Saturday, July 31, 2010

Yo Yo Girl Cop

AKA Sukeban Deka: Kôdo nêmu = Asamiya Saki
Directed by Kenta Fukasaku.

2006. Not Rated, 98 minutes.
Aya Matsuura
Rika Ishikawa
Erika Miyoshi
Shunsuke Kubozuka
Riki Takeuchi
Yui Okada
Yuki Saito
Hiroyuki Nagato

Captured in New York after her visa has expired a teenaged Japanese female ruffian is deported. Once back home, a secret law enforcement agency makes her work for them in exchange for getting her mom out of a New York prison where she is awaiting trial on charges of espionage. She is tasked to pose as a student and find out who is behind a website deemed responsible for several deaths at one high school and features an ominously mysterious countdown. Based on a Japanese manga. This is just plain dumb fun. Of course, you should realize this when you read the title. If not, then surely you’ll understand when you figure out our heroine’s weapon is indeed, a yo-yo. Granted, if I had a yo-yo like the ones in this movie I would’ve ran my high school, but I digress. The writing is hokey with dialogue that feels lifted directly from the manga’s pages. We can tell who the ex-good guy is, too soon (hint: think yo-yo). And the fight scenes? I did say yo-yos play a prominent role, didn’t I? Besides that, they all start with one or more of the combatants striking a serious martial arts pose. Now, don’t get it twisted. Those are all good things. Yes, you will occasionally shake your head and say “what the hell?” Watching it all the way through may make you question your own sanity and judgment…and mine, but never mind. Just know that if you like cheesy martial arts flicks, emphasis on cheesy, this is for you…and me, but never mind. Oh, if that’s not enough we get treated to a catfight between two babes in slinky leather outfits. What’s not to love? No silly, there are no fetishistic thoughts about Asian lesbians running through my head. Nope, none. I promise…never mind. It’s so bad, it’s awesome! Oh, subtitleophobes breathe easy, it's a Japanese movie but the dubbed English version plays on the DVD by default.

MY SCORE: -10/10

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Directed by Roland Emmerich.
2009. Rated PG-13, 158 minutes.
John Cusack
Amanda Peet
Chiwetel Ejiofor
Thandie Newton
Oliver Platt
Danny Glover
Woody Harrelson
Liam James
Morgan Lily
Zlatko Buric

Plot: A geologist discovers an increase in solar activity that will lead to the end of the world as we know it, socio-political Darwinism ensues. Oh, and dying – lots of dying.

The Good: Forget about Avatar, this might be the most beautiful movie of 2009. The end of the world is a truly spectacular sight. There are skyscrapers crashing into one another as they fall, multi-tier freeways collapsing, entire cities and their suburbs coming apart at the seams as the earth separates beneath them. Likewise for areas surrounding suddenly activated, fireball hurling volcanoes. And if you’re anywhere near any coast, or out to sea, you have to contend with super tsunamis. For the most part, it looks eerily realistic. Since another depiction of hell breaking loose is never more than a few minutes away, it’s lengthy runtime doesn’t feel so bad.

The Bad: This might also be the most disgusting, pointless and stupidest movie of the 2009. It’s disgusting in the sense that it is purely pornographic in regards to death. We literally watch people die by the thousands for two plus hours and are certain that the death toll is in the billions. The problem is we become so desensitized it’s hard to muster up any empathy for our main characters no matter what their situation. Of course, this is why there are kids in the movie. Filmmakers believe we automatically feel for the kids in tough situations. To a degree, they’re correct. However, here it’s not enough. Here, we feel like that one guy in other disaster movies that can only say to everyone “We’re all gonna die!” Besides that, none of the characters in this movie are worthy of our affection, anyway. It’s pointless because of three things. First, everything just kinda stops all of a sudden. Sorry, I don’t think that’s really a spoiler. Second, when the credits roll, we’re left with an overwhelming feeling of “Now what?” There’s no hopeful answer to that question even though the movie wants us to somehow remain optimistic. Third, much lip service, including the movie’s own advertising, is paid to the ancient Mayan prophecy of the world ending on December 21, 2012. However, the movie chucks that out the window and renders the Mayan notion coincidental, at best. Finally, it’s stupid for a variety of reasons. Most of them we’ve already seen play out in other disaster movies so I won’t go into it, here.

The Ugly: : How many government and military officials had to be left behind for Oliver Platt’s character to become acting President? He’s a head scientist of some department or another.

Recommendation: Armageddon, The Day After Tomorrow, Deep Impact, Independence Day, etc. If you liked these movies, this is for you. If you’re into big special fx, this is for you, too. As for the rest of you, move along nothing to see here.

The Opposite View: Dan Kois, Washington Post

What the Internet Says: 6.0/10 on (7/27/10), 39% on, 49/100 on

MY SCORE: 3.5/10

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Directed by Alex Proyas.
2009. Rated PG-13, 121 minutes.
Nicolas Cage
Chandler Canterbury
Rose Byrne
Lara Robinson
Nadia Townsend
Alan Hopgood
Alethea McGrath
Ben Mendelsohn

Way back in 1959, a grade school class does one of those time capsule things. You know, they all put some crap in a tube and bury it and some class in the future will dig it up. One student, a particularly odd little girl, leaves a page full of seemingly random numbers. Fifty years later, the capsule is indeed unearthed and said page winds up in the hands of college professor/single dad John Koestler (Cage). He soon discovers that the numbers actually lay out the exact dates and death tolls of “every major disaster in history.” Somehow, this is all on what appears to be a standard 8 ½ x 11 sheet of paper, maybe an 11 x 14 but, whatever. And the fact that he seems to be a functioning alcoholic who made this amazing discovery during a night of drowning his sorrows in a bottle of wine is never addressed either, but I digress.

The real dilemma is that there a three dates that haven’t happened, yet. According to the new holy scroll, they’re approaching fast. Koestler tries to investigate the origin of the paper and what could happen next. There’s also some jazz about his relationship with his son that we’ll talk a little more about in a moment and his relationship with his own father. That second relationship could’ve easily been cut from the movie and it wouldn’t have skipped a beat.

The relationship between Koestler and his son is all a setup for a meant-to-be tear-jerker ending. It doesn’t do its job. If it jerks your tears then your tears must be very easily jerked. It also works toward two big special fx sequences. They’re both nice, the one involving the train is better, but nothing we haven’t seen before.

It’s equally intriguing and cheesy. Unfortunately, these things seem to counteract one another instead of working in tandem. So just as it seems to be getting interesting, something silly happens, not in a good way. This occurs repeatedly. Fortunately, star Nicolas Cage has all sorts of experience in similar movies and carries us through with his usual flair for going just enough over the top to be fun.

As far as disaster movies go, it puts itself in a bad spot. It never commits to the absolute nihilism of [i]2012[/i] and its premise is too flimsy to really inspire the type of deep thought it wants to.

The Opposite View: Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

What the Internet Says: 6.4/10 on (7/27/10), 33% on, 41/100 on

MY SCORE: 5/10

Monday, July 26, 2010

Alice in Wonderland

Directed by Tim Burton.
2010. Rated PG, 108 minutes.
Mia Wasikowska
Johnny Depp
Helena Bonham Carter
Anne Hathaway
Crispin Glover
Matt Lucas
Stephen Fry
Michael Sheen
Alan Rickman
Timothy Spall

Michael Sheen

Plot: Alice (Wasikowska) falls down a rabbit hole and lands in a strange world.

The Good: Like the best of Burton, it uses odd angles, wild color pallets and eccentric characters to create a lively but still gothic vision. Things and people that would be grotesque in other movies are normal, even beautiful, here. Those we would casually consider normal are merely part of an oppressive establishment. This means Alice is a girl we feel doubly for. She simply doesn’t belong, regardless of where she is. Two of Burton’s muses, wife Helena Bonham Carter (The Red Queen) and long-time collaborator Johnny Depp (The Mad Hatter), turn in excellent work as usual. In particular, Carter is deliciously villainous and our evil queen.

The Bad: There are spots where the movie drags a bit. Most often, this occurs during the scenes Alice and the Mad Hatter have together. They seem to devolve into him aimlessly reminiscing about “the last time she was here.” Also, while I applaud Burton’s decision to focus on storytelling more than special fx, he underused the 3D technology. There are a number of occasions where it is used perfectly. However, there are also long stretches that make you forget why you’re wearing those silly glasses. Too many things happen going away from the camera. Things coming toward the camera are often at its edges, subtracting from the experience.

The Ugly: I’m still wondering why a raven is like a writing desk.

Recommendation: By now, you’re probably aware if you’re a Burton fan, or not. His trademarked wonderful weirdness is on display, as is his knack for patient storytelling. This means there is action, but it certainly no action flick. It’s just another quirky fantasy pic of the sort the director excels at making.

The Opposite View: Peter Sobczynski,

What the Internet Says: 6.9/10 on (7/26/10), 52% on, 53/100 on

MY SCORE: 7/10

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Precious Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire

Directed by Lee Daniels.
2009. Rated R, 110 minutes.
Gabourey Sidibe
Paula Patton
Lenny Kravitz
Stephanie Andujar
Chyna Lane
Mariah Carey
Sherri Shepherd
Armina Robinson

Plot: 16 year-old Precious (Sidibe) tries to navigate life through a maze of abuse.

The Good: Realism jumps off the screen. Every word of it simply feels true. This makes the fantasies Precious uses as a way to endure pain extremely effective and sad. Sidibe pulls off each emotion flawlessly, in the lead role. However, as good as she is, the movie would go nowhere without the powerhouse performance of Mo'Nique as her mom. She never makes a false acting choice and really brings the movie home during its closing moments. It's a role in which she could've easily pushed too much and come off as cartoonishly psychotic. To her credit, and the movie's benefit, she never crosses that line. This makes [i]Precious[/i] a true-to-life horror film and her character, a splendid villain. Also to the movie's benefit, it doesn't take the easy way out. To the contrary, when the end-credits start rolling, Precious is in a better place than when we first meet her but there is much uncertainty about her future. Her life can go in any number of different directions, some good and some bad.

The Bad: With an almost all-female cast, it falls into what I call "The Color Purple Trap." In that movie about a similarly abused woman, men generally come off as the enemy. Here, there are only a few male characters, the father, some guys that hang out in front of a building Precious has to pass every day and Nurse John. Only Nurse John, a surprisingly pretty decent acting Lenny Kravitz by the way, has any redeeming qualities whatsoever. However, even he is of needlessly ambiguous purpose. Finally, the relationship between Precious' mom and grand-mom could've been explored a little further, shedding more light on what may have happened before our hero was even born.

The Ugly: Her dad's parting gift.

Recommendation: This is a movie that repeatedly hits you over the head with its very ugly truth and it never pulls any punches. Though its qualified as a family drama, even a chick-flick, it's really an urban horror film, frightening and heart-wrenching because this may be going on next door. One of my favorite "scary" movies is Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Its power lies in the fact that Henry is not Freddy Krueger or Jason of some other supernatural killing machine but someone so unassuming you might have sat next to him at a bar or in a diner and completely forgotten about unless he were actually trying to kill you. There are no serial killers here, but the fear generated is much the same. Therefore, we feel each tragedy and triumph with our hero and our thoughts about what will happen to her next linger on, after the movie has ended.

The Opposite View: Dana Stevens, Slate

What the Internet Says: 7.5/10 on (7/24/10), 91% on, 79/100 on

MY SCORE: 10/10

Friday, July 23, 2010

Dark Country

Directed by Thomas Jane.
2009. Rated R, 88 minutes.
Thomas Jane
Lauren German
Chris Browning
Ron Perlman

It starts with a dame (German). At least that’s what our hero (Jane) tells us. You know, Double Indemnity, Body Heat, The Maltese Falcon and even Spiderman all started because of a dame. Those first three movies are classics, Spiderman, not so much but I like it well enough. Sorry, I got distracted.

Anyhoo, our hero met this particular dame in Vegas and married her after a night of drunken passion. Once, back in my younger days I was willing to get married after a night of drunken flirting. No, there was no actual passion. Anyone who’s ever seen me in person knows I stand about as tall as most middle-schoolers. She was an Amazonian 6’4” college volleyball player who must’ve had a fetish for short guys because she showed interest in me, believe it or not. She had a gorgeous face and curves…wait, I can’t tell that story. My wife might be reading this. No worries babe, this happened years before I laid eyes on you.

Oh, the movie. The loving couple decides to take a drive through the desert, at night. Along the way they narrowly miss hitting some guy standing in the middle of the road. The whole setup reminds me of a segment from Creepshow 2. Anyone who’s ever seen it will remember “Hey lady, thanks for the ride!” The finale of Dark Country also reminds me of an episode of The Twilight Zone tv series. Both of those have the good sense to only last about 30 minutes long. I had a problem with the mouse to my desktop. It was taking me 30 minutes to do things that should take about five. Right, you don’t care about that.

Why am I so easily distracted during this review? Honestly, DC isn’t really worthy of my attention, or yours for that matter. For most of an hour and a half these two nit-wits drive along a dark road trying to figure out what to do with the guy in the back seat who is apparently dying but is just too stubborn to complete the pass. That hour and a half seems closer to a day and a half.

Visually, it looks like it was made on a computer. I know, lots of movies are made on computers these days. However, this one looks like it was made on your computer. I’m not talking about the brand new, trillion GB, bazillion K memory thing dipped into your life savings for. I’m talking about the one you pawned off on your grandparents are donated to the Salvation Army, the one that doesn’t work with anything created during this century. You’re still not quite sure it’s even Y2K compatible and think it might explode if someone actually tries to turn it on.

I’ve already mentioned that DC makes me think of The Twilight Zone. In fact, it could be an outstanding episode if you trimmed about an hour. As a full-length feature, it’s just too thin and dull. The big “wow” climax tries to save it, but can’t quite rescue it from the ashes. By the way, this is the directorial debut of the movie’s star Thomas Jane. If I were him, I wouldn’t claim it.

MY SCORE: 3/10

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Wolfman (2010)

Directed by Joe Johnston.
2010. Rated R, 119 minutes (unrated director’s cut).
Benicio del Toro
Anthony Hopkins
Emily Blunt
Art Malik
Geraldine Chaplin
Nicholas Day
Simon Merrells
Michael Cronin

“Pop, since I’m the bigger man I’m willing to let bygones be bygones so that we can find my brother.” Essentially, this is what Lawrence Talbot (del Toro) says to his father upon his return home. Since this is the late 1800s Lawrence doesn’t have a cell phone or a car. He’s been traveling for days and isn’t quite ready for dad’s response. Basically, dad (Hopkins) says “Oh, didn’t ya hear? We found your brother’s body this morning.” A simple text reading “R.I.P. Simon” (Merrells) might’ve changed things dramatically.

Then again, that might not have changed things at all. You see, big bro decides to pay his respects and discovers what we knew all along, a werewolf has torn him to shreds. Going into a rather tame version of ‘I will avenge my brother’s death’ mode, he still visits all the old haunts where his younger sibling hung out. Despite being rich, little bro apparently was into gypsy chicks so Larry makes a beeline for there spot in the woods. Anyhoo, one thing leads to another and wouldn’t ya know it? Ol’ Lawrence almost gets separated from life by a werewolf, too.

If you’ve seen the 1941 original, then you’ll realize that to this point it is pretty much the same movie. However, there a few drastic difference which change it enough to make it stand, or fall, on its own. First, this one amps up Lawrence’s depression and tries to be real atmospheric. It uses a look and tone that’s far too dreary to come off as anything other than faux angst. I call this “the Twilight factor.” Next, we witness a greater number of transformations and werewolf attacks. Both are in terrifically graphic detail. This was expected but still works very much in its favor. Finally, instead of the self torment that put himself through in the older movie, we get kind of a Vader/Skywalker thing going on. It works okay but not as good as what we had.

Out of all this we get a decent, though not completely unexpected twist. That’s not completely unexpected as in we can see it coming a mile away. Still, it’s well played, dramatically speaking. Aesthetically, it comes off kind of hokey, mostly because of who’s involved. That said, this film is not the bane of society some have claimed it to be. It’s actually not that bad of an update.

Even though I thought it was okay I can’t help but think that it would’ve so much more goofy fun if it were set in the present. I can just imagine his public transformation taking place in Target or Wal-Mart and some teenage girl hiding behind the jewelry counter texting “sum freeks 5 oclock shad gone wild lol!” TTYL.

The Opposite View: Annlee Ellingson, Moving Pictures Magazine

What the Internet Says: 6.1/10 on (7/21/10), 33% on, 43/100 on

MY SCORE: 6/10

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Wolf Man (1941)

Directed by George Waggner.
1941. Not Rated 70 minutes.
Lon Chaney
Evelyn Ankers
Claude Rains
Ralph Bellamy
Warren Williams
Patrick Knowles
Bela Lugosi
Maria Ouspenskaya

After his brother’s death, Larry Talbot (Chaney) comes home to help run the family business. While out with the ladies one night, he’s bitten by a wolf that has attacked one of the girls and believes that he has been transformed into a werewolf. This is a movie much less about thrills and chills than about psychological examination. Is he really a werewolf? Or is he just imagining things? The former couldn’t possibly be true, could it? Then again, how possible is the latter?

Lon Chaney is excellent as the bewildered man. It has become his signature role. Surprisingly, Maria Ouspenskaya betters him as an old gypsy woman, giving the movie much of it’s foreboding mood. By today’s standards it’s never visually stimulating enough but unlike the original [i]King Kong[/i] which came out almost a decade earlier, it never really tries. Like I said, this is more about a man questioning his own sanity than about the monster terrorizing us.

MY SCORE: 8/10

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Big Score

Directed by Fred Williamson.
1983. Rated R, 85 minutes.
Fred Williamson
Richard Roundtree
John Saxon
Nancy Wilson

Det. Hooks (Williamson) kills the local gangster while busting up a major drug deal. However, the money the suspect was seen with has disappeared and Hooks has to prove he didn't take it. As the star, Williamson exudes cool as always. As director, he was always more focused on his craft than the average blaxploitation filmmaker and it shows here. And this movie actually came out well after that era had ended, even though he is of that time. All of this means some of the elements the genre is known for are present but dialed way down while others are totally absent. Well, except for that one wonderfully overdone car explosion that would make Michael Bay proud. The result is a gritty cop drama without most of the antics and unintentional humor we've come to expect from blaxploitation. It's certainly flawed, but enjoyable nonetheless. There were two major hiccups for me. First, Richard Roundtree inexplicably disappears about halfway through the movie. Second is the casting...ahem...miscasting of legendary jazz songstress Nancy Wilson. She plays Williamson's love interest but comes across so nurturing it seems that whenever he's having a rough day he pops by mom's house to get it on. Ewww. It doesn't help that she looks quite a bit older than he does. Thankfully, the two don't have an actual love scene. Anyhoo, fans of old school cop dramas should give it a look. It won't make you forget The French Connection but it's a decent watch.

MY SCORE: 6/10

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Shutter Island

Directed by Martin Scorsese.
2009. Rated R, 138 minutes.
Leonardo DiCaprio
Mark Ruffalo
Ben Kingsley
Max von Sydow
Jackie Earle Haley
Michelle Williams
Emily Mortimer
Patricia Clarkson
Ted Levine
John Carroll Lynch

It’s 1954 and federal agent Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) is sent to Shutter Island to investigate the escape of a patient from the mental institution. Actually, that’s redundant. The entire island basically serves as the mental institution. We learn that it’s where they keep the criminally insane. Though the faculty seems to want the issue resolved, they put up various walls of resistance. Our hero is having a hard time getting results.

Agent Daniels also has ulterior motives. It seems he’s had prior dealings with a mysteriously inconspicuous patient and is quite suspicious of what might really be going on in this remote location. He vows to his partner Chuck (Ruffalo) to get to the bottom of things.

As we follow the proceedings, we’re sucked in and wondering how our hero is going to save the day. We get hints along the way that saving the day may be impossible. We can eventually guess where this is all going. That’s normally a death knell. Here, it’s fine because it does something lesser movies don’t. It defiantly straddles the fence, not choosing either of the two possible outcomes it gives us. Neither is very pleasant. Yet, we still feel the need to decipher what we’ve seen, trying to extract the film’s truth. To be, or not to be really is the question. Supporters of both will have plenty of evidence to support their interpretation.

Once again teaming up with director Martin Scorsese, DiCaprio turns in another great performance. For Scorcese, it’s a departure from the norm. This is no gritty urban crime drama, but his storytelling is as effective as ever.

The drawback is that it runs too long. There is a scene in which the movie climaxes by giving us the two options to decide between. The next two or three minutes flesh out one of them. If the Coen Brothers had directed this, it would’ve ended right there, probably without those few minutes but abruptly stopping right when…I’ll let you see it. Scorcese drags it on too long after that, almost explaining too much.

“SI” is a top notch psychological thriller. It diminishes its own predictability with a heavy dose of ambiguity. It also plays with our heads by using lots of smoke and mirrors, but in a good way. This isn’t your uncle pulling a penny out of your ear, it’s a really slick sleight of hand David Blaine would be proud of.

The Opposite View: A.O. Scott, New York Times

What the Internet Says: 8.0/10 on (7/16/10), 67% on, 63/100 on


Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday the 13th (2009)

Directed by Marcus Nispel.
2009. Rated R, 106 minutes.
Derek Mears
Jared Padalecki
Danielle Panabaker
Amanda Righetti

Plot: Lots of co-eds go to the area formerly known as Camp Crystal Lake in search of fun but only get all sorts of dead at the hands of Jason. A franchise reboot. Sorta.

The Good: Its exactly what you think a Friday the 13th movie will be. In keeping with F13 tradition, Jason piles up a rather impressive body count. As a matter of fact, it may be the highest in the series as Mr. Voorhees lays waste to not one, but two sets of weed puffin', alcohol swillin' fornicators. And he does so mostly in wonderfully gruesome fashion. By the way, those kills take a bit of a step back from the cartoonish style the franchise has become known for, giving it a darker feel more in line with the original than the played for laughs style of most of the sequels.

Its exactly what you think a F13 movie will be. The acting is poor. The dialogue is silly, at best. The plot only advances in the event of another slaying. That last bit is what makes this a particularly pointless reboot. There is basically nothing new learned or shown about Jason. Fans were promised a more fully realized origin story and only got a new way he finds his trademark hockey mask. That took all of 30 seconds. In essence, instead of getting a new version of the original, we get a movie that chronologically wedges itself between parts II & III (chronological in the sense that he first wears the mask in Friday the 13th Part III). If we subtract those few seconds in which he dons said mask a much better name would've been Friday the 13th Part XI: Jason Returns to Crystal Lake ("returns" because if you weren't aware Part X takes place in outer space...and yes, this sorta ignores Freddy Vs. Jason.)

The Ugly: Worst dialogue ever uttered during a sex scene: "You got perfect nipple placement, baby!"

Recommendation: Either you like F13 movies, or you don't. If you do, you'll enjoy this but it won't knock your socks off. I think you'll be pleased that its a return to a less campy style of death scene and a slightly more human Jason. If you don't like them, this isn't going to change your mind so don't bother.

The Opposite View: Clay Cane,*

What the Internet Says: 5.8/10 on (7/16/10), 26% on, 34/100 on


*There really is no true "opposite view" on this movie. Most of what the reviewers say rings true. However, I'm one of these idiots that just likes Jason flicks, so I can see it both ways, hence, the 2 scores.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Spy Next Door

Directed by Brian Levant.
2010. Rated PG, 95 minutes.
Jackie Chan
Amber Valletta
Madeline Carroll
Will Shadley
Magus Scheving
Billy Ray Cyrus
George Lopez

Bob Ho (Chan) is a spy on loan to the US from China. Given the climate of America’s current relations with China, let that marinate a bit. Okay, let’s move on. Bob has fallen in love with Gillian (Valletta), a single mom of three. One small problem: her kids hate him. He decides to retire, it seems largely because he’s tired to lying to her about his job. When she has to go out of town he leaps at the chance to babysit, hoping for a chance to bond with the kids and change their opinion of him. Of course, the bad guy he busted at the beginning of the movie has escaped and is trying to take over the world…or something. Kung fu hijinks and spy shenanigans ensue.

With only a little more info about the children, you could start penning the script and without having seen it and you’ll probably end up with something fairly close to what actually plays out on screen. If you doubt me, I’ll give you the tools you need to test my theory. The oldest daughter needs a serious attitude adjustment. The boy is a pathological teller of harmless lies and a wide-eyed geek who’s probably seen a Jackie Chan movie or twelve. The youngest girl constantly says and does annoying things that are supposed to be cute. Go.

Okay, so you don’t want to spend the 20 minutes it would take to actually write it down but you get the picture. The one thing you won’t be able to get near are the acrobatic and frenetic action scenes that are Jackie Chan’s signature and the saving grace of this movie. Admittedly, these aren’t top-notch, seeming to defy the laws of physics Chan scenes but they’re still fun and funnier than any of the so-called jokes in the script.

Between fight scenes, all sorts of cornball stuff wrapped in cheesy dialogue goes on. It’s nothing we haven’t seen a dozen times before. In fact, while watching it I kept wondering “Isn’t it way too soon for a remake of The Pacifier?"

The Opposite View: Prairie Miller, NewsBlaze

What the Internet Says: 5.2/10 on (7/13/10), 12% on 27/100 on

MY SCORE: 4/10

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Book of Eli

Directed by the Hughes Brothers.
2010. Rated R, 118 minutes.
Denzel Washington
Gary Oldman
Mila Kunis
Jennifer Beals
Ray Stevenson
Michael Gambon
Evan Jones
Joe Pingue

After “The Flash” much of the world’s population has been killed. The lucky survivors have restarted life anew amidst desolate conditions. It’s a world where alcohol wipes are an extremely valuable commodity since soap is apparently non-existent. He who possesses water also possesses immense power. Of course, many of those in power are evil. Carnegie (Oldman) is one of these men. Yes, he is evil.

Carnegie is also a collector of another rare commodity, books. He seeks one particular book which he feels will give him unlimited power over what he calls “the weak and desperate”. That book is none other than The Holy Bible. You see, shortly after “The Flash” they were all sought out and destroyed. However, we learn that one copy of the good book survives. It is in the hands, rather backpack of Eli (Washington). He’s on a mission to deliver it somewhere out “west” and he’s not letting anyone else get their grubby paws on it. Remember, there’s no soap so we’re talking literally grubby paws, I digress. I wouldn’t suggest getting in Eli’s path or threatening him in any way. People tend to end up dead that way.

From this, we get a parable that’s divisive, much like religion itself. The naysayers will quickly point out the ridiculousness of all Eli accomplishes given a certain fact about him which I won’t spoil. Supporters will note that it’s a metaphor, not meant to be taken literally. Count me among the supporters. I find it a brilliant portrayal of a biblical saying I’ve heard numerous times, even during this movie. Honestly speaking, if taken at face value it’s an easy-to-dismiss movie. Think a little deeper and it makes perfect sense. It has the conviction to follow through to a difficult conclusion. For directors, Albert and Allen Hughes this is their best film since the similarly perplexing Dead Presidents.

If the religious angle doesn’t move you in the slightest way, but you’re an action fan then still give it a look for the sizable amount of swift and brutal violence. Gary Oldman is also great, as usual. He gives us a villain that knows he’s the bad guy. However, he desperately wants to appear good so that he can be worse. You might have to see it for that to make sense. That stuff is fun to watch as the movie unfolds. Still, it’s all that deep stuff that sticks with me.

The Opposite View: Kim Newman, Empire

What the Internet Says: 6.9/10 on (7/11/10), 47% on, 53/100 on

MY SCORE: 8/10

Friday, July 9, 2010

Michael Jackson's This is It

Directed by Kenny Ortega.
2009. Rated PG, 111 minutes.
Michael Jackson
Kenny Ortega
Stacy Walker
Brittany Perry-Russell
Mo Pleasure
Jonathan Moffett

The King of Pop prepares for his then upcoming European concert tour shortly before his untimely passing in 2009. We get a glimpse at the work, creativity and craftsmanship that goes into a massive production such as an MJ show. We see dancers auditioned, routines rehearsed, apparatuses tested and of course, lots of songs sang.

We learn that Michael is an effective boss. The fact everyone around him is clearly in awe of him doesn’t faze him. He never wields his iconic status as a weapon. There is no ranting, raving or putting his foot down. He lets everyone do their job but is adamant without being abrasive when he wants something changed or done a certain way. This way they’re more than just performers in his show, they’re part of and share in his vision.

At Michael Jackson’s funeral, Rev. Al Sharpton told MJ’s children “Your daddy wasn’t strange. It was strange what your daddy had to deal with.” Indeed, very few people have had to contend with the extreme levels of adoration and scrutiny he has. Over four decades of it has not only affected him, but us as well. So while watching this, I realized how much Michael had become an object in our minds. As children we don’t realize that famous people have to do all the mundane things that regular folks do. Michael had become an amalgamation of hit songs, tabloid gossip, rumor, innuendo, plastic surgery and outrageous assumptions. Whether our beliefs about him are founded or not, we sometimes forget he was a person. This led to an odd moment for me. He walks into a rehearsal eating something from his hand, candy or grapes or something else small, I couldn’t tell. It gave me a moment of pause. I actually realized that despite having grown up with him and watching him for all of the nearly 40 years of my own existence, I had never seen him eating before. I’m not a child anymore and know that he did. However, he had become such a “thing” to me, a figure so far removed from reality that it was weird to see him do something so normal.

This is It has a number of moments like this. They’re fascinating if for no other reason than it’s Michael Jackson doing it, or saying it. This is most evident when he was interacting with and instructing the band. I think I’ll forever remember his body language as he tells them “You’ve got to let it simmer.” Speaking of the music, since most of, if not all of us know the songs I won’t go into it. I will say if you’re not a Michael Jackson fan, this probably isn’t for you. Even if you are, beware this isn’t a straight concert film though there are plenty of numbers performed. It’s simply about watching the man put his show together.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Hot Tub Time Machine

Directed by Steve Pink.
2010. Rated R, 92 minutes.
John Cusack
Clark Duke
Craig Robinson
Rob Corddry
Sebastian Stan
Lyndsy Fonseca
Crispin Glover
Chevy Chase
Lizzy Caplan
Collette Wolfe

Plot: Four down-on-their-luck friends decide to spend a weekend at the resort they used to hang out at during their glory days. After a wild night in their suite’s hot tub, they wake up in 1986.

The Good: It’s better than it has any right to be. Sure, it’s juvenile and crass but it does both so well. Watching our heroes try to replicate what happened the first time they lived through ’86 is fun. The running gag involving Crispin Glover is priceless. Most of the references to the 1980s work well. The dynamic between Lou (Corddry) and the rest of the group really carries the movie effectively.

The Bad: I did say it was juvenile and crass. However, its worse crimes are being predictable and rushing its ending. We know what’s going to happen, thanks in large part to one of the bigger storylines being a rip-off of Back to the Future, but it doesn’t work up to it. Instead, it meanders along with the various situations that have popped up and then suddenly and haphazardly sticks in, pardon the pun, a key component in shaping the outcome.

The Ugly: What’s the deal with the drunk guy in the bear suit?

Recommendation: It’s strictly a guy thing. ‘Nuff said.

The Opposite View: Mark Keizer, Boxoffice Magazine

What the Internet Says: 6.9/10 on (7/7/10), 63% on, 63/100 on

MY SCORE: 6.5/10

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day

Directed by Troy Duffy.
2009. Rated R, 118 minutes.
Sean Patrick Flanery
Norman Reedus
Julie Benz
Billy Connolly
Clifton Collins Jr.
Bob Marley
Brian Mahoney
David Ferry
Judd Nelson
Peter Fonda
Gerard Parkes

The McManus Brothers, Connor (Flanery) and Murphy (Reedus) have taken refuge somewhere in Ireland after the events of the first movie. In that movie, they hunted down and killed over 20 of Boston’s bad guys. Now, ten years later, they’re compelled to return to their hometown when they learn that a local priest has been murdered in cold blood, but not before they shave.

Sometimes a comedian will step on stage and bomb. His routine will be stale and sensing his own failure, he starts sweating profusely. If that weren’t bad enough, he’s the only person laughing because obviously he thinks his material is funny even if no one else does. Essentially, this is the problem with All Saints Day. While the first movie is a ripoff of Quentin Tarantino, it is at least occasionally clever and often entertaining. It also contains a wonderfully quirky performance by Willem Dafoe. This time it goes straight for screwball comedy, mixed in no subtle manner with gun-porn and homo-eroticism.

Also evident are the countless hours spent studying movies like Shoot ‘em Up and Smokin’ Aces plus everything Tarantino and Guy Ritchie have done since 1999. There’s also the countless other films it references and uses as inspiration for its never-ending succession of bad jokes. Yes, it quite literally laughs at them alone. I can’t count how many times a character says something supposedly witty then bursts into an uncontrollable guffaw. We’re supposed to recognize the movie it just poked fun at (Panic Room, The Godfather, The Untouchables, GoodFellas, so many more I lost count) and laugh along. It never quite works that way.

Among those inspirations, of course, is the original The Boondock Saints. Agent Smecker (Dafoe) only appears briefly. The running gag is that Eunice (Benz) has taken his place and basically does an impersonation of him. This is supposed to be funny mostly because he was a homosexual while she is actually a woman. It is not funny. Neither is the goofy Three Stooges routine by our three local cops assigned to help her. They’re just caricatures of what they were in the first movie which were caricatures to begin with.

Even the violence is played for laughs, unsuccessfully. What should be a reprieve from the annoying only grows moreso. What is funny, if only to us, is that the plot with a “sins of the father” slant could’ve made for a great movie. It’s told in a manner that borrows heavily from The Godfather Part II. However, the joke is on us. The execution is murderously bad. This makes the two hour runtime feel unbearably long.

This experience reminds me of something Roger Ebert once wrote: "Better to wait for a whole movie for something to happen (assuming we really care whether it happens) than to sit through a film where things we don’t care about are happening constantly." In The Boondock Saints II things we don’t care about happen constantly.

The Opposite View: Matthew Razak,

What the Internet Says: 6.5/10 on (7/5/10), 21% on, 24/100 on

MY SCORE: 2/10

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Boondock Saints

Directed by Troy Duffy.
1999. Rated R, 108 minutes.
Sean Patrick Flanery
Norman Reedus
Willem Dafoe
David Della Rocco
Billy Connolly
Gerard Parkes
David Ferry
Brian Mahoney
Bob Marley

After a skirmish with some of the local soldiers of the Russian mob, the McManus brothers, Connor (Flanery) and Murphy (Reedus) decide to become vigilantes. They start going after Boston’s bad guys in order to dole out their own brand of justice.

The dialogue is mostly sharp and often funny. Characters relate to one another in a manner that somehow feels natural despite the unnatural circumstances in which they find themselves. Director and writer Troy Duffy’s prose owes a lot to Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and even more to the canon of Quentin Tarantino. This is most noticeable when the characters have conversations that seem to be pointless but help establish personalities and more noticeably when they reference pop culture.

The action scenes are also a plus. They’re fun, bloody and don’t always go according to plan. Through the flashbacks they’re shown through we discover that our heroes are generally sloppy in their work. That helps endear them to us. They don’t seem to be indestructible beings mowing down hundreds of faceless villains. True, they defy the odds but they seem lucky to do so.

To me, the best part of the movie is Willem Dafoe. As Agent Smecker, the federal agent assigned to find out who’s killing all the crooks, Dafoe is marvelous. He’s certainly over the top, but he does it so well. From his opening scene where he’s dancing through the alley while concocting a theory through his near last scene in a dress, it’s a virtuoso performance. Some will say it’s too much, but to me it’s perfectly suited to the movie it’s in.

The problems become apparent the closer we get to the end. For instance, once we meet Il Duce it’s like the air gets let out of the balloon. At that point, TBS crosses the line from being ridiculous in a fun way to just being ridiculous. The contrived court-room scene is worst of all. It reeks of trying to be cool instead of actually being so.

In all, it’s a fun movie that does what it wants: entertain us with witty, occasionally quotable dialogue and stylized violence. However, it can’t quite overcome it’s shortcomings to really be great. It never outdoes the movies it emulates. A copy is never as sharp as the original.

MY SCORE: 6.5/10

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Tournament

Directed by Scott Mann.
2009. Rated R, 95 minutes.
Ving Rhames
Kelly Hu
Robert Carlyle
Ian Somerhalder
Liam Cunningham
Sebastien Foucan
Andy Nyman
Iddo Goldberg

Joshua Harlow (Rhames) is the defending champion of The Tournament and he’s back to defend his crown. He’s a very tough guy. In fact, he’s so tough having his trigger finger chopped off hardly seems to affect his ability to shoot. The Tournament is an event held every seven years where 30 of the world’s top assassins vye for an exorbitant cash prize by being the last one alive. It’s held in a new host city each time, like the Olympics. Unlike the big games, the host city is “an unsuspecting town”. This time we’re in some small British town.

Truthfully, that’s all you need to know about this particular movie. Well, you might also like to know that these guys don’t just kill people, they kill ‘em good. Innocent bystanders are used for target practice. This includes strippers. A bunch of them get offed, mostly for being in the way. It’s been some years since I’ve been to a “gentleman’s club”. Because of this movie and the recent Crank: High Voltage I probably won’t be going back. They seem to be exponentially more dangerous than I remember.

Yes, there is some some other story thrown together. Tough guy Joshua is only in it to get revenge for something that happened just a few months ago. There’s also Lai Lai Zhen (Hu), who apparently has a conscience and tries to help Father Macavoy (Carlyle). He’s your stereotypical Irish-Catholic drunkard priest who unknowingly becomes involved in the game. Then there’s Anton Bogart, the Frenchman. He hardly says anything and seems to be the smartest of our hitmen. He’s played by Sebastien Foucan. You probably don’t know his name, but you might remember him as the African that James Bond is chasing at the beginning of Casino Royale. We are treated to more of his urban acrobatics, here. Other characters are deliciously over the top and help keep the ridiculousness coming at a high rate.

The Tournament is also exceedingly gory and funny in dumb way. Of course, you should interpret all this as ‘I love every second of it’. The cheese is piled high with corny dialogue and exploding body parts. Some people will tell you it’s a good ‘turn your brain off’ movie. If that’s possible, go for it. I recommend you get a bag of popcorn and settle in for something so bad, it’s awesome!

The Opposite View: Not for this baby!

What the Internet Says: 6.1/10 on (7/2/10), 50% on, N/A on

MY SCORE: -10/10

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Coco Before Chanel

Directed by Anne Fontaine.
2009. Rated PG-13, 105 minutes.
Audrey Tatou
Benoît Poelvoorde
Alessandro Nivola
Marie Gillain
Emmanuelle Devos
Etienne Bartholomeus
Lisa Cohen

Fashion icon Coco Chanel (Tatou) was not born a famous fashion designer. Before she helped usher everyday women’s attire out of constrictive corsets, hats that could double as gardens and elaborate dresses that took teamwork to get into, she took the hard steps that led to her success. This is what Coco Before Chanel is about, sort of.

Chanel is an important figure because she helped change the world. She built an empire at a time when women either weren’t allowed to or thought incapable. She was a huge influence to the generations of women that followed. This is the movie I wanted to see. I wanted to see her raging against the machine or taking the world by storm. This is not the movie I saw.

The movie I saw focuses on yet another lame cinematic love triangle. At least, the latter half does. The two men vying for her hand feel more like benefactors than lovers. In fact, that’s exactly what the older one of them is. Though she sleeps with him, she doesn’t love him. She appreciates him and tolerates him for his wealth but seems to harbor no passion for him. On the other hand, she’s totally ga-ga over the younger, more handsome fellow, imagine that. Though he’s not quite as rich, his main draw seems to be he's well connected and willing to use those connections to help her. The dilemma isn’t nearly as perplexing as it is made out to be. By the way, the first half of the movie just sets all this up.

Eventually, Coco does move to Paris and is very shortly a fashion mogul. All that stuff about taking the world by storm, becoming a success in what was then a male dominated profession and helping to change the perception of women is given to us in a couple brief paragraphs at the very end. Shame.

That said, if you’re looking for artsy-fartsy this is a beautiful film to look at. It’s shot wonderfully and Tatou gives an excellent performance in the lead role. She’s most famous for playing the title role in the acclaimed Amelie. Coco is a far different woman. Where Amelie was quirky and naïve, Coco is cold, calculated and headstrong. To her credit, Tatou is no less believable as either. If you must watch this movie, do so for that reason. Oh, and beware if you’re a subtitleophobe. The movie is in French.

Also in 2009, Hilary Swank played Amelia Earhart in a biopic about the legendary aviator who disappeared over the Pacific Ocean trying to circumnavigate the globe on a solo flight. That movie also concentrates on the love triangle she spent a good deal of time embroiled in. How sad is it that two movies made during this supposedly enlightened era, even directed by women, choose to simplify their subjects to the lowest common demoninator between two men?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Pirate Radio

Directed by Richard Curtis.
2009. Rated R, 116 minutes.
Tom Sturridge
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Bill Nighy
Kenneth Branagh
Nick Frost
Rhys Itans
Tom Brooke
January Jones
Chris O’Dowd
Emma Thompson

In 1966, rock and roll has become extremely popular. However, British radio refuses to play it, except for a handful of pirate radio stations located off the coast and broadcasting from the North Sea. None too pleased, the British government feverishly searches for a way to shut them down.

We hunker down with the crew of Radio Rock. There ship is run pretty loosely by Quentin (Nighy). He oversees the group’s lifestyle of sex, drugs and rock and roll. Our tour guide is Carl (Sturridge) who’s just been expelled from school. His mother (Thompson) has sent him to live on the boat, presumably to help straighten him out. As Quentin says, it is a “spectacular mistake.”

Mostly through Carl’s eyes we watch the group of disc jockeys lead an insane existence. It’s often very funny, sometimes sad and occasionally too ridiculous for words. No matter what the mood, music is always there to echo the sentiment. Music, more specifically bringing rock and roll to the masses, is their only care in the world. The folks making the movie care about the music, also. They did a great job piecing together the soundtrack and using songs in appropriate places.

Pretty much from top to bottom, the performances are outstanding. Bill Nighy seems to be having more fun than he has in years. Philip Seymour Hoffman is great, as usual, as the lone American DJ, The Count. For my money, the man who steals the show is Nick Frost as Big Dave. Dave is one of those guys who everyone seems to love to be around but not necessarily to really be friends with. We also discover Dave has a way with the ladies, despite his girth.

The camera work is interesting as well. Whenever we’re focused on the politicians aiming to shut Radio Rock down, everything is shot in an unnoticeably normal manner. Those scenes usually start with the exterior of some impressive building before venturing inside. The camera is usually stock still, rigid as if it were a government agent, too. On the boat, the camera is often closer to the people and slightly askew. This mirrors our heroes, packed tight and rebellious. It’s a subtle reminder of rock and roll’s roots and struggles.

The end of the movie is a bit overblown, but still effective. It should be taken more as a metaphor than a literal occurrence. When we reach the climax, we realize we’ve seen two coming of age stories, Carl’s and rock and roll’s.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Directed by Scott Charles Stewart.
2010. Rated R, 100 minutes.
Paul Bettany
Adrianne Palicki
Lucas Black
Tyrese Gibson
Dennis Quaid
Charles S. Dutton
Kevin Durand
Willa Holland
Kate Walsh
Jon Tenney

The Bible teaches us that once, a very long time ago, God had finally had enough of our crap. He was so fed up He made it rain for forty days and forty nights. This flooded the entire planet, completely wiping out the population of Earth, Man and Beast alike, save for Noah and the inhabitants of a boat that must’ve been the size of football stadium. What will happen should God be so angered again? Legion has some ideas.

We first meet Michael (Bettany). Because we’ve seen a lot of movies we immediately assume he’s either and angel or the mutant named Angel from the X-Men. You see, he has wings. Through a nifty bit of contortionism we don’t get to see, he very quickly cuts them off himself. After this and a gunfight with a shpe-shifting cop he begins his quest. Michael’s quest, we learn is to stop God from completely exterminating mankind and starting over. Michael still has faith in man while God does not. He feels God is making a mistake.

God is a particularly nasty fellow, here. He must really be ticked off with us. He doesn’t send a flood or plague. He turns all but a few into zombies and sends most of them to a dusty, roadside diner to stop a baby from being born, presumably taking away man’s hope and clearing the way for our extinction.

It’s an interesting idea but there are too many holes on either side of the equation. Theologically, it assumes God is capable of imperfection and questionable judgment. Nor is He all-knowing. This pretty much defeats the purpose of monotheism. It’s kind of like Michael’s beef is really with “a father” not “The Father.” On the other hand, is this the only baby near birth in the whole world? Or is this scene playing out in similar fashion all over the globe? But there’s only one Michael, so I doubt that.

Is this baby special? I dunno. I suppose he is if he makes it through the nicotine and tobacco filled gestation period a healthy lad, mom can’t quit smoking. The movie never tells us anything other than he must be born. I was expecting to hear that he’s the second coming of Christ, or at least John Connor or Neo (oh, you know them). Yet, Jeep (Black) and mom-to-be Charlie (Palicki) are indeed played like a modern day Joseph and Mary, except for that virginal and pure nonsense.

If it sounds like I’ve done way too much thinking about what’s going on here it’s because the movie invites you to do so. The problem is it isn’t thought out enough to stand up to scrutiny. It falls apart under its own weight. The crumbling starts from the very first time we’re asked to both believe that the God of Christianity is indeed real, but He isn’t perfect. By the way, if Michael, an angel, is so determined to disobey God’s orders doesn’t that mean he’s working for someone else? Hmmm.

However, all is not lost. It’s still just a movie. That said, it has some wild imagery and fun action scenes. Old ladies walk on ceilings, a man explodes. Angels have bulletproof wings and use them effectively in their own sort of martial arts. Though those action scenes are spaced a little far apart, there is some tension created. It’s a movie that’s somehow less than it wants to be, but more than it deserves. It’s not the deep, philosophical exercise it pretends to be, but it’s still an interesting watch.

The Opposite View: Joe Leydon, Variety

What the Internet Says: 5.0/10 on (6/28/10), 19% on, 32/100 on

MY SCORE: 5.5/10