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Friday, Aug 27, 2010
Cobbled together from the Coen Brothers leftovers and sprinkled with a healthy dose of lax local color, Get Low argues for the cinematic value inherent in a consistent tone.

Nothing is more potent than local myth and/or legend. Kept within a considered sphere of influence and fostered out of the pecking-order like gossip need for inside information, the abandoned house at the end of the road or the odd looking character who comes sauntering into the general store once a month provide evenings of inventive introspection and association. Before long, the potential truth is tarnished by an unreasonable amount of speculation and sour grapes, all of it wrapped up in the most unrealistic of fairytales. For Felix Bush, the stain of something forty years in the past has painted his hermitical existence in suggestive, sinister colors. Now, as death (or “getting low”, as he calls it) comes knocking at his reclusive log cabin door, he wants to hear what people have to say about him - good or bad.


Thus we get plans for a ‘living funeral’ that acts as a catalyst for the rest of Get Low, a coy, quaint independent period piece. Bush (Robert Duvall) ends his exile and heads into town, seeking a service from the local preacher (Gerald McRaney). When the church can’t accommodate, he lucks into an earnest salesman (Lucas Black) for the local funeral parlor. Working with the shady, cynical owner, Frank Quinn (Bill Murray), they set up the pseudo-celebration. The only requirement: everyone who attends must bring their own story about Felix - and with his sketchy history, it promises to be enlightening. Enter Mattie Darrow (Sissy Spacek), a widow who has a longstanding connection to our aging protagonist. The memories she stirs up, however, will cast a different, much more meaningful light on Felix’s final request.


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Friday, Aug 27, 2010
by Stephen Graham Jones
The end is what finally keeps this from being a Paranormal Activity: instead of launching the horror into our world, The Last Exorcism signals to us that this is horror movie horror, and thus compartmentalized, ‘safe.’

In a movie, no matter the genre, you will always become that which you were just pretending to be. So, for this charlatan exorcist in The Last Exorcism, exposing exorcisms as fraudulent for a documentary crew, what do you think? In a horror movie, will he finally have to become a real exorcist, or might he get a pass, just get to grin his way out of the shot and go back to his happy life?


But I don’t want to spoil anything for you, either.


Most of the other reviews I checked out, they all said the same thing: don’t read this review you’re already reading, don’t watch the trailer, don’t even look at that terrifying poster, just go see the movie. Translate that how you will, but the way I take a suggestion like that is that I’m being warned this is a gimmick movie, that it’s got some twist I never saw coming, a reveal that can ruin everything.


About which I’ll try not to say yes or no. Because I’m not a spoiler.


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Friday, Jul 9, 2010
The controversy around The Killer Inside Me's unflinching portrayal of violence is misplaced -- it is the use of violence as slick entertainment and a means to self-reflection that is truly disturbing.

Michael Winterbottom’s latest film, an adaptation of Jim Thompson’s 1952 pulp novel The Killer Inside Me, has been the focus of controversy since its initial screening at Sundance. Its graphic portrayal of murders by the film’s main character, Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) has garnered reactions from “misogynist” to “feminist”, with arguments centering around the realism of the violence. The more “realistically” violence is portrayed, the less appealing and sexy it is. Stylized violence, whether from the rapidly-edited action movie or the over-the-top horror film, is so unreal it doesn’t leave much of a mark.


To its credit, The Killer Inside Me does not treat its two most brutal sequences as entertainment, but as the horrible acts they are meant to portray. The violence is neither glamorized, nor played for laughs. Its main ingredient is sexual violence, but does not feature rape or nudity. The sex and the violence, both intensely filmed, are kept to separate scenes but are inextricably linked in the mind of the main character.


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Wednesday, Jan 6, 2010
by Brontë Mora
Even though a lot of the Squeakuel is like the first movie, it is still fun to watch the Chipettes and the Chipmunks perform.

Editor’s note: Our special contributor for this review is seven years old.


At the beginning of Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, the Chipmunks go to Paris to perform in a huge concert. Alvin (voiced by Justin Long) shows off, like always, even though Dave (Jason Lee) warns him to stop. Inevitably, Alvin causes big problems: the stage crashes and Dave ends up in the hospital. So, Dave’s out of the story and the Chipmunks have to go home and stay with Dave’s cousin, Toby (Zachary Levi), who plays video games 24/7. Toby mostly lets them do whatever they want, which they think is phenomenal, at least at first! But Toby does make them start school like Dave wanted them to, even though that’s the last thing Alvin, Simon, and Theodore want to do. At West Eastman High School, they meet bullies who pick on them and give them swirlies—gross!—and the principal, Dr. Rubin (Wendy Malik), who is secretly a big fan of the Chipmunks.


In the meantime, three girl Chipmunks come to Hollywood looking for Ian (David Cross), the producer they think made the Chipmunks stars. Brittany, Jeanette, and Eleanor don’t only sing and dance. They also look exactly like girl versions of the boys: Eleanor (Amy Poehler) is chubby like Theodore, Jeanette (Anna Faris) wears glasses like Simon, and Brittany (Christina Applegate) has an attitude, much like Alvin. On seeing the Chipettes, Ian—who was disgraced in the last movie, Alvin and the Chipmunks—thinks he’s back in business. He sends them to West Eastman High School to compete against the Chipmunks in a singing contest. Ian wants the Chipettes to win so he can be a famous producer again.


A lot of things in this movie are exactly like the first one. Alvin, Simon, and Theodore think Dave sets too many rules until they live without any. In the first movie, this happened when they moved in with Ian and in this one, it happens when they live with Toby. At first, they are like, “YES!” But then they miss Dave and they miss his rules, too. Ian treats the Chipettes the same way he treated the Chipmunks in the first movie: he is nice at first, but then he gets mean, working them too hard and not caring about them. He just wants to make money off of them. Another idea that comes up again is Alvin’s selfishness. He thinks about himself more than his family and so he has to learn to appreciate them and understand that family comes first.


Even though a lot of the Squeakuel is like the first movie, it is still fun to watch the Chipettes and the Chipmunks perform. The singing is always the best part of a Chipmunks movie and this one had lots of good songs like “You Spin Me Round” and “Single Ladies.”


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Thursday, Dec 17, 2009
Cameron's evocations of everything from Blackwater's Iraq massacres to the Trail of Tears gives his story an uncommon resonance. This is a whole new kind of science fiction filmmaking, something particularly grandly spectacular, even if occasionally daft and overblown.

Like many of the best James Cameron protagonists, Jake Sully—the crippled Marine and accidental ambassador of humanity in Avatar—is both astoundingly arrogant and self-assured, and yet without a home. Like Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack in Titanic and Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in Aliens, Jake has confidence to spare, verging on reckless. Yet he’s an outcast, riven between worlds, and fated to battle for survival against incredible odds. Sully seems another of the filmmaker’s combative, daring, and inventive stand-ins for himself. You don’t doubt that if the film’s multi-hyphenate (writer/director/producer/editor) found himself on another world, without the use of his legs, facing doubt and ridicule from all corners, he’d probably do just fine.


From the figure of Jake (Sam Worthington), rolling in his wheelchair off a space transport onto an alien world where he will find his quasi-religious purpose, to the vistas of alien beings aligning themselves in a grand armada against the genocidal human corporate mercenaries fighting for access to precious raw materials, Avatar is the prototypical Cameron event-film. It’s a story of cataclysmic battles and personal revelations, punched through with exclamation marks and related via ground-breaking special effects that work overtime to heighten the emotional impact of the primal drama on display. It’s also—more uniquely to this entry in Cameron’s oeuvre—a metaphor for our society’s benighted state, where uploading one’s consciousness into a grander, more worldly and aware creature, serves as the ultimate escape from a venal and polluted (in every sense of the word) present reality.


Set about a century and a half in the future, Avatar drops its hero (a Marine wounded in some pointless brushfire war in Argentina) on the planet of Pandora. There, a massive Halliburton-like company has been given essential autonomy to strip-mine the world for a rare substance, Unobtainium, that provides desperately needed energy back on an apparently environmentally devastated and overcrowded Earth.


To that end, the company enlists a force of roughneck mercenaries, many recently ex-military (another stinging allusion to our current state of affairs), who are trying to carve out more human-friendly space on a pretty inhospitable world. If a swath of Pandora’s fantastically predatory animals (Cameron had a field day inventing these things, a befanged menagerie from some dark and unknown corner of the Jurassic Era) and its tall, blue-skinned, humanoid inhabitants, the Na’vi, get slaughtered along the way, then that’s the price of entrepreneurial mineral resource expropriation.


Coexisting uneasily alongside this transplanted corporate-military complex are a batch of scientists trying to study the indigenous flora and fauna, as well as the proud and withdrawn Na’vi, a warrior people clearly meant to evoke the Native American tribes doomed in their fight against the ever-encroaching European people. Jake is on Pandora because his very recently-dead brother worked with these scientists, and somebody with his DNA is needed to enter the consciousness of an avatar, a specially bred Na’vi who can then be used to research the planet’s surface and interact with its inhabitants.


Disliked as a cripple by the company’s macho gunsels, and distrusted as a trigger-happy soldier boy by the scientists, Jake jumps into his new career as an avatar driver, if for no other reason than it gives him the chance to walk and run again—even if it’s while his real body lays unconscious in a research lab, hooked up to machines. Once he has infiltrated the Na’vi, it isn’t long, though, before Jake—a defensive and distrustful follower of orders—starts questioning what the humans are doing on Pandora, and falling in love with the Na’vi, especially one particularly svelte and feline huntress, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana, acting with a brand of ferocious passion rarely seen in animated creations).


At first, Cameron establishes a brisk momentum, staging viewers into his densely-layered alien world, where trees grow to the size of the World Trade Center and an entire mountain range floats in midair. The humanist-militarist tension is thickly palpable, as it only can be when moralists stand between an industrial enterprise and its source of profit. Those representing either side—the scarred ex-Marine Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang, who looks carved from a sinewy and tanned block of marble) and head researcher Dr. Grace Augustine (Weaver, delivering some impeccably voiced sarcastic barbs)—are equally contemptuous and disinterested in compromise.


While the dramatic stage is well-set, it’s once Avatar starts hacking into the dense exposition of Pandora itself that Cameron begins to set his epic apart. The level of complexity found in this creation, from a whole new alien language to the planet’s interlocking system of biological checks and balances, is something not previously seen in science-fiction film. It feels whole, complete, and Tolkienesque, much like the world of Pandora itself.


The awesome beauty with which Cameron paints his sumptuously photographed 3-D landscapes (his characters spend a suspicious amount of time racing along tree branches high above ground, all the better to indulge the format’s love of depth perspective) achieves a level of alien wonder that carries many hints of the written genre’s space opera greats, but has practically never been achieved before on screen. Cameron’s evocations of everything from Blackwater’s Iraq massacres to the Trail of Tears gives his story an uncommon resonance. This is a whole new kind of science fiction filmmaking, something particularly grandly spectacular, even if occasionally daft and overblown.


As Avatar roars toward a great, planet-shaking sequence of battles (tilt-rotor gunships battling bow-wielding Na’vi on winged, dragon-like creatures), it loses some of the dramatic tension that charged up such a head of steam in the beginning. Some of this has to do with the film’s love story, which is wounded not by the essence of the story itself (which is, in fact, quite potently romantic) but by Worthington’s performance. A skilled performer with a quiet dignity, Worthington can’t nearly match Saldana’s fire. There is also too much of an outdated, noble savage aura to Cameron’s treatment of the Na’vi, like something that artists of an earlier era might have presented Native Americans.


Or maybe it’s the glasses. Perhaps there is a limit to how seriously one can take a film that is best seen through oversized Ray-Bans.


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