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He’s Just Not That Into You (2009)

Based upon the best-selling nonfiction book, the movie follows the interconnected lives of a cadre of characters trying to get lucky in love. As with any ensemble piece, some storylines are better than others, notably Ginnifer Goodwin (HBO’s Big Love) as a naïve and hapless gal confused by the ever-changing rules and rituals of contemporary courtship. Her scenes with Justin Long, as her dating coach, are the movie’s high-point. The two actors have a light, charming chemistry and their scenes get at the heart of the male/female dating dysfunctionality without feeling trite. But in between, you get a lot of hackneyed yakking about the stereotypical differences between men and women, how dumb men are, how crazy women can be, etc. It’s all been covered to death by other romantic comedies to the point that it feels like common knowledge, which makes it tiring to sit through. Some of the drama feels overly manufactured, like Jennifer Aniston pushing to get married because she her little sister got engaged, there are characters that are just annoying people, like Kevin Connolly continuing to nip at the heels of Scarlett Johansson for some scraps, and Some of the material is weirdly dated, like Drew Barrymore talking about being “Myspace-ed” by a prospective date (Hello, it’s all Facebook all the time now). Naturally, it’s all rather predictable as well, however, this is not the fun date movie it may seem. It hits some rough dramatic patches, like the pains of infidelity, losing trust in a spouse, manipulating people, and occasionally there will be a moment that comes across as genuine and heartfelt, like when Ben Affleck wins over Aniston simply by being thoughtful and doing the dishes. It’s in these sporadic moments that He’s Just Not That Into You feels like it’s tapped something a little deeper and more meaningful than scraping the barrel of romantic comedy clichés.

Nate?s Grade: C+

The Jacket (2005)

In The Jacket, Adrien Brody plays a mentally disturbed soldier sentenced to spend his days in a treatment facility. He gets strapped into a straight jacket and locked inside a morgue drawer as part of his “therapy.” Inside these closed quarters, for whatever unexplained reason, Brody has the ability to travel through time. This got me thinking about some other weird/lame ways people travel through time in films. In 2004’s The Butterfly Effect a bearded Ashton Kutcher is able to jump through time by reading his childhood journals. Sure this is weird, and may give false hope to a nation of gloomy journal-scribbling teenagers, but when it comes to incompetent time travel techniques, 1980’s Somewhere in Time is number one with a bullet. Christopher Reeve’s character desperately wants to travel back to 1912. So he removed all modern furniture, clothing, and anything post-1912. Then he lies down on his hotel bed and keeps repeating to himself that he’s living in 1912. Somehow this works and Reeve gets to embark on romance, 1912-style y’all.

Jack Starks (Brody) is a helpful and well-meaning guy that just can’t catch a break. As a soldier in the 1991 Gulf War, an Iraqi kid he was trying to befriend shoots him in the head. When he returns home he starts a long trek through the Northeast. Starks helps out a mother and daughter whose car has stalled. He befriends the non-gun wielding little girl, Jackie, but her drunken mom nearly accosts Starks and they drive away. Then he gets a ride with a drifter (Brad Renfro). They get pulled over by a cop. The drifter kills the cop; Starks gets knocked out and framed for the murder. He’s sentenced to spend the rest of his days in a clinic for the mentally disturbed. And you thought you were having a bad day.

The operator of the clinic (Kris Kristofferson) has some unconventional methods of therapy, like locking Starks in a straight jacket and sliding him into a morgue drawer. Inside this confined space Starks can zip through time to 2007. In the future he goes home with an angsty young woman (Keira Knightley) who, surprise, ends up being an adult Jackie, the girl he helped at the side of the road. They’re both confused and freaked out, but what spooks Starks even more is the knowledge that he dies on New Year’s Day, 1993. Starks must now get into that jacket so he can visit 2007 some more, fall in love with Jackie, and piece together clues to prevent his soon-to-be death.

Brody seems to be having as much bad luck post-Oscar as Halle Berry and Nicole Kidman. He’s in some funk playing glum character after glum character. Brody and his gaunt figure do have a natural haunted quality and he does excel at emoting grief and horror (hence the 2002 Best Actor Oscar for The Pianist). Brody gives the film more intensity than it deserves.

Knightley is a decent actress but has little to work with. Her role is wrapped in a slab of Gothic traits posing as characterization. When she talks it sounds like she has a cold. I don’t know if this is because of her attempted American accent, the glum character, or maybe she just had a cold from all that outdoor shooting in the snow.

Director John Maybury has the irritating habit of filming scenes entirely in jagged close-ups. Two people will be talking and then -WAM!- huge close-up of an eyeball. Then -POW!- giant mouth filling up the screen. Then -WAM! (again)- more of the same. This editing decision is a distraction but it also lacks purpose. It doesn’t effectively communicate character emotion or scene tension; it just annoys the crap out of you.

The Jacket is fairly interesting for a good while. The premise is almost ingenious: a man must travel to the future to collect information to prevent his mysterious death in the past. The Jacket adds further intrigue with the question of whether Starks really is traveling through time. Maybe he truly is disturbed and this is all in his head. Sadly, but as expected, The Jacket disproves this tantalizing possibility after an hour of tease.

When the film does transition into its final half, the possibility it showcased seems to go slack. The answers seem either overly tidy or simply anticlimactic, like the truth behind Starks’ death. The Jacket opens strong and strings us along with some intriguing prospects but the end results merely peter out the film’s potential until The Jacket seems completely drained of blood.

Their relationship also has some unexpected creepy moments. Starks, in 1992, visits the little girl he will eventually have sex with in 2007. Yes she’s an adult when they take their tussle in the sheets, but having him later visit her when she’s a child is just plain cre-eeeee-py.

For a while, The Jacket aims to be an intelligent mind-bender but the film squanders its potential. The answers don’t seem nearly as thought-out as the film’s initially intriguing questions. Brody gives the movie more brooding intensity than it deserves. The Jacket is irritatingly directed, alternating between pale shots of white wilderness, extreme close-ups, and overkill on style. The Jacket seems like a nice fit for a while but becomes too frayed to be memorable.

Nate’s Grade: C+

Planet of the Apes (2001)

Taking a storied, and for the most part successful, franchise like Planet of the Apes and trying to rework it is frightfully difficult. You don’t want it to turn off the original’s fans but not be different enough to have its own voice. When I heard that Tim Burton was going to helm this reworking I became optimistic about the prospects of a Burton Planet of the Apes and began to eagerly anticipate its release. What I got, despite some stellar visuals, is a disappointing low point for many people involved, and that does include the man that gave us “Good Vibrations.”

Capt. Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) is a trained pilot inhabiting a space station orbiting the rings of Saturn. The members inside are performing tests on the intelligence of apes (foreshadowing poking you in the eye) and seem to be coming back with optimistic results. A cosmic energy storm erupts near the station and Leo’s chimp is sent out into a pod to investigate. When the ape disappears (oh the foreshadowing is starting to hurt) Leo decides to venture out himself to save his monkey despite the instructions of his superiors. He gets pulled into the energy field and crashes on a distant planet where he discovers that apes are on top of the food chain and humans are the sport. Captured by the ape commander Attar (Michael Clark Duncan), he is taken to Ape City. He is sold into slavery but wins the attention of a human rights activist Ari (Helena Bonham Carter) who agrees to help him escape and get to his crashed vessel. General Thade (Tim Roth) still carries a torch for Ari but has an entirely different viewpoint when it comes to humans. At one moment he grabs Wahlberg and pulls apart his mouth to murkily inquire “Is there a soul in there?” When Thade begins to learn about Ari’s assistance to the human escape he mounts a full army to travel to the Forbidden Zone and annihilate the humans once and for all.

Burton’s Apes remake, excuse me… “re-imagining,” lacks the social commentary, originality, and heck, even entertainment level that its predecessor possessed. Burton adds his usual great touches of style and the sets are vast and a wonder to see, but what movie is all set watching? This isn’t the simian Home and Garden channel. Burton dresses his players up nice thanks in part to Rick Baker’s fantastic makeup but the components in Apes redux are all dressed up with nowhere to go.

The script is credited to four writers but I wonder why anyone would want to take any credit for it. The story is not only half-baked it seems to never have come out of the oven. The tale is full of numerous incongruities that make this new Apes feel stagnant, especially during its middle portion. The story never gives us any real characters or an exciting line to follow. It’s more like a story pitch than a full story. There are many moments where dialogue is paraphrased from the original in an attempt at a humorous wink, but it’s worthy of more groans than applause.

Unlike the first Apes series, the humans of Burton’s ape world can speak… they just don’t have anything interesting to say. Estella Warren fills in as the good looking and useless heroine that spends her days frolicking about in ripped rags. She’s supposed to be the love interest for Mark but she fails at that (even though she’s the planet’s only attractive female) with Carter getting more googly eyes cast her way. There’s something weirdly natural seeing Kris Kristofferson as a scrubby post-apocalyptic dweller. It seems like he was made to lurk through caves and grunt. Wahlberg himself seems to sleepwalk through the entire film and speaks in only one monotonous tone.

Roth gets to huff and puff a lot and does quite a good menacing job. Every expression of his has a dominating glare of power and every piece of dialogue spoken in a gruff snarl. He has total capture of a great villain and serves his end well enough as the story provides. Carter gives a light touch as the sympathetic human defender but the long awkward moments where her and Mark gaze at each other gave way to great howls from my audience. Giamatti hams up his role with verve and provides some of the best moments of levity for this overwrought film.[

The original Planet of the Apes ending was one of the greatest twists of cinema. It was entirely logistical and packed a great punch. The ending of Burton’s “re-imagining” packs as much punch as a wet noodle. The ending is TOTALLY IMPOSSIBLE given the set-up of the events in the film. Not only is it a disappointing head-scratcher but ]it also manages to rip off the first film’s ending with no shame. It truly may be the worst ending possibly ever. I bet a room full of monkeys could have written a better ending, and I’m willing to put money on it.

Let me explain why it’s impossible through the use of spoilers. So Mark is in the future. He follows his little monkey friend and crash lands on a separate planet IN THE FUTURE. On this planet, Mark’s space station has been looking for him and crash landed. Their monkey experiments get loose and bing, bang, zoom, we got fully evolved monkeys ruling the place (don’t even bother asking where the horses came from). Now, after learning all this, Mark takes a space pod and zooms his way back to present day Earth. He crash lands against the Lincoln Memorial steps only to discover that Lincoln has been replaced with General Thade and Earth is populated with highly evolved apes that still speak English. What? How? What? This cannot be because the film establishes a frame where Earth already has a long history of non-evolved monkey rule. Wahlberg crash landed on a DIFFERENT planet in THE FUTURE that should, therefore, have no bearing whatsoever on what happens to Earth or its past. The Apes remake rips off the most famous twist ending ever by serving up an incongruous version that makes no sense and cannot happen.

Planet of the Apes had all the right components for an exciting and sleek sci-fi ride but falls far short. Burton adds enough of his Gothic vision but this will likely go down as the weakest film on his resume. The usually reliable Danny Elfman’s score is nothing more than hyped up symphonic white noise. Burton may go home with a large check but I pray they don’t do a “re-imagining” of the next Apes picture. Marky Mark and the Furry Bunch are stuck in a hollow, head-scratching bore. Fans of the original series may find interest in comparing and contrasting, but if that’s cause enough to make a film then give me 100 bucks and I’ll make my own versions in my backyard. And they’ll at least make more sense than this monkey mess.

Nate’s Grade: C

Blade (1998)

You know when you’re watching a flick and you see former porn actress Traci Lords sucking someone’s fluids… well you’re in for a treat. Enter Blade, the latest installment into the vampire chronicles of celluloid. But this one is such an energetic rush that even author Anne Rice hawked up on crank couldn’t churn this one out.

I will confess right now that I am most partial to vampire movies. It’s a guilty pleasure I’m not embarrassed of. What other genres out there could you expect to find titles from Abbot and Costello meet Dracula to Blackula? Not in any period piece I’ll tell you that. So I’m strangely drawn to vampire flicks, and this one quenches your thirst.

Wesley Snipes surmises the role of Blade, the half-human, half-vampire, all ass-kicker with great enthusiasm. Most of his lines are either snarled or more snarled, but what are you gonna’ do when you work the midnight shift? The story is pretty hokey but provides just enough moments for some intense action sequences. And that’s what keeps this movie together. The glue of this foundation are the adrenaline pumping action sequences with Snipes just flying around and turning anxiously aggressive vampires into annoying CGI particles. At times the movie can drag because you’re waiting for another action sequence in between the spillings of blood and gore.

The biggest problem in Blade is the wimpy villain. I have nothing against Stephen Dorff but he’s the most non-frightening and ineffectual villain since Colonel Clink tried halting Hogan’s Heroes. He comes off as a skinny kid trying to push around the big guys. I never bought anything from him. I can’t see how he’s an adversary to Snipes’ brooding and stoic hero. Wesley could push the kid down with one arm and twist it around his back ’til he cried “mercy.”

The best comic book transition to movie since 1989’s Batman. Thank God New Line didn’t try and hound a franchise out of this like they did to ruin Spawn and Lost in Space, of course the hellaciously bad writing might have to do with their failures as well. But Blade gets the most from every drop of blood and every electronic beat on the techno enriched soundtrack. A hip and entertaining vampire action flick.

Nate’s Grade: B

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