Archive for February, 2010

the_craziesThe Crazies marks the return of survivalist horror to the big screen in the vein of zombie and outbreak films such as Dawn of the Dead and 28 Days Later.

Ogden Marsh is a small town with a law-abiding population of a little more than 1,200. Suddenly overnight, the residents of the once picture-perfect community dive into violent madness. Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) tries to figure out what is infecting his town, while having to use lethal force to prevent his friends and neighbours from killing him. As the nonsensical hostility escalates, Dutton bands together with his pregnant wife, Judy (Radha Mitchell); Becca (Danielle Panabaker), an assistant at the medical center; and Russell (Joe Anderson), Dutton’s deputy and right-hand man to survive the insanity. To add to their difficulties, the government has restricted all communication and access to the town in an attempt to contain the infection.

The movie is a reinvention of George Romero’s 1973 film of the same name. However, this cannot be considered a remake by definition as the key difference between the films is the overall story: while Romero’s picture split the focus between the failure of the military to be effective in the situation and a small group’s attempt to evade capture, the 2010 version directed by Breck Eisner presents the military as a faceless power and centres on the group’s survival against various attacks. Even though the driving force of the film and a few key elements remain intact, the approach is changed. The modernized representation of the military as a uniform, anonymous power invading without explanation is compatible with current views and they follow the contemporary movie standard of government cover-ups.

If categorized, The Crazies would be characterized as a survivalist zombie flick – more similar now to Romero’s niche narratives than the original. It holds a few good jump-worthy moments as well as numerous close calls that raise the intensity of the film. It’s not a thrill ride by any means, but the film keeps a steady pace from beginning to end.

Except for Anderson, the main cast members are veterans of the horror genre having run and killed their way to the end of various movies, including Scream 2 and A Perfect Getaway (Olyphant); Silent Hill and Rogue (Mitchell); and Friday the 13th (Panabaker). They are more than adequate doing more of the same here as Mitchell exhibits automatous strength through most of the movie and Olyphant brings thoughtful courage to his character; though Dutton’s deduction abilities may be embellished to push the story forward, the rest of the events flow as you would expect.

Without being overly complicated, The Crazies delivers all the expected elements – while the major plot points may be predictable, it remains engaging.

“Nut up or shut up.” This phrase is said repeatedly before key moments in Zombieland, but it is also a good descriptive for the film because it takes every device it employs to its absurd end.

Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) has more than 30 rules he strictly lives by in the world now overrun with zombies – they’re the reason he’s outlived most other people. Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) only appears to have one rule: kill zombies; not just the zombies trying to eat him but all zombies wherever they may be. Together, they might just get each other killed. Wichita (Emma Stone) and her sister Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) do whatever they must to survive without regard for anyone else’s well being. Of course that disregard comes into question when they meet the guys.

Even the zombie purist can enjoy this film for the horror comedy it portrays. It doesn’t abide by a lot of the traditional rules, but most of the violations serve a comedic/entertaining purpose – it wouldn’t be as amusing if Tallahassee was running at a snail-paced zombie with a hammer and a smile. Besides, Zombieland isn’t trying to make a statement; it’s just trying to have a good time.

Eisenberg is “the other guy” that plays young men with confidence issues (see Adventureland), though he is at least as good as Michael Cera. Here, he is flawless as the somewhat uptight loner just trying to get home. Harrelson is also great as the guy who tries to “enjoy the little things,” which just happens to include destroying things whenever he feels the need. Not surprisingly, he plays the slightly unbalanced guy with balls quite well. Stone and Breslin’s sisterly bond is evident, though their relationship could easily have been interpreted as just good friends. Stone is convincing as the girl who’s trying to appear tougher than she really is, while being sexy without trying (or beauty products). Breslin looks all grown up since her breakthrough performance in Little Miss Sunshine, but her talent is almost wasted in such a small role that often has her sleeping or screaming. The cameo by Bill Murray is hilarious and the actor’s exit from the film is entirely fitting and comical.

The other element of amusement is Columbus’ rules, which guide his every move and flash across the screen when appropriate. The top three are: 1. Cardio; 2. Double tap; and 3. Beware of bathrooms. Of the 32 we are privy to, they are all practical, make logical sense and could definitely contribute to extended life during a zombie apocalypse – you may consider adding an extra page to your copy of Max Brook’s The Zombie Survival Guide.

The special features include: commentary with Harrelson, Eisenberg, director Ruben Fleischer and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick; picture-in-picture behind the scenes track; a behind the scenes featurette; a look at transforming the United States to post-apocalypse; visual effects progression scenes; movieIQ via BD-Live; and a digital copy of the film.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is an absurd little fantasy that can really only entice the minds of children.

Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) is an inventor whose inventions have been complete failures since grade school. However, when one of Flint’s machines is accidentally launched into the atmosphere it proves to be his most genius idea yet – he can make it rain any food of his choosing. The project brings Flint the attention of a cute news reporter (Anna Faris) that turns out to be more than just a pretty face. As the townspeople place orders like the sky is a caterer and the greedy mayor (Bruce Campbell) tries to exploit the happy accident, the machine becomes a time bomb ready to destroy the town with giant cuisine.

The simplicity and ridiculousness of the story means it’s mostly going to appeal to the younger age groups that have not yet graduated to the complexities of Coraline. While watching food fall from the sky is colourful and attractive, it gets old after a few showers. But then again, this is geared to an audience that would enjoy stuffing themselves with candy and swimming through mounds of ice cream – though bouncing around in a castle made of Jello is sure to interest anyone.

The characters are fairly two-dimensional, having very superficial problems such as daddy and bully issues. However, the voice actors do an excellent job infusing their characters with the right attitude; particularly Campbell, Mr. T and Neil Patrick Harris, who have supporting roles but are some of the most memorable personalities.

Special features on the two-disc set include: commentary by director Bill Hader; “Key Ingredients” about the voices in the film; extended scenes; a making-of featurette; “Flint’s Food Fight game”; “Raining Sunshine” music video, sing-along and behind the scenes featurette; and early looks at the films animation.

If you ask the majority of movie viewers what the best comedy of 2009 was, most will answer the following: The Hangover.

Doug (Justin Bartha) is getting married and to commemorate the event, his two best friends Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Stu (Ed Helms) and his soon-to-be brother-in-law Alan (Zach Galifianakis) travel to Vegas for one night of fun that will never be spoken of again. Unfortunately, they cannot remember the events of the night the following morning, nor can they find Doug the day before his wedding. What follows is a very funny and confused attempt to put together the pieces, which include a wedding, a kidnapping and an encounter with Mike Tyson.

Every turn of this absurd tale of drunken shenanigans is hilarious and unexpected. As the guys struggle to figure out what happened the night before by looking for clues and retracing their steps, they stumble upon one surprising incident after another as well as a string of comical characters on which they left various impressions. These include great cameos by Heather Graham, Jeffrey Tambor, Mike Epps, Rob Riggle, Ken Jeong and again Mike Tyson.

It would be wrong to spoil any of the film’s surprises by citing specific examples here. So if you haven’t seen it, definitely watch it. And if you have seen it, it’s definitely worthy of repeated viewing.

The special features include: the theatrical and unrated versions of the film, which differ by eight minutes; more pictures from the missing camera; an interactive “map of destruction”; an interview with Jeong; a montage of action scenes from the film; a gag reel; music from the The Dan Band and Cooper, Helms and Galifianakis’ rendition of the “Three Best Friends Song”. Extras exclusive to the Blu-ray include: picture-in-picture commentary; BD-Live features “Cursing Mash-up” and “Iron Mike online teaser”; and a digital copy of the film.

John Travolta hadn’t delivered a good show of violence and persona since Pulp Fiction – until From Paris With Love.

James Reese (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is a personal aide to the U.S. Ambassador in France, but his real passion is his side job as a low-level CIA operative. All he wants is to become a bona fide agent, so he’s eager when he’s offered his first senior-level assignment – until he meets his new partner, special agent Charlie Wax (Travolta). Wax is a trigger-happy, wisecracking, loose cannon who’s been sent to Paris to stop a terrorist attack. He leads James on a white-knuckle shooting spree through the Parisian underworld that has James praying for his desk job.

This film is the epitome of an action movie, racking up more than 40 kills, a shootout at regular intervals and an exciting car chase on a busy highway. They battle the Asian mob, child gang members and Middle Eastern terrorists. Through much of it, James carries a large vase of cocaine around ready to hand it over when necessary (reminiscent of the firm grip players must have on the gnome in certain legs of TV’s Amazing Race) or take a hit to keep up their energy.

Wax is an expert with many deadly skills, but as they travel through Paris he balances his acts as an assassin with the desires of a tourist. They visit the Eifel Tower and indulge in certain Parisian “pleasures.” The inside joke comes when Wax admits his vice is a royale with cheese, pointedly reminding fans of Travolta’s Pulp Fiction character. Travolta’s look and witty personality are bang on and the definite highlight of the picture.

On the other hand, Meyers is not only eclipsed by Travolta but his performance, even when judged independently, is lacklustre. He never appears comfortable in the role even though he’s supposedly achieving his long time career goal. He was an unexpected disappointment.

From Paris With Love is a fun adrenaline ride with a slightly less enthusiastic conclusion.