Movie Reviews – January 2009

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The Day the Earth Stood Still
20th Century Fox
In Theaters: 12.12
It’s interesting to think about intergalactic civilizations convening together and looking down at Earth thinking we’re a bunch of sadistic douchebags with nuclear missiles. What’s not fun is listening to the robotic Keanu Reeves deliver the judgmental message and having to endure the relentless sobbing of a disapproving Jaden Smith. The underlying shape up or ship out theme flatlines from beginning to end, leaving the viewer with nothing but a void of entertainment and 103 minutes stripped from their lives. While the cliched special effects look impressive, how does one blow $80 million on a film with minimal action sequences and an extraterrestrial globe that does nothing but glimmer in the middle of Central Park? Reeves’ lack of refined acting skills makes him the perfect candidate to portray the reserved Klaatu, while Jennifer Connelly should have taken one look at the script and walked away laughing … we all make mistakes. Do yourself a favor, save five bucks, and rent Robert Wise’s 1951 original classic. –Jimmy Martin

Death Race
Universal
Street: 12.21
When a film features apocalyptic automobiles equipped with machine guns, flamethrowers, and rocket launchers, it’s obvious the storyline and dialogue are mere obstacles preventing the glory of further chaos and destruction. Paul W.S. Anderson’s overhaul of Roger Corman’s 1975 cult classic, Death Race 2000, is gritty, raw, and 100% pure masculine adrenaline. Sure, the plot of an innocent man framed for his wife’s murder is unoriginal. However, toss in strangulations, decapitations, and a competition that allows prisoners to fight to the death for their freedom and the B.A.M.F. meter skyrockets. Heroic Jason Statham plays his trademarked walking pair of pecks, while Deadwood’s Ian McShane continues to effectively portray a humorous know-it-all as the team’s head mechanic. Chockfull of racial and sexual stereotypes, this cinematic modernization plays more like a video game than a movie. It’s the ideal film to watch when you want to shut your brain down for two hours and watch spewing blood and pretty explosions. Drool. –Jimmy Martin

Doubt
Miramax
In Theaters 12.25
It’s amazing that after writing and directing the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan romantic catastrophe Joe Versus the Volcano, John Patrick Shanley returns to filmmaking almost two decades later and delivers one of the most brilliantly acted films of the year. Adapted from Shanley’s 2004 Tony Award-winning Broadway play, Doubt chronicles the unnerving events at St. Nicholas Church School when a young and na�ve Sister James (Amy Adams) suspects Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) of having an inappropriate relationship with an altar boy. Once the issue is brought to the callously dour Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), the destructive accusations and wary denials fill the holy hallways. Once again, Streep and Hoffman can do no wrong. The powerful rapid-fire dialogue between the two leaves the audience absolutely breathless. While Adams provides another worthy feat, the surprisingly magnificent performance from Viola Davis as the altar boy’s mother left incessant chills down my spine. It’s a rarity when a story’s actions fall behind the words, but when an ingenious cast is capable of captivating the audience solely with language it becomes a true work of art. –Jimmy Martin

The Flaming Lips
Christmas On Mars
Warner Brothers
Street: 11.11.08
Moving to Mars? Once you go there you won’t be coming home for the holidays. What would life be like on the red planet? Is anywhere on Mars haunted? What about earthquakes on mars, wouldn’t they be called Marsquakes? If Martian quakes were much stronger, terrestrial people on Mars would laugh when they hear of a little 8.5 on the Richter hitting the San Fernando Valley saying “jeez that’s only a 1.3 on the Martian scale”. A cosmic journey of this proportion would turn any boy into a man scout, or just drive him mad. Christmas on Mars is based on having a confrontation with this cosmic reality, presenting feasts of visual and audio manna on a budget. Life on Mars… smoking weed in a space suit while putting lights on the Christmas tree. Being a virgin mother in isolation and lovingly feeding rainbow colored raw eggs to your baby in an exo-womb. Walking in on your boss as he works out topless in his office. Vagina helmet. Trying to find the holiday spirit on a snow-less globe. A simple mistake could compromise the entire colony. Vagina headed marching band or dying babies. A personal spaceship you keep in your mouth. Santa’s suite fits this alien perfectly. Nothing can ever be unseen. See this film if you dare! -Cinnamon Brown

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
Alex Gibney
Street: 11.18
We’re all lucky that Hunter S. Thompson meticulously documented his life. This documentary is composed of interviews of those who knew Thompson best, personal photographs, videos and Thompson’s own writing and recordings. It ultimately paints a ridiculously complete picture of a man who was as batshit crazy as he was genius. The film begins with his early writing days, tracing the creation of each of his most memorable pieces. It starts with the imbedded journalism techniques he used while writing Hell’s Angels, then his campaign for sheriff of Aspen, which became his first major piece for Rolling Stone. The documentary then delves into his search for the American dream in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and his days as a member of the press corps searching for an honest politician in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail. Finally, it covers his rise to a rock n’ roll writer and the writing failures that followed. The documentary is a great tribute to a man who wasn’t afraid to splatter his typewriter page with his honest opinion––someone who wasn’t afraid to call the untouchable elite on their bullshit. I agree with Hunter S. Thompson’s good friend Jimmy Buffet when he says that “[Hunter could have] wielded a pretty effective sword to what’s going on now.” –Jeanette Moses

Hamlet 2
Universal
Street: 12.21
If you’ve ever witnessed Wiseguys Comedy Cafe’s Open Mic Night, you’re quite familiar with the discomfiting aroma that suffocates the room when someone attempts to force a joke that doesn’t work. It’s unforgiveable. The same putrid stench saturates Andrew Fleming’s attempt at risque comedy in Hamlet 2. After failing as an actor, Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan) moves to “where dreams go to die” (a.k.a. Tucson, Arizona) and becomes a high school drama teacher. After discovering the school is cutting the drama program, Dana decides to salvage the pitiful curriculum by producing a theatric masterpiece that morphs Shakespeare’s vengeful tragedy into a campy musical complete with a time machine, light sabers, and Jesus. Sounds ingenious…it’s not. With musical numbers like “You’re as Gay as the Day is Long” and “Raped in the Face” you’d think the elements are present for an entertaining dark comedy, but their executions misfire drastically. Coogan desperately tries to hoard chuckles at every turn with nudity and self-loathing, but instead becomes increasingly agitating as the film progresses. The only shining beacons of humor arrive in the forms of a foul-mouthed Amy Poehler and a recluse Elisabeth Shue playing herself…except we all know Adventures in Babysitting (not Leaving Las Vegas) is her best role to date. –Jimmy Martin

High Society: A Pot Boiler
Laynfaroh
Street: 09
This is yet another tale of do-nothing pot smokers sitting around engaging in fast-talking Kevin Smithesque witty banter. A group of roommates compete for the opportunity to bag a couple of hotties by charming them, insulting them, and getting them high. Initially the characters are all interesting as they present their quirks by brandishing swords, handguns, and crafting big fat “Tulip Joints”. There are several clever gags, but they never seem to go anywhere as they become repetitive and really really long. Watching films of this genre, I’ve certainly come to expect to see lots of comical pot smoking, however these guys toke up way to much in slow motion funky colored trip out scenes that offer little else than to make you wish that you had some green yourself to make the film seem a little more tolerable. What makes a great stoner film is not having to be stoned to watch it. Imbibing should only heighten the experience. –Ben Trentelman

Mamma Mia!
Universal
Street: 12.16
As I lit another candle under my shrine honoring the actress who can do no wrong, Meryl Streep, I decided to watch her film adaptation of Judy Craymer’s Broadway hit, Mamma Mia!. I don’t remember how the fire broke out. I can only recall incessant screaming. When soon-to-wed Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) discovers her mother, Donna (Streep), used to generously open her meat wallet to any imposing prick, she desperately seeks to unveil the mystery of her father’s identity. The only problem is three men fall directly within the time of conception. See, she is a slut, but what’s an inquisitive daughter to do? I know! Invite all three men to the wedding! The idea of creating a nostalgic play solely based on the irritating music of ABBA barely passed the board of tolerance nine years ago (at least you had professional singers), so why would anyone think a motion picture being helmed by an evident first-time director and starring an entire cast of tone-deaf actors is a good idea? Listening to James Bond veteran Pierce Brosnan belt out “S.O.S.” and “Knowing Me, Knowing You” sounded eerily similar to a walrus being castrated. Don’t ask me how I know that. The shoddy cinematography, awkwardly placed extras, and total disconnection between actors marks this monstrosity as the worst of the worst for 2008. –Jimmy Martin

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
Universal
Street: 12.06
Brendon Fraser returns as the poor man’s Indiana Jones, Rick O’Connell, in the third installment of the Mummy series, and somehow duped martial arts legends Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh into joining the horrendous misadventure. This time around, the malicious Emperor Han (Li) and his followers are cursed into statues similar to the Terracotta Army and must remain frozen until they’re resurrected in order to dominate the world. Almost 1,500 years later, Rick’s arrogant son, Alex, accidentally reverses the spell and unleashes a wave of impending doom. It’s basically the first two movies with karate chops. The acting is appalling, especially with Luke Ford’s embarrassing macho man caricature and Maria Bello’s (who I usually adore) uncomfortable attempt at a British accent. The overabundance of childish CGI creatures including dragons, yetis, and a ManBearPig sink this franchise deeper and deeper into an insipid and insignificant experience. I should have seen the warning sign when Rachel Weisz refused to reprise her role as Evelyn. She declined “due to different interests with the screenplay.” I think it was a nice way of saying I’m not dicking around with abominable snowmen playing football on a mountain in China. I prefer the latter explanation. –Jimmy Martin

Redneck Zombies 20th Anniversary Edition
Troma Entertainment, Inc.
Street: 1.27.09
A botched vat of moonshine turns an entire redneck town into a group of bloodthirsty zombies. This is another cult classic from the creators of the Toxic Avengers and Surf Nazis Must Die. If you consider yourself any kind of zombie fan, this is a must see. Yes, it is campy, but this is not a film to be taken seriously. In the spirit of the movie, I would recommend that you enjoy a bottle of Wild Turkey or some bathtub hooch with the film, if you’ve got it. It being the 20th anniversary edition, you can find lots of sweet bonus features including an in-depth interview between director Pericles Lewnes and Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman. You also get a bonus CD with the film’s soundtrack including to-die for tracks like “Leggo My Leg, Yo” and “Chemical Nuclear Warfare Toxic Waste Barrel Polka.” –Ben Trentelman

Saturday Night Live: Season Four
Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Street: 12.02
Just over 30 years ago, Saturday Night Live started its fourth year and continued the tradition of comedic insanity that only live television and a pile of cocaine can offer. The show captured rising legendary actors including Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Bill Murray, and Gilda Radner in their absolute prime with performances that left a significant impression three decades later. Memorable skits like Lois Lane’s Superhero Party, the hemorrhaging French Chef, and the perverted womanizing Festrunk Brothers made this season another sensation. An enticing element accompanying the satire, and is always just as amusing, are the anxious hosts promoting their latest films like Carrie Fisher, Margot Kidder, and Walter Matthau, and the stellar musical guests performing their current singles including Talking Heads, Grateful Dead, Devo, and The Rolling Stones. If Universal seriously intends to releasing all 34 (and counting) seasons on DVD, the initial four should be acquired foremost. Following this chapter, season five brought the invasion of the amateurish and untalented siblings of Aykroyd and Murray, and I don’t even want to get into the Joe Piscopo abomination of the 1980s. –Jimmy Martin

Seven Pounds
Columbia
In Theaters: 12.19
Reconnecting with The Pursuit of Happyness’ director Gabriele Muccino, Will Smith attempts to tug on heart strings with another dramatic role in this glorified tale of redemption and sacrifice. Frequently hinting at and intertwining the mystery that destroyed Ben Thomas’ (Smith) life, the story tracks Ben as he stalks, observes, and determines whether or not various underprivileged strangers are worthy of a life-altering gift. This coming from the guy who starred in Wild Wild West. After befriending a critically ill Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson), Ben rediscovers the human spirit and decides it’s time to finalize his mission. What starts out strong as an engaging and suspenseful story, soon dwindles into a strung out romance saga that never seems to end. Granted, the Fresh Prince continues to prove his skills can still successfully cross genres, even with a script suitable for the Oxygen Network. The films underlying message isn’t underlying at all. Grant Nieporte’s screenplay is much too literal, and forces the viewer to question his perceptions on the audience’s intelligence. –Jimmy Martin

Valkyrie
MGM
In Theaters: 12.25
You know something’s awry when a film’s release date wildly jumps around like a child who’s missed his dose of Ritalin. Reporting dates as early as June 2008 and as late as February 2009, Bryan Singer’s accounting of the final assassination attempt on Hitler raised more flags than ones baring swastikas. Tom Cruise helms his first leading role in two years as the one-eyed, one-hand, scheming, German, Hitler hater, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, as he concocts one of the most elaborate inner circle plots to overthrow the demented dictator. From the get go, Valkyrie states its purpose and never slows down, leaving anyone with inquiries behind. The acting, furnished commendably by an ensemble cast, is tarnished by the lack of authenticity in dialect. The film begins firmly with an impressive narration by Cruise, spoken in German, depicting his hatred for his country’s future, but the film gradually becomes artificial as the English language, and a dozen other accents, seep in creating nothing but distractions. Granted, the swift pacing and close-ups of Cruise’s eye patch entertains to a degree, but when everyone knows failure is inevitable, the question of “Why am I watching this?” arises more often than desired. –Jimmy Martin

Wanted
Universal
Street: 12.02
Based on Mark Millar’s 2003 graphic novel series, director Timur Bekmambetov’s over the top assassin saga is a coming-of-age story complete with broken bones and sniper rifles. Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) is the typical loser with a dead-end job, a cheating girlfriend, and a dreary existence. He’s a nobody. After being rescued by a mysterious woman (Angelina Jolie) from a grocery store shoot-out and learning the truth about his father’s death, Wesley abandons his pathetic lifestyle and hops aboard the Revenge Express. Nothing ruins a hitman film like exaggerated CGI effects. Compare Luc Besson’s artistically stunning, yet simple Leon to Michael Davis’ ridiculous shitfest Shoot ‘Em Up. Bekmambetov has found a medium between the two extremes and created digitally-filled gunfights that don’t make me want to throw a shrieking tantrum. The witty dialogue and perfectly intertwined bits of humor wink at the audience and say, “We know this is idiotic, so laugh, asshole.” Containing one of the best room clearing scenes since The Matrix and Equilibrium, Wanted gives hope for the genre’s future. If anything, hearing Morgan Freeman shout “mother fucker” made my day better. –Jimmy Martin

Yes Man
Warner Bros.
In Theaters: 12.19
It’s been a while since Jim Carrey stepped back into the comedic shoes that made him a household name. He’s a little older, a little edgier, but can’t quite shake off the Ace Ventura shtick that should’ve remained in the 90s. In a plot eerily similar to 1997’s Liar Liar, a melancholy Carl Allen (Carrey) makes a covenant to abandon his reclusive lifestyle by answering every forthcoming question with…you guessed it…Yes. Guitar lessons? Yes. All-night drinking binges? Yes. Gummy blowjobs from an 80-year-old? Yes! Yes! Yes! This altered behavior improves Carl’s life, personally and professionally, and eventually attracts the eccentric doey-eyed Zooey Deschanel. As in most of his films, Yes Man allows Carrey to display his well-crafted improv skills, however, it also constrains him to perform gut-wrenchingly corny gags: see horrendous rendition of Third Eye Blind’s craptacular song, Jumper. I was three seconds from hurling myself out a third-story window. The greatest surprise comes from New Zealand’s up-and-coming comedian Rhys Darby (The Flight of the Conchords) as the geeky boss yearning to be loved. –Jimmy Martin





Zombie Girl: The Movie
Slamdance Film Festival
Directors: Justin Johnson, Aaron Marshall, Erik Mauck


Most adults would shake their heads and roll their eyes after hearing a kid mutter, “I like wanna make movies when I grow up.” In the case of Austin, Texas’ Emily Hagins, she’s already converted the non-believers…at the age of 12. Zombie Girl: The Movie shadows Emily on her two-year journey as she writes, casts, shoots, and directs her first feature-length zombie horror film, Pathogen. Produced with a miniscule budget, the true spirit of independent cinema surfaces with costume hunts at local thrift stores and boom mics taped to painting extension poles. While the unprecedented filmmaking bit is the initial draw, the genuine story comes from the relationship between Emily and her mother, Megan, and the unconditional love one has for their aspiring child. Willing to push herself beyond the limits to ensure Emily’s happiness, Megan assists with anything and everything she can and that includes creating a prosthetic head for decapitations. June Cleaver ain’t got shit on this woman! It’s both beautiful and heartbreaking to watch as Megan foresees her daughter’s independence and is reluctant to let go. Not only have directors Justin Johnson, Aaron Marshall, and Erik Mauck successfully captured the true essence of childhood innocence and family bonding, but they have also documented the undeniable passion of a rising artist. –Jimmy Martin

Slamdance Film Festival: Screening Times

- January 16, 2009 – 8:30pm – Treasure Mountain Inn
- January 19, 2009 – 5:30pm – Treasure Mountain Inn