The Lincoln Lawyer


Having been subjected to uncountable courtroom thrillers since the dawn of cinematic time, making one worth the mention is quite the accomplishment. It is why it is always questionable to brand a genre movie such as “The Lincoln Lawyer” as predictable, considering a genre movie is by definition a film that exploits clichés. However, many of its predecessors have skilfully succeeded in keeping its audience on its toes. “Primal Fear” showcased incredible performances and quite an unexpected final twist, “A Few Good Men” managed to give the standard courtroom drama more substance with its political undertones and “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” skilfully blended two genres into one. The same cannot be said of “The Lincoln Lawyer”.

In this case, the storyline does not pull any punches, and unassumingly basks in the standards of its genre. A defense lawyer (Matthew McConaughey) takes on a case that challenges his moral values. The case: a rape and attempted murder. The suspect: the spoiled son of a real estate tycoon (Ryan Phillippe). The victim: a prostitute. Twists and turns ensue as the lawyer uncovers truths that some would kill to keep buried. In short, nothing we haven’t seen before. However, despite its predictability and lack of originality, “The Lincoln Lawyer” still manages to be quite entertaining, namely due to its leading actors’ performances.

McConaughey’s career choices since his breakthrough performance in “A Time to Kill” have been questionable at best. Appearing in way too many ephemeral romantic comedies, many were left wondering if McConaughey would ever be taken seriously as an actor again. It is why taking on a role akin to the one that first put him on the map may have been his smartest career move yet. McConaughey is more inspired than we have seen him in a long time and even manages to regain a little credibility. The same can be said about Phillippe, who despite having acted in a couple of good films (“Stop Loss”, “Flags of our Father”) has not had a compelling performance since “Cruel Intentions”. In “The Lincoln Lawyer”, Phillippe is engaging as the shady suspect with a penchant for prostitutes, confirming that he shines best as an antagonist rather than as an all American hero. The two actors play well off of each other, and render this by-the-book courtroom thriller quite entertaining despite its disconcerting knack for clichés.

Down the line, this movie will go down in the annals of cinema as yet another forgettable courtroom thriller. However, if you are looking for an entertaining and unassuming popcorn flick, or have been waiting to see a good McConaughey movie for more than a decade, “The Lincoln Lawyer” just might be a film for you.

Review by Ralph Arida

Limitless


Human beings only use twenty percent of their brain capacity. Limitless ponders on what would happen if they were to have access to the other eighty. Cue Eddie (Bradley Cooper), a dishevelled, alcoholic and recently dumped author suffering from writer’s block who stumbles upon a brain enhancing drug called NZT. Once ingested, his life picks up at the speed of light and Eddie becomes a force to be reckoned with. His brain prowess is limitless and swiftly projects him to the very top as a jet setting financial guru. Now the center of attention, Eddie’s sudden success makes of him a commodity and a target for the powerful and the greedy.

Consider “Limitless” the offspring of “Wall Street” and “Strange Days”, were they to mate, without the latter’s relevance and the former’s charismatic performances. Although Cooper, despite his awkward voice-over narrations, ably carries this movie with infectious enthusiasm and oozing charisma, the same cannot be said of his supporting cast. Robert De Niro as Carl Van Loon, a part not unlike “Wall Street”’s infamous antagonist Gordon Gekko, pales in comparison to Michael Douglas as he shamelessly sleepwalks through his lines, and Abbie Cornish, the proverbial love interest, is like a fish out of water. In fact if it weren’t for Andrew Howard’s sadistic Eastern European lone shark, Cooper would have no support at all.

The human brain remains the most complex organ in the human body and one of the last mysteries of modern science. Consequently, “Limitless”’ premise is appealing. Its treatment, however, is archetypal at best. “Limitless” is yet another movie that mistakes its premise for its plot. The storytelling is sporadic and ill-defined, an amalgam of nothing but unresolved subplots, leaving the audience yearning in vain for a main plot to surface. The focus of the story shifts aimlessly from subplot to subplot, desperate to give itself a purpose and consequently, lacks a beginning a middle and an end. As a result, “Limitless” is only a mere shadow of the film it aspires to be.

Neil Burger (“The Illusionist”) does his best directing from a screenplay plagued with unresolved subplots. His use of CGI is imaginative and expressionistic, bordering on psychedelic, and is ultimately Limitless’ only redeeming factor. Burger, along with an army of visual effects technicians, manages to revolutionize the Droste effect quite effectively, resulting in a stunning and dizzying opening sequence, that triggers the audience’s senses like very few visual effects can, thus making the opening sequence the movie’s highlight and quite frankly, the only genuine reason to catch this flick in theatres.

Review by Ralph Arida

A Perfect Getaway


I was excited to go watch “A Perfect Getaway”. It’s been a while since Hollywood has dished out a slick sexy thriller. This one seemed promising, showcasing two of my favorite actors, the captivating Milla Jovovich and the always underrated Steve Zahn (whom according to me deserved an Oscar for his stunning performance in “Rescue Dawn”). Shot in Hawaii and written and directed by David Twohy (“Pitch Black”), I sat in the theatre expecting a sensuous badass thriller.

The premise is simple: two couples meet while island hopping, when news breaks out of murderers stalking and killing tourists. What started off as a heavenly honeymoon soon becomes a game of cat and mouse as both couples try to figure out who the murderers are, while trying to stay alive.

“A Perfect Getaway” falls flat really quickly, mostly due to its over-expository dialogue under the pretence of Zahn’s character being a screenwriter. Much like the Scream movies, most of the scenes are saturated with self-referential banter alluding to red herrings, first second and third acts and the proverbial final twist. Although the concept was witty in the 90’s when Kevin Williamson exploited it to its maximum potential, Twohy’s self-conscious screenwriting disserves him. A thriller is nothing without its intrigue. That being said, when the intrigue is constantly spoon fed to you by characters fastidiously explaining the film’s structure as it unveils itself, the viewer is deprived from the visceral anticipation that comes from the unknown and the unexpected. Ironically, the entire movie pivots around its final twist, which resultantly comes off as anything but unexpected.

The handling of the final twist in “A Perfect Getaway” is clumsy. Not only does it fail to surprise or shock the audience, but Twohy manages to render it anticlimactic. Instead of going straight to the thriller’s climax after the great reveal, Twohy once again chooses to explain in great detail the murderers’ backgrounds and motives through endless black and white flashbacks, needlessly killing the film’s momentum. By the time the flashbacks end, the disappointed audience is left anxiously waiting for the theatre lights to turn on.

The film’s sole redeeming factor is Twohy’s insistence on fully developing its characters before throwing them in the grinder. The thriller’s two first acts are completely dedicated to getting to know its colourful protagonists and watching them interact. Thankfully, the cast brings it on with devoted zest and enthusiasm. Jovovich and Zahn, despite the little chemistry between them, ably carry the film and as for its supporting cast, Timothy Olyphant comes back in great form after a series of humiliating one-dimensional performances (“Hitman”, “Live Free or Die Hard”), and up and coming actor Chris Hemsworth (“Star Trek”, “Thor”) eats up the screen despite his limited screen presence.

It is a wonder why Twohy chose to underplay his cast’s sex appeal and overexpose his script’s structure. Although I am sure his intentions were good (a thriller showcasing three-dimensional characters instead of sexed up caricatures), maybe a little less plot exposition and a little more flesh could have, for once, made this thriller a memorable one. That being said, “A Perfect Getaway” definitely outshines the panoply of Hollywood thrillers to have come out lately, however still confirms my theory that American thrillers lag behind European ones. I’d watch “Eden Lake” over this film anytime, and so should you.

Review by Ralph Arida

Obsessed


“Obsessed” is the first full-fledged b-movie that is not directed by either Robert Rodriguez or Quentin Tarantino that I have seen in a movie theatre in a long time. However, as opposed to the infamous b-movie knock offs directed by those two rebellious directors, the only surprise that comes with watching this movie, is how seriously it takes itself. Unlike what I had assumed from watching the previews, this is not a genre film, nor an exploitation film, this film actually aspires to be a serious stalker thriller, much along the lines of “Fatal Attraction”, “Single White Female”, “Fear”, “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle” and even “Lakeview Terrace”. The problem is, it does not even come close to attaining the credibility and suspense of the movies it draws its inspiration from, and that is mostly due to the fact that Obsessed is as subtle and profound as its title.

Steve Shill’s directing is as profound as a grade one math class. Had Shill understood the savoury trashiness of this script and not taken it at face value, “Obsessed” would have been a much more entertaining film. For a movie like this to truly work and be taken seriously, one needs, besides an able director, a stellar cast. “Fatal Attraction” would have been nothing without Glenn Close and Michael Douglas and “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle” would have been completely forgettable had it not been for Rebecca De Mornay’s striking performance. On that note, “Obsessed”’s cast is far from being stellar. Idris Elba comes off as emasculated and boring instead of an alpha male oozing with testosterone, and Beyoncé Knowles looks like she’s hooked up to an IV feeding her a Prozac, Ambien and Ativan cocktail in every scene she’s in, whether she’s crying or kicking ass. Ali Larter as the obsessed bitch is by far the movie’s only bright side as she delivers her lines and emanates her psychotic mood swings perfectly, however there is only so much she can do with such a bad script. Shill should have seen all of this coming, and aimed for a campy b-movie instead of trying to fool his audience into thinking it’s watching a smart film.

“Obsessed” is definitely not the kind of movie to see if you feel like being intellectually stimulated. Its premise is anorexic and its screenplay is rudimentary at best. I really wonder what went through Shill’s brain when he decided, after having read David Loughery’s script, to direct it as a straightforward thriller. Whoever directed the preview to this film should have taken Shill’s job, because he or she understood that the film’s essence, goal and purpose was its third act. That no matter how one-dimensional the characters are, no matter how many plot holes this story can offer, the one and only reason why people will go see this film is to see Knowles kick the shit out of some white bitch for trying to steal her man. There is no need for character development in a movie like this, there is not even a need for a plot, and sadly, Shill seems to have been more preoccupied with hiding the fact that his characters are one-dimensional and that his plot is inexistent, rather than aiming to create the most delicious catfight to have ever hit the silver screen.

The third act, the confrontation between the two women, should have been much longer and much more intense in order for this movie to be truly worth your time. It needed to go where no movie had gone before. I wanted to see hair extensions being pulled out, nails peeling skin off of their faces, I wanted to hear them call each other vile names and throw each other through the house’s walls. I wanted a fight that would rival any WWF showdown. Instead I got a lacklustre five-minute fight, filled with clichés and horrible one-liners. Resultantly, “Obsessed” comes off as a dull and anti-climatic b-movie. Had the catfight been over-the-top, this movie would have probably been one of my favourite of its genre.

All of that being said, “Obsessed” is still a pretty entertaining movie, if only for Larter’s performance. It is definitely an enjoyable guilty pleasure, as long as you go in the theatre knowing that you will watch a missed opportunity and ultimately a bad movie. It is a shame however, that it chose to deny itself of a sense of humour and play it safe. This could have been an extremely entertaining movie had it been directed by someone with a vision and passion for genre filmmaking like Robert Rodriguez or Quentin Tarantino…

Review by Ralph Arida

Martyrs


Pascal Laugier’s “Martyrs” is one of those movies that you cannot possibly dismiss, whether you love it or hate it. Its relentlessly tenebrous discourse, and its willingness to test its viewers’ tolerance have amassed an incredible amount of controversy in festivals around the world; a testament to Laugier’s radical and bold approach to exploring torture, martyrdom and the taboo that lurks around them. This movie does not shy away from agonizing depictions of human beings tortured to the point of dehumanization. It is crude and offensively gory yet the glooming sense of realism behind this excruciating story, and the undeniable sentimentality underlying it, elevates this horror movie from torture porn status to intellectual sadism. For a movie about torture, “Martyrs” ironically stands as quite the masochistic experience, so much so that recommending it can be quite a sensitive issue. Consequently, I do not know many people that I would recommend this movie to, in fact, I am still not sure whether I enjoyed it, however I am grateful to have experienced it and admire the movie’s audacity.

It has been a while since I’ve been haunted by a movie for days, constantly revisiting the world it created, pondering upon its deeper meaning and the reasons why I cannot get it out of my mind. It has been even longer since a horror movie has had that effect on me. In fact, I don’t even remember the last time I considered a horror movie to be truly horrifying… Back in the 1970’s, movies like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “The Exorcist” were infamous for traumatizing their audience with bold imagery and sinister storytelling. For those, as I, who were not lucky enough to have experienced those movies at the time they were released, the feeling of overwhelming gloom that comes after the screening of a horror movie has not really existed. When was the last time a horror movie has truly marked an entire generation since the 1970’s? The last one to even come close to achieving that was “The Blair Witch Project”. Although nowadays its relevance has become obsolete, when it first came out, it was considered audacious and radical. It dared to push the proverbial envelope and tap into the abysmal imaginary of its viewers with one simple gimmick: recounting events from the subjective point of view of the protagonist’s camcorder.

Although it was not the first movie to explore such a gimmick (“C’est Arrive Près de Chez Vous”, a 1992 Belgium film, was shot the exact same way and is a far superior film), “The Blair Witch Project” came with an omnipresent buzz and a relentless word of mouth which consequently made of it a movie that will stand in the annals of horror movies as one of those films that people went to see not to be entertained, but to live the experience. In that sense, “The Blair With Project” is much like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “The Exorcist” in that it stands as a horror movie event. Do not get me wrong, “The Blair Witch Project” is far from being one of my favourite horror movies, however, I do believe it is the last one to have truly reinvigorated its genre while achieving mainstream status.

The only reason that I can come up with for the lack of horror movie events is that the audience has become too aware of the filmmaking process. Resultantly, the contemporary moviemakers’ storytelling has been handicapped with an overwhelming sense of self-awareness. How can a horror movie have a true impact on someone’s psyche when it itself is more concerned with being self-referential than forthright with its intent? “Scream”, “Saw”, “Hostel” and all of their knockoffs are movies that, although really entertaining, are more busy trying to outsmart and play around with its audience than rattling its core with a haunting narrative. Their directors are not adamant about the stories they are telling, nor inspired by a dire need to explore taboos, but rather challenged by the notion of pushing sensationalism to new grounds, a feat that is to be acknowledged but that I cannot help but dismiss as gratuitous and simple. Similarly, the Japanese horror movie wave (“The Ring”, “The Grudge”, “The Eye”), although quite deserving of its appraise, seems more preoccupied with its moralistic undertones than with truly tapping into the fears of its audience. Once again, although my discourse may sound cynical, I am a fan of all of those movies, and appreciate them for what they are, however, after having seen “Martyrs”, I have now gotten a taste of horror moviemaking at its best; the kind that harasses your intellect and shatters your mind.

“Martyrs” is definitely hard to describe and even harder to compare. Think “Funny Games”, “Irreversible”, “Hostel” and “The Grudge” blended into one and pumped up on steroids. The reason behind the odd comparison stems from the fact that Laugier’s narrative is clearly divided into three acts, each having a distinctive narrative and/or visual style. Whereas the first two acts are completely devoid of glitzy cinematography and over-indulgent camera angles, basking in gritty and straightforward realism, the closing act’s visual style is hauntingly imaginative and at the risk of sounding psychotic, aesthetically stunning. Additionally, Laugier’s script’s sinuous storytelling provides, with each new act, a deeper and more multidimensional insight on the psyche of its characters as well as the purpose of their journey, transforming what may preliminarily seem as a gratuitous showcase of violence, into a hypnotizing and transcending experience. That not only stands as one of the countless ways that “Martyrs” challenges horror movie standards, but as a testament to its audacity seeing that despite its eclectic discourse, the movie still remains surprisingly cohesive. That being said, it is besides the point to recount the movie’s story, as most of its impact originates from the fact that the audience never truly knows where the story is going, and cannot possibly anticipate its purpose, meaning or conclusion. It is why, despite its flaws, which mostly stem from its borderline condescending tendency to explain its meaning through expository scenes that could have easily been cut, “Martyrs” is a movie of the unforgettable kind.

Another notable asset of “Martyrs” is its special effects. The gore in this movie is very persuasive. There is no excessive blood gushing supported with tasteless sound effects. Every act of violence is depicted with astonishing anatomic accuracy. Resultantly, this film is almost unbearable to watch. In fact, I dare anyone to keep a straight face while watching this film, as each scene is more cringe-inducing than the next, pushing the audience’s tolerance towards violence to lengths never before reached. Eventually a sense of fatalistic numbness creeps over, the brain unable to fathom the atrocities it witnesses. In that same vein, the performances of the two main protagonists played by Morjana Alaoui and Mylène Jampanoi are flawlessly layered considering the source material. Never once is their agony ever doubted and despite their characters’ flaws and peculiar state of mind, they manage to remain heartbreakingly relatable. It is why “Martyrs” is so polarizing. Whereas its story and context are excruciatingly and torturously gruesome, its technical merits, its dreadful humanity and its long-lasting impact are undeniably venerable.

In many ways, Pascal Laugier’s film stands more as a psychological experiment than as a horror film, testing its viewers’ tolerance and limitations. It is one of the few films that aspire to ignite discussion and to push the boundaries of their medium. Whereas this film will most likely never gain the mainstream exposure and appraise that films like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “The Exorcist” garnered, it certainly stands as their contemporary equal. Here’s hoping that “Martyrs” is only the beginning of a new horror movie trend.

Review by Ralph Arida

My Bloody Valentine 3D


What made the 80’s slasher films so good was their total lack of pretence. They took pride in numbing the viewers’ brains with pure sensationalism: bloody murder, nudity and suspense. The plots were lean if not inexistent. It was not about an underlying moralistic tale, nor about guessing who the killer was. The actors were barely even able to deliver their lines and were only there for us to watch them ludicrously die. Settings were not made out to be pretty and slick color tints were not shading every single frame. They were gritty, nasty, gratuitous and a whole lot of fun.

“My Bloody Valentine 3D” is a welcomed return to the golden age of slasher films. It revels in the absurdity of its predecessors, and glorifies their mediocrity. This movie is not about reinventing the genre, or outsmarting its audience. The brain power behind the film is entirely focused on delivering intricate murder scenes, and making them look cool, and in that sense, this movie is incredibly successful. The body count is over the top, and the victims’ cadavers are torn apart in unimaginable ways, so much so that one cannot help but laugh wholeheartedly at the campy brutality and inventiveness of the murders.

The murderer in this case is an enraged minor, who masters the art of mutilating helpless victims with his pick-axe. Each victim is ripped apart, gutted, split and punctured in so many different ways that “My Bloody Valentine 3D” could very well stand as a thesis on how to murder with a pick-axe. As for the victims, this murderer does not discriminate. He kills attractive naked women, midgets, scrawny old men, pregnant women, bullies, cops; anything that stands on two feet and happens to be in the way. Out of all the victims though, it is Betsy Rue, a young furious and completely naked lady, who stands out the most. The boldness and authenticity of the naked actress’ performance is brilliant, and her murder scene is the most fun and memorable scene to have hit the genre, period! Never has a cliché been twisted in such a creative and clever way.

The 3D technology is extremely appropriate in this case. The excitement that comes with experiencing this revamped technology makes of this movie an enthralling viewing experience, and the filmmakers ably exploit it to its maximum capacity, as the viewers embark, from beginning to end, in a bloody and side-splitting rollercoaster ride from hell. It’s been a while since I have witnessed an audience have so much fun in a movie theatre, screaming, cheering and laughing out loud, and for that reason alone, “My Bloody Valentine 3D” is a triumph. Needless to say, do not watch this movie unless it is in 3D!

Review by Ralph Arida

Seven Pounds


There is no doubt in my mind that Will Smith pulls his weight in the Hollywood leading actor category, however, for some reason, in “Seven Pounds”, Smith makes us long for his lighter fare. The film’s relentless somberness and overwhelming drama feels like a ton of bricks from the beginning until the end, and resultantly weighs down on its audience’s willingness to embark into its characters’ emotional journeys. “Seven Pounds” feels cold, calculated and over-thought, and consequently becomes the perfect example of why too much is never enough.

It is always an awkward situation to watch an actor try too hard at a role that is simply not meant for him. Smith is without a doubt a very talented actor, and has been slowly transitioning from his all-American leading man image that put him on the map (“Independence Day”, “Men in Black”), to the serious thespian method-acting image that should give his career the longevity that he deserves (“Ali”, “I Am Legend” and “The Pursuit of Happiness”). In “Seven Pounds” however, he simply misses the mark. Smith spends the entire movie with an eerie beaten down look in his eyes, and never lets go of it, whether he’s smiling, laughing or making love. His ability to do something casual while looking like he is about to commit suicide is uncanny and deserves appraise, however his one-trick-pony performance gets old fast. By the time the credits roll, you end up relieved to not have to look at his depressing doom-and-gloom look on his face rather than being touched by his character’s fate.

That being said, the movie’s flaws do not all rest on Smith’s shoulders. The script is a condescending mess, trying to be mysterious and subtle and yet feeling transparent and predictable. Watching “Seven Pounds” is like waiting for a surprise that you know is coming for 2 very slowly paced and depressing hours. Its fragmented narrative comes off as a pretentious gimmick instead of refined moviemaking and simply takes away from the raw emotions that should emanate effortlessly from such heavy-handed material.

The one redeeming factor of the movie is Rosario Dawson. It is a shame that such a moving, delicate and textured performance is lost in this mess of a film. Dawson has never delivered a bad performance, but this one is spectacular. The vulnerability, the humanity, the emotional rollercoaster that she embarks the audience on is a beautiful heart-warming ride. It is a shame that none of her costars were able to follow in her footsteps.

Overdramatic, overindulgent and overacted, “Seven Pounds” is simply overweight.

Review by Ralph Arida

Cadillac Records


If you search for the definition of music on Wikipedia it states: “Music is an art form whose medium is sound organized in time.” As scientific as that definition may sound, its unintentional poetry is stunningly appropriate. Music is indeed a blend of pitch, rhythm, timbre and texture, but it also grows its roots from the human condition, culture, society and politics. With each political movement comes a musical revolution, but more importantly, behind every transcending musical track, is an artist reaching out, opening up and reflecting the world he or she lives in. “Cadillac Records” is a testament to that notion, standing as one of the most deliciously melodious biopics to have hit the theatres in a long time.

Set in the 1950s and ’60s, in the midst of racial segregation and on the eve of the civil rights movement coming to fruition, there is plenty of history to chew on. However, unlike many other biopics that insist on recreating historical events to contextualize its story, “Cadillac Records” successfully does so without ever straying from its music. Never are the viewers dragged down by biographical clichés such as recreating archival footage, newspaper clippings and a date-to-date narrative. Instead the film recounts the era strictly through the lives and music of Muddy Waters, Etta James, Little Walter and Chuck Berry. The film is clearly not about the politics that shaped our society, but rather about the music that allowed it to grow.

“Cadillac Records” chronicles the rise and fall of Chess Records, the record company behind the great artists mentioned above. The film dutifully crowns Waters, James, Walter and Berry as the true founders of rock n’ roll, the geniuses behind The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Elvis Presley and The Beach Boys. It acknowledges the fact that those who paved the grounds for such musical greats were African Americans and reminds us that rock n’ Roll, a musical genre that is nowadays the least identified with the African American culture, is in fact its offspring. Ironically, while African Americans were struggling for equal rights, they were uniting the population, expanding American culture, and scoring the melody for a more harmonious future with their music. A fact that is to this day mostly unacknowledged.

The only regret that comes with watching “Cadillac Records” is that the featured artists do not have their own biopic, as each and every one of their lives is captivating and compelling enough to be granted its own film. However, the cast makes the most of what they have, and delivers the best performances of all of their careers. It has been a long time since a cast has been this uniformly solid in a movie: a testament to its director Darnell Martin. Jeffrey Wright, Columbus Short, Adrien Brody, Gabrielle Union, Mos Def and Beyoncé Knowles are on top of their game, and all deliver Oscar worthy performances. Ironically, their merit will probably go as unnoticed as the merit of the artists they are portraying. Had they each headlined their own movie, they would have probably gotten the acclaim that they deserve.

“Cadillac Records” gives the musical movement it chronicles a new breath, and if anything, will allow its audience to rediscover the ’50s classics that should never have been forgotten in the first place. The movie stands as one of the most striking displays of talent to have hit the screens in a long time and should definitely not go unnoticed.

Review by Ralph Arida

Eagle Eye


In this day and age of ever-expanding technology and over-zealous homeland security, the notion that your every move is being watched is no longer a figment of a conspiracy theorist’s imagination. The American National Security Agency has been collecting phone call records and monitoring call patterns of millions of citizens with the intent of creating a database of every call ever made. President Bush himself has acknowledged the fact that he has authorized the NSA to eavesdrop, without warrants, on international calls and e-mails of American citizens as a means to win the proverbial war on terror. Big brother is watching you.

Eagle Eye is a suspense thriller that delves into a very similar Orwellian reality, depicting the United States government as omnipresent, intrusive and eager to condemn. Its first victim: Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBeouf), a broke, sweet-talking copy center clerk. One night as he comes back home, he finds his place fully equipped with top of the line weaponry, fake documentation and a slew of highly incriminating evidence worthy of the most dangerous and active sleeper cell imaginable. His cell phone rings, and a chilling female voice gives him instructions, embarking him on an interminable chase of cat and mouse worthy of The Fugitive, Frantic and pretty much any movie starring Harrisson Ford in the 80’s and 90’s. Along for the ride is Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan), a caring single mother who parts ways with her son as he goes on a band trip to Washington DC. Soon enough she gets the same chilling phone calls as Shaw, telling her that if she does not accomplish the tasks given to her, she will lose her son. Explosions and car crashes ensue, as both our protagonists try to make sense of the bigger picture.

Eagle Eye is an extremely engaging thriller, filled with action-packed car chases, stand-offs and chill inducing escape tactics. The chase sequences are loads of fun in an edge-of-your-seat kind of way. Brought to the screen by the same creative team behind Disturbia, much of the same strengths and weaknesses can be found here. While the storytelling is engaging and very entertaining to say the least, the storyline is questionable if not completely retarded. However, if you do not think too much about the denouements, and you allow yourself to embark on the ride, Eagle Eye promises a great cinematic experience.

Eagle Eye’s plot requires constant flexing of the suspension of disbelief muscle. However, the acting showcased in the film makes the flexing effortless. LaBeouf and Monaghan’s everyday people vulnerability makes it easy for the viewers to put themselves in their shoes as they are seen running for their lives. With each movie, LaBeouf slowly establishes himself as the new generation’s leading man. With a few more years, and more experience under his belt, he promises to be one of the best actors of his generation. However, one would be blind to give him all the credit for this movie. Rounding out the cast are a slew of government officials played by the great Billy Bob Thornton, the ever engaging Rosario Dawson, and the always welcomed Michael Chiklis. If it weren’t for their credibility and stunning commitment to the movie’s far-fetched script, this film would easily be a dud.

On a side note, I went to see this film on the Imax screen, and for the first time ever, I strongly recommend viewing this film in a regular movie theatre. Eagle Eye was clearly not shot with the intent of being shown on the Imax. Close-ups and camera jerks galore make of Eagle Eye a queasy Imax experience. Think The Bourne Ultimatum or Transformers projected on a 22 by 16 meter screen. That being said, if you are thirsty for a fun edge-of-your-seat thriller, Eagle Eye is definitely the one for you, as long as you leave your brain at home and make sure to turn off your cell phone.

Review by Ralph Arida

Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?


The first time we met Morgan Spurlock was with Super Size Me, an “insightful” study of the ill effects of fast food when eaten 3 times a day, every day, for thirty days. Although I am still not sure that a full-length documentary was needed to state his obvious thesis, I am the first one to admit that his stylistic blend between Michael Moore’s discourse and Jackass’ sensationalistic display of masochism was entertaining. Now, Spurlock is back with his new documentary Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden. Always ready to compromise the warmth of his household and his wife’s psychological welfare, Spurlock decides, on the brink of welcoming his first child to the world, to go on a worldwide hunt for the infamously persecuted and notorious Osama Bin Laden.

From the very beginning of the movie, Spurlock does not hesitate to bring forth matters of East versus West with a stroke of hilarity and insanity. As the movie introduces the self-imposed scapegoat’s new mission, the viewers’ senses are bombarded with a computer animated title sequence simulating a fighting game (much like Mortal Kombat), featuring Spurlock and Bin Laden as opponents using their turbans, moustaches and “terror rain” as ammunition. We are then shown Spurlock’s laughable boot camp training on the eve of his big oriental trip, which consists of simulating hostage situations, grenade and sniper attacks and learning how to shoot firearms; a sequence that does little besides making everyone involved in the process look like rednecks playing Cowboys and Indians. At that point the question in my mind was not whether Spurlock’s discourse was appropriate or not, but mostly whether I was watching a documentary or a mockumentary as the lines between both were increasingly getting blurred. That being said, while questioning the movie’s relevance as well as the filmmakers’ mental sanity, I could not help but laugh wholeheartedly.

It is not before Spurlock actually sets foot in the Middle East that the subject matter becomes more substantial – relatively speaking of course. Making his way through Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, Spurlock’s quest to find Bin Laden is gradually dissuaded by the discourse of the bystanders he accosts. His campy demure is humbled as he slowly grasps the gravity of the situation in the Middle East and realizes that the Arab world is filled with three-dimensional people with varying political opinions. In the end, Spurlock’s witch hunt for Bin Laden becomes but a subplot as his tainted eyes are opened to a much more complex reality of the war on terror.

Although his catharsis is far from being a revelation to most of the viewers who will see this film, his tenacity to face the Arab world and ask its people questions most politicians would never dare to ask is commendable. Spurlock’s ability to seek people’s true opinions about the current political climate, no matter how authoritarian the regime they live in can be, is definitely rewarding and inspiring, despite the ephemeral nature of the conversations. On a more factual note, Spurlock does sometimes (albeit rarely) manage to break new grounds, as he becomes one of the few to tackle the taboo that is Saudi Arabia, branding it as an extremely conservative and religious state, but mostly as one of the last places left in the Arab world that can inconsequentially harbor terrorists. Moreover, he puts forth interesting theories, including one stating that the Western military presence in the Middle East, notably in Afghanistan and Iraq, is exactly what Al Qaeda wanted, as they could not otherwise attack the Western world on Western land.

Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden is far from being an intellectual or informative documentary. On the other hand, Spurlock’s film, unlike Michael Moore’s, does not seem to have an agenda. There are no anti-bush or anti-Muslim fundamentalist tirades, only real people of all kinds stating their real opinions about real issues, which is refreshing considering the state of the media these days. Spurlock does resort to stating the obvious once again with his sophomore effort, but sometimes stating the obvious is what people need to put things back into perspective. Most people are so hung up in politics that they forget the simple things that truly matter; notably that with dialogue comes peace. Although mostly unsubstantial, goofy and over-the-top, this documentary’s more subtle instances are quite inspiring.

Review by Ralph Arida