Movie Valley

Dead Silence
Starring: Amber Valletta, Ryan Kwanten, Donnie Wahlberg
Directed By: James Wan
Run Time: 1 hr 30 minutes

Dead Silence is about an urban legend that's actually based on truth. "Beware the stare of Mary Shaw; she had no children, only dolls. And if you see her, do not scream, or she'll rip your tongue out at the seam." Mary Shaw was a vaudeville ventriloquist who was hunted down by the townspeople when a boy who publicly sassed her went missing. The mob cut out her tongue and killed her. She was then buried with her 101 ventriloquist dolls.

The movie starts when young couple Jamie and Lisa Ashen receive a mystery package only addressed to Jamie, and with no return address on it. In the age of Unibombers and tainted mail, Jamie opens the package without hesitation and finds that it's a ventriloquist's dummy. Lisa thinks the doll is cute, despite the creepy rhyme she recites. Jamie is skeptical. He goes out to get dinner and when he returns, he finds that his wife has been murdered, with her tongue ripped out. The creepy thing is that even though she was already dead, he still hears her voice.

Jamie is suspected immediately of murder by wise-cracking cop Det. Jim Lipton (played by Wahlberg). But he's not arrested. Jim then discovers that the doll is from his home town. He drives there to bury his wife. In the process, he finds that the rhyme he learned as a child is actually true. Mary Shaw lived in his home town and his paternal relatives were the ones who killed her. Throughout the years, all of the people who helped to kill her were brutally murdered with their tongues cut out.

The plot is a bit trite and not very plausible (even in the horror world). To give you an example of the lack of plausibility, there's a scene where Jamie goes to the abandoned vaudeville theater. It has gone beyond neglect and is actually falling apart. There are holes in the ceiling with sun shining through. There are trees growing in the middle of the auditorium. There are massive vines entangled all over the stage. Mary Shaw lived in the theater. Jamie climbs a rickety catwalk, easily a hundred feet over the stage, to get to the hallway to Mary's quarters. First of all, given the state of the theater, who in their right mind would venture across a catwalk a hundred feet in the air? Fifty feet, yes, I'm game, but I draw the line at over a hundred. And then there's the implausibility that an old woman (Shaw was easily in her 70s, if not 80s) would climb up the ladder to the catwalk to get to her apartment, in her 20s style tight dress with high heels... Shouldn't she have asked for an easier entrance?? I realize there weren't laws mandating that entrances be handicapped accessible, but at least it should be somewhat convenient... Or maybe she liked the thrill of death on her way up to her room each night... Now, I understand that in the horror world, that scene is perfect but it should still be plausible.

Some of the actors were pretty darned horrible. The script was a bit tedious and overplayed. But despite that, this was a great movie. The cinematography was wonderful (although some of the fabulous shots were used over and over again, which made them annoying). The movie was a true horror movie - scary, creepy, shocking, and just a hint of grotesque. The director knew that NOT seeing the scary, gruesome parts is more scary than actually seeing it (as a lot of times, the actual killer/killings special effects aren't too special). The back-story keeps the movie going. As fore-mentioned, it is trite but it is also interesting. It's sometimes nice to know why the killer is killing, and why he/she has chosen his/her victims. And, I gotta say, it was equally nice to have a non-Hollywood ending.

Ryan Kwanten, who plays Jamie, was okay, but incredibly plain. He was very uninteresting. I didn't care about him. Donnie Wahlberg was pretty darned good as the deadpan bumbling cop. I loved his lines - "Don't make me chase you! I don't have a full tank of gas!" I particularly loved his Scooby Doo moment where Jamie went to do something creepy and the cop emphatically shook his head "Don't do it!" Truly he had watched a horror movie or two.

The ending is wonderful. I must say I did figure out a bit of it well before it happened, but it was still a great ending. If you like horror movies, this is a really good one.

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Julian McMahon
Directed By: Mennan Yapo
Run Time: 1 hr 50 minutes

Premonition is about a woman who finds herself in a cruel time continuum. One day, her husband dies. The next day, her husband is alive. She assumes, at first, that her husband's death was just a dream. She soon realizes that this is not a dream and the events continue to play out in alternate realities. It's kind of like a mean and twisted version of Groundhog Day.

First off the bat, this movie was a little confusing not because it jumps back and forth between dead husband time, alive husband time but because it jumps back and forth between days of the week. The days get a bit screwy - Linda finds out on Thursday that Jim has died. When she wakes up the next day, it's Tuesday, two days before she finds out that her husband has died. The next day, she wakes up to discover it's Saturday, two days after her husband has died. I think there are a few repeated Tuesdays when Jim is alive, a Sunday when Jim is alive, and a Friday after Jim has died (but only after we've endured a Thursday and a Saturday after he has died). I could easily follow the concept of dead husband, alive husband. I had a hard time following why we jumped two days back, one day forward, three days back, one day forward, two days back, four days back...

There are a few annoyances with the way the movie played out. First of all, Jim dies on a Wednesday (probably in the afternoon) but Linda doesn't find out about it until Thursday late morning/early afternoon. He dies in the same city he lived in. Not quite sure why it took almost 24 hours for the police to inform Linda of her husband's death... Next, when we jump back in time for the first time (it's now Tuesday; it was Thursday), we see Linda doing chores that she did on Thursday (dusting, laundry, etc). Presumably, she's reliving her life as she did when it really was Tuesday, so why does she re-do her chores - jump to the future - on Thursday if she did them on Tuesday? And finally, apparently the time loop/continuum was in play long before Linda figures it out. Just before Linda finds out Jim has died, she listens to a message he left on their answering machine. He interrupts his own message by muttering, "Oh, is this you?" We later find out that it was Linda who was calling Jim at the same time he was leaving a message to her... but she doesn't remember calling him when she originally hears the message. And then there was the whole cuts on the child's face saga... (but I won't say anything more about that as it does give away part of the movie).

Other than some plot holes and confusion with how and why the time loop is jumping around as it is, the movie is pretty good. Not wonderful, but it definitely held my attention. I, too, was trying desperately to figure out why Jim was alive one minute, dead the next and how it could be stopped. What would break the cycle? The first couple of jumps through time were quite riveting - what is going on? But the event that does break the cycle is, well, just a little too lame to have wasted two hours. And I'm not quite sure how I feel about the ending. Again, we endured two hours of time jumping only to have the final resting point be a bit sad... Are we to be happy with the ending? Are we supposed to feel good for Linda? Is this really the best thing for her?

Sandra Bullock was really good in this movie. It was interesting to see her flip-flop over her feelings towards her husband. Slowly, her true emotions unravel... and then they flip-flop to unveil her real true feelings. I particularly loved her reaction to her husband's death. Not her initial one, but the one that came out after she had plenty of time to let it all sink in. I felt a tinge of sisterhood with her comment because I could see myself saying the same thing if something should ever happen to Jeffrey. Her mother told her it would be tough to deal with the loss but she would get through it. Linda (Sandra Bullock) said off-handedly, "I just keep thinking about the platter. That big serving platter Jim's Mom and Dad gave us for our wedding." (Obviously, Linda's mother was confused by this statement. Linda went on to explain). "It's on the top shelf. Jim always gets it down for me." And that would be how my mind would work. Sure, in time, we get over our loss and shock but it will always be the little things, the things we do for one another that no one can replace, that get to us.

So while this isn't the best movie, it's not the worst movie. It had its moments. And then it didn't. It was a let down because the reason the time loop happened never was fully diagnosed (I refuse to believe it was just because of a moral objection to infidelity). But up until that moment, it was good.

The Ultimate Gift
Starring: Abigail Breslin, Drew Fuller, James Garner, and Ali Hillis
Directed By: Michael O. Sajbel
Run Time: 1 hr 54 minutes

The Ultimate Gift is about a rich kid whose grandfather dies but before he can be given his inheritance must endure challenges his grandfather lays out. Each and every one of Red Stevens' (played by James Garner) family is greedy, rude, and downright selfish. Red's sons, daughters, and grandchildren only attend the funeral so that they can then find out what they inherited. Jason Stevens (Drew Fuller) is one of his grandsons, and the one Red puts to the test before he can claim his inheritance. If Jason should fail at any of the tasks, his inheritance is forfeited.

Red puts Jason to work at a friend's ranch in Texas. It seems as though Jason has never done a day's work in his life and his grandfather is set on teaching him the value of labor. Jason has to get up at 5am every morning so that he can set posts in the ground for a fence. How long will this fence be? As Gus, the ranch owner says, "I suspect you'll run out of posts before you'll run out of land." Jason spends a month on the ranch, digging holes for posts.

The second challenge for Jason is to find one true friend. And to help him weed out the posers from the true friends, deceased Grandpa makes Jason poor. He takes away everything Jason has - his car, his apartment, his clothes (except for those he's currently wearing), and his money - both in cash and in credit card. The first friend on the chopping block - his girlfriend. She bails the second Jason asks her to pay for dinner (after he is informed that his credit cards have been declined). Jason goes through his Rolodex of friends, only to discover he has no friends now that he has no money, despite loaning these so-called friends thousands of dollars over the years. Jason is forced to sleep out on a park bench (because he has no apartment or money for a place to stay).

It is on this park bench that he meets Emily, a 10 year old little girl who isn't afraid to speak her mind. She becomes friends with Jason. The relationship is rocky at first... Jason soon discovers that Emily needs him as much as he needs her.

The next lesson Red teaches Jason is the value of money. There are several other challenges that Jason must endure and succeed at before "the ultimate gift" is revealed to him. But I won't go into all of those.

I will admit that this movie is formulaic and predictable. But I liked it. No, I loved it. It had emotion, it had soul, it had spirit. I had tears welling in my eyes over several moments in this movie. I also laughed a lot. It was a cute movie. Again, most of the movie was predictable - from how Jason would react to being "toyed" with to get his inheritance, to how Jason would handle his challenges - and whether or not he would succeed - to the relationship Jason would develop with other characters in the movie. But I liked it anyway. And that was mostly due to Abigail Breslin. She was charming and spunky and oh so enjoyable to watch. Drew Fuller was pretty good at the bad boy with the titanium spoon in his mouth (but with a glimmer of sweetness in him).

I liked the small twists in the movie - why Jason was such a spoiled kid who hated his grandfather and why his grandfather felt the need to challenge Jason (and none of his other children or grandchildren). Those weren't as predictable and those subtle plot points really helped define the movie and make it good. I particularly loved the part where Jason reads a letter he wrote to his grandfather many years ago. He begged his grandfather to forego giving him gifts for his birthday but instead, take him with him on one of his trips. He just wanted to be with his grandfather. It was an incredibly sweet moment.

Predictable but good. It was a nice heart-warming movie. Funny. Sad. Cute. Sweet.

Music and Lyrics
Starring: Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant
Directed By: Marc D. Lawrence
Run Time: 1 hr 36 minutes

Music and Lyrics is about Alex Fletcher (played by Grant), a washed-up 80s pop star (think Andrew Ridgley, the other half of Wham!) who is asked to write a song for a current mega star (a cross between Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera). This is his ticket back to fame and glory, however he hasn't written a song in 10 years and he only writes music. He needs someone to help him with the lyrics. Enter his plant waterer Sophie, played by Drew Barrymore.

Sophie is something of a writer. And as she says when Alex asks if she can write - doesn't everyone fancy themselves a bit of a writer? :-) Her past haunts her, making it hard for her to let her creative juices flow onto paper. But she's drawn to Alex, as he's so irresistible. He's charismatic and charming, with a lovely sense of humor and a great smile. The two connect by their haunted past of failures. Alex has a desire to be better than his past, to rid himself of his creative failures. Sophie hides behind her failures, submitting to the contrived words of her former literary professor (which were quite damning). During their collaboration, when one fails, the other boosts their spirits - and vice versa. They're a pretty good song writing team.

Of course, the movie can't just be about overcoming past failures to write a hit pop song. It's also about standing up for yourself. And falling in love.

I like chick flicks... and then I don't. I like them because they're normally fun, light-hearted, incredibly upbeat feel-good movies. I don't even mind how predictable they are. They're fun - cheesy and silly, but with good intentions. I don't like how they're normally soulless movies, completely devoid of imagination. And the biggest thing I don't like about these movies is that I'm supposed to like them because I am a chick. The audience is normally 99% women, sighing and cooing over the terribly trite moments (and rarely laughing at the subtle slick humor of killer one-liners and astute snippets of cultural references). Since I went to this movie on a Friday afternoon when school was not in session (it's high school hockey tournaments), I sat amongst such an audience, which almost ruined the viewing experience. Teenagers stretched out on the seats in the back row like it was a slumber party (seriously lying down) singing away at the campy pop songs, clutching their chests and wailing "Awwwwwwww!" when the slightest bit of emotion was exchanged between the two leads, and gaggles of 50 year women who could not shut up. That's what I don't like about chick flicks.

Whew. That aside, how was the movie, Mrs. Holland? I liked it. I really, really liked it. This despite the fact that I am not a Drew Barrymore fan. I think she plays the same character in every single movie - likable and goofy, and has an incredibly forced smile that makes me wonder if someone's stepping on her foot to remind her to flash those pearlies. But in this movie, I liked her, probably because she didn't smile too much. Hugh Grant was wonderful. His lines were well delivered, with a campy sense of irony that just made me laugh. His character poked fun at himself because he knew he was a has-been, and Hugh played that without bitterness.

It was a cute movie. A funny movie. A sweet movie. And it had great, although a bit cheesy, songs. The opening moment of the movie is a campy (well, that's a polite word for baaaad) video from Alex's heyday. Being a child of the 80s, I think I saw that video on MTV... (you know, back in the day when they actually played videos). It was a fabulous opening moment that completely brought you into the movie. So, if you want a movie that doesn't make you think, keeps a smile on your face throughout the 90 some minutes, go see this one. It's sweet. It won't change the world, but it may change your day by making you a bit happier.

Amazing Grace
Starring: Ioan Gruffudd, Albert Finney, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Gambon, and Romola Garai
Directed By: Michael Apted
Run Time: 1 hr 51 minutes

Amazing Grace is about one man's fight to end slave trade from England in the 18th century. William Wilberforce spent what seems like most of his career in Parliament trying to end slavery, battling powered wig aristocrats with a sense of decency and morality that few in power possessed.

An interesting fact about the movie - William (played by Gruffudd) was only 21 when he took his seat in Parliament. His friend William Pitt was younger than 30 when he became Prime Minister. Another fact - John Newton wrote the song Amazing Grace as a repent of his sins for his part in the horrors of the slave trade. He was a captain on many slave ships for many years. Yet another fact - Wilberforce was the founding member of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which means I liked him instantly. :-)

Although the subject seems a bit daunting, this movie wasn't. It was incredibly moving, passionate, entertaining, and inspirational. While many history movies tend to be a bit boring or the complete reverse - pumped up with over zealous fictional sensationalism - this movie was neither. The pace was smooth, although the telling of the story was a bit jagged. It jumped from present time to the past back to present back to past back to present too many times. Like Zodiac this movie was also a bit frustrating, again conveying effectively the emotion of the countless years it took to abolish slavery. Although quite unexpected in a historical movie with a message, I laughed many, many times. The lines were quite witty, making punctuating points with quipping humor.

Albert Finney was wonderful as the repenting and haunted ex-slave ship captain turned clergyman. Michael Gambon was finally used properly as a repenting member of Parliament, who teamed up with Wilberforce to lend him a strong guiding hand (unlike his feeble attempts at Dumbledore). And Ioan Gruffudd was fabulous as the tortured and righteous, but insatiably humble Wilberforce.

This is the first movie in many weeks that was actually pretty good all around. It was well acted, well paced, and the resolution was rewarding. The movie actually went somewhere and said something.

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., and Anthony Edwards
Directed By: David Fincher
Run Time: 2 hrs 40 minutes

This is one of the few movies so far this year that I attended with a guest - Jeffrey! And that is the reason this movie made it onto the list ahead of the ones I mentioned I wanted to see next. I did bum poor Jeffrey out, though, by telling him the movie was almost three hours long (we then opted not to see the 9:30pm showing) and that movie popcorn is incredibly non-healthy for you (it's popped in coconut oil and contains a lot of fat). He's not a normal popcorn eater, but for three hours, he was all set to munch away... until I told him it wasn't good for him. And yes, I have cut back on my popcorn consumption, too. I typically stop at Whole Foods before a movie and get some spinach and tofu at their lunch bar. Mmmm... tofu while watching a movie...

Anyway, back to the movie. Zodiac is about a rash of killings in the San Francisco Bay area during the late 60s, early 70s. The movie centers on the people that tried to solve the murders, from the cops leading the investigation to a reporter and a cartoonist from the San Francisco Chronicle. The killer sends a series of cryptic letters to the Chronicle, which adds fuel to the obsession that sucks the cartoonist into helping to solve the murders. Eventually, the crime beat reporter goes off the deep end, with the cartoonist not too far behind. Since the murders are strewn out over several counties, the police investigation relies on communication between the different counties, and that leads to the stagnant pace of solving the murders.

Although there is a flavor of a mystery for this movie (who did all these crazy killings?), it is not unfolded as a mystery. Instead, the movie focuses on the frustration that percolated over solving these crimes. Each of the murders seems to be not connected to another - random, which makes it hard to establish a motive. To complicate things, the killer, through his letters to the Chronicle, admits to other killings that he seemingly did not commit, again adding to the difficulty of uncovering the killer's identity. There are several suspects and the audience is forced to follow each of the trails to those suspects. Time and time again, the efforts prove futile and the trail turns up at a dead-end. The suspect is cleared. To add to the frustration, the investigation spans four decades and ultimately is unsolved (I don't think I'm giving anything away when I say that). Almost three hours of a movie that ends with "Uh, we'll never know who committed the murders or the motive."

I see on Metacritic that most reviewers loved this movie. I liked it but didn't love it. Jeffrey, I believe, felt the same. He thought it a little annoying to have to be reminded over and over again of the era the movie takes place in. I thought the movie was a little too drawn out. I suspect that the length of the movie was to mimic the number of years it took to close this case. The director did a great job conveying the frustration that had to be mounting over not catching the killer, as I was definitely frustrated watching it.

Robert Downey, Jr was incredible as the reporter driven over the edge, consumed by the desire to solve the mystery before he becomes the Zodiac's next victim (in one letter, the Zodiac threatened him, which then prompted one of the funniest snippets of the movie - all the other Chronicle reporters started wearing buttons that read "I'm not Avery"). Jake Gyllenhaal's character was the boy scout-esque cartoonist. He did a fine job playing up the boy scout nature of his character, however, I never quite understood why solving the murders consumed him as they did. The other cast members were okay. Just okay. No one else was a stand-out.

It was a decent movie. Not a bad one, but not a great one, either. I'm sure there are better unsolved murder movies out there that don't leave you as bleh feeling as this one did.