Monday, September 29, 2008

New Releases - Friday, September 26th

Eagle Eye - 1 1/2 stars

This is a dumb movie in every sense. The payoff to the setup is dumb. The characters are dumb. The dialogue is dumb. The filmmakers really think the audience is dumb. You would really have to leave your brain at the door to enjoy it. I'm not saying you're dumb if you enjoy it, but if you do enjoy it, please explain yourself.

Towelhead - 3 stars

This is one hell of an uncomfortable movie. A 13-year old girl is physically abused by her father, sexually abused by her neighbor, and emotionally abused by her mother. Lots of people walked out of the movie when I saw it, and I can't recommend it to most people. But if you think you can take it, it IS very well written and acted. This movie stays with you for a long time.

Choke - 3 stars

Here is another movie that's not for everyone. But its not as uncomfortable as Towelhead, mostly because all of the sexual dysfunction involves adults. Sam Rockwell stars as a sex addict who chokes in restaurants on purpose. His friend is a compulsive masturbator, and his mother is suffering from Alzheimer's. Did I mention this is a comedy? Funniest line in the movie: "I'm not a lawnmower!"

The Lucky Ones - 3 stars

Tim Robbins, Rachel McAdams and Michael Pena are soldiers just returning from Iraq. Two are on 30 day leave, the other is out for good. They meet on the plane to New York and when they find all flights are canceled, they decide to rent a car together. This is a good road movie, and there are some very funny moments. The movie grinds to a halt during the last 20 minutes or so, otherwise I would give this 3 1/2 stars.

Forever Strong - 2 stars

I'll admit it first: I don't like sports movies. I'm not a sports fan, and they are all about the same thing. But then any movie is only as good as the characters and the story. It doesn't matter if the backdrop is sports, wine (Sideways), or digging for oil (There Will Be Blood). In this case, the acting is bad and the story is underwhelming. Sean Faris is a troubled rugby player who changes throughout the course of the movie into a fine, upstanding young man. But his transformation was about as believable as Anakin Skywalker's.

All Roads Lead Home - 0 stars

If you love the made-for-TV movies they show on the Hallmark Channel or ABC Family, you will still hate this movie, but you won't hate it as much. Stay away.

Miracle at St. Anna (no review)

When Spike Lee lashed out at Clint Eastwood earlier this year, he was just trying to get publicity for this movie. But hey, whatever you've gotta do ...

Nights in Rodanthe (no review)

Richard Gere and Diane Lane reunite for a sappy romantic weepfest. You know if you are in the target demographic.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Opening Friday, September 19th

Ghost Town - 3 1/2 stars

Ghost Town is the best movie of the week, and the funniest movie I've seen in months. The Great Ricky Gervais stars as Bertram Pincus D.D.S. He hates everyone. When his patients start telling him about their kids, he quickly sticks cotton in their mouths to shut them up. When his co-worker brings cake for everyone, he sneaks out the door so he won't have to socialize with anyone.

While undergoing a routine medical procedure, he dies for about 7 minutes. When he leaves the hospital he is horrified to find that he can see and hear ghosts. The ghosts are excited because this is the first person that has ever been able to talk to them. So naturally they all start following him around, begging him to pass on messages to their surviving relatives.

Its a good idea to take the standard "I see dead people" idea and use it for comedy. Remember Whoopie Goldburg's character from Ghost? After she meets Sam (Patrick Swayze), she is harrased by ghosts all the time. When Sam next sees her, she says "What did you do to me? Did you tell every spook in the world about me? I've got ghosts coming into the shower! I can't get rid of them!" Imagine if that movie had been about Whoopie Goldburg instead of Patrick Swayze. You get the idea.

As fans of the British version of The Office or HBO's Extras can tell you, Ricky Gervais is a genius. There are so many scenes in this movie that would be boring and ordinary with anyone else in the role, but Gervais' deadpan delivery makes those scenes comedy gold. Tea Leoni and Greg Kinnear are very good in this too. Go see it right away.

Lakeview Terrace - 3 stars

A racist police officer (Samuel L. Jackson) torments the interracial couple (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington) that live next door. At first, he just intimidates them. Then he starts threatening them, and it escalates from there. This is not too original. Reminds me of Unlawful Entry of Pacific Heights. But it is done well enough, and its always fun to see Sam Jackson as a badass.

Transsiberian - 3 1/2 stars

Emily Mortimer and Woody Harrelson star as an American couple who are in China doing missionary work. When they are finished, they decide to take the Transsiberian railroad from Beijing to Moscow. While on the train they share a cabin with another couple (Eduardo Noriega and Kate Mara). There are hints that one of them may be a drug mule, and Ben Kingsley shows up as a Russian narcotics detective.

I don't want to say any more for fear of ruining the surprises. If this were a mainstream Hollywood film, the action would kick in within the first 15 minutes. But since this is an independant film by Brad Anderson (The Machinist), it takes its time. The first 45 minutes or so are rather uneventful. We get to know the characters and we even learn about how the track gauge is a few inches different in Russia. When they cross the border, they have to take the train cars off the wheels and put the correct gauge wheels on so they can continue into Russia.

Once the plot kicks in, it gets very suspenseful. There are a few twists that you won't see coming. This is a smart thriller that you won't soon forget.

Igor (not screened for critics, so it probably sucks)

John Cusack provides the voice for an evil scientist's hunchbacked assistant.

My Best Friend's Girl (not screened for critics, so it probably sucks)

Dane Cook, Kate Hudson, Jason Biggs. Need I say more?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Believe it or not ...

They're making a Greatest American Hero movie. Seriously. I loved the TV show as a kid, but will it work as a movie? The good news is that creator Steven J. Cannell says the original cast will be in the movie. He said "More than cameos: acting jobs." So I guess that means the original characters will be in the movie. That's good. I was excited when I heard that Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann would be in Race to Witch Mountain, then I was disappointed to learn that they will only be cameos. They won't be playing adult Tony and Tia, they will just be waiters in a restaurant or something.

There are also plans for a series of four-minute animated Web shorts, voiced by Katt, Culp and Sellecca. That could be cool.

Check out the picture of them at the Greatest American Hero panel during SAG's 75th anniversary celebration. William Katt's looking old, but Connie Sellecca still looks good.

What's coming out on DVD this week?

The Big Lebowski - 10th Anniversary Edition - 4 stars
This is at least the 3rd edition of The Big Lebowski, but this time they finally got it right. The original release had a Behind-the-Scenes Featurette with the Coen brothers that ran 25 minutes. The Widescreen Collector's Edition (2005) had a silly but pointless 5 minute introduction from "Forever Young Films" and a bunch of pictures Jeff Bridges took during production. This version has all that plus more.

The best DVD extras (IMHO) are retrospective, 10-year later kind of things. My favorite thing about this release is it has just about the entire cast participating. You get Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, even john Turturro. It would have been nice to hear from Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tara Reid and Peter Stormare, but the biggest stars of the movie are here. You get Jeff Bridges talking about the practical joke the girls played on him during the filming of the dream sequence when he is flying under their legs. You get John Goodman talking about the things fans shout at him when he runs into them on the street. You get Steve Buscemi comparing his death scene in this to his death scene in Fargo. Compare a DVD like this to something like Fletch: The Jane Doe Edition. No Chevy Chase involvement at all. Lame as hell.

You can get the 2 disc edition for around $15, or you can spend $25 - $30 for the Limited Edition Bowling Ball Packaging (pictured). That's going to look great up on the mantle. It really ties the room together.

Baby Mama - 2 1/2 stars

I was a little disappointed with this. It should have been funnier than it was. The cast is great: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Greg Kinnear, Dax Shepard, Sigourney Weaver, and Steve Martin. They all had their funny moments, but overall the movie didn't really work for me. Its probably better as a rental than in the theater. I definitely wouldn't buy the movie. But this may be the funniest Steve Martin performance since the 80's.

The Fall - 1 1/2 stars

Tarsem Singh directed this, his first movie since The Cell (2000). He has also done commercials and REM's Losing My Religion video. So he really knows how to create interesting visuals. Unfortunately the movie is boring as hell. Lee Pace plays a stuntman in the 1920s who is in the hospital because he got seriously injured filming a movie. He befriends a young girl named Alexandria. He wants to kill himself, so he asks Alexandria to get him some pills. But he does this by telling her a story. Like The Princess Bride the movie cuts back and forth between the characters in the hospital and the characters in the fantasy story he is telling. Unlike The Princess Bride, the story is boring and makes no sense. This might have made a decent short film but its 2 hours. Did I mention that it's boring?

The Forbidden Kingdom - 1 1/2 stars

From Rob Minkoff, director of The Haunted mansion comes the first collaboration between Jet Li and Jackie Chan. So it should be good, right? Wrong. The story is pretty simple. Jason (Michael Angarano) is a teenager in modern day America. He is bullied, he finds a magic staff in a Chinese pawn shop (the kind of place where Gizmo came from), the staff transports him back to ancient China. Luckily, everyone there speaks English. He meets the drunken kung fu master (Jackie Chan), a silent monk (Jet Li), and a hot kung fu chick named Golden Sparrow (Crystal Liu Yi Fei). Their quest is to return the staff to its rightful owner.

One problem with the movie is the fight editing. When Jackie Chan and Jet Li fight, you can't tell what is going on because no shot lasts more than a split second. I'm so tired of this kind of editing. They have both been doing movie fight scenes for so long that they could have done a cool looking fight with no cuts. Give me a master shot and don't cut away so I can actually SEE the fight.

Another problem is Michael Angarano. He has no charisma and is a terrible actor. You might have seen him as Will Stronghold in Sky High. He hasn't gotten any better.

This movie isn't very good. I wouldn't even rent it.