REVIEW: Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close

"Good intensions aside, this flick just shouldn't have been made."

A young kid who lost his father in the 9/11 tragedy, finds a key that belonged to his father and sets out on an adventure across New York City in hopes of finding the lock it belongs to.

As Hollywood's golden age struggles with its last dying breaths, we filmgoers have been forced to endure all sorts of trauma; from needless remakes (the list is far too long to get into), to worthless re-imaginations of things long forgotten (THE SMURFS), to pitiful attempts at cashing in on things of old (THE THREE STOOGES) and the uninspiring wheels just keep on turning.  I can't say I applaud any of those tactics (or the fruits of their labour), but one thing that irks me more than anything is Hollywood's need to usurp tragedies for money.  From my standpoint, some issues are and should remain taboo.  The events surrounding 9/11 are among them.
I remember exactly where I was when this terrible incident occurred, I was working at a restaurant when it streamed all over the news.  Everyone stopped what they were doing, eyes glued to the TV screens.  I understand the media coverage, interviews and I applaud documentary style exploits of the fallen heroes and  those working hard to contain the chaos, but a feature film, now, just feels wrong to me.  The story isn't even all that enticing to begin with, I mean with HUGO barely out of theatres (a story about a kid who loses his father and is looking for a key to unlock a mystery), this feels like a mixed around version of the same story with a real-life tragedy back drop to help sell it.  I know that might come off as a bit harsh, but here we have a kid who loses his father, finds a mysterious key and then sets off on an adventure across New York City to figure out what it opens.  Not completely the same, but far too similar to ignore.
Tom Hanks shines as the deceased father and Sandra Bullock delivers as his left behind wife whose child, Oskar, is getting temperamental due to an inability to cope with his loss.  Bullock switched things up with THE BLIND SIDE, really showing her dramatic chops and I dug that considerably, she's ageing well as an actress.  The one sour note here (which is a mixed bag with critics and fans alike) comes from Oskar himself (Thomas Horn).  I get where the kid's at, I do, I can't imagine how rough his situation must be, but his attitude just makes him unlikable, despite his righteous cause and seeing as how he's the focal point of the film it just doesn't work.  That said, Max Von Sydow is always a welcome treat, which in itself is saying something seeing as how his character had no dialogue whatsoever.
EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDITBLY CLOSE was extremely emotional but incredibly unnecessary.  I don't think there's ever a "right time" for a film based on a tragedy, but if they were going to pull this off gracefully (that is, without the green finger of money being pointed at them) they really should have tackled something like it much sooner than now.  I remember the first time I heard DJ Sammy's remix of the song "Heaven" with a little girl talking to her dead father in the lyrics.  I'm not ashamed to admit I cried the entire time it played, and I still get tears in my eyes whenever I hear the regular version on the radio.  That was a proper tribute to the losses people suffered that day.  That was the right way to do it.  Making a movie about it, especially after so many years, just feels cheap and wrong, no matter the story, acting or message they're trying to get across.

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TRAILER: G.I.JOE: Retaliation

Usually I get mad and a touch nervous when three to five versions of a trailer come knocking, but this extended trailer for GIJOE looks phenomenal in every way, shape and form. Talk about "getting it" when it comes to the mistakes of the first film and then delivering with a huge BOOM! As a lifelong JOE fan since I was old enough to understand what GIJOE was, I can honestly say I can't wait for this flick.

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GAME TRAILER: The Witcher 2 Assassins of Kings

I'd heard about the first game but missed it, but I do know it was heavily decorated in the RPG community. Nevertheless, in the wake of DIABLO 3, this definitely looks like the game to fill your day. If you doubt me, watch the trailer which is about as epic as they come. Why can't they make fantasy movies look this awesome?

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GAME TRAILER: God Of War Ascension

Being a huge fan of Greek Mythology I loved the GOD OF WAR games (I even own two of the 100 limited edition Blades of Chaos), so naturally I'm down for more action. I'm not sure what's left for them to do in the story department but I'm game either way.

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REVIEW: Cabin In The Woods

"A must see milestone for fans of the horror/thriller genres."

Five friends decide to get out of dodge for the weekend for some fun and adventure at a remote cabin in the woods.  You think you know this story but trust me...you don't. 

I'm not sure what's going on with LIONSGATE but they really dropped the ball with CABIN IN THE WOODS from a marketing perspective.  I know the studio execs all have serious husband bulges (inside joke form the movie) over THE HUNGER GAMES (which is overrated if you ask me), but guys, don't leave your main market (horror) in the dust.  Man down guys, MAN DOWN!  The trailers hints at something clever and special but then again, most trailers do.  This is horror after all (some people are calling this a thriller and I guess I can dig that too) and when it comes to stories like this, it's easy to think you've seen it all.  You're wrong.  This was one of the smartest, coolest and well played horror/thriller movies to hit the big screen in over a decade.  And best of all its original (YAY) and not a sequel or remake which is worth the price of admission right there folks.

With THE AVENGERS right around the corner and considering both Joss Whedon and Chris Hemsworth are both here on this adventure as well, I really can't understand why they didn't push this to greater heights.  The casting was great, the dialogue was nothing short of perfection and the concept was money in the bank.  It's a clever process, adding so many familiar elements to a familiar looking story that goes the other way fast, leaving you speechless and impressed at the same time.  I don't want to give away any secrets so I'll work with what the trailers already show us.  Surprisingly enough, for a flick in this genre, these characters act and react to their situation and surroundings rather well, again, without spoiling anything I can throw around a few ideas.

One, these are supposedly smart people, with only one stoner dude amongst them (his retractable bong is something every pot head on the planet will strive to build upon seeing it).  One of the girl's is pre-med and the others aren't far behind her.  So my question is, did you fools ever watch a horror movie in your life?  You're off the grid, coming up on a rundown shack of a gas station that looks like it's been pulled from THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE equipped with a redneck from hell  and yet...nobody bats an eyelash when this guy and his shack are without a doubt the biggest red flag imaginable.  Add to that this cabin wreaks of "Jason Voorhees is gonna be here any minute" with a cellar that screams "where's the Necronomicon at".  The first room they go in has the creepiest painting known to man and a mirror that lets you see into the next room...red flag, red flag, RED FLAG PEOPLE!  What makes these things awesome though is the fact that the stoner guy gets it, sees it and calls them out on it (something that's far more awesome than I can describe at this point, but you'll understand when you see it).  And Curt, seriously bro, why in God's name would your cousin buy this house?

CABIN IN THE WOODS is shrouded in secrecy for good reason, one wrong word or description here and the cat's out of the bag.  One thing I will say, this is THE movie to sit down and discuss over drinks afterword because it will definitely blow you away.  The monster aspect is phenomenal, almost as phenomenal as the premise and explanation of why and how they're actually there (two thumbs waaay up for the creative team), I found myself praying as the third act came around "please let this have a cool ending, please let this have a cool ending," and I have to say it did considering where the whole thing goes.  There was loads of well timed humor mixed with plenty of thinking outside the box (pun intended), I'm truly impressed and can't recommend this one more.  I know I've done nothing but beat around the bush here but trust me, if this sounds like you're bag of tricks, you'll love it and absolutely must see it in theatres.  You won't regret it...unless of course you always wanted to see a merman.  

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REVIEW: Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol

"As much a surprise as it was a delight to watch."

Ethan Hunt and his team are blamed for a mission gone wrong at the Kremlin which causes the President to initiate Ghost Protocol, disavowing all members of the IMF.  Now on their own, Ethan and his crew go rogue in hopes of figuring out the truth and bringing the culprits to justice. 

I loved the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE show growing up, I never missed an episode, so naturally I was thrilled when I heard Tom Cruise was bringing it to the big screen.  The first one rocked (minus Jim as the villain), the second was dummied down and the third was alright but felt like it was missing something.  GHOST PROTOCOL is a refreshing dive back into comfortable waters for Cruise, more so than anyone wanted to admit pre-production.  I'm a fan of Cruise's work, I didn't mind VALYKARIE and I liked KNIGHT AND DAY.  I don't care what people do off-screen, what Gods they pray to or how excited they got on Oprah's couch, all I care about is whether or not you can deliver on-screen and for my money, not only did Cruise not disappoint, the MI series got a solid entry that left me hungry for more.

Not only did Cruise deliver in the acting department, but damn can he still handle those stunts with poise, accuracy and ridiculous dexterity.  The man can move, take a hit like a champion (I cringed more than a couple times) and for a dude pushing fifty he's still looking awfully badass.  The rest of the crew packed a punch as well, especially Jeremy Renner who'd been rumored to be taking over the franchise from Cruise initially, but instead both actors worked off one another well (and hopefully will again soon).  One of my favourite scenes is when they're in the car together being briefed for the mission only to have the car shot to hell and back before flying off the road into the water.

The MI series is known for its high octane stunts and sick gadgets that look like spyware on steroids, but this time they went a bit more Bond with hot looking cars, sexy women and lusciously gorgeous landscapes effortlessly presented by director Brad Bird.  I loved the window climbing (especially when one of the gloves broke malfunctioned mid climb), the fake wall looked amazing and that sandstorm was mind blowing.  There's so much effort piled into this flick that you can't help but throw it some love.  Speaking of showing some love, here's to LOST's Sawyer (Josh Holloway) for killing it in the opening moments (that double tap in mid air was money).  I hope this gets you some action flick love my man, and it shouldn't be too hard considering Taylor Lautner got ABDUCTION (which sucked ball sack).   

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE GHOST PROTOCOL is exactly what Tom Cruise needed at this point, a unanimous WIN at the box office.  As I said, I dig the guy's work (even the stuff most critics labelled duds) and I dig this series.  As sequels go, this deserves a standing ovation, my only beef being the boring, by the numbers villain.  The best part of MI3 was Philip Seymour Hoffman, what a perfect bad guy!  That back and forth between him and Ethan when he's tied to a chair was epic, it still gives me goose bumps.  If there was one thing this film lacked it was an electrifying villainous presence.  At the end of the day we can't have it all, but rest assured GHOST PROTOCOL still delivers the goods and is a welcome addition to the MI team.   

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TRAILER: Looper

Now this is a badass premise and cool new take on an old idea. A hitman whose been paid to take out a future version of himself? Sold. Now tell me that these two versions are played by Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt and I'm already there baby! Looks like solid mindless action to me.

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TRAILER: Savages

Oliver Stone is hit or miss with me, having not been overly impressed by his work over the years (I find his films a touch overrated). This one could go either way, the cast is cool and the premise is fresh for what it is, so here's hoping we've got something here.

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REVIEW: The Divide

"Brutal and disturbingly believable."

Nukes are raining down over New York City forcing a group of tenants living in a rundown apartment complex to gather in the basement where the building superintendant has created a bomb shelter of sorts.  Limited supplies, poisoned air and paranoia are only the beginning of their problems as the situation turns sour.

Post apocalyptic films are an acquired taste, especially depending on which way they go.  Personally I dig them when they're in the vein of MAD MAX, THE BOOK OF ELI, THE POSTMAN and  DOOMSDAY.  I don't mind gory, explicit action but the story's got to have a silver lining when it comes to entertainment value and the tone has to rise up from the dank, dreary darkness for air once in awhile.  THE ROAD for example, was far too depressing (I would never watch it again) and though THE DIVIDE is equally daunting, it's intent is clear...to show us just how depraved, disturbed and utterly evil people can be when no one's looking and there's nothing to lose. 

I was anxious to see this partly because I like Xavier Gens' take on HITMAN, no it wasn't perfect but it certainly wasn't the worst game to movie translation, but mostly because I'm a huge Michael Biehn fan.  Jimmy O's interview with Biehn when the movie came out was an interesting piece, he said that the  actors actually stayed in character and kept themselves away from the one another to help build the intensity.  I'm not sure how far they pushed it off screen but hot damn could you ever cut the tension in the room on screen.  Forget claustrophobia, as bad as confined spaces can be, imagine the world's on fire above you and the air will eventually kill you if you're resources don't run out first.  This thing makes LORD OF THE FLIES look like an island paradise vacation.

Biehn's superintendant persona  Mickey is an angry, paranoid recluse whose got his basement set up for this type of scenario.  He reluctantly lets the others in, but he's a survivalist as much as he's a realist and I didn't fault him for anything he said or did (he was a tad too racist though, his hatred and distrust toward Delvin felt forced and unbelievable considering) .  As a matter a fact, naturally with a room of characters in this situation there's bound to be many "character moments" you shake your head at or disagree with.  Rosanna Arquette's character (Marilyn) was the worst.  It's hard to not give anything away here but I really didn't like where she went.  To be honest, none of these characters were all that likeable, especially Eva.  Nobody needs a goody-goody in this situation, but at the same time, Milo Ventimiglia and Michael Eklund were superb as two friends who spiral off the deep end into shear madness.  I'm not celebrating or condoning their actions but I'll say this, their behavior is so believable it's petrifying. 

THE DIVIDE is a brutally honest approach to a tragically desperate situation I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.  Where this film loses points however is with the many paths that lead nowhere.  First off there's the event itself.  I don't need to know who pushed what button, but the door to the basement is breached and people come busting in with guns and spacesuits.  Again, not to spoil anything, but someone briefly gets outside the door to find it quarantined and tunneled together leading to a hub where they find people in incubating tubes amongst other things.  This was where the film got interesting but they did nothing with it and instead turned back inward resulting in murder, rape and many other acts of a depraved nature.  Beyond all that, I didn't care for the ending, specifically where the characters end up but also, the "leave it to your imagination" avenue.  No, I wasn't expecting sunshine and rainbows or NPH to swoop down on a flying unicorn, but I was hoping for more than I got. 

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GAME TRAILER: Resident Evil 6

This one keeps looking better and better, the crew's all here (Leon and Chris), the virus is now global and Wesker had a kid? Who knew. One thing I do know is this will kick some major ass and November's looking really far away right now.

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TRAILER: Ted

Now here's something to scratch your heads over in bewilderment. Seth MacFarlane (creator of FAMILY GUY) has a movie coming out starring Mark Wahlberg and Mina Kunis. It feels like real people talking to Peter Griffin in a Teddy Bear's body that acts like Chucky. My mind's still trying to process this and understand who in God's name would give this a green light.

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TRAILER: Total Recall

Now here is a paradox if I've ever seen one. I loved the Arnold led original, it's a cult classic and like so many other remakes in the works, I wasn't overly stoked about this one (especially when I heard they scrapped the whole Mars end of things). I do like Colin Farrell though, he kicked as Jerry Danridge so why not as Douglas Quaid. Visually this looks riveting, and the concept feels fresh. Who knows, this may be the trip to Recall we won't want to forget.

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TRAILER: House At The End Of The Street

Cool concept and advertising approach for a story we've probably all seen a hundred times before. It doesn't hurt that Jennifer Lawrence is a young, hot, "it girl" right now either. I'm definitely curious, but the PG-13 rating has me worried.

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TRAILER: The Dictator

Another funny look at Sacha Baron Cohen's new comedy revealing the idea and premise of the story, which was much different than I originally thought. Either way, this looks entertaining, but like most of his stuff, it's only really funny the first time.

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REVIEW: Wrath Of The Titans

"Great action, with beautiful sets and creatures."

After putting foot to Kraken ass for mankind, Perseus was offered a seat at the godly table only to refuse, choosing instead to live out his life as a man and father to his son Helius.  When trouble eventually starts brewing in the heavens, a reluctant and troubled Perseus sets out to rescue his father Zeus from the underworld before Hades can drain him of his power and free Kronos and the rest of the Titans upon the world.

CLASH OF THE TITANS was a mixed bag for me when it came out, partly because I'd just reviewed the original a month prior (which was the first time I'd seen it), but mostly because it felt like a phoned in carbon copy of the original with updated graphics and acting.  Mindless popcorn entertainment, sure, but nothing to write home about.  The idea of continuing the tale via WRATH OF THE TITANS felt like a phenomenal idea in a day and age when Greek Mythology is being celebrated so feverishly.  The characters and source material is still ripe for the picking and can be handled in numerous ways (as seen in IMMORTALS), so there's no way they could drop the ball on a sequel right?  Well, yes and no.

The good news is, if you enjoyed the first one, you'll enjoy this one (these flicks are either up your alley or they're not).  The story isn't revolutionary by any stretch, but it's not terrible and certainly not boring.  The action picks up almost instantly with a worn out Perseus pitted against a Chimera (admittedly the best fight in the film) attacking his village.  First off, the monsters look fantastic, realistic and dangerous as hell.  That's the essence you want to capture in a movie like this one, and they nailed it.  Second, we're seeing Perseus ten years after his battle royal with the Kraken so he's noticeably rusty and up to his eye balls in inner turmoil.  I liked that.  Fighting evil must be like riding a bike though as he jumps back in with both feet rather quickly.

Now if you thought the CGI monsters looked great in the trailers wait until you see the landscapes, what a feast for the eyes!  Tartarus for one looked phenomenal, as did the maze leading up to it.  These lush visuals made me think of game levels in GOD OF WAR and DARKSIDERS, vibrant and alive with detail, I can't even begin to tell you how impressive they are, you need to see them for yourselves.  Again, these are the elements that fuel suspension of disbelief which is of vital importance when dealing with this type of lore.  Kronos, Makhai and the Minotaur were also impressive, if not short lived (without giving anything away, I wish all monster battles were as engrossing and edge of your seat as the first but such was not the case). 

The storyline here was touch and go, spiralling out of control with "daddy issues", jealousy and petty bickering which worked in some cases better than others.  The thread between Perseus and his son Helius was there, but barely.  The Zeus and Hades end of things was interesting  and though I personally loved where that went, some didn't.  I didn't care for the weak love story they discretely slipped into the deck, but hey, there always has to be some female eye candy I suppose.

WRATH OF THE TITANS is yet another epic action extravaganza on so much steroids I actually felt like Kronos might punch me in the face.  This feeling was of course helped by the (surprising) fact that this flick actually put 3D to good use for a change.  Jonathan Liebesman knows his key shots and despite playing the shaky cam card from time to time, he at least knows when to ease off and pan out for the money shot.  On a bummer note this flick felt a tad rushed, the end conflict a little too easily attained and the cost for attaining it rather light.  A lot happens here, and a lot's at stake.  I appreciate them making the Gods able to die as a result of losing their powers, but it didn't feel like enough.  The cast did well (Bill Nighy was hilarious as the banished god Hephaestus, but Worthington, Neeson and Feinnes all slipped back into their roles well), I liked the addition of ROCKNROLLA's Toby Kebbell as Poseidon's son Agenor, but I was brutally let down by their depiction of Ares, God of War.  I wasn't displeased with the actor, Edgar Ramirez, rather by the way they made him a sniveling, whinny little pansy.  He's the God of War people, and you had him crying like a Twi-hard all movie!  Sigh, small things aside, this was a stellar popcorn flick in the vein of mind numbing action.  Again, if you enjoyed the first one, you know what you're in for and will definitely love the ride.       

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REVIEW: The Hunger Games

"You're better off reading the books."

In a future ravaged by World War III, twelve districts must offer one boy and one girl as tribute once a year for The Hunger Games, a televised death match where only one winner can immerge victorious.  When District 12's contestants are chosen, Katniss Everdeen, offers herself in exchange for her young sister, creating a stir of mixed emotions across the capitol and the world watching.  

As a writer and author, I have a great affinity for films based upon books.  Of course I've also been doing this long enough to see how that usually pans out.  Most authors are thrilled by the prospect of seeing their creations come to life, seeing their rich, detailed and complex characters flourish on the big screen.  Some novels, like Harry Potter, Thomas Harris' Hannibal Lector stories and The Lord Of The Rings were hits.  But then we had Eragon, many of James Patterson's Detective Cross stories and arguably the Narnia series, fall flat on their faces.  Why?  Who knows for sure.  Personally I prefer the HBO approach, making a novel into a ten or twelve hour epic season like Game Of Thrones, but TV series' don't always work either, just ask Terry Goodkind, author of The Sword Of Truth novels.  THE HUNGER GAMES may indeed be an entertaining page turner, but the film itself (the first one anyway) is a rather dull affair.

The hype train carrying this film was magical, putting this flick on the lips of anyone with eyes, ears and a heartbeat, but I'm afraid the hype was grossly exaggerated.  To be fair, this isn't TWILIGHT (thank Christ), but it doesn't deliver the promise of something beyond teenage appreciation.  I'm sure I'm not the first, nor will I be the last to compare this film to THE RUNNING MAN, one of Arnold's best actioneers in my humble opinion (based upon one of Stephen King's short stories if you didn't know).  It's my understanding THE HUNGER GAMES novels are as gory and violent as THE RUNNING MAN (I haven't read them), but you'd never know it by way of the film. 

I understand the approach of a PG-13 rating (cue The Apprentice theme song; MONEY, MONEY, MONEY, MOONNEEY), which slaps you hard (but not hard enough to draw blood) in the face with that messy, lazy and downright awful shaky cam approach to filmmaking.  Nothing makes me more furious than knowing something is happening, something important, and not clearly being able to see it.  Every fight scene or hint of violence was handled this way to keep from actually showing you what you knew was happening (that said, there wasn't a whole lot of action to begin with).  That works well with words on paper fuelled by imagination, but not on film, not when that's precisely what you paid to see.  As for the tone of the film, well, this whole thing reminds me of a slightly watered down version of HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHEONIX, if you can believe that, PHEONIX, being darker and more appealing clearly, as among other things, we get to relish in the demise of Edward Cullen (happy dance), but seriously, why wasn't this flick darker?

THE HUNGER GAMES sports a decent enough cast with Jennifer Lawrence at the helm, a rising star I am fond of these days, and though she does Katniss Everdeen justice on some levels I'm sure (especially when it comes to her hardened archery skills), it's not enough to sell you on the film.  Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci and Wes Bentley were great additions (I didn't care for Elizabeth Banks' annoying Effie character, and Donald Sutherland's presence is barely an afterthought), but something was still missing from this stale concoction.  Also, I would have loved to know how the mechanics of their playing field worked, I mean come on, there's a control room where people are just creating obstacles like fire balls and steroid induced looking dogs/wolves (which I've heard are described in the books as fallen tributes...a small but pertinent detail I feel would have added to the tension...had it been mentioned in the film) to come between, slow down or kill the tributes, yet we have no idea how that's possible and are expected to simply go with it.  I didn't go in with high expectations but I was hoping for something more.  True, it was watchable beyond TWILIGHT, but had nothing on the likes of HARRY POTTER or similar storylines from better films.  It did however, make tons of cash so we can expect more of Katniss in the near future which isn't so much a bad thing, though I'd settle for renting it rather than hitting the theatre...unless of course you're a rebellious teenage girl who digs archery. 

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