Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Worst Movies of 2013

I'll be honest, it's more fun to make a worst list than a best list.  While I enjoy debating whether Before Midnight is great as a movie by itself, or whether I'm rewarding the entire trilogy is a good discussion. 

But the movies on this list stole my time and I can never get it back.  In some cases, it's not just the fact that the movie was bad.  It's the reason the movie was made.  All movies are made for money, but you always hope there is some art in there somewhere too.  If someone tried and failed, that's one thing.  But most of the movies on this list are examples of movies by committee.  Someone decided a sequel was needed, or they were trying to create a franchise.  No one involved in the movie was telling a story that was personal to them. 

Anyway, here my worst of 2013 list:

1.  Grown Ups 2 

I like Adam Sandler, and I like most of his movies.  I even liked That's My Boy and Jack and Jill.  They weren't good movies, but they made me laugh.  But Grown Ups 2 should not exist.  They didn't even bother writing a script.  It's like he and his friends hung out every day, filmed themselves goofing around, and they edited that into a 90 minute highlight reel.  There is no story, but even worse there are no good jokes.

2.  Getaway

Ethan Hawke and Selena Gomez drive around for an hour and a half, getting in car chases with the police while a voice on the speakerphone tells them what to do.  He has to do what the voice says otherwise they'll kill his wife.  Except when he chooses to defy the voice, in which case it says "That was the right answer."  Ok, what?  I can suspend disbelief when a car drives on the sidewalk and everyone is able to jump out of the way with no injuries.  But he drives through a crowded park at high speed and is able to avoid hitting one person.  That's just ridiculous.  And all the stuff the voice makes them do is for absolutely no reason.

3.  The Host

This is the movie that killed Roger Ebert.  Seriously.  His review was posted on March 27, and he died a week later.  Coincidence?  First Stephanie Meyer showed she had no idea why vampires and werewolves are good movie monsters.  Now she shows us that she doesn't understand what makes an Invasion of the Body Snatchers type of movie work.

4.  R.I.P.D.

This was a bad Men in Black ripoff with a dumb story and no fun.  But the worst part was that they got Jeff Bridges to play Rooster Cogburn, which makes it harder to enjoy True Grit now.

5.  The Mortal Instruments - City of Bones

This started as Harry Potter fan fiction, and it should have stayed there.  The success of Harry Potter and Twilight means that the hot thing to do now is turn a young adult fantasy series into a movie franchise.  This story wouldn't work if it was a series on the WB.  My favorite part was when they revealed that Beethoven was one of the Shadow Hunters, and if you play a Beethoven sonata it will make a demon reveal himself.  Really lame.

6.  Hell Baby

From the team that created Reno 911, this was a really cheap horror spoof that didn't work at all.  No laughs and the only good part was the end when the demon baby was born and started trying to eat everyone.

7.  A Good Day to Die Hard

The fifth Die Hard movie.  Oh how this series has fallen.  The first was probably the best action movie of the 80s, maybe of all time.  Has any other series covered the spectrum from greatness to crap the way this series has?

8.  G.I. Joe: Retaliation

The first G.I. Joe wasn't horrible.  It has some fun parts to it but this one just sucked.  And just like a bad Die Hard movie, it also had Bruce Willis sleepwalking his way through it.

9.  The Lone Ranger

No, just no.  It was so obvious Disney and Bruckheimer were hoping for another Pirates of the Caribbean franchise with this.  There was no reason to make it 2 1/2 hours long.  The last 15 minutes or so were fun, and that should have been the tone of the rest of the movie.

10.  The Internship

Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson were great together in The Wedding Crashers.  Not so much this time around.  Once again, a comedy that isn't very funny.  Vaughn's schtick just seems tired now, and there is no way these characters are this dumb about the internet.  It's like they were transported from the 80s into 2013.

Biggest disappointment - Man of Steel

Not one of the worst movies, but it should have been great.  They got Superman all wrong.

Best Worst Movie - Movie 43

I still can't decide if this movie is so bad it's great, or if it's so bad the joke is on us.  It's a bunch of different sequences that don't try so much to make us laugh as to gross us out.  Some of them made me laugh, but not much.  I wish I could erase the image of Halle Berry and Stephen Merchant with their weird plastic surgery from my mind forever, as there was something just so disturbing about it.  But I did laugh at Hugh Jackman with balls on his chin.

Top 10 Movies of 2013

All critics have to make lists at the end of the year.  I think it's probably written somewhere.  The challenge is ranking your favorites in a particular order.  My preference can change from day to day.  I made my list the other day, looked at it this morning and made some changes.  If I look at it again tomorrow, I may want to make more changes.  But at some point I just have to make my list and walk away.  So while the order is somewhat arbitrary, here are my picks for best movies of 2013.

1.  12 Years a Slave
2.  The Way Way Back
3.  Gravity
4.  The Act of Killing
5.  Before Midnight
6.  This is the End
7.  Enough Said
8.  Blue is the Warmest Color
9.  Star Trek Into Darkness
10.  World War Z

Honorable mentions (or the movies that almost made the cut):  Saving Mr. Banks, The World's End, Short Term 12, American Hustle, The Heat, Iron Man 3, Elysium.

I'm sure you're surprised by my list.  I was too.  I really liked most of Saving Mr. Banks, but in the end too many flashbacks knocked it down on my list.  The World's End and This is the End had similarities, but I laughed a lot more in This is the End.  For Star Trek, I really wish they hadn't relied on The Wrath of Khan so much for the story, or had a Leonard Nimoy cameo for no reason (communications are up and they call Spock instead of calling for help?), but I still enjoyed the movie a lot.  And yes, I really liked World War Z.  Deal with it.

Anyway, feel free to debate my choices.  And if you don't recognize some of the titles on my list, I encourage you to seek them out.  But make sure you watch Before Sunrise and Before Sunset before you watch Before Midnight.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Utah Film Critics Association Awards

Last night the Utah Film Critics Association held its annual meeting.  There were laughs, arguments, even blood and tears, but we managed to come to a consensus on the best performances of 2013. 

Gravity was the big winner with 3 awards including best picture and director.  There were a few surprises, including Scarlett Johansson as best supporting actress for Her, Bill Nighy as best supporting actor for About Time, and The World's End for best original screenplay.  Here is the complete list of awards:

Best Picture
Winner: Gravity
(runner-up: 12 Years a Slave)

Best Achievement in Directing
Winner: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
(runner-up: Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave)

Best Lead Performance by an Actor
Winner: Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
(runner-up: Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis)

Best Lead Performance by an Actress
Winner: Adele Exarchopoulos, Blue is the Warmest Color
(runner-ups: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine & Sandra Bullock, Gravity) (tie)

Best Supporting Performance by an Actor
Winner: Bill Nighy, About Time
(runner-up: Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave)

Best Supporting Performance by an Actress
Winner: Scarlett Johansson, Her
(runner-up: Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle)

Best Original Screenplay
Winner: Simon Pegg & Edger Wright, The World's End
(runner-up: Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, The Way Way Back)

Best Adapted Screenplay
Winner: Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke, Before Midnight
(runner-up: John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave)

Best Cinematography
Winner: Emmanuel Lubezki, Gravity
(runner-up: Bruno Delbonnel, Inside Llewyn Davis)

Best Documentary Feature
Winner: The Act of Killing
(runner-up: Blackfish)

Best Non-English Language Feature
Winner: Blue is the Warmest Color
(runner-up: The Past)

Best Animated Feature
Winner: Frozen
(runner-ups: From Up on Poppy Hill & The Wind Rises) (tie)

The Utah Film Critics Association is made up of film journalists from print, online and broadcast media based in Utah.  Members include:  Rich Bonaduce, TheReelPlace.com; Luke Hickman, TheReelPlace.com / KEGA-FM; Jimmy Martin, KRSP 103.5 FM / Big Movie Mouth-Off; Sean P. Means, Salt Lake Tribune, Dan Metcalf, Davis Clipper News; Andy Morgan, KNVU-AM; Ryan Michael Painter, KUTV 2; Aaron Peck, Logan Herald-Journal; Scott Renshaw, Salt Lake City Weekly; Steve Salles, Standard-Examiner (Ogden); Mike Thiriot, KHTB 94.9 FM; Tony Toscano, Talking Pictures; Jeff Michael Vice, Big Movie Mouth-Off, and Doug Wright, KSL Movie Show.

Saving Mr. Banks - 3 1/2 stars

This is the story behind the movie Mary Poppins.  For 20 years, Walt Disney tried to get the rights to make the movie, while the author P. L. Travers resisted.  She didn't like movies to begin with, and she hated cartoons.  She was afraid Disney would turn her beloved creation into a light and fluffy kids movie.

Because she needs the money, she agrees to fly to Los Angeles and spend a couple weeks working on the script with writer Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and composers Richard and Robert Sherman (Jason Schwartzman and B. J. Novak).  What follows are a series of painful writing sessions where Travers (Emma Thompson) basically shoots down almost every idea they have.  She doesn't want Mary Poppins to be a musical, every detail has to be exact, and no cartoon penguins. 

Emma Thompson is wonderful in this role.  She plays the most stereotypically uptight British woman you can imagine.  She has no patience for pleasantries or small talk, and she seems to have no sense of humor.  She's even prickly to her friendly limo driver (Paul Giamatti).  But through flashbacks we see the troubled childhood she had, and we come to understand the inspiration for her stories.  Her father (Colin Farrell) plays her father, who worked at a bank and was an alcoholic. 

Tom Hanks plays Walt Disney, and I can't imagine anyone better for the role.  While he doesn't look exactly like him, he captures him perfectly.  It also doesn't hurt that like Walt Disney, Tom Hanks is something of a national treasure.  He speaks with this gentle midwestern tone that is so reassuring it's amazing Travers held out as long as she did. 

I loved this movie, but I thought the flashbacks hurt the pacing of the movie.  I was so engaged with the scenes of them working on Mary Poppins that I started to get annoyed every time the movie cut to Travers as a child.  I think the flashbacks took up at least 45 minutes of screen time, and I think we could have learned all we need to learn about her childhood in about 10 minutes.  Some of the scenes were nice, and I especially liked the way they cut back and forth between her father giving a speech about the bank and the song Fidelity Fiduciary Bank. 

So I loved the scenes with Travers and the writers, and the scenes with Travers and Disney together.  I also really liked Paul Giamatti's character.  He has a few really good scenes with Emma Thompson where he becomes her only real friend in LA.  I think this movie is going to do really well and it's safe for the whole family.  I think young kids may get bored by it, and it certainly doesn't hurt if you grew up watching Mary Poppins.  Highly recommended.

American Hustle - 3 1/2 stars

If you were alive in the late 70s and early 80s, you might remember the ABSCAM scandal.  It was an FBI sting operation targeting public corruption which led to the conviction of several senators and congressmen.  American Hustle is a mostly fictitious story about how ABSCAM came about.

Christian Bale and Amy Adams play Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser, successful con artists who are busted by an FBI agent named Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper).  Richie offers them a deal:  they can avoid jail time if they help him bust some city officials for corruption.  They cook up a scheme to get the mayor and other officials to accept bribes in order to get a casino built in New Jersey. 

This movie is a lot of fun.  We quickly realize that Richie is getting in over his head.  His boss at the FBI (played by Louis CK) keeps saying no to all his requests for more money.  The operation gets expensive because he needs to convince these officials that a rich Middle Eastern sheikh wants to invest in the casino.  The levels of corruption get higher and higher, and then when the mob gets involved they all realize their lives are now in danger if they're discovered. 

Jennifer Lawrence plays Irving's wife, and she steals the movie.  She's this obnoxious blonde bimbo who may be much smarter than she seems.  The mayor (Jeremy Renner) is taking bribes and involved in corruption, but he's doing it in order to provide jobs for the people of Camden, New Jersey.  He and Irving form a friendship that you know is going to end badly, because eventually he's going to find out that this is an FBI sting operation. 

All of the performances are good in this movie.  Christian Bale put on weight and has a really bad combover, and he does a really good New Jersey dialect.  The movie gets a little crazy an hour or so in, and it's a little too long.  It runs about two hours and twenty minutes.  It also gets hard to follow all the details of the operation, but that doesn't detract from the fun of watching these characters try to keep everything together.  Highly recommended.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues - 3 stars

Anchorman 2 is probably a better movie than the first one.  As much as I liked Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, it's not a movie I like to watch from start to finish.  It's the kind of movie I like to watch for 15 or 20 minutes when it's on cable.  There are a number of hilarious scenes, but as a complete narrative I find it a little unsatisfying. 

The sequel is a little better in that respect, but not by too much.  It has a very random feel.  One scene doesn't always lead to the next, and it could have been edited a dozen different ways without making it a different movie.  But there is more story structure than in the first movie. 

The movie starts with Ron and his wife Veronica Corningstone as co-anchors in New York.  When Veronica is promoted to be the first female national news anchor, Ron is fired.  He reacts as well as you would expect him to, and he and Veronica split up.  He heads back to San Diego and just when he's at his lowest point, he gets a job offer to join a brand new 24 hour cable news network.  He gets his old news team back together - Champ Kind (David Koechner), Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), and Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) - and they head to New York.  Wackiness ensues.

There's not much more to say without spoiling where the story goes.  There are a ton of jokes, and not all of them work.  But if one doesn't make you laugh, there will be another 30 seconds later.  I spent the entire movie either chuckling or laughing out loud.  There is some great stunt casting, and there is another battle involving multiple news teams ("No touching of the hair and face!").  Not all of the stunt casting works (this just isn't Harrison Ford's type of movie), but don't look at the cast list on imdb because most of the joke is just who shows up.

Only a few minor complaints.  For one, I wish they had more of Ed Harken (Fred Willard) in this movie.  Also, I think they used Brick too much.  When the first movie came out, Steve Carell wasn't a big star.  He had some crazy, random lines that were just hilarious, and he was used sparingly.  But since 2004, The Office has come and gone, and they probably figured they needed to feature Carell more.  He still has some great moments in this movie, but sometimes it just seems like he is trying way too hard.  Brick works best when he's low key, not when he's standing in the middle of a room and screaming.

Anyway, the movie is funny.  Go see it.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug - 2 1/2 stars

Oh Peter Jackson, why?  Why did you have to take one book and blow it up into 3 movies, each over 2 1/2 hours in length?  The Lord of the Rings trilogy made sense.  That was 3 books, and lots of stuff had to be cut out.  But The Hobbit is the exact opposite.  Just because Lord of the Rings was 3 epic movies, doesn't mean The Hobbit has to be.

If you recall the events of the first movie (An Unexpected Journey), 13 dwarves, Gandalf and Bilbo Baggins are on a quest to recover the Arkenstone from the dragon Smaug.  Somehow this stone will enable one of the dwarfs, Thorin Oakenshield, to become king, and the rest of the dwarfs will be able to reclaim their homeland.  The movie ended with the company being attacked by Orcs and rescued by the giant eagles from Lord of the Rings.  I'm tempted to ask why the eagles can't be enlisted to just fly them to the Lonely Mountain, but then we wouldn't have a movie (or 3 movies). 

The Desolation of Smaug starts right where the previous movie left off (after a brief prologue).  The group is still running from the orcs, and they take refuge at the home of Beorn.  While leading them there, Gandalf is his usual, unhelpful self.  When asked whether they will be safe there, he answers "Perhaps.  He will give us shelter, or he will kill us."  The next day, they head towards Mirkwood, a creepy looking forest.  At this point, Gandalf remembers something Galadriel said to him and he decides to leave.  So once again Gandalf is gone for most of the running time of the movie. 

I've never read The Hobbit, so I can't say what was added or changed.  I am getting tired of Galdalf always going off on his own.  It seemed like it happened twice in the last movie, with him showing up just in the nick of time to save the group.  This time, we see where he goes.  The problem is he doesn't learn anything.  He visits a mountain tomb, meets up with Radagast, and explains a few things.  But he already knew this stuff, so what was the point of his trip?

My two favorite characters in these movies are Gandalf and Bilbo.  We lose Gandalf for most of the movie, and while Bilbo is still around, he is relegated to the background most of the time.  Thorin is the star of this movie, and he gets more lines and screen time than Bilbo.  Which is a shame since Martin Freeman was such a good choice for Bilbo.  Richard Armitage is a good screen presence and brings a lot of gravitas to the role of Thorin Oakenshield, but his character is boring as hell.  He's in a bad mood the whole time, and every line is delivered in exactly the same way.  Just once I'd like to see him lighten up and joke around.

One of the things that made Lord of the Rings so enjoyable was that we got to know and like the characters.  In between action sequences, the characters would talk to each other and it was nice spending time with them.  Not so much in these Hobbit movies.  I had a hard time caring about any of the dwarfs, and so if the story is not being advanced, I got bored.  Too many times I was looking at my watch and hoping the movie was almost over.

Legolas (Orlando Bloom) is in this movie, and that's ... fine.  It's ok for director Peter Jackson to add characters from Lord of the Rings in wherever he can to help tie the two trilogies together.  But Legolas was the least interesting character in Lord of the Rings, and he doesn't really add much here.  He gets to spend a lot of time jumping around and shooting orcs, which gets old after a while.

The highlight of the movie is when Bilbo encounters Smaug the dragon.  There aren't too many movies that pull off a dragon well, and this one does.  He looks great, he has the right amount of menace, and Benedict Cumberbatch is the perfect actor to provide the voice.  There is a great 5 - 10 minutes of Bilbo and Smaug, but then the rest of the dwarfs show up and it becomes a video game.  Smaug is chasing them around the caves under the mountain, they run and hide, and on and on.  Like everything else in this movie, it goes on too long.  After 20 minutes or so I got tired of Smaug. 

I loved The Lord of the Rings, and I was looking forward to The Hobbit.  But so far, the first two movies have been disappointments.  Hopefully the last movie, There and Back Again, will be better.  We'll know in a year.

Friday, November 22, 2013

12 Years a Slave - 4 stars

Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free black man living in pre-civil war New York.  He lives with his wife and 2 children, and works as a professional fiddle player.  One day a couple of men show up and offer him a temporary job playing in Washington, D.C.  He agrees and leaves town with the two men.  After a night of drinking, he wakes up to find himself in a cell, chains around his wrists and ankles.  From there he is transported to Louisiana and sold to a plantation owner.

This is a hard movie to watch, but it's incredibly powerful.  We see the horrors that slaves endured in the south.  We see a woman separated from her kids at a slave market, we see how runaway slaves are punished, we see slaves whipped to within an inch of their lives.  The violence is explicit but not gratuitous. 

The casting is perfect.  Ejiofor has a commanding screen presence and he really made me feel empathy for his character.  He has to handle a range of emotions and experiences, and he does it without overacting.  Paul Giamatti plays the man who runs the slave auction, a businessman who views the slaves the same way a rancher looks at his cattle.  Paul Dano plays creepy like nobody else, and he has a few good scenes as a carpenter who is intimidated by Northup's intelligence, which makes him dangerous. 

Benedict Cumberbatch is Northup's first owner, and he's a kind and fair man (for a slave owner, anyway).  But the real horror begins when he is sold to Edwin Epps (Michael Fasbender), a ruthless plantation owner who measures the cotton picked by his slaves daily, and whips the ones who didn't pick enough.  Epps is married to a woman named Mary (Sarah Paulson) who may be worse than he is.

Even with all these great actors, the standout is newcomer Lupita Nyong'o, who plays Patsey.  Patsey is the hardest worker on the plantation.  She regularly picks twice as much cotton as any of the men.  Unfortunately for her, she is also the favorite of Epps, and he often comes to her in the night.  Mrs. Epps is aware of this, and hates Patsey for it.  The things Patsey has to endure are horrific.

The movie is incredibly vivid.  It doesn't feel as written as other movies, meaning everything that happens feels more organic.  It made me feel like I was there on the plantation, feeling the heat of being out working in the sun all day.  It's incredibly well written and directed, and I think everyone should see this movie. 

Delivery Man - 2 1/2 stars

This is a remake of a French Canadian movie called Starbuck, which just opened in Salt Lake back in April.  Directed by Ken Scott (who also directed the original), it stars Vince Vaughn as Dave Wozniak.  Dave is the kind of guy who lets everyone down in his life.  His pregnant girlfriend wants nothing to do with him, he is always screwing up at work, and he owes a lot of money to people who are threatening to drown him if he doesn't pay up.

When Dave was younger, he donated to a sperm bank hundreds of times.  Now 20 years later, a lawyer shows up and informs him that due to a clerical error, his sperm was used hundreds of times over a couple of years.  Now he has 533 children, and 150 of them are suing the clinic to find out who their biological father is.

This is basically a shot for shot remake of Starbuck.  The only difference (besides the language) is the characters play basketball instead of soccer.  I didn't like the original much, and I liked this a little better just because of Vince Vaughn.  But it does seem like he is phoning this in.  He doesn't try too hard, but he does get a few good laughs here and there.

Overall the movie is pretty uneven.  By the end it's supposed to be heartwarming, but it didn't really work.  I laughed a few times, and 2 1/2 stars is probably generous, but the movie wasn't boring.  At least the story itself is interesting, and Chris Pratt is pretty good as Dave's friend and lawyer.

So I can't really recommend it, but if you decide to see it, you probably won't be too disappointed.  It doesn't suck, it just isn't very good. 

Ender's Game - 2 stars

From Wikipedia (because I'm too lazy to summarize):

"After an alien race called the Formics (also known as the "Buggers" in the book) attacks Earth in 2086, the International Fleet prepares for the next invasion by training the best young children to find the future candidate to lead the International Fleet and fill the shoes of the legendary war hero Mazer Rackham. Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is pulled out of his Earth school to join the International Fleet and attend the legendary Battle School, located in Earth orbit. He progresses rapidly through a series of increasingly complex war games while simultaneously gaining the respect of his peers. As a result, Ender is soon chosen by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) to be the military's next Mazer Rackham. The boy progresses to Command School, where he receives training from Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley) himself. After a series of grueling battle simulations, Ender leads his peers into a war that will determine the future of Earth and the human race."


I think the movie did a good job of hitting all the major plot points, but it didn't spend enough time developing the characters.  Harrison Ford and Viola Davis have too many scenes where they have the same argument over and over - whether Ender is cut out to be the leader he's being trained to be, and whether the training is going to psychologically damage him. 

I really liked the zero gravity training room where teams battle each other with laser guns.  It's like playing Laser Tag in space.  I think kids especially will really enjoy those scenes.

But mostly the movie just felt monotonous to me.  He's in class learning battle strategy, he's getting into fights, laser tag scene, Ford and Davis argue, repeat.  I just kind of got bored, and I didn't really feel for Ender as a character.  Unless you're a big fan of the book, you can skip this movie.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Last Vegas - 2 1/2 stars

Last Vegas is likeable and good natured, but it isn't very funny.  There are some laughs here and there, but they're all very broad and easy to see coming.  The guys are old so they don't know who 50 Cent is!  Kevin Kline doesn't know the Madonna impersonator he's hitting on is a man in drag!  Things like that.

Michael Douglas and Robert De Niro were ok but they didn't do anything special.  Douglas is acting like himself - rich, smug and generally happy with himself.  He's about to marry a woman half his age.  De Niro is a grumpy old man the whole time, still depressed about the death of his wife.

The ones who bring the movie to life are Kevin Kline and Morgan Freeman.  Kline's wife has given him a free pass to cheat on her, going so far as to give him a card saying "What happens in Vegas ..." with a condom and a viagra.  Kline's character has been in kind of a funk, and he's excited for this trip.  He's so happy his wife gave him a freebie that he doesn't stop to think about what it would be like if he actually went through with it.  He also doesn't realize that good looking young women aren't exactly interested in an old guy like him.  The scenes with him hitting on women are actually kind of cute because he's so clueless and sweet.

But Morgan Freeman is having the most fun in this movie.  I don't think I've ever seen him smile this much.  He's excited to go on the trip because it gets him away from his overprotective son.  He's there to have a good time and he's just a nice, easygoing presence. 

The end of the movie gets rather dramatic and poignant.  Michael Douglas has a really nice scene where he breaks down a little and talks about what it's like to grow old.  I was moved by this scene but it was too little, too late.  Overall the movie is a bit of a disappointment, but it's not too bad.  It's not worth a trip to the theater but it would be ok as a rental.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Gravity - 4 stars

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are astronauts working on the Hubble space telescope.  Their mission is interrupted when debris from a Russian satellite destroys their shuttle and almost kills them.  With their oxygen running out, the astronauts have to make their way to the nearby International Space Station with only Clooney's thruster pack (almost out of fuel) to get them there.

That's all I'm going to say about the plot.  The less you know, the better.  But this movie looks incredible.  It looks like they actually filmed it in space.  The opening 10 minutes is one continuous shot with Clooney floating around the shuttle, Bullock working on the telescope, and the camera just weaving in and out the entire time. 

The story is simple enough.  Are they going to make it to the space station?  Once they get there, will they be able to make it back to Earth?  The debris is moving through space faster than a bullet, and it will orbit the earth in about an hour and a half.  Which means they need to hurry before they get hit again.

I usually don't like 3D, but in this case it's worth the extra cost.  You should see this on the biggest screen you can and sit close so the screen takes up your entire field of vision.  This movie is a hell of a ride.

Blue Jasmine - 2 1/2 stars

I'm kind of on the fence about this movie.  It bored me a little at times, intrigued me at others, and by the end of it I just felt very indifferent about it.

Cate Blanchett plays Jasmine.  As the movie starts, Jasmine has just landed in San Francisco.  She took a plane and left her old life in New York, and her plan is to stay with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) while she figures out what to do with her life.

In her old life, Jasmine was married to Hal (Alec Baldwin), who was a wealthy businessman.  But Hal was involved in a bunch of illegal activity and he screwed a lot of people out of a lot of money.  Ginger and her husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) were among the victims that Hal screwed over.  Ginger doesn't blame Jasmine, but Augie still resents her.  He doesn't believe that she was as oblivious to Hal's illegal activities as she claims to be.

Jasmine is an interesting character.  After the fraud charges, Jasmine and Hal lost everything.  Jasmine needs to stay with Ginger for a while since she has no money, yet she didn't think twice about flying first class.  She thinks she is going to start a nice career where she doesn't have to get her hands dirty - something like an interior designer - and she can't imagine doing any real work.  When she is told about a dentist who's looking for an assistant, she doesn't even consider it at first because that kind of work would be beneath her.

Rather then tell the story chronologically, almost half the movie is made up of flashbacks.  At times it's hard to tell whether we're seeing a flashback or whether we're back in the present.  Jasmine starts a relationship with a wealthy widower named Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard).  Ginger has divorced Augie and she has a new boyfriend named Chili (Bobby Cannavale).  Ginger also meets a man at a party (Louis C.K.) and has an affair with him. 

All of this doesn't amount to much.  It's basically a story about a rich trophy wife who loses it all and has to go back to her family who she never had time for when she was rich.  But she doesn't really learn anything or get her comeuppance.  Well, maybe she does but she doesn't really change.  It's hard to relate to any of the characters, except maybe Augie.  Clay gives a very good performance here, and I did feel for this guy who worked hard, had a chance to own his own business but he trusted his sister in law and he lost his shot.  He has a good scene near the end where he gets to tell off Jasmine.

I might have liked the movie a little more if there was more of an emotional payoff with any of the characters.  But the movie just felt kind of hollow for me. 

The Act of Killing - 4 stars

We've all seen documentaries about mass murder and genocide.  I can think of any number of movies about the Holocaust, or Rwanda, or the Rape of Nanking.  But usually these movies involve other people talking about the atrocities that were committed.  Usually you don't hear the murderers themselves talk about the things they did, why they did them,and how they felt.  That's what makes this movie unique. 

In 1965, there was an anti-communist purge in Indonesia.  Over 500,000 people were killed, either because they were suspected of being communist, or for simply being Chinese.  Director Joshua Oppenheimer interviews many of the people who carried out the murders, focusing mostly on Anwar Congo. 

In order to get them to open up about the things they did, he invites them to re-create the killings as movies.  They can use whatever genre they prefer.  One sequence is filmed as a gangster movie from the 30s, another looks like a Bollywood musical.  But the murderers themselves are the directors in these scenes.  And this produces something really profound. 

At first, Anwar and his friends brag about the killings.  Anwar is happy to show the place where the executions took place, and he demonstrates how he would strangle people with piano wire.  Later when he is playing the part of a victim himself, he is profoundly disturbed.  It seems like this is the first time he has actually thought about what it was like for his victims.  He asks the director if the horror the he is feeling is simliar to what his victims experienced.  And Oppenheimer says no, what they felt was much worse.  You're only making a movie.  The actual people knew they were going to die.

This is a very powerful movie that stays with you.  It raises some interesting questions about the nature of evil, and how people can live with themselves after committing horrible acts.  One of the killers says that he feels no guilt or shame because he was never prosecuted.  The US supported their anti-communist purge, he says, and no one has ever tried to arrest him or bring him to trial.  Another killer, who is still a military youth leader in Indonesia, casually reminisces about burning villages and raping young girls.  He tells these stories with the same inflection as you would recount your last vacation.  It's really chilling.

When asked whether any of the victims' children have ever wanted to take revenge, Congo and his friends explain that that would never happen because they (the children) would be too afraid to speak up.  They also imply that if they ever tried, those people would be killed also.  The people who run the country are like gangsters.  In one scene, a government agent is walking through a market demanding money from various merchants.  When Congo goes on a talk show to talk about the movie they are making, it is portrayed as a celebration of their anti-communist struggles. 

This movie may help bring attention to what happened in Indonesia.  There have been reports that some of the movie's subjects claim they were tricked and lied to by the filmmakers.  But supposedly Anwar Congo said that the movie is exactly what he expected it to be.  It will be interesting to see if anything happens as a result of this movie.  It would be nice to see the perpetrators finally brought to justice. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Carrie - 2 1/2 stars

I'm sure I've said it before, but there is no reason to remake a bad movie.  If you're going to remake a movie, remake a bad movie if you think you can make it better.  But remaking a good movie just makes people like me point out how much better the original was.

Anyway, Chloe Grace Moretz plays Carrie, a young girl who was raised by a single mother played by Julianne Moore.  Carrie's mom is a religious fanatic who thinks all men are evil, and all women are guilty of sin.  She preaches fire and brimstone and routinely locks Carrie in a closet to pray for forgiveness.

The movie starts with Carrie in the shower after gym class, where she gets her first period.  Since her mother never told her anything about matuation, and she has never had a friend, she freaks out and thinks she's bleeding to death.  The girls in the locker room start teasing her relentlessly, even throwing tampons at her, until the gym teacher comes to her rescue. 

Sue Snell, one of the girls who teased Carrie, feels so bad that she wants to make it up to Carrie.  She talks her boyfriend into taking Carrie to the prom.  Another one of the girls, Chris Hargensen, does not feel bad about it at all.  She has always hated Carrie for being different, and when she is punished and not allowed to go to the prom, she and her boyfriend decide to play a prank on Carrie that will have disastrous effects.

Carrie is also in the process of discovering that she has telekinetic abilities.  They start manifesting when she is really upset, and as the movie progresses, she starts to control them.

Chloe Grace Moretz does a good job as Carrie, but it's a little harder to buy her as an awkward and unattractive teenage girl than when Sissy Spacek played the role in 1976.  Julianne Moore is also good, but not nearly as terrifying as Piper Laurie.  My favorite casting choice was Judy Greer as Miss Desjardin, the gym teacher.  She is the only person to take an interest in Carrie and stick up for her (at least until Sue comes around), and she has some really nice moments.

But as to the rest of the cast, the other classmates all look like they come from a WB teen soap opera.  It's only been one day since I saw the movie, and I can't remember anything specific about any of the characters.  The original had interesting actors like John Travolta, William Katt, Amy Irving, and Nancy Allen.  They each brought something interesting to their roles.  But in this new movie, nothing about these characters stands out except for the way they moved the plot forward.

Overall the movie was enjoyable enough.  It wasn't a bad remake, but an unnecessary one.

Wadjda - 3 stars

Wadjda is a charming movie from Saudi Arabia.  It's about a little girl named Wadjda who wants a bike more than anything.  The problem is in Saudi Arabia, girls don't ride bikes.  But she is determined to save up and buy a bike no matter what her mom or her teachers tell her.

This is the first full-length film made in Saudi Arabia by a female director.  Haifaa al-Mansour wrote and directed the movie, and since women can't be seen working with men, she had to direct many scenes by walkie talkie while sitting in a van. 

Wadjda is played by first time actor Waad Mohammed, and she is just adorable.  She's a very headstrong girl who rarely lets her situation get her down.  She's also very resourceful, and a bit of a scam artist.  When an older girl at her school offers her 10 riyals to deliver a message to her brother, Wadjda demands 20.  When she delivers the message, she says "Your sister told me you'd pay me 20 riyals to give you this message."

We learn a bit about life in Saudi Arabia by observing what she has to deal with.  When she goes to school without her head covered, she is scolded by her teacher.  When the girls are playing in the playground and they notice men are standing on the roof a building across the way, they have to go inside so they won't be seen by the men.  When one isn't reading the Koran, it's best to close the book so the devil won't spit on it.  Also, there are certain times of the month when a woman shouldn't touch the Koran with her bare hands. 

There are things happening around Wadjda which she doesn't understand.  When she and her friend are walking home from school, they see a group of somber looking men walking into a house.  Her friend explains that the man's nephew blew himself up, and he will go to heaven and get 70 brides.  At one point, one of her classmates brings pictures from her wedding.  She explains that she was just married to a man who is 20 years old - and the girl can't be older than 13.

I wasn't entirely certain what was going on with he father, but as near as I could tell Wadjda's parents are still married but her father doesn't live with them.  Her mother can't have any more kids, and her father wants a son, so he is looking to marry a second wife. 

The movie does a great job of showing us what life in Saudi Arabia is like for women, but it's not a depressing movie.  It's about a little girl determined to experience freedom, and nothing symbolizes freedom for a kid like a bicycle. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Romeo and Juliet - 3 stars

Hailee Steinfeld (from True Grit) plays Juliet and Douglas Booth plays Romeo in this latest movie version of Shakespeare's tragedy.  As far as I know, this is the first movie version of Romeo and Juliet since the 1968 Zeffirelli version to set the movie in the traditional setting of Renaissance Verona, unlike the Baz Luhrmann version which set the movie in modern day Los Angeles. 

The dialogue has been dumbed down a little bit, but it still sounds like Shakespeare.  I thought the actors did a good job with the dialogue.  The leads were fine, although Romeo is such a pretty boy he looks like he should be leading a boy band.  The highlight of the movie was Paul Giamatti as Friar Laurence, the kindly monk who's plan to help the lovers escape goes horribly wrong. 

I enjoyed the movie, and I'm surprised it's getting such bad reviews from other critics.  I admit I'm not much of a student of Shakespeare.  I haven't read any Shakespeare since I was in high school, and I have no idea how much they actually simplified the language, or how many scenes were taken out.  I thought the movie worked just fine, and now teachers have a new version they can show their class when they are studying Romeo and Juliet.  And unlike the Zeffirelli version, they don't have to worry about fast forwarding a nude scene.

Captain Phillips - 3 stars

Tom Hanks plays Captain Richard Phillips, captain of the cargo ship Maersk Alabama which was hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009. 

The movie opens with Rich Phillips leaving his house and being driven to the airport by his wife (Catherine Keener).  On the way, they talk about mundane things like their kids and the future.  Once he arrives at the ship, we get to see a bit of what a day in the life of a sea captain is like.  He checks out the ship, checks his email for information about weather and pirate activity, and he meets with his crew to discuss schedules. 

I enjoyed this part of the movie.  It felt authentic, and it was interesting to see what life was like on a ship like that.  It's also impressive that they filmed on an actual cargo ship, and you really get a sense of how big these things are, and how much cargo they carry.

Before long, the pirates arrive.  This was also exciting.  The ship has no weapons but they use fire hoses to try and keep small boats from boarding them.  Captain Phillips also tries a couple things to trick the pirates into leaving them alone, and it seems to work at first. 

Soon enough the pirates board the ship.  I won't reveal what happens, but sooner than I expected the pirates are leaving the ship on a lifeboat with Captain Phillips as their prisoner.  What follows is an hour or so of screen time devoted to the 5 of them in the lifeboat, while the Navy tries to negotiate with them.

I hate to admit it but the movie got kind of boring for a while.  I like that they stuck with the facts and didn't try to invent action sequences that didn't happen, but at the same time I got a little tired of one scene after another of Phillips trying to talk the pirates into letting him go, or the Navy negotiator saying the same stuff over and over.  I think this section of the movie could have been shortened.  The movie is about 2 hours 15 minutes, and there isn't enough story to sustain it for that long a running time.  I would have liked it better if it was 20 - 30 minutes shorter.

I still enjoyed the movie overall.  It was intense in many places, and even though you know how the story ends, you don't know how it gets there.  At least I didn't.  I knew Phillips would be rescued but I didn't pay enough attention to the news story in 2009 to know how the situation was resolved. 

The best scene in the movie is after he has been rescued and brought to the medical bay on the ship.  He's in shock and the Navy's medical personnel are trying to treat him.  When he actually breaks down a bit, it's surprising how emotionally affecting it is.  I found out after that the people in the scene with him were not actors.  They were the actual people working on the Navy ship the film crew was filming on.  It was a last minute decision to have them in the movie, and the director just told them to do what they would normally do for someone in his state.  I thought that was pretty interesting, and the movie definitely ends on a powerful note.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Thanks For Sharing - 3 stars

This is a movie about sex addiction.  It focuses primarily on three men who are attending regular Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings.

Adam (Mark Ruffalo) is 5 years sober.  His problem was porn and hookers, and he's had more than one relationship ruined by his compulsions.  One way he stays sober is to live without a TV.  When he stays in a hotel, he has them remove the TV so he won't be tempted. 

I don't remember if they actually use the word 'sober' in the movie, but since all anonymous programs are modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous, the term works.

He hasn't dated in 5 years, and his sponsor, Mike (Tim Robbins) encourages him to start dating again.  As he says, the idea isn't to live like a monk.  So Adam starts seeing Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow), a health nut who doesn't know about Adam's addiction.  He knows he needs to tell her at some point, but on their first date she tells him that she once dated a recovering alcoholic, and she won't date one again.

Mike has been sober for a long time.  He also hasn't seen his son in years.  His son Danny is played by Patrick Fugit, and he's a recovering alcoholic but he doesn't go to meetings.  Mike doesn't believe his son has sobered up, but Danny promises that he's clean and he's here to make up for all the stealing and everything else.

The other guy is Neil (Josh Gad), an emergency room doctor who likes to rub up on random women on the subway.  He's been court ordered to go to recovery, and Adam is his sponsor. 

I enjoyed this movie.  It seemed like it took the realities of addiction seriously, and the meetings were believable.  Sometimes the movie did get a little too soap opera-ish for me, but most of the time the characters and their behavior seemed authentic. 

I'm not sure how much I liked the way the Adam and Phoebe relationship played out.  When she does find out that he's in recovery, she takes it well and tries to make it work with him.  But it seems like Adam is very insensitive to what it's like for her.  She wants to have a normal sexual relationship, and while Adam doesn't have to abstain or anything - recovery for him just means having and maintaining a healthy relationship - he does have some sexual hangups.  It makes him uncomfortable when she comes on to him too strongly, and he rejects her advances more than once. 

But I can't complain about that too much.  The reality of what it would be like for him to maintain a healthy relationship is a very interesting prospect.  Another nice storyline is the friendship Neil develops with a girl he meets in his meetings.  Her name is Dede and she's played by Alecia Moore, also known as Pink.  Even though they are both in the early stages of recovery, they are able to help each other in several crucial situations. 

The movie was a bit uneven in its tone, but I'm forgiving its shortcomings because I liked the characters and I thought the stories were interesting. 

Short Term 12 - 3 1/2 stars

Brie Larson stars as Grace, a twenty-something supervisor at a foster-care facility for at-risk teenagers.  She's dating Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), another supervisor at the facility.  Their days consist of leading group sharing, searching the kids' bedrooms for contraband, and chasing after the occasional runaway. 

One day, a very troubled teenager named Jayden arrives at the facility.  She's a cutter and her father may be abusing her.  Grace is the perfect person to try to help her, since Grace has been through the same kind of stuff. 

As the movie goes on, we learn more about Grace's past.  When she's working with the kids, she seems to have it all together.  She's able to remain calm in any situation, whether a kid's having a tantrum or whether another kid has just slashed his wrists.  But Grace is really as messed up as any of the teenagers she's trying to help.  She's also pregnant, and trying to decide what to do about it.

This was a really affecting movie.  It didn't over-sentimentalize the situations.  This is no after school special.  The writer director, Destin Daniel Cretton, really knows his subject.  I wouldn't be surprised if he had spent some time living or working in a place like this. 

The characters are really well developed and the relationship between Grace and Jayden was very moving.  There isn't a lot of humor in this movie, but that's ok.  The story is compelling and the drama feels honest. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

In a World ... - 3 stars

Lake Bell wrote, directed, and starred in this movie about Carol, a vocal coach who wants to follow in her father's footsteps and become a voice-over artist.  Her dream is to do voice-over work for movie trailers, but her father doesn't think it's a good profession for women. 

This is the first movie I have ever seen about this profession, and it was refreshingly original.  Lake Bell is funny and has a charming screen presence.  The movie did get a bit predictable at times, especially concerning her relationship with a sound engineer named Louis (Demitri Martin), but the movie was very enjoyable. 

There is a nice side plot going on with her sister cheating on her husband (Rob Corddry in his 50th movie role of the year so far), and her father is played by Fred Melamed, who is very fun to watch on screen.  The movie wasn't quite as funny as I hoped it would be, but it made up for it with charm and originality. 

Getaway - 1/2 star

This is the dumbest movie I've seen all year.  Ethan Hawke comes home to find his wife kidnapped and a cell phone ringing.  He answers and gets instructions.  If he wants to see his wife alive again, he will follow the instructions.  These involve stealing a car, evading the police, driving through crowded parks and other nonsense. 

Some movies require you to suspend disbelief.  This movie requires you to turn your brain off completely.  The things the voice on the phone requires him to do are completely ridiculous.  For no reason, he has to drive through the middle of a park and skating rink on Christmas Eve.  Now it's not uncommon to see a car driving on a sidewalk, and miraculously everyone is able to jump out of the way just in time.  But there is no way in hell that he could drive through the crowds he does without killing lots and lots of pedestrians. 

Every 10 minutes, he's in a car chase with the police.  Every time, they end the same way.  Once again, no one is killed even though every cop car is smashed and destroyed in the chase.  You would think that after 3 or 4 chases where he gets away every time and destroys a bunch of cars, eventually they would try to find a different way to stop his car. 

Selena Gomez is also in this movie.  She plays the owner of the car who tries to get it back from Hawke.  She gets in with a gun, he overpowers her, and before he can kick her out the voice tells him to keep her with him.  First he is ordered to kill her, and when he says no (he'll drive through a crowd of people but shooting someone is where he draws the line), the voice says "That's the right answer."  Really?  So the voice is just testing him or something?  Anyway, the voice tells him to keep the girl with him, so she becomes his sidekick.  And her performance in this movie is terrible.  I don't know how much of the fault lies with Gomez and how much lies with the director Courtney Solomon, but her performance is so awful I was rooting for Hawke to shoot her within 5 minutes.

When we eventually find out they are going to all this trouble (something about providing a distraction so they could steal some hard drives), it doesn't amount to much.  There was really no reason to put him through the challenges of the first hour of the movie unless they are just sadistic.  But there is no way they could know that he would be able to evade the police for so long, or go through so many red lights without getting killed. 

Just a dumb movie.  I'm getting tired of even writing about it.  So I'm going to stop there.

The Family - 2 1/2 stars

Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer are a mafia family in the witness protection program.  Tommy Lee Jones is the FBI agent who watches over them and arranges a new home and identity every time they have to move.  They have to move and assume new identities every few months, since they can't help but revert to their old habits every time they are confronted with a problem.

When the plumber starts hassling De Niro, he grabs a baseball bat and starts beating the guy.  When Pfeiffer is insulted by the local grocer, she sets a bomb in the back room and blows up the store.  The kids are no better.  Within a few days, the teenage son has figured out which students can help him earn money, and he has several of them owing him favors. 

The movie has so much potential for comedy, and it somehow manages to squander almost every one of them.  Director Luc Besson knows how to direct a good action movie, but he doesn't know how to make a comedy.  The first hour felt very unorganized, and I kept waiting for some kind of a plot to kick it.  It just felt like a random collection of scenes.

The second half of the movie got better.  There is a running subplot of De Niro trying to figure out who's responsible for his tapwater coming out brown.  The daughter is trying to have a relationship with her math teacher.  And every time Tommy Lee Jones is on screen, the movie gets fun.  No one plays grumpy better than Jones, and he is constantly annoyed by this family.  The two men hate each other but De Niro knows that he needs Jones to bail him and his family out whenever they get in over their heads.

The movie was pretty boring but it got better.  I liked seeing De Niro as a gangster again, and I couldn't help but think of his performance in Goodfellas.  Obviously the filmmakers thought about that too, because there is a point in the movie where his character watches Goodfellas.  Very on the nose but it made me laugh.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Lee Daniels' The Butler - 2 stars

This movie tells the life story of Cecil Gaines, who worked on a cotton plantation as a kid and grew up to be a butler in the White House.  He would end up serving 7 presidents from Eisenhower to Reagan.  The movie was inspired by a true story, meaning almost none of it is true.

The writing is very uneven.  One problem is there are way too many events to put into one movie.  Cecil is serving Eisenhower while he is discussing the integration of the schools, and a few minutes later he's helping welcome the new president, JFK.  There is a conversation about the Freedom Riders, then JFK is shot.  Each of the presidents only gets a few scenes. 

Most of the screen time is devoted to Cecil and his co-workers, or his family.  The scenes with his co-workers are interesting, mostly thanks to Cuba Gooding, Jr. doing the best work he has done in years.  Lenny Kravitz plays another one of his co-workers, but he is as bland as his music.

The scenes with his family were the ones that bored me the most, I'm afraid.  His wife is played by Oprah Winfrey, and we don't really learn much about her.  For most of the movie, she is complaining about how much time Cecil spends at work. 

One of Cecil's sons gets involved with just about every aspect of the Civil Rights Movement.  He is arrested many times, first for sitting at the whites only counter at a diner in Tennessee.  Soon he is working with Martin Luther King (staying at the same hotel when Dr. King is assassinated), and later he is a member of the Black Panthers.

This is an interesting juxtaposition.  While all of these important events are going on, Cecil is at the White House hearing the presidents talk about them.  He is trying to get his son to stay out of trouble while his son is passionate about doing whatever he can for equal rights.  It has a lot of potential, but too much time is spent with Cecil dealing with his wife, who becomes an alcoholic and starts having an affair with a neighbor played by Terence Howard. 

I was looking forward to seeing how well the actors would do portraying the presidents, and I was disappointed with how little screen time they had.  I was especially looking forward to Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan.  What an interesting choice that was. 

This is one of those movies that's about really important events in our history.  It's just a shame the movie didn't turn out better.

Kick-Ass 2 - 3 stars

It wasn't as good as the first one, but it still worked for me.  I know a lot of people are hating this movie but I thought it was a pretty decent sequel.

It wasn't as much fun as the first one.  One problem was the lack of Nicholas Cage.  His character was one of the better aspects of the first film.  But since he died, there wasn't much they could do about that. 

It was a darker movie than the first.  I was surprised by how dark it got.  There was a lot of death and violence, and the death of one particular character took me by surprise.  But that made the movie more dramatic, and made me realize that anything could happen by the end.

The final battle was kind of ridiculous.  There are something like 50 heroes battling 50 bad guys, and it doesn't make sense that there would be that many.  The Mother******'s henchmen are all for hire, so for him to suddenly have a bunch of willing followers didn't really make sense.  I could believe that Kick Ass could get a bunch of people to show up and help him, but once the battle started, how could anyone tell which side anyone was on?  It's not like they had all been battling for the entire movie, and they didn't have uniforms to indicate which side they were on.  The movie was trying to be realistic in a sense, and I didn't believe that no one was killed during that battle.

The best storyline in the movie was Hit Girl trying to live a normal life.  Her guardian makes her promise to give up being Hit Girl, and she tries to keep her promise.  Kick Ass is kind of a selfish jerk in this movie.  He keeps trying to talk Hit Girl into getting back into the lifestyle.  This is especially strange considering how early on in the movie, he tells her that her dad was insane.  He knows how bad it is to encourage a young girl to be an assassin, but he keeps trying her to get back into it just because he wants her as a partner.  He also is a jerk to his dad for no good reason.

The story of Hit Girl trying to adapt to a normal life is pretty compelling.  She could beat up anyone at high school, but she isn't equipped to deal with the psychological trauma of bullying.  I wish the movie had focused more on that.

I liked the movie overall.  The problem with most sequels is it's either too much like the original movie, or it's too different.  I thought this one was a logical continuation of the story of these characters and I enjoyed it.  It just isn't as rewatchable as the first Kick-Ass was.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones - 1 1/2 stars

I don't know much about fan fiction.  I understand that fans like to write their own stories involving the characters, and there's no reason a writer of fan fiction can't be a good writer.  Just because an author is using characters already created by someone else doesn't mean they can't come up with a good story.

According to my research, The Mortal Instruments book series began as Harry Potter fan fiction.  According to reviews on amazon.com, the author Cassandra Clare wrote a story about Draco Malfoy then just turned that story into The Mortal Instruments.

I don't know how true that is, and I don't care.  What I know is that this movie sucks.  It's derivative of every fantasy movie over the last several years, and it even rips off Star Wars.

It's about a girl named Clary (Lily Collins) who thinks she's a normal teenager, then finds out she has magical powers.  She comes from a line of shadowhunters - people who fight demons.  She meets a shadowhunter named Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower) who explains the whole backstory to her.  The story starts out like any other fantasy story.  There has to be something the bad guys want (The Mortal Cup) that only she can lead them to, so they are after her.  The bad guys have to have a leader (Valentine) who used to be one of the good guys until he went to the dark side. 

This movie rips off so many better movies (and sucky movies like Twilight) that it's hard to know where to begin.  Besides the overall formula being so familiar, you've got vampires and werewolves, just like Twilight.  At least these vampires are actually scary vampires and not just sulky teenagers who sparkle in the sunlight.  Also like Twilight, there are two love interests for Clary.  The Mortal Cup is a bit reminiscent of the Deathly Hallows from Harry Potter, and there is a point where Valentine is revealed to be Clary's father (spoiler alert - if you really care). 

To give the movie a little credit, there are some good jokes, and once in a while a character says something that I was wishing they would say moments before.  At times the movie almost seems like it's aware of how bad and hokey it is.  But then it goes back to taking itself way too seriously.  The most ridiculous part was when we learn that Johann Sebastian Bach was a shadowhunter, and his compositions are actually mathematical formulas to get demons to reveal themselves.  The entire theater was howling with laughter during this sequence.

I could forgive this movie ripping off so many other movies if it were good, but it's not.  It's very by the numbers and boring.  The effects were good, and some of the creatures were kind of cool.  I liked the dog that turned into a demon, and there was also a sequence with a little girl playing in the street who turned out to be a demon.  That was nice and creepy.  But mostly the movie is just really, really dumb.

You're Next - 3 stars

This is a pretty typical home invasion / slasher movie, with a few quirks.  The movie starts with a couple having sex.  They finish, he gets in the shower and she goes downstairs to get a drink and turn on the stereo.  The guy gets out of the shower and finds the girl dead.  He sees the words "You're next" written on the window, then he's quickly dispatched.

It seems like an awful waste of time for the killer to write "You're next" on the window, then kill the victim right away.  What's the point in that?

Anyway, we then meet the main characters of the story.  Paul and Aubrey Davison are celebrating their 35th anniversary, and they're having their kids over for dinner.  They have 3 sons and 1 daughter, and each brings their significant other.  Paul and Aubrey are rich and live in a nice mansion outside of town.  It's the kind of place where it takes 10 minutes to walk to the neighbor's house to borrow some milk.

The movie stops for about 15 minutes while we are introduced to the characters, and these are the most annoying, pretentious douches I've seen in a movie in a long time.  It felt very amateurish.  The movie was filmed hand held, and at times it was so shaky for no reason that I can't believe they didn't film another take.  The dialogue was bad and the acting wasn't much better.  I was really not enjoying this movie at all.

Then the killing started and somehow the movie got fun.  There were some jokes that I couldn't tell whether they were intentional or not, but they made me laugh anyway.  It turns out one of the dinner guests is an expert survivalist, and while the others are behaving like typically stupid horror movie victims, she was prepared to fight back. 

By the end of the movie, I was having a great time.  I think the filmmakers may have deliberately made the characters so unlikeable on purpose, so that we would enjoy seeing them die.  They also may have wanted us to think it was a horrible movie so that they could surprise us in the end.  I'm not sure.  But as far as slasher movies go, this is a pretty good one.

The Spectacular Now - 3 stars

Miles Teller (Footloose, Project X) and Shailene Woodley (The Descendants) star as Sutter and Aimee.  Sutter is a bit of a player.  He's the kind of guy who lives in the now.  He enjoys his life but doesn't worry too much about the future.  He's a high school senior with a bit of a drinking problem.  He breaks up with his girlfriend, gets drunk at a party, drives home, and wakes up on Aimee's lawn.  Amy is a nice, shy girl.  She doesn't have a boyfriend and is into science fiction. 

He starts hanging out with her, and at first he says he isn't interested in her.  When telling his friend about her, he says he's just helping her out, helping her build some confidence.  When his friend asks what happens if she falls in love with him, he says no, that won't happen.

They of course do fall in love, and their relationship is great for a while, until it isn't.  Even though Sutter is the life of the party and always seems to know what to do, that is just a facade to hide the pain and self loathing going on inside.  Things take a turn when they go to see his father in another town.  Sutter hasn't seen his father in years and reaches out to him, only to learn there is a good reason why his father isn't a part of his life.

The movie starts out kind of slow, like a lot of independant movies do.  But as it goes along, the characters started to grow on me.  The perormances are really good, and it doesn't follow the stereotypical teen romance story format.  Overall I enjoyed the movie.

Crystal Fairy - 2 stars

Sebastian Silva had 2 movies at the Sundance Film Festival this year.  Both movies were shot in Chile, and both starred Michael Cera.  One was called Magic Magic and it was really good.  But it's already available on VOD and DVD.  If it had a theatrical release, I didn't notice.

The other movie was not as good, and that's Crystal Fairy, or The Crystal Fairy and the Magic Cactus as it was called at Sundance.  Michael Cera stars as Jamie, an American tourist.  He and his local friends are planning on making a trip to some remote part of Chile where they will cook up a cactus with hallucinogenic properties, hang out on the beach and trip balls.  Before leaving on the trip, he meets a woman named Crystal Fairy at a party.  Since he was high or drunk at the party, he invites her to come along on the trip with them.  The next morning, a sober Jamie doesn't remember this and doesn't want her to come along.

She does, and most of the movie is their road trip.  They don't really know how to get this cactus, and they're always on the lookout for it.  When they do find it in someone's garden, the person who lives there is reluctant to sell any of the cactus.

Crystal Fairy is an interesting character.  She's into mysticism and she also likes to walk around naked a lot.  At one point Jamie comments on her grooming practices by calling her "Crystal Hairy".  She has a good sense of humor most of the time, even though Jamie makes it clear he doesn't want her around. 

The road trip was semi-interesting, but once they get to the beach and get high, the movie doesn't really go anywhere.  I was bored for most of this movie.  The only reason to see it is for Michael Cera's performance.  He is definitely evolving from the characters he played in Arrested Development or Superbad.  But if you want to see a better Michael Cera movie from this same director, watch Magic Magic.

Lovelace - 3 1/2 stars

This is a reprint of my review from Sundance.  Now that more people have seen it, it looks like I'm in the minority.  Most critics seem to be saying that the movie just doesn't say enough about the situation, it just kind of presents the events as they happened.  Well, whatever.  I enjoyed it.

Amanda Seyfried stars as Linda Lovelace, the star of the 70s porn movie Deep Throat. It's hard not to be reminded of Boogie Nights, since both films are about the porn industry and set in the 70s.
As the movie begins, Lovelace and her friend are typical teenagers. They meet an older man, Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard) who Linda starts to date and eventually marries. Chuck owns a bar and is involved in some illegal activities, and when the IRS comes after him, he needs to make some money. He convinces Linda to audition for a porn movie.

She gets the job, and the movie Deep Throat becomes the highest grossing porn movie in history. The movie and its star become so popular that everyone from Bob Hope to Johnny Carson start referencing them.  Thanks to Lovelace and Deep Throat, porn has invaded pop culture.

One thing interesting about the movie is the way it seems to rush through the story so quickly. By the time Lovelace is hanging around with Hugh Hefner, I was feeling like the movie was just giving us the cliffs notes. But then, the movie jumps back to the beginning of Linda's porn career and we see the details we didn't see the first time around. We learn how she didn't want to do it, and how her abusive husband forced her to do whatever he wanted. We see what a tragic story this really is.

At the post-screening Q&A, the directors explained the reason for the structure of the movie. They said that when everyone learned about Linda Lovelace, it was just the happy, fun stuff. It wasn't until years later when her autobiography came out and she went on talk shows that we learned the ugly side of her story. The movie mirrors that. We as the audience experience Lovelace's stardom the way the rest of the country did.

The structure works and the acting is really, really good. I wouldn't be surprised to see Amanda Seyfried nominated for some acting awards at the end of the year.

The movie is tough to watch in places, but it isn't depressing. In the end, I believe it's actually empowering to women. Linda Lovelace had no support in her life. Her husband treated her horribly and her parents were no help at all. Eventually she had to find the strength to leave her husband and reclaim her life. She did this all on her own, and I think it's a really moving story. I really enjoyed the movie.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Jobs - 2 1/2 stars

Back in 1999, there was a great made for cable movie called Pirates of Silicon Valley.  This movie told the story of the rivalry between Apple and Macintosh.  Noah Wyle played Steve Jobs, and Anthony Michael Hall played Bill Gates.  This was a really good movie.

Jobs is not as good.  Ashton Kutcher does a good job playing Steve Jobs, but not as good as Noah Wyle.  The script skims over a lot of important things in the history of Apple.  Personally I was most disppointed that the way Apple got the technology for the mouse from Xerox was never even mentioned. 

The movie opens with Steve Jobs introducing the iPod in 2001.  Then it flashes back to 1974 when Jobs was a college student.  He and his friend Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad) come up with the idea for the personal computer, the get an investor and start Apple Computers, and then the movie quickly flashes forward to a few years later when Apple is a successful company. 

One problem with the movie is at times it feels like the 'cliffs notes' version of the story.  There is a lot of stuff that could be in this movie, and they would need to do a miniseries to get everything in.  Maybe a 2 1/2 hour movie could get everything in, but not this movie. 

There were some good sequences in the movie, and the performances were pretty good.  But Josh Gad's beard was really strange.  Every time he was on screen, it was really distracting.  Also, the movie was too melodramatic.  Every time Jobs makes a speech, the scene is filmed with a crane so the camera can lift up over the crowd, and the music swells like it's the most dramatic moment of the 20th century.  This happens several times in the movie.  Also, Jobs cries too many times. 

I think the more you know about Apple and the history of the personal computer, the more you will get out of this movie, because then you can kind of fill in the missing pieces yourself.  This movie should have been a lot better.  I've read that Aaron Sorkin is working on his own Steve Jobs movie, and that the real Steve Wozniak is consulting.  I can't wait to see that movie.

Paranoia - 1 1/2 stars

This is a dumb movie.  This is the kind of movie that pisses me off - the writers either have no idea how life in the real world works, or they think average moviegoers are so stupid that they won't question anything.  This is pretty much how I felt about every movie directed by Robert Luketic, most notably 21, the movie about MIT students taking down casinos by counting cards.

Where to start?  Liam Hemsworth plays Adam Cassidy.  Adam works for Nicholas Wyatt (Gary Oldman) who runs a successful cell phone technology corporation.  At the start of the movie, Adam and his team are about to pitch some new idea / technology they've developed to Wyatt and his executive committee.  The pitch doesn't go well, and in the next scene, Adam and his team have been fired.  Why were they fired?  The movie doesn't explain this.  In most corporations, employees aren't fired for giving a bad pitch.  They are just sent back to their desks.  Was this a condition of their pitch?  Were they gambling their careers over this?  "You'll love this idea or you can fire us."  Was that how they got the meeting scheduled? 

Anyway, for whatever reason they have been fired.  Adam consoles the team by using the corporate credit card (which no one at the company bothered to ask for back) to take them out for a night at an expensive bar.  There is also a dumb scene where the doorman won't let Adam in, and the next night he does.  Why does he let him in?  Because he has this credit card?  Why didn't he use the card the night before?  I digress ... too much stupidity in this movie.

They run up a $16,000 bar tab, so Wyatt has his men grab Adam and threaten to have him arrested for this.  Adam says he'll pay it back, but of course he can't, so Wyatt gives him an option.  Go work for his competition Jock Goddart (Harrison Ford), steal their new prototype and bring it back, and he'll not only forgive the debt, he'll also pay him a million dollars. 

Luckily the movie doesn't make us sit through a sequence where he has to think about it.  Wyatt has him over a barrell, so he has to take the deal. 

Next, Wyatt says he will put him through training to teach him how to be a corporate executive.  That consists of ... giving him a suit and expensive apartment, and telling him to make contacts.  That's it.  Because the movie is hoping we won't think about this too much.  Also, it's not clear how Wyatt gets him the job with Goddart.  He is taken to a restaurant where he meets with Goddart's recruiter and another executive named Emma Jennings (Amber Heard), and they are excited to have him, and suddenly he's an executive.

Oh, and he knows Emma because the night they were partying, he ran into her at the bar.  He went home with her and the next morning, she kicked him to the curb.  She knew right away he was a 'bridge and tunnel' guy, meaning a lower class citizen then herself.  Yet she doesn't bust him when he turns up at the lunch.  This also isn't clear - does she know he's an imposter of some kind, or does she just think he suddenly climbed the corporate ladder really fast?  Not explained.  But if you've ever seen a movie before, you know that they will wind up together.

Anyway, what follows is typical corporate espionage stuff.  There is some new cell phone technology that Wyatt wants Adam to steal - basically it's a phone that you can roll up into a ball or something.  The movie tries to look cool, but no one involved in this movie even talked to anyone who knows anything about the corporate world or science.  So any time they are talking about their technology, it's not about how it actually works on a technical level, just how it will look to the consumer.

Another part that bugged me - Wyatt's enforcer gives Adam a cell phone.  He says if I call you, you answer immediately no matter what.  Adam isn't smart enough to say "What if I'm standing right in front of Goddart?  Won't that, you know, blow my cover?"  At some point, the FBI gets involved.  It seems they are already investigating Wyatt, and he's done this before.  Adam's predecessors have all ended up dead.  There are also security cameras all over his apartment and his dad's apartment.  The movie really wants to be The Firm, but it doesn't have a tenth of that movie's intelligence.

In case you can't tell, this movie bugged me.  I haven't even mentioned that Adam's dad is played by Richard Dreyfuss.  There you go, I just did.

Elysium - 3 1/2 stars

Elysium was written and directed by Neill Blomkamp, who also wrote and directed District 9 a few years ago.  Set in 2154, the movie is a pretty good allegory for the division between the haves and the have nots.  The Earth has been basically ruined by overpopulation, war, pollution, all that stuff.  Most of the population lives on Earth, but the 1% live on Elysium, a colony orbiting the Earth.  Elysium is basically paradise.  It's peaceful with fancy houses and perfectly manicured lawns, and the best part is the free health care.  Every home has a medical bed that can scan you, instantly detect any diseases or other problems, and quickly heal you.  On Earth, the 99% are left with hospitals which apparently haven't made any advancements since 2013.

Matt Damon stars as Max, a regular guy working a crappy job.  Earth has also become a police state with robotic patrol officers who will search you if you have any kind of criminal history, and they'll beat you if you try to crack jokes.  We get the impression that even horrible jobs are hard to come by.  When there is a malfunction at Max's job, he is told he better get in that room and fix it, or clean out his locker.  The room is some kind of radiation room, and when he fixes the malfunction, he gets a lethal dose of radiation.  He now has 5 days to live, so he needs to get to Elysium to be healed. 

Everyone on Earth dreams of making enough money to go to Elysium.  Just like people try to sneak into America and have to evade border guards, there is a scene where a bunch of people try to sneak into Elysium aboard spacecraft.  The government minister of Elysium, Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster) has no problem destroying the ships rather than capturing them, even though that means killing women and children.  She represents that ultra right wing American mentality that thinks all illegal immigrants are criminals and should be shot on the spot. 

The movie looked and felt a lot like District 9.  Instead of the slums of Johannesburg, we get the slums of LA.  We never see any other locations on Earth, but we assume that every city is pretty much the same as LA.  I really like the way Blomkamp doesn't overuse the CGI.  Everything looks practical and the effects never took me out of the movie.  I also think for the most part the depictions of violence were realistic.  There are some pretty gruesome scenes of violence, including one scene where someone's face is mostly blown away by a grenade. 

Sharlto Copley, star of District 9, plays Kruger, a ruthless mercenary who works for Delacourt, and for most of the movie he's just hunting Max.  There is also a semi-love interest for Max.  Alice Braga plays Frey, his childhood sweetheart.  She has a daughter, and her presence in the movie is mostly to give Max a couple of characters to try to protect.

I really enjoyed Elysium.  I'll take a movie like this over most of the overblown, overdone, over-CGI'ed movies we've gotten this summer. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

We're the Millers - 2 1/2 stars

Jason Sudekis stars as Dave, a pot dealer who lives in Denver.  He sells pot for Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms), and when his stash and money is stolen by muggers, they only way he can pay Brad back is to smuggle a bunch of dope across the border from Mexico.  His plan is to recruit a stripper (Jennifer Aniston), a homeless teen (Emma Roberts) and a nerdy virgin (Will Poulter) to pretend to be his family.  He figures that will make him less suspicious to the border guards.

This starts out as a very funny dark comedy.  They're only doing this for money, and they don't really like each other much.  But along the way, they discover that they really like each other and they want to be family.  By the end, the movie expects us to care for these unlikeable characters.  Which isn't so bad, but they stop behaving the way they really would in this situation.

For example, there is a point where Dave has to get the drugs back to Denver by 9pm that night.  They're currently stuck in Phoenix and the kid has been bitten by a spider.  They take the kid to the hospital, and all Dave has to do is leave the kid there, drive the drugs back to Denver, then come back the next day and pick the kid up.  But he doesn't bring this up at all.  He leaves the 'family', has a change of heart, and comes back.  It's not like he's leaving the kid stranded in the middle of nowhere, and he stands to lose something like $500,000 if he doesn't deliver.  I don't mind the characters starting to like each other, but their behavior doesn't make sense.

Along the way, the 'family' keeps running into a real family in another RV (Nick Offerman, Kathryn Hahn, and Molly Quinn).  These guys just about steal the movie, Offerman in particular.

The movie tries to hard to provide a happy ending with everything working out just right.  But for most of the running time, there are some pretty good gags.  The funniest part is when the kid is being shown how to kiss a girl by Roberts and Aniston.  You can easily predict what happens, but it's still a pretty good laugh.

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters - 2 stars

I don't remember much of the first Percy Jackson movie, but I remember I really disliked it.  This one isn't as bad, but that isn't saying much. 

For some reason the first movie was called Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, and this time they decided to drop the 'and the Olympians' from the title.  In this movie, Percy is used to his status as a demigod.  He and his friends live at Camp Half-Blood where they mostly have contests with each other.  A bunch of these demigods live there, and they're all teenagers.  The movie makes no mention of what happens to these kids when they grow up.  Do they just go live in the real world and try to blend in with humans?  Why are there so many demigods?  Do the gods hook up with mortal women that often? 

Sorry, but this movie leaves a lot of questions unanswered.  The protective force field is destroyed by a gigantic robotic bull, and the kids go on a quest to recover the Golden Fleece, which is the only thing that can repair the force field.  The force field is generated by some tree that used to be a demigod before she was killed, so this tree has to be saved to repair the force field.  Whatever.

The acting isn't very good, and it just felt like this movie really wanted to be Harry Potter.  Attention movie studio executives:  not every young adult fantasy series is as good as Harry Potter.  Stop making these movies, please.  I might have enjoyed them more when I was 12, but I overheard a couple of fathers saying they had kids who were fans of the book series, and even they recognized that the movie wasn't good.

2 Guns - 3 stars

Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington are a couple of bank robbers / drug smugglers.  As the movie begins, they are casing a bank and planning to rob it.  The reason is they believe a drug lord keeps $3 million in a safe deposit box, and they want to take it from him.  When they rob the bank, instead of $3 million, they find $43 million in the vault, which they take anyway.  Then they try to double cross each other.

It turns out each one is working undercover, but the other doesn't know it.  Denzel Washington is an undercover DEA agent, and Wahlberg is a Naval Intelligence Officer.  Even once they find out the truth about the other, they still hate each other.  But then they are forced to work together when it turns out the money they stole belongs to some kind of CIA slush fund, and they are both being hunted by a ruthless CIA black ops operative (Bill Paxton). 

The movie is very convoluted, but it's still a lot of fun.  It's a very forgettable action movie, but the two stars elevate it with their star power.  The main thing that makes this enjoyable is they have good chemistry together.  I enjoyed the movie and I was able to go along with the ridiculous plot twists, even though they got hard to follow.  I'm still not quite sure what Wahlberg's commanding officer (James Marsden) was up to.  This is one of those fun, dumb action movies that doesn't hold up if you think about it too much, but if you can go along with it it's not a bad time at the movies.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The To Do List - 2 1/2 stars

Aubrey Plaza stars as Brandy Clark.  It's 1993 and Brandy has just graduated from high school.  She is the class valedictorian, an uptight know-it-all, and a virgin.  So she decides that before starting college, she will have sex.  Not only will she have sex, but she will experience every possible sex act she can come up with.

I didn't catch where she gets all these terms from, but she makes a list that would make Caligula blush.  Of course, she doesn't know what any of them mean.  But she is determined to try them all, no matter how bad they may be.  This should be the setup for a really raunchy and funny sex comedy.  Unfortunately the movie doesn't live up to that promise.

The movie just isn't funny enough.  There were some laughs, but too often the gags fall short.  Some of the funniest parts involve her parents, Connie Britton and Clark Gregg.  Her dad doesn't want to talk about sex with his daughter, and he is convinced that his wife was a virgin until their wedding night. 

Brandy has two friends, played by Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele.  Her friends are more worldly than she is about sex, but they still don't offer much help.  You would think they would explain what a few of the acts are she is about to attempt, so maybe she could reconsider. 

This is a teen sex comedy told from the female point of view.  It's refreshing to see girls talking about their sexual plans as frankly as the guys in American Pie.  Aubrey has a crush on a good looking rocker type named Rusty Waters (Scott Porter), while her former lab partner Cameron (Johnny Simmons) harbors a secret crush on her.  He is all too happy to be her first experimental partner, but it's no surprise that he will be hurt when he finds out what she's up to, and that Rusty is her eventual goal.

I also have to point out that for an R-rated sex comedy, it's pretty surprising that there is no nudity.  There are several sex scenes, and the girls keep their bras on and the covers pulled up.  There are a couple of night swimming scenes where everyone swims in their underwear.  Sometimes nudity is gratuitous, but in a movie like this it would have made sense. 

This is one of those movies that isn't bad, it just isn't quite good enough to recommend.  But I did laugh a few times, and the characters were likeable.  If this looks good to you, you should go see it.  I don't think you will be disappointed.  This is probably closer to a 2 and 3/4 star movie.

The Wolverine - 3 stars

The Wolverine (aka Logan) is set after the events in X-Men: The Last Stand.  Jean Grey is dead, although she still appears to him in his dreams.  He's still broken up about having to kill her. 

He's living in hiding up in the mountains of Alaska or Canada.  A Japanese woman named Yukio finds him and tells him he needs to come with her to Japan.  It seems he saved a Japanese soldier's life back in World War II, and now the dying old man wants to thank him.  He also wants to try and use Wolverine's powers to prolong his life.

Wolverine ends up being a protector to the man's granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto).  She is set to inherit her grandfather's company and a bunch of Yakuza thugs want to kidnap or kill her.  There is also some complications involving her father and a few other characters.  It got a little confusing, and it seemed like too many characters changed from good to bad or vice versa too many times.

This is a slightly better movie than X-Men Origins: Wolverine.  This time, they don't try to turn it into just another X-Men movie.  The focus stays on Logan and what's going on in his head.  He's trying to get over Jean Grey, and he also may be falling in love with Mariko.  I was disappointed with the third act.  Just like every other superhero or comic book movie, there has to be a big battle with a giant robot or something like that.  This time, since we're in Japan, he fights a giant robot samuri.  Or samuri robot.

I didn't love the movie, but it was enjoyable.  However, I'm really excited for next year's X-Men: Days of Future Past.  Make sure you stay for the credits so you don't miss the little teaser for the next movie.

The Way, Way Back - 4 stars

I saw this at Sundance in January.  Here is what I said at the time:

This is the best movie I saw at Sundance this year. Duncan (Liam James) is a shy, quiet teenager with no self esteem. As the movie begins, he and his mom (Toni Collette) are driving with her boyfriend Trent (Steve Carrell) and his daughter. They are on their way to Trent's summer house by a lake in a small lakeside town (think Martha's Vineyard).
Trent is encouraging Duncan to be more outgoing, but in the most insulting ways possible. And Trent's daughter acts like Duncan is a 5 year old kid she is forced to babysit. His mom has no idea that Duncan is being treated so bad, or she is turning a blind eye so she can make her relationship with Trent work.

Duncan eventually meets Owen (Sam Rockwell), a fun guy who manages a water park. Owen befriends Duncan and starts watching out for him. He's like the perfect big brother. He gives Duncan a job at the water park, and Duncan starts to come out of his shell.

This is a really nice movie. I felt a lot of empathy for Duncan, and it was a real joy to watch his transformation over the course of the movie. Sam Rockwell is entertaining as always, and this is some of his best work. Owen is the type of character who is always 'on', always quick with a joke and entertaining everyone in the room.

Allison Janney is a lot of fun as the divorced, sassy neighbor who always seems to have a drink in her hand. And Steve Carrell gives a performance that is a lot different from his comedy roles. He really isn't a nice guy here, and he is very convincing in the role.

AnnaSophia Robb plays Susanna, the cute girl next door who develops a crush on Duncan, and this story line is the one that the movie short changes. There is a little bit of a nice, innocent young romance between the two, and I would have liked the movie to show a bit more of that. Early in the movie, Duncan has so little confidence that when Susanna practically asks to hang out with him, he can't even say yes. By the time Duncan has come out of his shell and is showing some interest, the movie is almost over.

I really enjoyed this movie and the performances. This is one of those movies that could have gone on for another hour and I wouldn't have minded. Highly recommended.