Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Hot Tub Time Machine - Movie Review


Starring John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Clark Duke, Cripsin Glover, Lizzy Caplan and Chevy Chase.
Directed by Steve Pink.

I'd always believed that someone was going to remake Back to the Future for release in 2015, with Marty McFly going back to 1985. This movie's existence makes such a possibility difficult, because it borrows so heavily from that film's three-act structure, combined with the ski lodge episode of South Park. And the movie doesn't compare favorable to those. In fact, it doesn't live up to the raunchy fun of The Hangover or the 80's nostalgia of The Wedding Singer. It's a movie that needed to focus less on being ugly and more on being funny.

Three losers in their 40's come together after one of them, Lou (Rob Corddry), ends up hospitalized after what may have been a suicide attempt. The other two friends are Adam (John Cusack), an insurance salesman whose latest girlfriend dumped him, and Nick (Craig Robinson), a guy working a dead-end job at a grooming company, married to a wife cheating on him. Meanwhile Adam has a sad-sack nerdy nephew Jacob (Clark Duke) who spends all his time doing online gaming. In short, we're introduced to four characters we have no reason to root for.

When they sit in the hot tub time machine and go back to 1986, the rest of the movie takes place on the one night at a ski lodge where these three friends made choices that put them on the path to loserdom. Adam dumped his high-school sweetheart, Lou got beat up by the local bully, and Nick performed poorly with his band in front of everyone. To the audience and each other, the three still look like themselves, but to everyone else, they appear just how they did in 1986. Jacob, after fading in and out of existance a la Marty McFly, urges the three to do everything the same they did that night so they don't alter the future, but how fun would that be?

I really wanted to like this movie. I was rooting for it to be funny. And parts of it were, but not enough.

The first problem was the unoriginality. It was so similar to so many other projects that handled aspects better that I kept getting distracted.

The second problem was the tone. It was ugly. It was bitter. Remember how Back to the Future gently mocked but was also lovingly nostaglic about 1955? Or how The Wedding Singer was the same way about 1985? This movie was made by people who hated 1986. Remember how Marty was basically a good guy? These three aren't. (Well, maybe Nick...) Lou is such a self-absorbed nihilist that yes, he does deserve to be abandoned by his friends.

This movie does manage to coast on some of John Cusack's charms, Rob Corddry's manic energy, Craig Robinson's deadpan delivery, and the running gag about Crispin Glover's bellhop who may or may not lose his arm this night. I chuckled a couple times. I got a kick out of William Zabka's cameo. More than half the critics who saw it liked it. I came out feeling flat, saying "Well, it was okaaaay..."

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Box - DVD Review


Starring Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, Frank Langella, James Rebhorn, Holmes Osbourne, Sam Oz Stone and Celia Weston.
Directed by Richard Kelly.

The trailer may have looked like a conventional twist on a Twilight Zone episode, based on the short story "Button, Button" by Richard Matheson, but this movie quickly reminds us that it is Richard Kelly directing, and he's the one who made Donnie Darko and Southland Tales. I remember liking Donnie Darko at the time, and Southland Tales was a gigantic failure with one-and-a-half cool scenes. This movie demonstrates Richard Kelly still hasn't got all the Southland Tales weirdness out of his system.

A mysterious man arrives at a house in 1976. He has a box. The box has a button. The couple in the house has 24 hours to decide if they want to push the button. If they do, someone they don't know will die, but they will receive $1 million. If you take the first 45 minutes and the last 10 minutes, you have a pretty decent movie. Then there's this other hour in there of nonsense, most likely around aliens but it's difficult to be certain with Richard Kelly.

I liked that it took place in 1976, a more paranoid time, the decade of The Exorcist, The Wicker Man, and The Omen. But does anyone know what it means when James Marsden walks into that cube of water, and then that cube appears floating above Cameron Diaz's bed? Is the mute Santa Claus on the side of the road supposed to be scary?

Diaz's Virginian accent comes and goes. It seems to get thicker when the plot makes sense, then it fades as though the actress herself is confused what's happening.

An Education - DVD Review


Starring Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Rosamund Pike, Dominic Cooper, Olivia Williams and Emma Thompson.

I enjoyed the central performance of Carey Mulligan. She has this Audrey Hepburn quality to her. She's a headstrong teenager in 1961 England who meets and falls for an older man (Peter Sarsgaard) who may or may not be good for her. I'm still a bit stunned this was nominated for Best Picture. The conclusion was inevitable. It's an example of a central performer pulling the rest of the story along I suppose.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Disney cancels At the Movies

I loved Siskel & Ebert as a kid. I wanted to replace one of them when I grew up. In fact, once it was announced that Richard Roeper was the replacement, I watched him a couple times and thought, "Crap, that SHOULD have been me! I've been reviewing movies longer than him." Granted it's always been free via high-school and college newspapers and then J.E.R.M.S. and websites and however else I let people know what I've thought of what I've seen.

But I got used to Roeper, and he got better, and when Ebert couldn't return, Roeper had some really good guest-hosts that I thought would have made good permanent replacements.

Then Disney trashed the balcony, ditched Two Thumbs Up, and put in E!'s Ben Lyons and TCM's Ben Mankewicz. Now Mank, I think, had he been paired with someone credible, would've been okay in that second chair. But Ben Lyons was a gigantic joke. Lyons was an insult to anyone who's ever reviewed a movie, getting the job because his dad was a film critic (Jeffrey) and he's worked on TV before.

Phillips & Scott, I thought, were a welcome return to what the show should have been. I DVR it and watch it every week. But Disney execs still didn't want the Thumbs to return. "Two Thumbs Up!" still means something in movie advertising. No one boasts "Two See Its!"

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Top Ten Worst Accents of All-Time

I posted this because it included the first two that came to mind when I heard it: Keanu Reeves in Dracula, and Kevin Costner in Robin Hood.

I would argue Sam Worthington (Terminator Salvation, Avatar) has some work to do to nail an American accent.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Astro Boy and other DVDs


Starring the voices of Freddie Highmore, Nicolas Cage, Nathan Lane, Kristen Bell, Donald Sutherland, Bill Nighy, Eugene Levy, Charlize Theron, Ryan Stiles and Samuel L. Jackson.
Directed by David Bowers.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed this techno mish-mash. It may have felt borrowed from many sources, but considering that Astro Boy actually came about in the 1950's, maybe it's the sources that have done the borrowing.

In the magical future, Earth is a garbage heap, and the majority of the population now live in the pristine floating Metro City. The president is gleefully corrupt, a conglomeration of every worst stereotype about Dick Cheney, Huey Long, Richard Nixon, LBJ and George Wallace. Robots are servants, and the government is always looking for the latest weapon. Dr. Tenna (Nicolas Cage) is a scientiast developing new energy sources, possible weapons, and he has a genius son Toby (Freddie Highmore) who sneaks in for a demonstration. "Something goes wrong" and Toby is killed.

Yeah, not many kid movies start out with the main character getting killed.

Dr. Tenna somehow can extract the entirety of Toby's memories from some of his DNA (don't ask, move along; it's SCIENCE!) and builds a superrobot to house said DNA. Toby wakes up none the wiser, thinking he's still human, but one day when he finds jet-propulsion in his feet, he learns the truth.

Toby banishes himself to the surface, where he finds a Fagin-like tinkerer (Nathan Lane) leading a bunch of orphans in the largely deserted trash-heap known as Earth.

The movie has a lot on its mind with political corruption, pollution, what it means to be human, etc., and viewers will recognize elements from everything from Asimov to Dickens to Spielberg. Not too overhype it; my silly six-year-old laughed loudest at "I've got rockets in my butt?" Worth the rental.


MOON (***) - Starring Sam Rockwell and the voice of Kevin Spacey. Directed by Duncan Jones.

This showcase for Sam Rockwell is more contemplative and small than most space movies, and I appreciated it taking its time to reveal what's really going on.


AFGHAN STAR (***) - Directed by Havana Marking.

This documentary follows a season of the Afghanistan version of American Idol. In a country where the Taliban ever so recently had banned music and television, once they were ousted, the Afghans are enjoying their new freedoms. One freedom is to watch TV, one freedom is to vote for their favorite singer. And to show how there's still a long way to go, one contestant actually gets death threats after she dares to dance while she sang a number. Apparently dancing is against Sharia law, and the filmmakers found some people who without irony said yes, she deserved to be killed for dancing on TV.


BRIGHT STAR (**) - Starring Abbie Cornish, Ben Whishaw and Paul Schneider. Directed by Jane Campion.

Cornish is great as Fannie Bryce, who had a romance with the poet John Keats before his untimely death at age 25. But this truck me as one of those stories that's probably better read than viewed. It has several patches where nothing is happening and I grew bored.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Alice in Wonderland - Movie Review


Starring Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Crispin Glover and Matt Lucas.
Directed by Tim Burton.

There are two Lewis Carroll books: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and Through the Looking-Glass. I've seen several versions but I've never actually read them. I tried to read the original once, but about 70 pages in, Alice began to give me a headache. She was the ultimate one-track-mind character. Every time anyone said something, she'd react to that and dwell on it. This movie makes me want to give them another chance, but I've always liked the 1951 Disney version. I enjoyed the all-star mini-series they did in the 1980's. I remember Sammy Davis Jr. was the caterpillar. There was also a decent version about six or seven years ago where Martin Short was the Mad Hatter.

So here we have what is intended to be a sequel. Alice is now 19, a girl trapped in Victorian times. When we meet her stuffy fiance-to-be, we completely understand she can't jump back down a rabbit-hole soon enough. The twist is that Alice has no memory of her first journey to Wonderland.

The White Rabbit and others have sought her out to be their champion. In the books, the Queen of Hearts and the Red Queen were two different characters, but they're merged here into the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter). She's conquered Wonderland, now called Underland, and she has the jabberwocky as her champion.

Burton's sequel has some cool visuals, but other times it seems small. The sky's always cloudy, most of the forests are burnt out. The plot felt more like a Narnia sequel, with the build-up to the big battle.

Depp's Mad Hatter is another unique creation of his, and he's fine. Anne Hathaway is fine as the White Queen too. I enjoyed the Chessire Cat, the caterpillar, and the cast of characters we expect to meet. Weird to see them all allies though.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Gentlemen Broncos - DVD Review


Starring Michael Angarano, Jennifer Coolidge, Jemaine Clement, Sam Rockwell, Mike White, Hector Jiminez, Halley Feiffer and Josh Pais.
Directed by Jared Hess.

"I'm sorry, I can't do this. This movie's gonna suck," says Benji Purvis (Michael Angarano) at the 40-minute mark. He's talking about a home-made movie the characters are making, but it could have been the actor letting the audience know this movie wasn't going to get any better.

If Napoleon Dynamite was a hit, and Nacho Libre was a hit-n-miss, GB is just a miss. Among the gags in this movie: magical burp breath, a snake with diarrhea, a hero sowing his gonad back on, and a fountain of pink puke to defeat the rocket-launching deer.

Benji is the socially awkward hero, not as distinct as Napoleon. Just a dweeb who furrows his brow when upset. He goes to a writers' convention and submits a novella of his for a contest. The judge is the successful sci-fi/fantasy author Ronald Chevalier (Jemaine Clement), who happens to be stuck in a rut. He reads Benji's story, changes some names, and he has a hit.

First problem is the original story comes across like one of Stephen Colbert's rejected Tek Jansen adventures. Then the changes Chevalier applies turns it into a book one would submit for a Worst Story Ever contest.

Second problem is Hess's tone. His humor is a high-wire act, and if it fails, it has a long way to fall.

If there's anything that does work, it's Clement (Flight of the Concords) doing an amusing Alan Rickman accent as the self-absorbed Chevalier. There are also some cool soundtrack choices. Other than that, I hope Hess got whatever he needed to out of his system with this, and he can make something good next time.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

DVD Pet Peeve

It really bugs me when the studios code their DVD so I can't hit the Menu button during previews/commercials or Skip. If I don't want to waste the eight minutes, I have to fast-forward through them? Wasn't this supposed to be one way DVDs were superior to VHS?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Damned United - DVD Review


Starring Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall, Jim Broadbent, Colm Meaney and Henry Goodman.
Directed by Tom Hooper.

Brian Clough is apparently one of the winningest English football coaches in history. (That's "soccer" to the Yanks.) But this story avoids the usual sports movie "inspiring coach turns rag-tag group into winners" and instead focusses on the worst coaching job of his life, when in 44 days he turns the champion Leeds team into losers.

Clough is played by Michael Sheen, whose been adept enough to play David Frost, Tony Blair, a vampire and a werewolf in his eclectic career. It's really interesting to watch the dynamic between Clough and his mentor/rival played by Colm Meaney.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Community Quote of the Week

"Disappointing you is like choking the little mermaid with a bike chain." - Jeff

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Precious - DVD Review



Starring Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz.
Directed by Lee Daniels.

Finally got to see this, as the studio decided to release the DVD the Tuesday after the Academy Awards, and I found myself not overhyped and well-braced for the hard-hitting subject matter that is this movie.

There's an undercurrent of joy to this movie, as Clarice Precious Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) tends to get lost in fantasies of what she wishes her life was like. The she wakes up in the real world, where she's flunking high school, illiterate, and pregnant with her second child via her own father. Precious is a fairly quiet child, living in her own head, her size intimidatiing and a source of mockery.

She receives a ray of hope when she starts attending a new school with a caring teacher and sympathetic students. But at the end of each day, she must still home to her monstrous mother, played by Mo'Nique, who seems to be playing a one-dimensional villain until that final scene, where we get insight into her character in a monologue that Mo'Nique nails with all the right notes.

Lee Daniels, who made one of the weirdest misfires of the decade in Shadowboxer, has learned his lessons and at the same time is unafraid to explore dark corners. Even Mariah Carey is a credible actress under his watch as a social worker who's seen it all. Yes, it is brutal in parts, and it's even in danger of glorifying the ultimate bad childhood, but the movie never falls off the tightrope thanks to the effective work of the cast.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Planet 51 - DVD Review


Starring the voices of Dwayne Johnson, Jessica Biel, Justin Long, Gary Oldman, Seann William Scott and John Cleese.
Directed by Jorge Blanco & Javier Abad.

The animation is better than Happily N'Ever After but not as good as, say, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. The story starts out promising. A 1950's era alien planet where the people there do barbecues and go to sock-hops, and they're obsessed with alien monster movies. Then when a real alien shows up, an astronaut from Earth, the real paranoia begins.

Trouble is, the astronaut in question is Chuck Baker, a dimbulb egomaniac that makes Buzz Lightyear at the beginning of Toy Story look well-informed. Baker's adventure on this planet is severely limited by his lack of wonder or common sense. Naturally there's a scientist who pretends to be an alien expert. Naturally there's a trigger-happy general who wants to destroy it for national security.

And there's a mobile robot that may have been conceived before Wall-E came out, but at this point it comes across as a giant, giant rip-off.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Summer Box-Office Prospects

Too soon?


I'll do my actual predictions in April but here's an early look at some sure hits this summer.

$200 million+ guaranteed.

1. IRON MAN 2 (May 7) - Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark is probably the only superhero who's more interesting when he's not in his suit. Mickey Rourke's Whiplash looks like a worthy opponent, and we can count on more banter between Downey and Gwyneth Paltrow.

2. ECLIPSE (June 30) - The third Twilight movie looks to surely make as much money as the first and could challenge the second one. Although I'm sure some Twihards will be upset that Bryce Dallas Howard replaced Rachelle LeFevre as Veronica.

3. TOY STORY 3-D (June 18) - Been a while since a Pixar title did not earn at least $200 million domestic.

4. INCEPTION (July 16) - The fact that it's Christopher Nolan I think will be enough to propel a huge opening, and then I'd wager word-of-mouth will keep it afloat.

5. SHREK FOREVER AFTER (May 21) - The third one was terrible but that didn't stop it from grossing a ton.

$100 million+ guaranteed

6. ROBIN HOOD (May 14) - Russell Crowe isn't the most reliable opener, but this period actioner made to look just like a Gladiator sequel ought to do the trick.

7. PRINCE OF PERSIA: SANDS OF TIME (May 28) - Jake Gyllenhaal doesn't scream to me "Action Hero" but Jerry Bruckheimer really seems to know what he's doing. The special effects look through the roof.

8. SEX & THE CITY 2 (May 28) - Chick flick for women 35 and older to tide them over until Eclipse arrives so they can lust over the now-legal Taylor Lautner.

9. KNIGHT & DAY (July 2) - Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz might be able to have the on-screen chemistry to make a project like this float. I still believe in Cruise.

10. DESPICABLE ME (July 9) - Animation still brings in the big bucks. Looks like this summer's Kung Fu Panda.

11. THE OTHER GUYS (August 6) - Will Ferrell's hit-or-miss, but this just seems like a hit permise to me, with him and Mark Wahlberg as two mediocre cops at a precinct tired of getting outshined by the two star detectives (Dwayne Johnson, Samuel L. Jackson).

Dark horses:

* THE A-TEAM (June 11) - I think the trailer looks cool, it seems primed for at least a $30 million opening, but could quickly sink if it isn't at least halfway fun. Liam Neeson (Taken), Bradley Cooper (The Hangover), and Sharlto Copley (District 9) have all earned good enough karma to share a hit here. This is one where I really hope it's good.

* THE EXPENDABLES (August 13) - Sylvester Stallone brings back a dirty dozen of action icons in one mish-mash of a movie. Could be fun. Should be fun. But has Dolph Lundgren's actually improved his acting skills?

* THE SORCEROR'S APPRENTICE (July 16) - Nicolas Cage and Jerry Bruckheimer united to make National Treasure a billion-dollar franchise, so why couldn't they strike gold with something else?

Other big titles coming this summer:

GROWN UPS - Adam Sandler, Kevin James, and Chris Rock get together for a more conventional-looking comedy than Sandler's cancer misfire last year. I thought the preview was kinda lame. But if Kevin James can make Paul Blart a big hit, well...

KILLERS - A Katherine Heigl flick, and she's had pretty good luck with the box-office. Here she marries a guy who turns out to be an assassin. The downside is her husband is Ashton Kutcher, who doesn't really strike me as a box-office draw, but then, Heigl doesn't really need an A-list male co-star.

MORNING GLORY - What if Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira secretly hated each other but had underlying sexual tension? This comedy is about a morning news team (Harrison Ford, Diane Keaton) who charm in front of cameras but can't stand each other when they're off camera, and they're driving their producer (Rachel McAdams) crazy. I'm hoping this is a Working Girl-esque comedy.

THE LAST AIRBENDER (July 2) - There hasn't been too many good live-action translations of Japanese manga (Dragonball Evolution, anyone?) but M. Night Shaymalan still has some goodwill, and maybe by getting of the thriller genre he can revitalize his career.

THE KARATE KID (June 11) - This is one remake I did not want to happen. Jaden Smith is Daniel-san and Jackie Chan is Mr. Miyagi. But what else is Chan going to do? Rush Hour 4?

MARMADUKE (June 4) - Does anyone read newspaper comic strips anymore? I don't think Baby Blues, Zits and Sherman's Lagoon have the same cultural significance today that Bloom County, Calvin & Hobbes and The Far Side did twenty years ago. Anyways, I'm about as excited for this as I would be for a live-action Heathcliff or Family Circus.

MacGRUBER (May 21) - Couter-programming with Will Forte trying to turn his 15-second sketch character into a 90-minute action icon. Been a while since an SNL character made a successful big-screen translation. For every Wayne's World, there's an It's Pat!

PREDATORS (July 9) - Robert Rodriguez produces this attempt to reboot the Predator now that he's no longer versus the Alien. The off-beat casting (Adrien Brody, Topher Grace) is what mostly intrigues me about this sequel.

JONAH HEX (June 18) - Josh Brolin slings his guns.

SALT (July 23) - Angelina Jolie slings her guns.

RAMONA & BEEZUS (July 23) - Beverly Cleary's creations finally hit the big-screen.

LETTER FROM JULIET (May 14) - I'm not going to underestimate Amanda Seyfried at this point, with her in this Nicolas Sparks-looking weepie.

Also, JUST WRIGHT (May 14), DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS (July 9), GET HIM TO THE GREEK (June 4), THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU (July 30), BEASTLY (July 30), STEP UP 3 (August 6), EAT PRAY LOVE (August 13), SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (August 13), GOING THE DISTANCE (August 20), NANNY MCPHEE 2 (August 20) and PIRANHA 3-D (August 27.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Capitalism and other DVDs

Directed by Michael Moore.


Like most of Moore's movies, it's hilarious, maddening, simplistic, one-sided, and most effective when Moore is off-screen and quiet. It's also of full of interesting anecdotes and heart-breaking interviews with victims of the system. How can you not get mad at seeing neighborhoods destroyed and people thrown out of their homes?

Naturally, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush are the embodiments of evil, while Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama get free passes.

Moore has a point here. A giant freaking point. Why is it so many mortgage people were slimy with their deals to get people upside-down in their houses? Why do the top 1% of America have more wealth than the bottom 95%? Why do multimillionaires keep giving each other bonuses while laying off thousands and borrowing more money from taxpayers? How do guys like Robert Rubin, Lawrence Summers, Hank Paulsen, Timothy Geitner, Lloyd Blankfein, Chris Dodd, Barney Frank, etc, keep getting away with it?

But then Michael can't help himself. Stunts like him harrassing entry-level people whose job it is to keep his camera out of lobbies are old, like him trying to make a citizen's arrest of the Board of Directors of AIG. And his conclusion is strange. He calls capitalism evil and wants to replace it with democracy. Um... huh?

But he does have a cool quote in the closing credits from Thomas Jefferson, 1816: "I sincerely believe... that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies."


Starring Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Kristen Wiig, Drew Barrymore, Juliette Lewis, Jimmy Fallon, Alia Shawkat, Andrew Wilson, Eve, Zoe Bell, Ari Graynor, and Daniel Stern.
Directed by Drew Barrymore.


I liked the cast. I just wish the story had had any originality to it. It follows the three-act structure of every teen comedy-drama where they're secretly doing something their parents wouldn't approve of. What made it still an okay rental was the fact that there aren't a lot of movies about roller derby.


Starring Josh Stewart, Andrea Roth, Madeline Zima, Robert Wisdom and Juan Fernandez.
Directed by Marcus Dunston.


Joyless, unscary horror flick. Marcus Dunston & Patrick Melton, the writing team behind Feast, seem to have lost their sense of humor after working on some Saw sequels. This is about a small-time thief who goes to rob a house, only to find the whole thing boobie-trapped by a second, scarier thief, one who enjoys torturing people. Deserves to be forgotten.

The Baader-Meinhof Complex - DVD Review


Starring Moritz Bleibtreu, Martina Gedeck, Johanna Wokalek and Bruno Ganz.
Directed by Uli Edel.

I'm vaguely aware of the RAF these days. I feel like I knew more about it in high school, but then, the history wasn't as old.

While the US was having its hippie protests and flower power in the late 1960's/early 1970's, the kids in Germany were a little more violent in their protests of those Western dogs invading Vietnam. Without glamorizing or demonizing the main players, we see how angry these radicals are at Germany's support of Israel and the Americans in Vietnam, and it leads to violence fairly quickly. Even though people are dying, they become Robin Hoods to a section of the population, but terrorism breeds terrorism, and even after major players are captured or killed, the next generation takes it further.

We get the story mainly through the eyes of Meinhof, a mother, a journalist who uses the power of her pen to condemn what she sees as a corrupt government. She teams up with Baader, whose visions of a better Germany get more twisted the longer he goes.

Bruno Ganz enhances any movie he appears in, and here he's the chief of police trying to stop the violence. Regardless of motive, the movie makes it pretty clear terrorists can only end up one way.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Shutter Island - Movie Review


Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, Max von Sydow, Patricia Clarkson, Jackie Earle Haley, Ted Levine and John Carroll Lynch.
Directed by Martin Scorsese.

Far from Scorsese's best, this entertaining little mystery still has atmospherics-galore. I love gothic. I love towering buildings, byzantine stairwells, dripping catwalks, steam coming up from shadows. I love extras staring at protagonists in menacing fashion.

As a mystery I can't say I was surprised by too much, but I still liked going on the journey.

Leonardo DiCaprio, eternally baby-faced, is "duly-appointed US mahshal" Teddy Daniels. He and his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) have just arrived to Shutter Island, an island that houses the criminally insane. It appears that one of the patients has disappeared, and thanks to the foreboding soundtrack, we know it isn't going to be easy to find her.

Paramount said they bumped this to February because they couldn't afford to do a Best Picture campaign. Well, that's silly. Even with ten nominations, this wouldn't have a chance, but opening in February was a wise financial move, as it was the highest opening ever for this, the fourth Leo/Marty collaboration.

For those who remember Marty's Cape Fear, yes, this is like Cape Fear.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Why didn't Avatar win?

MTV asks "What went wrong?" for Avatar not winning more?

For me it's simple.

James Cameron has already won Best Director. For Titanic.

Avatar's story already won Best Picture. For Dances with Wolves.

I really enjoyed Avatar, but it's one of those movies you have to see on the big-screen in 3D. When 3D TV's are common-place in another 5-7 years, maybe it will seem like it was robbed.

I liked Avatar, one of my favorites of the year. But really, The Hurt Locker is one that will stand the test of time as Best Picture.

No Farrah in Memorium

So why would the Academy leave out Farrah Fawcett? Seems like there's weird omissions every year.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Academy Award Results

BEST PICTURE - The Hurt Locker
BEST DIRECTOR - Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
BEST ACTOR - Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
BEST ACTRESS - Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR - Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY - Geoffrey Fletcher, Precious
BEST FOREIGN FILM - The Secret in Their Eyes (Argentina)
BEST COSTUME DESIGN - The Young Victoria
BEST MAKE-UP - Star Trek
BEST ORIGINAL SONG - "The Weary Kind", Crazy Heart

Hopefully whoever directed this year's show will not direct next year's show. Martin & Baldwin fell flat as a team most times and the camera cutting was all over the place. How dare they screw up the In Memoriam!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Gamer - DVD Review


Starring Gerard Butler, Michael C. Hall, Kyra Sedgwick, Amber Valletta, Logan Lerman, Ludacris, Alison Lohman, John Leguizamo, Terry Crews, Milo Ventimiglia, John DeLancie, Aaron Yoo, Zoe Bell and Keith David.
Directed by Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor.

There's a dance sequence toward the end that the villainous Michael C. Hall does with some other people whose movements he controls, to the tune of Sammy Davis Jr.'s "I've Got You Under My Skin." Youtube it. That is the only worthwhile scene in this dark look at a near-future where humans have become so desensitized that they can control real people in shoot-em-up video-game scenarios.

(Okay, Keith David's one scene as an interrogating cop is cool too, but that's because he's Keith David.)

New York I Love You - DVD Review


Starring Bradley Cooper, Justin Bartha, Andy Garcia, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Orlando Bloom, Christina Ricci, Ethan Hawke, Maggie Q, Anton Yelchin, James Caan, Blake Lively, Rachel Bilson, Julie Christie, John Hurt, Irrfan Khan, Drea de Matteo, Robin Wright Penn, Chris Cooper, Eli Wallach, Cloris Leachman, Burt Young, Olivia Thirlby, Drea de Matteo and Shia LaBeouf.
Directed by Faith Akin, Yvan Attal, Allen Hughes, Shunji Iwai, Wen Jiang, Joshua Marston, Mira Nair, Brett Ratner, Randall Balsmeyer, Shekhar Kapur, and Natalie Portman.

Some beautiful moments are to be found in this movie, a sequel in spirit to Paris Je T'aime, where a bunch of directors make a collection of shorts dedicated to a city. Standouts for me were the one where Anton Yelchin (Star Trek) takes a paralyzed girl to prom, and an old married couple (Eli Wallach, Cloris Leachman) just taking a stroll. And yet in some ways, it's like reading a bunch of high-quality Hallmark cards in a row.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Serious Man - DVD Review


Starring Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed, Sari Lennick, Aaron Wolff, Simon Helberg and George Wyner.
Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen.

The movie's credits started to roll, and my head filled with questions. I went to the DVD extras seeking insight, and I got less than I expected. Maybe the movie isn't really saying anything grand after all.

Michael Stuhlbarg is Larry Gopnik, a put-upon physics teacher whose life starts falling apart, and he can't understand why. His wife wants a divorce, his kids don't respect him, he might not get tenure at his school, a Korean student is trying to bribe/blackmail him. "But I haven't done anything!" is his lament, and in a way, it seems to be what the Coens think God is saying to the people on Earth.

Larry searches for answers and goes to three rabbis looking for help. The first two offer empty advice, parables with no purpose. It boils it down to "there are no real answers," and the third rabbi is too "busy" to speak to him. The Coens are the God of this universe, and they keep telling their Job stand-in: "We're going to keep making bad things happen to you and not tell you why."

While Stuhlbarg gives a great lead performance, and there are other amusements to be had, but the usual knocks against the Coens, primarily their lack of humanity toward the characters they move around on their chessboard, is on full display. The script also has the same tone-deafness of The Ladykillers in thinking swear words are their own punchline. The point is that there's no point, and as such, it's a pointless movie, which makes me feel bad for Stuhlbarg after the closing credits run.

Where a climax and ending should have been.

Dancing with the Stars teams

I stopped watching this show, but here's the pairs for ABC's new season.

- ABC soap-star Aiden Turner and Edyta Sliwinska
- "Pussycat Doll" Nicole Scherzinger and Derek Hough
- "The Bachelor" Jake Pavelka and Chelsie Hightower
- NFL Bengal Chad Ochocinco and Cheryl Burke
- Comedian Niecy Nash and Louis Van Amstel
- Gold-medalist Evan Lysacek and Anna Trebunskaya
- Divorced mom Kate Gosselin and Tony Dovolani
- Actress Shannen Doherty and Mark Ballas
- ESPN reporter Erin Andrews and Maksim Chmerkovskiy
- Baywatch babe Pamela Anderson and Damian Whitewood (in his debut)
- Astronaut Buzz Aldrin and Ashly Costa (formerly DelGrosso)

Law Abiding Citizen - DVD Review


Starring Jamie Foxx, Gerard Butler, Bruce McGill, Colm Meaney, Leslie Bibb, Viola Davis and Gregory Itzin.
Directed by F. Gary Gray.

It's one of those maybe-worth-a-rental pulp movies. Gerard Butler is a normal guy whose wife and child are murdered in front of him after two men break into his house. The guy that actually killed the wife and child cuts a deal with the prosecuting attorney (Jamie Foxx) to testify against his partner, who actually just watched. As a result, the main killer only serves three years while the other guy gets death row.

Ten years later, the partner is scheduled to die. Foxx shows up to watch, and he's surprised Butler's not there but he doesn't really think about it. But then the guy's lethal injection goes wrong, and his death is painful.

Meanwhile Butler abducts the main killer. He awakens strapped to a table, surrounded by surgical equipment and power tools. Butler is there. He actually did contract work for the CIA and is quite resourceful. He's also gone a bit nuts over the past ten years. He explains what he's going to do to the man, turns on the camcorder, revs up the power saw... Next scene, please!

Butler is thrown in jail, but he's not done yet. The killer's defense attorney, the judge on the case, no one is safe. And people keep dying while Butler sits in jail. How is he doing it?

This takes the revenge flick one step farther. He gets his revenge against the killers, but he does it so gruesomely we can't really support him. And while "the system" let him down, do they really all deserve to die? And how far will Foxx go to stop him? What am I rooting for here?

The ending is over-the-top and illogical, but it's par for the course as to what led to it. And it kept my interest throughout.

Crazy Heart - Movie Review


Starring Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Robert Duvall and Colin Farrell.
Directed by Scott Cooper.

Jeff Bridges has already won the Golden Globe and SAG award for his work here, and I hope he goes on to win the Academy Award for this. It's not just a gold-watch type win either (like Paul Newman in Color of Money or Alan Arkin in Little Miss Sunshine). Bridges has been steadily good for four decades now, and while he's fine in stuff like Iron Man, this serves as a reminder of how good he can really be when given the room to let a character breathe.

Here he plays Bad Blake, a one-time famous C&W singer whose career has degenerated to him playing bowling alleys and saloons in towns like Pueblo. He's ornery, drunk, coasting on fame fumes. He gets a chance to make money again by opening for Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), a former protege who's hit it big. He also begins a romance with a Santa Fe reporter (Maggie Gyllenhaal).

This was one where I really enjoyed the performances and was really nervous that any second, something tragic was going to happen. No one can drink that much and not have some consequences.

The music is a supporting player. They sound like songs that were hits at one time and can still be enjoyed nostalgically. I'm thinking this will have a Best Song win come Academy night too.