Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Spirit - 1/2 star

The Spirit is pretty lame. Frank Miller co-directed Sin City, but I'm pretty sure that Robert Rodriguez really directed it, and Frank Miller just gave opinions. But he let that co-directed by credit make him think he could direct a movie himself. Well, he can't. The Spirit looks good, and that's about the only good thing I can say about it.

Gabriel Macht (as The Spirit) gives the most bland performance since Paul Walker. Samuel L. Jackson tries to pick up the slack and he ends up chewing the scenery like Mr. Creosote. At least he was fun to watch, but it was pretty bad. Stay away from The Spirit.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Bedtime Stories - 0 stars

Happy Madison productions has turned out some crap before, but now they have teamed up with Disney to produce one of the worst examples of family entertainment I have seen this year. The movie is so unfunny it makes Four Christmases look like A Fish Called Wanda. I think I laughed exactly twice: once when Russell Brand wakes up screaming from night terrors, and once when I heard Sandler's ringtone. Its a stupid, annoying ringtone, but it made me laugh. The rest of the movie, not so much.

Sandler plays Skeeter Bronson, the handyman at a large hotel. Apparently he is the only one on staff, even though it looks like a 4 star hotel. He babysits his niece and nephew when their mother goes out of town, and he tells them bedtime stories every night before they go to sleep. As he tells the stories, the kids supply the endings, and the parts the kids make up tend to come true the next day. When the kid says "it starts raining gumdrops", the next day a truck full of gumdrops crashes on the overpass above him. When the kid says "the hero gets kicked by a dwarf", the next day a member of an angry gang of dwarfs walks over and kicks him.

This could have been funny, but Adam Shankman has no idea how to make a funny movie. As I researched this movie (meaning I read, I see the movie was written by Matt Lopez and Tim Herlihy. Tim Herlihy is responsible for many of Adam Sandler's movies, and Matt Lopez is credited with "additional story material" on The Wild. To my horror, I just discovered that Matt Lopez is one of the writers on Race to Witch Mountain. I was already dreading that remake.

One big problem with Bedtime Stories for me was the guinea pig with the big eyes. It never made me laugh, but they kept cutting to it. Its as if they realized that the movie was crap, and they figured that kids would laugh every time they cut to the guinea pig. Filmmaking for kids has never been so lazy.

Frost / Nixon - 3 1/2 stars

Of all the movies that opened on Christmas day, this has my favorite performance. Frank Langella as Richard Nixon. Incredible. I enjoyed every scene he was in. This may be my favorite presidential portrayal ever (my previous favorite was Bruce Greenwood in 13 Days). Michael Sheen is also good as David Frost.

In 1978 David Frost arranges an interview with Richard Nixon. This will be Nixon's first television interview since resigning the presidency. Nixon thinks Frost will be a pushover, and he is hoping to win back some support and respect so he can return to D.C. and get back into politics.

In a way, this movie is like a good courtroom drama. I'm remembering A Few Good Men, when Tom Cruise is taking on Jack Nicholson at the end. Nicholson is winning and has Cruise beaten until Cruise gets fired up and starts cornering Nicholson. In Frost / Nixon, Nixon has been winning the 'battle' of the interviews. When Frost asks him a difficult question, such as Nixon's choice to invade Cambodia, Nixon is able to answer in such a way that the people in the room who didn't vote for Nixon say they would vote for him now if given the chance.

Its no spoiler to say that by the end, Frost turns the tables and is able to corner Nixon. Nixon comes as close to an apology as he ever did. Its pretty exciting watching the progression from Frost getting his ass kicked by Tricky Dick to Frost hammering away at Nixon, leaving Nixon almost in tears. I really enjoyed this movie.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Seven Pounds - 1 star

Seven Pounds wants to be a movie like The Sixth Sense. You know, a movie with a shocking twist. Remember how pissed off you would have been if someone had spoiled The Sixth Sense before you saw it? Well, this ain't that.

The first hour of the movie is boring as hell. Characters pop up out of nowhere and then disappear. We meet Ben Thomas as he is calling 911. He is reporting a suicide: his own. The rest of the movie is told in flashback. Why is he going to kill himself? Does he succeed? We see him talking to a blind phone operator and he lays into the guy for five minutes. "You're blind? How pathetic. I'll bet you're a virgin, too." So we hate Ben Thomas for being such an asshole.

But then we see him trying to help people. He visits a retirement home administrator and when he finds out the administrator is punishing the elderly, Ben almost kicks the guy's ass. He says you better treat these people better. Bet is an IRS agent and he tells people he is going to audit them, but we suspect that he is trying to help them. Why is he doing these good deeds? Is it possible he is going to kill himself for some past transgression, but before he does he wants to do some good deeds to redeem himself?

The movie does become watchable once it focuses on Rosario Dawson. She plays Emily Posa, a woman with a weak heart. She needs a transplant but because of her rare blood type, chances are she won't find a donor before her heart goes out. Ben starts to help her by doing yard work, taking her dog for a walk, and even staying on the phone with her all night when she is in the hospital. Before long, a romance develops. The romance is done so well, and they have such great chemistry together, that I wish the entire movie had been about the two of them.

The movie keeps you guessing until the very end when it ties everything together with a sad little bow (although you will probably guess where the movie is going much earlier). I advise you to save your money. I know some people will want to stay away, but because a mystery is so tempting, they will spend their money just to know what its about. So as a service, I am going to spoil the ending in the comments section. Read it if you want to know the secret of the movie. If you really want to remain spoiler-free, and you decide to see the movie anyway, you have my pity.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire - 3 stars

This is a good movie, but I don't think it lives up to all the hype. By hype I mean the 4-star reviews and the National Board of Review awarding it best movie.

Jamal (Dev Patel) is one question away from the top prize on the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire when they break for the day. Immediately Jamal is arrested and interrogated by the police. They don't believe he could possibly know the answers to all the questions he has answered, and they want to know how he is cheating. See, Jamal is a slumdog, an orphan from the slums of Mumbai.

As he tells the police how he knew the answers to the questions, we see his life story in flashbacks. His mother was killed when he was very young. He and his brother lived for a while in a garbage dump until they were rescued by a man who seems to run an orphanage. This guy, lets just call him Fagin, uses his orphans to make money for him by begging. In the most horrific scene in this movie, we find out how much he is willing to harm these kids in order to make money.

This movie is a fairy tale. You have to believe an awful lot. The coincidences that he learned the answers to all these questions throughout his life. The idea that Latika, the love of his life, would end up so sweet and pure despite a life of begging, prostitution (most likely) and crime. The improbability that he would end up on the gameshow in the first place. But if you can get past those and just enjoy the story, you will enjoy one of the most original movies of the year.

Nothing Like the Holidays - 3 stars

This is the story of a Puerto Rican family getting together for Christmas. They have 3 kids: Jesse (Freddy Rodriguez), Roxanna (Vanessa Ferlito) and Mauricio (John Leguizamo). Jesse is just home from Iraq and his father Edy (Alfred Molina) wants him to take over the family business - a small neighborhood grocery store. Roxanna is an actress trying to make it in Hollywood, and she is constantly hoping her agent will call with good news about a TV show. Mauricio has a successful wife (Debra Messing) who is not Puerto Rican, and is not sure she wants kids. There's a twist - usually its the guy that doesn't want kids. Mauricio's mother Anna (Elizabeth Pena) doesn't like his wife, and is constantly asking when she is going to get grandkids.

Edy and Anna don't seem to have a happy marriage. Anna thinks Edy has been unfaithful to her, and at dinner she announces that she is going to divorce Edy. This is just one of many plot points in this story.

The hilarious Luis Guzman shows up to steal every scene he is in. He is a cousin and he owns an electronics store. Jay Hernandez also shows up as a family friend who likes Roxanna and has a history of gang violence.

The movie really takes its time. There is a great scene where the three siblings gather in the attic and reminisce. Anyone who grew up with brothers and sisters can probably relate. The actors have great chemistry together, and its nice to just watch them act like a family.

I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys watching good actors portray interesting characters. But the movie does move slowly - maybe too slowly for some.

The Day the Earth Stood Still - 2 1/2 stars

This is not a terrible movie, just a very forgettable one. It could have been so much better.

The movie wastes no time introducing characters. We meet Jennifer Connelly’s character Helen while she is teaching some kind of advanced chemistry / astronomy class. Ok, she’s a smart scientist. Check. Then we meet her step son Jacob (Jaden Smith). We quickly learn that his dad is gone, and she is not his mother. Check.

Before any time is wasted on actual character development, the feds show up and tell her she needs to come with them. As federal agents often do in movies, they refuse to tell her why she is coming with them. She isn’t sure if she is under arrest or if they need her help. We quickly find out that there is an object on an intercept course with Earth. Better call Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck!

The object turns out to be a spaceship which lands in central park. The alien that emerges is Keanu Reeves (whoa!) who says that he is here to save the Earth. But if you’ve seen the trailers, you know that doesn’t mean what Helen thinks it means.

Except for the fact that the characters are two-dimensional, I enjoyed the first two acts of the movie. Once the alien arrives, the movie takes its time and there are some interesting moments between Reeves and Connelly. I got a little tired of Jacob reminding Helen that she wasn’t his real mother and acting like a brat, but Smith is a decent young actor. Kathy Bates was fine as the obligatory representative of the President who never listens to the scientists.

I was disappointed with how little John Cleese was used. I saw his name in the opening credits, then I forget he was in it. About an hour in, he shows up. I got excited. He has 3 or 4 lines, then he is gone. Poof. No more John Cleese. You don’t put the great John Cleese in a movie for only 5 minutes. James Hong also shows up for about 5 minutes. His character is very interesting but they do nothing with him.

The biggest letdown was the ending. We know that the Earth is not going to be destroyed because this is a big budget 20th Century Fox movie. So there is no surprise when Klaatu stops Gort. I can’t complain about that. But it just ends too abruptly. No discussion about how close we came to the end of the world. No warning about taking better care of the Earth. Nothing but a special effect to end the movie.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Four Christmases - 1/2 star

This movie sucks. It isn't just unfunny, it actually made me mad how bad this movie is.

Vince Vaughn is usually good. Even though I didn't like Fred Claus very much, Vince Vaughn made me laugh. Not in Four Chrismases. I don't think he made me laugh once. He just annoyed me. And Reese Witherspoon is not funny at all. She has never been funny. Legally Blonde might have been funny (I can't remember for sure), but if it was funny, it was the writing and the people around her. But she is not funny.

One big problem with the movie is that they have no chemistry together. Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth had more chemistry in Superman Returns than they do here. In order for a movie like this to work, you have to want the leads to end up together. There is a point in the movie (as formula dictates) where they have a fight and they separate for 10 minutes or so. I was hoping they wouldn't get back together. I was thinking "yes, you're not right for each other. Move on."

Another problem I had was that this is a bad idea for a movie. Four sets of in-laws in one movie (well, technically not in-laws, because they aren't married, but same difference). One reason Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers worked so well is you had a whole movie to establish the parents' characters and get to like them. But four different parents? I don't see how you could make that work. Not as a serious romantic comedy.

Here's another problem: they've been dating for a few years, and their parents live within an hour's drive from each other, yet they've never met each other's parents? I can believe that they never spend Christmas with them, but in 3 years, never a dinner? Kate's sister (Kristin Chenoweth) has a baby. When her baby was born, Kate and Brad didn't even go see the baby? Maybe they live out of state and just flew back for Christmas, but this is never mentioned. This could have been fixed so easily. If it was written so they had only been dating for 3 - 6 months, it would make sense that both Kate and Brad have been hesitant about introducing their significant other to their parents.

The only person that made me laugh was Jon Favreau. The half a star in my review is just for him. Actually, that's not fair. Sissy Spacek made me laugh too. The scene where they play Taboo is the only time during this movie I didn't want to open a vain.

12/2 - out on DVD

Nothing really good came out on DVD this week. Seriously.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

I liked the first movie better, but that's not saying much. Unless you're a big fan of the books (which I am not), it is completely forgettable. The only interesting thing about the movie is that it got a PG rating. It should have been rated PG-13, but behold, the power of Disney ...


My biggest problem with this movie is it should have been fun. The trailers looked cool. Especially the unrated trailer with that scene where McAvoy hits the guy with his keyboard and keys and teeth fly into the air spelling out "F*** You". But the movie took itself way too seriously and I have no desire to see it ever again.

Step Brothers

I hated this movie. It was not funny at all. Skip it. Its worse than Semi-Pro.

The X-Files: I Want to Believe

I didn't hate this as much, but I was pretty bored. I was never a huge X-Files fan, but I've liked the episodes I've seen, and I liked the first X-Files movie. This one would have made for a boring episode, and it makes a really boring movie. If I was a fan, I would be pissed that this was the best they could come up with after all this time.