Category Archives: 2007 Movie reviews

Shelter-2007

Shelter-2007

Director-Jonah Markowitz

Starring-Trevor Wright, Brad Rowe

Scott’s Review #758

Reviewed May 16, 2018

Grade: B+

By the mid 2000’s independent LGBT films were coming fast and furious as the genre was still relatively new and ripe for the picking with good ideas.  With Shelter (2007) we have a sweet film that focuses on new romance between two young men, one of whom is coming to terms with his own sexuality. The lead characters are not gay stereotypes and could easily pass for straight men, a characteristic impressive in LGBT film- and other mainstream films for that matter.

Rather than focusing on discrimination the characters may face or any obstacles from other characters (family and friends), the film wisely makes the story a character study and the demons one man wrestles with while “coming out”. The small film is written intelligently save for one supporting characters plot driven decision. Also, in the modern age we are beginning to see a bevy of similar themed films emerge from the LGBT community and Shelter offers nothing we have not seen before.

Set in sunny southern California, our main protagonist is Zach (Trevor Wright), an aspiring artist in his early twenties. The ultimate “good guy” he is popular with friends and girls and frequently babysits his five year old nephew Cody while his sister parties and has one night stands. When Zach meets his best friends older brother Shaun (Brad Rowe), the pair fall in love as Zach wrestles with his sexuality and conflict with his future plans. The sexual and family struggles of Zach are the main themes of the film.

Shelter (not sure I get the title’s meaning) is a solid slice of life story. Zach initially dates a pretty girl, Tori, who is blonde, wholesome, and a girl next door type. This is done intentionally to show that Tori is a girl any young straight man would have interest in. We never see Zach show interest in any other men besides Shaun so the film leans towards a solid romantic drama once the fellas get together. Still, we see Zach’s internal struggles and accepting himself for who he is played out. Actor Wright and director Jonah Markowitz, capture this successfully.

Shaun, arguably second fiddle to Zach, is a character that I feel is very well written. Avoiding negative stereotypes, Shaun is handsome, masculine, and charismatic. Completely confident and exuding great poise, he is a character that any gay male should look up to. He is openly gay yet “one of the guys” as he should be. He immediately connects with Cody becoming a father or cool surrogate uncle figure for the lad. A quick concern of Zach’s sister Jeanne’s of having the boy around a gay man is trivialized in quick form.

Another positive to the film are the multiple scenes showing Zach, Shaun, and Cody as a happy family and how normal this is. Examples of this are the frolicking around the beach playing football or horseplay. A quiet dinner of barbeque steaks and red wine  for the men and macaroni and cheese for Cody elicit images of a connected family unit despite some in society still poo pooing this idea. The film presents the connectivity as normal.

A tiny flaw in the character of Jeanne shows her willingness (almost eagerness) to leave Cody (and her ailing father) behind when she decides to take off to Oregon with her brand new boyfriend. This point seems rushed and out of character. While a party girl with a crappy job in a grocery store Jeanne did exhibit heart and written as sympathetic and caring all throughout the film. Surprising and unrealistic to me is that she would up and leave her life. A paltry excuse of “Oregon not allowing kids” was left unclear and unexplained.

Part coming of age story, part coming out story, Shelter (2007) is an example of the little film that could with an appreciation of independent cinema. The film tells a nice story of one man’s journey to self-discovery and the individuals he surrounds himself with.  With impressive California oceanfront and working class principles as a backdrop, the film has a calming texture and weaves a solid experience for viewers to enjoy.

No Country for Old Men-2007

No Country for Old Men-2007

Director-Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Starring-Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin

Scott’s Review #745

Reviewed April 19, 2018

Grade: A

No Country for Old Men, made in 2007,  is arguably Joel and Ethan Coen’s greatest work save for the amazing Fargo (1996). Achieving the Best Picture Academy Award and appearing on numerous Top Ten lists for its year of release, the film is clearly one of their most celebrated. Containing dark humor, offbeat characters, and fantastic storytelling, adding in some of the most gorgeous cinematography in film history, No Country for Old Men is one of the decades great films.

The time is 1980 and the setting western Texas as we follow dangerous hitman, Anton Chigurh, played wonderfully by Javier Bardem. He escapes jail by strangling a deputy and is subsequently hired to find Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a hunter who has accidentally stumbled onto two million dollars in a suitcase that Mexican smugglers are desperate to find. In the mix is Sheriff Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), who is pursuing both men. Moss’s wife, Carla Jean (Kelly Macdonald) in turn becomes an important character as she is instrumental in the web of deceit the chain of events creates. The film subsequently turns into an exciting cat and mouse chase with a dramatic climax.

The crux of the story and its plethora of possibilities is what make the events so exciting to watch. As characters are in constant pursuit of each other the viewer wonders who will catch up to whom and when.  One quality that makes the film unique with an identity all its own is that the three principal characters (Moss, Bell, and Chigurh) almost never appear in the same scene adding a layer of mystery and intrigue. The hero and most well liked of all the characters is, of course, Sheriff Bell- a proponent of honesty and truth while the other two characters are less than  savory types, especially the despicable Chigurh.

My personal favorite character in the story is Chigurh as he is the most interesting and Bardem plays him to the hilt with a calm malevolence- anger just bubbling under the surface. One wonders when he will strike next or if he will spare a life- as he intimidates his prey by offering to play a game of chance- the toss of a coin to determine life or death- he is one of cinema’s most vicious villains. With his bob cut hairstyle and his sunken brown eyes, he is a force to be reckoned with by looks alone.

True to many other Ethan and Joel Coen films the supporting or even the glorified extras are perfectly cast and filled with interesting quirkiness. Examples of this are the kindly gas station owner who successfully guesses a coin toss correctly and is spared his life. My favorite is the matter of fact woman at the hotel front desk, with her permed hair, she gives as good as she gets, and her monotone voice is great. It is these smaller intricacies that truly make No Country for Old Men shine and are a staple of Coen Brother films in general.

Many similarities abound between Fargo and No Country for Old Men, not the least of which is the main protagonist being an older and wiser police chief (Marge Gunderson and Tom Bell, respectively). Add to this a series of brutal murders and the protagonist being from elsewhere and stumbling upon a small, bleak town. Of course, the extreme violence depicted in both must be mentioned as a comparable.

Having shamefully only seen this epic thriller two times, No Country for Old Men is a dynamic film, reminiscent of the best of Sam Peckinpah classics such as The Getaway or The Wild Bunch. The Coen brothers cross film genres to include thriller, western, and suspense that would rival the greatest in Hitchcock films. I cannot wait to see it again.

Grindhouse: Planet Terror-2007

Grindhouse: Planet Terror-2007

Director-Robert Rodriguez

Starring-Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez

Scott’s Review #692

Reviewed October 15, 2017

Grade: B-

The umbrella title of “Grindhouse” is part of a 2007 double-feature, one film directed by Quentin Tarantino (Death Proof), and the other directed by Robert Rodriguez (Planet Terror). The gimmick was part of an attempt at something novel and also book-ending fictional trailers within the films. The term “grindhouse” refers to a cinematic specialty of either B movie or exploitation films- largely during the 1970’s. While Planet Terror gets credit for being unique and fun, it is often times too cartoon-like and rather over the top throughout.

The premise of Planet Terror is certainly not one to be taken seriously- as our heroine, Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan), quits her stripper job vowing to move on to bigger and better things, she runs into her ex-boyfriend, El Wray (Freddie Rodriguez), and the two team up to lead a group of rebels, who are fleeing for their lives after a vicious zombie outbreak. The attack was caused by a group of military officials, led by the vicious Lieutenant Muldoon (Bruce Willis).

The film contains an undeniable retro feel- the sets and the props traverse back to the 1970’s in style and look, however, characters do use cellular phones. In this way, Rodrigues attempts to make the film an homage or a throwback to a different time in cinema- this feat is quite impressive and the film is a marvel from a stylized perspective. Another positive is that the film is reminiscent, by the camera styles and angles, to an actual 1970’s film, with grainy elements and a comforting old-style texture, which really works.

The plot, though, is the source of frustration, and many aspects of the film are just plain silly. The actors play way over the top- as they were probably directed by Rodriguez to do, but the end result is too much like watching a cartoon rather than a piece of art. Rodriguez appears to be copying many aspects of Quentin Tarantino films- specifically, the mixture of violence with camp, although these attempts do not always work.

The acting and casting is fine- in fact, Bruce Willis shines in the lead villain role and plays demented to the hilt. Unquestionably “borrowed” by Rodriguez through Tarantino, Willis, who was dynamic in Pulp Fiction, knows how to do his thing well in films such as this. Muldoon is quite the different character than boxer Butch Coolidge in 1994’s masterpiece, Pulp Fiction, but the acting style is the same. Stars such as Josh Brolin, Kurt Russell, and Rosario Dawson also make appearances so the film is assuredly a star-studded affair.

The casting of McGowan and Freddy Rodriguez as the leads is acceptable and the pair make a decent screen coupling. Still, her artificial leg which doubles as a deadly machine gun and his maniacal persona seem somewhat forced and, again, way over the top.

Planet Terror was a moderate box office success upon release in 2007, but watching the film in 2017, ten years later, unfortunately some of the luster has been tarnished and the gimmick not as catchy as at the time of release. Still, a decent offering in the horror, cartoon, campy genre, but much better films exist- think anything by Tarantino.

28 Weeks Later-2007

28 Weeks Later-2007

Director-Juan Carlos Fresnadillo

Starring-Rose Byrne, Jeremy Renner

Scott’s Review #513

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Reviewed November 6, 2016

Grade: B-

At the time of its release, I remember 28 Weeks Later to be a successful follow-up to the original 28 Days Later, a clever play on the title and picking up events some seven months after the original. Watching the film now, however, I see flaws, mostly in the lack of character driven story and the resulting traditional action-type film. Still, the film is far from all bad.

The action begins as the audience meets a “family”, barricaded in a homey residence, attempting to resume normalcy in life by preparing and serving a delicious family dinner- almost reminiscent of Thanksgiving. The scene is tranquil and rich in familiarity. When a little boy pounds on the door to be let in, the terror begins and the Rage virus is proven to still be alive and well.

The story written for 28 Weeks Later has nothing to do with the original and contains none of the original characters. Rather, a father, mother, and young boy and girl, are the family that we follow throughout the film. Rose Byrne stars as a doctor- laughingly named Scarlet- and Jeremy Renner as a U.S. military presence, NATO having been sent in to keep order as best they can.

The opening sequence is fantastic as peacefulness turns deadly rather quickly and the characters are in immediate peril. Another scene, when father and mother are alone in a laboratory and events go awry, the sequence is gory, shocking, and quite heartfelt. These are merely moments, however, and are not quite enough to carry the film into a successful sequel.

Another positive to note about the film is, even more prevalent than in the original, are the wonderful location shots of London. From the London Eye to Big Ben to street shots of downtown London and the surrounding streets, are capably done and I loved seeing the ariel views of said city.  The conclusion at Wembley Stadium was also great. This was a treat for any fan of London and made the film a clear sense of location.

Conversely, I was not a fan of the characters in 28 Weeks Later. Whereas, in 28 Days Later, the characters were well drawn and compelling, rich with beauty and emotion, the same cannot be said for the sequel. In fact, I am unclear what the purpose of Renner’s tough, no-nonsense military type was for, or Byrne’s sympathetic, but pointless turn as a scientist/doctor. Both held little appeal and gave snore-worthy performances. Or perhaps the roles were just not written well. Regardless, neither worked. The dynamic between the father and mother did work, but the kids were not the best actors and I found their additions pointless as well.

The last scene, a frenetic trip through a tunnel by the infected and arriving in gorgeous Paris- a shot of the Eifel tower as proof, is a nice touch.

With a few nice touches added, cool location shots, intense peril in a few sequences, but with limited compelling characters, 28 Weeks Later is okay, but hardly an upgrade to the original or even close to the character driven film. No follow-up film, while initially planned, was ever completed.

Eastern Promises-2007

Eastern Promises-2007

Director-David Cronenberg

Starring-Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts

Scott’s Review #205

70059994

Reviewed December 15, 2014

Grade: B

Eastern Promises is a 2007 Russian mafia thriller directed by David Cronenberg (The Fly, A History of Violence) that stars Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, and Vincent Cassel. The film is an uneven experience, seemingly meshing two stories together- one fascinating, one unnecessary.

Watts plays a British-Russian mid-wife named Anna, who works at a London hospital. She attempts to find the family of Tatiana, a 14 year old girl who dies during childbirth leaving a diary written in Russian along with her newborn. Anna struggles to unravel the mystery surrounding the girl which ends up involving the mafia. Mortensen plays Nikolai, mysterious chauffer to crime lord Semyon, and Cassel plays Kirill, disturbed, alcoholic son of Semyon. The plot segues into a story of a somewhat relationship between Nikolai and Anna that is not quite romantic and also a much more intriguing relationship between Nikolai and Kirill as a brotherhood of sorts develops between them. In fact, this relationship is complex- Kirill wants Nikolai to prove he is a straight male by having sex with one of several female prisoners he and his father keep as part of a sex trafficking group. During this scene, and a few others, the two men seem close, almost too close, given the sexual nature of what is happening during the scene, so this relationship is left vague, but intrigues nonetheless. The latter story holds more interest to me, whereas the former seems contrived and rather uninteresting. Was the intention of the film to imply a romantic interest between Anna and Nikolai? I found zero chemistry between the two and wondered if the audience was supposed to root for them as a couple or not.

The four principal characters in Eastern Promises are interesting to unravel. I found the characters of Nikolai and Kirill complex and interesting. Not so much with the character of Anna. Why did I not find her so compelling? Besides a skimmed over mention of how she lost a baby what vested interest did she have of mixing with the Russian mafia and putting her mother and uncle in harm’s way? Sure, anyone would want to find an orphaned babies family, but why not just call the police? This seems a large plot hole. Conversely, Nikolai is a fascinating, layered character played wonderfully by Mortensen. What are his true motivations? Is he a good guy or a bad guy? His attempts at being accepted by Semyon and the family in order to join the mob family makes him seem dangerous- but his kindness towards one of the Ukraine prostitutes is sweet. Kirill is a despicable character, but what is his sexuality? Does that make him get so drunk and angry? How does one explain his confliction over the baby shifting his character to sympathetic? Ultimately, Nikolai and Kirill are complicated- Anna and Semyon more one note.

I would have preferred the story solely revolve around the mafia family and the Godfather-type scenes, specifically the two throat slashing scenes violently done, and perhaps leave out Watts’s character and story altogether.

A gritty scene that takes place in a steam room pits Nikolai against two rival mafia men. The scene is long and intense. Mortensen performs the scene completely naked, which adds to the rawness and the brutality of the fight. It is one of the most masculine scenes I can remember watching.

At times compelling, but riddled with plot holes and requiring some suspension of disbelief, Eastern Promises is an entertaining Russian mafia film that is a decent watch.