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Zodiac (2007, David Fincher)

What's it about? Based on a true story, "Zodiac" tells the story of a serial killer who terrorized the San Francisco area in the late 1960's, claiming to have randomly killed 37 people. When the police investigations meet dead ends for years, a cartoonist working for the SF Chronicle becomes obsessed with uncovering the killer's identity.

Who's in it? Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Robert Downey Jr, Brian Cox, Chloë Sevigny, Elias Koteas.

Why did you watch it? It sounded like an awesome thriller that, much like Se7en, had you clawing at the arm rest of the seat for its entire duration.

Why is it worth watching? Because the soundtrack is great. Whether that alone is reason enough to sit through 160 minutes of boredom is another question though.

On the other hand... Apart from the soundtrack, there's really nothing that makes Zodiac worthwhile. Sure, underneath it all, there's an exciting story about a series of brutal murderers that was never pinned on anyone - by all means, it could have been the basis for a nerve-wrecking psychological thriller. Innocent people die a gruesome death - that's what the movie could and should have focused on. Instead, we get a blow-by-blow report of the time line of a frustrating and unfruitful investigation that wears down policemen and journalists as well as the audience. It's not so much a thriller as it's a drama about a man trapping himself more and more in a web of obsession.
Would the movie have been better if we had some closure, a final show-down, a definite uncovering of the killer's identity? Possibly, but not by much. What "Zodiac" is painfully lacking, at least for the last 90 minutes if not longer, is any sort of suspense. Even the crucial quest to find out the killer's identity, which drives the protagonist, can't rouse any interest, because the movie is so painfully dull it's hard to care.

The final verdict: 3-4/10

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End


Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007, Gore Verbinski)

What's it about? With the assistance of Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris) and the recently revived Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) and Will (Orlando Bloom) are set out to bring Jack (Johnny Depp) back from dead, though every one of them has a hidden agenda. Meanwhile, Beckett (Tom Hollander) and Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) are gathering their joint forces.

Who's in it? Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Tom Hollander, Bill Nighy, Jack Davenport, Naomie Harris, Stellan Skarsgård, Yun-Fat Chow, Jonathan Pryce, Keith Richards.

Why did you watch it? Because I wanted to know how the trilogy ends, plain and simple. From the spoilers I'd read, I had little hope of liking it, though.

Why is it worth watching? Fortunately, I was proved wrong. Unlike the abysmal second Dead Man's Chest, At World's End followed through: the wit was sharper, the character development more plausible, the special effects beautiful and never only self-serving, and the score was fitting and less of a poor man's John Williams than in DMC.
Geoffrey Rush carried the movie almost single-handedly, making Barbossa much more than the means to an end but the lead man, be it in the bickering between him and Jack, the mutual respect he and Elizabeth seemed to share or the knowledge and wit he displayed. Sure, Jack was still in the center of the movie's focus, but he was so often used only for comic relief that I found his character rather annoying in comparison. Will, driven by the determination to save his father, became marginally more interesting as a character, but, once again, paled when compared to the kick-ass heroine Elizabeth had become. Still, overall, they handled the character development and interaction gracefully and a lot better than I dared to hope after Dead Man's Chest.
With almost three hours of run-time, the movie had the potential to become too drawn out, but it didn't, remaining stunningly fast-paced and intriguing during its entire duration.

On the other hand... I really wasn't happy how they handled Norrington's character, giving him two short scenes before he died a heroic, redeeming death. It wasn't so much his death that bothered me as his lack of screen time before hand and his utter lack of interaction with Jack. Way to waste all that animosity from Curse of the Black Pearl!
There were also one of two things I found not entirely plausible (like why, exactly, Tia Dalma could bring Barbossa back from the dead but not Governor Swann, or why Elizabeth couldn't have stayed on the Dutchman, or why there was green light at the end... unless Will actually returned to life), and I found the ending scene a bit too cheesy to serve the movie any good and Elizabeth's fate rather questionable.

The final verdict: 9/10

The River King


The River King (2005, Nick Willing)

What's it about? In a small town, a boy from the nearby boarding school is found dead in the river. A local policeman takes an interest in the case and tries to uncover what happened to the unpopular boy, but his investigations are met with resistance. As he slowly finds his way to the heart of the story, the truth about what happened to Gus Pierce is uncovered in flashbacks.

Who's in it? Edward Burns, Jennifer Ehle, Rachelle Lefevre, Jamie King, Thomas Gibson, John Kapelos, Jonathan Malen.

Why did you watch it? *points to cast list* Jamie.

Why is it worth watching? It is a strongly atmospheric movie that carries the air of a mystery thriller even though it's not: from the little boy in the woods who leaves no footprints in the snow to the ghost images on the photographs to the way the landscape seems to emphasize on the eerie atmosphere that stands in sharp contrast to the almost trivial solution at the end and makes out the appeal of the movie. Some of the most spooky events remain unexplained, though, which has the potential to be damaging for the movie but, oddly enough, isn't.
Most of the principle cast (with the exception of Jennifer Ehle, as the dead boy's teacher and the protagonist's love interest, whose acting remains wooden and artificial throughout the entire movie) put in a wonderful performance: Abe (Ed Burns) and his quiet, grim determination, Carlin's (Rachelle Lefevre) gradual guilt-ridden breakdown over the loss of her friend, Henry's (Jamie King) vicious bullying in the flashbacks and the panic during his confrontation with Abe on the ice. Overall, it's a movie that feeds off the emotion of its protagonists, but in a quiet, subtle way.

On the other hand... It's a bit long-winded at times, and the the romance between Abe and Betsy (Ehle) didn't entirely fit in.

The final verdict: 8-9/10



London (2005, Hunter Richards)

What's it about? Syd (Chris Evans) crashes the going-away party for his ex-girlfriend London (Jessica Biel), who's moving across the country with her new boyfriend. Desperate to win her back but too cowardly to actually do something about it, Syd spends the better part of the night hiding in the bathroom, snorting lines and drinking with his dealer Bateman (Jason Stratham) and reminiscing his relationship with London.

Who's in it? Chris Evans, Jessica Biel, Joy Bryant, Jason Statham, Kelli Garner, Isla Fisher.

Why did you watch it? The plot summaries I've read made the movie sound rather Bret Easton Ellis-ish, which obviously appealed to me. And since Evans and Stratham had such nice chemistry in Cellular, I thought it would be interesting to check this one out.

Why is it worth watching? Because it is a bit like Rules of Attraction or McInerney's Bright Lights Big City, in a way: a story about young, rich people in New York dancing on the edge of self-destruction.

On the other hand... To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what to make of this movie yet. For the longest time, I felt like the movie wasn't entirely sure where it was going. There was no plot advancement whatsoever, just people stuck in a bathroom together having pseudo-philosophical conversations. That wouldn't be a problem in itself, but those scenes were pretty drawn out and sometimes started to get boring. And then, from the minute Syd made up his mind to actually go and talk to London, it suddenly became very fast-paced and everything was happening all at once. I'm not saying the pacing was off, but it was rather... peculiar.

The final verdict: 7-8/10

Things to Do Before You're 30


Things to Do Before You're 30 (2004, Simon Shore)

What's it about? Childhood buddies Adam, Cass, Dylan, Collin, Billy and Johnny have been playing for their local football team for 20 years. Each in their own way, they're suffering from a collective Peter Pan syndrome and, at age 30, find themselves reluctant to rethink their priorities.

Who's in it? Dougray Scott, Shaun Parkes, Emilia Fox, Jimi Mistry, Billie Piper, Bruce Mackinnon, Danny Nussbaum, Roger Morlidge.

Why did you watch it? Because I like British comedies.

Why is it worth watching? It's witty and has just enough depth to manage the difficult task of not turning into a rollercoaster ride of dramedy or silly, pointless slapstick. The more serious details to the story - the cheating and fear of responsibility and death - are approached cautiously without making them overwhelm the 'feel good' part of the movie. And somewhere, underneath it all, there's a lesson about how waiting for the right moment is a futile thing to do, because life will never hand you the "right moment" up on a plate - you have to make it for yourself.

On the other hand... I wish Colin's much waited for threesome hadn't happened with Sheera, but with Danny - not for the slashy aspect, but because it actually would have given that story line a more interesting twist.

The final verdict: 9/10

Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!


Win a Date With Tad Hamilton! (2004, Robert Luketic)

What's it about? Small-town girl Rosalee (Kate Bosworth) wins a date with her celebrity crush, heartthrob actor Tad Hamilton (Josh Duhamel). When Tad gets interested in her and follows her to her home town, Rosalee's longtime friend Pete (Topher Grace) has to face the possibility of losing the girl he loves to someone he cannot compete with.

Who's in it? Kate Bosworth, Josh Duhamel, Topher Grace, Nathan Lane, Sean Hayes, Gary Cole, Ginnifer Goodwin, Kathryn Hahn.

Why did you watch it? Josh Duhamel! Really, there's no other excuse for watching this movie. Unless maybe you fancy Kate Bosworth.

Why is it worth watching? I suppose for a stereotypical chick flick, it's not so bad. There are some really funny lines, and both Kate Bosworth and Josh Duhamel are pretty much perfect in their roles. Bosworth is cute and bubbly, and Duhamel is quite lovely as the macho actor trying to change his life.

On the other hand... I found the character of Pete really, really annoying. There's this guy who's had his whole life to tell his friend that he loves her in a less-than-platonic way and he does so in the moment she's found happiness with someone else. Unlike that bartender girl (Kathryn Hahn), who's in love with him but gives him advice on how to win Rosalee back nevertheless, he doesn't even try to be happy for his friend, not even at the beginning when all it's about is a harmless date with her celebrity crush. So, basically, he's a coward and he sucks as a friend, and he gets rewarded by getting the girl in the end, which is presented as a "happy ending" despite the fact that both Ted and the bartender are out there nursing broken hearts.
I also found the first moments of Tad's and Rosalee's first "date" so embarrassing that they were extremely hard to watch.

The final verdict: 5-6/10

Superman Returns


Superman Returns (2006, Bryan Singer)

What's it about? After being away for five years to search for the remnants of his home planet, Superman (Brandon Routh) returns to Earth, to find that Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has moved on and Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) is having another shot at world domination.

Who's in it? Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, James Marsden, Parker Posey, Frank Langella, Sam Huntington, Eva Marie Saint.

Why did you watch it? I was... bored? Well, I like superhero movies, and despite having heard little good about this, I thought it couldn't be all that bad.

Why is it worth watching? To make it short - it's not. The script has one strength, and that's the inclusion of the characters of Lois' boyfriend Richard White (James Marsden) and Luthor's girlfriend Kitty Kowalski (Parker Posey) who make for two delightfully three-dimensional, interesting and well-acted roles. Unfortunately...

On the other hand... Every other character is cardboard. The Good Guys are really good, and the villains are really evil. No one gives a damn why they are like that, it's just the way it is. After all, it's not Shakespeare and who needs plausible characterization in a comic adaptation anyway.
Kevin Spacey, at least, seems to enjoy being able to play an unapologetic, insane super-villain for once, and gives the character a caricatured feeling that seems to be intentional. Routh and Bosworth, however, act their way through their tragic not-quite-romance with plastic expressions and zero chemistry. Bosworth in particular doesn't even for a moment put in a believable performance as a Pulitzer-winning journalist and would have been better off cast as a lovestruck teenager in Smallville than a leading lady in a feature movie.
The script, meanwhile, is an assortment of clichés and plot-holes, and fatally ignores Superman's alter ego Clark Kent for the last half of the movie.

The final verdict: 5/10

The Black Dahlia


The Black Dahlia (2006, Brian De Palma)

What's it about? Film noir set in 1940's Hollywood, adapted from James Ellroy's (L.A. Confidential) novel. After finding the mutilated body of starlet Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner), two cops (Josh Hartnett, Aaron Eckhart) become obsessively involved with search for her killer.

Who's in it? Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Mia Kirshner, Fiona Shaw.

Why did you watch it? After seeing the trailer and hearing what it was about, I thought it sounded quite fascinating. I never made it to the theatre, but I eventually bought it once it was out on DVD.

Why is it worth watching? It's stylish, visually beautiful and manages to capture that film noir atmosphere perfectly. And there are voice-overs! And the four protagonists are insanely good-looking, even Aaron Eckhart who I never really considered handsome before.
Alright, maybe that's not all that's good about The Black Dahlia. In fact, the first forty minutes or so which explored the relationship between the three protagonist were fascinating, and I really would have liked to see the movie continue to focus on that. Unfortunately, it didn't.

On the other hand... It's over the top and confusing at times, following too many parallel plot arcs, never given enough character insight to make their actions seem entirely feasible, and offers a solution that seems highly constructed. The murder mystery and Lee's (Eckhart) and Bucky's (Hartnett) subsequent obsession with the Dahlia feel too artificial and too sketched to give it any emotional impact. The movie was obviously trying to establish some kind of empathy for Betty Short, but I found myself surprisingly unmoved by her fate and cared a lot more about the development of the relationship between the three protagonists than the question of who killed the girl. Unfortunately, the moment the Dahlia arc was introduced - fairly late in the movie, as it was - all we got to see from the Bucky/Lee/Kay ménage-à-trois were glimpses. At least until the reveal of the money under the bathroom tiles near the end, which opened a story arc that was only mentioned in passing and deserved a better exploration. Basically, it felt like two movies mashed into one - and I, for one, could have done without the Dahlia murder mystery.
And what was up with the repeated mention that Betty and Madelaine were lookalikes? Hilary Swank and Mia Kirshner look nothing like each other, and the make-up people didn't even seem to border making them look similar - even the wigs were vastly different!
Yes, Hartnett/Johansson/Eckhart are at least as attractive as Pearce/Basinger/Crowe, if not more so. But you'd still be better off watching L.A. Confidential instead.

The final verdict: 6-7/10

The Holiday


The Holiday (2006, Nancy Meyers)

What's it about? British journalist Iris (Kate Winslet) and Hollywood movie promoter Amanda (Cameron Diaz) have very little in common - except for being disappointed and frustrated with the men in their lives. On a whim, the two women decide to swap homes for their Christmas holidays and - far away from their every day lives and troubles - find what they've been looking for.

Who's in it? Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Jack Black, Eli Wallach, Edward Burns, Rufus Sewell, Shannyn Sossamon.

Why did you watch it? Cameron Diaz and Jude Law being pretty. More so, Cameron Diaz and Jude Law being pretty together. I think that counts as a valid reason. (Shallow? Me?)

Why is it worth watching? It has a set of amazingly likable and interesting characters - Diaz, Winslet and Law are wonderful in their roles, and not even Jack Black managed to annoy me as much as he usually does. Even the (somewhat) villainous ex-boyfriends/love interests are pleasantly three-dimensional.
Also, Cameron Diaz and Jude Law are pretty. Just sayin'.

On the other hand... ... it's as clichéd as the plot summary up there makes it sound, and so saccharine sweet that you feel the urge to diet for a week afterwards. Actually, it's not all that bad for the most part of its two-hour runtime; it's mainly the end that piles on cliché after cliché and makes even the hardcore romantics among us long for a more realistic and possibly open ending.
It's a bit of a "could be worse, but also could have been so much better" movie that's mostly saved by the all-star cast.

The final verdict: 7/10

Spider-Man 3


Spider-Man 3 (2007, Sam Raimi)

What's it about? Just when Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) thinks his life is perfect, his relationship to Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) suddenly falls apart, new enemies seems to crawl out of every corner and an alien black entity takes hold over him.

Who's in it? Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons, James Cromwell, Theresa Russell.

Why did you watch it? Because I've seen the last two already and wanted to complete the trilogy.

Why is it worth watching? It is actually surprisingly well-acted for a comic adaptation. Maguire still wouldn't be my first choice to play Spider-Man, but I have to admit he's doing a great job - and so is the entire supporting cast. Thomas Haden Church and Topher Grace make two real, three-dimensional villains, and James Franco proves that he can do so much better than in Tristan + Isolde. Kirsten Dunst makes the spectre of emotions Mary Jane has to live through believable, and J.K. Simmons as Peter's bad-tempered boss J. Jonah Jameson is a class act.
Overall, the movie delivers: it's fast-paced and action-packed, and it certainly doesn't get boring.

On the other hand... Some of the dialogue is really bad - not quite Ghost Rider!bad, but bad enough to make you cringe while listening. On top of that, some things Evil!Spidey did were a bit over the top (not to mention unnecessary) - like that embarrassing dancing sequence. I also found the amount of villains a bit too much - it wasn't enough to get confusing, exactly, but having Spider-Man have to deal with the New Goblin, Sandman, Venom, and the slime stuff trying to control him was bordering on overkill.
The final outcome is pretty predictable, complete with a dubious happy ending.

The final verdict: 7/10


I love movies, and I watch quite a lot of them in my free time. In this journal, you'll find my thoughts on movies I've recently seen - both new releases and older films.

Those aren't supposed to be actual journalistic reviews, just some personal, sometimes terribly subjective comments.

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January 2008