Friday, May 31, 2013

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Directed by Nicholas Meyer.
1982. Rated PG, 113 minutes.
Ricardo Montalban
DeForest Kelley
Walter Koenig
Nichelle Nichols
James Doohan
Bibi Besch
Kirstie Alley

No, I’ve never dressed in costume or went to conventions. Still, I was a bit of a Trekkie as a youth. I used to watch re-runs of the original series nearly every weeknight at 11 PM. I never could get into any of the spin-offs that followed years later, but Cpt. James Tiberius Kirk was always my guy. One of my favorite episodes featured Ricardo Montalban, AKA the guy from Fantasy Island, as Khan. He was one of the coolest villains in the show’s history. The episode ends with Khan, and some of his cohorts, being banished to a planet with no hope of getting off. I’ve left out some details which the movie will re-cap for you since it knows the gap between when this show first aired and when Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan hit theaters is so great many in the audience will have either never seen it, heard of it, or plain just can’t remember what happened. Now thirty plus years since the movie came out, that’s certainly the case.

We pick things up with my guy, now an Admiral since Star Trek: The Motion Picture, very unhappy with his job’s lack of excitement. This means, Adm. Kirk (Shatner) spends the early parts of the movie longing for the days of galaxy hopping and banging green chicks. His nostalgia is only worsened by the fact he’s about to go on a three week rip on his beloved Enterprise, but it’s only a training exercise. Meanwhile, one of Kirk’s former subordinates, Mr. Chekov (Koenig), lands on a barren planet with his new leader, Cpt. Terrell (Winfield). Much to their chagrin, they run into Khan and his ragtag bunch of survivors. As he is happy to remind us, Khan possesses a superior intellect, therefore he recognizes Chekov and remembers him as a member of Kirk’s crew. In short order, he devises a plan to exact his revenge against James T. Luckily for Kirk, when he has to spring into action he has some familiar faces on-board: Spock (Nimoy), Bones (Kelley), Scotty (Doohan), Sulu (Takei), and Uhura (Nichols), along with a bunch of fresh faced youngsters. Among the kids on the crew is young Kirstie Alley as Saavik, a Vulcan in training to become commander of her own starship.

The movie plays out as a chess match between Kirk and Khan. I know that doesn’t sound thrilling, but this is a fun movie. William Shatner plays things surprisingly subdued, but does get into his signature over-the-top style during verbal confrontations with his adversary. On the other hand, Ricardo Montalban’s performance is so deliciously hammy it’s not to be resisted. This guy doesn’t just chew scenery, he devours it large chunks at a time. How he wasn’t cast more often in villainous roles is beyond me. Trust me, anyone who can make Shatner appear restrained is doing big things.

While The Motion Picture feels like an overly long and boring love letter to the USS Enterprise, this feels like an actual episode of the show. That’s because lots of things the series was known for, good and bad/cheesy, are present in Wrath of Khan. There is a certain charm to seeing Kirk and company thrash around in an effected manner when their ship has been hit. Ditto for seeing some poor sap instantly drop to the floor when Spock grabs his shoulder. Spock himself provides us with was certainly, at the time, and is probably still the most shocking moment in franchise history. It gives us a jolt because it goes against the rules of the franchise. Precisely for that reason, it works wonderfully. It elevates what was a good ST flick to being arguably the best cinematic entry in the canon.

MY SCORE: 8/10

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Directed by Robert Wise.
1979. Rated PG, 136 minutes.
DeForest Kelley
James Doohan
Walter Koenig
Nichelle Nichols
Stephen Collins
Persis Khambatta

Cpt. Kirk (Shatner), actually now an Admiral, re-assumes control of the USS Enterprise in order to stop a mysterious, enormous and extremely powerful cloud from destroying Earth. Honestly, Star Trek has never been so boring. However, to give it a few points in its favor you have to understand the circumstances under which this movie was made.

Of course, common knowledge is that  Star Trek was a late 1960s television series that was far more successful in syndication than its original run. So it was known that the show had a loyal following but not if that was enough to guarantee the movie would be a hit.

Two things were working against it. First, it had been roughly a decade since the show last aired an original episode; remember The Next Generation or any of the other ST spin-offs hadn't happened, yet. Not only was no one sure if the public really wanted new ST material, but how do you introduce it to new fans? Second, no one was remaking old TV shows into movies at the time. Conventional wisdom said that TV shows and their stars didn't translate well to theaters. All of this equals a movie meant to bring in new fans while appeasing hardcore Trekkies.

To accomplish this we get a plot that would be right at home on the TV series, but feels stretched thin here. We also get lots of iconic moments, themes, and lines rehashed for the big screen. This includes dramatic grand entrances for several of the most famous characters. And way too many lingering, loving shots of the Enterprise doing nothing. All of this makes the movie move sooooo s l o w. Its 136 minute runtime feels more like 136 hours.

For those new fans there's lots of special fx which look like a laser light show, at best. They've aged poorly, to say the least. In fact, the fx of the first two Star Wars movies, released in 1977 and 1980, respectively, have held up far better. All of this might be forgiven if it had just been more fun. Its the same trap that befell Superman Returns just a few years ago. It's so reverential of its source material that it strait-jackets itself into just giving praise to it without ever becoming a good ST experience.

MY SCORE: 4.5/10

Monday, May 27, 2013

Red Dawn (2012)

Directed by Dan Bradley.
2012. Rated PG-13, 93 minutes.
Josh Peck
Adrianne Palicki
Connor Cruise
Edwin Hodge
Alyssa Diaz
Julian Alcaraz
Will Yun Lee
Brett Cullen
Fernando Chien
Kenneth Choi

The first person we meet is Matt Eckert (Peck). He’s a hotshot high-school quarterback who selfishly puts himself before his team, the Wolverines. Hint: this will be a recurring theme. We next meet his father Tom (Cullen), the local tough guy cop and his tough guy brother Jed (Hemsworth), home on leave from the military. Blanks are filled in by an assortment of locals. You know the locals: the girlfriend, the geek, the other girl(s), the black guy, etc. In a shocking nod to diversity, we actually get two black guys. Of course, neither one…well, I’m getting way ahead of myself. Most of the locals are teenagers and friends of the boys, but there are a few strangers who find themselves in this ragtag bunch due to the circumstances. What circumstances? North Korea has invaded the United States and are hitting the town of Spokane, Washington pretty hard. A daring escape forms the aforementioned bunch, without dad, by the way. One thing leads to another and before you know it, they’ve become a resistance known as…wait for it…wait for it…the Wolverines! Yayyy! If, like me, you’re old enough to actually remember the last decade of The Cold War then you probably know this is a remake of the 1984 original which stars Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, and a number of the day’s hottest young stars.

Like its predecessor, Red Dawn is a relentless barrage of blood-soaked patriotism. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with national pride, but that’s pretty much all there is. Some effort is made to develop the relationship between the brothers, but I've already told you everything there is to know. Everyone else is a cardboard cutout either part of and/or helping the resistance, or they’re traitors, saving their own hides by helping the enemy. Speaking of the North Koreans, that’s just it – they’re North Koreans. The idea, drilled home by all the news blurbs that open the film, is that their current real-life leadership is not only crazy enough to invade they actually make that move. From there, we get a depiction of how we Americans like to think we’d react to such a situation.

Of course, such a depiction requires lots of action. Red Dawn does lots of things well in this department. For starters, there’s lots of it. The next supposedly covert operation is never far away. It should go without saying that each one erupts in gunfire. These scenes do a surprisingly decent job of creating tension. If nothing else, we know that a number of North Koreans (and their supporters) will die along with one of our heroes. Guessing which “good” guy gets it is where the  tension is. The problem here, like with the rest of the movie, is we might be emotionally invested in the cause (provided we’re American or anti-North Korean), but not in any character not named Matt or Jed. Therefore, ancillary characters dying is of little concern to us. Even worse, when the movie tries to manipulate us one last time with a major decision made by one of these people, we’re just thankful he made the choice on his own because we wouldn't hesitate to shoot him, otherwise. Our lack of compassion for this character further proves that our roster of freedom fighters is made up of types rather than actual people. Magical Negro, anyone?

Okay, so depth is not found here. It’s a shoot ‘em up, popcorn flick designed by Americans for Americans and uses no uncertain terms. At being precisely this it succeeds. Note for note, it’s practically identical to the clunker Battleship. This one swaps out space aliens for North Koreans. Otherwise, they’re virtually the same. Somehow, this is still better. Perhaps because we can more readily identify with menaces from another country than another planet. More likely, this one removes just enough cheese and other Michael Bay-isms (I know he didn't direct Balttleship) to be a more believable, if still implausible tale. The action looks better and the run time is a good deal shorter, avoiding most of the long, boring stretches where nothing is really happening. Things are happening here all the time. This makes it a fun watch that uses our fears to create an action-filled adventure. There is no cinematic genius on display, so I wouldn't call it good. It’s just a better movie than Battleship constructed from the same parts.

MY SCORE: 5/10

Happy Memorial Day!!!

Nothing fancy with this post, just wanted to say Happy Memorial Day, remember those who served and lost and thank those who served and survived.

I'll have a Memorial Day-ish review up in a little bit.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Trouble with the Curve

Directed by Robert Lorenz.
2012. Rated PG-13, 111 minutes.
Chelcie Ross
George Wyner
Joe Massingill
Ed Lauter
Tom Nowicki

Gus Lobel (Eastwood) has been a baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves for forever and a day. He loves the game so much he even named his daughter Mickey (Adams) after Mickey Mantle, his all-time favorite player. As it eventually happens to most of us, Gus’ eyes are going on him. That’s an even bigger deal than normal given his job. It doesn't help that Philip (Lillard), the young hotshot in the front-office wants to phase him out and rely much more heavily on his new fangled computers.

Luckily for Gus, he’s still got one friend who thinks like him and is willing to go to bat for him. That’s Pete (Goodman), who also works in the front-office. He figures out what’s wrong with his buddy and, in hopes of saving Gus’ job, convinces Mickey to tag along with her dad on a scouting trip to watch highly-touted prospect Bo Gentry (Massingill). Bo literally gets a hit on the first pitch of every at-bat until the plot requires otherwise. Since he’s so good, he is also an insufferable jackass. Scouting Bo aside, the real question is whether Gus and Mickey can survive each other. They don’t have much of a relationship mostly because Gus is a crotchety old dude who isn't happy unless he’s ripping someone a new one. Think Clint’s character from Gran Torino sans racism and cool car.

Watching Eastwood and Adams play off one another is somewhat intriguing. They combine to create a genuine portrayal of two people who care for each other but can’t communicate without it getting testy. A little less effective is the telegraphed-from-a-mile-away romance between Adams’ character and Johnny “Flame” Flanagan played by Justin Timberlake. He’s a former pitcher once scouted by Gus who is now a rival scout for the Boston Red Sox. Some of their scenes together are fun, especially if you enjoy baseball trivia. Unfortunately, her overly pushy boyfriend treating their relationship like a business transaction plus the fact that Flanagan is the only other scout that doesn't qualify for AARP makes it feel too preordained for us to get worked up about.

Things go along well enough for a good deal of the run time, but dammit, we've got problems to solve. Best handled of these is Gus and Mickey’s relationship. It feels like a logical resolution. On the other end of the spectrum is Gus’ work issue and Mickey’s love affair. That love thing is handled exactly like you suspect it will be but were praying the filmmakers aren't that lazy. Sorry, they are.

That work issue is even more ridiculous. Being a baseball fan with friends who shun the hordes of new statistics out there, I am acutely aware that this movie plays as the exact counter-argument to the Brad Pitt flick Moneyball. Even so, what this movie comes up with is just way too contrived for its own good. Basically, it’s “look what fell out of the sky!” What we’re left with is a film that plucks along in an occasionally interesting manner, thanks to the performances of its leads, but never quite gets us emotionally involved enough to buy the ending.

MY SCORE: 5.5/10

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Wrath of the Titans

Directed by Jonathan Liebesman.
2012. Rated PG-13, 99 minutes.
Édgar Ramirez
Danny Huston
Lily James
John Bell
Kathryn Carpenter

Even though he’s half-god, Perseus (Worthington) has made it clear to his father Zeus (Neeson) he wants nothing to do with those snobs on Mount Olympus. Still, the old man comes sniveling back, begging Perseus to save their hides. Zeus’ dad Kronos is a little ornery over being defeated by his boys eons earlier and wants a return match. After Kronos starts killing off gods and threatens both the gods and man alike, you know who reluctantly joins the fray. He enlists the help of Queen Andromeda (Pike), her army and his cousin, fellow half-god Agenor (Kebbell). In case you’re somehow not sure, this is the sequel to the 2010 remake of Clash of the Titans.

That last sentence sums up a lot of what people think is wrong with Hollywood. It’s what they point to as evidence of the movie industry’s lack of original though. This is particularly true of the blockbusters flooding the multiplexes every summer; an endless procession of sequelsprequelsremakes, reboots and re-imaginings heavy on techno wizardry and light on substance. These generalizations might seem unfair in a review on any one film in particular. However, Wrath of the Titans must wear the shoe it fits.

Sam Worthington adds another to his repertoire of bland protagonists. Liam Neeson does what Liam Neeson does: use his booming voice to give his character an air of authority. However, he spends most of the movie on the sidelines. Pike just looks pretty as Queen Andromeda. Most bizarrely, Kebbell as Agenor seems to be impersonating Russell Brand. As simple as the plot seems, its execution is jumbled. It doesn't always make sense and a general mess is made of Greek mythology. In short, stuff just keeps happening whether it’s logical or not.

On the plus side, that stuff keeps the movie somewhat interesting. There is tons of action as our heroes try to save both the Earth and the heavens. Creature designs are generally fantastic and they tear up things pretty well. The one exception being our main baddy. He’s a little too out of whack with everything else and getting anywhere near him should cause death. Sadly, it doesn't because then our hero wouldn't be able to be heroic. There is some heavy-handedness about father-son and sibling relationships. Honestly, this doesn't bother me since it at least makes sense. More troublesome is the weirdly atheist undertones. As I've said in reviews of other films there are good, even excellent movies from that point of view. The problem here is it feels needlessly subversive to its own subject matter. Combined with all the poetic license taken with the characters we get the feeling the people who made Wrath of the Titans don’t exactly appreciate Greek mythology.

Much like its predecessor, Wrath isn't the worst movie in the world. It’s just not a good one, either. The visuals work very well. Full disclosure: I did not watch either of the franchise’s movies in 3D which I’ve heard complaints about, especially in regards to the first film. The action keeps things moving along nicely and it’s thankfully short at ninety-nine minutes. Unfortunately, the characters are dull and/or given nothing to do and what’s happening around them doesn't always add up.

MY SCORE: 5/10 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Ice Age: Continental Drift

Directed by Steve Martino and Mike Thurmeier.
2012. Rated PG, 88 minutes.
Ray Romano
Peter Dinklage
Josh Peck

Our most beloved prehistoric squirrel, Skrat, has finally gone and done it. His magnificent chase of that ever elusive nut has improbably led him to the Earth’s core. This sets off a chain reaction causing the surface above to split into what we now know as the seven continents. This parting of the land separates woolly mammoth Manny (Romano) from his wife Ellie (Latifah) and their now teenage daughter Peaches (Palmer). He finds himself out to sea on a block of ice with his trusty and familiar cohorts, Diego (Leary), the saber-toothed tiger, and Sid (Leguizamo) the sloth. Also along for the ride is Sid’s grandmother, Granny (Sykes). Manny trying to get back to his family as they try to reach safety ensues. And the squirrel chasing that nut.

To ensure getting the family back together is no easy task, there must be a villain. This one is Captain Gutt (Dinklage), an ape/pirate who runs a scurvy crew. The most important of the bunch is his first-mate Shira (Lopez). She’s a saber-toothed tiger and love interest to Diego. J-Lo handles the character capably. Still, Gutt stands out as a fun bad guy. Dinklage voices him excellently with a mean streak just enough to be a little scary to the youngest viewers. Gutt also provides us some of the movie’s best visuals just by swinging around as apes are wont to do. He also has a bit of magnetism about him. Helping in this regard is the fact that he’d be perfectly at home as the villain in the next Pirates of the Caribbean flick.

Speaking of PotC it is but one of the movies CD pays homage to. Most notable of these is Braveheart as the movie has lots of fun with that. It even makes fun of itself from time to time. Thankfully, it does so in a manner allowing it to avoid becoming self-parody. Just a wink and a nod letting us know it understands that much of what’s happened over the course of the series isn't historically or chronologically accurate.

Liberties with history aside, the main point of these films is to have fun. Of course, the not-so-subtle message in all of them is that we can all get along despite our differences. Even the bad guys are a collection of numerous species cooperating on a task. Once again, the lesson comes through loud and clear. The added layer is our concentration on inter-generational relationships withing the family. It’s nothing groundbreaking but still nicely done.

The Ice Age franchise has found a nice niche for itself. They aren't truly great movies like the Toy Story films, but they’re certainly a cut above most of the dreck passing for children’s entertainment. Each installment, Continental Drift included, is a fun adventure that manages to inject new colorful characters into our cast of familiar faces without upsetting the dynamics. This fits nicely into the canon.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Premium Rush

Directed by David Koepp.
2012. Rated PG-13, 91 minutes.
Wolé Parks
Lauren Ashley Carter
Christopher Place
Anthony Chisolm
Kym Perfetto

Wilee (Gordon-Levitt) is a Manhattan bike messenger. For those of you who've never been to New York he’s a same day courier of small packages that rides a bicycle instead of driving a truck. Rest assured, this is a real job in the Big Apple. As you might imagine, with your knowledge of Manhattan traffic, real or just what you see in movies, this isn't the safest occupation in the world. Wilee seems to make it even more dangerous. He usually rides at breakneck speed, refuses to even have a break on his bike and commits as many moving violations as humanly possible. He has an unbridled passion for riding and is completely dedicated to being on time. Therefore, he’s the perfect person for Nima (Chung), the soon-to-be ex-roommate of his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend Vanessa (Ramirez), to call when she has a highly valuable, time-sensitive envelope to be delivered across town. He picks it up at about 5:30. It had better be there by 7:00, or else. Of course, we wouldn't have a movie if there weren't a few obstacles. Namely there’s Bobby (Shannon), a desperate cop with a serious gambling problem. He’s intent on getting that envelope for himself. Lots and lots of bike riding ensues.

There are a couple of cat-and-mouse games going on. This is where Premium Rush excels. First and foremost is the aforementioned one between Wilee and Bobby. Next, but no less fun, is between Wilee and a legit bicycle cop. Watching our hero try to elude both is highly entertaining. These, along with our dirty cop mishandling his debtors, provides us with the film’s action and does an excellent job of it. The contents of the envelope and the story behind it gives us its heart. It works enough for us to root for its safe delivery.

Where PR sputters is when its attentions turn to the love story stuck in its spokes. It is an awkwardly handled triangle with fellow bike messenger Manny (Parks) vying with Wylie for Vanessa’s attention. Oh, I forgot to mention she’s also a messenger. It mostly involves each guy yelling their case at her then trying to force their lips on her. Who says romance is dead? Truthfully, this could sorta work if performed properly. Unfortunately, the line deliveries of both Ramirez and Parks leave a lot to be desired. Assuming it is actually them we see riding through the streets, they’re better cyclists than actors. At least they are in this movie.

The only other issue is time. We effectively jump back and forth within it on the day in question. Each leap backwards reveals enough of the story to keep us engaged. The problem comes when we start getting close to our deadline. You know how in some movies the hero has thirty seconds to diffuse a bomb and takes ten minutes before he gets it done with one second left on the clock? Yeah, sort of like that.

In the grand scheme of things, the problems I've mentioned are really small. They don’t subtract from our enjoyment of PR. Watching all the bike stunts is fairly exhilarating and the whole thing moves at a brisk pace. Down time is kept to a minimum and surprisingly so is stupidity, aside from the finale I mentioned above. This should quench the thirst of all you action junkies.

Friday, May 17, 2013


Directed by Richard Linklater.
2011. Rated PG-13, 99 minutes.
Shirley MacLaine
Brady Coleman
Richard Robichaux
Rick Dial
Brandon Smith
Larry Jack Dotson
Merrilee McCommas
Mathew Greer

Locals say assistant funeral director Bernie Tiede was the most popular man in Carthage, Texas. This was at least in part due to how great a mortician he was. They say he made the remains of their loved ones look wonderful. Another reason was that he was the most genuinely nice person in town. He was so beloved that no one in town blamed him or wanted to convict him even after he confessed to a murder. This is a retelling of just how this came to be. Amazingly, this is based on a true story.

The movie mixes and matches genres in a way that could be confusing, at first. It’s part documentary as some of the people who knew the real Bernie play themselves and speak candidly about what occurred. This is interspersed with scenes using actors. Aside from Jack Black in the lead, there’s Shirley MacLaine as Marjorie, one of the many widows Bernie befriends, and Matthew McConaughey as Danny “Bucks”, the District Attorney trying to make sure Bernie does the time for his crime. Eventually, it turns into courtroom drama. Through it all runs a current of dark comedy making it even more unbelievable that this really happened. Stylistically, it’s very reminiscent of Waiting for Guffman. Thankfully, all the different strands mesh easily, helping us settle into a groove and roll with the punches.

For a film such as Bernie success hinges on the believability of its cast. Not surprisingly, MacLaine and McConaughey nail their roles. McConaughey in particular feels completely natural as the normally self-serving DA who is not given enough credit for wanting to do the right thing even though the people with power to re-elect him appear to be completely against him. They tell him so every chance they get. Thankfully Jack Black reels himself in enough to keep Bernie from becoming a complete joke of a person. That’s not necessarily an easy thing to do considering Bernie is quirky and effeminate, two qualities that could easily be overblown along the lines of Robin Williams in The Birdcage. Black plays him as an odd bird, to be sure, but one we can still identify with and even understand why people like him.

Once our main characters are established as real people, the movie has one more task. It has to make us in the audience like Bernie at least half as much as the people of Carthage. Granted, we don’t get all smitten with him like they do, but it succeeds. Actually, showing the killing goes a long way in this. It’s filmed in a way that we don’t see him as some heartless monster, at least up to that point. Combined with the generally ill disposition of his victim and the situation he’s found himself in, it plants the idea in our heads that we might have done the same thing. It also makes us skeptical of what the actual charges are against him. We’re sympathetic toward him, at first, but as time moves on and his actions become more and more egregious we’re not so sure about things. And that’s precisely where the movie wants you to be.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

My Week with Marilyn

Directed by Simon Curtis.
2011. Rated R, 99 minutes.
Eddie Redmayne
Zoe Wannamaker
Julia Ormond
Dougray Scott

The first time Marilyn Monroe (Williams) went to London it was on a business trip. Accompanied by her husband of three weeks, famed playwright Arthur Miller (Scott), and a number of handlers, she went to film what would become The Prince and the Showgirl. Her co-star and director is the legendary Sir Laurence Olivier (Branagh). During what was a very trying shoot, Marilyn befriends Third Assistant Director Colin Clark (Redmayne). As the title suggests, this is the story of their tumultuous week together.

Predictably, the notoriously troubled Marilyn is the center of attention. She frustrates Olivier to no end. She suffers wild mood swings, is ridiculously insecure and often hopped up on various pills. Williams’ performance is a near-perfect impersonation of the icon. More than that, she captures Marilyn’s fragility and the manner in which she wields her sexuality as the only weapon she feels comfortable using. It’s remarkable work that threatens to reduce Monroe to a caricature but manages enough humanity to make her a sympathetic figure.

No less brilliant is Kenneth Branagh as Olivier. He, no doubt has the showier role with many loud-voiced tirades and even an angry Shakespearean soliloquy. He balances this with heartfelt admissions as the movie wears on. He hits every note perfectly as does Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike, popping in on occasion to provide encouraging words to Marilyn.

Through the two leads, MWwM gives us wonderfully contentious moments between legends. We learn very early that Marilyn’s lack of training, acting ability and, perhaps most of all, professional etiquette offends his very soul. However, her raw sex appeal and presence are simply too much to be denied. Marilyn suffers the brunt of his verbal attacks making her even more unsure of herself than she already is.

While the fireworks between Marilyn and Olivier drive the movie, it’s the relationship of she and Colin that gives us its most touching moments. In him, we see a young man getting in way over his head but we can’t help admiring the tenderness with which he treats her. We truly feel his longing to save her. What we wish he’d understand is that she doesn't really want to be saved. Her manipulations are transparent to us, but not to him. How could they be? Imagine yourself a 23 year old straight male and the most beautiful woman in the world coming on to you.

The end result is a delightful movie filled with wonderful performances. It’s fairly light on offering any new insight into Ms. Monroe, but it does humanize her enough for us to grab hold of. It helps that, despite her forwardness, her relationship with Colin maintains a sense of innocence. It gives the impression of a story of puppy love while treading in some rather adult waters. That said, don’t come into MWwM thinking all the mysteries of Marilyn’s demise will be solved. It’s an entertaining, but small, chapter in the ill-fated star’s turbulent life.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day!!!

Thanks for all you do to all the wonderful moms out there. Click here to check out some reviews on movies that heavily involve mothers. Some of them not so wonderful, but they're moms, nonetheless.

Enjoy your day!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Watch

Directed by Akiva Schaffer.
2012. Rated R, 102 minutes.
Richard Ayoade
Rosemarie DeWitt
Mel Rodriguez
Erin Moriarty
Nicholas Braun
Joe Nunez

Evan (Stiller) is the manager of the local Costco and the organizer guy in the town of Glenview, Ohio. He creates clubs and committees for everything. Naturally, after his buddy Antonio Guzman (Nunez), the after-hours security guard at said Costco, is murdered in the store, Evan organizes a neighborhood watch to find the killer. Only three people answer his call to duty: Bob (Vaughn), Franklin (Hill) and Jamarcus (Ayoade). They aren’t the most dedicated soldiers. However, as long as there are plenty of cold Budweisers around they’re happy. In any event, they get more than they bargained for when it becomes evident that hostile aliens are responsible for the killing. You’ll notice I've already mentioned two brand names. You will become well acquainted with them as well as Ray-O-Vac batteries and Magnum condoms. In other words, product placement and penis jokes ensue.

Strangely, between all the commercials flying at us exists a fun movie with a wacky premise. Ben Stiller plays himself, as always, so you already know if you think he’ll make you laugh. Vince Vaughn also does his normal schtick. However, he seems much more into it than he has in quite some time and is really pretty amusing. Less known Richard Ayoade also provides us with a few chuckles and the cameo by the great R. Lee Ermey is downright hilarious. Still, our heartiest laughs go to Jonah Hill. His character is not quite off type, but he approaches it from a different angle than normal. It works wonders. The four share a nice chemistry making the banter between them enjoyable.

Most surprising is there are a pair of well-executed human stories mixed in to all the advertisements and raunchy jokes. One involves the state of the relationship between Evan and his wife Abby played by Rosemarie DeWitt, here looking very Tina Fey-ish. The other is about Bob and his daughter, the rebellious Chelsea (Moriarty). Both work better than expected as if organic to the tale and not shoe-horned in just because. In fact, I enjoy these parts of movie more than the main plot.

That main plot, of course, heavily involves aliens. It’s rather lazy in almost all regards and seems ill-fitting of the movie they’re in. Though set up to play as a spoof of alien invasion flicks, the effort is only half-hearted. This includes creature design awfully similar to some rather famous cinematic extra-terrestrials. By the end, we realize their entire story line is just one long dick joke. No pun intended. Sorta. Okay, I’m lying. Either way, the punchline to this particular dick joke is rendered ineffective by all the ones that came before it. Sorry. Sorta.

Despite the rampant commercialism, lazy sci-fi and endless succession of genital humor I found The Watch fun to sit through. I realize these aspects are a complete turn-off for many, hence the abysmal reviews this has generally garnered. They are for me, normally. They even keep me from grading this as a great movie. However, maybe I was just in the right frame of mind. Maybe I’m more susceptible to such humor than I’d like to believe. In any event, the guys kept my interest and made me laugh. At the end of the day that’s all I ask out of my comedies.

MY SCORE: 6.5/10

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


Directed by Oliver Stone.
2012. Rated R, 142 minutes.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Diego Cataño
Joaquín Cosio
Sandra Echeverría

Every successful operation, especially those of a criminal nature, needs both brains and brawn. Ben (Taylor-Johnson) provides the former while Chon (Kitsch) handles the latter. Together, these two grow and distribute some of the world’s best weed from their house on Laguna Beach. They also share a girlfriend. Her name is Ophelia, but she goes by O (Lively). She’ll explain the whole sharing bit if you decide to watch. The point is, the boys are so successful they've attracted the attention of a Mexican cartel run by the brains of Elena (Hayek) and lots of brawn, mostly provided by Lado (del Toro). They want to partner with our heroes who don’t exactly cooperate. Of course, this means Elena and crew respond by putting their damsel in distress and kidnapping O. Oliver Stone ensues.

If you can’t already tell, Savages sets a frenetic pace from the get-go relenting occasionally to let people yell at each other. This comes complete with lots of quick cuts and a blaring soundtrack. To Mr. Stone’s credit, he uses them to great effect. They aid his story-telling in a way that’s not quite as intrusive when used in lots of other movies. There is also some pretty vivid violence which is what people watching this movie have come for.

There are two things that detract from Savages in a major way. First is how the leads are handled. Second is letting one of them, O, narrate. She makes a tremendous effort to be profound but comes off as a babbling pot-head trying to justify what we've seen or will see. This makes perfect sense seeing how that’s what she is, but this is annoying to the viewer who is not necessarily under theinfluence. Her preposterous first line sums up what I mean. She opens the movie with “Just because I’m telling you this story doesn't mean I’m alive at the end of it.” Trust me, when I heard this I couldn't possibly roll my eyes any harder.

As far as the two leads they just don’t quite work. We meet Chon first. He’s an ex-Navy SEAL. We’re fed some malarkey about how his time in Iraq has scarred him but it really means nothing other than his solution to any problem is shooting people and he has a bunch of other former SEALs available to do his bidding whenever he needs them. He stands around with a stern look on his face and disappears from the movie for stretches at a time.

The bigger problem is Ben. The first thing we notice is he has the wrong name. With his white faux-Rastafarian look, smoking habits and “We Are the World” exploits he should have the more hipster name, Chon. That the guys’ names are misplaced is too clever by half. The important thing to note is that they are opposites. O explains this in the first few minutes after we meet Ben, and the movie as a whole makes the point repeatedly. His peace-loving ways are supposed to inspire empathy. However, it has the reverse effect. I spent most of the film wanting to punch him in face only to settle for yelling at the screen for him to “man up and grow a pair”, calling him a dirty word that begins with ‘p’ for emphasis. The script going overboard to make us understand he’s a sensitive guy is partly to blame. Also at fault is the performance of Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Half the time he sounds like he’s reading his lines and the other half he’s whining. As a result he has little presence, if any. Whoever he shares the screen with blows the poor guy away. This is a major issue considering we focus on his character more than any other. 

Don’t go blaming the supporting cast for Taylor-Johnson’s lack of pizzazz. They actually redeem the film. John Travolta is great as the corrupt FBI agent in cahoots with our boys. He seems to be having big fun with the role and lights up the screen whenever he’s on it which isn’t all that often. Perhaps better than he, certainly with more screen time, is Salma Hayek. She dominates her scenes aptly conveying not only an evil villain but a compassionate mother. For my money, it’s among her best portrayals of her English speaking roles. Better than them both is Benicio del Toro. A bad wig (I’m assuming it’s a wig), 70s porn-stache, a too cool approach and oozing confidence all help him make Lado a menacing figure. He’s the kind of guy that unnerves less by the heinous acts he commits than the manner he goes about them. If the others help the movie, he makes it.

Alas, no matter how good the supporting players are we have to focus on the main characters and their story. This is where things fall apart. As avant-garde as it wants you to think it is, it comes off as a bit goofy and a lot sloppy. It’s also a bit disappointing it doesn't seem to want to be anything other than an ultra-violent shoot ‘em up, given the director. That’s probably a “me” problem. Since I knew going in it was an Oliver Stone flick I was looking for some political and/or social statement that I didn't find. Enlighten me if I've missed it. That said, I didn't find Savages to be a terrible film like most seem to have. I found it fun, but very uneven.

MY SCORE: 6/10

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Human Tornado

Directed by Cliff Roquemore.
1976. Rated R, 85 minutes.
Gloria Delaney
Herb Graham
J. B. Baron
Barbara Gerl
Ernie Hudson
Jimmy Lynch
Jack Kelly
Howard Jackson
Lord Java

Our favorite rhymin’, kung-fu fightin’ pimp is back in this sorta-sequel to Dolemite. By that I mean that even though our hero is the same and a few other characters return there really is no continuity between the two stories. This time around, Dolemite (Moore) is living the straight life. Kinda. He’s a successful comedian, Moore’s real life gig that started his movie career, with a big house on a hill in Alabama. However, aside from rocking the chuckle huts and donating money to help build a boys’ home, he tricks himself out to the local sheriff’s wife. Of course, this is unbeknownst to Sheriff Beatty (Baron). Lo and behold, during one of Dolemite’s sessions with the local first lady which just happens to occur while there’s a celebration going on at Dolemite’s house at the same time, the sheriff shows up with some deputies. All of them have their guns drawn. By the way, from the outside you can barely hear a peep out of these folks. No loud music, no fighting, nothing. So why did the cops show? It’s rather simple really. He doesn't want any black folks having a party in his town. I’m not joking. Anyhoo, imagine his surprise when he walks in on his old lady knowing Dolemite in the biblical sense.

Needless to say, Dolemite makes a daring butt-naked escape from certain death and decides to head back home to Los Angeles with a few of his guys that also got away. Yes, with their clothes on. By the way, this crew includes the man who would go on to a long acting career, most notably playing the only black Ghostbuster, Ernie Hudson. Since this is only his second big-screen role, I guess we owe Dolemite a bit of gratitude. Thank you, Dolemite.
Welp, once back in LA, our hero gets another unpleasant surprise. His good friend Queen Bee (Reed) has had her nightclub forcibly shut down by local mobster Cavaletti (Graham) who also makes Queen and all her girls work at his own establishment. He ensures their cooperation by tying two of them up, throwing them in his basement and threatening to kill them. And you just know Sheriff Beatty makes his way to LA at some point. Somewhere in this mad mix is a rather hilarious theme song performed by Mr. Moore himself. Dolemite to the rescue ensues.

Since our hero hasn’t changed since the first movie, whatever he does only comes after some good hot lovin’. And whatever comes after lovin’ includes kung-fu fightin’. There’s also some shootin’ and yellin’ for good measure. New additions for our viewing pleasure include a sadistic witch who messes with the two kidnapped babes through some mild torture amounting to little more than bondage fetish scenes. Here, instead of some middle-aged dude dressed in leather dishing out the punishment it’s an unbelievably wrinkled old lady and some mafia dudes.

Fear not good citizens, there is even more wackiness. Let’s not forget that this is a sequel. By law, as established in Scream, it has to be bigger and badder than its predecessor. This means everything is amplified to nth degree, for better or worse. The best part is we know we’re in for it right from the start. Remember, that butt-naked escape I mentioned? It includes a jump off a balcony about halfway down a very steep hill. Pretty standard action stunt, right? Wrong. Before he even finishes rolling down the incline we get a freeze-frame as he exclaims in a voice-over (paraphrasing) “You MFers don’t think I really jumped. Watch this!” Yup, we get an instant replay. Still, far and away the best new development is in the kung-fu department.  During fights the footage is often sped up a ridiculous rate making all the combatants look like Keystone Kops. If this isn't downright hilarious your funny bone must be broke. This is even better, or worse, or worse-better, than Dolemite. Yes friends, The Human Tornado is so bad it’s awesome!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Campaign

Directed by Jay Roach.
2012. Rated R, 85 minutes.
Dylan McDermott
Sarah Baker
Katherine LaNasa
Karen Maruyama
Thomas Middleditch

Cam Brady (Ferrell) is so popular he is about to be elected to his fifth term as Congressman for the 14th district in North Carolina. Until he places an errant and sexually explicit phone call, that is. Sensing the end of Brady’s career, the billionaire Motch brothers (Aykroyd and Lithgow) set up the naïve Marty Huggins (Galifianakis) as a puppet candidate to run against him. Hijinks and shenanigans ensue.

If you’re looking for a razor sharp political satire, look elsewhere. What we have here is the political process taken to its most absurd extremes. That the two candidates play dirty goes without saying. The depths to which they sink are the things we imagine possible if the people who ran for office were allowed to really engage in a no-holds barred campaign. For instance, the commercials they put together go far beyond the limits of good taste. This isn't to say there are no merits to this approach to the material. Even through the zaniness we can catch glimpses of the situations that obviously inspired the movie. And perhaps it is stinging commentary that there is absolutely no difference in how the two parties are portrayed.

Your political leanings aside, what will really inform whether or not you like this film is how you feel about its stars. After all, they’re both on full blast right from the start. Cam Brady is nothing short of former Senator John Edwards crossed with Ferrell’s Ricky Bobby. Huggins is a true Galifianakis creation: an odd, naïve man who really wants to do the right thing but often has trouble pulling off the trick. To be sure, both men have their moments. That said, you already know if you find either, neither or both of them funny.

MY SCORE: 6/10