Friday, September 26, 2008

Short Take: Eagle Eye (***)

Directed by D.J. Caruso

Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Michelle Monaghan, Rosario Dawson, Michael Chiklis, Anthony Mackie, Ethan Embry, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Azizi, Cameron Boyce, Lynn Cohen, Bill Smitrovich, Charles Carroll, William Sadler, Debra Strang, Dariush Kashani.

2008--118 min.

Rated PG-13 (violence, language)

Reviewed by The Teen Critic on September 26, 2008.

It's funny. The more I think about D.J. Caruso's highly uneven yet undeniably intense "Eagle Eye," the better it gets and yet the less it makes sense. The emotional content is forced, the plot twists utterly ridiculous, but the central plot is so frighteningly plausible and the two lead performances so effective that they make up for most of the movies faults.

Jerry Shaw is a 24-year-old "copy associate" at a Kinko's-like store name Copy Cabana, ho ho. He can't make rent. His twin brother has died. He's down on his luck, until a check from his parents turns into an ATM withdrawal of over $750,000, and he finds a cache of weapons, bombs, and ammonium nitrate in his apartment. He gets a call on his cell, answers it, and a woman tells him he has thirty seconds to leave the premises. Something similar happens to a single mom named Rachel Holliman, as her son's life is threatened.

Up until now, "Eagle Eye" has been an effective character piece crossed with an equally effective espionage thriller. Once the mysterious caller's identity is revealed, however, "Eagle Eye" turns into "I, Robot" meets "Enemy of the State," both films from which it steals liberally. The film still works, mind you, as the suspensefully ridiculous action scenes flash before your eyes with the pacing of an epileptic seizure.

The acting by the two leads is very good. Shia LaBeouf (2008's "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull") is every bit as effective here as he was in "Disturbia," especially in the funeral scene. LaBeouf has mastered facial acting in every respect, and this is one of his best roles. Michelle Monaghan (2008's "Made of Honor") is equally good as Rachel, who is driven to do whatever she can to get her son back. On the other end of the spectrum, Billy Bob Thornton (2007's "Mr. Woodcock") gives one of the worst performances of the year as Agent Tom Morgan, showing zero emotion and forced to say unfortunate one-liners, all while looking incredibly bored.

"Eagle Eye" shouldn't work, but it kind of does. It's far from a great motion picture (sometimes the plot goes in places it shouldn't, such as when the mysterious caller phones Jerry from a stranger's cell phone and the caller I.D. says "Answer the Phone Jerry"), but it is a ridiculously enjoyable one. Just don't think about it afterward.

OSCARS 2009: The Adventure Begins

Every year at the end of September or beginning of October, I will begin my annual Oscar Predictions series. These will change weekly or so.

So, without further adieu (and because I don't have the time to write more):

Best Picture:




Revolutionary Road

The Soloist

Best Director:

Darren Aronofsky, The Wrestler

Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire

David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Baz Luhrmann, Australia

Gus Van Sant, Milk

Best Actor in a Leading Role:

Leonardo DiCaprio, Revolutionary Road

Robert Downey, Jr., The Soloist

Viggo Mortensen, The Road

Sean Penn, Milk

Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

Best Actress in a Leading Role:

Angelina Jolie, Changeling

Nicole Kidman, Australia

Melissa Leo, Frozen River

Michelle Williams, Wendy and Lucy

Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road

Best Actor in a Supporting Role:

Russell Crowe, Body of Lies

James Franco, Milk

Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

Peter O'Toole, Dean Spanley

Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Elizabeth Banks, W.

Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Vera Farmiga, Nothing But the Truth

Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler

Elsa Zylberstein, I've Loved You So Long

Best Adapted Screenplay

Body of Lies, written by William Monahan and Steve Zaillian, based on the book by David Ignatius.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, written by Eric Roth, screen story by Eric Roth and Robin Swicord, based on the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Doubt, written by John Patrick Shanley, based on his play.

The Road, written by Joe Penhall, based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy.

Slumdog Millionaire, written by Simon Beaufoy, based on the book, "Q&A," by Vikas Swarup.

Best Original Screenplay

Changeling, written by J. Michael Straczynski.

Happy-Go-Lucky, written by Mike Leigh.

I've Loved You So Long, written by Phillipe Claudel.

Milk, written by Dustin Lance Black.

Rachel Getting Married, written by Jenny Lumet.

Best Animated Feature Film

Kung Fu Panda, Dreamworks SKG.

The Tale of Despereaux, Universal Pictures.

WALL-E, Walt Disney Pictures.

Best Art Direction



The Curious Case of Benjamin Button


Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Best Cinematography


The Dark Knight


The Reader*

Revolutionary Road

Best Costume Design

Brideshead Revisited

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button


The Duchess

Revolutionary Road

Best Film Editing


Body of Lies

The Dark Knight


Quantam of Solace

Best Makeup

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Dark Knight

Best Original Score



The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull


Best Original Song

"All Dressed Up in Love," Sex and the City

"Down to Earth," WALL-E

"Dracula's Lament," Forgetting Sarah Marshall

"Last Chance," High School Musical 3: Senior Year

"The Little Things," Wanted

Best Sound Editing

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Iron Man

Quantam of Solace


Best Sound Mixing

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

The Dark Knight

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Iron Man


Best Visual Effects

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

*It has yet to be determined if The Reader will be released this year. If something pops up before the next predictions article, it will be changed. If not, not.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Seven Minutes

This simply looks like a masterpiece.

"The Day the Earth Stood Still" is a remake of the 1951 film of the same name, which stands as one of my favorite sci-fi/horror films. Sure it seemed like a copycat of the much more cerebral "Metropolis" from 1927, almost 25 years before, but it was original for its time and a masterpiece.

The film stars Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, and Jaden Smith, Will's son.

Watch the seven minutes shown during the encore presentation of the pilot episode of the great new television show "Fringe" using the link above.

(Note: There are rumors about a remake of "Metropolis," as well. If they took this approach--smart, thoughtful, slow-moving science fiction cinema--it would work. I have a feeling that the "Day the Earth Stood Still" remake will be even better than the original, judging by the seven minutes here. There is no way that a "Metropolis" remake could ever be better than the original. It's too good a film, and too strange a concept to make fresh. But it could work.)

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Does this look as awful to you as it does to me?

I'm all for Christian-based movies, but Facing the Giants was a mess and one of the worst of 2006. Christian values in a movie don't make up for it being an utter bore. Facing the Giants had a good heart, but forgot to be a good movie, too.

What does everyone else think?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A New Generation

In 1975, there started a television show entitled "Sneak Previews." It starred two young writers--Gene Siskel, a news analyst for the Chicago Tribune, and Roger Ebert, a sportscaster for the new Chicago Sun-Times. The game: Two highly opinionated critics in a verbal sparring match about the new movies opening (this was in the olden days, when movies came out monthly). The challenge: Keeping audiences interested. Well, it did, for the next 33 years. It was known as "At the Movies," "At the Movies with Siskel and Ebert," and then just "Siskel and Ebert" (this title was the longest incarnation, at a whopping 16 years old).

Watching their reviews was the pastime of many a movie-lover and, in fact, spawned the careers of a few of them (James Berardinelli, Dustin Putman, Mark Dujsik, and Eric D. Snider among those worshipful students). Such infamous reviews were those for Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, and Batman. Trust me, they're great. Watch them here.

Then, suddenly, Gene Siskel died of an inoperable brain tumor in 1999. Everything changed. A gruesome year-long process was necessary for looking for the right new cohost. Ebert found one in Chicago Sun-Times sports and humor columnist Richard Roeper.

But then, in the midst of summer 2006, Ebert fell victim to salivary cancer and was hospitalized for a full year and a half. He never came back to the show, and didn't seem too hurried to come back in general. After all, he could no longer speak due to problems in surgery (although fortunately, he has reviewed a lot of films this year.

Due to his predicament, Richard Roeper was forced to begin the exact process that brought himself into the longest-running program this side of that painting show on Channel 2. Cohosts abound, until "permanent guest host" Michael Phillips of Siskel's Chicago Tribune was seen as the shoo-in for the next addition.

That is, until July of this year, when Roger Ebert announced that "At the Movies with Ebert and Roeper" would be shut down. Richard Roeper quit the next day. They made way for a new show, whose title would revert to one of the originals--"At the Movies," with E! Entertainment host Ben Lyons (ironically, the son of NBC film critic Jeffrey Lyons) and Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz.

The new format started yesterday, September 6, and I must say it's fantastic. Featuring two full-length reviews (namely, for Burn after Reading and Traitor, which I said was one of my favorite movies this year) and one less-than-a-minute "Short Take" review (College). They also reviewed Babylon A.D. and Hamlet 2, in a "Critics Roundup" session that included Matt Singer of IFC, Tory Shulman of Hollywood Reporter, and Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe.

I hope it works. It had a wonderful beginning episode. Will it be as great as the Siskel/Ebert/Roeper/Various version? No. But few review shows are. This one works just fine right now. Here's to hopin' it'll stay that way.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Toronto Film Festival 2008

I may not be covering it this year (I'm at college, after all), but I can relay buzz on the films playing each day. This will happen the day after the films show.

The Festival began yesterday, September 4 (and plays through the 13th), with the highly publicized Passchendaele, the Canadian war film that has been called the next Saving Private Ryan. The buzz says otherwise. James Berardinelli, that wise and great writer of ReelViews, said that the performances are "unremarkable," the romance "perfunctory," and that, while the movie looked good, it was utterly average.

Passchendaele follows two brothers who go to WWI, one brother helping his asthmatic sibling. It then turns into a romantic triangle.

Watch the trailer here.

Until tomorrow, with four more movies to cover...

Monday, September 1, 2008

The 25 Greatest Films Ever Made

1. 12 Angry Men (1957, Sidney Lumet)

2. The Godfather (1972, Francis Ford Coppola)

3. GoodFellas (1990, Martin Scorsese)

4. Forrest Gump (1994, Robert Zemeckis)

5. Minority Report (2002, Steven Spielberg)

6. King Kong (2005, Peter Jackson)

7. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, Steven Spielberg)

8. The Dark Knight (2008, Christopher Nolan)

9. Saving Private Ryan (1998, Steven Spielberg)

10. The Star Wars Old and New Film Trilogy Saga Series Collection Anthology (1977-1983, 1999-2005, Irvin Kershner, George Lucas, Richard Marquand)

11. Children of Men (2006, Alfonso Cuaron)

12. No Country for Old Men (2007, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen)

13. Beauty and the Beast (1991, Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise)

14. Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964, Stanley Kubrick)

15. Nosferatu (1922, F.W. Murnau)

16. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, Stanley Kubrick)

17. Metropolis (1927, Fritz Lang)

18. WALL-E (2008, Andrew Stanton)

19. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001, Steven Spielberg)

20. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003, Peter Jackson)

21. Donnie Darko (2001, Richard Kelly)

22. The Princess Bride (1987, Rob Reiner)

23. Big Fish (2003, Tim Burton)

24. Braveheart (1995, Mel Gibson)

25. The Shining (1980, Stanley Kubrick)

Review: Traitor (****)

Starring Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, and Said Taghmaoui
Directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff
Rated PG-13 for intense violent sequences, thematic material, and brief language
115 minutes

Jeffrey Nachmanoff’s Traitor is an uncommonly intelligent, breathlessly exciting espionage thriller, with a strong emphasis on the word “thriller”. Sprawling across Europe, Eastern U.S.A. and the country of Yemen, Traitor is marvelously written, beautifully photographed, and phenomenally well-acted. Despite a few irrelevant flaws, I would venture to say it’s among the best films of the summer.

After seeing his father killed in a terrorist car bombing as a young teen, Samir Horn has dedicated his life to protecting people. When we first meet him, however, this is not the case. Imprisoned in Yemen for betraying the Sudanese government, Samir soon befriends Omar, who is a suicide bomber. He uses Samir’s bomb-making expertise to arm bombs that will explode in U.S. embassies or other gathering places.

The plot is somewhat ingenious in the way it sides with the terrorists at first and then turns the tables. I will not speak anymore about this, only to say that, instead of taking the easy way out, Traitor consistently surprises with unexpected developments. One scene could have turned into a shootout, but instead becomes something more and deeper. The whole film is like that. The turning point of Samir and Omar’s plot (which I would not dare to reveal) is as smart and provocative, as it is unpredictable and darkly humorous.

The performances are stellar across the board, with Don Cheadle leading the way in an intensely low-key performance reminiscent of Matt Damon in the Bourne films. Cheadle envelops his character in sadness and sheer believability. Samir Horn is a flawed human being, not just an action star, and that’s hard to come by. Cheadle is helped by a superb supporting cast, including Guy Pearce, Neal McDonough, and (perhaps the best) Said Taghmaoui as Omar.

A couple sentences ago, I used the term “action star,” which implies that Traitor is an action movie. It’s much more, believe me. In the vein of recent “terrorism thrillers,” I would choose Traitor over, say, The Kingdom any day. The only resemblance between them is the advertisement for each. Although I liked The Kingdom, the trailer promised bundles of repetitive action near the end, and that’s what I got, effective though it was.

On the other hand, with Traitor it was different. I was promised tight, taut action sequences, and really, there were quite few. Traitor is much more thoughtful than most might think. Yes, the action is very exciting when it comes, the intensity of the highest order, but what works above all is the idea of a traitor in the midst, not just the tactics of how to catch the traitor. Traitor deals with both sides of the equation—the good guys trying to figure out who the leak is, and the bad guys trying to evade the good guys.

I expected nothing more than excitement from Traitor, but what I got instead was enthrallment. It’s one of the best films this summer, and possibly, the whole year.