Monday, September 28, 2009

Transformers 2 Review

Older post but posted for archiving purposes

Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen:
Directed by Michael Bay
Released in 2009

Michael Bay's latest "film" is all about the unnecessary. It's unnecessary that there are so many nonsensical explosions in action scenes that have no coherent flow or direction. It's unnecessary that the actors have to scream every line they have, most notably Shia LeBouf. It's unnecessary that every scene with Megan Fox reveals cleavage or exposed skin. But, truly, that is one of the redeeming features of this mess of a movie and when her character isn't in the spotlight for the later parts of the film, this plan ends up biting itself in the ass.

Shall I discuss story?

No, because it is nonexistent. There is no sense of direction and setpieces change with such quick succession that you wonder if the editor and director have ADD on top of drinking speed-spiked Red Bull. There seems to lack a story structure and the ending is so cheesy that Mickey Mouse could smell it from a mile away.

The script and writing fares no better, or even worse. Characters such as the loopy mother who tend to be comic relief early on tire their welcome, staying on too long, each joke and line getting progressively worse. Of course, standard action movie crap dialogue occurs as well. After a "plane" gets activated by a Decepticon artifact, Megan Fox looks at the side of the plane where a logo is screaming, "It's a Decepticon!!!", just in case you did not already know. But, she was leaning over when that line was delivered so I believe I found its true value.

Even talented actors like John Turturro can't save this mess. He chews the scenery, for sure, but his character's writing gets even worse as the movie progresses that you wonder if the writers for this film hired their prepubescent teens to finish it for them. However, I am not complementing any aspect of the movie, mind you. It starts as a screwed jumble of film aspects and devolves into a steaming pile of crap. Actually, I'm going to use the word "shit" because that better matches its quality.

But I'm just being a grouch, aren't I, trying to nitpick the small details but overlook the awesome action, right? Well, no I'm not. Sure, there are a lot of flashy CGI effects and sounds, but the action scenes are so poorly choreographed that is hard to appreciate. The fitst movie at least had some slick action scenes that both looked and performed well; this one does not. Metal is scraping and clashing all over the scene, but the simple fact of "who's who" is lost in the design. I would frequently wonder what robot is fighting another, but before that is resolved, BAM!!, another battle occurs. It's as though Bay designed to cater to the shortest attention spans possible, to people not even interested in simple aspects like, well, WHICH robot is WHICH?? Or, WHY are they fighting? How about my favorite, WHY am I supposed to care when *spoiler* dies? Because the weepy, sad music is playing? That and because Shia LeBouf and Megan Fox are sad. Of course, a shot of sad Megan Fox does not go without a pop of flesh. This movie cuts NO corners.

Considering this is a Michael Bay film, this should come as no surprise but the movie is racist as well. There is a new pair of robots who get introduced that belong in the same, prestigious leagues as Jar-Jar Binks. Trying to be ghetto, hip African Americans, these two characters are annoying and insensitive. Fulfilling every black stereotype known to man, this duo makes this film even more shameful that is has to turn to racist jokes to get laughs out of the audience. Which makes me wonder who the audience for this film is. It certainly is not the fans of the animated series; they were scared away by the first movie. It's not for the older crowd or movie buff type. I guess the only option left is the young, teenage crowd who knows no better. To the people who geniunely enjoyed this "piece of cinema," I hope you come back to it in two to three years and realize your mistake. Only then can we have the good, deserved movies come on top again.

The best part of all of this? The movie is two and a half hours long. Yep, your brain will lose its intelligence for over 2 hours and become a piece of mush by the movie's end. Apparently, an intelligent editing process was not considered for this travesty.

So, in the end, Transformers 2 beats it predecessor as one of the worst movies of the decade. Yep, Rolling Stone is right!!! It's a shame because this piece of crap is raking in the miilions currently, having one of the most successful openings of all time. Really? This is what the public likes? We may be going downhill at a quicker pace than I imagined.

Truly, Transformers 2 is like one of the worst drugs imaginable. It supposedly is the "new, big high," but once the pill is dropped, the user feels nothing but nausea and pain. Worst of all, this "high" lasts longer than needed and when the trip is over, the user finds him/herself on the curb of a street, next to his/her own vomit while bleeding profusely.

Does that sound like a good time? I really, really hope not. 

Final Verdict:
1 Out of 5 Stars

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Jennifer's Body Review

Jennifer's Body:
Directed by Karyn Kusama
Released in 2009

There really is not much to say about Jennifer's Body. Starring Megan Fox and written by Diablo Cody (Juno), the expectations are already set. Could this be the next high-school slasher film? Is the Academy Award-winning Cody going to strike gold again? Is Megan Fox still hot? The answer, with the exception of the last, is a resounding no.

As for the basics, Jennifer's Body is about the story of Jennifer (Megan Fox), the high school "it girl" who is drooled over by the male students and knows it. She teases them with their desires but *usually* doesn't give in. Her best friend, Needy (Amanda Seyfried) is a nerd but still is Jen's best friend, despite their physical and emotional differences. The problem comes when they both go to a bar one night and meet a Indie rock band called "Low Shoulder," with Nikolai (Adam Brody from the OC). A fiery event ensues and Jennifer is mysteriously whisked off with the band. She returns later to Needy's house in an emaciated form but, the day later, she is perfectly fine. It turns out Jennifer has turned into some demon/zombie that must feast on humans to keep her lustrous look intact. In this case, she chooses boys.

Jennifer lures countless different high school boys into her (literal) grasp by acting slutty but then, of course, disposing of them in gruesome ways. Unfortunately, these encounters are never scary or even sexy enough to get much of an impact, relying on horror movie cliches for "shock" value. For example, a boy walks into an abandoned house with absolutely no one on the street. Must be fine, right? He proceeds to climb through a window in the back of house that is under construction and gets freaked out by a crow that is inside the house. What happens next doesn't even need to explained; you know already. The violence is not even that graphic, as death scenes only involve shadows with blood splattering on walls or after views of murders that have humorously disfigured bodies with unreal excesses of blood. It's typical teenage slasher fare and not much more.

The script, with Diablo Cody of Juno fame at the helm, is nagging and vomit-inducing in itself. The worst part of Juno, the so-called "witty" dialogue, returns in full force, making expressions like "what the blog?" seem like child's play. When Jennifer is all bloody she says, "Got a tampon?" or, instead of using the word "jealous," Jennifer calls a boy "jello" and then repeats it five more times. Jen's final line is so ridiculously stupid I am not going to even repeat it here. I wonder how Diablo Cody won an Oscar in the first place and this movie should hopefully put her away for good.

Now, the acting. There really isn't much to say here, as well. Megan Fox is still sexy but incapable of much talent. It is definitely a step up from Transformers and, who knows, she may have a movie down the road where her sex appeal isn't the only thing that gets her by. But, in this film, Fox provides many laughs, usually unintentional, and is a very unconvincing demon child. Amanda Seyfried as Needy is merely okay, looking drastically different from Mamma Mia! from 2008. She still is an attractive actress even next to Fox here but her acting also relies on typical horror movie conventions. Her narration also can be grating, though this is more related to Miss Cody than her. Needy also has a boyfriend called Chip who is played by Johnny Simmons. He has a Zac Efron-style haircut so he can talk with a drawling, chill voice right? Well, the fact that he is never seen with anyone besides Needy (the names are starting to make sense...), pretty as she may be, begs to differ. A more nervous, uptight Chip would have been a better fit and probably provide a sense of comedic value but, as it stands, his character is actually decent. He provides a few funny one-liners and he is really the only other main character of the film, and the only male one at that, so he stands in rough territory. Adam Brody makes an impossibly stupid appearance as "Low Shoulder's" singer, not blinking an eye when a fire is blazing next to him or trying to reason that the devil is an indie rock band's best chance at success. Whenever he appears on screen, a guaranteed facepalm is bound to follow. The veteran actor here is actually the best. J.K. Simmons, the excellent character actor from Juno, Spiderman and Burn After Reading, is here as a one-handed teacher who provides most of the laughs or even emotion. Of course, his time on the screen can amount to maybe four-five minutes tops.

Truly, there is not much more to say about Jennifer's Body. The acting, script and story are all vapid or uninspired, but that is not even its biggest problem. The ultimate obstacle this film runs into is its severe identity crisis. It doesn't really know what it is or wants to be. There are not many laughs, there is not much horror, and there is not much sex. I actually had hopes that this film could have one or more of those three and executed them in an admirable way but, wow, was I wrong. Girls will probably not know the point and boys will be disappointed by the lack of the title star's "body." So, really, what is left?

Final Verdict:
2 Stars Out of 5

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Informant! Review

The Informant:
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Released in 2009

A delightfully smart and witty comedy, The Informant! is one of the better comedies of the year thanks to its very intelligent plot progression and excellent lead performance by Matt Damon. Even if it is based on a true story, the film still carries an air of creativity that really sets it apart from recent comedic endeavors.

The Informant! centers around the story of the real-life Mark Whitacre, a successful scientist/businessman at Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) - a giant agricultural industry based in Illinois - turned whistleblower when the business side rears its corrupt head. When, supposedly, his conscience cannot handle dealing with the illegal price-fixing schemes that are going on at his company, he starts wearing a wire and contacting the FBI, represented by Agent Shepard (Scott Bakula) and Agent Herndon (Joel McHale). These two actors, known for past or recent appearances on television, are great in their roles, especially Brian Shepard who has to deal with Mark's lies and troubles firsthand. These lies show themselves as Mark begins to compromise himself by concealing certain information or distorting certain other facts. The self-destruction of Mark Whitacre is the real star of the show here, as he continues to descend on a downward spiral while not really noticing it himself.

Mark, played by Matt Damon, is a highly intelligent man with some severe problems. The best part of this movie is its constant, arbitrary narration from Mark himself, giving thoughts on anything from human interaction to polar bear camouflage. At first these non-sequiturs seem like random comedic tidbits but they eventually show another side of Whitacre's mind that is really his problem all along. I won't say much more (the facts are all out after all) but it really is a nontraditional yet satisfying approach at storytelling.

Of course, a real question is whether or not this movie is funny in the first place. It really is, but it will not appeal to everyone. There is a lot of dialogue and some jokes can go over people's heads if they don't pay attention. Any fan of films such as The Big Lebowski or television shows such as Arrested Development should feel right at home, however.

There is a interesting, surely intentional approach at lighting and filming that was made with this film. Everything is bathed in a orange, incandescent lightbulb glow that fills every scene, even ones outside. Sometimes rooms have lamps on behind the actors, making them very shadowed and blurry. This can be interpreted to be a few different things, maybe even a joke by the cinematographers. A reasonable explanation for the look could be an analogy itself to Mark. The script is smart and witty, much like the leading character, but there is another layer of him that is deeply troubled. His mind is bent to believing that he really is not wrong and his hardships are the results of others. By lying to himself constantly, his perception is altered in this way. So while his dialogue may be flattering and convincing, the real soul of his character is as distorted as the scenery around him. As the movie progressed and he starting to reveal some of his flaws and lies, I noticed that the lighting slowly began to look normal. Maybe my eyes were playing tricks on me but, if not, it was a clever albeit subtle way at seeing this mad man progress in thought and mind.

In the end, The Informant! is a very human comedy, showing all the wonders and flaws any regular person has. In this case, Mark had a fair share more foibles than the regular human but he used many to his own advantage. Would he be brought down? Yes, and he actually received larger punishment than the rest of his corrupt superiors. But the ride was fun along the way, much like this movie. It is not a classic by any means but The Informant! is a comedy that makes you reflect on your own qualities upon finishing it, trying to persuade yourself that you really are not a Mark Whitacre yourself. In this age of economic recession, it is nice to see the corporate bigwigs get a real, human side instead of current media stereotypes. And with all the problems that these characters have, you'll be laughing when you might be witnessing how the country fell in the first place.

Final Verdict:
4 Stars Out of 5

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Crank: High Voltage Review

Crank: High Voltage:
Directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor
Released in 2009

Crank: High Voltage is an ugly film. The characters are unappealing, the violence is overly and unnecessarily gritty, the aesthetic is bleak and its content is overall just unpleasant. There is no denying that Crank 2 is not a good movie, even a bad film, in fact. However, it does have some positive aspects that were carried over from its crazy predecessor, though it still doesn't match the balance the first one had between fun and gratuitous material.

Jason Statham, the ever-reliable action hero, is back with his artificially stimulated heart and his quest for revenge. The story is basically nonexistent so no more details need to be given about it. All there is to know is that Chev Chelios (Statham) has a mission and kills many people along the way. He runs into some despicable, lowlife characters throughout, such as Ria (Ling Bai), the prostitute who regards Chev as her "Kurt Russell." His girlfriend (Amy Smart) returns and engages in another public sex scene that is comical and lighthearted despite its content. Even Napolean Dynamite's Pedro (Efren Ramirez) is in this as Chev's gay friend who has "Body Tourettes," causing him to have random, violent spasms. The joke is funny the first time but quickly wears thin, and his character is more of an annoyance than a humorous presence. Overall, the characters in this film are trashy, on-purpose, but that did not do much for me. Some may like its seedy setting and people but I really did not.

The action is highly kinetic, with fast cuts and bright lighting. There are some cool fight scenes that really bring the only worthwhile part to the film but they are usually hit or miss. For example, one scene in a strip club features gun-wielding strippers gunning down gangsters. It is pretty awesome at first but when a stripper's breasts get shot and deflate, you know this movie really is terrible or, for some, the best film of the year. I am definitely part of the former. There are still some fun scenes sprinkled throughout but it really is not worth it.

I guess I just found Crank: High Voltage to be too crude and crazy for its own good. The first film was a good time that I found perfectly acceptable in its content, and its action was very similar to this one. But Crank 2 takes the typical sequel approach when it is assumed that "more is better." In this case, no it is not.

Final Verdict:
2 stars out of 5

Ponyo Review

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Released in 2009

There is no denying the fact that Ponyo is a beautiful film. The 2D animation is hand-drawn and bursting with color and life. It is one of the most attractive artistic visions I have seen in a film this year. Nonetheless, something seemed "off" with it. It sits in a tough spotlight considering Spirited Away is a masterpiece in my eyes, one of the best animated films of the decade.

The voice talent is stellar, though. A boy named Sosuke (Frankie Jonas, brother of Jonas Brothers, ugh) meets a small goldfish with a human head on the shore by his head. Her name is Ponyo and she is voiced by Noah Cyrus, sister to Miley (double ugh). Nonetheless, there is still some great talent that overshadows the names of these two. Matt Damon and Tina Fey are the parents for Sosuke and they give the film a great personality, even if their American accent really counters the landscape. Ponyo's parents are portrayed by Liam Neeson and Cate Blanchett. Cate has a very ethereal, God-like aura while Neeson is a troubled dad with some funky hair. Neeson's character does not look like his real life self at all but he still manages to pull it off, speaking to his talent. Betty White, Cloris Leachman and Lily Tomlin all give voices to a group of elderly women who are frequently seen throughout the film. Many of their remarks are usually funny and show a big counter to the youth that is part of the two protagonists. Actually, the two young actors are fine in their respective parts but their last names are so past the saturation limit that my surprise was unfortunately mitigated.

The animation is obviously beautiful and stunning and there really is no need for description besides seeing it for yourself. The one thing that left me with a strange impression of the film was its message of love. The conflict in the film is if Sosuke will love Ponyo, even at the tender young age of five. I found this to be strange and the true meaning of love does not come to a person until much later. The fact that the whole world hung in the balance of his decision did not make anything more settling. I believe the meaning of love that this film was trying to convey was not truly a romantic form but more of a responsible, caring love. In that sense, the message was affectionate, but still odd to have such young characters as its subject. There was also a message of conservation that never really was realized or given much context in the end. Add the grating, childish song at the end credits and my impression was less than impeccable.

Despite these gripes, Ponyo is certainly a fine film. The animation is enough to warrant a watch. It is just not as transcending or ambitious as Hayao Miyazaki's other work.

Final Verdict:
3 Stars out of 5

Monday, September 21, 2009

Adventureland Review

Directed by Greg Mottola
Released in 2009

From the director of Superbad and boasting such regulars as Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, one would expect Adventureland to be filled with raunchy, laugh-a-minute humor akin to the previous work. However, Adventureland is not that type of film at all, instead opting for a coming-of-age film with not so much humor as a heartfelt, entertaining story. There are certainly laughs to be had but the real value of this movie lies beyond that.

Set in 1987, the movie is the story of James Brennan (, a recent college graduate who spends his summer before grad school working at Adventureland, a seedy yet vibrant theme park to get him some money. Jesse Eisenberg plays James and he is in a mix between Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate and Michael Cera in, well, any Michael Cera movie. He actually pulls the "George Michael attitude (Patent pending) rather well, maybe even better than the creator himself. Nonetheless, he meets Em, played by Kristen Stewart. She is excellent here and gives a sexy, emotional performance contrary to the movie most people know her by, Twilight. James also has multiple friends that he spends time with, such as Joel, a down-to-earth, philosophical dude played by Martin Starr as well as Frigo, a guy who does not talk to James as much as repeatedly punch him in the balls. Frigo is played by Matt Bush, otherwise know as the "guy in the AT&T commercials with the angry mom." Other characters include Lisa P, played by a steaming Margarita Levieva, and Ryan Reynolds as Mike Connell. A mistake this movie makes is the presumption that Ryan Reynolds is cool, shown by his slow, chill stroll in his first scene. First of all, Ryan Reynolds is not, nor has been or will be, cool. Thankfully, the film's story does not view him as favorably by the end, a godsend in my eyes. Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig are the two employers of the park, and they are in their usual, hilarious self. Kristen is always quirky and funny in her own way and Bill boasts an extremely fake mustache as he screams at litterbugs around the park. Good times are had for all.

The romantic relationship that grows between James and Em is portrayed in a great, genuine fashion. A great scene in the beginning when Em drives James home from the theme park is filled with awkward glances and uncomfortable silences. Greg Mottola, the director, does a great job at establishing the feel and pace of a teenage relationship. The film, much like its character Lisa P, reaches its height in the mid-section when it is filled with joyous wonder and life. The true, faithful representation of late-1980s America is remarkable and filled with plenty of music, movie and cultural references. This perfectly complements the brewing romance and somewhat magical theme park that serves as a character of its own in the movie. It is a shame, then, that the movie falters a little in the second half. When a foreign conflict arises that breaks the flow of the peace, the film resorts to a few cliches and filler dialogue before getting back on track. Thankfully, it does. The last few scenes are nice, even if the ending is somewhat strange.

Unlike Stewart's other "work," Twilight, Adventureland is not a parable for abstinence. In fact, it is the opposite. While I have no problem with that personally, it is weird for the film to end on such a note of this message. It should have been a mid-film event and the ending should have been modified to something else, less about sex and more about love. After all, "intercourse," as James calls it, is not a true sign of love. But hey, its the 80's. Times were different....right?

All in all, Adventureland is a really touching and fine film that I enjoyed greatly. The message is a bit shaky and there are parts that drag but I would still call it one of the best comedies of the year, even if its genre is harder to distinguish than a clear-cut film like The Hangover. But as a story of young love and all the quirks that come with it, there hasn't been a movie like this in awhile. 

Final Verdict:
3.5 Stars Out of 5

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Oh Where Has The Album Went?

In this age of digital music distribution, iPods and quickly fading singles, there is an art form in music that has been lost: the album. No, not vinyl records (the big, black discs that your parents used back in the day), but the complete, structured music album. Classics like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and OK Computer are perfect examples because they demand the listener to hear the album uninterrupted, focused on the music playing.  The reason this form may be lost can be attributed to a number of things, whether it be shorter attention spans, different tastes in music, the relative ease of getting singles through iTunes or [yikes] torrents, or the iPods themselves, but there is no debating that we need to see more from it.
Here’s a quick history lesson for the unacquainted. Instead of being a bore giving tales of the origin of vinyl records, I am just going to throw some recommendations out there. For jazz, one of the first genres to truly exploit the art of structured music, players like Miles Davis and John Coltrane revolutionized the field with masterworks like Kind of Blue and A Love Supreme. These albums and many more are widely listened to today, and they laid the groundwork for many popular albums of the 60’s. From this decade, all of the Beatles’ work is worth noting for its artistic approach to continuous play. This is an interesting touch because many of their songs were widely popular singles but they managed to strike a balance between being solitary hits and part of a continuous work. Few artists can say that they can do the same, before or since.
The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper and The Beach Boys Pet Sounds relied on a unified theme throughout their entirety, giving the listener an immersive experience by basing all the songs around the same subject while freely changing the sound and style from track to track. During this same time, a man named Bob Dylan was changing the perception of songwriting and his two masterstrokes, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde, changed music forever with their emphasis on thoughtful lyrics instead of disposable ditties that carry little emotional weight. The former album, my personal favorite of his, contains so many different musical styles, whether it be woozy bar band, rock shuffle or thoughtful poetics, that it is quite disorienting upon first listen.
In the next few decades, there were so many albums worth noting that I could ramble for pages on end, but I will give a few choice recommendations. Pink Floyd experimented with progressive rock and they reinvigorated the rock opera genre of music. Also popularized by The Who with the masterpieces Tommy and Quadrophenia, the rock opera is self-explanatory:  it is an opera with many rock elements, so guitar solos and riffs are plentiful. The Wall is one of the best examples of an album that must be listened to in one sitting; it is close to impossible to do it any other way.  Songs like “The Happiest Days of Our Lives” flow seamlessly into others, such as “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2”, that the album feels without edges; it just flows. Jethro Tull also tested out this field with Thick As A Brick, which is actually just one song, about 45 minutes long.  It is a very complex and wild piece of work and I still have no idea what it really means even after listening to it countless times.
Hopefully most of us are aware of the grunge movement of the 90’s with bands such as Pearl Jam and Nirvana and the later rise of Radiohead, so I won’t get into that. However, there is still the fact that albums are not nearly as popular today as they were years ago. It is quite sad because, as my explanations have shown, there is some great work that has been released over the years that shows how music can be appreciated without need for a “next track” or “shuffle songs” button. There has been no Sgt. Pepper or London Calling of our generation. Instead, we get Sean Kingston and Lady GaGa shoved down our throats until we think that music is meant for nothing more than providing a basis for grinding a significant other at a dance. Oh, and don’t get me started on the Disney crew. The fact is, look at the top albums being sold right now. There are occasional glimmers of hope (yeah! Dave Matthews is back…Kings of Leon!...Eminem?) but for the most part, it is not pretty. How long is the soundtrack for Twilight going to sit at the top of the charts? Until the next one, of course, when that will take its spot. And people consider Rihanna music? Well, I can lament about being a murderer with a non-existent melody too, so get me a record deal. My point is, we need a generation-defining magnum opus to arrive, especially in this time of economic recession. I have loved U2 and Metallica’s latest efforts, but they pale in comparison when the 80’s got Joshua Tree and Master of Puppets. I could just listen to old music all my life (and I would probably be content) but I want there to be something that will get YOU to listen to all this stuff. Something big and fresh, new and exciting, creative and innovative AND commercially successful so this new maelstrom of ingenuity will not cease. Only then can we have a run like any other previous decade did. Remember, Born To Run, Led Zeppelin IV, Who’s Next, Exile on Main Street and Electric Ladyland all came out in the same decade. What do we have to show for ourselves? And if you have no idea what any of those albums are, go look them up and get cracking. I will be waiting here, tweaking my time machine. Woodstock is approaching its 40th year anniversary very soon.

Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince Review

Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince:
Directed by David Yates
Released in 2009

There is always room for growth in a series that continues to flourish and mature after each outing. With Order of the Phoenix director David Yates at the helm and screenwriter Steve Kloves back after a short hiatus (he was the true source of the last film's weakness), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a fantastic film that is brimming with comedy, drama, love, and loss. As of this moment, I would count it as the best Harry Potter film yet, a quite significant word of praise considering how great each installment has been to this point.

Opening with a shot of Dumbledore and Harry surrounded by reporters during the aftermath of the previous movie's ending and with a high-pitch, barely audible scream of Bellatrix Lestrange, I couldn't have imagined a better way to start this film. It suggested a more confident, risky approach at film-making and it sets the movie off at a perfect tone. Yates and Kloves have hit a stride in their work and now are perfectly complementing each other.

One immediate, noticeable key to this film's success is its seamless transitions between the Muggle and Wizard world. A bright spot of my other favorite Potter film (Prisoner of Azkaban), the incorporation of the "other" world into their own makes the storytelling that much more believable, as well as display some truly spectacular special effects. A scene of the Death Eaters flying through various landmarks of London and causing havoc along the way is truly eye-opening. The cinematography remains extremely strong throughout and the general lack of much color and glamor suggests this newer, even more mature tone.

Of course, not everything in Hogwarts is dark and tragic; J.K. Rowling knows when to have fun. Romance is a new aspect of the teen's lives that is a huge focus for many scenes. Ron is feeling growing feelings for the always faithful Hermione, feelings that are tantamount or even more so. However, the horny, obsessive Lavender Brown gets in the way and steals Ron from his true partner, causing a feud between the two. Meanwhile, Harry starts to feel love for another person that should be deemed taboo to him, Ron's sister, Ginny. What follows is a typical teen love story that is made the more interesting by the actors' talents and the best part is that this is just one aspect of the film, not its leading cynosure.
The acting also continues to impress, unsurprisingly. Daniel Radcliffe still remains the Harry Potter, even if his character may be overshadowed by the other, more interesting supporting characters. That is no slight to the leading man, of course. It just shows how rich of a world Rowling created and the breadth of talent and detail her books and the films hold. Rupert Grint is given a more comical outlook this time, usually providing the comic relief when the going gets tough. A particular scene with a overly strong love potion was hilarious to say the least, and even after a close encounter with death, Ron always has a lighthearted one-liner to deliver. Emma Watson returns as a more mature actress with looks to match the talent. Hermione has always been great, but the scenes involving her jealousy with Ron and the conflicting feelings she has show her peak so far, a benchmark that will surely be surpassed in the next film. After a while you wonder why Ron is stupid enough to look over the prettiest girl in the school but the end of the film can only foretell positive feelings for the future.

Many other characters continue to remain strong, such as Evanna Lynch's perfect rendition of Luna Lovegood as well as Tom Felton's haunting Draco Malfoy. Draco is given a heightened focus in this installment and his task assigned by Voldemort really defines who he has become. In addition, the Weasley family remains strong, even after a loss that was not in the book midway through the movie. Seasoned readers (such as myself) have been surprised. Hagrid, by Robbie Coltrane, returns all too briefly, but it is just a sign that the kids don't have much time to hang out with the big, lovable half-giant anymore. They need to grow up. Furthermore, Alan Rickman's Severus Snape remains wordlessly perfect, embodying the best character of the series with almost little noticeable effort. His work in the last film will be legendary if he continues along this path and with Rowling's source material. I have faith that he will not disappoint, a perfectly reasonable assumption for one of the greatest living actors at the moment.

Two characters are given the spotlight even more than most aforementioned ones in this installment. Dumbledore, played by Michael Gambon in a way that surpasses the late Richard Harris's standards (no disrespect to that excellent actor however), is an amazing character in every sense of the word. His vast knowledge and magical prowess have always made him a fascinating character with a rich history. Here, in one of his final acts, he once again leads Harry on this path to vanquish, once and for all, the dark lord, Lord Voldemort. Gambon brings so much charisma and energy to the role that the images of Rowling's descriptions and his acting go hand-in-hand. The fate of his character provides for a truly beautiful scene at the end.

The other character is none other than Professor Horace Slughorn, played by Jim Broadbent. Jim is a seasoned British actor and has won an Academy Award in the past, but out of every movie I have seen him act in so far, this is by far his best role yet. Slughorn's persona is improved upon with Broadbent, a compliment considering how much detail Rowling put into it herself. He provides many moments of hilarity, probably to hide his ashamed past. His role with Tom Riddle in years past haunts him years later; Harry has a task to see through the smoke screen and extract this vital info. However, Broadbent's character is not this dark in the long run. He loves to throw parties and cherish his prized students, hoping to gain fame or fortune from being a part of their progression. It may seem despicable but Broadbent makes Slughorn such a charming, somewhat hapless character that you can't help but root for him all along the way.

As mentioned earlier, the special effects are one of the showcases of the film, but thankfully not the film's main trait like the last one. Dumbledore's battle with the Inferni is epic to say the least, and the Death Eater assault on the Burrow is quite frightening. Even the Quidditch match is exciting!! An establishment in the series I usually am quite passive about, Quidditch is given a new outlook with its seamless special effects and concise editing. The visual effects department shone again with this installment but thankfully it is just a complement to every other bright, shining aspect this film has to offer.

In the end, Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince may as well be the best film in the series yet. Forget about any number or rating assigned to this; I believe it is the best movie of the summer. There are a few qualms that can be had such as the fact that nothing essential to the plot occurs until the very end, but this is petty carping that tarnishes an otherwise pristine crown.
The soul of this film is character development, and it succeeds in that area strongly. If you are a fan of the series, you will love it. If not, you will be entranced and possibly hooked to J.K. Rowling's magical world, maybe enough to read the excellent books. For the first, real time, the film matches the artistic merit of its counterpart.

Final Verdict:
4.5 Stars out of 5

Inglourious Basterds Review

Inglourious Basterds:
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Released in 2009

Quentin Tarantino makes great movies. It is a simple fact. There is no denying the draw and appeal of classics such as Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs, or perhaps the mad violence that made the Kill Bill series an action classic. It just so happens that Inglourious Basterds is another great film by Tarantino. So good, in fact, it ranks up there with his best, easily. After leaving the theater, I was overwhelmed with love for this movie. It is definitely my favorite movie of the summer and will be hard to top for the rest of the year.

The film starts out with a scene that strongly parallels the opener to The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, Tarantino's professed favorite movie. Hans Landa, played by a impossibly good Christoph Waltz, is a Nazi assigned with the task of rounding up the Jews in France, or just exterminating them. He meets with a French farmer,
Perrier LaPadite (in an excellent, too short appearance by Denis Menochet) to ask him if he is hiding any Jewish people in his house. The conversation is innocent enough; he compliments LaPadite of his beautiful daughters and requests a drink, milk in this case. They engage in small talk for a few minutes and the scene documents every moment. The suspense is present throughout as Landa uses his menacing wit to coax information out of the farmer. It eventually draws to a thunderous, frightening close as Landa gets his way. This opening scene is almost identical in a sense to The Good, The Bad and the Ugly when The Bad confronts a farmer, pestering him for information. Drawing from one of the greatest movies of all time is certainly a fine thing to do (Tarantino borrowed elements from the film before such as the Mexican Standoff which makes an appearance in this film as well). This scene starts the movie off well and gives the Jewish escapee, Shoshanna Dreyfus, a reason for vengeance.

Brad Pitt and his crew are given a introduction as "The Basterds" next, a group of Jewish-Americans with one mission only: "Killin' Nazis." According to Aldo Raine (Pitt), the "business is boomin'" and the whole German army is starting to fear this ragtag group of violent figures. Pitt is excellent in his Nazi-hating, Southern American role and is always provides a laugh throughout the movie. Aldo's gang

also includes "The Bear Jew," played by a insane yet amusing Eli Roth, Hugo Stiglitz, a Nazi killing machine who Til Schweiger fulfills the role for, and Smithson Utivich, played by BJ Novak, or "Ryan" from The Office. The whole crew is given a comical view, despite their horrible war crimes, and each member is given a distinct, interesting personality.

There is also a separate agenda for Shoshanna, the Jewish girl whose family was terrorized early on by Landa. Her role is occupied by another relative unknown to American cinema, Melanie Laurent. She acts with cold grace, turning down the advances made on her by the handsome, nagging hero soldier, Frederick Zoller, played by Daniel Bruhl. She owns a cinema in Paris, and Zoller, trying to flatter her, wants to premiere the movie based off his accomplishments at her venue. This quickly sets up a situation where she can get back at the scum that murdered her family and her vengeful character really steals the show in many of her scenes.

Meanwhile, there is a separate plan to take down the Third Reich by the Basterds themselves, with an almost unrecognizable Mike Myers as the courier. A bunch of other great roles are shown throughout, including a British film critic turned spy played by Michael Fassbender and a large part played by Diane Kruger as Bridget von Hammersmark, a famous actress turned spy for the Allies. Everyone here adds a ton of personality to their characters and, as a result, the world feels fresh and alive. There has not been such a stellar lineup of actors, known and unknown, in awhile.

As many Quentin Tarantino movies can boast to, Inglourious Basterds has style. Pure, smooth style. Starting with the words "Once upon a time in Nazi-occupied France," the film does not take itself seriously and, thus, can have a lot of fun with its setting. The props and settings are all historically accurate but the presentation of the movie is anything but. When introducing Hugo Stiglitz, a burst of rock guitar rings with huge, screen-filling, yellow font of his name. A cool narration by Samuel L. Jackson ensues with a flashback, and the action returns to the scene as if nothing happened. Only Tarantino can pull off something like that. In addition, the soundtrack is stellar as well, mixing Ennio Morricone-style epics with 70s funk and David Bowie. The music is so far from the setting that each time it plays, you can't help but laugh at the some of the ridiculousness at hand. Regardless, the soundtrack still managed to fit perfectly with the action, giving the movie its own identity.

Much praise has already been given to Christoph Waltz for his impeccable portrayal of mirth mixed with malice, but I must add to it. Every scene of his is his own, and his blend of evil and humor is unlike anything I have seen before. When he finds out crucial information about Operation Kino (the plan to kill high-ranking Nazi officials), he shouts "That's a bingo!!" in a way that will make anyone laugh and cringe simultaneously. His "chat" with Shoshanna at a Nazi party is suspenseful and nerve-wracking, even when he has nothing much to say at all. He will surely receive a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his performance and he deserves to win it. The psychotic villain genre has been played by many great actors recently, such as Heath Ledger and Jackie Earle-Haley, and now Christoph Waltz can deservedly sit among them. He draws attention from every audience member and won't let go until his character is completely absent from the screen. In summary, he is fantastic.

The violence in this film has also gained some publicity but it is no more than a typical 21st century Tarantino film. There are several scenes of scalping and beatings but they are usually not given a serious tone, but instead a comical one. Shootouts are brief but intense; a shootout in the bar must have had at least 20 shots go by in less than 10 seconds. The final, climactic scene is literally explosive and a pleasure to watch, even despite its grossly disfigured body parts. Seeing history being rewritten, Tarantino-style, had me laughing hard for its approximate three minute duration.

The writing overall is top-notch, with obviously Quentin at the helm. While some may say they drag on too long, I found about every line of dialogue interesting due to the talented actors, and usually suspense is drawn from even the most inane of occurrences such as a waiter serving whipped cream. Once again, Christoph Waltz steals every one of his scenes and takes Tarantino's work and elevates it farther than even the director predicted. The screenplay was reportedly ten years in the making, going through several rewrites, and, while there have certainly been better scripts written in shorter amounts of time, Tarantino did not put that time to waste because the effort and proofreading show. The film's steady, patient approach throughout also suggest one thing and one thing only: Quentin Tarantino is the man and he knows it. He does not need anyone to ask him to cut with zooming in on someone pouring milk because it HAS to be there, at least in his mind. At a solid two and a half hours long, Inglourious Basterds takes its time but still manages to make all of it interesting, even when conversations approach the twenty minute mark or more. Only a man like Quentin can pull that off.

In the end, Inglourious Basterds is a fantastic film. Some may end up not liking it because of its length, gratuity or blend of different genres but they probably don't like Tarantino's style in the first place. This movie will be remembered by me and many others down the road as a mad work of art. The film's final words are, said by Pitt's Aldo Raine, "I think this just might be my masterpiece" as he stares at a swastika-scarred scalp he created. We all know that it is truly Tarantino behind the camera saying that, and he truly is right.

Final Verdict: 5 Stars out of 5