Archive for September, 2008

People who deal with death everyday are a special breed, as they confront horrible inflictions and maintain compassion to face the grieved. But how often does special translate to disturbed?

Ted Grey (Milo Ventimiglia) is an extremely talented med student. He is engaged to Gwen (Alyssa Milano), a lawyer-in-training, and looking at a bright future in medicine. But first he must complete his residency in the morgue of a Los Angeles hospital. Initially, Jake Gallow (Michael Weston) and his classmates appear threatened by Ted’s astute deductions but instead they view his skill as a qualification to invite him to play their game. The goal of the game is to see which of them can commit the perfect murder; i.e. one in which none of the players can determine the cause of death.

At first glance, this is somewhat reminiscent of 1990’s Flatliners but these would-be doctors go one step further to test their skills. Rather than impossibly reviving the deceased, this group expertly produce the dead. Their respect for the departed is limited, as the opening sequence suggests, and the fact that they murder evildoers alleviates any guilt they may feel. The story is intriguing though simultaneously heinous and the great care taken to ensure realistic anatomies and sets only accentuates the narrative.

The actors are unnervingly blasé about their actions. To prepare for their roles, the filmmakers and cast spent several days observing in a real morgue. Ventimiglia and Weston’s rivalry is tangible as they compete to one-up each other. Johnny Whitworth provides the expected sarcasm, while Keir O’Donnell’s outcast is constantly hovering around the periphery. However, the female characters Juliette (Lauren Lee Smith) and Catherine (Mei Melançon) are little more than sex objects in the deadly game.

The special features are interesting. “Creating the Perfect Murder” contains interviews with the cast and filmmakers, in which they discuss their experiences in the morgue and on set. “The Cause of Death” explores the authenticity of the film in regards to design and practice. Finally, the feature commentary is the director, screenwriters and producer poking fun at the flick, the cast and intermittently providing a factoid.

This is another case of a movie using a recognized title for a “reimagining” but employing only minimal elements from the original. Some advice: if you want to make a different movie, have the creativity to come up with your own title.

A small town in Colorado is under quarantine due to the pervasive outbreak of a virus with flu-like symptoms. Cpl. Sarah Bowman (Mena Suvari) is recalled to her hometown to serve in the military lockdown under Captain Rhodes (Ving Rhames). She is teamed with privates Bud Crain (Stark Sands) and Salazar (Nick Cannon) to manage the crisis. As the situation worsens, Sarah goes home to ensure the safety of her mother, brother Trevor (Michael Welch) and incidentally his girlfriend Nina (AnnaLynne McCord). Things get ugly unbelievably quick as the infected suddenly and simultaneously become flesh-eating monsters that take over the town.

George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead (1985) was the third chapter of the living dead series. It took place in an underground bunker post-zombie outbreak, where government scientists are attempting to understand and possibly cure the zombie epidemic. Their research reveals the creatures maintain residual elements of their pre-dead selves.

In this version, in which horror director Steve Miner states he wanted to make a different movie, there is a military presence, the infected do remember and the characters eventually end up in a bunker. However, the infected are not really zombies but victims of a government experiment gone wrong that was fatal but awarded them superhuman abilities.

This is a second-rate zombie flick without any real scares. The dialogue is repetitive and there are several unexplained holes in the story and character development. The cast performances are adequate but short of notable, with the exception of Sands. Fortunately, the special effects crew does excellent work creating nasty, creepy monsters.

There is an alternate ending among the DVD special features that is worth checking out and the interviews are faintly interesting but the rest (feature commentary, on the set) are lacklustre.

We spent six seasons with four women, feeling their pain, envying their fashion and revelling in their joy. We each had our favourite, which was not always the one we could most identify with, and reluctantly said goodbye when the final episode aired. Four years later, a reunion was set for the theatre nearest you – and now you can welcome them back into your living room.

Even after the fast forward, not much appears to have changed in the lives of Manhattan’s favourite women. Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Mr. Big (Chris Noth) are blissfully apartment hunting; Charlotte (Kristin Davis) is living out her fairy tale with Harry (Evan Handler) and their adopted daughter; Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) is balancing life as a mother, wife and lawyer in Brooklyn with Steve (David Eigenberg) and their son; and Samantha (Kim Cattrall) is still with actor Smith Jerrod (Jason Lewis) in Los Angeles. But, as always, the girls hit some bumps in the road; none more so than when Carrie and Big’s path leads them down the aisle.

Even the minor characters make appearances with Vogue editor Enid Frick (Candice Bergen), Carrie’s pal Stanford Blatch (Willie Garson), and hyper wedding planner Anthony Marentino (Mario Canton). Jennifer Hudson is added to the mix as Carrie’s personal assistant and reminder love still lives in New York. The clothes are more glamorous, the women older and more sophisticated and the emotions unbridled. You may not agree with the characters’ choices but they are true to the characters. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll have the benefit of a more fitting goodbye than the series allotted.

The opening summary of each woman’s life firstly seems unnecessary because if you’re sitting through the two-and-a-half hour movie, you’ve almost definitely seen the television series; and secondly, summing up their lives in 50 words or less doesn’t do them justice.

When watching the extended cut, it is difficult to determine exactly what was not included in the theatrical version seen several months earlier. It turns out there were four scenes director/writer Michael Patrick Kring had to include in the DVD version of the film. They fit seamlessly, which is why it’s difficult to detect them, but the movie worked without them as well. The feature commentary by Kring elaborates on all the details from location to costume to story. In addition, it identifies the added moments and why they weren’t included originally.

The second disc of special features would not be complete without an 18-minute featurette about the fashion of Sex and the City. It also includes a conversation between Kring and Parker about the film; singer Fergie’s experience in the soundtrack studio; and four scenes that did not make either cut of the film, with or without commentary.

It’s often difficult for couples to find a date movie that will entertain both of them, but if Friends’ goofy dinosaur guy David Schwimmer teams up with the witty genre-savvy Simon Pegg of Shaun of the Dead, the resulting romantic comedy is a promising remedy to the problem.

Dennis (Pegg) has made a lot of stupid mistakes in his life but the one he regrets most is leaving Libby (Thandie Newton), his pregnant fiancée, at the altar five years ago. He now does security at an upscale women’s clothing store, lives in the basement of an Indian widower (Harish Patel), and shares the parenting duties for his son, Jake (Matthew Fenton). Dennis is waiting for the day Libby will forgive him and take him back, assuming it would just eventually happen. But his dream is crushed when Libby introduces Dennis to her new beau, Whit (Hank Azaria). Whit is everything Dennis is not: charming, handsome, successful and he is running the London marathon for charity. In Libby’s words, Dennis “can’t even finish a sentence.” Convinced finishing the marathon will prove his worth and win back Libby, Dennis enlists the help of his best friend Gordon (Dylan Moran) to train for the 26 mile run. “I’m not fat,” Dennis insists, “I’m unfit.”

Though Pegg did co-write the script, don’t expect any genre-bending self-aware jabs at the rom-com; it follows the typical formula of pining rewarded as well as the Rocky recipe of training-disappointment-triumph. Instead, Pegg indulges in some physical and gross-out comedy, all the while winning audiences’ hearts as the underdog. To support his cause, it becomes obvious Whit’s nice guy act is masking a callous personality. The cast is wonderful and deliver numerous memorable and quotable lines without missing a beat.

Schwimmer’s feature debut in the director’s chair proves his extended stint on the friendly sitcom nurtured a good sensibility of funny and romantic. Conversely, it may be hampering his ability to think outside the box and bring new life to the genre. That said, you never find yourself rolling your eyes at the screen and the product is a fully enjoyable rom-com.

The special features include more than a dozen deleted scenes, several of which are very funny but would have altered the tone and pace of the film; outtakes that are disappointingly not as funny as the film; and pre-interview footage of Pegg being pranked by an unexpectedly mischievous Newton. The feature commentary is like listening in on a friendly roundtable conversation with Schwimmer, Pegg, and Newton.

Most road trip movies are formulaic, particularly indie road trip flicks. Therefore, it is up to each filmmaker to ensure their take on what have become clichés will standout from the rest as worth watching.

Mercer (Lou Taylor Pucci) is our naïve, soulful protagonist who impulsively sets out on a road trip through the south in search of his half-brother Arlen (Jsu Garcia), who he has not seen in over a decade. The reason for his sudden need of sibling companionship is the death of their mother eight months earlier, of which Mercer needs to inform his brother. His search begins in Eugene, Oregon and clues to his brother’s whereabouts leads Mercer to Reno, Nevada; Mojave, California; Sacramento, California; and finally Ensenada, Mexico. But he soon realizes that Arlen has left little but hard feelings and ruins in his wake. Along the way, Mercer meets a string of oddball characters, including Joely (Jena Malone), a wild pixie that he went to middle school with; a pornographer with teen stars who calls himself Sergio Leone (Julio Oscar Mechoso); a convicted drug dealer (Maura Tierney) who owns a pet store and plays music for children as part of her community service; and a daunting liquor salesman (Bill Duke) who lectures Mercer on self-defence. He is also joined at first in spirit, and eventually in-person, by the mysterious voice on a cell phone that came with the car. The voice belongs to the car’s owner Kate (Zooey Deschanel), who promises not to call the police as long as Mercer maintains their flirty repartee and keeps her updated on his journey.

The road trip checklist is complete: cute and soulful leading man-boy; ethereal woman to show him the way; eccentric encounters; plenty of landscape; drab cinematography; and an indie-rock soundtrack. But each element is noteworthy and done well. Pucci returns to the character he played in Thumbsucker, but he fits the bill and appears at home in Mercer’s headspace. Even as a disconnected voice, Deschanel’s individuality and spirit shines through and is substantiated when she physically enters the picture. Malone is convincingly impish but she sometimes seems more mean-spirited than her character requires. The saturated scenery passes by the car’s windows and envelopes the characters as they get closer to their goal. M. Ward’s music complements the dreamlike narrative tone flawlessly. And it is Ward’s collaboration with Deschanel on “When I Get to the Border” for the film’s soundtrack that gave way to the formation of the musical duo She & Him.

The references to Leone and Jean-Luc Godard speak to director/writer Martin Hynes’ film literacy but are not necessary to the story. Rather, his understanding of the formula and ability to make it worth watching speaks for itself. The dialogue is filled with everyday wit, grounding the surreal situations.

The special features are disappointedly meagre totalling 10 minutes of “20 questions with Michael Hynes” and test footage, plus the theatrical trailer. The feature commentary provides an in-depth look at Hynes’ personal influences for the semi-autobiographical tale as well as location details. On the upside, the DVD does include a digital copy of the film that can be transferred to your video-capable portable device.

Everyone is reaching for the next rung on the ladder of success and sometimes a few fingers may get “accidentally” stepped on.

Doug (Sean William Scott) has made a career of his assistant manager position but when the chain plans to open a new store nearby, it seems he’s a shoo-in for the manager post. But he gets some unexpected competition via Richard (John C. Riley), a transfer from a sister store in Quebec. They both desperately want the job to improve their living situations, which leads them to compromise their morals and sabotage one another, making the best man for the job a little harder to determine.

Watching this movie, I was reminded of 1999’s Election. Similarly, the narrative voiceover by Doug relays his reasoning and justifies his actions. Also, the characters are a little strange and flawed.

At first, it’s somewhat odd to see Scott so subdued but he portrays the straight, clean-cut guy well. Riley always puts his best foot forward and this project is no different. His determination to overcome his life’s mistakes is consistently detectable, as is his lack of book smarts. But while his Canadian accent is good, it often bleeds into an Irish accent similar to his wife’s (Lili Taylor). The supporting cast also pulls their own weight, particularly Jenna Fischer, Taylor and Gil Bellows.

In addition to being a comedy, it looks at the inner workings of a supermarket and all the degrading aspects of the industry as well as the difficulty of maintaining one’s integrity in a dog-eat-dog world.

The deleted scenes were rightfully cut, as they are unnecessary to the story as it was told. The feature commentary includes some anecdotes from the production and points out some falsities stated by the actors. However, several of the same comments are made in the ”making of” feature. The biggest disappointment is the outtakes, which is just one scene repeatedly ruined by the actors’ laughter. In a movie with known comedic actors, one expects an array of cracked-up scenes.

The title pretty much covers the surface story of Kevin Smith’s new endeavour. However, on a deeper level, it is about two lifelong best friends entering uncharted territory.

Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) have been friends since first grade. As adults, they are roommates with no secrets and a complimentary dynamic. But when their minimum wage salaries can no longer pay the bills, they must seek alternative sources of income. Having recently met a pornography entrepreneur, the wheels begin to turn and casting auditions are posted. With Zack’s friend Delaney (Craig Robinson) bank-rolling the film, Deacon (Clerks alum Jeff Anderson) set to shoot it and a cast including Zack, Miri, Lester (Jason Mewes), Bubbles (Traci Lords), Stacey (Katie Morgan) and Barry (Ricky Mabe), a porn is born. And FYI, Zack and Miri have never had sex with each other.

Smith said he made this movie to explore a topic that always interested him: sex with love versus sex without. After all, he married his only one-night stand. Thus, Rogen speaks in Smith’s voice and Mewes represents his own free-spirited views. Eerily, it often feels like Rogen is channelling Smith directly. Also, Justin Long has a very amusing cameo as the high school heartbreaker’s lover and porn star.

Unfortunately, Smith does recycle some jokes from his last venture behind the camera, Clerks 2 – particularly the race humour. That said, the movie is very funny. Zack and Miri’s candid openness with each other in the opening act is comic and anytime sex occurs outside a serious flick, it’s bound to play for some laughs. And for those interested, Mewes does do the full monty.

Smith’s followers will not be disappointed and the newbies will not turn back. It’s a well-balanced mix of lewd humour and heartfelt comedy.