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September Movie Reviews
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Eastern Promises
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel, Armin Mueller-Stahl
Directed By: David Cronenberg
Run Time: 1 hr 40 minutes

Eastern Promises is about a midwife's inquiry into the death of a young girl who leaves behind a newborn and a diary written in Russian. She wants to learn about who the girl was in order to help her newborn find her family. Her quest lands her in the middle of the Russian mob.

This movie is quite interesting. First, you find out pretty quickly the "whodunit." After discovering how the principal players fit into the plot, you simply sit back and watch the interaction between characters. The rest of the movie dives deep into character development, with some interesting twists and turns. And then the movie just ends. The end credits began rolling as I sat in my seat, looking around, and wondering, "Really? That's it? That's how they ended it?" It's a bit abrupt.

Abrupt ending aside, I liked this movie. The characters were so interesting, with so many different layers. Semyon (played by the wonderful Armin Mueller-Stahl) seems so sweet and loving at first. You know he's the head of the Russian mob but he just seems to rule with kindness. He's cuddly. He's soft. He speaks in very soothing tones. He wears a cardigan sweater. He seems like a fabulous grandfather. Slowly, you realize he got to be the boss for a reason. He's calculating. He's cold. And he's a bastard. Kirill, his son (played by Cassel), appears to be a drunken bumbling idiot. He's only in his position with the mob because he's father's the boss. Or so it seems. And the chauffeur Nikolai (played by Mortensen) seems too goofy and sweet to be dangerous. Little by little, the facade is chipped away, revealing each character's true nature. It was quite interesting to watch.

Sadly, the female character (the midwife played by Watts) was not as strong as the Russian mob guys. She had depth, but it was revealed a little too late in the movie to really enhance her character. And that depth seemed thrown in, tacked on.

Cronenberg is known for his violence. The very first scene (before the credits even popped up) is incredibly gruesome and violent. But for the most part, the movie's violence is very subtle. There are a few deaths - this is a movie about the mob, for goodness sake - but they're not like Shoot 'Em Up. The bath house scene is the most violent, as it has been heralded to be. It is intense. It's brutal. It's... wow.

The acting is wonderful. I am currently in the middle of Birthday Girl from Netflix, which is about some Russians pulling scams on non-Russian speaking people and Vincent Cassel (who plays Kirill in Eastern Promises) speaking only Russian. I had to go to to see if he truly is Russian (he's French) because it's interesting that I've only seen him in two movies and both had him play Russian. I was in awe of Viggo Mortensen's Russian accent and his ability to speak Russian (although I wouldn't know if he got it right or not). He amazes me how he can fully embody his characters.

Despite the uncommanding female character, the movie was pretty darned good. It's an interesting movie with a slightly different approach to storytelling. It was compelling. It had some interesting twists. The character development was fabulous. I liked it. I wanted to like it more. Perhaps the ending stilted my fondness for this movie a bit...

The Brave One
Starring: Jodie Foster, Terrence Howard, Naveen Andrews, Nicky Katt
Directed By: Neil Jordan
Run Time: 2 hrs 2 minutes

The Brave One is about one woman's struggle to get back into life after a brutal attack kills her fiance and puts her in the hospital. After the attack, On her walks through the city she once loved and never feared, she proceeds to eliminate the criminals she encounters in an effort to erase those new fears.

When I first saw the previews for this movie, my knee-jerk reaction was "She's not brave. She's a a vigilante. The title's a misnomer." It irritated me to connect "bravery" with revenge and vigilantism. But then I saw that a lot of reviewers loved the movie. I decided to give it a chance. Perhaps there was something to this movie the previews just weren't giving it.

The attack scene is quite horrible to watch since it could happen to anyone. Erica Bain (Foster) and her fiance are walking with their dog through a part in New York City, a route they probably take every night, when they encounter some hooligans. The gang attacks the couple. Erica's fiance dies as a result of his wounds and she herself is in a coma for several weeks.

This is the point in the movie where it suddenly comes to a screeching halt. Erica lies unconscious in the hospital and suddenly, new characters are introduced - cops played by Terence Howard and Nicky Katt. They're at the same hospital but investigating a totally different case. The storyline crosses briefly when Det. Mercer (played by Howard) peeks in on Erica lying in her hospital bed but that's where the crossover stops. I kept wondering why we were being shown this scene. The cops didn't decide to investigate Erica's attack. And the case the cops were working on wasn't connected to her attack at all.

A little while later, Erica regains consciousness and returns home. The home is empty. Her fiance is dead. The gang took her dog. She's alone in the big city... and suddenly afraid of everything in it (which was understandable). She finally ventures out into the real world, desperate to rid her fear by getting closure on her case - putting the guys who attacked her in jail. The scene at the police station is a bit funny - funny on the sad side. After trying to find her file on the computer, the cop tells her, "I am sorry for your situation. I understand your frustration. Please have a seat and someone will be with you shortly." Moments later, he says the same thing to the next person in line. He was apparently given sensitivity training ("be emotionally supportive to people") but he was never told to mix it up a little. After sitting in the police station for a long time with no help, Erica leaves and walks by a gun shop. She suddenly realizes that the power of a gun will help her overcome her fears. Unfortunately for her (but fortunately for everyone else), there's a month long waiting period. She buys one illegally anyway.

Later that day, she pops into a grocery store only to be trapped inside when a domestic dispute between the clerk and her estranged husband turns deadly. The man shoots the clerk (his ex-wife) and then realizes there's someone else in the store, a witness. He and Erica begin a very scary game of cat and mouse. In self defense, Erica shoots the bad guy. Since her gun is illegal, she realizes she's in more trouble than she should be (the gun did save her life, afterall) and flees the scene. Enter the cops from the hospital.

After Erica gets over her initial shock of what happened, the feeling turns to empowerment. She very quickly goes from victim to vigilante. She kills some gang members on the subway who rob a boy of his iPod and then go after her. All in all, she kills about 8 people, all very nasty criminals.

Between killings, Erica strikes up a friendship with Det. Mercer. How do they meet? She returns to the scene of one of her crimes, to watch the police investigate. Mercer recognizes her from her radio show (she tells stories about life in New York). She explains her behavior away by inventing a professional need for her curiosity - it's not about the crimes, it's about the detective. She wants to interview him for her show. Never before, it seems, has she interviewed anyone for her show but the explanation woos the detective anyhow (who is a big fan of her show).

As their friendship builds, the detective develops a feeling that Erica is the vigilante. He tells her that he understands the difference between friend and cop and that he's a cop first. Erica understands this and is relieved to know she'll be caught... at some point. The detective tests her by finding the gang leader who attacked her. When she lets him go, the detective knows what will happen to this guy. He goes back on his vow to remain a cop first, friend second and lets Erica deal with the man who attacked her. The most frustrating thing about this moment is not only does he let her kill this man, he helps her and covers it up. So much for a honest cop.

Yes, I am aware that I have told you the whole movie. I did it so that you will not have to bear watching it for yourself. It is an unbelievably horrible movie. Jodie Foster is a wonderful actress and does a great job going from happy-go-lucky gal about town to one who is afraid of her own shadow to revenge seeker giddy with the power of a gun. Her acting was fine, as long as she wasn't playing DJ (or whatever they call a radio personality who simply tells stories for a couple of hours). She did that cool, breathy, hey-I'm-on-the-radio-so-I'm-going-to-be-smooth-and-slick voice. It drove me crazy. Foster's performance was the only good performance of the movie. I hated Terence Howard. Couldn't tell if he was trying to be sweet, cool, tough, or smart (and he definitely wasn't doing them at the same time) but it came off as wimpy and annoying.

The plot was annoying and a bit scary. True, you do want to take matters into your own hands when someone you love is brutally murdered but you shouldn't. Killing bad guys is still killing. I thought this movie would try to deal with that issue (particularly by putting Erica behind bars - sad, but the right thing to do) but it glorified it. She got away with it all!

This movie frustrated me. It made me sad. It annoyed me. It angered me. I kept throwing up my hands in frustration (seriously) at the things that were allowed to happen in this movie. I really wanted to leave about a half hour into it but decided to stay to see how it would be wrapped up. I wasted my time. I cannot stress enough how much I hated this movie - from the acting, to the characters, to the plot, to the fact that Erica got away with murder. Ugh! It is not a good movie. It is not a redeeming movie. It was contrived. It was petty. There were no good guys and they got away with it.

Shoot 'Em Up
Starring: Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti, and Monica Bellucci
Directed By: Michael Davis
Run Time: 1 hr 27 minutes

Shoot 'Em Up is about a guy who accidently saves a newborn who happens to be the target of some really bad guys. Did I mention this guy just happens to be good at killing people? Pretty good thing for the newborn since his little baby life is in this new guy's hands.

In less sarcastic words, Mr. Smith (played by Clive Owen) gallantly tries to rescue a pregnant lady being chased by men waving guns. Moments after giving birth, the bad men succeed in killing her, leaving Mr. Smith stuck with caring for the newborn with the bad men (ring leader played by the wonderful Paul Giamatti) still on his tail. Enter the prostitute. Mr. Smith finds a lactating prostitute (lucky that he knows of one) and drags her into the turmoil. He now has to protect the baby and the prostitute as well as figure out why anyone would want to kill an infant.

Read the title of this movie: Shoot 'Em Up. You have to understand that with a title that corny, the movie does not take itself seriously. You also have to understand that with a title like that, the movie is not going to be tame on violence. I knew that going into the movie.

This movie is a cartoon, a live action cartoon. It is an ultra-violent Bugs Bunny cartoon. This reference is reinforced dozens of times by the over-pronounced and otherwise inexplicable carrot chomping. Mr. Smith (that guy who happens to be good at killing people) constantly is chomping on a carrot, a la Bugs Bunny. And bringing the violence full force into the movie, the carrot is used on numerous occasions as a weapon. Death by carrot. Combining the chomping and the weaponry, one must then really understand that this movie does not take itself seriously. If you do attempt to do so, you'll only end up hating it.

Adding more to the cartoon essence is the body count. In one scene, the bodies literally pile up on top of each other. Although a bit disturbing due to the violence, there is something a bit funny to see bodies flop one of top of the other in a neat little pile. And rounding out the full effect of the campiness is the over-the-top corn-ball lines. They make you groan they're so bad!

For what this movie was trying to accomplish (bringing cartoon violence into live action), it's a pretty decent movie. Not a great one but not bad, either. It was corny. It was utterly gruesome (I'm not sure I can eat a full grown carrot anymore without worrying about how dangerous it is). It was intense. It was funny. And it had a certain charm to it, too. The only thing I didn't like was the need to tell a backstory. Why was Mr. Smith so good at killing people? Who cares? Did we really need someone to tie a bow around it and present us with an explanation? No, but the writer apparently felt the need to make some sort of human connection with the protagonist. At any rate, a good short movie (as long as you don't take it too seriously or take the numerous bloody deaths to heart).

Starring: Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Directed By: Greg Mottola
Run Time: 1 hr 54 minutes

Superbad is about two geeky high school friends who plan on losing their virginity the last weekend of high school. Fate has plans to thwart them.

Although the premise of this movie is about getting with a girl, this is also a movie about friendship. Seth and Evan (characters named after the writers... which makes you wonder how much of this movie was taken straight from the writers own lives) have been friends forever. With college approaching, the pair will be going their separate ways, for the first time. They struggle with the fact that soon they'll have to make new friends and be without their best friend.

Of course, forgetting that side plot, it is first and foremost a movie about teenage boys chasing after teenage girls. And chase they do. And being the sorry geeks they are, chasing the girls isn't as easy as it should be. They encounter a lot of setbacks just trying to get to the party where the girls are.

Jeff read that this movie was written when Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg (the writers) were 13 years old. You could tell. This was definitely a boy movie. It was written by boys for boys. The humor was raunchy - but PG-13 raunchy - and crude. There was a lot of crudeness. There was a lot of raunch. There was a lot of humor. Note: the lewdness is not on the level of American Pie. It's a lot sweeter than that. We laughed through the entire movie. Yes, it was simple boy humor but it was frickin' hilarious just the same. Although geared for boys, this girl really liked the movie.

We also read (after the movie) that one character says the word "Fuck" 84 times. He's not in the entire movie. I calculated he was probably on screen for 84 minutes, which makes every minute he was on screen, he uttered that word.

I'm not going to go on and on about plot and story dimensions. All of that really doesn't matter. Suffice it to say that the plot is well scripted. There's a lot of action. There's a lot of comedy. And there's a lot of laughter. It's funny as all holy heck. Be prepared for mayhem - 13 year old boy mayhem. And be prepared to laugh.

Starring: Jet Li, Jason Statham
Directed By: Philip G. Atwell
Run Time: 1 hr 31 minutes

War is about an FBI agent's revenge when his partner is killed by Yakuza.

Plot. Yes, my description of the movie's plot is one sentence. That's all it needs. If you've seen one movie about revenge or one movie about the FBI trying to stop the mob, you've seen this one. I kept thinking to myself during various parts of the movie, "Wow. How cliché." Scene after scene, dialogue after dialogue contained enormous dollops of cliché and implausibility. But I let that go because I was at the theater to watch an action movie starring two incredible action stars.

Action. Did the action movie have good action? Well... not really. There were tons of "actiony" scenes - car chases, swiss cheese buildings after a tangle, but not the action I was expecting. I'm not a squeamish gal but I did have to avert my eyes more than once, more than twice, more than 10 times during some of the fight scenes. They were more gory than action. I was expecting swift reflexes and awesome hand to hand combat, incredibly choreographed, and beautifully shot fight scenes. There's something so wrong giving an amazing martial arts expert like Li a gun. Shoot or be shot, that was the motto of this movie. There wasn't even a decent battle between Li and Statham (and that battle was incredibly lame and short). Why pit them against each other in a movie called War if there's no actual war?

While the action didn't thrill me like I was hoping it would, the story was compelling. Wait. I said in the first two paragraphs that the plot was nothing - standard and formulaic. Ah, but plot alone does not a movie make. There is some background story filler between the overall plot and the action. Li's character is quite intriguing. What side does he really play for? You have to wait for it but there is a bit of story to be had... and that little twist (something I knew had to be there but couldn't quite put my finger on) redeemed the movie. The very opening of the movie is hysterical. But then the ending went and spoiled the romance of the story twist, darnit.

Decent movie. Not a good movie but a decent one. If you're going on a two hour flight, this would be one to serve as proper distraction (along with your portable DVD player). Other than that, don't waste your time. Jet Li has done better movies (Romeo Must Die and Lethal Weapon 4). Jason Statham has done better movies (The Transporter and Crank).