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).