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The Antenna

So much potential, so little realization
I saw this at TIFF last week and it was one that I really had high hopes for. The trailer was compelling, the description of it drawing from artists such as David Cronenberg (one of my favourites) certainly piqued my interests, and that it was out of Turkey made it stand out as a top of film I hadn't seen come out of that region.

Sadly, this is one of those unfortunate cases of a very talented visual director clearly not caring enough about narrative or performance to give his film any emotional weight. The story is bare-bones, disjointed, and to be frank has no sense of establishing a believable reality. It's a gift with beautiful packaging where the box is empty inside.

Directors such as David Lynch frequently go into the realm of the ambiguous. However, they always have a narrative line from beginning to end built around memorable characters. The Antenna has none of this. The characters are unrelatable in every fashion to the point where you don't care what happens to them in the least, the situations have no grounding in any set reality, and by the end of the film the only events one can remember are the inciting moment and the event that leads up to the conclusion. One could literally replace parts of the film with anything else and it wouldn't make a single difference to the meaning or the outcome.

Additionally, the cast was seemingly given no direction to make anything even remotely interesting. Near the beginning of the film, the main character goes onto a roof to investigate something and actually walks right to the focal point without looking around for even a second or examining anything. At that point, I was fairly convinced I had seen the height of what the performances in the film would entail. Sadly, I was right.

The film is filled with these paint-by-numbers performances where it is clear the director simply wanted to go through the actions so he could get to a cool camera shot. Encouraging -or even allowing- the performers to explore might actually have saved some of this film. But with an almost non-existent story and actors being given practically no time to perform let alone emote, any emotional weight that could have been was lost.

I will give credit to the director for having a good eye. Quite a number of sequences and camera shots were very unique and well laid out. There were some creative choices in how to present scenes that lend me to believe this director has a future on the visual side. However, he has a long way to go in terms knowing how to build a compelling narrative and how to work with actors to achieve great performances.

Sound of Metal

Powerful and thought provoking
I was incredibly fortunate to have seen Sound of Metal at the Toronto International Film Festival including a Q&A after with the director and cast. Whereas a lot of films may take the storyline into melodramatic territory, Sound of Metal explores not only the reality of those who are deaf which is so poorly represented in film and television but also the destructive nature and high cost of denial and self-deception in the face of hard truths.

By focusing on someone whose entire existence revolves around a world of sound losing that which defines his life, it gives the viewer pause to consider what life can be like when we learn to accept and let go. There is so much more to life than the small corners of existence we live in and this film paints that reality with both tremendous empathy and a bluntness that lesser writers and directors would avoid.

In addition, one really has to commend the direction and design of this film's audio. It is clear that a great deal of thought went into how to use sound in this film. From the in-your-face pounding of metal music at the start through the muffled reality as the protagonist loses his hearing to the sense of peace in the moments of silence, it is clear that a great deal of painstaking detail was crafted in conveying this film's reality.

Sound of Metal is one of those films which will keep you thinking for days after about so many aspects of life such as addiction and how some relationships may simply serve a purpose in the short term for our life but ultimately must be let go. How it illuminates aspects of the deaf community that few get a chance to see is important. But there is so much more to this film that to pigeonhole it as merely being about deaf people does a grand disservice to the many fantastic qualities in every aspect of its creation. I highly recommend taking the time to watch this film.

The After

One of the worst pilots I've ever seen.
The After is a lacklustre knock off of LOST with nowhere near the level of suspense or character development. It tries to go for the strange-factor in so many ways but comes off as if writer/creator Chris Carter (best known for the X-Files) simply saved up a bunch of weird ideas and decided to throw them together without tying a single one of them sensibly to a plot. As such, the concept comes off as if he's firing in all directions and not even sure what he's firing at.

The first 15 minutes of the show are ridiculously boring. I have a hard time believing that nobody read the pilot script and after 10 pages didn't ask, "Is something going to happen?" Nothing on screen adds to the characters any way other than artificially and what little incidences that do occur are not enough to drive interest. For a show that clearly wants to be suspenseful, there is in fact no suspense.

That being said, one does get the feeling somebody along the way realized this fact as the first 30 seconds is just a montage of weird images edited in such a way as to jar the audience at the start. But it comes off as completely contrived. And then the show goes downhill from there. It's just puzzling that the producers didn't take that as a hint in reading the first script.

The most disappointing element is that most of the characters are either clichés or lame attempts at originality. The fish out of water protagonist who just wants to see her family, the wrongfully accused black man, the insecure female cop, the rogue hick, the wealthy old lady, the slick talking lawyer and his supermodel girlfriend, and... a clown? You cannot make this nonsense up.

As for the meat of the script, the dialogue is boring and the plot turns are glacial at best, all leading up to a cliffhanger. Or at least attempting to lead up to a cliffhanger. The big conceptual reveal in the end only starts to develop 10 to 15 minutes before the credits. There's no real hint of it throughout the show which makes it seem as if either the ending concept was tacked on or everything before it was just throw together because Carter knew a 15 minute show wouldn't fly.

But that isn't even my biggest complaint.

Anybody who had a problem with the notorious underwear scene in Star Trek: Into Darkness is going to be rolling their eyes with this pilot. Carter has taken the cake on gratuitous and unnecessary use of a woman as eye candy. It's really sad and in fact quite hypocritical considering the protagonist (who is an actor) in the start of the show gets her nose bent out of shape at a script read-thru that depicts a woman as a sex toy. It's like Carter was making a statement against such sexism in film and television only to employ it ten times worse himself.

It is disheartening that Chris Carter after all this time can't come up with another decent concept. The X-Files and Millennium were way ahead of their time in their initial run. Harsh Realm was a laudable attempt. But ever since -- whether it be the Lone Gunmen or the second X- Files film -- Carter seems to have given up on perfecting his work before putting it out there. The After is nothing more than another misguided attempt that should have been either work-shopped further or rejected.

I honestly have to wonder who at Amazon green-lit this series. As a writer who has read other original series concepts, it blows my mind that drivel like this gets a go-ahead while other, more original and interesting series ideas are left gathering dust.

Let Me In

Rivals the original... certainly an adaptation worthy of the story.
To say I was extremely reluctant at the thought of an American version of the beautifully haunting 'Let The Right One' In would be an understatement. But after seeing it's TIFF premiere I'm happy to report that Matt Reeves has knocked it out of the park! 'Let Me In' is incredible... dare I say just as good as 'Let The Right One In'.

It is truly hard to believe that a flawless adaptation -- it's based on the book: thus not a remake -- of this great story could be done this well twice. But the level of skill on every point is beyond compare.

Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Moretz are simply captivating. The cinematography is gorgeous. Michael Giacchino's score is gripping. And Matt Reeves simply gets it. He understands that this is a coming of age story of two lost and isolated children and he hits every note perfectly.

For those who love 'Let The Right One In' (like myself) fear not. This film will only make you appreciate more the story both films are based on. And for those reluctant to watch a Swedish horror film, know that you can watch 'Let Me In' and not miss a bit of the story. Certainly there are some different artistic choices. But the story is the same and it is the story that is the important part.

This is one of the best film stories to come around in years. And since Reeves faithfully sticks to the story it means a new audience who may not have watched the subtitled original will get a chance to take it in.


An incredibly endearing film
Waitress is a film that is almost impossible not to love. It is such an obvious labor of love for all involved and brings out some of the best work of many of those involved. And unlike many "labor of love" films, this one is actually both highly entertaining and easily accessible. From start to finish, it is a heart moving and amusing film with many quirks and magnificent originality. While it is a romantic comedy, it is not a "Hollywood" romantic comedy in that the film rarely -- if ever -- goes where you expect it to go.

The story follows a young waitress (played by Keri Russell) who is married to a full-time loser (Jeremy Sisto) with a mean spirit. She finds out she is pregnant which ultimately puts her on a collision course with the new doctor in town (Nathan Fillion) whom she falls into a passionate love affair with. The film follows this waitress as she tries to sort out her own problematic relationship with her husband, understand what her heart is telling her about her affair, all the while dealing with her everyday life with her fellow waitress friends (Adrienne Shelly and Cheryl Hines) and a grumpy old customer (Andy Griffith) who happens to own the restaurant where she works.

Every character in this film is memorable for one reason or another, including several minor character such as the short-order cook of the restaurant, and even a mother and her young, obnoxious son who frequent the restaurant and strike fear into the pregnant protagonist. Andy Griffith in particular grabs the audience's attention and makes his role a true standout.

The only major criticism that can be brought against the film is some of the camera work. At times the focus is unclear with the camera seemingly unsure which actors it should be staying on and at times simply not being in focus at all. However, it is such a minor issue and would go unnoticed to most audiences that it certainly doesn't bring the quality of the film down in any way.

Adrienne Shelly who acted in, wrote and directed the film (as well as co-set designed, co- costume designed and even provided one of the songs for the film) has left one perfect little film here. It is such a tragedy that she did not live to see this film's release as it certainly would have given her the success she so richly deserved. This film can easily be recommended to anybody who has a heart.

Deus Ex

Took video games to a whole new level
Video games had come a long way by the year 2000. Games such as Castle Wolfenstein and Doom popularized the first-person shooter genre, Metal Gear defined stealth based action and Half Life and Unreal elevated the idea of a continuous storyline for gaming. Even yet, it is likely that nobody was prepared for what game designers Warren Spector and Harvey Smith along with software company Ion Storm had up their sleeve.

In June of 2000, Deus Ex hit the video game world running with glowing reviews and amassing an enviable list of awards, including most of 2000's Game of the Year awards. Set in a future world where shadowy government agencies, multi-national corporations and secret societies battle to control the world, the game follows the character of JC Denton -- a government agent with a host of bio-modifications that give him special abilities -- as he investigates and takes on the various powers that be.

While the graphics and the game play itself was top notch, what set Deus Ex apart from all that had come before was its branching game play and extremely developed storyline. With settings all around the world, the player was given the option of choosing which "missions" they wanted to complete. And those choices would eventually help or hinder the player, depending on the situation. The scope of the game's story was so in-depth that it could allow an average gamer weeks of game play.

As well, unlike previous games where players could carry unlimited supplies and weapons, Deus Ex forced a certain realism where players could only carry a certain amount of equipment at any given time. Thus, to complete certain levels, a player may be forced to drop unnecessary equipment in favor of other weapons or tools. As well, weapons could be modified to take on special characteristics (i.e. scope, silencer, EMP rounds, etc.) thus increasing the level of choice to the player. The same was true for the bio-modifications, which gave the user a whole host of impressive capabilities (i.e. thermo vision, stealth movement, remote control drones, etc.).

Very few games have come close to matching what game designers Spector and Smith achieved with Deus Ex. Deus Ex remains one of the most respected titles in gaming history with good reason.


Visually stunning and entertaining action film
300 is the latest in a line of films that is proving the value of CGI environments to enhance a visual aesthetic that is new and refreshing to the world of cinema. Like its Frank Miller adapted cousin Sin City (though with a palette more visually akin to Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow), 300 is a feast for the senses that dazzles the eye and entertains wonderfully.

Hearkening back to the days of grandiose cinematic efforts such as Ben Hur, the Ten Commandments and Cleopatra, but with a sense of brutal realism that is reminiscent to Braveheart and Saving Private Ryan, 300 tells the story of the Battle of Thermopylae and how a small group of Spartan warriors led by King Leonidas stood alone against the Persian army of Xerxes I. Legend has it that the Persians numbered in the millions, though this is disputed by modern scholars who believe they were in the tens of thousands, still an overwhelming number against the 300 Spartans who held them off for three days of intense combat.

300 is exactly what one would expect of a well crafted film about an ancient war. With costume design and digitally crafted scenes and sets, and cinematography that is unique and awe-inspiring, director Zakk Snyder has fashioned a film that he can take great pride in. And with a cast led by Gerald Butler and Lena Headey that captivates the audience with their demanding screen presence, 300 certainly provides an engaging cinematic experience.

While the narrative and how the film paces itself is certainly well done, the dialog does tend to sound very modern and not very convincing as a recreation of the time period. The films largest flaw resides in the fact that -- at times -- the humorous interplays between characters are given very modern choices in phrases that sound out of place and thus tend to pull the audience out of the illusion that they are watching ancient Sparta and not modern day North America. While sarcasm certainly isn't anything new and likely had as much a life in ancient Sparta, the stylistic approach that is used does not come off as believable. As well, while there is a great deal of bloody combat, the fact that the Spartans in this film walked away from every second of graphically bloody combat without a drop of blood on their clothes or bodies does tend to draw one out of the action that is taking place.

Overall, 300 is a fantastic action yarn that is as enjoyable to watch for its artistic accomplishments as it is an entertaining take on classical war cinema. Where it lacks in believable dialog it more than makes up for in its stunning beauty and intense action sequences.

I would only warn that this film is certainly not for young audiences or those who are squeamish at the site of blood and dismemberment. 300 is true to its subject matter and does not hold its punches in the graphical representation of sword based combat (regardless of how clean the soldiers look afterward). 7.9/10


With a different script, director and cast, this film would have been good...
If you can't tell by my summary line, there really wasn't much saving this film. I got free passes to see Disturbia and was actually looking forward to it. I'm a huge fan of Rear Window (which this film borrows from liberally, substituting a rabbit for the dog that dug in the killer's garden in Rear Window) and find the whole dramatic content of voyeuristic thrillers to be full of possibilities. Unfortunately, Disturbia is flawed in every regards, from plot lines that are nothing more than a slapping together of ideas, to painful to listen to dialog, to direction that is laughable at best, to both poor performances and great actors poorly utilized. This film has it all.

Right from the word go I had a bad feeling about this movie. Matt Craven is a solid performer, but it appeared from the opening sequence that the director didn't know how to use him in the opening scene. This set the stage for Shia LaBeouf who simply could not carry this film. His performance was, simply put, inconsistent and all over the place. Maybe he gives an accurate depiction of how modern teenagers act (and with access to more techno gadgets than Neo in the Matrix) but it doesn't mean that it is interesting to watch or even good drama. In any good performance there has to be a sense that we are looking at the same character in every scene with subtle nuances that show how the character developed. With LaBeouf's performance, it was as if he was a completely different person every five minutes with no sense of connection to the rest of the film.

The dialog went from stale, to boring, to laughably bad to downright insulting of one's intelligence in no time flat. Mix this with a villain -- played by the always excellent David Morse -- who seems to know everybody and show up everywhere and you end up with more of a farce than a serious suspense film. One shot made him look like Michael Myers from Halloween, and by that point they might as well have made this a slasher film because all of the intelligent suspense aspects of the film had already been thrown out the window. And that is very disappointing considering how much respect I have for David Morse as an actor. It was painful for me to watch him have to suffer through the indignities that is this film.

The ending of the film gave the impression that the writers and director had finally given up all hope of making any sense and devolved into a monster on the run project. All reality is thrown out the window as injuries that would kill any normal person become minor inconveniences, law enforcement procedure is tossed aside for happy Hollywood sentiment, and the final two minutes are so laughably bad that one has to wonder both who approved this film and what mafia Don it was that director D.J. Caruso insulted to land this gig.

Perhaps my only lucky break of the night in seeing this was that the projectionist at the theater I was at screwed up the framing half-way through so that the boom mics were present in every shot in the last half of the film. At least that gave the night some enjoyment. However, I would not recommend this film to anybody when there are many more voyeuristic thrillers (did I mention Rear Window) out there that are far better in every regards.


Apart from some great performances, not incredibly special
Dreamgirls is the perfect example of a film where people just didn't make enough decisions going into and thus provided little to no cohesion throughout. While there are some fantastic performances and some great songs, as a film Dreamgirls is nothing noteworthy.

The film follows three girls from 1960's Detroit as they make a name for themselves in the music industry, first as backups to a well known soul singer, then as a group in their own right. Along the way they face the difficulties of white musicians taking their material to make a hit for themselves, a radio industry that only played music when bribed and the cynical nature of the modern music industry where image counts more than sheer talent.

In terms of making a good snapshot of what the music industry was like at the time, Dreamgirls succeeds on many levels. Unfortunately, while the storyline is interesting, it is simply not presented very well. The writing is lackluster at best, and the direction is often aimless and unfocused. In fact, the ending is incredibly weak and terribly directed. What was clear of Jamie Foxx's character's predicament at the end is pushed to ridiculous lengths as if director Bill Condon thought the audience would be too stupid to figure it out.

The most notable element of this is the fact that in the beginning of the film, the only music was that of the performers while on stage. Then about 1/3 of the way, characters started to sing their dialog. And once it seems like the director has settled on this, in the last third he cuts it down so that only certain lines are sung. It is as if he didn't really know what he wanted to do going into the film and then experimented with different concepts at different times of the movie. Thus, as a musical it fails, and as a talkie with musical sequences it is confusing.

However, the real strength of the film is the performances which make the film worth watching. While this was certainly billed as Beyonce Knowles' breakout film, the film clearly belongs to Jennifer Hudson whose incredible vocal range -- on full display in this film -- is matched only by her dramatic skills. She certainly deserved her Oscar as she completely owns this film from beginning to end. The real story is Eddie Murphy, whose performance in this film reminded me of the dramatic breakout of Bill Murray in Lost In Translation. Murphy has never been so powerful in a role and his presence is a blessing for this film.

All in all, Dreamgirls is a case of 'what could have been' more than anything. With jarring inconsistencies throughout and very weak direction, it does not stand up as a great film in any regards save the incendiary performances. Jennifer Hudson has guaranteed herself a long career with what is certainly the standout debut of recent years and Eddie Murphy has proved beyond any degree of doubt that he is more than the funny-man. However, the performances do not do enough to save what is ultimately a letdown of a film.


Was an 8/10 until the ending came around... what a letdown
"Premonition" is one of the few films I recall seeing where I left the theatre infuriated. Not because the movie was bad. Rather, the movie was very good until the utterly annoying ending.

This film had it all. The script for the most part was mature and well paced. The direction was superb. The score was excellent. And Sandra Bullock held herself quite nicely throughout the film, putting forward one of her better performances.

That being said, the entire film comes to a screeching halt with one of the sloppiest endings I have ever seen. It was bad enough that I could see the crux of the finale from a mile away. But what pounded it in further was that this crux comprised the entirety of the conclusion. Not only is it not enough to be the ending, but it resolves nothing. When the screen faded to black and credits began to roll, the entire audience where I was began to chuckle and I could hear a chorus of, "Is that it? That's the ending?"

This is one of those films that could be enjoyable so long as the viewer stopped before the final scene. Even that might leave the viewer feeling let down, but not nearly so as having to watch what is surely the sorriest excuse for a finale I've seen in a professional film in a long time. "Premonition" showed lots of promise and delivered throughout, but collapses just before the finish line. A wasted opportunity for all those involved, and sadly so.


An action-suspense masterpiece
Luc Besson had already defined himself as a true action film craftsman with his brilliant "La Femme Nikita" when he bested himself with what is certainly one of the greatest action films of all time "Leon" (a.k.a. "the Professional"). Combining equal parts dirty-cop/mob drama with the emotional tale of a man taking in an orphaned youngster, "Leon" is both thrilling and heart-wrenching to watch.

Leon (played by the ever stoic Jean Reno) is the hit-man of choice for the Italian mob of New York city. When a dirty DEA agent named Stansfield (Gary Oldman) kills the family of his young neighbor Mathilda (Natalie Portman), he takes her under his wing teaching her the ways of the assassin as she teaches him of the love for life that he has been missing. But Mathilda's desire for vengeance puts herself, Leon and Stansfield on a collision course for a violent confrontation.

Luc Besson certainly brings to vibrant life New York City with beautiful cinematography while crafting a tasteful crescendo of a script. Watching such an excellently composed script play out on the screen with such tasteful imagery is a real treat. As well, the score by longtime Besson collaborator Eric Serra is hypnotic and beautiful in its own right. I have often found myself coming back to the score on its own as it is at times both emotive and pulse driving.

Combined with the production aspects are a collection of precision performances. Portman's screen debut certainly demonstrates why her career took off, as she grabs the viewer's eye and heart from her first appearance and holds her own with her fellow actors. Reno turns in as strong a performance as he has ever given, demonstrating why he is one of the few French leads to have made an equal impact in North America. Add to this an electrifying and intoxicating performance by the master of scene chewing, Gary Oldman, and a subtle and captivating turn by Danny Aiello as an Italian mobster, and this film is certainly worth the price of admission for the performances alone.

"Leon" is a picture perfect example of a film that expanded far beyond the confines of its genre. While being a wonderfully entertaining action film, it draws a strong dramatic narrative that is compelling and unforgettable, and certainly demands repeated viewing. It is a film that few can walk away from without the desire to turn right around and watch again.


Recipe for a fantastic, intelligent action film
If you were to take the best parts of Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan series (Patriot Games, Clear And Present Danger, Sum of All Fears) and mixed in the best parts of the only good Rambo film (First Blood) you would end up with something akin to Shooter. Shooter is a smart, engaging and all out enjoyable action flick that never pulls its punches and always surprises you when you least expect it.

Mark Whalberg plays the role of Bob Lee Swagger, a former military sniper who quit the army following a disastrous mission where his best friend and spotter is killed when they are left behind. Three years later he is hired by a Colonel (played with gusto by Danny Glover) to figure out how a suspected assassin is going to attempt to kill the President from over a mile away, a shot that few could make. Swagger figures out how it is going to be done and is asked to supervise locating the sniper on site. But on the day of the supposed assassination, Swagger is set up with the assassination attempt that kills a visiting diplomat. Swagger is then left on the hunt while trying to prove his innocence.

Shooter twists and turns with an elaborate conspiracy that is very convincing, though of course the writers wimp out and take the cheap road of drawing international oil into the plot (can't writers think of an original plot device?). However, this is hardly a drawback since the rest of the film is solid as a rock. The film really puts you into the shoes of a sniper and gives an impressive overview of the mindset that it takes to be as accurate as someone of the character of Swagger.

The only real distractions in the film would be Elias Koteas, whose psycho performance is heavy-handed and does not fit the film, and Kate Mara who has little to do throughout the film but appear upset or in distress. The film could have done without either characters or their respective actors. As well, some of the character relations seem forced at time, particularly in the relationship between Michael Peña's character of Nick Memphis and his FBI confidante Lourdes, played by Rhona Mitra. Their almost effortless camaraderie comes off as less than convincing.

Overall, Shooter certainly delivers as an entertaining thrill-ride that is certainly not dumbed down in the least. If you want an intelligent action film with lots of impressive gun play and several elaborate, thrilling action sequences to boot, Shooter is right up your alley and will not disappoint. 7.6 out of 10


Not as good as the first; more on par with the second
The Saw franchise is one of those guilty pleasures that you don't necessarily have to keep secret. The first film was a refreshing horror film with an innovative script and enough chills to keep you wanting more. The second was more a by-the-book suspense film with more gore than frights.

Saw III sits in the same arena as the second film in that it bases its shock value on gore, not suspense. There are very few moments that actually jump out and scare you (actually, I can't remember even one) which is unfortunate since that is what true horror films need. As well, the cinematography is so dark for most of the film that it is difficult to know exactly what is being shown.

However, the audience is treated to more of the innovative torture devices and twist endings that made the first film work. I ended up figuring the ultimate twist of the story well before it was presented, but it was still a worthy payoff. And the slight open-end to the film is a little but of a cruel way of leaving things hanging, though in a good way.

All in all, like the second film, Saw III is a fun little gore fest that's not incredibly unique. In that, it certainly won't stand out as one of the better horror films of all times, but it will certainly entertain for an evening. And sometimes that's all you need.

Fantastic Four

With no high expectations you'll find -- while far from perfect -- F4 is still a fun movie
Comic book movies have come a long way to being seen as serious action/adventure fare. The X-Men and Spider-Man series, as well as Batman Begins, helped to forge a seriousness in comic movies that has set a certain bar for achievement. However, The Fantastic Four seems to step back a bit to the more tongue-in-cheek method of crafting a comic book into a film. In doing so, it automatically handicapped its ability to create a realistic film, opting for a more fantasy based attitude. While the results aren't as disastrous as die-hard comic book movie fans suggest, they are not amazing either.

The story follows two scientists -- Reed Richards and Ben Grimm -- in need of funding for a project to observe an energy cloud approaching Earth which they feel could explain human evolution. They are forced to approach a wealthy industrialist named Victor Von Doom, who happens to employ Richards former girlfriend Sue Storm, to use his orbiting space station to monitor the effects of the cloud. The scientists along with Sue's brother Johnny to pilot their spacecraft arrive at the space station to find their initial estimates of the cloud's arrive time to be off and they are bombarded by the cloud's energies.

The five soon find themselves gaining strange abilities. Richards body becomes elasticized, giving him the ability to stretch to incredible lengths. Sue Storm finds herself with the ability to become invisible as well as create force fields. Johnny Storm gains the ability to burn at incredible temperatures and fly. Ben Grimm soon finds his entire body turned to rock. Von Doom finds himself slowly turning to an organic metal and gaining the ability to manipulate energy. Circumstances soon change finding Richards success taking off as Von Doom's company fails. This sets Von Doom off on a mission to turn the tables back in his favor.

With several great action sequences, excellent effects work and superb casting of some very strong talent (including the always dynamic Michael Chiklis), the film is certainly enjoyable from an aesthetic point of view. However, with a fairly shallow storyline and dialog that often is wooden and jagged, it falls short of its comic book film contemporaries. Those walking in with heightened expectations of greatness along the lines of Batman Begins or Spider-Man 2 will certainly be disappointed by the Fantastic Four's more juvenile approach. However, if one keeps in mind that it is more popcorn entertainment than Oscar worthy landmark, the Fantastic Four still manages to be an enjoyable action/science-fiction movie as a whole.

My rating: 6.8/10


A sanitized, Hollywood-style adaptation that is ultimately a letdown
I watched this adaptation of Bruce Porter's novel "Blow" having read most of the book. As a film alone, it is passable. But as an adaptation of truly attention-getting material, it is a sorry failure. Based on the true-life of George Jung who created an empire in the United States by dealing cocaine, the film starts off on the wrong footing and continues to descend into a white-wash of the events of George Jung's life.

Director Ted Demme takes Jung's life and creates artificial sympathy for the character making the film a tragedy of circumstance rather than of choice. However, George Jung himself admitted that the only reason he chose to be a cocaine dealer was that times were slow and he needed the money. Demme also turns Jung's mother into an uncaring villain who turns her son into the cops and taunts him as he is led away, when in reality Jung really doesn't know who turned him in. The film also looks over the fact that George had a well-paying job when he decided to enter the world of drug trafficking. It is of no surprise that director Ted Demme sympathized with Jung considering Demme's own cocaine related death less than a year later.

What was advertised and initially appeared to be a truly engaging exploration of the world of cocaine dealing turned out to be a very typical Hollywood film about drug dealing. With music video cinematography and underwhelming performances by Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz and most of the remaining cast, Blow doesn't come close to expanding or improving upon countless other films exploring the same topic. It falls quickly into the Hollywood glamor trap and never ascends to anything more than typical.

Children of Men

A speculative fiction masterpiece
It appears that speculative fiction, the brainy offshoot of science-fiction, has come to vogue in recent years. Intelligent "what-if" movies have become more frequent than ever and Children of Men stands as being amongst the best of the best. Alfonso Cuarón leaves no stone unturned and has created as vivid a vision of a dreary, decayed future as Ridley Scott's Blade Runner painted a technologically advanced future.

The story of a world where all women have become infertile and civilization had decayed in the ensuing desperation is harsh enough, but Cuarón's and co-screenwriter Timothy Sexton's vision of this decayed world is so convincing that it becomes difficult to remember that it is simply a movie. Every single detail is filled in, from the stalling of technology in the face of a race coming to its extinction, to celebrity worship in a world where everyone is defined by the same dream, to the sights and sounds of a world where schools are empty and the religious feel that God has abandoned them. This film is crafted under a microscope that forgets nothing.

It is most interesting to watch the well-presented attitudes of the lower class who have nothing left to lose compared to the upper class who suddenly find their wealth to be meaningless and yet realize that their continued quest for material wealth is now merely an auto-response. What is most impressive is that the film does not fall into cliché or prejudice about any group. The rich are not painted as evil and the poor are not painted as saintly; the government is not painted as completely evil and rebels are not painted as being completely faultless. In this film, the good and bad of all groups is put front and center.

The view of the government is equal measures modern, Western civilization and Cold-War, Communist Germany. Showing the addiction to illusory security that many countries today are clamoring over and the attempts to quantify and control all aspects of living for the equally illusory socialist dream, this film really pulls no punches. As well, by showing how even civil rebellion can decay into corruption and that the government/army is made up of human beings who respond similarly to the same set of human circumstances, this film certainly succeeds in what all good science-fiction/speculative fiction should do: make us think of who we are and what are relationship is to the world around us.

Alfonso Cuarón has crafted what is a crowning achievement in his career with this film. It stands out amongst all the films that I have seen this year and is a must-see for those who crave intelligent, honest and blunt storytelling with visuals that do not leave your mind long after the film has finished.

El laberinto del fauno

An excellent adult's fable
Pan's Labyrinth is easily one of the top ten films to arrive to theaters this year from a visual point of view. The design and direction of the film shows Guillermo Del Toro to truly have a gift at crafting lush, strange worlds that attract the eye. This film stands as his most mature directing to date, as he certainly pulled back the reins and elevated the real world aspect of the film. The country setting most likely helped in establishing this, but it could certainly not be achieved with a director who doesn't feel there isn't enough "stuff" on screen at any given time.

Del Toro allows his characters to breathe without the claustrophobic eye candy of other effects driven directors. Thus, the performances certainly stand out as the characters are richly drawn and given freedom to expand. While many of Del Toro's previous films stand on the strength of their action sequences, Pan's Labyrinth stands as being his most character driven to date with a wide host of characters each displaying a wide diversity of motivations and desires.

I went into this film with high expectations, which probably contributed to the fact that I was not as impressed with the film as I had expected I would be. While it is an excellent film, it could have been improved with a greater connection between the protagonist's different "tasks" and the real world she lived in. There was a significant disconnection that made her real life and her fantasy life seem like two different, unrelated stories at times.

As well, the brutality of the film seemed gratuitous at times. Del Toro certainly isn't shy at showing brutal visuals (and I am in fact a fan of such visualization when appropriate) but there is a time where the audience gets the point, most notable of these is the Captain's sewing sequence which tended to go on for much longer than necessary. This could have been a fault of the editor, but ultimately the responsibility to draw the scene out was not entirely appropriate for the pacing of the film.

All in all, Pan's Labyrinth is one of the best films of 2006 and stands as one of the best adult fable/fairy-tales I have ever seen. Del Toro's unique visuals and gifted design sensibilities raise the film and outrightly vindicate his position as one of the world's top fantasy directors.

X-Men: The Last Stand

A good action flick with less than stellar direction
I had avoided seeing X-Men 3 for quite some time for the simple fact that I had heard it was a supreme disappointment compared to the second film of the series. I finally caved in and was pleasantly surprised that while it doesn't live up to the previous two films, it still stands on its own as a worthwhile part of the series.

From an action point of view, there is plenty of. The action sequences are impressive to watch and the effects work is nothing short of fantastic. There was not a single effect that looked bad or looked like obvious CGI work -- which is a shortfall of even the best of films -- so in that regards it is quite impressive. There is a broadening of the ethical questions that the series poses, this film introducing the idea of a "cure" to mutancy and questioning whether there can be moral absolutes.

My two biggest complaints are that of direction and the script itself. Brett Ratner has once again failed to show himself as an actor's director. Many scenes looked as if they were filmed simply for being parts of the script that he had to get out of the way in order to move onto the fun stuff. Unfortunately, this approach has the effect of making the actors' performances look stale, unimpressive and -- in some cases -- completely out of character for what has been established in the past. I would venture to guess that he could have drawn out (translation: directed) more honest and better performances from his cast than what he chose to put on screen. This has always been his downfall as a director, a trait he unfortunately brought to what had been to this point a well developed character piece for a comic book movie.

The script itself had some very poor choices both in terms of logic and dialog. Some of the major action sequences prove to be very poorly thought out demanding more than a realistic level of suspension of disbelief. The entire finale rests upon moving the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, yet does not actually take into consideration the reality of the situation in any way. By ignoring why the bridge sits on concrete bases, what is left is a view of the bridge sitting across the water as if its lower supports could float making for the scene to be rather ridiculous. Add to this some extremely poor dialog (most notable an example being Juggernaut's line to Kittie Pryde in the lab complex) and things could be better. And while the moral issues brought forward in this film are excellent, at the same time the writers failed to truly explore the issues more than a fleeting admission of their presence.

However, not to make it seem like I didn't enjoy the film, I would say that X-Men 3 is a fun film to watch with many exciting and visually attractive elements. Don't go in expecting X-2 and you will not be disappointed.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

If you like the first, you'll like this... if you didn't like the first, you still won't like this
The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is certainly geared towards those who are happy to see the same thing over and over again. Anyone going into these films expecting to see something truly new and unique is going to be sorely disappointed. I had heard the hype over the first film and was not overly impressed with it. It was fun, true enough. But, it wasn't an amazing film by any stretch of the imagination.

So, too, is the second film not a great film in any regards. It has its fun parts mind you, but it is nothing new, nothing unique, and falls prey to rehashing the same action sequences over and over again. I don't know how many times we need to see Orlando Bloom parlaying an action sequence either on top or inside of some round, rolling obstacle... but when you have the main character in a ball made of bones, on a net full of gunpowder and on top of a water wheel all in the same film, you know the writers are running out of ideas fast.

What truly annoyed me about this film was the fast and cheap setup at the end for the sequel yet to come. There was no sense that this film resolves anything or even ends a narrative path. Instead, it leaves the story hanging just as any of the previous action scenes did. In truth, for how little this film resolves anything, it could have ended anywhere and achieved the same result in terms of the story coming to a conclusion.

At least with other films that mandate a sequel, there is some sense of closure in the story lines. Even the second Lord of the Rings film had several plot resolutions, though the ultimate story had yet to finish. This film concludes nothing, and in that it feels like I wasted two and half hours, which is far longer than this type of film can sustain any semblance of relevance. By one and half hours I was already bored, but by the time the film ended with what was not even an ending, I was sick to death of the same things over and over again.

All in all, the second film is full of the same silly humor, rehashed action scenes and forced character development as the first. So, if that is your thing, all the power to you. But, if you are looking for something new or to stir the mind and imagination, this is not it. I like silly humor (I even loved Snakes on a Plane) but this film simply isn't interesting enough to reward the attention it deserves.

The Fountain

Brilliant, beautiful and unique
Most of the time people go to films to see a neatly packaged story move from a catalyst action to a climactic resolution. But sometimes you go to a film not simply to explore a story so much as to explore an idea in such a way as to see it within yourself.

The Fountain is one of those introspective films that makes you examine yourself as much as examine the characters. Whether you relate to the conquistador who would die for his Queen and country, or the scientist who is so busy trying to save his wife's life that he is missing it, or the space traveler who simply wants to find peace with the person he loves without reconciling his loss, there is something for every audience member to explore if they are willing to do so.

The film does not fully render itself in such a way that every element is to be perceived as embodied in a rational, physical reality to the storyline itself, but that is not a criticism in the least. Just as Kubrick did with 2001: A Space Odyssey before it, writer/director Darren Aronofsky allows the Fountain room to breathe so as to be both a story and a visual, cinematic experience. In that, The Fountain moves along subtly and with grace, allowing the viewer to see the tragic circumstances of the narrative but also partake in a unique feast for the eyes.

Bringing life to this film are a stream of wonderful performances led by Hugh Jackman who must portray three very different characters with similar circumstances as if they could be one and the same. His masterful precision as an actor shines in his trio role and the depth and range of emotion presented is spellbinding. With fantastic support by Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn and a host of fantastic character actors, there is not an unconvincing moment in the performances.

Ultimately, Darren Aronosky must be commended for his fearless nature as a filmmaker. He is easily setting himself apart from his contemporaries as having an intelligent and wholly unique sensibility in modern film, and the relationships he is able to draw together amongst the actors he employs is only getting stronger with every film he makes.

As a single caveat, The Fountain is easily not a film meant for everyone. If you can't tell from my review already, it is a film that will frustrate those who need a clear cut narrative path. Trying to take in this film with the expectation of neat and tidy resolution will only leave you puzzled. But, if you are willing to explore a film in the way one must explore the complexities of a John Coltrane composition (meaning repeated viewing and a relaxed, open mind), then you will probably appreciate it for both what it is and what it attempts to be.

Stranger Than Fiction

One of the best films of the year
Stranger Than Fiction is one of those films that exceeds expectations. It is a beautifully crafted film in all regards with memorable performances, intelligently poetic direction and an absolutely spellbinding script.

The biggest surprise is the range that Will Ferrell brings to his role as a bland, unremarkable man who works for the IRS who finds his life flipped upside down when he begins to hear a narrative about his life. While he is certainly in his element in comedy, the dramatic demands of this film prove to be a feat well matched by Ferrell who left many in the audience I watched the film with in tears. This role certainly stands as a high mark for Will Ferrell and he certainly is to be commended for his work.

The script by first time film writer Zach Helm stands as equal a breakthrough in screen writing as Being John Malkovich was for Charlie Kaufman or American Beauty was for Alan Ball. His creative, narrative style is only matched by his skillful character development. The characters breathe and grow with the deftness of a mature writer and the well-paced plot moves with grace, something sorely lacking in the average Hollywood script.

Stranger Than Fiction is certainly one of the few easily recognized Oscar contenders for this year. It certainly stands likely to receive nominations for direction, screen writing and acting for Will Ferrell and for Dustin Hoffman who nearly steals the show. It is an easily recommended film that stands out as fresh and truly heartfelt, and the level of acting talent that the script attracted certainly speaks volumes as to how well written the film was.


Is this what a comic book show is supposed to be like? Baywatch: the Second Coming?
Mercy Reef could be the ultimate example of how to make a really bad pilot. It appears as if the recipe that was used to create this show was:

1) Get a bunch of good looking ex-swimsuit models who can't act: Apart from Ving Rhames, the entire cast combined couldn't deliver lines for a gum commercial. Sure, they all look cute, but their expressionless, bobble-head deliveries look like first year high-school drama.

2) Forget about a plot, just throw lots of poorly thought out action scenes together: The writers seemed to have missed the boat on coming up with a decent enough reason for the audience to stick around. Sure, let's just believe that the sea baddies can tell when Orin is flying above, but can't find him when he's floating outside the door of a wrecked plane. Let's make it so that he'll be out and about in the sea and completely defenseless, but instead they go pick on a jet plane and then be so kind as to leave him alone when he goes to save the mandatory hot female pilot. Okay then...

3) Let's embody every character with every cliché trait you can throw at a wall. Upstanding military man with angst ridden, surfer attitude son who has no sense of responsibility. Lone female pilot (did I mention it's mandatory she be hot?) who is up against the world being given the top assignment. And should we talk about the lovely, bar-tending brunette trying to give the main character a sense of purpose? What is this, Dawson's Creek?

4) And should we throw in some dark-suited government baddies as well? That always goes over like... like... well, something. But I wouldn't leave it in the hands of these writers to think up what?

Seriously, I have to thank the maker for this show being passed over. It is one of the most poorly crafted series I have ever seen. I can't believe that people are actually giving this garbage a rating of 10 out of 10. If this is quality television to some people, then some people need to get out more. This is not Battlestar Galactica level quality. This is not even He-Man quality. This show reads as if it were written over a weekend because the pay looked good, not as if it was a lovingly developed and nurtured work.

Maybe the show's creators should have just used the energy involved in turning this show out to make Smallville a better series. It obviously wasn't a lot of energy, but every little bit thrown back to a half-decent series is energy better spent.

The Prestige

Storytelling at its best!
The Prestige is a masterful exercise in storytelling with superb direction and powerful performances by a grand ensemble cast. From set and production design to cinematography, from script to presentation, Christopher Nolan has once again demonstrated why he is one of the film world's brightest up and coming directors. The Prestige only helps solidify his standing as one of the landmark directors of his generation.

Told in a narrative that jumps between various points along its time line, playing out like a magic act itself, the story is that of two magicians on the rise in their careers. The first -- played by Christian Bale -- is an expert in understanding the fundamentals of any trick, but lacks showmanship. The second -- played by Hugh Jackman -- is a master showman who is more entertaining than technical. A tragic series of events pits the two performers against each other in a battle of wits that spirals further and further out of control, consuming both of them and everything and everyone they care about.

With a story that requires actors with a great deal of emotive range, Nolan has assembled what could be described as a dream cast. Both Bale and Jackman suit their respective roles perfectly, and pitting these two performers against each other was a stroke of casting genius. Michael Caine takes what could have been a forgettable role by any lesser actor and elevates it with his demanding screen presence. Probably the most surprising performance comes from David Bowie whose unforgettable turn as master physicist Nikola Tesla absolutely shines. Add Andy Serkis to the mix, and what is assembled is a group of performers who know how to fully engage the audience.

The Prestige is hard to pigeonhole into any specific genre as it walks the fine line between mystery, drama, suspense and fantasy. In that, the story becomes a never-ending stream of wonder for the mind: one can never tell exactly where the story is going to lead next, becoming more and more as time goes on. This gives Christopher Nolan ample opportunity to play. And play he does. With narration by several characters, each adding their own viewpoint to the events, and with a direction that moves between time to mystify and distract, the end result is a climax that itself is a series of puzzles that each unravel beautifully.

The only major criticisms that can be leveled at the Prestige are a confusing play with the seasons during Tesla's introduction (winter suddenly becomes spring/summer and back again) and a strange choice of music for the closing credits (a pop song at the end of a film such as this seems tacky). However, neither is significant enough of a problem to warrant any need to avoid the film at all.

In the end, the Prestige is a fantastic display of what can be accomplished when you bring together superior talent. It is certainly worth the price of admission and as good as any magic show you are to come across.


poor writing + amateurish direction = wasted opportunity
Jericho is a show that had everything going for it. The idea of exploring what would happen in small-town America after nuclear weapons seemed to have devastated the major cities seems brilliant in its simplicity. The possible story lines and the suspense level that such an apocalyptic event could generate is limitless. Unfortunately, Jericho comes off as a wasted opportunity in its poor writing and amateurish directing.

One of the first things a writer must take into account in creating any story for television is the fact that commercial breaks are going to interrupt the flow. This is where the basic building blocks -- the rules if you would -- of television writing arose from, the most notable of necessities being that a significant motivating event must take place before the first commercial break. Writer Stephen Chbosky appears to have ignored this fact in order to develop too many characters in too short of a time. Whereas it would seem a given that the nuclear attack should occur fairly soon into the pilot episode, it in fact doesn't arise until almost the half way mark.

What the audience is treated to up to this point are endless scenes of Skeet Ulrich's character meeting people he once knew and providing conflicting stories as to his whereabouts since leaving home. Curiosity of this situation could be achieved quickly, but Chbosky goes through the same motion time and time again with dialog that provides little character depth. The dialog in general seems to reach at times to artificially intrigue the audience, but with no back-story and situations that simply do not cry out for exploration, the dialog falls flat.

To make matters worse, the direction by Jon Turteltaub in the pilot episode comes off as stale. Turteltaub appears to be completely unaware of the developments in episodic television direction in the past decade. To add insult to injury, the choice in cinematography gives the show a camcorder look at times, thus cheapening the overall experience.

The only redeeming quality of the show is the acting ensemble, including Skeet Ulrich, Gerald McRaney, Pamela Reid and Beth Grant. Unfortunately, they're given little to work with in dialog, dramatic situations and direction, and thus appear to trudge through their work laboriously. With scenes that could be cut by a third in length to achieve the same effect, in the end, even proved performers cannot make steak out of sand.

It is increasingly apparent that more and more networks are trying to replicate the feel of NBC's LOST. However, the impatient nature of production companies to get content out quickly rather than developing it to its maximum potential is resulting in a stream of uninteresting shows to be rushed out before given enough breathing space to mature from flash-in-the-pan neat to truly exceptional. And much of this stems from the creative talent involved.

Writer Stephen Chbosky's only major credit previous to Jericho was this year's less than wonderful film adaptation of the musical Rent, a film which shared the same problems of poor character development, flawed structure and unmoving dialog. It is thus not surprising that Jericho shares the same flaws. Had Chbosky simply sat down and watched the pilot episode of LOST, a pilot that perfectly illustrates how to get a suspense drama off on a bang, he may have taken greater care to see whether the situations in Jericho were interesting enough throughout to make a worthwhile script.

As it is, Jericho is long-winded and lacks stimulation both as a drama and a suspense thriller. The pilot holds little to draw an audience back for even a second look, let alone an entire season.

The Illusionist

Very good though not without serious flaws in logic
'The Illusionist' is a wonderfully entertaining piece of film-making that is both beautiful to look at and engaging in its twists and turns. With an inventive script that acts as an illusion itself by defying audience expectation with a series of misdirections, 'The Illusionist' is not your typical Hollywood thriller.

The biggest flaw with 'the Illusionist' resides in its dependency on the audience to suspend its disbelief in the conclusion. The final pieces of the puzzle that Giamatti's character discovers are found in the straw of the Crown Prince's stable. However, the straw of that stable would have been changed several times over the course of time that would have elapsed between when those pieces were lost in the straw and when they were found. Thus, while the climax is effective in presentation, it is dulled somewhat when one questions how it was arrived at.

That being said, the overall value of 'The Illusionist' far exceeds whatever stumbling blocks arise in the narrative. The cinematography gives the film a classic feel that, mixed with the locations and costumes, might remind one of Milos Forman's 'Amadeus'. Neil Burger's directing is as minimalist as the Philip Glass score, which is a welcome change to the deluge of fast edits and quick-cutting that is present in too much of modern film. By allowing scenes to present themselves and giving actors space to breath on camera, Burger does not overwhelm the senses and allows the story to take precedence over the camera angles.

'The Illusionist' is an excellent display of cinematic talent all-around and is a tasteful digestif to this summer movie season.

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