The Hurt Locker

As we learned with “Avatar,” hype can be a dangerous thing for a film. Sure, it will get you interested, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse, but more often than not hype sets expectations so high that no film, no matter how good, can really live up to them.

This is not one of those times.

“The Hurt Locker,” directed by Kathryn Bigelow, fully lived up to expectations. The acting, writing, directing, editing were all spectacular, and I almost feel like I’m running out of adjectives to express how pleased I was that the Best Picture winner really, really was that good (and it makes me extra happy that this little film beat the crappy behemoth).

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Alive

In 1972, Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 took off from Montevideo, Uruguay, bound for Chile. The chartered plane was carrying the Uruguayan rugby team, along with their friends and family members, 45 people in total. Cloudy weather and navigation errors led to the plane crashing in the Andes Mountains and stranding the survivors with little food, no heat, and little hope of rescue.

Everyone knows this story (even though I always heard it was a soccer team); everyone has thought about what they would do if forced into that situation. It’s a nightmare scenario that happened to people in real life.

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District 9

Some 20 years ago, a space ship fell out of the sky over South Africa. After days of no contact from the aliens, humans board the ship to discover a million sick and dying aliens. The ship is irreparably damaged, they can’t go home and their technology won’t work for us. What do we do with them now?

 

So begins “District 9,” an ambitious but flawed science-fiction movie.

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Funny People

This is a bit of a hard review to write.

 

On one hand, I liked a lot of “Funny People,”* Judd Apatow’s look at death and dying. Adam Sandler gives a great performance as schmuck comedian George Simmons, who discovers that he’s got a rare blood condition that will kill him.

 

George is a wildly successful actor, but once he gets his diagnosis, he returns to his roots as a stand-up and discovers Ira Wright (Seth Rogen), a struggling comic who is still trying to find his style (and become wildly successful himself).

 

George hires Ira to write some jokes for him, which quickly turns into George paying Ira to be his buddy/personal assistant. There is a good friendship there, but there’s also a lot of tension, because Ira wants to be honest with *friend,* but you can’t always be honest with your boss.

 

That evolving relationship (and its turbulent ups and downs) is the best part of the movie, but like other Apatow movies, the side characters and their stories just don’t interest me. Ira’s buddies and his crush on a comedienne really drag the film down, contributing to one of the bigger faults: at 2 hours, “Funny People” is just way too long.

 

Most of the excess comes from the side plots that really don’t need to be there and over-indulgence in comedy scenes, which are supposed to be painfully unfunny (and are unfunny). It’s a flaw he keeps going back to in his films, and I hope he can eventually get it out of his system. He’s a decent storyteller, and pretty funny one, but success is not helping him grow.

 

Better luck next time, Judd.

 

“Funny People” (2009)

Written and directed by Judd Apatow

Starring: Adam Sandler (George)

Seth Rogen (Ira)

 

*Spoilers ahead in my review addendum

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Wall Street

Like “Planet of the Apes,” Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street” is very much a product of its time. The fashions, sensibilities, location, etc. are all 1980′s, which dates the film but also gives us an intriguing look back at a bygone era.

 

And like “Planet of the Apes,” I didn’t really like this one too much, but I don’t think that’s the point of “Wall Street.”

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28 Days Later

It’s a break in of some kind; men and woman enter a room filled with animals in cages, and while they’re horror-struck at what they see, their resolve to free these “torture victims” will not be swayed, even when the voice of reason tries to intervene. Before you know it, a monkey infected with a rage virus is free and on the attack…

So begins (brilliantly) “28 Days Later,” a zombie thriller from Danny Boyle; these well-meaning but foolish environmental activists spark off a plague throughout the United Kingdom, but that backstory is unknown to our protagonist, Jim (Cillian Murphy), who suffered a head injury and has been in a coma. When he wakes up (28 Days Later), the world is empty and silent, with no one to hear his “Hello.”

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Kitchen Privileges

“Kitchen Privileges (aka ‘Housebound’),” written and directed by Mari Kornhauser, is quite a mixed bag of a movie; on one side, you have a fairly well done drama about a woman recovering from a brutal rape. On the other side, you have a mishandled horror film that fails where it succeeds.

Confused yet? Back to the beginning.

Marie (Katharina Wressnig) has become an agoraphobic after being raped in an elevator about a year before the film begins.  She has adjusted her entire life to staying indoors, to the frustration and concern of her friends and her boyfriend. To supplement her income (and to help her feel safe), she takes in a tenant, Tom (Peter Sarsgaard), a cook on an oil rig who mostly comes and goes.

After a failed attempt at ‘outside’ leads her to a panic attack, Tom helps her through it, and the two of them begin the process of healing her, but like usual, not is all what it seems with this guy. He’s intensely private, he even locks the kitchen door when he’s cooking, and Marie is always hearing weird noises from behind his door. Could he be the mysterious freeway killer who dumps dismembered bodies before moving on to his next victim?

It sounds lame, and it does take a little time to get interested in these characters, but it does happen, thanks to the performances of Wressnig and Sarsgaard. If the movie had just been a psychological drama/horror film with just those two, I suspect I would have liked it more. However, there a number of bit players (most notably Marie’s odious sister Mignon, played by Angeline Ball) that show up to just ruin all the fun.  

(We’re moving in to spoiler territory after the jump; don’t click if you want to be surprised.)

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Nowhere in Africa

Not much to say here; after finishing “Nowhere in Africa,” I seriously wonder about the quality of the other films in the Best Foreign Language in 2001 if this was the winner. Seriously guys, you picked this one???

A Jewish family (mom, dad, daughter), living in Germany in 1938, see what’s coming and flee to Kenya to wait out the war. There are the usual culture clashes, the usual attempts at learning the language, the assimilation on both sides, blah blah blah.

“Nowhere in Africa” isn’t bad, but it’s boring with characters that don’t make sense from one scene to the next. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before; dull, predictable and way, way too long.

“Out of Africa” had a similar setup, similar scenes and yet somehow managed to not suck (I’m sure Streep helped with that one). It had its problems, but it’s above and beyond this film. Skip “Nowhere in Africa,” and see that instead.

“Nowhere in Africa” (2001)

Written and directed by Caroline Link

Starring: Juliane Khler (Jettel Redlich)

 Merab Ninidze (Walter Redlich)

 Sidede Onyulo (Owuor)

City of God

Last year, I watched “Bus 174,” a 2004 documentary about a street kid in Rio de Janeiro who held a bus hostage for four hours. Like all good documentaries, it’s more than that; in examining this lost youth Sandro, the movie explores the dark underbelly of a culture that embraces the wealthy and turns their backs on the slums.

It is both incredible journalism and a fantastic film, and because of that experience, I was a bit hesitant to watch “City of God,” Fernando Meirelles’s 2002 film. “City of God” is also about slum kids in Rio, and while it’s based on a true story about gang rivalries, I was afraid the real story would get lost in the Hollywood treatment.

Sometimes, I really hate being right.

Don’t take that to mean that “City of God” is a bad movie, because it isn’t. It’s very well made, the cast of unknown actors do a service to the craft, and the direction and script never lag. What I had issue with is with the scope of the story.

I’ve never read the book it’s based on, but I’m willing to bet it’s a sprawling, intricate story filled with lots of flashbacks and backstory for every major character introduced. That’s pretty much how the movie goes, and while it provides the much-needed exposition, the information never goes beneath the surface.

There’s no real intimacy in “City of God.” There is a de facto main character, Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues), but he’s mostly on the sidelines watching everything happen around him. We spend the whole film watching the violence and chaos that surround the players, but it doesn’t make an impact; you watch “City of God,” and you move on.  After watching “Bus 174,” I immediately had to watch two episodes of “South Park” just to recover from the devastating impact of that film.

It’s possible that if I hadn’t seen “Bus 174″ I would have been moved by “City of God.” But when you’ve seen it done right, how can you go back to almost right?

“City of God” (2002)

Directed by Fernando Meirelles

Written by John Kaylin

Starring: Alexandre Rodrigues (Rocket)

 Leandro Firmino (Li’l Z)

 Phellipe Haagensen (Benny)