Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Unstoppable


Directed by Tony Scott.
2010. Rated PG-13, 98 minutes.
Cast:
Denzel Washington
Chris Pine
Rosario Dawson
Kevin Dunn
Ethan Suplee
Kevin Corrigan
Lew Temple
Jessy Schram
Dylan Bruce


It’s Will Colson’s (Pine) first day on the job with the railroad company. He’s assigned to train under the tutelage of Frank Barnes (Washington). Barnes and the other vets are more than a little ticked they’re all being phased out in favor of youngsters like Colson. Will gets a double-dose of hateration because he’s got some family connections with the company. However, these two guys are just a subplot.

Our primary tale is about train 777, or Triple 7 as it’s sometimes called. It begins with a bumbling idiot simply failing at his job. Suffice it to say, the train gets away from him. Of course, it slips into the full throttle position. This means the unmanned locomotive with enough cars to be “the size of the Chrysler Building” is barreling down the tracks at 70+ miles per hour. As if that weren’t bad enough, many of the cars contain toxic and presumably highly flammable and combustible materials. If the train reaches the heavily populated Stanton it’s sure to fly off the tracks due to it going way too fast to make it through the elevated curve that has a speed limit of 15 mph. Attempts to stop this particularly dangerous runaway ensue.

To both the movie’s credit and detriment, it remains just that simple. We get to know a bit about the personal problems of our heroes, Frank and Will. There’s also the back and between Connie (Dawson), who runs the railroad and her boss back at HQ, Galvin (Dunn), but that’s all about the train. This makes Unstoppable remarkably free of clutter and effective at being exactly what it wants to be: a popcorn flick featuring a train.

However, since it is so committed to the action, we never really meet the loved ones of our heroes that we hear so much about and see so much of. Throughout the film, there are plenty of shots of them and they get a few lines here and there, but that’s it. They qualify as characters only in the strictest sense of the word.

Between scenes of our train raging out of control, the dialogue is surprisingly solid for a popcorn movie. It’s not terribly original, but the actors give it plenty of life. Pine and Washington play off one another well with Denzel playing the sort of wise old man usually portrayed by Morgan Freeman. Rosario Dawson turns in a stock performance. Since average for her is better than most, there are no problems there.

Unstoppable is a solid action flick that manages not to do anything egregiously wrong. Well, if you’re even remotely paying attention you should be able to spot one major movie gaffe (unless I saw it wrong). Other than that, it rather efficiently goes about its business. It’s a nice diversion of a movie, but nothing earth-shatteringly special.

MY SCORE: 6.5/10

Monday, November 29, 2010

Big Fan

Directed by Robert D. Siegel.
2009. Rated R, 86 minutes.
Cast:
Patton Oswalt
Kevin Corrigan
Michael Rapaport
Marcia Jean Kurtz
Gino Cafarelli
Matt Servitto
Serafina Fiore
Polly Humphreys
Jonathan Hamm


Plot: Paul (Oswalt) is a die-hard New York Giants football fan. He eats, sleeps and drinks "G-Men". What will he do after he is beaten up by Quantrell Bishop (Hamm), his favorite player on his favorite team?

The Good: Director Robert D. Siegel does the impossible and gives us an original movie - one dealing with sports, no less. In fact, I'd hesitate to actually call it a sports movie. It's more of a sports fan movie. Instead of focusing on a player, team or coach and working up to "the big game," we walk with an ordinary joe who lives to support his team. That fan, Paul, is portrayed brilliantly and without a hint of sarcasm by Patton Oswalt. That last part is important because Paul could've easily become a comic figure and sank the movie. Through a skillfully ambiguous ending, we're not sure whether to feel happy or sad for him even though he is inexplicably happy. By the way, that's not a spoiler. You have to see it to know what I'm talking about. As Paul's mom, Marcia Jean Kurtz is not only a riot but a constant reminder of how pathetic her son truly is.

The Bad: While Paul is supposed to be a sad case, the movie took the easiest route to that destination by utilizing stereotypes. In this case it's that a guy who's passionate about his team and likes to call the sports radio shows he listens to has to be child-like in all areas of life. Paul is so much so, it's nearly to the point of retardation. His buddy Sal (Corrigan) is similar. However, I wanted more from Sal. We can guess, but are never really sure how he feels about all that's going on. It's especially important since Sal is actually present when Paul is beaten. And what happens with what Paul's brother, Jeff (Cafarelli), is trying to do for him?

The Ugly: Whether you find her attractive or not, former (current?) porn-star Serafina Fiore as Paul's sister-in-law Gina has an unbelievably distracting appearance.

Recommendation: While it's an excellent movie, it's hard to recommend because it's a bit of a downer. It's doubly so for someone like me who is actually a Giants fan and likes to listen to sports talk radio. That said, definitely see this if you want to see a drama that's sports related but still has a unique vision. Just don't go looking for any actual sports scenes because there are none.


MY SCORE: 9/10

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Double Indemnity

Directed by Billy Wilder
1944. Not Rated, 108 minutes.
Cast:
Fred MacMurray
Barbara Stanwyck
Edward G. Robinson
Jean Heather


An insurance agent (MacMurray) falls in love with the wife of a client (Stanwyck). The two then hatch a plan to kill her husband so they can collect the insurance money and be together. This is Film Noir 101. All of the elements of the genre: the narration, dame that gets ultra-cool guy in hot water, murder and slick slang are not only present but have seldom, if ever, been done better. The dialogue is insanely sharp, filled with sexual innuendo, humor and thoughtfulness at appropriate times. The story keeps you on your toes, introducing elements that subtly change your idea of what you think will happen up until right before the climax. At that point, our hero tells you what's going to happen, or at least what he plans on, and instead of it being a let down it intrigues us even more because we've seen how his plans have worked out so far. MacMurray and Stanwyck are both marvelous in the lead roles and have great chemistry with one another. Robinson, not getting top billing for the first time in a career which was starting to wane by this point, conveys a fierce determination the couple in question must fear. He does so with one of his more subdued, but no less excellent performances. Any fans of film noir, or film buffs in general, must see this movie. This is the movie most recent efforts of the genre take their cues from, even something so over the top as Sin City or as experimental as the underappreciated Brick.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Harry Brown

Directed by Daniel Barber.
2009. Rated R, 103 minutes.
Cast:
Michael Caine
Emily Mortimer
Charlie Creed-Miles
David Bradley
Ben Drew
Sean Harris
Iain Glen
Jack O’Connell


Harry Brown (Caine) is having a tough go of it. He spends his days at the side of his long-time wife’s hospital bed. She doesn’t even know he’s there. At night, he medicates himself with a few beers and a game of chess with Leonard (Bradley). Though Leonard is his only friend, it’s not the greatest company. Leonard spends most of their time together complaining about the young thugs that have overrun his neighborhood and his run-ins with them.

Shortly, Harry’s wife passes away and Leonard goes and gets himself killed. Harry copes by really getting sloshed. On the way home from the pub, Harry walks everywhere by the way, one of the hooligans Harry thinks was involved in Leonard’s murder tries to mug him at knife point. This apparently re-ignites whatever it is in Harry’s past he refuses to speak of on several occasions. Harry going vigilante ensues.

Obviously, two questions arise. First, will Harry be able to wipe out all the riff-raff in the hood? Second, will he be caught? Well, since the movie holds no real surprises in that area, the question then becomes how does the movie go about its business? The answer to that begins with the star, Michael Caine.

Caine has long been a brilliant actor. He doesn’t disappoint, here. His Harry is a weary old man with a dark past whose world is crumbling around him. On top of everything else gone wrong in his life, he has to take the long way around in his travels to avoid the knuckleheads. That’s how the role is written. The magic of Michael Caine is he makes us feel it. He’s perfect, as usual.

HB is also graphically violent, and for a short time sexually also, in a good way. It creates a hyper-realistic world that doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to depicting who these people are. Neatly, it turns the trick of not having any of these moments fell like they’re just for effect. Of course, this brilliantly gives it an unsettling effect.

There are issues, though. First, and foremost, it’s formulaic. As I wrote earlier, there are no real surprises except for one out of left-field character development. The only big difference between this and any other vigilante movie is the age of our hero. That would be enough if it explored that angle better. Instead of us getting to know more about the mysterious old chap, particularly about his time in the Marines and how that has affected him, which it obviously has, his age is merely a plot device that plays into the action. It works for that purpose but isn’t as satisfying a factor as it should be. This plagues the entire movie. Things are brought up as if their depths are about to be plumbed, yet time and again the movie is content to skim the surface.

Overall, it’s a solid watch that Michael Caine makes better than it has any right to be. He’s worth the price of admission because he is so undeniably believable. He alone, is not enough to make HB anything more than decent. That’s because you’ve seen this movie before. Think of it as Death Wish for senior citizens.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Tokyo Gore Police


Directed by Yoshihiro Nishimura.
2008. Not Rated, 110 minutes.
Cast:
Eihi Shiina
Itsuji Itao
Yukihide Benny
Jiji Bû
Ikuko Sawada
Cay Izumi
Mame Yamada


Sometimes you read the title of a movie and know you’re in for a wild ride. When your suspicions are confirmed within the first two minutes, you have a decision to make. Do you hit the stop button and end the madness now? Or do you subject yourself to what you know will be completely bonkers. If you keep going, you do so echoing the sentiments of legendary basketball coach Bobby Knight: if being raped is inevitable, you might as well enjoy it.

Okay, it’s not even remotely close to rape. However, it is something most normal people wouldn’t call entertainment. Note that I’ve never once claimed to be normal. What it is, is arguably one of the most ridiculous and without queston the most ridiculously bloody movie I’ve sat through. I don’t mean bloody like the English might say. I mean just plain old bloody. The slightest laceration sets off a geyser of bodily fluid. It literally sprays in all directions, by the gallon. It even seems to be raining blood in one scene.

There is a story, here. At some point in the future Tokyo’s police force has been privatized much like Detroit’s in Robocop. In general, crime in Tokyo isn’t nearly as widespread. Instead, most of the PD’s efforts concentrates on catching and killing “Engineers”. No, we’re not talking about any type of engineer you’ve ever heard of. Here, Engineers are a special breed of criminal. They basically try to kill anyone they come into contact with and keep killing until they themselves are dead. They’re not easy to kill. When wounded, whatever part of them has suffered the damage transforms into some sort of weapon. For instance, when the first Engineer we meet loses his arm, it grows back with a chainsaw attached. Seriously. And you’ll just have to see for yourself what happens when one guy’s penis is bitten off. Yup, I said bitten off. You did notice that this movie isn’t rated, right?

We focus on Ruka (Shiina). She’s the best “Engineer Hunter”. It stands to reason she’s so good at her job because she likes killing. Just ask that poor guy on the subway train. I would tell you what happens there, but that would deprive you of the joy of being surprised. You see that? I wrote that like you might actually watch it. Go ahead. I dare you.

If that’s not enough incentive then think about some of the other visuals you’re missing out on. There’s the woman who’s lower half transforms into what resembles an alligator’s head, the guy who pulls the skin off the top half of his own head, the woman stuffed in the cardboard box that’s only big enough for a few of my kid’s toys. Actually, she’s not stuffed at all, but piled there. Yeah, you kinda have to see it to understand. Believe it, or not, I left a lot out.

Bringing this out of the constant stream of gross-out moments for a minute, there is an interesting dynamic to the writing. Again borrowing from Robocop and even a little from The Warriors, TGP uses a string of wacky commercials and a hyped up dispatch lady to not only provide comic relief but also creates an element of satire that runs through the film. Whether or not it is sharp social commentary I probably need to know a lot more about contemporary Japanese culture to say. Some of it is universal and works just fine.

If you’re looking for something totally outrageous, this is the movie for you. It’s live-action anime with one visual after another you may never forget. I’ve read reviews that say this movie isn’t good or bad but exactly what it tries to be: perverse, bizarre, gory, silly and a number of other adjectives. I prefer to say it the way you’re used to me saying. It’s so bad, it’s awesome!

MY SCORE -10/10

Sunday, November 21, 2010

True Romance


Directed by Tony Scott.
1993. Rated R, 120 minutes.
Cast:
Christian Slater
Patricia Arquette
Gary Oldman
Christopher Walken
James Gandolfini
Dennis Hopper
Bronson Pinchot
Brad Pitt
Michael Rapaport
Saul Rubinek
Samuel L. Jackson

Sarah Silverman

The setup is nearly too unbelievable for words. Since words are all I have, I’ll just tell you what happens and let you make of it what you will. Clarence (Slater) is a loner who has way too much love for Elvis Presley and decides to spend the night of his birthday alone in a theater showing a triple feature of all three of Sonny Chiba’s Street Fighter movies. While there, he meets the beautiful Alabama (Arquette). The two hit it off, he shows her the comic book shop where he works and spends a good deal of his off time. They end up making love in his hole-in-the-wall apartment. In the wee hours of the same night she admits to him she’s a call-girl that was hired by his boss who wanted to make sure his top employee got laid for his birthday. She also admits that what started as an act became genuine and she is truly in love with him. Not the least bit upset about any of this because he had a great time, he admits that he’s also in love with her. Clearly, he needs to get out more. Then again, even if he had he might never meet another girl who’s not only into martial arts flicks but is really interested in his endless pontification on all the things in pop-culture he’s passionate about. Anyhoo, our two lovebirds get up first thing in the morning, head to the Justice of the Peace and get hitched. Um…yeah, I guess.

I’m with you. It plays like a geek’s wet dream come true. It’s the ultimate affirmation for those of us who tend to spend too much time in fantasy land. Keep immersing yourself in the alternate reality of your choice, without compromise and sex with beautiful women will miraculously (immaculately?) occur because you’re just that cool. Before any of you geek gods try to strike me down with the bolt of lightning you acquired from the roll of a twenty-sided die, spare me. I’ve been called a geek more than once by people who actually know me. Luckily for you strangers, my ridiculously sexy exterior conceals the analytically superior processor within my skull. Oh, wait…you wanna read about the movie, don’t you?

The reason the open plays like a fanboy’s fantasy is because, essentially, that’s what it is. For those unaware, this was written by a then video store clerk, still pop-culture and b-movie enthusiast named Quentin Tarantino. An opening like this only makes perfect sense.

Enough of this. I’ve spent way too much time on the first fifteen minutes of the movie. The truth is, even though we’ve got a flimsy basis for love, the rest of the film absolutely sizzles. In no way is this a conventional love story. All you really need to know to prove that is that what sets the story in motion is that Clarence's stupidity…er…bravery causes him to try and get Alabama’s things from her pimp, Drexel (Oldman). That’s former pimp, unbeknownst to Drexel. Bada-boom, bada-bing Clarence accidentally ends up with a suitcase full of cocaine and our loving couple goes on the run from the people it belongs to.

Like the best of Tarantino what makes the movie is not the plot but the situations the plot puts the characters in. The more tense the situation, the better the writing is a general Tarantino rule and it applies here. These moments are deliciously outrageous, violent and often clever. This is what drives the movie, makes it a thrilling watch.

The other major factor in making it a good movie are the characters. Really, most of them aren’t well developed. What they are is purpose driven, extreme and totally willing to say whatever comes to mind. Many of them are people we love to hate. Filling these roles is a superb cast that delivers every line perfectly. Stealing the show, however, are two guys who were relative newcomers at the time, James Gandolfini and Brad Pitt. Pitt plays a great stoner and Gandolfini is flat scary.

To his credit, director Tony Scott seems to stay out of the way of the screenplay. It doesn’t feel like his other movies. It’s less him, but in this case that works out well. It does, in fact, feel like a Tarantino movie except it doesn’t bounce around the timeline the way most of his self-directed films tend to. That said, atop what seems to be a faulty foundation an excellent movie is built.

MY SCORE: 8.5/10

Saturday, November 20, 2010

35 Shots of Rum


Directed by Claire Denis.
2009. Not Rated, 102 minutes.
Cast:
Alex Descas
Mati Diop
Nicole Dogue
Grégoire Colin
Jean-Christophe Folly
Djédjé Apali
Eriq Ebouaney
Julieth Mars Toussaint


You know what they say about us Americans who like watching foreign films? We think we’re smarter and more sophisticated than the rest of you. Along comes a movie like 35 Shots of Rum to remind me I might not be as artsy-fartsy as I’d like to think. I’ll explain.

It’s subtly written and filmed likewise. Of the movie’s 102 minutes of runtime, roughly 100 of them are very quiet. It’s beautifully acted, also subtly. It is so subtle the characters really do feel like actual people. There really is no plot to speak of so it plays like a true slice of life type of film. It’s even in French. It’s arthouse in every sense of the word. Yet, I was bored to tears and pissed off about the ambiguous ending. That last bit is most surprising. If you’ve been paying attention, you know I generally love those types of endings. Usually, the more questions I’m left with, the better. Here, not so much.

What is 35 Shots about? To be honest, I’m still not sure. We spend lots of time with Lionel (Descas) and Joséphine (Diop), a father and daughter who share an apartment. He works as a train conductor and goes out drinking with his buddies from work every now and then. She goes to college, does housework and occasionally works at a Virgin music store. I didn’t know they still had those. No, it’s not set in the past, either. I know this because the very whiny René is given an I-Pod as a retirement gift. Anyhoo, Joséphine seems to have a thing for Noé (Colin), the guy who lives in the apartment upstairs. There is also Gabrielle (Dogue), the cab driver who lives in the apartment next door. She seems to have been carrying a torch for Lionel since she learned to walk. The feeling isn’t really mutual. He likes her, he just doesn’t like like her. Oh, and there’s whiny René. He pops up every five or ten minutes to…um…whine…until he eventually does what I knew he would the first time he opened mouth.

Why was I bored? It was far too realistic. I realize that’s an odd complaint to make, but hear me out. If someone stuck a camera in most of our homes and just observed our true dailyu lives without forcing us to vote someone out, compete for a prize or give us random tasks and jobs to prove our worth, most of the viewing public would be hard-pressed to be entertained. In movies about families, dramatic devices occur at fairly regular intervals to advance the plot and/or add intrigue. Personalities are exaggerated to create sympathy, empathy, heroes and villains. In 35 Shots, it feels as if we’re watching reality without the TV. There are no votes, hypersexual tension or grand prize. These people go through their mundane existence in a mundane manner.

It takes courage and patience to make a movie like this but it lacks the magic to make its players transcend the screen. What passes for a romance feels disjointed and barren of hope until it is hastily resolved. The resolution, however, feels unreal and out of very deep left field. For all of the movie, we’re watching what seems to be everyday of their lives from the time we meet them and then, we suddenly fast-forward to a conclusion.

The 35 shots in the title is perhaps most perplexing. About midway through, we learn that Lionel either celebrates or rues a major event in his life, we’re not sure which, by downing 35 consecutive shots of rum. If he’s able to walk the next day I’d be shocked, but I digress. We’re told there is a story behind this ritual that he won’t tell at this time. This comes up again at the end of the film. Sadly, without having seen it you know as much as I about the significance of this practice. Justifying alcoholism? Probably not. If any of you brainiacs has happened to watch this movie, feel free to enlighten me.

This is a difficult film for me, if you couldn’t already tell. The writing is lyrical and sparse. People have conversations without saying a whole lot. Their pauses aren’t pregnant with the possibility of an earth-shattering revelation in the next sentence. They’re just pauses. There are no complaints to be made about any performance here. Many of the elements critics are thrilled by are present. Still, it doesn’t add up to winning cinema, for me. In my eyes, the whole equals much less than the sum of its parts.

MY SCORE: 5.5/10

Friday, November 19, 2010

Splice

Directed by Vincenzo Natali.
2010. Rated R, 100 minutes.
Cast:
Adrien Brody
Sarah Polley
Delphine Chanéac
Brandon McGibbon
Simona Maicanescu
David Hewlett
Abigail Chu


We all know those people who are academically brilliant but pretty much brain-dead in all other phases of life. Meet Elsa (Polley) and Clive (Brody), two such people. They work together in a genetic splicing lab and through some biological sleight of hand, have created two living, breathing blobs affectionately named Fred and Ginger. I’m sure their iconic namesakes are flattered, but whatever. The hope is that the key to curing many medical ailments liew within the genes of these creatures.

That’s all fine and dandy. However, there are some problems. The first is that, like Fred and Ginger, Elsa and Clive are a couple. This means when they leave the lab and/or decide to do anything requiring rational thought they are at more of a disadvantage than most of us. The idiocy of the other person is all they have to overcome or gain approval of with each of them secure in their belief that the other person is brilliant.

This leads to problem number two. Elsa rashly decides it is a good idea to introduce human DNA into the same cocktail they used to create Fred and Ginger, pretty much just because. After a fleeting moment of clarity passes, Clive agrees that just because is good enough and goes along with the program. They create a fetus they intend to watch and terminate before it reaches full term, again just because. Of course, full-term happens roughly overnight so they miss that boat. Out pops this thing that looks like a miniature T-rex with a rodent-like face and it’s pretty pissed off. After deciding it is too cute to kill, they settle on the idea of becoming its parents in order to observe and document things, even though they’re pretty sure what they’ve done will land them in jail if anyone finds out. So yeah, you guessed it, they’re doing it just because.

What “because” really is eventually becomes clear as mud as we watch the little creature develop. They name her Dren (Chanéac), nerd spelled backwards we’re made to understand. They also teach her lots of communication skills, since she’s clearly as intelligent as a human being but can’t talk. She also looks more and more human as the movie goes on. I mean, she still has four fingers on each hand and legs like a T-rex but the face changes dramatically. When you watch it, you’ll see this is important.

Here’s the thing: watching Dren grow up isn’t terribly exciting. We watch her learn how to get her point across using Scrabble letters, see or hear something she probably shouldn’t, get a little rebellious and get yelled at and sent to a corner. This goes on for roughly 85 minutes with occasional breaks for our loving couple to try and save their jobs due to a mishap involving Fred and Ginger.

During the last 15 minutes or so Dren is featured in two of the weirdest sex scenes ever, realizes she’s stronger than her captors…er…”parents” and involuntarily does something else to cause all hell to break loose. This raises the movie to the grand level of so-so. Honestly? I liked it better when it was called Species.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sherlock Holmes


Directed by Guy Ritchie.
2009. Rated PG-13, 128 minutes.
Cast:
Robert Downey Jr.
Jude Law
Rachel McAdams
Mark Strong
Eddie Marsan
Robert Maillet
Geraldine James
Kelly Reilly
William Houston


Plot: After being convicted of murder, Lord Blackwood (Strong) is executed. However, he apparently resurrects himself and threatens to take over the world. Super sleuth Sherlock Holmes (Downey Jr), who captured Blackwood in the first place, attempts to solve the mystery of his rising and save the day.

The Good: First and foremost, it's fun. The action scenes are well done, with top notch special fx. Massive objects go flying through the air and they actually appear dangerous, not like the green-screen wizardry we know them to be. The fight scenes are fun, as well. They're excellently choreographed and, thanks to Sherlock's pre-fight analysis, a source of humor. There's also lots of other humor. Two hours whizzes by because we're having a blast.

The Bad: It's so busy dazzling us with high-energy sequences, it never really shows us the secrets to the big mystery. Instead, Holmes just explains it all during a last minute monologue. I suppose that's to make him appear all the more brilliant, but I prefer to learn it as the hero does, not wait to be told just before the credits roll. Holmes himself is a bit of a disappointment, also. I've heard this version might be the closest to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original literary interpretation of the character. Unfortunately, it's also very close to the lead actor's portrayal of a very recent character. Holmes feels like Tony Stark of the Iron Man movies, only with a British accent. He's brilliant, narcissistic, arrogant, self destructive and an alcoholic wise-ass. See?

The Ugly: Don't they know midget is a politically incorrect word.

Recommendation: This is a highly entertaining romp through 19th century London. It'll definitely work for popcorn movie night. Yes, it's only popcorn fluff. Still, it's good popcorn fluff.

MY SCORE: 7/10

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Star Trek (2009)


Directed by J.J. Abrams.
2009. Rated PG-13, 127 minutes.
Cast:
Chris Pine
Zachary Quinto
Zoe Saldana
Leonard Nimoy
Eric Bana
Bruce Greenwood
Simon Pegg
Karl Urban
John Cho
Anton Yelchin

Chris Hemsworth
Jennifer Morrison

Plot: A young James T. Kirk (Pine) and all your favorites from the original series party, go to school and embark on their maiden voyage aboard the Enterprise. Kinda, sorta but not really a prequel.

The Good: Everything go boom. In what appears to be a conscious effort to draw in younger fans, the action is amped up considerably in comparison to most of the Trek canon. This injects some welcome fun into a franchise often thought to be overly cerebral and somewhat inaccessible to those who aren't devoted Trekkies. Fortunately for the faithful, the story comfortably fits the final frontier with its use of time warps and angry Romulans, led by Nero (a barely recognizable Eric Bana). This generation's Kirk, Chris Pine, is nearly as cock-sure as the original but without the over the top histrionics of the iconic William Shatner. More than any other element his work as Kirk and Quinto's as Spock determine whether the movie sinks or swims simply due to the magnitude of the character's they're playing. Both do an admirable job portraying the contentious beginnings of their friendship.

The Bad: Everything go boom. Though multiplying the explosion count of most ST outings exponentially works for us normal folks, I'm sure many Trekkies will rue the day thier beloved franchise churned out a simple popcorn flick. Another change that's somewhat problematic is the character Uhura (Saldana). Despite being a relatively minor character, she became a very popular crew member and sex symbol, eclipsed in fame by only the big three (Kirk, Spock and Bones) and perhaps Scottie even though she rarely moved from her seat on deck. This movie strains to expand her role. Saldana does a fine job with what she's given but her storyline feels forced. One other actor, does a horrendous job. Anton Yelchin plays Chekov and his Russian accent is nothing short of cringe-worthy. Its so bad, ex-football player Tony Siragusa who naturally speaks with a heavy Jersey/Italian accent does a better Russian accent in Spike Lee's 25th Hour.

The Ugly: Yes! They worked in Kirk's liason with a green chick, early! So what if its of absolutely no consequence, here.

Recommendation: If you're a Trekkie, you have to see it and form your own opinion. Period. If you're not, its a fun sci-fi romp with lots of explosions, characters you happen to be somewhat familiar with yelling at one another and exchanging meaningful glares. In other words, its a solid intergalacic shoot 'em up.

MY SCORE: 7/10

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Hangover


Directed by Todd Phillips.
2009. Rated R, 100 minutes.
Cast:
Bradley Cooper
Ed Helms
Zach Galifianakis
Justin Bartha
Ken Jeong
Mike Tyson
Heather Graham
Sasha Barrese
Mike Epps


Plot: Doug's (Bartha) buddies take him to Las Vegas for his proverbial last night of freedom before getting married. AFter a wild night of which no one can remember a thing, Doug has turned up missing and the boys scour the capital of sin trying to find him.

The Good: Yes, our heroes are stupid. However, they're stupid in a way that's not at all unlike many of us when we've over-indulged the night before and try to piece together how shamefully we behaved. Years later, we can laugh at ourselves or if it happened to someone else we can laugh at them, immediately. Well, here its happened to someone else. Two other elements heighten both our amusement and the stakes. First, no one in group remembers anything at all from what was obviously a "good" night (the boys awake to find a live chicken, a baby and a full grown tiger in their hotel suite). Second, the groom-to-be is nowhere to be found. This easily sets up our heroes to go numerous places, trying to retrace their steps. The movie exploits this well and keeps us laughing. On top of that, just when we may be getting a little bored with the boys, we're introduced to a character that gets us cracking up all over again. Heather Graham (playing stripper Jade), Ken Jeong (Mr. Chow) and surprisingly enough, Mike Tyson (himself) all handle their roles perfectly.

The Bad: I was kinda hoping for flashbacks as the boys uncovered each piece of the prior night's mystery. These may have lengthened the movie quite a bit but may have also added to the hijinks and shenanigans, making it even funnier. We get it once in the form of security footage but I'm greedy and wanted more. I'm also on the fence about the ladies left at home. Should they have had some sort of bachelorette bash and gotten into their own bit of trouble? I'm not sure if I think that would've helped or finally pushed it too far over the top.

The Ugly: What happens to Stu's tooth. Ouch!

Recommendation: This is definitely "a guy thing." I found it thoroughly entertaining, and laughed all the way through. My wife, on the other hand, was only mildly amused. More than that I got the feeling most women would react this way. That said, though it is raunchy, its not so raunchy it will totally disgust them, usually. So guys, if you're just going to watch alone or with the fellas, have at it. If its your turn to pick the flick for movie night with your gal, proceed with caution. Think back to how she felt about The 40 Year Old Virgin or maybe Superbad or I Love You, Man and decide accordingly.

MY SCORE: 9/10

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Killing


Directed by Stanley Kubrick.
1956. Not Rated, 89 minutes.
Cast:
Sterling Hayden
Elisha Cook Jr.
Marie Windsor
Vince Edwards
Ted de Corsia
Jay C. Flippen
Joe Sawyer
Colleen Gray


Fresh out of prison after a five year bid, Johnny (Hayden) very quickly tries to bring a master plan together. He and a couple guys who work there are going to rob the local racetrack right when its at its busiest. Also involved are a dirty cop and a couple random thugs Johnny from his time on the inside.

Aside from Johnny and the two hoods, the others aren’t really crooks but have been driven into criminal behavior by circumstance. The cop is in deep to a bookie and another guy has a sickly wife he desperately wants to take care of. The last guy, George (Cook Jr) is the one we focus on most. He’s married to Sherry (Windsor), a woman out of his league. He earned her hand based on the promise he was going to strike it rich. Five years later, her every word to him is a reminder he hasn’t and she can’t stand it any longer. He correctly suspects her of having an affair but lacks the spine to call her on it. Instead, he merely pleads with her not to “do anything stupid” while he’s out meeting with the boys. He also does something else that proves to be detrimental to the heist, but I’ve already said too much.

Written and directed by the legendary Stanley Kubrick, The Killing is a fascinating, yet rigid heist movie. The crime and the various subplots unfold nicely. The whole thing comes to a head with a “wow” ending. The rigidity comes from the fact that it’s shoe-horned into an hour and a half. Honestly, there could be an hour more to this movie. Instead of being shown everything, half the movie is read to us off the page by a narrator. He’s not exactly reciting beautiful poetry, either. We’re talking stodgy prose of the “At 3:32 PM, Johnny arrived at the hotel” variety.

Its flaws are the reason this is a movie I could actually like to see remade. The story is already excellent, yet there is much room for growth. The characters could be given more room to flourish and/or fail. As it is, it works fine. It’s even better than fine and hailed by some as a classic. I’m greedy. I want more.

MY SCORE: 7.5/10

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Lovely Bones

Directed by Peter Jackson.
2009. Rated PG-13, 136 minutes.
Cast:
Saoirse Ronan
Stanley Tucci
Mark Wahlberg
Rachel Weisz
Susan Sarandon
Michael Imperioli
Rose McIver
Reese Ritchie
Carolyn Dando
Nikki SooHoo
Christian Thomas Ashdale


Susie (Ronan) is your everyday, boy-crazy 14 year old in 1973. Well, we think she is. However, we very quickly discover she’s already been murdered. She even tells us that Mr. Harvey (Tucci) is her killer. Since we get all this information at the beginning of the picture, we know this is no ordinary murder mystery. But there is mystery. The obvious question becomes will Mr. Harvey be caught? There are other questions to be answered, as well. Mainly, how does Susie’s death affect her family. That aspect is explored in-depth. We can see how each person copes, or doesn’t cope with the situation. This includes Susie, who continually narrates to us from the other side while trying to find her way to Heaven.

Speaking of narration, I’ve never been a huge fan of it in movies. I freely admit if it is done right, it’s a great asset to a film. Here, it’s done right. The key is Susie rarely, if ever, crosses the line of giving us too much information. More importantly, she steers clear of simply recapping what we just saw or telling us what we’re about to see, for the most part. Essentially, she thinks out loud so that we see her perspective changing as we move along.

Playing the role of Susie, Ronan does an excellent job. Even though she spills the beans on the major details early, her performance conveys the idea there is much still to be discovered. As she, and we, come upon these revelations she is appropriately amazed and dismayed. While Ronan is good, there are two other performances that are simply perfect. The one you may know about is Stanley Tucci’s Oscar nominated portrayal of our villain, Mr. Harvey. It’s an amazing piece of work. Helpfully, it is a very well written character. He’s downright gentlemanly in his approach to most things. If we didn’t know any better, we’d think he was just some non-descript fellow who lives in the neighborhood, the scariest kind of boogeyman. The other great performance has flown under the radar. Susan Sarandon as the chain-smoking, and chain-drinking grandmother is absolutely fabulous. Her drunken wisdom and lack of domestic capabilities add both levity and comic relief. Sarandon strikes the perfect balance. In the process, she becomes the linchpin that keeps the family and potentially the movie from spiraling completely out of control.

There are times when the movie does indeed seem to take leave of its faculties. Most of these occur when the focus is on Samantha’s excursions in the afterlife. These portions of the film try to wow us with exoticvisuals. Instead, it takes what’s already a far-fetched premise and pushes it to the brink of total inaccessibility. There is also her constant lament of not having had a first kiss while alive. While that’s understandable from a teenage girl, the way this particular issue is resolved is a bizarre piece of b-movie madness that threatens to sink the movie. The same goes for her sister’s lame-brained effort at heroism that miraculously turns out far better, far easier than it should. Those issues aside, TLB is an excellent watch that intrigues us at almost every turn. It makes us empathize with Susie’s family. Eventually, we feel as if we lost a loved one. And though it’s not a horror film, it frightens us just enough to keep us on the edges of our seats.

MY SCORE: 8/10

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bronson


Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn.
2008. Rated R, 92 minutes.
Cast:
Tom Hardy
Amanda Burton
Kelly Adams
Andrew Forbes
Jon House
Johnny Phillips
Matt King
James Lance


The life and times of Michael Peterson AKA Charles Bronson (Hardy). No, not THE Charles Bronson, star of such classics as Once Upon a Time in the West, Hard Times, Death Wish and its way too many sequels, so on and so forth. We’re talking England’s most notorious prisoner. He takes on the Bronson moniker during one of his rare stints in the free world as his underground street-fighting name and it sticks. True story. Really, this is based on a true story.

So far in his life, Charlie has spent 34 years in prison. We’re told that 30 of them have been spent in solitary confinement. His crimes on the outside hardly warrant such lengthy incarceration. What happens on the inside is what extends his stay. Those fo you familiar with sports radio and TV host Jim Rome will recognize the label “likes to fight guy.” That describes Bronson to a tee. He simply loves fighting. Often, he fights groups of prison guards all at once. Whenever he knows its about to go down, he gets naked and slathers himself in some sort of cream for some unexplained reason. Just as well, I’m not sure I really want to know why. Sometimes, Bronson fights other inmates because that’s the only way he knows to deal with a situation. He even kills one poor guy simply to get moved to a different facility. The scenes depicting all these fights are realistically brutal. As he should since he’s usually taking on half a dozen guys or more, Charlie ends up bloody and beaten on more than a couple occasions. Saying that he’s a hard-headed fellow is a massive understatement.

Bronson tells the story from its subject’s completely unapologetic point of view. It doesn’t try to present him as some sort of misunderstood soul. It barely falls shy of glorifying his lifestyle. What makes it an odd biopic is that it flat out refuses to analyze him or speculate on what made him that way. As a result, we simply watch him move from one act of violence to the next until 90 or so minutes pass and the credits roll. It feels like a pointless exercise. At the risk of spoiling it, I’ll put it this way: he doesn’t learn a lesson, get the girl or save the day. We don’t sympathize with or gain a deeper understanding of him and we don’t learn a lesson, either.

If there is a method to the madness, it is to take aim at and skewer the culture that makes celebrities of anyone willing to make a fool of themselves in public. We see it in Charlie’s monologues delivered on a stage during which he basks in the glory of his fame as his country’s most dangerous inmate. The problem is, the movie seems to strain to make a point and doesn’t quite do it effectively.

As pointless excercises go, this is an excellent one. The simple fact of the matter is that Tom Hardy is amazing in the title role. He gives a mesmerizing performance. He makes Bronson, both the character and the movie something you just can’t take your eyes off.

MY SCORE: 7.5/10

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon


Directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders.
2010. Rated PG, 98 minutes.
Cast:
Jay Baruchel
Gerard Butler
America Ferrera
Craig Ferguson
Jonah Hill
Christopher Mintz-Plasse
T. J. Miller
Kristen Wiig


Hiccup (Baruchel) is a bit of a miscast. He’s a young Viking who, like others, yearns to grow up and slay dragons. They’ve been terrorizing his island village since long before he was born, hundreds of years in fact. However, he doesn’t appear to be blessed with the ability. He’s not big or strong and has a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He’s also more cerebral that most of, if not all of his people. Basically, he’s a very young and not quite as neurotic Woody Allen.

Inevitably, Hiccup is misunderstood and smart enough to build a device that enables him to catch one of the elusive species of dragon known as a Night Fury. He’s the first Viking to ever do so. However, instead of killing the beast, he sets it free and the two begin a relationship not much unlike a contemporary boy and his dog.

From there, we get a fun and fun to look at tale. The animation strikes a nice balance between realism and fantasy. The story does the same between light-hearted and intense. It’s a movie adults might not love, but can certainly enjoy.

HTTYD isn’t completely without faults. There could’ve been more about the Night Fury. Are there any more? The final battle could’ve been even more epic. And why the dearth of women on this island. I counted very few. Maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention.

There is also the old accent problem. Usually, it’s a Disney problem but Dreamworks has picked it up. In a number of animated movies, the hero will have an American accent while everyone else uses whatever is native to the land. In this case, it correctly makes Hiccup seem out of place, but for some it will also render him unbelievable. Who am I kidding? I just way overthought this. The kids probably won’t notice.

In all, it’s a solid kiddie flick full of life lessons. Thankfully, the moralizing doesn’t overwhelm the story so we still have a blast. This is no small part due to some very good writing that ebbs and flows nicely. It’s one grown-ups can actually be entertained by instead of being assaulted by stupidity.

MY SCORE: 7/10

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Gentlemen Broncos


Directed by Jared Hess.
2009. Rated PG-13, 90 minutes.
Cast:
Michael Angarano
Jennifer Coolidge
Jermaine Clement
Halley Feiffer
Héctor Jiménez
Sam Rockwell
John Baker


Benjamin Purvis (Angarano) is an aspiring sci-fi writer and a bit of a loner. His mom, played by American Pie’s original MILF, Jennifer Coolidge, sends him off to a writer’s camp. By the way, she’s an aspiring fashion designer. Once there, he is befriended by the pushy Tabatha (Feiffer) and her sidekick/independent filmmaker Lonnie (Jiménez). The best part of the camp, as far as Benjamin is concerned is that the keynote speaker and judge of the manuscript contest is famed sci-fi author Chevalier (Clement). Before the rest of the people in the movie, we learn that Chevalier is in danger of being dropped by his publisher since his last few books have tanked and the one he’s working on is apparently terrible. On the other hand, everyone seems to love Benjamin’s work. Hmm, I wonder where this is headed.

What follows is a quirky comedy filled with awkward moments and passages from our hero’s story playing out in front of our eyes, performed mostly by Sam Rockwell. It’s brought to us by Jared Hess, the creator of Napoleoon Dynamite. Even without that tidbit of info we can recognize the same style of humor. The tone and delivery of lines are largely identical. The difference is Napoleoon Dynamite has better jokes and note-perfect performances. GB feels like a lame imitation. It has its moments but they merely garner mild chuckles, not all out laughter. I’m sure there are some who will swear I just didn’t get it. Maybe they’re right. In any event, despite its best efforts, GB never quite captures the magic of Napoleoon Dynamite. If you’re one of those who just hate Napoleoon Dynamite then stay far, far away from this one.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Karate Kid (2010)

Directed by Harald Zwart.
2010. Rated PG, 140 minutes.
Cast:
Jaden Smith
Jackie Chan
Taraji P. Henson
Wenwen Han
Zhenwei Wang
Rongguang Yu
Zhensu Wu
Zhiheng Wang


Tre (Smith) moves to China with his mom (Henson) after her job transfers her abroad. Practically soon as he steps off the plane, he takes a shine to one of the local girls. Of course, this puts him at odds with the neighborhood bully Cheng (Zhenwei Wang) and his cronies. Yes, this is a remake of the 1984 hit movie of the same name.

While maintaining the framework of the original, this one branches far enough out to stand on its own. The wise teacher, love story, evil teacher with a “no mercy” policy and angry young bully are all in place, yet it feels like a fresh approach. A contributing factor is the change in location from California to China. Another is the change in age groups from near adults to middle-schoolers. These changes work to create something essentially the same, but somehow different, if that makes any sense.

This version has something else going in its favor over the original. Some of you may stop reading after the next sentence, just a warning. Jaden Smith is a better karate kid than Ralph Macchio. I realize the blasphemy I’ve just committed, but I’ll drive on. Little Will seems to be the better athlete and actor, pulling off the role easier than “Danielsan”. It helps that he has many of his dad’s qualities, including a natural charm. Admittedly, he can occasionally become annoying, as most kid actors do, but it’s an overall better performance, in my very humble opinion.

In the mentor role, Jackie Chan is also excellent. As Mr. Han, he gives what is probably the finest performance of his career, to date. It’s a far cry from the laugh, make a stupid face, run and fight while performing acrobatics routine most of his work consists of. Here, he conveys real emotions and wisdom. Granted, it’s not quite up to the same level of other-worldly awesomeness as Pat Morita’s Mr. Miyagi, but it’s not as far off as you would think going in. I’ll also admit that hanging and picking up the jacket is a lot more of stretch to translate into a fighting style than “wax on, wax off.” Can’t win ‘em all, I guess.

For me, a remake should retell the story of the original in its own way while maintaining what people liked about the original. It shouldn’t update its predecessor needlessly, but in ways the contemporary audience relates to. The 2010 version of TKK does this. People tend to forget, or ignore, that the 1984 version is really just a martial arts reimagining of Rocky. For that reason, even though I always liked it I feel it is overrated. The remake is rare in that it’s at least on equal footing with the movie it remakes. Duck, more blasphemy coming. I think its better, as a movie at least. Still, the original has the advantage of being a cultural phenomenon. Since it is, I can already feel many ill-intended glares from the disbelieving eyes that just read this.

MY SCORE: 7/10

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Robin Hood (2010)


Directed by Ridley Scott.
2010. Rated PG-13, 140 minutes.
Cast:
Russell Crowe
Cate Blanchett
Oscar Isaac
Max von Sydow
Mark Strong
William Hurt
Danny Huston
Mark Addy
Kevin Durand
Léa Seydoux


The legend of Robin Hood, here played by Russell Crowe, has survive for ages by keeping him fairly simple. He and his band of merrymen, plus Lady Marion (Blanchett), roam Sherwood Forest and steal from the rich only so that they can give to the poor. Have you ever wondered how he wound up there? Me neither. However, in Ridley Scott’s sparkingly grimy update on the character that’s precisely what we find out. Oh, if you’re vexing over the oxy-moronic “sparkingly grimy” you have to see it to understand. Dirty people have seldom looked better.

Not content to merely be about our favorite archer, we’re treated to several other storylines to fret over. Most notable is one that emphasizes the difference between King Richard the Lionheart (Huston) and his brother and eventual successor John (Isaac). This supplies us with our hero’s reason to be heroic. Of course, there is also the love story and a couple other things going on. It’s not as convoluted as it sounds. Most of them breathe well enough on their own and come together nicely.

In the lead role, Russell Crowe does what Russell Crowe does. It’s not up there with his best, but it’s solid work, nonetheless. He’s actually outdone by Cate Blanchett as his love interest. Overall, the acting is very good. You should expect no less from the excellently assembled cast. The action scenes are solid, but not spectacular and evoke memories of Braveheart. However, they don’t quite measure up.

Evoking memories is a bit of a problem for this movie. It seems to blend the aforementioned Braveheart with another Scott/Crowe collaboration: Gladiator. The main problem is there seems to be little difference between our newly crowned King John and Gladiator’s Commodus, save for that whole incest thing. Instead of becoming something grand, it turns into a rather bland epic. It’s not bad, but it isn’t likely to stick in your psyche for very long.

Despite the best efforts of Kevin Cosner and Mel Brooks, the image most of us have of Robin Hood is one of Errol Flynn practically dancing up the stairs while sword fighting with multiple henchmen. Maybe we think of Flynn swing from the chandelier or from some other moment culled from all the fantastic cheese that movie provides. All the while, he’s wearing the unmistakable bright green tight and funny mustache. Hmmm…I’d dismissed all charges of homoeroticism against the classic until I wrote this paragraph. There’s nothing wrong with that. I just had a revelatory moment, that’s all. Anyhoo, the 21st century version is a solid, but flawed effort not likely to change the reality of our perception of what Robin Hood should be.

MY SCORE: 6.5/10

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Single Man


Directed by Tom Ford.
2009. Rated R, 99 minutes.
Cast:
Colin Firth
Julianne Moore
Nicholas Hoult
Matthew Goode
Ryan Simpkins
Jon Kortajarena


In 1962, George Falconer (Firth) is a college professor and gay man who becomes distraught when his partner of nearly two decades dies in a car accident. He contemplates suicide, finds comfort in the company of his friend/drinking buddy Charley (Moore) and is pursued by a rather persistent young man who also happens to be one of his students. Persistent is putting it nicely. He’s actually stalked, but since George never complains it’s all good.

We watch our hero in flashbacks to happier times with his mate, seriously consider sticking the gun from his desk drawer in his own mouth and squeezing the trigger, get interrupted, have a laugh with Charley or flirt with Kenny (Hoult), the stalker. This actually happens on a loop, so it seems as if we watch the same series of events play out repeatedly. Since we can tell rather early where this is all leading, it seems rather pointless..

Opportunities to really engage us go by the wayside. Yes, he’s a gay man in early sixties. There’s even a few hints that this is indeed a more intolerant time than our own, but nothing really relevant to the film. As I mentioned before, the young student stalks him which he brushes off. What we have is a situation based on obsession by the younger party and lust by the older with neither aspect really being explored. Even worse, the ethics of a professor seeing a student is never even brought into question.

There are some good things going on. George’s scenes with Charley are easily the best in the movie. They share memories, wine, laughs, even a sexual past. What makes these work is the empathy we feel for her. She’s been unlucky in love and clearly pines for a man she can never have in the way she wants.

Through it all, the actors turn in some excellent work. Firth is very good at showing his emotions on his face without over-emoting. It’s a nice, subtle performance. Julianne Moore is excellent. In the unsung role of Jim, the deceased lover seen only in flashbacks, Matthew Goode is also very good.

In the end, it’s a decent watch, but it doesn’t realize it’s full potential. The story is told in a manner suggesting we’re watching something important but never gets around to what that might be.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Cop Out


Directed by Kevin Smith.
2010. Rated R, 107 minutes.
Cast:
Bruce Willis
Tracy Morgan
Seann William Scott
Juan Carlos Hernandez
Sean Cullen
Kevin Pollack
Adam Brody
Cory Fernandez
Ana de la Reguera

Jason Lee

As Cop Out starts, an old favorite comes blaring from the speakers. It is the Beastie Boys “No Sleep Til Brooklyn” from their debut and hip hop classic album “License to Ill.” Then I notice it’s directed by the knight in shining armor to all slackers, Kevin Smith. Hey, I might be in good hands, here.

When we meet our heroes, Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan, they’re about to interrogate a suspect. By the way, no character names in this review, the guilty must be exposed. Morgan is begging to do the questioning and Willis allows him to, knowingly against his better judgment. Morgan proceeds to bust into the interrogation move and do bits of dialogue from what must be at least a dozen other, better movies. Just in case you can’t recognize them all, Willis dutifully calls them out for us. This scene is painfully long and unfunny. Well, there is that one mildly humorous moment. Morgan hits us with Willis’ most famous one-liner, “Yippee-ki-yay, mother------“ from the Die Hard series, to which Willis says “Never saw that one.” So much for being in good hands.

Wait, is that “Follow the Leader” by Eric B. & Rakim, I hear? Why yes, it is. That’s two hip hop classics inside 15 minutes. This movie can’t be that bad. After all, could people with apparent love for the golden era fo rap make a thoroughly horrible film? Of course, they can. These thoughts whirl around my head while more unfunny things keep happening. To catch you up, the witness from the first scene agrees to set up the guy that drops off the goodies at his cell phone store. Obviously, this requires Morgan to dress up like a giant cell phone while Willis sits in the car and laughs at him. Both are distracted enough to do nothing while their snitch gets plugged full of holes from point blank range by an uzi. Nice. The giant cell phone and the guy from The Last Boy Scout give chase, but don’t catch the killer. They also cause and/or allow lots of property damage to happen and end up on YouTube. For their troubles, both are suspende without pay. This is of major importance to Willis who wants desperately to pay for his daughter’s unnecessarily extravagant wedding, but not so important to the guy from 30 Rock, who apparently doesn’t need money. He only needs to spy on his wife, whom he suspects of cheating on him.

Willis has an ace in the hole. He decides to sell an extremely rare and valuable baseball card he owns to get the dough for his baby girl’s nuptials. How did you know that didn’t work so well? Predictably, he loses the card which leads to Stifler from American Pie, aka Seann William Scott, a major character. Scott is at least able to generate a chuckle or two and somewhere along the way Run-DMC’s “King of Rock” temporarily seduces me into ignoring my pain.

Now, this movie would be completely worthless if it didn’t find a way to tie the baseball card into the case the guys were investigating before being suspended. It does, but so what? I’ll cut them the tiniest bit of slack for not being totally asleep at the wheel. I have to take it back because that’s not funny, either. Okay, fine. I’ll let them have the slack back for breaking out the Spanish version of Cypress Hill’s “Insane in the Membrane.”

Much like this review, this movie just keeps going. There is no justification for this film to last more than thirty minutes. Yet, it clanks its way through 107 excruciating hours…er…minutes. The characters are all flat-drawn stereotypes that add nothing. The action is nothing special and I think I’ve covered what they’re passing off as jokes.

However, all is not lost. Another forgotten gem comes on. This time, it’s an old R&B hit, “Don’t Disturb this Groove” by The System. I love that song. Then, it hits me. All of these songs are from my youth. The music that scores the rest of the movie sounds like it rejected for the original Beverly Hills Cop. Indeed, it is done by the same guy, Harold Faltermeyer. The buddy cop flick rose to prominence during the eighties, also. Could director Kevin Smith have outsmarted us all, and pulled a Tarantino by paying homage to a genre born of an era, long gone? Of course, that appears to be exactly what he’s done. However, doing that is simply not enough. You still have to make a good movie. The best of those movies were funny and contained big, exciting action sequences. This has Tracy Morgan dressed up like a cell phone.

MY SCORE: 0/10

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Armored

Directed by Nimród Antal.
2009. Rated PG-13, 88 minutes.
Cast:
Columbus Short
Matt Dillon
Laurence Fishburne
Jean Reno
Amaury Nolasco
Fred Ward
Andre Kinney
Skeet Ulrich


Ty (Short) hasn’t been long home from the war and has taken a job with an armored car company. He’s also the legal guardian of his juvenile delinquent brother Jimmy (Kinney) and struggling to pay the mortgage on the house in which they live. So, when his buddy/co-worker/friend of his deceased dad Mike (Dillon) informs him of a scheme for a handful of the guys he works with and hangs out with at the local pub to rob two of the trucks they’re driving Ty, understandably but very reluctantly agrees to take part. Of course, he makes Mike promise “no one gets hurt.” Well, whaddya know? Someone gets hurt. Once that little line in the sand gets cross, Ty transforms into our hero, sorta. Him trying to keep the rest of the gang from killing hem ensues.

Columbus Short impresses. For me, that’s three excellent performances that are better than the movies they’re in. They are also of three very different characters in three different genres. There’s the hard-driving musical drama, Cadillac Records, the screwball comedy Death at a Funeral and now an action flick. I’ve really like him in those. The movies themselves, this one included, are a mixed bag.

Armored isn’t a bad movie. It’s just not as good as it should be. This is through no fault of its cast. Aside from Short and Dillon, there’s also Laurence Fishburne and Jean Reno. It was fun to see Fishburne smile, even if his character is kind of a nutjob. He’s long been one of my favorites, but his roles usually require him to be the ultra-serious type. This movie gives him a chance to cut loose a bit. It’s perhaps his most boisterous role since King of New York, way, way back in the day. Reno is a bit underused, but hey, he’s Jean Reno and is great merely because of that fact because I say so.

This film’s flaws lie in its script and apparent hurry to be over. At a couple ticks shy of 90 minutes, it’s a quick and fun flick that never actually threatens to stick with us. That could’ve been accomplished by letting us get to know the other men and their circumstances. However, aside from our knowledge Palmer (Nolasco) recently became devoutly religious, that’s never done. By the way, the only reason it’s done in his case is simply a set up for the climax to one of the action scenes.

If you’re looking for some action, Armored isn’t a bad way to go. It’s not of the non-stop and constantly over the top variety, but it is intriguing enough to carry us through. It’s just not intriguing enough to become anything more.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Directed by Terry Gilliam.
2010. Rated PG-13, 123 minutes.
Cast:
Christopher Plummer
Heath Ledger
Lily Cole
Andrew Garfield
Verne Troyer
Tom Waits
Johnny Depp
Jude Law
Colin Farrell

Peter Stormare

Doctor Parnassus (Plummer) is a withered, often drunk old man who runs a traveling sideshow. He appears not to have many days left. However, we shortly learn that a deal with the devil, AKA Mr. Nick (Waits), has given him immortality. Despite the deal, Doc isn’t a bad guy. In fact, he used to be a particularly disciplined monk. He is also competing with the evil to “win” souls. Yes, he’s playing for the good guys.

What follows is a movie that’s alternately amazing and frustrating. Whenever someone enters the imaginarium we’re treated to some fantastic visuals and things move along nicely. These scenes function like action scenes in other movies, but with the addidional benefit of adding to the story. The problem is the story is continually adding stuff until it becomes convoluted. This bogs down the picture as it constantly winds back on itself, adds layers and only half-heartedly explains them in an effort to maintain the mystery. It’s also never really clear how or why a soul is won. It seems people go into the imaginarium, have a blast and Parnassus claims them as won. They see to want to give him their money, but are they truly converted, or reborn, or whatever it is he’s trying to get them to be?

When it’s good, it’s outstanding. Aside from those visuals, there are some great performances. Plummer is perfect as the world-weary elder. As his daughter Valentina, who is growing disenchanted with her increasingly cryptic father, Lily Cole is also excellent. Of course, the headline grabber is Heath Ledger, for very unfortunate reasons. This is the movie he was filming when he passed away. He is very good as the mysterious Tony, whom our heroes seem to need but don’t necessarily trust.

Ledger’s death led director Terry Gilliam to make an inspired choice that helps the movie immensely. It’s also one he probably wouldn’t have made if he didn’t have to. That choice is have three different actors take over Ledger’s role. Those three, in order of appearance, are Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell. The manner in which it is handled is nothing short of brilliant.

Like the best of Gilliam, this blurs the lines between fantasy and reality. However, this also blurs the line between good storytelling and bad. Both are present. Doctor Parnassus is an ambitious film and deserves to be lauded for that, but it tries to do too much which has the predictable effect of not doing much, at all.

6.5/10

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Toy Story 3

Directed by Lee Unkrich.
2010. Rated PG, 103 minutes.
Cast:
Tom Hanks
Tim Allen
Joan Cusack
Ned Beatty
Don Rickles
Estelle Harris
Jodi Benson
Michael Keaton
John Ratzenberger
Emily Hahn
John Morris


Now that Andy (Harris) is all grown up, Woody (Hanks), Buzz (Allen) and the rest of the gang try to come to grips with what their future may hold.

As expected, our heroes find themselves on another adventure. This time, their own self-worth and mortality may be in greater jeopardy than ever before. In keeping with franchise tradition, the world toys inhabit when humans aren't looking is a vibrant, fascinating place. The comedy works without feeling forced and the action sequences exude a palpable sense of danger. Particularly near the end, our dread and anticipation brings us to the edge of our seats.

Getting back to that comedy for a moment, the visuals and the back and forth between characters work hand in hand to make it go. Of course, Hanks and Allen continue to complement one another flawlessly. Barbie (Benson) and Ken (Keaton) have been added to the mix and their relationship provides some wonderful moments. There is also lots of mileage gotten by poking fun of Ken’s masculinity, or lack thereof.

What really brings it all home is Lotso (Beatty). His look, voice and backstory come together perfectly. Equally as perfect is the creepy, mostly silent Big Baby. His tattered mid-section and lazy eye look exactly like a doll my sister once had. That thing moving around on its own is just frightening. What’s so remarkable about that, is it just is where Chucky and other movie dolls had to try really hard to be.

Visually, without the aid of 3D (I saw it in 2D), it is still high quality Pixar, just not awe-inspiring. With an established template, there is only so much that can be done to the series without drastically altering the look we’ve come to expect and love. However, I will say humans seem to be better rendered, this time around.

Overall, this is a great way to extend, or end, the series. Unlike so many other sequels, it doesn’t fell like a money-grab, whether it is or not. It feels like the logical next chapter of a great book. With three outstanding entries, it firmly places itself among the best cinematic trilogies of all time. I would be hard pressed to keep it out of the top handful. Even better than that, there could logically be a TS4. Why yes, I’d be pumped for that, too.

MY SCORE: 10/10

Monday, November 1, 2010

The End of October

Phew!!!! Sorry folks, after 31 days of ghouls and goblins of all sorts, I'm catching my breath today. It takes a day or so to switch back into normal mode.