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Reviews

Avatar
(2009)

I was on another planet. Cameron's just showing off at this point.
The ground shook, and the crowd cheered. They wept. They gasped. They laughed. And finally, they applauded. What they experienced was something only a master can make, an adventure so spellbinding, so memorable, and so exhilarating that it's worth holding your bladder for almost 3 hours to sit through. It's worth tearing up behind 3D glasses. It's worth admitting that to your friends later. Finally, it's worth telling people that you saw this movie. I'm lucky to say I was a part of that group.

Can anyone possibly set the bar higher than James Cameron? I think the only one who can set the bar higher is Cameron himself. He described it as his masterpiece, and that it is. Make no mistake: when seeing Avatar, know that you're witnessing cinematic history. Something directors like Peter Jackson only flirted with, Cameron mastered. Not only is Cameron's creation of a character astounding, but what truly sets Cameron apart from the rest is his ability to create a whole new world, where you can escape to, learn from, and bond to. At first, you'll be asking a lot of questions. "Who's he?", "What was that?!", "Is that real, or CGI?". But soon after...I can't say at what point, because I imagine it being different for each viewer, you'll become immersed in Cameron's beautiful Pandora, as he opens the box and reveals a beautiful new world to us as viewers.

There are two kinds of Visual Effects, in my opinion. The first kind is the "Transformers" kind. These effects are the kind that wow you with their showy exterior, but are just there for entertainment. The second kind is the kind that enhances the background, works within a setting, and improves the overall viewing experience. Cameron did it with Aliens. He did it with Terminator 2. He did it for Titanic. And now he's done it again. At this point, he's just showing off. Cameron's incredible immersion into the world of Pandora is what makes it work. Without it, this is just some other alien movie. Cameron's impeccable attention to detail, such as whenever our characters are roaming through a forest, or flying on a winged beast...this is what gives the movie its life, its energy...which is what the entire theme and point of the movie is. Life is connected through us all, and Cameron's incredible work will bond every viewer through their love of movies and the very escapism Cameron provides.

You'll notice that I've spared you a plot description. I believe this movie is best viewed with little or no knowledge. It helps with the immersion. Don't watch a trailer. Don't read a synopsis. I will say, however, that the true stars of the film are Zoe Saldana and Stephen Lang, who will undoubtedly go down as two actors who played their classic-in-the-making characters to perfection. Yeah, the screenplay is not a truly original product, and the film does play out in a semi-formulaic fashion...but this doesn't matter. It's the experience of Avatar that will move you, by what you're seeing, what you're hearing...and what you're experiencing. A beautiful score makes this seamlessly edited film flow even better, while the colors of the movie, so bright and vibrant, assure the viewer that they're about to have the most unique movie-going experience of their lives.

I can't really recommend an experience like this more than I already have. I was on another planet for almost 3 hours. This is truly a movie to experience, a movie that makes us glad that we live in these times. It's the best motion picture of 2009, and one of the most revolutionary, immersing, and incredible movies ever made. I can say this without a doubt. Do not miss this.

The Twilight Saga: New Moon
(2009)

Despite bright spots, it's downright terrible. It's time to get a new writer.
It's hard to believe only a year has gone by since the last Twilight film came out, which is weird, because this summer, I'll be saying something like, "it's hard to believe only a few months have gone by since the last Twilight film came out". This is the running joke throughout the entire film. Is Summit's fear of financial collapse so great that they feel they have to churn out these movies as fast as a printing press distributes newspaper? Or is it that they secretly don't have faith in the franchise's long term prospects, making their only blockbuster series unable to truly stand against the heavyweights like Harry, James, and Jack? Whatever the reason, the biggest problem with "New Moon" is how rushed it is. Strangely, I've got to hand it to Chris Weitz. Few directors could have handled the production schedule this film probably had, and he's managed to do a better job than his predecessor. That said, another reason I'll give Weitz credit for doing a job well done is his ability to handle what is easily the worst screenplay of the year. At least Street Fighter and Dragonball had heart. There's no passion. Almost every line is a false cliché, something that in the end makes the film one of the funniest of the year, and takes away from people that actually did well on the film.

Before I continue onto the bad, I'll state the good. As far as acting goes, it starts and ends with Taylor Lautner and Michael Sheen. Weitz did a great job as far as picking some crew members, but not all of them. For example, he pulled off a miracle when he got Alexandre Desplat to score this film, and Desplat's score does not disappoint. It out does the first film along with the cinematography, but that's where it stops.

I don't know what happened to Kristen Stewart's ability...I know it's there, but she simply just doesn't care, isn't trying, or is just flat out bored the entire film. I found myself begging her for expression, in between my laughter at almost everything the absurd character of Bella did. I found that one of the strengths of the first film, the slightly charismatic Robert Pattinson, isn't one anymore. His reduced screen time is not to blame, as Pattinson just lost all charm he had before, and he also forgot how to act. I liked Peter Facinelli and Ashley Greene, while Nikki Reed annoyed me. Anna Kendrick's role is still a scene stealer, while I had a hard time determining if Jamie Campbell Bower was a man or a woman, or if he could be any creepier if he tried.

The work of Michael Sheen and Taylor Lautner are two of five good things about this movie. Sheen delivers a delicious turn as Aro, and I enjoyed every minute he spent on screen. By far the best performance from any of the Twilight films. It was the perfect balance of slight scenery chewing mixed with a deliciously devious line delivery, reaffirming him as one of my favorite actors. Lautner is someone I've got to give credit to, mostly because he's not cringeworthy like Stewart and Pattinson (well, until he says a stupid line that's not his fault, but he played the character well), but the main reason that Lautner did a good job was because almost everyone I've talked to sided with his character and liked him better than the main characters. This is the mark of an actor playing a role well. Lautner's physical transformation is also quite impressive, as every female will have no problem saying.

I just can't get my head around how awful Rosenberg's script is. How anyone can include some of the lines that are in here is beyond me. Sure, some of them were probably from the book, but as a writer of film, you have to know what works and what doesn't work. Sure, New Moon has its intentionally funny moments that Weitz inserted to break the serious tone for a bit...But what Weitz and Rosenberg seem to have forgotten is this: because the film is so rushed, the dialog so cringeworthy, the visual effects so terrible, etcetera...New Moon ends up as a parody. The entire beginning of the film, and Jacob and Bella's friendship, plays out like an episode from an MTV reality show, providing laughs for even the most die hard fans of the series (I know this because the entire theater was cracking up whenever Bella would be sad or Jacob took his shirt off for whatever random pointless reason).

What's even more unsettling is the subliminal messages these films send...Bella is willing to give up her soul to be a vampire with Edward, which he refuses to oblige. How can Bella be the role model Meyer and Rosenberg obviously want her to be when she is literally the biggest pushover I've ever seen? Her character is so unbelievably flawed that it's next to impossible to root for her, and it's also next to impossible to see how two actual nice young men fall in love with her. She has no redeeming qualities, and only shows how easily persuaded a young girl is. To all the young girls reading this, it's fine to want an Edward or Jacob in your life, but it's entirely something else to want to "be like Bella".

So, in short, if you want to laugh, look no further than this "film". I honestly don't think the next movie will be worse than this one, because the crew would literally have to not film anything and sip margaritas on set for it to be worse...wait, actual footage of the crew sipping margaritas is probably better than this abomination of a film. The few bright spots are overshadowed by the terrible script, and the only guy I feel bad for at the end of the day is Weitz.

Gamer
(2009)

Neveldine/Taylor do it again.
"Gamer" really isn't a movie of a lot of depth, nor is it a movie that requires a ton of thought. In fact, overthinking this one may cause you to like it less, because when it comes down to it, "Gamer" is another typical Neveldine/Taylor product that goes balls out to get the crowd engaged and entertained. If you want mindless, unrealistic, futuristic sci-fi ridiculousness, look no further than this one. However, I never said this was a bad thing.

Is "Gamer" going to surprise you with any twists? Nah. Is "Gamer" going to go beyond its extremely generic sounding title to provide the viewer with a completely ridiculous ride that's at least worth laughing at? You bet. Like "Crank" before it, "Gamer" prides itself on being as much fun as it can. I found that it started off pretty slow, trying to develop as many characters as it could, when it really didn't need to. The film bears obvious stylistic imprints of its creators (raves, strip clubs, gratuitous nudity, and bright colors), who are really two of the biggest examples of escapist, and flat out ridiculous modern film-making.

Despite how easy it is to describe Neveldine/Taylor's films, there is a noticeable difference here...That would be the strength of the actor in the lead role. Jason Statham is flat out incredible in the "Crank" series. His Chev Chelios is really one of the most ridiculously hilarious and awesome action heroes around. The same can't be said for Gerard Butler's dull and uncharismatic performance as Kable. I really felt like he was just here for a paycheck, not absorbing himself in the world of Neveldine/Taylor the way other actors like Statham and Amy Smart have...and trust me, there's plenty here that feel completely at ease in this world, none moreso than the phenomenal Michael C. Hall. You know what I'd really LOVE to see? A movie where Statham's Chelios takes on Hall's Ken Castle. That would be a freakin' amazing movie. Hall's over the top and incredibly unrestrained performance has got to be amongst the most fun to watch of the year. I really can't give him enough praise for just taking the role and running with it. Chris "Ludacris" Bridges fits his part well enough, while it was funny to see Milo Ventimiglia in one of the most hilariously bad cameos of all time. Terry Crews played an interesting part, while I'm still coming to grips with the fact that Kyra Sedgewick was in this movie.

First off, don't take "Gamer" seriously, because it'll only hinder your viewing experience. That's what it's really made to be...an experience. It's got good-not-great action, some witty one liners from Michael C. Hall that are to be cherished forever, as he simply steals every scene he's in, including the end. I thought the concept of the movie was cool enough to work as a film, but the major selling point for me was the presence of the Neveldine/Taylor names, as they really don't hold back when making their movies, and that's part of what makes their work so entertaining.

Extract
(2009)

A comedy that really doesn't know what kind it wants to be.
Awkward situational humor has really been the staple of all of Mike Judge's films and TV ventures (besides the immortal Beavis and Butthead), and his latest effort, "Extract", is really no different. The viewer, I'm guessing, is supposed to laugh at these situations and just take it from there, allowing the actors to feel around. This takes the emphasis off the actors and more on the story, and therein lies the problem. "Extract" is a comedy built for one thing and written for another, and in the end, it becomes a mildly, yet forgettable movie.

"Extract" is so obviously written to be the next "Office Space", which will forever remain Judge's crown jewel as far as films go. The situations are awkwardly funny, yet there really doesn't seem to be a balance to most of it. Judge's newest is rather repetitive in its approach - Joel goes to work, is unhappy. Joel comes home, is interrupted by his annoying neighbor. Joel goes to the bar. Ben Affleck says something witty. Mila Kunis looks hot. The film continues down this path aimlessly, not really offering to build up any suspense as to what could happen with our characters, until a really useless event in the plot causes the movie to end. It experiments with a bit of character development in the lead role of Joel, but everyone else is either a cliché, someone who is not worth developing, or a plot device.

You'll notice that I said the film is written to be an awkward situational comedy, and it clearly is - however, the comedians cast in parts are not really meant for these kind of roles. For some (Jason Bateman, Dustin Milligan), it works and they fit their characters well. For others (Mila Kunis, Clifton Collins Jr.), both actor and character seem out of place, like they belong in a more slapstick or more vulgar and/or stereotypical comedy. The real plus comes from Ben Affleck, who is hilarious just about every time he graces us with his presence, while Kristen Wiig is VASTLY underused. Clifton Collins Jr. is great as well, while Mila Kunis is almost as out of place as she was in "Max Payne". If anything, this film has the most random cameo of all time from Gene Simmons.

Maybe Judge has lost his touch, though I doubt that, because he has a great cameo in the film as well...but his writing is done in a way that it feels like he's building up to one huge punchline that never comes. Don't get me wrong, most people will have a few chuckles and smiles at "Extract", but with Judge's name on it, you'd expect it to be a bit better than the occasional laugh and grin. It doesn't know whether to be absurd, as some characters and jokes are, or the awkward comedy that Judge is so great at doing.

To put it simple, "Extract" lacks the strength of plot, relatability, and character development that Judge's previous works have had. Joel is no Peter from "Office Space". Ben Affleck's character, an obvious rehash of Deidrich Bader's character from the same movie, is the one saving grace, and even he isn't good enough to stop this from becoming nothing more than a mediocre comedy that's best saved for a DVD rental.

District 9
(2009)

A classic in the making.
Modern warfare is a tough genre to master in terms of film. There's no doubt about it. What's even tougher is futuristic warfare, especially when dealing with aliens. When it comes to that, it's easy to make mistakes and make your film extremely cheesy, unrealistic, and boring. Fortunately, Neill Blomkamp's "District 9" is none of those things, and may be one of the most innovative and genre defining films of all time. I might even go as far to say that it's the most innovative and potentially classic science fiction film of the decade. "District 9" is immersing and absorbing in the beginning, and once Neill Blomkamp firmly grounds us in his reality, he takes us on one of the most exciting action packed rides I've ever been through.

I think one of the major selling points of this one is the extreme realism. Like "Cloverfield", it starts out as a documentary style film, however, the interviewed subjects tell the story in retrospect, as the events of the movie have already occurred when they are being interviewed. The hand-held camera is always present, though the film doesn't rely on it for cheap effects, nor does it remain a pure "day in the life" type of film that "Cloverfield" did. It tells a compelling story that is never cliché, and the narrative is what ultimately drives the film, not the action...which is more than I can say for most of the recent science fiction "films".

The story here is more than just about the alien presence on Earth. It's a common story: a fight for survival, on both sides. Both the humans and the aliens are unfamiliar with each other, therefore it results in the more powerful of the races (the humans), almost enslaving the aliens into a pseudo-prison, District 9. Rather than taking the cliché action movie approach, Blomkamp's incredible storytelling ability allows him to focus on a select story within this massive existence. "District 9" is so immersed in an alternate reality that Blomkamp could easily tell numerous stories from within this world he has constructed, but he chose the most human and natural of stories to connect to the audience with. It is because of this that the audience not only becomes totally pulled in by the story, but is able to connect with the characters on a different level, especially the non-humans. There are clever parallels between this and modern racism, apartheid, and of course, World War II, but the similarities are never broadcast right into the viewers face, so it is acceptable.

It really is rare to find a film that tells such an immersing story that ensnares the viewer in addition to providing top of the line entertainment. If you're looking for the most thrilling action of the year, look no further. Forget about mutant humans, transforming alien robots, Skynet, or teenage wizards. Blomkamp's simply stellar direction makes the last 40 minutes of the movie one of the most riveting 40 minutes of any movie I have ever seen. While the film is a bit slow in the beginning as Blomkamp sets the foundation for his immersing reality, the final act of the film is almost non-stop action that will have you on the edge of your seat.

"District 9" is definitely amongst the most well made movies I've ever seen. The aliens, while they might look like colorful ripoffs of the main villain from Men In Black, are incredibly detailed and meticulously put together. You really can't tell if it's CGI or a guy in a very well made suit. The set decoration and art direction...wow. You want to see what a slum looks like, forget about "Slumdog Millionaire", it's this one. The titular District is part of what makes the film so realistic, and the look of everything in it is simply stellar. Makeup also plays a large role in the film, and it is very well done. "District 9" also has an incredible sound mix and edit going on. To put it simple, it's definitely one you need to catch in the theater. I'm not really going to discuss the acting in the film, though I will say the film's protagonist and antagonists were all very good, well written characters with very human and realistic actions running through them. In the end, however, despite all these other great benefits it has, "District 9" is driven by the story to the very end.

I really believe that I watched a classic tonight. It's a film that will revolutionize everything we know about the classic "alien invasion" story, and carve out its place amongst the all time action classics like "The Terminator". In fact, in the end, I felt like "District 9" was a "Terminator" for the modern age (I'm not talking about the two post-2000 entries in the series). The film is a can't miss for anyone who enjoys science fiction, or the art of film-making. I really can't find a flaw in this incredible work from Neill Blomkamp.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
(2009)

Take it for what it is, and you'll have a bit of fun.
This isn't a movie one expects much depth or detail from, so you won't get much from this review, either. What I will say about G.I. Joe, is that it knows what it is, who it's going to entertain, and why it's being made. I credit this to Stephen Sommers, who is actually pretty good at entertaining an audience with less than acceptable story lines and actors, as his entries to the "Mummy" series have proved (notice how the third one was dreadful without him?). Sommers may never win an Oscar, but he, like Michael Bay, knows how to entertain an audience (though it's an insult to put Sommers on the same level as Bay, as I think he's a better director than good ol' Michael).

G.I. Joe is about as subtle as a brick through a window. You know what you're getting from each scene, character, and action sequence. The guys with guns are loud. The leaders (good and bad) are cheesy. The girls are hot (all of them). Yes, the movie is basically Sommers pointing the camera in a direction, then making whatever is in the camera's line of sight either explode or host a fight scene (all of which are incredible). Another plus of this film: all the action is extremely well choreographed and planned out. All of the fight scenes are of very high quality, especially those with Snake Eyes.

As for our performers in the film, it's really a grocery store variety when it comes to how good they are. Let's start with the bad. I'm really not holding back here. Channing Tatum has got to be one of the worst actors I've ever seen. At least Keanu Reeves makes his monotone performances badass and can make even a few facial expressions. There is no emotion in Tatum's performance, which I feel compelled to tell you is one of the worst I've seen this decade. Marlon Wayans is basically a stereotype with more to do than usual, while Rachel Nichols was a lot of fun to look at, and she was good as Scarlett as well. Sienna Miller looked like she was having a fun time as the Baroness, while Christopher Eccleston took himself way too seriously. The performers who were having the most fun were Dennis Quaid (seriously?) and the always wonderful Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who's over the top, loud, and cheesy performance is ever so appropriate for this film. I couldn't wait for him to reappear every time he left the screen.

When it comes down to it, G.I. Joe is one loud, well designed, poorly CGIed, and hilariously acted ride that really, honest to God, is never boring. Stephen Sommers makes a movie that entertains, is BETTER than Transformers 2 (though that's not saying much), and has a bit of heart to go with it. Really, everyone involved looked like they were having a blast (besides the god awful Channing Tatum), whether it be older comedians (Wayans), All American actors (Quaid), or former indie darlings (Miller and Gordon-Levitt), and though I didn't quite have a blast, it was a fun way to spend 2 hours, as it never outstays its welcome and is exactly what it presents itself to be.

(500) Days of Summer
(2009)

An absolute gem of a movie. Hilarious and true, it should resonate with anyone.
"This is not a love story. This is a story about love." The following quote is too true about this film, and is the perfect description of it. "500 Days Of Summer" is a wonderful tale about love, loss, heartbreak, and dealing with those emotions. The story is beautifully told through one of the most original and captivating scripts of the year, and carried by the phenomenal breakout performance of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I don't really think I've ever seen a movie, or an actor, capture the emotions as well as this movie and its star do.

There's no question that this film is the breakout indie comedy of 2009, like "In Bruges", "Little Miss Sunshine", "Juno", and "Sideways" before it. But the question is, why is it that movie? Like those movies listed above, "500 Days Of Summer" is so realistic and true in its approach that it never feels redundant or clichéd, despite being in the most formulaic and clichéd genre of film. Whether its approach be comedic, tragic, or just all out absurd (wait for the musical number!), "500 Days Of Summer" hits every note with perfection, whether or not the audience will like what they see.

There are those who simply know Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the kid from "Angels In the Outfield" or "3rd Rock From the Sun", but from now on, this will be what he's remembered for until he tops this (which, with his talent, is definitely going to happen). Gordon-Levitt's tactful and emotional take showed me something I rarely see: the ability to connect with each audience member on a personal level. It's one of the most emotionally stirring performance I've seen in many years. Throughout the film, I knew I was watching some of the best acting of the year because I not only recognized similar events that occur throughout Tom's relationship with Summer, but I remember feeling exactly what Gordon-Levitt portrays on screen. He really is a gem of an actor that should be watched for years to come (this is of course, something I've been saying for years, (but no one seemed to listen). An Oscar nomination is not out of the question here.

I don't know if it was just me and my date, but Zooey Deschanel's performance, while good, seemed more like the script being tailor made to her abilities as an actress. In short, her performance was enjoyable, and at times adorable, but I've seen her do the same thing in almost every role she's played, especially in "Elf" and "Yes Man" (in fact, her take on Summer is nearly identical to her performance in "Yes Man"). I just don't think I'm as enamored with her as everyone else, but in no way does she detract from the film at all.

Perhaps the only romantic comedy cliché that is present here is the strength of the supporting cast, who I loved. I couldn't get enough of Geoffrey Arend as Tom's friend McKenzie, as he delivers some of the movie's funniest moments (and trust me, there are plenty, especially in the beginning and middle). Clark Gregg hits all the right notes, while Chloe Moretz is the sometimes hilariously great voice of reason that is Tom's little sister. Cameos from Minka Kelly and Ian Reed Kesler are also very well done.

If I had to pick out some problems, which would be nitpicking, I'd say that the movie is really short. With a story that literally encompasses 500 days (which are conveniently all in the same season...well, I guess that's Los Angeles for you), you'd think they'd need a little more time to cover it, as the film runs under 2 hours even with previews. I also didn't necessarily like a turn the script took later in the film, but it made sense and worked in the end, so it's really a non-issue.

Back to the things I liked about this one. There's a great amount of laughter and smiles in this movie, despite it taking a very serious tone towards the end. My face hurt from smiling so much. I also really loved the music, whether it was the composed music or the songs used throughout. This is a very stylish movie that, like "Juno" and "Garden State" before it, should spawn a bit of a mini-cult of people emulating the style (I know I want Tom's wardrobe). It's a good natured movie that will bring out your emotions and make you think about love in general, and how you've experienced it. It really is a crowd pleaser at its core, even if it's not a typical crowd pleaser.

A question a lot of people might have is, "is this a good date movie?". The answer is yes, but only if that date is someone you genuinely care about and/or - shocker here - love. It's not something you want to take someone to unless you know them well enough to see a movie like this, because...remember, it's not a love story, it's a story about love. In fact, it may be the best romance film I've seen in many years.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
(2009)

Far and away the best in the series
Harry Potter. The name alone induces screams across the world, and may make movie theater managers such as myself fall on the ground when the prints arrive in the building. Just because I did get to watch it early does not mean I didn't do my share of waiting around the theater. More than 7 hours after I got off work, I was still at the theater and ready to watch what I had been waiting for ever since the wonderful 'Order of the Phoenix' two glorious years ago. Not only was 'Half Blood Prince' my favorite book in the series, it was also one of my favorite books of all time. My expectations could not have been higher, possibly the highest for any movie I'd ever had.

So is it absolutely crazy that my expectations were still surpassed?

Whether it be the shockingly wonderful script from Steve Kloves, the perfect acting across the board, dazzling effects, or the absolutely excellent direction and cinematography, 'Half Blood Prince' is EASILY the best film in the series, and is a great cinematic achievement that becomes the first Harry Potter film, in my opinion, that stands alone as a fantastic film, one that could even be Oscar worthy.

It appears as if the book series finally being finished has done wonders for the films, as this is the first film produced since the end of the series. Steve Kloves' for films 1-4 were average at best, as he often struggled to write compelling dialog for the younger characters. Not only has he vastly improved, but for the first time in the entire series, I was more interested in the younger characters than the absolute gems of characters played by the adults. 'Half Blood Prince' probably has the least amount of action in the series, but it is by no means boring. Kloves' script assures us that this ride is just as mental as it is physical. There are some minor problems, such as the backstory of the title character, the Half Blood Prince, not really being explained at all, but these flaws are outweighed by Kloves' seamlessly weaving plot points from both 'Half Blood Prince' and 'Deathly Hallows'. Some characters, such as Rufus Scrimgeour, Bill Weasley, and Mad Eye Moody are sorely missed, while others, such as Ginny Weasley and Bellatrix Lestrange, benefit from much more to do than they had in the book. To put it simple, Kloves' adaptation this time around is his best yet.

To me, the lines a writer writes are only as good as the actors that say them, and this flick boasts what could be called the best ensemble cast of the year. The bright points for me were Alan Rickman, Tom Felton, and Bonnie Wright, who both really got the chance to flesh out their characters in this one. Wright nails the passionate, hot tempered Ginny very well in brief opportunities, while Rickman is once again perfect as the icy Severus Snape, though to reveal why he's perfect would be robbing the viewer of a wonderful show. Felton packs a world of emotion and nails the character once again. The main newcomers to the cast were all excellent. Jim Broadbent is perfectly cast as Horace Slughorn, while Hero Fiennes Tiffin and Frank Dillane are positively chilling in their cameos as the younger incarnations of Lord Voldemort. Dillane in particular is nothing short of brilliant in his two scenes. Helena Bonham Carter's over the top performance as Bellatrix Lestrange is something that would only work in a Harry Potter film, as she is hilariously psychotic and sadistic in her role. The biggest surprise of all is Michael Gambon, who plays Dumbledore to perfection this time.

The faces of the Harry Potter franchise are the three actors that now appear to have grown up with their characters long enough to actually be them. Emma Watson is at her best for once as Hermione, while Rupert Grint brings everything back to the table after basically taking a movie off. Daniel Radcliffe tops what was his best performance in 'Order of the Phoenix' in this one, but for different reasons. Radcliffe is showing real all around talent as an actor, as he exudes the sarcastic confidence that he's always been missing that is integral to Harry's character. It should be noted that Radcliffe is definitely the best at comedy of the trio.

While I viewed it to be perfect, this might be because I've read the book and plugged in what few leaks there were. All the non-readers I saw it with said that they didn't have that many problems keeping up, and that this one really gelled with the previous installment. I credit that, and the movie's overwhelming excellence to David Yates, who really just gets this franchise. He has recreated the magic I felt when first reading the book again and again, with classic moments meant for readers that non-readers will still find entertaining enough.

This movie definitely strays the furthest from the book, but I really didn't care. I didn't miss any of the things that were cut, nor did I object to any changes in the movie. In a word, it was perfect. Bruno Delbonnel does a marvelous job with the cinematography, which is amongst the most beautiful camera work I've ever seen, especially with the colors and lighting. The art direction is equally brilliant.

'Half Blood Prince' is an exciting thriller, that is as charming and sweet as it is mysterious. It is as suspenseful as it is angsty, and that's saying something. Hormones and chaos are abound at Hogwarts, and Yates manages to handle it with perfect grace, as his film does not, for the first time ever, feel choppy or rushed. The film flows wonderfully, and builds to a climax that will keep your emotions running high for at least 20 minutes. I really could not have been more pleased with this movie.

Star Trek
(2009)

It's so good I had to see it twice, and I'm not a Trekkie. A landmark accomplishment.
The science fiction genre hasn't seen a real landmark hit in quite a long time. It seems like people have been waiting for a movie to invigorate the genre again, bringing back the feelings of the glory days of the 1980's, when Star Trek, Star Wars, and other science fiction landmarks like Blade Runner reigned supreme. Well, the new 2009 version of 'Star Trek' appears to be the film to take up the mantle this time around, mixing together a blend of science fiction and action, sprinkled with a bit of comedy, and topped with a dose of humanity.

Before we get into this, I'd like you to know that I've never seen an episode of Star Trek, and I've only seen one other movie (The Wrath of Khan). However, this didn't affect my viewing experience for the worse, in fact, it made it even better, as I was introduced to a glorious, grand, and epic world by the action visionary J.J. Abrams. I call him visionary because his story in this film not only serves as a prequel to the longstanding series, but through his story, Abrams reinvents the story of the series without ignoring the previous landmark achievements. It's a bold, respectful, and tasteful move on his part, one Trekkies everywhere should appreciate. Through his storytelling actions in the film (and those of the writers Orci and Kurtzman), a new beginning is created for the series, one that should be cherished and embraced by fans and non-fans alike. It's a clever metaphor that you won't notice at first, but once you notice that a certain plot device is Abrams way of changing everything, it's a peaceful transition.

Now...the film itself. I don't think I can start anywhere other than the technical marvel of the film. It features visual effects that are flash, explosive, epic, and even some that are simple subtle changes. It boasts marvelous set decoration (Oscar worthy in fact), as each set contributes to this new, yet familiar world Abrams is creating. The design of everything is so intricate and meticulous, while it is flawlessly edited together with seamless (and sometimes flashy) transitions, backed by an Oscar worthy sound mix and escapist film score. 'Star Trek' is the most technically perfect film of 2009, and is the 2009 equivalent of 'The Dark Knight' in this regard.

As if it wasn't perfect enough, the cast of the movie is marketed as an ensemble (despite holding numerous high profile names and faces), and performs as such. Each character plays off the other so well, you'd think these people worked together for 10 years (and if any sequel is half as good as this is, they'll be working together a lot longer than that). Zachary Quinto is probably the best cast member of the movie, as his portrayal of Spock is exactly what the character calls for...a brilliant being that seems emotionless, but packs a world of anger, love, cunning, and wit under his motionless scowl. His counterpart Chris Pine as the legendary James Kirk is no less satisfying, as he brings the charisma, charm, and leadership presence to the character as required. Eric Bana disappears into his role as the villainous Nero, a villain who is much more than he seems. I really appreciated that he was not just a man bent on universal domination. The rest of the supporters, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Karl Urban...all fantastic.

'Star Trek' is a thrilling ride that will appease pretty much any kind of viewer. Despite the extreme roots in science fiction and fantasy, this is a film with even deeper roots in a more common theme - humanity. It's a movie full of raw emotion stemming from problems and conflicts we all see and maybe even deal with ourselves every day...such as the loss of a loved one, or sacrificing oneself for a greater good and cause. It's a heroic movie, a landmark in the genre that should go down as one of the best of its kind. Whether it be for the technical perfection of the film, or the enjoyable story, or for the nostalgic Trekkie to get their fix, 'Star Trek' is unmissable.

Though the film clocks in just over two hours, I felt like it lasted both for a lifetime, and as if that life wasn't enough. It's a movie that will leave you feeling satisfied with the story, but insatiable in that you'll hunger for more the second Abrams' name pops up on the screen. It's an adventure that will undoubtedly end up both as a classic and as a prime fixture in my DVD collection. Basically, to sum it up, 'Star Trek' is so good that it became the only movie I've ever watched twice...in one day.

17 Again
(2009)

A delightful surprise, albeit very awkward at times.
You know, I've never really understood the craze around this film's star, but the supporting cast of Matthew Perry, Leslie Mann, Thomas Lennon, and Michelle Trachtenberg was enough to make me interested. However, the best thing about the movie is the charisma, likability, and flat out wonderful leading man show from Zac Efron, who is definitely a lot better than I gave him credit for.

'17 Again' really isn't anything you haven't seen before, but what sets it above other movies like it is the cast, especially Efron and Lennon. Efron plays a role similar to what he's done in the High School Musical series (actually, I thought I was watching the wrong movie when this one started), but this time it's his ability to channel the mindset of a man 20 years older than he actually is, in addition to being the same charismatic young man that teenage girls fall over for that makes him a big winner in this one. I definitely see the reason why he's so liked.

Thomas Lennon leads what is probably the best comedic supporting cast to date, and he had me falling over in my seat from laughter. His antics were over the top, yet perfect, and though they will seem a little out of place at first, it works so well, and makes Lennon more than memorable here. Leslie Mann and Jim Gaffigan are criminally underused, as Mann doesn't stretch any of her comedic muscles here, as she's just playing a textbook wife/mother. Matthew Perry is also underused, but it's Efron's version of the character that really counts, and Perry does his best to channel Efron's mannerisms while blending some of his own (everyone loves the sarcastic side of him).

This movie is not without its faults however, the biggest one being the total awkwardness brought on by the events in the movie...subplots involving the main character's daughter and awkward scenes with Efron and Mann ultimately fail on screen (while they sound funny, they just don't play out in the way the film makers hoped), making for some moments that should have you squirming in your seat.

'17 Again' is a simple movie that should please its audience. It goes above similar movies because of a great and likable cast, and doesn't fall victim to becoming a kid's movie despite its star. Efron carries the film extremely well (he really has a future ahead of him), and it's a good movie for a teenager (or family of a teenager) to enjoy.

Observe and Report
(2009)

Rogen actually CAN misfire!
I honestly didn't have high expectations for this film - not because of the premise, or the characters, or anything like that, but because of its star. Seth Rogen, to me, is an actor and comedian who succeeds when he's surrounded by people of equal or more talent then him. Unsurprisingly, most of the film's funny moments are delivered by the other characters in the film, while the film also suffers from a completely ridiculous story that brings it down.

I'll get the first obvious factoid out of the way immediately - it's nothing like "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" (which I honestly liked better), which was very endearing and family friendly, while "Observe & Report" has to be one of the most awkward and uncomfortable movies I've seen in a very long time. You'll certainly laugh, there's no doubt about it, but it may be more because of the shock value of the scenes than the actual comedic value of them.

In short, this isn't a very enjoyable movie. We've got date rape headlining a controversy spanning Patton Oswalt making fun of a handicapped person throughout the movie, Danny McBride in what appears to be a feeble attempt at blackface makeup, massive amounts of police brutality (though that's actually pretty funny), and child drug dealers. While you're going to laugh at this stuff, it's very uncomfortable to watch, whereas other controversial comedies such as "Tropic Thunder" can get away with it unscathed.

As I said earlier, the film is proof that Rogen isn't quite the leading man most make him out to be. He is funny, don't get me wrong, but his character here is so abominably terrible and repulsive that there's nothing he can do to make us as an audience side with and appreciate his character. The supporting cast is nothing short of great though, as Anna Faris is so underused here that it should be a crime. Michael Pena steals the show in a part I've never even imagined him playing, and he totally pulls it off. Aziz Anzari is also hilarious in a small role, while Patton Oswalt and Danny McBride show up in the best cameos of 2009 thusfar. I definitely think Ray Liotta did this one for a paycheck and a bit of exposure.

Is "Observe & Report" worth a theatrical experience? Not really, as this is probably the worst entry in Rogen's stellar library of roles, as this movie is not likable, enjoyable, or even endurable. I wanted to walk out many times throughout. It's going to get most of its laughs from shock value, and if that's what you like, then I guess you should try it out.

Dragonball Evolution
(2009)

So bad it's ALMOST good...sort of.
Well, if there were two movies I was worried about as far as ruining my childhood, it would be "Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li" and this bad boy, which, while it's much, MUCH better than the aforementioned abomination, is still pretty tough to watch in a serious way, as it's barely passable as unintentional camp fun. I don't even know if that's a compliment or not.

I can honestly say that I wasn't disappointed by this 'film', but I can't decide if it's because my expectations were so low, or because I actually liked the campy feel of it, versus the "Street Fighter" blowup that tried WAY too hard to be serious. Thankfully, there at least appears to be some effort put into this one, as the special effects aren't laughably bad (nor are they good, especially the creature effects *gags*), and the characters are as endearing as they are cheesy.

Justin Chatwin is probably one of my least favorite actors, and I found his Goku to be rather bland with only flashes of the geeky hero he really is. Chatwin plays the role by the book, never letting go of the script pages enough to make the character his own. Emmy Rossum gives the cheesiest performance in the film after Chow Yun Fat (though he was supposed to be like that), and it's kind of stunning considering the wonderful talent this young actress possesses. James Marsters is stereotypically bad as Piccolo, who is so absent from the film that it's kind of sad. I don't blame Marsters for the failure of Piccolo, however, as he is horribly written.

The film features numerous special effects, but doesn't overdo it, as they aren't that great. It wasn't a distraction or anything though, so it doesn't get any points off here. The film also has a very rushed, compact, and empty finale. Another point I want to make is that there weren't really any scenes that stood out to me besides the Goku/Chi Chi scenes (which were actually kind of sad, because Jamie Chung was trying so hard to make them work, and Justin Chatwin just...wasn't).

"Dragonball Evolution" definitely falls into the category I made for the "Twilight" film: so bad, it's almost good. It's decent campy fun that retains a little bit of the spirit of the television show in the transition to modern times (though not enough to make a big impact), and I didn't feel like I wasted my time. However, I'd go ahead and wait for the DVD or catch it online. I'm not upset because I didn't have to pay...Oh the joys of working at a movie theater...

12 Rounds
(2009)

For what it is, it's decently solid.
Yes, I saw this movie. Why? Because it was free. No one expects this to be a groundbreaking action movie that changes the face of the genre. I didn't even expect it to be a decent ripoff. But hey, I had a good time watching this one...it's not going to go down as epic or anything, but it's certainly not the worst product featuring a wrestler in a starring role (Doom, anyone?). This is all well and good, but they should change the title of this film to '12 Rounds of Insanity', because there's no way any of this movie is possible.

That's where the chuckles will begin. The premise of this movie, pretty much 'Saw' crossed with 'Speed', is rather clever - it's the one reason I didn't hate the movie - however, this doesn't change the fact that this is one of the most ridiculous and insane movies of recent memory. I don't mean insane like...cool insane. I mean insane as in that only an insane person could see the events of the film as realistic.

Is Renny Harlin still capable of directing decent action? Sure, as '12 Rounds' doesn't do a bad job supplying some quality stunts and explosions, which, let's face it - is all the audience really wants from this movie. 'Die Hard 2' was a worthy entry in that series (though it may be the most forgettable), but hey, Harlin does pack the movie with enough action and thrills to make it at least somewhat entertaining.

John Cena, as we know, is not an actor...I do not expect him to deliver award worthy work, therefore he does not disappoint. He does have an air of likability about him, but he doesn't have the same level of charisma as most other action stars nowadays. I don't even think he smiles in this movie. Again, is Harlin known for getting great performances? No, so you shouldn't expect anything more. What's kind of sad is that the actors in the movie, the people who actually have that as their first profession, are nothing short of laughable. Ashley Scott in particular was disappointing because of her lack of emotion. Aidan Gillen is a passable villain (though he couldn't have been cheesier if he tried), and is also the character hurt most by the ridiculous events in the script. Brian White as Cena's partner was probably my favorite character and performance in the film.

In short, '12 Rounds' is not a movie that should be taken overly serious. It aims for an audience who expects cool explosions, a fast talking villain, and a ton of action. In that respect, this movie is alright. It's also the first action movie this year that the kids (around 9 or 10 and up) should be okay in, as there's very little language and no sex at all. If you go in with low to modest expectations (or are in the mood for exactly what it promises), '12 Rounds' might just be a decent movie.

Duplicity
(2009)

Quite the thriller that'll make you laugh & think, and will ultimately surprise you
If Tony Gilroy does one thing right in his movies, it would be that he's great at creating complex stories for a sophisticated audience. He doesn't underestimate his audience, but he never hangs them out to dry. Like his previous film, 'Michael Clayton', 'Duplicity' is complex, confusing, full of twists, but won't frustrate the audience because it will have an fulfilling (and in this case, funny) resolution. Carried by the charisma of its leads and the hilarity of its supporters, 'Duplicity' is a winner of a movie.

Its intricacies might've been its downfall, but I thought 'Duplicity' kept me guessing at every turn, and a huge plot twist was more than enough icing on the cake to finish it off. The film is clever, sexy, and witty. Most of the charisma from the film is not just from the script, but from the fine performances from the actors we all expect to give those kind of performances.

I know some people were wondering if Julia Roberts could still carry a film, and I'm kind of shocked that they would question her. Her ability to provide a strong presence on screen is still unmatched by most of her male counterparts, and she's the strongest thing in the movie. It's because of Roberts' strength that the plot twist is better and shocking. Clive Owen is also commendable in his charismatic and cool performance. His character here is like his character in 'The International', and I can't say how...but I'll just say that it's as if the two movies are connected through Owen's performances in both movies, which are like a journey through two separate stories.

Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti...well, I can't really say enough about them. They're two fine actors working the script for everything they can, and they turn in two stellar supporting performances. Their slow motion fight is probably the funniest scene I've seen in months.

'Duplicity' is a movie I really can't describe that well without spoiling, because it's extremely intricate and extremely hard to follow unless you're paying absolute attention. It's a fun version of 'Michael Clayton' at the core. It's a movie that a sophisticated viewer will enjoy, a movie that any fan of sexually explosive heist movies will enjoy, and a movie that any fan of irony will enjoy. I had a great time in this one, mostly because I love great plot twists...and this one certainly has it.

I Love You, Man
(2009)

Very likable and sweet, a great date/group movie.
Though you won't find the name Judd Apatow on this film at all, he certainly has a hand in it, as his influence is all over the film. However, unlike most of the movies that can certainly be grouped with this one, 'I Love You, Man' is a movie almost anyone can enjoy, even women and kids. It's the lightest, warmest, and the best for buddies of either sex to see. It's a delightful comedy that will make you laugh throughout and brighten your day.

Whether it be the great buddy chemistry between the leads, or the simply hysterical supporting cast, I found myself loving this movie. Like director John Hamburg's previous effort, 'Along Came Polly', the movie is incredibly likable because it relies on the awkward humor that Paul Rudd does pretty much perfectly, playing off the happy-go-lucky humor of Jason Segel.

Rudd is likable and reliable as usual in a role showcasing the best of his abilities (I really can't say how happy I am that he's finally getting leading roles), and unlike in 'Role Models', he's the undisputed lead here. Segel is a character in Rudd's story, his life, and his journey to find a friend, and essentially, become a complete person before his life changes for the better. Segel is at his best in a role as what appears to be the perfect friend (I would hang out with this guy for days). Rashida Jones is adorable and likable as Rudd's fiancé, and it's a role that most actresses would've over done (Jaime Pressly's performance should remind people of how it could've been over done), and Jones plays it with an ease that makes her likable.

The supporting cast is what makes the movie great. It's the foundation of characters played by Thomas Lennon, Joe Lo Truglio, Jon Favreau, Jaime Pressly, and Andy Samberg that completes the movie and makes it worth watching (because, let's face it, the movie wouldn't be that great if Rudd and Segel just sat around bro-ing out for 2 hours). Lennon and Truglio are hilarious as candidates for Peter's best man position, and Lennon will bring down the house as Doug, with his classic monologue about how he feels when his advances towards Peter are rejected. Truglio is great in yet another small cameo that stacks up with his previous appearances in 'Pineapple Express' and 'Superbad', as well as the icing on the cake that was 'Role Models' (he's an example of the whole "everyone will like this movie" thing. Jon Favreau is hysterical in his part as a cynical ass that makes you go, "this guy directed 'Iron Man'?".

I think the reason most people will like this one is because it'll put a smile on most people's faces. It's a generally happy movie that is a good movie to see in a group to start off a night, and is even a decent date movie. It's got jokes that even kids can like (though most of the film is obviously not appropriate for them...what I'm saying is if they HAVE to see one of these movies, this is the one for them). I really enjoyed this movie, it left a good taste in my mouth, and my friends loved it too.

The Last House on the Left
(2009)

In this writer's opinion, the best horror remake by far.
As we all know, the horror remake has become a genre in its own way. With each remake, we constantly complain that Hollywood is running out of ideas and is turning to the cheap thrills of half assed remakes to get their buck as quickly as they can. Virtually every major horror film of the 1970's and 1980's has already been remade, or is on its way (hello, Hellraiser and A Nightmare On Elm Street!). While there have been some terrible abominations to their originals, the 2009 version of Wes Craven's "The Last House On the Left" is not even close to those, surpassing the others to become the best horror remake to date. While some may say, "that's like being the best video game movie!", I assure you, this is a thriller that thrills, scares, and knows how to get the audience involved with the film.

As is a movie that isn't all that deep itself, and has a basic premise with no major plot twist, I'll keep this review short. I'm not going to be an idiot and say that this is a movie that has deep, thought provoking characters with oodles of development - it's not that kind of film. Dennis Iliadis knows what he has to work with and uses it to his advantage, shooting a riveting thriller that, while showcasing enough blood to drown a small village, is never overdone. "The Last House On the Left" doesn't delve into the easy escape route of the torture porn/unnecessary sex romp that other remakes have (I'm looking at you, Friday the 13th). It's gruesome and bloody when it needs to be, and this is why the audience can enjoy it.

Another detail I really liked about this one was the extreme attention paid to the suspense. At around 2 hours, this one runs pretty long for a horror film, and most of it is the build up to the climactic showdown in the house of which the title speaks. However, there's enough thrills and suspense in this to keep us interested, even though the actual house doesn't play a role until the second half of the movie. I also liked the script from Carl Ellsworth, who again manages to create an entertaining atmosphere, much like he did in Red Eye and Disturbia. Is the guy going to win any Oscars? No, as most of the dialog in his movies is pretty below average, but the guy knows how to write entertaining movies.

I guess the acting here is acceptable, especially for a horror film (oh how I long for a great actor to be in a horror film again...where did the Sigourney Weaver's of the world go?), but it's nothing to write home about. Monica Potter and Tony Goldwyn are acceptable as parents acting instinctively to protect their daughter, while Sara Paxton is impressive in a role that will not remind anyone that this is the same girl that did "Aquamarine". As for the villains, again, they are passable, but I really think Josh Brolin would've owned Garrett Dillahunt's role, while Aaron Paul's part would've been perfect for a guy like Ben Foster. What's that? Yes I'm aware that those two would probably never sign on to a movie like this, I'm just having a bit of wishful thinking. Dillahunt's character was well written enough to the point where he didn't need to add anything to make him menacing, but there was a lot of potential there.

All in all, this is one of the better horror films of recent memory (better than pretty much any mainstream 2008 horror film, that's for sure), and in my opinion the best remake of them all. It's not cheap, it's well made, and it's got what looks like a lot of effort in it. I really enjoyed it for what it was, and came out pleasantly surprised.

Watchmen
(2009)

Too long and too boring for it's own good.
The first big blockbuster of 2009 is upon us with Zack Snyder's take on 'Watchmen', one of the biggest graphic novels ever. Snyder has made a movie so large, so massive, and so epic that it collapses under its own weight. There is no denying that it is technically brilliant, much like Snyder's previous 2 efforts - in fact, it is probably his most technically marvelous creation yet - but that doesn't change the fact that Snyder's near 3 hour film is too long for its own good, and despite a story that lives up to its reputation, is unbelievably boring.

I was lucky enough to see this movie with a lot of people who read the graphic novel so I got their opinions as well. We all discussed how we felt about it, and they all insisted that I needed to read the novel...that's all well and good, and I'm sure (more like positive) that the novel is indeed legendary, but it appears as if Snyder has pulled a Chris Columbus and made a direct translation from page to screen. What must be understood is that things that work in a novel may not work on a movie screen. You can have two hours of character development in a novel (or the equivalent, I guess), because books are meant to be that long. In a film, you cannot afford to have 2 hours of character development in a movie that runs just under 3 hours. It simply will bore the viewer to bits, especially when the action is few and far between. Don't get me wrong, the characters are all very interesting people that deserve their screen time - but that's what Extended Edition DVDs are for. I have a feeling I'll love this movie on DVD - when I see the full cut and have the ability to pause. In a movie theater setting, however, 'Watchmen' is simply too boring, empty, and heavy to be enjoyed like other comic book movies of late.

What drives 'Watchmen' would be the allure of the characters. While some, like Patrick Wilson's, are simply boring ripoffs, the others, such as Jackie Earle Haley's Rorschach and Billy Crudup's Dr. Manhattan, are phenomenal. Those two are easily the best thing about the movie, while Jeffrey Dean Morgan's take on The Comedian is a close third. Each of these actors gives their character their all, including their heart and soul. Haley's turn as Rorschach could be the performance of a lifetime as the ruthless, immoral, yet somehow good hero with a mask as mysterious as his attitude. No matter how cruel his character may be, it is Haley's convictions that assures us of the true goodness of the character.

I found myself eagerly awaiting almost any scene with Dr. Manhattan, and while women will obviously enjoy him the most (I'll get to that in a minute), I was particularly impressed with Crudup's ability to channel what might be one of the most emotionally detached character's I've ever seen. Crudup's turn is monotone, but never droll or wooden. It is all the more impressive because the only part of Crudup himself that's in the finished product (besides the flashbacks) would be his facial expressions.

While those were the stars of the show, I wish I could say the same for the others. I think Patrick Wilson was confused as to which character he was playing. He played his character as if he was Captain America, instead of trying to carve a niche as a new character. There was nothing I hadn't seen already in this performance. Malin Akerman really needs to stop being like Jessica Alba and being either stupid, wooden, or both. Matthew Goode is the only acceptable one of this bunch.

While 'Watchmen' certainly boasts a number of technical marvels, the film is under-edited and feels extremely episodic as a result. Was this Snyder's intention? Did he want to replicate the feeling that original readers got awaiting the next issue? Whether or not that was his goal, it's something he did, and it really bores the viewer to pieces. I really can't stress how flat out bored I got in this movie. Even the action is so sparse and unexciting that I just really couldn't get invested in the film, because I half expected myself to walk out. Yes, the film's editing is terrible...but it is beautifully shot, and just looks like a dream. 'Watchmen' is one of the most visually pleasing films you'll come across...except one...problem...

Gratuitous nudity. Was it REALLY necessary to show Dr. Manhattan completely naked in 75% of his scenes? I think that one or two scenes of nudity from him would of been enough, once in the sex scene, and once to get across how detached from humanity he is. My friend told me that it was to show how he didn't care about human emotion and embarrassment, so why would he wear clothing? That's FINE when you're reading it...you can skip to the next page. But in this case, you are pulled out of your experience in the film to say, "Holy crap, it's a blue c~ck". It's sad when a simple addition of a cloth could have saved me losing my focus and wondering why it needed to be shown.

Is 'Watchmen' the product of a lot of hard work that shows? Yes. Is 'Watchmen' a good movie? In a word, no. It's crippled by a director's need to please a supposedly rabid fanbase with what appeared to me to be a near direct translation from page to screen. I did like the film's ending and story as a whole, but it is extremely hard to become invested in said ending and story because of the fact that 'Watchmen' is a film purely for those who have read the comic, and is extremely boring and overlong. In my eyes, it is a disappointment.

The Uninvited
(2009)

The twist makes it all worth it
2009 has already seen a great supply of horror films, with The Unborn and My Bloody Valentine headlining the bunch. Enter 'The Uninvited', an original thriller with some mildly scary moments that is not a horrible way to spend 2 hours. The film borrows from a few other films while forging a decent identity of its own, thus making it somewhat memorable and by no means terrible.

The film deals with a girl (the beautiful Emily Browning) who is released from a psychiatric facility months after being involved in a terrible tragedy. When she returns to find her father (David Strathairn) in the arms of a new woman (Elizabeth Banks), she begins to doubt her family, her life, but never her sanity as she looks to find something against her future step mother.

The biggest allure of this film is that it has a massive plot twist in the end that really excuses the film from the somewhat weird performance of Elizabeth Banks. The film is a great psychological exercise, and the twist really makes her performance much better once you understand why her character was so weirdly over the top at moments. I felt Browning did an excellent job of making us side with her character, while making her just mysterious enough to doubt her. It really kept me on my toes. David Strathairn is going through the motions in a role that almost any decent actor could play. His only job in the film is to pretend to be in love with Elizabeth Banks, and we all know how hard that is.

Really, there isn't too much going on here with 'The Uninvited'. It does nothing new, but a lot of things right. Hell, the twist will remind you of a couple of other thrillers that seem supernatural, as the film is. I did enjoy the film's score a lot, and I appreciated that the film didn't take the general cliché route. In the modern (slightly) horror/thriller, it becomes all to easy to just borrow way too much from other films, become the 'Eagle Eye' of the genre, and become laughable in the end. Fortunately, in my theater of about 25 people, the film got just one mild and feeble laugh, and a lot more yelps of surprise.

In the end, 'The Uninvited' is worth a look if you have some time on your hands, and is the exception, not the rule, to the long standing beliefs about films released in January. I should also mention that every main character is very easy on the eyes, especially Browning, who is simply stunning in every scene. Yes, even the one where she...well, you should see it to find out for yourself.

Taken
(2008)

Original, thrilling, and totally badass thanks to Liam Neeson
In a world of James Bonds, Jason Bournes, and Frank Martins, it's hard for a little random ex-spy named Brian Mills to get some love. On the surface, his film seems a little formulaic, and he seems a little...well...old. However, once we get into Mills's story, and see how infinitely badass the wonderful Liam Neeson plays him, you'll probably be saying something along the lines of "James who?". 'Taken', which follows Mills as he pursues those responsible for kidnapping his daughter, is a heart pounding thriller with a stupendous display of badassery from Liam Neeson. It may have a plot that's sort of unbelievable, but it's one of the best action thrillers in years.

Why do critics dislike this movie? Is it because they have no ability to see beyond the obviously far-fetched events of the movie? Is it because they take themselves too seriously and don't know how to have fun? It's probably both of those two reasons, but I find peace in thinking that they're complete idiots who don't know what they're talking about...sometimes. The fact remains that 'Taken' is plain fun, popcorn entertainment, that doesn't resort to cheap explosions in looking for thrills. It relies on the gritty closeups of the marvelous hand to hand combat and stylistic action (Liam Neeson's 'Batman Begins' training certainly paid off here).

The film is the brainchild of Luc Besson, the mind behind the Transporter films. Here, he relies on a director that may be inexperienced as a director, but one who also has more experience in shooting action on film than most. Pierre Morel, responsible for the photography in action films such as 'War', 'Unleashed', and of course, 'The Transporter', does a great job in choreographing some very good action sequences, especially giving them some flavor when they end. The film was not just pure action, which was good, as it also showed Neeson's character working as a spy and shows some intelligence in that aspect.

Speaking of Neeson, it appears that his days as the kind hearted mentor figure in films such as 'Narnia' and 'Star Wars' are behind him. His ruthless, badass, and perfectly natural performance makes the movie watchable and carries it from start to finish (which isn't too long, as the film clocks in at one hour and 45 minutes including previews). Neeson is a veteran, and it really shows. His performance goes deep, and will excite the viewer in all ways. Maggie Grace was also noteworthy as his daughter (it was tough to recognize her without her blonde hair!).

This is probably the best example I've seen in awhile of how stupid and self-righteous most film critics can be. They fault 'Taken' for having events occur that aren't entirely realistic. Do they recognize the film for being a great roller coaster ride that will leave most viewers happy (pretty much my entire theater of 150 people seemed happy)? No. It's further proof that Liam Neeson is one of the best leading men around, and that these critics really need to catch up with the times.

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans
(2009)

You know, I really enjoyed it. Michael Sheen is superb in a film where great performances normally don't happen.
Very rarely do prequels match up with their predecessors. As I'm not the biggest Underworld fan, I can honestly say that I wasn't expecting much. However, I should've expected more, as the latest, yet earliest installment is easily my favorite in the series. It ain't art, but it's the shining example of why we go to the movies: to escape into a world of mythology, fantasy, and crazy vampire/werewolf action.

For the first time in the series, the filmmakers have decided to leave out the rock that probably was the reason the films have been successful: Kate Beckinsale. I'm guessing this was a production risk/choice, but it seems to have paid off. Selene's absence from the story is necessary to tell the story of how the Lycans rose to power, how Viktor was driven insane (though we pretty much already know how), and, as off topic as it may be, how simply awesome Michael Sheen is.

Very rarely do the actors make an action movie good. Most action movies rely on explosions and (surprise!) action to enhance the quality and generally feature run of the mill copycat characters. Sheen's Lucian and Bill Nighy's Viktor will always stand out in the realm of action/fantasy characters to me, and it's easy to see why. Sheen's turn as Lucian is fierce, determined, and one of my favorite performances in an action movie I've seen in years. Despite playing a (mostly) villainous role in the first film, Lucian is the hero of this film, and it totally gives you a new spin on things. Sheen's brave and dedicated performance really makes the character work, while Bill Nighy is once again effectively creepy as Viktor. Rhona Mitra's presence as Sonja is welcome, though she doesn't carry the same charisma that Beckinsale does, making her an ill advised choice to be Selene's replacement (as she so obviously is).

The action in Underworld, though obviously restrained by a lower budget, is once again great. There's some nice dueling, the obvious gore and blood galore, and a nice Lord of the Rings style battle at the end. What it comes down to is that Underworld does nothing new, but does everything right in maintaining a steady river of entertainment. I was never bored, and I don't think you will be either.

The film does answer a lot of questions and provides some nice insight to the Lycans (which were my favorite parts about the first two films), though it suffers from the same fate as most prequels do...even a casual viewer of this series knows which characters will live, which will die, and how it will end. The film isn't really about the resolution, but rather the journey to the end. In fact, it's made in such a way that you can certainly watch the trilogy in chronological order.

When it comes down to it, I liked 'Lycans' a lot. It's a worthy installment in the series, and certainly not a disappointment to me. It's got good action, a wonderful lead performance from Michael Sheen, and should satisfy fans of the series and fans of mythological stories altogether.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
(2008)

Fincher's Magical Masterpiece
Possibly the most anticipated winter film of 2008, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a curious film indeed. It's got an intriguing and completely absorbing story, as well as my favorite director, David Fincher, on the top of his game. With "Button", Fincher cements his place as one of the best directors alive, as his film is nothing short of magical, mesmerizing, riveting, ground breaking, and ultimately, timeless.

When I first heard about this movie, I had to wonder...how was Fincher, the guy responsible for realistic, gripping, crime thrillers like Seven and Zodiac going to pull off the fantasy film of a lifetime? Armed with a massive budget, Fincher uses everything a director can use to craft the most charming and technically brilliant film of the year. It's a film to be cherished for ages.

"Button" has struck me like this because a recurring theme in the film is that age is only a number, and that we as people can choose what we do with our lives, no matter what our age is. What better way to tell this message than through a story where the titular character ages backwards, and must experience life in such a way? How does one fall in love when he could one day appear young enough to be his spouse's child? How does a 5 year old play with the neighborhood children when he's confined to a wheelchair stricken with old age? Fincher's epic explores our choices, lives, and the timelessness of life itself.

Brad Pitt plays the title role of Benjamin Button with a certain air of likability like he always does. While I felt he did a good job with the part, he didn't have to do much...Benjamin, fittingly, is a rather quiet character (I'd be willing to bet he narrates more than he actually talks in the film). In terms of acting, the film belongs to the ladies, Cate Blanchett and Taraji P. Henson in particular. Though Blanchett may seem overrated to some, there's no denying her unrivaled talent at playing a character as complex and deep as Daisy, and she pulls it off with ease and charisma. Taraji P. Henson will warm your heart as Benjamin's mother, as she's humorous, warm, and loving, so loving that I felt as if she was my mother.

The main complexity behind the film, especially with a director like David Fincher, is keeping the film grounded in reality, while maintaining the undeniable magic within. As a director, you don't want to lose too much of either quality, instead keeping a healthy balance of the two. I feel that Fincher accomplished this perfectly. He is mainly helped out by a magical score, and absolutely stunning cinematography (which immediately identified it as a Fincher film, because of the darkness and lighting of it).

Despite the wonder and awe of the film, mixed with the realism that Fincher always brings, the true allure of the film is not just Benjamin's aging problem, but the romance between Benjamin and Daisy, which is beautiful. Two people in love, regardless of age, time, or place. It's one of the most compelling romances of the year.

"Button" is also the most technically well made movie of 2008, as the true standouts are the Visual Effects and the Makeup, both of which are Oscar worthy. Pitt plays the character at almost every age, but it's almost impossible to tell when the CGI is being used on him. You know it's there, obviously, but you can't tell it's being used. When the transition is just smooth enough for the Visual Effects to be retired, but just rough enough to use makeup, it's absolutely perfect. If you've ever wanted to see Brad Pitt look 20 again, look no further, as the effects that make our actors young again (the same goes for Blanchett) are just as stunning as those that make them older.

Despite a long runtime, the film never drags. If I had to point out one thing I would've liked to have seen a little more of, it would've been more of Benjamin as a little kid, as I felt that was rushed (for those who don't know what I mean, I mean the last parts of the film when he's old, but his body is young). This doesn't hurt the film in any way, as it's just my wishful thinking.

I know I've used the word 'magical' a lot in this review, and don't think it's on accident. If I could pick one word to describe David Fincher's masterpiece, that would be it: magical. "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" is a captivating piece of art that shouldn't be missed by anyone.

Milk
(2008)

God is Sean Penn amazing or what?!
I really don't know where to begin with Gus Van Sant's "Milk". It's a bold move on Van Sant's part to film a story where some people know the ending already, and it's even bolder to TELL everyone said ending in the opening scene of the film. However, this is a move that works out well in Van Sant's favor, as I believe the purpose of the film was not to tell a heartbreaking story, but an inspirational story of a man fighting for a cause, a story that is easily related, no matter what cause that man could be fighting for. It also helps that Van Sant's lead is nothing short of fantabulous in the title role.

What I like most about "Milk" is that, unlike most biopics, the film doesn't just tell us the story of Harvey Milk. It tells us the story of how his life changed a city, a country, and attitudes across the planet. It expands better than other biopics like "Walk the Line" and "Capote", and thus it stands alone as a good film. Van Sant's creative and flamboyant direction pits us in the fun times of the 1970's in San Francisco, and when we meet the simply delightful Harvey Milk, we don't ever want to leave his side.

We don't ever want to leave his side because Sean Penn plays Mr. Milk with such charisma and such realism that the resemblance between Penn and the real Milk is simply uncanny. His simple mannerisms and bubbly vocal choices make his Harvey Milk one of the best performances of the year. I especially enjoyed how Penn completely disappeared into the role, as I've never seen him act this way before. He ditches his usual over-the-top screaming to develop his character through peace, words, and smiles. And what a wonderful choice he has made. I would say that the credit can go to Gus Van Sant as well, but because the supporting cast is nowhere near as stellar as Penn, I'm going to give all the credit to Penn's excellence as an actor.

The aforementioned supporters are, again, nowhere near the level that Penn is. Josh Brolin's two-faced portrayal of Dan White is remarkable, and probably the next best performance in the film. Though I prefer his turn in "W." more than this one, there's no denying that Brolin is quickly becoming an A-lister, taking numerous and diverse roles which allow him to show a lot of range. James Franco and Emile Hirsch play their roles well, with Hirsch doing a little more for me than Franco. I found Diego Luna to be rather annoying, though I think that was the point.

"Milk" is an inspirational story that does the job of fighting for a cause. However, Van Sant is not preaching gay rights here. He's preaching freedom for everyone, paralleling what the real Milk did in his life. His film is beautifully shot and scored, and the makeup job done on Penn is wonderful (he seriously looks about 10 years younger).

However, while all of this is great, I found that the film, itself, was just 'good' in terms of an engaging story, while Penn himself was excellent. The film's biggest strength is its biggest flaw: Penn overshadows everything and everyone in the film. Though Penn's performance should go down as one of the all time greats, the film is somewhat forgettable. By forgettable, I mean I didn't think about the film again until about 3 days after I saw it. I really don't know what it was, but "Milk", despite being technically wonderful and well made, just didn't have a lasting impression, and feels a bit outdated, mostly because there hasn't been a ton of progress in gay rights since Milk's activism, and it's even more sad because of the recent passage of Proposition 8.

"Milk" is a movie that looks like a bar graph. Every bar, representing a different aspect of the film, is up at a "B" level. However, there's one single bar, right in the middle, that shoots all the way up to "A+". That's the bar that represents Sean Penn. The rest of the film can't keep up with him, and this is what hurts the movie the most. Van Sant's direction is great, but is it, as well as the film itself, Oscar worthy? In this viewer's opinion, no.

Nothing Like the Holidays
(2008)

A good family holiday movie for everyone.
It's a shame that most people probably will skip this film - because it's a good holiday film with a good message behind it. While you have films like Four Christmases out that are the same romcom you've seen 38 times in holiday format, Nothing Like The Holidays brings the audience together as one for a good family experience.

NLTH boasts a great ensemble cast that really makes things work well, as each character is unique and genuinely interesting. I especially enjoyed the work from Freddy Rodriguez and Alfred Molina. Elizabeth Pena provides a great balance of comedy and drama as the matriarch of the family. Her role looked like a great role to play for any actress, as she got to be funny, as well as at the dramatic center of the movie. Debra Messing was also noteworthy and great.

NLTH is a holiday movie (really, Spy, I had no idea), so it plays out as such. However, this is okay, because the script is original and tugs at you emotionally, always reminding the viewer of the importance of a strong family bond. There's a nice little twist in the end that pretty much explains everything that's gone on and ends the movie nicely, happily, and joyfully. You'll no doubt leave the theater a little more cheerful once you see this film.

During the holiday season, Nothing Like The Holidays is a great movie to watch with your family, as you'll see some stuff you can relate to, and some stuff you can laugh at. It's a fun time for everyone, and the first truly original holiday movie to come around in the last few years. Kudos to everyone involved.

Four Christmases
(2008)

What did you expect?
Vince Vaughn really needs to stop doing holiday movies. Why would anyone want to see the cynical and sarcastic comic do a Christmas movie? Considering this is his second one in as many years, someone has it in their head that holding Vaughn back in a wasted opportunity of a comedy like this is the way to go. Four Christmases does nothing to showcase the talent of both of the leads, as well as the high profile supporting cast.

I found that the most annoying thing about the movie was the laziness behind it. It's a good idea for a movie, no doubt - there are many families and people that experience this exact same thing every Christmas...but how an idea so original can play out so unoriginally is beyond me. It's your typical romantic comedy that ends happily - and therein lies a problem. Our characters don't really change much from the beginning, and I was literally laughing at how cliché it was.

Vaughn and Witherspoon...well to me, it felt as if almost any actor and actress could've played the parts they played, and these were the two that the studio wanted. They certainly play off each other well - the film is no doubt funny in some parts, especially those featuring Jon Favreau, who remains awesome no matter what he does. It was nice seeing Robert Duvall in a bit of a light hearted role again as well, and Sissy Spacek was great.

I'll finish my Four Christmases review in Four Paragraphs - it's a cheap, lame, formulaic, yet oddly funny comedy that will give you what you expect. It's not groundbreaking by any means, but if you want a light hearted holiday experience, Four Christmases might be what you're looking for.

Doubt
(2008)

Heavy, thought provoking, yet ultimately unsatisfying and almost boring despite the best acting of the year.
I had my doubts about this film, no pun intended. The film is pretty much nothing but dialog and based on a play (which outside of a select few, often fails), so my expectations were lowered, but one look at the superb cast makes one's expectations rise...so I didn't, and still don't know, what to make of the film.

The acting is nothing short of tremendous - as expected - however, this does not make a film great...It makes a film good. Which is what I've decided "Doubt" is. It has a story that, despite being set in the 1960's, feels extremely relevant and will test the nerve of a viewer. "Doubt" is not one for the viewer who doesn't like to think in the theater - it is certainly the thinking man's drama - not thriller.

The film is, as I've already said, almost entirely dialog. For this to work, a director must be given a good script, and since said director not only wrote the screenplay, but also the play itself, he's the perfect man for the job. The dialog is quick, fast, and electrifying. John Shanley's work has transferred beautifully in this sense - in others, not so much. I never got to see the stage play, but I can certainly see the theatricality of the play running through the veins of the film. The sets are simple, yet elegant, and all of our main characters besides Father Flynn wear the same costume throughout the film, a practice often seen in a play. The best thing that's happened in the transition is the beautiful cinematography from Roger Deakins.

Another thing I noticed was that each performance looked more like a stage performance than a film performance, though this is not necessarily a bad thing. All of our performers are loud, use projection, and use their voices over their faces to express emotion - all of these are qualities of great stage actors. The only exception to this 'rule' would be Viola Davis's character who actually does the reverse - using the face over the voice.

"Doubt" is a film that requires thought and will test the morals and views of each viewer who comes across it. It certainly does the job in this department. You'll find a sort of 'inner-conflict' within yourself during the film, asking yourself "which character do I believe?" and "which character do I support". Surprisingly, because of the tremendous characters and performances, the answer to both of those questions may not be the same.

Let's start off with the always towering and intimidating Meryl Streep, who maybe brought a bit too much theatricality to her performance. Don't get me wrong, Streep's show is dynamite and spectacular. There's no one in the business that can deliver a tough tongue lashing like her. I just found that her character seemed too larger than life within the setting of a film and really should've been taken down a notch or two by the director.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is on some kind of streak of a lifetime recently, isn't he? Hoffman has a pair of Oscar nominations within the last few years, and it'll be a crying shame if he doesn't get a third one for his wonderful portrayal of Father Flynn. He is likely the character that the audience will identify with, because of the warmth of his performance. This is something Hoffman and Shanley know, and they use it to their advantage for great dramatic affect in the climactic showdown between Hoffman and Streep.

On that note, I must say that the aforementioned scene is probably the most well-acted scene of 2008. I was on the edge of my seat, and in awe of two of acting's greatest titans going at each other like that.

Though her profile may not be as high, the delightful Amy Adams's talent pool is just as deep as her co-stars. I mentioned that each viewer will likely side with one of the 3 main characters, and I sided with Adams's Sister James. Her instant likability sets the stage for some great moments between her and her more famous co-stars. Ms. Adams has continued to impress me with every film role she's had for the past 3 or 4 years, and I would like to see a second Oscar nomination for her work in this film.

Viola Davis has, perhaps, received the most praise for her brief turn as the mother of the child at the center of the film's controversial subject matter, while I think the praise she has received is due (she's nothing short of heartbreaking), she simply does not have the screen time to affect the viewer in the way that Hoffman and Adams do. Her turn is simply stunning, yet too brief to leave too much of a lasting impression.

"Doubt" is a film that is extremely hard to discuss, and I'm surprised I've gotten this far into it. It's the thinking man's drama, and is certainly not for the faint of heart. Meryl Streep is larger than life, while Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams further pad their resumes with wonderful performances for their futures, however it doesn't mean the film is exactly perfect. The transition from stage to screen is difficult, strenuous, and borderline boring if you can't get into it within the first 30 minutes. The ending, that leaves the viewer wanting MUCH more, made me feel a bit unsatisfied.

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