Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Haunting in Connecticut - 3 stars

I liked this movie. I've heard a few people say it sucks, the story is stupid, its nothing but easy scares, ect. But I thought the story was interesting. The scares were good but I didn't think there were too many. There were also some really good creepy scenes that freaked me out just a little bit. Stories about dead people, ghosts, seances, dead bodies coming to life, thinks like that freak me out.

I also thought the performances were good. Elias Koteas was great as a cancer patient / priest / expert on the occult, and Virginia Madsen was good as always. The only weak spot was Martin Donovan as the father. It wasn't necessarily a bad performance, they just didn't give him much to do. He disappears for 20 minutes at a time and shows up only long enough to provide some family tension, then he disappears again. The scene where he is playing his guitar and crying is pretty rediculous, as is the scene where he comes home drunk and freaks out about the lights being on. I don't remember anyone ever telling the father about the whole 'haunting' thing. I would think the family would tell him, and maybe then he would be a little more supportive.

Overall, a very good ghost story.

Friday, March 27, 2009

In theaters today, 3/27/09

The Haunting in Connecticut - not screened for critics.

12 Rounds - not screened for critics.

Monsters VS Aliens - this was screened, but I wasn't able to attend the screening. But seriously, you already know whether you are going to go see this or not, right? People with kids will take them, most people without kids will not (except the Mormons who are attracted to the PG rating).

Harvard Beats Yale - I wasn't able to get my hands on a screener for this. But a documentary about a 1968 college football game sounds like torture to me.

Sunshine Cleaning - 2 stars

Finally, one I have seen. Sunshine Cleaning is kind of uneven. Sometimes its a comedy, sometimes a drama. It doesn't do either one very well - kind of like last week's The Great Buck Howard (which also just happened to have Emily Blunt and Steve Zahn). Amy Adams and Emily Blunt are sisters who start a crime scene cleanup business. The trailers make it look like cleaning up after a crime scene is a barrel of laughs, like the scene where they are carrying a blood soaked mattress and one of them falls on it. But there aren't a lot of laughs. Its hard to laugh at them getting grossed out by the mess ("Great! Now we're going to have to clean that up, too!") when we know someone has just committed suicide in the home.

We find out that when the girls were young, they found their mother's body after she had shot herself. This makes the cleanup scenes rather sad when we keep seeing flashbacks of the girls coming in the house and finding their mom. There is a ridiculous scene where Adams uses a CB radio to 'talk' to her dead mother. It was supposed to be sentimental, but it just made me groan.

Alan Arkin provides a few laughs, but he is playing a character very similar to the one he played in Little Miss Sunshine. The scenes with him get old fast.

Gomorrah - I did get my hands on a screener of this. Full disclosure - I turned it off after 45 minutes. So I can't review the entire movie. But I will say that I was bored by what I saw. The movie introduces new characters every 5 minutes and its hard to keep track of them. I kept waiting to find out who the main characters would be, and I suspect it might have been the boy who delivered groceries, or the two boys who go to the river and shoot guns in their underpants. If I had stuck it out, I would know. But I honestly have no interest in going back and watching the rest of the movie. Sorry, it bored me to tears.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Out Friday, 3/20/09

I Love You, Man - 3 stars

This wasn't quite as funny as Role Models or Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but it was still very funny. Jon Favreau steals every scene he is in. And I especially liked all the stuff with Rush (FYI, I was in a Rush tribute band for 5 years).

Duplicity - 2 1/2 stars

I liked this better than I liked Michael Clayton, Tony Gilroy's last movie. It was confusing as hell. I will need to see it again to understand it. Half the movie is comprised of flashbacks, and almost every one changes the meaning of the previous scene.

Knowing - 2 1/2 stars

The trailers only give you the setup of this movie. Nic Cage's son brings home a piece of paper with numbers on it. The paper comes from a 50-year old time capsule, and the numbers predict every major disaster in the last 50 years. There are 3 disasters left on the page that haven't happened yet.

As the movie progresses, strange men periodically appear. They stand off in the distance watching the main characters, just looking creepy. Once the movie ends and you look back on it, you realize that a lot of it doesn't hold together. What was the point of the numbers? The 'whisper people' could have just told the important people what they needed to know.

I still enjoyed it anyway. Its a good sci-fi story, like a good twilight zone episode or something.

The Great Buck Howard - 1 1/2 stars

The only reason to see this is John Malkovich. I can't remember ever seeing him play a character like this. But the movie isn't funny enough to be a comedy, and I didn't care about the characters enough for it to be a good drama. I wasn't sure if we were supposed to like Buck Howard or not. And there were way too many celebrity cameos.

Last House on the Left - 3 stars

This is unusual - I like the remake more than the original. I haven't seen the original for a long time, but I didn't like it enough to watch it over and over again. Its interesting to watch because its Wes Craven's first movie, and its unusual to see a movie that bleak and depressing. Even compared to Saw and Hostel, it is hard to watch for the brutality.

In the original, two girls run into a gang of psychos. They take the girls out into the woods where they torture and kill them. When they leave the woods, they stop at a house because their car has broken down. Surprise, this is where one of the girls lives. The parents are worried about their missing daughter, they figure out that this gang has killer her, and they take their revenge.

The remake makes a big change to the story (spoiler alert): the daughter survives and makes it home. This makes the story a bit different. Instead of the parents just being out for revenge, when they kill the criminals, they are doing it to protect their daughter, who is lying on the coffee table close to death.

The movie works as a good horror movie and as a revenge fantasy. There are several scenes that make the audience cheer as the parents are dispatching the gang members. They do tone down the torture of the girls but what happens to them is bad enough, so its probably a good thing they cut it down. Although there is a part of me that thinks "they wimped out. The filmmakers didn't have the balls that Wes Craven did."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Race to Witch Mountain - 1 star

This movie sucks really bad. Its considered a remake or reimagining of 1975's Escape to Witch Mountain, but the only thing it has in common with the original is its about two kids with powers.

Escape to Witch Mountain was about two orphans, Tony and Tia Malone. She can talk to him telepathically, but he can't talk to her that way. They can both move things with their minds, but he usually has to play a harmonica to make it happen. She also has the ability to talk to animals. We meet Tony and Tia at a foster home. When Tia saves a man from being hit by a car by telling him about the accident before it happens, the man goes back to his boss Mr. Bolt and tells him about the kids and their powers. Mr. Bolt decides to adopt the kids so he can exploit their powers.

A running theme throughout the movie is the kids can't remember where they came from. They remember being on a boat that sunk and floating in the water for a while. As the movie goes on they remember more and more until eventually they figure out that it was a space ship, not a boat, and they aren't from Earth. They also meet a lonely, bitter old man named Jason (Eddie Albert) and befriend him.

I grew up watching Escape to Witch Mountain and while I admit that I may remember it more fondly than it deserves, Race to Witch Mountain makes it look like Citizen Kane. The new movie stars Dwayne Johnson (formerly known as 'The Rock') as Jack Bruno. In this movie, he is the main character, not the kids. There is some setup where we learn that he used to work for a Vegas mob boss, and now he drives a cab. He meets the alien kids (names Sara and Seth in this movie) and we know they are aliens from the start because they talk like robots. Nevermind that they know fluent English, they can't figure out how to use contractions. There is no reason for them to talk that way, except the screenwriter thought it would be a good idea. Someone should have stopped him. You have to be a really good actor to pull that off (think Brent Spiner in Star Trek: TNG).

The kids / aliens are trying to find some little device and take it home with them. Why didn't they just fly their ship to where the device is? Well, they crashed, although we never find out why they crashed. Did something happen? Are they just bad pilots? So they get Jack Bruno to drive them to where the device is. We know his name is Jack Bruno because Sara calls him 'Jack Bruno' every 2 minutes. You would think eventually she would just call him Jack, but that idiot screenwriter again ...

When they get to the shack where the device is hidden, Jack (Bruno) should just drive away. Instead, he decides to follow the kids in the house and help them. Why does he do that? Because we wouldn't have a movie otherwise. I didn't think it was believable that he would follow them in the house. They just paid him something like $1,000 cash. He has no attachment to these kids. They tell him this is where they want to go, so he leaves them there. My question is why didn't they try to get him to stay and help them? They know they have to get to their ship, which is a ways away. They know the men in black are after them. If Jack hadn't been a nice guy and stuck around, they would have been screwed.

The dialogue is terrible in this movie, and the acting is worse. I know a lot of people are loving Dwayne Johnson, but I don't think he is good enough to carry a movie. He is fine in supporting roles like Get Smart or Be Cool, but someone much better might have made this movie bearable. Since all the performances are so bad, I think the director must be to blame. His credits include She's the Man and The Game Plan.

Oh, and the movie includes cameos by the original Tony and Tia, Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann. Eisenmann is fine as a local sherrif, but Richards' performance shows why she hasn't been in very many movies since Witch Mountain. She only has a few lines to deliver, and they are embarassingly bad. And what is up with her tan???

Saturday, March 14, 2009

0 for 5

I can't remember the last time this happened: 5 movies opening in SLC this week and I haven't seen any of them.

Race to Witch Mountain - I wasn't able to attend the screening last week.

The Last House on the Left and Miss March - neither one was screened for critics.

Two Lovers and Wendy and Lucy - I have the hardest time screening the independant movies sometimes. Sometimes there is not a press screening. Instead, DVD screeners are sent for critics to watch on their own. The problem is, they don't send enough screeners. They are passed from critic to critic, and since I am way down the totem pole, I am lucky to get a screener before the movie opens.

I will try to catch up on these movies and I'll post reviews as I do.

Monday, March 9, 2009

DVD review - Role Models

Role Models was one of my favorite movies of 2008. Watching it for a second time, I was reminded of how long it takes to get going. The first 15 minutes or so are not that good. Its not until the kids show up that the movie really takes off. Christopher Mintz-Plasse is enjoyable (though not as funny as he was in Superbad), but Bobb'e J. Thompson steals half the movie. He has so many funny lines. My favorite is "F*** you, Miss Daisy!" If you're wondering who steals the other half, that would be Jane Lynch.

The DVD opens with a strange assortment of trailers: Bring It On: Fight to the Finish, Wanted: Weapons of Fate (the video game based on the movie Wanted, and the game looks much more interesting than the movie), a 'smoking is bad for you' ad, the Fast and the Furious trilogy on Blu-Ray (of course, with the new movie coming out ...), and Kings (an NBC series).

After the trailers and before the main menu, you are asked to choose 'rated' or 'unrated'. The bonus features are:

Deleted Scenes and Alternate Takes (24:20) - there are 19 of these, and the Play All option is always appreciated. None of these are very good but a handful are worth watching once. But the first one - The Night Before - is a complete waste.

Bloopers (3:52) - I always enjoy bloopers, and these were very good. But I really wish there were more. 15 seconds in, best blooper ever: the director is telling Seann William Scott to not sound so disappointed when he delivers a specific line.

On the Set of Role Models (7:41) - pretty typical interviews with the cast and crew talking about the movie. Way too short to be a good making-of, but definitely worth checking out.

Game On: Creating a Role Playing World (9:46) - similar to the previous feature but with an emphasis on LAIRE and its inspiration LARP (Live Action Role Playing).

In-Character & Off-Script (8:07) - this features Martin Gary (A.D. Miles), Kuzzik: Proud Xanthian (Joe Lo Truglio), and Davith of Glencracken (Matt Walsh). The three actors (in character) talk directly to the camera. Better in theory than execution. You can skip this.

The last bonus feature is the Feature Commentary with Director / Co-Writer David Wain. This feature is only available on the theatrical version of the movie. As far as solo director's commentaries go, this one is pretty good. He very rarely lapses into silence for more than a few seconds. Its a very entertaining commentary but it would have been much better with some members of the cast. Considering how good the cast members are at improvising, I can just imagine how entertaining a cast commentary would have been.

Overall I would definintely recommend this DVD.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Watchmen - 2 1/2 stars

I have never read the comic book series or graphic novel of Watchmen. So I knew almost nothing going in. The movie is about a bunch of retired superheroes. They were successful crime fighters at one time, but in the movie's version of 1985 (where Nixon is still president), they are outlaws. I think. I know the public doesn't like them anymore, and I think it may be illegal for them to put on the masks and fight crime, but they aren't in jail, so I guess they just stopped being superheroes when it became illegal.

The movie is very confusing. It starts in 1985 with the murder of one of the former superheroes, The Comedian. Then we get a quick recap of their history from the 1940s to the present. The rest of the movie is a series of flashbacks showing selections of each characters' backstory. At the same time, the surviving Watchmen think someone is after them and they start investigating who might be trying to get rid of them. There is also a subplot about America and Russia moving towards nuclear annihilation (Mutually Assured Destruction).

I think by trying to put this huge story into a 2 hour 45 minute movie, they had to loose way too much. By trying to cram so much in, I ended up not caring about hardly any of the characters. The only one I really cared about was Rorschach, and that was because of the performance of Jackie Earle Haley. Every time he was on screen, I was interested. The rest of the time, not so much.

For me, the movie might have worked better if it was shorter and focused more on Rorschach's story. But I also might have enjoyed it more as a 12 part miniseries, where they wouldn't have had to short change all the characters and their stories. As it is, I think only fans of the comic will like it. I was so bored at times that I felt like walking out. It was at least an hour into the movie before I started caring about any of the characters at all.

The only reason I gave it 2 1/2 stars instead of a lower rating is because by the end of the movie, I was liking it a little better. I liked the overall message of the movie, and how it didn't have a typical superhero ending. When the director's cut DVD comes out, I will consider watching it to see if the longer version helps me like it better.

Waltz With Bashir - 2 1/2 stars

This is a movie about Ari Folman, an Israeli writer / director, interviewing fellow veterans of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. He can't remember much of what happened, so he talks to them about their experiences, asking questions like "was I there?" As the movie progresses, he remembers more of the invasion, culminating with the massacre of a Lebanese refugee camp where men, women and children were killed.

What makes this movie interesting is that instead of watching Folman and the veterans talk, the movie is animated. Not only are the conversations animated, the events that they talk about are depicted. We see everything the men talk about, including the dreams that they describe. According to, most of the men portray themselves (there are a couple of voice actors credited). I don't know if he recorded the interviews and that is the audio we hear in the movie, or if the men came in to a studio to recreate the interviews, possibly reading from a script. I'm thinking the former. If this were a more traditional documentary, we would see Folman visiting another former soldier at his home and sitting around talking. Instead, we hear the conversation and see the animation. It makes me wonder how much of the animation is accurate - did the room really look like that? How much artistic license did he take in the animation.

The animation does look incredible. Unfortunately the movie as a whole did not do much for me. I think my biggest problem was that I couldn't connect with the characters. I didn't feel emotionally invested in them, so by the end I really didn't care about them. I didn't care whether Folman remembered all the details of the war or not. Maybe it felt too much like a regular narrative film to me, and if this were a live-action movie, I would be expecting more resolution. Maybe a scene at the end where he remembers the massacre and breaks down with remorse about not being able to prevent it. Something like that.

If the movie doesn't work as a narrative story, it also doesn't work for me as a documentary. I'm ok with documentaries taking different forms (I don't need a bunch of talking heads giving me statistics), but I didn't feel like I learned anything from this movie. There are so many questions I now have about the conflict, and especially the massacre, and the movie raised so many more questions than it answered. I guess that in itself is also not a bad thing - if a movie makes you want to know more about a subject, that is good. But I expect a documentary to teach me a few things, and as a documentary, I really felt let down.

I know I am in the minority on this movie. Currently it sits at 96% fresh on But I didn't enjoy it that much. Its now been a few hours since I've seen it, and except for a few good sequences, nothing is really sticking with me.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Stranded: I've Come from a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains - 3 1/2 stars

In 1993 I saw Alive. Its the movie about the Uruguayan rugby team who's plane crashed in the Andes in 1972. They survived for 2 months by eating the flesh of the dead. The movie starred Ethan Hawke. I've always liked the movie. I think the recreation of the plane crash and the avalanche that hit 16 days or so in are about the most frightening things I've ever seen in a movie, mostly because they actually happened.

Stranded is the documentary of the same story. Part of the documentary consists of some of the survivors taking their families to the place where they crashed and telling the story in their own words. As we hear them tell the story, we also see a recreation of the events.

One thing I always missed from Alive is the fact that once they are rescued, the story is over. I wanted to know the details of how they were rescued. The only thing we know from Alive is that two of the guys walked out of the mountains and made it to civilization. Next thing we saw was the helicopters coming to rescue them. In Stranded, we are told more details of how the rescue happened. We also see footage from a press conference the survivors held where they had to defend the decision to eat the dead to survive.

The movie premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival and I saw it last weekend at the Park City Film Series. I don't think it ever opened at any other theaters in Salt Lake, but it will be available on DVD in April. I highly recommend it, especially if you are a fan of Alive.

Nothing lately

I didn't post last week. Last Friday I had no movies to review. The two big studio releases were Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience and Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li. Neither of them were screened for critics. The other movie that opened in Salt Lake was Waltz With Bashir, which was nominated for best foreign language at the Oscars. This may have been screened for critics, but since it is distributed by Sony Pictures Classic, I wasn't able to see it. For some reason, the agency that represents Sony Pictures Classic in Utah won't invite me to any press screenings.

This week, the big release is Watchmen. I saw it the other day, but I'm not going to break the embargo by talking about it early. Not gonna do it. Another movie opening in SLC is The Class, another best foreign language nominee. But I won't be reviewing it on Friday. Guess which company is distributing it.