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)