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2007

Public Enemies (2009)

DIRECTOR: Michael Mann

CAST: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Billy Crudup, Stephen Graham, Stephen Lang, Jason Clarke, Stephen Dorff, Giovanni Ribisi, Lili Taylor, David Wenham, Leelee Sobieski, Branka Katic, Channing Tatum

REVIEW:

Public Enemies is not the first film to portray legendary bank robber John Dillinger, but it’s the most high-profile and the most accomplished, but certain elements keep it from gangster genre classic status, not least of which is that director Michael Mann (The Last of the Mohicans, Heat) elects to film the events in docudrama style instead of aiming for grandeur and glamor.  It could be argued that Public Enemies is an independent art film masquerading as a gangster epic, and how audiences react to that will determine how absorbed they become by the film’s content.  Continue reading

30 Days of Night (2007)

DIRECTOR: David Slade

CAST: Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston, Ben Foster, Mark Boone Junior

REVIEW:

30 Days of Night, adapted from the graphic novel by Steve Niles (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Stuart Beattie) and a product of director David Slade and producer Sam Raimi’s (director of the Spider-Man films) Ghost House Pictures, isn’t the groundbreaking, revolutionary entry in the vampire genre that some have hyped it up to be, but it’s got a few attributes that make it an above-average bloodsucker flick: if the characters occasionally make dubious strategic decisions, they at least remain plausible characters and a level above the brainless vampire fodder we sometimes see, and the vampires themselves are no-nonsense, badass ravening killers who seem like they’d go through the foppish, angst-ridden types from Interview With The Vampire like mincemeat.  The best, or at least most original thing about 30 Days of Night is its devious premise—a remote Alaskan town where the sun doesn’t show for thirty days—that seems so obviously perfect for a vampire flick that it’s a wonder no one ever thought of it before.  The movie itself doesn’t achieve the nerve-wracking tension of something like 28 Days Later—which it is occasionally reminiscent of—but it supplies a healthy helping of suspense, plenty of bloody mayhem to satisfy hardcore gore fans, and most importantly, keeps the audience riveted from start to finish.  Continue reading

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

DIRECTOR: David Yates

CAST:

Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Ralph Fiennes, Gary Oldman, Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Brendan Gleeson, Imelda Staunton, Jason Isaacs, Emma Thompson, David Thewlis, Tom Felton, Katie Leung, Evanna Lynch, Helena Bonham Carter, Robert Hardy, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Warwick Davis

REVIEW:

Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix is one of the longest novels in J.K. Rowling’s seven book series, but this fifth installment of the cinematic adaptation is one of the shortest movies, clocking in at only a little over two hours. Continue reading

Live Free Or Die Hard (2007)

DIRECTOR: Len Wiseman

CAST:

Bruce Willis, Justin Long, Timothy Olyphant, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Maggie Q, Kevin Smith, Cliff Curtis, Zeljko Ivanek

REVIEW:

Like Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Live Free Or Die Hard largely abandons the grittier feel of the original film in favor of more typical flashy whizz-bang action extravaganza, but since the Die Hard series doesn’t aspire to be more than action extravaganza as much as the Terminator series, that’s not as much of a detriment here. No one is likely to compare it with the original Die Hard, but if nothing else, it’s an entertaining summer action flick.

John McClane (Bruce Willis, older and balder) is divorced, and his now-grown daughter Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) goes by her mother’s name and seemingly wants nothing to do with him. McClane gets what sounds like a routine assignment: transport hacker Matt Farrell (Justin Long) to be questioned by government officials about a security breach at Homeland Security. But as usual, nothing goes routine for McClane. Turns out the security breach is just the beginning of an assault on the entire US infrastructure, shutting down Washington, Wall Street, airports, cities, and threatening to throw the country back to the Stone Age. Of course, the mastermind, Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant), hasn’t counted on John McClane. But things get more personal when Gabriel decides to take Lucy hostage.

The twelve years between Die Hard With A Vengeance and Live Free Or Die Hard has done nothing to slow Bruce Willis down as action hero material, but while he’s called John McClane and sometimes acts like John McClane, he’s transformed from the scruffy everyman into more of a typical unstoppable action hero. Willis is effective in the role, and he has moments where he feels like the old McClane, especially when he confesses to Farrell the personal costs of his job, but some will miss when McClane almost seemed like an average Joe instead of pure movie action hero. Justin Long avoids making Farrell as irritating as he could have been, and he’s occasionally funny, but he doesn’t completely avoid seeming like a bit of a third wheel (I think someone like, say, the ubiquitous Shia LaBeouf, could maybe have done a little more with the role). As far as action-buddy odd couples go, Willis and Long are adequate but not as good a mesh as Willis and Samuel L. Jackson in the third installment. The bad guys are an undistinguished bunch. Timothy Olyphant is the blandest bad guy in the series, seeming to think smugly smirking and lots of wide-eyed glares constitutes a villainous performance. Maggie Q gets a to throw in a little kung-fu buttkicking in a scene that makes her almost as indestructible as Kristanna Loken’s ‘Terminatrix’ in Terminator 3, and French martial artist/stuntman Cyril Raffaelli gets to show off his Spider-Man-esque agility a couple times. Kevin Smith doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb as much as one might fear in basically a cameo, and Cliff Curtis and Zeljko Ivanek are the token cops trying to handle the situation. One cast member we wish had been given more to do is Mary Elizabeth Winstead. In fact, Winstead has enough of Dad’s attitude in her all-too-small role that things might have been kicked up a notch if it had been she and Dad teaming up instead of McClane and Farrell (the original version of the script had McClane joined by his hacker son).

While the previous Die Hard entries were wall-to-wall action, they at least kept things more gritty and semi-realistic, while Live Free Or Die Hard is more typical flashy whizz-bang action extravaganza of one wildly over-the-top action sequence after another, with each trying to top the one that came before, until the tension is diluted by our knowledge that what we’re seeing onscreen defies the laws of physics.   The bad guys’ plot is also a little too convoluted. It was inspired by a newspaper article about the danger of the US infrastructure being vulnerable to computer attack, and all the hacker mumbo-jumbo gets a little mind-boggling, until we get impatient to get back to some McClane ass-whipping. And whip serviceable amounts of baddie ass McClane does.

While it’s freely open to debate about how much or how little this actually ‘feels’ like a Die Hard movie, I’m giving it two and a half stars because it delivers on the action we expect from the series. Don’t think about it too much, just enjoy it for what it is, and strap yourself in for an entertaining ride.

**1/2

Mr. Brooks (2007)

DIRECTOR: Bruce A. Evans

CAST: Kevin Costner, Demi Moore, William Hurt, Dane Cook, Marg Helgenberger, Danielle Panabaker, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Lindsay Crouse

REVIEW:

According to star/producer Kevin Costner, Mr. Brooks was conceived as the first film in a trilogy, but in the wake of modest box-office earnings, whether or not any other installments will get the greenlight is up in the air.  That’s kind of a shame, because Mr. Brooks is actually a lot of fun: a deliciously devious little thriller that combines plenty of twists and turns with a macabre sense of humor. Continue reading

28 Weeks Later (2007)

DIRECTOR: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo

CAST: Robert Carlyle, Catherine McCormack, Rose Byrne, Jeremy Renner, Mackintosh Muggleton, Imogen Poots, Harold Perrineau, Idris Elba

REVIEW:

WARNING: THIS REVIEW WILL DISCUSS ELEMENTS OF THE FILM’S PLOT

Another day in the film industry, another superfluous and uninspired sequel…28 Days Later was one of the most frightening movies of 2003 (or any other year), but while tension-packed and involving, it wasn’t a movie that especially cried out for a sequel, and like most unessential sequels, 28 Weeks Later fails to justify its existence, regurgitating more generic retreads of the first movie’s chills and action while lacking its strengths. Continue reading

Spider-Man 3 (2007)

DIRECTOR: Sam Raimi

CAST:

Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons, James Cromwell, Theresa Russell, Dylan Baker, Bill Nunn, Bruce Campbell, Cliff Robertson, Willem Dafoe

REVIEW:

With the third installment in Sam Raimi’s hugely popular Spider-Man series, one gets the sense that the franchise has either started to outstay its welcome, or needs to change some things for a possible fourth episode. Continue reading

Disturbia (2007)

DIRECTOR: D. J. Caruso

CAST:

Shia LaBeouf, David Morse, Sarah Roemer, Carrie-Anne Moss, Aaron Yoo, Viola Davis, Matt Craven

REVIEW:

The sole crediting of Disturbia’s script to Carl Ellsworth (Red Eye) and Christopher Landon seems a little disingenuous, as the movie is as obviously an updated Rear Window as they come. Continue reading

The Lookout (2007)

DIRECTOR: Scott Frank

CAST:

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeff Daniels, Matthew Goode, Isla Fisher, Bruce McGill, Greg Dunham, Carla Gugino

REVIEW:

The Lookout is a decent little thriller that sets out with unambitious goals and mostly fulfills them. As the directorial debut of accomplished screenwriter Scott Frank (Dead Again, Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Minority Report), it’s a modest effort that has an interesting premise, does a few things effectively, most things adequately, but too many things weakly to earn it more than a lukewarm recommendation. The best things about it aren’t directly related to the thriller angle- a capable performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and the effective development of an individual struggling with brain damage. Continue reading

Zodiac (2007)

zodiacDIRECTOR: David Fincher

CAST: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Edwards, Chloe Sevigny, Brian Cox, Elias Koteas, Dermot Mulroney, Philip Baker Hall, John Carroll Lynch

REVIEW:

While it tells the true unsolved story of one of America’s most notorious serial killers–at least that which is publicly known–Zodiac is not a thriller, at least not in a conventional sense.  Rather, it’s a police procedural and docudrama.  Based on a true crime book by Robert Graysmith, it puts the focus not on Zodiac himself, who remains a shadowy, elusive, nameless and faceless figure (although the movie’s viewpoint is blatantly slanted toward one suspect), but on the men (including Graysmith himself) who were involved in the long-running, ultimately fruitless manhunt.  To this end, Zodiac is a bit like a souped-up, two-and-a-half hour episode of Law & Order, and will appeal to some of the same audience fascinated by the details of police procedure and investigating.   Continue reading

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