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Case 39

It has been a long journey to American theaters for Case 39. It was shot four years ago and has been sitting on the shelf ever since. Generally, when that happens, the movie ends up terrible. I don’t think there’s any argument to the contrary, but “generally” doesn’t mean “always” and every now and then, that long forgotten movie that needed to be dusted off to be seen turns out to be a good one. Case 39, naturally, isn’t one of those movies. It’s a lazy, been-there-done-that supernatural thriller that’s about as chilling as a jalapeno pepper.

Renee Zellweger plays Emily Jenkins, a social worker at Child Services Division, a company that seeks out abused children and gets them away from their parents. She’s a busy bee and is swamped with work, 38 cases to be exact, until her boss gives her one more (natch). The kid in question is Lilith Sullivan, played by Jodelle Ferland, who seems as innocent as can be. But after her parents try to cook her in an oven (harsh parents), Emily becomes her foster mother and finds out that she’s not all sugar and spice and everything nice (though that might explain why her parents tried to cook her).

Case 39 is a wreck from top to bottom. It’s hard to believe it actually made it to the big screen because this is strictly straight-to-DVD fare. It’s a flatline of a movie that never truly lives and breathes. It just putters along with its slow building horror story, but the problem is that it only follows through on half of that equation. It’s certainly slow, but there’s no building.

The characters, in particular, hit huge personality extremes, but never have anything in between to get them from one end to the other. The little girl, for example, is kind and loving and sweet for the first half of the movie. Then out of nowhere, she completely flips and begins to show her demonic side. I knew exactly where this movie was heading because it’s as predictable a thriller as I’ve seen in some time, so it wasn’t much of a surprise, but there still needs to be some type of arc to get her to that point.

In fact, her demonic side is more aggravating than frightening, especially in a late scene where she repetitively asks Emily one single question, similar to the nagging kids in the back seat annoying their father with echoes of, “Are we there yet?” It’s certainly not scary, so seeing Zellweger freak out, complete with those puffy chipmunk cheeks that make her look like she’s storing nuts for the coming winter, is just silly. Her performance, when it isn’t overbearing, is stiff and bland. She nonchalantly floats through this thing like an amateur actress in a B-movie, which is essentially what this is, only with an inflated budget and big name stars.

Even with those contributing factors, Case 39 is all score. Without its frantic beats and loud rhythms pacing it, you have nothing. The dialogue is ham-fisted, the story is uninteresting, the acting is mediocre at best and the jump scares are frustrating, coming out of literally nowhere, which includes one of the most random and pointless barking dog jolts in horror movie history.

I know October has just arrived and there are those out there who are looking for a good fright flick, but they won’t find it here. It’s still early and the month is looking promising, already starting off on the right foot with the terrific Let Me In, so let’s hope Case 39 is merely a small stain on an otherwise fantastic month for horror.

Case 39 receives 1/5


The A-Team

I’m an 80’s child. I grew up with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Ghostbusters. I know every word to the Beastie Boys’ “Fight For Your Right (To Party!).” I lived and breathed the “Super Mario Brothers” video game. But some things simply came before my time, namely “The A-Team” whose series was wrapping up by the time I emerged from the womb. Having never seen an episode, I don’t have much to compare it to, but the 2010 movie adaptation is nevertheless tons of fun.

The A-Team follows a group of Army Rangers who are wrongfully accused of a crime and put in prison, but quickly break out only to find themselves on the run to clear their names. There’s Hannibal (Liam Neeson), the fearless leader, Face (Bradley Cooper), the reckless womanizer, Murdock (Sharlto Copley), the mentally unstable pilot, and B.A. (Quinton Jackson), the tough looking pacifist who takes a vow of peace after his wrongful imprisonment.

Truth be told, it’s all rather confusing. There’s a prominent CIA figure named Lynch (Patrick Wilson) who may not be who he claims, the beautiful Charisa Sosa (Jessica Biel) who has had a romantic history with Face and is tracking him down, a group of black op mercenaries who are after the same thing as the A-team, and General Morrison (Gerald McRaney) who is the only person able to legitimize the group’s story and clear their names, but dies unexpectedly in an explosion. It’s another one of those movies where the story is not so much incoherent, but insubstantial. It exists solely as a string of flimsy reasons to get the team to the next wild action scene.

And wild they are. Too many action movies feel generic and outdated, but I saw the team do things here that I’ve never seen before, like fly a tank. Yeah, they fly a tank. It’s an action scene that is clearly over-the-top and unbelievable, but you won’t care because that’s the movie’s goal. It balances its somewhat realistic feeling with its crazy stunts almost perfectly. You’ll always anticipate what is coming next, but you'll never find yourself disappointed. It continually tops itself with more and more ludicrous events at every turn.

It seems pointless to say because it should be readily apparent by now, but this picture rarely takes itself seriously and when it does, well, those are the parts that don’t work out too well. The romance between Face and Charisa works only in the end and the speech from Hannibal on “fighting for what you believe in” is unnecessary. But these are slight moments in an otherwise outrageous movie.

The film’s success comes from many things, but it’s clear that much of it comes not only from the frantic, stylized direction from Joe Carnahan, but also from the terrific performances from the cast. Along with this and Taken, Liam Neeson has proven himself as an awesome action star, Copley shows he’s not a one hit wonder after District 9 and provides most of the film’s many laughs, and Bradley Cooper is charmingly brass as Face. The sole weak point of the group is Jackson, a UFC fighter, whose small previous film roles have not prepared him to carry this character. He’s not terrible, but his inexperience shows.

With a rocking soundtrack and outlandish action scenes, The A-Team emits fun for two hours straight. It may not be for everybody and I’m well aware that many will walk out feeling underwhelmed, but I found it to be a real standout in what has so far been a mediocre year for action movies.

The A-Team receives 4/5


Valentine's Day

There are few days of the year that make me feel as miserable as I do on Valentine's Day. It's one of those days where the single become non-existent, where swooning couples become the center of attention. As far as this day is concerned, if you aren't in a relationship, you mean nothing. My cynicism for the day goes far beyond what I've typed here, so imagine my dismay at the thought of sitting through a movie that bears its title. But my job is not to judge based on my preconceived thoughts on the actual day, but rather on the film itself and in doing so I found that Valentine's Day actually isn't half bad.

Much like Love Actually, Valentine's Day features an ensemble cast with dozens of notable actors including Julia Roberts, Bradley Coooper, Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel, Jennifer Garner, Jamie Foxx, Patrick Dempsey, Topher Grace, Anne Hathaway, Ashton Kutcher, Taylor Lautner and even Taylor Swift. However, this is more like a second rate Love Actually rather than a direct comparison. While that film is an absolute delight and explores love in more authentic ways, Valentine's Day is hit and miss with more than its fair share of poorly drawn out romances that feel forced from the page. There isn't a single normal relationship in the entire movie. Even the 51 year old relationship between veteran actors Hector Elizondo and Shirley MacLaine that is meant to show the everlasting endurance of true love proves to be less perfect than expected, with an unnecessary affair popping up in conversation halfway through the movie.

Now, I've purposely skipped over the plot description of the film because there are a large number of storylines, with each character sporting their own, and they are juggled relatively well. Most of them get equal screen time, though a few are left at the wayside and never fully come to a conclusion.

Keeping in mind the actors above, it's easy to see how inconsistent this movie can be. With great talent from Julia Roberts, Jamie Foxx and Anne Hathaway comes the less so Taylor Lautner, Jessica Alba and Ashton Kutcher. Actually, the first two characters introduced in the entire movie were Kutcher and Alba with a scene that ends in their engagement. Kutcher and Alba? That's a recipe for disaster.

Surprisingly, Kutcher's storyline ended up being the best part of the movie. He's the guy that I suspect most men in the audience will relate to the most. He's euphoric with the thought of love after his engagement, but even when he later realizes love isn't as joyous as he originally imagined, he thinks of others. He finds his friends and tries to prevent them from making the same mistakes and feeling the pain that he does. He's a wholly likable guy, most notably when a young boy walks in his flower shop and orders a dozen roses for his elementary school crush. He hands over 11 dollars, far short of what a dozen roses costs and Kutcher simply smiles and asks what the lucky girl's name is. His character is written well and he downplays his usual insufferable comedic antics to fit the role. It still feels weird saying it, but Ashton Kutcher was the shining light in an otherwise mediocre film.

Of course, his storyline was still fairly predictable, as were nearly all of the others. I knew exactly what was going to happen to Garner, Biel, and even Roberts, whose storyline was nonetheless very sweet. The only one that caught me by surprise was Bradley Cooper's. The movie smartly set his storyline up in a manner that makes you believe you know where it is heading, but then turns it 180 degrees and goes somewhere else. It was this surprise that ultimately pushed me to the side of a recommendation.

Lucky for it because most of this thing simply lacked the charm or wit of its far superior spiritual brethren Love Actually. Not to mention that Taylor Swift is simply atrocious and needs to stay as far away from movie cameras as she possibly can. Of course, expecting it to match Love Actually is lofty, so as long as you don't focus on how much worse it is, you might be surprised at how much better your perception will be.

Valentine's Day receives 2.5/5

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