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.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Ghost Writer

This may come as a shock, but most books written by celebrities aren't really written by the celebrities themselves.  They use what's known as a "ghost writer."  The ghost writer does interviews with the subject celebrity, writes the manuscript, and then usually receives no credit for it--hence why they are called "ghosts."

When former British PM Adam Lang's ghost writer turns up dead on a beach from an apparent suicide, a British screenwriter (Ewan MacGregor, credited as "The Ghost" and come to think of it, I don't remember if he had a real name in the film.  It's kind of like the assassin character in "Layer Cake" that way.) gets a call from his agent promising him $250,000 if he goes to Lang's New England compound to finish the book.  Naturally he does this, though first he's mugged after being given another manuscript by a lawyer.  (BTW, The Ghost's publisher is played by a very fat, very bald Jim Belushi.  What the hell happened to him?  He looked like he was trying out for a remake of "Kojack."  Seriously.)

Things don't go much better once he gets to the compound.  Lang (Pierce Brosnan) is under siege as a war crimes court is indicting him for turning over supposed terrorists to the CIA for torture.  His head secretary Amelia Bly (Kim Cattrall) keeps the place under very strict security, to the point where The Ghost isn't even supposed to use the Flash drive with the original manuscript on it.  Lang's relationship with his wife Ruth (Olivia Williams) is strained and you instantly suspect that A) Lang is fooling around with the secretary and B) Ruth is up to something.  One of these is definitely true.

Once Lang goes off to Washington, The Ghost begins looking into what happened to his predecessor.  Is it surprising anyone to say that it wasn't an accident?  I mean, would there be a movie if it was an accident?  OK, maybe, but not an interesting one.

That's about as far as I should go with the plot summary or else I might ruin the mystery.  And really this is more of a mystery than a "thriller."  There is a sort of chase that involves The Ghost dodging some goons on a ferry, but it's not like "The Bourne Identity" or anything.  What disappointed me is that Lang isn't involved enough in the plot.  He's there initially and then leaves for over half the movie, returning at the end.  I thought there'd be more of a relationship and bonding between him and The Ghost.  (Because, really, Pierce Brosnan is just awesome.  Really, what hasn't he been great in, except maybe "Mars Attacks" and "Mama Mia"?  Also, Ewan MacGregor is pretty awesome too.  He was clearly the best thing going in the crappy "Star Wars" prequels and other movies like "Trainspotters" and "The Men Who Stare At Goats" are good too.  So really, having those two guys playing off each other would have been great!  Sadly, not enough was made of that opportunity.)  Also, it was too obvious that Ruth was involved somehow, though I won't say how.

There's also the sort of creepy irony in that Lang has to stay in the United States out of fear of being extradited to the war crimes court by another country.  The movie was co-written and directed by Roman Polanski, who inversely can't set foot in the United States because of a murder conviction, from which he fled many years ago.  (This was recently in the news again when he was arrested in Switzerland, though ultimately not extradited to the US.)  So by involving that with Lang, it almost seems like Polanski involving himself in the movie.  How you feel about that might depend on how you feel about his legal situation.  (I really have no opinion because most of that happened when I was a little kid.)

Anyway, it's still an interesting movie, though it drags a little.  It's the kind of movie where even after everything seems wrapped up, you know there's got to be one more twist to it.  It's also the kind of movie where you might want to watch it twice to see what clues you missed on the first time.  I didn't, but I also didn't have time to watch a 2-hour-plus movie twice.

That is all.

My score:  65/100 (2.5 stars)
Metacritic score:  77/100 (3 stars)

The Joneses

The old expression is that you shouldn't try to "Keep up with the Joneses."  In the movie "The Joneses," however, a "stealth marketing" firm hopes that you will.  In lieu of traditional advertising or even "viral marketing" like using YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter, they go a step farther by planting a group of actors in an affluent neighborhood and setting them up with all sorts of trendy goods to plug.

The "family" is aptly named the Joneses.  The movie begins when they arrive in a gated community in their new Audi and wearing fancy new clothes and so forth.  Patriarch Steve (David Duchovny) is new to the game.  His "wife" Kate (Demi Moore, looking hotter than she ever has before) is the old pro and Steve's boss.  Their two teenaged "children" Nick and Jen are also old hands at this.  (What I wondered is why they have two teenagers and not younger children.  Shouldn't they have like 3-4 kids to hit on every age group?  That probably would have been too messy in terms of the story.)

Basically how it works is that for a year the Jones clan pretend to be a family and show off all their high end goods to convince the people around them to buy that stuff.  Nick and Jen infiltrate the local high school while Kate targets the hairdressers and Steve hits the links at the country club.  By virtue that they all are very attractive and friendly and have really neat stuff, slowly everyone buys what they have and sales for those companies go up.  They even have a "grandma" who stops by on occasion to break down numbers with them.

But soon things begin to unravel for the Joneses.  Steve has trouble adapting to the concept of being a family while not being a family--he sleeps in a separate bedroom from Kate.  She struggles with her feelings for Steve and that he starts to outperform her in the sales department.  Nick has issues with a girl named Naomi whom he befriends--and her brother.  And Jen has a problem in being attracted to older men, which includes Steve early on.  There's also the problem of their neighbors Larry and Summer, who do try to keep up with the Joneses, much to their detriment.

I really liked this movie.  It never seemed to drag throughout its 90 minute running time.  The idea of rampant consumerism and our need to compete with each other is a good one, especially at this time of year with back to school sales followed by the XMas shopping season, which seems to go on forever anymore.  But more than that, there's also a lesson on the meaning of family.  While the Jones "family" starts off as a group of actors, by the end they start bonding like a real family.

So overall it's a fun movie and the kind that makes you think a little too.  (And did I mention that Demi Moore looks really hot?  And her "daughter" ain't hard on the eyes either.  Yowza!)

That is all.

My score:  75/100 (3 stars)
Metacritic score:  55/100 (2 stars)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


I remember a couple years ago when the movie "21" came out I thought it was OK, but it was too fictionalized.  The History Channel documentary about the real group of MIT students who learned how to fleece Vegas by counting cards was a lot more interesting because it was real instead of Hollywood-ized with cheesy plot twists and romances and stuff.  The same could be said of "Creation" where a biography of Charles Darwin would be a lot more satisfying because it wouldn't be as Hollywood-ized.

"Creation" doesn't focus on Darwin's entire life.  Mostly it focuses on when he's writing his blockbuster book "The Origin of Species."  For someone who changed the way many people see the world, Darwin was not a social crusader.  He was a shy, nerdy guy who lived in the English countryside with his many children and his wife Emma.  While Darwin is a scientist and has lost his faith in God, his wife is very religious.

As he begins his book, Darwin is beset with physical and mental problems.  His body is failing him with tremors and fevers.  At the same time he's haunted--literally--by the death of his daughter Annie, who shared Darwin's love of science.

Of course it's a foregone conclusion that Darwin writes his book and it's published.  How he manages to do this requires some pre-Freudian psychiatric help.

Anyway, as I said in the beginning, a documentary on Darwin would probably be more interesting and insightful.  Whether you believe in Creationism or evolution, there's not really anything here that will challenge your beliefs either way.  The story focuses mostly on Darwin getting his groove back, which is a shame because there's so much more depth and importance to his story and his work.

Paul Bettany does a good job though of presenting Darwin as a man who changed the world but didn't really want to.  His real life wife (as of the writing of this) Jennifer Connelly isn't given much to do as his wife except occasionally to question him.

Overall I'd say this is one you can miss.

That is all.

My score:  50/100 (2 stars)
Metacritic score:  51/100 (2 stars)

Sunday, August 8, 2010


I had some reservations about this movie after reading Ebert's review of it when it first came out.  Overall, though, it wasn't bad.  It is violent and sometimes gory--like when someone's leg gets cut off with some kind of spear thing--so you really don't want your young kids seeing it.  Mostly it works best if you consider it a parody of overly violent comic books/graphic novels that have cropped up in the last 30 years or so.

When it starts out Dave is pretty much like Peter Parker in the first Spider-Man movie, only with average intelligence.  After getting mugged (again) he decides to buy a wetsuit and somehow gets some batons and decides to go out and fight crime.  Though you'd think that a comic book fan would realize you can't just go put on a costume and fight crime, not unless you're an alien (Superman) or in some freak accident (90% of Marvel heroes).  Or maybe if you get doped up on steroids (Captain America) or undergo years of ninja training (Batman) or find a suit of magic armor (like this).

But he doesn't, so naturally he gets his butt kicked.  Still, after he manages to drive off some gang members and it's caught on video, he becomes an Internet sensation.  This annoys a real superhero calling himself Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) who's been a lot smarter about it by keeping on the down low while training his young daughter Mindy how to be a deadly ninja assassin called Hit Girl.  Big Daddy's been trying to knock off a gangster who put him in jail years ago and operates a lumber business.

Things get more dangerous for Dave when the gangster wrongly thinks that Kick-Ass is responsible for a raid on his operation that was in fact carried out by Big Daddy.  The gangster's son (the McLovin kid from Superbad) sets a trap by becoming a "hero" called Red Mist.

It all becomes your typical over-the-top comic book-type story from there.  Again, if you don't take this very seriously then it's fine.  For instance, the Hit Girl character pretty well illustrates the creepiness of kid sidekicks.  I mean, do you really want a bunch of prepubescent ninja assassins running around?  That scares the hell out of me.

Otherwise the only real complaint would be that Nicolas Cage sucks up another superhero movie after the terrible "Ghost Rider."  The cheesy child molester mustache is bad enough, but then in Big Daddy mode he does his Adam West impersonation as well.  It would have made more sense to impersonate more modern Batmen like Michael Keaton or Christian Bale--not George Clooney.

Basically if you're a comics fan or superhero movie fan then this is pretty entertaining.  In some ways not as good as the Woody Harrellson vehicle "Defendor" I previously reviewed, though the effects are probably a little better.

That is all.

My score:  65/100 (2.5 stars)

Metacritic score:  66/100 (2.5 stars)