DVD Review: Ninja Assassin

File this under "So Bad it's Good."
Sometimes we come across a movie that's so ridiculous that you can't help but have a good time while viewing it. You watch numerous characters make cliched mistakes, speak as if they were reading from poorly written teleprompters, and have extraordinary things happen to them, all while being littered with plot holes. When a film does this, and doesn't take itself seriously, it begins to be fun instead of a complete bomb. Ninja Assassin is a perfect example of this.

Raizo (Korean Pop Star Rain) was raised to be a lethal weapon. After his girlfriend is killed, he turns his back on the family that took him in and now seeks revenge. With the aid of Mika, (Naomie Harris) Raizo must fight hundreds of Ninjas before they kill him first.

Here's a few things I learned from this movie.

1) CGI blood looks worse than corn syrup. Every fight scene in this film had CGI blood. Now, the movie required a lot of it, but I felt like they could've at least taken a few pointers from Tarantino on how to make blood look decent on screen.

2) Some Ninjas are secretly Wolverine. ie: Ninjas can heel themselves just by moving their muscles.

3) There's never too many throwing stars, nor is a car driving down the freeway with about 20 of them stuck in the hood conspicuous at all.

4) Ninjas love to whisper. 

5) Mika's heart is special. By special I mean it's on the wrong side of her chest.

Was this movie completely ridiculous and over the top? Hell yes it was. Despite it's many, many flaws, I still got a kick out of it. Perhaps the film makers didn't intend for me to be laughing throughout, but at least I enjoyed myself.

Recommended: Yes (for laughs, of course)

Grade: C

Memorable Quote: "Just because I was sleeping, doesn't mean I can't hear you." - Raizo (Rain)

Indie Gems: Lymelife

The American Dream sucks.

At least it does for these two families who's once normal suburban lives are now crumbling. The film follows Scott Barlett (Rory Culkin) who has a crush on his neighbor Adrianna Bragg. (Emma Roberts) That's not all Scott has on his plate. He thinks his unhappy mother, Brenda (Jill Hennessy) is crazy and his father, Mickey (Alec Baldwin) is having an affair with Adrianna's mother, Melissa. (Cynthia Nixon) Melissa's husband, Charlie (Timothy Hutton) has recently been diagnosed with lyme disease and has become very distant from the rest of the family. There's lots of drama to go around between the two familes and we see Scott and Adrianna's relationship sort of blossum amidst all of this.

Lymelife reminded me a bit of American Beauty, which as you know is my all time favorite movie. That's one of the things that made me like it so much. It had the same formula, not everything is great in suburbia, but it still brought it's own special touches to the table. The acting was good, with the exception of Hennessy who I thought was a little stale, the story was interesting and the ending is left up to interpretation. It can either be something subtle, or something sinister depending on how you look at it. I felt invested in all of the characters, which is refreshing. I love seeing Rory and Kieran Culkin act together, they are truly the most talented of the Culkin clan.

Recommended: Yes

Grade: A-

Memorable Quote: "You'll rot your stomach out just like I did." - Jimmy Barlett (Kieran Culkin)

Review: Eastern Promises

Cronenberg at his best.
This is my submission for LAMB's latest addition of The Director's Chair. Not only is Eastern Promises my favorite Cronenberg film, it's easily in my top 5 favorite films of all time.

Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen) is a driver for a family associated with the Vory V Zakone, a dangerous Russian mob. He works for Semyon, (Armin Mueller-Stahl) who masks his crime with his posh Russian restaurant in London. His son, Kirill (Vincent Cassell) trusts Nikolai and is his constant companion. When Anna,(Naomi Watts) a midwife who has a young teenager die during childbirth on her shift comes across Semyon's business card in her diary. She goes to the restaurant looking for the girl's family so that she can send the child back to them. She soon learns that these people are dangerous to be around. Nikolai subtly tries to help her while trying to convince Kirill otherwise.

Cronenberg has directed a lot of great films, but this one is his best. The amount of research he and his actors put into this film is astounding. Cronenberg brings out the best in Mortensen, (in an Oscar nominated performance) Watts, and Cassell. Their accents are nearly perfect, everything down to the tattoos is as authentic as possible. Cronenberg did a lot of research on the Vory V Zakone. He noted that they use knives instead of guns, so you never see any of them wield a gun in the film. He studied the tattoos of many members and made sure Mortensen's matched. Something I found pretty funny was that Nikolai's ankle tattoos read "Where are you going?" and "Why the fuck do you care?" He also managed to choreograph one of the best fight scenes in cinema history. Admit it, that shower scene was damn impressive. Just listening to the commentary on the DVD shows how deep into this Cronenberg got and his hard work pays off.

Recommended: Yes

Grade: A+

Memorable Quote: "Sentimental value? Ah. I've heard of that." - Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen)

Review: The Help

Some people are ridiculous.

The Help proves this. Set in Mississippi in the 1960's, racism is a huge problem. We're told two stories here, one is Abileen's (Viola Davis) and one is Skeeter's. (Emma Stone) Skeeter is fresh out of college and wants to be a writer. She starts writing a house keeping collumn for her local newspaper and asks Abileen, a friend's maid, for advise. Hilly, (Bryce Dallas Howard) gets a law passed that requires each home to have a seperate bathroom for their hired help. Disturbed by this and the way some of the people in her town treat their help, Skeeter decides to write a book from their prospective. At first no maid will talk, but eventually Abileen does. She and Skeeter form a strong friendship as she writes her story, and eventually other maids join in. Doing all of this is dangerous and illegal, but they want to get their stories told.

I have to say this is probably the best emsemble cast I've seen all year. Everyone did such a fantastic job. Davis, Stone, and Octavia Spencer who plays fellow maid, Minny steal the show. Strong supporting acts from Sissy Spacek and Jessica Chastain help as well. This is definitely a cheer jerker. I found myself choked up several different times during the film and that really says something about how powerful it is. This isn't normally my kind of movie, but when it preaches an important message I'm willing to give it a chance. I'm glad that I did.

Recommended: Yes

Grade: A-

Memorable Quote: "You didn't eat just one, but TWO slices!" - Mrs. Walters (Sissy Spacek)

DVD Review: Troubled Water (DeUsynlige)

Can people change?

Troubled Water is the story of Jan Thomas, (Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen) a young man recently released from prison where he did time for murdering a child. He claims it was an accident. He gets a job playing the organ at a local church and soon befriends Anna, (Ellen Dorit Peterson) the priest and her young son, Jens. Thomas (he goes by his middle name now) doesn't tell Anna of his past for obvious reasons, but when Agnes, (Trine Dyrholm) the mother of the young boy he killed recognizes him at the church, she's determined to expose him to everyone.

The film starts off from Thomas's point of view then finishes up from Agnes'. It's a very creative way of telling the story and makes you feel both sympothy and anger towards both parties. Part of you wants Thomas to lead a normal life, the other part shuns him for what he did. Part of you completely understands where Agnes's anger is coming from, the other part thinks she takes it too far. One thing I didn't like about the film, perhaps this was lost in translation for me since the film is in Norweigen and I do not speak the language is the purpose of Thomas's crime in the first place. Why did he take the stroller? Was it a robbery? A joke? The movie never quite explains that or what sentence he was serving in the first place. The camera work was a bit annoying at times with all the out of focus shots they did, but overall the performances were good and the story was interesting, albeit a tad predictable towards the end.

Recommended: Yes

Grade: B

Memorable Quote: "Someone has to do something, this boy is in danger." - Agnes (Trine Dyrholm)

Indie Gems: Wristcutters: A Love Story

No smiling here.

Zia (Patrick Fugit) is depressed over his breakup with Desiree. (Leslie Bibb) He kills himself and wakes up in a purgatory for suicides. He tries to adapt to life in his new home, but then learns that Desiree committed suicide not long after he did. He's determined to find her. He sets off on a road trip with Eugene (Shea Wingham) and eventually they pick up Mikal, (Shannyn Sossamon) a girl looking for "the people in charge" because she's there by mistake. They eventually find Desiree in the company of a man who calls himself The Messiah (Will Arnett) and promises something extraordinary.

This is a really neat film with a lot of quirky elements. When you go to this purgatory, you no longer have the ability to smile. There's a hole in the back seat of Zia's car that is essentially a black hole just to name a few. The acting is great, subtle, and works well with the flow of the movie. Our characters are wondering, and that's how the movie feels at times, but not in a bad way. Like it's drifting towards something great. The humor is consistent through out, with Will Arnett's presence alone providing a lot of it towards the end. The ending itself is heartwarming, and while it's a little predictable it still feels perfect.

Recommended: Yes

Grade: A

Memorable Quote: "Yeah, a big fat one." - Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon)

DVD Review: Hobo With A Shotgun

Bang Bang.

All this Hobo (Rutger Hauer) wants to do is start his own lawn mowing business. There's a surprisingly sweet scene in which he finally puts his hands on the mower he plans to buy and smiles. Then back to reality, he realizes this new town he has just rolled into is full of crime. Mob bosses and deranged cops rule the city. They rob innocent victims, kill children, abuse prostitutes, etc. Instead of buying that mower, our Hobo gets a shotgun instead. He's going to solve the city's violent problems one shell at a time. He finds himself saving, protecting, and ultimately fighting along side Abby, (Molly Dunsworth) a prostitute that was nearly killed.

This is a grind house style movie, so obviously you are watching it for the gore. What I personally appreciated about the film was that they had multiple instances where they could've had over the top sexual assaults. But they didn't, not one is shown, attempts are implied, but they never happen. Maybe I'm a hypocrite for cringing at that and not at people getting their heads ripped off, but it is what it is. The film's violence is extremely over the top, most of the time it's done with a tad bit of humor. (Getting a hand severed, then proceding to stab the man who severed it to death with the bone sticking out of your arm) Others are hard to watch (School bus full of kids getting torched.) The acting is borderline terrible, but you can expect that from a low budget horror film. Overall, I enjoyed Hobo With A Shot Gun, it was amusing and I love the obvious title. I was pretty underwhelmed by the ending, because I had heard how "awesome" it was and it didn't really live up to the high expectations I had for it. Nonetheless, a must see for horror fans.

Recommended: Yes

Grade: B-

Memorable Quote: "I just want to go to the zoo with you and see the bears." - Abby (Molly Dunsworth)

Random Ramblings: Midnight Movies

I haven't been able to sleep for more than a few hours for the past week. The result of this is watching a lot of random movies and TV Shows. Instead of writing individual reviews, I decided to give some quick thoughts on the films I've come across in the middle of the night. Yes, they are very random.

Catch Me If You Can - This is a movie that most people love that I really don't like. I almost feel bad for not liking it because it's got a lot of qualities that I look for in movies. It's like running a marathon, this movie is never ending. It feels longer than it's 140 run time. I swear I watched this movie from midnight all the way to 6:00 am.

Defiance - I finally got around to finishing this movie. Interesting story, nice score, horrible pacing. Another movie that felt like it was 5 hours long. Have you ever read the IMDb message boards for Defiance? There's a lot of bigots and racists on there. I hate it when stupid people get a hold of computers.

Rock-A-Doodle - I initially laughed when I saw this was on, I loved this movie as a kid. I figured I'd prepare myself for when my child wants me to watch cartoons with him. I instantly regret making my father watch this with me over and over again. Edmond's voice drove me up the wall. Not to mention the songs are horrible.

The Ice Storm - I love this movie and could watch it over and over again.

Star Trek - I've spent the majority of my life making fun of Star Trek because so many of my family members love it. Then I found myself enjoying the movie way more than I should've.

Up In The Air - I've watched this 3 times in the past few weeks. THREE TIMES! I could probably watch it again right now. I don't even like George Clooney that much, I don't understand why this film draws me in the way it does.

True Blood - This show is like crack. I don't like the current vampire phase, but I'm all about this show. I love the fact that Eric and Sookie finally hooked up. It's about damn time, it's almost sad when your rooting for two people to have sex as badly as I was for those two. Jason's storyline has gotten better, Lafayette's has gotten worse. I don't like where Sam and Tommy are going. I cannot stand Tommy at all. Whenever he's the most vulnerable, I start to almost care about him, then he goes and does something dickish and I hate him all over again. I wish someone would just kill him already. They should've killed him last season.

Breaking Bad - I can't stand Skyler White. It's a shame the last episode focused on her so much. Give me more of Jesse and Walt. I love the intensity of this season though.

Rescue Me - A piss poor 6th seasons leads into a piss poor 7th and final season. I hate how this show has fallen. I LOVED this show when it first came out and I've been a loyal viewer since. It's just really hard to keep defending a show when you know how awful it's become. I've always hated the majority of the female characters on this show, but this season they are even worse. I don't care about Janet, Sheila, Colleen or Katie at all. Kelly is the only female character that's not a raging bitch. I hope this ends with Tommy leaving all of them for Kelly. I also hope they focus more on the guys in the fire house. The best scenes are when they are all together.

Shark Week - This is what is on TV now as I type. Why are sharks just so damn fascinating?

WWE - CM Punk is the best thing going on right now. I've always been a huge fan, I'm loving the spotlight on him.

MLB Baseball -  To call the Minnesota Twins' season a disappointment would be an understatement. I was hoping they'd somehow rally and have a chance at the post season. I don't see that happening anymore. I'd love to be wrong. On a side note, I've really gotten in to watching Intentional Talk on MLB Network. That show is pretty hilarious, though I don't understand why everyone hates on Chris Rose so much.

Splice - I didn't care much for this movie the first time I saw it and liked it even less the 2nd. Adrian Brody is an Oscar winner..now he's fucking aliens.

Tadpole - I'm pretty sure this movie was shot with a Super 8 camera on a $100.00 budget.

Iron Man 2 - I enjoyed the movie, but still can't get over how cheesy Scarlett Johansson's character gets at the end.

Hall Pass - This movie is designed to tell you how much marriage sucks without being original at all. I like being married, it's not horrible. I'm over this cliche.

Indie Gems: Factory Girl

Edie is a superstar.

Sienna Miller gives her best performance to date as doomed socialite Edie Sedgwick. She was a young girl with a lot of money that dreamed of the glamorous life. She meets Andy Warhol (Guy Pearce) and quickly becomes his muse. Life with Andy is perfect for Edie until she begins to get into drugs and starts a fling with a musician (Hayden Christensen) that ultimately tears her apart from Warhol. When her seemingly endless pocket book finally runs out, Edie hits rock bottom.

Of all the films I've seen featuring Andy Warhol, I must say I enjoyed Pearce's interpretation the most. He plays him with just the right amount of seriousness, flamboyant traits, nervous habits, yet solemn and focused. There's so much emotion packed in there that it's easy to see why so many people are obsessed with him. Miller's Edie is just as fascinating. I thought she captured her well and I'm really surprised Miller didn't get more attention for this role. Christensen was tolerable as the musician, or Billy Quinn depending on what DVD you own. It's an obvious play at Bob Dylan who Edie was rumored to have an affair. He apparently threatened to sue producers after the film was made because it made him "look responsible for Edie's death." Whether or not there's any truth to that rumor, I don't know.

The film's main setting is New York City and even though they didn't actually film a lot of their scenes there the crew did a convincing job of making it look as authentic as possible. Though the editing is a little choppy at times I thought it worked with the tone of the film. Edie's life was anything but perfect, so the film shouldn't be either.

Recommended: Yes

Grade: B

Memorable Quote: "I just think sex is so abstract." - Andy Warhol (Guy Pearce)

Review: Cowboys and Aliens

Western meets Sci Fi.

I can't quite put my finger one what Cowboys and Aliens was missing. I had higher expectations for this film, but it wasn't great. It wasn't a bad movie either, it was just lacking, and I wish I could explain what it is I wanted from the film.

Jake (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the middle of nowhere with no memory of what has happened to him. He's injured and has a strange bracelet strapped to his wrist that he cannot remove. He makes his way to a village only to find out he's a wanted man. While tangling with a powerful man, Woodrow Dollarhyde's (Harrison Ford) son (played by Paul Dano) they soon find themselves under attack by aliens. They take many people from the town, Ella (Oliva Wilde) seems to be the only one that regonizes these creatures and she knows that Jake is the key to help.

There were some pretty interesting action sequences in this movie. Obviously technology is different from the 1800's old west and the aliens, so you can imagine who has the upper hand. Thankfully Jake's bracelet allows him to kill the aliens. Otherwise this war would've been very one-sided. Ford and Craig are their normal badass selves, but the script is too cliche for them to do anything original. Side characters played by Paul Dano and Sam Rockwell are very underused, and the pacing hurts the movie when the ending is so predictable. It's not to say that the film is horrible, the music is great and I liked the effects. When you look at the people who made this, I guess I just expected a bit more. I've never read the graphic novels they are based on, so I'm not sure if a lot of substance was just left out or if there was none at all. Nonetheless, it's one of the better popcorn flicks this summer.

Recommended: Yes. Matinee, perhaps.

Grade: C+

Memorable Quote: "Don't pull on it. It's not your pecker." - Meachum (Clancy Brown)

DVD Review: Dogville

A lesson learned.

What is that lesson you ask? The lesson of if you really can't stand a director's work, you probably should stop giving him chances. M. Night Shaymalan is a good example of this. He made a wonderful film in The Sixth Sense, an ok film in Unbreakable, and then ruined everything else. I've stopped giving him chances, and now I stop with Lars Von Trier. Von Trier's directing has always come off a bit pretentious to me. I think he tries way to hard to make his films feel "arty." I know that's a broad statement, but some directors (Danny Boyle, Quentin Tarantino) just have a way of shooting things and making them feel brilliant. Von Trier shoves his long shots and slow panning of his stage down our throats. I hated Antichrist. Hated Dancer in the Dark. The only reason I picked up Dogville is because I've been on a bit of a Paul Bettany kick lately and figured something with him, Nicole Kidman and Stellan Skarsgard wouldn't be so bad.

Grace (Nicole Kidman) is on the run from the mob. She stumbles upon the seemingly solemn Dogville, a small town in the rocky mountains. She meets Tom, (Paul Bettany) an aspiring writer her urges her to stay. Tom also longs for the approval of the citizens of Dogville. He wants to be their "leader" so to speak. He starts by bringing her to a town meeting and telling everyone that they need to help her. That they prove how kind hearted they are by hiding her and allowing her to assist them with odd jobs here and there. After awhile Grace earns their trust and they allow her to stay. Soon police slap a wanted poster with her picture on it in Dogville and Tom decides her workload should be increased since they are essentially harboring a fugitive, even though they don't believe she's done the things she's being accused of. She essentially becomes their slave. She gets chained up with a bell and raped by literally every man in the town except Tom.

Granted they spare us by not showing all the rapes, but what really annoys me is that all men are being portrayed as sex hungry animals with no respect for women. It's the same problem I had with Sucker Punch, not every guy in the world is a rapist waiting for his moment to strike, but these people apparently think so. The women aren't portrayed any better, they're bitter bitches who actually blame Grace for being raped. The mood in the town changes so drastically it's hardly believable. *Spoilers ahead* When this nearly 3 hour film ends, Grace has everyone killed. Sure it was satisfying to get rid of everyone in the town, (but was shooting the baby necessary?) but it makes me wonder why she put up with all of it in the first place.

I got what the film was trying to say and I know it has a strong fan base, but I flat out didn't like it. It wasn't interesting enough, and it just verifies the fact that I cannot enjoy a Lars Von Trier movie. Not that I'm missing much..

Recommended: No

Grade: D

Memorable Quote: "I think the world would do better without Dogville." - Grace (Nicole Kidman)

Indie Gems: Manic

You can't escape yourself.

Before we saw Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel together in the wonderful (500) Days of Summer, we saw them in this gritty indie about teenagers in a psych ward.

Lyle (Gordon-Levitt) has just been admitted into treatment for his violent outbursts. The film is about the relationships be forms with the staff and other residents. There's Dr. Monroe (Don Cheadle) who's trying to help him.  Chad (Michael Bacall), a resident he gets close too. He also gets feelings for another disturbed resident, Tracy. (Zooey Deschanel)

JGL shot this film when he was a teenager, and even back then you can see what strong actor he is. The film deals with a lot of serious issues youth in treatment face, and it breezes through them without feeling intrusive. I liked the chemistry between Tracy and Lyle, even though their relationship was far from normal. I liked how we got a little bit of story on all of the "main residents." What brought them there, what they set out to accomplish. The film was shot entirely with a hand held camera and can be a bit shaky at times. It works for it. It feels uneven, like many of the residents in the film feel.

Recommended: Yes

Grade: A

Memorable Quote: "Batman is not a homo. Batman bangs the hottest chicks in Gotham city!" - Chad (Michael BaCall)

Review: Cedar Rapids

Making other people's dreams come true.

That's the philosophy of of Tim Lippe. (Ed Helms) He's a small town insurance salesman who views his occupation as that of a super hero. Saving other people when they are in need of it the most. It's actually a nice way to look at it. Tim has never left home and after a tragedy at work finds himself representing his place of business at a big convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Naive Tim has trouble fitting in with his room mates, Ron (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) and Ziegler,(John C. Reilly) and doesn't quite know how to take the advances of Joan (Anne Heche) or even Bree. (Alia Shawkat)

Cedar Rapids is a comedy, but it never quite passes from just "ok" to "amusing." I found Ed Helm's character to be way too over the top to be convincing. He's almost too neurotic. Are we really supposed to believe that Tim would get traveler's cheques for a weekend visit to another state? Or that he wouldn't recognize a prostitute when he shares trysts with his own 7th grade teacher? Helms is constantly over shadowed by John C. Reilly who can turn just about anything into comic gold. Once the movie ends and the credits began to roll, the only think I could think of was "that was just all right." Not bad, but not good. Passable.

Recommended: Yes, for a rainy day perhaps?

Grade: C+

Memorable Quote: "I'm pre-engaged to someone!" - Tim Lippe (Ed Helms)

DVD Review: Running On Empty

All in the family.

Annie and Arthur Pope (Christine Lahti and Judd Hirsch) have been on the run for years. They blew up a building to protest the war and now they must live with fake identities. Unfortuntely this means their young songs have to do the same. Danny, (River Phoenix) is a piano prodigy who is nearly 18. He must make a choice, continue to live this lie, or go on to become a musician and follow his dreams.

River Phoenix was truely one of a kind, the depth he showed at such a young age is amazing. He didn't play all the piano peices by himself, but he memorized the movements to make it as legit as he could. He steals scenes left and right. The film would've been mediocre without him. You really start to feel his pain and insecurities with the situation he is in. When he encounters love for the first time (with real life girlfriend Martha Plimpton) we as the audience want him to confess and just have what he's working so hard for. It's hard to watch kids having to pay for their parent's mistakes.

While Phoenix's Oscar nominated performance is the highlight, the rest of the cast give solid performances as well. The pacing is great and you legitimently care about what happens to this family.

Recommended: Yes

Grade: B+

Memorable Quote: "Why do you have to carry the burden of someone else's life?" - Lorna (Martha Plimpton)