Movie Reviews – September 2009

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A Perfect Getaway
Rogue Pictures
In Theaters: 08.07
The horror film can be a complex entity to master. In order to create a memorable experience, one must either provide an appropriate amount of terror to resonate well after the end credits, or offer an ample quantity of silliness to be declared a cult classic. It’s a disastrous notion is to believe both characteristics can be successfully executed in the same production. Someone should have explained that to director David Towhy before he moved forward with this unbalanced pseudo thriller. Newlyweds Cliff (Steve Zahn) and Cydney (Milla Jovovich) are honeymooning on the wilderness trails of Kauai, Hawaii. Yet, after discovering a series of murders and becoming involved in an unpleasant altercation with a trashy local couple, has disrupted their tropical paradise the tourists find companionship and protection in the form of another couple, Nick (Timothy Olyphant) and Gina (Kiele Sanchez). For a film that’s only 97 minutes long, wasting more than two-thirds of the film on idiotic accusations (especially on a mystery that can be solved almost immediately) and non-stop footage of people hiking is unappealing. The film finally finds its stride in its final scenes where the only action takes place. The tone strays away from seriousness, and the goofy-yet-entertaining gore sprays across the screen, only it’s too little too late. Ironically, Zahn’s character, a screenwriter, announces his intention to refrain from creating “another big craptastic movie.” Whoops. –Jimmy Martin

The Cove
Roadside Attractions
In Theaters: 08.07
In the 1960s, Ric O’Barry helped create the family-friendly television program Flipper by training the program’s animals. Forty years later, he’s a well-known activist spending every waking minute of his life rescuing captured dolphins. His biggest challenge lies in the remote location of Taiji, Japan, where each year over 23,000 dolphins are horrifically slaughtered in a veiled cove, in which no one has ever been allowed to film...until now. With assistance from every source imaginable, Ric and his covert team risk their lives to reveal the true horrors shrouded in the land of the rising sun. Comparable to last year’s heist documentary on artistic expression, Man on Wire, director Louie Psihoyos’ crucial message can ultimately save lives. Did you know that dolphin meat’s mercury levels are considered toxic, and yet it is still secretly sold to the unknowing citizens of Japan? Not only does the abundance of jaw-dropping content make this film a masterpiece, but the oceanic cinematography is some of the most fascinating imagery to reach the screen in ages. Winner of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival’s Documentary Audience Award, The Cove will not only save lives, but will change them as well. –Jimmy Martin

District 9
In Theaters: 08.14
Director Neil Blomkamp and producer Peter Jackson have created one of the greatest science fiction action films since the original Matrix in 1999. For over 20 years, a massive alien mother ship has remained stagnant over Johannesburg, South Africa as its intergalactic inhabitants, cruelly referred to as “prawns,” have been forced to reside in the rustic slum below deemed District 9. As the crime levels surge inside the ghetto and the human outcry becomes increasingly louder, the government agency of alien affairs, MNU (Multi-National United), has decided to relocate the 1.6 million residents into a more restricted facility comparable to a concentration camp. The director of the project, Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), willingly executes his duties of handing out eviction notices until a direct encounter with an alien toxin forever changes his view on humanity. Newcomer Copley provides a commanding performance, while the dynamic duo of Blomkamp and Jackson prove what excellence can be generated on a smaller budget when the right talent is at the helm. Shot and mixed with a faux documentary style, District 9 provides an accelerated, guns blazing thrill ride that actually embeds an innovative, sentimental angle on the horrors of South Africa’s apartheid. –Jimmy Martin

Dollhouse: Season One
20th Century Fox
Street: 07.28
At the 2008 Comic Con, I accidently stumbled upon the chaotic, obsessed, devout followers of the Church of Joss Whedon as he provided glimpses of his upcoming series, Dollhouse. Creator of cult programming titles like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly, Whedon has endured the mighty unforgiving cancelation sword of network television time and time again, but his new technologically-savvy, spy thriller starring Eliza Dushku has successfully hurdled the first season obstacle as it gains momentum and disciples. The sci-fi story follows Echo (Dushku), an operative for an underground agency that implants multiple personas into their soldiers known as “Dolls” in order to carry out various objectives and missions. After each task (a.k.a. episode), the minds of the Dolls are erased and quickly injected with a new personality. However, the experimental procedure doesn’t seem to be 100% efficient as Echo gradually becomes self-aware and flashes of her memories constantly creep back into consciousness. Whedon’s project is slick, tension-filled, and packed with an acceptable blend of action and drama. Dushku proves that her acting talents have improved over the years, and she’s well on her way to bigger projects. The show appears to have dodged the dreaded Whedon curse thus far, but in order to secure a lengthy residence inside the house of Fox, it’ll take more than his fanatical devotees to make a noticeable impact. –Jimmy Martin

Street: 08.25
You know there’s something amiss when a 30-second preview can’t successfully explain a film’s main storyline. Such is the case with director Tony Gilroy’s thrilling romantic comedy crime caper extravaganza, Duplicity. Obviously, with a description like that, there are too many layers for its own good. Former MI6 agent, Ray Koval (Clive Owen), and ex-CIA operative, Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts), join forces (or have they?) in the private sector in order to steal millions from a rival CEO (or is he?) by pilfering a top-secret revolutionary invention (or is it?). With enough twists and turns to make a contortionist nauseous, the film is guaranteed to lose the majority of the audience twenty minutes in. However, if you can successfully follow it, it makes for an adequate ride with a few hiccups and a satisfying finale. While the film’s strongest offering comes from the rapid, sharp, accusatory banter between Owen and Roberts as they duke it out in a 1940s-esque battle of the sexes, the endeavor to make Roberts (a.k.a. Skeletor) a modern day sex symbol crash and burns before the wheels ever leave the runway. The DVD release comes with an audio commentary with Gilroy and editor/co-producer, John Gilroy. –Jimmy Martin

Funny People
Universal Pictures/Columbia Pictures
In Theaters: 07.31
Judd Apatow and his jester regulars have taken over the Hollywood comedy scene for the last four years with their riotous, profane humor and uncanny improvisational skills. However, Apatow and friends have attempted to unveil a more constructed set of dramatic layers with this dramedy that questions the various paths toward the pursuit of happiness. Immersed in the world of stand-up comedy, the story focuses on George Simmons (Adam Sandler), a Sandler-esque superstar who discovers he has a rare form of leukemia. Rather than sulking in his million-dollar mansion, George returns to his roots in the Los Angeles comedy club scene where he meets aspiring comedian, Ira (Seth Rogen), and takes the inexperienced hopeful under his wing. This synopsis alone would have made for an engaging narrative, but Apatow chose to continue introducing new characters and dilemmas an hour into this unnecessarily long two-and-a-half hour piece. There are witty jokes and remarkable chemistries throughout the entirety, but the abundant amount of dull fluff diminishes their overall impact. Sandler, who hasn’t been this entertaining since Punch Drunk Love, is successfully unleashed from his restricted family-approved collar and allowed to wreak comedic havoc as he pinpoints the pros and cons of wealth and fame. The film’s greatest downfall is its long-winded approach to storytelling. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld always preached the art of exiting on a high-note and leaving the audience craving more. If Apatow had followed this regimen, Funny People would be an hour shorter and the majority of audiences wouldn’t be parting with such a sour taste in their mouths. –Jimmy Martin

The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard
Paramount Vantage
In Theaters: 08.14
Jeremy Piven sticks a little too close to comfort as he portrays a loud-mouth, pretentious, overconfident car salesman in charge of a group of dollar-thirsty mercenaries hired to salvage a deteriorating dealership on the brink of foreclosure in Temecula, California. Don “The Goods” Ready (Piven) was born to sell cars and set trends (He regrettably launched the Von Dutch hat phenomenon). Everything with Don is go, go, go, but once he lays eyes on the owner’s engaged daughter, Ivy, the thought of settling down crosses his conceited mind more than once. As the team arms the battlefield with free hot dogs, inflatable gorillas, attractive floor models, and a motto of “Sell the Metal,” an explosive Fourth of July weekend war is set for second-rate absurdity. A simpleminded plot for a simpleminded film, The Goods is idiotically amusing as it crudely stomps on every politically incorrect racial stereotype, religious sacrilege, and social indecency director Neal Brennan could muster into 90 minutes. Piven is undoubtedly upstaged by every member of his wittier entourage including ladies’ man, Jibby Newsome (Ving Rhames), and female child predator, Babs Merrick (Kathryn Hahn). To put it briefly, the film is a barrage of vulgar one-liners supporting a meaningless script. –Jimmy Martin

I Love You, Man
Street: 08.11
Just as I was about to declare a national boycott on all upcoming bromance films, director John Hamburg (Along Came Polly) poses one with an intriguing message. How do adults, men in particular, establish friendships without prior relationships? Think about it: How many friends would you have if you didn’t already work together, know each other as adolescents, or share a prison cell? Newly engaged, socially inept Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) faces this dilemma when he realizes he has no candidates to be his best man. After a slew of hysterically awkward “blind dates” with potentials, Peter finally meets Sydney Fife (Jason Segel) and establishes a connection that can only be described as having a man-wife…without the sex. While Hamburg’s crude romantic comedy hybrid contains the typical gross out style of humor, it stands out amongst the rest with its witty acting from a trifecta of comedians from Saturday Night Live, Broken Lizard, and Judd Apatow’s regular posse. It’s a comedy that flies under the radar, but leaves a respectable lasting impression. For additional laughs and comedic material, the Blu-ray release comes with deleted scenes, a gag reel, and an audio commentary with Hamburg, Rudd, and Segel.  –Jimmy Martin

Inglourious Basterds
The Weinstein Company
In Theaters: 08.21
Quentin Tarantino confidently strolls through Nazi occupied France with this World War II epic that encompasses endless classic 70s homages and the director’s unmistakable cinematic signature. In 1941, a ragtag group of Jewish-American soldiers (a.k.a. The Basterds), led by Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), are determined to place the fear of death throughout Hitler’s entire Third Reich by unleashing an infinite wave of deplorable brutality against every Nazi they can grab. Five words guarantee this viciousness: machine guns to the face. While this is the only storyline the commercials and posters promoted, there is a completely separate yet engaging narrative juxtaposed within the film’s content. The alternate tale follows Mélanie Laurent (Shosanna Dreyfus), a Jewish orphan who escapes the massacre of her entire family and restarts her life as a theater owner in Paris only to find herself in the enemy’s sights yet again. Separated by five individual chapters (converging in the finale), one arch provides the explosions and gunfire while the latter presents a poignant portrait of redemption and revenge. With that said, another film needs to be placed into production immediately focusing solely on The Basterds and their devious activities, because Pitt, who is hysterical as the 100% pure blooded John Wayne American, and crew need nothing but more on-screen time to shine. In every aspect, Tarantino continues to perfect his craft with this impressive cast. –Jimmy Martin

Knight Rider: Season One
Street: 07.28
Whenever I hear about a remake in regards to a beloved franchise of my childhood, my initial reaction is surprisingly positive. “A Tron sequel, you say? That sounds like a good idea!” Yet, find me ten minutes later, and you’ll witness unreserved resentment as I curse the heavens for the unoriginal productions that continue to shower upon society. Such was the case as I heard about the concept to resurrect Knight Rider, the series that defined my childhood. Growing up, I had the shirts, the posters, hell, I even had a miniature version of K.I.T.T. I cruised in up and down my street. Shut your mouth Hasselhoff, I was Michael Knight. Sure, the theme of “one man can make a difference” could easily transfer, but what made the original series unforgettable were the simplistic yet amazing car features like turbo boost and super pursuit mode. The new series aggressively tries to modernize the show by essentially having a Transformer that can take any shape. Just because you have the technology to create shape-shifting automobiles doesn’t mean you should use it. To make matters worse, executive producer Gary Scott Thompson brought the artificial scenery and campy tone of his former drama, Las Vegas, to an environment that desperately required guerilla-style rawness. Apparently, I wasn’t alone in the lack of interest in the crime fighting comeback. After only 17 episodes, the program was sent to a farm upstate where it was shot, and Thompson went back to the history books to locate another franchise to replicate. My money’s on Magnum P.I. –Jimmy Martin

The Last Starfighter: 25th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray)
Street: 08.18
As the resident handyman at the desolate Starbrite Trailer Court, Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) never thought he’d escape the clutches of a meaningless and dull life, especially after being declined for his college loan. Resentful and depressed, he spends his time mastering his skills at the videogame Starfighter, eventually defeating it to the cheers of the park’s tenants. Soon after, Alex is visited by Centauri (Robert Preston), an alien that reveals the game is actually a test for the real intergalactic war taking place in another galaxy and that Alex has been recruited to fight. So long double-wides and septic tanks! Upon arrival, Alex is paired with Grig (Dan O’Herlihy), a jolly alien that also is dedicated to conquering Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada. As the first production to generate all of its special effects on a computer, the film broke the barriers that limited sci-fi movies to conventional filmmaking. Sure, they cower in comparison to today’s standards, but it’s the genesis of everything CGI! The film is a child’s dream come true, and consistently adds a dash of fantasy that enhances the overall dreamlike experience. Frankly speaking, it’s over-the-top galactic sensationalism that’ll put a smile on anyone’s face. The 25th Anniversary (damn, I’m getting old) Blu-ray comes with an array of special features including an audio commentary with director Nick Castle and production designer Ron Cobb and a featurette entitled “Crossing the Frontier.” –Jimmy Martin

The Merry Gentleman
The Samuel Goldwyn Company
In Theaters: 08.21
I’m a sucker for hitman flicks. Anytime I’m reading a synopsis and those six letters slide so perfectly together, “H-I-T-M-A-N”, I’m instantly intrigued. For his directorial debut, Michael Keaton premiered this tale of vindication and purification at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. The story begins with Kate (Kelly Macdonald) as she escapes from an abusive relationship and starts a new, secluded life in Chicago. Roaming the streets completing death contracts for profit is Frank (Keaton), a quiet hitman who constantly questions his own self-worth with a pistol under his chin. After inadvertently preventing the proficient killer from another suicidal attempt, a chain of events bring the pair closer together with neither of them knowing about the other’s past and neither caring to ask. As their relationship develops, a bump in the road in the form of Chicago police officer Dave Murcheson adds to the tension as he investigates one of Frank’s former targets. In all honesty, the love triangle story has been done time and time again, and the professional killer motif does little to expand its reach. If you were to re-edit the film and only keep the scenes where any action is occurring, you’d be left with only an hour. What partially rescues the film are the acting skills of Macdonald and especially Keaton. Known for his outlandish and expressive performances, Keaton centers himself so profoundly around his character and projects a frighteningly calm performance usually unassociated with the gifted actor. –Jimmy Martin

The Middleman: The Complete Series
Shout! Factory
Wendy Watson is recruited by The Middleman to combat big giant angry monsters and demons for a top-secret organization.  This is like the mutant offspring of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Men in Black by giving a spunky good looking twenty something the ability to kick butt and take punches without batting in eye, all while making clever jokes and making fun of her boss.  This show is clever, but more the kind of clever that appeals to young teenage boys and girls. Clever being constant cliché catch phrases, hip fast-talking loft dwellers who carry guitars and never play them, and Scarface quoting gorillas wearing neck gold.  This all sounds good and fine, but this ABC Family show screams young adult.  Watch it with your cousin over sugary breakfast cereal and you are sure to love it. –Ben Trentelman

Miss March
20th Century Fox
Street: 07.28
It takes a real cinematic disaster to force a viewer to want to do yard work rather than endure another second of its trite storyline 30 minutes in, but that’s exactly what happened with me and the train wreck Miss March. Shamefully written, directed, and starring Zach Cregger and Trevor Moore, television’s The Whitest Kids U’ Know duo, the film tails Eugene (Cregger), a celibate high school student who decides to finally go all the way with his conservative girlfriend on prom night. Encouraged by his idiotic friend, Tucker (Moore), to drink excessively in order to dull the senses, Eugene inevitably takes a nasty spill down a staircase placing him in a coma for four years. After awaking to find that his family and the majority of his friends have left his bedside, he soon discovers that his former girlfriend has become a Playboy Playmate, and a dreadful, unfunny cross-country road trip of immature gags and gratuitous nudity ensues. Forget the fact that every actor can’t deliver anything worth remembering, the immature absurdity level hits an all-time low with explosive diarrhea bits and models drinking dog piss that wouldn’t make an eight-year-old laugh. Rather than continuous laughter, there’s moans and groans floating in this epic catastrophe. I think if you look hard enough, you’ll be able to find the film in its entirety posted on –Jimmy Martin

In Theaters: 08.14
While Walt Disney remains frozen in carbonite underneath the Magic Kingdom at Disney World, another master of animation has surfaced and firmly grasped the reins of the cartoon industry. Since the 1970s, Hayao Miyazaki has directed an onslaught of epic fantastical animated features that appeal to both young and old. His latest creation follows a fish with a human face, Ponyo, as she discovers affection for a young boy, Sosuke, on the mainland. However, her absence from the sea disrupts the balance of Earth and creates catastrophic tsunamis threatening thousands of lives. Her only hope to forever remain with her love is to completely transform into a human, even at the explicit disapproval of her father who despises humans for their careless treatment of the oceans. Miyazaki has captured the purest form of childhood innocence with these endearing characters who glide through life, only acknowledging the brighter side. The animation, as it always is with Miyazaki’s films, is absolutely stunning with endless variations of sea creatures swimming across the screen in vibrant colors. The simplistic storyline is similar to The Little Mermaid, but that added dose of superb mythology is what allows it to stand apart. Not as intricate or profound as his other projects, Ponyo is a welcoming party for the next generation of Miyazaki fans and a reminder for veterans of why they’re still supporting his legacy. –Jimmy Martin

This is your future when birth control fails.

The Spectacular Spider-Man: Season One
Sony Pictures
Street: 07.28
Whenever an adaptation of a comic book legend is brought to life, whether on the big screen or small, there’s always a wave of overly concerned fans nipping at the heels of its creators demanding authenticity to the source material. I can only imagine the flack developers Victor Cook and Greg Weisman received once they announced their intentions to create an animated series following Peter Parker/Spider-Man during his early high school years. In a similar fashion to Superman’s Smallville, The Spectacular Spider-Man documents its central character in a pivotal period of discovering his powers and maturing into a young adult faced with responsibilities both in his public and private lives. The animation is well-crafted and stylized, while the action sequences are far superior to any other Spider-Man adaptation. Cook and Weisman don’t underplay their audience by releasing a kid-friendly version of the iconic superhero that adults can’t enjoy. The key to the series’ success is that anyone can enjoy its content both young and old, and comic aficionados can rest easy as the treatment of Marvel’s memorable villains such as Lizard, Electro, Black Cat, Doctor Octopus, and Green Goblin have been handled with the greatest of care. –Jimmy Martin