Category Archives: 2.5 stars

Shutter Island

Shutter Island (2010): United States – directed by Martin Scorcese

Rated R by the MPAA – contains some violence, disturbing images and content, male nudity, language

Shutter Island might be considered Martin Scorcese’s foray into horror/psychological thriller territory, with elements of everything from Rosemary’s Baby, Jacob’s Ladder, the “Silent Hill” games, and H.P. Lovecraft.  To add further influences, the novel on which the film is based is written by Dennis Lehane, the author of the Gone Baby Gone and Mystic River novels.  Finally, the screenwriter is Laeta Kalogridis, whose myriad projects include executive producing on Avatar [review here], writing Pathfinder and Alexander, and also drafting the screenplay for Night Watch, one of Russia’s highest grossing films.

One might think that such a bizarre mix of influences could lead to a disjointed picture, but that’s not the case; Shutter Island manages to stay focused on its tale of supposed madness.  Without this excuse, however, it is even harder to admit that the film just isn’t very good.  There are amazing elements, to be sure, but it is also rather bloated and laden with a variety of technical issues.  To discuss the plot and some of the film’s flaws, there may be some spoilers ahead.

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A Nightmare on Elm Street

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984): United States – directed by Wes Craven

Rated R by the MPAA – contains violence, massive amounts of blood, sexual content, some nudity, language

A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of the most successful horror franchises in history, starting during the slasher film’s heyday in the mid-1980’s and continuing through to the 2010 re-imagining of the original film.  It is understandable why Freddy Krueger has lasted for so many years; the concept of an unstoppable killer that strikes in dreams, when victims are most vulnerable, is compelling and horrifying.  It is unfortunate that even the first film in the series is not particularly great, though still a fair deal better than Friday the 13th’s initial entry.

One of the best aspects of A Nightmare on Elm Street is the simple story and setup.   There are a minimum of characters, and this is helpful even though it limits the number of deaths Freddy can cause.   But each of the three primary deaths is brutal, and two are particularly gruesome and horrific.

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Little Manhattan

Little Manhattan (2005): United States – directed by Mark Levin

Rated PG by the MPAA – contains some vomiting, mild language, a little punching, a tiny bit of kissing

Little Manhattan is primarily a standard romantic comedy, but with protagonists a good ten years younger than normal.  Some of it is standard, some is obvious and forced, some is sweet, but the primary message is strong enough that I am wont to forget the film’s many flaws.

Young Gabe (Josh Hutcherson) is ten, nearly eleven.  To him, girls are icky; they’ve been known to cause cooties since his days of kindergarten.  One of the opening scenes has enough projectile vomiting (caused by being touched by a girl, spreading like a zombie virus) to nearly rival Stand By Me.  Gabe has a happy life, generally.  He trains to be a placekicker with his dad, Adam (Bradley Whitford).  He has fun with school chums playing basketball.  The only downside is that his parents are in the middle of a divorce, made messier by New York’s divorce laws.  The couple can’t leave their apartment until the divorce is final, meaning that Adam has been sleeping on the couch for a year and a half.  Making the situation even more awkward, Gabe’s mom, Leslie (Cynthia Nixon), is dating a new man.

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Letters to Juliet

Letters to Juliet (2010): United States – directed by Gary Winick

Rated PG by the MPAA – contains some mild language

Women, for a long time, had to suffer heartily in the movies.  They were expected to be housewives and mates (and potential mates).  In 1940 Rosalind Russell was a powerful reporter in His Girl Friday [review here], and then Katherine Hepburn took the reins.  Nowadays women are required to work in films, and are usually empowered.  But so often they rotate between one of three professions: writer, journalist, or fashion industry worker.

Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is a writer, or at least wants to be one.  The film opens with a montage of her as a fact checker; she verifies information in other people’s articles before they run.  She works for The New Yorker and is very thorough.  Her boss (Oliver Platt, in a brief bookending cameo) wants her to stay on as a fact-checker, not wishing to give her the opportunity to expand into writing.

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Marty (1955): United States – directed by Delbert Mann

Not rated by the MPAA – contains derogatory terms for women, including “tomatoes,” “hatchets,” and “dogs”

Marty is often labeled among the least deserving Best Picture winners, and rightly so.  Ernest Borgnine’s acting is sufficient but somewhat overstated; Marlon Brando’s explosive method acting, seen earlier in the decade in films like On the Waterfront, rendered Borgnine’s attempts archaic and forced.  The melodramatic story moves slowly and ploddingly, making the belabored themes all the more difficult to swallow.

Despite its obvious flaws, Marty is not a bad film.  There are a number of sweet moments, most of them revolving around Marty’s character.  Marty (Borgnine) is a good-natured, chivalrous gentleman, the last unmarried child of Mrs. Pilleti (Esther MInciotti).  He is 34, works as a butcher, and is rather large and ugly.  He’d be the first to admit it; even his father was ugly.  He has trouble with the girls.  His friends keep using him to keep the “squirrels” they pick up happy.  They use him to score with their own tomatoes, the ones they continually attempt to pick up at the Stardust Ballroom.

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The Rise and Fall of Five Iron Frenzy

The Rise and Fall of Five Iron Frenzy (2010): United States – directed by Reese Roper

Not rated by the MPAA – contains silliness and some mild crude humor

I’ve been aware of Five Iron Frenzy since I started dating my wife.  By then it was too late for me to see them in concert, as they had broken up in 2003.  But their legend lived on, especially for those who refused to believe that ska was dead.  Since then, frontman Reese Roper has been compiling old home videos and concert footage in an attempt to put together a tribute DVD.

Roper stays primarily behind the camera and is credited as director and editor.  He appears in much of the historical footage of the band but primarily gives other members a chance to reminisce about the good times and bad times.  His voiceover narration, which starts out as hilariously over-dramatic, eventually ranges from effectively somber to typically self-deprecating.

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The Second Chance

The Second Chance (2006): United States – directed by Steve Taylor

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains some drug content, mature themes, and some mild language

It might be fairly obvious that The Second Chance is a Christian film.  There’s no denying that, though the religious content isn’t dramatically overt.  However, the film is also a not-so-bad drama, with some interesting characters.  The story involves some rich white people who have a fancy church in the suburbs.  Their pastor, Jeremiah Jenkins (J. Don Ferguson) has founded a church in the inner city, but is now lead pastor at a suburban mega-church.  The new pastor of the inner city church is Jake Sanders (Jeff Obafemi Carr).  Jake is black, grew up in the hood, and knows the streets.  Ethan Jenkins (Michael W. Smith), Jeremiah’s son, is the associate pastor of the mega-church, and he’s being groomed to take over when his father is ready to retire.

Ethan gets into trouble with the board when he ad libs a few lines one Sunday morning, deviating from their strict TV script for the services.  Ethan lets Jake say a few words about the donation the church is giving to the inner city church (called Second Chance), but this behavior crosses the line.  Jake is a bit of a loose canon, and after begging the rich folks to give their time to help out his church he tells the suburbanites to “keep their damn money.”  Ethan’s decision to give him the microphone convinces the board that he needs to spend some time away.  They send him to work at the inner city church.

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Bubble Boy

Bubble Boy (2001): United States – directed by Blair Hayes

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains bad language, crude sexual humor, fake violence

Bubble Boy begins as a fascinating study into a repressive upbringing, somewhat like the Australian feature Bad Boy Bubby [review here].  A mother attempts to protect her son from the evils of the world, but what havoc will such a decision wreak when the child discovers that there is more beyond the bubble?

Jake Gyllenhaal, just a couple years after making the slightly more serious October Sky [review here], goes nearly full retard as “some sort of bubble boy.”  His name is Jimmy, and we discover early that he was born with no immunities.  His protective Christian mother (“Pushing Daises'” Swoosie Kurtz) raises him in a germ-free sphere in their suburban California home, alongside a silent and downtrodden father (John Carroll Lynch).  She teaches him about the world, reading him fairy tales which always end in the hero leaving the bubble and dying.

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Tooth Fairy

Tooth Fairy (2010): United States – directed by Michael Lembeck

Rated PG by the MPAAn – contains some crudeness and slapstick comedy

Tooth Fairy sounds like your standard Disney movie: man is mean, gets turned into some sort of creature, then learns his lesson and is happy.  Except that Tooth Fairy is not a Disney movie, and the entire proceedings contain a certain charm that generally succeeds in shining through the fluff.

Dwayne Johnson plays Derek Thompson, a washed-up former pro hockey player.  Due to a shoulder injury from which he never recovered, Thompson spends his time with a minor league team, specializing in knocking out opponent’s teeth.  This has earned him the nickname “Tooth Fairy.”  As his coach points out at one point, he’s a side-show attraction for the hockey team, something to fill the seats.

His personal life is slightly better.  He’s dating Carly (Ashley Judd), a mother of two.  He finds it easier to bond with her daughter, Tess (Destiny Whitlock) than with her son Randy (Chase Ellison).  Unfortunately, one night during a poker game he steals Tess’s tooth money from under her pillow to gamble with, and when she wakes up and finds her tooth missing and no money left behind, he almost tells her the tooth fairy does not exist.

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Hard Revenge Milly: Bloody Battle

Hard Revenge Milly: Bloody Battle (2009): Japan – directed by Takanori Tsujimoto

Not rated by the MPAA – contains graphic violence and more CG blood, and some brief sexual material

Milly is back, in a slightly longer story than her previous outing, Hard Revenge Milly [review here].  This sequel is about twice as long as the first movie and still a wonderfully short feature, clocking in at just over 70 minutes.  The perfect length to tell a quick story, provide some action, and not dawdle on the way.

This second installment takes the opportunity to expound on the subjects and characters in the first movie.  There is a short recap at the beginning, for those who may not have seen Hard Revenge Milly.  It isn’t necessary to have seen the first to enjoy the second, but some of the plot points will be more easily understood.  This time around, more is learned about Milly and her strange cybernetic body as she attempts to protect herself from another roving band of killers.

Milly (played again by Miki Mizuno) is a loner, hiding out in abandoned warehouses in post-apocalyptic Japan.  She is a deadly killer now, and empty; her revenge against The Jack Brothers did not satisfy her, it only made her more hollow.

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