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