Sunday, January 31, 2010
When in Rome - didn't see, but I hear it's terrible
Edge of Darkness - 2 1/2 stars
I was glad to see Mel Gibson in a movie again. Actors and their off screen actions don't really bother me. I don't really care if an actor is a nice guy or not. So, forget about all the stuff Mel was in the tabloids for.
Mel plays a Boston cop who's daughter is killed right in front of him. This isn't a spoiler, it happens in the first 5 minutes. Since he is a cop, he figures he was the target. But as the movie goes on we figure out that his daughter was the target after all. The killers were pretty stupid to not shoot him at the same time.
Since the movie was directed by Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) and written by William Monahan (The Departed), I had high hopes for it. But I was disappointed. There is some good action and a few laughs, but the story isn't very good. We know what is going on and who is involved very early on, so all we are waiting for is to see how many people Mel Gibson will punch and shoot before the end.
Son of Babylon
It's 2003, just after the fall of Saddam. In Iraq, many prisoners have been released from Saddam's prisons, and hundreds of mass graves have been found. As the movie starts, a young boy and his grandmother are on the road. They are going to one of the prisons, where they hope to find Ibrahim (the boy's father, the woman's son).
It's a good story but I was bored by it. There just isn't enough going on. There are too many scenes of them traveling in silence, and the scenes at the mass graves, as sad as they are, get repetitious.
The performances were good, especially Yasser Talib as the boy Ahmed. And there are a few laughs. I like the way going to the bathroom is refered to as "going to visit Saddam", and the way one Iraqi says "Ok, thank you sir" in English to the American soldiers, then switches to Arabic to say "Son of a bitch."
This is a short film about the fence that the government tried to build along the US / Mexico border. They spent millions of dollars on part of a fence. In some places, the fence just ends, so people wanting to cross just have to go a mile or so to the east or west to get around. In other places, they can easily dig a hole under the fence, the same way my dog used to dig a hole under the fence and escape the yard.
The fence was so badly planned and executed that they destroyed a wildlife refuge. Tons of animals were cut off from their food source. And in one place, the first time there was a big rainstorm the fence caused a flood on the Mexico side that two people drowned and many buildings were destroyed. The US government would have been better off just taking our tax dollars and throwing them on the fire.
Henry Burke is a good student who never does anything wrong, is about to be valedictorian, and has a good scholarship. His friend has just talked him into trying pot for the first time. Unfortunately, the next day the principal decides to drug test the entire school, as part of his zero tolerance against drugs program.
Henry and his friend come up with a great plan: get the entire school stoned so everyone fails. The timing is perfect: the day of the drug test is the big bake-off, so there will be hundreds of brownies that morning. All they have to do is get the drugs, bake the brownies, and make the switch.
It's a good premise, and the script is fine. The problem is with the direction and editing. The movie feels long, and the jokes don't work as well as they should. With better directing and editing, this would have been a great comedy.
The Killer Inside Me
Casey Affleck plays a sherrif's deputy in a small Texas town in the 1950s. He has a girlfriend (Kate Hudson) and is seeing a prostitute (Jessica Alba) on the side. He is also a psychopath. This is a very violent and unsettling movie. I've seen lots of killings on screen, but there are a couple in this movie that really shocked me. I really liked this. It was a great psychological thriller.
Imagine (500) Days of Summer without the humor or the happy ending. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams play a married couple with a 5 year-old daughter. They are no longer in love with each other. Over the course of a couple of days we watch their marriage fall apart.
The movie flashed back and forth between the present and the time when they first met and fell in love. We learn that they probably shouldn't have gotten married in the first place, so it isn't too surprising that it isn't working out. Anyone who has ever been divorced, or ended a really serious relationship will be moved by this movie. It moves slowly but I was never bored. The performances were incredible.
Set in Los Angeles, John Taylor has just robbed a bank. His face is all over the news, so he needs to hide. He finds a house, looks in the mailbox and discovers the owner is named Warwick (David Hyde Pierce). A postcard in the mailbox tells him that Warwick's friend Diane is in Australia. So John knocks on the door, says he just got in from Australia, and Diane said to look Warwick up. He uses this ruse to get into the house and hide out for a while.
John thinks he is in charge of the situation, but he has no idea what kind of person Warwick is. Pierce is a lot of fun as Warwick, and the story is definintely interesting, but it runs out of steam. It would have been better if it was at least 20 minutes shorter.
This is a documentary about the war between Russia and Georgia a couple of years ago. It also gets into North and South Ossetia. It was hard to follow all the details, and it was pretty boring. I walked out after 45 minutes or so, so I could catch another movie.
Probably the best movie I saw at Sundance. Set in Australia, Josh's mother has just died. He goes to live with his grandmother and uncles, who are all criminals. He doesn't want to have much to do with their criminal ways, but he is dragged in before he knows it. He has a girlfriend who seems unaware of what his family does.
I don't want to say anything about the plot because the less you know about it, the better. But trust me on this. When this movie comes out, make sure you see it.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
First up was my favorite movie of the festival so far, Grown Up Movie Star. It's about a father and his two daughters, who live in Newfoundland. The wife/mother has just walked out on the family, to go to Hollywood and try to become a movie star. The father was an NHL hockey player for about one season, which ended when he got busted for bringing drugs into Canada.
The oldest daughter is just starting to discover boys and her own sexuality. There are a couple of guys she sees regularly and she starts getting into making out and offering sexual pleasures. One of the guys she is seeing just happens to be a close family friend who is confined to a wheelchair and is a photographer.
The characters were so wonderfully developed and the acting was so good that I wasn't bored for a second. In fact the movie could have gone on for another hour and I wouldn't have minded. I really enjoyed spending time with these characters.
My second movie was 8: The Mormon Proposition. Growing up Mormon in Salt Lake City, I was particularly interested in this movie. My entire life, I was told that the church would never tell us how to vote, and I never thought I would see the Mormon church get into politics. I guess I didn't pay attention very well during the whole Prop 8 controversy, because I knew that the church supported Prop 8, but I had no idea how much the church was involved. I was shocked to learn that the First Presidency issued a statement basically commanding members to do all they could (use your time and means) to help support Prop 8. I also was shocked to hear about bishops going over people's tithing records, and telling them how much they should be able to contribute.
This was a very powerful and affecting documentary. I will be really curious to hear how active Mormons view it. It's one thing to view an issue like Prop 8 as a political cause or a moral issue, but to actually see and hear from the real people affected, well, it's hard to see how some people can be so full of hate.
The last movie I saw was a great change of pace. It's called Tucker & Dale vs. Evil. It's a very funny horror movie. Well, not really horror at all. Just a funny version of a horror movie. A group of college kids are going to a lake to camp and party. While there, they run into a couple of hillbillies (think Cabin Fever). The hillbillies are very nice guys, but the college kids are immediately afraid of them. When the hillbillies see one of the girls hit her head and fall in the lake, they rescue her. But the other kids think that they are kidnapping her, and they decide to go rescue her.
As they try to rescue the girl, one by one they accidentally get killed. This makes the surviving college kids assume that the hillbillies are our to kill them all, while the nice hillbillies are wondering why these kids keep killing themselves.
The plot gets more and more contrived as it goes. Kind of like those episodes of Three's Company where the whole story depends on a misunderstanding. If the characters talked for one minute they would figure it all out, but for the story to work, they can't ever have that discussion. Although in this movie, there is a point where they do talk it out, but by that time the surviving kids are so convinced these guys are psychos that there is no changing their minds.
I had a lot of fun in the movie. There are some gruesome kills but the tone of the movie is such that you laugh every time someone dies. Some you can see coming a mile away, but that didn't bother me at all. And you can't see a woodchipper in a movie without knowing that A) someone is going in that woodchipper, and B) thinking of Fargo.
The first was My Peristroika. It's a documentary about the last generation to grow up in the Soviet Union. They talk about what life was like in the 80s compared to the 90s and today. They say the kids today in Russia can't even imagine what it was like to live behind the iron curtain. It's interesting to hear them talk about what they thought about America in the 80s. They wrote letters to Ronald Reagan, telling him that he should end the cold war, they lived in constant fear of the USA nuking them, and they thought if there was no America, there would be world peace.
It's a very interesting subject but the movie got boring really fast. It would have been nice if the movie taught us a bit more about Russian history objectively. You need to already be familiar with Russian history from the 60s until now to really understand everything in this movie.
The second movie was The Runaways. This is the one everyone is talking about, either because they are big fans of Joan Jett and the Runaways, or because of that rumored lesbian sex scene between Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning.
I liked the first part of the movie. It shows how The Runaways came together as a band and quickly became a huge sensation in Japan. It goes through the typical rock star stuff - drug abuse, fighting within the band, band members walking out in the middle of a recording session, that kind of stuff. But I wish the movie focused more on Joan Jett and less on Cherie Currie. We see a lot of Currie's sister, who is jealous of her sister's fame, and her alcoholic father.
For me the second half should have been about how Joan Jett formed her next band, The Blackhearts, recorded I Love Rock and Roll, and achieved fame for herself. But instead this is covered in about two minutes at the end of the movie. It felt to me like the movie had no ending, like they just kind of said "That's enough story. Let's just end the movie here." It really felt anti-climactic.
I noticed a Sam Raimi / Evil Dead influence in one aspect of the movie. They said that wasn’t necessarily put in as an Evil Dead reference, but that his style and flavor are in the movie. Besides Raimi, their biggest influences were David Lynch, Roman Polanski, and David Cronenberg. They really enjoy movies that start in one direction then take a huge turn in a completely different direction that you don’t see coming. That influenced not only The Violent Kind but also their previous film, The Hamiltons.
They like to keep audiences on their toes. As soon as you think you have the movie figured out, they spin it so it goes in another direction, and they are pretty hard turns. When writing, they are constantly trying to challenge themselves. If it keeps them interested, they hope it will keep the audience interested.
They said the movie only took 2-3 months to write. They have been working together for about 15 years so they know what each other likes. This means there aren't a whole lot of arguments. They know each other's style so they know what they are going after.
Surprisingly they didn't even know what the movie was going to be when they pitched it to the producers. Their main producer on the film was Michael Ferris Gibson, who also produced The Hamiltons. Most of the same cast and crew from The Hamiltons worked on this movie. They like to keep it in the family, which helps make a difficult shoot bearable. At times they had 9 people in a room shooting for several days, so its important that they all know they can rely on each other. It was a quick shoot, but very tough. 21 days, shooting 6 pm - 6 am every day. About 3 am everybody gets into as weird state and starts walking around like zombies. Which is part of the fun. And even though it was summer when they filmed it, they were up in the Redwoods and it was cold at night.
I asked about their early days together and how they got into the industry. They said they basically just started making movies together. At first it was just the two of them, using a video camera and operating their own boom mic. They did everything themselves and made short films, which turned into making bigger films, then The Hamiltons took off and that is when The Butcher Brothers were born. They decided it would be a good idea to have an alter ego to channel some of their darker content.
One thing they strive for in their movies is to make them very character based. Their movies are not just straight horror but has comedy in it as well. If you take the horror out of their films, you would still have a good movie.
I asked about their top horror (or thriller) movies of all time, and they mentioned Mulholland Drive, The Shining, and Angel Heart. Coincidentally I saw Angel Heart for the first time a few months ago, so we spent a few minutes just talking about that movie.
They mentioned that their next movie will be called Black Sunset. It will be about a group of surfers that head to Mexico and end up turning on each other. They said it would be like Lords of Dogtown meets The Shining. They don't know where the movie will be filmed yet, but they would love to shoot in Baja.
You can see The Violent Kind at Sundance thru January 31st, and The Hamiltons is available on DVD.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
After the interview, I saw Casino Jack and the United States of Money, directed by Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Taxi to the Dark Side). It confirmed something I've believed for a while: lobbying is nothing more than bribery, and the biggest corporations control the country.
If you don't already hate Tom Delay or Jack Abramoff, this movie will make you hate them. One of the most disturbing things I learned was about the sweat shops in Saipan and the Northern Mariana Islands. They made clothes that said "Made in the USA" (because the islands are a commonwealth in political union with the United States), but the companies there are exempted from federal immigration and labor laws. The workers there were paid next to nothing, worked 18 hour days, and they were sometimes locked in the factories and chained to their workstations.
Human rights groups were investigating and in order to shut them up, Abramoff and the company bribed a bunch of congressmen there. They brought them to the island, wined and dined them, and gave them a tour of the facility, where of course they found no violations. The company knew they were coming. Only one congressman bothered to actually talk to the workers, and the stuff he learned confirmed all the violations. But because the congressmen and lobbyists care more about money (campaign contributions) than they do about human rights, the factories continued to operate.
Enough depressing politics. The movie is one everyone should see, so more people understand how our government works. But most people are not interested in the subject, and even if they were, the movie is hard to sit through. It is too long and gives us way too much information. It didn't feel as focused as Gibney's previous documentaries. It's one of those that I give 4 stars for the subject matter's importance, but only 2 stars for the actual movie.
After that movie I decided to go check out Variety's 10 Directors to Watch. It was an event where they were going to give Phillip Seymour Hoffman an award. I had received an e-mail telling me about the event, and the e-mail said nothing about RSVP or credentials. But when I showed up at the event (which was located at Deer Mountain Resort), they said I wasn't on the list so I couldn't cover it. Thanks a lot, Variety!
Since that was a bust, and I missed the chance to see any movies for a couple hours, I decided to go cover the post-film Q and A of The Runaways. That's the movie about Joan Jett's first band. At the Q & A I saw Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning, Michael Shannon, Joan Jett, Cherie Currie, and writer/director Floria Sigismondi. They didn't have much to say other that how wonderful everyone was to work with. It was interesting to see how shy and nervous Kristen Stewart was, and how confident Dakota Fanning was (in person and on stage, I mean). Unfortunately I haven't seen the movie yet.
The last thing I did was attend the big Canadian party at Shobu's restaurant on Main Street. Since there are so many Canadian films at Sundance this year, they wanted to have a party with all the Canadian filmmakers. I hung out for an hour or so and got to talk to some nice people. The best exchange I had was with Gabriel Caldwell, Jesse Clark, and Enzo Zanatta. Their short film, Latte America, is about a country where coffee is illegal, and the entire movie was filmed in one take, performed in reverse. Here are all the Canadian filmmakers.
As the week goes on, I really need to see more movies. So far I am averaging 1.3 movies a day, but I didn't go up there at all on Saturday. We shall see what tomorrow brings.
Friday, January 22, 2010
First up was The Violent Kind. Directed by The Butcher Brothers, this is a crazy horror movie. It starts out with a biker gang going to a party at a house in the woods. Between the isolated house in the middle of nowhere and the possessed chick speaking with a demonic voice, it reminded me of Evil Dead. Then the movie gets weird. There are these crazy greasers straight out of the 1950s that start stalking the biker gang. They seem to have supernatural powers.
The movie reminded me of something Stephen King might have written back when he was on cocaine. A story starts out one way, some violence and killing starts happening, then some crazy supernatural stuff comes out of left field. The movie was interesting, but disappointing. The dialogue was ok at times and horrible other times. Lines like "You have a lot of heart" and "You can do anything you want. I know you can!" Cringe-inducing dialogue. The performances are ok, but most of the movie is kind of boring. It only gets entertaining when the strange 1950s greasers show up. They should have come into the story much earlier.
The next movie I saw was Enemies of the People. Its a documentary about the Khmer Rouge and the killing fields of Cambodia (1975 - 1979). Thet Sambath's family was killed by the Khmer Rouge, and he spent 10 years of his life befriending the people who committed the killing. He gets people to talk about the victims they killed, and he even talks to Brother Number Two, Pol Pot's right hand man.
It was chilling to watch these people talk about what they did. Some of them feel very bad about it, but some are just afraid they will go to prison. I thought the subject matter was fascinating, especially considering how much Sambath sacrificed to get the testimony of these guys. But I was hoping to learn more about the Khmer Rouge than I did. I wish he had asked Brother Number Two about Security Prison 21, for example.
The last movie was a great French horror movie called 7 Days. Dr. Bruno Hamel's daughter is kidnapped, raped, and murdered at the beginning of the movie. The killer is arrested, and before he can stand trial, Bruno manages to kidnap the killer and take him to an isolated cottage by a lake (the old cabin in the woods, again). He ties the killer up and tortures him for 7 days.
This sounds like the setup for Law-Abiding Citizen, but it is a very different kind of movie. For one thing, it's much more graphic. We see most of the things Bruno does to his daughter's killer. The movie also explores the idea of revenge. He wants to make his daughter's killer suffer as much as he possibly can, and we see the toll this has on the guy. There is a scene where a police officer asks why they are trying to find the killer. He says Bruno is justified in what he is doing, and why should they be trying to rescue a child murderer. His superior officer says that its not the killer he is trying to save, but Bruno.
As I said, the movie is very graphic. Every time he tried a new torture on his victim, I watched a handful of critics get up and leave. There were even some critics who made it over an hour into the movie, then something would happen that they just couldn't handle and they would head for the exits.
Oh, and here is a picture I took of a giant ice sculpture made to look like a big bottle of Absolute Vodka.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
One thing that has changed this year is that all press/industry screenings are taking place at the Holiday Village theaters. In years past they had two screens at the Holiday Village and one screen at the Yarrow hotel. The Yarrow is only a 5 minute walk from the Holiday Village, but I think I like it better to just have all the screenings in one place. Sometimes you get out of one movie and have like 2 minutes to make it to your next screening.
Another thing that changed is no Thursday night press screening. The only way to see a movie today would be either attend a public screening (which were sold out), or borrow a screener DVD and watch it at the press office. The problem here is that only 4 people at a time can be watching a movie, so I wasn't able to see any movies today.
What I did do was attend New Frontier on Main Street. They take the entire downstairs level of a shopping center on Main Street and turn it into an art exhibit. They have artists from all over the world showcase their stuff. One guy had an exhibit that was basically Google Earth projected onto the floor, and you control it by standing on it and using your feet. Another exhibit was called border town, and it consisted of a bunch of miniature buildings with mini lcd screens in the windows, showing scenes from movies.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt was there promoting his production company Press Record. Here is my interview with Joe:
After that, I attended the press conference with Robert Redford and festival director John Cooper. During the press conference, I noticed that Roger Ebert was sitting a few rows in front of me. He hasn't been to Sundance in several years because of his health issues. After the press conference, Redford walked off the stage and went over to Ebert to say hi, welcome him back to the festival, stuff like that. I couldn't get near them because every person in the room started crowing around the two.
That was it for today. Tomorrow the fun part begins: watching the movies.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
If you want to go catch any Sundance movies, go to www.sundance.org and read about how to buy tickets. Even if a movie is sold out, there is still a chance you will get in if you show up early enough and get in line. They also release tickets every day, so go to the box office to see if there are any more tickets available.
From their website:
January 22, 2010 - January 31, 2010 Didn't get the tickets you wanted to a sold-out screening? Come in to our Main Box Offices in Salt Lake City or Park City to get tickets to previously unavailable screenings. Each morning at 8:00 a.m., we release a limited number of tickets to that day's screenings. Tickets for each theatre's first screening of the day are released at 8:00 a.m. the day before. Day-of-show tickets must be purchased in-person; they are not available online.
WAIITLIST TICKET SALES
January 21, 2010 - January 31, 2010 The waitlist has become a Sundance tradition and each year hundreds of Festival-goers see popular films without advance tickets. There's no need to go to the Main Box Office- just go directly to the theatre of the screening you wish to attend. Arrive two hours before the scheduled screening time to pick up your waitlist number (one per person). For each theatre's first screening of the day, waitlist numbers will be distributed one hour before the scheduled screening time. Once you have your number, you can go grab a coffee or a sandwich, but you must return no later than 30 minutes before the screening time. You'll then line up according to number, and tickets are sold in sequential order. Waitlist tickets are $15. Only cash is accepted, so be sure to stop by the ATM before coming to the theatres.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
I want to talk about a few things that bugged me. I was paying attention the second time to make sure I didn't miss something. Oh, and if you haven't seen the movie yet, beware of mild spoilers.
What happens to you if your avatar is killed? This should have been explained within the first 15 minutes or so. Jake Sully would have asked this at some point, and if he hadn't, Grace would have brought it up. If your avatar dies, do you also die, like in the Matrix? Since you sense everything your avatar senses (feel pain, taste and smell), it would make sense that if an avatar is killed, the operator suffers.
On the other hand, is it like in Surrogates, where if a surrogate dies the operator just kind of wakes up? Remember Surrogates (I hope you don't)? People take their surrogates and jump off balconies just for fun, since they don't feel anything.
In Avatar, when Jake (his avatar) is risking his life, flying thousands of feet in the air, we don't know whether to be afraid for his life or not. When he first meets the tribe and the chief is trying to decide whether or not to kill him, we don't know how worried we should be. Does Jake Sully know? Is he afraid he may die, or is he just afraid of losing the expensive avatar?
I think we get the answer to this at the end of the movie. During the big battle at the end, Norm's avatar is shot. Not sure if it was a kill shot, but we see Norm emerge from his tanning bed, er, whatever you call their connection terminal. No one was around to unplug him, so was he unplugged automatically because his avatar died? He comes out gasping for air, but that's because of the atmosphere. So he seems unharmed by the bullet that hit his avatar. A few minutes later, Norm (the human) is outside with an oxygen mask and a gun, joining the fight.
So I'm going to assume that the operator is safe. No matter what happens to your avatar, you won't be hurt. But this should have been answered early in the movie.
Do the Na'vi know about the avatars? When Jake is meeting the tribe, they call him a "dreamwalker". I assumed that this meant they knew he was miles away plugged into a computer and controlling the body. But then towards the end one of the Na'vi says "see, they are just minds in a demon body" or something like that. So they don't know about their avatars? Did Grace want to keep that a secret? Did she want the Na'vi to believe that Grace and her people looked just like the Na'vi? The Na'vi know that Jake is an alien, but I figure they just thought they were aliens that looked like them.
What about all the times he was unplugged? Jake meets Neytiri, she takes him back to the tree, he meets the tribe, then they go sleep in hammocks. Then Jake wakes up. Good timing there. They unplug Jake just when his avatar is going to sleep. Jake is back at the base talking to all the humans for a while, then they plug him in again. The next scene is Jake (avatar) and Neytiri doing stuff.
So here is what I don't get. Did they plug him back in before Neytiri woke up? It seems like what takes place at the base is during the day, so how long was he unplugged? Does Neytiri just think Jake sleeps for 20 hours at a time? There are other scenes where we see Jake's avatar with Neytiri, then we cut to a scene where Jake is unplugged, then back again. At no point do we understand if he is only unplugged at night, or if sometimes he is unplugged during the day, and does Neytiri just leave him alone to sleep? Does she try and wake him up, and can't understand why he won't wake up?
We finally see this happen when the bulldozers arrive, the morning after Jake and Neytiri are mated. She is trying to wake him up, yelling and screaming at him because the bulldozers are coming, and he is unplugged so he has no idea what's going on. He is miles away, eating breakfast. Luckily, he plugs in before the bulldozers run over his avatar. This scene makes us think that this is the first time Neytiri has experienced this. So are we to believe that the entire movie, in all the times he was unplugged, this never happened before? I am picturing a scene where he plugs in and as he becomes aware of his avatar's surroundings, a bunch of Na'vi are standing around him saying "We thought you were dead. You wouldn't wake up. We've been trying to wake you up for hours."
The first two flaws are, to me, big flaws in the script. For dramatic purposes, we the audience should know whether Jake is in any danger or not. If the death of his avatar does not affect him physically, then the only time in the movie he is in any danger is the end, when the Colonel smashes the windows and Neytiri has to go in and save him.
We should also know whether the Na'vi know about the avatars. A simple line of dialogue from Grace saying "They know we are from another world, but they think we look just like them. They think our avatars are us. We figured it would be easier to establish a relationship with them if we looked just like them." Something like that.
Also, as Jake is falling in love with Neytiri, wouldn't he want to let her know that that wasn't his real body she was caressing? At some point, say "hey, come back to my place so we can actually meet face to face." Or if she did know about their avatars, maybe she would have said "take me to the place where your real body is, so I can see what you really look like." Something like that.
I had these questions the first time I saw the movie, and the second time I was paying close attention to see if they covered these issues. I don't think they did. What do you think?
Thursday, January 14, 2010
I liked most of this, but I hated the beginning and the end. Well, not the whole beginning. It just takes 10 minutes or so to get going. I was bored at first, but then Denzel kills a bunch of guys and it gets fun. There is some great action, blood spurting, limbs getting hacked off, all that stuff. But the ending really kills the movie.
I'll admit, the book is nothing but a Macguffin. Denzel has it, the bad guys want it, and it is what drives the plot. But the book turns out to be nothing more than the bible (we know this early on), and what Denzel wants to do with it is kind of lame. Also, what the bad guy (the always fun Gary Oldman) wants it for is also kind of lame. And there is a twist or two at the end that I didn't buy at all. So, the ending sucks but most of the movie is decent.
The Lovely Bones - 2 stars
I'm afraid I didn't like The Lovely Bones very much. There was not enough story to justify the running time. There were far too many scenes of Susie in "the in-between" where nothing happens. She just is there, and we are supposed to be amazed by what she is seeing. But special effects can get boring real fast, no matter how good they are. The scenes look incredible, but most of the time nothing is happening. The movie could have probably lost 30 minutes without impacting the story. I know that Susie narrating the story after her death is what makes this story unique, but I would have preferred the movie without that device.
I thought Stanley Tucci and Saoirse Ronan delivered great performances, but everyone else was just ok in their parts. Susan Sarandon was not given enough to do. When she first shows up to help Rachel Weisz cope, it felt like a bad sitcom for 10 minutes or so. Oh look, she's washing clothes and there are suds everywhere! Oh look, she's cooking and she almost lights the kitchen on fire! That montage felt very out of place in the movie. There is nothing wrong with putting humor in even the darkest stories, but that sequence just didn't work at all for me.
I think anyone can relate to the pain a family would feel if their daughter was murdered, or be repulsed by Tucci's character. But the movie kept me at arm's length emotionally. It should have been easy to get emotionally invested in the characters, and I didn't.
The Spy Next Door - (didn't see this)
A Single Man - 3 stars
The best thing Colin Firth has ever done. Another critic compared it to a gay, darker American Beauty. Maybe, but without the humor. This movie moves pretty slowly. It really makes you feel sorry for his character (his long-time partner has just died). It's interesting hearing his inner monologue at the beginning of the movie. As he is getting dressed, he talks about how he is putting on a different persona to face the world.
There is a bit of flirtation with a student of his and maybe it should be a little creepy (not because of the gay thing but the teacher/student thing). But when the flirtation starts, you are feeling so bad for Firth's character that you want him to find some happiness. I liked the movie, but I'm not sure I'd want to watch it again.
The Horse Boy - 2 stars
This is a documentary about a boy with autism, and how his parents take him to Mongolia hoping that a shaman can cure him. It was a very interesting story and the young boy broke my heart, but overall the movie didn't work for me. There is a stretch of about a half hour towards the end of the movie where nothing much happens. We are just watching them ride horses in Mongolia. The movie opens and closes with some talking heads trying to explain autism, and I was surprised to learn that the experts don't even agree about what exactly autism is.
The main thing I took away from the movie is that you have to have the patience of a saint to raise a child with autism. I have no idea how the parents in this movie do it.
Saturday, January 2, 2010
This is the opposite of all those sports movies. In this case, the coach goes to a new team and turns a winner into a loser. Another great performance by Michael Sheen, and I also really enjoyed Timothy Spall in this movie. He and Sheen have great chemistry.
9 - The Cove
One of the most exciting movies of the year. It's a documentary that plays more like a thriller. And Private Space is one of the most entertaining movie villains I've seen in a while.
8 - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
I'm a Harry Potter fan, and this was one of the better Potter movies. At first I was disappointed with all the stuff they left out, but after seeing the movie again, I found it really works emotionally. The scene between Daniel Radcliffe and Jim Broadbent, when Harry finally gets the memory from Slughorn, almost brought a tear to my eye.
7 - Inglorious Basterds
Another movie that improves with each viewing. Many of the scenes are basically the bomb under the desk scene, but stretched out to 20 minutes.
6 - Adventureland
I'm really disappointed that most critics forgot about this movie. It came out last March and I think if it came out later in the year it would have been up for some awards. Because of Twilight, people forget how good an actress Kristen Stewart is. She is great in this movie. Jessie Eisenberg may be playing the same character he always plays, but he does it so well. The movie reminds me of the great John Hughes movies of the 80s.
5 - (500) Days of Summer
So many romantic comedies end with the guy and the girl getting together. Even though they shouldn't be together, at the end they kiss, the music swells, and it's happily ever after. This movie is smart enough to know that that is usually crap. If two people aren't right for each other, it won't work out. There are so many things I like about this movie. The out of sequence works really well. When we see the title card DAY 21, we know it's early in their relationship and everything is great. When it says DAY 420, we know things are going bad. I love the dance sequence after they first have sex, and when he looks in a mirror and sees Han Solo winking back at him, that is my favorite moment of any movie this year.
4 - Up in the Air
Saw this for a second time yesterday and it is great. My only problem is the scene where he has his epiphany right as he is beginning his big speech in Las Vegas. Couldn't he have figured things out an hour earlier? I'm sick of characters doing that. Finish your speech and then race to the airport. But everything else is great. This is the perfect character for George Clooney to play, and Anna Kendrick is great as the young trainee.
3 - Me and Orson Welles
I have never acted in a play, but this movie made me want to join a theater troupe. Christian McKay's performance as Orson Welles was so much fun to watch that every moment he was off screen, I was just waiting for him to enter the movie again. It certainly didn't hurt that within the last 6 months I saw Citizen Kane and The Battle Over Citizen Kane, so I was very familiar with Orson Welles.
2 - An Education
The two most important things in a movie are character and story, but the most important is character. If the characters are lame, I don't care how good the story is, it can't connect with me on an emotional level. But the characters are so great in this movie, especially the main character. Carey Mulligan gives the most exciting performance of the year. We experience everything the character experiences because the character is written so well, and she gives such a great performance. I saw this for a second time last week, and I wasn't bored for a second. Everybody needs to see this movie.
1 - In the Loop
Funniest movie of the year. There are so many great quotable lines in this movie. Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker, the guy makes profanity sound like poetry. I love the fighting between Liza Wells and Chad. I love James Gandolfini as the general. The little scenes with Steve Coogan and his mom's wall. The less you know about the movie going in, the better.