Monday, May 31, 2010

The Square - 3 1/2 stars

Raymond and Carla are having an affair. They are both married, but neither one is really happy in their marriage. One day, Carla comes home to find her husband with a bag full of money. He doesn't notice her come in, and she secretly watches him hide it.

The next time she is with Ray, she tells him about the money. She wants him to go to her house and steal it. He says no, we would never get away with it. Her husband would figure it out. The only way to get away with it, he says, is to burn the house down so her husband thinks the money burned up.

There is the perfect plan. They hire a guy to burn the house after Carla grabs the money, and from there, everything that can go wrong does go wrong. Ray is the worst guy to commit a crime. The first time he meets the arsonist, the guy tells Ray to "wipe that guilty look off your face." Complicating the matters is the fact that Ray is also taking kickbacks at his construction job. It's hard to keep the lies straight when you are trying to get away with several things at once.

There isn't a lot of humor in this movie, but one thing I thought was funny was the way their dogs became so close. Ray and Carla each bring their dogs with them sometimes, so the dogs become friends. So when Carla's dog gets out of their yard, he runs to the river, swims across the river, and ends up at Ray's door.

The movie reminds me of Blood Simple or A Simple Plan. A very good directorial debut from Nash Edgerton, who before this was one of the top stuntmen in Australia.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Secret in their Eyes - 4 stars

Probably my favorite movie of the year so far. This movie won the Oscar for best foreign language movie this year. The movie is from Argentina and it is subtitled.

The movie is about a retired criminal court worker named Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin) who is writing a novel about a 25 year old rape and murder case that still haunts him. The movie flashes back and forth between present day and when he first started investigating the case. His assistant Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella) spends most of his time in his favorite bar, getting drunk, getting into fights, and getting kicked out by his wife. He is really good in this movie.

Benjamin is in love with his supervisor, but she is engaged to someone else. Their relationship is the heart of this movie.

If this were a typical movie, we would learn who killed the girl at the end, or we would learn who was behind it all or something like that. In this movie, we learn who did it before the halfway point. There is a surprise at the end, but it is no twist ending. It makes sense considering what we know about the characters.

This is the movie I recommend you see over the Memorial Day weekend.

Casino Jack and the United States of Money - 3 stars

By now, everyone knows that corporations rule this country. This movie explains why. To put it simply, every politician spends most of their time begging for money. The thing they want most is to be re-elected, and that costs a lot of money. The only groups that have the kind of money they need is big corporations. So the corporations hire lobbyists who bribe politicians to pass laws that help the corporations make bigger profits.

Jack Abramoff is the subject of this documentary. He is a very interesting figure. We see how he began his political career, and at one time he even dabbled in movie making. He wrote and produced Red Scorpion (1989) starring Dolph Lundgren.

The thing that stayed with me the most from the movie is the segment about the Mariana Islands. They are a US territory, but they aren't subject to US labor laws. Which means they can pay employees far below minimum wage, they don't have to provide a safe work environment, and it's the perfect place for sweatshops.

Human rights workers tried to get congress to pass a law that would grant these rights to sweatshop workers in these islands. When that happened, Abramoff brought a bunch of senators there on a vacation, wined and dined them, and took them on one brief scheduled tour of a sweatshop. They came back and said everything was fine there, and nothing happened. The sweatshops continued.

One problem with the movie is it is too long and tries to pack too much information in. By the end, I was pissed off, but I also felt overloaded with information. But still definitely worth seeing.

Best Worst Movie - 3 stars

In 1992, Troll 2 was released. It had nothing to do with Troll 1. In fact, the movie is about goblins. But at some point, the producers decided to call it a sequel to Troll. The movie at one time was the lowest rated movie on For some reason, people started getting together to watch the movie and revel in its badness.

Best Worst Movie is a documentary about Troll 2. You don't have to be familiar with Troll 2 to enjoy this documentary. Directed by one of the actors, the movie shows enough scenes to give you an idea of how bad Troll 2 is. I always like hearing actors be honest about how much a movie they were in sucks (which rarely happens, because actors want to keep working), and these guys all know how horrible Troll 2 is.

The only people who don't get it is the film's director and writer. They think they actually made a good movie, and we get to see them at one of the Troll 2 screenings saying "What is everyone laughing at? They don't get my movie!"

The main focus of the documentary is George Hardy. He was the dad in the movie, and he now works as a dentist in Alabama. It's great to see how honest and sincere he is about Troll 2. As the movie's popularity grows, he realizes he has another shot at fame. One of the saddest moments in the documentary is when we see him at a horror convention and no one is stopping by his booth.

We also get to meet some other actors from the movie. One keeps Troll 2 off her resume, one is a recluse who never leaves the house, and another was in an insane asylum while the movie was being made. Crazy stuff.

Sex and the City 2 - 2 stars

I have never seen an episode of the HBO series. Saw the first movie and it was not as bad as I thought it would be. I guess I would say the same thing about this movie. It was way too long - two and a half hours is too long for a comedy with likable characters.

But I did laugh. There were funny parts. Some jokes were obviously coming, but there were some genuine funny character moments. Lines like "Lawrence of my labia" and "Abu Dhabi Doo" made me laugh. Towards the end of the movie, Samantha is surrounded by conservative Muslims and condoms fall out of her bag. The way she waves them in the faces of the shocked crowd and exclaims "That's right, I have sex!" was pretty funny.

But it's hard to like characters who are so rich and clueless. Samantha doesn't know that you shouldn't show lots of leg and cleavage in a middle eastern country? Really? Carrie is actually surprised that Big wants to do what all married men want to do: sit on the couch and watch TV. Big is actually surprised that Carrie wants to go out to dinner, go to parties, and be seen? That's why she wears the ridiculous outfits that she does - to be seen in them. Those two really should have talked more before they got married.

The movie starts with a gay wedding officiated by Liza Minnelli. I actually got to like her in Arrested Development, but that's all gone now. Her face looks like Katherine Helmond's from Brazil, and her musical number is the most annoying thing I have ever seen. Seriously.

There is a nice scene between Charlotte and Miranda where they discuss how difficult it is to be a mother. The movie could have used a few more scenes like that. But wait, that would make the movie longer! I just don't know.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Robin Hood - 3 stars

Before going into this movie, you have to forget everything you know about Robin Hood. Personally, I know the legend, but I have never seen the Errol Flynn version, or the Sean Connery version, and I don't think I've seen the Disney version. I may be in the minority, but my favorite is the Kevin Costner version. Prince of Thieves came out when I was 15, and I love the movie to this day.

This movie is a prequel. When we first meet Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe), he is a common archer in King Richard the Lionheart's army. They are returning to London after 10 years of crusades. The king is killed in battle, and Robin and his friends desert. A few things happen, and Robin and his friends return to London disguised as Knights. They end up at Loxley manor, where the widow Marian (Cate Blanchett) and her father in law Sir Walter Loxley (Max von Sydow) live.

There is a lot of setup in this movie. There is a bit about Prince John cheating on his wife with the French King's niece. Prince John becomes King (after Richard's death). John's most trusted friend is Godfrey (Mark Strong), who is sent out to collect taxes. When noblemen aren't able to pay their taxes, their homes are burned and people are killed.

At times, this movie feels more like Kingdom of Heaven or Braveheart. There is a Little John and Friar Tuck, but there is only one scene where they rob anyone. The rest of the movie is about what is going on between the people, the nobles, and the king. Oh, and the King of France is also planning on invading England (with Godfrey's help), which culminates in a big climactic battle at the end of the movie.

Basically this is a prequel to the Robin Hood legend. So don't go in expecting a remake of any other Robin Hood movie. This is the kind of movie Ridley Scott makes better than anyone, and I enjoyed it. I could have done without the subplot involving Robin's late father, though.

Letters to Juliet - 2 1/2 stars

This one is a tough call. I could have gone 3 stars, but we'll just stick with 2 1/2.

Amanda Seyfried and Gael Garcia Bernal are engaged. She is a fact checker for New York Magazine and he is a chef who is about to open his own restaurant. They go on a pre-honeymoon to Italy where he manages to keep finding ways to do things she doesn't want to do, like visit food distributors and wine tasting. For him, the trip is basically a business trip.

She discovers the home of Juliet, from Romeo and Juliet. Since she was a fictional character, I'm not exactly sure how there is a home of Juliet, but nevermind. Lovesick girls go to the wall outside Juliet's home and leave letters for Juliet. These letters are all about their relationships, and I guess these women would rather write to a fictional character than, I don't know, an advice columnist. I can understand kids writing letters to Santa, but adult women writing to a fictional character? Whatever.

A group of women known as the secretaries of Juliet go to the wall and collect these letters. I guess the women leave their return addresses on the letters, because the secretaries write back. I don't know who pays these women, or why they do it for free, but Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) ends up befriending the women. Since she has so much free time while her fiance is busy doing his thing, she starts working with the women. That's just what I like to do when I'm on vacation - work.

One day she finds a 50 year old letter hidden in the wall. It was written by a woman named Claire, and in the letter she says she is going to leave the Italian she is in love with and return to London, since her parents wouldn't approve of him. Well, Sophie decides this is just too good to pass up, and she writes back. Of course the letter finds Claire - it's only been 50 years. Either she lives in her parents' house, or she was always very diligent about forwarding her mail.

In the letter, Sophie says Claire should return to Italy and find the guy. She doesn't stop to consider that maybe Claire is happily married or dead, or about the Italian guy's status. But Claire does follow the instructions, and she brings her grandson along. When the grandson Charlie first meets Sophie, they fight. This means that according to the rules of romantic comedy, they will fall in love before the movie is over. This is one place the movie lost me. I was hoping that Sophie would remain with her finace, and the movie would be about Claire, but no. Typical chick flick stuff.

Also, the setup takes a good 20 minutes or so, and it is rather boring. But when Claire enters the picture, it gets much better. Claire is played by the great Vanessa Redgrave, and as soon as she comes on screen, the movie just becomes alive. Her scenes are funny and she makes you fall in love with her right away. As I look through her filmography, I realize that I haven't seen many of her movies, and most of those have been supporting performances. I just might have to rent some of her old movies now.

The rest of the movie is of the three of them traveling around Italy, looking for her lost love. His name is Lorenzo Bartolini, which is a problem, since that is Italy's version of John Anderson. There are tons of them. Obviously Sophie could use her fact checking skills, jump on the internet, and determine the most likely candidate(s), based on what Claire can tell her. But then we wouldn't have a movie. They look up the name, plot them on a map, and go door to door meeting many Lorenzos along the way.

I'm not going to spoil it and tell you whether she finds her Lorenzo, whether he is single, or even alive. I already spoiled what happens with Sophie, but that was obvious as soon as Charlie entered the movie. But the movie is worth seeing for Vanessa Redgrave's performance alone. She has a way of making her lines funny and heartwarming at the same time.

I can't recommend it to everyone, but if the idea of an old woman trying to reconnect with a love from 50 years ago tugs on your heartstrings, you will probably enjoy it.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Iron Man 2 - 2 stars (spoilers)

Iron Man 2 is boring, which is the worst thing a superhero movie can be.

Tony Stark was a fun character the first time around. We saw how cocky he was, but when he was in that cave fighting for his life, we believed it. When his friend (the one who saved his life in the cave) was dying, we really felt his pain and anguish. It made the character very human.

In Iron Man 2, there is none of that pathos. Everything he says and does is done with a wink and a smile. Even when he is at his lowest point, I didn't feel anything for the character the way I did in the first movie. That makes him like Roger Moore's James Bond - a cartoon character.

The first 20 minutes are particularly boring. We are introduced to Mickey Rourke's character. He watches TV with his dad, his dad dies, and he spends 5 minutes making a chest reactor like Tony Stark Has. Next, we see Iron Man jump out of a plane. He flies down and lands on stage at the Stark Expo while the Iron Man Rockettes dance to Shoot to Thrill by AC/DC. This also takes a good 5 minutes.

So nothing happens for the first 10 minutes, and they could have accomplished all this in about 2 minutes.

Next is the congressional hearing scene. This is somewhat interesting. Senator Larry Sanders* wants Tony Stark to turn over the Iron Man weapon to the government. He says no, it's not really a weapon. We meet Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) who is trying to develop his own Iron Man suits. The movie gets interesting for a minute as Stark shows congress video of Hammer working with other nations, including Iran and North Korea, trying to help them get working suits. This is not mentioned again in the movie. Later in the movie the senators will have no problem working with Hammer again. Apparently it's not a big deal that he was working with our enemies.

About 25 minutes in the movie finally gives us a good action scene. You've seen it in the trailers. Mickey Rourke shows up on a raceway in Monaco and cuts Tony's race car in half with his whips. This scene is great, and it has the thing I want most in a superhero movie: a transformation scene. Ever since Superman (1978) I have enjoyed scenes where the superhero changes into his superhero outfit. In this movie, he carries his Iron Man suit around in the form of a briefcase.

Unfortunately this scene is the highlight of the movie. It goes back downhill from there.

How lame is the birthday party scene? It starts out ok. Tony Stark is bummed that he is dying, so he decides to get drunk and have some fun. He's dancing around in the suit and chicks are throwing objects into the air for him to blast with his hand blaster thingy. His buddy Rhodes is looking in disapproval. What Rhodes should do is either leave in disgust, or try to talk some sense into Stark. What does he do instead? Goes downstairs, puts on another Iron Man suit (the War Machine suit), and starts to fight Tony Stark. Is he really so mad that he wants to kill him? Or does he just plan on beating the crap out of him with the suit?

So we get a couple of minutes of the two fighting in the suits. Which is boring for several reasons. One, we know neither of them is going to be seriously hurt or killed, so there is no tension. Also, we aren't rooting for either of them to win. We know Stark is being a jackass, but he's the hero of the movie. And isn't it ridiculous that Rhodes can step into the suit for the first time and hold his own against Stark? Remember the first movie, where it took Stark a long time to learn to fly and stuff?

We find out early on that Stark is dying. The energy core that keeps him alive is also slowly poisoning him. So part of the movie is about him trying to figure out how to stay alive. The way it is resolved is really stupid. At first, we think the SHIELD organization is going to help him, but all they do is confine him to his house and tell him to keep working on it. He solves the problem with the help of his late father, through the outtakes of a video his dad did, and using a model of a town or something. It doesn't really make much sense. How did his father know he would ever need it, and why did he hide it? His dad should have just left him a note: "Tony, if we ever invent a way to synthesize new elements, make THIS ONE. Love, Dad".

There were some good story ideas here. Mickey Rourke's villain (Ivan Drago, or whatever) could have been fun, but he was not in the movie enough. And when he was in the movie, he spent all his time typing on a computer. The idea that Tony is dying could have been good, and introducing Hammer as a rival could have also been interesting. But everything was handled so badly in the movie. Maybe the script was good but they had too long of a movie so they cut the hell out of it. Blame the editing. Or maybe the script was bad to begin with. The first movie was written by Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby (best name ever!), and Part 2 was written by Justin Theroux. Why not keep with the same writers? They did a great job with the first movie.

* That's not really his name in the movie, but wouldn't it have been cool if it was? Hey now!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) - 1 star

I'm getting really tired of bad remakes of good movies. The only reason to remake a movie is if you can improve upon it. Take a bad movie, fix what didn't work about it, and make a good movie. But the 1984 A Nightmare on Elm Street was a great movie and it holds up just fine, so there was no reason for this.

Jackie Earl Haley did a good job as a psycho killer, but he is no Freddy. Only Robert England can play Freddy. The rest of the cast kind of sucked. It's like Freddy meets the cast of The Hills or something. A bunch of pretty actors who can barely act. Of course, the screenwriters gave them nothing to do in the first place.

In the original Nightmare, Heather Langenkamp looked like the girl next door. She didn't look like a supermodel. And Wes Craven gave her, her parents, and her boyfriend enough screen time to create really good characters. Think about how much screen time Freddy actually had in the original. I bet it isn't more than 15 minutes total. The rest of the movie was spent with the other characters, you know, the ones that we don't want to die. The problem with the new Nightmare, as well as most horror movies nowadays, is that we don't get to know any of the characters enough to like them, or root for them. We are basically only rooting for them to die.

The new Nightmare gives a lot of screen time to Freddy. We also see his back story. In the original, we were told about it (through good dialogue and good acting), and it was very effective. But seeing how Freddy became what he is takes some of the mystique away from him. Just like learning how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader, or seeing Boba Fett as a kid, too much back story can ruin a character.

This movie was worse than Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare.