Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Day the Earth Stood Still

This is of course the highly hyped, highly grossing end of the year blockbuster remake of the 1951 sci-fi classic. To the benefit of the filmmakers it's more of a re-imagining of the story than a simple remake with better visual effects. In fact, the first half hour or so actually showed promise. But then Keanu Reeves started acting, and the whole thing just fell apart.

The primary story is essentially the same. In the original, an alien and an indestructible robot come to Earth to try to broker peace in a way. In a slightly hypocritical fashion the message is "make peace or we will destroy you all." This clear Cold War allegory has been updated to the current crisis facing the planet- the environment. This time, Klaatu (Reeves) has come not too warn the Earth about our polluting ways, but to tell us that it's already too late.

There were some exciting scenes. When Klaatu's ship first arrives, it brought back memories of the breathtaking entrance of the aliens. And to their credit, they did a fairly nice job of updating Gort, the giant robot, while staying true to its original styling. I even kind of dug the concept of it releasing a swarm of nano-robots, or small creatures, or whatever they were. I mean if you were going to destroy all life on a planet, would you do it just by shooting a laser?

Jennifer Connelly plays Helen Benson, a doctor who helps Klaatu, and tries to convince him to not wipe out our species. She is accompanied on this quest by her adopted son (Jaden Smith). The two of them looked positively animated next to Reeves. I understand that the point was to portray him as cold and emotionless, but how could they replace the inquisitive and almost fatherly Klaatu of Michael Rennie with this?

Aside from updating to 21st century visuals, there was no reason for this movie to be made. The Day the Earth Stood Still took one of the classic sci-fi movies of all time, and turned into forgettable drivel. If you haven't seen the original, please, see that instead.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Synecdoche, New York

This is Charlie Kauffman at his most bizarre. This is saying something considering he is the man that penned Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Adaptation. But this is also his most serious, and one of the most touching. In fact, it's my favorite behind Eternal Sunshine. This is also his directorial debut, and it seems he struggles some times under the weight of the script. Despite some flaws, Synecdoche is a pretty remarkable film.

First, we need to clear the air about the name. It's a play on words. The movie takes place in Schenectady, New York, but the term Synecdoche means to use a part of something as a representation as the whole (like saying 'sail' to represent a ship). This makes sense later on in the movie.

Synecdoche is a movie of essentially two parts. It stars Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Caden Cotard, a theater director struggling (not very hard, though) to keep his family together. This includes his feelings of inferiority in the face of his artistic wife (Catherine Keener). The movie really gets going, however, after his entire life crumbles, and he receives a MacArthur grant. Armed with his new found money he starts production on the largest play ever conceived- recreating New York in a warehouse (hence the name). This takes a turn for the bizarre when he hires what balloons to thousands of actors to live out their daily (yet scripted) lives in this microcosm. And he does this for decades, with it growing bigger and bigger all the time.

Besides the play the movie deals with the women in his life. Clearly Caden is too narcissistic to truly connect with anyone, whether it's his first wife or daughter, his second marriage to one of his actresses (Michelle Williams), or his true love and long time assistant, Hazel (Samantha Morton). These relationships are all played out in his real life, and by the actors that portray each of them in his play. In true Kaufman fashion, he has the real people and the their actors sharing many of the scenes in the second half.

The movie, though completely open to limitless interpretations, seemed to be about Caden's descent in full blown self-indulgence. He was struck by an illness that slowly rendered his motor skills inactive (whether this actually was happening or was just in his head, who knows). Every romantic encounter foundered, and his grand work (again, who knows if any of it actually happened) crushed him. Despite its grandiose nature and ideas, the movie really just seemed to be about an extremely lonely and socially inept man, hiding behind the director's chair of real life.

This movie just continues to enhance my adoration of Hoffman. He can play everything, from the flamboyant arrogance of Capote, to the genuine self-loathing of Synecdoche. The rest of the cast was wonderfully bizarre, each portraying their own unique oddities. The problem with this movie is that it dragged a little bit. I can see why Kaufman would want to direct it himself, probably only the writer of this script could visualize it. Unfortunately it drags in several spots, and over two hours is a long time to barely hang on to what's happening. I think the entire ending could have been left off.

This can be a difficult movie to watch, but there are parts that make it absolutely magical. The characters are fantastic, and there are some hilarious scenes balance with utterly depressing ones. It's filled with the a self-deprecating sort of humor, exemplified with Hazel buying a house while it's on fire, and living in it for another few decades. If you liked his previous movies I strongly recommend checking this one out. Besides, in an interview with Kaufman, he said that there is no wrong way to interpret this movie. See? No pressure.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008


2008 looks like it will be ending quite strongly, with Frost/Nixon being among one of the award contenders. It tells the story behind the legendary 1977 interviews of Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) by David Frost (Michael Sheen). I've never seen a movie consisting almost entirely of interviews be so intense. This is Ron Howard's best movie in quite some time, possibly going all the way back Apollo 13 in 1995.

One interesting thing about this movie is that it was based on a play also written by Peter Morgan (who was nominated a few years ago for The Queen). Langella and Sheen both also starred in the stage production. It's fitting that a movie that is so dialog driven and so focused on one location would have been born on stage. Movies like this always seem to be better because of this, as opposed to being written originally for screen. Having the feel of the theater trims away all the fat, and just leaves the most important aspects.

The interviews could have gone one of two ways. Nixon was looking at them to clear himself and look presidential. Frost's team was hoping to "Give him the trial he never had," according to one of Frost's researchers- James Reston Jr. (Sam Rockwell). Reston, along with with John Birt (Matthew MacFayden) and Bob Zelnick (Oliver Platt) scour every piece of evidence in hope of backing Nixon into a corner. Frost, on the other hand, is more concerned about ratings and money.

Frost's lack of preparation is evident when Nixon walks all over him during the first few interviews. Sheen captures this show-business freewheeling attitude wonderfully. It takes one of the most intense phone calls I've ever heard to whip Frost into shape. And from that point on, the interviews become a no holds barred battle.

Frank Langella deserves his recent Golden Globe nomination, and so far of the movies I've seen this year, he should win. He portrayed Nixon as simultaneously arrogant and fragile. Despite the failure of most of the interviews, they managed to capture Nixon in a vulnerable light that had never been seen before. Even without the climactic outburst featured so prominently in the trailers, it would have still been a breathtaking moment.

And the cast just goes on. Kevin Bacon, in what may be his first great dramatic role since Mystic River, plays Jack Brennan, military aid to the former president who will do anything to protect Nixon. And the criminally underrated Toby Jones (his Capote was equal or better than Phillip Seymour Hoffman's) plays legendary talent agent Swifty Lazar, representing Nixon to get the most out of the interviews.

It's not easy of make a movie about an interview and research exciting, but Ron Howard and the fantastic cast pulled it off. Everything from the tense scenes between Frost and Nixon to the sleepless nights with the researchers lend brevity to the importance of this event. Probably the highest praise I could bestow on this movie is that it makes me want to watch the actual interviews.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bottle Shock

Imagine Sideways if it were actually about wine instead of self-loathing. This movie is nothing but good fun and wine. The closing film at the Savannah Film fest stood out among a year dominated by rather serious movies. Bottle Shock is based on the true story of a 1976 wine tasting in Paris, the first of which including California wines. It was what could only be described as America's wine coming out party.

In the movie, Steven Spurrior (Alan Rickman)- the owner of a Parisian win store- in an attempt to cement France as the wine center of the world, relents to his fiend's challenge and sets up a blind tasting to include American wines. He sets off to California to track down the best of what Napa Valley has to offer. Here Spurrior comes across a vineyard run by father and son team Jim and Bo Barret (Bill Pullman and Chris Pine). It's a story as old as time. The stubborn strong headed father butting heads with his slacker son. As the movie progresses, the roles change in a way, as Bo wants to participate in the tasting, while Jim wants nothing to do with it, or the stuck up Spurrior.

Bo, with his youthful ambition and openness, sees the competition as a way to finally give California wines credibility. He finally looks to something beyond hustling people tasting wine in the local bars with his best friend and wine connoisseur, Gustavo Brambila (Freddy Rodriguez) and the vineyard's new intern, Sam (Rachael Taylor). Jim, on the other hand, sees the competition as nothing more than an attempt to mock America.

The movie does, of course, include other plot lines, like a love triangle between Bo, Gustavo, and Sam, and conflict between Gustavo and Jim when Gustavo wants to start his own vineyard. None of these, however, overshadow the wine. Without a doubt the best moments are when the characters are either talking about, or drinking wine. It forms not only the backbone of the movie, but also the cornerstone of their lives. It seems the only time they're truly in their element is when wine is around.

Bottle Shock was a delightfully fun movie. There's not a whole lot of substance to it, but it doesn't pretend to have what it doesn't. It naturally has the intergenerational and international conflict that drives the movie, but it's not bogged down by trying to say too much by these themes. It presents them as is, and lets them just float in the background. The movie is fun from the start all the way to its light finish.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cadillac Records

Cadillac records chronicles the story of Leonard Chess (Adrien Brody)- founder of Chess Records- and the artists who recorded there. This is a tremendous cast of larger than life characters, including Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright), Chuck Berry (Mos Def), Little Walter (Columbus Short), Etta James (Beyonce Knowles) , Howlin' Wolf (Eammon Walker), and Willie Dixon (Cedric the Entertainer), all of whom are in the rock and roll hall of fame. Cadillac records is more of a story about the music and the time, than about the people.

Since there were so many powerful characters it was impossible to delve into much depth on any of them. The exception to this was Waters and Walter, the two original artists at the label. They represented the relationship between the artists and Chess, and personified the conflict between the races at the time. The movie dealt with their struggles to keep the blues relevant through rock and roll, and how the dealt with fame and money. None of the characters were painted as wonderful people, but they were painted as flawed heroes.

None of this is more evident than with Chess himself. Considering this was the man who probably did more than any other to integrate the air-waves, and erase the prefix "race" from music, we don't get a whole lot about him. We know he was a savvy business man, morally ambiguous at times, and apparently traded Cadillacs as currency (hence the title). Other than general themes, and the fact that he threw out the rules with every recording, the movie doesn't tell us much about why he did what he did. Was his intention to further music? Or was it just to make money? In this film, the answer is really not that important.

Even Etta James, brilliantly portrayed by Beyonce was a small player in the story. She didn't appear to more than half way through, and her story was barely touched. Even though her music was the highlight of the movie, and she had a greater personal impact on Chess than any other character, we didn't get much about her psyche besides the surface race issues. This was my one major complaint about the movie. Rarely will I say this, but I think it could have stood to be longer- if only to better accommodate the depth of these characters.

In the end, the music really was the star. Every member of the cast amply captured their characters (and from what I've read, accurately captured their true personalities). But the story whipped by too fast to get more than just a feel for the characters. If you enjoy 50's and 60's rhythm and blues, you'll love this movie. And if you lived through it, you'll love it even more. As opposed to being a straight forward biopic, Cadillac Records is more of a look at what happened behind the scenes on these legendary recordings.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Australia is at the center of a very divided public. There have been some wonderful things said about the movie, and some terrible things. In fact, even the group that I went with was divided- though not as polarized. Our impressions ran the gamut from terrible to mediocre. I think I had the best impression of it, though I would still rate it as "just okay." Australia is long- very long. But there's a lot there. Perhaps too much for its own good. The movie struggles to find what it really wants to be. Is it love story set in the wilds of Australia? Well, yeah, except for the war tacked on to the last hour, and the ever present oppression of the aborigines. Australia tries to say a lot, but just seems to get bogged down in its own self importance.

The movies follows the wandering story of Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) as she takes over the management of an Australian cattle ranch following the death of her husband. She grows as she takes on her competitor, King Carney (Bryan Brown) who owns half of northern Australia, as they vie to provide beef to the Australian army. At her side is Drover (Hugh Jackman) the man responsible for driving the cattle, and Nullah (Brandon Walters) a half aborigines boy, whom Lady Ashley sort of adopts. The movie explores the struggle to save the ranch, the struggle to keep Nullah out of the hands of the missionaries, and the struggle within Drover between following his untamed lifestyle, and his romantic relations with Lady Ashley. And these are just desperately over simplified explanations of the plots. Australia truly has an epic web of story lines.

The movie was indeed beautiful to look at. The Australian outback was incredible in its scope, and the scenes where Drover, Lady Ashley, and their workers are driving the cattle into Darwin are breathtaking. Unfortunately, pretty pictures can only hold for so long- not almost 3 hours. In fact, it takes a lot to hold an audience's attention for that long. Very few movies can.

The movie was not bad for about the first half. The conflict between the Ashley camp and the Carney camp, and the moderately exciting cattle drive were enjoyable. Even the development of the relationship between Drover and Lady Ashley fell in step with traditional Baz Luhrmann romance stories. But after three or four times of me thinking, "this would be a good place to end it," the movie kept going.

One thing about Luhrmann is that is excellent with revolutionary concepts and styles. Romeo and Juliet was a fantastic update of one of the most fundamental stories of all time. And the style of Moulin Rouge! still blows me away. The point is that neither of these movies required the greatest acting. The concept and in Moulin Rouge's case- the music- carried the movies. No such luck in Australia. Now I'm not saying Hugh Jackman wasn't good. He was the best in the cast. Nicole Kidman I never think is all that strong. And Nullah, the aboriginal boy, sometimes bordered on being as irritating as Short Round in Temple of Doom.

On top of everything, even on top of the war, there was the themes of the missing generations- in which the government took aboriginal children from their families. These seems to have been an important theme to Luhrmann, but it was almost lost in the shuffle of everything else. The scenes with Nullah's mystic grandfather therefor just seemed out of place.

Australia wasn't terrible. But I must warn you, it's not a movie to go see unless you're in the mood to see that movie specifically. Despite being too large and too ambitious for its own good, there were still some moments that were gems. Australia certainly isn't a bomb, and it hasn't brought down my esteem for Luhrmann. It's simply that he tried to cover just too much and as a result, everything suffered.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Bolt is the newest animation from Disney, and by far their best venture into 3D. It's the first movie that they've made entirely since their acquisition of Pixar, and it shows. The animation is wonderful, the aesthetic is fantastic, and the story is god forbid- original. While many movies go for throwaway gags every minute, Bolt focuses more on a genuinely crafted plot.

Bolt (John Travolta) is the biggest canine star on TV. The only catch is that he doesn't know it's not real. There are some very clever scenes faking special effects on stage to maintain the illusion of reality to Bolt while they're filming. Unfortunately it also prevents Penny (Miley Cyrus), Bolt's owner and co-star from actually having him as a pet. To boost the show's ratings, they decide to have Penny kidnapped in a cliffhanger ending. Not knowing that this is fake, Bolt manages to escape from his trailer and sets off on a cross country journey to rescue her.

Along the way Bolt assembles a little posse. Mittens the cat (Susie Essman) provides a sarcastic dose of realism to counter Bolt's delusions. Unfortunately her protests fall on deaf ears as Bolt thinks that she is in on the conspiracy that captured Penny (in the show, the bad guys are cats). Along the way they pick up Rhino (Mark Walton) a hamster in a ball who reveals himself to be Bolt's biggest fan. He buys right into the reality of the show and feeds Bolt's mission with unparalleled enthusiasm.

This is, of course, a family movie, so it lays on its themes pretty thickly. Perhaps a little more overt than I would care, but that's forgivable considering the primary audience. The idea of family and belonging are expressed through Mittens' distrust of the humans that abandoned her, and Bolt fearing that Penny has replaced him with a new dog. These are touching, if sappy, moments.

Bolt is being shown in both regular ad 3D. I saw it in 3D and though it does add something to the experience, I always have trouble balancing the 3D glasses with my actual glasses. And for some reason stereoscopic movies seem to strain my eyes more. That, plus the several dollars added to the ticket price may make it not worth while (though seeing trailers to Up, Monsters Vs. Aliens, and Coraline in 3D were pretty cool). The good thing about Bolt is that Brian Howard and Chris Williams did not direct it for stereoscopic viewing. This means there are not a lot of things illogically flying at the camera (though there are a few). The 3D is done much subtler, adding depth to the rich environments.

These environments truly stood out in this movie. Detailed streets from cities around the country, elaborate film sets, and lush wilderness environments make each scene unique. There is never a shortage of eye candy. These sets are only matched by the delightful animation. The movie really did feel fresh, among animations that generally seem more occupied parodying pop culture than creating something original. Also, Bolt opens with possibly the cutest scene ever put on film. If this movie doesn't make you want to get a puppy, there is something seriously wrong.



Never before have I been to a movie that elicits not one, but two squeals from the audience- both for vampire hottie Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), and his "father" (Peter Facinelli). This experience aptly explains how this movie topped the box office and had the second best opening of the year (behind The Dark Knight, of course). The first installment of Stephanie Meyer's wildly popular book series may have been a smash, but it was anything but a good movie.

Kristen Stewart stars as Bella Swan. If there's a more obvious allusion to the ugly duckling, or the belle of the ball or whatever combination they're trying to convey, I haven't seen it. Bella is supposed to be that "every girl," cute, but plain by movie standards, who becomes the object of the vampiric heartthrob's affection. In this regard I can understand the troves of high-school girls lined up outside the theater on opening night. It's a shame that they weren't met with a quality film to backup their crush.

The vampires in this movie are not your traditional sort. They've given up feeding on people- a sort of tofu variety of vampire. They're still super fast, super strong, and can fly-ish. But instead of burning up during the day (they have to go to school after all), they sort of sparkle in direct sunlight. Yeah, they sparkle, like they were attacked by face glitter wielding PETA members. That actually got incredulous laughs from the audience they had won over weeks before the movie even came out.

The film opens with Bella moving in with her father in a cold rainy Oregon town, a far cry from her mother in Pheonix. Bella immediately proves to be popular, attractive to nearly every group in school, including catching the eye of Cullen. It's not long before the two of them start an awkward relationship, made difficult by the fact that he wants nothing more than to drain the life out of her. As he put it, she's his "own personal kind of heroin." I'm not sure whether that was meant to be flattering or just plain creepy. Either way, it's a prime example of the poor dialog that riddled this movie.

I take beef with the message in this movie. In an interview, Kirsten Stewart said something along the lines of Bella not being your standard damsel in distress. "She's a real woman." I got the complete opposite impression. This role is why people may look at high-school girls as, well, stupid. Edward is Bella's first crush, and yeah, that's a big deal. But risking her own life and essentially the lives of her parents? Even going so far as to wanting to be turned into a vampire so she could be with him forever. Call me crazy but that relationship seems a little too serious.

The visual effects were pretty bland, except for one really interesting scene. The Cullen family brings Bella to play baseball with them in the middle of a thunderstorm. It's one of the most exciting baseball games I've seen in a long time. And it culminates in a confrontation between the Cullens and a roving group of vampires who have not adopted their tofu lifestyle.

Twilight doesn't provide much on the action front until towards the end. And it doesn't offer much in the way of a legitimate love story, or teen drama. It just cobbles together all of those into a mediocre film with little more than attractive leading actors.


Long time

My god it's been a long time. I apologize for that. It was the end of the quarter in school, and I was utterly swamped. But I've got a whole slew of reviews that I'm going to get out. And besides, it's getting close to the end of the year, with some pretty big movies coming out (Frost/Nixon, and Milk- I'm looking at you guys). So keep checking back, and I swear I've got movies for ya'll.

Monday, November 10, 2008


A while back I posted an essay I wrote several years ago about portrayals of various groups in Disney animation (in hindsight probably a bad idea as I am an animation student who would like to work at some point). But earlier today there was a comment left on that posting with some wonderful analysis, giving a different perspective, and pointing out a number of things I hadn't taken into account.

Here is the original essay and the comment
. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Bre'Ana. It certainly got me thinking.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Your Name Here

Sorry it's been so long since I've put up a real review, I've been extremely busy. I've got about a dozen movies I've seen and still need to write about. So stay tuned.

Your Name Here was the first movie I saw at the Savannah Film Fest this year. It can probably be best described as a slightly more accessible version of David Lynch-esque warping of realities. It stars Bill Pullman as William J. Frick, a character based on Phillip K. Dick- famed science fiction author. It was so much a deep exploration of philosophical ideas, as an adventure into a truly troubled mind.

Pullman is fantastic in this role. He flips around between worlds he's created, not knowing what's real and what's not. As an audience we are kept in the dark through most of it. But we are consistently drawn into his mind, as he alternates between apathy and hypersensitivity. Pullman is convincing in all of these.

Your Name Here focuses primarily on a cult that Frick is allegedly creating with the publication of his newest book. Everybody wants to know what he's going to say, and use it for their own means. The only problem is that he has no idea what any of them are talking about. Living in one of his stories there's even a government conspiracy about a new drug that will maintain a grasp over the populace (this could very easily be referencing Dick's A Scanner Darkly).

The problem this this movie is that it never really convinces us of these realities. We never believe this is anything but inside his head, and that makes the events a little less interesting. Even if we knew these scenes weren't real, we never believe Frick sees them as real either. It's like he knows it's all in his mind.

This movie may not appeal to everyone. If you like bizarre sci-movies, then see it. But pay attention, because you may not understand it otherwise. Actually, even if you pay attention you may not understand it. I don't think we're meant to.


Michael Chricton


This was especially tragic to me, as his books and movies have had a considerable personal influence on me.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Happy Birthday IMDB

Yup, IMDB is legal. It was founded 18 years ago today. I've linked to a message from the founder.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


This is the newest movie employing the film-making style pioneered by the Blair Witch Project. Quarantine is a remake of the Spanish horror movie, [Rec], coming no more than a year after the original. The movie is a rather straight forward thriller. A camera crew is following a fire brigade for a night when they are called to a disturbance at an old apartment building. After an old woman attacks one of them, they discover that the Center for Disease Control has quarantined the building. The rest of the movie is spent following the residents trying figure out what's going on, and just trying to survive- with the news crew filming the entire thing.

Quarantine had an interesting advertising campaign- similar to that of Cloverfield. Leaked video about this "Actual event" that the government was trying to cover up. What? You mean you didn't actually see any of these videos they put out last year? Guess the promoters were a little too secretive for it to do any good. Hence the more recent barrage of traditional trailers hyping the movie.

The movie started out mediocre. It opens with Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter) and her cameraman Scott (Steve Harris) touring the fire-station with a group of uncouth firemen. This is cut short when they get a call. Upon arriving at an apartment building they find a diseased lady who attacks them. Before they are able to get her out, the building is locked up, and they're trapped inside- to try to survive. Neither them nor the residents have any idea what is going on, just that nobody is going to be allowed out. Fortunately Angela and Scott are there to record the entire thing.

What really set Cloverfield apart was the spectacular production value (the monster aside) integrated into a low budget hand-held look. This was done very well. Quarantine on the other hand, just looks shaky. Sure it's supposed to have that style, and you can't expect someone fighting diseased zombie-esque people to record, let alone hold a camera steady, but there's a fine line between conveying that style, and just being confusing. There were far too many parts of the movie where I had no idea what was happening.

The acting was pretty bad, but it usually is in movies like this. It was certainly better than the performances in the similarly styled Diary of the Dead. The opening scenes in the firehouse were nothing short of awkward, but it got a little better as it progressed. Unfortunately as the acting got better, everything else got worse. I think the lowest point was when they smashed in the head of one of the infected with the camera itself. Magically the blood smeared lens didn't break, and was cleaned in the next shot.

The movie had potential, but unfortunately didn't live up to what I was hoping. It is very similar to [REC] (which I may throw up a review of as well), but every aspect was one step lower than the original. If you're going to make a remake so soon after the original, you better make better, or at least different. This was more of a generic brand knock-off.


Saturday, October 11, 2008

Film Fest

So I got my tickets to this year's Savannah Film Fest, and I am excited. The lineup I've got:

Synecdoche, New York- Charlie Kaufman's new movie, starring Phillip Seymore Hoffman
O'Horten- a story about a retired subway train operator
The Wrecking Crew- a documentary about the legendary studio band
Elite Squad- a movie about Brazilian drug wars
Your Name Here- a biography of Phillip K. Dick
A Clockwork Orange- Yup, and Malcom McDowell is going to be here
Crazy- a movie based on Hank Garland
The Brothers Warner- A doc about the movie studio
The 27 Club- about a lead singer following in the footsteps of Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Kurt Cobain

I really wanted to see The Wrestler- the newest movie from Darren Aronofsky, but it was sold out.

Anyway, I'll have plenty of reviews coming up at the end of the month.

Beverly Hills Chihuahua

Yeah, I know. Don't worry, I'll keep this one short. I still feel I should review it, as it was #1 at the box office last week. Beverly Hills Chihuahua is the latest outing from director, Raja Gosnell- the genius behind both Scooby Doo movies, and Big Mama's House. This movie is like a bad version of Homeward Bound- possibly my favorite talking animal movie. It even has a similar premise with a dog being lost and trying to find her way home.

That dog is Chloe (Drew Barrymore) a spoiled chihuahua lost in Mexico. She finds help in unlikely sources, like a former police dog, turned dog fighter- Delgado (Andy Garcia). Or another annoying chihuahua (George Lopez). This movie is nothing but unfunny Mexican stereotypes and drawn out accents. I felt like every character was emulating Slowpoke Rodriguez (Speedy Gonzales's cousin).

The human cast, consisting primarily of Piper Perabo (entrusted with taking care of Chloe), and Jamie Lee Curtis (her aunt, whom Chloe actually belongs to) were just dull. I didn't care at all what they did. I mean c'mon, if you're entrusted with taking care of your rich aunt's dog, why take it to Mexico with you? And her completely inane friends, "c'mon, there's no way you'll find her, come to the beach with us." Some parts of the film offended me as a movie-goer. Did they really think we would swallow such crap? I realize that it's a children's movie, but there was nothing endearing about any of these characters- human or animal.

If you're going to take your kids to a movie about talking animals, don't. Instead rent Homeward Bound, or Milo and Otis (they don't talk, but it's just a fantastic movie). Even look Who's Talking Now was a far superior movie to this trite.



This was a fascinating documentary about Crawford Texas. Of course none of us would have ever heard of it had President Bush not moved there at the start of his 2000 campaign. Contrary to what you may think, the movie is not about him or his politics, but about his impact on the town. It covers both the good, and bad, the short term, and the long term.

First time director, David Modigliani, does an admirable job of being bias out of the movie. I suspect he leaned somewhat liberal, but the movie stayed almost completely neutral. It featured interviews with people from all political affiliations, and age groups. Some loved the presence of Bush, and some hated it. Some loved his policies, and some hated them. The one thing that bonded all of the interviewees together, however, was the profound impact their new neighbor had on them.

The movie primarily dealt with how the town coped with being in the political center ring. Crawford had to manage an invasion from tens of thousands of demonstrators and members of the media. This led to an economic boom, but also led to conflict. The business that managed to spring up on account of the tourism, eventually sank, in no small part to the press painting the town as one-horse, Podunk, illiterate, gun-toting, backwater. Little was known about the liberal newspaper headquartered there, or even the neo-anarchist peace-house. Crawford is indeed as diverse as the rest of the country. But all we ever saw was the same shot on all the television channels of a rundown shack and a bale of straw claiming to be on the outskirts of Bush's ranch. In one humerus interview, one of the residents realizes that this common shot was not on Bush's ranch, but of a tool shed behind Crawford high-school.

Some of the more interesting interviews dealt with salt of the earth funny anecdotes, including one elderly man who slipped in behind Bush's motorcade in his pickup truck and enjoyed the benefits of having the road cleared for him. Whether it's true or not, he had a grand time telling it, and I had a grand time listening to it. Another interview dealt with people contemplating why Bush decided to move to the 700 population town of Crawford in the first place. The common conclusion was that it was not his doing, but his campaign's, in an effort to paint a true small town, working man image of the president.

The movie does delve into politics a bit. There's quite a bit of coverage of the protesters on both sides of the war, but it never takes sides. In fact, the townspeople basically said "we don't care what you believe, we just want you out of here." Once the movie strayed from the people of the town, and ventured into more politically driven content, I started to fade a little. Fortunately, there was not much of that. The movie primarily stayed focused on the people, from the young students who were learning to be politically active, to the preacher who wanted nothing more than for Bush to attend his church (and spout some crazy talk about the end of days).

I suppose the purpose of this was just to explore the idea that there is much more than what we see. Crawford is more diverse and complex than we would ever be allowed to realize. to paraphrase what one interviewer said "a couple years ago, if you asked where Crawford was, we'd say it's 50 miles outside of Waco. Now when you ask where Waco is, we say it's 50 miles from Crawford."


Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Eagle Eye

Eagle Eye was actually kinda cool at times. It started out as a techno thriller story of mistaken identity- sort of like a Hitchcock for the twenty-first century. Don't get me wrong, I am in no way comparing D.J. Caruso's moderate directing chops to Hitchcock- just the themes of the movie. Eagle Eye takes things a bit too far, however, and the conspiracy laden movie begins to tread the line between parable and parody.

The movie opens in sort of military control room with the citing of a suspected terrorist. Despite a low confidence level that it is him, and potential for civilian casualties, the president gives the go ahead to take him out. We are then immediately introduced to Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBeouf), a seemingly unrelated copy shop employee. Soon after we meet Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan), also seemingly unrelated. What brings these characters and situations together? A voice on a telephone. This mysterious woman somehow has the ability to not only see them at every turn, but also controls everything from traffic lights and TVs, to construction cranes and trains.

It's around this point that the movie jumps over the edge into absurdity. It actually hooked me from the trailers- the idea of some gigantic upper level conspiracy. The difference between the trailer and movie, however, is that a trailer leaves you with a punch, but the movie has to sustain it for 2 hours. This sort of awe inducing control doesn't hold up as well over that time- especially since you're required to provide an explanation of who is behind everything. And this explanation was unsatisfying at best.

There are some exciting scenes, like when Jerry is first arrested as being a suspected terrorist and the escape scene that follows. There's something that is simply inherently thrilling about being completely out of control, and being forced to obey a disembodied voice. Billy Bob Thorton and Rosario Dawson both lend themselves to the roles of FBI agents. They're talented performers, but don't really shine in this movie. That's not terribly necessary, though, since the real star is without a doubt that voice (and I have no idea who actually contributed their voice).

Eagle Eye has the distinction of being one of the most scripted and preachy endings I've ever seen in my life. The point of the movie was completely obvious, we did not need a stiff musing from a cabinet member revealing the wisdom and social commentary of the movie to us. but like I said before, the movie was mostly exciting, as long as you can accept some pretty hard to swallow premises.


Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman

Paul Newman


Here's a nice article about him

Friday, September 26, 2008

Lakeview Terrace

I can't decide whether this movie was preachy, or just bad. I will admit that it had some thrilling moments, and may have had potential (the jury inside my head is still out on whether the potential was ever there), but it just did not work.

I like director Neil LaBute. I think Nurse Betty is one of the most underrated movies of the past decade, and I think I was the only person in America who kind of enjoyed the Wicker Man remake. Lakeview Terrace, however, was mediocre in its best moments, and just laughable at its worst.

A recently married couple, Chris and Lisa Mattson (Patrick Wilson, Kerry Washington), move into a luxurious new home in Southern California. And their neighbor, Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson), is not making their new life easy for them. The Mattson's may stir up some controversy being an interracial couple, but Turner seems to be taking this personally. From the beginning he starts terrorizing the couple, trying to get them to move. His tactics start out harmlessly annoying, but as his hatred grows, so do his acts. The problem that sets this apart from simply another feuding neighbor movie, is that Turner also happens to be a police officer. To cite cliche police drama terminology, he's a loose cannon. Not only are his personal feelings getting in the way, he's under investigation for improper conduct. Despite these issues, the force is filled with his friends, and there's nothing the Mattson's can do unless they take matters into their own hands.

Okay, so let's just get this out of the way. The movie is obviously about race relations. Everything from the very name of the movie (Lakeview Terrace was the name of the area where the infamous Rodney King beating took place), to the use of wild fire as a metaphor for this strained relationship. This is a good issue to raise, but it's tackled so obviously, and so superficially in this movie that it's almost a joke. There is personal motivation behind Turner's actions. I won't tell what they are so as to not spoil anything, but let me say that his motivation is among the most mono dimensional and blatantly state developments I've ever seen.

The acting was pretty dull in this movie, but it's not their fault. The script didn't lend itself to "acting." Lisa's father (who also disapproves of the marriage) even goes so far as to say "he's got the color factor...and that color is blue." I remember hearing this in a trailer as clever way of revealing that Turner is a cop. But by this point in the movie we were already well aware of this fact. Clearly, parts of the script were written for use in the trailer. This indicates the caliber of writing i this film.

I will say that the movie looked nice. The neighborhood was beautiful, and LaBute crafted a ideal looking environment to front these dark and sinister undertones. There was a wonderful contrast between the real estate, and the actions. Unfortunately that's one of the less important factors. The film is preachy at its best moments; and at its worst, it's just Lakeview Terrible.


Saturday, September 20, 2008


This year has given us several diverse animated movies. Some were wonderful (Kung Fu Panda, WALL-E), and some not so good ones (Space Chimps, Fly Me to the Moon). Igor falls mostly in the latter category. I actually started out liking it for the first 15 minutes or so, but it just went downhill from there.

Basically, Igor creates a Tim Burton-esque wold where mad scientists are the primary economic powerhouses in the impoverished kingdom of Malaria. They create doomsday weapons and the world pays them to not unleash them. In the kingdom there is a rigid caste system. If you are born with a hunched back, good luck, because you are an Igor. The only job you can have is a mad scientist assistant. The Igor who is the title's namesake is played by John Cusack. Despite his place in society, he wants to be an inventor. After his mad scientist (voiced by John Cleese) meets an untimely end, Igor secretly takes over inventing. The problem, however, is that his new weapon (played by Molly Shannon) is anything but evil.

Most of the cast seems to sleep through the movie. Jay Leno is dull as the king, and Eddie Izzard is only a little bit better as scientific rival, and fraud, Dr. Schadenfreude. The two exceptions to this lack of excitement are Steve Buschemi, who plays Scamper, an immortal and suicidal lab rat, and Sean Hayes, who plays Brain, um... a brain in a jar. The first few scenes of the movie feature the two of these in a series of rapid fire gags. I thought this was going to be the track Igor was going to take, but the movie soon slowed to a crawl.

The movie tries to tread a thin line between children's movie storytelling, and a more adult aesthetic. The script is hollow and poorly written at best. I don't think I've ever seen more expositional dialogs in my life. I'm paraphrasing and exaggerating here, but only slightly. This is from a conversation between Schadenfreude and his girlfriend, Jaclyn. "You're a fraud. As your girlfriend I'm going to continue posing as other people's girlfriends to steal their inventions for you." Seriously? There was no way to show this short of her saying it? No wonder the cast had so much trouble making this interesting.

This would have been forgivable if the target audience wasn't concerned with such matters. But the movie has some aspects that may not be appropriate for a young audience. First of all, Scampers tries to kill himself in a number of fairly horrific ways, and in graphic case we even see him blow a hole in his head. Let's not forget about the genera malicious themes embodied by even the lovable main character. At least he overcomes these evil ambitions my the end.

There were some funny moments, especially with Scamper and Brain. And there were some self-aware aspects that made me chuckle, like Molly Shannon's character being named Eva- presented in a way the mimicked WALL-E. Also, it the movie looked rather nice. The animation wasn't the best I've seen, but it was competent, and the design of the environments and characters embodied a certain twisted charm. These factors, however, a rendered moot when a script is this bad.


Friday, September 12, 2008

Burn After Reading

"Report back to me when it makes sense." This line, spoken by a senior CIA officer (played by J.K. Simmons) fairly accurately sums up the premise of Burn After Reading. I am pleased to see the Cohen brothers make a return to comedy- especially after last year's No Country for Old Men. It's been 8 years since their last decent comedy (O, Brother Where Art Thou). Burn After Reading, however, follows much more in the vein of Fargo.

This is yet another convoluted story of mix-ups, and normal people getting in way over their heads. This fun little farce is about a former CIA agent, Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) and a CD that falls into the wrong hands. These hands happen to belong to the two true shining stars in the movie. The sweet and surprisingly sinister Linda Litske (Frances McDormand) and the critically incompetent meat-head, Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt). They both lit up every scene they were in. But of course, there's much more then just this simple story of blackmail. Infidelity abounds in this movie, involving Katie Cox, (Tilda Swinton), Harry Prafer (George Clooney proving once again he's a born fit with the Cohens), and back around to Litske. Throw into the mix private detectives, divorce lawyers, and even the Russians, and you get an idea of this wacky comedy.

The cast really made this movie. The story as fun as it was, was really nothing new. It was just a reinvention of story devices the Cohen's have done over and over again. Every member of this large ensemble, however, was fantastic. Malkovich was likely the saddest character, caught in the middle of all of this- and he just wanted to write his memoirs. Swinton was as cold and uncaring as she's ever been. Clooney provides an interesting blend of sexual deviance (what until you see the machine he built in his spare time) and paranoia. I looked at McDormand as a shallow version of her amazing Fargo role, and Pitt was just a big adorable dummy. There wasn't a scene he was in that I didn't laugh.

Now of course, this is a Cohen Brothers movie after all. So that means some rather violent scenes. But it is still nothing compared to No Country, or even the Woodchipper scene from Fargo. These are more quick and surprising.

This isn't the most original movie ever, and it's not one of the Cohens' best (though with their amazing catalog that's a pretty tall order). But it was downright funny. It's been a while since I actually laughed out loud at a movie (and even heard scattered "this is funny" comments). In a rare case the trailers for this movie actually accurately represented the movie. If the trailers excite you, then see this movie. It delivers on everything that is promises.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Pineapple Express

Sorry it's been a while since a real review. Hopefully I'll have Tropic Thunder, Mirrors, and Clone Wars on the way, so stay tuned. First, though, is one of the few beacons of comedy in the midst of a rather unfunny summer. Pineapple Express is, of course, the newest comedy from the Apatow gang. This time relative newcomer David Gordon Green helms a Seth Rogan script to a mostly positive product.

This is, what else, a stoner movie. Rogan plays Dale Denton a professional loser who witnesses a murder committed by drug lord Ted Jones (Gary Cole). Dale goes running to his only friend, who also happens to be his dealer- Saul Silver (James Franco). The problem is that he gets his supply from Jones. The result is a tale of mistaken identity worthy of Hitchcock that wraps Saul and Dale up in the middle of a drug war.

The movie was decent on a whole- but not on par with some of their other movies. And it certainly will not go down as a stoner classic. It was a funny distraction, though. Each character was an overblown caricature- from Dale and Saul's perpetual high, to Jones' Pulp Fiction worthy thugs. The relationship between Dale and Saul was delightful. The two of them in their intoxicated state try to reason through simple problems and manage to come up with absurdly elaborate solutions. The best part of this is that they're completely aware of this. They try to destroy their phones so they can't be traced, yet leave the car on all night so it drains the batteries. It's amusing watching two men who can barely function try to escape from a crime boss.

There were some parts of the movie that really left me a little dumbfounded, however. Apparently Seth Rogan had written this quite a while ago, before he was a big name, and it kind of shows. His character, who delivers summons to criminals is dating a girl who is still in highschool. And he meets her there, and everybody just seems to be hunky dory with that. In fact, he's even invited to have dinner with her parents. Even in a near slapstick comedy like this, that's a bit too weird.

The highlight of the movie is the car chase that is featured so predominantly in the trailers. This scene really embodies the spirit of the movie. Saul "rescues" Dale from someone who was trying to help them, and they end up being chased with Saul's foot caught in the windshield where he tried to kick it out. This is the perfect example of the two of them completely ruining what should be a simple situation.

The final act in the movie really falls short in comparison. It turns into a rather straight forward action movie. The mentality of lighthearted (if inappropriate) fun is replaced by boring shootouts and fight scenes. This is absurd, but not in a good way. It seems like the main thing that made the movie good, a script by an author not held down by conventions, and obviously under a number of influences, is also what made it end so poorly. It's clear they didn't know a good way out of the story.

So the ending was lacking pretty severely, it's still better than that abysmal Step Brothers in every regard. I was a little disappointed by Pineapple Express because I've been excited about it for sixth months or so. But I'm not going to hold it against them. I suppose the movie did deliver on what it offered, a funny distraction. I just wish it didn't leave me with a bad taste.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Step Brothers

This movie was atrocious. It actually had the makings of a pretty good movie. Will Ferrell is of course one of the best current funnymen, and John C. Reily is a very good actor (though I prefer him in dramatic roles. Adam Mckay is certainly no newcomer to comedy. He's been writing and directing on Saturday Night Live for the past 10 years, and was behind some of Ferrell's best movies. Unfortunately, the movie falls flat.

Brennan Huff (Ferrell) and Dale Doback (Reilly) are two emotionally stunted men in their late thirties still living at home with their respective single parents. Conflict arises when their parents get together and Brennan and Dale now have to live under one roof. They spend two hours acting like 10 year olds. All the expected conflicts are there, from not touching each others things, to having to share a bedroom.

The core story here is the struggle for these two man-children to leave the nest and finally start their adult lives. This could be really funny as a short, or it could be endearing as a feature, but their attempt to stretch this joke for an entire movie simply does not work. Don't get me wrong, there are certainly a few funny scenes. Brennan and Dale spend a very funny montage interviewing for jobs- going into the interviews together. It's too bad that these funny scenes were short, and there just weren't many of them.

In an odd, and I think misguided choice, the movie was rated R. This is clearly because of the excessive language peppered throughout. Aside from this, there was nothing at all offensive. So by including completely unnecessary and often times out of place language, they cut off much of the potential demographic.

I think Ferrell should try revisiting his touching abilities that he demonstrated in Stranger Than Fiction. And I really miss the John C. Reilly of Gangs of New York. Any way you look at it, Step Brothers was just a miss.


Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

What would be great would be if this were an actual job, so then I wouldn't have to pay ten dollars to go see movies like this. The third Mummy installment was just awful. It was a close race, but it still failed to unseat Dark Knight from the #1 spot where it has sat for the third week. I guess we'll have to wait and see if Pineapple Express manages to accomplish that next week.

This movie employs essentially the same formula the other's in the franchise have. This time, however, Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser) is fighting a mummy in China. The movie opens with a fairly long winded history of the Dragon Emperor, his rise to power, and his downfall. 2000 years later, his tomb is discovered by Rick's son, Alex (Luke Ford), and a militant faction is trying to raise the emperor and his ancient army. In true Mummy fashion, the fate of the world rests on a rather small band including Rick, Alex, Rick's Wife, Evelyn (Maria Bello), her brother, Jonathan (John Hannah), and the mother daughter team of Zi Juan (Michelle Yeoh) and Lin (Isabelle Leong) that has been trying to keep the emperor down for the past two millenia. Aside from the different setting, there is virtually nothing new about this movie.

This movie takes some of the funny absurdities of the previous installments to a new level. The horribly integrated Yetis and a rather cartoonish dragon divorce this movie from any sort of reality. Of course there was the obligatory clash between the armies of the undead. And actually, these looked pretty good. In fact, I'll even through the "car" chase scene between a chariot and a truck loaded with fireworks into the good pile. But it takes more than an impressive battle to make a movie.

The movie was obnoxiously self aware. Early on in her first appearance, Evelyn says "I'm a whole new woman." This is clearly nod to the fact that Bello replaced Rachel Weisz who had played the role in the first two movies. Not long after that in a scene about their marital relations, the music plays up anticipation than letdown as the orchestra comes to a grinding halt. I understand that this is an adventure comedy, but parts like those were just annoying.

I've made it no secret that I am no fan of Brenden Fraser. It seems like he can only play himself. His lines in this movie seemed almost interchangeable with those in Journey to the Center of the Earth. And Bello plays a rather odd character (much different than I remember from the earlier movies) who seems to have some sort of sexual fetish about mummies and being in danger. That's gotta be a difficult turn on to deal with. And Luke Ford was just about on par with Fraser, but I think it was just his character. In the middle of tracking the emperor, he's talking to his mother about relationship advice because he has a thing for Lin, whom he just met earlier that day. I think he may have more pressing matters. And that's not even mentioning the fact that Ford is only 13 years younger than the actors portraying his parents- and it looks like the gap is even smaller.

This really shouldn't come as a surprise. Even the best series start to have problems by the third installment. And the Mummy was never a very good franchise to begin with. Judging by how this movie will probably be received, and the fairly lackluster opening weekend, I can imagine this may be the last we hear from The Mummy.


Friday, August 1, 2008

The X-Files: I Want To Believe

This movie had a lot going against it. And I mean a lot. It opened the week after The Dark Knight, which had the biggest opening weekend of all time, marketing was virtually non-existent, and the TV show ended 6 years ago, barely limping to the finish the line. The movie was really made as a sort of closure for X-Files fans. The big question, however, was are there any X-Files fans still out there. The answer is a somewhat muffled yes.

The movie plays out as a somewhat mediocre self-contained episode. All the deep seeded governmental conspiracies, alien invasions, and secret organizations that were so embedded in most of the series, and was full integrated into the first movie have long dissipated. This movie focuses more on the human side and the relationship of (former) FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson).

The movie opens in classic X-Files fashion. A team of FBI agents are being led through a snow covered field by what appears to be a psychic. Our questions are answered, and more are posed with the discovery of a severed arm in the snow. This leads to an investigation regarding a missing agent and a rather grisly underground operation. The bizarre nature of the case forces the FBI to enlist help from our favorite former agents. The contrast between the two immediately comes back into play with Scully relying strictly on science, and Mulder putting all of his faith in the psychic from the beginning, Father Joseph Crissman (Billy Connolly) who happened to have been convicted pedophilia, ending his former career. This results in conflict between Mulder and just about everyone else.

Mulder and Scully's counterparts who are currently at the FBI are played by Amanda Peet and Xzibit. They have some pretty big shoes to fill. Peet does an ample job of actually creating another Scully- skeptical yet oddly attracted to Mulder's ideas. Xzibit on the other hand looks really out of place here. It's tough to come from hosting Pimp My Ride to being an FBI agent. He was all force without the finesse of the other characters. Anderson and Duchovny, despite what they claimed in interviews, seemed like they slipped right back into the roles as if no time had passed.

One of the major revelations in the movie is that we finally get closure regarding Mulder and Scully's relationship. We see early on that, yes, they are indeed together. Anyone who watched the show knows that the series was filled with sexual tension between the two from day one. This causes conflict between them when Scully wants to stay out of the FBI's matters, and Mulder wants to jump right back into it. Mulder's infatuation with Father Joseph also puts him at odds with Scully's righteous religious beliefs, and her hatred for what the man did. Clearly, this movie focused much more on their human side than on their detecting side. Don't get me wrong, there was no shortage of creepy moments, it was just much more subdued than the visual effects show than many may have expected.

Director and show creator Chris Carter threw little tidbits to fans. Most of these were unnecessary, but were still appreciated. There's a scene with Mulder talking about his sister who had been abducted by aliens when he was young, Scully wrestling with memories of having to give up her son, and even an appearance by their old boss, Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) one of the favorite characters from the show. None of these really had any baring on the plot of the movie, which was fairly thin. They simply said to the fans "we're thinking of you."

As I've made pretty obvious, I loved the show- even the last few seasons after Duchovny left. So of course I liked the movie. They could have played nothing but the theme song for two hours and I would have gone. If you weren't a fan of the show, you may not be drawn in. But chances are, it you weren't a fan of the show, this probably wasn't high on your summer movie list anyway. The filmmakers knew this, so they decided to go with a relatively low budget and make it for those who were interested. I enjoyed the movie to no end, but in the interest of being unbiased, I'll have to say that some parts were a bit thin. If you did like the show, however, go see it, they need the support.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Smart People

This was a little movie that slipped in and out of theaters back in April. I saw a couple of trailers for it, but never heard from it again. A few days I was finally able to catch it. I was excited because of the great cast involved, but it turned out to be a moderate dud.

The movie is about widowed English professor Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) and his family. He has a strained relationship with his conservative daughter, Vanessa (Ellen Page), rebellious son, James (Ashton Holmes) and deadbeat brother, Chuck (Thomas Haden Church). A combination of impatience and arrogance results in Lawrence injuring his head. This acts as a catalyst to bring him closer to his brother, whom he hires as a driver, and introduces Lawrence to his love interest/doctor Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker).

The movie primarily deals with egotism and a holier than thou mentality. This prevented me from enjoying much of the movie. Even when the characters try to redeem themselves, it's done very superficially. Just as he's starting to connect with his daughter, Lawrence starts spending all of his time with Janet. This drives Vanessa and Chuck awkwardly close together. Neither of these two grow much from this new situation either. As the characters realize their faults, they simply become more and more stubborn. The movie is about imperfections, but instead of improving them, it seems they simply don't care. The only characters I could understand was James, in his attempts to distance himself and move on with a new life in college.

The acting is all well and good. This was certainly an A level cast, but they weren't really stretching themselves here. The actors could only do so much with such single dimensional characters. That's one way to judge an actor against a director or the movie as a whole. If the whole cast is uniformly stiff, it's probably not just their fault.

The movie had potential to be one of those great dysfunctional family movies like The Squid and the Whale or Imaginary Heroes. Somehow those movies managed to rise above the unlikeable characters, whereas Smart People just kind of wallows in them. The movie wasn't bad, but it didn't have the sparkle I would expect from such a powerhouse cast.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Estelle Getty

Estelle Getty

Best known for her role as Sophia Petrillo on The Golden Girls, Estelle had an impressive career- made even more impressive that her first acting role was at the age of 55.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Dark Knight

This is likely the best comic book adaptation ever. I was of two minds about Batman Begins. The first half with Bruce Wayne's (Christian Bale) transformation into Batman was wonderful, but it kind of fell apart once he got back to Gotham. The Dark Knight, however, is fantastic from beginning to end. This is with little doubt the most anticipated movie of the year, and it did not disappoint.

The Dark Knight starts immediately after the previous movie. Batman is cleaning up Gotham City, and organized crime is on the run. We are introduced in the first scene to the city's newest scourge, The Joker (Heath Ledger). He teams up with the mob to hunt down and kill Batman, but has deeper rooted plans to simply bring Gotham City to its knees. He wants nothing short of anarchy. The only thing standing in his way is the Triumvirate of Batman, Lt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman), and the newly elected DA, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). As The Joker's terrorist attacks get more more severe, he seems to always be one step ahead of the law. The heroes must then compromise their own morals to do what's best for the city.

I don't want to sound like I'm just being influenced by Heath Ledger's recent death, but he managed to dethrone Jack Nicholson's Joker from the 1989 Tim Burton Batman. It wasn't just that he brought a more intense and unstable performance to the character, it was the entire package. Nicholson's Batman, despite being uncomfortable crazy was still more mischievous than terrifying. His plan of using makeup to poison the city, and clean looking clown makeup were both outlandish and kind of goofy. Ledger's Joker makeup is grimy and frightening, and he engages in much more direct acts of terrorism. This marks the full transformation of the character from cartoony to truly frightening. Just as an example, my favorite Joker moment (I can't say what without giving stuff away) was completely improvised by Ledger.

I felt the most important relationship was between Batman and Dent. The new DA is willing to whatever it takes to clean up the city. He teams up with Batman to do the dirty work, while Dent makes sure they're prosecuted legally. He is even referred to many times as a white knight, in contrast to Batman's Dark Knight. Tension arises between them, however, because Dent is in a relationship with Bruce Wayne's former love, Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal).

The Joker makes it his goal to bring Dent down from his pedestal, and undo all the good he's done. In fact, this is one of the most prevalent themes with the Joker. He's a master at bringing out the ugliness in people. The battle becomes a fight for Dent's image, with Batman shouldering the weight of all the dark deeds. This truly paints him as a tragic hero more than any other movie. He does everything for Gotham, and bares the brunt of their hatred.

There are some fantastic action sequences. Somehow director, Christopher Nolan, manages to hold your attention and not overwhelm with the almost three hour running time. A few if the more action filled scenes got a little confusing and disorienting, but these were made up for by some other fantastic ones. A car chase between a semi, a SWAT truck, and the Tumbler (the new Batmobile) was wonderful. And a sequence a little later with The Joker in jail was just as good.

The Dark Knight seems to capture perfectly the revitalized franchise. Gotham is as dark as it's ever been, and Batman has to act accordingly. The movie explores the complex morality of sinking to the level of those you're trying to capture. There's even a fairly direct commentary on government surveillance and what happens when one person gets too much power. The action, the character, and these themes of relative morality tie in perfectly together. I have little doubt that this will be the biggest film of the year.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Hellboy 2: The Golden Army

I'm not terribly familiar with the Hellboy mythology, but that doesn't seem to pose much of a barrier to the accessibility of this movie. Guillermo del Toro certainly has proven himself as a master of the fanciful. He showed this sense of dark whimsy in Pan's Labyrinth, and again in Hellboy II.

The movie is centered on an ancient war between humans and elves. Centuries ago a peace had been reached, and this truce hung in a delicate balance for all that time. Jump forward to present day, where Elf Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) has grown tired of being relegated to the shadows of the world. He wants to gain access to a mythical and indestructible Golden Army. The only thing standing between him and control is his twin sister Nuala (Anna Walton) and the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. For those that didn't see the first one (which is not required to understand this movie) the Bureau consists of our hero, Hellboy (Rom Perlman), Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), Abe Sapien (Doug Jones, and voiced by David Hyde Pierce), and is led by the bureaucratic and perpetually unhappy Tom Manning (Jeffery Tambor). As well as a slew of unimportant Men in Black. These forces now must face off, as usual, to save humanity.

The strongest part of this movie is the art direction. The creature design is nothing short of spectacular. This is demonstrated perfectly in the design of Wink, a monstrous troll, and the ravenous "tooth fairies" towards the beginning. Even the most annoying character, Johann Krauss (voiced by Seth McFarlane), the ethereal gas housed in a fish bowl domed body was interestingly designed. The character, a proponent of protocol, was brought in to reign in Hellboy's renegade nature. The Krauss character in general was simply cringe worthy. Hellboy and Abe Sapien, naturally, were very well designed. The hours they must have spent in makeup each day were well worth it.

Hellboy takes a more sarcastic approach to superheros. This smartass attitude was touched on in Iron Man, but is perfectly embodied in this franchise. Hellboy is the hero with an "I don't care what happens" outlook. He'll do what he wants, let his anger get the better of him, and let his love for Liz cloud his judgement. The movie touches on the themes of the public turning on the hero. Because of his disregard for property, he's not the most popular. This is important, because it adds depth to an otherwise mono-dimensional character.

The best scenes in the movie were actually towards the beginning. We get a telling of the history of the war between Elves and humans. This sequence is completely animated, and the characters are represented by what appear to be wooden puppets. This part, along with most of the movie, is just visually stunning. The plot is fairly paint by numbers, but it really is a visual work of art.


Monday, July 14, 2008

Journey To The Center Of The Earth

This movie is pretty much exactly what I expected it to be. It's an action filled, special effects extravaganza that's short on everything else. Unfortunately, it wasn't playing in 3D at my theater, so I didn't have the opportunity of spending an extra five dollars for that experience. So maybe I didn't get the whole brevity of the movie, but I find this unlikely.

It's difficult to really attack the story. Obviously it's based on Jules Verne's classic novel of the same name- perhaps one of the greatest adventure stories of all time. The problem with this one is the drastic character change. In the book, the professor is an intelligent academic. In the movie, he's Brendan Fraser. In the book, his nephew is in his 20's, and able to hold his own, not very fitting for the 15 year old Josh Hutcherson. And finally, the book employs a rugged Icelandic sherpa, instead of the young Anita Briem. I guess that was an attempt to bring the story to a younger audience. But instead I feel that none of these characters could really handle themselves in this situation.

I'm always dubious about when a movie is directed for 3D stereoscopic projection. It tends to influence illogical shot construction, and an excessive amount of things coming straight at the camera. Flashlights, dinosaurs, and slime are all a part of this. So when you watch it not in a 3D theater, it just looks kind of dumb. As far as the effects themselves go, they're fine. The story is inherently whimsical, so glowing birds, giant dinosaurs, and rather stylish magma despite being over the top, doesn't seem all that out of place.

Some of my favorite moments are still there, even if they don't follow the book very closely. The vast underground ocean fulfilled its thrillingly obligatory scenes, and there was an interesting sequence with Hutcherson leaping across floating rocks, baring a strange resemblance to video game jumping puzzles. I imagine that will play prominently in whatever video game tie in they come out with.

There were a few fun moments, but on a whole, they movie was just dull. When something is made for 3D, that influences the directing choices a bit too much. I really hope this isn't going to be a trend, because it makes for a weaker movie. I'm sure audiences won't be drawn in by these gimmicks. Unfortunately, however, I think people will continue to be drawn in by Brendan Fraser.


Sunday, July 6, 2008


These are genuine animated movies done by a Brazilian production company. If you ever wondered what Pixar and Dreamworks movies would look like if they were really really bad, here you go.

Sorry about the Spanish on this one. I couldn't find an English version that would let me embed it. It's called Little Panda Fighter and is about a Panda that fights, but really wants to dance ballet.

And unfortunately I could not embed these, but here are the links to a few more.

Tiny Robots

Little Cars

Saturday, July 5, 2008


This movie is just a mess. There's no doubt about its success, however. It knocked WALL*E out of the #1 spot, but we'll just have to wait and see if it has any longevity- I have my doubts. The movie starts out strong enough, with typical Will Smith attitude, and Jason Bateman awkwardness. But the last act completely throws everything before it out, and completely ruins the movie.

As the very well constructed trailers show, Will Smith plays Hancock, a superhero hero without much hero. He's a drunken hobo who inflicts his own brand of vigilant justice. It's essentially his Bad Boys (the loose cannon Mike Lowry) character with super powers. He usually does more damage than he prevents. As a result, public opinion of him is not the most favorable. He ends up saving Ray Embrey's (Jason Bateman) life. Embrey, a PR consultant decides to help Hancock turn his image around. This involves repaying his debt to society (at least until the police realize they need him) and sporting some superhero digs.

The first half is actually fairly entertaining. Smith oozes the attitude that's become synonymous with his roles. And Bateman exudes his charming good guy awkwardness. The two of them form a great chemistry, resulting in some very entertaining scenes. Unfortunately, the movie takes a darker and more serious tone. Without giving away too much, this involves Ray's wife, Mary (Charlize Theron), and the random arrival of a super villain. Some of this was included to show Hancock's detailed history. But really all this accomplished was ruining what could have been a simply a fun, exciting movie.

Director Peter Berg has developed a distinctive hand-held look. This worked well in the war movie The Kingdom, but here it just got rather annoying. In the more action packed scenes, (especially towards the end) I think every shot included either a whip pan or a drastic zoom. Half of the time during the climax, I had no idea what was even happening. As the movie became more serious, the camera work seemed to get more erratic.

I was skeptical of this movie going into it. The first half of the movie managed to win me over to its side, and I was enjoying myself. This new found trust was betrayed by the time the final act rolled around. It tried to take itself too seriously and explain too much. The movie would have been good if not for this fact. In the end this ruined everything the movie had going for it.


Just to give an idea of what I'm saying: After re-watching the trailer, I could only pick out one split-second clip that was not in the first hour or so of the movie. This should give a clear indication of the problems the plague the second half.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


If you've read my previous reviews, you'll know that I really like both Night Watch and Day Watch by Russian director Timur Bekmambetov. Wanted is his debut American movie. He tries to maintain his unique style with this movie, but it doesn't quite work as well with the slightly more realistic plot.

Wanted essentially follows Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) as he is recruited by an organization of assassins known as "The Fraternity." The group is led by Sloan (Morgan Freeman) and Gibson's mentor is Fox (Angelina Jolie). The clan take on missions of assassination assigned to them by a loom. Yes, a loom. What's more- a loom of fate. This really is as dumb as it sounds. Bekmambetov is no stranger to this brand of idea, however. In Day Watch the coveted artifact was The Chalk of Destiny. The difference between those movies and Wanted is that those were based in a sort of underground mythology. This movie is supposed to be based in reality, but these pivotal absurdities make it rather unbelievable.

His directing is slick as always. Tracking bullets from across a city, spectacular car chases, and an obnoxiously overdone train crash. These types of epic scenes worked perfectly in harmony with his Russian movies, and here they looked great- but unfortunately they didn't save this movie. It's difficult to put my finger on why this movie didn't work as well. I think it's trying to transplant the very uniquely Russian feel to a very American movie. This was not a necessary cast at all. The acting took a back seat to the camera work and action. Having big names in the leads only functioned to be a distraction. It's more difficult to see Angelina Jolie in this gritty yet hip underworld than an unknown actress.

Thematically the movie was decent. Gibson is pulled from his depressing humdrum life into this world of violence and intrigue. It was amusing that his assassin skills had been been diagnosed as panic attacks in his normal life. He had to break out of his cubicle job to accomplish what he was really meant for (kind of like a lesser Neo from The Matrix). And there are a fair amount a twists towards the end. Unfortunately these all turned out to be pretty underwhelming. It's not a terrible, and looked pretty good. It's a shame this great director had to resort to pandering to a Hollywood movie. Hopefully the sequel to Day Watch will be coming soon, and hopefully it will recapture that Russian spirit that made the first two so good.


Sunday, June 29, 2008


I go from one wonderful animated movie to another equally wonderful one. WALL*E is hands down the best movie of the year so far. I don't know if this is Pixar's best movie to date, but it is certainly in the running. This is saying a lot when talking about a company with as high caliber films as they create.

I figure first I'll talk about the short that preceded the film. Pixar packages each of their films with a short- often used to try out a new technique, or give up and comers a chance to take the reins. This short, Presto, is a pretty clear throwback to classic Warner Brothers animations. It was by far Pixar's most cartoony film to date. It's interesting that they coupled it with quite possibly their most subtle feature. Presto tells a simple story of a magician, his hungry rabbit, and a teleporting hat. This sets up a genuinely hilarious set of visual gags with various objects going in and out of the hat at (much the consternation of the magician) the most inopportune times. Despite nothing going right, these pratfalls lead to one wonderfully choreographed and downright impressive magic show.

As for WALL*E itself, it's a lovely, poignant love story. An animated movie with very little dialog about a love between two robots (who have only the bare minimum of facial expressions) seemed to be a fairly progressive gamble. By director Andrew Stanton's own testimony, however, the idea of subtly was the driving force from when the idea was first kicked around during Pixar's legendary brain storming session a decade ago. This is the last movie to come out of that session, and I'm kind of glad they waited on it. I think a movie like this wouldn't have done as well without the power and reputation of a company like Pixar behind it.

The main character, WALL*E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter- Earth-Class) is essentially a trash compactor with tank treads. Him and his brethren were left on Earth to clean up after the human race trashed the planet and escaped into space. 700 years later he is (presumably) the last robot on Earth, and continues to go about his duties day in and day out. Over the millennia, however, he developed a very un-robotic characteristic: a personality. A very endearing personality at that. Life goes on as normal until one day a space ship lands, depositing another robot. EVE, a robot sent to investigate if there is any life left on Earth, becomes the immediate object of WALL*E's affection. The two form the most unlikely love, and WALL*E follows her back into space after she is picked up. The two of them become the key to humans re-inhabiting the planet.

Okay, the story isn't terribly new. Lovers from essentially different classes having to overcome obstacles to be together. The originality comes in the robots. These two (WALL*E especially) are among the most emotive characters I've ever seen. It was troubling to see a robot with more heart than I have. It's not often that you see a robot and genuinely feel for the characters. I've never been to an animated movie where the audience was literally silent in emotional expectation. That is a true testament to the animators at Pixar.

The only issues came in with some of the human characters. When humans come into play in the second act, they were fairly stylized- in the same vein as The Incredibles. This was in kind of jarring contrast to the realism of the scenes on Earth. I can see where this would be intentional in comparing the grittiness of the world they left behind to the sterility of the space station. It's just that the characters themselves didn't seem to fit in the same world as WALL*E. This wouldn't have been so bad, except for the few live action shots included. WALL*E passes the time on Earth by watching a VHS of Hello Dolly. That live action is fine, but they also include footage of Earth's president, played by Fred Willard. There's something a little unsettling when the human animated characters are watching this live action footage. Something just doesn't jive between the two.

This is only a very minor complaint. All of this takes a back seat to the characters anyway. I was a little concerned that dialog consisting primarily of robot deeps and whistles would get annoying. Somehow this really managed to work. It seems that their gamble really payed off. This week it was deservedly at #1, and I expect it to stick around for quite a while.