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.