Movie Reviews – November 2010

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127 Hours
Fox Searchlight Pictures
In Theaters: 11.12
It’s amazing what the human body can endure when someone’s life is at stake. Whenever these incredible true stories arise, we read about them or hear the facts on the evening news, but we usually never have the opportunity to visually experience the incident first-hand. To change this notion, Danny Boyle has unleashed a powerful testament to the human spirit by recreating the unbelievable events endured by outdoors enthusiast Aron Ralston (James Franco) who was trapped in southern Utah for five days when a boulder crushed his arm against a canyon wall. As his water supply dwindles and the hope for rescue deteriorates, Ralston records his own fragile state of mind with his video camera and begins to examine his life’s choices and envisions an alternate reality beyond his current predicament. Never giving up, Ralston attempts every feasible solution at his disposal, but soon discovers the only way out will truly challenge his will to survive. Franco, in complete isolation for the majority of the film, finally reveals his true capabilities as an actor by projecting an array of emotional outbursts that touch upon charming and comedic to gut-wrenching and desperate. His performance is nothing short of phenomenal. Boyle does become too infatuated with music video techniques involving multiple screen panels and an unnecessarily booming soundtrack, but makes up for this minor fault with vibrant and sharp cinematography that exhibits the mystifying beauty of an unforgiving region. –Jimmy Martin

In Theaters: 10.08
As hard as it is for a filmmaker to create an epic with vast landscapes and multiple settings, it can be even harder for a director to develop a project that remains in a single environment for the majority of the film. Quentin Tarantino did it with his Reservoir Dogs, Joel Schumacher kept Colin Farrell in a phone booth and now Rodrigo Cortés traps Ryan Reynolds in an underground coffin in Iraq. Reynolds stars as Paul Conroy, a contracted truck driver who is kidnapped and buried alive while delivering relief aid to the war torn country’s shattered communities. Supplied with only a Zippo, a cell phone and a few other miscellaneous items, Conroy attempts to remedy the situation by contacting friends, family, government agencies and anyone else who will listen, including the enraged captors who demand millions for his release. As terrifying as the situation is, Cortés needlessly doubts his film’s tone and adds more fuel to the fire with cheap and unnecessary tactics that only diminish the level of practicality. In an effort to allow audiences a moment to breathe outside of the confined space, cinematographer Eduard Grau provides beautiful exaggerated imagery that breaks the fourth wall and amplifies the sense of isolation and hopelessness. The images are striking but do obstruct the film’s overall flow. Above all the mishaps, Reynolds is terrific as he successfully transitions to a more dramatic role yet still adds his own improvisational comedic signature.  –Jimmy Martin

Case 39
Paramount Vantage
In Theaters 10.01
It’s no shock this dreadful attempt at filmmaking sat on a shelf for years as its producers remained dumbfounded on how to release the atrocity on their hands. Squinty-eyed Renée Zellweger stars as Emily Jenkins, a social worker, who adopts a seemingly innocent girl (Jodelle Ferland) after her parents are caught attempting to murder the child by cooking her in the oven. Yup, you just read that. However, when Emily’s co-workers and friends start to die in mysteriously freakish accidents, the caretaker begins to suspect that the teenager is more sinister than she appears to be. Nothing from this mindless production expresses any form of creativity or authentic notions of fear within the frames of the screen. Director Christian Alvart utilizes one cheap horror gag after another to produce screams, but instead receives bellowing laughter. If it’s not someone needlessly slapping a window, it’s a dog jumping out of the darkness to induce terror. The technique requires no thought process. Zellweger is disturbingly awful as she continues to confirm her declining star power, while Ferland’s amateurish portrayal of the demon child reiterates my hatred for child actors since the majority of them are more irritating than terrifying. –Jimmy Martin

Warner Bros.
In Theaters: 10.22
Three loosely connected mediocre short stories do not make one coherent feature-length film. It’s a cheap tactic to disguise the fact that none of the available narratives were worthy of their own solo project, and you would think veteran actor/filmmaker Clint Eastwood would be above such tasteless schemes. The film examines three individuals who have experienced a close encounter with death and have an affinity for the afterlife. In San Francisco, George Lonegan (Matt Damon) is a former celebrity psychic who abandoned his fame for the desire to live a normal life and attempts to find it in a cooking class where he meets the charming Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard). In London, Marcus loses his twin brother, Jason (both roles played by Frankie & George McLaren), in a car accident and yearns to establish a spiritual connection with his lost sibling. In Paris, author/news anchor Marie LeLay (Cécile De France) questions where we go after we die following a near-death experience during a catastrophic tsunami. Either Eastwood is uncertain of the type of film he wanted to make or he became too greedy with genres. At one moment it’s a religious melodrama then suddenly it’s a romantic comedy. It’s unstable, aggravating and fundamentally insipid. Damon offers a subdued yet entertaining role, but is pushed aside and disrupted by the unemotional performances of the McLaren brothers. The most riveting moments come with the astonishing disaster sequence complete with incredible visuals, but since it’s the film’s opening, it’s a long and tiresome road to the end credits. –Jimmy Martin

Jackass 3D
In Theaters: 10.15
It’s been over a decade since the skateboarding/prankster video hybrid, Landspeed: CKY, made its way into teenage boys’ bedrooms across the country, eventually planting the idea in MTV’s brain that a series should be created based on the juvenile antics. Three television seasons, two feature films and a video game later, the battered and bruised bunch of Jackass return for a third round of explicit mid-life crisis fun that includes scenarios involving an obstacle course with high-voltage tasers, antagonized buffalo herds and a port-o-potty slingshot. Needless to say, things get quite messy. Upping the ante this time around is the group’s decision to jump on the technology bandwagon in the production department. First off, viewers are presented with a plethora of offensive objects and fecal matter in the third dimension. Ever pondered what a rubber dildo would look like being shot out of a high-powered cannon directly at your face? Me neither, but now I can cross it off my bucket list. Oddly enough, the use of the gimmick actually works. Male viewers are forced to protect their own family jewels as tee-ball bats hurl out of the screen only to retract, hitting another cast member directly in the crotch. Next, the production team’s use of Phantom cameras allows the capability to capture the action in super slow-motion (1,000 frames per second compared to the normal 24 frames per second). It’s unsettling to witness the human body endure a rippling shock wave of pain upon the impact of a blunt object to the skull. When all is said and done, the stakes aren’t raised much higher than their previous endeavors, but the task of grossing out audiences is certainly achieved. –Jimmy Martin

Let Me In
Overture Films
In Theaters: 10.01
I understand why American production companies have the desire to remake foreign films. A story has already been created and a following has been established, lowering their costs and the risk of failure. I still can’t help but become annoyed as the original filmmakers fall into the shadows when their creations are represented by someone else. Tomas Alfredson’s 2008 Swedish thriller Let the Right One In was a modern-day masterpiece, so it wasn’t shocking to hear of Hollywood’s intentions to replicate his work. Taken from Alfredson and placed in the head of Matt Reeves, the supernatural story follows a friendless and socially awkward boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who’s constantly picked on at school, but finds solace in the presence of an odd girl (Chloe Moretz) who moves into the neighboring apartment. As their friendship grows, he discovers the grisly truth of her thirst for blood to survive. Reeves does personalize the film with original distinctive twists and offers a stunning tale of courage and love between two outcasts. The highlight of the project comes from the outstanding, mature performances conveyed by both adolescent actors, who not only play off each other well, but add an incredible sense of creepiness to the already gloomy atmosphere. The only bit of criticism comes from the unnecessary use of CGI to communicate animalistic movements for the tiny vampire. The images come across more cartoonish than frightening, ultimately diminishing the demonic presence. –Jimmy

My Soul to Take
In Theaters: 10.08
The first thirty minutes of Wes Craven’s newest slasher film are so disjointed, unbalanced and confusing, some viewers may question the projectionist’s ability to set the reels in the correct order. There’s a serial killer on the loose in a small community who’s only identifiable by his engraved knife. Soon after the police reports make the evening news, an everyday Joe finds the bloody blade in his home. Cue the accusatory voices in his head, and we immediately have a case of split personality on our hands. At the moment our bewildered killer meets his questionable demise, seven babies are prematurely born at the local hospital. Fast forward 16 years, and the same seven babies have grown up into seven superstitious teenagers who feel the need to perform an annual ritual to ward off the killer’s spirit from possessing their bodies. Obviously they fail as much as Craven does with this slapped-together monstrosity, the greatest moments of which are stolen directly from the director’s earlier and better projects. A scene involving an indoor pool’s maintenance room tastelessly mimics A Nightmare on Elm Street’s boiler room set, which only makes me want to leave and watch that classic instead. Not one actor is believable or memorable as they spew out lines from Craven’s tortuous screenplay. If audiences are forced to wait five years for the once-master of horror to deliver this type of mediocrity, Craven should cease and desist all future filmmaking endeavors before his legacy is completely overshadowed with negativity and anger. –Jimmy Martin

The Social Network
Columbia Pictures
In Theaters: 10.01
Upon hearing a film was being made about the origins of the revolutionizing web site, Facebook, my eyes instantly rolled into the back of my head. However, after hearing David Fincher, the same man behind Fight Club and Seven, would be directing a script written by Aaron Sorkin, the same man behind The West Wing and Sports Night, my pessimism instantly became optimism and my eyes reverted to their original positions. Fincher leads this historical account of how Harvard undergrad Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) along with his friend/classmate, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) changed the way in which the world operates with the creation of the social networking site. As the two reach unimaginable results, they soon realize the path to financial glory has many legal bumps along the way, is inhabited by countless enemies, and their friendship will be tested on multiple levels. It’s astonishing to witness a company that was spawned in a dingy dorm room blossom in only six years into a conglomerate with 500 million followers and a worth of $25 billion. Eisenberg is phenomenal as the snarky, socially inept genius as he fires off the witty banter embedded within Sorkin’s sophisticated screenplay. Fincher’s unique visual style comes across beautifully with eerie fluorescent lighting illuminating the corrupt world of intellectual theft and its legal ramifications. A surprisingly skillful performance is achieved by Justin Timberlake, who portrays Napster king and Facebook’s first president, Sean Parker. Fincher has a gifted capability of extracting solid performances from both new and veteran actors. –Jimmy Martin

Waiting for Superman
Paramount Vantage
In Theaters: 10.15
America’s schools are failing. Despite all the presidents who have committed themselves to education reform and the millions who have been poured into America’s public schools, there has been little improvement for nearly 40 years. American students’ reading and math skills continue to drop and large teachers’ unions have made it nearly impossible to fire bad teachers. Waiting for Superman delivers a probing and informative look into the American public school system and why it continues to fail, despite all of our reform efforts. To give the statistics a face, director Davis Guggenheim documents the lives of five school children, the struggles their families have faced in the “drop out factories” and “academic sinkholes” they currently attend and their immense hope that they can be one of the lucky few to make it into a charter school. These touching interviews with the families are enhanced by a plethora of jaw-dropping facts and interviews with education reformers. Ultimately, Guggenheim’s message isn’t one of doom and gloom, though. Good teachers create good schools, and according to Guggenheim, if we can cut through all the red tape created by teachers’ unions, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel for America’s schoolchildren. –Jeanette D. Moses

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
Sony Pictures Classics
In Theaters: 10.22
Woody Allen continues his romantic escapades in Europe with this entangled web of love, deceit and insensible ambition being carried forth by two unhappy married couples. When health-conscience Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) divorces his wife Helena (Gemma Jones) for a much younger, spunkier escort (Lucy Punch), it drives the divorcee to seek counseling from a fraudulent fortune teller. While these senior citizen shenanigans are occurring, the older couple’s daughter Sally (Naomi Watts) has her own marital issues when she finds herself falling for her charismatic boss (Antonio Banderas), as her aspiring author husband, Roy (Josh Brolin), finds more than inspiration from the provocative next-door neighbor (Freida Pinto). It’s disappointing to see Allen reduce himself to cheap Viagra jokes while an unenthusiastic Hopkins makes the half-hearted delivery. The characters and their lives don’t become appealing until well after the halfway mark. However, once Allen finally engages the audience with the jovial situational comedy that has been taking shape for quite some time, he abruptly ends the film with no resolution whatsoever. Some may see Allen’s choice as a small voyeuristic glimpse into the daily lives of these individuals, but, if that’s the case, he should have delayed the start time of our spy session by an hour. –Jimmy Martin