Movie Valley
October 2009 Movie Reviews
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Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant
Starring: John C. Reilly, Chris Massoglia, Josh Hutcherson, Patrick Fugit, Michael Cerveris, Jessica Carlson
Directed By: Paul Weitz
Run Time: 1 hr 47 mins

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant is based on books by Darren Shan.

Right off the bat, I have to say that the opening credits in this movie bothered me. They ran (like jogging) off the screen! I shouldn't have to work so hard to see who's in the movie.

That aside, I wasn't sure I was going to like this movie, even as I sat there watching it (of course, I didn't think that when I saw the preview for it because otherwise I would never have gone). The feeling overwhelmed me as I watched it. It wasn't as magical as I thought it was going to be or that bizarre/unusual. It seemed like it went on forever without anything happening and yet things were indeed happening. I'm really not happy that the ending left the door wide open for a sequel. Argh! I sat there for an hour and a half and there was no resolve. It's like The Golden Compass (the movie). It just sends, although logically there's so much that hasn't happened but was set up to happen. So there has to be a second movie. And hopefully it's not like The Golden Compass where if the first movie doesn't do well, they won't make the second, no matter how much of a cliffhanger the first left off with.

I had a vision for how it should end and that didn't happen, it left me with the hope that when the story does finally end, it will end "right" (or as I think it should).

It took me a long time before I started to like the main character (Darren, the vampire's assistant). I actually liked his rebellious friend Steve better. I did not like Darren's family. What has happened to Collen Camp (she played Darren's mother)? Did she eat another actress? Because it certainly looks as though she did. Darren's family was just too forced. The grade scene and the aftermath of the rock throwing scene were so amateurish. His parents' reactions just didn't seem real, believable. Thankfully, there weren't too many parent interactions. I did like his little sister, though.

For some odd reason, despite being bored and yet anxious for something magical to happen, I sorta liked this movie. Didn't love it but there was some charm or something else (hey, maybe that was the magic finally kicking in) that made me like it in the end. It didn't hit me until I was walking out of the theater. I thought to myself, "Hey! That was actually good." I think the charm of the characters finally hit me. I liked the monkey girl. I liked the little hooded creatures. I liked the snake boy (particularly his attempt at voting twice). I liked the circus' sense of community, togetherness. I did have a hard time getting a handle on Selma Hyeck's character. She plays the bearded lady who see the future (but then doesn't know what she just predicted). That part struck me as funny the second time it happened.

It's an interesting movie. It's definitely not for everyone and you have to stick it out to the end. It's probably best to watch it in a theater where you're forced to watch it all (no pausing or option to stop it all together). I am still annoyed that this sets up a sequel, but knowing just that should force you to endure. The second one should be action-packed.

This movie was funny. There were some very clever lines. Good tone. I could see what it was trying to do. It had heart. It also had a bunch of interesting creatures.

Okay, now that I've reviewed the movie for what it is, let me compare it to the books. There are twelve. I'm on book five. Most of the characters in the movie are not in the book. The characters that are in the book and in the movie are not at all like they are in the book. The bearded lady, for example. She does not have premonitions in the book. She is not romantically involved with Mr. Crepsley, either. The little creatures do not talk (well, most of them) in the book or growl or try to bite people (like they do in the movie). Almost all of the events that happen in the movie do not happen in the books (unless they took the plot from one of the ones I haven't read yet). The circus is not even a focus in the books (they leave, I believe, half way through the first book never to return). The only thing that the books and the movie have in common is that a teenage boy named Darren becomes a vampire to save his friend who was bitten by a spider Darren stole. The movie didn't even capture the tone of the books. It's just different. I love the books. They're a quick read. I'm hoping that some semblance of the movie's plot does show up in the books eventually (I AM only on book 5). We'll see. I find it interesting that either the writer had no control of the movie script (and hopefully is a bit disappointed with how his book changed in the movie) or he completely sold out. I understand changing plot points but even his characters have been fully changed. Odd.

Law Abiding Citizen
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Gerard Butler, Colm Meaney, Bruce McGill, Leslie Bibb
Directed By: F. Gary Gray
Run Time: 2 hrs 2 mins

Law Abiding Citizen is about an ordinary man named Clyde (played by Butler) who takes vengeance on everyone who had anything to do with the trial of the men who killed his wife and daughter. He's caught almost instantly after he murdered the two criminals responsible but even after he's jailed, he continues to kill. It's up to the DA (played by Foxx) to figure out how he's doing it and to stop him.

I wanted to like this movie and I almost did... until the ending. I wanted the ending to be smarter. There is definitely one last "I got you" but it's not satisfying because a man that smart wouldn't have gotten caught... not so predictably, that is. The evidence that was found was left out in the open (the schedule). How smart was that? How did Clyde's car get into the storage room? I also thought that he'd be more innocent, more of an every day man than he actually was. How convenient. I thought he was self-taught. I liked thinking that he was a quirky inventor who expanded his knowledge into dark arts as a result of the injustice. It disappointed me that there was more behind him. It changed his character from happenstance vigilante into premeditated bully. I didn't like knowing what his "friend" revealed. I didn't like that Clyde went after everyone involved with the case, right down to the law clerk. I did understand that he wanted to change how people think, especially how people perceive justice and victory. It's not really a victory when one of the two criminals involved gets to plea bargain his way out of any punishment.

I wanted things to be a bit more logical, tie together better. I'm glad the twist I presumed to figure out was just a red herring (who Clyde's accomplice was, if he had one). I did wonder about the accomplice and I'm pretty sure I'm right about that. You had to wonder, given his occupation, if the home invasion was payback for something he himself had done. Also, why did the accomplice (and I'm referring to the home invasion accomplice) not cut the plea bargain? Why did the ultimate bad guy get the opportunity? Surely the evidence was stronger against the guy who actually raped Clyde's wife (the whole DNA thing). That part bothered me greatly. What evidence was more compelling against the accomplice than the actual murderer that the DA thought they could get the accomplice convicted? What evidence did they not have against the murderer?

This movie is a bit more gory than I thought it would be. I'm not sure what the point was for sending the DVD to the DA's home since there was a chance the little girl would see it. Given that Clyde knew everything about Nick's life and routine, he had to know that the family routinely had the little girl's concerts taped and sent to the house. You'd think Clyde wouldn't have wanted to hurt the child.

I found it odd that after a few acts of revenge, the city decides to go on lock down. That's a bit of an overreaction, don't you think? How many times has there been a serial killer on the loose and nothing is done (like a curfew), particularly in a city the size of Philadelphia? They knew who Clyde was going after - anyone who had anything to do with his case. Everyone else was safe.

Argh. This movie had so much promise. The worst part of this movie (besides the vigilantism) was that I didn't connect with Clyde. It's one thing to take vengeance out on the criminals who murdered his family; it's another thing entirely to take it out on the judge, the DA, the whole DA's office, even the DA's family, and ultimately, the politicians of Philadelphia. I get that he was angry. I get that he wanted to make an example of his case. I get that he wanted to teach people a lesson. I think he kind of overreacted. I did like trying to figure out how he was doing the things he was doing. But then the explanation was too simple. Why didn't anyone think of that sooner? It wasn't smart. It was convenient. And an easy way to explain it all away. It needed to be smarter to win me over. It was a letdown. And I didn't even like the ending. It was confusing (did Nick's shirt change a couple of times?). And if confusing was the point (to make you wonder who Clyde's accomplice was - if he had one), then I really don't like this movie. Stupid movie. Be smarter!

Oh, I'd like to point this one little note out: I saw Gerard Butler on SNL a couple of weeks after I watched this movie (or maybe it was before; it's been so long). Anyway, during his opening monologue he remarked that in a lot of his movies, he's shirtless. Um, I see another similarity. He's also pantless in a lot of his movies. I've seen his rear end a number of times. At least this movie gives you that. :-)

Couples Retreat
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Faizon Love, Jon Favreau, Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell, Kristin Davis, Jean Reno
Directed By:Peter Billingsley
Run Time: 1 hr 47 mins

Couples Retreat is about a couple who talks the rest of the friends, who don't think they themselves are having issues, into attending a couples retreat on a tropical island. Once there, they discover that there is no fun in the sun, there's only therapy sessions. Those that think they're fine suddenly realize their relationship has issues.

I'm not going to waste much time on this review because I was not a fan of this movie. It doesn't deserve my typing speed. I didn't laugh much, if at all (can't recall too many chuckles). I didn't even smile much (as I did through the stinker The Invention of Lying, where I could see the point). This movie is painful because it deals with unhappy people, couples who are arguing or, even worse, ignoring their problems. I could feel their pain and I didn't like it. I kept wondering which couple Jeff and I were more like (I could see shades of us in each) and that answer saddened me because none of the couples were happy (but I'm happy... right?). I was sad for most of the movie due to the problems each couple were having.

The resort itself was beautiful. And judging by the amount of sweat on Vince Vaughn, it was apparently very warm there, too. Bleh. I didn't need to see that.

I did laugh at the end. The "ass" comment really made me laugh (and just thinking about it now as I type sends me into a fit of giggles).

Jeff has a rule about movies - they're supposed to make you feel good when you walk out of the theater. This rules prevents him from seeing downers (like Million Dollar Baby). He rules out a lot of dramas as a result. I don't think his rule is supposed to apply to comedies. While the ending of this was happy, the overall tone was not. I was sad throughout this movie. That ain't good for a comedy.

And by the way, this movie is directed by Peter Billingsley - the kid who starred in A Christmas Story back in the 80s. I found that interesting. Another tidbit: He apparently, as an actor, has had little roles in a lot of Vince Vaughn/Jon Favreau movies.

Starring: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin
Directed By: Ruben Fleischer
Run Time: 1 hr 22 mins

Zombieland is about four people, all with very different agendas and backgrounds, who ban together as some of the few survivors of a plague that turns people into zombies. Together, they fight zombies and look for Twinkies.

This movie is really funny. Gory as all holy heck, but funny. The first couple of minutes were a bit too much for me. I had to look away. Perhaps it was the closeup of the zombie eating flesh that freaked me out or the blood, not just dribbling but gushing over his lips. I don't do well with people vomiting on screen (or in real life) so I always look away for that. The sight of the blood gushing from the zombie's mouth was just like it was puking and that made me squeamish. And then there was the burp, disgusting yet funny. It made me laugh as my eyes were tightly squeezed shut.

I liked the germaphobe as the main character. I liked his rules. I also liked when his rules, as they appeared as words on screen, crushed zombies. It was cheap humor. Jesse Eisenberg (who plays Columbus) is very Michael Cera-esque. He's witty, charming, a bit nerdy, but definitely likable. I don't think Woody Harrelson was acting much, though. He probably thought he really was battling zombies. I did not realize Abigail Breslin was in this movie until I walked by the movie poster just moments before buying my ticket. I don't think her character was as well defined as the other three. I understood all the other characters' motives.

This movie was all around good. Funny. Witty. Gory. Scary. The only thing I didn't like was actually being at Pacific Playland (Disneyworld). I understand why the girls wanted to go, the real reason, but I'm not sure two savvy zombie hunters would put themselves in that situation. Pacific Playland is in LA, which is overrun with zombies (because it's a big city). I completely understand why they wanted to go. The scene with it all lit up at night was beautiful, eerie and beautiful, and even more magical because these poor people hadn't seen beauty or had fun in awhile. But what did they really expect? Even if it were zombie free as the lore would have them believe, can you really believe it? It's such a big place with sooo many hiding spots that it would be difficult to verify, therefore it would be difficult to relax and enjoy (particularly for such jaded zombie survivors). They weren't even that comfortable in a big house.

The near-end scene was difficult to watch. I had my blanket wrapped around my face with only a smidgeon of space for my eyes to peek over the top. I kept moaning to myself, "I don't like this anymore. I don't want to be here." There were just too many zombies running around and the suspense was tipping dangerously past red and into scarlet purple for my comfort level. Bleh!

The middle part doesn't have much zombie killing in it and you don't miss it. The middle gives you a connection to the characters and only sets up/heightens the final zombie killing scene due (see my blankie experience noted in the previous paragraph) to the absence of it for so long. Had there been more killings in the middle of the movie, the ending would have been nothing special, just a continuation.

I loved the Bill Murrary part, even the ending. Sad but funny. Predictable, but funny. I loved the quest for Twinkies (although part of me did wonder about what formed his obsession). I loved that each character had a city name and why. I did have to wonder what their real names were.

This is a great horror/comedy movie. Very smart and funny. But remember: It is a horror movie. It is gory (particularly if you don't enjoy vomiting zombies).

And just a ha-ha side note: Jessie Eisenberg has a "thing" for "land" movies. His previous movie was Adventureland.

The Invention of Lying
Starring: Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Jonah Hill, Rob Lowe, Jeffrey Tambor
Directed By: Ricky Gervais, Matthew Robinson
Run Time: 1 hr 40 mins

The Invention of Lying is about an alternate world where people cannot lie - it's not even a concept. One day, a down on his luck man doesn't tell the truth. When his lie is believed, he sets out creating lie after lie - those that help him become friends with the woman of his dreams, those that help put his mother at peace, and those that get him his job back. Lies get him money and fame.

I sat through this movie with a polite smile on my face. A polite, pained smile. I didn't laugh much. There were a couple of small haw-haws but nothing noteworthy. I told Jeff, who didn't really want to see this movie, that the reason I wanted to watch it was for the twist. "What twist?" he asked. "No clue, but there has to be a twist. This movie's too straight-forward not to have a twist. It's gotta have one." Um, yeah. The twist is lame and you wait a very long time to get there.

The twist has God overtones. Mark (played by Gervais) tells his mother, as she's dying, that she's going to a wonderful place. He does this to comfort her. She's scared. It's a beautiful story. A nurse overhears him and word spreads about this wonderful afterlife place. People flock to his doorstep, eager to hear for themselves about how wonderful "heaven" is (there is no word "heaven" in this world). Rather than just embellishing on his afterlife view, he develops this huge tale about a man in the sky who controls the things that happen to us. He essentially lays out the commandments and rules governing how you get into Heaven. The imagery of the commandments in his arms, ala Moses, was funny (I saw it coming) but the execution of the overall introduction to God wasn't funny.

The whole reason Mark learned to lie in the first place was to win the heart of Anna (played by Garner). She was the love of his life. Frankly, I just didn't see it. She was awful. The scene where they were sitting on a bench describing those around them, she thought everyone was a loser. I understand that she had to tell the truth, but the truth to her couldn't see the beauty in people. She could only truly see others who weren't perfect as losers. If that's what she honestly thinks about people, she's really shallow.

Which leads me to my next point - I find it interesting that when people can only tell the truth, apparently the truth is only mean. No one randomly went up to anyone and said, "That haircut really suits you" or "The color of that shirt really amplifies how blue and beautiful your eyes are." These are things I would say to strangers if I didn't have a filter (because I often think those things in my head). This movie isn't necessarily about telling the truth, but more about not having a filter. Just because you don't find someone attractive or interesting, doesn't mean you have to tell them. Not saying something isn't lying, is it? You may have to always tell the truth, but you don't always have to say what you're thinking.

In a world without lies, people are still mean and shallow, but apparently this is acceptable. These people were only interested in looks and money and no one thought that was a horrible thing. Are we to then conclude that in our actual world people who like people despite their money and looks are only doing so because they've lied to themselves into thinking that was fine?

I did like the ending, that given the chance to lie to push the outcome in his favor, Mark did the honorable thing and told the truth. He didn't always have to lie, and he knew it.

This movie is not funny. The concept is great but, as Jeff pointed out, is great for a 30 minute short and not a full long feature. The people are shallow. A world without lies isn't a better world. It's a mean world, a world where it's okay to be mean. Give me a lie any day. The check is in the mail. I will call you in the morning. These jeans don't make you look fat. You're just big boned (and fluffy).