Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Last Exorcism

Tonight I saw The Last Exorcism, starring Patrick Fabian and Ashley Bell.

Cotton Marcus (Fabian) is a Southern reverend who claims more to be a trained actor than a genuine voice of God. He agrees to let a film crew create a documentary about his "last exorcism" so he can expose all of his tricks and reveal the practice to be a universal sham.

His subject is a 16-year-old farm girl named Nell (Bell). She seems sweet enough during the daytime, but at night her Bible-bouncing father reports that demons emerge and she kills random pets/livestock.

With her father and brother as witnesses, Cotton performs his "exorcism" complete with fake sounds and a shaking bed, which he controls with fish wire. He proclaims the demons gone and leaves with a fat paycheck to a nearby motel.

Unfortunately, something is still the matter with Nell and she materializes at the motel, desperately in need of assistance. Cotton and the filmmakers take her to a hospital, but once she returns home, they learn she's hurt her brother. After another hospital trip, the reverend tries to convince the father to get her psychiatric help, but he doesn't believe in it.

Cotton (who really turns out to be somewhat of a decent fellow) feels responsible for Nell in some way, so he decides to help her himself and keeps digging to learn the truth.

The film is perfectly enjoyable/believable up to this point, then it all takes a turn for the worse.

One minor twist leads to a few different theories about Nell's evil, then the answer is given to us in an ending that makes you doubt the same screenwriter wrote the first half of the film.

The script did an excellent job of building the suspense and wonder through well-developed, complex characters and then left us alone with a convention that's been overused since film was invented.

What a shame.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Hubble 3D

This morning I saw the documentary Hubble 3D.

Though I never had aspirations of becoming an astronaut, I have always wanted to know what it felt like to see earth from a distance. The closest I came until today was when astronaut Nicholas Patrick came to our school a few years back and brought a video of footage he'd taken in space. Though that was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I was surrounded by classes of antsy Kindergarteners, so it was hard to focus on the depth of what I was seeing.

Watching Hubble 3D in a quiet, dark theater on an IMAX screen so large it felt like it was surrounding me was a much more immersive experience.

Despite its short length (approx. 45 minutes running time), this film does have a plot. After the tragedy of the Columbia mission, NASA canceled the next scheduled mission to repair the Hubble telescope, a massive eye into the universe that took 10,000 people to create. Without the necessary fixes, the telescope would be rendered useless and years of hard work and money would be lost.

Thankfully, the engineers at NASA devised a plan that removed some of the risk from attempting another mission (basically having an extra shuttle ready if the astronauts became stranded in space) and in April of 2009, a brave team of heroes made the trip.

What we see in this film is their trip—a joyous, nerve-wracking, heart-pumping mission where they only had one chance to get it right. Their demeanor is surprisingly light-hearted, though their work couldn't be more dangerous. These folks are celebrating a lifetime of learning that earned them this place in history.

As we watch the careful maneuvering of an uncooperative tool, we feel like holding our breath (though if we watched the news at all last year, we already know the outcome). Although that alone is remarkable enough to keep us riveted, what's most amazing are the photographs that Hubble graces us with. The glistening close-ups of stars and energies that are billions of light years away.

Leonardo DiCaprio narrates what we're seeing sincerely, though the amount of times he plugs the Utopian qualities of earth becomes borderline preachy.

I'd recommend this film to people of all ages—especially Americans. I found myself getting goosebumps each time they showed a shuttle countdown. Perhaps that's because my earliest memory of space travel is watching the Challenger explode live on television in my 5th grade classroom. I remember my otherwise-stoic teacher bursting into tears and feeling sick that a class of students in New Hampshire would never again see their own teacher (Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher sent to space, was aboard).

In high school, I visited the memorial to the Challenger astronauts at Arlington National Cemetery and became nauseous with remembrance. Earlier this month I saw the trees that had been planted in their honor at the Johnson Space Center. Astronauts sacrifices, to me, are just as profound as those who serve bravely in our military.

Films like Hubble 3D remind us of their courage.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Other Guys

On Sunday I saw The Other Guys, starring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg.

Allen Gamble (Ferrell) is a pencil pusher who does accounting work for the police department; his partner Terry Hoitz (Wahlberg) is a bad ass detective who is relegated to desk duty after an unfortunate shooting incident.

Two of the most respected (and reckless) cops have just lost their lives in the line of duty and Terry thinks it's high time he and Allen—the other guys—take their place. Because Allen enjoys working at a desk, Terry has to threaten him to get him to go along with his plan. Soon they're both risking their jobs and lives in hot pursuit of a high-profile white collar criminal, all from the front seat of Allen's cherry red Prius.

Sound ridiculous? Of course it is, but it's meant to be and that's why it works.

Not for one moment do we ever forget that these two characters are meant to mock every buddy cop movie in the history of cinema. Never for a second do we mind.

Ferrell's deadpan delivery of a straight-man wanting to do the right thing and Wahlberg's naturally angry tough guy attitude make it hard for us to picture anyone else in their roles.

And speaking of perfect casting—don't even get me started on Eva Mendes. As Allen's sexy wife, Dr. Sheila Gamble, she shows more pitch-perfect comedic chops than any female in recent memory. Her alluring cleavage may be why she was considered; her acting is obviously why she was chosen. I've never enjoyed her more than I did here.

In addition to the acting, there are small yet hilarious reminders (such as quiet, cheesy saxophone music) that we're in a cop film. There are also random references (one that will make you want to pop in a T.L.C. record) that make no sense but somehow fit well in the context of the film.

I haven't laughed this hard at a movie since The Hangover. If you need a reason to smile, make sure to get to this movie.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Get Low

On Sunday I saw Get Low, starring Robert Duvall and Bill Murray.

It will be the topic of our next Cinebanter episode, so tune in August 30 for our review.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love

Tonight I saw Eat, Pray, Love starring Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem.

I can understand why some people won't like this film.

Jaded, cynical critics are practically forbidden from publicly praising any movie based on a "woman's journey," especially if that woman is an upper-middle-class white thirtysomething that seemed to have it all when she lost her mind.

As a critic who can admittedly be jaded and cynical much of the time, if I hadn't read the book I doubt I would've gone near the multiplex, but here's the thing: I did read the book, and I loved it.

Maybe it was timing? I don't know. I had just suffered the worst breakup of my life in the year prior to this book being released, so perhaps the story was literary tonic for me in the aftermath. All I know is that once I began reading it, I began calling other women in my life to see if they'd read it, and if they hadn't I was buying extra copies or loaning mine out so they could.

The film, based closely on the book, focuses on Liz Gilbert (Roberts)—a successful writer in Pennsylvania who decides she doesn't like being married, though nothing concrete is really wrong with her marriage. She breaks her husband's heart into a million pieces by suddenly walking out on him, then she embarks on an affair with a Much Younger Man, basically chewing him up and spitting him out too. Actions like this can leave one feeling very guilty and empty inside, so that's where the journey begins.

Liz decides to restore balance in her life by traveling for a year. It sounds terribly cliché and the fact that she had the money and time to do this makes many sour in jealousy, but amidst all of those privileges, it's hard not to feel sorry for how lost her soul truly is.

First, she ventures to Italy where she falls in love with the language and most importantly, the food. The book goes into greater detail, but the movie still brims with pasta and wine and pizza [Eat], so we're okay. In Rome, she also makes friends who encourage her to stop and smell the roses, which proves to be a valuable suggestion later in her trip. If only the film had captured more of Italy's ambiance, this section would have been more satisfying.

Second, she heads to India to learn how to Pray. This proves to be the most difficult task for anxiety-ridden Liz until she meets Richard from Texas (Richard Jenkins). Richard is an emotionally wounded tough guy who tells it like it is and nicknames her "Groceries" (due to her fondness for food). In the book, the guy is barely likable; in the movie, Jenkins makes you weep for him. Seriously, if there is a performance to be noted in this film, it is Richard Jenkins. Every time he enters a frame we hang on his every word because we know we'll be entertained or even moved. He's enormously endearing and when it's time for him to leave in the film, we almost wish we could go with him.

Last, Liz lands in Bali where she inevitably falls in Love (though that's the last thing she planned to do). Felipe (Bardem), her lover, is sexy and warm and charming all at once and she is strong-willed putty in his hands. Roberts and Bardem don't have any special chemistry, but they're pleasant enough to watch as two divorcees finding their way back to beating hearts.

Overall, the film stays very faithful to the book. Nothing crucial is cut; no major portion of the story altered to meet Hollywood standards.

It's not the greatest work of cinema, but it's certainly not awful or hard to watch. That said, if you hated the book, chances are you'll hate this too.

But I didn't.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Girl Who Played with Fire

Yesterday I saw The Girl Who Played with Fire, starring Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist.

Anyone who has read the novel this film was based on cannot help but compare the two, so I'll start by saying the filmmakers again did a good job of paring down the author's too-wordy text into simpler dialog, but I wish they hadn't changed certain details for the screen.

To explain them would be to spoil plot points for those who haven't yet seen the film, so I won't go into detail, but I will say that unless they payoff their changes in the third installment, I don't understand why they did it.

I also thought Lisbeth (Rapace) appeared less intelligent in this film, and that's something that could've easily been fixed by letting the camera linger on her smirks or having other characters reference her brilliance (as they do many times in the book).

My final complaint would be that Zala (Georgi Staykov) wasn't menacing enough for the monster that he is supposed to be. I was neither afraid nor repelled by his film version and felt that I should've been. Perhaps the director could've treated us to a few flashbacks with Liseth's mom?

On the good side: the casting again is superb. There isn't one person who doesn't fit the image of their literary likeness and act with conviction.

I also enjoyed the chemistry between Liseth and her girfriend Mimmi (Yasmine Garbi) and the tension between Blomkvist (Nyqvist) and Berger (Lena Andre).

In addition, as someone who is admittedly squeamish, I appreciated that the bloody scenes were not at all gratuitous and the violence true-to-life instead of ridiculous.

All in all, a satisfying middle to this thrilling trilogy.


Friday, August 06, 2010

Middle Men

Tonight I saw Middle Men, starring Luke Wilson and Giovanni Ribisi.

It will be the topic of Cinebanter #95, so tune in August 16 for our review.

Monday, August 02, 2010


Tonight I saw Salt, starring Angelina Jolie and Liev Schreiber.

Like a pinball that's just been thrust into play, Evelyn Salt (Jolie) begins oh so calmly, then darts from one thing to another with reckless abandon. She's an employee of the CIA who has unexpectedly been accused of spying for the Russians. Because you can never be too careful, the higher ups want to hold her for questioning, but Evelyn is terrified the Soviets who are framing her will go after her (innocent, non-CIA) husband, so she escapes her own high security office building and heads home to warn him. When she arrives, he's already gone so she must continue on the run until she locates him. Or fulfills her Russian mission. You decide.

Along the way, her colleague/friend Ted Winter (Schreiber) does his best to defend her honor, but he can only do so much. The fact that she ran doesn't look good to the authorities and she's too skilled to let the boys track her down for a simple interrogation.

Everything you'd expect from an action thriller is here: high speed chases through traffic, security guards getting pistol whipped by a badass, confusion regarding who is on who's side and good old-fashioned Russian hatred for America.

Now, before you ask what decade the film is set in (present day, if you must), might I remind you that just last week our country (in real life) deported a handful of Russian spies who had been working in respectable American companies, living family lives in the suburbs like so many normal patriots.

With that out of the way, I can say that much of the film is completely unbelievable. There is no man's ass Evelyn can't kick; no weapon she is unprepared to use; no otherwise fatal car crash that she can't walk away from without a scratch. It's ridiculous.

But it's also undoubtedly fun, in a classic, Cold War sort of way.

What I found refreshing is that before every strategic move is made, there's not someone scrambling a signal on a cell phone or cracking some mysterious code on a laptop. In fact, the only typing we really see is in reference to launching a missile, and that I can forgive.

Plus, though she's a sexy woman who purses her lips on more than one occasion, the writers didn't make Evelyn too girlie. You never see her check her makeup in a mirror or even use her sexuality to win anyone over. The only indication you get that she has capacity for normal female emotion is the tenderness we see when she's with her husband. She must really love him.

So if you can get past the cheesy lines and the 80s explosions and the same-old spy twists, you might just have a good time with this flick.