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.