Unknown

You would think it a general rule of thumb not to steal from Liam Neeson, whether it be his daughter or his identity—he will find you and he will kill you.  Europe ain’t getting the message, because Neeson is hunting down its baddies again.

He plays Dr. Martin Harris en route to a biotechnology conference with his wife Liz (January Jones).  After arriving in Berlin, he and his wife take a taxi to their hotel and an important briefcase is left behind.  Martin realizes he’s forgotten it upon arriving at the hotel and decides to grab another cab and head back to retrieve it without so much as a word to his wife.  Bad choice, Doc.  A major car wreck sends Harris’ cab flying into a river and leaving him with a serious head injury.  He wakes up four days later in a hospital without anyone looking for him.  He hurriedly returns to the hotel to reunite with his wife, but there’s a problem: she doesn’t recognize him.  No one knows him.  In fact, there is another man with his wife who claims to be ‘Dr. Martin Harris.’  Is the Doc crazy?  Only the woman who drove his cab (Diane Kruger) and saved his life may be able to help him as he races against his own sanity (and a horde of assassins) to prove his identity.

Here is the short review for those who want a summation before I delve into spoilers: Unknown is a good movie that turns sour—a smart concept and an engaging thriller that takes a turn for Stupidville and never recovers.  Neeson is a commanding lead regurgitating his role from Taken, and the action sequences and mystery thrills deliver most of the time, but none of it helps the dopey turns of the plot.  Readers planning to see this film SHOULD NOT READ ANY FURTHER.

Here’s a film that demands its twists and conclusion to be discussed and examined—not because they’re good, but because they are not good.  If Taken didn’t contain enough similarities to The Bourne Identity, then Unknown makes sure both films are represented in full.  Liam Neeson’s character spends a lot of time chasing loose ends.  After his accident, he has no formal identification, photos, or a cell phone that proves he is himself.  A screenwriter can only conjure up a handful of scenarios to explain the situation.  And in hindering the plot, the screenwriters become desperate to reveal an orchestrated assassination attempt at the middle of everything.  You see, Neeson is an assassin with a severe case of amnesia and when undergoing his head trauma, he wakes from his coma having taken on the identity of his cover ‘Dr. Martin Harris.’  He actually believes he is this fictional person.  The trauma also transforms his personality.  He has now become a warm-blooded humanitarian as opposed to the cold-blooded killer he once was.  His agency sent in a replacement assassin to take over for him, and instead of swiftly killing ‘Harris,’ they try to poison him, capture him, and even go so far as to explain to him his obscure condition.  If that isn’t enough, Neeson’s character returns to the scene at the film’s climax to admit he is an assassin who planted a bomb that could take out an important political figure and he decides to lay waste to his former team members.  Oh, and then he escapes the disaster and takes on a new identity.  I was hoping they would show his face on every news program in the country.  Alas, not to be.

Further developments make the film’s conclusion even more laughable, but I’ll stop here.  Unknown is worth a redbox rental and might as well be a follow-up to Taken, even if it’s not as good.  The big reveal simply makes the plot too large of a grab-bag of holes that can not be explained away in any logical sense.  But, hey, I could watch Neeson, the latest unlikely action star (in his mid-50s!), in this type of role 100 times over before I tired of it.  Take that as you will.

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Devil

Five people with curious backgrounds are trapped in a skyscraper elevator.  One of them may be the devil.  Can any of them get out alive?  Mourning Det. Bowden (Chris Messina) arrives on the scene to try and rescue the victims trapped in a predicament that quickly evolves into a homicide case as the supernatural enacts its vengeance on guilty souls.

Devil unfortunately was met with a dismal box-office reception in theaters.  Could this be attributed to the reputation of Producer M. Night Shyamalan (who also receives a story credit) whose career continues to dive?  Many were duped by the marketing into thinking the Shamster directed this, and that may have impacted the film’s potential and credibility.  The actual director, John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine) actually delivers a swift and engaging 80-minute horror film that consistently provides great character drama, classic whodunit mystery, all enveloped in a slick supernatural package.

I have minor criticisms involving how some of that supernatural ‘knowledge’ gets played out through a security guard character watching the murderous madness unfold.  It feels very Shyamalan-esque to have the devil’s playtime story spoon-fed to the audience through a character who knows everything about the situation, especially when it would be much wiser to simply leave that explanation out entirely.  The audience is smart enough to know the devil can be up to no good.

Luckily that complaint is small in comparison to what this overlooked and underrated horror gem has to offer.  Ignore what you think you might know about the film.  It’s a doozy of a little shocker and a very entertaining supernatural thriller from beginning to end—the best film Shyamalan never directed.

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (Book and Movie)

So it has come to pass. Twenty years after an “idea simply fell into” author J.K. Rowling’s head, we are nearing the completion of a franchise development truly without precedent. Not only did Rowling manage to write an extremely rare heptilogy of novels, and make every one engaging enough to keep readers begging for more, but Warner Brothers Studios is now nearing completion of a truly unique achievement: an actual octilogy of multi-hundred-million dollar films, consistently written and cast over ten years. This achievement deserves mention, even if it’s ultimately just a testament to mindless consumerism. With so many major characters in the epic tale, many of them juveniles, keeping the entire cast together for eight movies must have been a managerial and legal nightmare, to say nothing of churning the movies out fast enough to (almost) keep up with the aging actors. Add to that the level of special effects the story requires and the problems always posed by child actors, and it’s truly amazing any of these films turned out decent.

And I would have to say, that’s just what they are: decent. Nothing more, nothing less. None of them are bad by any means, but it’s impossible for me to watch one without thinking about how much more powerful the book was. The books, unfettered by the logistical problems mentioned above, and free to be as long as they needed, took us to places no movie ever could. Two of the most powerful scenes from Book VII – when Ron destroys the locket, and when Herminoe attacks him afterward – have been reread many times by me, drinking in every word and feeling the raw emotion of the characters. Both of these scenes are pretty flat in the movie. In all honesty, though, I can’t read the more recent books without longing for the early books.

The tone of the stories has certainly changed along the way from Sorceror’s Stone to Deathly Hallows. Check out this excerpt from Stone, chapter 8:

There were a hundred and forty two staircases at Hogwarts: wide, sweeping ones; narrow rickety ones; some that led somewhere different on a Friday; some with vanishing steps halfway up that you had to remember to jump. Then there were doors that wouldn’t open unless you asked politely, or tickled them in exactly the right place, and doors that weren’t really doors at all, but solid walls just pretending. It was also very hard to remember where anything was because it all seemed to move around a lot. The people in the portraits kept going to visit each other, and Harry was sure the coats of armor could walk.

Now listen to Hallows, chapter 1:

“Do you recognize our guest, Severus?” asked Voldemort. Snape raised his eyes to the upside-down face. All of the Death Eaters were looking up at the captive now, as though they had been given permission to show curiosity. As she revolved to face the firelight, the woman said in a cracked and terrified voice, Severus! Help me!”

“Ah, yes,” said Snape as the prisoner turned slowly away again. “For those of you who do not know,” said Voldemort, “We are joined here tonight by Charity Burbage who, until recently, taught at Hogwarts.”  There were small noises of comprehension around the table. A broad, hunched woman with pointed teeth cackled. “Yes, Professor Burbage taught the children of witches and wizards all about Muggles … how they are not so different from us …”

“Severus … please … please …”

Nobody laughed this time. There was no mistaking the anger and contempt in Voldemort’s voice. For the third time, Charity revolved to face Snape. Tears were pouring from her eyes into her hair. Snape looked back at her, quite impassive, as she turned slowly away from him again.

Avada Kedavra.”

The flash of green light illuminated every corner of the room. Charity fell, with a resounding crash, onto the table below, which trembled and creaked. Several Death Eaters leapt back in their chairs. Draco fell out of his onto the floor. “Dinner, Nagini,” said Voldemort softly, and the great snake swayed and slithered from his shoulders onto the polished wood.

We all love stories about more exciting worlds hidden in our own. As we all know, the premise of Harry Potter is that there is a civilization of wizards and witches living in hiding somewhere within our own world. There are enough of them and they have enough power and resources to have their own towns, traditions and unique modes of transportation. Of course, if you’re buying this, you’ll probably buy that there are mutant turtles practicing ninjitsu in the sewer. Why haven’t any of the zillion satellites orbiting the earth photographed Hogwarts? How could an airborne event the size of the Quiditch World Cup go unnoticed by Muggles? If wizards are so powerful, why do they need to hide? The story occasionally posits flimsy explanations for this, but of course, we all know, the real answer is WHO FRICKIN’ CARES? Harry Potter gives us the chance to escape our world completely and enter one of dragons, adventure and the moral clarity that’s hard to find in real life.

Some more questions about Harry’s world: if Parseltounge is such a rare gift, why can any human apparently talk to Aragog the Spider in Chamber of Secrets? Why is Hogwarts full of ghosts, while Harry’s parents and other’s killed by Voldemort are truly gone?  (This one must have hit Rowling about halfway through the series, because she starts ignoring the ghosts as much as possible about then.) Things like this weren’t a problem when we laughed with 11-year-old Harry on magical school grounds, but as Rowling made the books more and more serious and world-changing, we were forced to question them more and more. One of the most irritating features of the movies is that they increasingly portray Harry against a backdrop of skyscrapers. Harry Potter was at his best when we could join him in a closed universe, nothing like our own, and forget our troubles amid the innocent fun of quiddich and wizard’s chess. Frankly, the subject matter of Harry Potter just isn’t worthy of epic battles and mature romance.

Having said all this, I must confess that I still genuinely enjoyed the later books, and genuinely enjoyed Deathly Hallows, Part 1. Splitting this story in half enables the film to at least come closer to the depth and richness of the book. I’m eager to see Part 2. If you’re a Potter fan, you should check this one out. Just do me one favor. Don’t deprive yourself by only watching the movies. PLEASE read the books.

The Book:

The Movie:

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The Lovely Bones

Visual excess abounds for Peter Jackson, whose imagination runs wild with the imagery provided by the text of Alice Sebold’s 2002 novel.  Surprisingly, Jackson has less of a human element present in his crack at  ‘The Lovely Bones’ than he did in his spectacularly bloated rendition of ‘King Kong’ four years ago.  With so much lush opportunity to capitalize on an emotional resonance of his earthlings, Jackson instead seems far more eager to establish his flavor for special effects provided by the story’s setting.

Brilliant young actress Saorise Ronan (Oscar-nominee for ‘Atonement’) plays Susie Salmon (like the fish), a fourteen year-old suburban middle-schooler, well-behaved, adventurous, with a thrill for photography and a longing for her first kiss with the dreamy English-accented Ray (Reece Ritchie).  Susie narrated the events of the film from beyond the grave, always keeping her audience ahead of the game.  She informs us that she was murdered on Dec. 6, 1973.  One afternoon on her way home from school, creepy neighbor George Harvey (Stanley Tucci) stops her in a field and lures her into an underground ‘playhouse’ he tells her he constructed for the neighborhood children.  Horror follows as Susie never finds her way out, at least not in physical form.  Her spirit goes to the ‘in-between’ where she waits until her murder is solved.  Mark Wahlberg plays her determined father Jack.  Rachel Weisz plays her emotional-wreck mother, Abigail.  And Susan Sarandon plays her hard-drinking, chain-smoking grandmother.

The tagline on the poster stated: “The story of a life and everything that came after.”  While in some ways, that’s true, “The Lovely Bones” seems less interested in the effects of Susie’s death on her family.  I never once felt as though Peter Jackson meant to explore the family’s emotional devastation.  Instead, much of our time is spent through these other-world visualizations with ‘Hitchiker’s Guide to Galaxy’ style imagery that Susie occupies mostly on her own.  Here and there, another younger girl shows up named Holly (Nikki SooHoo) who advises Susie to keep moving forward toward Heaven.  Since the audience fully knows of the details concerning the murder of Susie, and her killer’s identity, two hours are spent watching the police and the Salmon family overlook Harvey’s involvement, even though he sits next door.  Frustratingly, Jackson focuses a lot on Susie’s lone explorations, as he cuts and pastes gorgeous desktop wallpapers together to create his lavishly haunting vision of afterlife.  Instead of dealing with the Salmon parents’ emotional devastation, he uses their breakdowns as a backdrop for landmark special effects sequences that play pretty for sure, but they also never allow us access to real people occupying Jackson’s movie.  He spends so much of his efforts creating a surreal visual experience, that his protagonists become one-dimensional and without an inlet for the audience.  Where Jackson could’ve shifted focus and made Jack and Abigail dual lead characters whose relationship slowly faces demise as a result of Jack’s obsession over the murder case, the movie is constantly distracted, where only marginal suspense can be generated.  Since Susie tells us everything we need to know before it occurs, there’s really no surprise left in store.  At the very least, Jackson could have allowed us to get caught up in Jack’s investigation efforts and findings.  Instead, he goes back and forth with sub-characters that only seem to hinder and confuse the storyline, as well as skew the reality of what happens onscreen.

Most of what confuses is a supernatural element that never becomes clear.  There’s a character who seems to have the ability to contact/see the dead walking among the living.  She witnesses Susie’s spirit leaving Earth, and senses her presence later on toward the end of the film.  There are also moments where Susie seems to have access to her father, instances where he tries to reach out and touch her, as Susie watches him in her Purgatory-esque  existence.  She even seems to be able to intervene in terms of her father’s emotion–sort of an E.T. like connection where they can feel each other’s pain.  This idea seems to give way to improper character motivations and realizations.  Eventually Wahlberg’s character suspects Harvey, but for no apparent reason, other than his image in a photograph.  Soon enough, he’s trying to smash in Harvey’s door and declaring him the killer.  Sure, the audience knows he is, but for Jack to have this sudden realization, it really makes little sense.

Stanley Tucci, unrecognizable from his standard supporting affairs in films like ‘Julie & Julia,’ really has all the meat this script has to offer.  Weisz, Wahlberg, and Sarandon literally disappear in this movie and their struggles go overlooked.  Instead, the serial killer of Harvey manages to steal all the thunder.  When Tucci makes his way to the forefront, the movie has an undeniably unsettling quality.  Perhaps that has to do with Jackson’s way of lingering on an up-close shot of Tucci’s mug or him tapping his fingers ever-so eloquently.  Tucci ends up stealing the movie with a haunting performance.  Of course it is easier to steal a movie as a memorable villain, but Tucci never has to compete with anyone onscreen.  His presence dominates any acting on display, whether it be Oscar-nominee Wahlberg, or winners Weisz and Sarandon.  Ronan manages to put on a strong performance, but once she exits Earth, her character loses almost all depth.  That leaves ‘The Lovely Bones’ to rely on Harvey and his potential capture.  Luckily “Bones” has Tucci to the play the character, because he manages to place that weight on your chest early on that the movie never lifts.

Other than impressive special effects sequences and a memorable performance from Stanley Tucci, Director Peter Jackson has a movie that is so obtuse that I don’t even know how to classify it.  If James Cameron is to be chastised for inventing a picture based on his obsessive visual excess, then Jackson should face a similar fate of criticism.  To Cameron’s credit, he never intended on placing his focus on genuine human characters.  Jackson did.  While part of his misfire may have to do with the source material, “The Lovely Bones” nevertheless misses its opportunity to illuminate a family torn apart by murder.  Even though part of me wants to give this a marginal recommendation due to its haunting and unsettling presence, I am slightly forced to move in the other direction.  Jackson has delivered another overlong, bloated movie (that I didn’t love as much as ‘King Kong’) that is a bit anti-climactic and confusing as to what its intentions really are.  I don’t know what to take away from ‘The Lovely Bones.’  There is only little resolve for the family characters, and not much invested in them anyway.  If I was meant to be captivated by Susie’s journey beyond the grave, then I’m left unengaged.  Jackson’s version of Heaven, while a culmination of raw technology efforts, feels desolate and lonely. I can’t say the movie didn’t impact me–it sure startled me, and stirred up emotions, but its protagonists did not, leaving a gaping emptiness all the special effects in the world can’t fill.

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Shutter Island

The Paramount logo comes up.  The score booms and forewarns us of impending doom from the get-go.  The promotional art tells us most of what we need to know: Some one is missing. The additional details include the time period: 1954, and the fact that two U.S. Marshals have been sent to investigate the disappearance.  That missing someone is Rachel Solando, a mental patient of the Aschcliffe Ward on the bedrock-barricaded Shutter Island.

Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio reteam for a fourth collaboration–adapting Dennis Lehane’s psychological horror novel “Shutter Island” into a feature-length film.  DiCaprio plays one of the cops: Teddy Daniels, while Mark Ruffalo tags along as his newly-assigned partner, Chuck Aule.  The duo must tread through an increasingly gloomy mystery surrounding Mrs. Solando’s disappearance.  Somehow she managed to escape her room, locked from the outside, get past the nurses and other guards, and work her way over and down the island’s cliff-side, all without wearing any shoes.  While it appears if she had waited 35 years or so, John McClane could’ve given her a few words of wisdom, but no matter, Aule and Daniels have to make sense of this disappearance with limited help from those in charge on the island.  The cops are given restricted access and dead-ends to everything they need in their investigation.  Daniels, our lead character, seems to have his own issues–from his nightmares of WWII Germany, to hallucinations of his murdered wife (Michelle Williams).  It seems Daniels took the case because of Laeddis (Elias Koteas), the man who murdered his wife, who happens to be institutionalized on the island.  Not only that, but Daniels has theories on what actually happens in this facility–secret government experimentation on patients.  The winds and rain increase.  Dreariness consumes the island, and the two investigators find themselves trapped.  Soon enough, Daniels feels he’s becoming a target and is warned by another patient (Jackie Earl Haley) that he’ll never escape the island.

I can toss and turn over what I think about “Shutter Island,” but at the end of the day–Mr. Scorsese and novelist Dennis Lehane succeed–their movie got me thinking, and very much so. That’s a testament to movies these days.  This nose-to-the-grindstone thriller captures sensible and thoughtful horror at its most pronounced.  While the master-filmmaker Scorsese throws in a few cheap-tricks, he does so with such looseness, that it all feels fresh, making richness out of elements that get thrown away in a teen slasher flick.  The movie isn’t exactly short on gore or disturbing visuals, or even heinous figures leaping out of the darkness.  What good ol’ Marty adds to the mix is a tightening claustrophobia, an endless trap of isolation, and cross-trekking mystery.

DiCaprio holds this all together quite well.  He has a multi-layered performance that deserves to be closely examined.  He remains somewhat distant throughout the movie.  Only through small doses of information and nightmarish visions do we slowly learn more of his emotionally-shattered history.  Add in reliable performances from Mark Ruffalo as a potentially untrustworthy partner officer, and two living legends: Ben Kingsley and Max von Sydow as menacing doctors overseeing the marshals’ investigation.

Technically, the movie is about perfect…absorbing, atmospheric, shocking, and alluring despite many moments during the film that feel unpolished, overlooked, and even clumsy.  Leave that to Martin Scorsese and his long-time editor Thelma Shoonmaker to use to their advantage.  “Shutter Island” has been mapped out from beginning to end, with every detail serving a particular intent.  In fact, the film’s only drawback is that many movies have done much the same thing.  If anyone out there like me felt while watching the theatrical trailer for this movie, that something very apparent was being spoiled, don’t worry–you’re not alone.  In some ways, ‘Shutter Island’ follows a path we know all too well, and even then, it still has its surprises.  While not one of the best Scorsese films by any means, Martin and his ever-blossoming Leo create a haunting experience hinging on a ‘twist’ where the intended reveal is up to the viewer.  I look forward to a second viewing of ‘Shutter Island’ that may potentially further my admiration of this unmistakably involving thriller from a man who knows his movies.

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Edge of Darkness

Mel Gibson, long absent from headlining films as an actor, returns with the gritty, generically-titled revenge-thriller “Edge of Darkness.”  The movie pits him as a Boston Police Detective, Tom Craven, investigating the murder of his daughter.  Shortly after picking up his 22-year-old from the airport to stay with him, she is gunned down on the front porch and dies in his arms.  With her death appearing to be a botched attempt on his own life, Craven begins an investigation that will lead him into his daughter’s secret life of political conspiracy, you know… the kind where everything is classified and no one can be trusted, including a shadowy operative ‘fixer’ (Ray Winstone) who follows Tom around and never fully discloses whether he is there to help, or lead Tom into a deadly trap.

Skillfully directed by Martin Campbell (Casino Royale, The Mask of Zorro) from a script adapted by William Monohan (Oscar-winner for The Departed), “Edge of Darkness” is a goofy plot full of holes and question marks with a conspiracy behind it that isn’t as well constructed as it think it is.  Oddly enough, that doesn’t much matter.  Gibson, even after an eight-year absence, is still a presence to be reckoned with, despite having a little less hair and a few more lines in his face.  His credibility remains (forget the personal life garbage), and the man is back.  His restraint in the film makes his mission more intense, and even when everything is resolved and other character motivations and plot advances seem shaky, Gibson remains that solid force that holds this thing together.  The direction of Campbell and the darkness of the script from Monohan also helps immensely.  Let me make this clear… “Edge of Darkness” is not “Taken.” There’s nothing Jason Bourne or cartoonish about the action here.  Campbell’s film is slow-moving, procedural, and much more mystery than shoot-em-up.  That actually helps establish a real-world context, and makes some intense moments all the more surprising and effective.  For those wanting bang-bang and impressive stunt-work, look elsewhere.  That’s not on the agenda, although there is action and big-budget action moments, the movie is all about atmosphere, and not for those with a short attention span.

After all is said and done, “Edge of Darkness” crams a lot of hooey plot devices and questionable conclusions in the way of a gritty thriller, from its lack of the father-daughter relationship being well-established, to its head-scratching conspiracy.  That’s okay.  Gibson, Monohan, and Campbell deliver an exciting film, and I expected no less.  Audiences should be pleased with Gibson’s return–the man is in fine form, and who better to deliver the vengeful goods than our very own mid-50s Martin Riggs?  I’ve never seen a Gibson film I didn’t enjoy, and no I haven’t seen them all, but I’ve seen probably about 2/3 of his line-up.  “Edge of Darkness” adds to the list.  It’s a tough, violent R-rated thriller that plays very well while you watch it.

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Surrogates

Surrogates posterBruce Willis has spent a lot of his career kicking in doors, but I bet this is the first time he’s had to do it just to get his wife out of bed. Surrogates is a disturbing story of man kind’s dependence on technology and susceptibility to control by fear.  In the not-too-distant future, mid-Sunday A.D., 98% of all humans live vicariously through life-like robots. They lie in chairs that look like the offspring of a La-Z-Boy and a virtual reality entertainment center (“stem chairs”), and rarely leave their homes. Their work, and all other interaction, is done by their “surrogates,” androids connected to their brain stems.

You may, of course, choose your own “surry.” You can be whatever gender, race, body type, or hair color strikes your fancy. It’s sort of a universal Stepford Wives. You see what your surry sees, and feel what it feels (except the pain, of course).

In the future, all murder scenes will look like this.

In the future, all murder scenes will look like this.

Needless to say, the casting crew had their work cut out for them on this one, even by Hollywood standards, searching for enough perfect-faced, perfect-bodied people to fill out the future streets full of sculpted robots. These, of course, are to be contrasted with the recluses controlling them from home, who have really let themselves go. Willis plays Tom Greer (and his surrogate), an FBI agent whose wife refuses to even set foot outside her bedroom “in the flesh.”

Greer plugs into a stem chair.

Greer plugs into a stem chair.

Greer has bigger problems, however, because early in the movie, what starts as a routine vandalism investigation (below), soon appears to be a double homicide – the first two homicides in the western world in several years. It seems that someone has developed a weapon capable of sending a signal through a surry that not only destroys the surry, but liquefies the brain of the user.

Robocop meets CSI. Got enough crackers for all that cheese?

Robocop meets CSI. Got enough crackers for all that cheese?

The initial theory is that this is subversive action by “Dreddies,” members of a colony where surrogates are outlawed. The Dreddies follow the leadership of  “The Prophet” (Ving Rhames, below), claim sovereignty over a small patch of ground, and spurn all advanced technology, using horses and buggies, and the like.

Ving Rhames, trying way too hard.

Ving Rhames, trying way too hard.

In chasing his man, Greer narrowly survives, and has his surry destroyed. The FBI takes him off the case and refuses to issue him a new one. Now, for the first time in years, he must leave his home and track the killer (you didn’t really think he’d obey his captain and stay off the case?) with only his own weak flesh at his command. His investigation takes him first to the Dreddie colony. But is The Prophet what he seems? (I’ll give you a hint: I brought it up.)

Would you tell this it wasn't your wife? Some guys are just never happy.

Would you tell this it wasn't your wife? Some guys are just never happy.

Willis could have earned a lot of kudos for this film if he’d allowed the makeup department to make his human self ugly. It appears however, that his agent fought not to lower his image one bit. Everyone else is hideous, giving a realistic portrayal of people who haven’t shaved, showered or brushed their teeth for several days. Willis’ acting is passable. His most memorable scene is probably one where he begs his wife, through the eyes of her surry, (Rosamund Pike) to let him see her again (above). The best acting in the movie is probably done by Rhada Mitchell, as the blond, buxom surry of Greer’s homely (work) partner, Peters. I say this because this surry is taken over by several different people in the course of the movie, so she’s always switching characters. She also gets a scene where she runs at incredible speed through the street, doing flips over cars, and so forth. Which raises a question that the movie never resolves: if the streets are now populated with super-strong, super-fast robots, why are there still so many cars?

It’s hard to say more without spoiling a decent flick. I’ll just say if you like sci-fi, or crime stories, Surrogates is worth a look. Not a classic, but exciting, involving and thought-provoking.

Rating:

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Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

harry-potter-and-the-half-blood-prince-poster-1Another success of a film, which is to be expected at this point, ‘Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince’ gets to take a look back at the history of Tom Riddle before he became the dark wizard known as Voldemort. Dumbledor requests Harry Potter’s help in seeking information out of an old professor of Riddle’s named Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) who may withhold a secret about Tom Riddle’s past that could prove very useful. Meanwhile, Harry suspects fellow classmate Malfoy to have ties with Voldemort’s dark forces.

David Yates again returns to direct, and will also helm parts One and Two of ‘The Deathly Hallows’ due out November 2010 and July 2011, respectively.  This sixth installment is all build-up for the final film wisely split into two parts by the studio and filmmakers.  ‘The Half Blood Prince’ sees many major events take place that I will not reveal. It’s a continually interesting story, looking back at the young Tom Riddle’s turn for the worse, only briefly touched on in ‘The Chamber of Secrets’ which many may not remember all that well. Or who am I kidding? Potter fanatics (the bulk of the audience) will know everything, but to the average moviegoer having seen each film only once–they may need a refresher that Tom Riddle is in fact Lord Voldemort.  There are many more aspects and developments in this film that I won’t discuss, partly because I refuse to ruin anything and partly because there’s just a lot going on here. Teen romances and ‘Cosmo-girl’ yap also bleed all over this puppy with all the major characters, but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it also adds for quite  a bit of humor this time out. It’s refreshing to see some regular teenager behavior after all the dark and doom fixated over ‘Order of the Phoenix.’ There’s still that darkness intact in this film, but the script allows for more scattered light to shine through. ‘The Half Blood Prince’ is a bonafide blockbuster film, lighter on the action maybe, but another involving installment that ends with a cliffhanger to expected gripe. No worries, the story continues a year and a half from now. This is great entertainment (a rare treat this summer), and on par with my praise for the previous film.

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Rating: 4.7/5 (3 votes cast)
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