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Friday, September 30, 2005

Roll Bounce 

This movie was great, absolutely fantastic. Having been born in the 80’s, I caught the tail-end of the rollerskating craze and remember many a party at SouthSide Superskate, the local rollerskate establishment. We all stood around the sidelines in awe of those “cool guys” who brought their own flashy skates and could, get this, skate backwards! The skating gods of Roll Bounce receive similar adoration from their fans, although they could do much more than a simple backward skating move. I suggest that you see this movie while you have the chance, it was extremely fun to watch.

Yes, it’s true, L’il Bow Wow is the star of the film, but before you dismiss him in a post ”Like Mike”-hating frenzy, I assure you that he has matured into a respectable actor. He stars as Xavier, aka X, and he and his neighborhood buddies are the hotshots of the local skating rink in 1970’s south side Chicago. Unfortunately, their beloved rink has closed its doors forever, so they are forced to go uptown to the Sweetwater Rink, which is lorded over by the Sweetwater Rollers with Sweetness (Wesley Jonathan) as their leader. Apparently Sweetness is something of a local celebrity what with his supercool skating moves and partially unbuttoned shirt, and he makes grand, sweeping entrances to his own theme music. His entourage talks some smack to X and his friends, and the boys quickly realize that they are a little out of their league compared to the matching outfits and perfectly choreographed skating maneuvers put on by the Sweetwater Rollers. L’il Bow Wow will have none of that, however, so he and his friends start practicing for the upcoming skate-off in the hopes that they can dislodge Sweetness and his crew from the throne of skating deity.

The only problem with the movie is that it is somewhat unfocused and has a second storyline involving X’s inability to move on past his mother’s fairly recent death. This isn’t necessarily a bad storyline, but it didn’t completely mix with the rollerskating aspect and caused the movie to drag a bit in parts. There weren’t very many scenes of the boys practicing their skating routines, so I can only assume that the filmmakers used this father/son drama in order to fill time and maybe even add depth to the characters. My favorite scenes in the movie, however, apart from the rollerskating ones, were the typical summer days spent with the boys. X gets harassed by the local trashmen (a very funny performance from Mike Epps as usual), he delivers newspapers by purposefully throwing them at people’s heads, and he is ambushed by overzealous neighborhood kids wielding an extensive arsenal of water balloons. He and his buddies, along with the girl-next-door Tori (Jurnee Smollett) constantly talk smack to each other and play Atari while drinking out of retro Pepsi cans. The scenes with Sweetness and his crew were equally funny to watch, and I swear I heard the original melodies of almost every single Puff Daddy/BIG/Snoop/Tupac rap remix during the skating routines, which were extremely well choreographed. I could have done without the father/son bit, although that storyline did have its moments as well.

The ending was very reasonable, and I was left feeling quite satisfied with the film. It was lighthearted and innocent, with good acting and dialogue, as well as extremely entertaining 70’s roller disco scenes. This is a movie that I will definitely buy on DVD, and I strongly recommend that you don’t wait that long to see it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


One major problem I have with movies that take place on an airplane is that many of them insist upon spending useless amounts of time on the process of going to the airport and boarding a plane. Honestly, it really is horrific enough having to go through it in real life, I have absolutely no desire to watch it as a form of “entertainment.” Aside from that, however, this movie really surprised me.

Kyle Pratt (Jodie Foster) has a guy’s name and is taking her daughter, Julia (Marlene Lawston), back to the U.S. after tragically losing her husband in an accident. So, off they go on a ginormous new plane that Kyle herself helped design, and is therefore intimately familiar with every aspect of its construction. After a somewhat long and boring stretch of time, the flight finally takes off, so Kyle and Julia decide to get some sleep. When Kyle wakes up several hours later, however, Julia is gone. At this point she decides to waste everyone’s time by conducting an extremely drawn-out and fruitless search up and down the aisles looking for Julia, despite the fact that everyone in the audience already knows that she won’t be found until the end of the movie, if at all. Once Kyle involves the flight staff in the search, however, the movie finally picks up and turns into a surprisingly good thriller.

As the plane’s captain (Sean Bean) discusses the problem with Kyle, he and his staff start to wonder, as does the audience, whether Kyle is actually just an extremely delusional woman. Julia’s backpack is gone as is her boarding pass, the departure gate in Berlin has no record of checking her in, the passenger manifest does not list Julia as being on board, and no one sitting in the vicinity of Kyle’s seat remembers a little girl. Kyle tries to be as rationale as possible in the face of these facts as she explains to the crew with mounting panic that she definitely brought her daughter on board with her and that the only remaining conclusion is that someone has kidnapped her. Once the captain hears from a Berlin morgue director that Julia was proclaimed dead several weeks ago, however, Kyle is forced to take the situation into her own hands as everyone becomes thoroughly convinced that she is in fact insane.

One aspect of this plane thriller that made it satisfying to watch is that the logic behind the plot is, for once, reasonably sound. I didn’t leave the theater thinking about all the plot holes and flaws in the story, and I didn’t feel cheated by some kind of cheap twist at the end. The characters behave as one would expect given the situation, and the explanation at the end wasn’t outrageously absurd. The audience is allowed to view the situation from both sides of the story: the crew believes Kyle is a loonball. Well, sure—she freaks out and blames a few random passengers for stealing her daughter despite the fact that Julia is allegedly dead. Kyle believes she is the victim of some conspiracy. Well, sure—she knows she brought her daughter with her, and now she’s gone without a trace. She is at a loss to explain how or why someone would do this to her, but she has no other interpretation for the situation.

I really liked Flightplan despite its slow beginning because it was a well thought-out and executed story. It’s nice for a change to watch a movie that seems to be based on common sense, so I highly recommend that you see it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Corpse Bride 

If you don’t like musicals, Tim Burton movies, or films that feature undead brides marrying introverted men, then do not see Corpse Bride. Personally, however, I like Burton’s style, and I even enjoyed the several brief musical scenes despite my general dislike of musicals. Odd though the movie might have been, I recommend it as some of Burton’s better work.

The movie begins in typical Tim Burton style—drab, grayish colored settings and faintly creepy music, with oddly shaped characters whose features are exacerbated to an extraordinary degree. The opening sequence is a relatively short musical setup for the underlying plot—Victor Van Dort’s (Johnny Depp) parents, who have made a small fortune in the fish market business, have arranged a marriage for their son to Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson), the daughter of the high-society, “old money” Everglots. Victor is shy and clumsy, and although he and Victoria immediately like each other upon meeting at the wedding rehearsal, Victor is unable to relax and properly recite his vows. He wanders into the dark creepy forest later that night to practice, as it is arguably a pleasant and calming enough setting in which to learn one’s wedding vows—in the land of Tim Burton anyway. Which is a place I never wish to visit. Needless to say, as he says the final line and places the ring upon what he assumes is a twig in the ground, a skeletal bride pops out of the ground and attempts to kiss him. Feeling that he prefers Victoria to a partially decomposed corpse, Victor flees the woods with the corpse bride dreamily chasing after him. Once she catches up and plants a nasty wet one on him, however, he finds himself transported to the world of the dead at a local pub where, unfortunately, everybody knows his name. Horrified upon learning that he is on the set of Cheers, he tries to find a way back to the living world in time to marry his intended bride, Victoria. While Victor is inauspiciously trapped in the land of...whatever it is...a snooty newcomer, Lord Barkis Bittern (Richard Grant), introduces himself to Victoria’s parents and offers to marry her in Victor’s stead should they prove unable to locate him in time for the wedding. And there you have it.

I really liked the scenes that took place in the underworld, which was bright and cheery as opposed to the bland and depressing world above. The skeleton characters were really quite jovial, and they celebrated Victor’s arrival and marriage to Emily (the Corpse Bride), in style. There were a few musical acts which were again rather short but very well-choreographed, and through them Burton manages to get the audience to sympathize with Emily for her rather unfortunate demise. The entire place is very visually appealing, and the characters were actually pretty amusing and unexpectedly funny. I was surprised and impressed at how smooth the animation was, and everything seemed to have a very polished look about it as opposed the jerkier style of Burton’s other animated film, The Nightmare Before Christmas.

The simple and creative tale that Burton tells in The Corpse Bride was really very entertaining, and he did a fantastic job with all aspects of the movie. The film itself is predictably strange in the manner that we’ve come to expect from Burton, but he prevented the audience from feeling alienated by developing the characters into people with whom the viewer could sympathize. Anyone who appreciates Tim Burton will obviously love this movie, but underneath the unique veneer of the film is a story that almost anyone would enjoy.

A History of Violence 

This movie was...a bit odd. Good, but odd. I thought I knew where things were going, but then halfway through the film I got confused and realized that I had no clue where the director, David Cronenberg (Crash) was taking the audience.

A History of Violence centers on Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen), a quiet family man living in a small, peaceful Indiana town. He runs the town’s diner, gives his children helpful fatherly advice, and is happily married to Edie (Maria Bello), who at random times decided to give a rather questionable acting performance. Despite her flashes of acting incompetence, Tom loves Edie, and the two quietly go about their contented small-town life. Cronenberg spends a good portion of time developing the characters, which allows the audience to fully appreciate the family’s day-to-day routines and personalities before bringing in the catalyst for the plot. Late one evening as Tom and his two employees are closing up the diner, two strangers enter and attempt to rob the restaurant. Tom at first attempts to keep the situation from escalating, but once it becomes clear that the two men intend to kill him and his employees, he almost effortlessly disarms them before being forced to kill them. The resulting media attention that proclaims Tom a town hero brings with it a Philadelphia mob boss, Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris), who menacingly strolls into town with two thuggish escorts and insists that Tom is actually former mobster Joey Cusack. Carl stays in town for several days, harassing Tom and Edie, and insisting that Tom is actually Joey despite Tom’s assurances that he has the wrong guy. Carl makes it clear that he has only one rather violent thing in mind for Tom/Joey, who apparently was responsible for disfiguring Carl’s face many years ago back in Philadelphia. While Tom appears to be as baffled as his everyone else as to the mobster’s apparent case of mistaken identity, the audience is never really given an indication as to the truth of the matter until later in the movie.

Up until this point in the film, I thought I had a clear idea where things were going, but what I had assumed would be the ending happened too soon. It became clear that the film was not about Tom’s conflict with Carl or the mystery of whether or not he actually is Joey Cusack, but in fact about a man forced to use violence in order to survive, as well his struggle to overcome his inherent natural tendencies in order to become the person he chooses to be. Obviously, since the film is interested in exploring violence, there were some extremely violent scenes and some rather gruesome shots of the consequences of that violence, but the majority of time is spent on Tom’s character development as opposed to those particular altercations.

There were moments toward the end of the movie where I and several other people in the audience started laughing at the near ridiculousness of the scenes, although some of the characters were equally dumfounded at the events unfolding around them, so I suspect that this “humor” might have been intentional. I walked out of the theater feeling that I definitely liked the movie, although it was a bit strange at times. Overall it was an interesting and well-constructed story, however, so I recommend it.

Lord of War 

Well, I wouldn’t say that Lord of War was necessarily the happiest movie I have ever seen, but it was definitely one of the better ones I have viewed lately. Similar in some ways to The Constant Gardener in that the citizens of Africa are portrayed as dispensable, in this film they are the casualties of ruthless warlords as opposed to expendable subjects for drug testing. I once again left the theater feeling disturbed by the callousness with which the African people are treated and had a lot to think about in the car ride home.

Lord of War begins at the end, where Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage) begins narrating the story of his life as an extremely successful international arms dealer. He describes the events from an objective and dispassionate standpoint, which mirrors his character’s ability to completely detach himself from any morals that would impair his ability to sell guns to a dubious clientele. From Yuri’s perspective, guns are a basic human as essential as food, and he simply provides the people with what they want, calling himself an equal opportunity merchant of death. He enters into the business with his brother, Vitaly Orlov (Jared Leto), and the two are quite successful at their trade, possessing an innate ability to play dangerous cat and mouse games with international officials and avoid capture. Yuri pays off any government agent who can possibly be bought, but he has to constantly outwit or sneak by a particularly overzealous inspector, Jack Valentine (Ethan Hawke), whose ethics cannot be compromised. Valentine is obsessed with catching Yuri but won’t break the law in order to do it, which ironically allows Yuri to hide behind the laws that he makes a living breaking.

Yuri’s best client is the Liberian President, Andre Baptiste (Sammi Rotibi), who is the worst of all African warlords. Yuri doesn’t particularly like Baptiste, or any of his clients for that matter, but is willing to do business with him while turning a blind eye to the massacres in front of him. At one point, he brings a shipment of guns to some of Baptiste’s soldiers on the outskirts of an African settlement, knowing that the instant the transaction is completed the guns will be used to massacre the residents of the nearby colony. His motto in these instances is, “it’s not my fight,” which he constantly repeats to himself in order to assure his conscience that he is not really responsible for the deaths caused by his weapons. To him, the sound of gunfire literally sounds like a cash machine.

The movie makes a statement about ethics and morals, as well as the culpability of the U.S. government in actually encouraging gunrunning as a necessary evil. The filmmakers focus on Yuri’s character, as the story is told from his first-hand perspective, but it’s not simply a story of one man’s business in gun trafficking. It was a very interesting movie with excellent characters, and while it was certainly a dark story, I really enjoyed watching it. I definitely recommend that you see it, especially if you enjoy character-driven political movies that leave you with something to think about afterward.

Monday, September 26, 2005


It’s clear to me that the writers of Cry Wolf were unable to prevent the ending from being completely predictable, so they resorted to the trusty “three different twists in a row” method in order to throw the audience off. Unfortunately, by the time the third twist came around, I just couldn’t care less what happened to these people anymore. However, despite the multi-faceted ending, the journey toward the conclusion was interesting enough to keep me from feeling pissed off.

Owen Matthews (Julian Morris) has just moved into a new boarding school after being kicked out of his previous one due to consistent insolence and speaking with a British accent. He meets a sly young lass by the name of Dodger (Lindy Booth), who is part of the in-crowd and likes to sneak out in the middle of the night to play “lying games” with her popular and appropriately multi-cultural friends. Dodger is the leader of the group, and she decides that this year they are going to up the stakes of the game by playing it with the entire school (unbeknownst to everyone outside of the group of course—I mean it’s a lot easier to win games when people don’t realize that they’re even playing one). The ingenious plan is to use the recent unsolved shooting death of a townie in order to create a serial killer who moves from school to school using the same pattern: kill a townie as a warning shot and then proceed to butcher all the members of the in-crowd. The only problem with their foolproof scheme is that they plan all of the details right in front of other students. (?)

Obviously, as we see from the previews, Owen starts to receive IM’s from The Wolf (as they dubbed him), and members of the in-crowd actually do start getting killed off. Or do they? Not quite sure whether his newfound friends are playing a harmless, innocent practical joke or whether they really are becoming the victims of an actual killer, Owen runs around the campus doing…well, basically nothing except hit on Dodger. I suppose that’s fairly reasonable considering.

The scares in the film mostly come from brief encounters with The Wolf, in which the characters attempt to determine whether they are the victims of a practical joke or about to be murdered. There are several times when the killer does turn out to be one of the friends, and several times when it appears that a character has guessed incorrectly—oops, you lose the game, haha! Eventually, all of the remaining in-crowd kids get together in a dark, scary chapel on campus and try to determine whether the prank has become real or not.

All in all, Cry Wolf wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t as scary as I had anticipated it would be, and I was particularly annoyed with the triple-ending tactic, but, nonetheless, it was interesting to watch. I’m still not sure why AOL would want to showcase their product in the context of a chat-happy serial killer, but perhaps I am just not familiar with current marketing techniques these days. I recommend Cry Wolf as a relatively decent horror flick, but it really wouldn’t hurt to wait for the DVD to come out.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Just Like Heaven 

Just Like Heaven is fairly standard, probably more appealing to women than men simply by its nature as a romantic comedy, but entertaining and fun to watch regardless.

Reese Witherspoon plays Elizabeth Masterson, a somewhat neurotic E.R. doctor extraordinaire. She has, apparently, no life outside of her job and works 26 hour shifts at the hospital before her boss forces her to go home and sleep, ostensibly under the impression that fatigue is not one of the qualities that patients look for in their surgeons. Driving home from the hospital, Elizabeth is hit by one of those random semi trucks that can often be found careening recklessly up and down those exceptionally steep and narrow San Francisco streets. It happens all the time, I swear. So, following Elizabeth’s unfortunate accident, her family rents out her apartment to David Abbot (Mark Ruffalo), a lonely depressed guy, on a month-to-month basis. Immediately upon moving into the apartment, however, David encounters Elizabeth’s thoroughly annoyed spirit, who orders him to clean up the mess he’s made and then get out of her apartment. He quickly discovers that Elizabeth apparently doesn’t realize that she is a ghost, and once he convinces her of this fact it becomes clear that she also has no memory of her life—except for the fact that she desperately wants people to use coasters on her coffee table. For reasons unknown, David is the only person who can see Elizabeth’s spirit, and while at first they are annoyed with each other and bicker incessantly, they eventually develop feelings for each other. Shocking.

The dialogue in the movie is fairly witty, and there are several scenes that provided some androgynous humor in which I definitely laughed aloud. There was one particularly funny scene in which David hires a variety of different spirit cleansing companies to rid the apartment of Elizabeth’s presence, including an actual Ghostbusters squad replete with the corresponding Ray Parker theme song from the movie. Both Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo do well with their characters, and some of the funniest moments come during their interaction together. The director, Mark Waters (Mean Girls), often shows scenes from the perspective of a secondary character who cannot see Elizabeth, making it appear as though David is essentially bickering with himself. I was pleased that the filmmakers did not overuse this tactic, as it does appear somewhat frequently, but not so much that it becomes glaringly apparent that the writers didn’t have enough material to work with.

While the movie never really explains why Elizabeth’s spirit haunted her apartment or why David is the only one who can see her, it makes enough sense such that I didn’t want to bash my head against the seat in front of me. This movie was surprisingly well-written, and when combined with the acting talents of Witherspoon and Ruffalo, the film becomes quite entertaining and certainly likable. I’m sure it appeals more to women than men simply because it is a romantic comedy about an emotional connection after all, but since my date wasn’t glaring hatefully at me nor was he falling asleep (as he is often wont to do), I think it is safe to say that this would be a good date movie as opposed to a “girls night out” film.

I think it should go without saying that it's certainly not a "boys night out" movie though.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

An Unfinished Life 

I’m now convinced that any character-driven drama absolutely must feature Morgan Freeman so that he can provide timely commentary on the human condition and wisely nudge the characters toward their inevitable epiphanies.

In this particular drama, Jean Gilkyson (Jennifer Lopez), a young widower who lives with a violently abusive boyfriend in the Midwest, finally reaches her breaking point after a severe beating and flees town with her only daughter. Not having any money whatsoever, she turns in desperation to her estranged father-in-law, Einar Gilkyson (Robert Redford), who runs a small ranch in her Wyoming hometown. Einar blames Jean for his son’s death in a car accident nearly 12 years prior and has never healed from the loss, but out of pity for the granddaughter he didn’t even know he had, Einar agrees to take the two in temporarily while Jean tries to earn enough money to move on someplace else. Einar is gruff and distant with his granddaughter, Griff (Becca Gardner), and even more so with Jean, barely able to even speak to her. His longtime ranch hand, Mitch (Morgan Freeman), who lives in a small house next to Einar’s, was severely mauled by a bear a year earlier and is left as an invalid whom Einar cares for. Anytime Einar huffs around about Jean, Mitch provides a wise insight into Einar’s character that forces him to face his own personal issues and blah blah blah. While Jean works in the local diner to earn enough money to leave, Griff becomes obsessed with performing farm chores. Einar slowly warms up to his granddaughter through these shared activities, so Morgan Freeman takes a brief rest from stating life truths until the next big argument erupts. Eventually, Jean’s abusive ex boyfriend comes into town looking for her, which adds an interesting element to the plot.

Mitch discovers at the beginning of the movie that the bear that mauled him a year ago has been captured and placed in a local zoo, and he persuades Einar to visit the bear and feed it—his readiness to forgive the animal despite its drastic effect on his physical capabilities is the opposite of Einar’s refusal to move on past his son’s death by forgiving Jean. When the ex boyfriend finally confronts Jean for running away from him, Einar is forced to decide whether he can rise above his desperation to blame her in order to help her.

This movie is obviously all about character development, and the simple rustic setting mirrors the simple storyline. The acting is really well done, and although the movie progresses very slowly and deliberately I never really got bored with it. I only recommend An Unfinished Life to people who don’t mind the slow-moving, character driven stories where very little action occurs. I give it four stars because it really seems to achieve its objectives perfectly, and anyone who likes stories about human emotions will definitely enjoy this one.

Einar faces his issues. Jean faces her issues. The bear faces its issues. And Morgan Freeman nods serenely, another job well done.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Man 

Clearly, Samuel L. Jackson has sold his soul. I don’t know how much money he received for starring in The Man, but I really hope that it’s enough to prevent him from ever needing to do a movie like this again.

The Man features a mismatched pair of men who must work together to take down an international guns dealer with “hilarious” results. Andy Fiddler (Eugene Levy) is a naïve and overly friendly dental supply salesman from Wisconsin, who travels to Detroit for a dental supply salesman conference. He finds himself in the wrong café at the wrong time, when a guns dealer casually strolls in and mistakes Andy for an interested gun buyer. Ha ha, what a doofus! The ATF agent investigating the gun dealer, Agent Vann (Samuel L. Jackson), is forced to abduct Andy and bully him into aiding the investigation by continuing with the transaction and setting the arms dealer up for an arrest.

Samuel L. Jackson plays his usual pissed off, threatening character, while Eugene Levy basically continues with his “Jim’s dad” role from American Pie. The filmmakers just sit back and assume that audiences will be rolling out of their seats with laughter at the mismatching of these two drastically opposite characters, so they don’t bother with a fleshed out plot. The pair endlessly drive around in Jackson’s car, with Eugene Levy talking nonstop about blah blah blah, while Jackson glares hatefully at him and everyone else in the movie (presumably annoyed that he’s in this movie in the first place—hey, the audience isn’t all that happy either, buddy!). Since people ostensibly only find Jackson funny when he’s angry and yelling obscenities and threats everywhere, he basically takes the Al Pacino route and yells at the top of his lungs for the entire duration of the film. He violently roughs up his snitches and is apparently not held to any standard of police conduct whatsoever, because...I dunno, he’s Samuel L. Jackson, he does what he wants!

I admit that I find Jackson funny when he’s angry and screaming, but the movie relies absolutely 100% on the interaction between Levy’s Midwestern schmuck persona and Jackson’s tough street cop character for the humor. This became clear when I realized that the entire movie was going to take place in Jackson’s car as the two drive around from location to location, “investigating” the arms dealer. The dialogue isn’t necessarily all that great, and it seemed like the filmmakers were stretched extremely thin in terms of plot development, even resorting to my favorite indicator of mediocrity: fart jokes--four times. There was even a cavity search involved no less. The rest of the time, Levy throws around random adages about happiness and god knows what, while Jackson shouts back inappropriate threats, at one point even saying, “I’m going to beat you like a runaway slave.”


I did get a few smiles and even one chuckle out of The Man, and it was funny at one point to see Jackson being referred to as a “bitch,” but otherwise it was mostly a worthless two hours spent in the theater. The characters themselves are funny as an idea, but having them listlessly drive around in a car for two hours was not a good use of the actors’ time or abilities. It was definitely not a good use for my money either.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (or )

The Exorcism of Emily Rose felt very much like a special Halloween episode of Law & Order, which isn’t to say that it was bad, but that it was much more focused on the courtroom drama than Emily’s supposed demon possession itself. The bulk of the movie happens in the courtroom, with brief narrative flashbacks that show how the alleged possession started and ultimately ended with Emily’s death. Whether her condition was supernatural or not is left for the viewer to decide, as the movie doesn’t entirely take a firm stance on the subject. If you enjoy courtroom thrillers then you will probably like this one, but do not go into it expecting a movie like The Exorcist.

The film starts with the arrest of Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson), a local priest who performed a failed exorcism on Emily and is charged with negligent homicide for her resulting death. Up-and-coming defense attorney Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) is told to take the case by her firm, which represents the arch diocese. The trial begins immediately, and as Erin investigates the circumstances of Emily’s alleged possession and eventual death, she begins to fear that she herself is under attack from dark forces as strange things start happening to her late at night. Apparently, according to the movie anyway, these demonic activities always go down at 3am, so if you ever wake up in the middle of the night at 3am then the most logical conclusion that you can come to is that you are about to become possessed. Just so you know.

The movie uses the courtroom scenes as juxtaposition for the two competing theories for Emily’s condition. Either she was possessed by demons or she was suffering from the very rare mental condition of Psychotic Epileptic Disorder. As witnesses recount what happened to Emily, the film switches to absolutely terrifying flashbacks that show exactly how she became possessed in her perspective. But, when the district attorney cross-examines the same witnesses, flashbacks are again shown that explain how the same phenomena could just as easily be explained using medical reasons (e.g. having a violent seizure instead of being physically attacked by demons). The flashback scenes of Emily’s initial possession are absolutely scary as hell—extremely suspenseful and oftentimes disturbing. Her experiences are horrifying to witness, and her physical state rapidly begins to deteriorate, which ultimately leads to her demise. The “demons” won’t allow her to eat anything except spiders, which are ostensibly a nutritious diet for the forces of evil, but not quite enough for humans as Emily essentially starves to death.

The movie did a good job of remaining ambiguous for the most part, and I suppose that the filmmakers did not want to rehash old material by making the film solely a possession/exorcism movie. I don’t think that I could classify The Exorcism of Emily Rose as a “scary movie” overall, but it is definitely a decent courtroom thriller with some supernatural elements. The possession scenes were easily some of the scariest moments I have seen in any movie, and I was really disappointed that there were so few of them. I’m certain that many of these disturbing parts will stay with me for a while, which itself made the movie worthwhile for me personally. I mean, the sight of someone being pressed into a mattress and strangled by an unseen force is simply not something I can easily dismiss.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a good film as far as courtroom thrillers go but disappointing for a horror movie. Four stars for the former, two for the latter.

Friday, September 09, 2005


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—anytime a movie has to resort to poop jokes in an attempt to pry laughs out of the audience, you know that unless you’re 10 years old you’ve a long movie ahead of you.

In all honesty, Underclassman wasn’t that bad of a film, but it didn’t have anything spectacular to offer that would cause me to remember it or want to see it again. Nick Cannon, who plays the lead role of Officer Trey Stokes, was extremely likable and seems to have a great amount of charisma; however, the sole force of his personality alone was not enough to make a great comedy. He plays a young and reckless bike cop, who is allowed to go undercover in an upper-class private high school in order to solve the murder of one of its students. This is apparently a new tactic that police departments everywhere are adopting—going undercover to solve any and all murders. Trey’s orders are to befriend Rob Donovan (Shawn Ashmore), the wealthy in-crowd alpha male, because he is ostensibly suspected of having something to do with the murder—for the life of me I can’t remember why, which is probably because the filmmakers couldn’t be bothered to craft a solid plot. Nevertheless, Trey enrolls in the school and eventually uncovers some sort of car-theft ring that also somehow involves drugs. Again, the details of the plot are completely ignored, so I really can’t say for certain what the connection is—maybe it’s bioterrorism.

Trey desperately wants to become a detective and hopes to use this assignment in order to prove himself worthy of the position; however, his boss, Captain Delgado (Cheech Marin), insists that Trey is too reckless and that he should use his time in high school to earn that diploma he never got in the first place. I don’t quite understand what this fact implies about our police force—is it really possible to become a detective without ever having graduated high school, much less gone to college?

There were several moments during the movie that made me smile—not laugh or chuckle, mind you—and again, Trey Stokes is an extremely charming character who adds a pleasant tone to the film. The humor wasn’t clever or original, however, so I felt like I was watching a film that was clearly running on autopilot. Obviously the filmmakers were relying heavily, if not completely, upon Nick Cannon’s likeability to make the movie funny, although, as stated earlier, they did resort to some cheesy sources of comedy as well (e.g. poop jokes). They also use the usual “black guy in a predominantly white environment,” look-how-different-these-cultures-are method, which was quite funny the first time I saw it—several million movies ago.

Underclassman wasn’t horrible by any means, but it was nothing I hadn’t seen several times before. I wasn’t writhing in mental agony during the short hour and a half, so it’s not something I would suggest anyone necessarily avoid, but it’s also not something that I would recommend anyone rush out to see immediately. If you enjoy no-brainer comedies, however, then don't miss this one.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Constant Gardener 

The Constant Gardener was, as expected, quite good. I found it to be a very exciting, smart, and well-told story, which requires the viewer to pay extremely close attention to details as they all become critically relevant at later points in the movie. It is a very serious film however, so I wouldn’t recommend seeing it unless you are in the mood for heavy political and social commentary.

The story centers on Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes), a British diplomat working in Africa along with his wife, Tessa (Rachel Weisz), who is a passionate political activist. The story begins with Tessa’s mysterious murder in a small African town along with her alleged lover, Dr. Arnold Bluhm (Hubert Koundé). Tessa’s secretive day-to-day activities in the months leading to her death gave the impression that she was indeed having an affair, but given the gruesome manner in which she was killed, Justin begins to suspect that perhaps something more sinister was going on. While everyone around him insists that Tessa was simply an overzealous conspiracy theorist who was killed at the hands of bandits, Justin retraces Tessa’s final few days and discovers inklings of something more dangerous behind her murder. The movie features several flashback scenes which detail Justin and Tessa’s initial meeting and relationship and then progressively show Tessa’s investigations into a pharmaceutical company’s methods for the distribution of AIDS medication. As the movie switches back and forth between past and present, Justin’s continuing exploration of Tessa’s work begins to reveal an insidious conspiracy that both the British government and the pharmaceutical company attempt to hide from him with escalating violence.

I was impressed at how this movie was as much a character-driven story as it was a conspiracy thriller. Justin, though married to Tessa, seemed to know very little about her professional life and therefore doesn’t really know her all that well. She did not confide in him about her findings or the fact that she was even delving into an investigation at all, so her secretive interactions with Dr. Arnold Bluhm could have been both romantic and professional—Justin doesn’t know, and neither does the audience until the end of the film. As we learn the intricacies of the conspiracy we simultaneously learn more about Tessa’s personality—as does Justin himself.

The movie is political without taking sides, and its message is insightful and not beaten over the viewer’s head. It doesn’t paint a very nice picture of large pharmaceutical companies, which are at one point compared to arms dealers. On the opposite side are the African people who are victims of the conspiracy—treated as expendable and fully aware of that fact, they do nothing to help themselves as the alternative is certain death from AIDS. Suffice it to say that the acting in this movie is superb, although this shouldn’t be too surprising given that the lead character is played by Ralph Fiennes. There is also an interesting artistic quality to the film, which prevents it from feeling flashy or over hyped. The story is exciting and draws the audience in, but again, the details are important, so it’s essential to pay close attention to any names that are mentioned, however briefly.

The Constant Gardner is a very well-done and artistic movie, and I definitely recommend that you see it. The story is exciting, the acting is excellent, and I was left with a lasting contemplative mood—which is a nice change of pace after frequent brain-frying in the theater.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

A Sound of Thunder 

A Sound of Thunder is a cautionary tale about mankind destroying itself through the careless use of time travel. More importantly however, was the fact that this movie projects that the Cubs will finally win that elusive World Series title in 2022 and again in 2046—meaning that even if the entire world is destroyed, at least everyone on the north side of Chicago will die happy.

The film takes place in 2055, when the ability to travel through time has been perfected by corporate mogul Charles Hatton (Ben Kingsley). Hatton’s company, Time Safari, allows high paying customers a chance to travel 65 million years into the past in order to hunt an Allosaurus during the late Cretaceous period—quite a feat really, considering that Allosaurs lived during the late Jurassic, 85 million years prior. Nevertheless, having apparently conquered reality as well as time, the Time Safari team leads countless hunting expeditions to the exact same point in time to kill the same Allosaur. The rules for each trip are as follows: 1. Don’t change anything; 2. Don’t leave anything behind; 3. Don’t bring anything back with you. Needless to say, people in future Chicago apparently don’t care about the integrity of the space time continuum and blatantly disregard the rules by squashing a prehistoric butterfly. All hell proceeds to calmly break loose.

Unfortunately, this is the point of no return in the movie, and anyone who has any capacity for rational thought whatsoever should probably just walk out of the theater. After the hunting expedition goes horribly awry, the team returns to 2055 thinking that they managed to escape without altering history. Once they step outside however, um...nothing has changed. No, seriously. Apparently, changes in the past have absolutely no effect on the future whatsoever—for 24 hours. Pretty soon “time waves” start showing up every so often and gradually change the present, at first with climate changes, followed by vegetation, and ending with more complex organisms—human beings being the last thing that will presumably change. The Time Safari scientists scramble to find a way to go back and prevent the butterfly from being killed, while the world around them is drastically affected by an alternate evolutionary path in which literally everything seems to be predatory by nature. This universal predatory behavior includes plants, which at one point actually make a physical effort to chase the scientists.

There were many elements of unbelievability in the film, which despite being a science fiction movie should still have some semblance of reality given that it takes place on earth. I can forgive the filmmaker’s take on how time travel’s subsequent repercussions would occur incrementally, but when someone (ostensibly a scientist) refers to a particle accelerator as being basically a “plug and play,” device then I really start to get exasperated. But maybe I’m wrong, in which case someone should really inform the director at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center about this groundbreaking new use for particle accelerators.

Don’t get me wrong, this movie was definitely entertaining, and in all fairness it wouldn’t have been possible for them to make a movie like this using the constraint that changes in the past would instantaneously affect the future. Of course, at one point in the movie a change in the past actually does instantly change the present without any time waves, so apparently the time wave ripple effect only happens some of the time. Needless to say, the story itself, while inherently flawed, is quite intriguing, so I recommend that you see the movie. But, don’t get caught up in the details.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Transporter 2 

The Transporter 2 is one of those movies wherein the viewer must suspend all disbelief and knowledge of physics in order to enjoy the movie. Once that is out of the way, the action scenes can be enjoyed to their fullest extent.

Ex Special Forces agent Frank Martin (Jason Statham) has moved to Miami, where he has quietly resumed his lucrative transportation services from the first film. Unfortunately for him, he is drawn into a conspiracy that starts with the kidnapping of Jack Billings, a rich politician’s 8 year-old son whom Frank has been driving to and from school everyday as a favor to a friend. However, what appears at first to be a normal kidnapping turns out to be something far more sinister, which is apparent once Jack is returned to his parents halfway through the movie. Frank starts out to rescue the boy but quickly discovers the real conspiracy behind the kidnapping and resigns himself to stopping it.

Transporter 2 is very similar to its predecessor, in that the dialogue is extremely shaky in parts, the conspiracy is laughable, and the action is visually stimulating if not highly implausible. Jason Statham once again proves his adeptness in the fighting sequences, which strongly reminded me of Jackie Chan movies in which any and every object in sight is used as a weapon to repel the bad guys. The car chase scenes were also extremely well directed in this film, but it seems that Frank decided to ditch his trusty BMW from the first film and instead chose to drive Audi’s heretofore unknown “scratch and dent resistant” series. I was particularly impressed with this new Audi because apparently it has the ability to crash through cement barriers head on without so much as a shattered headlight, while the police cars pile up on top of each other in a spectacular wreckage. Even Bond cars aren’t that impervious to destruction, but then again, perhaps James Bond just hasn’t discovered the miracle that is Audi engineering.

The car isn’t the only element of implausibility in this movie, however, and I strongly suggest that if you have difficulty separating Hollywood’s version of reality from actual real-world reality then you should not see this movie. It will only aggravate you to the point of insanity, as your brain cells struggle valiantly to accept the fact that Frank can now dodge bullets, and the evil chick villain can blow up helicopters with one simple round of gunfire (while prancing around in her underwear no less). At one point Frank races a stunning Lamborghini underneath a plane, and my brain was sufficiently liquefied to the extent that I started to wonder if the car itself was going to take flight—needless to say, Hollywood doesn’t take us that far, but I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised given the events that had so far transpired.

The Transporter 2 is the perfect example of an action movie that requires its audience to ignore their academic sensibilities, much like the James Bond films. I have no problem doing this, although the unbelievability might ruin the action for some. This movie definitely pushes the limits in several scenes, but then again, I didn’t pay $10 to watch a documentary. I paid to watch Frank Martin kick the crap out of bad guys, drive his car recklessly about while making a few choice witticisms, and perform all manner of ridiculous stunts in order to save the citizens of Miami from some over-the-top villain and his complicated and diabolical plan. And I got exactly what I wanted.

Friday, September 02, 2005


Undiscovered is the type of movie that you can skip entirely and yet still correctly guess exactly what happened in the story, including the pitiful ending. So, needless to say, don’t waste your time and certainly not your money.

Luke Falcon (Steven Strait) is a struggling musician living in New York City, who decides to move to Los Angeles in order to seriously pursue his musical career. As he rides the subway with his brother on the way to the airport, he bumps into Brier Tucket (Pell James), a beautiful model who smiles at him as the train pulls away. Luke takes this to mean that she must consequently be the girl of his dreams and love of his life. So he moves to Los Angeles. The movie then switches focus to Brier, at which point the audience instantly realizes that the two will eventually meet again and fall in love, etcetera etcetera. Brier eventually decides that her success in modeling must be an indication of some inherent acting ability, so she moves to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. Unfortunately for the audience, Brier befriends a fellow aspiring actress in the form of Ashlee freaking Simpson, and we are forced to watch Ashlee “act.” That is to say, she basically plays herself. Honestly, it was like watching her horrendous reality show, and as if that weren’t unpleasant enough, the director insists upon a multitude of extreme close-ups of Ashlee’s face every two seconds. All sarcasm aside, however, Ashlee wasn’t all that bad, which is probably as good an indication as any of how terrible this movie was.

It just so happens that Ashlee is friends with none other than Luke from the opening scene, which surprises no one, and the endlessly predictable plot stumbles around while Brier and Luke reacquaint themselves with each other. Since the filmmakers can’t have them fall in love until the end of the movie, they halt the romance by giving Brier a fear of musicians. No, literally. She is fearful of dating Luke because he plays music, as apparently her previous boyfriend was some musician who cheated on her. Nevertheless, since everyone is now the bestest of buds, Ashlee and Brier scheme up a plan to create some buzz about Luke’s music and help launch his career. Their ingenious plan involves hiring an unknown Brazilian model to come to one of Luke’s shows and take a picture with him, which in turn will ostensibly create some hype. Dang, if only every struggling musician had someone behind him to mastermind such a brilliant publicity plan. Inexplicably, the plan works, and enough buzz is generated that Luke snags a deal with Tantra, a reputable recording label with the predictably arrogant money-hungry manager. As Brier feared, however, fame starts to go to Luke’s scruffy head, and he subsequently alienates all of his friends and his brother in favor of dating the snotty Brazilian model.

There were many reasons why this movie was terrible—hideous dialogue, shockingly predictable plot, relentless musical montages, and three Ashlee Simpson songs which the audience had to agonizingly endure for their entirety. The filmmakers attempt to fill time by putting these identical-sounding songs to flashbacks of Brier and Luke’s courtship, his rise to fame, and the inevitable breaking point when he realizes he’s been a jerk. I won’t tell you how it ends, but I urge you not to watch the movie to find out, because it is in no way surprising.

The closing credits have short “plot wrap-up” scenes, but honestly, I just couldn’t stay to watch. By that point I had really had enough.