Film Reviews 6: “Avatar”, “Up in the Air”, “Saved by the Bell: Wedding in Las Vegas” and 10 others

choke sam rockwell

This season: ‘A Serious Man’, ‘Avatar 3D’, ‘Awaken the Dead’, ‘Bottle Rocket’, ‘The Cake Eaters’, ‘Choke’ (pictured above), ‘Ghost Town’, ‘Grosse Point Blank’, ‘Kissing Jessica Stein’, ‘Saved!’, ‘Saved by the Bell: Wedding in Las Vegas’, ‘Thank You for Smoking’ and ‘Up in the Air’.

This edition: the average rating is 5.8/10, with the choice film being “Saved!”.

A Serious Man
(2009) – 7.5/10

Directors/Writers: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Starring: Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed

a serious man coen brothers Michael Stuhlbarg

An engrossing film set in 1967, the same year Nicole Kidman was born, yet, surprisingly, her name isn’t mentioned twice or thrice. Or once.

Avatar 3D
(the future) – 3D/10

Director/Writer: James Cameron
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver

avatar 3d james cameron

The person I saw it with in the cinema couldn’t stop laughing at the bad dialogue, and there was a lot of bad dialogue in a film that was 110% visuals (10% more than the usual film). I think I expected more from the dialogue, especially as I was expecting it to be more layered because of the 3D element, but the conversations were mostly shallow or trite comments with the word ‘yeah’ added after it, yeah. The plot for this film, if you haven’t heard of it, is quite similar to the making of the film. A big, crass group of American film makers try to take over some land belonging to smaller, indie filmmakers, and it ends with Oscars for James Cameron. Except it didn’t.

Awaken the Dead
(2007) – 1/10

Director/Writer: Jeff Brookshire
Starring: Gary Kohn, Lindsey Morris, Nate Witty

the rolling stones

A terrible, terrible, terrible zombie film that would be more enjoyable to live, rather than to watch, if it wasn’t for the following line: “You’re a bad priest – you sleep with women and go on killing sprees.”

Bottle Rocket
(1996) – 5/10

Director: Wes Anderson
Writers: Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson
Starring: Luke Wilson, OWen Wilson, Robert Musgrove, James Caan

bottle rocket wes anderson owen wilson

Before Rushmore, Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson weren’t so great. Unfortunately, they documented this evidence, which I bought on DVD and regretted immediately. Well, not immediately; just after I finished watching the film.

The Cake Eaters
(2007) – 3.5/10

Director: Mary Stuart Masterson
Writer: Jayce Bartok
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Aaron Stanford, Jayce Bartok, Bruce Dern, Elizabeth Ashley

the cake eaters kristen stewart

This film was so bland I can’t even remember the plot.

(2008) – 7/10

Director: Clark Gregg
Writers: Clark Gregg, Chuck Palahniuk (novel)
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Anjelica Huston, Kelly Macdonald

choke gillian jacobs

If it’s as good as one of my friends said it is, so I probably made a mistake watching the film before reading the book.

Ghost Town
(2008) – 5/10

Director: David Koepp
Writers: David Koepp, John Kamps
Starring: Ricky Gervais, Téa Leoni, Greg Kinnear, Billy Campbell, Kristen Wiig

ghost town ricky gervais

Funnier than you think, but not funnier than your brain is capable of thinking. Yes, I’m implying you could do better.

Grosse Point Blank
(1997) – 7/10

Director: George Armitage
Writers: Tom Jankiewicz , D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink, John Cusack
Starring: John Cusack, Minnie Driver

grosse point blank john cusack

John Cusack once again proves his reputation as a man born to play a serial killer. Minnie Driver is the love interest and is, remarkably, one of the few people not to die in the film. Does anyone else not like her?

Kissing Jessica Stein
(2001) – 6/10

Director: Charles Herman-Wurmfeld
Writers: Jennifer Westfeldt, Heather Juergensen
Starring: Jennifer Westfeldt, Heather Juergensen

kissing jessica Westfeldt Heather Juergensen

The title gives away a big plot twist. If you don’t like spoilers, don’t read the title! (They split up at the end.)

(2004) – 8.5/10

Director: Brian Dannelly
Writers: Brian Dannelly, Michael Urban
Starring: Jena Malone, Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin, Eva Amurri, Patrick Fugit

saved macaulay culkin jena malone

Any film that features Jena Malone (the thinking man’s Evan Rachel Wood), Macaulay Culkin (the thinking man’s Aaron Carter) can’t go too wrong. The plot revolves around the use of Christianity in social groups, and satirises closed attitudes towards homosexuality and teen pregnancy. Although any subversive manifesto the film might have been hoping to promote is ruined by a corny, sentimental third act, it’s still hilarious. There are many funny moments, made even better by the presence of Culkin – seeing the kid from Home Alone being sleazy is always funny.

Saved by the Bell: Wedding in Las Vegas
(1994) – 4/10

Directors: Don Barnhart, Jeffrey Melman
Writers: Mark Fink, Bennett Tramer
Starring: Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Tiffani Amber Thiessen

saved by the bell

There is no opening animated sequence or bedroom monologue. It begins with a bizarre war fantasy sequence, that turns out to be Zach, Slater and Screech to be playing paintballing. You know immediately this isn’t going to be a normal episode of Saved by the Bell. Obviously not – this is a film. In the second minute, Zach says: “I’ve dated every woman on the planet. There’s only one who I’ve ever loved. Kelly.” Zach is only nineteen years old.

The main problem is that the film is too far removed from the television series. Crucially, there aren’t enough jokes. It’s not like a normal episode with the laughter track removed, but the rhythm is ruined by a lack of jokes. Screech doesn’t change too much, but Zach is no longer the self-referential one-liner machine, never breaking the fourth wall, and acts like a character from One Tree Creek. In Zach’s house, the family dispute over his forthcoming wedding to Kelly Kapowski is neither funny nor realistic.

You expect better from the writers of Saved by the Bell. The haircuts are weird, too – what was Kelly’s hairdresser thinking? You wonder how much effort was made over continuity, especially when you realise that they’ve changed Zach’s bedroom. Not only is it completely different, it’s too blue; the bed doesn’t have his trademark patterned blanket, but the window is blocked off with a desk holding a computer, thus not allowing anyone to climb in and out through the window which ruins the plots of several Saved by the Bell episodes.

Thank You for Smoking
(2005) – 7/10

Director: Jason Reitman
Writers: Jason Reitman, Christopher Buckley
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Maria Bello, Cameron Bright, Adam Brody

thank you for smokin jason reitman aaron eckhart

Thank You for Smoking is a bit like smoking. People told me it wouldn’t be particularly good for my health, I wouldn’t enjoy it at first but would later get into it, and I certainly felt cooler watching it.

Up in the Air
(2008) – 8/10

Director: Jason Reitman
Writers: Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner, Walter Kirn
Starring: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick

up in the air anna kendrick jason bateman jason reitman

His character’s job is to fly around the world and fire people for various bosses, living a lonely life on the way. I guess it’s not nice to be borrowed by different companies, but there are worse things in life than being a loan.

Follow @halfacanyon for more. Unfollow @halfacanyon for less.

About Nick Chen

26-year-old journalist who's written for places like Total Film, Sight & Sound, Little White Lies, Complex, SFX Magazine, Dazed and Confused, Grolsch Film Works, London Calling, Vice, and a bunch of other places. Why pencils have razors. Based on a book. Screenwriter. Buzz word. London. Twitter: @halfacanyon. Lesser known Olsen brother. Multiple instances of words misused contemporaneously.
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