Category Archives: 3 pirate flags

The Town

The Town (2010): United States – directed by Ben Affleck

Rated R by the MPAA – contains language, violence, sexual content, very brief nudity, drug content

There has been a shortage of car chases in adult cinema recently; The Town intends to eradicate this problem.  But to sell the film short as nothing more than an action/crime caper would be a shame, because it will disappoint the audience looking only for chases and fail to reveal some of the deeper themes of the film.

Ben Affleck has done an admirable job reshaping his career.  From his start as a pretty boy to his role as Jennifer Lopez’s stripper pole in Gigli, Affleck certainly seemed deserving of his South Park nickname: Ben Assfleck.  But then he stepped behind the camera for Gone Baby Gone, proving that he had the filmmaking chops necessary to craft a dramatic, gritty film.  More importantly, he kept himself behind the camera, forcing critics to reevaluate his supposed ego.  With The Town he remains behind the camera, but has adequately improved his acting chops so his turn as a star isn’t disappointing.

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Easy A

Easy A (2010): United States – directed by Will Gluck

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains language, sexual content

Easy A has been compared to Mean Girls quite favorably, something the marketing squad at Screen Gems most likely does not mind.  After all, Mean Girls was smart and witty, and had a heart; rare ingredients for a teen comedy.  And while Easy A is not quite on the level of Mean Girls, it is often smart, sometimes witty, and eventually finds its heart.

The story is explained in the first few minutes as a modern day take on The Scarlet Letter.  Olive (Emma Stone) is narrating her story to a webcam, explaining how her life ended up as it is now.  Most of the film is spent exploring her story, the story of how Olive became the most infamous slut at Ojai North High School.

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Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (2010): United States/Australia – directed by Zach Snyder

Rated PG by the MPAA – contains violence, intense action

Many have wondered if Zach Snyder, helmer of 300, Watchmen, and the Dawn of the Dead remake, could successfully transfer his skills to a more family friendly genre.  Then initial trailers appeared, with images of owls flying in slow motion through rain (it helped knowing that the film would be in 3D), and folks were rightfully concerned.  This trepidation makes it all the more relieving that Snyder has successfully created a family friendly feature, albeit one that will appeal to more boys than girls.

The story, based on the line of books by Kathryn Lasky, is occasionally convoluted but rarely difficult to follow.  Soren (voice of Jim Sturgess) is a young barn owl, contentedly living at home with his little sister Eglantine (Adrienne DeFaria) and brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten).  He tells his sister grand tales of the legendary Guardians of Ga’Hoole, a mysterious group of owls that protect the weak and battle evil.  Kludd is less convinced that they exist, and his cynicism spills over into his sibling rivalry with Soren.  They are just beginning to learn to fly, but Kludd’s strength and over-exertion are too loud for barn owls.  Soren’s graceful gliding is more highly praised by their parents, and this is just the beginning of their Cain and Abel conflict.

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Restrepo (2010): United States – directed by Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger

Rated R by the MPAA – contains strong language, intense thematic material, real-life violence

Restrepo is a challenging film, a documentary that presents some tough situations and the people who must live through them.  It is difficult when the audience’s sympathy lies with the subjects and they act in ways that would be dishonorable under normal circumstances.  But this is war, and whatever must be done to win is acceptable, no?

Sebastian Junger (author of The Perfect Storm) managed to secure an embedded post, along with Tim Hetherington, in a US military platoon in one of the deadliest posts in the world: the Korengal valley in Afghanistan.  During the time there the platoon lost some soldiers and killed many more militants.  Captain Dan Kearney is the commander of the new forces, and is eager to erase past memories of American soldiers that the local civilians still harbor.  Going in he refused to believe that the place was as bad as he was told.  He was wrong.

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Despicable Me

Despicable Me (2010): United States – directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud

Rated PG by the MPAA – contains some cartoonish violence and mild rude humor

Despicable Me is a pleasant surprise, adequately following through on its humorous advertising campaign.  It is strange that the film feels so foreign, so un-American, and this, too, is a pleasant surprise.  The film was produced by Chris Meledandri, who produced the Ice Age movies.  But this film is a new endeavor by an upstart production company, Illumination.  It’s their first in what looks to be a long line of animated features.  I, for one, wouldn’t mind seeing more of their creativity.

The story is cute without being too original, though it is one of the first of the upcoming crop of super villain-focused films.  Gru (Steve Carell) is the despicable person of the title, and he is a villain of epic proportions.  Maybe not so epic, actually, as he confesses to his minions that they only stole the small Eiffel Tower from Las Vegas.  Gru lives in an evil-looking house in a pleasant suburb.  Beneath his gothic abode is a gigantic cavern where he houses his hundreds of minions, an evil scientist named Dr. Nefarious (Russell Brand), and all of his inventions.

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Cropsey (2009): United States – directed by Barbara Brancaccio and Joshua Zeman

Not rated by the MPAA – contains some language, disturbing content, discussions about violence

Cropsey is decidedly a documentary, and does not veer into the territory recently inhabited by The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity [review here].  It is all true, or at least the footage does not purport to be something it is not.  This is refreshing, and provides for a much more effective and affecting film.

The subject matter is interesting; is there a smattering of truth in the urban legends a child might hear while growing up?  Directors Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio, growing up on Staten Island, had heard stories of a sinister person who inhabited the grounds surrounding an abandoned mental institution.  If kids entered the woods they might be targets of this killer named Cropsey.

At one point in the mid 1980’s this became a reality, when a young girl named Jennifer Schweiger disappeared.  A massive effort was launched to find her or her body after police efforts proved fruitless.  It was then revealed that there had been other children who had gone missing.  Their cases just hadn’t been so publicized.

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Predators (2010): United States – directed by Nimród Antal

Rated R by the MPAA – contains violence, some gore, and language

One mustn’t expect a great deal going into a film titled Predators.  The name is a sign of its throwback cheesiness, a reminder of past 1980’s action films like its namesake, Predator.  The plot is even sillier than the title, and in a self-aware cheesy film this wouldn’t normally be a problem.  Predators, unfortunately, so relentlessly treats its silliness in such a serious manner that it occasionally crosses the line into dullness.

One might recall that in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1987 original there was a creature from a distant planet, one that pursued its victims with an intense zeal.  Its goal in life was merely to hunt, to kill creatures and take pleasure from the hunt and the kill.  In Predators the scenario is reversed: instead of a small band of humans on earth hunted by one predator, there is a small band of humans on a foreign planet hunted by a pack of predators.

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Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.

Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. (1999): United States – directed by Errol Morris

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains some disturbing subject matter and mature content

Errol Morris is one of the most revered documentarians of all time, and he proves why in Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. In the past Morris has taken a mundane story (Vernon, Florida [review here] for instance) and made it fascinating.  Or covered injustices or odd characters in films like The Thin Blue Line and Gates of HeavenMr. Death is slightly different, as he takes a polarizing character and presents him from a number of viewpoints.

The way Morris can sway audiences’ sympathy through the simple revelation of information is incredible.  If one is familiar with the story of Fred Leuchter, perhaps he or she might not be as affected by the film, but in Morris’ hands a newcomer will be twisted apart, torn to the core as the good guys and bad guys become fuzzier and more convoluted.

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All About Eve

All About Eve (1950): United States – directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Not rated by the MPAA – contains wittiness and extreme bitterness

It is quite remarkable how well All About Eve has withstood the pressures and passage of six decades.  It is all the more incredible given that it was nominated for fourteen Oscars and won six.  Neither before nor since has their been such a witty, biting attack on fame, stardom, and the theater.  The fact that the Academy looked so highly on the film makes its themes even more ironic and delicious.

The film is constructed of four strong central characters, and a bevy of supporting acts.  First is Margo (Bette Davis), an aging actress.  She is the queen of the stage, admired by everyone around her.  Her fears of soon becoming old and discarded are not assuaged by the sudden appearance of Eve (Anne Baxter), a young woman who idolizes and attempts to ape Margo’s every move and gesture.  Eve is initially helped by Karen (Celeste Holm).  Karen is a close friend of Margo, and her husband, Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe) is Margo’s leading playwright.  Lloyd’s role is slightly less substantial, leaving room for theater critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders) to claim the fourth key role.

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Fido (2006): Canada – directed by Andrew Currie

Rated R by the MPAA – contains violence, most of it zombie-related

Fido is a pleasant zombie film, one of the most peaceful ones in recent memory.  There is little frantic scurrying around to escape zombie teeth and no one freaks out when their first shot hits a zombie in the chest instead of the head.  This is because Fido exists in an alternate history, one where the zombie apocalypse has come and gone.  The humans have won, and zombies are now slaves.

The setting feels like mid-1950’s suburbia.  A visionary scientist has crafted a collar that allows zombies to exist and serve humans; their appetites dulled, they are still receptive to a small amount of corrective training.  This has led to the existence of a lower class, the zombies.  They are for sale, and the more affluent citizens sometimes have several of them in the house.  They serve as butlers, maids, “friends,” and crossing guards.

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