April 2011 Reviews
By Shawn McKenzie 4/5/2011
Here are my reviews of the movies that were released in April of 2011. Check back later as the month progresses for more reviews.
Teacher Josh (Patrick Wilson) and songwriter Renai (Rose Byrne) Lambert just moved into their new home with their three kids…Dalton (Ty Simpkins), his younger brother Foster (Andrew Astor), and their baby sister Cali. Nothing about the new home seems odd, except for some books that keep falling off a bookshelf. One day, while Dalton has gone up into the attic to look around, he falls from a ladder with a broken rung and bumps his head. The next morning, as Josh goes to wake up Dalton, he finds the boy in a coma. Dr. Sercarz (Ruben Pla) can’t figure out what’s going on, because the tests done on him show no damage. Three months later, Dalton is still in a coma, and he is being cared for at home. Weird things start to happen though…like creepy voices coming through Cali’s baby monitor, locked doors opening, security alarms blaring, bloody handprints on sheets, and the fact that Foster is creeped out whenever he sees his comatose brother walking around at night. It’s enough to force them to move to another rental place. They think that the nightmare is over, but Renai is playing a record on the record player when all of a sudden it scratches and starts playing Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe Thru the Tulips” while a ghost boy runs around the house. She calls in Father Martin (John Henry Binder) to help, but Josh’s mother, Lorraine (Barbara Hershey), thinks that she knows what is going on. She had a horrible nightmare about Dalton and a red-faced demon (the movie’s score composer Joseph Bishara.) Lorraine calls an old friend she knows named Elise Reiner (Lin Shaye), a medium who specializes in paranormal disturbances. She and her team of paranormal investigators, Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (the movie’s screenwriter Leigh Whannell), check out the house, but they find out that it isn’t the house that’s haunted…it’s Dalton. He isn’t in a coma…he has actually accidentally astral-projected himself into “The Further,” a realm that holds the souls of the damned. They need to find a way to bring Dalton back before the demons take over his physical body. Director James Wan and screenwriter Whannell have become some of the more effective horror moviemakers around. They are responsible for directing/writing the original 2004 movie Saw. Three years later, they came back with the creepy 2007 movie Dead Silence. Now, the two are back with their first PG-13 rated movie. The reason for the rating is that there is little-to-no blood (surprising, for the people responsible for the current wave of bloody “torture porn”), no nudity, and only one F-bomb. There is violence, but it mostly occurs in the second half. No…the scares come from what I call “stabs”…little bits of loud noise (usually punctuated by a piano) that startle the audience. This movie is a little mixture of 2009’s Paranormal Activity and 1982’s Poltergeist. The “demon” that Bishara plays looks a little like Darth Maul from 1999’s Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (who I’ve always thought looked a little creepy anyways.) Shaye is a good substitute for Poltergeist’s Zelda Rubinstein, but I’ve seen her play scarier characters in the Farrelly Brothers’ comedies Kingpin and There’s Something About Mary. Normally I don’t like PG-13 rated horror movies (the last good one I saw was Sam Raimi’s 2009 movie Drag Me to Hell), but this one isn’t too bad. It’s certainly not Wan and Whannell’s best effort though. I would recommend seeing it quickly and at a nighttime showing however…because the scares come from not only the movie, but from the audience’s reactions.
Sixteen-year-old Hanna Heller (Saoirse Ronan) lives with her ex-CIA agent father Erik (Eric Bana) in the wilderness of Finland within the Arctic Circle. Erik has taught her how to defend herself and hunt for survival. He has also taught her several languages and other things in her home education. Hanna has only seen Erik and no other person her whole life, so she is lacking in several social skills or exposure to modern things…like electricity or music. She yearns to know more about the world beyond the forest, and she tells her father that she is ready to leave. Erik agrees…and as a test, he tells her that flipping a transponder switch he has will signal others to their location, for which she will have to fight and survive to reach her contact Knepfler (Martin Wuttke) at Grimm’s House in Berlin, Germany, and reunite with her father. He leaves her alone to get to Berlin himself, and not long after, a team of soldiers who work for Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett)…a corrupt CIA agent who wants to use Hanna’s skills to create the perfect assassin…seizes her and brings her to a safe house in Morocco. Surprised by the fact that Hanna knows her, Marissa realizes that the girl may be deadly…so she sends in a fake version of her (Michelle Dockery) to talk to Hanna. After snapping the neck of the body double and using the gun of one of the guards she’s killed, Hanna escapes. She runs into a sarcastic British teenager named Sophie (Jessica Barden), who is vacationing in an RV with her younger brother Miles (Aldo Maland), and their parents, Rachel (Olivia Williams) and Sebastian (Jason Flemyng.) Marissa hires flamboyant blonde mercenary Isaacs (Tom Hollander) to find and eliminate Hanna, while she and her assistant Lewis (John MacMillian) go after Erik. Hanna has to use all of her training in order to reunite with her father. Director Joe Wright isn’t exactly known for action movies. His first three movies…2005’s Pride & Prejudice, 2007’s Atonement, and 2009’s The Soloist…weren’t exactly edge-of-your-seat thrillers. While other critics have loved his stuff, I’ve found his movies either pretentious or boring (I liked Atonement somewhat…ironically because of Ronan.) This movie put me on the Joe Wright bandwagon though. Everything was perfect…the story, the casting, the action, and especially Ronan. The girl is amongst one of the youngest actresses ever to be nominated for an Oscar (at age 13 for Atonement), and aside from her kick-butt fighting, she gives an emotional performance as a girl who sees the world for the first time. When I watched her though, it reminded me of Chloë Moretz’s Hit-Girl from last year’s Kick-Ass (albeit a PG-13 rated, not so bloody version of Hit-Girl.) Her fight choreographer was Jeff Imada, fight choreographer for several films, like The Book of Eli, The Crow, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Daredevil, the last two Bourne movies, and so many more. I’d like to see Ronan do more action in the future. I also liked the Chemical Brothers score. There’s a new trend of techno and industrial acts composing scores for movies (Daft Punk doing the music for TRON: Legacy and Nine Inch Nail leader Trent Reznor’s Oscar-winning score for The Social Network), and I see it happening more and more (which I encourage.) Despite my dislike of Wright’s previous movies, this one is his best, and it’s one of the best of 2011 so far.
Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb) is a 13-year-old champion surfer who lives in Lihue on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i. She comes from a family of surfers, including her older brothers Noah (Ross Thomas) and Timmy (Chris Brochu), and their parents, Tom (Dennis Quaid) and Cheri (Helen Hunt.) She has been a professional surfer since she was 8 years old. She and her best friend Alana Blanchard (Lorraine Nicholson) surf competitively, and one day, they both pick up a sponsor with Rip Curl Boardwear after Bethany comes in first and Alana comes in second in the Jr. Competition in Turtle Bay. This happened after they both beat their archrival, Malina Birch (Sonya Balmores.) Since she got the sponsorship, she turned down the opportunity to go with her church’s youth leader Sarah Hill (Carrie Underwood) on a missionary trip to Mexico because she had to practice. Not long after, Bethany goes on a Halloween morning surf to Tunnels Beach, Kauai, with Alana along with Alana’s father Holt (Kevin Sorbo) and her brother Byron (Jeremy Sumpter), when Bethany’s left arm gets bitten off by a 14-foot tiger shark. Holt and Byron quickly get Bethany out of the water and get her to Wilcox Memorial Hospital, where Dr. Rovinksy (Craig T. Nelson) performs emergency surgery on her. She survives, but she really wants to get back to surfing. She has her doubts though, when not only does she have difficulty surfing, but doing many other things…like opening a bag of bread, a jar of mayonnaise, or even tying her own swimsuit. After another missionary trip with Sarah to Thailand following a tsunami, it changes her perspective, and she fights to get back on her board, with her family and friends’ encouragement. Family-friendly TV and film director Sean McNamara directed this movie, based on Hamilton’s autobiography Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board. This is an inspirational story about a girl getting back to doing the thing that she loves following a tragedy. It also has a lot of Christianity stuff in it (if you’re a Christian.) I found the religious aspects of the movie distracting, but a Christian might find it comforting. I heard that the filmmakers wanted to take a lot of religion out of it to appeal to a more mainstream audience, but I think that would have been a bad decision, because what I’ve learned about Hamilton is that she is very much a Christian. While I’m not a Christian, I can respect people who are…and denying that her character was Christian would be fake. Denver-born Robb was excellent, and the CGI of her arm was very realistic. Most of the rest of the cast weren’t bad either (especially Quaid.) I hate to say it…but “American Idol” fourth season winner Underwood is no Jennifer Hudson. I love her singing…so I hope she doesn’t quit her day job. Speaking of Underwood…why didn’t she sing a song on the official soundtrack? (Ironically, sixth-season “Idol” tenth-place finisher Chris Sligh does a cover of Katy Perry’s “Firework” on the soundtrack.) You can take the whole family to see it (except maybe the little ones who might freak out during the shark scene.) It’s really not my cup of tea, but anyone looking for a feel-good story might want to check it out.
On April 14, 1865, Abraham Lincoln (Gerald Bestrom)…the 16th United States President…was shot and killed by well-known actor John Wilkes Booth (Toby Kebbell) while watching the play Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. Booth was the leader in a conspiracy involving eight other men…Samuel Arnold (Jeremy Tuttle), George Atzerodt (John Michael Weatherly), David Herold (Marcus Hester), Michael O’Laughlen (not featured), Samuel Mudd (not featured), Lewis Powell a.k.a. Lewis Payne (Norman Reedus), Edmund Spangler (James Kirk Sparks), and John Surratt, Jr. (Johnny Simmons.) They were originally going to kidnap Lincoln and deliver him to the Confederate Army, to be held hostage until the North agreed to resume exchanging prisoners. After Lincoln changed his plans though, and after he gave a speech at the White House in which he supported the idea of voting rights for former slaves, Booth changed his mind and decided that assassination was the best route. They had an idea that if they killed Lincoln, General Ulysses S. Grant, Vice President Andrew Johnson (Dennis Clark), and Secretary of State William H. Seward (not credited), at the same time, he could disrupt the Union government long enough for the Confederacy to mount a resurgence. The plan was to have Atzerodt kill Johnson and Powell kill Seward while Booth killed both Lincoln and Grant. Only Lincoln was killed though, because Grant decided not to join the President at the theater, Atzerodt chickened out in killing Johnson, and Powell had to stab Seward because his gun misfired (Seward was badly wounded, but he survived.) Only Arnold, Atzerodt, Herold, O’Laughlen, Mudd, Powell, and Spangler were tried, because Surratt managed to flee the country, and Booth went out in a blaze of glory. One woman though…John Surratt’s mother Mary Surratt (Robin Wright)…was also tried for participating in the conspiracy because she housed the conspirators in her boarding house. Meanwhile, Civil War Union veterans Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy), Nicholas Baker (Justin Long), and William Hamilton (James Badge Dale) were celebrating the end of the War with Frederick’s girlfriend, Sarah Weston (Alexis Bledel), when they heard that the President had been shot. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Kevin Kline) wants all those responsible tried before a military tribunal, so he has them all tried simultaneously. Maryland U.S. Senator and respected lawyer Reverdy Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) was retained to be Mary’s defense counsel. Reverdy manages to convince Frederick to defend her in front of biased tribunal head Major General David Hunter (Colm Meaney) and going against prosecutor Joseph Holt (Danny Huston.) Mary’s daughter Anna (Evan Rachel Wood)…who is kept under house arrest…and Sarah are worried about Frederick and his defense of Mary, since virtually everyone wants to see her hung. Veteran actor and director Robert Redford directed this one, and its release date is on the 146th anniversary of the death of Lincoln. It’s gotten mixed reviews, but it’s a vast improvement over Redford’s last directorial effort, 2007’s snore-fest Lions for Lambs. McAvoy shined as the determined lawyer, but Wright seemed dour the whole time (I guess if you’re on trial for your life, you wouldn’t necessarily be perky.) Except for some minor inaccuracies, it is factually accurate (from what I’ve researched.) Personally, I’d rather watch the actual “conspiracy” rather than just the trial of the first woman to be executed in American history…but maybe that’s just me. I do encourage you to check it out though…because this movie will entertain you while giving you a history lesson.
It’s prom time at Brookside High School, and decorating committee leader and class president Nova Prescott (Aimee Teegarden)…who has just gotten a full scholarship to Georgetown University…is ready for the big event, themed as “A Starry Night,” in three weeks. The guy she wants to ask her to the dance is Advanced Placement classmate and swim team co-captain Brandon Roberts (Jonathan Keltz), but he has spent all of his time studying for Princeton University, so he just invites Nova to “carpool” to prom with him. Other people on the committee aren’t quite as excited about the prom as Nova, but they are looking forward to it. Nova’s best friend Mei Kwan (Yin Chang) is conflicted, because she doesn’t want to tell her longtime boyfriend Justin Wexler (Jared Kusnitz) that she will be going to a prestigious design school in New York instead of going to a college with him in Michigan like they had planned. Gossipy girl Ali Gomez (Janelle Ortiz) doesn’t believe that Rolo (Joe Adler)…who always looks high, but his drug of choice just happens to be Rolo candies…is going to bring his Greek-Canadian girlfriend Athena to the prom. Meanwhile, other students who aren’t on the decorating committee are also looking forward to the prom. Popular jock Tyler Barso (De’Vaughn Nixon) asks his girlfriend Jordan Lundley (Kylie Bunbury) to the prom, where they are expected to be crowned prom king and queen, but he is actually cheating on her with Simone Daniels (Danielle Campbell.) There is another guy who has a crush on Simone though. Shy, music-obsessed sophomore Lucas Arnez (Nolan Sotillo) has been tutoring her, but since she is involved with Tyler, his best friend Corey Doyle (Cameron Monaghan) convinces him to go to the Stick Hippo concert rather than mope around pining for Simone. Finally, Lloyd Taylor (Nicholas Braun) has less than two weeks until prom arrives and he still doesn’t have a date. Even though his freshman half-sister Tess Torres (Raini Rodriguez) tries to help him out, all of his efforts to get a date blow up in his face. The night that the decorations are finished though, the shed containing all of the prom decorations accidentally catches fire and burns to the ground. Nova is disheartened that all of the decorations that she and her committee spent so long to make are now gone, so Principal Dunnan (Jere Burns) makes long-haired bad boy Jesse Richter (Thomas McDonell) work with Nova to remake the decorations or he won’t graduate. Jesse’s single mother Sandra (Christine Elise) works as a waitress, so she relies on him to pick up his little brother Charlie (Robbie Tucker) from school because her husband walked out on them a few years ago. Nova doesn’t like Jesse because he is always late and has a bad attitude about proms, but eventually she warms up to him, and he to her. Nova’s father Frank (Dean Norris) and mother Kitty (Faith Ford) don’t like Jesse though, because they think that Jesse will drag Nova down. All of these students’ problems can be resolved by prom night hopefully. Since this is a Disney movie, and since it was rated PG, I thought it looked like a Disney Channel Original Movie (like the High School Musical and Camp Rock movies) that just happened to make it to the big screen. Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing (actually liked their latest movie Lemonade Mouth), but this is certainly not a movie geared for adults. Their parents may remember R-rated horror movies like Carrie or Prom Night when they were teens, so they may not like this one. This movie is almost as unrealistic as those movies though, because it’s a sanitized version of a high school comedy-drama. They don’t have to worry about seeing anything objectionable though, because there is no violence or sex. I actually thought that Braun stole the show in his brief scenes. I do have a little gripe about one thing in the movie (as a mobile DJ, which is actually my main bill-paying job.) The DJ was using vinyl records to play his music. That is such a movie thing, because every mobile DJ I know hasn’t used vinyl in over 20 years (I’ve never used vinyl on gigs.) We use laptops nowadays, and maybe CD’s as a backup. They still make vinyl, but they are so expensive that the prom committee would have to pay a lot to hire the DJ (especially since he was playing current songs like Katy Perry’s “Firework” and Travie McCoy featuring Bruno Mars’ “We’ll Be Alright.”) They might as well hire a cover band to play the prom for that expense. Anyways…it’s okay to see the movie, because it’s safe…but you might want to save your money when it actually plays on the Disney Channel (or ABC Family…or Starz) sometime a year from now.
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