Monday, March 1, 2010

DVD Reviews - The Final Cut, Couples Retreat, Cold Souls, The Informant

The Final Cut - ***1/2

Starring:  Robin Williams, John Caviezel, Mira Sorvino

Review:  This came highly recommended by a good friend and I can definitively say I was not disappointed.  This movie takes an extremely original premise and executes it very well.

The movie centers around the Robin Williams character who is a "cutter."  What is a "cutter?"  Well in this near future society a company has developed something called the "Zoe implant."  This implant is inserted into the brain of a baby whilst still in it's mothers womb.  The implant serves to record every single image someone sees in their lifetime.  It is the cutter's responsibility to take all of these images and turn them into a movie of this person's life that usually runs less than 2 hours.  The cutter will take requests from family members that want certain events in the movie.

Now this obviously presents an issue because there are many things people say and do in their private lives that don't show up in their "public" lives that cutter's would then have access to see.  Every nitty, gritty, disgusting detail of any deplorable act anybody has ever done is there to be seen.  This is why it is necessary for there to be a "Cutter's Code" which basically says that cutters are not allowed to discuss or publicize anything they see about a person's life.  Think of it as the ultimate attorney-client privilege relationship.  This brings up an interesting scenario, imagine if there was a horrendous murder in which the killer was never caught, and the cutter learns one of their newest clients was the killer.  Wouldn't it be the responsibility of the cutter to make this known?  Wouldn't it be better to give a sense of closure to the whole thing?  But that is an aside.

The movie really takes off when Robin Williams' character gets a new assignment.  This assignment was originally given to a different female cutter; however, she was not able to stomach completing the task.  Unable to do so, she turns the project over to Robin Willams (his character's name escapes me at the moment) to finish it up.  Turns out this project is for the Zoe implant company's lawyer, who as it turns out, may have a thing or two to hide.  There are people who are against the Zoe implant, led by ex-cutter Jim Caviezel, who would like to expose these secrets in an attempt to destroy the corporation and thereby destroy the Zoe implant.

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie.  The plot was one of the most original I have seen in a long time and it is quite amazing I hadn't heard about this movie until my friend mentioned it to me.  This future as presented is about as realistic as I would imagine if there were a Zoe implant invented.  Some people would love it and embrace it while others would be horribly against it stating that peoples memories are theirs and theirs alone.  These people would also contend that memories take on a life of them own and often if you look back, the memory is not quite what you thought it was.  There is even a scene that details this scenario in the movie.

Everyone involved gives great performances.  Robin Williams gives a phenomenal performance and between movies like this and "Worlds Greatest Dad" it is amazing Williams isnt revered more for his talent.  His role is understated and played to perfection.  His character Alan is haunted by memories of his own past and is constantly at conflict with his memories and the fact that he organizes other peoples memories into a neat little box so everyone can only remember the good parts of their lives.  All this is done, but most people are equally haunted by their bad memories just as they are comforted by their good ones.  Alan has a bad memory of his own that haunts him and this is where his struggle is most apparent.  His internal struggle is on display to a great extent throughout the whole movie.  Mira Sorvino and Jim Caviezel both play great supporting roles as well.

As aforementioned this movie was very original and it was written and directed very well.  The only problem I had was with the ending.  It seemed to end to abruptly and left a few loose ends that I feel could have been tied up.  However, this is a minor gripe compared to the rest of the movie which was very enjoyable and definitely worth your time.

Couples Retreat - **

Starring:  Vince Vaughn, Malin Ackerman, Jason Bateman, Kristen Bell, Jon Favreau, Marcia Cross

Review:  I will have to be honest, I didn't really expect much from this and I didn't get much in return.  Really, I was just bored and decided to rent this movie.  There are a few good laughs in this movie but nothing really all that worth mentioning.  There are also very few memorable quotes which is very rare for a Vince Vaughn movie.  This made me realize that perhaps Vince Vaughn's dry, sarcastic humor is growing old and this may signal the end of his considerable run.  Don't get me wrong, I am a huge Vince Vaughn fan and think he is hilarious, but when he plays the same character in every movie, it can only last for so long before it's not quite that funny anymore.

The movie takes a decent premise of 4 couples going to a beautiful island for fun in the sun and some couples therapy on the side.  It turns out to be the other way around once they arrive as the resort's employees keep them on a strict schedule of couples events.  Naturally, each couple discovers problems they didn't know they had while talking about the ones they did know about.  This leads to the inevitable point where all the couples find themselves all doubting their relationships and at a point where they are all ready to break up.  Ultimately, they all get back together, even the ones we thought wouldn't, and everyone lives happily ever after.  There is very little character development to go along with this predictable story.  There is also very little that makes you care about any of the characters in this movie.  All in all, I should have waited until this was on cable.  A slight diversion but nothing more.  Not really worth your time.

Cold Souls - ***

Starring:  Paul Giamatti, David Straitharn, Dina Korzun, Emily Watson

Review:  This is a movie that I thought was intriguing the first I saw of it.  I saw a trailer a while back and thought it looked worth checking out, and didn't get around to it until now.  This movie is supposed to be a dark comedy and I can see where that comes from.  The main character, Paul Giamatti, is a tortured soul who is battling with the role he is playing in his most recent play 'Uncle Vanya.'  Paul is finding the weight of the character extremely heavy and it is affecting his life away from the stage.  When he thinks he has finally reached his breaking point he reads about a new fad of "soul storage."  "Is your soul weighing you down?" the add questions.  Paul begins to think perhaps this is his answer to change something that will allow him to do the play and still remain normal in his every day life.

Paul decides to take the plunge and have his soul extracted and placed in storage for the duration of the play. However, Paul quickly learns that living "soul-less" is not all it's cracked up to be.  He is finding it hard to have feelings or generally care about anything.  Paul decides he wants to have his soul back, only problem is, his soul was stolen and sold on the black market.  The rest of the movie involves Paul's search to get his soul back.

The crux of this movie rests on Paul Giamatti's performance, which he nails in my opinion.  I cannot imagine what living life without a soul would be like, but I imagine it would be very similar to what he portrays in this movie.  You keep on going living your normal life, but there just always seems to be something missing.  Nothing quite feels right and there is a certain emptiness that comes with having no soul.  Even his ability to act suffers, which was the whole reason he had his soul extracted in the first place.

I especially liked the approach the movie decided to take towards the soul storage.  It was not something revolutionary and crazy and a huge deal, it was just something that was discovered and a very matter-of-fact approach was taken.  This is just an option people have and something people do now, like a new age oxygen bar or something.  Ultimately, the movie didn't quite feel complete as it was small in scope, but Giamatti's performance and the originality of story are enough to make it worth your time.

The Informant - ***

Starring:  Matt Damon, Scot Bakula

Review:  This movie turned out to be not quite what I expected.  I expected a comedy with some possible serious elements about a very noble person who decided to take down a company that was unethical in it's practices.  What I got was similar, but not exactly what I was expecting.

The movie centers around Mark Witaker, a bio-chemist for the mega-corporation ADM that was dragged into the business side of the company so he could learn more and grow with the company.  His problem at the start of the movie is the new product he has been working on is not working as planned and it is costing the company money.  Mark decides to make up a lie about a corporate spy in order to get himself out of hot water.  Once that happens, the FBI gets involved and Mark takes this opportunity to inform the FBI about the price fixing that has been going on at ADM for years.

Whitaker promptly volunteers for this and what ensues is a somewhat comical retelling of his assistance of the the FBI in getting the information needed to take down ADM.  Whitaker wears a wire and narrates even the most mundane tasks and details the who even the most insignificant people are in this story.  This is all done with the actual narration of Whitaker as he is telling the story of what he did.  This gives us insight into this character and what motivates.  He talks about how overpaid people are, about his preference for indoor swimming pools, even where he can get the best deal on 2-for-1 tie specials to wear to work.  All these thoughts come in times of very serious issues arising around this man.  This lets us see how superficial he can be and how much he can get caught up in his own little world.  Whitaker has the ability to justify any situation in his own mind for he never really steps out of his own little world.  This leads to problems that end up getting his self in more trouble than the people he is trying to take down.

The movie keeps a lighthearted feel to it because you feel the main character thinks of this nothing more than a game.  He even jokes about how he is "agent 0014" because he is twice as good as 007.  He never quite realizes the gravity of the situation he is dealing with and it only goes to make his situation more depressing.  Whitaker slips ever deeper into his own world where all his actions seemingly have no consequences and he is the good guy, the one wearing the "white hat" and everyone else is bad, wrong, evil.  He truly believes this and it is ultimately what is his undoing.

All in all, the movie is very entertaining and provides great insight into one of the biggest scandals in American history.  Not to mention the writing is crisp and Matt Damon's performance is great as is Scot Bakula's in a supporting role.  Ultimately, worth your time.

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