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.