Like my book reviews site, these are movie reviews I write for entertainment purposes only. These are just my reviews and my opinions. They are not endorsed by Blogger or any movie studios or anyone else. So there. I borrowed my scoring system from the Metacritic site, which does not imply an endorsement from them, although I think they do have a very nice website. I convert the 1-100 scores into 1-4 stars, essentially it works like this:

1 star = 25 points
2 stars = 50 points
3 stars = 75 points
4 stars = 100 points

And then if something falls about halfway between, then I'll give it an added half-star.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Home at the End of the World

I think my initial problem here is that I read the book a couple of years ago, so I don't remember it extremely well.  I really need to go to the library and especially check out the ending.  That ending really kills what's otherwise a good film.

"A Home at the End of the World" tells the story of two friends and the bizarre love triangle that develops between them.  It starts out in 1967 when nine-year-old Bobby walks in on his older brother having sex.  The older brother not long after introduces Bobby to LSD and not long after that dies by accidentally running through a sliding glass door.  Picking up seven or eight years later, Bobby's mother is dead as well and he is caring for his father as best he can.  Then he meets a shy kid named Jonathan and the two become instant friends.

Unwittingly Bobby corrupts poor Jonathan by introducing him to marijuana.  He also unwittingly corrupt's Jonathan's mother (Sissy Spacek) the same way.  Given his background, Bobby doesn't really see anything wrong with smoking a joint with his friend or friend's mom.  When his father dies, Bobby comes to live with Jonathan's family.  In repayment for introducing her to pot, Jon's mom introduces Bobby to baking, which he soon becomes an expert at.

Jonathan leaves to go to college, but Bobby stays in Cleveland until Jonathan's parents decide to move to Arizona for the desert air that should in theory be better for Jonathan's father's respiratory problems.  This leaves Bobby homeless, so naturally he calls up Jonathan in New York and asks to stay with him.

In the big city, Bobby goes to Jonathan's East Village apartment that he shares with an older woman named Clare, who dresses and dyes her hair funny colors as if she's younger.  It soon becomes evident that Jonathan is gay, but despite this Clare wants to have his baby.  Things get weirder with Bobby in the picture.  Thus is formed the bizarre love triangle with Bobby and Jonathan both having affection for Clare--and each other.

The reason for the title stems from when Clare does get pregnant and the trio move upstate to Woodstock.  Bobby opens a restaurant where Jonathan works as a waiter while Clare cares for the child.  It's a very odd situation.

Where it all falls down is in the ending.  [SPOILER ALERT!!!]





OK, you've been warned so if you read anything past this, don't complain I gave away the ending!  In his novel, Michael Cunningham mentions AIDS simply as "the disease" which made sense since the book was written in the early '90s when that was still taboo.  The problem is that in the movie Cunningham (who wrote the screenplay) is even more timid, mentioning it only in lesions on Jonathan's body.  This seems weird to me because the movie came out in 2004, after "Philadelphia" and numerous other shows, movies, benefit concerts on AIDS so it's not nearly so taboo anymore.  There seemed no reason to handle the topic so timidly.  Of course my theory is this was mandated by some studio exec worried about putting off mainstream audiences or something.  No matter what though, it just makes it seem like Cunningham compromised his artistic principles.

And then the movie simply ends.  Clare goes to visit her mother--and may not be back--Jonathan is probably dying of AIDS and it just ENDS!  WTF?  How can you leave the movie like that?  That's what I mean by I need to go to the library and see if the book ends that way too.

So that part was really annoying and just kind of spoiled the whole thing for me.





Anyway, it's still not a bad movie.  Actually it reminds me of my book, especially the Bobby character, who remains innocent despite everything that happens around him.  From what I can remember the book is better and you're probably better off reading that than watching this movie, though at 90 minutes the movie would take less time.

That is all.

My score:  62/100 (2.5 stars)

Metacritic score:  59/100 (2 stars)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Night Visitor

You know what happens when you can't sleep?  You end up watching a crappy late-night movie like 1989's "Night Visitor."  Or an infomercial with Tom Bosley.  Actually the latter might be better.

The movie starts off with a premise similar to Hitchcock's "Rear Window" or the later "Disturbia."  Young Billy is using a telescope to spy on his sexy new neighbor Lisa.  It seems that Lisa has a new beau over every night.  But when Billy tells his friends and invites them over for some group peeping, Lisa chooses that night to go to bed alone.

Desperate to get some proof, Billy climbs up to Lisa's window the next night only to witness Lisa's murder.  He's nearly killed by a dude in a black robe and goat mask.  In the struggle, Billy pulls off the mask to reveal the face of his weird history teacher Mr. Willard.  In an ironic twist just that day or so Mr. Willard had Billy suspended from school for attaching a whoopee cushion and stink bombs to his chair, which was actually committed by Billy's friend Sam Loomis--not the Sam Loomis from the "Halloween" movies though.

Anyway, the police don't believe Billy because he has no proof and a reputation for telling fibs.  So in desperation, Billy goes to see Mr. Devereaux (Elliott Gould) a retired police detective for help.

Then the movie just goes off the rails with Satanism, goofy sidekicks, and some Buffalo Bill-type stuff going on in the basement, though the movie predates the film version of "Silence of the Lambs."

Anyway, the most serious problem other than terrible acting from generally a bunch of no-names, is the movie never strikes a consistent tone.  It's one of those films that can't decide if it wants to be funny or serious and so winds up trying to do both and failing miserably.  Characters like Billy's mom, Sam Loomis, and the police detectives are brought in but never effectively used.  This is especially true for the cops, who didn't seem to have any involvement in the endgame after a nonsensical meeting with some kind of shrink about Satanism.

This is purely late-night B-movie fare and on that purely cheesy level it's fine.  But after the first half hour or so you might want to flip over to that Tom Bosley infomercial.

That is all.

My score:  25/100 (1 star)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Terminator Salvation

First off it's important to note that "Terminator Salvation" qualifies as what I'd call a midquel.  It's a sequel to some events of James Cameron's "The Terminator" and "Terminator 2:  Judgment Day" and the non-Cameron produced "Terminator 3:  Rise of the Machines" and yet the movie is also a prequel to some events.  Sound confusing?  It is.

Basically if you haven't paid much attention to the Terminator series, in 1997 a computer system called SkyNet became self-aware and decided its biggest threat was humankind, so it decided to wipe out all humans by nuking the world in what was known as Judgment Day.  (The date of this was pushed back in the third movie to 2003ish.)  Many years later, a human resistance led by John Connor defeats SkyNet.  But before that victory is complete, SkyNet sends a cyborg back in time to kill Connor's mother Sarah before he is born.  Connor sends a soldier named Kyle Reese back in time to fight the cyborg and in the process Reese knocks up Sarah Connor with a baby she of course names Kyle.  SkyNet makes to more attempts to kill John Connor when he's a boy and a young man, both of which fail thanks to a friendly cyborg.  Does any of this make sense?

Now that you're up to speed on the twisted timeline, "Terminator Salvation" takes place between Judgment Day and when SkyNet sends the original Terminator and Connor sends Kyle Reese back in time.  It's the year 2018 to be exact and Earth is pretty much a wasteland ruled by machines.  But there are still human defenders.  John Connor (Christian Bale) is a leading commander in the resistance though not the head honcho--yet.  He has a command with his wife Kate Brewster (Bryce Dallas Howard) who seems pregnant though no mention of this is made.

Connor and a team infiltrate a SkyNet base to find information on a new type of cyborg killing machine called the T-800 (the Ahh-nold Schwarzenegger model in the other films) and in the process find some humans who have been experimented on as well as captives.  When it becomes alerted, SkyNet nukes the base with only Connor surviving--or so he thinks.

Another survivor is named Marcus Wright.  The last thing he remembers was being put to death 15 years ago for killing some people--exactly what isn't really dealt with.  He agreed to donate his body to a scientist (Helena Bonham Carter) working for Cyberdyne Systems, the company that made the ill-fated SkyNet system.  Marcus escapes to the ruins of LA, where he encounters a young resistance fighter named Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin or Chekov from the "Star Trek" reboot).

Meanwhile, John Connor and the resistance command think they've found a way to beat SkyNet by using a radio frequency that seems to disrupt SkyNet's robots' computer systems.  A big raid is planned on SkyNet HQ in the ruins of San Francisco.  But when Reese is taken captive by SkyNet, Connor must defy the odds and his orders to try and rescue his future father.  This requires working with his mortal enemy.

The first 45-60 minutes of this movie seemed to drag a little for me.  Most of it was moving the pieces around the board to set up the final endgame.  Most of this in turn was done through chases between revived cars and motorcycle Terminators, flying Terminators, and giant Terminators.  Car chases are a staple of Terminator movies, especially telling someone to "Drive" while you shoot out the window, but these chases lacked the same panache as the earlier films.

Once the pieces are in place and we get to the endgame the movie is better.  There are even a couple of plot twists you might not see coming.  So really the somewhat boring action at the beginning is worth sitting through for a decent payoff.

It's probably unfair to really compare this to the earlier films because they're two different kind of movies.  What James Cameron did in 1984's "The Terminator" was to meld the psycho killer stalker genre like "Halloween" with the sci-fi of "Star Wars."  The scope especially in T2 became wider but essentially the basic premise remained of running from the killer machine.  By contrast "Salvation" is a more straight-ahead war movie with pockets of resistance acting like Allied forces in WWII Europe, a premise that has been used before in movies/shows like the original 1980s "V" series.  There's no question I didn't like "Salvation" as much as T2 or T1 or even T3 for perhaps the reason that it was too different from the source material.

As well, the story is relatively thin.  Most of the dialog is shouted during chases or fights with stuff like "Hang on!" or "This is really pissing me off!"  The relationship between John Connor and Kate Brewster isn't milked for a lot.  Christian Bale does his Clint Eastwood/Batman voice through the whole thing, which maybe isn't for the best.  Sam Worthington as Marcus Wright is really the standout of the movie, though even that isn't saying a lot.

This being a sequel/prequel there were some nice touches like working in the "I'll be back" line and using GNR's "You Could Be Mine" and the final battle that takes place in a factory reminiscent of the steel plant in T2.  (And the digitally generated Ahh-nold, though couldn't he have put some clothes on?)  Though really Danny Elfman mangles Brad Feidel's iconic theme song; I mean when you go to a Terminator movie you want to hear BUM-DA-BUM-BUM-BUM or however you'd write it for the original theme, just like if you go to a Star Wars movie you want to hear the original John Williams score.

Overall it's an OK popcorn movie, about equal with "Wolverine" or "Star Trek" and maybe a notch above "Transformers 2" and "GI JOE."  Really what an odd "summer" it was with all these prequels, midquels, and reboots.

That is all.

My score:  50/100 (2 stars)

Metacritic score:  52/100 (2 stars)

(BTW, do you think they left in the name of the crew member who was the star of the infamous Christian Bale rant?  I should look for that next time.)

In Bruges

Like "The Ice Harvest" that I watched previously, this is another film taking place during the holidays that is not a holiday film.  Instead it's a dark comedy/crime caper about two hitmen who flee to the medieval Belgian town of Bruges after a botched hit.

That hit took place in London, where new recruit Ray (Colin Farrell) was to have whacked a priest, but in the process he kills those most innocent of bystanders--a child.  To escape the heat, Ray and his veteran partner Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are dispatched by their boss to Bruges.

For a hard-living city dweller like Ray, being in Bruges is like being in Hell.  He's as petulant and antsy as a small child as Ken leads him around the town to see the sights, including a church that is reputed to have some of Jesus' blood.  Meanwhile the proverbial sword of Damocles is hanging over their heads as they wait to hear from their boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes) about what to do next.

Things get better for Ray when he sees the beautiful Chloe on the set of a movie featuring a dwarf.  Soon Ray and Chloe are becoming an item, but Ray still has trouble reconciling what happened back in London.

When word finally does come from Harry it puts both Ray and Ken in jeopardy.

I first saw this movie over a year ago in the Phoenix Hyatt, but I enjoyed it a lot more this time around.  This is what "The Ice Harvest" aspired to be but couldn't pull off--a crime movie that also manages to be hilarious.  Because while the characters are hitmen, they aren't generic thugs or toughs.  Instead, they're borderline neurotic, especially Ray as he grapples with his demons.  In large part it reminds me of "Grosse Point Blank" (which like "The Ice Harvest" starred John Cusack) especially where Ray deadpans to Chloe that he kills priests and children and later during the big shootout scene.  Only in this case there's not nearly so much of the romantic comedy element.

This certainly isn't a movie you want to watch with the kids with blood, violence, dwarf jokes, and drug use but it's good adult fare.  Really if you're sick of "It's a Wonderful Life" or "A Christmas Story" then go out and rent this.

BTW, after watching this I almost feel sorry for Bruges at being the butt of so many jokes in this film.  It does certainly look like a neat place, though I think I'd only want to visit for a couple of days before moving on.  Two weeks there might be Hell to me too.

That is all.

My score:  85/100 (3.5 stars)

Metacritic score:  67 (2.5 stars)

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Ice Harvest

Nothing quite says the holiday like stealing $2 million from your boss and plotting to skip town with your best friend the local porn dealer.  Unlike heist movies like "Ocean's 11" the crime isn't the central focus of the store.  It's getting away with it that's the problem.

Stealing the money turns out to be incredibly easy.  Charlie (John Cusack) is a mob lawyer in Wichita, Kansas who simply goes into the bank and has the manager put a bunch of money in a sack.  He goes out to where his friend and porn dealer Vic (Billy Bob Thornton) is waiting.  The smart thing to do would probably be to drive straight out of town, but for vague reasons (bad weather, it being XMas Eve) they stay in town overnight with Vic holding on to the money.

This leaves Charlie to hang around town.  He goes to a strip club owned by Renata (Connie Nielsen), whom he has a thing for though he's too chicken to act on it.  He works up the courage to do a favor for her by stealing some blackmail photos Vic has hidden in a safe.  Before he can deliver these, he learns that Roy, an enforcer for Charlie's boss, is looking for him.  Things get even worse when Charlie is pressed into being designated driver to Pete (Oliver Platt) who is married to Charlie's ex-wife.

At only about 80 minutes, this film doesn't take much time to expand on the characters or their relationships.  Charlie's ex-wife and two kids appear in one scene and other than buying some gas station toys for them he really seems to give them little consideration.  Charlie seems reconciled with losing his wife and seems almost happy that Pete is stuck dealing with her.

Since the big crime took place in the first two minutes, there's really not much for the movie to do.  As I said, it would have seemed smart to simply keep on driving straight out of town.  Some double-crosses and such are worked into the plot to make it a little more interesting, though it's definitely a bush league caper/heist film.  It reminds me a lot of "Lucky Numbers" with John Travolta trying to rig the lottery that was trying to be as smart and clever of a crime movie as "Get Shorty" and couldn't pull it off.

The bottom line is that everyone in this movie from the actors to director Harold Ramis (director of "Groundhog Day" and star in "Stripes" and "Ghostbusters" among others) to Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and co-writer Richard Russo have done better work than this.  While a substandard crime movie, it's also not nearly as much raunchy XMas fun as "Bad Santa" which also starred Billy Bob Thornton.  The boobs, violence, and f-bombs just don't add to the fun, perhaps because neither character is a drunk Santa.

In any event, I wouldn't waste your time or money on this when there are many better crime movies and holiday movies out there.

That is all.

BTW, did you know that Billy Bob Thornton has a group called the Boxmasters with an XMas CD?  Neither did I until Amazon gave one of the tracks away for free.

My score:  50/100 (2 stars)

Metacritic score:  62/100 (2.5 stars)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


I usually stay away from biopics because let's face it, they aren't REAL.  Sure they're based on real events, but they're always dramatized because let's face it, life doesn't package itself neatly into a convenient 2-3 hour story.  And there are some like "A Beautiful Mind" and "Frost/Nixon" that take substantial liberties with their subjects.  All that said, I really enjoyed "Chaplin."

As you might have guesses from the title, "Chaplin" is the story of Charlie Chaplin (played by Robert Downey, Jr.), the most famous man of the silent film era.  His "Little Tramp" character appeared in dozens of films from the 1910s-1930s even after sound (or "talkies") made silent films obsolete.

Like most of the world's great clowns, though, Chaplin's life was anything but happy.  His mother Hannah (Geraldine Chaplin, granddaughter of the real Chaplin) tried to be a singer on the London stage but suffered from stage fright and was ultimately driven to madness.  His father was probably a drunk whom Charlie never saw.  Since standing in one night for his mother on stage, Charlie became drawn to show business.  In particular he performed on vaudeville, performing prat falls and somersaults to mimic a wealthy drunk.

One night at the club where Charlie is performing, he meets a dancer named Hetty (Moira Kelly) and becomes instantly smitten, although she's only sixteen.  She promises to wait for him as he goes off on a tour of America, from which he never comes back.  This is because while performing in Butte, Montana of all places he gets a telegram from George Sennett (Dan Ackroyd) in Hollywood.  It's while working for Sennett that Chaplin develops the "Little Tramp" character.

But before long, Chaplin has become popular enough to strike out on his own, where he writes, directs, and stars in his own films at his own studio.  While he's tasting financial success for the first time, he gets word that Hetty has married someone else.  In a pattern repeated through much of his early life, Charlie marries a young girl named Mildred (Milla Jovovich), who soon divorces him because he's working all the time and because he has no respect for her non-existent intelligence.

In one of the movie's funnier moments, it parodies a silent film as Chaplin, his half-brother, and cameraman/editor (played by a then-unknown David Duchovny) save the footage for "The Kid" and splice it together in Salt Lake among other places before police at the behest of Charlie's ex-wife can take custody of it.

The Roaring 20s were a great success for Chaplin, who was then one of the biggest stars in the world, but his personal life remained a mess.  He goes through a couple more young wives, one of whom gives him two sons.  A return trip to London reveals that Hetty is dead, emphasizing that you can't go home again.

As the '30s dawn, talkies become the thing but Chaplin refuses to adapt to the new technology, at least for a while.  At the same time, he gets more political in his movies and outside of them as well.  This brings him to the attention of FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover (Kevin Dunn), who sees Chaplin (and much of Hollywood) as subversive.  Chaplin really draws the ire of Hoover and the general public by being an outspoken critic of Hitler and the Nazis before America's entry into the war.  He goes so far as to finally have the Little Tramp speak in "The Great Dictator."

From there Chaplin's professional life mostly gives way to his personal life and the various trials he faces thanks to Hoover and Joseph McCarthy.

As I said at the beginning, biopics aren't really REAL in portraying their subjects, but the good ones at least present the subjects in an interesting way.  "Chaplin" was to me not just a good biopic, but a great one.  Though it has to gloss over much of Chaplin's life to fit into 2 1/2 hours, I found it fascinating.  If nothing else I'd like to read a real biography or perhaps the actor's autobiography for a little more insight into this man who helped popularize movies, making reviews like this one possible.

BTW, as far as biopics go, maybe in 20-30 years we can get the Robert Downey, Jr. story.  I bet that one would be pretty fascinating too.

That is all.

My score:  100/100 (4 stars)
Metacritic score:  N/A

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Be Kind, Rewind

Anyone familiar with Michael Gondry's work like "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and "The Science of Sleep" knows he specializes in what could best be described as "quirky" movies.  Or if you're less charitable you might call them downright weird.  So it's no surprise that "Be Kind, Rewind" follows in this tradition.  Since I didn't hate it, I guess I'll call it quirky.  Or maybe whimsical.

Another word would also be implausible.  There's maybe a .0000000001% chance that this could ever happen in real life.  First and foremost because though it takes place in the 21st century, the action revolves around videotapes.  Yes, honest to God VHS tapes!  In particular a backwards little store in Passaic, New Jersey that still rents videotapes for a buck.  The store has only one real customer, an old lady named Ms. Falewicz (Mia Farrow) who's friends with the owner Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover).

Another frequent visitor is Jerry (Jack Black) a conspiracy nut who lives in the nearby junkyard and has a beef with the power company for some reason.  Before he leaves for a trip to Kansas City, Mr. Fletcher tells his only employee Mike (Mos Def) to keep Jerry away from the store--and with good cause as it turns out.  One night Jerry decides to try sabotaging the power company and in the process magnetizes himself.  When Mike makes the mistake of letting Jerry into the story, all the videotapes are erased.  This becomes a real problem when Ms. Falewicz threatens to tattle on Mike to Mr. Fletcher unless she gets a copy of "Ghostbusters."

In desperation, Mike grabs an old video camera and Jerry and they reenact the movie with homemade props from the junkyard.  (Another of the probably implausible elements is that aren't commercial videotapes made so you can't record over them?)  When Mr. Falewicz's young charges see this, the parody movies become a neighborhood phenomenon.

But just as it seems they'll be able to save the video store from demolition, disaster strikes...

The overall story avoids some of the cliches in the old "plucky kids trying to save beloved landmark from crusty old developer" formula.  For one thing the developer isn't all that old or crusty.  Mostly I think this is a film that's supposed to be about how film and imagination can bring us together--or something like that.

As you might expect, the best parts of the movie are where Mike, Jerry, and new friend Ama are making their homemade movies, which they called "Sweded" for whatever reason.  The parodies of "Ghostbusters," "Rush Hour 2," and "Robocop" are hilarious and really make you wish the whole movie were simply composed of these instead of trying to have a story.  It reminds me when my siblings and I used to do riffs on "Star Wars" or "Star Trek" in the backyard.  You might be better off seeing if the official site for the movie is still working than watching the actual movie.

Other than that, Jack Black is a little more restrained than sometimes, which is a good thing.  As far as rapper-actors go Mos Def is at best the homeless man's Will Smith and has done better work in "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" and "The Italian Job" than his bland, befuddled character here.  They probably could have used a better actor for the Mike character, one who could play off Jack Black a bit more.  Oh well.

Still, this is good for a rental--on DVD of course.

That is all.

My score:  50/100 (2 stars)

Metacritic score:  52/100 (2 stars)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Doubt/Michael Clayton/Gran Torino/Up


As a former Lutheran, I've never been a big fan of the Catholic church and "Doubt" certainly wasn't going to improve my opinion.  It's 1964 in New York and Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has recently come to the parish.  His new school beliefs about embracing the parishioners leads him to come into conflict with the old school nun Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep).  Caught in the middle is young Sister James (Amy Adams) who thinks Father Flynn is having an inappropriate relationship with the school's first black student.  Did he or didn't he?  That's the question but "Doubt" certainly leaves a lot of doubt about this.

I'm not one to usually comment on technical things like direction but some of the strange camera angles reminded me of the old "Batman" TV show, which is never a good thing and it really seemed to serve no purpose.  As well, the surprise confession at the end seemed kind of forced to me.

My score:  50/100 (2 stars)

Metacritic Score:  68/100 (2.5 stars)


"Michael Clayton"

Someone has to do the dirty work, even in corporate law.  Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is a big law firm's "fixer" or the guy who comes to your home after you've hit someone with your car or killed a hooker or something like that to spearhead damage control.  Meanwhile, Michael is facing financial problems after his junkie brother botches a bar Michael invested in.  Then things take a turn for the worse when a friend and fellow attorney Arthur (Tom Wilkinson) goes off his meds and freaks out in a meeting with clients in a case concerning an agrochemical conglomerate.  As Michael involves himself in this situation, he finds that something stinks--and it's not the cow manure down on the farm.

Two things that bugged me is first the movie starts with a scene that in the film's chronology takes place near the end.  Of course there's no way I as the viewer could realize this until later, which is really confusing and disconcerting.  Also, the end depends upon one of the oldest cliches in film, the old villain confessing into a recording device.  Otherwise it's a passable thriller, but not all that thrilling.

My score:  50/100 (2 stars)

Metacritic score:  82/100 (3 stars)


"Gran Torino"

When I saw the previews for this, the premise seemed ludicrous to me.  An octogenarian Dirty Harry battling an Asian gang a quarter his age?  Why don't they just steal his walker and push him down?

Of course it's not really Dirty Harry.  Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a former Ford assembly line worker in a Detroit-area neighborhood that has gone to seed, like much of the city itself.  Walt is recently widowed and has no one except his ingrate family who are basically waiting for him to die so they can sell off the house and take possession of the rest of his stuff like his cherry 1972 Gran Torino.  But someone else tries to take it first--a young Hmong kid named Thao.  A veteran of Korea, Walt doesn't like Asians much--or anyone really--but when a local gang picks on Thao and his family, Walt intervenes to help them.

This was a nice story of a jaded old coot bonding with a needy young man.  How this comes about manages to seem believable.  Even Walt confronting the much younger Asian and black kids in the neighborhood didn't seem as absurd as I'd feared when I first saw the previews.  And the end really comes as a surprise, especially for those who remember Eastwood from the Dirty Harry pictures, though I'm not sure his plan would really work in real life.

BTW, an interesting fact is Eastwood was one of the first to take advantage of new tax credits to film in the actual Detroit area instead of trying to have Toronto or Vancouver sub as the Motor City.

My score:  75/100 (3 stars)

Metacritic score:  72/100 (3 stars)



I keep waiting for the Pixar movie that's finally going to let me down.  But they do it yet again with "Up."  A sweet movie that still manages to tackle some grown up issues.  The movie itself is completely implausible, but only an idiot expects what is ostensibly a kid's movie to be plausible.

In really the most touching part of the movie, it begins with a montage about how young Carl Fredricksen (voice of Ed Asner) comes to meet Ellie.  They both worship adventurer Charles Muntz (voice of Christopher Plummer) who goes to South America in search of a rare bird back in the '30s.  Carl and Ellie go from best friends to husband and wife and dream of someday joining Muntz in Paradise Falls.  But someday never comes for Ellie.  So on the verge of being thrown in a retirement home, Carl ties a bunch of balloons to his house and floats away.  He has a stowaway in Wilderness Explorer Russell, who has no choice but to accompany Carl to Paradise Falls.  When Carl finally gets to Paradise Falls and meets his idol, he discovers his hero has feet of clay.

As I said, this is a really sweet movie that is enjoyable for the kids without all the gross out fart gags prevalent in "Shrek" and other computer animated kids movies.  At the same time it also deals with loss, love, and loneliness in a way that kids and adults can understand.  Basically if you liked "Wall-E" then you'll like this too.

My score:  100/100 (4 stars)

Metacritic score:  88/100 (3.5 stars)

That is all.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Alien Trespass

Those who are old enough to remember nights at the drive-in would probably remember the type of B-movie "Alien Trespass" aspires to be. For the younger generation, it's like something you'd see on "Mystery Science Theater 3000" only without Crowe T. Robot, Tom Servo, and Joel/Mike in the front row cracking wise. Though it doesn't achieve B-movie perfection, it is a fun little movie.

The movie starts off with an introduction by the former head of a fictitious studio that in the '50s produced a movie called "Alien Trespass" that was supposed to be the greatest sci-fi film of its time, up there with classics like "The Day the Earth Stood Still." Except before the studio could release the film, there was a contract dispute with the film's star, M. Eric "Merrick" McCormack, the supposed grandfather of "Will & Grace" and "Free Enterprise" star Eric McCormack. The film was hidden away for over 50 years until a construction crew uncovers it and now at long last it can be screened. (This is of course all a put on.)

The actual film begins on a night in the small town of Mojave. Dr. Ted Lewis (McCormack) works at the local observatory but during a meteor shower is spending some romantic time with his wife. After a little roll in one of their twin beds, Dr. Lewis is watching the meteor shower when he sees one crash on the butte nearby. When Lewis gets up there, he encounters a crashed flying saucer and an alien in a silver space suit who looks sort of like GORT from "The Day the Earth Stood Still."

Nearby, Dick and Penny are making out at Lookout Point when they think they see a strange monster with one arm and tentacles. They run away and shrug it off until the next morning when their friend convinces them to go back for a closer look. Meanwhile, Lewis returns home, but his wife notices he's acting very strangely. For one thing he starts speaking about himself in third person saying things like, "Ted loves Lana." This freaks her out enough that she goes to find a doctor.

Though the cops refuse to believe the kids about the monster, they eventually suspect something's going on when people start disappearing, leaving behind only puddles of goo. Meanwhile, Lewis goes off in search of the monster with the help of a waitress named Tammy. But will he be able to find the monster before it begins splitting and devouring the town and then the world?

This movie was fun to watch and as I said at the beginning, it's in that B-movie mold you might still be able to catch on TV late at night. There's no point in criticizing the silly story or hammy acting because that's the whole point of the thing. Nor can you fault the rubber-suit monster or other lame effects, because that's how it's supposed to be.

Really though my main criticism is that some of the effects (notably the flying saucer when it's flying around) aren't lame enough. The ship should have looked like spray-painted paper plates on a string or something like that. Another thing is that with the gag at the beginning about this being a film recovered from the '50s, the film quality should have been grainier. As it stands, the picture looks much too clear to be over 50 years old, most of which has been spent in the ground. Maybe we're supposed to believe someone cleaned it up first, but why? The gag would have worked better if it looked more like a drive-in movie.

Anyway, it only clocks in at 80 minutes, so it doesn't take up much time. If you want to relive some campy B-movie fun, this movie is for you. Just remember not to take it seriously.

That is all.

My score: 63/100 (2.5 stars)

Metacritic score: 48/100 (2 stars)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

GI JOE: The Rise of COBRA

Growing up, GI JOE was always my #2 favorite action figure (sometimes lower than that) behind Transformers. I'm not sure how to explain that, except that Transformers were cool giant robots and GI JOEs were just little dudes with tiny weapons that were always getting lost--and half the time the rubber bands holding the JOEs together would break. (Seriously, my brother and I had a whole bag full of dismembered JOES.) Anyway, this pattern repeats itself in that I didn't really like GI JOE: The Rise of COBRA as much as "Transformers" in 2007. Though I did like it better than "Transformers 2" because it's shorter and doesn't have all the dumb gross-out gags and as bad of racist stereotypes.

The movie begins with a prologue showing that the MacCullen clan in Scotland has a long tradition of selling weapons to both sides of a conflict and that one of the clan was the Man in the Iron Mask. James MacCullen keeps the tradition alive by running MARS, which makes 70% of the world's weapons systems. His latest triumph are missiles loaded with tiny robots that devour metal called nanomites.

Transporting a load of nanomites from the factory in a former Soviet republic to a NATO base is the job of Duke, Rip Cord, and a team of NATO troops. Unfortunately the NATO team is ambushed and everyone except Duke (Channing Tatum) and Rip Cord (Marlon Wayans) killed by the Baroness (Sienna Miller), an old flame of Duke's. They're saved by an elite ultra-secret unit known as GI JOE. Like a military Dream Team, GI JOE is made up of the best soldiers from every country. Charter members include British weapons specialist Heavy Duty, Moroccan communications expert Breaker, American intelligence officer Scarlet, and Japanese ninja Snake Eyes. They're lead by General Hawk (Dennis Quaid) who invites Duke and Rip Cord to audition for the team.

After the bad guys infiltrate JOE headquarters in the Egyptian desert to steal the warheads, it becomes a chase to get the warheads back before they destroy the world. This leads Duke and the gang to Paris and other places. In the process, Duke finds out what happened to the Baroness and her brother Rex (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) during a mission in Africa four years earlier.

I really wanted to dislike this movie, but I couldn't. It delivers exactly what it promises in pretty much non-stop action. The story is paper-thin and doesn't always make a lot of sense, but only the most uptight critic would expect anything more. Really, when it's made by the guy who did the first two Brendan Fraser "Mummy" movies and "Van Helsing" what can you expect?

Still, there were a couple of things I couldn't ignore. First, Channing Tatum sucks. he mumbles his way through the movie and with as much emotion or charisma as a WWE star. Really, couldn't they have gotten John Cena or one of those guys for the role? Also, why does Snake Eyes have a mouth on his suit? He doesn't talk! Not ever! A mouth on his costume is as superfluous as nipples on the Batsuit.

Also, from a pure JOE fanboy point of view, the Baroness isn't supposed to have a heart of gold. We didn't need an origin story for COBRA Commander or Snake Eyes, though it is kind of fun watching 8 year olds whaling on each other. And JOEs don't have robotic Iron Man suits--that's for Transformers. Though you have to appreciate them working in the "Knowing is Half the Battle" line from the old PSAs after each episode.

But really, if you want a popcorn movie filled with a lot of action, then GI JOE gives you exactly that--and not much more.

And now you know; and knowing is half the battle.

My score: 50/100 (2 stars)

Metacritic score: 32/100 (1 star)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Eastern Promises

Most movies, for instance "Transformers 2," are far too bloated and could use a good half-hour or more (in the case of "Transformers 2" much more) cut out. It's rare that I actually think a movie should go longer. Such is the case, though, with "Eastern Promises."

The movie starts off with the execution of a Russian man in a London barber shop. Meanwhile, a young girl stumbles into a pharmacy, pleading for help before she collapses and goes into labor. The girl dies in childbirth, but the baby survives.

How these two seemingly unconnected events connect is the focus of the rest of the film. Anna Ivanova (Naomi Watts) is a midwife at the hospital who helped deliver the girl's baby. No one at the hospital knows who the girl is and if they don't find out soon, the baby will be given over to the foster care system. Anna finds a diary among the girl's effects, but the problem is the diary is written in Russian.

Lucky for her that she has a Russian uncle, except that he gets grumpy and reluctant to translate it. Then Anna finds the card for a local Russian restaurant called TransSiberian. She goes there and talks with the kindly old owner, who promises to help her. Outside, she finds a driver named Nicolai (Viggo Mortensen) admiring her motorcycle. No, they don't fall madly in love. This isn't that kind of movie.

As it turns out, Nicolai is also a part-time enforcer for the local Russian Mafia syndicate, run by the seemingly kindly old restaurant owner. At the moment the don is having some trouble with his son because of that barber shop murder. What's inside the diary only makes things worse and puts Anna and her family in danger.

There's more to it, but I won't spoil that for you. Though I can say that if you watched "Lord of the Rings" and ever wanted to see Aragorn's butt and junk you'll be thrilled. Me, not so much. (And if we were going to get gratuitous shots of Viggo Mortensen naked, could we at least have gotten a Naomi Watts nude scene to balance it out? I hate to sound like a pig, but come on!)

Anyway, as I mentioned at the beginning, I felt this could have gone longer than its 100 minutes running time, especially because of a surprise twist near the end. As it stands, the movie ends with some things left up in the air and the romance (such as it is) between Anna and Nicolai doesn't really get anywhere.

It is a fascinating crime/gangster drama, though perhaps not exactly up there with "The Godfather." If you liked "The Departed" or "Road to Perdition" then you will probably like this one too. And maybe you'll think this movie promised a little more than it delivered.

That is all.

My score: 62/100 (2.5 stars)

Metacritic score: 82/100 (3.5 stars)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

State of Play

You know a thriller is a good thriller when you feel you should watch it twice to make sense of it all. Such was the case for me with "State of Play." The first time I watched it I wasn't sure I really understood what happened, so I watched it again to make sure. With an action movie that would be considered a weakness, but thrillers like this are supposed to have the kinds of twists and turns that leave you second-guessing yourself.

The story begins with a young assistant to Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) dying on a subway platform in DC. It's soon uncovered that Collins and the girl were having an intimate relationship.

At first the media describes it as a suicide but Collins goes to his old college roommate Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe), an old-school investigative journalist for the Washington Globe--a thinly-veiled Washington Post--to say he thinks the girl was murdered. McAffrey is already investigating the murders of a purse-snatcher and a pizza delivery guy in an alley. On the surface these seem completely unrelated, but of course they aren't.

Cal gets some help in his investigation from Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) a blogger for the paper's online side. So as a subplot we have the changing world of journalism from print to pixels, not to mention from ethics to profit. Della delves into the girl's sordid personal life while Cal digs into PointCorp, a Blackwater-type private security outfit Collins has been holding hearings on.

Before long Cal and Della are getting in over their heads and unsure of who, if anyone to trust. And that's really all I'll say so as not to spoil too many of the twists and turns.

Overall this was to me a well put together movie and with Crowe, Affleck, and supporting players like Helen Mirren, Robin Wright Penn, Jeff Daniels, and Jason Bateman there's plenty of talent, none of which really disappointed me. Like any good thriller, there were times when I thought for sure I had it all figured out only to realize (like the reporters in the movie) that I didn't. That's part of the reason I wanted to go back and see it again to see what I might have missed.

On a side note, the congressman's aide could almost be considered the film's MacGuffin. That's a plot element that sets things into motion but in a broader sense doesn't really matter. Basically all the girl does is walk from her apartment to the train platform; her only lines come in the form of voice mail. So it's kind of funny that she causes everything to happen and yet has almost no screen time whatsoever.

Anyway, as far as political thrillers go, I liked this and would recommend watching it--twice.

That is all.

My score: 75/100 (3 stars)

Metacritic score: 64/100 (2.5 stars)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pieces of April & Rachel Getting Married

Through some quirk of fate or chance or whatever, two of the movies I received from Blockbuster this week had a lot of parallels. In particular both films feature a black sheep daughter trying to atone and make amends during a family get together. So I figure I might as well review them together. We'll do this in chronological order.


Remember when Katie Holmes was more than Mrs. Cruise and Suri's mommy and frequent cover girl of tabloids and US Weekly? If not, "Pieces of April" from 2003 might be a good reminder. At the very least, with Thanksgiving approaching it's a timely film to watch.

The movie centers around Holmes's character, the eponymous April. After years of drug abuse, terrible boyfriends, and just in general mayhem, April has settled into a New York apartment with a new boyfriend, Bobby (Derek Luke) who seems to be The One. She decides to demonstrate this change by inviting her family to the apartment for Thanksgiving.

Her family lives in suburban Pennsylvania or somewhere like that, necessitating a five hour drive to the Big Apple. April's mother (Patricia Clarkson) is apprehensive and cynical, expecting everything to be a disaster, as does April's brown-nosing sister. April's father (Oliver Platt) is more hopeful. Making things more interesting on the long trip is that the mother is suffering from breast cancer, which requires frequent stops for her to throw up and light up some medical pot. And there's also the senile grandmother along for the ride.

Things are shaping up to be a disaster, especially when she finds out her oven isn't working. This necessitates a mad scramble throughout the building to find someone who will let her use her oven. By the time all is said and done, I'm not sure I'd want to eat the bird for fear of what germs might have got on it along the way.

Clocking in at less than 90 minutes, this movie is brisk but enjoyable. There's not really a lot of weeping and teeth-gnashing and screaming, so that while it's not extremely light-hearted, it's not gloomy either. And there's a good message about love, family, and forgiveness. So I guess you could say this movie is no turkey.

My score: 75/100 (3 stars)

Metacritic score: 70/100 (3 stars)


It's a wedding instead of Thanksgiving dinner that's the centerpiece of "Rachel Getting Married," as should be obvious from the title. Kym Buchanan after years of drug abuse, drinking, and just in general mayhem is checking out of rehab for the weekend for her sister's wedding.

Almost immediately she visits a local AA meeting, where she meets Kiernan, who turns out to also be the best man and almost immediately she and Kiernan are having sex in the basement. While Kym doesn't sabotage the wedding in any huge way, she does hamper things with her overly dramatic, me-first behavior, such as demanding to be made the maid of honor despite having had no input on the wedding.

Kym's presence reopens some old wounds, especially with her and her mother (Debra Winger) over something that happened before Kym went into rehab. But there are good times as well with lots of dancing and singing and competitive dishwasher loading.

There's not much else I could really say about the plot without giving too much away. I thought this movie was interesting, but not overly great. Parts of it dragged, especially the rehearsal dinner toasts and during the reception. There's not too many "Bridezilla" moments except a tantrum at the hair salon and it avoids the cliches about cold feet and such.

There is to some extent the same message about love, family, and forgiveness only with a slightly darker ending.

My score: 50/100 (2 stars)

Metacritic score: 82/100 (3.5 stars)

Overall, I'd say if you want something lighter and funnier than go with the former and if you want more serious fare go with the latter.

That is all.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Sasquatch Gang

There are good independent films out there. There are even good independent films about nerds, such as "Free Enterprise." Then there's "The Sasquatch Gang," which I unfortunately stumbled across on Showtime one morning and decided to rent so I could watch the whole thing.

The movie is written and directed by Tim Skousen, the first assistant director on the surprise hit, "Napoleon Dynamite." It also has at least one of the same producers and also Jon Gries (Uncle Rico in Napoleon) as a sheriff and a cameo by Napoleon Dynamite himself, Jon Heder.

The material is similar to that movie as well. Like the titular hero of the aforementioned "Napoleon Dynamite," this film revolves around an immature doofus. In this case it's a teenager named Gavin, whose idea of a good time is to stage battles on his front lawn with his chubby friend Hobie and androgynous friend Maynard. They make swords, maces, and phallic instruments that I think are supposed to be spears, out of duct tape and plastic tubing. Then there's Sophie, a clerk at the local video store who thinks she's fat and so has her dentist uncle wire her jaw shut. She also has a crush on Gavin and so they go on a "date" where he teaches her to sword fight.

Now you're probably wondering, what does Sasquatch have to do with anything? Well, one day Gavin, his friends, and Sophie are walking in the woods when they find a big pile of poop and some larger-than-normal footprints. They call the sheriff, who in turn alerts the media, which in turn prompts Dr. Artemis Snodgross (Apollo Creed himself, Carl Weathers) to show up to evaluate the find.

Except the poop and footprints are fake, which would be a spoiler if not for the jumbled timeline the film uses, which actually discloses this crucial fact early on. Mullet-wearing Zerk (Justin Long of Mac commercial fame) is about to have his prized Firebird repoed for racking up $1000 on his credit card (he bought $5 of fast food six years earlier and then never paid the bill, which is probably one of the movie's funnier points) and so with his shirtless friend Shirts, decide to stage the hoax to raise money by selling Bigfoot poop and prints on Ebay.

Then there's some fuzzy story point about if the find turns out to be a hoax that Gavin will have to give away his prized video collection to his nemesis Shane. Yes, though this is supposed to be 2005 he has a collection of videotapes and Sophie's store still rents VHS tapes. I guess DVD technology hadn't reached the Oregon woods yet.

This is all similar to "Napoleon Dynamite" as I said early on, but really it seems like a pale imitation. While Napoleon was the charming tale of an immature doofus (and the immature doofuses around him) finding love and acceptance, there's no such fairy tale story to embrace here. Mostly the story is a confusing mess that probably smells as bad as Bigfoot's poo. The acting by pretty much all involved is just as bad.

You'd probably have to go out of your way to find this movie unless it's showing on Showtime or you have Netflix. Don't go to the effort.

BTW, on a side note the ending credits call the movie "The Sasquatch Dumpling Gang." I'm not sure what's up with that, except maybe the studio decided to shorten the title and no one changed the credits.

That is all.

My score: 40/100 (1.5 stars) (Though it was probably more fun than "Adventureland.")

Metacritic score: 57/100 (2.5 stars)

Monday, November 9, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Maybe someone can help me out here and tell me about a decent prequel that has ever been made. I'm sure someone, some time has made one--I just can't think of one. "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" (there's quite a mouthful) doesn't qualify.

If you know nothing about comics or movies, Wolverine is a character first introduced in the "X-Men" series of comics back in the '70s. He has cool metal claws that come out of his hands when he gets mad--which happens a lot. He can also regenerate, which comes in handy if the Incredible Hulk rips him in half, as happened in a recent comic book series. When the X-Men made the leap to the big screen in 2000, Wolverine was played by Hugh Jackman as gruff loner with cool metal claws and regenerative powers and also amnesia. In "X2" some of Wolverine's past was revealed when he uncovered the former lab of William Stryker, who performed experiments on mutants. So now you're up to speed.

Since making "X4" was too difficult, the studio decided to bring Jackman back to reprise Wolverine, only in this case to describe how he became everyone's favorite Canadian superhero. The movie starts with a prologue in 1845 in the Canadian Rockies, when young James Logan has a Luke Skywalker moment and also finds out cool bone claws spring from his hands when he gets mad. Together with his brother (or half-brother maybe, I'm not sure) Victor, aka Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber), Logan goes on for whatever reason to fight in every American war of the next 120 years from the Civil War on to Vietnam in a montage similar to the one used more effectively in "Watchmen."

With all of that out of the way the real story begins in the early '70s or so. Logan and Victor get found out by the Army and sentenced to death until a man named Major William Stryker (Danny Huston taking the role played by Brian Cox in "X2") steps in to offer them a License to Kill by doing the government's dirty work. While Victor enjoys this, Logan decides that 130 years of killing is enough and after a mission to Africa to locate meteor fragments containing a strange alien metal, he goes off the grid in the Canadian Rockies. There he lives with a schoolteacher named Kayla (Lynn Collins) and all seems happy.

But of course we know it can't stay that way because we've seen the other three movies. So it's no surprise when Victor shows up and kills Kayla. This drives Logan over the edge so that he makes a deal with Stryker to get adamantium (made from that alien metal found in Africa) injected into his body so that he can kill Victor. When Stryker tries to double-cross him, Logan goes on the run. Eventually more of Stryker's dirty deeds are uncovered, which leads to a battle at a certain nuclear plant that became famous in the late '70s. Along the way some mutants not seen in the previous movies like Gambit are introduced and younger versions of some shown in the previous movies like Cyclops are shown.

Like most prequels I found it hard to care much about any of this. The problem with prequels like this or the "Star Wars" ones is that it was never essential to know the background of the character. How many people besides rabid fanboys really cared how Darth Vader became Darth Vader? After over 8 mostly dull hours we found out, but did it satisfy anyone? In the same vein, how many people were really hankering to find out how Wolverine became Wolverine? Probably not many.

Like other prequels it does sort of in a half-baked way answer the big questions about Wolverine's origins. At the same time like any prequel made almost a decade after the source material it leaves other nagging questions, such as why Sabretooth looks completely different from the first film and seems not to really know his brother.

I suppose if you just want to appreciate this on the popcorn level it's slightly less boring and annoying than "Transformers 2." That's not saying much. Though I thought the effects looked pretty cheap, the kind you can tell were all done on computers. Notably was a scene where Logan and Kayla are in their El Camino and it's so obvious they were surrounded by a blue/green screen that I nearly laughed. And apparently the writers/producers/director didn't bother doing any homework or they'd have realized that HumVees did not go into service until 1985 and didn't even begin development until 1981, both coming after when this movie is supposed to be taking place. Is it that hard to find some old Jeeps these days? As well, it seems unlikely the technology for creating Weapon X (Wolvie's codename) would exist in the '70s when most computers still took up whole rooms.

Most damning though is still the absence of any yellow spandex. Though you have to admire the craftsmanship of the leather jacket he wears, which apparently survives the next 20 years.

That is all.

My score: 50/100 (2 stars)

Metacritic score: 43/100 (1.5 stars)

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Dark Knight (v1)

The Dark Knight
4/4 stars

Is WOW! sufficient? I can't remember the last time I went to a movie and was in utter disbelief at how far the filmmakers went. They pulled out all the stops and the sad thing is that I can't tell you about any of them without spoiling the movie, which you need to see, at least if you can stand a grim and gritty foray into crime and morality. And believe me, they don't call it "The DARK Knight" for nothing.

The complicated plot involves Batman about a year or so after the earlier "Batman Begins" taking down the mob with the help of police lieutenant Jim Gordon and new DA Harvey Dent who is known to Gothamites as the "White Knight" for his tough stance on crime and by the corrupt cops as "Two Face" for his time in Internal Affairs. By working together Batman, Gordon, and Dent put a stop to the mob--at least temporarily--but enbolden an even greater threat in the Joker. The Joker isn't your typical movie villain in pursuit of money or world domination; he wants chaos, pure and simple. And what follows is chaos that pushes everyone to (and past) the limit.

Though it is a bit overlong at 2 1/2 hours, this is still an absolutely tremendous film. It takes the groundwork laid by more serious superhero flicks like the 1989 Batman or "Spider-Man 2" and completely takes it up to the next level in terms of substance. If it weren't for the crazy costumes this wouldn't be much different than watching something like "The Godfather" or "Heat."

Heath Ledger plays the evil Joker and if you don't know, he killed himself in January. Anyway, his performance was awesome, blowing away the Jack Nicholson version, which is a feat. What I think helped this out is they didn't try to create an origin for the Joker. He simply shows up on the scene, creating havoc. What that means is there's nothing that allows us to gain a lot of sympathy or understanding of him, because we don't see that he was some kid picked on on the playground or some crazy Mafia thug. He's simply an evil force unleashed upon the world. Ledger of course gets most of the kudos, but the other actors all did their thing, or as much as they needed to do. Maggie Gyllenhaal was slightly less irritating than Katie Holmes, but how hard was that?

I'm sure this movie isn't for everyone. After the first time I watched it, I felt as if I had been psychologically bludgeoned with a sack of doorknobs. There is just so much happening and not a lot of it is very pleasant. I'd say you probably shouldn't take young kiddies because even though most of the violence isn't shown on screen and there's not a lot of blood, the Joker is pretty terrifying and another character ends up pretty gross-looking. More importantly, it's really not an easy movie to follow because there are so many interlocking moving parts. And if you want something "fun" you're better off watching "Hellboy II" or "The Incredible Hulk" because this isn't your old-fashioned dumb superhero movie as I've already said.

At the end of the day, the real question I have is: where do they go from here? How can you possibly top that? Well, you probably can't.


The one I saw last week was a far cry from all the superhero movies released this summer. "TransSiberian" is the story of a couple from Iowa taking the famous TransSiberian train from Beijing to Moscow. Roy and Jessie have just been ministering to kids in China and are on their way home. But since Roy has a thing for trains--he has a train set in his basement--they get on the train. Right away it's obvious I wouldn't want to get on this train and travel thousands of miles. It's cramped, the windows don't open, the toilets don't flush, and the east listening music doesn't ever stop. Still, Roy and Jessie are making a go of it, though we see they have some conflict in their marriage concerning birth control.

Then after making a stop at the Russian border where they have to change the wheels of the train cars because Russia uses a different gauge than China, two young bohemians come on board. Carlos is from Spain while Abby is from Seattle--or at least that's what they say. There's something shady about them right from the get-go when Jessie wakes up to them trying to have sex in the room they all share.

Things heat up at the next stop where Roy misses the train while exploring and Jessie has to wait for him to catch up with Abby and Carlos. From there the intrigue begins with a murder, some cleverly hidden drugs, and a drug enforcement inspector named Ilya. The end gets a little convoluted and silly, but overall "TransSiberian" managed to hold my interest, in large part because of great acting all around. Woody Harrelson basically updates his bartender character from "Cheers" though a little older and smarter. Ben Kingsley as one critic noted adds another great ethnic character to his resume after "Gahndi" and the Iranian officer in "House of Sand and Fog." Emily Mortimer does a good job as the ordinary woman in way over head. And Eduardo Noriega has just the right amount of sleazy charm as Carlos. So even though there aren't explosions or giant monsters, you're still interested in finding out what's going to happen to these people.

As I said earlier, though, the ending gets a little silly. I guess they felt the need to get one expensive action scene into the movie. What stays with you though as the characters--especially Jessie--make moral choices is to wonder what you would do in that situation, if it ever came to that. Pray that it doesn't.

I loved director/writer Brad Anderson's previous "The Machinist" and this film was also very good, so I'm looking forward to seeing more of his work in the future. I did manage to see this at the AMC theater near me, but other chains are not carrying it, so it might not be playing in your area. If not, make sure to check it out on DVD or On Demand when it comes out. If you like a good grownup suspense flick this is for you.

(My grade: 3/4 stars)
(Metacritic grade: 72)

Hellboy 2 The Golden Army

I remembered liking the original although I hadn't seen it in a few years until FX showed it on basic cable the week it came out. Hellboy is a "hero" who is actually a demon from Hell discovered in 1944 by an American scientist investigating some Nazi occult shenanigans. The scientist raises the demon as his own son and calls him Hellboy. Over time Hellboy goes out and fights evil monsters under the protection of a Men in Black-type agency known as the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. He's aided by a fish-type creature called Abe Sapien and a young woman named Liz who can create blue flames when she's provoked.

Anyway, fast forward now to the sequel where Hellboy and Liz are living together, which brings to mind some gross questions better not contemplated, and Hellboy is chafing under Liz's rule and that of Manning, the head of the Bureau. At the same time, something sinister is afoot. Borrowing from "Lord of the Rings" years ago there was a truce between Men and other creatures, most notably Elves. The gist of the truce is that the Elves, trolls, and other creatures would live in the forests and Men would have the rest, but now Man has violated the truce by cutting all the trees down. Enter Prince Nuada, an Elf who's decided to find the pieces of a crown that would allow him to control The Golden Army, a group of 4900 indestructible metal killing machines.

The search for the crown pieces brings him to an auction in Manhattan, during which he unleashes a horde of evil "Tooth Fairies," which are nasty flying critters that eat you from the teeth out. Hellboy and company are called in to fight them in a battle whose conclusion, like the rest of the movie, seems so obvious you wonder why the heroes didn't think of it after about five seconds. The bad guy escapes with the crown, but before he can use it his sister Nuala steals the other part and seeks refuge at the Bureau's headquarters in New Jersey, where she falls in love with Abe Sapien.

Mayhem ensues with battling trolls and giant forest gods and of course The Golden Army. There is a reason why Liz has been so annoyed with Hellboy recently, but I won't spoil it for you, though it's probably obvious. So much of the movie is obvious, especially the end. I figured out what would happen after watching the bizarre LOTR puppet show at the beginning and the fight between Nuada and his father a little later, so basically I sat through probably a good 80-90 minutes already knowing the outcome.

Still, the movie is passable entertainment in terms of there's all sorts of creepy monsters and some decent fight scenes. And the Barry Manilow sing-along can't help but make you smile.

There were a couple of castmembers missing from the sequel. One was Rupert Evans who played FBI Agent Myers in the first film to set up a love triangle between him-Liz-and Hellboy. His character was summarily dispatched to Antarctica, presumably to make room for the surprise twist. But it was nice in the first film to have a regular human balancing out all the monsters and freaks. All we have in the sequel is Manning, who is not exactly the most charismatic guy. The second missing person was David Hyde Pierce who did the voice for Abe Sapien. So now you get one of those weird moments early on when you realize the character sounds different. In some ways this is an improvement, but it's still disorienting.

I waited to see this in the second-run theater for the obvious reason: "The Dark Knight" came out the next week. While Hellboy is a passable sequel it's not in the same league as "The Dark Knight"--at least to me. Where as TDK felt like an extension of the saga, "Hellboy II" feels like the typical Hollywood sequel where more stuff happens, but there's not really a lot of growth to the characters or the overarching story. I think one critic said this was a movie with not much on its mind. I'd have to agree. It's a fun movie, but too predictable and shallow. If you want to kill a couple hours you could do worse, but you could also do better.

(My grade: 2/4 stars)
(Metacritic grade: 78)

Burn After Reading

Another Friday, another movie. This time I went to see "Burn After Reading" the latest film from the Coen brothers, the geniuses behind "Fargo," "O Brother Where Art Thou," and "No Country for Old Men" among many others. This particular film answers the question: what happens in a battle of wits between the witless?

"Come back when it makes sense," is what the CIA Chief (JK Simmons, who seems to be getting typecast in these sort of roles after "Spider-Man") says to a lower CIA officer midway through the meeting. But the only problem is the plot of this movie will NEVER make sense. "Burn After Reading" is simply preposterous and yet it's fun to watch these bumbling idiots doing battle.

The film starts with Osbourne Cox getting fired from his gig as a CIA analyst. He's married to Katie, the pediatrician from Hell who wants to get a divorce. She's sleeping with Harry, a former Treasury agent who likes to brag about the gun he still carries and has never fired. Harry is building something in his basement. When revealed, this device got the biggest laughs of the whole movie. Meanwhile, Linda is a gym instructor who desperately wants plastic surgery to remake her body. She goes on dates with men she meets online who are invariably married and using her for a quick roll in the hay.

Katie's lawyer convinces her to steal Osbourne's computer files to use against him in divorce proceedings. These include his memoirs about his years in the Agency. Somehow these end up being left at the gym, where Linda's dimwitted co-worker Chad convinces her to try blackmailing Osbourne for money. From there the inexplicable action begins. From the previews you probably already know that at one point Linda and Chad try to sell Osbourne's memoirs to the Russian government.

Saying much more about what happens would spoil too much, and it wouldn't make any sense anyway. These characters are all far less important or bright than they think, as epitomized by Harry and his gun and the Russian government's reaction to Osbourne's memoirs. As I said earlier, watching these idiots match wits--or lack thereof--is what makes the film fun to watch. This is territory the Coens mined more successfully in "Fargo" and less successfully in the dreadful remake of "The Ladykillers." (And they've probably done it in other movies I haven't seen.)

What disappointed me was the ending, where the fates of most of the characters is TOLD rather than SHOWN. Most of those scenes would have been pretty funny, but we don't get to see it. You're left wondering if they just ran out of film or money. Maybe there will be an alternate ending on DVD. Watching this on DVD I might be able to figure out how the CD with Osbourne's data got into the gym. From what I could gather, Katie's lawyer's secretary took it there and lost it, but I'm not entirely certain. Maybe I missed something or maybe it was another thing not shown.

The only other thing that bothered me about this movie is that the characters, especially Osbourne, seemed like they were trying to go for a record in using the "F" word. A lot of the time it just sounded pretty juvenile. Between that and a bloody sequence later in the movie you don't want to take your kids to this one.

Anyway, I found the movie engrossing if only to wonder what ridiculous things would happen next. I'd recommend seeing it, though you could easily wait until it comes out on DVD.

(My Rating: 2.5/4 stars)
(Metacritic score: 62)

That is all.

Eagle Eye

Last year director DJ Caruso and star Shia LaBeouf teamed up for an update of Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” that was not as good as the original, but still pretty good in “Disturbia”. Now the director and star have reunited for “Eagle Eye” which could be considered an update of Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” or from the ending maybe “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” Only in this case they deliver a movie that isn’t fun or memorable. Basically “Eagle Eye” is a dreary two-hour slog.

The story begins in an Afghanistan-type place called something else where US troops, intelligence guys, satellites, and so forth are watching someone who might or might not be a Bin Laden-type terrorist. When he stops at a gathering of Muslims that could be a funeral the Defense Department computers suggest not attacking, but the president goes ahead and approves the attack anyway. What does this have to do with the main story? A lot as it turns out.

Not long later Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBeouf)’s twin brother, an Air Force officer working in Washington, is killed in a traffic accident. Jerry visits an ATM after the funeral to find his account is stuffed with $750,000! When he gets back to his apartment he finds guns, surveillance gear, and bomb making stuff all over. A woman calls him on his phone to say he has twenty seconds to run before the FBI shows up. He doesn’t run and is taken in by the FBI and agent Tom Morgan (Billy Bob Thornton) and grilled as a suspected terrorist. The woman calls Jerry back later to say she’s going to spring him moments before a crane smashes into the building.

Meanwhile, Rachel Hollimon (Michelle Monaghan) is out for a night on the town while her son is on a train bound for DC to play the trumpet at a concert in the Kennedy Center. She’s interrupted by a woman on the phone telling her to steal a Porsche and drive to pick up Jerry. The only thing the seemingly omnipotent voice on the phone didn’t count on is that Rachel can’t drive a stick. That’s about the only somewhat humorous moment in the movie after the chase is underway.

From there Jerry and Rachel go on a perilous journey that requires them to steal money from an armored truck, break into the Pentagon, and buy clothes from Macy’s. Throughout it all, I found the movie lacking intelligence for one but more importantly humor. The problem I had with the last two “Bourne” movies is that they were dumb action movies pretending to be smart by being serious all the time—no one crack a smile, ever! The same thing happens in “Eagle Eye,” which makes the ridiculous movie seem twice as stupid because it’s trying to pretend it’s not, sort of like Sarah Palin. At least LaBeouf’s other recent action movies “Transformers,” “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” and “Disturbia” all knew how to make their ridiculous stories fun by cracking wise every now and then. Without that the movie becomes dreary and boring as the idiotic plot twists keep coming.

The worst tactical decision was making the Jerry character angry and depressed all the time, wasting LaBeouf’s charisma and charm evident in “Transformers” and “Disturbia.” The Rachel character is really a one-note character—she’s worried about her son and that’s pretty much it for her, except briefly when she whines about her ex-husband. The FBI agent played by Billy Bob Thornton is crotchety like all BBT’s recent characters, but he isn’t given any good humorous lines like in “Bad Santa” or some of his other flicks. So basically all these characters are as dull and boring as the rest of the movie. It’s no wonder this big action movie was released in September, long after all the real competition was out of the way.

Overall, I found this disappointing even for a dumb action movie. I’d definitely say to skip this one in the theaters and on DVD—there are plenty of better ones out there.

(My rating: 2/4 stars)

(Metacritic Score: 43)

Flash of Genius

If you ever watched those old Frank Capra movies like "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" or "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" (NOT the horrible Adam Sandler remake) then you'll like "Flash of Genius." It's the same sort of film about a small-time professor-turned-inventor who takes on Ford Motor Company. Is it a spoiler to say he wins? You can already find out I'm sure on Wikipedia or whatever about the real case. Anyway, in movies like this of course the little guy wins! But there is a cost. I suppose I won't spoil that for you.

The story begins with Dr. Robert Kearns (Greg Kinnear, an affable everyman equal to Jimmy Stewart or Gary Gooper) and his family coming home from church sometime in the 1960s. It's raining outside but the rain is too light for the windshield wipers to clear away without scraping but too hard to leave the wipers off entirely. The ideal solution is to have wipers that could blink like a human eye or work intermittently. So that night Kearns foresakes sex with his dutiful wife (Lauren Graham, formerly of "The Gilmore Girls") to make their seventh child (being Catholic they don't believe in birth control) to take apart his car's windshield wipers. With the help of his two older boys he soon puts together a working prototype of the intermittent wiper. Allying himself with a local car dealer friend, he pitches the concept to Ford, who has been working unsuccessfully on the project for nearly two years.

Things get a little strained when Kearns says he wants to make the wipers himself and even goes to the trouble of financing factory space. Ford would rather do it themselves and so they decide to cut Kearns out of the deal. They say they're backing out and in the process steal his design. One night Kearns is coming home when he sees new Ford Mustangs with HIS wipers. Of course Ford won't admit this and so after a while Dr. Kearns goes a little off the deep end, imagining he's going to Washington to see the vice-president. (This is actually the opening scene of the movie.)

From there Kearns spends time in a mental institution before coming home and eventually hiring a lawyer (Alan Alda) to fight his case. The lawyer is able to get Ford to cough up a $250,000 settlement. But Kearns refuses it because Ford won't admit any wrongdoing. No credit, no deal. The lawyer bails out then--which is too bad because Alda's character was great--leaving Kearns to fight on alone with only his family to help him. And the rest should be obvious, right?

This is an enjoyable film. There's not much real drama in it, no explosions or ninjas jumping out of closets. Ford never sends any henchmen after Kearns, just a sleazy lawyer who tries to bribe him. That's probably why the scene where Kearns goes crazy is shown first because other than the courtroom scenes it's the most dramatic thing going on. Still, as I mentioned earlier, Greg Kinnear is an affable enough everyman that you want him to slay the giant and get his due.

The only problem I saw is that I didn't think the filmmakers did enough to sell the reason why it was so important for Ford to admit the wrongdoing. When you think about it, Kearns puts his family through Hell for twelve years and for what, so he can get the credit? There is some mention that what he's doing this for all inventors who have gotten screwed by big companies over the years, but perhaps not enough so that I couldn't help feeling a little unsettled at times.

This is a heartwarming story about someone you probably never thought about. You'll certainly never look at your intermittent windshield wipers the same way again. If this is in theaters near you, I'd recommend seeing it--and soon, before it's pushed out of theters by junk like "Saw V" and "Max Payne." Otherwise you can rent it on DVD. It's not exciting, but it is good old-fashioned David-and-Goliath storytelling.

That is all.

(My score: 3 stars)
(Metacritic score: 57)


"Hancock" is one of those movies that sounds great in the pitch meetings because it has that "high concept" value. You can picture some producer in an office or board room saying to the studio execs, "OK, here's the thing: we got a guy and he's a superhero, but get this--he's drunk, reckless, and angry!" To which the execs think about it a moment and then nod and say, "What a great idea!"

The problem with movies like "Hancock" then is the high concept often enough can't sustain an entire film. Not even 90 minutes in the case of this one. There's just not enough depth to the story or characters to make it work anywhere other than the board room or the previews.

As you'd expect, "Hancock" starts off promisingly when John Hancock (Will Smith) foils three gun-toting criminals in his usual reckless style, smashing buildings and pavement in the process--the bill is estimated at $9 million. Later that day, Ray (Jason Bateman) is coming home from an unsuccessful meeting trying to save the world by getting corporations to pony up more dough to charity. He gets caught on the railroad tracks right as a train is coming. (This being a movie of course he can't get the safety belt to work so he can run away.) In drops Hancock to save him and cause a few million more in damages. Ray decides to use his PR skills to remake Hancock's image. His wife Mary (Charlize Theron) is skeptical of this.

The first part of Ray's plan involves Hancock surrending to authorities and going to jail for various crimes superheroes in other movies are never arrested for--destruction of property, obstruction of justice, and so forth. Hancock can break out any time he wants, but he stays for the meantime to wait until the public needs him again. Once they've seen how much crime goes up without Hancock, the people of LA will decide that a few million in destruction is worth it.

From there the movie goes off the rails with a ridiculous plot twist to explain Hancock's origins. (He woke up in a Miami hospital 80 years earlier with no memory, taking the name John Hancock from a nurse who told him to put his "John Hancock" on the release forms.) The twist involves Mary and leads to an epic confrontation that puts Hancock, Mary, and Ray all at risk. This twist is also so vague and ridiculous that it really brings down the last half of the movie.

That's what I meant at the beginning when I said a lot of these high concept films sound better in meetings where they can be summarized in one line. Trying to flesh out these broad concepts into an actual movie is what leads to the ridiculous twists and other nonsense.

Still, as far as movies go, it's fun--especially in the beginning--to watch Hancock stumble around, break things, and toss bullies miles into the air. The language and Hancock's drinking problem might not make this suitable for younger viewers. I'd say to rent this when it does come out on DVD if you want a slight change from superhero fare like "Iron Man" or "The Incredible Hulk." It might be hard though as you sit through the second half not to think of other, much better possibilities than is presented.

That is all.

(My score: 2/4 stars)
(Metacritic score: 49)

Body of Lies

I went back to the regular theater this week (not by choice so much as the second-run theater didn't have anything at the time I wanted) and watched a movie probably soon to be playing at the second-run theater: Body of Lies. Despite a great award-winning director in Ridley Scott and his favorite award-winning actor Russell Crowe along with Leonardo DiCaprio, Body of Lies pretty much landed with a thud at the box office. In watching it I could see why: as interesting as the plot twists are, the movie never really fully engages me.

The complicated story revolves around two CIA agents: Roger Ferris (DiCaprio) is the man on the ground in Iraq while Ed Hoffman (Crowe) is his boss lounging around back in Virginia--or his backyard, kitchen, a soccer game, etc. Ferris and Hoffman are trying to catch a shadowy terrorist known as Al Saleem, who's behind a string of bombings in Europe. Their first lead takes Ferris to Amman, Jordan, where he enlists the aid of the Jordanian spy chief Hanni (Mark Strong, a dead ringer for an Arab-looking Andy Garcia) who is sophisticated on the outside and cold as ice underneath.

Things go sour in Jordan largely due to Hoffman's micromanaging from afar, nearly getting Ferris killed. But the good part is that he meets a pretty Iranian/Palestinian nurse named Aisha and falls in love. With the cultural differences and Ferris' job, their relationship seems doomed from the start.

While recuperating, Ferris hatches a risky scheme to flush Al Saleem out into the open that will put himself and Aisha at risk. That's as far as I'll go so I don't spoil the rest of the plot's twists and turns.

These twists and turns are what make the movie watchable even as all the characters except for Hanni are dull. The problem is little background is given on anyone. I suppose that's to be expected to a certain extent for spy movies as they're supposed to be mysterious. By the end, though, all you know is that Hoffman has a family he sort of pays attention to, Ferris is divorced, and Aisha has a meddling sister. There's not enough there to make the characters really come to life, so you don't care so much if they live or die. The relationship between Ferris and Aisha seems especially forced as there seems little reason for them to get together except that maybe Ferris is drawn to women playing hard to get.

As well while there are some decent action scenes, there's nothing quite as exciting as Bourne or Bond. I'm not sure how much the politics involved in the movie reflect reality, though I wonder if some CIA agent wouldn't watch Ferris' scheme and think, "Hey, why didn't we think of that?" Maybe part of the reason this movie didn't draw better is that it' still too soon for movies involving Iraq and Arab terrorists unless there's a superhero involved like Iron Man.

To me the end was the most disappointing part of the film. While the rest of the movie's plot was smart and clever enough, the end falls back on some old movie cliches. I can't explain much better without giving things away except to say a less happy ending would have probably been better--at least to me.

As I said though, the plot is interesting enough with its twists and turns and there are some decent action scenes. It's smarter than a thriller like Eagle Eye, neither of which will probably be in the first-run theaters much longer. See it while you can! Or wait for the DVD.

That is all.

(My score: 2.5 stars)
(Metacritic score: 58)


Last week I saw "Body of Lies" so it made sense to me to go see "Traitor" when I saw it was playing at the second-run theater at the time I wanted. Both movies feature undercover American agents battling Mideast terrorists who are loosely based on Al-Qaeda.

In the case of "Traitor" the movie has less of the explosions and gunplay of "Body of Lies" but the characters are better drawn. The movie focuses on Samir Horn (Don Cheadle) who grew up in Sudan with his devout Muslim father until 1978 when the father is blown up. When we next see Samir he's in Yemen, peddling bombs to terrorists. That's when Yemeni security, aided by FBI agent Clayton (Guy Pearce, who resurfaces after what seemed like a long exile from mainstream cinema) take Samir into custody along with the terrorist cell's second banana Omar. As both grew up with no home, are devout Muslims, know English, and play chess they become quick friends in prison. Omar stages a jailbreak to free himself and Samir.

From there the chase is on, with Clayton trying to hunt down Samir while Samir is infiltrating deeper into the terrorist organization. He plans a bombing of an American consulate, arms a suicide bomber, and ultimately helps the terrorists with their ultimate plan, which is to create havoc on American soil by employing agents who could be your neighbor, classmate, or bartender.

The question isn't whose side Samir is on--this is revealed about halfway in the movie, or maybe a little less--but how far Samir will go to take down the terrorists. Is he willing to kill innocents for the greater good?

Unlike "Body of Lies" where the love side plot was forced, the love side plot here was badly neglected. Samir had a girl named Chandra but he hasn't seen her in years since he went rogue. She spends more of her screen time talking with Agent Clayton than with Samir. A flashback of how they got together or them being in love might have helped there, but that would have slowed the pace more so.

The movie feels slow at times--I checked my watch a couple times--so I have to say "Body of Lies" has a better pace and more frenetic action. But despite this it's obvious "Traitor" is a better overall movie that cares enough about its characters to give them a little more depth. If you're going to watch just one movie about undercover American agents battling Al-Qaeda knockoffs, make it "Traitor."

(BTW, it's weird in the credits to see Steve Martin's name attached as a writer and producer. And yes it is THAT Steve Martin. But then we always knew he was a wild and crazy guy.)

(My score: 3 stars)
(Metacritic Score: 60)

The Dark Knight (v2)

Does it violate some kind of reviewer's code to review a movie a second time within five months? Screw it. "The Dark Knight" finally came to the second-run theaters and since I hadn't seen it in three months and I had a day off, I thought I might as well go see it for a sixth time. (And if you think that's obsessive, my sister has seen it SEVEN times and is planning to go see it a couple more at her local second-run theater.)

Anyway, I like "The Dark Knight" for the same reason I like "The Empire Strikes Back" best of all the Star Wars movies: it's got everything a growing boy needs. Action, suspense, a little gore, a little humor, and yes even a little romance. Not to mention a kickass hero, an awesome villain, and plenty of things blowing up! (If they could have thrown in a lightsaber duel I would have been in movie Heaven.) If you're a guy--and I am, at least from the last time I used the bathroom--why the heck wouldn't you like this movie? If you're a woman and more inclined towards "Sex and the City" then not so much.

What I like best about the two Christopher Nolan films than the Burton/Schumacher ones is that Nolan put the Batman in the real world, more or less. (I mean as real as a world with a guy running around in a cape and cowl can be.) The Burton films were OK, but there was always that campy scenery so that the city always looked like a sound stage, not a real place. (This only became more pronounced in the so-so "Batman Forever" and dreadful "Batman & Robin.") Since the Nolan films were filmed largely in Chicago and you can see actual Chicago landmarks on the screen, you get more of a feeling that this is a real place with real people, some of whom just happen to dress funny.

Some people on Gather and other places have complained the movie isn't fun enough like, say, "Iron Man" but Batman isn't supposed to be fun. To borrow and paraphrase a quote from the movie, "This is a guy who goes out at night beating criminals to a pulp with his bare hands." There's not a lot of fun in that. I applaud Nolan for taking the character seriously, unlike the old Adam West TV show. And if you want fun superhero movies there plenty of them out there.

Anyway, the movie isn't perfect of course, but it's still a great film in its own right. Watching it for the first time in three months I was more engrossed in it than probably the fourth or fifth times I saw it, even though I knew what was coming. I'm sure when this gets to DVD on December 9 I am going to wear out my DVD player watching it a seventh, eighth, etc. times.

If you don't know anything about the movie, here's the obligatory plot summary. A year after "Batman Begins" the Batman, Lt. Gordon, and new DA Harvey Dent are trying to take down the mob. In desperation the mob turns to the Joker, who unleashes a wave of terror on the poor people of Gotham City. Batman has to stop the Joker, but it sure as heck isn't going to be easy; there are a lot of casualties--including the Batman's soul!

So there you go. I also of course can't say enough about how awesome Heath Ledger's Joker is. He's smart and evil, just like I wish I was. Ha ha ha ha ha!

My score: still 4/4 stars


What with Thanksgiving and all it's been a couple weeks since I went out and watched a movie, not that anyone really noticed. Anyway, this week I went to see Clint Eastwood's "Changeling" before it exits the big theaters.

This movie is based on an amazing (or baffling) true story in Los Angeles. On March 10, 1928 Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) comes home from her job at the telephone company (where she gets to wear roller skates!) to find her son Walter missing. Five months later a boy turns up in DeKalb, Illinois claiming to be Walter and is brought back to Los Angeles by a triumphant LAPD in desperate need of some good press.

There's only one problem: it's not Walter!

Christine knows this right off, but reluctantly agrees to take the child home just in case she is mistaken. But soon she discovers the boy is three inches shorter than her last measurement of Walter and circumcized, where Walter was not. She goes to the LAPD but the corrupt Captain Jones stonewalls her at every turn by bringing in his own "expert" and finally questioning her sanity, which leads to Christine being committed. But over time the truth about Walter (most of it) comes out to reveal the frightening corruptness and incompetence of the LAPD.

It is frightening to think that a police captain could have you thrown into the loony bin without so much as a warrant just because you're asking too many questions. Once in the loony bin, how can you really prove your sanity when the doctors are just as corrupt as the police?

Ultimately, "Changeling" is a story about a mother who refuses to give in to corruption and terror out of love for her son--her real son. I wouldn't be surprisd if Jolie gets some Oscar buzz for her performance, though a lot of it seemed to be alternately crying and yelling. At the core, between all that crying and yelling, there is a cold resolve to make sure justice is done.

Eastwood's direction and music score are good, though there was never a point where I didn't know I was watching a movie. Some of the dramatic touches like Christine being rescued a moment before being electroshocked seemed too convenient to have happened in real life, but such is the case in all "based on a true story" movies. And really, who would have thought the guy who created "Babylon 5" could write a script about historical events in 1928 Los Angeles?

Overall, I'd say this is a good movie, though not great in my mind. I wouldn't be surprised if it gets a few Oscar nods because at this point I haven't seen anything more likely to win, although most of the small movies that might be nominated haven't made stops at the multiplex yet.

BTW, do you suppose it was a coincidence that the previews before this were Eastwood's "Gran Torino" and Brad Pitt's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"?

My score: 3/4 stars

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I had wanted to see this movie since it came out on XMas day, but I never got around to it until last night. I have to say the movie was about what I expected, though as far as tear-jerker love stories go it didn't jerk any tears out of me.

(Perhaps in honor of the titular character I should write my review backwards.)

That is all.

(Metacritic score: 69)

(My score: 3/4 stars)

I was disappointed that the movie sort of cops out near the end, though if it didn't they probably would have needed an extra half-hour to the two-and-a-half-hour running time, though this could have been offset by eliminating the needless narrative framing device of the daughter Caroline and a mummified-looking Daisy in the hospital with Benjamin's diary. I hope I'm not giving too much away when I say a convenient case of senility takes some of the dramatic punch out of the last fifteen minutes or so, not to mention it was shot in a montage which certainly didn't help.

Otherwise, the problem was I didn't really get any emotional charge out of this film. Whenever there's supposed to be an epic/tragic love story like this or "Titanic" you hope to feel a little something, but I was left empty this time around. A lot of this I think is that I never really warmed to Cate Blanchett's Daisy. As a young, aspiring dancer she always seemed like such a selfish brat and then later she becomes more of a whiny brat. Benjamin probably deserved someone better to serve as his fair Penelope along his strange odyssey. (On a side note, I had a twinge of feminism at Daisy being a ballet dancer. I'm not sure why but the thought occurred to me that this was a safe, stereotypical occupation for a woman. Other than the Englishwoman who attempts to swim the English Channel really none of the female characters do anything outside what you might consider "normal" female roles: maid, dancer, wife, mother. That's probably not wrong, but it might have been nice if the filmmakers had done something a little more daring. I'm just saying.) Well anyway, I didn't find any part of the story that really engaged me emotionally, though the movie wasn't boring or dumb; I was just hoping for more. I'm selfish that way.

OK, now for the plot summary, which I should do in proper order since otherwise it would be kind of pointless. The "Curious Case" part of the title refers to that in New Orleans in 1918 (the day WWI ended) a woman gives birth to a very wrinkled baby suffering from arthritis and so forth like that of an 85-year-old man. The woman dies giving birth and her terrified husband dumps the baby on the doorstep of a retirement home. The black maid named Queenie finds the baby on the steps and because of her strong belief in God (which didn't seem strong enough to compel her marry the caretaker who later knocks her up) takes the boy in and names him Benjamin.

It's convenient he ends up in an old folks home because he looks so much like an old person. If you haven't figured it out yet, Benjamin is aging backwards, starting as an old man and heading backwards to infancy. A similar thing was done I think on "Mork and Mindy" back in the '70s.

After a few years of being generally content in the nursing home, Benjamin meets the future love of his life, Daisy, who at the time is five years old while Benjamin appears to be in his late '70s. Daisy is fascinated rather than horrified by Benjamin and so they become friends, playing together whenever Daisy comes to visit her grandmother.

Eventually Benjamin is well enough to go down to the docks, where he gets a job on a tug boat for the rascally captain Clark. The captain arranges Benjamin's first sexual experience in a brothel, which inadvertantly leads to Benjamin coming into contact with his father. Benjamin enjoys working on the tug boat and at 17/68 goes off with the boat to Florida and later Murmansk, USSR. There in the cold of Russia, Benjamin finds his second sexual experience and first real love in a diplomat's wife who once tried to swim the English Channel. They become lovers under strict rules that her husband never find out; Benjamin is just her elderly boy toy, which seems odd since this is long before Viagra.

After the affair, Benjamin and the tug boat are conscripted into the US Navy as part of the war effort. There's an encounter with a U-Boat before Benjamin is sent home, where he encounters a more grownup Daisy. She's going off to New York to become a ballet dancer and tries to sleep with Benjamin before she goes, though he rebuffs her.

When Benjamin does go to New York to see her a few years later, he finds that she's with another man, one who's aging normally and thus looks about her same age. So the lovers are torn apart once again, but you know in a story like this it won't be for long. They're destined to be together. That presents many challenges in itself, as you'd expect with people aging normally, let alone someone aging backwards.

In between all this is the narrative device used to frame the story. This involves an elderly Daisy dying in a hospital with her daughter by her side as Hurricane Katrina approaches. This didn't really do much for me as it seemed like more of a distraction than anything. At least when they did this in "Forrest Gump" it was entertaining.

As Forrest would say, that's all I gotta say about that.

On another side note, a movie I'm hoping eventually to see is the adaptation of "The Time Traveler's Wife" that follows similar themes about quirks in time and doomed lovers. That movie was originally slated to come out XMas 2008, but was pushed back. Oddly enough that movie is produced by Brad Pitt, star of "Benjamin Button." Hmmmmm, fancy that.