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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Review: No

Happiness is Coming!

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: February 15, 2013 – U.S.
Rating: R
Genre: Drama, History
Running Time: 118 minutes
Director: Pablo Larraín
Writers: Pedro Peirano (screenplay), 
Antonio Skármeta (play)
Cast: Gael García Bernal, Alfredo Castro, 
Luis Gnecco, Néstor Cantillana, Antonia Zegers, 
Marcial Tagle, Pascal Montero

In "No," René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal, "Babel") says a lot with his big, expressive eyes and concerned, pensive face. In a time and place where overthrowing a dictator quite literally means the difference between choosing "Yes" or "No," every thought and action must be carefully considered.

The country is Chile and the year is 1988. Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship looms large. His people feel afraid and suppressed.

In a historic event, the citizens of Chile have been given the power to decide whether Pinochet's reign should be allowed to continue for another eight years. They must simply vote "Yes" ("Si") for Pinochet or "No" if they want a general election instead.

René Saavedra is an advertising executive. When an old family friend named José Tomás Urrutia (Luis Gnecco) drops by the agency unannounced, it stirs up trouble. As it turns out, he has a reputation as an anti-Pinochet "Communist." Saavedra is very brusque with him. Undeterred by the rebuke, Urrutia asks Saavedra to create content for the "No" side. That puts Saavedra in conflict with his boss, Lucho Guzmán (Alfredo Castro, resembling a middle-aged Al Pacino), who works for the Pinochet campaign.

Saavedra's father was exiled for speaking out against Pinochet and his ex-wife is routinely beaten for protesting the state of the country. Guzmán was well-aware of the Saavedra Family's political history but hired young René anyway.

Both the "Yes" and the "No" are given 15 minutes of television time per night to persuade their fellow Chileans. Saavedra and Guzmán use their advertising expertise to aid their respective "teams" while still working together in their day jobs.

The advertisements themselves are fascinating, and watching how they come together behind-the-scenes is one of the highlights of the film. 

The real-life voting ballot (

As the "No" campaign gains steam, Pinochet and his "Yes" men become increasingly concerned. It isn't long before they do everything they can to threaten and sabotage the opposing side. Even Saavedra's ex-wife, Verónica (Antonia Zegers), and son, Simón (Pascal Montero), aren't off-limits. These scenes are fraught with tension and show just how much is at stake.

"No" is based on a true story, but as is often the case, dramatic license was taken. The character of René Saavedra is based somewhat on Eugenio García, one of the men involved in the real-life "No" campaign.

If Spanish isn't your native language, there's a lot to read; the film is so conversation-heavy that it can sometimes be tricky to keep up with the English subtitles and figure out who is saying what. But that's only a minor issue.

In addition to being set in 1988, "No" also looks like a movie from that time period. Shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio, it's perfectly framed to fit the CRT TVs of the era and could easily be mistaken for an old VHS tape. This isn't the film you'll be using to show off your new HDTV and Blu-Ray player, that's for sure. But it's actually a very cool effect and it allows real-life archival footage to be integrated into the movie seamlessly. For all of the little techniques "Argo" employed to look like a movie from the late-'70s, "No" is even more effective at capturing the essence of the '80s.

As the title indicates, the movie clearly sympathizes with the "No" – but it never falls into the trap of making the "Yes" into cartoon villains. Guzmán is shifty and amoral at times but still looks out for his young employee. The positive effect Pinochet himself had on Chile's economy – or so his side claimed – is also pointed out. The lens of history obviously doesn't shine down favorably on Pinochet's dictatorship, but the decision to vote "Yes" or "No" was never quite as clear cut to those who actually had to live through it.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Review: The Call

This is 911 – What is Your Emergency?

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: March 15, 2013 – U.S.
Rating: R
Genre: Thriller
Running Time: 94 minutes
Director: Brad Anderson
Writers: Richard D'Ovidio, Nicole D'Ovidio, 
Jon Bokenkamp
Cast: Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, 
Morris Chestnut, Michael Eklund, 
David Otunga, Michael Imperioli

Imagine being a 911 call operator who has to face life or death decisions all day, every day, over the phone. That's what Jordan Turner (Academy Award winner Halle Berry) deals with every time she goes to work. The calls are generally mundane and manageable: A neighbor is in trouble. Can I have directions? Eeek, a bat! But then there are those situations where a young girl is home alone and a dangerous killer is about to break in.

The first incident, involving a pretty teenager named Leah Templeton (Evie Louise Thompson), traumatizes Jordan.

Six months later, it happens again. Another young teen, Casey Welson (Academy Award nominee Abigail Breslin), is kidnapped from the parking lot of a mall. Her captor (played by the usually creepy Michael Eklund) locks her in the trunk of a car and speeds through the freeway. Luckily, she has a cell phone.

Jordan once again gets involved. While she mans the phone line, two police officers – Paul Phillips (the always reliable Morris Chestnut) and Jake Devans (WWE wrestler David Otunga) – hit the streets in search of the missing girl and her kidnapper. It's more than just another routine job for Phillips: he's in a relationship with Jordan and wants to help her.  

Along the way, the creepy kiddie-snatcher crosses paths with another driver on the road, who has to be the world's biggest idiot (Michael Imperioli from "The Sopranos" in a thankless role). Christopher – his "Sopranos" character – lost in the woods is sharper than this dimbulb. I realize his stupidity is supposed to add to the suspense, but it's a colossal waste of Imperioli's talents.

However, Halle Berry does an outstanding job, using only her voice and body language to convey a wide range of emotions: from detached professionalism to passionate conviction to downright fear – all in the course of a single phone conversation.

Abigail Breslin is equally as good with her pitch-perfect portrayal of a scared little girl locked in the trunk of a madman's car.  

The lesser-known Eklund is also superb, becoming more and more unhinged as the film progresses.

Pro wrestler David Otunga isn't given much screentime, but he's smooth and charismatic – a definite natural. His charming, likeable character is a nice contrast to the smarmy, coffee cup-cradling corporate kiss-ass he embodies on Monday Night Raw. It's definitely one of the better performances by a wrestler in recent memory – even if that is faint praise when put up against the likes of Randy Orton and John Cena, both of whom could double as Hacksaw Jim Duggan's 2x4 because they're so wooden. No current WWE star has come close to Andre The Giant in "The Princess Bride" or Rowdy Roddy Piper in "They Live" (does The Rock still count now that he's a legitimate movie star?), but Otunga – like The Miz – definitely shows something.

"The Call" is the latest in a long line of movies from WWE Studios, whose history and ratio of quality is definitely hit-or-miss, to say the least. Thankfully, this is one of its best efforts (and certainly its most financially successful). Casting top-notch actresses like Berry and Breslin made all the difference. It helps, also, that the movie remains more or less plausible – at least until the last half-hour, which takes Berry's character in a completely illogical direction. The ending (which I won't spoil) is even more ridiculous. Some people will be fine with the final act, but I found it silly – it's very much reminiscent of a wrestling storyline between a beloved "babyface" and a hated "heel" – and it completely trivializes the roles of Chestnut and the WWE's Otunga. 

Still, despite some nitpicks, there's actually a lot to like and recommend here. For the most part, "The Call" is very successful at what it sets out to do. It's a fast-paced thriller that's fun to watch and features great performances.  

Friday, June 21, 2013

Review: Seven Chances

Buster Keaton: The Original Bachelor

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: March 11, 1925 – U.S.
Rating: NR
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Running Time: 56 minutes
Director: Buster Keaton
Writers: Roi Cooper Megrue, Clyde Bruckman, 
Jean Havez, Joseph Mitchell 
Cast: Buster Keaton, T. Roy Barnes, Snitz Edwards, 
Ruth Dwyer, Frances Raymond, Erwin Connelly, 
Jules Cowles, Jean Arthur  

Jimmie Shannon (Buster Keaton) is informed that he will inherit seven million dollars from his grandfather. That was an astronomical amount of money in 1925, and it's still a pretty good chunk of change now. But there's a catch! Isn't there always? To get rich, he has to get married.


It's a ridiculous premise, of course, but it's funny and it works.

"Seven Chances" is a silent film that's shot (mostly) in black and white. The title refers to two things: Jimmie is given a list with seven women he knows – seven potential brides to woo. It also refers to the number of chances he has to win over his one true love, Mary (Ruth Dwyer).

The opening scene is in Technicolor, but no surviving negatives of it exist – only prints. Because of that, the first few minutes are rough around the edges (but still watchable). The bulk of the film, however, is in black and white, and it looks fantastic for its age – especially on Blu-Ray. It's an impressive restoration. I'd honestly be surprised if it looked this good back in 1925.

Because there is no audible speech, the movie relies solely on camerawork, facial expressions, body language, and expert physical timing to tell its story. It does so masterfully.

"Seven Chances" culminates with one of the best chase sequences I have ever seen. I suspect the film lives on after almost 90 years because of it. To say anything more would be to spoil the fun.

However, not every aspect of this Buster Keaton classic has aged well. There's a dreadful character in blackface (played by Jules Cowles, a white actor), who stumbles and bumbles around like a complete imbecile. There's another scene where Jimmie chases after a potential wife but makes a sharp detour as soon as the camera reveals that she's black. She's supposed to be ugly too, which is also part of the humor, but the punchline would have been just as funny with a homely white actress. Still, no one is going to confuse "Seven Chances" with the unbearably racist "The Birth of a Nation."

It remains timeless and influential in every other way. The Blu-Ray includes an amusing 1947 short, "Brideless Groom" from "The Three Stooges." The storyline is similar, with Shemp featured in the Buster Keaton role  but only half a million is at stake this time. Poor Shemp! The 1999 film "The Bachelor," with Chris O'Donnell and Renée Zellweger, can also be considered a remake.

"Seven Chances" starts off slowly, but at a sparse 56 minutes, it never wears out its welcome. If you've never before seen a silent film, this would be a wonderful introduction.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Reviews: The "Before" Series - Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight

Three Films, Eighteen Years, and One Magical Encounter

By Chris Sabga

Five other people were with me in the theater when I went to see "Before Midnight." All five walked out. Life can be tough, and this movie pulls no punches about that. From the moment Jesse and Celine (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) appear together again, it feels different in the air somehow; their dialogue carries with it a much a sharper edge this time. They are no longer the lovestruck young pups we first met eighteen years ago. They've had time together, and the comfort that comes along with it – but that can be a double-edged sword. In one scene, Celine remarks that men believe in magic. We do. Jesse still does too. After the incredible chance meeting he had on a train when he was only 23, it's easy to see why.  

Before Sunrise (1995)

Rarely is a film's promotional material anything more than mere marketing fluff with a few carefully chosen buzzwords – but whoever wrote the back cover for the DVD of "Before Sunrise" understood its allure and conveyed it perfectly.

"Love is their destination. On the way there's the mutual sharing of hopes, jokes, dreams, worry and wonder. It's a day to linger in their memories. And a valentine to young love forever."

An experience so magical, it obviously managed to capture even a random ad-writer's heart. It certainly captured mine.

The story of two young people, Jesse and Celine, randomly meeting on a train and exploring Vienna together cannot help but fascinate, inspire, and warm even the most jaded of hearts.

There are no big twists or turns. There isn't an explosion anywhere in sight. There's simply a conversation.

Two strangers walking and talking, getting to know each other, and becoming more smitten with each passing syllable and step.  

Hawke and Delpy are perfect in their roles. Not just good, not just excellent, but perfect.

As I wrote previously: When "Before Sunrise" was released in 1995, there was nothing else quite like it. It was and remains one of the truly great "silver screen surprises."

At the time, no one could have ever imagined that Jesse and Celine would ever meet again on screen. Movies like this simply didn't get sequels. This one did.  But it took nine years.

Before Sunset (2004)

Jesse has never forgotten that night in Vienna with Celine. Neither has anyone else who's ever seen "Before Sunrise." Nine years later, Jesse is an author – and his book about that one magical encounter brings Celine back into his life. This time, they're in France.

They were supposed to meet again much sooner. Why didn't they? That particular conversation is beautifully awkward and feels incredibly true.

Jesse and Celine are almost a decade older now. "Before Sunset" expertly uses the realities of life to subtly chip away at the picture-perfect connection they shared in "Sunrise" – something that doesn't become as obvious until viewed through the lens of the third film, "Before Midnight."

In a telling scene in "Sunset," Celine criticizes Jesse for acting like a "little boy" at one point during their previous meeting in Vienna. It's such a quick flash of pettiness – over almost in an instant – and yet it seems so jarring and out of place. Little did we know at the time that such clouded judgmental thinking would eventually come to dominate Celine's entire personality.

However, "Sunset" never erodes the gentle love shared by its two characters. Their chemistry remains as magical as ever.

But magic is an illusion.

Before Midnight (2013)

The film opens with Jesse and his almost 14-year-old son Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) walking through an airport. Celine is nowhere in sight. That alone is telling. It becomes immediately obvious that everything has changed.

When Jesse and Celine finally do meet up, they don't actually get to be alone with each other until the second half of the film. That's another monumental difference between "Before Midnight" and its previous chapters.

Some of their conversations – especially with other people – border on being overly pretentious, but those moments are fleeting and entirely forgivable from such a dialogue-driven film. Maybe the other "Before" movies were that way too and I'm just more jaded now – much like Jesse and Celine themselves.

In "Midnight," Celine is obnoxious, unbearable, and impossible to please – a drastic and depressing change from her sunny sweetness in "Sunrise" and "Sunset."

She has become the kind of person who makes blowjob jokes inside a church, even though the love of her life is a "closet Christian."

There is a conversation about the tragic fate of Joan of Arc at one point. With the way Celine is carrying on, it's easy to wish the same for her.

But I'm a man. Women who see the film might find fault with Jesse instead. Of course, he is far from flawless himself. That's the point, I think. Regardless of whose perspective you lean toward, these characters have created enough goodwill over the past eighteen years and two previous movies that I ultimately wanted both of them to succeed – together.

Life is full of disappointments. In some ways, this movie is one of them. I don't want to watch people argue for two hours! Listening to an angry couple sniping and bickering about family issues is simply not my idea of a good time. That certainly wouldn't be considered entertaining in any other setting.

Still, the acting remains as breathtaking ever and the dialogue once again kept me glued to the screen from beginning to end. It's real. It's raw. Life can't always be the fairy tale presented in the other two films (especially the first). If there are still several more "Before" movies to be made, this could end up becoming a very important and necessary part of the series. Until then, though, I can only view "Midnight" and its characters as they are currently.

Yet, I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. I actually feel flashes of real anger at times. I almost wish I could go up to Jesse (a fictional character, mind you) and offer him my support and a listening ear. A movie that inspires such raw emotion in its audience – especially when most don't – is obviously doing something right. It's challenging and conflicting. Isn't that what great cinema is supposed to be?

The title of each film expresses more than I previously realized. In 1995, Jesse and Celine were 23 and about to enter the sunrise of their lives. Nine years later, the optimism of youth was still present, but they were older now. That meeting was perhaps their last before they entered the sunset phase that inevitably comes with age and experience. But midnight is a dark time. It's when the magic wears off for Cinderella. It has, too, for Jesse and Celine. The slipper is off Celine's foot – metaphorically but also literally in one pivotal scene. However, midnight is also a time filled with mystery and wonder. Can their relationship regain that, or will it indeed be darkest Before Dawn?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Review: Cloud Atlas

Maybe We've Met Before – Somewhere in Time

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: October 26, 2012 – U.S.
Rating: R
Genre: Action, Drama, Sci-Fi, Comedy, 
Romance, Thriller, War
Running Time: 172 minutes
Directors: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, 
Lana Wachowski
Writers: David Mitchell (novel), Tom Tykwer, 
Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
Cast: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, 
Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, 
Ben Whishaw, James D'Arcy, Zhou Xun, 
Keith David, David Gyasi, Susan Sarandon, 
Hugh Grant

"Cloud Atlas" isn't a movie that's meant to be written or read about – it simply has to be experienced! Spanning six different time periods and featuring an international cast of world class actors in multiple roles, it's utterly breathtaking in its sheer size and scope. It's a historical drama, an action movie, a conspiracy thriller, a love story, a comedy, futuristic sci-fi, a post-apocalyptic war film, and a mystery.

Even though it incorporates a wide variety of genres, it's definitely not for everyone. Great art never is.

Here is a list of the impressive cast and the many personas they play (courtesy of IMDB):

Tom Hanks: Dr. Henry Goose / Hotel Manager / Isaac Sachs / Dermot Hoggins / Cavendish Look-a-Like Actor / Zachry

Halle Berry: Native Woman / Jocasta Ayrs / Luisa Rey / Indian Party Guest / Ovid / Meronym

Jim Broadbent: Captain Molyneux / Vyvyan Ayrs / Timothy Cavendish / Korean Musician / Prescient 2

Hugo Weaving: Haskell Moore / Tadeusz Kesselring / Bill Smoke / Nurse Noakes / Boardman Mephi / Old Georgie

Jim Sturgess: Adam Ewing / Poor Hotel Guest / Megan's Dad / Highlander / Hae-Joo Chang / Adam (Zachry's Brother-in-Law)

Doona Bae: Tilda / Megan's Mom / Mexican Woman / Sonmi-451 / Sonmi-351 / Sonmi Prostitute

Ben Whishaw: Cabin Boy / Robert Frobisher / Store Clerk / Georgette / Tribesman

Keith David: Kupaka / Joe Napier / An-kor Apis / Prescient

James D'Arcy: Young Rufus Sixsmith / Old Rufus Sixsmith / Nurse James / Archivist

Xun Zhou: Talbot / Yoona-939 / Rose

David Gyasi: Autua / Lester Rey / Duophysite

Susan Sarandon: Madame Horrox / Older Ursula / Yusouf Suleiman / Abbess

Hugh Grant: Rev. Giles Horrox / Hotel Heavy / Lloyd Hooks / Denholme Cavendish / Seer Rhee / Kona Chief

A brief breakdown of the various time periods featured in the film:

1849: South Pacific High Seas

A lawyer, Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess), vouches for a runaway slave (David Gyasis) to the ship's captain (Jim Broadbent). Eventually, Ewing becomes deathly ill. Can the doctor on board (Tom Hanks) save him?

1936: Cambridge and Scotland

Two gay lovers, Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) and Rufus Sixsmith (James D'Arcy), correspond via letters after Frobisher leaves Cambridge to seek out the great Scottish composer Vyvyan Ayrs (Broadbent). Together, they will create a musical masterpiece, the Cloud Atlas Sextet.

1973: Los Angeles, California

Roving reporter Luisa Ray (Halle Berry) gets stuck in an elevator with an older Rufus Sixmith (D'Arcy), who tips her off to a shocking conspiracy. Will the help of a scientist (Hanks) and her father's old friend (Keith David) be enough?

2012: The United Kingdom

John Travolta lookalike Dermot Hoggins (Hanks) becomes a bestselling author after he tosses a critic off a building – leading to trouble for his publisher, Timothy Cavendish (Broadbent). Cavendish turns to his brother, Denholme (Hugh Grant), who puts him in a nursing home  where he's imprisoned against his will. From there, a comedy of errors follows.

2144: Neo Seoul

Fabricants – a series of subservient slave drones cloned and engineered to please Consumers – are unchanging in their routine and unwavering in their beliefs. But one of them, Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae), eventually desires more. With the help of Hae-Joo Chang (Sturgess, playing an Asian man), she breaks away and discovers the deeper, darker truth.

106 Winters After The Fall: The Valley

A simple goat herder, Zachry (Hanks), tends to his family in a post-apocalyptic, prehistoric world. When his village, The Valley, is invaded by a violent tribe, he's helped by a mysterious, sophisticated woman, Meronym (Berry), who has access to technology. She wants him to take her up to the mountains, where "the devil" is believed to live. 

Those small summaries barely scratch the surface of "Cloud Atlas's" ambitious story, powerful themes, and central message.

Connections form across time in both big and small ways. Jim Sturgess's character from 1849 makes decisions that will shape his actions in 2144. Halle Berry and Tom Hanks meeting and falling for each other in 1973 will ripple through ages and beyond the fall of civilization. A comedic observation made in 2012 about something from 1973 will have sinister implications in 2144. And there are countless other examples...

Each segment has one or two (or more) major characters, but almost all of the main cast members are featured in some way. Sometimes they're easy to spot, even under heavy costuming and makeup – such as the Asian actress Doona Bae portraying a Caucasian redhead in 1849 or Halle Berry as a European white woman in 1936. But don't expect to catch all of them: Berry, again, is unrecognizable in the 2144 timeline as a male Korean doctor.  

The aforementioned prosthetics aren't always convincing. Doona Bae doesn't look or sound like a white woman, and Berry's appearance as one is equally as strange. However, Jim Sturgess pulls off the role of an Asian man surprisingly well. Everyone will have their own favorite performance and one particular actor they consider the "star" of the film. For me, it's Sturgess.

As I thought more about the jarring appearances of Berry, Bae, and others in some of their more disparate roles, it dawned on me that I can come up with countless examples of people from my own life who look nothing like their actual nationality. Have we, too, been "Cloud Atlasing" through the ages? 

Sometimes we make connections of such great power that they instantly seem otherworldly. Have you ever just met someone, and yet it feels like you've already known them your whole life? According to "Cloud Atlas," maybe we have – for all of our lives.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Review: Snitch

The Rock: Father, Husband, Drug Informant

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: February 22, 2013 – U.S.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Action, Drama
Running Time: 112 minutes
Director: Ric Roman Waugh
Writers: Justin Haythe, Ric Roman Waugh
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Barry Pepper, 
Jon Bernthal, Susan Sarandon, 
Michael K. Williams, Rafi Gavron, 
Melina Kanakaredes, Nadine Velazquez, 
Benjamin Bratt

"Snitch" is an action-drama with something to say. An unusual combination. It ends with a damning statistic: "The average sentence for a first time non-violent drug offender convicted under the federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws..." Pause for dramatic effect. " now longer than the average sentence for rape, child molestation, bank robbery and manslaughter."  The rest of the movie does everything it can to make its message as persuasive as possible. There is definitely an agenda being driven here, but it never feels heavy-handed. At its core, "Snitch" is still an entertaining spectacle with gang shootouts and "Spy Hunter"-style car chases – but it also features great actors tackling tough topics.

It begins with a dopey, naïve 18-year-old boy reluctantly agreeing to accept a suspicious package from his so-called friend. As soon as Jason Matthews (Rafi Gavron) opens the box, DEA agents swarm the house and arrest him for drug possession with intent to distribute. The charge carries with it a minimum ten-year sentence.

But the kid's father is played by The Rock (Dwayne Johnson), so you know heads are going to roll! John Matthews (Johnson) will do whatever it takes to free his son. He pleads his boy's case to a prominent district attorney, Joanne Keeghan (Susan Sarandon), who is staunchly against drugs and has her eye on a congressional seat.

John offers to go undercover and pose as a drug dealer in exchange for his son's release. He owns a truck company and can easily use his rigs to distribute "product." In reality, he'll be an informant – a "snitch" – to help Joanne bring down a major narcotics operation.

He just needs an introduction into that world. He turns to one of his employees with a criminal past: Daniel (Jon Bernthal) used to associate with a local dealer named Malik (Michael K. Williams), but he has put all of that behind him for the sake of his wife and son.

A DEA agent, Cooper (Barry Pepper), and a drug kingpin nicknamed "El Topo" (a lethal Benjamin Bratt), get involved along the way.

The acting is strong for the most part. The outspokenly liberal Sarandon portrays a Republican politician with a bitchy relish that's fun to watch. Pepper is almost unrecognizable in his role; it's hard to believe that this is the same actor who played a cocksure stockbroker in "25th Hour." It's a great performance. Bernthal is fantastic as a desperate ex-con who finds himself dragged back into his old life.

The Rock, on the other hand, portrays a regular husband, father, and business-owner. The problem is: he's not really any of those things. He's a former WWE Champion who became famous by being brash, over-the-top, and in your face. He doesn't excel when he's forced to play ordinary characters – because it's not really a natural fit for him. As a result, his line-delivery can sometimes come across as stilted and overly-rehearsed. However, he's wonderful expressing emotions and conveying the weight of the world on his shoulders. He knows how to make an audience root for him. His years as a pro wrestler taught him that skill, and he carries it with him to the silver screen.

The role of Jason, the son, is another weak spot. Rafi Gavron's performance is fine, but his character isn't given enough development to generate much sympathy from the audience. More often than not, I shook my head at the boy's stubborn stupidity. Actions that are meant to be "noble" come across instead as childishly rebellious.  

While the situation wasn't entirely his fault, all I kept thinking was, this spoiled dope fiend has ruined multiple lives with his irresponsible actions. Perhaps his character can return for a sequel that takes on another controversial topic – the pro-choice movement might work, because his existence is a pretty good argument for abortion.

Despite some faults, the message is still effective and the experience is entertaining. You know where it's going at all times, but the fun is in getting there.

Family is one of the film's central themes. John and Daniel are husbands and fathers who simply want to protect the people they love. Through them, "Snitch" examines the heavy toll the drug industry takes on families.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Review: Warm Bodies

Not Your Typical Zombie Movie

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: February 1, 2013 – U.S.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Comedy, Horror, Romance
Running Time: 98 minutes
Director: Jonathan Levine    
Writers: Jonathan Levine (screenplay), 
Isaac Marion (novel)
Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, 
Analeigh Tipton, Rob Corddry, 
Dave Franco, John Malkovich

Zombies are dead and eat human brains, but other than that, they're just like you and I.

In "Warm Bodies," the world has been overtaken by the undead. The cause is unknown, but the effect is obvious: zombies now outnumber people. The surviving humans have been plunged into an apocalyptic wasteland. Teenagers are turned into trained soldiers.

In other words, the setup for every zombie movie ever made.

Not so fast! Right from the very beginning, it's obvious that "Warm Bodies" isn't your ordinary, everyday flick about the sluggishly slow. The movie starts out with a narration from a teenage boy named R (Nicholas Hoult, "About a Boy"). He's one of the zombies. Narration from a zombie? Well, that's unusual.

R's best friend is M (Rob Corddry, not Judi Dench). You can see his pain and hopelessness. Their "rapport" is one of the highlights of the film. It's a rare dramatic role for Corddry, and he nails it!

But R is different. That becomes obvious after he encounters Perry (Dave Franco, brother of James), who tries to kill him. He's one of those teenage soldiers I mentioned above. With him are his girlfriend, Julie (Teresa Palmer), and her best friend, Nora (Analeigh Tipton, who was great as the babysitter in "Crazy, Stupid, Love"). They're also soldiers. Times are tough!

They're under the command of Julie's dad (John Malkovich). Years of tragedy have made him lose perspective. He has become obsessed with wiping out the zombie plague. Everything else is secondary – including what's left of his family.

R has an opportunity to kill Julie, but he protects her instead. Not typical zombie-like behavior, but then, there's nothing typical about "Warm Bodies" at all. The friendship that develops between R and Julie is one of the reasons why. Julie isn't the pathetic, fawning Bella Swan of the "Twilight" series, who trips over herself to inhale the fumes of her pale, sparkling, distant, emotionally abusive vampire lover.

Even though R is among the walking dead and Julie is a frightened girl, they still somehow manage to make a typical teenage connection. In many ways, R's altered state symbolizes the awkwardness and anxiety that come with being that age. Using a zombie backdrop to explore those complex feelings and emotions is a flat-out brilliant storytelling device.

I'll be perfectly honest: I hate zombies in general. They're slow, boring, and have no personality. I go out of my way to avoid anything featuring these brainless mutants from the monster kingdom's third world. I'm told "The Walking Dead" is amazing television, and I will give in and watch it eventually. I also have very little interest in the upcoming "World War Z" with Brad Pitt. I'll keep an open mind though. Maybe if it were "World War V" instead and featured vampires, I would care more.

But "Warm Bodies" won me over. It's one of the most interesting, creative takes on the zombie genre that I've ever seen.