Thursday, November 25, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 - 3 stars

The 7th Harry Potter book was my favorite to read. The six that proceeded it were all basically setup for the events in the last book. The problem is there are a lot of boring parts of the 7th book, and they're all in the first half. And this movie is the first half of the book. By the time the movie ends, I really wanted to see the second part.

After six movies, this is the first one to drastically alter the formula. Every movie before this started at the beginning of the school year at Hogwarts. The movie covered one school year, and at the end there would be a big climax. This time, Harry, Ron, and Hermione don't go back for their final year at Hogwarts. The reason is they are going to look for the remaining horcruxes (items that hold pieces of Voldemort's soul).

Early on in the movie, the ministry is taken over by Voldemort's people, and the wizarding world becomes a fascist police state. The ministry is obsessed with getting rid of wizards who are not pure bloods (the wizarding Master Race). Harry, Ron, and Hermione have to go on the run, and they spend the entire movie hiding from the ministry.

One thing I didn't like in the movie was how much time they spend in the tent. There is a long section where the three have no idea how to proceed. They don't know where to look for the horcruxes, so they just sit around moping. This could have been shortened in the movie. If they had done that, they would have had more time to include a couple of other things from the book that were cut out.

One other complaint I have is with the dialogue. Except for a few jokes here and there, the characters only say things that advance the plot. Once in a while I wish the characters would talk about what just happened. For example, Snape becomes headmaster of Hogwarts. In the book, they talk about this when they read it in the paper. It's kind of a big deal. But in the movie, Harry hears it announced over the radio and doesn't say a word about it.

I really liked the music in this movie. This is probably my favorite HP score since Prisoner of Azkaban (the last movie scored by John Williams). The score really helps make this movie feel epic. I also liked the animated sequence that explains the history of the Deathly Hallows.

Overall I liked the movie. It's one of the better ones in the series. It just feels incomplete without the finale of the second film. July 15th can't get here fast enough.

Fair Game - 2 1/2 stars

This is the story of Valerie Plame Wilson, the CIA agent who was outed by the Bush administration during the Iraq war. Most of the movie is pretty interesting. It starts out showing all the undercover work she was doing in other countries. As the administration starts asking the CIA to look into WMDs in Iraq, she starts investigating. She gets an Iraqi born American woman to travel back to Iraq in order to get information from her brother about Saddam Hussein's WMD program. Her husband, Joe Wilson, the former ambassador to Niger, goes to Niger to investigate the rumor of Niger selling yellow cake uranium to Iraq.

As the movie progresses, we see Scooter Libby questioning the CIA. As they tell him that there is no way Iraq could have WMDs, Scooter interrogates them about the possibility that they are wrong. Then comes the point where Bush announces to the country that Iraq is working on acquiring WMDs and war is inevitable. One minute the CIA is saying that they are sure Iraq has no WMDs, the next minute Bush is twisting their findings around and presenting false information as fact.

After the war starts, Joe Wilson writes an op-ed piece in the newspaper explaining the truth of the matter. In order to discredit him, the white house leaks the fact that Valerie is an undercover CIA agent. This ruins her career, and leads to the death of many of her operatives in Iraq.

The movie is very interesting when it is focusing on these facts. The problem is as the movie goes on, it starts focusing more and more on the Wilson's marriage and the strain that this is putting on them. If they had focused more on the facts of what happened, it would have been a better movie. I especially wanted more information on her operatives out in the field that were killed because of the white house's treasonous actions.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Catching up

Unstoppable - 3 stars

This is a movie about a runaway train. Supposedly based on actual events (as opposed to based on a true story), a train carrying explosive chemicals is unmanned and traveling at 70 miles per hour. If they don't stop it in time, it will derail and wipe out an entire city. Denzel Washington and Chris Pine are a couple of engineers who try to stop the train.

I liked the fact that it wasn't a terrorist plot. There wasn't any crazy Dennis Hopper character who was doing this to collect a bunch of money. It was just simple human error. For the first 20 minutes or so of the movie, everyone thinks the train is simply coasting at 5-10 mph. When they find out the train is under power, everyone starts to realize what a dangerous situation it is.

This is the type of movie that Tony Scott can direct in his sleep. It is a simple action movie. No more, no less. His crazy camera style helps the movie because seeing a train over and over can get rather boring. Scott does a great job of using different shots to keep the visuals interesting.

The one aspect I could have done without was the back story. Pine and Washington each have family issues they are dealing with, and the back story is crammed in there just to try and make the characters more interesting. It feels rather unnecessary. It would be enough to know that Pine is new on the job and Washington is nearing retirement. The main plot is interesting enough.

The Next Three Days - 3 stars

Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks are a happily married couple with a 6 year old son, and they are leading a pretty normal life. One day while eating breakfast, the police barge in with a warrant for her arrest. She is accused of killing her boss, convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Once her husband realizes that she is never getting out of prison, he decides to break her out of jail.

The first thing to be aware of is that the movie is almost 2 1/2 hours long. The trailers make it look like an action movie. It isn't. It's a a slow-moving drama. The movie was written and directed by Paul Haggis (Crash, In the Valley of Elah) whose movies move at a leisurely pace. That isn't a bad thing, but a lot of people will be surprised by how long the movie takes to get to the prison break.

This doesn't feel like a typical action movie where the hero commits minor crimes when he needs to without breaking a sweat. In this movie, when Crowe is doing illegal stuff for the first time, you really feel the tension. There is one sequence where he is testing a bumper key (kind of a skeleton key) inside the prison, and he is almost caught. That sequence got my adrenaline going as much as any action movie this year, because the movie had done such a good job of setting up the character and the event.

Most of the movie is set up. Crowe spends a lot of time learning how to escape from prison, how to break into a car, how to get fake IDs, all that stuff (it turns out most of that is available on youtube). When the prison break sequence starts, it is very exciting. And this is the type of movie where anything is possible. We don't know whether they will make it or not. We don't even know whether she is really innocent or not.

Burlesque - 2 1/2 stars

I liked it a lot better when it was called Showgirls.

Ali (Christina Aguilera) is a small town girl from Iowa. She arrives in LA fresh off the bus with hopes of a life in show biz. She finds a burlesque club run by Tess (Cher), and manages to work her way up from waitress to backup dancer and eventually (spoiler alert) she becomes the star of the show. Yeah, never seen that movie before.

I actually liked the movie more than I thought I would, which really means it wasn't as painful as I expected it to be. This is Cher's first movie in years and I forgot what a good actress she is. She was entertaining, but not nearly as entertaining as Stanley Tucci, who plays the gay stagehand / costume guy. Aguilera did a good job, especially considering that this was her first movie, although her character got less interesting as she became more successful at the club.

The movie wasn't made for me, and I'm not a fan of the style of music. Although Cher did sing a number late in the second act that was a pretty good song.

I could nit pick a lot of things about the movie that don't work, if I wanted to. Ali isn't singing into a mic, so there is no way the club patrons could hear her sing over the band. The stage is sometimes tiny, other times big enough for a huge production number and lots of backup dancers. I think I'll just stop there.

Faster - 3 stars

Dwayne Johnson makes his return to action movies after doing several crappy Disney movies for kids (he's going to have to make some great movies before I will forgive him for Race to Witch Mountain).

This is a very simple premise. As the movie opens, Driver (Johnson) is getting out of jail. His brother was killed and he is hunting down the people that killed him. That's it. To make the movie interesting, we get Billy Bob Thornton playing the cop who is chasing him. Thornton gets to play a complex cop, as he is a heroin addict. There is also a hit man who is after Driver. This hit man just kills people as a hobby. For his day job, he is some kind of billionaire software developer.

The movie is basically an exploitation movie with the gratuitous stuff taken out (no nudity, not much violence). It takes itself a little too seriously, but it was still enjoyable. One thing that makes it interesting is that some of the people who killed Driver's brother have changed their lives, and in some cases they have families. It reminds me of Vivica Fox's character from Kill Bill. When The Bride tracks her down, she finds a housewife with a young daughter. In this movie, when Driver finds the people who killed his brother and learns they have young kids at home, it kind of takes the fun out of revenge.

Love and Other Drugs - 3 stars

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Jamie Randall, a salesman who is lucky enough to work for Phizer right about the time Viagara comes out. Anne Hathaway plays Maggie Murdock, a woman suffering from Parkinson's disease. What a wacky couple these two make!

The movie is a romance, but it's better than the average chick flick. That basically means the characters are well developed, their motivations are believable, and there is a pretty good story here. Maggie doesn't want a serious relationship because of her disease. She only wants casual sex. At first, Jake is happy to oblige. Once he starts falling in love with her, she freaks out and tries to push him away. Then right around the time that she falls in love with him, he starts having doubts.

The movie is a comedy as well as a drama. The fun stuff involves Jamie going in to doctors offices and trying to get them to sell Phizer's drugs. Whether Prozac or Zoloft work better for depression isn't his concern. He just wants them to sell his product instead of the competition's. This is depressing as well as funny, because it's probably the way the drug company actually works. Next time your doctor prescribes a medicine, you have to wonder if it's because it is the best choice, or because he is friendly with the salesman.

Oh, and there is some nudity in this movie. In most Hollywood movies, when a couple is laying in bed after sex, the girl has the sheets pulled up to her chin. Not in this movie.

My biggest complain about the movie is the ending. Not to give too much away, but the climax has Jamie in his car, chasing down a bus that Maggie is on, ready to profess his love for her and try to win her back. Could have done without that ending.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest - 1 1/2 stars

This is the third movie in the Millennium trilogy. The first movie, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, was great. Good action, good story, and a couple of really interesting characters, especially Lisbeth Salander. Lisbeth has a very troubled past (abuse, mental institutions), she is a computer hacker, antisocial, has a photographic memory, has piercings and wears her hair in crazy styles.

The second movie, The Girl Who Played With Fire, was not as good as the first. It didn't suck, but it had a disappointing climax. This third movie is just boring. Lisbeth spends the first half of the movie in the hospital, recovering from the events of the previous movie. The second half of the movie, she is on trial. I don't remember her having hardly any dialogue in the entire movie. She just sits there looking pissed off.

127 Hours - 4 stars

This is the story of Aron Ralston, the hiker who was hiking in the middle on nowhere and got his arm pinned by a boulder. After 5 days, he cut off his own arm to survive. He didn't tell anyone where he was going, but he was such a confident outdoorsman that he figured he could deal with any situation that might arise.

Director Danny Boyle (28 Days Later..., Sunshine, Slumdog Millionaire) does a great job of keeping the movie interesting. Most of the movie consists of Ralston (James Franco) in one spot, trapped by that boulder. There are flashbacks and scenes of him imagining himself somewhere else, but we keep returning to that spot. It's amazing that he was able to make that work as a feature length movie.

When the moment of truth arrives, most people will have to cover their eyes. It took Ralston close to an hour to cut off his arm with a dull, cheap pocket knife. The movie does it in under 5 minutes. It is hard to watch, especially the part when he is clipping the nerve, but by that point you are so invested in the character and you want him to get out of that canyon so much that the amputation is a great moment of triumph. It's also a credit to the director that even though we know how the story turns out, it is such a thrilling climax. It's really a movie that you won't be able to forget.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Friday, November 19

Jaimee Alkinani joined us on 94.9 today. In this clip, we joke about the non-story that is the Harry Potter nude scene. We talk about the movie itself (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1) aka The Empire Strikes Back of the Harry Potter saga, we talk about 127 Hours, Marcus wonders when Despicable Me comes out on DVD, and Jaimee talks about her weight loss.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

November 12, 2010 radio spot

In this clip Marcus and I talk about Inside Job, Morning Glory, and Unstoppable. Also when discussing A Christmas Carol on DVD, I call it stop motion animation (it's motion capture, duh).

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Morning Glory - 2 1/2 stars

Rachel McAdams plays Becky, an aspiring TV producer. When we first meet her, she is working at a small morning show in New Jersey. She is expecting to be promoted to executive producer, but instead she is laid off due to budget cuts. She starts looking for a job and gets an interview at Daybreak, the morning show on IBS. Seriously. In this movie, NBC, ABC, and CBS are real networks, but the fictional network Daybreak is on is called IBS.

Becky is so full of energy that she thinks she blew the interview. In fact, she really shouldn't get the job because she basically admits defeat and walks out. She could at least finish the interview and try to save face, but she walks out. Surprisingly, she gets the call that she has the job. And since this is a movie, the phone conversation goes like this:

Jerry Barnes - "Do you think you could do this job?"

Becky - "Yes, absolutely."

Barnes - "Ok. You're hired. You start Monday."

Becky - "Thank you."

[hangs up]

I don't think anyone has ever been offered a job with that short of a conversation. The person hiring her would have a few more things to say and questions to ask. At the very least, there should be some discussion about what time she should be there.

But anyway, the show is horrible. Becky is going to turn it around, and her first day there she fires the male host Paul McVee (Ty Burrell). This movie is so all over the place tone-wise that McVee has several weird sexual fetishes. The first time Becky meets him, he asks how she feels about having her feet photographed.

Her plan to revitalize the show is to bring in Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford), a well respected newsman who hates morning shows. He is a serious old school newsman, and has nothing but disdain for morning shows that are all about puff pieces, celebrities, and cooking segments. But he is forced to do the show because of the terms of his contract.

Ford spends the whole movie being grumpy. It is funny for a while, but eventually it gets old. He does have one scene where he breaks down a little and tells Becky what will happen to her if she spends her whole life focusing on work.

The dynamic between Becky and Mike is the focus of the movie. Even though she knows what she is getting in to with him, she is still upset and surprised that he won't come around and do lame morning pieces. If she would have an adult conversation with him, they would probably be able to come to a compromise. She could explain that they are in danger of being canceled, and if he will do a few lame shows, she will let him do some serious news stories. But neither one is that smart, and that conversation never takes place.

Near the end, Becky has the chance to take a very good job at Good Morning America (her goal since she was a kid), and I won't spoil what happens, but I really disagreed with her decision. A smart person would take a good opportunity (for a lot more money), but this is a feel good movie where we need to pay off the relationship between the characters.

Oh, and there are way too many musical montages in this movie.

Due Date - 2 1/2 stars

If I had never seen a trailer for this movie, I'm sure I would have liked it a lot better. But unfortunately there were two different trailers, and they were played in front of every movie I saw over the last few months. Not to mention the TV spots that played on Comedy Central all the time. Most of the funny parts were in the trailers.

The story is pretty simple. Robert Downey Jr. is an architect and he is in Atlanta for work. His wife is in LA and she is going to give birth to their first child in a week. He is flying home to be with her, and gets kicked off the plane. He left his wallet on the plane, so he can't rent a car. He is on the no fly list, so he can't fly.

Luckily he met a really strange guy played by Zach Galafinakis (who is the reason he got kicked off the plane in the first place). He rents a car and offers to drive him to LA. It's hard not to compare this to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. You have a normal guy and a buffoon as his traveling companion.

We wouldn't have much of a movie if they got to LA with no trouble. Galafinakis is an idiot, so he doesn't realize that renting the car will max out his credit card, and he doesn't consider the consequences when he spends all his cash on pot. Downey's wife wires them some money, but she has to put it in the other guy's name (since Downey's ID is on the plane), and Galifanakis forgets that the last name he gives is just his stage name, but his real last name is on his ID.

It's hard to write a movie like this and keep it realistic. There are a bunch of solutions that never occur to Downey because we wouldn't have a movie. His wife could wire him money - I'm pretty sure Western Union has an option where if the recipient doesn't have ID, they can ask several test questions to verify his identity. He could take a bus or a train, but this is never discussed. The movie spans 5 days, and the first day, the plane should have landed in LA. Someone in LA could pick up his stuff and fly out to where he is. We learn late in the movie that his wallet isn't actually on the plane, but until he learns this, he could consider the idea.

A few other things that bugged me: Downey is supposed to be a smart guy, but as soon as he is kicked off the plane, we see him trying to steal a rental car? Really? He actually thinks he can steal a rental car from the airport and just drive it home? He shouldn't be that desperate yet, but we don't see him consider any other options or ask anyone for help. There is a scene where they drive off a freeway overpass. Everyone in the car would be killed, but of course they only have minor injuries. And Galafinakis's character is just too stupid. Anyone as dumb as he is would never be let out. They tried so hard to make his character crazy that they made him a cartoon character. In Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, John Candy made his character an annoying buffoon, but he also was a real character that we felt empathy for. Not so much in this case.

Megamind - 3 stars

Just like Despicable Me, this movie is about a super villain. Megamind is born on another planet, and his parents put him in a ship and send him to Earth just before their planet is consumed by a black hole. On the way to Earth, he runs into another ship with another baby. While the other baby lands in a mansion, Megamind lands in a prison for the criminally gifted. He goes to school with the other alien, who has super powers and is admired by all the other kids. Megamind is shunned, and he realizes he might as well be a villain. Nice little message about how we are all products of our environments.

Megamind's goal in life is to defeat his nemesis, Metro Man. When he finally does, he discovers that life is very boring without his enemy. He decides to try and create a new super hero to fight. In the mean time, he has a crush on Metro Man's girlfriend, a TV reporter.

The movie is very funny, and a nice twist on the typical super hero story.

Nowhere Boy - 2 1/2 stars

This is the story of John Lennon. We see him as a teenager, being raised by his aunt and uncle. He hasn't seen his mom since he was very young, but he doesn't know why he isn't living with her (didn't he ever think of asking his aunt?). Early in the movie, his friend shows him where his mother lives - just around the corner, it seems. So he gets reacquainted with his mother, and she turns him on to rock and roll. We also see he is a bit of a troublemaker, skipping school and stealing records with a friend.

The first half hour or so really bored me. There isn't much story or plot to speak of. We are just watching Lennon be a troubled youngster. At some point, his mother teaches him to play the banjo. Then he decides he wants to be a rock star and he gets a band together. We see him meet Paul McCartney and George Harrison. Here the movie gets interesting. We see him try to get the band to write originals rather than playing cover songs. But the movie kind of skims over the details.

I think the bigger of a John Lennon fan you are, the more you will enjoy the movie.