Title Director Review Rating Reviewer
The Book of Eli (2010) Albert and Allen Hughes The Book of Eli doesn’t really have anywhere to go that Ray Bradbury hasn’t already been, but the destination is less important than the journey anyway. Eli (Denzel Washington), a calm and quiet man by preference, a highly skilled warrior when necessary, walks west across the desert thirty years after nuclear Armageddon, fiercely protecting the book he carries in his backpack. The book, of course (it really is that obvious), is the Bible, and it is the last copy known to exist. Carnegie (Gary Oldman), the petty despot of a shanty-town Eli enters on his trek, also understands the power of the book—to manipulate and subjugate—and he’ll do whatever it takes to get his hands on it. Washington, no stranger to this kind of role, is perfectly cast as Eli, as believable as a simple, thoughtful man on a mission of hope as he is carving up bad guys with a sword he carries on his back and keeps razor sharp. Oldman is less interesting as the despot since he exists only to provide contrast. Overall, a solid entry in the post-apocalyptic genre. 4 Brian Martin
Drag Me to Hell (2009) Sam Raimi Cursed by an old gypsy woman (Lorna Raver) after refusing to grant a third extension on her mortgage, young loan officer Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) has only three days to either end the curse or shift it to someone else, knowing that if she fails her soul will be dragged to hell and eternal torment. These gypsies are hardcore. The movie opens with a kid who gets the same curse for stealing a necklace. Not a scary movie, but with buckets of blood and other bodily fluids, it’s certainly nauseating. Christine and her professor boyfriend both look like kids playing dress-up. For the slapstick horror crowd, the one that finds humor in excessive gore. 2 Brian Martin
Duplicity (2009) Tony Gilroy Duplicity is stylish and entertaining, and it plays like the Noah’s Ark of thrillers: everything comes in pairs. The two hard-nosed CEOs of two competing corporate giants hire a couple of ex-spies to do whatever it takes to give their company the edge, even if it means stealing secret product plans. The spies, however, have a history with each other, and they have a plan of their own. Julia Roberts and Clive Owen are engaging as the spies (one American, one British, of course), whose budding romance is beset by trust issues: in the corporate world, which is every bit as cut-throat and duplicitous as the spy game, whom can they really believe? It’s worth noting that the movie plays fair with this question, too. For the most part. 4 Brian Martin
Edge of Darkness (2010) Martin Campbell Boston cop uncovers corporate and government corruption in his vengeful search for the man who gunned down his daughter. What he fails to find, however, is a reason for us to believe a single thing that happens in this movie. From the moment Thomas Craven (Mel Gibson) is allowed to work the case, we know we’re headed into fairyland. And it just gets progressively more implausible as it goes along, until Craven is pointing guns at corporate bigwigs and threatening high government officials as if they had no more protection than local pimps and drug dealers. Gibson does well as a dad on a mission of justice, but the story’s too convoluted, the conspiracy goes too high to be supported by emotionalism alone. And all Craven’s got to fall back on is his aging tough-guy cop status, which, at one point, even he admits wouldn’t be enough to keep him alive ten minutes if he were up against real professionals, instead of the collection of facile dunderheads in this movie. 2 Brian Martin
Green Zone (2010) Paul Greengrass The amusing irony of Paul Greengrass’ Green Zone, which is about the search for non-existent WMD in Iraq just after America’s invasion in 2003 (the very same weapons of mass destruction that were the ostensible reason for the war in the first place), is that it tries very hard to convince us of its authenticity while, at its core, it’s just an excuse for another thriller that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. In the field, where Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) spends most of his time, the movie looks good, it sounds good, and, hell, it’s set in a time and place that are both part of the historical record. But after a promising beginning, during which Miller must contend with the chaos of looting Iraqis and a pesky sniper only to come up empty yet again, the soldier’s frustration and mounting sense of moral outrage propel him (and us) on a bizarre journey of insubordination and inexplicably lax military discipline. Miller seemingly can do whatever he wants (including abandoning his unit) and go wherever he wants (to prove his suspicion that the war was a fraud) without fear of interference from his superior officers (who conveniently disappear after the first half hour or so). Not that he doesn’t encounter resistance; he does. It comes in the form of a high-ranking politico who rates his own special hit squad yet somehow can’t muster the clout to get Miller tossed into the brig where he belongs. 3 Brian Martin
House on Haunted Hill (1959) William Castle Eccentric millionaire (Vincent Price) challenges five strangers to stay all night in a haunted house, promising a $10,000 payday to any survivors. Mystery-horror hybrid with no designs to rise above its B-movie limitations, and all the more enjoyable for that. Remade in 1999. 4 Brian Martin
The Last Man on Earth (1954) Ubaldo Ragona The first of three adaptations of Richard Matheson’s novel, I Am Legend, and partly written by Matheson himself (credited as Logan Swanson). The film stars Vincent Price as Dr. Robert Morgan, the last human survivor of a plague that turns people into the walking undead (they walk like zombies, they’re as slow-witted as the walking dead, but, like vampires, they fear garlic and they are only able to come out at night). Naturally they want to kill Morgan. One of those movies (severely lacking any sense of urgency) that hides its secret to its own detriment. Let’s just say it has to do with the title of the book. Dull, for the most part. 3 Brian Martin
Legion (2010) Scott Charles Stewart Legion is about two angels with radically different interpretations of God’s wishes. One wants to destroy the human race, the other wants to save it. Stuck in the middle is a disparate group of ordinary joes and janes trapped in a truck stop in the middle of the desert. Along with a pregnant woman whose baby seems to be mankind’s best hope for a brighter future. If you’re confused, that’s understandable, since the baby negates the premise. Why destroy a race when new hope is on the way? Alternatively, if the baby is the hope of mankind, then it’s up to the baby—not an angel—to save us. But what’s the point of logic if it deprives us of the chance to see a flesh-eating, spider-walking grandma? The characters (the ones who aren’t murderous zombies) don’t help. Seems like each one has a sob story from his or her childhood (even the teenager). Paradise Falls—that’s the name of the truck stop. Well, no wonder, when mankind is represented by a support group for the developmentally arrested. Starring Paul Bettany as the defending angel, Adrianne Palicki as the pregnant chick, Lucas Black as her optimistic suitor, and Dennis Quaid as the disillusioned owner of Paradise Falls. 2 Brian Martin
Max Payne (2008) unrated director’s cut John Moore Max Payne has one very cool visual effect and a fun noir comic-book style (even though it was based on a video game), but the story is a mess. Rather than trying to find the logic in the violence, it sees the two as equivalent, so whenever the plot starts to go off the track, the filmmakers simply toss in some more mayhem. (Even when it gets it right, it gets it wrong, as in a scene in which the bad guy has a plan to take care of Max that actually makes sense, but then makes the ridiculous mistake of handcuffing his prisoner’s hands in front of his body.) Mark Wahlberg plays Max, a cop tortured by the reality that one of the men who killed his wife and baby is still at large. Mila Kunis plays Mona Sax, the gun-toting sister of a woman hacked to pieces in an alley not far from Max’s apartment. The deaths are related, of course, and lead Max to a shadowy group of people who sport wing-like tattoos as protection against a terrible evil. Or something like that. Cue the machine guns. 3 Brian Martin
The New Daughter (2009) Luis Berdejo Inexplicably uninvolved Dad (Kevin Costner), recently divorced, moves with his two children, a young boy and a rebellious teenage girl (Ivana Baquero), to a large house in the woods where his hopes to bond with his kids are thwarted by strange creatures with dark plans for his daughter. So soon do the creatures make their move that the family’s weak ties to each other are never given a chance to grow, undermining whatever emotional power the movie might have had. 3 Brian Martin
Night of the Living Dead (1968) George Romero Reasonably effective independent horror film, inspired by Richard Matheson’s novel, I Am Legend, about a group of strangers holed up in a Pennsylvania farmhouse under siege by the walking dead. Notable in that the hero is a black man. Better for the fact that he isn’t always right. A story with real irony. Good ending, too. In black and white. 4 Brian Martin
Pandorum (2009) Christian Alvart The final scene of Pandorum is quite nice. Getting to it, however, is another matter. It’s sort of like watching Alien—if that film had had living props instead of real characters. A handful of survivors aboard the last spaceship from Earth have to reach the reactor in order to prevent a complete shutdown of all systems. Trouble is, while they’ve been in extended hypersleep, the ship has been overrun by monsters. In a movie like this, that can mean only one thing: one bloody fight after another. 2 Brian Martin
Salt (2010) Phillip Noyce During the Cold War people were fond of saying, If the Russians didn’t exist, we’d have to invent them. Now, in the post-Cold War era, the minds behind Salt have done exactly that. Starting from one of the sillier ideas to come out of the assassination of JFK, director Phillip Noyce and writer Kurt Wimmer resurrect the Russians as the world’s primary threat then let Angelina Jolie loose on them. Jolie gives it all she’s got (she has to because the script gives her nothing to work with), but even that isn’t enough to decently conceal the secret weapon of all superheroes, the Plot Bubble of Invulnerability. Since it’s impossible to ignore, you might want to make a drinking game of it and take a shot every time Jolie should have been killed or captured. On second thought, Salt is hardly worth risking alcohol poisoning. 3 Brian Martin
Star Trek (2009) J. J. Abrams This version of Star Trek reminds me of the scene in the original 1979 film in which whole minutes are devoted to a loving tour around the exterior of the iconic Enterprise, except that here all the devotion is focused on the characters themselves. We’ve got the whole crew—Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Sulu, Chekhov, and Scotty—just younger. Not different; just younger. Much of the fun is derived from character quirks and catchphrases, making this less a science fiction film based on Star Trek than a fanfic on film. The story involves the personal vendetta of a Romulan commander who blames Spock for the destruction of his planet, and he wants Spock to feel his pain. And I guess Spock does, too, although I felt more of a sense of loss when the Death Star blew apart Alderaan in Star Wars than anything that happens here. Perhaps that’s because Alec Guinness isn’t around to underscore the matter, but more probably it’s that this movie is as naïve as its young stars. Tack on an extra rating point if you're a fan of the original series. Starring Chris Pine as James T. Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock, Leonard Nimoy as Spock Prime, Eric Bana as bad guy Capt. Nero, Karl Urban as Bones, Zoe Saldana as Uhura, Scott Simon Pegg as Scotty, John Cho as Sulu, and Anton Yelchin as Chekov. 3 Brian Martin
State of Play (2009) Kevin Macdonald The death of a congressman’s mistress leads a couple of Washington reporters into a world of private armies, hired guns, and, of course, murder. Adapted from a six-part, six-hour BBC TV serial, although “condensed from” might be a more appropriate term. State of Play is really two movies. The first is about friendship and betrayal: one of the reporters (Russell Crowe) has a complicated friendship with the congressman (Ben Affleck) and his wife that dates back to college; it’s a relationship that gets even more problematic now that he has to decide whether they are friends or sources. The second movie is a thriller, in part about the dangers of the privatization of the army; it even comes complete with one of those ostensibly harrowing chases in a parking garage. In the end, we’re left with a two-hour mashup of the two: a reportorial thriller that celebrates breaking the wrong story. 3 Brian Martin
Surrogates (2009) Jonathan Mostow Surrogates are robots. They are the avatars of the human race. Ninety-nine percent of all human beings own one and link up to it whenever they want to leave their homes. Perhaps this is because they are ostensibly prettier than real people. Or maybe it’s because safeguards in the software protect the host, no matter what happens to their surrogate. Murder is almost unheard of. But someone has acquired a weapon that kills the host when it destroys the surrogate. Cue Thomas Greer (Bruce Willis), an FBI agent whose surrogate is out of commission, forcing him to hunt the killer as a mere “meatbag.” Regrettably, the filmmakers failed to realize what they had here: an opportunity for Greer to rediscover his humanity. Instead, Greer begins the film yearning to reconnect with his wife, in the flesh. The rest is anticlimactic. Oh, there’s a lot of action and a mystery that leads back to the inventor of surrogate technology (James Cromwell), but the urgency is all kinetic. A hero who hates robots shouldn’t be one himself. 3 Brian Martin
Taken (2008) Pierre Morel Taut thriller starring Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills, ex-CIA operative, whose seventeen-year-old daughter is kidnapped while on a trip to Paris. He has 96 hours to find and rescue her before she disappears into the criminal underground forever. You’ve seen all this before, just generally flabbier and lazier. Here all the clichés and stereotypes of the genre are used to good purpose: to strip away the fat. What’s left is a lean, hard tale of a man with the skills to battle evil on its own turf and the uncompromising drive to do so. It’s fantasy, sure, but the reality is, it’s fantasies like this that keep us sane. Neeson, who has to carry the plot, gives a terrific performance, imbuing Mills with an inner conviction to match his physical prowess. For all his cold-bloodedness, we never forget that Mills is exactly what he tells his daughter he was, when he worked for the CIA: a man who prevents bad things from happening. 5 Brian Martin
Triangle (2009) Christopher Smith Writer-director Christopher Smith puts a modern spin on the Greek myth of Sisyphus (misidentified as Aeolus, who was Sisyphus’ father), the mortal condemned for eternity to roll a huge stone up a hill only to have it roll back down again, forever forcing him to start over. Here, a single mom named Jess (Melissa George), frantic to get back home to her autistic son, finds herself on a ghost ship with four other adults, who are being hunted down one by one by a mask-wearing psycho. The problem is, Jess is sure she’s taken this nightmare cruise before. George, surprisingly good as Jess, holds the movie together, but it would have been better if Smith had broken free from the depressing fatalism of his source material. 3 Brian Martin
Unthinkable (2010) Gregor Jordan It’s difficult to say anything meaningful about Unthinkable without spoiling it. Nine-tenths of the movie plays like a season of 24, with a results-driven interrogator (Samuel L. Jackson) trying to torture the location of armed nuclear bombs from a terrorist opposed by a moral, law-abiding female FBI agent (Carrie-Anne Moss) who isn’t sure the end justifies the means. The only truly interesting part of the movie comes at the very end; really, is encapsulated by a single line of dialogue. And to reveal that would be to give away the movie. None of which, by the way, is in any way a recommendation to see this film. 3 Brian Martin
The War of the Worlds (1953) Byron Haskin Resolved: This, the original adaptation of H. G. Wells’ novel about an invasion of Earth from Mars, is widely considered a classic. Resolved: It is required viewing for the serious science fiction fan. Resolved: The special effects are very good for their time. Up for debate: The actual quality of the film. It’s difficult to entirely recommend any movie that makes as much use of stock footage as this one does, but unfortunately, here, this is merely a symptom of a larger problem; to wit, the misguided attempt to paint Wells’ story of one man’s experiences with invading Martians onto a much broader canvas. The filmmakers seem to think mankind’s peril will be ours, but of course it doesn’t really work that way. So, as a sop, they give us Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry) and Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson), and when that ad hoc relationship runs out of gas, well, there’s always religion to turn to. Still, the effects involving the Martian ships are good, and it’s fun watching them blast humanity to smithereens. 3 Brian Martin
The Wolfman (2010) Joe Johnston England, 1891. Broody stage actor Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) investigates the gruesome death of his estranged brother, with the help of his father (Anthony Hopkins) and his late brother’s fiancé (Emily Blunt). His investigation quickly leads him to a gypsy camp in the woods, where he is attacked by a werewolf. You can guess the rest. The movie starts well, in an air of gothic shadow and mystery, but quickly sinks into the usual mix of violence, extravagant action, and familial dysfunction. 3 Brian Martin
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) Gavin Hood How does a young mutant who can project bony spikes from the knuckles of his hands become an almost indestructible killing machine? With the infusion of adamantium, an extraterrestrial metal that renders his skeleton impervious to assault. And why the infusion in the first place? Revenge—not to put too fine a point on it. Add Murder, Betrayal, and Manipulation to the mix and you realize that there’s nothing subtle about this movie, nothing original, even, except the mutation itself. And that’s the point, I guess: a movie like this, what you want to see is that mutation in action. And there’s plenty of action, for which director Gavin Hood shows real flair. As Wolverine, Hugh Jackman is gruff, yet appealing; he comes off as a man who isn’t defined by his strange ability, but who doesn’t deny it, either. It’s Wolverine’s core humanity that keeps us watching, that keeps the action fun. That, and a little mental duct tape with which to shut off the irrelevant protestations from our inner critic. 4 Brian Martin
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