Friday, October 29, 2010

Conviction - 3 stars

This is the true story of Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank). Her brother Kenny (Sam Rockwell) was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison, so in order to free him, she gets her GED, then her college diploma, then passes the bar exam and becomes a lawyer.

Through flashbacks, we see how horrible their childhood was. Their mom had like 8 kids by 5 different guys, and she was such a bad mother that they were taken away and raised in foster homes. Betty Anne and Kenny were very close growing up, so it is no surprise that getting Kenny out of jail would be the most important thing in her life.

One complaint I had was that the movie jumped ahead in time too often. One minute she is planning to get her GED, the next minute she is already in law school. No time is spent showing how hard it was to get her GED and bachelor's degree while raising kids and working.

She has to catch a few lucky breaks and get some help from other lawyers, but what she accomplished was pretty incredible. It is very much a feel good movie, but it works.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Paranormal Activity 2 - 2 1/2 stars

Not as good as the first one, but still worth seeing if you really liked the first movie.

This may be a little bit of a spoiler, but this is a prequel to the first Paranormal Activity. The people being haunted this time is a husband and wife with a teenage daughter and an infant son. The surprise is that the mom's sister is Katie Sloat, the victim from the first movie. By the end, they will transfer the demon to Katie, setting up the events of the first movie.

I thought the first movie did a much better job of ratcheting up the tension. This movie has too many sequences where nothing happens for the first half hour, then suddenly all hell breaks loose. The baby is levitating out of his crib much too early, and that almost made me laugh when I saw it.

I like a movie that does a good job of creating a sense of dread, but it's not that hard to make the audience jump. Just have a quiet scene, then suddenly a loud bang. That happens too often in this movie. Good job, you made me jump. Congratulations, scary movie.

The Tillman Story - 3 stars

This is a documentary about Pat Tillman, the football player who left the NFL and joined the Army. He was killed in Afghanistan by friendly fire, but the administration lied about his death. They made up a story about how he sacrificed himself to save his platoon, and then he was used as a propaganda tool for the war.

One small problem with the movie is that if you know the story going in, there isn't a lot to learn. We know he was killed by friendly fire, and we know multiple people deliberately lied about it. We never find out for sure how far up the chain it went, but at the end we see Donald Rumsfeld and a couple generals called before congress to testify. The congressmen are the weakest cross-examiners ever, and all Rumsfeld and the others have to do is say "I don't recall."

Never Let Me Go - 2 1/2 stars

This movie had a lot of potential. Set in England in the 70s or 80s (not sure offhand), it is about a group of kids at a boarding school. They seem like normal kids, and for the first while of the movie, you would think it is just a drama about these normal kids. But it turns out they are clones. Their purpose in life is to reach adulthood and donate their organs to their "originals". Some are able to donate as many as 3 times before they die.

There are 3 main characters - Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Ruth (Keira Knightley), and Tommy (Andrew Garfield). As kids, Kathy has a crush on Tommy. But as they grow older, Ruth and Tommy fall in love. If the movie didn't have the clone aspect, it would still work as a movie about these three people. But as the movie progresses, and the characters begin donating, they know their life is about to end and it becomes about that process.

The biggest problem I had with the movie is that it maintains a level of melodrama the whole time. Even when nothing dramatic is happening, the music is so overly dramatic that I became numb to it. So when a character finally does die, I felt nothing. This could easily have been a real tearjerker, but I didn't connect emotionally at all with the characters.

The Human Centipede - 3 stars

A crazy German doctor kidnaps 3 people, surgically attaches them together, and creates a human centipede. How is it no one has thought of this before?

The movie works the way Hostel works. It is a good horror movie. There is a long sequence where one girl escapes from her bed and is trying to get out of the house. We don't know where the crazy doctor is, but we know at any moment he will pop up and stop her. The idea of what the victims go through is horrifying enough. Surgically attached ass-to-mouth, with pieces of their knees removed, kept in a cage or walked around the yard like a dog being trained, just crazy psychotic stuff.

I don't event want to get in to how they eat (person A first eats the food) ...

Red - 2 1/2 stars

This movie should have been more fun than it was. It was almost good enough to recommend, but not quite. The tone was too inconsistent. If it was a little shorter and had a few more laughs, it would have been ok.

John Malkovich stole the movie, as he usually does. The scene at the end where he is running down the street with a bomb strapped to his chest was hilarious.

Jackass 3-D - 3 stars

I get a kick out of the Jackass movies. Very few movies make me laugh so hard while at the same time looking away and gagging. It's the same kind of fun I had watching Observe & Report or Borat.

I love the stunts and pranks, but I don't like the bodily fluids so much. Anything involving shit, sweat, or semen is just sick and wrong. Although the pee cam was pretty funny.

My favorite sequence was the bit with the midget fight in the bar. Priceless.

Friday, October 8, 2010

10/8/10 and 10/1/10

The Social Network - 4 stars

My favorite movie of the year so far. It has the best dialogue I've heard in a movie in several years. I love hearing smart people say really witty things. Some of my favorite lines in the movie:

"I'm six foot five, 220 pounds, and there are two of me."

"Ann, punch me in the face. Continue."

"Wait, I'm just checking your figures. 1,000 + 18,000 = 19,000. Ok, I got the same thing."

And I love when he refers to the Winkelvii.

Jessie Eisenberg is always good, but this is the best work he has ever done. Same with Andrew Garfield. He will make a good Spider Man. And if you want to see his previous best work, check out Boy A.

Let Me In - 3 stars

In some areas, this is better than the Swedish original (Let the Right One In). They don't waste time with the adults hanging out in that restaurant like in the original. And even though I have no problem with subtitles, it is always nicer to watch a movie in your native language.

But this version shows too much. Sometimes less is more. There is a scene where the vampire girl is pretending to be hurt, and a guy stops to help her. They show way too much. We see her jump on him, bite his neck, throw him to the ground, and jump around him. Bad CGI and it took me out of the movie for a few minutes. They should have cut away as soon as she struck. Also, the swimming pool scene at the end of the movie was done much better in the original.

I think Chloe Moretz is very good, but the girl in the original (Lina Leandersson) creeped me out a little more.

Buried - 3 stars

Ryan Reynolds plays a contractor working in Iraq. As the movie opens, he wakes up in a coffin buried underground. He has a lighter and a cell phone. He calls for help, but he doesn't know where he is. People who are claustrophobic may have a hard time sitting through this because the entire movie takes place in the coffin. There are no scenes outside. For 90 minutes he calls different people for help, and the kidnappers call him, and it works really well. It's like a good twilight zone episode.

Secretariat - 2 stars

Diane Lane stars as a housewife and stay-at-home mom who becomes the most famous woman in horse racing in history. Her dad dies and leaves her his farm and horses. She is lucky enough to be the owner of Secretariat who goes on to win the triple crown.

There are a number of problems with this movie. It starts off really boring. We first see the funeral of her mother, and even though we don't know the characters yet, the movie overplays the melodrama. It hits you over the head with sad music and close ups of characters consoling each other. This goes on for a good 15 minutes.

Another problem is it's not really an underdog story, which is what good sports movies should be. She owns this horse that is really fast, and that's it. She is already rich, so it's not like she will be destitute if her horse doesn't win.

I did like the horse racing footage. I don't care about horse racing, but it was exciting. The problem is there are 3 climactic races at the end of the movie. After the first one, I was ready for the movie to be over. But there are still 2 races to go!

It's Kind of a Funny Story - 3 stars

This is about a 16 year old kid who is depressed and suicidal, so he checks himself in to a mental hospital. The teenage wing is under construction, so he has to go stay with the adults. Some of them are really messed up. While there he befriends a middle aged guy played by Zach Galifianakis, who is very good. He was funny in The Hangover, but here it's nice to see him playing a real character, and playing it straight.

He also meets a cute girl his own age played by Emma Roberts. She is the only girl there his age, so how lucky is he that she is also hot, and likes him. The movie is a drama, not a comedy, and while it's no One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, it is worth seeing.