Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Salt - Movie Review


Starring Angelina Jolie, Liev Schrebier and Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Directed by Phillip Noyce.

First of all, kudos to the marketing department for not giving away giant chunks of the story. It was refreshing to see a summer action movie where most of the plot is not given away. The trailer has the plot of the first half-hour or so, and then out-of-context action sequences, but it was nice to not have the whole movie already spelled out.

Second of all, I don't know why Tom Cruise passed on this, but I'm glad for Angelina Jolie's sake he did. Jolie's always been one of the more credible action heroines (Tomb Raider, Mr. & Mrs. Smith), but this is a vehicle that really lets her show off what she can do.

Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, CIA agent, accused of being a Russian spy by a defector. Rather than let herself be locked down for questioning, she goes on the run to find her husband and clear her name. In many ways, it plays like The Fugitive, with her friend and boss (Schreiber) and the head of counter-intelligence (Ejiofor) always hot on her tail.

The movie is constant action, and as such there are some awfully convenient coincidences. But I had fun and I'd be happy if they greenlit a Salt 2.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

She's Out of My League - DVD Review


Starring Jay Baruchel, Alice Eve, TJ Cooper, Mike Vogel, Nate Torrance, Krysten Ritter, Debra Jo Rupp and Kyle Bornheimer.

About on par with Judd Apatow has been releasing lately. Jay Barcuhel, maximizing his nerdy charm, is a loser working at the airport who somehow gets a babe (Alice Eve) to go out with him. Part of the problem wasn't just the looks differential but the ambition differential. She's a lawyer, and he's a high-school graduate working for TSA. It had a couple funny gags, but felt more liked a botched opportunity. The moral of the story is pounded home at the end.

The Crazies - DVD Review


Starring Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson and Danielle Panabaker.
Directed by Breck Eisner.

Gets the right combination of scary and funny. It's a remake of the Romero flick (which I never saw) about an entire town whose water supply is infected by a chemical that turns everyone into homicidal maniacs. The camera makes us peek around corners we maybe don't want to, and it'se nice and paranoid about government screwing things up. Not a classic, but an above-average entry in the horror genre.

The Runaways - DVD Review

Starring Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning, Michael Shannon, Alia Shawkat, Scout Taylor-Compton, Tatum O'Neal and Brett Cullen.
Directed by Floria Sigismondi.

I enjoyed Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett, I enjoyed Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie, and I really enjoyed Michael Shannon as their creepy manager, but this movie was much shallower than I was expecting. I know; how deep can rock-n-roll teenage girls be? But this is like the Tiger Beat version of the story when I was expecting a little more Rolling Stone. Maybe because the source material is Cherrie's book, we focus on her. We watch the rise and fall of a naive, corruptible teenage girl whose career is over before it's begun. Considering that two of the other Runaways were Joan Jett and Lita Ford, who went on to have their own successful rock careers, I would liked to see them get a little more spotlight in the story.

And really, isn't it a problem if your movie's about a band, and the best character is the manager?

The Men Who Stare at Goats - DVD Review


Starring George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey, Robert Patrick and Stephen Lang.
Directed by Grant Heslov.

Few British thespians mangle their American accents like Ewan McGregor. Ever-so-loosely based on a true story, this movie has him play a journalist who goes to Iraq to study the secret "paranormal" unit of the military, where they try using ESP and spoon-bending as weapons. The movie has the laid-back vibe of a Coen-brothers-wannabe, and maybe that's because Clooney is the lead. The four leads certainly have fun (Bridges as a hippie soldier, and Spacey as the petulant backstabber of the bunch), but the tone meanders and it has the lasting impression of steam from a tea kettle. Plus it's weird to go a whole movie where the soldiers call each other Jedi, not noticing once that the reporter is young Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Big Fan - DVD Review


Starring Patton Oswalt, Kevin Corrgian and Michael Rapaport.
Directed by Robert Siegel.

This movie made me feel like a loser for having ever called into JT the Brick's radio show. (Only time I did was around 2003, and he disconnected me and made it sound like I was the one who hung up.) I came away resolved to never call into a smack-talk radio show again. I really can't even listen to Jim Rome anymore, he's become such a parody of himself. (And yet I watch Around the Horn; what's wrong with me?)

This movie is about a parking garage attendant with no life. Overweight, uneducated, single, living with Mom, dead-end job, but what he lives for is the New York Giants. He lives for going to the stadium every Sunday and watching the game in the parking lot, and then calling into a local smack-talk radio show. He lives a sad life. I'm sad to know there are people like this, but I know there are people like this.

His life changes for the worse when he spies his favorite Giants player, Quantrell Bishop, at a gas station. He and his friend decide to follow him so they can meet him. The end result is Bishop beats up the guy for being a stalker.

The positive take-away from this movie is the central performance of stand-up comedian Patton Oswalt. He embodies the character well, and I'm sure that last line he has in the climax will be played on the Giants jumbo-tron every year from now on.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Greenberg - DVD Review


Starring Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig, Rhys Ifans and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
Directed by Noah Burmbach.

Ben Stiller shifts gears, and here he plays a grumpy, prickly little loser, stuck doing nothing with his life in his 40's, but somehow he draws the interest of a 20-something woman (Greta Gerwig, the highlight of the movie). I give Stiller credit for changing gears but after a while I just did not want to be in Greenberg's company anymore, especially in such a plotless movie.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Last Airbender - Movie Review


Starring Noah Ringer, Dev Patel, Nicola Peltz, Jackson Rathbone, Shaun Toub, Aasif Mandvi and Cliff Curtis.
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

Quite the summer for Jackson Rathbone. I spent the whole movie looking at this guy wondering where I know him from, and then when I see the name is the closing credits, I think "Oh, Jasper from Twilight! When he doesn't have blond hair and golden eyes, he looks kinda like Tobey Maguire."

M. Night Shyamalan likes to claim The Sixth Sense is his first movie, and I concur since I don't want to ever see Wide Awake. But each movie he makes tends to be worse than the one before it. The Sixth Sense > Unbreakable > Signs > The Village > Lady in the Water > The Happening. But The Last Airbender is not worse than The Happening, so hooray for that.

Based on the Nickelodeon cartoon, this is about four Kingdoms that are based off the four elements. There's a Fire Kingdom, a Water Kingdom, an Earth Kingdom and an Air Kingdom. The Fire people are 99% Indian-Polynesian-Pacific Island types. The Earth people are 99% Chinese. The Water people of the north are 99% Scandinavian, while the Water people of the south, if they can't bend water, are apparently Eskimo. I wondered why there was just one white family in this village we meet at the beginning, but the girl can bend water, so I figured that was why. I don't think we meet an Air people, but the monks of Air seemed to have a healthy racial mix.

I've never watched an episode so I was lost here and there as far as the rules of the world go. "Bending" refers to using telekinesis on the elements, and you need to do a little tai-chi dance to get the elements going. It must make sense in the cartoon.

The title character is Aang (Noah Ringer) a little Buddha-Christ boy who's the reincarnation of the one being who can keep balance in the world. He's been away for a hundred years, so the big meanies of Fire Nation have been plowing through the other lands, taking over. Katara and Sokka, a brother-sister team who are your Hermione and Ron for these adventures, go with him so they can whine and look surprised and give Aang friends while he hops around trying to figure out how to be a god.

With some of the reviews I'd read beforehand I was expecting an early favorite for my Worst Ten list in about six months, but really, visually, I had a great time, going from set piece to set piece, with imagination art direction and design. I love seeing new worlds. The actors (and characters) aren't that memorable. Aasif Mandvi of The Daily Show is the main evil general, and when he's giving a report to the tyrannical king of Fire, he does it in the exact cadence he would use when letting Jon Stewart know in a deadpan that BP is a great company. I can't really call anyone's acting "good" but a vet like Cliff Curtis at least seems amused to be here, fully aware he's in a CG-infested kids movie.

I would put it about on par with The Golden Compass.

P.S. I will say I saw this in 2D, and from the reviews I've read, the 3D conversion process was maybe worse than Clash of the Titans. Nothing sucks excitement out of me more in seeing a live-action preview than when it boasts it's in 3D. Sorry, but 3D is for animated films and James Cameron. No one else seems to know how to do it.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse - Movie Review


Starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Billy Burke, Dakota Fanning, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anna Kendrick, Peter Facinelli, Elizabeth Reaser, Jackson Rathbone, Kellen Lutz, Ashley Greene, Nikki Reed and Jodelle Ferland.
Directed by David Slade.

I don't know how I would feel about these if I was watching them by myself, but I know I probably wouldn't give them as free a pass as I do since I watch them with my wife. And once again, I give a barely thumbs-up. I don't mind these movies. I kinda enjoy them. I like a craze that sends women of all ages to the multiplex that doesn't rely on fashion. What can I say?

I know what I can say. The acting of Robert Pattinson has improved. Maybe that's to director David Slade's credit. Maybe it's because Edward is forced to confront some things or say thoughts out loud he's only brooded about the past two movies. Taylor Lautner's jaw is steelier as Jacob, and there's a hint of menace behind his love for Bella.

I was distracted by Bryce Dallas Howard as Victoria. Personally I think Summit and Rachelle LeFevre could have easily worked something out and I think Summit booted her as an excuse to get Ron Howard's daughter another acting gig.

This one has a better plot than New Moon. Victoria is creating an army of new vampires in Seattle, and apparently vampires are at their craziest right after they turn. The Cullens and the werewolves decide they must form a temporary truce to fight off this new army, as Victoria is determined to point the troops to Forks any day now.

If you liked the first two, you'll like this. If you disliked the first two, I don't think this'll do much to change your mind.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Book of Eli - DVD Review


Starring Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals, Michael Gambon, Frances de la Tour and Tom Waits.
Directed by Albert & Allen Hughes.

Well, it looks very similar to The Road, and many aspects of it are the same. That's to be expected in a post-apocalyptic world. I'd like to see a post-apocalyptic world where most of the few survivors are good people who try to work together, but maybe I have more faith in humanity than is believable on the big screen.

Denzel plays Eli, a man whose past is never explained, except that he's an expert at hand-to-hand combat, machete-wielding, arrow-shooting, gunfire... He's a superhero. He walks across the decimated landscape of America with a book in his backpack. It's not hard to figure out what that book is, but for some reason, the few surviving humans of "The War" 31 years ago aren't old, and only men of the age of Denzel or Gary know the power of that book.

There's one really cool sequence that stands out for me. There's a shoot-out at a house, and the camera swoops from outside through a bullethole in the wall, around the living room, back out a shattered window to the big gun outside, all as if it's one shot. We know CGI helped, but the fact that it looks like one shot keeps the intensity of the scene alive. I really the Hughes's work on this.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Predators - Movie Review


Starring Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Alice Braga, Laurence Fishburne, Walton Goggins, Oleg Taktarov and Danny Trejo.
Directed by Nimrod Antel.

It's a B movie and knows it. It's a pulp actioner and aspires no further. It's miles better than either Alien v. Predator movie. I can actually see what's happening most of the time.

The movie starts out with eight humans suddenly dropped into a jungle. Thanks to marketing, we know where they are, but they don't. The unofficial leader of the bunch is a guy who won't say his name (Adrien Brody, in a role that feels like it was written for Vin Diesel), but we gather he's ex-Black Ops, and we meet members of various military groups or trained assassins from all over the world, including one guy who was on death row.

The movie takes its time getting where it's going, which is just fine. The actors do well with their underwritten roles. We know most of them will be dead before the credits, it's just a matter of what order are they going to be eliminated. It feels like the ultimate fan-fiction movie, like this script was written by a fan, and then what-do-you-know, it got greenlit.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief - DVD Review


Starring Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Alexandra Daddario, Pierce Brosnan, Catherine Keener, Sean Bean, Jake Abel, Steve Coogan, Rosario Dawson, Uma Thurman, Kevin McKidd, Melina Kanakarades and Joe Pantoliano.
Directed by Chris Columbus.

Hollywood hasn't been kind to the Greek gods, even if the box-office has. Clash of the Titans won the financial battle, but this one did okay enough on its own. Maybe not enough to justify adapting Book 2, but the studio didn't lose money on it.

This movie actually aspires to be the next Harry Potter, as did the book. One special boy, his best male and female friend by his side... They even got the director of the first two Harry Potter movies. Despite the talented cast, the thing never takes off on its own merit. Maybe if they'd gotten the director of one of Harry's later movies.

While I would argue the Harry Potter movies can entertain the whole family, Percy seems to be aimed strictly at the 8-12 age range. He's a teenager who learns he's the son of Poseidon, and he's been accused of stealing Zeus's lightning bolt. So after training at a camp for the offspring of gods, Percy and his two pals go on a journey to get it back. They meet the Minotaur, Medusa, and so on. My 12-year-old liked it, my 16-year-old though it was lame, and I'm more in the 16-year-old's camp.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

From Paris with Love - DVD Review


Starring John Travolta, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Kasia Smutniak and Richard Durden.
Directed by Pierre Morel.

First of all, it's jarring to hear the very British actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers use an American accent. It's fine; he is better at it than Ewan McGregor, but he doesn't bury it the way Gary Oldman can. His "R"s almost sound like he's mocking the American tongue, but that might be because I've watched him for four years on The Tudors. Then when we learn his character grew up in New York, well, permit me to plant the smirk back on my face.

There we go.

This movie took two years to make it to US theaters. (Travolta made this before he did The Taking of Pelham 123). Maybe they hoped it would have the same surprise success that Taken had, since it's from the same director. While Taken had a primal, straightforward appeal, this was more of a generic buddy-cop movie, albeit in Paris. In fact a lot of it felt like a parody of American action flicks, with John Travolta as the overtly violent Charlie Wax, a man who's really good at what he does, and what he does involves leaving a lot of dead bodies all over the place as he hunts down a terrorist cell. Shoot first, and questions never come up later. Rhys Meyers is James Reese, the more straight-laced one, thrust into the new situation to follow Charlie around.

One pet peeve I have is self-referential jokes. When John Travolta whips out a "Royale with Cheese" I groan inside.

The action is quick and breezy. There are worse ways to kill time. There are also better.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Lindsay Lohan gets 90 days in jail

Maybe Lindsay can take her jail sentence as her Robert Downey Jr. moment. Downey had years of issues with drugs, and when he finally had to do some jail time for it, he used it as the opoortunity to turn his life around. He joined the cast of Ally McBeal, he got parts in James Toback films, did Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Shaggy Dog, and then out of the blue, he got Iron Man. And now he's one of the biggest movie stars in the world.

Lindsay's talented. I know it's easy to bash her, but she demonstrated in Mean Girls and A Prairie Home Companion she has talent. Now she really needs to get rid of all her bad friends, not associate with those who encourage her off the wrong path, do her time, and then find some supporting work to get her back on track, prove she's no longer a train wreck, prove she shouldn't be a top anyone's Dead Pool list.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Memphis Beat - TV Review

I'm enjoying the regional flavor cable dramas are offering. AMC's Breaking Bad has Bryan Cranston cook meth in New Mexico. HBO's Treme lets the canvas sprawl in Louisiana. FX's Justified has Timothy Olyphant exploring crime in Kentucky. Now Jason Lee investigates his own in Tennessee in TNT's Breaking Bad.

(I also enjoy FOX's The Good Guys, where they fight small crime in Dallas, Texas, but the ratings suggest that show isn't going to last much longer.)

Lee's a natural comedian, as evidenced by the amusing run of My Name Is Earl. Here, some of his acting ticks are more pronounced over an hour. He has a tendency to blink and do a quick eyebrow raise before he says something witty, and little nods and brow furrows when getting to the end of his sentences. Why did I notice these things? I think if Lee was a better actor, I wouldn't. His performance was better in Episode 2. Maybe he just needed some time to find his rhythms, get rid of his Earlisms.