Ep. 115 – Solo: A Star Wars Story

May 29, 2018 by  
Filed under Podcast

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This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod travel to a galaxy far, far away to review Lord and Miller’s Ron Howard’s “Solo: A Star Wars Story.”

Click here to download the episode!

Solo: A Star Wars Story

May 22, 2018 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Adlen Eherenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke
Directed by: Ron Howard (“Apollo 13,” “A Beautiful Mind”)
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan (“The Empire Strikes Back,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark”) and Jonathan Kasdan (“In the Land of Women”)

As Disney and Lucasfilm turn the Star Wars IP into a “new movie every year” cash cow, the companies seem to be stuck in a regressive loop, constantly revisiting characters and concepts that strike an immediate note of familiarity. Maybe that’s why we keep getting the Death Star or Death Star stand-ins. “The Last Jedi” excluded, Star Wars has played it safe since its resurrection from the much-maligned prequel era, which has weirdly included crafting two more prequels: 2016’s “Rogue One” and now “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” The new film is an origin story of sorts for the charming, rascally smuggler made iconic by Harrison Ford, which, despite some fun moments and an interesting dose of fan service, proves to be entirely unnecessary.

Opening in the dingy underground of the planet Corellia, our hero Han (Alden Eherenreich) lives an “Oliver Twist”-ian lifestyle, owned by the Fagin-ish worm Lady Proxima, who Han betrays after he’s sent to steal some valuable hyperfuel known as coaxium. With his love interest Qi’ra (Emila Clarke), Han looks to escape his home planet and buy a ship for the two of them with the stolen coaxium. But when Qi’ra is captured at the spaceport, Han is forced to join the Imperial Army to escape, where he’s given the last name “Solo” in a rather meh-worthy joke. In a war zone three years later, Solo meets Beckett (Woody Harrelson) a smuggler who’s looking to boost some coaxium for gangster Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). With his newly-liberated Wookiee sidekick Chewbacca in tow, Han joins Beckett’s crew and begins his life as an outlaw.

Even as a famously troubled production—original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired and replaced with Ron Howard—“Solo” has a few things going for it, namely a grimy, lived-in palette with some inspired cinematography and Donald Glover’s Lando Calrissian. Glover brings his natural charisma and charm to the role made famous by Billy Dee Williams. Eherenreich, though, not so much. While his Han Solo isn’t as bad as you’ve feared, it also isn’t really that good, and it’s definitely missing the spark Ford brought to the character. There are some decent moments, like the first meeting of Chewbacca and Han, butted up against ideas that feel half-formed, like an early movie heist perpetrated with a crew clearly inspired by “Guardians of the Galaxy,” but who get sent off without so much as a moment to mourn when things go south. And you want fan service? You’ve got fan service, mostly in the form of a late movie cameo that might leave you scratching your head if you haven’t watched any of the canonical Star Wars cartoon series. Who, come to think of it, reminds me of this movie: two things, a prequel and an origin story, sewn together to make a whole thing that’s familiar, but not anywhere near new.

War for the Planet of the Apes

July 14, 2017 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn
Directed by: Matt Reeves (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”)
Written by: Matt Reeves (“Let Me In”) and Mark Bomback (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”)

Director Rupert Wyatt may have kicked off an adequate reboot to the “Planet of the Apes” franchise with 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and made audiences forget whatever the hell director Tim Burton did 10 years prior with his unfortunate “Apes” misfire, but filmmaker Matt Reeves has taken this re-imagining to a level we could not have predicted.

If 2014’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” wasn’t evidence enough that Reeves had created something exceptional, “War for the Planet of the Apes” will have you hoping the 41-year-old director/writer can somehow get his hands on every action film project for the foreseeable future. “War” is compelling, suspenseful, moving, funny and an all-around epic. It’s the type of blockbuster summer movie that transcends the idea of blockbuster summer movies.

Besides “War” having Reeves’ fingerprints all over it, it’s just as much actor Andy Serkis’ film as anyone behind the camera. Not that Serkis has to prove anything to anyone any longer as the go-to actor for all things motion-capture, but his lead character in this franchise, even more so in “War,” is stunning. From the beginning, Caesar has never been just an animated primate rendered together by graphic geniuses. In “War,” however, Caesar goes beyond his anthropomorphic qualities and shatters the notion that technology is the main reason Serkis’ performance is so powerful. Caesar is king and Serkis is the puppet master.

“War” transitions from a film about combat to revenge to one centered on a prison break in seamless fashion. Picking up a couple of years where “Dawn” left off, Caesar and his army of apes are in search of a safe haven to start anew without the threat of humans who are still hell-bent on destroying them for introducing the Simian flu, which killed off millions of people. Leading the charge again the apes is a man known as The Colonel (Woody Harrelson), who becomes the target of Caesar’s rage and sets Caesar on a course to seek vengeance.

With dark, atmospheric and ominous cinematography by Michael Seresin (“Angela’s Ashes”) and an incredible score by Oscar winner Micahel Giacchino, both of whom worked on “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” “War” without question is not only a visual pleasure, but also a complex and memorable end to an overall brilliant trilogy. If Reeves is up for it, this franchise is one of the few that has definitely not overstayed its welcome and should continue in full force.

Ep. 93 – Split, The Founder, and a Lost in London recap

January 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Podcast

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This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod review M. Night Shyamalan’s “Split” and the so-called “The Social Network with hamburgers” biopic “The Founder” starring Michael Keaton. They also recap Woody Harrelson’s live film “Lost in London” which was presented live across the country by Fathom Events.

[00:00-22:12] Intro/”Lost in London” recap

[22:12-36:19] “Split” review

[36:19-49:13] “The Founder” review

[49:13-59:32] Wrap up/tease
Click here to download the episode!

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

November 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Directed by: Francis Lawrence (“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” “I Am Legend”)
Written by: Peter Craig (“The Town”) and Danny Strong (“Lee Daniels’ The Butler”)

The economically-sound trend of splitting the final chapters of book-to-film franchises into two movies presents a unique—if not always positive—film-going experience. Like the penultimate films in “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” series before it, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” doesn’t really feel like a normal movie. It creates a sense of unease as you try in your head to look for typical story beats and plot markers that just aren’t there because, alas, this movie is meant to end with a sense of having been all about building to a climax that we won’t get to see for another year. It can all be a bit disorienting and insulting, but what are you going to do? Wait until both films have been released on DVD and Blu-ray so you can watch them back-to-back so that they make a cohesive whole? Good luck with that.

After her lightning-charged arrow destroyed the arena during the Quarter Quell in “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” District 12 tribute Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has become a symbol of rebellion in the oppressed post-apocalyptic state of Panem. After being rescued from the arena by Capitol turncoat Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, to whom the film is dedicated), Katniss is whisked away to the militarized District 13, a grim underground bunker of jumpsuits and cafeterias. Clearly suffering from PTSD and the separation from her would-be lover Peeta (Josh Hutcherson)—himself a prisoner of the Capitol and a propaganda tool—Katniss is called upon by President Coin (Julianne Moore) to become the Mockingjay, a symbol to unite the Districts in rebellion against the Capitol and the tyrannical President Snow (Donald Sutherland). With the help of Heavensbee, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Effie (Elizabeth Banks), Katniss will need to overcome her own suffering if the people of Panem have any hope of living free of Snow and the Capitol.

When you can look past the table-setting and sometimes lumpy, drawn-out storytelling, “Mockingjay – Part 1” ventures into some incredibly dark yet intriguing places for a film franchise that, at least on the surface, is aimed at teenagers. The body count is high and the politics of propaganda is a refreshing change from the typical “chosen one” storylines that usually inhabit these YA worlds. Katniss is not valued by Coin for her skills in the arena, but for the televised image she cultivated in the Game—not that anyone should ever doubt her when notching an exploding arrow, though. Scenes of Katniss working with filmmakers to put together rebellion-sowing video clips are the bright spots of the film, creating a much richer world than the movie’s goofy future-animals like mockingjays or tracker jackers ever could. The rebellion is coming. Too bad we have to wait another year for it.

Out of the Furnace

December 6, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck
Directed by: Scott Cooper (“Crazy Heart”)
Written by: Scott Cooper (“Crazy Heart”) and Brad Ingelsby (“The Dynamiter”)

For a film that boasts a principal cast of five previous Oscar nominees, as well as a recently lauded writer/director, “Out of the Furnace” struggles to put the pieces together and proves that, as cliché as it sounds, the whole really isn’t always greater than the sum of its parts.

“Out of the Furnace” focuses on two brothers living out in the economically-suffering U.S. Rust Belt. Russell (Christian Bale) is a hard-working steel mill worker who is focused on his relationship and taking care of his family. His brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) is a soldier who has spent time in Iraq and finds himself in a massive gambling debt. As Rodney looks to settle his debt through underground bare-knuckle fighting, he mysteriously disappears. With little help from the police, Russell sets out to take matters into his own hands.

The big draw of “Out of the Furnace” is its previously mentioned impressive cast of Bale and Affleck as well as Woody Harrelson, Willem Dafoe and Forest Whitaker. As the main focus of the film, the best of the cast is Bale. His performance is strong, most notably in his scenes with Affleck as well as a couple of scenes with actress Zoe Saldana who plays his girlfriend. While Harrelson’s performance in itself is quite good, his villainous character is written somewhat hokey and over the top.

Since the narrative jumps around so frequently, many of the other cast members don’t really get a chance to shine in their roles. In fact, the lack of a narrative focus is one of the reasons that “Out of the Furnace” fails from a storytelling perspective. Not only is the plot wafer thin, but there are parallel narratives and thematic elements that don’t seem to ever sync up or fully connect. There are also plot points that happen throughout the film that seem important, but prove to be relatively and frustratingly inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

Most of the first half of “Out of the Furnace” is spent waiting for the film to get going, which never truly happens. The film often feels stuck and by the end, incomplete. There are a few things to like: the cinematography is well done and there are a few scenes from world-class actors that are worth a watch. But as a complete work, “Out of the Furnace” lacks the finesse and construction of a well put together film.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

November 22, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson
Directed by: Francis Lawrence (“Water for Elephants”)
Written by: Simon Beaufoy (“127 Hours”) and Michael Arndt (“Little Miss Sunshine”)

Unless you’re an unbiased fan of the wildly popular adult-book series “The Hunger Games” written by Suzanne Collins, the sequel to the record-breaking 2012 original film won’t hold much emotional weight. Without a deeper investment in these characters, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” much like the latest “Thor” sequel, was only made for its most hardcore followers.

Exploring much loftier ideas than the first film, “Catching Fire” does give Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence (“Silver Linings Playbook”) a good enough reason to reprise a role she was born to play.  Lawrence, whose beauty never overshadows Katniss Everdeen’s heroic nature, once again stands apart from the movie script’s unoriginal ideas. The dystopian themes featured in this series might seem new to somebody who has never picked up a science fiction book written in at least the last century, but, unfortunately, “Catching Fire” doesn’t seem all that interested in breaking any new ground.

On what is called a “Victor’s Tour” (think of a TV reality-show tour for “American Idol” contestants), Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), are traveling from district to district being touted as the winners of the 74th annual Hunger Games. Unhappy with the way those games unfolded (the duo is pronounced co-champions only after they threatened to kill themselves with poison berries), President Snow (Donald Sutherland) sees their win as a threat to the way his government functions.  If someone like Katniss can break the rules, what’s to stop others from revolting against the system?

Putting an end to Katniss’ revolutionary way of thinking couldn’t come at a better time with the 75th annual Hunger Games (The Quarter Quell) about to begin. Established as an All-Star type of reality show, past winners of the Games, including Katniss and Peeta, are forced back into a new arena where they must once again fight to survive against other competitors. This time the to-the-death battle is headed by a new Head Gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), who shares in President Snow’s thoughts that Katniss is a menace to the status quo.

Much like the first movie, “Catching Fire” takes quite a while to get to the action most mainstream moviegoers not familiar with the books might be most interested in. For a second movie in a franchise like this, there still seems to be a lot of set-up left to do before the last two films are shot back to back in the next couple of years. Unfortunately, much of that set-up is filled with lazy dialogue and plenty of underwritten secondary character that don’t matter much in the big picture. It’s surprising since the screenplay is penned by Oscar winners Simon Beaufoy (“127 Hours”) and Michael Arndt (“Little Miss Sunshine”).

At this point, all that really matters is Katniss. A strong female character like her is rare in movies these days, and Lawrence does an impressive job at portraying her as someone we can all root for. In an age where the Disney princess culture reigns supreme among audiences, it’s nice to see that there’s a fictional character out there that girls (at least tweens) can stand behind. Sure, Katniss might get someone’s attention by shooting an arrow through their chest, but is that kind of PG-13 rated violence really any worse than Cinderella or Snow White or Sleeping Beauty or the Little Mermaid finding happiness only after they hook up with their Prince Charming? Just as long as Katniss stays a lot manlier than Peeta (and that damn Gale Hawthorne doesn’t get much screen time), a lot can be said about how “Catching Fire” and the rest of this series can pave the way for more of these roles to find a permanent place in Hollywood.

Seven Psychopaths

October 12, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken
Directed by: Martin McDonagh (“In Bruges”)
Written by: Martin McDonagh (“In Bruges”)

In a scene pulled straight from the Quentin Tarantino playbook, “Seven Psychopaths” opens with two assassins having an innocuous, and quite funny conversation about shooting people through the eyeball. It’s unique, quick-witted and sets the tone for the rest of the film. It’s also incredibly well-written, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the source. After writer and director Martin McDonagh made his mark as an accomplished playwright and wrote and directed his Academy Award-winning short film “Six Shooter,” McDonagh wrote and directed his first feature, 2008’s “In Bruges,” which won him critical acclaim and a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination. Though less successful than his first film, “Seven Psychopaths” still carries some of the traits that make McDonagh stand out as a true talent.

“Seven Psychopaths” follows Marty Faranan (Colin Farrell), a screenwriter struggling to pen his next film. Marty’s friend Billy Bickle, (Sam Rockwell) who desperately wants to help him write the script, works with his partner-in-crime Hans (Christopher Walken) to kidnap dogs for rewards. When Billy kidnaps a dog from angry gangster Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson), Charlie will stop at nothing to get it back, bringing Marty, Hans and Billy into his sights.

Though it’s marketing materials make it seem like there is a giant ensemble cast, the film truly belongs to Farrell, Rockwell, Walken and a bit of Harrelson. While Farrell is good as the straight-man, Rockwell and Walken steal the movie. The grossly underrated Rockwell shines as the unstable and violence-obsessed Billy, executing stupidity and brash personality perfectly. Once again, Rockwell proves to be incredibly versatile and truly shows his capability of carrying a film. Though he doesn’t do much else than play a variation of his eccentric self, Walken soaks up McDonagh’s material and fits right in with his counterparts to form a great chemistry between the trio.

If there’s one thing that holds “Seven Psychopaths” back, it’s the films narrative ADD. Since there is a screenplay within the film, McDonagh shows scenes that function as Marty’s would-be movie intertwined with the dog-napping situation that is currently happening. Nonetheless, McDonagh’s best material comes in the scenes of Marty’s potential film, none better than a brilliantly written scene about a revenge seeking Quaker. In line with the dark comedic tone that McDonagh masters, there are plenty of memorable moments of sheer excessive comic violence. In a particularly uproarious scene,  Billy pitches his idea for the film that is so gloriously over the top, and expertly performed by Rockwell.

Fans of “In Bruges,” shouldn’t expect the levels of rapid-fire, whip-smart brilliance that McDonagh’s earlier film provided. What can be expected, however, is a unique, unapologetic, filthy and darkly funny movie experience. While there are some problems with “Seven Psychopaths,” particularly with the occasionally wobbly narrative structure and a stronger first half, the film succeeds on McDonagh’s satirical and meta screenplay, which could possibly be a dark horse contender for another original screenplay nomination come Oscar time.

Rampart

April 8, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Woody Harrelson, Ned Beatty, Ben Foster
Directed by: Oren Moverman (“The Messenger”)
Written by: Oren Moverman (“The Messenger”) and James Ellroy (“Street Kings”)

As Helen (Brie Larson) unleashes a litany of loathsome characteristics about her father Officer Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson), it’s clear that her opinion is something that has been building up for a while. She tells him he’s a racist, a bigot, a sexist, a womanizer, a chauvinist, a misanthrope and homophobic. Brown’s reaction? A smirk, and a simple reply of, “How long did it take you to rehearse that?” Incredibly enough, all of those descriptors are accurate, as Harrelson handily takes on a challenging role in “Rampart,” an intense character study of a corrupt LAPD cop.

In the wake of the Rampart Scandal of police corruption in the LAPD seen in the late 90’s, “Rampart” follows veteran Officer Dave Brown through a series of scandals and destructive family issues. After an excessive beating of a man who crashes into his car is caught on tape, the corrupt cop finds himself the subject of an investigation. As things continue to get worse for hi, his already strained relationship with his family becomes worse and the future of his career comes into question as he refuses to tone down his violent and questionable policing methods.

Very early on in the film, it becomes clear that “Rampart” was intended to serve as a showcase for Harrelson’s acting, and he certainly delivers. It is a dynamic and committed performance that Harrelson attacks from the get-go by displaying violent tendencies and spewing racial slurs without thinking twice. Even further, Harrelson looks the part as he nails the cop demeanor perfectly and his emaciated facial features (Harrelson lost 30 pounds for the role) give the impression of a hardened and weathered officer. Harrelson is also able to show a wide emotional range in this film, especially as he becomes more tortured as the film progresses. While the rest of the supporting cast is filled with strong veteran actors, they merely float in and out of Harrelson’s world. The best of the supporting performances come from Robin Wright who plays love interest and attorney Linda Fentress and the previously mentioned Larson who plays his rebellious daughter.

Following up his critically acclaimed debut film, 2009’s “The Messenger,” director Oren Moverman returns with a series of perplexing decisions at the helm of “Rampart.” From beginning to end, there are a lot of technical aspects of the film that make it seem choppy and haphazardly put together. Many scenes end abruptly, cutting off randomly at unnatural stopping points in conversations. One scene in particular makes use of a slow, panoramic, and patchily pieced together series of shots of multiple people having a conversation that comes off far more distracting than stylish.

While the film is a very fascinating character study of a morally skewed cop, screenwriters Moverman and crime novelist James Ellroy (“LA Confidential”) tend to neglect the narrative angle of the screenplay. The events of the scandal that Brown finds himself embroiled in and his interactions with underdeveloped supporting characters often seem inconsequential and dull. As things escalate and spiral out of control for Officer Brown, it is the strength of Harrelson’s performance and not an investment in where the story is going that keeps “Rampart” engaging.

The Hunger Games

March 23, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

The Hunger Games
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson
Directed by: Gary Ross (“Sea Biscuit”)
Written by: Gary Ross (“Sea Biscuit”), Suzanne Collins (debut), Billy Ray (“State of Play”)

There are a few things inherently lacking in director/co-writer Gary Ross’ highly-anticipated film adaptation of “The Hunger Games” that should be puzzling to anyone who is familiar with the history of the sci-fi genre and even the more complex ideas behind dystopian literature and how it carries into the social context of today.

Thematically, the film, which is based on the popular young adult series by Suzanne Collins, doesn’t have a single original thought in its flimsy framework. It’s bothersome because young fans of the series won’t care how similar it is to films of the past. Audiences just want something to replace the hole that will soon be left by “The Twilight Saga.” It is fortunate “The Hunger Games” doesn’t stoop to a level like Stephenie Meyer, but it still makes it hard to appreciate Collins’ concepts when she does nothing to separate herself from the pack.

Set in the future, “The Hunger Games” takes about an hour of the first act to explain the mythology behind the title competition. Two kids or teenagers from 12 different districts are chosen through a lottery system to compete in an all-out fight to the death on national TV where only one of them will survive. Representing District 12 is Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Katniss enters the competition after her younger sister Primrose’s name is chosen and she volunteers to take her place.

Whisked off to the Capitol (a sort of Emerald City on acid), Katniss and Peeta are pampered like royalty and assigned a mentor, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), a former Hunger Games champion who is now a drunk, to teach them the ins and outs of a competition that will leave at least one of them dead.

Borrowing generously from the text of writers like Aldous Huxley (“Brave New World”), Shirley Jackson (“The Lottery”), and Richard Connell (“The Most Dangerous Game”), “The Hunger Games” will definitely attract its fan base who have been itching to see the film come to life on the big screen. While its easily-accessible plot and characters also might generate some new interest from others not familiar with the books, the movie has no real ambition. More importantly, it fails to build any type of emotional structure around its characters besides Katniss herself. As kids get picked off one by one in the battle royale (look it up, kids: Kinji Fukasaku’s 2000 film “Battle Royale”), it’s about as affecting as watching pawns get removed from a chess board.

Take away the fact that “The Hunger Games” is a 142-minute rehash, and we’re left with a perfectly-cast Lawrence in the lead role who makes up for a lot of the film’s problem areas. As Katniss, Lawrence, nominated for an Oscar for the fantastic 2010 drama “Winter’s Bone,” is a strong female protagonist that puts someone like the always-suffering Bella Swan of “The Twilight Saga” to shame. Lawrence is the reason to hope the inevitable sequels to this franchise can break away just a little more from Collins’ original text and at least give it a style that doesn’t feel so synthetic at times.

The Messenger

November 27, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, Samantha Morton
Directed by: Oren Moverman (debut)
Written by: Oren Moverman (“I’m Not There”) and Alessandro Camon (“The Bandit K.”)

While films about the war in Iraq or issues associated with these events have not done well at the box office over the last few years (see “Lions for Lambs,” “The Lucky Ones,” “The Kingdom,” “In the Valley of Elah”), there are still many compelling stories that need to be heard.

Like the intense film “The Hurt Locker” from earlier this year, which follows the stressful experiences of an Army bomb squad, the intimate drama “The Messenger” is another of those rare narratives that will not be featured on the evening news anytime soon. Instead of taking audiences to the frontlines like in “The Hurt Locker,” “The Messenger” focuses on the painstaking mission of the soldiers who must notify the families when a loved one dies in combat.

In “The Messenger,” Ben Foster (“3:10 to Yuma”) plays Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery, a soldier three months away from completing his military service when he is assigned to join Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) on his Casualty Notification team and deliver the worse possible news anyone could imagine getting.

As Tony teaches Will the ropes in his new position (some rules include never making physical contact with family members, only notifying the next of kin, and avoiding phrases like “passed away”), Will is overwhelmed by the responsibility he has undertaken and the lives he is changing with the few professionally-reported but often aloof words he has memorized from the Army’s authorized script.

It’s not a stretch for Will to operate this way since he is mostly introverted himself (his only relationship is with a childhood friend who is now engaged). But after going on a notification mission, he begins to open up to Olivia Pitterson (Samantha Morton), a widow he recently informed of her husband’s death. Despite strict orders from Tony not to get involved in her life, Will can’t help but to feel a connection with her established only through tragic circumstances.

While Morton and Harrelson are top-notch with their performances, it the less-seasoned Foster who is unforgettable in the first lead role of his career. The powerful scenes director/co-writer Oren Moverman (“I’m Not There”) has crafted along with writing partner Alessandro Camon (“The Bandit K.”) always keep Foster’s Will on the brink of an emotional breakdown. It’s fascinating to watch Will fight through the grief and heart-wrenching moments of his job and form the close bond with both Olivia and Tony while they, too, serach for a way to confront with their own agony.

“The Messenger” isn’t just another story about Iraq. It literally brings the harsh realities of war to your front door. It’s up to audiences to take that step and invite the message in. While it may be difficult to witness, it really is a film every American should see.

Zombieland

October 2, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone
Directed by: Ruben Fleischer (debut)
Written by: Rhett Reese (“Cruel Intentions 3”) and Paul Wernick (debut)
 
It’s all about survival of the fittest in the riotous new zom-com (zombie comedy) “Zombieland,” a surprisingly fresh crack at the subgenre by first-time director Ruben Fleischer. It’s also a farther step away from the type of movies director George A. Romero popularized in the late 60s. To put it simply: “Zombieland” isn’t your grandma’s zombie movie.
 
Zombie flicks first started evolving in 2003 when British director Edgar Wright and comedians Simon Pegg and Nick Frost made destroying a zombie’s brain a hilarious delight instead of a chore in the insanely clever “Shaun of the Dead.” Now, in “Zombieland,” Fleischer stylizes his own outrageous war against the undead and does it in a most amusing way.
 
Reminiscent of the book “The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead,” in which author Max Brooks gives tips about how to survive in a world flooded with flesh-eaters, “Zombieland” serves up its own thoughtful pointers. Here to guide the audience through the post-apocalyptic United States is Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), a delicate young loner who has managed to avoid becoming a zombie’s midday snack by following his own personal rules for survival.

On his way to Ohio to see if his parents are still alive, Columbus (no one uses their real names to avoid personal attachment) teams up with Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), an eccentric, Twinkie-craving cowboy who packs some serious heat and loves showing off his zombie-killing skills whenever he gets the chance.

Tallahassee gets to do a lot of point-blank-range shooting since that’s basically what “Zombieland” is all about. Without much of a plot, Fleisher, who comes from the music video industry, pays specific attention to the crazy ways zombies meet their demise. Sisters Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) and Wichita (Emma Stone) join the diverse group and set off on a road trip to a rumored zombie-free theme park. No one believes it’ll really be safe there, but what else are they going to do with their time?

As Tallahassee, Harrelson steals the show in the same manner as Robert Downey Jr. does in “Tropic Thunder.” Harrelson might not earn an Oscar nod like Downey did, but it’s definitely his funniest role since playing Roy Munson, a one-handed bowler in 1996’s Farrelly Brother comedy “Kingpin.” 

While it’s almost impossible to offer up anything new in zombie mythology (here the zombies emerge from a strain of mad cow disease), it’s the playful and mischievous dark humor that makes “Zombieland’ such a hoot.

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