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Extracted (2012)

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Extracted is director Nir Paniry’s feature film debut. The science fiction flick takes place in the near future where a scientist named Tom (Sasha Roiz) has created a machine that is able to read and display the thoughts and memories of another person. When a test demo goes wrong, Tom is trapped inside the mind of Anthony (Dominic Bogart), a prisoner convicted of murder. There’s much more to the plot than this but saying anything else would ruin the surprise.

For a feature film debut, this film is excellent. The writing is really well done and the story stays pretty well grounded within its own rules.so the resolution of the movie doesn’t feel like a cop out. The film seems to draw a heavy inspiration from other science fiction film, The Cell (2000) is one that instantly comes to mind. Having a fairly low budget, the director/writer focused on making a film that was heavily centered on story rather than on a visual spectacle and he delivered.

Being the heart of the film, the actors didn’t shy away from the spotlight. Both lead actors Sasha and Dominic gave excellent performances that helped the movie deliver its emotional core. Dominic Bogart’s performance as Anthony was particularly noteworthy because of how crucial his character was to the plot of the film. Even side characters like Martino (Frank Ashmore), Anthony’s estranged father, seemed excellent and pretty genuine for the most part.

Nir Paniry’s feature debut is a solid film and there is really not a lot of negative things that I could find in this movie. Extracted is an excellent example of what a good science fiction movie could look like without having to rely on flashy visual imagery. This film is far from winning any major awards but it is a movie that keeps the audience hooked with excellent storytelling. If you are tired of seeing the same type of big budget Hollywood movies, Extracted might just be the film for you.

TL;DR: Small budget science fiction movie that relies on story telling rather than special effects. A good movie to watch if you’re in the mood to see something on Netflix.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 7/10

Rotten Tomatoes: n/a

Metacritic: 61%

IMDB: 6.5/10

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American Hustle (2013)

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American Hustle follows the story of Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). The two work as con artists until they are caught by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). DiMaso makes a deal with Irving and Sydney that involves them helping him arrest corrupt politicians and possibly members of the mafia.

David O. Russell’s film features an impressive amount of talent which is not limited to Bale, Cooper, and Adams. Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Peña, and even Louis C.K. make an appearance. Being a very character driven movie, input to each actor’s role was necessary. Having gained about 40 pounds,  Christian Bale once again surprised the audience with one of his famous body transformations. The performances that Russell managed to get from each actor were good for the most part and some of them are going to be memorable for a while. Who is seriously going to forget seeing Jennifer Lawrence as a Jersey housewife or Michael Peña as Mexican playing an Arab? One of the things about the film that did end up bothering me was that there was more than one scene in the movie that seemed to drag on too long. I understand that some scenes were completely improvised which in turn showcased each actor but there were times when characters were on screen long after they had played their part in the story.

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Christian Bale gained weight for the role as Irving

The movie is definitely a character driven movie. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with the story which is solid and even gives the audience a few surprises and pieces of comedy here and there. Russell also gives us a clear look at styles and cultures in the 70’s and constantly reminds the audience of this.

Despite the showcase of talent from the cast of American Hustle, there are lots of things that I found wrong with it. The main culprit is the pacing of the film. Russell had a decent plot to start off with and talented actors but overindulging them with improv seemed to slow down and kill some of the story. Despite the problems that the characters got themselves into, there seemed to be very little suspense within the film itself. The other thing about Hustle was the fact that there were more than a few characters that seemed one dimensional and the fact that they got a lot of screen time made it seem as if the director was forcing the audience to like them.

American Hustle is by no means a bad movie but it did lose my attention multiple times throughout. By the time I finished watching it, it felt like the movie had no real pay off. David O. Russell certainly made the movie seem interesting but at the end of the day, it seemed to lack substance.  The best way to describe this movie would be to compare it to a bag of chips. Everything about the packaging seems as if it’ll be a good buy but once you open it you realize that there’s more air inside than actual food. Slow pacing and scenes that dragged on robbed the story of the potential suspense that every crime movie should have. American Hustle has its moments of brilliance but without the actors attached, it might have been just another bust.

TL;DR: Unless you’re a fan of an “actor’s” movie, just wait for the DVD release to watch it.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 7/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 93%

IMDB: 7.7/10

Metascore: 90/100

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Dredd (2012)

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The reboot of Sylvester Stallone’s infamous Judge Dredd (1995) was actually not as bad as I thought it would have been. This time Judge Dredd is grittier and more intense than its mid-nineties predecessor. For those unfamiliar with the films or the premise of the comic strips its based on, the story takes place in the future where judges are the only form of justice in the futuristic mega cities. These specially trained police force not only have the powers to judge but to also execute sentences how they see fit.

In this particular storyline, Dredd (Karl Urban) is given a rookie (Olivia Thirlby) to take on patrol in order to assess whether she is fit to be a judge or not. Their investigation of a triple homicide leads them to a building that is controlled by a gang led by a woman who is called Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). Upon making an important discovery, Dredd and the rookie become trapped in the building they went to raid and have to get ready to fight off the gang members that are trying to kill them.

The first thing about this movie was that the 3D elements in this movie weren’t as noticeable as they are in other films. Apart from a few stylization elements in order to emphasize drug use in a couple of scenes, there’s nothing too gimmicky. The second thing that stuck out to me was how faithful they remained to the comic strips. Judge Dredd never once removed his mask during the entirety of the movie. Not only was this a nod to the comic, it also served to make Dredd seem more menacing and invincible.

The action in this movie was over the top in some parts but it did not seem completely out of place because of the setting everything takes place in. Ma-Ma, the main villain of the movie was played by a woman which doesn’t happen too often and not only is she evil, she’s also a smart leader with a weakness for violence. In short, one of the more memorable bad guys I have seen in a while. I was a little disappointed that although the director, Pete Travis, had such a good villain, he did not seem to elaborate her character a little more. Despite this, the action in Dredd never gets boring and is actually pretty consistent all the way through so you don’t really get a chance to dwell on the “what if” questions.

Overall, a great sci-fi/action film that runs in the same vein as Robocop. Karl Urban’s portrayal of Judge Dredd was similar to what you would expect of Batman and this isn’t a bad thing. Although the story isn’t too deep, it’s executed smartly enough to keep you at the edge of your seat until the very end. Despite a few minor setbacks, Dredd gives me hope that in this age of reboots there may still be hope for good ones.

TL;DR: Relieved to know that there are some reboots worth watching. Great Sci fi movie.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 7.9/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 78%

IMDB: 7/10

Metascore: 59/100

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The Green Inferno (2013)

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The Green Inferno is Eli Roth’s return to the director’s chair after Hostel: Part Two (2007). Before its screening in the AFI Film Festival of Los Angeles, Roth requested something of the crowd. He asked the audience to keep an open mind and dispel any preconceived notions or expectations of the film. I felt obliged to set aside my expectations of the movie. This review is the fruit of my observations as I tried my best to set aside any biased opinions.

The movie follows a group of teenagers who want to stop a rainforest from being cut down. They fly over to Peru in order to chain themselves to trees and stop the crew from continuing to destroy the forest. The plan succeeds despite a small situation that develops.  On their flight back to civilization, their plane crashes in the middle of the forest. There, half of the teenagers die while the rest are captured by a group of cannibals.

To start off, I will say that there were some well crafted scenes in the movie and one major villain of the film is extremely well written. There was also one scene where the dialogue seemed to go deeper than just your average horror film. Despite this, most of the movie seems to fall flat. Characters are very bland for the most part, you have a stoner, a chubby guy, jock, and the innocent girl among others. This description alone seems to be sufficient grounds in which to describe most of the characters. Right from the start, the dialogue seemed clunky and the actors seemed robotic. Thankfully, this seemed to disappear only to be replaced by insane amounts of blood and gore.

It’s very clear that this movie is a tribute to all the cannibal films before it but it just seemed unnecessary. Eli Roth once again plays into his trademark use of carnage to make the audience feel queasy. I found myself laughing more often than feeling horrified at the actions on screen and this speaks to the root of the problem I have with this movie. This flick wasn’t funny in a clever way but in more of a this-is-incredibly-unbelievable type of way.

It’s always tough to write about a horror movie because everyone has a different sense of what scary is or what is essential to horror. Overall I thought that the movie was dying to make a political statement that never came. The characters felt tough to sympathize with and the “horror” seemed more laughable than scary (which I recognize is a trend with most horror flicks).  To add insult to injury, the one time the audience is meant to feel pity for the native cannibals falls flat. Instead of feeling sorry for them, I questioned why anyone would try to save them. Roth seemed to be trying to push the standard of a cannibal film which is not bad, it just simply didn’t seem to work this time around.

TL;DR: Typical Eli Roth movie. Other than being a tribute to cannibal films, a very generic B-movie.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 5/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 70% (as of Nov. 10, 2013)

IMDB: 6.5/10

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Gravity

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For months, the only images that were available of Gravity were that of Sandra Bullock hurtling through space. The amount of hype this movie received seemed unreal and it looked like Gravity would not be able to deliver. Once Alfonso Cuaron’s movie debuted however, it quickly climbed to be the #1 Box Office movie.

The plot to Gravity is not too strong. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are two astronauts that become stranded in space after flying debris destroys their shuttle. The two astronauts are not only cut off from communication to and from Earth, but they are left stranded in space with very limited oxygen and even more limited options. So right away this becomes a mash up of Cast Away (2000) and Apollo 13 (1995). Despite the weak plot, Cuaron does an excellent job of using great cinematic elements to complement the themes in the movie. Sandra Bullock also did a phenomenal job of portraying her character’s emotions throughout the film. Clooney also played to his strengths and actually fit into his character perfectly. This film being very character driven, having these actors play their parts well was important.

The visual elements of Gravity were breathtaking and I don’t think anyone can deny that. I had the privilege of watching it in IMAX 3D and I was not disappointed. I’m personally not fond of any movie that uses 3D but Gravity did not rely on it. The 3D element did not overpower the movie but rather, complemented it. The film would have been just as great if it had been in 2D.

Themes were the most important part of Gravity. If it weren’t for these themes that were placed across the movie, the visual effects and acting would not have saved this film. The main themes that caught my attention were that of survival and birth.

The opening line of the movie, if I recall correctly, was “Life in Space is Impossible.” This little line tells the viewer how much the odds are going to stack against the characters. Once the debris sets events in motion, the ordeals that the astronauts face seem unlikely and even impossible to overcome. But despite how impossible it may have seemed, life persisted to existed. This was not just a character’s journey to survive, it also seemed to parallel how mankind struggled to survive despite all odds placed against it.

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The next theme in the movie was that of (re)birth. This was probably the most prevalent of all themes in the movie. Ryan Stone (Sandara Bullock) has to deal with some inner demons throughout the plot. Eventually she begins to “let go” of her past and overcomes her struggles. This may not seem like such a deep theme but the way it’s presented is overwhelmingly beautiful. It begins with a shot of Sandra Bullock in a position that can no doubt be a comparison to a womb. After that there is a sort of growing phase where our character is faced with the choice of fighting for survival or facing death. This theme of birth, just like the theme of survival, beautifully continues until the end.

Gravity did not fail to live up to the hype that it got. It was not the most impressive plot but it was a great example of what can happen when there is a unison between themes and cinematography. Alfonso Cuaron did not just create a story of survival, he orchestrated an ode to mankind.

Rockit Raccoon Rating : 9

Rotten Tomatoes: 97 %

IMDB: 8.6/10

Metascore: 96/100

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