Sunday, May 30, 2010

Shrek Forever After - Movie Review

Starring the voices of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, Walt Dohrn, Julie Andrews, John Cleese, Jon Hamm, Jane Lynch and Craig Robinson.

I thought the first two Shreks were fine, had some laughs, a little too reliant on pop-culture references and inappropriate sexual innuendo. I hated the third one. The fourth one remembers it's a kids movie, throws in pop-culture references and songs ranging from Beastie Boys to the Carpenters, and has an actual plot, even if it's borrowed from It's A Wonderful Life.

Domestic bliss is getting on Shrek's nerves. One too many diaper changes, no townspeople scared of the ogre anymore... Shrek's in a rut. When Rumpelstiltskin comes along to offer him a day where he's still a feared ogre, Shrek takes it. But the fine print of Rumpelstiltskin's deal, he gets a day back from Shrek, and he takes the day Shrek was born. Thus Fiona was never rescued, and Fiona's parents have been tricked into signing over Far Far Away to Rumpelstiltskin.

Kudos for DreamWorks letting storyboarder Walt Dohrn voice Rumpel. He was the stand-in til they could find a more famous voice, but they liked his work and let him keep the job, and he does a good job. Rumpel's the best villain of the series since John Lithgow's diminuitive prince from the first one.

Is it funny? At times. I'm used to Eddie Murphy getting chuckles out of Donkey, but he doesn't get a lot of good lines. Antonio Banderas is still a hoot as Puss in Boots. Shrek and Fiona are fine. They're there.

It fades quickly from memory, so I would say it's a worthy rental for the kids. I'm glad our tickets were free. And do I hope they change their minds and make Shrek 5? No.

The Messenger, The Road - DVD Reviews

THE MESSENGER (***1/2) - Starring Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, Samantha Morton, Jena Malone and Steve Buscemi. Directed by Oren Moverman.

It's rough at times, but it features the best performances to date by Ben Foster (3:10 to Yuma) and Woody Harrelson (nominated for Best Supporting Actor). They're two soldiers in charge of personally informing the next of kin when their loved one in action dies while serving his country.


THE ROAD (***) - Starring Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Charlize Theron and Robert Duvall. Directed by John Hillcoat.

The bleakness of Cormac McCarthy's novel gets no chirpier here. A father and son walk across a post-apocalyptic world where the sky's always dark, where all the animals are dead, and where the few survivng humans are tending to turn to cannibalism. Mortensen and Smit-McPhee have nice chemistry as father and son, and it feels more realistic than most movies witht his theme. Depressingly realisitic.

R.I.P. Dennis Hopper

Rebel without a Cause
True Grit
Easy Rider
Apocalypse Now
Blue Velvet
True Romance
Fox's 24
Starz's Crash

He was an original. Died from prostate cancer at age 74.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Spider-Man shortlist

The rumored short-list of the Spider-Man reboot for director Marc Webb:

1. Jamie Bell - He made it his name with Billy Elliott, and lately has been seen in supporting work like King Kong and Jumper.

2. Andrew Garfield - He was the slacker-student who sat in Robert Redford's office with Lions for Lambs and was also in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

3. Josh Hutcherson - He's been one of those kid actors who seems like he can transition nicely into college-age roles. Probably best known for Bridge to Terabithia and Journey to the Center of the Earth.

4. Alden Ehrenreich - He'd be my pick. I saw him in Tetro, and he really has star power, the unusual name notwithstanding.

5. Frank Dillane - Was last seen as young Tom Riddle in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Extraordinary Measures - DVD Review


Starring Brendan Fraser, Harrison Ford, Keri Russell, Jared Harris, Courtney B. Vance, David Clennon, Patrick Bauchau and Alan Ruck.
Directed by Tom Vaughan.

There's a weird amount of shouting in this movie. Harrison Ford plays an "eccentric" genetic researcher, but it means he loses his temper a lot and yells his motivations at the other characters. Usually histrionics like this are saved for movies on Lifetime or Hallmark.

It's about a father who has two kids with a deadly genetic disorder. I am also the father of two kids with a deadly genetic disorder, one of whom already died. So I was ready for this movie to speak to me. But there were things that bothered me about it. It's based on a true story, but Ford's character is a fictitious composite. And I thought there had to be more to the story than how easily it makes it look to raise millions. Looking it up, yeah, that's what the guy did. He knew how to raise millions.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Robin Hood - Movie Review


Starring Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, William Hurt, Mark Strong, Max von Sydow, Mark Addy, Oscar Isaac, Danny Huston, Kevin Durand, Matthew Macfayden, Scott Grimes and Eileen Atkins.
Directed by Ridley Scott.

Better than I thought it would be, not as good as it could have been, this is miles better than King Arthur, and really, it would have been a decent story if they hadn't called it Robin Hood.

Robin Hood is the stuff of legend, but here Scott and company have come up with a historical theory on how the legend came about. Turns out Robin played a crucial role in laying the groundwork for what would become the Magna Carta of 1215.

Robin Longstride is an archer, a soldier in King Richard's army. When King Richard dies, a knight, Robert of Loxley, is commissioned with the duty of returning the crown to England. He is jumped by Godfrey, friend of Prince John and conspirator with France. Robin and company come along and stop them, and Loxley's dying request is to return his sword to his father.

Robin, Little John, Will Scarlet, and Alan A'Dale put on the knights' clothes and return to England with the crown. Prince John is now King John, and when Robin finds Loxley's estates, the father decides it best if Robin continues to keep up the charade that he is indeed Sir Robert of Loxley.

This 2-1/2 hour epic plays out like we're watching three episodes in a row of the most expensive HBO period series in history. It is an origin story, so we don't have robbing from the rich to give to the poor, we don't have Robin entering an archery contest; the Sheriff is barely there, as the real villain is Godfrey.

My qualms only came with the lack of chemistry between Crowe and Blanchett (as Marion), and then some serious tactical question marks in the final battle scene. And if this is a prequel to the story, shouldn't Robin be about 15 years younger?

It is better than the Kevin Costner version.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus - DVD Review


Starring Christopher Plummer, Heath Ledger, Lily Cole, Andrew Garfield, Tom Waits, Verne Troyer, Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell.
Directed by Terry Gilliam.

Heath Ledger's last performance is within a Gilliam film, and if there's ever been an uncompromising artist, it's Gilliam. He makes movies for himself, and if other people like it, great. I'm thrilled he is so entertained in his own head.

Christopher Plummer plays Dr. Parnassus, a thousand-year-old man who has a deal with the devil (Tom Waits). You know, describing the jumbled plot isn't that easy. Suffice to say, he has this mirror that lets people into his imagination, and when Tony (Heath Ledger) joins the show, he looks different each time he goes in, thus allowing Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell to play Tony on subsequent trips through the mirror.

Visually there's a lot going on, and I still will see every Gilliam film in hopes his narrative has caught up to his visuals. This movie reminded me a lot of The Brothers Grimm. Interesting but messy. It's a highs-and-lows offering.

The Ugly Truth - DVD Review


Starring Katherine Heigl, Gerard Butler, Bree Summer, Eric Winter, John Michael Higgins and Cheryl Hines.
Directed by Robert Luketic.

This is as bad as you've heard, at least far as the writing and acting of the two leads. John Michael Higgins and Cheryl Hines are able to squeeze some smiles out of their supporting work as the married anchors of the show that Heigl's character produces, but the bottom line - the message that men are pigs and that's what women want - is the oldest romantic-comedy cliche in the book.

Wall Street 23 years later

Caught this on Encore the other day. It is just as relevant now as it was then, maybe more so. How different are George Soros or Warren Buffett or Richard Mellon Scaife from Gordon Gekko, or any hedge-fund manager from Bud Fox? Except that now, their shenanigans are easier to do, with more money.

Michael Douglas has never been better, the writing's great, and really, Oliver Stone's directing was more effective then. But my favorite acting job is the five-second pause Martin Sheen takes after his son yells at him for not having the guts to make his stake in the world.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Legion - DVD Review


Starring Paul Bettany, Dennis Quaid, Lucas Black, Tyrese Gibson, Adrianne Palicki, Kate Walsh, Charles S. Dutton, Kevin Durand, Jon Tenney and Willa Holland.
Directed by Scott Stewart.

So in this movie, God has lost faith in humanity and decides to wipe them out, but for some reason never clearly explained, one pregnant woman carries the child that can save humanity. And rather than God just making the baby stillborn, he entrusts this tasks to his angels. One angel, Michael, says no, but another angel, Gabriel, says yes. And so you have one angel fighting to save humanity while all the others, feathered wings and all, are fighting to exterminate them.

And how do most of these killer-angels approach this task? By possessing humans. Since most of this movie takes place at a diner in the middle of nowhere, and that diner is surrounded by possessed humans, it's quite reminiscent of one of George A. Romero's (Timeperiod) of the Living Dead movies.

How can the people in the diner possibly fight back? Good thing Michael brought a lot of guns. Yes, really.

The action's not exciting, the one-by-one elimination of the players is predictable, and the "twist" at the end doesn't really answer questions so much as sweep things under the rug.

The Lovely Bones - DVD Review


Starring Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Saoirse Ronan, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Michael Imperioli and Rose McIver.
Directed by Peter Jackson.

One of those movies where I had a solid thumbs-up until the last ten minutes. I could buy into the "What Dreams May Come" art direction of the In-Between where ghosts who aren't ready to move on hang out. I could enjoy the acting from the talented cast. I felt the suspense of having this child-killer on the loose. And then an anvil falls from the sky and squishes my goodwill.

Saorise Ronan (Atonement, City of Ember) plays Sally Salmon, a 14-year-old girl with hopes and dreams who is murdered in 1973. She watches from the other side as her family grieves. She watches her killer get away with it, watches him plot to possibly kill again.

Stanley Tucci was nominated for his work as the killer, and he is nice and creepy here. There's a very suspenseful scene when Sally's sister breaks into his house, looking for possible evidence, and he comes home while she's still inside.

Dis movie coulda had class, it coulda been a contenda. It's still okay, well made and all that, but man, that ending... Tsk tsk.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans - DVD Review


Starring Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, Xzibit, Fairuza Balk, Shawn Hatosy, Brad Dourif, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Michael Shannon, Tom Bower, Jennifer Coolidge, Irma P. Hall and Denzel Whitaker.
Directed by Werner Herzog.

Not really a remake or sequel. More like another installment in an anthology series about bad lieutenants. Maybe in ten years we'll see Ben Affleck in Bad Lieutenant: Beantown.

Nicolas Cage is the scumbag with a badge this time around (Harvey Keitel was the original in 1992). He has a bit of a drug problem and seems to be okay with making side deals and crooked cover-ups. Cage excels at stuff like this. I could always tell when he was hung-over, drunk, high, really high, or craaaazy high.

I was excited to see Val Kilmer get real work again, except he disappears for most of the movie to where I didn't get why they got Val Kilmer. (He was probably tired of starring in straight-to-DVD fare). Cage walked the line where he's our anti-hero but I kept going back and forth between rooting for him to find redemption or just get his just desserts.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Nine - DVD Review


Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman, Kate Hudson, Stacy Ferguson and Sophia Loren.
Directed by Rob Marshall.

I appreciate live-action musicals. I like that Hollywood is trying to keep them alive. I really enjoyed Moulin Rouge and Chicago and Sweeney Todd and Hairspray. A great deal depends on the quality of the source material and the imagination of the director. And while an amazing cast has been assembled here, the source material just isn't that good. When I came out of Chicago, I could remember "All That Jazz" and "Mr. Cellophane" and "He Had It Coming" and the press-conference number and "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury... a tapdance." (Still do, years later.) The only tune I can remember a day later from Nine is "Be Italian." Meh.

Daniel Day Lewis is the center, Guido, a brilliant director who's had his last two films flop, and he has writer's block trying to come up with his next picture. The women in his life show up for real or in his memories, and each gets a musical number or two. Fergie has the previously-mentioned "Be Italian" number as a crush from his childhood. You also have his wife (Marion Cotillard), his ex-wife (Nicole Kidman), his mistress (Penelope Cruz), his assistant (Judi Dench), his mother (Sophia Loren), and a ingenue flirt (Kate Hudson).

Acting-wise, Cruz and Cotillard stuck out to me most. It is the umpteenth movie about a "struggling artist" who's a complete jerk in his personal life and by the end realizes how many lives he's destroyed while working on his own immortality. Director Rob Marshall (Chicago) stages every musical number as a lingerie-clad bump-and-grind number like he's remaking Cabaret.

Some good ideas here, great cast; better than, say, Phantom of the Opera, but not really that memorable as far as our modern movie musicals go.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Iron Man 2 - Movie Review


Starring Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Mickey Rourke, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg, John Slattery, Kata Mara, Leslie Bibb, Jon Favreau, Bill O'Reilly and Garry Shandling.
Directed by Jon Favreau.

Is it as good as the first one? Of course not. I can count on one hand how many Part 2's were better than Part 1. But my expectations were nicely lowered by early mixed reviews and I came away enjoying it. Morning after reaction, I'd still rather watch the first one again than the second one.

At the end of the last one, Tony Stark ditched the secret identity and confirmed he was indeed Iron Man. So now we get to see the repercussions. Stark is the most famous person on Earth, and he's the perfect deterrent to keep peace in the world. Stark had a bit of an ego before, but now it's really gone to his head.

Meanwhile in Russia, a man named Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) is plotting his revenge against Tony. Turns out Tony's dad shafted Ivan's dad out of the business forty years ago.

This movie is busy. It has a lot going on and it has a lot of ideas, and not everything gets its due, or it leaves me wishing they'd not bothered. For instance, if they weren't going to bring back Terrence Howard as Rhodey, why bother bringing back the character in Iron Man 2? "Because he has to become War Machine." Why? And then there's Scarlett Johansson as Natalie Rushman, Stark's new assistant after he promoted Pepper Potts to CEO of Stark Enterprises. Natalie is actually Black Widow, but once the movie was over, I wondered why she was really there, if not to just plant the seeds for The Avengers. At least when Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) pops up, we know he's solely there to remind us that The Avengers is coming Summer 2012.

The weakest parts of the movie for me were the action sequences. The first time the movie made my eyes glaze a little is when Rhodey first puts on the War Machine suit and fights Iron Man. Seeing two CGI-creations fight each other just isn't as cool as Jet Li vs. Jason Statham. But it's Iron Man. We have to see guys in suits fight. This also meant the final showdown with Iron Man and Whiplash isn't as good as it would have been if we could have actually seen both actors.

The strongest aspects come from the characters. I liked Stark's arch, and I like everything Downey does with Stark. It's the rare superhero franchise where the hero still remains the most important character rather than just serving as host for this installment's villains. And Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper acquits herself better than anyone else. She gets flustered, angry, nervous, calm at all the right points; probably the strongest female love interest in a superhero movie since Margot Kidder's Lois Lane.

I liked Sam Rockwell's oily weapons CEO Justin Hammer; I liked Rourke as the man who becomes Whiplash. I liked Garry Shandling as the senator who doesn't like Iron Man. Scarlett Johansson looks great as Black Widow. Cheadle's fine, but Rhodey's the most thankless role in the movie.

Movie pet peeve: computer experts who can just clackity-clack through high-tech firewalls and reprogram anything in a few seconds.

P.S. Really enjoyed Stan Lee's cameo.

P.P.S. Yes there is something after the end credits.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Comedy Central's Double Standard

Comedy Central is the biggest hypocritical double-standard channel ever. They censor the heck out of South Park for mentioning Mohammad but they're okay smearing Christians' face in the mud whenever they can. They're developing an animated comedy show about Jesus Christ, who wants to move to the city and get away from his apathetic dad, God.

Tetro - DVD Review


Starring Vincent Gallo, Alden Ehrenreich, Klaus Maria Brandauer and Carmen Maura.
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

I was completely on board with this movie for about half an hour, and there's still a lot to admire here. Francis Ford Coppola is experimenting here and he had a lot of nice touches, like an old master reacquainting himself with his inner auteur. But it all comes back to story and character, and Vincent Gallo is such an unpleasant, self-absorbed artist that I didn't really want to go on the ride with him.

Alden Ehrenreich, who has all the charm of an 18-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio, is younger brother Bennie, who's finally tracked down his older sibling Angelo to a villa in Argentina. Angelo has abandoned his family and insists to be only known as Tetro. Bennie's parents died when he was young, so all he has to go off of are the stories that Tetro is working on, and he secretly finds them and reads them.

What's good about this movie is the cinematography, the score, the angles that Coppola chooses. I also really liked the present shot in inky black while the flashbacks are shot in color, but an off-color like we're watching home movies. Which we essentially are.

The film sags in the middle and is too long at over two hours, but it's much better than Youth Without Youth, and Coppola shows he may be back on track to eventually recapture his 1970's glory.

Trucker - DVD Review


Starring Michelle Monaghan, Nathan Fillion, Benjamin Bratt, Jimmy Bennett, and Joey Lauren Adams.
Directed by James Mottern.

One of those down-and-out slice-of-life movies, this one focussed on a female truck driver (Mission Impossible 3's Michelle Monaghan) who suddenly has her 11-year-old son back in her life after she abandoned him and his father ten years ago. She takes him on the road, and while the kid's bratty at first (Jimmy Bennett is done no script favors), they eventually get a mutual understanding. The director frames it like he's dealing with honest people and situations, but the thin plot is predictable and convenient. Nathan Fillion shows up as an aw-shucks friend of hers.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Losers - Movie Review

Starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoe Saldana, Chris Evans, Idris Elba, Columbus Short, Jason Patric and Oscar Jaenada.
Directed by Sylvain White.

This is a warm-up to the A-Team movie. It's a droll little actioner about a group of specialists that get framed and have to pretend they're dead. Based on a grapic novel, it has the whiz-bang dialogue in between shoot-outs, bar fights, and the occasional senseless killing. It also explains the wardrobe changes or lack thereof. No matter what Clay is doing, he always seems to wind up back in a suit with his shirt untucked.

For me, the brainless action was fine but not really engaging til we got to the second half. You've seen the sequence in the preview when Jensen (Chris Evans) pulls out his fingers pretending they're real guns. In the movie, that is a great scene, the first one where I sat up and took notice. They played Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" in the chase scene leading up to it, and it made me wonder if it had been selected due to some scientific study done that concluded the most effective nostalgia song.

This is a movie where bandaging a wound eventually heals it, and where the sharpshooter is SO precise that it's amazing we don't hire this one guy to fight all our wars for us. Send Cougar (Oscar Jaenada) to Afghanistan with a sniper rifle and a canteen, and Al Qaeda will surrender within a week.