Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Reader

The Reader
2008. Rated R, 124 minutes.
Director: Stephen Daldry.
Starring Kate Winslet, David Kross, Ralph Fiennes, Lena Olin, Jeannette Hain.

Plot: In 1958 Germany, 15 year old Michael has an affair with 30-something Hanna which has a profound effect on both of their lives. At her request, they develop the habit of Michael reading aloud to her before sex. A few years later, they cross paths again. This time, her past comes to light causing Michael much stress.

The Good: You can't begin to discuss this movie without mentioning the performances. Kate Winslet proves she is one of the very best actresses of her era, once again turning in stellar work and earning her first Oscar (Best Actress) in the process. She deftly portrays Hanna as a woman with both a horrendous past and an embarrassing inability. To his credit, director Stephen Daldry handles both well. He reveals her past in a painful instant and hints at her inability but doesn't fully divulge it until it becomes relevant to the story. Now, back to that acting. The unsung hero of the cast is David Kross as the younger version of Michael. Watching him grow from a wide-eyed teen to a jilted lover and then a torn man is a joy. His work renders Ralph Fiennes, who plays the older Michael, little more than a placeholder. Finally, even though its unabashedly a tragic romance, it never resorts to the histrionics of melodrama. This makes the characters feel as if they're people reacting to real situations instead of performers going for their big moment.

The Bad: Two aspects of the movie that could've elevated it are left largely underdeveloped. First, there's young Michael's relationship with his family. It's introduced and peeked at, promises to add an interesting layer but is abandoned abruptly. Second, older Michael's relationship with his daughter needed to be either greatly expanded to build upon the parallellability of his with Hanna or cut out completely. As is, it just seems like a superfluous epilogue.

The Ugly: Young Michael's family dinners - talk about tense.

Recommendation: This is a very good movie but seems to have gotten its Best Picture nom on the strength of it's performances and the fact that it deals with one of the Academy's favorite subjects, the Holocaust. That said, its still a solid drama telling an intriguing story, just not one of my five faves of the year. Prudes beware, Winslet and Kross spend much of the first half of the movie naked.

The Opposite View: Julie Rigg, Movie Time - ABC National Radio

What the Internet Says: 7.7/10 on (6/8/09), 62% on, 58/100 on

MY SCORE: 7.5/10

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
2009. Rated PG-13, 150 minutes.
Director: Michael Bay.
Starring Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Tyrese Gibson, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, Ramon Rodriguez.

Plot: An ancient Decepticon known as “The Fallen” returns to Earth to destroy blah blah blah to gain ultimate blah blah blah moowahahahaha (evil laugh). Robot fighting, screaming and anatomy jokes ensue.

The Good: Director Michael Bay knows that the majority of people attending a Transformers movie want to see giant robots beating the crap out of each other so he gives us more of it than the original. Since he also knows that most of these people are boys, no matter what age, he throws in pretty girls, off-color jokes and slow motion, lots of slow motion. Most of it features either a robot being ripped apart or Megan Fox running “Baywatch” style. And living up to its name, nearly everything transforms. Like its predecessor, it’s a visual spectacle.

The Bad: Like numerous other sequels, this suffers from “more is less” syndrome. The action and silly jokes increase exponentially from what was in the original, yet the things that might make it engaging are far flimsier and much less coherent. Its simply two and a half hours of flashing lights and noise. Therefore, we never really care if what’s-his-face activates the thingamajig with the whatchamacallit. Even worse, if your main focus is robot fighting then the robots should be easier to tell apart. This isn’t that big a problem for the Autobots who are pretty much color coded. However, almost all the Decepticons of any significance are plain chrome and blend together in combat. Shallow as it seems, I’d like to know which bad guys are actually fighting. And don’t even get me started on the two jive-talkin’ bots.

The Ugly: Two words: robot scrotum.Recommendation: You probably already know if you want to see this or not. If you’re not sure, see the first one first with a surround sound system cranked up pretty good, if possible. After that, imagine it bigger, louder and dumber.

The Opposite View: Amy Biancolli, San Francisco Chronicle

What the Internet Says: 6.8/10 on (6/28/09), 20% on, 36/100 on

MY SCORE: 4/10

Monday, June 29, 2009

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Hellboy II: The Golden Army
2008. Rated PG-13, 110 minutes.
Director: Guillermo Del Toro.
Starring Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Luke Goss, Jeffrey Tambor.

Plot: Prince Nuada (Goss) is upset with the way the world has turned out in his absence. He seeks to unite all the pieces of a magical crown which will spring the dormant, yet "indestructible" Golden Army into action under his control so he can start running things. Hellboy (Perlman) and crew have something to say about this.

The Good: Director Del Toro builds upon his Pan's Labyrinth foundation by giving us more stunning visuals. It's creatures and other special fx are beautifully rendered. The action scenes that show off this aspect of the film are very nicely done. In fact, its a much better looking movie than it's predecessor. The love story between Hellboy and Liz (Blair) goes in an interesting direction. It also leaves the two characters with an obvious starting point for the third movie in the series, should they make one.

The Bad: In only the franchise's second movie, it already suffers from "more is less" syndrome. We get more great characters, both good and evil, better special fx and lots of action. However, its crammed into a package 20 minutes shorter than the original. That means its fun while its on but not nearly as gratifying as the original. It doesn't help that it simply reworks The Lord of the Rings to fit a superhero flick for its main premise and resorts to corny sight gags for the humor. Worse than that, our hero is going through an identity crisis. However, its not in that good, tortured mentality of Batman sort of way. Its in that bad, the writers don't seem like they know what to do with him way. One of my problems with the first movie was how Hellboy seemed so much like Wolverine. I would've preferred that to what he is here, an even more simpleminded goofball. He's also well on his way to becoming an alcoholic. That could be really interesting but they just played it for laugh. Hmmm...anything to get more kids in the theater, right?

The Ugly: The tooth fairies. Yeesh, nasty little critters.

Recommendation: Obviously, fans of the comic and/or the first film should check it out. Most people seem to like this one a bit more. I like it a bit less. No doubt, it is a fun popcorn flick that looks absolutely great. Of the five big superhero flicks of 2008, I'd rank this fourth, far behind The Dark Knight and Iron Man but sandwiched between The Incredible Hulk and Hancock.

The Opposite View: Michael Dance, The Cinema Source

What the Internet Says: 7.4/10 on (6/29/09), 88% on, 78/100 on

MY SCORE: 6/10


2004. Rated PG-13, 132 minutes.
Director: Guillermo Del Toro.
Starring Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, John Hurt, Doug Jones, Jeffrey Tambor.

Plot: After coming through a portal opened by the bad guys, Hellboy (Perlman) is adopted by the good guys and becomes the main guy on a team of paranormal heroes that fight paranormal villains. Sixty years have past and the original baddies are not only back, they're after Hellboy to help them destroy Earth.

The Good: One drawback to being the first movie in a comic book franchise is you have to back to the source's humble beginnings and provide virgins to the character an origin story. This movie dispenses with that bit of business in a thankfully quick and exciting manner. Once done with that, it spends the majority of it's time on action scenes of some sort. Occasionally, it pauses for "Red," as he's called by his friends, to deal with his love life and the increasingly strenuous relationship with his "father" (Hurt). Luckily, its effective at weaving those things in rather than dawdling on them for the most part.

The Bad: There are a few plotholes, which is to be expected, so they're there but not deal breakers. What nearly is a deal breaker is the idiocy of our main villain's (Rasputin played by Karel Roden) plan. It follows the well-worn and even more stupid movie logic of really bad guy wants to unleash a far more powerful and even worse being upon the world. It stands to reason there's not really anything to do after you destroy the world, now is there? Anyhoo, there is one other aspect that bugged me. It seems as if Wolverine of the X-Men simply had his personality and some other traits transplanted to a red body with a stone hand instead of claws, giving us Hellboy. It got to the point where everytime he spoke I couldn't help but think "that's exactly what Wolverine would say."

The Ugly: The very cool Karl Kroenen (Ladislav Beran) without a mask.

Recommendation: Comic book fans and fans of comic book movies should have at it. Its heavy on the action and has enough light humor to keep it moving at brisk pace. It is certainly not the best the genre has to offer but since its thoroughly "okay," its far from the worse.

The Opposite View: Maitland McDonagh, TV Guide

What the Internet Says: 6.8/10 on (6/29/09), 80% on, 72/100 on

MY SCORE: 6.5/10

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Women

The Women
2008. Rated PG-13, 114 minutes.
Director: Diane English.
Starring Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith, Bette Midler, Candice Bergen, Carrie Fisher, Cloris Leachman.

Plot: When Mary (Ryan) finds out her husband is cheating on her with perfume sales clerk Crystal (Mendes), her friends and her mom try to guide her through the tough times. Remake of the 1939 film of the same name.

The Good: We have a cast of rom-com all stars giving it their melodramatic best. Each of the ladies makes the most of what their roles have to offer. The pacing and humor are major plusses. It's not fall-off-your-chair funny but it does elicit some laughs. Combine that with a script that pluckily pushes us along from one girl talk scene to the next and you get a fairly quick moving affair (I know, bad pun given the movie's premise). Also a number of recognizable, some even iconic, actresses turn up in bit parts including Cloris Leachman, Bette Midler, Candice Bergen, Carrie Fisher and Debi Mazar.

The Bad: What starts off as a daring artistic choice ends up gimmicky and frustrating. That choice is deciding to not have any males in the movie. In a movie centered around a crumbling marriage, its hard to come off as anything other than man-bashing when it refuses to even show a man. There aren't even any male extras (more on that in a moment). This is illuminated most when you think about Alex (Jada Pinkett Smith). Putting aside the reality that she comes off like a token black, we see she's also the surrogate man. She has what could be a man's name, she's a lesbian so she's obviously into women, a bit of a slacker who parties too much and is generally straight-forward with her views. She is every bit an attempt to give male viewers someone to relate to. And she also helps maintain the ladies only motif by taking our crew to an all-lesbian restaraunt. This scene and the street scenes are filled with beautiful female extras (told you I'd get back to this) and appear solely as an effort to hold guys' attention. The same seems true for the casting of Mendes who's part could've been played by any number of starlets. However, by not having any males at all to project onto we get a strange phenomena. Men in the audience feel attacked and female viewers can only unsatisfyingly beat up a faceless enemy. Well, in the end (spoiler?) there is one male character shown but it feels like a slap in the face. It's like the filmmakers telling us "This is all you get, now be happy with it."

The Ugly: This is a completely different movie if our girls pick somewhere else to get their nails done.

Recommendation: This is pretty much for fans of rom-coms. Once you peel back the complicated layers you'll see its the same old stuff Ryan, Messing and the rest have been doing for years. The difference is that those other movies make men caricatures and have them follow the same developmental arc while this one dispenses with them completely and doesn't even pretend to care to give them a chance to put in their two cents. This is interesting at first, but wears thin about halfway through.

The Opposite View: Bob Bloom, Jounal and Courier (Lafayette, IN)

What the Internet Says: 4.8/10 on (5/22/09), 13% on, 27/100 on

MY SCORE: 5/10

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Yes Man

Yes Man
2008. Rated PG-13, 104 minutes.
Director: Peyton Reed.
Starring Jim Carrey, Zooey Deschanel, Bradley Cooper, Rhys Darby, John Michael Higgins, Danny Masterson, Terence Stamp, Rocky Carroll, John Cothran Jr.

Plot: Carl (Carrey) is divorced and depressed. A chance encounter with an old friend prompts him to attend a self-help seminar. At the seminar, he agrees to say yes to anything asked of him in order to help him live life to the fullest.

The Good: This is in Carrey's wheelhouse. It's the type of silly comedy which made him a star. He gets to do outrageous things for outrageous reasons. He seems to be having fun. In turn, we have fun as well. Aside from him, Rhys Darby as his boss/uber-nerd/wannabe buddy Norman is hilarious. We also get funny turns, both slightly more than cameos from John Michael Higgins as the old friend and Brent Briscoe as the homeless guy.

The Bad: It comes off as a reimagining of Liar Liar so there really aren't any surprises to be had, narratively. Just substitute not being able to say no for not being able to tell a lie and it unfolds precisely the way we think it will. Only Carrey's wacky excursions and lack of a son differentiate this movie from that one.

The Ugly: Two things: first, how the old lady who lives next door "takes care" of our hero and second the shameless and seemingly constant product placement.

Recommendation: Fans of Jim Carrey, this is for you. Much like Will Ferrell, you either like him or you don't with little gray area between the two. It's not Carrey's best movie by any stretch, but its a solid effort worthy of a rental when you're in the mood for a silly comedy.

The Opposite View: Richard Luck, Channel 4 Film

What the Internet Says: 7.1/10 on (6/11/09), 43% on, 46/100 on

MY SCORE: 6.5/10

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Not Easily Broken

Not Easily Broken
2009. Rated PG-13, 100 minutes.
Director: Bill Duke. Starring Morris Chestnut, Taraji P. Henson, Jennifer Lewis, Kevin Hart, Wood Harris.

Plot: After several years of marital bliss, David (Chestnut) and Clarice (Henson) begin to have problems. Based on the novel by Bishop T.D. Jakes.

The Good: This is one of those movies that has its heart in the right place. It wants to give married couples pointers on working through difficult times. Our hero, David, is an everyman who's simply trying to be good to everyone. We see most of the movie through his eyes as he navigates the rough seas of his life. The whole thing has a very real feel to it. Kevin Hart's periphery character, Tree, handles the comic relief and does a fairly solid job. In the lead roles, Chestnut and Henson perform well, as usual.

The Bad: It opens up several storylines but doesn't resolve them all. More than not resolving them, it actually seems to purposely toss them aside as our main plot nears it's conclusion. By the way, that conclusion feels more like the first step towards a resolution than actually being one. Lastly, it's appeal is going to be limited, first to people who are or have been married and second to people who are fans of T.D. Jakes. People outside of this group may not get it and think it's overblown.

The Ugly: The story we hear about lotion and bumpy backs. Ewww.

Recommendation: Its not quite a date movie, but it is a solid relationship movie with a Christian slant. Couples who've been together for awhile will find a lot to relate to. Although T.D. Jakes shares much of the same audience as Tyler Perry, don't go looking for any Madea-style antics, here. As expected, Jakes and the filmmakers, play it fairly straight and a bit heavy-handed. It's certainly not perfect, but it is intriguing.

The Opposite View: Theresa Everline, The Austin Chronicle

What the Internet Says: 4.4/10 on (6/10/09), 36% on, 43/100 on

MY SCORE: 6.5/10

Carbon Copy

Carbon Copy
1981. Rated PG, 92 minutes.
Director: Michael Schultz. Starring George Segal, Denzel Washington, Susan Saint James, Jack Warden, Dick Martin, Paul Winfield.
Wealthy white exec Walter (Segal) suddenly discovers he has a 17 year old black son named Roger (Washington), much to the chagrin of his wife (Saint James) and father-in-law/boss (Warden). He is immediately fired and kicked out of his home. Wacky riffs involving racial stereotypes ensue. It's one of a long line of 1980s comedies that take a poor black kid, insert him into a situation where he's surrounded by rich white people and/or have a rich white person surrounded by poor blacks (this movie does both), tries to cull comedy from their differences and teach us valuable life lessons about the virtues of racial harmony and tolerance. At all of those things it does okay, not great. It's a decent watch but shouldn't be on anyone's list of must-see movies from the 80s. That said, it is notable for being Denzel Washington's first feature film. MY SCORE: 6/10

Friday, May 22, 2009


1927. Not Rated, 115 minutes.
Director: Fritz Lang. Starring Alfred Abel, Brigitte Helm, Gustav Frohlich, Rudolf Klein-Rogge.
Young, privileged Freder (Frohlich) accidentally discovers that the prosperous city he lives in, and his father Fredersen (Abel) runs, is kept running literally on the backs of the poor, nearly enslaved laborers who themselves live far below the city's surface. The movie proves one thing, man is perpetually cynical about the future, especailly in regards to technology. It gives us a marvelous dystopian society the powers that be are trying to pass of as an underground paradise while essentially keeping the working class in bondage. Fredersen makes a great villain, not because he's evil, though he is, but more because like the best bad guys he believes what he's doing is right and just and will do anything to perserve what he sees as the proper order of things. The concepts used here have aged remarkably well as many of them are still recycled in sci-fi to this day. Even more surprising, the special fx look better than many movies half it's 80+ years. Of course since it's a silent movie, some people will automatically be turned off and that's a shame. However, since silent movies are such a different beast to tame for today's audience, I won't grade it. I'll just say if you're a serious sci-fi movie buff then you should see this, if for no other reason than making sure you see all the classics of the genre to see how far it has, and hasn't come.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Death Race vs. Death Race

Death Race 2000
1975. Rated R, 84 minutes.
Director: Paul Bartel. Starring David Carradine, Sylvester Stallone, Simone Griffeth, Mary Woronov.
In the year 2000, racecar drivers compete in the annual "Transcontinental Race," a three day race across the continental United States. Each driver has a navigator of the opposite sex, two of the drivers are female. The winner is determined by some combination of where a driver finishes and how many points they have. They earn points by killing civilians with their cars. Of course, different types of people are worth different amounts with babies (70 points) and senior citizens (100) being worth the most. The race was created by "Mr. President," who's now become a dictator and governs the country from abroad. The race itself is a ridiculous premise but the filmmakers know this and play it to its campy hilt. We get humor from the drivers mowing down pedestrians and the hilarious commentary of our announcing team. In particular, Grace Pander (Joyce Jameson) cracks me up with her "dear friend" schtick. The two overnight pit stops are an excuse for nudity, fighting and yelling. Speaking of yelling, a pre-Rocky Sly Stallone does most of it while obviously hamming it up as Machine Gun Joe. Usually, its about all the adulation his arch-rival Frankenstein (Carradine) gets. At the end of the day, it's a socio-political satire that takes itself even less serious than most. It also gets about 25 years ahead of the reality-TV craze, even about a decade before The Running Man (+1 for Sly over Arnie). Still, it's main strength is absurdity. It flexes those muscles often, making it "so bad its awesome!" MY SCORE: -10/10

Jumping into my Delorean and getting up to 88 mph I arrive at...

Death Race
2008. Rated R, 105 minutes.
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson. Starring Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Joan Allen, Ian McShane, Natalie Martinez.
Plot: Prisons have become privately owned entities. One of them broadcasts "Death Race" worldwide, a series of three day auto racing events featuring inmates driving armed vehicles on a closed course on prison property. Jensen Ames (Statham) is "recruited" by Warden Hennessey (Allen) to replace the series' biggest star.
The Good: It knows exactly what it wants to do and does it. DR is only interested in amping up the testosterone levels via an incessant stream of car crashes, gunshots, explosions and the occasional peek at hot female inmates in tight t-shirts and tighter jeans. All of this is punctuated by shots of Joan Allen talking tough and doing her best "game face." With videogame sensibilities (the cars actually have to pass over various icons on the track in order for certain weapons to be enabled) and attention to "graphics," its an unabashedly aggressive action-junkies wet dream. By the way, those "graphics" are a nice mix of cgi and organic stunts."
The Bad: A minor problem is that its exceedingly dumb. Every action is taken simply because the result promises to be spectacular. That's okay with regard to the race itself but it's even done outside the race. However, if you only want a popcorn movie then that's minor and you let it slide. The bigger problem is only a problem if you're familiar with the original, Death Race 2000. That was a campy satire taken to absurd extremes while keeping it's tongue firmly in cheek. Its silly on purpose, yet still has something to say. All of this makes DR 2000 "so bad its awesome!" This new version keeps only the action and replaces all the rest with grunts and scowls. It takes itself way too seriously like it has something really insightful to say but it doesn't. This makes its stupidity seem accidental which is always worse.
The Ugly: What happens to the guy who says "You can't kill me!"
Recommendation: This is strictly a popcorn movie. Its watchable crap akin to a vapid supermodel. There's nary a thought in its pretty little head and lots of eye candy but easily forgotten once the next pretty girl walks past. Like most remakes, or "reimaginings" it works best if you haven't seen the original.
The Opposite View: Nathan Lee, New York Times
MY SCORE: 5.5/10
So, if you're keeping up you realize I like the movie with the lower score better.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


2008. Rated R, 123 minutes.
Director: Ron Howard. Starring Michael Sheen, Frank Langella, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt, Rebecca Hall, Toby Jones.

Plot: Former US President Richard Nixon (Langella) grants his first interview since resigning from office to British talk show host David Frost (Sheen).

The Good: This is an actors' movie and the actors deliver. The writing and directing are both superb but without the actors it would disintegrate. After all, the movie largely consists of people sitting around hotel rooms and living rooms talking. It doesn't sound like riveting drama, but it is. Frank Langella is marvelous as Pres. Nixon. He conveys the smugness of a man confident things will turn out in his favor, yet accusing "media people" of possessing that same trait. People who have seen the actual interviews the movie is based on, or really can remember Nixon, might notice that Langella is much more demonstrative that the President. However, that's done for dramatic purposes and Langella (and the script) hit all the right notes to create what essentially is the movie's villain. Speaking of hitting the right notes, Michael Sheen also does so as David Frost. He is simply perfect. Like most great performances, he does his best acting when he's not talking. Through these moments we sense the pressure mounting on him to pull off something amazing or watch his career go down the drain. That same pressure is on the people working with him and the supporting cast does a great job showing this. Finally, the movie gives us a love interest for our hero but doesn't distract us with a love story.

The Bad: It, maybe, could've gotten more out of Pres. Nixon's team. We get plenty of Jack Brennan (Bacon) but the rest of his team of strategists are reduced to wall flowers simply around for reaction shots. Getting more input from them might possibly have raised the tension between the two camps a bit. Also, I know I commended the movie on not giving us a love story but they still could've found something for Caroline Cushing (Rebecca Hall) to do. She's pretty much just a prop in the background for most of the movie. However, if giving her more to do would've changed the direction of the film then I'm fine with it, as is.

The Ugly: The Prez's late night, drunken phone call to our hero.

Recommendation: Fans of political and/or courtroom drams will love this (yes, I know there are no courtroom scenes in this movie). It's the best one of either I've seen in quite some time. It works best if you have a decent working of knowledge of Nixon's presidency. Stay away if you need any of the following to enjoy a movie: gunplay, explosions, fighting, romance or slapstick.

The Opposite View: Rene Rodriguez, Miami Herald

What the Internet Says: 8.0/10 on (5/19/09), 92% on, 80/100 on

MY SCORE: 9.5/10

Monday, May 18, 2009


2008. Rated R, 114 minutes.
Director: Guy Ritchie. Starring Gerard Butler, Tom Wilkinson, Idris Elba, Toby Kebbell, Thandie Newton.

Plot: One Two (Butler) and Mumbles (Idris Elba) are trying to figure out how to pay old school gangster Lenny Cole (Wilkinson) the $2 million they owe him after a deal falls through. Meanwhile, Lenny is trying to keep the same from happening to his deal with a wealthier Russian investor/gangster. And they're all trying to figure out who is the informant that keeps getting everyone locked up.

The Good: In typical Guy Ritchie fashion, we get great circular story-telling, tough talking yet not as smart as they think they are bad guys and funny dialogue. We also get funny violence which is hard to do without totally sinking your movie. Another thing Ritchie consistently delivers is excellent performances from his actors. This proves to be no exception. Tom Wilkinson gives us the flashiest performance while Butler, Elba and Tom Hardy who plays Handsome Bob play off each other quite nicely. The two performances that make the movie tick however are Thandie Newton's almost lone female and Toby Kebbell's turn as drug addicted rock star Johnny Quid.The Bad: It's a bit derivative. First, it's definitely a Guy Ritchie gangster flick so it feels familiar right from the start if you've seen some of his other work. The Wild Bunch, as our gang of lovable bandits is called, feels very much like the crew from the Ocean's movies. Finally, the very very ending that shamelessly sets us up for the sequel, The Real RocknRolla we're told, is peculiar in both content and execution. It seemingly remakes a certain someone into a totally different character so he can start the sequel with a clean slate.

The Ugly: Everything that happens whenever Victor is asked to "join us."

Recommendation: This is going to sound a bit odd. I recommend it moreso to people who enjoy gangster/crime movies but haven't seen any of Ritchie's other work. People who have will likely enjoy it but may get a "been there, done that" feeling. Still, those people might want to see it anyway just to get in on the ground floor of what Ritchie is promising will be a trilogy.

The Opposite View: Mike McGranaghan, The Aisle Seat

What the Internet Says: 7.4/10 on (5/18/09), 59% on, 53/100 on

MY SCORE: 7/10

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Role Models

2008. Rated R, 99 minutes.
Director: David Wain. Starring Paul Rudd, Seann William Scott, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Bobb'e J. Thompson, Jane Lynch, Ken Jeong, Elizabeth Banks, Bobb'e J. Thompson.

Plot: After accidentally destroying public property, energy drink salesmen and work buddies Danny (Rudd) and Wheeler (Scott) each have to perform 150 hours of community service at "Sturdy Wings." They're each assigned a child whom they will mentor on the weekends. Hijinks and shenanigans ensue.

The Good: As with anything by the Apatow group (yes, I'm counting Rudd among them, he wrote this), there are some scenes and dialogue that are just downright hilarious. The dynamics of relationships between straight males is again ably portrayed. Our two leads fit comfortably into their roles, Rudd as a fairly straight-laced but not particularly happy guy and Scott as yet another incarnation of his Stifler from the American Pie movies. Jane Lynch as former drug addict turned counselor Gayle Sweeney steals every scene in which she appears.

The Bad: Due to the fact they've found a very profitable formula, I've now seen this movie at least half a dozen times. Don't believe me? Let's go through the checklist. At least one slacker who is depressed? Check. A "wild and crazy" dimwitted friend who tries to help him snap out of it? Check. A girl that breaks up with said slacker, tormenting him even further? Check. A budding bromance? Triple check! That's right, we don't just get one bromance, we get three (our two heroes with each other and each with the kid they're mentoring). And nothing unexpected happens in any of them.

The Ugly: When very little Ronnie (Thompson) drops an "F-bomb" right in front of his mom and she, well, essentially does nothing. I was really, really tempted to turn it off at that point.

Recommendation: Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Knocked Up, Pineapple Express, Superbad, Step Brothers. You know if you like these movies or not. It's the same formula repetitively rehashed to fit a different premise. For me, the law of diminishing returns kicked in a few movies ago. So while this, like the others, has some really funny moments, the whole isn't nearly as satisfying as it use to be.

The Opposite View: Claudia Puig, USA Today

What the Internet Says: 7.3/10 on (4/21/09), 76% on, 60/100 on

MY SCORE: 5.5/10

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Final Comedown

The Final Comedown
1972. Rated R, 83 minutes.
Director: Oscar Williams. Starring 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

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Seven Pounds

Seven Pounds
2008. Rated PG-13, 118 minutes.
Director: Gabriele Muccino. Starring Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, Barry Pepper, Woody Harrelson, Michael Ealy.

Plot: An obviously troubled man (Smith) is on a self-imposed mission to help others and unexpectedly falls in love.

The Good: It effectively strings us along. We're never quite sure exactly what our hero is up to until very late in the proceedings and the movie likes it like that way. Will Smith is solid but Rosario Dawson is outstanding. She very much makes us believe she's a woman who has missed out on things most of us take for granted and increasingly anxious about the time, or lack of time she has left.

The Bad: It's a little too cryptic. Why our hero is troubled is hinted at throughout so it was anticlimactic instead of being the huge revelation it wants to be. Showing this earlier may have helped his pain resonate with the audience more. The movie also takes itself way too seriously. Moments that could've been humorous and lightened the mood are enveloped by our hero's grim greater purpose, a destination he not only trudges toward but drags others with him.

The Ugly: Why he keeps the jellyfish.

Recommendation: The big problem seems to be how shamelessly it campaigned for the Oscars when it was being released. The commercials told us how it was being touted by some critics as a Best Picture candidate with a mind-blowing twist. Since it's not quite that, it became the chic movie to hate. I don't think it's nearly as bad as everyone says. In fact, I thought it was pretty good, even if it is overly self-important.

The Opposite View: Rawlin, VSN

What the Internet Says: 7.6/10 on, 28% on, 36/100 on

MY SCORE: 7/10

Lady Cocoa

Lady Cocoa
1975. Rated R, 99 minutes.
Director: Matt Cimber. Starring Lola Falana, Gene Washington, Alex Dreier, "Mean" Joe Greene, Millie Perkins, James A. Watson Jr.

Cocoa (Falana) is being let out of jail so she can testify against her gangster boyfriend tomorrow. Two officers, Doug (Washington) and Ramsey (Dreier) are assigned to protect her through the night. The premise is reasonable, actually sort of tame for a Blaxploitation flick. I say that fully realizing that it would make a million times more sense just to take her from jail to the courthouse the morning of, ala 16 Blocks. However, I was hoping for a "so bad it's awesome" experience. What gave me that hope was that they didn't check her into any old out of the way hotel. Nope, they checked her into a hotel/casino/mall/restaurant and she came loudly barrelling through the main entrance practically announcing her arrival to any potential assassins. But alas, it was not to be. The writers telegraph a romance right away and promptly falls into an endless cycle: she asks, he says something along the lines of "No, it's too dangerous," she rants, raves and threatens not to testify, he gives in, she makes googly eyes at him. It might've been interesting but unfortunately legendary singer Lola Falana proves to be a terrible actress delivering repetitive and grating dialogue. However, for any 1975 audience it was probably a shock to hear the classy songstress speak with a potty mouth and do a nude scene. Honestly though, her best acting came during that scene which was a surprisingly enthusiastic love scene late in the movie. It's not until after said scene that we finally get the real deal outrageous antics the genre is known for. By then, it's too late to save the movie. Oh well, at least Pittsburgh Steelers legend "Mean" Joe Greene, who plays a hitman, shows up to glare at the camera every so often.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Eagle Eye

Eagle Eye
2008. Rated PG-13, 118 minutes.
Director: D.J. Caruso. Starring Shia LaBeouf, Michelle Monaghan, Billy Bob Thornton, Rosario Dawson, Jerry Ferrara.

Plot: Two strangers suddenly find themselves working together while on the run from the FBI and being guided by a mysterious woman who's not only one step ahead of the action but somehow able to track their every move.

The Good: Like any chase movie worth it's car crashes, it has some spectacular sequences. There's all sorts of property damage with debris flying everywhere. It's loud and intense. To keep that tension up there's the mysterious voice on all those ominous phone calls. She intrigues us and keeps us guessing as to who she is and what she wants our heroes to do. As usual, LaBeouf ably portrays a guy who's a bit of a jerk but finds himself in an unbelievable situation. The rest of the cast, though more talented is solid but not overwhelming. Still, it's amusing to watch Billy Bob Thornton and Rosario Dawson try to out-stern one another.

The Bad: Once we find out what's going on, the whole thing falls apart. Essentially, it repeats the mistakes of Stealth, I, Robot and other similarly themed movies. An hour plus of mindless, but still fun action gives way to another 45 minutes of paranoid silliness we've seen before without injecting anything new or interesting. It clunks to it's conclusion hoping the noise and vision of the special fx will be enough to win you over. They don't because the script invites you to dig a little deeper but when you do you don't find anything. Contrast this with LaBeouf's prior big-budget special fx monster Transformers. That movie is also loud and silly. However, it works because it never pretends to be anything more whereas EE does and gets caught in its own hoax.

The Ugly: Crystal explosives. Nice.Recommendation: If you just want to see an almost endless string of chase scenes with lots of crashes and explosions then have at it. Just don't go looking for anything more because even though it tempts us with the possibility of depth, it remains a shallow pool.

The Opposite View: William Arnold, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

What the Internet Says: 6.7/10 on (4/30/09), 27% on, 43/100 on

MY SCORE: 5/10

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Wrestler

The Wrestler
2008. Rated R, 111 minutes.
Director: Darren Aronofsky. Starring Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Mark Margolis.

Plot: Aged pro wrestler Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Rourke) is 20 years past his glory days and struggling with life.The Good: You may have already heard about Mickey Rourke's performance. It is indeed excellent. He conveys a real and permeating sense of sadness in not only every word but every action. That skill flips around on us and makes us feel even more sad when he finally seems to be happy. It sounds odd, but it's extremely effective. The women in his life are also very important, not only to how we see him, but to how he sees himself. His daughter Stephanie (Wood) is the physical embodiment of all he's failed at and/or lost. Cassidy (Tomei), the stripper he's trying to court is a female version of him. He's constantly trying to make amends with both, though he hadn't yet done anything to Cassidy. It's a wonderful metaphor for him trying to make things right with himself, even while he's battling that self. Director Aronofsky does a great job getting the most from his actors and creating a bleak enough world that they, and we, have a hard time imagining better for these people. Finally, the wrestling scenes are flat out brutal.

The Bad: Stephanie's relationship with her significant other could've played a bigger role. It's strongly implied that she is a lesbian, which is really neither here or there. But it could've been. This has little to do with her preference but lots to do with the seemingly nurturing relationship she was in. We get only a glimpse of it. Having the girlfriend interact with Randy more could've added another dynamic to the mix. Seeing how each of their relationships differed with Stephanie, or are similar would've been interesting. If you don't want to go down that road how about showing how different the life of Randy's "arch-rival" The Ayatollah (Ernest Miller) turned out. We're told he's done well for himself but being shown this in juxtaposition with Randy could've been really powerful. Those are both mere possibilities which could've taken the movie in drastically different directions. What should definitely have been done was having The Ayatollah fake a Middle Eastern accent, preferably a bad one, during "the show" (wrestling match). It seems small but would've fit perfectly into the world Aronofsky created.

The Ugly: Barbed wire and a staple gun. Yeesh!

Recommendation: Even though there's a good deal of wrestling, this isn't just for fans of the "sport." It's for anyone that enjoys a good character study. Old-schoolers, like myself, may have heard the rumblings that it's based loosely on the life of Jake "The Snake" Roberts. Maybe, but as rough as this movie is, a real biopic about Roberts would have to be even darker. I digress. Let me repeat that this is a great character study. It also has excellent acting and wrestling scenes that will make you flinch.

The Opposite View: Richard Corliss, Time Magazine

What the Internet Says: 8.4/10 on (#83 all time as of 5/6/09), 97% on, 81/100 on

MY SCORE: 9/10

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

2 Days That the Earth Stood Still

The Day the Earth Stood Still
1951. Not Rated, 91 minutes.
Director: Robert Wise. Starring Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Sam Jaffe, Billy Gray.
An alien spacecraft lands smack dab in the middle of Washington D.C. during a busy day. The being that emerges from the ship is shot within moments of setting foot on Earth. He survives and demands to meet with all of the planet's leaders. With WWII having ended only 6 years earlier, along comes this grim allegory of a movie that's gone on to be hailed as a sci-fi classic. The being inside, Klaatu (Rennie) represents us, therefore it's very important that he looks like us. He's no green-skinned monster who instantly opens fire on us. He is us, giving a warning to ourselves. As far as movie-making prowess goes, it's a success but not an overwhelming one. The narrative drags just a bit since the tension is eased while our messenger takes a tour around D.C. Still, even that serves a purpose in the movie, so no big deal. The special fx are actually pretty stong for the era and appropriately they're used sparingly. The dialogue lacks any subtlety whatsoever which gives the movie the feeling of someone beating you over the head with their message. What's remarkable is that message is not as dated as the movie's age suggests. By changing the word atomic to nuclear and making it a little snazzier looking it could still resonate with today's audience. Hmmm....

I normally don't do this for old movies but just as a point of comparison...

What the Internet Says: 8.1/10 on (#224 all time, 5/5/09), 94% on rottentomatoes, N/A on

MY SCORE: 8/10

...which brings us to this...

The Day the Earth Stood Still
2008. Rated PG-13, 104 minutes.
Director: Scott Derrickson. Starring Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Jaden Smith, Kathy Bates, John Cleese, James Hong.

Plot: An alien spacecraft lands smack dab in the middle of Manhattan one night. The being that emerges from the spacecraft is shot within moments of setting foot on Earth. He survives and demands to meet with the planet's leaders.

The Good: The early parts of the movie do a nice job building tension quickly. This gives it the sense of urgency it's looking for. There's also an air of mystery as we watch a bunch of scientists and government officials who are rightfully baffled by what's going on. It's also a good looking movie, reminiscent of The Matrix franchise. Having Keanu Reeves as the star only reinforces this notion, but it's attractive nonetheless in that same monochromatic manner. Finally the new GORT, Klaatu's personal giant robot security guard is very impressive...for much of the movie.

The Bad: A constant problem for this movie is that it's ideas are solid but the execution of them is horrible. Chief among these ideas is the updated premise. The original was a warning against us causing our own destruction through atomic weapons. With our constant worry about who has nuclear weapons, I thought that was still a strong foundation to build on, obviously changing the word atomic to nuclear. However, the filmmakers opted to go with the "green" angle (hence, the greenish tint to the whole movie) and warn us about destroying the planet itself. Okay, I'll buy that but exactly why beings from other universes should care is unclear. It follows that by piling up inconsistencies at a mind boggling rate. Some of which even involves special fx - I'm looking at you, massive swarm of bugs. Next, not only is Klaatu not terribly bright for a being from a supposedly more advanced civilization but he does something incredibly idiotic. That by itself might not be so bad, but we get the sense he only does it so the movie has an excuse to try and dazzle us with cgi. Don't even get me started on the overly melodramatic and Armageddon-esque finale that's only possible because our hero came to the same realization that my 6 year old came to about 3 years ago.

The Ugly: Ya know, I liked Jaden Smith alongside his dad in The Pursuit of Happyness but he really, really...really annoyed me here.

Recommendation: This is a misguided attempt at modernization. Instead of thoughtfully updating the original it gives us the same basic setup and then repeatedly taps us on the shoulder and says "Hey, doesn't this look cool?" Even the DVD cover does this. If you look at the back of it, you'll see in large print "THIS TIME THERE'S MORE ACTION, MORE SPECIAL EFFECTS AND MORE MAYHEM!" Yawn.

The Opposite View: David Nusair, Reel Film Reviews

What the Internet Says: 5.6/10 on (5/5/09), 21% on, 40/100 on

MY SCORE: 3/10

Monday, May 4, 2009

Bedtime Stories

Bedtime Stories
2008. Rated PG, 99 minutes.
Director: Adam Shankman. Starring Adam Sandler, Keri Russell, Guy Pearce, Courtney Cox, Russell Brand, Richard Griffiths, Teresa Palmer, Nick Swardson, Lucy Lawless, Carmen Electra.

Plot: Hotel maintenance man Skeeter (Sandler) babysits his sister's kids for a few days while she's out of town. With their help, he comes up with elaborate bedtime stories which amazingly become reality.

The Good: It's so gosh-darn cute. The kids are cute. The stories are cute. The way they translate into reality is cute. Therefore, our viewing is sprinkled with chuckles and giggles. All of this helps to keep things moving along nicely as the movie bounds from one tale to the next.

The Bad: It's so gosh-darn cute. Since it is, it's not afraid to pile on the cheese. So, in between the giggles and chuckles you might be rolling your eyes a lot. It doesn't help that the plot is a paint-by-numbers job.

The Ugly: The Booger Monster.

Recommendation: This is solid family fare. The stories are inventive, so they hold your attention as the movie bounces merrily along. There's really not much here to offend even the hardcore prudes, but it is predictable. You're willing to forgive all that because, well, it's just so gosh-darn cute.

The Opposite View: Jim Hill, Channel 4 Film

What the Internet Says: 6.2/10 on (4/29/09), 22% on, 33/100 on

MY SCORE: 6.5/10

Marley & Me

Marley & Me
2008. Rated PG, 115 minutes.
Director: David Frankel. Starring Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, Alan Arkin, Kathleen Turner, Eric Dane, Jonah.

Plot: Before having children, young couple John and Jenny Grogan (Wilson and Aniston, respectively) get a yellow Labrador puppy that they name Marley, after reggae icon Bob Marley. Doggy hijinks and family life ensues.

The Good: There are a lot of funny scenes. The movie gets a ton of mileage out of Marley being disobedient, destroying things and/or eating them. Just as that starts to wear thin, we see a family struggling through growing pains and it feels real. The pacing is a major plus. Director David Frankel does a great job speeding up and slowing down his movie at appropriate times.

The Bad: It wants to be an overwhelming tear-jerker but it fails to make us love the dog. Even worse, it struggles to make us believe the people in the movie love him. We get that there's a certain level of attachment. However, he's so much trouble and wreaks so much havoc on their lives it feels like they keep him around out of a sense of obligation rather than really wanting to. It tries to show us a powerful bond between Marley and the Grogan children but none of them are given any meaningful screen time until it's too late in the picture. It doesn't help that our "dramatic conclusion" is an inevitability we dreadfully trudge toward rather than a singular event that knocks the wind from our chests.

The Ugly: What Marley does when he's finally let loose on "Dog Beach."

Recommendation: It's a fun movie that's at times a bit racier than its PG rating suggest. I only mention that because it is marketed as a family film. While it's having fun, it waits to long to start trying to manipulate us for the big moment and misses it's mark. Then again, I suppose if you're naturally a dog lover, which I'm not, you'll buy into it a little easier. Or you're very similar to my 6 year old daughter who did, in fact, shed a few tears.

The Opposite View: Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian (UK)

What the Internet Says: 7.2/10 on (4/11/09), 60% on, 53/100 on

MY SCORE: 6/10

Monday, April 27, 2009


2009. Rated R, 114 minutes.
Director: George Tillman, Jr. Starring Jamal Woolard, Derek Luke, Angela Bassett, Antonique Smith, Marc John Jeffries, Christopher Jordan Wallace, Amanda Christopher, Naturi Naughton, Anthony Mackie.

Plot: The life and times of Christopher Wallace, AKA The Notorious B.I.G.

The Good: Even better than simply not making our hero a saint, the movie doesn't try to justify his indiscretions. It's content to show him as a guy who often has to learn the hard way. It also manages to show him as thoughtful, if a bit selfish. Woolard in the title role is simply note-perfect. Unfortunately, he's so good and has a look enough like Biggie I can see him struggling to land other roles. Actually, the title role is shared by Woolard with Biggie's real-life son, Christopher Jordan Wallace, who ably plays his dad as a kid. The movie also makes effective use of Biggie's music as both a score and a soundtrack.

The Bad: I've often complained about movies, especially comedies, that simply run too long. However, I'm a firm believer that biopics should be at least two hours long. This one is a bit shy of that mark and suffers because of it. In particular, his various attempts at reconciliation with the women in his life are either glossed over or just plain left out as things between he and them go from bad to good instantaneously. It also limits character development in others who should/could have had major roles. Lil' Kim (Naturi Naughton) suffers the most as the script makes her completely selfish, lacking any compassion and most other human emotions besides anger. The circle around Biggie known as Junior MAFIA also suffers, only depicted as flunkies and hangers on when by most accounts he did have real friendships within the group. Even his friendship with Puffy is never dealt with.

The Ugly: How he gets "inspired" to make his hit song Juicy.

Recommendation: This is a pretty good biopic that sticks to the headlines from its subject's life. For hip hop fans, it's a worthy first entry into the genre. It could've used some more fleshing out to be great. Even though it's no disappointment, one can't help but wonder how much better a movie about Biggie's friend turned nemesis, the more interesting and dynamic personality Tupac Shakur, could be.

The Opposite View: Rob Daniel, Sky Movies

What the Internet Says: 6.0/10 on (4/27/09), 50% on, 60/100 on

MY SCORE: 7/10

Flight From Ashiya

Flight from Ashiya
1964. Not Rated, 100 minutes.
Director: Michael Anderson. Starring Yul Brynner, Richard Widmark, George Chakiris, Suzy Parker.
While on a dangerous rescue mission, three men who work for the Air Rescue Service each have a flashback to other important times in their lives. What the movie wants to do is build up these guys by making us love them through thier individual stories. It only manages to accomplish that for one of them, 2nd Lt. Gregg (Chakiris). For the other two, it gives us a bunch of pointless melodrama that might've been good if it didn't try to cram full-blown romance movies into the 20 or 25 minutes allotted each flashback. We get people falling hopelessly in love at first sight, stories skipping years with insufficient reason or explanation and all sorts of other cliches. What's meant to be poignant and maybe even racy for the era comes off as ridiculous and forced. MY SCORE: 5/10

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Jamie Foxx to Play Mike Tyson???

While checking out, I came across this post about Mike Tyson wanting Jamie Foxx to play him in a biopic. I did indeed confirm, he told this to MTV News. What an interesting idea.

Years ago, Michael Jai White of Spawn fame played the boxer in an HBO movie. If I remember correctly, he did okay in the role but nothing earth-shattering. He seemed to have gotten the role based more on his resemblance to Tyson than anything else. I think he's an okay actor, but I wouldn't re-cast him for the part.

Foxx, on the other hand, has more than enough acting ability to go around. He'd have to bulk up, but otherwise I think it would be an excellent choice.

But there's still a problem. I don't think this movie should happen anytime, soon. My reasons are purely selfish. I just don't think Mike has really ridden off into the sunset already. I'm not talking about his boxing career, which I hope is over forever. I'm talking about his three-ring circus of a public life. I can't help but get the feeling he's not done with bizarre occurrences, just yet.

Do you think a movie about Tyson's life should be made in the relative near-future? Who would you cast to play him?

City of Ember

City of Ember
2008. Rated PG, 95 minutes.
Director: Gil Kenan. Starring Saoirse Ronan, Harry Treadaway, Bill Murray, Mackenzie Crook, Tim Robbins, Toby Jones.

Plot: When the Earth's surface becomes unlivable for human life, survivors relocate to the underground city of Ember. The founders leave instructions on how to get back t o the surface to find out if conditions have gotten better. They've locked them in a box set to open in 200 years. Fast forward those 200 years and Ember is falling apart as the city's aged generator is failing. The box has been lost and the city's collapse seems inevitable.

The Good: There are a number of chase scenes that add some fun to the proceedings. This also helps move things along quickly. Our two teenage stars, Ronan (as Lina Mayfleet) and Treadaway (as Doon Harrow) give earnest performances and make us feel like they're really trying to save a dying city.

The Bad: There are plotholes everywhere. One of them literally runs around the movie eating people. Or slithers around, I'm still not sure because it looks like a giant rooster but I didn't see any legs, but nevermind. The script is incoherent. It tries to borrow from too many other, better movies and fails to assimilate them in a manner that makes any sense. The movie's more known actors whiffed. Perhaps realizing he's in a crappy movie, Bill Murray (as the mayor of Ember) seems to be constantly thinking of his next tee time. Tim Robbins (as Doon's dad) appears to be overcompensating but at least he gives it the old college try. Finally, if you're going to make a silly movie with lots of cgi, at least have good cgi. Sadly, the special fx range from barely adequate, at best, to downright shoddy. It's shoddy more often than adequate so there's no "wow" factor.

The Ugly: What eventually happens to the mayor.

Recommendation: It tries to dazzle kids with lots of excitement but it forgot to write even a decent story. At the very least, it should've given them something easier to follow then maybe it might engage them enough to care. You and the kids might sit through it all but it will likely be forgotten by the time you take it out the DVD player.

The Opposite View: Cammila Albertson, TV Guide

MY SCORE: 2.5/10

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Tale of Despereaux

The Tale of Despereaux
2008. Rated G, 94 minutes.
Directors: Sam Fell, Rob Stevenhagen. Starring Matthew Broderick, Robbie Coltrane, Tracy Ullman, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Watson, Kevin Kline, William H. Macy, Stanley Tucci, Frank Langella, Richard Jenkins, Christopher Lloyd.

Plot: Despereaux (Broderick) is an outcast among other mice since he doesn't cower, scurry or show any fear at all. For this, he is banished from "Mouse World" into the sewers below. From there, he embarks on the adventure of a lifetime in hopes of saving a princess and perhaps an entire kingdom.

The Good: It trusts it's audience will stay with it when it lets up off the accelerator. So while there are scenes of silliness and action sprinkled throughout, there's ample time devoted to character development and plot building. The viewer is not rushed from one action scene to the next and we actually get to know a number of these characters. Visually, it's a wonderful piece of work. Like a lot of animated fare, it blends photo-realism with it's more cartoonish elements but it does so seemlessly.

The Bad: The tone might be a tad too serious. Young viewers weened on the all-out goofiness of many animated movies might be put off a bit. Also, If there's one character who was underdeveloped, it's the king. Having him more involved would've added another dimension, particularly if more attention were given his relationship with his daughter, Princess Pea (Emma Watson). As is, he sort of punctuates the movie. He occasionally shows up briefly to remind us he's there. Finally, I would love to have seen just how the rats got their two prisoners, especially the cat.
The Ugly: What happens to the queen.

Recommendation: It might move a bit slow for really young kids or those with short attention spans. Use Ratatouille or maybe even Wall-E as a guide. How you or your kids reacted to the non-action parts of those may provide insight into how they'll respond to Despereaux. For the rest of us, it's a pleasure to take in but admittedly not as good as the two movies I just mentioned. It's a movie in which we can actually relate to the characters having the adventure, even if they are mostly mice and rats.

The Opposite View: Avi Offer, NYC Movie Guru

MY SCORE: 7.5/10

Friday, April 17, 2009

High School Musical 3: Senior Year

2008. Rated G, 112 minutes.
Director: Kenny Ortega. Starring Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Corbin Bleu.

High school sweethearts, Troy (Effron) and Gabriela (Hudgens), as well as their classmates, have to deal with separation anxiety as graduation looms. Singing and dancing ensues. It does exactly what it wants to do. It gives it's target audience a romanticized, asexual, insulated from the real world version of high school in which every problem can be dealt with by an inoffensive pop tune complete with 1980s music-video styl group dance numbers. By the way, saying these kids have "problems" is overstating it quite a bit. They have inconveniences that slightly detract from the perfection of their lives. Adults in this world exist merely so we know they actually exist. The exception to this is the great and powerful drama teacher. Seriously. The whole thing is a rather innocuous affair that my pre-pubescent daughters both love. Honestly though, all that cheese just upsets my stomach. MY SCORE: 3/10

Wednesday, April 15, 2009



2008. Rated PG, 96 minutes.

Directors: Byron Howard, Chris Williams. Starring John Travolta, Miley Cyrus, Susie Essman, Mark Walton, Malcolm McDowell, James Lipton, Chloe Grace Moretz.

Plot: Bolt (Travolta) is a dog who stars in his own TV show. He believes that he has superpowers and that the amazing feats he performs are real. Bolt unwittingly gets out into the real world in an attempt to rescue "his person" Penny (Cyrus), whom he believes has been kidnapped by their arch-enemy, The Green-Eyed Man.

The Good: It's a fish-out-of-water tale mixed with a road movie and both aspects work well. The dialogue is sharp and funny. Unlike a lot of Disney movies, it's not afraid to give us a bittersweet ending. Perhaps most importantly for a film like Bolt, we get fun action scenes and intoxicating visuals. Oh, and the pigeons are hilarious.

The Bad: Even though it's barely over an hour-and-a-half, it drags a bit in places. That's partly due to our hero having to literally travel across the country. The movie could've gotten more mileage out of Penny by checking on her more often to see how she's handling the situation, but that's nitpicking.

The Ugly: The way the cats on the studio lot pick with Bolt.

Recommendation: 2008 is the strongest year for animated movies I can remember. That said, Bolt is one of the better entries.

The Opposite View: Lou Lemenick, New York Post

MY SCORE: 7.5/10

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

New on DVD 4/14/09

The movie I most want to see out of this week's new releases is The Reader. Obviously, it's the most critically acclaimed of the bunch.

However, that's not the only thing I'll watch. At some point, both The Spirit and Splinter will find their way into my DVD player. I've only heard terrible things about the former. This means I have to watch it just to see how bad it could actually be. With any luck it'll be so bad it's awesome.

Other movies being released on DVD this week:

Dark Matter
The Pope's Toilet
American Swing
Crude Impact
Metamorphosis (AKA Beyond the Screen Door)
In Your Dreams
Mask of the Ninja
Baseline Killer

Which ones are you rushing out to rent?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Quantum of Solace

Quantum of Solace
2008. Rated PG-13.
Director: Marc Forster. Starring Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Giancarlo Giannini, Gemma Arterton, Jeffrey Wright, David Harbour.

Plot: An attempt on M's (Dench) life by the mysterious Quantum organization leads Bond (Craig) to Haiti where he meets the beautiful Camille (Kurylenko). She in turn, leads him to Quantum's leader Dominic Greene who is of course, trying to take over the world in some form or fashion. Action ensues. Or re-ensues, since it starts with a car chase, but nevermind.

The Good: The action, duh! These sequences will flat knock you on your butt. It amplifies the Bourne-style in splendidly brutal fight and chase scenes with amazing stunts. However, it's careful to never get into the gizmo heavy cheesefests that marred the Pierce Brosnan 007 flicks. This Bond also has another thing in common with Bourne, he's ruthless, in fact moreso. He's piling up quite a body count. To pull this off, Daniel Craig is perfect. Whether or not he's the best Bond is a matter of opinion. What isn't open to debate is the fact that he's given us by far the most athletic version of the character. Aside from the physical stuff, we also notice that for the first time, a Bond movie isn't a stand-alone adventure. It's actually a real sequel that often refers to it's predecessor. This further humanizes our hero, even as he's performing unbelievable feats. He often has thoughts of revenge and can't sleep due to the events of the prior movie. The relationship between Bond and M continues as it did in Casino Royale as well. That is, it provides a solid foundation and seems to grow during the movie. It helps that Judi Dench has been wonderful in the role.

The Bad: The story is convoluted and rushed. This seems to be a constant Bond problem as the bad guy has to go through a whole lot to take over the world and Bond has to go all over the world, quite literally, to figure things out. As a result, he seems to discover a lot of things either by accident or unintentionally implied psychic ability and we are left scrambling to catch up. The movie is also formulaic. In CR, there were long sections of the movie devoted to us getting to know the new Bond. Here, those sections are stripped away and we just follow the same leftover steps. As far as Bond villains go, Dominic Greene and the evil general we meet later are a bit bland. If the Bond reboot needs anything, it's "a better brand of criminal" to quote The Joker. Oh, and what happened to the creative names for the bad guys and the Bond girls. Hearing the outlandish and sometimes racy names of these characters was part of the fun. I realize they wanted to get away from some of the more silly aspects of the franchise but they could lighten up just a tad. Dominic Greene and Camille? Where's the fun in that?

The Ugly: He keeps tearing up my Aston Martins!

Recommendation: As with any of the Bond movies over the course of 40 years, it's a must-see for fans. It's also a must-see for action fans since it may be the genre's best film of 2008 that doesn't include a costumed hero (unless you consider a well-tailored suit a costume). It's also not as good as CR. While, it's certainly a fun ride, the movie between the action scenes is lacking. Fortunately, those action scenes come early and often and are all dynamite.

The Opposite View: Mike McGranaghan, Aisle Seat

What the Internet Says: 7.0/10 on (4/6/09), 65% on, 58/100 on

MY SCORE: 6/10