Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I - Movie Review


Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, Robbie Coltrane, Rhys Ifans, Jason Isaacs, Alan Rickman, Brendan Gleeson, David O'Hara, Imelda Staunton, Tom Felton, David Thewlis, Timothy Spall, Bill Nighy, John Hurt and Michael Gambon.
Directed by David Yates.

It's a fitting penultimate installment in a great series. It's equivalent to the first two hours of The Return of the King, only to have the credits roll on that movie before any big battles.

Gone are the comforting walls of Hogwarts. After Dumbledore's death at the end of the last movie, the Order (aka the good guys) has gone deeper underground. Voldemort and his supporters have taken over the Ministry of Magic.

This movie is probably the only installment that takes its time to breathe with the characters. There's about 45 minutes when Harry, Ron and Hermione are hopping through the woods, staying hidden, trying to figure out where to go next. One of my favorite moments comes from a wordless scene with Harry and Hermione. Ron has disappeared after getting angry, and these two have been through so much, and Harry just takes Herminone's hand and the two quietly, awkwardly, intimately dance. For once, they're not two literary characters brought to life in a big-budget motion picture. They're two kids who grew up together, just two people connecting.

But this is a big-budget motion picture, and we get several money shots. It also sails through a lot of plot, giving only one line per about twenty characters who've had their turns at being prominent at different points in the series.

Another one of my favorites sequences comes from a new face. David O'Hara (Braveheart, The Tudors) plays Rumcorn, one of the bad guys in the Ministry of Magic, but after some poly-juice he's Harry Potter in disguise, and it was pretty interesting to watch O'Hara as Harry pretending not to be Harry.

This movie does end on a cliffhanger, and it promises quite the showdown for Part II, but this is a nice ramp-up for things to come.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

RIP Leslie Nielsen

He was 84, so we knew his time would come eventually, but due to complications from penumonia, Lt. Frank Drebin will not be back for a Naked Gun 4.

He was generally a straight man through most of his career (Forbidden Planet), but it was 1980's Airplane! where deadpan skills really came out. That led to the short-lived Police Squad, and then the Naked Gun trilogy.

And yet, I'll also never forget him as Barbra Streisand's would-be assailant in 1987's Nuts. That was not a role he would have ever been offered if The naked Gun had already come out.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Extra Man - DVD Review


Starring Kevin Kline, Paul Dano, Katie Holmes, John C. Reilly, Marian Seldes, Celia Weston, Alicia Goranson, Patti D'Arbanville, Dan Hedaya and John Pankow.
Directed by Robert Pulcini & Shari Springer Berman.

Paul Dano is one of those over-mannered actors where I'm glad he hasn't achieve the Michael Cera fame level. I imagine the Dano backlash would be worse than the current Cera backlash. Dano's made his mark in indie darlings like Little Miss Sunshine and There Will Be Blood. Dano's quirks however have been becoming obvious. He needs a director to stretch him in different directions.

He's done no favors by landing in this dinner-theater revelling of eccentricity. When Kevin Kline bellows his first line, it jolted me. "Is he going to go the whole movie at this level?" Why yes. Yes, he is. And Dano can't be subtle when graced with the presense of such ham.

Kline is ever-so-watchable as the debonair yet prudish ladies man. When the quirk begins to irk comes well before John C. Reilly decides to speak and, Zeus forgive him, does the entire movie inexplicably speaking in falsetto. Falsetto, I say!

'Tis a bombastic, turbulent (albeit never dull) mess.

Frozen - DVD Review


Starring Emma Bell, Shawn Ashmore and Kevin Zegers.
Directed by Adam Green.

This is one of those low-budget screenplay experiments. Remember Open Water? Two divers stranded in the middle of the ocean? This is the same thing, an economical look at psychological tension. Three skiers get trapped on a ski-lift, in the freezing cold, with no one coming back to the slopes for several days. If they stay there, they'll freeze to death.

It's one of those "What would you do?" scenarios where I thought of several things the characters could do, but none of them ever seemed to occur to them. Also, throw in some hungry wolves circling on the ground below, and you have some contrivances that just made me worry they didn't stretch this out too long. It's not bad, but it's not good. I'm glad writer-director Adam Green didn't go the Gus Van Sant route and just have a ten-minute shot of the actors staring straight ahead while we listen to the mountain winds

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Kids Are All Right - DVD Review

lll 1/2

Starring Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson and Yaya DaCosta.
Directed by Lisa Cholodenko.

This might be just considered a good family comedy-drama, but the twist is that it's lesbian moms going through it. It winds up being an extra ingredient to the recipe that raises the interest quotient, but the movie still has to be good for the audience to care. Well, the movie is good.

Bening and Moore are Nic and Jules, a couple going through some mid-life growing pains as their 18-year-old daughter preps for leaving for college. Meanwhile their 15-year-old son is getting curious about his biological father, who was a sperm donor, and he tracks him down.

Turns out the guy lives in the same city as they do. He's Paul (Mark Ruffalo), an organic farmer, a heaven-sent so-Cal image of manliness, complete with motorcycle. This makes Nic & Jules uncomfortable at first, since the kids take a shining to him, but the moms come to warm to him in their own right.

Needless to say it gets messy, and the unspoken second half of the title of this movie is BUT THE ADULTS ARE SCREWED UP.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Winter's Bone - DVD Review


Starring Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Kevin Breznahan, Dale Dickey, Garrett Dillahunt, Sheryl Lee and Lauren Sweetster.
Directed by Debra Granik.

Very good hillbilly noir about a teen girl named Ree (Jennifer Lawrence in an award-worthy performance) who sets out to find her pa after he jumps bail and signed over the family house as collateral. She has mere days to either find him, or find evidence of his death. It has the bleakness of Steinbeck with the palpable suspense of Lehane. I also really liked John Hawkes (Deadwood) playing a tougher character than he's usually allowed.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ramona & Beezus - DVD Review


Starring Joey King, Selena Gomez, John Corbett, Bridget Moynahan, Ginnifer Goodwin, Josh Duhamel and Sandra Oh.
Directed by Elizabeth Allen.

Perfectly acceptable rental for the kids. I grew up on Beverly Cleary's books and recognized many of the characters and personalities. Seeing them dramatized didn't really touch my nostalgia nerve, but Joey King embodied Ramona as best as any kid-actress I can imagine.

Trailer Watch

Season of the Witch

The greenscreen effects look really bad on the small screen, but I kinda like that the woman accused of being a witch actually has supernatural powers. This looks like it could spectacularly bad, but it could be genuinely entertaining too. The presense of Ron Perlman doesn't instantly guaranteee any level of quality. He was also in The Mutant Chronicles.

Little Fockers

Looks like it'll be the worst one yet. DeNiro, Stiller, Hoffman, Streisand, Wilson, Danner, Polo, and now Jessica Alba... All looks jumbled, thrown together.

Barney's Version

My main curiosity, oddly enough, is that this is the movie that got Rachelle LeFevre fired from Twilight: Eclipse. I'm not really sure what to make of this. I'm not a big fan of love stories that start out with one or both parties married to someone else, but Paul Giamatti is an interesting enough guy I'd be willing to go on the journey, if this got good reviews.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Morning Glory - Movie Review


Starring Rachel McAdams, Harrison Ford, Diane Keaton, Patrick Wilson, Jeff Goldblum, John Pankow, Matt Malloy and Ty Burrell.
Directed by Roger Michell.

Rachel McAdams has that movie-star sparkle to her eye that makes me wonder why she doesn't work more. Here she plays the eternally perky Becky, a go-getter producer of a New Jersey morning-news show. After getting fired, she sends resumes everywhere and gets a break with IBS's Daybreak, the fourth-place national morning shows behind NBC's Today Show, ABC's Good Morning America, and "whatever that CBS show is."

Harrison Ford, in his best role in years, plays Mike Pomeroy, legendary evening newsman forced out by IBS. Now he's coasting on his contract fumes and Becky twists his arm to get him to come to Daybreak. THey clash. Mike refuses to play along with the entertaining fluffy side of a morning news program.

The movie has a few big laughs, but it works best when it focusses on the chipper Becky working on the gruff Mike. There's a romantic subplot in there for Becky, but it feels like a mandatory throw-in.

Many have compared this to Broadcast News, but it seems too different an animal to me to make any comparison fair. This movie is worried more about entertainment than news, and as such, it hits every predictable plot point exactly when you expect it to. I still liked it, but it's not going to stay in the system long. It was nice to just watch Ford, you know, act for once.

Megamind - Movie Review


Starring the voices of Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, David Cross, Brad Pitt and Ben Stiller.
Directed by Tom McGrath.

The superhero genre gets another tweaking, but this one fulfills the question I've wanted to see asked on-screen: What if the supervillain won?

Will Ferrell voices Megamind, a blue-headed alien sent to Earth as a baby, doomed to be a bad guy when his pod lands in the Metro City Prison yard. His nemesis is Metro Man, a lantern-jawed hero who always wins. But then one day, one of Megamind's outlandish schemes actually works. And with no hero to fight, what's a supervillain to do?

The movie has a lot of fun with the Superman back-story, and to remind us it's DreamWorks, the soundtrack's filled with 1980's tunes. It doesn't reach the soaring heights of How to Train Your Dragon and doesn't hold a candle to The Incredibles, but it's close to Despicable Me, and it definitely has its moments.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Grown Ups - DVD Review


Starring Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider, Salma Hayek, Maria Bello, Maya Rudolph, Joyce Van Patten, Steve Buscemi and Colin Quinn.
Directed by Dennis Dugan.

I imagine Sandler, Rock, Spade and Schneider sitting around reminiscing about their SNL days together. Someone mentions they miss Chris Farley. Kevin James walks by. Sandler says, "Hey! My I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry co-star! Get in here." As they continue to crack open beer cans and make each other laugh, someone else says, "We should film this."

None of them warm to a documentary so Sandler finds a co-writer and slaps together an outline of old friends reuniting for a funeral. Now they can sit around and swap stories when it's not their turn on camera. They can spend three months living this way. They bring in decent actresses like Salma Hayek and Maria Bello and Maya Rudolph to hang out with them. Sometimes they do have to be on camera so they come with activities like fishing, swimming, and hold a big chunk of the movie at a waterpark.

They're having so much fun they find ways to invite over old friends like Colin Quinn and Tim Meadows. Now that they're deep into it, someone says they need to think about the trailer.

Sandler: Well, we've got the waterpark.
Schneider: We need some fart jokes.
James: How about a rope swing? I could do it, like I'm afraid to let go and I come back and hit a tree.
Sandler: That sounds funny.
Spade: I'll fall face-down into poop.
Rock: Classic, man.

There are some weight jokes with James, like a pool collapsing and a speedboat that can't tug him, even though he looks about 50 pounds lighter than Mike from Mike & Molly.

Seriously, beyond friends wanting to work together and a cynical grab for a dollar, what was the point to this movie?

NBC's Outsourced - TV Review

Still not funny. I've been giving it quite a chance as part of my Thursday recordings because I work with India, but it gets a lot wrong and primarily, it's not funny. I don't care about the characters. And why do they work during the day there if they're taking all these calls from America? I guess his department only takes calls in the middle of the US night.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Leaves of Grass - DVD Review


Starring Edward Norton, Tim Blake Nelson, Keri Russell, Josh Pais, Susan Sarandon, Richard Dreyfuss, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Melanie Lynskey, Maggie Siff and Ty Burrell.
Directed by Tim Blake Nelson.

This is a weird little comedy, in that writer/director Tim Blake Nelson doesn't seem sure what tone to take, or he's trying for tonal shifts that only directors like the Coen brothers can pull off.

Edward Norton plays indentical twin brothers. At first I was annoyed by the bumpkin brother Brady; Norton laid on the gol-durn accent awful thick-like but I got used to it after a while, and he was a very distinct character from the Ivy-League educated city brother Bill.

Bill gets word that Brady has been killed. Bill goes back to his hometown in Oklahoma to pay respects, only to learn that his brother's not really dead. Twas a ruse to get him down there. Brady needs Bill to rpetend to be him as an alibi. Turns out Brady's quite the accomplished weed grower/dealer, but he wants out of the business and needs Bill's help.

All of this is played for light-hearted enough comedy, but an hour in, people actually start getting killed, and the movie downshifts into genuine thriller territory. I won't say what note the movie ends on, but it hits a few more off-key ones until it gets there.

Susan Sarandon is wasted as the boys' mother, the youngest woman in a rest home. Richard Dreyfuss is amusing enough in an extended cameo as an upstanding businessman who's secretly quite the crime-lord (and upon reflection, very similar to his role in RED). It's an odd diversion of a movie, and Norton's performance carried me to the end, even if that end left me feeling hollow.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Oceans - DVD Review


Directed by Jacques Perrin & Jacques Cluzaud.

Pretty to look at, but never really comes together as a narrative. Felt like random sections of really good ocean footage where they told Pierce Brosnan, "Alright, narrate what you see."

Friday, November 5, 2010

Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben

It seems so soon to reboot the Spider-Man franchise, but what's done is done. We know director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) has cast Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) as Peter Parker, Emma Stone (Easy A) as Gwen Stacy, and Rhys Ifans (Notting Hill) as Dr. Connors/The Lizard. Now according to Deadline.com, it appears he's sewn up Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben and might be able to get Sally Field as Aunt May.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Sometimes I'll have one of those days. One of those days where I remember when I was younger when I had this dream or that dream about what I'd be when I grew up. I wonder how life would be different had I pursued one of those dreams with a little more effort.

I'll read a good book and wonder why I haven't been able to write that next one myself. I'll watch a good movie and think about the screenplays I've written but have never come close to being put in front of someone who could actually make a decision, or I'll watch a play and remember when I did theater and I see formers peers have moved on to great success.

I'll listen to talking heads on the news and wonder where I might have wound up had I stuck with journalism.

I suppose everyone wonders where they might have wound up had they made this choice or that choice different.

I know I never dreamt of being the technical manager for an outsourcing company but here I am.

What am I really? I am not someone defined by an occupation, otherwise I think I'd be a cypher, a face in a position, a name associated with a responsibility.

There are some dreams I've had that have come true. Most not, but all dreams vanish when we wake up. Maybe I woke up a little today, or maybe it's just one of those days where you get bad news and just wish you were on a different path right now, a path filled with more fulfilling accomplishments and less bad news.

We live online, but is anyone really here?

When in Rome - DVD Review


Starring Kristen Bell, Josh Duhamel, Will Arnett, Jon Heder, Dax Shepard, Danny DeVito, Anjelica Huston, Alexis Dziena, Peggy Lipton, Bobby Moynihan, Kristen Schaal, Don Johnson, Keir O'Donnell and Lee Pace.
Directed by Mark Steven Johnson.

This movies starts out like a million rom-coms. Career gal Kristen Bell can't find a man, but she's going to her sister's wedding. She has a Meet Cute with the groom's best man. We know they'll wind up together at the end, but what narrative device will keep them apart for an hour?

Oh my, does this go off the rails in spectacular fashion. Bell goes out to a fountain where people throw in coins for love. Feeling cynical, Bell decides to take five coins out of the fountain. This magically turns four men into Pepe le Pews, and a frightening cartoonish bunch they are. Picture Arnett, Heder and Shepard at their most comically obnoxious, and you'll get the idea. DeVito's subdued by comparison.

The final nail in the "They Don't Make Em Like They Used To" coffin is the cast dance over the closing credits, by a cast that can't dance.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Paranormal Activity 2 - Movie Review


Starring Sprague Grayden, Brian Boland, Katie Featherston, Micah Slout and Molly Ephraim.
Directed by Tod Williams.

This one learned the lesson of what not to do from Blair Witch 2. It's faithful to the original, and even adds to the mythology. It also has some of the most genuine suspense of any movie this year.

This one is a prequel, taking place two months before the first one. After an apparent break-in, this family decides to install six security cameras throughout their house. I will warn that one of them never pays off. But with each changed shot, we look intently at every corner of the screen. "Something might happen here." Ands even when it does, it can provide a chill or a jolt.

My only complaint would be the pacing. This one slow-burns a little too slow, making the action in the final third feel a bit too rushed.