Monday, September 28, 2009


Movie: Pandorum

For some reason I got the idea that this was based on a video game, perhaps because the promos reminded me of Resident Evil. But it seems to be an original story. The film takes place in the future on a space ship and it's dark and spooky and there are mutant creatures wanting to kill you. While there are one or two actual scares, mostly this film seeks to gross you out, with characters finding themselves in claustrophobic situations face-to-face with gory corpses and swimming in putrid waste. It's pretty yucky and combined with 95% of the film being in the dark with eerie glow sticks the only light and it's not a pleasant film. It is interesting, and quite well done, though it's also over-done. The plot's too gimmicky, purposely holding back information to keep us in the dark, and there's an attempt for a "twist" at the end that's obvious a mile away. The basic plot is two guys way up from hypersleep with no memories, no idea how long they've been asleep, and a ship that's on life support. They can't even open the door to get out as there is no power. The quest to restore power is the story, as one of the men goes on a journey to do that, running into the strange creatures and a few crazy passengers. The title is apparently the name of a condition we'll call "space madness" -- not exactly original. That's actually one of the key flaws of the film because while the film is supposedly about paranoia, 80% of the time is spent running from the creatures and trying to figure out the "mystery" of the ship (which is not much of a mystery at all). I would have by far preferred a story exclusively about paranoia: adding in the creatures makes this a monster movie, which is not nearly as interesting. Unfortunately, the paranoia stuff is give short shrift and that's disappointing (for terrific paranoia films, see Bug or Roman Polanski's Repulsion).

The bottom line is this is a decent thriller. It is much more limited in scope than it could have been, but people who like this kind of genre will like it. I did, but I wouldn't recommend it to everyone as it is gory and violent and depressing and not everyone likes such things. It could have been better but is above average for this kind of film.


Friday, September 25, 2009


Movie: Surrogates

I love robots and this is sort of a robot story: "surrogates" are mechanical duplicates of people that can be remotely controlled, so people never have to leave their homes and can always be safe. They operate their surrogate to go to work, travel, take physical risks, etc. It's a neat idea and the film actually hints at the sociological impact of such technology. Unfortunately, within minutes of the beginning the film shows us illogic by telling us that surrogates were invented a mere 14 years ago and that now 98% of the population uses surrogates. Huh? It took like 50 years for cars to be common and the whole world will switch to remote controlled robots in just 14 years? That sent up red flags for me and the rest of the film's illogic made it painful to watch.

There are some neat ideas (i.e. humans = ugly, robots = pretty), and the special effects of a young Bruce Willis as a robot is pretty cool, but the story is far too convoluted with a murder conspiracy and technology that can kill the human operator remotely. The ending isn't that bad and has a preachy moral message for us ("be human"), but the whole film feels like pieces that don't fit together. The plot's a mishmash of ideas and the film bounces around between talky/social commentary scenes and action as though it can't decide what kind of film it wants to be. The action feels like it was thrown in to sell the film and the robot action looks like badly faked digital. Nothing makes much sense, but strangely, I still kind of liked this movie. It's fun, proposes some unusual ideas, and some of the performances are interesting. There's not much meat on this bone despite the heavy-handed approach to preaching, but if you can ignore that and the giant plot holes, there are worse ways to waste a couple hours.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Movie: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

I've never read the children's book this film is based upon so I can judge the adaptation, but my feeling is that I'd find the same flaws in both. It's probably just me being too rational, but I have serious trouble with this kind of story with no link to reality. Everything is just too illogical. It's not that I don't love fantasy or magic, I do: but good stories are consistent and believable in their own world. This one actually throws out scientific mumbo-jumbo as though it's being realistic, then has cooked chickens coming to life. Is this magic or science? I also had serious problems with the main character, which is at the heart of the film. The crazy scientistic/geek is someone we're supposed to love because he has a heart of gold and "thinks different" and yet he's a total moron and incompetent scientist. There was no explanation of why his inventions failed (most were jaw-droppingly stupid). Why not make him have some sort of block or reason why he fails and in the climax of the picture he overcomes that obstacle and invents something successful? I just couldn't relate or like someone so dumb, as lovable as he seemed.

All that said, I still sort of liked this. I wanted to really like it, but it's merely okay. It's silly and dumb but harmless and fun, the computer artwork is excellent, and it has humor and moves at a good pace. Unfortunately, I am saddened by the waste of potential: the idea of it raining food is brilliant (as is the title), but it's just an inept and nonsensical story.


Monday, September 21, 2009

Jennifer's Body

Movie: Jennifer's Body
Writer(s): Diablo Cody

Surprisingly, I really liked this. My expectations were low after hearing the early reviews and box office, but I didn't find that many flaws. It's a nifty blend of genres, mixing horror, comedy, and teen angst in a hip and colorful fashion. However, it's not a huge, big budget audience pleaser. This is a quirky cult film. People who like Heathers would like this.

The problem is the film's positioning. Having Megan Fox as the lead means it has to be marketed as some big vehicle for her. I'm not sure when this was cast: if the film was cast back when she was a nobody, this would have made more sense. But now she's popular and so the marketing tries to get on that and unfortunately they have marketed it as a sex vehicle for her and that's not at all what it is. The marketing turned off many people who didn't care to see her in her first "adult" role. Diablo Cody fans weren't sure what to make of this either as this genre seems so different from Juno. But if this had been a low budget unpublicized film with an unknown in the lead, people would have been raving about it, telling all their friends to check out this cool new flick. It would have been a huge sleeper hit. As it is now, the expectations were so high it's a giant flop, which is sad, as it shouldn't be. It's a terrific film for what it is: a quirky cult film. The dialogue is smart and sassy, the acting and directing appropriately over the top, and though the storyline isn't unfamiliar, the perspective of best friends growing apart when one gets possessed by a demon is fresh. I really liked it and recommend it. Just don't expect too much. I predict it will be a cult hit for years to come and be better appreciated by future generations. Some of the relationship material in the film is quite deep.


Friday, September 18, 2009

The Informant

Movie: The Informant

I want to like this, but I don't. It is good, but not great. The core problem is ingrained into the story: the main character is crazy. He's a pathological liar and mixes truth and lies so convincingly that we aren't sure which is which. Things that you think are lies turn out to be true and vice versa. That's utterly confusing, which is the whole point, of course, but it makes for unpleasant viewing. It's humorous and even touching, but the viewer is always at a distance. We cannot connect with the characters because we don't understand. (I would have loved to have the faithful wife featured more: their relationship was a mystery and by the end you cannot figure out why she's still with the guy.) The problem with all the lies is similar to the flaw of Duplicity: because we can't trust the character we aren't sure what's real and what's not. So I'm not even sure about the "facts" of the film because for all I know they were imaginary as well!

There are many great things about the film: the performances are excellent, above average, the script is well-done, the whistleblower story unusual, and the direction is playful and quirky. However, the pacing is slow, and the film has a strangeness that difficult to overcome (you're never sure if you should laugh, if the main guy is a genius or an idiot). Recommended if you like this kind of film (I'd love to have seen what the Coen brothers would have done with this story), but I suspect most people will be disappointed.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Julie and Julia

Movie: Julie and Julia

Wow, what a terrific film. The chef in me wanted to see this and I love Myrle Streep and Amy Adams, but kept putting this off as it felt a little too chick flickery. But it is wonderful. For me, it hits all sorts of key notes: Paris, cooking, blogging, writing, the publishing business. I found it inspiring to learn about Julia Child, who I knew little about, and the struggles she had becoming a chef and getting her book published. Fascinating that the book no one wanted to publish would change the cooking world so much that her kitchen is now in the Smithsonian. The idea of combining two books -- the period story of Julia Child and the modern story of a blogger attempting to cook all 500+ recipes in her book in one year -- is pure genius. I had read a review that said the modern story wasn't as compelling and I disagree: it's merely that it's not as heavy (significant). Alone it wouldn't have worked and even Julia's story wouldn't have been as interesting: together they compliment each other beautifully. Highly recommended.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sorority Row

Movie: Sorority Row

Pretty much what you expect: sorority girls getting killed in horrible ways. Blech.


Friday, September 11, 2009


Movie: Whiteout

For some reason I had the impression that this was supposed to be good. I guess the marketing worked on me, though I hardly paid any attention. The premise didn't interest me all that much -- horror in Antarctica, big deal -- but it was promoted as the film's big feature, along with an all-star cast led by the lovely Kate Beckinsale, who, sadly, is the film's only redeeming feature. Well, the exotic landscape is interesting, but then most of the film is indoors or in a blurry snowstorm. The story turns out to be a murder mystery, but it's not much of a mystery, and the plot is so heavy-handed and ridiculous it loses all credibility. Nothing makes much sense and though the ending is predictable, you really don't care since the producers could have picked any of a dozen endings and it wouldn't make any difference. The whole thing is a sorry mess and I can't believe Kate got suckered into it. She's either desperate or needs a new agent. Stay away, far away.


Thursday, September 10, 2009


Movie: 9

This film sounded intriguing, but proved disappointing. The computer graphics are fantastic: the level of intricate detail is amazing and the animation flawless. Unfortunately, the story, which starts out well, drifts into dreary action melodrama and the ending is too strange and makes no sense. The very premise of the piece is a contradiction: nine tiny burlap-sack beings are the only living creatures left on the planet after human-created machines take over the world. So these creatures aren't organic but they aren't robots either? Huh? Whatever. Enjoy it for the graphics -- it's worth seeing just for that -- but don't hold your breath that the story makes any sense or is anything but lame robots fighting for no reason.


Friday, September 4, 2009


Movie: Gamer

I wasn't too excited about this as the premise of criminals competing in death games seemed tired, but it had a big cast and seemed like it might be fun. Unfortunately, it takes itself far too seriously which is even more laughable considering the illogical concept of regular people controlling real people as pawns in war games. (Why would anyone agree to participate in a game in which you might die when your fate lies in some unknown controller's hands? And why is the public celebrating the pawn when he has nothing to do with the victory? Incomprehensible.) Another problem is the weird chop-editing and hand-held camera action. It reminded me a lot of Crank except without the fun, and in this film, that style clashed with the somber tone. Turns out, the film was made by the Crank guys, so that explains that. But while that one was fun, this one was dreary.


Thursday, September 3, 2009


Movie: Ponyo
Writer(s): Hayao Miyazaki
Director(s): Hayao Miyazaki

Definitely a change-up from traditional Miyazaki animation as this one is skewed for a younger audience (think 5-10), has a simpler story, and isn't quite as serious. I loved it. My favorite thing is that this is set in the real world instead of a magical realm (though magic is in the film), and Miyazaki is surprisingly good at handling that material. The story is simple: a boy in a Japanese fishing village befriends a goldfish and she loves him and wants to be human. It turns out she is magic and can make that happen. The boy is five and adorable, and very clever, and his mom is wonderful. The human characters are realistically done, with my favorite moment being how upset the mom was when the dad took an extra run on the fishing boat and couldn't come home and it's the little boy who comforts mom. The mom's reactions were adult as she didn't try to hide her anger from the boy, and the boy's innocence and utter love for his dad no matter what he did was charming and wonderful. The story itself goes to strange places toward the end, with the goldfish girl's magic threatening the whole planet by somehow drawing the moon near and raising the sea level and flooding the fishing islands. It's a great little story, perhaps not up to Miyazaki's normal standards in terms of literary seriousness, but entertaining, charming, and surprisingly appealing to older adults.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Final Destination

Movie: The Final Destination

These movies are basically death-porn. You watch merely to see people die in various bizarre accidents, which is pretty sick. (The film even alludes to that in the car race opening where a couple characters berate another for watching the race hoping for a crash.) That said, these films are oddly compelling. There's an adventure and funness to the deaths -- many well-deserved -- that makes for intriguing viewing. It's certainly not intellectually straining, and this entry in the series is way low on the logic quotient, but there's a charm to the black humor and stereotypical characters that makes it watchable. The deaths are amusingly done, like the girl being caught in a car wash with her head trapped in the sunroof opening -- a ridiculously hilarious gruesome image. The film is grim and bloody, yet there's such delight in the brutality and awfulness of the deaths that they feel cartoon-like. It's the overly elaborate Rube Goldberg setups for the deaths that make the film tick, especially since many turn out to be red herrings. When pens and paperclips can be deadly weapons, it feels like death can come from anywhere and anything. Everything on screen screams danger; there is nothing mundane left. (After leaving the theatre, you'll start notice everything dangerous around you in real life, as well!) The actually dangerous stuff -- cranes lifting giant air conditioning units, trucks on hydraulic lifts, welding torches, escalators, nail guns, knives -- are usually too obvious and half the fun comes from trying to predict exactly how the next person will die. Much depends on the capriciousness of nature, like the wind. There are many amusing touches, such as the photograph of the main couple that blows off a table onto the floor, followed by a rolling X-Acto knife that follows it and happens to stab the girl perfectly in the eye.

The bottom line: these films are not for everyone. The plot is the same for every movie (premonition of disaster saves lives followed by the sequential deaths of the survivors), the characters are mere sketches, the actors pretty but unknown, so the only thing really going for this is the black humor and tongue-in-cheek tone. If that's enough for you, enjoy it. If not, skip it. I found it fun and on par with the rest of the series.