Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Directed by Amy Heckerling.
1982. Rated R, 90 minutes.
Cast:
Jennifer Jason Leigh
Sean Penn
Phoebe Cates
Judge Reinhold
Brian Backer
Robert Romanus
Forest Whitaker
Amanda Wyss
Ray Walston
Anthony Edwards
Nicolas Cage

We get to hang out with some of Ridgemont High’s misguided youth. Like with most high school kids, getting laid is a major objective. A few are into sports, some into drugs, some work, etc. In fact, we spend much of our time at their after-school jobs. Hormones raging ensues.

Since the movie first opened so many years ago, surfer/stoner Spicoli (Penn) has been the character most identified with Fast Times. His face was on all the posters, prominently featured in all commercials and even now adorns the DVD cover. That Spicoli has reached iconic status is a testament to the character and Penn’s performance. Truth is he’s a secondary character with a subplot.


Something similar can be said of the movie’s most enduring moment. Phoebe Cates, as Linda, emerging from the swimming pool is arguably the greatest topless scene of all time. However, its impact on the film is minimal, far less than even Spicoli. Both have become ingrained in American society. Both have proven to be wonderful marketing tools. After not having watched it in well over a decade, those were the first things I thought of.

Honestly, if Spicoli being stoned and Linda removing her bikini top were major factors Fast Times would be a failure. Instead, it succeeds because of its maturity relative to other teen sex comedies. With that in mind, I don’t think it can be overstated that the main character and the director are both female. In most such movies, we focus on a guy from a guy’s perspective. In movies from Porky’s to Superbad sex is the desired end to all their means. Here, it becomes clear early on that for our heroine, Stacy (Leigh), sex is the means she uses to reach a desired end. In fact, we know this before she does. This not-so-subtle flipping of the script gives Fast Times a depth most such movies lack. Gone are the gross-out jokes we expect from these kinds of flicks. They’re replaced by humor derived from every day American teen experiences. Deservedly, it’s become the standard by which other teen sex comedies are judged.


For all of you uninitiated youngsters who haven’t seen Fast Times, yet: don’t let the above paragraph scare you. It’s plenty raunchy and funny. It just does a little more than most of the others of its ilk. Fast Times is also remarkable for its cast. A number of them went on to lengthy careers. Aside from Penn and star Jennifer Jason Leigh, there’s Forest Whitaker, Judge Reinhold and a don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-him appearance by Nicolas Cage. Cage, Penn and Whitaker gives the movie three future Oscar winners. Leigh was never nominated for Oscar, but is popularly believed to have been snubbed several times.

There’s more goodness beyond the cast. Fast Times was the first feature for director Amy Heckerling. She would go on to direct a number of hit movies, including National Lampoon’s European Vacation, Look Who’s Talking, Look Who’s Talking Too, and Clueless. It’s based on a book by Cameron Crowe, who also wrote the screenplay. He would go on to write and/or direct such movies as Say Anything, Almost Famous and Jerry Maguire. Simply put, Fast Times at Ridgemont High has much more under the hood than most teen sex comedies. Thirty years later, it still shows.


Friday, March 23, 2012

War Goddess

Directed by Terence Young.
1973. Rated R, 105 minutes.
Cast:
Alena Johnston
Sabine Sun
Angelo Infante
Rosanna Yanni
Fausto Tozzi
Ángel del Pozo
Lucianna Paluzzi
Rebecca Potok

Every now and then, the search for the terrifically terrible bears fruit. Mind you, it’s rotten fruit but that’s the point. Terence Young’s War Goddess is one such piece of deliciously digusting cinema. Who the hell is Terence Young? I dunno, but he directed and splattered his name across the title. Okay, any of you geniuses that actually know who he is, just play along. Anyhoo, War Goddess is a sword and sandal less-than-epic of the female persuasion. It is about the mythical Amazons, a race of almost entirely self-sufficient warrior women. The way the story shapes up, they’re barely more than a stone’s throw from Ancient Greece. During battle, they dress up like Romans, for some odd reason, and kill a lot of men. In fact, we open on one such battle.


First we see some not-so-gritty battle featuring the ladies slaying random enemy dudes. This culminates in Antiope (Johnston) killing some poor schlub with a sword through the gut. Not content with merely ending the man’s life, she then beheads him. By the way, this is not 300 styled one swipe decapitation. She must hack at this guy’s throat a couple dozen times while conversating with a fellow Amazon. Nice.

Next, we’re treated to a lengthy athletic competition the warrior babes are holding. There’s a little archery, some obstacle course and soon we realize that the winner of this whole thing will get to be queen for the next four years. After eliminating competitors all along the way, the final and deciding event is held. What is it? Wrestling, of course. Our final two ladies, Antiope and her arch-rival Oreitheia (Sun), strip down to just their shoddily made bikini bottoms, oil themselves up and get to grappling. I’m not making this up. Anyhoo, Antiope wins, gets the crown from her predecessor like she just won the Miss America pageant and immediately starts changing rules. She wants to go back to the days of strict discipline and conditioning. She says they’ve gotten soft and fat. Soft? Doesn’t look that way, but okay. Fat? Definitely not. Every one of them that I could see probably went back to their modeling careers after shooting this movie. Just saying.


Earlier, I stated the Amazons are “almost” entirely self-sufficient. Turns out they do need men for one reason, and one reason only: procreation. To that end, they pay the Greek army to come over for a few nights of baby-making. Any male infants are immediately discarded into the wild. Lovely. As part of the new Queen’s strict anti-male policy, the girls recite a chant about how disgusting men are while performing the act. Lo and behold, Queen Antiope goes against her own rules and falls in love with her sperm donor, Theseus (Infante). He’s being all incognito, posing as a captain in the army but he’s really the King of Greece. He wants to integrate men into their society and also falls for her in the process. Almost forgot: he’s married, but his wife is oddly cool with the idea of her hubby going off to use his sword on the Amazons.

Naturally, there’s some betrayal, war games between the Amazons and Greeks and some actual war, too. And just in case the semi-nude wrestling scene at the beginning wasn’t enough, we get a fully buck-nekkid wrasslin’ scene near the end between the same two women. Even better, or worse, depending on your point of view, this fight ends as one has the other pinned and they stare into each other’s eyes, then…BAM, we cut to a scene of the higher up ‘Zons holding a meeting. Our two combatants are holding each other and acting like they’re a little more than friendly all of a sudden. Hmm, something tells me we’re missing some footage here. That’s entirely possible. I neglected to mention that before the movie even starts, an apology flashes across the screen for the poor quality of the print because it was cobbled together from several sources.


If you can’t already tell, WG is bonkers from start to finish. Made during the grindhouse glory days of the 1970s, it has all the tenets of the exploitation genre: unintentional humor, bad dialogue, worse acting, laughable action and never more than a few minutes pass without the appearance of a naked body. Oh, it also has a decidedly anti-feminist ending which is actually a direct contrast with many of the most popular explotation flicks. I don’t know who this Terence Young guy is, but he’s served up a doozy with this one. The name sounds familiar, though. Let’s see what the trusty imdb.com has to say about him. The first thing I notice is that our flick actually has an Italian name: Le guerriere dal seno nudo which literally translates to “The Bare Breasted Warriors”. Makes sense. Woah, woah, woah! Really? In the decade or so prior to this movie, our boy Terence directed three of the most beloved Bond flicks of all time: Dr. No (1962), From Russia with Love (1963) and Thunderball (1965). Wha-wha-what happened? How did he end up doing this schlock? Wow, that’s just icing on a cake that’s so bad it’s awesome!

MY SCORE: -10/10

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

Directed by Eric Radomski and Bruce W. Timm.
1993. Rated PG, 76 minutes.
Cast:
Kevin Conroy
Dana Delaney
Mark Hamill
Efram Zimbalist Jr.
Abe Vigoda
Stacy Keach
Bob Hastings
Dick Miller
Hart Bochner
Robert Costanzo

By now, anyone at all familiar with Batman (Conroy) knows that Bruce Wayne is a troubled billionaire loner who’s parents were shot and killed right in front of him during a robbery attempt when he was very young boy. As the legend goes, he would eventually start dressing up like a bat and take to the streets at night, fighting crime throughout Gotham City. Mask of the Phantasm finds our hero reminiscing about those early days of vigilantism now that his old flame Andrea Beaumont (Delaney) is back in town. Of course, that’s not the only thing on the Caped Crusader’s plate. Another shadowy figure has been murdering Gotham’s mobsters and everyone except Commissioner Gordon (Hastings) and Bruce’s trusty butler Alfred (Zimbalist) seems to think the Dark Knight is responsible. Despite the commish’s objections, the police go on a manhunt for Batman. Not content to let the law handle things, the gangsters hire none other than the Joker to kill his arch nemesis.


As is often the case, Bruce’s love life is the topic of the day. This time around, he pines for the one that got away and what might’ve been. He and Andrea are kindred spirits, of sorts. They both spend an inordinate amount of time at the local cemetery. At least she’s cheery about it, carrying on gleeful conversations with her deceased mother. Bruce, of course, generally carries on as if suicide is his next move. Believe it, or not, of all of his whirlwind romances this might be the most fully realized entry into the canon, live-action movies included. Though it eventually follows a familiar path, it holds up pretty well.

Yes, there is plenty of crime fighting. Batman has a few near misses with Gotham’s mysterious new player and, as mentioned, he himself comes under suspicion. A number of Batfans consider this the finest movie in the franchise. After all, it does pack a lot into barely more than an hour. I won’t go that far, but I’ll certainly put it in the upper echelon.

MY SCORE: 8/10

Monday, March 19, 2012

Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead

Directed by Gary Fleder.
1995. Rated R, 114 minutes.
Cast:
Andy Garcia
Christopher Walken
Christopher Lloyd
Bill Nunn

Jimmy the Saint (Garcia) is a small-time gangster gone straight but his new & legit business is experiencing hard-times. He gets hired by an old friend, The Man with the Plan (Walken) to scare off the boyfriend of his son's ex-girlfriend. He hires his old crew to convincingly do the job but, things go terribly wrong. It is at times funny, violent & even melodramatic. It’s a bit of an uneven watch because it tries to do so many things. However, Andy Garcia holds the movie together. Jimmy the Saint is the perfect character for him. In every role I've seen him, Garcia is ultra-smooth & generally has a glossy look about him. Jimmy is nothing if not smooth. He gives off the kind of coolness that other people recognize and would resent in other people as some sort of act but are inexplicably drawn to it in him. That coolness is fascinating, especially when he lets you in just enough to know that there are emotions there and it elevates the movie. The ending was a little off to me but that's offset by the pleasant surprise of seeing Steve Buscemi in a role where he doesn't just launch into his trademark cynical rants. In fact, he doesn't speak much at all.

MY SCORE: 7.5/10

Friday, March 16, 2012

Horrible Bosses

Directed by Seth Gordon.
2011. Rated R, 98 minutes.
Cast:
Jason Bateman
Jason Sudeikis
Charlie Day
Kevin Spacey
Jennifer Aniston
Colin Farrell
Jamie Foxx
P. J. Byrne
Donald Sutherland

Nick (Bateman), Kurt (Sudeikis), and Dale (Day) are three working stiffs and bestest buddies. Even though they work three separate jobs, each of them hates their boss. After a drunken night of hypotheticals they hatch the idea to kill their overbearing employers. They decide against it when sobriety kicks in. Of course, each then has the one experience that pushes them over the edge. Understandably, the plan is on. Now they just have to figure out how to pull off three murders without getting caught.

Our would-be killers are all solid characters. They take turns bringing the funny. Kurt is the most consistent of the three. He strikes a nice balance between the hyperactive Dale and the somewhat bland Nick. Each actor performs solidly in their roles. Because of them, we like these guys despite watching them in the midst of plotting some heinous acts. It helps that they’re not so savvy criminals. We know when they’re getting scammed. We see them make dumb mistakes.

However, the real strength of this film is in the casting of the bosses. Colin Farrell’s sweaty, balding, kung fu obsessed cokehead is priceless. Kevin Spacey gives us a smug, arrogant jerk like only he can. Yes, they’re both over the top but that’s what is needed to ensure our hatred of them. It also makes us laugh at them. They represent a case of the ridiculous actually working.


As good as Farrell and Spacey are, neither holds a candle to the Hitchcock inspired choice for the movie’s lone female boss. Let me explain. For most of Jimmy Stewart’s career he was as clean cut and wholesome as they come. His everyman looks and “gee willikers” demeanor made him feel like a slice of apple pie brought to life. He was the walking embodiment of Americana. Then came Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and Vertigo. Stewart is decidedly against type in both, a sexual deviant. Essentially, he’s a peeping tom in the former and a stalker in the latter. In HB, the corrupted All-American is Jennifer Aniston, the ultimate girl next door. Although she’s been oft criticized for being vanilla, there have been scenes in other movie’s where she’s acted provocatively. Here, that’s her entire role. More than provocative, she’s downright trashy. She says lots of things you might only hear in videos on those websites you’re not supposed to visit at work. She nails every nasty line. For my money, it’s 2011’s best female comedic performance (yes, I saw Bridesmaids). The legion of men who already drool over her will either be thrown into overdrive or completely turned off by her walk on the dark side.

Aniston’s new-found sluttiness aside, the movie sinks or swims with its premise. It’s a solid one. The plot surrounding it unfolds well enough with a nice twist, here and there. When the bosses aren’t on the screen, the jokes are hit-and-miss, so it’s not a comic masterpiece. It is fun, has some real laugh-out-loud moments and some terrific work by its cast.

MY SCORE: 7/10

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Mr. Popper's Penguins

Directed by Mark Waters.
2011. Rated PG, 94 minutes.
Cast:
Jim Carrey
Carla Gugino
Angela Lansbury
Clark Gregg
Ophelia Lovibond
Madeline Carroll
Maxwell Perry Cotton
Jeffrey Tambor
David Krumholtz
Philip Baker Hall
William Charles Mitchell
Dominic Chianese

Mr. Popper (Carrey) grew up mostly without his father. His dad was a globetrotting scientist who spent far more time abroad than with his little boy. Unsurprisingly, Popper isn’t too broken up when he learns his old man has died while off in Antarctica. However, Poppa Popper did leave his son something: a pack of penguins. There are six of them, to be exact. Junior fitting them into his life is a bit tricky. He has an ex-wife (Gugino) he still has a thing for, and two kids he gets every other weekend. He is also a high-octane, very successful real estate buyer. It’s a job that demands lots of time. So do the penguins. Popper trying to juggle the birds, his job, and his family ensues. Oh, he also tries to win back his ex and buy legendary restaurant Tavern on the Green from Ms. Van Gundy (Lansbury), its very grumpy owner.

If you guessed this is all pretty innocuous stuff, you guessed right. The nearly endless stream of poop jokes is as risqué as it gets. Other than that, we get the normal stuff about a dad not quite understanding his kids and Popper bonding with both, the children and the penguins. Yes, there are lessons to be learned. In addition, Carrey gives us a bit of the physical humor he’s known for. Splice in some cgi of the penguins performing some amazing feats and we get one big ball of cuteness.



Of course, there has to be a villain. In this case, one is manufactured out of the guy who wants to take the penguins to the zoo (Gregg). The three old guys Popper works for aren’t quite evil, but are certainly on the negative side of the ledger. In none of their cases do we really hate them, therefore the movie doesn’t generate sufficient tension. It moseys along sweetly, but doesn’t thrill us no matter what stunts the birds pull off. Cruella De Ville would’ve been a welcome addition to the cast of characters, a marked improvement over the ultra-bland zoo guy.

As family friendly time passers go, you could do worse than Mr. Popper’s Penguins. It gives us enough laughs not to be a drag. It also moves quickly enough, careful not to overstay its welcome. It clocks in a little over 90 minutes. On the other hand, it doesn’t do anything unexpected. MPP is content to fit snugly within the mold of the many kiddie comedies we’ve seen before. It gives us no more or less than we expect.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Great Buck Howard


Directed by Sean McGinly.
2009. Rated PG, 90 minutes.
Cast:
John Malkovich
Colin Hanks
Emily Blunt
Ricky Jay
Steve Zahn
Adam Scott
Debra Monk
Tom Hanks

Matthew Gray Gubler

Mentalist Buck Howard (Malkovich) makes his living performing effects in small, dingy, rundown, half empty theaters all across the nation. He seems to think he’s a bigger star than he actually is. Once upon a time, he really was a big deal. As he’s quick to tell you, he appeared 61 times on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson. He stresses the fact that it was with Carson and not Leno, whom he despises. He also stresses he’s a mentalist, not a magician. He despises them, also. If you couldn’t tell, Buck is rather insufferable. He’s arrogant, bossy and quick-tempered. Because he is “The Great” Buck Howard, we are somehow beneath him.

Young Troy Gable (Colin Hanks) has just dropped out of law school. He only went because it was his father’s dream for him. His father is played in a small role by Colin’s real life and more famous dad Tom Hanks. Law school made Troy miserable, so he’s trying to find his own way in life.

Troy gets hired to be Buck’s new road manager. The guy he’s replacing is supposed to train him but refuses after a big blowup with Buck. Along with Troy, we learn that big blowups are an almost daily occurrence in Buck’s world.



John Malkovich plays the role perfectly. We can see the patience for us mere mortals leaving his face when things aren’t going exactly according to plan. This, combined with the near constant ravings of a disillusioned man creates tension and comedy. Perhaps the best example of this is when one of his adoring fans (he does, in fact, have a loyal following) who happens to run one of the theaters he plays decides to do an impromptu introduction of him instead of using his pre-taped one. His reaction is priceless. He makes the movie fun to watch.

Despite all this, The Great Buck Howard is hardly about Buck Howard. It’s more about Troy and the lesson Buck teaches him. Thankfully, it does a good job of making us wait for that lesson. It also manages to transform the unlikeable Buck into a sympathetic figure. By the way, for fans of magicians…er…mentalists, Buck is loosely based on The Amazing Kreskin (google is your friend, here).

It’s not a comedy for most of the Hot Tub Time Machine crowd, but it is funny. The story is told well and provides us with plenty of ups and downs. Every time it seems he’s set things up perfectly to get his next big break, something goes wrong. Almost everytime, but I’ll say no more. Best of all and perhaps key to Buck as a character, try as we might, we never find out just how Buck Howard manages to be so great.


MY SCORE: 7.5/10

Friday, March 9, 2012

Strike of the Tortured Angels

Directed by Roy Rosenburg.
1982. Not Rated, 80 minutes.
Cast:
Susan Lee
Stella Jone
Laura Sode-Matteson
George Bill
Larry Moore
Jim Man

From time to time I go trolling for movies that I think might be so bad, they’re awesome. As you might imagine, I’m also up late a couple times a week watching movies. Sometimes this leads me to scour my own DVD collection for titles that I either haven’t seen in a long time, or never at all and looking for the shortest runtime. These are the reasons I found myself on the couch watching Strike of the Tortured Angels. I happened to pick up one of those DVD sets of grindhouse type movies (20 of them!) and there it was, listed at 80 minutes. With no idea what I was getting into, I popped it in and pressed play. Oops.



Of course, it’s true I could’ve turned it off and went to bed at any time. However, once I’ve decided on a movie I’m watching it all the way through. Occasionally, this means I’ll discover that I really like a movie that didn’t start so hot. Often enough, I’ll find it to be at least a decent watch. Every now and again, this will happen.

Things start off promisingly enough. By promising, I mean SotTA seems well on its way to so bad its awesome status. Everything about the first five minutes screams unintentional humor. We open with a bunch of girls on a prison bus. Yes! We’re going to a get a Women in Prison (WIP) flick! In the world of god-awful films that people love, these are a gold mine. The next sign this should be wonderfully terrible is we’re hearing English despite the fact we’re witnessing a scene obviously not in America and featuring only Asians. I know that’s not impossible but definitely unexpected. Sure enough, the movements of their mouths don’t quite match the words I hear. And sure enough, this was made in Hong Kong. The most surreal part of this whole experience is that the whole time there are Swedish, or perhaps German, subtitles going that you can’t turn off. The fun here is seeing how close some of the words are to English.



Let’s get back to the prison bus. Susan (Lee, I think – credits don’t tell who is who), one of our soon-to-be heroines tries a daring escape while the guards tend to a flat tire. Cutting to the chase, her and one of the guards wind up wrestling in the mud lake right off to the side of the road. They actually do more sloshing around than wrestling. Hey, I told you we get off to a good start.

Things get even better when the absolute bizarre is thrown into the mix. It turns out our other heroine, Julie, is black. What’s so strange about that, you ask? I’ll tell you. Our black heroine is played by an Asian woman in blackface and wearing a nappy Afro wig. OMG, as my kids would say. Yes, I literally said this as soon as I saw her. Who thought this was a good idea? Is there any reason we have to have a black character in a movie set on the outskirts of Hong Kong? Why of course, there is. A few minutes after the girls arrive at the prison, actually a reform school we find out, she gets into it with one of the veteran inmates that picks a fight with her. After beating the girl senseless, she spouts off this little gem: “My skin may be black, but I’m a human being!” Who says China has human rights issues? By the way, it should be noted that we soon discover she’s dying of tuberculosis and has special “medicine” for it. Okay, whatever.



Despite such an auspicious start, things fall apart quickly. The first sign we’re circling the drain comes right after the ladies get to prison. At this point in most WIP flicks we get the gratuitous mass disrobing and/or showering scene as the inmates are introduced into the prison population. That happens here, as well. The major difference between this and most others of its ilk is in SotTA we only get a succession of bare shoulders or naked calves. See, there was a reason I chose that pic at the top. Before you blast me for lamenting the lack of nudity, hear me out. WIP flicks in general are lazily written b-moves about rebellion and/or revenge. By the way, this chooses the latter. Let me pause here for a sec to give you a little more plot info. Susan vows revenge on the doctor responsible for her sister’s suicide after getting the girl pregnant and telling her to have an abortion. Now, he’s banging her mom because she’s one of the head honchos at the hospital where he works and can help advance his career. What a guy! Oh, wait…what a mom!

Anyhoo, WIP flicks aren’t going to be big special fx extravaganzas to draw in big crowds, either. Their only value is in the entertainment they provide for their target audience by being exploitive and tasteless. The botched shower scene lets me know this will offer up very tame versions of both, not nearly enough of either to justify the fifty bucks or so it probably cost to make. Indeed, nearly everything that follows is a meeker version of other WIP movies. There are a few unintentional laughs to be had, but it’s mostly a dull 80 minutes.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Tower Heist

Directed by Brett Ratner.
2011. Rated PG-13, 105 minutes.
Cast:
Ben Stiller
Eddie Murphy
Alan Alda
Tea Leoni
Matthew Broderick
Casey Affleck
Michael Pena
Gabourey Sidibe
Judd Hirsch
Stephen Henderson

Every once in a while a movie does the impossible. Somehow, it simultaneously surpasses and fails to meet expectations. Such is the case with Tower Heist. It stars Ben Stiller as Ben Stiller. Well, not really, but you know his schtick. His character’s actual name is Josh Kovacs. He’s the building manager in swanky New York high-rise. It’s the type of place where people buy apartments for millions of dollars. TH also stars Eddie Murphy as his own real-life brother Charlie Murphy. Okay, not quite, but you get the idea. His character is name Slide. As the only criminal Josh knows, Slide gets recruited to help him rob one of the building’s tenants. Why? Arthur Shaw (Alda), one of the tower’s most prominent residents has been busted for running a Ponzi scheme. Wouldn’t ya know it? Josh trusted Mr. Shaw enough to have him invest all of his staff’s pensions with the promise of tripling their portfolios. With all that money down the drain, Josh is desperate to get it back. Why not organize a robbery of Shaw’s penthouse? Where else could the guy be hiding his stash? Of course, Josh and Slide can’t pull this off by themselves. This job requires a cast of zany accomplices. Broderick, Affleck, Pena and Sidibe fit the bill.

TH fails to meet our expectations mostly because of poor marketing. From the movie’s trailers, we’re to believe this to be a non-stop madcap comedy. Sure, there’s humor, but this isn’t saturated with jokes. Many of the jokes that are present are in those trailers. There are stretches where it’s downright serious. Financial problems are brought up and attacked, never made light of. In fact, on several occasions they drag the mood down. There’s just nothing funny about some poor sap deciding to end it all. Not only does TH not give us wall-to-wall laughter, it doesn’t even try.



Expectations are exceeded because it handles enough of the stuff besides the jokes fairly well. We begin to feel for these people and their quest. We hope they pull it off. Doing so becomes even more of an adventure than they bargained for. More importantly, we really hope someone gets to punch Alan Alda in the face. Due to all of this, our own feelings about crime are pushed aside. We’re squarely on the side of our rag-tag bunch of burglars. The ends justifies the means.

There are some issues with TH. Parts of it fel incredibly rushed. At various times we find ourselves wondering how someone knew, or did something or when a certain person started helping out. Making sense of these things may have required only a few more minutes of runtime. True, everything need not be spelled out for an audience, but things coming in from deep left field warrant explanation. There’s also a couple of blatant missed opportunities. Josh’s sister is married to one of the gang and nearing the end of a complicated pregnancy yet, we only meet for about ten seconds. In the movie’s first few minutes Odessa (Sidibe), a Jamaican immigrant with a soon expiring Visa, brings up her need for a man to marry so she can stay in the country. Nothing more of it is ever mentioned, even as the possibility of romance between she and Slide is dangled before us. Other plotholes abound.

Despite its shortcomings, the things TH does well, it well does really well. They keep us engaged. The crew and their plight gives us a vested interest. Stiller and Murphy are fine, but we’re more entertained by the supporting cast. Each has their time to shine and they take advantage. It’s a decent heist flick that gets some things right, some wrong and is miraculously both better and worse than we imagine.

MY SCORE: 6/10

Monday, March 5, 2012

Attack the Block

Directed by Joe Cornish.
2011. Rated R, 88 minutes.
Cast:
John Boyega
Jodie Whittaker
Alex Esmail
Leeon Jones
Luke Treadaway
Franz Drameh
Jumayne Hunter
Nick Frost
Danielle Vitalis
Paige Meade
Sammy Williams
Michael Ajao

When an alien crash-landing interrupts their mugging, Moses (Boyega) and his crew don’t take too kindly to the situation. After a short chase and battle, they kill the little space creature and keep its body as a trophy. Lo and behold, lots more aliens start landing all over the neighborhood. Of course, these things are a whole lot bigger, meaner and seem to be after our group of juvenile delinquents. Alien monsters chasing the crew all over “The Block” ensues.

There are other problems afoot. Sam (Whittaker), the lady they mugged, has reported the incident to the police. Yes, she happens to live in the same building as the boys. After a narrow escape from the creatures, they accidentally ram the police van they’re driving into Hi-Hatz’s (Hunter) car. He’s the drug dealer/aspiring rapper they work for and aspire to be like. None too pleased, now he’s out to kill them as well. Whatever are the boys going to do? With Sam in tow through some unforeseen circumstances, they run, hide, get tracked down, fight a few of the monsters and run again.


All of this has to come to a head at some point. When it does is when we realize that not only are we rooting for a group of wayward teens, but we have real sympathy for Moses, leader of the pack. Throughout, he maintains a very serious demeanor even as sarcasm and snarkiness swirl about. Life and death situations are met head-on. There is not time for games, even if his friends aren’t nearly as steady. Through a subtle yet remarkable transformation, Moses becomes one of recent cinema’s most unlikely heroes.

Before we get to the end, we have fun watching the chase and trying to figure out what the aliens actually want. We laugh at the younger kids Probs (Williams) and Mayhem (Ajao), so desperate to be involved. We also laugh at the stoner humor provided by Ron (Frost) and Brewis (Treadaway). We even have cause to cringe when the aliens manage to get their paws on someone. It’s not a pretty sight. Those of us old enough to remember will also notice a few references to other movies scattered about. Most notably, there’s a big homage to the original Die Hard. All of this keeps us thoroughly entertained.

Attack the Block is a tightly wound story, clocking in at less than 90 minutes. The tradeoff is we don’t get to know much about anyone’s background. We know that, like lots of other teenagers they lie to get out of the house, but that’s about it. Aside from what we learn about Moses, it’s absent the character development that could’ve elevated this from very good to great. We’re not really let in on what the authorities might know about all of this, either. They seem only concerned with capturing the teenaged criminals despite all that’s clearly visible and that someone must’ve reported. That said, it’s still a fantastic ride that brings us to the edge of our seats and keeps us there.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

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 falls head over heels. Believing him to be a wealthy and famous painter, Kitty sets out to 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. 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