Month: March 2009

Nightmares and Dreamscapes: Review for “Coraline”

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The team who brought you the stop-motion animation masterpiece The Nightmare Before Christmas is back delivering a terrifying but fantastic film yet again. Neil Gaiman’s wonderfully eerie children’s book hits the screen in a big way, and works great as a SMA movie. I imagine that a live action version would not be as convincingly scary.

Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) is a ten year old girl who has moved to a three story housing complex completely against her will. She misses her friends. She doesn’t want to go to a new school. Her upstairs neighbor, a Mr. B, is slightly crazy, while the two retired actresses living below are just as balmy. The two are voiced perfectly by Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French, the wackiest British comediennes ever. Her parents are always busy and don’t want to be pestered by Coraline. She remains bored to death, even when she makes friends with a weird kid named Wyborn. While all this transpires, she wishes for a better and more exciting life. She finds a door in the living room that leads to another world that’s so fantastic. She has a really cool Other Mother (both mothers are voiced by Teri Hatcher) and her crazy neighbors are interesting and fun. But all of them lack a real human quality and have button eyes. She soon learns that all is not what appears. The Other Mother is one of the scariest characters ever exhibited on screen.

At first, the film is very slow and drags on with no purpose. It isn’t until Coraline enters the Other World that the film gets exciting. There are several elements, such as the character of Wybie, that are not in the original book. The black cat is a purrfect cynical version of Jiminy Cricket and speaks in a very wise tone.

The animation in the film is flawless and the movements the figures make are seamless and unbelievably fluid. Thy have come so for since Nightmare. It is really quite amazing. But as amazing as the film is, I wouldn’t let anyone under the age of eleven see it. It is too scary, and the images are a little too disturbing for young ones. Not only that, but it makes a mother the main villain. Parents may also frown at the buxom Miss Forcible. Don’t take your younger kids to see it, no matter how fantastic it is.


Grade: B+


A Touch of “Frost”: Review for “Frost/Nixon”

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Can you think of am exciting storyline? Does it involve two men? Two men talking to each other? Well, if that’s not your idea of a great film, you may want      to think again. Frost/Nixon is based on a Tony award winning play from 2007 that tells the somewhat true story of a humble British TV show host who conducts interviews with the most disgraced President the United States has ever had: Ex-President Richard Nixon. Michael Sheen reprises his role from the play. He plays David Frost, a mild mannered TV show host who is pretty normal. Frank Langella (nominated this year for Best Actor) also reprises his Tony award winning role as Nixon. While prejudice will certainly at first get in the way, Langella brings surprising depth to this character of sorts. One great thing about the two leads is that they aren’t impersonating them. That’s for sure, because I have seen better Nixon impersonations than Langella’s. Michael Sheen is no stranger to playing real people; he played Tony Blair in the Oscar winning film The Queen (whose screenwriter also composed the screenplay for Frost/Nixon). David Frost’s quest to get retrospective interviews with Nixon all starts with getting people interested, which isn’t easy. “Why would this silly TV show host want to do legitimate interviews with the President of the United States?” After finally getting a network to fund some of it, he begins his interviews with Nixon, first talking of China, then of Vietnam, all the while having his teammates doubt the credibility of what would end up being world famous interviews. Nixon drawls on and on about the most boring subjects and takes over twenty minutes to answer one question. But then the topic of Watergate comes up and it makes for a very memorable scene. Nowadays, you can see candidates and current leaders on The Ellen DeGeneres Show or Oprah or see them parodying themselves on Saturday Night Live, but back in the late ’60s, they would only choose the cream of primetime, like Dateline. David Frost might have been the first celebrity-ish interviewer. He was well-known. He was handsome. He was funny. (He’s still alive.) He was the first person that wasn’t part of the media elite to have an interview with a very well known man. This film, also nominated for Best Picture, is great. It doesn’t spun very exciting at first but manages, through interviews with the team and through television segments. Langella is fantastic as the shamed president. He looks like him and sounds like him and plays Nixon as unbiasly as possible. Sheen is equally enjoyable as Frost. Though it may not deserve Best Picture, it certainly is one heck of a film. Very interesting and supremely entertaining.


Grade: A-


All That You Love Will Be “Taken” Away: Review for “Taken”

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As psychologically interesting it is to see what a father would do to save his daughter, I don’t really want to see something like that actually happen. Alas, the new action film “Taken” practically rubs that in your face in the TV spots.

Genial Liam Neeson, who gave an amazing performance in Schindler’s List, plays a retired CIA agent, slightly down on his luck. He’s divorced and his ex-wife (X-Men and GoldenEye‘s Famke Jensen) married a really rich guy. While he was working for the CIA, he spent little time with his daughter (Maggie Grace), something he is trying to make up for now. He settles for taking jobs as a security man.

As an extremely overprotective father, the last thing you would want to ask him is to go on a trip to France unsupervised. But she does any way. After a long thought, Daddy says yes. When she and her friend get to France, they meet a French hunk who invited them to a party later. You should know what happens next. Some other men come up and kidnap her and her friend.

The next words spoken are dark and very powerful, words Neeson has only seconds to say before his daughter is gone: “Whoever you are, if you are looking for money, I don’t have any. What I do have is a particular set of skills that I have acquired over a period of years that make life for people like you hell. I will find you and I will kill you.” Neeson, who, at first look, doesn’t look like your everyday action star, makes a great one. His movements are realistic in a dramatic and now action sense. The pace is amazingly quick and each scene passed one by one without looking back. The choreography for the fight scenes is spectacular. And sense and coherency is something that is not necessary in enjoying the film. It is simply an adrenaline filled thrill ride.

Now, having said that, just because its production quality is top notch does not mean I want to sit through 100 minutes of a rampaging father. As I said before, it is certainly interesting from a psychological perspective. Taken is far from the first film to explore what people will do when they know their loved ones are harmed. There’s the Vengeance Trilogy from Japan; there’s Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring; which was remade by horror maestro Wes Craven as the violent exploitation film The Last House on the Left, recently remade again in 2009; there’s even Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Those other times, as classic or wretch worthy as they were, were not pleasant to watch. If you enjoy high octane action films, this is for you. If you are too emotionally vulnerable, this isn’t for you.


Grade: B

Shoot ‘Em Up: Review for “Wanted”

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Guns are everywhere. It’s another sad truth. We have six year olds playing Grand Theft Auto, hijacking cars, and shooting cops every weekend for fun. We have news stories about people taking their AK-47 to their school rooftop and, in a vulgar sense, going postal. But in a society where violence is omnipresent, you have to get over it.

One of the most recent in a long line of violent but fun action films is Wanted, loosely based on the comic book series. James McAvoy plays a depressed white collar worker who hates his office job, has a best friend who is sleeping with his girlfriend, and doesn’t know what his purpose in life is.

Then comes a mysterious and sexy Angelina Jolie who recruits him to a Fraternity. A Fraternity of Assassins run by Morgan Freeman. This is a place where he learns how to curve a bullet, how to fight, and how to make his girlfriend jealous. At this fraternity, they choose who to “assassinate” by this long tapestry which weaves in the names of people by the way of binary numbers.

In order to enjoy this film, you need to separate yourself as far as possible from reality. The film is an adrenaline packed thrill ride that doesn’t really make sense but is sure fun to watch. The film is surprisingly brutal in some parts, particularly when training McAvoy’s character. The fight scenes are extremely well choreographed and the special effects are amazing. This is one heck of a thrill ride.


Grade: B+

Phantom of the “Opera”: Review for “Repo! The Genetic Opera”

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It is deathly depressing, but we live in a world where there are hundreds of people who go to see the newest horror movie simply to see someone get chopped up right one right after the other. There are crowds of perfectly sane human beings going to see torture porn films and treat them like strange marvels of the cinema. These films, films such as Hostel, Saw (not the first one, though), and similar straight-to-DVD rip offs offer the same crowd new ways to get their kicks to beheadings and splatters. So what does Darren Lynn Bousman, the man who made a particularly chilling suspense film into the crappiest franchise called the Saw series, decide to offer this world in need of smart and scary films? A torture porn musical! What a brilliant idea! A horror musical, some bizarre hybrid of one laughable genre and one mystical genre. That is all we needed. He decided to make a weird off-Broadway “opera” into a movie and while the original already had salacious language and blood in it, Mr. Bousman added his Saw II flair by adding blood, blood, gore, gore, and even more blood and gore.

Repo! The Genetic Opera takes place in 2056 and in a world where organ failure has become a world wide epidemic. 26 years before, a company called GeneCo begins selling organs to those in need. For those who cannot afford to pay all at once, they offer a payment plan. If you miss a payment, GeneCo sends out the Repo Man, a man who is allowed by law to take back the organ you bought. This company is run by a ruthless man named Rotti Largo (a warbling Paul Sorvino) and his three surgery addicted children, Amber Sweet (Paris Hilton, talentless as usual), in need of anger management Luigi (Bill Moseley), and an ever face changing Pavi (played by some guy named Ogre).

So, aside from that strange plotline, the Repo Man (Anthony Stewart Head) ha s a daughter named Shilo (Alexa Vega), whom he overprotects. He goes around parading that he is a doctor working for GeneCo while she is stuck in her room with a blood disease that is hereditary. So, when Daddy goes to work as a doctor, he’s really going to work to cut people up and take back organs. Yay! Her mother is dead and she’s bored, so you’re just asking for her to go running about town. And there’s this character called the Grave Robber who narrates the story with the help of comic book transitions. This character is eerily similar but not nearly as entertaining to the Emcee in Cabaret.

The weirdest part, if it isn’t already turning you away, is that a high class performer and professional opera singer like Sarah Brightman (ex-wife of the ;legendary Andrew Lloyd Webber) would act in such a bizarre and awful film like this. She plays Blind Mag, The Voice of GeneCo, a beautiful opera singer who lost her vision and got corneas from GeneCo. But the saddest part of the film that it took and perfectly heartbreaking ending and ruined it with violence.

The strangest part of the never ending storylines is that unshockingly they are interconnected. Repo Man, a.k.a. Nathan, married Marni who Rotti wanted to marry and was the best friend of Blind Mag. Marni left for Nathan, Rotti vowed vengeance, yada yada yada. The film is wildly predictable and incessantly bizarre. It’s one of the worst “musicals” I have ever seen, if you can call it that. Yes, there’s music. The entire film contains music with strange and bad lyrics by characters who have bad voices.  This is a strange and bloody film, filled with terrible acting and an even worse storyline and not worth any of your time.

Grade: D-