2011

Movie Review: Arthur Christmas (2011)

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Christmas comes but once a year and the season is never short of the movies that take advantage of the setting. There is any number of fresh takes on the legend of Santa and the responsibilities bestowed upon him and none have been quite as fun as in ARTHUR CHRISTMAS. All Christmas movies are fun in their own right, but right off the bat ARTHUR CHRISTMAS introduced a take on the character and how the world works in a way that I found charming and interesting, before tapering off in the middle and reeling me back in with good old fashioned heart for the finale.

Every kid’s worst nightmare around Christmas is being the kid Santa forgot around Christmas and that is the idea the film explores. Santa has evolved into more of a celebrity that doesn’t do any of the work and instead his eldest son, Steve, has created a well oiled present delivering machine in the form of a ship that travels at incredible speeds and hordes of elves operating with great precision to carry out all the normal Santa functions. Santa himself shows up to deliver one specific present to each child with the signature “From Santa” tag and moves on. However, Santa’s youngest son, Arthur, has a heart of gold and deals with all the letters from the children. After a simple accident within the ship ends with a present getting lost and a glitch in Steve’s system allows it to go un-noticed Arthur and his grandfather set out to make it right so that no child wakes up Christmas morning feeling like Santa does not care about them.

The beauty of ARTHUR CHRISTMAS is the imagination behind it. Beyond that, the icing on the cake is the care done to explore the wonder of exploring how things used to be and the overall tone and warm fuzzies that the Christmas season is capable of giving us all. The film starts off with a more modern look at how the folks at the North Pole have advanced with technology and how the advancements have made the process that much more mechanical and impersonal thus taking out the magic on some level. Once the adventure half of the film begins the wonderment of the season takes over, before getting lost somewhere in the middle just as characters do before wrapping itself up in a neat and tidy way- and as the elf character that tags along for the ride always says, “There’s always time for a bow.”

The animation is dazzling at times, showing off the imagination of the folks involved with the film especially during the opening gift delivering scene. There are plenty of moments though for the animation to get into different settings that don’t resemble the winter fantasy of the early scenes that are just as impressive as the more fantastic elements. There’s humor within the animation as well, which at times doesn’t feel as kid friendly as most holiday films tend to be.

As Christmas movies go, they tend to lean heavily on what makes kids tick and focus on jokes that are easy for them to understand. ARTHUR CHRISTMAS has jokes tailor fit for the kids in the audience, but there are plenty of one liners and visual references that are likely to fly right over their heads. So basically, what we end up with here is a holiday film with the goods to satisfy the old and the young, but not always both at the same time.

The scope of the film is large and the ambition might have been much narrower, yet the results nonetheless come out on the side of crowd pleasing entertainment that’s brisk and inoffensive. ARTHUR CHRISTMAS tends to feel a bit off-track at times, but when its on-track the film is immensely charming and a whole lot of fun to watch. The beautiful animation only sweetens the pot that much more for a film with its heart placed firmly in the right spot and a wonderful choice for family holiday viewing.

Rating: B+

Movie Review: Bullhead (2011)

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Oscar nominated films are often hard to approach- at least for me. As much as I try to erase any preconceptions I have going in I still at times can’t help but try to hold it to higher standards. Such is the case with BULLHEAD- a film that had I checked it out without the Oscar nomination cloud I probably wouldn’t have liked it or disliked it any more or less, but part of me still just doesn’t quite see what makes it one of the best foreign language films of 2011. Don’t get me wrong, I do like this film, but there’s enough here that underwhelmed me to the point that I kind of just had to shrug my shoulders and accept that in terms of quality, my tastes differ greatly to that of the folks in the Academy.

The film follows a hot-headed cattle farmer that is constantly injecting himself with steroids and is in the business of also “beefing” product. He makes a deal with some shady characters and gets wrapped up in a murder investigation as well as reliving demons from his traumatic past. Strong performances anchor an otherwise very slow and somber film that always feels like something horrendous is about to happen but rarely does. It is an interesting concept nonetheless and while I would have liked a little more mayhem along the way the film is, for the most part, an effective and engaging drama.

I can easily recognize the type of things that make a film like this attractive at awards season, but at times I guess I was just expecting something that had a much more predominant impact at the end. As it is though, there are some pretty hard hitting moments of drama and tension, but overall I wasn’t blown away and even a little bored during stretches. BULLHEAD has all the grit and attitude of some of the best crime thrillers/dramas, but for me it lacked the bite that the most memorable ones had- and does so while tinkering with the back and forth morality of characters and at times it hovers on hitting something great but just never broke through.

One of the other redeeming aspects of the film is that it also has a sense of humor about it to break up the gloom of some of the heavier story elements. There are plenty of shocking moments including one involving children that isn’t graphic, but the nature of what is happening is horrifying enough. The laughs are of a darker nature serving seemingly to make the viewer somewhat uncomfortable, but that could easily depend just how dead serious you want to take the material.

BULLHEAD is as watchable as it is because the performances by almost everyone in the film minor or major are pretty great. No one in particular stands out quite as much as Matthias Schoenaerts who plays the main character of Jacky and Jeroen Perceval who plays Jacky’s former childhood friend Diederik. These two provide the two most interesting characters in the film- one the victim of a tragic attack as a child that influences who he is in the present day and the other a witness to the attack and as the two grew apart are on two different sides of the law. Once they come face to face again there are a slew of emotions and reactions from anger to pity that are some of the stronger moments of the film for me.

I can’t begrudge anyone who believes that BULLHEAD is a phenomenal film, but for me it falls well below some of the most memorable for me. My problems have almost nothing to do with quality or flaws in the film itself and almost everything to do with personal preferences and overall connection to the material. I do feel though that the film becomes a bit unfocused at times which is what kept me from feeling like I could immerse myself into the film completely and actually caused me to check out at points. As it is though, BULLHEAD is a crime drama that could serve as a enormously pleasant surprise for anyone who just stumbles upon it not knowing anything about it, but for someone like me that anticipated finally checking it out with the Oscar nomination behind it the film ended up being just satisfying enough to at least recommend it as a rental.

Rating: B-

Movie Review: Shame (2011)

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I’ll be honest- I didn’t expect a movie about a man struggling with a sex addiction to be overly sexy or even heartwarming. I’d be lying though if I said I didn’t think it would touch on moments of passion between two people and at one point I thought it was going there only to be greeted with one more kick to the genitals. Steve McQueen paints a bleak picture in SHAME and its one that for all its ugliness is at its heart a beautiful piece of work. Beautiful in the way it explores the desperation and pain of an addiction that indeed causes shame due to its provocative and taboo nature.

I feel it’s safe to say SHAME is not a crowd pleaser. You have to know what you are getting into and know that this sort of thing is something you have the capability of enjoying. Not only is it a film about a man with a severe sex addiction, it’s also a dark depressing yet compelling exploration of the needs that drive our day to day lives and how our experiences in life drive us into those needs. What you need to know is that not a single frame of this film that features a lot of human flesh and sexuality is meant to make you feel good or to arouse/entice the viewer. This film destroyed me at several different points by the depths characters sink to and the sadness in their eyes- something I have to stand and applaud the actors for. However, I was also bored during select sections of the film as well which is just something else to be aware of- the film is subtle, quiet and begs for an introspective examination of the events rather than overwhelming slices of dialogue.

Movies that inspire further exploration after it ends are often the best kind. As much as I enjoy reliving high flying special effects in summer blockbusters with friends after the movie I do really love the occasional deep conversations that are born from movies like SHAME that beg the audience to share their interpretations of character actions, back stories and themes. You can read SHAME from more than one perspective that range from the source of the main characters addiction to the dynamic between brother and sister in the film.

Michael Fassbender plays Brandon, the unfortunate soul suffering from the sex addiction. Carey Mulligan plays his sister Sissy, who moves in unannounced and unknowingly helps to cause Brandon’s shady lifestyle spiral out of control. Fassbender and Mulligan knock their performances out of the park- both nailing the emotional devastation of their characters and have incredible chemistry on screen with each other. The nature of their relationship seems to be the anchor of the issues throughout the film as it remains a mystery as to just what lurks in their past, but obviously it weighs heavy on both of their minds as to how they’ve gotten to where they are. They have one particular exchange near the end that stands out as one of the most compelling and emotionally devastating scenes in the film as it leads to a final series of actions that just snowball and eventually come crashing to an even more heart wrenching interaction.

I mentioned before the amount of naked flesh in the film- and there is plenty- but none of it serves as a means to push across that Brandon enjoys his life. Sure, this good looking and successful dude is having almost no issue getting laid, but his face never has an ounce of passion or joy and instead is filled with sadness, pain and of course shame. I love the film for its complex and emotional study of a human being that in a state of pure agony and you can see it in his eyes when he just stares blankly at his pornography, or at attractive women on the subway- Brandon doesn’t see affection, he sees release of pain or just plain release as if sex is just like releasing air from his lungs. His sex life resembles that of a late night Cinemax skin flick- without the eroticism or occasional unintended comedy.

SHAME is filmed with an artistic eye and utilizes plenty of long and uncomfortable takes of characters just staring or characters confronting each other. There are also lingering shots of Michael Fassbender lounging around his apartment in the buff, giving the audience plenty of the actors naughty bits to absorb with their eyes rather they like it or not. As emotionally shaken as I was at times it cannot be ignored that there are times where the film drags a bit, but never to an extent that I could ever feel as though the film was losing me. SHAME is a fascinating look into the life of an addict- one that is not meant for the prudes of the world but for those with a profound love of cinema that aims to test the way we perceive things we may not always understand.

Rating: 8/10

Movie Review: Mother’s Day (2011)

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I hate feeling like I’ve somehow missed something when I’m finished watching a movie and these seemingly meaningless questions linger in my head. MOTHER’S DAY is the most recent culprit not once but twice- the one plaguing me the most has to do with the title. MOTHER’S DAY does indeed have a mother and the events take place over the course of a day, but it doesn’t- to my knowledge- have any connection to the universally recognized holiday. Does it hint that the mother owns the day? I digress; the title of the film really isn’t the point because Darren Lynn Bousman’s MOTHER’S DAY is a decent if somewhat forgettable home invasion thriller.

In MOTHER’S DAY a couple decide to host a party at the same time inclement weather threatens to produce a massive tornado. The couple then finds themselves at the mercy of three men on the run from the law that break in to the couple’s recently acquired house because they last knew it to be the house their mother (Rebecca De Mornay) owned. The three fugitives hold the couple and their guests hostage and when their mother shows up to attempt to clean up the mess her sons have created and to reclaim money that she believes has been being sent to her even after the house had been foreclosed.

The second lingering question that doesn’t really affect my overall feelings is why such a big deal was made of the impending tornado? It couldn’t just be a stormy night? I ask only because- Spoiler Alert: there is no tornado. Again though, not really a spoiler because it has absolutely nothing to do with the overall events of the film- it does however create an interesting dynamic and conflict for the characters to deal with throughout. I do wish though that they had done a little more with that plot element though, because it does add a little extra danger into the proceedings and essentially it just becomes little more than a minor nuisance.

The three main fugitives have three unique personalities- ones been shot and is in severe pain and whined throughout, one is a degenerate and borderline psychotic and the third is somewhat levelheaded until pushed and then he turns into a borderline psychotic. Once Mother shows up though they all quiver with fear at her presence, which teased that she’s some kind of overwhelming evil force- which I don’t feel is ever really backed up. To be fair De Mornay has moments of brilliance and has a creepy calmness to her, but overall the performances from the villains ranges from decent to way over-the-top. Cheesy performances in a cheesy movie can make for a delightfully fun watch- the problem though is that Bousman’s MOTHER’S DAY takes this material darkly serious.

Bousman is a veteran if the SAW franchise so the gore and violence is all done very well and the brutality makes the home invasion aspect of the film extremely tense- the score aids in that department as well. The more irritating thing about the film though is a reliance on twists that feel manipulative to an unnecessary extent. The main twist tries to tug at the heartstrings to make you feel pity for the characters and at that point pity wasn’t really an option for a group of characters that really couldn’t meet their maker fast enough.

The performances for the most part are decent. Shawn Ashmore appears as one of the hostages at the party and a doctor, but seems way too young to even be friends with this group of people. Frank Grillo, who I loved recently in THE GREY, seemed a bit weak here, though he does have a couple good scenes. De Mornay is obviously the star and she’s decent, but there really isn’t anything special or memorable about her performance or anyone else’s.
Subtract some of the well paced tension from the final act of MOTHER’S DAY and a few select moments of character work then what you’d have here is an average and instantly forgettable thriller. As it is, while a far cry from anything original and unforgettable, it is still a well shot and tense home invasion flick. I couldn’t help but feel that Bousman at some point put his direction on auto-pilot and coaster through several stretches while his hand felt extremely present during the film’s more tense moments and more violent shots. MOTHER’S DAY is a remake that’s better than most, but a bit too unfocused and average at times for it to ever be labeled as a classic. It is however a classic case of a film that’s easily consumed, easy to recommend to genre buffs and stuffed in the back of the memory bank for a rainy day.

Rating: 6/10

Movie Review: The Innkeepers (2011)

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Slow burn horror is something not too many directors find attractive when getting out there to make an impression. Nowadays, remakes trump originality and in your face brutality is the quickest way to gain attention. Both of these have their ups and downs in terms of quality and in the meantime Ti West is taking the reigns as a director showing tremendous skill at creating tension and dread without flashy effects or a chaotic pace. No, West has shown a tremendous ability to make horror that rivals old school methods by letting the setting do all the work and cranking the more in your face horror at the end and going out with a bang and THE INNKEEPERS continues that trend.

THE INNKEEPERS is a lot like West’s previous effort, THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, where for the first two thirds of the film features characters wandering around their environment while letting the visuals set up all the tension but also using loud noises to break up the silence here and there. This time though the film follows two employees of a hotel on the verge if closing and during the last weekend they hope to find proof that the hotel is haunted.

Right off the bat THE INNKEEPERS has a much cleaner visual style than THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL which was purposefully made to look like an old horror throwback. West’s ghost story though, is a lot like his previous film in that it is extremely slow moving. The better thing about the slow burn style here at least is that there is more than one character to follow for the majority of the film. The scenes when there is only one person are the ones where something genuinely creepy is going down or about to go down.

My liking between THE INNKEEPERS and THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL in many ways flip flops. The beginning hour or so of DEVIL was a little draining for me before the ending just exploded with all the crazy in your face music and disturbing nature of the final moments where THE INNKEEPERS never really bored me during the first hour or more but the ending didn’t feel quite as crazy and satisfying. I enjoyed the banter between the two leads, Sara Paxton and Pat Healy just as much as I did the scenes of them either together or separately recording EVP’s in specific areas of the hotel. The two have great chemistry together which makes the buildup that much easier to sit through.

West’s composition of each scene creates a character all in its own. The camera work is great and lends to the flow and tension of the scene. Besides that though the scares in the film have immediacy to them that make some of the later scenes even creepier and unsettling. It is the creepy scares that make the film rather than the faux jump scares that come from stuff like a phone ringing at a cartoonishly loud volume or things popping out of the dark. There’s one specific scene that I found so creepy that I backed it up to watch it again- it involves Paxton’s character sitting up in bed and I won’t explain further. The way the long hallways are staged just look fantastic and the slow reveals of frightening images waiting in the shadows are phenomenal. One last standout is an intense scene with Paxton and Healy as they attempt to record EVP in the basement where they were explicitly told to never go- the tension builds masterfully and is accentuated by Healy’s reactions.

With THE INNKEEPERS Ti West is making a welcome habit of giving horror a familiar but very welcome breath of fresh air. His style of extremely patient filmmaking is something that I personally admire partially because of how effective it presents scares, but also because of the restraint it takes to not throw everything at the wall to see what sticks and forcing ideas that just don’t work. It’s not an enviable task to take the slow burn approach in a time where watered down horror is what makes the big bucks and I applaud West for carrying that torch. THE INNKEEPERS has a tremendous score to accompany the more light hearted first half of the film but also highlights the more sinister and creepy final act that isn’t quite as satisfying as THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, but still better than most modern day ghost stories.

Rating: 8/10

Movie Review: Melancholia (2011)

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I officially have no idea the best way to approach watching a Lars von Trier movie- not to mention how to really get my thoughts together for it. This will be my best attempt at doing so, but this still comes days after finishing the film and desperately searching for some sort of palette cleanser to lift me out of the funk MELANCHOLIA plummeted me into.
Lars von Trier has a pretty clear and distinct vision here- though his vision is decidedly bleak and depressing. MELANCHOLIA is the final days of humanity as seen from the perspectives of two sisters, Justine and Claire. Kirsten Dunst plays the uber depressed Justine who has her new husband walk out on her right after the reception and Charlotte Gainsbourg plays Claire who has some deep seeded resentment towards Justine but still loves her unconditionally. The two are the focal points of the film and both play the parts fantastically, but the other side of the sword is that they are almost too convincing as both sides of the story are dark and depressing. In the end the film by way of the performances just sucked the life out of me- though the length and sluggish pace really didn’t help much either.

The first half of the film is Justine’s wedding reception after her marriage to Michael, played by Alexander Skarsgard. Eventually the event befalls a downward spiral when Justine’s mother shits on the whole union, metaphorically. This half of the film sets up the characters nicely but is a showcase for performances only and they are all very good. The planet of doom, Melancholia has not shown itself at this point, but Justine’s drastic mood change doesn’t give us tidings of good things to come either.

The second half focuses on Claire, who is extremely worried about the discovery of a planet that has been hiding behind the sun and may or may not be on a collision course with Earth. This half of the film again is mostly about performances from Dunst and Gainsbourg, but the best part for me- at least the less depressing part- is the visuals of the planet, Melancholia, bearing down on Earth. The idea of course is depressing that this planet forebodes the end of all humanity, but the visual is actually as beautiful as it is haunting.

There are a handful of pretty great supporting performances from Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgard, Stellan Skarsgard and John Hurt. Sutherland has the bigger role of the supporting cast as he plays Claire’s husband, John, who spends most of his screen time complaining about the money he’s spending and the fact that there’s no way Melancholia will hit Earth. For the most part though, the film spends most of its time laying out the depths of Dunst’s depression and acceptance of her own death and the developing depression of Claire’s unwillingness to accept the possibility they may all die as Melancholia approaches.

My conflicted feelings for the film fall on the labored pace which is super slow and with all the utter despair on display it created for a very troubling viewing- one I was very close to stopping and coming back to once I was able to get my happiness meter charged back up. I hoped desperately for a character to come out and be the anchor that snaps one of these characters out of their sobbing and add a more heartwarming presence in this world- I realize of course given the subject matter and the ultimate demise of humanity that me just wishing for hope was in and of itself playing right into the hands of von Trier and his depressing opus.

The most obvious thing I can say about MELANCHOLIA is that it should be avoided at all costs if you’re having a bad day or are even slightly of the depressed variety. As the film dwells in the depression of its characters and offers little on the front of hope or relief I failed to really connect with the film in a meaningful way. Outside of the performances which are fantastic, I recognize the skill at which von Trier operates although his style is very hit and miss with me. MELANCHOLIA while hard hitting in its portrayal of depression and coming to terms with death is a bit light on its ability to be entertaining and truly memorable. If one day the film is a haunting prediction about the true end of the world I really hope that the scientists that name our ultimate demise don’t bring a heavy hand down on a term that literally refers to sadness or depression- subtly is something that von Trier was not going for here.

Rating: 6/10

Movie Review: The Devil’s Double (2011)

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About 99% percent of the time when I watch movies my sole goal when it’s over is to decide rather or not it entertained me- the other 1% is reserved for rather or not I cared about any sort of message political or otherwise it had to say. Now before that sounds too shallow I will say that my initial reaction steers toward entertainment- it’s upon deeper reflection that I start to think about how the film makes me feel with any message or deeper meaning the film had on me. However I am not one to sit and dwell on something like politics because for the most part the subject doesn’t interest me and I have little to contribute to a subject ripe for pulling the wrong strings. THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE portrays the wild lifestyle on the son of one of the world’s former enemies and aside from that I was drawn solely into the madness of the protagonist’s ugly predicament and the fantastic performances- yes performances, plural- by Dominic Cooper.

Latif Yahia (Dominic Cooper) finds himself with a bit of a double edged sword in terms of resembling another person. He is chosen to be a double for a rich and powerful man to whom he will share vast riches, gorgeous women and a lingering spotlight. The downside of the deal is that he is chosen to be the double for one of Saddam Hussein’s son, Uday (Dominic Cooper). Latif is quickly exposed to a fast lifestyle full of sex, drugs and incredible violence the likes of which become a heavy burden in his life that just may not be worth his trouble.

THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE is another one of those films that does what it does very well for most of the movie but at a certain point it once again wears out its welcome. If not for the brilliant acting by Dominic Cooper it might not have even been watchable passed a certain point. On an entertainment level the film moves from scene to scene quickly enough to never get bored until the last act, but is never quite as electric as when Cooper is on screen arguing with himself as he plays both good and evil in the film as the pawn in Uday’s deplorable lifestyle and as the demon Uday himself.

Dominic Cooper plays Latif in a subtle and quiet way as he reluctantly accepts his role in Uday’s life and takes his cruelty with a quiet tongue, but when he’s pretending to be Uday or is actually portraying Uday he’s a completely different actor. Uday is very much like a cartoon character but disturbingly so as he’s a cartoon character that’s frighteningly believable. The character goes through extremely violent mood swings but also shows an even more evident sense of confidence that he has no fear of any and all consequences of his actions and those moments when he’s snapping and unpredictable that become the most entertaining but also the most concerning.

The film is pretty striking in its portrayal of Uday’s fast and crazy lifestyle- not just in terms of the rich and glamorous surroundings but also in the brutality of his life as the son of a terrible dictator and how Uday dishes out punishment to everyone around him either in retaliation to minor issues like someone looking at him the wrong way but also for undermining his orders. THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE is not a flattering portrait of the individual or anyone else associated with him- nor should it be. As bad as the actions carried out in the film are they are as interesting and engaging to watch as I imagine they could be. Once the film speeds toward conclusion though there is a state of purgatory where it feels like the characters are at a stalemate and nothing interesting happens until the final few minutes of the film.

Minus the feeling of floating in limbo at a few different moments of THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE I still found the film spellbinding- due mostly to Dominic Cooper’s fantastic dueling performances. It’s not a perfect portrayal of a true evil in the world, but as a work of film it is very engaging and worth the watch. I found myself mystified by Cooper as he lost himself in character portraying Uday and the heartless and disturbing acts of cruelty he inflicts on others and on that alone THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE will hook other viewers as it did me. There are moments where it is merely treading water that keep the film being as great as it could be and falling just short of pure gold.

Rating: 8/10

Movie Review: Contagion (2011)

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I don’t know exactly what I expected when I sat down to watch CONTAGION but having seen the trailer and seeing all the big names attached to it I think the final product was close to my expectations. There are several very alarming aspects that the film depicts but overall I feel like it should have stuck with one or two of its central plotlines rather than adhering to such a massive amount of different stories. Each different character has interesting moments, it just becomes a bit much to deal with at times.

CONTAGION’s plot is nothing more than the emergence of an extremely fatal disease and the rapid spread of that disease in a short period of time. The film follows several different stories of people handling the disease from a dad dealing with his wife and young son contracting the disease and dying while he himself is immune and trying to keep his daughter from getting it, medical experts searching for a cure and all the way to a blogger causing a stir by reporting on conspiracies surrounding the disease and possible cure.

The film is very well done despite the vast amount of different storylines weaver throughout. I never got lost or bored by any story in particular, I just feel like adhering to one or two of the many stories could have engaged me a little more. I realize though that to tell a story on such a massive scale and the logistics of telling this type of story that keeping people all in one place would be hard so on that level the film does a great job at incorporating all of the main stories together while some of the side ones seemed a little less important and a waste of time.

The performances are all pretty decent- Kate Winslett and Matt Damon being the strongest of them. It’s pretty tough to come down and say anyone is particularly memorable though since they each only get a few minutes of screen time every ten minutes or so as it switches from one story to another, sometimes crossing paths. The more emotional aspects of the film come from Damon since he’s one of the only reoccurring characters that have an emotional story arc where as the rest only have one or two moments where the tragedy of what is happening truly affects them.

CONTAGION is a film that I don’t find particularly scary as far as the execution of its material- I do however find the plausibility of its premise and execution very frightening. What I mean is that there’s nothing about the film that will scare you on the visceral thrill level but on a psychological level it’s terrifying because the way the disease plays out seems perfectly capable of happening. What’s even more frightening is that I don’t have the confidence that in real life practicality that our medical community could solve the problem all that quickly. The scattering of resources and medical mumbo jumbo sound realistic- I’m no medical prodigy though so I’d take that with a grain of salt.

The script for the most part is decent though at times it makes the film seem like somewhat of a schlocky B-Movie. There’s a scene early on where medical examiners are cutting open a skull of a corpse that was killed by the disease and what they see prompts one of the examiners to furiously tell his partner to leave and when asked if he should call someone he replies, “Call everyone.” Its little things such as that which made me laugh pretty heartily because I immediately imagine the literal logistics of that line. Beyond those moments there are a lot of very engaging moments that are born from the political ramifications of characters actions, the human drama of other plotlines and the real life medical red flags and consequences that such a disease could set in motion.

Lastly, I loved the score of this film. Cliff Martinez created a score that often makes the film feel like a horror film while also making it even more entertaining to watch from scene to scene. The music also gives the film a bit of an old school horror vibe with the dark synth tones but at the same time a bit of a sci fi edge to it as well. All the while with everything going down the film is comprised mostly of dramatic tension between grieving families, stumped medical experts, a sleazy blogger and the panic of the millions of citizens feeling the fear of what could happen to them at any second.

Steven Soderbergh has proven himself to be a skilled director in the art of the ensemble film and CONTAGION is no exception. However, I would argue that the ensemble nature of the film is one of the movie’s weaker aspects because it becomes difficult to connect with any one character in a story as frighteningly plausible as something like a disease epidemic that’s killing mass quantities of the world’s population. CONTAGION is a great depiction of the big picture created by the situation but I couldn’t help but feel there is a much more powerful personal story that could have been fleshed out and had a greater effect. Soderbergh’s film looks and feels like a prequel to the underrated viral thriller CARRIERS though CONTAGION has a much larger scope but accomplishes similar goals as far as the horror of our vulnerability to disease. I believe that CONTAGION is a film that will birth legions of new germaphobes and one that will send existing germaphobes into a state of absolute panic by how plausible the events in the film could be.

Rating: 7/10

Movie Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

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David Fincher did wonders turning nothing into something with THE SOCIAL NETWORK. In many ways he accomplishes many of the same things in his adaptation of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO in that the film depicts scenes where people are doing nothing but reading and doing Google searches into something that is oddly compelling. However, as compelling as stuff felt I also couldn’t help but feel somewhat disconnected with the mystery at the heart of the film, but blown away by Rooney Mara’s performance as Lisbeth Salander.

The film is an adaptation of the popular book which is the first of a trilogy and the American remake of the original Swedish film. It stars Daniel Craig as Mikael, a journalist that has been hired to solve a forty year old mystery as to the location of a woman said to have vanished without a trace. Mikael also enlists the skills of a very talented hacker but strange hacker, Lisbeth to help him crack the case.

My first impression of David Fincher’s film is that it’s good looking and interesting but long. Having never read the book I can’t coherently comment on who well it was adapted or if there’s a lot of content that makes the book hard to adapt and that it has to be incredibly long in order to bring the story to life. I will say though that at one point I was getting ready to shut it off because I assumed the credits were about to roll but there ended up being another 20 to 25 minutes left in the movie. I wasn’t necessarily bored during that final 20 minutes but I was indeed ready for the film to end before that point.

Fincher really does have an eye for making extremely boring activities seem exciting on screen. This time around though where I was fully entertained by that fact in THE SOCIAL NETWORK I was a little less impressed during THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO although I still enjoyed watching it. I attribute my slight lack of interest to the fact that for the first half of the movie I just didn’t care about the mystery that Craig’s character is researching and it wasn’t until Lisbeth joined forces with Mikael that it picked up for me. Even with the duo working together I was more connected with their scenes interacting with one another or off doing their own thing than their actual research about the case. When they both finally thought they cracked the case though I finally snapped back in and remembered that there was a reason the two were working together in the first place.

No one really gives a bad performance but Rooney Mara is the only one that really makes a lasting impression. She injects life into each scene she’s in due either to her peculiar personality that comes with the character or her fragile yet aggressive persona. Daniel Craig is decent but he doesn’t quite take his performance to the next level although the character doesn’t really beg him to do so- he does have a few good one liners that gave me a good laugh though.

The score is once again very good by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross although not quite as memorable as their work in THE SOCIAL NETWORK. The opening credits are a very nice touch albeit strange transition from the opening scene to the rest of the film, but visually striking and a nice way to get the blood flowing for what’s to come.

As a follow-up to THE SOCIAL NETWORK Fincher continues to put forth great work from challenging material even though I didn’t love THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO quite as much as his tackling of the Facebook saga. Rooney Mara stuns as the peculiar Lisbeth Salander and outshines all of her co-stars- for many scenes I was stuck watching and waiting for her to appear back on screen. My biggest complaint is that I didn’t feel the film did enough to make me care about the mystery the film is built upon and that it eventually stayed passed its welcome. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO however a great looking film that pulls attention in with its strong female lead and the promise of its premise even if it never really lives up to it. It’s a film that could benefit from subsequent viewing where the subtle parts of the mystery a bit easier to spot and connect with when you know what you’re looking for. From the opposite spectrum once you know where it ends some might find revisiting the film a waste of time, but like many films such as SHUTTER ISLAND, once you know how it ends that makes multiple viewing a more fruitful endeavor to pick up intricacies of the plot- not to mention you can appreciate Mara’s performance all over again.

Rating: 7/10

Movie Review: The Sitter (2011)

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As much as I love Jonah Hill I feel like I really dropped the ball by not recognizing the first red flag attached to THE SITTER. I don’t have an extensive knowledge of all things that David Gordon Green has been a part of over the years but I’ve seen and liked PINEAPPLE EXPRESS before seeing and loathing YOUR HIGHNESS. I can’t say that I’m surprised I didn’t enjoy THE SITTER that much but I am at least happy to say I liked it more than YOUR HIGHNESS- which really isn’t saying that much.

Jonah Hill plays a guy, Noah, who gets stuck babysitting a few kids so that his mom can get herself back on the market for a party where she is being set up with a potential beau. When he gets to the house with the kids he is babysitting he learns quickly that he might have his hands full as one has severe anxiety issues, one is a dolled up celebrity enthusiast and one is an adopted boy obsessed with bombs and fireworks. When his girlfriend teases him with the possibility of having sex with her for the first time he takes the kids out on an errand to score some drugs and deliver them to the party she is at- nothing could possibly go wrong right?

Set aside the fact that this movie feels like its way passed its “Best if used by” date and judging the film on its entertainment merits alone it’s still very stale. The script, the jokes and just about every other aspect of the film is lazy minus just a few bright spots that are due in large part to Jonah Hill and Sam Rockwell. The film opens on a cringe worthy note with Hill’s character performing oral sex on Ari Graynor’s character and it’s followed by an awkward exchange where it’s apparently a well known fact that fat guys are naturally great at cunnilingus- which is a joke that Kevin Smith has been selling much better for years now. The film is just full of recycled elements from previous films that it tries to take advantage of in order to make a quick buck.

It’s not all doom and gloom as there are sparse moments of humor either in side comments that seem improvised, but mostly because I like Jonah Hill as much as I do and that Sam Rockwell is the film’s biggest saving grace. Hill gives the film a shot, though even he seems a bit bored with the material at times, but Sam Rockwell came in ready to just ham it up and his scenes are the best in the film. Rockwell is always great as a bad guy and here he gets to be that but also an incredibly likable bad guy that you know will kill you but at least he does it while treating you like a friend. The sad part is that he comes and goes a few times during the film and when he leaves you can feel the wind leave the sails.

There’s nothing done from the director’s chair that makes any of the proceeding look or feel any more interesting either. The screenplay does not aim to be anything more than generic so it would take a very ambitious eye to elevate the material and Green must have been just as bored with the material as I was because it’s the kind of film that he could haves easily phoned in while reading the sports section from the toilet every morning.

If there was any other aspect of THE SITTER worth praising outside of Hill and Rockwell the film might have snuck its way into a recommendation. As it is though the film is really only worth checking out if the batteries run out of your remote while you’re flipping through channels and somehow stops on this. You will still hunt furiously for spare batteries but might get a few laughs before you give up and just leave it on in the background while you surf the internet or do household chores.