Film Review: Soul Surfer (2011)

One thing that no one can claim about Soul Surfer is that the story is not inspiring.  Like most independently-made, faith-based films, this movie can can justly be criticized for a lot of flaws, but here, they do not distract from its important message.  Those of the more picky viewers can find arguments within the wooden acting, the sappy dialogue, and the poor direction.  However, today’s audiences, less formal in their approach of watching movies, will find Soul Surfer to be a rewarding experience.  It contains a considerable amount of captivating water photography and intensifies all action and emotion well enough to prevent boredom.

The film’s only great performance, though, comes from young actress, AnnaSophia Robb.  Robb plays Bethany Hamilton, a real-life teen surfer who falls victim to a shark attack and loses her arm.  Bethany then determinedly continues to compete while strengthening her relationship with her family and her God.  But Soul Surfer does not ask for sympathy for her.  It is never somber or depressing but instead it remains a thoroughly enjoyable movie that leaves one inspired, refreshed, and actually does not leave one with a new found fear of surfing.

Above all, Bethany’s enduring optimism carries the film and allows us to have a good time.  As much as I hated all the cliches, bad performances, and horrid dialogue, there are not many family movies that seem half as worthwhile as Soul Surfer, a miraculously good Christian film.

Rating: 3.5/5

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Film Review: The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)

The interesting thing about The Lincoln Lawyer is that it never gives us an inspirational courtroom speech about truth or fairness.  In fact, the protagonist, a heavy-drinking defense attorney, never expects anyone to sympathize with his search for justice, probably because he gave up on such a thing happening a long time ago.  The man’s past is never fully explained to us, but it may be correct to guess that he used to be a bright, young law student passionate about finding the truth.  Over the years, he has learned the tricks of the trade, and though he is honest and trustworthy, he knows what he can get away with to get the job done.  The events that take place in this book-based courtroom drama are not ones that are pivotal moments in Mick Haller’s life, but ones that are mysterious and intriguing, and they certainly add up to terrific results.

The screenplay, written by John Romano, shows Haller working for a few different clients, but it mainly focuses on a case in which he represents a rich, young man who can beat the system and escape the horrific charges against him.  This causes the attorney to wonder whether to get his client out of the case or secretly set him up to get caught.  Actor Matthew McConaughey takes on the job of bringing us the character of Haller and he is the one who makes the movie enjoyable.  His likability draws us into the film to begin with and his performance keeps us interested.  The film contains an excellent supporting cast with William H. Macy, Marisa Tomei, Ryan Phillippe, Michael Pena, and Josh Lucas.

While McConaughey helps us enjoy The Lincoln Lawyer, there are other things that make the movie great.  The editing provides added excitement, the soundtrack perfectly expresses the mood, and the script keeps us on the edge of our seat.  It is a whodunit, a thriller, a character study, and a drama all at once.  Out of the few courtroom dramas to come out this year, this one is the most consistently entertaining.

Rating: 4.5/5

I Am the Last Omega Man on Earth: A Franchise in Review

Most people don’t know that 2007’s I Am Legend was actually the third film adaptation of Richard Matheson’s  classic horror book.  All three versions are different in many ways: the leading man, the blood-thirsty monsters, and even the ending.  Here, I will review each of them, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of both, and ultimately revealing which I believe to be the best film.

The Last Man on Earth (1964)

This classic horror flick has Vincent Price as Dr. Robert Morgan.  Price’s character is particularly haunted by memories of an old colleague who has fallen prey to the world-wide disease.  Unlike the two later performances of Charlton Heston and Will Smith, Price presents himself more as a scientist than a survival expert.  Not to say that Morgan doesn’t have some good ideas.  But his methods are usually more crude and primitive than bearing a machine gun (he uses a hammer to drive stakes into the chests of the monsters).  The creatures of The Last Man are identical to the traditional depiction of a zombie; they still wear their human clothes, their faces are hideous, and they walk slowly in pursuit of their prey.  I was surprised how entertaining this all was though.  It may have been a little corny, but if you enjoy Matheson’s story enough, you may really enjoy it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Omega Man (1971)

However much I love Vincent Price, I do believe that Charlton Heston has the role down much better.  Heston brings more confidence, and it becomes obvious that his chances of surviving should be a lot better than Price’s.  But there’s a catch: this time the murderous creatures are more of a cult than a horde of zombies.  They set traps for the doctor and constantly attempt to convert Heston to their side.  Because I have a sweet tooth for zombie pictures, the human-like intelligence of the monsters made the film less satisfying.  Even with Heston’s performance, I prefer The Last Man to this remake.

 

 

 

 

I Am Legend (2007)

It’s easy to see why I enjoyed this one: dumb-witted zombies, great suspense, an intense leading performance.  For once, I think that Mathson’s story gets the credit that it deserves here.  Smith’s determination and physicality are excellent for the part and the addition of a partner for our hero (a German Shepherd) was a nice idea.  The agility of the monsters also gives us a better sense of danger.  This is by far the darkest and most action-packed film of the franchise, bringing us closer to the doctor’s world than ever before.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion:

Best Film: I Am Legend

Runner-Up: The Last Man on Earth

Best Leading Man: Charlton Heston, The Omega Man

Runner-Up: Will Smith, I Am Legend

Best Zombies: I Am Legend 

Runner-Up: The Last Man on Earth

Vote for your favorite Tim Burton film

We’re two weeks out from director Tim Burton’s 53rd birthday.  Though he may not make the best films out there, one can always count on him to produce something unique and usually entertaining.  The poll below lists all of his feature films.  Though, The Nightmare Before Christmas was not actually directed by Burton, he did write and produce it, and it is still known as a Tim Burton movie.  You may vote for as many of your favorites as you want, just don’t vote for all of the fifteen choices.  The results will be released on the director’s birthday, August 25:

Film Review: Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

 

 

A one-armed man arrives at a town with a population around twenty to find that he is not welcome.  In fact, it is not the man whom the town is opposed to but rather what the man is looking for.  The longer he stays, the more danger he is in.  As he continues his forbidden search, the out-of-towner uncovers a crime that has been kept secret by the townspeople for four years.  Now he must escape the isolated community before he is killed.

This is the story which John Sturges paints on a colorful Cinemascope canvas.  Its sets are detailed and realistic and its characters are equally complex and memorable.  The script brings into play some wonderful dialogue as well as some intriguing moments of suspense.

Sturges, primarily a director of Westerns, made Bad Day at Black Rock well enough for today’s audiences to still find it enjoyable. Spencer Tracy heads up a good cast as the crippled stranger, appearing tough and determined but still generally friendly.  The film takes its time to tell its story, nevertheless, I would not watch it again just to view the unfolding of events.

What makes Black Rock so entertaining and captivating is the sharp conversations, the deep characterization, and the masterful cinematography.  The story may be nothing new to us, but few movies today make such good use of the sun’s light as this one.  The way those bright beams of light reflect off the barren plains surrounding the town not only makes this drama thriller attractive, but totally immersive and worth-while.

Rating: 4/5

Movie of the Month: August 2011

On August 25, 1960, only 12 days after the director’s 61st birthday, Alfred Hitchcock released his last black and white film.  Psycho is not only his scariest film to date, but it was also his most controversial.  The movie shocked audiences for a number of reasons, the first of which was the infamous shower sequence.  After seeing the movie and recognizing how vulnerable people are in the shower, Janet Leigh reportedly took baths for the remainder of her life.  The power of Psycho doesn’t come from the music (although it may contribute).  The primary reason that we are still frightened by it today is because Hitchcock shows the characters being attacked in the moment when they are most defenseless.

Alfred Hitchcock first had the idea to make Psycho after seeing the success of William Castle’s House on Haunted Hill.  He wanted to make his own low-budget thriller.  It just so happened that it ended up being so good that it is arguably his best film.  The movie did not have the star power of his previous projects, North by Northwest and Vertigo.  Hitchcock instead used actors and actresses that required a smaller paycheck.  Each of the players ended up moving on to other notable films such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Manchurian Candidate, and Bullitt.

The final shot of Psycho stands out in my mind as one of the most haunting that I have ever seen.  I won’t spoil the ending for those who have yet to see it, but I promise that it is one worth checking into.  In fact, the whole movie is a rewarding experience.  This is one of my three favorite Hitchcock films (the others being Vertigo and Rear Window), and without a doubt, my favorite horror film.  It is a masterpiece, low-budget or not, and it contains the most shocking thrills that the Master of Suspense ever gave us.  And if you don’t believe me, watch the trailer below:

The First Hitchcock Film: The White Shadow

Before the Master of Suspense even made his directorial debut, he was involved in the making of a silent film called The White Shadow.  Released in 1924, the film includes the editing, writing, and production design work of a 24-year-old Hitchcock.  Until now, no one has been aware that such a film even existed, but the discovery of 30 minutes of footage from the title has just been discovered by the New Zealand Film Archive.  When the film will be available for public viewing is to be determined, but film lovers everywhere will certainly be delighted to set eyes on it once it is.  Who knows what insight this film will give us into the mind of the legendary filmmaker?