Monday, November 30, 2009

Roger Ebert on At the Movies in 2009

Ebert's thoughts on the show he started and where it is now. Warning: corporate suits ruin some of the journey.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Disney's Christmas Carol - Movie Review


Starring Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Robin Wright Penn, Bob Hoskins, Cary Elwes, Fionnula Flanagan and Daryl Sabara.
Directed by Robert Zemeckis.

As long as it's done well, I never get tired of this story. I've seen several movie & TV versions. I've actually acted in two different stage versions. Redemption's a great story. Now we see what Zemeckis and his Image Capture team can do. He's getting better at this. The eyes of the people aren't as dead as they were in Polar Express, and the people look realistic more often than they look like marionettes.

Jim Carrey is the iron man here, playing Scrooge, young Scrooge, and the three Ghosts of Christmas, plus he gets plenty of stainless steel support from Gary Oldman (Bob Cratchit & Jacob Marley), Bob Hoskins (Fezziwig & Old Joe), and the rest. The closing credits revealed what everyone did, and pretty much everyone had at least four roles.

I didn't see it in 3D, but there's some effective swooping shots of 19th century London. I could've recited half the script from memory, so it's pretty faithful to Dickens' original wording.

The Jacob Marley scene's scary for young kids, but I think by the time the closing credits arrive, they've forgotten about it.

New Moon - Movie Review


Starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Ashley Greene, Michael Sheen, Billy Burke, and Dakota Fanning.
Directed by Chris Weitz.

Complaining about all the angst in the Twilight series like complaining there's too much magic stuff in Harry Potter. This is for teen girls, and it turns the audience into teen girls while it's running. Heck, when Jacob rips his shirt off the first time, pretty much every woman in our auditorium squealed with delight.

I liked it about as much as the first one, maybe a little more so thanks to Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon) and Dakota Fanning showing up as two powerful vampires.

The Cullens, that vampire family, have decided to move out of Forks, WA, after Jasper loses it and almost eats Bella. But Bella keeps seeing Edward in swishy visions, so she can pine and mope and brood. Meanwhile, changes have been coming to her buddy Jacob, now 30 pounds buffer, and not quite human.

I already know the arc of the Twilight saga, since my wife read the books and I knew I wouldn't. I wish Jacob had a shot with Bella, because Edward just isn't good for her. Why is this 109-year-old hanging out in high school anyway?

The movie is about angst and longing and desire unfulfilled, and in that way, it reminds me of the old-time love stories, where the two lovers never consumated, so the movie ends with tension unreleased. Let's go make out in the car now.

Year One - DVD Review


Starring Jack Black, Michael Cera, Oliver Platt, David Cross, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Vinnie Jones, Juno Temple, Olivia Wilde, Hank Azaria, Paul Rudd, Xander Berkeley, Bill Hader and Harold Ramis.
Directed by Harold Ramis.

I've never seen Caveman, the 1980 prehistoric comedy with Ringo Starr, Dennis Quaid and Shelley Long, but my guess is it's no less amusing now than this movie is (particularly to see Long in pre-Diane Chambers mode). I'm almost tempted to get it just to compare.

Jack Black's been funny, and Michael Cera's been funny, but it doesn't necessarily mean they make a good comic team. In fact, they do the opposite of compliment each other. Black's devious eyebrows and Cera's stammering deadpan only highlight how crutch-like those tools can be.

They play Zed, a bad hunter, and Oh, a weak gatherer, and they get banished from their village after Zed eats the fruit from the Tree of Life. They trek around and meet several characters, like Adam, Cain, Abel, Abraham, Isaac, and the fine citizens of Sodom & Gomorrah.

At one point, the two are in a dungeon, but Oh is hung upside-down. It might be amusing when Oh calls for the guard because he has to pee. All humor is sucked out of the room when we then see... well, you know. The movie's full of bad gags like that.

Harold Ramis directed this? The guy who did Stripes and Groundhog Day? There are several talented actors in the supporting cast too, but this is a wasted effort.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Bruno - DVD Review


Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Paula Abdul and Ron Paul.
Directed by Larry Charles.

I kinda liked Borat, but seeing another prank-style movie just illustrates that Cohen is no Andy Kaufman, a wildly overrated comedian who is only been put on a pedestal because he's dead. I think the key is that Borat was a kind-hearted ignorant protagonist. Bruno is a self-absorbed ignorant jerk, so seeing him intrude into other people's lives just isn't that funny.

Here Cohen is playing Bruno, Austrian gay fashionista who has set his sights on Hollywood to become a big star. More often than not, I wasn't laughing at people's reactions to him, I felt sorry for his victims.

In one spot he got a job as an extra on NBC's Medium. Miguel Sandoval keeps doing serious emotional takes, ruined by Bruno being a distracted juror. I'm not laughing. When he tries to interview Harrison Ford, Ford has one second of screen-time, where he's trying to get away from Bruno and tells him exactly what to do. Good for him. In another scene he tries to seduce Ron Paul. Paul barges out because, dude, he's getting sexually harrassed.

The pieces that amused me: when he has real people serve as a focus group for his new show. Some of the comments: "It was worse than cancer." "It made me want to put my eyes out with hot sticks." "You'll have to borrow the sticks from me."

There's another scene where he's interviewing parents of babies/toddlers to appear on his show, and it's amazing what the parents agree to. "Sure, she's fine with operating heavy machinery."

When he goes to the Middle East, that is when he really puts his life on the line. He comes close to peaceful talks when he gets an ex-Mossad agent and an ex-Hamas leader together, and they both agree that Bruno is an idiot. Sometimes it's like watching a Jason Jones segement on the Daily Show, if Jones thought'd be funny to start molesting his guest.

Most people just suffer through Cohen's antics or run out on him. I think Borat had a better, clearer structure, but it really comes back to the stunts he's pulling and why. I can't tell if he's promoting or satirizing homophobia while simultaneously pointing fingers at the fool who would actually approve of everything he's doing, and I don't really care. I'm just glad there won't be a Bruno 2. No more unsuspecting victims.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

New Moon's big weekend

Weekend Box Office

1. New Moon - $140.7 million - 1 wk (Sum)
4024 screens / $34,965 per screen
2. The Blind Side - $34.51 - 1 wk (WB)
3110 / $11,096
3. 2012 - $26.5 ($108.22) - 2 wks (Sony) -59.4%
3408 / $7776
4. Planet 51 - $12.6 - 1 wk (Sony)
3035 / $4152
5. A Christmas Carol - $12.23 ($79.79) - 3 wks (BV) -45.2%
3578 / $3418
6. Precious - $11.01 ($21.4) - 3 wks (LG) +87.4%
629 / $17,501
7. The Men Who Stare at Goats - $2.77 ($27.62) - 3 wks (Ove) -52.7%
2056 / $1349
8. Couples Retreat - $1.95 ($105) - 7 wks (U) -53.1%
1712 / $1140
9. The Fourth Kind - $1.73 ($23.34) - 3 wks (U) -62.4%
1648 / $1050
10. Law Abiding Citizen - $1.62 ($70.03) - 6 wks (Ove) -57.5%
1327 / $1217
11. Michael Jackson's This Is It - $1.58 ($70.22) - 4 wks (Sony) -69%
1640 / $960

New Moon, sequel to Twilight, did double the business Twilight did its opening weekend.Stephenie Meyer's vampire saga has two more installments over which to be queen of the box office, and Summit has to be thrilled.

Meanwhile, the resurrection of Sandra Bullock's career is continuing in full swing. The Proposal was summer's top romantic comedy, and now she's managed to open an inspirational sports drama to $34 million against New Moon. (Inspirational sports dramas don't tend to open that well. See Glory Road, We Are Marshall, etc.)

Planet 51 showed the kids market might be a little too saturated right now, doing business closer to Astro Boy than A Christmas Carol.

Precious continues to do phenomenal business whereever it opens and is getting closer to "shoo-in" status for a Best Picture nomination. (Oh, wait. They're nominating ten this year. It's a shoo-in.)

In The Loop - DVD Review



Starring Peter Capaldi, Tom Hollander, Gina McKee, James Gandolfini, Chris Addison, Anna Chlumsky, Mimi Kennedy, David Rasche, Paul Higgins and Steve Coogan.
Directed by Armando Iannucci.

Biting satire about bureaucrats bumbling around trying not to go to war, but not ruling it out either. It doesn't feel like too much of an exaggeration as to how we went to war in Iraq, but done with Office-like characters. Half of them are insane, and the other half are just doing their job. Standouts include Tom Hollander (Pirates of the Caribbean 2 & 3) as an official who always makes things worse when a microphone's in front of his face, and David Rasche (Burn After Reading) as the deputy secretary of state who has no problem rewriting memos to justify his actions.

Monday, November 16, 2009

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra - DVD Review


Starring Channing Tatum, Marlon Wayans, Sienna Miller, Dennis Quaid, Rachel Nichols, Christopher Eccleston, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Byung-hun Lee, Ray Park, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Arnold Vosloo, Said Taghmaoui and Jonathan Pryce.
Directed by Stephen Sommers.

The 1980's were a great time to be a kid. It was a time when red-white-n-blue patriotism was cool, and when we learned (on everything from G.I. Joe to the A-Team) that you can fire automatic weapons and no one will get killed. To update G.I. Joe for this day and age, guns have to kill people, and having Joe be strictly a US force when we're already in Afghanistan and Iraq might be too much.

The international flavor is here. The Joes are compromised of the best fighters from 23 countries, not just the USA. At the same time, they made Cobra Commander and the Baroness into Americans, and siblings. And the US President is Welsh. And Destro's a Scotsman whose family has been in weapons trading for apparently 400 years. And instead of dating Snake Eyes, Scarlett is single, so Ripcord can flirt with her. And... and...

The movie was about what I would expect from the trailers and from knowing it's directed by the guy who did the Mummy trilogy. There's CGI galore, tons of swooping shots of stuff blowing up, and I had to smile at how G.I. Joe and Cobra both have underwater training facilities that would cost $300 billion each to build if they were real.

I can't say anyone does a good acting job. I don't know what Joseph Gordon-Levitt is doing here, other than he has bills to pay and maybe he owned some of the action figures as a kid. He plays Dr. Cobra, who eventually becomes Cobra Commander. Even Dennis Quaid is flat as General Hawk, leader o' the Joes. We get cameos from Sommers vets Brendan Fraser and Kevin J. O'Connor.

The movie is called the Rise of Cobra for a reason. This whole thing is origin story/set-up, poised for a sequel. Even though this wound up not losing too much money, I doubt that sequel's going to happen.

Weekend Box Office (Nov 13-15)

Here are the numbers from the weekend:

1. 2012 - $65 million - 1 wk (Sony)
3404 screens / $19,095 per screen
2. A Christmas Carol - $22.33 ($63.29) - 2 wks (BV) -25.7%
3683 / $6062
3. Men Who Stare at Goats - $6.2 ($23.38) - 2 wks (Ove) -51.2%
2453 / $2528
4. Precious - $6.09 ($8.92) - 2 wks (LG) +225.2%
174 / $35,000
5. This Is It - $5.1 ($68.21) - 3 wks (Sony) -61.2%
3037 / $1679
6. The Fourth Kind - $4.74 ($20.59) - 2 wks (U) -61.2%
2530 / $1875
7. Couples Retreat - $4.25 ($102.13) - 6 wks (U) -30.6%
2509 / $1695
8. Paranormal Activity - $4.2 ($103.85) - 8 wks (Par) -49.3%
2712 / $1549
9. Law Abiding Citizen - $3.93 ($67.33) - 5 wks (Ove) -34.5%
2071 / $1899
10. The Box - $3.19 ($13.21) - 2 wks (WB) -57.9%
2635 / $1209
11. Pirate Radio - $2.87 - 1 wk (Foc)
882 / $3253
12. Where Wild Things Are - $2.42 ($73.44) - 5 wks (WB) -42.2%
2090 / $1156

Moving 2012 to November really paid off. I don't think it would have opened that high in its original release spot the week after Transformers 2.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Wanda Sykes Show

For those who want the liberal Bill Maher, but they don't have HBO and they want him to be a black woman who strives a little more for funny and a little less for self-righteous vitriol. She spent the first half-hour blasting Fox News, Bush, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, anyone who criticizes Obama, and Fox News, concluding with "If Rupert Murdoch walked in here, I'd say... Thank you! Can I have more money?" The second half had a guest format I like, where there's three of them and they just talk about whatever. Her guests were Mary Lynn Rajskub (Fox's 24), Daryl Mitchell (Fox's Brothers) and Phil Koeghan (CBS's The Amazing Race). Funniest part was when Phil narrated the Amazing Race if it had a pit-stop in space. I don't see this lasting long, but it's probably cheap to keep until they can develop something better. Heck, MadTV ran 13 years and no one ever watched it.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Carrey's Carol wins weekend

1. A Christmas Carol - $31 million - 1 wk (BV)
3683 screens / $8417 per screen
2. Michael Jackson's This Is It - $14 ($57.86) - 2 wks (Sony) -39.7%
3481 / $4022
3. The Men Who Stare at Goats - $13.31 - 1 wk (Ove)
2443 / $5448
4. The Fourth Kind - $12.52 - 1 wk (U)
2527 / $4955
5. Paranormal Activity - $8.6 ($97.43) - 7 wks (Par) -47.5%
2558 / $3362
6. The Box - $7.86 - 1 wk (WB)
2635 / $2981
7. Couples Retreat - $6.43 ($95.98) - 5 wks (U) -.5%
2857 / $2250
8. Law Abiding Citizen - $6.17 ($60.87) - 4 wks (Ove) -16.6%
2474 / $2495
9. Where the Wild Things Are - $4.23 ($69.27) - 4 wks (WB) -28.8%
2756 / $1533
10. Astro Boy - $2.59 ($15.07) - 3 wks (Sum) -25.2%
1918 / $1349

Friday, November 6, 2009

Food Inc. - DVD Review


Directed by Robert Kenner.

I'd never heard of Monsanto. Now I feel like they're one of the most evil companies on Earth.

Monsanto owns the patent on genetically-modified soybeans. 90% of the soybeans grown in the US have the gene, so those crops belong to Monsanto, and if any farmer doesn't pay tribute to them, they get shut down. Any farmer who refuses to use Monsanto soybeans but someone how that gene can be detected in their crop, Monsanto will sue them into bankruptcy.

But they're not the only company with blood on their hands. This movie illustrates how in just a few short decades, the food industry has become an assembly-line monster, unhealthy and unnatural, with perfect collusion between corporations and the government to subsidize bad behavior. Justice may be blind, but money can tip her scales. The food industry is so protected that they can sue someone if they criticize their product. Remember when Big Beef sued Oprah Winfrey? Did you know that court case took six years and cost over a million dollars in legal fees before Oprah won? Did you know the vast majoity of cows set for slaugther live their entire life covered in feces?

Just like Super-Size Me made me stop getting the fries at fast-food restaurants, this movie makes me want to seek out organic foods more.

P.S. I am glad Michael Moore didn't make this movie. This is done in a way where we have narrators but I don't think the director himself actually appears on screen. I would hope Kenner or someone of his ilk would revisit the ground Moore covered in Capitalism: A Love Story so we could get a clearer-cut look at the bad marriage of K Street and Wall Street.

Outrage - DVD Review


Directed by Kirby Dick.

This movie's opening credits start with the interview audio between Sen. Larry Craig and his arresting officer for that tap-dancing in the bathroom incident. Once the credits are done, these words brandish on the screen:

"There exists a brilliantly orchestrated conspiracy to keep gay and lesbian politicians as closeted as possible. This conspiracy is so powerful the media will not cover it, even though it profoundly harms many Americans. This film is about politicians who live in the closet, those who have escaped it, and the people who work to end its tyranny."

"Its" tyranny, I assume at the beginning of the film, is the tyranny of the conspiracy. So who are the tyrants behind the conspiracy? The bar's been set high.

The film proceeds to produce evidence, testimonials and so forth, to officially out Sen. Larry Craig (R), Gov. Charlie Crist (R), Rep. Jim McCrery (R), Rep. David Dreier (R), Ken Mehlman (R), and former politicians like Terry Dolan (R), Ed Schrock (R), and token (D) Ed Koch, targetting these individuals because they were or are in power and voted against gay marriage or other gay issues while holding such power.

The movie argues that there's nothing worse for gay rights than a closeted self-hating gay in politics. This movie's main enemy is hypocrisy, and one of its biggest villains is Mary Cheney, out but still voted for Bush and her dad.

But then the movie commits its own hypocrisy. It outs Fox News reporter Shepard Smith. Shep's not a politician. I really don't get why they included Shep. Because Anderson Cooper works for CNN, he's off the hook? Meh, doesn't matter. Those specified here have already had rumors about them for years, maybe decades.

What I would have really wish they would have delved into is what would make a closeted gay go into politics. In fact this movie made me wonder about many issues it hinted at before it moved on. What about the psyche of one who would beat up a gay guy just to prove he's not gay himself? It gets a teary-eyed interview with NJ Gov. Jim McGreevey, forced out of the closet after an extortion scandal, but the more compelling, credible interview comes from his ex-wife Dina Mattos, immortalized as standing by her man in that painful press conference.

In the end, there is no "brilliantly orchestrated conspiracy" that Dick is able to prove or display, except the general disposition of Americans to not vote for openly gay candidates, Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin being two talking-head exceptions. There are no tyrants, other than Dubya, who supported the Defense of Marriage Act. It's more gossip than expose, but some of the interviewees, such as the now-out Republicans like Jim Kolbe, are pretty interesting.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

DVD Reviews (Sin Nombre, Away We Go, Land of the Lost, The Proposal)

SIN NOMBRE (***) - Starring Edgar Flores and Kristian Ferrer.
Directed by Cary Fukunaga.

Gangs in the USA have nothing on gangs down the continent. That's what I got out of this.

It's the story of two brothers, both too young to be in gangs, but then no one should be in one. They live in a world wherereally, it's the only way for them to survive, and little kids are taught how to murder at the command of their leader. After saving a girl, one brother must go on the run. The other brother pledges to prove his loyalty to the gang by insisting he be the one to kill his brother.

It's a sobering meditation on what loyalty should be.


AWAY WE GO (***) - Starring John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Jeff Daniels, Catherine O'Hara, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Paul Schneider, Josh Hamilton, Allison Janney and Jim Gaffigan.
Directed by Sam Mendes.

This melancholy comedy/drama is about a young pregnant couple trying to decide where to move to raise their new family. It's a road trip, with them stopping off at different destinations to hook up with family or old friends to see if they'd want to live in the same city. Each couple they meet with represents a different angle of dysfunction, to the point where the two leads start to feel like a desert island might be best.

Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road) doesn't seem to have a lot of faith in families, but he does have faith in love, and the chemistry between John Krasinski (The Office) and Maya Rudolph (Saturday Night Live) makes it an okay journey. Rudolph especially proves she can pull off a serious, three-dimensional character.


LAND OF THE LOST (*1/2) - Starring Will Ferrell, Anna Friel, Danny McBride and Jorma Taccone.
Directed by Brad Silberling.

I had no faith in this being good, since it should be a kids movie and they potty-humored it up. It threw in a lot of elements that would only be familiar to fans of the show, but still, it has the most wrong-headed approach to the material.

The series had Rick Marshall, with his children Will and Holly. Here we have characters with those three names, but Holly is a love interest and Will is a tattooed pervert.

When they get to the Land of the Lost, they meet Chaka, the missing-link creature who, here, is also a pervert. There's run-ins with dinosaurs, the lizard-men called Sleestaks, and a sky with three moons. Will Ferrell's dim-bulb shtick can be funny in pieces, but I was too distracted by him and McBride in this world. They just don't belong here.

Funniest part of the movie? Matt Lauer.


THE PROPOSAL (**1/2) - Starring Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, Betty White, Mary Steenburgen, Craig T. Nelson, Malin Akerman, Oscar Nunez, Denis O'Hare, Aasif Mandvi and Michael Nouri.
Directed by Anne Fletcher.

Formula? Yes. Funny? Sometimes. Bullock and Reynolds are likeable enough leads as the boss/secretary team that fake an engagement to help boss-lady not get deported to Canada. At first they hate each other but halfway through the movie, we get that magic moment...

Anyways, the movie's comic MVP is Betty White as the 89-year-old grandmother who just wants to see her grandson get married before she dies, but there are also funny smaller roles for Oscar Nunez (The Office) and Aasif Mandvi (The Daily Show).

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

'Whatever' Stinks

(DVD Review)


Starring Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Patricia Clarkson, Michael McKean, Henry Cavill and Ed Begley Jr.
Directed by Woody Allen.

Ever watch Curb Your Enthusiasm? Larry David plays a warm, fuzzy, benevolent older man whose optimistic look on life only brings joy to those around him.

At least in comparison to Boris Yelnikoff, the character he plays here.

To say Boris is cynical is to say Jeffrey Dahmer had peculiar tastes. Boris is supposedly a brilliant physicist, but he's so convinced of his intellectual superiority that he has no patience for all other human beings, i.e. people he perceives as less intelligent as himself. Woody Allen's whiny ever-shrinking worldview is on display, and David doesn't quite have the acting talent to pull this character off. A guy this miserable would probably be doing the world a favor if one of his suicide attempts would succeed.

But since this is Woody Allen's world, a beautiful girl one-third his age gets a crush on him. Melanie (Evan Rachel Wood) is a homeless girl that Boris takes in and she's so dumb that she takes his insults in stride, and they get married. Huh. Boris teaches her the finer things in life: how to not use cliches in speech, how there is no God and no point to life and that we're all a big cesspool of molecules smashing against each other with no purpose or meaning, and how she should wash her hands for the appropriate amount of time.

One reliable element of Allen's movies is there's always an actor or two who has a blast, and Patricia Clarkson, as Melanie's Southern mama, is the performer here who stands out.

Rated PG-13, though there is a scene at an art show with male and female frontal nudity in the photos on the wall.

Final Summer 2009 Box-Office Numbers

1. Transformers 2 - $402.11 million
2. Harry Potter & Half-Blood Prince - $301.58
3. Up - $292.98
4. The Hangover - $276.77
5. Star Trek - $257.73
6. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs - $196.36
7. X-Men Origins: Wolverine - $179.88
8. Night at the Museum 2 - $177.24
9. The Proposal - $163.95
10. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra - $150.17
11. Angels & Demons - $133.38
12. Terminator Salvation - $125.32
13. Inglorious Basterds - $119.6
14. G-Force - $118.72
15. District 9 - $115.65
16. Public Enemies - $97.1
17. Julie & Julia - $93.49
18. The Ugly Truth - $88.92
19. The Final Destination - $66.25
20. The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 - $65.45

21. The Time Traveler's Wife - $63.04
22. Bruno - $60.05
23. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past - $55.25
24. Funny People - $51.86
25. Land of the Lost - $49.44
26. My Sister's Keeper - $49.2
27. Year One - $43.34
28. Drag Me to Hell - $42.1
29. Orphan - $41.6
30. Halloween II - $33.1

Needless to say, Transformers 3, Harry Potter 7, Hangover 2, Star Trek 2, Ice Age 4, Wolverine 2, and Halloween 3 are all coming. And next summer we get Iron Man 2, Shrek 4, Sex & the City 2, Twilight 3, Toy Story 3, Predator 3, Cats & Dogs 2, Meet the Parents 3, Step Up 3, Friday the 13th 2, and Resident Evil 4.