Movie Reviews – December 2009

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2012
Sony Pictures
In Theaters: 11.13
For the love of God, I sure hope this is Roland Emmerich’s final disaster film. Because this 160-minute epic mashes every aspect of his previous cataclysms into one massive death soiree, it reaches the highest state of absurdness ever caught on camera. Based on the belief of Earth’s demise in conjunction with the Maya calendar on December 21, 2012, the story tracks the survival efforts of Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) as he herds his family to safety from one catastrophe to the next. Aiding his efforts to refuge are the practical theories of geological scientist Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and the whack-job conspiracy ramblings of Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson), who believes the world governments have constructed spacecrafts to salvage humanity’s top priorities in China. As with all of Emmerich’s endeavors, the plot and character development are set on the back burner while the blood, sweat, tears, and dollars are placed in the special effects department and it shows. The shocking yet preposterous imagery of the White House being washed away and the entire city of Los Angeles sinking into a fiery pit is presented in such vivid detail viewers can actually see the faces of thousands as they meet their digital doom. –Jimmy Martin

Amelia
Fox Searchlight Pictures
In Theaters: 10.23
They say history repeats itself. As Americans waited in ration lines during the Great Depression, they were provided with fascinating reports of Lady Lindbergh’s record shattering intercontinental flights across the Atlantic Ocean. Fastforward roughly 80 years and we find ourselves in another economic downturn, but rather than receiving stories of ground-breaking inspiration, we’re handed asinine aeronautical accounts about a Colorado family and their idiotic kid inside a runaway balloon. We’re screwed. On the surface and to the public, Amelia Earhart (Hilary Swank) was a beaming beacon of innovation determined to crush every aerial milestone placed before her. Underneath her enthusiastic charm, she was an unfaithful wife to her husband/publicist George Putnam (Richard Gere) who never desired to live imprisoned under the veil of marriage. While the film neglects to reveal but only a glimpse of the heroine behind the curtain, the majority of time is spent on the historical flights themselves.  As the story progresses, intertwining excerpts from the tragic flight around the world, we briefly discover a woman who didn’t care about the public’s approval, but only wanted to prove to herself that she could take on the world. Swank, again, proves her talents as a versatile actress with Gere providing a commendable supporting role. The problems for director Mira Nair come in the form of stale story content and uneventful pacing leaving the crowds with little to appreciate. The award hype surrounding the film is merited given the biographical content, but come March, Mr. Oscar will not be co-piloting anyone home. –Jimmy Martin

Dirty: One Word Can Change the World
ZuFilms
Street: 11.10
A story like this couldn’t be written. From raw, unfiltered hood activity, to saving a child’s life, and even a government conspiracy, the story of legendary Brooklyn rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard is one you didn’t see coming. Directed by Raison Allah, cousin of ODB and affiliated member of Brooklyn Zu∫, the film is full of footage of the rapper from long before he was known for his signature style and original hip hop mindset. This is not a big movie production like the feature film about Notorious BIG. This is done in true Ol’ Dirty fashion, showing everyone more about the rapper than the government, who was after him, wanted you to know. Complete with all the footage from the Grammy’s and even the limo trip to the welfare office with MTV’s cameras watching him, this movie is truly off the hook. Multifaceted Russell Jones (O.D.B.) was not someone who was seen often on the news and in mainstream media stories. As many people know, Dirt was known for his raw, no-fucks-given state of mind, but with Dirt’s antics aside, you get to see all the trials and tribulations that he faced throughout his years of staying true to his New York and Brooklyn heritage. Tracing his roots back to the Indians that once owned the area known as New York City, O.D.B. actually was a true king of New York. –Jemie Sprankle

The Fantastic Mr. Fox
20th Century Fox
In Theaters: 11.13
This year has seen an uprising of unconventional directors developing features that both children and adults can enjoy together on different levels. Spike Jonze gave life to Where the Wild Things Are and now Wes Anderson brings his creative mind to the whimsical world of Roald Dahl with this stop-motion animated gem. Before settling down, Mr. and Mrs. Fox (George Clooney, Meryl Streep) lived dangerously by stealing birds from local farmers, but once parental responsibility came marching, the father-to-be agreed to abandon his reckless lifestyle and find a new line of work. Two years later (12 in fox years), Mr. Fox, now a newspaper columnist, finds himself living in a hole, indigent, and yearning for the life he once possessed. After moving into his new tree home, Fox discovers his new neighbors are the three greediest farmers in the country with an infinite amount of chickens, geese, turkeys and apple cider. At the risk of upsetting his wife and neglecting his son, Fox assembles a team to pull off the greatest heist of his career, but a regrettable turn of events sparks a media frenzy and places every animal’s life in jeopardy. Anderson cleverly reinvents Dahl’s text to represent his own quirkiness without neglecting the author’s heartfelt message, but adds his own signature filmmaking to make it a truly collaborative success. The voice work is top notch as Clooney smoothly transfers into his fur-coated suave persona while Jason Schwartzman distributes the laughs as Fox’s crotchety runt. The film’s most remarkable aspect comes from the meticulous and ingenious craftsmanship in animation that welcomes everyone aboard Mr. Anderson’s wild ride. –Jimmy Martin

Five Minutes of Heaven
IFC Films
In Theaters: 11.20
In the 1970s, violence and death was an everyday event in a civil war torn Ireland with car bombings and drive-by shootings. Director Oliver Hirschbiegel’s fictional account in has Emerald Isle providing the perfect landscape for a gripping drama of murder, revenge and unlawful justice. When Alistair Little (Liam Neeson) pulled a hit on Joe Griffin’s (James Nesbitt) older brother and rival gang member, it shattered the adolescent’s life forever. Fastforward 33 years to present day and a television program has provided an opportunity for the grieving sibling to come face to face with his brother’s convicted, now paroled, killer, giving him the ability to avenge his death and reclaim his own self-respect. While the climactic finale resolves itself abruptly with a scarce amount of conflict, no one can deny the remarkable performance of Neeson as the reserved killer trying to offer only historical facts––no apologies or excuses––behind the events, and Nesbitt’s exhilarating portrayal of a man on a mission to forget his abusive childhood and revive his very existence. Hirschbiegel makes pulse rates constantly ascend as the tension between these two determined individuals fills the room until their final encounter. –Jimmy Martin

The Fourth Kind
Universal
In Theaters: 11.06
I applaud filmmakers who attempt something new in their craft, whether the technique should be carried on in the future or tossed and forgotten immediately. Writer/director Olatunde Osunsanmi has attempted a novel method of splicing re-enactment footage with “real” archival audio and video captured during the inexplicable deaths surrounding Dr. Abigail Tyler’s patients in Nome, Alaska in October 2000. It’s a shame the method belongs in the latter category. The film immediately breaks the fourth wall by opening with actress Milla Jovovich giving her best Robert Stack Unsolved Mysteries impersonation as she explains to the audience the authenticity of what they’re about to witness is questionable. The remainder of the film showcases interviews with three of Dr. Tyler’s (Jovovich) disturbed subjects claiming to have the same white owl perched outside their windows, but the revelation of their shared experiences turns out to be something not of this world … or is it? I’m a sucker for films documenting supposedly valid extraterrestrial encounters (see: Fire in the Sky & Communion), but while the distorted images of men levitating and the sound of demonic voices speaking Sumerian encourages some sense of fear, the unique approach ruins any chance at a full-blown case of panic. As the story moves forward and the plot becomes increasingly preposterous, the only debatable topic following the credits is why an indecisive Osunsanmi couldn’t settle on helming one type of genre. –Jimmy Martin

Gentlemen Broncos
Fox Searchlight Pictures
In Theaters: 11.06
For decades, Woody Allen has painted a realistic portrait of New York City and its inhabitants with his films. Viewers can experience the towering skyscrapers, crowded sidewalks and overpopulated landmass without having to leave the comfort of their home. In a sense, director Jared Hess has done the same thing with Utah, only everything is awkward and feels as though it needs to be sterilized. This time around, Hess, along with his screenwriter brother, Jerusha, captures the life of Benjamin (Michael Angarano), an aspiring science-fiction author who enters a writing competition judged by his egotistical idol and fantasy novelist, Chevalier (Jemaine Clement). Unbeknownst to the newcomer, the veteran has been struggling for fresh ideas for quite some time, which is why after reading Michael’s “Yeast Lords,” Chevalier plagiarizes the story as his own. As his aspirations quickly dwindle, Michael is supported and surrounded by a band of priceless oddball characters including an effeminate and talentless local filmmaker, a creepy representative of the Guardian Angel program and his ambitious yet naïve fashion designer mother. Misery definitely loves company. By far the most imaginative film of the year with its character development and ingenious special effects, Hess has taken the art form and hilarity of student filmmaking and successfully transferred it into the mainstream for all to see. There’s no doubt that Clement steals the show with his character’s pompous demeanor, but Sam Rockwell’s guest appearance as Michael’s sometimes cocky, sometimes feminine protagonist, Bronco, doesn’t fall too far behind. –Jimmy Martin

Ninja Assassin
Warner Bros.
In Theaters: 11.25
This über-macho gore fest undoubtedly screams so much male magnetism, it can clearly be seen in its oversimplified title. It’s so blatant, I wouldn’t be surprised to see director James McTeigue generate future manly productions like Beer Porn or Sex, Fries, and Video Games. As a child, Raizo (Rain), along with countless other orphans, was kidnapped by the Ozunu Clan and forcibly trained into becoming an unstoppable killer of the shadows. Enduring agonizing tests that leave his frail body bruised, bloody, and beaten, the only solace he finds is in the nurturing hands of a fellow female peer who’s always quick to deliver a metaphor about “special hearts” and affection. However, when his friend is murdered for betraying the clan and further acts of cruelty propose objection, Rain inevitably deceives his “family” and an all out war of karate chops and whirling weapons erupts. Caught in the middle of the sword-wielding battle is Interpol agent Mika (Naomie Harris), as she attempts to prove the secret society is behind numerous political assassinations. For a film that berates its audience with non-stop allegories concerning the power and magnificence of the heart, it’s a shame its substance is lacking one. I understand ninjas aren’t supposed to be seen in action, but it would have been nice to see something substantial occur between the boring dialogue and the cinematography looking as though it was captured by someone with Parkinson’s disease. Hold it still for five seconds! Every element of the film feels unnatural and forced and drives viewers to question the whereabouts of the lost talents of team that developed the alluring V for Vendetta. –Jimmy Martin

Pirate Radio
Focus Features
In Theaters: 11.13
Director Richard Curtis carefully manipulates, distorts and fictionalizes factual information regarding the United Kingdom’s banishment of pop music from BBC airwaves during the 1960s and the men who fought back by illegally broadcasting music from international waters to create a wishy-washy caper of freedom and rebellion aboard the Radio Rock. The central storylines swirl around three members of the ensemble crew including Quentin (Bill Nighy), the ship’s charming owner and station manager, The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the all-American renegade rocker DJ, and Carl (Tom Sturridge), Quentin’s virgin godson whose been sent to the ship to receive positive guidance from his refined relative, which turns out to be a “spectacular mistake.” This arch narrative, along with the subplot of Sir Alistair Dormandy’s (Kenneth Branagh) attempts to shut down the illicit operations, is overshadowed by the random bits of pseudo-comical interludes provided by the second-string cast members. For its simplistic subject matter, the film is entirely too long and incapable of sustaining the full attention of its audience. If not for the superb soundtrack blasting rock classics from artists like The Who, David Bowie, and Cream, the gentle sound of waves crashing may have put the majority of viewers into a sullen slumber. –Jimmy Martin

Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory: Season One
MTV
Street: 09.01
Livin’ the dream, pro skater Rob Dyrdek is doing just that. I just got done watching the first season of Rob Dyrdek’s fantasy factory.  Oh man, what an amazing way of life this guy has got set up.  Let’s start off with the factory itself. As you walk in, you’re greeted by a steezey little receptionist, then the office working areas (meh!).  The rest of the entire warehouse is all Rob’s domain which doesn’t fall too short of ridiculous, with a skate plaza that is just set up as smooth as you wish every street in the world should be and a giant foam pit for all the aerial acrobatics you could ever think of.  His right hand man in the show is his cousin Drama that does pretty much anything and everything Rob proposes. And of course, any crazy addition Rob wants to throw in. This crazy fantasy factory has seen some pretty good events, whether it’s hanging out with the Nitro Circus crew, throwing in a zip line and, of course, the most insane skate contests that even our local Lizard King has made it to.  Lizard even drove out of the fantasy factory after a contest in a bitchin’ car, all thanks to Mr. Dyrdek and his wonderful fantasy factory.  There are some pretty epic and record breaking adventures outside the factory as well. Rob is making some sick moves for the skate world, like getting sponsors to fund skate parks starting in LA and working to get more all over the states.  So, if you’re into watching TV or at least anything skate related, I’m going to have to say check this one out.  It may remind you of Jackass, but with somewhat of a purpose. –Jason Gianchetta

The Yes Men Fix the World
Shadow Distribution
In Theaters: 11.13
Some may believe you can’t win the fight against corporate greed, but anti-globalization vindicators Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno of The Yes Men prove you can start the retaliation process by uncovering their vulnerabilities one creative prank at a time. The antics of these two tricksters were first presented in the 2003 documentary, The Yes Men, but this time around, the collaborators themselves take hold of the directing reins to continue their saga of the fight against universal injustices. The film opens with an anxious Bichlbaum, falsely posing as Dow Chemical representative, as he’s about to address millions on BBC World to announce the company’s plan to accept responsibility for the Bhopal chemical tragedy by donating $12 billion in aid relief. Dow’s stock instantly plummeted. While many criticized the hoax as cruel for offering false hope to the victims, The Yes Men astutely retorted with concerns of the corporation’s actual denial of accountability. The same elaborate tomfoolery set-ups play throughout the film with other organizations including HUD and Exxon, yet never seem to disappoint or grow tiresome. For fans of Sacha Baron Cohen’s (a.k.a. Borat & Brüno) wily shenanigans, the duo offer a more intriguing gift by raising the ante on creativity and conducting well orchestrated schemes that open the world’s eyes to transgressions that would otherwise go unnoticed. –Jimmy Martin

YOU SHOULD'VE WORN A CONDOM

A Christmas Carol
Disney
In Theaters: 11.06
The largest tragedy in recent cinema history, besides S. Darko, is the current career path of director Robert Zemeckis. The man responsible for many classics like the Back to the Future trilogy and Forrest Gump has neglected his live action filmmaking talents for the glitz and glamour of motion-capture computer animation productions. With already two shoddy animated features under his belt (The Polar Express, Beowulf), Zemeckis has returned with an eerie adaptation of Charles Dickens’ holiday masterpiece, but hasn’t forgotten to include a bit of his own newly discovered rubbish stylistic embellishments. Utilizing Dickens’ 19th century London setting and verbatim vintage dialogue, the story follows the cruel and cynical old hermit, Ebenezer Scrooge (Jim Carrey), as he is taken on a journey of salvation brought forth by three vaporous spirits. Granted, the technology has improved immensely since Zemeckis’ first attempt five years ago.  The film is full of unbelievable facial reconstructions and detailed architecture, but the impressive digital representation of actors cannot mend the wounds of a poor performance which Carrey provides in eight separate characters. The use of 3D technology is also employed adequately, but, once again, technology cannot stand alone and save a film from collapsing. Here’s hoping to a future where artists and filmmakers rely on story structure and personal talent rather than relying on a machine to replicate synthetic versions. –Jimmy Martin