Children of Men (2006)

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Here is an old review of mine that still applies to the way I feel about the movie today after having just re-watched it.

According to this movie, the onset of a bleak global future will begin in the next two years (Note: this review was written in 2007). In Children of Men, the last human baby was born in 2009 and the movie takes place in the year 2027, with the world’s youngest person just having been killed. It’s a drab futuristic world, one where a person might question their own continued existence as part of a daily routine. As it stands, there’s seemingly no hope for the continued survival of the human race. Or at least there wasn’t until somehow one girl ends the infertility string by getting knocked up with the world’s first human baby in almost 20 years.

Alfonso Cuarón and a team of writers adapted P.D. James’ novel for the screen, with Cuarón handling the directing duties as well. The cast is comprised of screen veterans and solid character actors, assembled to tell this tragic tale of a potential future humans may one day have to face. The story is decent and intriguing, if not filled with holes and mystery. Yet, Children of Men still manages to be a great film, despite any shortcomings related to storytelling or imagination.

The strength of the film (besides having the awesome Clive Owen onscreen for almost the entire running time) is almost entirely a technical thing. There are a few extended scenes in the film that were shot in one take, immersing the audience into the story, making you feel as if you’re part of this whole tragic occurrence. And these aren’t just five minute scenes of two talking heads that I’m talking about here. These are scenes that are so complicated that they had to invent camera equipment to film them in the best possible ways. Filmmaking like that is near impossible to turn away from, keeping you wrapped up in an almost unbelievable story.

Another particular stylistic choice that I really enjoyed with the film was the version of the future that they used. This wasn’t Hill Valley 2015 with amazing and eye-popping changes. There wasn’t the feeling that you were in a futuristic world. Sure the cars looked a little different, but they weren’t flying or anything. Everyone still heads to the coffee shop early in the morning for their daily pick-me-up and there aren’t any sass-talking robotic maids. Other than the whole infertility thing, that’s a future I could almost get behind. Actually, that would also take a load of my mind too. Hmm.

The only gripes I have with the movie is that it doesn’t feel like it gets going anywhere until Julianne Moore’s character has a life-altering experience, and then the movie becomes a high tension thriller. Some of it is relatively predictable, and the storyline definitely seems to take a back seat to show off some of the more dazzling camerawork. All in all, it’s not the happiest of movies to experience, but there’s truly some amazing things to witness in the film.

4 / 5

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Slither (2006)

Directed by: James Gunn (do check out his super uh… Super movie, and hold on to your horses, will be directing Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy coming up in 2014)

Written by: also Gunn, paying tribute to the Troma films that he oh so loves

Starring: Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, Gregg Henry, Michael Rooker, Jenna Fischer

What it’s about: a meteorite carrying worm/slug-like parasites crashes nearby a small town, leading to the townspeople being taken over by the hive mind-type dealie

B-Movie Alternate Title: The Slithering Dead

Movie Mash Up: Invasion of the Body Snatchers + what I imagine Slugs is about, maybe add some of The Blob into that, mix with the comedic sensibilities of The Evil Dead Trilogy

What I liked: dude Nathan Fillion I mean COME ON, he’s so great!  The writing (or ad-libbing) is sharp, it’s a genuinely creepifying premise, Michael Rooker is spectacularly greasy, stellar scene stealing by Gregg Henry, and Tania Saulnier’s brief nudity.  Also, EW GROSS SLUGS, well done, GROSS.

What I disliked: hard to rag on the special effects since it is a b-movie at heart, but they’re not terribly great at some points.  Again with the b-movie stereotype, the acting isn’t all around great, but the performances fit the type of movie, which isn’t usually a genre of movie I like, but HELL I will watch anything Nathan Fillion appears in.

Would I recommend it to everyone?: No, it’s a very specific type of horror movie, and some audiences can’t really figure out that a horror movie can be both funny and scary.

Rating: 4 / 5

United 93 (2006)

I had fully intended to write a new review for this movie, but my old one still covers exactly how I feel about the movie.  I didn’t schedule this post for today, September 11th, to be disrespectful or snarky or whatever it is we on the Internet do to be funny or edgy.  I scheduled it for today as a tribute to those regular people who rose up that day, and yeah, I’m just some guy on the Internet, so whatever.  United 93 is still one of the hardest movies to watch, to the point where I was choking back tears watching it again.  Here is my review:

Paul Greengrass directs a veritable sea of no-name actors as he tells the mostly-factual tale of what may have happened on that horrible September 11, now 11 years ago. While the title of the film clearly indicates that the main focus of the film will be on United Airlines flight 93, there are plenty of heart-wrenching moments that take place on the ground at air traffic control towers across the United States. I’m sure we all have our own personal memories of that tragic day, and sitting down to watch a movie that is a recap of the events is one of the hardest things to emotionally steel yourself for. You know exactly what’s going to happen, and for that reason it’s one of the most captivating movies I’ve ever watched.

The creative team behind the scenes of the movie did their homework, talking to the families of those passengers on United 93 to best capture each respective person, to pay tribute to their memories. Unlike the Oliver Stone / Nic Cage World Trade Center movie (which I have seen, and is not a great movie at all), United 93 focuses on real people in an insane situation, and how they all banded together for that one shining moment to overthrow a group of people that were threatening the very symbols of American life. Those United 93 passengers fought together, even with the knowledge that they were most likely going to die shortly, and the emotional weight these scenes carry is expertly captured by Greengrass.

The only question I have is mostly of the musing out loud variety. Would this movie – technically sound but bereft of any famous faces or egos or flashy special effects – be as captivating and engaging as it is if it were just an original story idea? If 9/11 had never happened, would a film exactly like this be as stirring as it is? It’s impossible to say for sure, and whether or not you think of that as an important factor in reviewing the movie, well that’s up to you. I will hold this film up for people like Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay, just to show them that you don’t need to insert a tortured romance angle or a dramatically billowing American flag into an American film to make it strike an emotional chord with people. It’s a technically sound but potentially emotionally disturbing film, but that’s just because for some people the subject matter may still be too raw in their hearts, even now 11 years later.

5 / 5

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

I wrote this awhile back for another site, but here it is now with a few notes and improvements.

Just when you think that the world can’t become worse than the capitalistic cesspool of consumerism it’s become, that’s when it happens. When you finally don’t know where to turn, what to do, the world still finds a way to surprise you, to give you that tiny ray of yes, sunshine. When you think you’ve finally reached your breaking point, that you’re just going to break down into anguished sobs, you get glassy-eyed by the simplistic beauty of a wonderful movie. Am I being a tad bit overdramatic in the impact that Little Miss Sunshine had on me? Perhaps, but working retail at this time of year (or being currently unemployed) will have you clutching at any piece of wonderful.

Little Miss Sunshine was probably the best reviewed movie of 2006, and there’s absolutely nothing I can think of to say that hasn’t been written already. It’s a wonderfully touching exploration of a family that on the surface seems deeply dysfunctional but at the heart is just like yours and mine. I’d love nothing more than to sit down with my family and watch this movie, but they’d hate it because they have terrible taste in movies.

Written by Michael Arndt and directed by the husband and wife team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, Sunshine starts by introducing the cast in a fairly unflinchingly open and honest fashion. Olive (Abigail Breslin) is a precocious little butterball of a child, Richard (Greg Kinnear) is a failing self-help seminar creator, Sheryl (Toni Collette) is Richard’s harried wife, Dwayne (Paul Dano) seems to be nothing more than a sulking emo kid, Grandpa (Alan Arkin) is a heroin sniffing loudmouth, and Frank (Steve Carell)… well Frank’s in the hospital because he just failed at killing himself. This family takes to the road in an effort to get Olive to the Little Miss Sunshine Pagent in Redondo Beach, California.

As is usually expected of a road trip movie, the scenery and filming of the movie is gorgeous, capturing desert vistas and shockingly blue skies under (over?) concrete freeways in such a fashion that you don’t want to turn your eyes away for a second. The score is wonderful, building throughout the introductions of all the characters and hitting all the right notes at all the right times. Then there’s the cast. Wow. If this were a Disney movie, you’d probably have been driven mad by the desire to punch Olive in the face, but thankfully Dayton and Faris reign in the cute and let Breslin just be real. Kinnear plays a convincing asshole and still brings you around to feel for his character later on. Alan Arkin, Toni Collette and Paul Dano all deliver wonderful performances, but for the most part it’s the Steve Carell and Abigail Breslin Show. Carell is so understated in his performance that if it weren’t for little nuances of his that I picked up on while watching “The Office”, I’d say there’s no way that man could ever play an ass like Michael Scott.

The acting is tremendous but not overblown, the storyline engaging and fun, and the entire cast deserve award nominations for their work here (it was nominated for four Oscars, winning two). Not to mention the great choices the directors made while making the movie and the execution of the whole thing. It’s a touching movie, one that made me feel something again at a time where I am feeling super bleak about my future.

5 / 5

The Departed (2006)

Here’s something I wrote in the Long Ago about The Departed, and after re-watching it, it is still how I feel.

With five Oscar nominations heading into tomorrow night’s Academy Awards ceremony, The Departed certainly has developed the reputation of an excellent movie. I was somewhat leery about watching it, worried that it would be another in a long line of Best Picture nominees that were clearly well-made, well-acted movies but were only borderline entertaining. Add in that it was a Martin Scorsese-directed film and I was even more worried that I wouldn’t like it since I’m not the biggest fan of Scorsese’s most popular movies. Thankfully all that worrying was for naught as Scorsese has finally made a movie that is an entertaining – albeit derivative – movie.

Actually, saying that’s derivative is pretty redundant as The Departed is a remake of Infernal Affairs, a Japanese movie released in 2002. Unlike the recent Americanization of Japanese movies (The Ring, The Grudge) it has nothing to do with creepy off-putting children scaring the bejezus out of you. Departed just has Jack Nicholson doing his best Tony Montana-descent into madness performance, with a stellar supporting cast grounding the movie in the wonderful cinematic environment of Boston.

It’s the tale of two cops, with Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) infilitrating the Boston police force on behalf of crime boss Frank Costello (Nicholson) and the other, Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) going the other way and immersing himself into Costello’s gang. The story takes place over a few years, but thankfully it doesn’t feel like your typical epic Scorsese movie, time is actually heavily compressed in this movie. Sullivan’s on the inside helping Costello keep a half-step ahead of the Boston cops, while Costigan sacrifices his identity for the Special Investigations department, headed up by the fatherly Olvier Queenan (Martin Sheen) and the foul-mouthed Dignam (Mark Wahlberg).

It’s an intriguing story made all the better by the excellent performances of the entire cast. I’ve never been a Mark Wahlberg fan, but I’d definitely be casting my vote for him to win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar this year and those are words that it kills me to type. The most enjoyable performance for me personally was Alec Baldwin, probably his best small part performance since Glengarry Glen Ross. I still have no idea how Matt Damon wasn’t nominated for his role, other than maybe DiCaprio’s performance split the vote but DiCaprio was nominated for his part in Blood Diamond so it beats the hell out of me.

The only two problems I had with the movie are spoilerish in nature, but definitely made the movie feel cartoony with one of the major characters semi-goofy – but heart-wrenching – death as well as the last shot of the movie. Those two sections definitely lend credence to Scorsese personally referring to The Departed as his “B-movie”, but it’s still one of the worthier Best Picture-nominated movies in recent years. It’s entertaining, delivers an engaging story with electric performances and it’s one of those movies that you could see yourself re-watching over and over again.

4.5 / 5

The Prestige (2006)

I wrote this review up a few years back, and the movie still holds up the exact same way for me, so here’s that review with slight edits.

When The Prestige first started playing, I was immediately worried that Christopher Nolan was going back to the Memento well, starting a movie with the ending and so forth. My fears were put to rest soon enough, as I grew familiar with the non-linear story structure and immersed myself into the magical world Nolan crafted for this film. Essentially the movie is all about the obsession two magicians have with besting the other in their chosen field. Former partners Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) head off in different directions after breaking away from magician ringleader Cutter (Michael Caine). Angier is a natural showman and while his tricks aren’t of the cutting edge variety, he’s a far better entertainer than Borden is at first. Borden’s got a few tricks up his sleeve though, one of which completely mystifies Angier to the point of stealing it and adapting it for his own show.

That’s all the backstory you get. The rest is shrouded in mystery for now… unless you’ve seen the movie of course. Let’s get it out of the way now, yes, it’s Batman vs. Wolverine. Christian Bale brings his trademark A game to the part of Borden, giving him a shady feel to the point where you wonder just how far he’ll go to triumph over Angier. It makes you wonder exactly what you were witness to in that first big scene, the real ending or a variation on it. Jackman is fairly decent as the relatively upper crust magician, though at no point in the movie are you sure whom you should be rooting for.

As you may have read elsewhere, the twist is somewhat predictable but in a fairly good way. It’s not a cheat by any means, there were hints dropped throughout the movie and it bears mentioning that this movie demands a second viewing.  There are wonderful performances throughout, the story is fantastic, the supporting cast is excellent and David Bowie is tremendous in his small part. The movie looks gorgeous, capturing the perfect moods for every scene.  The one thing I didn’t like was the constant one-up-manship that reached a ridiculous level late in the movie. Yeah, I get that they’re both smart and cunning, but apparently not smart enough to allow the same trick to be played on each other.

4.5 / 5

Tilt: The Battle to Save Pinball (2006)

Like some kind of masochistic freak, I’m a big fan of pinball games.  On my PS3, I’ve got the Zen Pinball and Marvel Pinball tables downloaded to my hard drive, and I owned the Williams Pinball Collection game as well.  However, I’m not nearly as good as I wish I could be at them, leading to many hours of frustration and accusations of cheating at the game, not to mention how cheap they’re set up sometimes I MEAN REALLY COME ON!  I also don’t go to arcades anymore (do they still exist?) and so my only avenue to play pinball games is in the simulated form and while bacon bits might taste good, they’re no substitution for the real thing.

Anyways, apparently real pinball cabinets aren’t being mass produced as much as they were back in their heyday, and this documentary (also known as The Future of Pinball at IMDb) explores how this tragic event (#firstworldproblems) came to pass.  Written and directed by Greg Maletic, Tilt goes through the history of pinball machines from, well, the very beginnings in the late 1800s and so on through the various iterations and industry-wide changes that took place until the relative present day.

It’s well told, though a bit dry.  The pinball developers interviewed are informative enough, and there’s plenty of archival footage to enjoy as well.  I liked swearing at the Space Shuttle pinball table they showed, because FUCK THAT GAME.  Anyways, it’s enjoyable, though clocking in at just under an hour you definitely want more.

3.5 / 5