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Into the Blue



Rated PG-13 | 110 mins


     Yes, indeed, it’s true: Jessica Alba looks as good in a bikini as you thought she would. But that’s about the only thing that Into the Blue really has going for it. For awhile, the movie manages to be pleasant—Alba wears her swimsuit and Paul Walker lays low amidst beautiful tropical scenery—but when the actual plot comes into play, it loses most of its interest. Things take off when Jared (Walker), Sam (Alba), Jared’s brother Bryce (Scott Caan), and Bryce’s girlfriend Amanda (Ashley Scott) are searching for treasure in the ocean and stumble upon a sunken boat of full of cocaine. Bryce wants to sell it, but the others disagree. That is, until matters complicate and they find the Zephyr, an ancient ship full of treasure, almost right next to it. In order to properly lay a claim on the Zephyr, they’ll need to avoid any possible connection with the drug-boat that the authorities might pin on them. However, doing this becomes instantly less important to them when the dangerous drug-lord who owned the loot on that ship hunts them down and threatens them because he believes that they have stolen some of his illegal goods.

     The movie is an unabashed mess, as it might seem from that mere plot-description. This is really a shame, too, considering the fact that it had a lot of potential, as far as Fall-Blockbusters are concerned. Had screenwriter Matt Johnson ditched the whole story-thread regarding the drug-boat, Into the Blue could’ve been a lot more interesting and a lot less lame. Why didn’t he simply make this an adventure about four characters on a quest to find sunken treasure and stopped there? It could’ve been perfectly entertaining, considering the fact that Stockton has a knack for beautiful photography and breezy montages featuring likable stars. I suppose Johnson was overcome by the same need that too many screenwriters are these days: to make one’s plot far more earth-shattering than it needs to be. He never stopped to think that Into the Blue’s generic action-sequences would be its most boring. In the end, this is just another big-budget caper movie with nothing more than pretty visuals to offer.


War of the Worlds



Rated PG-13 | 116 mins


     In 1938, Orson Welles terrified the entire nation with his radio broadcast of War of the Worlds. Everyday people, who had no other news outlet to rely on at the time, believed his dramatization of an alien-invasion of Earth to be real. Being the insane genius that he was, Welles refused to remind listeners that it was simply a performance. Over sixty-five-years later: enter Master-Filmmaker Steven Spielberg’s movie-remake of War of the Worlds, starring the couch-hopping, pill-stopping Tom Cruise.

      And, boy, for its first act, the film is pretty freakin’ terrifying. Fiddling with his uncertain audience, Spielberg executes each scene with the utmost level of suspense. His actors play their roles completely straight, and triumphantly so—even when giant alien-tripods emerge from the ground of Boston. “Is it the terrorists!?”, shouts Cruise’s daughter (a terrific Dakota Fanning) as they run through the havoc-ridden streets, away from the tripods. At this point, War of the Worlds is in its finest form, perfectly capturing a modern-day tilt on old-school science-fiction.

     Unfortunately, despite the contemporary flair that Spielberg provides the movie, he and his screenwriter, David Koepp, stay true to Welles outdated source-material in their adaptation. The second act of War of the Worlds, despite maintaining the tenseness and entertainment-value of the first, is full of typical Hollywood plot-gimmicks. The third is even worse, featuring an entirely ridiculous conclusion that puts even the most gullible of viewers’ disbelief to shame. Had the writer and director had the guts to alter the original plotline of the story, the result could’ve been a much better movie.

     Still, it’s hard to deny the fact that the genuine captivation and terror that War of the World’s rise of action (and parts of its climax) provokes makes it worth seeing. The movie may fall victim to its nonchalant conclusion, but its many stirring—and even often horrifying—moments are hard to forget.


     Yes, it’s true: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is more than just your average pre-teen chick-flick. The movie is genuine, sincere, and often poignant. Centering on the lives of four teenage friends during a summer they spend away from each other, connected by a pair of Fed-Exed jeans that strangely fit them all, it surprisingly avoids most of the typical conventions that plague this type of material. However, this turns out to be both a blessing and a burden. Despite being original, the director of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Ken Kwapis, frankly doesn’t know how to manage all four stories well on a linear thread. The material is ingenious and effective by itself, but it isn’t presented in a balanced enough way to form a polished product. The film goes on for a half hour longer than it needs to and dwells on its most ineffective passages (especially those which feature the love interest in Blake Lively’s story or America Ferrera’s melodramatic overacting). The only story-thread that completely worked for me was that which featured Alexis Bledel’s Lena, who moves to Greece for the summer to spend some time with family and ends up falling for the grandson of a man that they have had a grudge against for years. Still, I also deeply enjoyed that of Amber Tamblyn’s Tibby as well, if only for the “Joan of Arcadia” star’s humorous, wry wit. Had The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants been able to be as consistent as it is when it features these two characters, it could’ve actually been rather great. As it stands, the movie has too much to offer to be called “disposable”, but it’s also too flawed to be called “exceptional”. I’ll settle for “noteworthy”.


Walk the Line



Rated PG-13 | 136 mins


     Walk the Line will inevitably be compared to last year’s Ray because of its status as a musical-biopic, but hopefully the fact that it’s a much better movie is not ignored, either. Instead of just being about Johnny Cash the musician, as the former effort did for Ray Charles, the film focuses much more on the psychological workings of stardom. Director James Mangold isn’t nearly as concerned with explaining point-for-point what happened in Cash’s career as he is with using his lead actor, Joaquin Phoenix, to embody a juxtaposition between the music-icon’s persona and his inner-self. And what a performance it is. Phoenix takes a role that could’ve been given a straightforward treatment and turns it into a lyrical, soulful piece that commentates both on human-nature and the celebrity’s impact on society. Even better, surprisingly, is his co-star Reese Witherspoon, who gives the best female performance of the year as Cash’s object of affection and eventual wife, June. Brilliantly layering on a simple, but effective execution by Mangold, the two are both at the heights of their careers, especially when they perform in the film’s musical numbers, which are equally dramatically expressive as they are toe-tappers. Walk the Line is exactly what good entertainment should be: fascinating, captivating, and historically relevant. It is a solid reminder of the often-forgotten fact that when Hollywood actually musters up enough gusto to make something of significance, the outcome can be just as successful as that of anything playing exclusively in New York and LA.





Rated R | 103 mins


     What? Brokeback Mountain wasn’t enough for ‘ya? Call it the year of the homo-/trans-/insert controversial prefix here-sexual film, but the fact remains that the newly-recognized sub-genre has not yet failed to disappoint audiences. “My body may be a work-in-progress, but there is nothing wrong with my soul,” rattles off Felicity Huffman’s Bree Osbourne early on in Transamerica, in role that is simultaneously humorous, tragic, and touching. This wonderful little blend is not captured at all because the fact that the film has a transsexual protagonist, but rather because of the way it recognizes the amusing beauty of the subtleties of life through its characters. A lot has been said about Huffman’s performance, but the actress remains strikingly brave throughout the duration of the film, despite the intensity and audacity of the material. Only in the second act, which embraces typical road-movie clichés as Bree and her long-lost son (who doesn’t have a clue she is his father) spontaneously travel across the United States, does the viewer stray from being entirely immersed in the material. Otherwise, no matter how tiny its budget or quiet its delivery, Transamerica is a gem of a film.


Stay Alive



Rated PG-13 | 85 mins


     The Internet Movie Database summarizes the plot of Stay Alive as such: “For a group of teens, the answer to the mysterious death of their old friend lies within the world of an online video game based on the true story of an ancient noblewoman known as the Blood Countess.” If casually browsing through movie listings on the webpage, one might be inclined to believe that the ridiculous description was written by a misinformed internet-hack. But that’s not the case: Stay Alive is, indeed, about a group of gamers whose characters in a video-game work like voo-doo dolls. “Game Over” means much more than the sacrifice of a player’s ability to frantically move a toggle-button; it also means the loss of their life. Sounds lame, eh? Well, as if the premise wasn’t dopey enough, adding insult to injury are the animated video-game sequences which stretch up to three or four minutes a piece. Not to mention: throughout the duration, the viewer couldn’t care less about the lives of the characters due to the cast’s nonchalant performances. In its entirety, Stay Alive is a piece of trash that raises a question that marks a new low in uninspired filmmaking: when is a movie no longer a cash-in byproduct of Hollywood and actually a means for a studio to steal the mass public’s hard-earned money?


Lucky Number Slevin



Rated R | 109 mins


     Lucky Number Slevin is less than original in many ways; it tells us of a con-like mix-up from the point-of-view of an unreliable first-person narrator and then sets the record straight by telling us of the same mix-up in the third-person. While the film’s contents aren’t entirely predictable—a distinguishing element from its genre-counterparts—its structure is admittedly bland. However, that’s not to say that it doesn’t contain more than its fair share of redeeming factors; from its off-the-wall performances to its vibrant set-design to its delicious dialogue, Lucky Number Slevin is certainly admirable in more than one way. Headlining the cast as the title-character is the criminally-underrated Josh Harnett, and supporting him are Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Ben Kingsley, Lucy Liu, and Stanley Tucci. From one perspective, it’s a shame that the same cast couldn’t have gathered to bring a better script to life. However, their presence here represents one of the reasons audiences didn’t have to sit through a much blander version of Lucky Number Slevin. As it is, the movie is worth seeing for its good qualities, as its less impressive ones can be, for the most part, ignored. I enjoyed it.


Thank You For Smoking



Rated R | 92 mins


     A wall-to-wall satire, Thank You for Smoking is amusing and efficient, if not groundbreaking. Told from the first-person point-of-view of Big Tobacco spokesman Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), the movie is, as its title suggests, a sarcastic look at the tactics of cigarette-company lobbyists and those of their government-opposition. It functions well as such; the script and performances are both smart and funny. In the lead role, Aaron Eckhart, especially, is absolutely terrific at sympathetically and empathetically capturing a man who rallies for a rather horrible cause. However, his performance is one of the few aspects of the movie that transcend the level of the well-oiled and well-assembled, if not particularly daring, machine that Thank You for Smoking represents. While humorous and occasionally shocking, the movie is rarely able to reach a status beyond mere proficiency because it never reveals anything to the audience that it doesn’t already know. In order to be a great satire, a picture needs to have a stronger punch-line than the mere “cigarettes are bad for you” that this one tries to jab at the viewer with. Still, Thank You for Smoking never overstays its welcome at a short ninety-two minutes and, for what it does do, it does effectively.


The New World



Rated PG-13 | 135 mins


     I’ve never been much of a camper or a hiker, but before Terrence Malick’s latest bore-a-palooza, The New World, I was never actually disdainful towards nature. There’s no doubt the British locales the writer/director uses to double for Jamestown, U.S.A. are beautiful—the movie tells a version of the Pilgrim’s settlement of America/the John Smith and Pocahontas story—but that doesn’t excuse the fact that he is far too obsessed with them for his own good. During The New World’s duration, the audience will spend a given two-minute period listening to a random character’s voice-over as trees sway in the wind onscreen. And that’s if their lucky. Sometimes Malick’s infatuations overcome him so much that he takes the liberty of showing us the oh-so-delightful sight of a pool of water forming ripples as a character dips their foot into it. Let’s be honest here: I’m all for experimental, challenging art as much as the next guy, but there’s a line in which the pretensions of such become nothing but pretentious, rather than at all thought-provoking. Malick doesn’t just cross this line; he leaps over it. For all I know, he could have more profound ideas than any other living filmmaker, but The New World has left me no choice but to dismiss them because of his drying-paint-style execution.

     In all fairness, the film does have one remarkable element, the performance of sixteen-year-old Q'Orianka Kilcher. She injects an amazing amount of life into the movie as Pocahontas, giving a near-perfect performance to encapsulate the love-triangle that forms between her character, John Smith (Colin Farrell), and John Rolfe (Christian Bale). Kilcher’s passionate work actually keeps the film afloat long enough for the viewer to immerse their self in the first act or so, before tiring of Malick’s obsessive filmmaking tendencies. However, after 135 minutes of sheer disregard for the audience’s senses, she’s unfortunately the last thing that the audience is left thinking about. Mr. Malick: I love to watch the filmmaker break the rules of traditional storytelling, but if you’re going to keep doing so, at least learn to do it right.



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