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, 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.


I had wanted to see "Milk" ever since it first came out back in November, but of course first I had to wait until it actually came to a theater near me. Now that award season is kicking in, I finally got my chance to see it this week and I wasn't really disappointed.

"Milk" is the story of Harvey Milk (played by Sean Penn in an Oscar-nominated performance), who spearheaded the gay right's movement in San Francisco back in the late '70s and became the first openly gay man elected to public office. Not long after, Milk was killed by rival councilman Dan White, who also killed the city's mayor. As the movie opens, Milk is reading a sort of mini-autobiography into a tape recorder in case he's assassinated.

The movie then flashes back 8 years to 1970, when Milk is a closeted insurance company worker, who picks up a younger man named Scotty (James Franco) in a stairwell. Scotty convinces Milk to come out of the closet and so for a couple years they become hippies, finally settling into the Castro neighborhood, which at that time was just becoming a haven for gay people. Milk opens a camera store that becomes a gay hangout and begins to organize. He gains an unlikely ally in the Teamsters, who seek his help to boycott Coors beer. After the success of this, Milk decides to run for the city council.

He is defeated that year and the next year, and the next year. Each year the margins of defeat get smaller as Milk continues making a name for himself. At the same time as he's becoming a hero to gay people everywhere, he and Scotty are becoming estranged. A change in the districting laws of San Francisco finally mean that Milk can be elected to the city council, at the same time as Dan White, who represents a traditional Irish-Catholic ward. Milk tries to befriend White but they become enemies when Milk refuses to back White's plan to move a psychiatric center.

From there Milk leads the fight against Prop 6 that wants to eliminate all gay teachers in California, or those with the audacity to support gay teachers. (Of cours enow in these enlightened times we'd never do that. We respect gay people as long as they don't want to get married like everyone else.) At the moment of his greatest success, Milk's life ends in tragedy.

I liked this movie and Sean Penn does a good job of bringing Milk to life. The only real problem is the other characters seem far less dimensional. What is especially disappointing is that the Dan White character isn't explored more in-depth, so we don't really know WHY he does what he does. I didn't really understand why he resigned from the city council in the first place, except he was from a traditional Irish-Catholic family and definitely feeling out of place. Maybe that's all you need to know. The Scotty character is never little more than the concerned spouse, a role traditionally given to wives in films like this. And the other characters were similarly one-dimensional as the film focused mostly on Milk and his crusade.

Still, I enjoyed this more than "Benjamin Button" last week, which means it could be the best movie of the year. If possible I'd see "Slumdog Millionaire" next week, though I don't think I'll have time for the other Best Picture nominees.

If you get the chance and aren't close-minded to gay rights, I'd say to go out and watch this film, which is still relevant today as stupid laws like Prop 8 in California get passed. And really it's too bad the studio didn't release this earlier so people could have seen it before the elections.

That is all.

(My score 3 1/2 stars)

(Metacritic score: 84)

Slumdog Millionaire

I’ve seen three of the Best Picture nominees for the Oscars: “Benjamin Button”, “Milk”, and “Slumdog Millionaire”. I probably won’t have time to see the others in time. At any rate, so far I like “Slumdog” the best of all. “Benjamin Button” is hollow emotionally and “Milk” is really good, but what I think “Slumdog” has going for it is your average moviegoer—ie, me—hasn’t seen anything like it this year.

Well, we’ve seen the basic principles of the movie though. A guy grows up in poverty, struggles, falls in love, and maybe finds happiness. What’s different here is that “Slumdog” is set in India. Jamal is a Muslim (a minority in India) who comes from the slums in Mumbai and works as a go-fer at one of those call centers you've probably called before. He rarely went to school, and when he did it was in a classroom the size of a broom closet stuffed with thirty other kids who have to share one book. Yet somehow Jamal is one question away from winning 20 million rupees on India’s version of “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire.”

The host of the show is so baffled by this development, that when the show breaks for the night, he turns Jamal over to the police, who proceed to torture him in an effort to make him confess how he’s cheating. Instead, Jamal tells the cops how he manages to answer each question—all except one about the flag of India where he used the audience lifeline to answer.

Through this story, we learn about Jamal’s background. His mother was killed in an anti-Muslim riot when he was very young. Afterwards, he and his older brother Salim lived as best they could through begging and petty crimes. (Note if you’re vacationing in India: don’t leave your shoes unattended or trust underage tour guides.) Early on there’s a third member of their crew, a girl named Latika. After she’s separated from the boys, Jamal wants nothing more than to be reunited with her.

There are some in India who complain the movie isn’t fair to their country, but to be fair, this story could have been set in any slum in the world and needed only a change of actors. The story itself is a universal tale of love and rags to riches, which is why a movie about Indian slums can translate to an American moviegoer. The game show element adds a unique way to frame the story, not to mention there’s the suspense like with any good game show of will he win the jackpot or not? I was figuratively on the edge of my seat with anticipation when Jamal answers the final question.

Maybe you think you wouldn’t enjoy this movie, but I think you will because it has all everything you need: romance, drama, suspense, and even a little gunplay. Not to mention a cheesy dance number at the end that’s guaranteed to get the song stuck in your head after you leave the theater. I have to say I left the theater feeling really good, at least for a few minutes. So if you want a fun and uplifting movie, I’d say to watch this one.

Is it the Best Picture of 2008? Well I don’t want to see it six times like another film, but of the ones nominated that I’ve seen, so far it’s the best.

That is all.

(My score: 4/4 stars)

(Metacritic score: 86/100)

The Wrestler

I’ve never watched wrestling in any of its forms, whether it’s the Greco-Roman style in the Olympics or the WWE style “professional” wrestling where they whale on each other with folding chairs. But I have watched every “Rocky” movie several times—even the dreadful fifth one—so I can use that as a point of reference.

In every “Rocky” movie—except the fifth one, which is why it was so terrible Stallone did essentially a do-over with “Rocky Balboa”—perennial underdog Rocky gets into a fight no one thinks he can win. Even if he doesn’t win, at least he proves he’s no pushover and that in itself is a victory. Whereas the “Rocky” series is full of uplifting underdog victories, “The Wrestler” takes a different tack by showing there are some fights you can’t win, especially when that fight is against yourself.

Back in the 1980s Randy was known as “The Ram”, one of the hottest properties in professional wrestling. Around the same time the hair metal he loves died out, so too did Randy’s career. Twenty years after his hey-day in a match with “The Ayatollah” Randy is a broken down sack of meat pumped full of steroids and carrying the scars of numerous stunts gone wrong. He lives in a trailer park, except when his landlord locks him out for nonpayment, otherwise he sleeps in a van. His closest friend is an aging stripper at a local club; he has a daughter he hasn’t seen or talked to in well over a decade. For money he performs at small places like American Legion clubs with other over-the-hill or never-were wrestlers and works part-time unloading trucks at a local supermarket.

That Randy still maintains his long, stringy blond hair and tan—spending much of the money he earns on peroxide and fake tans—and still keeps Cinderella, Motley Crue, and AC/DC cranked up in his van (a Dodge Ram of course) says something about his character; Randy is stuck in the past. He’s forced to confront reality after a particularly gory fight triggers a heart attack. The doctor tells him that any more wrestling and he could die.

With this wakeup call, Randy tries to turn around his life. He takes a job at the deli counter of the grocery store, makes inroads with Pam the stripper, and attempts to reconnect with his daughter—who is a lesbian, maybe because she never had a strong male role model. If this were a “Rocky” film we know he would get the girl—both of them—and turn things around. But this isn’t a “Rocky” film.

Though the movie is about a wrestler living in the past and addicted to the glory and celebrity of it, the film could be about most anyone with an addiction. Whether it’s drugs, alcohol, food, or other things, a lot of people have gotten to the same point as Randy where they know they have to make that change, but face the temptation of one more joint, one more drink, or one more burger. That I think is where “The Wrestler” succeeds, in that it’s a human story even if it’s not a very happy one. Let’s face it, a lot of life isn’t happy.

A lot has been said about Mickey Rourke’s performance, but I didn’t see it as too different from Stallone’s in “Rocky” though Rourke doesn’t have that same punchiness to make him as lovable. Whether he was better than Sean Penn in “Milk” I really can’t say; I’ll leave that for the Academy to decide. The other actors do well enough in their limited, albeit largely cliché roles.

One disappointment is that at the beginning and throughout the film you never see The Ram in his glory days, just some newspaper and poster shots during the opening credits. You only see him when he’s broken down. It might have been nice—especially for those of us who eschewed wrestling in the ‘80s—to have seen that to get a better sense of just what it is Randy loved so much. Maybe that was too expensive to shoot, or something. Just a minor flaw in an otherwise great film. Even if you aren’t into sports movies, this is a film to watch.

My score: 3 of 4 stars

Metacritic score: 81


I sort of wanted to see this one when it came out, but it was only at the multiplex a week or two before fading away. Now that it's on video, I finally got the chance to watch it On Demand.

"Choke" when I think about it puts me to mind of one of those Judd Apatow comedies like "Knocked Up" or "40-Year-Old Virgin" if there were more nudity and a little less hokum. Like those aforementioned movies, "Choke" focuses on a guy who hasn't grown up and accepted responsibility quite yet.

In fact, Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell, who excels at playing ne'er do well types) has a lot of issues. He never knew his father and his mother used drugs and participated in some kind of illegal activities such as breaking out animals from a zoo--during which Victor lost part of an ear to a lynx--that he frequently is a ward of the state until his mother kidnaps him again. To compensate for this vacuum of love, Victor pretends to choke at restaurants to make well-off people think they've saved his life and take pity on him by forking over some money. His "love" life consists of a series of meaningless, often perverse trysts that has him enrolled in a sex addict support group, which he largely skips to have sex with one of the other addicts. Oh, and he works at a Colonial Williamsburg-type place as a tour guide.

Adding to all this mess is that Victor's mother (Anjelica Huston, who at this point is starting to look like Rosemary Harris from the "Spider-Man" movies) is in an expensive nursing home. Whenever Victor pays her a visit, she thinks he's one of the many lawyers she used over the years.

While at the nursing home, Victor meets Dr. Page Marshall (Kelly MacDonald, who maybe you'd remember seeing in "No Country for Old Men") who offers Victor a clever way to possibly save his mother's life. She offers to have sex with him to create an embryo from which stem cell tissue can be taken and used to treat his mother. As a sex addict, this seems simple enough for Victor, but he finds himself suddenly impotent. If you want to overthink the situation you might think subconsciously Victor doesn't really want to save his mother--he certainly has every reason to hold a grudge against her for essentially ruining his life--but the more plausible explanation is that he's in love.

The rest of the movie follows Victor as he tries to clean up his act and come to terms with who he is, not to mention his relationship with his mother. There are some bizarre twists here along the lines of "Fight Club"--another Chuck Palahniuk book. As well, there's the parallel story of Victor's best friend (also a sex addict, whose series of meaningless trysts are all with his hand) finding a love of his own and cleaning up his act. Everything doesn't come together the best and some of the bizarre twists are kind of dumb. Still, it was an entertaining and interesting movie so long as you can put up with the nudity and sex stuff--this is definitely not for the squeamish. One thing I would have liked would have been to know a little more about what was up with his mother in the early days; even after watching the movie twice I wasn't entirely clear on this. If you like a raunchy comedy with a little more depth than an Apatow film, then this one might be up your alley.

BTW, here's a couple of fun facts I learned on IMDB: Writer-director Clark Gregg appears in the movie as Lord High Charlie, the head of the colonial town where Victor works. He might be more familiar to viewers as the SHIELD agent in last summer's "Iron Man."

As well, Kelly MacDonald had a cameo as a reporter in "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," which co-starred Sam Rockwell as the ne'er do well president of the galaxy.

Now you know--and knowing's half the battle.

My score: 2.5/4 stars

Metacritic score: 47

Revolutionary Road

The last time Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet starred together they were the star-crossed lovers Jack and Rose trying to survive the Titanic disaster. In a way you can think of "Revolutionary Road" as what might have happened if Jack had not drowned in the icy Atlantic and they had gotten married.

In the late 1940s Frank Wheeler (DiCaprio) and April (Winslet) meet at a party in New York City. At the time Frank was just bouncing around from crummy job to crummy job after serving in Europe during WWII and April was aspiring to be an actress. The movie picks up in 1955 when Frank and April have married, moved to the suburbs, and produced 2 kids. They are living the post-war American Dream of so many who moved from the crowded cities to the suburbs in the late '40s and early '50s.

Like many of those people, the Wheelers find the American Dream doesn't make them very happy. Frank is riding the train into the city to write advertising manuals (or something) for the office machine company his father worked for as a salesman many years ago. In the city Frank takes a new secretary out for a martini lunch, followed by dessert at her apartment. Meanwhile, April's dreams of acting have faded away, leaving her at home with little to do.

Utilizing all this time to think, April hatches a brilliant scheme to set things right again. She wants the whole family to move to Paris, where Frank visited during the end of the war and said it was the greatest place he'd ever been. April figures she can get a job as a secretary, leaving Frank free to find himself. Frank agrees with this idea and they plan to leave for Paris in the fall, after they sell their house and so forth.

But then multiple complications arise that make April's plan seem less and less likely to become true. Before long, not just their marriage is in jeopardy but their lives as well.

When the book came out in 1961 I'm sure it was far more revolutionary (bad pun) for its look beneath the gilded veneer of suburban life. Since that time there have been numerous other books (the works of the late John Updike spring to mind), movies like "Far From Heaven" or Sam Mendes's own "American Beauty", or even TV shows like AMC's "Mad Men" that have covered similar ground about stagnant marriages and adults struggling to embrace preconceived notions of being a "grownup" in society. Because of this, the movie didn't have that much impact on me. Much of it seems to take place in shouting matches between Frank and April--which is why it's good their two children are so frequently absent--that are as unpleasant as listening to a couple fighting overhead or next to you in an apartment or hotel room.

I much preferred Sam Mendes's similarly-themed "American Beauty" for the wit it brought to this story, so that while there were shouting matches there were also humorous moments to make the film more enjoyable to watch. (I actually sat down to watch it again before writing this and still think it's brilliant.) By comparison, "Revolutionary Road" is pretty much just straight drama while not bringing much new to the table, except for the ending. (I won't spoil that, but you could always look it up on Wikipedia.)

The other thing that bugged me was that while we're given a pretty good grasp of where Frank came from, I don't have nearly the same sense about April. All I know is she wanted to be an actress. I really don't know anything else about her background. I would have felt on surer footing had I known a little more about her.

Anyway, awards season is over and this film didn't win much of anything, nor do I see any reason why it should have--though there's some debate whether Kate Winslet was better in this or "The Reader." It's an OK movie, but not a great one. The stars and director have all done better work than this.

My score: 2.5/4 stars

Metacritic score: 62

Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist

This movie really made me nostalgic for those '80s John Hughes pictures like "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" or similar knockoffs like "Adventures in Babysitting" where a group of teens are in the big city (Chicago via Toronto) and have all sorts of zany adventures where they run up against funny characters like snooty maitre d's, joyriding parking attendants, and hook-handed tow truck drivers. The main objective was for the kids to have the time of their lives and get back to the burbs before their parents to avoid being grounded. In the process they learned some life lessons and such too.

"Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist" lacks the key ingredient of those movies: the fun. There's nothing fun about this movie. There's plenty of vulgarity with drinking, puking, sex on a couch, and gay jokes, but it was all pretty dull. Other than the Christmas pageant at a gay night club there's nothing wacky or zany to be had in this movie, just a couple of gross-out moments involving throwing up and retrieving gum from a bus terminal toilet.

The rest of the movie is the dull, cliche mating dance of Nick and Nora. Nick got dumped by Triss and is pining over her when he meets Nora at a nightclub. (Apparently it's incredibly easy for 17/18-year olds to get into clubs and be served alcohol in New York City; never once do they even get carded!) Nora asks Nick to pretend to be her boyfriend so she doesn't look like a total loser. Then later, she enlists his help in his rusty yellow Yugo that people inexplicably mistake for a cab, to find her drunken friend. And at the same time they'd like to find the afterhours club where a hot band called Where's Fluffy is playing.

Like those '80s movies we already know how this is going to end more or less. But at least those movies had some fun with the comic misadventures, instead of going from one nightclub to another to whine and argue about their relationships. I could pretty much say the same about "Superbad" (which also starred Michael Cera) in that other than the McLovin parts the rest of the movie was bored the crap out of me. The situations in both are stale and predictable, only instead of house parties as in "Superbad", "Nick and Nora" subs NYC night clubs. In the end it made me glad the movie was only 90 minutes because I'd hate to have spent any more time on it.

(I miss you, John Hughes, wherever you are!)

My score: 2 stars

Metacritic score: 64/100

Feast of Love

(Warning: contains spoilers!)

Early in my Gather career I won a copy of the book "The Feast of Love" by Charles Baxter as part of a promotion for the movie. Yet I didn't ever watch the movie until now, when I saw that book on my shelf and wondered why I hadn't seen the film. I could have gone on waiting because this movie didn't make much of an impression on me. The best way of describing my disappointment is that this movie is too sappy to the point where I find it hard to suspend disbelief.

If you ever watched the TV show "Friends" (or did for a couple of seasons and then stopped caring like I did) you might remember the character Ross who wound up being married and divorced 3 times on the show. Bradley Smith (Greg Kinnear) gets into a similar fix, first when his wife for the last six years falls for another woman at a softball game. Later an attractive blond named Diana walks into Bradley's coffee shop in Portland, Oregon (the book incidentally was set in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which is one of the reasons I read it, to support a "local" author) and Bradley gets her help on finding a new house that isn't haunted by his wife's ghost. They end up getting married, but there's just one hitch: Diane is having an affair with a married man, David--she was doing this even before she met Bradley. So you can guess how that's going to turn out.

Meanwhile, at the coffee shop a new employee named Chloe falls in love with her co-worker Oscar. Oscar is a former drug addict who lives with his abusive drunken father known as The Bat--and not because he dresses up in tights and fights crime at night. When Chloe consults a psychic, she gets some bad news about Oscar, but presses ahead anyway. You can guess how that's going to turn out too.

In the midst of it all is wise professor Harry (Morgan Freeman) who is on a leave of absence after his son's death from drug-related complications. Harry advises Bradley and Chloe with sage advice like make sure you have two kids--you know, in case the first one dies then you have a backup.

In other, better movies we might have dealt with this realistically with arguments, anger, recriminations, etc., but "Feast of Love" is hell-bent to prove to us that love conquers all to the point where we're supposed to believe that all these people who have broken up, cheated on each other, and so forth are going to get together for a merry little picnic with maybe a musical number at the end. Being somewhat cynical I have to conclude Bradley is either an idiot or the biggest doormat since Charlie Brown. Not even similarly-themed movies like "Love Actually" ask us to make that kind of leap.

I haven't read the book in a while, but I don't quite remember it being that hokey. Maybe I'm wrong. Anyway, if you're less of a cynic you might actually enjoy this movie as a good break from your Nicholas Sparks books. Though what's funny as one reviewer pointed out for a movie that takes such a saccharine view of dating there's an awful lot of nudity involved.

That is all.

My score: 2/4 stars

Metacritic score: 51


I can't remember the last time I wanted to stand up and applaud when the ending credits of a movie rolled. For some really bad movies I was ready to sigh with relief, but with "Watchmen" as the My Chemical Romance's hard rockin' cover of Dylan's "Desolation Row" came up for the credits I wanted to cheer. Maybe it's because the somewhat mixed reviews led me to wonder how well this adaptation of the comic by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons would turn out. By the end I was glad to see that this rendition of "Watchmen" is about the best fans--even those who came late to the party like me--could hope for. Sure there are those hard-core purists who are going to scream "Where is the squid?!" and "What about the 'Black Freighter' comic?!" but the realists among us should be happy enough.

Now if you're Joe/Jane Q. Public who has no idea what this movie is about, then I can't recommend it. Definitely if you thought "The Dark Knight" was too dreary or boring or that comics are for kids, then you don't want to see this. Because the genius of Moore's story was to show that beneath the masks and tights are REAL people with REAL problems, and the movie largely sticks to that, so even though there are fights and explosions, this isn't a cheery little tale by any means. And with a 162 minute run time it's hard for many people to pay attention that long.

Like the graphic novel, the movie is about an alternate 1985 where Nixon is on his fifth term--not his third like some news outlets keep saying; apparently they failed math and civics class--and the world is on the brink of Armageddon thanks to the US and USSR's large stockpile of nukes pointed at each other. In this universe, costumed heroes are very real, starting in about the '40s until they're outlawed in 1977. One of those heroes, The Comedian, is murdered when a shadowy attacker throws him out the window. Soon other heroes are neutralized, including the godlike Dr. Manhattan, who has largely been seen as the USA's ace in the hole against Soviet aggression. As the mystery unravels, we learn something far more diabolical is afoot.

There's not much for me to complain about with this movie. One thing is that they needed better impersonators for Nixon, Kissinger, and other real figures. If you compare this Nixon to "Frost/Nixon" the one in this movie seems a little silly, more like something from an SNL sketch. Also, the gore in the film is a little too much for me. We didn't really need to see bodies explode, bones protrude through skin, and Rorshach taking a bite out of a bad guy. What we really didn't need to see either was Dr. Manhattan's wang--especially not four of them!

I generally liked the casting for the movie. Jackie Earle Haley is tremendous as Rorshach, the sociopathic "hero" many would compare to Batman, though really he's more like Clint Eastwood in the Dirty Harry movies, except he wears a mask and doesn't use a gun. Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl II was also really good as the far more naive hero who gets a sort of perverse thrill out of heroing. Some critcs panned Malin Akerman as Silk Spectre II, but she's at least as good as Jessica Alba or Maggie Gylenhaal, which isn't saying a lot. Other than his wang--did they use the motion capture on that part too? Hurm...--Billy Crudup is good as Dr. Manhattan, the god being finding himself increasingly distant from humanity. My only complaint is Matthew Goode as "the world's smartest man" Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias. Especially in civilian clothes he looks so frail I wouldn't believe he could beat up my 92-year-old grandma let alone hardened criminals or other heroes. In his hero getup he looks better thanks I'm sure to lots of padding.

The movie is long, but I didn't check my watch more than once, which is always a good sign. But as I said, casual viewers I think would find it more of a drag than me. I hinted at the beginning that there is some change to the ending, which in large part was to simplify things to avoid tacking on another half hour or so. I don't like this ending quite as much in some ways, but it still works to get the same point across, which is that if you want world peace you just need a really good scapegoat.

Generally, as I said at the start, this was about the best fans could hope to get. It's unfortunate Alan Moore decided to throw a tantrum and keep his name off the film, because unlike "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" or "V for Vendetta" this one sticks to his work to a fault.

That is all.

My score: 4/4 stars

Metacritic score: 56

The Colour of Magic

Anyone who's followed my posts in the last few months would know that I've been obsessively trying to read Terry Pratchett's entire Discworld series of fantasy books. So when I saw that the British miniseries of the original book "The Color of Magic" was airing on some obscure channel called Ion, I had to watch it.

The miniseries aired last year on British television and was made by the same people who adapted the Discworld XMas novel "Hogfather" two years earlier. In actuality the miniseries adapts "The Color of Magic" and the sequel "The Light Fantastic." It's the story of the cowardly wizard Rincewind, who is tossed out of the Unseen University for wizards because he can't remember any spells. The reason for this is that years ago he touched the ultimate magic book, the Octavo and one of the spells beamed itself into his head for safekeeping. That's something to remember for later.

Upon being tossed out into the street, Rincewind comes upon Twoflower, a new breed of creature called a Tourist. Twoflower has come from the remote Counterweight Continent to see the sights of the metropolis Ankh-Morpork, including a traditional bar brawl. Rincewind soon realizes that Twoflower, despite his vast fortune contained in the magical walking Luggage, is bad news and tries to take off. Unfortunately the city's leader, The Patrician, decides that Rincewind would make an excellent tour guide and makes him an offer he can't refuse.

Once Twoflower introduces the city to the concept of fire insurance--and half the city burns down--he and Rincewind head out to see the rest of the Disc. This involves Rincewind and Twoflower escaping from one dangerous situation after another like a sanctuary for dragons and an island where the inhabitants are building a spaceship to discover the sex of the turtle that moves the world around.

Meanwhile, back at Unseen University, the Octavo is getting restless and it soon becomes clear why: the world is on a collision course for a red star and doomed to burn up in approximately two days. The only way for the world to be saved is to get that magic spell out of Rincewind's heads, which the wizards seek to do by any means necessary.

I read the first two Discworld books a few months ago so it's not entirely fresh in my mind. I think, though, the main highlights of both are included in here. Some of the more minor situations and characters have been cut out to keep the miniseries down to only four hours--more like three hours without commercials.

With more of a budget this certainly would have been a lot better. The effects are a step above the average Sci-Fi Channel original movie, but they're a far cry from the average summer blockbuster. Though the cast includes veteran actors like Sean Astin, Tim Curry, and Jeremy Irons (not to mention the voice work of Christopher Lee as DEATH and Brian Cox as the narrator) it's all pretty hammy. From a pure geek standpoint the casting of David Jason as Rincewind seemed to be a mistake because for one thing he's too old and another his voice is kind of annoying. Really, Rincewind wouldn't be able to outrun so many troubles if he were that old. (The casting of Sean Astin as Twoflower was also a mistake from the pure geek standpoint because in the books Twoflower is from the Discworld's equivalent of China, though you have to appreciate the irony of having a Hobbit involved in the film.)

At the end I think Vadim Jean, who adapted and directed the movie, nices things up a little in the relationship between Rincewind and Twoflower--I don't recall any tearful goodbyes in the book, but maybe it's just my faulty memory. Still, for fans of the book it has enough of the source material that it's fun to watch. Non-fans would probably be less than impressed.

There have been rumors of a real theatrical version of "The Color of Magic" but at this point I think they remain rumors, so this will have to do.

That is all.

My score: 2.5/5 stars

Gone Baby Gone

Most people probably know Ben Affleck as the hunk in "Armageddon" or That Guy Who Dated J-Lo, so the idea that he could direct a movie would seem as ludicrous as a three-headed cow. That he could direct a decent movie would seem even more laughable. And yet here we are.

That "Gone Baby Gone" bears a lot of similarities to the Oscar-winning "Mystic River" is because it's based on a book by the same author. Both stories take place in a working-class Boston neighborhood where a crime against a child is committed. Whereas "Mystic River" was about the rape of a teenaged girl, "Gone Baby Gone" is about the disappearance of a young girl.

The police are baffled at little Amanda McCready's abduction, so the girl's aunt goes to private investigator Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck, Ben's brother. Gee, that must have been a real tough audition.) Kenzie and his girlfriend/partner visit some of the local dives, working over neighborhood residents. They find out Amanda's mother was a cokehead who along with her boyfriend stole some money from a drug lord.

From there everything gets complicated and I don't want to spoil any of the plot twists. Suffice it to say things are not all they seem and that in his quest to find the little girl, Kenzie is going to make new enemies and lose some friends too.

The end forces Kenzie into a great moral quandry, which I can't really say anything about without spoiling the plot. It's the kind of decision I'd certainly hope never to have to make. It's really this moral quandry that helps separate "Gone Baby Gone" from "Mystic River" which was more about revenge. And while Casey Affleck isn't Sean Penn, or even his brother Ben, he does well enough in the role. It helps to have a great supporting cast in Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris as cops looking into the abduction.

Since I'm not a director or really a student of the art there's nothing I can fault Affleck's direction for. The most I can say is that other than the scene at the quarry there was no time when I really had to think about the direction. And really the choppiness of the quarry scene I think was intentional to show the confusion involved. The only real complaint I'd make with the script Affleck co-wrote because it doesn't really go into the motivations for the characters enough, except for Freeman's police captain. I was curious why Kenzie was a private investigator and why Ed Harris' character acts the way he does, but there wasn't enough background for me to really understand all that. But I suppose that would have taken the movie past two hours, which would have made it too long for the studio.

Anyway, this film convinced me that if the acting thing doesn't work out, Ben Affleck can always go on to be a director, following the Ron Howard career model I suppose. For people who only know him from Us Weekly that's probably really surprising, but if you followed his career from Kevin Smith movies like "Mallrats" and "Chasing Amy" not to mention the movie he won a writing Oscar for--"Good Will Hunting"--it's far less so.

So check this out on DVD or one of the movie channels if you get them. It's a good mystery story, especially if you liked "Mystic River."

That is all.

(My score: 3/4 stars)

(Metacritic score: 72)

Star Trek (2009)

I've always considered myself a Star Trek fan but not a Trekkie. The distinction in my mind is that I've watched the shows (though I tuned out most of the "Enterprise" prequel show) and the movies and generally enjoyed them, but I never dressed up in costume or pointy ears or went to any conventions. Still, when I was watching the franchise reboot I found myself having a die-hard Trekkie moment, thinking, "Chris Pine you are NOT Captain Kirk and you NEVER will be!" There is only one Captain Kirk and he's making stupid Priceline commercials and appearing on "Boston Legal." And despite what the movie says there is only one Spock--the old one.

All that said, the best way to summarize this movie is to say it's the "Star Trek" for "Star Wars" fans. In other words it's a big effects-driven popcorn movie with a paper-thin story that doesn't make a lot of sense. And for that reason people who have little invested in the "Star Trek" franchise will probably enjoy it, just like anyone who probably didn't care about comic books would enjoy "Wolverine."

As for me, I think I just have too much emotionally invested in Bill Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and the REAL crew of the Enterprise to accept a cast of sexy young replacements in their Steve Jobs-redesigned green screen set. So while this may call itself "Star Trek" it's never going to really be "Star Trek" to me.

The story takes care of all that pesky continuity right off the bat with the old sci-fi staple of time travel. In this case a renegade Romulan miner named Nero goes back in time to wipe out the Federation. First he runs into the USS Kelvin, whose first officer is none other than George Kirk. And it just so happens that George's wife is having their only child--a son. (Why is his wife on the ship? Starfleet didn't have families on board until The Next Generation.) That son is of course James Tiberius Kirk.

Twenty-two years later, Jim Kirk is hanging around Iowa, where for whatever reason Starfleet has a shipyard building the future Enterprise. (Never mind that you couldn't possibly build the Enterprise on the ground because how the hell is it going to get into space? And really, Iowa? That's where you're building starships? Really?) Anyway, after getting pounded by some Starfleet recruits for hitting on Uhura, the grizzled veteran Captain Pike convinces Kirk to join up and honor his father's memory. So he does.

Three years later, the key to Nero's evil plan to destroy the Federation arrives. A distress signal is received from the planet Vulcan, home to all those pointy-eared guys like Mr. Spock, who is assigned as first officer for the Enterprise the fleet's newest and best ship. The rest of the crew is made up of other cadets like Uhura, Dr. Bones McCoy, Sulu, and Chekov. (Why would you staff your shiny new flagship with a bunch of cadets? And really, the old "we've got a distress signal and you're the closest ship because everyone else is busy" is the best you could do?) Kirk, on academic probation for cheating on the no-win scenario, is smuggled on board the Enterprise as well.

From there the movie proceeds to shred the existing Star Trek continuity to thrust forward its own agenda. While this was seen as necessary to explain why everything is slightly different, it seems disrespect to fans of the old series. It's like saying, "Hey, remember what you cared about for the last 43 years? None of it happened! Get with the program." But "Star Trek II" is one of the first movies I can remember seeing with my dad and brother--now I'm just supposed to forget all that? Pretend it didn't happen? F-U Paramount and JJ Abrams.

Just to get back to my original rant, the actors all do an OK job with what they're given, though some of them aren't given much. Uhura, Sulu, Scotty, and Chekov are all given their brief moments in the spotlight to make a contribution. Though Chekov's goofy accent just makes him the film's Jar-Jar Binks--and what's with the perm? (Really I hope they cut him out of any screenings in Russia or we might have a new Cold War on our hands.) The great Simon Pegg ("Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz") shows up late in the movie for some comic relief as Chief Engineer Scotty and has a funny scene reminiscent of one in "Star Trek IV" where Scotty gives the secret of transparent aluminum to some California engineer in the 1980s, only in this case it's someone from the future giving Scotty the key to transwarp beaming. Though I have to say I think the little joke about Scotty complaining about not getting enough to eat was sort of disrespectful to the memory of James Doohan--the REAL Scotty. As for Chris Pine as Kirk, Zach Quinto as Spock, and Karl Urban as Bones, the best they can ever hope to be are good imitators. Bruce Greenwood as Captain Pike the mentor and Eric Bana as the evil Nero do the best they can in their limited roles. (The only casting I don't understand is why Winona Ryder as Spock's mom? The dumb thing is they had to use make-up so she looked older to play the part; why not just hire an older actress for her less than five minutes of screen time? Wouldn't that save on makeup?)

Anyway, I know I'm being overly critical here. Like I said earlier, if you don't really care much about Trek then this is a fine, albeit easily forgettable, sci-fi action movie with some humor and just a smidgen of romance. And probably other die-hard fans will actually enjoy it. But I didn't. They can call it whatever they want but it won't be Star Trek to me.

(The only thing that could be worse in my mind is when George Lucas gets desperate enough to do a full reboot of Star Wars.)

That is all.

(My score: 2/4 stars)

(Metacritic score: 84)

Free Enterprise

I got thinking of this movie after watching the "Star Trek" reboot, so I had to put in my DVD of it. You probably can't rent this movie anywhere because it's one of those little independent movies; I have no idea if it's on NetFlix either but you can find the DVD for sale on the Internet.

Anyway, "Free Enterprise" is the story of two Star Trek geeks who get the chance of a lifetime when they come upon Bill Shatner (playing himself) purusing porn in a local bookstore. In flashbacks we see how Bill appeared to both the impulsive Robert (Rafer Wiegel) and cool-headed Mark (Eric McCormack, who went on to "Will and Grace" fame) to alter the course of their lives.

In the years since both have moved to LA to work in the film industry--Robert works as a freelance editor on pictures like "Beach Babe Bimbo Fiesta" and Mark is pitching a movie called "Bradykiller" about a serial killer with a fascination with the Brady Bunch. As they befriend Bill, though both are facing personal challenges. Robert is constantly low on cash because of his Captain Kirk lifestyle of throwing caution to the wind with an endless parade of women. Meanwhile Mark is about to turn 30 and relationship-wise has nothing to show for it. And both have to cope with a bit of disillusionment when Bill unveils his wacky scheme to stage a musical of "Julius Caesar" with himself playing all the male roles. ("Wouldn't that mean you have to stab yourself in the back?" "Wouldn't be the first time.")

This film is great in presenting a more human side of "Trekkies." We usually think of "Star Trek" fans as four-eyed geeks living in their parents's basements, yapping on Internet message boards all the time, and this is certainly the image mainstream Hollywood likes to portray. "Free Enterprise" because it's an indie film and made BY Star Trek geeks, shows that they have the same problems as most everyone else. Like "Swingers" or "Clerks" it deals with relationships of young people while at the same time being hilarious. And did I mention Shatner rapping "Julius Caesar"? You can't miss that!

The only flaw is that some of the bits like when the guys stop at Toys "R" Us don't really go anywhere. Actually I think there is a remixed "director's cut" version released in 2005 that restores more of the original script and some of the deleted scenes to help remedy this problem.

That is all.

(My score: 4/4 stars)

The Spirit

Here's my bad joke for the day: Frank Miller may have won acclaim for writing "The Dark Knight Returns" graphic novel but his directorial debut is certainly no "Dark Knight." Honestly, "The Spirit" is not only the worst superhero movie I've seen this decade (and I've seen "Ghost Rider", both Incredible Hulk movies, "Hancock", "Catwoman," and "The Punisher") it's the worst superhero movie since "Batman & Robin" destroyed that once-proud franchise. That movie featured the same hammy acting and cartoon sound effects, not to mention the over-the-top scene chewing by Samuel L. Jackson is easily on par with Ah-nold's turn as Mr. Freeze and Uma Thurman's as Poison Ivy. (Since they have so much in common does that mean Gabriel Macht will go on to super stardom like George Clooney did? Probably not.)

If you really want to know the nonsensical plot, in Central City USA there is a hero named "The Spirit." He's a former cop who somehow rose from the dead (how this happened is told later, though really it's similar in a way to "Robocop" which ironically Miller wrote the terrible sequel to) and now has the regenerative powers of Wolverine or The Crow and apparently augmented strength as well. Central City is plagued by a drug trafficker called "The Octopus" (Samuel L. Jackson, though from the Wikipedia page I guess The Octopus's face was never shown in the comics, which I imagine really pissed off the purists) who also has regenerative powers and augmented strength. In a fight as pointless as Jack Sparrow and the captain of the Black Pearl in the first "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie they whale on each other for a couple of minutes until they get tired--and we get bored. The Octopus is after a vase with a precious artifact that will supposedly make him a god--or close enough. The only hitch is that his dumbass henchmen (clones who all reminded me of that security guy on the "Jerry Springer Show" and have clever names like Pathos, Adios, and Amigos) steal the wrong case and end up with a treasure wanted by gold-digging treasure hunter (or whatever, I never really figured out how the hell she made her money) Sand Serif (Eva Mendes, who was also in "Ghost Rider" so if you see her name in the credits of a superhero movie just run from the theater). (As another stupid aside, do you suppose when he needed a name, series creator Will Eisner looked at his typewriter and thought, "Smith Corona is too obvious; how about San Serif--no, Sand Serif!" Probably not.)

Anyway, it turns out Sand Serif and the Spirit used to be childhood friends until she left town so she could make money for some bling. This is how he knows her ass so well that he can use a photocopy of it to track her down. (No, that is not a joke.) Eventually the Spirit has to somehow thwart the Octopus without implicating his former girlfriend. And in the process he makes out with every woman he comes across, easily winning the title as Horniest Superhero Ever.

Honestly this movie is a mess. The biggest problem I thought was the tone. It starts off serious with the noir-ish voiceover about the Spirit's connection to the city, but once the Octopus comes onto the screen it all degenerates into camp. Then it tries to establish some kind of emotional conflict with the relationship between the Spirit and Sand Serif. At the end I'm never sure if I'm supposed to take the movie seriously or view it as a 90-minute joke. The standouts in the genre like "The Dark Knight," "Spider-Man 2", or "Watchmen" maintain a consistency throughout. Even if they have humor like "Iron Man" it's never to the point of ridicule.

The movie uses the same green screen technique as "Sin City" (which Miller co-directed and was adapted from his graphic novel) but it never does much except add to the overall corniness like when the background turns to a rising sun like on the old Japanese flag when the Octopus uses a samurai sword on some of his henchmen. In "Sin City" the point of the technique was to help create a noir-ish atmosphere, but since this film doesn't capture that same atmosphere it's pretty useless.

Even the final confrontation between the Spirit and the Octopus disappoints. This is because having made both hero and villain pretty much invincible there's little point in having a big slugfest because there's no drama to it.

Honestly, I knew this movie was bad before I rented it but I didn't realize it would be THIS bad.

That is all.

My score: 0 stars

Metacritic score: 30

Transformers Revenge of the Fallen

The writers behind the first Transformers movie in 2007 and the more recent "Star Trek" movie have once again made another blockbuster popcorn movie that is completely disposable. Full of cheap laughs, explosions, and shots of Megan Fox's cleavage (seriously, I kept waiting for her shirt to come off in all those scenes where she's running) it's exactly what you'd expect. That's a good thing or a bad thing depending on your point of view. The reaction in the theater was that some people applauded while the elderly couple behind me kept grumbling throughout. (Why they even went to "Transformers 2" in the first place is beyond me.) Me, my reaction was more like "Star Trek" in that I didn't hate it but I didn't like it either. It's an OK way to kill 2 1/2 hours, especially on a hot summer day, but just try remembering any scenes from it later--except maybe Megan Fox's cleavage.

The "story" behind this excuse to make another $700 million and sell action figures is that two years after the first movie the heroic Autobots (the good robots) and humans have a shaky alliance and are trying to hunt down the Decepticons (the bad robots) while Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBouf) is going off to Princeton, leaving behind his girlfriend (Megan Fox's cleavage) and sweet transforming Camaro Bumblebee. But then Sam shakes out his jacket from the first movie and finds a shard of the cube he blew up in that movie and it beams weird symbols into his head. The Decepticons want the weird symbols, so after reviving their leader Megatron (voiced by Agent Smith of the "Matrix" movies), they set out to capture Sam. The Autobots led by Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen, the original and still the best Optimus EVER) have to work with the humans to stop them before it's too late. (There's also some stuff about pyramids and blowing up the sun and the Fallen mentioned in the title. Whatever.)

Let's face it, the story is just a feeble excuse to blow stuff up. Most of the movie though revolves around humans running from Decepticons, who range in size from a couple stories high to the size of a fly. There's one pretty good smackdown between Optimus Prime and three Decepticons, but otherwise it was pretty disappointing.

What I really hold against this movie though is I didn't like any of the new robots. There came a point in the third act where I thought to myself, "All these new robots are stupid." Actually they're often stupid in both meanings as in they aren't very bright--especially in the case of "The Twins" who are as racially offensive as anything put out since Jim Crow was repealed--and they look stupid with giant wheels instead of feet and so forth. Take it from someone who filled notebooks with drawings of Autobots and Decepticons back in the '80s that I could have designed much cooler robots than these.

The movie also ODs on the comic relief, piling it up so that we have comic relief from the comic relief. Most every new character who gets to do more than grunt is used as comic fodder. There's the aforementioned Twins (whom I really, REALLY hoped would die), the Grumpy Old Manbot Jetfire (a sin I will never forgive the writers, Michael Bay, Hasbro, etc. for as Jetfire was one of the most awesome Transformer toys EVER back in the day), and the miniature RC truck Wheelie who talks like a gangster. On top of that you have the overkill of the human comic relief, first with Sam's mom going menopausal when it's time for him to leave and then completely nuts when she eats some pot brownies at the college. Then there's Sam's roommate Leo the conspiracy theorist, wanna be ladies man, and target for Tasers. And near the end comes the return of Agent Simmons (John Tuturro) the wanna be Man in Black. After a while all the cheap jokes start to become grating--at least to me, though others seemed to enjoy them.

The best robot characters remain Optimus Prime and Bumblebee because at least they have something resembling emotional depth in their concern for humans, most notably Sam. As a nitpick though I was not happy with some of Optimus's characterization as the real Optimus Prime would not shoot a fallen Decepticon in the face and utter a tacky one-liner. He's not Dirty Harry or Ah-nold Schwarzenegger. Executions are for Decepticons, not the most heroic Autobot in the universe. (But then again after watching "Star Trek" I don't think this group of writers has much respect for source material.)

Anyway, on a final note I noticed quite a few kids in the theater, which is really not a good idea. I'm not usually on the prudish side but this is a PG-13 movie with a lot of Appatow-lite humor in the form of dogs humping, robots humping, giant robot balls, and robot French kisses. Then you have the bad language from both humans and robots. And throw in the racial stereotyping as well. If you want your kids to start saying "freaking" this and "freaking" that then go ahead and let them go. Otherwise you should keep them away until they're old enough.

As I said, this movie is pretty much what you'd expect and I didn't really hate it. So I'm not going to be as harsh as Roger Ebert or many other critics who gave it 0-1 stars.

My score: 2 stars

Metacritic Score: 37 (or roughly 1 1/2 stars)

That is all.