Category: Movie Reviews

Movie Review – 127 Hours

Plot: Based on the true story of Aron Ralston (James Franco), a mountain climber who gets trapped under a boulder and stuck for several days.  The film follows his time under the boulder and the measures he ultimately has to take in order to survive.

I know what you’re thinking; this sounds like something that won’t hold my interest for ninety minutes, but I bet the film will totally surprise me.  No…it literally is what the film says it is; a guy trapped under a boulder alone on screen for ninety minutes.  There are great moments here, but really, this is boring.  When he first gets trapped, it’s kind of interesting and suspenseful, but it gets to a point where they have to manufacture other drama, and it just didn’t work for me at all.

So what do I mean when I say “manufactured drama?”  Well, like I said, when Aron first gets trapped, it’s an interesting set-up.  We get a truly horrifying shot of how isolated this guy is.  We also see some great trial and error of him trying to break free.  But there comes a point where the director (Danny Boyle) knows he can’t do this the whole movie, and that’s where images of his family creep up, he starts to lose it with other hallucinations and flashbacks, as well as a bunch of other stuff.  This is the entire middle of the film.  And all these elements are just done really poorly.  They were very awkward and silly and just didn’t hold my interest.  The movie really loses me because of this.

Part of the problem is the majority of people know how this story ends, so it’s kind of like, “Let’s just get to it already.”  He also records himself with messages to his family, and they are just repetitive.  I wanted to feel emotion for it, but I just wasn’t because of the repetition.

James Franco does a very good job, but honestly, I wasn’t blown away.  He carries the movie fine, but I just wasn’t totally enraptured by it.  There is so much of him reflecting and sipping every ounce of water, it’s all so repetitive; I started becoming numb to all of it.  It’s a sad situation, but it’s simply not interesting after a while.  Nothing happens!  Franco does have one fantastic scene in which he basically records himself pretending he’s on a talk show that was superb.  It’s easily the highlight of the movie and gave me the emotion I had been looking for.

The score by A.R. Rahman was all over the place.  Sometimes it was fantastic and hit the mood just right, but other times it was so bad, loud and obnoxious, that quite frankly, not only did I not like it, I wanted to step out of the theater at some points.  It really was that uneven.

When we finally get to the end and witness what this guy ultimately has to do, it was cringe worthy and emotional, but it didn’t hit me as hard as I wanted it to because the movie is so repetitive and excruciating.

Look, the story of this guy is incredible, but it didn’t make for a great movie.  I know people love Danny Boyle, but I think another director could have done a better job with the middle part of this film and create more convincing drama.  There are some damn good elements here making it worth a look, but otherwise, this was mostly a forgettable film.

Rating: 6 out of 10 (‘meh’)

Movie Review – Black Swan

Plot: The story of a ballet troupe preparing to put on a production of Swan Lake with the same dancer playing both the white and black swan.  Once Nina (Natalie Portman) gets the role as Swan Queen, the pressure of playing both roles begins to consume her as she is also threatened by another dancer (Mila Kunis) taking her place.

Hey, it’s time for another Darren Aronofsky (the Wrestler, Requiem for a Dream) movie.  What does that mean?  Well, we are going to see people go crazy, uncomfortable mutilation to the body, depressing storylines, and above all else, a great movie.  Aronofsky is one of my favorite directors out there right now, and Black Swan is another reason why.  The man takes you through an experience.  Within the first five minutes, you are already cringing and can feel what type of film you are going to see.  But Black Swan wouldn’t work if you didn’t have the right actress to carry it on its shoulders and Natalie Portman is that actress.

Portman plays Nina, a very driven dancer but a real sweet heart.  Her dancing is perfect and so refined that it actually pisses off her instructor, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), as he asks her to make the transformation to the more free and seductive Black Swan.  Nina shows very subtle signs of a fiery character which is why she is given the role.  The real crux of the movie is Leroy trying to unlock her dark side and destroy the sweet Nina.  Watching Portman battle with both personalities is pretty intense as the sweet Nina is slowly broken down and driven crazy trying to play the Black Swan.  Her performance is stunning; there is nothing else to say.  It’s also interesting to watch from Nina’s mother’s (Barbara Hershey) point of view as she was once a dancer herself, so she recognizes all the crap Nina is going through and almost knows what’s going to happen before it does.

The movie really gets interesting though when Lily (Mila Kunis) comes into the picture.  She is Nina’s exact opposite, the Black Swan to her white.  In the second half, it really becomes her who’s trying to corrupt Nina.  Lily is a great character because she symbolizes the intense and crazy competition that is professional ballet with manipulative subtly.  Kunis is fantastic and keeps up with Portman’s acting every step of the way.

One thing that annoyed me a lot in Black Swan were these very explicit hallucinations and visions that showcase Nina’s madness.  Now sometimes they were okay and very gorgeous to look at, but a lot of the times they are too jumbled and go on for too long.  I also hate when there’s a very long scene and five minutes later we have to question whether or not it was real.  Kind of seems like a waste of time.  I always prefer more subtly when showing a character descending into madness, although the images did fit well with the really intense score.

This is really a great film with superb acting all around.  The ending is also perfect.  It’s a great transition into the credits.   I don’t like this effort as much as I did Aronofsky’s last film (The Wrestler), but there’s no question this is another fine addition to his already great resume.

Rating: 8 out of 10 (Great)

Movie Review – The Fighter

Plot: Based on the true story of boxer Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his rise through the Welter Weight boxing division.  Set in Lowell, Massachusetts, Mickey deals with his overbearing family and drug addict brother, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), who tries to manage Mickey’s career but becomes a liability due to his disastrous behavior.

The title of the film, the Fighter, relates to Mickey Ward only in name.  This is Christian Bale’s movie as he plays Dicky Eklund, a once famous boxer whose claim to fame was knocking down Sugar Ray Leonard.  He’s now broken down, addicted to crack and played with perfection by Bale whose Oscar seems inevitable.  Everything about The Fighter is decent, including David O. Russell’s direction and the script, but its Bale’s performance that elevates it from an okay movie to a very good movie.

Playing Dicky Eklund required both intensity and vulnerability.  There are scenes in which Eklund is watching an HBO documentary on crack addiction in which he features a prominent role.  As he watches from prison, he takes it with a grain of salt, but when they show his kid in the film, he breaks down.  The transformation of emotion Bale conveys is damn impressive to watch.  There are also moments when he’s jumping out of crack houses into the garbage to avoid his mother, which are both funny and sad at the same time.

Speaking of the mother, Melissa Leo plays Alice Ward, mother to both the main characters.  Her best scenes come when she is on the phone with Dicky in prison as she watches Mickey fight on TV and Alice breaks down what’s happening in the fight.  Her range of expressions is perfect, just as if you were watching a fight.  Her character is interesting because she comes off as detestable at times.  Mickey has a chance to reach new heights with his career, but Alice can’t stop mentioning how Dicky fought Sugar Ray that one time, which was many years ago.  Her performance is still that of a nurturing mother, so it’s hard to completely dislike her.  Leo plays the two personalities very well.

Amy Adams is also great as Charlene, Mickey’s girlfriend.  She’s very fiery as her motivation is completely driven by breaking Mickey away from his crazy family, believing this will give him more focus and success as a fighter.  You generally side with Charlene, but the film does a good job of pulling you back and forth between Charlene and Dicky/Alice as which side is right for Mickey.

And that leaves us with Wahlberg’s performance as Mickey Ward.  It’s not that Wahlberg is bad, but he completely melts away compared to everyone else on screen.  He especially cannot keep up with Bale.  This hurt the movie significantly as a stronger force was needed for the main character.  Although Mickey’s character in itself is not a strong individual as he’s constantly being told what to do, but I’m always thinking about the other characters when he’s on screen.  It slows down a lot when he’s not with Bale, Adams, or Leo.

Aside from a few good performances, the film is okay.  The fighting sequences are forgettable, but not terrible.  If you’re looking for a film strictly about boxing, this may not be for you.  Bale elevates the movie to the point where you should definitely see it.  Especially towards the end where he gives a speech to Mickey that is just riveting.  All of the true emotional moments involve Bale’s character.  Whenever the story focuses on Mickey Ward, it’s just not that interesting.  And that is the movie’s true downfall and what keeps it from being great.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10 (Very Good)

Movie Review – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Plot: As the Wizarding World is entrenched in war, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is left with the secret task of destroying Voldemort’s (Ralph Fiennes) Horcruxes, pieces of his fragmented soul.  Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) join Harry as they seek out these powerful and dark objects as they are the key for destroying Voldemort himself.

Warner Brothers is one movie (or half movie) away from completing a legendary saga.  This part I of the final book adaptation is the best one by far.  It’s not often you see a big budget Hollywood franchise done with so much care and thought.  This is a Harry Potter movie unlike any other as it’s set away from the innocent school of Hogwarts and into our own world as the tagline suggests.  The days of happy little magical portraits floating around are long behind us.  And it doesn’t even have the lighthearted moments from Half-Blood Prince, the previous entry.  Director David Yates could not have set a better tone in the first montage.  You know right away we aren’t messing around.

What I always loved about Yates’ contribution to the Potter series is his subtle touch on the emotional moments.  And the opening montage in which Hermione is erasing her parents’ memories and Harry watches as the Dursleys leave for protection catapults you right into the current state of the Wizarding World.  Things pretty much suck for Harry right now.  Voldemort almost has complete control of the Wizarding Government and Harry is left with the task of destroying fragments of his soul, a vague mission that Dumbledore had about two seconds to explain to Harry in the last film.  There is so much uncertainly and unease, and it all falls on poor Harry’s shoulders.

And just as the first montage with our three heroes sets up their story, the next scene with Voldemort and his minions show us their rise to power.  And props to Ralph Fiennes and Jason Isaacs as their acting is through the roof in this scene.  Ralph Fiennes just makes you feel uncomfortable and uneasy as Isaacs’ trembling voice and tattered nature as Voldemort asks for his wand for a special favor had me terrified for him.

Now a lot of the criticism you will hear for this movie is that the pace is too slow, which it is. Now this would be a problem if the acting of the three main stars wasn’t so phenomenal.  They have to carry the entire middle of this two and a half hour film, and they do so with flying colors.  I’ve always liked Daniel Radcliffe, and he stepped up his game once again.  But the one who stole the show was surprisingly Emma Watson.  I’ve always thought she was a mixed bag in these movies as she’s constantly over acting.  Now I’m not going to say this was an Oscar worthy performance, but she’s in the ball park.

I’m also not going to forget about Rupert Grint, who’s been kind of forgotten in these films, especially the fifth.  But in Deathly Hallows, Grint has some pretty dark and serious moments.  I would love to see this guy grow up and get some big roles.  He’s got the chops.  There is one scene in particular involving him and one of Voldemort’s Horcruxes that just floors you.

And another note on the slow pace is that it actually works for the film.  The middle part is just the three characters wandering around aimlessly and frustrated.  The audience is too, but I think that’s what the director intended.  You can really see it in Grint’s performance.  Ron is frustrated with Harry’s lack of leadership and knowledge of the situation.  Ron is representing what the audience feels.  I guess this means that if Ron were watching Deathly Hallows Part I, he’d get upset at the film’s slow pace as well.

One criticism I do have is that if you’re just an average moviegoer that has read none of the books, this will be very confusing and difficult to follow.  It’s hard for me to write from this perspective because I’ve read the books and know all the little details that come across as convoluted to others.  I will say this though – Yes, it’s hard to follow at times, but you know what, this is the sixth sequel.  It’s part of a continuing series.  If you’re an average moviegoer, make sure you remember or review what happened before and deal with it.  The only thing that they really explained terribly was a broken mirror that pops up from time to time.  Everything else you can piece together from just watching the past movies.

What I really admire about Deathly Hallows is that it’s about the characters.  Yes, there are battles and big complex special effect sequences, but they are background material.  We care about Harry, Ron and Hermione.

The last scene of this film gives you that OMFG moment, leaving you salivating for next summer’s finale.  Although the ending doesn’t wrap anything up, we have to remember this is part I and not a complete film.  This is all set up for what is sure to be a masterful ending.  I’m terrified for the producers of this franchise.  They have made seven great movies, some better than others.  But if this last one doesn’t live up to the hype, many will see it as a giant failure.  I pray the finale can deliver, but I have no reason to believe it won’t.

Rating: 9 out of 10 (OMG)   

Movie Review – The Social Network

Plot: The Social Network is based on the true story of how Facebook got started and the controversy surrounding Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook and the youngest billionaire.  As Facebook rapidly grows in popularity, Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) faces two law suits, one of which he is accused of stealing the idea, and the other a personal conflict with his best friend and business partner, Eduardo (Andrew Garfield).

I was a little worried in the first five minutes of The Social Network.  The movie begins with the main character, Mark Zuckerberg, and his date, Erica (Rooney Mara).  They were talking so damn fast to the point where it was distracting and I couldn’t even keep up with what they were talking about.  This movie was written by Aaron Sorkin of West Wing fame, and one of the reasons why I was turned off by that show and some of his writing in general is because of the overly clever fast talking bull crap.  But after the initial scene, The Social Network turned out to be a pretty damn good movie, and a fantastic script from Sorkin.

And as far as the director David Fincher goes, I absolutely hated his last effort, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but in The Social Network, it’s a job well done.  Facebook and social networking changed our culture, and I usually don’t like to watch movies where they touch on a cultural changing topic that just happened, like in the case of Facebook.  I think these things should sink in for years and then we can get a movie about them.  It makes sense for the film to exist now, as Facebook is something that is constantly changing everyday.

The single best part about this movie is that Zuckerberg is a complete jackass, but I found myself siding with him even though he pulls some jerk moves.  Eisenberg really plays this role perfectly.  He’s just the right amount of a-hole that you don’t hate him.  He’s just so damn smart in how he handles everything that even though everyone around him is getting screwed over, they seem like morons by comparison, and I just can’t side with the morons.

Zuckerberg faces two law suits.  One is with the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer) who are huge rowing stars at Harvard.  Although they have a legit claim that Zuckerberg stole their idea, the film makes it very clear Zuckerberg took their lame little idea and made it into something bad ass.  The way Zuckerberg handles all this is both smarmy and hilarious that I couldn’t help but feel the Winklevoss twins were just pathetic.  I felt bad for them the way I feel bad for the Buffalo Bills, but I don’t actually care about them.

The other law suit the film explores is between Zuckerberg and his best friend/business partner, Eduardo.  This relationship is more sympathetic towards Eduardo.  Eduardo is Zuckerberg’s only true friend, but who still gets screwed over.  You side with Eduardo.  He’s a good guy just trying to help his friend.  Eduardo is smart, but he makes decisions that aren’t in the best interest of the Facebook.  It’s because of this that I side once again with Zuckerberg who always seems to be in control and a step above everyone else.  The crux of the film is watching Zuckerberg build his empire in the jerkiest way possible, but also the smartest.

What else do I love in this movie?  Justin Timberlake.  This guy has been trying to break into the acting scene for a while, and he finally discovered his break-out performance as Sean Parker, the angsty inventor of Napster.  I love his performance and role in the film.  He doesn’t want to see Zuckerberg’s website turn into a disaster like his, and he almost lives vicariously through him.  Even though his brilliance is equal to Zuckerberg’s, the feeling of an implosion looms over this character the entire movie.  The conflict between him and Eduardo is also intense throughout.  Eduardo is a traditionalist who wants to treat Facebook like any other business, whereas Parker is the scary new unorthodox opposition.  Much like Zuckerberg always gets the best of people, every tiff between Parker and Eduardo, its Parker who seems to get the edge with some great dialogue.

This leads into one of the small complaints I have.  The conflicts between the secondary characters overshadow Zuckerberg’s character in the second half.  In fact, Zuckerberg kind of fades into the background and is almost along for the ride as Garfield and Timberlake take over the story.

The movie also ends abruptly.  Although there is a satisfying conclusion to the Eduardo/Zuckerberg situation, the one with the Winklevoss twins is forgotten about later in the film.  This was frustrating because I was really into this story.  The Winklevoss twins really try not to be your typical elitist jerks, but they have a business partner named Divya, played brilliantly by Max Minghella, who is just salivating at screwing over Zuckerberg.  He’s hysterical and has one of the best lines in the film that I dare not spoil.  It sucked that he didn’t get a satisfying conclusion other than a little blurb at the end.

All in all though, a pretty fascinating story about a subject matter everyone seems to be obsessed with: Facebook.  This is a great script, with great performances, and great directing for an overall great movie.

Rating: 8 out of 10 (Great)

Movie Review – Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Plot: The sequel to the 1987 film Wall Street.  Money Never Sleeps takes place in 2008, as the country faces economic turmoil.  The film follows Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), a brilliant young trader on Wall Street whose investment firm tanks, leading the founder and Moore’s mentor (Frank Langella) to commit suicide.  Jake allies himself with Gordon Gekko (recently released from prison and Jake’s future father in law) to try and take down powerful billionaire trader Bretton James (Josh Brolin), who they suspect is not only responsible for Jake’s firm going bankrupt, but was also the man who sent Gordon to prison years ago.  

Although the original Wall Street was released twenty-three years ago, Gordon Gekko remains one of the most iconic film characters of the last thirty years.  It’s no surprise Oliver Stone would want to revisit one of his more famous creations.  What better way to reintroduce Gekko to the world than right now as our country continues to face tough economic times.  And this is why the movie works so well.  Gordon Gekko was a slime bag who constantly chanted “Greed is Good” in the original Wall Street, but like most movie villains, people loved him because he was such a bad ass.  It’s ironic because you would think we’d hate someone like Gordon, especially now in these times.  But throughout the film, Stone shows us that Gordon was nothing compared to the greed of Wall Street in 2008 with the character of Bretton James, played brilliantly by Josh Brolin, the true villain of the film.

The performances overall are the strongest part of the movie.  Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf) is really the central character.  He looks like he’s 12, but I really bought him as a big time Wall Street player.  LaBeouf has proven he can carry a movie.  His best moment is a confrontation he has with Brolin’s character and his acting more than keeps up with all the veteran performers on the screen.  Although part of the weakness of the film is that Jake doesn’t really go through any changes, whereas the Charlie Sheen character in the original does, so the character development is a little weak.  Brolin as I mentioned before is great and rivals Gekko’s sliminess from the original.  Langella is also very memorable in the short time he’s on screen.

But of course the man who steals the show is Michael Douglas.  Gordon Gekko is a different character than he was in the original, but he’s still a bad ass in his own ripe.  Despite being broken down and his wealth no longer existent, Gekko still comes off as this all knowing financial prophet of sorts.  The real soul of the movie is that Gekko has come out of prison reformed.  He’s seen as the hero compared to the other traders on Wall Street.  He only wants to reconnect with his daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan).  You sympathize with him because his daughter hates him for unfair reasons.  But the real reason why this movie works is because Gekko was such a memorable jerk in the first picture, that even though he appears to be redeemed, you still get the lingering feeling he could resort back to his old ways.  And that is the greatest question of the film and it’s what kept me interested.  You really should watch the first one right before seeing this.

What’s also great other than the acting is the film has a lot of memorable individual scenes.  Much like his previous film, W, Oliver Stone certainly isn’t subtle, but that just brought the intensity level up a notch.  One of my favorite moments is when all the heads of the financial scene come together after crap has really hit the fan and stocks are tanking like crazy.  It was like the meeting of the five families in The Godfather.  Everyone is just freaking out.  The tension here was great and there are many moments like this.

The biggest weakness that almost derails the entire film is unfortunately the ending.  Oliver Stone did a fine directing job up until this point.  It was quite frustrating.  There is an obvious end point that really ties the story up nicely.  In fact, I thought it was the end so much that I started getting up to leave, but then the movie continued for another 10 to 15 minutes.  I don’t want to spoil it, but the characters ultimately end up making choices that don’t make any sense and almost contradict the point Stone was trying to make in the first place.  It’s an ending that develops poorly and comes out of no where.  There’s also a useless sub-plot involving Jake’s mom (Susan Sarandon) that serves no purpose whatsoever.

Despite the ending and one useless storyline, it’s a very good movie.  Although slow at times, and the Wall Street jargon is a little hard to understand (especially for a dumb English major such as myself), I was riveted by the characters and plot.  The beginning was a little rough because Gekko is absent for a long period of time at the start and you’re only thinking about what that bastard is up to.  But the characters grow on you, as does this film.

A worthy follow-up to the original.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10 (Very Good)

Movie Review – The Town

Plot: When growing up in Charlestown, Massachusetts, bank robbery is almost inevitable.  After his crew pulls another bank job, Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) becomes infatuated with Claire (Rebecca Hall), one of the bank managers.  This puts Doug at odds with James (Jeremy Renner), his fiery best friend and fellow crew member.  Meanwhile, FBI Agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) is determined to catch Doug and his men.

The Town is a good crime drama.  The strongest part is the directing by Ben Affleck.  He really sets up the environment and tone of this film perfectly.  The setting of Charlestown, Massachusetts, considered one of the biggest havens for bank robberies in the country, is truly the star of the film.  The place looks desolate and sad.  It’s no wonder everything here often leads to crime.

This movie showed me why Jeremy Renner is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors.  He does what he does best; plays crazy, just like in The Hurt Locker.  Every time Renner’s character is on screen, you feel like he could blow up at any moment.  He was a ticking time bomb, just fascinating to watch.  The performance also gives you empathy for him even though this guy does some bad stuff.  Jon Hamm is also stellar as the classic driven FBI agent who wants nothing more than to take down these bank robbers, but Hamm manages to keep it fresh.  There is one scene in particular where he berates Affleck’s character, which is probably my favorite scene in the movie.

One of the weaknesses for me though was Affleck’s acting.  The guy is a great director, and he gives an okay performance in this movie.  You really like and root for his character, which cannot be said of other Affleck performances.  But because he is the main character and holds so much weight in the film, I just kind of felt ‘meh’ on the acting.  He has a lot of scenes with Renner, and he just can’t keep up.  The relationship between these two characters is the heart of the movie though.  You can tell Doug really hates being this guy’s friend, but there is also tremendous loyalty between them.

This was the only relationship I really cared about though.  You don’t learn anything about the other two robbers in the crew and they have almost no distinct personality.  And even though Rebecca Hall gives a good performance as the love interest to Affleck, there was nothing special about it.  I just wasn’t emotionally invested on whether or not they would make it.  The movie tries to sell sympathy for them with depressing back stories, but they weren’t subtle and felt forced.  At times they were going through the motions.  And that’s really my issue with the film overall.  Aside from Renner’s character, I just wasn’t attached to any of these people like in other crime dramas, ala The Departed.

Although there are moments of greatness surrounding The Town, it was mired in a lot of mediocrity.  There’s a solid car chase in here, and the climax is pretty damn good, which really brought the movie up for me.  The final scene had the tension I’d been looking for throughout the movie.  This is a good film that’s strength is in the directing but not in the characters.

Rating: 7 out of 10 (Good)

Movie Review – The Expendables

Plot: A group of mercenaries led by Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) are hired to bring down a drug lord General (David Zayas) in South America.  They soon discover the real target is a corrupt ex-CIA operator, James Munroe (Eric Roberts), who’s controlling the General.  Barney’s real motivation turns personal after the initial scouting mission.

After watching the Expendables, one thing is clear:  I need a damn hearing aid.  I don’t mean to sound like an 80 year old man, but my goodness, this is a loud film.  It’s also obnoxious.  The cameos are pathetic.  And I feel like this movie is getting a free pass because its main selling point is that it contains all these high level action stars kicking ass.  No.  Screw that.  I expect better from Stallone, the man who brought us the Rambo movies.  He is capable of making much better action flicks than this, but I get the sense he felt like he had a free pass to do whatever he wanted because the stars of the movie will sell itself.  In fact, in the first five minutes, Stallone makes the credits more interesting than the actual first scene.  He wants you to watch the names come across the screen rather than pay attention to what’s happening.

I’ll give you that there are some entertaining and fun scenes, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before.  I didn’t hate this movie, but I’ll remember nothing from it.  In fact writing this review is hard because once the credits came on, my mind instinctively hit the erase button before I was even out of the theater.

The characters are a complete waste of time.  There is absolutely nothing interesting about any of these people.  Sylvester Stallone.  Jason Statham.  Jet Li.  They are all interchangeable characters.    Surprisingly, the most interesting character was Gunner, played by Dolph Lundgren, who actually gives a solid performance.  He kind of drifts away from the Expendable group and turns against them.  Also, Mickey Rourke had a couple nice scenes.  But that’s about it.

As good as the action is I was reminded of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen quite a bit.  The climactic scene is so cluttered with explosions and fights that I just became numb to it all.  Oh, and did I mention this movie is loud.  I’m dead serious, my ears were in pain.  You have explosions going on in one ear, awful dialogue being yelled at in the other, and the score sounds like a bunch of fat people running through a glass room making as much pointless noise as humanly possible.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Sylvester Stallone as much as the next guy, but he mailed it in here, both in acting and directing.  The worst part about this movie are the cameos.  I got an Ocean’s 12/Funny People vibe.  They were making it to entertain themselves and not the audience.  And let me give a little SPOILER warning for the rest of this paragraph.  The trailers and ads try to sell you on Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis being in this movie.  Well, they are in it…for one scene.  And they don’t even fight or shoot anyone!!!  It’s just a quick dialogue scene!!  Yeah, that’s what I like about Schwarzenegger and Willis: Talking scenes.  Unbelievable.  And I get they only had Arnold for a limited time, but you shouldn’t even have him in the movie for just a quick talking scene.  And he’s just there so Stallone can make a couple bad jokes about him.  Give me a break.

Well, that’s The Expendables.  There is no reason for this movie to exist.  The action is pretty good, but it’s nothing special.  I think you’ll be mildly entertained.  But like I said, I forgot about this entire movie approximately three seconds after it ended.

Rating: 5 out of 10 (Passable Entertainment)   

Movie Review – Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Plot: Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a young musician living in Toronto who falls in love with the spunky Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).  In order to date her though, he must defeat her seven exes in this fantasy/comedy that is built like a video game and based on the comic book.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World has no rules.  It can do whatever it pleases.  If the movie felt like giving us a giant frog that attacks bridges then everyone would say how clever and innovative it was.  They don’t care about an explanation.  Well I do.  This is a frustrating film.  Now I didn’t hate it, but I certainly didn’t like it all that much.  I think there are elements here that could work.  The problem though is that the movie is cluttered with quick cuts, annoying sight gags and pop culture references that come out of nowhere.  There is a good story going on, but everything is so damn distracting that I just stopped caring thirty minutes in.

Let me get the really annoying stuff out of the way first.  The absolute worst part about this movie are the quick cuts.  What do I mean by this?  The movie goes to seven locations in the span of three seconds.  It was infuriating.  We are in a record store.  Then suddenly Scott Pilgrim moves his arm and we are at a party.  The he moves his head to the side and we are back in his apartment.  The director (Edgar Wright) thinks he is being really clever and slick, but it’s just distracting and annoying.  I couldn’t absorb any information because of this crap.  I really hate when directors do this.  It’s gimmicky garbage that a lot of people just eat up.  I can’t stand it.  Just let a damn scene play out.

The sub-plots were also distracting.  The main story going on is actually really funny.  This soft spoken/smart alec guy has to fight these deranged exes in order to keep dating this girl.  And all the exes he has to fight were really amusing.  I wish the story just focused on that.  But instead there is this sub-plot with Scott’s current girlfriend (Ellen Wong) who constantly stalks him.  Whenever the movie starts to get interesting, she has to show up and ruin everything.  Or another plot is Scott’s band trying to win this contest that I really didn’t care for.  The ads were selling me on Scott confronting these eccentric exes, but the movie is constantly throwing you back and forth between all this other crap.

What saves the movie is the acting.  Let me be the first to tell you, I am not a Michael Cera fan.  He’s a one trick pony and we all know it.  He was at least tolerable in this film.  Anna Kendrick as Scott’s sister was really funny, and I enjoyed Alison Pill as Kim who plays this really deadpanned friend/ex of Scott who is also the drummer in their band.

The man who steals the show is Kieran Culkin, Scott’s roommate, Wallace Wells.  First of all, great name.  But secondly, this guy was hysterical.  Every time he spoke I cracked up.  Even his facial expressions had me in stitches.  This guy literally saves the movie.  I want to see Kieran Culkin in more films.  He can deliver.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t appreciate the acting as much as I wanted to.  It goes back to the central problem of the film; it’s cluttered with too much crap.  Edgar Wright feels the need to put something gimmicky and “clever” in every shot.  Whether it’s the phone ringing and you get the word “ring” in bubble letters that float out of the phone, or it’s some random animation clip that comes out of nowhere, it just all distracts from what’s going in the story.  There is so much of it that you just become numb.  So when the last big action scene the movie has been building up to arrives, I just didn’t care anymore because I was filled up with so much bull crap flying at the screen.

I think Scott Pilgrim has some solid entertainment value.  Like I said, I laughed at some of the performances, and the exes he fights were funny.  But watching this really makes me appreciate something like Inception so much more.  That’s a movie that’s so well structured and boggled down with so many rules, it’s heart pounding to experience the characters having to fight through those rules.  Here, everyone can just do whatever the hell they want.  Where’s the tension?  They can get 1-ups, have magical powers and fight with animated swords for the hell of it.  If Edgar Wright wanted to keep this a video game world, then okay.  But it switches from video game to sitcom to animation, and eventually I just lost all sense of what the hell I was looking at.

Rating: 5 out of 10 (Passable Entertainment) 

Movie Review – Inception

Plot: In a world where technology exists to enter people’s dreams, Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) has stolen ideas in people’s minds for years.  Saito (Ken Watanabe), a successful business tycoon, hires Cobb and his team for a very different kind of dream invasion known as Inception, where they will attempt to plant an idea into the head of Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), the owner of Saito’s rival company.

The best way to describe Inception is that it’s Ocean’s 11 on steroids.  This movie kicks ass.  There’s no other way to put it.  Spearheaded by the best actor working in entertainment today (Leonardo DiCaprio) and several other fantastic performances, this team of dream invaders takes us on a ride that can only be described as OMG.  This is a movie experience unlike anything ever tried before.  Inception is like a house of cards.  It’s so ambitious and daring that all signs point to the house crumbling by the end, but what makes it so damn good is that the nine story house of cards stays in tact once the end credits come on.  As great as the acting is, the man who deserves most of the credit is the best director working in film today – Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Memento).

For a movie about mind invasion, I can only imagine what it would have been like to be inside Christopher Nolan’s head when he constructed this masterpiece.  And the organization is this movie’s greatest strength.  Everything is so complicated and mind bending, but if you are a good movie-goer and pay attention, you will find he doesn’t leave many holes.

What’s so fun about watching Inception play out is that the audience’s focus is rewarded as the movie goes on.  As Cobb and his team go deeper into the human mind, it gets crazier.  Watching the progression play out towards the climax is beautiful.  If you stick with it, you get more and more excited as the story plays out. There is nothing more I can say about Nolan.  This is a perfectly directed film.

What’s equal to the directing is the acting.  Leonardo DiCaprio is flawless as always.  My favorite scenes with him are just his facial expressions as he looks ravaged after doing this for so many years.  His face says it all.  He looks like he just sat through a movie that is fifty times more complicated than Inception.  My other favorite performance is Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Arthur, Cobb’s right hand man.  This guy truly elevated the character.  Arthur is written kind of weak, but Levitt’s performance really propels him as not only one of the more likable characters, but a bad ass one at that.  I found myself rooting for him the most.  I hope to see this guy in a lot more movies.

Ellen Page as Ariadne, the rookie in Cobb’s crew, was perfect casting.  Ariadne, like the audience, is learning about all this crazy crap for the first time.  We see a lot of the movie through her perspective, so it’s crucial this character be very likable.  It doesn’t get more likable than Ellen Page.  Rounding out the cast is Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe and Cillian Murphy.  They are all excellent.  Unfortunately, Marion Cotillard as Cobb’s wife was a little disappointing.  She carries a lot of weight in the film, but aside from a couple solid scenes, her performance wasn’t very memorable compared to the others.

The storyline involving Cobb and his wife takes a little while to get into, but much like everything else in this film, it pays off big time.  One of the weaknesses of Inception though is that it does move a bit slow.  As tension filled and action packed as a lot of these scenes are, it does take a while for them to play out.  There is a long sequence in a snowy setting that drags on for a while, making it at times just another run of the mill action flick, which is inconsistent with the rest of the movie.

I didn’t mind this though because every setting and visual in this film is downright gorgeous to watch.  And what makes Inception so much better in the visual department as opposed to something like Avatar is they are constantly changing and doing different things with the effects and settings.  Inception has visuals that destroy those lame Navi’s that I wouldn’t dare give any of them away here.  One thing I will say is that I witnessed one of the greatest fight sequences in the history of movies.

All in all, Inception does things that movies rarely do.  It reaches for perfection with new ideas and great ambition and nearly achieves them where as so many films try and do something different and bold but fail horribly.  Christopher Nolan movies will now be similar to going to see a James Cameron movie in that they will be an event.  I can’t wait to see what other tricks this guy has up his sleeve.

Rating: 9 out of 10 (OMG)