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7th-Mar-2012 01:25 pm - That Wonderful Urge (1948)
Thumbs Up

This movie is a remake of 1937's Love is News and comparisons are inevitable, especially since they both star Tyrone Power. He is surprisingly only 34 years old in this movie but the age difference shows. There's a youthful sprightliness missing and he comes across as a lesser Cary Grant from His Girl Friday, that is, mature and suave but not to Grant's extent.

The original vengeful heiress was Loretta Young and she was a better comedian than Gene Tierney, who's better suited in roles that has her as a porcelain beauty. There was also a third lead in Don Ameche in the original that's not present here, to its detriment. Power and Tierney really do try but it just falls short. 7
7th-Mar-2012 12:51 pm - The Perfect Host (2010)
Thumbs Down

This movie answers the question: "What if Niles Crane were psychotic?". While it's supposed to be a psychological thriller of sorts, it comes across more as a David Hyde Pierce showcase, though his character is close enough to his most famous role on Frasier that he does come across as a psychotic Niles Crane. The plot might've been interesting but it's too ludicrous and Pierce is too way out there, which still might've been fine if it had been entirely satirical but no one told the other lead actor, who thought he was in a straightforward thriller. 5
1st-Mar-2012 10:51 am - Priest (2011)
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Priest is based on a graphic novel series, which is why there is an intriguing science fiction background to this action movie. The dystopia setting reminds me of Blade Runner but that's all the similarity there is, unfortunately. Whereas that classic focused on story, this movie just has it propel the action and it's not very good action at that. 5
28th-Feb-2012 06:58 pm - Vivacious Lady (1938)
Thumbs Up

This is a charming romcom starring a young Ginger Rogers and James Stewart. Though the latter had yet to have his most famous roles, he already had his trademark dorky but adorable mannerisms mastered. The lead characters are similar to the ones in the classic Ball of Fire, with Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. I prefer Stewart to Cooper but Rogers lacks the polish of Stanwyck. Not that she isn't good though - I've never seen Rogers more vibrant (though admittedly it might be because I haven't seen her Astaire movies). Indeed it's a great cast, with two stalwart supporting actors - Charles Coburn and Beulah Bondi - having fun with their roles as well. I just think the movie gets a bit too cutesy at times. Rogers is supposed to be a nightclub performer but she doesn't play to the inherent sexiness of the role. 9
28th-Feb-2012 05:06 pm - Quantum of Solace (2008)
Thumbs Down

Ugh. I enjoyed Casino Royale but much like the later Bourne movies, this one's gone in the way of handicams and excessively choppy editing. What's the point of an action movie if you can't actually see what action is happening? And without the action, there really is nothing much more to a Bond movie nowadays than a broody Daniel Craig. At least the old campier Bond movies had a sense of humor. Judi Dench does what she can about it here but it's hardly enough. As for the Bond girls, Olga Kurylenko's pretty bland and though Gemma Arterton has some life in her, she's sadly underused. 3
28th-Feb-2012 04:34 pm - Inkubus (2011)
Thumbs Down

It is never fun when the villain of a horror movie is omnipotent. Coincidentally he's played here by Robert Englund, who's most famous as the similarly omnipotent Freddy Krueger. When such a demon is seemingly undefeatable, the only way to "defeat" him is by hokey plot mechanisms that are ludicrous and illogical. That bugs me to no end. The movie is otherwise kinda interesting, with Englund mindfucking the people at an isolated police station. It's too bad that it's ultimately kinda stupid. 5
28th-Feb-2012 04:20 pm - Hugo (2011)

Hugo is lovely - it's the exceptional family film that Steven Spielberg tried to make twice last year. It's set around an orphan boy's desire to seek meaning in his life, but it also incorporates enlightening information about the early days of cinema as well as one of its pioneers. Martin Scorsese's first attempt at 3D was much publicized and unsurprisingly, the result is gorgeous. Never gratuitous, it just serves to highlight the already splendid 1930's Paris setting. The cast is great as well, with the young actors purely charming and never annoying - that's quite rare. 10
28th-Feb-2012 02:00 pm - Shark Night 3D (2011)
Thumbs Down

I watched this in 2D, which was probably for the better, really. 3D usually makes a lame horror even lamer. Anyway, apart from a couple of satisfying death scenes and a higher budget monster, there's nothing to set this movie apart from the glut of college kid horrors. 3
28th-Feb-2012 01:50 pm - The Woman in Black (2012)
Thumbs Down

The original Woman in Black was a snooze. Like British thrillers, their horrors have nothing happening and slowly too. This remake has less nothing happening and less slowly but it's hardly anymore interesting. The suspense isn't palpable - probably because the whole movie's ambience is gloom and doom - and the few scares are pretty rote. Daniel Radcliffe... Well, it's hard to judge him when it's a one-note role. Janet McTeer is lovely as always though - the highlight of this movie. 4
28th-Feb-2012 12:20 pm - The Big Steal (1949)
Thumbs Up

This movie got labelled as film-noir but it's not really. It has too many comedic elements and if remade today, it'd be a rom-com starring Jennifer Aniston. Not that it was bad. Sour-faced hunk Robert Mitchum does comedy surprisingly well and Jane Greer is pleasant, though not particularly memorable to me. This was their second outing together - their first, Out of the Past, was a proper film-noir and more impressive. 7
23rd-Feb-2012 08:36 pm - The Oscar Write-Up
I'm tired of going against the odds of who'll win the Oscars. Apart from the occasional anomaly, it almost never pays off. This time I'm just going to go with what Gold Derby predicts. For the most part, their ranking parallels mine anyway, so what's the point in writing tons about why the likely winners will win. I'm just gonna to share my personal choices.

Best Picture

I loved four of the movies here but the one standout is Hugo, which is a triumphant family film that engaged, moved, and enlightened me. I love The Artist more for what it's doing: bringing the splendor of silent and B&W films to new generations, but as a movie itself, it is grand fluff.

Best Director

I have to tribute Martin Scorsese for creating the great family film that eluded Steven Spielberg twice this year, though Michel Hazanavicius was certainly adept at capturing the glory days of silent films and Golden Age Hollywood.

Best Actor

My love for Jean Dujardin was tempered a little when I saw him doing essentially the same suave schtick in OSS 117, an earlier collaboration with Hazanavicius, but I am still impressed by the very physical performance he gives.

Best Actress

This is usually my favorite category but this year, none of the actresses really moved me. You would think Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe would've but while I'm actually a fan of the former, I'm not a fan of the latter, and somehow it just didn't mesh for me. Viola Davis was great in The Help, but it reminded me a little too much of her previous Oscar-nominated role in Doubt. Nevertheless, she's the one I'm going with.

Best Supporting Actor

I thought Nick Nolte was a drunken has-been and maybe he's still a drunken lout but wow, he was amazingly poignant in Warrior. My heart just went right out to him. Of all the acting nominees, his is my performance of the year.

Best Supporting Actress

Gads, I enjoy Melissa McCarthy in her TV show, Mike & Molly, in which she shows that a fat person can still be lovely and graceful but her role in Bridemaids was just too crass for me. Octavia Spencer just reminds me too much of Hattie McDaniel, the first black woman to win an Oscar way back in 1940, also for playing a sassy maid. I'm generally almost more fond of moving performances, which is why I liked Janet McTeer's most of all. It's an odd role - that of a late 1800's cross-dressing lesbian - that can go wrong easily (see Glenn Close's performance) but McTeer infuses it with such dignity, and most of her performance is through her eyes too. Mesmerizing eyes.

Best Original Screenplay

Granted it's probably not as easy as it seems to write a silent movie's screenplay but I'm still more impressed with Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, and how he amusingly captures the literary luminaries of yore.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Hugo! I love how a lesson about one of cinema's pioneers ties in with the story of a young boy's search for meaning after his father's death. The latter part of the movie actually resembles Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close's and it only serves to highlight how much better a movie Hugo is.

Best Animated Feature

I found the Hollywood productions all rather rote so I'm liking A Cat in Paris the best. This is quite a weak category this year, without a Pixar movie. And I wonder if another Studio Ghibli one will ever appear again.

Best Art Direction

Hugo! Even before I saw its odds for the Oscar, a few minutes into the movie, I thought to myself, "This movie will win Best Art Direction." The world of Hugo, set in 1930's Paris, is utterly enchanting.

Best Cinematography

The Tree of Life was annoying but it did look great. I am always swayed by impressive scenery but more than that, I noticed a lot of little flourishes that Emmanuel Lubezki did, like splaying sunlight across faces. Maybe it was because the movie itself bored me.

The Rest

Hugo! Lol. I'm not techinally proficient enough to appreciate Editing, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing - even Makeup - and I really didn't want to watch Transformers for the Visual Effects category so I skipped Planet of the Apes and Real Steel as well. I generally don't pay enough attention to a movie's score unless it's exceptionally impressive (e.g. Atonement) so I don't have much opinion there. The Best Foreign Film nominees are all depressing so I skipped all save A Separation, since it's also up for screenplay. I'm rooting for Man or Muppet for Best Song just because I love The Muppets, not the song.

Alrighty then, here's hoping some of my favorites beat the odds and win the gold!
20th-Feb-2012 03:11 pm - The Grey (2012)
Thumbs Up

I thought that this would be a well-made man vs. wolf action movie starring relatively-newfound action star, Liam Neeson, but it's more well-rounded than that. Actually I was more disappointed in the man-wolf action scenes because of the choppy editing that made it quite hard to see the mauling. The better scenes were the ones of suspense - like when only the wolves' eyes were seen - and the ones of drama, especially when the death of each man was mourned. Pity that the wolf action doesn't quite make the cut. 7
20th-Feb-2012 02:38 pm - The Thing from Another World (1951)
Thumbs Down

I love classic movies and I love horrors but they feel like "never the twain shall meet" with me. I'm sure it's my fault that I can't appreciate classic horrors - I'm probably too used to modern use of camera, sound, and special effects. This movie, which was remade into one of my favorite horrors, John Carpenter's The Thing, is well-acclaimed but I just found it too hokey and talky. And I just can't take a movie seriously that has an alien that looks like Frankenstein and which one character very earnestly calls "an intelligent carrot." 2
20th-Feb-2012 02:21 pm - The Expendables (2010)
Thumbs Up

My dad would've loved this movie - he was a big fan of Sylvester Stallone's action films. Me, not so much, though I actually loved his underrated comedy, Oscar. Still, it's good to see him back in action - both in front and behind the camera (he directs as well) - and in fine form too. He even manages to humanize the characters well with plenty of humor and introspection.

Given the pedigree of the cast, I'm glad to report that the butt-kicking is excellent. My main criticism is that there's not enough of it! I would've liked it better with less drama - though I guess it does help the story - and less guns. Action stars shooting guns are nowhere as fun as action stars doing chopsocky. 8
20th-Feb-2012 02:06 pm - Chico & Rita (2010)
Thumbs Up

I want to say that this movie is primarily for jazz lovers. It features a grand and glorious spectrum of jazz music but I'm not a fan of its melodramatic story. It does provide social commentary on Havana and the US in the 50's and 60's though, and its animation style does paint interesting pictures of the times as well. If I'm not wrong, Rita's Hollywood career parallels Dorothy Dandridge's, though I'm not sure if it's intentional or coincidental. 7
20th-Feb-2012 01:52 pm - The Jade and the Pearl (2010)
Thumbs Down

I have some appreciation for "mo lei tau" Hong Kong comedies but some, like this one, are utterly unfunny and feature the worst exaggerated performances. The two lead actresses - Charlene Choi and Joey Yung - are used to this fodder and put on their worst faces for it but Raymond Lam pretty much carries his dopey romantic lead character from The Perfect Wedding and his straight performance is incongruous with the others'. Furthermore, for some unknown reason, the movie runs long at a very painful and dragged out 104 minutes. Ugh. Dreck. 1
20th-Feb-2012 01:43 pm - A Cat in Paris (2010)
Thumbs Up

The art of this animated film reminds me of a certain children's book or series but I can't remember which. It looks simple but it is charming and creates a lovely atmosphere, apropos of a movie set in Paris. While it's essentially a children's movie, there's plenty of humor and excitement for adults to appreciate as well. The only thing I disliked was how the final chase scene ended. Without spoilerering it, all I can say is "Huh. What's up with that?". 9
20th-Feb-2012 01:24 pm - A Lonely Place to Die (2011)
Thumbs Up

This is a thriller initially set in the Scottish Highlands and if nothing else, it's worth viewing just for its glorious scenery. It's actually a pretty good thriller though, as a group of mountaineers are hunted by snipers up and down the countryside. Sadly, it peaks early and the movie becomes more rote when it moves into the city in its last half-hour. It has a strong, effective cast headed by the lovely Melissa George, whom I've liked ever since the short-lived Thieves. 7
Thumbs Up

I don't get this movie. The base plot wants to be heartbreaking - a 9-year-old boy tries to solve a puzzle left behind by his father who died during 9/11 - but instead of a regular boy, they have a character who's odd, unlikeable, and manages to alienate the audience (well, me anyway). As a result, it barely moved me and conversely irritated me a bit. What made the movie watchable for me was the supporting performances. Max von Sydow was Oscar-nominated but his unshowy role didn't impress me as much as the two ladies - Sandra Bullock and Viola Davis - did. I prefer Bullock here than in The Blind Side and this makes two great performances for Davis this year. If only their vehicle here had been better. 6
Thumbs Up

This is essentially Zombies on a Plane. It's not as polished but it has the same sense of fun as Snakes on a Plane. The cast is a mix of professional and amateur but none of them are distractingly bad, though there is plenty of annoyingly stupid. 6
18th-Feb-2012 10:21 am - Margin Call (2011)
Thumbs Up

Oh, "margin call" actually means something. I thought it was just a philosophical title of sorts. Okay, I'm getting cross-eyed reading the definition on wiki. That's kinda the way I feel about the movie. It seems interesting, but the financial terms elude me, and I'm sure a lot of other people as well. The cast is strong though, and their interactions, as well as the aspects of the plot I do understand, still make for a good movie for me. 7
14th-Feb-2012 02:02 pm - Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010)
Thumbs Up

This movie is inspired. I generally don't like satirical horror comedies but this one is original and features great turns from comic actors, Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine. When there've been so many generic horrors about murderous rednecks menacing college kids, there's never been one that tells the story from the side of the rednecks, and innocent vacationing rednecks at that, who, due to a series of unfortunate events, get beset upon by clueless college kids thinking to seek revenge. Hilarity ensues. 10
14th-Feb-2012 01:49 pm - Puss in Boots (2011)
Thumbs Up

This is an unexceptional movie with a really likeable lead character. Antonio Banderas' brand of hamminess has never been better captured than as a swashbuckling rogue of a cat. I was unimpressed with Salma Hayek and Zach Galifianakis though, and I found this movie lacking without the presence other strong voices like Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy's. And though this isn't exactly a Shrek sequel, it suffers from the same declining returns as the storybook world it's set in isn't original anymore. 7
Thumbs Up

A one-and-a-half hour movie about the history of DC Comics can only tell so much but this documentary gives as much as it can. It is well-told and engrossing and provides a good background of DC to any fan who's never bothered to find out its history (like me). It is segment into ages - Golden, Silver, Bronze, Modern - and focuses - appropriately - on the most famous characters and titles, as well as the most famous artists and writers. And to be fair, there're also some references to Marvel. Besides new knowledge, this docu has also given me new appreciation of how far DC has come, surviving through its various lows over some 80 years. 10
14th-Feb-2012 12:51 pm - The Iron Lady (2011)
Thumbs Up

This is a really difficult movie to get into if you aren't familiar with Margaret Thatcher and her reign as Prime Minister of the UK. Told through the flashbacks of a women with Alzheimer's, everything is patchy and so everything is half-explained or zipped through. While this storytelling style might be fine with any ordinary person with Alzheimer's, the Iron Lady here is a historical icon, and even if she was a controversial one, I would think she deserves a biopic that showed the highs and lows of her career better. Coming out of the movie, the main thing I found out was what I already knew: that Meryl Streep is a great actress.

It's a dual performance that's a showcase for Streep. There is mimicry, in the public persona of Thatcher, and there is interpretation, when she's an elderly woman with Alzheimer's. In a better movie, Streep would've had a stronger shot at the Oscar but as it is, it's one of her best roles in recent years. 6
14th-Feb-2012 12:33 pm - The Caller (2011)
Thumbs Up

This was a pleasant surprise. With its cheap-looking poster and unknown cast, I was expecting dreck but this was actually an effective thriller. It's a doozy of a premise that plays like Frequency, except with a caller who's insane and not your dad. That's kinda mindboggling, if you know what I mean. The writer understands how such a situation can be played into horror and he does it effectively, and in a rare serendipity, the director executes it well too.

I liked the lead actress, Rachelle Lefevre - she could convey both vulnerable and strong well. If the movie had had a better conclusion, she would've been a good icon for empowerment over domestic abuse. The sour ending they went with, however, almost ruins the movie for me. Admittedly, there's a twisted logic to ending it as such but I didn't bond with a character just to have her go to heck in the very last minute of the movie. 7
14th-Feb-2012 12:12 pm - Swamp Shark (2011) (TV)
Thumbs Down

It's a shark! In a swamp! While most of the movie is predicatably bad, with really annoying characters, there are a couple of scenes that are passable - a shark does look kinda cool zipping through murky swampwater. It's a pity the limited budget of this TV movie didn't allow for more shark scenes. 2
14th-Feb-2012 12:01 pm - OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (2006)
Thumbs Up

Five years before The Artist, director Michel Hazanavicius first collaborated with the two stars of that movie, Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, in this goofy spy satire. Full of lame jokes, this movie really only impresses visually. The art direction and cinematography are spiffy, and with the grand 60's feel of the movie, Hazanavicius was already quite capable then of evoking happy nostalgia. Dujardin was also already in good form as the charming lead, though, with such strikingly obvious similarities between his character here and the one in The Artist, the latter now feels like just an extension of his capabilties. So now, in retrospect, had I watched this movie first, the most impressive of the trio in The Artist would have to be Berenice Bejo, who only hints at her future sprightliness with her sadly limited role here. 7
14th-Feb-2012 11:38 am - The Great McGinty (1940)
Thumbs Up

This is a satire of the corrupt government politics of the time, and so the subject is somewhat outdated now. It is to writer/director Preston Sturges' credit that he manages to make the movie entertaining nonetheless. It's a comedy with two strong leads - a straight-faced tough guy, Brian Donlevy, and a hammy gangster, Akim Tamiroff - and they play well off each other. I didn't care much for the obligatory romance storyline but Donlevy makes for a surprisingly charming romantic lead. If Sturges had gone for the jugular, he might've made as great a movie as All the King's Men, but as it is, it's more like a romantic comedy with an edge. 8
14th-Feb-2012 11:22 am - A Separation (2011)
Thumbs Up

I have to wonder if this movie has been hyped as much as it has because it is a well-made movie from a country that isn't known for even having a movie industry. I certainly can't name any other Iranian movie. Nevertheless, it is a good, albeit hard to watch, movie that captures how family, religion, and religious law issues resolve themselves in a society where people have limited freedom and capabilities. The writer/director, Asghar Farhadi, is very capable, as are his actors, and they make the movie engrossing and accessible despite its tough subjects. 10
14th-Feb-2012 10:58 am - Mimic: Sentinel (2003) (V)
Thumbs Down

Mimic and Rear Window is an odd combination for this movie to take. The latter is of course one of the best thrillers ever and done halfway well, this movie could've been pretty good too, but despite obvious homage scenes, the director just isn't able to replicate the thrills for the most part. Having annoying and/or inept supporting characters doesn't help either. It's a pity - I like the lead, Karl Geary, but he doesn't have anyone interesting to play against. 4
14th-Feb-2012 10:36 am - Perfect Wedding (2010)
Thumbs Up

In watching this movie, I realize there's a lot to dislike about it. It's often lame and Miriam Yeung is often her usual grating self. On the other hand, there's also a lot to like about it, though you need to be able to appreciate the inherent silliness of HK comedies. Raymond Lam's a charming romantic lead, Teresa Mo is always fabulous, and actually Miriam Yeung has a couple of good dramatic scenes that show she might be capable of handling more difficult roles. I wish the plot weren't as rote but at least the movie still left me feeling happy. 8
7th-Feb-2012 04:22 pm - Julia's Eyes (2010)
Thumbs Up

This is another Spanish movie in which the lead actress stumbles around blindly but at least it's done better than The Silent House (below). It is an interesting story: a woman who's slowly going blind investigates the mysterious death of her sister, who had the same degenerative disease.

The director, Guillem Morales, is capable of suspense and there are some good scenes. I would've prefered a tighter movie though - at almost two hours, there are quite a few non-eventful scenes that could've been trimmed. 7
7th-Feb-2012 04:02 pm - Insanitarium (2008)
Thumbs Up

I enjoyed this movie primarily because of two actors I like, Olivia Munn and Armin Shimerman. Munn's a comedian who was a Daily Show correspondent for a little while. I find her charming, even though throughout the movie she looks like she's about to burst into laughter. Shimerman was Quark in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and he hams it up here as a psychotic villain.

The movie itself is quite ludicrous and improbably, but suspend disbelief and it's actually not bad a watch, though more as a comedy than a horror. If you watch Bones, then you'd recognize Carla Gallo, who's one of the victims of the "flesh-eating psychopaths," and if you've seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, you'll find it amusing to see the Nurse Ratched-esque character become one of those psychopaths. 6
7th-Feb-2012 03:47 pm - The Sleeper (2012)
Thumbs Down

This horror is an homage to 80's slashers, which were notably campy and featured a lot of slutty and/or nubile young women. As an homage, it is brilliant. Apart from the use of the word "dude," everything else felt like it was right out of the 80's. If you're a fan of that subgenre of horror, you'd probably love this movie. Unfortunately, I hate it. These movies are more camp than horror, and they pander to college kids. I imagine they'd be good fun if you were high or with a group of friends in a convertible at a drive-in. For someone who wants real thrills though, they're a disappointment. It feels like a wasted opportunity for me. Since the writer/director is capable enough to capture that subgenre so well, I wish he could've gone a step further and made it a good horror at the same time. 4
7th-Feb-2012 03:32 pm - Save the Tiger (1973)
Thumbs Up

Save the Tiger is a 1973 film about moral conflict in contemporary America.

Contemporary 1973 - that's probably why I didn't quite understand the motivations of the characters in the movie. It took the Wiki summary for me to put the pieces together and in retrospect I get it now. Nothing exciting happens at all - the focus is on the lead character and his interactions with the people in his life over a few days - so it takes some patience and an interest in sociology and/or psychology to appreciate it. 7
7th-Feb-2012 03:18 pm - The Silent House (2010)
Thumbs Down

I should like this horror - it's atmospheric and claustrophobic, just the way I like 'em, and yet I don't. I think my issue with it is the lack of pay-offs through most of it. There is an underlying mystery in the story and it is revealed at the end, but through the movie you mostly just see the lead actress stumble around blindly while hearing mysterious noises. There are no big scares and she doesn't get menaced. The big reveal at the end is rather interesting, actually, but by then I was already quite tuned out. 5
Thumbs Up

Return of the King, this isn't. While this movie caps the Harry Potter saga well enough, there's a sense of grandiosity missing - the kind that would make this movie an "epic."

The series has gotten quite lame for me. While I was enchanted watching the first couple of movies, I soon grew tired of how alternately omnipotent and impotent the magic in that world is. Blame my growing up with Dungeons & Dragons. Magic Missiles? Really? Zzzzz. They might've been appropriate for the first movie but not the last. Julie Walters and Helena Bonham Carter's spell duel, omg. Magic Missile, Magic Missile, Magic Missile, then suddenly Flesh to Stone. Would've made more sense to open with that, no?

All that said, the movie still has its entertaining moments, which are mainly the scenes with impressive special effects. The siege of Hogwarts is the best example, with the giant forcefield. If only the battle orgy between ghosties and students hadn't been so rushed though - the deaths of supporting characters came across as obligatory and gratuitous. I couldn't even make out who some of them were. Quite an ignoble ending for them, much like this movie is for the series, ha. 7
25th-Jan-2012 11:01 am - Rango (2011)
Thumbs Up

The main charm of Rango for me was the titular character - an unconventional hero voiced by an unconventional actor, Johnny Depp. Against expectations, the wacky lizard is a charming hero, funny without being overly goofy or dumb.

The movie itself was just okay though. I didn't care much for the story or most of the other characters. It's like they're all background fodder for the star. Or maybe it's just because I've never been one for Westerns. 7
25th-Jan-2012 10:37 am - Prowl (2010)
Thumbs Down

Initially, this looked like yet another movie where lost teenagers are menaced by creatures but it soon set itself apart when most of them are eaten in the first half-hour, leaving just one girl running around for all too long a time. The eventual twist is interesting but it comes so late in the movie that there's not much time left to work with it, effectively making this seem more like a prequel to a better movie.

I'm not a fan of the direction either. It's always annoying when the creatures - vampire-ish ones in this case - alternate between omnipotent and impotent, just to suit the story. 3
25th-Jan-2012 10:24 am - Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)
Thumbs Down

More of the same. The end.

This sequel doesn't bring anything new to the table, which would've still been okay if the directors had been able to create new tension from familiar scenes but they don't. There are in fact noticeable lost opportunities. In a scene where a Teddy Ruxpin doll looks ominously creepy, they instead decide to make a door mysteriously close in the background instead. Zzz.

The story also doesn't tie in to the first two, despite it being touted as a prequel. There's an interesting twist at the end but it doesn't explain why the sisters attract malevolent entities apart from their apparently being cursed or just downright unlucky. 2
25th-Jan-2012 10:07 am - The Descendants (2011)
Thumbs Up

I enjoyed writer/director Alexander Payne's Sideways while watching it but in retrospect, I just remember it as a movie about morons drinking wine. It's kinda made me realize that Payne's movies are more about dialogue and interactions so you kinda have to be there, so to speak.

The Descendants has a more interesting story than Sideways, thankfully, and though the topic of a comatose wife and mother being taken off life support might seem serious, somehow the movie works as a dramedy. The key here is George Clooney, who's never been better at balancing comedy and pathos. He even manages to convey helplessness, which is as far from the famous confident Clooney mug that he can go.

There is a side plot about Clooney's extended family selling a huge piece of prime real estate that they collectively own. I'm not quite sure of how it ties in to the main story except perhaps that Clooney's intention is to use the resulting conflict to bring the family closer, much like how searching for his wife's lover inexplicably brings his immediate family closer.

No matter. Ultimately the movie is heartwarming and much more palatable that Payne's previous ones. 10
25th-Jan-2012 09:43 am - My Week with Marilyn (2011)
Thumbs Up

It's hard to imagine appreciating this movie as much without prior knowledge of Marilyn Monroe and Sir Laurence Olivier. As it is, I felt like I should've known more about Dame Sybil Thorndike, since Judi Dench made such a charming character out of her.

The movie attempts to give a view into Marilyn's tormented psyche. I found it believable, though it should certainly not be taken as gospel.

Michelle Williams is believable too, although primarily in scenes where she's free to channel Marilyn on her own. In those scenes, she captures Marilyn's whimsy and glow. When she's reproducing Marilyn's scenes in The Prince and the Showgirl, however, it just comes across as a little trying too hard. And there's a certain lack of guilelessness in Williams' eyes. Marilyn wasn't dumb but through her eyes, she made you believe she was, and Williams' seem just a tad too intelligent.

Kenneth Branagh is fun as Olivier. I don't know as much about the legend except that he was a bit of a ham, which Branagh happily channels. I also recognized Olivier's distinctive enunciation. It must have helped to have Sir Derek Jacobi in the cast too, since he was close to Olivier, and is apparently Branagh's mentor. 8
25th-Jan-2012 08:51 am - Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)
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As I understand it, the titular character is inflicted with a bunch of psychological disorders, though the main one I recognize is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It only reveals itself as such after a key scene late in the movie though. Through most of the earlier scenes, you see Elizabeth Olsen trying to readjust to normal life after escaping a brainwashing cult. She keeps having flashbacks to her days there (how convenient for us), to the point where it infringes upon her reality.

The focus is on Olsen, though John Hawkes makes for quite a hypnotic cult leader. She's the younger sister of Mary-Kate & Ashley and the resemblance is there so it's a little disconcerting to see real (and good) acting.

I think the main thing I disliked about the movie was the lack of explanation sometimes. It's not abstract but more elaboration would've been good. 8
17th-Jan-2012 12:36 pm - 50/50 (2011)
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It's a tough move, bridging comedy with drama in a movie about cancer, but it is pulled off almost perfectly here. Not everyone can maintain their sense of humor when confronted with a terminal illness but I like to think that I'd be able to. As coping mechanisms go, I feel like it would be the best for myself and everyone else. The movie's hardly cavalier about cancer, but Will Reiser, who wrote the screenplay based on his own situation, manages to capture the unintentional humor inherent in such situations, and he also creates a best friend character - very well embodied by Seth Rogen - who understands the need to keep the patient's spirits up.

The darker side of the movie is as moving as the lighter is funny. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a great actor and to see his progress through the stages of denial and increasing despair at the progress of his cancer was quite heartbreaking. Anjelica Huston, as his mom, is as good as I've ever seen her. As someone who has her own share of burdens, she still manages to create a poignant instead of overwrought character.

I found the budding romance with Anna Kendrick unbelievable, sweet as she and her character are, and it feels like it exists to well, sweeten the movie and make it a little less bleak. It does, but it also makes it harder for me to walk in Gordon-Levitt's shoes. I doubt I'd be so lucky, if in a similar situation. 10
17th-Jan-2012 12:06 pm - A Better Life (2011)
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The heart of the movie is as the tagline goes: "Every father wants more for his son." It is a noble sentiment and why I ultimately enjoyed enjoyed the movie. The movie's progression feels somewhat arbitrary - just about every bad thing that can befall the illegal immigrant protagonist does, and in the span of about two days. Still, Demian Bichir is great as the dedicated father who tries to instill a sense of integrity into his wayward son despite all odds, and their bonding scenes are what really make the movie. 8
17th-Jan-2012 11:54 am - Warrior (2011)

This might be the best sports movie I've ever seen, though I suspect it's partly because mixed martial arts stretches the line of "sport." Were it not for rules, it might as well be street-brawling. The action's mesmerizing here - writer/director Gavin O'Connor has a great sense of capturing the tension of the fight scenes and I've never been so stimulated outside of a [good] kungfu movie.

More than that though, he creates three fascinating characters, each with different but engaging back stories, and each embodied by an actor who's brought in his A-game. I had never paid much attention to Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy or Nick Nolte till now. I found myself increasingly drawn to them as the movie progressed, so much so that I was quite overwrought by the time the climactic battle came around, when brother was pitted against brother. I even teared up a few times during the movie.

I'm kinda outraged that this movie hasn't received more recognition, considering the awards they laid on the similar but lesser movie, The Fighter. That movie barely maintained my attention, much less moved me. Nolte at least, has a good shot at an Oscar nomination for his role of an ex-alcoholic father seeking redemption, and I'll be rooting for him to win it. 10
17th-Jan-2012 11:33 am - The Amityville Haunting (2011) (V)
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I never expect a B-horror to be great but I'm quite happy to settle for "adequate."

This movie is next in the line of Paranormal Activity rip-offs in which the goings-on of a haunted house are recorded on security cameras. Since the plot of such movies are now rote, the way for them to stand out is to handle the horror well. They don't quite cut it here - there aren't any shocks of note - but at least the acting's not terrible. Yea, it's a small consolation. 3
16th-Jan-2012 04:16 pm - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
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Perhaps I have been spoiled by American movies but it seems to me that the British idea of a spy thriller is to show what happens behind the scenes, which is a lot of discourse, and often boring at that. An American spy thriller would have a field agent cavorting around the world alternately hiding from and shooting at enemy agents. A British spy thriller would show an office agent visiting other office agents while trying to find out who's been fiddling with some confidential documents While the mystery here might be a bit more engaging than missing documents, the action is typically lacking. As such, the tension is too. A lack of potential menace does that.

Gary Oldman is the star here but it's an understated role that primarily has him looking intelligent or cunning behind a quiet facade - quite befitting a British spy. Colin Firth and Kathy Burke had showier and more fun roles. Benedict Cumberbatch, star of Sherlock, also has a supporting role, which was quite unfortunate because I found myself wishing I was watching that instead. 5
16th-Jan-2012 03:45 pm - Melancholia (2011)
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The other other Lars von Trier movie I've seen is Dogville. From that movie and the reviews of his other ones, he comes across as a writer/director who likes through disturb his views through scenes of debasement. Much as I don't care for Nicole Kidman, how her character was treated in Dogville made it hard to watch. I didn't dislike it, incidentally, though I don't intend to watch it ever again.

Melancholia has such scenes, though they aren't as extreme. Though it has abstract qualities, it's actually not that hard to understand because what it movie is about is right there in the title. Melancholia: a mental condition characterized by great depression of spirits and gloomy forebodings.

Kirsten Dunst is the victim of melancholia, and to see how her parents act at her wedding, it's not hard to understand why. The real mystery is why she's not on anti-depressants. Charlotte Gainsbourg is her long-suffering sister-cum-caretaker who has to put up with an overbearing husband as well. And if these two women's problems aren't enough, there is a planet - coincidentally named Melancholia - on a crash course with Earth, logic and physics be damned. I think a parallel can easily be drawn between that planet's collision and when a bout of crippling depression hits, and the devastation they both cause. Actually, I'm quite surprised at how easily that parallel is drawn - usually I don't "get" artsy movies.

The two lead actresses are great - though Dunst does have the showier role and has thus been more accoladed - as is the supporting cast. What I don't care for is the handicam camerawork. Yes, it's a wedding and it's supposed to look like a a homemade video but it's also annoying and unoriginal. Otherwise the cinematography looks pretty good, especially in scenes when Melancholia is looming in the distance. Hmm. I bet if I watch the movie again I could probably draw a parallel to the cinematography in scenes when both Melancholias are looming. 8
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