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, June 28, 2010

The Messenger (2009)

There's a show on TLC or Discovery Channel or one of those called "Dirty Jobs" where the host spends a day doing various jobs most of us would balk at like cleaning up after pigs, going into sewers, and so forth.  One job you'll never see him do is also one of the dirtiest jobs imaginable:  informing a soldier's family about his/her death.

This is the dirty job assigned to Sergeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) when he returns from Iraq after being wounded in a fire fight.  Though Will really doesn't want to do the job, he doesn't have much choice about it.  So off he goes with Lt. Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) to deliver the bad news to a soldier's family.  Stone gives him the rules, such as they park a block or so away so the family can't see them pulling up, they don't wait around for next of kin to appear, and they never EVER touch the next of kin.

The first time he delivers the bad news himself, Will is nearly attacked by a grieving father (Steve Buscemi) but keeps his cool.  The next time around he and Stone visit the house of a woman named Olivia, who seems to take the news far better, which is actually creepier when you think about it.  When someone gets this kind of news you expect them to be angry or start screaming, not to thank you and keep folding the laundry.

Will finds himself drawn back to Olivia and starts helping her fix up the old car and taking care of things around the house.  If this were a Nicholas Sparks-type romance they'd fall madly in love, making out on some secluded beach and going back to her place to do more than that.  Instead, "The Messenger" remains grounded more in the real world, where both Will and Olivia have trouble coming to grips with the traumas in their lives.  This doesn't make for happy viewing, but it does make for more thought-provoking viewing.  (Though I thought the scene between them in the kitchen goes on for an uncomfortably long time.)

Besides this there's also a burgeoning friendship between Will and Stone.  It's not because they have much in common other than their job so much as they both don't really have anyone else.  Their friendship culminates in a drunken escapade that they're very lucky doesn't land them in the stockade.

When I watched "Brothers" I commented that someday someone would make a really good movie about soldiers coming home from Afghanistan.  With "The Messenger" I think we're far closer to that.  It's a little slow and it's definitely not happy, but at the end of the day it reminds you that the horrors of war aren't limited merely to the battlefield.

That is all.

My score:  87/100 (3.5 stars)
Metacritic score:  78/100 (3 stars)

Thursday, June 24, 2010


You probably haven't heard of this movie.  I don't think it had a major theatrical release.  I just heard about it as a preview for another movie and decided to put it on my queue to watch.  You can get it through Blockbuster or maybe Netflix.

Anyway, in the last decade superhero movies were an in thing and a sub-genre of these is the sort of Don Quixote-type story where an amateur nut decides to go out and try being a superhero.  A recent American one in this vein is "Kick-Ass."  A slightly older Japanese variation is called "Zebraman."  The latter starts off interesting and then gets kind of crazy.  The former from the reviews sounds gory and morally questionable.

"Defendor" strikes a balance between these.  There's not really any gore and we're not talking about a 12-year-old getting beat up, so that's good.  At the same time, the story remains in the ballpark of sanity, which is also a benefit.

As you might have guessed, this is the story of a construction worker named Arthur (Woody Harrellson) who was abandoned as a child and is a little slow.  His mom died from using drugs, so he decides to dress up in a helmet, black sweater, and painted-on mask with a duct tape 'D' on his chest as the hero Defendor to find Captain Industry, who he thinks is responsible.  For weapons he uses his grandfather's trench club from World War I, marbles, and jars of live wasps.

On his first night he interrupts a dirty undercover cop as he's trying to get a little freebie from a junkie/hooker named Kat (Kat Denning).  Kat comes to live with Arthur and gives him information about a Serbian drug dealer that Arthur things is Captain Industry.

Arthur's bumbling attempts to get the goods on the drug dealer lead him to get beat up, shot by a paintball gun, and ultimately arrested.  The judge orders him analyzed by a doctor (Sandra Oh) who feels for Arthur.  While he's in jail and being analyzed, Arthur also becomes a real hero to the people of the city.

But can a fake hero really take out real criminals?  Tune in same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.

I thought this was a pretty fun movie.  Of course I was predisposed to like this movie since I wrote a story along similar lines a few years ago.  Still, Arthur is a sympathetic character and you can't help rooting for him even if he is probably insane.  I mean he's sort of like if Forrest Gump decided to put on some tights and fight crime.  And as I said, there's not really any gore or graphic violence.

Overall, if you like superhero movies, this isn't a bad one.

(And if you like superhero stories, this isn't bad either.)

My score:  75/100 (3 stars)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Crazy Heart

Ah, the glorious life of a professional musician. A little over a week ago I was at a show for a folk singer at a cafe, the kind of place so small they had to move tables aside so people could see the stage. There were maybe a dozen people or so, some of whom probably hadn't even shown up for the concert but just wandered in for a drink. I can't imagine the performers got paid much more than gas money for the gig.

"Crazy Heart" is the story of another such performer: Bad Blake, a country & western singer from the Hank Williams school, long before the more commercial, glitzy acts like Dixie Chicks and Carrie Underwood and so forth. Bad's best days are long behind him. He's 57, broke, an alcoholic with four ex-wives and at least one ex-son.

When we meet Bad he's driving his old Suburban into a bowling alley in Pueblo, New Mexico, where he plays for a dozen or so patrons, mostly older folks. After the set he goes back to the motel wit one of those older folks for a little nightcap.

That pretty much summarizes Bad's life for the last couple of decades. He continues to Santa Fe, where a local reporter named Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal) wants to interview him. Jean has at least one ex-husband and a young son named Buddy. Though she should no better, she can't resist Bad and soon they're doing more than just interviews.

Bad still has some friends in the music business, especially his protege Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell, because who else would you cast to play a country singer but an Irishman?) who wants Bad to write some songs for him--if Bad can sober up long enough to write anything down.

I spent most of the movie waiting for bad things to happen to Bad. There's a car accident and he loses Jean's son in a mall. Other than that, nothing too bad happens to Bad. The movie makes sobering up and turning your life around seems like you could do it in about a week if you feel like it.

I couldn't help thinking of a line from Bret Easton Ellis' new novel Imperial Bedrooms:

He had to be punished for all of his sins. That's what the movie demanded. (Later, as a screenwriter, I learned it's what all movies demanded.)

I think in this case that's certainly what I was demanding. Instead, Bad seems almost rewarded for his lifetime of sins. All we needed was for the son to show up and give him a hug in a tearful reunion. (Is it a spoiler if I tell you what doesn't happen?)

Overall the first 90 minutes or so are good. It's the last 20 or so where it falls down in trying to make redemption seem so easy. I think someone once said nothing worth having is ever won cheaply. That should be especially true for your soul.

That is all.

My score: 75/100 (3 stars)

Metacritic score: 83/100 (3.5 stars)