Friday, May 29, 2009

Fanboys - DVD Review

FANBOYS (**) - Starring Jay Baruchel, Dan Fogler, Sam Huntington, Kristen Bell, Christopher Marquette, Seth Rogen, Ethan Suplee, Danny McBride, Chris McDonald, Craig Robinson, Will Forte, Billy Dee Williams and William Shatner.
Directed by Kyle Newman.

This movie should have come out about two years ago, and it would have been a mild success, but the very ubergeeks this was aimed at protested the movie when it was leaked that a cancer subplot had been edited out. So the Weinsteins did with it what they have done with dozens of movies over the years: sat on it, dumped it, and then made it an exclusive rental from Blockbuster.

It's about three guys in 1998 who decide to take their fourth friend, dying of cancer, to Skywalker Ranch, to break in and watch Star Wars Episode I before anyone else. (Fifth friend is token female Kristen Bell.) Now the original complaint was that the Weinsteins wanted to edit out the cancer subplot. I think that would have been tricky, and it would've greatly reduced Chris Marquette's screen time, but I don't really know how that edit would've worked. This edit, cancer plot in check, still isn't as funny as it should have been.

There are plenty of fanboy-friendly cameos, from Carrie Fisher to Billy Dee Williams to William Shatner to Ray Park to a few other surprises. (Mark Hamill too busy?) Seth Rogen is most amusing in two roles, as a horribly-toothed Trekkie, and as a Star Wars-loving pimp.

I did find it weird Harry Knowles didn't play himself, and maybe there's a story behind that, but it's inconsequential. I once did an April Fools press release a few years back where I said Ethan Suplee was going to star in a Harry Knowles biopic, and here he was.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Killshot - DVD Review

KILLSHOT (***) - Starring Diane Lane, Mickey Rourke, Thomas Jane, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rosario Dawson, Lois Smith and Hal Holbrook.
Directed by John Madden.

It's a freakin' crime this movie couldn't get play in more than a handful of Arizona theaters before being dumped on DVD. Not to overhype it (because it's not that good), but it is good, good enough that it should've been able to garner a wide release. Academy-Award directing nominee John Madden. Academy-Award acting nominee Mickey Rourke. Diane Lane. Thomas Jane. Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Why no love?

Oh, it's a Weinstein release. The brothers have really lost their distribution touch since they left Miramax.

Based on one of my favorite Elmore Leonard novels, it's about a couple on the outs who have to go into federal protection after the woman gets the good look at the face of an assassin. The movie has a little more seriousness to it than the book, but the main four fully-realized characters have good actors to complement them, notably Mickey Rourke as the calm professional hitman. (Seriouly, they had The Wrestler hype and still couldn't figure out how to market this?)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Paul Blart: Mall Cop - DVD Review

PAUL BLART: MALL COP (**1/4) - Starring Kevin James, Keir O'Donnell, Jayma Mays, Raini Rodriguez, Shirley Knight, Peter Gerety and Bobby Cannavale.
Directed by Steve Carr.

I expected it to be stupid, and it was, but there were stretches where I kinda liked it. It felt like the type of movie John Candy would have done around 1986, or Chris Farley around 1996. They made thumbs-slightly-down movies too, you know.

Kevin James plays Paul Blart, a kind-hearted shlub who must endure constant fat jokes and pratfalls. He's a Segway-riding security guard, a mall cop, one of the lowest jobs on the uniform-wearing law-and-order chain. He has no authority and very little respect, but when a gang locks up the mall to steal $30 million, Blart is the one man on the inside who can stop them. It's Die Hard in the Mall!

What works? James has natural underdog charisma. There are a couple surprise laughs.

What doesn't work? The soundtrack way overrelies on 1980's nostalgia, like the B-side of The Wedding Singer (Adam Sandler co-produced). The plot is to-the-letter formula. Fat jokes get old. And you can't tell me a Segway going 5 mph can jump from the top of one building to another just because the fat guy leans forward.

It's PG and it's really more for teens and younger viewers, who might be more receptive to broader humor. (The less pratfalls you've seen, the funnier they are.) I don't mind to have seen it, and of the handful of 2009 titles I've seen, I've seen worse.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Nothing But the Truth - DVD Review

NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH (***) - Starring Kate Beckinsale, Matt Dillon, Vera Farmiga, Alan Alda, Angela Bassett, David Schwimmer, Courtney B. Vance and Noah Wyle.
Directed by Rod Lurie.

Kate Beckinsale is one of my favorite actresses. Total babe; very good at what she does. She may do the big-budget bill-payers like Van Helsing and Click, but she also seeks out those low-budget dramas, like Snow Angels and this.

This is probably Rod Lurie's best movie; the film-critic-turned-moviemaker will always have a place in my heart for the hilariously illogical The Contender, which still featured great performances from Gary Oldman, Joan Allen and Jeff Bridges. This movie features equally fine acting jobs from Beckinsale, Vera Farmiga and Alan Alda, and for the most part it's a compelling melodrama.

It's one of those movies that champions true journalism. Alan Alda, as a defense attorney, gives a moving argument about the press being one of the last institutions in place to keep government honest. The story gets rolling when there is an assassination attempt on the President's life. Intelligence suggests that the plot stemmed from Venezuela, and the U.S. strikes. But there is an author who claims that there was no supporting intelligence that Venezuela was behind the attempt. Turns out, the author's wife is a CIA agent, and Beckinsale plays the reporter who outs her.

It's inspired by the Valerie Plame case, but it's not based on it. Vera Farmiga (The Departed) does great work as the outed agent, and Beckinsale is up to the task of the reporter who goes to jail rather than give up her source.

The reporter suffers more and more for her work. Months go by. Her marriage suffers.

And there's the twist at the end that almost ruins the movie. Not quite as rug-yanking as the end of The Life of David Gale, but it definitely hurts.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Blindness - DVD Review

BLINDNESS (**) - Starring Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Alice Braga, Yusuke Iseya, Danny Glover, Gael Garcia Bernal, Maury Chaykin, Don McKellar and Yoshino Kimura.
Directed by Fernando Meirelles.

This movie starts off very promising, very intriguing. A man goes blind, a blindness where he can only see white. The blindness slowly spreads, then rapidly spreads. The government isn't prepared for an outbreak of such unknown magnitude, and the blind are herded up and put in quarantine camps.

What starts out as a study in survival and adjustment devolves into a Lord of the Flies allegory, when one man gets a gun and decides to run the quarantine camp like a dictator. I happen to have a little more faith in humanity than this movie. People stop using toilets and feces spreads across the floors. Food-for-sex becomes the choice for desperate women.

The twist is that one woman, Julianne Moore, can see, but she's pretending to be blind so she can be with her husband. She becomes the selfless servant, and that was one frustrating aspect. As the quarantine building degenerates into a living hell, she never figures out how to use her sight to her advantage to overthrow the despot. At least until after a lot of bad things have happened.

There's nothing enlightening here. It's bleak, it's dark, it's dehumanizing. Very cool beginning, decent end. Ugly, ugly middle. Its ambitions are grander than its execution.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Uninvited - DVD Review

THE UNINVITED (**) - Starring Emily Browning, Elizabeth Banks, Arielle Kebbel, and David Strathairn.
Directed by The Guard Brothers.

We have a movie where we are given characters and situations, and we are asked to accept them on face value, even though it's obvious things aren't what they seem and we're going to get a twist ending. So in a 90-minute movie, if only the last 5 minutes are good, is it worth seeing?

Elizabeth Banks is far too sweet an actress to play an evil stepmother. It's somewhere on par with asking Paul Rudd to play a wife-beater. I just don't buy it.

Now I go back to the grand one-two punch of 1999 with The Sixth Sense and Fight Club, two of my favorite movies of that year. Both had twist endings. Both were entertaining throughout so that the twist endings were icing on the cake. I think that's the whole key to a great twist ending. The ride needs to work on its own merit before we get there.

Here we get Emily Browning (Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events) as Anna, a girl just let out of a mental hospital. She's traumatized after her mother died in a fire, and she goes back home to live with her sister, father, and father's brand new wife. The sister, Alex, thinks their new stepmother may have actually been behind their mother's death.

With the occasional ghost showing up, I knew that everything I was watching was going to be turned on its head at the end. Banks was obviously playing two different motivations simultaneously. When the twist came I thought it was neat, if not entirely original. So was the 85 minutes of stalling worth the final 5?

Not really.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine - Movie Review

X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (**3/4) - Starring Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Ryan Reynolds,, Lynn Collins, Dominic Monaghan, Kevin Durand and Taylor Kitsch.
Directed by Gavin Hood.

I won't pretend I've read too many comics, but I've read more issues of X-Men than any other titles out there, and of the X-Men, Gambit was my favorite. I'm glad he's finally able to show up, but if Taylor Kitsch was trying for a Cajun accent, I only caught it on a syllable here and there. But they do give Gambit some style, and I still found myself wishing he'd be able to show up in another X-Men movie.

Oh, wait, this is Wolverine's movie. Well, it's better than X-Men 3. It's a prequel, so some characters are recast with younger actors, although they've changed some of the events that allegedly happened before. In the first X-Men movie, Sabretooth was a 7-foot guy who never talked, just roared. Here he's the chatty, intelligent Liev Schreiber.

Wolvy and Sabretooth, aka James and Victor, are brothers - kids - in the 1840's when they discover their powers. They grow up to be Jackman and Schreiber for the Civil War, so they age normally until they hit about 40 and then stop? We see them have fun fighting WWI, WWII and eventually the Vietnam War, when Victor goes nuts and starts killing US soldiers. The two are sentenced to death by firing, but since both heal really, really fast, this doesn't actually kill them.

Enter Major Stryker (played by Brian Cox in X2, but he's been youthified to Danny Huston here). Stryker has a program that will allow them to really use their powers for good. Here, they team up with guys who will eventually be known as Deadpool, Kestrel, Bolt, Blob, and Agent Zero, but here they're just called Wade, John, Bradley, Fred and David. (Three of them are eventually called by their mutant names, but I had to ask someone who the other two were.)

Stryker's team engages in nefarious activity, and so James, now called Logan, quits the team. A few years Stryker catches up to him in Canada, where he warns him someone is killing off the old team one by one. Prime suspect? Victor.

(Where does Gambit fit in? We're over an hour into the movie before he shows up.)

One major problem I had: how does Stryker know that adamantium bullets in Wolverine's brain will make him lose his memory? We know from the first three X-Men movies Wolverine has amnesia, so he has no memory of the events of this movie taking place.