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.