hints that the man responsible could be Jeffrey, but there is also a futility in the effort to stop the disaster which simply adds to the madness of the film. The performances are all dead-on, slightly over-the-top while completely fitting the chaotic storytelling which Gilliam plans for this apocalyptic journey into the future.

12 Rounds

            Coinciding with the return of the ultra-macho action film, a number of films utilizing the strengths (quite literally) of WWE wrestlers have appeared recently, none more noticeable than John Cena. Perhaps Cena is the most noticeable because the films he has starred in seem most directly tied to the 80s actions films which first showed the bulging muscles of the star as proof of masculinity, or perhaps it is simply because he is the first to make it past the initial film. Cena is the first wrestler to be cast in a second WWE film after the first was fairly unsuccessful, and in many ways 12 Rounds simply follows in the failure-footsteps of The Marine.

            12 Rounds seems to purposefully take on the plot of an 80s action film, even directed by Renny Harlin, perhaps best known for his direction of the first Die Hard sequel and Sylvester Stallone’s Cliffhanger. These films look like masterpieces in comparison to 12 Rounds, though it is a brainless dose of high action which is less dull than many other CG-infected PG-13 actions films which have dominated theaters recently. The only true difference between this and a Die Hard film is the missing wisecracking abilities of Bruce Willis, especially the way the series dropped off in order to sell more tickets with the latest addition.

            The plot of this film is laughably simple, and is mostly buried underneath as much action as seems possible. Or impossible. Either way, the action is done more traditionally than most films, with stunts and camera tricks rather than excessive use of computer effects. This action is almost enough to dominate Cena’s inability to act, keeping him physically active to avoid the plain truth when he actually tries. The worst moments are those when the wrestler attempts humor, and the commentary track with the ‘actor’ joined by writer Daniel Kunka simply shows that this is a sincere attempt. This seems to be a perfect example of why an inexperienced actor should not be permitted to give a commentary which allows them to talk about themselves excessively. It is embarrassing to the production, especially when anything other than their physique is the weakest element of the film. I’m sure Cena will just claim that I am out of touch with the viewing audience, but this is only further proof that he is out of touch with his own shortcomings.

13 Going On 30

            Anyone who has made it through their teens would most likely agree that growing up happens quicker than we imagined it would. Somehow while caught up in the melodrama of life it is easy to grow up without realizing that it has happened, but in 13 Going on 30 it literally happens in an instant. There have been many films that fool with the concept of age, most of the time in body-switching films where an adult switches with a child or teenager, such as Freaky Friday. 13 Going on 30 is more like a female version of Big, the delightful Tom Hanks film where he wishes to be older and gets his wish. The difference in that film is that he grew older instantly while not going forward in time, while our protagonist in 13 Going on 30 jumps forward in time with no memory of all the years in-between.

            Jenna Rink is turning thirteen, but she wishes that she were turning 30 instead. Hoping that her birthday party will solve all of her problems, she invites all of the popular kids along with her pudgy next-door-neighbor friend, Matt, who has a crush on her. After a soul-crushingly bad birthday party, Jenna ends up in the closet wishing she were 30 again, which comes true when some novelty wishing dust falls on her. She wakes up 30 years old and Jennifer Garner. Jenna doesn’t know anything about her life, much less technology in the 21st Century, which makes her seem crazy. Not only does she bring back her childhood memories of the 80s, but she also has the mind of a thirteen-year-old, shying away from her nude boyfriend in disgust.

            Much of the film’s success is due to Garner’s ability to convey emotions subtly, though extremely clearly. We know that thirteen-ear-old is trapped in Garner’s body, but it would be easy to forget if it weren’t for her simple reactions throughout the film. Her face when she hears a swear word, delighted and shocked, tells more of a story than a generic script such as this deserves. Even though there is little original about the script itself, Garner’s performance is delightfully different than any of the performances she became known for. Her performance alone is so original and enjoyable that it becomes easy to ignore that there is little else that doesn’t resemble a dozen other films. Even Mark Ruffalo’s performance as Matt is subdued for much of the film, as a serious adult must be, if only to balance Garner’s enthusiasm as a teenager in a woman’s body. 

16 Blocks

            I’m usually skeptical of a PG-13 action film. I like my action films to be violent and gritty, something that usually gets left out of the bubble gum action blockbusters. 16 Blocks changed any misconceptions I may have had of PG-13 action films. Not only is it one of the best action films I have seen in years, but it is also one of my favorites from the first half of the year. It reminded me of the way that action movies were in the eighties and nineties. The buddy cop films were king and no one did them better than Richard Donner. Donner directs 16 Blocks with Bruce Willis in the best performance he has given in years along with sharp new talent Mos Def, who can also be seen in Dave Chappelle’s Block Party on DVD as well. 16 Blocks is a good old fashion action film the way they used to be, without computer generated effects. Just old fashion gunplay.

            Bruce Willis is staggering as Jack Mosley, a cop unlike many that Willis has played. Jack Mosley is an old worn out cop. He makes the ritual stop at the donut box and Willis added an impressive amount of weight for this role. He seems to sweat even as he walks through the precinct, and this is how we are introduced to our hero for the rest of the film. It is a brilliant opening with some fantastic acting by Willis, who if nothing else has proven extremely dedicated to a performance.

            Mosley is the detective assigned to transport a petty criminal (Mos Def) from the precinct to the courthouse, which is a 16-block distance apparently. Mos Def is amazingly talented in a strange role. He almost resembles a grown up Urkle in the film, but he manages to capture the laughter and the feeling of the audience with charm that flies under the radar. It is the most unconventionally good performance I have seen since Johnny Depp’s pirate performance.


17 Again

            As many body swap films as there have been over the years (especially since the 80s, it seems), there always seems to be some small technicality to the situation which makes all of the various scenarios fit together under the ‘be careful what you wish for’ theme. Although Big had a young boy wishing to be older, finding that he became Tom Hanks overnight and was unrecognized by his mother. In 13 Going on 30 nearly the same situation occurs with a girl, though she jumps forward in time to an older age rather than aging overnight. In 17 Again we return once again to the Big formula for wish fulfillment, only reversed. So, when are we to expect the film about an adult wishing to be young and waking up in another time period?

            Mike O’Donnell (Mathew Perry) is a thirty-something in a job he hates and a life he feels trapped in. Once a promising high school basketball player, Mike had decided to stay with his pregnant girlfriend and throw away any chances of a college scholarship. Now married to the same woman, Scarlett (Leslie Mann), Mike is in the process of getting a divorce. He barely knows his teenage kids and is failing at a menial job which he hates. The disappointment of his life leads him to make a reckless wish to a jovial janitor in his old high school (played by Bill Murray’s brother, Brian Doyle-Murray), and finds that he ages back to seventeen while staying in the same time period of his devastated life.

            At first Mike selfishly thinks that this wish fulfillment was meant to be a way for him to have a second chance playing basketball, but when he attends the same high school as his two children, Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg) and Alex (Sterling Knight), he soon discovers that they are more important. As remains the same in any body-switch film, the protagonist discovers more about his old self from the body of a new self (or young self), and he begins to repair his life as a stranger. There are some problems with this plan, including Mike’s need to fit in and become popular in order to help his kids, and Scarlett’s ability to recognize the teenage version of her high school sweetheart.

            The younger version of Mike is played by Zac Efron, the latest teenie-bopper heart-throb, who has a few years of making young girls swoon before they grow up and a younger version appears for the next generation. It is an endless cycle and many of these actors stop appearing as frequently once their brief moment ends as their generation ages and discards. This is why Paul Walker, Orlando Bloom and countless others already forgotten have drifted out of the spotlight, though Efron brings some charisma with his good looks, which seem oddly paired with Perry. There are a number of other supporting actors within the film that keep it far more entertaining than I had expected.  



            Inspired by the true story involving MIT students who learned to count cards as a way of making some extra cash, 21 has a great premise. The problem is with the execution. After all, how entertaining is it to watch someone count. 21 tries as hard as possible to keep the film entertaining with flashy clothing, creative camera work, and a script directly targeted for younger audience members, and in some ways it is successful. The film is entertaining for the most part, at least enough to keep a teenager interested, but it is in no way intelligent. Each sequence is transparent although Kevin Spacey seems oblivious as he tears through the melodramatic dialogue.

            Across the Universe star Jim Sturgess plays Ben Campbell, a gifted young man with aspirations that his current income can’t provide. Although he works a steady job like a diligent young man, he still doesn’t have enough money to pay for his college tuition, so when his difficult statistics professor, Mickey Rosa (Kevin Spacey) invites him to a secret school club that counts cards at major casinos to win money playing blackjack, he sees a way to get through college. Mostly though, he is attracted to another student already involved in the questionably legal although completely outlawed practice. Eventually the girl, Jill Taylor (Kate Bosworth) draws Ben in, but the money is what convinces him to stay. Eventually the money becomes the focus and a power play begins between Ben and Mickey when a casino security advisor (Laurence Fishburne) catches him counting cards in a casino and gives him a warning about his professor.

            Although 21 is unfortunately predictable, I was far more bothered by the specificity in which it seemed targeted at young men in rebellion of adolescence. None of the adult figures are essentially trustworthy, and as a viewer we begin to distrust anyone over thirty. Other than that there is no lesson to the film, which does not see anything wrong with the lifestyle or Ben’s urges for power, money and the sexiest girl at school. It plays like a teenage boy’s wet dream.

30 Days of Night

            American Horror is suffering. Hollywood may still proudly claim most blockbuster genre films as the most groundbreaking. Hollywood is monumental internationally, able to complete fantastic sequences. It is just unfortunate that ideas have run dry for most horror films. Suddenly remakes of foreign horror films became more popular, most of which worse than the original. Before long it became obvious that horror belonged to anyone willing to step up and reinvent the genre. The British have shown themselves capable, reinventing the zombie film with undead that move fast in 28 Days Later, blending comedy pastiche with zombie fun in Shaun of the Dead and female machismo in the Descent, which was remarkably unique in having no obligatory explanation or resolution. Korean cinema reinvented the monster film with The Host (followed by a remarkably similar Cloverfield), and since Pan’s Labyrinth there has been new attention given to the Mexican filmmakers working in the genre now also.

            Hollywood’s only chance of surviving lies in its ability to do something unique and original. Cloverfield, if only for the unique filming style, is a step in the right direction. 30 Days of Night takes an approach that is similar to 28 Days Later, reinventing the creatures, but it also gives a promising premise to the audience as well. Taken from a graphic novel, 30 Days of Night is more than a little cheesy at times, but it is also marks a promising change in Hollywood Horror. Still nowhere near as original or clever as other horror being made in other countries, 30 Days of Night manages to be creative. More than that I found myself surprised by how subtle much of the suspense is.

            Gone are the fragile vampires From Dusk Till Dawn, vanished are the wooing abilities from Dracula, and these vampires don’t even speak English. They are creatures, ugly and deformed but with increased strength due to the blood they drink. The only weakness appears to be sun, so it is unfortunate for the small Alaskan town they invade which is about to have its 30 days of night. The sun stays out of sight for that entire month, so the humans must resort to hiding. They are no match for the strengthened vampires, who are also incredibly fast and have ultra-sensitive senses. In the moments when the group, ushered by the town sheriff (Josh Hartnett), must be moved or come out of hiding for some reason, 30 Days of Night is most successful. In one of the most frightening sequences they are attacked in an abandoned store by a small vampire child left behind.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin

            The idea of a sex comedy is almost always followed by nudity and countless scenes of bathroom humor, but The 40 Year-Old Virgin chose another path, one which proves to be more effective. The humor in this new comedy is not reliant upon the sexual situations you would assume naturally tend to take over a sex comedy, but instead there is emphasis on strong characters, real situation, some of the best new comedic talent in years, and surprisingly even a bit of heart.

Many comedic actors spend years in supporting roles or small cameos. They make us laugh but are not household names until they have their one breakout role. For Will Ferrell this was Old School and since he has been a star since it came out. The 40 Year-Old Virgin marks the introduction of Steve Carell as a name we all should know. Known but not well known, Carell has had many memorable roles both in television and film. It is most likely that filmgoers will recognize him as the slightly retarded news anchor in Ron Burgundy’s anchor team.

In The 40 Year-Old Virgin Carell is Andy Stitzer, a really nice guy who has a few problems interacting with people. When Andy’s co-workers at the electronics store which he works ask him to play poker one night, they find out that Andy has never had sex and has given up trying, content to collect toys and play video games instead. From that moment on they decide that they must make it a mission of theirs to help Andy out. Andy doesn’t want anything to do with their quest until it allows him to meet Trish, a single mother that has had some bad experiences with guys. Andy likes Trish so much that he doesn’t want to mess the relationship up with the one thing which he has failed at for forty years, so they decide to make a pact not to have sex for a certain amount of dates.

While the concept of the film is humorous, the film never would have worked if all focus was on that one catch. The reason it does work and is undeniably hysterical is because of all of the unique comic stylings mixed together. Steve Carell plays the nice guy amazingly well with delivery which allows for him to be funny even without ever needing to go over the top. Playing a lead character straight and still remaining funny is a task which even the best actors often fail at.

As well as Carell there are other great talents which are often so good that the film feels more like an ensemble cast despite the fact that attention has been focused on Carell. Paul Rudd takes a strange twist with his character David, a lovesick and slightly obsessed and broken man, because he still keeps his edge as a bit of an ass. Romany Malco adds a nice change in comedic delivery as the one fast talker in the four. He plays Jay, an unfaithful smooth talker who takes pride in his abilities with women. Then there is Seth Rogen of Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, two shows which director of 40 Yr. Old Virgin Judd Apatow was connected to. Rogen plays Cal, a technical advisor in the store who thought Andy was a serial killer before he found out about his problem.

These four actors have some of the best scenes in the film because they work together and balance each other out. On top of that the script allows them to be caring and supportive to each other, especially Andy. This is one of the most important elements in the film because it adds some heart to a film which could easily have been very racy. While the film may have worked just as well filled with topless women and bathroom humor, it would have changed the dynamic and the sweetness would be lost. The way it was made allows for a new kind of R-rated comedy, one less raunchy but more mature than most PG-13 comedies.
The 41 Year Old Virgin Who Knocked Up Sarah Marshall and Felt Superbad About It

            With the lazy construction of nearly every spoof in near history, it comes as little surprise to find the popular films of Judd Apatow is enough to inspire the entire narrative of The 41 Year Old Virgin Who Knocked Up Sarah Marshall and Felt Superbad About It. Although the title is excessive, it tells the audience everything they need to know before they can understand the jokes within the film. If any part of the title makes no sense, there will be a portion of the film that is humorless; even more so than the rest of the movie is.

            Though some of the storylines are combines in order to keep some semblance of order, the film spoofs The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Superbad. Mostly the film takes from Superbad and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, with two separate storylines with no necessary connection beyond the Apatow involvement in both films. Andy (Bryan Callen) is a 41-Year-Old Virgin with a crush on indestructible Kim (Noureen DeWulf), although Sarah (Mircea Monroe) believes Andy is the father of her unborn child. Meanwhile, McAnalovin (Austin Michael Scott) goes on a ride along with Officers Beat (Chris Spencer) and Yo’ Ass (Randall Park).

            Much of the film is just an exaggerated duplicate of scenes from the original films; a lazy habit of recent spoofs which is even more ridiculous when it is a spoof of comedies that are occasionally intentionally ridiculous in their own right. Although some of the actors within the movie give admirable impressions of the original actors, this is not enough to make for a compelling comedy. Much of the movie feels like an outtake from the original, except for the elements taken from movies without any connection to Apatow. There is an absurd segment with fart humor and a spoof of Twilight, as well as a character who ages backwards, like Benjamin Button. Both of these additions reek of desperation.


44 Inch Chest

            There are moments within 44 Inch Chest which make the overall film a damn shame, moments good enough to make this a film worth recommending and an overall film which I would be ashamed to defend. Never have I been so impressed, while also disappointed. There are moments of perfectly written dialogue in this tight little drama from the writers of Sexy Beast, and yet the script seems to run out of fresh ideas by the third act. For a film which starts strong and seems to be building steam, it suddenly falls flat in a series of hallucinated sequences and a necessary ending which still feels somewhat weak.

            Half of what makes the dialogue seem so much better than the average film is thanks to the actors which fill the roles, speak the words. This is a film with so much dialogue and so few locations that it could easily be adapted into a stage play, or perhaps was originally written as such. Upon discovering that he has been betrayed by his wife, Colin Diamond (Ray Winstone) is unable to handle the information. He is nearly catatonic when picked up by his gangster friends, who take him to the restaurant where the French waiter having an affair with his wife lives. In a fast and brutal manner which falsely gives the impression of more violence to come, the waiter is taken away in a van to be taken care of.

            The remainder of the film takes place the following evening, as Colin decides whether or not to kill the waiter, a wonderful dialogue-free performance by Melvil Poupaud. Even Colin doesn’t have a great deal to say about the situation, though his friends go into graphic discussion of the situation. The collection of brutal yet compassionate friends is an odd assortment, with some of the best performances of the year. Tom Wilkinson heads up the cast as the level-headed friend Archie, probably the easiest character to understand in the bunch. The others include a violent womanizer named Mal (Stephen Dilane), a homosexual gangster and gambler named Meredith (Ian McShane) and the incredibly foul-mouthed seasoned gangster, Old Man Peanut, played by none other than John Hurt. 

88 Minutes

            Al Pacino has quite the reputation in film history. He has been attached to enough successful films to insure he remain a legend no matter what he does now. Sadly, Pacino doesn’t make the films that he used to. His name alone is strong enough for ticket sales on even the most un-sellable of films. 88 Minutes has a premise that isn’t new, already covered by D.O.A. and a remake, as well as the more recent Crank, which took a hyperactive look at having a timetable on your life. There was no way that 88 Minutes was going to entirely original, but it seemed the kind of film Pacino would be in. All the pieces fit but none of them are any good. 

            The opening sequence of 88 Minutes contains acting so bad that we know immediately that these are not characters that will remain of importance, but when these twin girls are assaulted and slowly tortured in their apartment their involvement becomes uncomfortably present for longer than is necessary. Only after this awkward beginning are we introduced to Jack Gramm, a forensics psychiatrist and college professor who also makes a habit out of testifying for the district attorney. In the words of a defense lawyer who insults him while he testifies, Gramm is a forensic expert “who pontificates like the Oracle of Delphi on hypothesis as if they are stone cold fact”. Never mind the fact that the twenty-something blonde accusing him of this doesn’t even seem to understand the words she is saying, because the film only goes downhill from these first six minutes.

            The biggest problem is the acting, even beyond casting unbelievably attractive young women as lawyers when they would look more convincing on a beach. 88 Minutes may boast the star power of Al Pacino, hoping nobody will realize he isn’t what he once was, but the casting for nearly every supporting character must have helped in the financing of the film. What I am suggesting is that either the casting director needs to find a new job, or they need to stop giving roles out to actors who aren’t well suited.

            The testimony Gramm gives against the defendant (Neal McDonough) accused of killing one of the two twins, puts him away in prison, but not before he has the chance to whisper, “Tick-tock, Tick-tock, doc” to Gramm. This relevance is revealed to Gramm nine years later when he is busy trying to figure out how the murders have started again when the man convicted is slated to be executed. On the day of the convicted man’s execution everyone is looking to Gramm for answers, wondering if he might have made a mistake, especially with the similarities in the latest serial killer. Even more suspiciously, the victims from the latest killing become connected to Gramm. First a tape of the victim claiming he convicted the wrong person appears, and then he receives a cryptic phone call telling him that he has eighty-eight minutes to live.

            Oddly enough, when Gramm is confronted with a series of strange attacks and threats at him, he doesn’t suspect the man he convicted. Instead he suspects his students (Benjamin McKenzie, Leelee Sobieski) and his teacher’s aid (Alicia Witt). He wastes his time running around on fool’s errands, all the time antagonized by a hidden force leaving him messages reminding him of the amount of time he has left to live. 


100 Girls

Writer and director Michael Davis has learned and mastered the art of feminist sex comedies, a genre he may not even be aware that he has helped to cultivate. Each of the films that Davis has written and directed have an underlying message that actually follows very closely to the true definition of feminism, but he always includes a character that believes the exact opposite. This character is usually the tool for the sexual controversy. It may seem strange that a film containing offensive and demeaning material can also have a message that enforces another point entirely, but this is what Davis does best.

Eight Days a Week was the first of these films, and possibly the best. It is a film that most definitely begins with lust, and as our character grows and matures, he no longer sees his object of desire as just a nice body. Davis has continued his shocking form of entertainment that disguises beliefs and themes in barrels of fun. This past year he made one of the best action films of the year (Shoot ‘Em Up), continuing to write and direct as he shifts genres, but the film that Davis made right after Eight Days a Week was still an interestingly sensitive sex comedy.

            100 Girls has a relatively sophomoric plot with a blackout that leaves a teenager with an impossible scenario. Matthew (Jonathan Tucker) just happens to be in the elevator of a girl’s college dorm during a blackout. He is in the elevator with a girl, and they talk, have sex, and it leaves Matthew longing for more after she mysteriously disappears. Determined to find her Matthew sets out on the mission of figuring out which girl it was out of the 100 suspects living in the dorm.

This is one of those strange films that become more relevant years after it was made when the cast has increased in celebrity status. Katherine Heigl and Jaime Pressly are both among the 100 girls, which is about as surprising as how sweet the film actually is. This is essentially a twisted sexual Cinderella that puts prince charming in a politically correct world where he has to play strip foosball with Heigl in order to gain her feminist respect. It is a strange message, but I would argue a positive one, oddly not unlike Knocked Up, another surprising film to find the straight-laced Heigl in.

101 Dalmatians

            This was obviously a pet project for Disney, being able to fall back on the past success of the company, a vanity project for the studio during a time that the past was much easier to be vane about. Disney is already famous for reminding us every so often of the history that the company has built with solid feature film animation when few others had the courage and creativity to compete. 101 Dalmatians is an animated classic, and because nothing is sacred, a live-action version was released in 1996. Chosen to direct was Stephen Herek, a man who more than proved himself to the studio with The Mighty Ducks in 1992 and The Three Musketeers in 1993. Despite the fact that his directorial debut was Critters (1986), he seemed the perfect man for the project, which even boasted a screenplay adapted by John Hughes from Dodie Smith’s novel.

            The updated screenplay by Hughes brings the Dalmatians into the modern age, along with Roger (Jeff Daniels), who is no longer a struggling musician. Changing Roger’s job from struggling musician to struggling video-game designer allows for the parting of the musical elements from the original, but Roger still finds inspiration from the wicked Cruella De Vil, as he does in creating the famous “Cruella De Vil” song in the original. In Herek’s version Roger is creating a video game about a Dalmatian with graphics that look remarkably similar to the animation from the original film, but he has yet to come up with a convincing villain until meeting De Vil.

            As impressive as the casting of Joely Richardson is for Anita or Joan Plowright as the nanny, especially in comparison to the cartoon, Glenn Close deservedly received much of the attention for her performance as Cruella De Vil. More memorable than the heroic icons are the villainous ones, and De Vil is one of the best remembered villains in Disney history, and Close was a perfect choice. With the additional time allowed with a live-action film, De Vil is given more screen time. We are even allowed a closer look into the fashion business De Vil runs, which looks like Jack Skellington has taken over Project Runway. Anita works for De Vil’s company, and for some reason has designed a dress which looks like a Dalmatians. De Vil takes the design the wrong way and becomes determined to make a dress with the fur of puppy Dalmatians, because the adult ones have much rougher fur.

            De Vil sees her opportunity when Anita meets Roger and their two Dalmatians, Pongo and Perdy, fall in love at the same time their owners do. Puppies are on the way and De Vil hires a couple of thugs, including House’s Hugh Laurie who pulls out all of his slapstick comedic ability. De Vil’s thugs steal the puppies with the plans to use them for fashion, but the villains don’t plan on the parents being as dedicated as Pongo and Perdy are.  

            The choice not to have the animals talk was a wise one, making this film enjoyable for children and parents alike. It also helps to have limited computer generated effects. Only in the moments where the puppies would be in harm’s way are there digital effects used for the dogs, resulting in more adorable and believable characters than most chattering CGI animals appearing in family films today.

127 Hours

            James Franco is a force to be reckoned with when he is passionate about something. Although he may have made a few poor films in an attempt to rise into fame, what makes Franco special is his ability to do things regardless of whether they will help his career or not. He is a creative person, determined enough to write that he went back to school at the height of his fame, dedicated enough to write and direct his own independent films. So when James Franco believes in a project and is under the right direction, he is truly a force to be reckoned with.

            Danny Boyle is also fresh off of a success, having surprised everyone with the hit Slumdog Millionaire. The only surprise to me was that he was finally getting recognition. Boyle has been making films worth recognition for over a decade, in a variety of genres and styles. Somehow the creativity of Boyle and the enigmatic acting skills of Franco make a simple story with a known ending endlessly compelling. 127 Hours is easily one of the best directed and acted films of the year.

            The story is based on the incredible true story which was all over the news when it happened. Franco plays Aron Ralston, a dedicated outdoorsman and loner. He takes trips by himself, proving to himself and others that he is capable on his own. This is truly put to the test when Ralston is trapped by a boulder in a remote Utah canyon. Over the course of five days Ralston attempts to free himself and struggles with issues of existence and survival.


            300 was one of those films that many might have expected to entertain teenage guys for the first couple of weekends with the high testosterone-fueled action, rock soundtrack and an attractive cast of barely clothed characters. What nobody expected was the beauty and grace within the highly stylized comic-book film. Even scenes of nudity and sexuality did not seem suited for horny teenagers, but was instead filmed as poetry in motion, which often was the case for the gruesome violence of the battlefield as well. The spectacularly rich filmmaking, telling the simple story of 300 Spartans defending their land against thousands, is so visually astounding that it doesn’t seem to matter when the story falls short of amazing.

The 400 Blows

            Many filmmakers make their start by making films about what they know. This is the same with nearly every art form, and so it is no surprise that the film that catapulted Francois Truffaut into international success is actually semi-autobiographical. The 400 Blows was Truffaut’s first feature, and arguably his best as well. The twelve-year-old hero in The 400 Blows, Antoine Doinel, made a return several times in the films of Truffaut’s career, but this is the most personal look at the shaping of his character.

It is a deeply personal tale of a young rebellious boy in his journey towards manhood in a world that seems out to get him. It is an interesting blend of reality because not only are the situations taken from Truffaut’s childhood, but he also asked Jean-Pierre Leaud, the young actor playing Antoine, to use his own words in many scenes. In many ways Antoine is a very real creation blended by a director and a fourteen-year-old boy.

            The 400 Blows, whose French title comes from the idiom which means, “to raise hell”, is about the trails of eleven year old outcast Antoine Doinel. No matter what Antoine does he seems to find himself in trouble. From skipping school and sneaking in to movie theaters to petty crime and strange lies, Antoine’s action are too much for his neglectful parents to handle. Antoine has trouble with his parents and his school teachers. The only person he seems to get along with is his friend Rene, who is based on Truffaut’s friend Robert Lachenay who was an assistant on the film.

500 Days of Summer

            500 Days of Summer is the kind of film that is just as likely to make you laugh as cry, depending on how recently you were dumped. Break-up films are cathartic, allowing our misery to have company that is as self indulgent to the pain as we are. They also provides an opportunity to find the humor in the pain, and 500 Days of Summer is a film that understands this appeal so much that the dumped protagonist even imagines himself in the films that he watches. They don’t even need to be break up films for him to insert his pain into the narrative, and watching 500 Days of Summer, I felt I could relate to this tendency. Unfortunately, much of what I loved about the film was betrayed in order to end the film in a certain manner.

            The honesty of the characters portrayed, neither as villains or saints in the battle for love, was what drew me into the film. Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a greeting card writer who believes that his life has changed when he meets Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel). Unfortunately, she doesn’t feel quite the same way. Their relationship is doomed from the beginning, as Tom is far more interested than Summer. He tries and fails to hold onto the enigmatic girl, and the narrative of the film unfolds as the scrutiny of a person examining their relationship to find hints of the reason for its failure.

            The creative manner in which the break-up tale is unfolded is the strength of the film, told out of context and tied by similar feelings and ideas rather than linear examination. There are also many wonderful moments where we break into the imagination of our protagonist, the romantic fantasy of the film aligning with many colorful French romance films (Amélie, Love Me If You Dare). All of this works, however, because the characters are so completely flawed, therefore believable. Tom lives in his own imagination, idealizing his relationship with Summer and building her onto a pedestal. Summer, on the other hand, is somewhat flippant, uncertain, and ultimately insensitive. This doesn’t make her a bad person, but with the constant convenience that her beauty brings her, it is an understandable flaw. The problem I have with the film is the end, where the characters suddenly act out of their characters in order to provide an overkill happy ending. Break-up films always end better a little more bitter-sweet than this.


            $9.99 is one of those rare adult animated films which does not attempt excess to justify the medium choice. The fact that it is animation is not forcefully pushed on the viewers in a visual spectacle, but instead it is easy to forget that the poignantly human characters aren’t human as the film progresses. There is an element of fantasy that is often more depressing than mysterious, a sense of melancholy over the somber tales of lonely humanity.

            Based on the stories by Etgar Keret, the material in $9.99 has been adapted to the claymation world of Australia by filmmaker Tatia Rosenthal. The stories are disconnected from reality that aligns slightly with Waking Life, though there is no dream explanation for the bizarre happenings, and there is nothing to connect all of the stories together. The happenings in a seemingly average Sydney apartment building are the focus of the film, with the title coming from the price of a book that claims to contain the meaning of life.

            Dave Peck is an unemployed 28-year-old seeking answers, and he decides that ten dollars is a fair price for these answers. Meanwhile a young child bonds with the piggy bank that is meant to teach him the joy of saving, so much so that he refuses to destroy it for the money inside. An attractive man gives up everything for a beautiful woman he loves, despite the knowledge that he is not the first, and a foul-mannered angel imposes on an elderly man’s hospitality.

            The humor in $9.99 is rather bittersweet, and the movie never follows through beyond the initial moments of bizarre alternate reality. There are enough episodic attachments to the film that there are some things which feel unresolved and quickly finished. Though the achievements of the film artistically are admirable, the narrative feels to have fallen short somehow.


After Vacancy I was quite accustomed to the idea of actors who have mostly based their careers in comedic roles trying out their fate in a thriller. In fact, many actors who usually inspire laughs have done this in recent years. Michael Keaton tried his fate in White Noise, and it didn’t look great for him in the film or the box office. Ryan Reynolds found his way into the Amityville remake, a surprising choice after his Van Wilder fame. Even John Cusack made Identity, and once again he returns to the genre which now seems to treat him best, while his romantic comedies lately have not been as inspired. 1408 also comes with the dangerous/promising hopes that always come with a Stephen King adaptation. Though there were some classic adaptation of his novels and short stories in the past, most of the adaptations which have come about in the last five years have a promising start and never seem able to follow through.

Following in the tradition of many stories which seem to ring of Stephen King relating to the main character, John Cusack plays Mike Enslin, a writer about paranormal activity. He writes books about haunted hotels, visiting each and rating them on their abilities to frighten the guests. Apparently if it goes beyond mild irritant the addition of a ghost can increase hotel visitors rather than detract them. I suppose the Roosevelt Hotel is a great example of this, as a hotel with several rumors of ghosts connected with classic Hollywood stars that once stayed at the elegant hotel, and the staff will gladly tell you all they know. Mike does this for a living, yet he is more than a little skeptical about the truth of paranormal activity until he stays in room 1408 of the Dolphin Hotel in New York. Not only does the hotel promise Mike a climactic ending to his book, but it also brings him to his home city after a long absence. After a tragic accident left him and his wife Lily with a destroyed home, they separated and the visit to the hotel will be his return.

King also seems to find hotels particularly frightening, and in the case of the hotels in his stories I would tend to agree.  Despite grave warnings about the room from the hotel manager (Samuel L. Jackson), and even an insistence not to allow guests in the room that makes Mike enlist the help of his agent (Tony Shalhoub), a lawyer and the threat of a lawsuit just to book the room. An expert in history and research, seeing as he never actual encounters ghosts on his visits, Mike is able to dig up the story behind room 1408 before entering it. He finds that there was a suicide from the room window in 1938, and since then there have been fifty-six deaths in the room since. Some of the deaths were even of natural causes, making the room even more frightening. Despite the laborious setup and research before we finally enter the room, Mike has been warned that nobody lasts an hour and his alarm clock begins a countdown, letting us know that we are about to join Mike for one hell of an hour.


            There is something remarkably invigorating about discovering a film which is impressive and exciting. This may sound like a simple thing for some people, but as a film critic it rarely ever seems to happen. There are few surprises, and even entering a film that is truly good, often this is not shocking in nature. A trailer, the filmmaker or actor involved, or even just a quick synopsis is often enough to prepare a skilled film-viewer into awareness that destroys any surprise. The one exception is often foreign cinema, because it is nearly impossible to track the patterns of international cinema as easily as it is Hollywood. 1612 was a remarkable experience, for several reasons that include a large and skillful production and a universally appealing story.

            Though the film takes place in a roughly accurate historical time in Russian history, there is much more emphasis on the filmic narrative which is less concerned with the accuracy. Instead focus goes to those things which help a story like this the most; a romantic entanglement that is all but impossible, a likeable underdog protagonist, and a series of well executed action sequences. The battles are not riddled with bad computer generated effects, but instead seem to be filmed with careful execution. The story has elements of mysticism, removing it further from reality and into the world of symbolism and metaphors. This makes for an entertaining and colorful viewing experience which is better felt than thought about.

            Andrei (Pyotr Kislov) is a poor young man that grew up a servant in the royal city that held Tsar Boris Gudunov and his family, until he is brutally slaughtered by Polish invaders led by a particularly despicable leader (Michal Zebrowski). Only the princess, Kseniya (Violetta Davydovskaya), is spared from death, instead forced to be with the leader. Andrei takes the place of a fallen cavalier in order to have his chance at saving the princess, doing so only by pretending to be on the side of the Polish.

2001 Maniacs/ 2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams

            About five years ago Tim Sullivan had moderate success within the horror world with the independent gore-fest, 2001 Maniacs.  With a premise taken from a 1964 Herschell Gordon Lewis film, this remake starred the legendary Robert Englund as Mayor Buckman. In the 2010 sequel, 2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams, this role was been downgraded to Bill Moseley, though this is only one of many changes that bring the film down even further in quality. The original was mildly amusing. This one is outlandishly obnoxious.
            The plot of the film continues the story of the Southern cannibals of Pleasant Valley, though they leave home to find more northerners. They set up their carnival of blood in Iowa when they come across the cast and crew of reality show, “Road Rascals.” This is a direct spoof of the reality shows with Nicole Ritchie and Paris Hilton, with bad acting included. The terrible acting is ended only with violent and bloody deaths.

            There is some mild amusement to be found from the creative deaths and the old-fashioned special effects, but the humor is tasteless and the script is annoying. There is so much foul language inserted into every single sentence that nothing makes sense or sounds right. It is all just obnoxious filler in-between the deaths. These are even more graphic in the unrated version of the film.

2001: A Space Odyssey


Stanley Kubrick is one of the few directors to remain just as renowned and admired after he stopped making films. Kubrick’s legend has lived on in his films, which seem to inevitably be released and re-released in new editions and various box sets. This latest box set may not have a surprising collection of the legendary director’s works, but it does seem to collect the most popular. Perhaps just an ideal package for the average consumer, whereas the more die-hard fans may be asking why his earlier films are not included. These are his blockbusters, but more importantly they are the films still popular today, while Lolita may be lost on many who aren’t accustomed to the subtle style and story. Many would say that it is impossible to make a space movie without somehow addressing this monumental achievement. The story of man vs. machine on a spacecraft, after an incredible opening sequence with prehistoric apes, 2001 is also most notable for the melding of music and imagery.