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.

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