Friday, December 30, 2011

Top 10 movies of 2011

For my top 10 list, I tried to keep in mind how I felt about each movie. There are different ways to review a movie, but ultimately it comes down to how much I enjoyed it, and whether I want to see it again. So if I were going to sit down and watch any movie released in 2010, here are the 10 I would choose:

10 - Paul

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) are basically playing themselves. They are hard core sci-fi geeks who go to Comic-Con for the first time. After Comic-Con, they take a road trip to visit all of the famous alien landing sites in the southwest. They run in to Paul, a little green man voiced by Seth Rogen. What follows is a funny adventure with tons of references and in-jokes that anyone who grew up with Spielberg and Lucas will get.

9 - Buck

Buck Brannaman is the real horse whisperer. This guy can take any wild horse, tame it and ride it within minutes. It's like he and the horse are sharing the same mind. He tours and gives clinics all over the country, and if anyone has a problem with their horse, they bring it to him and he helps them. But as the movie goes on, we learn that he is just as good at healing people as he is horses. This is the feel good movie of the year.

8 - X-Men: First Class

I liked the first X-Men a lot, and I loved the second X-Men. The 3rd one (The Last Stand) was a major disappointment, and the less said about Wolverine, the better. I had very low expectations going into this movie, and I was blown away. I didn't think anyone could play Magneto as well as Ian McKellen, but Michael Fassbender does a great job. James McAvoy has never been better as Charles Xavier, and Kevin Bacon plays a great villain. This movie was very engaging and it actually felt like the first two X-Men movies. Forget Thor, Captain America, or Iron Man. This is the best superhero movie of the year.

7 - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

The English language remake of the 2009 Swedish film is every bit as good as that one was. There is some pretty brutal stuff in this movie, including rape, torture, and animal cruelty, but if you can stomach it, it's an incredible thriller. And Lisbeth Salander is the best movie heroine to come along in a long time.

6 - Incendies

In this French Canadian movie, a woman has just died. Her grown kids are meeting with a lawyer to go over her will. The lawyer produces two letters. The kids are to find their father (who they thought was dead) and deliver one letter. The other letter they are to deliver to their brother (who they never knew existed). So they set out on a journey to discover where their mother came from. This journey takes them to the Middle East and we learn about her life through flashbacks. This is a very powerful movie with some haunting scenes showing the brutality of war. It has been almost a year since I saw this film at Sundance and I am still haunted by it.

5 - Young Adult

Charlize Theron plays Mavis, the former high school beauty queen / most popular girl in school. It's all been downhill since then, and Mavis goes back to her small town to steal her old boyfriend back from his wife and child. It is a very risky move for a movie to make the protagonist so unlikeable. But the movie pulls it off. Mavis is a pathetic character and it is painful to watch what happens to her, but the movie works. It's also very funny (and dark), and Patton Oswalt has never been better as the guy Mavis never noticed in high school, but now is her only friend.

4 - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Yes, I know. It's Harry Potter. As a movie by itself, this doesn't really work that well. The only way to really get the emotional impact of this movie is if you have gone through 7 previous movies with these characters. This is the payoff to 7 movies of setup. The scenes with Alan Rickman as Professor Snape are my favorite. His character and his performance make this movie (and the entire series) so special.

3 - Bridesmaids

The funniest movie I have seen since Superbad. Annie (Kristen Wiig) and Lillian (Maya Rudolph) have been best friends since they were kids, and when Lillian gets engaged, Annie's world comes apart. Not only is she jealous of her friend's happiness (none of Annie's relationships have worked out), but she is being replaced by Helen (Rose Byrne) as best friend. If you took out all the comedy, this would make a good dramatic movie. It doesn't hurt that the movie is also hilarious from beginning to end.

2 - The Descendants

George Clooney stars as Matt, a lawyer living in Hawaii. His wife has just been injured and is in a coma. He has two young daughters he isn't very close to, and he learns that his wife has been cheating on him. So he decides to take his daughters (and a tagalong stoner named Sid) to find his wife's lover. At the same time, he is also the trustee for his family's inheritance. Along with all his cousins, they own 25,000 acres of land that they are considering selling. The entire island is waiting for his decision about what to do with the land, since the sale will affect everyone.

This is the first movie from Alexander Payne since Sideways. It isn't as good as Sideways, but it is up there. It isn't conventional - it doesn't have the traditional story arc that most movies have. Thanks to that, you never really know where this movie is going.

1 - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Based on John le Carre's novel, this is a spy thriller for adults. As much as I love James Bond movies, this is a total opposite. There are no car chases, explosions or gunfights. It's incredibly intelligent, and that will put some people off at first. The movie requires you to pay attention and see it more than once. The first time, you probably won't understand all the details. And the ending is not a climax like you would expect.

Much of the movie is told in flashback, and the flashbacks are out of order so sometimes it's difficult to know where in the story a scene is taking place. But if you stay with it, it is very rewarding. The movie is set in the 70s and it looks perfect. The casting is top notch (Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, John Hurt, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Toby Jones) and even when I was confused by the plot, I enjoyed the performances. John Hurt steals every scene he is in (not easy considering the calibre of the cast), and Gary Oldman does a great job mimicing Alec Guinness (who played the character in the BBC miniseries) while creating his own character. This is probably the most low key Oldman has every played, and it's pitch perfect.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Into the Abyss - 3 stars

This is a documentary about a triple murder that took place in a small Texas town back in 2001. Two young men broke into a house, murdered a woman, her son and his friend, and stole a camaro. Ten years later, the two men are in prison. One is serving a life sentence and the other is on death row.

Herzog interviews everyone connected to this case, and the things they say are fascinating and heartbreaking. The two men came from broken homes, or had no homes at all, and the victim's daughter has not been able to carry on with her life.

This is not a political movie about the death penalty. It isn't trying to persuade you to be for or against the death penalty. It just gives us the facts of the case, and allows the people involved to tell their story.

Young Adult - 3 1/2 stars

Charlize Theron stars as Mavis Gary. Mavis was the prettiest and most popular girl in high school. She left the small town in Minnesota and went to the big city, and now she is a successful author.

When she learns that her old boyfriend Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) and his wife just had a baby, she decides to go and 'rescue' him. She is convinced that he isn't happy and he really wants to get back together with her.

This is a really funny but dark movie. Mavis is a pretty horrible character, and it is a testament to Theron's great acting that we care for her even while she is doing these terrible things.

Patton Oswalt turns in a great supporting performance as Matt, the guy she never noticed in high school. He sees how pathetic she is, but because he is just as lonely as she is, he hangs out with her every night, listening to her go over her plans to ruin Buddy's marriage.

I thought this was a very original movie, and I really liked the ending. There is a point where you think Mavis is going to learn the error of her ways, but that's not where this movie is going. I really liked the way the story stuck to its guns and stayed true to the character, even though the ending is not the happy ending some people may be looking for.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows - 3 stars

I didn't care for the first Sherlock Holmes movie very much, so I wasn't expecting much going into this one. But this movie is an improvement on the first film in every way. For one thing, it's a lot funnier. Robert Downey, Jr. is hilarious. I think I missed half of his one liners because the audience was still laughing at a previous one.

The villain is better in this one too. Jared Harris (son of the late Richard Harris) plays Professor Moriarty, and he is just as clever as Holmes. Stephen Fry turns up as the other Holmes, and I wish he were in the movie more. He nearly steals the movie from Robert Downey, Jr. with just a few scenes.

I am now excitied for this franchise and look forward to the next installment.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol - 3 1/2 stars

This is probably my favorite Mission: Impossible movie since the first, although I may have to re-watch 2 and 3 to be sure. The villain isn't as memorable as Phillip Seymour Hoffman, but he wasn't in part 3 nearly enough.

The plot this time around is very familiar. We have seen it in several James Bond movies and in The Sum of All Fears. Someone wants to detonate a nuclear bomb, tricking the United States and Russia into declaring war on each other.

Despite the familiar plot, the movie is very enjoyable. The action set pieces are exciting, especially the sequence where Ethan Hunt has to climb up several floors outside the tallest building in the world. You really should see this movie in IMAX to get the full effect of this sequence. It was so realistic it gave me vertigo.

Another improvement in this movie is Simon Pegg. He appeared in a few scenes in the 3rd movie. This time he has almost as much screen time as Tom Cruise. More Simon Pegg always makes a movie more enjoyable.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Melancholia - 2 stars

This is only the second Lars von Trier movie I have seen. The first was Antichrist, and I will never look at foxes or scissors the same way again.

This movie starts with an overture, which is kind of cool. The overture shows slow motion clips of things that will happen later in the movie, including Kirsten Dunst with lightning shooting out of her fingertips and a planet crashing into Earth. The overture goes on a little too long, but it is effective at setting the mood of the film. The operatic music is great, and every one of the scenes could be a painting.

After the overture, the movie is divided into 2 parts. The first is called "Justine" and it takes place during a wedding party. Justine (Dunst) has just married Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) and their wedding is taking place in a huge mansion / castle owned by Justine's sister and brother-in-law, Claire and John (Charlotte Gainsbourgh and Kiefer Sutherland). Justine's divorced partents (John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling) are there, and they fight the whole time. Justine is suffering from some kind of depression, and that's about it for this first section. Not a lot happens, and this hour of the movie could have easily been compressed into 15 minutes.

The second part is called "Claire", and the only characters are Justine, Claire, John, and their son Leo (Cameron Spurr). A new planet called Melancholia has been discovered, and it may be on a collision course with Earth.

The entire movie is 2 hours and 15 minutes, and I would have liked it a lot more if it had been around an hour and a half. A lot of time passes with little to nothing happening. We know from the overture that the planet will crash into Earth, so instead of wondering whether the characters will survive, we are watching to see how they will react.

After seeing movies like Armageddon and Deep Impact, it is interesting to see a disaster movie where all the action is contained to one household. I did wish that they would watch the news once in a while, to see how the rest of the world is reacting to this huge planet growing bigger in the sky.

The climax of the movie is pretty intense, but once again it would have been more effective if I wasn't getting so bored waiting for it to happen. It could have been great, but I can't recommend it. It's certainly nice to look at, though.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 - 1 star

I didn't hate the first 3 Twilight movies. I wouldn't say I enjoyed them, but they were starting to grow on me. Despite the bad writing, bad acting, horrible special effects, and soap opera quality the characters were starting to grow on me a little. I was hoping this 4th movie in the series would be interesting. I was wrong.

Nothing happens in this movie. Ok, a few things happen, but it feels like they took 45 minutes of material and stretched it out to 2 hours. When the last Harry Potter book was split into 2 movies, it made sense. That book had a ton of plot and it wouldn't have worked in one movie. The Twilight producers realized they could do the same thing and make a lot more money. The problem is the book doesn't have the plot to sustain 2 movies. At least it seems that way from this first part.

Spoiler alert. If you haven't read the books and want to remain spoiler free, stop reading. I'm going to give the plot away.

In this movie, Edward and Bella get married. Then they go on their honeymoon. Bella gets pregnant and they return to Edward's house. Jacob is concerned about Bella while the rest of his tribe / pack are worried that Bella's baby will be a threat to everyone. Bella has the baby. The end.

That's about it. The wedding takes a half hour and everyone just stands around looking sullen and earnest. The bad dialogue is delivered like the actors are hung over. There is maybe 3 minutes of humor while Bella's friends and family are giving toasts. Anna Kendrick shows up for maybe 5 minutes and livens things up. Bella's dad is more entertaining in 30 seconds here than he has been in any of the previous movies.

Then they go on their honeymoon. This takes another half an hour. They consummate their marriage and his lovemaking is so violent that they bust up the room. When Edward sees bruises on Bella's arm the next morning, he decides they can't have sex again. Bella is sad.

All this time, they never cut away to anyone else. No subplot involving Jacob. Nothing about the Volturi (the royal family of vampires). In the trailer, we see the Volturi getting an invitation to Bella's wedding. What about that? They were the most interesting aspect of these movies, because they introduced some real menace and danger. Plus Michael Sheen plays the leader, and he is great in everything.

In New Moon the characters met up with the Volturi, and from what I can remember, there was talk about killing Bella because she was a threat. Are they still interested in what goes on with her? Do they know Edward and Bella got married? No mention of them in this movie, except for one scene where Bella sees them in a dream.

Hopefully Part 2 will be better, but unless you are a die hard Twilight fan, there is no reason to see this movie.

Like Crazy - 2 1/2 stars

Like Crazy is about extremely long distance relationships. Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones play Jacob and Anna. They meet while going to college in Los Angeles. She leaves a note on his car letting him know that she is interested in him, and she ends the note with a disclaimer that she is not a psycho. So that is their "meet cute" moment.

Jacob is from LA, but Anna is from the UK, and she is on a student visa which means she has to go back home after the semester is over. But they have fallen in love and she doesn't want to go. She stays a couple of extra months, which violates the terms of her student visa. She finally does go home and when she tries to come back to the US to see Jacob, she is denied entry. Apparently neither of them thought it would be a good idea to look into what the consequences are of violating a visa.

So the movie consists of them trying to talk to each other on the phone and not succeeding very well. I had a hard time buying this. There is a time difference, but if they were as in love as the movie says they are, I would think they would be able to schedule times to talk to each other. The movie also has a lot of musical montages, which means they couldn't think of another way to explain what the characters were going through. Falling in love? Musical montage showing them happy together. Separated by an ocean? Musical montage showing them going about their separate lives and looking sad.

There are several times when the movie kind of jumps ahead, and it is jarring. One moment they are texting about how much they miss each other, the next moment 2 months have passed and Jacob has a new girlfriend named Sam (Jennifer Lawrence from Winter's Bone). Sometimes it seems like Jacob is keeping his relationship with Anna a secret from Sam, but other times it seems like Sam knows what is going on. The movie doesn't really explain this well.

The movie could have been great. The performances are good and this is potentially a good concept for a tragic love story. The problem is it felt like scenes were missing. It left me with way too many questions. If they were so in love, they could have tried a little harder to make it work.

We Were Here - didn't see

We Were Here is a documentary about the early days of the AIDS crisis. I've heard nothing but good things about it. I'm hoping to see it soon. Until then, if you saw it let me know your thoughts in the comments section.

Happy Feet Two - didn't see

I wasn't able to see Happy Feet Two (I didn't see the first one either). If you saw it, let me know what you think in the comments.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Martha Marcy May Marlene - 1 1/2 stars

This movie would have made a great short film. But as a feature, it was too boring and it left me with too many questions.

At the start of the movie, we meet Marcy May (Elizabeth Olsen). She is living in some kind of commune in an isolated farm house. She sneaks away in the early morning hours and goes to a fast food restaurant. Is this a cult? Is she escaping? If so, why is she allowed to get away so easily?

She calls her sister, who has not heard from her in 2 years. She tells her sister that she was with a boyfriend and just lost track of time. She also says she got rid of her cell phone and never bothered to get a new one.

We find out that her real name is Martha. She lives with her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and brother-in-law Ted (Hugh Dancy) and tries to adjust to normal life. Through flashbacks we learn about what life was like in the commune, which was actually a cult. She has a hard time breaking some of the habits she developed with the cult. She doesn't realize that it isn't ok to go skinnydipping at the lake behind their house. She doesn't understand that she can't just walk into Lucy's bedroom and lay on the bed while Lucy and Ted have sex.

For every single thing we learn about Martha's life inside the cult, there are 5 things we don't learn. I'm fine with a movie leaving some things to our imagination and not spelling everything out, but this was just too much. We see the scene where she first meets the cult's leader, Patrick (John Hawkes), but we don't see the events leading up to it. Why was she interested in joining the cult in the first place? Did she know it was a cult? If not, what did she think went on there?

We get fragments of ideas about what they believe, but not enough. We learn that they engage in some criminal activity, but the movie doesn't show us the point in that. Do they hate wealthy home owners, or are they just trying to steal stuff?

The scenes with Martha living with Lucy and Ted are very effective. Martha admits that her mind is so messed up that she doesn't know what actually happened and what was a dream. There are a couple of scenes where she expresses her philosophy and argues with Ted and Lucy, but we don't get enough information to understand where that comes from.

I had a hard time believing that Ted and Lucy would put up with her for so long. They accept her story that she was living with a boyfriend, and they never demand more information. By the time she starts exhibiting such strange behaviour, I think they should have told her to come clean or she has to leave. They do eventually get to the point where they think Martha needs therapy, but I think it takes them way too long to get there.

I think the movie has some great ideas, but it needed a rewrite or two to actually make it entertaining. It was a chore to sit through, and I saw several walkouts at the screening I attended.

Mozart's Sister - did not see

I was not able to see this movie before it was released. If you saw it, let me know your thoughts in the comments section.

Immortals - not screened

Immortals is the latest movie from Tarsem Singh. It's only his 3rd movie, after The Cell (2000) and The Fall (2006). I didn't like either of those movies. While they looked incredible, they bored me to tears. The trailer to Immortals does not give me any indication that I will like it any more than his previous movies.

The movie was not screened for critics in Salt Lake, so I was not able to see it. Did you see Immortals? Let me know what you thought of it in the comments section.

J. Edgar - 3 stars

The latest movie from director Clint Eastwood is about J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI from 1935 - 1972. Hoover is played by Leonardo DiCaprio, in what may be his best performance.

The movie takes place towards the end of his life as he is dictating his life story to various assistants. Through flashbacks we see the events that shaped his life. We learn about his domineering mother (Judy Dench), who he lived with until her death. We learn about his relationship with Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), his closest companion. We also meet his faithful secretary Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), who sticks with him his entire career despite the awkwardness of their first date when he proposed marriage.

At its heart, the movie is a tragedy. The movie suggests that Hoover was gay and homophobic. He was in love with Tolson, but would never admit it, even to himself. Tolson was also in love with Hoover, but he seemed to know and understand the nature of their relationship, and no matter how painful it was, he put up with it. Better to be in his life as a friend then not in his life at all.

The movie also shows Hoover's relationship with the presidents over the years. Each time a new president was elected, he would meet with them to let them know who he was and make sure they were in awe of his power. He also wasn't afraid to blackmail them. He would show the president a file containing some incriminating photos, always claiming something like "We were looking for communists. We never expected to see something like this. Now, how can I help you?" He tried to make it seem like it wasn't blackmail, and all he wanted to do was notify the president that this evidence was out there. He would do whatever he could to protect the secret he had uncovered, but he also reminded them that he had a copy in his private files.

The movie is a little slow moving at times, but I was never bored. I was fascinated with the character. He is an easy man to hate, but the movie also made him a real flesh and blood person, and while I wouldn't say I understood him, I at least understood where he was coming from. The old age makeup isn't entirely convincing, but the performances helped me to overlook the makeup.

Jack and Jill - 2 stars

This is a terrible movie, but I have to admit that I laughed a lot.

Adam Sandler plays both Jack and his twin sister, Jill. Jill comes to stay with Jack and his family for the holidays, and Jack hates every minute she is there. Jill is in incredibly obnoxious character. In fact she is so obnoxious that it's hard to believe her as a character at all.

No human who has ever lived is this dumb and clueless. She answers her cell phone during a movie and speaks at full volume. She whispers offensive things at a dinner party that the entire table can hear. She drives a jetski in a swimming pool. The character exists so Adam Sandler can play a woman. If you have heard his comedy CDs, you will recognize the voice he is doing. It's also reminiscent of the shopping mall girl he used to play on SNL, along with David Spade and Chris Farley. Spade shows up in the movie (also playing a woman), and oh how I wished Chris Farley were still alive.

Al Pacino is in the movie, playing himself. The story is about how Sandler's character, who runs an ad agency, is trying to get Pacino to appear in a Dunkin Donuts commercial. Pacino is having some kind of nervous breakdown in the movie, and he develops a strange attraction to Jill.

The Pacino stuff is pretty funny. My favorite scene involved Pacino answering his cell phone during a play, where he is the star. Pacino does a good job in the movie, but my heart sank at the end when we see the commercial he does for Dunkin Donuts. He basically craps on his entire legacy during a 2 minute musical number where he quotes his most famous lines. For shame.

The most annoying thing in the movie for me was the twins' language. Jack and Jill speak to each other in a language only they can understand, and it's so annoying it made my teeth hurt.

So the movie is as bad as the trailer suggested, but there are laughs to be found. Oh, and like all Happy Madison productions, there is fart and poop humor in the movie too. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Drive - 3 1/2 stars

Ryan Gosling plays Driver, and he, well, drives cars. During the day, he is a stunt driver for movies. At night, he works as a getaway driver for criminals. The opening scene shows him displaying his skills as he evades police throught the streets of Los Angeles. It is a very exciting sequence.

Then the movie slows down for a bit. Driver lives in an apartment building, and a woman (Carey Mulligan) and her young son live nearby. He gets to know them and a friendship develops. Eventually he feels protective over her. Another job he has is as a car mechanic. He works at a shop run by Bryan Cranston, who gets him work as a getaway driver.

Driver doesn't talk much. There are scenes where he doesn't say a word, and when he eventually does, it seems like a struggle for him to speak. For the first half of the movie, he seems completely harmless. Then when he is required to defend himself, we find out he is a lethal killing machine. When the violence happens, it is shocking. I can't remember a movie that made the violence so real. Something about the way it is filmed, the sound effects, and the acting that makes it seem so real.

There are a couple of gangsters in the movie played by Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman. It is really nice to see Brooks playing against type, and he creates a great villain. He is so good in this movie that I can't wait to see it again, just for his performance.

This is one of those movies that rewards patience. It isn't a fast paced action movie like The Fast and the Furious movies. There is some good action, but the movie is more of a drama. Action without well developed characters can easily get boring. Even though this movie moves slowly, it is never boring, and the small amount of action is really exciting.

Straw Dogs - 3 stars

James Marsden and Kate Bosworth star as David and Amy Sumner, a young hollywood couple (he's a screenwriter, she's an actress). They move to Blackwater, Mississippi, the town where Amy grew up. Her father just died, and they are going to live in his house. The roof needs to be repaired, so they hire a crew of local handeymen, led by Amy's old high school boyfriend Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard).

At first, David enjoys experiencing the deep south for the first time. He looks at the locals almost like he is observing some exotic species. He has probably only seen small southern townsfolk in movies, so he is delighted to be there. But little by little, Charlie and his crew start harrassing David and Amy. At first they do things like blast their music too loud while David is trying to write. As the movie progresses, the harrassment gets more obvious, and David is too afraid to say or do anything about it until it is almost too late.

This is a remake of the 1971 movie directed by Sam Peckinpah, with Dustin Hoffman playing the role of David. I never saw that movie, so I can't compare this remake to the original. I thought James Marsden did a great job. Ever since he stopped playing Cyclops in the X-Men movies, he has turned in much more entertaining performances. On the other hand, I don't think I have ever enjoyed a Kate Bosworth performance. She doesn't give a horrible performance, but I have never found her characters likeable. She doesn't ruin the movie, but as an audience we need to feel some empathy for these characters, and I just didn't care what happened to Amy.

James Woods is a lot of fun to watch. He plays Coach, the former high school football coach who is also the town drunk. He has a hot young daughter, and a mentally challenged young man named Jeremy has a crush on her. Jeremy is a little bit like Lenny from Of Mice and Men, and we get the impression that he did something to someone a long time ago. Coach thinks Jeremy is dangerous, and beats up on Jeremy every chance he gets.

The climax of the movie involves a home invastion. Watching the trailers, I assumed that Charlie and his gang were psychos and the climax would be all about them trying to kill David and Amy. But the movie sets it up better than that. There is a reason Charlie and his gang are trying to break in to David and Amy's home. It involves Jeremy, Coach, and Coach's daughter. It makes it a believable scenario, and I liked that. As David and Amy try to defend themselves, things turn violent, and that entire sequence was handled very well. The violence was a lot of fun and it made the movie a very satisfying thriller.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Debt - 3 stars

In the 1960s a group of 3 Moussad agents (played by Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington, and Marton Csokas) sneak into East Berlin to capture a Nazi war criminal, the Surgeon of Birkenau (Jesper Christensen).

In the present day scenes (set in the late 1990s), the 3 agents are reunited. They are played respectively by Helen Mirren, Ciaran Hinds, and Tom Wilkinson. Mirren's daughter has just written a book about their mission, and the story of their mission has become legendary. But it seems there may be a secret about what really happened during their mission.

The movie moves back and forth between the time periods, although most of the screen time is devoted to the younger actors and the mission. There are some really good scenes of tension, including a scene where Rachel (Chastain) poses as a patient of the Surgeon of Birkenau, now a regular doctor running a practice in Berlin. The entire time he is examining her, we are wondering whether he suspects that she knows who he is.

The mission is exciting, but the older actors are much more interesting to watch. Unfortunately they don't get much screen time. But I still enjoyed the movie. It is a good thriller, and while I had some problems with the ending, I would recommend The Debt.

Attack the Block - 3 stars

Set in the slums of London, this movie is about an alien invasion. The lead characters are a gang of teenagers. The aliens are these dark furry monsters with razor sharp teeth that glow an eerie green color.

The entire movie takes place over the course of one night. Their evening begins when they mug a woman as she is walking home from work. Then the aliens arrive, they kill one and they wonder what it is. They take it to their friend, a dope dealer, because "he watches discovery channel and animal planet all the time. He'll know what it is."

Then more aliens come, people start getting killed, and the fun starts. This movie is kind of a comic horror movie, rather than being a stragiht up thriller. At times I had a hard time understanding their thick accents and the slang they used, but for the most part I understood everything. There was plenty of action, but I felt the movie could have been better. I liked it enought to recommend it, but its just a mild recommendation.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Trip - 3 stars

The Trip stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as themselves (or exaggerated versions of themselves). The movie consists of them going on a road trip across northern England. While doing this, they stay in quaint bed and breakfasts, visit small towns and take in the nice scenery, eat in many different restaurants, and basically try to one up each other the entire time. Whether they are reciting lines from movies, doing their Michael Caine impressions or singing an Abba song, they are constantly critiquing each other as comics and actors.

Gene Siskel had a great test for the quality of a movie. He would ask if the movie was more entertaining than a documentary of the same actors sitting around having lunch. In this case, that is basically what the movie is and it works.

I don't know their history well, so I did some reading on the web. It turns out this is similar to what they did in their film Tristam Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story. These two have a long history of working together, and much of the movie was improvised. I assume they get along much better together in real life than they do in the movie, but they obviously work well together. Just watching the two of them play off each other is very entertaining.

I enjoyed the movie enough that it makes me want to go check out their previous work together. I am familiar with Steve Coogan, but I had no knowledge of Rob Brydon until this movie. But this is such a genius idea, to take two gifted comedic actors and just stick them in a car together. Imagine if Jack Lemmon and Walter Matheau had done something like this. How cool would that have been?

Captain America: The First Avenger - 2 1/2 stars

Captain America is one of those superheroes that I never really cared much about. I can't really explain why Superman's blue tights are ok and Captain America's patriotic suit is not, but the outfit always annoyed me. Plus he doesn't have much in the way of super powers. He is really strong, and has a shield that is indestructable and works as a boomerang. That's about it.

After watching the movie, I have some idea of why so many people like the character. He embodies what we think of as American values. He is brave and selfless. When a military trainer throws a dummy grenade in the middle of a bunch of recruits, he is the one who jumps on the grenade. His first thought is to help others.

Chris Evans (in his second role as a Marvel superhero after The Human Torch in Fantastic Four) stars as Steve Rogers, a 90 pound weakling who wants nothing more than to join the army. World War II is going on, and like most of the country, he wants to do his part. He keeps trying to get into the army, and every time he is turned down. I would think he could find some other way to participate. Aren't there any branches of the armed forces where he could join? He could probably sit at a desk or something.

Anyway, he is observed by Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), who has him recruited so he can make him into a super soldier. This takes up the first half of the movie. This is the superhero origin story. The problem is that once he becomes Captain America, it is a bit of a letdown. He spends some time touring the country trying to get people to invest in war bonds. When his tour takes him to the war front, he decides to get into the action. He learns that his best friend's platoon has been captured, so he goes in to rescue them. And he is a brave soldier, but as a superhero, it just doesn't do anything for me.

The villain is Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), and he is much better than the material. The actor is great, the look is great, but he isn't given much to do. He has plans to conquer the world, but I never feared him as a believable villain. I guess he was just too cartoony for my taste. Also, he has no relationship with Steve Rogers. It helps if the superhero has an arch nemesis. In this, they don't meet until late in the movie, and their last battle has no real impact because the characters have no relationship.

The movie isn't bad, but it's just kind of bland. The setup was good, but it lost me in the second half. And just like with all the other Marvel movies, you have to stick around after the credits to see a teaser for The Avengers, which is coming out next year.

Friends With Benefits - 2 1/2 stars

This movie wants to be the Scream of romantic comedies. Remember how the characters in Scream pointed out all of the bad cliches used in horror movies, then turned around and used them anyway? In Scream, it was clever. In Friends With Benefits, it just becomes another predictable romantic comedy.

The idea of having sex without getting romantically involved isn't exactly new. Remember the Seinfeld episode where Jerry and Elaine have sex and set ground rules? Rule 1 - no calls the next day. Rule 2 - spending the night is optional.

We already had Love and Other Drugs last year, and No Strings Attached this year. The only difference here is that both characters have come out of bad relationships, and neither one wants to get romantically involved (really they just don't want to get hurt, but then who does?).

The first 15 minutes of the movie are really boring. Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis have no chemistry, and nothing funny happens. They have a 'meet cute' (as all romantic comedies must), but the movie is just tedious. Then Woody Harrelson shows up as a gay sports writer. And he is hilarious. I don't know if he is that funny, or the movie is just so bad that he looks so good by comparison, but the movie finally gets entertaining.

The problem is Harrelson isn't in the movie enough. But we get other entertaining side characters to help with the boredom. Patricia Clarkson is great as Mila Kunis's mother, and Richard Jenkins is also great as Timberlake's father. Jenna Elfman also shows up late in the movie and does a good job with limited screen time.

When the supporting characters are around, the movie isn't bad. As the movie goes along, I did start to care about the lead characters enough to enjoy the movie. It just took too much screen time to get there.

Another complaint I have is one that will make me sound like a pig - not enough nudity. This is an R-rated comedy about sex. There is a lot of sex in the movie. There should be nudity to go along with it. Every time the characters are in bed, Mila Kunis has the sheets pulled up to her neck. There is even a montage of sex scenes, and in every one, they are under the covers. Different positions, sheets very strategically arranged. There is one scene where she is actually laying on top of him without the sheets, but we only see a brief glimpse of side boob. Heaven forbid we get a glance at nipple.

I know, I know. You think I just want to see Mila Kunis naked. Well, you aren't wrong, but this script requires nudity. The sex scenes should have been more like the ones from Love and Other Drugs. If you're going to star in a movie like this, you can't be such a prude. We see more skin from Justin Timberlake than we do from Mila Kunis. So don't be fooled by the trailers and the rating. These are PG-13 sex scenes.

Anyway, the movie starts out really boring and gets better as it goes along. It is trying to point out ridiculous romatic comedy cliches, but it uses every one of them. It is so predictable that you will be able to predict the 3rd act long before it starts (hurt feelings, break up, overblown public proclamation of love, happy ending). If you really like that sort of movie, you will get what you want out of this. But I can't recommend it.

TrollHunter - 2 1/2 stars

This is another one of those "found footage" movies (Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield) where it's shot with one camera, and the camera man is a character in the movie. In this case, a group of Norwegian film students are following a man they believe is illegally hunting bears. They follow him into the forest and discover that he works for the government, and he is hunting trolls.

The students find out that the Norwegian government is aware of trolls. They roam the countryside and as long as they stay in their designated areas, they are tolerated. But just like the bears in Yellowstone, if they stray into populated areas, an agent is dispatched to take care of the troll.

There is a lot of discussion about the nature of trolls. For some reason, they can smell Christians, and UV light kills them (either it turns them into stone, or they explode). There are too many times in the movie where the exposition stops the movie. There just isn't enough troll action to make it exciting.

The finale is pretty cool, though. After most of the movie has taken place at night in the forest, we get a nice long scene set out in the open in a snow covered landscape, taking place during the day. And the giant troll they have to battle at the end is pretty cool.

This is a close call, but I can't recommend the movie.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 - 3 1/2 stars

I had to think about the rating for this one for a bit. Because this movie almost can't be reviewed by itself. On its own, it's almost like half a movie. Ideally you should watch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1 right before you see this new movie. This way, it's like one big movie with an intermission.

The new movie begins right where the previous installment left off with a quick recap of Voldemort breaking in to Dumbledore's tomb. We get a quick view of what life in Hogwarts is like with the new headmaster, and then the action picks up at Shell Cottage. Harry has an idea of where to find another horcrux, and it involves the assistance of the goblin Griphook.

Hopefully you remember what a horcrux is - an object where one has hidden a piece of his soul. Voldemort has made 6 horcruxes and Harry, Ron, and Hermione have to find and destroy them before they can defeat Voldemort.

For Harry Potter fans, this is a very satisfying conclusion to a movie series which began a decade ago. I think non fans would also enjoy the movie, but you definitely have to have seen the previous installments to know what is going on. We have had 7 movies of setup and character development. This movie is the payoff. While the previous movie had an awful lot of the 3 characters stuck in that tent not knowing what to do, this movie is wall to wall action. The majority of the movie takes place in and around the battle of Hogwarts.

Compared to previous Harry Potter movies, this one is probably the most faithful to the book. All the important things are there, and there are some minor changes to make things more cinematic. I liked the way they changed the timing of Neville's big moment, because it helps make the climax that much bigger. I was a little disappointed with the "Not my daughter, you bitch!" scene. That is one I was really looking forward to, and I thought it wasn't set up well. It came out of nowhere, and if you blinked you might miss it.

One of the best sequences in the movie is Snape's back story. Snape has always been my favorite character, and he is played so well by Alan Rickman. In this movie, we get to learn more than we ever have about Snape, and it's really exciting to see Rickman get to play a different range of emotions.

There has never been a movie series like Harry Potter. Eight movies, all with the same major case (except Dumbledore due to the passing of Richard Harris). It's incredible how well the roles were cast. We have been able to watch these characters age before our eyes, and the actors have grown into the roles wonderfully. I mentioned Neville's big moment before. He hasn't had as much to do in the last couple of movies, and it's great to see him finally featured as much as he is here.

Oh, and the epilogue works wonderfully. I was a little nervous about how they would pull it off and whether it would look fake, but I thought it worked just fine. And all was well.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Bad Teacher - 1 star

Bad Teacher is a bad movie. Very bad. It's supposed to be a comedy, but it's not funny.

It may not be fair to compare it to Bad Santa, but I'm going to anyway. Both movies are about bad people who have a job that requires someone with a certain amount of decency. When you take your child to see Santa at the mall, you would be horrified if a drunk criminal was working as Santa and yelled at your kid. You also hope that the people who teach your kids are interested in providing them with a decent education.

Billy Bob Thornton was perfect for the role in Bad Santa. Cameron Diaz is miscast as the Bad Teacher. She plays mean really well, but unlike Thornton, she isn't any fun to watch in this role.

Also, in Bad Santa, Thornton's motivations made sense. He was a thief, and found that by working as a Santa in a store, it gave him an advantage when it came time to rob the place. He wasn't necessarily mean to kids because he hated them, it was just because he could care less about doing the job well. As soon as he robbed the store, he was out of there. In Bad Teacher, there isn't any reason for Diaz to act the way she does. It doesn't make sense that she is such a horrible person.

When the movie opens, we meet Elizabeeth Halsey (Diaz). It's the last day of school at John A. Adams Middle School. It's also Miss Halsey's last day. She has only been teaching there a year, and she is about to get married to a rich man. So she is retiring, since she won't need the money any more. When her fiance dumps her for being a gold digger, she has to go back to work.

The movie doesn't really address whether she was a bad teacher the first year or not. When the principal is giving her a going away present, she certainly seems pleasant enough. But after being dumped, she is pissed off and bitter. This doesn't really make sense. She admits that the only reason she got into teaching in the first place was because of the hours and summers off. It's hard to believe that someone who hates teaching so much would get through all the college and student teaching you have to do.

Since she isn't interested in teaching, all she does in class is put a movie on while she sleeps. She's like the laziest substitute teacher you ever had, but she's your regular teacher. For whatever reason she chooses inspirational movies about school (Stand and Deliver, Lean on Me), and while the movie plays she sleeps or drinks from the little liquor bottles she keeps in her desk.

She seems to have two motivations in this movie. The first is to find and marry a rich man. The second is to get breast enhancement surgery, which will cost $10,000 that she doesn't have. This doesn't make that much sense, as she already looks like Cameron Diaz and has no trouble getting guys to like her. Except for one guy, played by Justin Timberlake. JT plays a substitute teacher who for some reason starts teaching there full time. This isn't explained, but I digress. JT's grandfather designed fancy watches, and so Elizabeth decides to go after him. She never does ask him about his finances. Just because his grandfather made watches doesn't mean he is rich. But again, I digress.

There are subplots that don't go anywhere. When she hears how much money the school benefit car wash raised, she decides to be in charge of the next one. She dresses in cutoff shorts and a skimpy top, and the car wash is a success. We see her afterwards counting her money, so we know she kept some of it for herself. But we also hear the principal say that the car wash brought in $7,000. Did she give the school $7,000 and keep more for herself? How much? Or did she tell him it raised $7,000 and just keep it all? The movie never explains. And if the car wash is so lucrative, why doesn't she just keep doing car washes? She would have her new boobs in no time.

Another idea she has is to get the students' parents to pay her for supplies and tutoring. She guarantees them an A in her class, or their money back. None of these parents stop to think that since she is the teacher, she is the one who decides their grades. But the movie never follows up on this. We see the parents give her money, and it isn't mentioned again.

None of the kids are developed as characters, and they have very little screen time. We get to know a couple of the kids a little bit. One girl is a teacher's pet. She dresses prim and proper, and her mother bakes cookies for her to bring to the teacher. She doesn't seem too bothered by Elizabeth's attitute towards her. The other kid is a shy boy who writes poetry and has a crush on a pretty girl in his class.

There are some funny actors in the cast, but they are given nothing to do. The only one who gets any laughs is Jason Segel, and he isn't given much to do either. He plays the gym teacher, and he is always hitting on Elizabeth. She keeps turning him down because he's a poor teacher, but he keeps persisting. His character seems smart, yet he isn't smart enough to recognize she's a gold digger. Or he just doesn't care.

This script is just horrible. It was written by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, who wrote the awful Year One. I pray to God that their script for Ghostbusters 3 never gets made.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Beaver - 2 1/2 stars

Mel Gibson stars as a man who runs a large toy company. He didn't start the company - he inherited it from his dad. He is also married with two boys. He has been depressed for a couple of years. It got so bad that he did nothing but sleep all the time. His wife kicks him out because she can't take it, and doesn't know what to do for him.

One day, he finds a beaver hand puppet in a dumpster. He takes it home, cleans it up and puts it on. That night, he is about to kill himself when the beaver starts talking to him. It isn't really talking to him, though. Gibson is talking to himself but in the third person. When the beaver talks, it uses a cockney accent. I have to wonder if Gibson chose that accent after working with Ray Winstone on Edge of Darkness.

This is an interesting premise. Even in the depths of depression, a person still has an inner monologue. You can recognize that your behaviour is ridiculous, even if you can't do anything about it. So the idea of him vocalizing his inner monologue through this puppet is a good one. It is so hard for him to deal with the people in his life that he has to create this separate personality to talk to them. He asks people to address the beaver instead of him, and for the most part, people go along with it. The person who refuses to is his son, played by Anton Yelchin.

There is a separate storyline involving his son writing papers for other students for money at his high school. When the head cheerleader / valedictorian asks him to write her graduation speech, he starts a relationship with her.

Back to Gibson's character. We are not entirely sure if he is creating the beaver character to deal with his problems, or if he is schizafrenic and believes the beaver is really alive. At some point, he seems to believe it, because he tells someone (well, the beaver tells someone) that he is real.

One part of the movie that didn't work for me was the toy. He invents a toy that is some kind of wood block with tools and a talking beaver, and the idea is kids can carve their own beaver out of the wood. It suddenly becomes the hottest toy in the country. And because of that, Gibson is invited to be on talk shows. Because he appears with the beaver, he becomes some kind of celebrity. I didn't buy any of that. It wasn't set up well enough, and it distracted from the more interesting parts of the story. It is also inconsistent. One minute he is a media sensation (even on magazine covers), but he never seems to run in to the press or get recognized in public. It's like the idea of him becoming a celebrity was just stuck into the script without a good rewrite. It serves no purpose.

The movie is very uneven. It gets really dark, and while I usually like dark movies, it has to have some dark humor or good human emotion or something. This movie got dark without really earning it, if that makes any sense. Mel Gibson turns in a good performance, and he makes it believable. I respect the movie for going the places it went, but it just wasn't written or directed well enough to make it work.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides - 2 stars

I am officially tired of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Well, I was tired of it three years ago, when the 3rd movie came out. But now it has overstayed its welcome.

The first Pirates movie was a lot of fun. It was a bit too long, but Johnny Depp created a really fun character in Jack Sparrow. Even the black hole of acting that is Orlando Bloom couldn't ruin that movie.

The first movie was such a hit that they decided rather than make a sequel, they would make two more. They would film them back to back and make a trilogy out of it. The first movie was already epic, so Disney figured they could have their own Lord of the Rings type of franchise.

This movie is what we should have got instead of parts 2 and 3. A self contained story that doesn't require you to know much (or remember much) from the previous movies. You could probably go into this movie cold without having seen any of the previous Pirates movies and you would be ok.

The problem is the movie is a bore. It starts with Jack Sparrow on trial. He of course escapes, then is captured again and brought before King George. There is some talk about the fountain of youth, and Jack seems to know the location. Then he escapes again, meets up with a previous lover (Penelope Cruz), gets kidnapped and ends up on Blackbeard's ship. Blackbeard is played by Ian McShane, but unfortunately he is given nothing to do. Blackbeard is also after the fountain of youth.

Another storyline involves Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush). Barbosa lost his leg because of Blackbeard, so he wants revenge. He knows Blackbeard is headed for the fountain of youth, so he wants to go there to kill Blackbeard.

The movie is one set piece after another. Fight scene, exposition, move to another location, fight scene, and repeat. There aren't any characters to care about. As much fun as Jack Sparrow is, he doesn't really work as a main character because we never believe he is in any danger. His motivations also don't make much sense. At first, all he wants is to stay out of jail. Then he wants to keep Penelope Cruz's character safe. Does he want the fountain of youth or not? We get the impression that he is just kind of along for the ride.

Barbosa is the most interesting character in the movie. If he were the main character, it would have been more enjoyable. Unless you are a hard core fan of this franchise, I don't recommend this installment.

Bridesmaids - 3 stars

Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph star as Annie and Lillian, best friends since childhood. Wiig is in a friends with benefits relationship with a rich handsome man (John Hamm) who prefers she leave after sex, rather than spend the night. She owned a bakery that went out of business.

When Lillian gets engaged, she asks Annie to be her maid of honor. One of the bridesmaids is Helen (Rose Byrne), who wants to be Lillian's best friend. Part of the movie involves Helen trying to upstage Annie anywhere she can. Everything that Annie suggests, Helen shoots down. There is a funny sequence at the engagement party. Annie gives a toast, and Helen takes the make to make a better toast. Annie takes the mic back and gives another toast, and they keep trying to one up each other until it gets to the point they are both singing to Lillian. The sequence goes on a little long, but it's funny.

Part of the movie deals with the bridesmaids. They have a few misadventures together, including getting food poisoning while trying on dresses. The stuff with the bridesmaids is the funniest stuff in the movie. Melissa McCarthy steals every scene she is in.

When things start going wrong, Annie is eventually replaced by Helen. Annie gets kicked out of her apartment and has to live with her mother (the last film role of the late Jill Clayburgh), and her life gets worse. She also sabotages a relationship with a policeman.

You would think a movie about bridesmaids written by women would be a bad chick flick, maybe like 27 Dresses. But this is a really good movie. The characters are well written and interesting, the movie is funny, and it also isn't predictable. Well, maybe a little. Highly recommended.

Priest - 1 star

Priest takes place in a kind of alternate universe. In this world, man and vampire have been at war for centuries. During the opening credits, we see battles between man and vampire dating back to what look like the crusades. At some point, the church created priests. The priests are warriors who are the only ones who can fight vampires. The priests in this movie are similar to jedi knights.

The movie begins after the last great vampire war. For protection, humans live in walled cities (except for a few people who for no reason live out in the wilderness). Most of the vampires have been killed. The ones who still live were rounded up and put into reservations. Since the church thinks vampires are no longer a threat, they have disbanded the priests. They are now pariahs of society. They are kind of like vietnam vets in the way they are treated.

The movie is set in a post apocalyptic future. The city looks like something out of Blade Runner or Highlander 2.

Paul Bettany plays a priest. His brother is one of those crazy people who choose to live on a farm outside the protection of the city walls. One day his home is attacked by vampires. He and his wife are killed (or nearly killed) and the daughter, Lucy, is kidnapped. The local sherrif asks Bettany to go find her and rescue her.

The movie is partially a remake of The Searchers. Swap vampires for Comanche and the vampire war with the civil war. He even takes the young, inexperienced sherrif along, and they argue about whether they will have to kill Lucy. The sherrif even pulls a gun on the priest, but at least he doesn't say "I hope you die!"

There is nothing in Priest to recommend. No humor, the vampires aren't scary (CGI is just not scary), and the action scenes are not good. You can skip this movie.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Thor - 3 stars

I went into Thor the same way I went into Iron Man. I knew very little about the superhero, having never read the comics. From what I have read, the superhero Thor is based on the Norse mythology of Thor, God of Thunder, with some liberties taken by the writers.

Thor lives on Asgard. His father is Odin, his brother is Loki, and he has a bunch of warrior friends. When he disobeys his father and goes to fight their enemy, the Frost Giants, his father takes away his powers and banishes him to Earth. This takes up the first act of the movie.

The second act begins on Earth when he is found by scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), her asistant Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), and her mentor Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard). They are afraid of him at first, but they warm up to him quickly. He has some odd mannerisms, but he adapts pretty quickly. They could have had a bit more fun with the idea of a man like him seeing modern technology (Warlock, Beastmaster 2), but they don't.

Meanwhile, Thor's hammer was also sent to Earth. It was sent a few seconds after he was, and Thor didn't see it land. But people find it, and when they are unable to pull it out of the stone it's embedded in, it becomes a local sensation. A hundred people are gathered around it trying to retrieve the hammer. They even hook it up to a truck and try to pull it free. Eventually SHIELD finds out about it, and they set up a base camp around it. When Thor learns about his hammer, he breaks into SHIELD's camp to retrieve it.

The movie is simple enough that you don't need to know the character or his history to enjoy it. It also has enough humor that it appeals to more than just the comic fan base. It isn't as good as the first Iron Man, but it is better than Iron Man 2.

Just to recap: there are now 4 movies that have taken place in this Marvel universe: Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, and now Thor. In a couple of months, Captain America will be released. Each movie is introducing characters that will all team up for The Avengers, which will be released next summer. And as with the previous movies, you have to stick around after the credits for a little teaser.

Rubber - 1 star

A tire comes to life and starts killing people. How does it kill people? By using its telekinetic powers to make their heads explode. Sounds like an interesting idea, doesn't it? Could make for a good grindhouse exploitation style movie. Unfortunately, it sucks. It is the most boring movie about a killer tire I have ever seen.

Writer / director Quentin Dupieux is trying really hard to be clever with this movie. The film opens with a man in a suit standing on a lonely dirt road. On the dirt road, a bunch of chairs are set up. Then a car appears and proceeds to drive over each chair. The chairs are not set up in a straight line, so the car has to swerve all over the place. When the car comes to a stop, the trunk opens and a police officer gets out. Then he walks right up to the camera and starts to address the audience. He talks about how movies always have an element that makes no sense, and as he talks, he makes less and less sense.

Then we see that he is actually addressing an audience. A group of people are standing on this dirt road. They are stand ins for us. They are going to watch the events of the movie unfold through their binoculars, and they make comments that we the actual audience are already thinking (like how boring the movie is).

Soon enough, the tire comes to life. This is fun for 5 minutes or so. First the tire learns to stand upright and move, and like a toddler learning to walk, it keeps falling over. Eventually it learns to move. Then it encounters an obstacle (an empty bottle). It discovers it has telekinetic powers by breaking the bottle so it can continue on its merry way. Then it discovers animals, blows them up, discovers humans, blows their heads off, and so on.

Meanwhile, this audience is watching the tire and getting hungry. These people came out to see a show, but for some reason they have no food and they either can't leave, or they are not willing to. They have sleeping bags, so they can sleep out there in the middle of nowhere, and get up in the morning and resume watching the show. There is a short subplot about how the people in charge try to poison and kill the audience, and I think the filmmakers are trying to make a comment on what they are doing to us with this movie, but it doesn't really work.

The movie is an interesting curiosity, but there is no reason to ever watch it.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Scream 4 - 3 stars

I was very apprehensive going into this movie. I really enjoyed Scream 1 and 2, was disappointed by Scream 3, and I was afraid this one would suck. Usually when a franchise is revisited after many years (like, I don't know, Crystal Skull maybe), it is just a cash grab and it doesn't live up to the previous entries in the series.

Luckily this one doesn't suck.

Kevin Williamson wrote the first 2 Screams, and when it came time to do the third one, he was busy writing Dawson's Creek. So the producers got Ehren Kruger, one of the hot new writers at the time, to write the third one. I don't know if he was working from a story outline from Williamson or if the movie was entirely his invention, but it wasn't very good. The 4th movie was written by Williamson, and while it isn't as good as the first movie, it is definitely better than the third. I will have to re-watch the second movie to determine how this one compares.

When the first Scream came out, cell phones were pretty new. Well, at least the idea of anyone owning a cell phone was new. By the second movie, everyone had one. This time, they have incorporated facebook, iPhone apps, and live web blogs into the mix. One character is always walking around with a webcam on his head, filming for his video blog. There are also references to the horror movies that have come out in the decade since Scream 3, like the Saw franchise.

I will admit I was a little disappointed that the movie didn't do more with this stuff. They reference that today's audiences want more gruesome kills, but the kills aren't any more gruesome than what I remember from the previous 3 movies. They use web cams and streaming devices a little bit, but nothing is as cool as the sequence in the first movie where Gail plants the camera in Stu's house during the party ("Shit! 20 second delay!").

Part of the plots of Scream 2 and 3 involved Stab, the movie of the events that took place in the first Scream movie. Gail Weathers (Courtney Cox) wrote The Woodsboro Murders after the events of the first film, that was made into the movie Stab, and by Scream 3 they were making the third Stab film. Well, in Scream 4 they have made more than 4 Stab movies and at this point, the events of the first film are so unremarkable that people have iPhone apps to make their voice sound like Ghost Face.

If you aren't a fan of the previous Scream films, I don't know how much you will enjoy this one. You don't have to see (or remember well) each previous installment. The plots are simple enough that you won't really be in the dark if you didn't see Scream 3, for example. But part of the fun is revisiting characters that you like (Sidney, Dewey, and Gail) and seeing what new, clever ways Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson can come up with to torment the characters. Overall this movie succeeds.

Win Win - 3 1/2 stars

Paul Giamatti stars as a small town lawyer named Mike Flaherty. His practice is not going so well, and he is having trouble providing for his family. He has a wife (Amy Ryan) and two young girls. On the side, he is a wrestling coach for the local high school. His assistant coach is played by the great Jeffrey Tambor, who does 'sour' and 'bad mood' better than anybody.

One day, he discovers a dishonest way to make some extra money for his family. He represents an old man named Leo Poplar (Burt Young) who is slipping into dimentia. Leo doesn't want to be put into a home, but he can't take care of himself anymore. Mike decides he can declare himself Leo's guardian, make an extra $1,500 a month, and put Leo in a home anyway. He won't be caught because no one can locate any of Leo's family.

Soon enough, Leo's grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer) turns up. He needs a place to stay, so Mike lets him live with his family. Lucky for Mike, Kyle just happens to be a great wrestler. This is good because Mike's team sucks. So he gets Kyle to come join the team.

Neither the wrestling nor the stolen money are what drives the story. There are some wrestling scenes, but not enough to make this a wrestling movie. The money he gets from Leo does come up later in the movie, but it doesn't ruin his life. The movie isn't about those things. It's about these characters and how they relate to each other.

Eventually Kyle's junkie mother turns up and things get complicated. But all the characters behave the way real people do. This is not as good a movie as Thomas McCarthy's last (The Visitor), but it is a worthy follow up. This is one of the best movies so far of 2011. Basically, the filmmakers did everything right and nothing wrong.

The Conspirator - 1 1/2 stars

Did you know that the night Abraham Lincoln was killed, there were other assassins out to kill other members of the government? One victim who survived was William H. Seward, the guy who purchased Alaska from the Russians.

Did you know that the conspirators met and planned at Mary Surratt's boarding house? And after the assassination, she was arrested and tried before a military tribunal? This is interesting stuff that one could make a good historical drama about. Unfortunatly, this isn't it. This is a really boring courtroom drama that looks as though it was shot for a History Channel reenactment.

The star of the movie is Fredrick Aiken (James McAvoy), a former Union soldier ready to have a career in the legal profession. After Lincoln is assassinated and Mary Surratt (Robin Wright) is arrested, he is assigned the job of defending her. The problem is, he believes she is guilty and has no desire to defend her. He seems to think that she is not entitled to a defense, which is not a good mindset for a defense attorney to adopt.

I quickly got tired of Aiken's attitute. In the scenes where he is talking to his client, he all but tells her that he thinks she is guilty, and barely asks any questions. He acts sulky. That's how I would put it.

The movie's goal seems to be to point out the parallels between this event and 9/11. The nation has just suffered a great tragedy, and someone must pay the price. It doesn't much matter whether she is really guilty or not. Her sentencing will help satisfy the country's rage. It seems to me that when you have a lynch mob, you should try to calm them down with rational discourse. Instead, the Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (Kevin Kline) wants to satisfy their blood lust.

The movie is not about whether she is guilty or innocent. Instead the focus is on the fact that she, a civilian, was tried before a military tribunal with no jury of her peers, a right which is guaranteed in the Constitution. This is an injustice which should be looked at, as should the parallels to the Patriot Act and other things post 9/11. But the movie kind of rams these ideas down our throats. I would be more forgiving if the movie were better, but the biggest problem was that it was boring.

Soul Surfer - 2 stars

Soul Surfer is about Bethany Hamilton, the 13 year old Hawaiian surfer whose arm was bitten off by a shark. Specifically, the movie is about how her faith and her family help her to overcome losing her arm and become a champion surfer.

This is one of those movies where a documentary would have been so much better. This is an inspirational story, but the movie handles it so badly. It is so earnest and sentimental that I felt like I was watching an after school special or something. The filmmakers are trying so hard to appeal to a Christian audience that they don't take any risks, and the movie is rather boring.

The movie starts out introducing us to Bethany, her family, and her friends. They live a life of privilege, spending their days surfing and their nights either in their nice Hawaiian home, or at church youth group meetings. We never get an explanation as to why her parents don't have to work. I think her parents are professional surfers, but we never see what that involves. How much money does a professional surfer make anyway?

When the attack comes, it is a huge letdown. She is on a surfboard, and the camera is below the water, giving us the shark's POV. This lasts for a few seconds, then before any tension is developed, the shark pops out of the water, bites off her arm, and disappears. The whole thing lasts about 5 seconds. Now I wasn't going in expecting Jaws, but at the same time, the shark attack should be a big moment in the movie.

They rush her to the hospital, and at first she seems to be in good spirits. She doesn't let having only one arm get her down too much. I don't know if she was this cheerful in real life, but it seems a bit phony. Getting used to having one arm would be a huge adjustment, and I would expect her to be much more upset and depressed. If she was this resilient in real life, good for her.

Quickly she decides to get back in the water (at no time does anyone worry about more shark attacks - Larry Vaughn must be the mayor), but she soon gets discouraged and quits. This starts the sequence in the movie where she feels bad for herself and gets depressed. But quickly she snaps out of it, gets back on the board, and starts to win competitions.

The two best parts of the movie are near the end. The first is when she goes with her church group to Thailand after the tsunami. Here she realizes how lucky she is to have a nice home, clean water, food, money, all that stuff. The second is during the credits when they show actual footage of the real Bethany. This reminded me how much I would rather watch a documentary about her.

Hanna - 3 stars

Hanna is about a girl (Saoirse Ronan) who has been raised by her father Erik Heller (Eric Bana) in a cabin in the woods of Finland. She has never met another person besides her father, but he has prepared her well for survival. She knows several languages, she can defend herself and kill with ease, and he has even given her a back story in case she is ever questioned.

Her father was some kind of CIA agent who disappeared, and as the movie progresses we find out why. For some reason that I didn't feel was fully explained, Erik gives Hanna the choice of activating a homing beacon. Once activated, another agent named Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett) will come after her and try to kill her. Even by the end of the movie, I wasn't quite sure why he would want Marissa to come after Hanna. If he wanted Marissa dead, I would think there are easier ways to go after her.

His plan seems to be a horrible one. He will leave Hanna alone in the house while assassins come to the cabin (following the homing beacon). He will be long gone, but Hanna will be captured. She will escape and the two will meet up again in Berlin at a really cool looking Grimm's fairy tale house. If the whole plan was to kill Marissa for what she did to Hanna's mother, I would think he could come up with a better way to do it. This plan requires a lot of killing and the constant threat to both of them of being re-captured or killed.

One interesting thing is how many people Hanna and her father kill. She has been trained since birth to be an assassin, so she has no problem killing. But luckily somehow she is not a psychopath. When she meets another girl her age, she becomes friends with the girl and her family.

But any agent who gets in her way (or Erik's way) is quickly killed. In movies like this, you have to assume that all the CIA agents are bad guys. But I couldn't help thinking that most of them were under the assumption that they were after some rogue agent, and their orders were justified. There is even a sequence where Erik kills a couple of cops who happen upon him when he swims ashore in Germany. As far as I can tell, they just happened to be there. It's hard to sympathize with the protagonist when he is killing cops.

Besides that, this was a really cool movie. There were some good fight scenes, and it was well choreographed. Not like most action movies that are so over edited, you can't tell what's going on. In this movie, I always had a clear sense of geography. There were some clever and fun sequences with inventive camera moves. Particularly good was the scene where Erik overpowers a bunch of guys in a train station. The entire scene seemed to play out in one long tracking shot.

The only problem with the movie is the marketing. The trailers are showing all the action scenes, and audiences are going to be surprised by how slowly this movie moves. Instead of wall to wall action, there are a lot of quiet scenes of Hanna walking, or hiding, or experiencing the outside world for the first time. The movie does move slowly in places, but I was never bored.

Rio 3D - 2 1/2 stars

I went in with low expectations, and I was still disappointed. The songs are flat and lifeless. Not that the songs are the most important part of the movie, but if you are an animated movie and you are going to have musical numbers, especially if the opening credits are set to a big musical number, your songs better not suck.

Jesse Eisenberg voices Blu, a rare baby macaw who can't fly. He is captured by smugglers, put in a truck, and driven to North America. The box he is in falls off the truck somewhere in Minnesota, and a nice brainy girl (short hair and glasses) adopts him.

Cut to 15 years later. The nice girl, whose name is Linda (Leslie Mann) runs a book store (of course) and the two are best of friends. He gives her the fist bump when she offers it, and they even brush their teeth together. So adorable.

One day a scientist from Brazil shows up. Apparently Blu is the last male of his species, and luckily the scientist has a female. He would like to take Blu do Brazil so they can repopulate the species. At this point, the movie gets sad for a minute. I assume he wants her to give Blu to him, and she would remain behind, because she is conflicted about whether to give in to his request. But then suddenly she is in Brazil with Blu and the scientist. So apparently he was offering to bring her as well, which means basically a free vacation to Brazil. Why did she even have to think about this? Of course the movie doesn't mention this. Did he pay for her plane ticket and hotel?

Anyway, Jesse Eisenberg does a good job of acting like Jesse Eisenberg, meaning he is always awkward and uncomfortable, especially when he meets the female macaw, Jewel (Anne Hathaway). He is ready to make with the sexy time, but she just wants to escape from her cage. She doesn't want to be anyone's pet. Blu can't understand this, because he likes being Linda's pet.

Before they can escape, they are stolen from the lab by smugglers and chained together. They soon escape, but because Blu can't fly, Jewel can't fly either. They want to get away from each other, but first they have to find a way to break free of the chain.

It's no big surprise that they eventually fall for each other. One problem is this isn't set up very well. At no point before meeting Jewel did Blu express any interest in finding a mate. I think it would make the audience root for them to get together a little more if they had any idea that Blu actually did want to hook up with Jewel.

There was a scene where Blu and Jewel are riding together on a cart, and the animals around them start making music to try and set the mood, hoping that they will kiss. During this scene, all I could think of was how much better the music was in The Little Mermaid, since they were ripping off the 'Kiss the Girl' sequence.

I won't complain about the fact that none of the animal's voices are South American. But I will complain about how many celebrities lend their voices to this movie. I complain about this a lot, I know, but I am tired of seeing the poster, trailer, or opening credits and seeing a list of high profile actors. There was a time when the voice actors were not mentioned above the title, because they weren't celebrities. They were talented voice actors. Now, all through the movie I keep trying to figure out who is doing what voice. It gets distracting. I don't think the movie would be any less successful if less famous actors voiced the parts. Kids don't go to animated movies based on who does the voices. However, I will say I enjoyed Jemaine Clement from Flight of the Conchords. His musical number was the only one I mildly enjoyed.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Your Highness - 1 star

I think the pitch for this movie went something like this: Remember Krull and Beastmaster? Wouldn't it be funny to make a movie like that, except have Danny McBride star as the lead character? All the other characters would do a British accent except for McBride. And he could act like every other character he ever plays, meaning he swears a lot and is always horny. Oh, and we should throw in a lot of stoner humor, cause that's funny. And we could also have the characters drop the f-bomb a lot. That's funny too.

The biggest problem with this movie is it's a spoof of movies like Beastmaster, but they filmmakers don't know how to do that correctly. In a good spoof, you first have to have a solid story with good characters to root for. For more on that subject, please to be reading this explanation by David Zucker on why Airplane! worked better than Top Secret! They had a decent premise to work with.

Prince Fabious (James Franco) is the dashing hero, and his brother, Prince Thadeous (Danny McBride) is his disappointing brother. There is an evil wizard named Leezer (Justin Theroux) who has kidnapped Fabious's fiance Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel), and the princes go on a quest to rescue her.

The biggest problem is the characters are not written well. We hate Thadeous because he is a selfish dick, and his transformation into a hero is not believable. Also, the elements of the quest are not interesting. They just go from one set piece to another. One sequence has them captured by beautiful topless barbarian women, then thrown into a thunderdome where they have to fight a warrior, then a monster. Another sequence they are in a labyrinth where they have to fight a minotaur (of course).

The filmmakers think that pot references are hilarious. Once in a while they made me chuckle, but no more than that. You actually have to do something interesting besides just referencing pot to be funny. And having a character randomly add the word motherf***er to a statement is not funny.

An hour into the movie, Natalie Portman shows up. She is the most competent warrior of the bunch, yet she inexplicably falls for Thadeous. That is the least believable element in the entire movie. The biggest problem with the movie is it isn't funny enough. I checked my watch every 10 minutes.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Sucker Punch - 1 1/2 stars

I think I have seen the trailer for Sucker Punch more than just about any trailer in the past year. It seems like every movie I saw in the theater had that trailer, and it got to the point where I was dreading the movie.

Besides just getting sick of seeing the same footage over and over, I was afraid that I had already seen the movie. It looked like a girl tries to kill her father or stepfather, goes to a mental institute, and imagines herself in some fantasy land. She is given a quest - to find 5 items (a map, fire, a knife, a key, and something unknown). If all the action that happens is all in her mind, how can it matter?

It turns out I was mostly right. In the opening sequence, we are introduced to Babydoll (Emily Browning). Her mom had just died, and her step dad is obviously a psycho. When he tries to rape her younger sister, Babydoll tries to shoot him. She misses, and accidentally kills her sister. So her step dad puts her in a mental institute.

In the institute, she meets several other girls with names like Rocket (Jena Malone) and Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens). The mental institute is actually a brothel, and the girls are required to dance for perspective customers. When Babydoll dances, she is transported to a fantasy realm. The first time, she is in a Japanese courtyard out of some Samurai movie. She meets a wise old man (Scott Glenn) who tells her to find those 5 items, and then she will be free. Then she goes out into the courtyard and has a pointless battle with giant robots.

After she defeats them, she returns to reality and stops dancing. This was all in her mind - the other girls just watched her dance. Is it all her imagination, or is she hallucinating, or what? There are several more sequences like this, and each time she has a mission to accomplish. The 5 items she has to collect are required in the fantasy world as well as the real world. The end goal is to escape the mental institute.

There are a couple of problems with the fantasy sequences. First, what happens there doesn't matter. In the first one, they are trying to retrieve a map. The girls are in World War I era trenches, fighting German zombie soldiers. But in the real world, while Babydoll is dancing and distracting the staff, one of the girls is to sneak into an office and steal the map. This is more interesting than the fantasy sequence. Another problem is there is no danger in the fantasy realm. No one is ever in any danger. The only time someone gets killed is when they are about to be killed in the real world - and it is obvious when that is coming.

I did like one of the fantasy sequences. The girls have to kill a baby dragon without awakening it's mother. Of course, the mother does wake up and try to kill the girls. The dragon is very cool, and the effects are great in this sequence. But just like all the other fantasy sequences, I wish the story lived up to the action we are seeing on the screen. These sequences just serve to slow down the movie. I would rather have the entire movie take place in the institute, and just stick to the girls trying to escape.

I didn't hate the movie as much as I expected, but that was only because I went in with the lowest of expectations.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau - 2 1/2 stars

The Adjustment Bureau is one of those movies with a great setup, but weak payoff. The trailer makes it look like a very interesting sci-fi movie. Matt Damon and Emily Blunt meet cute and it's love at first sight. He just lost a senate ellection, and he goes into the men's room to be alone. It just happens that she is hiding in the men's room, they meet, flirt, and then she runs out of his life.

They meet again on a bus, and he takes her number down. But the interesting thing is that that second meeting was never supposed to happen. He was supposed to spill his coffee on his coat and return to his apartment, missing that bus. The reason he made it to the bus is fate was asleep, and neglected to intercept Damon before he could board the bus.

Fate in this movie referrs to a group of men wearing suits and fedoras, looking like they just walked out of Mad Men. When Damon returns to his office, he finds everyone frozen, as if time has stopped, and these mysterious guys are modifying their memories or something like that. Damon wasn't supposed to be there yet, so they didn't expect to be interrupted by him. Their solution is to tell him the truth.

Here is the first problem with the movie. It is far too early in the story for the protagonist to learn what is going on. They don't explain exactly who they are or where they come from (aliens? angels?) but they explain that everyone is supposed to follow the plan. He deviated from the plan, so they have to adjust things. He should never tell anyone what he knows, or they will 'reset' him, which means they will basically erase his memory and he will be an entirely different person.

I think this would drive a person nuts. The curtain has been pulled back and he has seen that life is just an illusion. Like Neo in The Matrix, he now knows that there is something going on that no one else on Earth is aware of. The bureau explains to him that he was never supposed to meet Blunt's character a second time, and he better not try to find her. They are not supposed to be together, because it is not part of the plan.

This is all set up in the trailer, so I don't think I have really spoiled anything. After seeing the trailer, the only questions left are 1) why can't the two be together? 2) who and what are the powerful men in the hats? and 3) will they end up together and live happily ever after, or will the bureau succeed in keeping them apart?

The answer to question number 1 is kind of a letdown. It has to do with his and her respective carreers. Apparently if either one is too happy, they will not be as driven to succeed and will not achieve great things. I had a hard time accepting this. I guess it is possible for some people, but others will not do great things if they are alone and unhappy. Besides, once they have revealed the plan to Damon, what's to stop them from just telling him what he needs to do to succeed. If someone saw into the future and told you that you were going to be president, wouldn't that give you more confidence that you could achieve that goal? It's like the conundrum of whether you want to know how you are going to die. If you knew how, would you be able to avoid it? Would that create a paradox?

Question 2 is not explained either, although we get the idea that they have been around since the beginning of time. A senior Bureau member named Thompson (Terence Stamp) says something about how free will is no longer an option for mankind because of all the horrible things that mankind has caused throughout history.

One thing that occurred to me is do they have a bureau in every city in the world? The movie is set in New York, and there don't seem to be enough agents to control everyone's fate. The agents have powers they can use to affect our behavior. They can use their powers to make someone trip and fall, or cause a car to go through a red light and cause an accident. When they do that, how many other people's fate did they change? They don't seem to care too much about that. Is it because Damon is so much more important than everyone else?

The movie makes me think about the ripple effect, or the butterfly effect. If you go back in time and change one small thing, that has ripples that affect things in the future. Same with the plan in this movie. If they have a plan everyone is supposed to follow, causing a car accident with change the plan for a number of people. The person driving the other car now goes to the hospital and misses whatever he was going to do, the onlookers are now witnesses and have to hand around and give their statements, and so on.

Another problem I had is that despite their powers, they still can't stop Damon. They should be able to. One minute they use their powers, the next minute they watch helplessly as he gets away. It is a problem that movies often run into when people have powers. Their powers only work when the script requires them to.

The movie brings up a lot of interesting ideas, but it isn't smart enough to pay them off. It creates an intriguing setup and then becomes a chase movie. And the ending is a real letdown. I don't want to spoil it, but it kind of boils down to the Bureau saying "Ok, fine, have it your way."

If you want to watch a movie with a somewhat similar setup that really knows how to pay it off, watch Dark City.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Oscar picks

I'm gonna keep this short. I'm just going to list my predictions and my picks. To see the entire list of Oscar nominees, go to

Best Actor: Colin Firth (The King's Speech) is going to win. My pick would be James Franco (127 Hours).

Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale (The Fighter) is going to win, and he is my pick.

Best Actress: Natalie Portman (Black Swan) will win, and she is also my pick.

Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo (The Fighter) will win. My pick is Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom).

Best Animated Movie: Toy Story 3 will win, but I would pick How to Train Your Dragon.

Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins will finally win for True Grit. He would be my choice as well.

Best Director: This will go to Tom Hooper for The King's Speech, but I really want David Fincher to win for The Social Network.

Best Documentary: I think Exit Through the Gift Shop will win, if for no other reason than everybody wants to see if Banksy will show up and do something interesting. That would also be my pick.

Best Picture: This will go to The King's Speech, but if there is any justice in the world, The Social Network will win.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Company Men - 3 stars

Ben Affleck stars as a very successful employee of a giant shipping company. He makes $120,000 a year, lives in a giant house with is wife and 2 kids, drives a porsche, has a country club membership, all that stuff. As the economy starts to tank, he is laid off. The movie examins how he and the other employees cope and try to move on with their lives.

The movie also stars Chris Cooper as a guy who can't imagine his life without the job. He has worked there his entire life and is nearing 60 years old. When he is laid off, he finds just how few companies are interested in hiring an old former executive when they could hire a young guy just out of college for a lot less money.

Tommy Lee Jones and Craig T. Nelson are the guys who founded the company, and they have several arguments about how to keep the company afloat. Nelson thinks the best way to appease the stockholders is to cut more jobs. Jones points out that if Nelson didn't take such a huge salary, they could afford to keep some workers.

The movie is a pretty good reflection of what's wrong with corporate America. At one time, the corporation made ships. Now the warehouses are closed and their profits are from stock trades. The CEO is living in a mansion and making something like 1,000 times what an average employee is making.

The only big problem I had with the movie is that Affleck is the lowest paid employee we see, and he is making 6 figures. When people are struggling to get by on less than $25,000 a year, it's hard to feel bad for a guy like Affleck's character.

Just Go With It - 1 1/2 stars

There are so many things wrong with Just Go With It, but the biggest one is that it isn't very funny. The movie is basically a farce, and director Dennis Dugan has no idea how to direct a farce.

Adam Sandler stars as Danny, a plastic surgeon who wears a wedding ring in order to pick up chicks. The idea is they think he is married, he tells them how unhappy his marriage is, and they jump into bed with him. It kinda reminds me of that Chris Rock routine about how girls never call you when you're single, then once you get married, you get propositioned every Tuesday. You would think a rich plastic surgeon would have no trouble getting women, but I digress. His assistant Katherine (Jennifer Aniston) tells him often how much of a pig he is, but she does it with a smile.

One night at a party when he isn't wearing the ring, he happens to connect with a gorgeous 6th grade teacher named Palmer (Brooklyn Decker). The fact that she looks like she does and teaches 6th grade is the most believable thing in the movie. So anyway, the morning after they hook up, she discovers the wedding ring in his pocket. He can't think of what to tell her, so she leaves in a huff. The problem is, this girl is the one. Even though he has these one night stands all the time, suddenly after one night he is sure that he wants a lasting relationship with her.

What is his scheme to get her back? Does he tell her that he just got divorced? No, that would make too much sense (and we wouldn't have a movie). Instead, he tells her that he is getting divorced. She is skeptical, and wants to meet his soon-to-be ex. So he asks Katherine to pretend to be his wife. Katherine agrees, he spends thousands of dollars getting her clothes and shoes, and she meets the couple for lunch. If he were really going through a divorce, you would think that getting him and his wife together for lunch would be ugly and painful. But Palmer has no problem forcing him to do this.

When Katherine slips up and reveals that she has kids, how do they cover that? Do they tell Palmer that they are her kids from a previous marriage? No, once again, that would be too easy. They tell her that yes, we have kids together. Danny doesn't know Katherine's kids' names (even though they have worked together for years), so he has to make up their names too. This of course means that her kids have to go along with the charade as well.

Here is the biggest annoyance of the movie. The boy is fine, but the girl is the most obnoxious child actor I have ever seen. She is like 12 years old and wants to be an actress. Is there anything more annoying than stage kids? She likes using accents, and during her first meeting with Palmer, she uses a fake cockney accent that would embarrass Dick Van Dyke. This means she has to keep using the accent the rest of the movie.

Another problem with the movie? The kid tricks Danny into agreeing to take them to Hawaii. One scene they are all eating lunch, the next scene they are at the airport ready to go. Are their schedules really so free that they can drop everything and go on a week long vacation? He is a plastic surgeon, Palmer is a teacher, but no matter. The script says they go to Hawaii, so they do. At least they could have put in a line or two about clearing their schedules or something.

Adam Sandler movies are always hit and miss with me. Nothing he has ever done has measured up to Billy Madison or Happy Gilmour, and while I liked You Don't Mess With the Zohan and Grown Ups, I hated Big Daddy, Mr. Deeds, The Waterboy, and pretty much everything else (I am only counting the Happy Madison productions, so Funny People and Punch Drunk Love don't count). This movie tries for big laughs and very few of them work. Overall, it's an embarassment.

The Rite - 2 stars

I went to see The Rite hoping that it would present something new and interesting about exorcism. It doesn't. At all. There have been several exorcism movies recently, like The Exorcism of Emily Rose and The Last Exorcism. When I saw the trailer for The Rite, I thought this would be the one that got it right. It has Anthony Hopkins. It looks like it had a good sized bugdet. Exorcism is always good for a scare, right?

The movie is about Michael Kovak (Colin O'Donoghue). Michael lives and works in a funeral home with his father (Rutger Hauer). Not sure I could embalm a corpse in the basement, walk upstairs to the kitchen and sit down for dinner, but that is normal life for him. He decides to enter the seminary and become a priest. Cut to 4 years later. He is about to graduate and decides he doesn't want to be a priest. When he tries to resign, the Father Superior (Toby Jones) tells him that if he drops out, his scholarship will roll over to a student loan, and he will owe more than $100,000. That's how they get ya!

For some reason, the Father Superior decides that Michael should go to Rome and study to be an exorcist. There he attends exorcism class taught by Father Xavier (Ciaran Hinds). Here the movie really misses an opportunity. They could have given us some really good details about exorcism. Real or made up, I don't care. But the classes are skimmed over. We get maybe 2 short scenes in the class, and they give us very little information about exorcisms. Very disappointing.

Michael goes to Father Xavier and tells him he is skeptical. Apparently he is the only skeptical one in the class, because he is the only student Xavier sends to study with Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins). Yes, we are at least 30 minutes into the movie before Hopkins appears on screen. Up to this point, the movie has been horribly dull. Hopkins does what he can to liven things up a little. He may be trying to exorcise demons, but he does it with a sense of humor.

Besides a few laughs with Hopkins, the only other interesting part of the movie is when Father Lucas himself is posessed (not a spoiler if you've seen the trailer). Hopkins plays creepy very well, and the movie gets a little scary when he is at his most menacing. But even posessed Hopkins gets boring fast because the movie doesn't give him anything interesting to do. The most intense thing he does is slap a little girl and yell at her. The rest of the time, he has creepy makeup and talks in a weird voice. That's about it.

Overall, a very boring and disappointing movie. Not scary at all.