Saturday, March 31, 2012

Mirror Mirror (2012) - Movie Review

I've said in the past that I like Tarsem Singh. I think he has a very cool visual style. However, after the disappointment that was Immortals and his own public admission that a story wasn't as important to him as the visuals were, I was kind of nervous about seeing Mirror Mirror.  The first trailer didn't help things, which looked cheesy as hell, like it was some bad Disney movie brought to life.

Fortunately, Mirror Mirror isn't as bad as those initial trailers looked.  In fact, some of the jokes from that trailer were absent from the film.  Perhaps they heard the grumbles from the audience and removed some of those elements.  It was a good decision if that was the case.

Anyone vaguely familiar with the story of Snow White already knows the basics.  There's nothing ground breaking here, so I'm not even going to recap the story or get into it.  It's simply yet another interpretation of the story of Snow White.  Hell, we're getting another one this summer with Snow White and the Huntsman.  The huge problem with that upcoming flick is that they cast Kristen Stewart as Snow White, so you can expect a lot of weird stuttering, excessive eye blinking and head shaking from that.  I'll take Lily Collins as Snow White to go, please!

One comment I heard about Mirror Mirror that was kind of funny to me was that this didn't do anything new with the story.  What exactly can they do with it that's new at this point?  Change the outcome?  Kill Snow White at the end?  Trust me, if they had changed the story too much, the very same people would complain about how they deviated too much from the well established story.  It's a dumb criticism to me.

The movie, especially Lily Collins as Snow White, is gorgeous.  It's weird because before this movie, I really had never taken notice of Collins before.  It's similar to how I viewed Amy Adams before she played a Disney princess in Enchanted.  I never really noticed her before either.  Now Collins has effectively played Snow White, I'm totally into her.  Maybe I just have a Disney or princess fetish.

I'm getting way off topic.  The movie is gorgeous though.  Nearly every shot in the film has something vibrant or vivid to look at.  That's Tarsem Singh for you.  Even his movies that haven't been received well still look great.  At least he delivers on that aspect.

I think what would have made Mirror Mirror really stand out would have been a stronger script.  Once again we have a first time writer Melissa Wallack and co-writer Jason Keller (Machine Gun Preacher) involved in the screenplay.  Again, I think a more experienced writing team or a good punch up writer would have really helped.

While the look of the movie makes this feel like it's more of an adult tale, much of the humor seems to be directed at kids.  I did hear pretty much everyone of all ages laughing at the film though.  Even I laughed a few times, so take that for what it's worth.  There's still some really lame, childish jokes though and they make Armie Hammer do some things I felt were beneath him.  I still really like him as an actor though, and that he's getting more work.  He's moving towards leading man status, and I could see him playing a superhero if he'd start hitting the weights.

I've gone on about Lily Collins enough, but I really did like her here.  I thought she played the part really well and they did a good job with making Snow White a stronger character.  It seemed believable that Armie Hammer's Prince could fall for her so quickly.  I also really liked Julia Roberts.  She's such an effective bitch here and it seems like she was having a lot of fun with the role.  Nathan Lane also did a good job.  I felt the movie was best when it focused on the interaction between Snow White and the Dwarves.  They did a good job in a short time showing why they liked each other.

There's also a very nice cameo at the end that most of you will get a kick out of.  That's about all I can say about it.  Don't want to spoil it for you.  Wouldn't be prudent.  However, during the end credits there was a very overproduced Bollywood number that I felt was totally out of place.  I could have done without it.

Mirror Mirror overall is a cute movie.  It's visually stunning and actually has pretty good acting across the board.  The crowd I saw it with was pretty mixed and everyone seemed to enjoy it.  I even heard a smattering of applause as it ended.  I do feel like this is still more of a kids film, with a sprinkle of adult themes.  It is the type of movie you can take your kids to see and you'll probably end up feeling like you didn't waste your time with it.  I think this will really appeal to a young audience and they will identify with this incarnation of Snow White.

2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Wrath of the Titans (2012) - Movie Review

I was actually shocked when I heard they were making a sequel to the already lackluster Clash of the Titans remake. The remake was a movie nobody was asking for in the first place, it performed poorly and was reviewed poorly.  Despite that, they decided it was a good idea to make another. Do we at least get another good Liam Neeson meme?  Unfortunately, no.  In fact, this time around some random character actually says the line, 'Release the Kraken!'  Really?

Anyway, after I saw the trailer for Wrath of the Titans, I thought it at least looked cool. Plus, it has Rosamund Pike dressed like a warrior.  It could have Rosamund Pike dressed in anything and it would have my interest on some level.  Could Wrath of the Titans be any worse than Clash?

The good news is that Wrath is better than Clash.  The bad news is that it's only marginally better.  I can pretty much sum up this movie into one word: flat!  Everything about the movie felt flat to me.  The dialog, the characters, the attempts at humor.  There's very little in the way of effective dialog or humor anyway.

While the effects are pretty good and there are some decent action scenes, you never feel any real threat or that the main characters are in any peril.  It doesn't help that the movie is pretty bloodless.  I can't buy in to a film featuring guys with spears and swords and that there's any danger when you barely see a drop of blood.  Granted, the lack of blood makes this something that you can allow younger kids watch, but if you like a little more maturity to your fantasy, you won't find it here.

This also suffers from the 'inconsistent powers' thing I hate in action movies.  Early on, Perseus gets pretty banged up by a creature and needs medical assistance after.  Throughout the rest of the movie, he's being hit with rock-smashing punches from gods and just popping up from them like it's no big deal.  Which is it?  You can be hurt or you're indestructible?

To illustrate the point about there being very little peril, the central plot of Wrath is that the gods are the ones in danger this time.  The movie begins showing you that Perseus (Sam Worthington) has rejected his destiny as a demigod and is content with fishing with his son.  Gemma Arterton couldn't be bothered with being in this, so her character has been killed off at some point, leaving Perseus a single father.  He's visited by Zeus who tells him that because nobody is praying to the gods anymore, they are losing power and this is causing the big, bad demons to break out of the underworld.  Zeus states that Hades (Ralph Fiennes) is attempting to resurrect Kronos, the father of Zeus, Hades and Poseidon (an unrecognizable Danny Huston).  It took their combined powers to stop him last time.  I don't understand how Kronos is anyone's father when he's this giant, lava monster.  His spawn are humanoids?  Anyway, Zeus wants Perseus to help, but Perseus just wants to fish with his son.  Oh guess what, stuff happens and Perseus is forced into action.

This movie is a 'God of War' video game come to life, expect that they took all of the fun, the interesting story and characters out of it.  You're better off simply playing a video game than watching this.  At least with the video game you'd be more invested in what was going on.

The main problem with Wrath is that there's nothing to give a shit about.  You've got this great cast and nothing ever happens to make you care about anything.  I mention Rosamund Pike, but she's barely given anything to do.  She might as well not been in the movie.  Bill Nighy played Hephaestus and I didn't even realize it was him until the credits rolled.  There's this scene towards the end where Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes' characters team up finally and for a second it's really cool, but then it's over just like that.  I don't want to hate on Sam Worthington, but he's probably the blandest actor in movies.  He's just so wooden and uninteresting.  You'd think an action star would be buff at least.

The 3D and IMAX do nothing for the film.  Clash of the Titans was notorious for being a bad example of converted 2D to 3D films looking terrible.  Wrath seems to have been filmed in 3D, but it still does nothing for the movie.  Save your money and watch it in normal 2D.

Director Jonathan Liebesman didn't do a very good job with the material.  He also directed the equally uninteresting Battle: Los Angeles.  As I've complained about other poor movies recently, this suffers from having too many people involved in the story.  Worse yet, they are mediocre writers at best.  Greg Berlanti (Green Lantern), David Johnson (Red Riding Hood) and first time writer Dan Mazeau.  Movie studios need to figure out that movies like this do not work when you have this many people involved, especially when their previous work was n6othing to get excited about.

Wrath of the Titans upgraded the special effects and the 3D from Clash of the Titans and it has better action.  However, the story and characters are still lifeless.  It's video game, popcorn entertainment at best.  I can't really recommend seeing it in the theater though.  Save it for rental.

I probably would have given the original 2 Death Stars, so I give Wrath of the Titans 2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Goon - Movie Review

Do you want to see a softer side of Stiffler while still punching people in the face? By the way, is anyone besides me looking forward to the return of the 'one true Stiffler' in American Reunion next month?

Goon is based on the book "Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey Into Minor League Hockey" by Adam Frattasio and Doug Smith. Seann William Scott plays Doug Glatt (based on the real Doug Smith), a simple guy working as a bouncer in a local bar. Doug's not the brightest bulb, but he's very aware of this and is generally a nice and polite kid. He's also a bit of a disappointment to his father (an underused Eugene Levy), as he wants him to be a doctor like his brother.  However, Doug understands that's he just not smart enough to be one.

Doug spends his time hanging with his best friend Pat (Jay Baruchel, who was also co-writer), who runs a hockey site and call in show.  Pat is a bit of foul loudmouth, but it's mostly for laughs and to get underneath people's skin.  One night at a local hockey game, Pat's heckling gets the best of a player and he goes into the stands to fight him. Doug steps in, as that's the type of guy he is, and proceeds to beat the living tar out of the guy.  Impressed by this, the head coach and asks him to try out for the team. The problem: Doug isn't a hockey player.  He can barely skate initially.  That doesn't matter to Coach, because his role is to be the team's new enforcer, or goon.

Now I'm not a huge hockey fan, but my understanding has always been that the job of the goon is to basically go into the game and start a fight with an opposing player that has it coming or intimidate them.  Goons are usually very popular with the fans.  They bring the blood.  Doug excels in his new role and quickly gains the affection of the fans.  This gets him a promotion to a paid, minor league club that hopes his toughness will inspire some of his new teammates.

Seann William Scott seems like a natural fit here. As I mentioned earlier, despite that fact that he's basically a dumb brute, there's an innocence about Doug that makes it hard not to root for him.  He's socially awkward and seems to be uncomfortable in his own skin at times.  Like imagine a big, dumb guard dog.  This is the type of guy that would take a bullet for you or beat the living hell out of some guy giving you shit.

There's also a subplot involving his pursuit of Eva (Allison Pill), that shows you how Doug is just too damn nice.  His behavior puts Eva off, even though she normally likes hockey players due to their bad boy nature. She's not used to nice guys, so Doug's a bit of an enigma for her, despite his simplicity.  When Eva rejects Doug, you actually feel bad for him.  Allison Pill's 'Eva' is a little messed up herself, but her self-awareness makes you forgive her a bit.  Pill really seems to improve in each movie I've seen her in recently.

Liev Schreiber also stars as Ross Rhea, an aging goon that Doug has looked up to. There's a passing of the guard element between those two and a showdown that the movie sets up from the opening moments. Until I had seen Schreiber in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (a movie I still HATE), I never would have bought him in a physical role. Schreiber's not in it as much as I would have liked, but when he's on screen it feels like he's the man.

As I mentioned earlier, Eugene Levy is totally underused here.  It's really my only complaint about anyone in the cast.  He's only in two or three scenes and given nothing funny to do, except be the disapproving father.  It seems like a waste to cast someone with Levy's comedic chops for a role like this.

There are quite a few laugh out loud moments and a lot of the humor came from the silliness of Doug's teammates. I'm actually kind of surprised it wasn't funnier as Baruchel's co-writer was Evan Goldberg, who's also co-written movies like Pineapple Express and Superbad.  It shares the same vulgarity as those movies, which may be a turn off if you're someone that doesn't like liberal use of 'F-bombs'.  Don't get me wrong, it's a funny movie, but it's just missing a little something.  Perhaps they should have brought in Seth Rogen to help punch it up.

I liked Michael Dowse direction here.  This is a brutal and bloody movie at times.  There's lots of fighting, but he balanced it well with the humor and aforementioned sweetness of the characters.  Even the opposing goons in the movie come off as nice guys when they aren't fighting.  There's an honor about what they do.

It's been a while since I've seen a good hockey comedy. I wonder why that is? It seems like hockey is a sport just rife with opportunities for comedy. Perhaps it's mainly due to it not being as popular in the US?  There's Slap Shot and now Goon.  That's it.  Those are the only two I can think of.  The nice thing about Goon is that you don't actually have to be a hockey fan to enjoy it. It's not quite the laugh riot I was expecting, but there's an underlying sweetness that makes the movie stand out from other sports comedies.  It should be On Demand as we speak. I recommend checking it out.

3.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

This Week in DVD - March 28th

A Horrible Way to Die

More like a 'Horrible Movie to Watch'.  Hilarious, I know!  The movie felt like it was filmed by someone drunk or with epilepsy.  Seriously, it was continually out of focus, and when it was in focus it was shaking or moving around needlessly.  You know, even the cheapest hand held video cameras have image stabilization and auto focus features.  You know all the complaints people have about the shaky camera work in The Hunger Games?  This is 10 times worse than that.  It felt like a bad attempt to mask a bad movie with 'artistic' camera work, but it ended up being nauseating and annoying.

Oh, what's it about?  A serial killer escapes prison and resumes his work. Meanwhile, his ex-girlfriend, who helped put him away and is also a recovering alcoholic, is trying to put her life back together.  However, once she knows her ex has escaped and the bodies start to pile up, she knows it's not too long before her past catches up with her.  It's actually not a bad premise for a horror film.  If only they had actually done a good job with it.

The movie is told is such a disjointed way that I was never able to get into it.  They'd show you something, and then 5 minutes later in the movie, show you what led up to those events.  What is this Memento?  Just tell the 'effing story like a normal person!

It's very slow too.  Despite being just 85 minutes, it felt like it was closer to 2 hours in length.

1 out of 5 Death Stars - You can skip it.

The Whistleblower

Rachel Weisz stars as Kathryn Bolkovac, a cop who goes to Bosnia on a contract for the UN.  While there, she uncovers human trafficking and sex slavery of women and naturally tries to put a stop it.  Unfortunately, she receives resistance or no help from pretty much everyone.  To make matters worse, the UN appeared to be aware of it and covering it up and even co-workers were involved.

This is based on a true story, but at least they acknowledged that some things are fictitious or composites of multiple people.  Even if this is only half true, it's still pretty shocking.  You'll probably feel a little sad, angered or even sickened after watching it.  It's effective as far as making you aware of this issue and feeling something about it. On that level, the movie feels important.

The pacing is a little slow at the start, but I thought evolved into a pretty good thriller.  I guess you could almost call it a docu-thriller/drama.  The movie is carried by Rachel Weisz and it's one of her better roles.  I think because of the nature of the film, it didn't get the attention it deserved.

3.5 (out of 5) Death Stars - I'd recommend renting this one, but understand that it may anger you a bit.  It's not a feel good movie.

Happy Feet Two

I was disappointed in this considering that I actually kind of enjoyed the first one.  I knew it was bad news when the sequel started out with a terrible pop music montage that did nothing for the story other than to exist in the movie.  The montage was so bad that I almost turned it off, and I was only five minutes in.

I found many of the characters and voices annoying.  There are lots of unrelated subplots that are introduced and then just dropped or go nowhere.  At 100 minutes, it seems like there was too much going that was unnecessary and could have been streamlined.

It seems Happy Feet Two existed primarily to shoehorn in another Queen song.  Did Queen campaign to get in this movie or bankroll it?  Don't get me wrong, I actually love Queen, but it was just too much.  Everything felt forced.

I will say it has some great animation though.  Generally, I can get through even the worst of these films as long as the animation is up to par.  The movie is harmless enough, but better suited for kids.  There's not a lot to appeal to a broader audience.

 2 (out of 5) Death Stars - If you need something to entertain your kids for 100 minutes.


Out on DVD this week:

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

I liked this more than I was expecting considering I was very leery of another movie using the backdrop of 9/11 as a plot device.  Like I said in my original review, there have been very few that have been able to use 9/11 in a way that wasn't offensive or uncomfortable.  Having said that, I still don't think use of 9/11 was necessary.  They could have told the same story without it and not invoked all the feelings that creates.

ELaIC is carried by the performances of Thomas Horn and Max von Sydow, who was nominated for best-supporting actor.  I really liked Sandra Bullock as well.

It's based on the book by Jonathan Safran Foer.  If you're going to rent a movie of his this weekend, I actually recommend his previous film, Everything is Illuminated, over this one.  It's much lighter and funnier film if that's what you're in the mood for.

 3.5 (out of 5) Death Stars - I still think it's a movie worth renting.

Is that right?  Only one previous movie I need to recap this week?  Weird!  Must be another slow week for DVD releases.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen - Movie Review

Winner of the oddest movie title of the year goes to...

I actually thought this was a documentary when I first heard about it.  While I like documentaries, it's rare when I make time to see them in the theater.  Documentaries have always felt like something you watch at home.  However, after seeing the trailer and that it stars Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt, I realized it was just a very unusual title for what now appeared to be romantic comedy.  Contrary to popular belief, I do have a soft spot for romantic comedies and will usually see them as long as they aren't obviously cheesy up front.

The title is pretty accurate though.  The goal of the characters is to introduce salmon fishing to the Yemen.  McGregor stars as Dr. Alfred Jones, a fish expert working for the British fishery.  He's also famous, in fishing circles anyway, for creating fly fishing lures.  While he's very good at his job, he sometimes has difficulty relating to people due to having Asperger's.  Initially, he's tasked with a feasibility study for bringing salmon fishing to the Yemen.  He actually considers the idea to be ill-conceived, idiotic and the dreams of a bored, rich Sheikh.  However, he is pressed to do this by his superiors once the aide to the Prime Minister (Kristin Scott Thomas) decides they need a good PR story.

Dr. Jones then has to work with Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Blunt), who's handling the financials from the Yemeni side.  Although Jones still thinks the plan will never work, they provide him with all the resources needed.  He later meets Sheikh Muhammad (Amr Waked) and realizes that he's deadly serious about accomplishing this feat, as impossible as it seems.  The Sheikh doesn't just love fishing and is doing this as a hobby, but thinks this project will help his people and bring prosperity to the area.

The story was based on a book of the same name by Paul Torday.  I've heard that book is more of a political satire.  If that's the case, then that's kind of lost in the movie.  I think if it had been, in the vein of something like In the Loop, especially considering Kristin Scott Thomas' performance, it would have been much funnier overall.

That's not to say Salmon Fishing... isn't without it's charms.  The movie does have some nice themes regarding friendship, faith and finding love. I also thought the performances were good. Kristen Scott Thomas is probably the funniest thing about the movie.  While not nearly as vulgar as Peter Capaldi's character from In the Loop, her performance brought that to mind. Oh, and seriously, rent In the Loop (it's streaming on Netflix and Amazon) if you haven't seen it yet.  One of the funnier British films I've seen in years.

The two primary relationships, the friendship between the Sheikh and Dr. Jones, and between Dr. Jones and Harriet were touching and sweet.  It's always easier to care about what happens in a movie when you like the characters.  Emily Blunt seems to have that quality about her where she has a natural chemistry with people.  It's just like how I felt about her in The Adjustment Bureau (with MATT DAMON).  And, it's almost impossible not to like Ewan McGregor, even though he left me for dead by a lake of lava.  What am I talking about?!

Salmon Fishing..., like real fishing, starts off very slow and for a while I was having a hard time following what was going on.  That's not to say I was confused, but I couldn't get into it.  I'm not sure if there was something weird in the sound mix or the acoustics in the theater, but I just got a weird vibe from the start.  To make things even weirder, I had an unusual experience with the person sitting next to me and had to switch seats.  Once I got comfortable again was right around the time the story picked up and I started to get invested.

There are a few romantic comedy tropes used toward the end that felt a little contrived, and actually unnecessary.  It didn't completely ruin the movie for me, but considering the different nature of the film, I would have liked to see them take a few more chances. For the sake of spoilers, I won't say exactly what they did, but it isn't a spoiler to tell you that at the beginning of the movie McGregror's Dr. Jones is married and Blunt's Harriet has been dating someone for a short time.  It seems like a very unusual setup for a movie where it's clear from the beginning that McGregor and Blunt's characters are meant to end up together.

While I don't think director Lasse Hallström did a bad job, his track history shows he's better suited with light-hearted romance and family movies.  That's clearly the kind of movie he tried to make here.  Again, it seems like a missed opportunity with the political undertones of the film, the unusual circumstances and eccentricities of the characters.  Writer Simon Beaufoy (127 Hours, The Full Monty, Slumdog Millionaire), seemed like the right guy for the job, but I wonder how much of his final screenplay made it into the film.

I thought Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was a very average movie.  The film is carried by the chemistry of Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor, but it had an opportunity to be funnier.  Having said that, it's still a pleasant movie and I enjoyed it more than I was expecting.  It's a decent date movie if you want to catch a matinee.  It's playing over at The Vine in Livermore ( for a few weeks, I believe.

3 (out of 5) Death Stars

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Hunger Games - Movie Review

In the future, poor kids will kill each other for our entertainment.  Sure, I'm over simplifying, but that's essentially what the Games from The Hunger Games are.

As always, this will likely be a shorter review, as I'm going to try to avoid spoilers as much as I can.  Also, as someone who has not read the books, I won't be doing any comparisons between the two or complaining about stuff left out.  Although, I will say that after watching The Hunger Games, I'm interested in reading them and that's a good thing.

Set in the distant future, how distant I don't think was stated in the movie, The Hunger Games are about a society that developed after some kind of uprising or war.  The victor of this conflict is now an elite class.  They live in a completely different world as far as luxury and technology and rule over the lower classes.  The losing side was divided up into different districts to be what appeared be worker classes for the elite class.  They live in broken down houses, dress like they are from the 1800's, and always seem to be on the verge of starvation.  The elite class look like something out of a Katy Perry video.

To commemorate this failed uprising, each year two teens from each District are picked to compete in the Hunger Games, a televised fight to death where only one comes out alive.  The winner is promised fame and fortune.  From District 12, you have Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), who volunteers when her younger sister is initially picked, and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson).  One thing that doesn't seem to have changed in the future is giving kids weird names.  Katniss and Peeta, and Peeta is a boy's name?  When pronounced in the movie it sounds more like 'Peter', but seeing Peeta on paper looks like a girls name to me.

Anyway, after being picked, they are groomed and trained by several people who explain to them that the best way to win is get sponsors, who can send you aid during the games.  This leads the characters to do things down the line that they do more to appease the audience watching, than out of their own desires.  After a short time of training, they are thrown into the Games, which are supposed to last about two weeks, unless someone kills everyone else first.

The Hunger Games is a slow burn.  It takes a bit to get out of the gate, but they use that time effectively to establish the leads and the world they live in.  Once it really gets going, I got lost in the movie.  You really feel the tension once the Games begin.

What makes The Hunger Games stand out is it's successful balance of so many different elements.  You have a little bit of class warfare, a dystopian future, reality TV and even a love triangle.  Plus, you have a strong central character in Katniss.  What I liked about Katniss is that despite the events around her, she felt very grounded in reality and willing to do whatever it takes to win.

I do have some minor complaints about the film though...

I didn't mind the shaky cam work when there was running, but there's a particular scene where there are lots of close cuts and you really can't see what's going on.  You know what's happening, but I think it would have had more of an impact if you could truly see the brutality of it.  I understand they likely had to tame things down to have a PG-13 rating and reach a broader audience.  Considering how brutal I heard the books were, I was just kind of surprised they didn't go for it a little more.

I would have liked to see a little more development of some of the other kids involved in the Games.  I don't know if they were fleshed out in the book, but when these kids die, it would have more of an impact if you actually knew something about them or had a reason to care.  In the movie some of these kids feel disposable because of that.  It's similar to the whole 'Red Shirt' thing where the character that gets no screen time, dialog or character development is probably going to be the one to die first.

Also, it felt like there were many things about the world that were glossed over or barely explained for the sake of time.  I know not all the details from the book can make it into the movie, but I just would have like a little more explanation of a few things.  It didn't ruin my enjoyment of the film though, as it didn't cause me to be confused about character motivation or the basic plot (I'm looking at you John Carter).  These minor details are something that I hope might be fleshed out in an extended or director's cut.  At 2 hours and 22 minutes, I don't mind a few things being cut here and there so I'm not the theater for 3 hours, but I wouldn't mind a longer version once it hits Blu-Ray/DVD.

The ending was a little flat and felt like too obvious of a setup for a sequel.  This is clearly going to get one at this point, but making a movie assuming there will be a sequel can sometimes undermine the storytelling and having a self-contained movie.

As far as comparisons go, I felt there was a lot of The Truman Show in here, more than it was like The Running Man (although there are comparisons there as well).  I actually thought the way the story was told and the pacing actually reminded me of A New Hope in that you spend a good portion of the movie getting to know Katniss before stuff really starts to happen.

The performances are great, but this is Jennifer Lawrence's film.  There are many times in the movie where the look on her face tells you everything you need to know about how she's feeling at that moment.  It was very effective.  I enjoyed a lot of the supporting roles.  Elizabeth Banks was unrecognizable, but funny.  Stanley Tucci looks like he had a lot of fun playing the blue-haired TV host.  I got a kick out of Woody Harrelson as their mentor as well.  The guy that actually surprised me the most was Lenny Kravitz.  While, he only plays a style consultant, I felt like he cared very much about Katniss.  He gave a pretty good performance, for a musician.  Liam Hemsworth (Thor's brother), the forgotten man in the love triangle between him, Katniss and Peeta, seemed underused as far as making for an effective love triangle.  Perhaps this was explained better in the book or is expanded on in the sequels.

With so much going on here, I am impressed they managed to make it work.  I credit the direction of Gary Ross for successfully pulling it off.  He shared writing credits with Billy Ray and Suzanne Collins, who was also the writer of the novels.  I think in this case, having her involved in the screenplay was a smart choice.  Another cool thing, and maybe this was me, but I felt like the movie's score was very sparse.  They let the characters and situations speak for themselves, rather than manipulate you with a sweeping score.

Overall, I thought The Hunger Games was a very entertaining movie.  It struck a good balance of action, emotion and even social commentary.  It's a little more mature than your typical 'young adult' movie, and because of that I think it has a very broad appeal.  I strongly recommend checking it out this weekend.

3.5 (out of 5) Death Stars.

Friday, March 23, 2012

This Week in DVD - March 23rd

I've been lagging on my writing, but I'll get to why below.  Here's my recent recap of what I've seen in the past week.

Answers to Nothing

This was an absolute mess of a film that fails right out the gate by casting Dane Cook in a dramatic role.  I think casting Dane Cook in anything is an automatic fail, but a drama?  Sure there are examples of other 'comedians' succeeding in dramatic roles, but Cook hasn't even been funny in the comedies he's been in.

The movie actually opens with him cheating on his wife, who's patiently waiting for him at the doctor's office to donate sperm so she can b inseminated.  I'm not going to say exactly how, but Cook actually takes the sperm from this sex session to the doctor's with him.  So a really classy and likable character right off the bat.  The movie is all downhill from there.

This is another one of those movies that features a bunch of intertwined people and stories, except that it all felt weird and uncomfortable.  It seemed all very random and disjointed.  It's funny this was called Answers to Nothing as it ended up answering nothing and being about nothing.  Kudos!

.5 (out of 5) Death Stars - There's no reason to ever watch this.


This movie was kind of a shame for me because it was actually an interesting idea, but the execution was poor.  You have a couple, played by Cillian Murphy and Thandie Newton, staying in a isolated cabin on an island.  They find an unconscious person on the island and they take him into the cabin.  When the mysterious man comes to, he tells them that there's been an outbreak of an airborne disease, there's no cure, and they have to seal themselves in the cabin to prevent anyone from getting in or out.  As time goes on, the mysterious man begins to behave strangely, which ramps up the tension further.

Again, it's a good idea that would have worked much better as a one-off TV show, like a Twilight Zone episode.  Even though it's only about 90 minutes, it felt drawn out and took too long to get to the conclusion.  I felt like there's a lot that could have been edited out of this and it would have made the movie much more tense. 

Also, I didn't think there was any chemistry between Murphy and Newton.  They didn't seem like a married couple.  Also, some of the shots toward the end made me think they weren't quite sure how they wanted to end this movie or where they wanted to go with it.

It's not a bad movie, but flawed. This had the potential to be great with better pacing and maybe a different cast.

2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars - Not a bad rental if you're looking for a thriller to watch.

Year of the Carnivore (2009)

This is one of those weird, quirky films that probably won't be your cup of tea if don't like indie films.  It is about Sammy Smalls (Cristin Miloti) as a grocery store security guard.  Why she's a security guard makes no sense, as she's about 80 lbs.  Anyway, she's into this guy, but he rejects her because she doesn't have enough sexual experience.  This already doesn't make sense to me, as the guy didn't look like the type of guy that gets a lot of sex.  Plus, Sammy was attractive, so why not offer to help her out?  I don't see how lack of sexual experience is a deal breaker in this instance.

Anyway, in an effort to gain more sexual experience, Sammy spends the rest of the movie trying to get sex in very weird and unusual ways.  That also seemed weird to me, as if lack of experience was an issue, why suddenly go the complete opposite and start having sex with strangers in sometimes 'dangerous' situations?  There are much easier methods for a shy, inexperienced girl to get more sexual experience without doing things like taking a 50+ year old man she just met into the nearby woods and blowing him.  Yeah, she does stuff like that.

There's parts of this that made me laugh a little, especially when Will Sasso makes an appearance, but I thought overall I thought it was kind of absurd.  I didn't think it was a bad movie, but it just didn't connect with me.

2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars - Might be the type of movie that catches your attention if you saw it when channel surfing, but I wouldn't go out of your way to rent it.

Game of Thrones

And now we get to the reason I haven't had a lot of 'spare' time lately.  I finished watching the first season of Game of Thrones on Tuesday.  DAMN!  I really loved this from beginning to end!  It's a great story and interesting and well-developed characters.

The performances for the most part were all very good.  I can see why Peter Dinklage got all the awards that he did.  Every scene he was in was riveting to me.  I was really critical of Jason Momoa after watching Conan, but I thought he was great here.  Just goes to show you that sometimes an actor is only as good as the movie he's in.

While there is nudity and violence, it's not over the top or as cartoonish as something from the Spartacus series.  Don't get me wrong though, I love Spartacus.

It's rare when I buy a series on TV, finish it, and I'm already planning on watching again very soon.  I even want to watch the special features and listen to the commentary.  I'm hooked and I can't wait to see what they do in Season Two!

5 (out of) 5 Death Stars - I can't recommend it highly enough!

Also out this week:

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I really did enjoy this over the original, Swedish version.  I'm sure a lot of that is due to the fact I didn't have to read subtitles this time around.  Also, familiarity with the story from watching a different version probably made a second watch of this a little easier to get through.

I thought Rooney Mara was great! She really elevated herself to a actress to watch after her performance here.

Plus, it has one of the best opening title sequences in recent memory.  I don't understand why Trent Reznor didn't get a Oscar nomination for his work.  I don't care if he won last year for The Social Network.  People win awards in back to back years all the time.

Anyway, you can read more in my original review here.

4 (out of 5) Death Stars - I only gave this 4?  Not 4.5?  Weird.  Maybe I need to watch it again.  I plan on buying it anyway.

Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy

This movie also kind of bummed me out.  I was really looking forward to a cerebral spy film and it had such a great cast.  It ended up being kind of boring though.  I wrote in my original review that outside of the cast, there was nothing to really grab me or keep my interest.  There's just too much going on in the story to try to tell this in a single movie.  It's easy to understand why this was originally a mini-series.

I think the problem I had with the movie was that when you have a slower paced, character-driven, spy drama, a two hour movie isn't going to allow for the character development needed to make people care about the (many) characters in the story.  When you reach the conclusion, there was no impact.  It was just like, "Okay.  I guess I can go home now."  I liked the parts with Tom Hardy and Mark Strong the best.  Gary Oldman is great.

Based on the positive reviews on, I thought it was really overrated and actually kind of of forgettable.

3 (out of 5) Death Stars - It's a good rental, but be prepared for a slower paced movie.

The Muppets

This I really enjoyed and loved the nostalgic feelings it invoked.  I was just about to jump on the 'I'm getting tired of Jason Segel' bandwagon, but he scored extra points for not only bringing the Muppets back, but actually making a good movie.

I wrote in my review, that it almost made my tear up at the end.  It really affected me.

This also features the Academy Award winning song "Man or Muppet", written by Flight of the Conchords member, Bret McKenzie.  My 4-year-old nephew loves that song!

Looks like this was another movie I reviewed before I started giving Death Stars.  I'll give this 4 (out of 5) Death Stars.  A great family film that old and young can enjoy together.  I wouldn't hesitate to buy it if you're thinking about it.

The Sitter

This is a movie that had an opportunity to be really funny, but ended up being a very sloppy and lazy comedy that attempts to be an update of Adventures in Babysitting.

This was one of the movies that made me start to get tired of Jonah Hill.  He won me back with 21 Jump Street though.  They just don't do anything new here and I felt the movie's tone was uneven from beginning to end.

In my original review, I criticized the movie for lacking consistency across the board and that seems like a pretty good assessment still.

The only significant thing for me is that this is the first movie where I introduced my Death Star rating system.  What a weird movie to start with.  What a shame.  I gave it 2 (out of 5) Death Stars originally, and I'll stick by that.

This is something to catch on streaming or on cable, but don't go out of your way to rent it.

That's it for this week folks!  I should have reviews up for The Hunger Games and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen up this weekend.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Friends With Kids - Movie Review

This is going to be a quick review as I find that I'm probably going to echo a few sentiments about this movie from my Jeff, Who Lives at Home review.

The premise of Friends With Kids might be a little out there depending on your perspective: two old friends, Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt), after seeing how having kids have affected the relationships of their mutual friends, decide that maybe the best course of action is to just have a kid together.  The hope is that this will get them past any messy divorce issues and allow both of them to still date and play the field.  The movie shows that they are both still looking for 'the one', but understand that their window of opportunity for having a kid is closing.  They agree to split responsibility down the middle.  What could go wrong, right?

Initially, it works out well for them, as it's treated almost as a business arrangement between friends.  They are both rational and mature about it.  This irritates some of their married friends, as they think it's a bit of a slap in the face to their relationships and wonder if they will be able to keep over the long haul.  As you may have already guessed, emotions do get invested and the relationship gets complicated.  This the main flaw of the film.  What starts out as a subversive look at 'traditional' relationships and having kids, ends up becoming just kind of a standard romantic comedy aimed at people over 30.

One thing that kind of bugged me was when characters talked about New York like the audience is all from New York.  I know movies can't 100% appeal to everyone, but there's a part of me that feels left out when very specific references are made to living in a certain city.  I imagine people from NY though might feel the same way about movies based in San Francisco or LA.  This is a minor point though and it didn't make or break the movie for me.  It's just a pet peeve of mine.

The movie is basically carried by Adam Scott.  If you've been a fan of his from Parks and Recreation and his other various movies, then this movie is the one you've been waiting for.  I think it's going to be a breakout role for him as far as being in more films.  He's kind of like a more serious, less snarky, Paul Rudd.

The cast is very strong.  It's essentially a Bridesmaids reunion with good performances from Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig and Chris O'Dowd.  They are all very funny in parts.  Although, I'm actually mad that Don Draper wasn't in it more.  He's shown that he has the comedy chops and I didn't feel like he got a chance to really show it.  Maybe because Jennifer Westfeldt his is real life girlfriend she avoided putting him in the movie too much.  I dunno, but I think we could all use some more Hamm.

It's runs on a bit too long, especially once you figure out how the movie is going to play out.  I think about  5-10 minutes needed to be trimmed to tighten it up.  Overall I thought Jennifer Westfeldt's story and direction were fine.  This is her directorial debut, but I think many may be fans of her previous writing for Kissing Jessica Stein (haven't seen it).  I hate to criticize her, but I think as far as the cast goes she might have been the weakest link.  I didn't think she was bad, I just think there a missing element between her and Scott as far as the chemistry goes.  Oh wait, Westfeldt could never be the weak link in a movie that features Megan Fox in any role.  Megan Fox just bugs me.

Despite the way the film wraps up, it does avoid a lot of the usual conventions of weaker romantic comedies.  How many times have you seen a romantic comedy where there's a conflict that would be resolved if the characters just had a five minute conversation.  Well, in this movie, characters actually communicate once there's conflict.  Because Friends With Kids avoids that flaw, it's conclusion does feel a little more earned.

I did enjoy Friends With Kids despite my issues with it, which really are minor compared to other films.  It's very funny in parts and has a great cast.  It's an above average romantic comedy with it's subject and setup, but the ultimate conclusion is what prevents this from being rated higher.  I do think it's worth watching, but maybe saving for a rental.

3.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Jeff, Who Lives at Home - Movie Review

When a movie starts with the main character waxing philosophic about the movie Signs, you first know that marijuana must be involved, but that you might be in for a film that's a little bit different.

The movie follows Jeff (Jason Segel), who...wait for it...still lives at home.  Shocker, I know!  Jeff spends his days smoking pot and hanging out in the basement of his mother's house.  While you might think that Jeff is a slacker or loser (and you wouldn't be wrong), he's struggling with figuring out what he's supposed to do with his life and his place in the universe.  Aren't we all?

It's his mother's birthday and the only thing she wants from Jeff is to pick up some wood glue and fix a shutter.  Before Jeff finally leaves the house, he receives a wrong number from someone looking for "Kevin" and this name gets stuck in his brain.  As Jeff believes that there are no wrong numbers, he considers this to be a sign and looks for clues as he heads out of the house.  While following wherever these clues take him, he randomly runs into his older brother, Pat (Ed Helms).

Pat has his own problems in that he's in a marriage that struggling and doesn't seem to listen to anyone.  The biggest example of this is that against everyone's better judgement he buys a Porsche he can't afford.  Anyway, after Jeff and Pat run into each other, they happen to notice Pat's wife, Linda (Judy Greer), with another man.  They then follow Linda around and try to figure out what she's up to.

The story continues to build as they follow Linda and the signs that the universe is presenting Jeff.  The movie always feels like it's moving along and building to a resolution.  It's on the shorter side, as it's only 83 minutes and the events take place over just a single day.  

The main thing that helps make the movie work is that despite each character's flaws, they still come off as human and likable.  Jason Segel portrays Jeff with such a sweet naivete that when bad things happen to him in the movie, it really breaks your heart.  While it's a smaller cast, everyone is very good.  Jeff's mom, played by Susan Sarandon, has her own subplot involving her trying to find out the identity of a secret admirer from her work.  Maybe it's just me, but I still find her sexy as hell.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home was written and directed by Jay and Mark Duplass.  Mark Duplass you may know from his role as 'Pete' on The League.  His wife, and The League co-star, Katie Aselton, has a small cameo in the movie.  I don't think this was as strong as their previous offering, 2010's Cyrus, and I still thought it was a little too 'mumblecore'-ish.  For a a movie that's is short as it is, it did feel like it dragged in a few parts and could have been a little funnier, rather than feel so improvised.  That's not to say it isn't funny though.  I found many things to laugh at throughout the movie.

I wanted to mention that I thought Michael Andrews score was interesting and added to the kind of quirky nature of the film.

While I liked Jeff, Who Lives at Home, I kind of feel a little disappointed at the same time.  Considering the cast and the previous works of the Duplass Brothers, I was just expecting a little more out of it as far as pure comedy.  I do think it's a very sweet movie with a nice message about keeping an open mind, looking for signs and trying to figure out your destiny.  I give it credit for making me care about the characters and actually feel something.  Because of those qualities, it manages to stand out from other comedies.  Due to its shorter length though, I think it's better suited for a rental.

3.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Friday, March 16, 2012

21 Jump Street - Movie Review

I'm writing this review in utter shock right now.  Why?  Because 21 Jump Street is actually a good movie!  The first time I saw that trailer, I was like, "Are you kidding me?  Another retread of an old TV show!"  I actually thought that trailer was kind of funny though.  However, after seeing it 10-15 times and seeing the same jokes over and over, I started to get the feeling that this was going to be yet another movie that showed you all of the funny moments in the trailer.  Plus, I am really not a fan of Channing Tatum.  Not out of any hate for the man or jealousy, but I just don't think he's a good actor.  Well, 21 Jump Street managed to do the impossible: it actually made me like Channing Tatum.

This is a good example of a movie overcoming the above mentioned point about trailers showing you all the funny stuff up front.  Plus, they ran that trailer in the ground, so it got to a point were it became unfunny and annoying.  However, many of those scenes from the trailer are done in the first 15 minutes of the movie, and even then the actual scenes used with a different line or were edited in a way to make them completely different in the context of the film.

The trailer does a good job of setting up the premise.  Two former high school 'rivals' Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) meet up a few years later in police academy.  When they realize that their skills compliment each other - Schmidt is the brains, while Jenko is the brawn - they decide to work together and develop a genuine friendship.  This is one of the things about 21 Jump Street that surprised me.  It's actually very sweet at times.  When you see Schmidt and Jenko in high school, it wasn't so much to show you that they were rivals (as they weren't really), it was more to illustrate that they were both kind of losers in their own ways.

Anyway, once they become cops, they make a bust, but screw it up.  Due to their 'youthful' appearance, they get reassigned to an undercover program to have them pose as high school kids to 'infatrate' (misspelling intentional, you'll understand why after seeing it) a drug ring.  Once they get to the school, they do what they can to fit in and it all goes from there.

Another aspect of the movie I liked was the whole angle about fitting in and how high school can suck for some people.  As Schmidt had a rougher time in high school, he's looking at this as a chance for him to be cool, especially now that he has Jenko to help him.  On that flip side of that, Jenko quickly finds out that the things that made him cool back in high school don't apply anymore.  This leads to a role reversal with Schmidt now being the cool one where Jenko finds himself being a bit of an outcast.  Later leads to resentment and threatens their friendship, and the thing is that you actually care about their friendship.

There were lots of great 'meta' moments, especially early in the film that let you know that it's not taking itself too seriously.  21 Jump Street actually parodies a lot of things about 80's movies, teen comedies and buddy cop films.  They managed to do a really good job with all of this and keeping it fresh and funny.  Even when ridiculous things happen in this film, you are never insulted by them because it's all so good natured and it's not being passed off as realistic.

As I mentioned earlier, I actually liked Channing Tatum here.  I think they did a great job with his dialog and also having him make fun of himself.  Jonah Hill was fine, but he's basically doing what he does in most of the comedies he's in.  I'm not saying that's a bad thing though.  The supporting cast, many of whom you'll recognize for various comedies (Ellie Kemper, Nick Offerman, Brie Larson, Dave Franco, Rob Riggle) are all strong as well.  I was actually expecting to be annoyed by Ice Cube, but I found him to be really funny.  Everyone is great here!

Michael Bacall (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Project X) did another great job with the screenplay.  You can definitely see similar elements in his screenplay as with his previous films.  The story was co-written by Jonah Hill as well.  Good job guys!  This was directed by the team that directed Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs:  Phil Lord and Chris Miller.  I think direction of the action scenes were a little sloppy, but they really got the comedy down, which was the point of the movie anyway.

Underneath it all 21 Jump Street is ultimately about the friendship of Schmidt and Jenko.  It reminded me of the better buddy cop movies of years past, with a pinch of John Hughes thrown in there.  Best of all, it's consistently funny.  I highly recommend checking it out this weekend.

4 (out of 5) Death Stars - 4 might be a little high, but I'm giving it an extra half-Death Star for surprising me.

John Carter - Movie Review

Movies like this are tough for me to write about.  I have no familiarity at all with Edgar Rice Burrough's book series.  In general, you shouldn't have to though because the movie should do a good job of telling you the story.  However, after watching John Carter I think it might have helped to have a little more familiarity with the material.  Although, I've heard from a few fans that the books have many huge differences from this movie, so maybe it wouldn't have helped.  In fact, based on what they've told me, the book sounds a hell of a lot more interesting than this movie ended up being.  While this book series is 100 years old, it's clear how this has influenced other works and the books deserve credit for that.  The problem is that we have seen it all before in other movies and it's been done better.

Be warned that this review is likely to be a little spoilerific, as I can't really explain my problems with the movie without going into a few details about the movie, so if you still plan on seeing this, you may want to skip to the end.

John Carter starts with Edgar Rice Burroughs (as an actual character in the movie) arriving at the funeral for his uncle, John Carter (Taylor Kitsch).  He's presented with one of Carter's journals.  As he reads the journal, you flash back to John Carter from a few years ago.  Carter, a recent widower, is a gold prospector just trying to find a big score and cash in at this point.  He manages to find a cave with gold and a mysterious medallion, but it ends up being some weird alien teleportation device.  Carter then finds himself on Mars (called Barsoom by the natives) where he is met by the Tharks, a race of green, tall, four-armed Martians.  Carter finds that he is able to jump very high and is super strong, essentially making him the ultimate warrior on a planet seemingly filled all kinds of war and conflict.

Then, there are two warring factions of 'Red Martians' (who are really just white people with really bad fake tans and lots of red Henna tattoos).  I was never quite clear of why these two groups were fighting.  The Tharks were apparently staying out of it, content to let the other groups fight it out and they'll take over after.

You finally have the Therns, a race of albinos (were the also Martians?) that can teleport and shapeshift and have superior technology, but are working behind the scenes, pulling everyone's strings.

So you've got all of these factions and species, tons of characters and sub plots.  You'd think it would all be interesting.  Instead, I found it all kind of lifeless and convoluted.  Many of the plot points don't hold up at all under even just a little bit of thought.  Here are some examples:

There's a thread involving the forced marriage of Dejah (Lynn Collins) and 'Kirk Cuddy' from Steel Dragon (Dominic West), but it's clear that his plan is to kill her and her people.  What is there to gain by going through with the wedding if you plan on killing all of them?  You don't need to marry her to do that.  On the other side, why do Dejah's people agree to the marriage when they'd gain more by just killing him?  Plus, Dejah is her people's best scientist, yet also a princess and warrior.  Can you throw a few more character traits in there?

Then, there's stuff like John Carter being a widower at the beginning of the movie.  He's clearly still mourning his family, but falls for Dejah almost instantly and it never felt like he had any reason to other than she's super hot.  When I hear that Carter being a widower wasn't even in the books, it seems like that was another unnecessary character trait thrown in.  The romance would have been easier to believe if he wasn't in mourning.

Another thing that bugged me was the race of albino aliens (which in the books I guess weren't introduced until much later in the series.).  They are everywhere at once and can shapeshift, yet are just trying to manipulate everyone.  For what purpose?  Why not just shapeshift and do it yourself?  You also appear to have superior technology.  Why give it to others?  Use it yourself!

Plus, when 'Sinestro' (Mark Strong, who's wasted here) eventually figures out Carter's powers come from his physiology and being from a higher gravity environment, why is he even surprised by this?  Weren't your people the reason for how the teleportation device got on Earth in the first place?   You see them on Earth both at the beginning and the end of the movie.  So, you had been to Earth, but somehow never encountered a human or bothered to notice the higher gravity there?  Plus, once you figured this out and you're trying to manipulate a war's outcome, why not kidnap the stronger humans and force them to fight in your war?

It just felt like they tried to cram three movies worth of plots and characters all into one movie  As a result, none of it fits very well together and the plot threads and characters aren't developed enough to be invested in any of them.  The movie is already over two hours long, so this really seems like something that should have been split into more than one movie.  I also thought that the movie was poorly edited and that caused some of the issues with having a harder time following what was going on.

I have to wonder what director and co-writer Andrew Stanton wanted to do here.  I'm more surprised than anything.  Granted this is is first live-action feature, but he's been involved in so many great Pixar movies (WALL-E, the Toy Story series, Monsters, Inc.) that I really thought he'd do a better job here.  When I see there were two more writers (Mark Andrews, Michael Chabon), I have to wonder if this is another example of two many cooks in the ktichen and I think it shows with having too many undeveloped plot elements here.

My friend said this reminded him of his disappointment with Tron: Legacy.  While I agree with that, I'm going to stick a little closer to home and say this reminds me a little more of The Phantom Menace.  It looks nice, but you just never feel invested in what's going on or any real threat or urgency.

As far as the look of the movie, I do think they did some interesting world building and there's some good looking action.  When there is action, I thought it was entertaining, but at the same time, I really wasn't invested all that much in the consequences.  I didn't care who was going to win and many times, I didn't even know who was killing who.

Speaking of the design, I'm kind of stealing this next criticism from something I heard on Adam Carolla's podcast recently, but this is something that bugs me about movies like this.  You see giant, technologically advanced machinery, beautiful airships that do all kinds graceful flying maneuvers, some races using advanced weapons and technology, but everyone was still dressed like a gladiator or Roman.  There's still swordplay and some using musket-like rifles.  I'm just not into the whole 'retro-futurism' thing.  It's bugged me in most all movies I've seen that use this style.

I wouldn't call this sci-fi either, but more sci-fantasy.  You pretty much have to throw the science out right away.   First, is the fact that a human can breathe on Mars.  Then, if you understand that Mars is farther away from the Sun, then, you'll also understand that it's colder there, but you see flowing water and everyone is scantily clad.  You multiple sentient races that all developed on the same planet with drastically different biologies and are at different stages of cultural development, yet all seem to speak the same language.  Speaking of, from what I hear in the books, John Carter learns the language of Mars over months, but in the movie, to simplify things he learns the language after drinking some magic water.  Um...okay.  I can suspend disbelief for certain things, but when it happens through pretty much the entire movie, it get's hard (phrasing!)

Despite the good effects and visuals, I didn't think the 3D did anything for the movie.  I saw it on IMAX as well.  Also, maybe it was the IMAX screen I saw it on, or it was just me, but I thought the landscape seemed to have a very unnatural yellow tint it.  Isn't Mars known for being the red planet?  It felt like everything should have had a redder, or rustier look to it.  It appears the 3D was done in post again, so I'd avoid 3D entirely.  When are movie studios going to get through their thick skulls that converted 3D sucks!  Didn't Disney learn from Tron: Legacy's lackluster 3D?

Taylor Kitsch wasn't bad as John Carter, but I didn't find him very interesting.  He was just missing that intangible thing that you needed for the lead.  I think maybe it's that he felt too young for the role perhaps.  I actually thought the performances, both live and voice, were fine for the most part, but again, if I don't really care about the characters, it's hard to care all that much about the performances.  It's not the actors fault though.  It's actually a very strong cast, but they aren't given much to do.

I hear the budget for this was $250 million?  Man, that is a huge investment for a movie that isn't very good.  I know it sounds like I hated John Carter, but I actually didn't.  It's just that despite the great visuals, there's nothing that wowed me here.  I didn't really care about the characters and there are too many plot threads going on for me to be invested in anything.  I've already heard that the director said that very little was edited out of the movie, so it appears we don't have an extended cut that might get into more detail to look forward to.  I'm sure I'll end up watching this again when it comes out on DVD.  It's a rental.

2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

This Week in DVD - March 13th

Jack and Jill

Wow!  This really was a special kind of bad.  This movie deserves all the hate it gets from audiences and critics.  It's basically Adam Sandler in a dress doing yet another hilariously bad voice.  Where does he come up with this?  It's like a gift!

The sad thing is that the premise actually could have worked if they had actually spent more than 10 minutes coming up with anything funny or even slightly interesting.  The main problem is that both Jack and Jill are just simply unlikable people.  Jill is the type of person who's behavior just doesn't seem based in any kind of reality that I know.  She's dumb, self-absorbed and oblivious.  It's not even that she's unattractive physically, she's an ugly person on the inside, consistently saying stupid and rude things right to people's faces.  I wouldn't want to know her either, so it's no shock that her own brother wants nothing to do with her. Yet, they try to make her sympathetic.

Jack isn't much better though.  He's a smug asshole with no sense of humor and seemingly very little patience for people.  In every exchange he has with Nick Swardson's character when he'd chastise Swardson for making a bad joke poking fun at something obvious that anyone else would have done, I was thinking, "Wow!  You really have no sense of humor.  Only you are allowed to make jokes or be funny, eh."  It's kind of how I felt he was in Grown Ups, where Sandler's character is the most successful, most athletic and coolest of all of his friends.  Even in Just Go with It, he plays a character that's ultra-successful.  I think it's mainly that Sandler is just completely out of touch now.   Even the stupid look on his face in the poster bugs me.

The editing of this movie was terrible, too.  To illustrate an example, there's the scene you've all seen in the trailer where his adopted son punches Jill.  First off, you have to wonder, are you raising your son to be a psychopath?  He punches an adult in the face?  This is acceptable dinner table behavior?  Anyway, in the scene he has a pepper shaker taped to his head.  The problem is that in shot immediately before that, he has nothing taped ot his head.  It's just magically there with tons of tape applied to it.  This is something that would have taken time to do, but in the movie, it happens instantly as if done by magic.  Then in the next shot, he's not wearing it.  It just goes to show you that they just filmed a bunch of crap and then hastily edited all together without any real sense of story or continuity.  They just don't care.

The only highlight is Pacino playing and even more over the top version of himself.  He's kind of funny, but even then it starts to wear thin as the movie goes on.  It's not like it's enough to recommend seeing the film.

This entire movie is a giant eye roll.  It's unfunny and surprisingly mean spirited.

0 (out of 5) Death Stars - Don't watch it.  Ever!  F-You Sandler!


I knew I was in for cheese when the opening scene features a party of kids singing "Footloose".  It really kind of takes you out of the movie when the characters are singing the song made famous by the original.  It's like they were all aware of the fact they were in a movie, but without truly being meta.  It just didn't feel genuine at all.

Even though there was no need to do a remake of Footloose, it doesn't really bug me that they did.  With the popularity of stuff like Glee, you knew a remake was coming eventually.

It's pretty much the exact story as the original from what I recall of it, just with updated dance numbers and set pieces.  I was actually surprised there wasn't more dancing in it, or they didn't try to crowbar a singing performance from one of the actors.  They did a lot of updates and remixes of the original songs though.  Again, it felt weird to have so many references to the original, when it's likely most people watching this haven't seen it.

Watching the remake made me realize how silly this story is and doesn't translate to modern times.  They are rebelling against a law regarding dancing in public.  Dancing, in general, is not illegal.  Just dancing in public within city limits.  So you have a car right?  Just drive somewhere else when you want to dance..  Most people go to bars or clubs out of town to dance anyway.  Hell, they do this in the movie, when a group of them goes to a local country bar.  I have friends that consistently drive 30-40 miles out of their way to go dancing at The Saddle Rack or in San Francisco.  This really all just seems like a non-issue.

Kevin Bacon's character is played by Kenny Wormald.  I didn't mind him, but he seems like kind of a dork.  While he's no Kevin Bacon as far as charisma, he sure can dance though.  I'll give him that.  The love interest, played by Julianne Hough, I actually thought was kind of annoying.

I didn't hate Footloose, but I didn't think it a necessary remake or did anything to make you want to watch it over just watching the original.

2 (out of 5) Death Stars - It's not the worst thing to rent, but again, there's nothing here that's going to make you forget the original.

Like Crazy

Ah, young love.  It can make you so stupid.  Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones

This is one of those movies that irritates me because the whole reason for the main conflict in their relationship is something that could have easily been avoided.  She was warned by her family and even Yelchin's character didn't want her to overstay her visa.  But against everyone's better judgement, she does it anyway and now has to deal with the consequences.

Also, once they are apart long enough you see that both Yelchin and Jones were fooling around with other people.  When it's clear they have other options, I just didn't see anything in their relationship that was better than who they were currently with.  Especially, in the case of Yelchin's character, who had Jennifer Lawrence (bring on The Hunger Games!) all over him.

Oh, minor spoiler, they do get married at one point in an effort to use it as a loophole around the visa issue.  What's funny is that after the get married, they go from super in love to a bickering married couple in what feels like a day.

I thought movie was kind of drawn out and boring.  Even in the beginning, I though their relationship was too cute and annoying.  Plus there were too many music montages of them hanging out.  I really don't like that kind of stuff in romantic dramas.  The movie really would have benefit from any kind of humor in it.

2 (out of 5) Death Stars - If hipsterish dramas are your thing, then I think you might like it.  Otherwise, I say pass.

Really busy week for DVD releases, so quick recaps of stuff coming out today.  There are some real gems this week.

The Adventures of Tintin

I wrote in my original review that I was disappointed that this was too much of a kids film.  I thought the humor catered too much to a young demographic when I felt this movie could have had a broader appeal to it, especially when you consider it's a Steven Spielberg/Peter Jackson movie.

It does have a great soundtrack though and animation was pretty great.  There are some impressive action sequences.  I just felt it was a little lacking.

I gave this 2.5 Death Stars originally, and I'm still in that 2.5-3.0 Death Star range.  It's a good family rental.  It's the kind of thing you could totally plop your kids in front of the TV and let them watch it without worry.

My Week with Marilyn

I really adored this movie and thought Michelle Williams was great.  She deserved her Golden Globe win and I was pulling for her to win the Oscar.  It didn't happen though.

As for the movie, I strongly recommend it.  Even if you weren't a big fan of Marilyn Monroe, I think it's a cute movie and is worth watching for the performances of Williams and Kenneth Branagh.

Incidentally, I still haven't had a chance to watch The Prince and the Showgirl.  It has been at the top of both my Netflix and Blockbuster queues since the day I saw My Week with Marilyn, and it's been in "Very Long Wait" status in both queues the entire time.  I guess I'm not the only person trying to catch up on this one.

I gave this 4 Death Stars in my original review and I stand by that rating.  It's a strong rental recommendation and it's a movie I eventually plan on picking up once the price drops a little.

Young Adult

Here's another movie I really enjoyed.  It's funny and a little dark.  I think Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt both gave fantastic performances, but were snubbed when it came to getting nominated for anything.  In particular, I think Patton Oswalt would have been more deserving than Jonah Hill's nomination for Moneyball.

I'm a little surprised to see that I only gave this 3.5 Death Stars in my original review.  Upon reflection, this seems like something I would have given 4 Death Stars too, as it was one of my favorite films of the year.

It has a great screenplay from Diablo Cody and I think Jason Reitman is one of my new favorite directors.  I highly recommend this as a rental if you like darker comedies.  I plan on buying this soon.


I don't know why, but this review has more hits than any other post I've made.  I'm not sure why, as I bet most people have never even heard of this movie.

Anyway, this is one of those movies that you could categorize as a good movie that you'll never want to watch again.  You can pretty much say that about any Lars von Trier movie though.  It's a well-acted, quasi-sci-fi movie about a woman's struggle with depression.  That alone might turn most off from seeing it.  It's well over two hours long, so I can see why many would not be interested in it or not be able to get though it.

It does feature Kirsten Dunst's best performance as an actor, and as I have pointed out, her first nude scene.  Oh, maybe that's why the old review has so many hits.  People searching for 'Kirsten Dunst nude'.  Oh man...

I did give this a Death Star rating as this was done before I started that system, so I'd probably give this 3.5 Death Stars.  I say it's worth a rental, but again, it's definitely not for everyone.

The Descendants

This is an easy movie to recommend, as this was one of my top five favorite films of 2011.  With all the Golden Globe and Oscar nominations, I'm sure most of you have heard of this by now or have watched it.

I can't recommend it enough though.  I called it 'an almost perfect movie' in my original review.  I might have been on a little bit of a 'movie high' when I wrote that, but I still feel very strongly about how much I loved it and this is another one I'll be adding to my movie collection soon.

This is another one I reviewed before I started giving Death Stars.  I bet I would have given this 5 Death Stars back then.  I'll stand by that.  I strongly recommend that you rent it.

The Three Musketeers

I hate to end on a bad note, but that's just the way it worked out this week.  I called this movie a mess in my original review and recall almost walking out after 15-20 minutes.  I eventually kind of warmed up to it and I thought it had some okay action sequences, but it's not terribly interesting.  If this has been something I rented instead of seeing it in the theater, I might have liked it a little more.

It's directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, who I still think is a hack director that is basically a slight upgrade from Uwe Boll.  Anderson manages to get bigger budgets and he's married Milla Jovovich, so that usually means he'll crowbar her in the movie somewhere.

If you're up for a dumb, popcorn flick, then this wouldn't be a bad rental on a rainy day.  Just don't expect too much from it.

1.5 Death Stars