I Am Legend directed by Francis Lawrence

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I am becoming spoiled by the IMAX experience. The audio is so incredible and the enormous picture doesn’t hurt. Unfortunately, the fabric sections in my local theater have one flaw on the side of the screen that is noticeable during dark scenes. It’s as distracting as cigarette burns in non-digital films (thanks, LBFH, for making me notice those in every single movie).

I could compare this to a futuristic Cast Away, but it is much broader. Will Smith proves again that he can carry a movie as well as, if not better than, Tom Hanks. Who would have thought the hilarious, skinny kid from Parents Just Don’t Understand would be such a fun actor? Smith’s character, Robert Neville, is a doctor and a military man. He uses his scientific skill and military firepower to navigate a dead New York City. He’s already skilled at living in this world when we meet him, so thankfully we don’t have to be bored while we watch him try to light a fire.

The pharmaceutical industry provides a frighteningly villified virus (I promise we aren’t all bad!!). It kills billions of people and gives a rabies-like reaction in the tiny percent of surviving population; Neville is alone in his immunity. The action provides heart-pounding entertainment with enough thoughtful pauses that I could actually catch my breath. Aside: as a new parent, a few scenes involving the virus’ effect on children were especially heartbreaking.

Despite a few implausible scenes and CGI obviousness, I was mesmerized. This is a thoughtfully done action-adventure film that I’d gladly see again.

[rate 4]

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind directed by Michel Gondry

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Have you ever wished you could redo an event in your life? I’ve often lamented that I didn’t study more in college. I a lifetime of boneheaded decisions painfully clearly. In high school, I said mean things about my friends when I was feeling insecure; in college, I was more interested in socializing than studying, eating, or sleeping; after college…well, let’s just say I wouldn’t have dated a stalker by choice.

Eternal Sunshine provides me with the “what if” fantasy of erasing those memories from my brain as though they never happened. Joel and Clementine both decide that they hated their relationship so much that it was better off erased. Clem’s erasure is completed with no remarkable effects; however, the technician in charge of Joel’s is more interested in in beer and the opposite sex than in ensuring his job is done well (sounds like me in college). As the memories are pulled from Joel’s head, he relives each of them one last time. Joel begins to wonder why he embarked on this at all. His memories of Clem are often as sad as they are sweet, but he realizes he wants to keep them and starts fighting the erasing machine.

What follows is a captivating view into one director’s idea of how our synapses fire and misfire as they trigger memory. Reality bends and some scenes feel like cartoons or dreams. Jim Carrey’s portrayal of Joel is very good, despite the fact that a few scenes are obviously Carrey as Carrey, mugging more than acting. I even liked Kate Winslet as Clem and thought she somehow looked prettier with crazy red hair than she ever did in her other films.

Spoiler ahead!

In the end, the erasure negatively impacts everyone: those who do it as well as those surrounding the erased.  While the movie had a few times when it swirled around like a madman, it drew the conclusion I always have: my experiences and mistakes, however grave or embarrassing, have made me who I am today.  Maybe the cruelty of other kids- and my resulting lashing out- led to my compassion for people and animals.  Maybe I’m such a diligent employee now to make up for earlier follies.  Maybe if my GPA were 4.0 I would have had a different career path and wouldn’t have met my husband.  Maybe all the desperately wrong people I dated helped me to see what I didn’t want in a spouse…and, regarding my bad relationship behaviors, didn’t want myself to be.

Regret is wasteful, and this film shows how our efforts to deny our selves do not end up bettering us.  I didn’t expect to like this movie but I find myself wanting to see it again to reexplore each layer of plot and theme.

[rate 3.5]

3:10 to Yuma directed by James Mangold

3:10 to YumaIMDb link

Strike one: Russel Crowe’s in it.  Strike two: I dislike Westerns, even everyone’s favorite, Unforgiven.  I used to hate Westerns (and still kind of do) because of the fact that women are almost never portrayed in strong roles.  I was irritated by the fact that every woman was a meek wife, a waitress/server type, or a whore.  I’ve made my peace with the fact that this genre is not going to change and that it is about male bonding and man versus man/himself.

Being that this movie was already made once, I expected no different; it was true to genre.  However, it was one of the better films I’ve seen this year.  The pacing was spot-on: like a good symphony, it had balanced highs and lows instead of simple, full-on adrenaline.  Dan Evans is a rancher who is struggling to make payments on his property.  He has only been consistent at failure and is keenly aware of that fact.  He backs away from his first confrontation with Ben Wade; however, as the film progresses, their relationship is that of equals.  In fact, I would assert that Ben Wade feels that Evans is the better man, as evidenced in the film’s last scenes.  The dialogue is complex without being stuffy.  I would say the costuming is excellent, except the oddly fitted white leather jacket and fancy studded chaps on Charlie Prince.  It was a strange touch that I feel will date the movie if watched in 20 years.

Critics had panned the ending as odd or wrong or, as Roeper said, “weird.”  But I thought the ending perfectly befit the themes carried throughout.  It showed the kind of man that Evans was and the kind of man that Wade respected (even if his show of respect was “weird”).  I can’t say much more without spoiling.

I even (begrudgingly) admit that Russel Crowe was excellent.

If all you want is an action movie, 3:10 delivers; if you want to explore complex themes, this is still the movie for you.

[rate 4.5]

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest directed by Gore Verbinski

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I wanted to love this movie. I really did! But I found myself groaning more than I found myself laughing.

The first movie was surprisingly fun to watch so I had equal hopes for this one. I had company at my house for the evening and was ready to enjoy an action film that was witty and had fun fantasy wardrobe stuff. “Swashbuckle” is fun to say, too, and I planned to sprinkle this review liberally with the term.


The costumes did not disappoint, and the actors’ performances didn’t either. But the movie did. The script was tight and the wit was intact; however, the writers of the action sequences threw in every possible cliche’ they could. I often talk about “suspension of disbelief” and the amount of it required to watch a film. Obviously a movie with an undead octopus-faced character requires it. However, action sequences should be cleverly choreographed and demand that the characters have superhero-like grace and ingenuity. I do not need to see two characters on a runaway mill wheel and think “surely that wheel would have already hit a tree.” The sequence was so long that I thought that thought over and over. It totally ruined my immersion.

Also, the movie “ended” about four times. Each time was a big, dramatic, loud action sequence with all the overtures of a denouement, but then the film just wouldn’t end. It left me begging for the real ending instead of enjoying any more of the movie.

Verdict: watchable, yes. But not as swashbucklingly swashbuckle-y as I’d hoped.

[rate 2.5]

Clerks directed by Kevin Smith

clerks.JPGIMDb link

Of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen this movie. Allow me to date myself: the first time I saw Clerks was as a poor college student; the movie was shown as part of a free movie series. It was projected onto a white sheet in an empty classroom; the start time was ten at night; admission was free. The atmosphere- complete with one-arm student desks- was addictive. The audience had an immediate bonding experience, and the fact that none of us had spent money meant that we felt free to laugh harder and quip about the movie. Watching free movies in classrooms, and two-dollar recent releases at the student union, nurtured my love of movies and is probably why I’m writing reviews now. The atmosphere does contribute to how one sees a movie; I’ve heard professional critics talk about the rest of the audience in the screening.

But I digress. I watched the movie again after over ten years, not knowing what to expect. It was fun ten years ago; would it be fun now?

Yes. The low-budget brilliance was just as funny. The pace was a bit slow in sections but the comedy played very well. Though I’ve only seen the movie twice, I could understand why it was a cult classic worthy of viewing over and over again. It is, of course, entirely implausible, but who cares? The film pushes the envelope just far enough to make the audience shocked into laughter.

All considered, I wasn’t as in love with the movie as I thought I would be. As I said, the pace was occasionally very slow; while it adequately conveyed the numbing pace of working in a convenience store, it wasn’t entertaining as an audience member. The acting is spotty in places, completely pulling me out of the experience.

This is the first three-star movie that I’m still highly recommending. It’s not the most entertaining epic of our time. But it’s part of the American pop cultural fabric, referenced repeatedly in television, print, and movies. I recommend that if you are thirty-something, you should watch Clerks and understand the brilliance of Kevin Smith.

[rate 3]

Wo shi shei (Jackie Chan’s Who Am I) directed by Benny Chan and Jackie Chan

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Nobody watches a Jackie Chan movie for highbrow plot and award-winning acting, right?  Right.  So I set myself with the correct frame of reference and settled in to watch some fun martial arts choreography.

Well it’s a good thing that I wasn’t intent on any engaging plot line.  This movie didn’t know where to draw the line.  The plot is based upon Chan’s character suffering from amnesia and eluding the multiple agencies who are chasing him.  He has no idea who he is, leading to others thinking his name is Whoami (ha, ha, get it?).  He moves toward self-discovery as he engages in madcap martial arts scenarios.  Think Bourne Identity but brainless.

OK, I’m not going to spend the entire review lambasting the film.  It earns a little forgiveness for being almost 10 years old (but only a little).  Some of the stunts are simply amazing.  The martial arts fights are inventive- who thought of how to work Dutch wooden shoes into hand-to-hand combat?  It was both entertaining and amusing.  I did laugh out loud at some of the crazily implausible and elaborate stunts.  There were several scenes where Chan seemed to defy gravity and I actually rewound them to watch them again.  However, in the end, I wished that the whole movie had been cut like the credits reel: no dialogue, just action.  The bloopers on the credits reel were the most fun part of the movie.  They also showed how difficult it can be to have the stunt work as planned (how many times did they toss that cement bag??).

I’m all for brainless entertainment and clever martial arts stunts, but this film is like porn: not worth suffering through the lame plot and horrible, awful acting.

Rate [2]

Sin City directed by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez

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After my recent review of 300, I realized that I’d never completed my review of Sin City. This review is based upon two viewings of the film.

I did not read the original Frank Miller comics graphic novels, so I entered into the movie with no expectations. There are overlapping plot lines and fantastic dramatic narration. Many of the characters are wearing makeup and prostheses to simulate their graphic novel appearance, and suspension of disbelief is a requirement for watching this film.

As each storyline evolved (or should I say degrades?), I felt a visceral reaction to many of the onscreen horrors. The movie bears the underbelly of the most disgusting parts of society but manages to do so in the most glamorous, beautiful way possible. Scenes are either completely hideous or fantastically gorgeous.

The amazing thing is that the movie manages to have five subplots but not be too confusing nor too shallow in any one plot. Character development is satisfying and I never felt that the movie went for the quick-wrap: you know, when the director is short on time so they “tell” rather than “show” the plot.

Performances by all actors are nearly flawless (though I would say that Alexis Bledel is not showing as much range as the rest of the cast). This movie is full of suspense and creates a complete world of its own. I’ve seen it twice and would be happy to see it more.

[Rate 4.5]

300 directed by Zach Snyder

300.JPGIMDb link

Before I begin the review, I must say: First, I am sorry that a self-proclaimed nerd like me took so long to see this movie, especially after how much I liked Sin City. Second, it is truly fun to watch a movie like this with three nerds and a geek. We were all very into the movie, and making cross-nerd references to other movies.

OK. On to the review.

300_image.JPGMuch like drinking wine at a winery, watching a movie among such friends surely enhanced the experience, but this movie plain and simple rocked. It was fun, it was suspenseful, it was dramatic. For a visual artist like me, it was pure pleasure as the images took the form of graphic art, not just a movie.

The fact that it managed to hold suspense is quite a feat: I’ve read Gates of Fire by Stephen Pressfield, the fantastic historical fiction that recounts the same battle of Thermopylae (see Ken, I was right- it was Thermopylae). The acting was superb. It managed to be soft and real when necessary, but melodramatic when the graphic-novelness was needed. Acting on a set that is almost entirely blue screen must be challenging. Once again, Frank Miller’s gorgeous comics graphic novels come to life.

As my four loyal readers may have noticed by my review of other films, I’m a bit of a sucker for well crafted melodrama. Add the stunning visual images and my interest in Greek history, and I could watch this movie over and over.

[rate 5]

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix directed by David Yates

harrypotterandtheorder.JPGIMDB link

Well, another Harry Potter movie is on the books.  I’m not a huge fan like some, but the series of movies are well-made, and nerds of all types can enjoy fantasy movies.

Having never read a Potter series book, each movie unfolds as totally new to me.  I thoroughly enjoy the creative ways that the screenwriter has made a tome into a manageable movie instead of a four-hour painstaking recreation.

The plot unfolds quickly, with a sugary sweet villain.  I was a little taken aback by the notion that the Ministry of Magic would be foolish enough to deny that Voldemort had returned, but it was a minor flaw.  The totalitarian rule of the new headmaster results in a secret society of young magicians: this seemed to be a reflection of what happens when any ruling body removes all individual freedom/power.

Lush decor in every scene was fantastic eye candy.  I felt that Hogwarts was real at every turn.  The CGI only distracted me briefly, except for the 3D section.  I saw the film in IMAX and it had the Dumbledore versus Voldemort battle unfold in 3D.  While many of the images were breathtaking and showed amazing perspective, I was sometimes so busy studying the 3D flaws that I stopped watching the film.  Plus, donning and doffing the glasses took me out of the magical world each time.

Ron’s role was dwarfed by Hermoine’s, and that might not have been a bad thing.  He was a comic foil that was overused in the last Potter film.  I really liked his character, though, and missed him.

The best line of the movie?  Hermoine: “[Ron,] you have the emotional range of a teaspoon.”

A great film for die-hard fans and for casual nerds like me.  Possibly the best of the entire series.

[rate 4.5]

Transformers directed by Michael Bay


IMDb link 

I’ll admit, I spent more time playing with Legos than with Transformers, and saw more commercials for Transformers during Voltron than I actually spent watching the show.  But I didn’t go to this movie to see the toys coming to life.

I went to Transformers to see a fun summer movie.  The film did not disappoint.  Replete with special effects, it was a fun romp in the celluloid.  The battle scenes were intense and exciting, if a little choppy.  For example, it was very difficult to see how the transformations occurred in all but Bumblebee.  It would have been nice to have one of those in slow motion for dramatic effect.  The slow-motion desert scorpion was very well executed and added an element of “realism” to the CGI.

The jokes in the film weren’t very clever (like the leaky “lubricant” running joke, starting with the family dog), and the dialogue was hokey.  I didn’t mind when Optimus Prime had a few diatribes about honor and duty and all; it was in keeping with the original show.  But this movie didn’t know which audience to please: the thirtysomethings who wanted a throwback that included adult humor and adult language, or the younger kids who might buy the merchandise that’s freshly available.  There was too much adult content for me to want to take a child, but the movie was too childish for adults.

If you want to be entertained by a simple movie with blockbuster special effects, have fun with this one!

[rate 2.5]