The Hills Have Eyes

"The Hills Have Eyes" (R)

This movie sucks on so many levels, I hardly know where to begin.

Oh, let’s start here. How long does it take for a wimpy liberal to begin to defend himself in the face of impending death? How many beatings does it take before a family unit snaps to attention and sees what’s happening to them? How many rapes and killings have to occur to your immediate family members before you actually put up some sort of fight?

Apparently, there is no limit to what wimpy people will tolerate. These red blooded American people are not portrayed as Amish, or French! Both groups would scoff at such a pathetic display of self defense.

The movie has an extended family (with their infant along for the journey) driving precariously through the desert in an RV towed by a truck. They become stranded in the desert in what used to be a nuclear test site area. The family is not portrayed as a bunch of retards. The attackers are presented as retards! They are descendants of irradiated parents who were once miners in the area. Yet the retarded attackers are by far the smartest folks in the movie.

Simple field mice will bite if cornered. Yet this pitiful family can only whimper as death approaches. They can’t even shoot loaded firearms that they own. Gun owners who watch this pitiful display of inaction and unnecessary suffering, rape and death will spit in disgust.

That was the most positive part of this review . . . Now on to the worst parts of this movie.

An hour into this film, the scenes are so loud, obnoxious, dirty and violent that audience members filed to the exits, leaving only (how shall I put this?) groups of mostly young males, and a smattering of couples who either refuse to leave any movie, period, or they have known each other for so many years that they are comfortable with each other being uncomfortable while watching scenes of rape and mayhem. Another way to put it is that the nearly sold-out theater was only 1/2 full after the one hour mark. And no one moved to fill in the now vacant better middle seats. Some may have wanted to move back.

This movie is so ugly that the taboo of killing a pet dog is crossed. Even the pet canary is violently ripped apart and its insides emptied into the mouth of a rampaging retard.

Oh, and the tiny baby? Well this family of wimpy, no action taking, no intelligence showing losers allows the tiny baby to get snatched by the retarded, blood drinking, radiation fiends. And we’re not talking about a high school cheerleading squad of victims here. That might have actually been a GOOD movie. Certainly more plausible. This stranded family includes a teenage boy and two fully grown men, with ample retaliatory means at their immediate disposal.

I’m through with this garbage film. And after further reflection, this is the worst movie I’ve ever seen.

Avoid!


 

Hostel

"Hostel" (R)

Quentin Tarantino co-produces and brings us “Hostel,” directed by Eli Roth, not Tarantino. This is the latest in what is said to be a banner year of horror movie releases in 2006. The budgets are low but the yield in revenues is usually big for Hollywood.

But “Hostel” (the name derived from the low priced travel hotels frequently used by backpackers) is not just a slaughter fest like “Friday the 13th.” This movie does have a solid story behind it and it builds nicely to the scenes of slaughter.

Two college aged American backpackers set out for Europe and meet up with an Icelander who shares the same need to conquer women and experience the legal drugs offered in the various European countries. Plausible so far.

Receiving a tip from a stranger they meet, the three backpackers decide to head to a small Slovakian town where there is a hostel filled with Eastern European women who will do anything for American men. The pictures this stranger shows them (taken using his cell phone camera) certainly seem to support his story of having been there himself. The women are hot.

So off the young backpackers go on the very next train to Slovakia.

Very plausible.

As they get off the train, the town looks suspiciously dead to the backpackers, but a tip is a tip, so they continue on to the hostel. Once there it seems they have entered a hedonistic heaven, ripe with very attractive women, every bit as beautiful as the tiny cell phone photos had revealed.

The ensuing scenes of seduction, drugging and kidnapping of the backpackers one by one, as easily as reeling schools of fish into a fishing boat, is very plausible. Turns out there is another money making scheme here. One that rivals the drug and prostitution trade. Rich men pay loads of money to torture and kill other people, using crude implements to do so. The hostel simply provides the victims.

So, is the paid torture part plausible? Human trafficking is certainly real. And a secret society could probably pull this death camp idea off for a while, but cell phone use would put a crimp in any long term growth. Torture camp guys probably reminisce about the pre-cell phone, good old 1980’s.

I applaud the movie for not being afraid of cell phone use. As I’ve said before, in most scary movies, one cell phone call to the authorities and the whole thing crumbles. Here, there’s a lot of cell phone use, yet if any of the calls had been international to home (Hey, Mom! I’m in Slovakia!) eventually the whole scam would be squashed.

There were also some foreign traveling women lured to the hostel as well. How were they lured there? Hot guys? Beautiful scenery of the dead little town? I can’t imagine. Perhaps we’ll have to wait for “Hostel 2” to find out.

For horror fans, this will be a great rental.

- Wait For DVD


 

“King Kong ” (PG-13)

Careful with her neck, King Kong!

That’s what was running through my head every time King Kong ran through the jungle, fighting off dinosaurs, all the while violently whipping and jerking a helpless woman (Naomi Watts) in his massive ape hand. No human could possibly sustain such crash test dummy punishment for any amount of time. Yet even her make-up seemed unfazed through most of it.

Naomi Watts and Jack Black star with a big gorilla in the latest high tech version of “King Kong.” Yeah, the CGI effects are better than the 1933 original and the 1976 remake featuring Jessica Lange, but they are still not entirely believable.

First of all, the scenes as the ship approaches the island were about as cheesy as I’ve seen in a good few years. (Reminded me of the first “Star Trek” movies whenever the ship hit something). There is a poorly animated scene of a jungle man using poles to "vault" through the island trees, which looks straight out of the "Jungle Book" cartoons. The the first few scenes showing us Kong were not all that convincing to me either. As the movie trudged along, either I got used to the fake looking graphics or they became more convincing, which is good because you’ll spend over an hour in the jungle with dinosaurs (à la “One Million Years BC”) with special effects running the show.

But even the best computer graphics won’t help counter the basic physics of the human body. As Kong yanked the young maiden off the sacrificial platform, surely her frail arms pulled out of their sockets before her restraining ropes pulled free! As Kong flips and twists a huge log (covered with men) around like a tree limb, the eight or so would-be rescuers cling to the sucker like ants (or Spider Men). No one has that kind of grip. Not even Bruce Willis! A 30’ fall doesn’t quite kill them, either.

But it’s Naomi Watts that is the indestructible Gumby of the movie. Kong could have used her as a ball ping hammer and she would have come out just fine. Rambo – maybe. Naomi Watts? Nope. This stuff bothered me too much to take the film seriously.

Unless you are under the age of eleven, you’ll know how this one ends. So a three hour version seems overdone. For the adults out there, I can’t quite recommend a trip to the theater on this one. It's a good rental. Wait and watch it at home on the two disc, four hour director's cut version. How painful that will be.

Until then, you might want to rent the 1976 version.

- Wait For DVD


 

S

“Syriana” (R)

This movie gives us a glimpse of a side of the Middle East that we don’t usually see. A side many may not want to see.

George Clooney stars as Bob Barnes, a longtime CIA agent in the middle of a chess game between the Saudi’s and the U.S. government in weapons and oil trading. You’ll likely not follow the storyline any more than you could in real life. A lot of shady work on both ends and if anything, this movie illustrates that regardless of which side you work for, you can’t trust the U.S. Government or the Saudis.   

Matt Damon plays a U.S. energy consultant with big ideas that would be helpful to the Middle East giants, if they’ll listen to him. What’s good for this group may not be good for that group, so expect torture and killings as part of the deal, both in this movie and in real life. Most of the movie takes place in the Middle East.

The stakes of the drug world may be high, but multiply that a thousand times to see the stakes of the oil world. A lot is going on here, and it’s told in a “puzzle piece at a time” pacing that keeps this movie from being too much like a CNN documentary. Be aware there’s also heavy use of the shaky camera technique that is supposed to add to the realism but generally just drives most viewers crazy after 20 minutes.

You’ll take from it want you want. Perhaps the ruthlessness of the players in the political/oil business will surprise you. Perhaps the awe inspiring amount of sand will intrigue you. (How do they keep the endless modern highways free of drifting sand, anyway?)

This is certainly a well acted film, but for most folks, not worth a trip to the theater.

- Wait For DVD



Geisha

“Memoirs of a Geisha” (PG-13)

Now and then there is a long film that doesn't feel like a long film. “Forrest Gump” was one. I didn’t want that move to end. "Memoirs of a Geisha" is another. This is no more a movie about prostitution than “Forrest Gump” was about a guy who runs a lot. Both films are love stories from start to finish.

At 2 hours, 24 minutes, one might think that this film is a no-action picture that would bore everyone to tears. No so. First of all, there is plenty of action, tense moments, and real antagonists to keep you involved in the storyline from start to finish. And no subtitles to wear you down.

Based on the best selling book of the same name, the movie brings us the story set in 1928 Japan of two sisters from a small fishing village who are sold off and end up at a geisha house. Chiyo (played by Suzuka Ohgo) with her beautiful blue eyes, is immediately brought into the Geisha house, while her sister is immediately rejected and winds up in a brothel on the other side of town.

Although Chiyo doesn’t know it that first night, the fact that she was chosen by the geisha house saves her from working in the brothels. The life of a geisha was one of professionally entertaining men by singing, dancing and playing instruments, much like a hired wedding band would do. Men didn’t hire geishas for sex, they hired them for company and entertainment. They went to brothels for sex.  

Gong Li plays Hatsumomo, the mean spirited lead Geisha who Chiyo has to serve and learn from. Since Chiyo is so beautiful, Hatsumomo treats her harshly in a Cinderella story sort of way. This dark spiritual path is broken only when the nine-year-old Chiyo has a chance meeting with a man called The Chairman (Ken Watanabe). He gives her a frozen ice dessert - and hope.  

Now I know some critics have taken this scene lightly, and find it preposterous that such a simple encounter could change a life in such a drastic way. But how many top athletes would credit a simple childhood autograph from a professional as the spark that started their dream to rise to the top? How many poor people in the world would be lifted up spiritually by a simple gift that was totally unexpected and well out of their reach. I would say a lot, especially in an Asian society, where gifts are not taken lightly.

This is the spark that pushes Chiyo to learn the skills of a professional geisha, and it is here that Ziyi Zhang takes over the acting role as the adult version of Chiyo. She along with Michelle Yeoh (best known to American audiences in the Bond film, “Tomorrow Never Dies”) attempt to bring Chiyo's geisha skills to the top of her field in order to topple the vicious Hatsumomo. For Chiyo, there is more in her drive than just that. Those familiar with Asian films will be quick to mention that most end in tragedy for the heroine.  

Unless you have read the book, you’ll never know where this movie is headed from one minute to the next. The ups and downs will certainly keep you guessing, and that’s before WWII starts and throws another curve to the Japanese lifestyle.

Although there are no shoot-outs, car chases or king-fu kicks here, (and no actors flying through the air with hidden wires either), if you like well filmed love stories, with smart acting and a great cast, this is a move that begs to be seen on the big screen.  

(Book VS. Movie)
I must admit, I too usually find the book versions better than the movies that follow, and I’m sure most would agree. After viewing this movie and reading the original novel, the movie version is more emotional.

I’ll admit that while the last third of the novel is richer in storyline than the last third of the movie (if for no other reason than running time constraints) it’s the first two thirds of the story where the movie excels over the original story. The acting drives home the emotions more so than the narrated pages of storyline in the novel. Bravo to director Rob Marshall who takes a correct, different path to the same end. Here, the movie version most certainly wins.

- See it on "The Big Screen"


 

 

Flightplan

“Flightplan” (PG-13)

Jodie Foster has lost her child during a transatlantic flight in the thriller, “Flightplan.”

This interesting setup gives us a film we have not seen before, with Foster playing an engineer that actually helped design the massive new jet that she and her young daughter board to fly back to America. They are coming home from Germany with her husband flying in a casket down below them in the baggage area.

Obviously Foster is in quite a saddened state, which is how we start to sway back and forth as to whether or not Foster actually did board the plane with her daughter in the first place. After all, according to the flight crew, there is no record from the gate crew of her daughter getting on the plane, nor is her daughter’s luggage in the overhead compartment. No one on the plane remembers seeing her daughter at all!

There are a few other components that keep the viewer busy for 90 minutes, and the massive, ultra-modern plane is certainly something to feast one’s eyes on. But as you drive home, you realize the plot really made little sense at all.

In the end it just isn’t satisfying enough to warrant a trip to the theater.  

- Wait For DVD


 

Violence

“A History of Violence” (R)

“A History of Violence” got a lot of advance advertising before its release, which is surprising to me. More about that later.

This is the movie about a man named Tom Stall, a seemingly quiet family man living  in a rural town in Indiana and working in his quiet little diner. Quiet until a couple of thugs walk in at closing time and attempt to rob the place. Tom Stall not only stops the robbery, but also quickly ends the lives of the two out of towner no-counts. This causes our accidental hero to be covered on the national news and the next thing you know, Tom is getting a visit from a menacing man (played by Ed Harris) and his henchmen who are certain that they know Tom. And as far as they are concerned, he’s really Joey - Joey the mob hit man from New Jersey who had vanished without a trace many years earlier.

When Ed Harris removes his sunglasses we see the scarred face of a man who means business.  This starts a new showdown – one that pits these two men against one other. It also puts a strain on Tom’s family who is suddenly wondering who Tom really is. A professional killer? Or just . . . dad?

The reason for the surprise in the advertising is that this film was directed by David Cronenberg. For those of you that don’t know this guy, he directed the following movies (usually shown on TV between 2 and 4 AM):

"Rabid"
"Scanners"
"Videodrone"
"Naked Lunch"
"Crash" (1996 movie)
"ExistenZ"

These are hardly what Hollywood would tout as big money makers. This is a sick group of films to be sure, but they certainly have their cult following, myself among them.

His most famous movie was the remake of “The Fly” starring Jeff Goldblum. But most people fail to realize that “A History of Violence” was directed by Cronenberg as they buy their tickets and enter the theater. Soon they are more than a little shocked at the fact that Cronenberg doesn’t think the way a normal person thinks. He doesn’t want his actors to act they way normal people act.

Quite frankly, behind closed doors, a lot of people are weird in ways that would make the majority of us shake our heads. Cronenberg thrives on those types of people. It’s the only people he knows how to film. You will shake your head at the actions on the screen – I guarantee it.

Then there’s the sex and gore. Not loads of it, but Cronenberg loves showing the harsh reality of how easily human flesh rips and tears when shot, and how close we are to dogs when it comes to sex. Expect it in most of his movies.  

There is one scene in particular where Tom and his wife have rough sex with such indifference that you’d think you were watching an episode of “Wild Kingdom.”

People in the audience will laugh at the implausibility of such a scene, but again, it simply illustrates how narrow the line is between what the wild animals do outside our houses and what may or may not occur inside our houses.

So to end this review, Cronenberg gives us a sugar coated pill that within minutes reveals itself to be the same harsh heroin that he was pushing 30 years ago in his previous films. Like ‘em or hate ‘em – you’ve been warned.

- Wait For DVD


 

Red Eye (PG-13)

Wes Craven has done it right! Like Domino's Pizza, this movie delivers!

Before you go thinking this is just another slasher Wes Craven horror movie, where nubile young women in their underwear are butchered with a bloody hunting knife, only to have their shirtless boyfriends call out their name and visit the same fate minutes later, hold on and listen a minute.

This story by Wes Craven, who also directs the movie, is a tense, thrilling, roller coaster ride of a movie! Well done, Mr. Craven.

Rachel McAdams stars as Lisa Reisert, a first rate middle manager for a high class Miami Hotel. Seems everyone knows her, even government VIPs, so she's quite good at getting the reservations and special arrangements right the first time.

So if you're a bad guy like Jackson (played by actor Cillian Murphy) and you have a master plan to "off" a VIP who will be at the hotel, Lisa is your gal. She's the one to get close to. She's the one to abuse into doing your dirty work.

Lisa is set up big time and ends up ever so coincidentally sitting right next to Jackson once they board the plane. First together in the line at airport check-in. Then having an innocent drink together, then this. Wow what a small world!

Craven films the movie using a lot of cuts, angles and action, which keeps us on edge as if we too are hurrying though the airport to catch our plane. And he does this without the MTV shaky-cam that most of us have learned to dread. Bravo, Mr. Craven! Bravo!

In fact he's so skillful that were are truly immersed in the minutes that pass by (85 short minutes to this one) as Lisa realizes she alone holds the lives of her father and other innocent people in her hands as a cruel man sitting next to her tells her what to do next.

Sure it has illogical moments, especially in the final act. My, how the world has changed since the handheld cell phone was invented. Directors have a tough time finding ways to disable their use, as problems are solved all too easily with them. If phones always worked, movies would only be 30 minutes long and all car chases would be extinct! Can't have any of that, can we?

But like many roller coaster rides, the end might not take your breath away, but the thrill of the first hill, and surviving the double loop is well worth the wait to get on.

Ride this one.

- See it on "The Big Screen"


Skeleton Key

"The Skeleton Key" (PG-13)

Oh that Voodoo that you do-do so well!

Actually this movie concerns Hoodoo (a real life practice of spells) which is a based on black African folklore mixed with American Indian botanical knowledge and European folklore. A thorough mix of hogwash and BS, but that's precisely the point of this movie. It comes right down to, "do you believe?"

This is an especially important question for a Hospice caretaker named Caroline Ellis (well played by Kate Hudson) who finds herself taking care of an old man who suffered a stroke in the attic of an old mansion located in a poor area of New Orleans that is full of such Hoodoo believers. But only if you believe that Hoodoo works can the spells work on you. Non believers (tourists?) are unaffected.

Seems easy enough, right? I don't believe in ghosts therefore none have yet disturbed me that I'm aware of. But if I suddenly saw a few ghosts, my opinion about them might indeed change. And then would they be real? Real enough to hurt me? That's the philosophical question one would have to contemplate.

If you've read my previous reviews you know I don't give storyline away. You're not supposed to know what Caroline is up against any more than she does. This is not a scary movie in the sense that you will jump out of your seat and cower in horror. It's a suspenseful movie where you'll root for certain people on the screen to prevail, especially Caroline, who is a very likable character. You don't wish her any harm, and yet even when she realizes things are a bit dicey, she sticks around in hopes of saving the old man she is in charge of.

Whenever Caroline goes into the attic, we fear the outcome may not be in her favor. Yet she can't seem to stay out of the attic! Shake your head if you must at this ill-founded curiosity that seems to overtake even the most level headed of movie characters, but you'll definitely want to stick around for the ending. If you ache to go to the movies, this is a good choice. But it's not a "big screen" must.

- Wait For DVD


Devil Rejects

"The Devil's Rejects" (R)

Back in 2003 the lead singer of White Zombie, Rob Zombie, directed a movie called "House of 1000 Corpses." It was a sick film, but it had enough tense and frightening parts to get it into the category of a successful if not cultish gore flick.

"The Devil's Rejects," on the other hand, has no such frightening scenes. The most frightening part might well be that the ratings board didn't think this movie deserved an NC-17 or even an X rating - not for sex but for simple gratuitous brutality.

People walked out of the theater in droves. I'm no parent, but I certainly agreed with the adults who were whisking their minors to the door twenty minutes into it. This is the sickest movie I've ever seen, and I've seen hundreds. This is worse than "I Spit On Your Grave." This movie is like putting cats in a clothes dryer to see what will happen. Or like actually watching a plane crash and examining the body parts that are wedged in the tree branches afterward. It's one thing to hear someone describe seeing such horrific things, but viewing it – witnessing such things with your own eyes - is quite another story. Trust me, this is unnecessary stuff.

If you think you've seen white trash before, forget it. The people in this movie make the rapists in "Deliverance" look like OK neighbors.

Here – let me rape your wife with the barrel of my pistol, right in front of you. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. Isn't this fun?? Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.

Look, I just shot your best friend in the #@*%!&% head for no reason. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. Now, beg like a dog. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.

Here, the movie audience is in shock wondering where this is all heading. It's just headed for more of the same.

Director David Lynch doesn't even push the sickness this hard.

War atrocities are one thing, they happen all the time. And they too are tough to watch, even for the most callous among us. But there is no reason for anyone to want to watch two hours of atrocities on helpless people just for the sake of fun movie watching. This thing really is the proverbial train wreck.

Rob Zombie makes an amateurish final mistake when at the end he attempts to match the pace of the film to Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Freebird." I cringed as he overused slow motion throughout the long song before he could finally again resume full motion once the song cuts loose 3 minutes later. What a disaster.

Avoid!

 

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MOVIE REVIEWS

My Personal Rating System is as follows:

See it on "The Big Screen" .  .  .  . (Best of the bunch)
Wait for video/DVD 
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  . (Not a bad movie, but not worth $9)
Wait for HBO release  .  .  .  .  .  .  . (Not worth renting)
Avoid!  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . 
. (Not worth your time - period.)

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- Reviews by Jim Ramsey
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