Thursday, December 11, 2008

Beauty in the Outback

On the website Rotten Tomatoes, Australia currently has a rotten tomato. The critics think the movie outweighs the story. Which, in part, is true. Baz Luhrmann is the king of visual storytelling. All of his movies, especially Moulin Rogue!, are all about being beautiful. Australia is no exception. Gorgeous landscapes, impeccable costumes, amazing lighting, and Hugh Jackman all make for quite the beautiful movie. But alas, clocking in at nearly three hours, there wasn't enough story to support all that beauty. Fortunately, the story that is there is a good one that made me very happy I saw the movie.

Spanning from 1938 up to the Darwin bombings in 1941, Australia is set in northern Australia. Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman), an extremely proper Englishwoman, comes to the country to force her husband to sell his failing cattle ranch. What she doesn't know is that her husband was trying to keep the leading cattle man King Carney (Bryan Brown) from monopolizing the beef business. In order to stop Carney and his wicked right-hand man Neil Fletcher (David Wenham), Lady Ashley hires Drover (Hugh Jackman) to help her drive 2,000 head of cattle over an unforgiving landscape. During this process Sarah falls for Drover and becomes very attached to a little half-Aborigine, half-white boy named Nullah (newcomer Brandon Walters).

Before I get into the good of the movie, let's discuss the bad. Australia is really two movies. One is about a little boy going on an adventure witnessing a woman and a man falling in love. The other is about what war and different cultures can do to people. The problem is the transition from one story to the next. After the cattle drive, I felt the movie was basically over. All I needed was a solid epilogue--they lived happily ever after in the gorgeous landscapes of Australia--and I would've been satisfied. But no, the story keeps going, and the epilogue turns into another act...and another.

After awhile, I got comfortable with the new story, but the transition period is a little wonky and might cause most film goers to take a glance at the time. Let me tell you, suffer through it because the second story is quite moving.

Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman are perfectly cast. This movie is very old Hollywood with its epic scope and stylized scenes. Everything is amped up--especially the beauty--and to cast two beautiful people just makes it work even better. (I personally don't think Kidman is all that beautiful, but she does have a very statuesque look that screams Hollywood.) They both also pull off melodrama without making it look, well, melodramatic.

Kidman and Jackman aside, the person who steals the show is young Brandon Walters. This boy is phenomenal! He is the heart of this story, and his performance is absolutely flawless. His eyes tell a million stories, and his beautiful singing/chanting is intoxicating. I'm happy Luhrmann chose to tell the story from his point of view, or I wouldn't have been sold on the simplicity of it all. From a child's perspective, everything is grander and simpler.

For those who are wondering if classic Luhrmann is present, the answer is...sort of. His addiction to contemporary music and funky camera moves are still there, but they're sparingly used. There are more sweeping shots and Aboriginal tunes. Australia is very light and then deathly serious, much like the Red Curtain Trilogy. It is, though, a different step for Luhrmann.

Part western, part war film, and all romance, Australia is a love letter to the country, its indigenous people, and its history. Two movies or one,
simple story or not, Australia is a spectacular thing to watch. It may not be a thinking-man's film, but it is a damn good movie.

Friday, December 5, 2008

November Round-Up

I saw a few of movies in November, and I've been a slacker. I thought instead of writing a bunch of wordy reviews, I'd stick them all in one blog with a paragraph or so a piece. Think of it as economically-sound blogging.

A super-low budget indie based on a short film of the same name, Cashback may not have been the best movie of the month, but it had to be the most interesting. Art student Ben (Sean Biggerstaff) just broke up with his girlfriend. The breakup causes insomnia, and since he's getting no sleep anyway, Ben takes a night job at the local grocery. All of the workers find interesting ways to pass the time, but Ben's involves the manipulation of time so that he can pursue his art.

It's a strange surreal play on time that has a sweet romance dropped in. If you can deal with Ben undressing women for the sake of art, then I'd suggest giving this one a look.

The Promotion, on the other hand, I really did not enjoy. It has a few chuckles here and there, but interesting it is not. Sean William Scott plays Doug, an assistant manager at a Chicago supermarket. When a new store is opening in a better neighborhood, he applies to be the manager so he no longer has to work in the horrid conditions he endures currently. In comes Richard (John C. Reilly), a transfer from Canada who has more experience than Doug. The two are now in competition for the coveted position. At first, it's friendly, but things quickly get a little crazy, and Doug keeps finding himself in awkward situations. Think about all the horrible things that kept happening to Ben Stiller in Meet the Parents, and now think of them not being so funny. That's how I felt about The Promotion.

Chaos Theory is a very sweet, slightly wacky story about a man who goes from making lists for everything to embracing the chaos of the world. Ryan Reynolds is Frank Allen--a father, a husband, and an efficiency expert. While away on business, Frank gets a little wasted, takes a woman (Sarah Chalke) back to his room, and doesn't sleep with her. He leaves and ends up helping a pregnant woman get to the hospital. After some serious mistaken identity issues, Frank's wife (Emily Mortimer) thinks he's fathered some strange woman's child. All of a sudden, Frank goes from happy family man to crazy man who follows any and every whim--from picking a fight in a bar to streaking at a hockey game.

Reynolds has definitely found a good home for himself in the offbeat comedy world. If you end up liking this, I would suggest checking out Just Friends as well. It's a little more sophomoric, but it's hilarious and sweet.

And then there was Quantum of Solace. I do enjoy a good James Bond movie, and no matter what my friend and fellow critic Mike Mechanick says, I think this is a James Bond movie. No, Q is not in the movie. No, Daniel Craig never utters, "Bond, James Bond." But I don't care! There's slick action, a decent villain, two beautiful women (one happens to be a pretty tough cookie), and Dame Judi Dench is so great as M, she may have stolen some cool from Bond.

This was Bond's revenge film. In the first, he lost the love of his life, in this, his second love almost gets killed. It's not a movie about saving his country, it's a movie about saving his sanity. I thoroughly enjoyed it. And even if you don't think it's classic Bond, it's still one hell of an action movie.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Wedding of the Year

I saw Rachel Getting Married on Sunday, and instead of sitting through two hours of actors playing parts on the screen, I felt like I sat through a weekend at someone's intimate wedding celebration. This story seemed so personal and so intrusive that I forgot I was watching fiction. I felt embarrassed, angry, sad, and overjoyed for this family. I'm sure the hand-held cameras and the minimal lighting helped, but Rachel Getting Married is more introspective docudrama than scripted drama. That's what makes it so appealing.

Kym (Anne Hathaway) is a recovering addict. She is released from rehab to attend her older sister's wedding and spend a weekend with her family. Rachel (Rosemary Dewitt) is the responsible one, of course. She's getting her PhD in psychology, and she and the new husband have their shit together--so to speak. The parents are divorced and remarried. Rachel's dad Paul (Bill Irwin) is overprotective, and her mom Abby (Debra Winger) is basically non-existent. The weekend seems like it might be as stressful as any wedding--with the sister's instantly happy to see one another, but quickly everything spirals downhill, and the old family skeletons come hopping right out of the closet.

As I said before, Rachel Getting Married is more documentary than drama, and that's not just because of Jonathan Demme's style choice. A lot must be said about the spectacular cast. Anne Hathaway may be getting all the praise for her razor sharp performance, but the rest of the cast should not be overlooked. Everyone is on...and they never stop.

Rosemarie DeWitt plays Rachel as the perfect student psychologist. She clinically analyzes her family but justifies her own behavior due to wedding stress. She obviously loves her family, but quickly the strain of dealing with Kym gets to her. Hateful things are said, and for awhile, you think that she will cause the complete downfall of the family.

Bill Irwin, who very rarely has stand-out roles, shined very brightly as the patriarch of the family. He smiles and hugs and cooks and makes jokes, but you can always see an underlying sadness in his eyes. I'm always amazed when an actor can say so much without saying a word.

Debra Winger is spectacular is her small role as Rachel & Kym's mom. She is disconnected from the family group, but there are no doubts that she did it to herself. When the daughters try to bring her in, she's hestitant and standoffish. Her performance in her first scene at the rehearsal dinner instantly raised questions in my head--making me realize there were many skeletons this family has hiding.

Anne Hathaway, as a million and one critics have said, gives an amazing performance. It's not like I ever thought she wasn't a good actress. I just always saw her as more a light-hearted type with good comedic timing. In Rachel, the gloves are off, and she wears her emotions like a crown she can't rip off. Hathaway's performance, like Irwin's, plays a lot in her face. She may be spouting one thing, but her face reads something completely different, and that's something new for her. Her past characters have never needed to be so complex, and she pulls it off brilliantly.

Through laughter, yelling, tears, and even a couple of punches, I believed that these actors were family. There are so many intimate details that most movies don't show--when was the last time you saw someone shaving their pits or taking a urine test? It just doesn't happen, but it does in this movie.

There is no question that this film will not satisfy everyone. It's not all yelling and sadness, there are some overwhelmingly happy moments as well. But their are still people who like their family dramas to stay a little glossy and produced, not in-your-face stark and unabashed. I loved it. I think it's one of the best films I've seen this year, and it deserves every accolade I hope it gets as well as some I'm sure it won't.

Friday, November 7, 2008

2008 Winter Preview

The weather is getting a little more crisp, and the crappy run of movies between the end of summer and late fall are finally leaving theatres. It's time for the awards season heavy hitters, and here is my list of what I'd like to see.

This list is coming a little late, or it would have included Burn After Reading, which is wonderfully hilarious, and Eagle Eye, which is a fun, escapist movie. I am, though, going to include a few movies that may or may not have already left a theatre near you. Look at it as a good DVD list to get started.

*Click on the titles to see the trailers.

Rachel Getting Married (October 3)
Anne Hathaway is getting buzzed by Oscar big time on this one. Even though the storyline sounds like a more serious version of Sandra Bullock's 28 Days, I really do want to see it. I'm always interested in actors breaking out of their molds.

City of Ember (October 10)
This movie is already on my Netflix list. I love family action movies, and I love fantasy movies. This is a family action fantasy movie from the director of Monster House. I'm on board.

What Just Happened (October 17)
Does anyone remember back in the day when Robert DeNiro used to act? From the looks of the preview, I think he may have just remembered those days himself. I've always liked Hollywood industry movies, so I'll probably enjoy this one. I just don't know if it's for everyone who's not "in the know."

Zack and Miri Make a Porno
(October 31)
Kevin Smith has brought us brilliance by way of Clerks and Chasing Amy. Kevin Smith has also brought us crap by way of Jersey Girl and Clerks II. Thankfully, Zack and Miri looks to be closer to brilliance with a little crass thrown in instead of the other way around. And if it's not brilliant, at least I'll have a great laugh.

Slumdog Millionaire
(November 12)
For the most part, I'm a Danny Boyle fan. (I could've done without Sunshine and The Beach.) I've also got to give credit to screenwriter Simon Beaufoy for such a fascinatingly original idea. Let's just hope the execution is as interesting on screen as it seems on paper.

Quantum of Solace
(November 14)
Of course I'm going to see the new Bond movie! Why wouldn't I? Daniel Craig is the best bond since Connery.

The Soloist (November 21)
I don't know if I mentioned that I've jumped on the Robert Downey, Jr. bandwagon, but I have. Even if he wasn't in this movie, I'd probably see it. There's a chance of a forced emotional storyline and overdone performances, but I'm willing to take that risk because it very well may be as good as the trailer makes it out to be.

Four Christmases (November 26)
Vince Vaughan makes me laugh. That's all I'll need this close to Thanksgiving.

Austrailia (November 26)
The last time Baz Luhrmann directed Nicole Kidman, it was in the genius Moulin Rouge! Now he's attacking an epic story on a very epic scale...and Hugh Jackman is there to boot. Oh yeah, I'm seeing this one.

Doubt (December 12)
Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, and Philip Seymour Hoffman are names I like to see in the credits, especially in a meaty story like this. A rigid nun accuses a priest of molesting a boy in the school. Is she right, or is she just looking for vengeance against a man who isn't as traditional as she? The Catholic Church is going to have a field day with this movie.

Seven Pounds (December 19)
Will Smith and director Gabriele Muccino team up for the second time (the first was in The Pursuit of Happyness), and it looks fascinating. I have no idea what this movie is about. I've watched the trailer three times, and I'm still not sure. But I'm eager to see it. Whoever made this trailer should teach a clinic in proper ways to tease an audience about a movie.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (December 25)
A story about a man who's aging in reverse. If that idea alone doesn't grab you, maybe Brad Pitt being that man helps?

Frost/Nixon (December 25)
This movie is based upon a stageplay of the same name...with the same leads. The play got rave reviews in London, so I think it will be intriguing on the big screen as well. Plus, Frank Langella and Michael Sheen are fascinated character actors.

Bedtime Stories (December 25)
Say what you will about Adam Sandler, but this movie looks adorable!

Marley & Me (December 25)
Every time I'm in Barnes and Noble, the book Marley & Me catches my eye. Now, it's going to be a movie. A movie that seems more suited to Jennifer Aniston than to Owen Wilson, but as I said about Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married, I'm always interested in actors breaking out of their molds.

Revolutionary Road (December 26)
I am unlike a majority of the world who absolutely adored the movie that made Kate and Leo famous, but I am interested to see them reunited on screen. Even though Titanic wasn't spectacular, the two gave great performances. Also, 11 years has made Leonardo DiCaprio a better actor which should make the reunion that much more interesting.

So what are you looking forward to seeing? What do you think can wait for DVD? Let me know!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Angelina Show

If I were handing out starred ratings for Changling, I would have given it a solid four out of five for the majority of the movie. And then yanked back one of those stars after watching a satisfying ending happen about twenty minutes after the story should've been over. Thanks to Angelina Jolie and her impeccable performance, I'm not too upset about sitting through the bloated third act.

Jolie plays Christine Collins, a single mother living in 1928 Los Angeles. She works as a telephone operator supervisor, and she cares very deeply for her nine-year old son Walter (Gattlin Griffith). One day, after an unexpected long shift at work, Christine comes home to find Walter missing. She calls the police right away, and that is where her problems begin.

First off, unlike today, the police didn't start the search for her son immediately. They had to wait 24 hours. When little Walter doesn't show up, the police come, and the search is on. Five months pass, and Captain J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan), the head of the juvenile department, shows up with great news. Walter has been found.

But the boy at the train station is not Walter. Captain Jones is appalled at the idea that this woman is turning down a found child, and he forces her to accept him. The police claim the search is over, and the rest of the movie becomes Christine's fight to uncover the injustice of the LAPD, prove her sanity, and above all, find her son.

There were many, many instances during the film that I was literally outraged at the police. Who would not believe that a mother wouldn't recognize her own son? But disbelieve they did, and the idea of this being based on a true story makes it all that much more aggravating.

What works in this movie, if you couldn't tell the title, is Angelina Jolie's portrayal of Christine Collins. Nearly every time she broke down crying, I felt like crying with her. The pain and anguish and frustration isn't subtle, and why would it be? Her fellow actors on screen, for the most part, did a great job, but she was definitely acting circles around most of them. I don't think I can blame this on the actors as much as the way the story was written.

This is a movie about a mother's struggle. There is police corruption, sexism, and monumental foul play, but at its core, the story is about this woman. The other characters are just icing, and I think that's what keeps this from being a five-star movie for me.

Don't get me wrong, Clint Eastwood directed a great movie. It's compelling and stark and all those gritty-type words you can use when describing Eastwood and his movies. Most of the movie had me glued to the screen--my mind reeling about the injustice and the mystery of it all-- but there was just too much detail and not enough development of supporting characters.

The last time Jolie won an Oscar, it was for playing a institutionalized girl. This time, she's going to be nominated for playing an institutionalized woman. I don't know if she'll win, but she definitely deserves the nod.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Flashback Review! Walk Hard

Tim and I were looking for something to watch on On Demand, and he decided on Walk Hard. I kept referring to my review when we talked about it, and I thought, "Hey, I should share this on the blog." So, I dug into my archives and found the review I wrote for Critics Rant. Enjoy!

The sophomoric comedy will never die. There are great ones like Animal House. There are horrible ones like Dumb and Dumberer. And there are those that fall a bit in between. I think that’s Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. I can’t really say, though, because I’m still trying to wrap my brain around this mock biopic.

From the first moment of the movie, I thought I knew exactly what I was in store for. A stage manager runs around backstage looking for Mr. Cox. “I need Cox. Where’s Cox?” (Haha. Funny.) When he finds the singer, he’s leaning against a wall in a dark hallway ala Joaquin Phoenix in Walk the Line. Then Tim Meadows pops up, and in his always perfect deadpan voice says, “Dewey Cox has to think about his whole life before he performs.” I was actually surprised when there was no generic dream-blur transition.

From here, we learn the life story of Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly). Starting back when he was a little boy and accidentally killed his older, "perfect" brother Nate. At 14, Dewey plays in front of his first audience. His music is a hit with the kids but the adults think it’s the devil’s music. His father, after saying, “The wrong kid died,” (for the second but definitely not the last time) kicks 14-year-old Dewey out of the house. So Dewey, along with his 12-year-old girlfriend Edith (Kristen Wiig), move out and start a life of their own.

After having more children than anyone should (I think the final count is 22), Edith finally comes to her senses and leaves Dewey when she finds him in bed with his new wife Darlene (Jenna Fischer), whom he married just because he wanted to sleep with her.

Dewey, depressed and unlucky in love, spends time in jail and then rehab. Neither helps because he just goes right back on the drugs when he spends some time in India tripping on LSD with the Beatles.

Side note: Jack Black is the worst Paul McCartney I’ve ever seen. Even if he isn’t trying to really be Paul, it doesn’t work. On the other hand, Adam Sandburg does the most impeccable George Harrison impression I’ve ever seen. Though, really, how many George Harrison impressions have I seen? Back to the story.

So! After his LSD trip, Dewey makes some horrible music, loses Darlene and his band mates, and gives up on music all together. Eventually, when he’s 71, we come back to the present, and see him perform his farewell song.

For the most part, Walk Hard is hilarious. The songs are catchy and the best written jokes in the entire movie. Edith’s insistence that Dewey will never make it, even though he’s got hit after hit, is funny. Remembering that Wiig and Reilly are playing teenagers is hilarious.

And there’s Tim Meadows. No matter if it a great joke or a crappy one, his delivery made me laugh out loud every time.

There are some overly cheesy, on-the-nose moments that work only because of the actors. Then there are some overly cheesy, on-the-nose moments that fall so flat that I can’t believe they stayed off the cutting room floor. I have the same feelings about the jokes. It’s really OK to have a couple of running jokes through your movie, but there is such thing as overkill. Pa Cox’s (Raymond J. Barry) favorite thing to say is, “The wrong kid died,” but after about the sixth time he utters it, I’m over it. The same goes for Dewey constantly pulling sinks out of the wall. Really, it’s only funny twice.

John C. Reilly, as always, is amazing. Even when the material is sub par, he seems to make it work. Jenna Fischer blows me away. I’ve always loved her as Pam on "The Office," but I’ve never seen her like this. She plays the seemingly innocent sex kitten Darlene to a tee.

The music is wonderful. Each song is catchy and littered with innuendo or a set up for a later joke. The best song is “Let’s Duet” with Dewey and Darlene. It’s sophomoric, yes, but it’s still damn entertaining.

The cameos read like a SNL call sheet crossed with Judd Apatow’s favorites sprinkled with a little Christopher Guest regulars. Everyone from Jonah Hill to Jayne Lynch to Frankie Muniz is in this movie. So if you’ve gotten to a part where it starts to lag, play the “who is that guy” game and you can keep yourself entertained until the movie’s funny again.

Even though I enjoyed Walk Hard, my biggest complaint is that it isn’t consistent. When it’s funny, it’s friggin’ hilarious. When it’s not, I’m checking my watch.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Nick and Norah

When I come here to write a blog, I usually spend days trying to figure out what I'm going to say. I approach this as if I'm writing for a magazine or newspaper when really, I'm writing for me and a bunch of people who love movies. I know this, but I still take time to set it up and rewrite it. Once in a while, I see a movie that throws all those formalities out the window. I just sit down and start typing. Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist is one of those movies.

It is not the best movie I've seen this year, but it's truly the first movie this year that reminded me why I not only love watching movies, but love the whole idea of creating. It's such a simple story about the complication of love and relationships. It's little bits of every experience you've had just in settings you've never found yourself. It reminds me of all the good 80s movies that I find comfortable.

Nick (Michael Cera) is a bassist in a band who's completely hung up on his ex-girlfriend. He makes her mix CDs which she never listens to, but he keeps on trying to win her back. In an attempt to pull him out of his funk, his band mates take him out to play a gig and find his favorite band Where's Fluffy.

Norah (Kat Dennings) is the plain girl with the famous dad. Her best friend Caroline (Ari Graynor) depends on her for everything, and the pretty girl Tris (Alexis Dziena) is a complete bitch to her all the time. Little does Norah know that Tris' ex is Nick, and she's in love with his mix CDs.

This movie is about how two people with nothing in common but the love of a band find each other, lose each other, and then really find each other in one very long, very amazing night.

I think what makes this movie so comfortable and enjoyable are the lead actors. Michael Cera and Kat Dennings both play the plain kid well. You root for them, you feel for them, and you know them like they're your best friends. Oh, and they have incredible chemistry.

The supporting cast ain't too shabby either. Norah's best friend Caroline is a fall down drunk, but she provides a good majority of the comic relief. Think Penelope Ann Miller in Adventures in Babysitting. (If you haven't seen Adventures, please rent it now.)

Nick's gay bandmates, Thom (Aaron Yoo) and Dev (Rafi Gavron) are wonderful. (I have to mention that they are gay because everyone else brings it up every five minutes.) Thom and Dev are Nick's conscience, attempting to point him in the right direction and always (well, almost always) there to pull him back to himself.

With the offbeat supporting players and the down-to-earth leads, Nick and Norah is a quirky romantic story about teenagers on the cusp of adulthood crossing paths and having a crazy time doing it.

Real people don't have nights like these. Real people don't figure out the meaning of love and all that in one crazy night in New York City, but real people in the movies do. And that's why we all go see these stories play out on the big screen. Because sometimes we need to see the hyper-reality instead of the reality. Sometimes we need a feel good, comfortable, love story that's simple, sweet, and really good.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Don, the Traitor

It is not a secret that I love Don Cheadle, so I may be a little biased in saying that Traitor was a great movie. But I don't care because Traitor was a great movie. It's a little like The Departed meets Muslim extremist. Some people might consider this a bad combination, but with an actor as good a Cheadle in the lead, it worked for me. Here's a little tip that might throw you, Steve Martin (yep, that one) came up with the story while shooting Bringing Down the House. Let me just say, bravo Steve on a compelling story.

Cheadle is Samir Horn, a devout Muslim who was born in Sudan, raised in Chicago and is a former US Army Special Forces expert. The film starts with a young Samir praying with his father. When tragedy strikes, we jump ahead to present-day Samir in Yemin selling explosives to a terrorists group. Huh, go figure.

When he gets caught by Yemin officers and an FBI task force, he spends time in a Yemeni prison where he befriends Omar (
Saïd Taghmaoui), a ringleader of a terrorist group. When Omar takes Samir with him as they escape prison, Samir becomes part of the group's ever-escalating terror plots all over Europe and soon to American soil. The thing is, you're wondering the whole time if Samir is just an American spy trying to get the bad guys, or is he now rogue and playing for the other team?

This whole time two FBI agents are following him around the world--Agents Clayton and Archer (Guy Pierce and Neal McDonough). Agent Clayton is an empathetic one who was raised a good Christian boy but went against the grain when he studied Arabic in school. Archer is the aggressive one who thinks with his fists and doesn't believe in a gray area. Yes, they're sort of stereotyped, but they're not in the movie enough for me to care too much.

With the good guys--the FBI--and the bad guys--the terrorist--pitted against one another. Traitor seems like a movie that could quickly fall into the black hats vs. the white hats kind of movie. Omar definitely talks about his hatred and why he believes Americans should die in bombings. Archer definitely talks about how much damage these men have done and could do to the American way. But Samir is always their with his faith.

He questions every motive, every idea by bringing it back to God and morality. Samir's message never waivers: bad things happen in this world, but we are not here to be the judges of who is right and who is wrong. With such a strong character in Samir, Traitor moves away from being a run-of-the-mill extremist against Americans movie and becomes a morality tale for both sides.

There are people who will be bothered by this idea of both the good guys and the bad guys having some of the same traits, but isn't it true? It's never over-emphasized, and the terrorists definitely are the bad guys in the movie, but they're not faceless drones.

Besides being a movie about the current political/social issues in this world, Traitor is also a good thriller with some terribly disturbing moments. I don't mean disturbing with blood and gore and all that. I mean getting under your skin and making the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. The idea that a man with such a strong faith in God would put himself in these situations--risking all that he has and knows to do what he believes is right, and the idea of extremists sympathizers infiltrating our lives just waiting for the moment when they can destroy definitely gets under your skin.

This isn't really the type of movie that you enjoy per say, but I did think it was a terrific movie that will have you talking...and maybe not necessarily about war and terror.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Darkest Knight

To call The Dark Knight a "dark movie" would be a gross understatement. It's morbid and creepy...and friggin' spectacular. I loved it!

I loved it so much that I've had trouble writing this review. (I saw it nearly two weeks ago!) It always seems that I have trouble with reviews when I absolutely adore the movie. I find myself wanting to be more critical instead of just gushing.

So here are my critical points:

1, Christian Bale's Batman voice is a little obnoxious. I think he amped up the gravelyness from the first film, and it grated on my nerves just a smidgen. He makes up for it by looking absolutely stunning in a suit (and by giving a great performance), so I'll forgive him.

2, It is utterly violent. I have no problem with violence, especially when it's done in such a simple, scary way. But I must say the woman with the seven-year old sitting next to us was probably wondering exactly what I was--how in the hell is this movie PG-13? Granted, there isn't a lot of blood and gore going on, but there are plenty of shootings, burnings, beatings, and one dramatic off-screen knifing that rates pretty much in the R category for me.

Other than those two things, this movie is about as great as a summer blockbuster could be. Great villains, greats explosions, great story. Am I saying great too much?

First, let me commend whomever decided not to cast Katie Holmes again. I don't care if it was her decision, Tom's decision, or some suit at Warner Bros, but bravo to you for rethinking that part. Katie Holmes made Rachel Dawes too needy--a woman who was just the girl Batman wanted to have. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Rachel with intelligence and poise that makes me believe that everyone who loves her loves her for more than how she looks in a slinky dress.

Aaron Eckhart turns in a praise-worthy performance as Harvey Dent. For a chunk of the movie, I wasn't sure how I felt about him (the actor and the character), but by the second half, I was rooting for Harvey and Aaron, as well as anticipating the imminent downfall.

Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are both such incredible actors that having small parts is no small part to either of them. Lucius Fox and Alfred are a large part of Bruce Wayne's life, and having lesser actors play these parts would have been a travesty. Both of them are quiet, elegant, yet firm and trustworthy characters that can stand up and deal with both Bruce and Batman.

And then there's the Joker.

Heath Ledger's performance is, hands-down, the most hyped thing to hit the big screen all year. Before his death, people were talking about his amazing turn as the Joker. After his death, the hype only intensified. I must say, the hype is true. With every lick of the lips, flip of the greasy hair, and caress of his precious knife, I was completely fixated on this terrifying man in the creepy clown make-up.

The Joker does some pretty silly things on screen, including dressing up as a nurse, but I never really wanted to laugh because, I have to admit, I was a little scared. Ledger had me truly believing in the pure evilness of his perfect villain--a man who just enjoys wreaking havoc on and bringing corruption to the world.

Leave the kiddies at home, but see this movie. I don't care if you think it was over-hyped. I don't care if you don't like comic book or action movies. This movie is not simply another superhero popcorn flick. It's definitely no Shakespeare, but it is a deep, dark movie that will have you conversing around the watercooler for weeks.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Hellboy: The Mostly Golden Sequel

As far as sequels go, Hellboy II: The Golden Army is a good one. Writer/Director Guillermo Del Toro shows off with exceptionally beautiful set design, amazingly creepy cool creatures, and slick fight scenes that nod to his spectacular Pan's Labyrinth. Even with all this, I believe the movie failed to capture the great characterization presented in its predecessor which is--as I said back in my Indiana Jones review--the heart of a good franchise film. But even though The Golden Army wasn't as character driven as the Hellboy, I still enjoyed it.

This time around, Hellboy (Ron Perlman) and his team at the U.S. Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense are dealing with a vengeful troll prince (Luke Goss) as well as their new found exposure to the outside world.

The movie opens when Red is just a young, scary-looking chap, and his father tells him the story of the troll king and the humans and the creation of the Golden Army--invincible metallurgical soldiers who have no souls or remorse. After the humans come in a basically annihilate the otherworld, the troll king commissions an army of magical robots that basically turn around an annihilate the humans. Distressed by what he has done, the king makes a pact with the humans to keep the Army dormant and the two societies will live in peace.

Prince Nuada doesn't like this. Skip ahead to present-day to find him wreaking havoc on both his world and the human world in order to bring the big bad Golden Army back into service. That's where are heroes come in to save the day.

Besides dealing with Nuada's antics, Red and the whole BPRD are dealing with everyone knowing who they are. At first people are excited to see Hellboy in person, but then people begin to fear him. This subplot isn't even worth calling a subplot. It's really more like three scenes that show a quick character arc for Hellboy. I understand the point of it in the movie, but I think it should've been worked a different way.

As I did the first time around, I thoroughly enjoyed Ron Perlman's performance. He's got impeccable timing and the perfect body language to make you look at Hellboy as just another wise-cracking young rebel who won't take anybody's shit instead of a big red demon with his horns shaved down. His boisterousness plays perfectly opposite the cool calculated vibe emanating from Prince Nuada. This guy is a different kind of bad guy. Not one who's out to rule the world but more out to bring back what he thinks is balance. I had a hard time deciding if I pitied the character or despised him, and that's definitely not a bad thing.

There's a new boss in town, Johann Kraus (played by James Dodd and John Alexander, voiced by Seth MacFarlane), who's an ectoplasmic man with the ability to control the dead and machines. His character is a little weak and is mostly used for his talents, which are both handy and convenient.

Red's relationship with Liz (Selma Blair) is front and center with them bickering as usual but also having some very tender moments. She also flashes her powers a little more, and actually uses them for purpose at least once. Blair's performance, as per usual, is a bit wooden. But Perlman seems to pull a little bit more out of her, so scenes with him tend to be better than without.

Abe (Doug Jones) gets a love interest in Princess Nuala (Anna Walton), Prince Nuada's twin sister. He also gets drunk, which was only slightly humorous.

The romantic moments with Liz and Red and Abe and Nuala are where the movie fell off a bit for me. Don't get me wrong, I'm always up for a little romance mixed in with my action, but the romance felt like an afterthought--just something to mention now and again to get a chuckle or create extra stakes in a scene. Liz and Hellboy deal with some heavy stuff, but they resolve it a little too quickly for me to really invest in it. Also, Abe and Nuala have some extremely great moments that are so fleeting, I just wasn't completely invested in them as star-crossed lovers or whatever they may have been.

The Golden Army is half action-packed comic book movie and half art house drama movie. And the balance doesn't quite mesh for me. Even though I recommend seeing the movie, I just didn't walk away from it with the same feeling I got from the first one.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

2 Bloggers and a Movie...on Wall-E

My usual blogging buddy Kate couldn't make it to this outing of 2 Bloggers and a Movie, so this time around, I brought in guest blogger Mandi. Enjoy our discussion of Wall-E and other things animated.

Faith: Welcome to 2 Bloggers and a Movie...even if you don't blog about movies.
Mandi: I blog, but just not about movies.
Faith: So the title still works.
Mandi: Technically, yes. And thanks for asking me to be a part of this!
Faith: So...I remember you telling me you didn't like Wall-E as much as you thought, or something like that. Right?
Mandi: Right. I guess from the previews I was expecting a more cutesy movie, and it kind of took a really dark turn. Plus it had a political message, which kind of annoyed me.
Faith: I actually thought the political message would be really annoying too, but since it turned out to be more about getting fat and not killing the earth, I didn't care as much.
Mandi: True, but for some reason I just didn't expect the whole "take care of the earth" message to be so strong, so it kind of blindsided me.
Faith: Well, it is the trend these days. You know, "I like to be a part of solution." Hehe.
Mandi: Earth concousness is all over the news and reality. I go to the movies to escape that. I'm all for saving the earth though, so I guess if the message gets through to some kids and they start taking actions to help the Earth, it's not all bad.
Faith: Quite true. Because no kid wants to see a bunch of overweight adults rolling like sausages into a pile. No matter how funny it is.
Mandi: Hee hee. That was amusing. Especially Mary catching the kids.
Faith: Yes! Loved that part. So, besides the blatant message, you didn’t just love Wall-E (the character)?
Mandi: It just didn't really hold my attention. I think it jumped in to the deeper plot before we really got to know Wall-E so I didn't have a big attachment to him.
Faith: I thought he was so adorable. I got so used to not hearing full dialogue, that when I did start to hear it, I was a bit thrown.
Mandi: I knew there wasn't going to be a lot of dialogue. I guess somewhere in the back of my mind, I expected it to be like the shorts before the movie, but just longer…if that makes sense.
Faith: Makes sense.

Mandi:: I'll probably watch it again when it comes out on DVD (over and over and over again thanks to my 4 year old nephew who liked it). Maybe I'll like it better that time because I'll kind of know what to expect. I am one of those people who sits through the entire closing credits, and I was really happy with the way those were done. Showing humans getting back to being functional and the Earth healing itself.
Faith: That was very cute. I especially liked the idea of growing pizza.
Mandi: LOL, yeah.
Faith: Can I have a pizza garden? It would feel far healthier.
Mandi: You would be a millionaire if you could pull that off!

Faith: Haha! So, as a Pixar movie, where does it sit?
Mandi: I think it's at the bottom of my list right now. But like I said, it might grow on me.
Faith: Hmm...I think it's right before A Bug's Life...which puts it near the bottom. But if I'm rating it with all the other animation I've ever seen, it's pretty high on the list.
Mandi: Oh! One thing that I did think was neat was how they combined live action and computer animation.
Faith: That was cool! Don't really see that at all, and it didn't look weird.
Mandi: They worked it in really well. It wasn't like they just threw it in so they could claim to be the first movie to do so.
Faith: Yeah, those Pixar people are nice and modest like that.
Mandi: Yeah. What did you think of the short before hand?
Faith: Funny that you say that. I was just trying to remember what it was!
Mandi: Presto. The magician and rabbit.
Faith: Ah, crazy magician and his funny bunny. It was hilarious!
Mandi: I really enjoyed it. I think I just enjoy the shorts that have animals in it more than the ones without. For the Birds is my all time favorite. It'll be hard to beat that one!
Faith: For the Birds was the best. The one before Ratatouille just didn't work for me, though. That was the one with the guy helping the baby bird fly, right?
Mandi: I think that was the alien one.
Faith: OK. I'm a liar. You're right. I did like that one.
Mandi: LOL
Faith: Was the baby bird one before Cars?
Mandi: No, that was One Man Band. I didn't care for that one. I can't even think of the one you're talking about.
Faith: Great. Now I have to find it. (And no, I didn't really like One Man Band either).
Mandi: LOL
Faith: You know what, my baby bird one might be before a non-Pixar movie.
Mandi: I'm trying to think of other movies it could have been a part of.
Faith: Thank you, Google! First Flight in 2006. Dreamworks. Definitely not Pixar. And we are WAY off topic.
Mandi: Doesn't take much.
Faith: Haha. Hmm...I need to be a better movie reviewer for a moment. Back to Wall-E. I know what you disliked about it. What did you like about it?
Mandi: I liked the message that we are in control of our destiny. If we don't like something about ourselves, or our lives, we have the ability to change it. And Wall-E IS adorable. But he does remind me a lot of Johnny 5 from Short Circuit.
Faith: But that's what makes him adorable! I never thought I'd think a robot was so darn cute, but he totally is.
Mandi: Yeah, I definitely think that tapped into my childhood memories of that movie.
Faith: Who (or what) was your favorite supporting character? For me, it's a toss up between the little cleaner robot and the captain.
Mandi: I really liked John and Mary. The little cleaner robot was a hoot!
Faith: Pure comic relief.
Mandi: When Wall-E puts dirt on him and he freaks out. Priceless.
Faith: If he'd been human, I think he may have looked a little like David Hyde Pierce. Only shorter.
Mandi: LOL...I was just thinking the shorter part. Or one of those overly anal kids.
Faith: Yes. Some kid with glasses and perfect hair, carrying around a big cleaning brush.
Mandi: Who doesn't even know the word "fun" exists.
Faith: Yet, he seems to make everyone laugh.
Mandi: I really like Mary and John though. It's amazing because the bulk of the movie is dealing with the love story between Wall-E and EVE, yet I was happier when Mary and John noticed each other than when Wall-E finally got EVE's attention. I think the human factor goes a long way with me.

Faith: I think the Pixar people realized that too. You can only go so far to humanize a couple of robots. I loved Mary and John playing in the pool. "I didn't know we had a pool." So great.
Mandi: LOL. John Ratzenberger always has pretty awesome characters. I like watching the Pixar movies just because I know he'll be in there somewhere.
Faith: Very true. I love the joke he did in Cars...just in case we all forgot he's a Pixar staple.
Mandi: I don't remember the joke.
Faith: At the end--at the drive in--they're all watching car versions of the Pixar movies. He keeps commenting on the “wonderful actor” playing all of his roles.
Mandi: Oh yeah! Did it seem to you that EVE was the most...I guess I could say "human" robot.
Faith: Very much. She had more vocabulary and expressions, and she seemed...softer.
Mandi: Emotionally she was the kind of hard working girl, not taking much crap from the guys because she had to prove herself. At least that's how I felt about it. Then she softens up to Wall-E
Faith: It was very 30s era screwball comedy.
Mandi: Yeah.
Faith: EVE is the robot equivalent of Katherine Hepburn!
Mandi: True!
Faith: No, no, Carole Lombard...she's my favorite.
Mandi: Hee hee....that works too.
Faith: So. If you had to give a 50 word or less review of Wall-E, what would you say?
Mandi: Hmmm....let me think about that for a minute.
Faith: Good, because I have to think as well.


Faith: OK. Here I go. With its usual stellar visuals and adorable characters, Pixar won my heart once again with Wall-E. I never thought I'd fall in love with a robot, but I just want to hug him and squeeze him and call him George. Though not my favorite Pixar movie, Wall-E is still some darn fine filmmaking.
That’s 53 words, but who cares.


Faith: Still thinking?
Mandi: Hee hee...thinking, writing, erasing, re writing, etc. I'm trying to think of what to say because everytime I come up with something, I realize that I actually liked the movie more than I thought I did.
Faith: Haha. And people say movie discussions aren't worthwhile.
Mandi: While Wall-E is no where near my favorite Pixar movie, it did hold my attention and get me thinking. I couldn't help but be touched by Wall-E's longing for love and companionship, which are very human emotions. Because it has WAY less dialogue than other Pixar movies, I think it will bridge the language barrier easier to help us realize that we have to work together as ONE planet to survive.
Okay...that was just my thought process...I should probably cut that down. I can follow directions.
Faith: Nope. No touchy. That works for me! So it turns out the message didn't bother you so much?
Mandi: Apparently not.
Faith: Yeah, cute wins out every time.
Mandi: Hee hee. True.
Faith: Well, I think that wraps it up. It's been a pleasure!
Mandi: This has been fun! I love things that make me see other points of view! Thanks for asking me to be a part of it.
Faith: We must do it again.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Slacking Superheroes and Perfect PR

Last week, I saw Hancock. I went into this movie thinking it would be a dark comedy about a superhero who just doesn't care. What I got was a dark comedic drama about a superhero who has serious emotional issues. I won't say I didn't like it because I did, but it just threw me when I wasn't laughing as much as I thought I'd be.

Will Smith is Hancock, a superhero who drinks too much, makes horrible decisions, and hates being called an asshole. When he tries to save the day, he causes massive amounts of damage and just angers people in the process. Hancock isn’t the kind of man who cares what other people think...until the day he saves the life of PR executive Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman), a man who himself is on a mission to save the world by getting big companies to make big charitable contributions. Ray sees the good in everyone and decides to help Hancock by improving his attitude and image. Ray's wife Mary (Charlize Theron), on the other hand, thinks that it's all a bad idea. She says it's because the drunken Hancock is a lost cause, but there seems to be more she's not sharing.

When Hancock is funny. It's funny. Personally, I never thought I'd laugh so hard at someone getting something shoved where it should never be shoved, but I had tears in my eyes. I also love Hancock's issue with people calling him an asshole because it reminded me so much of Marty McFly and his "chicken" issue. But even the funniest parts didn't make up for the extremely serious moments.

It's OK to have serious tones in a comedic piece. In fact, Peter Berg has built his career on mixing comedy and drama, but for this movie, it just seemed a little too ill-balanced. Seeing Hancock depressed in his prison cell was a little too much of a downer for me. And his anger management meetings really didn't do much to make me laugh or boost the story.
Plus, the climax is full-on dramatic with quick cuts, intense music, and stark lighting--something that just feels out of place in a superhero comedy movie. I think the story got a little confused about what kind of feeling it wanted to portray which, in turn, probably effected the actors.

Jason Bateman and Will Smith turn in decent performances. I've seen them both do better work. Bateman's comedic timing is great, but he doesn't seem as comitted to the comedy as he does to the serious. Will Smith, on the other hand, seems to be working the other way. He's really comitted to the funny parts--making Hancock into a very angry, darkly funny guy. His dramtic part, though, seemed a little forced and over the top. Which is weird since we've all seen Smith turn in some pretty damn good dramatic performances. Theron is really a side character here and doesn't get to shine until the last part of the movie, but she too seemed a little off her game.

All and all, I don't regret seeing the movie. I enjoyed myself and laughed heartily at moments, so I would recommend it, just on DVD.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Flashback Review! Southland Tales

So I'm reading over my past reviews, and I realized that I never posted my review of Southland Tales on this site. I talked about the odd casting, but never talked about the movie. So, I dug into my archives and found the review I wrote for Critics Rant. Enjoy!

There are many levels of bad movie. There are good bad movies that you love watching because you enjoy making fun of them. There are bad bad movies that you are so mad you wasted your time and money seeing that you are offended by the thought of them. Then there’s Southland Tales. It’s the kind of bad movie that you want every single one of your friends to see so that you can all discuss the atrocity to which you’ve just subjected yourselves.

I believe the only way to truly enjoy Southland Tales is to be tripping on some pretty good acid. Even then, though, I think you might get bored after about thirty minutes and resort to watching static on television.

It’s truly not a boring movie; that’s definitely not what’s wrong with the film. It’s got nuclear war, Big Brother, political corruption, crazy drugs, time travel, and midgets in SWAT gear. What bored me is that I didn’t care what the hell anyone did or didn’t do.

In 2005, a nuclear bomb was dropped on Texas. This, of course, led to World War Three. Now, three years later, the government has reinstated the draft, issued nationwide identification cards, and controls the Internet. The Republican Party has a good chance of winning the election, and there’s an extremist Marxist group that doesn’t want that to happen.

Dwayne Johnson is Boxer Santeros, an action star who’s married to Madeline Frost (Mandy Moore), the daughter of Senator Bobby Frost (Holmes Osborne) who happens to be on the Republican ticket. Senator Frost’s wife is Nana Mae Frost (Miranda Richardson) who is not only the head of the NSA (I think), but she also runs the USIdent office, a Big Brother operation that controls the Internet and every other thing going on in America.

Still with me? I’m not done yet.

So Boxer gets kidnapped and taken into the desert. Somehow, he gets back into California with a case of amnesia and has been shacking up with porn star Krista Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar). He and Krista write a screenplay that oddly emulates what’s going on in the world, and they get wrapped up in what I believe to be a conspiracy that involves the Marxist movement, a German who’s created a power station operated by ocean water (played by the hilarious Wallace Shawn), and some strange time-space continuum whatnot. Oh, and a drugged-up war veteran played by Justin Timberlake narrates.

The movie plays as if too many ideas crawled onto the page, and Richard Kelly didn’t want to let any of them go. There are scenes that actually had my attention. I thought, finally, this movie is going somewhere and getting interesting, but no. As soon as some semblance of a storyline would show itself, the film would stumble and fall right back into an immature statement about American politics and war.

Richard Kelly definitely has ideas buried in the muck that is Southland Tales. Peppering the film with news footage that looks like it was plucked directly from C-SPAN is perfect. He’s poking fun at our country’s need for sensory overload in every sense of the word. Having one of your main characters be a porn star who is trying her hand at singing, television, and her own energy drink is spectacular. But either he concentrated too much on jamming every concept in, or he didn’t let the actors in on the joke.

Mandy Moore is surprisingly interesting as the whiny senator’s daughter, but I know for a fact she can do better work. Christopher Lambert, Miranda Richardson, and hell, even John Laroquette should be ashamed of themselves. I wouldn’t think it was so sad to see them play such horrible characters if it didn’t look like they were trying so hard.

Dwayne Johnson is the only one who gives a convincing performance. And it’s really only because he’s playing a confused, half-wit of a man who can’t quite figure out what his purpose might be. He does know one thing, though. He’s a pimp, and pimps don’t commit suicide.

Yeah, I don’t know what it means either, but it was the funniest damn line in the entire movie.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Incredible Banner

Well, I don't know about grittier than the first movie, but The Incredible Hulk is definitely sleeker than the first. It actually more resembles a movie that Ang Lee would direct than The Hulk that Ang Lee actually directed.

Not only is Edward Norton a better Bruce Banner than Eric Bana, the whole supporting cast works better. OK, Liv Tyler might do a little more fawning and pouting than necessary, but she still has great chemistry with Norton. Also, the storyline feels better for Hulk. Unlike Lee's The Hulk, there is no crazy estranged father with a dark family secret. There's not even a true origin story. The opening credits features a flashy, montage ala Spider-Man 3 which replaces the sure-to-have-been boring revamp of the backstory. When the movie officially starts, we jump right in.

Scientist Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) is living in shadows--a day worker in a Brazilian soda factory--searching for an antidote for his GAMMA poisoning. But after a small cut seeps blood into one of the bottle (yeah, I'm never drinking Brazilian soda), the people he's trying to hide from track him down. During the pursuit, they bring out the Hulk, and Banner decides he has no choice but to return to the States.

After reuniting with the love of his life Betty Ross (Tyler), Bruce and she search for a cure while running from Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth)--an uber special-ops guy--and Betty's estranged father Gen. Thaddeus 'Thunderbolt' Ross (William Hurt).

The Incredible Hulk is definitely not short on huge action scenes. The first chase-turn-fight is wonderfully shot, keeping you on your toes as you hope Bruce's heart rate doesn't get too high. And when the stakes just seem too crazy, he calls attention to it for you, making everything more grounded (and a little funny). From this scene, we learn that Blonksy isn't a man to be messed with. As other soldiers are being tossed about a beaten up by Hulk, Blonsky keeps a clear head and sharp eyes on the target. Even without the help of special juice, Blonsky is a great antagonist to Banner/Hulk.

Maybe it's because the Hulk isn't one of my favorite comic book characters or it could be the fact that the green guy is all CG, but I really believe Norton's Banner steals this film from the Hulk. I'm definitely not saying this as a bad thing, but it could prove a bad thing for the Hulk fans out there. Norton adds a light sense of humor and an edge of vulnerability that completely disappears when the Hulk comes out to play. When Banner is Banner, the movie plays like The Fugitive, when Banner is the Hulk, I feel like I just turned channels to watch Peter Jackson's King Kong. The transition is like a slap in the face, but maybe that's how it should be since Banner and the Hulk are so completely different.

Even though I enjoyed the film, I really hope a sequel isn't in its future. But of course, the way Hollywood works now, I'm sure the contracts are already being passed from desk to desk at Marvel's newly-formed studios. The Incredible Hulk is a great stand alone movie with an ending that feels complete and hopeful.

With solid acting and great action, it's a fun movie for a hot summer afternoon. As far as it ranks with other summer action movies, though, Iron Man still kicked its butt.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Seeing Good Comedy...and Loving It

I love having a good time at the movies, and tonight, I had a wonderful time watching Get Smart. I used to stay up late and watch the 1960s show on Nick at Nite making me a rather young long-time fan of Maxwell Smart and Agent 99. Having suffered through a few horrible TV-to-movie incarnations, hearing about this movie made me cringe a bit. Then I found out Steve Carell was stepping into Max's shoes, and I knew everything would be OK.

And Get Smart is more than OK. It is funny, amusing, entertaining, comical, uproarious... It was bloody hilarious. It's a very nice blend of action--high end explosions and fun car chases--mixed with comedy. Alan Arkin has, quite possibly, the funniest line in the entire movie. (It's after a car chase; you'll know what I mean.)

Since the movie has been plopped into the 21st century, the Cold War angle has been dropped. In fact, anything related to war has been dropped. Max's super secret agency CONTROL has been infiltrated by the superbad group KAOS, who threatens to reveal every agents name if the US government doesn't give them some ungodly amount of money. Of course, the US doesn't negotiate with terrorist, and since every single agent's identity has been compromised, Max and Anne Hathaway's Agent 99 (who's just recently had plastic surgery) are the only ones who are still clear for field work. The two are sent to Russia to destroy KAOS where, of course, many an antic happen.

Carell and Hathaway are well-paired. She's sexy and smart with some pretty darn good comic timing. He's sweet, bumbley, and surprisingly good with firearms.

There are choice supporting stints by Alan Arkin as The Chief and Dwayne "No Longer The Rock" Johnson as the macho Agent 23. Arkin, as I said before, gets some of the best lines in the movie plus he beats up a few people. Johnson is completely on his game, and I believe he's finally found his niche in family-friendly comedy. Also, be on the lookout for the cameo-heavy war room scene! I probably could have done without the many, many scenes that Masi Oka and Nate Torrence's Bruce and Lloyd were in. They're funny, but not that funny.

Amongst the fun cast, all the gags and all the action scenes, there's an identifiable human element at work. Agent 99 and Max are more like real people and move past the pratfall and high karate kicks. When things go badly, you actually find yourself a little worried about the characters instead of just waiting for the next big action scene. This empathy prevents Get Smart from being just another big, dumb summer comedy (like The Love Guru which I won't be seeing even if I flip by it on late-night cable).

Of course, there are people who won't like it as much as they loved the original show. There are people who won't like it because they wanted a straight comedy or a straight action movie, but this person did like it and recommends it to all.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Indy, the Later Years

It took me long enough, but I've finally seen Indiana Jones. In pure fangirl fashion, this review will be like no other I've written. This kind of movie isn't about characterization and acting and story development. It's about how it relates to the franchise.

What keeps people coming back for franchise movies has nothing to do with the special effects or the amazing storytelling. It's the characters. Why do you think Ripley is in every single Alien movie? No one cares about the Aliens; people care about how Ripley handles the Aliens.

So, of course, after 19 years in hibernation, fans the world over went a bit giggly when the first teaser trailer of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull hit. We didn't care what Dr. Jones was after, we cared that Dr. Jones was going to be back! We wanted the signature smirk under that perfectly aged fedora. We wanted to see the whip in action, and we wanted to experience the deadpan comedy that goes with Indy and his various cohorts.

For the most part, that's what I got--an entertaining reunion with an old friend. Unfortunately, my old friend gets a little lost in an over-complicated plot with absurd (even for Indy standards) situations.

Please don't get in an uproar because I didn't fall head over heels in love with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I had fun. I was entertained. I just threw my arms up in the air and mumbled, "Oh please" a couple of times. One of those times was at the end. Yes, the ending that everyone's not supposed to talk about. I now know why! The doozy is Indy surviving something no one should be able to walk away from. Let's just say refrigerators were obviously made with airbags back in the day.

Enough about what I didn't like. Let's talk about what I enjoyed. I loved that the script acknowledged Indy's age without throwing it in my face. Greaser Mutt Williams (Shia LeBeouf) has one of the best lines in the movie, "What are you? Eighty?" It's exactly what the audience needed to stop thinking about how old Harrison Ford is and concentrate on the fact that he can still command a whip and kick the bad guys' asses.

I also loved, loved, LOVED the signature Spielberg chase scenes. We get treated to three in this movie, and I found myself smiling from ear to ear with each one. (Sidenote: the one in the Amazon had a few of those absurd over-the-top moments, but for the most part, they all worked.)

Thank you, Steven Spielberg, for bringing back Karen Allen. As I said before, audiences return to franchise movies because they are in love with the characters, and I've always loved--and dearly missed--Marion. The second she enters the scene, it's like we're back in that little tavern in Nepal. She and Indy haven't seen each other for 20 years or so, but their fighting picks up where it left off, with no qualms about the fifty or so Russians standing around threatening their lives.

The bottom line is that Harrison Ford can still kick butt, even if it's a little slower now. Shia LeBeouf's Mutt makes for a great sidekick--much better than (sorry, folks) Short Round could ever be. Cate Blanchett plays a decent villain, and Karen Allen's Marion is just as fiery as she ever was.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Journey Back to Narnia

I don't actually understand why The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian isn't doing well at the box office, because I thoroughly enjoyed the second outing into the world of Narnia. It is darker and rougher, and definitely veering towards a PG-13 rating instead of its PG. All around, it's a solid story with old characters who have grown (and not just physically) and new characters who are refreshing to watch.

Based on the second Chronicles of Narnia novel (or the fourth if you read them in the chronological order), Prince Caspian picks up one year after the Pevensie siblings have left Narnia. Peter (William Moseley) is picking fights because he doesn't want to be in this world. Edmund (Skandar Keynes) tends to jump in and help. Susan (Anna Popplewell) keeps to herself, and Lucy (Georgie Henley) thinks about going back all the time.

After being magically called to return, the children are transported from WWII-era England into the realm of Narnia...1300 years in the future. Narnians have been banished to the forest, and the Pevensie's old palace is just a pile of ruins.

Quickly, they learn that the human Telmarines have taken control. With the help of Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), a dwarf named Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage), and all of Narnia, the ancient kings and queens of Narnia lead an uprising to restore Narnia to its old glory and take back Caspian's throne from his evil uncle.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe had one epic battle. Prince Caspian is simply one big epic battle with a few resting points scattered throughout. The film opens with a chase scene and pretty much never slows down until the third act. Even when there's no fighting, the dialog stays witty and funny and well-balanced for both children and adults.

There are those who won't like the movie because it's too violent. I might agree to some extent. It is slightly disturbing to see teens and tweens highly skilled with a bow and arrow, a broad sword, or a dagger. It's also both funny and odd to see a mouse (voiced by Eddie Izzard, no less) take down a man with one fell swoop to the jugular.

There are purist who won't like it because the movie adds too much that didn't appear in the book. It's been nearly two decades since I last read the series, so I really don't remember what was there and what wasn't. Besides, purists like that should never see an adapted movie.

All I know is that I had a great time at the movies, and I'd recommend it to anyone who loves a great fantasy film. Take the kids because C.S. Lewis' stories were meant to be a family experience. Just beware of the battle scenes--they are, as I said before, leaning more to the PG-13 fare than not.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mamet's "Fight Movie"

Pay no attention to the title of this blog. Redbelt is not a fight movie. There is fighting in the movie, but this is a David Mamet film. There must be more under the surface.

"There is always a way out. You just have to find it." From the very first scene, we hear Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a very proud and dedicated Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructor, utter these words.

That's what this movie is all about.

Mike's business is failing, causing tension between him and his wife, Sondra (Alice Braga), a struggling clothing designer. A surprising incident involving a lawyer and Mike's prize pupil acts as the starting pistol for the entire story. But it's not until Mike comes to the aid of actor Chet Frank (Tim Allen) during a bar brawl that his life truly begins to change.

Through a crazy bunch of events, Mike finds himself in a dire financial bind. He must enter a mixed martial arts competition in the hopes of paying off his debts. The thing is Mike doesn't believe in competitive fighting. Jiu Jitsu is pure to him, and fighting for money or glory just isn't pure.

At first, Redbelt seems lowkey and simple. A story that you'll enjoy but won't fill you up. But when the credits begin to roll--maybe even 15 or so minutes before that--you realize that there is way more to chew on in this seemingly subdued story. There are stories within stories and metaphors upon metaphors that you wonder about until they all come together seamlessly. There is no happy ending to this tale. There is no devastating end to it either. It's an end that is satisfying enough to close the story without closing the book.

Ejiofor, as always, is brilliant. He seems to take Mamet's stilting dialog and make it into something worth hearing. The passion he brought to the character made me believe that there is always a way out. From the get go, he just lays his entire heart out there for the taking.

Another incredible performance comes from Tim Allen. I've never seen him in a serious role, but he pulls it off exceptionally well. As the haggard, nearly washed-up actor, he plays the part of Chet with a believable cynicism and a touch of

Mamet has a tendency towards twists and turns as well as rapid-fire dialog, but to me, Redbelt feels very Mamet but not so. If you're a fan, you'll enjoy it. If you're not a fan, try it on for size anyway. If for nothing else, see the amazing work the Ejiofor puts on that screen.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

My Summer Preview

Unlike my Spring and Fall lists, the Summer movies usually tend to be far more plentiful. Granted, most of them are popcorn fare, but who cares--entertainment is entertainment. For those who like to keep their movie watching a little high-class, I've thrown in a few indies as well.

Iron Man (May 2)
I've already seen it. For those who think I should review it, here you go:
See this movie. It kicked ass.

Redbelt (May 2)
Hanging out way below the radar is David Mamet's brilliant looking movie starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, who not only has a name that just rolls right off the tongue, but has acting chops that make me want to drool a little bit. You might have to catch this one on DVD if you're not living on one of the coasts, but if there's an art house theatre nearby, check for it.

Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (May 16)
This is on my list mostly because I love The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and also because I'm a sucker for fantasy films. At the moment, it's not doing so well in the box office, but it could be because all the kiddies aren't out of school yet.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (May 22)
Definitely the most anticipated movie of the summer in my book, quite possibly the most anticipated of the year. (I don't know what's coming out this fall, so let's not jump the gun.) I do not care how old Harrison Ford is, I am still completely enthralled with the Indiana Jones franchise. After seeing the previews and reading the buzz, I know that this one will be more like Raiders and less like Temple of Doom. It better live up to the hype!

Sex and the City: the Movie (May 30)
I may be on pins and needles about a certain archaeologist, but I'm really excited about this long-awaited film as well. I'm ready for the crazy clothes, enviable shoes, and all the great cocktails Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda will bring. Men, stay at home, and catch this on DVD when no other man can see you. Ladies, I'll meet you at the theatre!

Mongol (June 6)
When this film came up in the Oscar nominees for Best Foreign Picture, I was already interested. After watching the trailer, I knew I had too see this biopic. I'm sure, as most foreign pictures do, it will only get a limited release, but if you like primitive action-packed films with subtitles, you might want to check it out.

The Promotion (June 6)
I'd like to pretend John C. Reilly can do no wrong, but the last time he and Jenna Fischer were on screen together, I was suffering through the uneven comedy Walk Hard. This time, though, Reilly is back to his indie roots, and he's brought along Fischer, Seann William Scott, and Lili Taylor. The Promotion is like The Good Girl meets...yeah, I don't know what it meets, but it is a lot like The Good Girl. It probably won't be spectacular, but it looks simple and quirky. Sometimes simple and quirky is all you need in a movie.

The Incredible Hulk (June 13)
The first time I heard about this movie, I thought to myself, "Edward Norton as Bruce Banner? Hmm, I don't know." Now that I've seen the previews, I'm a believer! This version of the Hulk looks sleeker, grittier, and much, much more like the movie Ang Lee should have made.

The Happening (June 13)
Unlike nearly everyone else on the planet, I liked M. Night Shyamalan's last film Lady in the Water. For those who preferred the likes of Signs, this movie should be more your speed. I'm still a little irked by Mark Wahlberg's stilted performance from the trailers, but the creep factor is still there. Let's just hope the 90-minute movie holds up to the 3-minute trailer.

Get Smart (June 20)
If there was anyone else in the world who could fill Don Adams' shoes better than Steve Carrell, I'd like to meet that man! This movie may have a little extra silly, but I think it will be a great homage to a great TV series.

Wall-E (June 27)
Pixar's annual outing looks adorable. I know the chances of me not liking it are slim to none. Not much else I can say!

Hancock (July 2)
Will Smith is a deadbeat superhero. Jason Bateman is his PR guy. Peter Berg (the director of Very Bad Things, Friday Night Lights, and The Kingdom) is in the director's seat. Three reasons that I'll be seeing this movie. Will Smith starring in a Fourth of July release--the reason everyone else will be seeing it.

The Wackness (July 3)
Ben Kingsley is a pot-smoking therapist who's dating Mary-Kate Olsen. I'm sure there's more plot to this movie than that, but I'm going to stay shallow and see it based solely on that fact.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (July 11)
Yeah, I'm saying it. I want to see Hellboy II. How could I not?! Pan's Labyrinth was one of the most visually stunning movies I've ever seen, and from the previews, I can see Guillermo del Toro's visually styling all over Hellboy. He was obviously given a little more creative freedom the second time around. Plus, I had a great time watching the first one, so I think this one should be just as good if not better.

The Dark Knight (July 18)
I was captivated by the glimpse of Heath Ledger's Joker when the first teaser trailers were released, now it's bittersweet to see his last finished film on screen. I hope the release doesn't get overshadowed by his death because it looks like an amazing movie that deserves to stand on its own.

American Teen (July 25)
This documentary proves that all those WB dramas got something right about teen angst. It focuses on a group of seniors from a small-town Indiana high school. Each one fits perfectly into a stereotype. I missed it at the Nashville Film Festival, but from the excellent reviews and this tantalizing trailer, I don't plan on missing it a second time.

Pineapple Express (August 8)
Pineapple Express looks like Wes Anderson and Judd Apatow had a baby. It's stylized like a Wes Anderson movie, but has the wackiness of a Judd Apatow movie. All I know is that when I saw James Franco's foot stuck in the windshield of a police cruiser, I was completely sold.

Tropic Thunder (August 15)
Robert Downey, Jr. is playing a black man! Well, he's playing a white man who's playing a black man, but he's still playing a black man! After seeing Iron Man, I'm totally on the Robert Downey, Jr. bandwagon. Oh, and Ben Stiller and Jack Black also star in this partially-action, mostly-comedy movie.

Well, there you go. I'm sure there are some that aren't on the list that I'll end up seeing, but this is my must-see list. Hopefully I've given you a few extras that you hadn't thought about...or even heard of.

Enjoy the popcorn!