Monday, September 20, 2010

Catching up

The Town - 3 stars

This is the second movie Ben Affleck has directed. It's not quite as good as Gone Baby Gone but it's still very well done. The acting is great. Jeremy Renner is so good, I never thought of his character from The Hurt Locker. I wasn't familiar with Jon Hamm before, but he was so good in this that I want to start watching Mad Men. Chris Cooper is one of my favorite actors, and I was bummed that he only had one scene in this, but as always he hit it out of the park. Pete Postlethwaite has never been better.

One complaint I had was that Affleck's character was too careless when he first met her. When she tells him about the robbery, he tips his hand that he had something to do with it. He asks too many specific questions about what she knows and what she told the FBI. If he was a normal guy, he would be more concerned with how she was coping. I thought he was so obvious that it should have occurred to her that he might have had something to do with it.

This is one of those movies where the protagonist is a criminal, but we root for him because he is the protagonist. They make it too easy by having him be the "good" bad guy. He may be a bank robber, but he doesn't like to hurt innocent people. He says he's never killed anyone. By making his friend Jim (Renner) such a psycho, it makes Affleck so much more likable by contrast. It would have been more interesting if he was a bit more of a typical criminal. Then it wouldn't have been as easy for the audience to root for him. Also, he says he has never killed anyone, yet he does a lot of shooting at police with a machine gun. This is one of those Hollywood movies where no innocent bystanders are hit by a stray bullet, and no cops are killed by gunfire. The bullets just hit the police cars so the cops take cover.

Easy A - 3 stars

Emma Stone is excellent in this. She was good in Superbad and Zombieland, but this is the movie that makes her a star. Not only is she gorgeous, but she is also hilarious. I also loved Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci as her parents. I could watch an entire movie starring them. They practically stole the movie.

My only problem with the movie is the end. I don't quite get how what she does really fixes anything for her. Just because she tells her story in a webcast that everybody watches, it's not like it's going to make everything go away. If anything, people at school will stare at her more. It just feels a little to much like the typical big Hollywood ending where some huge declaration has to happen in front of a lot of people.

Machete - 3 1/2 stars

This is exactly what Piranha and The Expendables should have been - funny. Both of those movies were too serious and had no sense of irony. They were throwbacks to a certain kind of movie, and you can't treat that kind of material as if you're making a serious drama. Machete had the right amount of blood and boobs. The audience I saw it with broke into cheers several times, and it was one of the funnest screenings I have been to in a long time.

My only complaint is it goes on a little too long. It could have been trimmed just a bit. And the ending somehow felt anti-climactic. The finale was a huge fight between Machete's army and the redneck border patrol people. It just wasn't as big and fun as the movie needed for the finale. Even the moment when Machete puts the huge machine gun on his motorcycle and flies through the air wasn't as exciting as I thought it would be when I saw it in the trailer. And the final fight between Machete and Steven Seagal was overly edited. Way too many cuts. When I see two characters fight, I really want to see more than 2 seconds at a time per shot.

The American - 2 1/2 stars

This one was a hard call. I enjoyed it, but I never want to see it again. And there were too many questions unanswered.

First of all, it's being sold totally wrong. You watch the trailer and assume that there will be some action and intrigue. Instead we are watching a character study. There is very little story here. I don't mind some unanswered questions in a movie. Most Hollywood movies tend to over explain everything, and I like it when a movie doesn't talk down to its audience. But in this case, I really wanted to know whether the woman at the beginning was in on it or not. I like to think she wasn't. He was so paranoid that he shot her without worrying about whether she was innocent or not. But how much did he like her? Did he love her as much as the woman later in the movie? The one he is prepared to run away with?

I really liked the performance by Paolo Bonacelli as Father Benedetto. He has such a great face. I wish there was more time devoted to his character. The scene where he invites Clooney to dinner ends way too soon. They don't even get into a conversation before the scene ends. Which is another problem I had with the movie. Everyone speaks in movie-speak. There are no conversations in the movie. Just lines delivered. Lines that don't reveal anything. When the dinner scene at Father Benedetto's place ends, I wondered what did they talk about for the rest of the meal? Nothing of substance is said. Same with the female assassin he makes the gun for. Very little interesting dialogue.

I had problems with the ending of the movie (spoiler warning). Did his boss hire her to kill him? If so, then what a waste of time and money. She could have killed him when they went to that river to test the gun. If she needed the gun for another job, then at what point did the boss decide Clooney needed to be killed? At what point did Clooney figure out she was going to try and kill him? He must have been pretty certain to rig the gun the way he did. And why was his boss there in the town? Just to see that the job was done? Does he do that often? It would seem like the whole point of hiring an assassin to kill someone is so that you don't have to be anywhere near the crime.

I don't mind some things left unanswered, but it just seemed like too much in this movie.

Going the Distance - 3 1/2 stars

Once again, another movie that looks like a typical chick flick but is actually a very good movie. And very funny. Drew Barrymore has never made me laugh like she does in this movie. Justin Long is usually funny, though.

Most movies involving a romance have to have some kind of obstacle for the couple to overcome. A long distance relationship is a good idea, and is also made believable. In this movie, they talk about how expensive a plane ticket is, and that's why they don't see each other more. In a lesser movie, they would fly back and forth with no mention of the cost of a ticket.

I also liked that it was R rated. They took pretty good advantage of the R rating as far as the language goes. The phone sex scene was pretty funny and realistic. The movie didn't wimp out like, I don't know, American Pie 2 (very lame phone sex scene). They didn't take advantage as far as nudity goes, though. Even though Drew Barrymore bared all in Playboy years ago, she refused to go nude in this movie. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I wanted to see her naked, (well, I'm not just saying that) but it would have made sense in a few scenes. The sex and shower scenes were carefully choreographed and filmed to hide her naughty bits. Justin Long did go nude, but it was kind of ridiculous. He is in a spray tanning both, and even though he is in the room alone, he covers himself with his hands. Which does lead to a funny scene later when he has to explain why he has a hand print on his ass. But that's one of those things that takes me out of a movie. If a character is hiding their nakedness from no one but the camera, it just reminds us that there is a camera there.

My biggest complaint is that the obvious answer is he should quit his job and move to San Francisco to be with her. We do see him calling around, trying to find a similar job to the one he has in New York. But no real discussion of him changing careers. We know she went to college to be a reporter, and that is a good career (the decline of newspapers notwithstanding). But no explanation of how good his job is. He says he doesn't like it, and we know he doesn't make tons of money. She has the better career and he shouldn't expect her to abandon everything she has worked for to be a waitress.

The Last Exorcism - 2 stars

If it weren't for the last 5 minutes, I would have gone 3 stars. The style isn't original anymore. From The Blair Witch Project to Cloverfield to Paranormal Activity, the idea of making a movie look like it was found footage shot by someone with a video camera has been done. But that doesn't mean people shouldn't still use it if they have a good story to tell. In this case, Patrick Fabian is very good as Cotton Marcus. He has performed many exorcisms, and he now wants to expose them for the fraud that they are. He explains that they are basically a placebo. People think they are possessed, they think they need an exorcism, he performs that exorcism, and they think they are healed.

He takes a camera crew with him so they can witness the exorcism. He also shows all his tricks to the crew. This is a fun scene. During the exorcism, the movie keeps cutting back to him at his van showing how he makes the smoke come out of the cross, or how he uses his rings to shock the girl. Then it seems like she is really possessed, and he is freaked out. Is she faking, or has he for the first time encountered a real possession?

The reason the movie fails is the ending. I don't know what a fitting ending would have been, but this reminded me way too much of Hot Fuzz. You remember the scene where the entire town is wearing robes and conducting some sort of secret ceremony? The audience I saw this with was laughing during the finale, which is never a good sign for a horror movie.

Takers - 2 1/2 stars

I liked this movie more than I thought I would, but I still can't quite recommend it. Hayden Christensen still can't act, and the filmmakers apparently didn't get the message that it's no longer cool to have characters walk away from an explosion. Especially if they are walking in slow motion.

Get Low - 3 stars

Who hasn't been curious to know what people would say about them at their own funeral? It's a morbid thought, but it is interesting to think about. Who would talk, and what would they say? In this movie, Robert Duvall plays a hermit who really wants to know the answer. He decides to hire a funeral director (Bill Murray) to give him a funeral party. It's just like a funeral, but he will be there alive to witness it.

Duvall has never given a bad performance, and this is enjoyable as usual. One complaint I had was that the entire movie, we know Duvall has a secret. When we finally find out what it was, it isn't anywhere near as horrible as we think it is. Well, it is horrible, but we are led to believe that he did something horrible. He may have been the cause in a way, but he didn't hurt anybody. He tried to stop it. His character has been in hell for so many years that I assumed he had killed a child or something.

Waking Sleeping Beauty - 1 1/2 stars

This is a documentary about Disney. Specifically about the era of 1987 - 1995 when Disney started making good animated movies that made a lot of money. Movies like The Little Mermaid, Aladin, The Lion King. The movie talks a lot about the rivalry between Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg.

It was fun watching this movie and remembering those movies. I remember when The Little Mermaid came out, I was in junior high. I was at the point where I was not into cartoons anymore. But people were saying I should go see The Little Mermaid. It was better than a cartoon. I ended up seeing it and liking it. Same with Beauty and the Beast, then Aladin, then The Lion King. It seemed like each movie was a big event movie, and you might as well see it so you would know what everyone was talking about.

The movie explains how the animation studio was losing money and almost shut down. Then they managed to turn the ship around with The Little Mermaid and everything was gravy. One problem with the movie though is it doesn't really expose any dirty secrets. Everything in the movie is pretty much either common knowledge or easy to find on wikipedia. I didn't think it exposed anything shocking. At the end of the credits, I understood why. The last title card said "Distributed by Disney." Of course. To get the real, whole story it would have to be independent of Disney. The film makers weren't going to make the company look too bad.

And the story ends in 1994 or 1995. No mention of how the movies started going downhill (Mulan, Hurcules, Pocohantas, or Tarzan), how they focus on horrible live action movies now, and the only good stuff that comes out of Disney these days is by Pixar. No recap of what happened over the last 15 years and where the people ended up. I especially wanted to hear about Katzenberg founding Dreamworks and how Dreamworks animation competes with Disney, or about Eisner firing Roy Disney. Overall, the movie kind of bored me.

Restrepo - 2 1/2 stars

This is a documentary shot in the toughest part of Afghanistan. The filmmakers spent a year with soldiers at the most dangerous outpost there, and this movie really gives you a good sense of what life is like for them. There is no story to this movie, it's just observing daily life at the outpost. It's a noble film, but I don't recommend it.

Animal Kingdom - 4 stars

One of the best movies of the year, and my favorite movie from this year's Sundance Film Festival. Jacki Weaver is going to get the Oscar for best supporting actress next year for her chilling portrayal of the matriarch of an Australian crime family. Like a mother bear protecting her cubs, we can tell she would kill anyone without hesitation to protect her sons.

There is one kill near the end of this movie that was really haunting. Most of the time, when a character is killed in a movie, it doesn't get to me that much. It's part of the story, and it's dramatic. But this one is just gut wrenching. You realize it's going to happen before it happens, and the whole time I was just squirming in my seat. A great movie.

Soul Kitchen - 2 1/2 stars

This movie started off well. It's about a Greek restaurant owner living in Hamburg, Germany. He has a girlfriend who is off to Beijing, so they talk on the phone and attempt to have Skype sex. He hires a crazy chef who has no use for customers who don't appreciate his fancy cooking. He has a brother who is on work release from prison, needs a job, and has a gambling problem.

The movie is very enjoyable for the first hour or so. But then it gets unrealistic and becomes almost slapstick. It starts with the scene at the cemetery. His girlfriend is attending her grandmother's funeral with another guy, and he loses it. He screams "No!" at the top of his lungs, charges them, and ends up knocking the coffin into the grave. Of course the coffin opens and grandma's arm falls out. Then his brother shows an incredible lack of sense and manages to lose the restaurant. Then he comes up with a lame scheme to get the restaurant back.

If the movie had kept the same tone throughout, I would have liked it a lot more.

I'm Still Here - 1 1/2 stars

This movie should have come out a year ago, back when everybody was talking about Joaquin Phoenix and his meltdown. It's really pretty boring. If the whole thing was really faked, it should have resulted in a better movie. Sacha Baron Cohen and Larry Charles should have given Casey Affleck some pointers.

The best part of the movie is when they show Phoenix's appearance on Letterman, and you can see that on youtube for free.

Kisses - 3 stars

A nice little movie about an Irish boy and girl who run away from home for a day. They have some adventures in the big city and at one point narrowly avoid being kidnapped or worse. Most of the movie is lighthearted and fun, but it gets dark when we learn about the girl and her uncle. The kids are good natural performers and the movie is a fun adventure, but I wouldn't recommend it for kids.