Sunday, September 11, 2011


Lara and I went to see this movie last night after already watching a somewhat scary movie, Super 8 (which was fantastic, incidentally). We both had a feeling this movie would be scary, but we weren't entirely sure what to expect from it. It starts off on Day 2, showing a woman (Gwyneth Paltrow) sitting in an airport. She starts to cough and doesn't look as glamorous as I've usually come to expect. By the time she gets home, she is shaking, unable to hold a coffee cup, and is rushed to the hospital where she promptly succumbs to the sickness and dies. The world slowly becomes aware of a new virus that has spread to various parts of the country, starting out very small, but quickly increasing as more and more people become exposed. The worst part is, scientists are having a hard time duplicating the virus in order to create a vaccination. From the time you contract the disease, you have about 2-3 days to live. Needless to say, within a few months about a tenth of the population is 6 feet underground, being buried by people in radiation suits to avoid contamination

Despite its association with disaster films, this movie is incredibly smart. Lara and I were surmising on the trip home that whoever wrote that screenplay must have had a great deal of scientific knowledge. There are a lot of medical and scientific terminology that will go way over your head, but it's definitely to the movie's credit. It adds a sense of reality to the proceedings, even leading me to believe that its depiction of America's response to such a situation is probably not very exaggerated. It's a very intelligent and intense thriller, brilliantly directed and almost perfectly acted, which isn't too surprising after taking note of the star-studded cast. Matt Damon, Jude Law, Lawrence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, and Marion Cotillard are all at top form, forming cohesive and well balanced performances.

As you can expect based on the subject matter, this film is not for the faint of heart. There are some very disturbing sights of people that have recently been killed by the virus, so be warned if you're susceptible to gore or frightening images. The epidemic portrayed is enough to scare you out of touching your face for a week.

I can't really say how much I enjoyed this movie, but I cannot deny the talent that is being displayed here, or the effectiveness of the themes that are being told. It's the best disease outbreak movie I've ever seen, and possibly the best disaster movie as well. Despite being so frightening, there are also a few genuinely touching moments that help ease the tension slightly. The ending will possibly give you a little whiplash, but I cannot deny how powerful this film is. I couldn't stop thinking about it. Lara gives this movie three stars, but I have to rate it a little higher than that. I give Contagion three and a half stars.

CONTAGION is rated PG-13 for disturbing content and some language.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Transformers: Dark of the Moon had a lot of promise, especially after the first couple of trailers indicated that it would be more story-driven than purely a special effects display. Needless to say, I came to truly appreciate how misleading trailers could be after seeing this movie. The story begins with the 1969 moon-landing, explaining an alternate history in which the United States' true reason for lunar exploration was to be the first to recover a crashed Autobot vessel. Apparently the Russians had already recovered a very important part of the alien craft and was hiding it in the radiation-strewn land of Chernobyl.

The story starts to really lose me after that, just when the main human characters enter. The plot becomes so convoluted by the end of the film that the only thing left to do is a 1 hour action set piece to finish the movie. This film, while admittedly an improvement over that Revenge of the Fallen debacle, still fell far short of the promise that its trailers portrayed. Michael Bay has apparently abandoned all pretense and has stopped feigning interest in capturing any kind of emotion (or comprehension, for that matter) in his films, which I suppose might not be a bad move from a monetary standpoint (worldwide this film has grossed over 1.1 billion dollars). As a fan of movies, however, it's very disconcerting for the future of cinema if others choose to copy this seriously flawed template.

Not everything is bad in this film, though it was hard to find a bright spot. Shia LeBouf is a terrific actor and still manages to put in a decent performance. The special effects are also undeniably terrific, but there's only so much of that I can stomach. 3/4 of the movie being mindless action scenes begins to wear on me after a while. I can't imagine trying to endure this film's bloated running time in 3D and the ending of the film, as well as some of the ridiculous plot points, really ruined this one for me. Anyway, if you like the clanging metal robots and don't care about cohesion or intelligent storytelling you might want to see this one. I, for one, found it nearly unwatchable. I give Transformers: Dark of the Moon two stars, and that's probably generous.

TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON is rated PG-13 for intense prolonged sequences of sci-fi action violence, mayhem and destruction, and for language, some sexuality and innuendo.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger

When reviewing Thor for this blog, I mentioned how enthralled I've been with Marvel Studio's efforts in bringing their super-heroes to the big screen, and thankfully Captain America: The First Avenger is another prime example of that excellence that I've become accustomed to.

The story follows a young man named Steve Rogers, deemed too unfit for military service, but wanting desperately to serve his country in the midst of WWII. Steve is given the chance of a lifetime, when a brilliant scientist recommends him to test a serum that can turn even a 90 pound weakling like him into a "super soldier". However, there is more to this war than just the Allies against the Nazis. Led by the villainous Johann Schmidt, or as comic book fans might know him, the Red Skull, a group calling itself "Hydra" plans a worldwide attack to establish his superiority and rule the planet.

Point blank, this movie is pretty great. It has a few somewhat corny moments, but it's so exhilarating the rest of the time that I hardly noticed. A lot of that has to do with the tremendous production design, as the WWII backdrop reminds me a lot of Indiana Jones at times. Given that director Joe Johnston worked on those films as well, it's not that surprising that the period details pop as much as they do.

When I first heard that Chris Evans was going to be playing the Captain, I must admit I was a little nervous. I was sure that his turn as the Human Torch from the Fantastic Four movies would completely taint my view of him. I am happy to report, however, that he completely overcame my initial bias within seconds. He did a great job of personifying not only the heroic Captain America, but also the loyal and noble Steve Rogers, which is not an easy task. The supporting cast nearly stole this film, with Tommy Lee Jones and Stanley Tucci putting in terrific performances. Hugo Weaving really does great work playing Red Skull, being careful not to overplay it, but not dialing back his menace either. He's a formidable foe for Cap, and may be the most effective villain of all the Marvel films to date.

This being the last movie before the grand Avengers team-up, there were clearly some bridges to be crossed in order to bring Cap into the Marvel universe, but again I thought this was done with great care; just a cherry on top of what I thought was a wholly entertaining summer blockbuster.

As with all the other Marvel films, STAY AFTER THE CREDITS! You will be rewarded immensely if you do! That's all I'm saying... What Marvel gives us is a wonderful treat, and you will leave the movie theater actually giddy with excitement (at least, that's how Lara and I were). I really liked Captain America: The First Avenger, and I give it a very solid three stars. Next stop for Marvel, The Avengers!

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER is rated PG-13 for violence, intense action sequences, and some scary images.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

It's been 10 years since Harry Potter first hit the big screen with Sorcerer's Stone. We have all watched them grow up right before our eyes, hitting highs and lows but never quite receiving a full pay-off. This movie, which has been split into two parts, was a thrilling and highly rewarding viewing experience. I decided to review the whole movie (parts one and two) instead of just the second half. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows begins with Harry, Ron, and Hermione setting off alone, after the devastating events that concluded the previous chapter in the series, and searching for the objects containing bits of Lord Voldemort's desecrated soul knowing that only by destroying them can the Dark Lord be defeated.

The first part of this film is wonderfully captured, being very different from all other entries of this story thus far in that Harry does not return to school. The change in setting can feel a little jarring, but it provides the three leads with the opportunity to really shine in the spotlight. They not only manage to hold our attention, but they all but carry the movie by themselves as the narrative sets the stage for the final showdown known as The Battle of Hogwarts. The first part of the film certainly has its flaws (the dance scene in the tent, for example...), but otherwise it's a thrilling set-up to the series climax. The last battle between the followers of Voldemort's and those who fight on the side of "The Chosen One" is filled with poignant moments of loss, love, and sacrifice.

Every actor in this film is top notch, especially Alan Rickman who gives the performance of his career as the dark and immensely complex character of Severus Snape. Daniel Radcliffe has a few moments that are absolutely spell-binding (pun-intended), particularly after seeing a memory that sheds light on what his real mission is. That quiet moment of realization as he comes to terms with what he must do in order to defeat the most evil wizard of all time is devastating and captivating at the same time. As a huge fan of the books, I was just as worried as anyone else that my favorite moments would be ruined or short-changed, but I am happy to report that the most important parts of the story are portrayed beautifully, leaving most of the people in the theater positively weeping.

This final chapter in the saga is not only fitting, but completely satisfying in the best possible way. Having already broken the all-time record for the highest grossing opening weekend at the box office, I would be surprised if many people I know haven't seen this already, but I cannot recommend this film highly enough. Go see it, particularly if you are a fan of the books. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is a  wonderful parting gift to the boy wizard we have all come to know and love. I give this film four stars. "All is well."

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS are both rated PG-13 for intense action sequences, fantasy violence, and some frightening images.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

X-Men: First Class

When it comes to X-Men movies, I have been pretty lenient in my criticsims. I was a fan of "X3: The Last Stand" and was one of the few that actually enjoyed "X-Men Origins: Wolverine". I went into this movie with moderate expectations, hoping for a reasonably good X-Men movie. I definitely wasn't expecting a great film, regardless of genre, but that's what I got. Set in the 60's, "X-Men: First Class" focuses on the back-story of Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr who went on to become Professor X and Magneto respectively.

The plot centers around the Cuban Missile Crisis and the hand the mutants may or may not have played in its secret history. While this in itself is entertaining, the emotional crux of the story lies in the friendship of the two leads. Erik, a victim of the Holocaust with a terribly troubled childhood, seeks a figure from his past on whom he has a personal vendetta. Charles, on the other hand, grew up in a wealthy household and went on to become a professor at Oxford University while still in his twenties. Charles meets Erik in an unusual way, but is able to use his rare gifts (telepathy) to tap into some of Erik's more troubling, and more heart-warming memories to help him progress in many ways.

I thought this movie was pretty brilliant. Director Matthew Vaughan does a great job balancing drama with action set pieces all while interweaving this film with the original trilogy (though there are a few minor discrepancies in continuity). The two leads played by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender were absolutely pitch-perfect in their respective roles. Both had large shoes to fill from their predecessors, and both made me more fond of their incarnations than I had been with the originals. Some moments are even tear-jerking between them; something you don't get in your average summer blockbuster, let alone in an X-Men movie. I definitely recommend this movie. This is easily the best of the X-Men franchise and one of my favorite films of the summer. I give "X-Men: First Class" four stars.

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some sexual content including brief partial nudity and language.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Let me just say right off the bat, that I was really looking forward to Thor. It not only looked like something I hadn't really seen before, but it was sort of kicking off a summer movie season that included huge franchises like Pirates of the Caribbean and Harry Potter. Thor, though not nearly as well-known as some of his Marvel counterparts, stands on his own as a pretty unique and powerful super-hero that is poised for a big break-out summer. After hearing some interesting feedback from other online sources, I couldn't wait to go into the theater and see if Marvel could recapture some of the magic they'd achieved with Iron Man.

Thor is the tale of a young and arrogant warrior from a realm known as Asgard. Though positioned to take over the throne, the mighty son of Odin is banished to Earth by his father after reigniting an ancient war with the dangerous Frost Giants. Stripped of his power, Thor must learn humility (among other things) before he can reclaim the deadly weapon Mjolnir and return home to Asgard. However, things do not go according to plan as his deeply troubled brother, Loki, begins to interfere at every turn...

Led by a great cast as well as a surprising but brilliant choice to place Kenneth Branagh at the helm, Thor is a unique and thoroughly entertaining summer blockbuster. First off, the casting of Thor himself (Chris Hemsworth) couldn't have been better, in my opinion. Not only does he look formidable as the hulking warrior, but he has impeccable comedic timing as well as the acting chops to really sell the emotional turn his character has to take. Shakespearean overtones are woven throughout this film, helped hugely by the experience of Branagh, but also by the weight and gravitas of some of the supporting characters.

A perfect example of this is Sir Anthony Hopkins for his turn as Odin. He has a very wise, but somewhat forlorn demeanor that definitely brings the emotional weight to every scene in which he appears. Despite the family drama, this movie was actually much funnier than I expected. Particularly the moments of culture-clashing where Hemsworth and co-star Natalie Portman are interacting. With Thor being part of the Avengers team, there needed to be ties to some of the other Marvel franchises, such as Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and the yet-to-be-released Captain America: The First Avenger. To the film's credit, it manages to interweave the connective tissue of the Avengers pretty seamlessly and does a terrific job of building our excitement for the team-up next summer.

In case you couldn't tell, I really enjoyed Thor! In other hands this movie could have been disastrous. Elements like a "rainbow bridge" that connects other dimensions could be terribly corny, but the Marvel team managed to pull it off with flying colors (no pun intended). This film deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as Iron Man, and could even be better. Here's hoping The Avengers will deliver the goods as well!

THOR is rated PG-13 for intense action scenes and some violence.