Friday, January 27, 2012

Man On a Ledge - 2 1/2 stars

Sam Worthington plays an escaped convict. He checks in to a hotel and climbs out on the ledge. Everyone thinks he is a jumper. A crowd forms and the police come to talk him down.

What they don't know is that he is not planning on jumping. He is there to prove his innocence. He was accused of stealing a diamond from Ed Harris. While he is serving as a distraction, his brother and his brother's girlfriend are going to break in to Ed Harris's safe (in the building across the street) and get the diamond. Then he will be able to prove that he never stole it. Harris said the diamond was stolen so he could commit insurance fraud.

The script is very by the numbers. Every move and plot twist can be seen a mile away. Plus the dialogue is pretty bad.

There are a few bright spots. The couple breaking in are a lot of fun. They are lovers but they are fighting about stuff the whole time. The finale of the movie is pretty good. It is ridiculous, but entertaining. And there are a couple of refreshing things that happen during the finale that I did not expect from such a by the numbers screenplay.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sundance Monday, January 23

Best day yet. I saw 4 movies today.

Slavery by Another Name - When did slavery end in America? If you think it ended with the Emancipation Proclomation, you are wrong. The 13th ammendment included words about how slavery is outlawed except in cases where someone has committed a crime. This put a lot of wiggle room in, and the south exploited it for over 70 years.

One method of slavery was for states to lease prisoners to corporations or individuals. These prisoners were worked almost to death. During slavery, owners had some incentive to keep their slaves healthy, as they were valuable property to them. But once they were prisoners to be leased out for work, there was no incentive to keep them healthy. They were only temporary workers. The states made tons of money leasing these people out to companies including U.S. Steel.

And the charges people were arrested on were ludicrous. Someone could be arrested for vagrancy, which could be nothing more than standing around doing nothing. Thousands of innocent people were arrested for nothing more than being there when the state needed more prisoners.

Another way people were kept in slavery was peonism. A wealthy white man said a black man owed him money. The black man was arrested and given to the white man to work off the debt. There was no proof of debt, and the man could be held as long as the white man wanted.

There was an effort to stop this in 1903, but the federal government turned a blind eye and allowed it to continue. Between the 1860s and the 1900s, there was a real danger of the country overturning the Emancipation Proclomation. There was an attitude that maybe it was a mistake to grant black people their freedom. This was not just in the south - the north was slowly starting to adopt the attitudes of the south.

Slavery didn't really end until 1941 when the US entered World War II. FDR was responsible for making sure all these cases ended and the perpetrators were brought to justice. But think about that. As late as the 1930s, there were black people in the south being held as slaves. They weren't called slaves, but it was the same.

This is a very important documentary. Like many people, I thought slavery ended after the civil war. Most of what I know about civil rights are from the 1950s on. This movie should be included in every American's history education.

Nobody Walks - Martine (Olivia Thirlby) is a 23 year old artist from New York. She moves to LA to stay with Peter (John Krasinski) and his family. Peter is a sound mixer, and Martine wants him to help her with the sound editing.

There isn't much story here. I was kind of bored. Things get a little interesting when Martine and Peter sleep together. Will this destroy Peter's marriage? Will his wife find out? As the movie went on, I really didn't care. Skip this one.

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry - This is a documentary about Ai Weiwei, an artist living in China. He isn't afraid to speak out against the government. The movie is as much about his art as it is about China's social injustice. This sounds like a great subject for a documentary, but it kind of left me cold. I guess I felt like I learned everything this movie had to tell me in the first 10 minutes.

Yound and Wild - Daniela is a 17 year old girl living in Santiago, Chile. She writes a blog called Young and Wild where she talks about two things - sex and religion. She is very horny all the time, attracted to men and women, but she is also an evangelical christian.

The movie wasn't written very well. It is basically a bunch of different scenes thrown together. There is no narrative through line. You could walk out and miss 20 minutes of the movie and you wouldn't even notice it. It also isn't edited very well. There are a lot of cuts that just seem awkward.

The movie is based on a true story, and the real life blogger was there at the screening. When she was asked about her relationship with her mother today, she said that her mother just found out about the movie and was not happy about it.

Sundance Sunday, January 22

A couple of good movies today.

Elena - set in Russia, Elena is married to Vladimir. They are both older and have children from previous relationships. Their marriage isn't very passionate, and she is more caretaker than wife. Her son's family is in need of financial help, and Vladimir is getting tired of giving them money. He says her son should be responsible for his own family, and why is it his (Vladimir's) responsibility to take care of them? They are strangers to him.

The movie moves very slowly. The first 5 minutes consists of a shot of a bird outside their home. The movie could have easily lost 20 minutes. There isn't that much story to it, but as it progresses I started to feel for Elena. She gets to a point where she makes a hasty decision that will solve all of her problems. I expected there to be consequences to her choice, but there were none. I guess I was a little disappointed that it had no real ending. I expected something.

And I didn't really understand what happened at the end with her grandson. He goes off with his friends and gets in a very vicious fight with some other boys. They are trying to kill each other, and I didn't understand who started the fight or what it was about. A little more explanation there would have been nice.

Excision - Pauline is a very disturbed teenager. She is very anti social and she fantasizes about performing surgery on strangers. She has lots of very twisted fantasies which are shown to us in all of their shocking details. There is quite a bit of blood in this, and it isn't for the squeamish. I saw quite a few walkouts in this movie.

Her mom is played by Traci Lords, and her pastor is played by John Waters. Nice bits of casting there. Waters is stunt casting, but Lords does a very good job playing Pauline's mother. She starts out as a very overbearing mother, but as Pauline's behavior gets worse, we start to sympathize with her mom. This girl should be committed.

I enjoyed the movie because it had an interesting story. It was disturbing, but I like movies that take chances and provoke a real reaction. I won't give away where the story goes, but the ending packs a real punch.

Sundance Saturday, January 21

I was not able to attend Sundance today. Coverage will resume tomorrow.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sundance - Friday, January 20

My first Sundance movie this year was THE AMBASSADOR. This is a documentary about a man who buys diplomatic credentials so he can get diamonds in and out of the Central African Republic. His cover story is that he is a businessman and his purpose there is to open a factory making matches.

The filmmaker is the subject of this documentary, so his real purpose is not really to get diamonds illegally, but to expose corruption. We see how easy it is for anyone to purchase diplomatic credentials, and we see that every diplomat in the CAR is involved in illegal activities.

This could have been a really interesting documentary, but he somehow manages to avoid the most interesting things. At the end, I really didn't see the point of the movie. We learn about the corruption early on, and from there nothing really happens. This movie was a waste of time.

The next movie I saw was MADRID, 1987. Set in Madrid, it's about an older man who writes a daily newspaper column. A hot young college student wants to interview him, and all he wants to do is sleep with her. They meet in a restaurant and he gets her to come with him to a friend's apartment. Eventually they end up locked in the bathroom together with no hope of rescue.

The bulk of the movie is these two people locked in a room together. But the dialogue is so good that it never drags. The man is one of those guys who thinks he has life figured out. He is constantly telling her about how things were in his day, how things should be, and how smart he is.

The writing is great, and the performances are incredible. I'm glad I saw this one.


I also saw 4 shorts:

A Morning Stroll - Animated about a guy taking a stroll and running into a chicken. It replays the event 3 times, but each time is different with a different animated style. The last one includes zombies and is a lot of fun. It ends with a bang.

Las Palmas - This was strange. It's a baby surrounded by puppets. I didn't make it 5 minutes into this one.

Una Hora Por Favora - A single, neurotic woman hires a day laborer to be her boyfriend, which basically consists of watching reality shows together. Interesting, not bad.

Tooty's Wedding - An unhappily married British couple go to a wedding, and each one tries to have an affair. A couple of funny moments but not memorable.

Sundance - Thursday, January 19

Today was the opening day press conference with Robert Redford, Festival Director John Cooper, and Executive Director Keri Putnam. They talked about independant films, with Redford remarking that this is the only festival that he knows of that is 100% independant. He also talked about the Sundance labs for filmmakers, which is the most important part of Sundance for him. The film festival is just the most visible part.

There was also talk about how the film festival is expanding. Last year they started taking Sundance on the road. Films and their filmmakers go to various cities that have art house cinemas in order to help get the movies out there. They will also be doing a mini film festival in London at the O2 arena.

Redford also talked about the New Frontier. This year, it is being held at The Yard, which is a much more appropriate space than the Miner's Hospital where it was held last year.

I went back to Salt Lake after the press conference, so movie watching will start Friday.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Red Tails - 2 1/2 stars

George Lucas produced this movie about the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African American fighter pilots in World War II. At the start of the movie, none of the white generals believe that African Americans are as qualified as white servicemen. They are given hand-me-down planes and given the most meaningless missions possible.

At some point in the movie, they are given an important mission: to protect a group of B-17 bombers in a boming mission. In previous missions, the fighter pilots left the B-17s unprotected as soon as enemy fighters showed up. They would go off and dogfight the enemy planes while the B-17s would get shot down. The Tuskegee Airmen are the first company to actually do their job. No B-17s are lost and they get respect from the other men in the service.

The idea behind the story is great. This is an important chapter in American history, and it deserves a better movie. This movie is not very well done. The dialogue is hokey and corney, and it is so bad I can't believe Lucas didn't write the screenplay himself.

The best scenes in the movie are the dogfights. It's in incredible sight seeing hundreds of planes in the air flying around each other. This is the kind of air battle that wouldn't have been possible before CGI. The music works really well in these scenes too.

If the dialogue and story lived up to the battle scenes, this would have been a great movie.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - 3 stars

This movie is about Oskar, a very precocious 10 year old. His parents are played by Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock. His father was working in the World Trade Center on 9/11 and was killed. Before he died, he used to set up scavenger hunts for Oskar.

A year after his father's death, Oskar finds a key and a newspaper clipping in his father's stuff. Using the clues he finds, he assumes that this is a scavenger hunt his dad devised for him. So he sets off through the streets of New York City to find the lock that the key opens.

For the first half hour or so, I was kind of bored. While I empathized with Oskar, I didn't really care what he was going to find. I also didn't think there was a chance he would find the lock for the key. But then Max von Sydow enters the picture. He plays the mysterious guy who rents a room from Oskar's grandmother. Von Sydow's character doesn't talk, and he gets to show how great an actor he is without saying a word. He starts to go with Oskar on his travels and help him unravel the mystery.

The movie is a bit melodramatic but I really felt for the characters. Oskar may have Asperger's syndrome (the tests were inconclusive), and he has a much harder time than an ordinary kid would expressing his grief. He talks about his father's death in such a matter of fact way that it is even more heartbreaking than if he were to break down. His mother has a hard time dealing with things as not only has she lost her husband, but her son will hardly talk to her.

By the end, I was very emotionally invested. It is a movie that will make you cry. I liked it but I'm not sure I would want to experience it again.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Joyful Noise - 2 stars

This is a movie about a small town church choir and their aspirations to compete in the national Joyful Noise choir competition.

Queen Latifah plays Vi Rose Hill. She has just taken over as choir director when the previous director (Kris Kristofferson) died unexpectedly. She has two kids, a son with Asperger syndrome, and a daughter named Olivia (Keke Palmer), who seems to be the lead singer of the choir.

G. G. Sparrow (Dolly Parton), believes she should be the new choir director. Her late husband was the former choir director, and she helped him with the song arrangements. G. G.'s grandson Randy (Jeremy Jordan) has just arrived in town, and he immediately becomes interested in Olivia.

Randy starts to sing in the choir, gives Vi's son piano lessons (apparently for free), and helps bring him out of his shell, but because there needs to be some conflict, Vi doesn't approve of him. She also refuses to modernize the songs the choir sings. Everyone but her wants to do more modern arrangements and even include some pop songs, but Vi is the most stubborn woman in town and she refuses.

This is a movie made for a Christian audience who loves gospel music. There is a lot of church, God, and faith in this movie. The writing is corny and the directing is horrible. There are cuts that make no sense, and there are a few too many scenes of Vi and Olivia having the same fight.

Latifah and Parton each get a big musical number, and they are good songs. I especially liked the scene where Dolly Parton is looking out the window, singing a song she used to sing with her late husband, and imagines him walking up to her and dancing. That (almost) brought a tear to my eye.

But real emotional scenes are few and far between. The rest are obvious and over the top. There are some laughs, but the funny scenes are juxtaposed with scenes that try to make you cry, and the combination doesn't really work.

If you like this music, buy the soundtrack rather than see the movie.

Contraband - 2 1/2 stars

Mark Wahlberg stars as a former smuggler who has decided to go legit. He now owns a security company, but when he was a smuggler, he was the best smuggler there was. There are a couple of scenes where he tells other smugglers how he pulled off an incredibly difficult job.

He is married and has two kids, but his wife's brother is trying to get into the game. When he gets into trouble with a local criminal, Wahlberg has to pull off one last job to save his brother-in-law.

I feel like I've seen this movie before. Will he successfully smuggle the contraband into the US and deliver it? Will he stop the bad guys from killing his family? Is there a surprise twist or two? I'm not calling this movie predictable, but ...

There are many scenes that are just completely implausible. One is where he is making a large hole in the ship he is working on. He manages to create this hole and conceal it with a panel while other crew members are around, and he could be discovered at any time, and it would take many guys a lot of hours to complete, and on and on. But he is able to do it in no time flat without ever being discovered.

There were also a lot of scenes where he just got lucky. He finishes concealing something, turns the corner, and a split second later the ship's captain comes around the corner. After a while I started to hope he got caught. He wasn't being careful so much as just counting on luck.

This isn't a bad movie, but there is nothing special about it. If you need something to go see tonight, you could do worse but you won't remember this movie a month from now.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - 4 stars

There is a mole at the top of British intelligence. He's been there for years. In order to find him, George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is brought out of retirement. He can't trust anyone, and he is being watched all the time.

This is a rare intelligent spy thriller. There are no explosions or car chases. Everything is done with dialogue and restraint. Oldman's performance is a master class in minimalist acting. Rather than going over the top, he barely says a word. Sometimes he raises an eyebrow.

I was lost for the first half of the movie. It keeps jumping around in time, and sometimes it's hard to tell which timeframe a scene is taking place in. But by the second half, it was all making sense. This is a movie to watch and enjoy, just letting the dialogue and atmosphere wash over you.

Besides Oldman, the cast includes John Hurt, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds, and Tom Hardy. If you can pay close attention and not get too frustrated by the confusion going on, you will enjoy this. And it is even better the second time.

The Devil Inside - 2 stars

This is another one of those fake documentary style movies. In 1989 a woman killed 2 priests and a nun during an exorcism. 20 years later, her daughter wants to make a documentary about what happened. So she takes a filmmaker with her to Rome where her mother is being held in an insane asylum.

The usual possession stuff happens, and nothing scary happens. The movie made me jump a few times, but startling someone is easy. The movie is more unintentionally funny than scary. I think I was generous giving the movie 2 stars. Don't waste your time.