Movie Review: Tron Legacy (2010)

I have a strong attraction to amazing special effects, adventure and great musical scores as much as any fan of film. There usually comes a time that my love for spectacular special effects overrides a lot of my problems with certain movies, such is the case for TRON: LEGACY. My excitement for TRON: LEGACY was not high and I did not have that much desire to ever see it, but low and behold, the day came and I sat down and watched the film beginning to end. Surprisingly enough I found myself very immersed in the film despite some reservations on the length of the film and some of the acting.

Sam Flynn (Garret Hedlund) is in search of his father, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), who has since gone missing after he had previously told his Sam about a digital world he had discovered and wanted to show him. When Sam is given information that his father sent a page from an old arcade he goes to investigate and is accidentally beamed into a spectacular digital world known as, The Grid. Sam then meets a cloned version of his father named Clu, who has since taken control of the world and is focused on finding Kevin in order to obtain what he needs to cross over into the human world.

I definitely attribute well over half of my enjoyment of TRON: LEGACY to the visuals and score. The score amplified the mood of the film once you enter The Grid and had me pinned to the events despite any disconnects I had along the way. It’s the kind of score you dream about for a film like this that deals with technology in the way it does. I found the music created a mostly dark and moody atmosphere within the world of The Grid while adding to the excitement of the action sequences.

Speaking of action, I loved what was there; I just wish that there was more of it. I particularly loved the light cycles and the disc wars and would have gladly traded the extended sequences of dialogue for some more scenes of the games within The Grid. The light cycle sequence will stand out as my absolute favorite because I was pinned to my seat watching all these beautiful visuals on screen. My disappointment comes in when I start feeling like they focused way more on the long sequences of dialogue that I wasn’t totally into. There were moments that I found the story very interesting and effective and others where I couldn’t believe how ridiculous it had gotten. Luckily, more often than not I was fully invested in the experience.

My only other complaint is some of the acting, it wasn’t always embarrassingly bad, but I found that there were some pretty terrible lines of dialogue that seemed fit for a stoner comedy than for a film like this. I’ve been enjoying Jeff Bridges more and more over the years and this is easily my least favorite of his performances. Garrett Hedlund has flashes of being a pretty good actor and other times his facial expressions and line delivery are very bland and emotionless.

I’d be lying if I said I absolutely loved TRON: LEGACY, but I have no regret in saying that I enjoyed it way more than my complaints would indicate. Had the performances been of a higher quality, the length be trimmed and included a little more of the fantastic action and visuals I would be able to report my mind being blown. As it stands though, my eyes were in a trance while watching TRON: LEGACY while failing at being as stimulating to the brain. I would have no problem recommending the film however, because the score and the visuals are the reason I love movies and on that alone TRON: LEGACY excels in spectacular fashion.



Movie Review: The Fighter (2010)

I really enjoy a good sports movie; I am impartial to baseball as it is my favorite of all professional and collegiate sports. MAJOR LEAGUE has always been one of my favorites since childhood, but I also enjoy the occasional football experience and other sports movies including ROCKY, which is a film that THE FIGHTER shares a lot in common with. Within the structure of the sports film conventions THE FIGHTER is well over half drama with the actual fights being secondary and a dash of comedy sprinkled in here and there. There isn’t a weak performance to be had and by the end I was fully invested and cheering right along with the crowds.

Up and coming boxer Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) trains with his brother Dicky (Christian Bale) and is managed by his mother Alice (Melissa Leo). His career is at a turning point as he is matched up with a fighter well out of his weight class and is humiliated by how one sided the fight is. He begins a relationship with a bartender, Charlene (Amy Adams), who stands behind him when Dicky is arrested and he makes a decision to move on with new training and management, which causes a strain in Micky’s relationships with his family.

THE FIGHTER was a film that really did not impress me for the first half hour or so. I didn’t think it was a bad movie there just wasn’t a lot connecting me with the characters. As you coast into the middle of the movie the drama within the relationships and the strength of the performances began to sneak into my head and things just started clicking from there. The family drama, the tension certain characters and the excitement of the boxing scenes really snuck up on me.

It’s the performances that carry the film and lead primarily by Christian Bale, who is as good as he’s ever been. His presence is truly captivating every moment he is on the screen. Melissa Leo and Amy Adams are both outstanding as well, the scales tip a bit more towards Leo but the two are very near equal with their contributions for me. Mark Wahlberg, while the lead, is very much set on the sidelines as far as screen presence when Melissa Leo and Christian Bale are both on screen. His character however, feels written like he’s basically the focus but constantly shoved aside while everyone else tries to make things about themselves. Full disclosure, I was not well versed in the true story that THE FIGHTER is based on, but everything in this film despite some of the goofier comic relief feels, looks and sounds real. My enjoyment continued to build and peaked at the end which I feel was more exciting for me since I didn’t really know how it was going to end, despite the story being something of public knowledge.

Most of the actual boxing scenes are very brief, which is why this film is more of a family drama than full out sports film. As the film rolls towards the end the boxing scenes get a little longer and much more enjoyable. My favorite fight and scene was when Dicky is getting updates about one of Micky’s fights over the phone, I love the progression of that specific scene and the culmination of which had completely sold me on the film.

THE FIGHTER is a film full of knockout performances and an abundance of heart to go around. Christian Bale commands and steals every single scene he’s in with Melissa Leo coming in at a strong but distant second. There are a couple of really great fight scenes while the rest leave a little something to be desired. Overall, it’s a film that really has to grow on you as you watch it before you will fall in love with it, but if you stick with it the film really does pay off in the end.

Movie Review: Love & Other Drugs (2010)

Romantic comedies tend to be a rough sell when it comes to talking me into watching it and be excited about it. I tend to be more accepting of the R rated efforts as the comedy is often less retrained and in some way more honest; anything less than R winds up being very vague and watered down, leaving very little to make it memorable. The last two I’ve had the chance to see have left me with fewer regrets than I normally have after watching them. GOING THE DISTANCE landed several big laughs and leaned heavily on jokes where as LOVE & OTHER DRUGS did most of the same but also features the two leads wearing nothing but their birthday suits through the majority of the movie. I will say LOVE & OTHER DRUGS attempts to be much sexier with its comedy but as it slowly mixes in the sappy elements in the last half it started being a bit of a chore, but overall there is enough humor and sex abound to make it enjoyable for men watching it under protest.

Set initially in the mid 90′s, starts with Jamie (Jake Gyllenhaal) as a smooth talking and confident salesman working magic in an electronics store before a violent falling out with management. From there he is coaxed into entering the competitive world of drug reps by his successful younger brother. Jamie becomes a rep for the drug company Pfizer and sent to relentlessly sell Zoloft to doctors that are hesitant to switch from the more popular drug, Prozac. His new profession facilitates a run in with Maggie (Anne Hathaway), who is a free spirit not looking to settle down or ask anyone else to feel anything deeper for her than brief sexual encounters, due to the fact she is in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease. The two’s relationship gradually evolves to the point that Jamie and Maggie both have to analyze how their future will be and where they both fit in each other’s lives.

What caught me by surprise was the very light and playful first half of the film. The first hour or so leans heavily on sex and sex jokes that’s common is most R rated comedies, but if you knew nothing else about the movie the extent to the amount of sex is surprising if you’ve only seen the trailer. The banter between characters feels a lot like another 2010 comedy, GOING THE DISTANCE, except I felt it was a little less effective with this group of characters. The film is funny and there are a few big laughs but aside from the two leads everyone else becomes blurred in the background.

Gyllenhaal is likable and charismatic but Hathaway’s performance becomes the more memorable aspect. Hathaway is funny and cute but she’s also very good at delivering the dramatic elements even though in the last half hour or more it seems a bit heavy handed. The relationship between the two is believable and charming as it is and would have worked even if Hathaway’s character wasn’t suffering from Parkinson’s. Once that part of the story starts to force its way to the center of attention the mood of the film drops severely from fun and charming to sad and over dramatic. The emotional beats are there and are effective to some extent but at the same time feels like a cheap way to illicit the responses.

The performances are all decent enough but no one stands out as much as Gyllenhaal and Hathaway. Josh Gad is there for a lot of the comic relief especially in the second half, but looks and acts kind of like a young Jack Black. I enjoyed what was there of Hank Azaria and Oliver Platt but both of them feel criminally underused.

Third act collapses are more common than not and while I would call the last act of LOVE & OTHER DRUGS a failure I do feel like it tainted a lot of the good it had established early on. The film is not without an abundance of heart and good intentions but it forces itself on you like a drunken prom date clumsily frisking near the hot spots before passing out in the home stretch. Gyllenhaal and Hathaway are both endearing and charming and there are plenty of good jokes to go around but the heavy handed emotional baggage towards the end has the potential to severely dampen one’s enjoyment.

Movie Review: Middle Men

It happens more often than not that you run across a batch of movies every year that have a lot going for them. They are often entertaining, engaging and well acted, but when everything is said and done you just never feel the urge or need to ever watch it again. It’s not that anything was done terribly to the point you just don’t find any entertainment, it’s just that there wasn’t enough material within the script to keep you guessing or not enough punch to make it memorable. MIDDLE MEN is precisely that type of movie; acted well, humorous and has an interesting story to tell, they just don’t do enough with the material to make you care about it once the credits roll.

Jack (Luke Wilson) is just a regular guy trying to make a few bucks to support his family when an opportunity arises to help a couple of hot headed, drugged up and business ignorant entrepreneurs. Jack’s new partners, Wayne (Giovanni Ribisi) and Buck (Gabriel Macht), came up with a program that charges credit cards over the internet for people subscribing to pornographic material and they created their own websites for people to subscribe to. They got in over their heads so Jack comes in and convinces them to use this program only in a billing company that works with other websites and acting as the middle man rather than producing content themselves. The idea makes each of them worth millions of dollars, but Jack soon finds that with money comes corruption and greed and also lands him in hot water with a Russian crime boss, the FBI and his own family.

MIDDLE MEN is precisely what its title suggests; it’s not ahead of the pack of today’s movies, it’s not below average, it sits comfortably in the middle. It’s well made, the story is interesting and the acting is all top notch. The problems come in with a conservative pace that doesn’t seem to move fast enough, even though we skips years through the timeline in a matter of seconds, It more or less fails at what a film like THE SOCIAL NETWORK exceeds at and that’s making the mundane aspects of online business exciting and sexy, which seems ridiculous given that the film deals in the business of pornography. It’s not until the last 45 minutes of the movie that my favorite aspects come into play. In the first hour or so of the movie Luke Wilson plays a character that is very laid back and passive while still being the brains of the operation, while Giovanni Ribisi and Gabriel Macht are the two fireworks snorting drugs, tweaking and breaking out into fights. In the final 45 minutes Wilson’s character finally starts showing more of a backbone and becoming much more interesting than he’d been to that point.

The movie looks good and has scenes of glamour here and there but despite its subject matter I don’t think the filmmaking does everything it could have. There seems to be a lot of wasted opportunity hidden behind almost every frame, which basically just leaves us with a film full of half realized potential. I couldn’t shake the feeling that the director was holding back and that makes a majority of the script feel somewhat restrained. With so much feeling held back it makes it a shame that they spend so much time flashing to guys sitting at their computer masturbating to porn on their computer, which was funny during the opening scenes and obnoxious every time they reach back in that bag at other points during the movie, especially when they start showing terrorists doing it and then emailing it to one another. The film is based off actual people which makes me think that the filmmakers had little interest in developing the more interesting aspects of the story and more on the humor in seeing someone masturbating on screen.

Aside from Wilson, Ribisi and Macht there is a plethora of recognizable faces in the film like James Caan, Kevin Pollack and Kelsey Grammar. Pollack and Grammar both have very small roles and I enjoyed the scene involving Kelsey Grammar quite a bit. Wilson does put on a good show and is the center of attention but I believe I enjoyed the friendship between Ribisi and Macht a lot more. James Caan also gives a good if abbreviated performance also until the last 45 minutes or so where he’s featured more than in the first hour. Abbreviated is probably the best word to describe the best parts of the film, because there are moments that the material really shines, they just don’t last long enough.

In the end MIDDLE MEN just isn’t quite as smart and sexy as it wants to be and the true life events it’s based on feel much more fictionalized than they rightfully should. It has flashes of both smart and sexy here and there but nothing that will have you looking or thinking twice about. I do think it is a decent slice of entertainment that warrants at least one viewing but ultimately it won’t be something you run out to tell your friends about.

Movie Review: Red Hill (2010)

Historically I haven’t seen a great deal of westerns and the ones I have seen don’t fall high on my most memorable aside from the recent outing from the Coen’s, TRUE GRIT. It’s because of a growing interest in the genre that I decided to check out RED HILL, which oddly enough combines a mixture of old western with modern thrillers that’s pretty to look at, tense and very engaging.

Shane Cooper (Ryan Kwanten) is a young cop who has moved to the isolated town of Red Hill after he was shot on duty. On his first day he’s introduced to the townsfolk and the other local police, most of them none too friendly, especially Shane’s superior Bill. When Shane goes out on a routine call he comes back to the office to find Bill rounding up locals because a skilled tracker, Jimmy Conway (Tommy Lewis), has escaped from prison. The people of Red Hill have a history Jimmy and are preparing for his inevitable return to town for his revenge.

RED HILL begins like most dramas, with the introduction of Shane and his pregnant wife as he prepares for his first day on the job. A lot of the mid section and finale resemble other genre efforts, but the tone of the film is suitably tense which makes it slightly different from other films in the genre. The set up of the town wide manhunt is done pretty well and sets a nice table for a tense and brooding showdown. There are slow spots but the pace of the film for the most part is very quick.

My favorite aspect of the RED HILL is that at times it feels like a western slasher film. One Jimmy is introduced he starts hunting town the men that are supposed to be hunting him one by one. Jimmy embodies the typical horror stalker like Jason Michael Myers except with a shotgun. He might actually have more in common with Anton Chigurh from NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN just not quite as great as a character as Chigurh was.

The score also lends to that horror feel as it blends elements from western music with classic horror movie tones that you’d find in the old 80’s slashers. The score and sound work and visuals are all the biggest draws to the film. The gunplay is often exciting to watch but it’s the sound of bullets flying by or hitting their target from long distances that I felt were done exceedingly well. For a majority of the film the violence is pretty low key in terms of actual bloodshed shown on screen, but once we approach the finale the blood gets amped up a little bit.

The Aussies are quickly finding themselves in high regard with their filmmaking with films like THE HORESMAN, ANIMAL KINGDOM and RED HILL. RED HILL is extremely entertaining, shot beautifully with lots of great sound work and an interesting score to boot. It’s not a perfect slice of cinema with some slow spots, some throwaway plot points and a less than satisfying finale but RED HILL is still a great way to spend a night in. For fans of tense and gritty westerns with a sprinkle of slasher horror it will be quite a find.

I Spit On Your Grave (Remake) (2010)

If you take a look at the poster for the original or the remake and thing that what you’re about to watch in a movie call I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE is going to be enlightening or fun, you are dead wrong. There’s something you can take out of the performances, sure, but make no mistake you are not meant to enjoy most of what’s happening here, especially not in the first hour or so. Revenge movies can be tough to pull off because you have to sympathize with the victim and that’s tough in today’s theatrical films that are too scared to show controversial gore and violence let alone rape, but the remake of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE does a great job of building up and making you feel for the protagonist. Such a great job that when the dirty deeds start being done it’s going to make your stomach turn.

Jennifer (Sarah Butler) is a writer looking for some peace and quiet to write her new book. She’s on her way to a secluded cabin until she stops for gas and attracts some unwanted attention. A group of men venture out to her peaceful getaway and terrorize her, rape her and leave her for dead in the woods after she jumps into the river. Time goes by and the men see no trace of Jennifer’s boy until she returns to inflict the relentless and brutal revenge scheme.

I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE is sick; it is sick and depraved in some of the worst way I can imagine, but also in some of the best. It’s not the most disgusting and morally reprehensible movie I’ve ever seen, I’m looking at you A SERBIAN FILM, but it is most definitely a tough film to stomach. I can’t say that the violence in the last half of the film is overly graphic, but it is pretty tense and visceral. The first hour or so you’re introduced to Sarah Butler’s character, we watch her interact with some creepy backwoods dudes and watch her go through her daily routine of jogging, drinking and writing her book. It’s at that point when we see the creepy rednecks come back in the picture and state their devious intentions and for the next 20 minutes or so watch in horror as they taunt, terrorize and brutally rape the innocent girl. It’s impossible to take any joy in the middle section of the film; it’s full of guys forcing a woman to drink and enact oral sex on the barrel of a gun and a bottle of alcohol while the guys have a good laugh at her expense. When you think it’s over she gets thrown right back in the horror as you’re exposed to her being brutally violated by five men. In this span of time while you’re horrified this is happening to the poor girl you can also rest easy cause you know these lowlifes will get theirs; and that is where most if any of the enjoyment comes.

I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE is conceptually similar to Wes Craven’s LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT as well as the recent remake, except with a specific difference. I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE is a revenge story of the victim inflicting a horrible brand of justice on people who raped and tried to kill her rather than her loved ones taking them to task. Both of these are stories that don’t interest me on a personal level since violence towards women in general sickening, but as a fan of film, horror movies and revenge stories the film appeals to that part of my personality. Since this particular brand of violence resonates on a visceral level for me and it’s done realistically I found the film incredibly powerful and actually taking pleasure in the protagonist’s revenge while also feeling the pain of everyone involved.

The content in this film is incredibly divisive and I can easily see how turned people will be by the violence on an extreme level and the voyeurism on a less severe level. It’s the plausible nature of the attack on Jennifer that makes the film as powerful and disturbing as it is and the harassment she endures before being raped only compounds the horror. An hour into the film we switch from a focus on Jennifer to the antagonists and the revenge begins to build. Jennifer’s revenge is swift and brutal; none of her actions are explicitly violent as most happens off camera and you see the gruesome result. The violence is still shocking however, and very effective.

I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE has no real practical use except maybe as a rehabilitation technique you show accused rapists as a means to deter them from these acts of violence, but as an exercise in visceral horror it is an extremely powerful and effective film. Sarah Butler and Andrew Howard both give standout performances. The level of violence and exploitation will likely be too much for most discerning viewers but for those that can stomach the visuals it is undoubtedly a memorable and haunting experience.

Movie Review: Hatchet II (2010)

A few years ago the name Victor Crowley meant absolutely nothing to me, even after I watched HATCHET for the first time. However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I my initial viewing wasn’t totally fair; so when I watched it again things finally clicked. I had gotten so used to taking every modern horror movie I watched so seriously that when something modern but in a throwback and cheesy fashion came along I was still deadset on taking it seriously and HATCHET is a film that begs you to shut your brain off and soak in the carnage. Adam Green is back with the second coming of Victor Crowley in HATCHET II and in all honesty, it’s just not quite as fun as the first outing.

HATCHET II begins right where the first left off (spoiler alert for the HATCHET virgins), with Victor Crowley looming over Marybeth (played by Danielle Harris this time), just as she’s able to narrowly escape. She returns to town to urge Reverend Zombie to stir up a hunting party to return to the swamp to find and kill Victor Crowley to avenge the deaths of her father, brother and the rest of her boat party that was massacred. Reverend Zombie reluctantly agrees, but with a plan to end the curse of Victor Crowley once and for all (End spoilers for HATCHET virgins).

The spoiler free premise is basically that a group of people enter a cursed swamp of a deformed child trapped in the night he was killed and seeks revenge on anyone that trespasses in his territory. That just so happens to be the premise of the first film as well, but if you’ve never seen the first then all the other juicy details about who the group is and why they are going spoil the first and their motives for returning in HATCHET II will mean nothing to you. In many ways in the plot to HATCHET movies mean very little; the same goes for acting, so my advice is to just sit back and watch the fake blood spray the trees.

Speaking of the acting, in the first HATCHET I was left dumbfounded after the first viewing that it could be so unbelievably bad. Each subsequent viewing it bothered me less and my puzzled frown turned into a gleeful smile as I was happy to just bask in the glory of the bloodshed. The acting in HATCHET II is equally as bad if not worse than in the first, the only difference being that I actually kind of liked the characters in the first and I only liked a select few of the characters in the sequel. The casting of Danielle Harris really puzzles me as she not an improvement over Tamara Feldman, who played Marybeth in the first film. Tony Todd is a lot more prominent in the sequel which is a double edged sword; because for fans it’s nice to see him but I wish it could be under better circumstances. My favorite character was played by AJ Bowen even though he barely in the film, but his part also brought me the biggest laugh.

It’s pointless to judge a film like HATCHET II on the merits of acting, because the point of the film isn’t to be an Oscar contender. Adam Green is capable of making serious, tense and well acted thrillers like FROZEN and SPIRAL and his HATCHET movies are full of over-the-top cheesy acting and violence. The first film also had a lot of great comedy to go along with it and the comedy is still intact here.

What I liked about the first film was the opposing nature of Victor Crowley. Even with all the cheesy jokes and bad acting Crowley was a pretty intimidating presence and he still is here in the sequel. I couldn’t help but feel like there was something missing this time around that made the overall experience just slightly less enjoyable this time around. After the first ten minutes or so the film does start to drag due to Danielle Harris’ overacting and lack of action.

The violence is what every fan of HATCHET is waiting for when they hit play and have no fear there is plenty to be had once the characters get back into the swamp. There is an abundance of blood, intestines and severed limbs flying around on screen with the damage being inflicted by a variety of weapons that include the biggest chainsaw you have ever seen. Disappointingly enough there’s even one kill that happens off screen, which is a small price to pay with the rest of the carnage happening around you.

HATCHET II was made for the fans of the first HATCHET, with more blood, more guts and more cheese. The film will be too over-the-top and goofy for most to handle and for others that’s precisely what the doctor ordered. I can’t shake the feeling that this sequel is a step backward from the first; it took multiple viewings for the first to jive with me and that might be exactly what Adam Green’s Victor Crowley sequel needs as well. If you’re a fan of throwback horror movies with comedic sensibilities then HATCHET II will fill that gap nicely.

Movie Review: Going The Distance (2010)

Judging a book by its cover isn’t just a phrase, it’s a practice; the same goes for judging a film by its trailer. Nearly everything about GOING THE DISTANCE screamed crappy rom com, the trailer, the poster, the premise and even the leads. So the two main truths I realized after the film are: maybe I don’t hate Justin Long and that Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day should be cast as everyone’s two best friends in every movie from here on out.

Garrett (Justin Long) meets Erin (Drew Barrymore) the same night his girlfriend at the time dumped him. Erin is a newspaper intern only in New York for a brief time before she heads back to Stanford to finish her degree. Garrett works for a record label scouting new talent. The two hit it off and when it comes time for Erin to head back to California the two agree to try and make their relationship work despite the distance. The space starts to take its toll as they both struggle to find permanent jobs in the other’s respective city but still remain determined to try and make the relationship survive.

The biggest revolution throughout the movie was that I sat through almost an hour and forty-five minutes of Justin Long and Drew Barrymore and didn’t get the urge to either fall asleep or hit my head against the wall to induce a coma. That might sound a little harsh, but the combination of Long and Barrymore have starred in several movies that I just didn’t like, and nearly ruin movies I do like that they are in. There are moments that I felt I was getting tired of them and just wanted more scenes of Garrett’s two best friends Box (Jason Sudeikis) and Dan (Charlie Day). Christina Applegate and Jim Gaffigan also give the film a lot of its big laughs so they can’t be left out either.

What separates this from all the other sappy unfunny romantic comedies is the abundance of f-bombs and raunchy sex jokes/situations. GOING THE DISTANCE is kind of like the slutty younger sister to other prudish rom coms. The film doesn’t come to an end without its flaws, mainly in its pacing as it heads towards the finish line and an ending that embodies nearly everything that’s wrong with bad romantic comedies.

GOING THE DISTANCE is a date movie that guys can enjoy without hiding their face in shame. It has plenty of raunchy humor to go around but at times comes dangerously close to imploding on itself and sabotaging all the good it had worked towards. The cast is funny and charming and the chemistry between the leads is believable as is the presentation of the long distance relationship. So if the significant other approaches you with this for your next date night have no fear, there are plenty of guilt free laughs to be had.

Movie Review: The Freebie (2010)

Straight out of the gate I feel like I should express that I don’t have a real great track record when it comes to my enjoyment of indie mumblecore movies, which THE FREEBIE oozes from nearly every orifice. There’s honesty in the presentation of the characters and their dialogue and the relationships that are being presented; but at the same time the slow and methodical pacing of the mumblecore films really tests my patience and I find it hard to really immerse myself within the conflicts and emotions. I understand the points they are trying to get across and even at times connect with characters mindsets, but just can’t fully engage myself largely due to my indifference with the style. All that aside I don’t violently hate THE FREEBIE, but don’t read too much into that because in no way shape or form did I like this movie.

Married couple Darren (Dax Shepard) and Annie (Katie Aselton) appear to be carefree and happy, but neither of them is fully satisfied with their sex life. After a dinner party with some friends Darren’s male curiosity is heightened and he presents Annie with the proposition that each of them should take one night to go out and have sex with someone in hopes of recapturing the spark they used to have. Neither of them anticipated how easy this concept is in theory but how harmful it can become when taken to fruition.

My biggest problem with THE FREEBIE was the stylistic similarities to another mumblecore film I didn’t like called HUMP DAY. Each of them present an off kilter idea to important characters and then the rest of the film we see the repercussions of these decisions and the toll they take on the characters; the main different is THE FREEBIE features an actor I don’t find particularly funny or charming, Dax Shepard. The premise is intriguing in a human way as everyone can sit around and ponder the outcome of such a deal between two married people, but you don’t have to be a relationship expert to be able to take these characters by the shoulders and shake them to get them to understand that the odds are against them here. We all can talk a big game and attempt to predict how we’d be able to handle negotiated infidelity, but no one can possibly anticipate a sudden burst of feelings and jealousy that is in our nature. I don’t believe that these characters can do it and in the end with the handling of the ending I’m not even exactly sure what the film wants me to feel about the two leads. What I do feel is that they are both horrible liars and Shepard’s character comes off as a huge hypocritical dick. It attempts to paint Aselton as the victim once the dirty deed is finished and the consequences begin to show, but towards the end the film then shows her as a blatant liar as well. So who are we supposed to root for?

What I liked were sections from the middle when Darren and Annie are negotiating the act and then both go off on their quests. I enjoyed the lead up sporadically and the one scene I can pick out that I enjoyed the most was Annie’s conversation at the bar with the bartender. The scene is both funny and sad to me and as you can see her embarrassment and self conscious feelings right on her sleeves and funny when the bartender is picking out guys and she’s judging the picks. I was right there with Annie when things started going downhill, I felt bad for her and hated Darren and then there’s a scene that just flipped my perception of her. She went from being sympathetic to a manipulative liar with an agenda and I lost any and all connections I had to the film.

The performances aren’t anything to write home about until the end, but at that point I was so indifferent about the characters that I just didn’t care anymore. The film served up a premise I felt interesting enough to sit down and watch but when I started digging in all that was there was cold and dry, the emotions didn’t carry across as much as I’d like and the moral of the story was old and overdone.

THE FREEBIE is the exact type of indie film that I just can’t get into. If it’s attempting to ask deeper questions in regards to character motivations and leaving the answers for our own reading of the film, then it failed to make me care what my answer would be within seconds of ending credits. Perhaps the greater failure was that once it ended I didn’t even feel compelled to say anything about it to anyone. THE FREEBIE is about as quickly forgettable as any generic Hollywood rom com being released every year; do yourself a favor and skip this one.

Movie Review: The Disappearance of Alice Creed (2010)

The first full length feature of a director can sometimes be deceiving; you don’t always know if you’re watching work from a director still learning and perfecting their trade or if it’s someone who has a perfect grasp on what they are doing. In many way a great director would never feel like they know everything and continue to try new things and learning with every movie made. In regards to J Blakeson and his feature length debut, THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED, I believe he is a filmmaker with a bright future ahead of him, but is not without a few minor flaws lurking in an otherwise extremely solid debut.

To explain too much about the plot would spoil the journey, but basically what we have are a couple of guys who have kidnapped the daughter of a rich man and are holding her for ransom. It’s a very simple set up, but executed in such a way that it is told from the perspective of the kidnappers rather than the family of the kidnapped or the victim herself. If you delve too deep into the details of the kidnapping it would ruin any surprises waiting down the road.

The opening scene establishes the tone of the film, with the men, Vic (Eddie Marsan) and Danny (Martin Compston) fixing up an apartment with a variety of locks and padding on the walls and windows as well as the inside of a van in preparation of their kidnapping of Alice Creed (Gemma Arterton). I can’t say that I felt that the tone was incredibly tense, but I did find it to be very engaging and interesting. There is very little dialogue at the beginning and the kidnapping is done in the first ten minutes; from then on out it’s Vic and Danny dealing with their catch and setting up the switch for the money they are asking for.

Blakeson takes the minimalist filmmaking style and runs with it, utilizing only the three leads and very few settings. The majority of the film takes place entirely in the fortified apartment with the characters interacting with each other. The two kidnappers both give really good performances with Eddie Marsan being the standout. Gemma Arterton has spent her fair share of time appearing in bad movies in 2010 (CLASH OF THE TITANS and PRINCE OF PERSIA) but you can breathe easy here as she is actually very good here even though when you first see her most of her performing is through a ball gag as she’s stripped naked and photographed. That scene plays somewhat like a snuff film though so it’s not quite as erotic as one would probably hope, but never fear she sheds the clothes once more of her own accord later on. Sadly she spends a lot of time whining through the ball gag and with a bag over her head over her head, but given the nature of having to act with those constraints she actually does it very well. There’s no lines like “ease your storm” to have you hiding your face in shame that you’re watching a complete train wreck.

My biggest complaint, which is extremely minor because I love a good twist, but there is probably one too many here. I say the complaint is minor because the twists actually relate to each other which create an interesting conundrum that we ponder as the film goes on; it’s a complaint because I think the film would have been just as interesting without one of them. As is I can’t complain too much because the film always kept my interest even though I was on the fence a couple times.

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED is a very solid kidnapping thriller full of great performances that asserts itself from the beginning as interesting and engaging. J Blakeson’s debut puts himself in the position of a filmmaker to keep your eye on as he tweeks and refines his approach. The missteps for the debut filmmaker are few and far between which prompt me to give the film a big thumbs up.