Thursday, September 30, 2010

OCTOBER!!!




For me, October means Halloween. I'm pretty much going wall-to-wall horror and monster movies, starting at midnight, right up to and including the big day. If you've been paying attention, you know that I'll hit both genres from every angle I can think of. I'll get some classics, some current stuff, some psychological stuff, some slice 'em ups, some foreign stuff, some "so bad, it's awesome" stuff and even a few comedies. For cinematic sadists, like myself, you'll love hanging out here, for the next 31 days. If horror is not normally your thing, you might still find a movie or two that'll intrigue you enough to check out...if you dare. Muhwahahahahaha!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Man on Wire


Directed by James Marsh.
2008. Rated R, 94 minutes.
Cast:
Philippe Petit
Jean François Heckel
Jean-Louis Blondeau
Annie Allix
David Forman
Barry Greenhouse
Alan Welner
Mark Lewis


Philippe Petit is crazy. That’s it. No other explanation will reconcile my brain with what I saw, what he did. In my wildest dreams, my most imaginative moments, I’m the richest, most powerful, most famous man in the world capable of athletic feats and romantic endurance only the gods can rival. Even then, what he did is as far from my mind as a speck of dust falling harmlessly to the floor one million light years away. Insanity must be the only portal through which one not only arrives at the idea Philippe did, but to make it a reality.

Apparently, insanity is also contagious. If it isn't, there is no possible way our hero could've enlisted seemingly rational people to bring this particular dream to fruition, even if they were full of reckless abandon and youthful exuberance. Yet, his dream became theirs. They willfully participated in what could easily have been his cause of death.

Oh, I haven’t told you what Philippe did that has given me such cause to pause. He has only done one of the most amazing things any human being can claim as gospel truth. Way back in 1974, long before the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center became the site of a national tragedy and effectively the genesis of a lengthy war, they were a brand spanking new symbol of America’s prosperity. Two buildings, about two hundred feet apart, each standing 110 stories, became one of the signature landmarks of the iconic New York skyline. This fool, for lack of a better description, and his friends miraculously managed to rig a tightrope from one roof to the other which Philippe, timidly at first, then brazenly, walked and danced back and forth across for about 45 minutes. This is a documentary of just how this event came to be.

I call him a fool because it was a foolish act. The fact is, the only way to describe his feat, and this movie, is to resort to a well-worn cliché: it is a triumph of the human spirit. No doubt, Philippe’s quirky, not quite all there personality and obvious zest for life makes the stories of planning and carrying out of his moment at the top of the world into compelling drama. Those same traits were instrumental in convincing people to go along with his cockamamie idea. There is also a love story and similarly flavored friendships that help ground the narration. They keep us from forgetting that this was nothing to be taken lightly, but something that could've turned out in a dreadfully different manner.

By the end, we feel as some of the eyewitness and participants feel. The magic of Philippe’s act overwhelms us. We can’t help but feel exhilarated. It is during this part of the film that contains the most poignant moment. We see footage from a local New York newscast the evening following the event. One of the police officers who arrested Philippe (you knew this was illegal, right?) is being interviewed. We can clearly see he’s a man torn between admonishing someone for breaking the law and admiring the same person for providing him with the most incredible sight of his or most anyone else’s life. We hear the tremble in his voice, see the tears welling up. How they don’t come tumbling down his cheeks is an act of willpower that might be worthy of its own film.

The big moment is tainted just a little, but only very little. All through the movie there is plenty of old footage from Philippe’s home videos mixed with some dramatizations. However, of the walk itself, there are only still shots. They’re still unbelievably amazing, but I was hoping to catch a glance or two of our hero in motion during the apex of his existence.

In the end, it’s just a beautifully done documentary of something most of us couldn’t even fathom trying. It’s also a much more positive light through which we can remember the Twin Towers. Philippe, and the movie, are refreshingly free from politics, sad reminscing or even mentioning the fate of the great buildings. Instead, we watch a man, and the people who helped him, fondly remember the time when he played on the world’s largest jungle gym.

The Opposite View: Noel Murray, The Onion (A.V. Club)

What the Internet Says: 8.0/10 on imdb.com (9/29/10), 100% on rottentomatoes.com, 89/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 10/10

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Funny People


Directed by Judd Apatow.
2009. Rated R, 153 minutes.
Cast:
Adam Sandler
Seth Rogen
Leslie Mann
Eric Bana
Jonah Hill
Jason Schwartzman
Aubrey Plaza
Aziz Ansari
RZA
Torsten Voges

Justin Long

Plot: Comedian/movie star George Simmons (Sandler) hires still wet behind the ears comic Ira (Rogen) to write material for him. He’s also just found out he’s dying. Bromance ensues.

The Good: For director Apatow, this is pretty easily his most mature and complex work. The same can be said for Seth Rogen and possibly for Sandler, as well. Despite it being about comedians, it isn’t necessarily the funniest movie for any of them. Believe it, or not, that’s a good thing. Instead of spending time being outrageous and crass simply for the sake of it, we actually get character and relationship development. As a result, we’re more interested in what happens to them. Adam Sandler gives his bravest performance, parodying himself.

The Bad: Its way too long. As usual, Apatow is sorely in need of an independent thinking editor. Two and a half hour comedies tend to drag and this is no exception. There’s no doubt in my mind, it could get to its point about 30 minutes quicker. However, if the movie could use more of anything, it is George’s relationship with his own father. It’s talked about and built up as if it’s coming to some dramatic climax, but it never does.

The Ugly: Ira (Rogen) going ballistic on Daisy (Plaza) for cheating on him. You have to see it to understand.

Recommendation: Given the track records of nearly everyone involved, this is a movie bound to disappoint many and surprise others. If you’re looking for a gross-out comedy built on a foundation of four-letter words, look elsewhere. There are plenty of cuss words but they seem organic to the conversations, not just there for effect like in Apatow’s other work. It’s an involving piece of work that a lot of people just won’t like.

The Opposite View: Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times

What the Internet Says: 6.8/10 on imdb.com (9/28/10), 68% on rottentomatoes.com, 60/100 on metacritic.com


MY SCORE: 7.5/10

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time


Directed by Mike Newell.
2010. Rated PG-13, 116 minutes.
Cast:
Jake Gyllenhall
Gemma Arterton
Ben Kingsley
Alfred Molina
Steve Toussaint
Ronald Pickup
Richard Coyle
Toby Kebbell


In ancient Persia, class is everything and usually an unchanging fact of one’s life. Dastan (Gyllenhall) is lucky to be an exception. A parentless ruffian at about 10 years of age, his fortunes change for the better when the king of Persia happens to witness some of his mischief, takes a liking to the boy and adopts him.

King Sharaman (Pickup) already has two biological sons so Dastan can never be king, himself. Still, he fights proudly for his father and his brothers. Under his brother’s orders, while the king is away, Dastan helps invade the holy city of Alumet looking for weapons they are allegedly supplying to enemies of Persia. Naw, that doesn’t reference the War in Iraq, at all. The king is none too pleased, at first, but eventually convinced it was for a just cause. Why are you thinking about Cheney and Bush? Stop it.

A short while later, Dastan discovers he is possession of a very special knife. When the button on its handle is pushed, the person holding it travels back in time about 30 seconds. Of course, whoever framed our hero wants to get their ancient little paws on it.

PoP is simply swash-buckling, good fun. There are lots of chase scenes which include fighting and all sorts of acrobatics. There’s also lots of contentious dialogue, enough of which earns a giggle. Finally, there are some serious plotholes concerning the knife and its use, which I won’t get into, here. However, the positives outweigh the negatives enough for this to just be a fun, popcorn flick. Don’t go looking for great depth, you won’t find it. Though the parallels between the story and our reality are interesting but the opportunity to explore them is wasted. What you will find is a great deal of very nearly brainless entertainment that you can munch snacks to. It’s definitely a “movie night” type of flick to watch with a group.

The Opposite View: Richard Knight, Windy City Times

What the Internet Says: 6.8/10 on imdb.com (9/24/10), 37% on rottentomatoes.com, 50/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 6/10

Friday, September 24, 2010

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs


Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller.
2009. Rated PG, 90 minutes.
Cast:
Bill Hader
Anna Faris
James Caan
Andy Samberg
Bruce Campbell
Mr. T
Bobb’e J. Thompson
Benjamin Bratt
Neil Patrick Harris

Ariel Winter

Flint Lockwood (Hader) yearns to be a successful inventor. As you can imagine, he’s also a social outcast on Swallow Falls, the tiny island he calls home. We’re told it is right beneath the “A” in Atlantic Ocean, if you were looking for it on a map. From his elementary school days until sometime in his twenties, one invention after another of his fails. One day, he accidentally discovers a way to make it literally rain food. From that point on, everything changes for him. He becomes the island’s most famous and beloved citizen, even becoming known around the world.

Of course, there are plenty of bumps in the road after that or there wouldn’t be much of a movie. The eventual dilemma leads to a climax far too similar to the dreaded, Armageddon. Thankfully, everything before that is much better handled.

The screen is filled with fun imagery. In particular, the ice cream scene stands out. More than any other in the film, it’s a representation of something almost all kids wonder about, especially if they grow up somewhere where it snows. On top of that, the circumstances surrounding it is heart-warming. It’s rather hard not to crack a smile while it plays.

The story is pretty straight-forward. However, it does mix in some social commentary about greed, gluttony and the environment. Still, it’s subtle enough that you don’t feel like you’ve been bludgeoned with someone else’s morality.

As with any other kiddie-flick, there are some laughs to be had. For me, I found it more touching than funny. In that vein, it’s similar to Up. Another major factor in animated fare is the voice-work. Here, it’s very good. Hader is solid in the lead, as is Farris. James Caan and Bruce Campbell are excellent. Surprisingly, the standout is Mr. T as Earl, seemingly the island’s only cop. As a regular actor, Mr. T was nothing special. He made his bones on his persona, not his acting chops. As a voice actor, he’s outstanding. I hope to hear more of him, in the future.

If you’re not totally aversed to kiddie-flicks, take a gander at Cloudy. It’s one you can actually enjoy sitting through with the little ones.

The Opposite View: Amy Biancolli, San Francisco Chronicle

What the Internet Says: 7.2/10 on imdb.com (9/24/10), 86% on rottentomatoes.com, 66/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 7.5/10

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Losers


Directed by Sylvain White.
2010. Rated PG-13, 97 minutes.
Cast:
Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Zoe Saldana
Idris Elba
Chris Evans
Columbus Short
Jason Patric
Óscar Jaenada
Holt McCallany
Tanee McCall


The Losers is the nickname of a super-secret special ops unit led by Clay (Morgan). All five guys have their own specialty and personality. Basically, we have two you smart alecs (Evans and Short), two older grisled vets (Morgan and Elba) and one guy who says very little but is a great shot (Jaenada).

On one of their missions, secret of course, our heroes come up with a very good reason to abort the operation. Unfortunately, someone a little further up the food chain stubbornly goes forth with the plan and tries to eliminate The Losers in the process. They let him think that he had and promptly go into hiding. After a little while, Clay meets the mysterious Aisha (Saldana). She offers the boys a chance to get their reveng against the even more mysterious Max (Patric), the higher-up that tried to kill them. From there, everything go boom.

Surprisingly, in the midst of all the gunfire, explosions and sado masochistic lovie-dovie stuff between Clay and Aisha, the story actually holds together fairly well. The boys mistrust of her only makes sense and the two young bucks keep things light and entertaining. And of course, just like I’ve already said, everything go boom.

The problem is mostly with Max. He’s one of those over the top Lex Luthor types who, through some ill-fated plan, stands to make a ton of money by ensuring some other unseen evil people will have the means they’re more than willing to use to try and destroy the entire planet with him on it. Yes, he is one of those geniuses that knows everything except the flaw in his own plan. In a movie filled with cartoonish, juvenile and gratuitous acts, he is somehow still too much. He wears one glove, why? We eventually find out, but it’s got nothing to do with anything. It’s only there to set up a two-second visual effect late in the movie. I think back to one of my all time favorite movies, Enter the Dragon. The villain in that one also has something going on with his hand. It works there because it plays into the action. It serves a purpose in the movie. Here, it’s basically a throwaway sight gag.

Max’s top henchman, Wade (McCallany) is a problem, too. Every time The Losers mention his name, they shutter and talk about how much of a badass he is. I was waiting for him to really show me something special during some great climactic battle with our heroes. Alas, that never happens. He might as well have been named “Henchman #1.” To make matters worse, he acts like a bumbling idiot and Max treats him accordingly.

The inequities in quality of narration between the good guys and bad guys make this an uneven watch. It’s fun, action-packed and goofy. Sometimes it’s goofy in a good way, other times not. This means there are more than a couple eye-rolling moments. If you’re a fan of action flicks, this is right up your alley. If you’re not, skip it. There’s no groundbreaking material, here.

The Opposite View: Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

What the Internet Says: 6.4/10 on imdb.com (9/23/10), 48% on rottentomatoes.com, 44/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 5.5/10

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Just Wright


Directed by Sanaa Hamri.
2010. Rated PG, 101 minutes.
Cast:
Queen Latifah
Common
Paula Patton
Phylicia Rashad
Pam Grier
James Pickens Jr.
Michael Landes
Mehcad Brooks


Boy meets girl. In this case, the boy is NBA superstar Scott McKnight (Common). He’s uber-rich and handsome, but is also down-to-earth with a heart of gold. By chance, he meets the girl at a gas station after a game. The girl is Leslie Wright (Latifah). She’s great, except that she’s a bit tomboyish (she even knows Scott’s high school stats) and not exactly built like a fashion model, as she often laments. The monkeywrench in her plans to really get next to Scott is her godsister Morgan (Patton), who fits the model bill to a tee.

Really, I could stop right there. You probably know exactly how the rest of this plays out, minus the dramatic makeover scene you might expect. Thank goodness, that never happens. That said, it’s still a cute little chick flick. Enough funny stuff happens to move things along as we navigate the usual peaks and valley of a rom-com. Queen Latifah’s natural charm also helps. Her male lead, Common, still has some work to do on his acting, but he’s better here than in anything else I’ve seen him in. He’s a great rapper, by the way. If you dread the current state of hip hop and are a fan, give him a listen if you haven’t. Wait, this is a movie review, right?

The film also tries to lean on recognition factor for its supporting cast. Our two moms are played by Cosby Show alum Phylicia Rashad and the incomparable Pam Grier. I’m obligated by law to tell you that after all these years I’m still in love with Ms. Grier. There have been many lonely nights…wait, what? Ahem. A number of ESPN personalities, as well as current NBA players Dwight Howard and Dwyane Wade make cameos. Again, that’s not a typo, that’s how he spells it.

When it’s all said and done, it’s your typical date movie. It’s nothing groundbreaking but it’s pleasant, nonetheless. It’s just decent, light-hearted fare.

The Opposite View: Steve Persall, St. Petersburg Times

What the Internet Says: 4.0/10 on imdb.com (9/21/10), 47% on rottentomatoes.com, 52/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 6/10

Monday, September 20, 2010

Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore


Directed by Brad Peyton.
2010. Rated PG, 82 minutes.
Cast:
James Marsden
Christina Applegate
Bette Midler
Katt Williams
Nick Nolte
Neil Patrick Harris
Sean Hayes
Chris O’Donnell
Roger Moore


Kitty Galore (Midler) is a super-villainous cat that is trying to take over the world. It’s up to the agents of a secret dogs-only CIA-type organization to stop her. James Bond influenced, CGI enhanced cat versus canine hijinks and shenanigans ensue.

Along the way, our heroes make alliances with a cat and a pigeon while generally unfunny stuff happens. On the flipside, even more unfunny stuff happens as we watch Kitty try to spring her evil plan into action while also dealing with her owner who is a bumbling, incompetent magician.

Don’t get me wrong, there is the occasional chuckle to be had. Many of them belong to the pigeon, voiced by Katt Williams. Hmm, how ironic is it that in a movie about cats against dogs, the bird is played by a person named Katt? Nevermind. I feel a tangent coming on. This movie isn’t worthy of a tangent.

To try and force a few more laughs, parents are treated to…subjected to a neverending stream of references to other, better movies. There’s lots of James Bond, some Lethal Weapon, Men in Black and countless others, including a huge Silence of the Lambs parody that can be spotted from miles and miles away for anyone who’s seen the horror classic. And it’s not funny. Yeah, during the 82 minute runtime I’m pretty sure I rolled my eyes at least 82 times.

Story-wise, it just lurches forward with the obvious message about overlooking our differences, joining forces and working together to overlook our differences. No, that’s not a typo. It gets to the point where it’s unbearable. Kids might love it, but many adults will be fighting the urge to take a nap. Remember G-Force? Yup, it’s like that. By the way, if you’re wondering why I haven’t mentioned the original, assuming you even knew this was a sequel, it’s because aside from that whole Silence of the Lambes, this has absolutely nothing to do with the first movie. I actually like that movie. This one, they could’ve kept.

To be fair, it is a 3D movie, but I saw it in plain ol’ 2D. Maybe, it would’ve been better in 3D. Nah, because then all the suckiness would be leaping off the screen at me.

The Opposite View: Billy Heller, New York Post

What the Internet Says: 2.4/10 on imdb.com (2.4/10 on imdb.com, 96th worst of all time as of 9/20/10), 13% on rottentomatoes.com, 30/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 2/10

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Tooth Fairy

Directed by Michael Lembeck.
2010. Rated PG, 101 minutes.
Cast:
Dwayne Johnson
Ashley Judd
Stephen Merchant
Julie Andrews
Chase Ellison
Destiny Whitlock
Billy Crystal
Barclay Hope
Ryan Sheckler


Derek Thompson (Johnson) is an aging, former NHL player with a large ego toiling in the minor leagues. On the ice, he’s the star of his team. His knack for dislodging teeth from the mouths of opponents has earned him the nickname “The Tooth Fairy.” Off the ice, he’s pretty much a jerk. He seems to delight in crushing the dreams of others. When, in a fit of anger he goes too far, Derek finds himself sentenced to be a real tooth fairy. The powers that be hope to rehabilitate his outlook on life.

Basically, this is The Gameplan all over, again. The difference is this movie uses hockey instead of football and our hero sports a pair of silk pajamas with Victoria’s Secret style wings. The Disney formula remains intact and everything works out just as you would expect. Of course, there’s cuteness all around.

That said, TF is still watchable. Mostly, that’s because of the star. Dwayne Johnson has both the larger than life personality and the willingness to poke fun at his own persona to make this type of movie work. His presence and charisma place this, and the aforementioned The Game Plan, a shade above similar movies starring other action heroes. His natural charisma and years as “The Rock” have made it easy for him to be “that guy.” He’s so good at it, we get it as soon as we see him. His presence is a commanding one. As a result, his scenes with Julie Andrews are interesting because she has the same sort of aura. Having them both on the screen simultaneously is to have two powerful magnets competing for attraction.

Sadly, the movie as a whole isn’t nearly as compelling. Johnson still carries it well. He also gets help from a couple fairies. Stephen Merchant, as his caseworker Tracy, plays nicely off the star. In what amounts to little more than a cameo, Billy Crystal plays the equivalent to James Bond’s Q and gives us perhaps the best scene of the movie.

Overall, this is simple, light-hearted family fare with the pre-requisite life lessons included. It’s nothing great, but it is cute.

The Opposite View: Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel

What the Internet Says: 4.8/10 on imdb.com (9/18/10), 17% on rottentomatoes.com, 36/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 6/10

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Blood: The Last Vampire


Directed by Chris Nahon.
2009. Rated R, 91 minutes.
Cast:
Gianna Jun
Allison Miller
Koyuki
Liam Cunningham
JJ Field
Larry Lamb
Yasuaki Kurata
Colin Salmon


Saya (Jun) has devoted her life to slaying demons in hopes of eventually drawing out Onigen (Koyuki), the supreme demon, and kill it as well. You see, Onigen killed Saya’s father just a few days after she was born. Saya also works for a covert agency. Her job is to, um, slay demons in hopes of eventually drawing out Onigen and yada yada yada.

As you might imagine, killing demons is messy work. It’s also complicated because they can take human form. So, our hero isn’t above mistakes. Then again, neither is this movie. You watch flicks like this for the action and gore. Unfortunately, most of it looks bad. The blood that splatters across the screen and spurts from freshly created orifices looks almost hand-drawn. When the demons transform into some green creature with sharp teeth and wings, they’re poorly rendered. Worst of all, our hero doesn’t appeart quite athletic enough to pull off the role. As a result, way too many obvious camera tricks are used to make her seem to be the unstoppable force she’s supposed to be. The movie is based on the anime film of the same name. My question: if the live action version is going to look like this, why bother?

But wait, it gets worse. Other aspects of the movie are also lacking. The dialogue is a rehashing of the worst of Yu-gi-oh. The actors saying it aren’t going to be winning any awards in the near future and the whole thing has a cheesy feel.

But wait, it gets worse. For two unimportant reasons, our tale is set in 1970. First, there are two lines of dialogue that reference the Vietnam War in current tense that are supposed to be deep. Hardly. Second, since that war is referenced, it’s an easy excuse to fill up the cast of a movie set in Japan with Americans. Whatever.

But wait, it gets worse. It rips off a number of other movies, comics, etc. For instance, when our American tour guide, Alice (Miller), wanders into a bar, we’re quickly reminded of From Dusk til Dawn. And if you can’t see the big reveal coming from about ten miles away, you’ve never seen The Empire Strikes Back or any of the countless other movies that stole from it before this one. Oh, and if you wonder why I haven’t even mentioned vampires to this point, it’s because vampirism is largely irrelevant, despite the title.

But wait, something happens. Somehow, some way, somewhere along the line, if you find yourself still watching, you find that you’ve ridden out your displeasure. You begin to roll with the punches and actually enjoy the badness. Yeah, it’s so bad, it’s awesome!

MY SCORE: -10/10

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Messenger


Directed by Oren Moverman.
2009. Rated R, 112 minutes.
Cast:
Ben Foster
Woody Harrelson
Samantha Morton
Jena Malone
Steve Buscemi
Jahmir Duran-Abreau


Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Foster) has been sent home from the War in Iraq. Something I won’t spoil has left him with damage to one of his legs, one eye and presumably, his psyche. In a move that doesn’t seem like a good idea for a guy who seems fragile, he’s assigned to work with Captain Tony Stone (Harrelson) on a casualty notification team. In addition to his normal duties, he has to go with Cpt. Stone whenever needed to notify a soldier’s next of kin that their love one has been killed in defense of the country.

In keeping with a recent tren in war movies like The Hurt Locker and Jarhead, there is much less plot and much more slice of life. We see two guys working through a number of issues and develop a friendship. Among those issues is the mess of Will’s love life and Tony’s alcoholism, which both men seem to willfully complicate. However, there is no big rush to resolve something. There is no villain to be foiled, nor day to be saved. It’s just two guys. Still, these two guys worm their way into our hearts. We empathize deeply with them. We start to really understand them even though they hardly bother to explain themselves. Well, Will doesn’t. Tony likes to explain a lot of things.

What we love most about them is what we most hate: their job. We love them for doing it. We hate that it has to be done. It is intrinsically terrifying, perhaps almost as much as actually going to war. Though I’m a vet, I’ve never been to combat, so forgive me if I’m way off base, here. It just seems going into combat causes an anticipatory fear, but once you’re there, there is a chance you’ll live. After being in it for awhile, the fear doesn’t go away, but it subsides enough for you to focus on survival. With these guys, there’s no life or death involved in their current station in life. However, day after day they’re tasked with telling someone they will never see their child, husband or wife ever again. If you’ve ever had to break that news to someone, you know how difficult that is. Now imagine having to knock on a stranger’s door and do it every day.

The scenes of the men going about their business are masterful depictions of human drama. They’re simply gripping and like the rest of the movie, acted perfectly. Woody Harrelson deserved the nomination this role earned him for Best Supporting Actor. Ben Foster’s work has been largely overlooked, but is no less brilliant. Perhaps even more stunning than either of our two heroes is Samantha Morton’s work as a newly widowed mom. Her pain bleeds all over every scene but she’s never loud or showy about it. It’s a subtle performance that mirrors Foster’s. It may even be more poignant because she doesn’t have the military to look after her the way he does.

Don’t watch this if you’re looking for a traditional war movie. In fact, there is no war to be seen. There are only two guys. They are two guys you have to see.

The Opposite View: Noel Murray, The Onion (A.V. Club)

What the Internet Says: 7.4/10 on imdb.com (9/17/10), 90% on rottentomatoes.com, 78/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 9/10

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters


Directed by Seth Gordon.
2008. Rated PG-13, 79 minutes.
Cast:
Steve Wiebe
Billy Mitchell
Walter Day
Steve Sanders


Steve Wiebe tries to break Billy Mitchell's nearly quarter-century old world record in Donkey Kong. On the surface, its a documentary about classic arcade games and the people who love them. I mean really love them. At its core, its a sports movie not unlike any number of underdog stories that have come before it. It happens to be a very well told true story. Its effectiveness largely comes from how skillfully it frames our two principals. Wiebe is a down-on-his-luck guy with a passion and talent for Donkey Kong. Despite his faults, he's a likeable guy who becomes moreso as the film progresses. His longing to fulfill his quest in infectious, making us root for him. On the other hand, Billy Mitchell is our villain. Despite the fact he's obviously a hero to many people in the arcade gaming community, you will hate him. That part about him being a hero to many adds an interesting dynamic to things and seems to be the source of Wiebe's struggles to gain recognition. Even if you've never been a gamer, the story draws you in and tugs a bit at your heartstrings.

MY SCORE: 8/10

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Collector (2009)


Directed by Marcus Dunstan.
2009. Rated R, 90 minutes.
Cast:
Josh Stewart
Juan Fernandez
Michael Reilly Burke
Andrea Roth
Karley Scott Collins
Daniella Alonso
Madeline Zima


Ex-con Arkin (Stewart) is doing some work on the home of the Chase family. When his wife informs him she and their little girl are taking off to get away from the loan shark she owes money to, he tells her to hold her horses and he’ll get the money by midnight.

Now that you’ve wasted a few precious seconds reading the previous paragraph, you can file it away in your mental recycle bin. It doesn’t really matter to the movie other than as an excuse to get him into the Chase house after hours where he hopes to crack the family safe and steal enough valuables to save his wife’s hiney. Sounds pretty important, right? Forget about the safe, just know that he breaks into the house.

What’s the important part, you ask? When he gets there, he soon discovers that someone else has already broken in. Apparently, this other dude has been there all day long, at least. Not only does he have various family members bound and beaten to within an inch of their lives but he’s also boobie-trapped almost every room in the house. We’re not talking a bucket of water over a doorway, here. He’s got a few dozen bear traps set in one room, a floor covered in goo in another, a couple windows turned into guillotines, other windows and doors boarded up, rusty nails sticking out of the stairs…and…I’m pretty sure I’m missing something. You’d think the guy had a movie crew helping him.

Most of our time is spent watching Arkin sneak around trying to avoid the other guy, whom we have to assume is “The Collector” because that’s the title of the movie, and get out of the house. Along the way, Arkin nearly gets decapitated or otherwise maimed and stumbles across dead and nearly dead family members. Well, the littlest Chase, Hannah (Collins), is unharmed because the bad guy can never find her in those spots where she would’ve quickly lost to other kids in a game of hide-and-seek. Of course, that’s the case. You know we hate to see kids hurt in movies. At least that’s the case when it comes to little kids. Teenagers? Kill ‘em all! Oh, yeah…The Collector, that’s what I’m watching, right?

Anyway, we have no idea who this other guy is or what he wants other than to put a hurtin’ on some folks. Eventually, we’re sort of told as one of those almost dead people blurts out the killer’s motive. How exactly does the victim know this? I can’t assume the killer told him, that dude doesn’t talk. His mom isn’t hanging around to fill us in on what the camp counselors allowed to happen to him. There’s no group of parents that burned him alive, years ago nor anyone from whatever mental institution he’s obviously escaped from to recount what he did to his sister. I guess he has telepathic gifts, or the victim has the ability to learn by osmosis. Now, I’m rambling.

I ramble when a movie pisses me off. There’s little to no setup, reason or even a decent payoff. It’s just random, but not in the way random killings can be terrifying, just plain old random. It’s truly as if the boogeyman jumped out of the closet with no humanity beneath his odd looking mask, aside from a strange predilection for bugs, and no past to draw pain from. As idiotic as you might think Friday the 13th movies are, there is some sort of logic at work, however twisted. Here, there is none. It’s just an hour and a half of boobie traps, torture and murder that is occasionally visually stimulating but not nearly enough to overcome our sheer confusion. And it has the nerve to end by threatening us with the possibility of a sequel! Legend has it, this was originally intended to be a chapter in the Saw franchise, but the powers that be rejected it. I can see why.

The Opposite View: John Anderson, Variety

What the Internet Says: 6.1/10 on imdb.com (9/14/10), 28% on rottentomatoes.com, 29/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 3.5/10

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Expendables


Directed by Sylvester Stallone.
2010. Rated R, 103 minutes.
Cast:
Sylvester Stallone
Jason Statham
Jet Li
Giselle Itié
Dolph Lundgren
Mickey Rourke
Eric Roberts
Terry Crews
Randy Couture
Steve Austin

Bruce Willis

Plot: A group of mercenaries are hired to take out the dictator of a banana republic on a tiny South American island. Everything going boom ensues.

The Good: Whenever there was shooting and/or explosions. The action is what we came for and it is very well done in that over the top, goofy way many of Stallone’s movies are. Bodies get ripped apart. There’s lots of yelling and killing everyone in a building is never enough. Through some form of pyrotechnics, the building has to be destroyed, too. Although Sly is the writer, director and star, he’s wise enough to let Jason Statham do most of the heavy lifting. The star of the Crank and Transporter franchises has many of the best scenes, here. The other “best” moments go to Mickey Rourke. He’s just so good, he makes Stallone’s dialogue feel Shakespearean. There are also a few nice comedic moments. Surprisingly, they tend to involve Jet Li. Also squeezed in is a funny scene that really should’ve been cut for adding nothing to the movie, except for the fact that Stallone finally shares the screen for a brief moment with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The Bad: Too much downtime. This is a movie that really should’ve been non-stop action. However, too much time is spent on the bromance between Stallone and Statham and a bunch of grown men whining about their problems. It really makes time between action scenes pass too slowly. Also, a couple of our expendables are even more expendable than the others. If we’re going to have all this talking going on, how is it two guys on the team (Crews and Couture) barely get any screen time?

The Ugly: I love Terry Crews but I kept wondering why Carl Weathers didn’t get that role.

Recommendation: It’s a Sly Stallone special: loud, excessive and goofy. Judge accordingly. I like it well enough, but I’m not blown away by it.

The Opposite View: Mike Scott, New Orleans Times-Picayune

What the Internet Says: 7.1/10 on imdb.com (9/14/10), 40% on rottentomatoes.com, 45/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 6/10

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Gamer


Directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor.
2009. Rated R, 95 minutes.
Cast:
Gerard Butler
Logan Lerman
Michael C. Hall
Amber Valetta
Chris “Ludacris” Bridges
Terry Crews
Kyra Sedgwick


Kable (Butler) is a death row inmate but has achieved worldwide fame as a character in a real live first-person shooter. You see, in this version of the future, gaming has truly gone next level. Many people pay to control others, or get paid to be controlled, in video games using real people as characters in a game that looks like “The Sims”, only with actual human beings.

As far as that shooting game goes, only death row inmates are used for that and that is where Kable comes in. He has survived longer than anyone else. If he survives one more battle, he will earn his freedom from both the game and prison. However, it’s not entirely up to him. During gameplay, he is controlled by Simon (Lerman), who has become a superstar in his own right due to his gaming prowess.

The premise is intriguing as all get-out. It is especially so for those of us who remember the genesis of home video-gaming and wonder just how far it can go. We get a movie that’s entertaining in the way only non-stop remorseless and graphic violence can be. It’s also visually stimulating because it mixes that violence with collages of odd behavior and nude or scantily clad bodies stitched together by quick cuts. Unfortunately, the story never mines the potential depths of its subject, preferring instead to stick with the tried and true approach of having a megalomaniacal villain try to take over the world. The effect is we can have fun watching it, but may have trouble remembering anything about it once we hit the “open” button on our DVD player. Well, memories of the several dance moments may linger for a bit, but that’s not a good thing.

The Opposite View: Vadim Rizov, LA Weekly

What the Internet Says: 5.7/10 on imdb.com (9/11/10), 30% on rottentomatoes.com, 27/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 5.5/10

Friday, September 10, 2010

Baby


Directed by Juwan Chung.
2008. Rated R, 100 minutes.
Cast:
David Huynh
Ron Yuan
Tzi Ma
Christina Stacey
Peter Cho
Feodor Chin
Kenneth Choi


After seven long years in prison, Baby (Huynh) is pushed back onto the dangerous streets of LA. They keep saying prison, but it has to be juvie. Our little antihero is only 18, after all. Let’s move on. After a brief stint as a dishwasher and unable to get over the sting of his old flame not waiting for him and generally not seeing eye to eye with his dad, Baby finds himself again involved in a life of crime. Let’s stop right there, for a moment. Yes, you’re math is right. Both parties of the couple in question were 11 when he went in. More on that, later.

It wants to be an Asian-American Boyz N the Hood. It even says so right on the DVD cover. Sadly, it fails for several reasons. First, his age is supposed to make the movie more powerful but really just makes it goofy. Even if you’ve been locked up so long you’re social growth has been stunted beyond repair, you still shouldn’t say “I thought you were gonna wait for me” with a straight face to a girl who was 11 the last time you saw her. Next, he’s a dull character, seemingly incapable of independent though and bereft of charisma. There is nothing drawing us to him.

The biggest problem, however, is the story barrels toward its inevitable conclusion with complete hoplessness. The kid doesn’t seem to stand a chance and there never appears to be light at the end of the tunnel. What makes Boyz N the Hood great, what makes it stick with you is we can see a way out of the despair for characters we’ve become vested. Since we can see that hope, it hurts us when not only is it snuffed out, but we recognize and feel helpless to stop the cycle we see perpetuating itself. Here, the cycle is the same but we care less because Baby never really seems to be on the way up. He’s the kid we were right about, all along. Imagine if, in Boyz N the Hood, instead of us spending plenty of time with Ricky and Tre, we were entirely focused on Doughboy. This is what Baby does.

MY SCORE: 5/10

Thursday, September 9, 2010

It's Complicated


Directed by Nancy Meyers.
Rated R, 120 minutes.
Cast:
Meryl Streep
Alec Baldwin
Steve Martin
John Krasinski
Lake Bell
Hunter Parish
Caitlin Fitzgerald
Zoe Kazan
Rita Wilson
Alexandra Wentworth


Jane Adler (Streep) is a divorcee going through a bit of “empty nest” syndrome as her youngest child is graduating college and about to leave her alone in her big, beautiful home. She hasn’t been dating but has taken an interest in Adam (Martin), the architect helping her with additions to the house. The complicated part: after a night of drinking and dancing she finds herself involved in an affair with her ex-husband Jake (Baldwin) who is now married to Agness (Bell), a woman quite a few years her junior.

Except for the ages of those involved, the premise is fairly unremarkable. However, that one aspect is explored and exploited wonderfully. In keeping with the overall light tone, age is viewed as a simple matter of fact, not a death sentence to your pursuit of happiness. Even that’s not entirely accurate. For some, their advancing age is actually an excuse to pursue their happiness with even more vigor than they did when they were young.

As you can imagine, this eventually becomes a love triangle with Streep at the center. It is key that she is playing the lead role. Her acting ability is unquestionable and she is again fantastic. However, it’s her looks that make her performance. She’s a household name. We are familiar enough with her to have seen her at various stages of her career and life. We know what she looked like many years ago. Many of us, myself included, think that right now she looks better than she ever has. So, why wouldn’t her ex-husbandt think the same? On top of that, she exudes a certain regality that’s attractive. That’s what keeps the architect who’s just met her, sniffing around.

None of that would matter if it weren’t funny. Fortuanately, this contains plenty of laughs. They feel natural as the actors all seem to be having such fun as things just happen. They rarely feel like they’re simply performing jokes. Among those actors, John Krasinski as Jane’s son-in-law Harley, stands out. He has many of the movies best moments. That said, I have to be fair and say who thinks It’s Complicated is funny and who doesn’t may break down along generational lines. I’m guessing 30 might be the line of demarcation: above it, you’ll love it, below it you’ll loathe it. Maybe.

Romantic comedies are one of my least favorite genres of movies, a shade above romantic musicals. This rises above its contemporaries even though it includes many of their clichés. I wouldn’t call it a great film, but it is certainly an entertaining one. Streep plays perfectly off her male suitors and displays a comedic timing not often associated with her. Yup, I’m drinking the Streep kool-aid. She’s the best.

The Opposite View: Marjorie Baumgarten, Austin Chronicle

What the Internet Says: 6.7/10 on imdb.com, 57% on rottentomatoes.com, 57/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 7/10

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Cadillac Records


Directed by Darnell Martin.
2008. Rated R, 109 minutes.
Cast:
Adrien Brody
Jeffrey Wright
Columbus Short
Beyonce Knowles
Eammon Walker
Emmanuelle Chriqui
Cedric the Entertainer
Gabrielle Union


Plot: The history of Chess Records, home to Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Muddy Waters (Wright), Little Walter (Short), Howlin' Wolf (Eamonn Walker), Etta James (Knowles), Chuck Berry (Mos Def) and label owner Leonard Chess (Brody). It was also known as Cadillac Records because Chess would often buy his artists brand new Cadillacs.

The Good: This is a lively affair that merrily bounces along. The movie effectively uses music to create wonderful scenes and to bridge one scene to the next. That music starts with Muddy's down-home blues, moves on to Berry's pioneering Rock and Roll sound and James' heart-wrenching ballads. The acting is a major plus. Jeffrey Wright continues to make me believe he's perhaps the most underrated actor working today. He fully inhabits his characters and does the same for Muddy Waters. Brody is solid as ever. Columbus Short (of Stomp the Yard and Quarantine), whom I was losing faith in, delivers his best performance as does R&B superstar Beyonce Knowles. She ably portrays James as a woman who attempts to mask her fragility with tough talk and tough drugs. The cast also includes Gabrielle Union (as Muddy's wife Geneva) and Emmanuelle Chriqui (as Chess' wife Revetta).

The Bad: It's way too fast. It keeps the accelerator to the floor and rarely lets up. That's fine for an uproarious comedy or a thrill-a-minute action flick. For a drama that's trying to recreate larger-than-life personas and obviously wants us to feel their joy and pain, it's not. Instead of us really identifying with these people and going through the highs and lows with them, it often feels like old-school newreel journalism. We get a bunch of quick scenes in chronological order as we're told in a cold, clincal manner "this happens, then this, then this and this and this, the end." We never get attached enough to be happy or sad for them. For a movie about people who reached deep into their souls to create beautiful music, it has surprisingly little soul of its own.

The Ugly: Little Walter making sure no one steals his name.

Recommendation: CR is a fun little movie because it showcases the music and has some great acting. If it weren't so hell-bent on getting to the end as quickly as possible and really digging into the emotions that went into making the music, it would've been a real winner. As it is, it's decent but forgettable.

The Opposite View: Christopher Tookey, Daily Mail (UK)

What the Internet Says: 6.7/10 on imdb.com (9/8/10), 67% on rottentomatoes.com, 65/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 6/10


Sidenote: Separate movies on any of these people could be great but I would particularly like to see one about Chuck Berry.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Strange Circus


Directed by Shion Sono.
2005. Rated R, 108 minutes.
Cast:
Masumi Miyazaki
Rie Kuwana
Mai Takahashi
Hiroshi Ohguchi
Issei Ishida
Tomorrowo Taguchi
Fujiko


Strange movies have a certain way with me. They’re a reminder that film can be akin to abstract art, creative and open to interpretation. Movies that explore the grotesque are also highly intriguing to me. They tap in to our subconscious fear and sadism. Though we may cringe, we can’t stop watching. Strange Circus is a strange movie that explores the grotesque.

We start the proceedings following Mitsuko (played by three different actresses, but somehow not at all confusing). When we meet her, she’s a twelve year old girl who leads a rather tortured existence. Her father is the well-liked principal of her school. However, that’s by far the least uncomfortable part of their relationship. At home, he has a cello case in his bedroom. He likes hiding her in it, forcing her to watch through the peephole he's cut out as he and his wife make love. When that’s not enough, he graduates to having sex with his daughter. Then…well, let’s just say it gets even more bizarre.

The question becomes is Mitsuko’s story real? After a while, we meet Taeko (Miyazaki), a famous wheelchair bound author and discover that we’ve been watching her upcoming novel unfold as she writes it. Or, are we? Is this piece of so-called fiction actually an autobiography? Where we go from here, took a twisted mind to conjure. By the way, director Shion Sono also wrote the movie and did an awesome job at both.

After we’re introduced to Taeko, we switch back and forth between her current, somewhat odd and mysterious life and Mitsuko’s developing tale. The two weave an unsettling tapestry of sexually charged but almost never sexy imagery. The act is completely perverted, stripped of intimacy and wielded as a soul stealing weapon. This is true horror. It eschews masked and/or deformed boogeymen for a real, at least seemingly so, flesh and blood monster. This monster doesn’t rack up a body count to shock us intermittently while using the stupidity of other characters as comic relief. This monster, well all of them as several are eventually revealed, just screws with our heads, relentlessly. Any laughs to be had are uneasy, at best.

In the lead role, Masumi Miyazaki is stunning. She actually winds up playing three roles. It only feels like one, until it suddenly doesn’t. You have to see it, to have even an inkling of what I’m talking about. In fact, the cast as a whole is remarkable. Perhaps, not to be outdone by any of them, cinematographer Yûichirô Ôtsaka turns in outstanding work. It can’t be easy making images so innately disgusting to us so beautiful to look at. This isn’t the gory, slasher flick type of disgusting we’ve become desensitized to. These are things that shake our core and bother us to even think.

If you want to see something very, very different, this is what you’re looking for. It’s often repulsive, but that’s part of its appeal. It never pulls punches. Whether, or not, you duck is up to you. Oh, one other thing: subtitleophobes beware, we’re speaking Japanese.

MY SCORE: 10/10

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Crazies


Directed by Breck Eisner.
2010. Rated R, 101 minutes.
Cast:
Timothy Olyphant
Radha Mitchell
Joe Anderson
Danielle Panbaker
Christie Lyon Smith
Deadra Farnum
John Aylward
Lisa K. Wyatt


All of a sudden, people in Ogden Marsh start getting very sick. No, not sick as in catching a bug that makes you cough, sneeze or otherwise spread your unwanted germs around, but sick as in George A. Romero sick. Well, whaddya know? This is a remake of an early 70s Romero flick. For the uninformed, they’re turning into zombies. Through some very quick detective work, Sheriff Dutten (Olyphant) surmises that the recent turn of events is caused by a contaminated water supply. Don’t worry, there’s more to it than that. Anyhoo, before you know it, nearly everyone in town is infected, the military shows up and it’s one big orgy of killin’.

Make no bones about it, the story is poorly told. There are too many plot-holes and loose ends. The whole deal with the Enemy of the State-style satellite is underdeveloped and silly where it’s supposed to serve as ominous social commentary. Why some people get sick and some don’t is still a mystery.

Luckily, these things are easy to overlook because the rest of the movie is so well done. It becomes a nicely crafted chase movie with just enough atmosphere to keep the tension amped up.

The bottom line: watch it for the cheap thrills it provides and ignore the rest. Truthfully, it’s a movie you’re likely to enjoy as it’s playing but think less and less of as you move away from it and give it a couple thoughts. But hey, it’s fun while it’s on.

The Opposite View: Dan Kois, Washington Post

What the Internet Says: 6.7/10 on imdb.com, 71% on rottentomatoes.com, 55/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 7/10

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Repo Men


Directed by Miguel Sapochnik.
2010. Rated R, 111 minutes.
Cast:
Jude Law
Forest Whitaker
Liev Schreiber
Alice Braga
Carice van Houten
Chandler Canterbury
Joe Pingue
Liza Lapira
RZA


Remy (Law) works as a repo man for The Union. The Union doesn’t deal cars or anything simple. They peddle organs. That’s right, fall too far behind on your payments for that transplanted heart, or liver, or kidney, or whatever and Remy or his co-workers will pay you a visit and take it back, literally. Of course, through a rather unfortunate event, Remy ends up getting a brand new ticker of his own and finds himself unable to make the payments. He and Becca (Braga), the stray chick he took in who is also in arrears on a laundry list of parts, running and hiding from The Union ensues.

Those of us that pay attention to Z-grade cinema know that RM is a blatant rip-off. A couple years ago, a straight-to-DVD flick titled Repo! The Genetic Opera surfaced and became a cult hit. The two main differences are in that movie the repo man didn’t need the transplant, his daughter did and most noticeably it was a musical. It was odd, morbidly funny and unafraid to take chances. RM has some of those same attributes but is definitely more restrained to meet more mainstream sensibilities. Its obviously much bigger budget justifies this approach.

It uses that budget to give us wild imagery and outrageous situations. There are also some darkly comic moments. Often enough, it gives us all of those things simultaneously. However, story-wise many things happen that are either too simple or underdeveloped. This is especially the case in regards to Remy’s relationship with his son. There needs to be more of it. Once the movie kicks into high gear, he wants to see his son but it’s not something we can feel. In fact, the boy becomes a prop in one of his narrow escapes and little else. This disconnects us from him a little, reminds us it’s just an action movie. We’re never vested in him. So, while it excels at entertaining us, it never really engages us.

All is not lost. Like I said, it is entertaining. It’s helped along by its three leading men. Jude Law continues to prove, to me at least, he’s one of the more underrated actors working today. Forest Whitaker as his best friend Jake and Live Schreiber as his boss seem to be having a blast. Whitaker seems to be particularly giddy and it is infectious.

Yes, take it down a notch for being a rip-off of a movie that not only includes Paris Hilton in the cast but has the nerve to have her singing. That sentence alone should tell you that RM doesn’t revel in being bad the way the older movie does. Still, it’s not the worst movie ever made as some would have you believe.

The Opposite View: Ian Buckwalter, NPR

What the Internet Says: 6.3/10 on imdb.com, 22% on rottentomatoes.com, 32/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 6.5/10

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Caine Mutiny


Directed by Edward Dmytryk.
1954. Not Rated, 125 minutes.
Cast:
Humphrey Bogart
Fred MacMurray
Van Johnson
Robert Francis
Jose Ferrer
Lee Marvin
May Wynn
E. G. Marshall
Tom Tully
Warner Anderson


When Captain Queeg (Bogart) takes over the USS Caine during WWII, he finds his inherited crew mirrors his dilapidated ship, completely slack and barely, if at all, worthy of the United States Navy. However, it soon becomes apparent to them that their new captain may have spent a few too many days at sea. The question is do they muster enough evidence and gumption to relieve him of his duty before he gets them killed, without approval from further up the chain of command. If they do, what will the consequences be?

Those are intriguing questions and the movie tackles each as it transforms from a doomed-at-sea epic to a courtroom drama. Both portions are outstanding and keep you on the edge of your seat. The situations that arise aboard the Caine really capture the essence of a crew constantly walking on eggshells. In court, it’s a real question of whether these men who did what seems to be the right thing will become victim to the law.

There is one portion of the movie that doesn’t work for me. The romance between young Ensign Keith and his gal at home, May Wynn (herself) feels flat. It hints at an almost Oedipal relationship between he and his mother but never really becomes anything substantial. It feels shoved in so the movie doesn’t completely alienate female viewers. Yes, I realize the movie is based on a novel which included this part of the story, as well. However, if it were all left on the cutting room floor it wouldn’t change the movie one iota.

That said, TCM is still a true American classic. It achieves such status mostly on the back of one Humphrey Bogart. I’m one of those blasphemers who really isn’t impressed by Bogart. To me, he’s wildly overrated. Granted, he’s been in some great movies but I’ve never felt they were great because of him. In my eyes, he wasn’t the best thing about any of them. His acting largely seems to consist of holding the cigarette he’s smoking in one hand while having the other hand in his pocket and delivering his lines in something barely more than a monotone manner with a blank stare on his face. That is not the case, here. As the unstable captain, he’s simply dynamite. He commands the screen and is truly mesmerizing. For my money, it’s his best performance and worthy of the Best Actor nom he received.

If you’re a film buff, this is a must-see. It deserves its spot as one of the great cinematic achievements.

MY SCORE: 10/10

Friday, September 3, 2010

Animals


Directed by Douglas Aarniokoski.
2010. Rated R, 90 minutes.
Cast:
Marc Blucas
Nicki Aycox
Eva Amurri
Naveen Andrews
Andy Comeau
Bart Johnson


There are people among us who have the ability to transform into animals, at will. Don’t you worry your pretty little head about it. Most of them live peacefully amongst us regular folk. Of course, a few ruffians like to tap in to their beastly side on a regular basis and do some nasty things. At least, that’s what the movie tells us.

Jarrett (Blucas) is not one of those people. He’s just a poor, dim-witted schlep who is late for work every morning, hangs out drinking at his buddy’s bar every night and never connects the two. For reasons known only to her, the well-endowed waitress is awfully fond of him, but doesn’t pick up on that, either. By the way, I’m only remarking on her breasts because she makes a particular point of wearing very low cut tops and the director makes sure to highlight them in every shot of her. Let’s get back to Jarrett. Even when a hot, skankily clad blonde practically clubs him over the head and drags him back to his own cave, he almost doesn’t get it. She literally has to spell out what it is that she wants. We’re not the least bit surprised to discover his glory days ended the second he stepped off a high school football field for the last time.

Being the slow sort of guy he is, he falls instantly in love with said blonde. Since this is all part of her master plan, she doesn’t object and moves in…wait…who lets their one-night-stand move in the next day? Our resident mental giant Jarrett does, of course. During the dirty deed, she bites him pretty good and scratches up his back. Of course, we already know two things he doesn’t. First, she’s one of “those people”. Second, and even more importantly, she’s hiding out from her boyfriend who is not only one of “those people”, he enjoys killing people, a lot. He enjoys killing guys that hang around his gal, even more.

You know, this sounds pretty good so far. But hey, this is a straight-to-DVD feature. True to its roots, the execution is horrorble. See what I did, there? All of my former English professors are congregating outside my house right now, with torches and pitchforks in hopes of confiscating the degree I earned in their beloved subject. Hold on a second (walks to barely open window and peeps through barely opened Venetian blinds) “You’ll never take me alive!” Oh, sorry.

Anyhoo, (“Quit all that racket, doctors!”) the special fx are far less than special; unless by special you mean akin to the children you now regret making fun of when you yourself were a child, or special like Jarrett. Our “animals” are neon-lit cartoon dogs, or wolves, or something. The script seems to have been written by whatever poor soul those teachers outside raped and pillaged before coming here. Do English professors rape and pillage? However, it seems someone was aware of these weaknesses because they tried to make it up with lots of screwin. “You like that, teach? I dropped a “g” and didn’t even include punctuation! What!" Ahem…the movie, right? I certainly wouldn’t call Animals good. Then again, I wouldn’t call it bad. It’s beyond bad. It’s so bad, its awesome! Oh, almost forgot...that pic up there is the DVD cover and none of the people you see are actually in the movie. See what I mean by special?

“Come and get me, professors! I have really sharp pencils and an army of e-friends!”

MY SCORE: -10/10

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Youth in Revolt


Directed by Miguel Arteta.
2010. Rated R, 90 minutes.
Cast:
Michael Cera
Portia Doubleday
Jean Smart
Fred Willard
Zach Galifianakis
Ray Liotta
M. Emmet Walsh
Steve Buscemi
Justin Long


Nick Twisp (Cera) is a frustrated 16 year old virgin who’s only joy in life seems to be that his best friend has even less luck with the ladies than he does. That is, until he meets Sheeny (Doubleday), his one true love, thanks to some shady dealings by his mom’s boyfriend that causes the dysfunctional trio to go into hiding in a trailer park. Jean Smart and Zach Galifianakis play the mom and bf, respectively.

A few days later Nick learns he and his makeshift family will return to their home, thus separating him from Sheeny. Before he leaves, the lovebirds decide the only way for them to be together…well, it will apparently take a great deal of effort and involve Nick behaving very badly. The important part is this results in Nick creating Francois Dillinger, his own imaginary alter-ego (also played by Cera). When thinking of Francois, think a subdued version of Eddie Murphy’s Buddy Love from The Nutty Professor but visualize Cera with a thin mustache, wearing a tight white smoking jacket and of course, smoking.

From there, the movie shifts into another gear as Nick tries desperately to be reunited with the girl of his dreams, on multiple occasions. However, even as it does it sticks to its guns and the whole movie has a Steven Wright-esque deadpan delivery. This wouldn’t be such a bad thing if it were funnier. Actually, there are pockets where it is hilarious, but they’re few and far between. Most of the time, the jokes don’t hit the mark. And the whole alter-ego thing is a waste. We could have the exact same without him.

Nick’s relationships with his divorced parents are a blown opportunity. They could’ve had some wonderful developments or been mined even further, reaching new comic depths, or both. Sadly, they’re neither. Both his mother and father (Buscemi) are given great templates with which to start but hardly enough metal to fill the molds. It’s too bad because Smart turns in a great performance.

YIR wants to be witty and clever but it isn’t on an often enough basis. I’ve seen dozens of movies about teenage boys risking life and limb to get laid. This one fits snugly in the middle of the pack without the ability to separate itself.

The Opposite View: Rick Groen, The Globe and Mail (Toronto)

What the Internet Says: 6.8/10 on imdb.com (9/2/10), 68% on rottentomatoes.com, 63/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 6/10

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Away We Go


Directed by Sam Mendes.
2009. Rated R, 98 minutes.
Cast:
John Krasinski
Maya Rudolph
Carmen Ejogo
Jeff Daniels
Maggie Gyllenhaal
Catherine O'Hara
Allison Janney
Jim Gaffigan


Plot: Verona (Rudolph),who is six months pregnant, and her boyfriend Burt (Krasinski) travel to various locations in North America they have ties to in search of the perfect place to start their family.

The Good: In Verona and Burt, we have a couple that feels, more or less, real. They aren't glamourous or overly hip, they're just a couple regular thirtysomethings trying to make their way in the world. To that end, director Sam Mendes coaxes some very natural performances from his two stars. On the other hand, he also gets some great, and perfectly over the top work from his supporting cast. In particular, Maggie Gyllenhaal shines as the eccentric, and eccentrically named, LN. What happens is the bit players, and Burt, give us most of our laughs while Verona plays our "straight man" and the movie effectively revolves around her. This also helps reveal bits and pieces of our heroes.

The Bad: Some opportunities for comedy are lost because the movie rarely deals with Verona's pregnancy. Their is the running gag about keeping the baby's heart rate up, but nothing ever comes of it. Also, some of the supporting characters beg for bigger roles but are all quickly ushered off-screen as our heroes travel from one city to the next.

The Ugly: LN, breast-feeding, strollers and the "family bed." Wow.

Recommendation: This is a different sort of rom-com. Instead of the usual boy-meets-girl, this picks up where others leave off. It's smart, cute and funny. That said, fellas be warned: it's a full-blown chick-flick. It's a solid one, but a chick-flick, nonetheless.

The Opposite View: Richard Corliss, Time

What the Internet Says: 7.4/10 on imdb.com (2/8/10), 66% on rottentomatoes.com, 58/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 7/10