Monthly Archives: February 2010

Review: The Yellow Handkerchief

The Yellow Handkerchief. Who came up with that? There is nothing stimulating about that title. Forgiveness could be granted if this so-called yellow handkerchief had a defining moment in the film, but no. In fact, the yellow handkerchief’s 15 seconds of fame could have been easily replaced by something much bolder. Perhaps hoisting a yellow sail on a small boat? Just like the unnecessary inclusion of the yellow hanky, director Udayan Prasad makes the film tiresome by searching for meaning in vague places when the film works best in its simplicity.

After spending six years in jail, Brett Hanson (William Hurt) returns to civilization. With no one to greet him at the prison gates, he drifts along and into a quaint town for no other reason but to enjoy the long lost taste of an ice-cold beer. In an effort to escape her own troubles, Martine (Kristen Stewart) takes an opportunity to hitch a ride with a complete stranger, a rather slow young guy named Gordy (Eddie Redmayne). The trio of strangers randomly decide to venture off on a scenic tour of post-Katrina Louisiana heading straight for New Orleans.

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Review: Harlan – In The Shadow of Jew Süss

Many are well aware of Veit Harlan and the incredible effect films like Jew Süss had on the Third Reich. The infamous German propagandist’s films were mandatory viewing for S.S. troops during World War II, and even today much of his work is banned throughout the world. Harlan is long gone but he’s left behind far more than his notorious reputation; a vast bloodline remains. It’s one thing to point a finger at an evil historical figure, but the situation becomes relatable when examined by his relatives in Harlan: In The Shadow of Jew Suss, an interesting but only partially satisfying documentary about the filmmaker’s legacy.

The biggest film of Harlan’s career, Jew Süss was a monumental box office hit within the Third Reich and Harlan was presented the 1943 Universum Film Archiv award. But his fortunes changed drastically after the war ended and Harlan was charged with crimes against humanity for having supported the Nazi regime through his work. He was acquitted but was forever plagued by the effects of Jew Süss. Harlan passed away in 1964, but he left his surviving family members with the burden of his actions. Some have changed their names, a few keep the connection to Harlan to themselves and others attempt to justify his actions.

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Review: The Crazies

If any horror movie deserves a reboot, it’s George A. Romero’s The Crazies. The premise is still intriguing, but the execution is dated leaving room for improvement. Nowadays, this type of improvement comes in the form of ultra bloody horror reboots that desperately try to one up each other by having the most brutal kill scenes. Rather than rely on sheer gore, The Crazies mixes charming characters, suspense and disturbing behavior to provide a well-crafted and downright horrifying experience.

Everything seems normal in the quaint town of Ogden Marsh. Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) and his deputy Russell (Joe Anderson) are busy maintaining order, while David’s wife, Judy (Radha Mitchell), and her assistant, Becca (Danielle Panabaker), are keeping everyone healthy at the local medical center. But that all changes when the townsfolk start to go crazy, literally. Those who were once friends and neighbors transform into violent bloody versions of their former selves with one goal in mind: kill.

Before they can attempt to escape the madness, the military infiltrates the town herding everyone into a restricted zone for sorting. The infected are funneled into the local high school while those who retain their sanity are bussed elsewhere. After the operation breaks down, David, Judy, Russell and Becca find themselves trapped in the town they once loved, being hunted by the army and terrorized by the crazies.

This is the horror movie we’ve all been waiting for. As opposed to the most recent slasher releases, The Crazies doesn’t rely on an overdose of blood and guts to give you a good scare. In fact, director Breck Eisner gracefully conceals what could have been extremely gory moments in favor of leaving the imagery to the imagination, ultimately making them far more frightening. Eisner also does away with the excess of cheap scares. The film’s most terrifying moments are the ones that are the culmination of a marinating process. The scene is set, the characters are positioned and then the threat slowly creeps into the room leaving the viewer more than enough time to recognize and feel the sheer horror of the situation.

The Crazies isn’t a slasher flick, but it isn’t really a zombie movie either. Yes, there’s a herd of humans-turned-monsters, but unlike zombies, the crazies retain some of their personality. They’re not members of a massive mob with the sole goal of devouring flesh; they’re extremely enraged versions of their former selves and have very particular methods of killing. Paradoxically, the film’s human evil entity, the army, does take on the form of a soulless mass. Whether the troops are armed to the tee or sporting chemical protection suits, their faces are covered by gas masks completely dehumanizing them.

These two deadly enemies couldn’t be nearly as dreadful if those they are terrorizing aren’t genuinely petrified. David, Judy, Russell and Becca create the perfect combination of lone survivors to take viewers through the film. Olyphant makes a strong lead and emits a sense of comfort in the midst of the insanity. He’s further softened by his clear devotion to his wife, Judy. Rather than resort to excessive screaming to express horror, Mitchell decides to do so by simply delivering a proper performance. A fantastic but modest dose of comedic relief comes from Anderson as Russell. He’s there to deliver the standard sidekick one liners, but gets occasional and perfectly timed moments to shine. The most helpless of the bunch is Becca, and Panabaker’s performance will rip your heart out. She’s a teenager being forced to witness the extermination of her friends and family, the effect of which is visible through her cowardly tendencies.

There are just two elements of The Crazies that aren’t quite convincing. First, David is a tad too smart. He’s the hero and his potential to save the day must exist, but he puts the pieces together far too quickly. Secondly, minus bloody noses and enlarged veins, a particular trio of crazies doesn’t really seem too crazy. We’re introduced to a band of hunters pre-infection and reunite with them twice post-meltdown. Most of the crazies benefit from a hint of personality, but these three have too much and come across as human psychopaths rather than virally insane.

However, thanks to excellent execution, these faults are easily overlooked. Eisner has created a perfectly paced creepy movie with the power to scare the crap out of you, but permits you to retain your senses. Then, you’re able to digest what just happened and recognize the sheer insanity of the situation making it exponentially more horrifying. Lastly, and most importantly, The Crazies is a terrifying blast. If you’re looking for a good scare, The Crazies delivers big time and, as an added bonus, has a degree of sensibility and depth making it so much more than an average horror movie.

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Oscars 2010: Forget Who Should Win, This Is Who I Want To Win

Even if a film is the clear favorite in the eyes of the Academy, it doesn’t mean that you want it to take home the Oscar. The Academy Awards Ceremony is about honoring films that achieved a high degree of excellence, but excellence doesn’t always represent the film’s entertainment value. If the Academy awarded the statue to the film that’s most likely to be watched over and over again, the screenplay that has the most memorable one-liners or simply to the most inspiring underdog, it might look something like this:

Best Picture: Inglourious Basterds

Not only is this my favorite film of the year, every time I watch it, it gets better. Everything about this film is spectacular. I’ve had endless arguments with myself about my favorite scene. Yes, I had an argument with myself.

I’ll Be Pissed If This Wins: The Blind Side

This is a lovely feel-good movie, but an Oscar contender? I’m angry enough The Blind Side nabbed a nomination; if it steals a win from a more deserving film (like any of the other nine nominees), I’ll never forgive Sandra Bullock. (Sorry Sandy, I know it’s not your fault, but the blame inherently falls on you.)

Actor in a Leading Role: Jeremy Renner

Perhaps my support for Renner stems from the fact that he’s the clear underdog, but anyone who has seen The Hurt Locker knows he puts on a stellar performance.

I’ll Be Pissed If He Wins: George Clooney

He’s good, but he’s still the actor George Clooney. Clooney passes as Ryan Bingham in Up In The Air not because of the power of performance, but because the film, as a whole, is fantastic.

Actor in a Supporting Role: Christoph Waltz

Screw the underdog here. Waltz has nabbed every award out there for his performance in Inglourious Basterds and deserves to top off his successful run with the Oscar.

I’ll Be Pissed If He Wins: Stanley Tucci

Sorry Mr. Tucci, but I can’t forgive Peter Jackson for destroying one of my favorite books, The Lovely Bones. Tucci works with what he’s given, but is incapable of putting on an award-winning performance because a shoddy screenplay makes it impossible.

Actress in a Leading Role: Gabourey Sidibe

This award better go to one of the young’ins in the running. I’d be thrilled to see either Sidibe or Carey Mulligan nab the award, but I’d prefer to see Sidibe make her first feature film performance an Oscar-winning one. Some say Sidibe wasn’t acting in Precious. Did these individuals not see the film? What about Sidibe’s numerous appearances on talk shows? This girl is the polar opposite of her character. She’s cheery, hilarious, humble and totally deserving of this honor.

I’ll Be Pissed If She Wins: Sandra Bullock

I could keep it simple and tell you to refer back to the Best Film section, but I can rant about The Blind Side issue all day. Sandra Bullock for Best Actress? What the @#$%? Not only is the film not worthy of an Oscar nomination, but neither is Bullock’s performance. On top of that, her spot should have gone to Avatar’s Zoe Salanda.

Actress in a Supporting Role: Mo’Nique

Both the supporting actor and actress categories are no contest. Mo’Nique’s performance as Mary in Precious is downright chilling. Come to think of it, she’s more of a villain than Waltz’s Hans Landa.

I’ll Be Pissed If She Wins: Penelope Cruz

How is Nine eligible to win anything? This film is terrible. Cruz’s performance isn’t even particularly notable. If anyone from Nine got a nomination, it should have been Marion Cotillard.

Animated Feature Film: Fantastic Mr. Fox

Call me crazy but I didn’t enjoy Up nearly as much as the majority of moviegoers. Call me heartless, but not once did I get the urge to shed a tear. Fantastic Mr. Fox, on the other hand, was an absorbing and immensely enjoyable experience. Everything from the voice work to the animation is brilliant.

I’ll Be Pissed If This Wins: Coraline

This movie just rubbed me the wrong way. It doesn’t know what it should be, a children’s film or a horror film, and gets lost in the mix.

Directing: James Cameron

Avatar wasn’t my favorite film of the year, but it did make it to number three on my list. I’m going with Cameron not because he excels in comparison to his competition, but because he deserves it. He spent fifteen years developing the project, pumped in about $300 million and delivered big time. You don’t make the top grossing film of all time and not get an Oscar for it.

I’ll Be Pissed If He/She Wins: Nothing.

I have a preference for whom I’d like to see win, but every individual is deserving of their nomination and I’ll be glad to see anyone take home the statue.

Writing (Original Screenplay): Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino is a damn genius. You know how there are always particular portions of a film you look forward to? Well, I’m thrilled about every second of this one. Everything is perfectly timed and presented with each word in the screenplay serving a purpose.

I’ll Be Pissed If This Wins: Anything But Basterds

I refuse to budge on this category. Inglourious Basterds must win or I will not be happy.

Writing (Adapted Screenplay): Up in the Air

This is a tough one. Precious is an excellent book-to-film adaption, but the manner in which Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner manipulated Walter Kirn’s novel is especially impressive. Up in the Air the film is far different from the book, yet respects the original elements necessary to maintain the story’s sense of heart and effectively expresses it on screen.

I’ll Be Pissed If This Wins: In the Loop Continue reading


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Red Carpet Coverage: Cop Out

Monday night I had the pleasure of covering the red carpet for Cop Out on behalf of MTV. Check out all of my video work included in these articles:

1. Cop Out Cast Say Working With Bruce Willis Is ‘Awesome’

As if anyone needs confirmation that working with Hollywood legend Bruce Willis is awesome, his Cop Out co-stars are spreading the word. And having the chance to work with him on the Kevin Smith-directed flick, which opens this weekend, was a dream come true.

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2. Tracy Morgan ‘Would Love’ To Remake Jaws, Doesn’t Want To Jinx Knoxville Comedy

Producers of the upcoming vicious fishies flick, Piranha 3-D, are positioning their film to become Jaws for the 21st Century. If an unsourced rumor floated on the Internet earlier this month is to be believed, the studio behind 1975′s Jaws is determined to have their shark-infested-waters classic remade to become the Jaws for the 21st Century, possibly with Tracy Morgan in the lead role.

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3. Cheer Up, Bruce Willis!

We are a little worried about Cop Out star Bruce Willis. In the last few days we’ve noticed that he seems to be a little down about something. MTV News has had the opportunity to meet up with Willis several times recently, as he’s been promoting his new Kevin Smith-directed buddy comedy, Cop Out. And with each interview it becomes clearer that Bruce seems to be going through some existential crisis.

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Interview: The Crazies Director Breck Eisner (Pre-Screening)

Thanks to a handful of sloppy remakes, the concept of a horror reboot has gotten a bad rap. Will Breck Eisner’s attempt at modernizing George A. Romero’s The Crazies be any different? Until I get a peak, it’s impossible to know for sure, but based on my chat with Eisner, it certainly has potential.

In the original film, a top-secret biological weapon is accidently released and contaminates the water supply of Evans City, Pennsylvania. We watch the action unfold and the townsfolk go mad from two points of view: a group of survivors trying to outrun the virus and the military desperately working to contain it. In Eisner’s version, the premise remains the same, but the focus shifts to another quaint town, Ogden Marsh. Eisner also opts to change the points of view. Rather than depict the catastrophe from two ends of the spectrum, he’s keeping the focus on the few townsfolk who retain their sanity played by Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson and Danielle Panabaker.

It may not sound like much, but this will ultimately make his version of The Crazies far different from its predecessor. Will this be the key to making it a successful reboot? My hopes are high, but we’ll find out for sure when The Crazies hits theaters on February 26th. For now, check out what Eisner told me about making the film his own while still having it honor the source material.

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Interview: The Crazies’ Danielle Panabaker

Danielle Panabaker oddly enjoys being terrorized for a living. Just last year we watched as Jason Voorhees tormented her and a group of unsuspecting teens in Friday the 13th and now she’ll have to outrun a terrible virus with the power to turn you into a psychopathic killer in The Crazies. The film is a remake of the 1973 George A. Romero original during which a top-secret government virus called Trixie accidently infects the water supply of Evans City, Pennsylvania. Breck Eisner’s reboot moves the action to a town called Ogden Marsh, where average citizens like Becca Darling (Panabaker) are subject to the horror of not knowing who maintains their sanity and who has been transformed into a murderous monster.

Check out what Panabaker told me working on The Crazies, her relationship with her sister Kay and plans to continue her horror career with John Carpenter’s The Ward.

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Review: Shutter Island

Handling a major plot twist is no easy task. Letting it go unnoticed is not fun for the audience, but slipping and providing a hint so substantial will make the investigation work too easy. Shutter Island runs into trouble with both, but particularly the latter. Dennis Lehane’s novel is so effective because it requires the reader to use the mind and develop his or her own perception. Martin Scorsese’s film, on the other hand, blatantly lays out all of the details and attempts to throw you off track with elements that feel misplaced.

Two ‘duly appointed Federal Marshals’ (in DiCaprio’s Boston accent, of course) are assigned to investigate a missing persons case. But this is no ordinary missing person. Rachel Solando is a patient at Ashecliffe Hospital on Shutter Island, a facility for the insanely dangerous. From the moment they step foot on the island Marshal Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) and his new partner Chuck Aule (Ruffalo) get a taste of the amalgamation of warmth, eeriness and violence Ashecliffe has to offer.

Employees like Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) and Deputy Warden McPherson (John Carroll Lynch) are eager to help with the investigation, but it’s clear their keenness has its limits. As the investigation continues an intense storm bears down on the island and Teddy begins to uncover the hospital’s darker side, which he suspects involves immoral medical experiments. Additionally, Teddy’s own demons come to the forefront in the form of debilitating migraines and sinister dreams of his late wife. The further he digs, the clearer it becomes that something is amiss at Ashcliffe and he’s about to be consumed by it.

Shutter Island is reliant on its eeriness as is Ashcliffe Hospital. From the moment the film begins, a bold score provides a backbone for a series of grayscale images and a terribly troubled looking DiCaprio. Those colorless moments are contradicted by more vibrant shots of the facility grounds. The beautiful courtyard is peppered with disturbed patients demonstrating their lunacy, offering a successfully troublesome paradox.

The uneasiness breaks down as the job of creating apprehension is passed on to the hospital staff. Rather than offer subtle hints that something isn’t quite right, Dr. Cawley and his team provide an overdose making the audience’s game of playing detective nearly effortless. The twist isn’t given away completely, but viewers are put on the right track much too early taking the suspense out of the latter portion of the film.

Occasionally Teddy’s dream sequences help break up the monotony of him and Chuck lurking around the hospital premises. This is where the cinematography is at its height. Director of Photography Robert Richardson is on point the entire film, but it’s during Teddy’s fantasies that the imagery becomes the key to making the occurrence so powerful. These dreams are very strange and somewhat hard to digest. This is appropriate considering the nature of the material, but Scorsese takes it a step too far showing a few overly graphic scenes involving children. Rather than purport the intended effect illuminating the drastic plight of the characters, its high degree of aversion removes the viewer from the moment.

That’s the film’s sole disconnect. Even with the lack of tension, Shutter Island is still engaging, which is largely due to stellar performances. First and foremost, DiCaprio is the heart of this film. For any sane individual the happenings on Shutter Island are nearly impossible to understand, but DiCaprio’s ability to effectively portray every asset of Teddy’s disturbed mind makes it seem impossibly real. The rest of the cast does a fine job, but the two that stand out are Emily Mortimer and Jackie Earl Haley both of whom are responsible for the film’s most memorable and threatening moments. The sole character that doesn’t have a lasting effect is Chuck. This is the result of poor adaptation work rather than a weak performance. Not enough attention is paid to the connection between Teddy and Chuck making Teddy’s dedication to Chuck unjustifiable.

Regardless of the errors made throughout the film, the ultimate sentiment will rely on the reaction to the ending. There is a twist and it’s a big one. Rather than pave a smooth path to the finale, Scorsese jerks the audience around between blatant revelations and confusing diversions. Eventually the all too obvious hints overcome the attempts at maintaining the uncertainty and the outcome is less rewarding than it could have been.

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Interview: The Good Guy’s Bryan Greenberg

In The Good Guy Brian Greenberg literally plays the good guy. After taking a position at a financial firm on Wall Street, Daniel is forced to transition from a sweet and awkward bookworm into a curt selling powerhouse. His good guy image may not be appropriate for the financial industry, but it does catch the attention of a young woman named Beth. The problem is, she happens to be the girlfriend of Daniel’s mentor, Tommy.

It’s a good thing Greenberg has an appreciation for learning new things, because right after wrapping production on The Good Guy, he had to gear up for his brand new HBO show, How to Make It in America. Greenberg’s character isn’t very business savvy in this project either. He plays Ben, one half of an enterprise team trying to make it in the New York fashion scene.

His characters may not be at the top of their games on Wall Street or on the runway, but Greenberg is as an actor. And now, more than ever, he’s getting the chance to show us what he’s really capable of.

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Review: Valentine’s Day

The power of a consumer driven holiday is frustratingly overwhelming. We’re weakened to the point that we’re willing to drop hundreds of dollars on overpriced meals, greeting cards and flowers even though a simple ‘I Love You’ would have sufficed. Not only have I conceded and bought gifts, flowers, cards and candy, but I haven been suckered into enjoying one of the most poorly made films of the year, Valentine’s Day.

Brace yourself; this is no simple plot. Ashton Kutcher is a florist who proposes to his girlfriend, Jessica Alba, on Valentine’s Day morning. He’s ecstatic and can’t wait to tell his best friends George Lopez and Jennifer Garner about the good news. She’s thrilled for him, but is more concerned with her budding relationship with a heart surgeon, Patrick Dempsey. Garner’s friend Jessica Biel isn’t having such a romantic day. She’s busy eating her loveless life away and planning her anti-Valentine’s Day dinner. In between, she’s helping her client, football player Eric Dane, deal with becoming a free agent. Her boss, Queen Latifah, is keeping an eye on the situation while her new secretary, Anne Hathaway, handles things at the office. Little does the Queen know administrative work isn’t Anne’s only gig; she moonlights as a phone sex operator. In addition to hiding her secondary job from her boss, she’s also keeping it a secret from her boyfriend of two weeks, Topher Grace. Meanwhile, Emma Roberts is planning a magical first time with her boyfriend, Carter Jenkins, and babysitting a little boy desperate to give his Valentine a dozen roses. Deep into their lengthy marriage, the kid’s grandparents, Shirley MacLaine and Hector Elizondo, manage to run into some trouble themselves. There’s also Jamie Foxx as a sports reporter forced by his boss, Kathy Bates, to get sappy and cover the holiday and Julia Roberts and Bradley Cooper on a plane. [GASP]

The two most expendable elements of this film are the two items missing from this lengthy synopsis, character names and the Taylors. Writer Abby Kohn should have saved the audience and herself some trouble, and just stuck with the actors’ names. The massive cast is the primary reason moviegoers will see this film anyway. When you’ve got such a major star like Julia Roberts, 15 minutes of screen time is just not enough to establish a sufficient rapport and make viewers forget that she’s not the actress and is the character. Another element that should have been done away with completely is the inclusion of Taylor Lautner and Taylor Swift. Regardless of how popular they are, they’re not good actors. It doesn’t help that the sparse moments they’re given are downright ridiculous. Rather than get a giggle at their expense, their moments are painful to watch and will only make you blush.

At least the acting only gets better from here. Bryce Robinson has some cute look-at-me-I’m-a-love-struck-little-boy moments, but he’s no Dakota Fanning. He’s able to pull off the whole mature for his age act to a point, but the majority of his actions feel forced making him annoying. Just as irritating is Alba. A minimal character is no excuse for bad acting. If Dempsey, Grace, Latifah and Lopez are able to put on believable performances in their minimal roles, she should too.

As for the rest of the cast, their work is truly commendable. Valentine’s Day is a gigantic mess of cliché romantic dramas that only works because it’s brought to life by familiar faces and talented actors. Every time a famous face makes its debut it’s a thrill, but only a few manage to take that excitement and make it last throughout the film. The best of the bunch is Hathaway. Not only is her storyline amusing but so is she. In fact, she’s a little too good at the whole phone sex thing. The runner up is Kutcher not because he does anything spectacular or because his character is particularly intriguing, but because he’s the nicest and most likeable of the bunch.

Valentine’s Day is not a good film, but that doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable. For every cringe worthy moment there’s one that’ll make you laugh out loud. Sometimes just making a person feel good is all that’s necessary and director Gary Marshall knows it. By taking advantage of his most promising resources, the cast and the undeniable power of the holiday, he pushes the errors into near obscurity leaving us with a fun loving movie for the holiday.

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