Posts Tagged ‘2009’

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REVIEW: The Lovely Bones (2009)

January 26, 2010

The Lovely Bones is quite a complicated film that can best be described in quite simple terms: a cinematic mess. Perhaps unfair expectations were placed upon the project because of Peter Jackson’s past work, but his effort on this one seems to be considerably less apparent. Nearly everything about the film’s structure and execution seems to fall apart at some point and almost the only thing about it worthy of significant praise is its vivid and colorful visuals, which don’t even seem to fit in or provide much purpose to begin with. And in the end, sadly, this film, that originally seemed like it had such potential, ends up virtually nowhere and leaves the viewer considerably unsatisfied.

The story is a unique tale of a young girl’s murder and the aftermath, including her family’s subsequent emotional breakdown, her father’s relentless search for the murderer, and her journeys through the odd, colorful limbo she’s trapped inside of until both she and her family willingly move on. The story is accompanied by quite an impressive cast and crew list. As mentioned before, Peter Jackson directs with his usual writing crew- Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens (Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong)- who took on the responsibility of adapting Alice Sebold’s 2002 novel of the same name. British breakout star Saoirse Ronan plays the protagonist, 14 year-old murder victim Susie Salmon. Mark Wahlberg plays her obsessive father, Stanley Tucci is the creepy and deceptive killer, Rachel Weisz plays Susie’s mother, and Susan Sarandon takes on the role of the eccentric grandmother who provides comic relief in the way she manages to down at least one sip of alcohol in almost every scene she’s in.

And while the story is certainly unique and the cast list makes one hopeful, something just doesn’t go right in the execution of it all. The pace jumps around far too often for the viewer to keep up, the tone never seems to officially establish itself and stay consistent in any way, and the dialogue is simply dreadful at times. The acting potential was certainly present and Saoirse Ronan, Wahlberg, and Tucci all seemed to provide strong efforts, but they received no assistance from the script whatsoever. In fact, the consistently bad dialogue and frequently changing atmosphere seem to bring down the performances and make everything seem too over-dramatic– an unfortunate result of such potential. As a whole, the film just seemed to try too hard to be too much.

The film’s focus is all over the place and at certain times, within a span of just five minutes, it might switch between the perspectives of three or four different characters. And while the film is certainly long enough to take on such a feat of presenting multiple important characters to the audience, it never quite manages to do so in a substantial way. Instead, the movie ends with none of the several major characters completely developing and the audience walks away with no true care for any of them. And this is perhaps the film’s biggest problem– it never does appear to know just what it is trying to accomplish. Even if it does prove to be even slightly emotionally engaging, it’s not without odd and out-of-place scenes every other couple of minutes. Focus frequently switches from Susie Salmon’s fantasy-like encounters in limbo to her father’s desperate attempts to find his daughter’s killer to the comedic acts of the grandmother to the sudden dramatic breakdown and exodus of the mother. Perhaps the editing is partly to blame as well, but it’s hard to believe that a film crew can’t find a way to use 2 hours and 16 minutes to evolve and develop a couple of characters without throwing too much at the viewer in each couple of minutes. It seems half-hearted and incomplete.

Adding to the jumble and confusion, each character’s short-term and long-term conflicts seemed, at times, unclear. In fact, much of the time our supposed “main character” spent her time standing around in the beautiful limbo that’s been so carefully crafted (perhaps too carefully), not doing anything apart from giving narration that sounds like poorly written spiritual poetry from the Victorian era that eventually amounts to nothing and seems like filler. In a similar fashion, I think it’s fair to say that the entire movie came off as a pretentious “artistic” film that no one understands and that the filmmakers are apparently too brilliant to have to clearly explain. One may argue that the audience isn’t supposed “to understand” it all. “But the audience is supposed to experience Susie’s confusion and share her feeling of being lost” is not a valid counterargument. There’s a fine line between captivating the audience with a world of wonder and majestic daze and leaving so much unexplained that causes them to lose interest out of boredom and confusion.

And if you ask me, on top of all of those flaws, the amazing and vibrant visuals of Susie’s “in-between” serve no purpose but to provide some indication as to where $100 million went with this film’s production. Although I haven’t read the novel, I have heard that these colorful landscapes do help to capture the tone of Sebold’s story.But Peter Jackson overuses them to the point where they simply seem out of place- as if their repetitive appearances were only meant to charm the audience into a false feeling that the film was somehow improved by them (*cough* Avatar) and to act as a constant reminder that Jackson’s team knows how to use their computers (and if you saw any of the Lord of the Rings films, let’s face it, you already knew that).

In the end, The Lovely Bones is just a mess of plenty of things that could have amounted to something but never really do due to lack of focus and development. Peter Jackson and his team should stick to epic war battles and dramatic tales of world danger.

Sorry, Peter. I really did try hard to like it.

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That’s a Wrap — Top Films of the Decade (2000-09)

January 24, 2010

The first decade of the 2000s has come and gone and it was certainly a game-changer for film. Epic battle action scenes and special effects saw a major rise and CGI animation became a huge part of film. Foreign films and documentaries became more successful with the general public in the U.S. and the musical and comic-book supehero genres evolved considerably. In box office charts, films from the past decade dominate the list, with only 10 of the top 50 were released in other decades. With the introduction of DVDs and Blu-Ray and the ability to pirate movies online, the 2000s have also revolutionized the film industry and the way that people obtain and watch movies. And even though the decade is over, the ongoing cinematic revolution is nowhere near it’s end.

But now the decade has passed, here’s a look at my year-by-year top movie recommendations. If there is any movie on this list you have yet to see, I strongly recommend you check it/them out. Look for a later post with a deeper look at my top 30 in an ordered list.

Read more for the lists.

Read the rest of this entry ?

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REVIEW: The Hurt Locker (2009)

January 20, 2010

Quite easily the best movie of 2009 and the best war movie since Black Hawk Down and maybe even beyond that, The Hurt Locker does something that few other war movies seem to be able to do. Rather than focusing on rapid-action combat scenes and the oh-so-emotional mental breakdowns that all soldiers seem to dramatically endure in Hollywood (Platoon, much?), it emphasizes the relationships of soldiers and the intensity of everyday living in Iraq– intensity that doesn’t diminish when the guns are holstered. And that’s where you’ll see the real difference.

The film introduces a seemingly new and unique idea by following a U.S. Army Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) team as they go around defusing potential bombs all around town– a concept that allows the typical fast-action war theme to take a backseat to the dramatic intensity of the three team members’ escapades and arguments. It’s all about survival and this time around, it’s the calm, isolated atmosphere and the feeling of never being truly safe that creates the ever-present suspense. The exceptional editing is partially to thank for such constant energy and pace. Quick transitions ensure that there is never a dull moment and the audience is always thrust into the middle of the action. Plus, director Kathryn Bigelow employed some amazing cinematography (thanks to Barry Ackroyd, United 93) and some of the best shaky handheld-cam and zoom work I’ve seen yet. It seems that, for some, this might be a turn-off, but personally, I believe those who complain about shaky cam need to take a closer look at its purpose and realize that it’s far more effective in establishing a documentary-like feel for raw and engaging films such as this one.

The interaction between the soldiers is a key point of the film and the entire project is clearly intended to be largely character-driven. You will more than likely find yourself sympathizing with all of the main characters at some point and several others along the way. More than just observing a character’s breakdown at the scene of war such as in films like Jarhead, The Hurt Locker immerses the viewer in the world of the characters themselves and practically forces you to care for them– and I mean that in the best way possible. And perhaps the difference is also partially distinguished by the quality of acting. And if there’s anyone who deserves recognition for their acting, it’s most certainly Jeremy Renner, who surprises with a top-notch performance as Staff Sergeant William James. His performance will have you laughing at bits of humor scattered throughout, gasping in disbelief at one point, shedding a sympathetic tear at another, and yelling at him in exasperation in yet another scene. The characters are never two-dimensional and the film always manages to provide constant reminders that all of the soldiers are just normal people in war situations, driving its purpose home even more effectively. Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty are impressive in their own roles and share great chemistry both with each other and with Renner. The relationships between the three follow no stereotyped guidelines and their interactions are almost always unpredictable. Further down the billing, Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes also give solid performances worth mentioning.

Overall, The Hurt Locker is a movie that keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole way through and packs a visual and cinematographic punch without the over-the-top Hollywood action scenes and special effects. While the storyline may be inaccurate when it comes to certain little details (as many war vets have noted), it’s a unique one and allows for much more realistic and well-rounded characters. You’ll walk away with your heart still beating fast for a good while after the credits roll and it’ll make you think for an even further extended period of time. Everything about its design and execution will stick with you.

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2009 Comes to a Close / Update

January 1, 2010

Well, after nearly 2 months, I’m back again. Hopefully I can be a little more consistent with my posts in the future, but hey… it WAS Christmas season, so I think I’m at least a little justified in taking so much time off. And now that I’ve lost whatever kind of reader base I didn’t have to begin with, it’s time to get BACK to work on here and at school. I’m overjoyed.

Oh and Happy New Year.

It seems like just a month or two ago that I was checking out 2009’s movie release schedule and jotting down the titles I was most interested in. If there’s one thing I can tell you about this year in film, NOTHING went the way I had expected. Well, that’s not true. Transformers 2 sucked and still made a boatload of money. Watchmen wasn’t nearly good as the trailer made it look. Angels & Demons was ALMOST as boring as the Da Vinci Code. And J.J. Abrams did an incredible job on Star Trek. Those 4 little factoids may be the only things that I expected from the get-go.

It seems that this year was a year of unexpected hits, surprise sleepers, and dissapointment. All the movies I couldn’t wait to see weren’t quite what I had expected (exception: see Star Trek). All (or at least most) of the movies I let slip under my radar were surprisingly good. And the funny thing is… The year is over now but my queue of 2009 movies to see is only half empty AKA I still have 30 movies to sit down and watch before I can make my end-of-the-year evaluations.

Until that’s complete, I thought I’d at least drop in and let WordPress know that I wasn’t dead. In the near future, expect some more reviews- many of which will be of 2009 movies, some of which I may have seen for the first time months ago- and also some opinions on the upcoming awards shows. I’ll let you all know who should win at the Golden Globe’s and who will actually win (since the two never seem to go hand in hand, in my opinion) and then I’ll give you my Oscar’s predictions. AND… I’ll give you my breakdown of the best movies of the 2000’s, which movies from 2009 you should and shouldn’t see, and a preview of the upcoming year of 2010 in film. (No doubt my expectations will be shot in the face repeatedly once again).

I can safely promise you to expect more soon.

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REVIEW: (500) Days of Summer (2009)

November 11, 2009

Despite what it may look like from the trailer and everything else surrounding it, (500) Days of Summer is not a love story, as the narrator of the film comes right out and announces at the beginning of the movie. Even those who typically can’t stand the genre of romantic comedies (such as myself) will likely find themselves pleasantly surprised (as I was) by this underrated semi-Indie project that seemed to slip by under the radars of the general population during its time in theaters. Overall, the film is a charming one that seems fantasy-like at times, but still holds onto its unique qualities and unpredictability. While it may seem like cliches do still appear too often, most of the time- the film intentionally takes them and turns them around to present them in a comedic and almost parodic way. Quite the opposite of the unoriginal, cliche-ridden romantic comedies (if I dare bring up the comparison) that pollute the cinema world today, this summer project is fresh, original, and honest.

The film centers around the relationship of Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an artistic and slightly dorky architect-wannabe who instead got stuck designing greeting cards for a living, and Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel), the new assistant to Hansen’s boss. It employs a nonlinear narrative technique in the sense that each scene is preceded by a title card indicating which of the 500 days in the pair’s “relationship” the scene depicts. However, the days are scattered throughout the movie and one scene could be followed by another that takes place 200 days before it chronologically (ex. the movie begins with a clip of the 500th day). So instead of following the traditional sequence of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and boy wins girl back, 500 Days of Summer introduces the troubles of the relationship almost from the very beginning and builds off of the entrance all the way to the resolution, all the while showing the earlier days that reveal the relationship’s development in between. It quickly becomes clear that the purpose is not to present an understandable, linear timeline that shows where the relationship winds up from beginning to end, but rather to show the unfolding of the events that shaped the relationship and how those sequences influenced what the two experience as the 500 days of the story come to a close.

The audience is immediately thrust into the story, getting a glimpse of how the two meet and their laughably awkward first couple interactions at the same time as receiving bits and pieces of the conflicts they encounter later on in the relationship. Much of the first half of the film illustrates the way Hansen deals with both the start of the relationship and the start of their problems together, consulting his two juvenile and dorky best friends who are of no help to him. But perhaps the best moments of the entire film come from the interactions between Hansen and his preteen sister, who asserts herself with the confidence and authority of an adult, giving him intelligent and insightful advice as if she were the mother of a shy and confused junior high boy. And in a comical way, when compared to his two immature and unhelpful best friends, she becomes his go-to relationship expert with the seeming experience of Dr. Phil.

It may only last 95 minutes, but this comedy proves it’s exactly that– filled with laugh-out-loud moments all around including a Harrison Ford “cameo” of sorts and a hilariously spontaneous dance sequence that takes place right in the middle of town. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel exhibit near-perfect chemistry with realistical dialogue and, together, they create a quirky and odd couple out of the two characters that fits the attitude of the picture precisely. Combined with a great soundtrack, an impressive performance from Gordon-Levitt, and exceptional editing that maintains an appropriate pace to compliment the nonlinear timeline, 500 Days of Summer is certainly one of the best comedies of the summer and perhaps even of the year. Consider it a leader in the “Best Movies Virtually No One Saw” category and be sure to check out this underrated accomplishment whenever you get the chance.

three and a half stars

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Best Movies of 2009 (…So Far)

November 11, 2009

Admittedly, I’ve slacked a little bit on seeing movies released this year and I’ve been spending much more time catching up on movies in my queue from many years ago. However, I’ve seen enough to have some favorites already and some I didn’t like too much. So I thought I’d share my insight on everything so far. And many more 2009 movies are in my To Watch list for the near future! But for now, here’s a few reccomendations if you’re looking for something to see in theaters or on DVD from this year…

1. Inglourious Basterds

6. Star Trek

2. District 9

7. Adventureland
3. Zombieland 8. The Hangover
4. (500) Days of Summer
9. State of Play
5. Paranormal Activity

10. Taken

Honorable Mentions: I Love You Man, Sunshine Cleaning, The Education of Charlie Banks, Funny People, Fanboys, My Sister’s Keeper, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, The Soloist, Public Enemies

So far, it’s been a good year for movies with a good variety to look out for. Although not many projects have yet wowed me (see my top 4 for that department), there’s been a good balance of different but decent and entertaining movies to make it a satisfying year. And there are many more I still have yet to see!

What have your favorites been so far?