Sunday, February 28, 2010

Shutter Island is a Snoozer

Film: Shutter Island

Starring: Leonardo Dicaprio (The Departed), Mark Ruffalo (My Sister's Keeper), and Ben Kingsley (War Inc.)

U.S. Release 2010 (rated R)

Director: Martin Scorsese (The Departed, Gangs of New York)

Genre: Thriller

Runtime: 138 minutes

Martin Scorsese finally entered the Oscar's win column for his 2006 masterpiece, The Departed. Despite the long win-less stretch, the renowned director's portfolio speaks for itself. His victory was long overdue, but don't let that deter from the actual movie. Anyone who knows me, knows how highly I regard The Departed. The gangster flick even topped my December blog listing my top 20 movies of the past decade. Couple that with the fact Scorsese was teaming up with Leonardo Dicaprio again, how could Shutter Island disappoint?

The film is set in 1950s Boston. U.S. Marshalls Teddy Daniels (Dicaprio) and Chuck Aule (Ruffalo) visit the remote Shutter Island, which houses an insane asylum. They are investigating the disappearance of a criminally insane patient who has escaped the mental hospital. After receiving very little aid from the asylum's supervisor Dr. Cawley (Kingsley), the two officers begin to suspect that there's something strange going on at Shutter Island.

The premise sounds clever, I know. However, Scorsese's film goes off in all the wrong directions. Shutter Island finds itself unraveling in the same mediocre and typical fashion that plagues many recent thrillers. In an attempt to be clever, Marty's little clues are too obvious and too simple. We should expect more from a director of his stature.

Now, moving onto Leonardo Dicaprio. Much like Scorsese, Leo's brilliant resume needs too be typed in size 8 font because of the number of films he's carried. Despite the lengthy and successful career he's had, Dicaprio really let the audience down with this role. His character was a mirror image of his 2006 portrayal of William Costigan in The Departed. So for 2 hours and 18 minutes I kept wishing for Leo to do something new with Teddy Daniels. Unfortunately, I waited for something that never happened.

Shutter Island will be praised inaccurately by many. I am no Sherlock Holmes, and rarely do I predict endings, but this one stared me right in the face. I kept watching the film in hopes that it wouldn't end in the lame and predictable way in which it did. For two legends of cinema we all should expect much, much more.

Watch Shutter Island if you enjoyed: The Number 23. Yet another mediocre thriller to find yourself disappointed with.

Stars: 1 and a half out of 4.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Dave's 2009 Razzie's

As the sun rises and falls and we trek further into 2010, we must pay homage to not only the year's good movies, but it's bad ones as well. So here is my 2010 rendition of the Razzies. I will be giving out my nominations and winners to categories I have personally created. Let's get right to it

No one enjoys a good horror movie as much as I do. I've loved the genre ever since Nightmare on Elm Street kept me up nights with the lights on as a six year old. 2009 was not a particularly good year for horror films. Let's see the nominations for Worst Thriller or Horror movie. And the nominees are:

* Last House on the Left

* Paranormal Activity

* Friday the 13th

* Halloween 2

* White Out

And the winner is ...

Halloween 2. Now most people have bashed the disappointing horror flick Paranormal Activity, but what Rob Zombie did to John Carpenter's classic should be punishable by death.

No one has ever claimed that horror movie's are suppose to have stellar acting (why do you think the budget's are so low? They can't hire Tom Cruise!!). And if we're discussing horror movies then we have to discuss the heroin's. Knowing that we should expect some vomit inducing performances, let's see which one takes the cake. The nominees for Worst Actress is a horror or thriller are:

* Cameron Diaz (The Box)

* Scout Taylor-Compton (Halloween 2)

* Kate Beckinsale (White Out)

* Jaime King (My Bloody Valentine)

* Katie Featherston (Paranormal Activity)

and the winner is ...

Cameron Diaz. For starters, The Box wasn't an overly terrible movie. The first hour and ten minutes kept me intrigued, but Diaz and her horrible southern accent were like nails on a chalkboard.

Who doesn't love a comedy right? Anyone, at any point of the day, is looking for a good laugh. It makes it kind of hard to believe when a comedy movie can't even do that right. Well, as always, 2009 had its fair share of bad funny films. The nominees for Worst Comedy are:

* Taking Woodstock

* The Proposal

* Observe and Report

* I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell

* Extract

And the winner is ...

Observe and Report. Seth Rogen and Anna Faris have done some admirable comedy flicks, but this one was awkward to watch. There were more yawns then laughs. If you haven't seen this film, avoid it like the plague.

Much like horror films, a comedy doesn't necessarily need brilliant acting to be enjoyed. In fact, a comedy doesn't need brilliant acting to not be enjoyed either. The following films will attest to that. The nominees for worst Actor in a Comedy are:

* Jason Bateman (Couples Retreat)

* Ricky Gervais (The Invention of Lying)

* Seth Rogen (Observe and Report)

* Matt Czuchary (I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell)

* Ryan Reynolds (The Proposal)

And the winner is ...

Matt Czuchary. He was vile and annoying to say the least. And the worst part about Czuchary was the fact that he reminded me of that little turd "E" on Entourage. I am never convinced that those kind of guys are suave. Sorry, maybe next time.

Nothing moves you quite like a drama. It's magical how a movie and it's actors can capture human emotion so well. It's not quite as moving, when it can't. So the nominees for Worst Drama are:

* Amelia

* Fighting

* Obsessed

* Love Happens

* Notorious

And the winner is ...

Amelia. It was a photo finish but Amelia edged out Obsessed by a nose. Hilary Swank and Richard Gere bottomed out with the never-ending depiction of Amelia Earhart and her husband. It's runtime is just a tad bit under two hours, but it feels like four.

Now on to the stars that make this horrible movies possible. The nominees for Worst Actor in a Motion Picture are:

* Bruce Willis (Surrogates)

* Richard Gere (Amelia)

* Eric Bana (The Time Traveler's Wife)

* Derek Luke (Notorious)

* Channing Tatum (Fighting)

And the winner is ...

Channing Tatum. This wasn't a particularly good year for Mr Tatum. I wasn't a fan of his action film G.I. Joe either, but his performance in Fighting was even uglier. Sorry guy, but maybe you should stick to romance movies.

Once again let's keep this party going. The nominees for Worst Actress in a Motion Picture are:

* Cameron Diaz (My Sister's Keeper)

* Jennifer Aniston (Love Happens)

* Hilary Swank (Amelia)

* Beyonce (Obsessed)

* Zulay Henao (Fighting)

And the winner is ...

Hilary Swank. It's hard to stay on top. I mean she goes from Oscar winner to Razzie winner over the course of a few years. I generally am a fan of her work, but this performance was unflattering. Hopefully she doesn't make a habit out of it.

And now, on to our final award of the night. The nominees for Worst Director of a Motion Picture are:

* Mira Nair (Amelia)

* Stephen Sommers (G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra)

* Dito Montiel (Fighting)

* Steve Shill (Obsessed)

* Nick Cassavetes (My Sister's Keeper)

And the winner is ...

Stephen Sommers. Let me start off by saying I loved G.I. Joe as a kid, and Sommers found the perfect way to ruin it. It was as if he were a mad scientist in a lab working tirelessly to destroy my childhood love. It's inexcusable and unforgivable. Thanks for nothing.

That about wraps up this edition of Dave's Razzie's. Until next year, farewell!

Monday, February 15, 2010

An Education is a pleasant surprise!

Film: An Education

Starring: Peter Sarsgaard (Garden State), Carey Mulligan (Public Enemies) , and Emma Thompson (Last Chance Harvey)

U.S. Release: 2009 (rated PG-13)

Director: Lone Scherfig

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 95 minutes

Before I start going on and on about how much I enjoyed the Oscar-Nominated film An Education, I just want to reiterate my appreciation for the Landmark Theatres in Philadelphia. The 3 theatres in Philly provide an affordable and pleasant movie going experience. Without these locations, many of the limited release pictures would never be seen by avid movie fans (including myself). So once again, thank you Landmark Theatres, Philadelphia for being ... well, Awesome.

There had been rumblings around the movie blogosphere about Lone Scherfig's beautiful masterpiece, An Education. So as I previously stated, I took an afternoon trip to Philly to see what all the fuss was about. Being on a limited release, the difficulty one must go through to see this picture is a huge disservice to die hard cinema fans. I must say, this is a film that deserves to be seen by millions of people, nationwide. That being said, hopefully it's studio will do the right thing and put An Education on screens everywhere.

The movie takes place in England in the early 1960s. Jenny (Mulligan) is an attractive and bright 16 year old girl. Her devotion to her studies will hopefully land her an acceptance to the prestigious Oxford University. While being caught in the rain one afternoon, a charming man (nearly twice her age) named David (Sarsgaard) gives her a ride home. Upon another random encounter, David invites Jenny to a concert. At this point, their friendship begins to develop into a romance, and Jenny becomes forced to choose between an adventurous life with David or her dreams of a higher education at Oxford.

An Education was nothing shy of fantastic. There were plenty of laughs to go along with this strange and unpredictable romance between Jenny and David. Some of the most notable performances of the film come from supporting actors Emma Thompson (headmaster of Jenny's school) and Alfred Molina (Jenny's father). But don't be fooled. Mulligan and Sarsgaard had a great chemistry and both chipped in with fine performances of their own. One interesting tidbit is the unbelievable fact that An Education is director Lone Scherfig's first big picture.

This film is suitable for all types of audiences. The emotional highs and lows of An Education will capture the attention of any viewer. And like I said before, there are countless one liners that will have you laughing out loud. Therefore, there's no good reason for anyone reading this to not go out of their way to watch this movie when it becomes accessible.

Watch An Education if you enjoyed: The Graduate. The classic tale of "Mrs. Robinson" is a good starting point for understanding some of the story lines evident in An Education.

Stars: 3 and a half out of 4

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Weekend DVD Outlook: An up to date look at what's out there

Once again, a snow covered weekend is upon us so trips to the movie store will be in order. Thanks a lot Punxsutawney Phil! So I figured I'd help everyone out with some right and wrong choices as you drop $5 for a movie rental the next couple of days.

You can't go wrong with the following list of movies:

The Hangover - If you haven't seen this movie yet, you're probably the only one. A bachelor party in Vegas is filled with memory loss and a whirlwind of good times. Pick it up for some great laughs.

Zombieland - Despite being called Zombieland this film is more about human interaction than the monsters that take over earth. Woody Harrelson is great and there's a surprise cameo that is pretty sweet (don't worry, I won't ruin it).

Moon - For all you sci-fi fans out there, Moon tells the interesting futuristic story of an industrial mining company that sets up a station on the moon to collect an environmental friendly mineral. But there's a lot of unanswered questions up there.

500 Days of Summer - This has been recommended by me many times before and I will continue to spread the word. A rocky romance between boy and girl is seen over the course of 500 days. It's a true romance movie.

Now on the other hand, do your best to not waste your hard earned cash on the following films.

Love Happens - This isn't much of a comedy so don't go in expecting that. It's a straight romance/drama with some overacting and not enough substance. I didn't buy into it at all.

Amelia - Don't let the wonderful acting careers of Hilary Swank, Richard Gere, and Ewan McGregor fool you. It's almost 2 hours of straight boredom. Very slow and uneventful.

Couples Retreat - I went and saw this in theatres. I love Jason Bateman and Vince Vaughn so I was very excited for it. Now that it's on DVD I must warn you it's less laughs and more arguing. Not that funny for a comedy with a cast like this. You're better off looking elsewhere.

The Invention of Lying - I've never been a big fan of Ricky Gervais and this film just reiterated that. It's bland and out of the realm of possibility. Furthermore, the storyline goes off in crazy directions that make it even less fathomable.

Hopefully my guidance will steer you toward a movie you enjoy and away from a movie you might hate. Have fun this weekend. Keep warm and stay safe!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Serious Man

Film: A Serious Man

Starring: Michael Stuhlbarg (Body of Lies) and Richard Kind (Curb Your Enthusiasm)

U.S. Release: 2009 (rated R)

Director: The Coen Brothers (Fargo, No Country For Old Men)

Genre: Drama (don't be fooled, it's not a real Comedy)

Runtime: 106 Minutes

The Coen Brothers have been quite the successful duo in the movie business. Every film they release is certain to generate buzz from critics and avid movie goers. A Serious Man was no different from the norm. Upon my first glance at the trailer I knew I wanted to see it. Well finally, after months of longing for the DVD release, my wish was granted.

A Serious Man takes place in an unmentioned Midwest town. Larry Gopnik (Stuhlbarg) is a Physics Professor at a nearby university and has a typical life. A cushy job, a wife, and two children. One day, however, what he felt were certainties in life, begin to unravel. Larry's wife decides she wants to divorce him to be with their close friend Sy Ableman. So Larry and his deadbeat brother Arthur (Kind) are forced to move into the undesirable motel, Jolly Roger's. As the film progresses, Larry encounters more trials and tribulations in all aspects of life. If only he could talk to the wise Rabbi Marshak, perhaps God's life-plan for him would begin to make sense.

There is a great deal of religious undertone in A Serious Man. Not only with all of it's references to the Jewish faith, but there's also a large connection between Larry's life and the Book of Job from the bible. Job's story speaks of his "wrestle" with God, which is in no coincidence something the main character is experiencing. In Larry's life he's a rational, gentle, and reserved man. All traits that lead to his downfall. Often, throughout the film, you hear him say "I haven't done anything". Perhaps this is the reason things are spiraling out of control.

A clever point the directors make in the film revolves around the concept of karma. Does God reward the good and punish the bad? Or, as quoted by Jesus, "... that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous." As the film progresses toward its finale, some will view the open-ended final scenes of A Serious Man as a direct relation to karma, while others will see them as the uncontrollable realities that the good and the bad in life must face.

I felt as though A Serious Man was nothing shy of a thought provoking film. Like always with the sibling directors, the scenes were shot great and the acting was structurally detailed. The film isn't necessarily an easy watch though. Having no real prior knowledge to the inner workings of the Jewish faith, some of the religious humor intended went right over my head, as I am sure it will with many other viewers. On the contrary, when all is said and done, A Serious Man is a film that must be appreciated for it's sole purpose in reinforcing the mysteries of life.

Watch A Serious Man if you enjoyed: No Country For Old Men. Completely different genres, but in each film the Coen Brothers paint a great picture (filmed very similarly) and leave you to figure things out for yourself.

Stars: 2 and a half out of 4

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Invictus gets the wavering thumb

Film: Invictus

Starring: Morgan Freeman (Shawshank Redemption) and Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting)

U.S. Release: 2009 (rated PG-13)

Director: Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 133 Minutes

I feel that unlike most people in the United States, I have a decent understanding of the worldwide sport Rugby. I had a roommate in college who was a very talented player, and I went to see our club team play quite often. That being said, you don't have to be Rugby savvy to follow the legendary Clint Eastwood's latest oscar-nominated film, Invictus. However, knowing a thing or two about the game didn't hurt either.

Invictus takes place in the early 90s in South Africa where the political prisoner Nelson Mandela (Freeman) is finally released from jail. Despite much racial turmoil, Mandela successful wins the South African presidential election and vows to unite the longtime hostile country. In his first term, Mandela uses the predominant white sport, Rugby, to lure in black fans. With the help of the team captain Francois Pienaar (Damon), the Rugby team's glorious run at a World Cup Championship bonds the racially divided county.

I have always been an avid Morgan Freeman fan. His past performances in The Unforgiven, Shawshank Redemption, and Gone Baby Gone have always enabled me to hold him in the highest regard. As usual, Freeman gives a superb performance as the newly elected president, Nelson Mandela. Matt Damon also does a nice job as the face of South Africa's premier Rugby team. Eastwood's direction is above average, but the downfall of Invictus lies in the story itself. Eastwood spends 2 hours and 15 minutes telling a story of a segregated country that must unite to move forward in a progressing world. However, the general public's ignorance to South African history and lacking interest in the sport of Rugby, make Invictus a difficult sell. When a film is up against odds like that, a runtime well over 2 hours is never going to help.

I personally found Invictus to be both entertaining and thought provoking. However, I'd be very careful with whom I suggest this movie to. So to enjoy this picture you must first be a fan of history. Not only U.S. history, but world history. Next, you must have a tolerance for movies that aren't necessarily fast-paced. The story line continually moves, but the individual scenes are sometimes slow to develop. Finally, you must be open to movies about topics you may have little background knowledge about. Rugby isn't a very popular sport in the U.S. so I expect most people will get easily confused by the game time scenes. However, if you feel like you are open to these three "criteria", then do yourself a favor and give Invictus a shot.

Watch Invictus if you enjoyed: Million Dollar Baby. I noticed a lot of similarities between the two epic Eastwood films. Both are about sports the general public knows little about (Women's Boxing and Rugby), however, both tell wonderful stories or redemption and triumph.

Stars: 2 and a half out of 4.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Want to see Amelia? Staple your eyelids open!

Film: Amelia

Starring: Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby), Richard Gere (Pretty Woman), and Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge)

U.S. Release: 2009 (rated PG)

Director: Mira Nair (The Namesake)

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 111 minutes

After seeing Amelia, I've determined one of two things must be true. Either Amelia Earhart had a bland and uninteresting life story, or Mira Nair did a putrid job portraying Earhart's legacy. I hadn't heard much about the film since its release, but I figured with an A-list cast how bad could it be? Take my word for it, it's even worse.

The Movie is set in the 1930s and Amelia Earhart (Swank) dreams of piloting a plane across the Atlantic Ocean. Her aspirations even dazzle a hard-nosed publicist named George Putnam (Gere). Their partnership blossoms into a marriage and catapults Earhart into stardom. She becomes the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, but that thrill isn't quite enough. The only thing left is to circumnavigate the globe.

Talk about a slow movie. I was eager to see Swank and Gere carry the film, but neither of their characters were even remotely appealing. The dialogue was overly simple and the film's progression was like watching paint dry. I wouldn't wish this waste of an hour and 50 minutes on anybody.

The only upside to the film was seeing it's take on the final adventure of Earhart's life. In her attempt to fly around the world, the details explaining her mysterious disappearance were tragic, yet interesting. However, all in all, Amelia was a terrible film.

Watch Amelia if you enjoyed: Public Enemies. Although I found both movies to be sub par, they both chronologically follow the lives of American icons.

Stars: A half star out of four.