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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

[6.50/10] Joyful Noise (2012)

Joyful Noise (2012)

Brief review: Actor-turned-director Todd Graff brings us his third musical, called "Joyful Noise", and it's joyful indeed. Yes, the story has been done many times before, and you could easily predict every single scene in advance, but the script has enough humor, drama, sarcasm and wittiness to make you forgive its unoriginality. Todd Graff manages to pull this musical off decently, thanks to his lively, unpretentious direction that makes the movie quite easy to watch. Apart from a few glossy musical numbers towards the end, there's nothing particularly impressive about the visuals, but that's not even necessary, since "Joyful Noise" is all about the the singing. The songs are familiar, but so catchy and beautifully-sung, they'll still give you goosebumps, and the numbers themselves are joyous and incredibly fun to watch. The cast delivers acting-wise, singing-wise and chemistry-wise. The lovely Queen Latifah can do not wrong, giving another great performance as the conservative Vi Rose, and Dolly Parton does an excellent job as the glamorous and easy-going grandmother. Keke Palmer is by no means an amazing actress, but her voice is absolutely phenomenal. The newcomer Jeremy Jordan seems incredibly comfortable in front of the camera, displaying charm, charisma and unaffected behavior, but it's the hilarious Angela Grovey that steals the show every time she shows up on screen.

Overall summary: Formulaic, hence, predictable, and yet light-hearted and thoroughy enjoyable, "Joyful Noise" entertains with cheerful musical numbers and sarcastically witty dialogues, and gains from its talented, appealing cast members, that sing just as good as they act.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

[7.50/10] The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

Brief review: Don't get mislead by the intentionally cheesy title and the seemingly hackneyed premise, because "The Cabin in the Woods" is almost like nothing you have seen before. Even though the plot starts in a familiar fashion, even from the very beginning, the creators throw enough curve balls to make you wonder "What the heck is going on here?!". Later on, things are starting to clear up, but the shocks keep coming right until the end. The inventively puzzling script boldly reveals the 'hypothetical' secret behind the horror cliches, plus, Whedon and Goddard inject a solid dose of satire, humor and creativity in it to reach the wanted effect, which is redefining the genre. Though not as scary as expected, "The Cabin in the Woods" is edge-of-your-seat tense and thrilling pretty much most of the time, and has lots of gruesome, nasty imagery. The final 20 min are a complete bloodbath of mayhem and destruction, featuring arguably the goriest scenes since Peter Jackson's "Dead Alive". Sadly, the movie fails to impress execution-wise. Goddard's direction is competent and versatile enough, but it lacks the slickness that could have made it as innovative visually, as it's conceptually. While the practical effects are absolutely spot-on, the CGI work is below par by today's high standards, and at times, quite cheesy. The acting is great, with Kristen Connolly and Fran Kranz both being the stand-outs.

Overall summary: It's a way too overambitious and not particularly terrifying, and is further let down by some sub-par CGIs, but "The Cabin in the Woods" is a cliché-breaker that will knock your socks off with its originality, satirical inventiveness and twisted unpredictability.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

[1.00/10] Seven Below (2012)

Seven Below (2012)

Brief review: "The Fear Chamber" director's latest horror wannabe movie is about a group of strangers who, after a tour bus accident, find themselves trapped in a house with a terrible past, while they're trying to escape a forbidding storm. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Even from the laughably cheesy opening scene "Seven Below" screams cheap and amateurish. Furthermore, it contains every single horror cliche you could think of - possessed child murderer, ghost in the mirror and under the bed, nonsensical twist ending - it's all there, and it's neither scary, nor particularly fun to watch. Add to this one of the lamest, most uninspired scripts ever written, some lame dialogues and a bunch of unlikable characters you couldn't care about less, and you get "Seven Below". On a technical note, the movie is just as hideous. Kevin Carraway's direction is too generic and unskillful to make an impression, the special effects are crappy at best, and the haunted house, where most of the movie takes place in, is supposed to be creepy, but ironically enough, it looks quite cozy. Carraway uses gimmicks such as pouring rain, thick mist and loud thunders in order to create an ominous atmosphere, but it just doesn't work, since we all know fake storms ain't effective anymore. The overall acting is so bad, it's not worth mentioning, and Val Kilmer has been paid just to act like a jerk for about 30 min. Shame on him!

Overall summary: Terribly-written, poorly-crafted and jam-packed with countless tired cliches, "Seven Below" is not only one of the most boring, unfortunate and un-scary 'horror' movies of the past few years, but also the lowest point in Val Kilmer's once quite successful career.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

[7.50/10] The Pirates! Band of Misfits [3D] (2012)

The Pirates!
Band of Misfits [3D] (2012)

Brief review: One of the creators of the unique and hilarious "Chicken Run", Peter Lord, along with "Flushed Away"'s head animator, Jeff Newitt, bring us yet another brilliantly-executed stop-motion animated film, produced and released by Aardman Animations, who also gave us the amazing "Wallace and Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit". The movie displays enough originality and creativity to save itself from being 'you typical pirate affair', and delivers many clever jokes for the adults as well as some silly but funny slapstick for the youngsters. What makes "Pirates!" even more enjoyable and entertaining is the adventurous nature of it, the superbly colorful characters, and last but not least, the ingeniously hilarious, yet inventive action scenes it proudly boasts. Clay animation is extremely difficult to execute and usually takes months, if not years, to put together, and both directors deserve credit for the remarkable job they've done on this truly stellar project. Visually and technically, "Band of Misfits" is quite astonishing and near flawless - the amount of detail is amazing, the clay work is pitch-perfect, and the colors are pastelly, yet vibrant and saturated. The competent use of 3D works in the film's favor and certainly adds depth to the already magnificent visuals. The voice casting is spot-on, with Hugh Grant being the absolute standout with his first-ever voice performance as Captain Pirate.

Overall summary: It lacks the genuine wit and quirky charm of "Chicken Run", but "The Pirates! Band of Misfits" is every bit as visually delightful as Aardman Studios' previous claymation flicks, and has enough fresh ideas, bright humor and whimsicality to shine on its own merits.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

[4.00/10] One for the Money (2012)

One for the Money (2012)

Brief review: Based on Janet Evanovich's novel of the same name, "One for the Money" is TV series director Julie Anne Robinson's first feature film, that unfortunately, apart from its stylish opening credits, fails on pretty much every single level. To start with the obvious, the movie's premise is way too similar to another 'bounty hunting' movie from two years ago, called, well, "The Bounty Hunter". For that reason alone, "One for the Money" instantly loses points for originality. To make things worse, due to its heavily unbalanced script, the film doesn't work neither as a comedy, nor as an action movie, let alone as a hybrid of the two genres. The humor is dry, the jokes barely work, and the action scenes are too unconvincing and clumsily-shot. Probably because of director Robinson's previous background, visually, "One for the Money" has that cheap made-for-TV feel written all over it. The production design is unimpressive, and the cinematography lacks any contrast at all, giving the film a rather bland look. On the bright side, the cast, does a reasonable job considering the weak script. Katherine Heigl's natural charm commands the screen every time she shows up, but she doesn't really have much to work with. "Terra Nova"'s own Jason O'Mara has an undeniably strong screen presence, but despite his chemistry with Heigl, his character Joe never fully engages, because of the flat writing.

Overall summary: The chemistry between Katherine Heigl and Jason O'Mara is there, and it has one or two amusing moments, but sadly, "One for the Money" feels way too familiar, and its 'TV' director struggles to balance action and comedy, leaving the end result sloppy.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

[6.00/10] Wrath of the Titans [3D] (2012)

Wrath of the Titans [3D] (2012)

Brief review: In spite of the atrocious use of 3D, cheesy CGIs and Leterrier's messy direction, 2010's "Clash of the Titans" was a flawed, but watchable fantasy flick, that had its moments of 'guilty pleasure'. Liebesman's sequel also fails to deliver an intelligible and engaging story, it takes itself too seriously, and its script is full of corny lines and cheesy dialogues, but in terms of visuals, action and even acting, "Wrath of the Titans" is definitely an improvement over its predecessor. The special and creature effects are executed with great precision and remarkable attention to detail, and the end result is often eye-popping. The seamless mix of practical set design and CGI scenery is flawless and the 3D is so slick and expertly-done, it feels like the film has been shot in 3D, and not post-converted. Thankfully, the action scenes are high-octane. The Chimera attack, the Cyclops fight and the final battle against Kronos are all dynamically-shot and very thrilling, at times even startling. Acting-wise, "Wrath of the Titans" is hit and miss. Worthington's lack of charisma works against him as usual, but at least he's not annoying to watch. Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes and Rosamund Pikedo do their best with the given material, Bill Nighy does a hilarious job as the nutty Hephaestus and Toby Kebbell steals the show with his amusingly stirring performance as Poseidon's dodgy demigod son, Agenor.

Overall summary: Far from great, yet slightly underrated probably due to the bad reputation of its predecessor, "Wrath of the Titans" provides a passable entertainment to those seeking for a 'no brainer' with great action scenes, effective use of 3D, and first class CGI work.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

[6.75/10] Mirror Mirror (2012)

Mirror Mirror (2012)

Brief review: It was about time someone to put an ironic, comedic spin on one of the most popular stories of all time, without ruining the magic of it, and director Tarsem Singh does it with flair in “Mirror Mirror”. Unlike the upcoming “Snow White and the Huntsman” which, judging by the trailers, has ‘grimness’ written all over it, the delightfully lighthearted “Mirror Mirror” never takes itself too seriously, and shows a whole new fun side of the classic story. Singh knows his movie is rather superficial, but he manages to make up for the lack of depth with an amusingly ironic script, full of cheeky slapstick humor, engaging characters, and last but not least, splendid visuals. Over the years Singh has proven himself as a true visionary director, and “Mirror Mirror” is yet another visual stunner from him. From the lavish, exuberant sets and gorgeous costumes to the eye-catching color palette and stylish cinematography, everything about this pretty movie is executed to perfection, and pure eye-candy. Unsurprisingly, Julia Roberts steals the show as the wicked and manipulative, yet rather insecure ‘evil’ queen. Lily Collins doesn’t impress with great acting skills or strong screen presence like Roberts does, but her looks are just perfect for Snow White. Armie Hammer gives a passable performance as the dashing prince, but it’s the quirky dwarfs, presented as a group of rebels, that contribute most to the story.

Overall summary: It lacks substance and it’s too forgettable to become a classic, but Tarsem Singh’s “Mirror Mirror” is still a witty, enjoyable and thoroughly refreshing rendition of “Snow White”, that fascinates with its vivid, sumptuous visuals and truly enchanting atmosphere.

Read (and comment on) the extended version of my "Mirror Mirror" review, written exclusively for White Cat Magazine HERE.

Friday, April 6, 2012

[4.50/10] The Divide (2012)

The Divide (2012)

Brief review: "The Divide" is about nine strangers, all tenants of same apartment building, who manage to escape a nuclear attack by hiding in a bunker-like basement. The movie starts out intriguing enough with an opening scene of chaos and confusion, where people are running scared trying to find a shelter, but as soon as the nine strangers get into the basement, the movie turns into a talky, monotonous bore, where nervous, frustrated people are either yelling at each other or doing nasty things. Another problem with "The Divide" is that it often feels somewhat repetitive, probably due to the the limited setting and the sluggish pacing of the film. There are moments when it seems like the exact same scene is playing over and over again, and that makes the film a rather tedious experience, leaving the viewer in anticipation something to happen. It does, later on, but it's ugly, unpleasant and revolting. With "Frontier(s)", French director Xavier Gens showed us that he likes his movies graphic, brutal and violent, and "The Divide" is no exception - torment, murder, rape, gore, you name it, it's there. Although the performances range from decent to convincing, there's not a single likable character in the entire movie, nor one you could care about at least a bit. On a positive note, the final sequence is so brilliant and visually depressing, it makes "The Divide" worth-seeing for this very memorable scene alone.

Overall summary: Some passable acting and a beautifully bleak final act aside, "The Divide" is a graphic and violent, but quite dull apocalyptic thriller, that tries very hard to shock us and make us feel uncomfortable and claustrophobic, but instead it successfully put us to sleep.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

[7.25/10] The Hunger Games (2012)

The Hunger Games (2012)

Brief review: Based on Suzanne Collins' novel of the same name, "The Hunger Games" is an engrossing and smoothly-paced adaptation, that stays very true to its source material, but barely lives up to the potential of its dark and gritty premise. Still, it's a dramatically-charged story about sacrifice and bravery, with a touch of romance, led by the strength of its believable lead character. Set in a dystopian future in the country of Panem that consists of one wealthy chief city and twelve very poor, undeveloped districts, "The Hunger Games" combines the ultra-modern and avant-garde with the primitive in a very unique way. The futuristic look of the Capitol contrasts oddly with the poverty of the districts and the Robin Hood-like woods scenery, where the actual Hunger Games take place. That said, Gary Ross otherwise solid direction lack that edgy stylishness that could have made "The Hunger Games" a lot more dramatic, visually. Moreover, if you expect non-stop super-tense chases and stupendous set-pieces you may end up a bit disappointed. Yes, the action scenes are exciting, at times even electrifying, but the Hunger Games themselves never really turn into a startling spectacle. Jennifer Lawrence is undoubtedly the driving force of this film. She delivers a confident and powerful performance as the fearless Katniss Everdeen, without overpowering the capable, well-chosen supporting cast.

Overall summary: Thrilling, compelling and expertly put together, if far from phenomenal, "The Hunger Games" succeeds as a character-driven story with a strong female protagonist, but lacks the spectacular action and mind-blowing visuals that could have made it so special.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

[6.25/10] 21 Jump Street (2012)

21 Jump Street (2012)

Brief review: Loosely based on the '87 TV series of the same name, "21 Jump Street" is directing duo Phil Lord and Chris Miller's first live-action full-length feature after their animated flick, "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs". Those comedy buffs willing to see something different than cheesy rom-coms and Adam Sandler 'funny wannabes' will be pleased, because much like last year's naughty "Bad Teacher", this film is injected with huge does of crude humor and relies shamelessly on its raunchiness and dirty jokes. Is that a bad thing? No, not at all, because it works, and also adds a delicious vulgarity to the movie. The script is fresh, smart, and fueled with flip humor and hilarious satire on high school life, however, it doesn't have many laugh-out-loud funny moments, due to its lack of genuine wit. Being about worthless cops sent back to high school on a mission, "21 Jump Street" also has some action scenes in it, but none of them is particularly memorable, except for the ridiculous, yet funny chase scene in the beginning. Due to some lame editing, there's hardly any smooth cohesion between the different scenes, and as a result the direction feels sloppy and incompetent. Hill and Tatum are a pure joy to watch as a comedic duo, Ice Cube is hilarious as the 'stereotypical' black captain, plus, the unexpected cameos by Johnny Depp and Peter Deluise are utterly fantastic.

Overall summary: Clumsily-shot and hardly hysterically funny, yet enjoyable, raunchy and often amusing, "21 Jump Street" feels like a breath of fresh air into the tired comedy genre, and provides enough laughs and action to keep you entertained for 110 minutes.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

[8.50/10] Wu Xia a.k.a. Dragon (2011)

Wu Xia a.k.a.
Dragon (2011)

QuickRating: Although its story is somewhat similar to 2010's wuxia phenomenon "Reign of Assassins", Peter Chan's "Wu Xia" is still an engrossing, skilfully choreographed, masterfully directed and visually fascinating martial arts drama, that truly captivates the viewer with its compelling characters, gorgeous scenery and strong script, and showcases Donnie Yen in top form, both acting-wise and fighting-wise.

[7.25/10] The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate (2011)

The Flying Swords of
Dragon Gate (2011)

QuickRating: It's overstuffed with characters, the pacing is uneven and Jet Li is wildly underused, but "Flying Swords of Dragon Gate" makes up for its lack of coherence with spectacular sandy scenery, amazing costumes, and frenetic, wonderfully-choreographed action sequences, that while a little heavy on CGI and somewhat cartoonish, are exciting and entertaining to watch as is the movie itself.

[7.50/10] The Flowers of War (2011)

The Flowers of War (2011)

QuickRating: Harsh, graphic and truly dramatic, if rather slow and overlong, "The Flowers of War" is just about as visually stunning and beautifully-shot as any of Zhang Yimou's previous movies (which are mostly masterpieces), yet hardly as striking and memorable. However, the director injects enough heart into the sad story to keep it moving and affecting even for Western audiences. Ni Ni is alluring as Yu Mo, but surprisingly, Bale's cocky portrayal lets the film down a bit.

Monday, April 2, 2012

[5.50/10] Intruders (2011)

Intruders (2011)

QuickRating: It starts out strong, with a tense and scary opening scene, than it somehow continues to maintain its vibe of mysterious creepiness right until the end, when it totally falls apart after the twist is revealed. In fact, it has two twists, but sadly none of them works - the first one is predictable, and the second hardly makes any sense at all. However, the always magnificent Clive Owen saves "Intruders" from being just a stinker with bad CGIs.

[6.75/10] The Hidden Face (2011)

La Cara Oculta a.k.a.
The Hidden Face (2011)

QuickRating: Although it suffers from a frustratingly uninteresting first half that feels rather pointless, later on everything falls into place perfectly, and half way through "La Cara Oculta" transforms itslef into a thoughtful, intense and uniquely claustrophobic thriller that quickly falls into the category 'like nothing we've seen before'. Plus, Martina García delivers an anxious and extremely convincing performance.

[5.75/10] Elevator (2011)

Elevator (2011)

QuickRating: Much like 2010's "Devil", "Elevator" mostly takes place in, well, an elevator, hence, those who can't stand such limited settings might get a little bit bored, but for more patient viewers, this surprisingly well-balanced and executed dialogue-driven thriller by Norwegian director Stig Svendsen has a lot more to offer - many thrills, lots of suspense and quite a few unexpected shocks, complemented by a solid amount of humor and some witty dialogues.

[6.00/10] Hell (2011)

Hell (2011)

QuickRating: Ambiguously-titled "Hell" (Hell in German means 'Bright' in English), this German horror has a unique post-apocalyptic scenario where The Earth has turned into a living hell after the sun has burned everything down, and despite its tiny budget and simplistic plot is still effective, compelling and technically well-made - the bright, yellowish cinematography captures the feel of the movie so perfectly, it burns, the barren scenery adds to the bleak visuals and the direction is solid.

[4.00/10] The Darkest Hour (2011)

The Darkest Hour (2011)

QuickRating: It has a decent premise, the special effects are pretty adequate for the most part, and the scenery of Moscow city is absolutely glorious to watch, but "The Darkest Hour" remains an unimaginative and poorly-executed alien invasion flick that feels rushed and contrived from the very beginning and has a paper-thin plot and zero character development. Worst of all, the trailer is more tense, exciting and entertaining to watch than the movie itself.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

[6.75/10] Babycall (2011)

Babycall (2011)

QuickRating: This Swedish horror thriller feels a bit muddled at times, and the subplots don't fit together as neatly as they should, but what makes "Babycall" effective, gripping and disturbing is Noomi Rapace's brilliantly intense and vulnerable portrayal of a confused, paranoid and mentally disturbed mother. Plus, director Sletaune maintains an eerie atmosphere throughout the film, and the twist ending, while hardly satisfactory, works well.

[6.50/10] Urban Explorer (2011)

Urban Explorer (2011)

QuickRating: While this German B-horror movie certainly won't win any awards for originality and technical excellence, it still works on so many levels, it's unbelievable. "Urban Explorer" is intense, scary, gory and thoroughly realistic, and it features one of the craziest, most disturbingly believable psycho killers ever put on film. Moreover, set in a maze of dark tunnels under the city of Berlin, the movie is so insanely claustrophobic, it will leave you gasping for air.

[5.75/10] Rosewood Lane (2011)

Rosewood Lane (2011)

QuickRating: Not nearly as scary and intense as director Victor Salva's 2001 creepfest "Jeepers Creepers", but still watchable and fairly thrilling, "Rosewood Lane" is the perfect example of how to make a decent and effective horror movie with a quite limited budget. The charismatic Rose McGowan does a solid job as the protagonist, and Ashton Moio gives an intimidating performance as the devilish villain.

[3.50/10] 7 Nights of Darkness (2011)

7 Nights of Darkness (2011)

QuickRating: Aside from the fairly creepy location and a few decent scares, everything about this 'found footage' horror flick sucks badly - the premise is painfully familiar, the acting is terrible, the characters are daft and annoying, the camera work is exceptionally bad, and it screams cheap and amateurish. "7 Nights of Darkness"?!? More like "90 Minutes of Yawning Boredom"...