The Best and Worst Movies of 2009

Russell and Mr. FredricksenWhile everybody else is busy constructing their list of the Best and Worst Movies of 2011, I’m right here organizing my year-end list for, believe it or not, 2009. I’m aware that us Filipinos are notoriously known for being late, but this is just ridiculous. Here is a blog post that will probably inspire very little interest, precisely because it is two years too late. But what the heck – I’ll post it anyway. One would naturally think that I would have no valid excuse for such a delay, but I can actually explain.

Dedicated movie lovers who live in the same country as yours truly will not have a hard time agreeing that it can be real frustrating to be a cinephile in the Philippines. The overwhelming awfulness of the majority of our county’s movies cannot be denied, but it is not what ultimately drags me into hopeless depression. My quarrels and objections against the artistic illiteracy of this country are long and many, yet I shall not go into specifics, for this is not what I am here for. Simply put, the Philippines is a place that does not welcome Better Movies, which makes it difficult for me to catch up with the movies I need to see.

Of the 10 movies featured in my Best Movies list, less than half of them were featured in a local theater; the rest I had to wait months for the DVD release. I shall attempt to explain further in my post, “The Best and Worst Movies of 2010”, that is to be published next month. But in the meantime, here are my choices for 2009.

A few pointers:

  • The following list is entirely objective, where the order of the movies is determined by my critical observations, and not by personal preferences
  • The movie that is dearest to me, which can also be considered as my Favorite Film of the Year, will receive the Special Jury Award. On the other hand, the movie that I despised the most will be graced by my Most Hated Award, just for the “lulz”.
  • In the “Honorable Mentions” section, you will find a bunch of titles that are great movies that didn’t quite make it to the Top 10. In short, they are the “Runner-Ups” that also deserve some attention.
  • A less familiar category would be the “Potential Movies”. All of the titles you will find here are movies released in 2009 that I still haven’t seen. What makes it different from other movies I haven’t seen from that year is that there is a possibility that they could have ended up in my list if I have seen them.
  • The list will not include Independent Movies that aren’t attached to any renowned names, like “You, the Living” and “Sin Nombre”. I believe they deserve their own category, but I haven’t seen enough of them to make one.
A Serious Man10. A Serious Man

The Coen Brothers are always determined to churn out something we’ve never quite encountered before, and they have once again succeeded with this dark, perceptive, supernatural Jewish dramedy. Michael Stuhlbarg stars as physics professor, Larry Gopnik, a troubled man who is struggling to cope with all the problems that continually corner him. He has a wife who plans to leave him for another man, two kids who ignore his existence, an adult brother who needs 24/7 monitoring, and much more. Larry is seriously in deep dilemma, yet he always tries to do the right thing. The movie provides great insight on Jewish culture, moral philosophies, and the reality of compromises. The Coens does the hard task of extracting dark comedy out of poor Larry without ever exploiting him.

Zombieland9. Zombieland

Zombies, in essence, are pretty standard. Like the cast of “Twilight”, they soullessly stagger from one place to another in sluggish repetition. This is why the greatness of a zombie flick is determined not by the undead, but by what the undead are trying to eat: People. In “Zombieland”, we are introduced to four loveable, well-written characters played by charming, capable actors. Three of them have been nominated for an Oscar – is that normal for the cast of a zombie movie? The script depends on the dialogue between our heroes while rightfully limiting the zombies as target practice. Heck, the movie’s most memorable moments are completely zombie-free, thanks to the invaluable Bill Murray and his dangerously convincing zombie disguise.

The Bad Lieutenant Port of Call - New Orleans8. The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans

Throughout his career, Nicolas Cage’s tenacious audacity to take on daring roles has granted him immense popularity, be it for better or for worse. That the guy has been nominated for Oscars as much as he has been nominated for Razzies should tell us something. His reputation can suffer massive persecution from late night talk shows when he makes the wrong choices (e.g. “Ghost Rider”, “The Wicker Man”, and “Drive Angry”). But when he gets it right, he instantly earns everybody’s praise. And boy, did he get it right in Werner Herzog’s “The Bad Lieutenant”. With eyes ready to burst and a mouth ready to froth, Cage plays a drug-snorting, soul-shooting, double-crossing potty-mouthed cop who calculatingly crisscrosses on both sides of the law. It’s Cage’s most brilliant performance since he played twins Charlie and Donald Kaufman in the ingenious “Adaptation”.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)7. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

Excerpt from my official 5-Star review:

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is an exceptional thriller that supplies just about everything you can expect from its genre: an unsolved crime, a devious villain, a collection of clues, a determined investigator, and a climactic sequence where they all come together. These elements are all aptly done, but our attention is captured by an enigmatic woman whose own vague life can be considered a puzzle that’s more perplexing than the one she occupies.

Her name is Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace). She is a skilled surveillance agent and an ingenious computer hacker. Her face, firm and pierced, rarely reveals any form of emotion. Her dark, gothic look attracts our immediate interest, but even the most analytical of audience members cannot observe beyond her physical appearance. The dragon tattooed on her back, which we get to see once, is open to our interpretations, but that’s about as far our theories can go. She prefers to keep her secrets to herself. Conversations with Lisbeth occur only when necessary, and they usually end quickly. Moments where she secures her isolation are often “celebrated” with a lighting of a cigarette.

Up in the Air6. Up in the Air

A profoundly relevant, richly humorous, and sincerely empathizing film, “Up in the Air” is about so many things, yet there is not a single minute where it loses its touch. As challenging as it is, the movie somehow manages to handle two different worlds of opposite magnitudes: the universal devastation brought about by the recent economic meltdown, and the personal philosophies of a middle-aged bachelor that sustains his happy family of one. The cast is led by George Clooney as Ryan Bingham, a man who works for a company that requires him to fire the employees of other companies. Alone and uninterrupted, he controls how he lives and loves it. This cycle is broken up when he meets two women he has no intentions of connecting with. Soon enough, they ignite sparks in each other’s lives. Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick also star.

Avatar5. Avatar

First things first. Up until now, a lot of the hatred thrown at “Avatar” seems to be because of the fact that it significantly resembles the storyline of “Pocahontas”. I don’t get it. Roger Ebert showed great wisdom when he stated that “a movie is not about what it’s about; it’s about how it’s about it.” If the movie’s foundation is indeed inspired by “Pocahontas”, why not just thank the inspiration instead of bashing the beauty that blossomed from it? But anyway.

The creation of Pandora is the main cause of my love for the movie. It features one of the most imaginative uses of CGI I have ever seen. When the sun disappears, an array of enthralling images comes to life. As darkness falls, things start to glow while creatures of fascinating splendor roam around. There are plants as big as trees and trees as big as buildings. It’s an all-you-can-see visual buffet.

UP4. UP

I very rarely cry at theater, but I found myself bathing in tears – twice – while I was viewing “UP”. I’ve seen it two more times since then, and I’m still crying. Except for Toy Story 3’s final moments, it’s the most thoughtful Pixar film yet. That Russell kid is cute and adorable and all that, but it was the relationship between Carl and Ellie that got to me. We all remember that sequence early in the film that took us through the marriage of the Fredricksons.  Accompanied by the Oscar-winning score by Michael Giacchino entitled “Married Life”, that little stretch of film gracefully shifted from sweet, to lovely, to tragic, to downright heartbreaking. It was short but powerful, wordless but resonant. And because our hero’s mission is centered on his unconditional devotion displayed in that scene, we become emotionally involved until the film’s very end. This is an amazing movie.

Moon3. Moon

Maybe it has something to do with its early release date. Maybe it’s because of the short attention span of the members of the Academy. Maybe both. Maybe neither. I can’t be sure. Whatever the darn reason is, Sam Rockwell not receiving an Oscar nomination for “Moon” is, in my opinion, one of the worst crimes the Academy has committed in the past decade. The movie’s potential for dramatic impact and authenticity is placed entirely on Rockwell’s shoulders, and he carries it all with an affecting performance that’s aided by a moving soundtrack composed by Clint Mansell. Rockwell plays Sam Bell, a man on the moon who is nearing the end of a 3-year contract with the company he works for. Alone and desperate to return home to his wife and daughter, Bell provides a portrait of loneliness that the movie explores. “Moon” is a sci-fi gem, and it’s saddening how it was overshadowed by recycled summer blockbusters. Maybe you still haven’t seen this yet. Maybe you should go look for a copy right now.

The Hurt Locker2. The Hurt Locker

“The Hurt Locker” does more than just take us to the war in Iraq. A great movie could have very well been made by simply giving us a peek of the devastation caused by the war, but the movie has a broader vision for itself. It ventures inside the mindset of a soldier like no other, and we begin to see the war through his eyes. The soldier is Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner), a quiet and alert veteran who is an expert at disarming bombs. Together with his team, he monitors unsecured areas for bombs that need some serious defusing. Scenes that feature a stand-off between James and those pesky bombs would make Alfred Hitchcock proud, as they are to be treasured in the world of suspense. Director Katherine Bigalow was wise to treat the bombs more as a tool for tension than as an excuse for explosions.

Inglorious Basterds1. Inglorious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino is, yet again, one helluva genius. He deviously rips a page off the history books and rewrites it with blood-soaked hands. The result is a stylish, funny, brutal and tremendously entertaining slap to the face of Nazism. The best movie of 2009 takes us back in time to a Nazi-occupied France, where Jewish families are hunted down and executed while the Germans flourish in their dominance. Hitler makes an appearance, of course, but it is Nazi officer Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) who will leave a mark in our memory. Cunning, diabolical, and naughty, Hans Landa is a nightmare for all Jews… and Gentiles.

This kind of cruel persecution is not at all pleasing to Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), leader of the Basterds. These trigger-happy, trash-talking, bat-whirling, suicide-bombing, scalp-scraping Jewish-American soldiers are determined and unforgiving. They will stop at nothing when it comes to fulfilling their mission, and that is to beat all them Nazis to death. Sounds like a plan to me.

 

Honorable Mentions: An Education, The Road, District 9, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, and Paranormal Activity

Potential Movies: The White Ribbon, In the Loop, Ponyo, Anvil! The Story of Anvil, Broken Embraces, and The Cove

 

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The Worst Movies of 2009

10. Sorority Row

9. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

8. The Haunting in Connecticut

7. The Ugly Truth

6. I Love You, Beth Cooper

5. Halloween 2

4. Ninja Assassin

3. Dragonball: Evolution

2. The Twilight Saga: New Moon

1. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

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Bonus Awards!

Special Jury Award: Moon

Best Animated Feature: UP

Best Director: Quentin Tarantino – Inglorious Basterds

Best Actor: Sam Rockwell – Moon

Best Actress: Noomi Rapace – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

Best Villain: Hans LandaInglorious Basterds

Best Debut Performance: Duncan Jones (Director) – Moon

Sharlto Copley (Actor) – District 9

Best Ensemble Cast: Inglorious Basterds

Guilty Pleasure Award: 2012

Overlooked Movie: Moon

Most Memorable Moment: Bill Murray Cameo in Zombieland

 

Most Hated: New Moon

Worst Director: James Wong – Dragonball: Evolution

Worst Actor: Robert Pattinson – New Moon

Worst Actress: Kirsten Stewart – New Moon

Worst Villain: The Fallen – Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Worst Ensemble Cast: New Moon

Worst Scene Award: ”Robot Heaven” in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen



Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

Mission Impossible 4 PosterRating: ★★★★½

I cut to the chase when I say that “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” is the best action movie of 2011. Not much of a statement, you might think, since trash like “Battle: Los Angeles” and “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” were released in the same year. But whatever. I felt a shy satisfaction while viewing it. I thought that my growing cynicism, thanks to the two movies above, had deemed it impossible for me to cherish another explosion, but all is not lost. There is sophistication in its silliness and spectacle in its set pieces. I urge every fun-seeking movie-lover to see it in front of the big screen. (I heard the IMAX version is wonderful.)

The latest “Mission: Impossible” flick is a triathlon of stunts, escapes, chases, and shootouts. A lot of them are performed, dangerously, by Tom Cruise himself. At age 49, you would think that the guy would welcome the expertise of a stunt double, but not today. That’s really Cruise hauling his own ass. And there’s a lot more ass-hauling here than your average action movie, but the bombardment is backed up with ambition and artistry. What places the movie in a high order within its class is its mindset to surpass expectations. It always manages to add an extra layer of oomph and finesse in each section of its screenplay.

Tom Cruise and the Burj KhalifaConsider the part where Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team are to intercept a crucial meeting at the world’s tallest building: the Burj Kalifa of Dubai. Before any intercepting could be done, their farcical computer genius, Brandt (Simon Pegg), informs them that they must break into the control panel and retrieve the building’s codes. Any other screenplay would have just ordered our heroes to pick some locks and get it over with. But this particular screenplay, written by Josh Applebaun and André Nemec, raises the bar to exhilarating heights. When I learned that Hunt must scale the outside of the towering skyscraper, my fear of heights stared straight into my soul. During the movie’s most glorious moments, there is a terrifying image of a dangling Tom Cruise that would make even Spiderman pee his pants. Suspended thousands of feet in the air, he inches his way through a room with nothing but mechanical “Sticky Gloves” that may or may not be low in battery.

The same form of ingenuity can be said for many other instances, like the scene where the objective of Ethan and Brandt is hindered by a guard at the end of an empty hallway. Instead of just tranquilizing the poor bastard, the two utilizes a device of technical trickery that erases their visibility. In another sequence, a typically standard chase in the streets is granted a fresher tone and look when a pesky sandstorm decided to arrive just to follow Tom Cruise’s path. I’ve heard that some paparazzi can be quite annoying, but this sandstorm’s a real jerk.

Tom Cruise, as Ethan Hunt, in a SandstormCompared to the previous installments, the plot in “Ghost Protocol” is rightfully less complicated. From what I gathered, there is a mad Russian (Michael Nyqvist) whose intent is to launch a missile that would start a nuclear war. What he plans to do after the world is obliterated, I do not know. I bet he doesn’t know either, but let’s continue. This triggers countless fights for a briefcase that contains the codes for the launch, but this is all for props. I couldn’t care less if that darn briefcase contained, say, the secret recipes of Pancake House. Hey, as long as the briefcase produces great action, and as long as the action is done well, count me in.

The action in “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” is not just done well – it is done beautifully. I praise the cast and crew for their discipline and imagination, but I especially want to praise the incessant dedication of Mr. Tom Cruise. In an age where baby-faced pretty boys are appearing here and there, a veteran like Cruise resurfaces. Covered in sweat, ash, and a little bit of sand, he gives these recruits a good reminder of what a real action star is supposed to be. Children like Taylor Lautner should take notes.

The Lion King (3D)

The Lion King PosterRating: ★★★★★

With the immediate exception of the prodigious “Toy Story”, my repeated viewings of “The Lion King” were one of the great highlights of my childhood. I preserved my VHS copy with fervent dedication, which I viewed at least a dozen times during the course of my grade school days. I was an introvert youngster with an immense collection of Disney movies. Claiming the title of “Couch Potato” at age five, I cannot deny that I was a spoiled little brat. And yet now I declare that I was not spoiled enough, knowing that I was never taken to see “The Lion King” during its initial theatrical run. Where were my parents when I needed them?

But no worries. Because just this week, at twenty years of age, I have redeemed myself, which makes this re-lease of “The Lion King” a necessary one. That the movie debuted at #1 in the United States last September is no surprise to me at all. And if the movie had to be converted to unnecessary 3-D to make the re-release possible, then so be it. Such an opportunity doesn’t come very often, and only those with closed minds and ungrateful spirits will respond to it with whining and complains.

Overwhelmed with childish excitement, with a crowd of less than twenty people, I watched “The Lion King”. My cheers and laughter were loud and unashamed. The joy remained and the freshness unchanged. And because I have a better understanding of the movies now than I did when I was five years old, I appreciated the movie in ways that my younger self couldn’t comprehend then, or care for. I appreciated the animators that meticulously drew over a million images that comprised all 87 minutes of this movie. I appreciated Disney’s CG department that spent over three years constructing the computer program that made the stampede sequence look as stunning as it is. I appreciated a particular work of Shakespeare that more or less provided the foundation of the story. This is one substantial reason why I believe it’s healthy to rewatch specific movies after long intervals of time.

Rafiki, Simba, Mufasa, and Sarabi

“The Lion King” follows a lot of the traditions of Disney animated movies, but it does so with a bigger heart and a broader imagination. One of such traditions was best elaborated by Roger Ebert in his special appearance by then hit TV show, “Early Edition”. He tactfully enlightens the truth that, in animated movies, the parent(s) of the young animal will be required to suffer a G-Rated death, for the purpose of establishing the hero’s independence. Numerous movies have used this incident, but it is the demise of Mufasa than can be considered the most memorable and heartbreaking Disney Parent Death since Bambi’s mother got shot.

Another Disney tradition that reached a peak in “The Lion King” is the obligatory inclusion of two goofy, funny characters that exist 1.) to comfort the hero with humor and 2.) to guide him with some useful advice. It was Flounder and Sebastian who stood by Ariel in “The Little Mermaid”. Lumiere and Cogsworth were the ones who kept Belle’s spirit up in “Beauty and the Beast”. And it was Genie and Abu who remained loyal to Aladdin in, well, “Aladdin”. These fellas are all wonderful, but I believe that the most beloved pair in this category is the delightful duo of Timon and Pumbaa. These guys have enough charm and wit to raise a lion.

Timon and Pumbaa

I cannot end my review without pouring my praise to the movie’s excellent music. The multitude of songs, which continue to harvest millions and millions of listeners on YouTube, can be separately described as catchy, funny, romantic, enchanting, and epic. Songs like “Circle of Life” and “Hakuna Matata” are among the most celebrated. Anyone who is about my age and can’t sing along to these songs has some serious catching up to do in life.

Also, the movie’s brilliant, mesmerizing, Oscar-winning score was composed by the invaluable Hans Zimmer. Hans Zimmer. A great thing about Hans Zimmer is that people never ask questions regarding scores that are composed by him. When I tell a friend to listen to a piece of music by Mr. Zimmer, they usually just nod their head and obey. Anyone who claims to love movie scores but isn’t familiar with the work of Hans Zimmer is either 1.) just getting started or 2.) lying.

17 years have passed since the initial release of “The Lion King”, and yet it remains to be one of the greatest animated movies of the past half century. I don’t even know why I’m writing this review, but here you go. I guess my recent viewing of it reminded me of that time in my life where I first began to fall in love with the movies. I was born in 1991, and when The Lion King was released three years later, I was its target audience. And now, at 2011, I realize that I still am.

50/50 (Quick Review)

50/50 PosterRating: ★★★★½

“50/50” is an optimistic movie that breathes out hope, a movie whose frail heart is comforted by its funny bone. It achieves the emotional balance that an inferior movie like “The Bucket List” failed to find. It tells the story of 27-year-old Adam Learner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a calm and quiet man who is battling a kind of cancer that’s unknown to many. He is stunned by his diagnosis, but much of the devastation comes from the fact that the deadly disease has struck him this early in his life.

I was moved by the film’s sense of hope and impressed by its treatment of the topic. “50/50” can be considered both as a Tragedy and Comedy, but it treats cancer as the killer that it is, and not as a stimulant of tears or as a punchline for jokes. Joseph Gordon-Levitt leads the cast with a warm and restrained performance as Adam, but the one that surprised me here was Seth Rogen.

By definition, the man cannot be classified as an “actor”; Seth Rogen always plays Seth Rogen, and none other. But his role as Adam’s best friend was a touch of destiny. After seeing the film, I learned that the screenwriter, Will Reiser, survived cancer in his 20’s alongside the support of his close friend, Seth Rogen. Not only does this piece of fact explain Rogen’s effectiveness, but it also gives us an idea where the movie got its humorous yet realistic attitude towards cancer.

There is a subtle sentiment in the silent pain that scar these characters, but what ultimately makes “50/50” the most emotionally affecting film of 2011 is its justified observation at the reality of death, which is something we will have to face sooner or later- preferably later.

Oldboy (2003)

Oldboy PosterRating: ★★★★★

Under the pouring rain, a troubled man is abruptly kidnapped after his drunken outburst at a police station. He wakes up in a secured room that resembles the look of a cheap apartment, where he would spend every single second of his next fifteen years in life. His abduction is a mystery to him; he does not know who took him, nor does he have any idea why he’s there. The opening minutes is riddled with puzzling obscurity both for the man and the audience. We know that the captive’s name is Oh Dae-Su, but nothing more.

Oh Dae-Su’s condition presents a different, crueler form of imprisonment. Unlike jailed inmates, the reason behind the punishment he endures is not explained unto him. He fears that he will be caged in that room ‘til he dies.  He is denied communication from any other person. In our country, it is common for fifty men to be squeezed into prison cells that were made for twenty. In the long run, this might prove to be a better option for Dae-Su, for it is not good for man to spend a seemingly interminable amount of time in complete isolation. As the years stack, the television across Dae-Su’s bed turn into something more than just a source of entertainment- It becomes his only window to the outside world.

Dae-su Oh and Mido in Oldboy

Dae-su Oh and Mido in Oldboy

At the edge of hopelessness and insanity, he devises an escape plan that is doubtful in its probability. A bizarre transition occurs. We arrive at the moment of Dae-Su’s freedom. No one is sure how he got there, including Dae-Su himself, but he wastes no time in his pursuit for vengeance. He is soon informed that his mission is time-bound, that somehow he only has five days to remember what has long been forgotten.  Not according to plan, he enters the life of a sweet, curious girl named Mido, but I shall stop there. Further discussions regarding major plot points would ruin the overall impact of the movie.

“Oldboy”, one of the most popular Asian films of the last decade, is an unconventional revenge tale that imagines, and executes, the unexpected. Such things are observed in Dae-Su’s weapon of choice: a hammer. This particular hammer will strike the heads of many, but the scene that will live on in our memories is the part where the hammer is used as a dental instrument. I have reason to believe that no brand of toothpaste out there can strengthen your teeth well enough to withstand a darn hammer. But anyway, the movie’s obsession with outlandish moments comes to a high point when Dae-Su consumes a live octopus in the most literal sense you can think of. I would post a picture here, just for you, but I don’t think I could come up with an appropriate caption.

Min-sik Choi as Dae-Su Oh in Oldboy

Min-sik Choi as Dae-Su Oh in Oldboy

There is much unsettling material going on here, but it is not the images that disturbs us, but the ideas they represent. The Dae-Su character is not merely a perpetrator of bloodshed. His pains, regrets and confusions dig deep into his soul, and when we look back to his introduction, we realize that much has been done to develop his humanity. I won’t tell you how, but like in many stories, his character is built up in preparation for the movie’s harrowing climax.  Physical carnage is present, yet it is the psychological and emotional assault that inflicts the most damage. The final blows will hit the audience almost as hard as it will affect the hero.

“Oldboy” is a film that is brave and ruthless- a film that grabs its genre by the throat and drags it to dark and perilous territories recent American moviemakers are afraid to explore. This is a movie that is more compelling than the ones that occupy the same category, but the subject matter, sexuality, and violence will narrow down its audience. Human beings of young age should stay far away. Octopuses of any age should stay even farther.

The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence)

The Human Centipede II PosterRating: Zero Stars

Tom Six must have had his head stuck up his ass when he came up with the idea for “The Human Centipede”.  Here is an individual who considers his films as, and I quote, “works of art”. If he is correct, and we have indeed reached the point where a movie called “The Human Centipede” can be classified as art, then we might as well bestow the next available Pulitzer Prize to Stephanie Meyer.

The first “Centipede” movie dropped an oversized dump on human civilization. To confess that I was bothered by it would be inaccurate. I was violated. Excluding people with facial tattoos, criminal records, and schizophrenia, I suspect that not many folks threw coins at a well in wish of a sequel. And yet here it is. “Full Sequence”, which is infinitely more vile and despicable than its predecessor, has only one purpose behind its miserable existence, and that is to update us that the head of Tom Six is still lodged up somewhere within his anal crevices. Home Sweet Home.

The Human Centipede 2

The 87 minutes I spent with “The Human Centipede II” marks the 87 most depressing minutes I have ever spent with any movie so far in my life. This is especially true for the movie’s final reel, where bags and bags of feces, solid and liquid, are ruthlessly unloaded at the screen. During this carnival of excrements, I felt that my eyes were being treated as toilet paper.

The notion of constructing a human centipede by surgically attaching three people via ass to mouth suggests moral depravity. It is a concept that cannot be redeemed by artistry, yet somehow the first movie, which received 2 Stars from me, was restrained and disciplined. The conjoining of the three victims was not depicted onscreen. Its deranged and delusional villain, Dr. Heiter, exhibited the proud stance of a skilled surgeon and the scathing speech of a Nazi officer. Dr. Heiter was, to say the least, interesting.

But alas, Dr. Heiter has been replaced by Martin, a mentally-handicapped security guard who repeatedly watches “The Human Centipede”; his dream of creating his own centipede grows with each view of the film. Fat, short, sweaty, and dumb, Martin never utters a single word throughout the movie. His vocabulary mainly consists of grunts, screeches, laughs, and fart noises. He abducts the actress Ashlynn Yennie, whose character can be found right at the middle of the centipede in the first movie. In this sequel, she has been promoted to the front of the line. Hooray. The body count has now been extended to twelve people. That is four times the length of the original centipede, and perhaps in Tom Six’s eyes, four times scarier. At least he knows basic Math.

Laurence R. Harvey as MartinThe victims, once collected, are assembled. But because Martin does not possess the surgical tools and expertise required to create a human centipede, he uses kitchen appliances instead, and undergoes a series of Trial and Error. Contrary to the first film, we see every step of the process. This is all extremely brutal, but it is neither the sadism nor the depravity that upsets me. Any uneducated asshole out there can produce a violent movie. But a violent movie with story, relevance, and creativity will always involve more guts and more intellect, which are two things that Tom Six does not seem to have. At least he knows basic Math.

Scarce are directors who make movies just to draw attention to themselves. Tom Six utilizes poop to attain publicity in Hollywood the same way a neglected gorilla at a zoo attracts an audience by throwing its poop at unprepared visitors. How incredibly pathetic. This guy seriously needs to grow up. He could start by taking his head out his anal crevices. There should be light at the end of the tunnel.

Note: “The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence)” is entirely in Black &White, and it pains me to reveal that it is the first B&W film I have reviewed on this website. Not a film by Buster Keaton. Or by John Ford. Or by Akira Kurosawa. But by Tom Six. What have I done? Tom Six isn’t the only one who should be ashamed of himself.

Tom Six, Director of The Human Centipede

Tom Six

The Adventures of Tintin (3D)

The Adventures of Tintin PosterRating: ★★★★½

Very few movies in recent years have launched a journey more vast and monumental than the one in “The Adventures of Tintin”. It makes its way through Europe, Morocco, and long stretches of sea and sand. It investigates a lost treasure, revisits a forgotten memory, and revives an ancient rivalry. It features several shootouts, a couple of swordfights, and a fierce battle where two towering cranes are used as battering rams. There are car chases, dueling ships, aerial assaults and fist fights. The story involves the participation of a journalist, a sailor, a dog, a hawk, a pair of twin police officers, a pack of pirates, and a pesky pickpocket.

Everything mentioned above was compressed within the movie’s 107-minute running time, yet none a single scene feels incoherent. The events that occur and the characters that emerge all seem to be devoted to the progression of the film’s plot. The leaders of its production, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson, are recognized for their competence when it comes to handling projects that are set in the largest of scales. And in “Tintin”, they demonstrate a form of disciplined filmmaking that’s light-years ahead of the man-child minds of Brett Ratner and Michael Bay.

Tintin and SnowyThe story starts out in a busy street market somewhere in Europe. Tintin (Jaime Bell), always accompanied by his trusty dog Snowy, notices a ship model with historical significance. It’s a small-scale replica of a legendary sunken ship called The Unicorn. For a low price, he purchases the ship, unaware of the secrets it possesses. But not for long. When the wealthy and wily Sakharine (Daniel Craig) shows uncanny interest in the model, Tintin activates his investigative skills as a journalist. His research tells him that the rich bastard is after a bountiful treasure no ATM machine can ever contain.

A two-way race is set in motion. Tintin is outnumbered by Sakharine and his men, but he knows that his snoopy attribute and resourceful instincts can get him far. Tintin is one of those kids who prefer to work alone, so it was an inconvenience for him at first when he had to work with the loud and unstable Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis). His breath stinks of alcohol; his personality marinated in whisky. We later learn that his brain may contain information vital to the mission, but that too, is drowning in liquor, and is unable to retrieve any memories at the moment. There is a humorous but relevant sequence where Haddock is stranded in the desert, devastated by the thought of having to face sobriety as a result of dehydration.

Tintin and Captain Haddock“The Adventures of Tintin” is a carefully balanced film is the sense that it incorporates the seriousness of a mystery thriller without losing the essential playfulness of animated movies. Its plot-driven approach makes the movie qualified for live-action entertainment, but certain components, like the complexity of Snowy’s movements and stunts, proved that animation was the more practical format. According to IMDb, Spielberg originally wanted to pursue a live-action version until Jackson convinced him to do a motion capture animation instead.

It was only after I saw “The Adventures of Tintin” when I found out that this was the method of animation used. My admiration for the movie multiplied as I watched several “Behind-the-Scenes” videos that showed how all the “Adventures” was shot within the four walls of a studio. Peculiar, isn’t it, how veteran filmmakers are trying new things, and succeeding at it? Steven Spielberg does his first animated film, and sets a new standard for motion capture as a result. Martin Scorsese, with balls of stainless steel, dives into dim 3-D territory, and earns global praise for it. Maybe it won’t be long ‘til Quentin Tarantino receives an award for rescuing the rotting genre that is the romantic-comedy.

Note: The 3-D was an unnecessary addition to an already excellent form of animation. If a 2-D version is available, go for that.

 

Happy Feet Two

Happy Feet 2 PosterRating: ★★½☆☆

Beneath all the environmental and existential issues that layered the original “Happy Feet” was a subject of equal relevance: the unifying enchantment brought about by music. We were taken to the icy isles of Antarctica, where a kingdom of emperor penguins greeted us with mesmerizing vocal performances worthy of a Santana collaboration. It was established that penguins were naturally gifted singers, so it came as a surprise when one odd little fellow named Mumble couldn’t hit a single note.

No matter. Mumble, it turns out, projects a skill in tap dancing no penguin has ever possessed before. Like Eminem, he was the first of his kind. (Or was it Vanilla Ice?) We felt pleasure seeing and hearing Mumble’s feet produce those catchy beats even though we were pretty sure that it’s implausible to compose those sounds by stomping on ice. His example made it clear, to both us and to his fellow penguins, that music is secluded to no one; it’s a personal celebration that’s best experienced in the company of others. The penguins sang. Mumble danced. We smiled. A Win-Win-Win.

Will and Bill the Krill2006’s “Happy Feet” created a rhythm of splendid joy that is unfortunately missing in this sequel. It aspires to be about a lot of things, but the movie’s structure isn’t designed for an intricate narrative.  It sends a message about the hazards of global warming. It talks about finding your place in your community. And it examines the food chain from the perspective of the members located at the bottom of the list. This is all probably too much for a penguin movie. “Happy Feet Two” becomes so busy trying to send these messages that it often forgets to do what it does best: Party.

The sequel features three subplots, carrying one lesson each. The first one to emerge is the insecurities that trouble an odd little fellow named Eric, who happens to be the son of Mumble (Elijah Wood). A second story comes into play when the penguin nation becomes trapped after a giant iceberg hits their homeland. The third subplot diverts us away from the penguins and introduces us to a pair of krill buddies ardently played by Brad Pitt and Matt Damon. The comedy of their characters is standard, but the fun here is the choice of actors who were tasked to voice these crazy krill. This subplot could inspire a Better Movie starring Pitt and Damon as the lead characters in a live-action comedy.

Erik in Happy Feet TwoAs for the music, I felt a lack of singing and dancing, which is probably caused by the exposition required by the stories. I thought that some of the more dramatic numbers were underwhelming. These penguins aren’t that enjoyable standing still in a solo performance when compared to their lively group songs that include some nifty choreography. The songs are hit-and-miss, but I assure an ecstatic climax that will cause the older members of the audience to sing along. The impact of the event purely depends on the strength of the song, but I don’t blame the movie. How can you go wrong with Queen?

So I can’t quite give “Happy Feet Two” a positive rating, but when it comes to movies that showcase Singing Animals, I’d rather see this again than sit through any of the “Alvin and the Chipmunks” movies. “Happy Feet” wins, both in terms of humor and cuteness. In fact, the young penguins here are so fluffy that, if Agnes from “Despicable Me” went to visit them, she will definitely die.

Tower Heist

Tower Heist PosterRating: ★★☆☆☆

“Tower Heist” is a robbery movie like many others. Here is a sub-genre so mindlessly recycled that films within its category are mainly differentiated by the intellectual capacity of its characters. Develop your heroes as smart individuals, and you’ve got a thriller. Gather a group of idiots, and you’re set for a comedy.

The crooks in “Tower Heist” are so hopeless that, to them, the phrase “Like Stealing Candy from a Baby” would be more of a challenge than an idiom. So incompetent are these chumps that they’d fail at conquering a 7-Eleven with a tank. Yet here they are, plotting to rob millions of dollars from a luxury hotel equipped with, and I quote, “the most advanced security systems.” We begin to doubt this claim when we notice nothing beyond the typical surveillance cameras that’s being kept in check by The Preoccupied Security Guard. His watchful eyes beam at the pages of Playboy, instead of the monitors.

Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy in Tower HeistBut forget about the security system. The story, which has potential for a fun, escapist comedy, is let down by lazy writing that ignores the possibilities of its premise. One instance that supports this point is the sequence where our heroes are tasked to shoplift from a store in the mall. Each of them enters a different shop. They look for an item, take it, walk away, and that’s it. We sense that a lot more could have been done with this idea if it were handed to a zanier director, like Adam McKay (“Anchroman”). Brett Ratner, commonly known as a crappy director and a narcissistic asshole, is just showcasing the former description.

“Tower Heist”, directed by Brett Ratner, centers around a deluxe high-rise, the hard-working staff that maintains it, and the wealthy tenant who lives in the topmost floor. The rich man is Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), who is facing legal battle after losing the pension of the hotel’s staff in a Ponzi scheme. The building’s manager, Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller), is enraged. Determined to recover the pension of the employees, including his own, Josh summons his inner criminal mastermind in a mission to revenge steal from Shaw.

In urgent need of a team, Josh recruits the expertise of a clueless concierge and an elevator operator who once worked at Burger King. He takes a long, sad look at his companions. Not good. Josh approaches an experienced thief named Slide (Eddie Murphy), hoping that he could attain some consultation and partnership. The character of Eddie Murphy allows him to relive the kind of humor that established his reputation as a comedian. But the mistake that “Tower Heist” commits against him is that they never give Murphy the screen time he deserves. We get a peak at what he used to be and can be again, but we never really get there.

Michael Pena, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick, and Casey Affleck in Tower HeistWe eventually arrive at the day of the heist. In its most crucial and unexpected circumstance, our heroes find themselves facing a dilemma that would stump Danny Ocean. But they press on. Josh, Slide, and team must lower a solid gold car from the top floor of the high-rise.

At one point, we see the car suspended out a window, just waiting to be seen by anyone with functioning eyes. But it seems that nobody ever looks up nowadays. Because these happenings are detached from the rest of reality, very little excitement is accomplished.

If “Tower Heist” offers any consolation, it’s the hope that it brings to the career of Eddie Murphy. It’s about time he stepped away from his fat suits. This aging comedian is headed in the right direction, which is the direction opposite to what Adam Sandler is currently in.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo PosterRating: ★★★★★

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is an exceptional thriller that supplies just about everything you can expect from its genre: an unsolved crime, a devious villain, a collection of clues, a determined investigator, and a climactic sequence where they all come together. These elements are all aptly done, but our attention is captured by an enigmatic woman whose own vague life can be considered a puzzle that’s more perplexing than the one she occupies.

Her name is Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace). She is a skilled surveillance agent and an ingenious computer hacker. Her face, firm and pierced, rarely reveals any form of emotion. Her dark, gothic look attracts our immediate interest, but even the most analytical of audience members cannot observe beyond her physical appearance. The dragon tattooed on her back, which we get to see once, is open to our interpretations, but that’s about as far our theories can go. She prefers to keep her secrets to herself. Conversations with Lisbeth occur only when necessary, and they usually end quickly. Moments where she secures her isolation are often “celebrated” with a lighting of a cigarette.

Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander

Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander

Lisbeth is a complex character whose present life is silenced by the scars of her past. Earlier scenes depict her encounters with depraved men; their harassment seems to carve further into an already existing wound. We get this impression because she responds to these offenses not as a weak and helpless victim, but as an audacious and adamant fighter. People who take a closer look at Lisbeth should recognize a subtle beauty. Perhaps she only uses her piercings and make-up as tools to conceal her looks from lustful eyes.

The story involves Lisbeth’s current surveillance of Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), a journalist who’s six months away from a three-month sentence in jail.  Blomkvist intents are pure and righteous, but consequences can be great if you lose a legal battle against a powerful tycoon. In his remaining time of freedom, Blomkvist agrees to work for a retired, wealthy businessman named Henrik Vanger. This provides the plot for the movie, which follows Blomkvist’s investigation of Vanger’s missing niece, who first disappeared almost forty years ago.

Clues emerge. The case becomes broader and clearer as it points to a brutal massacre of innocent and unsuspecting women. And right there is when we fully identify the movie’s theme: Violence against women. We saw it first through Lisbeth’s suffering, and we see it again in the rape, murder, and mutilation of the women we come across in Blomkvist’s investigation. When Lisbeth herself learns about this tragedy, she teams up with Blomkvist in a mission to apprehend the killer.

Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander

Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander

Director Niels Arden Oplev is not hesitant to portray disturbing images where women are savagely abused. But the movie is entirely feminist. The late Stieg Larsson, who wrote the novel from which this movie is based upon, empowers Lisbeth as a woman who is brave, intelligent and independent. He views her as a survivor, destined to burst into a silent rage of furious anger once she encounters a monster guilty of the sins that broke her humanity.

This is a thriller that is more than what it’s about. The plot provides a gripping story, but its principal purpose is to accentuate the character of Lisbeth Salander. By the film’s end, we feel grateful to have been granted a mild access to her life. And though she retains her impenetrable persona, at least we can now look at Lisbeth and see that she’s more than just a girl with a dragon tattoo.