Category Archives: 2008 Movie reviews

The Stoning of Soraya M.-2008

The Stoning of Soraya M.-2008

Director-Cyrus Nowrasteh

Starring-Shohreh Aghdashloo

Top 10 Disturbing Films-#2

Reviewed February 18, 2017

Grade: A

The Stoning of Soraya M. is a brutal film, and one of the most disturbing films that I have ever seen. I have viewed the film a total of two times and that is enough for me. The terrifying aspect of the film is that the story is true and the events depicted not only have happened to the woman featured, but happen to women day in and day out in certain cultures. The film is a frightening reminder of the atrocities of human suffering.

The film is an American Persian language film made in 2008. Academy Award nominee, Shohreh Aghdashloo, stars as a woman living in a remote village in Iran- the time period is 1986. Interestingly, the film begins following the events that conclude the story and works in reverse. A reporter who has car trouble and is lost in the village is taken by the aunt of Soraya (Aghdashloo) who must tell the journalist the painful story of a tragedy that befell poor Soraya the day before. Soraya was brutally stoned to death, wrongfully accused of adultery, and the journalist wisely records the aunt’s tale with his tape recorder. The journalist must then escape the village alive in order for Soraya’s story to be told to the masses.

From this point the film transfers to several days earlier. Soraya’s abusive husband, Ali, wishes to divorce Soraya so that he can marry a fourteen year old girl from the village. When she refuses, Ali uses manipulation and blackmail to turn many in the village against Soraya, including her two teenage sons. Ali convinces everyone that Soraya has been unfaithful to him with a widower who Soraya innocently works for. Ali is then granted his divorce and Soraya is sentenced to be stoned, as an example, in front of the entire village. The message is clear- women are not equal to men and are not permitted to do the things that men can.

Throughout the film we get to know Soraya and she does have her loyal female friends and supporters. Aghdashloo portrays Soraya with gusto and bravery and the fact that we care for the character so much makes the inevitable stoning sequence heartbreaking and painful to watch.

When Soraya is chained to a short pole and buried up to her neck so that she cannot move, the scene of her victimization is almost unbearable to watch. Ali and her sons are the first to cast the stones that strike her square in the head. Director, Nowrasteh provides the stoning sequence with a dull, muted sound so that we almost experience the thuds of the rocks from Soraya’s perspective, making the scene all the more chilling. The scene also goes on for seemingly an eternity as it takes a long time for Soraya to succumb to her many wounds. Needless to say, she is a bloody mess and unrecognizable. This scene is not for the squeamish.

How disheartening to know that experiences like Soraya’s still occur to this day in Iran and many other countries and there is not much that is done to help. The Stoning of Soraya M. is based on a 1990 book, Le Femme Lapidee, written by Freidoune Sahebjam, who appears in the film as the journalist. The book has been banned in Iran.

The Stoning of Soraya M. is one of the most disturbing films that I have ever seen and as much as the message is tragic and painful, I never want to see this film again. The pain rings too real and the thought fills me with sadness.

The Reader-2008

The Reader-2008

Director-Stephen Daldry

Starring-Kate Winslet

Reviewed January 20, 2009

Grade: A

The Reader (2008) is by far my favorite of all of Kate Winslet’s film roles-and that is saying something! It is her most challenging and provocative to date, and will ruffle some feather for sure based on the subject matter of the story. The subject of a grown woman in her thirties involved in a steamy and passionate love affair with a young boy half her age, is too much for some, but I found the films bravery admirable.

To be fair, the film is a slow build-up type of story and it takes a little while to get going, but if you stick with it, it will be worth your time. Winslet plays a woman (Hanna) living in 1950’s Germany, living an ordinary life. She is a poor woman and a young boy she meets changes her life for the better. He teaches her readings and other educational things and they are inseparable. When she leaves twn one day, the boy is devastated.

The film then fast-forwards thirty years to the 1990’s and the boy, now grown up and played by Ralph Fiennes, comes upon Hanna is a most unusual, dramatic, and devastating way. The film is told from the perspective of Fiennes character, which is a wonderful decision.

The Reader is very heavy on the sex and nudity (I mean lots!), so if anyone is offended by that you might want to skip it. The story was riveting and the acting topnotch. An excellent film.

Zombie Strippers-2008

Zombie Strippers-2008

Director-Jay Lee

Starring-Jenna Jameson, Robert Englund

Reviewed January 25, 2009

Grade: C-

Zombie Strippers is so filled with campy moments and so over-the-top, that it is a film that is impossible to remotely take seriously. As they say, there is a time and a place for everything, and this includes films. It is completely a cheesy, campy B minus horror film.

The story, if one can call it that, involves a small strip club, in Nebraska, in the middle of nowhere. The star stripper is played by former adult film star, Jenna Jameson, who, I am pretty certain, was not hired for her acting talents. One day, a government controlled virus is released by the government, causing Jameson’s character to be transformed into a flesh-eating zombie. The motivation is not really there, and, who cares anyway? This is not the film to watch for compelling plot.

The acting all around in the film is poor, and the story is completely unrealistic- laced with stereotypes galore. However, how nice to see horror legend, Robert Englund (Nightmare on Elm Street) in a prominent role, even in a bad film. Also deserving of credit are the makeup and prop department, clearly having a small budget, for making the film look better than it might have.

If you are looking for a cheesy, after midnight, and after a few drinks fun film, this is it. Otherwise, don’t waste your time.

Revolutionary Road-2008

Revolutionary Road-2008

Director-Sam Mendes

Starring-Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet

Reviewed January 26, 2009

Grade: A

Revolutionary Road is an outstanding film- and what superior, human, raw acting by stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. The duo reunite in film over ten years after the monstrous success of Titanic.

The trailers might lead one to believe that this film is a romantic comedy or some type of love story- it is a love story, but a very real, dark one. Both characters are certainly flawed.

Set in affluent New England, somewhere in Connecticut to be precise, April and Frank seemingly have it all. He a successful doctor, she the perfect housewife, they live a happy existence free of problems- or do they? Slowly, the audience sees their lives spin out of control and varying emotions between the pair emerge to the surface.

Great supporting turns by Kathy Bates and Michael Shannon as characters presenting roadblocks to April and Frank’s happiness.

If you are looking for a film with true, gritty, layered acting, this is it, and Revolutionary Road is a much more complex film than the previews would allow you to think. It really shows the depth of DiCaprio’s  and Winslet’s acting ability. Some might feel it is a bit slow moving, but the payoff is definitely worth it.

Frost/Nixon-2008

Frost/Nixon-2008

Director-Ron Howard

Starring-Frank Langella, Michael Sheen

Reviewed January 31, 2009

Grade: B+

Adapted from a Broadway play, director Ron Howard creates a powerful film surrounding the infamous 1977 interview between shamed former President Nixon and interviewer David Frost. Frank Langella and Michael Sheen star.

For someone who was too young to really remember Nixon or the Watergate scandal, the film was very enlightening and historical for me on a personal level. Frost/Nixon is also a very human story and well made.

The interview scenes are fantastic as the constant back and forth, cat and mouse, each man looking for an opportunity to either pounce, avoid, or gain the upper hand are rich with character driven possibilities. The scuttlebutt and the behind the scenes scrambling by Nixon’s men is good drama.

In particular, Frank Langella steals the show as President Nixon. He is confident, strong, yet vulnerable, and sad. An acting Tour De Force by Langella.

WALL-E-2008

WALL-E-2008

Director-Andrew Stanton

Starring-Various voices

Reviewed February 1, 2009

Grade: B+

After hearing so much buzz about WALL-E, I decided to see for myself what all the fuss was about. Disney-Pixar has created another fantastic film. Visually, it is a creative and intelligent experience that warrants the praise it has received. They also do a lot with the intricate graphics and animations.

In a futuristic world where humans have destroyed their environment, and thereby abandoned planet Earth. Robot, WALL-E, is left to clean up the mess. He then meets a fellow female robot named EVE, and the two develop an innocent, sweet relationship that is charming and authentic.

The humans in the film are portrayed as fat, lazy, incapable of intelligent thought, and most unable to move very much since technology has trained them to be as such. Sad.

The story itself is very sweet, touching, and sends a very important message about society and taking care of our environment. Very enjoyable.

Lovely, Still-2008

Lovely, Still-2008

Director-Nicholas Fackler

Starring-Ellen Burstyn, Martin Landau

Reviewed December 30, 2010

Grade: B+

Oh, how I wish this movie had gotten more attention! Lovely, Still is a small, independent venture, that is Christmas themed, and set in Omaha, Nebraska. It stars Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn as an older couple who fall in love. Landau is Robert, a lonely older man interested in dating again. He meets and falls in love with Mary, the mother of his next door neighbor.

Before you start thinking Lifetime television movie, the last thirty minutes of the film will shock and fascinate you. A guttural reveal really takes this film to a completely different place during the climax, making it a heart-wrenching, and powerful experience. Landau and Burstyn are wonderful actors who mesmerize in scenes together. They have a sweet, innocence, and are in glee, like teenagers, experiencing first love.

My only criticism is the first half of the movie is a bit slow, but this can be forgotten as the film kicks into high gear. Also, some wonderful camera shots from novice director Nicholas Fackler.

Saw V-2008

Saw V-2008

Director-David Hackl

Starring-Tobin Bell, Donnie Wahlberg

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Reviewed January 9, 2011

Grade: B

The Saw movies are fun, bloody, late night flicks. It is quite helpful if you see them close together, and in sequence, as they either continue or backtrack to previous films- past knowledge is helpful. Saw V is no exception, as we learn the how’s and the why’s of serial killer Jigsaws, apprentice,  detective Mark Hoffman.  What would possess this man to follow in the footsteps of Jigsaw?

In their heyday, the Saw films were intriguing and more cerebral than the standard slice and dice ’em offerings. I like these films because there is usually a plot twist or some other surprise connection to an earlier entry in store. Also, the victims are not merely innocent’s in the wrong place at the wrong time, nor are they killed for the sake of killing. They typically have embezzled someone, maimed an innocent party, or caused someone pain in some fashion, so the audience does not feel sorry for them, making their various tortures tolerable to watch, if not satisfying.

In Saw V, as far as the kills go, we are treated to somebody being sliced in half, a decapitation, another blown to bits by a detonating bomb, bloodletting, a crushing to death, and various other forms of mutilation.

This is all well and good, but by Part V in a franchise, even the most clever of stories runs out of gas, and by this point the series is feeling a little tired, although still enjoyable for the puzzle of story connections. Saw V is a very bloody film, so not intended for the squeamish.

Kisses-2008

Kisses-2008

Director-Lance Daly

Starring-Kelly O’Neill, Shane Curry

70109157

Reviewed February 28, 2011

Grade: B+

Kisses is an Irish film that tells the story of two pre-teenage kids (Dylan and Kylie), who run away to Dublin on Christmas to escape their dysfunctional families and their small town, morose life, instead being attracted to the “big city” and the hope of finding Dylan’s older brother, himself having run away to escape the oppressive environment.

At first Dylan and Kylie barely know each other, neighbors, but far from close. Gradually they become best friends and form an unbreakable bond. While in Dublin, they face terror and charming moments of wonderment as they traverse the city, mainly at nighttime.

Great acting and chemistry from the two leads, especially being untrained actors. Kylie- an extrovert and full of life, successfully brings out the best in Dylan, who is reserved and withdrawn, so the pair compliment each other as they experience their adventures.

The cinematography is fantastic as one gets to experience the hustle and bustle of Dublin, and the quiet countryside of a small Irish town, which is an immense treat, and a contradiction in lifestyles.

Train-2008

Train-2008

Director-Gideon Raff

Starring-Thora Birch

70125249

Reviewed July 28, 2014

Grade: C-

Train is a horror, torture film from 2008 that has very similar elements to Hostel (Americans alone in an eastern country- in this case northern Russia) and like plotted films that were all the rage in this time period.

The premise is fairly interesting- college wrestling team misses train in northern Russia due to late night partying and has to take another one where they are systematically accosted, tortured, and dismembered by a strange Russian gang and have their body parts implanted in needy people who are passengers on said train. However, the film fails on many levels. The bottom line is the film is not very compelling. It is purely plot centered and no character development. Who are the athletes? What do they care about? Certainly, in the horror genre, one can make the argument that who really cares about the characters, but it would have been nice to have a little background on them. Also with horror, suspension of disbelief is mandatory, and I can almost buy the villains legitimately doing the surgical transplants for money (one bad guys claim that they are torturing the athletes to help save people is silly), but why they rape and torture the athletes before removing their body parts is never explained.

The film has an incredible amount of plot holes- why is the wrestling team male and female? Why do they perform the transplants on a train? How can an eye transplant recipient need no recovery time before he can inexplicably walk around with perfect eyes? The list goes on and on. I will give props to the torture scenes, which are cringe worthy in their gross-out aspect. I didn’t think Thora Birch was successful as the lead actress of the film- a shame since she had so much career promise in American Beauty in 1999. Train is a pale retread of the Hostel franchise, but nowhere near as interesting.