Saturday, July 30, 2011

Gulliver's Travels


Directed by Rob Letterman.
2010. Rated PG, 85 minutes.
Cast:
Jack Black
Jason Segel
Emily Blunt
Amanda Peet
Billy Connolly
Chris O’Dowd
T.J. Miller
Stewart Scudamore
David Sterne


Occasionally, even actors who’s personas proceed them like to stretch their wings. They like to step away from what they’re known for, if for no other reason, to prove they can do something different. This is not that movie. The latest version of the classic tale Gulliver’s Travels is pure Jack Black through and through. Either he cracks you up, or he doesn’t. There isn’t much else to tip the scales in the movie’s favor. That’s because the story constructed around his hijinks and shenanigans is merely bland when it is at its very best. Most of the time it just takes all that’s good from its source material and pummels it into submission.

Our new Gulliver (Black) is a mail-room clerk at a New York City newspaper. Despite his near constant big talk he seems destined to remain at the same station in life until dying alone. In a desperate attempt to prove he’s more than hot air he decides to ask out writer Darcy (Peet) whom he’s had a crush on for five years. He botches this so bad he accidentally winds up with a promotion and gets assigned to write an article on the Bermuda Triangle. Yup, that’s what I said. Once in the legendary Triangle he’s sucked in by a heinous looking storm, knocked unconscious and deposited on the shores of a place called Liliput. When he wakes up he finds out he’s literally a giant, taller than their tallest buildings and he is being held captive. The Liliputians are also constantly battling their neighbors, the Blefuscians. That’s about all this movie has in common with the original story. From there, we get the normal Jack Black routine: anatomy and bodily fluid jokes, pratfalls, other sight gags and more empty big talk. Some of it is funny, most is not. Imagine another Black vehicle, Kung Fu Panda without the charm, animation or kung fu.

Since all of this plays out pretty much as expected, there is no reason for people who aren’t Jack Black fans to bother. It is precisely what he’s come to be known for. If you’re a fan of the original story, or even of earlier screen versions of Gulliver’s Travels I suggest you avoid this movie at all cost or you will be severely disappointed. On the other hand, if you’re looking for something fairly innocuous, have at it.

MY SCORE: 3/10

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Black Swan

Directed by Darren Aronofsky.
2010. Rated R, 108 minutes.
Cast:
Natalie Portman
Mila Kunis
Vincent Cassel
Barbara Hershey
Winona Ryder
Benjamin Millepied
Ksenia Solo
Kristina Anapau


The dance company is going to open its new season with a fresh version of Swan Lake. Out of what looks to be a couple dozen young ladies who dance there, only a handful are even deemed worthy enough to audition for the lead role of “Swan Queen.” Nina (Portman) is one of the lucky few. For those unfamiliar, “Swan Queen” is a dual role. One has to ply both the pure and good “White Swan” and the evil “Black Swan.” Dancing the “White Swan” is no problem for Nina. Her innocence shines through her technical proficiency as a dancer. Dancing the “Black Swan” is another issue, entirely. She seems to lack the passion and the will to let herself go needed to be a convincing villain. She’s just too nice. Her director Thomas Leroy sees potential in Nina and awards her the role. From then on, he starts trying to get her to tap into her wild side and bring out the beast he wants to see onstage. Combine this with the over-protective mother she lives with (Hershey), the company’s new dancer Lily (Kunis) who keeps shoving herself into Nina’s life and the ungodly amount of pressure Nina puts on herself and she appears to be coming apart at the seams. Ironically, all of this insanity may just be helping her transform into precisely what she needs to be to pull off her new role. She’s not sure whether this transformation is literal, or not. Frankly, neither are we.

Our deciphering of this information, or more accurately, not being able to decipher it is key to the movie’s success. We’re given enough to see things more than one way. Yet, in the back of our minds one of those ways doesn’t make any sense. To this end, we’re told repeatedly how the plot to Swan Lake plays out. Could Nina actually be experiencing that plot in her own life? Could we really be watching Swan Lake and not even know it?

Keeping us off guard requires a strong lead. Natalie Portman is this and more. It’s truly a phenomenal performance. Her descent into madness, or her ascent into artistry if you prefer, is superbly captured. In a thankless role, Barbara Hershey is just as good. She hits the right notes at the right time. Even Mila Kunis proves to be more than just a pretty face, turning in excellent work. Ever the jaded puppeteer, Darren Aronofsky pulls it all together. He again proves adept at making real life situations as horrific as possible.

Does art imitate life? Or, is it the other way around? That’s the question hovering just above the surface of Black Swan. Below it, the question is: what happens to us when we push ourselves beyond our breaking point? There are no easy answers to either and along the way you might come up with more questions. Because of this, our journey is always fascinating despite it also being occasionally confusing. The true beauty of this film is that even though we get a definitive ending in the physical sense, we still have to deal with those questions.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I Saw the Devil


Directed by Jee-woon Kim.
2010. Not Rated, 141 minutes.
Cast:
Byung-hun Lee
Min-sik Choi
Gook-hwan Jeon
Ho-jin Jeon
San-ha Oh
Yoon-seo Kim


Joo-yeon (Oh) is stranded on the side of the road on a snowy night with a flat tire. She is on the phone with her husband Kim Soo-hyeon (Lee) who is also a secret agent of some sort. In fact, he’s at work at this precise moment. A stranger approaches Joo-Yeon’s door, offering to help. Wisely, and with the agreement of her hubby, she only cracks the window enough to tell him she is going to wait on the tow truck she’s already called. Obviously, they’ve seen a horror movie or two. Pretty soon, duty calls and hubby has to hang up the phone and get back to work. Just in case you can’t figure out where all this is going the creepy dude bashes in Joo-yeon’s window, knocks her out in a most untidy manner and drags her, quite literally at some points, back to his place. That’s when he really has his fun. Suffice it to say when the police find her, it’s not all at once. Trust me, this is only the beginning of a very bumpy ride.

Not one to sit idly by, Kim decides he’s going after the bad guy himself. Don’t you worry. This movie won’t bore you with detective work. He quickly learns the police have four main susupects who have been accused of similar crimes in the past. He immediately takes bereavement leave and starts tracking them down where they live and does some not so nice things to them.

Eventually, Kim not only gets to the right guy, but there is no doubt about it. That guy is Kyung-chul played by Min-sik Choi. Fans of Park Chan-wook’s “Trilogy of Vengeance” will remember him from the two best movies in that series, Lady Vengeance and most notably as our hero in Oldboy. Here, he is on the other side of the coin and barely recognizable (that’s him in the pic). He’s a completely amoral merciless homicidal maniac. Much like Javier Bardem’s performance in No Country for Old Men, he goes about his business in an awfully calm manner making him far more menacing than he would’ve been had he been a screaming, raging lunatic. It’s a remarkable performance.

The two men meet rather early in the movie. Because they do, a question presents itself and weaves itself into the fabric of the movie: To truly get revenge on a monster, do you have to become one yourself. It seems Kim does. Whenever our two combatants square off there are considerable fireworks. Kim is not content with merely killing Kyung-chul. He wants to make him suffer as much as possible which involves tracking him down beating him half to death and maiming him in some way then letting him go so he can do it all over again.

Between their meetings there is great tension and, thanks to our villain’s excursions plenty more very nasty happenings. This movie is not for the squeamish. It may be one of the more brutally violent films you’ll ever see. Still, despite the seemingly gallons of blood spilled and dozens of blows to various heads with heavy blunt objects (pipe, fire extinguisher, etc), this is no simple gore-fest. It blends the genres horror, thriller and action to create an unflinching and slyly complex revenge flick. It’s one downfall, aside from the violence if that’s too much for you, is that the end is a bit predictable. However, even then the manner in which it’s handled is brilliantly grotesque. Then we have to decide whether this ordeal was really worth it for the one left standing. As the credits roll bringing our thrilling and disturbing journey to a close we still have one more important question to ponder: Who really won?

MY SCORE: 9/10

Monday, July 25, 2011

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules


Directed by David Bowers.
2011. Rated PG, 99 minutes.
Cast:
Zachary Gordon
Devon Bostick
Rachael Harris
Robert Capron
Steve Zahn
Connor Fielding
Owen Fielding
Peyton List
Karan Brar
Laine MacNeil


Greg (Gordon) is back for a second middle-school adventure. Most of the angst he experienced in sixth grade is gone. His biggest social hurdle nowadays is trying to figure out how to approach the school’s very pretty new girl. His real problems are at home where big brother Rodrick (Bostick) tortures him on a daily basis. Meanwhile, Mom (Harris) is completely bent on making her boys get along so that her real life is as perfect as she portrays it in her newspaper column. Sibling rivalry hijinks and shenanigans ensue.

Often, sequels attempt to do everything bigger than their predecessors. The larger scale tends to translate into a loss of focus on the things we liked about the previous movie. A curious thing happens in Rodrick Rules. It actually has a smaller scope than the original. A number of characters are either eliminated or relegated to lesser roles. Greg’s interaction with the sizable school community is replaced with what goes on at home between at home between the brothers and/or mom. Even Dad (Zahn) is just kinda there for long stretches. Despite all this it still feels less focused than the first film. It’s certainly less ambitious, feeling more like a long episode of a Disney Channel sitcom than a movie. This means the target audience will probably still like it. Us parents, not so much this time around.

RR does have its moments. There are pockets of goodness scattered here and there as reminders of what once was. Not surprisingly, most of these moments happen in school. The movie shines when depicting the often Darwinist society of pre-teens. It falls flat when away from this setting because Greg’s family is made up of the same caricatures we’ve seen rehashed for decades. Their worst offense is they’re not funny, making this a bit of a chore to sit through for adults. Kids will likely enjoy it while it’s on, but forget about it five minutes after its over.

MY SCORE: 4.5/10

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Sucker Punch

Directed by Zack Snyder.
2011. Rated PG-13, 110 minutes.
Cast:
Emily Browning
Abbie Cornish
Jena Malone
Vanessa Hudgens
Jamie Chung
Carla Gugino
Oscar Isaac
Scott Glenn
Gerard Plunkett


After her mother dies, Baby Doll (Browning) is attacked by her stepdad. Obviously, it was a struggle for him to wait until his wife kicked because he goes on the prowl moments after the funeral. Apparently finding Baby Doll a bit more of a struggle than he wants just then, or perhaps saving her for later, he manages to lock her in her room and then starts in on her younger, much smaller sister. Since our heroine can’t let stepdad get his satisfaction she gets out of the room and gets a loaded gun and confronts this clown. Just to show she’s serious, Baby Doll fires off a warning shot. Oops. Little sis winds up all dead and stuff over in a corner. Daddy Dearest then has BD hauled off to an insane asylum run by some shady characters. He even slips the guy in charge a few extra bucks to make sure she gets lobotomized in five days. I hate when that happens.

All of this takes place before and right after the opening credits. Truthfully, only the end result is relevant. The elaborate set up is interesting, but unnecessary. She could’ve simply been perceived as crazy and arrived at exactly the same place. However, elaborately is the only way this movie does anything. Not surprising since it has the same director, it has a look reminiscent of 300 with nearly as much slo-mo, super slo-mo and bullet-time effects. The heavy metal soundtrack blares brazenly while things onscreen hiss, boom, shatter and pop. All the while, the camera follows a team of girls draped in fetishistic and/or militaristic garb and kicking all sorts of robot tail. If you let it, it can be big fun. That is, until you get to the end wonder what you just watched.

Speaking wondering what you just watched, where do the robots come from? Well, shortly and suddenly our insane asylum transforms into a brothel. I’ll let you figure out the how and why of that one on your own. Anyoo, BD is made to dance. In a total shock for this movie, there’s no pole involved. Still, when she dances everyone in her onscreen audience is so mesmerized they cease all bodily function except for watching her. Unfortunately, or fortunately, we never see BD dance. Along with her, we enter the dreamworld in the trance she falls into. Here, she receives orders from Wise Man (Glenn) about the next object she tries to obtain by fighting her and the team’s way through hordes of robots. By the way, if you couldn’t figure it out the team is made up of other girls in the looney bin. Each object gets the whole crew closer to escape from the real asylum. Get it? The actual connection is made a little better than that, but it’s still convoluted.

Overall, Sucker Punch is a fun looking mess. The visuals are a treat, but the pieces to the story don’t quite fit in a cohesive manner. First off, there are too many of them. A surplus of things that could’ve been discarded are kept. Conversely, we get the feeling plenty of things that should’ve been kept are thrown out. Second, none of the characters are written well enough for us to really care what happens to them. They’re just mannequins in the window striking poses appropriate for the gear they’re wearing. Worst of all, the movie is horribly inconsistent about what happens to people in the room when BD dances. Who is and isn’t effected changes based on what’s convenient for the plot at any given moment. Finally, I have a question. Why on God’s green earth did Zack Snyder allow Carla Gugino to keep going with her ridiculously bad Russian accent after the first day of shooting? For that alone, he should be sucker punched.

MY SCORE: 4/10

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Love and Other Drugs

Directed by Edward Zwick.
2010. Rated R, 112 minutes.
Cast:
Jake Gyllenhaal
Anne Hathaway
Oliver Platt
Hank Azaria
Josh Gad
Gabriel Macht
Judy Greer
Jill Clayburgh
George Segal


After losing his job as a stereo equipment saleman, Jamie (Gyllenhaal) decides to give the pharmaceudical industry a try. He takes a job as a sales rep for Pfizer. Basically, he hangs around private practices hocking Zoloft to the doctors. We most often see him at Dr. Knight’s (Azaria) office. While there, he manages to talk the doc into letting him be present during a visit from a patient. That patient is 26 year old Maggie (Hathaway) who has already been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Of course, Jamie is immediately head-over-heels in love with her, but she wants nothing to do with him. Ever the smooth talking ladies man, he navigates that little hurdle and talks her into a date. Right away, the two start a relationship they both agree is only about sex. Well, if things were that easy we wouldn’t have a movie, would we? Anyhoo, this is all set in the days leading up to the initial public release of Viagra. This becomes prominent in several ways I won’t reveal.

Things start off in an amusing manner. Jamie’s rich younger brother Josh (Gad) has been kicked out by his wife and taken up residence on big bro’s couch. Sales manager Bruce (Platt) is constantly prodding his young protégé to sell more. Prozac salesman Trey (Macht) has the upperhand and is constantly in their way. Dr. Knight is openly selling his loyalty to whichever rep can get him laid the most. Through all of this Jamie and Maggie actually do get laid, a lot…by each other. If you want to see Anne Hathaway in (almost) all her glory this is the movie for you.

It’s our favorite couple’s interactions between lovemaking sessions that try to attach us emotionally to the movie, but fail. The problem is pretty much as soon as he rolls off of her she starts with an unstoppable wave of self-pity, questioning his motives for sleeping with “the sick girl”, as she refers to herself and imploring him to stay away from her. He stubbornly refuses and back and forth they go. We’re supposed to be sympathetic towards their plight because of her disease. However, it’s much more tiresome than endearing. I have to remind you that the peripheral events all seem to work pretty well. They’re entertaining and light. When juxtaposed with them, the heavy relationship at the film’s core is jarring and transparently manipulative, ineffectively tugging on our heartstrings.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Big Fish


Directed by Tim Burton.
2003. Rated PG-13, 125 minutes.
Cast:
Ewan McGregor
Albert Finney
Billy Crudup
Jessica lange
Helena Bonham Carter
Steve Buscemi
Robert Guillaume
Alison Lohman
Marion Cotillard
Ada Tai
Arlene Tai


As long as anyone can remember Ed Bloom (McGregor and Finney playing the younger and older versions, respectively) spent his days telling one tall tale after another. He’s told so many, so often that his adult son Will (Crudup) resents him. Will doesn’t feel he knows anything about his dad. Now that Ed is dying, Will is determined to separate the facts from fiction in all those stories.

Like all of director Tim Burton’s work Big Fish is visually arresting. It’s technicolor backdrops contrasted with goth-inspired characters. From time to time there are amazing occurrences within this dynamic. When necessary, that dynamic changes. The scenery becomes darker and foreboding. It even does some crazy things on its own. If there’s one thing Burton is a master of its making the settings in his films not only places, but living, breathing characters. Such is the case, here. It interacts with the others. Some of these others are gleefully odd human beings. The question that lingers throughout is: is any of this real, or is it all a figment of Ed’s imagination?

The screenplay is expertly written, keeping us off-balance and just as desperate as Will to get to the bottom of things. Within our quest for the truth, we witness a father and son dealing with their issues. The women in their lives largely offer support to their men from the sidelines. In other movies, this might seem sexist, or at least neglectful. Here they, and we, realize any resolution to Ed and Will’s problems with each other has to come from them with as little interference as possible. What we also find are little morsels of humor. They’re subtle, often light and occasionally morbid in true Burton fashion.

The one knock I have on BF is that our ending is too easy. However, this is also in keeping with what Burton usually does. His visuals contains lots of oddities and things more than slightly askew. Still, he maintains mainstream appeal with easily digestable tales that strive to be heartwarming. This is, but it seems to do so by abandoning the idea of doing what it seems to set out to: challenging our beliefs about reality and fantasy. This is still an excellent film, it just feels like it could be much more.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Ip Man


Directed by Wilson Yip.
2008. Rated R, 106 minutes.
Cast:
Donnie Yen
Simon Yam
Siu-Wong Fan
Ka Tung Lam
Yu Xing
You-Nam Wong
Chen Zhi Hui


The Chinese city of Fo-Shan is famous for its martial arts. No one in town is more famous than Master Ip (Yen) AKA Ip Man. Though he doesn’t teach formally, young hopefuls are constantly seeking his counsel. When other masters want to test their mettle, they challenge him to a duel. It’s only natural that when some tough guys from out of town want to prove themselves worthy of opening up their own school in Fo-Shan they wind up on the doorstep of Ip’s palatial estate. All of this is in the days just before the Japanese invading China and pretty much taking over Fo-Shan. They even set up shop in Ip’s house, leaving the master, his wife and young son to find shelter in parts of town destroyed by bombings. Ip is forced to take hard labor jobs to get just barely enough food for his family avoid starving to death. What good is all his knowledge and skill in the art of hand-to-hand combat in a world where he and his fellow countrymen have been relegated to second class citizenship in their own land?

Ip Man is loosely based on the life of Bruce Lee’s mentor. It combines the larger themes of survival, cultural preservation and national pride and combines them with the more traditional kung-fu motifs of revenge and honor to create a rather concise epic that neither overstays its welcome nor rushes us along from fight to fight. It works both narratively and viscerally. It’s story-telling isn’t groundbreaking, but it is effective. The fighting is wonderfully brutal. Even as our tale develops and twists, the next action scene is never too far away nor too near. Let’s face it, we watch martial arts movies for the martial arts. This film understands this, gives us plenty of it but doesn’t sacrifice narration.

To make those fight scenes work, we need a star who can pull them off. In the title role, Donnie Yen is a delightful blur of flying fists punctuated by his long gown-like shirt flapping in his self-created wind. Appropriately placed close-ups reveal the landing of many bone-crushing blows. I was moved to say “ouch” on a number of occasions. For fans of martial arts flicks Ip Man is a must-see. It is the best such movie of the last several years by a good margin. Of course, if you’re not into martial arts flicks then skip it. Shame on you.

MY SCORE: 8/10

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

There Will Be Blood


Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.
2007. Rated R, 158 minutes.
Cast:
Daniel Day-Lewis
Paul Dano
Dillon Freasier
Ciaran Hinds


Plot: Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis) is an oil tycoon who gets alerted to a small town that has a veritable ocean of oil flowing beneath its grounds. He sets out to purchase as much land in the area and begins drilling to get the oil out.

The Good: The first thing that jumps out at you is the look of the movie. The cinematography is top-notch. The wide panoramic shots give us some really nice images that don’t seem forced while the tight or in-close shots always come at the appropriate time to crank up the tension. Story-wise, it tactfully avoids giving us a hero and villain by substituting people with two opposing viewpoints. That, along with the ample symbolism helps the movie work in multiple layers. It’s fine on the surface level. Watched that way, it’s a decent but slow movie about a crusty old man dealing with some local yokels and has a peculiar ending. Dig a little deeper and that ending becomes an extremely powerful and ambiguous result of the conflict. That conflict appeared to me to represent the current war in Iraq this country is embroiled in. To clarify my thoughts for you, Daniel represents the United States, Eli and the townspeople represent the religious extremists and other natives of the Middle East. Of course, that makes the land so rich in oil as Iraq itself. Now back to that ending. The way the movie struck me as a whole its an ending that’s very fact of the matter without judging which side is right or wrong. Though, it could be seen as siding with Lewis. Then think about what has happened to the town and what will likely happen to it after the credits have rolled. Without giving too much away, I’m reminded of a quote from Gen. Colin Powell speaking about our going into Iraq: “If we break it, it’s ours.”

The Bad: For some viewers, it will move a little slow. For those that don’t make the same connections to current events that I make, the ending will just remain odd, over the top and lack meaning. The biggest problem is the character Paul who’s played by the same person that plays Eli, Paul Dano. Paul is never sufficiently explained and we only see him once. Still, he’s referenced constantly throughout the movie. I’m just smart enough that it took me ¾ of the movie to decide that Paul was definitely maybe not the same person as Eli. It’s an odd distraction to have watching a movie not based on whether he is or isn’t. Luckily, there’s symbolism to be had there as well. I see him as those natives who actually asked the U.S. to help them.

The Ugly: We get to see how one of Daniel’s guys gets killed while he’s down in the well. Ouch.

Recommendation: For me, it’s an absolutely great movie. However, I have to be careful making a recommendation for it. Like I felt with 2006’s Children of Men and ‘07’s No Country for Old Men the more you get into the symbolism and metaphors the better it gets. If watched just on a surface level, you’ll probably just wonder what the big deal is and have a little less trust in my judgment.


MY SCORE: 10/10

Monday, July 11, 2011

Yogi Bear


Directed by Eric Brevig.
2010. Rated PG, 80 minutes.
Cast:
Dan Aykroyd
Justin Timberlake
Anna Faris
Tom Cavanagh
T. J. Miller
Andrew Daly
Nathan Corddry


Just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you should. If I so choose, I can walk up to any or all of my three children and beat them mercilessly. I think we can all agree that I shouldn’t. Sure, the technology exists to make a live-action movie about a computer generated talking bear and his sidekick based on a late 1950s/early 1960s cartoon. That doesn’t mean it should be done. It should be done if you have an interesting and/or funny story to tell or at least an updated take on the characters. It should not be done if you’re just going to recycle the same garbage from thousands of other crappy movies in an apparent cash-grab. Guess which approach is taken by the full-length feature film Yogi Bear?

If you must know, the plot really is the same as countless other movies. It’s so derivative, to call it paint-by-numbers would be insulting to people who paint by numbers and consider themselves real artists. Step 1: Introduce lovable, but dopey and mischievous protagonist. Of course, that’s Yogi (Akroyd). Step 2: Put said character in an environment he or she loves so much they couldn’t imagine life without it. Often, this is a house or a rec center or something that can reasonably be considered a landmark. In this case, it’s Jellystone Park. Step 3: Put said landmark in such financially dire straits it’s in danger of being foreclosed upon and/or destroyed at a fast approaching deadline. Here, it’s a week. Step 4: Have the effort to take away the landmark spearheaded by a greedy bank executive or a greedy politician. We get Mayor Brown (Daly). Step 5: Have the protagonist band together with his or her friends to either enter a contest and win or otherwise raise enough money just in time to save the landmark. Yogi and his cohorts opt for the latter. Don’t even try to tell me you haven’t seen this movie already. Just in the last six months or so I’ve seen it at least three times. It was billed as Step Up 3D, Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2 and Stomp the Yard: Homecoming. It sucked each time. I can assure you this keeps the streak alive.

You know what? All might be forgiven if this were funny. Sadly, it’s so far from funny, well, it’s not even…funny. The extent of the humor here is Yogi steps on, touches or leans against something and gets hit in the face, knocked down, flung through the air, etc. Verbal jokes are boiled down to him saying “pic-a-nic” instead of “picnic” over and over and over…and over again. Occasionally someone farts, references farting, or makes a farting noise. To be blunt, this movie thinks kids are dumb. Sure, some will laugh at first. However, after about ten minutes they will realize the well is dry. I’ll give the slow ones fifteen before the chuckles stop.

Believe it, or not, this could’ve still been salvaged. Had there been some real nostalgic value or the kids in the target audience already had a connection with the characters that might’ve been enough to save the day. The problem there? We’re talking about a 50 year old cartoon that’s been largely forgotten! Most of the kids this flick is aimed at never heard of Yogi Bear until they started seeing commercials for this…this…this odious pile of digital excrement! Most of their parents are too young to be Yogi fans! Because of this trash and Marmaduke and the Garfield movies and the Alvin and the Chipmunks movies I am dreading the day when morbid curiosity gets the best of me and I just have to see for myself exactly how bad the movie for one of my favorite 80s cartoons, The Smurfs turns out. Trust me, it’s going to be bad. You heard it here, first. And just in case we’re not clear on this, the fact that this Yogi Bear movie exists makes the world suck just a little bit more.

MY SCORE: 0/10

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Mechanic


Directed by Simon West.
2011. Rated R, 92 minutes.
Cast:
Jason Statham
Ben Foster
Tony Goldwyn
Donald Sutherland
Jeff Chase
Mini Anden


Bishop (Statham) is a gifted hitman specializing in unconventional kills. He’s also all business. So when his next target is his only friend in the world, he only raises a small fuss before doing the job. As expected, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Bishop finding out what’s below the surface by accident ensues. The main thing that happens isn’t quite an accident, but definitely not a planned event. Bishop meets his buddy’s estranged son Steve (Foster). Yes, the same buddy he just killed. By what can’t be considered good logic, he takes Steve under his wing, training him in the ways of assassination. A remake of the 1972 film starring Charles Bronson.

For whatever problems this movie has, and it does have problems, time is not among them. It’s a brisk ninety minutes that feels like sixty. Like it, or not, sitting through it doesn’t feel like a chore. You hit the close button on your DVD player and a few moments later, the credits are rolling. In an era where lots of movies stretch themselves out to well over two hours for no good reason other than justifying their bloated budgets, this element is refreshing.

With that previous stuff said, it can move a little too fast. Another ten or fifteen minutes wouldn’t have hurt anything. In fact, it would’ve helped things develop into something approaching logical. Bishop continually and willfully breaks his own rules for no apparent reason. Meanwhile, Steve almost magically becomes an expert “mechanic” (that’s the slang here for hitman). The overall effect is that the story is strangely more preposterous than the action. By the way, the action is very well done. The movie is also predictable. It pretends we don’t know who’s who. However, within five seconds of him appearing on the screen we know the identity of the villain. This robs us of intrigue and possibly having empathy for our heroes. The very end throws us a nice curveball, but its not quite enough to save the whole thing. That’s because instead of being engrossed in the story, we’re merely watching things happen in front of us.

MY SCORE: 5.5/10

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Scarlet Street


Directed by Fritz Lang.
1945. Not Rated, 103 minutes.
Cast:
Edward G. Robinson
Joan Bennett
Dan Duryea
Rosalind Ivan


Christopher (Robinson) is going through a middle-age crisis and feels trapped in a loveless marriage. When the young and beautiful Kitty (Bennett) shows some interest in him, he immediately fall head over heels. Believing him to be a wealthy and famous painter, Kitty sets out ot bilk him of his money at the behest of her abusive boyfriend Johnny (Duryea). Lots of lying and conniving ensues. This is an underrated WWII era gem with a dizzying number of plot twists. Each of them is expertly handled and continues the movie's spiral towards it's dark conclusion. In fact, it's ending is so dark I'm convinced that director Fritz Lang truly hates Christopher (see spoiler below). Edward G. Robinson trades in his more famous gangster motif for that of a square and is as brilliant as ever.

MY SCORE: 10/10