Friday, August 26, 2011


This review is receiving a lot of hits, so please comment below with your thoughts on the film.

First let me say "Colombiana" is pretty bad ass from an action perspective, but the story was just insane. The story is about a young woman (Zoe Saldana), after witnessing her parents' murder as a child in Bogota, grows up to be a stone-cold assassin that leaves a calling card of a the Cataleya lotus on her victems as she seeks vengeance against the people involved with murdering her parents. You have probably think that you have seen this story before because one of the writers, Luc Besson, wrote the two movies that "Colombiana" most closely resembles ("The Fifth Element" in 1997 and "the Professional" in 1994).

This film is supposed to be the breakout lead role for Zoe Saldana after her role in "Avatar" (2009) and "Star Trek" (2009). The film doesn't suffer by anything she does, but with such a horible script I am not sure anyone could have made this film better. I hope that Christopher Nolan gets a chance to watch this film, because she would have been perfect as the Catwoman in the upcoming "Dark Knight Rises" (2012). There's a giant gap of 15 years time between Cataleya's arrival in America and her present day activities. Without any on-screen training the jump in the character feels artificial. I found it difficult to care for the character once this jump took place. I thought that Amandla Stenberg did very well as the younger version of Cataleya, but the emotion that she showed didn't translate to Zoe Saldana.

The performances from Michael Vartan (the boyfriend), Cliff Curtis (the uncle) and Jordi Molla (one of the bad guys) where all below par. I was especially hoping for a strong performance from Jordi Molla who was awesome in "Blow" (2001).

For some of the better action sequences I will give this film a bump to 2 Quacks. This is your perfect escapist fun film late in the summer, however anything beyond that is asking too much from it. Keep your expectations low and you will be better off for it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Martha, Marcy May, Marlene

"Martha, Marcy May, Marlene" was the winner at Sundance for Best Director, Sean Durkin, who is also the creative mind behind the psychological thriller. The film captivated audiences during the festival run and received a Grand Jury nomination as well losing to "Like Crazy". The plot is a depiction of the painful memories and increasing paranoia, of a damaged woman (Elizabeth Olsen) struggling to adjust back into a life with her family after fleeing an abusive cult.

The film cleverly jumps from the first days of Martha with the cult where she is being handled by her friend Zoe (Louisa Krause) and introduced to the cult leader Patrick (John Hawkes) where he gives her the name Marcy May. The changing name is just one way that Patrick begins to brainwash the women in the cult. He feeds on the weaknesses that they have in their personal life and gives the illusion of empowerment by telling them that they are leaders and teachers. The brilliance of the director Sean Durkin comes through in how he depicts the balance between Martha's time with the cult and her life with her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy). This portrait takes the form of memories such as swimming, gardening and even sexual contact. This shift from memory and reality draws the emotion of the character as well as the audience.

Regardless of the setting for Martha you can see in the performance from Elizabeth Olsen just how trapped she feels by the cult in upstate New York for nearly 2 years as well as the loving care that her sister gives her in the isolated lake house in Connecticut for only 2 weeks. The performance from John Hawkes is equally superb. The buzz surrounding the film may be for the youngest Olsen (she is the younger sister of Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen), but John Hawkes steals every scene with the glint of his eye and his ability to physically overpower each scene even though he is slight of build. The suspense continues to build as the story unfolds and Martha finally reaches her emotional explosion.

I would be surprised if the film doesn't receive multiple nominations including a nomination for Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Original Screenplay. This film might not be for everyone, so you have to be in the proper frame of mind going into the thriller, but you will walk out amazed by what you have seen. It might be a stretch, but the song that John Hawkes performs and included in the trailer below is brilliant and could earn a nomination as well. All 5 Quacks are very deserving for "Martha, Marcy May, Marlene".

(screening date 8/23/11, release date 12/22/11, location Mazza Galleria)

Our Idiot Brother

"Our Idiot Brother" is another brilliant and hilarious film for the year that was reminiscent of "The Kids Are All Right" (2010) that was perfectly written for Paul Rudd and is complemented by an amazing cast that includes Emily Mortimer, Elizabeth Banks, Adam Scott, Zooey Deschanel, and Rashida Jones. The film is directed by Jesse Peretz from a story he developed with his sister, Evgenia Peretz. "Our Idiot Brother" first got on my radar after a successful festival showing at Sundance and after a slight name change will be making it to the masses very soon.

The story centers around Ned (Paul Rudd) who is almost like a fairy tale character in that he has these three sisters that embody the most extreme stereotypes of women, while he remains the innocent, trusting, honest, and loving brother that believes that if you put your trust into someone and give them the benefit of the doubt to see their best intentions that people will rise to the occasion. Sometimes Ned is able to bring out the best in a person, but other times his innocence gets him in trouble with the law and after 9 months in jail he tries to get his feet back under him through the help of his sisters. The first sister, Liz, is played by Emily Mortimer as the doting mother and wife that is unable to properly communicate her emotions to her husband (Steve Coogan). She then pushes Ned off to the next sister, Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), who is more concerned with her career and bullying around the neighbor (Adam Scott). Finally there is Nat (Zooey Deschanel) who is in a loving relationship with Cindy (Rashida Jones) that in her own free spirit makes poor decisions that she too has to deal with.

Paul Rudd brings an obliviousness to Ned that you can't help but feel empathy for. The audience knows what's going to happen but the innocence leaves Ned in the dark. However, it is through his innocence that Ned becomes an unwitting catalyst for change.

Ultimately, this is a story about a guy that loves everything unconditionally more than anyone loves anything. I found the script to be excellent and the performances to be spot on. I would like to see this film receive a nomination for original screenplay. "Our Idiot Brother" is easily a 4 Quack film with potential for a bump after a second screening.

(screening date 8/22/11, release date 8/26/11, location Regal Gallery Place)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

the Debt

The remake of the 2007 Israel original "Ha-Hov" is brilliantly put together with an amazing cast and leverages the original without ignoring how good it was. The original received multiple nominations from the Israeli Film Academy for art direction, costumes, cinematography and supporting actress for Neta Garty's performance as young Rachel. The original didn't win any awards, but any time a film receives multiple nominations it generally is a sign that it was a good film. The story is about three retired Mossad secret agents that 30 years prior were involved in a secret mission where we bounce between the two time periods to build suspense in the thriller.

For the American version of "The Debt" the cast includes Helen Mirren and Jessica Chastain as Rachel; Tom Wilkinson and Marton Csokas as Stephan; and Ciarán Hinds and Sam Worthington as David. The story begins in 1997 with the first deviation from the original as Sarah (Romi Aboulafia) the daughter of Rachel and Stephan is being honored during a book release of the secret mission her parents took part in during the 1960s as Mossad agents who captured Nazi war criminal Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen), the feared "Surgeon of Birkenau", in East Berlin. In the original, it was Rachel that was publishing the book and I appreciate this change because it provides another layer of trust and honesty to the characters that helps with the decisions that are made later in the film. Shortly after the book release party, shocking news reaches Rachel and Stephan about their former colleague David. All three have been celebrated for decades by Israel, however a ghost from their past provides reason to recall the past events to discover the truth.

The performances from the entire cast were impressive in how they portrayed the same character from two separate points in time. This must have been tremendously difficult to do, which is why so often directors take a short-cut by falsely aging the actor. I appreciate the attention to the characters that each gave towards the continuity of the character and contribute equal praise to John Madden for navigating the cast through the partition to portray the two parts of the same person.

The Debt is figuratively a measure of truth and evoked in various moments of the film that is the urge for justice and the protection of innocence that is the impulse behind the decisions made in the film. It is also literally associated with the spiritual debt to the Jews that cannot be measured easily by the Nazis systematic extermination of six million Jews. Following the screening we were treated to Q&A with director John Madden who pointed out that the capture of Adolf Eichmann in 1962 was part of the research that he did when planning the film.

The film is absolutely brilliant with a powerful script that is artfully directed as a tense thriller and is a must see film. The original did not get much of a release, so hopefully, with the renewed interest; not only will the current version, but also the original will receive the attention it deserves. I believe that John Madden may receive a best director nomination for this film and I wouldn't be surprised if one of the actors/actresses receives some attention as well. This is a 5 Quack film that will hold true for years and for the young actors will be a film that will be referenced as the turning point in their careers.

(screening date 8/18/11, release date 8/31/11, location AMC Loews Georgetown)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Conan the Barbarian

In the summer of remakes, sequels, unnecessary 3D, and comic book films the latest is "Conan the Barbarian" as the remake of the 1982 original with Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones and Max von Sydow. With the remake we get to see Jason Momoa as Conan and his samurai style of sword fighting. For those not familiar with the story, Conan is on a quest that begins as a personal vendetta for the Cimmerian warrior. What exactly the purpose of this quest is jumps from a personal vendetta against the man that killed his father to a romantic angle, but never focuses on the fact that the antagonist is trying to take over the world. It appears that Conan doesn't realize the magnitude of the battle he is in.

The film comes from director Marcus Nispel who is getting a reputation as the director that only does remakes. The script was taken on by a large group that explains why there are so many jumps in the story leaving it disjointed and requiring a voice-over from Morgan Freeman to piece the story back together. The best part of the film was the opening sequence featuring a young Conan and his father (Ron Perlman) that I have included below. Unfortunately, once Jason Momoa takes over the film falls flat. Even with the beautiful Rachel Nichols, as the pure blood Tamara; and Rose McGowan, as the evil witch Marique, there wasn't enough character development or dialogue to carry the film.

The use of 3D was added in the studio and with many other films that take this cost cutting approach in an effort to capitalize on the higher box office ticket sales it just simply doesn't work. There were many times that the film was lacking brightness so I took the 3D glasses off and it looked the same.

The motto that Conan lives by is to "live, love, slay and be content"; unfortunately at the end of the film I was anything but content. There isn't much that could have saved this film, however I do applaud the effort. It could have been done with the style of "300" or other graphic novel films, but instead it falls closer to a Renaissance Fair. Anything more than a 1 Quack rating would be too generous. This isn't as bad as the others that have received this rating, but it is close. The film attempts to leave things with the option of a sequel, but I would really be surprised if one ever gets made.

(screening date 8/16/11, release date 8/19/11, location Regal Gallery Place)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

The buzz surrounding "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" has been growing since its festival appearance in 2010 and building from his previous films. There are several similarities between this film and others that Guillermo del Toro has written (ie "Pan's Labyrinth" (2006) and "The Devil's Backbone" (2001). In an interview he confirms that the 1973 original was an influence for much of his prior work.

The story is about creatures in a home who according to their mythology want to claim one of them as one of their own. Keeping the story simple allows for the Guillermo del Toro to explore the fears of the characters and provide a visual that will remain with the audience much like the original stuck with him since his childhood. While the original focused on a young couple (Sally and Alex Farnham), the modern version is about a young girl named Sally (Bailee Madison) sent to live with her father, Alex (Guy Pearce), and his new girlfriend, Kim (Katie Holmes). While exploring the house, Sally starts to hear voices coming from creatures in the basement whose hidden agenda is to claim her as one of their own.

I have never been a huge fan of horror films where blood and guts take the focus away from the story or acting. Frequently, the lack of a story or quality acting is the sign of a horror film, but Guillermo del Toro shows restraint and only shows what is necessary to make the audience remain afraid. Similar to "Insidious" I would call this a smart horror film, and even though it is based on prior work and you might be able to predict where it is going, you will never-the-less be frightened without being grossed out by gore.

The performances from Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes are annoying in how the father shows his love for his daughter, but then doesn't believe her when she tells the truth. Katie Holmes tries to show that she has matured and can play the motherly character, but it still isn't believable for me. The strongest performance comes again from Bailee Madison who was most recently seen stealing the spotlight in "Just Go With It". For fun, try to listen to the voices of the creatures and you will find Guillermo del Toro and one at the end that will make you beg for a sequel (even though I don't think it will happen).

Not often does a remake surpass the original, but I think that by switching the attention from the wife in the original to the child in the remake works better. Additionally, the camera work and pacing of the film was about right without taking things too far. Overall, this is a solid 3 Quack film.

(screening date 8/15/11, release date 8/26/11, location Regal Gallery Place)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Quacking BetaMax: The Box

Based on the short story "Button Button" by Richard Matheson and follows an episode of "The Twilight Zone" (1986). According to wikipedia, the original idea is taken from passage 1.6.2 of 'Genius of Christianity' (1802) by François-René de Chateaubriand, in which the authors asks the reader what he would do if he could get rich by killing a mandarin in China solely by force of will. The film version from 2009 is directed by Richard Kelly who is best known for "Donnie Darko" (2001) and provides some minor updates from the short story and TV version.

The story follows Arthur (James Marsden) and Norma Lewis (Cameron Diaz) who each have recent financial issues in Richmond, VA. One day, they receive a mysterious locked box with a button on it and a note that says a Mr. Steward (Frank Langella) will visit. He explains to Norma that, if they press the button, two things will happen: (1) they will receive $1,000,000; and (2) someone "whom you don't know" will die. With just 24 hours to make a decision, Norma and Arthur find themselves in the cross-hairs of a moral dilemma.

The forced southern accents from Cameron Diaz and James Marsden were absolutely terrible as they felt like finger nails on a chalkboard. Additionally, there was no chemistry between the two of them, or with their son. The special effects that were used to disfigure Cameron Diaz and Frank Langella was interesting, but wasn't believable. There is a reason that this was a short story and an episode of the Twilight Zone, because the script being stretched to nearly 2 hours is just too long. Instead there are forced twists and turns that don't really advance the story, but simply show the use of special effects.

The moral dilemma of the story is interesting and asks the question "why a box?". This was explained well by Frank Langella's character that "you live in a box, your car is a box on wheels, you drive to work in it you drive home in it, you sit at home staring at a box, it erodes the soul while the box that is your body dies, where upon you are placed in the ultimate box where you will slowly decompose. This is the temporary state of mankind." The simple answer to the experiment is that you pass the test by simply by not pressing the button. However, the moral dilemma is that if humans are unwilling to sacrifice individual desires for the greater good than we have no chance for survival.

As a movie that I found on HBO, this was okay. However I would have never paid to see this in the theater and can only give it 2 Quacks. It isn't a bad film, but just not a good film either.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Two rising stars in Tom Hardy (Tommy) and Joel Edgerton (Brendan) come together in a film that at first sounds similar to "The Fighter" (2010), "Fighting" (2009) or any number of other testosterone driven films following in the mold of "Rocky" (1976) or "Raging Bull" (1980). "Warrior" revolves around two brothers at odds with each other and their father (Nick Nolte) who have not been able to forgive each other for decisions made when they were teenagers and their parents separated. The favored son, Tommy, chose to follow his mother and take care of her when she took ill, while Brendan saw an opportunity to finally connect with his father who was an abusive alcoholic. The story picks up 15+ years later as Brendan has distanced himself from his father and started a family of his own only to reach a financial crisis, while Tommy is remains a mystery and is hiding from his own past. The two of them cross paths as they resort to prize fighting, one for the money, the other to prove himself a man.

The story is very predictable, but remains engaging as you find yourself cheering for the underdog, Brendan, who is fighting for his family; and sympathizing for the estranged father who is trying to correct the wrongs of his past with his two sons. The symbolism that the father, Paddy, shows with his audio tapes of Moby Dick resonate in that he never left Pittsburgh and accepts that as his punishment for the wrongs he has made. This is countered by Brendan who left everything behind and made a new life for himself in Philadelphia; and Tommy who followed his mother and then joined the Marines in search of brotherhood. One of the wrongs that Paddy attempts to correct is that he never gave Brendan the attention he needed, so it was interesting to see how his support during the tournament changed and the emotion on Nick Nolte's face during these quiet moments.

Even though the story is predictable, how it is told is refreshing to see as it is supported by a strong script that allows the film's dialogue, to explain the past hardships of the Conlon family, and the characters' motivations for retaining such hatred are revealed gradually. Recent films that have focused on fighting ignore the need for a script instead letting the fists do the talking, with the exception being "The Fighter".

In the final moments of the film a song is played that if you haven't heard it you will find deeply emotional. The rock band from Ohio, The National, wrote the song "About Today" in 2004, but it is perfect for this film (take a listen below). It is also the second film this year that one of their songs has been featured in with the other being an original for the film "Win Win".

The final rating for this film is a bit tricky for me as the film had some very strong points, but others that were a bit lacking. I feel that the acting and dialogue push through the weaknesses of the film and I will give it 5 Quacks. I can easily see Nick Nolte receiving a Supporting Actor nomination, and possibly the film even receiving a screenplay nomination.

(screening date 8/11/11, release date 9/9/11, location AMC Loews Georgetown)

Friday, August 5, 2011

Captain America: First Avenger

I will admit that I like most of the comic book films, so I was excited about "Captain America". I finally found some time to go see this film and it clearly stands out from the other comic book films of the summer that include "Green Lantern", "Thor", "Priest" and "X-Men: First Class".

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is the ultimate patriot willing to jump on a live grenade to protect others, but also with a disadvantage of being slight of build. After being rejected from the U.S. Army, Rogers is recruited by Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci) to participate in the "Super Soldiers" program that will help defeat Hitler. As it turns out, the real villain of the world is Johann Schmidt, better known as Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), who has a god complex resulting from a discovery that ties in with "Thor" known as the cosmic cube.

The film is the last in the Marvel series prior to "the Avengers" scheduled for release in 2012 where the mighty Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America will be combined with the Incredible Hulk and others in the ultimate battle of good vs. evil. As with the other Marvel films the connections are almost as fun to identify as finding Waldo on a page filled with red/white striped shirts. The technology used by Captain America is engineered by Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), the father of Tony Stark and Iron Man and it wouldn't be complete without a Nick Fury appearance, which is always perfectly played by the ultimate bad-ass Samuel L. Jackson. The Super Soldier program is referenced in the "Incredible Hulk" film. When Red Skull is staring into the cosmic cube it appears as if he sees Asgard, the home of Thor.

The special effects used to make Chris Evans the skinny and weak version of himself was weird to look at. There were some size differences that I noticed particularly in a car ride with Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). The timing from Tommy Lee Jones as Col. Phillips provided the perfect balance of humor and serious to the character.

Compared to the other comic book films of the year, I think the best was saved for last. I will actually give this one a 4 Quack rating. It still remains a summer popcorn and fountain soda film, but if you have seen the other Marvel films then you will want to continue seeing the series in anticipation of "the Avengers".

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