Lars Lindstrom (Ryan Gosling) doesn't like to call attention to himself. He flies under the radar of his small town only leaving his garage apartment to go to church and work. He's not much of a conversationalist in general and talking to women--even sweet co-worker Margo (Kelli Garner)--leaves him utterly tongue-tied. Until the advent of Bianca that is. Long-limbed silken-haired and angelically selfless Bianca is also a mail-order sex doll. But to Lars she's the living breathing embodiment of his feminine ideal. After local doctor Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson) pronounces Lars delusional and advises his brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and pregnant sister-in-law Karin (Emily Mortimer) to humor him until he works through whatever issues have prompted his break from reality the whole town gets on board accepting Bianca as one of their own to help make Lars happy. Gosling--who's earned a reputation as one of the best actors of his generation in films as diverse as The Notebook and Half Nelson--continues his streak of impressive performances in Lars. Tremulous tentative and tenderhearted Gosling ensures that Lars is never ridiculous...which isn't an easy feat when you're having imaginary conversations with an inanimate latex mannequin. You can see why everyone wants to help/humor him; crushing Lars' happiness would be like swatting a scared puppy with a newspaper. But Lars isn't the only character in the movie; he's surrounded by several excellent "real girls." Clarkson is both confident and vulnerable as Dagmar offering Lars the infinite patience and understanding he needs; Mortimer is earnest and funny as Karin; and Garner is charmingly authentic (and impressively understanding) as ever-hopeful Margo. It would be all too easy for a movie like Lars and the Real Girl to fall victim to its own quirkiness. But director Craig Gillespie--in his feature-film debut--keeps things just grounded enough to be believable. Somehow you buy the fact that the townspeople would not only accept but embrace Bianca. A lot of that is thanks to the talented cast and writer Nancy Oliver's script which balances moments of silly humor and absurdity with scenes of heartfelt drama (her time as a scribe on Six Feet Under probably helped in that regard). But Gillespie deserves credit too. Like its hero Lars isn't perfect--it feels a bit long and the central concept may be just a little too off-beat for some--but it has a good heart and means well and you'll want to stick around to see how it turns out.
Once respected NYPD detective Jack Mosley (Bruce Willis) is now pretty much on his last legs literally and figuratively. He drinks is relegated to a desk job and walks with a limp. One morning after a long shift he’s corralled into transporting a petty criminal Eddie Bunker (Mos Def) to the courthouse 16 blocks away so he can testify by 10:00 a.m. What Jack doesn’t know is that Eddie is one of the key witnesses in a case against crooked cops--that is until the two start getting shot at. Then it becomes crystal clear. The main bad guy Jack’s former partner Frank (David Morse) basically lets Jack know Eddie will never testify to just go ahead and hand him over but Frank underestimates Jack’s desire to finally do something good. So Jack and Eddie fight their way to the courthouse block by gut-wrenching block. Oh no there’s nothing formulaic about 16 Blocks not at all. In a film as predictable as this the only thing that’ll make it stand out is the performances. 16 Blocks nearly succeeds--but not quite. It would seem Willis is playing a character he’s played a hundred times before--the misunderstood and slightly unorthodox cop with a heart of gold. But as Jack the actor does a nice job trying out some new things namely playing fat bald and grizzled. You can almost smell how bad Jack’s breath has to be. Rapper/actor Mos Def who usually brightens any film he’s in also tries his hand at something different but his choices aren’t as smart. As the talkative and affable Eddie Mos comes up with one of the more annoying nasally accents ever recorded. After about five minutes of screen time you desperately want him to stop and say “Just kidding! I don’t really talk like this.” But he doesn’t. It’s too bad something like an accent can ruin an otherwise decent performance. Old-school director Richard Donner best known for his Lethal Weapons is a consummate professional when it comes to making these kind of movies. In other words he pretty much paints by numbers. We watch Jack and Eddie get out of one tight situation after another as the gaggle of bad cops try to gun them down. I mean 16 blocks doesn’t seem that far to go so they better throw in as many highly implausible obstacles as they can. Chinese laundries alleyways rooftops subways. And yes even a city bus which the pair--who have by now bonded big time--has to hijack. Donner also employs a popular but nonetheless annoying technique of zooming in when the action heats up so you can’t really see what’s going on. Even if you’re addicted to action movies--a Bruce Willis action movie no less--16 Blocks just doesn’t deliver the goods.
Ana (Sarah Polley) a hard-working nurse living in a picturesque Wisconsin suburb wakes up early one morning to find a little blonde neighborhood girl chomping on Ana's husband's jugular. She makes a quick getaway only to find her pruned-lawn universe in complete disarray: Houses are on fire cars are careening out of control and people are literally running for their lives--and that's before the title art even appears. It turns out a mysterious plague is transforming people into zombies with an insatiable appetite for living human tissue. Now on the run Ana joins up with other survivors including tough cop Kenneth (Ving Rhames) good guy Michael (Jake Weber) street-smart Andre (Mekhi Phifer) and his very pregnant wife Luda (Inna Korobkina) and decide the Crossroads Mall would be a good sanctuary. After convincing three security guards to let them into their safe haven the group bands together to defend the mall against the growing army of zombies pawing at the glass doors. But while the mall with its stores packed with food clothing TVs and radios serves as an ideal refuge the group realizes that no one is coming to rescue them and their only chance of survival is to plot their own escape. But their getaway is squelched when some of those still living barricaded inside the mall begin to show signs of infection including the expectant Luda.
Drawing a skilled cast to a horror film--a genre that's not taken very seriously--is always a good move because it gives it a certain credibility. Dawn of the Dead's lineup which includes Polley Rhames Weber and Phifer offer up likeable characters despite the lack of character development. As the bleeding-heart nurse Polley (My Life Without Me) is clearly the heroine here: Not only does she care for everyone's medical needs but she is also the film's biggest risk taker diving nose-first into dangerous situations for the group's sake. Her character Ana is a nice balance to Rhames' badass cop Kenneth whose decisions are grounded and never clouded by emotion. Other dueling characters include Weber's (Wendigo) Michael the group's strategic leader and militant security guard CJ played by Michael Kelly (Unbreakable). The cast plays off each other nicely; it's just a shame that they are emotionally disconnected. For example although Phifer is persuasive as the doting father-to-be it's difficult to sympathize with Andre's gut wrenching predicament with his pregnant zombie wife because their bond was never established. Look for actors from the original film in cameo appearances including makeup artist Tom Savini (also a biker in the original) as the sheriff; Scott Reiniger (Roger) as the general; and Ken Foree (Peter) as the televangelist.
Dawn of the Dead marks Zack Snyder's directorial debut--and what a project he chose. Snyder however fittingly resurrects the undead created by Romero 24 years ago into much more menacing zombies for modern-day horror-savvy audiences: They are lightning-fast have shark-like radar for human flesh and demonstrate pack mentality. Of course the film's look is a lot slicker that its predecessor minus a few action sequences involving the zombie hordes that almost appear to have been shot on digital video. Snyder for example was careful not to make the film too CGI-laden and instead relied on special effects makeup designer David Anderson (Men in Black Nutty Professor II: The Klumps) to make the zombies extremely gross lifelike and menacing. But in focusing on creating this fear-provoking look the film loses some of the subtle humor that distinguished the 1978 production from the average horror pic. Remember the scene in the original film that has the zombies robotically trying to walk up the down escalator? Romero had a way of laughing at the film's own absurdity without demeaning it; Snyder's humor here is less sophisticated and instead relies on screenwriter James Gunn's dialogue. But this modern Dawn of the Dead is still a thrilling moviegoing experience with tons of scares to be had.