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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

[7.75/10] The Grey (2012)

The Grey (2012)

Brief review: Every once in a while a film comes along, that grabs you instantly and throws you into an experience so deeply compelling, that you forget about everything else. Joe Carnahan's thoughtful, intelligently crafted effort, "The Grey", is one of those movies. It's a fight for survival against the harsh nature under terrible circumstances, so believably depicted and so emotionally profound, it will make you experience the struggles of the characters in a way you don't expect to. Even though "The Grey" seems familiar on paper, it turns out feeling different and unlike anything you've seen before, due to its strong, well-written script, multi-layered performances and Carnahan's smooth, yet taut direction, that keeps the narrative tense, neat and in focus. The movie is not only constantly intense, but also scary, in a realistic sort of way. While the remote location, snowy environment and whistling blizzards are enough to give you the chills, it's the wolf attacks that are truly frightening. The plain crash sequence and the one involving a rope over a precipice also deserve a special mention, as those are also nerve-wrackingly terrifying. Set in Alaska, "The Grey" is just as visually astounding as it's chilling, featuring stunning locations and a beautifully bleak cinematography with some shots that will take your breath away. Liam Neeson delivers a powerhouse performance as the despaired man who revives his faith in order to survive, and the supporting cast is pretty much on par.

Overall summary: As substantial as its characters and as chilling as its harshly beautiful setting, "The Grey" is a frighteningly realistic story of survival with a surprising emotional depth, that will keep you intrigued, entertained, and on the edge of your seat until the very end.

Monday, February 27, 2012

[5.25/10] Journey 2: The Mysterious Island [3D] (2012)

Journey 2:
The Mysterious Island [3D] (2012)

Brief review: This sequel to 2008's "Journey to the Center of the Earth" provides some mindless entertainment and has a mildly witty script with a couple of clever jokes and funny dialogues in it, but sadly, it feels rushed and forced from the very beginning, the execution is sub-par, and Brad Peyton's direction leaves a lot to be desired. Also, for a kids' adventure, the movie offers enough entertaining and nicely-shot action scenes, but it's not necessarily action-packed, nor is very exciting to watch. At least, "Journey 2" is pretty to look at. The island's CGI scenery is colorful and nothing short of breathtaking, with a very unique flora that features lush plants, bright, peculiar flowers and oversized fruits, and an even more bizarre fauna consisting of dwarf elephants, enormous bees and gigantic lizards. That being said, some of the sets look a bit too fake and don't really blend well with the stunning CGI background. The special effects range from super-cheesy to very impressive, and the 3D, while far from spectacular, works in the film's favor most of the time. The acting is by no means great, but the cast compensates with charm and charisma. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is engaging and likable as usual, Michael Caine can do no wrong, Josh Hutcherson does an okay job as Sean, Luis Guzmán's over-the-top performance is kinda funny, but annoying at the same time, and Miss Vanessa Hudgens is mediocre at best.

Overall summary: Forced, brainless, and full of many plot holes, yet fairly enjoyable, "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" offers a charming cast, some vivid, eye-candy visuals, passable 3D effects and amusing dialogues, but falls flat in terms of storytelling and execution.

Friday, February 24, 2012

[7.25/10] The Woman in Black (2012)

The Woman in Black (2012)

Brief review: After his critically acclaimed 2008 debut feature, "Eden Lake", UK director James Watkins brings us "The Woman in Black" - a period ghost story, based on Susan Hill's novel of the same name. While the film doesn't brings anything new to the table story-wise, it still works on many levels, thanks to its well-written script and competent execution. The movie manages to be chilling without being graphic and gory, and maintains its constant creepiness with some spooky images, shuddering sound effects and a couple of very effective jump scares. James Watkins definitely shows a tremendous improvement as a director in this movie. While his direction in "Eden Lake" was solid, yet rather generic, here, he displays more creativity, some great skills behind the camera and a truly astounding visual style, that makes "The Woman in Black" one of the most tasteful, stylish and visually atmospheric horror movies of the past few years, if not the decade. The ominous setting alone is enough to give you the chills, the murky, muted cinematography matches the dark, gothic tone of the film, plus, it features tons of dense gray fog, forbidding marshes, sinister antique toys, and some really creepy interiors. Daniel Radcliffe proves everyone who thinks he is a one-note actor wrong, delivering a believable and convincing central performance, and the supporting cast is strong, with Ciarán Hinds being the standout.

Overall summary: Creepy, atmospherically grim and stylishly-shot, if hardly groundbreaking, "The Woman in Black" is an old-fashioned ghost story that, luckily, avoids gore as instead relies on its eerie tone, spooky imagery and solid chills to successfully frighten its audience.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Editor's Note: 300 Followers!

I hit 300 followers earlier today and I'm over the moon right now. I never ever imagined, in a million years, that I would hit so many followers in just 2 and a half years. Last August I had 200, and now look at me, I have 100 more. Yay! I'd like to thank to all of you who have followed my blog, and to all my fellow blog buddies, Melissa, Alex, Maynard, Matty, Nicole, HorrO, Ricky, Craig, Farawayeyes, Kaijinu, J-Son, Demps, InfinitePlans, Michele for the regular visits and all the fantastic comments left on my blog.

Monday, February 20, 2012

[9.00/10] Hugo (2011)

Hugo (2011)

Brief review: Based on Selznick's award-winning novel, "Hugo" is a delightful and exuberant, yet enlightening family-friendly adventure tale, that celebrates both the wonders of the imagination and the magic of cinema, and shows a whole new different side of Martin Scorsese, who pays homage to his favorite art in a deeply intimate and nostalgic way. Visually, "Hugo" is eye-poppingly gorgeous and absolutely stunning, as pretty much every single frame of this beautifully shot movie is a state-of-the-art perfection, thanks to Scorsese's innovative and impressively versatile direction, aided by the amazing skills of his technical crew. The highly-acclaimed director of photography, Robert Richardson, uses a unique color palette of dim turquoise and copper, complemented by a smooth, delicate lighting and vivid violet tint when needed, to deliver the most breathtaking cinematography of 2011, and the striking production design by Dante Ferretti gives the film a truly authentic period feel. The characters in the film are superbly written and portrayed, and the acting is top-notch. Asa Butterfield as Hugo conveys innocence, candor, purity and determination with ease, Chloë Grace Moretz is absolutely adorable as the amiable Isabelle, Ben Kingsley truly shines as the heart-broken filmmaker-turned-toy seller, Georges Méliès, and Sacha Baron Cohen delivers a hilarious performance as the grumpy Station Inspector.

Overall summary: With its magically moving story, delightful characters, dazzling cinematography and exquisite production design, Scorsese's personal love letter to cinema, "Hugo", is arguably, the most enchanting, absorbing, imaginative and visually-sumptuous film of 2011.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

[6.00/10] Man on a Ledge (2012)

Man on a Ledge (2012)

Brief review: Call it silly, absurd and pointless, but Asger Leth's debut non-doc feature, "Man on a Ledge" is one of those guilty pleasure type of movies, that you can't help but enjoy for all the wrong reasons. It's really weird how something so cliched, unoriginal and contrived can be so perfectly watchable and passably entertaining at the same time, and since this is an almost impossible thing to achieve, the director deserves credit for that. On the other hand, the film's 'high concept' premise is maybe a bit too ambitious for Asger Leth's lack of directing experience and skills, and as a result, aside from a few faced-paced and tautly-shot action sequences, "Man on a Ledge" is hardly impressive on a technical level. Despite its countless weaknesses, though, "Man on a Ledge" is everything but boring. There are some pacing issues in the beginning and the climax is absolutely improbable, not to say ridiculous, but for most part, the film retains a good level of intensity that will keep you intrigued, and even on the edge of your seat in particular scenes. The partially engaging cast also saves this thriller from being completely mediocre. Sam Worthington is a weak lead, and he lacks charisma as usual, but the charming and talented on-screen duo, Jamie Bell and Genesis Rodriguez are both likable, funny and very interesting to watch. Elizabeth Banks and Ed Harris are spot-on in their roles as well.

Overall summary: Contrived, hardly plausible and overly ambitious, yet well-cast, decently-made, and somewhat intriguing, "Man on a Ledge" is totally aware of its own silliness and absurdity, but it still delivers enough thrills, twists and tense moments to grab viewers' attention.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

[8.25/10] Chronicle (2012)

Chronicle (2012)

Brief review: So far, we've had tons of POV / Found Footage horror films, but Josh Trank's debut feature, "Chronicle", has to be the first-ever sci-fi flick shot in this style. Luckily, the hand-held filming technique adds some authenticity to the already clever story with a refreshing spin on the concept of superheroes, and truth to be told, if the movie wasn't presented this way, it wouldn't have been as effective. While the first half of "Chronicle" is mostly 'fun', where the characters enjoy their newly-gained superpowers and play harmless games with them, the second half gets a whole lot darker - the anger unleashes, the violence starts to dominate, and the consequences become disastrous. The chaos-fueled superpowers (imagine X-Men's Magneto, but without the 'metal only' limitation) match well with Trank's inventive and energetic direction, the special effects are pretty much impeccable most of the time, and the action sequences are visually-astonishing, exciting, and heart-pumpingly spectacular, featuring lots of smashed cars, destroyed buildings, fast moving objects and even Superman-like flying. Both, Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan deliver solid and convincing performances, but it's Dane DeHaan, that steals the show as the anti-social teenager, Andrew, who tries to cope with his repressed anger, aggressive father, deathly sick mother and out-of-this-world telekinetic powers all at once.

Overall summary: Seemingly fun on the outside, yet darkly grim within, "Chronicle" is an imaginatively-crafted and highly entertaining sci-fi flick, that not only impresses with its creative take on the superhero genre, but also manages to use the POV gimmick to its advantage.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

[8.50/10] Take Shelter (2011)

Take Shelter (2011)

Brief review: While not technically a horror movie, "Take Shelter" is creepier and more unsettling than any other 'scary' film released over the past year, but it also succeeds on a dramatic level. It works as both, a psychological horror story and gripping drama, because it doesn't rely familiar gimmicks or in-your-face creepiness, as instead it focuses on the confusion, silent paranoia and troubled mental state of its intriguing main character, and keeps you wondering, whether his apocalyptic visions and dreams are result of his questionable insanity, or a real premonition. Plus, there's an unexplainable sense of dread throughout the film, that creates an atmosphere of uneasiness and forbidding fear, which shows best in the startling final 15 minutes of the movie. Set in a small Ohio town, "Take Shelter" is a visually simplistic, yet still beautifully-shot and precisely-executed film with a darkly subdued tone, some fine attention to small details, and a polished and exquisitely subtle direction by Jeff Nichols. There's a minimal use of CGIs, just to increase the overall visual and dramatic effect of this uniquely grim story, which contrasts well with the calming surroundings. Michael Shannon does a truly exceptional job portraying the quiet intensity and desperation of his mentally disturbed character, Curtis, and the 'chameleon' Jessica Chastain gives another stellar performance as his confused, yet loving wife, Samantha.

Overall summary: Quietly ominous, at times disturbing, but constantly compelling, and shot with a subtle beauty and refined care, "Take Shelter" is a seamless mixture of affecting drama and unconventional horror, led by Michael Shannon's astounding performance.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

[2.50/10] Playback (2012)

Playback (2012)

Brief review: Magnolia Pictures' upcoming horror movie "Playback" is about to hit US theaters on March 9, but honestly said, it would have been a wise decision if "Playback" was 'kicked out' straight to the DVD shelves. Why, you ask? Because if you thought "The Devil Inside" was bad, than you should check this crappy mess out. After a bloody, but rather confusing opening sequence, sadly, "Playback" gets even worse. The mumbo-jumbo about an evil spirit that possesses human souls through screens and camera lens is just as ridiculous as it sounds, and the whole story is so incoherent and badly-structured, it barely makes any sense at all. On a technical note, "Playback" is just as awful. Nickles' direction is truly all over the place, featuring muddled editing, annoying 'corrupt footage' / scratching sound effects and a loud music score that causes a headache. The gore is there, but we all know that gore with no scares equals boredom. Yes, a bloody boredom, but still boredom. The characters here are your typical one-dimensional teen dummies, played by a cast of largely unknown young actors. Johnny Pacar and Ambyr Childers' performances are amateurish and instantly forgettable. Toby Hemingway tries hard to behave creepy, but his pretty stone-cold face and fancy haircut work against him, and Christian Slater has been hired only to jerk off while spying on naked girls in their locker rooms.

Overall summary: With a premise as ridiculous and terribly uninspired as the execution itself, "Playback" is a confusing, illogical nonsense with decent amount of gore, but little to no scares or thrills, featuring messy direction, brainless characters and obtrusive sound effects.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

[8.00/10] The Descendants (2011)

The Descendants (2011)

Brief review: Based on Kaui Hart Hemmings' novel of the same name, "The Descendants" is an emotionally-charged dramdey, where sharp wit and fiery temper meet wisdom and prudence. It is a subtly complex, yet heartfelt and moving tale that will touch your heart, make you smile, cheer you up and even bring you to tears. The smoothly paced story is complemented by Alexander Payne's exquisitely polished direction and scored with sonorous Hawaiian music. Being shot in one of the most gorgeous and stunning locations in the world, "The Descendants" is just as visually-exuberant as it's touching and heartwarming. The Hawaiian scenery that consists of exotic verdure, vividly-colored flowers, glorious landscapes and crystal clear beaches is nothing short of breathtaking and in sync with the characters' colorful personalities. Speaking of characters, those are the true driving force of this film, and portrayed wonderfully by the featured cast. George Clooney delivers one of the best performances of his career as the struggling yet sensible father of two, who tries to deal with with several issues concerning his family and life. However, it's the rising star, Shailene Woodley, that steals the show as the expansive and temperamental, yet intelligent older daughter, Alexandra. The sweet Amara Miller gives a lively and likable performance as the little Scottie, and the supporting cast does a splendid job.

Overall summary: Boasting a smoothly elegant direction, touching script, picturesque scenery and bravura performances from Clooney and Woodley, "The Descendants" is wise, witty, amusing, heartfelt, affecting, funny, exhilarating and visually-ravishing all at the same time.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

[6.75/10] Haywire (2012)

Haywire (2012)

Brief review: After last year's hugely underrated gem, "Contagion", Steven Soderbergh brings us his latest project "Haywire" - a fast-paced and finely-crafted spy thriller, that despite some overused plot cliches, still engages with its well-structured storyline, spot-on execution and thrilling action scenes. Although "Haywire" is a bit ordinary in terms of aesthetics, Soderbergh's distinctive visual style is still recognizable, plus, the film impresses with nice variety of settings, including Barcelona, Dublin and New Mexico. There is no intense music or loud sound effects during the action scenes, but that doesn't make them less exciting. The fights themselves are realistic, well-shot and brutal as hell, and contrast well with the funky and absolutely mesmerizing original score by David Holmes. Newcomer Gina Carano is by no means a great actress, but she nevertheless delivers a believable, down-to-earth portrayal as the young and feisty female spy, Mallory. Behind her cute Britney Spears-like face and sexy curvy body, she hides a strong powerful woman with big brains and incredible skills. Since the main focus throughout the film is on Mallory, none of the other A-list actors really shine. Having said that, all the supporting cast including Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas, Michael Angarano and Channing Tatum do a solid job despite their extremely limited screen time.

Overall summary: While certainly not one of Soderbergh's strongest and most memorable films, "Haywire" still works in a simple but very effective way, thanks to its sharp, well-written script, excellent ensemble cast, and straight and clear, yet somewhat stylish direction.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

[6.50/10] Underworld: Awakening [3D] (2012)

Underworld: Awakening [3D] (2012)

Brief review: The forth installment in the "Underworld" franchise has arrived, and while it doesn't break any new grounds, it still offers tons of great entertainment. It's hard to comment on the film's storyline, because "Awakening" is pretty much plotless, which also explains its ultra-short running time. That said, it has enough strengths to make up for the weak script. The gothic vibe is now replaced with a grim, futuristic tone that feels refreshing, and the trademark bluish tint of the cinematography is more saturated than ever before. The dazzling visuals contrast nicely with the dark post-apocalyptic setting, and together they create a stylish atmosphere that makes the film incredibly appealing, visually. There are certain scenes where the use of CGI is too obvious and a bit cheesy, however, the design of the Lycans is quite slick, and the special effects during the action scenes, and the 3D in particular, are impressive. Speaking of action scenes, those are incredibly well-shot and executed, and hands down, the highlight of the movie. "Awakening" is also pretty violent and graphic, but you can't help but enjoy the bloodbath on screen. Kate Beckinsale is back as Selene and she not only looks stunning, but she also brings an enviable physicality and coolness to her character. Theo James is quite stiff and often annoying to watch, but the adorable India Eisley does good as Selene's little daughter, Eve.

Overall summary: Way too short and really thin on plot, yet briskly-paced, spectacularly action-packed and visually-stylish, "Underworld: Awakening" is a step in the right direction compared to the previous disappointing and mediocre installment, "Rise of the Lycans".