Friday, May 22, 2009

Metropolis

Metropolis
1927. Not Rated, 115 minutes.
Director: Fritz Lang. Starring Alfred Abel, Brigitte Helm, Gustav Frohlich, Rudolf Klein-Rogge.
Young, privileged Freder (Frohlich) accidentally discovers that the prosperous city he lives in, and his father Fredersen (Abel) runs, is kept running literally on the backs of the poor, nearly enslaved laborers who themselves live far below the city's surface. The movie proves one thing, man is perpetually cynical about the future, especailly in regards to technology. It gives us a marvelous dystopian society the powers that be are trying to pass of as an underground paradise while essentially keeping the working class in bondage. Fredersen makes a great villain, not because he's evil, though he is, but more because like the best bad guys he believes what he's doing is right and just and will do anything to perserve what he sees as the proper order of things. The concepts used here have aged remarkably well as many of them are still recycled in sci-fi to this day. Even more surprising, the special fx look better than many movies half it's 80+ years. Of course since it's a silent movie, some people will automatically be turned off and that's a shame. However, since silent movies are such a different beast to tame for today's audience, I won't grade it. I'll just say if you're a serious sci-fi movie buff then you should see this, if for no other reason than making sure you see all the classics of the genre to see how far it has, and hasn't come.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Death Race vs. Death Race

Death Race 2000
1975. Rated R, 84 minutes.
Director: Paul Bartel. Starring David Carradine, Sylvester Stallone, Simone Griffeth, Mary Woronov.
In the year 2000, racecar drivers compete in the annual "Transcontinental Race," a three day race across the continental United States. Each driver has a navigator of the opposite sex, two of the drivers are female. The winner is determined by some combination of where a driver finishes and how many points they have. They earn points by killing civilians with their cars. Of course, different types of people are worth different amounts with babies (70 points) and senior citizens (100) being worth the most. The race was created by "Mr. President," who's now become a dictator and governs the country from abroad. The race itself is a ridiculous premise but the filmmakers know this and play it to its campy hilt. We get humor from the drivers mowing down pedestrians and the hilarious commentary of our announcing team. In particular, Grace Pander (Joyce Jameson) cracks me up with her "dear friend" schtick. The two overnight pit stops are an excuse for nudity, fighting and yelling. Speaking of yelling, a pre-Rocky Sly Stallone does most of it while obviously hamming it up as Machine Gun Joe. Usually, its about all the adulation his arch-rival Frankenstein (Carradine) gets. At the end of the day, it's a socio-political satire that takes itself even less serious than most. It also gets about 25 years ahead of the reality-TV craze, even about a decade before The Running Man (+1 for Sly over Arnie). Still, it's main strength is absurdity. It flexes those muscles often, making it "so bad its awesome!" MY SCORE: -10/10


Jumping into my Delorean and getting up to 88 mph I arrive at...

Death Race
2008. Rated R, 105 minutes.
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson. Starring Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Joan Allen, Ian McShane, Natalie Martinez.
Plot: Prisons have become privately owned entities. One of them broadcasts "Death Race" worldwide, a series of three day auto racing events featuring inmates driving armed vehicles on a closed course on prison property. Jensen Ames (Statham) is "recruited" by Warden Hennessey (Allen) to replace the series' biggest star.
The Good: It knows exactly what it wants to do and does it. DR is only interested in amping up the testosterone levels via an incessant stream of car crashes, gunshots, explosions and the occasional peek at hot female inmates in tight t-shirts and tighter jeans. All of this is punctuated by shots of Joan Allen talking tough and doing her best "game face." With videogame sensibilities (the cars actually have to pass over various icons on the track in order for certain weapons to be enabled) and attention to "graphics," its an unabashedly aggressive action-junkies wet dream. By the way, those "graphics" are a nice mix of cgi and organic stunts."
The Bad: A minor problem is that its exceedingly dumb. Every action is taken simply because the result promises to be spectacular. That's okay with regard to the race itself but it's even done outside the race. However, if you only want a popcorn movie then that's minor and you let it slide. The bigger problem is only a problem if you're familiar with the original, Death Race 2000. That was a campy satire taken to absurd extremes while keeping it's tongue firmly in cheek. Its silly on purpose, yet still has something to say. All of this makes DR 2000 "so bad its awesome!" This new version keeps only the action and replaces all the rest with grunts and scowls. It takes itself way too seriously like it has something really insightful to say but it doesn't. This makes its stupidity seem accidental which is always worse.
The Ugly: What happens to the guy who says "You can't kill me!"
Recommendation: This is strictly a popcorn movie. Its watchable crap akin to a vapid supermodel. There's nary a thought in its pretty little head and lots of eye candy but easily forgotten once the next pretty girl walks past. Like most remakes, or "reimaginings" it works best if you haven't seen the original.
The Opposite View: Nathan Lee, New York Times
MY SCORE: 5.5/10
So, if you're keeping up you realize I like the movie with the lower score better.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Frost/Nixon

Frost/Nixon
2008. Rated R, 123 minutes.
Director: Ron Howard. Starring Michael Sheen, Frank Langella, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt, Rebecca Hall, Toby Jones.

Plot: Former US President Richard Nixon (Langella) grants his first interview since resigning from office to British talk show host David Frost (Sheen).

The Good: This is an actors' movie and the actors deliver. The writing and directing are both superb but without the actors it would disintegrate. After all, the movie largely consists of people sitting around hotel rooms and living rooms talking. It doesn't sound like riveting drama, but it is. Frank Langella is marvelous as Pres. Nixon. He conveys the smugness of a man confident things will turn out in his favor, yet accusing "media people" of possessing that same trait. People who have seen the actual interviews the movie is based on, or really can remember Nixon, might notice that Langella is much more demonstrative that the President. However, that's done for dramatic purposes and Langella (and the script) hit all the right notes to create what essentially is the movie's villain. Speaking of hitting the right notes, Michael Sheen also does so as David Frost. He is simply perfect. Like most great performances, he does his best acting when he's not talking. Through these moments we sense the pressure mounting on him to pull off something amazing or watch his career go down the drain. That same pressure is on the people working with him and the supporting cast does a great job showing this. Finally, the movie gives us a love interest for our hero but doesn't distract us with a love story.

The Bad: It, maybe, could've gotten more out of Pres. Nixon's team. We get plenty of Jack Brennan (Bacon) but the rest of his team of strategists are reduced to wall flowers simply around for reaction shots. Getting more input from them might possibly have raised the tension between the two camps a bit. Also, I know I commended the movie on not giving us a love story but they still could've found something for Caroline Cushing (Rebecca Hall) to do. She's pretty much just a prop in the background for most of the movie. However, if giving her more to do would've changed the direction of the film then I'm fine with it, as is.

The Ugly: The Prez's late night, drunken phone call to our hero.

Recommendation: Fans of political and/or courtroom drams will love this (yes, I know there are no courtroom scenes in this movie). It's the best one of either I've seen in quite some time. It works best if you have a decent working of knowledge of Nixon's presidency. Stay away if you need any of the following to enjoy a movie: gunplay, explosions, fighting, romance or slapstick.

The Opposite View: Rene Rodriguez, Miami Herald

What the Internet Says: 8.0/10 on imdb.com (5/19/09), 92% on rottentomatoes.com, 80/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 9.5/10

Monday, May 18, 2009

RocknRolla

RocknRolla
2008. Rated R, 114 minutes.
Director: Guy Ritchie. Starring Gerard Butler, Tom Wilkinson, Idris Elba, Toby Kebbell, Thandie Newton.

Plot: One Two (Butler) and Mumbles (Idris Elba) are trying to figure out how to pay old school gangster Lenny Cole (Wilkinson) the $2 million they owe him after a deal falls through. Meanwhile, Lenny is trying to keep the same from happening to his deal with a wealthier Russian investor/gangster. And they're all trying to figure out who is the informant that keeps getting everyone locked up.

The Good: In typical Guy Ritchie fashion, we get great circular story-telling, tough talking yet not as smart as they think they are bad guys and funny dialogue. We also get funny violence which is hard to do without totally sinking your movie. Another thing Ritchie consistently delivers is excellent performances from his actors. This proves to be no exception. Tom Wilkinson gives us the flashiest performance while Butler, Elba and Tom Hardy who plays Handsome Bob play off each other quite nicely. The two performances that make the movie tick however are Thandie Newton's almost lone female and Toby Kebbell's turn as drug addicted rock star Johnny Quid.The Bad: It's a bit derivative. First, it's definitely a Guy Ritchie gangster flick so it feels familiar right from the start if you've seen some of his other work. The Wild Bunch, as our gang of lovable bandits is called, feels very much like the crew from the Ocean's movies. Finally, the very very ending that shamelessly sets us up for the sequel, The Real RocknRolla we're told, is peculiar in both content and execution. It seemingly remakes a certain someone into a totally different character so he can start the sequel with a clean slate.

The Ugly: Everything that happens whenever Victor is asked to "join us."

Recommendation: This is going to sound a bit odd. I recommend it moreso to people who enjoy gangster/crime movies but haven't seen any of Ritchie's other work. People who have will likely enjoy it but may get a "been there, done that" feeling. Still, those people might want to see it anyway just to get in on the ground floor of what Ritchie is promising will be a trilogy.

The Opposite View: Mike McGranaghan, The Aisle Seat

What the Internet Says: 7.4/10 on imdb.com (5/18/09), 59% on rottentomatoes.com, 53/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 7/10

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Role Models

Role Models
2008. Rated R, 99 minutes.
Director: David Wain. Starring Paul Rudd, Seann William Scott, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Bobb'e J. Thompson, Jane Lynch, Ken Jeong, Elizabeth Banks, Bobb'e J. Thompson.

Plot: After accidentally destroying public property, energy drink salesmen and work buddies Danny (Rudd) and Wheeler (Scott) each have to perform 150 hours of community service at "Sturdy Wings." They're each assigned a child whom they will mentor on the weekends. Hijinks and shenanigans ensue.

The Good: As with anything by the Apatow group (yes, I'm counting Rudd among them, he wrote this), there are some scenes and dialogue that are just downright hilarious. The dynamics of relationships between straight males is again ably portrayed. Our two leads fit comfortably into their roles, Rudd as a fairly straight-laced but not particularly happy guy and Scott as yet another incarnation of his Stifler from the American Pie movies. Jane Lynch as former drug addict turned counselor Gayle Sweeney steals every scene in which she appears.

The Bad: Due to the fact they've found a very profitable formula, I've now seen this movie at least half a dozen times. Don't believe me? Let's go through the checklist. At least one slacker who is depressed? Check. A "wild and crazy" dimwitted friend who tries to help him snap out of it? Check. A girl that breaks up with said slacker, tormenting him even further? Check. A budding bromance? Triple check! That's right, we don't just get one bromance, we get three (our two heroes with each other and each with the kid they're mentoring). And nothing unexpected happens in any of them.

The Ugly: When very little Ronnie (Thompson) drops an "F-bomb" right in front of his mom and she, well, essentially does nothing. I was really, really tempted to turn it off at that point.

Recommendation: Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Knocked Up, Pineapple Express, Superbad, Step Brothers. You know if you like these movies or not. It's the same formula repetitively rehashed to fit a different premise. For me, the law of diminishing returns kicked in a few movies ago. So while this, like the others, has some really funny moments, the whole isn't nearly as satisfying as it use to be.

The Opposite View: Claudia Puig, USA Today

What the Internet Says: 7.3/10 on imdb.com (4/21/09), 76% on rottentomatoes.com, 60/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 5.5/10

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Final Comedown

The Final Comedown
1972. Rated R, 83 minutes.
Director: Oscar Williams. Starring Billy Dee Williams, D'urville Martin, Celia Kaye, Maidie Norman.
Black militant Johnny (Williams) is wounded during a shootout with the cops. His fellow soldiers, a Black Panther Party type group, drag him to a back alley and try to get him some medical attention. While waiting, and bleeding, he reminisces about some of the events in his life that led him to this point. Though it comes from the Blaxploitation era and some of the players in that era, this is far different most of what that genre produced. It does indeed have a "down with Whitey" thread running through it. However, most Blaxploitation flicks went at the idea in jest. They had lots of pimps, foxy mamas, jive talkin' and kung fu fightin'. Humor, both intentional and not was common. This is a different animal. It's a serious minded and unflinching movie trying to jolt it's viewers. For a 1972 audience, I imagine it could've been downright scary. Remember, movie goers of the time had just lived through the Civil Rights Movement. They could tell you where they were when JFK, MLK, Robert Kennedy and Malcolm X were assassinated. The possibility of America slipping into a race war wasn't all that far fetched. Knowing this, it succeeds at being a commentary, not only on race in America in the early 1970s but on inner-race relations amongst Blacks as well. A strong, angry turn by the normally suave Billy Dee Williams helps (though he still manages to have time for the ladies). It fails a little in the narrative department. It's unclear exactly what Johnny and his people are trying to accomplish, other than martyring themselves. It's lack of budget shows up in the action scenes. The results of gunshots are mostly laughable. They're also easy to forgive if you just chalk it up to it being made almost 40 years ago. However, less than 12 months after it's release the movie Dillinger, about the famous bank robber, came out. That movie had some amazing and brutal sequences that still look good today. Nonetheless, TFC is an intriguing watch that some viewers will embrace while others are repulsed.

MY SCORE: 7/10

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Seven Pounds

Seven Pounds
2008. Rated PG-13, 118 minutes.
Director: Gabriele Muccino. Starring Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, Barry Pepper, Woody Harrelson, Michael Ealy.

Plot: An obviously troubled man (Smith) is on a self-imposed mission to help others and unexpectedly falls in love.

The Good: It effectively strings us along. We're never quite sure exactly what our hero is up to until very late in the proceedings and the movie likes it like that way. Will Smith is solid but Rosario Dawson is outstanding. She very much makes us believe she's a woman who has missed out on things most of us take for granted and increasingly anxious about the time, or lack of time she has left.

The Bad: It's a little too cryptic. Why our hero is troubled is hinted at throughout so it was anticlimactic instead of being the huge revelation it wants to be. Showing this earlier may have helped his pain resonate with the audience more. The movie also takes itself way too seriously. Moments that could've been humorous and lightened the mood are enveloped by our hero's grim greater purpose, a destination he not only trudges toward but drags others with him.

The Ugly: Why he keeps the jellyfish.

Recommendation: The big problem seems to be how shamelessly it campaigned for the Oscars when it was being released. The commercials told us how it was being touted by some critics as a Best Picture candidate with a mind-blowing twist. Since it's not quite that, it became the chic movie to hate. I don't think it's nearly as bad as everyone says. In fact, I thought it was pretty good, even if it is overly self-important.

The Opposite View: Rawlin, VSN

What the Internet Says: 7.6/10 on imdb.com, 28% on rottentomatoes.com, 36/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 7/10

Lady Cocoa

Lady Cocoa
1975. Rated R, 99 minutes.
Director: Matt Cimber. Starring Lola Falana, Gene Washington, Alex Dreier, "Mean" Joe Greene, Millie Perkins, James A. Watson Jr.

Cocoa (Falana) is being let out of jail so she can testify against her gangster boyfriend tomorrow. Two officers, Doug (Washington) and Ramsey (Dreier) are assigned to protect her through the night. The premise is reasonable, actually sort of tame for a Blaxploitation flick. I say that fully realizing that it would make a million times more sense just to take her from jail to the courthouse the morning of, ala 16 Blocks. However, I was hoping for a "so bad it's awesome" experience. What gave me that hope was that they didn't check her into any old out of the way hotel. Nope, they checked her into a hotel/casino/mall/restaurant and she came loudly barrelling through the main entrance practically announcing her arrival to any potential assassins. But alas, it was not to be. The writers telegraph a romance right away and promptly falls into an endless cycle: she asks, he says something along the lines of "No, it's too dangerous," she rants, raves and threatens not to testify, he gives in, she makes googly eyes at him. It might've been interesting but unfortunately legendary singer Lola Falana proves to be a terrible actress delivering repetitive and grating dialogue. However, for any 1975 audience it was probably a shock to hear the classy songstress speak with a potty mouth and do a nude scene. Honestly though, her best acting came during that scene which was a surprisingly enthusiastic love scene late in the movie. It's not until after said scene that we finally get the real deal outrageous antics the genre is known for. By then, it's too late to save the movie. Oh well, at least Pittsburgh Steelers legend "Mean" Joe Greene, who plays a hitman, shows up to glare at the camera every so often.

MY SCORE: 3.5

Monday, May 11, 2009

Eagle Eye

Eagle Eye
2008. Rated PG-13, 118 minutes.
Director: D.J. Caruso. Starring Shia LaBeouf, Michelle Monaghan, Billy Bob Thornton, Rosario Dawson, Jerry Ferrara.

Plot: Two strangers suddenly find themselves working together while on the run from the FBI and being guided by a mysterious woman who's not only one step ahead of the action but somehow able to track their every move.

The Good: Like any chase movie worth it's car crashes, it has some spectacular sequences. There's all sorts of property damage with debris flying everywhere. It's loud and intense. To keep that tension up there's the mysterious voice on all those ominous phone calls. She intrigues us and keeps us guessing as to who she is and what she wants our heroes to do. As usual, LaBeouf ably portrays a guy who's a bit of a jerk but finds himself in an unbelievable situation. The rest of the cast, though more talented is solid but not overwhelming. Still, it's amusing to watch Billy Bob Thornton and Rosario Dawson try to out-stern one another.

The Bad: Once we find out what's going on, the whole thing falls apart. Essentially, it repeats the mistakes of Stealth, I, Robot and other similarly themed movies. An hour plus of mindless, but still fun action gives way to another 45 minutes of paranoid silliness we've seen before without injecting anything new or interesting. It clunks to it's conclusion hoping the noise and vision of the special fx will be enough to win you over. They don't because the script invites you to dig a little deeper but when you do you don't find anything. Contrast this with LaBeouf's prior big-budget special fx monster Transformers. That movie is also loud and silly. However, it works because it never pretends to be anything more whereas EE does and gets caught in its own hoax.

The Ugly: Crystal explosives. Nice.Recommendation: If you just want to see an almost endless string of chase scenes with lots of crashes and explosions then have at it. Just don't go looking for anything more because even though it tempts us with the possibility of depth, it remains a shallow pool.

The Opposite View: William Arnold, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

What the Internet Says: 6.7/10 on imdb.com (4/30/09), 27% on rottentomatoes.com, 43/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 5/10

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Wrestler

The Wrestler
2008. Rated R, 111 minutes.
Director: Darren Aronofsky. Starring Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Mark Margolis.

Plot: Aged pro wrestler Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Rourke) is 20 years past his glory days and struggling with life.The Good: You may have already heard about Mickey Rourke's performance. It is indeed excellent. He conveys a real and permeating sense of sadness in not only every word but every action. That skill flips around on us and makes us feel even more sad when he finally seems to be happy. It sounds odd, but it's extremely effective. The women in his life are also very important, not only to how we see him, but to how he sees himself. His daughter Stephanie (Wood) is the physical embodiment of all he's failed at and/or lost. Cassidy (Tomei), the stripper he's trying to court is a female version of him. He's constantly trying to make amends with both, though he hadn't yet done anything to Cassidy. It's a wonderful metaphor for him trying to make things right with himself, even while he's battling that self. Director Aronofsky does a great job getting the most from his actors and creating a bleak enough world that they, and we, have a hard time imagining better for these people. Finally, the wrestling scenes are flat out brutal.

The Bad: Stephanie's relationship with her significant other could've played a bigger role. It's strongly implied that she is a lesbian, which is really neither here or there. But it could've been. This has little to do with her preference but lots to do with the seemingly nurturing relationship she was in. We get only a glimpse of it. Having the girlfriend interact with Randy more could've added another dynamic to the mix. Seeing how each of their relationships differed with Stephanie, or are similar would've been interesting. If you don't want to go down that road how about showing how different the life of Randy's "arch-rival" The Ayatollah (Ernest Miller) turned out. We're told he's done well for himself but being shown this in juxtaposition with Randy could've been really powerful. Those are both mere possibilities which could've taken the movie in drastically different directions. What should definitely have been done was having The Ayatollah fake a Middle Eastern accent, preferably a bad one, during "the show" (wrestling match). It seems small but would've fit perfectly into the world Aronofsky created.

The Ugly: Barbed wire and a staple gun. Yeesh!

Recommendation: Even though there's a good deal of wrestling, this isn't just for fans of the "sport." It's for anyone that enjoys a good character study. Old-schoolers, like myself, may have heard the rumblings that it's based loosely on the life of Jake "The Snake" Roberts. Maybe, but as rough as this movie is, a real biopic about Roberts would have to be even darker. I digress. Let me repeat that this is a great character study. It also has excellent acting and wrestling scenes that will make you flinch.

The Opposite View: Richard Corliss, Time Magazine

What the Internet Says: 8.4/10 on imdb.com (#83 all time as of 5/6/09), 97% on rottentomatoes.com, 81/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 9/10

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

2 Days That the Earth Stood Still

The Day the Earth Stood Still
1951. Not Rated, 91 minutes.
Director: Robert Wise. Starring Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Sam Jaffe, Billy Gray.
An alien spacecraft lands smack dab in the middle of Washington D.C. during a busy day. The being that emerges from the ship is shot within moments of setting foot on Earth. He survives and demands to meet with all of the planet's leaders. With WWII having ended only 6 years earlier, along comes this grim allegory of a movie that's gone on to be hailed as a sci-fi classic. The being inside, Klaatu (Rennie) represents us, therefore it's very important that he looks like us. He's no green-skinned monster who instantly opens fire on us. He is us, giving a warning to ourselves. As far as movie-making prowess goes, it's a success but not an overwhelming one. The narrative drags just a bit since the tension is eased while our messenger takes a tour around D.C. Still, even that serves a purpose in the movie, so no big deal. The special fx are actually pretty stong for the era and appropriately they're used sparingly. The dialogue lacks any subtlety whatsoever which gives the movie the feeling of someone beating you over the head with their message. What's remarkable is that message is not as dated as the movie's age suggests. By changing the word atomic to nuclear and making it a little snazzier looking it could still resonate with today's audience. Hmmm....

I normally don't do this for old movies but just as a point of comparison...

What the Internet Says: 8.1/10 on imdb.com (#224 all time, 5/5/09), 94% on rottentomatoes, N/A on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 8/10

...which brings us to this...



The Day the Earth Stood Still
2008. Rated PG-13, 104 minutes.
Director: Scott Derrickson. Starring Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Jaden Smith, Kathy Bates, John Cleese, James Hong.

Plot: An alien spacecraft lands smack dab in the middle of Manhattan one night. The being that emerges from the spacecraft is shot within moments of setting foot on Earth. He survives and demands to meet with the planet's leaders.

The Good: The early parts of the movie do a nice job building tension quickly. This gives it the sense of urgency it's looking for. There's also an air of mystery as we watch a bunch of scientists and government officials who are rightfully baffled by what's going on. It's also a good looking movie, reminiscent of The Matrix franchise. Having Keanu Reeves as the star only reinforces this notion, but it's attractive nonetheless in that same monochromatic manner. Finally the new GORT, Klaatu's personal giant robot security guard is very impressive...for much of the movie.

The Bad: A constant problem for this movie is that it's ideas are solid but the execution of them is horrible. Chief among these ideas is the updated premise. The original was a warning against us causing our own destruction through atomic weapons. With our constant worry about who has nuclear weapons, I thought that was still a strong foundation to build on, obviously changing the word atomic to nuclear. However, the filmmakers opted to go with the "green" angle (hence, the greenish tint to the whole movie) and warn us about destroying the planet itself. Okay, I'll buy that but exactly why beings from other universes should care is unclear. It follows that by piling up inconsistencies at a mind boggling rate. Some of which even involves special fx - I'm looking at you, massive swarm of bugs. Next, not only is Klaatu not terribly bright for a being from a supposedly more advanced civilization but he does something incredibly idiotic. That by itself might not be so bad, but we get the sense he only does it so the movie has an excuse to try and dazzle us with cgi. Don't even get me started on the overly melodramatic and Armageddon-esque finale that's only possible because our hero came to the same realization that my 6 year old came to about 3 years ago.

The Ugly: Ya know, I liked Jaden Smith alongside his dad in The Pursuit of Happyness but he really, really...really annoyed me here.

Recommendation: This is a misguided attempt at modernization. Instead of thoughtfully updating the original it gives us the same basic setup and then repeatedly taps us on the shoulder and says "Hey, doesn't this look cool?" Even the DVD cover does this. If you look at the back of it, you'll see in large print "THIS TIME THERE'S MORE ACTION, MORE SPECIAL EFFECTS AND MORE MAYHEM!" Yawn.

The Opposite View: David Nusair, Reel Film Reviews

What the Internet Says: 5.6/10 on imdb.com (5/5/09), 21% on rottentomatoes.com, 40/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 3/10

Monday, May 4, 2009

Bedtime Stories

Bedtime Stories
2008. Rated PG, 99 minutes.
Director: Adam Shankman. Starring Adam Sandler, Keri Russell, Guy Pearce, Courtney Cox, Russell Brand, Richard Griffiths, Teresa Palmer, Nick Swardson, Lucy Lawless, Carmen Electra.

Plot: Hotel maintenance man Skeeter (Sandler) babysits his sister's kids for a few days while she's out of town. With their help, he comes up with elaborate bedtime stories which amazingly become reality.

The Good: It's so gosh-darn cute. The kids are cute. The stories are cute. The way they translate into reality is cute. Therefore, our viewing is sprinkled with chuckles and giggles. All of this helps to keep things moving along nicely as the movie bounds from one tale to the next.

The Bad: It's so gosh-darn cute. Since it is, it's not afraid to pile on the cheese. So, in between the giggles and chuckles you might be rolling your eyes a lot. It doesn't help that the plot is a paint-by-numbers job.

The Ugly: The Booger Monster.

Recommendation: This is solid family fare. The stories are inventive, so they hold your attention as the movie bounces merrily along. There's really not much here to offend even the hardcore prudes, but it is predictable. You're willing to forgive all that because, well, it's just so gosh-darn cute.

The Opposite View: Jim Hill, Channel 4 Film

What the Internet Says: 6.2/10 on imdb.com (4/29/09), 22% on rottentomatoes.com, 33/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 6.5/10

Marley & Me

Marley & Me
2008. Rated PG, 115 minutes.
Director: David Frankel. Starring Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, Alan Arkin, Kathleen Turner, Eric Dane, Jonah.

Plot: Before having children, young couple John and Jenny Grogan (Wilson and Aniston, respectively) get a yellow Labrador puppy that they name Marley, after reggae icon Bob Marley. Doggy hijinks and family life ensues.

The Good: There are a lot of funny scenes. The movie gets a ton of mileage out of Marley being disobedient, destroying things and/or eating them. Just as that starts to wear thin, we see a family struggling through growing pains and it feels real. The pacing is a major plus. Director David Frankel does a great job speeding up and slowing down his movie at appropriate times.

The Bad: It wants to be an overwhelming tear-jerker but it fails to make us love the dog. Even worse, it struggles to make us believe the people in the movie love him. We get that there's a certain level of attachment. However, he's so much trouble and wreaks so much havoc on their lives it feels like they keep him around out of a sense of obligation rather than really wanting to. It tries to show us a powerful bond between Marley and the Grogan children but none of them are given any meaningful screen time until it's too late in the picture. It doesn't help that our "dramatic conclusion" is an inevitability we dreadfully trudge toward rather than a singular event that knocks the wind from our chests.

The Ugly: What Marley does when he's finally let loose on "Dog Beach."

Recommendation: It's a fun movie that's at times a bit racier than its PG rating suggest. I only mention that because it is marketed as a family film. While it's having fun, it waits to long to start trying to manipulate us for the big moment and misses it's mark. Then again, I suppose if you're naturally a dog lover, which I'm not, you'll buy into it a little easier. Or you're very similar to my 6 year old daughter who did, in fact, shed a few tears.

The Opposite View: Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian (UK)

What the Internet Says: 7.2/10 on imdb.com (4/11/09), 60% on rottentomatoes.com, 53/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 6/10

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Zack and Miri Make a Porno


Zack and Miri Make a Porno
2008. Rated R, 101 minutes.
Directed by Kevin Smith. Starring Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Craig Robinson, Jason Mewes, Justin Long, Brandon Routh, Traci Lords.

Plot: Zack (Rogen) and Miri (Banks) are platonic friends who share an apartment. When their financial situation becomes dire, they decide to make a porno.

The Good: It's not afraid to go over the top and it does so smartly. First, it gives us a believable dynamic between our two main characters. It follows that by surrounding them with effectively zany characters and giving them just enough to do to be funny but still stay out of the way. This allows the relationship between Zack and Miri to develop naturally and create some laughs of their own. Craig Robinson as Delaney really delivers. He's similar to Steve Buscemi in that he doesn't act so much as bring a certain persona to supporting roles. He's done in it a number of movies now and I can't say that he's done it any better than he has here.

The Bad: For a movie that takes all sorts of risks visually, it curiously takes none narratively. This creates a weird dichotomy. The fans of rom-coms who might normally eat up such a story, might also be repulsed by the manner in which the plot is advanced. Meanwhile, people who enjoy the raunchiness on display might not be engaged in the rehashed plot. Finally, our heroes seemed doomed to fail if, for no other reason, making full-blown porn movies with plots and scripts longer than this review went out long ago.

The Ugly: Bubbles' (Traci Lords, yes THAT Traci Lords) special talent. By the way, if that makes you laugh then after the movie, go to the deleted scenes and watch "Bubbles' Second Bubble." It's even better.

Recommendation: Kevin Smith fans and fans of the Apatow group should see this since it seems to be right up their alley. Prudes beware: as the title and people involved suggests, cursing, nakedness and graphically simulated sex (for an R-rated feature) are pervasive. For my money, it's the most underrated comedy of 2008. However, I can see why.



MY SCORE: 7/10