Thursday, April 30, 2009

Review: Knowing

Grade: D+

Knowing is a sci-fi thriller that starts in 1959 at a brand new elementary school on the east coast. The school comes up with the idea to bury a time capsule to mark the opening of the School. They have all the children in the class draw what they think the future will look like. One mysterious girl frantically writes down a series of numbers, the teacher comes by and picks it up and puts it in the capsule. 50 years later at a ceremony the capsule is dug up and all the envelopes are handed out to the children. The envelope containing the mysterious numbers is given to a boy whose father is an astrophysicist. He looks at the numbers one night and one sequence catches his eye, he looks at it for a while and realizes it is the date of 9/11 and has the exact number of people killed in the attacks. He starts to go through all the numbers and realizes that they are the dates and correct number of people killed in every major global disaster in the last 50 years. There are a few more sequences left that indicate there will be 3 more events in the coming week or so.

This movie had a great premise, with virtually no follow through. There were some exciting moments and the whole mystery around the “whisper people” was intriguing at times, but overall this movie probably just shouldn’t have happened. Here’s why: it’s a great concept as I mentioned before, but the problem is how do you end it? There really is no good way to end it, I’ve been thinking about it for a while and no matter what you do, people aren’t going to like it. I think the movie was pitched as follows: Writer: “I’ve got this great idea. What if this guy finds these numbers in a time capsule or something, that accurately list the date and number of people killed in every major global disaster for, say, the last 50 years. On top of that there are still some numbers left indicating more disasters and the coordinates to where they are.” Producer: “Ok, great idea, but, how do these numbers come to be and how does it all end?” Writer: “Umm… didn’t really think that far, I’ll go home and smoke copious amounts of pot and come up with something” Producer: “Sounds good”.

Again, great concept but no follow through. The ending to this movie was absolutely terrible. I couldn’t believe it. I would love to say more but I don’t feel like spoiling anything for people who haven’t seen it yet and want to. I was so mad, probably one of the dumbest endings to a movie, made even worse by the fact that they tried to pass it off as an amazing twist or something. Horrible.

Anyway, Nicolas Cage (Ghost Rider, National Treasure) plays John Koestler, an astrophysicist who believes life is just a random sequence of events until his life is flipped upside down when his son Caleb is handed the envelope with the mysterious numbers on them. Rose Byrne (28 Weeks Later, Sunshine) plays Diana Wayland, the daughter of the mysterious girl who wrote the numbers. The cast was great, especially Nicolas Cage, but it still wasn’t enough to carry the rest of the movie.

Overall, the movie had its moments of action and suspense that were pretty cool and entertaining to watch, but the ending was enough to make you want to rip your hair out. I would recommend this movie only to those who enjoy sci-fi horror/suspense movies and judge the ending for yourself.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Review: Crank: High Voltage

Grade: C-

Crank: High Voltage starts right where Crank left off, Chev Chellios, played by Jason Statham (The Bank, Job, Death Race), fell out of a helicopter and slammed into the ground. His body is immediately scraped off the ground and tossed in the back of a van by what looks like some gangsters. Then he is in a room on an operating table where some people, who hardly look or act qualified, remove his heart and replace it with an artificial heart. Chev awakes to hear them talking about harvesting his organs for some reason, he then gets up, beats up the “doctors” and escapes from the building. He finds a box on a belt wrapped around his waist that has some lights on it, this box has a wire going to his body. He calls his friend/”doctor”, Doc Miles, Played by Dwight Yoakham, who informs him that it is a battery pack for the artificial heart they put in him and that he needs to keep said battery pack charged to keep the heart beating. Chev then, upon finding out who probably has his heart, goes on a rampage through the city trying to find a gangster with a box that contains his heart. Sounds good, doesn’t quite follow through.

I am a huge fan of the first Crank movie. A glorious, video game style movie about a man who has to keep his adrenaline pumping in order to stay alive long enough to kill the people who injected him with a strong Chinese poison that will stop his heart. The premise of Crank 2, and the fact that they decided to make a Crank 2, got me very excited to see the movie. I was hoping for a movie similar to the first but with a different twist and hoped that they wouldn’t kill the same jokes from the first. What I saw what the film makers trying way too hard to top the first movie that this sequel just comes off as vulgar.

First there is tons and tons of nudity. I couldn’t believe how much nudity there was, every scene had at least 5 naked girls running around. Also the sex, I was shocked that this movie was rated R given the controversy around Kevin Smith’s last movie “Zack and Miri Make A Porno”. That movie was originally rated NC-17 because the MPAA felt it had too much nudity and “thrusting” during the sex scenes, they felt it was just too graphic. But Crank 2 has the tons of nudity, a public sex scene at a horse race track that involved so much thrusting and so many different positions that at times they actually pixilated out certain body parts, on top of all the thrusting. Now, as many people know, I’m no prude, but there’s unnecessary nudity and then there’s this movie which was just so over the top with all of it. Also this movie had a bunch of graphic violence, which again, I’m ok with, but some of it was going just a little too far with how much they showed for a movie like this.

I would like to say that Jason Statham was fantastic in it though. He really is great in action movies and I enjoy just about every movie he’s been in. The funny thing is I was reading an article the other day that described him as the biggest B movie star ever. I disagreed at first but then I thought about the kinds of movies that he tends to be in, Transporter series, Crank, Death Race, which was a remake of a B movie from the 70’s, and a couple others and realized that for the most part it’s true. I’m ok with that because I love ridiculous B movies like those. Amy Smart was very funny as his girlfriend Eve. Dwight Yoakham was great again as Doc Miles, very funny and inappropriate which is great. Efren Ramirez was back as Kaylo’s brother Venus, pretty funny. There were also plenty of cameo appearances from people like Ron Jeremy, Ling Bai (who’s character was nuts), Corey Haim (hilarious character), Geri Halliwell and David Carradine (see if you can figure out who he is). There were several very funny parts, most of which are kind of fantasy type sequences, my favorite might have been a memory, not quite sure.

Crank: High Voltage does have plenty of humor to it and is rather enjoyable at times but overall, in comparison to Crank, is quite a letdown in my opinion. It is absolutely not for everyone as many people will just find it crude, vulgar and offensive. It is a movie basically only for the fans of the first Crank movie. Crank: High Voltage unfortunately just looks like the Writers/Directors of Crank simply tried way too hard to top the first movie.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Review: Observe and Report

Grade: C

Observe and Report is a dark comedy about bi-polar mall cop Ronnie Barnhardt, played by Seth Rogen (Knocked Up, Pineapple Express), who is on a mission to find the identity of a flasher who showed up and exposed himself to numerous women and bring him to justice. The mall calls in the assistance of the police and that’s when Detective Harrison, played by Ray Liotta (Wild Hogs, Goodfellas), shows up to help solve these cases. Ronnie is convinced that he doesn’t need the police’s help to solve the cases and tries to solve them himself in hopes of impressing the make-up counter girl Brandi, played by Anna Farris (Just Friends, Scary Movie series). Along the way he decides to try to become an actual cop which just angers and irritates Detective Harrison.

This movie has received some bad rap because it is in fact the second mall cop related movie coming out this year. While this is technically true the two movies are completely different. While Paul Blart was about a loveable mall cop trying to defend his mall against a gang of thugs, Observe and Report is about a bi-polar sociopathic mall cop who thinks that he is THE line between good and evil and will do anything to bring a flasher to justice. Also to put it simply, Paul Blart was rated PG and a family movie, Observe and Report is rated R and about as unfamily friendly as it gets.

This movie walks the line between funny and offensive, so it’s definitely not for everyone. For instance, there is a scene where Ronnie is having sex with a seemingly unconscious Brandi, but it plays out so carefully that it actually seems unintentional and probably consensual. This scene will make many people laugh yet feel uncomfortable and will probably anger others. There are scenes with his mother that help make Ronnie seem more human but yet his mother’s alcoholism and seemingly deteriorating state of mind and being, while good for a cheap laugh every once in a while, makes it all seem so pathetic and again kind of awkward and uncomfortable.

Seth Rogen did a fantastic job as the lead character which is actually a bit of a step out of the norm compared to his usual roles. He actually manages to make you sympathize with this deranged character. Ronnie Barnhardt is very reminiscent of the infamous character Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. In fact, a lot of the movie plays out a bit like Taxi Driver in a mall. The only word I have to describe his character and most of the movie is irrational. His characters irrationality can be explained by his bi-polar disorder and the fact that he stops taking his medication. He does well when everything is going well for him, but as soon as something changes he’ll snap. The rest of the movies irrationality does not have an explanation, like how does he interfere with a police investigation and suffer no consequences. I would like to discuss more but will not give away anymore of the movie for those who want to see it. I will say that the ending is a bit of a shock and I still don’t completely know how I feel about it, much like Taxi Driver.

Observe and Report is far from perfect, but it tries to be something more than a silly comedy and it is a nice change away from the usual comedies that have come out lately. It is darker in tone and while it didn’t have as many laughs as I had hoped for, it does have a nice commentary about out world today. This movie is worth the time and money and will probably be a subject of debate. I do commend Jody Hill, Seth Rogen and crew for taking such a big risk with a movie like this. I also am beginning to love WB more and more for taking bigger and bigger risks with movies like this and the huge risk they took with Watchmen and several others. I recommend this movie to everybody who has a sense of humor, if you are overly sensitive; do not see this movie because I don’t want to hear your complaints.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Review: Adventureland

Grade: A

Adventureland is a new comedy out about a teen in 1987 who has just graduated from college and wants to go to grad school but his parents are having money trouble so he has to take a summer job at a local amusement park in order to save up some money to move to New York and attend Columbia. This is another one of those movies that's advertisements don't properly portray the movie. If you just watch the trailers it shows that it is a movie directed by Greg Mattola, who also directed Superbad, and that it appears to be on the same line as Superbad, as in it looks to be another teen comedy about a bunch of foul mouthed kids trying to have sex, doing drugs and partying. While some of that does go on in the movie, that is not what this movie is about.

Adventureland is actually a sweet, coming of age story. The main character James Brennan, played by Jesse Eisenberg, has just graduated from college and is looking forward to a European trip with some friends before heading off to grad school in New York. He is talking to his parents about how he needs a little extra cash for his trip when they tell him that they are having a little money problems so they won't be able to help him with his trip to Europe and that he will need to get a job to save up some money to pay for school. After some searching he lands a minimum wage job working the games stations at a local amusement park, Adventureland (which is a lot like Lakeside Amusement park for those in the Denver area). The trailers seem to portray James as a lonely and desperate immature boy when in fact he is a very intelligent romantic at heart. At Adventureland he meets Em Lewin, played by Kristen Stewart (Twilight), a beautiful girl who helps him out on his first couple days and they become friends. The movie mostly follows these two as their friendship grows into love and they both encounter some problems and tough decisions.

The supporting cast in this movie is fantastic. Martin Starr plays the lonely character Joel, a very sweet but nerdy guy who's having trouble finding love. Margarita Levieva plays Lisa P, the sexy seductress that all the men at the park want to be with. Ryan Reynolds plays Mike Connell, the park maintenance man. The best supporting characters in the movie are Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig who play Bobby and Paulette, the park owners. Bill Hader has all the funniest parts of the movie as the extremely laid back and, at times, irresponsible park owner and Kristen Wiig is great but very subtle as his wife.

One of the best parts of this movie is the fantastic soundtrack. Again, this movie takes place in 1987 so it's nothing new but the combination of the songs they picked were great. Also, they did not really pick any mainstream 80's music other than Falco's "Rock Me Amadeus" which plays practically non-stop at the park. From the opening scene with "Bastards of Young" by The Replacements, to "I'm in Love With A Girl" by Big Star after the Party at Em's house, to the song "Pale Blue Eyes" by Velvet Underground played a couple times throughout the movie. Also songs by The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, New York Dolls, Poison, Judas Priest, Whitesnake, Lou Reed, The Cure and INXS. It really is a perfect soundtrack for this movie.

I would recommend everybody give this movie a chance. Like I said, this movie is not some raunchy and filthy teen sex comedy, it is a very sweet, wonderful and romantic at times coming of age comedy. I believe it would appeal to most people.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Review: Fast and Furious

Grade: B-

New Model, Original Parts. That’s how they kept advertising the new Fast and Furious movie, indicating that they got the original cast back for this new installment, that original cast being Vin Diesel, Jordana Brewster, Paul Walker and Michelle Rodriguez. To a point this is true, but Jordana Brewster is only in it sporadically and doesn’t really have a major part and Michelle Rodriguez dies is the first fifteen minutes of the movie. No, I am not giving anything away as that is a major plot point, but still, fifteen minutes and she’s gone, so really they got back Paul Walker and Vin Diesel. I am ok with this as it is nice to see Vin Diesel back in movies after taking what seems like close to three years off.

In the movie Letty, played by Michelle Rodriguez, is murdered which brings Dominic Toretto, played by Vin Diesel, back to the states in order to find her killer and seek revenge. Meanwhile, Brian O’Connor is back with the FBI and is working on a case to find and stop a heroin smuggler who is somehow bringing in large amounts of heroin undetected, he finds a clue that to get closer to the smuggler he must enter and win a race because the smuggler is looking for the best drivers, and wouldn’t you know it, Toretto finds out that the way to find Letty’s killer is to enter and win the same race. Toretto wins but Brian manages to find a way to get a spot on this driving team.

The movie really was enjoyable and the action in it was very entertaining and fun to watch. The races around the city, with traffic, are exciting and the dash across the Mexican desert was tense and thrilling. Vin Diesel was fantastic and as I said before I was just happy to see the man back in movies. Paul Walker was ok, I never really cared for his acting and he sure hasn’t seemed to improve. Michelle Rodriguez was great for the ten minutes and three lines she spoke. Jordana Brewster was good in the sporadic scenes she was in, where her character Mia, Toretto’s sister, reignites her love slowly with Brian. As far as I can tell this movie actually takes place before the events in Tokyo Drift for a number of reasons, mainly that in the first action packed scene of the movie that is in all the trailers were they are stealing the Gasoline tanks in transit, one of the drivers is actor Sung Kang reprising his role as Han Lue from Tokyo Drift. Then in the next scene Han says that he hears of some new stuff going on in Tokyo, so he might check that out. Also, Han, if you haven’t seen Tokyo Drift yet this is a SPOILER ALERT, dies towards the end of the movie, then at the very end Toretto shows up and says he used to know Han. So really this is The Fast and the Furious 2.5 instead of 4.

Basically this movie doesn’t really show anything new involving these characters and doesn’t really break any new ground in terms of movies like this or the franchise it’s self. Although the action is good and it is still a fun movie to watch especially if you enjoy the franchise.