Movie Reviews – August 2010

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Billy Was a Deaf Kid
A Rhett and Burke Picture
In Theaters: 08.13
Billy (Zachary Christian), a deaf kid, finds himself on a wacky adventure after his brother, Archie (Rhett Lewis), and Archie’s girlfriend, Sophie (Candyce Foster), rig him up with a toy microphone to cure his lack of hearing and throw him on a sofa with wheels to cure his boredom.  Filled with amusing instances and interesting ideas, Billy Was a Deaf Kid struggles to get to the point.  It is a buddy movie with no destination.  Archie is a goofball with issues while his girlfriend is more grounded and, for some reason, puts up with his crap.  The two are the emotionally driving force for the film, but they fluctuate between either being overjoyed with each other while acting goofily spontaneous, or being angry and having weird fights.  This occurs to the point of being near predictable.  All the while, Billy’s role in the film doesn’t grow much beyond the amusing image of a dude with a plastic microphone attached to his head.  This is the first big project for writer/director brothers Rhett and Burke Lewis, and being that, I was impressed with the overall style of the movie.  Filmed in Logan, they utilize the small town scenery to produce shots that are very well-composed and appealing.  The film is edited well and flows nicely with the music, composed by PALEO, to create an atmosphere that makes you want to feel more emotion than the plot is feeding you.  If Rhett and Burke team up with a decent writer or take the time to subject their own script to a few re-writes, they might have something.  –Ben Trentelman

Get Low
Sony Pictures Classics
In Theaters: 08.30
The mesmerizing opening shot of Oscar-winning director Aaron Schneider’s first feature reveals a house bursting with flames in the middle of the night as a silhouetted individual flees, covered in fire. It’s a disturbingly engaging image with no immediate explanation, but sets the film’s enigmatic nature beautifully. Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) is an old hermit with enough local legends brewing around the town about him to fill a library. Naturally, he’s a constant topic of discussion and ridicule. When Felix is notified of an old acquaintance’s death, he decides it’s time to “get low” (a.k.a. put his affairs in order) and host a funeral party where the entire town is invited to retell the myths regarding the mysterious recluse. With the help of Frank Quinn (Bill Murray), a cynical funeral home owner in dire need of a client, and his assistant Buddy (Lucas Black), the group works together to put on an event worthy of the aforementioned fables. Duvall is sensational as the irritable loner seeking redemption for a former crime of passion, while Murray plays the sarcastically insatiable entrepreneur flawlessly. The overall narrative itself is endearing, but the supposedly shocking finale comes up rather dry and unfulfilling. However, Schneider’s elegant 1930s backdrop and tone come across wonderfully in David Boyd’s rich cinematography. –Jimmy Martin

Holy Rollers
First Independent Pictures
In Theaters: 05.21
It’s 1998 in Brooklyn, New York. A 20-year-old Hasidic Jew named Sam Gold (Jesse Eisenberg) is frustrated with working for his father and has recently found out that his arranged fiancé’s family is looking for a different husband for their daughter. Then Sam is presented with an opportunity to make a lot of money doing relatively easy work—smuggling Ecstasy from Amsterdam into New York City. He is apprehensive at first, but slowly becomes more involved with the operation, even giving his boss business advice when suppliers try ripping them off. As Sam dives deeper into the underground club culture, he falls further away from his faith. Based on a true story of a small group who managed to smuggle over a million pills into the country in a one-year time period, the story is fine-tuned with strong actors, complex characters and a script that is spattered with Jewish humor. Eisenberg’s performance is the standout of Holy Rollers, and his blend of awkwardness, naivety and smarts make him perfect for the role. –Jeanette D. Moses

Warner Bros.
In Theaters 07.16
It’s not often a multi-million dollar summer blockbuster arrives with such intelligence and dazzling production values, both in front of and behind the camera, and is strong enough to carry itself to the forthcoming award season. That’s exactly what Christopher Nolan has achieved. The multi-layered phenomenal escapades embedded within Nolan’s dream-heist flick forces viewers to question the validity of their own reality, which hasn’t been executed proficiently since The Matrix and The Truman Show. Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an expert thief of the mind. Through a process known as “extraction,” the brain bandit has mastered the craft of entering victims’ dreams and stealing their most valuable secrets—for a price. Accused of a crime that has forced him to flee the country, Dom continuously searches for amnesty and a way back home to his children. It appears an offer from a powerful businessman (Ken Watanabe) may be the answer, but the job isn’t the typical assignment. Rather than stealing an idea from the mind of a rival entrepreneur (Cillian Murphy), Dom and his team of mental misfits (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page) must plant an idea inside the mind in a potentially fatal process known as “inception.” From start to finish, Nolan playfully tinkers with audiences’ levels of awareness with mind-altering action sequences and various visual deceptions while his talented young ensemble cast delivers an absolutely brilliant exploration of the subconscious that is sure to propel their careers into the next stage of maturity. –Jimmy Martin

The Last Airbender
In Theaters: 07.01
It appears the last engine on M. Night Shyamalan’s career flight has finally burst into flames and his craft is hurtling toward Earth’s unforgiving surface. There’s so much wrong with this adaptation of Nickelodeon’s animated series, it’s hard to decide where to begin. Set in an archaic world where four nations inhabit the globe and are associated with one of the four elements, a war initiated by the Fire Nation has erupted and threatens the lives of the other three tribes. While some individuals possess the capability to control and manipulate a single element, the legend of the avatar foretells one individual being able to command all four and rescue the planet. After 100 years of absence, two siblings accidently discover the location of the mythological being, but the news of their finding soon reaches the shores of the Fire Nation and the race is on to regain control of the fight. It’s abundantly clear Shyamalan spent the majority of his time on the special effects aspect of the film and completely disregarded other elements including story structure, content and acting. Noah Ringer, who stars as the foretold prophecy, barely delivers coherent dialogue while mispronouncing key words and coming across confused and misguided. To make matters even worse, Shyamalan attempts to cram much of the animated series into the 103-minute running time, but only succeeds in baffling the audience with rushed plot points and shortchanged side stories. With this disaster directly following the catastrophes of Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water and The Happening, I believe the three-strikes-you’re-out policy should be applied as soon as possible. –Jimmy Martin

20th Century Fox
In Theaters: 07.09
It’s been 23 years since everyone’s favorite dreadlocked killers tossed Arnold Schwarzenegger around the jungles of Colombia like a rag doll and since then they’ve appeared in three lackluster follow-ups, but writers Alex Litvak and Michael Finch, producer Robert Rodriguez and director Nimród Antal hope to reenergize the franchise by taking the intergalactic fight to a whole new world … and not the one with Princess Jasmine and that cokeout genie. The film literally opens with a group of bewildered mercenaries, gangsters and average Joes, led by a muscley Adrien Brody, free-falling from the sky and crash landing on an alien planet. If that wasn’t enough to ruin their day, as they explore the dense foreign terrain, they realize their surroundings are actually a game preserve and they are the prey for a race of extraterrestrials whose entire existence revolves around the hunting of other species. As the weaker members of the pack are gruesomely ripped apart, the remainder must work together in order to survive the hostile world. Rodriguez’s team offers Antal some terrific material by hinting at the aftermath of the 1987 original, sneaking in infamous lines of dialogue and keeping the tension levels heightened for the first half of the film. He even presents several exciting concepts regarding the aliens’ elaborate hunting methods. Disappointedly, inexcusable problems arise with the introduction of Laurence Fishburne’s hackneyed performance and the embarrassing methods chosen for the actors’ demise. At this very moment, Kurosawa is gracefully spinning in his grave at the thought of a samurai sword fight between a Yakuza member and a seven-foot tall Martian. Brody surprisingly handles the role of action hero quite naturally and John Debney’s pounding score pays an amusing tribute to Alan Silvestri’s original, but Rodriguez’s script delivers one twist too many, making the general project end on an unpleasant note. –Jimmy Martin

A Quiet Little Marriage
IFC Independent Film
Street: 08.31
One of the amusing aspects of filmmaking is having the pleasure to work with your friends and family and collectively create something beautiful. Director Mo Perkins, along with longtime friends Mary Elizabeth Ellis and Cy Carter have certainly achieved this task with their dramatic comedy, A Quiet Little Marriage, an emotional account of moving forward in life with those you love and being held back by fear. When Olive (Ellis) is ready to take the next step to parenthood with her husband Dax (Carter), a catastrophic rift of deception and betrayal separates the once happy couple. The up-and-coming Ellis is absolutely stunning and proves she can lead an entire feature controlled by raw passion. Her emotional range offers smiles and tears at every corner, and Carter no doubt follows suit. Perkins has assembled a brilliant production team with various components, rising to the same level of excellence and delivering a brutally honest film of heartbreak, tragedy and hope. Eric Zimmerman’s cinematography and wonderful use of light and Dave Lux’s simple yet brilliant score add another element of elegance to the artistic palette. One of the most powerful films to come through the Slamdance Film Festival, it’s no surprise it walked away with the Grand Jury Prize in 2009. –Jimmy Martin

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
In Theaters: 07.14
In an intelligent move to capture the wandering Harry Potter crowd during the summer months, Disney has revamped an animated segment from 1940s Fantasia, and given the short story a live-action, CGI-filled life of its own. For centuries, wizards Balthazar (Nicolas Cage) and Horvath (Alfred Molina) have been relentlessly dueling with no end in sight, but, in the present day, the arrival of whiny-voiced NYU physics student Dave (Jay Baruchel) could be the ultimate deciding factor in good conquering evil. With the conjurers’ conflict used more as a backdrop, the story generally sets its focus on the clumsy, soft-spoken twenty-something as he absorbs and debates the responsibility of being the “Chosen One” and tracks his ongoing boyish attraction toward his fourth-grade crush. Director Jon Turteltaub playfully pays homage to the cartoon classic with dancing mops and the casting of Baruchel, the mousiest actor in Hollywood. Cage, who’s known for continuously being hit or miss, comes across delightfully deviant as he lectures on the rules behind sorcery. The played-out storyline of geek-turned-hero is as original as the concept of warring warlocks, but Turteltaub permits his actors to mischievously toy with each other physically as well as verbally, making for an attention-grabbing dynamic between opposing sides. –Jimmy Martin

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
Summit Entertainment
In Theaters: 06.30
The piercing squeals of confused, prepubescent girls and their bloated, desperate mothers can only mean one thing … the next chapter of the Twilight series has soiled movie theater screens yet again. The story continues with the pale vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) pathetically begging his human girlfriend Bella (Kristen Stewart) to marry him, but she’ll only accept his proposal if he’ll transform her into a glittery bloodsucker. On the other side of town, the shirtless shape-shifter Jacob (Taylor Lautner) relentlessly expresses his own feelings for Bella and his disgust for Edward, but all of this boyish bickering is overshadowed by a wave of murders in Seattle where someone is building an army of “newborn” vampires in order to bring chaos and destruction to Forks, Washington. The residents’ only chance at survival relies on an alliance between vampires and shape-shifters, but centuries of hatred between the two clans may prevent the union from reaching fruition. This latest installment is the best of the series as far as action goes, but it’s an accolade that should be taken as lightly as possible since it still refuses to offer any outstanding filmmaking qualities. It’s aggravating to witness Stewart and Pattinson, two actors who possess semi-acting capabilities, lackadaisically approach the production without a hint of emotion and sound as though they’re reading directly from the script. On the other hand, it’s even more infuriating to observe Lautner give it his all as an actor, only to appear amateurish at best. Despite the fact that the climactic battle scene comes with brutal decapitations and the extraction of limbs, Stewart’s monotone narration and the laughable flashbacks complete with chintzy costumes and horrendous accents makes for yet another dreadful evening of “author” Stephenie Meyer’s creations. Be on the lookout for Meyer’s position on premarital sex … here’s a hint, it could kill you! –Jimmy Martin