The 10 Best Movies I Saw in 2008

Like my pal Julie D. over at Happy Catholic, I've decided to post my top movies from 2008. This list is made up of films that I saw in 2008 - not just films released in 2008. This is why something like No Country for Old Men is listed, yes that is right, I didn't see the Best Picture from 2007 until well into 2008. I'm a busy guy and things get pushed back on the schedule.

I advise checking out each of the following (with caution if you're sensitive). Looking at the list I have below, it would appear I have a thing for brooding, violent movies.

Bella movie posterBella (2006)

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I was pleasantly surprised by this film. To be completely honest, I thought I was in for yet another low-budget, low talent, Christian film with too much agenda and not enough good writing. This film thankfully manages to avoid the heavy handed sermonizing it could have displayed and relies on its characters to deliver the message - just like a movie should.

Eduardo Verástegui and Tammy Blanchard (Stealing Harvard) star in this story about a former soccer player Jose (Verástegui) who comes to the aid of Nina (Blanchard) who is newly unemployed and pregnant. The script by writer director Alejandro Gomez Monteverde and Patrick Million and Leo Severino does a very good job of developing the relationship between these two characters and giving them a reason to fall in love. The relationship at the center of the film drives much of the film's success and makes this something I highly recommend.

The King of Kong movie posterKing of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)

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This is one of the better documentaries I've seen in recent years. I know its strange to say that about a movie about geeks fighting for the world record score in Donkey Kong. Many may consider this to be a frivolous movie about frivolous people. In some ways this is true, again, at it's core its just about losers attaching their self identity to their ability to score fantastically high scores on a 1980's arcade game. The arguments, conniving and shed tears in this movie are anchored in human stupidity - then again so are most things we strive after. All of this drama is perfectly captured. This odd, real life story is strangely compelling and is absolutely worth checking out.

Before the Devil Knows Youre Dead movie posterBefore the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)

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Director Sidney Lumet (Network, Fail-Safe) masterfully commands this film about a pair of brothers who have their lives ruined after they fatally screw up robbing their parent's jewelry store. He gives us an intimate film with little intrusion, just pure character and performance. Lumet dips into a distracting editing sequence to indicate flashbacks and time shifts. These jolts break in and unfortunately remind us we're watching fiction. Other than this awkward choice, Lumet is dead-on with his delivery. He also does wonders with his cast, including Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Albert Finney and Ethan Hawke. Finney, as a distraught father coming to terms with the monsters he has created in his own family is incredible.

Redbelt movie posterRedbelt (2008)

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Chiwetel Ejiofor (American Gangster) is very impressive as Mike Terry, a committed mixed-martial arts instructor who is forced to battle his ideals when financial ruin pushes him towards selling himself out to prize fighting. Ejiofor establishes himself as a very sharp and engaging lead actor in this role. Not only is the role obviously very physical, he sells the idea that he’s a top competitor quite easily, but he is also asked to present a man who is very controlled yet approachable. Terry is a good man who seems liberated by the inner control he finds in jujitsu. His small school is a labor of love not profit. When things turn sour for him and the pressures build, Terry’s ideals are challenged. Ejiofor presents this internal conflict with a leveled performance. Written and directed by David Mamet, this is a guys film for guys in a huge way.

Iron Man movie posterIron Man (2008)

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Easily the funnest movie of the year. This bloated, loud McMovie has everything you need in mindless entertainment. There's flashing lights, loud noises, a cool soundtrack and a guy in a metal suit starting things on fire. Jon Favreau pieces together a great mixture of superhero stupidness and sharp minded snarkiness in this big screen adaptation of my childhood favorite. Robert Downey Jr., still stinging from lingering drug issues and time in the hoosegow, pulls off a remarkable charismatic performance as Tony Stark, a wisecracking millionaire industrialist turned hero.

Kontroll movie posterKontroll (2003)

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Nimród Antal's debut is a fantastic piece of film. Taking place in the Budapest subways, this film follows a group of ticket inspectors headed by the mopey Bulcsú (Sándor Csányi). The group patrol the dank subway fighting with patrons and grumbling about their awful stations in life. Bulcsú has given up on life and literally lives in the tunnels below ground. His quiet misery is disturbed by two people, Szofi (Eszter Balla), the meek daughter of a drunken train conductor who meanders into the subway always dressed up like a pink bear and a mysterious hooded figure who is pushing patrons in front of the trains. A gang of fighting misfits, a girl in a pink bear suit and a hooded murderer? It may sound like yet another quirky independent flick with goofy characters and clever camera work...well, okay it is just that but its a very inventive quirky independent flick with goofy characters and clever camera work.

In Bruges movie posterIn Bruges (2008)

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Despite the violence and immoral behavior, this is a sharp, well crafted story. Hit men Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are sent to hide in Bruges, Belgium following the accidental killing of a boy during a recent job. Ray is a simple, impulsive guy who can't stand being stranded in the old town. Ken is older, wiser and more patient and mentors the twitchy Ray. The two wait to get orders from their boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes). While lying low, Ray falls for local girl/thief Chloë (Clémence Poésy) and befriends a Jimmy (Jordan Prentice), a bitter dwarf who's in town shooting a movie.

The script written by Martin McDonagh is one of the most clever, inventive I've seen since Rian Johnson's high school film noir Brick. McDonagh blends sharp dialog with symbolism and well delivered twists. Farrell is given a lively, multidimensional character in Ray and he runs with the role. This is easily the best performance of his career. Likewise, Fiennes and Gleeson have plenty to work with and both provide memorable performances. McDonagh's direction and writing is top notch and results in one of the more impressive films I've seen in a long time.

I am Legend movie posterI am Legend (2007)

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Will Smith is precisely the right guy to lead this film. He engenders interest and sympathy as Robert Neville, a military scientist who is apparently the last man on earth after a cure for cancer goes sour and either kills the population or turns them into raging zombies. Smith's charisma carries the first half of the film where he is alone in the world with his dog. As the story picks up and the zombies are introduced his natural talent handling scenes where he is in peril is displayed.

Director Francis Lawrence (the man responsible for the unwatchable Constantine), manages the first half of the film well and sets up the destruction of mankind in effective flashbacks. Once the other characters are introduced the film stumbles a little. Overall, this is a well paced film based on a great concept. The ending is really where the film shines. Christians in particular will find great meaning in the final moments of the story.

Antibodies movie posterAntikörper "Antibodies" (2005)

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I absolutely loved this film. It is a rare film that contains unflinching looks into the evil of man, brutal violence and stark sexual behavior and doesn't come across as gratuitous. Writer/Director Christian Alvart starts with what's now a pedestrian concept, a small time cop visits a deranged serial killer in prison to get clues on an unsolved mystery. Alvart surprisingly develops a moving story from this preposterous beginning that ends with a gripping climax.

While Alvart avoids displaying much gore, his subject matter is still very rough. This film explores evil and how it builds in men. This is not for the squeamish.

No Country for Old Men movie posterNo Country for Old Men (2007)

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Yeah, I saw this one late.

Even with its stuttering resolution, this is a remarkable piece of cinema. It is clearly deserving of all of the awards and praised it has received. Every aspect of the film is well managed snd shows a dedication to intricate filmmaking that is a pleasure to witness. The story revolves around three men. Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a gruff welder, who stumbles across the results of a drug deal gone bad in the desert. From this he discovers and keeps a case containing two million dollars. He takes it home to his simple wife Carla (Kelly MacDonald). It isn’t long before the menacing killer Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem, in an Oscar winning performance) arrives in the area, looking to get the lost loot. Chigurh, with a devil’s smile and a patient, yet frightening, tone tracks down Moss across Texas. He gives the feeling of being supernatural, a symbol more than a man, more on that in a bit. As Chigurh pursues Moss, the killer…well, kills. He leaves a trail of dead hotel clerks, criminals and random people on the road. On this trail, old, crusty sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) struggles to make sense out of the nonsensical deaths caused by Chigurh’s efforts. This may not seem like a foundation for a great film. In many cases, the story itself is rather mundane. Where this movie strikes its cord is in character and in the choices made by the Coens.

So there you go, another year wasted staring at flashing lights on a screen. At least sometimes its worth the time. Happy New Year and have a great 2009.

Scott Nehring Christian Movie Reviews

Scott Nehring Christian Movie Reviews

Movie Recommendations #19: New Year's Eve Movies

To help you celebrate New Years here's a list of some good movies with New Year's Day references.

When Harry Met Sally (1989)

One of the best comedies of the past twenty years. This piece derives its humor not from gags but from truth. Waltzing through the minefield of American single life, this movie offers an uplifting look at romance. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan have never been better. A perfect movie to watch with the one you love.

Forrest Gump (1994)

It has shades of Being There. This is an impressive film both technically and artistically. There are plenty of manipulative moments but these are forgivable given how likable the film is as a whole. Tom Hanks gives one fo the more impressive performances of the 90's as the mentally deficient Gump, a dimwit who stumbles through his life accidentally making history.

The Godfather Part II (1974)

One of the great pieces of cinema of all time. Stunning performances by the likes of Marlon Brando and Al Pacino highlight Francis Ford Coppola’s masterful film about a mob family under siege. Honestly, if you’ve never seen this film you need to rent it as soon as possible. It is one of those films one should see at least once.

Transsiberian (2008)

Should I see it?

The biggest problem with this film is that it doesn't have a point. The only proper reaction to the finale of this movie is to shrug and grumble "Whatever."

An American couple, portrayed by Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer, get on a train crossing Siberia. On the train they meet up with a clearly troubled couple of mixed nationality (Kate Mara and Eduardo Noriega) and a Russian narcotics officer (Ben Kingsley). Five people and there's not a likable one in the group. Harrelson's Roy is a affable guy but he's portrayed to be so clueless that he seems mildly retarded in some moments. Kingsley overplays his role, his performance bringing so much gravity to the film that he feels like a transplant from a better movie. Mara, who seems to gravitate to productions that see her brutalized, and Noriega are a comely couple, but have very little to do other than to read their lines. At the center of the film is Emily Mortimer who, along with her unstable American accent, offers an uneven performance drifting between scared damsel in distress and jaded slut.

Writer/Director Brad Anderson (The Machinist) has submitted a hollow production that doesn't live up to his resume. Unless you get it for free and have a spot of time you need to waste, there is no reason to watch this film.

Related Reviews:
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After the Sunset (2004)
No Country for Old Men (2007)

Other Critic’s Reviews:
Creative Loafing
Film Geekz

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You Are What You See:
Watching Movies Through a Christian Lens

Movie Trailer: The Mother of Invention

Screenwriters: Joseph M. Petrick
Andy Bowser and Joseph M. Petrick
Actors: Andy Bowser, Jimmi Simpson, Kevin Corrigan and Dee Wallace (E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial)

Movie Watching Tip: The Structure of Movie Trailers

Movie trailers are first and foremost advertisements. Given they're usually pretty fun to watch, and they generally follow the same format, it is sometimes easy for forget we're watching a commercial.

How trailers are structured is rather straight-forward. For the most part, the traditional movie trailer follows the same structure as a full length movie. There is the opening which shows the normal world, either everything is wonderful and sunny or everyone lives in a dystopian hell. During this we usually are introduced to the hero. Then the main conflict is introduced. The villain is introduced or a portion of his evil minions are shown. Show the hero in mid-conflict, toss in a humorous line to give a nod to the audience they will enjoy the conflict and then drive the trailer to the final moment where we get glimpses of the final conflict at the end of the film. Top this all off with what I call the "trailer rush" which is that awful moment with the screeching violin strings, the lightening fast editing and the hurried dialog all leading to...ta da...the title of the movie.

The notable thing is that it follows the path of the movie but keeps the final piece of the final act hidden, thus leaving you with a reason to see the film. Believe it or not, this actually works.

Burn After Reading (2008)

Should I see it?

Short Review: They apparently named the film after the most commonly heard recommendation on the script.

Ethan and Joel Coen have two kinds of movies that they make. They have brilliant, well considered, monuments to the art of film making (No Country For Old Men, Fargo, Blood Simple, Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink, Raising Arizona). Then the self satisfying, inconsequential flicks they make in between (The Big Lebowski, O'Brother Where Art Thou?, The Ladykillers, Intolerable Cruelty, The Man Who Wasn't There, The Hudsucker Proxy). This is a part of the second group.

The Coen Brothers have always had seriously problems resolving their stories. The more frivolous their movie, the worse this flaw in exposed. If you watch their works you will find brilliant characterizations in the first half of the film. You will be introduced to fascinating, quirky characters who dazzle with clever dialog. The issue comes when the mechanics of the central conflict are put to work. The Coens always fumble in this regard and this leads their well crafted characters to have nothing to do in the final half of the stories. Like we have seen in The Hudsucker Proxy, The Ladykillers, The Big Lebowski and Intolerable Cruelty, the last forth of this film is patched together in a flurry of plot contraptions in order to brings things to a messy close. This lack of follow through makes for a very disappointing experience. The Coen's set a nice table but their meal is wanting.

The film centers around a collection of misfits from various walks of life. Osborne Cox (John Malkovich,) a surly CIA analyst with a drinking problem, decides to write his memoirs following a demotion at the agency. His bitter wife Katie (Tilda Swinton) is sleeping with Treasury agent Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney). Pfarrer, who is also married, is likewise cheating on his wife and Katie by meeting single women through Internet dating services. This is how he is introduced to Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) a fitness gym employee. Linda and her co-worker Chad (Brad Pitt) discover Osborne Cox's memoir files on a misplaced CD, left in the gym by Katie's divorce attorney's secretary. The pair decide to blackmail Osborne Cox so Linda can afford to get multiple plastic surgeries so she can be more attractive, which she doesn't have to do since her boss Ted (Richard Jenkins), a former priest, is in love with her.


What you may notice is that there is a lot of famous names but not a lot of sense coming out of that previous paragraph. That's what you get with the film. There's plenty of familiar faces but nothing worth remembering. Everyone gives a lively performance (only the Coens pull good performances out of Clooney,) but the convoluted plot mixed with the lack of a compelling conflict results in the film not being worth the effort. You can tell they've hit narrative wall in the second half because the story shifts from clever dialog and upbeat, whimsical plotting to cursing, deviant sexual references and abrupt, hardcore violence. The introduction of low material for no real purpose is always a sign that the writer is struggling to force their way past script issues. Often they are the narrative equivalent to someone shoving something aside an yelling "screw it!" Which, ironically, is what you'll probably say half way through this movie.

Related Reviews:
Other Brad Pitt movies
Meet Joe Black (1996)
Troy (2004)

Other Critic’s Reviews:
Critic After Dark
Roger Ebert

Movie Trailer: 9

Screenwriters: Steve Acker and Pamela Petter (Monster House)
Steve Acker
Actors: Jennifer Connelly (Dark Water), John C. Reilly (Step Brothers), Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings: Return of the King), Crispin Glover (Back to the Future), Martin Landau (Ed Wood) and Christopher Plummer (Twelve Monkeys)

Tropic Thunder (2008)

Should I see it?

I have a number of complaints about this film and hardly any praise. The broadest complaint I cast at this production is that it is simply not funny. The jokes are heavy handed and buried in self-referential smugness and/or so blatantly intended to be edgy they come off as sophomoric pranks. The film follows a group of self involved actors and a director into the depths of a Vietnamese jungle as they attempt to shoot an improvised war film. When the director is killed by a landmine the actors are left to fend for themselves. Still thinking the film is loaded with special effects and extras, the actors are in reality attacked by drug runners. Essentially, this is The Three Amigos without the plotting.

The biggest problem with the film is sloppiness. It is just messy. The scenes trail on for too long and stumble over obvious attempts at industry in-jokes. When they're not busy with their self-mockery the cast doesn't have anything to do. Their characters are very flat so when it comes time to pull on their conflicts to create comedy the results are hobbled by a lack of depth. This pushes the cast (Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Junior, Jack Black, Steve Coogan, and Jay Baruchel) to improvise, a task they are clearly not up to completing. With the exception of Robert Downey, everyone fumbles about like their stuck in the trailing moments of a poorly executed Saturday Night Live skit. They appear to be sticking to humorless vein attempting to find something to deliver and coming up dry. Downey only succeeds to be interesting because of his portrayal of an white Australian pretending to be an African American. This isn't funny but it gives him something to play off of. An example of this fumbling is seen directly following the death of the film's director when he steps on a landmine. His body is decimated by the explosion. In the scene action-movie star Tugg Speedman (Stiller) is convinced that the horrible death he's just witnessed is fake. He locates the director's decapitated head and holds it up for the other actors to see. He proclaims that its all movie magic. He then reaches into the shredded neck of the dead man's head and licks the blood from his fingers. To push things further, Stiller then pulls out the guts from the neck and head while claiming it is a fake head. To push things even further he puts the dead man's head on the butt of his gun. This is all intended to be funny. The whole movie is like this scene. No creativity, no genuine humor, just a bunch of careless elites trying to be edgy and over-the-top.

Beyond the lack of humor and the abundance of clumsy crassness, there are some other very serious issues that need to be addressed. When the film was released there was an outcry from advocacy groups for the intellectually impaired. I wrote about the controversy here. Having worked with the mentally retarded for years, knowing the families of mentally challenged people and seeing the effects of people's bigotry against the handicapped, I take the subject rather seriously. The film hit controversy because of a slew of jokes surrounding one of Tugg Speedman's films called Simple Jack. In this fake film, we see the trailer in the movie, Speedman plays Jack a mentally retarded man who can speak with animals. Stiller is shown in the role chasing a butterfly with a hammer, and generally overplaying the retarded man role. I actually didn't take too much offense at this. It was meant to be offensive and meant to mock how Hollywood handles the mentally retarded. At one point they have Downey and Stiller talk about how actors don't go "full-retard" for roles, meaning they play a mentally challenged person but that person always has a special ability (Forrest Gump was a great runner, Rain Man was a genius at counting, etc.) This is very true. Where the film crosses the line, at least to me, is with Speedman's agent Rick Peck (Matthew McConaughey.) Directly following a conversation focused directly on Simple Jack, right after we see the trailer, Peck is reminded that Speedman is attempting to adopt a child. Peck then grumbles that Speedman is lucky because "At least you get to choose yours. I'm stuck with mine." They then insert a picture of Peck and his son (below.)

The son is clearly shown as being mentally deficient in some capacity. In light of the discussion that directly preceded this shot the implication is heavy that the child is mentally challenged. In an age where people righteously proclaim that it is moral to abort mentally retarded children (Google Trig Palin and marvel at things you find) it is unbelievable to me they would stoop so low as to show a mentally challenged person and push the notion they are a terrible burden. I know families of the intellectually disabled, they love their family member as any other. People with disabilities are brutally treated still in this society and have been treated as less than human throughout our collective histories. This mockery is the lowest kind of humor people can get involved in. To push it further, the film ends with a shot of Peck and his son on a private jet. The son, bib around his neck stares blankly out the window (below.)

In post-production, the controversy was heating up. In the final credits they show the characters, freeze-frame on them and insert a graphic around their image. In the case of the son, they surround him with video-game aliens. In my opinion, this was done to suggest that the kid was simply mind-numbed from too much media. This was never acknowledged in the film, something they would have mentioned since it could have been used to play up some jokes. I believe they did this to try to remove the concept the boy was mentally retarded. Of course, most viewers won't make this connection and still walk away having laughed at a boy for being handicapped.

If this weren't enough, Stiller also mocks the memorable image from Oliver Stone's film Platoon. The image where Sgt. Elias is shot and as he dies thrusts his arms up to the sky in a Christ-like motion. This mockery is done a couple of times. Throughout the film, Stiller and company attempt to make fun of war film imagery and theatrics. The problem I have here is the root of that image. Stone pulled that image very carefully from a real event and used it in his film as a memorial. The original image comes from a 1968 photograph by Art Greenspon of a paratrooper of A Company, 101st Airborne assisting wounded and dying men. Perhaps I am being overly sensitive, but the mockery of real events such as this are disrespectful. You can say, well he's really mocking Stone's use of the image besides, no one is getting hurt. I understand that there are different ways to take the use of the image. I argue that it is bad taste and disrespectful.

Ultimately, this film is little more that a gaggle of careless people who have grown up in privilege (mostly) who devised a little piece of meta-fiction to mock the frivolity that surrounds them. In doing this however they also reveal an incredible disconnect with any sense of responsible behavior or decorum. I get they were trying to push the envelope, but we need to have standards. A society without standards is one that cannot stand for long. These men are the heirs of greater talents both in a familial sense and cinematic ally. Our culture has been handed over to reckless men who care little about the results of their actions and care even less to putting in the creative energy to deliver worthwhile product. I strongly advise skipping this film. It is not funny and even if someone is completely lacking moral judgment, offensive for no reason whatsoever beyond just to be offensive. Don't you have better things to do than to watch something like this?

Related Reviews:
Ben Stiller movies
Zero Effect (1998)
Zoolander (2001)

Other Critic’s Reviews:
Roger Ebert
Need Coffee

Movie Trailer: Adventureland

I dropped when you guys started playing the Violent Femmes.

A film about rudderless carnies, this just stinks of success. I fail to see how this makes for a good movie. I lived through the 80's, can't say they were good enough to want to relive on film.


Return to the movie trailers page

Screenwriter: Greg Mottola (The Daytrippers)
Greg Mottola (Superbad)
Actors: Jesse Eisenberg (The Wedding Party), Kristen Stewart (Twilight), Martin Starr (Good Dick) and Ryan Reynolds (Just Friends)

Movie Trailer: State of Play

Hey Russ, Eddie Vedder wants his hairdo back. Hey, I loved the early nineties as much as the next guy but c'mon...

Looks like it will be good. Very traditional trailer, lots darkness, rain punctuated with pseudo-gunshots and white screens used as transition markers. It all has a Ridley Scott vibe. Written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, the script should be good but probably since he works well with broad, sweeping plots like this one.

Return to the movie trailers page

Screenwriters: Matthew Michael Carnahan (The Kingdom), Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton) and Billy Ray (Breach)
Kevin McDonald (The Last King of Scotland)
Actors: Russell Crowe (American Gangster), Rachel McAdams (The Notebook), Ben Affleck (Hollywoodland), Jason Bateman (The Kingdom), Robin Wright (Forrest Gump), Helen Mirren (Excalibur), Viola Davis (Disturbia) and Jeff Daniels (The Crossing)

Movie Trailer: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Great movie, possibly one of the most annoying trailers ever put to film. Nice editing, I started having a petit mal just watching it.


Screenwriter: Stanley Kubrick (Full Metal Jacket)Director: Stanley Kubrick (Lolita), Terry Southern (Easy Rider) and Peter George (Fail-Safe)Actors: Peter Sellers (The Pink Panther), George C. Scott (Patton), Sterling Hayden (The Long Goodbye) and Slim Pickens (Blazing Saddles)

Movie Trailer: Blade

A pretty effective piece of flash and bang fluff. It's a bit too impressed with itself and was missing the winking acknowledgment of it's own stupidity that made it's sequels more entertaining. That and Stephen Dorff acts takes his role way too seriously and ends up looking foolish.

Screenwriter: David S. Goyer (Mission to Mars)
Director: Stephen Norrington (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen)
Actors: Wesley Snipes (Demolition Man), Stephen Dorff (World Trade Center), Kris Kristofferson (I'm not There) and Donal Logue (Ghost Rider)

Chapter 27 (2007)

Should I see it?

So what's the lesson here? If you gun down a famous person you'll get your own movie someday? Nice.

Jared Leto plays Mark David Chapman...apparently gaining weight for a role is good enough these days to qualify to get lots of people to consider your performance meaningful. Leto is remarkably bland in this role. He shares screen time with Lindsay Lohan and she's the credible one.

Mark David Chapman was a screwed up loser. John Lennon was a bitter, self-serving Marxist. Witnessing the interaction between the two holds no deep meaning, no secrets. Its just two unpleasant people caught in a deadly moment. The film ends up being nothing more than having the audience wait around listening to Chapman rant until Lennon pops up like some sacrificial lamb in stupid glasses.

As a film, writer/director J.P. Schaefer has created a very dull, toneless work. Leto's Chapman speaks plenty but reveals very little. Lohan's role as Jude, a young woman who wastes her youth hanging around waiting to see the Communist musician, provides her a chance to try her hand at acting. She gets her lines right, at least I think, so she should be commended.

Some people may be interested in seeing this film thinking that it may have some depth or contain a remarkable performance. If this is you, I advise you to go on to some other film unless you love yawning. Move along, there is nothing to see here.

Click on fat Leto to view the trailer
He's kinda got a tubby Jim Jones look going, doesn't he?

Related Reviews:
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Control (2007)
The Caveman's Valentine (2001)

Other Critic’s Reviews:
Eric D. Snider

Get Smart (2008)

Should I see it?

Short Review: If you remove all expectations, hope and common sense, its not half bad.

Granted, I went into this thing expecting the worst. This is pure Hollywood fluff. Its the cinematic equivalent of a Twinkie. I have to say, it wasn't awful. I actually can recommend it and no one is more surprised than me.

This obviously isn't a great film but it does work on many levels. The success primarily falls on the casting of Steve Carell as bumbling Agent Maxwell Smart. Carell conjures up a sympathetic charm that is fun to watch. This charm can be seen in other films like Evan Almighty and Dan in Real Life. Unlike those film, this outing gives him strong, albeit very simple, setups and payoffs to to display his talents. The rest of the cast Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Terrance Stamp and Alan Arkin likewise do well in their supporting roles and add to the production. The only trouble spot is Anne Hathaway as Agent 99. Hathaway doesn't have the comedic timing, or at least its not as acute as her fellow cast members. This difference sticks out and she comes across as flat. Luckily, her character is the straight-man so her delivery is passable.

The script penned by Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember (Failure to Launch) has a number of genuine laughs. Even if it only had one that would be one more than I was expecting. While they stumble around in the middle trying to find their footing, due to a lack of a urgent central conflict, the pair manage to find good humor in most of their scenes. They also do well establishing their secondary characters quickly, giving them easily identifiable traits and then pitting those traits against one another.

Taking this film for what it is, mindless comfort cinema/mindless corporate rehashing of long dead product lines, this is well done. This is a good fall back pick if you're not that discerning of a moviegoer.

Related Reviews:
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The Devil Wear Prada (2006)
Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Other Critic’s Reviews:

Hart's War (2002)

Should I see it?

Hart's War Movie Review

What we have here is really just a twist on the Civil Rights Era movie but in a historical setting. In Civil Rights Era movies black victims are only saved when East Coast liberal lawyers ride into town and beat away the wild-eyed, moron Southern whites. In this case, the only thing that changes from that template is that this takes place in Germany instead of Mississippi. Racial politics play out in a World War II prison camp because, as we all know, a story involving a POW camp run by Nazis isn't dramatic enough. Two black American pilots arrive in the camp. One gets murdered, the other is brought up on charges over the death of a white solider. Angry whites spit venom as the dutiful and open minded , Lt. Thomas W. Hart (Colin Farrell), takes up the case. While tensions flare, ranking officer Col. William A. McNamara (Bruce Willis) plots to take revenge on their captors.

Sounds like it could be good, but it isn't. Farrell sleepwalks through his role and the competing conflicts of the racist trial on one hand and Stalag 17 wanna-be element on the other pulls this film in too many directions. It's not a horrible film but it is forgettable.

Related Reviews:
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Tears of the Sun (2003)
Live Free or Die Hard (2007)

Other Critic's Reviews:
The Z Review
Roger Ebert

Movie Watching Tip: No Christ in Jesus Movies

When watching movies portraying Jesus pay attention if they a) refer to his as Christ and b) show the resurrection. The second item is the critical one. If the Gospels are shown but they cut out the resurrection then they are removing making Jesus less than the deity. As seen in Godspell, as an example, the Jesus character is shown being sacrificed but his resurrection is intentionally dismissed. This is the Jewish or Muslim view of Jesus, not the Christian one. For Christians is it vital we demand he is shown in the proper way, ressurrected. This is the truth and the proof of his claim to be the Christ.

Movie Recommendations #18: Christmas Movies

Merry Christmas to everybody. Now sit down, shut up and watch a movie.

It's A Wonderful Life (1946)

Jimmy Stewart offers one of his best performances as poor George Bailey. His classic “aw-shucks” persona is in full effect and feeds the heart of this piece. The supporting cast, with the delightful Donna Reed, Thomas Mitchell, and Henry Travers also provide impressive performances. Even the children playing Bailey’s kids are good. That’s saying something, child actors tend to be as pleasant as public displays of ringworm wounds

The film itself is perfectly paced and presented. The action is sharp and potent without a wasted minute. Capra was an efficient and driven director who delivered his films in nice taut packages. One of the attractive things about this film is its simplicity, not only in its message but in how Capra presents it to us. He was a master at showing life in a p
ositive way. His films, as expressed particularly in this movie, shine a light on the small man and his quiet life of consequence. This film explains that we all have a purpose and our lives are worth living. The film also shows that one doesn’t need huge budget effects or sex and violence when you actually have something to say.

A Christmas Story (1983)

If you can forget that this film has nearly been destroyed by being run in heavy rotation every Christmas season, you will find one of the most enjoyable movies ever made. Jean Shepard's down-to-earth humor and loving depictions of childhood are a joy to witness. I'm hard pressed to think of a movie with more memorable scenes.

Die Hard (1988)

Alright, so Die Hard isn't a Christmas movie - I think I saw a Christmas tree in the background somewhere so I'm counting it in!

The story is a lesson in simplicity, haggard cop John McClane goes to visit his estranged wife in a downtown skyscraper. Just after he enters the building it is taken over by a gang of international terrorists.McClane, trapped inside must fight the terrorists in order to save his wife who has been taken hostage. The script by Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza is almost perfect in its execution. It is a taut, clean script and is a must read for anyone looking to write their own screenplay.

No Nod to Narnia

Even though the central cast was lined up and ready to go, the suits at Disney have pulled away from co-producing another Narnia film. Disney has broken their ties with Walden Media, at least as far as this project is concerned and will not be helping find investments and resources to continue the franchise. According to the Hollywood Reporter they are citing "budgetary and logistical reasons."

I can't say I am terribly shocked. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian was not a good movie. Any charm created in the original film of the series The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe evaporated and was replaced with bellowing lines and obtuse plot points. The inability of producers to create an engaging sequel led to not only a franchise film without legs but also one with a dwindling fan base. This is a bad business model. The first film cost $180 million to make an returned over $745 million in tickets worldwide. The follow-up cost $200 million to make and returned less than $420 million. Its simple math, the franchise is on the decline.

Since the film centers on a cast who is growing older by the day, the original plan was to churn out another film by mid 2010. This critical loss to the production will obviously move that date back in the best case scenario. Most likely this move by Disney is a fatal one for the franchise. I wouldn't hold high hopes for seeing The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader at a theater near you any time soon.

Movie Trailer: Little Ashes

"No rules. No regrets. No return."

No reason to see the movie. If you're going to celebrate characters who live without rules and shun morality then don't insult me by showing them upset. If you decide rules are needless then you have no room to complain. Doing so would be putting your own rules on behavior. People who shun rules, like those shown in this trailer, are people who are screwed up and don't want to be held to account.

Salvador Dali existed so lighthearted art students could buy each other postcards.

Screenwriter: Philippa Goslett
Paul Morrison
Actors: Javier Beltran, Robert Pattinson (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), Matthew McNulty (Control) and Marina Gatell

Movie Watching Tip: The Dénouement

***Spoiler Warning - I discuss the end of some films below***

Following the resolution of the main conflict in a film, there is a scene, or scenes, where all the loose ends are finally tied up. This section is known as the dénouement. The dénouement allows the film maker (as it does for an author of a book) to not only clean things up at the end of a story but it also gives them an opportunity to show the benefit of the hero's victory over the villain. Examples of dénouements in film are the awards ceremony in Star Wars, the return to the Shire in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King and seeing Maximus joining his family in the afterlife in Gladiator.

When the dénouement is skipped the ending feels abrupt and incomplete, as can be seen with the ending of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.

12 Monkeys (1995)

Should I see it?

12 Monkeys Movie Review

James Cole (Bruce Willis) lives in a future where humans have been forced to scratch a living out underground, driven there by a deadly virus. The powers that be send Cole back to 1996, the year the plague hit so he can gather evidence on its cause. They believe the virus was the responsibility of a group called the Army of the 12 Monkeys. Cole is accidentally sent back too far and winds up wasting away in an insane asylum. There he meets his doctor Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) and fellow kooky inmate Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt). Cole continues to time travel and interrupts the lives of Railly and Goines as he slowly closes in on the truth.

Not only is this Terry Gilliam's most accessible film but it is also his best. The biggest reason this is his best film is because he restrains his penchant for self indulgence. Like a speaker who loves the sound of their own voice, Gilliam clearly gets so wrapped up designing his films that he forgets to tell coherent stories.

This film is coherent and benefits from Gilliam's strengths. His unique visual style combined with his sense of the absurd. He slowly weaves a complicated time travel story that at first seems muddled and disjointed. The various strings of images and plot points seem to fly around wildly but are brilliantly tied together in the film's final moments. On first viewing, this ending is one of the most satisfying that I have ever seen.

The standout in this film is Brad Pitt who gleefully plays Goines as a stuttering, twitching sociopath obsessed with animal rights. Pitt clearly established many of his acting tricks from this role as you can see traces of Goines in many of the roles he's done since.

This is a great movie. It is layered and well plotted but not overly so. This makes it a smart, fun film that is a good pick if you're looking for something out of the ordinary.

Related Reviews:
Terry Gilliam movies
The Fisher King (1991)
The Brothers Grimm (2005)

Other Critic's Reviews:
The Daily Beaconline
Combustible Celluloid

The House Bunny (2008)

Should I see it?

I've been an advocate for Anna Faris for some time. I honestly think she's got the goods to be a solid comedic lead. With the right material she could really do something great. This isn't that material. Her character Shelley Darlingson, a air-brained Playboy mansion party girl is a good choice for her to play but the script just didn't have anything to offer. The film ultimately becomes a litany of awkward scenes marred with overt plot maneuvers than humor. Where the film should have showcased Faris' comedic talents, it displays writers Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith's inability to let a scene develop naturally.

Skip this one.

Related Reviews:
Another Anna Faris movie
Just Friends (2005)

Other Critic’s Reviews:

Movie Trailer: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

"It feels like the movies I made when I was younger."

You mean it feels like one of the one's you finished?

I have an appreciation for Terry Gilliam as a designer. He creates very lush images. Its the stories that are lacking. The death of the film's star Heath Ledger will give this film more press than it otherwise would have received. Hopefully it will be worth the hype.

Screenwriters: Terry Gilliam (The Fisher King) and Charles McKeown (The Adventures of Baron Munchausen)
Director: Terry Gilliam (12 Monkeys)
Actors: Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight), Johnny Depp (Finding Neverland), Colin Farrell (Phonebooth), Jude Law (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow), Chrisopher Plummer (The Lake House), Tom Waits (Short Cuts) and Verne Troyer (Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me)

Antikörper "Antibodies" (2005)

Should I see it?
Yes, but with extreme caution.

As the image above should hopefully make obvious, this is not, NOT a film for everyone. This is a very rough movie. By rough I mean it is one of the best explorations into the nature of evil I have seen put to film. Writer/Director Christian Alvart delves deep into his subject and delivers an unflinching look at the the hideousness of evil. I know this all sounds grand and I probably sound like I'm overstating things, I do not believe that I am.

The film has a very familiar foundation, a devious serial killer is captured and from his cell he plays mind games with an inexperienced cop. Alvart's plot isn't new and lifts from Silence of the Lambs and Se7en. At one point Alvart even has the murderer Gabriel Engel (André Hennicke) even directly mock his plagiarism "What did you expect? Hannibal Lecter?" Even though the music is the same, the lyrics are changed and Alvart sings a whole new tune. Unlike Silence of the Lambs, Alvart's story doesn't coddle the killer. Hannibal Lector may be one of the great film villains but he is likewise a cartoon. He is superhuman and not grounded in reality. Hennicke's Engel is as devious as Lector but far more disturbing because he is very real. It is easy to see how someone like Engel could exist in this world where Lector also feels like the stuff of fiction. This is the first of many differences that make this derivative work an equal to the film it copies.

The inexperienced cop, Michael Martens (Wotan Wilke Möhring) is haunted by a brutal murder of a young girl in his small, isolated and otherwise quiet town. When Engels is caught, Martens goes to question the killer about the murder. Engels, who has otherwise gone silent, speaks only Martens. As Martens conducts his interview Engels begins to propose that Martens, even though he is a pious and lawful man, is secretly demonic in nature. Throughout the film Alvart slips in serious questions on the roots of evil and how it develops in the hearts of good men. Martens, a strongly Catholic man, constantly warns his son that "evil begins with smallest things." If you let a lie slip through your lips you'll eventually reason that a small theft can be excused. Steal something and you can logically conclude that its acceptable to rob. It goes from there until there is no return. In his conversations Engels, fully committed to his demonic desires, infiltrates Martens thinking depositing arguments that seem logical and revealing but are really meant to expose Martens' weaknesses so he will fall. This is where the confusing title of the film comes into play. The title extends from a statement that Engels makes to Martens.

"Evil is a virus. Highly contagious. Highly destructive. You're already infected."

Engels tries to fill Martens with his diseased, soul killing evil. This puts Martens and his faith on trial. The connections between Engels and Satan and Martens and Job are clear. Engels claims to have been built by God and threatens Martens with "I am going to test you." As the evil Engels imparts in Martens begins to take root, Martens' faith is indeed tested and resolves itself in a fascinating display in the film's final act.

Again, this is a brutal film. Many people will probably be very disturbed by the subject matter. What is interesting is that there is a surprising lack of grim visuals in the movie. There are some hard moments but Alvart is very careful to avoid exploitative shots. The brutality in the film is mostly spoken. When Engels explains in detail, with in a sensual tone, the horrific crimes he has committed against small children the audience is left to imagine the crime. In a time where prolonged torture sequences are the norm, responsible choices in film making should be celebrated. There are moments of sexual intimacy that are shown in detail however. While I also thought they were handled well, they are frank and that may disturb some viewers.

I'll be honest, I am surprised to recommend this film. When I started it I thought I was going to be subjected to more mindless torture movie nonsense. What I got was a moving film with a couple of the best performances I've seen in a long time. Möhring and Hennicke both deserve great credit for giving brilliant performances in two very difficult roles. Hennicke in particular had a hard row to hoe given that he was working in the shadow of Anthony Hopkins' masterwork. The fact that Hennicke manages to make himself notable shows how strong he is as an actor.

Overall, if you're one who doesn't like psychological thrillers, the exploration of evil or just sex and violence in general, you're going to want to skip this one. If you can handle rough, adult material you will find a well written, God affirming film worth the experience.

Related Reviews:
Serial killer movies
L'Empire des loups “Empire of the Wolves” (2005)
Zodiac (2007)

Other Critic’s Reviews:
Los Angeles Times
Monsters & Critics
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