Monday, February 28, 2011

The White Ribbon


Directed by Michael Haneke.
2009. Rated R, 144 minutes, German.
Cast:
Christian Friedel
Ernst Jacobi
Leonie Benesch
Ulrich Tukur
Ursina Lardi
Fion Mutert
Michael Kranz
Burghart Klaussner
Maria-Victoria Dragus
Leonard Proxauf


The village doctor has a serious accident on his way home, one day. Someone used a very strong, thin and barely visible wire tied between two trees to trip the horse he was riding on. Yes, I said horse. Our movie begins about 1916, if my math is right. We’re not explicitly told. Anyhoo, the doc breaks his collarbone and is off to the nearest hospital and out of sight for roughly half the movie. This is first in a series of bizarre occurrences in the village. For most of these events, the culprit is unknown. Whodunit becomes the question that dominates the landscape.

Between the strange, heinous crimes, we get to know the villagers. The local school teacher serves as our narrator. In true early 20th century fashion, he’s courting a 17 year old girl with intentions to marry her. There is the rich baron who employs half the town. No one in town really likes him, but hey, he’s the boss. We have the poor family who lost their matriarch to a work accident. Since she worked for the baron, some of them blame him for her demise. The doctor’s next door neighbor takes care of his kids while he’s in the hospital. There’s more to her than that, but I don’t want to spoil it. The town reverend is a crusty Old Testament type who doles out punishment to his children in biblical proportions for their indiscretions.

Speaking of punishment, it is at the center of all things in TWR. There is always some act or another deemed worthy of penalty. Those penalties include lashings, mandatory ribbon wearing, being tied up every night and termination from employment, to name a few. The victims of the seemingly random crimes appear to be being punished, too. For what, isn’t always clear. As who is responsible comes into focus, it raises other questions.

When the end credits begin to roll, an entire way of life has been put on trial. Are the various methods of punishment effective or excessive? Are the misdeeds real or perceived? Is Christianity, or religion in general, too rigid? How does all this effect the children? There is much to discuss.

Aside from the questions it raises, the movie itselfe is an intriguing mystery. It is also packed with family drama revealing various levels of dysfunction within the families of the village. However, it is also slow. Most, if not all of the punishing takes place off-screen. We merely watch them talk about it, and they speak very calmly. Though the dialogue they deliver while almost never raising their voices is exceptionally written, I can see this being a difficult watch for many.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Last Airbender

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan.
2010. Rated PG, 103 minutes.
Cast:
Noah Ringer
Dev Patel
Nicola Peltz
Jackson Rathbone
Shaun Toub
Aasif Mandvi
Cliff Curtis
Seychelle Gabriel


Each of the world’s four nations is built around one of four elements: fire, air, water and earth. Within each nation there are “benders,” people who can control whichever element their nation is named after. With all the body motion they have to use to do this, it seems they have advanced abilities in tai-chi. I’ll never look at those old folks in the park quite the same.

The Fire Nation is a militaristic bunch determined to rule everyone and everything. They’ve already imprisoned all of the earthbenders and wiped out the Air Nation. The Southern Water Nation only has one bender, who isn’t that good and the Northern Water Nation live in an impenetrable fort which they never leave. I get that. Why bother with the rest of these clowns if they don’t have to? Anyhoo, to complete their world domination the Fire Nation has to do two things. They have to figure out a way to gain control of the Northern Water Nation and they have to find and capture The Avatar should he be resurrect…er…born aga…I mean…reincarnated. You know The Avatar, big blue guy, long hair that connects to the trees, controlled by a guy in a wheelchair. Wait…what? Right, not that Avatar. In this case, The Avatar is the only person with the power to bend all four elements. It’s up to him to restore a little law and order around this place. There’s a new sheriff in town and his name is Reggie Hammond! Huh? Oh yeah, not that movie, either. Our hero, is actually a little boy named Aang (Ringer). This is not a spoiler in any way. We figure out he’s The Avatar in about 10 seconds and are told as much about 10 seconds later. If you've watched the cartoon, you already knew. That reminds me, it should be noted for children’s-television-impaired, this is based on a Nickelodeon cartoon that came out a few years before the overhyped James Cameron flick. And if you’re too young or just not cinematically versed enough to understand the Reggie Hammond reference, google it, then go watch that movie. Now. Right now. Well, after you finish reading this review, of course.

Back to this movie. It’s been some time since I watched the tv show. If memory serves, this is a pretty faithful adaptation. I don’t notice anything markedly different. Sure, the dialogue is of the comic-book, post-Yoda, faux-spiritual variety and it gets kind of hokey. Both of these things are true of its source material. The action scenes and special fx work and create a nice sense of adventure. If there is a difference, it is in tone. In typical M. Night fashion, TLA takes itself too seriously. The cartoon has a sense of humor. For the most part, this does not.

There is some deserved backlash for the casting. Basically, Aang’s two sidekicks and a few others are obviously miscast. This has to do with their race. In the cartoon, each nation is made up people who share an ethnicity. This is not quite the case, here. The Fire and Earth nations are fairly consistent, but the two Water nations are not. In short, the two sidekicks are in the wrong nation.

Still, I just don’t get all the hate this film receives. This is hard for me to say because I generally despise this director’s work. I am a member of the “M. Night Shyamalan (and Tyler Perry) Must Be Stopped” committee. I’ve heard nothing but disparaging remarks about it. I’m even a guy who is sensitive to white actors being cast in roles clearly calling for non-white characters. I was fully prepared to hate this movie. I just don’t.

MY SCORE: 6/10

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Final Comedown

Directed by Oscar Williams.
1972. Rated R, 83 minutes.
Cast:
Billy Dee Williams
D'urville Martin
Celia Kaye
Maidie Norman


Black militant Johnny (Williams) is wounded during a shootout with the cops. His fellow soldiers, a Black Panther Party type group, drag him to a back alley and try to get him some medical attention. While waiting, and bleeding, he reminisces about some of the events in his life that led him to this point. Though it comes from the Blaxploitation era and some of the players in that era, this is far different most of what that genre produced. It does indeed have a "down with Whitey" thread running through it. However, most Blaxploitation flicks went at the idea in jest. They had lots of pimps, foxy mamas, jive talkin' and kung fu fightin'. Humor, both intentional and not was common. This is a different animal. It's a serious minded and unflinching movie trying to jolt it's viewers. For a 1972 audience, I imagine it could've been downright scary. Remember, movie goers of the time had just lived through the Civil Rights Movement. They could tell you where they were when JFK, MLK, Robert Kennedy and Malcolm X were assassinated. The possibility of America slipping into a race war wasn't all that far fetched. Knowing this, it succeeds at being a commentary, not only on race in America in the early 1970s but on inner-race relations amongst Blacks as well. A strong, angry turn by the normally suave Billy Dee Williams helps (though he still manages to have time for the ladies). It fails a little in the narrative department. It's unclear exactly what Johnny and his people are trying to accomplish, other than martyring themselves. It's lack of budget shows up in the action scenes. The results of gunshots are mostly laughable. They're also easy to forgive if you just chalk it up to it being made almost 40 years ago. However, less than 12 months after it's release the movie Dillinger, about the famous bank robber, came out. That movie had some amazing and brutal sequences that still look good today. Nonetheless, TFC is an intriguing watch that some viewers will embrace while others are repulsed.

MY SCORE: 7/10

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Fame (2009)


Directed by Kevin Tancharoen.
2009. Rated PG, 107 minutes.
Cast:
Kay Panabaker
Naturi Naughton
Kherington Payne
Asher Book
Anna Maria Perez de Tagle
Walter Perez
Megan Mullally
Charles S. Dutton
Debbie Allen


We follow a class of students through their four years at New York's School of the Performing Arts. Any movie that happens to be a remake automatically sends up red flags. Before you even start watching this one, even more than normal go up. It's a PG-rated remake of an R-rated movie and is nearly a half-hour shorter. To me, this screams that it's a stripped down, scrubbed up but ultimately too thin version of the original. Well, that's precisely what it is. It maintains the original's hyper-kinetic energy through it's song and dance routines and may even be better at that aspect. It also manages to have intriguing classroom scenes. In fact, the scenes of teachers teaching are the best in the movie. This is particularly true of the acting classes taught by Mr. Dowd (Dutton). What it lacks is the ability to create any connection between the students and us, the viewers. It both needs and wants us to. However, instead of nurturing that relationship it just bounces along from one melodramatic scene to the next, showing us what happens but never making us feel it. It doesn't help that the students are largely the same on graduation day as they were when they were first auditioning to get into the school. Denise (Naughton) is a notable exception. This is where those extra 30 minutes could've come in handy. They could've been used to fully immerse us in their world rather than leaving us on the outside as it does. In that respect, it's much like 2008's Cadillac Records. It's a movie about people who pour their heart and soul into their craft, but it has no soul of it's own.


MY SCORE: 5/10

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fame (1980)


Directed by Alan Parker.
1980. Rated R, 134 minutes.
Cast:
Irene Cara
Eddie Barth
Lee Curreri
Laura Dean
Gene Anthony Ray
Antonia Franceschi
Debbie Allen
Barry Miller
Albert Hague


We follow a class of students through their four years at New York's School of the Performing Arts. This is a bit of an oddity for a musical. At it's core, it's pure Broadway. We get big production numbers that break out anywhere, complete with infectious choruses and highly choreographed dance routines. What makes it different is it's wrapped in a truly gritty, urban package that movies like West Side Story and Grease can only feign. This is channelled most effectively through the remarkable performance of Gene Anthony Ray as the talented but troubled Leroy. Then pop-star Irene Cara received top billing, even singing two Oscar nominated songs from the soundtrack. However, it's Ray who is the real star. In fact, of the students, he was one of the few allowed to reprise their role for the long-running Fame TV series which followed (a number of the instructors did the same). Adding to this is the very real possibility most of the kids we're watching will utterly fail when it comes to achieving their dream of becoming rich, famous entertainers as there are reminders of this everywhere around them. Still, it steers clear of becoming the total agent of despair and desolation it's urban musical successor Rent turned out to be. It strikes a nice balance betwee hope and reality. I'm not much for musicals, but this is one of my faves.


MY SCORE: 8/10

Friday, February 18, 2011

Date Night

Directed by Shawn Levy.
2010. Rated PG-13, 88 minutes.
Cast:
Steve Carell
Tina Fey
Taraji P. Henson
Mark Wahlberg
Jimmi Simpson
Common
William Fichtner
Ray Liotta
Mark Ruffalo
Kristen Wiig
James Franco
Mila Kunis


Phil (Carell) and Claire Foster (Fey) are stuck in a rut. They’ve been married seemingly forever and have settled into a monotonous routine. To spice things up, they decide to go to a chic new seafood joint. Through a case of mistaken identity, they suddenly find themselves on the run from some very bad people who wouldn’t mind seeing them dead.

Yes, Steve Carell and Tina Fey are our headliners. However, aside from that, nothing about this movie screams comedy. The opening scenes where we get to know our lawfully wedded heroes are more sad than funny. They may even be too familiar for some of us. The rest of the movie plays like a chase movie. The focus is in the wrong place. We see them doing a lot of things they wouldn’t ordinarily do, which is fine. However, the focus is on the action scenes that result from this and not the humor. The comedy complements the action flick when it should be the other way around.

When it does give the action a break, it does comedy very well. Mark Wahlberg’s first scene is all sorts of funny. For my money, its easily the best in the movie. The scene with James Franco and Mila Kunis is also very good. Occasionally, the two stars get to cut loose, as well. Their impromptu dance scene is the best one that centers on them. Mostly, they are at their finest when reacting to the other zany characters on the screen.

In the end, the loving couple has certainly had an adventure. Still, we can’t tell if this makes them more or less likely to venture out of their comfort zone in the future. Finding this out seems to be the point of the movie, but we don’t get an answer. We merely get that it happened. It’s not quite funny enough or packed with enough action to ignore its shortcomings. Despite an excellent and very game cast, and despite some excellent scenes of both comedy and action, Date Night adds up to less than the sum of its parts.

MY SCORE: 5.5/10

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Female Trouble


Directed by John Waters
1974. Rated NC-17 (uncut version), 97 minutes.
Cast:
Divine
Mary Vivian Pierce
David Lochary
Mink Stole
Edith Massey
Cookie Mueller


The very strange life and times of Dawn Davenport (Divine). If you're at all familiar with John Waters, you know that the word bizarre only scratches the surface. His, is a truly demented world with warped sensibilities. After not getting what she wants for Christmas, 16 year old Dawn throws a tantrum, beats up her parents and leaves home for good. She has sex with the guy that picks her up while she's hitchhiking, literally on the side of the road, which begets a daughter she's forced to raise alone. She then embarks on a life of crime, has a stint as a stripper, marries her hair dresser and things really get out of hand when she tries to break into show business. Think about all these things and remember that Dawn is played by Waters' muse, 300 lb. female impersonator Harris Glenn Milstead, better known as Divine. To her, or his, credit if you didn't already know this, the illusion is maintained quite well, here and in a number of other John Waters' flicks. None of the acting is award show ready, or even fit for most B-movies but Divine is a force of nature that elevates the material to strangely mesmerizing levels. Waters' gift for shoving the proverbial envelope off the edge of a cliff to its bloody death has a charm all its own that also keeps you watching. You simply want to see what could possibly be next. And unlike many other movies of the era, Waters' films still have the power to shock and amaze. The passage of time has hardly dulled their edges. Combine that with the fact he shot on miniscule budgets and at that time was not quite competent in the technical aspects of filmmaking and you get something totally raw. He would go on to make more polished films such as Cry Baby, the original Hairspray and Serial Mom. I like to think of it this way: that creator of slightly perverse but palatable and often sweet goth, Tim Burton is like Dr. Jekyll and Waters' is Mr. Hyde, the id run amok. He's an inmate not content with merely running the asylum, he's hell-bent on burning it to the ground. Therefore, you don't enjoy this movie because it is good in the sense you would normally mean. You enjoy it because it is original, raunchy, appalling, told from a unique perspective (how Dawn is allowed to become a customer at the exclusive beauty salon is evidence of this), has a twisted sense of humor and is horribly made. Coincidentally, you may hate it for precisely the same reasons. This is why, for me, it's in the so-bad-it's-awesome hall of fame.

MY SCORE: -10/10

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Step Up 3D


Directed by Jon Chu.
2010. Rated PG-13, 107 minutes.
Cast:
Rick Malambri
Adam G. Sevani
Sharnie Vinson
Alyson Stoner
Keith Stallworth
Kendra Andrews
Stephen Boss
Daniel “Cloud” Campos
Facando Lombard
Martin Lombard


Approximately one minute after his parents drop him off on campus at NYU, Moose (Sevani) accidentally finds himself in a heated dance battle. The very next minute he meets Luke (Malambri), the pied piper of homeless dancers. In another minute, he’s hanging out at “The Vault”, Luke’s club/flophouse for said homeless dancers. Within this short amount of time, Moose has also pissed off his best friend, hardly goes to class and skips out early when he does.

There are bigger fish to fry than Moose’s lack of academic focus. “The Vault” is in trouble. Luke is five months behind in his payments. The club portion isn’t bringing in much money and none of the free-loading booty shakers has a job. But hey, this is a dance movie. That means there’s a huge dance competition coming up where the winning crew will earn enough money to catch up on the mortgage and pay it forward a couple years…um…if they win. Hmmm…if you’re old enough you’ll notice this plot is ripped straight from Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo and about two dozen other movies that followed it.

Anyhoo, you have to wonder if there weren’t so much expensive stuff in “The Vault”, maybe they wouldn’t be in such trouble. I’m talking about in the flophouse part, not the club part. There’s multiple high-end computers, outfitted with the latest film-editing software, the camera that surely cost a few grand, specially designed rooms to learn all those wicked moves without breaking your neck. I haven’t even mentioned the wall of boom-boxes, yet. Oops. We’re talking hundreds of them. Nevermind the seeming impossibility of them all being hooked up to a single receiver, though. It looks cool, cuz well…this is a dance movie.

Since this is a dance movie…ahem…a street dance movie, that means there’s a battle lurking around every corner. It’s serious business, too. Poor Moose can’t even take a leak without some clown barreling through the restroom door and challenging him to bust a move. Can you let the guy give it a shake and zip up, first? Well, this clown and his buddies who also come into the bathroom are “The Samurai”, the arch-rivals of Luke and the homeless bunch…er…”The Pirates”. Hey, there’s gotta be some villains for our heroes to go against in the finals of the big contest, right?

This third installment of the Step Up franchise takes a disturbing about-face in philosophy from its predecessors. The original is an okay flick. Step Up 2 The Streets is dreadful, arguably racist and has a ridiculous title. However, to the credit of both movies, they have a character using dance to help them get a better education. This takes the opposite approach. It sticks its middle finger up at academia whenever possible. I understand it wants to promote dance as a way of life, but the near criminalization of education is off-putting.

Ethics aside, SU3 suffers from the same thematic problems as SU2. The plot is lazily concocted. The dialogue is hokey at its very best and often cringe worthy. Wait until you find out what “b-fab” stands for and what it means. I may not be as young and cool as I once was, but I know when slang sounds phoney and unnatural. This does. The entire movie is unnatural, for that matter. It acts like it is part of this universe, but clearly is not. And why is this is 3D, anyway?

On the plus side is what fans of the franchise watch these movies for, anyway. The dancing is high energy, athletic and often spectacular. If you’re into dance flicks, this is right up your alley. If you want a genuinely good movie, this is not. Consider this perfectly on par with SU2. Decide accordingly.

MY SCORE: 3/10

Monday, February 14, 2011

My Bloody Valentine 3D


Directed by Patrick Lussier.
2009. Rated R, 107 minutes.
Cast:
Jensen Ackles
Jaime King
Kerr Smith
Edi Gathegi


Plot: A Valentine's Day accident kills a number of miners and puts the lone survivor, Harry Warden, into a coma. Exactly one year later, Harry wakes up and kills pretty much everyone in the hospital. Ten years following that, people start turning up dead again as the romantic holiday approaches.

The Good: It gives you what you came for. You watch a movie like this mainly to see people getting mutilated by a homicidal maniac. This film knows its audience and wisely panders to it. Our boogeyman shoves his pick-axe through the crown of a head, the back of another, through someone's abdomen...you get the picture. The story is also just suspenseful enough to keep things interesting and even handles its twist better than the original. Finally, having the movie in 3D is an added treat for fans.

The Bad: The bad dialogue is pretty much par for the slasher flck course but it lacks the humor of the original. Its intent on creating a menacing atmosphere, which it does, but it takes itself a little too seriously. Also, the national media element of the story should've been cut completely out of the picture. Its introduced like its going to play a major role. If it does, it would've been too much like Scream. Since it doesn't, it feels like a loose end.

The Ugly: The eyeball coming at ya in 3D.

Recommendation: For fans of the genre, this is a must-see. It improves upon the original in nearly every aspect. And its in 3D so the blood-splattering goodness comes right at you. If you're not a fan of these types of movies, the story isn't quite compelling enough for you to make an exception, you'll never get passed the blood and guts. For us sadistic types who love a good meat grinder, its right up our alley.

REAL MOVIE SCORE: 5.5/10

SLASHER FLICK SCORE: 8.5/10

My Bloody Valentine (1981)


Directed by George Mihalka.
1981. Rated R, 90 minutes.
Cast:
Paul Kelman
Neil Affleck
Lori Hallier
Cynthia Dale


A mining accident kills a number of miners while unaware local folk yuk it up at the town Valentine's Day party. One year later, Harry Warden, the lone survivor of said accident, murders a bunch of the good people of Valentine's Bluff. Now twenty years later, the town decides to have its first Valentine's celebration since the killings and whaddya know, people start dying again. Made during the early 80s, the golden age of slasher flicks, its achieved a cult following and some even regard it as a classic of the genre. Since I've seen dozens, if not hundreds of them, I feel safe saying its not. Its got a solid premise and even a decent twist. However, it commits the unforgivable sin for a slasher flick - it flinches. Let me explain. Most slasher flicks aren't really about scaring you, intrinsically anyway. They're about the visual fright, making us cringe at a succession of progressively gorier events. This movie often cuts away from the climactic moment prematurely. Too much of the action takes place barely off-screen. This genre's version of the money shot is oft-missing. A hack-fest without much hacking is just a hack job. What fans of these types of movies came to see isn't there. In fairness, the real slashing was done by censors as the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) ordered extensive cuts in order for the movie to recieve an 'R' rating as opposed to the 'X' they were threatening to slap it with (this is in the days before 'NC-17'). Though an "uncut" version was released in January of '09, some claim that even that version doesn't contain all of the lost footage which is said to have lots of gore. You can read more about it here. As it is, its okay and has its moments but comes off flat.

REAL MOVIE SCORE: 3.5/10

SLASHER FLICK SCORE: 5.5/10

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies


Directed by Sam Liu.
2009. Rated PG-13, 67 minutes.
Cast:
Kevin Conroy
Tim Daly
Clancy Brown
Allison Mack
Xander Berkeley
CCH Pounder
Ricardo Chavira
LeVar Burton


Plot: Even though Lex Luthor (Brown) has apparently cleaned up and become the President of the United States, Superman (Daly) is still distrusting of him. There's also the little matter of a media made entirely of kryptonite on a collision course with Earth.

The Good: First and foremost, it doesn't mince on the action. Supes and Bats find themselves scrapping with numerous super-powered individuals. The story is written in a manner that facilitates a large number of cameos from the DC universe without the need for them to be developed as part of the story. Getting screentime for all those characters without the movie feeling rushed or cluttered is no small task yet its handled well, as is the bromance between our heroes. Fans of animated Bat-fare will no doubt enjoy the work done by long-time voice Kevin Conroy.

The Bad: Unfortunately, with a giant rock barreling towards Earth, it has too many elements that remind one of Michael Bay's Armageddon. This might not be so bad if Armageddon weren't so...um...bad. Also, as with just about anything "Superman" there's really only one story arc: Superman is super then gets weakened by kryptonite and then is re-superized when someone else gets rid of said kryptonite. If this is a spoiler for you then you've obviously no clue who Superman is.

The Ugly: Power Girl (Mack) is so disproportionately drawn and in such a low cut costume, you can't help but stare at her chest. And she seems to be rocking DD cups or better. Even one of the other characters comments on it.

Recommendation: Either you're a fan of animated superhero stuff, or you're not. This isn't changing anyone's mind one way or the other.

MY SCORE: 6/10

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Runaways


Directed by Floria Sigismondi.
2010. Rated R, 106 minutes.
Cast:
Dakota Fanning
Kristen Stewart
Michael Shannon
Riley Keough
Scout Taylor-Compton
Stella Maeve
Alia Shawkat
Tatum O’Neal


In 1975, the first all-girl, all-teen rock band took the world by storm. They were named The Runaways and they were anchored by lead guitarist and future rock icon Joan Jett (Stewart). However, the biggest star in the group at that time was lead singer Cherie Currie (Fanning). Our story starts with the days just before this wild ride started and ends just after the ride does, a little more than two years later. Of central concern is how this affected these two young ladies.

Based on the book Neon Angel: The Cherie Currie Story by the real Currie, it’s understandable the film centers around her. It’s easily the most adult role to date for Dakota Fanning who sheds her creepy pale kid image for drugged up pale starlet. Perhaps symbolizing both the growing up of the character and the actor, the first time we see Currie she’s getting her period for the first time. Unlike most young ladies, there’s no rush to the supermarket or to borrow something from her mom or sister. Instead, she stuffs a wad of toilet paper in her undies. Ewww.

Ickiness aside, that scene symbolizes something else, also. It lets us know we’re not about to watch any dainty debutantes who happen to play instruments. These are a couple of bawdy broads who don’t quite fit in with regular society and the subculture they so desperately want to be a part of may not quite be ready for them. The movie takes on their grit and disdain for perceived normalcy. It depicts rock-n-roll as liberating yet misogynist, hedonist yet dangerous.

Fanning carries the movie with a wonderful performance. She ably facilitates a number of our emotions. We love, hate, are disgusted by and sympathize with her, all at once. As Jett, Kristen Stewart shows considerably more ability than she has in the Twilight movies. She’s not quite the performer Fanning is, but she holds her own. None other than the real Joan Jett has praised her work. By the way, Fanning is horrible in the Twilight flicks, too, but she only has bit parts.

None of this would work without two things. The first seems rather easy. The soundtrack comes ready-made. Songs from the era, mostly by the real Runaways are both played on stage and plugged in at appropriate times during non-performance scenes. If you’re a fan, you’ll want to have the volume cranked to 11 for this one. Look up the reference, I’m too lazy to explain.

The second thing is a villain. To that end, we get Michael Shannon as producer Kim Fowley. His maniacal puppeteer act injects life into the girls even as it threatens to suck it out of them. Eventually, it does. The question is how permanent is the damage? Fowley’s wild-eyed, quick-tongued nuttiness isn’t the only problem, here. The girls are young and impressionable, quick to indulge in whatever feels good at the moment. It’s quite the volatile mix.

The movie is not without flaws. There are too many things on screen we never get a feel for. They’re mostly skimmed over or ignored. The biggest thing is the other girls in the band. They’re just set decorations, more or less. Lita Ford (Taylor-Compton), who went on to become a star in her own right, has one moment where she spazzes out on Currie, but that’s it. Really? There are five girls in the band and three of them are pretty much faceless. Ford, nor the others, even get a blurb at the end explaining what happened to them after the events depicted like Currie, Jett and Fowley. This would’ve been a much better movie had the others been allowed to participate as they must have in real life.

Other things feel left out, as well. How did they come up with the name of the band? Did they care or even know that Jett and Currie were having sex with each other? How does Joan actually learn to play guitar? We see her get one lesson which she storms out of because she doesn’t like her instructors song of choice. How did they come up with the songs? The movie at least attempts to answer the last one as we see how they come up with their hit “Cherry Bomb.” Apparently, the way they came up with the rest is vastly different. However, we find this out way too late and in a way that doesn’t seem tangible to the group.

Regardless of its problems, TR is an enjoyable watch. Excellent acting and a down and dirty tone keep us intrigued. It moves swiftly, never drags. In true seventies fashion, it has fun with all the debauchery on display. In the end, it’s part womens lib, part cautionary tale and all sex, drugs and rock-n-roll.

MY SCORE: 7.5/10

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Mother

Directed by Joon-Ho Bong.
2009. Rated R, 128 minutes, Korean.
Cast:
Hye-ja Kim
Bin Won
Ku Jin
Je-mun Yun
Mi-sun Jun
Sae-Byeok Song
Gin-goo Kim


A young woman with a tawdry reputation turns up dead and draped over the edge of a building’s roof. In very short order, the police decide that Do-Joon (Won) is the guilty party. Since we’ve already met him, we don’t think he’s capable of such a thing. He has some undefined mental disability which severely hampers his memory. It also renders him socially immature. Autism, maybe? He appears to be fairly harmless. His mother (Hye-ja Kim), whom he lives with, agrees with this assessment and takes to the streets to do what O. J. Simpson vowed so many years ago: find the real killer.

Mom soon finds herself in all sorts of dangerous positions, dealing with shady characters and getting no cooperation from the cops who insist they have the right person. Regardless of the risks she must take or the potential futility of her quest, she drives on, undeterred.

This sounds like a pretty typical murder mystery where someone close to the accused takes up their cause and tries to find who’s really responsible. It’s more than that. In fact, by the time we reach the end, the crime’s perpertrator is of secondary importance. Of primary concern is the unfolding of a mother’s relationship with her son. A revelation late in the movie surprises, possibly even upsets us. Though its something she already knew, how this is brought to the surface surprises and upsets her, also. An action she takes later not only gives herself those same feelings, it irrevocably changes her. For us, our perception of her changes with the revelation. The question then becomes does the action change it back, or worsen? In answering that question, the movie leads us to an interesting debate. Knowing what we’ve just witnessed, would we be proud to say she were our mother?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Predators


Directed by Nimród Antal.
2010. Rated R, 107 minutes.
Cast:
Adrien Brody
Alice Braga
Topher Grace
Laurence Fishburne
Danny Trejo
Louis Ozawa Changchien
Walton Goggins
Oleg Taktarov
Mahershalalhashbaz Ali
Derek Mears


The tough guy (Brody), as he’s called most of the time, wakes up in the middle of free-falling from thousands of feet. I hate when that happens. Thankfully, he does have a parachute on, but has some trouble with it. It opens nearly too late. After surviving that little ordeal, he picks up his big gun…wait a minute…I didn’t see an assault rifle when he was falling. Anyhoo, he soon discovers a bunch of other have also dropped into this strange jungle. Most of them have really big guns, too. None of them know where they are or how they came to be suddenly falling from the sky. For the record, we never really find out.

Shortly, it becomes apparent our uneasily formed team of badasses is on another planet and that they’re being hunted. I was just telling someone the other day how much that sucks. It sucks even more when you realize the hunters are no Elmer Fudds but, as the title suggests, those nasty creatures we’ve come to know as Predators from way too many movies. Our crew getting picked off one by one while trying to figure out how to get home ensues.

We largely stick to the formula of the Arnold Schwarzenegger original. The major differences being our setting, a jungle on their planet, and the number of predators. The former adds to the sense of futility while the latter ramps up the danger. This keeps the movie on the narrow path fans of the franchise expect. In other words, they didn’t try to reinvent the wheel. Things are kept simple and it works. It is exactly what it wants to be.

Trying to dissect a movie like this is pointless. I can explore some of the gaping plotholes, the cheesy dialogue, the absolute waste of the good fortune to have both Adrien Brody and Laurence Fishburne in the cast and the predictability. None of these things really matters. The franchise has built up an immunity to such criticisms. Fans want to see Predators kill people while people try to survive and occasionally kill Predators. Mission accomplished.

If there is one gripe that might stick, it is with the ending. After more than an hour and a half, it’s like nothing is accomplished, except the passing of time. It seems that after a certain amount of time has passed, the director just got tired of making it. I can see Mr. Antal yelling “Cut!” and then saying “That’s enough, I’m done.” I can’t tell if it’s supposed to be a hopeful or hopeless ending. Either way, it feels lazy. Then again, does it matter? Predators kill people. People kill Predators. Stuff blowed up real good. And I sorta liked it.

MY SCORE: 6/10

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Social Network

Directed by David Fincher.
2010. Rated PG-13, 120 minutes.
Cast:
Jesse Eisenberg
Andrew Garfield
Justin Timberlake
Armie Hammer
Brenda Song
Bryan Barter
Rooney Mara
Rashida Jones
Joseph Mazzello


“If you could’ve invented Facebook then, you would’ve invented Facebook,” Mark Zuckerberg (Eisenberg) coldly says to one of the people suing him for allegedly stealing their idea. That statement is at the heart of all matters in The Social Network.. The movie never doubts Zuckerberg’s genius. It never suggest that Facebook could ever have come into existence without him. The question becomes how much did others contribute to making his vision a reality and whether or not they should be compensated.

Technically, the entire movie takes place inside a hearing room where three sides battle back and forth with flashbacks fleshing out the proceedings. Of course, there’s Zuckerberg. Then there is his former best friend, Eduardo Saverin (Garfield) suing Mark for pretty much muscling him out of the company. Finally, there’s the Winklevoss twins (Hammer in a dual role) who claim to have come up with the idea for Facebook.

Through it all, we see Zuckerberg’s not-so-humble beginnings as a drunken young man, bitter about just being dumped, venomously blogging about his now ex-girl while simultaneously hacking into much of the school’s online network to create an instant rate-a-girl site called FaceSmash. Eventually, we arrive at the point where Facebook is a worldwide phenomenon and Zuckerberg is the youngest billionaire in the world. We already know that. Many of you reading this not only have a Facebook page, but have children, parents and even grandparents that their own Facebook pages. This more about trust and what people do with it when they’ve earnied it. Trust is abused so often, we eventualyy have decide when that abuse is justified and when it is not.

TSN is also about the decade we’ve just lived through. It’s about how technology in general, and Facebook in particular, alters our world in increasingly rapid ways. It’s about how prepared or unprepared we are for those instantaneous changes. Can anyone really be prepared to go from average joe to king of all he surveys in just a few years? Strangely enough, though Zuckerberg is the focal point, the movie is not necessarily on his side. Through an excellent performance by Eisenberg he comes across as arrogant, aloof, vindictive, selfish and overly envious of others. He’s the modern day mad scientist who has succeeded in taking over the world, but found it’s not all its cracked up to be. We don’t root for him.

The person we root for is Eduardo Saverin, who put up the initial $1000 to fund the site’s development. We like him. His position seems undeniable so we sympathize with him. We desperately want Zuckerberg to come down from Mount Olympus and show gratitude to the little person that helped him get there.

This movie works because no matter how unlikeable our protagonist might be, we can see his side on a lot of things. Simultaneously, we can understand other viewpoints, as well. This keeps us locked in along with sharp dialogue in which characters rarely mince words. What also engages us is how relationships disintegrate. We’re intrigued to see if anything can be salvaged. However, the winds of sudden success has wreaked havoc on these people. Essentially, we’re watching a divorce procedure. At stake, the custody of their 500 million “kids” worldwide.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

What Doesn't Kill You


Directed by Brian Goodman.
2008. Rated R, 100 minutes.
Cast:
Mark Ruffalo
Ethan Hawke
Amanda Peet
Will Lyman
Brian Goodman
Donnie Wahlberg
Angela Featherstone
Edward Lynch


Plot: Two lifelong best friends, Brian (Ruffalo) and Paulie (Hawke), and career criminals deal with the trials and tribulations of the life they’ve chosen.

The Good: Though neither is a likeable guy, their frustration with where they’ve found themselves draws us in. To facilitate this we get excellent performances from both Ruffalo and Hawke. Ruffalo, in particular, is outstanding. It’s an unfortunately overlooked portrayal of a man with many demons. The city of Boston is also a menacing character. Refreshingly, it’s subtly so. Unlike a lot of other movies set there, this one never puts it in your face. There are no extended scenes scored by blaring Irish music, no ridiculously bad New England accents, no shamrocks and no references to the Celtics or Red Sox. Instead, the city either mirrors the bleakness or hope of our heroes, depending on what’s going on, or enforces its own will upon them. It not only helps set the mood, but to change it, as well.

The Bad: Our two (anti) heroes work for Sully (Lyman). We know they’re frustrated with their position in his organization and have an idea of the type of relationship he has with them, but it could’ve been much more fleshed out. How what transpires affect him might’ve added even more depth. I would also like to have seen more Detective Moran (Wahlberg). The subplot involving his character and Brian could’ve developed into an intriguing cat-and-mouse but instead, it’s a wasted opportunity.

The Ugly: What happens the first time Brian meets Moran.

Recommendation: This is definitely for those of us into gritty, urban drama. It gives us great acting and a story that keeps us locked in throughout. Interesting tidbit: apparently, this is inspired by the director’s real life.

MY SCORE: 7.5/10

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Killers


Directed by Robert Luketic.
2010. Rated PG-13, 93 minutes.
Cast:
Ashton Kutcher
Katherine Heigl
Tom Selleck
Catherine O’Hara
Rob Riggle
Alex Borstein
Lisa Ann Walter
Kevin Sussman
Katheryn Winnick
Martin Mull

Ariel Winter

Jen (Heigl) is trying to get over being dumped. To cope, she’s decided to go on vacation abroad with her parents. Not long after the plane lands, she meets pretty boy Spencer (Kutcher). Unbeknownst to her, he happens to be an assassin for some government organization, the blah blah blah as he puts it. Since the two fall head over heels for each other he quits his rather unique job for a chance at normalcy with her. Fast forward three years, the lovely young couple is now married and are very regular suburbanites. Since all of this happens in the first 15 minutes or so, something else has to happen. That something else is Spencer getting a message from his old boss who wants him to do another job. To make a long story short, Spencer suddenly finds himself with a $20 million bounty of his head and just about everyone trying to collect.

Killers does a nice job mixing the action-flick with the romantic comedy. The comedy portion depicts a young couple who’s relationship appears to have hit a plateau, at least in Jen’s eyes. There’s the usual bad advice from her friends, conflicts between her job and personal life, dad and hubby not getting along, etc. Not exactly groundbreaking stuff, but it’s handled decently. On the action side, the scenes are fun, mostly because the people coming after him are hardly your typical bunch of movie goons and henchmen. They’re seemingly normal, if somewhat annoying people. Kutcher’s character helps in this, also. Even though he still looks like an underwear model, his character isn’t quite the Superman that Tom Cruise is in Knight and Day. He gets knocked around plenty actually seems mortal.

On the other hand, Kutcher the actor is problematic. It’s not that he does a bad job. I’m not one of those Ashton haters who just has a disdain for everything he does. It’s just hard to believe that this guy was ever the stone-cold killer he’s made out to be. I hate to keep going back to Knight and Day, but they’re similar and came out about the same time, if I remember correctly. In that one, Cruise is easier to digest as a walking murder weapon. The Tom Cruise persona lends itself to that better. Let’s face it, most of us who don’t practice Scientology think he’s at least a little crazy. The tabloids would have you believe he keeps Katie Holmes chained to a wall in his dungeon. Cruise killing a bunch of people while flashing that winning smile is more believable. Kutcher comes off as the guy from Punk’d or as Demi Moore’s boy-toy. Not quite the same, is it?

A bigger problem than our hero is our villain. Once we find out who is behind all this, we’re not really surprised, yet somehow we also still don’t anything. What happened, and why, to bring us to the point at which we inevitably arrive is never really clear. Of course, this means there is really no solution. More or less, we abruptly get told “Happily ever after, the end.” Sure, that gets us out of the movie, but hardly completes the story.

Killers is actually fun in a non-threatening sort of way, despite all the violence. For the most part, when people die it’s a very 1950s style bloodless death and there are plenty of gags within the action. Heigl, as the damsel in distress/frantic wife is solid, though the chemistry between her and her co-star is lacking. Catherine O’Hara as Jen’s mom has a number of the film’s funnier moments. It won’t make you forget Die Hard, but it has its moments.

MY SCORE: 5/10

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Gummo


Directed by Harmony Korine.
1997. Rated NC-17, 89 minutes.
Cast:
Jacob Reynolds
Darby Dougherty
Chloë Sevigny
Nick Sutton
Carisa Glucksman
Wendall Carr
Ellen M. Smith
Charles Matthew Coatney


I don’t know what I just watched. Bear with me. We can get through this, together. I think.

What is Gummo about? I haven’t the foggiest idea. I’ll hazard a guess, sorta. At the start, we’re told a tornado came through Xenia, Ohio and killed a bunch of people and animals alike. Then we spend the next hour and a half with a number of the locals, most of whom are teenagers. Much of that time, we hang out with two boys who roam around town killing stray cats and collecting odds and ends to sell to a local storeowner. With their earnings they pay some sleazy guy so they can each have sex with a mentally challenged girl that I think is the guy’s relative of some sort. The older of the two boys lives with his dad who has wild drinking parties and includes him in the action. The younger boy lives with his mom, a widower who seems to be a hoarder with stacks of junk all over the house. Neither parent appears to have a clue or care what their child is doing most of the day.

There’s also a set of sisters, three of them, to be exact. The older two put most of their effort into making themselves look pretty to boys that obviously aren’t interested in them while the youngest just follows behind. Throw in another mentally challenged girl, the transvestite boy who is also fond of killing cats and the numerous random people who all get their moment in the sun and we feel like we’ve at least met just about everyone in town. And I haven’t even mentioned the random boy we keep seeing who runs around town with no shirt on and bunny ears on his head. Those with disabilities aside, we don’t like any of them. And most of them seem physically dirty. Even when one takes a bath, the water he’s sitting in is nearly black. Yet, he cheerfully drinks some and even eats a candy bar after it fell into the muck. No, Mom doesn’t mind.

I gather all the dirtiness must mean something. I feel I’m missing some deep metaphor that might change my view of the world, or at least of this film. Then I think back to something famed critic Roger Ebert once said, I’m paraphrasing, “If you can’t tell what something symbolizes, it doesn’t.” That becomes my outlook on the whole movie. It’s striving hard to tell me something without actually telling me, so I’m not getting it. The pretentious voice-overs don’t help. It just goes on showing me one deplorable act after another with seemingly no purpose besides voyeurism. There is no plot, nor does there seem to be any social commentary or moral to be learned. The camera is simply pointed at these unlikeable people without framing them in any manner that might suggest a point to it all.

Along the way, we forget about the tornado until its winds take over the soundtrack at the film’s conclusion. By this time, our sympathy has been exhausted, or turned into mortification. Gummo fails to be the human tragedy the filmmaker appears to want it to be. Instead, it feels more like Mother Nature practicing natural selection.

MY SCORE: 5/10