My favorite movies of 2009/2010
Up in the Air
My Top films for the years 2009-10
UP IN THE AIR****+ (4 & a half stars out of 5)
UP IN THE AIR:Timing is everything. This is an excellent movie, but what makes it great is that its so appropriately timely. What topic is more heavily on the minds of people today than the subject of heartless corporate downsizing? Director Jason Reitman (Son of Ivan Reitman) takes us inside the conscienceless politics of modern corporate America but shows it through the eyes of a man who loves his work, even though his work is firing people.
Ryan Bingham (Wonderfully portrayed by George Clooney) is a specialist in corporate downsizing. He works for an Omaha based firm that provides "career transition counseling". This firm hires out people like Ryan to other companies that need to fire workers but who, in Ryan's words, "Don't have the balls to do it themselves". Hence, Ryan arrives to deliver the bad news to the soon-to-be unemployed.
Ryan is a master at softening the blow (if that's possible) and has a well practiced spiel that tauts unemployment as an opportunity. His repeated refrain is "Try not to take this personally" but the newly unemployed have trouble not taking termination to heart..
Ryan has a secondary career as a motivational speaker who gives lectures on how to get rid of the physical and emotional baggage that weighs us down in life. He encourages people to travel light and fast. "To move is to live."
Ryan loves his job. He sees airports, airplanes and hotels has his real home. He spends 322 days a year travelling, and endures "43 miserable days at home". He has a small, spartan apartment and practically everything he owns can fit into his luggage. On one plane trip, while enjoying the perks of first class travel, Ryan is asked where he lives. He replies "Here!".His biggest dream in life is to wrack up 10 million flier miles. Apparently, only six other people have ever reached this plateau and Ryan aims to be the seventh. ("More people have walked on the moon" he points out.)
Ryan is not close to his family and lives a solitary life, which he seems to prefer. However, he crosses path with a kindred spirit in the form of sexy Alex Gohan (Vera Farmiga). She is a fellow road warrior who lives for her job and the glamour of travel. She is impressed by Alex's collection of elite status cards, particularly his Concierge card, which Alex finds very sexy. They become on-and-off lovers, coordinating their travel schedules to arrange rendezvous around the country. Ryan is deliriously happy with his life.
But things start to change for Ryan when his boss Craig (Jason Bateman) unceremoniously grounds him. It seems that Craig has hired young, ambitious Natalie Keener (Anna Kendritch) to save the company money. Natalie has come up with a plan to save air fare costs by using video conferencing to fire people remotely, without leaving the office. Craig loves the idea of saving money but Ryan sees it as a threat to the lifestyle he so dearly loves.
He cleverly convinces Craig that Natalie needs more personal experience firing before she can supervise a system of remote terminations, so Craig sends Ryan back on the road, along with Natalie, to teach her the subtle aspects of downsizing workers. He also instructs her on the tips to living life on the road, the first of which is to travel light. Her overstuffed luggage is in stark contrast to his neatly packed bag. Ryan convinces Natalie to switch to a more mobile style, and he dumps much of her extraneous baggage, including the pillows she packed.
Natalie gets a rude awakening when she has to interact with the people who's lives are being shattered by downsizing. Some yell, some cry, one even threatens suicide. Natalie has a hard time dealing with it. (Natalie's idea of firing people via computer comes back to bite her when her fiance breaks up with her via text message.) Ryan seems immune to all this, but is he really?
The film deals not only with the weighty issue of corporate downsizing, but also examines the ways that people in modern society use career and technology to shield themselves from the emotional perils of life. We build walls around ourselves by spending more and more time at the office and communicating via e-mail rather than face-to-face. Ryan denies how lonely his life is until the realities of his solitary existence are flashed like neon before his eyes.
George Clooney gives a career-best performance here as a man who rationalizes ruining people's lives as being a public service. He is disarmingly charming at all times. Lovely Vera Farmiga makes a perfect counterpart to Clooney and they have nice chemistry together. Anna Kendrich is touching as the feisty, over-eager Natalie, and she has some funny scenes with Clooney.
Several of the performers who portray the sacked employees are, in fact, non-actors who were recently fired in real life. They were hired by Reitman to bring realism to the downsizing scenes. He told them to act just as they did when they were really fired. At the end of the film, we see many of these people again, talking about the difficulties of unemployed life in today's world.The Best Picture buzz for "Up in the Air" is well deserved. This film has a lot to say. Good movie always do.
AVATAR (4 Stars out of 5)
AVATAR: Writer/Director Jemes Cameron, who has given us such epic bits of cinema as the Terminator, Aliens, the Abyss, and that all-time Box Office champ Titanic, once again delivers a big-budget treat for audiences. Cameron wrote the script for this film several years ago but waited until Special FX technology caught up with his vision before beginning production. Wise move. This film may change the face of cinematic special FX in the future, much the way 'Star Wars' did back in the '70s. 'Avatar' is a revolution in visual FX.
"Avatar" is much like a cross between Surrogates and Dances With Wolves, only with considerably more action. The plot is symbolic of the struggles by any indiginous culture which is beseiged by a technologically superior civlization, such as the Native American Indians or the Aborigine. The blue-skinned alien race in this film has such a reverence for nature that they could easily represent either of those cultures.
The Plot: Sometime in the future (Its unclear how far in the future. The weapons are identical to what we have now, but space travel to distant planets has been mastered) humankind has discovered an idyllic planet which they call Pandora (Note the ironic symbolism of the name) which they colonize, since Earth has become so polluted.
Pandora is also rich in minerals and ores which the government (Apparantly only the United States has colonized the planet) wants to get their hands on. After the six-year trip to the foliage-filled world, they run into a snag. The indiginous population, known as the Na'vi, don't want thier forests dispoiled and don't want to relocate. They are a large race of skilled warriors and they are lethal with a bow-and-arrrow. Therefore, the Earth goverment knows that there will be casualties if they try a forced relocation. As a result, they make an attempt to finesse the Na'vi into agreeing to a peaceful move.
Since the planet's atmosphere is toxic to humans, Earth scientists come up with an innovative idea. They combine samples of Na'vi DNA with human DNA to create hybrid Na'vi (which look exactly like the real Na'vi, although the Na'vi can easily tell the difference). These hybrids are called Avatars. Human minds are placed into compatible Avatars (usually the mind of the person who donated his/her DNA) who interact with the natives. The project is headed by brilliant and strong-willed scientist Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) who creates schools on Pandora, educating the Na'vi in Earth customs, like a misionary.
After several years of unsuccessfully trying to convince the Na'vi to move, the military take over the operation. Overseen by Peter Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) they start using a stick instead of a carrot, and soon enough, hostilities begin between the Earth Marine Corps and the proud Na'Vi.
Enter our hero, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) a former Marine who was crippled in the line of duty. He needs money for spinal surgery and gets an offer he can't refuse. His brother, also a Marine, was killed before he could begin his tour of duty on Pandora. The brother had an Avatar created for him, and since the government doesn't want the high cost of creating the hybrid to go to waste, they enlist Jake, who's DNA is so similar to his brother's that he can bond with the Avatar and help with the relocation of the Na'vi. They promise Jake that he'll have his surgery if he cooperates.
Jack loves his new Avatar body because it allows him to run and jump again. No sooner is Jake's mind put into his Avatar than he is separated from the rest of his party and has to manage alone in the hostile environment full of large and dangerous beasts (The giant Rhino with the horn like a hammerhead shark is a great FX creation).
Jake is befriended by a Na'vi woman named Neytiri (Zoe Saldan, who played Uhura in "Star Trek") who takes him to her tribal camp. The elders see some potential in Jake to become an avatar of their own (A peaceful messenger between the races) and proceed to teach him about their culture. Fish-out-of-water Jake initially has a tough time adjusting but soon comes to like the Na'vi and their ways. He comes to revere the green beauty of Pandora and falls in love with Neytiri. His loyalties are divided when fanatic, over-zealous Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) wants Jake to spy for the military and help find the Na'vi's weaknesses.
As with most big-budget blockbusters, the final reel is filled with non-stop action. The ruthless Quaritch leads a heavily armed assault on the peaceful Na'vi, who only have bows-and-arrows. What will Jake do? Who's side will he take? Will he choose the serene beauty of Pandora or will he do his duty to the marines?
This film is a spectacular visual feast. The imaginative scenes of the Pandora landscape, as well as the excellent CGi appearance of the Na'vi, make this movie wonderful to look at. For action lovers, there is plenty of adventure and fighting to quell your tastes. And the plot makes a statement about cultural mistreatment of less advanced people. There is a lot to enjoy here and Cameron proves once again that he's a master film maker.
THE HURT LOCKER****+ (Four & a half stars out of 5)
THE HURT LOCKER: The winner of the 2009 Academy Award for Best Picture, this is an intelligent, suspenseful drama, which is not so much about war about rather about the inner workings of one of the men who does the fighting. Director Kathryn Bigelow (Who became the first woman to ever win a Best Director Oscar for her work on this film) does a wonderful job in recreating the dangers of war torn Iraq, as well as profiling a man who would rather be risking his life than doing anything else.
Staff Sergeant William James (Excellently played by Jeremy Renner) is a highly skilled Bomb-Disposal expert who has just been assigned to a new detail on a Baghdad Bomb Squad, replacing his deceased predecessor Sgt. Thompson (Guy Pierce) who died as the result of a mistake. The team hopes that the new man-in-charge will be extra cautious. Bad luck, because Sgt. James is anything but cautious.
Quite the contrary, James is overly bold, supremely confident and often reckless. He disregards safety procedures (Like tossing away his radio or discarding his safety gear while in the process of disarming a bomb.) He has no use for medals or glory. Neither is it jingoistic patriotism that motivates his foolishly heroic actions. He seems to get an adrenaline thrill out of playing chess with death. The Film’s title “The Hurt Locker” comes from the poem of the same name. “Open the hurt locker and learn how rough men come hunting for souls.” The movie opens with the quote “War is a drug” and James is addicted.
The other two central characters are Sergeant J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and specialist Owen Eldritch (Brian Geraghty). Sanborn is second-in-command of the bomb squad is likes doing things by the book. He feels that if they stick to the usual safety procedures, the likelihood of them getting home alive increases. He begins to resent and even hate Sgt. James ill-considered tactics. Eldritch, on the other hand, is justifiably scared most of the time. He just wants to get out of Iraq alive. Sadly, James doesn’t seem to be too worried about the men. He just wants to flirt with danger.
One subplot of the film is when James decides to seek revenge for the death of a child he befriended earlier in the film. His efforts lead him into greater danger (Which is probably part of the reason he undertook this quest for vengeance) and ultimately lead to nothing. The whole point of the subplot is to represent that war is pointless.
There are many suspenseful bomb diffusing scenes, intensified by the watching figures of Iraqis on rooftops who could be holding a remote control to detonate the bomb or they could be snipers. James team attempts to be his eyes and ears, watching his back, while he tries to stop a bomb from exploding.
James is a fascinating character. He’s not a typical action hero by any means and although his actions are undoubtedly heroic, his motives are a different matter. Its not until the end of the film when he goes home to his wife Connie (Played by Evangeline Lilly of Lost) that we find out what really motivates a family man to want to spend time under fire rather than being safe at home.
Bigelow does an amazing job delving into James’s psyche through his actions, rather than words. Here is a man who does something well and only feels alive when he’s doing it. War is his drug of choice and he can’t quit the habit. Bigelow doesn’t condemn or idolize Sgt. James. He’s merely a man in an insane situation who has become so used to the idea that he could die any minute, he’s more afraid of silence than of explosions.
Precious: (4 stars)
Precious:The winner of the 2009 Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, this is an unrelentingly powerful drama about a girl who has everything going against her, including her own cruel mother. Based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire, and directed by Lee Daniels (Monsters Ball, the Woodsman, Shadow boxer), “Precious” is a heartbreaking portrait of someone consistently beaten down by life but who somehow manages to survive.
16 year old Clarice “Precious” Jones (Wonderfully played by newcomer Gabourey Sidibe) is trapped in a nightmarish life of overwhelming sorrow. She is poor, illiterate and abused. She suffers from obesity. She is unpopular. School, for her, consists of hours of mocking torment by other students. She has been raped by her mother’s boyfriend, who is also her father and she’s pregnant with his second child.
Precious is sullen and quietly despairing. She rarely talks and rarely smiles. She gets through each dark day by retreating into the sanctuary of her imagination. Some of her escapist musings are simple, such as the one where her teacher is in love with her, or seeing someone else when she looks in the mirror, but others are creatively elaborate fantasies.
The most consistently brutal obstacle of her life is her heartless mother Mary (Excellently played by Mo’Nique, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar). Mary has been so thoroughly and completely defeated by life, that she has nothing left except her anger and her desire to lash out at the only target she has…Her daughter! Not since Joan Crawford in “Mommie Dearest” have we seen such a monstrous mother. Mary can only feel a slight semblance of control in her life when she is snuffing out her daughter’s few remaining hopes and almost non-existent self esteem. Mary rationalizes her terrorizing of Precious by claiming that that Precious stole her boyfriend’s affections. Mary’s belief that rape is an act of affection shows just how twisted she has really become.
A light of hope appears on the horizon when Precious gets the opportunity to attend an alternative school called “Each One, Teach One”. It’s here that Precious meets her guardian angel Blue Rain (Paula Patton), a teacher who is the first person to ever see potential in the angst-ridden girl. Rain teaches Precious to read and encourages her to be all that she can be, despite the odds. When Precious is driven out of her unhappy home by the abusive Mary, Rain takes Precious in. Precious wonders how someone she hardly knows can be so kind to her while her own mother treats her like dirt.
Precious experiences friendship for the first time when she bonds with the other troubled girls from the alternative school. Each of them is broken in their own way, just as Precious is, but Blue Rain manages to find a tiny flame inside them and ignite it. The first thing she asks each of them is “What are you good at?” She starts their education from a positive point and leads them uphill from there
There is a blissful worship of the power of education here. Learning is seen as the secret weapon to overcoming adversity and breaking through the wall of misery into the bright light of hope. Teachers are the fairy Godmothers who deliver a miraculous method of escape to the downtrodden heroine. When the students learn to write letters on the blackboard, it’s more inspiring than watching Harry Potter successfully ride a broom for the first time. Blue Rain tells the girls to write in their journals every day, even if they have nothing particular to say. Just their ability to put thoughts to paper is a valuable skill that will carry them to places they couldn’t otherwise go.
Underneath all the darkness of Geoffrey Fletcher’s award winning script is a hopeful subtext about the ability of the human spirit to overcome anything. It also serves as a warning of what happens to those who can’t. Precious and her mother are opposite sides of the coin. Mary couldn’t deal with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and devolved into a cold shadow of a person. Precious, on the other hand, represents survival and overcoming of bleak obstacles of the most monumental magnitude.
The cast does an amazing job here. In her first role, Sidibe is heart wrenching as the long suffering Precious. She brings such powerful pathos to the part. And Mo’Nique is the embodiment of someone who is both victim and villain. She deserves her Oscar. The biggest surprise is Mariah Carey who plays the wise and compassion social worker Mrs. Weiss. The deglamourized Carey vindicates herself after “Glitter” and gives a strong performance. Lenny Kravitz has a small role as a kind male nurse.
Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry were involved with this film because of their faith in the project ,and their faith paid off. The combination of the strong cast, thoughtful direction and Oscar winning screenplay makes this one of the can’t-miss movies of the year.
THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS***+(3 & A Half Stars)
THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS: "More of this is true than you would believe" the caption tells us at the outset of this rather bizarre film. Its a clever way of lurking safely between the 'Based on a true story' slogan and total fiction. Its a perfect method for director Grant Heslov and the rest of the crew to make the military seem foolish while simultaneously protecting themselves from any accusations that they made it all up. After all, they never said which parts were true. Some of it was. After all, there really was a war in Iraq.
Our possibly true or possibly not story begins with a reporter on a small paper named Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) who is going through a difficult personal dilemma because his beautiful wife has left him for a one-armed man. Burying himself in his work, he interviews a seemingly loony fellow who claims to have been part of a secret government psychic soldier program. He learns about Lyn Cassady, the best of this elite group, and others whos job was to be Super Soldiers. Despite this looney's failure to kill a hamster with his mind, he raises Bob' curiosity.
Bob, seeking to get far away from his wife and his life, tries to become a correspondent in the Iraq war ("Like many men who've had their hearts broken by a woman, I went to war"! Bob says) but gets hung up in Kuwait, with nothing to do. There, he coincidentally meets none other than Lyn Cassady (George Clooney).
Bob, seeking a story, follows Lyn into war torn Iraq on an undisclosed secret mission and together they have some unfortunate experiences in the desert. Bob isn't sure what to make of Lyn, who explains the history of the "New Earth" warriors, who like to be known as Jedi warriors. (Bob seemingly hasn't seen "Star Wars") The New Earth soldiers were led by Colonel Bill Django (Jeff Bridges) an over-aged hippie who thinks its the military's job to be 'Wonderful' and fight through peaceful means. He organizes his motley crew of supposed psychics who are said to have the ability to locate anyone or anything with their minds and even walk through walls. Bridges portrays Django as if he were reprising his role of the Dude from "the Big Lebowski"
Lyn's rival as number one Jedi is Hooper (Kevin Spacey) an unlikeable jerk who manages to oust Django and subvert the New Earth warriors powers toward more lethal goals, such as killing with the mind just by staring at someone. Some unfortunate goats are used for practice. (Hence the title) which leads to something unfortunate that no one expected.
The film jumps around in time, "Pulp Fiction" style, which adds to the overall feel of strangeness that pervades the film. There are some delightfully quirky and humorous scenes, especially by Bridges as the flower-child colonel. The rest of the cast plays it all very straight, and their seriousness makes the silly premise seem even funnier.
Based on Jon Ronson's 2004 novel, this is a weird but amusing film. Its hard to say which part of it, if any, is true. But for those who like a good laugh at the military's expense, they'll enjoy believing that the government indulged in this ridiculous exercise. Imagine a portion of the military budget being devoted to 'remote viewing' and Jedi training.
Real or not, this is an entertaining movie, and if you happen to be a psychic, you can watch it by remote viewing without paying the admission fee.
SHUTTER ISLAND***+ (3 & a half stars)
SHUTTER ISLAND: Legendary director Martin Scorsese has made many films which were dark and violent but he's never made one that was as ominous and foreboding as 'Shutter Island'. From the opening scene where a ferry shuttles our hero across Boston Harbor to the gloomy titular island, you get the same feeling of impending peril as in "Deliverance" when the four unsuspecting men start their doomed rafting trip down the river. The tension never lets up.
Based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, the movie is in many ways a homage to the old Haunted House thrillers that Boris Karloff, Vincent Price and Christopher Lee used to specialize in. But this is a multi-genre film that combines Gothic horror, psychological thriller and detective film noir into one stylish package.
Its 1954 and US Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio), along with his soft spoken partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) are being ferried to Shutter Island, which houses a mental hospital for the criminally insane called Ashecliffe Hospital. A violent prisoner named Rachel (Emily Mortimer) has escaped. We're told she once killed her three children and now she's performed a Houdini-like escape from her locked cell.
When we first see Teddy, its not the typically formidable introduction that a hard-boiled investigator usually gets in movies. Teddy is pale and seasick when he arrives at Shutter Island. The hospital is run by the cordial yet somehow sinister Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) who seems to know more than he's saying. Assisting him is the creepy Dr. Naehring (Max Von Sydow) who may be an ex-Nazi.
Teddy is a veteren of World War Two and keeps having flashbacks to the day he participated in liberating the Daschau Concentration Camp and the horrors he found there. Another trauma in Teddy's past is that his wife has died tragically. Teddy begins to see vision of a little girl from Daschau who accusingly asks "Why didn't you save us?", as well as an apparition of his late wife Dolores (Michelle Williams) giving him enigmatic warnings. Is he hallucinating or is he seeing ghosts or has he been drugged? Its not made clear until late in the film.
Teddy is interested in one patient/prisoner in particular, named Laeddis (Elias Koteas). What's so special about Laeddis? Well, its impossible to say without giving too much of the plot away. Teddy also has strange encounters with two other people. A battered patient named George Noyce (Played by the busy Jackie Earl Haley, best known as Rorschach in 'Watchmen') and a woman in a cave (Played by the ever-reliable Patricia Clarkson.) What Teddy learns from these two holds the key to the answers he needs.
DiCaprio gives his most emotionally complex performance here. Teddy is a flawed and vulnerable hero hiding behind the mask of a tough cop. His growing confusion and desperation is nicely realized by DiCaprio and director Scorsese. This is the fourth time Scorsese and DiCaprio have worked together (The others being 'Gangs of New York, 'The Aviator' and Best Picture winner 'The Departed'.) and the veteran director continues to bring out the best in DiCaprio.
A major theme of this film is guilt. Guilt about war, about crime and about other things that happen to us in our lives. We have to live with the choices we make, good or bad. But some people can't let go of the bad and it perpetually haunts them.
Thera are several twists and turns, and the final reveal is the biggest plot twist of all. Its not totally a surprise if you've seen enough similar films but it works regardless, and until the final moments you won't know whether or not to believe what your seeing.
Scorsese artfully builds a mood of impending doom. Sometimes it all seems a bit overwrought but he never lets the spooky setting outshine the cast and plot. And he adds in lovely touches like the use of a Mahler symphony and the accurate period details. There are so many little details, visually and verbally, that you may want to see 'Shutter Island' a second time to catch everything you missed the first time. Its one of those films that will benefit from repeated viewings.
THE WOLFMAN***+(3 & a half stars)
THE WOLFMAN: Werewolf films have been a reliable hallmark of the horror movie genre ever since 1941 when the original version of the Wolfmancame out. Although the Wolfman has always lurked in the shadow of those two monster mega-stars Frankenstein and Dracula, he is still a perennial favorite among horror fans. He was last seen in the 2004 monster mash Van Helsing. This latest update by director Joe Johnston does credit to the long, illustrious legend of that hirsute horror icon.
The new version manages to beautifully capture the Victorian period and the gloomy isolation of Talbot Estate on the moors. Its similar in feel to the Hound of the Baskervilles but with a more lethal canine menace. With make-up effects by the Oscar winner Rick Baker (Who came to prominence doing Star Wars and has never been topped since) this werewolf is a creatively clever combo of wolf and man.
The cast is led by Oscar winners Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins. Del Toro plays Lawrence Talbot, a travelling actor who is summoned back to his ancestral home when his brother Ben is violently killed by someone or something. Del Toro is reluctantly reunited with his spooky father Sir John Talbot. (Hopkins.) When we first see Lawrence, he is on stage, performing the burial scene from Hamlet (An appropriate play because of the father/son conflict here) holding the skull of poor Yorick, Its a harbinger of things to come.
Lawrence meets the late Ben's fiance Gwen Conliff (Emily Blunt), who motivates Lawrence to investigate the real cause of Ben's brutal death. The typically superstitious townspeople are convinced that the trained bear belonging to the local gypsies is the culprit. Lawrence is also led to the gypsy camp when he learns that Ben was a frequent visitor there.
Unfortunately, Lawrence's timing is bad and he arrives at the camp just as the fast-moving, barely glimpsed beast comes to ravage the camp, killing gypsies and non-gypsies alike. Lawrence is bitten and then his troubles really begin.
Lawrence is suspected of the killings because he is new in town and once spent time in a mental institution. To solve all this chaos, the town summons professional help. Enter Inspector Aberline (Played by the ubiquitous Hugo Weaving), who headed the search for Jack-the Ripper a few years earlier. (Based on a real person, Johnny Depp played Inspector Aberline in From Hell) Aberline is immediately suspicious of Lawrence.
But Lawrence has bigger worries when the full moon rises. He begins a series of savage rampages, notching up a considerable body count. This incarnation of the Wolfmanis partial to tearing heads off. Aberline and the locals make the mistake of locking Lawrence in the insane asylum but--to paraphrase Rorschach--he's not locked in with them; they're locked in there with him! The moon rises and the padded walls are splattered with blood.
Lawrence falls in love with Gwen who is the only one he can rely on during this time of lycanthrope chaos. Gwen tries to help him, unlike his father. A plot twist involving Sir John is the biggest plot difference between this version and the 1941 original. It won't really surprise you and you'll see it coming from early in the film but it works regardless.
Benicio Del Toro does a great job as the angst-ridden Lawrence, (Originally portrayed by Lon Chaney jr.) a man struggling against his bestial nature. An admitted fan of the classic original, Del Toro is reverential to the source material without being slavish to it. Rick Baker's make-up effects reproduce the hybrid human/wolf from the old Universal studio films, rather then making him basically a large wolf, as most werewolf films in the last few decades (The Howling; An American Werewolf in London; Dog Soldiers; etc.) have chosen to do. The werewolf attacks are more violent and exciting in this one than the old Wolfman film and our lupin star is far faster.
Anthony Hopkins plays Sir John as a cross between Severus Snape and the eccentric version of Van Helsing which Hopkins himself portrayed in the 1992 version of Dracula. Hopkins has to be cryptic and creepy yet still deliver some comedy relief moments. While he doesn't portray the same authority and elegance that the great Claud Raines embodied as Sir John in the 1941 version, he still gives an entertaining and sufficiently odd performance.
There are some lulls early on and a few unintentional laughs but overall this is an effective horror film that delivers both atmosphere and gore in equal measure. This is a much better remake of an old Universal horror film than Dracula, Frankenstein or the Mummy.
THE YES MEN FIX THE WORLD***+ (3 & a half stars)
The Yes Men Fix the World: At a time when anger at the corporate world is at an all-time high, who wouldn’t want to see the captains of industry mercilessly mocked? Well, this hilarious documentary about the exploits of a pair of talented pranksters known as the “Yes Men” spares no effort to turn corporate big shots into unsuspecting punch-lines. However, their elaborate hoaxes are not done merely for the sake of being vindictive. The Yes Men are anti globalization advocates who hope to bring attention to the heartlessness of the corporate mentality and make businesses act more responsibly.
Andy Bicklbaum and Mike Bonanno are the titular Yes Men, who’ve made a name for themselves by irritating the rich and giving laughs to the poor. The duo has set up fake web sites so they can intercept E-mails intended for big companies like Dow Chemicals. The pair of pranksters accept invitations to speaking engagements under the guise of being a representative from the company the message was intended for. Once they have their all-access pass, its time to come up with a ridiculous presentation, such as the Golden Skeleton Risk Assessor which is supposed to calculate the amount of money made vs. the human casualties of the project to determine how many lives can be sacrificed for profit.
Bonanno and Bicklbaum interview several finance experts, who proudly defend the economic policies of Milton Freidman, rail against any government restriction on businesses and brag of their role in defeating the Kyoto accords. They don’t seem to realize how pompous or unsympathetic they sound. The devious Yes Men add in goofy Green-Screen backgrounds behind their interview subjects to further diminish them.
A cleverly comical moment comes when the two Yes Men pose as representatives of Exxon and speak at an energy symposium, introducing their new invention Vavolium, which is supposedly made from the bodies of victims of global climate change and pollution. They even give out faux vavolium candles as they show a mockumentary of a dying janitor who hopes to be made into a vavolium candle after he dies.
One of the highlights is when Bicklbaum goes on BBC TV impersonating a spokesman from Dow Chemicals, discussing the 1984 Union Carbide Chemical Plant disaster in BhopalIndia. Dow owned the plant which exploded, killing 3,000 people and causing many thousands of others to have life-long ailments. The people of Bhopal have since remained unsatisfied with the way Dow Chemicals has refused accept responsibility for the tragedy or pay proper financial compensation. Strangely, Dow spent $10 million on an advertising campaign to fix their image but offered less than a million to help the people of Bhopal.
On the 20th anniversary of the disaster, Bicklbaum went on British TV to claim that Dow chemicals was belatedly accepting all the blame for the incident and would reimburse the people of Bhopal by selling off shares of the company and donating $12 million to the people affected.
Although the stunt was quickly revealed as a hoax, the result was that Dow Chemicals lost $3 billion dollars in less than a half hour during a frantic stock sell-off that followed the faux announcement.
The pair also take on the people who profit from the Hurricane Katrina disaster. The Gulf Coast Reconstruction Conference is filled with eager businessmen who see an opportunity in disaster. “A good crisis isn’t bad” they say. Bizarrely, although the conference is supposed to be about helping the victims of Katrina, most of the vendors in attendance offer inventions that have no practical use for the suffering people of New Orleans. They use the conference as a showroom to products they couldn’t sell before.
The duo pose as representatives of HUD (Housing and Urban Development) to announce that the government is finally going to rebuild the destroyed sections of the city. What they didn’t expect is that the Mayor and the Governor would be in attendance. Their proposal is revealed as a stunt before they even leave the room but they get their chance to explain why they did it on local radio.
The Yes Men are justifiably accused of giving false hope to the people in Bhopal and New Orleans. The duo goes to these locations personally to talk to the people, to see if the victims were further harmed by the pranks or if they understood the reason elaborate stunts are necessary to bring attention to issues otherwise forgotten or ignored by the media.
The documentary is very similar to the work of Michael Moore, the king of rabble rousers. The Yes Men are also well intentioned, as summed up by this line from the film. “If a few people on the top can cause all the bad things to happen, why can’t the rest of us on the bottom cause good things to happen?”
OCEANS: Despite the amazing technical advances made in recent modern films like Avatar, there is nothing quite so breathtakingly glorious as the wonders of the natural world, as this beautifully filmed documentary proves. No special effects designer has ever conceived of stranger sights that the denizens of the seven seas. Using nothing but reality, we are given a treat for the eyes that matches anything ever conceived by the mind of man.
To be fair, though, technology did play a hand in bringing us these amazing images. This is not the first documentary about the oceans but it’s the best and the reason for that is the advancement in digital technology. The deep sea photography is unequaled here, bringing you right into reefs and others aquatic domains where bizarre creatures crawl, swim and nest. We see every fin, claw, tooth and gill with crystal clarity. Bravo to the talented undersea photographers who got shots that leave you asking “How in the world did they manage to film that?”
This is a co-production of Disney and the French Film industry. Coming on the heels of another excellent documentary Earth, directors Jacques Cluzaud and Jacques Perrin (who brought us Winged Migration) have made another in the rare genre of family friendly documentaries. Much like the appealing 2005 documentary March of the Penguins, this is very suitable for children. The violence of the hunter/prey relationship is toned down and there are no scenes of mating. Instead, the cuteness factor is highlighted. Scenes of mother seals snuggling with their young are surefire feel-good moments. The proceedings are narrated by former Bond actor Pierce Brosnan, who talks in a soft Mr. Rogers tone, accompanied by orchestral music.
The cheerful colors of the oceans belie its dangers. Some scenes of various, multi-hued aquatic residents scurrying about seem almost like a heavily choreographed techni-color musical of the forties. When a bright red clown fish appears, delighted children in the audience shout “Nemo!”
This film covers a wide variety of sea life. Whales; dolphins; crabs; sharks; eels; salmon; tuna and so many others. From the massive Blue Whale, the largest creature in the world, to tiny hermit crabs, the variety of life seems limitless under the sea. Brosnan’s narration tells us that the oceans have experimented with every possible shape and we get treated to the sight creatures that would be considered the stuff of nightmares on the surface. Take, for example, the Rock Fish who appears to be a craggy stone until its mouth opens to swallow unsuspecting prey. And wait till you get s look at the Asian Sheepshead Wrasse!
And there are also those animals who share both the land and the sea, such as turtles, sea birds, seals and polar bears. There is a powerful shot of an iguana lounging on a stone, watching a rocket launch through the distant skies.
The narration reminds us that man is the greatest threat to the oceans. Shots of bottom trawling fish caught and killed in nets are quite sad after seeing the creatures enjoying the freedom of the seas. Perhaps the most sadly memorable sight is of a seal examining a discarded, sunken shopping cart.
But despite these moments, the film is entertaining, educational and fit for the whole family. The poetic visuals will stay with you long after you’ve left the theater.