Friday, December 14, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - 3 stars

I feel like I've been waiting for this movie almost as long as I waited for The Phantom Menace.  After Return of the King opened in 2003, there was talk that Peter Jackson would make The Hobbit next.  Then after a few years, it was happening.  But there was just the problem of getting the rights from MGM.  And then MGM went through bankruptcy.  Then Guillermo del Toro left.

After all that, we finally have The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opening today.  And while it's not the disappointment that The Phantom Menace was, it can't live up to the brilliance of The Lord of the Rings.

Set some 60 years before the events of Rings, the story concerns young Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, taking over for Ian Holm), a simple hobbit who lives in the Shire.  One day the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) shows up and asks Bilbo to go on an adventure.  It seems there are these dwarves who were kicked out of their homeland by a dragon named Smaug.  Their quest is to defeat Smaug, and steal back his treasure, so the dwarves can go home again. 

And that's basically the story.  No quest to save the world this time.  That in and of itself isn't a problem.  It shouldn't matter whether a movie is about the fate of the world or just a simple adventure story.  But it's hard not to compare this to the LOTR movies.  And while those movies were epic enough to justify their 3 hour plus running times, this movie should have been at least a half hour shorter.

One problem I had was the beginning.  It's at least a half hour before the quest begins.  First Gandalf appears to Bilbo, and then one by one we meet the dwarves.  It seems like they stay in Bilbo's house forever eating, throwing dishes around, and singing.  This gets very boring.  And you would think that with that much time, they could have developed the characters of the dwarves better.  While some of them have a distinct look (the one with the funny hat, the really fat one, the one with the crazy beard), with the exception of Prince Thorin Oakenshield, none of them are memorable. 

In LOTR, you had Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin.  Then after we got to know them, we got Strider, Legolas, Gimli, and Boromir.  In The Hobbit, the only characters we really care about are Bilbo and Gandalf.  And just like the other movies, Gandalf has a habit of disappearing for stretches of the movie. 

There were several sequences that dragged on too long, and I got kind of bored.  But there are some fun moments too.  The best is when Bilbo meets Gollum.  I have to admit that it's nice being back in this world with these characters again.  And the movie does get me excited for the next chapter.  I just wish that Peter Jackson would restrain himself a bit.  Not every movie needs to be 3 hours long.

Hopefully the next movie is even better.  I am looking forward to seeing what they do with Smaug, since we hardly see him in this movie.

Hitchcock - 3 1/2 stars

This isn't a biopic of Alfred Hitchcock.  This movie just focuses on one year of his life.  The year is 1959 - 1960.  North By Northwest has just been released, and it was a huge success.  The studio wants him to make another movie just like it, but he wants to do a horror movie.  He finds the book Psycho and decides that will be his next movie. 

We get to see his battles with the studio, who refuse to finance the movie, leaving Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) to finance it himself by taking out a load against his house.  We also see him battle the censors about everything from violence and nudity to showing a toilet.  The funniest scene in the movie is when the head of the censor board argues about showing a toilet flush, which no American movie had ever done.

Helen Mirren plays Hitchcock's wife, Alma.  She may be having an affair with an author named Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), and this subplot is where the movie lost me a little.  But Mirren delivers a great performance and her scenes with Hopkins are great fun.  Hopkins does a great impersonation of Hitchcock, and I would love to see him play the director again just to get more of this performance.

The movie works best when it's focusing on the making of Psycho.  Scarlett Johansson is very good as Janet Leigh, and James D'Arcy is wonderfully creepy as Anthony Perkins.  I just wish he was in the movie more.  Danny Huston is very good, but unfortunately his scenes are the ones that are the most unnecessary to the movie.  Any time the focus is on Alma and Whitfield, I was just wanting to get back to Hitchcock. 

We don't get to learn a lot about the man himself except that he was in an almost loveless marriage, and he liked to eavsdrop (and peep) on his actresses.  This movie is a lot of fun.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Skyfall - 3 1/2 stars

Casino Royale was great.  It was the most exciting and emotionally satisfying James Bond movie ever.  I can't remember ever being this excited to see a James Bond movie again.  I liked it so much I took other people to see it.

Quantum of Solace was a disappointment.  It wasn't bad, but Casino Royale set the bar so high and QoS would have been a let down even if the previous movie was Die Another Day.

Skyfall is somewhere in the middle, although the finale is one of the more interesting and exciting climaxes a Bond movie has ever had. 

The movie does not begin with the traditional gun barrel.  I wish it did.  Star Wars movies open with "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away ..." and Bond movies start with the Bond music and the gun barrel. 

Anyway, Bond (Daniel Craig again) and another agent named Eve (Naomie Harris) are trying to catch someone who has just stolen a hard drive containing the identities of undercover agents.  If he gets away, they could all be killed.  So Bond and Eve chase him through crowded streets and onto a train.  Bond uses everything at his disposal, including a Catepillar, to try to catch the guy.  Eve gets ahead of the train, finds a good spot and pulls out a sniper rifle.  She doesn't have a clean shot, but M (Judi Dench), who is monitoring the situation from MI6 headquarters, tells her to take the shot.  The mission is more important than one agent.  If you have seen the trailer, you know that the shot hits Bond and he falls to his presumed death far below.

The opening credits sequence is very cool as it always is, and the Adele theme song is really growing on me.  While Bond is enjoying death by living on a tropical island, sleeping with women and drinking, MI6 is attacked.  Bond sees this on TV and decides to come back to work.  The man behind the attack, and the theft of the hard drive, is Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem).  Silva used to be just like Bond, but he was abandoned by M and tortured.  He now wants revenge against M.

At first, this movie doesn't seem to be wasting time.  The opening action sequence is great.  But the whole sequence of Bond enjoying retirement then coming back seems to happen too quickly.  It seems like a little more time should have been spent on Bond doing nothing, then having to think about whether to come back to work.  As usual, he has a pretty easy time finding out who the bad guys are.  He heads to Shanghai and the movie grinds to a halt for at least 20 minutes.  Bond spends a lot of time wandering around and observing people.  There is a fight here and there, but the plot doesn't advance much and it seems like this whole sequence needed a re-write.

Once he meets up with Silva, things get exciting.  Bardem gives the best performance I have seen in a Bond villain since, I don't know, Goldfinger or Blofeld.  He has good reason to hate M, and when we find out what he went through, it makes his character really complex.  He also introduces some sexual tension in his scenes with Bond, which I think is a first for this series.  And Bardem is such a good actor that any time he is on screen, I was loving it.

The finale is also something different.  Bond movies usually end up with some kind of a shootout and a big climax, but no Bond movie has given us something like this.  Instead of Bond being inside the villain's lair, Silva is going after Bond on Bond's territory.  It becomes something of a home invasion movie. 

I also enjoyed how much screen time Judi Dench got.  M has never been this involved in the action, even to the point of shooting a gun.  And Ralph Fiennes shows up as a bureaucrat who thinks Bond and M should retire.  He starts out as kind of a dick, but I liked the way his character evolved. 

There is a point in the movie where it seems like a character is going to be killed, and it sets it up wonderfully, but then the character survives.  This sequence was done really well, and while I like it when a movie has the guts to kill off a major character, I was glad this time that the character survived. 

Now I'd like to address some problems with the script.  Where to begin?  There will be some mild spoilers in this review, but Bond movies are rarely about surprise twists.  Was anyone actually surprised that Sophie Marceau turned out to be the villain in The World is Not Enough?

During the opening sequence when Bond is shot by Eve, he didn't know she was there with a gun, right?  Or did he?  I seem to remember he and Eve communicating with their earpieces earlier in the chase.  And I don't remember seeing Bond lose his, so Eve should have been able to alert him that she was in position with a sniper rifle.  He could have ducked.  I think this was proven when he sees M for the first time.  He tells her exactly what she said to Eve ("Take the bloody shot!"), so I think this should have been addressed.  All they had to do was show Bond losing his earpiece at some point in the fight.  And they couldn't have had Bond say M's line back to her.

I know Bond movies aren't Le Carre spy stories, but there should be a little bit of espionage.  I hate it when it's so easy for Bond to find the bad guys.  Like in Moonraker when he is exploring an abandoned warehouse, and he finds a nice big patch that says "Drax Industries" which they accidentally left behind.  Too easy.  In Skyfall, Bond pulls shrapnel out of his chest and luckily there are only 3 people in the world who use this kind of ammo.  Of course they know exactly who they are, Bond identifies the man, and luckily the FBI is tracking him.  He will be in Shanghai tomorrow.  Go there and intercept him. 

To me, that is lazy writing.  They could have tried to make it a little harder.  But then it gets worse.  The assassin lands in Shanghai and Bond follows him to an office building.  Instead of apprehending him, Bond just watches while the guy kills a couple of security guards, puts a sniper rifle together and shoots a man in another building.  Then Bond decides to grab the guy.  Why did he wait and let the guy kill 3 people?  Bond had no idea why the guy was assassinating the man in the other building, and the security guards were definitely innocent victims.

After he kills the assassin (continuing the theme from Quantum of Solace where Bond can't help killing people before he gets the information he needs), he finds a casino chip in his pocket.  He goes to the casino, cashes it in, and immediately finds a woman who knows everything.  She knows who is behind everything and she works for him, so she takes Bond to him.  This is simplifying the events, but that's basically what happened.  It doesn't make sense that Bond would know who this woman is, or how connected she is.

Those are my biggest gripes with the movie.  So why did I give it 3 1/2 stars?  I guess I forgive the writing flaws more in a Bond movie than I would in other movies because much of that stuff is typical in a Bond movie.  It has always been easy to find holes in the scripts.  Plus most of the movie was so good that I could overlook the things that bugged me.  I enjoyed it overall and the end of this movie really made me excited for the next Bond movie.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Argo - 3 1/2 stars

In 1979, the US embassy in Iran was overrun.  Around 50 people were captured and held hostage.  Before the embassy fell, 6 diplomats were able to escape and they hid out at the Canadian ambassador's house.  The CIA wanted to get them out but since there were a bunch of others being held as hostages, they couldn't just go in and rescue them.  Since the Iranians didn't know they were free, they had to be retrieved secretly. 

CIA agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck, who also directed) comes up with an idea.  He will fly into Iran with fake passports for the diplomats and they will all fly out together.  Their story will be that they are a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a Star Wars ripoff.  It's a bad idea, but as he says in the movie, "It's the best bad idea we have."

Before the embassy is taken, the movie opens by giving us a brief history of Iran and the US involvement.  I had heard stories of how the CIA covertly deposed friendly rulers and helped install evil dictators in various countries, but I didn't know about Iran.  According to the movie, we helped oust Iran's leader, who was loved by the Iranian people, and we helped install a dictator who tortured and murdered many of Iran's citizens.  No wonder the Iranians hated the US.  To make matters worse, this dictator had fled the country and was given asylum by the US.  Just imagine if Saddam Hussain or Pol Pot were living freely in the US.  The Iranians rightly wanted him returned to them so he could face justice. 

Anyway, this is a very good movie.  In order to sell the cover story, Mendez goes to Hollywood to enlist the help of make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin).  Siegel knows that they need the press to help sell their lie, so they stage an elaborate script reading with full costumes.  All the scenes with Arkin and Goodman are funny and really help to lighten the tension.

This is based on a true story (although I can't find Lester Siegel on, and it was only declassified in the 1990s.  It's the kind of movie that would be hard to believe if it weren't true.  This is also Affleck's third movie as director (after Gone Baby Gone and The Town), and at this point he has established himself as a very good director.  He seems to only go after good material, and so hopefully there will never again be a really crappy Ben Affleck movie.

Taken 2 - 2 1/2 stars

If you remember Taken, that was the movie where Liam Neeson used to be a special forces-type guy, but now he works in private security.  His daughter was kidnapped in Paris, while she was on the phone with him.  He went to Paris, rescued his daughter, and killed all the guys who took her.

Now the relatives of the men who were killed in the first movie want revenge.  And luckily his ex-wife and daughter just happen to be coming to see him in Istanbul.  So they are going to kidnap all 3 of them and kill them. 

I admit that this movie mostly recycles the first movie, but not as well.  It may have been hard to believe that he could find his daughter in the first movie, but this movie really stretches logic.  Even though he was hooded and driven across town in a van, he is still able to retrace his route using sounds.  He has his daughter throw grenades and uses the sound of the blast to lead her to him.  And he kicks a lot of ass.

If you can suspend disbelief, the movie is decent.  Not great but there are some good moments.  There isn't much humor, but it works.  I like that he talks to the bad guys a few times.  When they try to make him feel bad about killing their brothers and sons, he actually brings up the fact that they kidnapped his daughter, and many other girls before selling them into sexual slavery and ruining their lives.  They don't really have an answer to that except to say I don't care, but you killed my son, blah blah blah. 

I enjoyed this movie almost as much as the first one, but I can't quite recommend it.  I only recommend it to people who loved the first movie and want to see more of the same.  That may be a bit of a cop out, but too bad. 

Looper - 4 stars

Finally, a great science fiction / action movie about time travel.  Written and directed by Rian Johnson (who gave us Brick and The Brothers Bloom), Looper stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Joe.  Joe is a looper.  Set in the year 2044, loopers are hit men.  In 2074, bodies are particularly difficult to dispose of, so the mob sends their victims back in time to 2044, where a looper is waiting to shoot them.

The trailer shows that Joe will encounter his older self, who is sent back to be killed.  His older self is played by Bruce Willis.  What the trailers don't show you is that all loopers know this is an eventuality.  When the mob wants to end a looper's contract, they send them back in time to be killed by their younger self.  So while it's a bit of a surprise to Joe when it happens, it isn't completely unexpected.

One good thing about the movie is that this is only the setup.  Will younger Joe succeed in killing his older self?  Obviously old Joe can't kill young Joe.  Will young Joe let old Joe live?  Will the mob catch up to them first?  See, if a looper lets his older self get away, the mob kills both of them.  When old Joe first arrives, he is able to escape before young Joe can kill him, so the mob thinks he let his target get away.  Then the movie introduces some story elements that I had no idea were coming.

Jeff Daniels has a lot of fun as the mob boss.  I always enjoy his performances, and it reminded me of The Lookout, another good movie that teamed Daniels up with Gordon-Levitt. 

One thing I really liked is how the movie dealt with old Joe's memory.  As his history was changed by running into his younger self, his memory started to change.  He had a wife in the future, and he started to forget her because it became more likely that his younger self wound not end up meeting her.  This is something I always think about in time travel movies.  In Back to the Future, as Marty interacted with the Doc Brown of the '50s, would the older Doc Brown's memory instantly change so he would remember meeting Marty in 1955?

This is a great movie.  I only have a couple of reservations.  One is the way they made Gordon-Levitt look more like Willis using makeup or CGI.  It was a little distracting, especially his lips.  I never complain that an actor doesn't look enough like another actor when they are playing different ages of the same character.  They should have just left it alone. 

It's hard to talk about my other issue with the movie without getting into spoiler territory.  I think I can safely say that there is a leader in the future that old Joe is really upset with.  He says this guy is closing all the loops.  Well, I thought the movie established that all loopers were eventually killed, so why was old Joe so surprised by it?  I understand why old Joe didn't want to be killed, but he acts like closing the loops is a new thing.  Every looper knows it's a possibility so he should have known it was coming.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Master - 2 1/2 stars

The movie is set in the 1950s.  It's about a troubled soldier who becomes a drifter after World War II.  Joaquin Phoenix plays the drifter, Freddie Quell.  He has a lot of problems.  He's probably got PTSD.  He's also horny as hell.  When the soldiers are on a beach goofing around and one soldier makes a woman out of sand, Freddie gets on top of it and starts humping it.  This makes the other soldiers laugh until it keeps going on too long.  Freddie isn't trying to make the other soldiers laugh.  He's actually trying to get off with this sandwoman.

After the war, Freddie tries to lead a normal life but he keeps getting fired for getting into fights.  Eventually he meets Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), the leader of a cult or movement or something like that.  Dodd likes Freddie instantly, and here Freddie finds his purpose.  He gets into The Cause and becomes Dodd's right hand man and chief enforcer.  He does things like beat up people who speak out against The Cause.

A lot of people assumed this movie would be about Scientology.  It isn't, although there are similarities.  Paul Thomas Anderson (writer, director, producer) said that Dodd was inspired by L. Ron Hubbard, and there are similarities to the way Scientology began.  But the movie is about a fictional man and a fictional movement, and Dodd isn't even the main character.  The movie is really about Freddie and his journey.

I loved the first 30 - 45 minutes of this movie.  I was fascinated watching Freddie's journey.  Phoenix gives probably the best performance of his career, and will be nominated for an Academy Award for this movie.  He is so good that he manages to steal every scene he is in with Hoffman.  It's nice to have Phoenix back after the whole crazy quitting acting to become a rap star fiasco.

Once Dodd starts putting Freddie through strange tests, the movie starts to drag.  The tests, called processing (like auditing?) are interesting at first, but when Dodd starts making Freddie close his eyes, feel the walls and describe them, I almost dozed off.  It gets so monotonous and doesn't go anywhere. 

There is a good movie here.  I wish we got to know more about where Dodd came from, what The Cause is all about, something.  But the longer the movie goes on, the more it meanders without a plot or narrative.  During the first half, I thought I was watching the best movie of the year.  Then the movie just lost me.  I can't quite recommend it, although there is stuff in this movie worth seeing.  This one is a tough call.

House at the End of the Street - 2 1/2 stars

A mother and daughter move to a new town and find themselves living next door to a house where a young girl murdered her parents.  When the daughter befriends the surviving son, she learns the story is far from over.  [synopsis from]

The daughter, Elissa, is played by Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games, Winter's Bone).  Her mom is played by Elisabeth Shue.  Elissa starts making friends in her new town and soon meets Ryan.  The story goes that Ryan's sister murdered their parents then ran away, and supposedly she drowned in a lake or something but her body was never found.  When this story was told in the movie, it made me laugh out loud.  Really?  The killer's body was never found?  Could this mean that the killer is still alive, and will show up before the end of the movie???

Many people in town believe that the sister, Carrie Anne, is still alive and living in the woods.  Well, we learn pretty early on that she is still alive (so this really isn't a spoiler).  Her brother Ryan has been keeping her locked up in the basement ever since the murders.  She's still crazy and he has to keep her sedated.  So we know her brother is kind of messed up too.  I understand that he feels sympathy for his sister and doesn't want her arrested or locked up in a loony bin, but does he really think that living locked up in a basement is any kind of life? 

Anyway, the movie is mostly about whether she will escape and kill again.  She does escape now and then, and this is where the movie tries to be scary.  She is lurking in the woods watching people, and there is a scene where she comes across a couple making out in a parked car.  I wondered if the movie was going to turn into Friday the 13th, but it doesn't go there.

Obviously Ryan doesn't want anyone to know that his sister is locked up in his basement, which makes things complicated when Elissa starts coming over for makeout sessions on the couch.  The movie could have been more interesting if it had done something with the relationship between Elissa and Ryan, but it doesn't do much.

The biggest problem with the movie is none of the relationships are developed well.  Elissa's relationship with her mom is very cliched, with bad dialogue about how bad a mom she is and stuff like that.  No one in this movie speaks convincingly.  The screenwriter has no idea how to write interesting dialogue.  Also, there is no humor in the movie.

I always use Scream (1996) as an example of how a good horror movie should be.  Even when there is no killing or terror going on, Scream is still a good movie.  The reason is the characters are well developed and interesting, and they have good dialogue.  There is also a lot of humor in Scream.  I think I laughed more in Scream than in many comedies.  Everyone who writes a horror movie should watch Scream to see how to do it right.

So why 2 1/2 stars for House at the End of the Street?  I'm probably being generous, but the movie didn't bore me.  I was intrigued enough with the setup that I wanted to see what would happen.  And there were a couple of good twists late in the movie that I didn't see coming.  So in the end, I liked the story but the script really could have used a re-write.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Campaign - 3 stars

Will Ferrell plays Cam Brady, a Democratic Congressman from North Carolina.  He doesn't know much about being a congressman, nor does he care.  But he loves being a politician.  He cheats on his wife any chance he gets, and he knows that people love to hear certain buzz words, like 'Jesus' and 'freedom'.

When the corrupt Motch brothers (obviously based on the Koch brothers) decide Brady needs to be voted out, they convince Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis) to run against him.  Marty is no match for Brady at first, but with the help of his campaign manager (Dylan McDermott), hired by the Motch brothers, he starts to lead in the poles.

This movie is pretty funny.  Some of the jokes are obvious, and while the movie is a good satire of the political process, it doesn't tell us anything we don't know about politics (business has too much influence in politics, ect).  Ferrell sounds like he's doing his George W. Bush impression, but without the squinty eyes and not quite as dumb.  Galifianakis is doing a different character than we have seen before, and he is so innocent and well meaning that he has a real arc as he becomes more interested in winning than his family. 

The best scenes in the movie involve the attack ads.  Marty is accused of being an Al Qaeda terrorist (because he has a moustache), and Marty attacks Cam by revealing a "communist manifesto" that Cam wrote in 2nd grade.  Marty gets Cam's son to reveal on camera that his dad is a horrible father, and Cam gets revenge on Marty by seducing Marty's wife. 

I'm trying to remember the last thing Will Ferrell did that made me laugh as much as this movie.  It would probably be his cameo in Wedding Crashers.  And this is the best movie Galifianakis has done since The Hangover.  It won't make my top 10 list for the year, but it's a very satisfying comedy.

Hope Springs - 3 stars

Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) are an older married couple.  Their kids have married and left home, and now it's just the two of them.  Arnold is perfecly happy with their routine.  Kay serves him the same breakfast every morning (she puts the plate down right as he's sitting at the table), he reads the paper, then goes to work.  She doesn't eat with him, and they don't talk.  At night, he falls asleep watching golf, she turns off the TV, and they go up to their separate bedrooms.

Kay is very unhappy with this arrangement, but she doesn't know how to tell Arnold.  Eventually she pays for a week of intense marriage counseling sessions with Dr. Bernie Feld (Steve Carell).  Arnold hates this idea, since their marriage is fine as far as he can tell.  But he reluctantly agrees to go with Kay.

The sessions start out very uncomfortable.  It doesn't take much time for Dr. Feld to ask them about their sex life, which is the last thing Arnold wants to talk about.  Obviously they haven't had sex in a long time, and Kay is desperately hoping they can bring the spark back into their marriage.

Meryl Streep is great as usual, but the real standout performance is Tommy Lee Jones.  He seems to play similar characters so often that it's nice to see him show some real emotion.  As the therapy progresses we learn that he is hurting as much as Kay, but he puts the blame on her and has learned to live with the way things are.  There are some real good moments where we see just how much Arnold is hurting.

It's also a nice change of pace for Steve Carell.  He usually plays in comedies, and it's nice to see he can handle a dramatic role just as easily. 

The therapy sessions seem authentic.  There are times where Kay or Arnold get upset and storm out of the office, and anyone who has been in a long term relationship will probably find something to relate to here.  It's interesting how people who love each other so much can misinterpret something the other person does and hold a grudge for many years.  If Kay and Arnold had been able to talk these things through years ago, they could have saved themselves years of pain.

This movie is probably not for young people.  I'm sure there are some young moviegoers who can't even imagine couples of that age being sexual.  And there is some frank and honest sexual dialogue that may make some people uncomfortable.  It's not a movie to watch with your kids, parents, or grandparents.  Just something to keep in mind before you take mom to see that new Meryl Streep movie.

Total Recall (2012) - 2 stars

This is a remake of the 1990 film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Both movies were based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, and like with so many of his adaptations, both movies were very different from the original story. 

Now I admit, I haven't read any of his books or short stories, so I don't know how well a faithful adaptation would work.  But I think if you're going to remake a movie that was changed so much from its source material, you should adapt the book rather than remake the previous movie.  That's what the Cohen brothers did with True Grit.

This time, Colin Farrell plays Douglas Quaid, an ordinary guy who goes to Rekall to have the memory of a vacation implanted into his brain.  But something goes terribly wrong, and soon everyone is trying to kill him.  His wife (played by Sharon Stone in the original), is played by Kate Beckinsale.  She also takes over the role of the agent who is trying to capture Quaid.  In the original, this role was played wonderfully by Michael Ironside.

The world they live in is run by the corrupt Chancellor Cohaagen played by Bryan Cranston (Ronny Cox in the original), and Quaid worked for him before he had his mind erased. 

The biggest problem with this movie is that the original was so great, and this is so mediocre.  I know some people will argue that the Schwarzenegger movie was not so great, and I'm just remembering it fondly because I was younger when it came out.  Well, that may be true to some extent, but I would argue that the original was a great movie.  It was a lot of fun.  The effects while dated by today's standards still hold up.  The hologram watch he wore was cool, and I loved the x-ray security scanners that sounded an alarm if anyone went thru with a gun. 

Schwarzenegger gave a great performance as a guy who is confused.  People often overlook what a good actor he could be, and in this movie I had real empathy for his character.  Plus Michael Ironside was such a great villain, and Kate Beckinsale is no Michael Ironside.

This movie is just not much fun.  There is no humor, and I didn't enjoy one second of it.  There was some cool action, but after a few minutes it just turned into white noise.  I don't care how cool the flying cars are, at some point I want the action to stop and the characters have a conversation with each other that doesn't just further the plot.

Since there is no way I can review this without comparing it to the original, I will point out a few more things.  For one, the 3 breasted hooker is in this movie, but she doesn't belong.  In the original, there were mutants.  It came from living on Mars and breathing dirty air (or something like that).  In this movie, there are no mutants.  So when a girl opens her shirt to reveal 3 breasts, it makes no sense.  It's only there because the filmmakers know fans of the original want to see it.

Also, there is a great scene in the original when the head of Rekall shows up on Mars to talk Quaid out of his delusion.  He tells Quaid that he is still strapped to the chair in Rekall, and they can't bring him out of it.  If he will just take this pill as a sign of his desire to return to reality, they can bring him out.  When Quaid sees a drop of sweat rolling down the guy's cheek, he shoots him in the head.

This scene is kind of revisited in this new movie, but it doesn't work at all.  It has none of the suspense, and Jessica Biel is in the scene with him.

Oh, I forgot to mention Jessica Biel.  She plays the role of Molina, the girl of his dreams who is a member of the resistance.

Anyway, when Quaid's friend says he is still in the chair at Rekall, Molina is standing there with a gun.  All she has to do is shoot the guy, but she waits to see if Quaid will kill her or not.  This scene doesn't really make sense.  It ruins the effect to have Molina there.  She could act instead of just standing there saying "Don't believe him." 

This movie isn't horrible, but it isn't necessary.  If you choose to see it, you need to watch the original Schwarzenegger version after to compare the two.  And I think you will see that I'm right.

The Watch - 2 stars

Ben Stiller stars as the manager of a Costco.  When his security guard is murdered and the police aren't doing enough to solve the crime, he puts together a neighborhood watch.  He only gets a few guys, including Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, and Richard Ayoade.  Together they don't do much.  Their idea of investigating is to stake out the Costco in case the killer shows up again.

Halfway through the movie, they discover that aliens are invading.  At this point the movie changes from a bad comedy to a bad sci-fi movie.  I think the studio really wanted this movie to be Ghostbusters, combining comedy with good science fiction and action.  They failed completely. 

I didn't laugh much.  Vince Vaughn's routine seems tired in this movie.  He didn't make me laugh once, and he really seemed to be trying.  There is a great extra on the DVD for The Break-Up.  It shows Vaughn and Jon Favreau improvising a scene, and we see how much of their improv doesn't work before they get to the funny stuff.  I have to wonder if the director of The Watch just used the bad stuff, or if he didn't give Vaughn enough time to find the funny.

The alien stuff doesn't work any better than the comedy does.  There isn't enough time spent on it to make me care, and the final battle with the aliens bored me.  I just wanted the movie to end at that point. 

Don't waste your time seeing The Watch.

The Dark Knight Rises - 3 1/2 stars

I loved this movie, but not quite as much as The Dark Knight.  Maybe it's not fair to compare the two movies.  TDK was so great there was almost no way this movie could live up to the previous installment.  No villain can be as much fun as Heath Ledger's Joker was. 

Luckily, the Nolan brothers (Christopher and Jonathan) and David S. Goyer chose to go in a completely different direction with this movie's villain.  Instead of recasting the Joker, or going for another similar villain like the Riddler, they went with Bane.  The Joker was a ruthless killer, but he also had a sense of humor.  He was always trying to amuse himself.  With Bane, he is all business.  He will kill anyone in his way but he doesn't seem to be having much fun doing it.

It's been 8 years since the events of TDK.  Batman took the fall for Harvey Dent's crimes, and everyone in Gotham believes Dent was wonderful.  After his death, The Dent Act was passed which helped end organized crime in Gotham.  Bruce Wayne has been holed up in his mansion for 8 years with no real contact with the outside world.  He has grown a beard, walks with a cane, and everyone thinks he is living like Howard Hughes (the crazy years, anyway).

Wayne reemerges into society after a cat burglar named Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) breaks into his safe and steals his late mother's pearls.  He tracks her down, and also learns that a mercenary named Bane is in Gotham.  This leads to the return of Batman, although things might have been better if Batman had stayed away. 

One thing I liked about the movie is how Batman sometimes does more harm than good.  When Batman makes his first appearance, it's to go after Bane and his men after they have just broken into the stock exchange.  Batman doesn't catch Bane, and it looks as though the police would have caught him if they hadn't been distracted by Batman.  I would think there are enough cop cars to go after both, but Commissioner Foley (Matthew Modine) is so eager to catch Batman he chooses to let Bane go.  If Batman hadn't shown up, they probably would have caught him and the rest of the movie wouldn't have happened.

Or not.  Maybe Bane had a plan to break out of jail and it wouldn't matter.  But either way, Alfred (Michael Caine) points this out to Wayne, and this leads to one of several arguments between them.  In one of the more heartbreaking scenes in recent memory, Alfred and Wayne end their relationship and Alfred leaves Wayne manor.  It's hard to imagine Batman without Alfred at home to back him up.

Bane is a great villain.  Not as much fun as the Joker was, although he does have some good lines.  But he is just brutal.  One hit from Bane can kill a guy.  The opening sequence for the movie has Bane taken into custody by the CIA, then being rescued by his army.  This is spectacular.  It reminded me a little of the opening to License to Kill where Bond and Felix capture a drug kingpin by hooking a cable to his plane in mid-air, and towing it by a bigger plane.  However, that sequence was child's play compared to this.  See this movie in IMAX.  It's worth the extra charge for this scene alone.

I also enjoyed Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle.  They never refer to her as Catwoman, which was much appreciated.  She had a lot to do, and while I had a hard time believing that Bruce Wayne would fall for her as much as he does, or forgive her crimes so easily, she was a refreshing addition to the cast.

The best character in the movie is John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a young cop who never stopped believing in Batman.  There is a stretch of time where Christian Bale is offscreen, and Gordon-Levitt becomes the star of the movie.  And I didn't miss Bale at all because John Blake was such a good character. 

When Batman Begins first came out, I remarked how much I loved that Gary Oldman was cast as Commissioner Gordon.  So often he either plays sinister villains or crazy people.  It was nice to see him get to play not only a nice guy but the moral center of Gotham.  Go back and re-watch Batman Begins, and notice how noble Oldman is without being corny or obnoxious. 

Oldman is back as Gordon, but this time I didn't like his performance as much.  I don't think he raised his voice nearly this much in the first two movies, and it doesn't seem like he is playing quite the same character.  I guess is makes sense that the guilt he feels for lying the last 8 years have changed him a little, but I wanted the same Gordon from the first two movies.  But that is a minor quibble.  Any Gary Oldman is better than no Gary Oldman.  This applies to any movie, by the way.

Some parts of the story were hard to follow, especially in the first half hour.  There is a lot to set up, including the fusion reactor that Wayne Enterprises funded, then shut down because they discovered that it could be used as a nuclear weapon.  I wasn't totally clear on Miranda Tate's role either.  Early in the movie it seems like scenes are missing, or cut short.  We get a line of dialogue or two, and then it's suddenly the next day.  This happened in TDK as well, but it seemed worse in this movie.  It's like they had to cut a half hour or more out of the movie, so they left in just enough to move the plot but cut out the rest of the scenes.

Once we get into the movie, things settle down.  And this is really an epic story.  It's amazing how big it is.  Bane manages to cut Gotham off from the rest of the world, and Gotham turns into some kind of anarchist state.  There may be some kind of message there about class warfare and the poor people getting revenge on the rich people, but I didn't see it as anything political.  Bane is just using people to carry out his mission, and he plays on their pettiness and fear to get them to act the way he wants.

The first time I saw it, I had some concerns about the end of the movie.  Without spoiling anything, it does seem like he is trying to leave things open for another movie.  I felt a little cheated by the way some of the details were wrapped up.  I thought Nolan should have had more confidence in ending the series the way he wanted without giving in to studio demands.

But now that I have seen the movie a couple more times, I like the ending.  It doesn't guarantee that there will be another movie.  It just ends the series with a certain amount of hope.  I like the way we leave these characters, and it's easy to imagine their lives going on.  We should be grateful that we got 3 Batman movies that stayed true to their writer's vision, and there were no nipples on the batsuit.

Safety Not Guaranteed - 3 1/2 stars

How's this for a classified ad:  Wanted:  Somebody to go back in time with me.  This is not a joke.  You'll get paid after we get back.  Must bring your own weapons.  I have only done this once before.  Safety not guaranteed."

Darius Britt (Aubrey Plaza) is an intern at a Seattle magazine.  Along with Jeff (a writer) and Arnau (an intern), Darius goes to the seaside community of Ocean View, Washington to investigate the person behind this add.  Is it a joke?  Is the guy crazy?  Is it Doc Brown?  Who would post an ad like that?

The man behind the ad is Kenneth Calloway (Mark Duplass), a grocery clerk who is extremely paranoid.  He's the kind of guy who has newspaper clippings all over the walls of his house, which is located deep in the woods.  He is very much a loner.

Darius tells Kenneth she wants to go back in time with him, and once she earns his trust, he starts putting her through various training exercises.  As you would expect, they start to develop feelings for each other. 

I really enjoyed this movie.  One reason is that Aubrey Plaza is adorable.  I first noticed her in Funny People, when she played the object of Seth Rogen's affection.  She is also very funny in Parks and Recreation.  She has a disaffected, cynical attitude that makes her very fun to watch, and it makes her a perfect match for Kenneth. 

This movie moves along nicely.  I was never bored, and there were a lot of funny moments that made me laugh out loud.  And these were not simple gags - they were momens of humor that came from the characters.  This one is highly recommended.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom - 4 stars

Set in New England in 1965, this movie is about a couple of kids named Sam Shakusky and Suzy Bishop.  Sam is an orphan and a Khaki Scout.  Suzy lives with her parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) and 3 younger brothers.  Sam and Suzy have been pen pals for a year.  Sam runs away from scout camp and Suzy runs away from home.  They meet up and spend several days hiking and camping while their romance blossoms.  Meanwhile the scout leader (Edward Norton), a local cop (Bruce Willis), the scout troop and Suzy's parents are all looking for the kids. 

This is a really charming and quirky little movie.  The cast is great fun.  Bill Murray has some strange and hilarious moments.  My favorite is when he walks down the stairs, shirtless, holding a bottle of whiskey in one hand and an axe in the other, and says "I'm going to find a tree to chop down."  The other is when he takes his shoe off and throws it at Bruce Willis.  Edward Norton is also great as the sincere scoutmaster.  Harvey Kitel shows up late in the movie as a scout 'commander' and Tilda Swinton is known only as Social Services.

There is a very sweet innocence to the kids' romance.  I think anyone who had a childhood crush will relate to these kids.  Also the dialogue is very inventive.  I don't think any twelve-year-old speaks the way Sam does, but we see right away why Suzy is the perfect match for him. 

It's impossible to describe the tone and feel of this movie, but right away I knew I was in good hands.  I was able to just sit back and let the story take me away.  Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the onscreen narration by Bob Balaban.  This is a great movie.

Savages - 3 1/2 stars

Savages is the best movie Oliver Stone has directed since Any Given Sunday.  It's a very refreshing return to form after misfires like W. and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.  It's also the first movie of the summer to star Taylor Kitsch and not suck.  He is now 1 for 3 (Battleship and John Carter, in case you were going to ask).

Kitsch and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass) star as Chon and Ben, the most successful marijuana growers in southern California.  They share a hot girlfriend named O (Blake Lively) and the 3 are living in paradise.  Life is perfect.  Then a Mexican drug cartel led by Elena (Salma Hayek) asks them to join forces.  The guys resist, so the cartel kidnaps O and holds her ransom.  If the guys want her back, they have to work with the cartel for a year.

This movie is great.  I was never bored and the movie was full of surprises.  After the setup, I thought that the guys would go in to rescue O and it would be a big action climax at the cartel's headquarters.  I was picturing something like the end of Bad Boys 2.  This would make sense since Chon is ex-military and he has a bunch of Navy SEAL friends. 

But no, this is a different kind of movie.  They guys deal with a crooked DEA officer (John Travolta) and the cartel's sadistic enforcer (Benicio del Toro, who steals the movie).  They go along with Elena's demands while trying to double cross them at the same time.  While all that is going on, O is forming a kind of mother daughter relationship with her captor, Elena.  Elena's own daughter wants nothing to do with her, and she seems to view O as almost a surrogate daughter.

There is some good action in this movie, but more importantly these are interesting, smart characters who we really empathize with.  And there is a lot of humor in the movie.  I really enjoyed it.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man - 2 1/2 stars

Before I went in to watch this movie, I tried really hard to not think about the Sam Raimi Spider Man movies of the last decade.  I tried to forget how good they were and judge this movie on its own merits. 

Even doing that, I was disappointed by this new Spider Man movie.

Once again, we have the origin story.  Considering that we got one only 10 years ago, couldn't they have just made a stand alone Spider Man movie?  Do it like the Bond movies.  We don't get an origin story each time a new actor plays James Bond (Casino Royale was the first time they had done that). 

This time, we get some back story on Peter Parker's parents.  His father was involved in some kind of secret research, and his parents abandon him when he's only 7 or 8 years old.  They leave him with Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field), and then they disappear.  Cut to 10 years later and Peter is an awkward high school kid (played by Andrew Garfield).  He has a nice old fashioned camera (not sure why he wasn't using digital), and we learn right away that he likes taking pictures.  We also see that he likes Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). 

Eventually he will get bitten by a genetically altered spider, giving him his superpowers.  He will also inadvertently cause the death of his uncle Ben.  He will go after criminals in order to avenge Uncle Ben's death, he will make his Spider Man suit, and he will fight a supervillain, in this movie a man turned into a large reptile.

First, I will focus on some things I liked about this movie.  I liked Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy.  There are a couple of scenes between Peter and Gwen that were really fun.  They have a natural chemistry (it doesn't hurt that they are dating in real life), and she is very good at comedy.  Considering director Marc Webb's previous movie was the great (500) Days of Summer, it makes sense that he would do a good job with the scenes involving the romance.

I also liked the effects.  One thing that bugged me in Sam Raimi's movies was the CGI.  Every time Spider Man started climbing walls or swinging on his spider lines, it looked really cartoonish.  Not so this time around.  It looks like Andrew Garfield was really doing those things.  Sometimes the camera gave us a first person view of what Peter was seeing, and it was really cool. 

I also liked that his web shooters were things he made, which is how they were before Sam Raimi's movies.  I would have liked a little more detail about how they worked.  It looked like he kept them attached to his inner wrists with the suit on, but where were they when he wasn't wearing the suit?  I saw him shoot webs sometimes when he didn't have the suit on, so they must have been handy.  Was he ever in danger of running out of webbing?  Did he refill them every time he got back from a night of crime fighting?

I also liked the climax a lot.  I won't spoil anything, but the movie went further than I expected it to go.

Ok, things I didn't like.  The obvious one is this movie isn't necessary.  They basically remade the 2002 Spider Man.  They changed some story details, but the important beats are the same.  Like I said before, don't give us another origin story.  The first half of the movie is just waiting for the things you know are coming (the spider bite, Uncle Ben's death, ect). 

The music also bothered me.  Even without comparing the score to Danny Elfman's, the music was all wrong.  It was too triumphant and happy.  Within the first 5 minutes of the movie, we are getting music that is too overly dramatic and just didn't work for me at all.

I think Martin Sheen and Sally Field were the wrong choices for Uncle Ben and Aunt May.  They are just too well known from other roles to play these characters.  I did enjoy some of Martin Sheen's scenes, but Sally Field is given nothing to do.  I'm reminded of what an impact Rosemary Harris made as Aunt May in the other movies.   Also, the dialogue given to Sheen and Field is horrible.

The movie is too long, and it's boring in a lot of places.  There are some fun sequences, but there are several 10-15 minute stretches that were just boring.  I really didn't care much about Peter's father's back story.  And there are too many coincidental character relationships.  Peter's father worked with Dr. Curt Connors, who also happens to be mentor to Gwen Stacy, who interns at Oscorp Labs despite being in high school.  And Gwen's father just happens to be the police chief who is trying to capture the vigilante Spider Man.

Last, there aren't enough good scenes.  I can think of a dozen scenes from the previous Spider Man movies that were either exciting, funny, or dramatic.  But there are no scenes that really stick with me from this movie.

The only reason Sony made this movie (besides to make a lot of money) was so they didn't lose the rights to Spider Man.  They shouldn't be rebooting a franchise so soon.  They should have let Sam Raimi make Spider Man 4.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Prometheus - 3 stars

Prometheus is a quasi-prequel to Alien.  I say that because the press release claims it is not a prequel, but it sure seems like a prequel.  At the very least, it takes place in the same universe as the Alien movies, so take that for what it's worth.

From the wikipedia synopsis:

In 2089, archaeologist couple Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway discover a star map among several unconnected ancient cultures. They interpret this as an invitation from humanity's forerunners, the "Engineers". Peter Weyland, the elderly founder of the Weyland Corporation, funds the creation of the scientific vessel Prometheus to follow the map to the distant moon LV-223. The ship's crew travels in stasis while the android David monitors their voyage. In 2093, the ship arrives, and its crew are informed of their mission to find the Engineers. Mission director Meredith Vickers orders them to avoid direct contact if the Engineers are found. The Prometheus lands near a structure and a team is sent to explore within.

Once the explore the structure, the movie becomes basically an Alien movie.  There is life in the structure.  Not exactly Aliens, but similar.  Some people are killed, the android has secret motivations that put the crew's life in danger, stuff like that. 

The movie looks incredible.  It was filmed for 3D, so unlike many recent 3D movies, it actully uses the 3D really well.  It isn't gimmicky, with things flying towards you.  It just makes the scenery look more real. 

I really liked the setup to this movie.  In any good sci fi movie, it's thrilling to have that sense of going into the unknown.  The crew is going to an alien world with no idea of what they will find.  Unfortunately, there is a point in this movie where it starts to feel like a standard monster movie.  It becomes, well, like an Alien movie.  It is a very well made Alien movie and I wasn't bored, but I felt let down after the fantastic opening.

There is a really cool sequence late in the movie where a character has to perform surgery on herself.  It is the coolest thing in the movie, and one of the most intense scenes I have seen in a long time. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman - 2 1/2 stars

Snow White and the Huntsman isn't a bad movie, but it isn't very good either.  It's one of those movies that's kind of right in the middle, and those are the hardest to review.  It's easy to review a movie I loved or hated, but this is just kind of meh.

In the second Snow White movie of 2012, Snow White's mother dies when Snow is very young.  Her father, the king, meets a beautiful woman named Ravenna (Charlize Theron).  He falls under her spell and marries her the next day.  That night, Ravenna kills the king and brings her own army into the castle to ensure her takeover of the kingdom.  Snow White is locked in the dungeons.

Years pass and Snow White is now played by Kristen Stewart.  When evil queen Ravenna asks her magic mirror who the fairest one of all is, well, you know the rest.  Snow White escapes, a hunter (Chris Hemsworth) is sent to bring her back, he falls in love with her, they meet 8 dwarfs (not 7), they get an army together to take back the kingdom, and so on. 

Charlize Theron is a good actress, but she isn't right for this role.  And her acting is so over the top that I was laughing at her when she yelled at her subjects.  Kristen Stewart does a fine British accent, and Chris Hemsworth isn't bad.  I thought the movie dragged in a few places, but I don't think I was ever bored. 

But wow, this movie really wants to be Lord of the Rings.  There are many shots that are exactly the same, like the shot of the Snow White, the Huntsman, and the dwarfs walking across the countryside and over mountains.  That shot looked exactly like the Fellowship heading to Mordor.  A scene of the evil queen standing on the castle parapet watching the army approach looks just like Saurumon with Wormtoungue standing at his shoulder.  There is even a scene near the end where Snow White has to give a rousing speech to her army.

This isn't a movie you need to avoid, but there really isn't any reason to see it. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Dictator - 3 stars

Borat was revolutionary.  Borat was an amazing character.  By playing someone so racist, he was able to get unsuspecting people to expose their own racism.  Borat is one of the funniest movies of all time.

After Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen couldn't really get away with that kind of filmmaking anymore.  But he tried anyway, and we got Bruno.  It was harder to get people participate without being in on the joke, and who knows how many of the people in the movie didn't know that Bruno was a character.  The movie wasn't nearly as good as Borat, but it had it's moments.

For The Dictator, Sacha Baron Cohen has abandoned that style of filmmaking.  This movie is just a traditional movie with a script and everything.  Cohen plays Admiral General Aladeen of Wadiya, a fictional country in northern Africa.  He is a comedic version of several evil dictators rolled up into one.  Anyone who he doesn't approve of, he has killed.  He plays Wii Terrorist, which includes a level called Munich Olympics.  Yes, that is as offensive as it sounds. 

When Aladeen comes to New York to speak to the UN, he is kidnapped by a CIA agent.  He escapes, but he has had his beard shaved off and is wearing ragged clothes.  The UN security thinks he's some crazy homeless guy and they chase him off.  He meets an ultra left wing feminist activist named Zoey (Anna Farris), and the movie turns into a romantic comedy. 

There is something in the movie to offend just about everyone.  Some of the jokes are so over the top that they are not even funny, just offensive, which somehow becomes even funnier.  I was laughing a lot. 

Not all the jokes work.  There is a scene in the trailer where Aladeen and his countryman are flying in a helicopter.  They are speaking in their language, and the older American couple are able to make out words like 'Bin Laden' and '9/11' and they start to scream.  This is just a misunderstanding, and it could have been really funny.  But them movie takes so long building up this joke, and you know exactly where it's going that by the time it gets there, the joke has run out of steam.  A big part of humor is surprise, and if there is no surprise at a punchline, it's hard to laugh at it.

But despite that, there are plenty of good jokes.  The easily offended shouldn't go, but if you saw Borat and Bruno, you have some idea what to expect.  And I really enjoyed the speech that Aladeen gives at the end about the benefits of democracy and the evils of a dictatorship.

Dark Shadows - 1 1/2 stars

I have never seen an episode of the Dark Shadows soap opera from the 60s and 70s, so I have no idea how faithful this movie is to the show.  Will fans of the show like this movie better than I did, or will they be even more disappointed?  No idea, but this movie sucks.

In the 1700s Barnabas Collins and his parents moved from England to Maine.  They started a fishing business, and became so successful that the town of Collinsport was named after them.  They also built a huge gothic mansion called Collinwood Manor.  Barnabas broke the heart of a witch named Angelique, and she took her revenge.  First she killed his parents, then she killed his fiancee.  When he tried to kill himself, she turned him into a vampire.  Then she lead the townspeople to capture him and imprison him in a coffin.  The chained the coffin shut and buried him.  This reminds me of what the vampires tried to do to Brad Pitt in Interview With the Vampire, but I digress.

200 years go by and Barnabas is set free by construction workers.  After killing them (he says to one "Sorry about this but you have no idea how thirsty I am."), he returns to Collinwood Manor.  He finds his descendants living there and the fishing business is close to ruin. 

That's about all there is to the story.  The rest of the movie is just spending time with the family, and Angelique trying to win him back.  He doesn't seem that upset at her for what she did to him, and she is still in love with him.  But she does threaten to kill his family and imprison him again if he doesn't love her.

The only entertaining stuff in the movie is Barnabas reacting to the 20th century.  McDonald's, cars, television, and lava lamps are all foreign to him.  I enjoyed the way he spoke with his semi-british victorian accent, and some of his lines were really funny.  But aside from that, the movie bored me to tears.  There is barely any story there.  Sub plots are set up and not paid off.  We waste time with characters who seem important, then disappear for long stretches at a time. 

That's about all the effort I can muster to talk about this movie.  There are 15 funny minutes in there, the rest is a total waste of time.  Oh, and Michelle Pfeiffer and Chloe Grace Moretz give the worst performances of their careers.  They're good actors, so I blame Tim Burton and the screenwriter for giving them nothing interesting to work with.

The Avengers - 4 stars

The Avengers is the most entertaining superhero movie I have ever seen.  Not necessarily the best, but the most fun.  I'd have a hard time putting it up against Superman (1978), but then that's a special movie from my childhood, so I'm not sure it's fair to compare anything to that movie.

I enjoyed the first Iron Man, but I thought the second one was tedious.  I liked The Incredible Hulk and Thor, but I was bored by Captain America.  After those 5 movies, I was really curious to see what it would be like to have all 4 of those superheroes in a movie together.  The end result exceeded my wildest expectations.

The movie did get off to a slow start for me.  When Loki appears at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, steals the Tesseract, and brainwashes several people, it just didn't have the excitement that it should have had.  The blow up the base and there's a car chase, but it just didn't have much excitement for some reason.  Then we go into a half hour of assembling the different characters. 

Robert Downey, Jr. was fun as usual.  He is trying to have a nice, romantic evening with Pepper Potts and Agent Coulson shows up to spoil the evening.  Black Widow gets a fun introduction.  She is tied to a chair and being beaten by European mobsters, and it turns out they are just telling her all the information she needs.  Bruce Banner's introduction is also nice.  Mark Ruffalo plays Banner better than Eric Bana or Edward Norton.  I really hope they make another Hulk movie with Ruffalo.  Captain America's introduction is basically just picking up right where his movie left off.  Thor is the last to show up, and his is probably the weakest introduction. 

Once the group is together, then the fun begins.  I love how Tony Stark wants to see Banner turn into the Hulk.  He is constantly taunting him, even poking him with a stick to try to make him angry.  Stark and Rogers also have some fun verbal matches.  Stark and Rogers are total opposites, and it's great to hear them argue.  The first scene where all the heroes are together is where the movie really takes off.  Then Loki shows up and we get some good action.  The group is split apart, things look dark, they get together again for the final showdown / big action setpiece, just like you would expect.

There aren't a whole lot of surprises in the story, but that's ok.  Getting to see these characters together on screen is just so cool.  Considering the challenges of keeping a cast together and keeping egos of the actors in check, this movie is a real accomplishment.  Thank goodness Marvel Studios paid the actors what they needed.  Except for Hulk, all the actors from the previous 5 movies are here.  And Ruffalo is so good that I completely forgot that Edward Norton was Banner in the Hulk movie.

The final showdown is incredible.  It involves these giant metal space fish things attacking New York City.  Unlike a movie like Transformers, this never gets dull.  In the middle of all the carnage and mayhem, the characters are talking to each other.  We know and care about these characters, so we are invested in what happens to them.  Also, director Joss Whedon maintains a good sense of geography.  When crazy stuff is going on on screen, you can still tell where the characters are in relation to one another.  Michael Bay could learn a few things from Joss Whedon.

There is a great tracking shot that shows each character doing battle.  I think the shot lasted a good minute or two without cutting away.  That was really cool.  But my favorite part of the whole movie is when Hulk confronts Loki in Stark's apartment.  I think that was the most satisfying scene I have seen in a movie in years. 

There is no way anyone could go see Avengers and not leave the theater happy. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

American Reunion - 3 stars

This is the 4th American Pie movie (not counting the direct to DVD sequels with none of the origianl cast except Eugene Levy). It's the 13th reunion for the class of 1999. Not sure why it has to be the 13th reunion, except that they want the movie to take place in 2012. There is some line about missing the 10 year reunion, so this is making up for it.

Anyway, let's see what all the characters are up to.

Jim and Michelle are still married. They have a young son, and their marriage is having trouble. Jim's mom died a few years earlier, and his dad is still in mourning.

Finch has been off globe trotting on various adventures.

Kevin is married (not to Vicky) and seems happy being a house husband.

Oz has a girlfriend (not Heather) and works as a sportscaster on an ESPN show (or something similar). He also recently competed on Dancing With the Stars-type show.

Stiffler is working as a temp at an investment firm. He is the same old Stiffler, and no mention is made of Cadence, the girl he ended up with at the end of American Wedding.

I like seeing these characters again. After 4 movies, I'm very familiar with all of them and it's just nice to see their further adventures, which basically involve the 4 friends hanging out and Stiffler screwing everything up. Not that they each can't get into trouble on their own.

There are some very funny bits in the movie. After a night of drinking, Jim wakes up half naked in the kitchen. When Michelle and another girl walk in, he tries to cover himself with a see-through pan lid. When the hot 18-year old next door gets drunk and passes out in his car, Jim tries to sneak her into her bed while his friends distract her parents. When a group of teenagers soak our characters with jetskis, Stiffler gets them back in a way that's way over the top.

Just about everything Stiffler does in this movie is funny. Seann William Scott has been funny in other movies besides the American Pie series, but this is his best character. And since the character means well, there is a sweetness about him. He is vulgar and vile, but he really just wants the other guys to like him. Almost nothing he does is out of any malice, he just doesn't know any better.

I will admit that there are too many characters. One reason I liked American Wedding so much was that Oz and Michelle were not in it. They were the two least interesting characters in the first 2 movies. Also, Kevin is a rather disposable character, and they really didn't need to bring Tara Reid back. Towards the end we see a bunch of other minor characters make brief appearances, like Nadia and the Sherminator. I guess it's nice to see them again, but the movie wouldn't have suffered without them.

There are more things I could pick apart in this movie, like how dumb some characters have to be to not notice what's going on around them, or some of the obvious setups for jokes. At times it felt like the screenwriters had a checklist of lines and actions that they had to get in the movie (make sure Stiffler's mom and Finch gets brought up, put Jim and Michelle in a band room with flutes, get in a "One time at band camp" reference) but I can forgive those when the movie is as funny as this one is.

To be honest, I wouldn't mind if they made another one in a few years. I'm not sure what the next one would be about. Maybe drop the new titles and just call it American Pie 5.

Thin Ice - 3 stars

Greg Kinnear stars as Mickey, a down on his luck insurance salesman. He is well liked enough in the industry to speak at a conference at a nice warm resort, but back home in snow-bound Wisconsin things are getting worse for him. His wife has kicked him out of the house and he is behind in his bills.

One day while selling an insurance policy to a crazy old man named Gorvy Hauer (Alan Arkin), he discovers that the old man owns a rare violin worth a lot of money. Gorvy has no idea the violin is worth anything, so Mickey offers to buy it for $10. Before he can collect the violin, Gorvey finds out about its value. Now Gorvy doesn't want to sell it, and Mickey is getting more desperate, he decides to break into the house and swap it with a cheap violin. He is discovered by Randy (Billy Crudup) who installed a home security system for Gorvy.

Mickey convinces Randy not to rat him out, and then a neighbor discover the two of them breaking in. The neighbor is killed, and things spiral out of control from there.

This movie is kind of like Fargo or A Simple Plan - Mickey is not a criminal, but desperate and sees a way to make some quick money. He thinks no one will be hurt, but as the movie progresses things get worse and worse for him. It is especially similar to Fargo in the way Mickey is kind of a weasel like Jerry Lundegaard, and it is set in the winter in the same region.

The movie is nowhere near as good as Fargo, but its still a nice movie in its own right. Kinnear is perfect as the fast talking salesman who is always trying to get away with something. Arkin is great is the slightly crazy old man. He doesn't understand the concept of liability insurance, and he calls the insurance guy every time the TV needs to be fixed.

Billy Crudup is also really good as the twitchy ex-con who isn't going back to jail. This is probably the best thing I have seen Crudup do. He is this manic energy that is fun to watch, and his scenes with Kinnear are a lot of fun.

My only complaint with this movie is the ending. There is a twist to it that changes the entire movie and it doesn't really fit. I shouldn't complain too much, because it was unexpected and it was better than ending with a simple shootout or something. But the end just felt wrong.

But that aside, I really enjoyed Thin Ice while I was watching it.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen - 3 1/2 stars

There is a rich oil sheikh who has a castle in Scotland. His favorite pasttime is fly fishing. He decides he would like to bring Salmon fishing to the Middle East, so he asks his financial consultant, Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt) to make it happen. She contacts Britain's leading fishing expert Fred Jones (Ewan McGregor) to help. He tells her she's crazy. Salmon need cold water; the water in Yemen is warm. Salmon need fresh water; the water in Yemen is too salty.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister's press secretary, Bridget Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas) is looking for a good story. All the news stories coming out of the Middle East are about the wars and soldiers getting killed, so she needs an uplifting story about the region. When she catches wind of the sheikh's idea for fishing in Yemen, she contacts Jones and orders him to make it happen.

This is a wonderful movie. The characters are well developed and they have interesting things to say. Jones is married but not happy. He also might have Asperger's syndrome (the character mentions it, but it seemed like he was joking). Ms. Chetwode-Talbot (as Jones refers to her over and over) is dating a soldier fighting in Afghanistan.

The best character, who also doesn't get enough screen time, is Maxwell. If you saw In The Loop, she may remind you of Malcolm Tucker. She thinks everyone else is an idiot, and has no problem chewing them out in front of other people. I would like to see an entire movie focused on her and her interactions with other government workers.

The movie is more drama than comedy, but there are a lot of funny parts. The humor comes from the characters rather than being lame setups and jokes. The movie does drag in a few spots and the tone goes from serious to light and funny a few too many times, but that is a very minor complaint. I enjoyed this movie from beginning to end. It just works.

Wrath of the Titans - 2 stars

In this sequel to Clash of the Titans (2010), Sam Worthington once again stars as Perseus, half man and half god. It's been 10 years since the events of the first film, and Perseus just wants to live a normal human life, raise his son, and fish.

One day Zeus (Liam Neeson) shows up and tells him that some kind of a war between the gods is coming. He asks Perseus to help him, and Perseus refuses. When Zeus travels to the underworld to meet with Hades (Ralph Fiennes), he is captured by Hades, who wants to steal Zeus's powers and give them to their father, Kronos. Once Kronos has enough power, he will be able to leave the underworld and destroy humanity.

When Perseus finds out about this, he decides he needs to save Zeus and stop Kronos. So he begins a quest to find a powerful weapon of the gods (so he can kill Kronos) and rescue Zeus.

This sounds like a decent setup for an action / fantasy movie. The problem is the characters are completely forgettable. For one thing, Sam Worthington is a very bland and boring actor. Either he is fighting, or he is standing around moping. He isn't given anything interesting to do in this movie. Another problem is the hectic camera style. When Perseus and Ares, the god of war, are fighting, the camera work is so jumbled that I couldn't tell which way was up. They are fighting and rolling around, and the camera is moving more than the characters. This is one of my big complaints in action movies like this. How about holding the camera still so we can actually see what is happening on screen?

At one point, the characters have to enter this giant labyrinth in order to enter the underworld. The labyrinth looks really cool and imposing. The labyrinth's designer says there are 100 doors that lead to death. Only one way will get them through. Well, it only takes them about 5 minutes to find their way through. One room almost crushes them, Perseus fights a minotaur, then it's over. That was disappointing.

I think this movie is about as bad as the first Clash of the Titans. If you do go see it, don't pay the extra for 3-D. It adds nothing.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Mirror Mirror - 2 1/2 stars

In the first live action Snow White movie of the year (Snow White and the Huntsman will be released in June) stars Julia Roberts as the wicked queen. It's been a long time since I have seen Disney's Snow White (and I've never read the original fairy tale), but they take some liberties with this version.

Snow White's father, the king, vanished many years ago. The wicked queen took over as the ruling monarch of the country (Snow's real mother died in childbirth). She has been raising Snow White by keeping her locked up in the castle. She has also been spending the country's money on lavish parties while over taxing the people. This is told in a prologue acted out by puppets. This didn't work for me. The puppets were ridiculous.

One day, Prince Andrew Alcott (Armie Hammer) wanders into the country. He meets the 7 dwarfs in the forest where they rob him and tie him up. Snow White comes along and cuts him down. They go their separate ways and the prince ends up at the castle. The wicked queen sees him and wants to marry him, not only for his looks but because his country is very wealthy.

For the first half hour or so, I was bored. Except for a few funny bits from Nathan Lane (playing the queen's servant), I thought the movie was horrible. Then it started to turn funny. At times it seemed to almost be a parody of the Snow White story.

When it's funny, it works. I laughed quite a bit. But too often it would start to drag. And I hated the beauty treatment the queen indulges in before a party. It involves bird droppings, bees, maggots, and a scorpion. It really was disgusting, and I didn't think it belonged in the movie. There was also a training montage where the dwarfs are teaching Snow White to fight with a sword.

The funniest part of the movie was when the queen's servant announced to the servants that Snow White has been killed: "Snow White lived, she died, God rest her soul. There will be a buffet at 2."

In Darkness - 3 stars

In Darkness is a Polish movie set in Nazi-occupied Poland. It's about a sewer worker named Leopold Socha. With all the Jewish people kicked out of their homes and living in the ghetto, Leopold and his friend go into the empty homes and steal everything they can get their hands on. One day, Leopold runs across a group of Jews hiding in the sewers. Rather than turn them in, he agrees to hide them in return for payment.

Is it fair to compare every movie about the Holocaust to Schindler's List? Probably not, but it's hard not to. In this case, we have a man who is not Jewish saving a group of Jews. And at one point, he does make a list. He can only hide and feed a limited number, so he asks them to pick 10 people to be saved (they talk him up to 12, since Jesus had 12 apostles).

Socha has a wife and a young daughter. He doesn't tell his wife about the Jews for a long time, and when she does find out, she is less than supportive. Not because she doesn't like them - earlier in the movie she says that Jews are just like them - but because she is afraid of what will happen to her family. Socha is risking their lives by hiding the Jews.

Like all movies about the Holocaust, there are the requisite number of scenes showing the brutality of the Nazis. At one point, a young Nazi soldier is killed. To retaliate, the Nazis hang 20 random Polocks from the town.

As I said, it may not be fair to compare this to Schindler's List. It's not as good, and the end does not pack the emotional punch that it feels like it should. It also does not really show us much we haven't seen before. But the movie is effective. We feel the claustrophobia they must have felt while being stuck in the sewers. We feel the terror when a Nazi says to Socha "There may be Jews hiding in the sewers. Let's go take a look."

Considering the horror and scale of the Holocaust, there is no end to the number of true stories that can be told about it. This is another one, and it is worth seeing.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Hunger Games - 2 1/2 stars

The Hunger Games is based on a very successful young adult book series by Suzanne Collins. Lionsgate is really hoping this will be as big as Twilight or Harry Potter, and based on advance ticket sales, it probably will be. The studio is already talking about splitting the last book into 2 movies.

Jennifer Lawrence stars as Catnip, er, Katniss Everdeen. Katniss lives with her mom and sister in District 12, which looks like the same location they filmed Winter's Bone in - a poor area of the Ozarks. This is in the distant future, after some kind of war has destroyed the US and a new nation called Panem has been established. The 12 districts once rose up in rebellion against Panem, and they were defeated. As punishment, every year each district has to send a boy and a girl, between the ages of 12 - 18, to compete in the Hunger Games, which is a fight to the death and only one can win.

The contestants, or 'tributes', are selected at random during a lottery called the reaping. When Katniss's younger sister's name is called, Katniss volunteers to be taken in her place.

The Hunger Games are not just punishment for the districts. It is the most successful reality show in the country (possibly the only one). It seems like everyone in the country watches it non-stop, and the tributes hunt each other in a forest-like arena with cameras hidden in every tree.

If this sounds familiar, that's because it is. Just off the top of my head, I think of The Running Man, The Long Walk, Battle Royale, and The Most Dangerous Game. Nothing wrong with recycling that story idea (just think of how many fantasy stories use The Hero's Journey), but they don't really do anything new or interesting with it.

The first half of the movie was not bad. They introduce a good character in Katniss Everdeen. It's refreshing to see a young female heroine who doesn't need to be rescued and is not sexualized. In fact, she is the one who usually does the rescuing. When the movie starts, we see her sneaking out of her district to hunt for deer. This establishes a few things. She's a hunter who knows how to use a bow, she is daring and resourceful, and her district is very poor. The fact that there is an electric fence to keep residents in shows that theirs is not a free society. I'm not sure the movie explains how she is able to get through the fence without being shocked, but oh well.

When her sister is picked as a tribute, Katniss volunteers to go in her place. This seems to surprise everyone, which makes us think that this has never happened. That's hard to believe. You would think that if a 12 year old is picked, their older brother or sister (if they have one) would volunteer to take the place of the younger sibling. You wouldn't want to watch your younger brother or sister be killed by an 18 year old.

Anyway, what follows is an hour or so of setup. Katniss meets Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson). He won the games some years earlier, and he is going to serve as a mentor to Katniss and Peeta (the boy selected from the same district). They travel by train to the capital city, and it couldn't be more different from their district. Everything is futuristic, the people are happy and well fed, and everyone wears crazy bright colors and ridiculous hair styles. Even the beards are strange, especially the game master Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley).

Katniss observes this like she has landed in another planet. We see everything through her eyes, and it made me wish we got more insight into what the character is thinking. She and Peeta have very superficial conversations. I would think this would be earth shattering for them. They have lived their entire lives in abject poverty, and now they are celebrities in this futuristic city.

They meet the other 22 contestants, and here is another problem with the movie - we don't get to know any of them. It would be really interesting if they became friends, knowing they would be expected to try and kill each other in a few days time. But I think only a few other contestants even get any lines in the movie. By the time the game starts, the only characters we know are Katniss and Peeta.

Once the games begin, the movie starts to have real pacing problems. I started to get bored real fast. There should have been some interesting kills, but except for a sequence involving a hornet's nest, they were pretty disappointing. And since the movie was destined to be PG-13 from the beginning, the violence is muted and mostly off screen. The most violent sequence is at the start of the games, when most of the contestants make a mad dash to a pile of weapons. But this sequence is edited in such a jerky fashion that we don't know who is killing who - not that it would matter anyway, since we don't know any of their names.

It seems like there is a fundamental flaw with this game. The contestants know that they are expected to fight to the death, and only one can win. But what if some of them choose not to fight? What if the last two tributes are on the defense? The best strategy would be to find someplace to hide and wait. You could easily end up with several players hiding and waiting.

Before the games started, the tributes were trying to get sponsors - people watching the game that could send them help while the game is in progress. But it seems like everyone is betting on the games, so wouldn't everyone who is betting send supplies to the tribute they are betting on?

As the game progresses, the game master changes the rules. When Katniss gets too close to the edge, he causes a firestorm to force her back to the middle. But he basically sends her straight to a group of tributes who have banded together, almost ensuring she will be killed. It seems like the game master shouldn't be playing favorites. If he can, then why not do that all the time?

Another stupid thing that happens is when they make the big CGI creatures appear. The creatures chase the last few tributes and all I could think is what happens if the creatures kill all the remaining tributes? The game master is hoping that one will outrun the creatures, but that seems like a big gamble.

Overall, the movie is not bad. It's just disappointing. In order to do this right, the movie should have been rated R. But the studio would never allow that since the movie's target demographic is teen girls. Which is also interesting - when Battle Royale came out years ago, it was controversial because the story is kids killing kids. But for some reason the Hunger Games books are just fine for teens, and so if the movie. Would it really make a difference if we saw more blood? Is that what determines whether its ok for a 13 year old or a 17 year old?

21 Jump Street - 3 1/2 stars

Finally. After a couple of months of disappointing crap (The Vow, Joyful Noise), here is a really funny movie. Morton (Jonah Hill) and Greg (Channing Tatum) didn't get along in high school. Morton was a nerd with braces who couldn't talk to girls. Greg was a popular jock. They run into each other a few years after high school when both guys are in the police academy.

Morton is struggling with the physical tests and Greg is struggling with the academic tests, so they decide to help each other out. After they graduate, they are assigned to patrol a park. This isn't what either of them were expecting. One day they come across a gang of bikers smoking pot. They decide to arrest them, and let's just say that it doesn't go well. When they finally get one handcuffed on the ground, what they do to celebrate is just wonderful, dumb, and hilarious.

They get assigned to a special division. They are assigned to go back to high school undercover as students in order to break up a drug ring. Because Greg can't remember which fake identity is his and which is Morton's, they end up getting their schedules switched. This means Morton is in drama and track, and Greg is in AP Chemistry. This bit could have been eliminated as it was the least funny thing about the movie.

But there are still plenty of laughs. They are trying to find out who is supplying some new synthetic drug, and one of the funniest bits is where they find out what the drug does to you. There are several stages you go through, and they are all acted out brilliantly by Johnny Simmons in a very minor role. It's no surprise that Morton and Greg will eventually try the drug and go through the exact same stages.

Jonah Hill is funny as he usually is, and Channing Tatum has never been better (except maybe in The Dilemma). Ellie Kemper from The Office is given nothing much to do as one of the teachers, but Ice Cube is hilarious as the stereotypical police captain who is always pissed off and can't say anything without yelling.

This movie was a lot of fun.

Silent House - 1 1/2 stars

Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) is staying at a lakeside house with her father and uncle Peter. They are fixing the house up to sell it. While she is inside, Sarah starts hearing strange noises. The windows are all boarded up, so even though it's the middle of the day, the house is dark.

At some point, her uncle will leave and her dad will disappear, so she will be in the house alone. A lot of time is spent following her as she looks around calling out "Dad?" or "Uncle Peter?" Every now and then, something goes boom real loud, or we see a figure standing in the background.

At first we aren't sure - is this a ghost story, or some kind of home invasion story? There is a point where we think maybe someone has been living in the house while it was abandoned. The movie is one continuous take - at least it looks like it was. That's about the only thing the movie has going for it. It isn't enough for a movie to make us jump every 5 minutes or so. There really isn't much of a story here. I found I was bored 15 minutes in, and I couldn't wait for the movie to end.

When we finally find out what's been going on, there are still unanswered questions. And I don't care enough about the movie to invest any time or effort into trying to figure it out. Just skip this one.

Friday, March 9, 2012

John Carter - 2 1/2 stars

This movie is kind of a mess. Based on the books by Edgar Rice Burroughs (who also wrote Tarzan), its about a former Civil War captain who enters a cave, is transported to Mars (known by the inhabitants as Barsoom) and gets involved in wars and battles.

I have never read the books, but from the research I have done, it seems as though the filmmakers took a simple fantasy / sci fi adventure and made it as complicated as they could. They give Carter a backstory, and it takes way too long for him to get to Mars. It seemed like 20 - 30 minutes had gone by before he found that cave.

Once there, he finds that he has powers. Thanks to the different gravity, he can jump like 80 feet with ease. He also seems to be really strong, although the movie isn't consistent about that. One moment he is fighting an entire army off, the next he is held in chains.

He meets a tribe of giant green creatures with 4 arms. They don't trust him at first, then they are amazed by his leaping ability. A little later he meets the human looking people of Mars. He falls in love with a princess and gets involved in some kind of plot to force her to marry her bitter enemy.

There are also characters called Therns. They weren't in the first book, they popped up later in the series, but the filmmakers put them into this movie because there just weren't enough characters or something. It just isn't confusing enough - let's add the Therns from book 5!

Anyway, the Therns can shape shift, they seem to be immortal, they have visited other planets, and they are the reason Carter was transported to Mars. They have some kind of plan to kill everyone on Mars, then Earth was their next target, but I may be mixed up on that.

The movie is too confusing. I had a hard time caring about John Carter, the princess, or anyone else in the movie. The reason movies like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings work so well is they have well developed characters we care about, and the story isn't that complicated. There may be complicated things going on around them and many other characters involved, but the main plot is pretty simple. Also, casting a better, more charasmatic actor as John Carter may have helped.

Oh, and the movie is over 2 hours long. It should have been about 90 minutes. I think that's it for now.

Project X - 3 stars

This movie is about 3 high school boys who throw a party. Somehow the party grows and grows until houses are destroyed and the SWAT team has to be called in.

Thomas is turning 17, and his parents are going out of town for the weekend. Since he will have the house to himself, his friends Costa and J.B. want to throw him a party. Thomas's parents are rich, the house is huge, and he has a pool. Perfect place for a party. Thomas isn't popular at school, but somehow Costa is able to get the word out to everyone at school.

Before the party, Costa takes his friends to a drug dealer to get some pot. While they are there, for some reason Costa decides to steal a little ceramic gnome from the dealer. Hmm, I wonder if there are drugs in that gnome? I wonder if the drug dealer will turn up late in the movie and want the drugs back?

The movie is filmed in the found footage / POV style we've seen with movies like Paranormal Activity or Chronicle. The movie is supposedly footage filmed by their friend. But the movie doesn't stick to this formula. Sometimes for no reason the movie is filmed like a normal movie. Two characters are having a conversation and the movie cuts back and forth between the two people. When the partygoers are arriving, suddenly the movie cuts to footage filmed outside of the people crossing the street. Why make the movie in this style if the filmmakers are just going to cheat?

There are laughs in this movie, so I am recommending it. I enjoyed the 12-year old security guards that Costa enlists. I also enjoyed the dwarf who is thrown into an over (don't worry, it isn't turned on).

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Academy Awards preview

The Oscars are on tonight. I'm only doing this for the big categories, but here are my
predictions and who I would pick to win.

Best actor:

Demián Bichir in "A Better Life"
George Clooney in "The Descendants"
Jean Dujardin in "The Artist"
Gary Oldman in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"
Brad Pitt in "Moneyball"

Who will win: Jean Dujardin.
My pick: Gary Oldman. I can't believe Gary Oldman has never won before. But that's beside the point. He delivered a master class on minimalist acting. I thought he was just incredible.

Best supporting actor:

Kenneth Branagh in "My Week with Marilyn"
Jonah Hill in "Moneyball"
Nick Nolte in "Warrior"
Christopher Plummer in "Beginners"
Max von Sydow in "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close"

Who will win: Christopher Plummer.
My pick: since Albert Brooks wasn't nominated, I would pick Christopher Plummer. It was a great performance, and I've never seen him give a performance quite like this one before.

Best actress:

Glenn Close in "Albert Nobbs"
Viola Davis in "The Help"
Rooney Mara in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"
Meryl Streep in "The Iron Lady"
Michelle Williams in "My Week with Marilyn"

Who will win: Viola Davis.
My pick: Michelle Williams. She didn't just impersonate Marilyn Monroe. She created a really
interesting character. Her performance was vulnerable and really moving.

Best supporting actress:

Bérénice Bejo in "The Artist"
Jessica Chastain in "The Help"
Melissa McCarthy in "Bridesmaids"
Janet McTeer in "Albert Nobbs"
Octavia Spencer in "The Help"

Who will win: Octavia Spencer.
My pick: Octavia Spencer. Her scenes are the ones I remember best from this movie. She just
brought so much life and energy to this performance.

Best director:

"The Artist" Michel Hazanavicius
"The Descendants" Alexander Payne
"Hugo" Martin Scorsese
"Midnight in Paris" Woody Allen
"The Tree of Life" Terrence Malick

Who will win: Michel Hazanavicius.
My pick: Alexander Payne.

Adapted screenplay:

"The Descendants" Screenplay by Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
"Hugo" Screenplay by John Logan
"The Ides of March" Screenplay by George Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon
"Moneyball" Screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin; Story by Stan Chervin
"Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" Screenplay by Bridget O'Connor & Peter Straughan

Who will win: The Descendants.
My pick: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. To take such a big novel and adapt it into a 2 hour movie
is an incredible feat. They kept in everything they needed to, and it worked. There was nothing missing. The movie demands you watch it more than once, and the more you watch it the more it makes sense and the pieces all fit together beautifully.

Original screenplay:

"The Artist" Written by Michel Hazanavicius
"Bridesmaids" Written by Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig
"Margin Call" Written by J.C. Chandor
"Midnight in Paris" Written by Woody Allen
"A Separation" Written by Asghar Farhadi

Who will win: The Artist.
My pick: I'm gonna go with Bridesmaids here. A very funny movie, but it would be a good movie even without all the jokes.

Best picture:

"The Artist" Thomas Langmann, Producer
"The Descendants" Jim Burke, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Producers
"Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" Scott Rudin, Producer
"The Help" Brunson Green, Chris Columbus and Michael Barnathan, Producers
"Hugo" Graham King and Martin Scorsese, Producers
"Midnight in Paris" Letty Aronson and Stephen Tenenbaum, Producers
"Moneyball" Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz and Brad Pitt, Producers
"The Tree of Life" Sarah Green, Bill Pohlad, Dede Gardner and Grant Hill, Producers
"War Horse" Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, Producers

Who will win: The Artist.
My pick: Since Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy wasn't nominated, I pick The Decendants. The Artist was nice for what it was, but not a great movie. Extremely Loud shouldn't be nominated.
Neither should War Horse. The Help was a good movie, but not a great one. Moneyball was written by two screenwriters, and it showed. Some parts were great, and some were kind of boring.

I really can't believe that with 9 nominees, Tinker Tailor didn't get enough votes to be in there as the 10th. But the night will belong to The Artist. Hollywood loves movies about Hollywood, and especially old Hollywood. The Artist is like a love letter to silent film and even the people who didn't love it loved what it was about and what it symbolized.