What Happens in Vegas


What Happens in Vegas is everything you would expect it to be: cheesy, predictable and simple – very simple. Abiding by the sacred plot structure of all romantic comedies, we’ve all seen this movie before, in many different incarnations. This diabetes-inducing flick however, happens to borrow from the very best of its predecessors, and showcases two lead actors who seem to have so much fun together, you cannot help but have a great time watching them.

The story imagined by screenwriter Dana Fox, although nothing we have never seen before, is quite entertaining. A successful but controlling girl (Cameron Diaz) gets dumped by her fiancé and a young irresponsible bachelor (Ashton Kutcher) gets fired by his dad. They both end up in Vegas, party like rock stars, and wake up the next morning in typical Vegas form: married to each other and extremely hung-over. As they bicker their way towards an annulment, they hit the jackpot and win three million dollars. Undecided as to who should claim the money, their marriage suddenly becomes their greatest asset and divorce their greatest threat. Bickering, sabotaging and downright evildoing ensues, worthy of How to lose a Guy in 10 days and almost as sadistic as The War of the Roses; the ending needn’t be mentioned.

Watching Diaz and Kutcher make their lives miserable is extremely entertaining and oddly enough, really funny. Diaz is perfection as usual, looking like a gorgeous movie star but coming off as one of the guys and Ashton, although still mistaking facial ticks and body quirks for acting, manages to be likable in this movie. The supporting cast featuring Queen Latifah, Dennis Miller, Dennis Farina, Lake Bell and Rob Corddry is hilarious, and look out for Michelle Krusiec as Chong, Diaz’s nemesis at work, as she skillfully delivers one punch line after the next.

Before I get ahead of myself though, let me make something clear: this movie is not great, in fact it is not even good. If it weren’t for the cast’s irresistible charm, What Happens in Vegas would not even be worth a thought. Technically speaking, this movie is a dud. The direction is unimaginative at best. Tom Vaughan has managed for the first time in American cinema history to make Vegas look tame and boring. Even Leaving Las Vegas makes the city of lights look more fun than this. Moreover, his montage sequences are ineffective, his musical choices are overdone and his constant inability to image Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher’s contagious energy and electrifying chemistry is disconcerting. His editing choices serve more as a nuisance to his actors’ comedic timing than anything else. Undecided between directing a campy movie or a Judd Apatow wannabe comedy, his clumsiness as a director is definitely the weakest link, making of What Happens in Vegas a harmless and indistinguishable romantic comedy instead of a summer smash hit.

What Happens in Vegas is done all wrong. It is a technically embarrassing movie, looking more like an ’80s TV show than a big budget Hollywood production. However, it is a romantic comedy, a film that is supposed to make you giggle, smile, and if you’re lucky, laugh at the beautiful people showcased in the film, not marvel at its technical achievements. On that note, the one thing the producers got right was casting Diaz. Her uncanny ability to gravitate all the attention towards herself makes for great distraction from the terrible executive decisions behind this film and in the end, wins over the audience with giggles, smiles and yes, even laughter.

What Happens in Vegas is kind of like Vegas: an addictive guilty pleasure. When it’s all over and the lights come back on in the movie theatre and show the big grin you have on your face for all to see, you’re going to wish you had stayed at home and spared yourself the embarrassment.

Review by Ralph Arida

Paranoid Park


Gus Van Sant’s films are not generally crowd pleasers; their financial draw is modest, and their marketability questionable. Although Van Sant dabbled in mainstream moviemaking with films such as Good Will Hunting and Finding Forrester, his imprint is most recognizable on his more alternative fare like Gerry, Elephant and Last Days; all earning him critical acclaim and awards in festivals around the world, but little attention in movie theatres. The same can be predicted for Paranoid Park, a fragmented movie about a teenage skater with murder on his conscience. Although it is a Van Sant film at its finest, if you dislike or haven’t seen his previous work, you definitely won’t like this one.

The way Paranoid Park is crafted is powerful, as Van Sant, with the use of striking semiotics and intricate sound design, delves deep into his protagonist’s psyche. His cinematic quirks are numerous: lingering slow motion shots of people doing minimal things (walking, talking or staring), single-take skateboarding sequences shot in 8mm film, characters that remain unseen or out of focus throughout entire scenes… those are just a few of the tricks that Van Sant uses to convey his message. While at first they may seem pretentious and annoying, with a little patience and open-mindedness you realize, despite its unorthodox ways, that maybe this is what moviemaking is all about – storytelling without words. Paranoid Park is all about showing emotions instead of talking about them and picturing the story instead of writing it. Although not an easy feat, Van Sant pulls it off graciously, creating an understated yet mind-boggling portrait of a tortured adolescent.

Paranoid Park’s chronology is carefully disjointed to subtly build tension and amplify its storytelling’s effectiveness. Instead of introducing the main character before showing the crime and its consequences, Van Sant chooses to unveil his protagonist after the fact. When the police first interrogate him, the audience doesn’t even truly know what the crime is and whether he is involved in it or not. It is given no choice but to judge and analyze the teenager’s every word and idiosyncrasies while trying to discover whom this boy really is, and whether he is being honest or deceitful. Consequently, the audience is immediately involved in the story and fascinated by its lead. Furthermore, it allows the film’s simple plot to take on a level of intrigue that would otherwise be lacking. Not knowing the full extent of the crime until the third act, the script immerses the viewers inside the lead’s brain as they try to understand the scope of his emotions and what really happened on that cathartic night. Whereas in a lot of movies the fragmented storytelling feels more like a gimmick than anything else, in Paranoid Park it actually enhances the cinematic experience.

The movie’s cast mostly comprises of non-professional teenage actors, however, all of their performances are top notch. Gabe Nevins carries this film like a veteran despite its highly demanding and introspective style, and surpasses many established actors on his first try. The same can be said about the rest of the cast, as the actors deliver their lines with effective understatement and naturalness reminiscent of Kids. The acting is so realistic that one wonders whether it’s scripted or not, which is usually the result of very able directing. Van Sant’s directing and editing is paradoxically imperceptible and stylized, making of him a talent unique in its kind and a staple of American cinema. Additionally, Christopher Doyle’s cinematography is stunning. He manages to match Van Sant’s multilayered interpretation of the story by adopting a raw and intimate shooting style, while still displaying a slick color palette and breathtaking visuals. Needless to say, Paranoid Park is an exercise in nuance and introspectiveness. It uses intense imagery, seemingly unrehearsed acting and unique directing and editing, to tell its familiar story in an unconventional way.

Van Sant is an auteur and his oeuvres are unlike any others. Although they are an acquired taste, nobody can question their technical and filmmaking merits. Cinematically, Paranoid Park, although not the most accessible, is an unquestionable masterpiece. It is a film that itself embodies a teenager’s essence: annoying and difficult on the outside, but incredibly sensitive and beautiful on the inside. If given the time and effort, it will stand as a memorable and profound experience, however if watched only for its entertainment value, it will leave you sour and disappointed.

Although definitely not the proverbial walk in the park, Paranoid Park is definitely a stunning cinematic experience.

Review by Ralph Arida

10,000 B.C.


You cannot judge a film by its preview, but you can certainly judge a preview by its film, and the preview to 10,000 B.C. is beautiful, smart and action packed. It understands the movie’s strong points, does not spoil the movie by revealing too much of its plot and certainly arouses the public’s curiosity enough to guarantee good box-office results on its opening weekend.

After watching the preview, one cannot really know what 10,000 B.C. is about. It leaves people wondering whether the film even has a story. This could, in any other case, reflect badly on the preview makers, however, with this movie, it only demonstrates the marketing team’s astuteness. Obviously, the people responsible for the trailer, after seeing the movie, realize that its storytelling is weak, at best. They understand that the writers’ attempt to revisit the more classic storytelling archetype fails miserably as the script’s lack of nuance and emotion make the film seem like a parody of what it really aspires to be.

From the very first frame of 10,000 B.C., it is obvious that the filmmakers are not interested in historical, anthropological or geographical accuracy. Its portrayal of prehistoric humankind is tainted with modern prejudice, and anchored in narrow-minded moralistic values. Whereas the story has all the elements of a fantastical epic such as prophecies, clairvoyants, monsters and a hero on a quest for love, its little attention to detail and its superfluous rendering of the story and characters reflect on the filmmakers’ biggest flaw: idiocy.

10,000 B.C. is a movie with an oversized budget, created by filmmakers with undersized brains. Their interpretation of humanity in prehistory goes as such: the good folk are in the majority Caucasian and speak English, although in a variety of different accents (Indian, Irish, British or Pakistani depending on the actor and/or the scene), the tribe that is defenseless against its fate and awaits for Caucasians to save the day are the Africans who speak their own dialect but can speak English if necessary, and finally, the ugly slave-running, backstabbing, womanizing and dishonorable villains are of course the Arabs, who speak their own harsh dialect and nothing else, with digitally enhanced voices made to make them sound like demons (much like the little girl’s voice when possessed in The Exorcist). Let me be clear, I am not vulgarizing the script; this is an accurate and honest description of the movie’s characters.

Roland Emmerich has described the Egyptian pyramids, when interviewed about this movie, as ‘arrogant’. His self-proclaimed disdain for the Middle Eastern culture is part of his own opinion, which he is entitled to, however he makes it evident in this movie. His evil tribe, the dirty Arabs, is clearly inspired by the Egyptian empire. Its holy city is adorned with pyramids and Sphinx-like monuments. Consequently, the Egyptian empire is offensively demonized as 10,000 B.C. reduces their Pharaohs to evil monsters, and gratuitously interprets their culture as one of abusiveness and corruption. If you want to create a world never seen before, with a surreal feel, why ground your movie with modern racism? It should be the last thing on the filmmakers’ minds. Obviously the makers of the trailer agree, as none of this is visible or transmitted in their final cut.

Instead, the trailer emphasizes on the special effects, notably the sequences involving the prehistoric animals. In fact, they seem to be the film’s main drive; another smart move on their part. The animals in this movie are stunning, and far surpass The Golden Compass’s polar bears and any creature in The Chronicles of Narnia . They look extremely real, and the action sequences that involve them are gripping and pretty flawless. This movie could very well have been, in terms of special effects, the new generation’s Jurassic Park. Sadly, there are only three sequences with prehistoric animals, lasting approximately seven minutes each; in other words, twenty-one minutes of bliss out of one hundred and nine, or better yet, eighty-eight minutes of bogus dialogue, bad acting and empty storytelling for the privileged viewers’ enjoyment.

As usual, Emmerich brings out the worst of his actors. If you are a slightly unknown actor, he will make sure to bury your career. Steven Strait, our lead actor in this endeavor, is painfully bad, in a very pretty way. Cliff Curtis makes you wonder whether his fifteen years of movie acting serve a purpose and Camilla Belle is useless as the gorgeous blue-eyed damsel-in-distress with four lines (but lots of pouting).

Historically inept, anthropologically offensive and emotionally bare, this movie is very much like all of Emmerich’s previous films, except much more offensive. The wonderful special effects, 10,000 B.C.’s only redeeming factor, are too few to save this disaster of a film from its one hundred and nine minute self. A prehistoric film done by cavemen.

Review by Ralph Arida

The Bank Job


There are so many movies out there about a bunch of regular folk deciding to rob a bank that I am always bewildered when I find out a new one is coming out. What is the obsession with robbing banks in the movie business? Have producers not gotten over the proverbial opening of the vault shot? Are those movies meant to stand as a metaphor for movie producers stealing the public’s money by recycling old premises instead of writing new ones? Have we not seen enough? The Bank Job does not seem to think so. In fact, not only does it embraces the clichés of its genre, it attempts to give them new relevance by basing its plot on a true story.

The Bank Job is inspired by an infamous 1971 bank robbery in London that to this day remains mysterious and filled with unanswered questions. Most of the stolen goods and fortunes have never been recovered and the case itself has been shrouded in secrecy by the government, sparking many conspiracy theories about the stolen content of the safety deposit boxes being incriminating to certain people of power. The story this movie is based on is quite interesting. The mystery behind the robbery reeks of elitist delinquency, abuse of power, and blackmail, and the scriptwriters wisely chose to not only focus the movie on the robbery itself, but on its higher purpose, and the grave consequences that hang on its line. The Bank Job is undoubtedly at its best when it cynically revels in raw and explicit sex scenes worthy of the ‘70’s, and holds an unforgiving regard for London’s high society, depicting a time when powers struggles were imminent, racial relations were tense and corruption was rampant. When dealing with the robbery however, The Bank Job, no matter how much it tries, cannot avoid feeling tarnished and cliché.

The Bank Job is a heist movie that is more of the Inside Man and Sexy Beast variety than Ocean’s 11 or The Score’s. There is something refreshing in seeing the robbers get down and dirty in order to rob a bank rather than watching them press on colorful neon buttons and rely on inexistent gadgets to get the job done, and the director clearly understands that. The Bank Job never relies on bogus technology or useless plot devices to move the story forward, and its plot remains relatively plausible from the beginning until the end. Moreover, the effort put into recreating London circa 1971 definitely adds a level of interest that would have been otherwise lacking had the story been present day. The art direction is precise and accurate and consequently makes The Bank Job really look like it’s based on a true story. The film’s dooming lacuna however, is its characters. While the plot and the look of the movie seem to have been given much thought, the character development is weak and botched, rendering most of the cast one-dimensional and unconvincing.

Jason Statham plays the team leader of this bank-robbing gang. Although it is refreshing to see Statham in a non-action oriented movie, The Bank Job confirms the fact that Statham’s niche is most definitely the action genre. The majority of characters in this movie are too underwritten to get the audience emotionally involved, however, the most seasoned actors of the cast still manage to go beyond their lines, and to remain unscathed as compelling and riveting performers; notably Saffron Burrows as the scheming and gorgeous femme fatale. Statham, on the other hand, who is given the most to play with in this film, delivers one of his blandest performances yet. The movie’s true surprise though, is Peter De Jersey who plays Michael X (England’s answer to Malcolm X), a shady and radical activist with a penchant for blackmail. De Jersey ably delivers his lines with suitable sarcasm and effective subtlety, making of his bit part one of the most memorable ones. The rest of the cast delivers, but does not shine, as it is not given much to work with.

There is always something fascinating and delicious about the elite’s dirty laundry being exposed to the public, especially when it involves sex scandals. It is rather curious why the filmmakers decided to gravitate the story around the robbery itself rather than the political conspiracy, notably since they never bring anything new to the overindulged bank robbery tale. As a result, The Bank Job seems like the little movie that could but ultimately didn’t, its brilliance lying in its subplots and its main focus feeling tired and overdone.

Review by Ralph Arida

The Other Boleyn Girl


The story of the Boleyn sisters rivals Greek tragedies in relevance and grandiosity. Its outcome has indefinitely influenced modern civilization and its tragic drama has courted its way into our literature, cinema and television to this day; namely The Other Boleyn Girl. The story tackles such contemporary issues, complex emotions and riveting characters that you quickly become enthralled by it; however the movie does not delve deep enough into the subject matter to do the story justice, and loses the story’s appeal by taming its sinister essence.

The middle ages were tenebrous times for modern civilization. Drenched in blood, disease and poverty, they embodied degeneration. Human rights were inexistent, and the human condition destroyed. People would do anything for power and wealth, for it was a world owned only by those who were blessed with both. The Boleyn sisters, although scheming, betraying and lying their way to royalty and historic infamy, are martyrs not criminals. They merely reflect the immorality and cruelty of the society they were raised in.

When Henry king of England (Eric Bana) discovers his queen’s infertility, the prospect of an heir suddenly seems bleak. Desperate for a son and to produce the future king, Henry’s court sacrilegiously seeks a surrogate mother. The Boleyn family sees in this opportunity the potential to move up the proverbial social ladder and live the hedonistic life it desires. Soon enough, both of their daughters, Mary and Anna, are pawned and thrown into the whirlwind of jealously and tragedy that is the king’s court.

Henry is quite the promiscuous majesty and is unable to satiate his burning desire for the female flesh, scattering his illegitimate progenitors around the countryside and destroying their mothers’ lives in the process. Anna (Nathalie Portman) and Mary (Scarlet Johansson) on the other hand, are two beautiful sisters with very different temperaments, Mary being the naïve and trusting Boleyn, Anna the ambitious and conniving one. Whereas Mary unwillingly charms the erratic king with her uncanny kindness of heart, Anna bedazzles him with her boldness and strength and Henry, such a pollinating bee, skips from one Boleyn sister to the next. Mary is the first to spark his interest, but is quickly tossed aside as she is not strong enough to demand her place in the king’s court. Anna, on the other hand, seizes him with a firm grip and schemes her way through the court and straight to the throne, changing history forever.

The Other Boleyn Girl is a captivating movie, if only for its incredible story of royalty, greed, lust and betrayal. It is impossible to remain untouched by such a genuine tragedy. Accordingly, when watching a film with such subject matter, one would expect a discourse, whether visual or written, resembling those of the great tragedies like Medea, Antigone and Madame Bovary. It needs to be intense and unapologetically immersed in immorality, sexuality and deceit. The setting must be bleak and threatening, the sex explicit and rough and the betrayal torturously heartbreaking, for it is a story of innocence being raped by power and greed. Instead, The Other Boleyn Girl’s environment is a little too inaccurately majestic and comfortable for its time period and the dialogue never seems to truly grasp the essence of the characters’ emotions. Moreover, the costumes, whether accurate or not, are hideous and somehow manage to strip the film’s very attractive cast of all its sex appeal, leaving the actors to do the most with the least, and consequently beheading their performances. As a result, The Other Boleyn Girl comes off as a feeble love triangle period drama, taming its subject matter and denying the story of its potency.

Portman and Johansson are two of the best and most attractive young actresses that Hollywood has to offer these days. They both carry this movie convincingly and embrace their parts wholeheartedly; however they do not project the magnitude or the intensity that their characters require. Throughout the movie, Johansson delivers as the naïve and gentle sister, looking more understated and vulnerable than we have seen her in a long time. Equally as good, Portman is delicious as the scheming Anna, and tirelessly fascinating to watch. Anna Boleyn is a part of a lifetime for any actress, and Portman does the best she can to surpass the film’s limitations, and to give it justice. Whereas both actresses seem to be at the top of their game in this movie, they pale in comparison to other established actresses in relatively similar roles, namely Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth; a testament mostly, to the movie’s weak rendition of a powerful story.

The Other Boleyn Girl’s unwillingness to be as daring and notorious as its characters is a tragedy, as it stood, before its execution, as the film with the best story and cast to come out in a long time. Although quite entertaining for a period drama, it shamelessly diminishes the gravity of its subject matter, and when its final credits start rolling, it leaves one longing for the movie that it could have been.

There are very few ways to make a bad movie when dealing with a great story. That being said, The Other Boleyn Girl is a tragic movie adaptation.

Review by Ralph Arida

Semi-Pro


Semi-Pro is a Will Ferrell-lead comedy set in the ‘70’s and milking the decade for all of its fashion mishaps and funky hairstyles. Although very similar to most of Ferrell’s movies, this one is based on historical facts and feels more like an homage to basketball than anything else. Edging between being a slapstick comedy, a coming-of-age story and a cheer-for-the-underdog sports film, the movie does not particularly identify to any of those genres. As a result, Semi-Pro is an eclectic and borderline schizophrenic cinematic experience.

The film takes place in the world of the ABA, an underground and grassroots basketball league that ran parallel to the NBA in the 1970’s. This time around, Ferrell’s adorable-loser character is Jackie Moon, a washed up one-hit-wonder disco singer with a passion for basketball, who buys an ABA team called The Tropics. Both the league and the team are near extinction. The ABA is about to get bought out by the NBA while the Tropics are on an incredible losing streak. After convincing the NBA to allow the four best rated ABA teams to transfer into the much-coveted league before the ABA’s demise, Moon embarks on a quest for victory, determined to defy the odds and to make his team’s dream to play in the NBA come true. Satirical montage sequences of training drills and athletic enlightenment ensue, and before you know it, it all amounts to a final act much like every final act of any Ferrell movie; a relatively happy ending where the underdog becomes a champion and the loveable loser attains self-acceptance.

Semi-Pro’s script seems to be written with the intention of making a basketball film, not a comedy. It does not include enough sarcasm, over-the-top dialogue or cynical plot twists to be a parody, nor enough gross-out elements to be a slapstick comedy. In fact, Semi-Pro is not humorous enough to be a comedy nor relevant enough to be anything else. Other than Ferrell who is consistently asked to bask in his usual over-the-top goofiness, most of the other actors give out very plain and grounded performances (bordering on boring and uninspired), thus leaving Ferrell with the impossible task to bring in the laughs by himself, in a movie that is not even that funny to begin with.

The people behind Semi-Pro seem to believe that dressing the notorious actor in the most hideous ‘70’s costumes, and filming him from all the most compromising angles as he wears them proudly, would compensate for the film’s lack of comedy. As a result, Ferrell is very funny in this film, but feels reduced to being the film’s clown instead of its lead, and doesn’t even seem to be in on the joke.

Semi-Pro will definitely please Ferrell’s hardcore fans, but cements the rule that one should never put all of one’s balls in one basket.

Review by Ralph Arida

Penelope


Penelope is a fairytale movie about a young bourgeois girl, born with a pig’s snout for a nose, on a quest for freedom from her overbearing family and alienating face. While at first the film’s lightweight plot and cuddly mood are disarmingly charming, things quickly start to lose steam and feel a little too familiar as Penelope borrows and channels the vision of many fairytale authors and fantasy film directors, but ultimately never finds its own.

From the very beginning director Mark Palansky boldly defines Penelope as a celebration of the classic folk tales as well as their gateway to the future by stylistically marrying the old fairytale cinematic language with the new. He clearly intends to do to live-action fairytale films what Shrek did to the animated ones: rehash, remix, and revamp the genre. However one cannot help but think of Tim Burton’s iconic imaging, especially with Christina Ricci, a long-time Burton collaborator, gracing the screen. From numerous shots of majestic trees with sinuous and leafless branches (Big Fish; Sleepy Hollow) to a decidedly over-saturated color palette (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; Edward Scissorhands), it seems like Burton’s fingerprints are all over the film, consequently overshadowing Palansky’s own. There is no denying however, that Penelope ’s visual style, although plagiarized, is stunning, painting London and the title character’s home with a stroke of fantasy so vibrant and colorful that it makes the story seem out of this world.

In the same vain as Palansky’s directing, Leslie Caveny’s writing stands more as a mosaic consisting of deeply engrained literary classics than as an original piece. Considering that all fairytales generally encompass the same beliefs and value systems and have established a common repertoire of plot devices to fuel their analogous moralistic fables, similarities to previous tales are always to be expected. What Caveny fails to deliver however, is a fresh take that would allow the repetitiveness of such storytelling to be ingested obliviously and enjoyably by its audience. That being said, Penelope has its share of imaginative, funny and witty moments. The problem is that they all occur in the first act, leaving the second and third mostly devoid of humor. Comedy, the script’s only merit and sole redeeming factor, should have been Caveny’s main focus. Instead, the audience is entitled to sugarcoated dialogue and diabetes-inducing character arcs.

The acting in this film is, to say the least, colorful and effective. Ricci’s interpretation of Penelope is outstanding. She carries a lot of range as an actress and displays all of it in this film, going beyond the script’s limitations, and proving once again that she is a savvy and worthy leading actress. She paradoxically and effortlessly emotes naivety, jadedness, strength and vulnerability and captivatingly carries this movie from the beginning until the end. Ricci is so radiant and magnetic in this film that she even makes the snout look good. Furthermore, Catherine O’Hara miraculously manages to be likeable as the overbearing and superficial mother despite the incredibly annoying part she is given and Richard E. Grant holds his own very well as the guilt-ridden father. James McAvoy (Atonement) delivers what is required of him, but unlike the others, does not surpass any expectations and consequently feels more like a supporting actor than a leading man. The only true disappointment however, would be Reese Witherspoon (also a producer of the film) in a bit part as the eccentric and sarcastic friend. Seeming to rely mostly on the refreshing stunt casting rather than her acting, she delivers her lines with an unconvincing and one-dimensional cheekiness that falls flat real fast.

Penelope starts off as a cute and heartwarming film beaming with humor and charm, but ends up relying too much on the familiar and the comfortable, consequently clouding its vision with boredom and predictability. It is no wonder the movie has been on the shelves for over two years before its release, and maybe it should have been given even more thought before gracing theatre screens. That being said, Penelope could very easily be every little girl’s favorite movie until another one of its kind comes out.

Review by Ralph Arida

Vantage Point


Before their release, certain movies seem to have it all: the best actors, the most exciting premise, and an awesome preview. Once those movies open in theaters though, most of them turn out to be disappointing flops; movies that could but didn’t. Vantage Point, with its cast and premise, sets the bar high for itself. After all, William Hurt, Forest Whitaker, Sigourney Weaver and Dennis Quaid in a smart political action-thriller seems more like a wet dream than a reality. Vantage Point however is not too-good-to-be-true; it is truly good. In fact, it is even better than it looks.

The movie centers on an attack against the President of the United States (Hurt) in Majorca, Spain, during a summit uniting all Arab leaders to create a truce in the Middle East. Do not panic, this movie is not a sappy pro-American right-wing piece of political propaganda. In fact, Vantage Point is not a very political movie. It uses contemporary politics to establish a grave sense of urgency and to get the action going, but never delves too deep into the core subject matter. Whenever it dabbles in political themes however, the film is at its weakest; thankfully it seldom does. Instead, the film chooses to explore the multiple facets of a single event by playing the event five times, each time from the different perspective of a key member and/or witness of the attack in question.

Director Pete Travis handles the script masterfully considering the difficulty of maintaining a level of thrill and suspense while showing the same scene over and over. Despite the repetitive nature of the storytelling, the action remains teeth-grindingly addictive from beginning to end as Travis skillfully uses the intricacies of moviemaking to his full advantage. The camera work is hectic and erratic enough to translate the chaos and panic of the event while still ably guiding the audience’s eyes towards the right places at the right time. The editing is edgy and ruthless, enhancing the movie’s sense of urgency and ultimately making each scenario as gripping and suspenseful as the previous one, leaving you breathless and impatiently awaiting the next – not an easy feat.

The script by Barry Levy is ambitious and although slightly uneven, works efficiently. It effectively handles its multitude of characters, giving each one enough depth and dimension without ever slanting into stereotypes. Moreover it chooses to show rather than say what is going on, thus allowing the story to gradually lead the audience towards its climax without clumsy explanations or bulky stating of facts compromising the film’s pace. For example, the first time the audience is shown the attack is through the eyes of a television news director (Weaver) in the control room. You witness the various cameras covering different angles of the event, and Weaver carefully picking her images and which side of the story she chooses to tell. A parallel is immediately felt between the news director and her control room and the movie director and his audience. Subtly, through Weaver’s character, the audience is explained how the story will unfold; how with each different angle of the story told, a little more of the plot’s tightly weaved web will be unraveled. Such instances are when Levy’s script works at its best. On the other hand, whenever Levy indulges into writing leftist political dialogue, the quality of the script plunges, as his words come off as being condescending, hammering and simply obvious. Thankfully, those scenes are easily dismissible, and the actors spouting those few clumsy lines work wonders with them.

The cast of this movie is simply outstanding. Quaid’s physically and emotionally scarred bodyguard is gripping, Whitaker’s sensitive bystander is touching and Hurt’s take on the president is skillfully nuanced. The supporting cast including Edgar Ramirez (Domino; The Bourne Ultimatum), Spanish superstar Eduardo Noriega (Open Your Eyes; The Devil’s Backbone) and Said Taghmaoui (The Kite Runner) is extremely strong; each thespian delivering a stunning performance. On the other hand, Matthew Fox seems uninspired as a bodyguard and Weaver gives a sometimes over-the-top performance, though in her defense, she is not given much to work with. Overall though, Vantage Point’s plethora of great performances elevates this film to a level far beyond its script, transforming what is initially a good movie, into a great one.

Vantage Point is skillfully directed, wonderfully acted, wittily written and far exceeds what it stands out to accomplish. It succeeds as a great action movie, a compelling edge-of-your-seat thriller and mindless entertainment with a hint of realism for all audiences to enjoy. No matter which vantage point you’re looking at this movie from, it’s definitely worth your time.

Review by Ralph Arida

Jumper


What better on a cold February night than a supernatural action-adventure movie of epic proportions, featuring teleportation around the world, and awesome-looking special effects? When I first heard of Jumper, its premise, and the awesome talent behind the lens, I rushed to the theatre as soon as it came out, hoping to massage my brain with spectacular and brainless fun. I was thirsty for kick-ass action, slick visuals and the all-American mainstream. Once the lights dimmed in the theatre and the feature presentation started, it did not take long before I realized that the movie I was about to watch was not what I expected it to be. Considering the well-established moviemakers responsible for Jumper, I expected to be dazzled by their work rather than their lack of inspiration. I was wrong.

Jumper immediately starts off with Hayden Christensen reading a voiceover narration. I hate voiceovers; they rarely work. Uninspired screenplay writers resort to them too often when they do not know how to illustrate their point. In Jumper’s case, the voiceover is useless and badly written. I am talking about lines that are so cliché that most writers wouldn’t dare type them. ‘Once I was normal, a chump just like you,’ claims Christensen as we watch him standing on the Sphinx. What a line… Whoever wrote it would have been better off with ‘Once upon a time,’ because sure enough, one minute into the movie, we are taken into our hero’s past, where for at least a good quarter of an hour, we are given the wonderful opportunity to view a bad episode of My So Called Life. You know the drill: awkward teenage boy has crush on annoying girl actress but is bullied by a stupid jerk that reminds him of his paper-cutout abusive father that his mother never bothered to defend him from because she mysteriously fled the household when he was five… Once those elements are hurriedly settled, he suddenly and inexplicably discovers his jumping/teleporting powers and runs away for good. We don’t know (and will never find out) where those powers came from or their true purpose, which is essentially the only reason why we are interested in this chump’s youth in the first place. Thanks for the waste of time.

We then follow our newly gifted protagonist into the big city, where he unfolds as an anti-hero rather than a vigilante. Being the angry teenager that he is, Christensen decides to utilize his power by robbing banks and getting wealthy instead of saving people from natural disasters – now we’re talking! Sadly, we only catch a glimpse of this as the movie unwisely decides to focus on Christensen’s return home instead. Back home, our Jumper meets Rachel Bilson under the guise of the all grown up love interest. Used-to-be-awkward-but-now-strong-and-handsome Christensen beats up his bully, sweeps the girl off her feet and takes her on a romantic escapade to Rome, where the much awaited action is set to take place.

Cut to Samuel L. Jackson as the baddy. Samuel, Samuel, Samuel. Only you could pull off being so shameless and careless about your career and still be respected by your peers… Mr. Jackson shows up on screen with an embarrassing cryogenic rug pasted on his scalp, thinking he is in a Spy Kids spin-off, and looking to kill. The person responsible for making him look like a half-breed between Wesley Snipes in Demolition Man and a chia pet should have been fired on the spot. Everything about Jackson in this movie, from his ridiculous power ranger looks to his absurd and over-the-top performance, sticks out like a sore thumb. Clearly, either he thought the movie was meant to not take itself seriously or he simply did not take the movie seriously himself. One thing is for sure though, Jackson is a riot in this film, whether he intended to be or not. Mr. Jackson however, is far from being Jumper’s weakest link and is definitely not accountable for the movie’s lack of entertainment value.

The problem with Jumper is that it consistently focuses on the wrong things. It prioritizes the uninteresting rapports between the two leads and completely neglects its supernatural premise, leaving those thirsty for action oversaturated with cheesy soap-opera dialogue. Instead of showing us how Christensen learns to maximize his powers, he suddenly and inexplicably becomes a super Jumper. Instead of exploring the ‘Paladin’ versus ‘Jumpers’ mythology, we see Jackson running around like a headless chicken without ever knowing what the motivation behind his witch-hunt is. Instead of taking advantage of the incredible potential teleportation has as a plot and visual device, the movie centers on Christensen and Bilson’s relationship. What a waste…

Jumper has a lot of talent backing it up. It features an adapted screenplay by David S. Goyer (Batman Begins; the Blade trilogy) and Jim Uhls (Fight Club), is directed by Doug Liman (Swingers; Go; The Bourne Identity) and includes great actors such as Samuel L. Jackson, Diane Lane and Michael Rooker. I just don’t understand how all this talent managed to make such a disappointing and dysfunctional movie. Jumper does not jump, it skips like a scratched CD, and you should definitely skip it.

Review by Ralph Arida

Persepolis


Persepolis was a hard sell for me. I had a vague idea of what it was about, had seen glimpses of what it looked like, and knew that it would be a good film with all the awards it claimed, but for some odd reason, it took me a long time to watch it. It did not take me nearly as long however, to embrace it. Ten minutes into the movie, I knew that I was watching something important – something that would resonate in my mind for days to come.

The movie starts off in Iran introducing Marjane as a young girl who adores Bruce Lee, dreams of being an almighty disciple and aspires to shave her legs. She is bright, strong-spirited and absorbent of the value system roaming the streets of her hometown, while living under the dictatorship of the Shah. Her family, however, is westernized, non-authoritative and has a history of political rebellion. Soon enough, the Shah is overturned, the mullahs take over, and Marjane’s obliviousness and naivety are tainted by the tense political climate she is suddenly confronted with. As she witnesses oppression casting its chastising shadow over her world, she finds herself unreceptive to the religious fanaticism plaguing her surroundings. Aware of the dangers of Marjane’s revolutionary antics, having witnessed many of their family members get slaughtered due to similar behavior, Marjane’s parents decide to send her to Europe, where she could grow up to be an educated and emancipated woman, away from the dangers and shortsightedness residing in her homeland. Marjane is received in Vienna with lukewarm hospitality as she struggles to fit in, and eventually, many heartaches and years later, seeks shelter in her parents’ arms. Back in Iran, she quickly confirms the fact that she does not belong there either, and finds herself confronted with the budding notions of being a perpetual outsider and accepting one’s roots.

Despite the extremely sad and serious subject matter, Persepolis dabbles in simplicity and light-heartedness that make its harsh history lessons and underdog tale palatable to viewers of all ages without being a downer. In fact, I spent most of the movie smiling at the endearing propos of Marjane and her family members, and at ease with the tactful and non-judgmental discourse of the movie. I never felt as though I was being hammered with ideals or subversive political propaganda; a great feat considering the subject matter. The storytelling is so honest and heartfelt, that even a cynic would embrace this movie unquestionably.

The black and white 2D animation fits Persepolis’ content like a glove. It is simple, yet extremely emotional and gripping. At the risk of sounding pedantic, I would go as far as saying that this movie follows the guidelines of the German expressionists. Morphing settings and characters, harsh contrasts, silhouetted or spotlighted subjects and sinuous stairs are very few of the semiotic devices that make of Persepolis a visual gem.

Rarely are animated movies explored as a means to tackle important and contemporary issues as opposed to escapist and fantastic storytelling. It is refreshing to come across a movie like Persepolis, which uses its medium to get its point across to as many people as possible. If Persepolis was a live action film, it would have never reached the level of charm and accessibility that this movie attains, and when dealing with crucial issues such as freedom, tolerance, identity and roots, this animated movie comes more as a blessing and an example to be followed.

Review by Ralph Arida