Saturday, August 30, 2008

Where in the World is Osama bin Laden? - DVD Review

WHERE IN THE WORLD IS OSAMA BIN LADEN? (***1/2) - Starring Morgan Spurlock.
Written & directed by Morgan Spurlock.

The War on Terror for Dummies. Cliff Notes of the Middle East for the junior high students across America. Fine with me.

Spurlock is like Michael Moore without the one-sidedness. He had his first hit with Super-Size Me, and his FX show 30 Days has decent ratings. He's a red-state guy who can just turn on a camera and see where it takes him. He also can't resist side theatrics. I would have liked to see less cartoon graphics to make his point and more of him talking to people on camera.

Ignoring the contrived set-up and silliness of showing Spurlock vs. Osama in a Tekken-type video game, the movie really begins once Spurlock touches down on foreign. We see him interview people in Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In other words, some of the scariest places in the world for an American to travel. I'm a bit surprised he couldn't make it to Iran.

The running theme with most of the countries is that the people there like the American people but hate the American government, and while many are mad at Osama bin Laden, many are more upset with the sloppy, violent reaction and overreach of the U.S. One Palestinian man made a good point when he said one fifth of the world is Muslim; we can't afford to have the other four-fifths hate us and afraid we want to kill them all. Spurlock also interviews a Muslim shiek who preached they will fill graveyards with Christians and he's looking forward to the day that all Muslims unite and declare war on all the Christians and Jews of the world.

I also found it interesting how the Palestinians were pretty cordial with him whereas in Israel the people there got violent, gathered a mob, shoving him and his crew to where they needed a police escort to get out of there. I feared for his safety, as I'm sure he did.

In the end *spoiler alert*, he doesn't find bin Laden. He gets to a sign in Pakistan where in big red letters it says "No Foreigners Allowed Past This Point." In a region where the Taliban is still thriving, he knew his chance of getting kidnapped or killed would increase dramatically if he crossed that point. And he has a pregnant wife at home.

So even if bin Laden is captured or killed, the movie makes a decent case that it really wouldn't change much. The U.S. government is still seen as evil in sizable chunks of the world. Whether it's Obama-Biden or McCain-Palin in November, they have their work cut out for them.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Prom Night - DVD Review

PROM NIGHT (*1/2) - Starring Brittany Snow, Jonathan Schaech, Scott Porter, Dana Davis, Idris Elba, Jessica Stroup, Mary Mara and Ming Wen.
Written by J.S. Cardone.
Directed by Nelson McCormick.

This is a slasher film written by and for 12-year-olds. Oh, says here that the writer's older than 12, as is the director. Hm. Well, then, that blows that theory. I would say it's for youngsters who've never seen a slasher movie before; maybe it will scare them. Then again the first slasher movie I ever saw was Friday the 13th Part IV when I was 11 or 12, and I found it fascinatingly unscary. So who is this for? 9-year-olds? Do we really want the 9-year-olds of the world watching slasher movies? Of course, to keep it in PG-13 bounds, there's not much blood, and the kids get killed before they can pair off to have sex, so the exploitation factor's gone... Man, what is the point to this movie?

I guess it's to give decent TV actors supporting roles. There's ER vet Ming Wen as a psychiatrist. There's The Wire vet Idris Elba as the incompetant police officer hunting down the killer. (Only when the movie hits the 70-minute mark does he suddenly become good at his job.) No, that would be a benevolent reason. It's about marketing. They knew they could put together a good trailer and get a decent opening weekend, and horror films tend to live longer than any other genre on DVD and cable. I don't know how much care was put into making it an actual good movie.

Brittany Snow, the snob from Hairspray, is our heroine, and she's good at jumping and screaming at something suddenly startling her from behind, be it obtuse friends just tapping her shoulder, or a lampshade she backed into. Yes, one of our jump-scares is committed by a lampshade.

Some of these kids are terrible at running from the killer, in traditional Friday the 13th fashion. Tripping over tiny objects, running while looking backward so the killer can suddenly be in front of them.

Our killer is not a masked man. It's Jonathan Schaech. We see his face plenty during the beginning, middle and end. He's a former teacher who became obsessed with a student and wound up killing her family to get her for himself. He escaped his mental institution and he's hunted down our heroine to her prom night. Why does he start killing her friends? I don't know. Because he doesn't want her to have friends?

I never saw the original, and I really don't think that would affect what I thought about this.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Street Kings - DVD Review

STREET KINGS (**) - Starring Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker, Hugh Laurie, Chris Evans, Cedric the Entertainer, Jay Mohr, Terry Crews, Naomie Harris, Common, The Game, Martha Hirageda, Amaury Molasco and John Corbett.
Written by James Ellroy & Kurt Wimmer & Jamie Moss.
Directed by David Ayer.

There are some things Keanu Reeves is really good at, but there are other things where he is not. He is not good at Shakespeare, and he is not good at playing a dirty cop.

He plays Ludlow, a cop who shoots first and asks questions later. He's Dirty Harry. But he's Keanu Reeves, so how dirty can Harry be? This is a Mark Wahlberg type role.

He actually isn't my main problem. He's my second problem, but my main problem is that the writers couldn't see how predictable their story was. James Ellroy was the guy behind L.A. Confidential. Then again, co-writer Kurt Wimmer was the guy behind Ultraviolet, so when two very different worlds collide, you get something like this. In the middle. It actually reminded me a lot of Dark Blue, anotehr corrupt-cop movie, and James Ellroy wrote the story and David Ayer wrote the screenplay for that. So there it is.

I knew exactly where this movie was going ten minutes into it, and when that happens, I have to suspend my disbelief that none of the characters on screen can figure it out either. It was a bit strange to see all these comedians (Cedric, Jay Mohr, Terry Crews, etc.) in serious roles too.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Tropic Thunder - Movie Review

TROPIC THUNDER (***1/4) - Starring Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black, Nick Nolte, Steve Coogan, Jay Baruchel, Brandon T. Jackson, Danny McBride, Bill Hader, Reggie Lee, Matthew McConaughey and Tom Cruise.
Directed by Ben Stiller.

Movies that are too inside-Hollywood don't tend to do well. This movie is about pampered actors making a movie who stumble upon the real thing, and it skewers everything from Method to Academy politics to agents to studios to Vietnam flicks.

The movie starts out on four great funny notes. First we get a fauz ad for Booty Sweat, an energy drink pimped by the rapper Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson). Next we get a preview for Scorcher VI, from fading action star Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller). Next we get a preview for The Fatties: Fart 2, starring Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) in a bunch of fat suits as all the roles. Next is a preview for Satan's Alley, about the forbidden love between two monks in medieval times, starring 5-time Academy Award winner Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.) and MTV Movie Award winner Tobey Maguire.

And then the fun begins. Speedman's an actor seeking credibility, but coming off a widely-panned Oscar-bait movie where he plays a mentally handicapped man, he could use a hit. Portnoy's a heroin addict. Lazarus is the type of Method actor who refuses to break character when the cameras aren't rolling, and he's playing an African-American soldier with Fred Williamson's hair and sideburns. Alpa Chino, an actual African-American, keeps getting annoyed at Lazarus's constant 1970's ghetto-speak. The fifth soldier is the troop is Kevin Sudansky (Jay Baruchel), a young actor in his first real movie, the only one without a vainglorious ego, the only one who sent to boot camp before they started shooting, the only one who's actually read the whole script.

Not everything about the movie works, but each actor gets their moment, and not just the five, but Nolte, Coogan, McConaughey (as an ego-feeding agent), and Cruise (as a megalomaniacal studio head). In fact seeing Cruise do comedy made me hope the long-gestating Hardy Men project between him and Stiller happens.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

21 - DVD Review

21 (***) - Starring Jim Sturgess, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, Laurence Fishburne, Aaron Yoo, Liza Lapira, Jacob Pitts and Josh Gad.
Directed by Robert Luketic.

There's something to be said for a cards movie, when blackjack is one of the most boring games to watch, and yet this is better than any poker movie that's come out the past few years. (Rounders was 1997; this is no Rounders). If only this movie about smart people had been smarter.

For instance, why do they keep going to the same casinos? You'd think with all the casinos in Vegas they'd hit a different one each week. Why do they not mix up their signals, make it harder for pit bosses to put 2 and 2 together? And why would certain characters fall for what they do in the third act?

No matter. It's a glossy ride, watching Jake (Across the Universe's Jim Sturgess) being pulled into the world of card-counting, where they're able to rake in six digits each weekend as they otherwise innocently live a normal MIT college life.

So if they'd been more creative with the third act, this could have been something special. As is, it's a decent entertainment. It made me want to read more into how much of it was true and how Vegas is countering card-counters.

Sidenote: This is the third movie that Kevin Spacey and Kate Bosworth have done together, the first two being Beyond the Sea and Superman Returns.

Big Brother 10 - A Comedy Classic

Tuesday night's episode featured probably the most painfully funny episode in the entire series' history. It would make Ricky Gervais proud.

For those not watching, the alliances have been made. You have Jesse, Memphis and Michelle, the Dwindling Team, as they've lost power two weeks in a row, they lost Angie last week, and this week they will lose either Jesse or Memphis. You have Power Team, made up of Keesha, Libra, April & Ollie, where April is Head of Household and was the one who put Jesse & Memphis up for eviction. Then you have the Floaters, Dan, Jerry & Renny.

This was the day of the Veto competition. Those competing were April, Libra, Jerry, Jesse, Memphis and Michelle. April and her team were discussing the competition, and April was dismissive of Libra, saying she felt like it was all on her. Libra left, offended, and Keesha went after her, and they vented about April. Jesse overheard and told April.

Big giant screaming match throughout the house.

Did I mention it's Keesha's birthday? They had a cake ready for her, and those not in the argument were just trying to gather everyone together to sing "Happy Birthday." Lots of walking back and forth and screaming with Libra, April, Keesha and Jesse. And then awkward silence. And then an unenthused house rendition of "Happy Birthday" that sounds like a broken accordion. More awkward silence, with Keesha giving a strained smile, clearly getting the sardonic nature of the moment. And then back to screaming.


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Bonneville - DVD Review

BONNEVILLE (***) - Starring Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Joan Allen, Tom Skerritt, Christine Baranski, Victor Rasuk and Tom Wopat. Directed by Christopher Rowley.

The story's kinda boring on its own, but this is an example of casting breathing life into a movie. A widow has her two friends join her on a road trip from Idaho to California to deliver her late husband's ashes to her snooty stepdaughter. The three talented actresses get to shine in roles they don't often get (what has Joan Allen really been able to do lately besides chase Jason Bourne?) So if it had been three mid-level actresses, this would have been Lifetime Channel treacle. I believe these three ladies have nine nominations and two Academy Awards among them, which makes for a pleasant road trip.