Short reviews for these films below
Jennifer's Body (USA, 2009)
One of most underrated films of this year, that just went over people's heads. Written by a woman and directed by female director, this film has unique combination of allegorical semantics and Freudian symbolism, and perception of sex and sexuality by teenage girls as its central theme.
Sometimes called a mystery of feminine sexuality, such theme has already received extensive treatment in many films, especially noticing masterpiece Twin Peaks by Mark Frost and David Lynch. And Jennifer's Body resembles this cult series a lot, having many things in common, although not as deep and powerful.
I think the best metaphor was given by the mysterious hole of the Devil's Kettle waterfall, where scientist are throwing different things in it, trying to rationalize such phenomena, but no one really knows where the water goes in the end.
Jennifer's Body is definitely not a horror film and not a thriller, it is more likely to be defined as dark comedy. It is sarcastic and caricature look at the current American society, mocking the superficial and fake sides of it by showing the social rituals people choose to perform when dealing with tragedy, grief, love or trying to achieve success. This film can be very interesting to analyze in depth, I am sure I will be watching it again.
And no review can be completed without saying a few things about acting of Megan Fox. She actually does decent job as demon possessed young girl, she manages to display some sort of vulnerability and complexity, although she is clearly doesn't have wide enough range of expressions and she still not able to take her character to more personal and deeper places, outside of what was written in the script. And her character had potential for that. So she is still far from Amber Heard, and even her co-star Amanda Seyfried feels more natural, but Megan is holding her role very well and absolutely not shaming herself.
Surrogates (USA, 2009)
Wasted opportunity to do something special and only emphasizing the problem with old-minded Hollywood directors, that don't really understand the new forms of filmmaking and themes that interest younger generations.
The movie is completely unbalanced in terms of pace and tempo. Nice idea and well done actions are abruptly interrupted by unnecessary and very silly sentimental moments, the whole movie seems to be cold and mechanical, just like the dolls they use. There is no energy, no charisma, just flat story with outdated message leading nowhere.
Give 'em Hell, Malone (USA, 2009)
The biggest achievement here is the stylish design, creating the feel of old detective story and film noir. Doing all that on the background of modern city is not easy, but the clothes, the hats, the conversations, the attitude, the characters, everything feels like it was taken from the classic black and white Humphrey Bogart movies. Where the hell did they find a coin payphone? A coin payphone!
But the nice atmosphere is spoiled by the significant weakness of the script. The writing techniques are simple and straight forward, the plot information mostly delivered without imagination whatsoever, sometimes completely out of nowhere, just to justify specific turn of events.
Despite some strong moments this film falls short in many things, but still worthy to watch.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (USA, 2009)
Surprisingly funny and clever, with long running jokes and solid, entertaining and imaginative story. Inevitable weak emotional moments, as suitable for Hollywood product for children, are spoiling a bit the enjoyable experience, but it's forgivable. Overall it's a must for animation fans of all ages, one of the best family movies of last year.
Inglourious Basterds (USA/Germany, 2009)
Even new Tarantino, who is far from being old Tarantino, still makes great movies. Mainly due to the bright and clever dialogs writing and the suspenseful situations he creates for his protagonists. And even if at some point the film indeed heavily drags its feet on the border of the boring, it still manages in the end to be uplifting and leave you with plenty of food for your thoughts.
Family Guy: Something, Something, Something Dark Side (USA, 2009)
It's official - Family Guy creators are running out of cultural references. How much Star Wars jokes can you make before it won't be funny anymore? This one hour long and quite accurate re-creation of The Empire Strikes Back is heavy, not funny and just pointless.
Stewie saves the day most of the time, as usual, and toward the end this episode becomes more watchable and slightly enjoyable, but it still not enough to justify the effort. Just stick to the 20 minute episodes, guys, at least in this form the show is still entertaining.
Frozen River (USA, 2008)
Small independent movie, that did some waves back in 2008, and even got the leading actress to be nominated for Oscars for her role.
Working class woman, living near Mohawk reservation with two kids and obsessive gambler husband, that steals her money and runs away, is trying to find enough cash for down-payment for her new house. It leads her to be involved in immigrant smuggling business with local Mohawk woman, who's also got her own problems.
The film is strong and realistic crime drama in the best tradition of independent cinema, and it's really interesting and powerful experience.
Le Monde Vivant (France/Belgium, 2003)
Extremely minimalistic arthouse film with the budget of regular student work. The surrealistic fairytale story about knights and children-eating troll and his wives, was created without visual effects whatsoever, just with dialog and atmospheric images of the nature. To call this film "special" is really not to say a thing, it's completely outside of any current forms of filmmaking. It's short but not too slow, so it's not tiresome and not stretching the limits of patience, and it's smart and philosophical, so it has something to say and make you think. Very unique artistic creation.
Accion Mutante (Spain/France, 1993)
Wild and anarchistic tour de force by cult Spanish director Alex de la Iglesia in his first full length film. Great start followed by absolutely brilliant second half immediately takes this joyful ride into my most favorite movies ever list.
Gang of misfits and mutants in dystopian future kidnap the daughter of important government figure right from her wedding, heading to the distant mining planet with no women on it, to exchange her for a ransom. On the way many unfortunate and equally funny things happen to them and to people they meet, with appropriate levels of violence and black humor, as suitable for such kind of a world.
Pure joy of a film, that now I must have and watch it again and again.
Haeundae (South Korea, 2009)
Greatly disappointing disaster flick. Good premise and long introduction of the characters and their stories makes it look like this film will be actually worth something, but then comes the actual Tsunami and sweeps away all positive things, that were built just before that. Suddenly nice and occasionally humorous dramatic story turns into complete disaster, with long close-ups on crying and screaming faces and with people yelling each others names with desperate physical gestures in slow motion.
People that trying to survive in extremely dangerous situation are not that kind and heroic, at least all that doesn't look so good on the screen. Despite some nice special effects and few good moments this film is complete waste of time.
Whatever Works (USA, 2009)
Funny and intellectual comedy, extremely exaggerated in its sarcastic approach and might seem as misanthropic and hateful toward people, but actually it's very sweet and romantic story about different people seeking simple acceptance and happiness in their lives.
Woody Allen's originally written script from 70's is ten times better than anything he wrote in the last 20 years. Larry David brings his personal cynicism, perfectly combined with Allen's intellectualism, and backed up by great supporting acting ensemble, Whatever Works stirs up and brings back the memories from the classic films of the old filmmaker, making this film his best work in many years.
This is one of these films that will be always pleasant to watch every time.
Antichrist (Denmark, 2009)
If you are looking for linear storytelling with clear cause and effect structured plot and, figuratively speaking, horizontal movement through space and time, then forget it. This is not such movie at all.
Lars von Trier, probably one of the last filmmakers in the world not to bother himself with common movie forms, has more vertical approach, where he goes into the depth of his idea, exploring it level by level, step by step, using metaphors and symbolism created in his sick mind.
Any attempt to apprehend the meaning of his ideas, any attempt to understand the invisible and illusive cognitive connections between his images, to create some kind of an order in this visual chaos, will result in total disorientation.
Nevertheless, I've managed to find in this movie very strong central thought, among many others so wildly intertwined one with another, which is strange interpretation of the Oedipal complex, that differ from the original meaning in psychology studies. But all the elements of it are there, only applied differently and with different consequences.
Anyway, the watching experience is hypnotizing, although incredibly boring as well. But the effects of this film can be only understood once the film is over, when the brain received the whole information and now can treat and interpret it, when pieces of the idea are no longer scattered in random points in time, like during the film, but gathered together in single point. Only then the puzzle is seen as complete picture and only then the first signs of the impact affecting the mind, each person with his own effect.
Von Trier was always great manipulator, but here he surpasses even himself.
Zombieland (USA, 2009)
Not as good as I wanted it to be, and despite great start, awesome finish and one brilliant Bill Murray, most of the film is pretty dull and not interesting at all. Even zombies are lacking menacing presence and just there as another props. Not enough jokes, not enough action, not enough story.
Moon (USA, 2009)
Calm and quiet, interesting and even tragic story about loneliness in space, strength of hope and about breaking the boundaries of human psyche. Didn't know what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised. Small independent sci-fi with great script, top acting and beautifully filmed. Just shows how independent filmmakers deeply care about what they do.
Un Prophete (France, 2009)
No metaphors, hidden meanings, philosophical discussions about human nature or moral preaching. This is simple, yet completely captivating and breathtaking crime drama about young and clueless man in prison, his way of surviving and learning the ways of life. Two and a half hours of this film fly by like nothing.
Directed by French outstanding director Jacques Audiard, who is using his special cinematography style here as well, sort of subjective camera point of view, this film feels unusual and unique on so many levels. European filmmaking at its best.