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  • Avatar (2009) **1/2

    02.21, 2010 Movie Review By: Manhattan Movie Maniac

    Director: James Cameron

    Starring: James Worthington, Zoe Saldana

    The movie industry puts out a film every few years that you “have to see because it will change movies forever”. Avatar, for many, is that movie for this time frame. Avatar is the first movie since the rebirth of the 3D feature to appeal to someone who is an average movie goer and does not have a 4 year old in toe. Not since Titanic (also James Cameron) have I had so many conversations that started with “Have you seen ____ Yet?” and after my no response, the conversation immediately took a turn for “Oh My GOD, you have to see it.” I have to hand it to Cameron, he really does have a handle on creating the exact spectacle that people want to see, even if those people are not me.

    For the movie synopsis, please reference Dances with Wolves or Pocahontas. The civilized encounter a group of savages for whom they have no respect, one of the civilized tries to infiltrate the savages on a clandestine mission to try to destroy them. During his mission he learns about who the “savages” really are and that they are not savages at all, falls in love with one of theirs and converts to their culture. They find out about the mission and throw him out only to realize that he is their only hope because he knows the secrets of both sides and he truly does love the savages and really wants to help them beat his former comrades. Now for anyone who thinks I giving you the spoilers, remember, I am talking about the plot to “Dances with Wolves” “Pocahontas” “Tarzan” pick which ever one you want. I am not talking about the plot of Avatar….or am I?

    This movie is visually stunning and the effects are breathtaking. James Cameron really was ambitious in this undertaking (although I cannot believe he took a writing credit for this story). Zoe Saldana’s performance was very good. All of this is true. The problem that I have is, Avatar is not an Oscar worthy film, with the exception of awards for effects and wardrobe. If you took the 3D away from this movie and set it in a jungle in Africa or the Amazon river basin and removed the blue cat people flying on dragons, the story would just be mediocre at best. I know that I am going to get hate mail over this, but when you strip away the lipstick and rouge, Avatar is an extremely obvious bore. The characters are stereotypes and cardboard cutouts. It seems the world has missed the fact that the dialogue and plot were painfully predicable because of all the big shiny things. We have long passed the time where you can woo me just by amazing effects, Pixar ruined that for you. Ever since I saw the dinosaurs walk across the fields in Jurassic Park, I expect great effects now. It is like telling me that a movie from the late 60s is amazing because it is in color.

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    Paranormal Activity (2007) * 1/2

    11.15, 2009 Movie Review By: Manhattan Movie Maniac

    Paranormal ActivityI generally avoid movies that are getting as much buzz as this one. This is the movie they made with no money on a camcorder, I am sure you have heard of it. They have made like a zillion dollars now, no television trailers, let the viral rumble push it forward. Very intriguing and mysterious..I had to go, they got me, I should have known better.

    This movie looks and feels like a documentary, sort of. It follows the main characters, a young couple Katie and Micah who are being bothered by an unseen entity that seems to have been following the female lead Katie around her whole life. The mocumentary takes place over 20+ days as they set up a video recording device to attempt to capture some of this “paranormal activity” on video and find out what is the cause of all of these frightening occurances.

    Every ten years or so someone makes a movie with no budget and no studio that absolutely catches fire. By no budget, I am not talking about a 2 million dollar “low budget” indy. I am talking about a couple of people maxing out their credit cards to create their masterpiece. Clerks, The Blair Witch Project and Texas Chainsaw Massacre all immediately spring to mind. This movie definitely fall into this category. I know I am going to get hate mail for saying this but here it is, unlike the movies mentioned in the last sentence which were all very original, this movie completely stole the formula from Blair Witch. They have had 10 years to figure out how to stylize it so it looks smoother and they have better equipment, but it is a complete rip off. This movie has the luxury of the current, Saw VI, Twilight, Pirates of the Caribbean audience of lemmings who seem to be impressed with anything to push it forward. Lucky for them or they would never get those credit cards paid off.

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    Law Abiding Citizen (2009)**

    11.04, 2009 Movie Review By: Manhattan Movie Maniac

    Director: Gary Gray

    Starring: Jamie Foxx, Gerard Butler, Colm Meany

    The worst complaints I have about Law Abiding citizen are not the ridiculous plot or the tired, overdone evil genius character. The worst part of this project is that it has made alot of money and will encourage more crap to shoot out of Hollywood’s crap machine. Director Gary Gray has put out other weak action efforts like The Negotiator and The Italian Job remake where he wasted so much great talent that he should have been arrested for impersonating a filmmaker. Gerard Butler brings his considerable presence to the project and Foxx is solid enough.

    Gerard Butler is Clyde Shelton, an ingenius inventor whose idyllic family-filled life is shattered when a couple of criminal misfits force their way into his home apparently for the main intention of killing everyone there and maybe grabbing a bit of jewellry. When they are caught, prosecutor nick Rice, played by Jamie Foxx, makes a plea bargain that allows the worst of the two criminals to be released in a mere ten years. It appears that Mr Shelton is a resourceful and patient man. He uses those then years to plan elaborate revenge on everyone he sees as being involved in this miscarriage of justice.

    This film has found a following of non-discriminating viewers who will doubtlessly defend its glaring flaws with the “it’s only a movie” defense. It is only a movie. It is a bad movie that plays like Death Wish crossed with Saw. It’s unoriginal, over the top result is suitable viewing for fanas of the genre, but likely to be somewhere between nap-worthy and reactionary junk for others.

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    Couples Retreat (2009) *

    10.16, 2009 Movie Review By: Manhattan Movie Maniac

    mv5bmtqxmji1nzc0m15bml5banbnxkftztcwmtc0mzg2mg__v1__sx95_sy140_.jpg>Director: Peter Billingsley

    Starring: Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Faizon Love, Jon Favreau, Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell, Kristin Davis, Kali Hawk, Tasha Smith, Carlos Ponce, Peter Serafinowicz, Jean Reno

    Really, the best thing I can say about Vince Vaughns newest comedy is that he has given us worse films. I just cant think of any right now, but Im sure he has. Minor actor Peter Billingsley is behind the camera here and underutilizes his magnificent location possibilities and never finds the right pacing for this film. Lets not be too hard on him though, because the script (credited to three writers – usually not a good sign) is about two or three re-writes short of a hit. There are too many characters, too few jokes and the result is a plodding work that never gets the viewer to care about the outcome.

    The mighty Invincible Vaughn is playing Vince as usual, though his name is Dave this time out and he is the hub of a circle married friends that includes Jason, who is played by Jason Bateman. Can everyone follow that. Jason has come to the conclusion that his sputtering marriage can only be salvaged by a week at a beautiful couples retreat. The catch is he can only afford such an extravagance if he can get the whole group to go and secure a better rate. There is some contrived blah, blah, blah (thats ok, most films, esp comedies do this in the beginning, but it is pretty obvious here and not very funny. Once there the group is subjected to an anal retentive concierage (or whatever he is supposed to be), an overly amorous yoga instructor and a control-obsessed, mysterious relationship genius played by Jean Reno. The couples discover exactly what you think they will discover after alot of lukewarm sexual jokes and hot bikini usage.

    Not much to offer here, beyond the obvious. Vaughn fans and particularly easy to please comedy fans will find this one worth renting. I found it to be worth nothing unless one is planning to finish their film studies thesis with a treatise on the most forgetable work of the worlds most mediocre film stars.

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    Whip It – Quotes

    10.11, 2009 Movie Review By: Manhattan Movie Maniac

    “We’re number two! We’re number two!”

    “The last time I wore skates, they had Barbies on them.”

    “We deserve better villains.”

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    Whip It (2009) ***1/2

    10.11, 2009 Movie Review By: Manhattan Movie Maniac

    whip-it.jpgDirector: Drew Barrymore

    Starring: Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Eve, Kristen Wigg, Drew Barrymore, Juliette Lewis, Jimmy Fallon, Landon Pigg, Daniel Stern,

    Drew Barrymore’s feature directorial debut is a success! Well, sort of. Working with novel author Shauna Cross’ screenplay, Barrymore does manage to keep the energy level up an does a fantastic job of casting a talented cast of actors who both look and play the roles they are in. The story is unique (at least unique within the cookie cutter confines of Hollywood) and interesting. Ellen Page is as great to watch as ever and Jimmy Fallon steps in from time to time with some comic relief. Where Whip It loses its roll a little is with a story that dulls its edge too much and with the roller skating scenes that could have been punched up with bit more action.

    Ellen Page is Bliss Cavender, a high school girl competing in beauty pageants to please her frustrated mother played by Marcia Gay Harden. Bliss needs something of her own, however, and finds it, with her friend’s Pash’s (Alia Shawkat) I-dare-you encouragement in the resurging world of roller derby, but her challenges are many. Can she evade her mother (and league rules) to play? Can she fit in with the raucous crew of boisterous women and, most of all, can she hold her own on the track where bigger, meaner opponents with names like Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis) are playing rough and hard? Let the credits roll. They are dotted with fun outtakes.

    Whip it is a good film about women stepping out and doing things by themselves and for themselves. It’s flavour and feel are rather like “A League of Their Own”, but lacks the polish of the latter. It is still an enjoyable film. It’s a fun, upbeat film with a charismatic cast and an interesting subject.

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    Down For Life – Quotes

    10.11, 2009 Movie Review By: Manhattan Movie Maniac

    “What makes you think you can just get out?”

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    Down For Life (2009) *****

    10.11, 2009 Movie Review By: Manhattan Movie Maniac

    down-for-life.jpgDirector: Alan Jacobs

    Starring: Jessica Romero, Danny Glover, Kate Del Castillo, Emily Rios

    I rolled into TO for the last weekend of the 2009 TIFF (Toronto Int’l Film Festival) and went on a whirlwind movie spree, seeing nine movies in two days. Some, like My Son, My Son What Ye Done, were god awful, pretentious art-house junk and others, like Jennifer’s Body, were pretty good, but head and shoulders above the other eight was Down For life. This gritty inner city drama, which is apparently a true story inspired by a New Times article, crackles with realism and the performers don’t seem to be acting at all, but simply living. The action scenes are jarring and seem a lot closer to Youtube than Hollywood, thanks to the skilled direction of little-known director, Alan Jacobs.

    Jessica Romero, was cast right off the streets of East Central to play the lead role of Rascal, the streetwise leader of a small women’s wing of a Latino gang. The whole story takes place in a single chaotic day in her violence-filled life. Conflict both inside and outside the gang as well as in the home, on top of a looming deadline for entry to a summer writing program that might be an escape hatch to a better life. The crisp story moves along quickly and eventually takes us a scene so sudden and shocking that viewers seemed to jump back in their seats as one.

    Down For Life is a current and raw film made in the vein of such inner city classics as Boyz n The Hood. It is an independent film and may be hard to find, but as the best film of 2009, thus far, it is well worth the effort.

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    Capitalism: A Love Story (2009) ***

    10.04, 2009 Movie Review By: Manhattan Movie Maniac

    capitalism.jpgDirector: Michael Moore

    Starring: Michael Moore

    Michael Moore is back and using his well-known bombastic style to lambaste the capitalist system in general, and the Wall Street robber barons in particular. Moore’s main gripe this time out is the Washington 700 mil corporate bailout package. He talks about who got it, how they got it, what they did with it, and he has a few impressive points to make about it, though the film would have been better if it had focused a little more narrowly on that area instead of trying to pass judgement on the whole Capitalist system, which is better tackled in a 200 page thesis than a two hour movie..

    Using his usual but always entertaining formula, Moore mixes humour with poignant stories of little people being crushed by the economic crisis, along with stories of the faceless grey system villains. Moore stays away from tackling many of these executives by name, perhaps because none of them talked to him or threatened endless legal action if he used any ambush interview footage. These leads to a drawback in this Moore effort. Perhaps as a victim of his own success, the only faces for these villains are those of hapless security guards and low level managers. The big guys know better than to even let him in the door and thus achieve everlasting celluloid infamy. At any rate, all of his leads to a slightly triumphant finish, again in accordance with his Moore formula style.

    Not as funny as some of his past projects and a little light on the content, as well, but the Moore formula and style is in clear evidence. Fans will welcome his return and forgive any shortcomings, and those who are not fans, well, I don’t imagine that they will shell out their dough to see and hear the rants of a fat commie pinko anyway.

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    Jennifer’s Body – Quotes

    10.04, 2009 Movie Review By: Manhattan Movie Maniac

    “Jennifer’s evil.”
    “I know.”
    “No. I mean, she’s actually evil. Not high school evil.”

    “I thought you only murdered boys.”
    “I go both ways.”

    “You’re a terrible best friend. You stole my toys when we were little. You poured lemonade on my bed.”
    “And now I’m eating your boyfriend. At least I’m consistent.”

    “Hell is a teenaged girl.”

    “Do you know how hard it is to make it as an indie band these days? There are so many of us, and we’re all so cute and it’s like if you don’t get on Letterman or some retarded soundtrack, you’re screwed, okay? Satan is our only hope.”

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