Wednesday, March 30, 2011

M

Directed by Fritz Lang.
1931. Not Rated, 117 minutes. German.
Cast:
Peter Lorre
Otto Wernicke
Frau Beckmann
Inge Landgut
Theodor Loos
Rudolf Blümner
Georg John
Ernst Stahl-Nachbaur


A child murderer has been terrorizing the town for quite some time. Everyone is on edge. The police are working day and night on seemingly never-ending shifts to find the killer. Still, children keep disappearing. Honest citizens become suspicious of one another. Dishonest citizens are upset that added attention from the law is hurting their businesses. Our killer taunts the authorities with letters to them and to the press. Yet, he remains undetected.

What follows are multiple and exhausting investigations that come to run simultaneously. We see the police using every available tool to apprehend the murderer and try explaining themselves to an impatient public when they don’t. Criminals have meetings to decide how they will deal with the situation. The task of catching the guilty party saturates every second of every day.

From time to time, we get to see this monster for ourselves. Though those around him know nothing, his identity is no mystery to us. We get to know what triggers his most heinous actions and how he operates. Before it’s all over, we hear his explanation. It’s a plea for sympathy. However, he is not only pleading with those in the movie. He’s also pleading with those watching.

That the killer is caught is not a spoiler. Indeed, it eventually becomes a mere matter of time before he is. The real question becomes who will catch him and what will they do with him. In most films, his capture would serve as our climax. Here, it is the axis that turns our tale. This is what makes M special. Even now, 80 years since its release, it refuses to be strait-jacketed into cliché. It still has the strength to go beyond the point where most pictures quit. Those movies are content to leave us with the tidy, happy ending. M is not. It has questions to ask you. It wants to know what you believe in.

MY SCORE: 10/10

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2

Directed by Alex Zamm.
2011. Rated G, 83 minutes.
Cast:
George Lopez
Odette Annable
Zachary Gordon
Emily Osment
Loretta Devine
Bridgit Mendler
Susan Blakely
Ernie Hudson
Morgan Fairchild


Papi (Lopez) and Chloe (Annable) are back for another canine adventure. Our loving couple get hitched right at the beginning and are very shortly the proud parents of a litter of pups. Aside from the cuteness factor the movie is obviously going for, this is completely irrelevant. Aside from the fact these are talking dogs, the only thing you really need to know is that the people who own the house they live in, are in danger of losing it. No, these aren’t the same people from the first movie, again irrelevant. Anyhoo, guess what’s coming up to give the happy couple a chance to save the home of “their humans”? If you said dog show with enough prize money to keep the place out of foreclosure, you guessed right. As a child, my mother used to tell me “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” O…kaaaaayyy, I think I’m done here.

MY SCORE: 0/10

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Bounty Hunter


Directed by Andy Tennant.
2010. Rated PG-13, 110 minutes.
Cast:
Jennifer Aniston
Gerard Butler
Christine Baranski
Siobhan Fallon
Dorian Missick
Matt Malloy
Jason Kolotouros
Joel Garland


Bounty hunter Milo (Butler) is having a tough time coping with his divorce from reporter Nicole (Aniston). In fact, he’s only a bounty hunter because he drank himself off the police force after they broke up. Lo and behold, Nicole goes and gets herself arrested and becomes a fugitive when she misses her court date. Guess who gets the call to find her and haul her off to jail? If I have to actually tell you, you are stupid. Sorry, poetic verbiage occasionally gets in the way of what I’m really trying to say. I’m just keeping it simple for the intelligence impaired.

Anyhoo, that’s the plot. Alleged hilarity ensues. Oh, almost forgot something. The reason Nicole skips bail is because she’s chasing a tip on a juicy story. Of course, this story may get her killed. This means that after Milo has picked her up and is trying to get her to prison, they have some angry and armed thugs hot on their tails. In case that isn’t enough, he’s got a set of bad guys chasing him, too. It seems he’s run up some sizable gambling debts.

Okay, this could work. The premise seems interesting enough. Our stars are likeable. I’ve not long ago seen Knight and Day and Killers. Both were aiiight. This has got to be on par with those, right? No, it’s not. This is a string of rom-com and action flick clichés positioning themselves one after another right through the inevitable, totally unsurprising ending. Somewhere, there’s a room full of trained monkeys banging out a class action suit on their keyboards because they didn’t get credit for churning out the screenplay. In short, the jokes aren’t funny, the action isn’t exciting, there are no twists we don’t see coming. Can you say paint-by-numbers?

A movie of this type can save itself if it has but one quality. There has to be some sizzle between our leads. There is none. Guys who are already in love with Aniston are in luck. I’ve never been one to proclaim her the definition of hotness, as many have. Still, I have to concede she looks rather good, here. It’s probably the best I’ve seen her. That’s fine for skuzzy dudes who have to refrain from licking the screen when she appears. Sadly, its not nearly enough to generate any electricity between her and Butler. They are a flat couple in a flat movie.

MY SCORE: 2/10

Friday, March 25, 2011

RED

Directed by Robert Schwentke.
2010. Rated PG-13, 111 minutes
Cast:
Bruce Willis
Mary-Louise Parker
John Malkovich
Morgan Freeman
Helen Mirren
Karl Urban
Brian Cox
Julian McMahon
Richard Dreyfuss
Ernest Borgnine

Karl Urban

Frank (Willis) is a retired CIA agent who has taken a shine to Sarah (Parker), a telephone customer service rep. Soon enough, he suddenly makes his way to her apartment in Kansas City because the agency is apparently out to kill him for something we don’t yet know and to kill her pretty much just because. Since she doesn’t really know Frank, other than their frequent phone conversations, he has to drag her along, kicking and screaming. Traipsing across the country, narrowly escaping death while getting “the band” back together to help him figure thing thing out ensues.

The band is made up of other former black-ops specialists from various organizations that comprise Frank’s friends. There’s Marvin (Malkovich) who is so paranoid, he lives underground. Joe (Freeman) scopes out nurses at the rest home where he resides. Finally, there’s Victoria (Mirren). She’s a foxy older lady who has a thing for high-caliber firearms.

Red does what it does well enough that we can overlook what it is not so good at. It’s good at letting its cast use their familiar personas to draw laughter. Malkovich is particularly effective here, at his neurotic best. It’s good at keeping us guessing what’s really going on without becoming bogged down with maintaining the suspense. It is also surprisingly good at action, given that most of the cast is well beyond their physical primes. Though longtime action hero Willis does have a number of bright spots, its Mirren who shines brightest in this area. Thankfully, we don’t see her trying to perform any superhuman feats. That would be laughable, in a bad way. Instead, she does things she can be reasonably expected to and makes them infinitely more watchable than they should be. Her irrepressible presence makes her compelling in any role. When that is combined with the affinity most action fans have for gunfire, she’s doubly so. Her character also provides us with an interesting subplot about something from her past that may become her present.

What this movie doesn’t do well is develop its characters. For the most part, it skips that task. It prefers to rely on the fact that we expect certain things from each other and tries its darndest to give it to us. It never feels like we’re watching Frank, Marvin, Joe and Victoria. We’re always watching Bruce Willis from the Die Hard movies, John Malkovich from his Coen brothers flicks, Morgan Freeman the wise old sage and Helen Mirren the regal British lady. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it just renders the movie a bit shallow. Then again, I think shallow may be the point.

Recently, there have been a slew of similarly themed movies. Though this doesn’t revel in its own ridiculousness quite the way The A-Team does, I find it just as enjoyable. It finds its own level of plausible absurdity and runs with it. It’s what The Expendables tries to be and what The Losers can only dream of being.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Alpha and Omega


Directed by Anthony Bell and Ben Gluck.
2010. Rated PG, 88 minutes.
Cast:
Justin Long
Hayden Panettiere
Dennis Hopper
Danny Glover
Christina Ricci
Larry Miller
Kevin Sussman
Chris Carmack
Brian Donovan


Humphrey (Long), a young fun-loving wolf, has a thing for his friend Kate (Panettiere). The problem is its forbidden for the two of them to get together. She is an Alpha, which implies some nobility, while he is an Omega. Even though they’re both part of the Western pack, I think, the two aren’t supposed to mix. The Eastern pack are apparently a more vicious sort and have depleted the source of food in their own region. Of course, this means they’re coming around the Western pack and horning in on all the hunts. Eventually, it’s revealed that it it is Kate’s responsibility to marry Garth (Carmack) of the Eastern pack. This will unite the packs, ending all the fighting and animosity. Of course, before this can happen Kate and Humphrey are captured by humans and dragged off to Idaho. Now, they have to make it back to Jasper National Park to keep the rest of the wolves from killing each other.

I’ve given you, roughly, the first third of the movie. If you can’t figure out the rest, there’s no hope for you. This is standard kiddie-fare from jump with various excursions into being substandard. Narratively, this is a lazy rehash that offers nothing new. Well, maybe the degree of laziness is new. Too many questions go unanswered. I’m not just talking questions folks like me would ask, either. I’m talking simple stuff that my kids would ask. How just a couple of wolves are Omegas? How did they get to be Omegas? Maybe, I just missed those. Maybe, by that time I didn’t care enough to pay attention. If these things were explained, I apologize. As far as the rest of the script goes, it’s…um…meh, at best. Every now and again, something mildly amusing happens. Mostly it’s just there, taking up space I could’ve used to watch a better movie.

Visually, Alpha and Omega doesn’t daze and amaze, either. By today’s standards, the animation is barely adequate, at least in 2D. It was released in theaters as a 3D experience I’m glad to have missed. It’s look isn’t distinctive, nor does it do anything noteworthy within its confines. This is hardly what I would call dazzling to the eye. Much like the story, it mundanely goes about the task of telling us a tale we’ve already heard quite a few times.

A&O is what I call a babysitter movie. It’s one you can put on to mind the kid for an hour and a half while you tend to more important matters like watching grass grow. They’ll likely enjoy it, well enough, not love it. If you’re forced to watch by an unending barrage of pleas you may think your children hate you when it’s over. Why else would they make you suffer through this?

MY SCORE: 3.5/10

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Teacher

Directed by Howard Avedis.
1974. Rated R, 98 minutes.
Cast:
Angel Tompkins
Jay North
Anthony James
Marlene Schmidt
Barry Atwater
Med Flory
Rudy Herrera Jr.


What happens when the person being sexually preyed upon is also a sexual predator? This, and many other intriguing questions probably should be asked, but aren’t even thought about in The Teacher. This movie has only one thing on its mind: being damned scummy. At this, it succeeds.

Our tale is about tail. That’s no big deal, lots of movies are. I’m not just talking rom-coms here, either. We’re stretching across all genres. The first Spider-Man told us right at the beginning that’s what it’s about. Even Avatar is essentially about tail. Sure it’s blue tail, but it’s tail nonetheless. In those movies, people take a more noble path to get some. What am I babbling about? Okay, I’m getting to the point.

The center of our universe is Diane (Tompkins). She’s a teacher, duh. Local psychopath Ralph (James) is obsessed with her on a level that would make John Hinckley Jr. proud. Google that name, youngsters. Ralph literally follows Diane around and spies on her all day, every day. He’s not terribly discreet, either. She’s well aware he’s usually hot on her…ahem…tail. She even tries confronting him on occasion. Oh yeah, just in case there was any doubt that Ralph is the villain, the movie opens with him staring crazily into a coffin he keeps at an abandoned warehouse next to the town pier. And he drives a hearse. Does he work in a funeral home? How the hell should I know? I just told you all we ever see him do is follow Diane. I can tell you what’s in the coffin, though. Among other stalker gear, he keeps a pair of binoculars to check out his girl while she’s sunbathing topless on her boat.

Let’s pause and talk about the boat. It’s a very nice boat. Not only does Diane own the boat, she owns a big house with a big pool and pushes around town in a shiny new Corvette. No wonder teachers are constantly bitching about money. Apparently, they were making a killing back in 1974!

Oh yeah, psycho, half-naked ladies, I didn’t forget. Mind you, even though she knows this creep is never more than two steps away, she seems to only take her boat out about 100 yards from the pier before she drops her top. Nice. Anyhoo, Ralph’s jollies are interrupted when his little bro shows up with a chum from school to take a gander at their favorite teacher in all her glory. I guess it runs in the family. Being discreet doesn’t, but Ralph hides from them anyway. Meanwhile, little bro and his buddy are brazenly watching Diane from the top of a staircase that runs alongside the building. Way to be inconspicuous, fellas. No longer able to stand the thought of another set of eyeballs ogling his woman, Ralph jumps out and surprises the younger pervs. Little bro is so startled, he falls a couple stories from the top of the staircase and dies. Distraught, or maybe not really, Ralph quickly blames the buddy for killing his brother. By the way, the buddy’s name is Sean. Sean escaping from a similar fate as his friend ensues.

Does Diane notice any of this? Of course not, even though it happens pretty much right in front of her. She’s too busy stretching her limbs, arching her back and otherwise finding ways to make her boobies jiggle and or protrude as per the director’s instructions, I’m sure. Obviously, she’s no help when the cops are trying to figure out how little bro got all dead and stuff.

Let’s get back to Sean. He’s not only a student of Diane’s, he’s a neighbor. His mom is also friends with her. Forget about Ralph, the real sleaze centers around this guy. It turns out Diane’s hubby just takes off and leaves her for weeks, even months at a time without even telling her to piss off. She’s quite the lonely gal, but she still rebuffs the advances of all the local studs that come sniffing around. Very quickly, we figure out she’s got the hots for young, virginal Sean. You know how it is. She’s getting closer to her sexual prime, him to his. Yes, google sexual prime if you don’t get the joke. Anyhoo, the best part of all this is that Sean’s mom sets the whole thing up. She all but supplies condoms for her boy. Coolest mom ever, or worst, depending on your point of view. I mean, what kind of mother encourages the teacher to bone her son? Not mine, for sure. Apparently, she wants Diane to show Sean the ways of love. Alright, to laugh at that joke you probably have to hear the theme song. During the course of the movie, I swear I heard it no less than 417 times. Honest. Anyway, the first line of the song is “Every boy needs a teacher.” Eventually, tells us that every boy needs a teacher to show him the ways…yeah, you got it. This means that the woman being stalked by the local freak is herself, a sexual deviant. Nice. Did I mention how sleazy this is?

I am getting way too into this. I can’t help it. The unintentional humor factor is high. Ralph is certain to pop up no matter where our favorite couple goes. Whenever they get a moment alone to have some sex, they do it in a way that it is obvious they did nothing of the sort. Oh, and Ralph’s watching. How about the acting? What acting? Production Values? Low. In short, it’s so bad, it’s awesome!


Friday, March 18, 2011

For Colored Girls

Directed by Tyler Perry.
2010. Rated R, 133 minutes.
Cast:
Kimberly Elise
Loretta Devine
Thandie Newton
Janet Jackson
Anika Noni Rose
Kerry Washington
Phylicia Rashad
Whoopi Goldberg
Michael Ealy
Omari Hardwick
Hill Harper

Macy Gray

Three troubled women live next to one another in a walk-up apartment building. Crystal (Elise) has a live-in baby daddy that is just home from “the war”. Apparently driven crazy by his experience, he drinks all day long and slaps her and the kids around. Tangie (Newton) literally brings a different man home every night from the bar she works in, has a religious fanatic mom (Goldberg) that pops up from time to time demanding money and a little sister she can’t stand. Gilda (Rashad) is the least troubled, but tries her best to help the younger ladies and doesn’t seem to be having much success.

Very quickly, we meet some more ladies with problems. There’s Jo (Jackson), a magazine tycoon who is suffering through a bad marriage and some sort of health problem. If you’ve paid any attention to Tyler Perry’s previous work, you should figure out what’s wrong with her in about ten minutes. Kelly (Washington) is a social worker married to a cop and has a health issue of her own. Juanita (Devine) has a part-time boyfriend that moves in and out of her apartment at will, or more accurately, at the whim of his other woman. Then there’s Yasmine (Rose), the local dnace-teacher. She appears to be worry free. How long do you think that will last?

The ladies struggle with their issues and often have heart-wrenching moments. These moments will lead to many to hail it as Perry’s crowning achievement, artistically. That really isn’t saying much, but the point is taken. The director takes a more adult approach to his material and actually goes straight for drama. The bit of humor that is sprinkled in is much more derived from the human condition than his usual over the top slapstick. The overzealous attempts at comedy present in his other films never show up here. There are no buffoons in loud clouthing, no old people smoking weed and thankfully no signs of Perry in drag. What we’re left with are these women and their pain.

Their pain drives the movie. It’s the crutch Perry leans on, rather effectively I might add. This part is easy for him because he’s always had two things going for him. First, he knows his target audience. It is no secret that target is African-American females. He has a good feel for what moves them emotionally and how to concoct just the right amount of melodrama to rile enough of them up. Second, he always elicits strong work from his cast. Across the board, the performances are fantastic.

In For Colored Girls, Perry is a skilled illusionist. As one powerfully acted scene after another depicts painful occurrences he knows many in his audience relate to, all too well, the illusion is we’re watching a great movie. The fact is all these wonderful scenes don’t quite gel into a cohesive unit. They’re short snippets of people, mostly women, pouring their hearts out quite literally through their tear ducts. Yes, there is lots of crying. The actors eagerly and earnestly attack their lines, leaving us and them exhausted from the effort. Unfortunately, the story the scenes combine to tell is predictable and uninspired man-bashing. Far in advance, we can see what’s coming. This stems from something the Tyler Perry canon is plagued by. It seems that in his world, Black men who aren’t the embodiment of pure evil are a rare commodity, except for the clowns of his other movies, of course. What happens is the scenes eventually devolve into a string of tragedies with hardly enough triumph to notice. To help us with this as much as possible, Perry eschews his normal all curing trip to church with another chick-flick cliché remedy, the group hug. Seriously.

As much formula is evident, there is some serious ambition with regards to dialogue. The first thing is the free-flowing of four, seven and twelve letter words that earn ‘R’ ratings. For most, this is not a big deal in any way. For Perry, it runs the serious risk of alienating his most ardent fans. Within the rather large and diverse population of Black women, the seemingly unshakeable core of his audience is those who regularly attend church. His work is seen as religious, with a secular slant. This brazenly flips the agenda.

The other risk is with how much he incorporates the source material. For those that don’t know, FCG is based on the play “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf.” Written by Ntozake Shange, it’s really a collection of poems centered around several characters. It had a pretty decent run onstage in the mid-seventies, even being nominated for the “Best Play” Tony and winning a number of other awards. I was intrigued going in because even though I’ve never seen the play, I have read it. Though that’s been long enough ago to forget most of it, I was curious to see how it could translate to the big screen. It’s a wonderful piece of writing that anyone interested in poetry should give a chance. Indeed, large chunks of Shange’s work are directly inserted into the screenplay. Characters talk normally, then suddenly break out in verse. Occasionally, this works to perfection as in the scene in which we’re treated to a cameo by Macy Gray. It’s perfect mix of persona and content provides us with a truly frightening two minutes. Other times, this tactic feels a bit off, or just plain odd. Still, I give him kudos for trying.

FCG is a most difficult movie for me to gauge. So much of it works, I’m tempted to join the ranks of those who swear by it. However, just as much doesn’t work. It reminds me I am a member of the “Tyler Perry Must Be Stopped” club. Approach this with guarded optimism.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

In the Loop


Directed by Armando Iannucci.
2009. Rated R, 106 minutes.
Cast:
Peter Capaldi
Tom Hollander
Gina McKee
James Gandolfini
Chris Addison
Anna Chlumsky
Paul Higgins
Mimi Kennedy
Alex Macqueen
Olivia Poulet
David Rasche


Plot: When British Minister for International Development, Simon Foster (Hollander), goes on record saying that war in the Middle East is "unforeseeable," he becomes a pawn in the game between the pro-war and anti-war factions of the U.S. government. Based on the BBC sitcom The Thick of It.

The Good: The script is magnificently clever, and funny. It is political satire of the highest order. It thrives on organized chaos and showcases people who aren't quite as smart as they think they are. There is also the constant jockeying for position by people with power. All of this is tied together by the uniformly brilliant performances of the cast. In particular, Peter Capaldi as potty-mouthed aid to the British Prime Minister Malcolm Tucker is relentlessly hilarious. His is one of 2009's best and most overlooked performances.

The Bad: It satirizes events from the months leading up to the US and UK officially involving themselves as allies in war in the Middle East in 2003. In a world where the news cycle is ridiculously fast, it can feel dated from time to time. Like most satire, it is occasionally too smart for its own good. As a result, it limits its own audience to those who rebel against what pops up in the multiplexes.

The Ugly: Any one of Malcolm's expletive-filled tirades.

Recommendation: The movie ItL has been most compared to is the Stanley Kubrick classic Dr. Strangelove. Honestly, I'm not a big fan of that movie, but I am of this one. If you're looking for a political satire, grab this. Steer clear if you think Pineapple Express is the height comedy.

MY SCORE: 9/10

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Green Hornet


Directed by Michel Gondry.
2011. Rated PG-13, 119 minutes.
Cast:
Seth Rogen
Jay Chou
Cameron Diaz
Christoph Waltz
Tom Wilkinson
David Harbour
Edward James Olmos
Jamie Harris
James Franco
Edward Furlong


Britt Reid (Rogen) is the “party all the time” heir to his daddy’s newspaper empire. He loves his dad, but doesn’t much like the old guy (Wilkinson). He is also suddenly put in charge when pop dies from an apparent bee sting. He recruits his father’s mechanic, Kato (Chou) to help him vandalize the statue built in dad’s honor and unveiled at the funeral. By the way, Kato is basically a combination of Q from the James Bond movies and Bruce Lee who, of course, played Kato in “The Green Hornet” TV series way back when. Anyhoo, while out cutting the head off dad’s statue, Britt and Kato find themselves stopping a couple from getting mugged, or worse, on the street. This provides the newly acquainted drinking buddies the impetus to don masks and try to clean up Los Angeles. Dubbed The Green Hornet after a pow-wow session at the newspaper, Reid and Kato soon draw the ire of Chudnofsky (Waltz), who controls the city’s crime and seems to be going through a midlife crisis. Chudnofsky also thinks the Hornet is trying to take over his business.

Let’s cut to the chase. If you’re a fan of the original TV series, this probably isn’t for you. If you take superheroes with any measure of seriousness, this isn’t for you, either. This is not Kick-Ass or Scott Pilgrim vs. the World which both ably spoof comic books and movies while simultaneously romanticizing them. Nor is this Iron Man with a clever, smart-alec sense of humor that fits the character perfectly. This is just goofy.

“The Green Hornet” has always borrowed heavily from the Batman franchise. However, this incarnation maintains none of what makes the Caped Crusader compelling. Here, Britt is merely a frat boy let off his leash. Even through to the end, he seems much less like a hero than a self-serving attention whore. I haven’t even mention how murder is pretty much a sport for him with the criminal backgrounds of the victims serving as his permission slip.

With all of that said, there still manages to be an element of fun to the proceedings. The jokes keep flying in, distracting us from the inferior comic book writing. Some are funny, some are not. How much you like Seth Rogen may determine how well the jokes work for you. A lot of mileage is gotten out of the inherent homo-eroticism of two men bonding over their toys while parading around town in costumes. There is also a lot made of Reid’s incompetence and the pair passive-aggressively competing for the girl (Diaz). Again, some of this works and some doesn’t.

As expected, our other distraction is the action. There’s more than enough to go around. Plenty of things blow up, lots of glass is broken and ample punches and kicks are thrown. The pre-requisite ridiculousness is present, really getting amped up during the finale. This makes it a surprisingly quick two hours. Still, if you dare compare it to other hero tales, it sinks like a canoe taking on gallons of water.

MY SCORE: 5.5/10

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest


Directed by Daniel Alfredson.
2009. Rated R, 147 minutes, Swedish.
Cast:
Noomi Rapace
Michael Nyqvist
Lena Endre
Annika Hallin
Anders Ahlbom
Micke Spreitz
Georgi Staykov


After playing with fire, the girl with the dragon tattoo kicks the hornet’s nest. The hornet’s nest is really a super secret organization of cranky elderly dudes clinging to life with brittle, spotted hands. As gathered from the prior movie in the series, these guys protect our heroine’s father, a lunatic Soviet defector as a matter of national security. In an effort to maintain that secrecy, they actually do everything they possibly can to out themselves. Nice goin’, fellas.

Evidently, the one thing our bad guys believe will ensure that they remain safely in the shadows is locking up “the girl,” Lisbeth Salander (Rapace). Following the events of The Girl Who Played with Fire, she opens chapter three in a hospital bed after having a few bullets dug out of her. She’s also still wanted for three murders and now the attempted murder of dear old, psychopathic dad. “The Section,” as our wannabe clandestine and very grumpy old men come to be known, are trying to see to it that she’s convicted of these crimes. Meanwhile, super reporter Mikael Blomkvist (Nyqvist) attempts to ride to her rescue. He even guilts his sister (Hallin) into taking the case pro-bono.

The problems with this installment of the Millenium trilogy quickly come into focus. Here, we have a movie about a character who, over the course of two previous movies, has already proven she can be endlessly compelling. However, she’s not nearly as watchable when given nothing to do. She spends the first half of the movie confined to her hospital room while others work on her behalf. The latter half, she’s either sitting in a courtroom, or jail cell. In lieu of all the activity and intrigue of its predecessors, Hornet’s Nest treats us to long stretches of Lisbeth refusing to speak.

What we’re left with is a less than thrilling spy flick. Blomkvist is constantly chasing sources, or trying to get information to Lisbeth. The old guys make and botch plans. The gigantic blonde guy, whom we found out in Fire is Lisbeth’s half-brother, roams the countryside much like Frankenstein’s monster. For some unexplained reason, he’s kidnapped some woman, throws her out of a moving car and apparently goes back for her because he has her again, later. At least, I think it’s the same woman. Either way, it doesn’t matter because she just as inexplicably disappears. Sadly, none of this is particularly exciting to watch.

Viewing Hornet’s Nest becomes tedious work. The main culprit is something that happens way back in the first movie that we’ve never been allowed to forget for even one second. It provides us with such an overwhelming clue about how this is going to play out we’re simply waiting for it to be presented. Once it is, it can’t help be anything but anti-climactic.

Hornet’s Nest is a wasted opportunity. The promise was there for this to complete a great saga and catapult this franchise into the same stratosphere as some of the great cinematic trilogies. Instead of going out in a blaze of glory, it ends in a resounding thud. After two wonderful thrillers, we get a hybrid espionage/courtroom drama that’s not good at either. In the mean time, it’s best character, the one who’s fate hangs in the balance is pretty much made to go to her room like a child waiting for her parents to come to a decision about what punishment is to be handed out. Because of this, the movie drags and then reaches a conclusion we already figured out about ten minutes in. Imagine going to a basketball game, watching your favorite player drop 50 in the first three quarters and then be benched for the entire fourth quarter even though the game is still a close one. That’s the feeling this one gave me.

MY SCORE: 4.5/10

Friday, March 11, 2011

Soul Men


Director: Malcolm D. Lee.
2008. Rated R, 98 minutes.
Cast:
Samuel L. Jackson
Bernie Mac
Sharon Leal
Adam Herschman


Plot: Floyd (Mac) and Louis (Jackson) were once superstars as part of a Motown style 1960s group called "The Real Deal," along with lead singer Marcus Hooks (real R&B star John Legend) who went on to a legendary career as a soloist. After Hooks' death, the two reunite for a tribute show to Marcus, despite years away from the stage and lots of unresolved issues between them. Hijinks and shenanigans on their way to New York ensues.

The Good: At it's core, its about two older gentlemen with larger-than-life personalities talking a lot of smack to one another and anyone who crosses their path. Both Mac and Jackson excel at saying outlandish things that make you laugh even though you know you probably shouldn't think they're funny. The two also forge a very believable chemistry, allowing them to seemingly ad-lib their way through much of the movie. And for those of us who saw their first "adult" movie back in the late 1970s or early 1980s, there's a Vanessa Del Rio sighting.

The Bad: The plot unfolds in a completely unsurprising manner. It's so paint-by-the-numbers it simply relies on the mouths of the two stars to keep it interesting. This is problematic because on those rare occasions when only one or neither of them are on the screen the movie can no longer mask it's weaknesses. Even when they are both on the screen, it just trudges through things we already knew would happen.

The Ugly: Bernie Mac literally hits below the belt. Ouch.

Recommendation: Fans of the two stars should really like this movie. It showcases their personas and lets them have fun. Since they seem to be having so much fun its easy to let implausibilities and cliches slide. For people who aren't big fans, particularly of Mac, then it'll be an easily forgotten road movie that breaks no new ground. RIP to both Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes, who also appears in the movie. Warning: Extremely potty-mouthed, our heroes use the various conjugations of mf as a noun, verb and adjective and most places a comma, period or exclamation point should go.

MY SCORE: 7/10

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Inherit the Wind


Directed by Stanley Kramer.
1960. Not Rated, 128 minutes.
Cast:
Spencer Tracy
Frederic March
Gene Kelly
Dick York
Donna Anderson
Harry Morgan
Claude Adkins
Noah Beery, Jr.
Florence Eldridge


Local school teacher Mr. Cates (York) is arrested for violating a law that strictly prohibits teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution. This is Hillsboro, Tennessee, a deeply religious town where creation is the universally accepted belief with regards to how man came to be. This belief is so strongly and widely held that any other is both a legally punishable and spiritually damnable offense. The national media gets hold of the story, helping to start a firestorm around the small town.

In short order, two renowned lawyers descend upon Hillsboro, taking opposite sides of the issue. For the prosecution, and creation, is Matthew Harrison Brady (March). He believes the Bible to be 100% true, accurate, Divine Word. He also loves the sound of his own voice, delivering many a blustery speech. As reporter E. K. Hornbeck (Kelly) puts it, Brady is the only man who can strut while sitting down. The town loves Brady’s voice, too. They’re entranced by his bellows and treat him almost as if he were actually the Messiah.

For the defense, and evolution, we have Henry Drummond (Tracy). He’s a man for whom free speech, and free thought, is sacred. He recognizes their importance in the progression of mankind. Brady and the townspeople characterize him and his client as atheists. Whether or not Henry is opposed to God is something we’re asked to ponder throughout. What isn’t in question is that he is against the bigoted, narrow-minded beliefs espoused by many of the devoutly religious. He’s also opposed to blindly accepting every word of the Bible as infallible. He equates such behavior with not thinking at all. Is this enough for him to be accurately labeled a non-believer?

The two men go back and forth, as lawyers do. Henry is obviously swimming against the tide. Brady is not only going with the tide, he seems to be in a luxury liner. He’s quite literally preaching to the choir. It’s as if the entire fate of the universe will be decided by a race in which the only two participants are traveling in opposite directions.

When it’s all said and done, there’s still the question of who really won. More importantly, who lost? The verdict, and conclusion of the movie are both open to interpretation. Clearly, the movie appears to be one side over the other. Still, the end of the film is not a finale. It is the starting point to a conversation that may never end.

MY SCORE: 10/10

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Takers



Directed by John Luessenhop.
2010. Rated PG-13, 107 minutes.
Cast:
Matt Dillon
Idris Elba
Michael Ealy
Tip “T. I.” Harris
Paul Walker
Jay Hernandez
Chris Brown
Hayden Christensen
Zoe Saldana
Marianne Jean-Baptiste
Steve Harris


A group of highly successful, risk-conscious bank robbers are lured into trying a daring, but once-in-a-lifetime heist of an armored car. The person that does the luring is known as Ghost (rapper T. I.). Ghost was busted during a job with the crew back in “oh-four” as they tell us about a thousand times. Since oh-four, the boys hadn’t had any contact with him and his girlfriend Lilly (Saldana) is now engaged to one of the other guys. That’s about all you’re getting out of me, but you’ve probably got a pretty good idea of how the rest of this plays out.

On the plus side, it gets the exciting parts right. Our opening heist is a beauty, just enough over the top to enjoy. The chase scene involving Chris Brown’s character is masterful and the fight scene featuring Hayden Christensen’s character is well-done. Our second heist is fun, even if it is dumb. These scenes carry the movie. They have to. What happens between them ranges from predictable and/or rehashed to mind-numbing. Our bank robbers consistently do things that make little or no sense even though the movie desperately needs us to believe they’re much smarter than they’ve shown. The line of logic we see just doesn’t jive with their stealthy image. Time and again, we’re told how cautious they are, yet nothing they do qualifies as such. Many of them are downright stupid, but since they often lead directly to an action sequence it’s supposed to be okay.

The writing, as it relates to non-heist matters isn’t any better. It wisely interjects a number of peripheral issues and circumstances to try and build some empathy for characters on all sides of the law. However, it fails to explore any of them. Many are dropped as soon as whatever scene they come up in is over. Because of this, there is no connection to be had. Even people who enjoy the movie will likely forget it before the DVD player cools down.

Takers can be fun if you just let the action wash over you. Sadly, it crumples pitifully under the slightest bit of scrutiny. Under our mental interrogation, it meekly reveals that it is really made up of scenes from other, better movies. Heat is the most easily recognizable victim. If you don’t have those movies as a reference point, your spider-sense may not tingle. Yet, you’ll still know what’s coming next. Then again, without those other movies, this one would not exist. It isn’t merely influenced by them, but birthed from their collective loins. Typical of inbred children, it was born with major defects.

MY SCORE: 5/10

Monday, March 7, 2011

Devil


Directed by John Erick Dowdle.
2010. Rated R, 80 minutes.
Cast:
Chris Messina
Bojana Novakovic
Bokeem Woodbine
Geoffrey Arend
Jenny O’Hara
Jacob Vargas
Joe Codben
Matt Craven
Logan Marshall-Green
Joshua Pearce


One of the elevators gets stuck in a Philadelphia skyscraper and all hell breaks loose, literally. Watching from the viewpoint of the elevator’s camera, one of the security guards figures out for us that one of the stranded passengers is actually the Devil. Woah, let’s back up. The security guard doubles as our narrator. Right off the bat, he tells us that suicide opens the gate for the Devil to take human form and kill up some folks. Of course, the first actual happening is someone presumably jumping to their death from said skyscraper. Just never you mind who that is, or why. All you need to know is this not only lets the Devil in, but also gets Detective Bowden (Messina) into the building. Five years ago, his wife and son were killed in a hit-and-run.

Oh, you wanna know who’s in the elevator? It’s the standard Hollywood rogue’s gallery. We’ll start with the pretty girl (Novakovi), because there’s always a pretty girl. Next is the token black guy (Woodbine) because there’s always a token black guy. Actually, he fulfills both the quotas for a good black person and a bad one. He’s a thuggish security guard. There’s also the creepy guy who talks too much (Arend), the creepy guy who doesn’t talk nearly as much but seems to know way too much about the wrong things and an ornery old woman. Periodically, whichever one of them is Satan makes the lights go out and kills one of the others.

It’s an interesting setup. The execution of it runs on a pretty standard loop. The lights go out, we hear a lot of ruckus. When they come back on, we discover someone’s been hurt or killed. They all yell accusations at each other until the next time it goes dark. Meanwhile, Detective Bowden tries in vain to keep them calm by talking to them through the security system as others try to either get the elevator moving or the people out. Rinse, repeat.

Overall, it is not necessarily a bad watch, just philosophically confusing. Is the devil’s ultimate purpose here to do good? Either way, our fallen angel suffers from movie-villainitis. All movie long, Satan acts swiftly and offers no explanations. However, when we get to the end of our tale it’s suddenly time to talk, hiss, seeth and otherwise try to act all scary. It feels hokey and also leads us back to the question of what the devil is the Devil here for. It only makes sense that M. Night Shyamalan wrote and produced this. Still, while it’s not a bad watch, it’s not a good one, either.

MY SCORE: 5/10

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Cool Hand Luke

Directed by Stuart Rosenberg.
1967. Not Rated, 126 minutes.
Cast:
Paul Newman
George Kennedy
Strother Martin
J.D. Cannon
Lou Antonio
Jo Van Fleet
Clifton James
Robert Drivas
Dennis Hopper


Drunk, and possibly bored, Luke (Newman) gets busted for cutting the heads off about a dozen parking meters. He is sentenced to a prison where he has to work on the chain-gang every day. For you young’uns, there was a time when prisoners did much more on the highways and by-ways than picking up the trash. Being convicted of a crime meant physically exhausting work on those roads on a daily basis. Luke enters just such a place.

Luke also has a smug attitude and unwillingness to conform that tends to rub people the wrong way, at first. Upon his arrival, neither the officers nor his fellow inmates care much for him. Soon, his unbreakable spirit wins over the other prisoners and even most of the guards. However, it also earns him some trouble. Eventually, the movie becomes a battle of wills between Luke and his captors.

The man in the lead role facilitates the battle, perfectly. Paul Newman shows once again why he is a Hollywood icon. His trademark smirk shows just enough arrogance for us to be hesitant about liking him. Arrogance soon reveals itself to really be the type of confidence that attracts people. Then, somehow despite his movie star looks, he never feels like a pretty boy. He’s simply magnetic.

As good as Newman is here, George Kennedy is his equal. As Dragline, Kennedy is charismatic, funny and a commanding presence. His rapid-fire, rumbling voice practically scores the film. Indeed, he seems to do a great deal more talking than our hero, Luke. Dragline is the one that seems to come around on Luke, first in spite of the rocky start they get off to. His near constant chatter helps everyone else do the same.

From the outside looking in, we grow to love Luke just like the inmates. Early on, before us or them is really on his side, Luke finds himself in a fistfight with Dragline. Luke is pitifully overmatched. He gets knocked down so often you’d think it was his mission in life. However, it’s what happens between knock-downs that is his real purpose. He gets up. He gets up, over and over again. He keeps getting up even when it doesn’t seem to be in his best interest. It’s just who he is. Who he is endears him to us. We wish we had his courage. That’s why, during the latter parts of the movie, our sentiments echo those of the convicts during that lopsided fight. From our seats we feel helpless, yet we keep begging him. Stay down, Luke. Stay down.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Let Me In

Directed by Matt Reeves.
2010. Rated R, 116 minutes.
Cast:
Chloë Grace Moretz
Kodi Smit-McPhee
Richard Jenkins
Cara Buono
Elias Koteas
Sasha Barrese
Dylan Kenin
Richie Coster
Dylan Minnette


Owen (Smit-McPhee) is twelve years old and has no friends. Even worse, he’s the class punching bag. Things are so bad, he hangs out alone at night, in the courtyard of his apartment complex and fantasizes about getting revenge. If that weren’t enough, he lives with his mom who’s in the process of divorcing his dad and is an emotional wreck. One night, he notices a girl his age moving into the apartment next door to his with her father. Eventually, we find out her name is Abby (Moretz). As it turns out, she’s also a loner who seeks solitude in the courtyard most nights. Even though, it’s the dead of winter she doesn’t wear shoes. Owen notices this and also finds out rather quickly that she leads some sort of tortured existence, as well. The two seemingly kindred spirits strike up a friendship. However, Owen doesn’t realize something we already know. Abby is a vampire.

To remain as conspicuous as possible, Abby’s “father” (Jenkins) supplies her with blood by killing random people, draining the blood from them and carrying it back to her. Whenever he fails at this task, or hunger overwhelms her, she has to hunt for her own meals. Let’s just say her table manners are less than desirable.

The movie’s pace is deliberately slow but it doesn’t drag. It draws us in through the growing relationship between Owen and Abby. It also never forgets that there are murders being committed so the police are working feverishly to find out who’s responsible. All along, we wonder what will happen when things get figured out? What will happen when Owen comes to understand what Abby really is? What happens when the police figure it out?

Of course, the vampire craze of the last few years can be traced back to the Twilight series. Everything in that critic-proof juggernaut is dolled up to appeal to young girls and teach them about the virtues of abstinence. While that’s a fine message it’s done in a manner that makes the idea of vampires even less tangible than it already is. It’s not just fantasy. It’s impossibly sanitized so that any thoughts deemed to be impure are like the greatest evils know to mankind. On the other hand, any good things are romanticized to the nth degree. In short, the Twilight films alternately panders to and preaches to its audience on a continuous basis.

In Let Me In, the characters are not in some totally foreign dimension where everything is glossy and nice where vampires can go out in the daytime and wean themselves from human blood. Instead, the vampire is dropped into our reality. This offers insight into what it might be like if there really were such a creature in our midst. To understand the difference between this world and the Twilight world think about the Batman movies. Specifically, think of how Gotham City is portrayed in the recent Christopher Nolan movies and in the franchise-killing Joel Schumacher flicks. LMI would be the Nolan films, not quite fully realistic but enough to seem a lot more plausible.

For those of us lucky enough to have seen it, there is yet another elephant in the room. That one is the Swedish original, less than two years old when its American remake hit theaters. Technically, like its predecessor, LMI claims to be based on the novel Let the Right One In. The Swedish film keeps the full title while this one truncates it. Otherwise, there’s not enough of a difference for me to say it isn’t a remake. There are some changes here and there. Most notably, there is one glaring omission and one event moved to the beginning of the film. The omission is the now infamous crotch shot of our vampire. The event involves the father and is key to the movie so I won’t spoil that.

The fact that this is largely the same movie is not a knock on the American flick. It wisely follows the template already created. Aside from the omission I mentioned, it doesn’t water things down, at all. Unlike most remakes, the additions don’t become subtractions. There are no overly big showy moments for no reason other than injecting some perceived excitement. To its credit, the one recognizably American thing it did actually works. It adds a little more gore. However, it does so for good reason and not at the cost of character development as is often the case. It is rare that a remake can stand up to the original, particularly when the remake is American and the original is not. This one does. What I’m going to say next may seem even stranger than that. When the subtitleophobes tell you this one is better, ignore that they’re probably basing their opinion solely on the fact it’s in English. They might actually be right, this time.

Let the Right One In




Let the Right One In AKA Lat den ratte komma in

2008. Rated R, 114 minutes.

Director: Tomas Alfredson. Starring Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar, Henrik Dahl.


Plot: In a 1982 suburb of Stockholm, 12 year old bully-magnet Oskar (Hedebrant) befriends Eli (Leandersson), the mysterious girl who's moved into the apartment next to his. Her arrival in town coincides with a series of grisly murders in which the victims had the blood drained from their bodies.


The Good: It's a very unique vampire movie. In fact, it's more of a puppy-love movie featuring two 12 year olds. It just so happens that the girl is a vampire. That's the twist that makes it sizzle. A constant tension hangs over the film as we try to figure out whether she'll hurt or help him and for a while, whether he'll find out what she really is. It also uses her obvious power and his weakness to build metaphors and give Oskar a life-lesson. The pacing of the movie is deliberately slow, but doesn't drag. It draws you into this awkward yet budding romance. Don't worry though, it's not some sappy affair. We get a number of 30 Days of Night-esque attacks on the human-folk.


The Bad: At the beginning of the movie, Eli has an adult, presumably human guardian who actually commits the early murders and brings her the blood (not at all a spoiler). We never really learn the nature of their relationship (it's vaguely hinted at, once). Also, about midway through the movie something happens to him, or at least seems to. Despite the fact what we've seen suggests we should, we never see him again. That was bothersome for me. It's like they all of sudden forgot about him.


The Ugly: When our two lovebirds share their first kiss. When you see it, you'll say "Ewwww."


Recommendation: Though the main characters are both only 12 years old, well one is 12 and the other just appears to be (they do discuss this, by the way), this is not another vampire movie for teenage girls. This is for more mature fans of the genre who've seen plenty of them and are looking for a fresh take on the subject. Subtitleophobes can breathe easy. This is a Swedish film, but the DVD plays the English dubbed version by default.




What the Internet Says: 8.2/10 on imdb.com (#192 all time as of 4/14/09), 97% on rottentomatoes.com, 82/100 on metacritic.com


MY SCORE: 9/10

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Megamind


Directed by Tom McGrath.
2010. Rated PG, 95 minutes.
Cast:
Will Ferrell
Tina Fey
Brad Pitt
Jonah Hill
David Cross
J. K. Simmons
Ben Stiller
Jessica Schulte
Justin Theroux

Amy Poehler
Like most supervillains, Megamind (Ferrell) can never quite beat the hero in town. Try as he might, his plans are always thwarted by Metro Man (Pitt). To give you a point of reference, Metro Man is basically Superman dressed in all white. Megamind has spent practically his entire life trying to overcome the do-gooder. However, he hasn’t really thought about what he would do if he were actually victorious. So, when he finally manages to defeat Metro Man, he finds out that total domination isn’t all he thought it would be. With no one to challenge him, and no one to share his success with, he gets bored.

In order to spice things us, Megamind takes on two tasks. First, he tries to woo TV news reporter Roxanne Richie (Fey). Essentially, she’s the Lois Lane of our tale. In the past, he’s kidnapped her way too many times to count. Therefore, he creates an alter-ego. He also creates an alter-ego for his second task: coaching someone else up to be a hero and provide him with some opposition. This other alter-ego is a bit problematic for the movie’s target audience. Most kids simply won’t get it. They’re just too young. Whether or not parents get it seems to depend on whether they’re fans of the Superman movies, or not. That’s because the shape Megamind takes for this is that of Superman’s father as portrayed by Marlon Brando in those movies. If you have that point of reference, it’s a great source of comedy. If you don’t, not so much.

The rest of the movie works pretty well. It nicely spoofs both superhero and supervillain lore by poking fun at the clichés we’ve all come to know and love. This keeps us chuckling for much of the runtime. In addition, we come to genuinely feel for the bad guy. We even come to be on his side as he works to correct his mistakes. Surprisingly, we also find ourselves thinking about Metro Man at the end. What happens when the hero becomes tired of, or is left unfulfilled by being heroic? The movie treads lightly in this area so it doesn’t drag us down, emotionally. However, it is still a question that’s left out there.

In the end, Megamind is a fun affair that does what it sets out to. It entertains us with a family-friendly redemption story. It shares a number of similarities with Despicable Me, but is different enough that watching both is no issue. However, I will say that even though I enjoyed both, which you like best might be predicated on which you see first.

MY SCORE: 7/10

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

World's Greatest Dad

Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait.
2009. Rated R, 99 minutes.
Cast:
Robin Williams
Alexie Gilmore
Daryl Sabara
Henry Simmons
Geoff Pierson
Evan Martin
Lorraine Nicholson
Zach Sanchez


Plot: Aspiring but unsuccessful writer and high school poetry teacher Lance Clayton (Williams) lives alone with his unapologetic jerk of a teenaged son Kyle (Sabara) and carries on a relationship with fellow teacher Claire (Gilmore) even though she doesn't want to be seen in public with him.

The Good: Robin Williams is usually only seen in two modes. He's either zany, verging on being totally out of control but fighting for some grand cause or morose and perhaps more than a little perverted. Here, he's much more a regular guy who seems to have life living him, instead of the other way around. He pulls it off, perfectly. Like so many of us in real life, his emotions are conveyed not by his words but by his facial expressions and body language. It's a wonderful performance. To aid this, we get a story that's excellently written. It's subtle, even when it seems to be over the top. It also puts us in position to seriously ponder what we might've done in the same situation. This brings us to the writer and director, Bobcat Goldthwait, who also shows up in a tiny role. Those of us who can actually remember the 1980s might be mildly surprised he hasn't already died of an overdose. Given that you might be completely blown away that he's still capable of coherent thought, much less writing a cerebral character examination. Kudos to him. Oh, I haven't even mentioned the fact that it's funny.

The Bad: Where is Kyle's mother? Unless I missed it, she's never mentioned. Doing so would've added another layer to both Kyle and the movie as a whole. We would be better able to psychoanalyze him, as we're already doing without quite enough information. I would have also love for us to meet Andrew's (Martin) mom, the alcoholic. She could've added tons, as well.

The Ugly: How and why the tragedy occurred.

Recommendation: We have another excellent effort in dark comedy, making 2009 a very strong year for the genre. As with most of them, there's just not enough hijinks and shenanigans to hold some people's attention. If you don't go in expecting another gross-out bromance or get too pissed off in the first few minutes that Lance hasn't beat the crap out of his son, you'll be in for a fun ride. Those of you into character studies, this one's for you.

MY SCORE: 8/10