Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday, 12/18/09

Avatar - 3 stars

This is Ferngully mixed with Dances With Wolves. I really wish there was more to the story. There really aren't any big surprises. The effects were incredible. I was able to believe in this world. It didn't look like actors just acting in front of a green screen. The action scenes were great. The big battle at the end is exciting. But the unoriginality of the story coupled with the blandness of Sam Worthington just disappointed me a lot. I still recommend the movie, but just because of the visual aspect.

Did You Hear About the Morgans? - 2 stars

Avatar is not the only unoriginal movie out today. This is a typical fish out of water story. A couple from NYC hide out in Ray, Wyoming. They've never shopped in a Bargain Barn. They are vegetarians and apparently have never had a breakfast that wasn't a bagel and grapefruit. To blend in, they wear cowboy hats and go to a rodeo.

Hugh Grant used to be funny, but everything he does in this movie just feels tired. The one bright spot in the movie is Wilford Brimley. It's nice to see him in a movie again.

Up in the Air - 4 stars

One of the best movies of the year. George Clooney is great as usual, but the real standout performance is by Anna Kendrick. She is really good in this movie.

Ryan Bingham (Clooney) works as a guy who fired people for a living. When a boss is too chicken to fire his employees himself, he hires Bingham's company to come in and do the dirty work for him. Ryan spends so much time traveling that he is uncomfortable in his apartment. He would rather be on the road. There are some funny montages showing him packing, arriving at the airport, and going thru security. He travels so much that he always knows which security line is the best one. He has airport travel down to a science.

The movie is really about Ryan and his relationships, one with a woman (Vera Farmiga) he meets in an airport, and the other is with his sisters. They hardly know him because he is not a part of their lives. His sister is getting married and all she wants him to do is get a picture of a cardboard cutout in front of a hotel in Vegas, and he isn't sure he will get around to it.

A big part of the movie focuses on the firings. Director Jason Reitman edits footage of actual people who have lost their jobs into the movie. These people talk right into the camera about how they felt when they were fired, and it's heartbreaking. But as depressing as it is, the movie is still uplifting. One of the best movies of the year.

Antichrist - 2 stars

This is a tough one to watch. A husband and wife are busy having sex in the shower and not watching their young son, who falls out the window to his death. In order to help his wife get over her grief, the husband - a therapist - takes her to their cabin in the woods for some therapy. What follows is both husband and wife torturing each other, first verbally, then physically. Don't see this movie if genital mutilation freaks you out. Well, it should freak you out, but don't go if you can't handle it.

The Road - 3 1/2 stars

There have been a lot of movies set in a post-apocalyptic future. Usually they are action or sci-fi movies. This is the first one I can remember that felt totally believable. It really makes you feel what it would be like if civilization came to an end. There is very little food and you can't trust anybody, because there are a lot of cannibals around. Viggo Mortensen and his son are just trying to survive in this world. There is a scene of Mortensen showing his son how to shoot himself, just in case. This is a powerful movie.

Me and Orson Welles - 4 stars

Another great movie. Zac Effron is a kid in the 1930s who one day stumbles across the Mercury Theater group, led by Orson Welles. He gets a role in their production of Julius Caesar and learns a lot about life and betrayal. The reason to see this movie is Christian McKay. Orson Welles was a fascinating man, and McKay gives one of the best performances of the year as Welles. Every moment he is on screen is electric. Even though you hate Welles at times, you want to see more of him. I have never been in a play, but I have been involved in stage productions as a musician. So I can relate to the work that goes into a big show. Watching them rehearse and make changes to the show, all leading up to the big opening night, was exciting. It is one of the best movies about the theater I have ever seen.

Utah Film Critics Association announces 2009 awards winners

Up in the Air was recognized with two awards at the annual meeting of the Utah Film Critics Association, including Best Picture of 2009. The film’s director, Jason Reitman, also won for Best Achievement in Directing.

In the Male Lead Performance category, Viggo Mortensen was recognized for his work in The Road as a father leading his young son through a post-apocalyptic America. Carey Mulligan took Female Lead Performance honors as a teenager involved with an older man in An Education.

Two awards went to Fantastic Mr. Fox: Best Animated Feature, and Best Screenplay for Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach. Supporting Performance awards went to Mo’Nique as an abusive single mother in Precious, and Christian McKay as Orson Welles in Me and Orson Welles.

In the documentary category, The Cove was recognized, while Park Chan-wook’s Korean vampire thriller Thirst was honored in the non-English language category.

The Utah Film Critics Association is made up of film journalists from print, online and broadcast media based in the state of Utah. Members include: Luke Hickman,; Jimmy Martin, SLUG Magazine; Sean P. Means, Salt Lake Tribune; Andy Morgan, Logan Herald-Journal; Ryan Michael Painter, In Utah This Week; Scott Renshaw, Salt Lake City Weekly; Steve Salles, Standard-Examiner (Ogden); Mike Thiriot, KTHB 94.9 FM; Missy Thompson, Tooele Transcript-Bulletin; Tony Toscano, Talking Pictures; Jeff Vice, Deseret Morning News; and Doug Wright, KSL Movie Show.

The complete list of winners and runners-up follows:

2009 Utah Film Critics Association Winners

Best Picture

Up in the Air

(runners-up: The Hurt Locker; Inglourious Basterds)

Best Achievement in Directing

Jason Reitman, Up in the Air

(runner-up: John Hillcoat, The Road)

Best Male Lead Performance

Viggo Mortensen, The Road

(runner-up: Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker)

Best Female Lead Performance

Carey Mulligan, An Education

(runner-up: Maya Rudolph, Away We Go)

Best Male Supporting Performance

Christian McKay, Me and Orson Welles

(runner-up: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds)

Best Supporting Performance by an Actress

Mo’Nique, Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire

(runner-up: Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air)

Best Screenplay

Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach, Fantastic Mr. Fox

(runners-up: Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, (500) Days of Summer; Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds)

Best Animated Feature

Fantastic Mr. Fox

(runner-up: Up)

Best Documentary Feature

The Cove

(runner-up: Anvil! The Story of Anvil)

Best Non-English Language Feature


(runner-up: Sin Nombre)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Wednesday, 11/25/09

Old Dogs - 0 stars

This is it. This is the worst movie of the year. I didn't think anything could be dumber than Race to Witch Mountain, but this beats it by a mile. No one behaves like a rational human being. Every decision or line feels forced. No one would act like these characters.

The movie is predictable. Every joke is telegraphed 10 minutes in advance. All the comedy is sucked out of the scene before you realize that you were supposed to laugh here.

Possibly the worst scene is where Robin Williams wears a suit that is controlled by John Travolta in another room. This way, Travolta can control the suit so Williams can have a tea party with his daughter. Even though Travolta has no kids, for some reason that is never explained he knows how to behave around kids and Williams does not. This scene is just stupid.

Or how about the end where Williams shows up for his kids' birthday party? Even though we are never told what their mom does for a living, apparently she makes enough money to close the zoo down at 3 pm so they can have a private party. And you will never guess who she hires to be the big surprise at the party. See, earlier the girl said she thought her dad was a super hero. So she is into super heroes, like many kids. But her mom hires a guy to fly in on a jet pack. I shit you not. A jet pack, like the one Sean Connery rode in Thunderball. Well, because Williams is in the dog house at this point and isn't expected at the party, he pays the guy to let him ride the jet pack. Of course, he doesn't really know how to operate it. So guess what happens? Yeah, he crashes into the lake. You would think that having a hundred pound steel jet pack on your back would make it hard to swim and you would sink like a stone. Well, he survives.

This is a movie for stupid people. Please do not go see it.

Fantastic Mr. Fox - 3 1/2 stars

This is my favorite animated movie of the year. It is also one of the funniest movies of the year. Based on the book by Roald Dahl it tells the story of Mr. Fox who used to hunt chickens with his wife, Mrs. Fox. He promises her that he will stop when she has their son, and he does. But because he is fox and hunting chickens is his nature, he can't stop. He begins hunting again while she is sleeping.

The focus of the movie is Mr. Fox's war on 3 local farmers. It kind of reminded me of Danny, the Champion of the World (also by Dahl), which focuses on poaching pheasants. This movie is stop motion animation and it is hilarious. I think young kids will enjoy it as well as their parents and grandparents.

Ninja Assassin - 2 1/2 stars

This one is right in the middle. It has some cool ninja action, and buckets of blood. Limbs go flying everywhere, heads are chopped off and bodies are cut in half. The plot is nothing more than ninja assassins are killing people, and the government is trying to stop them. The plot keeps getting interrupted so we can see one ninja's backstory. We get 5 minutes of story, the camera zooms in on his face, and we see his training as a kid. We return to the story for 5 minutes, then more backstory of the girl he loved as a teenager.

The movie doesn't suck, but it isn't that good. Not a bad diversion if you like ninja action, but it is very forgettable.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Friday, 11/20/09

The Twilight Saga: New Moon - 1 1/2 stars

The first half hour or so is absolute torture to sit thru. Boring as hell. The movie starts off pretty much where the last one left off. Bella and Edward are in love. He and his family want to kill and eat her, but they don't because they are good vampires. Well, at her birthday party she gets a paper cut. Edward's brother is so overwhelmed by the smell of her blood that he charges at her with murder in his eyes. Edward saves her but she suffers some minor injuries.

Now, I think we went over this in the last movie, but my memory is fuzzy when it comes to the first Twilight movie. Didn't Bella and Edward go thru the whole idea about how hard it is for a vampire to resist eating a human and all that stuff? Well, Edward decides that Bella is in danger if she hangs out with his family, so he blows her off. But Edward is an idiot because he forgot about Laurent and Victoria. They were the bad vampires in the last movie, and he doesn't even consider the idea that they may want to get Bella as revenge for Edward killing Victoria's mate.

All the scenes of Bella and Edward together are horrible. They speak so slowly that I almost fell asleep. Please, someone get excited for a moment, will ya?

With Edward gone, Jacob enters the movie. Here, it gets, well, not good but less horrible. The Bella and Jacob story has promise. He wants her, she sees him as a friend, she is lonely without Edward and starts considering hooking up with Jacob. I really started to pull for Jacob and I genuinely felt bad for him when things start to go bad.

Even though months pass, Bella doesn't get over Edward. The scenes where she wakes up screaming are a bit over the top. I get that she is depressed he left her, but seriously, get over it. And the way they keep Robert Pattinson in the movie is pretty lame. When she is in danger, she sees a vision of Edward telling her to go back, stop what you're doing, stuff like that. It doesn't work.

Towards the end the movie does get good for 10 minutes or so. They go to Italy to see the Volturi, the ruling family of vampires. The head of the Volturi is played by Michael Sheen, and he manages to make the movie watchable. Unfortunately they go back to Forks, Washington and there is more boringness with Edward and Jacob fighting over Bella.

Precious - Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire - 2 stars

Precious is a teenage black girl living in the projects in New York. She is functionally illiterate, at least 100 pounds overweight, has one kid and is pregnant with her second. Both pregnancies were the result of being raped by her father. Oh, and her mother is so sadistic she makes Mommy Dearest look like a saint. Her mom blames Precious for the rapes, because she 'stole' her mother's boyfriend. Do you fell depressed yet?

This movie is one of the most depressing movies I have ever seen. There are some good things that happen to Precious. She goes to an alternative school where she has a great teacher, she makes friends, starts to learn, and gradually comes out of her shell. She also has a social worker who tries to help her get her life on track. But by the end of the movie, I felt really let down. I was expecting her life to improve more than it did. Just because she gets away from her mother doesn't change the fact that she has two little children to raise by herself, and she is definitely not qualified to raise them. She also has a disease that is mentioned once in the movie and that's it. They don't bring it up again, but as the movie ends I couldn't stop thinking about what kind of a future Precious was going to have.

Mo'Nique does a great job playing the crazy mother. She may get an Oscar nomination for this role and it will be well deserved. Her performance is probably the only reason I would recommend this movie. Not saying I recommend it, but she does a great job.

An Education - 4 stars

This is one of the best movies of the year, and the reason is Carey Mulligan. She is also likely to be nominated for an Oscar.

She plays Jenny, a schoolgirl in 1960s England. She is planning to go to Oxford but she is bored with her suburban existence. One day she meets an older man named David (Peter Sarsgaard). He introduces her to music, movies, culture, all the stuff she craves. He takes her to museums, jazz clubs, and eventually to Paris. Her father doesn't approve of much, but he does approve of David. Even though David is older, he charms Jenny's father to the point where he gives his permission for David to take Jenny to Paris, believing that they will stay in separate rooms.

The story is simple, but the performances make it great. Carey Mulligan is exciting to watch. The dialogue is interesting and the movie is everything that New Moon is not.

Five Minutes of Heaven - 3 stars

The first act of the movie is great. It is about a killing in northern Ireland in 1975. 17 year-old Alistair Little murdered 19 year-old Jim Griffin in cold blood, and Jim's 11 year-old brother Joe witnesses the killing. In this section they do a great job of recreating what I assume a small town in Ireland looked like in the 70s. I wish there was more to this part of the movie.

The rest of the movie is set in modern times. Alistair (Liam Neeson) is going to meet Joe (James Nesbitt) as part of a TV documentary. This TV documentary is all about understanding the troubles in Ireland at the time, and about healing. It's kind of like South Africa's truth and reconciliation. Alistair is very calm as the meeting approaches but Joe is going out of his mind. His mother blamed him for the death of his brother and he seems very nervous about meeting Alistair.

The idea of these two meeting for the first time is interesting. It seems like the TV documentary would be the ultimate reality show. "30 years ago, Alistair killed Joe's older brother right in front of his eyes. Now, they two will meet for the first time."

The problem with the movie is the ending. It is kind of a letdown. It works and makes sense, but it feels disappointing given all the buildup. The performances were good, and it was nice to hear Liam Neeson speak with Irish accent for a change.

The Blind Side - 3 stars

I liked this a lot more than I expected to. I'm not a football fan, and even though the movie is about a future NFL player, the football was kept to a minimum. The focus was on the characters and the football scenes were done so well that I almost enjoyed them. This is definitely the best movie Sandra Bullock has done in a long time.

Planet 51 - didn't see

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pirate Radio - 3 stars

I had a few problems with Pirate Radio (the British title is The Boat That Rocked). For one thing, the character Kenneth Branagh plays is too over the top. I mean the way the character is written, not the way Branagh plays him. Obviously he is supposed to be the bad guy, and the British government did try to shut down the stations. But they made him so cartoonishly evil that I didn't buy it. Lines like "that's the beauty of being the government. If you don't like something, you simply make it illegal. Like that terrible haircut." Or the scene where he tells his assistant that if he doesn't find an excuse to shut them down, he will fire the guy and he will never work again. The could have tried to make him a little more believable. And the almost Hitler like mustache is the capper.

Another thing is the plot. The story is about this pirate radio station and how the government is trying to shut them down. Well, we never really feel like the station is in danger of getting shut down until the end. At one point, the government decides to make it illegal for British businesses to pay for advertising on the station. How do they get around that? By hiring the most popular DJ in England. That would help their ratings (which are already thru the roof), but how does that get around the legality of advertising? It's never really explained.

Most of the movie is just a day in the life kind of stuff. We follow the new guy who is a virgin and wants to know who his dad is. We see the egos of The Count (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) match up against the great Gavin (Rhys Ifans), culminating in an exciting game of chicken. We see one guy get married on the ship and that marriage ends badly. But there is never any real sense of danger until the end.

Also, for some reason there is a rule on the boat that it is guys only (except for the cook, who is a lesbian). Every other Saturday they are allowed to have girls come over for a day or so. Unless a DJ gets married, then his wife is allowed to live on the boat. Why do they have this rule? It is never explained.

I am still recommending the movie. The performances are good and there are a lot of laughs. The running time is just fine and I was never bored.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

New Moon interview

A couple of pictures from my interview today with Edi Gathegi and Jamie Campbell Bower from New Moon:

A transcription of our interview will be up shortly.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday, 11/13

New movies opening today in SLC:

2012 - 3 stars

The latest disaster epic from Roland Emmerich. At least, that's what everybody else is saying. But if you think about it, it's only the second end of the world disaster epic he has directed. Think about it. The Day After Tomorrow is also about the end of the world and has a lot of stuff getting destroyed. But what else has he done? Independance Day? Sure, a lot of shit blows up, but the movie is more about the alien invasion and about how we fight back. Godzilla is just a monster movie. Godzilla wrecks part of New York but that's about it. So everybody just calm down about how many end of the world movies Emmerich has made.

This movie is a little better than The Core but not as good as Armageddon or Deep Impact. In 2012, scientists discover that the sun is sending nutrinos towards Earth. And for some reason, the nutrinos are causing the Earth's core to boil. This will eventually kill us all. That's the setup.

Our main character is the novelist Jackson Curtis (John Cusack). Curtis is divorced and when the movie begins, we see him picking his kids up to take them on vacation (I think Emmerich was a fan of War of the Worlds). Curtis's wife has a new boyfriend and his son likes the boyfriend more than his dad. This is Emmerich putting some character moments into the movie, and giving the actors some stuff to play. Any time there is a lull in the action, Cusack gets to talk to his kids about hurting his feelings, or talk to his wife about getting back together, or whatever.

When the shit hits the fan, the movie gets really fun. Unlike a director like Michael Bay, you can actually tell what is going on. When buildings are falling over and Cusack is driving around (or through) them, it is exciting. It's almost like being in one of those simulators that simulate a roller coaster or a futuristic space flight. There are quite a few scenes of cracks appearing in the ground and the characters have to outrun the cracks or fall into whatever lies beneath those cracks (I think it's magma, but sometimes it just looks like they fall into nothingness).

There are some funny parts in the movie, which is good. Every movie needs bits of humor. The ending disappointed me though. I won't give it away, but the only thing we don't know going in is how it will end. Will the Earth be destroyed like in Knowing, will we figure out a way to stop it, will just a handful of people survive, or does the crisis just kind of pass? I felt let down.

Oh, and John Cusack can apparently hold his breath for 5 minutes.

The Yes Men Fix the World - 3 1/2 stars

What if big corporations suddenly announed that they had screwed over people in third world countries, or poisoned the environment, and they were prepared to pay billions in reparations? Too good to be true. Well, of course it is. Corporations will never do anything that will lower their stock value.

In this movie, a couple of genius pranksters impersonate corporate spokesmen and say exactly that. They say they are from Dow Chemical, go on the BBC, and say they are prepared to pay billions to the victims of the 1984 Bhopal disaster. After Hurricane Katrina, they impersonate HUD officials and announce that they are re-opening low income housing that had recently been closed. They do a couple other cool things.

These guys are geniuses, and it's a lot of fun watching their pranks unfold. Dow Chemical loses billions while their stock plummets. When the guys are found out, they are perfectly willing to go on news shows and say "Yes, it was a hoax." The reactions of the news organizations that have been duped are great.

Pirate Radio - didn't see
... but I hear it's great, and I plan to see it this weekend.

Play the Game - didn't see
... and I don't plan to. I hear it's horrible, and I have no desire to see Andy Griffith's O-face. Oh, hell no!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A couple more reviews

This Is It - 2 1/2 stars

This is really a hard movie to review, because it isn't really a movie. I have a lot of concert DVDs. Some of them have really good behind the scenes making-of documentaries. That is basically what this is. If Michael Jackson had lived, the concerts had gone on as planned, and a DVD of the concert had been released, this would have been a decent bonus feature.

Since the concerts never happened, this is what we get. There is some interesting stuff shot during rehearsals. As a musician myself, I enjoyed the times where the performance stopped so they could work on something. A lot of planning had to go into the show. There were pyrotechnics, a crane to lift MJ over the crowd while he sang, and video to go along with some of the songs. One of my favorite touches was the way the backup dancers would spring out of the floor, jump high into the air and land ready to dance.

Since there was no show, we also get to see some complete song performances, so that's the closest we will ever get to see of what was planned. I think I don't know as many Michael Jackson songs as I thought I did, because it was 30 minutes in before I heard a song I recognized.

I hope when they release this on DVD they will give us the entire show that was planned. I assume that at some point there was a complete dress rehearsal. There won't be an audience, but we can still see every song that was on the set list performed completely. I could be wrong, but if there was that dress rehearsal, it would be nice to see it. Maybe there would be more songs I know.

The Box - 1 1/2 stars

Here is a box. If you press this button, two things will happen: one, someone, somewhere, who you don't know, will die. Two, you will receive one million dollars. Tax free.

This is a good setup for a short story. It appeared in Playboy in 1970 and it was adapted into an episode of The Twilight Zone in the 80s. If you want to know how those stories end, look it up on wikipedia.

In this movie, Richard Kelly has taken this story (which accounts for about 15 minutes of screen time) and added an hour and 45 minutes of other stuff. He uses the story as a starting point for a strange sci-fi story that doesn't make any sense at the end.

I liked that the movie was not predictable. In fact I would call it the least predictable movie I have ever seen. It gets stranger and stranger and you can't predict how it gets from A to Z. But I didn't like the way the story isn't tied together very well at the end. I can't recommend it, but it is interesting.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Out in SLC Theaters Today

Gentlemen Broncos - 2 stars

This is probably the dumbest movie I have ever seen, but I laughed a lot. I remember the first time I saw Napoleon Dynamite, I hated it. I think I laughed once. But over the years, it has grown on me. Now whenever I come across it on HBO, I watch it for a while. So who knows. Maybe Gentlemen Broncos will grow on me. But I doubt it.

One problem is the lead actor: Michael Angarano. I hated him in Sky High, I hated him in Forbidden Kingdom, and I hated him in this. He is a very boring actor. Another problem was too many gross-out gags (vomit and shit).

As ridiculous as Napoleon Dynamite was, it was believable. But in this movie, Benjamin (Angarano) writes a science fiction story so bad that a retarded 5th grader could have written a better story. This movie wants us to believe that everyone from his friends to a famous and successful novelist (played by Jemaine Clement from Flight of the Conchords) think it's brilliant.

I did laugh, so some of the jokes worked. But I just can't respect this movie.

A Christmas Carol - 2 1/2 stars

Why do we need another version of A Christmas Carol? And why is Robert Zemeckis so in love with computer animation? Please go back to making live-action movies again, Zemeckis.

On the one hand, the movie is very faithful to the original novel. The dialogue is taken directly from the novel and isn't dumbed down at all. But then there are scenes where Scrooge rides a rocket into the atmosphere or shrinks to the size of a mouse and is chased thru pipes. Just because you can do things in an animated movie that you can't in a live action movie doesn't mean you should.

It doesn't suck, but it is kind of boring.

The Men Who Stare at Goats - 2 1/2 stars

Another disappointing movie. All the best parts are in the trailer. The movie ultimately doesn't amount to anything. And people need to stop saying that Jeff Bridges is in "Lebowski mode". If you think that his performance in this is anything like his Lebowski performance, you need to go back and re-watch The Big Lebowski. Just because he is playing a hippie ...

The Fourth Kind - 3 stars

This is a tough one. On the one hand, it scared the crap out of me. Putting the actual footage and the recreated footage side by side is an interesting and original idea. But on the other hand, once I learned that it's not based on a true story at all, I felt ripped off. The movie shouldn't say that it's based on a real case and that we're watching actual footage if it's all a lie. Or maybe it should. I don't know. It made for a better experience when I was watching the movie.

Ong Bok 2 - didn't see
Motherhood - didn't see
The Box - didn't see
Coco Before Chanel - didn't see

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Friday, 10/23

New movies opening today:

Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant - 2 1/2 stars

This didn't totally suck (ha!), but it wasn't very good either. These two high school students go to a freak show circus (bearded lady, snake boy, ect.) and they meet a vampire there. The vampire is played by John C. Reilly. The vampire has a big, colorful spider. This is convenient. One of the boys is into spiders, the other is into vampires. The spider-loving kid steals the vampire's spider, which ends up biting his friend. The kid goes back to the vampire to apologize and ask for the antidote. The vampire says ok, I'll give you the antidote if you will become half vampire and be my assistant.

Reilly is a good vampire, but there are also bad vampires. Before the movie ends, there will be a fight between the good guys and bad guys. This movie is based on books aimed at 12-year old boys, and that's the audience for this. It's ripping off a bunch of other fantasy stories. In some parts, it seems like it's trying to make fun of vampire movies. Other times, it takes itself way too seriously. They leave the ending wide open for another movie, and if they never make part 2, I will not be disappointed.

A Serious Man - 2 1/2 stars

I had high hopes for this. I love most everything the Coen Brothers have done. Raising Arizona, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men, those are my favorites. This is better than Intolerable Cruelty, but not by much.

You will recognize a lot of the Coen Brothers' sense of humor. It made me chuckle, but not laugh out loud. Which is ok. Sometimes I prefer the low-key humor. I dug the movie for the first half hour or so. But at some point, I felt like there was no narrative. There is no point to the story. And they didn't use Richard Kind very well. He was given almost nothing to do.

I have heard people say this is one of the Coen Brothers' best movies. I have also heard people say that The Big Lebowski is not funny, so what do they know?

Amelia - 1 1/2 stars

Now this was a missed opportunity. I don't know much about Amelia Earhart except that she was a pilot and disappeared while trying to fly around the world. They could have made a really interesting movie about her life story. Instead they focus on her marriage and, well, that's about it. We get a couple of her historic flights in the movie, but we don't learn much. I would have much rather sat through a documentary about her.

Oh, and this was not a good performance by Hilary Swank. I didn't like the way she said her dialogue and she smiled way too much. There were far too many shots of her and Richard Gere with these big cheesy grins on their faces. Ugh.

Astro Boy - didn't see

Adventures of Power - didn't see

Monday, October 5, 2009

Catching up

Movies that opened in SLC the last couple of Fridays:

Zombieland - 3 1/2 stars

The best comedy about zombies I've seen since Shaun of the Dead. Ok, there aren't that many funny zombie movies. But it was really good. I laughed out loud many times, and I think I even applauded a couple of times.

This has been a great year for funny horror movies. Drag Me To Hell, Jennifer's Body, and now Zombieland.

The Invention of Lying - 2 1/2 stars

I'm surprised this wasn't better. Co-written and co-directed by Ricky Gervais, it should be 10 times better than it is.

It takes place in a world where nobody can lie. They don't even get the concept, because no one ever says anything that isn't true. They don't even have fictional movies. All the movies are documentaries.

Gervais plays Mark Bellison, a writer of boring documentaries. He becomes the first (and only) person to tell a lie in history. Once he discovers this power, he creates god. Apparently religion doesn't exist in this world, so when he says there is a man in the sky and you go to heaven when you die, people are blown away by the idea.

One problem I had is this: just because you can't lie doesn't mean you have to say every single thing that comes to mind. People say the most hurtful things without pausing to consider how the other person will feel. You would think that they would still have a little decency and wouldn't want to hurt people's feeling so often, but no.

Also, even though Mark has been living in this world his whole life, he acts surprised and hurt every time someone says something cruel to him. You would think he would be used to it, but he acts surprised when his secretary tells him she hated every minute of working for him, or his date tells him she is dreading the date. I know why Gervais took this route. It's because you need reaction shots in comedy. Someone says something funny, good. But then you cut to someone's reaction of the funny think, and it's hilarious. I once heard a director say "don't forget your reaction shots." So even though it doesn't make sense for Mark to be surprised, he has to look shocked for the comedy to work.

And it does work. I don't want to give the impression that the movie isn't funny. It is. I laughed a lot during the first half hour or so. But at some point, the movie quits trying to be funny and wants to be serious. Even though I never liked Jennifer Garner's character at all, Mark is in love with her. It's not much of a spoiler to tell you that eventually they end up together. This is that kind of movie. But I didn't want him to end up with her. She isn't a good person, and if he had any self respect, he wouldn't pursue her.

There are some great cameos. My favorite is when Stephen Merchant and Shaun Williamson (Barry from EastEnders) show up. If you don't know who they are, you need to put Extras on your Netflix queue right now!

Anyway, The Invention of Lying is funny enough to see if you like Ricky Gervais, but if you aren't a fan of his, I wouldn't start there. Watch Extras or Ghost Town instead.

Whip It - 3 stars

Ellen Page plays Bliss Cavendar. Bliss is in high school and her mom wants her to be a beauty queen. Bliss doesn't want to be one, but she has no idea what she wants to do, so she goes along with it. One day, she learns about roller derby and she is immediately hooked. She tries out for the team and makes it, but of course she doesn't ask her parents' permission. Instead, she sneaks out for practice and events. By the end of the movie, her parents will have found out about it, she will fight with her best friend, she will have had her first boyfriend, and (spoiler alert) her parents will end up at 'the big game' at the end of the movie. Of course by this point they will be all supportive.

This is yet another version of Girls Just Want To Have Fun / Dirty Dancing. But I don't mind a formula movie if the movie is entertaining enough. Also, they make the characters and their actions believable enough that I didn't see the formula playing out on the screen. Nobody ever says or does something just because it's in the script. I believed all the characters and I was able to relate to them.

This is Drew Barrymore's first effort as a director and she did a great job. She even managed to make the roller derby matches easy to follow. I hope she keeps directing.
Surrogates - 1 star

This really sucked. It's a good idea, especially when we live in an age where people can spend their entire social lives online using avatars. You have no idea whether the person you are chatting with online is a hot 18 year old girl, or a creepy old guy. In Surrogates, we see that is a reality in their world. A hot chick is flirting with a guy at a club, and after she is killed, the police discover her operator is a creepy old fat guy.

But pretty much everyone else in the movie is who they claim to be (except for the main bad guy). Wouldn't more people choose to have surrogates that, I don't know, don't look exactly like them?

The movie is full of bad dialogue and bad acting. The idea is great, but they have no idea what to do with it. Instead of being an interesting science fiction story, it is just a by-the-numbers action movie. And the big 'twist' is obvious from the start.

Big Fan - 2 1/2 stars

I saw this at Sundance earlier this year. It's an interesting character study and there are some great bits of dark humor. But the movie really drags, especially in the second half. I just didn't enjoy it much, and I remember wanting the movie to end an hour in.

The Baader-Meinhoff Complex - 3 stars

This is about a terrorist organization in Germany in the 60s and 70s. It did a good job of showing how the group came together and introducing the main characters. There are some great action sequences. But there were times when the movie felt like it was missing some scenes. The movie was 150 minutes and according to, the TV version is 180 minutes. I would like to see that version. Maybe then it wouldn't feel so choppy.

There is also quite a bit of nudity. I don't know if I have ever seen a movie that opens with a scene at a nude beach. Good times!

It Might Get Loud - 2 stars

I was disappointed with this movie. As a guitarist myself, I was very intrigued to see what would happen when Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White got together to talk, and to jam. Unfortunately, the movie doesn't spend enough time with them. A big portion of the movie is devoted to each guitarist individually. We see them going to the places where they wrote and recorded songs, we see footage of them performing, we learn their life stories. This is not a bad thing, but it's not what I wanted out of the movie. I wish the back stories had been taken care of in the first half hour so the rest of the movie could have been the three together.

I really wanted to learn more about technique. Jimmy Page was a pioneer of hard rock. He was also a session player, so I'd imagine he knows music theory and he can read sheet music. The Edge is not technically proficient, but he is a genius with guitar effects. And Jack White is an anomaly. He would rather play a slightly out of tune guitar from K-Mart than a Strat or Gibson. He is something of a purist.

That stuff, I already knew. I wanted to learn more. We don't get much more. The Edge plays his guitar without effects, then turns the effects on to show how much of his sound is the effects. Great, but how about demonstrating what each effect does? How about having his tech help explain how his rig is hooked up? What is the signal chain from guitar to amp?

One of my favorite parts is when The Edge is showing the other guys how to play a certain song. He shows them a chord and calls it a C. Jimmy Page says something like "are you sure that's a C?" I wanted a lot more of that. I want to know what each guitarist knows that the others don't. I want to see how their very different styles and background would clash and mesh with each other. As someone who knows music theory, and knows what it's like to try to explain it to guitarists who are self taught, I wanted to see Page lose a little patience with the other two.

The pacing was bad. It would cut from Page to Edge to Page to White way too often. Just when we were seeing something interesting, it would suddenly cut to another guy.

This movie should have been so much better. I think I would only recommend it to people who are huge fans of one (or all) of the three. And I wish they had picked different guitarists. How about Steve Vai? Eddie Van Halen? Joe Satriani? Steve Morse?

Capitolism - A Love Story - 3 1/2 stars

As usual, an entertaining Michael Moore documentary. I don't know enough about the subject to know how much he says is true, but I do know there is a problem in this country. The top 1% own like 95% of the wealth. There is no middle class anymore. Only the rich, the poor, and the really poor. Even though this isn't a 4 star movie, I think everyone should see it. People need to get really mad at their elected officials. Somehow we need congress to start working for us again instead of working for corporations.

There are a lot of interesting things this movie points out. Dead Peasant insurance, where a company takes out an insurance policy on employees, and makes the company the beneficiary. I didn't know that Reagan's top advisor was an executive from Merry Lynch. Explains why he was so into trickle down economics.

The opening of the movie is brilliant. It's a history lesson on the fall of the Roman empire. But juxtaposed with the footage of the Romans (not sure what movie the footage is taken from), their senate and the Caesars is footage of American politicians. It's no big surprise that there are parallels between where our country is going and why the Roman empire fell, but it's fascinating to see it depicted that way in the movie.

Moore shows how great everything (supposedly) was in the 50s. Then Reagan came along, and he was basically a spokesman for corporations. Moore argues that American is now a "plutonomy" (plutocracy). We see some amazing footage of FDR proposing a second Bill of Rights. We see a state representative so upset by crooked home loans that she says when the bank forecloses on your home, you should refuse to leave.

There are so many good things in this movie. Everyone should go see it and get angry.

Bright Star - 3 stars

I didn't expect to like this at all. I was pleasantly surprised. Its about the 19th century poet John Keats and his relationship with Fanny Brawne. We know it's going to end badly, since he died at the age of 25.

My favorite parts of the movie were the fights between Fanny and Charles Brown, Keats' best friend and writing partner. Brown doesn't want Keats distracted by a girl, so he is always trying to get her to leave them alone. The dialogue is so well written, it is a pleasure to hear the way they insult each other.

The first half was surprisingly funny, but the second half dragged for me. I still enjoyed it enough to recommend it. The funny thing is, it's PG, and it's directed by Jane Campion. Usually her movies have a bit of full-frontal nudity in them (The Piano, Holy Smoke, In the Cut).

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Informant! - 3 stars

If they ever give out an award for casting, this movie would win in a landslide. This is probably the most interesting cast I have ever seen. As the movie went on, it became part of the fun of the movie to spot another cameo. Here are the people who show up in The Informant!:

Tom Wilson (Biff from Back to the Future)
Scott Bakula (Quantum Leap)
Joel McHale (host of The Soup on E!)
Bob Zany (, bay-bee!)
Clancy Brown (The Shawshank Redemption)
Tony Hale (Arrested Development)
Patton Oswalt (comedian, actor, self-proclaimed geek)
Paul F. Tompkins (comedian, actor)
The Smothers Brothers (you should know who they are ...)
Frank Welker (voice actor, 600 credits including the voice of Megatron)

I didn't mention Matt Damon, cause you know, that's no surprise. But he is good in this, as always. Oh, how is the movie?

Well, I can't remember the last time I saw a movie that started out this badly and ended up so great. I was bored for the first 20 minutes or so. Damon plays Mark Whitacre, an executive at an agricultural business. They are losing money because there is a virus that is killing their lysine production. Whitacre says there is a mole in their company, working for a Japanese competitor, and they want $10 million to stop the virus. They bring the FBI in to investigate, and Whitacre tells him that there is major price fixing going on at their company. Customers world wide are being ripped off because his company regularly meets with competitors to keep the prices going up.

The movie starts to get entertaining here. They ask Whitacre to wear a wire and help videotape the secret meetings. Whitacre must be the dumbest whistle blower in the history of corporate America, because he thinks he will still get to keep his job after all this blows over.

The third act kicks off when Whitacre casually reveals that he may have been doing some illegal activities on his own, and he asks the FBI if "hypothetically, would that be bad?" From this point on, it was non-stop laughs. It was confusing, but that doesn't matter. I still don't quite understand everything he did (one of those scams involving a Nigerian prince), but by the end I was loving it.

If the entire movie had been as good as the last act, I probably would have given it 4 stars. But it started out so slowly I couldn't go over 3. So I recommend it, just remember to be patient and get through the first half hour.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Friday, 9/18/09

Eight movies opening in Salt Lake today, and I have only been able to see 3 of them. It was a busy week, what can I say.

I didn't see Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, The Informant!, Love Happens, Afghan Star, or My One and Only.

Jennifer's Body - 3 stars

This was a lot of fun. Imagine if Sam Raimi was more interested in cool teen speak and pop culture references than the Three Stooges when he made the Evil Dead movies.

For the first 10 minutes, I thought this was going to be a horror movie. Then a club catches fire. Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried are outside having a conversation while people run out of the club screaming and covered in flames. I thought, WTF??? Very surreal. Then the next day at school, J.K. Simmons shows up as a teacher with a hook for a hand. That's when I realized that this was a comedy.

From that point on, I loved it. I laughed a lot. Just like in Juno, Diablo Cody's dialogue is very self aware, trying really hard to be hip, and sometimes makes almost no sense. Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried are very hot in this. My biggest complaint is that there is no nudity. This is the type of movie that should have had some nudity. But I guess neither actress was willing to go there. So we just get a lot of teasing.

Oh, and you will never listen to 867-5309 the same way again.

Lorna's Silence - 2 1/2 stars

Lorna is an Albanian girl living in Belgium. She lives with a guy named Claudy. They don't sleep in the same bed, so we assume they are just friends. Claudy is very needy. He is trying to quit drugs, and he wants her to lock him in the apartment when she goes out so he won't be tempted to go look for drugs.

It turns out they are married, but it is a sham. She is friends with some scam artist, and they arranged for her to marry him so she could get Belgian citizenship (Claudy is a Belgian). They have a plan in mind to get him out of the way so she can marry a Russian mobster in order to help him get Belgian citizenship. With me so far?

The movie feels disjointed. One minute, Lorna can barely tolerate Claudy. The next, she is willing to sleep with him just to keep him from using drugs. One character is on screen in a scene, the next scene he is dead. It feels like there are scenes missing.

Lorna is in love with a guy named Sokol. She and Sokol plan to open up a snack bar with the money they make from these scams. Her plans are complicated when she gets pregnant. The pregnancy segment also feels like scenes are missing. She wants to get an abortion, abruptly changes her mind and decides to keep the baby, then she is back in the doctor's office being told she is not pregnant. I was confused.

The movie is very interesting. The lack of a musical score made it feel more real, and I loved the way most of the dialogue was done in two shots. Typical Hollywood movies cut back and forth between the characters, but this movie usually stayed on the two people who were talking with no cuts.

Arta Dobroshi did a great job. And unlike Megan Fox or Amanda Seyfried, she doesn't have a 'no nudity' clause in her contract. Seriously, when Megan Fox is skinny dipping and the camera carefully avoids showing her naughty bits, it took me out of the movie. It made me think about the fact that Megan Fox refuses to do nudity. But the sex scene in Lorna's Silence, and the lack of careful camera cuts, made it feel more real. Gotta love those Europeans.

I would have liked the movie more if it didn't feel like it was missing scenes. There were several times I had to rewind the DVD to make sure I didn't miss something. Maybe that's a good thing that the filmmakers are not afraid to let some action happen off camera, but I was confused at times. I can only mildly recommend the movie.

Cold Souls - 2 1/2 stars

Paul Giamatti stars as Paul Giamatti, an actor. He is doing a play and he is not happy. He doesn't know what is bothering him, but he can barely function. He hears about soul storage and decides to check it out. There is a clinic that will remove your soul and store it for you. The idea is your soul is weighing you down, and you will be happier without it.

There is a sub plot about Russians who are involved in soul trafficking. They pay Russian people to donate their soul, then turn around and sell them to Americans. When Paul Giamatti wants his soul back, the doctor at the clinic (the always dependable David Strathairn) talks him into trying out a Russian soul.

The Russians decide to try getting American souls to sell to the Russians. But they figure it's easier to steal American souls than to try and buy them. They take Paul Giamatti's soul and when he finds out his soul is missing, he goes to Russia to get it back.

This movie reminded me of Being John Malkovich or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but it isn't as good as those. I feel like they could have done a lot more with the story. It's not a bad movie, just kind of flat. But if you like Paul Giamatti, he is as good in this as he ever is.

Global Film Initiative

The Global Film Initiative's Global Lens film series - ten award-winning narrative, feature films from Argentina, Brazil, China, Ecuador, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Macedonia, Morocco and Mozambique –will screen for the third year running with Salt Lake Film Society. Go to for more information.

This is very cool. How often do you get the chance to see a movie from Indonesia or Morocco? A few of the movies I have seen are:

POSSIBLE LIVES (LAS VIDAS POSIBLES), dir. Sandra Gugliotta, Argentina

An Argentinian woman's husband has gone missing. He is a geologist and he goes to a village in remote Patagonia all the time to work. But this time, he hasn't come back. So she goes looking for him. When she arrives at the village, she sees a man who looks like her husband. But he doesn't recognize her. Is it really her husband, or is she crazy?

I'm fine with a movie that makes me connect the dots and doesn't explain everything, but this was a little much. By the end of the movie, she has had sex with this guy, but she never so much as says "are you my husband?" There is a dead body and the police think it's her husband, but she says no, it's not him. Is it really him, and she is in denial? Nothing is explained.

The film moves really slowly. There was no dialogue until almost 10 minutes in. But I'm still glad I saw it. The location is incredible. It almost made me want to travel to the most remote parts of Argentina. A very unusual movie.


A movie from most glorious country of Kazakhstan! The movie opens with a woman giving birth in some remote village. When she has the boy, he is dark skinned (she and her husband Ivan are blond). People assume that she had an affair with Ivan's dark-skinned friend Asan but she maintains that the baby is Ivan's.

15 years later Ivan's son is a troublemaker. He almost gets kicked out of school, and he steals horses from local bandits. The bandits want to cut off the boy's hand for the crime, but they settle for beating the boy and his father.

Ivan and Asan beat their wives on a regular basis. According to Asan, you have to remind women what their place is. But Ivan's wife gives it right back. The funniest bits in the movie are when Ivan is chasing his wife, threatening to beat her, only for her to grab a frying pan and start chasing after him.

At one point in the movie Ivan's in-laws show up. They aren't shy about telling his wife that she married the wrong guy. Ivan gets into a fight with his brother-in-law, loses, sulks for a while, then takes off. He goes to see his dad, who tells him the story of their ancestors. Then he goes home.

That's ... pretty much the movie. Oh, there are also these interludes where a man on a horse talks to the woman of the sea. These interludes are acted out with puppets against a white background. Interesting choice. I can't recommend the movie, but once again, it looks great. Now I have to visit Kazakhstan too.

WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD, dir. Faouzi Bensaïdi, Morocco

This is the most fun of the three movies. A female police officer named Kenza makes money by loaning her cell phone to her neighbors. One of her friends is a prostitute. One of her clients is a hit man. He calls to talk to the prostitute, ends up talking to Kenza for a while, and they basically fall in love over the phone. He wants to meet her in person, and she resists.

There are a few scenes of the hit man killing people, and these are inventive. My favorite is when he kills a guy in a public bathroom. Before killing him, he turns on all the automatic sinks and activates the automatic flushers to mask the sound of the murder.

There are some interesting stylistic choices. There is on-screen narration, and sometimes it is literally taken from the script (Police Station - Interior / Day). There are musical dance sequences where the characters break the 4th wall by looking directly at the audience. And the camerawork is interesting. This movie tries really hard to be hip. It succeeds in being original, but once again, kind of boring. And unlike the others, this movie does not make me want to travel to Morocco.


So there you go, three of the movies I saw as part of the Global Film Initiative's Global Lens film series. If you want to see something different for a change, take a chance and check out a movie from Iran or Macedonia. I'm going to try and see a few more of these movies, and when I do I will post reviews of those films.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Friday, 9/11/09

Three movies not screened for critics: Whiteout, Sorority Row, and I Can Do Bad All By Myself.

Broken Hill - 1 star

A movie about a kid in Australia who dreams of being a conductor. But guess what? His dad doesn't approve. His dad wants him to stay put and help work on the farm. This is an outline of a movie. Someone forgot to go in and write the thing. Very corny, cliched, and predictable.

9 - didn't see

This is based on a short film, 9 by Shane Acker, which is available on youtube. I recommend you watch the short film (its only about 10 minutes long) before you decide whether to see the new movie.

Adoration - 1 1/2 stars

I'm ok with a movie that makes me pay attention and put the pieces together. I'm ok with a story told out of sequence, as long as it makes sense at the end. But this movie just didn't work.

A kid reads a story to his class. The story is about how his father set his mother up to be a suicide bomber. The bomb didn't go off, or he wouldn't be here today. But wait - the story isn't true. It's an assignment by his teacher. She asks him to read the story as if it were true, as a drama project. But for some reason, he decides to not tell anyone the story isn't true, and it ends up on the internet. There are many scenes of him in a video chatroom watching people debate his story.

His parents really died in a car accident, and he was raised by his uncle. His drama teacher has some kind of connection to his late father, and his grandpa was a racist. There, I just saved you 100 minutes.

Tetro - 2 stars

Tetro is the son of a famous composer. He hates his family and moves to Argentina to get away from them. One day, his younger brother shows up at his door. See, he promised his brother he would come back for him one day, and he never did. His brother wants to reconnect with him, but Tetro wants nothing to do with him.

Tetro is a writer who never publishes anything. He also never finishes anything. When his brother reads a story Tetro wrote, he complains that it doesn't have an ending. Tetro replies that it doesn't need an ending.

Francis Ford Coppola is done making movies like The Godfather, Dracula, or The Rainmaker. Now, he is making small, personal films. That's a noble ambition, but he should still try to make them watchable. Tetro is not a bad movie, but it moves very slow. It felt every bit of its two hour running time.

The movie does look great. It is in black and white, except for the flashbacks, which are in color.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Friday, September 3rd

Extract - 2 1/2 stars

I had high expectations for this. It has a great cast (Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, JK Simmons, Ben Affleck) and it was written and directed by Mike Judge (Office Space, Beavis & Butthead). But the funniest parts were all in the trailer. There were a few other funny parts, but I didn't laugh all that much. The movie is a lot of setup and not a lot of payoff.

I'm not saying the movie sucks, but it was not nearly as funny as it should have been. If you are going to see this, keep your expectations low.

All About Steve - 1 1/2 stars

Not a good movie. I laughted quite a bit, but I was usually laughing at how ridiculous the movie was, rather than how funny it was. Sandra Bullock plays a crazy woman, and when the movie is being cynical about how crazy she is, it works. But too often the movie wants us to like her and admire her for being a good person, and that just doesn't work.

Gamer - not screened for critics

Management - only screened for a select few critics, and I am not one of the select few

Soul Power - didn't see

Little Ashes - only saw half the movie

... and I was bored to death. I couldn't finish it. If I had to rate the first half of the movie, I'd give it zero stars. Maybe it gets better in the second half, but I had to bail at the one hour mark or I would have killed myself.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Friday, August 28th

Halloween 2 - not screened for critics

The Final Destination - not screened for critics

Taking Woodstock - 2 1/2 stars

This started out well. I liked the story about how Elliot is helping his parents run their small motel. Imelda Staunton is hilarious as his crazy mom. When Elliot hears about Woodstock and the way they lost their permit, he calls them up to say he has a location where they can hold their concert.

Everything leading up to the concert is interesting. If the movie had focused on that, I would have liked it a lot more. But the problem is the movie focuses too much on Elliot and his relationship with his parents. I don't mind that we never actually see the concert, because Elliot never makes it to the concert, and it is his story. But by the end, I was just bored.

Adam - 3 stars

I don't know anyone with Asperger's Syndrome, but Hugh Dancy's performance seemed just right. He showed the problems someone with Asperger's goes thru, but we weren't asked to feel sorry for him all the time. He was able to hold down a job, have lunch with his friend, and even start a relationship with a girl in his building (Rose Byrne).

The movie is actually a rather simple story about a relationship, but the fact that he has Asperger's makes it unique. It is difficult for him to have a relationship, and it is also difficult for her. It takes someone with a lot of patience to make the relationship work, and she may not have enough patience.

Since it's an independant movie, it's not as predictable as a typical romantic comedy (The Proposal and The Ugly Truth come to mind). The performances were good and I enjoyed the movie.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Friday, 8/21/09

Inglorious Basterds - 3 stars

Parts of this movie are a lot of fun. Every time Brad Pitt is on screen, I was laughing. He does such a great job creating this southern good old boy character. My favorite part was when he was pretending to be Italian.

The other standout performance is by Christoph Waltz, playing Col. Hans Landa, aka The Jew Hunter. He was such a great villain. I had never heard of him before, but he won an award at the Cannes Film Festival and I wouldn't be surprised if he got an Academy Award nomination for his part.

I do think the movie could have used a good trimming. It's 2 1/2 hours long, and it could have easily lost 1/2 hour. As much as I like Pulp Fiction, there are segments of that movie that I always fast forward through (the scene with Bruce Willis, then the scene at the hotel with Willis' girlfriend). Same with this movie. There are scenes that I love, and scenes that bored me. But overall, I recommend the movie.

Shorts - didn't see

X Games 3D - The Movie - didn't see

In The Loop - 4 stars

One of my favorite movies of the year. I'm not going to describe it, just trust me. It's hilarious. And profane.

Humpday - 1 1/2 stars

I know I am probably in the minority on this. I have seen 4 star reviews, and I just don't get it. It was interesting and original and all that. The performances are good. But I would never watch it again. And not just for the content, which is not as uncomfortable as you would think. No, the movie just bored me. And I didn't buy the premise at all.

See, these two straight male friends are at a party one night. They are drunk and high, and they figure they should enter the local amateur porn contest called Humpday. But they figure they have to do something different if they are going to enter, so one of them says "how about two straight guys having sex with each other?" They decide to do it, and the next day when they should have said "wow, we were really drunk and stoned last night", they say "I think we should go thru with it." It becomes some kind of game of chicken between them. "I'm not going to chicken out." "Well, neither am I."

One of the guys has a wife, and when she finds out about it she is not too happy, as you can imagine. But he decides it is so important to him that he is willing to risk his marriage. I just didn't buy it.

The Merry Gentleman - 2 1/2 stars

Not a bad movie, just not a great one. Michael Keaton directs and stars as a hit man. He meets and befriends a lonely Scottish woman living in Chicago played by Kelly Macdonald. The movie is unusual in that it's all about the characters. There is no action. We only see him kill two people, and that is in the first 10 minutes of the movie. There are a couple of cops that keep talking to her, and there is a little bit of tension there (will they discover that her new boyfriend is the killer?), but more attention is paid to the one cop who wants to date her. It gets a mild recommendation from me.

Post Grad - 2 stars

This movie can't decide if it wants to be a quirky independent movie or a mainstream comedy. Some of the humor is very broad (and doesn't work at all). But up until the last 15 minutes or so, it is unpredictable.

Alexis Bledel plays Ryden Malby, a girl who has just graduated from college. She is so sure she has a job lined up, she writes a check for her new apartment before she even has the interview. She is shocked when she doesn't get the job, and she has to move back in with her parents (played by Michael Keaton and Jane Lynch, with Carol Burnett playing her crazy grandma). There is a movie here, exploring how hard it is for college graduates to get their careers started. I know a lot of college graduates end up not even using their degree and end up working in a completely unrelated profession.

Ryden has a friend named Adam played by Zach Gilford. Adam has liked Ryden for years, but she has made it clear that they are just friends. He keeps making jokes about the fact that he likes her and she doesn't like him, at least in that way. He should have figured out by now that she is never going to come around. But at some point in the movie, he gets mad at her and says that he is done waiting around for her. He says "I know what my future looks like, and you are not a part of it."

The movie really lost me at the end, when she decides that she is in love with Adam after all, and leaves her job (she finally gets the job she wanted all along) to go to New York to live with Adam at college. Yeah, I was with the movie until this point. If she did love him, she would have hooked up with him years earlier.

The movie almost worked as a story about a college graduate who can't find a job. But any time the movie tries to be a quirky comedy, it fails miserably.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Time Traveler's Wife - 3 stars

What if you could travel through time? Imagine being able to go back and watch yourself grow up. Imagine being able to go back and see a loved one who has passed away. Would you want to go into the future and find out how things turn out? Would you want to know how and when you die?

In The Time Traveler's Wife, Eric Bana plays a man named Henry DeTamble who has a strange genetic disorder: he travels through time, but he can't control it. He has no idea when it will happen or where (when) he will end up. He just suddenly starts to fade away. He appears in another time (but within his own lifetime), and after a few minutes, he returns to his own time.

I generally categorize time travel in movies into two categories: Somewhere in Time and Back to the Future. The Somewhere in Time rules state that you can't change history. Everything that has and will happen is set. Before Christopher Reeve went back to 1912, he was able to look at the register for 1912 and see his signature. He knew that he would travel back to 1912 and check in to the hotel. The Back to the Future rules state that you can change history. You couldn't look in a history book and see a picture of yourself, because you haven't traveled back yet.

The Time Traveler's Wife follows the Somewhere in Time rules. When Henry was a boy, his mother was killed in a car accident. Even though he can travel back and talk to his mother, he is not able to change the events that led to her death. Also, when he learns about certain tragedies that are going to occur, he is helpless to prevent them. I don't know about you, but that would drive me crazy.

When Clare Abshire (Rachel McAdams) was a young girl, Henry appeared in the meadow behind her house. He told her that he was from the future, and that in the future they would be good friends. As she grew up, Henry would appear to her now and then. When she finally meets Henry in the present, she is glad to see her old friend, but he has no idea who she is, because he hasn't traveled back to see her yet. Confused? Because she knows that they are married in the future, she is happy to date and marry him. This brings up an interesting question: does she really have a choice in the matter? What if she decided she didn't want to marry him? Could she have been stubborn and changed history? Not if the movie is following the Somewhere in Time rules of time travel.

I had a few problems with the movie. His time traveling is a little too convenient. He disappears at random times, but it never happens when people are watching. He is able to hold down a job as a librarian, and apparently he has never traveled during his shift. See, sometimes he returns from his trips to the past just a few minutes after he left. If he disappears in front of his wife, she will see him materialize in time for dinner. Other times, he can be gone for weeks. When he returns from one trip, he asks "did I miss Christmas?" She replies "Yes, and New Year's."

Another problem I had is with the way he steals clothes. See, when you travel through time, you don't get to take your clothes. You disappear and your clothes fall to the floor in a heap. When you appear in the past, you are standing there buck naked. Again, this is too convenient. He never materializes in the middle of a crowded street. As soon as he appears, he picks the nearest lock and steals whatever clothes he can find. Then within 2 minutes, he disappears again to return to his own time. If he is never in the past for more than a few minutes, why go to all the trouble to break in and steal clothes? Why doesn't he just find a place to hide until he travels back?

And as for the clothes, he always seems to wear the same thing: dress slacks, a button down shirt, and a sweater over the shirt. Doesn't he realize that he could save himself some time (and thus be able to spend more time in the past) if he just went with jeans, a T-shirt, and some flip flops?

Overall I liked the movie. Despite my minor issues with the writing, the characters were well developed. I really felt for Henry and how hard it must be to have that condition. I also felt for Clare. Sometimes she is able to deal with Henry's problem, other times she is a wreck. How hard would it be to have your husband just disappear with no warning, and you have no idea how long he will be gone for?

I also thought there were some nice surprises in the movie. At one point, he makes a decision that she does not like. The way she gets him back is very clever.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Friday, 8/14/09

Late again. Oh well. Let's see what opened on Friday.

District 9 - 3 stars

This was very good. It started out like a documentary and once it became a straightforward narrative, it still had that gritty, hand held documentary look to it. That made the violence just that much more realistic. And there was a lot of violence. When the third act came there was a lot of shooting and people blowing up, blood and guts flying, ect.

I was really glad I didn't know the story going in. All I knew was it was about aliens living in a slum in Johannesburg, South Africa. I didn't know if the aliens were good or bad. The movie doesn't explain everything. We are left with a lot of questions. It is a hundred times better than the last Transformers movie.

The Time Traveler's Wife - not screened for critics ...

... so it probably sucks.

Bandslam - 1 1/2 stars

This movie sucked. It's about a high school band, but it's obvious that no one involved in the movie has ever been in a band. It's a band as envisioned by movie executives. It's the ultimate poseur movie.

The nerdy kid is brought in to act as a manager for a band. Because he likes music, the lead singer automatically assumes he knows something about how to run a band. And because it's a dumb movie, of course he does. They already have 2 guitars and a bass, but he says it doesn't sound full enough. He decided to bring in keys, strings, and horns. And not once do they ever talk about rehearsal schedules. Sorry, it's hard enough to schedule rehearsals with 5 people in a band. It would be damn-near impossible with 15.

This movie only exists to sell the soundtrack. They have a bunch of original songs, and every time they play one, we have to listen to the whole song. Not just a 30 second snippet, the whole thing. And the entire time they play the song, we have to see shots of people watching and smiling, or the dorky manager dancing. Oh, and the songs are bad.

The one section of the movie I liked was the relationship between Will and Sa5m (I'll get to her name in a minute). He is trying to date her. He wants to kiss her but he doesn't know what to do. Even though he is shy and she is kind of laughing at him, she still likes him and they end up kissing anyways. Then she invites him to go see a movie with her. The movie? Evil Dead 2! Good choice. I liked the aspects of the movie that dealt with their romance.

But her name is Sa5m. Sam, but the 5 is silent. When he asks her what her name is, she writes it down, just so he (and we) can see the 5. Whoever thought up this idea is an idiot. Another thing I didn't like? When he writes in his diary, every entry starts with "Dear David Bowie." Now David Bowie is great, but that idea gets really tiresome after about one entry.

Paper Heart - 2 stars

Charlene Yi wants to know what love is. She only knows about love from movies, and so she sets out to interview a bunch of people to find out about love. One of the first people she interviews is a romance novelist. Seriously. She is knocking movies for the way they portray love, and she talks to a romance novelist.

The movie is made like a documentary but its not really a documentary. Everyone is playing themselves, except the director is played by an actor. The actor's name is Jake M. Johnson. His character's name is Nicholas Jasenovec. That also happens to be the name of the actual director. Get it?

In between interviews with actual people (they could be actors too), we see Charlene beginning a romance with Michael Cera. I have always said that Michael Cera is a genius, but I'm sorry to say he didn't make me laugh here. Maybe he wasn't supposed to be funny, but I couldn't help being disappointed with his performance here.

Charlene Yi is very annoying. She laughs hysterically after everything she says, whether it's funny or not. She acts like a giddy 12-year old girl, and she speaks with this weird monotone. The movie is very tedious.

Ponyo - 2 1/2 stars

Miyazaki has made some good animated movies before, and this is not a bad one, but it didn't do that much for me. It looked great, and it showed a lot of imagination. I just wasn't crazy about it.

The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard - 3 stars

It started out really, really funny. For the first half hour or so, I was thinking this was the best comedy I have seen in a long time. It was a nice surprise, kind of like when I first saw Waiting or Super Troopers. Unfortunately, the movie runs out of steam halfway thru it. It still has a few good jokes, but it stopped trying.

I still recommend it because the first half hour is so funny. The best performance was by Charles Napier. He plays an old car salesman who is the ultimate racist, and he will punch a customer in the face. Good stuff.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Friday, 8/7/09

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra - not screened for critics
screw you, Paramount. Transformers 2 sucked. Get over it.

Julie & Julia - didn't see
sorry, I had a conflict that night.

A Perfect Getaway - 3 1/2 stars
This movie was a hell of a lot of fun. Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich play a newlywed couple who go to Hawaii for their honeymoon. They plan to hike in to this hidden beach that's only accessible by foot or kayak. As they hike in, they will come across two different couples. One is played by Timothy Olyphant and Kiele Sanchez. She is hot and has no problem skinnydipping, and he is a former Navy SEAL or special forces or something. The other couple is played by Chris Hemsworth and Marley Shelton. They are kind of creepy people.

Zahn and Jovovich learn that the day before, a newlywed couple was murdered in Honolulu, and a man and woman are suspected. So most of the movie is them wondering whether the killers are Olyphant and Sanchez, or Hemsworth and Shelton.

You may figure out who the killer is early on, but that doesn't matter. The movie is a lot of fun. Olyphant and Zahn are very funny together. Zahn's character is a screen writer, and Olyphant is always giving him ideas for movies, or telling him how much he knows about screenwriting.

When the third act kicks in (once we know who the killers are), it becomes a different kind of movie. A lot of thrillers are letdowns, and this is not one of those. There are some chase scenes and a few moments of brutal violence. I enjoyed it and I think you will too.

The Cove - 4 stars

The best documentary I have seen this year, and one of the best movies of the year. In a hidden cove in Japan, thousands of dolphins are captured every year. A few are sold off to SeaWorld-type places around the world, and the rest are slaughtered. The local fishermen make a lot of money from this and they don't want the rest of the world to know it. They go to extreme lengths to make sure no outsiders see the slaughter.

Richard O'Barry and his team are determined to get in there and get footage of the killing. The steps they take to pull this off are as exciting as in any caper movie. They even compare their team to an Ocean's 11 team.

Richard O'Barry has spent his life trying to atone for what he did to dolphins. See, he is the one who trained the dolphins who played Flipper in the '60s TV show. He says because of the success of that show, people all over the world want to see dolphins do tricks and that has lead to the industry of dolphins in captivity. O'Barry has a history of trying to free dolphins from all sorts of environments. When someone asks him how many times he has been arrested, his answer is "This year?"

No matter how you feel about dolphins, from the casual observer to the most fanatical animal rights champion, it's impossible not to be moved by this movie. And it's a really exciting caper movie as well.

O'Horten - 1 1/2 stars
Odd Horten a 67 year old train engineer in Oslo, Norway. He is about to retire. The movie follows him around as he gets locked out of his own retirement party, almost gets arrested wandering around the runway at the airport, goes for a skinny dip, visits his sick mother in an old folks home, and lets a guy drive him around with his eyes closed. It is weird, original, and kind of boring. There wasn't much story here, and it didn't do anything for me.

Burma VJ: Reporting From a Closed Country - 3 stars

This is one of those documentaries where the subject is so important, you wish the movie were better. In 2007, thousands of monks protested against the government in Burma (Myanmar). As the monks took to the streets, hundreds of thousands of citizens joined them. This movie shows actual footage of the protests. The footage was shot secretly and then smuggled out of the country, because the government won't allow reporters in.

As you watch the protests get stronger and stronger, you wonder how in the world could it have failed? How could the government have fought against this many people who seemed so unafraid? Well, if you know your history, you know that nothing has changed in Burma. This movie does not have a happy ending. But it is important to know what is going on in other countries. The footage is captivating and it really makes you glad to live in America.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Friday, July 31st

(500) Days of Summer - 3 1/2 stars

This is one of the best movies of the year so far. I am so sick of predictable Hollywood romantic comedies (chick flicks). This is a movie about a romance, but it's nothing like those other movies.

From the beginning we know that the relationship is not going to work out. The fun of the movie is seeing how their relationship develops and how it deteriorates. The story is told out of sequence which is how we remember things anyway. Think about it. You don't remember a relationship chronologically, you remember bits and pieces of it.

The movie bounces back from day 1 (they meet) to day 450 (they break up). Day 30 (the morning after they first have sex) to day 451 (the day after they break up). I may be a little off on the days, but you get the drift.

The performances are great. Zooey Deschanel is perfect in the role, and Joseph Gordon-Leavitt just gets better with each movie (I'm not going to think about G.I. Joe right now ...). Everyone who enjoyed The Ugly Truth or The Proposal or 27 Dresses or any of those movies needs to watch this movie and see how a relationship movie doesn't have to suck.

Funny People - 2 1/2 stars

There was a lot to like in this movie. The first act is all about Ira (Seth Rogan), an up and coming comedian, getting the break of his life working for George (Adam Sandler). All the stuff about Ira experiencing showbiz for the first time was great. I also liked the stuff with Ira's roommate. They are all hoping for a life in show biz, and one roommate has a sitcom. He pisses off the other roommates by leaving his huge paychecks all over the apartment.

The problem is the movie is 2 1/2 hours long. It should have been about 45 minutes shorter. Once the movie starts focusing on George's relationship with Leslie Mann's character, it really starts to drag. There is nothing wrong with that storyline, the movie just spends way too much time with it. Judd Apatow also gives his kids too much screen time.

The performances were good. This may be my favorite Adam Sandler performance ever, but that's not saying much. He isn't playing a real human in many of his movies. I also really liked Eric Bana. He was funny as Mann's new husband who seems oblivious to the fact that his wife still has feelings for George.

Not a bad movie, just too long. I would love to see the movie re-edited to about 100 minutes. Then it would be my favorite Adam Sandler movie ever.

Angels in the Attic - not screened for critics.

Herb and Dorothy - didn't see.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Friday, 7/24/09

Orphan - 3 1/2 stars

They didn't screen the movie for critics. For some reason the studios figure that horror fans don't pay attention to critics, so why screen them? Well, why bother screening Transformers for critics then?

I'm pissed that they didn't screen this because it kicked ass. I would have talked about it on the radio, but I didn't see it until Sunday night.

Esther is an evil child. Kate and John are the parents who adopt her. Kate starts to figure out that Esther is a little psycho, but John won't believe her. This is one of those thrillers where the main character knows the truth and can't convince anyone else.

Kate and John already have two kids - Daniel and Max. Max is deaf, and I'm not sure how old she is supposed to be, but she is young enough to ride in a child set and old enough to know sign language. Not sure how many kids that young know sign language that well, but what do I know about it.

I went into this movie without high expectations. I figured it would have some good scares and then I would forget about it in a week. But this is one of those horror movies that I can't wait to take someone else to. Just be aware that it is long (just over two hours) and it doesn't get good until an hour or so in. You just have to be patient.

The Ugly Truth - 2 1/2 stars

The best I can say about this movie is it could have been a lot worse. Katherine Heigl plays a TV news producer (basically her same character from Knocked Up). She doesn't do well with men because she is so controlling that on a first date, she tells the guy how many items on her checklist he matches. When the conversation drags, she also pulls out a list of talking points. That made me laugh, but only because it reminded me of a scene in Monty Python's Meaning of Life where the waiter says "would you like something to talk about?"

Gerard Butler is a guy who has a public access talk show (I didn't know public access existed anymore). His show is called The Ugly Truth. Its the kind of show where he takes calls from lonely women and tells them what men really want and think.

He gets hired by the TV station where Katherine Heigl works and she hates him at first, but eventually she warms up to him. She recognizes that he is good for ratings, but more importantly, she wants him to help her get the good looking doctor that lives next door to her.

If you have seen the trailer, then you know the whole story. Its no spoiler to say that they end up falling in love. I honestly didn't laugh for the first 15 minutes of this movie. Once Gerard Butler shows up, it gets tolerable. I did laugh a few times, but I don't recommend the movie.

Every Little Step - 2 1/2 stars

I feel like I should like this more, but I honestly didn't enjoy it much, and I don't really ever want to see it again. I guess I'm just not into Broadway. At all.

Its kind of like watching an episode of American Idol, but there is no Simon Cowell to keep things entertaining. We watch thousands of singers/dancers/actors auditioning for a revival of A Chorus Line. We get to know a handful of them, so we can be excited when they make the cut, or disappointed when they don't make it. But I didn't think we got to know any of them well enough to really care about them. At least American Idol gives you the back story on a singer or two.

As we watch the hopefuls audition, we are also learning about how A Chorus Line came to be. Michael Bennett interviewed a bunch of his friends, all show-biz hopefuls, and he turned their stories into a show. We also see interviews with a couple of the people who were in the original production in the 70s.

I think how much you like this movie will depend on how interested you are in being a performer. Anyone who has ever gone through an audition can relate to how these kids are feeling. And there is one really powerful moment when one guy gives such a good audition he brings the judges to tears.

G-Force - didn't see

This wasn't screened for critics until Thursday night. This means that the newspaper critics aren't able to make their deadlines for Friday's paper. This means that the movie sucks.

Also, why the hell is it called G-Force? Don't the producers know that G-Force is a cartoon from the 70s? They shouldn't have been able to use that name.