Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Artist - Movie Review

I've often heard that a good movie should be able to tell you a story regardless of the dialog; you should be able to turn the sound off and still be able to tell what the story was about.  I often subscribe to this belief (it's one of the reasons why I liked Drive) and you'd think that would mean I'd be a bigger fan of foreign or silent films.  It's not that I'm not a fan, but they just aren't my favorite genres.

When I first saw trailer for The Artist, I was interested in seeing it, particularly because of the actors and people behind the movie, but I thought it might be a little too artsy for me.  I'm glad to report that The Artist is a movie that proves that you can still tell a great and fulfilling story without dialog.

The Artist is a story about George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a silent movie star that has to deal with the fall of his stardom after the introduction of 'talkies'.  At the same time, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), who Valentin helped discover, becomes the first big star of talking films.  As one star rises, the older star falls.  That kind of thing.

What you see during the movie is that Valentin's fall kind of comes from his own stubbornness and this leads to the movie getting a little serious towards the end.  However, the overall tone of the movie is very upbeat and funny.

While The Artist is clearly a tribute to the silent film era, I felt there were some very self-aware moments to the movie as it goes on.  It's easy to think that making a black and white, silent film is a gimmick, but you'll find when watching The Artist that it's so much more than that.  Even though it's black and white, I still felt it was colorful and there was great use of lighting.  Normally, I don't notice something like lighting in a movie, unless it's too dark, but a black and white film really brings it to your attention.

With a silent film, it can only work if the performances are great and they are.  Jean Dujardin, is perfect here!  He has the most expressive face that's just perfect for comedy.  You may recognize him from the OSS 117 films, and if haven't seen those, you must check them out.  I think they are streaming on Netflix still.  Bérénice Bejo is just gorgeous and also gives a fantastic performance!  You just fall in love with her as the movie goes on.  I have wonder why these two haven't been in more movies and hope this leads to more films for both of them.

Even though this is a French film, you're not just stuck watching a bunch of people most of you have never heard of.  You also have John Goodman, James Cromwell, Missi Pyle, Penelope Ann Miller and Malcom McDowell (I think he's only in one scene though) rounding out the cast.  John Goodman and James Cromwell, in particular, are great as well.

The Artist was written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius, who also wrote and directed the OSS 117 films.  He made a loving tribute to the silent film era and old film making.  I'm going to go out on a limb and say that between this and the OSS 117 movies, he's my favorite foreign film director.

The score by Ludovic Dource helps sell the story.  He's also a veteran of the OSS 117 films, so it's clear Hazanavicius has a good working relationship with many of these people.

I a heard a criticism that only people that don't know anything about silent films can enjoy this.  I have to call bullshit on that assertion, because I see plenty of people that love silent films that also love The Artist.  Even if that was the case, so what?  Exactly how many people do you know that are silent movie aficionados?  How many people are silent movie aficionados in the entire world these days?  A handful compared to the general movie-going public?

The Artist is a movie that I felt lived up to the hype and is one of the year's best.  You can enjoy it even if you aren't a fan of silent movies, but I understand that even with all the positive reviews, you still might not have any interest in a foreign, silent film.  That's fine, this isn't for everyone.  It's a great throwback to the silent film era.  It's cute, has fantastic performances and a great score.  I enjoyed the hell out of it and the more I think about it, the more I'm able to find things about it that I really loved.  I'm probably going to see it again when it starts playing at The Vine in a few weeks.

5 Death Stars.  I seriously can't think of a single thing wrong with the film.

War Horse - Movie Review

If you're wondering why I've been lagging about posting this, it's because I actually have an aversion to seeing movies on Christmas.  In fact, I can't think of a single time I've done it.  The only time I can even think of seeing a movie on Thanksgiving was Bad Santa, but otherwise I've never been a big fan of seeing a movie on the big family holidays.  The movie theater will always be there; it's always seemed weird to make a holiday event out of it.  Anyway...

This is the story, apparently based on a children's book, and later a play (not that it matters, because I'll never see it), of a cursed horse that leaves a trail of death and misfortune in its wake.  In fact the Spanish translation for war horse is 'horse of curse'.  Totally true fact that I didn't make up at all.

War Horse follows the story of the horse, Joey, an almost magical horse at the beginnings of the World War I.  I say magical because this is the smartest, fastest, and strongest horse ever.  His ability to avoid death, however, means that death is transferred to the others around him.  After the opening sequence, which was actually the only part of the movie I was really into, the movie is essentially a collection of short stories as Joey passes from owner to owner.

This is actually one of the issues I had with War Horse, as it does feel like a collection of short stories, I really didn't connect or feel invested in any of the events of the movie.  Each time Joey would move on, I would  wonder how long until this sequence is over and someone takes ownership of him.

The best part of the movie is the cinematography.  It's beautifully shot.  There's some real old-school film making here.  Many shots feel like beautiful paintings.  I just wish there was more for me to like here than beautiful visuals.  I didn't think the screenplay, written by Lee Hall and Richard Curtis, was all that strong here.

The other part of the movie that I felt was strong were the actual war sequences.  Epic war sequences seems to be one of the things that Steven Spielberg does best.  I just wish there would have been a little more of that here.

John Williams soundtrack sounds a little too much like he was just kind of phoning it in.  When I wrote about  Tintin, I mentioned his soundtrack felt like it was lifted out of an Indiana Jones film.  It was very appropriate.  With War Horse, it sounded too much like he was recycling bits from other soundtracks.

It's not that it's poorly acted either.  There are only a handful of recognizable faces, like Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston, and David Thewlis, and they are all fine.  The 'lead', played by newcomer Jeremy Irvine, was the only person I felt who's performance wasn't quite up to par.  He just felt a little goofy.

I felt like this movie tried to make me feel something, rather than let it happen organically.  Again, I blame this on the story.  I can't really invest in anyone emotionally if the story never spends any real time with them.  At one point, you're told that a character you saw earlier in the film had died, and they don't even tell you how they died or when.  If the story doesn't care enough about its characters to explain something like that, then how do you expect me to?  Also, I felt that the way the end played out seemed a little forced.

I was actually kind of bored at parts  I even started to doze off, but I can't blame that on the movie as much as the fact that I haven't been sleeping well lately.  A two and a half hour movie usually isn't the brightest idea when you aren't getting consistent sleep, especially when it's not action packed.

War Horse isn't a bad movie, it's just not a very good one.  Visually, it's great, but I just felt that the story and soundtrack were too heavy-handed to the point of being manipulative.  Some people will really have an emotional response to this, but I wasn't one of them.

3 (out of 5) Death Stars.  It's a matinee at best, but I think you'd be better off just renting it.

Monday, December 26, 2011

This week in DVD - December 25th


This was my sleeper hit of the summer.  I not sure why this didn't do better in the theater, but I think it's probably because of all of the bad MMA movies that preceded this.  Plus, I don't think they marketed this movie very well and tried to play up on the fact that this might be based on a true story (which it isn't).

It's still a very good fight movie.  It's easy to say this is the best MMA based movie, but it's up there with Rocky when talking about serious sports dramas as far as I'm concerned.  You can read more about my thoughts about the movie here.

Strong rental recommendation and I might end up buying it.  4 (out of 5) Death Stars.

Margin Call

Here's another movie I really enjoyed.  It has a great cast, is well acted, interesting and nicely paced.  You can read more about it here.

Another strong rental recommendation.  I'm also giving this 4 (out of 5) Death Stars.

Midnight in Paris

I'm sure you've heard the hype by now, but this is still my favorite movie of the year.  I actually just finished watching it again and I still love it.  I normally don't care about nominations, but I'll be a little disappointed if this doesn't win for Best Picture.  This took a long time to come out on DVD, but you can read my old-ass review here.

Rent it!  Actually, go buy it!  I already bought it.  This is a 5 Death Star movie.


I wasn't a big fan of this and it bummed me out because I liked the cast and the premise.  Plus, I love a good western.  This just let me down.  Here's the old review if you want to read more about it.

I say pass.  I only gave this 2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars.


Zoe Saldana stars as a assassin that's basically on a killing spree to avenge the killing of her parents when she was a kid.  I'm not sure how she became such an amazing assassin as you saw none of the training that got her there.  It literally skips ahead 15 years after her parents die and he's just a bad-ass assassin.  You only get a scene with her uncle enrolling her in school and telling her that in order to be a good killer, you need to be smart.  To illustrate this point, he pulls out a gun on the street in front of a school and randomly shoots a moving car, making it crash.  This is done in full view of several people, yet he makes no attempt to conceal himself or even get away with any urgency even when the cops show up.

The movie has some nice style to it, but too many times I found myself laughing at the silliness of some of the stuff that happened in the movie.  It's edited very poorly and suffers from a bad story and dialog.  I actually was kind of bored watching this and just wanted to get to the conclusion, which wasn't very satisfying.  I wanted to like this more, but I didn't find there was much to like about it.

I give this 2 Death Stars and I say pass on it.

A Dolphin Tale

A movie based on the real story of Winter, a dolphin that had lost it's tail after being caught in a net and was fitted with a prosthetic tail.  The real Winter plays herself in the movie.  Do you see how the title of the movie has a double meaning?  Brilliant!

I was interested in the actual dolphin's tale and how that all played out, but I really didn't like any of the people in the movie.  It wasn't very original and was full of family movie stereotypes.  I thought there was a lot of bad acting and dialog.  I'm fully willing to admit that this movie wasn't for me, but I just didn't feel anything from it.  If family movies are your thing, then you'll probably like this a lot more than I did.

I'm only giving this 2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars. I think this is something that would be nice if you caught it on TV on a lazy afternoon.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Adventures of Tintin - Movie Review

This is going to be a shorter review, as I'm on like my seventh posted review since Saturday and I'm kind of tired.  You just want to know The Adventures of Tintin is worth watching, right?  Well, sadly, it's not that simple.

The Adventures of Tintin is brought to you by both Steven SpielbergPeter Jackson and the letter T (I'm kidding about that last one).  Pretty impressive right off the bat, eh?  This totally feels like a Spielberg film as far as the story and action.  You can see where Jackson's influence came in and his digital effects company, Weta Digital was used for the CG and motion capture.  It appears that Jackson intends on directing the sequel and that Spielburg and Jackson will co-direct the third if it gets that far.  It's clear from the story, especially with how it ends, that this was intended to setup a sequel or trilogy.

First off, I will say that I know nothing about the original comic book series, The Adventures of Tintin, that this was based on.  The movie follows Tintin, a young reporter, and his dog, Snowy.  Tintin buys a model of an old sailing ship and then immediately gets several offers from mysterious people to buy it back from him.  Tintin isn't interested in selling it though, and comes home soon after to find it stolen.  He knows that one of the people that tried to buy it from him, Sakharine (pronounce Saccharine, like the artificial sweetener), is responsible and tries to track him down.  Without trying to spoil anything, this leads to a series of events and throws Tintin into the middle of a mystery that he wants to get to the bottom of.

The best way to describe how this movie feels is that you could just say this is a animated, young Indiana Jones adventure.  It has that feel almost from the opening moments, and I continued to get that feeling from everything including the locations they were going to, the action sequences, and John Williams soundtrack; which sounded like it was lifted right out of an Indiana Jones movie.

While I'm sure that sounds like a good thing to most of you, and normally it would be, the problem I had is that The Adventures of Tintin felt like an Indiana Jones movie made strictly for kids.  Instead of getting nostalgic feelings of old adventure stories that everyone could enjoy, I felt like I was watching a bad cartoon at times.  It's mainly because of the really childish humor used throughout the film.  I'm really shocked at the level of the humor because Tintin's screenplay was written by some people that are known for much smarter comedy.   When I saw the screenplay was written by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish during the opening credits, I thought this was just going to be a home run.  Instead the script felt more like a lazy single to opposite field.  I will say that the kids in the audience really seemed to be responding to the humor, but I don't think I so much as cracked a smile at any attempt at humor made in the movie.  It just wasn't aimed at me.

Tintin does feature the best CG-motion capture in just about in any film I've seen, period.  There are times where the line between real and CG is really starting to get blurred.  Overall, the movie is visually beautiful and very vivid.  There are also some fantastic action sequences and those were very entertaining..  There's one sequence about halfway through that felt like a Rube Goldberg machine of insane action.  When the scene is over you're practically out of breath.  I was amazed at how the action flowed in Tintin.

I did see it in 3D and thought it was just okay.  There were times I took my glasses off and could barely tell the difference.  However, this is more on the theater where I saw the movie, as the projection wasn't bright enough.  It is available on IMAX, so if you do see it in 3D, then that's the format I'd go with.  Otherwise, make sure you see it on a screen that you know will be bright enough for 3D.

It features great voice work, and as I've said with other films, despite that it features very recognizable names, you really may only be able to pick out a few voices.  I saw names like Andy Serkis, Nick Frost and Simon Pegg in the cast and didn't even know what characters they played until I watched the credits.  On the other hand, I recognized Daniel Craig right away.

As I've sated earlier, I really don't think this movie was intended for me.  There are moments where it feels like it might be heading in more of an adult-themed direction, but it just never crosses that line. You see Tintin have no issue with picking up a gun and using it, fighting adults and throughout the movie you see people get shot and killed.  However, there's barely a hint of blood in the movie and the violence felt very cartoonish.

I'm very torn here.  I really wanted to like The Adventures of Tintin, but I ended up feeling like it was just a good kids film.  The story didn't really grab me and the humor was too childish.  If you have younger kids, take them to see this.  They will love it.  If you're a huge animation fan, then you'll probably enjoy it on that level.  The last group of people I'd recommend this to are people that are super nostalgic for Indiana Jones or just huge Spielberg fans.

I'm actually only going to give this 2.5 Death Stars (out of 5).  It's a good matinee with the kids, but I think many of you with nice TVs might be more satisfied if you rented this.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Movie Review

I saw the poster to your left hanging kind of hidden off to the side in the lobby of the movie theater I normally frequent.  I was kind of surpirsed to see it, because there's not much separating you from full on nudity.  Then I did a search for the poster and found that this version appears to be the censored version of it. I'm no prude, but when I saw it, even I kind of had to go, "Woah!"

Anyway, I've long been looking forward to David Fincher's adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  I've seen the Swedish trilogy, but I haven't read any of Stieg Larsson's novels, so that's where my perspective is coming from.  While I liked the Swedish adaptations (the first and third, in particular), I always feel like I miss a little bit when watching a foreign film.  I suspected that I might get more out of an English version and was excited when I saw that David Fincher was directing this adaptation with Daniel Craig starring.

As some of you have probably already seen the earlier version or read the books, I'm not going to go into the plot too much.  Besides, there is so much going on in the story, that if I recapped the entire plot, I'd be here all day.

The movie opens with a great opening credit sequence featuring a remake of Led Zeppelin's The Immigrant Song, as performed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who also worked with Fincher on The Social Network.  And just so there's no confusion of Trent Reznor's involvement in the movie, one of the characters is wearing a "NIN" shirt at one point.  I thought it was kind of funny, but shameless at the same time.

The basic story follows Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) as a disgraced writer that has just lost a high profile libel suit.  You see that a security company recently had one of their investigators, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), do a background check on Blomkvist at the request of a wealthy business man.  The business man, Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), wants Blomkvist to investigate the disappearance of his great-niece, who he believes was murdered over 40 years ago.  Vanger also believes someone in the family is responsible for the murder.  You find that Vanger's family is pretty messed up and it would seem that almost everyone is a potential suspect at first.

As Blomkvist is investigating the murder, you also follow Lisbeth Salander's character in parallel until eventually Blomkvist needs her assistance to further the investigation.  I really can't talk about her story without spoiling some of the better moments of the movie though.  All I'll say is that there is some crazy stuff that happens in her story and this adaptation didn't disappoint me there.

Please note that both adaptations are long.  It's not necessarily a bad thing, but if you're someone that has a hard time sitting through longer movies (over two and a half hours), then this might be a tough watch in the theater and better suited for a rental.  There are also probably a few points where you think the movie is nearly over, only to have it continue wrapping up other plot threads.  While I won't argue that the movie is a little too long, I'm not sure how they could have told it in two hours without cutting out huge and important sections of the story.  I still though it was well paced though.  It probably helps that I was already familiar with the story, but I never felt bored or like it was running long or padding it's run time.

There's nothing wrong with any of the performances here.  Daniel Craig is good, Stellan Skarsgård is good, but it's really all about Mara's performance as Lisbeth Salander.

Rooney Mara ended up being an inspired choice to play Lisbeth.  She's only been in a handful of smaller roles, most notably The Social Network, so I was little surprised when I heard she was going to play Lisbeth.  At the same time, I liked that fact that she was a relative unknown.  I think it would be hard to see a higher profile actress play Lisbeth. Also, with Fincher directing, it didn't seem like much of a stretch since they had worked together before.  Mara is unrecognizable as Lisbeth and gives and amazing performance.  I felt like she really threw herself into the character.  I had no idea she was capable of such a performance and I think it's one of the best of the year.  I have to say that I liked Mara better than Noomi Rapace's Lisbeth.

Maybe something was lost in the translation of the Swedish adaptation, but I enjoyed this version so much more.  I found it to be even more brutal.  Look, they are both good movies.  There are differences in the story that you'll notice if you've seen both.  I don't really have any issue with that.  These are different adaptations of the novel, not remakes of one another.  There are things that the Swedish version did better and there are things that I think the English version did better.  They both stand up well on their own.

As I said earlier, I think Fincher was the right choice for this.  He's shown with movies like Se7en and Zodiac that he's ideally suited for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  The screenplay was written by Steven Zaillian, who also wrote Moneyball (as well as some other good movies), so he's really on a role.

Here was kind of a surprising thing, someone actually brought their kid to see this.  Really?  Look, I don't believe in sheltering children too much, but this is not something I'd show to a young kid.  I just thought that was kind of weird.  I guess if you had no clue what the movie was going to be about, then maybe the parent just made an uniformed movie choice.  It's like when my co-worker once told me that they took their young son to see Boogie Nights, not knowing what it was about.  Yeah, they had to leave after a few minutes.

The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo is a good film that's expertly directed by David Fincher and features a fantastic, break-out performance from Rooney Mara.  It's length and brutality might be too much for some viewers, but I think it's worth it.

I give this 4 Death Stars (out of 5).

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

We Bought A Zoo - Movie Review

You wanna know the really nice thing about sneak preview showings? No trailers! I know many of you love them, but when you see the same 4-5 trailers over and over again and it adds 15-20 minutes to the amount of time you're sitting in the theater, and it starts to become a drag.

When I first saw the title for this movie, I thought, 'Oh, this is going to be some cheesy family movie'. Fortunately, in the context of the film, the line 'We bought a Zoo' isn't annoying.

Here's a good example of a movie that I really wasn't all that interested in seeing, but was pleasantly surprised. First off, I didn't even know this was a Cameron Crowe film, so I have to say that as soon as I saw his name in the opening credits, my mood immediately shifted from not wanting to see it to actual interest. It's speaks to the point I've said recently about trying to not know too much about a movie going in, because it can sometimes affect the review. I'll admit up front that I like Cameron Crowe a lot, so as soon as I saw it was one of his films, I figured I was going to end up liking it on some level. I haven't liked all of his movies of his like, Elizabethtown or Vanilla Sky, but Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous are amongst my favorites.

We Bought a Zoo is loosely based on the real story of Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon). As with all movies that are based on a true story, there are going to be changes made for 'Hollywood' reasons. Someone was very critical about the change of location in the movie. Mee and the original Zoo were in the UK. However, when you get Matt Damon to play the lead role, of course it's now going to be set in the US. Should they have cast Damon and then still put it in the UK? Would it have been better to hire a bunch of Brits or make everyone work on their accents? Does it really matter at the end of the day? I thought that was a silly criticism. Anyway...

The basic story is that Benjamin Mee's wife was sick and died recently and he's left to take care of his two kids. Mee, a former writer/reporter, decides to quit his job and move in order to get a fresh start. His older son is having issues at school and all the places in the small town they live in remind Ben of his wife, so it was time to get out. He hires a realtor (J.B. Smoove) and starts looking for a new place to live. Nothing seems to have a good fit, until they find an large house out in the country. The catch is that it's a small zoo that had recently been closed. He loves the house and wants to buy it regardless, but the condition is that they have to try to reopen the zoo. He wants to give his kids an authentic experience and doesn't care about the cost or the work it's going to take.

As Ben doesn't have a clue to how to run a zoo, he needs help. Fortunately for him, there's an existing crew that help him out and bring him up to speed. The crew is led by Scarlett Johansson, who finally plays a role that doesn't make me think she's an android. I'm used to her not really having much of an emotional range, but I felt something here from her for a change.

Matt Damon is great. He's charming as hell and I really liked his role. He's very easy to sympathize with. I really think he's easily sinking himself into these 'father' roles. If he does more movies like this, he's going to be the go-to guy for family drama.

The kids were fantastic. Particularly, Maggie Elizabeth Jones, who might be one of the cutest child actors I've seen in a while. For a younger actress, I never got the feeling that she was actually acting. I think this is one of the strengths of Cameron Crowe. I've always thought Crowe did a great job with actors, but kids in particular. It's not quite as iconic as the kid from Jerry Maguire, but it's still a cute performance.

Elle Fanning has a small role, but I liked her here. Someone was saying that her character felt mentally challenged, but I thought that was harsh. She's goofy, and a little socially awkward, but I took that as because she's been isolated on the Zoo for so long. She's still one of my favorite young actresses and I refuse to believe her performance was bad here.

The rest of the crew is great and you'll recognize many of them from other films or Cameron Crowe films. Patrick Fugit (Almost Famous) shows up in a small role, and you might recognize Angus Macfayden as the Scottish zookeeper from his role as...the Scottish dude from Braveheart. You'll also recognize John Higgins from his myriad roles in TV and commercials. I think he was underused here though. He plays the 'villian' of the movie, but he's not in it all that much and you don't feel too much of a threat from him.  His role kind of felt in just so there'd be some outside conflict.

One of the better roles of the movie is Thomas Haden Church's role as Benjamin Mee's brother. He provides most of the welcome comedy relief and they don't overdo it.  I actually wish he would have been in this a little more.

In a way, this movie kind of reminds me of The Descendants. There are some similarities. Both films are about a family struggling with a tragedy/loss of a mother and a father trying to connect with his kids. But where The Descendants was a little more about closure, We Bought a Zoo is more about healing and starting over.

Cameron Crowe always has a way of taking a story like this and making it relatable and the characters sympathetic. He also has a way of shooting people that really makes it feel like you're part of the conversation. I think he really hit the right tone with this movie. Again, someone keeps slipping soy into my nutritional supplements, as there are few times I teared up towards the end. I didn't feel like I was manipulated though. My emotional response was organic to the story.

Call me a big softie, but I really liked We Bought a Zoo. Sure it's schmaltzy, but I thought it was a nice family film that was well-acted, has a good message and a broad appeal. Fans of Cameron Crowe and Matt Damon  should like this. I don't think it's Oscar worthy, or even one of the best films of the year, but it's coming out at the right time and I think it's a good choice for the Christmas weekend.

I give this 3 Death Stars (out of 5)

Oh, and I can't post a Matt Damon movie without a clip. It's not a coincidence that SNL ran this last week. However, it's weird that it features Val Kilmer. Anyway...

Monday, December 19, 2011

Young Adult - Movie Review

Young Adult is the new movie by Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody, who originally teamed up for Juno, which is a movie I really liked.  I know some people are a little on the Diablo Cody 'hate train' because Jennifer's Body wasn't all that good.  They can't all be gems; and she's only written a handful of things, so I'm willing to cut her some slack.  Fortunately, it helps that she's reunited with Reitman.  Where Juno was a little more cute and trendy, I think Young Adult is much more cynical.

Young Adult is about Mavis (Charlize Theron): a broken, emotionally crippled, alcoholic, sociopath that's a semi-successful, young adult book author. One day, she gets a mail about her old flame (Patrick Wilson) that is having a baby with his wife.  In her warped mind, she takes that as a sign that he's not happy and she decides to go back home, with the sole goal of reconnecting with him and stealing him back.

Once she's back home she reconnects with Matt (Patton Oswalt), who had some pretty messed up stuff happen to him back in High School and doesn't look back fondly at that time, or even Mavis really.  Matt is the voice of reason throughout the movie and calls Mavis out on her behavior throughout for the duration of the movie.

So, why would you watch this based on the premise, when it's clear that Mavis is a terrible person?   It's mainly because of Charlize Theron.   It takes an actress of her caliber to make this work.  In fact, I'm not sure anyone else could have pulled it off.  It's a perfect casting.  You should hate Mavis, and you'd be right to, but you can watch it simply based on her performance and the script.  Charlize has long been one of my favorite actresses and I'm glad to see her play against type.  It's one of the better performances of the year.

I laughed throughout most of this film, even if it at times it was uncomfortable laughter.  I like darker comedies and this didn't let me down.  I have to credit this to the script of Diablo Cody.  I don't know why she's generated so much hate, but I think she's did well here.  Jason Reitman is quickly becoming one of my favorite directors and he seems to know how to make a movie watchable even if they don't always feature characters that are likeable.

I loved Patton Oswalt here!  I don't know if his geek references were due to him or Cody (I'm suspecting Oswalt, since it's mainly Star Wars references).  As Patton Oswalt is known for being brought in to punch up scripts, I have to wonder if he was able to help keep the script as funny as it was.  I think you could make a best supporting actor case for him.  It's another great performance and at times he might break your heart a little bit.  His scenes with Theron are the best parts of the movie.

I heard someone complain that there's no character growth and no third act.  While I do admit that the movie ends kind of abruptly with no resolution, I felt like that was that point.  Mavis is 37.  People don't change that much fundamentally at 37, especially in a short period of time and even more so when they are psychologically damaged.  I'm 38 and I don't see me changing much at this point either, for better or worse.  And no wise cracks about my psychological damage either.

One of the things I liked about he script was that it wasn't like Juno and tried to be too cute.  This is more of a character study, to the point where this felt like more of an independent film that stars an A-list actor.  This isn't going to appeal to a large audience.  If this hadn't been peppered with humor throughout the movie, I don't' think you'd be able to get through it without hating everyone.

Overall, I really liked Young Adult, but I like dark movies that have a cynical view of people.  That it's funny is what really makes this entertaining for me.  This might not be for everyone because it's on the dark side and doesn't have a happy ending, but it's worth watching simply based on the performances of Theron and Oswalt alone.

I give this 3.5 Death Stars (out of 5). It's probably a better rental based on what it's about, but I really did like the movie.

This week in DVD - December 18th

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Original review is here.

This was a big surprise for me.  I thought this was going to be a disaster of a movie and it ended up being one of the better movies of the summer and one of the better sci-fi themed movies I've seen in a while.

I might have to pick this one up on Blu-Ray.   Definitely rent it!

Fright Night

In my original review I talked about my disappointment in the remake.  I thought this was just okay.  It's a bummer cause I wanted to like it more.  I liked the actors in it, and I think it was an inspired performance by Colin Farrell, but it was wasted.

I think it's worth a rental, but that's about it.

The Smell of Success

This movie stars Billy Bob Thorton, Ed Helms and Tea Leoni as empoyees of a manure sales company.  That's where the 'smell' comes form.  Get it?  It has an interesting visual style, but at the same time, it felt like the whole movie was done in green screen.  Overall I really just didn't think it was all that interesting.  About the only thing that kept me watching was that something about Tea Leoni just does it for me.  That's it.

It's just blah.  Seems like a movie that would have worked as a dark comedy, but it wasn't funny.  Skip it.

Tanner Hall

I kind of rented this because of the the Rooney Mara hype.  I'm hearing she's great in The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo remake.  She wasn't bad in this, but the movie itself wasn't very good.  It's another one of those movies were nobody seemed like a real person and you didn't care about anyone.  It was all drama for the priviledged and it was difficult to identify with anyone.

Skip it.

Kung-Fu Panda 2

I ended up really liking this.  I wasn't a big fan of the first one, but I actually enjoyed the sequel much more.  The animation is beautiful!  The original voice cast returns, but at the same time it's one of the things that bugs me about the DreamWorks Animation movies.  There's so much focus on a star-studded cast, that you spend the movie trying to figure out what famous actor is voice which cahracter or they use a voice that's very distinctive, so it's hard to get that out of your head.  I compare this to Arthur Christmas that used good actors, but you didn't really realize it until seeing the credits, so you focused more on the movie than who the voices are.

I think it's worth a rental and good for kids and adults alike.

The Skin I Live In - Movie Review

I finally got a chance to see The Skin I Live In, but I feel like a schmuck for posting it now, as even the theater I saw it in last week isn't playing it anymore.  It's still worth telling you about though, so you can decide whether or not you want to rent it.

There was a good amount of hype about this film going in.  The Skin I Live In is a Spanish film by Pedro Almodóvar, who despite having quite the following amongst critics, I have never heard of before.  I had to check out his IMDB page to even see if was remotely familiar with any of his work.  The only thing I can say is that I've at least heard of some of the films he's directed.  I recognize them from their posters, but that's about it.

I have to admit that while I don't have an issue with foreign films, they are usually not something I rush out to see.  Also, seeing this movie after the Niner game (and a few beers) might not have been the best idea as it messed with my focus.

As this movie has some nice twists and reveals going for it, I really can't divulge too much of the plot.  The basic story is that Antonio Banderas plays a surgeon who been severely affected by the death of his wife some time ago.  His wife was an accident and burned to death.  He then created a type of synthetic skin that is impenetrable and can also be used to help burn victims heal.

While he claims he's only tested it on mice, he's been secretly experimenting it on a woman, who appears to be a prisoner in his house.  However, she seems to be there willingly, or at least not really resisting.  The movie starts in what feels like the middle of things, so it's really not clear at first.  It then jumps around in time and shows you the history of the characters and their motivation.

I heard someone describe this as an 'art-house Human Centipede' and that's pretty close.  I'd say it's ultimately a revenge film, with sci-fi and Frankenstein elements.  The movie is actually all over the place thematically, but it's done very well.  It's unpredictable, and as I said earlier, has great reveals and twists.  I never found myself confused or bored despite that it's a Spanish film and on the long side.  That's saying a lot for the storytelling here.  Eventually, it does all come together very nicely and I was satisfied with the payoff.

I thought Antonio Banderas was really good here.  I don't know why I've had an issue with him in the past.  He's not a bad actor, but maybe it was just some of the movies he's been in.  The performances were all good from what I can tell.  I hate to use the foreign film thing as an excuse, but I have issues gauging performance quality in foreign films.  Everyone seemed like there were doing a good job.  I didn't get the feeling that anyone was overacting like I have in other foreign films like Outrage or Space Battleship Yamato.

Many critics have said this movie could have only been directed by Pedro Almodóvar and others wouldn't have been able to make all the different elements of this movie work.  While, I don't know if that's true, I do agree that he did a great job of making it all work.  It probably would have been a disaster in the hands of another director.  I'm thinking someone like David Cronenberg could have done a good job with it.

The movie has a very distinctive look about it and is visually interesting.  It also features a very attractive cast.  The captive woman, played by Elena Anaya, might be one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen.  She's worked with Almodóvar, as has Banderas, so now I'm curious to check out their previous films.

There is lots of graphic nudity and this is definitely a hard R rating.  I also don't think this is really for the squeamish or easily grossed out.  It's very weird and creepy in parts, almost to the point where it feels like a horror film.  That's what I mean by all over the place.  I did enjoy it though.  Then again, this is coming from someone that thinks movies like Teeth or The Human Centipede are hilarious, so take that with a grain of salt.  It was fun to hear members of the audience squirm.  Even I reacted visibly at one point.  As I saw this at The Vine, I ordered a burger during the movie.  Afterwards, someone in the lobby asked me how I could eat watching a movie like that. The answer?  Alcohol!

The Skin I Live In is a good movie, and I know I say this a lot, but it's definitely not for everyone.  It's going to be too weird and creepy for the casual viewer, and again, people that don't like subtitled movies will likely have difficulty watching this.  However, if you're looking to watch a well-made and unpredictable film, definitely give this one a rent.

I give it three and a half Death Stars.

I Melt With You - Movie Review

I Melt with You is a movie that kind of bummed me out.  I saw the cast and I was pretty enthusiastic about watching it, especially given the premise.  You've got Thomas Jane, Jeremy Piven, Rob Lowe and Christian McKay starring as a bunch of old college buddies that reunite once a year and take a week's vacation to party.  I was thinking it might be a different take on The Hangover.  However, you quickly learn this is a 'serious' film, but not in a good way.

Once again, this review will be spoiler heavy, so be warned.

Even with the serious tone, you'd still kind hope for maybe a thoughtful movie about guys dealing with getting older and getting into middle-age.  Instead, it's just a bunch of dudes drinking and doing tons of drugs.  There's no real setup or anything.  Minutes into the movie this is happening.  I'm not sure I've seen this much cocaine done in a movie since Scarface.  Rob Lowe's character is supposed to be a doctor, and also appears to be their supplier.  I think they tried to first show that they were being careful by having Lowe do periodic checkups on them, but this stopped early on.  At one point, Lowe literally takes a handful of pills and swallows them to show off to some kid.  You don't even know what the pills are.  I'm thinking, 'No effing way!'  You'd be dead in minutes taking that many drugs at once, but anyway.

So on the third or fourth day of this 'vacation', they have a party with a group of younger locals (one of them played by porn star Sasha Grey).  Christian McKay's character, who's apparently gay, but never comes right out and says it, mumbles something about killing the only person he's loved.  He clearly feels guilty about it.  The next day, the remaining guys find him dead in the shower.  He left a suicide note that I guess had some huge meaning to the other guys because they totally freak out about it.  However, they don't tell you what the effing letter says.  You have to infer everything until the very end.  It's clearly a reference to some pact they made when they were younger.  Piven's character says it's all bullshit and he's not going to go through with something they agreed to as dumb kids.  He's got a wife and kids and responsibilities.  He leaves, which is the only smart thing any of these guys did in the movie.  It's pretty sad when Jeremy Piven's character is the voice of reason.  That ought to tell you something.

Before this happens, Piven wants to call the cops to let them know about the suicide, but Lowe and Jane wont' let him.   Instead they bury him out back, which again, is freaking stupid.  Now, when I said Piven was smart for leaving, it was short lived, because he comes back out of some kind of code of honor.  Jane then smothers him with a pillow and they bury him out back as well.

Lowe and Jane then go to a bar and pick a fight with some locals.  For a second I thought this was about to go a crazy direction and get interesting, but instead, they just get their asses kicked by the locals.  Lowe then OD's on heroin and Jane buries him out back.  Jane freaks out by himself for a day or two before finally throwing himself off a cliff (nobody buries him out back).  At the very end the pact is finally revealed.  I guess they all agreed that if they were not the men they envisioned themselves being (but there's no deadline or quantifying of this in any way) or forgot this feeling (not sure what 'this feeling' was), then they would die as one.  What!?  This note is read in a voiceover, and they didn't even synchronize them saying 'we would die as one.'  It felt really sloppy.

One thing to note is that all four of these guys are at a point in their lives where they aren't happy about where they are.  Their careers haven't panned out, or are in come kind of trouble, either career-wise or financially; one of them is going through a nasty divorce, etc.  I can see why these guys would be disappointed about their lives and why some of them might think about taking the easy way out, but it's still uncool.  Two of these guys had families and kids.  Yeah, lets randomly kill myself cause my friend did.  It's so stupid.  Plus, I didn't really like or identify with any of these guys.  As you may have noticed in this review, I haven't bothered to remember any of the characters names.  I just didn't care about them.  I couldn't see myself hanging out with them either.

Then, you have Carla Gugino, whom I normally love, but terribly miscast in this movie as a local cop.  She's overly suspicious of these guys despite that they've only given the outward appearance of being a bunch of guys on vacation and partying.  She's practically staking out the place.  Why?  I guess she didn't have much to do.

The movie itself is endless montages of people doing drugs, hugging, and staring off into the distance.  There are long stretches of either no dialog or dialog muted by music.  It's basically a two hour music video, but with shitty music.  That's what it felt like.  They could have chopped 30-40 minutes off this movie easily and it wouldn't have made any difference in the story.

Oh, and despite that they are having these drug filed ragers every night, by the next morning, the house always seemed surprisingly clean.  I also don't really recall any of them being all that hung over.  They'd just start right back up again with the drinking and partying.

Once again, the screenplay was written by a first time writer, Glenn Porter.  I hesitate to use the word 'screenplay' or 'written', because there's just not much of a story here.  Again, there's about as much content as in a five minute short or music video.  I'm more surprised that this was directed by Mark Pellington, who has directed movies I've actually enjoyed like Arlington Road, The Mothman Prophecies and Henry Poole is Here.  He's a better director than this.

I heard some idiot saying the point was they were creating a new world order.  What?  How is four random people killing themselves privately for reasons unexplained to the outside world creating a new world order?  How is abandoning your kids or family creating a better world?  I guess it would be if you were a horrible husband or father maybe.  Another guy said this is the next Fight Club.  I'm sorry, but did you actually see Fight Club?  Fight Club had a point and the characters had a goal.  This has nothing!

I Melt With You is essentially a bad, extended music video about a bunch of douche bags that take a week to get drunk, do a bunch of coke and other various drugs and then kill themselves.  I get what this movie was trying to do, but it's didn't work.  This is quite honestly one of the worst films I've seen this year.  It's likely going to land in my top ten worst of the year.

I give this half a Death Star.  I'd give it zero Death Stars, but there was one part that made me laugh.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol - Movie Review

Okay, now here's what an action movie should feel like!  I just got back from seeing this on IMAX and...damn!  This is going to a fairly short review as I just want to get to the point.

The plot of M:I 4 is actually very old fashioned.  A Russian terrorist group blows up the Kremlin and pins it on Ethan Hunt's team.  'Ghost Protocol' is initiated by the President, which basically disavows the whole IMF.  It's up to Hunt (Tom Cruise, duh) and his team to stop the Russians from launching a nuclear weapon and averting a war.  I don't want to get into too many details, because it's really not all that complex in the first place, but I think you should go experience it for yourself instead of reading about it.

You could affectionately call this movie, Run, Tom Cruise, Run, or Mission: Impossible - Tom Cruise Runs A LOT.  Maybe it's the way they shot him running, but he's kind of got an awkward way of running.  It was always shot at an upwards angle and it made him look like was trying not to fall backwards as he runs. Just an observation.  It doesn't ruin the movie or anything.

Many people have complained that the previous Mission: Impossible films have really been all about Ethan Hunt, rather than being about the team, which I think bugged fans of the original TV show as well.  Fortunately, this time around it's all about the team.  In fact, there's no way they could do this without having a competent team involved all of the way through.

You're first introduced to Benji (Simon Pegg) and Jane (Paula Patton), who break Hunt out of prison.  As the story continues, Brandt (Jeremy Renner) joins the team.  Each person has their own role and none of them really feel like they are taking a back seat to Hunt.  Benji is the tech guy, Paula is the jack-of-all-trades and Brandt ends up being just as capable as Hunt.  They all had character and were interesting in their own right.

They made a great casting choice with Paula Patton.  First off, she's sexy as hell, but totally pulls off the ass kicking thing.  Her character actually felt like a real person rather than just a male, action-movie fantasy.  Speaking of male fantasy, you know who I'd like to see her play?  Wonder Woman!  Actually, just go ahead and cast her in everything from now on.

Simon Pegg, who can do no wrong as far as I'm concerned, gives just the right amount of comic relief when needed.  Modesto native Jeremy Renner continues to show why he's one of the better actors working right now.

This movie starts at a sprint right out of the gate with a sequence, featuring Lost's Josh Holloway, and barely lets up at all.  It's tense and adrenaline filled.  I felt like I needed to have a drink after the movie to calm down.  The pacing is fantastic.  It's interesting to note that M:I 4 is actually longer than Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, yet you wouldn't know it.

This had everything I could have wanted out of an action film.  It has great stunts, awesome action sequences, a chick fight and cool gadgets.  The effects are done well and not overused.  The only weakness is the story is a little basic and the villain isn't all that interesting, but everything else is so great that I just didn't care about those weaknesses.

Brad Bird has an awesome debut as a real-life action director.  Bird has previously written and directed animated films, but really great animated films like The Incredibles, Ratatouille and The Iron Giant.  Please make more movies like Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol!  As much as I love Josh Whedon, I now really wish they would have given The Avengers to Brad Bird.  He's shown twice he can make a great movie involving a team of interesting characters.  Give him some kind of superhero team to direct.  Maybe dust off that Justice League movie they keep rumoring and give it to him.

It's kind of weird to see a series getting better as it's gone on.  I wasn't really a big fan of the first two films and thought it was stupid they were making more of them.  I think it's great that they've gone in a different direction and now you've got a pretty good third film and now a kick-ass fourth film.  I actually want them to make a fifth one now.

Okay, maybe this wasn't such a short review after all.  One final note is that I do recommend seeing this in IMAX.  It will be available on regular screens next week, but the IMAX format really shows off some of the scenery.

This is the best M:I movie and easily my favorite of the series.  Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol has it's flaws, but they are easy to overlook thanks to the great action and the chemistry and teamwork between the characters.  I highly recommend checking it out.

I'm going to give this 4 out of 5 Death Stars.  It's one of the best action films of the year and something I'm definitely going to buy once it's out on Blu-Ray.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows - Movie Review

I've had a few hours to think about Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows since seeing it.  While I didn't hate it, I might spoil a few things trying to talking about it, so be warned.  Please also note that my review is coming from the perspective of someone that's never read a Sherlock Holmes book, so I won't be making comparisons there.

In fact, I was one of the people that wasn't really looking forward to seeing the first movie because I've never been into Sherlock Homes.  I ended up thinking it was pretty entertaining though.  Remember how they effectively used slow-motion in the Sherlock Holmes?  It was one of the nice surprises for me and one of the reasons why I ended up liking it.  Well, in Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows, it's like anytime they didn't know what to do with the story they said, 'Well, let's throw another slow-motion sequence in here.'

I'd love to tell you what's it about, but it's so convoluted that it's just hard to keep straight.  Basically, in this movie you're introduced to Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris), which from my understanding is Holmes' 'Lex Luthor'.  Moriarty is hatching some kind of plot that Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Watson (Jude Law) team up again to stop.  However, I couldn't really tell you exactly what Moriarty's plan was.  Is he trying to start a war, kill some world leaders, or just make a lot of money?  It's one of my issues with the film and I'll get to that later.

When did Sherlock Holmes become a superhero that can see the (near) future?  Even in the first film, I felt like he was more of an action hero than a pure detective, but at least there was some detective work in that film.  He's even more of an action hero this time around.  I felt like there really weren't any serious attempts at detective work here.  There were parts where it felt like they wrote the script in reverse, so that his deductions were just convenient because they needed a way out of a situation.  I get that Holmes is supposed to be brilliant, but there were times were he was outright psychic.

Many parts of the plot didn't make sense to me at all.  There were times I didn't know what the hell was going on.  Like get this; at one point of the movie, Moriarty blows up a room full of people at some kind of official dinner.  Holmes figures out that one of the people in the room had been shot in the head by a sniper just as the bomb went off and the explosion was used to cover up the guy getting shot.  However, the explosion killed everyone in the room anyway, so why the need for the 'diversion' and why bother with a sniper?  Rooms don't blow up by themselves.  Everyone would still know there was an assassination, only now you've killed more people.  It's like saying I want to steal your car stereo, but to distract everyone from my crime, I'm going to just steal your whole car.  Holmes is able to figure it out though, which only makes sense to me if you accept that Holmes is a crazy person, because this plan is crazy.

It felt like there were too many layers to this.  Plus, it doesn't help that you never really feel all that threatened by Moriarty.  There's large stretches of the movie where you don't see or hear from him at all.  They tell you he's involved, but you don't see it.  You're just going to have to take their word for it.  He's basically 'the phantom menace'.

It really drags in parts.  A Game of Shadows is over two hours long and it didn't need to be.  It actually felt a lot longer and I started to squirm in my seat a little bit.  There were so many parts, even characters, that felt like they could have been removed and it wouldn't have made any difference.  There's a whole sequence of the movie dedicated to Watson's marriage, but it was totally useless to the plot.  Even Watson's wife was totally unnecessary and felt thrown in.  They introduce Mycroft (Stephen Fry), but again, he felt thrown in for comic purposes where they didn't need more of it.  Even Noomi Rapace's character felt unnecessary at time, like they didn't know what to do with her.

It was way too jokey and they tried too hard to be funny.  It had a hard time taking it seriously.  I thought the chemistry between Holmes and Watson from the first film was gone.  There was a girl in front of us that laughed hysterically throughout the movie, and while her laugh was one of the most annoying I've heard, she wasn't laughing that things that were genuinely funny.

I can only blame the writing team of Michele and Kieran Mulroney, who didn't write the first film.  I think this helps explain why a lot of the elements from the first film were missing this time.  I think this also suffered from not having a more experienced writing team.  Maybe they should go back to 'Bad Guy Evil Plan Writing 101.'  Or watch a Die Hard or even an Ocean's movie to see how to use diversions to get to your real goal and maybe write a coherent story.

The movie does look nice though and I thought the effects were done well.  The slow-motion sequences are very interesting.  The problem is that there's sooooooo much slow-motion and break down sequences that by the end you've lost interest in seeing them and wished they would just get on with the movie.  The only part I really enjoyed was the very end.

I thought RDJIron Man 2 where he was overdoing all the thing he did right in the first film.  It kind of got annoying.  Jude Law was fine.  I liked Jared Harris as Moriarty, but I like him from Mad Men, so I'm probably being biased.  It's a good cast overall, but many of them are just plain wasted.

I'm bummed because I really do like Guy Ritchie, but this is not his best work.  You'd think he would have recognized that some of elements that worked in the first film were missing here.  It was like he wasn't quite sure what he wanted to do with the sequel, so he just tried to amp everything up and make it even more action oriented.

Overall, I didn't think this was a terrible movie, but it's not a good one either.  I know my review may sound like I hated it, but I really didn't.  I just feel a little let down and I was expecting more.  Plus, the pacing is too slow and I found myself losing interest many times.  If you didn't like the first one, then I don't you'll like this one either.  Ultimately, I think this movie suffered from sequelitis.  I really don't think it's worth rushing out and seeing.  If you rented this, I think you'd enjoy it, but paying to see this in the theater might be a bit of a stretch.

I give Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows just two and a half Death Stars.

Speaking of Sherlock Holmes, I strongly recommend checking out the recent BBC series Sherlock.  I thought it was better, modern take on Sherlock Holmes and definitely worth watching.  You should be able to stream if off Netflix.

Monday, December 12, 2011

This week in DVD - December 11th

Music puts me in a good mood, so you have to deal with it.  Here's some acoustic Manic Monday from the Bangles.

I'm sorry, Susanna Hoffs the frakking hotness!  Okay crush off...

The Debt

Original review.

This was a nice little surprise for me in early September.  It's actually one of the best movies I've seen this year and recommend it to anyone that's in the mood for a well-acted, moral thriller.  I'm serious, I really loved this movie!

I give this four Death Stars!  Rent it!

Cowboys & Aliens

Previous Blah!

I was a little disappointed in this.  It kind of broke my heart because I liked everyone in it.  Plus, Jon Favreau was so enthusiastic abvout it at WonderCon, it was hard not to be similarly enthused.  I'm interested to watch the extended version.though.  I want to see if anything was removed that might hvae helped.  As much as Favreau said otherwise, studios can eff' up a movie, so it would surprise me if the extended cut was better.
Three Death Stars!  It's still a worth a rental, so do it and enjoy it!

The Hangover: Part II

A less funny clone of the first film.  Here's my review!  It had some laughs, but don't believe the hype.  It's not awful, but just disappointing.  This was one my earliest 'serious' reviews, so please pick it apart if you want.:)

I give it two and a half Death Stars...

Monte Carlo

Ugh, I really didn't like this.  The characters seem to openly dislike each other, but I don't recall any of them saying why.  Nothing is explained and there's no backstory.  Then, they just go off to Paris together on one of the most forced stories I've seen.

They go on a terrible Paris tour and they even call the 'lead girl' out on picking a bad tour, which made me wonder if she'd bother checking any reviews on the interwebs.  Information like that isn't that hard to find these days.

I read somewhere that this was originally intended to be about three teachers on a trip to Paris, but the studio decided to retool this as a movie aimed at teens.  That was clearly a misguided idea and shows you how movie studios don't know f'all about what people want to see these days.  The movie did seem like it was supposed to be something else throughout the flick.

It's ends up being a totally unrealistic wish fulfillment movie for teens.  Unless you're a teenage girl, I'd advise you to skip it.  Even if you have teenage girls, I would advise you to skip it.

This is valued at one and half Death Stars.  Alderaan would be doomed if it was up to this movie!

Snow Flower and The Secret Fan

It's a nice looking movie, but just so uninteresting.  I felt nothing when watching it.  I'd talk about it more, but then I'd have to look stuff up on Wikipedia.  I don't feel like doing homework right now.  Plus, when the movie isn't worth watching, it really seems pointless.

Oh here's a weird thing about it...two-thirds of the way through movie, Hugh Jackman shows up out of nowhere as a Aussie lounge singer (who also sings in Mandarin)!  What the hell?  Why is Hugh Jackman in this, you'll say?  When the credits roll, he's like 3/4's of the way down, so it's odd.  He didn't produce it either.  Maybe he owed someone a favor?  It was just very unusual and totally took me out of the movie.  The sad part is that his appearance was the only part of the movie I found watchable.

It's a shitty movie though, and I didn't like it.  This is worth one and a half Death Stars!  I'm giving it one because Hugh Jackman and the other half is because it looked nice.

Mr. Poppers Penguins

This can only be deemed a silly, kids film.  Jim Carrey has really fallen from where he was just a few years ago.

It's a shame to see Agent Coulson in a movie like this.  I found out that if  you speed his voice up a bit, he sounds exactly like Rob Lowe on Parks & Recreation.  That's about the only thing I got out of this.

I say skip it as it's not a good movie, but it's harmless.

I give this one and a half Death Stars!

The Help

I'm going to end on a good note, but a short one!

This is one of the few movies this summer I never got around to seeing.  Its a shame, too, because it's a really good movie. I nearly lost it at the end of it.  I really need to find out which Stormtrooper is sneaking soy protein into my nutritional supplements!  I'm going to choke him out with my mind powers!.

I give this four Death Stars!  Rent it!  I challenge you to tell me it doesn't make you tear up at the end!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Sitter - Movie Review

Before I get started talking about The Sitter, I wanted to briefly talk about a few trailers I saw before the movie.

I saw a new trailer for American Reunion and it actually looked much funnier than the first trailer I saw, which looked really lame.  The writing and directing team did the last Harold and Kumar movie, which I didn't think was that funny, but the new trailer gave me some hope.

Before the American Reunion trailer, they showed the 21 Jump Street trailer, which I also think looks funny.  I did think it was kind weird for them to show this, as it features the now much thinner Jonah Hill.  It's like they were giving you the before and after look at Jonah Hill, but in reverse.

Anyway, Jonah Hill's weight difference has to make you wonder  how long ago The Sitter was made, because Jonah looks like he did around the time Superbad was made.  Like before he even started losing weight.  In fact, he looks heavier in The Sitter then he did during Moneyball, and Moneyball came out earlier.  I know it sounds like I'm picking on the guy's weight, but my point is that a movie like the The Sitter couldn't have needed that much work in post, so I'm guessing this movie had been shelved for a while.  That's usually a bad sign and done for a good reason: It's a bad movie.

It seems really odd to me this would get released around the holidays, as this isn't a family movie and there's nothing holiday themed about it.  This seems like a much better release for somewhere in that Aug-October time frame.  It probably would have been received a little better.

The opening scene sets the tone for what you're in for, it starts with Jonah Hill's character, Noah, going down on a girl.  He then leaves frustrated because the girl won't reciprocate.  They show him as being a really nice guy, even a bit of a nerd.  But then in the very next scene, you see him being just a lazy-ass around the house and a mooch off his Mom.  Apparently, he was suspended from college, but I recall that they ever said why.  He seemed genuinely interested in what he was studying, so again, it's not clear why he's back home.

This is one of the big problems of The Sitter: it's not consistent at all.  The first few minutes of the movie have Noah going from being a super nice guy that's getting taken advantage of, to a lazy mooch, to a then an irresponsible punk.  Later in the film, he's suddenly ultra-cool in situations where his previous behavior would seem to indicate he wouldn't be able to act that way.  It's like they tried to take all the personality traits from every character he's played in the past and throw them all into one character, but just not done well at all.

After the opening scene, Noah is tasked with babysitting the kids of his mother's friend.  He only agrees to do this, because he needs the money and this is the only way his mother will be able to get out of the house for a date.  Fair enough.  Shortly after he starts babysitting the kids, the girl from the opening scene calls him and basically says, 'I'll have sex with you tonight if you can get over here and bring me some coke.'  This is one of the parts I'm talking about.  How frigging irresponsible are you that while babysitting kids, you think it's a good idea to take them out on a cocaine run so you can get laid later?  It makes me not like the Noah at all.

As you'd guess, things don't go right and then you watch him run around trying find the kids as they escape from his watch, avoid people he's angered throughout the night, get his car back (which of course gets stolen), avoid the drug dealer that's after him, etc.  You've seen this all before.  It's not original at all.

You've got characters conveniently dropping in and out throughout the movie when the script calls for it.  People don't seem to have any issues getting around very quickly in New York at night in The Sitter.  It's the kind of movie that if you like things to make sense, then it will probably bug you.

Another cliche here is that everyone gets to learn a lesson or grow from this experience.  It's frustrating to watch, because it all happens so quickly and it doesn't really seemed earned.  Even though the kids all seemed to be stereotypes, I actually didn't mind them.  They looked a little annoying in the trailer, but they didn't ruin the movie for me.

How in the hell did they get Sam Rockwell to be in this?  He plays the drug dealer in the movie, and he's just about the only thing I liked about it.  He's way too good for this movie.  J.B. Smoove is wasted here as well.  He cracked me up on Curb Your Enthusiasm, but he just doesn't have anything to do here.

I really can't blame any of the actors.  They're only doing what they are asked of.  It's all bad editing, a bad screenplay and bad direction.  It probably doesn't help that the writers, Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka, are first-time feature writers.  This story desperately needed some punch-up from an experienced comedy writer.

There are a handful of laughs in this movie, and I can only remember a smattering of laughs from the audience throughout the movie.  One of the few things that did make me laugh was that one of the kids always seemed to be watching a really bad 80's film on TV.  At one point I'm pretty sure he was watching Gymkata, and another time I know he was watching the Dolph Lundgren masterpiece, I Come in Peace.  "And you go in pieces!"  Classic!

Speaking of the 80's, this is another movie that featured a predominately 80's soundtrack.  I'm kind of getting tired of that in movies not set in the 80's.  It's starting to feel hipsterish.  Let me ironically put bad songs from my youth in a movie!  That'll be funny.  Adam Sandler does this a lot, as well.

I'm surprised that this was directed by David Gordon Green, who as the commercials advertise, was the director of Pineapple Express.  Pineapple Express isn't a great movie, but it's much funnier than this and at worse, I'd call it a guilty pleasure.  He's directed some episodes of Eastbound & Down, which is a funny show, but also directed Your Highness.  Now Your Highness is was I'd call a guilty pleasure, as it's not a good movie, but I still thought it was funny.

Make no mistake, The Sitter is a bad movie.  It's unoriginal, edited poorly, plays on bad stereotypes and is cliched as hell.  The characters don't behave with any kind of consistency or logic.  It's not so bad that it's insulting, but it's just not funny or worth recommending.  This is one of those movies where the trailers and the commercials basically showed you everything that was funny, so that should be enough for most of you.  It's maybe worth renting in a few months, but skip it for now.

I give it 2 Death Stars (out of 5).

You like that?  I starting with a Death Star rating system.  I was thinking of using a lightsaber, but then I thought the play on the star rating system with Death Star was funnier.  Let me know which you prefer though.  I'm open to suggestions.  I need to make up some jpegs or animated gifs for the rating system.  If you know anyone that can help me out with that let me know. 

Oh, and I have no plans on seeing New Years Eve either.  Seriously?  It's a retread of Valentines Day and even has the same writer and director.  Valentine's Day was a terrible movie and New Years Eve looks just as bad.  What's the next movie going to be?  St. Patty's Day?  Memorial Day?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Take Shelter - Movie Review

Here's another movie I've really been looking forward to for a while.
The trailers for Take Shelter looked creepy and it features two of my favorite actors, Michael Shannon (who's going to be ZOD!) and Jessica Chastain.  I actually didn't think I was even going to get a chance to see it in the theater, but once again The Vine to the rescue!

This review might be a little spoilery for a movie that I like, but it's another one that's hard to talk about without discussing the plot.  However, this really isn't a plot based movie.  Once again it's more of a character driven story.

So what's Take Shelter about? You have Michael Shannon as Curtis,  who's basically a blue-collar guy.  He's a nice guy, works hard and is just trying to take care of his family.  He's married to Samantha (Jessica Chastain), and together they have a deaf daughter that's about to have some surgery, so they are struggling with keeping all their bills in check.

Curtis starts having very vivid nightmares that start to carry over into his daily life.  He's even having hallucinations.  The nightmares are very well done in that you don't know they are happening until it's too late.  It's very jarring, but it helps you identify with what he's going through.  You then find out that his mother was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic when he was 10-years-old.  This is mentioned in the trailer, but even if you haven't seen it, telling you really doesn't spoil anything.

His nightmares have him convinced that something really bad is about to happen, so he begins to buff up their existing tornado shelter to weather the upcoming storm, so to speak.  Obviously, this is where 'Take Shelter' comes from.  The building of this shelter causes concern amongst his family and friends.  It even concerns Curtis as he's trying to figure out if he's crazy or not.  As you watch the movie, you're wondering that, too.  Is he crazy?  Is he right that something's coming?  Both?

From that point it's more about watching Curtis struggle with everything.  It's another psychological character piece, where you're just along for the ride.  Take Shelter really felt like a thriller, almost a horror, with the tone and some of the things that happen.  It's also made a little more eerie due to the soundtrack.  You get a sense of dread throughout the movie.

It's nice to see the level of commitment to the characters the actors have here.   There are a lot of nice touches, like Chastain's character knowing sign language, but Shannon's knowing only just enough to communicate with his daughter on a basic level.

While it's a slowly paced movie, I was never bored.  You're just so into what's going on and seeing what happens next.  You have to primarily credit this to Michael Shannon's performance.  He says so much with just a look.  I felt so sympathetic to his character.  When I see his role here, it makes me all the more excited to see how he's going to play Zod in the upcoming Superman movie.  Not that anyone could ever outdo Terrence Stamp's Zod, but still.

Jessica Chastain as Samantha is great as she always is.  Despite that the movie is more about Curtis, you always have the feeling the Samantha is really the boss.

Take Shelter was written and directed by Jeff Nichols, who, like many other directors I've seen this year, doesn't have a lot of movies to his credit.  He did write and direct something else called Shotgun Stories, which also stars Michael Shannon, so it looks like I'm going to have to check it out now.

Overall, I really liked Take Shelter, but I was into the movie from the beginning.  My anticipation for the movie probably affected how much I liked this.  It is a smart film, but not for everyone.  I don't mean that like it sounds though.  It's just that Take Shelter is a movie you will likely have to process and think about after.  The slow pacing of the film may put off some viewers, but I was able to just kind of zone in on the performances.  It's worth watching just for that alone.  I also enjoyed the tone of the film and feeling I got from it.

Take Shelter is out of most theaters at this point, outside of The Vine, so it's a good rental unless you live in the Livermore area and can head over to The Vine.  I do recommend checking it out though.

This week in DVD - December 4th

I'm still fighting off whatever bug or sinus infection that's been lingering, hence the delay in my posting, but the good news is that it means more time for watching movies!

Friends with Benefits

Here's my original review.  Blah!

I still maintain this was the best romantic comedy of the summer.  I think it's a great movie to rent if you want something fun, but not too raunchy.  I'm on the fence about buying this one, but I'll probably wait until it gets in that $9 range.

30 Minutes or Less

Blah, blah, blah...

This is a movie that didn't get reviewed particularly well, but I came away liking it.  Sure, the story is kind of shitty, but I liked it for the chemistry of the characters and the humor.  Plus, it's barely 90 minutes long, so you won't feel like you're watching it forever.  I may have also been a bit swayed Ruben Fleischer's direction.  I'm a huge fan of Zombieland, which he also directed, so I'm sure my love of that might had me going in more optimistic.

I think it's a good rental, but don't expect a smart comedy.  It was just silly fun for me.

Tucker & Dale vs Evil

I don't think I mentioned this in my original review, but this is seriously one of my favorite films of the year.  It might even end up in my top ten.  T&D vs E is simply a fun parody and different take on the whole slasher in the woods flick.  I highly recommend watching it with friends.  I'm buying this as soon as I see it on sale.

The Future

Bay Area native Mirandy July wrote, directed and stars in this indie drama about a couple in their mid-30's that seem to just be kind of going through the motions.  They intend on adopting a cat, but even this freaks them out when they are told that cat may live long enough to push into their 40's.  Originally, they were told the cat only had a few months to live, but upon hearing it might hang on for a few years, they worry that it's too much of a commitment.

It's a little hipster and mumblecore-ish, but not terribly so.  I thought it was okay and had it's moments.  However, there are a few parts that didn't sit well with me and it got weird at times.  It felt kind of experimental at times, so it may work for some people more than others.  Again, I didn't hate it, but didn't love it either.

It's worth a rental if you like indie films, but again it might be a little too much for the casual film watcher.  Actually, Miranda July's first film, Me and You and Everyone We Know, I would actually recommend instead of you haven't seen it yet.  I thought it was a better movie and might give a more of an idea of what you might be in for with The Future.

Our Idiot Brother

I actually really liked this.  This was in and out of the theater and I think it was due to it being marketed as a Judd Apatow-ish comedy, when it really has more of a indie comedy feel to it.  It just happens to star Paul Rudd and several other popular actors (Elizabeth Banks, Rashida Jones, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer), which kind of dictated it being marketed as a mainstream film.

Anyway, Paul Rudd basically plays a sweet, hippie-type.  While the movie's title implies he's an idiot, it's not so much that he's stupid as much as he's just naive and brutally honest.  He trusts people and wears his heart on his sleeve.  It may be a little unrealistic, but I thought it was a cute enough movie.  I laughed a few times and enjoyed watching it.

I think it's a good rental.

One Day

Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess star in a romantic drama.  I didn't like this.  It's predictable, but I don't really hold that against the movie.  What movie isn't a little bit predictable?  It just didn't work for me.  There was something about the characters that didn't sit right with me.  Maybe it was a lack of chemistry between the leads.  I can't quite put my finger on it.  Plus, the soundtrack really annoyed me.  It was like they kept using the same violin sample over and over.  Towards the end it started to get really grating.

I'm going to say pass.

The Smurfs will probably kid a kick out of it, but even as someone that watched the cartoons as kid, there's not a lot to like here or recommend.  It's just silly.  Neil Patrick Harris deserves better than this.  So does Sofia Vergara.  It's an all-star cast of voices for all the Smurfs, but half the time, you don't even recognize the voice.  The only thing I liked about it was that Jonathan Winters voiced Papa Smurf, but this mainly because I thought he had passed away.  Turns out he hasn't.

Anyway, this is a pass.  At best, rent it for the kids and then leave the room.

Seven Days in Utopia

Here's another movie that didn't do much for me.  A golfer gets in a car wreck in a small town, Utopia.  He recently had a very public meltdown on TV and lost his game.  He's then tutored by Robert Duvall to get his game back.  It's golf, painting, fishing and religion.  None of it is very interesting, and it's all very predictable.    It's a 98 minute movie that has many, many scenes that were a complete waste of time.  Like a scene where guys laugh and throw washers into a metal hole in the ground.  Fascinating!

It has Melissa Leo and Robert Duvall

The most insulting thing is the very end of the movie cuts away and tells you to go to a website to find out how it ended?  What?  Go to a website to find out how a MOVIE ended?  Just out of curiosity, I went to the website, were you at treated to an eight minute video where the writer reads you a passage from the sequel?!  I couldn't watch the whole video.

Some people may like the religious aspects of this, but I felt like the movie was trying to sell me something.  This may put off a lot of viewers.