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Tuesday: Margin Call

Margin Call is worth checking out for the combination of a well-crafted screenplay and great performances.

Margin Call
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With the financial meltdowns that have occurred, how do they truly affect us in the long run? Will our children's children still be hurt by it? An interesting concept is whether or not the happenings of 2008 will still be recognized by people in many years. A lot of the movies that involve the financial hardships that have been occurring are documentaries. Margin Call is one of the first dramas to really take up this topic and introduce it to us from the perspective of an investment firm. Americans all across the United States are very aware of what the poor economy has provided for society. They are negative effects on the nation that Margin Call addresses right before the collapse. Before viewing this film, I wasn't sure how a drama about an investment firm could pan out. My thoughts were that it could be pretty good or an absolute disaster.

The key players at an investment firm become entangled during one perilous 24-hour period in the early stages of the 2008 financial crisis. When entry-level analyst Peter Sullivan unlocks information that could prove to be the downfall of the firm, a roller-coaster ride ensues as decisions both financial and moral catapult the lives of all involved to the brink of disaster. The film begins with many employees being laid off and quickly turns into one of the remaining persons to have a job receiving a thumb drive with crucial information on it. He pieces it together and discovers that the crisis has already begun yet nobody knew about it yet. There are quite a few different characters with a variety of sub-plots. Some of them involve the firm while others are a bit more personal. By the end of the movie, I found myself genuinely admiring some of the characters while being a tad irritated with others. The dialogue is perfect. There's absolutely nothing I would change about it. Writer J.C. Chandor has a screenplay that features a lot of technical talk. A lot of audiences are sure to be jumbled through all of that jargon, however it's engrossing. I never once found myself bored or pushed away from the movie. This is one of those few movies that's able to have nothing but dialogue sequences within a room, yet be intense. Margin Call deserves more recognition than it has received, although it has rightfully received an Oscar nomination for Best Writing, Original Screenplay. Chandor is an extremely talented man that has crafted something special. However, I do have a couple complaints. The drama involving characters such as Seth Bregman gets very annoying very quickly. The personal problems of these characters takes away from the bigger picture. I also don't see the ending doing very well with mainstream audiences. If you're a fan of sudden endings, then you shouldn't mind.

J.C. Chandor may not be known for many movies, but the cast is far from that. Margin Call stars Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Simon Baker, Penn Badgley, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci, and more. This is an extremely impressive cast. Before seeing this, I was worried if Kevin Spacey would become his character in Horrible Bosses. Thankfully this never happened. Spacey is definitely convincing in his role and is sure to gain sympathy from audiences. There are no bad performances to be seen here. It's difficult to pick one actor who stands out from the rest since every actor is absolutely brilliant in this movie. If there wasn't so much competition this year, I wouldn't be surprised to see a few of these actors nominated for an Academy Award. Since this is such an awesome cast, I'm surprised that Margin Call hasn't attracted the attention of many moviegoers.

When checking out movies with well-known casts, this boasts one of the better group of big actors to star on screen together. They are very believable in the roles and have unbelievable chemistry in playing off one another. The script has a lot of meaning behind it. It's interesting to see the movie's perspective from a firm and seeing all of the reactions even from the workers. This is sure to keep intelligent viewers engrossed and amused for the entire running time. The pacing is very smooth and it never becomes dull. However, my biggest complaint is that the personal issues of the characters does pull away from the plot and does nothing but hurt the overall film. Some of the oomph presented earlier in the film is missing from the ending. Regardless, Margin Call is worth checking out for the combination of a well-crafted screenplay and great performances.

My Rating = Four Stars

Next movie: Unleashed (Danny the Dog)

Thursday: Unleashed (Danny the Dog)

Unleashed is recommended to martial arts fans and those who want to witness some great stunt work by Jet Li.

Unleashed (Danny the Dog)
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Star Jet Li has become a major player in the film industry worldwide. He has a large fan base, as rightfully so. Through all of the movies I have seen him in, whether or not the fact the overall flick was bad didn't make a huge difference. He usually steals the screen and delivers some truly phenomenal stunt work. However, a lot of these types of martial arts movies are starting to all mesh together. They almost all play out the same and Unleashed follows this exact same mold. I enjoy the action seen in these movies, but I'd be more invested in something that is able to bring something new to the table. I walked into Unleashed with no expectations other than to the entertained since I was quite aware of what I was getting myself into.

Raised as a slave, Danny is used to fighting for his survival. In fact, his "master," Bart, thinks of him as a pet and goes as far as leashing him with a cola so they can make money in fight clubs. This is where Danny plays as the main contender. When Bart's crew is in a car accident, Danny escapes and meets a blind, kindhearted piano tuner who takes him in and uses music to free the fighter's long-buried heart. While Unleashed has its fair share of action, there's a large portion of the movie that would be more appropriately known as a thriller than an action flick. This is when his new found family attempts to humanize him and teach him everything from simple things to more abstract concepts. To be honest, this is the most interesting portion of the movie. The action sequences are exciting to begin with, but it becomes all too familiar and stale very quickly. A big part of this is due to the fact that we have almost unlimited amounts of thugs attacking Danny, yet he's able to take them down without having to try too hard, by his standards of course. The story plays out exactly as one would predict. The ending follows this formula as well. One of the more successful parts of the screenplay is that Danny is a sympathetic character and the filmmakers allow us to get to know him as a character instead of just throwing him into insane action sequences without allowing us to fully understand and care for the character. Those expecting good dialogue from this character will be a bit disappointed. While it isn't a complete disaster, this movie could have definitely benefited from some stronger dialogue. Other than that, the action scenes are entertaining enough, even though they start to get old a little too fast.

Performing as Danny, Jet Li steals the main character. He definitely is convincing in the character and does a good job to be believable. Not only is he impressive during his stunt scenes, but surprisingly pulls off the more emotional aspects of the flick. I'm glad that he picked up this role and became more vulnerable than viewers are used to seeing him. It's certainly a nice alteration in his career. Morgan Freeman and Kerry Condon are Danny's new family. They are both excellent and very believable. They have good energy with Li and it shows for itself on screen. Bob Hoskins does a wonderful job as the evil and disrespectful Bart. While there aren't any award-winning performances here, I didn't judge it on that scale. For an action flick, this cast does a good job.

Similar to the story, the action is 'been there, done that.' The violence is quite cartoonish at times and people take beatings that no human being could withstand and still be conscious, let alone still be breathing. Yet they continue to stand up and fight. Jet Li does an incredible job with his stunts, but that shouldn't surprise anybody who has seen many of Jet Li's movies. The movie has a very dark tone to it and tries to be as stylish as it can. There are times it succeeds and other times it fails. When it comes to the audio transfer, it's an absolute win. The overwhelming bass and aggressive, yet clear audio track are marvelous. The action sequences are supported with thumping bass in both music and each punch and kick. There are times that the use of audio in Unleashed will absolutely amaze audiences with a complete surround sound system.

It's difficult to find a genuinely well-crafted martial arts film. They're out there, but they aren't very easy to come by. Unleashed isn't a masterpiece, but it manages to be entertaining. By the middle of the movie, the action sequences start to get stale, but the drama mixed in makes up for it. The performances are decent to back it all up, so it's better than quite a few of other movies in the genre that are released in America. However, if you're looking for some of the best martial arts movies, you should be checking out some foreign motion pictures. The visual department generally is a victory for those looking for style over substance. Unleashed is recommended to martial arts fans and those who want to witness some great stunt work by Jet Li. Otherwise, mainstream viewers should keep his or her distance.

My Rating = Three Stars

Next movie: Retreat

Saturday: Retreat

Retreat is a flick that could have been so much better, but ultimately is a disappointing thriller.

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I have been waiting for what seems like quite a long time for the film Retreat to receive a release date in the United States. It's a British thriller that received a lot of positive buzz for a while. Some of the top horror websites were absolutely praising this movie. Some called it an 'intensely unique experience.' Moviegoers should be careful about how high his or her expectations are set, it might end up being the death of the movie fairly quickly. Unfortunately, I allowed the hype to build up in my mind way too much and it created unrealistic expectations. Retreat didn't only attract me for the plot, but also for the cast. While this isn't a horrible movie, I disagree with what many reviewers claimed about this British thriller.

While visiting a remote island, a couple encounters a man. He apparently washed up there and claims a lethal virus has spread through Europe. The couple must decide whether to trust the stranger and figure out how to survive. It's an interesting premise that allows the filmmakers to take this in numerous different directions. From the start, I had a feeling that this would be character study. There are only three characters constantly on screen and are on an island with no other people on it. When it comes to the most crucial elements of a character study, they are the screenplay and the acting. If the two aren't able to mesh correctly and evenly, then the movie could become an utter mess. Retreat is a lot more slow paced than I imagined it to be. The beginning is interesting as we begin to learn about the past and present of the couple. After the stranger appears, the movie starts going downhill. A lot of the conversations and actions become extremely repetitive. To be completely honest, I had a bit of difficulty getting through the entire movie. i fell asleep a few times and had to rewind. It moves at the pace of a snail. All of the development that was once occurring in these characters comes to a halt. Instead, we have two people on screen that are extraordinarily irritating and do very dumb things that no human being with common sense would do. Once one of the big twists is revealed, the final ending is predictable. However, the finale is perhaps one of the better portions of the movie. A lot more could have been done with this screenplay. There's an intriguing plot underneath all of the rubble. However, the filmmakers appear to have difficulty really pushing this movie to its limit. It feels as if they were lazy while writing Retreat. The story could be something original and unique, but actually appears to be something that we've seen many times before in a variety of different flicks.

Once the cast list was released, two of the actors got me excited. Jamie Bell and Cillian Murphy starring together? Count me in. I'm a fan of both of these actors. Unfortunately, they both made a little bit of a misfire starring in this. Bell and Murphy can be in movies much better than this, as they have previously. Jamie Bell possesses the strongest performance of the entire movie. He delivers his character very well. He's convincing, even though he wasn't given a very good script. He still manages to pull his role together and delivers something truly worth watching. Cillian Murphy's character is very annoying. Murphy is a fantastic actor, but he clearly didn't put a lot of work into Retreat. He doesn't have that charm that I'm used to seeing him display on screen. Thandie Newton performs as Murphy's wife. Her character is also irritating to almost no end. Her performance is also a little bit underwhelming. Jamie Bell is a strong actor, which is shown yet again in Retreat.

Early on in the running time, the stranger contains the couple in the house. There's an entire island that could be explored throughout this movie to make it a bit more visually appealing. However, the entire motion picture takes place within the house. While this is fine, as it creates a claustrophobic atmosphere, more could have been done with the visuals. As expected, Retreat sports a very gloomy tone from start to finish. The audio is successful. All of the dialogue comes through the center channel without any pops and is very easy to hear. The most impressive portion of this track is towards the final act of the movie. The surround channels kick in with a large amount of atmospheric effects. The visuals aren't going to make anybody's jaw drop, but they're fine for the given material.

After all of the excitement about Retreat making its way to the United States, I was ultimately quite a bit disappointed with the results. It isn't nearly as good as many people were stating. This isn't very gripping or unique. In fact, it gets dull at times. It frustrates me when such a good concept is destroyed by poor execution. It makes me wonder what this movie could have turned out to be with a better written screenplay. The best thing about this entire picture is the performance given by Jamie Bell as the stranger. He's convincing and truly steals the show with this character. This review may sound like I'm absolutely trashing this movie, but I don't hate it. It's not a well-made movie, but isn't a disaster by any means. It's simply there and doesn't stand out from the crowd of other a little bit less than mediocre thrillers. Retreat is a flick that could have been so much better, but ultimately is a disappointing thriller.

My Rating = Two Stars

Next movie: The Thing (2011)

Sunday: The Thing (2011)

The Thing (2011) should be rented by those who are simply curious and want to check it out, otherwise I recommend simply revisiting John Carpenter's phenomenal classic The Thing instead.

The Thing (2011)
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When the film The Thing (2011) was in production, a lot of moviegoers were confused exactly what this was. There were a lot of mixed messages whether this was a remake, reboot, or prequel. While this is a prequel, all three of them are dreaded by a lot of the fans of original films. I didn't get the chance to see this one in theaters, but this film was instantly slammed with highly negative reviews. I'm a huge fan of the original and was a little bit worried from the start. After all, I never believe it's a good idea to remake such a classic. There's absolutely no way that it can be matched. However, I decided to wait until Netflix had it available to rent for me to check this out.

At an Antarctica research site, the discovery of an alien craft leads to a confrontation between graduate student Kate Lloyd and scientist Dr. Sander Halvorson. While Dr. Halvorson keeps to his research, Kate partners with Sam Carter, a helicopter pilot, to pursue the alien life form. The entire plot is essentially the exact same thing as the original. One of the few differences here is that there's a female lead in this prequel. What made the 1982 classic so incredible is the unbelievable amount of tension and atmosphere utilized to make the terrifying vision. However, The Thing (2011) abandons this type of filmmaking. It seems that most horror filmmakers nowadays have turned to style over substance. This prequel doesn't have tension. Not showing the creature too often is important, otherwise it feels like we're just watching a special effects show instead of something attempting to dig underneath our skin. This script is absent of the character development that's found in the original. This is what leads us to actually care about what happens to the characters. Here, the audience barely gets to know about any of the group and that leads us to not feel even slightly sympathetic for the situation they have found themselves in. Instead, we're served with some horrific dialogue and idiotic characters. The only character I found myself rooting for was Kate, although that's just because I'm a fan of the actress playing her and has nothing to do with the role itself. What started as a smart, psychological horror flick through the original has turned into a special effects show without any depth to create tension. Instead, there are just a bunch of lame and ineffective jump scares.

The supporting characters are so underdeveloped that the actors could have been great and it wouldn't have made much of a difference. In this case, it isn't even worth mentioning any of the supporting roles. As previously mentioned, I'm a fan of Mary Elizabeth Winstead. She has proven her spot in horror/thriller filmmaking. She's made a few duds, but she's ultimately an actress who can really act when given quality dialogue. In this case, she isn't able to shine as she's able to in some of her other features. However, she's a decent lead as it's always nice to see her on the big screen. Alongside her is Joel Edgerton. I'm not positive as to what led him to star in this one, but he's proven what a fantastic actor he is in a lot of his other work. I feel that he didn't receive as much screen time as he should have. Otherwise, he does a satisfactory job here. The acting is overall mediocre, but I don't expect too much from this department when the dialogue and characters given to them are so underwhelming.

One of the greatest elements of the 1982 film The Thing is the visual department. The practical effects beat any CGI. Sure, it looks a little fake at times, but it looks much more genuine than creatures created digitally. In the prequel's case, they could have greatly benefited from both practical effects and not showing the creature so much. The monster is shown over and over again in full. This doesn't make it scary at all, instead it makes us feel as if we're just watching a CGI affair. The digitized graphics are definitely disappointing. However, I'm very satisfied that the filmmaker decided to make this an R rated film. This doesn't belong in PG-13 territory and I'm glad they didn't choose that route to attempt to get more money at the box office. Easily the most impressive thing about this prequel is the audio transfer. It's absolutely phenomenal and near-reference. The bass output is massive as it shakes the entire room. The dialogue is never difficult to hear and the surround channels are very effective. I felt entirely immersed in the sound field from start to finish. Whenever there is chaos unfolding on screen, expect to hear some very well-mixed audio.

A lot of critics and people absolutely slammed The Thing (2011) way more than I did in this review. While it isn't a good film, it isn't as bad as some other horror remakes/prequels/reboots. If this movie was released without having the original in mind, this could have been at least a highly entertaining horror flick. Instead, I had difficulty getting the original out of my mind while watching this. It feels as if it's trying really hard to be similar to the original even though this is supposed to be a prequel. I personally believe that John Carpenter's version should have been left alone. This isn't an abomination, but if it was going to try and be a part of the story that the original created, it should have remained in the same atmosphere to create a similar sense of tension. The Thing (2011) should be rented by those who are simply curious and want to check it out, otherwise I recommend simply revisiting John Carpenter's phenomenal classic The Thing instead.

My Rating = Two and One Half Stars

Next movie: ????