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Reviews

The Loved Ones
(2009)

A Must-see for Genre Fans
On the surface, The Loved Ones may appear like just another teen horror flick involving a little bit of crazy, a little bit of sex, and a ton of violence. While it does certainly have all those things, The Loved Ones takes every horror element, and pushes it to wonderfully disturbing new heights. Completely over the top in every way, this film is both a top notch horror flick, and something you won't soon forget.

The plot of the film is something that may seem familiar. We have Brent, the good-looking popular guy who turns down Lola, the outsider, for the prom. Unbeknownst to Brent, Lola is a psychopath and decides to kidnap Brent and create her own prom. Things quickly escalate and get bloody. And weird.

Filmed and released in Australia in 2009, The Loved Ones had a very difficult time getting distribution in the states, even though it was considered a darling of the festivals and was well received by fans and critics. Fortunately, Paramount's micro-budget label Insurge picked up the film and set it for a June 1st theatrical release.

The Loved Ones is not your typical horror movie. Yes, it has all the horror movie tropes, and yet it excels in the areas most horror films falter. First time writer/director Sean Byrne was able to create something that drips with style, and has the substance to back it. With some very rich and disturbing imagery and interesting characters, this is a treat for genre fans.

The character of Brent (Xavier Samuel), who becomes hapless victim, is an atypical version of a horror protagonist. First, he's a guy, something that is not usual for the slasher film, and second, he has a backstory. In the early moments of the film, we get to know this character, and his difficult past. We see the inner-turmoil he's dealing with, and we are shown right off the bat, that he's not a bad guy. Normally, in these types of films (Misery comes to mind), the kidnap victim was a jerk, and may have deserved some type of punishment. That wasn't the case in this film, and because of that, the empathy one feels for Brent becomes greater.

Although Brent may be the main character of the film, as with most horror movies, the villain is always the most interesting part. Robin McLeavy plays Lola, a teenage girl who's twisted and sadistic tendencies know no bounds. She's pure evil and seems to have a penchant for power tools. Think Kathy Bates from Misery meets Leatherface. McLeavy plays the part very well, and does an excellent job portraying a teenage psychopath.

While it wouldn't necessarily be considered torture-porn, The Loved Ones is not for the faint of heart. The levels of violence and bloodshed are through the roof, and there are multiple cringe-worthy moments. It only take a few minutes to get the blood to start flowing and once it does, better get a raincoat.

It doesn't redefine the genre, and it's rough around the edges, but The Loved Ones is still a shining example of how to make a good horror movie. It may have taken several years to get to the states but don't let that dissuade you. It's crazy, it's bizarre, and it's a must see for genre fans.

Adam FilmPulse.net

Mirror Mirror
(2012)

Visual, yet terrible
Sometimes there are movies that shock you into different worlds and take you on a journey to a never before seen land that changes the way you think about film, about life, about the human condition. Sometimes you leave the theater, uplifted by spending an engaging hour and a half in the dark, uncovering more about yourself than you'd thought possible and when you step outside and the sunrays bathe your face in warmth, you realize something you never thought before about existence. Tarsem Singh's Mirror Mirror is, by far, the farthest thing away from any experience like that or anything similar to a stimulating theater experience and offers no means of entertainment unless your idea of fun is sticking a fork in your eye over and over again.

Mirror Mirror opens with a voice-over by Julia Roberts's Evil Queen, explaining all the facts and story elements that everyone knows if they have ever heard of Snow White. Explaining Snow White's beginnings, played with dripping innocence by Lily Collins, and who her dad was etc., etc., we, as an audience, learn that White's dad was killed in battle and the kingdom is in ruins and run poorly (literally and figuratively) by the Evil Queen; who isn't so much evil as she is just a selfish priss.

The movie tries to be different and have moments where the Queen is aware of the tried storytelling but these moments are few and far between and don't make up for the waste of—dear god, I hope they didn't shoot on—film. The Prince, played by Social Network's Armie Hammer, is introduced and supposed to be that huzzah that we want but his performance falls short and feels like a caricature rather than a character.

There are other actors sprinkled in the movie that make it enjoyable to watch (I won't unveil some, just check IMDb) but to me, Singh hasn't proved himself to validate having such big names in his movies. The only movie in his repertoire that could go on as 'good' would be The Fall. And I would consider The Cell if you took out the acting.

Again, I am shown that Hollywood either does not care about what represents them anymore or there are holes in distribution and somehow this managed to squeeze past unnoticed, but it pains and hurts me to know that this is something that can charge $10 at the door and get away unscathed. Here, I'll make a deal, I'll make dinner, you bring 10 bucks, and then I'll punch you in the face. It'll be better than seeing Mirror Mirror or I'll refund your money back guaranteed.

Chad FilmPulse.net

Goon
(2011)

Violent, Brutal, Fun
Based on a book by real-life hockey Enforcer Doug Smith, Goon doesn't try to break any new ground, nor does it try to answer any of life's tougher questions. This film's ambitions are simply to entertain, and in that it succeeds…to a point.

Co-written by Superbad scribe Evan Goldberg and Jay Baruchel (who also has a supporting role in the film), Goon is the story of Doug Glatt, a well-meaning but less than bright Massachusetts bouncer who, through luck and circumstances, finds himself playing for the local hockey team as their "go to" enforcer.

From the beginning, it's clear that Doug (a well-cast Seann William Scott) simply wants to "matter." His father and brother are both doctors cut from the Ivy League cloth, while Doug, in his own words "doesn't have a 'thing'" of his own.

It's a classic underdog story, filled with every story beat you'd expect in a tale like this. There's almost nothing surprising about it, and yet there is a strange charm to it even when the blood starts to flow.

And flow it does. Goon is a pretty gory film. It doesn't play down or glamourize the role of fighting in hockey (though whether it celebrates it or not is up for debate). When the punches fly, the camera doesn't flinch away. Director Michael Dowse is not shy about letting the shot linger on a post-punch laceration or on a stream of blood as it slowly drips to the ice. In a way, the blood is almost as much a character here as it was in Tim Burton's 2007 adaptation of Sweeney Todd.

Intercut with the violence is a decent comic film with characters that are, despite being typical, somewhat easy to root for.

Doug's team, The Halifax Highlanders, is full of hard-luck cases and scrubs wanting that shot at glory, and despite the impossibility of developing them all as full-fledged characters, you end up caring for their plight perhaps more than you originally expect.

There's no doubt, however, that hockey fans will get much more out of Goon than the casual movie-goer. The film is very Canadian in feel, and blatant and over-the-top crassness of the sports locker room, while accurate, may turn off more conservative viewers.

The supporting cast is hit-and-miss. Liev Schreiber is stellar as Ross Rhea, an aging, past his prime 'goon' who sees a lot of himself in Doug, and the best scene in the film has Doug lucking into a meeting with Ross at a late-night diner, where the veteran imparts some sobering wisdom to the young protégé.

Alison Pill (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) is cute as Eva, a hockey-obsessed bookworm who falls for Doug despite (or perhaps because of) his simple nature, but Eugene Levy is completely wasted as Doug's father.

Worse yet is Jay Baruchel, whose performance as Doug's friend Ryan is so overly grating he almost sabotages the film before it can get started. After the first ten minutes or so, the focus wisely switches to Doug and the film improves almost immediately.

In the end, Goon is a decent little film and nothing more. Its part Bad News Bears and part Slap Shot, and although its story is really nothing new, it gets marks for telling it in an off-the-wall manner.

Daniel FilmPulse.net

This Must Be the Place
(2011)

Charming and Funny
What happens when you take Sean Penn, dress him up like an aging 80′s rocker, and send him on a cross-country trip to hunt a Nazi? The answer to that question lies in the beautifully bizarre and hilarious film This Must Be the Place. Although it certainly won't be for everyone, this wonderfully shot and uniquely charming story provides not only a strong plot, but also one of Sean Penn's best performances on screen. To explain this film to someone after seeing it, may prove to be difficult. The stripped down synopsis would describe the film as a road trip story about an aging rock star who's going through a mid-life crisis, only to find out his father has died. As a result, he embarks on a quest to kill the Nazi that held his father captive during the holocaust, as this was his father's main goal in life. On his journey he meets some interesting and enlightening characters, and as the road takes him on some strange paths, he finds something more substantial than just an old Nazi.

The film stars Sean Penn in the lead as Cheyenne, a soft-spoken 50-year-old who bears an odd resemblance to The Cure's Robert Smith. In fact, Penn's character's real name in the film is John Smith. This role once again proves that Penn can completely transform himself into the character he is given with little to no effort. Although it is mainly a comedic performance, he has no problem seamlessly transitioning into serious mode and delivering some powerfully heartfelt lines. Make no mistake about it, this film does a lot of things right, but it's Penn's performance that pushes it over the top.

Francis McDormand also provides a stellar performance, playing Cheyenne's loving wife of 35 years, Jane. It's clear from the start of the film that she is his rock, and McDormand seems to know exactly how to make the audience love her character. Even though the two live in an enormous mansion and have millions of dollars, she still works as a volunteer fire fighter. This relates to another one of the films strengths. It has likable, and fully developed characters.

Nearly all the characters in the film have this likable charm about them that give the film a refreshing glow. Normally, if you see a film about a rock star, the protagonist is often times a sleaze, but that simply isn't the case in this film. Everyone has enough personality and quirkiness to them, that you will find yourself not hating a single character. Except maybe for the Nazi, but hey, he's a Nazi, there's not a lot you can do about that.

One of my only criticisms with the film, is an unnecessary scene featuring David Byrne from The Talking Heads in which the film sort of inexplicably turns into a music video. Fortunately, I'm a fan of the song, so it didn't bother me too much, but it certainly didn't need to be there.

This is most certainly a love it or hate it film. The mixture of slightly peculiar humor and seriousness may discriminate against the common movie-goer, and Penn's Cheyenne could be seen as sweet and reserved, or just annoying. The trick to this film is to go into it knowing that it is slightly odd, and hopefully you'll walk out of it with an appreciation for all that it is.

Adam FilmPulse.net

Hysteria
(2011)

If you've seen the trailer, you've seen the whole movie
As is unfortunately the case with far too many films, Hysteria is not of one mind – that is to say that it tells two very different stories that are only tenuously linked thru the main characters rather than thru any particular plot points. It purports to be based on real events and indeed some portions of the film are historically accurate. It also represents one of the few romantic comedies to present itself as a partial biopic. However, much of the film is conjecture, albeit at times somewhat fascinating and entertaining conjecture. Indeed, the doctors' visits discussed below are quite amusing if not in the best taste for certain discerning viewers.

Hysteria tells the story of Dr. Mortimer Granville who found himself working for another physician who treated women for "female hysteria." This hysteria was once considered a real medical condition throughout Great Britain and on the European continent reaching its height of diagnosis and treatment in the late Victorian Era. Such hysteria was treated in a multitude of ways, but Hysteria focuses on Granville's adoption of the method used by the physician for whom he worked – the fictional Dr. Robert Dalrymple. Their method of treating hysteria was to ensure that their female patients achieved a "hysterical paroxysm." Simply put, what all of these hysterical women really needed was to experience an orgasm. The visitations by woman after woman to the doctors' office provide some fascinating and sometimes hilarious results. Just imagine a Judd Apatow film set in Victorian England and you will have some idea of what transpires in these visits. Ultimately, Granville – with monetary and technical assistance from a wealthy friend (wittily played by Rupert Everett) – creates the first electric device for a woman to satisfy herself without a man's assistance.

One might think this was an interesting enough topic for a Victorian period-piece comedy, but husband-and-wife screenwriters Stephen and Jonah Lisa Dyer add other intersecting plot. Dr. Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce) has two daughters. One is an extremely strong-willed, steel-spined fighter for women's issues named Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and the other a demure, science-minded ladylike supporter of her father's more conservative views named Emily (Felicity Jones). When first meeting the daughters, Mortimer (Hugh Dancy) is startled by Charlotte's behavior and attitudes and finds Emily much more to his liking. Mortimer and Emily begin a courtship of which her father approves as Dalrymple hopes to leave his practice to Mortimer with Emily by his side. However, Mortimer becomes increasingly interested in the spirited and winning Charlotte. When she stands up for her beliefs and publicly confronts her father and the police, Mortimer comes to her aid in court and we can see that they are destined to be together.

So how, you may ask, are the events described in the second and third paragraphs of this review connected? Well, they aren't really, and that is a major problem with the screenplay and the film itself. As suggested above, the film contains two distinct stories that are intertwined in an unusual and ultimately disappointing fashion. The cast is rather unremarkable, but then again they are not given much to do except play the characters so often seen in period comedies of this sort. Dancy seems to play the same character in nearly every film (with few exceptions). Jones has little to do but be pretty and polite. Pryce once again plays an English gentleman seemingly befuddled by those around him. Gyllenhaal (whose English accent is never quite right) once again plays a woman of conviction and spirit as she's done many times before. They adequately do their duty in representing these stock characters, but alas the script is not strong enough to make their efforts worth our while.

Todd FilmPulse.Net

ATM
(2012)

A below-par horror flick
ATM, David Brooks' first feature, has everything that a first feature should have. One moderately big name actor, a moderate budget, and a storyline that is "cute" as a first attempt. ATM brings Nickelodeon's own Josh Peck further into the adult acting world (not XXX) and shows that with a little bit more practice, Brooks might be able to make a name for himself.

The film starts off cross cutting someone's hands drawing on blueprints of the aforementioned ATM and our protagonist, David, played by Brian Geraghty, walking to work. As he continues his walk there is a different timeline (the 'future' for our active audiences) being spliced together as well. It has some remnants of Se7en itching to get out and the campy Christmas music doesn't help it one bit. As the intro fades out and we see that David is a young, not very successful stockbroker of some sorts, we are introduced quickly to Josh Peck's Corey, a cocky, shallow coworker that seems like fun.

After being coerced into sticking around for a Christmas party in the office, David eventually asks Emily, played by Alice Eve, if he can drive her home. Corey, much to my lack of surprise, decides to join. The movie then turns into what I like to call a 'bottle movie', where the rest of the movie, due to lack in budget and/or creativity stay in one location (see Abed from Community talking about bottle episodes and you'll understand). David, Corey, and Emily are then terrorized by a hooded psychopath who is deciding to try to freeze them in an ATM in the height of the winter.

The lack of knowing that the characters demonstrate of why they are being terrorized mirrors the quality that Saw made so famous and it serves as a point of thought for the audience to dwell on and an argument for the characters to have throughout the night. The scares and thrills however, are no more than cheap Halloween-esque scares, loud noises, the hooded man coming from a corner, and some excess blood that they wanted so desperately to garner their R rating.

The ending, for me, was extremely disappointing and I won't spoil it for you (god do I hate spoilers) but it was a cop-out for everyone in not digging deeper into the material they had. They could've gone in a certain direction and make up for the weak moments in the rest of the film but they chose to take an easy way out. Very disappointing indeed.

I think in order to truly enjoy this movie, you should watch it by yourself, at night, and don't think too much about what you're watching. If you give it too much thought, this movie will not take you by surprise and you will be severely disappointed.

The Samaritan
(2012)

Not a bad Friday Night Movie
David Weaver has said that brilliant films like Neil Jordan's Mona Lisa and The Crying Game as well as Jonathan Glazer's Sexy Beast were primary influences on his new film, The Samaritan. There are other phenomenal films I can think of that are comparable, but the big secrets in those films would reveal a secret in the current movie. These masterpieces (or near-masterpieces depending upon one's persuasion) neither dominate nor diminish Samaritan. In fact, the film's greatest strength is that it works as a stand-alone, neo-noir movie about a grift despite its many influences and similarities with other well-known works of cinematic art.

"If you keep on doing what you've always done, or keep on being what you've always been; nothing changes unless you make it change." This line opens and closes the film and it is an interesting and powerful statement about evolution of the human spirit. Samuel L. Jackson plays Foley, a former confidence man who kills his partner in order to avoid being killed by he and his partner's mark. His partner's son, Ethan (Luke Kirby), is (a) out to get his revenge on Foley and (b) use Foley as part of his own grift. When Foley gets out of prison after 25 years for killing his partner, he wants to make a change for the better alluded to in the opening line above. But his past haunts him in the form of Ethan who will not let go of Foley because he knows the older man is a great grifter and wants him to play one more confidence game on a mark of Ethan's choosing. The way in which Ethan has Foley trapped is a fascinating one, and I will leave the details for the film's viewers as I am not one to issue spoilers in a review. But I can say that we meet an interesting woman named Iris (Ruth Negga) who becomes involved with Jackson in more ways than one. Is she also involved with Ethan? Others involved in the grift? There's much to question about this mysterious woman; her mystery drives key moments of the film.

The grift goes forward, though not exactly as planned. The "inside man" (Ethan) is present, the "outside man" (Foley) is present, the "mark" (Tom Wilkinson as Xavier) is present, but "the catch" presents a bit of a twist that appears in the last quarter of the film. Had the grift gone exactly as planned – even with the new twist of the catch – the film would have been wholly satisfying. In fact, it is the way the film ends that lowers its overall rating for me.

Weaver has given us an expertly-drawn character study and well-plotted film about a confidence game and the players in it. Jackson underplays nearly every second; when was the last time you could say that about Jackson in a leading film role? Kirby, Negga, and the rest of the cast are also at their peak here. Unfortunately, Weaver just gets a bit "too cute" at the end of the film giving us a wild time that is not terribly necessary. Still, what has come before is so terrific, I can forgive the last several moments of the film. Other may find the end exhilarating, and I can understand that perspective as well. I would definitely put this on your "nice for a Friday night" movie list.

Todd FilmPulse.net

American Reunion
(2012)

Better than expected
When I heard they were making a fourth American Pie, my instant reaction was "Dear god, why does Hollywood have to keep revisiting characters and sacrificing originality with older ideas?" OK, maybe those weren't my exact words and I just wrote that here in my review, but it was pretty damn close. American Reunion's trailer didn't make me too excited, I just thought most of the cast hadn't had the career that they wanted and figured they could use the extra cash. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised (not surprised enough to grant it higher than a 6) at what was presented on screen.

American Reunion starts off re-introducing us to characters that we haven't seen in 9 years and what their lives have turned into. Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) are married and have a toddler, Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is basically a housewife, Oz (Chris Klein) is a successful sports host with girlfriend problems, Stifler (Seann William Scott) is still a douche but in an office, and Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas), well, Finch is a supposed badass mofo which didn't surprise me at all.

After the introductions and catch-ups the movie proceeds to the Reunion part of the title and everyone is brought back to their hometown to meet and greet and see who's up to what. There are some funny moments but it feels like a movie designed for the audiences who grew up with the American family. The plot didn't really matter, the problems didn't really matter, it was all just an enjoyable experience to see these actors and characters on the big screen portraying roles that jump started them back in the day.

I was most surprised (I'm not sure why) that the jokes and gags that were brought to the table were of the same caliber as the first three American movies. It seems that the actors playing the parts had grown up but the writers who were in charge of the script had not. It felt like the crew had been the victim of real life arrested development (not the same as the show) and forgotten to grow up with their counterparts.

While sitting in the theater, I realized that some movies are supposed to be fun and not require you to be an active moviegoer, but rather, sit back and enjoy the images that are whizzing by on the big screen. American Reunion is definitely one of those flicks that doesn't ask for too much of your attention and does not leave you asking for more because it is just the right amount of pie you're looking for.

Chad FilmPulse.Net

Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope
(2011)

A film for comic fans
The phenomenon of San Diego's Comic-con has grown to astronomic levels in both attendance and exhibition since it's inception in 1970. It has morphed into something much more than just a gathering of comic book nerds, packed into a hotel conference room. Comic-Con encompasses all things pop culture, be it comics, movies, games, or anything else people can geek out over. Famed director Morgan Spurlock decided to chronicle the 2010 con, and follow a select few to document their reasons for being there, and their experience.

In addition to following around a genuine, and interesting cast of characters, Spurlock sprinkles in some interviews with some of the con's most prolific figures including Kevin Smith, Joss Whedon, Seth Rogan, and many more. Having these people give their thoughts and anecdotes about the con was a nice touch, and added some flavor to the film.

The real meat of the documentary, however, is with the interesting group of central characters. We see two aspiring artists, a costume designer, a collector, a comic book dealer, and a young couple in love. All of the characters have different reasons for being there, and yet they all share the same passion for comics, movies, and games. The characters were varied enough to keep things interesting, and they were all very likable people. In addition to learning about who these people are, and their reasons for attending Comic-Con, we learn that there's much more to the con than to simply see famous people and buy memorabilia. People use Comic-con as an opportunity to showcase their talents, and hopefully further their careers.

One of the other important topics discussed in this documentary is the concept of geek culture, the rise of geek coolness, and the commercialization of Comic-Con. As most of us know, many of the things that were considered nerdy when we were kids, are actually cool now, and as a result, many companies are cashing in. When Comic-Con began, it was just a small convention focusing on comics, however now, comics take a backseat to all the other stuff going on in the con. Nowadays, many of the people that attend, don't even know, or particularly care about comics. This is upsetting to comic book fans, especially since the industry has been suffering for years.

Although Comic-Con Episode IV may not break new ground in the documentary genre, it does give people an inside look at one of the biggest pop culture events of the year. As stated in the film, everyone can find something to love about Comic-Con, and the same can be said about the film itself. It's a light and enjoyable film, that's certainly worth a watch, even if you aren't a die hard comic fan.

Adam FilmPulse.Net

Dark Shadows
(2012)

Don't bother
Dark Shadows, the new collaboration between Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, a remake of the late 60's television show of the same name, is a disappointing train wreck of flat characters, weak storytelling, and is guilty of a mundane premise. This is just another movie (a la Alice in Wonderland) where the names Tim Burton and Johnny Depp don't go synonymous with greatness.

Barnabas Collins (Depp) is a vampire, imprisoned for 200 years in a coffin by his arch nemesis and lover-to-the-end-of-time Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), and wakes up in 1972, only to find that he is in a different place, different time, and that his family fortune is all but none. He heads back to his home in Collinsport and seizes the opportunity to help his living heirs and hopefully destroy Angelique once and for all.

One of the problems this movie has, albeit a lot, is that nothing ever seems too big of a deal. The 1972 Collins family is struggling to survive; yet no one works. They all blame the lack of their once successful…fishing company on Angelique's slow turning monopoly "Angel Bay Seafood". I know there's a point where you have to suspend disbelief but come on, battling seafood companies? The Collins' are a collection of great actors but horrible characters. Michelle Pfeiffer, the so-called matriarch, is nothing more than a brooding house mom with too much time on her hands. I personally kept getting distracted by her ridiculous eyelashes. Jonny Lee Miller, as the dim-witted selfish brother offers nothing exciting during his screen time and when he leaves us it is with relief rather than regret because it wasn't like he was doing much when he was on screen anyway. Chloe Moretz, one of the few child actors nowadays that I am actually excited to see grow up into a fine actress, is wasted as a brooding teenager, having no new insightful moments or any act relative to the story at hand. Her turn in the third act is unjustified and is over as soon as it starts. Helena Bonham Carter. Well. This movie really made me miss the Bonham Carter that was in Fight Club because since she got hitched to Burton, she seems to be playing loud obnoxious characters that aren't funny and waste time on screen (think the Red Queen and now this atrocity).

The only redeeming quality Dark Shadows has is that its soundtrack is pretty awesome, giving us some 70s tunes that we haven't heard in a while and making good use of the time period with production design. It also reminds people like me that when something is being marketed as the new Tim Burton-Johnny Depp movie, I know now not to get as excited as I used to.

Chad FilmPulse.net

Meeting Evil
(2012)

Awful
There were times during Chris Fisher's Meeting Evil when I wasn't quite sure what kind of movie I was watching. The music, especially near the beginning, seems to indicate that its horror. The cinematography lends itself to art house aspirations, and the plot is a cross between thriller and noir. It became clear after not too long that the reason I could not figure out what I was watching is because the filmmakers didn't know either. And that doesn't help the movie one bit.

Luke Wilson stars as John Felton, a family man who has had the world fall in on him. He's lost his job, he's overdue on all his bills and he comes home to find a foreclosure notice on his front door.

His recent troubles are causing issues at home, with his wife Joanie (Leslie Bibb) expressing obvious frustration at their current financial situation. Everything changes when Richie (Samuel L. Jackson) knocks on John's door, asking for help with his stalled car.

One event leads to another and before John knows it, he's being led by Richie across his county, leaving murdered bodies in his wake.

It's a pretty straight forward setup for a crime thriller, but the film has so many problems that after a while, everything stops being tense and comes across as satirical. Having not read the original novel by Thomas Berger, I cannot comment whether these issues were present in the source material or whether they were introduced in the film. In either case, they don't serve it well.

Jackson seems to know the ridiculousness of the material because his portrayal of Richie is so amazingly campy that it is hard to fault him for it. It's more self-aware than it is bad.

Wilson on the other hand, is as vibrant as dead fish, bringing no sense of desperation to a man that should be desperate about everything that's going on around him.

The script (penned by Fisher himself), is awful, giving both leads, as well as the supporting cast almost nothing worthwhile to say, making the film's message – yes, it has one – totally nonsensical.

Add to that some dangling plot points that are never explained, a ridiculous twist at the end and recurring characters that add nothing to the plot (seriously, was there a time in this movie when that little girl wasn't outside walking her dog?), and what you have is a film that leaves the viewer throwing their hands in the air in frustration.

As a film Meeting Evil is pretty terrible, but as fodder for a Saturday Night movie watching party it might have merit – especially if one decides to use it as the basis for a drinking game.

Daniel FilmPulse.net

The Moth Diaries
(2011)

Misses by a mile
Every film-lover has had that moment when he or she sees a film that tries to say too much and ends up saying little-to-nothing at all. Unfortunately, that is the case with Mary Harron's adaptation of Rachel Klein's female adolescent angst drama The Moth Diaries. Here is a film that attempts to cover female friendship, hetero- and homoerotic longing, suicide, coming-of-age, murder, love, betrayal, jealousy, familial separation, grief, empathy, and much more in a single 85-minute vampire fantasy. If it can be done, this is not the film that does it. Its downfall is largely due to the piling up of explication upon explication as if Harron does not trust viewers to follow a simple but sexy storyline virtually styled after the famous made-for-television after-school movies of decades past.

The film opens with teenage girls joining one another for a new term at a Catholic boarding school. Most of the girls we meet know each other from previous terms – this is especially true for best friends Rebecca (Sarah Bolger) and Lucy (Sarah Golden). We know that Rebecca and Lucy are inseparable and that Rebecca is particularly dependent upon Lucy. Viewers are led to believe that this dependence has grown since Rebecca's famed poet father committed suicide a couple of years before the film's opening scenes. The close relationship between the two girls is forever interrupted by the arrival of a new British student named Ernessa (Lily Cole). Like any literary and/or cinematic predator prototype, Ernessa tirelessly works to separate and weaken the two girls to fulfill her own desires. Early on, the oft-seen triangle is in place with Rebecca as heroine, Ernessa as foe, and Lucy as victim.

This triangle can be found in numerous teenage girl stories. The fanciful twist here is that Ernessa is a vampire-like creature who forces her way into the existing friendship to prey on Lucy. However, the decision to attack Lucy is confusing and illogical. Lucy appears the vision of confidence and carefree youth while Rebecca is the introspective and wounded one. One could or would have imagined that Ernessa would pick on Rebecca as the weaker of the two, especially given that they have their fathers' suicides in common (though we know Ernessa's father killed himself over 100 years prior). This against-the-grain characteristic could have opened up many possibilities, but the film simply does not have the time or energy to follow up on Ernessa's motives. I will leave that central story's remaining particulars to the film's viewers. Be forewarned, there are many an incredulous event that occur one right after the other.

I wish to end on the film's major downfall. As previously noted, Harron dooms the film with double explication. First, a new handsome male English teacher arrives and begins the term with a study of Gothic fantasy fiction (which is the film's style). In a segment too on-the-nose to be believed, he introduces Bram Stoker's Dracula as being about "sex, blood, and death" which mirrors the central themes in The Moth Diaries. Second and more importantly, he assigns the girls a vampire novel with a female-centered storyline that perfectly mimics the film's own narrative. In this situation, tone might very well have saved the film just as Harron's nicely-captured satirical preppiness of the 1980s had saved her outrageous adaptation of American Psycho. Harron has likened the tone here to Peter Weir's acclaimed Picnic at Hanging Rock. Unfortunately, she aims too high and misses by a mile. Weir's masterpiece is known for its inaudibly powerful tone while Harron's fantasy bashes us about the head with too much explanation and not enough mystery.

Todd FilmPulse.Net

God Bless America
(2011)

Shocking and important
Bobcat Goldthwait's God Bless America is a badass-satirical-call-to-action-wake-up-call to all of society. It screams for us, as a collective, to wake up and look at what we are doing with our lives and civilization. In a trailer for God Bless America, Goldthwait says that it isn't an angry movie, but a movie designed to call attention to what we deem worthy of our attention. I can agree with him on that point, but the movie comes across as an ode to the cinematic days when characters took the initiative to take things into their own hands and weren't afraid to get a little blood on their hands. Well, in this case, with God Bless America, a lot of blood.

Frank (Joel Murray) is a guy who is tired of everything. He is tired of the way American's speak, gossip, discuss nothing substantial, and base everything they do on talk radio, gossip television, and wasteful entertainment. The first scene where Frank thinks to himself that he is not normal is the perfect opener for the explosiveness that the rest of the film delivers.

After being diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor, Frank decides to take out people that deserve to die, according to himself and his Bonnie ride along Roxy, portrayed by Tara Lynne Barr with just the right amount of teenage attractiveness. Together they make a great spree killer team and scour the nation, attempting to clean up the mess that America has left for them.

This is Goldthwait's third official foray into directing movies for the "mainstream" and I am a fan every time I watch one of them. World's Greatest Dad is a cult classic with Robin Williams and I haven't gotten myself to watch Sleeping Dogs Lie yet, but I promise, I will. Goldthwait's got a style that is his own, a style that is hard to describe, but is evident by his argumentative content and slightly unrealistic universes. His films take place in our society, if it was just a little different, a little "out-there" if you will.

God Bless America is a by product of films like Kick-Ass and Network but lacks the subtlety. The only issue that I have with America is that it proves to be a little more than repetitive in its supposed message. We instantly understand that this isn't the best we can be doing with our society but Goldthwait makes sure Frank reminds us at every chance we get. Goldthwait penned the script and it is easily seen that his directing skills outshine his writing (sometimes, World's Greatest Dad is brilliant).

Despite that one qualm with the feature, I was pleasantly surprised, entertained, and shocked over what was presented in God Bless America. I highly recommend watching this as loud as you can.

Chad FilmPulse.net

Nuit blanche
(2011)

Solid Die Hard-esque action
Sleepless Night, the new French action film written and directed by Frédéric Jardin, combines all the visceral action of a film like Die Hard, with the suspense and urgency of 24. While the film itself doesn't stray too far from the standard action formula, it still manages to take us on fun ride over the course of one crazy night.

Shot almost entirely in what appears to be the largest, most labyrinthine night club in the world, Sleepless Night follows Vincent, a cop who ends up on the wrong side of the law, as he attempts to make things right, and save his kidnapped son. Caught between the gangsters that have his child, and the police that are chasing him down, Vincent needs to make his way through the crowded night club and get himself and his son to safety.

Although this is not an entirely original concept, the execution of the story is expertly done. Within the first minute of the film, we're thrown into the action, which sets the tone for the rest of the movie. It's fast paced and at times frantic, but does let us catch our breath from time to time. The fact that it also takes place over the course of one night, in one centralized location, also adds to the suspenseful nature of the film. Although the club seems to be enormous, with many back hallways and side rooms, it's also very crowded and feels claustrophobic at times, which helps accentuate the frenzy, along with the ever present thumping of the club's music.

Having the entire film take place in this club is an interesting idea, however there are several questions of logic and common sense that are raised. Mainly, the fact that there are numerous gun fights throughout the film, and no one seems to be frightened or call the police. There are also several fights that take place in very public areas, and yet everyone seems to just ignore the fact that men are being killed around them. Personally, if I'm at a club and I hear gunshots, I'm out of there, I don't care if they just started playing that Queen song I love.

Logistical problems aside, this is still a fun movie to watch. The fight scenes are very realistic looking and feel very brutal. Instead of going with meticulously choreographed punches and kicks, Jardin decided to go with a more simple approach. The men who are fighting look like there's a purpose to every punch. They are doing it out of necessity, not because it looks flashy. Vincent does everything within his power to fend off his attackers and get to his son. He uses the environment to his advantage, grabbing at anything and everything that will stop the people trying to kill him.

Sleepless Night does a lot of borrowing from Die Hard, but still manages to stand on it's own as a top notch action film. With an engaging story, and some excellent fight scenes, this is an easy recommendation for any action fan. It's also been recently announced that this film will be getting an American remake, so it's certainly worth checking out before we ruin it with our own version.

Adam FilmPulse.net

Bad Ass
(2012)

Please Stay Away
When a trailer for Bad Ass hit the web last year, many questioned whether or not it was a hoax – one loosely based on a real altercation between a 67-year-old white man and a 50-year-old black man on an Oakland public bus. The fight was videoed and went viral after being posted to YouTube in February 2010 ("Old Man Beats Up Young Black Guy on Metro Bus"). The film changes the principals' races and adds characters possibly for the sake of political correctness. The hero is now a Hispanic man who comes to the aid of an African-American man verbally accosted by two white guys of the skinhead variety. Sadly, this film should have been a hoax because there is nothing worth watching here.

Danny Trejo of Machete fame plays Frank Vega, a senior citizen who becomes known as "Bad Ass" after he beat up two skinheads on a public bus and makes the news and YouTube. We see from flashbacks that he served in Vietnam, that his girlfriend got married and had kids while he was oversees, and that he has spent the last 40 years or so serving hotdogs at a corner stand. After his mother dies, he moves into her house next door to a couple and their young son; the wife is abused by the husband and Vega comes to her aide. Note: If the film had a plot, this would be its subplot. Vega's best friend, Klondike, gives him a flash drive for safe keeping. Then, Klondike is killed by two thugs who are looking for said drive. Vega aims to avenge his best friend's death and goes on a vigilante spree of sorts.

We find out the flash drive has compromising material on the major (played by Ron Perlman). The major's underhanded right-hand man is played by Charles Dutton who we know serves the major in an unofficial capacity as his personal enforcer. Panther (Dutton) is a more than a few cards short of a full deck. The last big duel sequence between Vega and Panther involve them both driving buses at one another in a wild game of public transit chicken. Ultimately, Vega prevails with beating Panther's ass on the side of the street and the major gets arrested for unnamed corruption.

Director Craig Moss has previously made spoofs – one of Apatow-like films and one of the Twilight films. Is Bad Ass a spoof? Is it a revenge exploitation film? At times, it seems to simultaneously be both. It would certainly be easier to critique it if it clearly fell into one camp or the other. Instead, it is just an incredulous piece of nonsensical film-making. It is a shame, because maybe there really is a story to be told about an altercation on a public bus and the men involved. By all means, someone feel free to tell that story and bypass this ridiculous film in the process.

Todd FilmPulse.net

Lockout
(2012)

Nothing Special
Luc Besson's name is all over the marketing for Lockout, the new sci-fi action thriller directed by James Mather and Stephen St. Leger. From a publicity standpoint, it makes sense. Besson's films are always entertaining, and his better ones invariably become cult classics.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that Besson both co-wrote and produced Lockout, the film just doesn't live up to its billing.

Guy Pearce stars as Snow, a former CIA agent convicted of murder and sentenced to 30 years in stasis aboard an experimental orbital prison. At the same time, the President's daughter, Emily (Maggie Grace) arrives at the prison for an informal inspection. When things go wrong and the inmates take over the prison, Snow is offered a chance at redemption if he agrees to go in and rescue Emily before she gets killed.

It's a pretty good concept despite some similarities to Escape From New York, but the execution is poor. It starts incredibly well, showing off the film's sense of humor and a surprising amount of charisma from Pearce. The always-sarcastic-and-egotistical schtick, however, wears thin after about 15-20 minutes and we're left with a surprisingly unsatisfying action picture.

The set pieces are surprisingly tame and altogether underwhelming, an issue that may be somewhat alleviated by the "Rated-R" version of the film that was released in other countries, including Canada.

The action is further hindered by extremely below average visual effects which only make it harder to take it seriously. There are a couple of effects near the beginning that are so bad that they pull the viewer completely out of the movie, something unforgivable in a modern action film.

Grace is adequate as Emily, a typical more-than-she-seems-to-be damsel in distress. Her interactions with Snow are decent, but again, tame. The dialogue is OK at times, awful at others. The conflict and tension between Emily and Snow is often manufactured and rarely makes sense and each situation exists solely to service another scene later. There is no rhyme or reason to a lot of what goes on, which would be less noticeable in a film with more intriguing action.

The film's supporting characters, including the inmates, are given no development, so even though the performances are fine, they lack depth.

In fairness, the film makers do get a few points for tossing in a couple of curveballs that actually make sense and don't seem out of left field, but in the end, the lack of interesting set pieces makes the film's other flaws stand out even more. Lockout had a lot of promise, but fails to follow through on almost any of it.

The Cabin in the Woods
(2011)

Spoiler Free Review
Please note that this review is spoiler free. We do not discuss any plot details in this review.

It's very difficult to write a review for a film like The Cabin in the Woods, when discussing the best, and most exciting aspects of the film would ruin it for those who haven't seen it. Therefore, in order to maintain the integrity of the movie, this review will not be a critique of the plot, but of the other aspects of the film. That being said, go see this movie right now, then come back and read this.

The story of the production of The Cabin in the Woods is filled with almost as many twists and turns as the film itself. Filmed in 2009, the movie was originally set for a February 2010 release, however it was delayed due to the studio wanting the film to be converted to 3D, despite objections from director Drew Goddard and writer Joss Whedon. Fortunately, this idea was ultimately scrapped, but the movie was indefinitely postponed due to MGM's financial situation. Lionsgate decided to pick up the torch and announced they had purchased the film in July of 2011, and after being well received on the festival circuit, it finally got it's release April 13, 2012.

Normally, when you hear about movies stuck in situations like this, it either means it isn't very good, or it will never see the light of day. Fortunately for everyone, neither of these reign true for Cabin in the Woods. It's a fantastic blend of genres, and although it would traditionally be categorized as a horror movie, there's much more to this film than your typical horror faire. Combining elements of comedy, science fiction, action, and horror, this one's going to be tough to place on a shelf at your local Blockbuster, that is if your local Blockbuster still exists.

It's with this mashup of genres, the great story-line, and solid script that make this film something unique, and a much needed breath of fresh air for horror buffs like myself. Whedon and Goddard's script is clean and crisp, and provides just enough witty dialogue to give the film an almost light-heated quality, that let's us know we don't have to take everything in the film too seriously. That's not to say there aren't a few moments of cheesiness, but with a movie like this, you have to wonder if those few lines were intended to be that way.

If you think you know what's going on in The Cabin in the Woods before you see it, you're wrong. It's not just a horror movie, it's every horror movie. Every great horror movie has comedy, and every great horror movie dispels the clichés of the genre. This film does that so well, that by the end, you're not even sure what you just saw could even be considered horror. Go see The Cabin in the Woods, but don't read anything about it before hand. Don't watch any trailers, or go to the IMDb page and you'll walk out of the theater surprised, shocked, and wanting more.

Adam FilmPulse.net

Monsieur Lazhar
(2011)

Heart-Warming and Heart-Wrenching
Monsieur Lazhar is another in a long line of inspirational teacher films set to show viewers that teachers are an unending source of inspiration and worldly advice. I have grown tired of this plot line and subsequent variations, but Monsieur Lazhar is a shining example of the inspirational teacher film and the poignancy of said films if executed correctly, with honesty and maturity.

Philippe Falardeau's (It's Not Me, I Swear and Congorama) film adaption of Evelyne de la Chenelière's play (she also plays Alice's mother), Monsieur Lazhar was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Language Film category as the official Canadian submission. The film tells the story of Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag), an Algerian immigrant hired at Montreal public grade school after the original teacher was found hanging from the ceiling of her classroom. The teacher, Martine Lachance, was found by one of her students, Simon (Émilien Néron) while he was delivering milk to the classroom as he always does every Thursday. The film continues to show the effects of death and the ways that the children try to deal with the loss, but also their grief, which at times seem to be stifled by the school.

Monsieur Lazhar, at the same time, is dealing with a loss of his own; having come to Canada seeking asylum and waiting for his wife and children to join him, only to have his family killed the night before they were supposed to leave Algeria. The film cuts between Bachir in the classroom (having the children do a dictation of Balzac, rearranging their desks, etc.) and Bachir outside of the classroom (picking up his wife's belongings, preparing for a hearing, etc.). No one knows of his painful past, nor of his refugee status; the school is under the impression that he is a permanent resident of Canada.

Bachir notices, because of his current dealing with grief, that the children are trying to communicate or express their feelings about the death of their teacher. The school has brought on a psychologist to help the children come to grips with their loss. Bachir realizes that it is merely a stop-gap, but is told "not to make waves". He continues to witness things that lead him to believe that the children want to talk about their teacher, Martine and also of the trouble they are having trying to understand something that may well be beyond their comprehension.

Monsieur Lazhar is a heart-warming, but at the same time, heart-wrenching story of how people (whether it be children or adults) trying to come to terms with the loss of a family member (albeit for the children it was a teacher, but school, at that young age, can be something like a second home). Bachir, himself, uses a very personal and poignant short story, that he wrote himself and reads to his class, in an effort to say goodbye - something that Martine Lachance never did. The film features some great performances from Mohamed Fellag as Monsieur Lazhar, Émilien Néron as Simon - a guilt-ridden child that feels responsible for his teacher's suicide - and Sophie Nélisse as Alice, the surprisingly mature young girl that has the courage to speak about the effects of Martine's decisions.

Kevin FilmPulse.net

Få meg på, for faen
(2011)

A Different Kind of Sex Comedy
The concept of the adolescent sex comedy is not something movie goers haven't seen before, but the Norwegian film Turn Me On, Dammit! does offer a new perspective on a popular, yet critically maligned sub-genre. The film features everything one might expect from a sex comedy. Awkward moments, a few shocks, and several scenes of tenderness, however the thing that sets this film apart from the American Pies, is that the horny teenager in this film is a female.

The film focuses on Alma, a 15-year-old girl who lives in the small town of Skoddeheimen, and is in a constant state of fantasy, daydreaming about sleeping with nearly every man she lays eyes on. To suppress her urges, she becomes slightly addicted to calling phone sex lines, although she realizes they are a poor substitute for real human affection. She lives with her mother, who doesn't exactly know how to cope with her daughter's budding sexuality, and has difficulty approaching the subject. Alma is also in love with her neighbor Arthur, but after an incident at a party involving him, she misses her shot and becomes the school's pariah.

Adapted from a novel by Olaug Nilssen, and written and directed by Jannicke Systad, the most interesting part of Turn Me On, Dammit! is the simple fact that there's a female lead. Too often in American cinema we only see boys as dorky, sex-obsessed virgins. In our sexually repressed society, it's easy to forget that girls get horny too, and that's exactly what this film explores.

While there were certainly some embarrassing and uncomfortable moments in the film, it would be unfair to compare it to the sex comedies of America, because rather than focusing on the outlandish, this film takes a much more grounded approach. The comedy is less gross-out sight gags, and more dialogue-driven and situational.

The bleak backdrop of the one-horse town the characters live in is just enough to give the film that Euro-indie feel that we are all becoming accustomed to. Those viewers that grew up in small towns will also appreciate the stagnant feeling the characters all seem to share regarding the town.

While the majority of the film was charming, there weren't too many laugh out loud moments. Although some of the jokes may have been lost in translation, overall it was not a very funny movie. That's not to say it wasn't entertaining, just don't expect a laugh riot.

The film's climax also left something to be desired. The majority of the film moved at a relatively slow pace, then when Alma hit her lowest point, she inexplicably does a 180 and everything is sunshine and rainbows once again. One could argue this sentiment, but I would have liked to have seen a stronger resolution between Alma and her mother, and be given more inner dialogue from her explaining why she was feeling better about life.

Although Norway seems to be cranking out high quality movies left and right these days, most of them are gritty crime stories, so it's refreshing to see a more light-hearted film come our way. Turn Me On, Dammit! is a charming, yet slightly flawed coming of age story that will entertain some, and outrage others (Republicans, I'm looking at you.) Adam FilmPulse.net

Serbuan Maut
(2011)

It doesn't get any better than this
Martial arts action movies have been wowing moviegoers since the '70s when a man named Bruce Lee dazzled us on screen with his amazing fighting abilities and physical prowess. Since then, we've seen many great films dedicated to giving us non-stop ass-kicking, but none can hold a candle to the testosterone-fueled carnage known as The Raid: Redemption.

The concept is simple. There's a ruthless crime lord who operates out of a 30-story tenement that he owns. A small group of SWAT members are sent in to take him out. Sh*t goes bad; chaos ensues. There's a five-minute explanation of what's about to go down, and we're introduced to the main characters, both good and bad. After that, the action begins, and it doesn't let up until the brutal end. Sure, there are a few lulls in the violence, but that's mainly so we can catch our breath.

While in most cases, a lack of a fully fleshed-out storyline would be a problem with a film, it's not an issue with The Raid. There's just enough story to give the characters some depth, and the action knows when to let up just before the point of pure exhaustion.

Compelling plot aside, the real reason this film is so fantastic is the unbelievable action scenes. Director Gareth Evans was able to use the plot and location to his advantage, by having the characters deal with a bevy of gunplay at the beginning but then having to resort to knives and hand-to-hand combat as munitions run out. The dilapidated building itself plays a large part in the film and made up for some of the movie's most suspenseful moments.

The fight choreography was also like nothing I've ever seen before. The Indonesian martial art of Pencak Silat was mind blowing and extraordinary to watch, and the complexity of some of the more intricate fights was simply jaw dropping.

The camera-work, editing, and cinematography do their part to enhance an already visually pleasing film. While some movies go the route of shaky cameras and fast cuts, The Raid doesn't hide anything. The precise tracking shots and long takes are masterfully done, and it's almost as if the filmmakers are saying, "This is how you film an action movie; suck it Tony Scott." A quote on the poster for The Raid is "The best action movie in decades," a fairly strong statement. Fortunately, it's true; there really hasn't been anything like this film in decades. It doesn't just raise the bar, it stabs the bar in the throat and throws it out of a window. It will blow you away and leave you craving more. Thankfully, we have two sequels in the works, but I really can't imagine making a finer action film.

Adam FilmPulse.net

Hodejegerne
(2011)

A top-notch action-thriller
Headhunters is the first in what I suspect will be a slew of Jo Nesbø film adaptations in the coming years and Morten Tyldum's cinematic rendering offers suspense, action and most notably intelligence, sometimes rare in the action-thriller genre. The film, based on the Edgar Award nominated Norwegian author's 2008 novel Hodejegerne (Headhunters), follows a highly successful corporate headhunter, who sidelines as an art thief, Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) as he tries to obtain an extremely rare and valuable Peter Paul Rubens painting, lost since World War II, from former elite solider Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coaster-Waldau).

Roger Brown has a borderline Napoleon complex that he is well aware of judging by the numerous times he mentions his height, 1.68m. The fact that his wife Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund) is much taller than him and supposedly prefers a certain luxurious lifestyle, forces him, in his mind, to steal and sell valuable art pieces in order to buy his wife expensive gifts and a support their lavish lifestyle. The viewer quickly learns that all Diana wants in her life is a child, something Roger is hesitant to consider.

Diana has recently opened a new art gallery in Oslo and it is here that Roger meets, not only the perfect target for his current corporate recruitment in Clas Greve, but also the answers to his financial woes when Clas mentions to Diana that he possesses a long-thought to be lost Reubens painting. Roger sets out to break into Clas's apartment with the help of his sleazy criminal partner Ove (Eivind Sander), but Roger finds a lot more than the painting and soon finds out that Clas is a headhunter in his own way.

Ove's job is to disable security systems so Roger can infiltrate the building and obtain the targeted art pieces and Ove is also responsible for selling the stolen property. When Ove tries to retrieve the stolen Reubens from Roger's car things goes awry and Roger is suddenly thrust into a brutal game of cat and mouse. And by brutal, I mean Tyldum doesn't shy away from capturing the violence, neither the present violence nor the effects of said violence. In one scene, Tyldum presents what is probably the most uncomfortable and immensely painful head shaving sequence captured on film. The story also contains what has to be one of the greatest tests of trust and if you were to pass this test you should be forgiven for any and all past transgressions.

Though the film does suffer from plot holes, as do most films in the thriller genre, they don't seem to be as egregious as others of its ilk. Aksel Hennie gives a great performance as the insecure art thief and Nikolaj Coaster-Waldau does equally well as the ruthless hunter. Hollywood may have just found their newest fountain of secondhand ideas in 'Scandi-crime' adaptations, akin to the Japanese horror remakes of the early to mid 2000s, but Headhunters is a must-see, a tremendous and enjoyable addition to the action-thriller genre.

Kevin FilmPulse.net

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!
(2012)

Silly Family Fun
Pirates! Band of Misfits is the latest offering from the wonderfully talented team of animators who brought us the Wallace & Gromit series and Chicken Run, as well as the much less well-received Flushed Away. Titled Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists in the UK, this clay-mation adventure tale contains a fair amount of fun, but lacks any serious laughs, and in the end, falls just short of being something worth recommending.

Hugh Grant lends his voice to The Pirate Captain, who, along with his band of merry men (and woman), decide to compete in the Pirate of the Year competition. As one might imagine, although the Pirate Captain's heart is in the right place, he always seems to come up short against the big dogs of the pirate world (voiced by Jeremy Piven, Salma Hayek, and Al Roker). In an attempt to plunder everything he sees, The Captain stumbles upon the ship of Charles Darwin, who informs him that his trusted "parrot" could be worth a fortune. The crew sets sail for London, and comedic adventure ensues.

While there certainly is a decent amount of adventure in the film, the comedy aspect was not my cup of tea. Borrowing from the book of Tex Avery, much of the comedy in Pirates! focuses on prat falls and sight gags, which, to it's credit, are quite good, but it's a shame that just a little more of that comedy wasn't put into the dialogue. Some of the best lines are delivered by Anton Yelchin's character of Albino Pirate, and it would have been nice to hear more of the crew's banter.

The central character of The Pirate Captain, has a blissfully ignorant way about him, sometimes acting like a dolt, and other times plotting ingenious schemes. This gave the character a somewhat inconsistent feel, and caused a slightly uninteresting character to be even more uninteresting. The rest of the characters were much more engaging, and unfortunately don't get enough development or screen time.

If you've seen Wallace & Gromit, or Chicken Run, then you know what to expect as far as the animation goes in this film. One thing to note, some of the backgrounds were digitized, so clay-mation purists may be upset, but it didn't detract from the overall look of the movie. While not breaking any new ground, it's always refreshing to see something different than CG animation, and I always applaud the use of a different medium. This was also shot in 3D, which adds nearly nothing to the film, and only acts as a gimmick for a few stick stuff out at you moments.

Pirates! Band of Misfits is a solid animated comedy that your kids will love, and you will be able to tolerate. With Pixar dominating the market, it's tough to watch an old-school kids movie without judging it more harshly because of it's omission of adult undertones and themes, but sometimes it's nice to just have fun with a movie without needing a message, or sophisticated humor. Go into the film thinking more Looney Toons, less Wall-e, and you'll walk away smiling.

Adam FilmPulse.net

The Five-Year Engagement
(2012)

A passable romantic comedy
There are risks when romantic comedy is injected with "truth." Too little, and it feels like a desperate attempt to give the film credibility. Too much and it starts to feel uncomfortable as the comedy is buried in what appear to be a string of life lessons. The Five-Year Engagement tries to find a balance between comedy and truth and after a bit over two hours, almost succeeds.

That's not to say the film is bad. It's far from it, especially compared to what usually passes for a romantic comedy these days. Its leads (Emily Blunt and Jason Segel) have a surprising, easy chemistry and director Nicholas Stoller (who co-wrote with Segel) uses the talented supporting cast to add new perspective and layers to what is a pretty straightforward story.

Violet (Blunt) is a post-doctorate student. Tom (Segel) is a rising star of a chef in San Francisco. They get engaged on their first anniversary and while most romantic comedies would end here, The Five-Year Engagement does something that romantic comedies fail to do - showing what happens after the "happy ending." In doing so, we get to see every crack, seam and bump in their relationship, from Tom's resentment at leaving his dream job behind to follow Violet after she receives a fellowship at the University of Michigan, to Violet's increasing frustration at how Tom changes during his relocation.

It's a credit to Segel and Stoller that the situations that arise do so organically and don't feel forced in for shock value, and when things start to deteroriate, we not only see it coming, we solemnly nod because it is inevitable.

The film has issues, though, and they almost capsize the film. The most glaring one is the running time. The film clocks in at a bit over two hours, and you feel every grueling minute of it. The pacing and editing are a near disaster and at times, watching feels more like a chore than a good time. This is partially because the film, while billed as a romantic comedy, is only funny in spurts. The serious 'truths' of being in a relationship take center stage, which is in itself not a bad thing, but in a comedy, it really drags the film down.

The ending is typical rom-com schmaltz, though, as if the filmmakers snapped out of their malaise, thought "hey, aren't we making a comedy?" and wisely ended the film on an acceptably quirky note.

In the end, The Five-Year Engagement is serviceable entertainment, but could have been a lot more had they been able to strike the delicate balance they were trying for.

Daniel FilmPulse.net

The Avengers
(2012)

Destined to become a classic
In 2008, Marvel Studios gave us the first film adaptation of it's super hero Iron Man, with the promise of big things to come. The film was an astounding success, proving that Batman wasn't the only hero that can have a good movie. What followed was four more films, The Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America, all critical and financial successes, and all leading up to one massive blowout known as The Avengers. Culminating all five films into one massive adventure was a seemingly impossible task, however writer/director Joss Whedon somehow, against all odds, pulled it off in a big way.

It's something that has never been done before in film. Taking these characters, who have proved they are strong enough to carry a film by themselves, and putting them all together in one over-arching continuity. The problems that could arise from this concept are endless, and yet this films works. Not only does it work, it's so brilliantly pieced together that it is destined to become the greatest super hero movie ever made.

Joss Whedon, of Firefly and Buffy fame, is no stranger to creating stories featuring ensemble casts. The contrasting personalities of the team play a large role, and Whedon explores this with astounding fervor. This is a character study as much as an action film, and the witty dialogue Whedon brings to the table only enhances the personalities of these extraordinary individuals. The banter between the heroes during lulls in the action is just as engaging as the mind-blowing action itself.

And the action will blow your mind. The main reason most people want to go see this film, is to see The Avengers kick some ass, and there is no shortage of ass-kickery happening in this film. Although The Hulk steals most of the jaw-dropping moments, even the lower tier characters of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) get just as much screen time, and each have their own "wow" moments.

One thing that is an absolute must when having such an over-powered team like this, is having a worthy adversary. Tom Hiddleston's character of Loki plays the perfect villain, and what better an adversary than a crazed God and his army? When it was first revealed that Loki was the film's antagonist, the initial fear was that we already saw Thor defeat Loki in his own movie, so why is there a need for The Avengers to be involved, when we already know Thor can beat him single handedly? Fortunately, this and all the other fanboy and critic's questions are addressed and taken into consideration.

Since I was a child, I have always talked about the prospect of an Avengers movie, and it looked so unattainable that it seemed like it would forever remain just a 12 year old's dream. Having previously dreamt of a G.I. Joe movie, it comes as no surprise when The Avengers was announced, I was left with cautious optimism. Much to my delight, it seems that Joss Whedon was somehow able to look into my soul and produce the best comic book movie ever made. The Avengers is a masterpiece, and should be placed on the mantle of greatness beside Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

FilmPulse.net

Safe
(2012)

A generic but fun action film that doesn't break any new ground
Safe, the new Jason Statham vehicle, is a blasting, high-energy ball of skull bashing, nut crunching, and head cracking enjoyment. It shows that Statham still packs a punch and is not afraid to play the same role again, and again, and again. Safe is a throwback film to classic action movies, where protagonists didn't need solid back-stories or character development, just the ability to constantly kick ass.

Luke Wright (Statham) is an underground cage fighter, trying to make ends meet by getting pummeled and paid to lose. After one night of putting an up-and-coming fighter in a coma, Wright upsets the wrong people and the Russian mob kill his family and give him an ultimatum. They won't kill him, only every single person he ever gets close to. He can end it all by killing himself. Yeah, that's the most economical way to use manpower, right? Wright eventually becomes a swaggering, alcoholic wino, stumbling the streets of New York City, descending into a pit of suicidal desperation until he spots Mei (Catherine Chen), a Chinese prodigal 11-year-old girl, in a train station on the run from the same Russian mob that killed Wright's family. Wright saves Mei in a realization that she represents a second chance for him, and in turn uncovers an all out war between the Russian mob, the Chinese mob, led by James Hong (Kung Fu Panda, Balls of Fury), and a group of dirty cops, out to get Wright for a previous time that he screwed them over…when he was a cop.

This film moves fast and leaves no prisoners behind. The back stories and introduction play out in a fast-paced, no holds barred thirty minutes and as the movie progresses, Wright's back story gets more and more convoluted but we are moving so fast from scene to scene that there isn't enough time to dwell on inconsistencies. Because Statham has given audiences his usual manliness action guy role (95% of His Movies) he slides into this role with ease and familiarity. Wright is a transparent character that delivers one-liners every five seconds and Statham owns them every time. Any other actor playing Wright would fall flat. Statham shows that he has a certain persona that he can milk, similar to the great action stars, like Bruce Willis and Schwarzenegger.

The director, Boaz Yakin, proves that he is a much better director (Remember the Titans, Fresh) than writer (Prince of Persia, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights) but still afraid to go over the edge. I think he's on the verge of obtaining something awesome, maybe with his next written feature Now You See Me, starring Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Morgan Freeman, Isla Fischer, Jesse Eisenberg, and Dave Franco will make up for his past (damn, now I really want to watch Now You See Me).

Basically, Safe is exactly what you think it is. It doesn't offer anything new that you haven't seen before, and honestly, you probably will experience some déjà vu because of its similarities to almost every other action movie. Safe is just another explosive, entertaining action B-movie, nothing more, nothing less.

Chad FilmPulse.net

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