>> Zack and Miri Make a Porno (7/10)

Kevin Smith, the filmmaker, brings out conflicting feelings in me.  Kevin Smith, the personality, I’m perfectly fine with.  He can talk all he wants, and I’ll listen; sometimes, I might even buy his merch,  But Kevin Smith, the writer/director?  Man, I just don’t know about that guy.  How many movies does this guy have to make before I can stop watching the learning process that is taking place behind the camera?  I understand that all directors are learning with every film blah blah blah, but I don’t want to watch it happen right before my very own eyes, during one of his films, like I’m at film school with him.  Zack and Miri Make a Porno is within fingertip distance of feeling like a “real” movie and not a Kevin Smith film, and that’s not a knock, except that it is, really, but even the fans will know what I’m talking about here.  Kevin Smith is like a master artist that uses a giant novelty crayon to create emotionally resonant pieces of art–clumsy but effective.  When he achieves those moments of emotional truth, they feel almost like an accident, and then I have to ask myself how many movies the guy has to make before I start considering him more seriously than just a comic geek who lucked out and made a hit indie movie a long time ago.

In Zack and Miri, Smith casts Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks as two friends whose relationship dates back to grade school.  Financial irresponsibility, a chance encounter with two porn stars at a high school reunion, and a much-watched viral video of Miri’s exposed granny panties lead the pair to consider making amateur pornography as the cash grab they need to avoid financial ruin.  They enlist the help of some acquaintances (Craig Robinson, Jeff Anderson), hold casting calls for actors (Jason Mewes, Katie Morgan), and become instant filmmakers.  The conflict arises when Zack and Miri also agree to perform sex acts on film with each other, an idea that stirs up unresolved feelings of attraction and jealousy between the two platonic buddies.

Smith uses the porn setting as the quickest way to get to the story he really wants to tell, which is whether or not sex really does ruin everything between two friends.  There’s a similar theme in Chasing Amy, but with a different dynamic (Holden’s sexual relationship with Alyssa threatens to destroy his friendship with Banky).  Overlooking the jaw-droppingly profane humor, Zack and Miri is actually a fairly conventional romantic comedy in structure.  The strength of the movie is that the scenes that need to feel the most real, always do.  The weakness of the movie is that nothing else does.

As Zack and Miri approach the point of no return, then try to shake themselves of their complicated thoughts once they’ve crossed that point, Rogen and Banks knock the material out of the park.  Banks is a godsend in this role, elevating the material beyond the page, and creating something real out of something that could’ve been just another Kevin Smith fantasy babe (like Rosario Dawson in Clerks II).  It’s a star-making role in a movie entirely too dirty to make anyone a star, which is an unfortunate truth.  Rogen’s Zack reminded me a lot of Kevin Smith, actually, and this is the first film where one of Smith’s characters actually felt like a surrogate for the filmmaker himself.  I don’t think it’s really a harsh criticism (Woody Allen does it all the time), and it gives Rogen’s loveable slacker persona a little bit of a different flavor.  He’s less sarcastic and witty, more goofy and amiable.

Craig Robinson got more laughs from me than anyone else, though.  Just like in Pineapple Express, Robinson is the secret comedy weapon, and Smith gives him all the good lines.  Smith, the screenwriter, known for forcing long, awkward comedic monologues into the mouths of his actors, avoids that completely here, for the first time ever, and his actors talk like characters usually do in movies.  It’s a big step for him as a writer/director–to be able to trust the actors to carry the scene without having to say everything they’re thinking.  While Zack and Miri isn’t exactly laced with subtext, it’s reassuring to know that he’s confident enough to let Banks’ face fill the frame and to let her eyes do the talking a bit.

All in all, Kevin Smith continues to learn, but has made his first movie that no one could really call amateurish, after fifteen years of film making.  It sure makes Zack and Miri Make a Porno a very strange accomplishment.  It’s a juvenile comedy with an adult understanding of sexual politics.  It examines sex in a way that is not often seen in film–that, for some, sex is just sex, while others can’t separate the physical act from love.  The film never passes judgment about those that can’t (or won’t) make the separation, and it’s a sweeter film because of it.

7 on a 1 to 10 scale


>> The Haunting of Molly Hartley (4/10)

Oh, The Haunting of Molly Hartley, you didn’t seem like a really bad movie, until you went and tried to be all twisty and turny.  You did seem like a made-for-TV thriller designed to appeal to young teen girls, but you didn’t really suck, until, well, you started sucking.  Then, when you did start sucking, wow, you went nuts, shaming both Hoover and Dyson in the process.  I can’t even understand why you are a movie that is actually playing in theatres.  You star nobody, your screenplay is, let’s be perfectly honest here, balls, and you’re less scary than a Halloween church carnival.

You tell me a story about Molly Hartley (Haley Bennett), new girl in school, fresh from a stabbing at the hands of her nutty mother.  Mom’s in an asylum now, and Molly is doted on by a vanilla-bland father, a popular Ken doll hunk of teenage man-meat, and an overly friendly Christian girl who resembles Steve Buscemi if he was pretty enough to compete on America’s Next Top Model.  Molly keeps having flashbacks of her mother attempting to stab the teenage demons out of her with a pair of scissors, that, to me, felt very much like a textbook case of post-traumatic stress disorder, yet the movie treats this as if Molly Hartley is a dangerous whack-job, just inches away from becoming just like her mom and stabbing everyone in sight.  Then you start releasing information and exposition that, for the first hour or so of the film, you haven’t even foreshadowed, and then you start asking me to skip tra-la-la over the plot holes and character cracks in a cute, pleated plaid skirt, and no.  I am so not doing that.

You’re stupid.  Brave for coming out in the face of the Saw franchise this Halloween, braver than other, better, horror films that decided to wait until 2009 than stare down the barrell of Saw‘s guaranteed box-office buckshot, but you’re stupid.  You ask me to believe things that don’t make a lick of sense, including your preposterous twist ending, one that requires an audience to suspend disbelief in how a knife works.  We know how knives work.  We use them everyday.  They aren’t magical swords or anything.

The Haunting of Molly Hartley, your crime is that you are as lifeless as cardboard, and nowhere near as exciting to watch.  You are dull.  You don’t even try to be scary.  Your screenplay=balls.  You really should’ve nailed down the specifics of the plot before you decided to become a movie, because the only people who are going to be able to enjoy this are 10-year olds, folks mentally unequipped to tell you exactly why the religious mumbo-jumbo and questionable psychiatry in your movie make your movie idiotic.  I literally can not understand you, and it’s your own fault.  There is not a single reason I can think of to tell anyone why they should see you, and I hope you are soon forgotten.  Good luck in your future life as the movie nobody wants in the “2 for $11” Wal-Mart  discount bin.

4 on a 1 to 10 scale

>> My Name Is Bruce (5/10)

A month or so ago, I saw the film JCVD, a meta-fictonal crime drama starring Jean-Claude Van Damme as himself.  Van Damme, once a bonafide worldwide superstar, lays his soul bare in the film, causing me to re-evaluate Van Damme’s worth as a performer, and serving as a strong reminder of just exactly why he was ever famous in the first place.  Actor Bruce Campbell has never been that famous.  He’s achieved a sort of cult godhood based on the popularity of the Evil Dead series of films, but, to most folks, he’s barely a familiar face.  With his new film, My Name is Bruce, Campbell goes meta-fictional, playing himself as an actor-come-monster-slayer, and, unfortunately, reminds us exactly why he’s never been a big-time movie star in the process.

It’s a noble attempt by Campbell to give his fans what he thinks they want–Bruce Campbell as the arrogant, loutish, yet reluctant hero, spouting quotable cornball dialogue in the face of supernatural danger.  The actor is called upon by a teenage Bruce Campbell mega-fan to fight an angry Chinese demon who threatens to destroy a tiny Oregon community.  The actor of course assumes that everyone in the town is part of an elaborate piece of living theatre, all part of a show to celebrate Campbell’s birthday.  I think every single film Bruce Campbell has ever appeared in is referenced at some point, and the common thread in most of them, this very movie included, is that they generally aren’t good.

This film is also missing a sense of perspective, since Campbell created the project along with writer Mark Verheiden for himself to direct and star in.  Campbell assumes some things about his fans that aren’t necessarily true (that they love bad movies, for one), and forgets that the movies that made him almost famous are fueled by a sense of inventiveness and creativity that is just not on display here.  True, Campbell as a director is no Sam Raimi, but this love letter to his fan base feels more like pandering, more like creating a marketable product, than a way of saying thank you to the fans.  Man can not live on groovy one-liners alone.  My Name is Bruce fails in large part because it’s made by Bruce Campbell, ensuring nothing but an empty self-parody for ninety minutes, at the expense of everything else, including any scene he’s not in and any logic the plot should have.

Bruce Campbell’s got charisma going for him, though.  He’s always watchable, no matter how lousy his movies might be.  He’s almost the only watchable thing here, save for curvaceous Grace Thorsen, playing Campbell’s love interest, the widowed mother of the mega fan that brings Campbell to their sleepy town.  Her role is terrible (she thinks Campbell is a self-obsessed twit, but falls for him anyways because he’s a lousy dancer just like her), but she’s not bad.  Ted Raimi appears in three roles, including one that throws down the gauntlet to Rob Schnieder in regards to portraying heavily made-up Asian stereotypes.  It’s racist, sure, but the real crime here is that it isn’t funny.

The only audience for My Name is Bruce are Bruce Campbell fans, and this might be the movie that separates the men from the boys.  I like Evil Dead enough to own an Ash toy and I like an occasional Bruce Campbell cameo, but I’m not so big a fan that I can forgive any z-grade movie just because he’s in it.  He’s made worse films than My Name is Bruce (much worse), but why should I get excited, or for that matter pay, for a love letter to someone, created by the very subject of that love letter?  With My Name is Bruce, he attempts to give the fans what they want, as long as they will give him what he wants, which is apparently their hard-earned cash, not their respect for his body of work.  It’s a lazy, self-serving film disguised as a fanboy in-joke.  It wants to be a playful reminder of what makes Bruce Campbell cool, but it only really reminds you that you’ve liked him more in better movies.

5 on a 1 to 10 scale

>> Trick or Treat? The Top 7 British Horror Anthology Films

Number Seven:  The Monster Club (1980)

Click to view trailer

Directed by Roy Ward Baker.  Starring Vincent Price, John Carradine, Donald Pleasance, Britt Ekland, Richard Johnson, Patrick Magee.

The Framing Device: Writer R. Chetwynd-Hayes (Carradine) is attacked by the vampire Eramus (Price, the only time he ever played a vampire on film) in a back alley, but it turns out Eramus is a huge fan of the author.  To make it up to Chetwynd-Hayes, Eramus leads the author to the secret nightspot The Monster Club, a discotheque for ghouls and goblins.  Chetwynd-Hayes gets to hear a trio of monster stories while hanging out in this underground bar.

Best Story: A movie director searching for an eerie location for his next horror film finds more than he bargained for in a remote village filled with ghouls called the “humegoo”.

Weakest Story: A conniving woman initiates a romantic relationship with an odd monster called a “shadmock” (a pasty-faced recluse that can whistle people to death) so that she can steal his fortune.

The Monster Club was once part of Elvira’s home video line, and it’s got just the sprinkling of cheese one would expect from her label.  While the inidividual stories feel like classic Amicus, with decent acting and a focus on atmosphere, the framing device is ridiculously corny.  The Monster Club itself is an embarassing mish-mash of Star Wars cantina, Studio 54, and Spencer Gifts.  There are a ton of goofy musical segments featuring extras in rubber monster masks gyrating to early 80’s bar music (including an early appearance by UB40, if that’s a selling point).  Personally, I find those moments almost equal parts endearing and ridiculous, and they certainly give The Monster Club a different flavor than other films on this list.  I also quite enjoy the second tale in this film, a blackly humorous story that follows a young boy whose father is a vampire.  All of the segments are adapted from the real R. Chetwynd-Hayes’ short stories.

Number Six:  The House that Dripped Blood (1971)

Click here for trailer

Click to view trailer

Directed by Peter Duffell.  Starring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Nyree Dawn Porter, Denholm Elliott, Jon Pertwee, Joanna Dunham, Joss Ackland

The Framing Device: Scotland Yard investigators research a house with a mysterious past.

Best Story: The opener, in which Denholm Elliott plays a horror writer who is afraid of actually being stalked by the killer he has created for his newest book.

Weakest Story: The closer, a light-hearted piece of fluff about an actor (Pertwee) that discovers a cape that gives him vampiric powers.

The House that Dripped Blood has possibly the weakest framing device of any film on this list, but the tales inside, credited to Psycho author Robert Bloch, are mostly strong.  House commits the cardinal sin of anthology films, choosing to go out on its wimpiest story, instead of the other three superior ones.  Cushing appears in a stylish piece about a wax museum, where a former lover of his is apparently on display as a wax figure, and Lee’s segment is strong enough (but not long enough) to stand on its own as a feature film, wherein a father learns his daughter has malevolent supernatural abilities.  The opening tale, however, kicks the film off with a Twilight Zone-esque bang, and the overall film never quite delivers on the promise of that first segment.

Number Five:  From Beyond the Grave (1973)

Click to view trailer

Click to view trailer

Directed by Kevin Connor.  Starring Ian Bannen, Ian Carmichael, Peter Cushing, Diana Dors, Margaret Leighton, Donald Pleasance, David Warner.

The Framing Device: Peter Cushing plays the doddering owner of an antique shop whose customers always find more than they bargained for.

Best Story: Angela Pleasance, acting alongside her father, Donald, is downright creepy in the film’s second tale, which finds a braggart attempting to impress a blind war vet by stealing a medal and passing it off as his own.  The lives of the two men soon become horrifically intertwined, when the wannabe hero finds comfort in the bed of the veteran’s daughter.

Weakest Story: David Warner’s segment, which features the old chestnut about a haunted mirror that makes men go insane.  It’s more violent than the other tales, but it’s not a fresh take on the material.

While the framing device and haunted mirror story feel especially dusty, the two stories sandwiched in the middle of this anthology are downright weird.  I’ve mentioned the story about the medal already, one of the strangest tales on this whole list, and that piece is followed up with a creepy bit of comedy about an invisible demon following a man home, and the lengths that man will go to to rid himself of this unseen force.  The final tale about a haunted door, is a similar story to the one about the mirror, but it’s faster-paced and more exciting than the mirror’s tale.

Number Four:  The Vault of Horror (1973)

Click to view trailer

Click to view trailer

Directed by Roy Ward Baker.  Starring Dawn Addams, Tom Baker, Michael Craig, Denholm Elliott, Glynis Johns, Edward Judd, Curt Jurgens.

The Framing Device: Five hotel guests take an unwanted elevator ride into an underground vault where they each relate prophetic tales of their own demise.

Best Story: Glynis Johns and Terry-Thomas seem to be having quite a bit of fun in their story (adapted from a Tales from the Crypt comic) of an obsessive, neat-freak husband and his constantly brow-beaten wife, who finally has enough of his nagging.

Weakest Story: An insurance scam in which a man fakes his own death, leads to the accidental deaths of others.

The Vault of Horror is a pretty consistent anthology across the board, each tale based on a story featured in an EC Comics’ title.  There’s a pretty good vampire yarn here, an odd story about a magic trick gone wrong, and a twisted little piece of nastiness about a voodoo-practicing painter (Tom Baker of Dr. Who fame) whose paintings become reality.  This is the sequel to 1972’s Tales from the Crypt, and while it’s not as strong as that film, it’s still worth a look.  It’s an interesting film, but it’s not particularly creepy, and I think that’s why it’s not remembered as fondly as others on this list.

Number Three:  Asylum (1972)

Click to view trailer

Click to view trailer

Directed by Roy Ward Baker.  Starring Peter Cushing, Britt Ekland, Herbert Lom, Patrick Magee, Barry Morse, Barbara Parkins, Robert Powell, Charlotte Rampling.

The Framing Device: A doctor applying for a position at the Dunmoor Asylum for the Incurably Insane is challenged by one of the doctors to find their head of psychiatry, who recently suffered a mental breakdown, amongst the hospital’s patients.

Best Story: (TIE) A cheating spouse conspires to kill his wife, who has recently taken up an interest in the occult, with unsettling results.  In another equally alarming tale, Peter Cushing plays a man obsessed with creating a special suit of clothing that will return his son from the dead.

Weakest Story: A yawner about a murderous woman with a split personality.

Asylum‘s anthology works quite well as a whole film, as each story offers the viewer clues to the identity of the doctor trapped within its walls, and you end up guessing along with Robert Powell’s character.  It’s a very effective framing device, and the stories here, again from author Robert Bloch, are very dark and very strange.  If there’s one complaint, it’s that Asylum‘s reach often extends its grasp, with imaginative sequences that just don’t quite work, I would imagine due to a limited budget.  The final story about a miniature killing machine, with a robot’s body and a human’s face, is bizarre, but comes perilously close to campy.  Fortunately, Asylum‘s overall weirdness keeps it grounded in fear, not camp, making this one a must-see.

Number Two:  Tales from the Crypt (1972)

Click to view trailer

Click to view trailer

Directed by Freddie Francis.  Starring Joan Collins, Peter Cushing, Roy Dotrice, Richard Greene, Ian Hendry, Patrick Magee, Barbara Murray, Sir Ralph Richadson.

The Framing Device: The Crypt-Keeper (Richardson, years before HBO’s pun-loving puppet) takes an audience with five souls, who all tell the tales of their own deaths, while awaiting judgment within the crypt.

Best Story: My favorite features Peter Cushing in a rare turn as a gentle old man forced into solitude (and worse!) by the harassment of a nasty neighbor.

Weakest Story: Probably the tale of a man who wakes up from a car crash to discover that he’s dead and that years have passed since the wreck…OR DID THEY?  DUM-DUM-DAHHHHHHHH!!!

Arguably the most famous British horror antholgy film, due in part to its familiar source material (EC’s horror comic books, as well as an early starring role for Joan Collins).  Collins is the lead in the “And All Through the House” segment about an escaped looney in a Santa Claus costume (also recreated as the first episode in the Tales from the Crypt HBO series).  That story is an EC classic, but I find it ends a little too abruptly for my tastes.  Better than that one is a variation on the old “Monkey’s Paw” story, where an ancient Chinese artifact is used to keep bringing a woman’s husband back to life, but even better than that one, and an obvious precursor to the Saw films, is the tale that finds Nigel Patrick as the cruel new director of a home for the blind.  His iron hand and cheapskate ways end up getting him caught in an ingenious deathtrap devised by those whose needs he has ignored.  It provides a great, memorable ending, the best one on this list so far.

Number One:  Dead of Night (1945)

Click to view an excerpt from the film

Click to view the opening scene

Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden, Robert Hamer.  Starring Mervyn Johns, Michael Redgrave, Roland Culver, Mary Merrall, Googie Withers, Frederick Valk.

The Framing Device: An architect finds himself at a country farmhouse, one he is sure he has seen in his dreams.  When he confesses this extreme cae of deja vu to the guests at the house, they each relate their own personal stories of strange phenomena.

Best Story: A ventriloquist suspects that his dummy, Hugo, may actually be alive in this hair-raising segment.

Weakest Story: A hospitalized race car driver has premonitions of death that he can’t explain.

Dead of Night has the best use of a framing device of any film on this list, making sure the individual tales become a part of the overall story as it reaches its chilling, unexpected ending.  The stories are fairly diverse–there’s a bit of comedy about a golfer that haunts his rival from beyond the grave, a well-acted Christmas story about the ghost of a small child, and probably the first “haunted mirror” story put to film.  While the film does show its age, the framing device and the ventriloquist’s story, the capper on this minor classic, are remarkably fresh and nightmarish, still legitimately scary in the wake of over half a century’s worth of horror flicks.  If you’re a fan of classic, black and white horror films, and you still haven’t seen Dead of Night, seek it out and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

>> W. (7.5/10)

I don’t think anyone expected W. to be a thematic companion piece to Oliver Stone’s Alexander, but, yeah, here it is–the story of one man’s struggle to escape his daddy’s shadow.  W. is a drama about what it means to be a Bush, not quite the severe political autopsy we were all expecting from someone as outspoken as Oliver Stone.  The problem here is that I’m not sure that I buy the conflict.  Stone and screenwriter Stanley Weiser take a fantastic ensemble cast (with the distracting exception of Thandie Newton as Condaleeza Rice) and then sit back and do a lot of armchair psychoanalysis that strikes me as a bit too simplistic.

W. takes a page from Scott Alexander amd Larry Karaszewski’s biopic style (Ed Wood, People Vs. Larry Flynt, Man on the Moon), each scene sort of standing as its own vignette, with memorable supporting characters and an energetic, almost playful, tone.  Wesier is a little heavy-handed with foreshadowing, and he’s so earnest in making sure that George W. Bush (Josh Brolin) is sympathetic, that it really does affect any emotional realism the relationship with “Poppy” Bush (James Cromwell as George H.W. Bush) is supposed to have.

Am I really to believe that George W. Bush’s only motivation is simply “One day I’ll show you, Poppy”?  I don’t buy it.  Part of the reason I don’t is that it doesn’t reconcile itself with Bush’s real life image, but, even more damning, is that it doesn’t reconcile with the scenes in the film itself where Bush is interacting with his cabinet.  That Bush feels remarkably real.  What we see in the movie are two George W. Bush’s, in one bravura performance by Josh Brolin.  One Bush is a perpetual teenage boy, constantly vying for Daddy’s approval.  The other Bush is a fish-out-of-water with a peculiar resolve to never be outsmarted by those that he knows in his heart are smarter than he is.

George Number One’s scenes are well-acted, well-staged scenes, but repetitive, in the same way Alexander‘s daddy issues were repetitive.  Stone and Weiser can only make one point about it, having never been privy to a single private conversation between the father and son.  Every scene with Cromwell and Brolin boils down to the same argument about expectations and the Bush’s good name.  It is a conflict that could be mined for some real drama, but in W. it never goes beyond the surface argument.

George Number Two gets all the really good scenes.  There are probably four or five extended moments with his cabinet that absolutely crackle with electricity.  The ensemble, Richard Dreyfuss as Cheney, Toby Jones as Karl Rove, Geoffrey Wright as Colin Powell, is a knockout, and it’s too bad the Academy doesn’t have a “Best Cast” award.  This film deserves it.  (Thandie Newton is an oddball as Rice though, playing her as a strangely robotic series of vocal tics and odd postures, without once making her feel like a real person.)  Dreyfuss and Jones make incredibly believable manipulators, never twirling their mustaches, but instead offering advice and guidance to a president that they know is out of his element.  I was also surprised by the gentle way that Stone and Co. handle religion.  Stacy Keach plays the preacher that brings Bush to Christ, and their scenes together are remarkably sensitive and respectful to the Christian faith.  It would’ve been very easy to make it into a joke, something movies usually do, and here they do not.

All in all, W. is a very good film, within spitting distance of being a great film, but it could’ve benefitted from some time and distance from its subject matter.  The emotional thread in W. is flimsy, and I’d gladly have traded more glimpses into the political machinery for scenes of James Cromwell glowering with disapproval at his son.  Josh Brolin gives an amazing performance as our President, and it doesn’t matter which side of the poiltical fence you fall on to acknowledge that.  He inhabits the role, pushing it beyond an impression and making it real.  He’s the single best thing about W.

It might be interesting to revisit this film in about ten years, to give it my own sense of time and perspective.  I have an inkling that this film is going to age fairly well, finding an audience through the years that never would’ve purchased a ticket for it at the time of release.  It’s a startlingly level-headed approach to an extremely controversial figure, and while it may lose something for not being a razor-toothed satire, it gains something as well, namely a realism that is rarely applied to Bush and company.  A reminder that they are people, not political cartoons.

7.5 on a 1 to 10 scale

>> Quarantine (6.5/10)

For some of you, Quarantine‘s final half-hour is going to work so well that you’ll be telling your friends it’s one of the scariest movies you’ve seen in ages.  I wish I was you; I honestly do.  I just couldn’t really get into it; not in a way that put me on the edge of my seat.  Horror, like comedy, is a more subjective genre than most, but I could completely see how and why someone would find Quarantine terrifying.  It frustrates me that I didn’t get that nail-biting, heart-stopping thrill that some of you will get from this movie.

Despite my lack of participation in all the suspenseful goings-on, I still give Quarantine a recommend.  Famed horror director Stuart Gordon once said every movie should show you at least one thing you haven’t seen before.  I suspect my disconnect with Quarantine is because of its lack of originality.  There’s literally nothing on display here that you haven’t seen in other films.  I could synopsize the film as Blair Witch Project meets 28 Days Later, and you can probably figure out the entire plot of the film on your own with just that little equation.

Quarantine is a remake of the Spanish-language film Rec, and to those that moan on imdb.com about the Americanization of every foreign film, I’ve heard that Quarantine is almost exactly the same film as the original, which means that Rec isn’t some untouchable masterpiece–it’s way too derivative of way too many movies that have come before it.  It’s handi-cam horror once again, not even a year removed from Cloverfield, which attempted an injection of cinema verite into a Japanese Kaiju film.  This movie trumps Cloverfield for sure, but can’t entirely escape Cloverfield‘s high-profile shadow.  Quarantine is also a damn sight better than George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead, which was the most disappointing post-Blair Witch attempt I’ve seen at the pseudo-doc horror flick, and a film that shares more in common with Quarantine than Cloverfield does.

Diary of the Dead was supposed to be a more realistic approach to a zombie outbreak, but it was hampered by unrealistic performances, bad dialogue, and a preoccupation with gimmicky zombie deaths.  Quarantine treads the same ground, but deftly sidesteps the problems that made Diary so weak.  The performances are strong and feel realistic.  The dialogue is natural and serves the story; nobody here is trying to say something meaningful about society–the characters just want to live.  The focus here is strictly on survival, not who gets the coolest death scene.  However, there’s not an original bone in Quarantine‘s body.

I liked Quarantine, but I didn’t love Quarantine.  The good news here is that you just might.  If you feel yourself gripping that arm rest in uncontrolled terror, wide-eyed in panic because of the events transpiring on screen, then God bless ya.  I envy you.

6.5 on a 1 to 10 scale

>> Eagle Eye (4/10)

It looks like a good movie.  It’s got the sheen of a polished, expensive Hollywood techno-thriller, complete with movie stars, and Steven Spielberg’s name up there in the opening credits.  Make no mistake, however, when I tell you that Eagle Eye is dumber than dumb; an exercise in the ludicrous that asks us to believe so many moments of pure and utter bull crap that it’s amazing no one stopped along the production to question anything.

You don’t have to be a technological genius to despise this movie.  Just a basic working knowledge of technology will make this film absolutely unwatchable, leaving the Amish and cavemen as director D.J. Caruso’s apparent target audience.  In it, Shia Labeouf plays a copy boy that is pulled into a vast governmental conspiracy after his twin brother (who may or may not have been a terrorist) dies.  He, along with Michelle Monaghan, playing nothing more than The Girl here, are commanded by cell phone to run, run, run, run, run, and run (and also go to Circuit City and listen to the ad for their new Firedog computer repair service).

This is a movie with an all-powerful, all-seeing villain, one that can make powerlines fall off a grid and chase someone down the street like a snake, one that can control junkyard equipment through remote networking, one that can change x-rays on the fly, and, in one of its most ridiculous offenses, keeps talking to the heroes, and they keep responding, despite the fact that the voice, which was once talking to them via phone, now has no source.  Yes, they end up talking to a disembodied voice with no apparent source.  I guess they thought we’d just forget about the cell phones at some point.

Here’s a small (but important) example of why this movie doesn’t work.  Shia is behind the wheel of an SUV, taking driving orders from the voice on the phone (“Turn left here”, “Accelerate to 70 mph”. etc).  During this high speed chase, Shia refuses to drive anymore, fed-up with the commands, and scared out of his wits.  The voice takes over the SUV and drives it to where it needs to go.  Why, then, did Shia drive it in the first place?  Why didnt he just hop in, and the thing start driving itself on its own right away?  Taken as one scene, this might be fine, but the whole movie hinges on Shia’s importance in the voice’s grand plan.  Once you find out just what that plan is (which is a dumb plan, of course, in keeping with the whole movie), and just how all-powerful the voice is, you’ll wonder why the voice didn’t prevent the FBI (represented by Billy Bob Thornton) and Air Force (represented by Rosario Dawson) from tracking Shia down in the first place, ot why the voice didn’t carry out it’s own damned plan, if it can do everything anyways.

Eagle Eye is ridiculous and implausible, asking us to believe things about technology we already know the truth about, and flying directly into the face of logic because of it.  Logic then opens its hungry mouth, chews Eagle Eye into a wad of slick mush, and spits it out into a trash can filled with expenive, crappy movies that insult the audience’s intelligence.  Gimme back my two hours, D.J. Caruso.

4 on a 1 to 10 scale