Latest Reviews
Sunday
Dec072008

Milk

Milk comes at a time when our nation seems to be going backwards. It comes at a time when civil rights are being questioned in the homosexual community. Even the usually reliable state of California voted to ban gay marriage in the last election. There are a lot of issues to consider in the world right now, including two wars and a failing economy, but one of the most important, yet least valued, is gay rights. If even one person or group is denied their civil rights, then we as a country have failed and unfortunately, that seems to be the case. We've turned our back on the homosexual community and told them that they aren't equal to us. Milk knows this and creates a riveting and Oscar-worthy film that will be ignored by the homophobic and hate filled citizens of America, although they are the ones who need to see it most. Milk is one of the best pictures of 2008.

The film follows the true story of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected into public office. It is set in the 1970's, at a time when homosexuals were struggling for civil rights. This was a time when a bill was being voted on that would fire homosexual teachers. This was a time when gays couldn't even walk down the street without the fear of somebody attacking them. It's one of the most shameful times our country has dealt with, but most don't view it as such, probably because it's still going on today. As with any good biopic, it chronicles the life and times of Mr. Milk, including his accomplishments, his rise, and his inevitable fall. An outed gay man and an advocate for gay rights, his story is truly uplifting and inspiring, yet tragic and heartbreaking at the same time.

If I learned anything about gay rights from the film, I learned that homosexuals had it much worse 30 years ago than they do today and that we've come a long way. Compared to what was going on during that time period, our recent bigotry and homophobia really doesn't seem so bad. But as the film knows and points out, we have got to shape up and the only way to do that is to allow equal rights to all people regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. The film's main target, outside of battling politicians, are Christians, and for good reason. Most of Harvey Milk's opposition in San Francisco came from Christian activists who hid behind the Bible to justify their intolerance and bigotry. Considering that the majority of the nation does that today by not allowing homosexuals their human born right to marry, the film creates an intelligent allegory of modern times.

I've talked a lot about gay rights and why we need to stop being so narrow-minded and accept them as they are, but that's only because that is the whole point of the film. It's relevance in today's society is powerful and far-reaching and as such, this is the most important film to be released all year. However, that isn't all the picture has to offer.

The performances are extraordinary. Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, and James Franco are excellent and I believed every second they were on-screen, but nobody can match what Sean Penn did in this movie. His performance is brilliant as Harvey Milk and it's one of those rare instances where you stop seeing the actor and you start seeing the person he's playing. There's a long list of great performances this year, including Heath Ledger as the Joker in this summer's blockbuster, The Dark Knight, and here is another one you can add to that list. Sean Penn hit perfection in this role. Be on the lookout for his Oscar nomination.

Milk is as good a biopic as I've ever seen. It's hard to express how marvelous this film is, but when you couple the powerful and socially relevant message with Sean Penn's phenomenal performance and Gus Van Sant's good direction, you have one of the most moving films to be released in recent memory. It's one of those movies that is so emotionally powerful and hard-hitting that no noticeable negatives come to mind. It's nearly perfect in every way and is easily one of the top three films I've seen all year. It will open your eyes to the injustices that face the homosexual community and will touch you to the point of tears. Milk is unforgettable.

Milk receives 5/5

Tuesday
Dec022008

Bolt

Computer animated movies don't get enough credit. Sure, many of them are absolute garbage (like Star Wars: The Clone Wars or Space Chimps), but every so often you get a film that is so wonderfully fun and full of energy that it brings out the kid in you. Heck, I'm 22 years old and some of my favorite films and television shows are animated. There's just something about a good CGI movie that makes me feel like I'm 10 again and I love that. Lucky for us, Disney has given us Bolt, a completely original and charming 3D movie that everyone in the family will enjoy.

The film follows young Bolt (voiced by John Travolta), who is the superstar of his very own television show where he protects his owner, Penny (voiced by Miley Cyrus). The catch is that he thinks it is all real. He is completely unaware that he is on television and lives solely to make sure Penny is okay. At the end of each show, he always thwarts the bad guy and saves Penny, but thanks to recent low ratings, the boys in charge decide to end on a cliffhanger where Bolt loses Penny. Since he believes she is in real peril, he breaks free of the set and goes on an adventure to try to find her.

As far as I'm concerned, there are two things that can ruin a CGI movie: the voice acting and the animation. For instance, Madagascar drove me crazy because every time somebody spoke, I heard their real life counterparts rather than the characters. Every time the lion said something, I heard Ben Stiller. Every time the zebra spoke, I heard Chris Rock. It was very distracting. Just as well, a movie like Valiant can look incredibly drab, to the point where I'm too focused on the poor animation to give a crap about what's happening. This is where Bolt shines.

It may not be fair to compare every CGI movie with Pixar because they are masters of their craft, but they've set the bar high and most films can't reach it, Bolt included. However, this may be the prettiest non-Pixar computer animated movie I've ever seen. It's no Wall-E, but the stellar visual style along with the heightened 3D experience makes for a visually stimulating good time.

Unlike Madagascar, I never felt like the actors were getting in the way of the story. John Travolta and Miley Cyrus spoke their lines with gusto rising above their recognizable voices and gave the film a feeling of its own. But it's not just those two. Susie Essman and Mark Walton are terrific voicing Bolt's friends Mittens the cat and Rhino the hamster. Even James Lipton of "Inside the Actors Studio" creeps in there with some believable and humorous lines. I can't praise the vocal delivery enough. It was phenomenal.

Part of my affection for the film comes from the fact that it is undeniably cute. I mean, just look at that picture up there. Is that not the most precious thing you've ever seen? (NOTE: If you answered no, you have no soul.) I fell in love with these characters because of their surprising cuteness. In fact, the opening two minutes may very well be the most adorable thing I've ever seen in a movie. Now I want a puppy.

Something to note is that although 3D will soon be a cliché due to the insane amount of upcoming movies utilizing the tactic, Bolt uses it properly. Instead of throwing things at your face non-stop, it exists only to enhance the experience. It wasn't used as a gimmick, which I loved. I hope that future films will take note of this more effective usage.

All in all, Bolt is a solid effort that I thoroughly enjoyed. The only real problem with the movie is that it's not a gut busting hilarious movie by any means (although Rhino is awesome). Still, it does have some good chuckles here and there, enough to keep you satisfied. It's a movie that I would love to see some sequels to. A film like Wall-E is perfect the way it is and doesn't need any sequel to tarnish its beauty, but Bolt was a fascinating, fun, and very entertaining character that I could easily see partaking in further adventures.

Animation isn't just for children anymore. Bolt is a terrific family film that I recommend wholeheartedly.

Bolt receives 4/5

Monday
Nov242008

High School Musical 3: Senior Year

Disney is synonymous for coming up with stupid fads starring poor actors and actresses and somehow marketing it to the teen and college sorority crowd. Being a college student myself, I was shocked to see that so many of my fellow students were practically obsessed with Hannah Montana and High School Musical. I've witnessed a small portion of the train wreck that is Miley Cyrus playing the titular character, but I've never seen the High School Musical films. I decided that I wanted to see what all the fuss was about so I ventured out to the theater to see this. With that said, I know I am not the demographic for this film and having not seen the original two, my opinion might not mean much, but here it is. High School Musical 3: Senior Year is largely unwatchable, intensely ridiculous, and stupefyingly dumb.

I hate movies set in high school. Most of them are absolutely nothing like what an actual high school is like. Just as I got a glamorized vision of what college would be like through films like Van Wilder, younger audiences are getting a false representation of the experiences they will get in high school. I don't know about you, but my high school was smelly, isolated, and overcrowded to the point where you couldn't even navigate your way through the hallways. The school in High School Musical 3 has more students attending sporting events than actual classes and they have what is essentially a greenhouse on the roof. Seriously. What kind of school has plants on their roof? Furthermore, what kind of school makes the rooftop accessible to students?

But that's only a minor quibble in the big scheme of things. The film has two big problems: it tries way too hard to be cool and the musical numbers were awkward. The story is a typical high school story about love and moving on to college while trying to stay close to your friends, but there's a catch. The guys in this movie play basketball. Rad dude! Just like a complete dork I knew in high school, they always carry that ball around as if it's attached to them because everybody knows that to be cool, you must be a jock.

Troy, played by Zac Efron, is the leader of the group and one of the popular kids in school. It's easy to tell because he wears a bandana around his head. What a bad ass! God knows I wouldn't want to mess with a kid who feigns strength and carries a hipster attitude by wearing a bandana. That's just too much for my timid, un-cool, dork-like persona. Have mercy on me Zac Efron, you dreamy piece of teenage girl fantasy meat! Honestly, I'm surprised they didn't start chugging Mountain Dew, snowboarding, or doing anything else that showed them as x-treme 2 the max.

In relation, the basketball team is largely unconvincing (especially when they broke out in song in the middle of the game), which is a major dilemma because this high school (imaginatively named East High) is supposed to be back to back state champions. If that basketball team is back to back champions, then I'm Rambo. Wouldn't that be awesome? Rambo's a legend. Remember that time he shot that dude? That was sweet! Speaking of shots, I wonder if I'm up to date with my health. I've been feeling kind of weak lately and I'm afraid I'm coming down with a virus, like my friend's computer. Seriously, my buddy was looking at risqué photos online and downloaded a virus. What a loser.

That little tangent was pretty much what my thoughts were like during this whole movie. I just stopped paying attention and began daydreaming or talking to myself in my head. Sure, that's kind of mental, but I'd rather listen to myself than listen to the bozos on screen. I perked up when a musical number came around, but even then it was only to see to what extent the actors and actresses were willing to embarrass themselves. Although I do admit that a song or two was quite catchy, I felt uneasy more often than not. There is a song featuring Ashley Tisdale where she is singing about how she wants everything in life. The tune featured heavy breathing along with the lyrics "I want it" while she provocatively thrusted her hips while wearing skimpy clothing. In actuality, she is 23 years old, but I couldn't help but sense a weird pedophilia vibe coming through. Am I supposed to enjoy what is supposed to be underage girls trying to act sexy? It was a bit much.

Still, the movie is relatively harmless and I suppose kids will enjoy it, but boy was this a tedious film to sit through as an adult. The fact that this franchise has actually become a cultural phenomenon (among older folks as well) says a lot about how low our standards have become. The film sports poor performances, ridiculous scenarios, and cringe inducing high school drama BS that we've seen in countless other films. Don't get me wrong. I like musicals, but only when they are done right. Unfortunately, High School Musical 3: Senior Year fails. If there is any justice in the world, this will be the last entry in this fledgling franchise and our children can enjoy something a little less idiotic.

High School Musical 3: Senior Year receives 1.5/5

Sunday
Nov162008

Changeling

Clint Eastwood is a living legend. He's a terrific actor who has given us one of the most iconic characters in film history with Dirty Harry, he's a marvelous director, and on top of that, he even composes the music to some of his films. If there is one person in Hollywood who deserves recognition, it's Clint Eastwood. Unfortunately, his latest film, Changeling, (not to be confused with the 1980 haunted house film) fails to reach the standard he set for himself. After Letters from Iwo Jima, Flags of Our Fathers, and Million Dollar Baby, all masterpieces in their own right, the bar was set high, but numerous missteps prevent Changeling from surpassing mediocrity.

The film is based on a true story set in the late 1920's and Angelina Jolie stars as Christine Collins. After returning home from work one night, she finds her son is missing. After a search, the police claim to have found him. The problem is that little boy isn't her son. She will do anything to get him back, even if nobody else believes her.

Here's the main problem with the film. It's way too melodramatic. I understand the heaviness of the situation, but a lot of the drama should have been downplayed. It got a bit excessive, even to the point where it was almost a self parody. Look at Angelina Jolie for instance. Although she is a terrific actress in her own right, she felt off here. The film is about two hours and 20 minutes and I would estimate that she cries for about two hours of it. It seemed like every other scene she was breaking down in tears for one reason or another and I began to get annoyed. If the minds behind spoof films like Disaster Movie and Date Movie ever make a Dramatic Movie, I could easily see them making fun of the excessive crying in Changeling.

Much like the rest of the film, the acting is uneven. The quality of the performances seemed to change from scene to scene. Sometimes they were good, sometimes they were bad, and sometimes they were over the top. I could never fully immerse myself in the undeniably emotional story because the actors never pulled me in like they should have.

One thing I rarely notice when I'm watching a movie is the musical score. The purpose of a score is to heighten the experience and make the emotions present in a particular scene even more effective. Well, this musical score doesn't do that. In fact, it detracts from the experience. There is one song in particular that is played over and over and over again. From the beginning of the picture to the end, a slow melodic piano tune played at various parts in the story and it drove me crazy. If you begin to notice the musical score to a greater extent than usual, then it has failed. That was the case here.

I was split on this movie for the most part. At times, I was completely captivated at what I was seeing, but other times I was bored out of my mind and unconvinced of the film's authenticity. It just lacked that special something that other great dramas have. Still, it succeeds because, as uneven as it is, Clint Eastwood brings his usual stylish direction and the story will have some kind of emotional impact on you. It's no game changer, but Changeling has just enough to recommend despite some major blunders along the way.

Changeling receives 2.5/5

Saturday
Nov152008

Role Models

Comedies are difficult to make. Every year, dozens and dozens of comedies are released and only a select few manage to be a decent watch. Most are usually unfunny exercises in idiocy. Over the last couple of weeks we've had two comedies that are worth watching. First we had the good, but nothing special Zack and Miri Make a Porno. Now we have the slightly better, but still nothing special Role Models. We're on a roll.

The film follows Wheeler (Seann William Scott) and Danny (Paul Rudd) who, after being arrested, are assigned to the Sturdy Wings program as big brothers to two under privileged boys. Wheeler is assigned to a foul mouthed kid who has never had a big brother last more than a day and Danny is assigned to a nerd who is obsessed with live action role playing (i.e. hitting people with Styrofoam swords). They are hardened guys who just want to fulfill their requirement and get on with their lives, but will learn important lessons along the way.

Basically, we've seen this movie before. I know it's a comedy, but is it really too much to ask for a plot that I haven't seen countless times in other films? Hmm, I wonder if Wheeler and Danny will grow to love the two boys and learn to put their selfish ways aside in the hopes of finding some kind of self enlightenment? I'm tired of seeing this kind of story arc. It's old and overused.

However, a comedy has its humor to fall back on. If this were a drama, I would instantly ostracize it for its lack of originality. But regardless of how mundane a comedy's story is, what it really boils down to is whether or not it is funny. Luckily for Role Models, it is. While it isn't my favorite comedy I've seen this year, there are at least three or four big laughs and many more chuckles and grins to accompany them.

Still, it does get stale as the movie goes on. You know how some movies are said be "one note joke" films? Well, this is slightly better. It's a two note joke film. The majority of the gags come from the interactions between Wheeler, Danny, and the kids. Like I said, one kid is foul mouthed and one kid is a nerd. They milk these characters for everything they can and it gets old fast. There are only so many role playing nerd jokes I can take. I mean, I get it. He's a dork. Move on. But it never did. It stayed this way up until the very last scene.

The foul mouthed child is no different. There isn't anything inherently humorous in a child cussing. There has to be something funny to say or it has to be said in a context that fits the rest of the scene. Instead, the child randomly blurted out vulgarity even in scenes where it just wasn't necessary. The jokes simply didn't have enough variety.

Despite all of my complaining, I enjoyed the film. I do have some reservations with the structure of it and the "been there done that" story, but the simple fact is that I laughed a lot, enough to recommend the film. Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott are terrific as always and watching them play off of each other was a blast. Their talent is enough to save this movie even with its drawbacks. Zack and Miri Make a Porno will probably get more accolades because of its shock value, but for my money Role Models is the better of the two and the comedy to see.

Role Models receives 3.5/5