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.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Expendables

"The Expendables" obviously isn't a great movie in terms of great films like "Citizen Kane" or even "The Godfather."  It is at least a movie that knows it's not a great movie and to its credit it doesn't try to be anything it isn't.  Basically what you expect with Sly Stallone, Jason Statham, and Jet Li (among others) involved is a kick-ass action movie with lots of blood and stuff blowing up.  And that's what you get.

In typical retro action movie style, there's a thin story that provides the excuse to blow stuff up.  There's a phony island in the Gulf of Mexico or something called Vilena, where a rogue CIA agent named James Munroe (Eric Roberts) has created a puppet government so that he can produce/sell drugs without sharing any profits.

The Expendables of the title are a group of mercenaries led by Barney (Stallone) and his partner Christmas (Statham) who get the job to take out the evil general in charge of the island.  This is provides a cameo for both Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger which wasn't necessary, but is just a fun tip of the cap for great action heroes of yore.

Barney and Christmas recon the island, where they run into Sandra, who is the general's daughter but has gone to ground to avoid running into daddy.  Things go sour, with Barney and Christmas barely escaping.  But then Barney decides to go back mainly to get Sandra out of there.  Except he doesn't know that one member of his team has betrayed him.

The rest is a lot of blowing stuff up.  The effects aren't all that great, but you get plenty of explosions--buildings and humans.  The really big, loud gun one member of Barney's team uses is particularly nasty--and freaking cool.  It's the kind of gun I'd love to have in one of those first-person shooter games.
As I said, the story is paper thin, the characters are flat, and the dialog is corny, but that's what you expect.  We're not talking about cinema here.

The only real failure was that if you're going to create a super team of past action heroes, you need Van Damme, Segal, and of course the almighty Chuck Norris.  Jackie Chan would be cool too.  I mean come on, the first two are just doing straight-to-video movies and the only mentions Chuck Norris gets are in connection with those jokes floating around the Internet.  So really, it's not like it should have cost that much money.

Actually now that Schwarzenegger is no longer the governor (or soon not to be) maybe they can do a sequel where his team could have the guys I just mentioned and they initially go up against Stallone's team before joining forces to take out some bad guy.  Wow, someone get Stallone's agent on the phone!  This thing pretty much writes itself!

If you want a good retro action flick, this is one to watch.  I wouldn't buy it, but it's worth the rental.
That is all.

My score:  62/100 (2.5 stars)
Metacritic score:  45/100 (2 stars)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Kids Are All Right

If a gay rights group were to have a poster family for a same-sex household, this would probably be the one they'd pick.  Matriarch Nicki (Annette Bening) and her "wife" Jules (Julianne Moore) are in their 40s and still seemingly in love.  They have a pretty and smart 18-year-old daugher Joni (Mia Waskikowska, that girl from the "Alice in Wonderland" movie) who is Ncki's biological daughter and a 15-year-old son Laser who is Jules's biological son.  Nicki is the one who's brought home the bacon as a doctor while Jules has raised the kids after dropping out of college, though now Jules is trying to start a landscaping business.

Everything seems fine until Laser rocks the boat by asking Joni to call the sperm bank where their mothers went to get pregnant.  They find out that their father is Paul (Mark Ruffalo) who runs an organic farm and small restaurant.  The kids covertly meet with Paul and while it's awkward they want to see him again.
Eventually Nicki and Jules find out and they want to meet Paul too.  Things get more complicated when Paul hires Jules to landscape his backyard.  Maybe you can guess in what way.  What happens with that and with Paul spending time with the kids just about destroys this unconventional family.

A couple things I found interesting is that after the kids meet Paul, they seem to get pushed more to the side as the movie focuses more on the Nicki/Jules/Paul triangle.  It seemed like some issues with the kids (especially their sexuality issues) sort of got left on the table.  Also for a movie about a lesbian couple the only sex depicted was hetero sex.  That should make the average moviegoer feel more comfortable.  I mean gay kisses are one thing, but gay sex is another, right?

The movie seemed to lag at times, but for the most part I thought it was good.  There's just the one plot twist with Jules/Paul, but that's pretty much it.  The rest is about as organic as the stuff Paul grows.  The movie makes the point that a family with two mothers is still the same as a traditional family in a lot of ways.  A point I made a year ago and that "My Two Dads" made back in the '80s.

I don't think this had a long theater run, but you might hear about it more during awards season.  I wouldn't be surprised if Annette Bening or Julianne Moore were nominated for Supporting Actress.  You know, big names in an issue movie is the kind of stuff Hollywood goes for.

That is all.

My score:  75/100 (3 stars)
Metacritic score:  86/100 (3.5 stars)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Winter's Bone

I think I remember hearing about this movie from Roger Ebert during one of those film festivals like Cannes or Toronto or whatever.  Anyway, when I saw this was out, I thought I'd check it out.  You might want to remember this too, because it could wind up being one of those films like "Crash" or "Hurt Locker" that's relatively overlooked when it comes out (probably because it hardly played in any theaters) but makes some noise in awards season.

The movie focuses on rural Missouri, which looks about like something from "The Road" or some other post-apocalyptic movie.  In this wasteland is the Dolly family, the matriarch of which is 17-year-old Ree (Jennifer Lawrence).  She has to care for her younger brother Sonny and younger sister Ashlee because her mother is almost catatonic and her father is on the lam for cooking meth.

The problem for Ree is that before he disappeared, her father put the house up as collateral for the bond.  If he misses his court date, the family will be out on the street--or living in a cave.  To avoid this, Ree sets out to find her father.

But the Ozarks have their own set of laws, which are similar to those of the Mafia.  Some of her father's acquaintances (or accomplices) try to keep Ree from digging into things.  With her home at stake, though, Ree isn't going to be stopped easily.

If this is even a somewhat accurate depiction of mountain life, it's pretty terrifying.  As I said before, it's like a post-apocalyptic world up there, or a Third World, where most everyone is living in poverty.  To get by, Ree survives on donations from neighbors and squirrels and other game she can kill herself.

Relative newcomer Jennifer Lawrence is someone you should keep an eye on not just during awards season, but in the future.  She gives a great performance here, keeping the character grounded in reality, without any melodrama or hysterics.  (The complete opposite of Angelina Jolie in "Changeling" for example, who spent that whole movie either screaming or sobbing.)  It's up to her to carry the film, and she does so.

This isn't a nonstop thrill ride or anything like that, but a taut and engaging drama.  I recommend getting in on the ground floor with this one, before everyone else starts talking about it.
That is all.

My score:  88/100 (3.5 stars)
Metacritic score:  90/100 (3.5 stars)